The Madness by Narcis Oller

The Madness by Narcis Oller

Catalan fiction

Original title – La bogeria

Translator – Douglas Shuttle

Source – review copy

You ever think you reviewed a book and then discover you haven’t well this is a case in point I can remember writing about this book but I must have deleted it or part wrote and left it but anyway I return today with a classic of Catalan fiction from Narcis Oller. He translated books by Tolstoy and Dumas into Catalan also his french edition of one of his books was given a forward by Emila Zola. So he is in that vein of naturalism and realism of writers like Zola and Dicken. He wrote a number of well-received books. Here he captures through two men who meet over a period of time the political strife that would lead towards the civil war. This is from a new press Fum D’estampa specializing in Catalan


Daniel Serrallonga was older than us and must have then been around twenty-five years old. But his pale, hollow face, thick, unfuly beard and short, auburn hair made him look a lot older. Hiseyes, round and grey and hardly visible through the thick glass of his gold rimmed Prince-nez, ever balanced on the bridge of his hoked twisted nose, added years to him or , at least , provided him with an air of being of a somewhat undefinable age due to his clear lack of youth and the veil of sadness that they conferred on him.

He paints an interesting potrait of Daniel a sort of firey man by this description.

The story revolves around two men Daniel Serrallonga who has moved to the country and are narrator we don’t get told much about our narrator just he is a lawyer who has another friend Armengol whom he first met the young man daniel at a coffee house. As they meet our narrator observes who the young man challenges the local police officer who was booed by the other in the coffee house as he takes things to far our narrator sees this as an odd action. Daniel ends up in prison. Where he starts to write political pieces, but when he is released he discovers that his articles never saw the light of day as they were just destroyed by his friends that  he had trusted to put them out there for him. what follows is over the years the three men’s paths cross the narrator’s friend Armengol swaps careers and becomes a doctor later in his life as we see daniel fall out with his family or an inheritance becomes involved with various theories to the assassination of General Prim a would-be prime minister it is either this or his family woes with his sister that lead to Daniels downfall.IS he Mad ? what drove him there.

Four years passed without me hearing anything aqbout Daniel, and had it not been for bumping into Armengol in a bar in Barcelona, it woukld have been even longer.

“Hello, hello” grinned Armengol “What are you doing here ? Its great to see you!

“You too! What a concidence!”

I’m just back from Madrid. Oh, and you can take your hat to me,I am now offically a gradute doctor. I arrived atthis morning because of some carlist stopping the train at Calaf. And You

Later it is through Armengol who sees daniel in the medical sense more in the latter stages of the book.

I enjoyed this as many of you know I work with Learning disability patients we have a number that also has mental health issues which we usually see as they are in crisis when they arrive at our ward. So I am always interested in literature that involves mental health we see daniel fall apart throughout the book this is a time before understand of what is mental health with his theories etc and the swings in his behavior he has some sort of psychosis. The novel shows the background of the time the fragile state assassinations police corruption then through Daniels family we see what happens when the family falls out. This is a sad tale of one man’s descent into the well of misery. This is seen through two sides a look back at events from the present and then the events told as they happen. This shows Oller view of the times from the three main characters point of view

Paula by Sandra Hoffmann

Paula by Sandra Hoffmann

German fiction

Original title – Paula

Translator – Katy Derbyshire

Source – review copy

As I work towards 100 books from Germany I will be featuring the other two books from the new publisher of German translations V and q here is the second of three books they brought out. The writer Sandra Hoffmann was born and still lives in Munich. She teaches creative writing. She writes for radio and her first novel what he will miss when he’s dead won a prize.  As this book did this won the Hans Fallada prizes.two years ago she was the writer in residence for the summer school for the British centre for literary translation two years ago.

Like my grandmother, I enjoy sitting by the window, and like my grandmother, I enjoy looking out at nature, I enter a state of peace that mekes me me wish she also got to experience moments like these. Sometimes, at least. I hear her sayiong: Can you see the squirrel? Can you see the yellow butterfly? And :Does that farmer have to make so much noise at this time of day? I hear her speaking her language,Her Swabian dialect, in which the sentence aboutthe farmer is Muos der um dia zeit no so n’ krach macna.”

