Selfies by Sylvie Weil

 

Selfies.jpg

Selfie by Sylvie Weil

French fiction

Original title – Selfies

Translator – Ros Schwartz

Source – review copy

Sylvie Weil is the daughter of the well-known Mathematician Andre Weil and niece of Philosopher Simone. She studied Classics and French literature at the Sorbonne then taught in France and after a few years became a professor of French literature in the US. Then decided to become a writer she has written a number of YA novels and novels as well as Plays and Short stories. This is the latest book from the small publisher Les Fugitives bring the best of Modern French Literature to us in English.

The elderly teacher would often remind me that you must play each bar with one eye already on the next, so as not to be caught unawares. It was when he was speaking on this subject that I heard him laugh – the one and only time ever. He recalled one of his pupils, a very pious english spinster, who had replied: Oh! monsieur, god alone can see the future. I didn’t see him laugh because I never looked at him, but I definitely heard him laugh, as he sat beside ,me

The otgan reminded of the picture of someone 400 years earlier playing a clavichord sparks a memory of an old teacher.

This is a clever use of selfies the modern craze that isn’t so modern as we see here Sylvie uses a mix of paintings and photos from the 16th century onwards. Then uses these to tell vignettes of her own life, From the opening Vignette Sofonsiba Angussiola a picture of her at a Clavichord that reminds her when she visited a crypt in 1978 learning the organ being taught by an elderly teach proud to be teaching Simone’s niece. The Gwen John painting self-portrait with a letter reminds Sylvie of a postcard a lover called Gary the piece set in cafes smells of tobacco and honey and their meetings will he ask her to marry him something never answered. Later on, Frida Kahlo self-portrait reminds Sylvie of a couple she knew that had a dog, she isn’t a fan of dogs but when this dog that was a huge bouncy dog that greeted her bounding over every time passes she sees the gap and why they loved him so much. Near the end, Vivian Maier sparks the remembrance of a trip to Israel and what happened after as she is questioned about the trip.

When I met his owners, Ted and Elizabeth, they were no longer young. They’d married late. They had a huge dog called Winston, who would jump up excitedly when you mentioned the name of a certain dog biscuit, a bland rusk in the shape of a little bone. He’d snatch the biscuitm crunch it and then wag his tail enthusiastically, asis fitting for a well trained dog. It goes without saying that he never tired of running to retrive the ball or the sticks his owners threw as far as they could, knowning that he enjoyedthis game. An uncomplicated dog in other words. He was Elizabeth’s dog, from before her marriage. She liked to say that it was thank him that she’d learned to live with a fellow creature. Winston had taught her to share , to trust, Otherwise she’d never have married, she’d assert with a smile.

Well not hard to know why I connect to this particular vignette we all need a huge dog called Winston in our lives at some point !!!

This is a clever framing device using the paintings as a starting point for the vignettes she writes each a personal and emotional experience from her life. This is a literary trip on the selfie an attempt to capture in a few pages more than what is a picture but also what makes a picture the moment but also the moments leading to the snapshot a self is just a millisecond but this shows what isn’t caught yes a dog is a dog but when the dog isn’t there the gap is more than a gap. Playing a keyboard is about learning but also the experience of learning and the place. I was remind of Wim Wenders talking about how unreal phone selfies are not a photo just a image as how often do we print them of even then this shows that it is more than a moment we maybe need but the whole sensation of  what happened from Proust biting his Madeleine or Sebald falling down the various rabbit holes in rings of Saturn it is about the image, place or  taste leading the writer somewhere ! Another interesting piece of French Literature this touched me as much as Anne Ernaux Years did earlier this year.

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Prague by Maude Veilleux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prague by Maude Veilleux

Quebecian fiction

Original title – Prague

Translators – Aleshia Jensen and Aimee Wall

Source – review copy

I said a couple of weeks ago how much of a fan I am of the books that the Canadian publisher QC is bringing us from Quebec each is as different as the last and that is the case here last time it was a single female struggling abroad and now we have a married female trying to escape her life. Maude Veilleux is doing a master in French. This is her second novel and is known for addressing social media and narrative identity in her books. Here she tackles the dilema of a modern marriage. This is her first novel to be translated to English.

