The Females by Wolfgang Hilbig

The Females by Wolfgang Hilbig

German fiction

Original title – Die Weiber

Translator – Isabel Fargo Cole

Source – personal copy

Wolfgang Hilbig had trained as a toolmaker and first got interested more in literature whilst he was a stoker on the ship used in 1968 by a group of east german writers protesting about the centralized censorship and control of literature in East Germany since the start of world war two. He initially worked as a poet but showed no-one, but at the 1968 event which he showed his poetry.  This lead to his poetry being published a number of years after this when he stopped before writing his debut novel Ich(I) which was autobiographical this is a later book that is thematically linked with other books he wrote including the Tiding of trees which I reviewed here. 

My losses accumulated: it seemd I’d even lost my name, yes, I no longer knew who I was, my name was tge property if a strange personage, that alone put it in the presence of females, and they suspected nothing. My name was lost, as all that flowing and rustling hair was lost to me … It was lost because I was forbidden to touch it ah, it was beyond saving

loss despair and sexual loss al her as he losses himself in the maelstrom of his life.

I struggled with the last book by Hilbig I read, in fact, the same happened this time I read this last year and read it again just this week. it is rather like wading through treacle as a reader there isn’t a lot of plot here it reminds me at times of reading Mervyn Peake in my youth there is a wonderfully descriptive nature to Hilbig world as dark and vile as this is as we see Mr c a machinist a nod to Hilbig’s own past working in a factory as he is there he watches the woman that works in the factory but not in his section so he only gets glimpses of them which he describes in a very sexual nature he then says he lost his job at the factory but it doesn’t need to know fully why and why have the woman gone this is where the reader struggles as there is no linear nature to the events that follow they seem to drift back to a dream about getting tortured in a sexual fantasy by the witch of Buchenwald the notorious wife of the commandant of the concentration camp. Then we have a sort twisted masturbation scenes to rubbish and here I was reminded of the similar sexual imagery Ballard used in his book The crash which dealt with the fetish of sex and cars well here it is a similar fetish around rubbish and sex. Mother fixation and a strange dream about stroking a young woman hair and then an attempt to kill himself in an act similar to that of Oskar Brusewitz who killed himself as a political act in 1976 in front police after placing posters about religious freedoms in East Germany. All this is the background to him trying to find where the woman of the town seemed to have disappeared too. This is all a poke at the control of sexual images and natures under the east german regime he grew up in a backlash.

I had gradually begun to transform into a sickness, Like all things I produced, this transformation was utterly excessive, an agony not quite hiuman , it was no longer that of an animal, either. It led to my dismissal from the factory, though the details aren’t worth mentioning, I lived in circumstances in which symptons, I hid in my apartment by day and went out only at night, in the dark, roaming the  town’s deserted streets solilopuizing, holding rousing speeches to myself, sweating, covered woth milky greem pusticles, A terrible thing had happenedsince I’d learned to use life to manufacture descriptions which made an inner life possible for me.

I was remind of Peakes description of , Abiatha Swelter. the chef in gormenghast.

This is a complex work that probably to fully get needs a more careful reader than me and maybe some with more knowledge of former east Germany. But as a work of literature, it is rich with the darker side of the life of what it is like when sexual feelings are repressed then just let out of a dark past echoed in the remains of the concentration camp on the edge of town and our narrator’s sexual dream of an S and M act with Ilse Kock. Hilbig blows open the sexual repression of the East German regime where everyone watched each other so real sexual freedom was deeply repressed.It is a book that reminds me of the rich descriptive style of Mervyn Peake, in fact, the world he describes is similar at times to Peakes Gormenghast. I also remembered the sexual nature of J G  Ballards crash in the description of sex here. Two lines have done a great job bringing him to English.

Shadow Child by P F Thomése

Shadow Child by P F Thomése

Dutch autofiction

Original title – Schaduwkind

Translator – Sam Garrett

I was out a few weeks ago when I saw this slim volume fro this prize-winning Dutch writer. I read the blurb it concerned the death of his young daughter Isa and struggling with the words to cope with this death has been so touched by the book by Carl’s book by Marie Naja Aidt which saw her coming to terms with her son’s death in his teens. I wondered the father version of the same loss would deal with it. The words on the back of the book some up the title may be “missing word. A woman who lives longer than her husband is called a widow, a man without his wife a widower. A child without parents is an orphan. But what do you call the father and mother of a child who has died ?”

