Pyre by Perumal Murugan

Pyre by Perumal Murugan

Indian fiction

Original title – Pūkkul̲i, Tamil –  பூக்குழி

Translator – Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Source – review copy

I draw to a close this month with one of the major Indian writers Perumal Murugan this is the first book I have read by him it is the third book to be translated by Pushkin press from him. He has written 11 novels and five collections of short stories, which means we have a lot more books to come from the book. Murugan has been writing from an early age he was featured on Indian radio as a kid he grew small holding and his father ran a soda shop which is also what Kumaresan is doing as he saves to escape with his new wife Saroja. so some of the settings has some of his own backgrounds.

As they neared the rock, she could see the faces of the women sitting there. Their voices rose in a cacophony. As soon as they saw the couple, they all got up. Everyone was silent for a minute. Saroja stood with her head bowed, while Kumaresan set the bag on the ground and looked at them.

No one said anything. There were five or six men in the crowd too.

Suddenly, from within one of the huts, there came a wail, and an aggrieved voice lashed out at them: ‘You have ruined me!’

The rock is like the island in a sea hatred.

The book was longlist for the south Asian prize and is set in the village of Kattuppati a remote village. A young man has brought home a bride after spending some time in the city. when he returns to his village and to his house on the rock ( I always feel this maybe add to the story the rock is like an island in the sea of hatred they face) with his new bride Saroja is from a different caste to her husband they return n to sure what will happen the minute they get back you get a sense that they maybe hadn’t gathered how bad the reaction Kumaresan marrying this girl from a lower caste. His mother curse her and from the get-go there is a real sense that Saroja doesn’t want and the locals will do their best to get rid of her. Meanwhile Kumaresan  is trying to build a soda business as the plan was to get the money to move this becomes more of the plan when Saroja falls pregnant but this comes as Kumaresan has to go away maybe for a few days Saroja worries about what will happen.

Then appucchi spoke again. ‘Run away from here before your uncles return. They want to hack you to pieces.

They are very upset that the boy whom they raised has done something like this. Your uncles had plans to build you a tiled house on the rock and get you married to a nice girl Couldn’t you find a girl in our village, from within our caste? We can’t even face our people. You have shamed us all. If your uncles see you now, they will hack you to death.

Hey, you! Give them something to eat if you want and send them on their way. If our boys ask, we will tell them that we were feeding some workers’

Later on the tension and what may happen becomes clearer.

This for me has so many things I love in literature the clash of cultures here is almost like a car crash as the new couple from different castes The village is a typical insular village I was reminded of the book  Stones in the landslide (as you may know one of my favourite books) where some one from the next village down moves to the village and seems like an alien to the locals this is the same feeling but tenfold. Another feeling I had was a Dickensian feel with the bottle shop reminding me of David Copperfield but dickens also tackled marriage and relationships across the class divide. It also has that feeling of cranking up the tension as the full extent of the relationship and the outfall of this marriage on the village and his family and the locals as you feel the dark and tension grow. It if Satyajit Ray had ever done an Indian version of Emmerdale this would have been it has the feeling of tension that soap operas do well at building slow tension over time you as a reader can see it coming Ray also captures the Indian village so well in his films. this is one of those books that shows us why we need more Indian books in translation the only thing we miss is as the translator says is the subtle sense of language between the village and city folks those subtle dialects that is always hard to convey in translation but it doesn’t lose anything for not having it.

Winstons score – +A I am always a fan of books set in villages and clashes of classes (Well caste her as well)


Those Holiday books and a few gifts

I promised you a tour of the books and I will also show you a couple of gifts I got or Amanda gifted me.

First is the three books I brought at the accidental bookshop the new well think it has been there a year or so in Alnwick. Firstly was a book I was on the hunt for which I had seemed mentioned on Twitter a couple of times over the few days before we went away. It follows the time the art historian Felix Hartlaub his notebooks of when he was assigned to war time Paris. I have read this and am going to reread it next week for a review.

Then I choose this I have only read the first part of Tove Dilevsen Copenhagen trilogy that is enough to know I would love anything by her another of these writers in the last few years we have rediscovered or have just reached us in English this is a collection of her short stories.