I found it easy, being with two men at once. I had my husband and I had my lover. I felt no guilt. I wasn’t lying to either of them. I kept some details to myself, but I didn’t lie. My lover often said to me: there’s no way your husband isn’t jealous.

I loved it when he said that. It showed that what we were doing meant something to him. I’d say: he’s not jealous at all, it’s not in his nature.

I liked the balancing act, the work the situation required. I had to cloak the truth so that each felt indispensible.It was easy, because they wer. They were indispensable to me.

Early on as she loves the thrill of juggling to men at once.

This is a strange book as it blurs the lines between narrative and reality for the narrator is a woman that has gone into an open marriage The love is there but the desire of earlier in the marriage has ebbed away. As her husband has decided to have a fling with a man and is happy to let her have flings. This leads her to start a relationship with Sebastian who works in the same bookshop as she does they have an arrangement and he has a flatmate this is all ok as the fiction Maude explores her body with another man but as the lines start to blur this becomes a woman looking at her life in fiction as a novel of her relationship with voyeuristic sex scenes this is a strange book it is one of those that is about those questions every relationship has at some point and that is what to do when the love there but the excitement of sexual passion has died. All this is a Canadian winter as the lover dream of escaping to Prague and another life.

People read me as vunerable. I take care to look pretty. Perfectly groomed. perfectly made up. Batting my lashes with timed grace. Resting my elegant hands with poise. My fragilityis my strength. But what they don’t know is that I’m a force of s=destruction, an enchantress, The prey and the predator. Both at once, I’m the noe who does the asking. I’m the onw who sets the limit.

Later on still strong but maybe an underlying weakness and vunreability starting to appear. in our narrator

This is what I love about Quebecian fiction this is like an espresso shot of modern married life short very strong and giving you a kick. It has a sparse prose style with blasts of voyeuristic sex and a narrative that crosses from the personal to the writer’s voice as the lines of the narrator’s life blur is this autofiction or fiction as her and Sebastian dream of escaping their lives and going to Prague. As they make love. This questions what you do in a modern marriage when each person has different desires and will it work out. As I said this is an espresso of a book a shot to get you going as a reader it is such a short book it can be read in an evening.

The Train was on time by Heinrich Böll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The train was on time by Heinrich  Böll

German fiction

Original title  – Der Zug war pünktlich

Translator – Lelia Vennewitz

Source – personnel copy

I brought this when we went on holiday to Northumberland in a small Waterstones. I have been a fan of these Penguin European writer series books that have come out the last couple of years. But even more, I am a fan of Böll so far in the time I have blogged I have cover six of his books for me he alongside Gunter grass was the voice of those early post-war years of German. Now, this takes it right back to the start of his writing career and his Debut novel which had been out of print for a number of years and was first published in English in 1956.

But the silence of those who said nothing, nothing at all, was terriible. It was  the silence of tose who knew they were all done for.

At times the train got so full they could hardly hold their cards. All three were drunk by now, but very clear in the head.Then the train would empty again, there were loud voices, resounding and unresounding. Railway station. The day wore on to afternoon from time to time they would pause for a snack, then go on playing, go on drinking. The schnapps was excellent.

This line got me the fact about being drunk but still clear in head about their situation.

This is a story of one mans train ride from Dortmund through Poland to the Black sea and what is now Ukraine. The 23 Andreas a thoughtful almost one may say a daydream is heading back to the eastern front on this five-day train journey to what is maybe his and his companion’s death. So he is joined on the train by some fellow soldiers. The first of his companions an unshaven solider called Willi that has discovered his wife had cheated him and is seeking solace in the drink then the Blonde that has a sexual disease these are the ordinary soldiers that was the reality of the German army. As the train slowly moves east they remember the horror of the war they have seen their lives before the war and the present. On the way this young daydreamer and his train stops and meets a Polish girl in a brothel in an overnight stop in Poland he falls for her and from then on he wants to be with Olina a musician is drawn into prostitution but also a member of the resistance. Makes him want to escape the fate that awaits him. The death he saw before he boards the train.

“It’s funny that you’re a German and I don’t hate you” she fell silent again, smiling, and he thought, it’s remarkable how quickly she’s surerendered. When she went to the piano she wanted to seduce me, and the first time she played I’m dancing with you into heaven , seventh heaven of love, it was still far from clear.while she was playing she cried…

“All Poland” she went on,” is a resistance movement. You people have no idea.No one suspects how big it is. There is hardly a single unpatriotic Pole.