I loved this as it remind me of my grandfather trhat loved nature as well .

This novella is told in the first-person narrative of Sandra Hoffman as a young woman and the time she spent with her grandmother of her. The big secret in the family is who was her mother’s father this is something Paula a devout catholic who has filled the house with the silence of these events. What we see is Sandra looking at photos she found after her gran’s death hidden in drawers as she tries to picture the women she knew with the woman much younger in the pictures alongside this is the everyday coming and goings of her youth her memories as she says she has had talking therapy and is maybe an unreliable narrator. I loved the touches of the times the 70s. Like when she translates Simon and Garfunkel lyrics for the song Boxer or remembering watching  Bonanza which reminds me of Sundays as a young child when it was shown here in the Uk. What we have here is a grandchild remembering a singular gran that had a secret that she never revealed like many of her generations it was a scar on her life having this child te love than in her teen years the usual hormonal struggles of the generations as they distance themselves.

My grandmother works as a cleaning lady in a big pharmaceutical company, so there are some days when she’s not at home, They, are good days because my mother is relaxed. Sometimes they’re even very good days. We wtalk to each other more. My grandmother doesn’t tell us much about  her work. Nothing much to say,she says. The most important thing is that she gets out of the house,sees other peeople whose names she never mentions, goes to a job where you have to loass through airlocks in protective clothing, where you’re deliberately silent because you’re deliberatelysilent because you’re to caught up in the protective clothes and your own thoughts

The silence and influence of her grandmother over the house is obvious here.

This is a great piece of autofiction broken memories of a relationship that at its heart of it is a void of this secret who was the Father Sandra own Grandfather the silence of the grandmother just falls off the page at times having lived with a step paren that was a silent man it is hard to fill this void as it always lingering. But the other side of this is those small everyday things we remember the memories of the little things her the jam pots she collected and her own mother as she makes things every winter. Then there are the everyday life events as the two once close as she is a child but over the years she grows apart and to dislike her part of the looking back and writing this a long time after she passed away is trying to fill in the void of her gran and the pictures she left trying to imagine what they all were about what her gran was like how she became this harden woman at the time. I often use the movie night book that Meike at Peirene uses for her novellas this is a perfect example I reread it today over a couple of hours. It walks the line between fiction and autobiography as she says she is an unreliable narrator.

Freetown by Otto De Kat

Freetown by Otto De Kat

Dutch fiction

Original title – Freetown

Translator – Laura Watkinson

Source – review copy

Well here is the first bi-weekly review post from me and I have chosen a Dutch Novel From the Dutch writer Otto De Kat which is the pen name of the Dutch Publisher Jan Geurt Gaarlandt a publisher of Non-fiction and someone I would love to chat with as he has published a ten-volume on world Literature now that is one book that could do with being translated into English!  I read one of his earlier books Man on the Move a few years ago and have also read a couple of others that I was sent. I decided it was time to feature him again on the blog.

Sierra Leone, yes, that was where Ishael came from. I asked him where he’d lived befpre, hoping he would say something, and to was away the thought of my rash offer.

“He held his right hand to protect himselfand keep the dog in her place. I noticed the pale palm of of his hand with its dark edges.It was a momnet before he said:”Sierra Leone”>I tried to remember exactly whereit was, that country I’d never met anyone from Sierra Leone.It was only a place on the mao for me, somewhere involving Diamonds and civil war. But that wasa long time ago, and it didn’t make the headlines anymore

The offer to live with her and her trying to think where he was from

This book follows a couple that had split up in their sixties. Maria is one of those women that has made it through the world herself. She is in her sixties but she has taken in a young boy Ishmael he is a refugee from Sierra Leone he delivered her papers and they struck up a friendship that leads to him living with Maria this goes well they get on and over time the older woman looks on this guy like her son. SO when she wakes one day not long after he has become a Dutch citizen. So she turns to her old lover Vincent a man who loved her but it just wasn’t ever right but as they start to discuss their own past but also what has happened to Ishmael, this will take Maria back to the heart of where he came from and confront the ghost of and the loss of a boy.

