That was the month that was November 22

  1. Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler
  2. Like a Prisoner by Fatos Lubonja
  3. What we leave behind by Stanislaw Łubieński
  4. What Have You Left behind ? by Bushra AL-Maqtari
  5. The Last One by Fatima Daas

I start with my only book for German lit month a Swiss novel about a Turkish Family that moves to Switzerland as the husband abuses the wife and gives her what see calls her Blue jewellery of bruises. Then a collection of short stories from his time in the Albanian Gulags from Albanian writer Fatos Lubonja. Then a n environmental nature book about what we drop and dispose of the plastic waste and its lasting impact on nature. Then a harrowing collection of first-hand accounts from those who had lost family in the Yemeni civil war. Last stop was a French Algerian Women’s account of trying to be a lean and a Muslim in modern France. Well five countries no new countries this month also no new publishers.

Book of the Month

This was such a close month all the books I reviewed were stunning books each for there own reason but this so grab me I sat in town one day in a coffee shop and just drifted into the world of the camp the story of the man losing his cat will stick with me for ever. hope and loss and despair and joy all wrapped up in one story.

The month ahead

I am in a reading slump (as I said these were great books it is hard after five books this good to read anything)  and a blogging slump (just time and a new role at work so should be a bit easier now). So I am not putting any pressure on myself I think it will be reading a number of short books I review and maybe one long book. I usually find the reading clock gets wound up tight near the end of the year it is like wind-up car we had as kids. T his time of year I need to be picked up and wound up.  I am just running out of steam and this month I will be looking at the new year and as ever starting with a clean slate and lots of hope for 2023. I look forward to the new year and great Christmas. What are your plans for the month ahead ?

Non-book events

I finally got around to Andor the latest Star Wars series I had tried it and just not gotten into it straight off. but I sat and gave to another chance to watch it again. This time I was drawn in it has a darker feel and is maybe the best series they have done as it is separate from the other series it has no real connection to the films barring the film that had Andor as a character. I start a new temporary role at work this month which maybe explains the lack of reading I am settling into this is my third week.

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the Last One by Fatima Dads

The Last One by Fatima Daas

French fiction

Original title –La Petite Dernière

Translator – Lara Vergnaud

Source – Library

I love my local library it is well stocked and gets a lot of new books in so I often go and look for something I have missed or maybe just missed and this is one such book. I think I saw it around Twitter maybe when it came out. Fatima Daas is a leading new voice who sold very well in France and is a feminist she identifies as an intersectional Feminist. This is the pseudonym of the writer she adopted it in her mid-teens she was taught by the writer Tanguy Viel she went on to study literature at this time she also had her sexual awakening and its effect on her religion and family this is a complex work about growing up Lesbian from NORTH African family and trying to remain a Muslim. a stunning debut from a new talent.

My name is Fatima.

The name of a symbolic figure in Islam.

A name that must be honoured.

A name that mustn’t be “soiled”, as we say in my

house.

In my house, to soil means to dishonour. Wassekh, in Algerian Arabic.

Or daria, darija, our word for dialect.

Wassekh: soil, stir shit up, blacken.

It has multiple meanings, like “close”.

My mother would use the same word to tell me

I had got my clothes dirty, the same word when she came home and found her Kingdom in bad shape.

The opening chapter and the first time we see My name is Fatima Daas

This book uses the same beginning at every chapter MY name is Fatima Daas what follows is how she is growing and the struggles a young woman has growing up. During her school years, she struggles to fit in as a pupil going off the rails till she finds her voice in writing. Then her family and how will she fit in when she discovers her sexuality. Then this has a knock-on effect on her religion. she dreamt of being ani man and how can she aline herself with the values of the religion. How do you cope when you grow up as a Lesbian Muslim in Modern France? This is a refreshing take on the Bildungsroman. The pains, sadness and small wins along the way. The book is hypnotic at times with the repeating motif and the initial description of where Fatima is in her life at this point. Its a tale of how to break free and become your own person but also keep at heart where you are from and who you are! what you become and how you became.

