Whale by Cheon Myeong Kwan

Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan

Korean Fiction

Original title – 《고래》

Translator -Chi-Young Kim

Source – Review copy

I had asked for a review copy of this before it appeared on the Booker longlist, as I had seen it doing the rounds, and it appealed as it sounded a little surreal. It It was selected as a youth-recommended book by the Korean Publishing Ethics Committee, the Korean Culture and Arts Committee as an excellent literature book. It was the debut novel by the writer and screenwriter Cheon Myeong-Kwan it was his debut novel when it came out in 2004 he has since written several books and also a few screenplays and has directed a film from his own writing. This book had been translated a few years ago as part of the DalkeyArchive Korean lit series, but we on the shadow jury were discussing if it did come out. There is a cover for it, but some have the same number in the series, and it is a different book and a new translation.

Every time the old crone’s eyes met her daughter’s, she was reminded of the halfwit, which tormented her. So she hit her. Not a day went by without a bruise forming on the little girl’s stick-thin body. Every time she was beaten, the girl would crouch in the corner, crying, and look up at her mother. Her wretched gaze reminded the old crone even more of the halfwit; it was as if she could hear his voice, his frightened look, and outstretched hands as he sank into the dark water.

I don’t want to take a bath.

The other main character is the old crone maybe harking back to the sotorytelling and surreal side of his book.

The whale is set ion a remote village and takes place over several years as the village, and the country itself see excellent changes. We are let into this village through a surreal collection of strange characters.the two main characters are a mother and daughter Geumbok, the mother wanders with a fishmonger in the aftermath of the Korean war. What we see is her journey to success from a moment glimpsing a whale’s tail which; later plays a part when she opens a whale shape cinema. As her life grows from those early days and her inventive ideas with the fishmonger, then moves on with the money she uses to build a life and see her empire grow. She has a way with men and manages to escape her violent father and eventually build a brickyard. This is where her mute daughter  Chunhui works her story forms another strand of this complex novel as does an old witch like a woman that has involvement with the family add some twins the ability to talk to elephants, and you have a unique book that mixes storytelling and surrealism.

By the time the fishmonger reached Geumbok’s village, the salted fish had long been spoiled and the musty smell made people pinch their noses, and the rancid flesh had become mush and disintegrated into fish sauce that flowed under the wooden chests. Not many whole fish were left, with many heads gone missing. Geumbok’s village was so small and so deep in the mountains that the fishmonger often turned back to the coast before he even got there, so the old folks–who craved anything fishy and smacked their lips when someone roasted a piece of mackerel that was so preserved as to be indistinguishable from a block of salt, even as they attempted to behave with dignity by saying “That stinks” or “That tastes like it’s turned”

-waited eagerly for the fishmonger despite his unimpressive wares.

She uses the fishmonger to futher her life

I am pleased I ask for this as I am maybe one of those readers that hasn’t 100% connected with Korean lit, and this isn’t [perfect, but it is known in Korea for being the bookshelf of one of the members of the group BTS (I’ve not listened to them but know they are huge in Korea and around the world. So this book is considered a cornerstone in the modern Korean canon. For me it has part of please look after mother, part Royanderson surrealism that grim odd world he conjures up, part Dickensian tale of a character’s world to goodness and part cinema Paradiso. Dickens as it is a story of someone escaping the worst and building a life ala Dickens, then it has a chunk of surrealism that is odd but believable. Then like PLease look after mother, another book that captures those whirlwind years in Korea that saw Korea shoot forward as a country. Have you read this how did you find it ? Have you a favourite book that uses Surrealism and Magic realism which this book does both?

Winstons score- A – the solid first book of this year’s Booker shadow Jury reading and the sixth book from the list I will have read and reviewed.

Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov

Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov

Bulgarian Fiction

Original title – Времеубежище,

Translator – Angela Rodel

Source – Personal copy

I am still in Eastern Europe. I have moved from Hungary to one of the leaders of Bulgarian writing, and his latest book to be translated into English is Time shelter. Georgi Gospodinov had several books already translated into English, one from Dalkey, another from a university press and one by Open Letter, which I do have somewhere to read. He has won several book prizes and has been on the shortlist of prizes like the Italian Stega prize. He was also a writer in Residence in Zurich a fact he mentions in the afterword of this book.

The next day I was at Heliosstrasse first thing in the morning, Mr. S. had given me the address. I found the apricot-colored building on the western shore of the lake, separated from the other houses on the hill. It was massive yet light at the same time, four stories with a fifth attic floor, a large shared terrace on the second level, and smaller balconies on the other floors. All the windows looked to the southwest, which made the afternoons endless, and the day’s final bluish glimmers nested in them until the very last moment, while the light blue wooden shutters contrasted softly with the pale apricot of the facade.

