Vernon Subutex 1 By Virginie Despentes


Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Depsentes

French fiction

Original title – Vernon Subutex

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – Review copy

Well I am pleased that Frank is the first person to have books from two languages he has translated on the short list he also translated from Spanish The imposter also on the Man Booker longlist.As far as I can see looking back this is a first for the prize even going back through the IFFP years. He won the Old IFFP with his transition ofWindows of the world in 2005. Anyway back to this book and the writer is well known as well she wrote her first book Baise Moi in 1999 which she also made into a film. Virginie has written a number of novels since then this is the first of a trilogy. She also worked as a rock journalist at about the time this novel starts.

Vernon had just had enough time to rediscover his love of a long lie in – for more than twenty years, come hell or hideous hangover he has rolled up the metal shutters on the shop six days a week no matter what. Only three times in twenty five years, had he entrusted the keys to one of his colleagues: a bout of gastric flu, adental implant fitting and an attack of sciatica it took him a year to relearn the knack of lazing in bed and reading in the mornings. It felt like it .

Vernin starts slacking after his shop revolver closes down.

The book follows the downward spiral of Vernon Subutex. He was once the owner of the most well-known record shop in Paris.A man that like Joe from empire records one of the great films from the gen x years a man people wanted be and has a magnetism for women.  His story is maybe a reflection of the music industry in a way. But also a thesis on Generation X. He finds he in the early 2000’s is without a shop and had been helped by a friend Alexandre a heavy drug user from his past.Is his help  to get by with rent and his daily life but when the friend dies he has to go round visiting old friends and spends time sofa surfing one of those homeless people that avoid being homeless till they have run out of them this is what we see with Vernon a man alone in the world after all his dreams have fallen spend time with old friends from an ex-lover that has a sterlie flat , a wife beating husband who he never really knew as he falls through these peoples lives we see a mryiadof the city of paris what happened to the hipsters when they aren’t hipsters anymore.

Friends are diffeerent. Spending years together listening to records, going to gigs, arguing about bands, these are sacred bonds, You don’t stop seeing each other simply because of a change of venue. But what had changed was that he had to call and arrange to meet, whereas before they could just come into the shop if they were in the neighbourhood.He was not in the habit of organising dinner parties, trips to the cinema.

I was remind in these lines of John Cusack character in High fidelity Vernon friends are shop friends.

This is a searing knife through the social lives of a generation cutting into the gen x lives and what has happened to them it is like a Parisian version of the slacker film as we follow Vernon going through those who moved up and down through those years as he had met them when he was hip. He is also a story of how music has suffered record shops where the hiding meeting and place to be seen a generation ago for me when I was young it was a shop called beat route  alas like Vernon shop it is no more as music is online these days the other thread is the last recordings he has of his friend and benefactor Alex Bleach a well-known star. I can’t wait for part two to see where it takes us with Vernon and like one of those classic works of French lit by Balzac or Zola more about how modern Paris treats those on the downward spiral. Which for me is always far more interesting than a rise from the bottom to the top what about you?Also, this is one of the most eye-catching covers in the last year I think also slightly disturbing.



The Dinner Guest by Gariela Ybarra


Image result for gabriela ybarra the dinner guest harvilThe Dinner Guest by Gabriela Ybarra

Spanish fiction

Original title – El Comensal

translator -Natasha Wimmer

Source – review copy

Well I had initially had decided not to do all this year’s man booker longlist. But when this year’s longlist came out. I had reviewed so little but read a number of the books. This was due to be reviewed this week so I have moved it forward as I now have a number of books to review and luckily have start ten days off work. Gabriela Ybarra is a new writer this is her debut novel. is from Bilbao but now lives in Madrid.This book won the Euskadi Literature prize.

The story goes that in my family there’s an extra dinner guest at every meal. He’s invisible, but always there. He had a plate,glass, knife and fork. Every so often he appears, cast his shadow over the table and erases one of those present.

The first to vanish was my grandfather.