We, who were no longer allowed to take our child in our arms, adapted immediately. We learned to read lips, eyebrows, fingersI eben read backs and shoulders. I read footsteps,doorsm=,silences. Later they brought in the equipment, more and more equipment, We learned to read that as well, we learned the numbers and their relationship to respiration,pulse rate, blood pressure, We learned to ignore certain beeps, and could distingush unerringly between various drips and tubes, They provide us with explanations, the only ones at our disposak. We wanted to understand everything.We sought a handheld in every fact, in order to keep from falling,.Into bottomless nothing.

I was reminded when i sat by my mothers bed as she opassed away with all the equipment around her and having the feeling of bottomless nothing.

There is a lot about the future here and the moment of loss from Pieter’ point of view a stone that had broken. As his girl drifted off from them. The future they saw is broken a book shut what wasn’t anymore.It doesn’t linger on the reason for her death what was wrong but the aftermath and the space left by Isa the trying to carry on. The betrayal in those writers he lovedNabakov and Flaubert who had both written about child deaths in the prose here, Pieter, in his vignettes feels they let him down even says in Goethe’s piece about the erlking which ends with the line But in his arms, the child lies dead. Pieter says this should have been the opening line no the closing line of the piece. The vignettes show how grief can rip your heart out as we have lived with our grief for the last year since my brother in law took his own life these words are touching and show the raw emotions of grief.

You don’t have ablank page anywhere, there’s nowhere I can get through to my own blanket ignorance. You put full stops everywhere and pull doors shut behind you (Yes, even you. Herr Gehemrat Goethe. your poem should not have ended with ” In sienen Armen das Kind war tot * ,.That’s how it should have started)

*In his arms the child was dead.

Even Goethe wasn’t a comfot of those writers he lived to read just seemed pale in the darkness.

The lines on the cover about the missing word for the loss of a child this is like carls book was a heartfelt work on personal grief and if you have grief in your own life is worth reading to show that you are not alone on the journey and the journey maybe be short or long everyone’s trip through grief. With it short chapters and drifting in time we see how Piter meditates on this moment of loss and the problems it brings to the parents of a shadow child the gulf of loss or a future never had the coming to terms and the loss of Isa her self those last days of her life that he relives from various angles and approaches. I was pleased to have found this book it came out 15 years ago here so it has been out of print for a while. But if you find a copy it will be worth reading.

Maigret and Monsieur Charles by Georges Simenon

Maigret and Monsieur Charles by Georges Simenon

Belgian fiction

Original title –  Maigret et Monsieur Charles

Translator – Ros Schwartz

Source – review copy

I was pleased I was sent this title which is the last of the novels of the Maigret series that Penguin has been putting out in new translations. I was in at the start and have reviewed nine of the new title including this one. In fact, it was six years ago yesterday I posted my review of Pietr the Latvian which came out in 1931 this his last novel featuring Maigret was written in 1972 with many years Simenon publishing two Maigret books I still have  66 of the new series to read. But it has been a great achievement from Penguin to bring this and many of his novels out in new translations. I do hope we see more of these in the Rowan Atkinson series that has done bur it seems to have been cancelled which is a shame.

“You are Detective Chief Inspector Maigret, are you not?”

“Yes”

“I Imagined you fatter”

She was wearing a fur coat and matching hat,was it mink? Maigret had no idea, because the wife of a divisionary chief inspector genrally had to be content with rabbit or, at best , muskrat or nutria

Madame Sabin-Levesque’s eyes roved slowly around the office as if making an inventory. When Lapointe sat down at the desk, with his notebook and pencil,she asked

“Is this youngmany going to stay in the room?”

“Of course”

“Is he going make a not of our conversation?”

“It’s the rule”

Her brow furrowed and she gripped her crocodile sjin hand bag tighter

She reports Gerard disappearance and seems to be a lady by the description but there is more than fur and crocodile skin.