My name is Fatima Daas, I was born in France, sometimes I spend more than four hours on public transport to get to class, work, a theatre, a museum or back home to my parents’ house.

I begin to take public transport regularly when I’m eighteen.

After a while, I experience “commuter fatigue”, the kind that induces a migraine at pretty much the same time every evening, that makes you prematurely realize that your body is aging, that colours your mood, prompts you to overreact, to complain almost as much as the Parisians, and to bursts of anger that are difficult to control.

It’s the kind of fatigue that makes you think about

“moving closer”.

A later chapter about being a commuter in Paris

This is a work that draws you into Fatima’s life with the repetitive nature of the chapters. It is like the drumbeat of Kodo drummer beating and driving the fragments of her life as we see a girl that should have been a boy to her father. Then growing up in the France of LE pen etc being Algerian and  Muslim been twisted by what that means when you sexually awaken to the fact you’re a girl attracted to Girls. This is a side of modern France rarely seen. How do you identify yourself this is how we deal with Labels we all have labels but do they define you or create you what labels do you show which should you hide? A great slice of Autofiction just after the master of Autofiction won the Nobel this is maybe this generation Ernaux a strong female with her own struggles and emotional journey like Ernaux before her. Have you a favourite work of Autofiction or a favourite Queer novel in translation?

Winstons score – + A this is why I read books in translation insight into other lives and places.

 

What have you left behind ? by Bushra AL-Maqtari

 

What Have You Left behind ? by Bushra AL-Maqtari

Yemeni Non-fiction

Original title –

Translator Sawad Hussain

Source – Review copy

I got sent this from the folks at Fitzcarraldo a press I have loved since they started there is rarely a press that you have never read a book you didn’t like in fact more than that their books have been among my favourite reads of each year for the last few years . So when I got this and on the back cover I saw the words that it was inspired by her reading of Svetlana Alexievich. Bushra Al Maqtari is a novelist and writer she first came to the fore in 2012 with her novel behind the sun and then her writing has become more nonfiction. This book lifted the lid on the personal effect of the long-running and under-report civil war in Yemen.

My brother is still tormented, he can’t sleep, he can’t forget. He’s preoccupied with finding treatment for his injured son. I carry my brother’s sorrows on my back, I enter the house and the memories come rushing back.

I remember my brother’s children and his wife, their laughter, the noise they would make, our beautiful life together. Damn the Coalition and whoever came with them to our country, damn every side that has murdered Yemeni people. They’re all just that – murderers. Who will bring back Malak, Malakat, Mohammed and Asma to my brother? Who? Tell me who? Who?

No one. No one cares about what happened to us.

Ahmad Abdel Hameed Sayf

At 5.40 p.m. on Thursday, 26 January 2017, the Arab Coalition aeroplanes targeted Ahmad’s brother’s house, Fahmi Abdel Hameed Sayf in al-Qutay in the governorate of al-Hu-daydab. His brother’s wife Asma Abdel Qader Yassin Sharaf (30 years old) was killed, and her children: Mohammed Fahmi

The last paragraph and what happened to Ahmad and his family in the opening narrative.

In her Nobel-winning speech, Svetlana Alexievich described how Flaubert called himself a Human Pen from his writing but Alexievich described herself as a human ear. That is what we have here with Busrha’s narratives they are a polyphonic collection of voices of the outfacing of the v=civin=il war a collection of people killed by the war. The book opens with Ahmed’s account of a bomb landing on his brother’s house meaning the loss of his sister-in-law his niece and his nephews. This is how the book is formed each chapter an account and each account ends with when the attack or killing happened where and who died. under the mango tree AL Ahamad says how he dreams of those he has lost all the time. Mothers lose their children as they are targeted and killed by Militia How the loss of children changes mothers, This is a chorus of loss and the ripple effect of this the immediate damage and loss but also the long-term trauma and loss to the society.