The opening lines and the spare chair at there dinner table for the The dinner guest.

The book follows Gabriela as she looks back into her family history and two main events that have shaped her present. The first is the death a number of years before the birth of Gabriela her grandfather disappeared. When three men from ETA appeared at her grandparent’s house and took him away at gunpoint.He later dies after a failed kidnapping that led to his death. Then her own mother died of cancer as she was growing up. The title refers to the habit of living a space at the dinner table for a missing guest a blank space to be filled with the spirit of those once there. As she grows up Gabriela in the present decides to reach out and discover about her past using google , but as we do we see other rabbit holes on the internet she falls down like after reading a book by Robert Wasler leads her on a google search and shock when the second picture has a dead body in it. This is a story of families past present and trying to discover your own past when it has been clouded by family. Also discovering a grandfather she never knew a man that stood for so much and life was ended before she was even there.

Robert Walser 15 April, 1878- 25 December, 1956. Buried in 2011 with three hundred thousand other photographs of himself in google images.

In thins book the writer goes out for a walk one morning in 1917. He must have done the same thing that Christmas day, about four decades later.Perhaps sitting in his room at the Herisau asylum and thought it had been years since he gave up writing

The picture is of the dead writer Robert  Walser in a snow just a single file of footprints the picture is in the novel.

This is a style of book that Spanish writers seem to love writing a true life novel I have like the two novels in recent years by Javier Cercas  the Imposter and  Anatomy of a moment that have a similar feel to this taking real life and turning it to fiction. But not quite as closely as this has to Gabriela as this is her own family history she is disecting  not with the slashing cuts the Karl Ove does with his life this is a small piece of her life that she has put under the microscope and brought her Grandfather into the now an event six years before her birth has haunted and fascinated her life only the memory of what her late mother had told her. This shows how close the past can be through modern tech we are never far away from finding out what happened on a certain day something twenty years ago would have taken a few days to put together is now there at the touch of a button so this is a modern novel from a new Spanish writer and a great first step on this year’s man Booker longlist.

Man Booker international longlist

The Man Booker
International Prize 2018
Longlist Announced
 The 13 longlisted books have been translated from 10 different languages, across
Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East
 Previous winners Han Kang (2016) and László Krasznahorkai (2015) are both on the
 Frank Wynne has two translations on the list: one from French and one from
The Man Booker International Prize has today, Monday 12 March, revealed the ‘Man
Booker Dozen’ of 13 novels in contention for the 2018 prize, which celebrates the finest
works of translated fiction from around the world.
The prize is awarded every year for a single book, which is translated into English and
published in the UK. Both novels and short-story collections are eligible. The work of
translators is equally rewarded, with the £50,000 prize divided between the author and the
translator of the winning entry. In addition, each shortlisted author and translator will
receive £1,000 each. The judges considered 108 books.

The longlist

The full 2018 longlist is as follows:
Author (nationality) Translator Title (imprint)
Laurent Binet Sam Taylor The 7th Function of Language
(France) (Harvill Secker)
Javier Cercas Frank Wynne The Impostor
(Spain) (MacLehose Press)
Virginie Despentes Frank Wynne Vernon Subutex 1
(France) (MacLehose Press)
Jenny Erpenbeck Susan Bernofsky Go, Went, Gone
(Germany) (Portobello Books)
Han Kang Deborah Smith The White Book
(South Korea) (Portobello Books)
Ariana Harwicz Sarah Moses & Die, My Love
(Argentina) Carolina Orloff (Charco Press)
László Krasznahorkai John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet The World Goes On
(Hungary) & George Szirtes (Tuskar Rock Press)
Antonio Muñoz Molina Camilo A. Ramirez Like a Fading Shadow
(Spain) (Tuskar Rock Press)
Christoph Ransmayr Simon Pare The Flying Mountain
(Austria) (Seagull Books)
Ahmed Saadawi Jonathan Wright Frankenstein in Baghdad
(Iraq) (Oneworld)
Olga Tokarczuk Jennifer Croft Flights
(Poland) (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Wu Ming-Yi Darryl Sterk The Stolen Bicycle
(Taiwan) (Text Publishing)
Gabriela Ybarra Natasha Wimmer The Dinner Guest
(Spain) (Harvill Secker)
The longlist was selected by a panel of five judges, chaired by Lisa Appignanesi OBE, author
and cultural commentator, with Michael Hofmann, poet, reviewer and translator from
German; Hari Kunzru, author of five novels including The Impressionist and White Tears;
Tim Martin, journalist and literary critic, and Helen Oyeyemi, author of novels, plays and
short stories including The Icarus Girl.

