The African shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

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The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Guatemalan fiction

Original title – Le Orilla Africana

Translator – Jeffrey Gray

Source – personnel copy

Rodrigo Rey rosa is a Guatemalan writer from a middle class family that meant he travelled a lot growing up. Including europe . When he started studying at a summer writing workshop run by the great writer Paul Bowles , who many books where set in North Africa, Rey Rosa fiction is set in Latin American and also like this book in North Africa where he later spent time with Bowles in Morocco where he translated Rey rosa books into english and after Bowles death he was the executor of Bowles estate . I know that is a lot of mention of Bowles but as you see in this book he has a lot to owe the American writer.

Everyone knew that owls don’t sleep at night and that they can see in the dark. That was why, when someone want to stay awake all night, it was a good idea to catch an Owl and pull out its eyes. Some people boiled the eyes in water and ate them, or you could make an amulet with one of the eyes and wear it on your chest to keep off sleep.

Hamsa returned to the tool shed and smoked several pipes of Kif, thinking of what he should do.

Hamsa captures the owl that links the two tales.

The African shore is one of those short books that after you have put it down seem so much longer than it was. The book is a pair of stories twisting around each other the first is a Take of a Shepard boy given a chance to be a lookout for his Uncle which he hopes I feel he will eventually get money or be given a chance to get across the water to Europe. The we have the second story a young man from Columbia is having to spend some extra time in The country after he lost his passport so we see him meeting and wander the town mix with french woman . A man not in the rush to get home to his wife and life . Then we have the Owl he sees it all and is the character connecting the two stories .

At the end of the street, on the sidewalk across from the herbalist’s , he saw a ragged boy with a two-handled basket trying to sell a barn owl.

He stopped and leaned over the basket to examine it. the owl said “Chi Chichich” Its big black eyes, circled with ochre disc, looked straight ahead. Its old woman’s face was framed by a small halo of feathers.It moved constantly, following the slightest movement around it .

The two meet as the owl changes hand between them both .

This is a clever little book about place , being lost in a place . Being in a place but wanting to be lost in another place it is about that short distance between the two continents Africa and Europe that is only miles but is also millions of miles away from one another. The we have the owl he is another character link the two people in the story but also the sense of place this desert and the town of Tangiers always a melting pot of Africa and europe . Like his Hero Bowles it is a story about coming to this place and feeling part of it The other character in the book is Morocco itself  the street life and characters we meet. Rey Rosa has part Bowles in his writing and also bit of Borges the book is built of short chapters that could almost be little piece of Borges he also has that sense of wanderlust and getting out of Latin america I have found at various times in Bolano’s work but also the works of some like Neuman a sense of connecting the old and new world through the needle of Africa . A great intro to a writer I want to try more of.

Have you read a Guatemalan fiction before ?

 

A horse walks into a bar by David Grossman

A horse walks into a bar by David Grossman

Israeli fiction

Original title – סוס אחד נכנס לְבָּר

Translator – Jessica Cohen

Source – personnel copy

I have been a fan of David Grossman for a while now and have reviewed his books twice before on the blog. Grossman has seen his books translated into more than 30 languages and has won many lit and other prizes .he has published over twenty novels and children’s books as well as plays and this is his latest book to be translated into english and like the previous two I have reviewed it is again translated by Jessica Cohen

“I want you to come to my show “he said on the phone after finally breaking pleasant recollections from our twice weekly walks from Bayit Va’gan to the bus that took me home to Talpiot. He talked about those walks with great enthusiasm; “It was a real friendship we started there; he said a couple of times and giggled with bemused happiness. We’d walk and talk for ages. Walkie talkie friendship; he continued, reminiscing in great detail, as though that brief friendship was the best thing that had ever happened to him

A chance call and Avishai get a call to see the show that particular night .

does what it says in the title in a way it is a story of a a joke and a comedian. We meet Dovaleh g an aging comedian , but in the audience are two of his dearest friends are in the audience this is a man setting his life in front of his audience the story of his life in a stand up show and how they end up here and how they are able to take Dovaleh show that is bad not just bad  it’s offence at times , our narrator one of the two friend there a retired judge wonders where the night is going and why his friend is doing this whince at the lines and what has the small woman he keeps drawing into his story and of friendship truth and having to make decisions that have a lasting effect on all those around you this is more than a man on stage in crisis this is a story that can face all making decisions at times .

“These kind of things are done quietly and quickly in our system.Three or four months and the whole hing was over” I laughed “You see, sometimes the wheels of justice do turn quickly.”

He didn’t respond. I was a little disappointed at my inability to make a comedian laugh.

“Every time I saw your name somewhere; he said “I would remember how we were, and I was interested in what you were doing,where you were. I wondered if you even remembered me. I watched you climb he ladder and I was really happy for you honestly ”

The two share banter but it is a deep cut and past he has brought him here to remember !