I lived in a country where dying was taught to us from childhood. We were taught death. We were told that human beings exist in order to give everything they have, to burn out, to sacrifice themselves. We were taught to love people with weapons. Had I grown up in a different country, I couldn’t have traveled this path. Evil is cruel, you have to be inoculated against it. We grew up among executioners and victims. Even if our parents lived in fear and didn’t tell us everything – and more often than not they told us nothing – the very air of our life was poisoned. Evil kept a watchful eye on us. Svetlana Alexievich

I feel this maybe capture so well what Bushra Al-Maqtari is trying to capture in this book the horror of war is known but the personal effect isn’t the families or those we loved we have lost adds to a  more powerful narrative voice a chorus of loss. You can see the nod to a book like Chernobyl the way you grab the attention of the reader is a polyphonic collection of experiences a patchwork of the war the gaps are those doing the killing these are this effect but the killer of the forgotten war. What we see is how it we deal with the human cost of war and the loss of the fabric of society. I was reminded of how the late great Dasa Drndric had described to me that the Italian version of her book had a rip out section of the book list of list Jews oink the war in Italy she’d pass it round and have people rip out names of the knew as the did the book fell apart like society itself with the loss of all these lives and voices.  This is their civil war is tearing their world apart the how=rror and cost of the war in Yemen haven’t been reported enough it has taken a strong voice like Bushra to be an activist and voice for this war and its effect. Have you a favourite book about war that uses first hand accounts?

Winstons score – +A another home run for Fitzcarraldo

What we leave behind by Stanislaw Łubieński

What we leave behind by Stanislaw Łubieński

Polish Nature Writing

Original tile – Książka o śmieciach

Translator – Zosia Krasodomska-Jones

Source – review copy

As many of you know the last twelve months I have featured a lot more nature writing on the blog so when I was sent a book in translation. that was a nature book it was great to combine to the two genres I really love books in translation and Nature writing. Stanislaw has written a number of books. He contributes regularly to paper in Polish papers and magazines this is his first book to be translated into English. He won the NIKE reader prize for one of his earlier books. The birds they sing. It says on his bio he grew up watching birds with his Soviet binoculars (reminds me of the early days I used bird watch a lot with my grandad’s old military binoculars).

Let’s start with a clarification to avoid any misunderstandings: hunting ducks has no practical justification – it’s purely for sport. A display of dexterity, like shooting live clay pigeons.

But what have the ducks done to deserve to die? Pond owners sometimes complain that they eat fish food. They certainly do. According to studies from the 1980s, they eat between 2 and 7,5 per cent of distributed feed. That’s not very much.

Scientists say that the presence of many bird species at ponds brings advantages that outweigh the drawbacks. Ducks, coots, grebes and even herons prevent the surface water from becoming overgrown, they eat the larvae of predacious insects that feed on spawn and fry, and they clear sick or dead fish from the surfaces Why do we kill ducks, then? Simple: it’s tradition.

The question about the value of Duck hunting is there any these Days !!

The book has the subtle A birdwatcher’s dispatches from the taste catastrophe. The book is formed of eight chapters a number of which take waste he had found. As you know I love correlations to my own life as a reader the journey isn’t just that of escape but sometimes reminds inklings of one’s own world and experiences. The first chapter had a collection of shotgun cartridges just left in the woods he speaks about the growing anti-hunting movements around Europe the ducks in the pond. reminded me of seeing shells often in the area I walked around Northumberland when I lived there many years ago with my dog. What Stanislaw does is mix the waste we see and the world he observes it just shows you how near we are to losing it all at times. The third chapter mentioned Gannets which as I had this some been to North Berwick home to one of the biggest Gannet colonies. He talks about the discovery of huge bands of waste drifting in the oceans discovered by sailors I remember how a container of Rubber ducks scattered in the sea. It had shown how far rubbish lost in the oceans can drift. But the worrying thing he talks about is microplastics are now getting into our food chain and the effects of that are relatively unknown long term. A book that sets you thinking and being watchful about your own impact on the world around you.