I have reviewed just The Imposter by Javier Cercas 

have read a further five books which I will review first and have ordered all the others bar the one that isn’t out I will be longlisting again and if one or two of you fancy joining I ‘d be happy to set a small shadow up just reviewing the books. 

I love the scope of this list and it is a real change from IFFP lists also great see Charco press there.


Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli


Image result for carte blanche carlo lucarelli


Carte Blanche by Carlo Lucarelli

Italian crime fiction

Original title – Carta bianca

Translator – Michael Reynolds

Source – personal copy

I’m on too the second book for Italian Lit month and a crime novel. Italy has produced some great crime fiction over the years. A number of these have been brought to us in English by Europa Editions the English arm of an Italian publisher. Carlo Lucarelli studied History and Literature at university in doing research for his thesis he came across stories and events that he put into this and the follow-up novel of the De Luca series. He also with Marcello Fois and Loriano Macchavelli the Gruppo 13 group of writers.I have featured Marcello Fois twice on the blog.

The bomb exploded suddenly, with a ferocious blast, right as the funeral procession was crossing the street. De luca threw himself to the ground, instinctively, and covered his head with his hands as a section of wall collapsed onto the sidewalk, showering him dust. Everybody started shouting. A sergeant from the Republican National guard stretched a machine gun out over De Luca’s body and fired an endless burst that deafened him and brought a deluge of broken pantiles down onto the street.

The opening and De Luca is caught in a blast.

This is the first of a trio of novels Carlo wrote about Detective De Luca. This is set as the world war is drawing to a sticky end and Italy is in tatters. When a bomb is set off in Milan as most of the Italian fascists are travelling or in the city trying to escape from the American and allied forces as they move north in Italy. Someone is killed Vittori is a lady man and has a number of lady friend that is connected to figures high up in the fascist regime. The case is handed to De Luca a good guy in a world full of bad people a good old fashion cop. He has just arrived from being involved in the political police and has a first case that involves dark secrets sex and drugs all this as the country is falling apart and he is trying to find the killer. As others want him to finish the case as quick as possible.

He pulled a notebook out of his pocket and turned a page over. ” Rehinard Vittorio,” he read. “Born in Trento, on November 22 1920.Member of the Fascist Republican party since July 15, 1944. Membership passed thanks to the open sponsorship of Count Alberto Maria Tedesco. He had an assignment, was  secretary of the office responsible for the party’s relationships with the Holy see and in particular the diocese, but nobody in there if at party headquarters ever saw him. He sure like the ladies or rather the ladies liked him; they’d run fter him, and according to that officer.Rehinard was a kept man

The victim has a number of lad friends and is a ladies man .

I read almost blue from his other series of novels a number of years ago just before I started this blog. I liked the style of his writing then it has a dash of Hammett and hard-boiled crime fiction of America writers of the time the novel is set. De Luca has that feel of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders trying to be the stand-up man in the big world. He has seen the world he knows falling apart Lucarelli captures in the world around De Luca the madness of Italy in 1945 the figures trying to leave the country. Lucarelli had researched the time for his thesis and I’m sure a lot of what he wrote is comparable with actual events, Policing during the fall of a regime is always hard and a lot of events like those in the book happened at the time.