I visited his village, Vince, I havent been back from Sierra Leone that long. For three wees, I was in Ishmael’s homeland instead of where I said I was. I’d told Maarten I really wanted to make a trip to france on my own. That was fine by him, he was busy with his own life.

“Three weeks- it seemed – like an ocean of time.But it tricjkled away into the Landscape, into the river, into the villages, int the endless people. I’ve been back two months now, but sometimes I wonder if I was ever there at all.

“My first time in Africa, I don’t think you’ve been there, have you? I remember you saying you’re a European through and through, You thought rome was far enough, you didn’t need to go any further than that, did you ? And maybe you’re right. A white person in Africa, it’s not right. I was suddenly very aware of my colour.”

Her view of being a white women in Africa as she hunts for Ishmael.

The book isn’t what it seems the story has a refugee but this isn’t a refugee story it is a story of the two old lovers and what happens about human nature when Maria reconnects with Vincent how we see has never really got over the split between the two of them. The past that looms large as they talk over their memories about what they have been through but there is also the present looming large especially in Maria’s mind and discovering where Ishmael disappeared to what was his story. I feel this is what Otto De Kat does well in his books is talk about the inner working of what makes us all human he peels the onion skins back of the past of Maria and Vincent as we see what lead them to the point they are at now. This is often as the two characters recall monologues about their relationship But then when we see the part of the book where they discuss Africa it shows how People from European view Africa in a certain way. It is what I expect from Dutch literatur4e something that has real soul and a subtle view of the world a sort of Quiet loud that remains with me as a reader if that makes sense.This was made possible by a grant for the translation

Winstonsdad goes to Bi-weekly reviews

I have struggled as Mentioned before with reviews this last year so I have decided to be a lot more organized than I ever have been as I am struggling to review books it goes in blocks then nothing I have tried to just do the reviews ad hoc but this year. I have lost my usual rhythm so I decided the best thing as I managed to write two reviews a few times in one day. So I feel I will be doing a review on Mondays and Thurs moving forward if I get a chance to add reviews I will and this means if I get a spare evening I can do some other posts around books that I used to do years ago. I will be posting this Thursday. I usually have Thursday off work strange thing is this week I am working but am working this week but will have a post ready for the long-running #translationthurs hashtag I started years ago. Well on to no book things The one thing I have gained during this covid madness is a love for Nostalgia tv it’s one of the beauties of the modern age with Apps and nostalgia tv channels we have a lot of old tv shows back. SO recent watches have been V the series, The original and rebooted Battlestar Galactica now don’t worry I will be turning into a sci-fi book blog no just love a bit of 80s/90s love even my taste in music has been listening to old vinyl I been buying on Thursdays at our local flea market and our monthly record fair and the record store days means I have a lot of new records from this era to listen too. I also hope to be on Twitter a bit more than I have been this year. What have you been doing new due to Covid. We all need to keep safe and well this winter. The pic is a local statue of one of Chesterfield’s famous residents Stephenson of Train fame just seemed his measuring stick was apt for this post. Also struggling with the new WordPress format so different from the previous one which I had used for the time I have blogged anyone else not keen on this new format at mo?

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

Indian fiction

Source – personal copy

I ran a bit late and here is my last 1956 club book. It is one I have been wanting to read for a number of years as it is considered a classic of Indian fiction and one of the best books about the partition of Pakistan and India. Khushwant Singh Studied in London law and was called to the bar after that. He then worked in Lahore before partition and in the Indian foreign service these experiences lead to him writing this book about the events in 1947. He was later an editor and journalist for various publications. He also was a politician later in his life.

The summer of 1947 was not like other Indian summers. Even the weather had a different feel in India that year. It was hotter than usual and drier and dustier. And the summer was longer, No one could remember when the monsoon had been so late. For weeks, the sparse clouds cast only shadows. There was no rain. People began saying that God was punishing them for their sins

This is the opening and that long hot summer is felt like a pressure cooker of events that year.