It’s more than twenty years since the sailor Charles J. Moore discovered a huge rubbish dump floating in the ocean between Hawaii and California. A mass of plastic packaging, bottles, lids and countless tons of unidentified waste. The area was named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and its growth has been monitored apprehensively ever since. New debris accumulates rapidly, carried there on the North Equatorial Current.

The huge rubbish dump was found drifting in the oceans.

It is fair to say I loved this it was inspiring and also an insightful book and also sounds a warning shot of how waste is everywhere even in some of the most remote places he visits he is shocked to see waste there. But each piece of waste in itself is a story of where it came from. Then how it could have ended up there. Even how discarded waste at times has changed nature itself over time. The concept of the book is very entertaining and also hits topping home it combines nature but also the great environmental questions facing the world. Do you have a favourite nature book that combines the natural world but also alongside the current environmental situation? It shows you how much we have to go to sustainable resources and move away from Plastic which is happening but it needs to quicken. As one of the first books to match my two reading styles books in translation and Nature writing this was a great book and shows we should try and get more nature writing from around the world. I will be trying to get some more books from around the world. That deal with nature when I see them around.

Winstons score – A this is an insightful book into the current situation of plastic waste and its effect the natural world.

 

Like a Prisoner by Fatos Lubonja

Like a Prisoner by Fatos Lubonja

Albanian shots stories

Original title -Jetë Burgu

Translator – John Hodgson

Source – Review Copy

Well, I move on to Albania today and the second book I have read from Istros books by this writer. Fatos Lubjona’s father was a close ally in the sixties to the leader Hoxha but when he started to distance the country from the soviets and Fatos’s father questioned the regime and was arrested as was Fatos who in his diaries whilst he was a student had questions, Hoxha. He was sentenced to more than 20 years he then spent 13 years in hard labour and was released after 17 years, during this time he kept a diary and there world he won is the world of this short story collection. He is also a critic of the leaders on both sides of the political divide in his homeland.

In the daily life of the camp, Eqerem was very reserved by nature, and apart from his epileptic fits and his rooftop dance, his presence disturbed nobody. None of his family came to see him, and he was therefore ‘without support.

He kept a large bowl that he filled with a mush of bread and soup from the cauldron. He ate everything and never scrounged off anybody. He never argued with the guards, and they generally left him in peace.

Pandi was the only person to call to him in the name of Suzi. Everyone was astonished how he had managed to induce Eqerem to take part in such a game. If anybody else tried to call ‘Suzi’ to him or make the vagina sign, he would give them a furious look and make threatening gestures.

The story Eqerem a man worn down by the camp

these thirteen stories paint a picture of the horrors and inner life of the hard labour camps. The character studies the people around the prison camp like Eqerem. Our narrator notices him after a few days in the camp he had a head that stuck out in the crowd of the camp where they all have shaved heads. he was there for a short time his hair grew just before his release but he then a few years later he came back but was then caught up in events in the prison and ended up in solitary when he came out that had had marks and a few days later he died. A life contained in a story.  The story that hit me hardest was Çuçi the story of Çavo the cleaner prisoner on the wing and his cat he fed it scraps and pieces but this cat wander the camp and was friends with over prisoners. This cat was a free spirit in a world of lost souls trap it caught rabbits and lived both in and out of the camp. The cat kept Çavo on the straight and narrow. So how will he react when the cat disappears and is eventually found dead? The following story follows John Smith’s it says one of the few prisoners that calms not to be Albanian he claimed his father had taken him from Australia to Albania away from his Australian mother well that is the tale he tells. Will the Australians help him ?

In the camps, most of the prisoners who kept cats did not keep them close to themselves. The cats wandered through the yards, ran off, mated wherever they wanted, and were in a much wilder state than Cuci. But she too was free to make love to the tom-cats of Burrel prison, and once had given birth to two kittens. They had not lived, and it’s said that kittens from a first pregnancy never survive. But Çuci also spent hours on end in the cell with us, even during the night. Almost every evening, she came back to the cell after wandering through the yards and hidden corners of the prison. She squeezed in through the observation window in the door, an opening fifteen centimetres square at the level of the human eye, which the guards always left open.

