The Tree of the Toraja by Philippe Claudel

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The Tree of the Toraja by Philippe Claudel

French fiction

Original title- L’Arbre du pays Toraja

Translator – Euan Cameron

Source – review copy

I have been a fan of Claudel’s writing since I read Monsieur Linh and the child review it here a few years ago. Since then I have also reviewed his book Parfums. So when this dropped through the letterbox his latest book to be translated into English. I always think books and life sometimes run so close together it makes one wonder. As I struggle with my own grief and questions of life. I find that his latest book is about similar subjects being middle-aged and questioning what life was about.

We bury our dead. We burn them too. Never would we dream of entrusting them to the trees. Yet we lack neither forests nor imagination. Our beliefs, however have grown meaningless and inconsequental. We prepetuate rituals taht most of us would find hard to explain. In our world, nowdays we play down the presence of death. The people of Toraja make it a focal point of theirs. So which of us in on the right path

The lines where he questions whether we are right in trying to avoid death rather than celebrate it.

Our Narrator is a filmmaker as the book opens he is visiting The Toraja people of Indonesia their island home of Sulawesi. He arrived there after he heard about the custom they have of sewing inside the bark of the village tree the bodies of children that die within in the first few months of their lives. They are then placed in the tree bonding them with the tree. This is also tied with death on the island where it can take a year to organize a funeral of an adult that has died and to organize everyone coming. This is all in the bag when we see are narrator returning to his home and finding out that his close friend from school days Eugene is dying. This leads our narrator to question his life when his friend dies he starts to question his wider life and what death means. As this is the first death he has seen that isn’t by accident, old age or suicide. He has to take the time to question his own life. This involves meeting a younger woman in his apartment block. Slowly his life moves on as he thinks about a new project involving this younger woman in apartment 107  and finishing his film about the Toraja.

I have always been haunted by the words of Montaigne that “To philosophise is to learn how to die” and that “it is not death that is difficult but dying” I am not a sixteenth-century man, accustomed to epidemics, to wars, to the sudden and frequent loss of friends, paerents and children, and for whom a forty-year-old is already an old man.But his book we read affect us with the intensity of a knife thrust into an organ without the “Survival prognosis” – this is an expression that has always delighted me in that it ascoiates a light hearted subject, such as a horoscope, a racegoer’s prediction, a weather forecast, with a word that causes us to tremble like a leaf – being really life- threatening”?

How death has change the line when he was forty and an old man struck me as I don’t feel old and am in the later forties myself.

This was a very personal journey for me as a reader I really felt a real connection with the narrator. Firstly I was interested in the Toraja customs mention this of course lead me down a rabbit hole of death around the world via google. I took a similar journey after reading the white book by Han Kang. We all see death differently around the world and being I have read many books over the years touched with how we view death especially this last year or two. What Claudel shows us here are the different ways it is viewed. As the narrator questions various people about death from philosophy through his own media of films and writers like Kundera who his friend Eugene recite his book titles as he was near the end. This is a highly personal book you feel the Narrator is in some ways Claudel himself he is of that age when you can lose close friends to illness like Cancer. What he shows is what we all do what I have done since my mother’s death and that is to take stock on what is happening in my own life and what we do to carry on the narrator like me felt does he have the right to carry on. Maybe we should all be like the Toraja and celebrate death turning the end into a celebration then carrying on. This isn’t a light book but a thoughtful book and maybe one for a lot of us middleaged reader that taste death at close quarters for the first time !!

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A cat, A man And two women by Junichiro Tanizaki

 

A Cat

A cat, a man and two women by Junichiro Tanizaki

Japanese fiction

Original title – Neko to Shōzō to Futari no Onna

Translator – Paul McCarthy

Source – personnel copy on Kindle

I have been using my Kindle a bit more recently as I had a few books I had brought cheap and want to read this being one of them. Tanizaki is a writer I had to want to feature on the blog for a while. He was one of the best writers of the mid 20th century. He himself was a translator working a lot during his life translating the Epic Tales of Genji into modern Japanese. He also was known forthright intimate nature of his writing. This is a lesser work but for me a very personal insight into a family life.

