Three rival sisters by Marie-Louise Gagneur

Three rival sisters by Marie-Louise Gagneur

French fiction

Original title – Trois soeurs rivales

Translators – Anne Aitken and Polly Mackintiosh

Source review copy

I always enjoy when small presses find writers that haven’t seen the light of day in English. Here is another example of such a discovery from  Gallic books. A leading feminist writer in her time Marie-Louise Gagneur born in Doumblane she wrote more than twenty novels in her lifetime. They often focused on Anti-clericalism and the status of women. She campaigned to change the divorce laws, She was appointed to the chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur a year before her death. Her daughter was a famous sculptor. This is the first time she has been translated into English and is one of three books from Gallic books of french feminist writers the Revolutionary women series.

Henriette was twenty-five years old, with brown hair. Her features, whilst less refular than those of her sisters, had nonetheless a certain refined and intelligent appeal. Unlike her sisters, she was not immediately beautiful, but beneath her rather forbidding exterior lay a passionate nature, and her energetic and sharp movements suggested a stormy temperament that had been rather supressed by her upbringing had turned her natural tendency to moderate her bahaviour into a cunningness that manifested itself in the thin line of her mounthand her dark searching eyes.

I was remind of Mary bennet here in the story with the description of the eldest sister.

There are two stories in the book the first is a tale that is in a classic style of the time I was reminded of those period dramas I watched years ago. from Austen to even Catherine Cookson sisters as rivals for a man is a recurrent theme in stories around this time. it is a tale of three sisters and a man. set in the village that the writer grew up in herself. The sisters Henriette described as not as regular as her sisters but with a forbidding exterior lay a passionate nature energetic with a temper. Whereas Renee is described as like a Durer subject while her blond hair and blue eyes that look like pools of kindness I loved that description then Gabrielle is described as a mixture of her sisters the cat is set amongst the pigeons when a man appears the three sisters compete for his affections and eventually marriage. But when the race is run is the prize as sweet as expected !!

But Gabrielle, with her senesitive disposition, vivid imagination and a loving nature that bordered on obsessive, longed to find love as a prisoner longs for freedom and fresh air. She was like a carnation whose stem drooped under the weight of too many petals; she felt burdened by her overflowing heart. Her steps became slow and heavy and her shoulder stopped, her eyes were glassy and her gaze feverish, her pink nostrils flared ocasionally as if shewere drinkingin some hidden pleasure from the aire, she laughed or cried hysterically at the slightest provocation. And then paul Vaudrey would take her hand and look into her eyes with an expression that made her tremble. She was in love with him , and adored him with all the impulse and virginal devoution of first love.

They say love is blind her is a perfect description of that !!

I said it was like period dramas it is in the initial story the three sisters’ good have jumped off the pages of Pride and prejudice. I was reminded of the Benet sisters especially the description of Henriette was very like the way Mary was described. There is a second story a man loses his first wife as she is poisoned leaving him to marry his lover it is a shorter story the main story is the sister’s story which has a feminist twist on the pursuit of the man and also when they marry Paul is he all he seemed well given the time we maybe get a less rose glassed version than Austen did in her book once they married there it all went well here we get a glimpse at what probably happened when a modern woman of that age married a man. An interesting book that is of its time but isn’t aged and would make a great tv drama.

 

Two views by Uwe Johnson

 

Two Views by Uwe Johnson

German fiction

Original title – zwei Anischten

Translator – not noted but it is indicated that it may be Paul Christopher

Source – personal copy

Well, I usually have more german books read during this German lit month but this month has just gone to pot so I am now arriving at Uwe Johnson a writer that has been on my reading list over the last few years since the news anniversaries was being given a new translation his masterpiece. He was a member of the Gruppe 47 post-war writer in Germany. He initially was more of a translator of English literature into german as his early book Ingrid Babenderde was rejected by many publishers. He spent time also as an editor. This came out in the mid-sixties and was the last book before his four books that formed his masterpiece anniversaries came out. I have part read it but it is so huge I need to give it another run. In the later part of his life, he lived in the Uk in Sheerness which is where he died.

