Shadow Booker international 2020

I have been asked to chair well lead us in a way today saw the longlist for the Booker international (well done missed the Man} the Shadow Jurys thoughts so i collect a few comments we have said

” This looks like a really interesting list. (Better than last year’s if we are saying that.) Glad to see two books which others have praised & which really interest me – The Eighth Life and Tyll – on there. And as usual several books I was vaguely aware of but hadn’t expected (e.g. Pagano, Anker); one of the interesting things about longlists is getting pointers to which books like this to read from judges.
Two books that are tributes to/riffs on national classics from their own countries (China Iron & Tyll) is great from one angle – these are the kinds of books that often get neglected in translation – but from the POV of being on a shadowing project, it is extra work if you like to do the background reading. (I think Martin Fierro is doable but Simplicimus is too long when I haven’t read other books from the list yet.”

Views on the long list it champions small press for the first time has a good mix of male and female writers old and new writers. A couple of unexpected titles a few favorites missed the cut

First thoughts on the list:

4/10 of the big hitters/hot tips. And a couple that was completely left field (one I had failed to realize was translated and one I hadn’t heard of at all)

As Tony observes on his blog, Luiselli may well have held sway as it’s more Latin American than in previous years.

On the list generally:

some favourites missed out but a reasonable number made it (4/10 of the most tipped books, which is better than last year and the 2 most tipped – Eighth Life and The Memory Police)

great to see small presses
an anonymous translator (for protection) is interesting and makes me fascinated to read that book

were among the comments I think we had a core of books from the blogs and goodreads list we had expected to see that haven’t all made the list. I got five on my own post but have only review two of them. But eleven books isn;t impossible we will make our own short list.

  • Red Dog by Willem Anker (Afrikaans – South Africa), translated by Michiel Heyns
  • The Enlightenment of The Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Farsi – Iran), with an anonymous translator
  • The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (Spanish – Argentina), translated by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh
  • The Other Name: Septology I – II by Jon Fosse (Norwegian – Norway), translated by Damion Searls
  • The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili (German – Georgia), translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin
  • Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq (French – France), translated by Shaun Whiteside
  • Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (German – Germany), translated by Ross Benjamin
  • Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Spanish – Mexico), translated by Sophie Hughes
  • The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese – Japan), translated by Stephen Snyder
  • Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (French – France), translated by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins
  • Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin (Spanish – Argentina), translated by Megan McDowell
  • The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Dutch – Netherlands), translated by Michele Hutchison
  • Mac and His Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas (Spanish – Spain), translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes

Our panel is this is last years intro with a quick edit to them all bar me

 

Bellezza (Meredith Smith) is from Chicago, Illinois, and has been writing a blog focusing on translated fiction, Dolce Bellezza, since 2006. She has also written reviews for Shiny New Books and hosted the Japanese Literature Challenge for 12 years. Her Twitter name is @bellezzamjs

 

David Hebblethwaite is a book blogger and reviewer from the north of England, now based in the south. He has written about translated fiction for European Literature Network, Splice, Words Without Borders, Shiny New Books, and Strange Horizons. He blogs at David’s Book World and tweets as @David_Heb

 

Vivek Tejuja is a book blogger and reviewer from India and based in Mumbai. He loves to read books in Indian languages and translated editions of languages around the world (well, essentially world fiction, if that’s a thing). He also writes for Scroll.In and The Quint. He blogs at The Hungry Reader and tweets as @vivekisms. His first book, “So Now You Know”, a memoir of growing up gay in Mumbai in the 90s is out in September 2019 by Harper Collins India. 

 

Paul Fulcher is a Wimbledon, UK based fan of translated fiction, who contributes to the Mookse and Gripes blog and is active on Goodreads, where he moderates a MBI readers’ group. He was on the jury of the Republic of Consciousness Prize (@prizeRofC), which rewards innovative fiction, including in translation, from small independent presses. His reviews can be found at @fulcherpaul and via his Goodreads page.  

Oisin Harris lives in Canterbury, UK and is an editor-in-the-making with a Publishing MA from Kingston University and an English degree from Sussex University. He is an academic librarian, and a freelance editor and proofreader. He has written about Women in Translation, Book Histories and how they can affect Book Futures as well as on Islam and Literature in the West. When not reading or writing he can be found on Twitter @literaryty 

 

Frances Evangelista is an educator from the Washington DC area who has been blogging about books sporadically for over ten years at Nonsuch Book and chatting on Twitter about the same @nonsuchbook. She has participated in a variety of bookish projects and shared reads including a Man Booker Shadow Panel for several years, and is happy to return for a second year to this MBIP panel.

 

Antonomasia (Anna Thompson) is a UK-based freelance commercial writer. She has been posting on Goodreads since 2011, and has over 700 book reviews under her belt, some of which are being imported to a new blog. For four years, she has been the main compiler of Goodreads lists of newly-translated fiction eligible for the Man Booker International Prize. You can see the 2020 MBIP-eligible list here. Like Paul, she is a  moderator in the Mookse and the Gripes Goodreads group. 

