I, City by Pavel Brycz

I, City by Pavel Brycz

Czech fiction

Original title – Jsem Město

Translators – Joshua Cohen and Markéta Hofmeisterová

Source – personal copy

I’ve been struggling to get into books recently so I decided to go and have a good look through my shelves as I am a compulsive book buyer and find something to kick start my reading again so when I came across this from Twisted spoon press that I brought a few years ago I decided it was the one to try. As it turned out with reading the Lars Mytting about a fictional historical place that never existed here is a book that is a sort of remembrance of the loss of the heart of the writers home town in the sixties where the medieval heart of Most was brought down to expand the local mines. This is a story of that city told in a series of vignettes from various points of view.

Most’s poet finished his story, and approached the memorials, The portugeese poet read to himself the names of the long dead as well.

And, suddenly they became completely serious, and forgot the laugh for which they had come, No longer was the absurdity of the Internationale and the youth league shirts. only two of them and the shot dead remained, and the young men felt profound sadness for the fact that people sometimes don’t know how to be people

I am only a new city, not a person.

I am not a hero. I have never defended my walls. Nut when people on my streets and in mu house are truly human, I feel heroic.

I have remebered these poets

Last lines of the Vignette An appearance , heroic.

 

This is a strange novel as it hasn’t a character just a series of little vignettes and historical. They start with a series about the appearance of the city of Most.   Like the Russian occupation where men stayed in the bars and boys stayed men they said. Sports, The photos of Josef Sudek the man famous for his picture of Prague once came to take pictures of Most. The Gypsies those girls that are almost women he loved in the city. Being a man. As you see it is like peeling an onion of the city each pice is a little near the heart of what is Most not a beautiful city like Paris or Prague no this is an industrial place scared by the mining and with its heart torn out just getting by a tough place an industrial city like those other cities like that say Belfast, Newcastle or Glasgow. There is a darkness and humor on the way the city is looked at and her a touch of the magical at times. Moved for the mine the new Most is haunted by the ghost of the past but also the loss of its own soul.

An appearance , fairy-tale

I knew one old lady. She lived on Skupova Street. Her hair was silver and complexion pale

And eyes black, mysterious as her walks.

Where did she emerge from a walk, you never knew.In which place,in which contury.

Her  name was Eva Ezechielova.

Where did she have relatives? In Auschwitz. And in Israel.

Her relatives were there, but she lived her alone. Old and forgotten.From century to century, she took long walks.

She talked to herself.She fed pigeons, sparrows and tits, thought it was foolish. Everythingliving she fed. And with old fairy tales she fed her memories.

The opening and a description of a local character.

This is the work of a writer that has his heart in his home but is also the sort of writer that doesn’t dress it up as this is a place that can’t be dressed up. Clever use of short vignettes takes us to many places from the youngster and to the old from the church to the circus from the highest to the lowest in the city. A lament for the ancient heart now a mine and the soulless present like many modern cities in the sixties I imagine the concrete town of soviet housing and town planning making Most of the present a  practical town,  but soulless and that is the sense of the past haunting the present. This is a clever series of vignettes that slowly build a picture of the city. I wonder what took me so long to read this book. Another gem from the Twisted spoon collection.

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting

Norwegian fiction

Original title –  Søsterklokkene

Translator – Deborah Dawkin

Source – Personal copy

I reviewed his debut novel sixteen trees of the Somme, a couple of years ago. Lars Mytting first caught the English readers with his Non-fiction book about wood Norweigan wood chopping, stacking, and drying. Then his debut np0vel that tracked history via a tree and a coffin and a family history was touching so when I read it. So when this dropped in on winstonsdad’s tower. This is the first of three books and it is based around a wooden Stave church on the side of a lake that is meant to be moved to German to make way for the New.

The sister rarely left the Hekne farmstead, even though they got about better than folk might think. They walked in a waltz- like rhythm, as if carrying a brimful water pail between them. The slopes below the farm were the only think that defeated them. Hekne was situated on a very steep incline, and in the winter the slippery paths were treacherous. But since it was a sunny slope, the spring thaw came early in the year, sometimes by March, ad then the twins would come out with the springtime sun .

Henke was amoung the earliest settlements in the valley and the family had chosen one of the bestg spots for a faermstead. They owned not one , but two seters- summer farms further up the on the mountainside, each boasting a fine milking shed and dairy and a herd of well-fed cows that grazed on the deep green grass all summer.