After Nurse Beate had been working in a large hospital in East Berlin for some time, the administration offered her lodgings in the organizations staff house. Green garden light swept into the room, tinting the face of the man behind the desk; a place in a two-bed room was considered a privilege; she was standing

she hesitated before answering, to find out. she saw the functionary comparing the passport photo at the top of her file with hersekf, and tired to look as blonde, unspoiled, and trustworthy as the man wantedto believe she was, altogether, she felt reminded of school

Marie is young and just starting her nursing career and had joined a hospital in Berling

Well, two views is an interesting book. if a little slow-burning book that uses two characters and event around the time the Berlin wall went up and the east and west part of Germany became split the story follows Diebert a photographer who is in Berlin in his new sports car which later is stolen he spent all his money to get. He is taking pictures of the new wall that has just been built but he is also trying to find the nurse he had met sometime earlier an East german Nurse Beatie whom he had a brief fling with in January now they have the wall as a barrier and the story follows how they are dealing with the Wall and their new lives this isn’t a political work it is a personal view well two views of this world they are living in this is a relationship split as many where at the time like the families divide when the two countries have split up. A plan is hatched to bring the young nurse to the freedom of the west but will it work will they be the same as they were before with that brief fling.

The prestigous sports car had really set up the tourist Dietbert during his latest visit to West Berlin. He had felt more entitled to take his place in the columns of cars that fought for the room between the ling rows of buildings. He had braked with more bravua in front of pedestrians, had driven more gaily into all thoseunfamilar districts. In the restaurants the car key did not remain in hi pockety long; it soon appeared on the table, exposed to everyone’s eyes. It had pleased him, when he returned to the exotic car to find people standing around it wondering at the small town number plate. Then calmly getting in.

His car which he used two years of saving from his photos to get but it is taken later on.

I enjoyed this I have another novel a friend sent me by Johnson and am hoping to get my hands on a book that is coming out about his time in sheerness. It is a book of its time that short time of the divide German that in the west and east produced a number of great books looking at how the wall affected the personal lives of those who had been directly affected by it being built. This an easier work than anniversaries which is complex in parts this is a simple story of lovers torn apart as the chapter flip from one of the lover s to the others as they try to get by. that shows the wall as both physical but also an emotional war between the two young people. Have you read any Johnson.

Fear in the World by Corrado Alvaro

Fear in the world by Corraldo Alvaro

Italian Fiction

Original title – L’uomo è forte

Translator – Allen Cameron

Source – review copy

I love reviewing books from new publishers to the blog and this is pone from Vagabond voices whom I have a few books already I have brought over the last couple of years but when I got the chance to review this book from them I jumped at the chance. The writer of the book Corrado Alvaro isn’t very well known outside Italy he was a journalist and writer from 1910 through to just after the second world war when he died of Cancer his best-known book is Revolt in Aspromonte looked at the plight of peasants at the hands of corrupt landowners is considered a masterpiece and a prime example of the Vermiso style. But he wrote this after a visit to Russia but it was considered to be both critical of the Russian system and the Fascist system it was banned in German when it came out the title in the original edition was changed to Man is strong from fear in the world which is the title Alvaro had wanted for the book.

Dale found Babara at the station, as he’d instructed her, He was to hand over a package and a small amount of money from her aunt who lived abroad. Dale had lived much of his childhood abroad and was no longer a teenager when he found out that his country was embroiled in a civil war between two factions; the partisans and the combatants. The partisans had won. One day fifteen years after these events, he visited his country of origins stand at the international exhibition in the city of P. , where he lived.He was impressed by the eight-meter tall statue of a couple – man and woman – advancing with determination and gazing confidently at the future that awaited them,

This is a great intro as the statue is maybe a foreboding for the pair of them moving forward !!

