The Last days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse

The Last days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse

French Fiction

Original title – Le dernier gardien d’Ellis Island

Translator – Natasha Leher

Source – review copy

I said I would have a second European literature prize this time we are in France with the French poet  Gaëlle Josse she started as a poet after studying Law, journalism, and psychology. She now works as a website editor. She has set a prize for young writers as well. Then about ten years ago started writing novels she won prizes with her first three novels. Then got this here fourth novel on the European literature prize list. This book started with the writer visiting the museum of immigration which is on the site of Ellis Island where she saw the history and came up with using some of the people’s stories she read whilst at the Museum.

Liz was my guiding light. Nothing triumphant or blinding like the light that is brandished for all eternity by Lady Liberty. My poor Liz, the very idea would have made me smile. No, she was mellow, constant, serene. We were married only a few years. Too little time, but is the intensity of an experience measured by its duration? The interminable pace of my life today has no significance for me anymore. I get up, work, go to bed and wrangle with the memories I have tried to build walls to keep out. I barely manage, and anyway it will all come to an endone day or another ?

Liz haunts him through out the book.

The book has John Mitchell as the main character in the novel. He has worked over 45 years as an officer of the Bureau of Immigration as the last gatekeeper of Ellis Island he has stayed on the island doing his job as in 1954 the Island is due to close he has carried on working there til the end even thou his colleagues had moved on and the stream of people was a trickle now. Whilst he works we get to look into the mind of John as he recalls the events and people that had passed through Ellis Island over his time there from when it was used a lot when there was a number of Steerage Passengers the sort of lower-class citizens in search of a better life or those needing to escape Europe. This sees us learn of his short marriage to Liz who passed away of Typhus from someone that arrived in the US. but he had a short foray with a Sardina girl Nella and even though it was thirty years earlier it seems to have affected him all the way through it. Memories of those he met during his time are told in brief from A couple from Hungary with communist sympathies elsewhere there is Italian anarchist maybe a warning of the future when McCarthy and even in the 20s the red scare and the tightening of the immigration laws in the late 1920’s which slowed the people through Ellis Island. A look into the last days of somewhere that was the start for so many dreams and Nightmares of what could be the American dream.

From my vantage point on Ellis Island, I observed the continuing existence pof America. The city so neqar, so far way. For me, the island had become an outpost, a watchtower or rampart, with me standing sentinl against invasion.

The activity of the station was in inexorable decline. Today I am the captain of a phantom ship that has been abandoned to its ghosts. Like the ghost of Nella, who arrived on board the cursed Cincinati on April 23, 1923, and still clamors for justice today.

His other ghost Nella arrived in the hieght of the arrivals on the Island.

 

I enjoyed this it is a book of memories but also felt as thou it caught the mood in some ways Ellis Island saw so many lives come through it over the years and we get a lot of brief glimpses here and there is a touch of melancholy over the tales and John himself the one event whilst he was married haunted him a ghost of a woman from Sardina he fell for and a wife that died too early. As we see him over the last eight days of the Island as we read his personal journal. Those years after Liz’s death John was there his job was his life and although we only see a few lives here it is the ones that touched him the most during his time on the island. As the Pogues said in there song pogues thousand are sailing” The island is silent now and but the ghost still haunt the waves and the torch lights up a famished man ” A tale of one man life as the gatekeeper of the US during the first half of the 20th century caught here.

Kokoschka’s doll by Alfonso Cruz

Kokoschka’s Doll by Alfonso Cruz

Portuguese Fiction

Original title – A Boneca de Kokoschka

Translator – Rahul Bery

Source – review copy

I join a blog tour on the day this comes out. I always feel Portuguese literature is a blank area of the blog over the years. So when I got the chance to read a book by the leading light of the Portuguese literature Alfonso Cruz he has published a number of novels this is the second to be translated into English. He is a novelist, artist, illustrator, and member of a blues group called The soaked Lamb (love that band name I must try and find some of his music). This book won the European Union Prize for Literature, I shall be covering another winner in a day or two.

At the age of Forty-two, or , to be more precise, two days after his birthday that year, Bonifaz Vogel began to hear a voice. Intially he thought it was the muce, then he thought about calling someone to deal with the woodworm, but something stopped him. Perhaps ti was the way the voice had given him orders, with the authority of those voices that live deep inside us. He knew it was all in his head, but he had the strange sensation that the words were coming from the floorboars, entering him through his feet. They came from the depths, filling the bird shop. Bonifaz Vogel always wore sandals, even in winter , and hr felt the words slipping through his yellowed toenails

The opening lines just drew me in as a reader. worth noting Vogel is German for bird!!