Maigret is nearing his retirement and is on the verge of an office job when this case comes across his desk. When Nathalie Sabin- Levesque whose husband Gerard but then Maigret and Lapointe discover that he is well known around the town and often leaves his wife for days drinking and is known to the girls of the night he meets as  Monsieur Charles. So he had disappeared a month earlier than they expected when Nathalie first came to them due to his habit of disappearing for days. Charles /Gerrard works for successful lawyers this shows the other side of his life the people he works with aren’t fans of his wife. WHo had said she was a legal secretary when she met Gerrard but who it turns out was a call girl that he married and she has tried to take up the mantle of a rich wife. But she has her ghost from her past trying to threaten her. In turn, has this effect her husband when he turns up dead Maigret is faced with a choice in what is maybe the last time he can tread those dark alleys, bars, cafes of Paris.

“Do you haveany news?” He asked

“Not news, exactly. As far as I know, the last person who saw your boss was hostedd at the cric-Crac in Rue Clement- Marot, And when he left her he was supposed to go to Avenue des Ternes, where a young woman was expecting him… That was in the middle of the night of the 18th of feburary… He never turned up at the Avenue des Termes … Perhaps he changed his mind on the way?

Charles had a habit of disappearing for days.

The feeling is the later Maigrets are weaker than the earlier ones but like Doyle when he wrote the Holmes stories they just run out of material for their character to do. So there is common threads in the books to earlier works fallen woman ladies of the night is a recurring character in Maigret. The rich doing wrong is another recurring theme in Maigret. When Maigret and Lapointe head out to find Monsieur Charles and what he is like it seems old times as they hunt the dark underbelly of Paris. It has a poor marriage at its heart a husband that married a call girl and carried on as he always did a wife that wants the world he lived in but instead is caught in a limbo. It is a story that has many twists and turns in it but maybe isn’t as original as the earlier books seemed.

Billiards at the Hotel Dobray by Dušan Šarotar

Billiards at the hotel Dobray by Dušan Šarotar

Slovenian fiction

Original title – Biljard v Dobrayu

Translator – Rawley Grau

Source – review copy

Anyone that follows this blog knows what a fan I was of the first book by Dusan to be translated into English Panorama it was one of those books that just lingered with me long after I read it and here is another by him an earlier book but an important book as it was one of the first by a Slovenian writer to deal with the plight of the Jewish population in Slovenia. It is a personal story as it incorporates his own grandfather’s story. A recent visit to our own UK holocaust museum in the summer which like this was full of personal history even sixty years later it is still important to remind the people of event this is told through a single building in a single town what Dusan does is use his personal history to tell a wider story of the events near the end of the second world war.

The old porcelain sky was polished to a shine, It lay motionless above the black earth. Like a coffee cup someone had long ago turned upside down on its saucer. Perhaps this was the work of many fortune tellers who read coffee grounds. Now the black sediment covered the sauce, and high above it, in the blue of the sky, only small traces could be seen, broken signs and msterieous shap[es, which only the ost inspired could interpret.That morning one of those women kept glancing at the black sludge as if she was looking at thesky; then she’d merely shake her head and spit outout a thick dollop of phlegm . She was sitting on the front steps of the Hotel Dobray

Such an evocative descriptive passage here.

The Hotel Dobray of the title was one of those imposing Hotels that many small cities and places have around Europe. This is settled in the town of Sobota which is in the northeastern corner of Slovenian between three countries it was occupied in the war by the Germans they left the Hungarians in charge of the town. The t=story is told from one man’s story which in a way is a wider story of the town. Franz Schwartz is walking back to the town after like all his fellow Jews having been forced out a year earlier. This was just as his son was having a bar mitzvah a talented violinist due to give a performance. The Hotel is housing a special tribunalJoszef the man doing this can see the writing on the wall he knowns the read army in the year from when the Germans arrived in 1944 to 45 and the Red Army expect any time. Then we have a factory owner and local character Josip and a prostitute Linna a former singer and like her friends in the brothel stuck in this sleep backwater as the war draws to its end.As we see Franz heading there and what has happened in that hard year.