There is some wonderfully descriptive passages in the book

Like many books from Eastern Europe, it is a retrospective of those communist years, but that also makes it a prism of the present. The framing device for all this is the activity of an assistant for a Therapist called Gaustin. He has a radical treatment that involves rebuilding exact replicas of people’s past for when they have dementia. It is the assistant’s job to go out. He finds the past in the present and rebuilds the individual’s past. As he collects those small trinkets we remember from the red typewriter ( a memory I saw and mentioned how I’d loved the same typewriter back in the day) But is the problem is the past when for you, the past is as a  Holocaust survivor worth reliving ? His clinic grows, and as it does Gaustine’s ideas are more grandiose. They start to think of making countries into individual decades. This would be when that country had a particular peak or significant period of history. The problem is living in the past and what that effect has is it dangerous to dwell on or relive those moments. As the clinic has grown more people, haven’t dementia but just want to grasp their own past.

All elections up until this point had been about the future. This would be different.

TOTAL RECALL: EUROPE CHOOSES ITS PAST.

EUROPE-THE NEW UTOPIA … EUROTOPIA.

A EUROPEAN UNION OF THE COMMON PAST.

Those were the headlines in European newspapers. If nothing else, Europe was good at utopias. Yes, the Continent had been mined with a past that divided it, two world wars, hundreds of oth ers, Balkan Wars, Thirty-Year Wars, Hundred-Year Wars… But there were also enough memories of alliances, of living as neighbors, memories of empires that gathered together supposedly ungatherable groups for centuries on end. People didn’t stop to think tha in and of itself, the nation was a bawling historicalinfant masquerading as a biblical patriarch.

Maybe the past is a recurring events and

This book looks at those post-war years but also the present. It is an attack on nostalgia why it can be dangerous. In a way, why do we want to live in the past? Is it healthy at times, yes? But for others, it is a danger to relive those years. This is the book for me it has a bit of Sebald that memorialises the past of objects, especially in a book like the rings of Saturn? Then he has a chunk of Nadas as a writer I think how Wonderfully and darkly, at times, he captures his own past and Hungarian history and the brutal nature of that past. Then I was reminded of Topol’s book Devil’s workshop, which is a book that tackles how we deal with or sell the past this case, how we use the Naszi death camps. It isn’t as entertaining park as imagined in that book. It deals with how we use the past in a way as entertainment or history or is it a warning ?. This book’s title in Bulgarian is more of a term that suggests hiding in time like a bomb shelter. Have seen since the fall of communism, some countries and people have had a sort of nostalgic view of the past and the dangers of viewing it with rose colour spectacles. There have been several films around this nostalgia. Have you read any of his books or any other Bulgarian fiction?

Winston’s score – +A great book and a writer I will be watching for his next book!!

A mountain to the North, a lake to the South, Paths to the West, a river to the East by László Krasznahorkai

A mountain to the North, a lake to the South, paths to the West, a river to the EAST by László Krasznahorkai

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Északról hegy, Délről tó, Nyugatról utak, Keletről folyó

Translator -Ottilie Mulzet

Source – Personal copy

Well, if this book doesn’t win the title with the longest title this year, I’d be shocked. I have a love-hate relationship with Laszlo’s books. He is a writer I like. I love the Bela Tarr films of his book, but sometimes it feels like walking through a lake of treacle reading him. I always feel they are above me as a reader but this one I loved it is a short book, so it gave me a chance to use my kindle, which is something I am planning to try and do a little bit more than I have in recent years. Oh well, this will be the third book by Krasznahorkai on the blog. He is always high in the Nobel betting. He is one of the greatest living writers, and I need to dive deeper into his literature as a reader. I have several of his other books on my shelves that I hope to read soon. Have you read him at all?

Higher up, near the small wooden bridge that arched across the depths, but on the other side, in the middle of a small clearing, there stood a gigantic ginkgo tree. In the scheme of tiny streets, this was practically the one single unoccupied space, and of course this plot of land was only precisely as big as was necessary for the ancient tree to exist, for it to get both air and sunlight, for it to have enough strength to spread out its roots beneath the earth.

the prose he writes can be so evocative like this passage here !