 

Barbara Halla is an Albanian translator and researcher who splits her time between Paris and Tirana. She works for Asymptote Journal as Editor-at-Large for Albanian literature, where she also covered the 2018 Man Booker International. She spends her free time reading literary fiction, feminist theory and 20th century Italian literature, written mostly by women. Her tweets can be found @behalla63

Then me

Stu Allen – NHS staff by day I work on a ward helping people in crisis and with other problems find a way back into the community. I blog at winstonsdad here! I call my self the everyman of worl lit a normal guy that loves world lit I have reviewed close to a 1000 books and cover books from 100 plus countries I start the Shadow IFFP in 2012 and have done that and the shadow booker until two years ago and am returning. I started the hashtag #translationthurs and tweet from @stujallen  

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This Tilting world by Colette Fellous

Tilting_38.jpgThis Tilting World by Colette Fellous

French fiction

Original title – Pièces détachées

Translator – Sophie Lewis

Source – review copy

The small publisher Les Fugitives has brought some interesting and challenging reads out from Female french writers they have brought us some great titles this last few years and here we have the French Tunisian writer and radio producer for French Culture, Colette Fellous has written over twenty novels she was mentored in her early career by the great Roland Barthes. This is an ode to her exile from her homeland but also that feeling of being between places and times that exiles feel this is a tribute to the Tunisian Jewish community that has left its homeland on the whole now.

It all happened in the same peroid, over a few short months. In Paris, the Charlie Hebdo massacres and the one at porte-de-Vincennes Kosher supermarket in January. The Bardo in March. Alain two weeks ago, and yesterday the beach at Sousse. Always on a Wednesday or a Friday. Of course Alain’s death should not be on the list, it has nothing ot do with the otherm his was an accidental death, a heart attack, most likely. The others were murde3rs, premeditated crimes, attacks. But these collectivd shocks, these blows to our bodies and our personal lives, have become interleaved with Alain’s death,woth the shock of that death, in the heat of the day, down in the village streets. He died on his sailing boat, in mid-ocean, in the space of a few minutes.

The attaxcks her friends sudden death all topple down one after another.

This book is triggered by a number of events firstly the terrorist attack that happened in Sousse in June 2015. Our main character is nearby on a beach she sits starring at the sea. Gathering the horror of the Attack but also she had also just lost her father and a close friend. This leads to a fragmented work where she tries to piece together then and now. Her time between Tunisia and France growing up in both worlds but never really feeling part of them. Then Her Father a quiet man who left Tunisia to live in France late on in his life. She tries to bring his world alive him from those little things smells music literature builds this quiet man up. Then she at times she digresses from Maupassant’s work of the turn of the century his view of Tunisia and then Proust buying a small diary that was the trigger for his great work from a shop in Paris. All this mixes with memories of Tunisia but also the Med a loss of a close friend the sea. But as she said at one point the faces objects crowd each other and dazzle me. A novel in parts to home, exile, terror, family , friends and also those little bits of everyday.

Tomorrow, yes, I will leave this house, I”ll abandon the village and the life here, all the faces rthat I love will leave.The friends, the objects, the doors, the pavement slabs, the tall eucalyptus and the wild olive trees, the orange groes, the roads , the markets,the music, the fruit, the dancing, my window of blue. I’ll leave it all, no strength left. I don’t know how I’ll get to slepp .Just now changed my bed around to try it out: with your head to the north you’ll sleep better, souad told me, you don’t take enopugh care with your sleep, you don’t take enough time for yourself.

Leaving her home is hard.

 

This is one of those novels in which there is no real plot no real action just fragments like a lot of flotsam and jetson collected and made into something Beautiful the everyday things memories places and smells. I read a french interview which this is mention and her mentor Barthes –

You cannot read Spare Parts without thinking of your master Roland Barthes, who claimed sweetness, words, words, smells, all the little everyday things that need to be sublimated.
That is true. Roland Barthes has always led this fight. In my training, he replaced my parents and gave me protection and sensuality. Barthes had this fabulous power to decipher the world with words. This is all that makes this book. If the small room is not there, nothing works. I gathered all these small parts which constitute me and that night I managed to operate this love machine but I sought, sought, wrote… I invoked my life, the other life in Normandy where I met all these villagers who had never moved, people who brought me back to my nomadic reality and who also reminded me that I had to stay that way. from https://www.lorientlitteraire.com/  
The French title is Spare Parts here is a tribute and a lament to a world gone almost like the attack at the start of the book its heart has been pulled out a community of Jews there now gone a father gone a dream of the place blown apart. it is an ode to a world gone she is equal Bartes and Ernaux in the way she talks about literature and music here. Another contender for tomorrow’s longlist.