Oliona and Andreas first meeting the sense of a spark between the two of them a connection.

written whilst he was a prisoner just after the war ended this is a story of the real face of war the horror of a man barely a man Andreas struck me as a young 24 a virgin that falls for Olina straight away his first real chance of love and last glimpse of freedom. His two main companions maybe reflect two faces of what to do in war the Blonde with his sex disease remind me of the character that had crabs on his eyebrows in Das Boot someone having too much careless sex. Then the unshaven companion the drunken remind me of the character Ron Livingstone played in the band of brothers  Lewis Nixon. that using drink to get by through the war. This is a tragedy will he die we don’t know but it is looming and the fact he has envisioned it before he boards the train means he is almost predestined to happen but there is the curveball of Olina which till they meet shows the power of love can happen on one man. But also his conversation with a priest is a nod to Böll religious belief at the time he was a devout Catholic but in later life left the church. This is about the fragility of nature the nature of manhood brotherhood and the simple worthlessness of war.

 

In the end they told them all to get lost by Laurence Leduc-Primeau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the end they told them all to get lost by Laurence Leduc-Primeau

Quebecian fiction

Original title – À la fin ils ont dit à tout le monde d’aller se rhabiller

Translator- Natalia Hero

Source – personal copy

I thought yesterdays review was the longest title of the year but this may be too. Anyway, after a few months, I return to Quebec and another from the publisher QC that has brought some of my favorite books of the last couple of years so here we have a debut novel. I  love the bio of Laurence on her French publisher which says “Laurence Leduc-Primeau was born and raised in Montreal. As often as possible, she launches first in destabilizing things she knows absolutely nothing about. Already at the age of five, she was seen doing high-flying equestrian riding and leaving on the go in Gaspésie with a rebellious guitarist met in a bar. Later, she began to write ”   a rather tongue in cheek bio but also maybe explains the style of this book which is quirky with its choppy paragraphs. 

I’ve been starring at you a week, Betty.Betty the stain. Dirty and Alone. I didn’t think I’d give you a name when I first got here. A brown stain, on a yellowed wall, in a dirty room. Dosen;t deserve a proper noun. But you’ve started movin. You almost move more than I do,YOu need a sharp eye to notice ; I watch you all daylong. You must be alive. I’ve decided to cal, you Betty. Traced you with a felt marker, outlined in Black, cast in a mold. Now you’ll stop movingYou’ll stay close to me

This opening has so many layers to it sorrow, a sort of detatched feeling and drifting and utter lonliness from Chloe.

This book has a broken style of narrative as we are told the story of Chole as she has arrived in an unnamed South American country after she tried to take her own life what we see is a vulnerable woman trying to escape what happened in her past. But  she is crippled by the inability to communicate the book opens as she is in what must be a flea-bitten room in the unnamed South American city starring at the stain she has called Betty as we see her time unfold in this new country struggling with language trying to be a young woman but also we sense that this isn’t just her nature but the suicide attempt but maybe what lead to that as she starts to gain more confidence in her. We meet her roommates see her venture out of the room get herself a  job and gain a sense of self and speaking Spanish with more confidence. She leaves behind the room and Betty the stain and slowly we see her open her wings but also as this happens there is a sense of past traumas swelling up also being remembered. this is reflected in the second quote near the end of the book still what has happened before the book is there.

THey should rent out arms, bellies, shoulders and necks to cuddle and hold the people who need it and don’t have anyone to care for  them. An affection buisness. The prostitution of tenderness would really take off.

Deep won I’m fine with thinking my pain is unique and special, that I still have my own identity that hasn’t all dissolved

later still tinged in sadness this is as she is in the bars and more social but also more reflective in her past and present !

 

This is a classic story of someone trying to run away from there past. I like Laurence choice of style the choppy paragraphs and sense of detachment as this quirky girl get to grips with the world around her it is dark and comic at the same time. She gives to Chole is great I remember the sense of being a small fish and not knowing what everyone is talking about when I live in Kleve for a couple of years in my twenties not having studied German I like Chole grappled with talking and meeting people although for me the German girl I was living with helped me so I can’t imagine what it was like for Chole especially as English wouldn’t be to come in South America this is a wonder no wonder her life is enclosed at the start given to that the mental health angle to her and what may be causing her to break down and why she is in South America this is one of those books that grows on you it isn’t the easiest at time but worth the journey. Another gem from QC a publisher that always seem to bring something exciting out for us readers.