The last book I brought was this I always like to buy just three books per book shop do you have a quota per shop? I saw a few titles that I Like on their shelves but I finally went for this book by Alejandro Zambra another writer I have read before and have reviewed three books by him this had been on my list of books to read a poet wanders around a city of poets and then meets up with his childhood sweetheart who now has a child !!!. I may save this for next year’s Spanish lit month.

Then in North Berwick, I had a look around Oxfam (Am I the only one that always thinks in the Charity shop world Oxfam always seems to have the best books in them ?) it was a small shop busy but I managed to find three books again the first is this Turkish writer Yashar Kemal he was best known for Memed, My Hawk which I have somewhere and yet to get to but I have a number of Turkish books on my shelves which I am yet to get too so I have a project in mind around those books which include the new Orhan Pamuk.

Then another old Harvil this book is described as a fast-paced gripping greek tragedy set in a small French village by an Italian writer that is one that seems to tick all the boxes I like as a reader and it feels like a Christopher Maclehose book (from his time at Harvil )


Then a third book to read from last years Nobel winner I have yet to read Gurney but when he won everyone seemed to be reading him so I ll wait to get to this next year. It was also a reminder that this years Nobel is just around the corner and we will all see who wins this year.

I am a keyring fan and I brought this small Concorde model the bigger models were either to much or just to basic so I picked this and hope one day there may be a nice large model I can fin or maybe a lego model at some point.

I was torn between this and a print for the Concorde this is for my new library when I move I got this just because not had such a connection to my childhood of seeing this plane, in fact, looking like this passing overhead as I was a small child.

The last gift was one Amanda brought me is a new mug which I loved I am a fan of funky mugs and this is one and as Amanda says I am always telling the tale of when I took someone away many years ago and we visited the Coldstream guard’s museum (which wasn’t that far from where we stayed) they had let the person we had taken away try on a bearskin they had so yet again a connection to memories. But isn’t that what life is as we move forward we also have glimpses and flickers of past times every day. A little haul from a long weekend away.



Something strange, like Hunger by Malika Moustadraf

Something strange, like hunger short stories by Malika Moustadraf

US title – Blood feast

Moroccan fiction

Original title – some stories in the collection Trente six

Translator – Alice Guthrie

Source – personal copy

I have to hold my hands up this is yet another. Arab book I first heard of via Arablit first I think it was on a list of books to read from Arabic that was coming out this year. It was also on their podcast have they had a chat with Alice GUTHRIE I think I order the book the second the podcast end so caught up in the short life of this feminist Moroccan writer. She died too early as complications of her kidney disease and she had dialysis. Alice said she discover her when she was asked to translate a story by her for Words without words that were 10 years after Malika had died and she has brought most of what she wrote into English this is a short collection of short stories by a writer that tested the bounds of what she could write.

This Saturday night I feel a searing pain rip through my belly. Something warm is pouring out from between my thighs and running down my legs. It smells foul. I understand, but I don’t know what to do. I put my hand between my legs to stop this disgusting contamination
from flowing. My fingers are covered in blood. A droplet falls, dark as liver. I shudder, the iron bed frame creaks.`My teeth chatter. I feel degraded, humiliated, I’m cringing in abject shame. What if the blood floods the whole room? The stairs? The neighbourhood? I cry out. My father comes. His eyes are half-closed. What’s the matter?’ His voice sounds like a death rattle. ‘What’s the matter?’

The young girl awakes and is shocked by the blood at her father’s house.

These stories tackle those people on the edge of the world she lived in those women that just have to get by t in a male-dominated society. from a girl who needed a virginity test to marry and escape the world she lives in will she passes will her mother help her out. Will her daughter get the concrete house in ItalyThen we have a young girl with her father as she has her first period a frightening experience as her father has her every Saturday with different women by his side as she visits him.  she wakes to find dark blood between her legs and a woman she barely knows her only help as the girl ends the story the stone of dread weights her down on the Saturday visits. Then we end up on a crowded hot bus as we see a boy pick his nose she captures that crowded feeling of a busy bus so well. then the tale. IN housefly we have a depiction of cybersex as a woman chats with Jupiter 1960 as a housefly buzz around her as she does so. The last story death was meant to be part of a novel.