Now, this is one of those books that you in one part love and in another absolutely hate at times just as it isn’t a linear narrative of a patchwork of little piece stuck together we have three main narratives the first sees Bonifaz Voge who is the owner of a bird shop in Dresden he hears voices from under his floorboards This is just as the bombs in the latter part of the war have fallen and in his cellar Isaac Dresner who end up thereafter he saw a jews friend shot. He starts to talk to the man Vogel who thinks the voice he hears through the floorboards. Vogel thinks it is god and Dresner becomes this man’s inner monologue.  Then we move onto the book within the book a novella called Kokoschka’s doll by Mathias pope a work about the Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka who when his Alma Mahler left him he got a life-size doll made of her. That he took out and strolled with and eventually he smashed a bottle of red wine over her head. In an interview with the writer on youtube, he said he used this as a metaphor for the book as a whole. But also the story of the Varga’s another thread of stories with chapters that are randomly numbered. The latter book is about the novella in the second part of the book and how it is received. The three parts of this novel all interlink this is collection of stories with a dash of Aphorisms and philosophy. There is no clear way to describe this book it is a gem of snippets that see you go around the world and view the same events at views.

FROM OUR FLESH WE WILL MAKE A SINGLE EARTH

” I have always wondered who will bury the last man” my grandfather said to my father, “or in this case who will bury the gravedigger. You will, of courser. You are not a gravedigger, but you will bury me in the same earth as your mother, who died as you took your first breath almost three times seven years ago. Her earth will mix with mine, as it did in life, and from our flesh we will make a single earth”

When my grandfather died, my father did as he wished and they were mixed together for ever

one of the snippets from the opening part called the memoir of Isaac Dressner

I said I feel I haven’t read enough Portuguese literature and I always feel the same after reading books from there the deepness of there writers is always stunning from Pessoa who’s complete The Book of Disquiet I read when it came out the other year but haven’t had time to review I will be doing this soon it maybe would show how we get to writers like Cruz as Pessoa uses a lot of Aphorisms and the is no real linear narrative to the Book of disquiet. Then I have read more modern writers like Peixoto and Antunes both often use different strands in the narrative Peixoto had an odd collection of characters like this book does. I feel this is one for the readers of books like Sophie’s world or night train to Lisburn books that make you think and puzzle that have so much more at the heart and this is one it is about war the aftermath love and loss and life in general and will have you thinking for days after you have put it down.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Epistolary work

Source – Personal Copy

I sometimes like a change and like most of us book bloggers, we all love books that are about books and book people. Here is a great epistolary work that contains the letters sent and received from the 50s through to the late sixties by New yorker Helene Hanff she was a playwright her early books covered her struggling to get a foot in the New York theatre scene. Later she wrote scripts for Elery Queen. Marks and co a bookshop of the title based at 84 Charing cross road published and advert in the Saturday Review of Literature that they could get hold of ut of print books this leads to the letters that form the book as Helene a well-read woman had struggled to get certain books. I have tried to find the advert in the online collection of the Saturday Review of literature but haven’t found it just love to see the original advert.

14 East 95th St

November 18, 1949

WHAT KIND IF A BLACK PROTESTANT BIBLE IS THIS? Kindly inform the Church of England they have loused up the most beautiful prose ever written, whoever told them to tinker with the Vulgate Latin? They’ll burn for it, you mark my words.

It’s nothing to me, I’m Jewish myself. But I have a catholic sister-in-law, a methodist sister-in-law, a whole raft of presbyterian cousins (Though my Great Uncle Abraham who converted) and an aunt who’s a Christian science healer, and I like to think none of them would counternance this Anglian Latin bible if they knew it existed(As it happens, they don’t know Latin existed)

The Bible incident the wrong Bible was sent they later sent a better copy.

What follows is a series of letters that see Marks finding the books well FPD as they sign themselves in the early letters, Boks from the likes of Hazlitt Stevenson. The cost of these old but as Helene says fine books too good for her Orange crate bookshelves far better than their modern counterparts she has brought in the US. There is humor at times when they send a bible she calls a Black protestant bible and says it had ruined the Latin version in the translation to English as she said she was Jewish but has Methodist and Presbyterian relatives. As the book moves on Helene finds she is talking mainly to Frank Doel who is the main buyer for Marks and co. She discovers the hardship of post-war Britain makes her choose to send a food parcel from Denmark here she writes after sending it with concerns about if the owners are Jewish as she sent Ham to the bookshop but no everything was ok she receives letters from other staff on the side thanking her and wishing her well and looking forward to meeting her. But the main body is her and Frank as he hunts down the books she wants but life means she struggles to get to the UK.