 

When Death takes something from you give it back (Carl’s book) By Naja Marie Aidt

When death takes something from you give it back Carl’s book By Naja Marie Aidt

Danish Memoir

Original title – Har døden taget noget fra dig så giv det tilbage

Translator – Denise Newman

Source – review copy

Books have been with me all my life and they have helped me deal with things and sometimes just escape the world around me this is a book that follows the Journey that the Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt as she tries to piece together the world after the accidental loss of her son at just twenty-five. One of the greatest writers of her generation she struggles to find a way to put down and write about what happened to her son, the aftermath and moving forward with grief. I have taken my time to get to this but I have been two years dealing with the loss of my  mother at what seemed too early and recently as my wife and myself grasp with the loss of her brother who took his own life six months ago and we are still grieving so I found some solace in Naja’s book and the journey she made.

The french poet Stéphane Mallarmé’ never wrote a book about his eight-year-old-son, Anatole, who died in 1879. He wanted to. But could not. He wrote 202 fragments or notes. He wrote:

So as not to see it anymore

except idealized

afterwards, no longer him

alive there – but

seed of his being

taken back into otself- seed allowing

to think for him

  • To see him <and to>

I DARE NOT THINK ABOUT YOU

WHEN YOU WERE ALIVE

FOR IT IS LIKE KNIVES IN 

THE FLESh

The discver of the fragments Mallarme left behind I found very touching.

A tragic accident end Carl Aidt life in 2015. What follows is how Naja piece together what happened and how she came to find a way to put it in words from early memories of Carl growing up it is the gift of a book from a friend of the French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s  A tomb for Anatole an incomplete work that is a fragment poem to his dead son showed  Naja she said in an interview the way forward and that it isn’t in a whole but in pieces so the book mix the discovery of how she remembers Carl from those early days to the last few texts between them. works like C S lewis Grief observed and Time lived, Without its flow by Deinse Riley french writer Roubard book about his grief.As we see her trying to cope with death and wrestling with words.

I write in my journal

12 January 2016.

IT’S grey today, there’s a hush in the living room. Death is something we now live with every day. I have no idea how. I’ll be able to put all my energy. So much presence, concentration and energy. Beauty has abandned my language. My language walks in mournu=ing clothes. I’m completely indifferent .

Roubaud writes

To cling to death as such, to recognize it as a real hunger, has meant admitting, something over which I have no control.

I liked the line about words in mourning I have felt that experience of being unable to find words from time to time.

I am just a mere blogger,  a small writer. But I know the struggle death and grief bring to a writer it is wrestling with something so large it fills the room and yes as time pass we see around it and when that happens we maybe have words to fill the void or reading  for me it  was the discovery of Barthes mourning diary that helped me like Naja to  deal with grief. The discovery of that book was thanks to Joe from Rough Ghost who pointed me in the direction of the Barthes and this is another book about how one person has dealt with there grief and loss in Barthes case it is the loss of his mother. How we piece our lives together how we start living that point when the blackness lifts slowly and we want to remember those we have lost a remembrance and this is what this is of Carl this sits alongside the other works mention as how great writers deal with the worst thing and that is the loss of a close one. Have you ever found a book that helps you at a tough time?

Termin by Henrik Nor-Hansen

Termin front cover.png

Termin by Henrik Nor-Hansen

Norwegian fiction

Original title – Termin

Translator – Matt Bagguley

Source – Review copy

I said last night when the winner was announced for this year’s Man Booker that small publishers like the winner Sandstone press and the publisher of this title Nordisk small presses are the lifeblood of fiction in Translation. They bring us those gems that the big boy publishers can’t so here is a book that was nominated for the Nordic council literature prize. Henrik Nor-Hansen has written four novels and poetry and short story collections this book was his latest novel. There is an interesting interview with the translator Matt Bagguley He describes the trouble find terms in English and the uniqueness of the voice

Kjetil Tuestad reportedly moved to his own place in late august. It was a basement flat in Bjergsted. It is known that he called his parents and wife. He had apparently said that he needed time alome. They showed understanding. In hindsight, this approach has been questioned. the immediate family were perhaps not good enough at recognising changes in Kjetil’s personality.He remembers very little from this period. In many respectshe still required help .The flat never quite came together.