That was the month that was February 2018

  1. Slum virgins by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara
  2. Bled dry by Abdelilah Hamdouchi
  3. Love/war by Ebba Witt-Brattstrom
  4. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin
  5. Maryam keeper of stories by Alawiya Sobh
  6. Istanbul Istanbul by Burhan Sönmez
  7. The Black notebook by Patrick Modiano
  8. So you don’t get lost in the Neighbourhood by Patrick Modiano

I managed to review eight books last month. A quieter month than last year. But I feel every book, I read this month was one I would recommend to any other reader. I managed to read two of the three books for the EBRD LIT prize shortlist. I had to read for the Shadow Jury. I read books from six languages and seven countries. Also Seven publishers. No new publishers to the blog this month.

Book of the month

As I said it was a hard month. To Choose the book of the month.  All the books could have been a book of a month on another month. This is maybe the most important book on the list lit-wise as it is one of the cornerstones of Modernist literature and finally we get a better idea of what Doblin had in mind for his journey through the darker side of Berlin. Michael Hoffman has breathed life into this book.

None book discovery

Well, I am a fan of streaming films tv shows. I found another new service this month. Filmstruck has been in the US for a number of years.  It has a partnership with the Criterion collection the US DVD company, this means it has some gems in the collection. Gems from them on her include Three Colours, which I have the DVD of but not seen in HD. They also have a number of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films including Stalker.I look forward to seeing what else they have to watch.


The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles by Giorgio Bassani

The Gold-rimmed spectacles by Giorgio Bassani

Italian fiction

Original title – Gli occhiali d’oro

Translator – Jamie McKenrick

Source – library book

I announced in January that I was doing Italian Lit month in March well here we go I have read a few books not as many as I had hoped but hope to bring mostly Italian books over this month and I start with A modern Classic. Giorgio Bassani was considered one of the best post-war Italian writers A Jewish writer he ended up during the war in the same town as this book as a teacher in the Jewish school there. He married briefly after the war edited a literary magazine for a number of years. Where he started publishing short stories and then this was his second novel he had written on in the war years published under a fake name.

Soon enough, going to Fadigati’s became more than a fashion, became a distinct pleasure. Especially on winter ebenings, when the icy wind, whistling, threaded its way from the Piazza Catterdrale down Via Gorgadello, it was with a frank satisfaction that the rich bourgeois, wrapped up in his fur coat, using the pretext of the faintest of sore throats to slip inside the half closed little door,would climb up the two staircases and ring the bell at the glass door.

Fadigati is the toast of the town early on in the book but then he takes a downward spiral.

The gold-rimmed spectacles is the story of a Jewish Doctor.Athos Fadigati is a doctor.He is the one the upper class in the town like to use as he is considered cultured. But there are two things about him that we learn early on the first is he is Jewish the second he is Gay. So he is a well-known figure in the town of Ferrara. He tries to fit in mainly by keeping his homosexuality undercover. He meets one man whilst going on the train, this is where the narrator sees him. We see in the townsfolk of Ferrara as this novella unfolds a changing attitude towards the Doctor from Open at first. But as a former Lover lets go that they were together and this is after a few years of Mussolini ruling. So his patients start disappearing. But the attitudes are starting to change the town has a Jewish community, but as the rest of the townsfolk are wanting to follow the new rules their lives start getting harder. The narrator is a fellow Jew watching the Doctors life fall apart in front of him over time. Til he is left with few options as the town turns against him.

For quite some time, during the whole journey, he kept apart in his second class carriage.

Taking it in turns, profiting from stops the train made at San Giorgio de piano or San Pietro in Casale, one of our grup would leap out with the task of buying something to eat from the bar of the small station: rolls filled with freshly wrapped, raw salami , almond-studded chocolate that tasted of soap, half-mouldy Osvego biscuits. Turning to look at the stationary train, and then walking past the carriage after carriage at a certain point we could distinguish Dr Fadigati, who from behind the thick glass of his compartment, would be watching people crossing the tracks and hurrying back to the third class carriages.

The narrator tells of his trips on the train and the doctor going with them.