Dear Miss Hanff,

We are glad you liked the “Q” anthology. We have no copy of the Oxford Book of English Prose in stock at the moment but will try to find one for you.

About the Sir Roger de Coverly papers, we happen to have in stock a volume of eighteenth century essays which includes a good selection of them as well as essays by Chesterfieldand Goldsmirth. It is edited by Austin Dobson and is quite a nice editon as it is only $1.15 we have sent it off to you by book post. If you want a more complete collection of Addison & Steele let me know and I will try to find one.

There are six of us in the shop, not including Mr Marks ancd Mr Cohen

Faithfully yours,

Frank Doel

For Marks and Co

Her love of Q lead to a later book I’d love to get about how Q influenced her reading

I love this book I have a special VMC hardback I brought a number of years ago it has the follow-up. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Which finally saw Helene make it to the UK. This is a window into a bygone world Marks and co is gone and most of the shops that made up Charing Cross road have gone over time. It’s hard to split the book now from the film for me though I did feel the film was well cast the humor of Helene that came across in the letters a sort of deadpan wit was well portrayed by Ellen Burstyn. Frank equally was played as a straight-laced English man by Anthony Hopkins. I have a number of books she mentions I have been a fan of Arthur Quiller couch or Q as he was known as the editor of Oxford book of English Verse which I have had for a long time as it was often mentioned on Rumpole of the Bailey which I loved as a kid. This is one of those books that reminds us why we all love books and reading and the bygone age when we had to hunt for books which we still do, well I do there are so many translations I would love to find like Helene I’d love to find an 84 Charing Cross road. Have you have read it?

Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai

Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai

Japanese fiction

Original title – 女生徒 Joseito

Translator – Alison Markin Powell

Source – Personal copy

I take another stop on the January in Japan tour it isn’t a long one I think I may get another book but here we have a modern classic. This book came out just at the start of world war two it is from one of the highest regarded writers of his generation. The eighth son of wealthy landowner Shūji Tsushima or as he later was known Osamu Dazai attend school and briefly university. This time in his life was hard his idol the writer Akutagawa died later on he tried to take his own life in a double suicide the woman he did it with died. He was then arrested for being in the communist party and went on the run his family got the charges dropped on the promise he would calm down he did and then started his writing career. He Wrote from 1933 till his death in 1948. This is from early on in his career and is considered a masterpiece for its use of language.

Mother, who was very busy arranging someone’s marriage, had gone out early this morning. Ever since I was little, Mother had devouted herself to other people, so I was used to it by now, but was really amazing how she was constantly in motion. She impressed me. Father had done nothing but study, so it fell to mother to take up his opart. Father was far removedfrom things like social interaction, ut mother really knew how to surround herself with lovely people, The two of them seemed an unlikely pairing, but there had been a mutual respect between them. People must have often saidabout them what a handsome and untroubled couple, without any unattractive qualities. Oh I ‘m so cheeky

THe mother tries to fill the fathers void but there is a gaping hole in the schoolgirls world it is obvious

Well, that was a long intro for a book that is barely 100 pages long and it is a small size book I read it in an evening. The beauty of this book is a simple fact it is a book where nothing really happens but you just get caught up in the day of our narrator the unnamed schoolgirl of the book’s title. It is told in a stream of conciseness style that starts with her having breakfast talking about her love of the book adverts in the paper. Going to school with the new umbrella that her mother has brought her when she heads to school there is a sense of her having a sort of self-loathing of others from ugly people she sees on the train to school to a dog as the day goes on we are let into the fact her father is dead and this means they are a single-parent family. But she also seems to grip on to her love of books at one point saying she didn’t know what she would do without them. This is a modern girl but she is caught in a traditional world and dealing with grief.

I was reminded of the lady next to ne on the train this morning with the heavy makeup. Ugh so vile. Women are disgusting. Being female, I am all too familar with the impurity found in women, it sets my teeth on edge with repulsion. It’s as if that unbearable raw stench that clings to you after playing with goldfish has spread all over your body, and you wash and wash but you can’t get rid of it day after day, it’s like this , until you realize that she-odur has begun to emante from your body as well. I wish I could die like thism as a girl

Telling lines about not wanting to grow into a woman in what at the time was a very male society in Japan!!