The first signs he isn’t quite the man he was when he tried to set up hime alone.

The full title of the book is Termin An inquiry into violence on Norway. The book is only 80 pages but what we see is the aftermath of a violent attack on one mans life. Kjetil Tuestad was a normal man working in the Stravanger shipyard as an electrician. He had married his wife Ann and they had decided to settle down in the small village of Hommersak a place that was growing as the oil boom was in full swing at the time. that was all in 1998 and in Midsummer night he was found beaten on the outskirts of the town. The actual injuries are listed three fractures to the jaw his teeth completely bent the wrong way. Blood coming from his ear what follows is an account of his life for the next twenty years from his slow recovery with first his parents than trying to rebuild his relationship with the wife they try and have a normal life and have kids. But he is a changed man and there is a detached nature to the way his life is described and the world around him. But his world is changed and he is on the path to be a loner as he has lost that ability to connect with people. This is one man’s life falling apart after a vicious attack but also a changing world around him and a village that has changed after his attack.

Kjetil Tuestad stresses that he is only occasionally able to picture his wife in the home. He says it is also difficult to visualise the infant as he would have  looked in the summer of 2001. Kjetil reacts to the fact that he did not participate more often in this. Other memories well up quite clearly. During the holidays what would become a string of severe animal welfare cases began. Cats in particular were made to suffer.

His behaviour years later is very different and his brain injury becomes much clearer.

I choose The years as my Man Booker winner. as it broke the boundaries of what fiction is here and for me, this is what Nor-Hansen has done here it is the sort of anti-Knausgaard as whereas Karl Ove tells us everything. this book is a sort of bare minimum of a man’s life over the same period from 3000 pages to 80 pages.  I remember the scene in the film a river runs through it where the writer Norman Maclean is given a task to write by his pastor father but as he says the less we say the more we say. In fact, there is another connection as the book follows the vicious attack and in a river runs through it the end is like the beginning of this book when Normans brother is attacked. So this has a blunt style a detached nature as Kjetil life is told post attack. The only thing I have read that repeats the style of the narrator is the character in curious incident of the night there is a similar way of view the world I found that it is now just black and white but also there is no real emotion in it  that is what he lost more than the outside injuries it is the loss of empathy this maybe is one of the best views of a man with brain injuries trying to live his life as best he can when what is us is gone and maybe the shell is left to carry on and rebuild. In what is a harsh world than it was. This book comes out this week from Nordisk books.

Redemption by Friedrich Gorenstein

Redemption

Redemption by Friedrich Gorenstein

Russian Fiction

Original title – Iskuplenie

Translator – Andrew Bromfield

Source – personnel copy

 

I move further east after my Croatian return and to the Russian Library series of books I have been buying these the last year or so. I love the covers and they are bringing out a mixture of lost classics and modern classics. Here we see the exiled Russian writer Friedrich Gorenstein a Jewish writer whose father was arrested and Shot by Stalin. He worked as a screenwriter and novelist he is maybe best known as the screenwriter of Solaris the well known Russian film by Andrei Tarkovsky. He finally left Russia in the late seventies and his books came out. The title of the book is redemption in English but atonement in German as the Russian word has meaning between the two words.

It was Sashaenka’s first ball. She had been reparing for it a long time, a whole week, since got her an invitation through the local special trade committee. Sashaenka had washed every day with a special war-trophy lotion brought at a stret market, wound curlers into her hair, rubbed eau de cologne into her skin and , for  the first time in her life, painted her lips in a little cupid’s bow and powdered her cheeks. And now there was Genral Batunuya’s son whispering something to his friends and glancing furtively at sashenka’s calves in their covering of cream lisle cotton. Sashaenka sttod in line, shwed her invitation,and reciever a present at a competitive market price.

THe Ball she tried hard to perfect fall but all wasn’t perfect fore her in this imperfect post war soviet world.