Shozo repeated the same thing over and over again. He would give her a fish, then himself a little drink, and calling ‘Lily’ would raise the next prize high. There must originally have been some twelve or thirteen mackerel on Shozo’s plate, each about two inches long, of which he himself had actually eaten perhaps three or four. For the rest, he had simply sucked out a bit of the vinegar dressing before giving the flesh to Lily. ‘Ohh-ohh … owww! That hurts!’ Shozo let out a shriek: Lily had leapt onto his shoulders and dug in her claws.

Shozo even feeds the cat more than himself

The book as the title suggests is about a Man Shozo, he is on his second marriage that is the two women referred to in the title of his first and second wives. There is also Shozo Cat Lily. The story focus on the relationship between the four characters. This happens when the first wife asks for Lily the cat back Shinako a seamstress by trade hasn’t got over losing her husband. She knows that Lily the cat may bring him back to her. Now his current wife isn’t a fan of Lily this is shown when she isn’t happy when she cooks 13 pieces of fish for her husband and he gives most of it to the cat. They even share the bed together at night. Who will win this power battle between the two women the rather lazy husband and the cat Lily?

Now, Fukuko was a cousin of Shozo’s; and, given the circumstances under which she became his wife, there was no need for her to worry about pleasing a difficult mother-in-law. So from her second day of married life, she did just as she pleased in everything. All the same, she could hardly stand by and watch her husband trying to wield a kitchen knife, so in the end she made the marinated fish for both of them, though under protest. To make matters worse, they had been dining off mackerel for five or six days running. Then, two or three days ago, it had struck her: Shozo wasn’t even eating the food he’d insisted on having, ignoring his wife’s complaints; instead, he was giving it all to the cat! The more she thought about it, the clearer it all became: the mackerel were small, with little bones, easily chewed; there was no need to fillet them, and they could be served cold; and one got a lot for one’s

He married a distant relative but his mother made life hard and now the cat and ex aren’t helping either !

This is really a mans ode to the cat. Lilly is the one character from the book I’d like to meet. Shozo is a lazy man that has lost one wife. But end with a younger model but at the end of the day is more into his cat than his wife even sharing the bed with the Cat then we have Shinako a perfect example of the scorned wife she wants to use Lilly as a pawn in her game to get back her man from the younger wife. She also loved this tortoiseshell cat and her man. This is one lonely lady that wants something back into her life. Fukuko his current wife has to find her place with him in there married life and somehow keep Shozo and keep him happy even if this means he gets to keep his cat! There is all of human life here love, loneliness, marriage, divorce and one man and his cat. This is a recent reissue from Daunt books and shows why it is good to bring lesser works by great writer back especially when like this they have a certain timeless feel to them. I haven’t read enough by him to say if this is the best entry book but I read it in a night and it brought a smile to my face and made me think of Winston and Merlin my two ex-pet dogs.

I’m back Where to go now oh and a few new books !!

I am returning to reviewing tomorrow after nearly three weeks away, I’m rested up but also thinking of what my blog means to me. It has open so many doors over the years that I wouldn’t have opened without this blog. I have met so many people. That I had in a way become lazy about what I wanted and that is to make this the place for translated fiction and this means I have to maybe be more critical when I am reviewing books. I was listening to an open book about Literary criticism  . It made me think yes I love Translated fiction and in a way, for many years I have been the cheerleader for this cause. But after nearly 800 books I feel I need to guide and let people know more of what I think of books I had started this in small ways recently with a Llosa review that I was a little less cheerleader and more objective as I felt readers be better with other books by him to read first! I view this blog and my position as a gatekeeper of translated books but also translators and the publishers the whole team that gets the books out there. I have my own goals for the blog the first is the 1000 review mark.Also, the 100 German books mark to reach and of course the hunt for new countries and publishers is an ongoing quest. For me this is my hobby and passion a way to get cnnect to fellow lovers of translated fiction and spreading the love for world literature. I hope to spread the love but also be a beacon to the new readers by guiding them to what to read. I needed a break after nine years just put the blog in standby and stick the charger on well it charged quicker than expect and with an Epic autumn due of long books. Including the Jan Brandt Against the world a novel that references german from the 70’s to the present day.  I got today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which arrived with French Poets Philippe Jacottet Obscurity his only novel. Tip Marugg a Curacao writer a book that sees a man watching the day dawning and uses a magic realism style. Werner Kofer an Austrian writer compared to Bernhard for his use of Satire. Noemi Jaffe memoir follows the journey she took with her daughter to Auschwitz following in her mother footsteps.