This is a gem of a book the narrator had hardly aged I felt although some of the things like reading a paper may now be via a phone and maybe she’d be reading Manga instead of books. but her view of the world one of a modern teen. The book has a feel of a modern book than its time. It is an insight into the drifting minds of a teen from her avoid the death of her father in the way she daydreams. This is a simple version of the modern teen world of worry she shows the conflict between trying to be herself and what they expected and grief. This is written by a man that tried to take his own life and was in a suicide pact with a young woman that could have easily been our narrator the feeling is this was someone that the writer knew or maybe just using a female voice to convey his own life his father was absent during his growing up and was brought up mainly by the female members of his extended family when younger. I have another collection of short stories by him I will be reading at some point. Have you ever read any books by Osamu Dazai ?

Holiday Heart by Margarita Garcia Robayo

Holiday Heart by Margarita Garcia Robayo

Columbian fiction

Original title – Tiempo muerto

Translator – Charlotte commbe

Source – personal copy

I add a few books to my TBR that I felt maybe in line to make the man booker list that I hadn’t been sent just to get a leg up so here is the second novel to be translated into English by the prize-winning Columbian writer Margarita Garcia Robaye that has been brought out by Charco press that has been bringing out some wonderful books from Latin America the last couple of years. Born in Cartagena on the coast of Columbia she won the prestigious Casa De Las Americas prize for her book worse things. She currently lives in Argentina.

Ar around 5 p.m. he received an email from Gionzalo and Elisa – Gonzaloandelisa@gmail.com- invinviting them over fro a barbecue. They lived nbext door and they saw them often but not particularly close friends. He bumped into Gonzalo most days when they each took out the rubbish to the bim they shared, halway between two houses. The bin was a bit further away, so they walked that stretch together as they discussed the news. usually terrorism, They talked about Isis, Boko haram, Hezbollah and the FARC as of discussing the performance of different soccer teams. He couldn’t recall how this had become their go-to-subject, but they’d kept it up for years, This was handy for Pablo because it allowed them to dance around more delicate subjects such as the fact that Gonzalo, a while back, had stuck his hands up Pablo’s sister’s skirt

There friends afre most latin American but it seems strange that talk could be about anything but Covoid nowdays.

What this book does is dissects a relationship falling apart a marriage dissolving. The heart of the book is a Columbian couple living in the US Pablo and Lucia. Maybe at the heart of what the problem is the way they have adapted to the change of Homeland Pablo is still feeling drawn to his homeland and keeping his identity whereas his with it seems has never really felt at home. They have made a life with their twins but even then Lucia takes the front foot on how the kids are raised. They have split and then Pablo ends up in Hospital with what is called Holiday heart and this it seems is a condition that is caused by over living so when at Christmas people overeat and drink it cause temporary heart issue. Pablo trying to write that epic novel of his homeland whilst his wife writes a piece about their life in the US this is what seems to be the heart of the problem one moving one-way one moving another way. This so the view of both outdated racism that hasn’t changed since their time in the US. Pablo is a man of his homeland he likes to womanize in a way he could have been a character from a Marquez novel. This is an insight into a marriage falling apart bit by bit and looking at how and why?

That night , after they’re all showered and fed, Lucia logs onto Skype and calls Pablo so the kids can say hello. It’s hard to get full sentences put of the children, but they tell him, as best they can about the seaweed, the brunch, their bodies burried in the sand, Then they started yawning and Lucia sends them off to their twin beds, in the room Cindy had decorated with iold stuffed toys she found in the apartment, left over from a previous life.

“They’re shattered” she say. She is sitting at the table. The sounds of the waves drifts through the open balcony door. Pabli is wearing the same dressing gown he had on when she left. She wonders if he even showered

HEart breaking in place I remember my parent divorce diffferent circumstances but the loss of time over the years.

This is an interesting look at how the immigrant life can strain but also changed people over time what has happened is they have moved in two ways Lucia although they live in a sort of Latin American bubble with there friends and family she has settled and maybe it seems never felt settled in her younger life whereas Pablo writing about his home maybe has more of a Columbian heart than a holiday heart as he has left but still lives there in his heart he drinks to much and cheats frequently as his marriage falls apart this is told with an honest eye on events. Has he a real heart problem or is it just the bitter dregs of a marriage? WE see they should be apart but it is the time and the twins that kept them going as an observer those cracks seem so much wider than they would in the bubble of a marriage.  Have you read this book what did you think of it?