The Hekne have long been there and have one of the best farms that the conjoined twins live in.

we first find out about the sister bell that is in the church. The church was made in the 1200’s and the bells where cast in silver after the story of two conjoined sisters Gunhild and Halfrid Hekne. The sisters learned to weave four-handed. whose story mixes myth and history and the story of the casting of the bells that are still two hundred years later in the church. But the myths have grown as the bells have a truly unique sound. So When the village of Butangen is given a new young priest Kai Schweigaard is trying to bring the parish into the modern world as the village is caught up in myths and folklore of the local area like that of the sisters and their bell. As part of that modernizing of the parish s the removal of the stave church, he has found that some Germans want it they send a young german architect to oversee this job now add to the mix that descendant of the sisters Astrid she is a headstrong twenty-year-old. She isn’t the usual village girl that wants to settle down she is caught between her modern mind and her family history add to that she falls for the German Gerhard and struggles to battle the new priest and his changes as she juggles her history and the wanting to find out more about Gehard why this man is a ray of light to her with his city ways. Then the bells take over!!!

Gerhard Schonauer stared after the girl for a long time, Her features made him want to draw her, there was a unique quality about her. She was quick and less reserved than the other villagers he had met that morning. The description in meyer’s seemed to sum them up precisely. “The Norwegians are a proud and strong race of Germanic descnet, They are more stoic and slower than the Swedes, but not a phlegmatic as Danes. They can seem very closed and sceptical, but once one earned their trust they are loyal and open-hearted, and they are outstanding sefarer, with the world’s best martitime pilots.

The first meeting of Astrid and Gerhard left a huge impression on him as he watched her walk off after first meeting.

This is a wonderful work there is a real feel of a village caught out of time in the way the voices of Astrid and the other locals have been translated with what feels like a country twang to there voices. The book is about change that old clash of an old and new world together and the actual history of a place the village is fictional but the small mountain village he describes and the way of life lived in the village is described as very well crafted in a Norwegian review of the work I looked up to see how much research he had done on the churches places and time. This is a novel that captures you from the first line to the last and brings the reader a real sense of place it is a well craft historical novel that has a love story, family history and folklore.

Let’s give it up for Gimme Lao! by Sebastian Sim

Let’s give it up for Gimme Lao! By Sebastian Sim

Singapore fiction

Source – Personal copy

I am finding it hard to read in the lockdown just a feeling of not wanting to read a lot and maybe worries around family and work so I decided to try a few books that have been sat around Winstons towers for a while and here is one I think I found via an article about books from Singapore and of course me being me immediately decided to order a book from the ones mentioned and this that was a finalist in the Epigram books fiction prize (the publisher of the book based in both Uk and Singapore. The writer Sebastian Sim grew up in a two-room flat with his parents were part of the pioneer generation of independent Singapore. He has traveled and has had many jobs from salesman bartender and worked in McDonald’s this is his first English language novel.

There were three things Gimme Lao did not know about himself.

The first occurred at the point of his birth. The second happened way befor e he was born. And the third repeated itself many times over his life.

Strictly speaking, the third was not about him. It was about the pivotsal impact he had on other people, which he never found out about.

Take for example Yik Fan. Gimme Lao and Yik Fan went to the d=same primary school Being two years apart, they were notin the same class, nor did they end up in the same extracurrucular sports team. As far as he was concerned, Gimme Lao never knew Yik Fan existed

But Yik Fan knew of him, then its about how his folks meet and the missing out on being the first baby.

What I like about this when I choose it from the list of books from Epigram was it seemed to give you a good picture of post-independence Singapore and even in that Gimme Lao is cheated from being the firstborn on Singapore’s independence day by a nurse but that is maybe the first thing that sets him in his life as he is pushed by his parents is the teacher’s pet and appearing in the news media as a prize-winning student. . Then later at high school he turns on a friend to gain and claws his way to become a  doctor. This is all set in the times from the ban on long hair on men in the 60’s as the society grows so fast in wealth and  as the class is there for the likes of Gimme to climb the ladder and when he rises as a doctor dealing with the Sars outbreak. He is tricked into a marriage but has another child out of wedlock. Then he has a gay son and he is also been pushed by his mother to be a politician but as happens a lot in this clever satire Gimme has the chance to get to the top but is always shooting himself in the foot or his personality or those around him cause his falls. One doctor’s tale that is maybe a thinly veiled form many of those in the post-independence political class in modern Singapore.

Inspiried, Gimme Lao and Omala made a pact to study hard so that hey could both make it into the TEP cohort. When Mary Lao arranged for a tuition teacher to brush Gimme Lao up on the examination subjects, he insiisted Omalaattend the tuition sessions too. Mary Lao was secretly amazed by the exceptionally strong bond the two children managed to foster. When both scored brillantly for the PSLE, she had no objections tp their selecting thje TEP programme in the same secondary school. In her mind. she could see Gimme and Omlaa growing old and sharing memories as lifelong friends.

How far from the truth was his mothers idea her !! they hated each other but need each other to progress.