Running out of steam next stop September

 

I have recently spent a month of work with depression and stress related to grief. I returned to work a few weeks ago, I work long thirteen hour days at what is a stressful job helping people with learning disabilities in crisis in a ward setting. I am also struggling to deal with my Mums death last year and the fact Amanda isn’t well. I have tried to carry on blogging but this has drained me and made blogging become a task rather than a pleasure in recent weeks I have always set my bar high of trying to review a 100 books a year and trying to add new countries and bringing the world to everyone. But this last few months I have been running on empty the weather also hasn’t helped I hate hot weather at the best of times a tall slightly overweight chap isn’t built for a heat wave. I had a bad day yesterday at work and its left me drained again and maybe in a negative frame of mind so I think of blogging and I want to but just feel as thou I can’t put my heart into what I am writing. So rather than get rid of all my good work I am taking a long break and returning next month. I am looking forward to the last Karl Ove Novel and the long Await Uwe Johnson Anniversaries translation also books like the Dasa Drndric and Murakami due I feel a break from blogging and the pressure I have been putting myself under to read to keep up the blog. I will still be round twiiter and may visit blogs some more than I have to try and get inspiration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One hundred twenty one day by Michele Audin

One Hundred twenty one days by Michele Audin

French fiction

Original title – Cent vingt et un jours

Translator – Christina Hills

Source – personal copy

Another book for Woman in translation month. This is a real gem as well as being the second book from a female member of the Oulipo group to be translated into English. Michele Audin is a French Mathematician and professor her special area was Symplectic Geometry. She joined the Oulipo group in 2009. Her father was a famous Mathematician as well that was killed in Algeria an event that led to her turning down the Legion of Honour. After the president refused to reply to a letter about her father her mother had written.

The murderer had his sense knocked out of him

(le petit Parisen, july 2 1917)

We have been informed that Robert Gorenstein(and not Roger Goldstien, as we printed in error), the polytechnician and officer on leave who arrested last week for the murder of his uncle, his aunt and his brother( three and not four crimes as was written in haste in the previous article) was a victim of an artilery shell last January. Almost all the men in his battery were killed, and he himself hit his head.

In a horrible development, according to informantion gathered from neighbors, the three Gorenstein children were orphans and had been raised by their aunt and her husband.

As th time, miltary doctors considere him recovered, and he was sent back to the front. He is presently undergoing psychiatric exams

One of the news paper reports about Robert G .

Now when you know a book has come from an Oulipo writer you know it is going be an unusual book. This one also doesn’t disappoint. it is a mixture of styles of writing about a group of various mathematicians from France and follows both wars. From an opening piece on a childhood, we follow with a diary set in the middle of world war one following the worst parts like Verdun from a French woman’s point of view. Then a collection of newspaper cuttings about various figures from world war one then on afterward about the case of Robert G a man that killed members of his family in a sort of what would now be called a PTSD attack. Then we see the announcement of Magurite the writer of the diary and a professor. Then a chapter involving Andre Silberberg as the led character. Later we see how his life led to the title of one hundred and twenty days as that was the happiness in his life he worked out in a later chapter in the book. The rest follows with people trying to find out more about various mathematician a chapter of just numbers and their meaning in relation to the book. The book also shows what part peoples notebooks can play in history as people in the present search for the notebooks of various mathematicians. Including Christian M one of those Mathimaticians he grew up in Senegal we follow his wart years.