The wind borne  byt the plain from the east dispersing the smoke from the station and distributing it noisily amoung the houses. It was then what ever hope Franz Schwartz still carried inside him collapsed. He knew that Ellsie and Izak would never again appear out of the fog. Here, for a long time to come, people would still be getting on  and off trains, embracing each other and saying teir farewells, but he would always be waiting. He alone would be walking across the tracks and watching for the train that would one day take him away, too

The day they left the town before he returned aloned.

This is the wonderful historic view of the writer’s hometown it must have hit a nerve as a few years after the book came out Murska Sobota put up its first memorial to the fallen Jews of the town. It has a woven tapestry of a small corner of Slovenia from one man’s story to a wider tale and a remembrance of a building and the characters that used it during those war years. The action is slow in this book I was reminded of the films of Bela Tarr the place although in Slovenia was once in Hungary this is another tale of a small town dealing with bigger issues like Tarr’s films and Krasznahorkai who writes most of the books they are based there is a an air of place in this book but also of a place struggling with change the loss of so much marks a place as Dasa Drndrc once said to me when the names of those lost Italian Jews were taken out of the Italian version of the book the fabric of the book fell apart like society itself. Another gem from Istros and Dusan worth reading as one man muses what has happened and what might have been.

Letters of blood by Rizia Rahman

Letters of blood by Rizia Rahman (library of Bangladesh)

Bangladesh literature

Original title – Rokter Okkhor

Translator – Arunava Sinha

Source – personal copy

I read a while ago about the library of Bangladesh series of books I am a fan of publishers trying to collect together literature from a particular country. Seagull books have published books for us in the UK and US. Rizia Rahman is one of the most respect Bangledesh writers having published more than fifty novels. This was her fourth novel when it was published in 1978 she was inspired to write it from an article called the prostitutes of Dhaka. She was unable to visit the brothels but used Male journalist reports and photographs of them in the brothels to imagine there lives. She said when this came out in English received a lot of praise for the book, but also had to endure an equal amount of abuse.”

One side of the termite-ridden door of Bokul’s room has collapsed. Yasmin shivers at the sight of Bokul’s naked, unconscious form on the bed, lit by the reddish glow of the lamp. A wild animalseems to have sliced up her body with its claws. She is bleeding. A miserable Shanti is wiping her body with a rag. She doesn’t look as thpough she had a violent quarrel with Bokul this morning. Yasmin tells Zarina, who’s standing there, “MANNAN should have dettol in his shop. Get a bottle”

Violence is always just below the surface of those living in the brothel.

This is the second book in the last few months I have read based around a Brothel the other was the booker longlist 10 minutes 38 seconds by Elif Shafak. This like that book lifts the lid on the everyday life of those women in the brothel here in such a short book we get to know a number of the girls and their stories. We have Yasim she was involved in the war of liberation and is from a middle-class background unlike a lot of the girls she lives with she has had a hard time to wind up there. This is a woman who falls on hard times and is similar to the lead character in Elif’s book. Then we have some of the other girls some of them that dress like the movie stars of the day in a sort of escape from every day lives. Others try to get the richest clients and use that as a way to fame and fortune and the way out. She also captures those little arguments everyday tasks they have to do in-between clients the things that make their days in this bleak world go by the risk of diseases and abuse always in the background and everyone is just a day away from a fall that may stop them earning and having a living.

Mashi begins to abuse the women ” You line iof wores, what do you think you’re doing! You’ve become too big for your own good. I’m informing the police at once.They eat out of my hands, They’ll beat you all of you to a pulp”

Marjna stans up to her ” To hell with your police. You scare us with talk of police to exort money from us every month. You think we don’t understand?”

They try to stand up for themselves against those that are trying to exploit them.

This book is just 140 pages long but it does what I think great novellas do well and that seems like an epic trapped in a small book. This is a lifting of the veil on a world that one imagines in the time the book was written to now hasn’t changed much. Rizia has a sensitive eye for the girls of the brothels her writing is never judgemental and shows the lives of bones and all. How vulnerable they are they can be sold and moved on anytime. She captures their world. The men in this book are in the background but depicted as violent abusive wanton or as the pimps for the girls. There world is them on top of one another and the sense of this meaning that there is trouble always just around the corner as they compete for the men there. I was sad to read that Rizia Rahman had passed away last year she seemed an interesting writer that has just this book translated into English so far.

Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe

Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe

Nigerian Non-Fiction

Source – personal copy

I said I want to try and focus a bit more this year on African and Arabic literature over the next year. I did use cover a lot more when I first started the blog I have always been a fan of the African writer series. Chinua Achebe was the editor of that series in the early days with the first wave of post-colonial African fiction.I had thought I had covered him before on the blog but I haven’t so when I found this the over week. I choose this as my first read as it dealt with African fiction as it was a collection of three essays that he gave as speeches lat on in his life.

My problem with Joyce Cary’s book was not simply his infuriating principal character, Johnson. More importantly, there is a certain undertow of uncharitableness just below the surface on which his narrative moves and from where, at the slightest chance, a contagion of dostaste, hatred and mockery breaks through to poison his tale. Here is a short expcerpt from his description of a fairly innocent party given by Johnson to his friends,”the demonic appearance of the naked dancers, grinning, shrieking, scowling, or with faces whioch seemed entirely dislocated, senseless and unhuman, like twisted bags if lardm or burst bladders” Haven’t I encountered this crowd before? Perhaps, in Heart of Darkness, in the Congo. But Cary is writing about my home Nigeria, isn’t he ?

HIs problems with Cary’s book Mister Johnson.From the first essay My home under Imperial fire

The three essays are interlocking the first deals with his childhood the nation he grew up in the Igbo people and the fact they are distinctive in themselves. Then the fact that when he first went to school and then university. The books he was given to read were all European in nature and there wasn’t many African books and then the one book that deals with his own country by the Anglo-Irish writer Joyce Cary. He said it didn’t cover the country in a real way Cary had served in Nigeria but didn’t portray the country and this is what drove Achebe to write his first novel to give a truer picture. The second essay deals with those early years that he was an editor of the African writer series. When Dylan Thomas put his weight behind one of the early success Palm wine Drunkard. elsewhere he mentions Camara Laye, Mongo Beti and Cheikh Hamidou Kane as among those that first made inroads with eh post-colonial voices of African literature I choose those three as they are covered here. The last essay deals with the modern African literature and post-colonial scene and literature about Africa. He talks about a change in language from Conrad times to modern-day.

The Launching of Heinemann’s African Writer Series was like the umpire’s signal for which African writers had been waiting on the starting line. In one short genration an immense library of new writing had sprung into being from all over the continent and , for the first time in history, Africa’s future genration of readers and writers – youngsters in schools and colleges – begn to read not only David copperfield and other engliush classics That I and my genration had read but also works by their own writers about their own people

The series which he edited for many years in the second essay The Empire fights back !

It was an inspiring collection of essays from a writer who was always passionate about his work and the influence of African fiction. Here he shows how the African continent was misportrayed in English literature here he starts to mention Conrad a subject he often wrote about. The terms he used in the heart of darkness, but as he pointed out it still has changed but not much he mentions V S Naipaul use of Bush in his novel Bend in the river as a small change from Conrad’s day. A slim collection but worth looking out if you are a fan of African literature as it has some interesting points about fiction about Africa and post-colonial African fiction. Have you read this collection?

Backlight by Kanji Hanawa

Backlight by Kanji Hanawa

Japanese short fiction

Translator – Richard Nathan

Source – review copy

I bring you the second book of the red circle series of short novellas from Japanese. Kanji Hanawa was before he retired a professor of French literature having only visited France as a student he has spent a lifetime teaching and in retirement has translated fifteen books from French into Japanese. He has also written a number of short stories and Novellas been listed for the Akutagawa prize twice.He is known for his for exposing the pressures and challenges of modern life in Japan. Here he has used the true story of Yamato a boy who was left by his parents in the woods of the northern Island of Japan and wandered off.

Ishida: “I imagine, don’t you think, they will set up the incident cemtre at the foot of the mountain?

Momose:”They will visit the situation. I am a psychologist, but I’m old and not so strong on my feet; nor do I have any children myself. So I’m not sure I can be of much use.But I’ve actually been to take a look and although they say it;sa mountain, it seems more like a nearby hill.The actual location took me by surprise.

THe opening and getting involved in the case.