The Fallen by Carlos Manuel Álvarez

The Fallen by Carlos Manuel Álvarez

Cuban fiction

Original  title – Los caídos

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – review copy

I will for the next few days add a few books that might make the booker longlist later this week and here I start with a great debut novel from a Cuban writer that has written short stories and also contributed pieces to The BBBC, New York Times and Al-Jazeera. As well as co-founding an online magazine in Cuba. He was on that Bogota 39 list from a few years ago which has already produced so many great new voices from Latin and Central American. Here is one of my choice for the longlist as it has been wonderfully translated by Frank Wynne into English.

THE MOTHER

I’m alive and in my panties and my skin is yellow. I’, in a heap lying on top of the bed, the dirty sheets. By the time I finally get up, my arms are covered in goose bumps. I open the wardrobe, put on a housecoat and go into the kitchen. Afrmado is making coffee. His movements are slow and graceless, The way he holds the coffee pot, the way he turns on the gas, the way he strikes the match and holds on to the ring. He is so slow that his every action already contains within in its own repetition.

He looks at me and smiles and there is something in his smile that unsettles me. He ask me if I want coffee, I say yes, a little. I ask him how he slept and he says better than most nights. I asj him how he slept and he says better than most nights. I ask him if he had a dream and he say no. He says this as if I alreay know, but how could I know soemthing I have no reason to know ? I don’t ask any more questions

The line about his smile and what’s behind it hit me a lot.

This is a story of a family but what is great it takes the four members of the family the mother and father and there son and daughter. This is a family that is in the middle of a crisis is the mother who you feel is the glue of the family it turns out over the first few chapters she has started having a few health problems mainly a number of falls more than normal and increasing in frequency, This is described by her daughter as she just drops to the fall but after three occasions you sense her daughters worry. Her husband the father is worried stuck in an office job but not too high he also has a car he hates his Nissan is heavy on the fuel and he is always running out of fuel. This is a poor family as the son observes they hadn’t even a table at one point. There is an insight into the way people get money in Cuba a sort of reverse universal credit where the less your family had meant the more some got also maybe a tip of the hat to the corruption in the system. The father thou is also a man of honour as those other he knows to get on he sticks to the rules and isn’t one for bribes as the matriarch of the family is failing her daughter worries of life without her. The sin hates his father mainly for his standpoint in life to not take what he may see other take. A wonderful look into a family in the current Cuba where a family still struggles to have a table when poor and corruption just ripples under the surface.

THE DAUGHTER

The first time was five months ago, a muffled thud. The human body doesn’t sound like a vase shattering. It doesn’t sound like a crystal glass. It sounds like a sack of cement, like a thick, heavy dictionary. There was a spot of blood on a corner of the wardrobe. I noticed it straight away, Mama was lying on the floor, unconscious. There was a gash in her cheek like the hollow in an agave. I did everything you’re not supposed to do. I moved ger from where she was lying. I tried to put her in a different position. She was a dead wieght. She’s talll and heavy, and I couldn’t After three minutes, she started to stir and after a while she came round. We thought it was an isolated incident,but people think a lot of things.

HEr daughter describes those early falls she saw.

Fitzcarraldo has brought so many good books to us in recent years and this debut is another gem. It captures the family so well a family just getting by but now with his wife’s illness there is an impending doom in their also cracks of those things that within a family you sometimes bury until there is a shift in the power or a loss forthcoming that means cracks like those between the father and son appear. It is bare on names and details it is a description of a family coping with a vital member falling ill. the shifting voices remind me of the way the voices shift in Faulkners as I lay dying not as many voices but each voice add the narrative and the story. This technique of shifting the story around to see it from each family members point of view has also been seen a couple of times on soaps recently where we had a week of five perspectives of an event here it is the same four view of a woman failing and the feeling once that happens it will have a knock-on effect. An insight into family life for those scrapping by just in Modern Cuba. Have you read this book ?

Man Booker international 2020 predictions

Well, it is that time of year and I look into the looking glass of books I have read and books I may have heard of as I pick my twelve books to make the Man Booker shortlist 2020. I always will stick to my own taste in books as I make this list. rather than what will make the list but it shows my taste.

Red Dog by Willem Anker trans Michiel Heyns

I read this last year it is a true tale of the life of Coenraad de Buys a real-life character that was an advisor to Xhosa chief and also friends to the missionary Johannes Theodorus van der Kemp. This is a story of a man that saw his father die when he was eight years old leaving him very little. He sets forth and the boy grows into a man. He is a trekker and man of the veldt. He spends time with his wives and various mix of children from his three wives over the years. There are little passages that show his world growing. His life is epically told not since I read Peter Carey’s true history of the Kelly Gang has a book captured a violet on edge world so well.

Loop by Brenda Lozano trans Annie McDermott

Over the last few years, Charco has been opening the doors to Latin American fiction with inventive and different books . Here is an example of a book that goes nowhere but is everywhere a woman awaiting the man her mind wanders here and there. The loop is a collection of snippets I was reminded of the first time I read Sebald in this book it is full of different references and ideas an interesting and different read.