The beauty of this book is how he chooses to use one single village that until the events of 1947 the village of Mano Marija is on the border between the two new countries as the partition is happening until then it has seen all that lived there which is a mix of both Sikhs, Hindus and Muslim. In fact the only three brick built building s are the respective temples for each religion.We have shown events the events which happen after a money lender Ram lal is murdered the suspicion falls on Jugga. When he has things taken in the robbery that lead to the moneylender’s death. This is all going to be looked at by the second main character Hukum Chand he is a magistrate that has come to see events the village has a regular train from Pakistan that arrives on a set schedule. One day Iqbal arrives on the same train as some police reinforcements this young man is very political and seems out of place in this small village. As time moves on the three main characters can Jugga prove he was just set up and what happens when the train stops coming but also when there are dead Sikhs who are caught between the two in this situation on the train from Pakistan?

The train this morning was only an hour late- almost like pre-war days. When it steamed in, the crying of hawkers on the platform and the passengers rushing about and shouting to each other gave the impression that many people would be getting off. But when guard blew his whistle for depature, most of them were back on the train. Only a solitary sikh peasant carrying an Ironshod bamboo staff followed by his wife with an infant resting on her hip remained with the Hawkers on the platform.The man hoisted their rolled bedding onto his head it there with one hand, In the other he carried a large tin of clarified butter.

The trains arrival is the heartbeat of the village as passengers and hawkers are about !

This is a short book but one of those that is like an epic in a way as it has so many little threads and little side stories about those around this small village. Yes, the village is small but the events there reflect the events in both countries as Partition happened as people tried to get to the side they wanted. The village is run by the train that comes through as everyone arrives for the train coming those selling things to the passengers and the Villagers. Then those wanting to go and come to the village in the three main characters we see the official side the political idealist. This is one of those books that everyone that has no idea of the chaos of this time and the violence that followed partition is worth reading. Have you read this classic?

Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono

Houseboy by Ferdinand

Cameroonian fiction

Original title – Une vie de boy

Translator – John Reed

My second 1956 club read take me too Cameroon and one of the first modern African writers . Ferdinand Oyono was educated in France and whilst studying in Paris he took to write his first two novels. This is one of them. He then became a start of stage and television. Then he was a diplomat representing Cameroon at the common market as it was then and was an ambassador he lead a full life and this was written in his twenties.It was published in 1966 as part of the African writer series although it is one of the earliest written books in the series having come out ten years earlier.

Everything I am I owe to Father Gilbert. He is my benefactor and I am very fond of him. He is cheerful and pleasent and when I was small he treated me like a pet animal he loved to pull my ears and all the time i have been getting an education he has loved to watch my constant amazement at everything

He had a strong bond to the father who sadly died before he was a man.

The book starts with the main character in the book Toundia Cameroonain Houseboy. He is found half dying in Spanish Guniea. This is a framing device as with him are discovered two exercise books and this is what the book is made of the diaries of this young boy. This is a tough story of a young boys life he has a violent father so he decides to run of and is taken under the wing of the local Catholic priest Father Gilbert who becomes a second father to the young boy but then in a bike crash the father is killed so the young boy is left to fend for himself. He is eventually taken in by the local Commandant for the region as a Houseboy in the house as his wife arrives from France to run the house all seems great as she is a kind warm characater but when her husband has to go away for months with her job she turns and everything the servents around the house is wrong as he sees the true face of the Europeans which till then he had looked up to and admired.

She tried to whistle but soon ran out of breath and fell silent. The noise of the bottle smashing on the cement floor brought a sharp “Damm”! She called me to clear up the mess. It was one of the bottles of preparation she puts on her face at night. Pieces of broken glass had gone under the bed. I knelt down and probing under the bed with the broom brought out not only the broken glass but also some little rubber bags. There were two of them. Madame heard the sound of sweeping stop and looked round. When saw me turning the little rubber bags over and over with the end of the broom she sprang on me and tried to push them under the bed with her. Instead she trod on one of them and a little liquid squirted out of it on the floor

The discover of these means she has had another man in her bed !!