In front of me was a woman with a child on her back of about four years old, indifferent to what was going on around him, munching on a greasy doughnut and slurping from time to time on the snot running out of his nose. To my left was someone with body odour so nauseating it could knock a person out. And behind me was someone pressing up against me in a weird way. I could feel his
breath burning my ear. The decrepit bus moved like a time-ravaged tortoise, the driver pulling over to let scores more humans on at every stop. I don’t know how the bus had room for that colossal number of passengers.
The man’s breaths were still too close to my ear. I tried to pull away from him a little, but it was so jam-packed in there – such claustrophobia, such a stink of sweat and farts. The man was blatantly rubbing himself up against me, and if I stayed silent any longer it would be taken to mean I was enjoying the game. You bastards – even on the bus?

Claustrophobia a crowded bus caught so well in this very short story.

This is such a small collection it is so sad this is all we will have this is a writer that tests the boundaries of what she could write. she was the first to depict cybersex in Arabic Alice said in the afterword. the book is one of those that takes you into places we shouldn’t be a girl having her first period, a girl trying to prove she is a virgin than a woman laid on a bed chatting over the internet to a man that isn’t her husband. this is a grimy dark visceral world she paints a world we never see that hidden world. I suggest you listen to the Arablit podcast (BULAQ). THE afterword is enlightening with the slang used explained that opens up the world we enter the sad thing about this collection it left me wanting more she had written a novel which hopefully Alice will translate as she has such passion for this write and bringing her voice to English a brave soul that test what she could get away with. Have you a favourite female writer from the Arab world?

Winsons score – +A one hell of a collection that will stay with me and I will reread this collection for many years to come.

Our weekend away

Last weekend Amanda and I had decide well I had decided we maybe need a weekend break a few weeks before so I had a quick look round I feel comfortable driving to Northumberland now so I decided we choose there after some looking around I found a caravan for a good prize and for 3 nights it would be a great base. It is was a bit further north near the border with Scotland so I looked at places where Amanda and I could visit we  popped into Alnwick were I Used live on the way up after an early start managed a few hours there before we got in our caravan . I brought a few books in the new bookshop there the accidental bookshop. which had a great book shelf which reminds me of the one in Ryan Holiday ( daily stoic love his podcast etc)

I will be doing a post soon on the books I got I love this new shop I missed out Barter books as we had to get to the caravan and have  something to eat so we arrived and the site was nice had a lake our caravan was basic but clean and roomy for just the pair of use. I had a few places in mind for the next day we eventually decided on North Berwick which I  had never visited. It has a large hill that shelters it Ihad research most places I wanted to go watch a few you tube videos and read up on what was there. Our first stop was the steampunk coffee shop

Edited in Prisma app with Glaze

That had this great bike just by where we sat and I also got some coffee here and a funky sticker for my MacBook. We walked along the beach then went to the Harbour saw Bass rock which has the largest colony of gannets in the world

Bass rock there was boat rides there it was also there we could see across to Fife where my Aunt lives in a fishing village so near yet so far. We then had a walk around the lobster hatchery that is helping get Lobster back in the local waters. Then to the Scottish sea bird centre

They had a wonderful spair of statues one of Penguins and this of an arctic tern we went in read about Bass rock and the Gannets there was a cafe we had another coffee and some Cake looked out at the harbour and the birds. We then head back into the centre of North Berwick

As we head out of the seabird centre that had this further statue called the watch it remind me a little of TinTin something in the hair and stance maybe that is just me. we then passed this as it was the weekend before the Queens funeral.

I love crochet bombs like this they always make me smile as it is great people take time to make them and put them there for all to see we had an gelato well I did mmm blood orange and Belgian chocolate (yes I  love to eat whilst away ). I brought a couple of books in the Oxfam which I Weill show at a later date we had scene a nice print but it was a little to much when we saw the price shame but we are find another print for our house. we had a   nice lunch then returned to the caravan. We had already decided on the Sunday to go the Scottish museum of flight which we both like when we saw it was near as it had Concorde there

Which I had never seen when flying so it was great to go and look on board it is really small in side. There was a lot about the crash and the devolpment of the plane there was also a red arrow in the same hanger the museum had a number of commercial planes you could go on and exhibits of other planes Both civil and ,military but the one plane I had want to see was the Vulcan.