The story uses an Ishida a psychologist asked to help out and he is called in by an old colleague Toshiko Momose as they were both at H university. Who wants to Ishida panel of experts helping with the investigation into the disappearance of A a seven-year-old boy who was left as a punishment by his Father as him and his sister and parents that are on the last day of the national holiday and A ios playing up as the family head through the woods of the Northern island they stop and leave him and drive off only to turn and return in a matter of minutes to find A has disappeared they look for him and he isn’t to be seen so they have to call in the police as the woods are bear-infested. What we see is Ishida as he is called to give help to the way the case is covered and he lets us know how they are trying to find A as the days go by the two discuss how the west and Traditional Japanese childhood differ and the fact that A disappeared is what has changed as when Japanese child was sent out of a house he would stayed glued to the spot whereas a western child would wander this is echoed in the western tales of children getting lost in the woods. Will A be found how long was he out there?

The statement compiled by Momose and Ishida was circulated to the chairperson and the others, but with a questionable level of comprehension. As a child was concerned, the media was showing some self-control. Even so, overall opnion was shifting, it was being taken much more seriously. More and more people were calling for a search of greatest magnitude possible, even if hastily excuted, with the largest number of people available. As a result there were 300 people in total, both locals and non-locals, forming small search oparties and heading into the area. Despite this, there was no postive news.

Third day and fears and the search increases for A .

This is another great choice as it is a gripping story that highlights changes in Japan in a way the boy should have stayed when his parents left and the curveball of him walking off is the start of the tale. Ishida and Toshiko provide a sounding board for how Japanese is changing,. Also, the way this case was cover and the aftermath this made headlines around the world. They also discuss the history in fairy tales of Children in the woods in western culture. from Grimm and then before that in Perrault’s tales. This shows how values change and how Parents are treating the children in Japan. I have three more from Red circle the first two have been very interesting so I hope to finish the rest of them in the new year. Have you a favorite Japanese short story or novella?

Loop by Brenda Lozano

Loop by Brenda Lozano

Mexican fiction

Original title – Cuaderno ideal

Translator – Annie McDermott

Source – personal copy

I often think what has been great in the last ten years since I started the blog is those small publishers that fill gaps in the world of translated literature you didn’t know where there and here is a perfect example Charco press over the last few years have brought use dome of the most interesting and original writers from Latin America. Brenda Lozano has published two novels so far. She was another of the writers that back in 2007 made the Bogota 39 list. I do hope they keep making these lists from around the world you look at the list for Bogota and it has produced so many great books and this is one that like when I read the other Charco press book Fireflies.

At a dinner party when he was twenty one, Proust was asked some questions, Among them, what was his favourite bird was. The swallow, he replied. Proust didn’t invent the questions known as the “Proust Questionaire”, but his ansewers were so good they made the questionaire famous. Proust responded to the questionaireon two separate occasions. He was fifteen when he was asked his favourite colour. “THe Beauty is not in the colours, but in the harmony”. he said

At fifteen I still tought the electric pencil sharpener seperated me from adult life. If I’d neem asked my favourite colour I would have sain the colour of my blue pencil sharpener, but Proust’s favourite bird is alos my facvourite bird.

I like this passage and my favourite bird is a kingfisher the flash of them you glimpse is always a treat to see.

Loop is the narrative of an unnamed woman who is staying at home well recovering from an illness whilst her boyfriend is away for a trip too Spain. This isn’t a novel or a notebook more of doodling instead of random art this is a collection of random vignettes of a woman waiting for her man a musing on the world she inhabits. Thus we get wonderful nuggets around the Pessoa imaging ordering five drinks one each for his heteronyms. Lispector and here placing of the smallest woman in the land of pygmies from Central Congo. A piece on Proust and the question around his books, she imagines other writers’ versions of the questionnaire. All this is intertwined with her everyday life family and parties. Her love of notebooks and a growing feeling that she is becoming like Penelope in the Odyssey awaiting Odysseyus return. Even her mother emails saying she has seen the doctor and he said to visit and they love to see Jonas and her on his return from Spain and dealing with his mothers death. This passage is near the end and he still hasn’t come home.

“When will you be back Jonas ?” I’m not sure, he answered I was about to get up. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me back to bed, and yes, we did it in the morning. Not another line without sayinfg it, I’m going ti say it right now: last year I had an accident I almost didn’t come back from and not long afterwards I discovered sex with Jonas, Good sex, I mean, In that order.