The cats of the camp are free spirits in a world of trapped souls.

I have tried to cover the bare minimum amount of stories as this is one of the collections that need reading there isn’t much out there of first-hand experience of the world of Hoxha and his hard labour camps. This weaves the world of Spaç and those prisoners into the hope and horrors of the camp and its prisoners. I think that is what hit me hard about the cat story one little animal had hope tied to it but also maybe made them forget the horrors of their daily life. As we see how each prisoner our narrator sees how to get by in their camps and what each one does to survive the horror of the numbing world they are all caught up in. This is one of the most grabbing collections of life in a prison camp from the writer’s own first-hand experience of it. If you like books like a day in the life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Have you a favourite book about being a prisoner in a labour camp?

Winstons score – +A  the world of Hoxha’s camps brought to life in this collection

Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler

Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler

Austrian fiction

Original title – blauschmuck

Translator – Laura Wagner

Source – Personal copy

It is that time of year again when it is German Lit month and this is the first book I read this year it is. I choose one of the books from Seagull books. This one is by the  Austrian writer Katharina Winkler this was her debut novel and won a number of prizes when it came out and has been translated into a number of languages.I picked it as my first read as it is based on a true story but is also one of those stories that need to be repeated it is a universal subject of abuse no matter where it is the result is the same as in the book. She has since published another novel.

I have to cut the wedding cake, and after that they will lead me to the bedroom. I stare at the icing on the cake and the white rose made from marzipan, the music stops and finally Yunus is standing beside me, and Yunus’ mother, who is now my mother, places a knife in Yunus’ hand and my hand on top of Yunus’ hand, and together we cut ourselves towards my virgin. Dessert plates with cake and marzipan roses on them are drifting all across the room, hands that end in people are stuck to their underside. Men, women and children with laughing mouths, who take their parties as they come, and who don’t mind my virgin. A plate is pushed into my hands.

The start of Filiz Horrors begins not long after her wedding day

The book is based on the true story of a Kurdish woman and the inner life of her marriage. The two meet in their early teens Filiz is swayed by the beauty of Yunus. The pair marry against her family, but the sense is this can lead them to freedom from the small village in the Anatolia mountains and head to the west. The book sees the young Yunus see other women with what she calls Blue Jewellery is hidden away. The marriage soon takes a turn as FILIZ s sees the true nature of Yunus when he starts to abuse and attack he giving her her own Blue Jewellery this cycle continues as the pair dream of leaving but each time she is attacked she becomes more to his beatings and hiding the marks of it as they have children. Yunus becomes closed to the world of their home veiled and at the mercy of Yunus and her world shrinks around her.  They do eventually head to Austria via Istanbul with their young family Will fillip and her children Halil, Selin and Seda escape? what will happen? How far will the cycle of violence go?

When the girls from the Neighbourhood come and the giggles flow into the courtyard, I cannot remain a silent shadow. The giggles reach up  to my knee, and my heart beats.

I am a child , wife that I am

I join the giggles and hug the girls, and I laugh and show my open mouth.

Younus is beating me

He has to beat the child out of my bones

The girl put of my guts

He has to beat the wife into my bones

These lines so haunted me when I read them

What this captured so well is how often Abuse can be viewed as normal and how can a young girl’s life change so quickly at one point she said he beat the girl out of me and the wife into me struck me as so sad this is what she had as a marriage and accepted it. The start of the book almost made the abuse seem part of everyday life. I was reminded of some of the scenes in. Call the midwife this is a society caught out of time where the male role and role model have been skewed. The fact this is based on a real story is even more horrifying. As I said this is a universal story though it isn’t just a Kurdish story abuse happens everywhere and that is the important side of the story to highlight to make sure people know it’s wrong.The book has a sparse poetic nature to it. So if you like stories of village life a marriage doomed and a tough woman at the heart of it this should appeal to you as a reader if you like books like this.

Winston’s score – A – I wish I had read this last year a powerful insight into an abusive marriage

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