I grew up in Cheshire where this plane was made and serviced at British aerospace as it was then but Avro when the plane was made this used pass over me as a little boy at school so close it made you shake as we were a couple of miles from the runway so this was a flashback to that see this giant plane pass over me as a kid. (I also had nimrod and other military planes pass over me as a kid but the Vulcan is so iconic) . IT took us most of the day we had drinks and lunch there and ten head home to the caravan packed as it was the queens funeral next day so we want to get off earl we head off after a wonderful few days in a part of the country I want go back to the East Lothian and borders of Scotland is a hidden gem.

Have you a place in you think is a hidden gem maybe off the beaten track not as popular to visit ?


Girl A Novel by Camille Laurens

Girl a novel by Camille Laurens

French fiction

Original title – Fille

Translator – Adriana Hunter

Source – Review Copy

I’m late to the review of this just it was one of those books that you have to let sink into you as it was a powerful insight into growing up female in a male-dominated world. Camille Laurens is a member of the Academy Goncourt she was involved in a scandal last year around her husband getting voted on the longlist and a review she had published of another book on the list in Le Monde (I love these little snippets about writers it makes them seem real, Plus it is hard when you partner is in the same world as you and this situation happens). Camille is a prize-winner writer winning the Prix femina and has been on a number of prize Juries over the years she has had a number of books translated into English this is the first book by her I have read.

You’re a girl. It’s not a tragedy either, you see. You are slant-eyed but we’re not in China. Were not in India. In India the words “it’s a girl”  are now banned. Saying “it’s a girl” before the baby is born is punishable by three years in prison and a fine of 6,000 rupees: people are no longer allowed to ask for or carry out scans to identify the baby’s sex and then have an abortion because too many girls are vanishing; so many have been nipped in the bud that there are whole villages of single men. So many girls have been liquidated, they never use the words “sister” or”wife.” Before scans were invented girls were killed at birth. If you’d been born in India or China, you might be dead. In Rouen
everything’s fine. You’re loved in spite of it

As I said the world still has many Laurence’s in it

The book focus on a childhood in the 60s we meet Laurence she is the second daughter her family is a typical family of the time her father works as a doctor and her mother is a housewife. This is really the back bok=ne of the book the time it is set and what we see is Laurence taking apart her childhood. He wanted a son and heir. so When Laurence is born, that really sets the tone for her childhood in many ways the feeling of always being a second-class person to her father’s disregard for the siblings. The fathers constant undermining and view of the world  This is a slice of a provincial world and views you often look back on news footage of these days(I love the bcc archive YouTube channel little snippets of stories over the years) and think was that the world and this is a birds-eye view of growing up female in a male world. The second half of the book is a flip to the first as we see the daughter become a mother to her own Daughter Alice and can she change the way she was brought up it is a picture of a dotting mother trying to avoid what befell her as a child but it is also shown how times and attitudes had changed in the intervening years. The adult Laurence has scars of her childhood and certain events in her life show that.

My father takes my sister and me to see it one after the other, never together. If the boat should capsize or suddenly deflate, even with our water wings on we could drown, and he wouldn’t be able to save both of us, he’d have to choose. Now that’s a father who thinks of everything, even death. Perhaps he’s thinking of Gaelle: girls do that, they die. Perhaps if one of the two of us had been a
boy, he’d have taken us both in the boat. A boy’s good and strong, a boy can always cope. But more tellingly, I think to myself, if one of us were a boy, he wouldn’t hesitate if the boat went down, he’d know who to save.

This one passage hit me hard sad but true

This is a powerful work of feminist writing it takes apart a childhood when you were the sex that wasn’t wanted there is a universal nature to that yes our attitudes in the west have changed and moved on maybe not far enough but books like this show how far along the road we are but also are a reminder of what still has to change how many Laurence are there still around the world. Its hard not to feel there is still;l far to come as is shown when Laurence’s education and just the sheer disadvantage of being female what is shocking is this is only 60 years ago and seems a distant land for me I am a couple of decades younger, but this world felt alien to even then. She works the narrative well with all three perspectives at the time the first second and third person of this life is a woman’s life a look at those subtle obstacles that often are created whether it be sex, race or sexual orientation there is always those that tried and try to sublet unsettled people. It took me a while to review this as it just has to sink in it made me angry and sad at times and for me that is what we as readers read for those journeys those narratives other than our own to be female in a small French provincial time is something I Never could be but this book brought me into her life. Have you read any other books from Camille Laurens /

Winstons score – A – look behind the curtain at going up the wrong sex and disadvantaged due to that and how it effect her own motherhood.