I was reminded when I got this of Rushdie’s book Midnight’s children but the only common factor is that characters are al born on the day of the country’s independence. In a way what Sim has done here is what I had looked for a lot in the last few years in Chinese fiction and that is how you cope with those giant leaps that countries in Southeast Asia have made in the last few decades this her captures the single-mindedness that was needed to compete and survive in the school system and to get to be a doctor. He also questions the society from the long hair ban craze through the years, tragic event land also the anti LGBT laws of Singapore all come under the spotlight here. A book that spent to long on my shelves and another country to the list of those read from Winstons dad.

The Shadow Booker international shortlist

Our shadow jury of bloggers and reviewers of translated fiction has completed our reading of the International Booker 2020 longlist, and has chosen our own Shadow Shortlist.

In alphabetical order of the original author’s name our chosen six books are:

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Farsi – Iran), tr. Anonymous (Europa Editions)

The Other Name Septology I-II by Jon Fosse (Norwegian – Norway), tr. Damion Searls (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Spanish – Mexico), tr. Sophie Hughes (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese – Japan), tr. Stephen Snyder (Harvill Secker)

Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (French – France), tr. Sophie Lewis & Jennifer Higgins (Peirene Press)

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Dutch – Netherlands), tr. Michele Hutchison (Faber & Faber)

Firstly, we would like to congratulate the judges on choosing a very strong longlist. There are some stunning books on the list, and almost all of them, including those that missed out on our shortlist, had their champions among us. The books didn’t always make for an easy read – some are quite graphic in their depiction of violence – but certainly a thought provoking one,

You will see that four of our choices overlap with those of the official jury.

The Adventures of China Iron impressed many of us, but couldn’t quite squeeze on to our list. Instead we chose the cleverly connected short stories from Faces on the Tip of My Tongue.

When we were predicting books on the longlist The Eighth Life was the novel we most expected to see given its undoubted popularity both in the Anglosphere but also internationally. And we had expected it to make both the official and our shadow shortlist. Somewhat to our surprise, it missed out on both – the magic of the hot chocolate clearly doesn’t work on everyone.

We were though more surprised, and disappointed, at the exclusion of The Other Name from the official list – Jon Fosse’s trademark slow prose is stunning, and it makes for a very different reading experience from the others on the list. It is a timeless novel, and we fear the jury’s not unreasonable focus on novels relevant for the Covid-19 era may have counted against it. But with the next volume due in the autumn perhaps Fosse will make next year’s shortlist and he’s also overdue the Nobel Prize.

At the other end of the spectrum, the officially shortlisted Tyll didn’t spark much enthusiasm in our panel. But the one provoking the strongest reactions was Serotonin: several of the books on our shortlist are brutal or visceral but parts of Houllebecq’s novel simply felt gratuitous. Only three of our judges finished reading it and none of those were terribly impressed by its inclusion on the longlist.

We’ll now embark on the period of further re-reading, reflection and discussion to choose our winner. We wonder if we and the official jury will see eye to eye as we did in 2018, or reach a different view as we did last year.

(Thanks to Paul Fulcher for writing such an eloquent, and perfectly summarized, post for our shortlist decision. You can find him on Twitter at @fulcherpaul and on Goodreads here.)

Winstonsdad  I am pleased with our shortlist I had just about bar a few hundred pages finished the longlist I am behind on review but have enjoyed this year list there have been some eye-opening and shocking titles that show the wider nature of literature in translation I will review the rest of the longlist before we announce our winner I am now aiming to get to the 1000 reviews in the next few weeks.

Memoirs of a Woman doctor by Nawal El Saadawi

Memoirs of a Woman Doctor by Nawal El Saadawi

Egyptian fiction

Original title – ” مذكرات طبيبة

Translator – Catherine Cobham

Source – review copy

I decided to take a detour from the Booker list and I had read this when I was sent it and never got to it which is a shame as I really enjoyed it and I admire Nawal as a person called the Simone De Beauvoir of the Arabic world she has long been a champion of women in the Arabic world. former movements for both female rights and human rights within the Arabic world. She was also a doctor before being a writer. I was grabbed by her a  few years ago when she was on the BBC show Imagine talking about her life she even showed the first practice which is in this book.

I hated being female. I felt as if I was in chains – chains forged by my own blood trying me to the bed so that I couldn’t run and jump, chains produced by the cells of my own body, chains of shame and humiliation. I turned in on myself to cover up my miserable exictence.

I no longer went out to run and play. The two mounds on my chest were growing bigger. They bounced gently as I walked. I was unhappy with my tall slender frame folding my arms over my chest to hide it and looking sadly at my brother and his friends as they played.

The years she becomes a teen and more visible as a woman.