This is an odd book from Krasznahorkai. It is sometimes repetitive and stunningly descriptive and beautiful in others. The book is set in a temple in Kyoto. This monastery is now a ruin. But as we are in the company of the grandson of Prince Genji.  He seems to drift through time and place as we see the past, the place before, and after. Then we see the building of the temple and the craftsmen involved in that and their sheer skill as craftspeople. The temple is a character in this book. The place comes alive as it is brought to life from his prose about the setting and place and maybe the spirit of a place as we see the grandson drift through time and place; this is told in a series of short chapters vignettes that at times use repetition to build their feeling of place and spirit of a place.  The lost garden I think of those pictures we saw the other summer of the ghost of gardens that had been in places around the country. This is the ghost of a place, a monastery but also the wonderous garden that echos the spirit of the place. The sense of time drifts and how it affects place is recalled here.

He had read about it for the first time in the last decade of the Tokugawa, when a copy of the renowned illustrated work One Hundred Beautiful Gardens turned up accidentally in his hands, he leafed through it, immediately enchanted, and although all of the ninety-nine gardens were of extraordinary interest, it was the one hundredth garden, the so-called hidden garden, that captivated him, he read the description, he looked at the drawing, and the description and the drawing both immediately made the garden real in his imagination, and from that point onward he was never free of it ever again, from that point onward this hidden garden never let him go, he simply could not chase it from his mind, he continually saw the garden in his mind’s eye without being able to touch its existence, he saw the garden,

The spirit of the Garden haunts him and the spirt of place is there

I was shocked about how different it is from the other books I have read from Laszlo. Yes, Seiobo there below; he touched on Japan and Japanese myths and imagery below. but this is anopther side to a complex writer, a brighter side, a more hopeful side of the light, not the shadow of his written word. A poetic side, a visual side. A local at what makes us and place the wreck monastery holds the spirit not just of those who used it and those who made it but what and where it was built. Then even those materials used the connection of man and material, this book makes u think long after you put it down. Have you read this book did you find it different to his other books?

Winston’s score – + B There is still something I feel i sometimes miss something in his works.

The Leash and the Ball by Roddaan Al Galidi

 

 

The Leash and The Ball by Rodaan Al Galidi

Dutch fiction

Original title – Holland

Translator – Jonathan Reeder

Source – Review copy

As the year is beginning to unfold, there is a theme of migration and being a refugee forming. Here is another book that fits in that box from the dutch Iraqi writer Rodaan AlGalidi he fled his homeland to evade national service. Initially, he failed to get asylum in Holland, so he didn’t have Dutch lessons, but he has taught himself Dutch since the early 200o and published several novels. He has won the EU prize for literature for his book the ausist and the carrier pigeon. This book follows a similar journey to his own life and the narrator in his novel’s life, and that is the tightrope of becoming a citizen that is similar in most western countries.

You cannot compare a Dutch village to an Iragione. Whereas in Irag the dogs lie in wait in order to bite you, in a Dutch village it’s the solitude that lurks. To me, the word village means “factory for fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, and soldiers” (since village children in Irag do not go to school, the boys enlist in the army at eighteen). In a Dutch village you see tractors and barns, fields of potatoes, carrots, and on-ions, but not a single Dutch person sweating out in the fields, chasing his neighbor’s cattle from his orchard, or struggling to coax more water out of the ground. It’s as though the village runs itself. I was surprised to discover that even the smallest village in the Netherlands has a supermarket, where to my even greater surprise you can buy all sorts of fruit and vegetables without seeing the trees they grow on, or those trees having the climate they need.

Culture shock sinks in with Samir compares his dutch village to his former home at Iraq

 

The book follows the final part of their journey to become dutch citizens, Samir and his chance to start his new life as a dutch citizen. He like the writer himself tried to escape conscription into the Iraqi Army. He made that journey into Europe via southern Spain and ended up in Holland; he has been there for nine years; he is a qualified engineer like the writer himself. Alongside all this, a failed love affair with a dutch girl called Leda crops up again and again throughout the book. He tries to fit in the village he lives in by wandering with a lead and ball given by Leda and pretending he has a dog to meet people as we see the places unfold the places to places the asylum centre. The villages and places. He is a grafter. He doesn’t want handouts he tries to get jobs here and there (this reminds me of working in a factory in Germany alongside some Kosovian refugees in the early 90s; this couple were a professor of Albanian Literature and her husband worked on the Albanian version of a match of the day, and they were in a factory packing. But he also worked in the local cafe in the evening as our narrator does). as Saamir tries to blend in over time he slowly does, but it shows how hard it can be.