Artforum by César Aira


Artforum by César Aira

Argentine fiction

Original title – Artforum

Translator – Katherine Silver

Source – Personal copy

I had read one other book by Aira it seems it is the one most people read it is An episode in the life of a landscape painter. That was in 2016 and I had brought a few of his books but they just went on to mount TBR and I think with them being short I had just never got to them so when I saw it was on the Moose on the gripes podcast last month I decided I would listen to them chat about him as he is a writer I felt I should have read more of as ever Trevor and Paul’s sheer joy grabbed me so what did I do I went and ordered two more book that would make six books I have to read and I choose this to start with as it seemed short and also a book about obsession appears I tend to be a flighty obsessive Itend to deep dive in and out of things so I will thing of a band I loved order loads cds and vinyl listen to them then be on to something else. Like many of his books it follows a man that lives in Corona Pringles. He has been drawn to getting and discovering the art magazine Artforum.

WHEN I MADE THE TRANSCENDENT DECISION to take out a subscription, I thought that all my problems were over. It wasn’t easy, I had to overcome the internal resistance of the primitive economist that I was, who didn’t buy anything if I couldn’t hold it in my hands and pay with banknotes I pulled out of my pocket. I had never taken out a subscription to any magazine, and it was strange that I hadn’t subscribed to Artforum until then, not only because it was my favourite magazine but because of how difficult it had always been to procure.

He takes the plunge and decides to subscribe to his favourite magazine


This is a quest a man’s quest obsession for a square Magazine (I was reminded of archipelago books here they are always on the whole square editions and always collectable ) He has spent years trawling shops overseeing and wanting this Magazine from America he in the ends even subscribes and he does that dance which I think many of us, well I know the is it here yet dance has the postman got it and then there is an added dimension he feels the postman may steal and sell the magazine to the book stalls and he laments that over time he had brought copies of art forum from there then he hears of some that have died and his collection is in a shop this reminds me of the weekly flick through records my local record shop does it has all the new second-hand records and if I see that one I may one I can’t wait to get there to get it myself. Then as it seems to happen a lot of books by Aira from what Trevor and Paul said there is a sudden change of tack and suddenly we are talking about a broken clothes spin (peg we would call it) this leads him to Claes Oldenburg therapist that made giant everyday objects. What happens when it stops coming?

WITHIN THE DAILY ROUTINE OF THE HOUSE-hold, small inexplicable incidents also occur. Why did it happen, why didn’t it happen? Nobody knows. All we know is that something happened. What?
Well… so many things! Something is always happening, and it’s difficult to set one incident, one anecdote, apart. How to know what deserves mention? One should talk all the time, or remain silent forever. The trifles that feed innocent chatter sink into the subsoil of the silence of the responses. Sometimes a chance repetition insinuates a meaning.
“Another clothespin broke! What bad luck!”
“I’ll fix it.” (I thought that the spring that connects the two halves had gotten detached.)
“No. It broke. It can’t be fixed.”
“Throw it away!”
“Throw it away!”

Then we discover a broken clothes peg almost like a chapter from another book had fallen in this book.

I loved this short novella I am someone that so gets obsession with something as I have a little of that and also that feeling of wanting something I think this is something that has changed in my lifetime and maybe what he has caught here is a lost world in the future what he captures is that going through racks looking for that lost copy that lost record that whatever, which is something I n the click and get off the modern world we are losing. So I am thankful that I decided to listen to Mookse and gripes podcast I m sure you all do but if you don’t subscribe they just make you a reader who really wants to discover and revisit books. We follow a man’s obsession and get drawn into his world for a short time will it come today or not? How often have I waited for that book to arrive or that record etc. Do you have obsessions or go down a rabbit hole? Have you a favourite book by Aira ? where should I go next?