This is a study of what Bassani must have seemed himself in the small towns where over the years of Mussolini the Jewish people living there found their lives were getting hard by the day. This is the first in a number of books and stories he wrote about the small time of Ferrara a town where he taught over the war years so the sense of hatred and turn against people that were once your friends must have been so real to him and as he wrote so much about them.The book was made into a film. This is an interesting novella from one of the best post-war Italian writers I’m lucky to have a couple of other books by him on my tbr so maybe I may get to him again this month.


So You don’t get lost in the Neighbourhood by Patrick modiano


So you don’t get lost in the Neighbourhood by Patrick Modiano

French fiction

Original title –  Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier

Translator – Euan Cameron

Source – review copy

I so enjoyed the last Modiano I decided to carry on reading another of the few by him I have on my TBR pile.This was the last of his books to be translated into English and the came out in French the same year as he won the Nobel prize. He has written one more book since but that hasn’t been translated into English. I said last time he has written the similar books and this is another twist on those themes.

“I should like to speak to Monsieur jean Daragane,”

A deary and threatening voice.That was his first impression.

“Monsieur Daragane? Can you hear me ?”

Daragame wanter to hang up. But what was the point? The ringing would start agan. withpu ever stopping, and short of cutting the telephone cord permanetly ..

“This is he.”

“It’s abput your address book, monsieur”

Giles rings up but is slightly threatening at first to jean

Again like in the last book the main character in this novel is a writer. Like in the last review he is called Jean but we get his full name in this book Jean Dragane. The story in this book is like the last review set of by the discovery of something old. This time a man has got hold of the old telephone book of Jean. The book has the name of Guy Torstel someone Jean had once been acquainted with many years ago. At the time he knew this person there was a murder.At the time he lived with a showgirl Anne in the seedy part of town. He is helped by the girlfriend of the man who has phoned him when he meets the man, to discuss his old telephone book. That man is  Giles Ottolini and his girlfriend, Chantal. A man that since then has drawn away from the world and lived as a recluse writing books one that may have a clue into what happened in the past. The past is a lost country in this book and Jean has to revisit it.

And so would the name Torstel which had once used in a novel.Simply because of its resonace. That is what Torstel  conjured up for him. There was no need to look any further. It was all he had to say. Gilles Ottolini would no doubt be disappointed. Too bad. After all, he was not obliged to give him any explanation. It was none of his buisness

The name from the past inspired a character in a novel but what about the real Torstel ?

As I said there are themes in his books. Jean is almost a mirror image of the writer having grown up in the dark post-war days. He also lives near Paris and spent time with a showgirl in the seedy part of Paris where there are twist streets and never quite sure what is around the corner the same Paris as Maigret walked in books like Maigret sets a trap. Then there is what I would be called missing memories another recurring theme of a misty past that the main characters seem to want to forget their Past. I feel Modiano is working his own past and his love may of a good mystery into books. I enjoyed this as I have all his books the Nobel win was such a treat for us the English reader as pre-Nobel I had struggled to find a book to read in the weeks before the prize and so many have come out since.

Man Booker international 2018 what will be there?

Well here is where I do my yearly look in the mystic ball of translated fiction and guess what I’d like to see on the man booker international longlist.