This is a fictionalized version of Nawal’s own journey in many ways. The narrator of the books is a driven young woman growing up in fifties Egypt. Her observations as a child reveal much about the society of the time.  her older brother always has the best in there home the larges slice of meat at breakfast that she sees as unfair. The best things are always his and as she grows even thou she is younger she is bigger than her brother. she is determined to study medicine. This is a wonderful female take on the Bildungsroman genre as we see her fight the male-centered society from her fellow students when studying medicine. She cuts her hair and avoids the arranged marriage her parents try to push her into. Then when she becomes a doctor her patients are shocked she is so beautiful as a doctor this line made me laugh as thou the beauty of the doctor made a difference. A failed marriage against her parent’s advice but when he tries to tell her what to do in the home she decides he isn’t the one. She is battling all the time is that perfect man just around the corner.

I left my room and went to sit in the big common room. I opened a medical journal and tried to read it, but I couldn’t help my thoughts straying to the doctor’s wing where the colleague on night duty was nownow asleep. For no obvious reason it occurred to me that i was alone with a man in the middle of the night and only a closed doorseparated e from him. Althouh I was wide awake this idea came to me like a dream and I felt afraid …. No,Not afraid,worried..No, not even that, for I felt desifre, or not quite desire but a strange disturbing feelin that made me glance furtively at closed door from time to time

It is hard for her at the medical school as this pasage shows.

This is a very short book easily read in an evening. Great feminist work about how determined women in a very male-centered society could make her way even with hurdles put in front of her. The shock of her first view of a naked male when she was at medical school when she had to cut up a dead male and this was her first view. I felt the latter part of the book was maybe trying to put too many years into too few pages which is a great shame as the early family years and the time studying were very captivating. But the later times were maybe lightly covered. This was her first novel and it was a great debut I was sent the other books that  Saqi brought out in there Saqi bookshelf series.

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

German fiction

original title – Tyll

Translator – Ross Benjamin

Source – review copy

I had thought I reviewed Daniel Kehlmann before but I had read F when it was on the old IFFP list but I didn’t get round to reviewing it rather like this year I think the time was running against me I had half read this in prep for the Booker prize but when it came to picking it up again I started and read it through in a couple of days. As I said I had read F by him and this is one I was sent and had planned to read as it mixes folklore, historic and a nod to the present in this work which is considered his best book.

Weeks pass before his legs allows him to get back on the rope. On the very first day, one of the baker’s daughter appears and sits down in the grass. He knows her by sight; her father often comes to the mill, because ever since Hanna Krell cursed him after a quarrrel he has been plagunesd by rheumatism. The pain won’t let him slepp, which is why he needs claus’s protective magic.

The boy consideres whether to chase her away. But first of all it wouldn’t be nic, and secondly he hasn’t forgotten that she won the stone throwing contest at the last village festival

As a youth learning the ropes.

The book focuses on the character of Till Eulenspiegel ( renamed Tyll Ulenspiegal here) the character has been in dutch and German folklore. He is a wandering chap a minstrel and jester all in one. But here we see him three hundred years after he first appeared in folklore since the 1500s the story here is set during the thirty years war. We see him growing up walking the rope in his home village that is like other villages but has a Grimm like feel with mentions of goblins and witches here is where the lines between the history of the time and the folk tales of the time. We see as he grows and events happen he has to leave his village to get into the wider world. Then as he leaves we see the events of the 1600s as he heads to the heart of what was called the never-ending war. The bloody battlefield real-life characters from the time are all interlink in what is a series of episodic nature as he meets mary queen of scots mother and her husband the king of Bohemia, counts and see the great battles of the thirty years war.

The fat count nodded and trued to imagine someone seriously shooting at him, aimingover the iron sights. At him, Martin von Wolkenstein, who had never done anyone wrong, with a real bullet made of lead. He looked down at himself.His back hurt, his bottom was sor from days in the saddle. He stroked his belly and imagined a bullet, he thought of the burnt goosehead, and the metall magic about which Athanasius Kircher had written a book on magnets: if you carried a magnetic stone of sufficent strengthin you pocket, you could deflect the bulletdsand make a man invunerable. The legendary scholar himself had tried it. Unfortunately, such strong magnets were rare and expensive.

The great german thinker Kircher

The story for me was a bit to fragment at the time I have scarce knowledge of the thirty years war and given time constraints I hadn’t time to read up which when I have time I would have done, Tyll is an interesting figure there is something of classic jester about him with his clever at times insight. Then there is a large chunk of Grimm here with talk of goblins and witches =. But then a  nod to the times with the madness of court life at times I was reminded of Blackadder here where the court is shown for its pompousness through Tyll’s eyes. Thi has a pinch of historic fiction a pinch of Grimm add some Tolkien and classic historic comedies. I may come back to this at some point when I have more time to read around the vents and setting but it is a book with a nod to the present as well with a reminder of what has been as a warning for what is happening.

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