Sex and love. That order. The death of Jonas mum . My non death, That disorder.

Our narrator and her lover. Her past illness and Jonas Mum’s passing

This sits in that space between linear narrative and no narrative it has a progression our narrator lets slip nuggets of her life and a slow recovery her love for her absent man returned home to Spain for his ailing mother. Her hunt for the perfect notebook is her notebook but she loves notebooks. Loop is a patchwork of life titbits of this and that builds a picture of our narrator and the world around her. I was reminded of Duck Newburyport it has a similar digressive style of narrative that drifts here and there. We find the worries of living in the violent heart of Mexico I was reminded that had Bolano lived he would have captured the increasingly violent world of Mexico city. Add to that dwarves and David bowie and it is hard to see why I loved this book it is an example of what I said in the first passage of what I love around small publishers and that brings us books like this Fireflies and books like Flights from Fitzcarraldo and Panorama from Istros all play with the narrative style and what a novel is in this modern world.

Lives and Deaths essential stories by Leo Tolstoy

Lives and Deaths essential stories by Leo Tolstoy

Russian Fiction

Translator – Boris Dralyuk

Source – review copy

It has been 8 years since I read the new translation of War and Peace by Tolstoy so when I was offered the chance to review a collection of stories by the master that revolved around life and death. I couldn’t say no when I was offered the chance to read these for new translations from Boris Dralyuk. The stories are mainly from later in his writing life the earliest is from 1859 the latest is from 1905. The main story in the collection is the Death of Ivan Ilyich a novella the pother three stories in the collection are Three deaths, pace-setter, and Alyosha the pot. all center around death.

The announcement was bordered in  black ” It is with deepest sorrow that Praskoyva FyodofovnaGolovina informs relatives and friends of the demise of her beloved spouse, Member of the appellate court Ivan Ilyich Golovin, which occured on 4TH Febuary 1882. The funeral will be held on friday at one o’clock in the afternoon”

Ivan Ilyich had been a collgue of the assembled gentlemen, well liked by all of them. He had been ill for several weeks; they had heard the illness was incurable.His position had been kept open, but itwas assumed that, in the event of his death, Alekseyev would be appointed to replace him.

The opening of Ivan Ilyich that sees him=s death notice and we then see what haopened in the weeks before.

Well,  the main part of this collection is the Death of Ivan Ilyich. Ivan is a Judge and has a settled life the story opens with people reading a notice of his death but then we see the events that lead to his death. He has just moved into a new house when he has a fall and gets pain on his left side, Then he starts to have a bad taste in his mouth as he gets worse one of his friends Peter sees his friend is getting worse. His wife Praskovya is well to put it one way more of a lady who lunches and has her own life and is only trouble when Ivan’s illness affects their activities together. Ivan questions after he gets the word from the doctor that he is going to die why it is happening to him. We have the three deaths of a noblewoman a lady is traveling on a coach and at the posting station is seen by a doctor who says she won’t make it home but she wants to be home to die. Uncle Hvedor an old coachman is dying in the common room of the posting station. we have a tree dying as the third death. The Pacesetter is set in a stable and told from the point of view of the horses in the yard. Then the last story Alyosha the pot about a quiet young man called the pot after he broke a pot when he was a youth and is a meek soul.

Alyosha was the younger brother. They nicknamed him Pot because one day his mother sent him to the deacon’s wife with a pot of milk, but he stumbled and fell, and the pot broke. His mother gave him a whipping and the boys teased hom, called him “Pot” .The nickname stuck – Alyosha the Pot

Alyosha was a thin little felow, with lop-ears (His ears were like wings), with a big nose. The boys used to teasehim, shouting “Alyosha’s nose is like a dog on a hill” There was a school in the village, but Alyosha didn’t have much time for it

THe youg mannamed pot is a meek young man in his lfe.