Faces on the tip of my tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano trans

Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis

So we have thirteen tales in this collection. It seems to want to capture the loneliness oddness and quirky nature of the French countryside. Here it opens with a narrator talking about a lake cycling to it this lake in the middle of the nowhere I was reminded of the lake well old quarry that was filled with water near where I grew up, then we meet the local loony as they say I was reminded of a chap the guy in the story had lost his family the guy. this captures the quirky countryside that is is in France here but could easily be in the dales, Cumbria or Northumbria.

 

Love by Hanne Ørstavik trans  Martin Aitken

Love is maybe a strange title for this book as it is about love but maybe the distance in love. The story is about a mother and son. The two the Mother Vibeke has moved her and her Son Jon too a distant village as she has taken a new job as an Arts officer. A lot of her story is about what she likes books trying to find articles that have been talked about at work. There is a sense as the narrative jumps between the two of them that there is a distance in the relationship it is a matter of months since they moved there. I read this a while ago as the US edition from Archipelago came out a couple of years ago.

 

 

 

Under pressure by Faruk Šehić trans  Mirza Puric

This book is made up of a number of stories in different styles of writing they have fragmented that capture what is the story of the fifth army as they fight and also in those downtimes in the war in the Krajina area where 200000 people were forced from there homes. We have an intro that uses the river Una The smell of the river and the birds on the river. Faruk used a working-class voice in places this book is a testament to the men he fought with and is maybe one of the best works about the Balkan conflict to come out.

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann trans Ross Benjamin

The first I haven’t reviewed but I have two-thirds read this book as I decide to read a few longer books partway through to review if they made list straight off. So this is based on a mythical jester figure from German Folklore we follow his life but it has many echos to the modern world.

Eight life by Nino Haratsichwili trans Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin

another part read for me is a sweeping epic that covers the 20th century from a Georgian family point of view from all over Europe it shows the century in one family’s tales. I hope it makes the actual list it has been a while since a real epic novel made the list that was Nadas’s parallel stories this is another book that captures that communist and post-communist worlds very well.

 

 

 

 

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini J Ockenden

This is one of those novels that when I started seemed to be one thing. It centers on one character Adekmo Farandola he is a hermit that has lived most of his life in the high Alps by himself. He only heads down occasionally to the local village and over the years he is going less and less this adds to a sense that something is odd about Adelmo. He loves the village band but is more hesitant than the previous visit this time as he gets closer to the village. He returns home but still feels the new mountain ranger is watching him at a distance. Peirene turns ten and this is the first of this year’s new books a gripping twisting Italian tale of a talking dog a hermit and a long-dead foot.

Billiards at the hotel Dobray by Dušan Šarotar trans

Rawley Grau

The Hotel Dobray of the title was one of those imposing Hotels that many small cities and places have around Europe. This is settled in the town of Sobota which is in the northeastern corner of Slovenian between three countries it was occupied in the war by the Germans they left the Hungarians in charge of the town. The story is told from one man’s story which in a way is a wider story of the town. I loved this the first book from Slovenia to deal with the Holocaust and yet again proved why I love Istros books so much.

Termin by Henrik Nor-Hansen trans Matt Bagguley

The full title of the book is Termin An inquiry into the violence in Norway. The book is only 80 pages but what we see in the aftermath of a violent attack on one mans life. Kjetil Tuestad was a normal man working in the Stavanger shipyard as an electrician. He had married his wife Ann and they had decided to settle down in the small village of Hommersak a place that was growing as the oil boom was in full swing at the time. that was all in 1998 and in Midsummer night he was found beaten on the outskirts of the town. The actual injuries are listed three fractures to the jaw his teeth completely bent the wrong way. This is what I love about the world of books in translation. Here is a short novel that hits you around the head as we see the aftereffect of a violent attack on one man and his life.

The Memory police by Yoko Ogawa trans Stephen Snyder

I haven’t read or got this one but it is one I have intended to get at some point as I have loved her other books and I feel she is a great writer and one that could be on the real longlist.

The Fallen by Carlos Manuel Alvarez trans Frank Wynne

I have read this through once and will be reviewing it next week it is set in modern Cuba and shows a family unit that is barely holding together and what has brought them to this point it tells the story from every member of the family’s point of view.

There we are I could include a couple of more Fitzcarraldo and a couple of Maclehose books as well but they could be on the list when it comes out in the week. What are your thoughts? I will be reviewing the longlist as part of the shadow jury as I decided to rejoin the jury after a couple years away from it.

The roar of morning by Tip Marugg

The Roar of Morning by Tip Marugg

Curaçao fiction

Original title – De morgen loeit weer aan

Translator – Paul Vincent

Source – Personal copy

I move to the Caribean tonight and the most well-known writer from Curaçao Tip Marugg. The small island just off the coast of Latin America. Has a number of writers. I picked this up as it was part of the Margellos world republic of letters book collection. It is a collection I have reviewed books from a number of times and one that to say they pick books from around the world always seem to find gems. This was written later in the writer’s life he had written a number of novels he is described on the dutch Wikipedia page as different from his flamboyant friend fellow island writer Boeli Van Leeuwen as he was more melancholic, more focused on the individual. he has a touch of Latin American magic realism in this book.