Books read or reviewed


I have decided to divide this year into books I have read or partly read or reviewed in the last year.First off we have Tea Tulic, book Hair everywhere, I always am bewildered why Istros books haven’t had any books on the longlist. This is a story about a family coming to terms with a mother dying, it really touched me.The three peter Owen Serbian books with istros are also worth a place on the longlist.Staying in the Balkans we have another favourite one thanks to doing the shadow jury for all the years I did I meet and it is Belladonna by Dasa Drndic a man looks back on his life and the post-war history of Europe and the worrying rise of Fascism across Europe.Then we have seeing red by Lina Meruane a story of someone going blind another gem from Latin America, Another Spanish language writer caught my eye with Such small hands by Andres Barba a creepy story of an orphan. Now a trio of books by one of my favourite translator Another Spanish novel The Imposter by Javier Cercas a true life story of a man who pretends to be a survivor of death camps. Then two I have part read and will be finished this year Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes a story about the title character a former record shop owner that has a final recording of a mysterious star that died too young.Then we have the French art of war by Alexis Jenni an old man tells a story about his life and the wars France have been involved with since world war two to a young man in return to a younger man.Dance by the canal is one of my favourite Peirene books of recent years so should be there IMHO. One woman’s downfall from the former east to the west.Fitzcarraldo has three in my mind that could be on the list Insane by Rainald Goetz recounting his years as a psychiatrist in an autobiographical novel. Companions by Christina Hesselholdt sees three Danish couples as their lives go separate ways in a minimalist novel. Then river by Esther Kinsky is one of those books I loved so much I’m having to build up to review. A personal novel that had a similar effect was Blue self-portrait by Nomei Lefeberve a woman internal monologue as she wanders Berlin. Fireflies by Luis Sagasti another transgressive book of ideas. A poison Apple by Michel Laub a mised concert maybe led a man down the wrong path. Last due out soon The dinner guest by Gabriela Ybarra the story of her own grandfather being kidnapped is a personal book about family and coping with a tragic event it.So from what, I read there is a few now a quick list of some other books.

Not read but could be there

The 7th function of language by Laurent Binet – a theory on the death of Barthes in a novel.

In every moment we are still alive by Tom Malmquist – the tale of a father bring up a baby after losing his wife in child birth.

The white book by Han Kang – About life starting with a white list.

My cat Yugoslavia by pajtim Statovci – a delicate book set during the Balkan wars in the 1990’s.

Lullaby by Leila Slimani – a Nanny turns out not to be all she seems

What do you think will be there?



The Black notebook by Patrick Modiano


The Black notebook by Patrick Modiano

French fiction

Original title – L’Herbe des nuits

Translator – Mark Polizzotti

Source – review copy

I’ve been having a slump in reading and reviewing the book this last couple of weeks. I have started, maybe half a dozen books and just not been settling in them and had finished a couple of these books. Then not felt like reviewing them. So then I decide yesterday to have a good look through my pile of books and decided on something to try and click my mind back into the groove and I decided , I had three of the Maclehose Modiano books to read and as I have only reviewed one since his Nobel win, two in total, as I had reviewed him before the prize, came out.

No it wasn’t a dream. The proof is that I still have this black notebook full of my jottings. I need precise words in this haze, so I look in the dictionary. “Note: a short piece of writing that is used to help someone remember something.” The pages of my notebook contain a succession of names, telephone numbers, appointments and also short texts that might have something to do with literature.But what catergory should they be listed under? private journal ? fragments of a memoir?

Jean discovers his old Black notebook and the time with Dannie


The Black notebook is the story of a writer called Jean, who is sorting through some old items when he comes across the black notebook of the title. What follows is him reading through the notebook. As he does he is remembering a time in 1960 and reliving and retracing his footsteps at the time. When he started dating a woman he knew as Dannie, she had some involvement with Morrocan security. He ends up meeting her mostly at night in the Montparnasse region of Paris. He gets involved with the characters around a certain hotel in that part of Paris. The Unic Hotel were he spent time with Dannie, Paul Chastagnier, Aghamouri, Duwelz, Gerard Marciano and “Georges”. All seem shady characters, Dannie, as Jean discovers over the course of reading back through the notebook had a number of Alias. Now the past seems shady, but at the time he said he was of the age when being in seedy places at night seemed ok. Weekends in a mysterious country house. As he retraces his steps,. early on in the book.  He remembers this is also the Paris area that Gerard De Nerval, a man famous for walking a lobster. But also one of his most famous books is about a man dealing with the loss of three ladies. He wonders what happened and what was real and what he added to the notes as a writer.