The numbers, in order, starting with the negatives:

-25  the tempratur (in dgrees celsius) in Upper Silesia in January 1945 during the evacuattion of Auschwitz

0.577215…., Eulers constant

0.625  or 5/8 Jewish would have been each of Mireille’s and Andre’s children

1   single bullet managed to remove one of M’s eyes, his nose, and half his Jaw

1.414213…, the square root of 2, the length of the diagonal of a square with a side of 1

A selection of numbers from the chapter of numbers.

 

This is a clever book that use the various styles of writing to build layers of lives that we dip in and out of and those mathematicians. The thread that runs through the book is maths and the wars the knock-on effect of these seen in various documents. The families involved in the texts have the lives followed through the 20th century. I like this book it is one of those books that can be reread and reread like most of the Oulipo books it is complex and like the type of maths she studies about complex linear groups and patterns, this is a complex  piece of writing building on lives through the years and it shows  how the war affects them. From a brief fling of 120 days, that means more than anything to one man. To seeing others that collaborate during the war years.  This is a challenging read from a great small publisher Deep Vellum this is why we have a publisher like them those books that are edgy clever and relive history in a different way to others. Also to keep up with the number theme this is the 100th French book on the blog

The neighborhood by Mario Vargas Llosa

 

The neighborhood by Mario Vargas Llosa

Peruvian Fiction

Original title – Cinco esquinas

Translator – Edith Grossman

Source – Library book

I returrn to anpther writer that has featured on the blog a few times. Mario Vargas Llosa has won just about every award out there including the Nobel. He has written about twenty novels with all being translated into English. He has written in a varitey of styles over his years writing. This is his latest book and is an interesting view of how writers write in their later life. He has in his life tried to be president of his homeland when in the early 1990’s he ran for president only to get defeated by Alberto Fujimori. This book is set in the years after that election.

She didn’t say anything, but closing her eyes, she leaned to one side and found her mouth that had started to kiss and  gently nibble her neck, ears, and her hair. She raised her hands, held the braidm and ran her fingers through her friend’s hair, whispering “WIll you let ,me undo you braid? I want to see you with your hair undone and to kiss it, darling” Arms entwined, serios now, they left the terrace and , crossing the living room, dining room, and a hallway, came to Chabela’s bedroom

The Miami weekend and this is just not very convincing to me is it just me ?

The book follows a scandal but not the one you at first thing the books open when two female friends awaken after a party in the same bed and discover a sudden attreaction to one another Mariesa and Chabela become attract this culminates in a weekend away in Miami. Now the book then diverts to the offices and the editor of the scandal paper Exposed a man called Rolando Garro. Now this man is maybe worst than all we have seen in the UK muckrakers no this is a paper that just sets out to cause trouble. So when he comes to Enrique the husband of one of the two woman a welalthy industralist. This is the point you think it maybe be the girls no it is pictures of the man himself at an Orgy that Garro has shown him. So when Garro turns up dead havuing been beaten to death suspicion falls on Enrique as it does all the people featured in the rag over the last while. He is arrested now the other husband the rwo are best friends come to help his friend and avoid him falling into the hands of “the doctor” a character based on one of Fujimori’s henchman of the time that ran the intellegance service now these two men dislike him for the way he looks more than the fact he is a violent tortuture. Will the girls secret be found out , will the husband get free will the mruderer be found ?

When Enrique saw Rolando Garro walk into his office, he felt the same distance as the first time. Garro was dressed in the same clothing he has worn two weeks earlier, and he walked swinging his arms and coming down hard on his heels of his high platform shoes, as if wanting to come up in the world. he reached his desk – Enrique hadn’t stood to receive him – and extended the flaccid wet hand that Enriqye remembered with revulsion. It was ten in the morning: He was right on time for their appointment.

Garro a slimy man with no redeeming features like the worst of Fleet street rolled into one .