Had Leda also told the Dutch dog that he had to be ready in ten minutes? Could Diesel tell time? Questions only I could ask, and only Diesel could answer. I rocked from one leg to the other, like a stork, until Leda appeared. She had wrapped the leash around her left hand. Her expression showed no surprise that I was standing there after all, she had invited me herself but no enthusiasm, either. It was more the look of someone who thinks, well, I did ask him to join me, but was that such a good idea?

Leda his dutch girl and dog lover.

I loved this book as what makes excellent lit for me has to connect with me on a personal level. Has to be a connection to my own lived experience and here I felt it. I worked with Refugees in the late 90s and felt a connection to Samir. His life and story remind me of those friends I made on a factory floor in Germany. Rodaan Al Galidi captures the comedy and sorrow of being a fish out of the water, trying to blend in but standing out no matter what you do. The freedom he craves is always in his grasp when he lived in the asylum centre. I have another book by this writer I hope to get to later in the year as he is a writer. I’ve a new writer I love. Have you read any of his books? A great book from world editions

Winston’s score – +A one man’s life as a refugee in Holland at the end of the Hussein years he had to escape.

Gardener’s Nightcap by Muriel Stuart

Gardener’s Nightcap by Muriel Stuart

English non fiction

Source – Personal copy

I had one of those days last week when I felt the wind had dropped out of my reading sail. I was caught ion the doldrums of being a reader. This happens from time to time.  I even mentioned it on Twitter I do feel that I need to mix up my reading a little I did last year and enjoyed the nature books I read. Initially, I had wanted to try some different books, and Music books were mentioned I went and got a copy of Fallen(A history of former fall membeRS)  I had brought a while ago only to find the paper and font just terrible so I put it to one side and then remember this something that for me had been an Unusual find I have long like the style and look of Persephone books I have maybe half a dozen of these books I had been a couple of times to there shop when it had been in London. I had missed this book which I think had been out when I visited them several years ago. It is a later work by the Scottish Poet Muriel Stuart. She was described by Hugh MacDarmid as the best female poet of the Scottish renaissance. But in her later years, she took to writing about her other passion Gardening, and this is one of the two books she wrote about  Gardening.

GARDENER’S APRON

When making a gardening apron, don’t make the usual deep pockets in the front. When kneeling, or squatting as all women gardeners seem to do, these bulging pockets may be extremely painful to one’s front portion!

Set the pockets well to the sides; you may look like a pack mule, but you’ll be far more comfortable. Io prevent the apron sagging forward, attach a narrow clastic to the back of the apron sides, which will keep it in place.

I loved pieces like this and was remind who now would have an apron !

It is hard to describe Nightcap as it is a collection of vignettes about gardening. I will hold my hand up I am no gardener so I am looking at this as maybe an outsider. I did struggle with the Latin Names. What she has is little tips stories and guides around gardens; this is the sort of book I think used to be more popular as a sort of dip in and out of the collection is maybe what it is designed for. I had read it through in one, but with most vignettes being less than a page they tend to drift over after you finish from what makes a garden apron, how to plant certain plants which plants are suited for this and that. I will with my new garden maybe be dipping in and out with things like the ideal tree for a small garden and how to plant other things.

YELLOW ROSES

Although I am not particularly fond of yellow flowers, I find yellow roses always the most attractive of their tribe.Mermaid, the yellow climbing rose, is one of the most beautiful, and is, I confess, one of the few roses I have ever bought. Having bought it and planted it in an impossible situation, I moved it, in sheer shame, to the sunny side of a lych gate. There, outraged in some way, the whole length of her died, and I cut it down to within a foot of the ground, never expecting to see her again! But she needed this major operation, apparently, for she made great to-do, and began to climb most busily up the lych gate, spreading along the roof. There she finally burst forth into a galaxy of pure sulphur yellow single flowers, five inches across, with fringed amber eyes, set among varnished bronze leaves, keeping up the display from June to the last days of November.

I remember vibrant yellow roses in My Granddads garden.

I love Persephone books their books are always so smart looking with the grey covers and the endpaper. These are suitable gardens connected to a linen print on them. As I say I am no gardener, but this new house has a small garden which is a clean slate, so hopefully, I can plat some pots. As I said I will be dipping in and out of this and I think that is what it was intended as a collection of pieces of advice. I was reminded of my Grandfather, a keen gardener. He loved roses mentioned a few times in the book and had a patchwork garden of planting when I was little. I think if you are a keen gardener or know a keen gardener this will appeal to them. Strangely, there was just an article about what has happened to that middle age thing of becoming a gardener I know it has [assed me by until now. You can see the poet in her writing as well. Have you read this? Have you a favourite Persephone book? Have you been to their new shop in Bath?