Winston’s score – +A rediscovering a writer you think you may love

Co-wives, Co-widows by Adrienne Yabouza

Co-wives, Co-widows by Adrienne Yabouza

Central African Republic fiction

Original tilte – Co-épouses et co-veuves

Translator – Rachel McGill

Source – Personal copy

I saw this a few weeks ago it had passed me by when it came out last year I have read other books from the Dedalus African series. But when I saw it was the first book from the Central African Republic to be translated I knew I had to get it I am not in a rush to read every country in the world although it is something over time I want to complete I have a number of countries to go so this the second novel from Adrienne Yabouza a self-taught writer who has Feld her country because of the civil war. She worked as a hairdresser and has written since a young age she has also written books for kids this is her first book to be translated into English she has said Mariam Ba is an influence I reviewed a book by Ba 11 years ago and can see the connection as it was about   a woman whose husband has a second wife this book takes the two wives stories in a way it could be what happened next to that story.

For some reason, or no reason at all, Lidou felt a sudden pain in his chest. It was a burning kind of pain. It began to get worse. It travelled to his left arm. He dropped his radio on the floor. He tried to take deep breaths of the courtyard air, to flush away the pain, but the pain kept getting worse. He was panting now, his face contorted. He tried to call out, but his voice was weak and was drowned out by Flavour singing his hit song ‘Ashewo’, one time too many, on the radio. The four children Lidou had made with Grekpoubou were elsewhere, the son he’d given Ndongo Passy was probably still in bed. Yaché had gone out, to get her hair braided, perhaps.

The scene where he passes away little do they know what will follow this event.

The book focus on the aftermath of the death of Lidou the husband of both Ndongo Passsy and Grekpoubou the book shows how he spends time with each of the wives it is early on he grabs his chest and dies this throws the wives under the bus so to speak it turns out that his Estate is passed on to them this draws the two close as they start to fight for there world which because of the Patrica nature of the system they find them caught up to and the way those closes to Lidou have come and tried to take over his world apart from the wives so what we see is two women especially Ndongo who seems so empowered by this and takes Grekpoudou and draws the two into a sisterhood for there world. As they battle the corruption and legal world that sees them as surplus now he has died.

In PK 10, Poto-Poto neighbourhood, they were about to strike the linga drum to announce Lidou’s death.A wake was a grand occasion: people were already gathering, eager for the opportunity to let their tears flow in company. The tom-tom player began to beat out his rhythms. It was as if a termite
mound was emptying, as a whole silent population assembled in the compound.

They say that a truce should hold until the dead person is in the ground. Zouaboua didn’t care for that convention; he was already weighing up his options. He’d grown up with Lidou; they’d been like friends and brothers. If an inheritance could fill Zouaboua’s pockets, at least something good would’ve come from Lido’s death. Zouaboua had already made good progress in that direction: he wasn’t going to let a couple of gossiping wives stand in his way.

The vultures start before he is in the ground.

It is far to say I loved this it isn’t what I thought it would be which is maybe a criticism of polygamous marriages it isn’t actually at the heart of this is their world the two wives and how they are thrown together but there a connection to Lidou through marriage makes them more like sisters at times in the book. I said it was like Ba book which examined a husband who wants to take a second wife. This could be viewed as a tail end of that story in a way. What happens after that we get a glimpse into how he’d spend a night her and a night there but it also shows the corruption and how Patrica the world they live in still is. Whereas the family dynamics is deeply centred around the females. The two women are a sisterhood around Lidou. It also shows how death can leave a void and what happens when people try to grab what is left from those who should have it. An insight into death, being female, having a fellow wife and how you have to fight to get by when the male head of the house has died. how they became co-widows to keep their world alive. A great feel to the book I think Rachel has kept alive what is a book that mixes so many emotions sadness sorrow grief anger and humour all in one this has it all. Have you a favourite book from region of Africa?

Winstons score- A – has a little bit of everything `I look for in a book a village, family dynamics and also the political world it is set in.


Autumn Rounds by Jacques Poulin

Autumn Rounds by Jacques Poulin

Quebec fiction

Original title – La tournée d’automne

Translator – Sell Fischman

Source – personal copy

I read a book by Jacques Poulin mister Blue 5 years ago and loved it’s subtle tone and nature, but then forgot to get any other books by him. But it wasn’t to mention on the Moose and the Gripes podcast of him I remembered how much I had enjoyed that book it was a quiet book and quiet books for me are maybe great for autumn and I had brought this earlier this year and decided it would be a great start to autumn. Poulin is known for the intimate quiet nature of his writing he studied psychology and does seem to have a great view of human nature and how people deal with life.