Robinson by Aram Pachyan

Robinson by Aram Pachyan

Armenian fiction

Original title – Ռոբինզոն 

Translator – Nazareth Seferian, Nairi Hakhverdi, Arevik Askharayan, Nyree Abrahamian

Source – review copy

I have reviewed the debut novel by Aram Pachyan a couple of years ago. This was meant to be part of a collection of books from Armenia that Glasgoslav had brought out and Aram was to give a speech about writing here is that speech.  which I really enjoyed so I am pleased to review this short story collection from one of the leading writers in Armenia. This book won the presidential prize in Armenia. His books have topped the chart in his home country. His works have been adapted into Musicals and experimental play of his book goodbye bird which I reviewed here.

He opened the box with his eyes closed, his breayth held. The colourful ornaments were quietly asleep on the cream-couloured paper. On the surface of those decorations, he saw the sad reflection of his face and the curvy shadows od his pointy hair. In the box, there were layers upon layers of ornaments and streamers hich adorned their christmas tree every year. The small plastic Christmas tree that his parents had brought in the city of Vandzor a long time ago, even before he was born. It’s skelton had grown weak over the years, its green leaves had melted here and there from the heat of the lights. Every year, when he placed the tree, his father would use a copper wire to fasten the tree’s thin trunk to the four legged base, so that it would not fall over.

A proustian moment of a christmas tree remember a close moment with his father.

This is a collection of 16 stories that seem to capture what it is like growing up in Armenia and also the loneliness of modern life. The title story is a nod to the ultimate tale of being alone that of Robinson Crusoe. A series of letters between   Robinson and Friday that then leads to children and their teacher. This gives the tale of being alone a modern twist. Elsewhere there are street chess players. A young boy falls for the local girl of his dreams of her in a sexual way then later on he takes a local girl he has fallen for out she gets drunk he has to go back to the same aunt for some money to bail him out. There are dreams of escape where a young boy reads of Toronto and dreams of escaping there. Mothers trying to sort out their drunk husband by drugging the father to keep him from drinking is observed by a child. In places, the tales feel personal as a number of the characters are called Aram. The most touching was a son whose father is dying remembering the closeness the putting of up of the tree brought him and his father. Who is dying in the hospital he wonders if his father sees a tree there in the hospital and is remembering those moments as well !!

I was embarrassed: how could I ask those boys for more money when they had worked all day like slaves? No, I couldn’t ask them .. What should I do …What should I do ? The thought was born in my head scared me , but the fear felt very pleasent, for the first time I wished to properly feel fear, it was like being run over by a car, when you somehow avoid the blow and manage to calm down afterwards …How I went, I don’t know.. Did I go, did my childhood go? I don’t know. I knocked on the apartment door of number 19 and Lia opened it

Having been made broke by the drunk local beauty he goes to his aunt for some money.

On the back cover, it says the stories contain the inescapable loneliness of people in the modern world. It is a hard world at times he describes tough times tough people also a world where drink and violence can just bubble below the surface. These are great observational pieces the little everyday things are captured here. The despair of a story like John Cheever swimmer can be seen in this collection the despair in the modern world but also the dreams of past and future at times. This lifts the lid on a hard life and a world that we can be thankful we aren’t in.

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

Japanese Fiction

Original title –  Hasen (破船)

Translator – Mark Ealey

Source – personal copy

I will try a couple of books for this year’s January in Japan here is my first book one I have had sat on the shelves a good while ago. Akira Yoshimura was president of the Japanese writers union for over twenty years and a member of Pen. He was married to a fellow Japanese writer Setsuko Tsumura. He wrote over twenty novels and also a number of non-fiction books including one that was about a Tsunami that sold well after the 2011 tsunami his wife donated the profits to a village affected by the Tsunami. This book is one of two he is best known for.