The books open in 1945 the war is over and the New year is happening and in the town of Berdichev, a town which is now  in  Ukraine Sashenka a sixteen year girl who has end up there when her father a pilot in the war died and her mother brought to this mainly Jewish town at the time. A young woman that has managed to avoid the Nazis and crippling illness to now as the war ends to start blooming into a woman. She runs off to a Ball but is shocked when a fellow guest at the ball points out the lice on her clothes and she blames her mother. But she hates the fact that her mother has a new lover she is trying to get her family by but the daughter doesn’t see this? She then decides to denounce her mother as a petty thief. Whilst at the same time she has a new man in tow. So when she meets a young Jewish Lieutenant August that has come home to bury his family she helps him find his family from the unmarked graves they are in to give them a decent burial. What will happen to her and her mother? and her relationship in this new post-war Soviet era!

“My mother” Sashenka wrote,”is a pilferer of Soviet property. I repudiate her and now wish to be only the daughter of my father , who died for the motherland …” Sashenka tried to forcefully, but the pen  splashed and scratched, and although the paper was lined, like in a school exercise book, the letters jumped about and the lines or writing either crept upward or curvred downward.Sashenka simply couldn’t think of what to write about Vasya,Olga, and the master of ceremonies, Shethought it would be a good thing to put something in about Batiunya, and Markeev, and Zara with her gold pendants, and in genral everyone who had laughed at Sashaenka and mocked her.

The aftermath of the ball she lashes out like many a ytoung woman at first with her mother , but could have been others!

This is a tough book that has the brutal nature of war at its heart from the loss of a father and the loss of parents in August case both due to the war. The daughter trying to come of age but also like most kids of the age she hates that her mother seems to have forgotten her dead heroic father. The story in the book echos part of his own story he was a boy who with his mother fled across to Uzbekistan. But she died mirroring the illness that Sashenka had. He also was brought by family to the town the book is sent in post-war so would have known the atmosphere he paints of hunting out those that helped the German in the war with neighbor turning on neighbor as the war years start to turn on each other as the dark daily world of the Soviet life starts to come clear in those early weeks of 1946 as the wounds are still raw. A powerful book and one that shows how good these Russian library choices are!

Singer in the night by Olja Savičević

Singer in the night by Olja Savičević

Croatian fiction

Original title – Pjevač u noći.

Translator – Celia Hawksworth

Source – review copy

I’m back from my short holiday and back with a book from one of my favorite publishers Istros books and also a book that does something that in the time I have been blogging we are seeing and that is a second book from a writer coming out in English. Sometimes we see a great novel from a writer then never see any of there other works translated so this is the first of two returning writers that Istros have brought out this year the other I will be bringing you shortly here. I reviewed Olja first book farewell cowboy a novel that followed a sibling hunting for a lost brother with touches of lost time from her generation often called the lost generation. She grew up when Yugoslavia was still just together and saw the birth of a new country. This book like her earlier book, this is set in Split and also has a similar theme of a female looking for a lost male her it is Clementine’s story of searching for her ex-husband.

Dear citizens, householders, close friends, fellow townsfolk, mild and attentive civil servants and waiter, courageous and patient nurses, magicians, secretaries, dresser of abundant hair, eternal children in short trousers, seasonal ice-cream sellers, dealers in intoxicating substances, drivers who brake on bends, gondoliers of urban orbits, captains of foreign ships, foreign girl on captains, neighbours – agreeable disco gladiators, neighbouring proto astronauts and everyone else in Dinko Simunovic street, not to list you all

The book opens when a poetic letter is posted by someone calling themselves the nightingale. This letter an ode to the street in a district of Split and his wonderful neighbors from the daily rising to there lovemaking. This letter leads into a sort of hunt for the writer of it from someone that was his wife  Clementine now a successful soap opera writer sets of to find the Gale but also driving her car around the places they visited we see her take a drive into her past and what happened to bring them to the present from the street of the letter writer we see a trip to the seaside and the to the Capital of Zagreb where her job is launched and her street poet other half and her drift war and life drifted them and this fragment work shows a women grasping at the past love and trying to reconstruct her life and like most her fellow country people make sense of the war still there in the background and she has to face what is her reality what is her truth this in her world is maybe now rewritten like a soap episode and shows what happens when we make those choices.