The novel is a love story of Dale an Engineer who has spent a long time away from an unnamed country that has just finished a civil war. He has returned to rebuild the country. The Partisans won the war and he returns to find the positive side initially of the new regime hope for a bright future sees this via statues and the rebuilding of the country which he is part of the rebuilding. Early on his return, he meets Babara she was on the opposite side of the war. So when the pair fall in love this is the start of the downfall of Roberto Dale as this relationship is seen as unsuitable by the regime. They start to watch the pair and try and stop them by various means of both physical intimidation and psychological means. In the end, things turn bleak as Roberto is caught and then falls foul of the regime in full.

Dale started to tell him that some people with malign intentions were spreading discontent, and they used objects brought in from foreign countries to give the impression that over there things were better. Foreign money provided the suggestive image of an unknown world which even appeared designed figures in the banknotes, While he spoke, he completely forgot that he had behaved in precisely this manner and by these means, he had been able to influence Olga, the young chambermaid who he had become hi slave. But Ilga knew nothing and was too foolish. Dale also had his subordinates who tremble before him and he needed as much as he needed life itself.

A look at how caught up in this world he had got caught at one point.

This is in the line of Dystopian classics it is a forerunner of 1984 as mentioned on the cover it was written ten years before that book this is in a vein of the earlier books that looked at the Soviet system like Brave new world by Huxley it shows the horrors of totalitarianism but it also likes his fellow Italian writer Pirandello Alvaro could foretelling the  way the way both Fascist and communist totalitarian states would go this could be seen as either The height of Italy under Mussolini with mistrust of all those opposing Il duce all around or even later East Germany where everybody watches each other and the lover in this book would be under constant observance from the regime. So if you take part in brave new world throw in a bit of the film lives of others and add to that a blossoming romance we get this lost classic out in English for the first time a simmering book of how the perfect dream of a brave new world post-war when the world Dale saw was a hopeful place in the exhibit he saw the statue of a couple holding hands overly symbolic when viewed after reading the book. Have you read or heard of Alvaro?

The Jew Car by Franz Fühmann

The Jew Car by Franz  Fühmann

German short stories

Original title  Das Juden Auto

Translator  Isabel Fargo Cole

Source – personal copy

It is one of my favourite months German Lit month I always try and find a new writer or two to try and here is another new writer to me. Franz  Fühmann He was an East German writer but as shown in this book he was drawn in by the Nazis this book reflects his own circle as the start of him with the story of the Jew car and the end of the line grasping Socialism and the soviet ideals as the end of the nazis with the Nuremberg trials. He was a writer that wrote a lot for children but later life grew disillusion with the values of the East German government. He also translated Czech poems and literature he had a love for these writers so when the Prague spring happened he saw his views changed. He wrote a lot of letters to Christa wolf over the years and in the afterword, Isabel cole said he was working on a 1000 page novel that never saw the light of day.

A jew car , she spluttered, had appeared in the mountains, driving in the evening aling the lonely roads to snatch little girls and slaughter them and bake magic bread from their blood; it was a yellow car, all yellow, woth four jews inside, four swarthly, murderous jews with long knives, and all the knives were bloody, and blood was dripping from the running board, people had seen it as clear as day, and they’d slaughtered four girls so far, two from Witkowitz and two from Bohmisch-Krummaj they’d hung them by the feet and cut of their heads and drained the blood into vats , and we were piled on top of one another

Ithis part remind me of a similar story of hate used about witches in an episode of X files that had been also used in the war years.