His mother chatted with the old women as they trudged along the path. Isaku was happy; for the first time he had helped the men carry the firewood up to the crematory for a funeral. He was being treated as an adult; before long he would be carrying the coffin with the men. But he was small for his age and slight of build. His father was due to return in two and half years, and like other teenage boys and girls in the village Isaku would no doubt be sent into biondage in his fathers place, pretending to be two or three years older than he actually was.  At such time, if he was small, the broker would either refuse to barter for him or would take himon for a paltry amount

He has to grow beyond his years and beyond his frame in the book

The book is narrated and seen through the eyes of Nine-year-old Isaku. The setting is a small fishing village in Medieval Japan where his father has had to go and spend three years at sea as an indentured sailor to help the family thrive. Life for this nine-year-old is tough as he becomes the man of the house trying to help his mum as much as possible. Struggling learning to catch driftwood this is a tough world but he gets on there are moments where we see him growing when he notices a girl a year older than him that also lives in the same poor village as him Tami he worries she will be sent away as a servant as they never return to the village the life is tough the things they do the fishing follows the seasons and when things are hard to catch they suffer. like the lack of octopuses. They also make salt from the seawater in large cauldrons this is a day and night job on the beach when the chief appoints Isaku in charge of keeping the fire going overnight in the cauldrons his mother is honored but this act as a lure to get sink ships that are lured onto the rocks in the winter or as the village calls it O-fune-sama its been a while since a ship has done this so when one does and then the agents for the owners start sniffing around the village panics but what happens when later a second ship with no real bounty just the red outfits of the dead sailors arrives what happens to the village after this event. Will Isaku’s father make it home?

It was agony tending the salt cauldrons on snowy nights. Again and agian Isaku would carry firewood throughthe driving snow and throw it under the cauldrons. The snow appeared to dance wildly, glimmering red from the colour of the flames. Once in Febury, they were hit by a blizzard. The houses were snowed in; it was almost dark inside. Isaku and his mother cleared the snow from the roof and outside the windows, making a space for the sunlight to shine in

A harsh world for the ten year old Isaku looking after the fire every night through the winter.

This is a beautifully written book of a harsh world the village is a dive the only way out is through indentured work for those living there and that is via the man in the next village that gets them the jobs. Like Isaku’s father or his observance of all the young girls that are sold off to be servents and never return which means either they die from overwork or just never see freedom again. Stark world of the village is governed by the seasons from the capturing of the small fish then, they move on the go for octopuses or look to the mountain and rabbits to eat. a tough world that is dotted with funerals but also a hard observation at times like when food is scarce the rice running low and a dying relative is taking too long to die and is still eating his share. I am always a fan of books set in the village and here we see a village caught in its time the lack of options is hard to accept through modern eyes so you feel for this ten-year-old and his be=leak future and no wonder his mother seems so distant at times she is broken by the loose of her husband and having to bring up three children. Have you read this book?

A Luminous Republic by Andrés Barba

A luminous republic by Andrés Barba

Spanish fiction

Original title – República luminosa

Translator – Lisa DIllman

Source – personal copy

I move to Spain for the third book of the year and to a writer I have featured once before Andrés Barba he was one of the Grant list of the best young Spanish writers featured 10 years ago when you look back on that list it has produced many great reviews for this blog over the last ten years. Barba has had four books translated into English, I reviewed Such small hands by him which like this book had very otherworldy themes to it. He been nominated for the Premio Herralde a sort Spanish booker prize and has written 14 books and has translated books into Spanish as well.

The Day I arrived in San Christobel, twenty years ago now, I was a young civil servant with the department od Social Affairs in Estepi who’d just been promoted. IN the space of a few years I’d gone from being a skinny kid with a law degree to a recently married man whose happiness gave him a slightly more attractive air than he no doubt would otherwise havve had. Life struck me as a simple series of advertises, relatively easy to overcome, which led to a death that was perhaps not as simply but was inevitable  and thus didn’t merit thinking about.

Our narrator who got married and then ended up in the town.

The book is the story of a number of children with a language all of their own that Turn up in the town of San Christobel. A small Argentinean town on the edge of the jungle that is starting to go places the story is told from the point of view of a young civil servant when he had arrived with his wife twenty years earlier who has to cope when one by one these children appear. Lawless begging. Then vandalism as they grow in their numbers from a few to 32 unkempt, uncared and like wild animals where are their parents that isn’t really asked as they start to become a real nuisance. As this goes on the locals want something done but when an adult is murdered by them things start to turn against them and the locals start to want something done about the children. But is the reaction of the locals too much? A sort of flipped childhood viewed from the Adult’s side turns children into demons and almost like stray dogs to this small town.