As ever Grossman is a writer of the most powerful of human feeling and is maybe using the stand up as a character to look back on a life maybe not his but some one of his generation there is five years between him and the comedians age. This is one of those books that need time to dissect it is full of bad jokes and bad feelings as the night turns nasty but he is scratching the surface of real life and how many people say one thing and think another ! A book about deep wounds and also maybe about what happens when pain is buried as ever Grossman is a writer of true brilliance not an easy read but a lasting read.

Have you read Grossman ?

 

The Potato eaters by Manuel Rivas

THE POTATO EATERS

The potato eaters by Manuel Rivas

Spanish Galician fiction

Original title – Os comedores de patacas

Translator – Jonathan Dunne

Source – review copy

I always wonder when we get a writer that has been translator but has not had earlier books or the debut novel translated. I wonder what these books are like in many case we never find out but sometimes we have to look to small press like Small station , who I have reviewed a few times before and this is a debit novel from one of my favourite Spanish writers Manuel Rivas , I have reviewed three times before . Manuel Rivas won the Spanish national prize for fiction in 1996 .for his book people of the night . this was his first adult novel from 1991.

Luou never receives visitors. He must feel pretty happy. Lying there, in his spacesuit, without having to talk or eat or anything like that. I watch the saline solution going down and imagine nothing sliding down the course of his blood and breaking up into tiny, invisible droplets that settle at the end of this toes. The bastard, perhaps in a couple of days he’ll be lucky enough to have Miss Cowbutt spoonfed him his soup

Luou had a tip to toe plaster on after the accident Sam view is odd but beleivable even down to the last line of this quote.

The book follows Sam a young man with a bad drug habit. He had a bad crash and end up in hospital after one particular episode but at least he isn’t as bad off as his friend who end up injured tip to toe . In hospital he has people pressing him for money as he is trying to stay off drugs he meets an old man who world view intrigues him. There is also a nurse he likes isn’t there always lol . His family decides to take him home to  the quirky village he grew up knowing as he grandmother lived there. single mother a man who collects everything a mysterious man in the attic as Sam tries to kick his habit  Aita at his grandmother with his mother his world is controlled and they hoped the mountain air would help him.

The mirror

The dampness has entered the mirror as well and unfurled black ivy along its edge, where the spider has woven its web. I am caught. everything passes slowly before my eyes, bringing dry leaves that land on me sleepily and carry words and memories of others.This is Aita a goddamn cobweb I look at myself in the mirror and pretend to be a monster

This shows Riva’s poetic side in this short vignette aout a mirror and Sam trying to be monster in it

 

This is a story of growing up Sam is just on the cusp of adulthood a boy becoming a man and also he has his cross to bear which is his drug habit . the book is taught in schools in the Galician region it seems , although it has been question as a little to earthy in its language , but I am some one that knows kids say certain words and know what certain words mean.  I can see why it is a tale of what drugs can do and that is ruin your life as we see in the knock on effect with Sam friend Luou who ends up in a really bad way after the accident. Rivas style here is to use short vignettes as the course of the novel each chapter is a snippet of Sam’s life with title like Miss cowbutt the nurse that captures his eye whilst in the hospital. The title is also a the title of Van Goch painting of ugly rural peasants eating potatos , this is maybe a way of showing the ugliness of drugs on people but also the people of Aita could have walked of a van Goch painter the richness in the quirky village folk .It is also full of poetic pieces from Rivas worth discovering as a piece of early fiction from a great voice of Galicians fiction but also a poet as well.

 

Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

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Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

Rwandan Memoir

Original title –  Inyenzi ou les cafards

Translator – Jordan stump

Source – Personal copy

Mukasonga grew up in rwanda as part of the smaller Tutsi tribe, she luckily left and went to live in France before the 94 genocide that in its wake killed 27 of her family member that were unable to escape. This is the first of a triolgy of autobiographical works the other two being Barefoot woman and L’lguifou . her first novel which followed these three books Out lady of the Nile won one of the biggest French language African Lit prizes the Ahmadou Kourouma prize and also a number of french book prizes.

The first Pogroms against the tutsi broke out on All saints ‘ day , 1959. The machinery of the genocide had been all set into motion. it would never stop.until the final soultion it would never stop

Needless to say , the anti-tutsi violence didn’t spare Butare province.I was three years old and that first images of terror were etched into my memory.i remember

The stark reality of the world she grew up in from her first memory .Also note the day the catholic church had a part in this in a small way !!

 

The book follows Her life from the early 1950’s her childhood and is told in vignettes through the years. Far from being an ideal childhood , as is the case with genocide the undercurrent of the problems have been there since the start of her life when even as a three-year old she saw violence . The thing we also see is her fathers drive to have his kids learn ,which as we see later on is a reason that Scholastique herself managed to get away from her homeland.We see the first stepping up as the family have to move of their good land on to poor land the echoes here are so much to the Jews being moved in Nazis era. They are moved as the Hutus wave machetes , this also remind me of those horrific picture of people having limbs hacked of by these machetes and having to struggle on with their lives. This is an insight into her family the opening lines touched me where she mentioned family members “For all those of Nyamata who are named in this book and the many more who are not ,

for the few who have the sorrow of surviving.