I described this as short stories it is really a collection of Vignettes that could be described as a journey, it is that of the writer himself it starts when he is young and underlines the beginnings of the Nazis and the Anti-Jewish thoughts as the title story is the first story and it uses a tale of four Jewish men in a car as a scary tale for kids this is a classic piece of hate stories whether the people were Jews, Women, Witches, Black, Irish, etc the fact is as a young boy he is drawn to tell a tale of being chased by “The jews Car” . Then as he moves through school we see the growing influence of the Nazis as he is drawn in by a radio Drama of the Fuhrer as a soldier in world one his battle as a private in that war. That inspires him to join the Wehrmacht then he is sent to fight but he is bright with hope as he believes in what they are doing but as the stories move on our narrator sees the folly of the war and towards the end of the war sees the lines of each side coming close and he ends up on the soviet side of the end of the war. He is a POW as the trial happens.

I witnessed the founding of the German Democratic republic as a teaching assistant at an anti-facist school in Latvia – still a Soviet POW, but freer than before. I had come to the school in the autumn of 1947, and with the introductory courses on polticial econemey thr scales fell from my eyes: here was the answer to all the questions that drove me, and as I burrowed through the thick volummes of Karl Marx’s Capital, the stations of my life appeared, tangtibl;e as the desk where I sat, and my eyes now clearly, down the depths of time. The course lasted half a year, then I was asked whether I wanted to go home or stay on at the school as an assidtant. and I stayed.

The end story sees him go full circle in his views and see what he had done in the past !

This shows as he said in the leitmotif of the book “HOW deep does memory reach?” as I said the story has a circle feel to it as iot shows its writer go from the early years and his being drawn into Nazis views with the story of a blood-soaked car with four Jewish men with knives chasing kids.  To being a POW and discovering Marx Capital as this is happening there is the backdrop of the Nuremberg trials. I was reminded of the journey undertaken by the narrator was similar to those in the film Stalingrad which saw the characters loving being in the Wehrmacht then as they head to Stalingrad the cracks and true tale of what is happening to the country starts to dawn on them. As it sats in the full title of the book this is fourteen days of one mans life over two decades. It is one man’s vision of those years a personal journey that many people took and would have to reflect on or even just try and forget and that is being a Nazis. Like the silent trump supporters of today, post-war everyone would have avoided calling or admitting to being a Nazis but we know a lot more people were than ever admitted it. I read this collection in a day and enjoyed it and was gutted to find out his last book never saw the light of day this is a writer that lays open his life. Have you read this book or any others from the seagull books. this is a paperback reissue of one that came out a few years ago.

Daughters by Lucy Fricke

Daughters by Lucy Fricke

German fiction

original title – Töchter

Translator – Sinead Crowe

Source – review copy

I now come to the last of the three books that V&Q brought out as the English language debuts so I made it the first book of this year’s German lit month. This is the fourth novel by Lucy Fricke she has previously won the Bavarian book prize and was a writer in residence for the German academy in Rome.  She also started the festival Ham.Lit a live lit festival in Hamburg she lives in Berlin and this is her first novel to be translated into English.

When Martha was born, this grim council block was brand new. Back then, young famlies were moving in, Now, the parents who remianed were dying here. Most of their kids had escaped, some of them by studying, going abroad for a while and moving to berlin like Martha, I imagine, I’d never been here before, tet it all felt familar. I grew up on a main road in Hamburg, in a building just like this one, in a flat in which I hated every object. We’d never talked about it, only mentioning our childhoods in anecdotes we were unable to laugh at. It was as if we’d just fallen lut of the sky one day – or been chucked out, more like. Martha and I were twenty when we first met, by which point we’d already severed ourselves from pur backgrounds

They never talked much about there lives til this road trio as they where friends as adults only.