Still, the events laid out by the cheif of police were far from invented; a couple of officers had approached a goup of kids who’d been hanging out in Plaza 16 de diciembre for several days and had robbed several pedestrians. According to one of the officers, the children repled to their questions in “An incomprehensible language” and attacked them when they tired to take the younger of the two – who was about twelve, he claimed to the police station. In the first account the officer maintained that one of the kids had snatched his gun and “fired wildly”, but later the testimony of the witness forced to admit hat the struggle had in fact caused the officer himself to fire accidently/ The bullet hit his parner, Officer Wilfredo Argaz, penetrating the man’s groin, and he’d died several minutres later, opposite the medical facility

The police man intially lied about what had happened with the children to great more fear !!

a lot of people mention lord of the flies in their reviews of this book. But I was more reminded of the feral child in the film Mad max. I view them as like those children having never being civilized the lord of the flies see children descend into Violence but this is more a group of people acting like a pack of apes or the feral child in Mad max films where civilization has lost its boundaries. Like his other book I have, it has children and strange children at its heart the narrator shows the view of them from the outside what happens when they become demoi=nised it is more about what happens when a group is turned on by society rather than asking how and why they got like the way they are? it is a short book but one that leaves you with questions and disturbing by what you have read and in thought about what you would do which is a good thing in a book I always feel.

At Night All Blood is Black By David Diop

At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop

French fiction

Original title – Frère d’âme

Translator – Anna Moschovakis

Source – review copy

Today I move on to world war one and a view of the war from a different angle with the tale of two Senegalese soldiers on the front line in the trenches.  It was written by the French writer David Diop Born in Paris but spent a lot of time in his youth in Senegal. He returned to France to finish his studies, where he has since taught literature at the University of Pau. He wrote a couple of books before this one, but this was his debut novel. The book was shortlisted for Ten major French book prizes when it came out winning the Prix Goncourt des Lyceens the one chosen by High school pupils.

in the trench. I lived like the others , I drank, I ate like the others. Sometimes I sang, like the others. I sing off-key and everyone laughed when I sang ” They would say, “You Ndiayes, you can’t sing” . They made fun of me, a little, but they respected me. They didn’t know what I thoiught od them, I found them Foolish, I found them idotic, becauuse they didn’t think about anything. Soldiers, black or white, who always say “Yes”.  When commanded to leave their shelterof their trench to attack the enemy, defencelesss, it’s yes “When told to play the savage, to scare of the enemy.

A view of how they are viewed in the army says a lot for these tough men.

This is the story of one man and his dead friend Alfa Ndiaye is said to be the son of the old, old man is at the western front fighting for France. He is on the line with his friend  Mademba Diop or as Alfa calls him my more-than-brother. The book opens as Mademba is fatally wound and ask his friend to end his life but he can’t an act he regrets and maybe sets forth the later event in the story?  as he is bleeding from a mortal wound in his stomach. Before he dies Alfa asks who had done the task the dying man can only tell his friend as he is dying that it was a blond blue-eyed german that did the task. He drags his friend from the battlefield back to the French trenches. This is where the story takes a dark turn as Alfa sets about revenge and vengeance for his dead friend so goes over the trench with his machete and returns with hands of dead blonde soldiers every night. as he seeks retribution for his more than a brother. As he does this his fellow soldiers start to fear him. He is offered the military cross for his actions to try and calm Alfa from his mission of revenge but also find out what is driving him to do it.  As he shows how brutal war is but also how badly the Chocolat soldiers were treated this is a dark story.

Gad’s truth, I was inhuman. I didn’t listen to my friend, Iistened to my enemy, So when I capoture the enemy from the other side, when I read in his blue eyes the screams his mouth can’t sling into the skies of war, when his open belly had become nothing more than a pulp of raw flesh, I turn back the clock , I finish off the enemy. As soon as he’s made a second plea with his eyes, I slit his throat like a sacrified lamb. What I didn’t do for Mademba Dioop , I do for my blue eyed enemy.Out of my reclaimed humanity

This is a dark book as we see one man driven by revenge to bring to justice the man that killed his friend as every night he heads out to get another hand off a dead man to add to his collection when he has too many he start to worry his comrades as he describes there is only one other soldier got why he did it and he has since died. I was reminded of the film the patriot where the main character sees his son killed by a callous officer from the other side and sets off on a killing spree with some fellow soldiers here it is one mans revenge. The man he has known since a child died in front of him asked him to put him out of his misery this is heartwrenching as the story becomes just one man’s tale of the war and not even the war but his path of revenge. It shows how guilt can drive someone to do the most horrific acts as a source of comfort for their loss but also we see an often-overlooked corner of the war those Chocolat soldiers as it says in the book those many soldiers that fought in world war one from Africa and Asia that have to often been whitewashed out of history so it is easy to see why this book would do so well oin schools telling an unknown story. Have you read this book?