In the Clarendon Bar, the driver got in the habit of sitting at the same table in a corner. First he’d check to see if Marie was there, then he’d order something light – a glass of wine, a beer, sometimes a Hot Chocolate sipping it slowly as he listened to Melodie and the band.

In this small dark room, where the ceiling fans weren’t able to drive away the blue cigarette smoke, Melodie was a different person; here, she didn’t;t try to make people laugh. It was moving to see how much sincerity she put into her interpretations of blues, especially the repertoire of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. If it weren’t for her accent, you’d have thought that she’d been born in the Deep South

His growing love for the Troop and the music mentioned is a perfect soundtrack to this novella

This is a quiet book that follows a man who is a driver of a bookmobile (we’d say a mobile library, I remember there was one used to go around Northumberland). He sets out a number of times each year to go around a number of small rural villages and towns in Quebec along the course of the St Lawrence river with the bookmobile collecting the books back in and lending out new books. So whilst he is just about to set out on his autumn round as it is called he sees a travelling troop of French entertainers acrobats one of this modern circus he is captivated by one of the troops a young woman that gives him a chill as he sees a lot of Katherine Hepburn. He falls in love with her and the trop how relaxed and fun they are he starts to Talk to Marie the Hepburn woman they connect and he tells her what he does about his van and the route he takes and the cat and just his life so when they decide to join him the two grow closers as they navigate the hinterlands of Quebec handing out books as this slow-burning romance unfold around the small village and books they are reading they connect.

The driver had finished reading the new books, both adult and children’s and he’d managed to find room for them on the shelves. That meant he didn’t have to transport them in boxes that he’d have had to stow in the cab behind the seats. The space was already taken up by two rather massive wooden chests:one contained all the tools for the truck, the other, manuscripts turned down by publishers, whose authors had entrusted them to the bookmobile in the hope of finding readers anyway- which did happen now and then.

He has shipped three boxes of books to the municipal library in Baie-Comeu, the town he would reach mid-tour, and once there, he would restock his shelves

The bookmobile was stocked ready to go I had a look at the library at Baie-comeu after reading this passage(do you do that check-up places on google ?)

I love this book as I struggle with confidence my life seems to step forward to steps back at the moment this was a perfect book I am really struggling to get into a lot of books I had read 200 pages of an Estonian epic which I had actually like but then just wasn’t able to face 300 plus pages at the moment then I look at this and knew and was right there is a time for quiet books and this is the time autumn is nearly here I am able to read a novella like this I was reminded how much I loved these sort of books and writers those that don’t have fireworks but are slow burning and thoughtful books. For another writer like this, I would be Patrick Modiano. Poulin draws us into the world of the driver his bookmobile and his blossoming romance over one autumn around the edges of Quebec as a romance slowly blossoms as the season turns. I will be getting the other Poulin books that Archipelago have in print as he is a writer I am growing to love. I’d love to know your favourite quiet writers in translation maybe other short books I could get to try at the moment.

Winstons score – A a subtle romance amongst the books on a bookmobile as a romance

The critical case of a man called k by Aziz Mohammed


THE Critical Case of a man called K BY Aziz Mohammed

Saudi fiction

Original title – Al hala al harija li al mad’u K

Translator – Humphrey Davies

Source – Personal copy

I love listening to BULAQ podcast. which is the podcast done by the people behind the Arablit blog which I have been a fan of and is my go-to place for any books I may want in English translated from Arabic. So when the last of this season’s podcast was about this book. Which was shortlisted for the international prize for Arabic fiction a debut novel from Saudi writer Aziz Mohammed it was the title of this book that caught the eye as it is an obvious nod to Kafka. It follows a writer that has just finished reading Kafka and decides to write a diary well it is more a weekly round-up meditation on his life and what has happened to bring him to where he was as 40 weeks of his life unfold.