For a long time I had no news of my parents , my brother, my sisters who’d stayed behind in Nyamata. Writing them was out of the question. Letters from Burundi were considered suspicous and could cause their addresses serious trouble. I kept an ear out for rumors and news from Rwanda. I urgently questioned anyone who’d dared to go there. Not until Andre was in Senegal could he get a letter through to our parents to them of our new lives. Evidently mail from West Africa wasn’t thought to be dangerous

I was reminded of my old Bosnian friend that was unable to speak to his mother , I’d feel so grateful at times .

 

Some books are testaments to a time and need to be read to understand a time and the history. I was reminded of the opening of world at war where we follow a camera through the village of Ordour-Sur-Glane the french village where the was a brutal massacre and the village was left as ut was destroyed at the end of the war as a testament . this book about the Tutsi genocide is another work that needs to be read. Those horrific scenes on the news at the time are long gone but as this book shows the wounds are still there not just the physical ones the mental ones this is a prelude to the violence but also like the build up to the world war two the undercurrents to this conflict can be seen in the early years of Scholastique life . The conflict grew after independence with the events of april , may and june 94 being the  explosive and brutal end that saw maybe a million people killed in two months . So this book need s sit along the works of writers Like Elie Wisel or Primo Levi as those touched and saw the violence in their time. So this is the story of one of those cockroaches as the Hutu called the Tutsi in that time .

 

The Final Bet by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

 

 

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The Final bet by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

Moroccan fiction

Original title – al-Rihan al-akhir

Translator – Jonathan Smolin

Source – review copy

This is the second from The new AUC impress Hoopoe fiction I was sent late last year . Abdelilah Hamdouchi is a Morrocan writer of crime fiction he was one of the first writers of this genre to be translated into English. He has written 8 novels and also written for television and cinema were all his novels have been made into Dramas. He lives in Rabat in  Morocco.

As for Sofia’s body, it was lying on the bed drenched in blood. Her nightgown was open at the waist. Her right arm was extended as if she wanted to grab something. The left hung down to the ground. She was lying on the edge of the bed and looked like she was about to fall off, but death had frozen her in this position. Alwaar stared at her pale face and understood the meaning of the inspector’s ambiguous smile.He looked for Boukrisha among the other cops in thee room.

“The young guy downstairs , that’s her husband ?”

Alwaar sees the dead seventy year old woman and on way to her room meet her thirty year old husband.

Well this book The final bet claims to have been the first Arabic crime novel to be translated to English.I have actually the original edition of this book when it came out a few years ago sat on my shelves , IO see the translation may have been update in this new edition. The book follows a murder the woman whom is murdered is a french woman living in Morocco , she married a few years earlier Othman a Moroccan who was forty years his wife Sofia’s Junior. He own son is even older than her husband and he is also about when the crime is committed . Now Othman has fallen for a woman more his own age since him and Sofia married Nameea , he get very little time to sneak out and meet his mistress. Sophia is ever watching so a walk out with the dog or a trip to the shop are the short snatches of time they capture. It is one of these meetings late one night Othman returns from his meeting to find his wife stabbed in her chest.. This enter the Moroccan Police in the form of a detective Alwaar and the inspector he reports too Boukrisha. They almost from the start put the crime as one cause by the husband , and blame him. Even thou he could give an alibi , he tries to get more help from an old friend who is now an up and coming Lawyer that has been waiting for a chance to show how the police can be wrong sometimes.

For alwaar, this was the most difficult stage of any investigation. He’d look for what the evidence was telling him and read from every angle before moving to the next step. This made Alwaar move slowly, testing the patience of his assistants, who were always standing around, awaiting orders.

he finally got down to buisnees.He walked around the beside table and, with a cloth wrapped around his hand opened the top drawer, taking out a box lined with silk. He opened the lid and found it full of jewelry: Gold earings, a diamond necklace, and a ring with a sparkling jewel.He immediately ruled out theft as a motive for the murder.

The point I felt Alwaar is part Maigret but this also point Othman is the main suspect!

This is a short Book  as i would say one of those evening reads . It is an interesting insight into a new police force . We haven;t had many books looking at law and order in the Arabic world, as this was one of the first crime novels from the arabic world to break out. I wonder how many more in the coming years we will see as we see the Police in this part of the world like it is here in Morocco has changed over time  This may be owes a debt to Simenon in a way the lead detective Alwaar is maybe an homage to the French detective , even down to having a scene at home like we often see in the Maigret novels. What on the surface from the police point of view as we could see the young man killing his rich much older wife is so much more it turns out.I enjoyed this it was an enjoyable crime novel with a new setting and angles in it .

 

 

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