All right, I’ll tell you, so ,my name is Clementine. On outside, I’m a blonde orange. I have a Brazilian hairstyle, I drive a two seater Mazda MX-5 covertible, gold, but inside I’m a black orange. Full of black juice.

The day bfore my meeting with nightingale’s mother, the meeting with which I began this story, I travelled from Ljubljana to Split. I decided to make the journey after I had spent tje whole of the proceding week vainly calling Gale every day,. When I tried to pay money for the boat’s berth  I discovered that his account had been closed months before, at the marina they told me he had paid all his bills, but, they’d noticed for some time no one had been coming to the boat. His mobile was dead and at first that annoyed me , then it worried me( we had not been in touch often, in fact very rarely in recent years, and then mainly in connection with our shared boat, but nevertheless).

Clem explains why she want to find the gale.

This book brilliantly is a mix of a road trip novel as clementine revisits her past in doing so sees where her life start from her home town and the mirror of her friends from then with her kids a life that she could have had there is a sense of a soap opera at times the way the tale opens piece by piece wanting us the reader to get to the next episode as one would say a lot of cliffhangers. This is also a detective work in a way we follow Clem and her hunt for the Gale and like a good detective novel those little clues of there lives and past are scatters as the picture builds this is a single night read that lingers with the reader. It has a heady mix of lost love, poetic writing, post-war Croatia  and pre-war Croatia without ever wallowing in the war just showing the outfall from letter by the likes of the old warrior.

Garden , ashes by Danilo Kiš

Garden, Ashes by Danilo Kiš

Serbian fiction

Original title – Bašta, pepeo

Translator – William J Hannaher

Source  – personal copy

It is the week the Kaggy and Simon choose to do a book club for a certain year this time around it was 1965 I am very late so I have this and hope to get another if I’m not to tired over the weekend I’m on nights and the third book late next week anyway the first book I choose was as with the other times I have taken part in the book club was published in its original language on the year here 1965 saw a novel by the well known Serbian writer  Danilo Kis a writer that has maybe not been grabbed by the English speaking world in translation a new edition of his best book known  Encyclopedia of the Dead came out last year from Penguin and Dalkey has translated a number of his books in recent years but still feels under looked I have even not reviewed him until today I have another couple of his books. He was born in what was Austro Hungary but is now Serbia and was Serbia after Austro Hungarian empire split up and was invaded by Hungary the region that  Kis lived in his father was a travel writer and Hungarian speaker. His own childhood was the bases of the earlier books in his writing life so the father-son relationship is one that reflected his own. 

Inside, the name “Singer” is incised in large letters. WHere the sides widen, the comany emblems appear symmetrically, cast as gigantic spiders. On more careful anaylysis, however we discover – not without astonishment – that the spiders plaited into the eylets of the iron side are not really spoider at all but rather a muchanical shuttle – magnifed a hundredfold – with a spool from which the thread unwinds, as thick as a cord, magnified and therefore difficult to recognize. like the letter s giving the illusion of spider legs . The emblem is painted a golden yellow, like a nobleman’s coat of arms , and so are the arabesque on the laquer head of the machine

A siunger sewing machin grabs Andi’s eye here .

This is a story of Andi Scham childhood one that saw them move around the Balkans and Hungary as his father Eduard a travel writer who is working on his third bus, ship, rail and air travel guide the third vol he has done of this book about traveling. The father a drinker and one of those characters that jump of the page Kis own father must have been a similar type of man an obsessive with his subject that he is in love with Travel. He is almost a preacher for travel. But at the same time given the time he is working on his book as events around him the chance he has to escape the Nazi shadow start looming til he one day he just disappeared. A childhood that sees the young boy showing his world from the family sewing machine described in detail as what we see is the Holocaust told through the eyes of a young boy that lived through it. from them sheltering in the woods trying to avoid the oncoming storm the love of his mother this is a touching tale.