This isn’t his best book it hasn’ t the feel of earlier books like Aunt Julia which I read years ago. Or even somethung like Bad girl which he wrote ten years before this.. No this is partly a look back at those years when he could have been president. Would he have allowed eposed to carry on ? The doctor a henchman for his opponent and winner of the election is the bad next to Garro a man with no redemming features.. These character all work for me the Lesbian relationship just seemed a bit well like a man writing about what he may have loike to have seen two women he may have known at the time do. The blonde and the woman in Biegee is the way they are described. I have always put Llosa in the Pamuk and Saramago group of winners those that constantly write good but not great books each may have one or even two great books. This isn’t one of thos thou it is a late book of a great writer and in that it is a writer looking back at the time he could have made a difference in his country. In those parts it works and as ever Grossman makes the book flow. In others it is a bit weaker than his earlier books.

Zero by Gine Cornelia Pedersen

Zero

Zero by Gine Cornelia Pedersen

Norweigan fiction

Original title – Null

Translator –  Rosie Hedger

Source – review copy

Today sees the start of Woman in translation month a month that has taken off over the years I haven’t much planned but will try and fit a few books in among my Spanish and Portuguese lit month books. So to Kick off I have a powerful debut novel from Norway from Gine Cornelia Pedersen is both a writer and Actress this her debut novel won the Tarjei Vesaas award for a first book. She has also starred in the tv series Young and promising also Valkyrien both of  which are  on Walter in the Uk.

I’m 10 years old

I absorb everything unfiltered

I think that gos is listening whien I pray

I’ve seen three dead bodies, two old and one young

I cry at night and feel as if I’m all alone and no one can save me

I feel sorry for mum and dad

I realise that the concept of home has never truly existed.

I think about the fact that when I grow up and I’m allowed to decide things for myself, my joy will be complete.

I feel certain I’m going to live forever, but I think about death almost every day

The opening lines even at ten there is something in what she says that seem more than a normal ten year old would say.

This is a story told in Burst the narrator is a yoiung woman growing up. We follow her from teenager till she is in her early twenties. We find her life told in single sentences. like tweets where when they first started this is a novel in pieces.  This is a tale of a woman on a downward spiral of her life. We are let into her troubles bit by bit from the early feeling of being trap. Also not wanting to be too visible as her body changes in her puberty. Her wanting to go to Oslo. She has  a spilit with her boyfriend  of two years before she goes to the city. When she finally gets her mother to let her go. Then a spiral of self abuse, drugs and violence she ends upo for the first time in a ward then has a support worker. Then Peru and getting their becomes a dream that she finally does susing her benfit money to get there but then ends up on a holidat from hell with Men and drugs that leads her down a disaterious hole.

People on the stret stare at me

Everywhere I go they stare

I scream at one woman on the tram

Tell her she’s a bad person, that it’s people like her who are destroying the planet

She loooks away

I tell her she can look the other way for what it is worth she can turn away, but that only makes things worse

I ask if there’s something odd about me

She shakes her head

I tell her that she’s one who’s odd, with her ugly clothes and her wrinkles

Money can’t save her, I tell her

She can’t take her fur coat to hell

Later you she her parnoia when she verbally attacks a woman on the tram thinking it is her that is in the wrong for starring at her.

This was described a being like a Punk rock single by a revieew in Norway. The style is like a punk song short repeative sentences thart are like snapshot and captured insights into a life falling apart and how Mental helath can affect someones life so completely. The narrator is always claiming to be better as she hates her meds and said she doesn’t want them on more than one occasion but as the book goes on youn can see how a life can fall apart and that the drastic nature of someone offf their meds for a serious mental health issue can lead her as in the book to a far away country and into the arms of preditary men. Which leads to her downfall as she heads towards Zero. An interesting debut novel about a subject that isn’t touched enough in fiction. That of Mental Health but also what it is like being inside that downward spiral that to the narrator doesn’t seem a downward spiral.  read it in a day the pace is so fast with these choppy sentences you get drawn through the world she lives in as she describes some horrific events in snatches. This is the latest book from Nordisk books there third book 

August 2018
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