On the day we met, I’d written “Dany” in my notebook, she had corrected the spelling, using my pen: ” Dannie”. Later, I discovered that the name. Dannie was the title of a poem ny a writer I admired at the time, whiom I occasionally saw leaving the Hotel Taranne on Boulevard Saint Germam, strange coincidences do happen

Jean is remembering but is he also inventing Dannie as he does .

Modiano is a writer I fell in love with his style the first time I had read him. He is a writer that use familiar themes in his books. The first is a missing person or people, in this case, Dannie is the main person that is missing even though we found out he knew little about here Jean. He tells s her name isn’t even Dannie. The second is place Paris is like London for Dickens or Dublin for Joyce you sense Modiano can relive his own past as he writes about the streets in Paris. He uses Jean as an avatar for revisiting the Paris he has grown up in living a different life similar a writer of crime fiction, who may have been involved on the very edge of a crime.Modiano maybe writes books that seem similar all three I have read have similar topics a missing person, Paris and a sort of detective story as someone piece thinks together as a fragmented nature to his stories. This, as I read in his book pedigree, as he writes about his mother than he barely knew.




Istanbul Istanbul by Burhan Sönmez



Istanbul Istanbul by Burhan Sönmez

Turkish fiction

Original title – İstanbul İstanbul

Translator – Umit Hussein

Source – personnel copy

I reach the second book from the three of the EBRD shortlist I have to read and this title was the one I knew very little around. Burhan is a prize-winning Turkish writer. He grew up speaking both Turkish and Kurdish. He moved to Istanbul to become a lawyer, he then took up writing first poetry, where he won two national poetry prizes. Then he turned his hand to writing novels this is his third novel his books have been translated into twenty languages. He now teaches literature.

It was cold in our cell. While I was telling the Doctor my story, Kamo the Barber lay curled on the bare concrete floor. We had no covers, we warned ourselves by huddling together, like puppies. Because time had stood still for several day we had no idea if it was day or night. We knew what pain was, every day we relived the horror that clamped our hearts as we were led away to be tortured.

Demirtay in the opening story talking about life in the cell for them.

This book is set just after the military coup in the prison in Istanbul. We are hearing the tales of four prisoners Demirtay the student, the doctor, Kamo the barber and Uncle Kuheylan. The four are being held and tortured.In between the guards taking them the four keep their spirits alive by telling stories from their lives.To spring their minds from outside there windowless cell  As they do they bring the city above them to life. From a meeting with one of those huge white dogs that grew up around this part of the world. A princess that has escaped from the Harem that has snuck on a boat and hidden in a lifeboat.But as one of them is told the stories have to reveal as little about themselves as the cell may be bugged so what we get is slightly fantastic stories. Thjis is interspersed with graphic images of torture particularly later on in the book a scene when a hammer is hit into a wrist is very hard hitting.

“A girl boarded a large ship in the port of Istanbul with great stealth, climbed up the steps, and hid in a large lifeboat. She wrapped herself in a sail and strained her ears to listen to any sound coming from outside.Once the ship had set sail she heaved a sigh of relief. Time aboard passed between sleep and wakefulness. She listened to the crew singingWhen the ship anchored in a port, she waited until evrything had turned quiet and darkness had fallen. She descended the steps unseen by anyone, and started running. She was heading towards a new world

A woman escapes the world of istanbul by a ship but what is here fate ?


This is an interesting book that brings the streets of Istanbul to life through the eyes of four men on the edge. There is a harder edge to this than Pamuk’s Istanbul this is the city we don’t see all the time the one of secret prisons and those trying to keep their minds open like the descriptions in Calvino’s Invisible cities the city comes to life. The book uses the four men in the cell as a framing device for the tales they tell each other this is like the Decameron or the Canterbury tales where we see a group using tales to illustrate their lives or values. These tales are in place love stories a little raunchy at times. But also the real side of life in a huge city at times. Tales that show how minds can transcend walls and iron doors that hold these four men in the dark there broken bodies and their minds not yet broken. This is what I had hope the books from the EBRD would be like a prize like this is why I read translated books to discover gems.

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