A dearth of drink obliges me to go back inside to replenish my supply of Dutch courage, but soon I’m back in my old place under the neon strip, on the same lukewarm paving slab, flanked by my fresh provisions.

At moments like this, when there is not a breath of wind, the night speaks with a chorus of primeval voices; the vegetation in my garden pats, as if the densly planted bushes were gasping for breath; the indju tree moans; the tiny, nameless creatures that forage for food only when the it is pitch dark make rustling noises, far off, an exhausted goat wth its head caught in a fence utters a death rattle

A wonderfully evocative passage of being sst in the dark of night.

A man sits Scottish whiskey in one and Dutch beer in the other he is a low point of his life. In fact, the fact he has those drinks in each hand is stopping him using the pistol that is nearby. His only companion at this time is his dog. He has decided this is the night and morning to end it all in what he calls the roar of the morning, He has seen birds dive to the death in the cliffs. He spends this time reflecting on his past and what caught him there. He reflects on his sexual awakening. The time he spent on the mainland where he discovered books ass the clock ticks. Later he recalls an old man with a huge sexual appetite that used to get all the younger women around due to his position. The time draws towards the morning his mind drifts as the booze starts to affect his mind and he is one of those drinkers that see the dark dogs when in the pit of drink he imagines the world around him in a fire.

I Spent my tenth and most of my elevnenth year – probably the period in your life when you see and hear most new things – on the mainland with my Venezuelan uncle. The man was neither Venezuelan nor even my real uncle, But I  called him that because he lived on the mainland and was married to a Venezuelan woman. He  was an odd charact3er, but I guess he meant well. In early of the oil industry he had worked for She;;, but after spending some time among the oil tanks that mushroomed on the north side of the harbourhe felt a vocation to become a minister. He went to Europe to study and returned a few years later, not as a protestant minister but as an evangelist belonging to some obscure sect obsessed with showing mankind the error of its was and threatening hellfire and damnation

This one event left a mark deep in his life

There is a podcast called Nocturne that deals with the wee hours here it’s the early morning between 1.30 and 3.00 madrugada, as the Spanish call it those dark hours when the mind can wander and one is maybe at our lowest ebb is caught wonderfully here our main character is a man that is caught between his Calvinist upbringing and island life in his way. of life make him A man in torment on the verge of suicide is like Lowrys character Geoffrey in under the volcano a man caught up in the bottle. The sexual awakening at times reminded me of Marquez’s works in the description of sex. This is a brooding work of one mans life caught in those two hours as he drinks and thinks back. As he says there is nothing better than a glass of Scottish and one of Dutch is maybe the way he is caught between two places. Another gem from Margellos world republic and another new country for the blog.

 

The salt of the Earth by Jozef Wittlin

The Salt of the Earth by Jozef Wittlin

Polish Fiction

Original title – Sól ziem

Translator – Patrick John Corness

Source – review copy

Some publisher do a great job at rediscovering old works that have fallen out of print or haven’t been translated into English or maybe were due a new translation the latter is the case for this book they brought out another book from Wittlin which was a success so they got a new translation of this book. Which first came out in English in 1941 and had been out of print for a long time. Jozef Wittlin had an interesting life join the Polish army then initially when they were combined into the Austrian army. He then studied in Vienna and joined with Joseph Roth his friend. He got scarlet fever and end up a prisoner of war working on a translation of the Odyssey. He after the war traveled Europe and promoted Pacifism and then s[ent time in France collecting his materials together to write the Salt of the earth which has the tale of an ordinary man caught up in the madness of World war One.

Piotr’s entire life involved carrying things. As a child he had suffered from that infamous Hutsul affliction for which the human face had the French to thank, apparently. Its symptons were typicalnose and certain defects of vision, which however, did not devolp further with age, Independently of the french Influences, Pitor body was also subject toEnglish ones, the rickets. And so France and England, those two warring elements that had done battle in the historical arena over man centuries, settled their differences in the body of a Hutsul child, To the end of his life Piotr remained bandy-legged.

PIotr is described here as a sort of uncanilly youth.

The novel begins high up in the war as the war begins and Franz Josef signs the papers to start the war. This is in contrast to the book itself which is based around one man’s experience of the war. That man Piotr Niewiadomski is what one would call a peasant he is an illegitimate child and has grown up as a rather Gangly uncannily youth. He dreams of a simple life working on the railways he is a porter but sees the chance to become a linesman. But he is now faced with the chance of being thrust into the war. He ends up as an Infantryman. He has t I wait until he leaves and as they are all due to leave there is a Solar eclipse leading to the feeling of the end of the world, but he is still on rails as he catches the train to Hungary this is where the story shows the madness of war when Piotr is caught up and gets on the wrong side of the sergeant this shows the madness of rank and war as they draw closer to the frontline and battles. It shows a simple man caught in the wheels of a war machine!