ANOTHER BAD DAY TO MAKE do with just two hours of sleep. I wake in a panic, drive like a drunk, and make it to my desk on time. I rip off the yellow sticker, crumple it into a ball on thedesktop, and give my good morning salutation to the Old Man (as I shall call him here, in homage to my favorite Hemingway novel. He’s the man who occupies the desk next to mine or, perhaps I should say, to be more precise, the computer screen next to mine, since after they increased the number of
employees to beyond the department’s holding capacity, they put a new desk between each two old desks. Now the place is full to overflowing with squashed-together, parallel rows of screens, each open to the next, like in the computer lab at a school. The only thing that interrupts their serried lines is the space allotted to the printer, which continually gives off noises, pushing out one sheet of paper after another and forcing you to rush over to it the moment you print anything so that your
sheet doesn’t get lost among other people’s.

The opening of the second chapter or week two of our narrator’s diary.

The narrator is unnamed he is a young man and we get that he has never quite felt in place all his life this is also connected to his health he has never felt well this is shown by his visits to doctors even thou he is told he is well there is a sense early on something isn’t quite right he talks about bad days and two hours sleep. Then we see into his present which we see him working at an Oil company this is one of the few hints scattered here and there to where the book is set as the stripping of names and place names another nod to Kafka but it also adds a universal nature to the narrative this could be anywhere as the podcast said and what drew me in the are hints scattered here. The nature of our narrator is that he is a man that struggles to connect to women his sister and his mother just don’t get him there is just one point he seems to connect with a female at the hospital but more about that later. We get a glimpse into his work life which remind me why I do my job and he felt he is a man out of sync with those around him in the office and a bunch of colleagues. That you’d meet at most companies those that buy into the business world love being successful and the trapping the opposite of our narrator a man that is part worry about his health and part world reader he loves books from around the world the start of Kafka to when he talks about the other writers he loves like Hemingway and Tanizaki. Then we see him open a train to the capital to see a doctor and finally get to the end of the reason he doesn’t feel right. Well, he is told he has cancer the second half of the book follows his journey as I said at the start this our narrator has never felt quite right even when this is the case he isn’t settled if that makes sense.

I, for my part, have worked here three years. Let’s call it. the Eastern Petrochemicals Company, after the Eastern Petroleum Company where one of Tanizaki’s protagonists works; this is appropriate as we are in the eastern, oil-rich, part of this country (it’s better not to give specific names or places as I don’t know who may not barge in some day and read what I’ve written). It’s a large company, with a guaranteed future, and that’s what matters. As an IT graduate, it would make no difference if I were working in an electricity, gas, fertilizer, or any other crap company. I didn’t put a lot of thought into choosing my college major either. My father died when I finished high school, and that timing played a part in directing me toward options with financial incentives. This specialization was said
to be in demand in the labour market, and what more can anyone ask than to be in demand in the labor market? One has to earn one’s living somehow: young people are suffering from
unemployment, the house needs the salary, and are you better than Kafka? These are good enough reasons for me to make sure I keep my place among the white-collar workers.

His workplace he uses Tanizaki’s company name as another way to avoid it seeming like a Saudi novel.

I focused on the first part of the book as for me it was the part that grabbed me the latter part worked as a narrative of having cancer. I supported a service user in my previous job on his weekly appointments for his Leukaemia so the story of his hospital appointments but also the way he felt reminded me. of that time and the chap, I looked after. Aziz has said his narrator isn’t him, but maybe part of him is the way the mother reacts to the narrator’s books that made me laugh. for me, our narrator is a Saudi Adrian Mole his love of books the worries around the woman and also maybe a half-empty view of life. it is a book that has a little of Joshua Ferris and his like those great post 200 pre covid books that caught the workplace add to this is a sickness memoir but the male version of this may be like a Saudi John Diamond coping with cancer. Add to the flourishes of Kafka to it. for me, it is hard to think this is a debut novel as it is accomplished in it style and the narrator’s voice is so strong and he seems to capture a man that is like a square peg in a round hole of life. What is your favourite book from Arabic do you listen to BULAQ if not give it a try. this is a Saudi novel that isn’t overly Saudi and it works so well as it gives a universal feel to our narrator’s story and life which is maybe why he talks about Western, not Arabic literature.

Winstons score – +A one mans birth cycle of having cancer.

September 2022


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