This has the hallmarks of a lot of the early modern African fiction that came about as the countries where finding the feet it has the change of view in many people of the European former rulers of the countries in this case this is encapsulated in the character of the Madame the wife of the commandant but the behaviour of those others like the lover she has the head of the local prison leaving the young boy with a problem as he has seen this. It has the disillusionment of the young man his hope to be considered worth more with in the house leaves him with the choice that lead to the start of the book as the tale goes full circle. It capture the colonial situation in the view of one houseboy that could be seen as a wider view of the many a young man at that time. This is another reason why many more people should read the African writer series books they need be promoted more.

Nobel winner 2020

It is that time of year and we have just seen this year’s winner announced. After the controversy of Handke winning the prize. The feeling was it would be a safer choice this year. The winner is Louise Glück an american poet I have seen here name mentioned she was in this betting further down so she is a surprise. I have put a bit of bio and some poems here for you and myself she seems very much a poet about family and the personal world.

Louise Glück was born in New York City in 1943 and grew up on Long Island. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University. Considered by many to be one of America’s most talented contemporary poets, Glück is noted for her poetry’s technical precision, sensitivity, and insight into loneliness, family relationships, divorce, and death, as well as what poet Rosanna Warren has called its “classicizing gestures” or frequent reworking of Greek and Roman myths such as Persephone and Demeter. from poetry foundation

Here is a link to a poem on Poetry foundation

The Key by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

The key by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki 

Japanese fiction

Original title – 鍵 Kagi

Translator – Howard Hibbert

Source – personal copy

Here is my first of a few post time willing for this time round for Kaggy and simon year club the year this time is 1956 and the first book I have read is from Tanizaki who I have reviewed once before on the blog so when I saw this a latter book from the writer the last book I reviewed was written twenty years before this book. which is a later book by Tanzaki in his writing life. So when it was on the list of books that had come out in 1956. I decided to order it start away. The book has been made into three films over the years.

This year I intend to begin writing freely about a topic which, in the past. I have hesitated even to mention here. I have always avoided commenting on my sexual relations with Ikuko, for fear that she might surreptitiously read my diary and be offended. I dare say she knows exactly where to find it. But I have decided not to worry about that anymore. Of course, her oldfashioned Kyoto upbringing has left her with a good deal of antiquated morality, indeed, she would dip into her husband’s private writings.

The opening lines were written on new year’s day

The book has two narrative parts the both of them in the form or a diary of an older husband who has a much younger wife Ikuko whom he is very in love with but is deeply worried about his desires for her. Then we see the other side as Ikuko tries to help and follow her husband’s desires as she tries to stop letting him know she knows what he is up too. This is an inner look at a marriage of an older man and younger women and it shows the covents of the day where the only insight into there innermost wantings and desires is via these two diaries we see him for the first time see her body and take pictures and also starts to sleep more with his wife that is over ten years younger than him. when he and his future son-in-law take the drunk wife and undress her in the bed this leads to an affair on the wife. As the husband gets Kimura to develop the pictures of his naked wife the younger man is drawn to his future mother-in-law.

I suppose he carried me here from the bath that night, put me to bed, and then, since I was still inconscious, amused himself with me in all sorts of ways. Once, when he was kissing me and roughly under my arms, i was tartled awake. He had dropped his glasses onme; my eyes opened the instant I felt their chilly touch. All my clothes had been stripped off, and I was lying on my back, stark naked, exposed to the glare of light. There was two lamps; the floor lamp and another – a fluorescent one – on the beside table

She drank to much and let him use her as he had wanted too !!

At the heart of this is the problem of the convention in marriages in Japan at the time where sex and desires aren’t talked about so when on the 1st January he starts his diary as a secret but leaves the key in an obvious place for his wife to find so when she reads and starts to act out his desires he wonders how it happens. This is an erotic work a man desires for his wife to be a certain way that she isn’t this is shown when he first sees her body fully naked and who drawn he is to her. I was reminded of the emails of the german novel love virtually where it is her a flip flop of what he wants and she secretly discovers his desire like in love virtually where the two characters start opening up. |This is another gem turned up from the year club it wouldn’t be my next choice as a book from Tanizaki I had some of his better-known books down to read at some point but this is a short gem that can be read in an evening. Have you read this book?