Pitor duties were exceptionally onerous in those days,but he managed. He had acquired a fondness for the railway – thatis, for the section entrusted to him. Every day, he walked the four kilometers to signal box 87, beyond which his responsbilties ended. He left his post only when Magda visited. She stood in for him competently, just like a legitimate signalman’s wife. The sight of young girl standing at her post with the little red flag had already on several occasions brought smiles to the weary faces of those returning from death. As if life itselfhad placed her on watch.

The rail is all he dreams about at the sart of the book.

This was meant to be [art of a trilogy of novels he had planned to write but he had the case with the other two works taken and lost at a later date which only a small fragment remain which is at the end of the book. It shows how hard it was for a simple man like Piotr to avoid getting caught up in the madness of the war he is like a polish baldrick maybe a bit cleverer than but a man that has a lover and a simple dream of being a linesman that because of the action in the first chapter. He gets sent to join the army and caught up in the madness of the war machine this is very like The way Blackadder describes his superiors they pay little head for the man on the ground at the front in that trench facing death. Whether today tomorrow but always there rather than planning and not taking part. This follows his own view of the War and his Pacifist point of view. It a shame we never knew more of the trilogy but it sits next to the great books of world war one as for me I have not read a book that captures the build-up to war so well and tension and horror of what was to come so well. Sasson in Fox hunting man captures the upper-class view somewhat but this is the lower ranks view. Another great discovery from Pushkin.

A Perfect Hoax by Italo Svevo

A Perfect Hoax by Italo Svevo

Italian Fiction

Original title – Una burla riuscita

Translator – J.G Nichols

Source – Library book

I have two books on my shelves from Italo Svevo but I saw this in the library and decide to give it a try it is part of a series of books Alma Classics had brought out where the books are all 101 pages long. Italo Svevo or as it means in English Italian Schwabian was the pen name of Aron Ettore Schmitz an Italian writer born of a Jewish German father and an Italian mother. He lived in the Austro Hungarian town of Trieste. He was good friends of the Irish writer James Joyce. Joyce championed him his early books weren’t hits and it wasn’t til later in life he found real success as a writer he was in a way the model for the character of Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses. This book also contains a character that is a thinly veiled version of Svevo. Mario Samigli is the main character in this novella it is also a name Svevi used as a  pseudonym in articles he wrote at the time.

The two brothers lived strictly regular lives. Their way of life was not disrupted even by war, which threw therest of the world into disorder. Gulio had been fighting successfully for years against the gout, which threatend his heart. Going ti bed early, and counting his mouthful of food, the old man said good-humouredly, “I’d love to know whether, by keeping myself alive. I’m cheating life of cheating death. This brother was not a man of letters, but one can see that, by the repeating of the same actions every dayone finshes up squeezing out of them all the wit that is in them, Therefore a regular way of life cannot be recommended too highly to the common man

His brother is also a Bloom like character.

Mario Samigli is a writer in old age he has never really had any success as a writer he lives with his brother he is a fan of his works. His greatest work A youth he had published as a book with his own money. He spends his time writing Fables all about birds that are like other writers his brother tells them they are good but he never admits accept at night when in the darkness of the night he is struck by the utter failure of his life. But when he is approached by what seems a figure from a prestigious German publishing house th\t wants to translate this lost novel into German. Now, this is the pinnacle of his life but as the days go on he starts to wonder is all that it seems this is sees the highs and lows of one old man’s life as he is drawn in on a hoax.

Gaia, Mario and Westermann’s representatives were all so punctal that they arrived at the door of the cafe together. They stayed there quite a while, as they made up quite a little tower of Babel. Mario managed to say a few words in German to express his pleasure at making the acquaintance of the representive of such an important firm. The other, in German, said more, much more, and it was not all lost because Gaia translated assidously “The honour of meeting… the honour of dealing … the famous work which his boss wanted to posses at all costs”

The Hoax and the first meeting with the german publishers.

This is a book that in some ways it echoes Svevo’s own life as a writer it wasn’t to the very end of his writing life and his best-known work the Confessions of Zeno which only came out five years before his death and is held up as a classic of Modernist writing. This work came out a few years after that and one wonders if he had been taken in by a Hoax and if he is like Bloom whom had been described by others as “a nobody”, who “has virtually no effect upon the life around him” and this was maybe the case for Svevo even after the Great Joyce put his weight behind him it still took a number of years for Svevo to reach a wider audience. This is a book of its time as Svevo was also a fan of Freud and the is a lot of psychoanalyst in the way Mario Samigli looks at his life and his failure from his night terrors and the fables even reflecting his own life in a way to his relationship with his brother. A great little novella and it left me to want to read the other two books I have from Svevo. Have you read his works?