I hadn’t read Ivan Ilyich before so was pleased to have read this new translation from a Judge that in many ways his life with a wife that is caught up in her own world and a man that has maybe been to up himself that hadn’t seen his impending death coming it brings up the question of what our lives are valued for and even we think we may be entitled to live longer that is not always the collection the other stories show three different deaths from the highest and lowest of society to that of a tree. Then we have the goings-on of a  stable told from the horse point of view his imagining of their social world is interesting then the quiet Alyosha life is summed up in a mere ten -pages. The stories show how he viewed death change from the earliest story three deaths which were written nearly thirty years earlier than the other works the later maybe shows how when we get to view death differently the older we get.

Travels with a writing brush edited by Meredith Mckinney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel with a writing brush( Classical Japanese travel writing from Manyoshu to Basho)

Japanese travel writing

Editor & Translator Meredith Mckinney

Source review copy

I was rather happy to get sent this, especially after earlier this year reading the Man Booker international prize longlist The pine island which is the second book that had a Basho influence the other being the title of Richard Flanagan booker winner book was a nod to Basho. The book contains a thousand years of Japanese travel writing which includes a number of pieces that were translated for the first time.

Works translated into English for the first time:
• Ionushi’s Pilgrimage to Kumano by Zōki
• Senjūshō
• Pilgrimage to Kumano
• The Death of Sōgi by Sōchō
• Journal of the Kyushu Road by Hosokawa Yūsai

On we went, past Uta no Mastubara. Pines in untold numbers stood along the shore, untoldages old. Waves lapped at the feet of every one; restless cranes thronged around every branch. Unable simply to stand and gave in wonder, one on board composed this:

Miwataseba                Gazing upon thesepines

Matsu no uregeto ni   It seems the cranes

Sumu tsuru wa            Nesting on every branch

Chiyro no dochi to zo Must take the trees for friends

Omoubera naru           A thousand generations old

THis poem doesn’t do justice to the actual scene we saw

From Tosa diary a voyage that lasted 55days at sea.

The book has a great intro and translator notes also map for a number of the Journeys which begin in 759 with MAnyoshu which is one of the first works in Japanese collection it has 400 plus poems the few select are set around boat travels around the island seeing things such as cranes. Then in Tosa diaries, we have a female narrator although as it says in the intro we see that a few times the male writer’s voice is evident this journey is shown on the first map of the maps in the book from Tosa to Kamakura as they see pines and Cranes but as the narrator says the prose doesn’t do it justice. Then as you’d expect we have a pilgrimage piece by Zoki. Then we have a more famous work the pillow book written by a lady in waiting to the empress. Nearly all the pieces in this collection all have the sort poems that five lines long. Another diary of a daughter she is just known just as Sugawara No Takasue’s daughter. Then my favorite title of the works dusts dancing on the rafters That came from a Chinese saying related to two singers. I am only mentioning the first half of this wonderful collection it is taken out of Meredith McKinney own journey through classical Japanese writing and her love in particular of how they described travel this covers a thousand years and ends with the man himself Basho with the narrow road to Oku nearly a thousand years after the first piece. as his fame grew he had to travel to meet his followers in his last decade he traveled more than anything.

257

Kumano e mairu ni wa          Hey you pilgrims

Nani Ka Kurushiki                  What’s so hard

Shugyoja yo                           About the road to Kumano?

Yasumatsu Himematsu       it’s easy pine of Ysumata

Goyomatsu                            Princess pine and five-leafed pine

Chisato no Hama                  and the beach of Chisato

The opening poem from the short selection called Dust dancing on the rafters.

I have often been put off by the great classical Japanese works. But this is an easily accessible work that shows Meredith’s talent as a translator. It shows the beauty of Japan where travel through the land is hard due to forest and mountains or had to be done by seeing due to the many islands which means there is much travel writing out there with pilgrimages and ceremonial events and trips we see how the country is so poetic with its pines cranes insects monks and scenery the sea all around them at times. from sleeping on pillows of grass to wishing to be home and among the books a young girl loved. The works mix fact and fiction and the lines of poetry and prose blur here. As the intro says sometimes it is about finding the places here within like in Ise tales which is sent from Mount Utsu which is said to have echoed down the centuries in the journal of travelers along tokkaido who continue to search out the place identified with this scene. This struck me people trying to find a place a thousand years later from a letter enchanting such a great collection I hope we get more from Meredith as she continues her journey. Have you a favorite work of classical Japanese writing?

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