I left this to last as of the three it was the one that appealed least to me. But as I read it I discovered a funny book that reminds me of a book I read years ago but more of that later. At the heart of the book is the relationship between two women Martha and Betty they are in the forties and are about to take a road trip. The premise of the trip is to take Kurt the father of Martha who is dying and wants to End his life and wants to go to one of those euthanasia clinics in Switzerland. As Martha takes him she asks Betty to come with her it is Betty that narrates the story of this road trip. She has children but has had a conveyer belt of men in her life. This sets up the book and the themes of father’s daughter partners life and death all this as they travel with Kurt. He had chosen his last night at a special hotel but when a call from his past means he cancels his appointment with death and takes a trip to his first lover and his past. This also is the backdrop to the story of the two women with Marhta’s lack of having a child and the constant men in Betty’s life her search for a father figure in her life. They end the trip far from where they started having spent time In Italy to visit a grave of a lost father figure and then finally Greece.

The hotel had looked luxurious on the internet. Now, though, we were standing in a small dark lobby, the bar was closed, the pool dorty, the rooms not yet ready yet. Kurt disappeared off to the toiler as soon as we arrived. The facade was being renovated, the receptionist informed us. which meant a view of scaffolding instead of Lake Constance, and builder gawping in at Kurt when he opened his eyes for the very ast time.

Martha tried to explain ti the young man that her father would be spending his last – literaally last- night here, a night that was probably as important as one’s wedding night, maybe even more so. Had the receptionist ever thought about that? could he imagine it  had he ever given a moment’s thpught to anything in his entire life

The last night is a disaster when he arrives and the place isn’t as it seemed for his last night on earth

I said at the start this reminds me of a book I read a while ago. That was Tomorrow Pamplona which was one of the first Peirene books that are also a road novel but unlike this book, it was a male road trip of a man in middle age like the characters in this book that has reached the point in their lives where they need ti to escape their lives and the use of a road trip in both novels is the catalyst for them thinking of what they are doing in there lives. Martha helps Kurt but has struggled not being able to conceive and has troubles with her father in the past. Betty has children and is very funny her wit makes this book a delight it is sardonic. Also her lack of a father figure growing up which leads to a side trip to Italy to visit the trombonist the one person her late mother had that she really connects with she wants to visit his grave. As the last of what has been three of the best novels from Germany I have read in recent years these bods well for future books from V&Q. If you want a book that is part Wim Wenders road trip, part chick flick, and part sentimental movie all in one book this is the one that appeals to all.

That was the month that was October 2020

  1. Segu by Maryse Conde
  2. Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono
  3. Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh
  4. Freetown by Otto de Kat
  5. Paula by Sandre Hoffmann
  6. The Madness by Narcis Oller

I managed six reviews last month. One new publisher Fun de Stampa the publisher of The madness is a publisher that brings us books from the Catalan region of Spain. I have two more from them to come. I reviewed books from six countries. I went from historic Africa then to Africa more recently just as colonial times have ended. Then a modern classic of Indian fiction a dutch novella. Then a granddaughter recounts her silent grandmother and a family secret. Then a man sees a fellow man that descends into madness in victorian Spain.

Book of the month

I loved this book a granddaughter recalling warts and all her grandmother a woman of silence about events in her past. Sandra hoffmann uses her own personal history this is her family story who was her grandmother.

Non book events

Well I have had a quiet month the highlight would has been last record store day the last after yesterday’s lockdown announcement.

I got a Calexico LP an Americana band I have been a fan of for a number of years a record  by Bob Mould a guy that has been in two great bands Husker du and the Sugar and last and most important Songs for Drella the Lou Reed John Cale collaboration a tribute to Andy Wahrol the Drella of the title he said he was part Cinderella and part Dracula. I have loved this album already have it on cd but loved to get it on Vinyl as well.

I also as of today thanks to the Nordic fiction publisher Nordisk I have a shelf of five books from Norway I have chosen for the new site Bookshop.org here is my shelf of books.

Next month

Well I will be back with a review tomorrow as I have done this round-up today. I will as ever in November be reviewing a few German books for German lit month I have two reads already under my belt otherwise I have a comic Swedish novel and an Italian book about a father and son travelling. I would be back tomorrow a shorter than normal round up as I am not in best of health at the moment a tummy bug.

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