The Catholic School by Edoardo Albinati

The Catholic School by Edoardo Albinati

Italian fiction

Otiginal title –  La scuola cattolica

Translator Antony Shugaar

Source – personal copy

I brought this when it came pout and was just daunted by its size and had read about 200 pages and then put it too one side which is a shame so when on Christmas eve I was looking for a book to read I decide to pick an epic and this was the book I decided to read and I am pleased I did. Edoardo Albinati started as a translator of books from English he has translated works by Nabahkov and Robert Louis Stevenson. He has written a ni=umber of novels but this is his best known it won the Strega Prize the Italian equivalent of the booker prize. The idea for the novel is that he went to the same school as the men that were involved in the rape and murder that became known as the Circeo Massacre. He also has taught in the prison where the same men were sent after they were convicted.

I never masturbated until I was old enough to be drafted and serve in the Italian army. Probably no one will believe it, but it is truth. I mean to say, it’s not as if I had never tried. I gave it a go many times, starting when i was just a kid. I  knew that my contemporaries were doing it, and I couldn’t stand the the idea that I was somehow different from them, But by the end of half an hour of autostimulation, woth my sex erect and flame red from rubbing, nothing happened. The application of mechanical movement hadn’t produced any effect, and I was just worn out and disappointed. It all struck me as strangfe and I was afraid I hadn’t really understood what I was supposerd to do, what t could try tthat might be better, might be different. I continued to have wet dreams or pollutions, as the terminology went, as I slept in the night, but if I tried to repriduce the phenonenon in a waking state, i could never bring matters to a fitting conclusion. Not once

Early one his own admison about his younger years and sex !!

This isn’t a straightforward novel I mean it is third in before the case and deaths are mention they elude too what the book is a dissection of the years that in Italy are called Anni di piombo in the seventies when Italy was in political chaos and violence ran free. The connection he has with the case is that one of the men that raped and murder one girl and left another for dead in a seaside town in the September of 1975 had been in the same year as Edoardo himself so this is him looking at the School upper-class catholic boys school a sort of Italian Eton but with added religion, San Leone Magno the school in question occupies a lot of the book he remembers the priest how they talked to the boys in a way he is looking why the boy’s men did what they did and he went another oath in life they were Neo-Fascist this is something he saw a lot in the bourgeois boys of his generation he describes arguing wh=ith his father he was of the left from a young age. Elsewhere he questions how they were taught to view women which were as sex objects this is held up when he sees one of his own priests a teacher hiring a prostitute whilst at school. A history of the school, Italy at the time, Catholic church the boys he knew the different paths they took everything is questioned why they did this maybe this is more an investigation and at its heart is the age-old question of nature versus nurture here and it comes out on what they were taught but also the atmosphere within an all-boys school the lack of having a female he even says those with sisters at home were better placed in the long run as they knew about women more than those that hadn’t. This isn’t a novel it is the quest for answers really and over 1200 pages you feel he has none but you can see why what happened with the killing was an accident waiting to happen to certain of his schoolmates.

The event that gave rise to this book is the so-called Circeo Rape/murder, spetember 29 1975: here in after the CR/M

What can rbe rightly asked about the case of the CR/M is whether the murder was a continuation of the sexual violence , one further step, more or less planned out on a contiunuum withthe abuse and toture and rape, or whether instead the rape was nothing more or less than a prelude to the murde, a prepartory phase. Beofre killing the girls, they wanted to have some fun with them. Or else: Having decided  to kill them.

He explains the orgin of the book in the case and we learn that he was in the same year as one of the men.

I loved this I love books that drift from here to there and books that haven’t story this is mostly told in the first person it is one man doing an autopsy on his life but also one of those three men that committed the crime. like Gunter von Hagens he takes apart the body of his life bit by bit and the society he grew up in. All in a quest to answer the simple question of why the rape of two girls and murder of one of them by these privileged three young men shock Italy to its core. It is hard not to see the influence of Knausgaard MY struggle came out a good 6 years before this book. But then there is also the same questioning mind that we see in Leopardi Zibaldone which questions things and also has a lot of Aphorisms Albinati has written forwards for books by Leopardi so for me there is a small element in the way he questions the events and life or SLM and his growing up, the church, being a male in Italy the male Italian view of women at the time. He drifts but it is highly readable almost like a documentary series in a novel form. Have you read this book or heard of the crimes involved?

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