Winstons score – +B a lovely old collection of gardening vignettes that stand the test of time.

The Queens of Sarmiento Park by Camilo Sosa Villada

The Queens of Sarmiento Park by Camilo Sosa Vilada

Argentine fiction

Original title – Las Malas

Translator – Kit Maude

Source – personal copy

I often think I don’t read enough LGBT lit, but when I come across some great books in translation, I always get them, and this is one that caught my eye in the last few months. I love the cover but I loved the story of the writer’s own life. This is mirrored somewhat in the novel, a story of a boy that becomes a woman who starts to dress in her. Mother’s clothes in her teens. Then as her father had said, she ended up on the streets but has written and been a voice of the transgender community in Argentina; this is the story of those she saw alongside her in the streets of Cordoba Camila Sosa Vilada writes for the stage and also been an actress in several films. She is a leading voice in the trans community in Argentina.

THE TRAVESTIS walked from the Park to the area by the bus station at a remarkable pace. They were a caravan of cats, hurried by circumstance, their heads down to make themselves invisible. They were going to Auntie Encarna’s house.

The queerest boardinghouse in the world, during desperate times it had offered shelter, protection, succor, and comfort to an endless stream of travestis. They were going there because they knew it was the safest possible place for them to be, carrying the baby in a purse. One of them, the youngest, worked up the courage to say what they were all thinking.

“It’s a cold night to spend in jail.”

“What?” Auntie Encarna demanded.

Her house is a refugee to them all

The book is one of those great books that walks the line between fiction and memoir, an inspiring and touching piece of autofiction that chronicles the lives of the Felloow Travesti. The women that hang around Sarmiento park at night, our narrator, a fictional version of the writer herself takes us into this world of short skirts and those woman selling themselves at night in the park a family of their own these are their tales from finding a baby. How they end up there from a. the male nurse that becomes Nadine at night, the group revolves around Aunty Encarna. This character reminds me of when, many years ago, I read Anna Madrigal as a character the sort of central hub around these characters’ lives. The sort of heart of the group Aunty Encrna takes them down and out like the deaf girl Marie or the baby boy that sets off a chain of events. This shows the highs and lows of this world with mental health issues suicide at the heart of it and the hopelessness of some of their lives. Camila’s own story is at the heart of the book, her journey and the way she ends up as one of the found family of Sarmiento park.

BEFORE I met the travestis of the Park, my life could be summed up by my childhood experiences and the instinctive transvestism I began when I was still just a girl. Until I met them I was completely lost, I didn’t know any other travestis, 1 didn’t know anyone like me. I felt as though I was the only one in the world. And in my daytime world, in the university, the halls of the Faculty of Social Communication, and later the Theater Department at the Art School, that was certainly true. My

whole universe was the men and women I met at college and the tricks I turned at night.

Camila’s own young years when she first saw the world of the park at a distance

I hope this makes the Man booker longlist. It is a powerful book that looks at a group of people with very little written about trans working girls of Latin America. She brings their lives and their world to life as I say, some of the characters, significantly Aunty Encrna jump off the page as Camila’s own story this is a piece of autofiction in the classic sense. It has the beauty and violence of this world, the comradeship and found a family that is formed in situations like this from worlds like Maupin’s Tales of the city that captures a community like this and at its heart has two characters in Aunty  Encrna alongside Anna Madrigal are cut from the same block of wood. I was also reminded of the tv series set around Bradford’s red light district and the same sense of a found family of women interacting together. It was great to see this being made into a tv series as it feels it would work as there are so many little stories in this book Have you read this book?

Winston’s score – A – a recollection of a world of violence and sex and those we take on as a family.  when we have to be ourselves in a hostile world!

Mothers Don’t by Katixa Aguirre

Mothers Don’t go by Katixa Agirre

Basque fiction

Original tite – Amek ez dute

Translator Kristin Addis

Source – personal copy

I picked the other book from 3 times rebel press as one of my books of the year. So I knew this book would be another one I would connect with. Enjoy, but this is a thought-provoking novel tinged with sadness. It is the first book to be translated by the writer Katixa Aguirre. This book had already been translated from the translated Spanish edition. But Katxoia Agirre, as she says in the afterword, is a writer like many from the Basque region who can write in Spanish or in Basque. She chose her native tongue and, like many of the other writers I have read from the Basque region. It is a distinct voice.

IT HAPPENED IN THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER.