Happening by Annie ernaux

Happening by Annie Ernaux

French memoir

original title – L’événement

Translator – Tanya Leslie

Source – review copy

I have reviewed two Annie Enraux books before on the blog the first A women’s story and then The years both of which I really enjoyed she has a real talent for bringing her own life and events pop off the page. She has been writing mainly books around her won life since the 1970’s she has won numerous prizes for her books. Although this is a shorter work and is based in 1963 the year she had an abortion this was written a number of years later. It still has the same descriptive and insightful view into her world.

I wasn’t the least bit apprehensive about getting an abortion. It seemed a highly feasible undertaking, admittedly not an easy one, but one that did not require undue courage. A minor ordeal. All I needed to do was ffollow in the footsteps of the mryiad women who had preceded me.Since my early teens I had gleaned many stories of abrotions, taken from novels or inspired by local gossip through hushed conversations. I had acquired some vague idea of the methods yo use – a knitting needle, parsley stalks, injections of soapy water or violent horse rides – The ideal solution being to find a quack doctor or a back street abortionist; both chargfe extremely high fees although I had no idea ow much. The previous year, a young divorcee had told me that a doctor from Strasborg had rid her of a child, sparing me the details except that “It was so painful I was clinging to the bathroom sink” I too was prepared to cling to the sink, I didn’t think it might Kill me.

She knew a bit but not the horrors that could happen as it is just whispered in the background of society.

This is one of those books that needed to write and read as it shows the importance of choice to women. Written a number of years after the events she recalls what happened to her in the early sixties. She is the daughter of a working-class religious family just starting to taste the freedom of the early days of her university career and the summer before. She has an early encounter with a man just called P in the text he was studying political science she had met in the summer holidays in Bordeaux this was her first sexual encounter. Her memories of the time are of seeing the film the rape of Sabine women and her saying it had come to mean one thing. I was there and I didn’t know I was becoming pregnant. When this occurs she must find one of those back streets abortionists as with the Uk Abortion was banned in France until 1975 with the Veil laws. So she finds out the details of one of these women but is it the right thing to do ? Does she know what she was doing? This is all brought about in the present as another casual account many years later had lead Annie to have a test for HIV.

I can’t remember how long it took her to insert the probe. I was crying.It had stopped hurting, now I just felt a wieght in my stomach. She saidthat it was all over, that U was not too touch it. She had stuffed a large was of cotton wool between my thighs in case the waters broke. I could walk and go to the bathroom normally, It would come away in a couple of days; If I didn’t I was to call her. We both drank coffe in the kitchen. She too was glad it was over. I don’t recall handing over the money

The actual event described by Annie as sehe recalls it many years later.

This is a wonderfully written piece about what must have been a harrowing decision to make at just 23 new to the world and also maybe a touch Naive as she hasn’t had much of sexual awakening as yes this is the sixties before the swinging part of it. This is a society far different from today’s this is a world of clandestine whispers about who to see and then find the women in question this has been covered in fil and tv in recent years from Mike Leighs Vera drake and on Tv where one of the Midwives grandmother is a back street abortionist both show how dark and clandestine this world was here and in France. Both also showed how dangerous it was to have an abortion before the laws changed. This shows the effect on one young woman now and back then. Another gem from this french writer that needs to be read it can easily be read in an evening as it is only 77 pages long.

The siege of Troy by Theodor Kallifatides

The siege of Troy by Theodor Kallifatides

Swedish fiction

Original title – Slaget om Troja

Translator – Marlaine Delargy

Source – review copy

Here is a work by the Greek Immigrant Swedish writer Theodor Kalifatides after doing his military service in Greece he emigrated in his early twenties to Sweden. First, as a teacher of philosophy as a school at the university, he was then editor of one of the best know Swedish literary magazines. He has written over forty novels he was one of the first writers to touch on immigration in Swedish fiction. He was chairman of Swedish pen in the nineties here he has taken a classic greek work and reworked it around the world war two.

So I thought I would do that too. I will tell you the story of the Iliad from memory for as long we’re sitting here.”It’s not as if we have anything else to do””

That was true. WE didn’t have anything else to do in the cave, apart from trying to protect ourselves from the assorted bugs.

“So when was thios war ?” Dimitra asked.

“”It was very long time ago- more than three thousand years,” Miss replied.

Dimittra sighed. “Can’t wait”.

Miss took no notice. I didn’t think it sounded very excing either, but as I said we didn’t have much else to do, so Miss began her story

She told of her hearing Homer from professional actor when she was a young girl. The boys aren’t to keen at first but they get gripped by it.

This is told from the perspective of a pupil at a small Greek village we never know his name his friend is called Dimitra. As it is nearing the end of the second world war and the Germans are still in Greece but there is a sense of the end. But they are being bombed when they end up in a cave and the young female teacher that they adore even when later she has found herself a boyfriend our narrator forgives her. She decides the best way to take the boy’s and girls’ minds of the bombing and what has been happening she decides to recount the Iliad from memory. As a child, she had seen it told to her by an old man a performer that went from town to town doing Homer works. Initially they arent keen but she grabs them with this 3000-year-old tale!So as the days go by we are given small chunks of the Trojan war this is interspersed with the events around the village as the children rush to her there teacher telling the next part of the story like Helen and her two loves that eventually they face each other in battle. These battles are mirrored in the real world.