Segu by Maryse Conde

Segu by Maryse Conde

Guadeloupean fiction

Original title – Ségou: Les murailles de terre 

Translator – Barbara Bray

Source – Personal copy

I said in my Nobel post the other day that Maryse Conde was the favorite for this year’s prize. She is still there as I checked before this post. Maryse Conde was born into a large family and was the youngest in her family by a number of years she started to write at 12. She studied at the Sorbonne. In the sixties, she taught in Guinea, Ghana(where she was deported for her political opinions and the Senegal. Then she taught in France after the sucsess if this book in the 80’s she starts to teach in the US and Universities in France. So as with other years, I like to add a writer from the betting list that I haven’t read I have had this on my tbr a while ago.

Dousika was a nobelman or Yerwolo, a member of the royal council a personal friend of the king and the father of ten legitmate, sons, ruling as fa or patriach over five famlies, his own and those of his younger brothers. His compound reflected his standing in the Segu society. Its tall facade overlooking the street was ornamented with sculptures as well as triangluar patterns carved into clay, and surrounded by turrets of varying heights and pleasing effect

Dosuika is a man of standing at the start of the book.

The book is set in the kingdon of Segu in 1797 which was a kingdom in the 18th and 19th century in what is now Mali we follow the family history of this time through the life and family of the most trusted advisor of the kings family Dousika Rearore, but he is seeing changes as the kingdom has more and more Islamic people appear but he falls out of favour as others in the palace seek to disgrace himhe dies young and we follow the story through his four sons. As the four sons he had set forth the oldest Tiekoro coverts to Islam is expelled from Tibuktu where he was studying like his father has children with different women one of which commits suicide. His life is full of up and downs like his brother and his two half brothers as we see te family move from the home across the globe.

In the countryside he came upon his host and a stout magnificently dressed man with a turban and the complextion of a moor. He greeted them briefly and was just going into his room when Abi Zayd sprang up in front of him and told him without waiting to be asked “Abbas Ibrahim is a scholar from Marrakesh who teaches at the university. He’s written several books about Metaphysics,Its a great honor, his coming to see us asking to marry my sister.

Tiekoro broke out in a cold sweat , for El-Hadj Baba Abopu’s four elder daughters were married already

Which one he asked

Abi Zayd hopped from one foot to the other

Ayisha he said mockingly

Here we see Dousika son and the evidence of Segu being more Islamic than earlier.

This a great saga of one family that in a way even thou written a couple of centuries ago is still relevant now with the growth of Islam still in parts of Africa the event her can mirror events still. The book cover family strife arguments racisim crimes and violence this is a saga of a tale vibrant colourful and in a large part based on the latter years of the Bambara kingdom through one man and his descendants. I will be reading more of Conde work see is from the West indies but spent time in West Africa due to her first husband being West African. Have you read any books by her ? would she be a good Nobel winner on the strength of this book and the sheer volume of books she has written I would think so. We will have to wait to Thursday to see if she wins !

Nobel lit 2020 ?

It is that time of year when its Nobel week and on this Thursday we find out the 2020 winner of the nobel prize.

There is a number of sites offering odds on the winner of the two I looked at the French Guadeloupean writer Maryse Conde. Best know for Segu which I will be reviewing tomorrow I also have her latest novel which I will be reviewing later in the month. There are the usual names on the list Murakami. Wa’Thiong’o, Attwood to name a few. A name missing in Cartescu who has run high the last few years. In recent years there has been a run on the winner between now and Thursday of the eventual winner. Conde won the alternative Nobel a couple of years ago when the Nobel was canceled. There has been a call for more African writers to win so she would fit into that category as would Wa Thing’o . I will be watching to see who wins and will let everyone now as usual. I’ll leave you with a couple of outside bets. Cees Nooteboom and Scholastique Mukasonga I have enjoyed a number of books by both of these writers in recent years plus I had interview Nooteboom many years ago.

Maryse Conde

What are your thoughts about this years winner ?

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October 2020


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