On a Thursday afternoon.

That day, the nanny walked through the gates of the house in Armentia as if she were opening the doors to hell: cheeks red and reluctantly. As usual, she felt that her time off, four hours on Thursday afternoons, had gone by quickly, too quickly. The girl’s name was Mélanie, and she had been in Gasteiz for nine months, learning Spanish and trying to decide what her next step in life should be. She locked her bike in the back garden, tried to brush the mud off her sandals, and entered the house uneasily. She didn’t hear a sound. She peeked cautiously into the kitchen, the living room, and the room that the lady of the house used as a studio. She was thinking about the boy she had met that day, who had invited her on a bike ride through Salburua Park.

He wasn’t too bad.

The opening lines

The book is a tale of two mothers and has one of those points that is the start of how the two stories in the book interconnect, and that is that our narrator, a writer and Journalist, knew a woman who had killed her twins at ten months old. What draws her in is two-fold she is a new mother herself, and the woman that has killed her children is someone she had crossed paths with many years earlier when the woman, then known as Jade, had been at university at the same time. We see our narrator try and undo what the woman, now calling herself Alices, had done this act had brought to kill the twins and why. Visiting the scene where she killed her twins. Then she finds her friends and tries to piece together events whilst her trial continues. We never get that definitive answer. It is like going into a labyrinth of a mind about why she did the act she did with its twists and turns; the truth and reality are lost.

Lindy Chamberlain’s case was real, nor that it was (and still is) one of the most famous darker cases in Australia’s legal history. However, it clearly left its mark on me as I can still remember it today, and since the word dingo, which sounds cheerful enough on its own, still haunts my dreams.

The famous dingo case is mentioned a woman convicted tehn released of the murder of her daughter.

This is a hard-hitting book. As they say in the blurb, 3times rebels are bringing solid female voices from minority languages. This is no exception. This is a harrowing tale of one woman’s quest to find out why someone she met had done such a hideous act and what had driven her to that act of killing her twins. It also looks at what makes women do this and how the law has dealt with this as a crime in the past and present. The book pivots on that meeting years ago between Jade and our narrator, that is the starting point, and we follow paths similar in a way having children with a year of each other but then different outcomes. But then it is also worth noting the time she spends looking at Jade/Alice away from her child!! Few book deal with this infrequent but sad crime of infanticide. The only other book I can think of is  Beside the sea. Where the narrative is told by the woman who killed her children. In that book, the reasons and why are blurred. It is hard to capture the way in these events as it must be a point of sheer psychosis where they have no absolute control over the events for that moment. So there is no answer, just the facts of that event; like the embers of a fire, you have to rebuild the fire in your mind, which is different in every sense. The hard-hitting book lifts the lid on the taboo subject of infanticide and drags it into the light. This book looks at a horrific event like a writer like Melchor and female Latin American writers do is what I was more mind there has been mention of English writers like Spark, but I’ve not read enough of her to compare the two. Have you read this book?

Winstons score – +A stark two paths cross; years later, two babies die, one is born, and the two paths cross again!

A Women’s Battle and Transformations by Édouard Louis

A Woman’s battle and Transformation by Édouard Louis

French fiction

Orignal title –Combats et métamorphoses d’une femme

Translator – Tash Aw

Source – Personal copy

I reviewed History of Violence last month But I was looking through Waterstones sale at the beginning of the year and this hardback edition was one of the many books they had half-price so I decided I would get it and after loving History of Violence I had to read this as his mum had been a figure in both those books a character there but I want to know more about his mother as in the earlier books his father had been the figure that had loomed large in his life as he was an ogre of a man and we see what happened from his mum’s view of his growing up and what happened to her.

Looking at this image, I felt language disappear from me. To see her free, hurtling fulsomely towards the future, made me think back to the life she shared with my father, the humiliation she endured from him, the pov-erty, the twenty years of her life deformed and almost destroyed by misery and masculine violence, between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five, a time when others experience life, freedom, travel, learning about oneself.

Seeing the photo reminded me that those twenty years of devastation were not anything natural but were the result of external forces – society, masculinity, my father – and that things could have been otherwise.