The two armies rushed at each other like waves rushing towards the rocks, Honors were even to begin with, and both sides lost many men and horses it wasn’t until the afternoon that Acheans gained the upper hand, not least to agamemnon their supreme commander, who strode along mowing down his opponents like a farmer scything his wheat. He showed no mercy, not even when two inexperienced young men fell to their knees and begged for their lives. It is the first time we kill that is difficult after that, it quickly becomes habit.

The great Greek leader Agamemnon in the war is fearless and ruuthless as he kills at will maybe an echo to the present !!

This is a clever way to make the work of Homer available to new readers, I am not well-read in the classics .but this is a clever way to open the door to classics. He has made it readable by trim parts of the original but making you want to read the original. There is also a clever mirroring of the events that are read and the events in the present for Miss and her pupils. The Iliad showed the horrors of the Trojan war but we maybe could have done with a more violent present would have been interesting but the main character is just 15 and not yet a man he knows what is happening but isn’t involved so we just see the glimpse a 15 year would see of the war of the Nazi’s parading around. He had reworked The Iliad into a more mortal version of the work playing down the god’s role which given the setting of Miss telling the story to her adoring pupils is apt.

 

Snow,Dog,Foot by Claudio Morandini

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini

Italian fiction

Original title – Neve, cane, piede

Translator – J Ockenden

It is hard to believe this is the tenth year of Peirene Press they been around as long as I have been blogging and I have reviewed most of the previous books. This year’s theme is called a” closed universe” and this is the first of this year’s three books around that theme it was the sixth novel published by Italian writer Claudio Morandini he was a teacher of Latin and literature and has written novels and short stories. This won the Procida Isola di Arturo – Elisa Morante prize in the fiction section. The book was translated by the last Peirene stevens prize translator winner for 2019. The translator says in their note that there is certain words we have just one for like valley were as there is three Italian words for this describe different types.

Adelmo Farandola makes his way back up, confused and despondent. He dosen’t remember – he doesn’t remember having forgotten. From time to time a nagging feeling of having been the butt of a joke between the idotic old man and the lady in the shop, “They sit there, waiting for me to come down, just so they can make a fool of me, These village types , ” he says, and spits on the broung he says it the same way that people from the village say “These city types”, spitting on the ground in the same way.

His world has shrank but he is also feeling a odd paranoia that you can’t put your finger on till the end!!

This is one of those novels that when I started seemed to be one thing. It centers on one character Adekmo Farandola he is a hermit that has lived most of his life in the high Alps by himself. He only heads down occasionally to the local village and over the years he is going less and less this adds to a sense that something is odd about Adelmo. He loves the village band but is more hesitant than the previous visit this time as he gets closer to the village. He returns home but still feels the new mountain ranger is watching him at a distance. There is a sense of Paranoia then we meet the other character in this book and that is Ademlo dog this old dog is like a comic sidekick he is as one would imagine a lazt=y cantankerous old dog in what he says this is the start of Adelmo as his worlds seems to bee shrinking and at the same time coming to the end as the winter nears its end and the snow goes nearby it reveals a severed human foot that has been frozen. Where is it from how did it get there who is it and what does Adelmo know why is he here alone and what made him come here to this remote place in the first place.

The dog’s tongue drips like a leaky rap and his drool creates a spreading puddle on the floor

At the second wine-soaked morsel, he begins to swallow mouthful of air.

“Can I try a bit?” he asks the man at last.”NO” says Adelmo Farandola, who is just getting started on his third piece.

“Just a little bit,” says the dog. “Please. Just a teeny little bit”?

“No”

“Just to see what it’s like. How do I know you’re telling the truth unless I taste it?”

“You take it on trust”
“I’D rather try for myself”

Adelmo and his dog argue of the crumbs of food he has to eat the dog not believing it is what his master said it was this has a touch of comedy to it I found.

 

This is one for those that love a book that isn’t what it first seems it is like a Chinese puzzle box you think it is one thing a story of a hermit, then the story of a lonely man going mad.  then a tale of a man and his dog, then a mystery. Then something else completely until the box is fully open. It shows how the mind plays tricks when you are alone is the dog real? of just a figment of Adelmo imagination? why are things starting to talk to him. This is an interesting view of dementia or even just what one would call cabin fever the result of years of being alone and then when the foot appears it almost is like the madeleine in Proust as it opens a whole back story in the book that is an interesting and different direction. He also captures that wintery world so well the sense of high mountains and small villages this is one man’s closed world that sees as the border of that universe draws in closer from the start at the edge of the village now. This does exactly what Peirene claims to by the TLS and a two-hour book to be devoured in a single sitting: literary cinema for those fatigued by the film. This would make a great film as well it has a wonderfully surprising story that would do well in a film.

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