My father had been vainly offeruing hus new timetable, on which he had worked for years, for publication. The manuscript lay in a drawer of hios desk, retyped, covred with red pencil marks, crammed with corrections in the margins, glued-on inserts, footnotesm memoranda, supllements, preambles, replete with strange symbols and miniature ideograms.The ideograms were the ones my father had cut pout aof his 1933 timetable and had patiently glued onto his new manuscript, giving it a specail charm

His fathers life work the travle guide

Kis used Eduard Scham in a couple of his books and this is thought to be a largely autobiographical view of his own life so like Andi  Danilo lost his father in the middle of world war two to probably Auschwitz but what makes this is the detail from the sewing machine to his mother carrying a tray early in the book it shows a world disintegrating before our eyes through the naive eyes of a child. A great first choice for 1965  book club and the first Kis on the blog and not the last I think. Have you read his book?

Lord of all the dead by Javier Cercas

 

Lord of All the Dead

Lord of all the dead by Javier Cercas

Spanish fiction

Original title –  El monarca de las sombras

Translator – Anne McLean

Source review copy

I have reviewed five books by Javier Cercas before four novels and a work of non-fiction he is one of my favorite writers so I am always excited when new work has been translated into English by him. For me, he has a unique talent at telling an individuals story and using that one person’s tale as a wider view of his homeland from that of the storming of parliament in 1982 and the story Lt Col Telero or the tale of one mans lies in the imposter.  This is his latest book and a personal story of a family legend for Cercas last name is Mena and this is the story of Manuel Mena a favorite uncle of his mother that fought on the Republican side during the Spanish civil war.

Manuel Mena was born on April 25,1919. Back then Ibahernando was a remote, isolated and miserable village in Extremadure, a remote, isolated and miserable region of Spain, over towards the border with Portugal, The name of the place contraction of Viva Hernando; Hernando was a Christian Knight who in the thirteenth century contributed to conquering the moors from the city of Trujillo and incorporating it into the possessions of the king of Castil, who presented his vassel with adjoining lands as payment for services rendered to the crown,Manuel Mena was born there, his whole family was born there including his niece, Blanco Mena,including Blanco Mena son Javier Cercas.

A hundred years tomorrow was the birth of Manuel it seemed fitting to publish this review in time for this .

This was a story that Cercas had longed to tell about his own family hero. But in doing so he would have to accept his families past and the fact his father fought for the Franco side in the civil war. Manuel Mena has a lot of similarities to the young character in his book soldier of Salamis where the young man in that saves a leaders life and is a hero what here made Manuel Mena the family hero he was and this is what  Javier sets out to find out paint his early life in remote isolated town how he came from young boy to the man who in two short years left the village and died from wounds before his turned nineteen. Cercas finds that a man in a famous family photo of Manuel and his fellow soldiers. he interviews this man and finds out more how his uncle was injured and died in the largest battle of the war. Then another photo was taken as he posed with his cap to one side and looking relaxed before he went to the front. Cercas compares his uncle’s wartime service to That of Drogo in Dino Buzzatis work The Tartar Steppe or of a character in a work by Kis. He discovers a man caught in time and maybe we all have a family Hero.

The top two buttons of the jacket are left undone, as is the right brest pocket : this delibrate carelessness allows a better view of the white shirt and black tie , both similarely spotless. It is striking how thin he is; in fact, his body seems unable to fill out his uniform: it is the body of a child in the clothing of an adult.The position pf his right arm is also striking, with his forearm crossed in front of hisabdomen and his hand clutching the inside of his elbow, in that gesture does not seem natural but diocated by the photographer (we might also imagine the photographer suggesting the jaunty angle of the peaked cap, which cast a shadow over Manuel Mena’s right eyebrow) But what is most striking is his face, it is unmistakeably, a childish face, or at most adolescent

Manuel Mena in a photo is still a child in the army.

I was reminded in this novel of  my own family hero story of my own grandfather that served in the Africa and Italy during ww2 but told a story of a first aid box he constantly had during the war after getting in trouble for leaving it behind once the one story he told of his war really but he was on the cover of the telegraph liberating an Italian village with his fellow tank drivers . What Cercas does  is remind us how important these single stories of are the war every family has a Manuel Mena in there past and that is what reminds us how horrific a war is the loss of this pone boy barely an adult in his jaunty hat in the biggest battle of the civil war has a ripple effect that leads to this book to his mother grief at the loss of this beloved uncle she briefly knew. That ends with Cercas finding the battleground where his great uncle passed. I discussed this earlier on twitter and was told it was a favorite of a Spanish translator I said for me it was great but I still loved the Anatomy of a moment.

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