The picture on the cover is the image he talks about here

The cover of the book is the nugget that led to the book it is a photo he had found of his mum before his father had worn her down it was a young woman with her whole life in front of her. As he said he had seen what twenty years of living in his father’s shadow and rages had done to his mother. She had a bright future, she want to be a cook but when she met he husband those plans had gone out of the window. She settled in a job as a home help but after the events in one of the other books where Edsdy’s father loses his job as a result of a back problem the families fortunes take a turn for a worse and as he is oin control of what his Mum can do such as telling her not to learn to drive. Which could have helped her work life a lot easier. It is that atmosphere ( was reminded of my childhood my stepfather is. overbear oath of a man ) the sense of the house I got the silence and an almost constant feeling of it not being right I felt in the book. But unlike my late mum that I never saw separated from my stepfather. So the latter part of the book when his mum found a new found freedom I loved.

I’ve been told that literature should never attempt to explain, only to capture reality, but I’m writing to explain and understand her life.

I’ve been told that literature should never repeat itself, but I want to write only the same story again and again, returning to it until it reveals fragments of its truth, digging hole after hole in it until all that is hidden begins to seep out.

I’ve been told that literature should never resemble a display of feelings, but I write only to allow emotions to spring forth, those sentiments that the body cannot express.

I loved these words touching

I love Louis I think at the moment he is one of those writers I will read every book he writes, I have the one left about his father to read then I’ll be waiting until he is the new master of French Autofiction. But he reminds me of her at times of situations in my own childhood My stepfather was never too violent just a difficult man with a number of issues and my childhood had this constant feeling like in the book of unease that makes every day so hard. I got his mum and it reminded me of my mum a peacemaker and tightrope walker in the house. He brings you into his home growing up and his mother’s world so well she is a victim but also a survivor and this is what I loved so much at the end. I had hoped My brother and i would have got it when my mum had well i don’t know but we had thought we’d had a time when she’d been with us and our stepfather wasn’t in the scene but she passed away far too young. This is what I love about reading and the journey we take in books occasionally you get those books that just touch a nerve in your own world and I think there will be a great many people that will have the same connection with this book. How does it feel to be the only constant in a violent world;rd bring up kids here it is captured how hard it can be and the scars it leaves. Hae you read this short powerful book by him?

Winstons score -+A harrowing look at his mother’s life and what could have been and wasn’t and what happen after !!

Colonel Chabert by Honoré de Balzac

 

Colonel Chabert by Honoré de Balzac

French fiction

Original title – Le Colonel Charbert

Translator – Andrew Brown

Source – Library book

I was looking at what gaps I should fill in the breadth of the blog and it is classics from around the world I have reviewed a lot of French novels and novellas over the time of this blog but not many classic works from France I have always had in mind to work through the works of Balzac and Zola the two great figures of 19th century French literature. So when I saw this on my last library visit it seemed like a great foot in the door of Balzac a writer who wrote early in the morning and drank too much coffee over the years. This book sounds like it had hints of other books like count of monte Cristo where identity is an issue. The question in a time before photos and id are so tied up in computers how do you prove who you are.

When he saw the solicitor, the stranger gave a start, and shuddered convulsively like poets when an unexpected noise distracts them from a fertile reverie in the midst of night and silence. The old man promptly took off his hat and stood up to greet the young man; the leather lining of his hat was doubtless thick with grease, for his wig remained stuck to it without his noticing, and revealed his bald skull horribly mutilated by a transversal scar that began at the crown of his head and expired over his right eye, forming a long, thick, prominent seam.

The sudden removal of this dirty wig, which the poor man wore to conceal his wound, did not make either of the two men of law feel like laughing, as this split skull was such a terrible sight. The first thought suggested by the appearance of this wound was: “His intelligence has leaked away through it!”

“If he’s not Colonel Chabert, he must be a proud old trooper!” thought Boucard.

In The lawyers office a dishovled od man is he what he claims he is Colonel Chabert

An old man turns up at Dervile the lawyer’s office and he claims to be Colonel Chabert a long-dead Colonel a close ally of Napoleon. The staff in the offices wonder and tease this disheveled old man. He was a cavalry officer and is sent to the battle of Eylau. This is where he was seriously injured in the battle. So when he is found on the battlefield they thought he was dead so was buried in a shallow grave. When he awakens and escaped his grave and is reborn without a memory he is here to claim what is his in the time he was away his wife whom he had met when she was a prostitute has moved up the ladder and is now a countess with her husband a man of ambition. He has returned to get his life back and his wife and hopes Dervile will help him. But this is a post-Napolean era a new world.

The old man gestured with his hand, and seemed to he mulling over some secret sorrow with that grave and solemn resignation that characterizes men who have gone through the blood and fire of battlefields. Monsieur,” he said, with a kind of gaiety, for this poor Colonel could after all breathe again: he had emerged a second time from the tomb – he had just melted a layer of snow more difficult to dissolve than the one which had long ago frozen over his head, and he breathed deeply as if he had just escaped from a dungeon. “Monsieur,” he said, “if I’d been a handsome fellow, none of my misfortunes would have happened. Women believe men when they stuff the word ‘love into every phrase they utter. Then they come running, they dash here and there, they go out of their way for you, they plot, they corroborate your version of events, they do their damned best for the man they like. How could I have ever persuaded a woman to take my side?

He is a dirty old man now and not the dashing Cavalary officer he once was !

I saw this as a perfect intro to Balzac I do have a number of other books by him. This as a short Novella seemed a great intro and it was it isn’t a heavy story just a man trying to regain his life a sort of anti-Count of Monte Cristo a turn down in fortune. Chabert’s entrance into the lawyer’s office reminds me of Pip’s reaction in Great expectations when he sees Magwich. The book itself has been made into six films over the years you can see why it has a lot in a little book the war. The journey of Chabert from the grave to the Lawyers’ office alongside this is his romance and marriage to his wife. Then her life after she thinks he died in the war. Then the final bit him trying to get his life back and being mocked is where the book starts and where it ends in a way. Have you read Balzac where should I move on to next with Balzac

Winstons score – +A A slim intro in Balzac.

Black Foam by Haji Jabir

 

Black Foam by Haji Jabir

Eritrean fiction

Original title – “رغوة سوداء”

Translators  – Sawad Hussain and Marcia Lynx Qualey

Source – review copy

When I was offered the chance to review this I jumped at it as it is a new country for Winstonsdad but also I saw it was translated by Marcia Qualey anyone around the world of translated fiction will know as she runs Arablit website and magazine also has a great podcast she does around Arabic literature all of these is the goto place for ARABIC Literature. Anyway back to the book and to Haji Jabir he was born in a coastal town in Eritrea he has written five novels and is involved with other writers from his country to try and bridge the gap from his country to both the Arabic and African world. I reviewed a book earlier this month from WEST Africa about being a migrant from there well this takes us to East Africa. We follow a different route out of Africa.

He paused for a moment before admitting that he wanted to pay a bribe to be let in. He was afraid it wouldn’t sit right with her, but he decided to move decisively toward his goal, since she had been so frank with him. He was counting on her immense sense of gratitude and her willingness to help. And, as it happened, Saba brushed aside the points in his story where he’d feared she might stop. But then she paused on another matter. “Do you think money is the only thing that stands between you and the Falasha camp?”

His journey has many twists and turns

We follow one man’s journey from Eritrea to first a couple of Places in Ethiopia and then across the Red sea and on to Israel. But who is that man Dawood, David, or Dawit he is a man that changes who he is to try and get by in each new place to get near to the chance to get out and go to Israel. But this is a story of a man on the run that yes can fit in but over time every time gets caught he can be a Muslim, a Christian, and in the end a Jew as he wants to be with a group of Beta Israel the Falasha Jews from Ethiopia. He also observes things like how when he arrives in Addis the capital there isn’t a country ready for war in a way showing his isolation. He is the child of soldier that fought in the war and was in the army himself. we see his and the country’s isolation. He heads through to Gondar the area of Ethiopia where the Falasha Jews are from as he does like a lizard he shed a name and a way of life to make the final step to Israel but then he sees what happens when your skin is darker in that country. All this drifts in the book as thou he looks back at what has brought him to his final destination. As he drifts through the back alleys and darker side of Jerusalem.

The European looked surprised by David’s question. It took him a moment to realize he had emerged from the story, only to be dragged right back in. He almost answered and really, he would’ve liked to give an answer. But after a moment, he realized his dilemma. He had the choice to come closer, but after that, he wouldn’t have a chance to back out. Stories have one door through which we can enter, after which we spin in their world forever. No matter what we think, chere’s no escape from the stories in which we become entangled.

As he ends up as David he has so many stories but which is his real story.

I said I reviewed a book earlier this month about a man that failed to get out of his country but here we see. a man escaping his country but also who he is. What is in a name that is a question we see in this book does a change of name and who you pretend to believe in the change you as a person? But what is at each person’s heart can this one man get through it is about minorities whether that is Eritrean or Falasha the marginalized of this world trying for a better life this book looks at just one man’s journey but how many peoples lives is in this tale how many people try to follow David’s route in part as we see it told in flashback through the book his childhood the wanting to get out and the finally getting there and it not being what it seemed to him. Have you a favorite read from East Africa ?

Winstons score -+A We see David journey through the many skins and names he wore along the way!

 

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