A grain of wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o


A grain of wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Kenyan fiction

Source – Personnel copy

Exodus: Movement of Jah people! Oh-oh-oh, yea-eah!
Men and people will fight ya down (Tell me why!)
When ya see Jah light. (Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!)
Let me tell you if you’re not wrong; (Then, why?)
Everything is all right.
So we gonna walk – all right! – through de roads of creation:
We the generation (Tell me why!)
(Trod through great tribulation) trod through great tribulation.

Exodus, all right! Movement of Jah people!
Oh, yeah! O-oo, yeah! All right!
Exodus: Movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah!

I choose Exdous a Marley sung about freedom this lyric is influenced by a biblical text as is the title of the book .


I add a second from the list of names in the nobel Betting for this years Lit prize the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o  has been high on the betting the last few years .He studied in Both Kenya , Uganda and Leeds in the uk,which is where he wrote this book in 1967.He is an active campaigner for maintaining African languages and has written a number of books in his own Gikuyu language .

Mugo felt nervous .He was lying on his back and looking at the roof .Sooty locks hung from the fern and grass thatch and all pointed at his heart .A clear drop of water was delicately suspended above .The drop fattened and grew dirtier as it absorbed grains of soot ,Then started drawing towards him.He tried to shut his eyes.The would not close .

The opening sets the scene so well .

A grain of wheat is set in the time just before,during and after the independence of Kenya . WE see the story of how Kenya gained independence  in a series of flashback stories as we are in the present with Mugo ,a lonely man in his village as the prepared to celebrate Independence day .Add to this a revenge for a traitor that is to be dealt with on this day or as it is called by the villagers Uhuru day (freedom day ) . Mugo sold people out to the brits but he wasn’t the only one Karanja did as well where as others in the village fought with the rebels and killed a brutal police man  and were capture and sent to prison whilst the wives were left behind with men like Karanja need I say more,add to this a Brit ex pat that is in one man all that was wrong with Brits in Africa John Thomson is that man .All this in one small african village the whole country in a group of a few men each showing a side of the conflict and how it effect each one of them .

Kenya Regained her Uhuru from the British on 12 December 1963 .A minute before midnight , lights were put out at Nairobi stadium so that people from all over the country and the world who gathered there for the midnight ceremony were swallowed by darkness .In the dark ,the Union Jack was quickly lowered .When next the lights came o the new Kenya flag was flying and fluttering and waving,in the air .The police band played the new National Anthem

Near the end we see the Freedom regained for Kenya .

What we see here is one of the books that is considered the main books in the cannon of African fiction a book that breaks away in style somewhat of earlier novels .The feel is of using the oral tradition in the village in the way the story of them all getting to Uhuru are woven into a complex novel  that shows how Britain was in Africa , how Kenya found freedom  is a blueprint for a number of other countries that found freedom afterwards  .This book is still as powerful as when it was written .I have had him as nobel winner for a few years it just the look of the draw who will win next week .

Have you read Thiong’o ?

Hurma by Ali Al-Muqri



Hurma – Behind the Veil of a Jihadi Bride

Hurma by Ali Al-Muqri

Yemeni fiction

Original title – Hurma

Translator – T M Aplin

Source – review copy

Don’t create
Don’t rebel
Have intuition
Can’t decide

Typical girls get upset too quickly
Typical girls can’t control themselves
Typical girls are so confusing
Typical girls – you can always tell
Typical girls don’t think too clearly
Typical girls are unpredictable (predictable)

Typical girls try to be
Typical girls very well

I choose a powerful female voice , the slits and typical girls as there are no typical girls really !!

It’s rarer and rarer these days I get to add a new country to the list of countries I have read books from,so when the chance to read this book by the respected Yemeni writer Ali Al-Muqri came along I wasn’t going to say no.He has twice been on the lists for the Arab Booker prize with his novels Black Odour and the Handsome Jew .This is his first book to be published in English .

Two cultural videos

I’m going to play the films on Lula’s Mobile phone,She used it to record the films as we watched them that day – she was very keen on making her own copies .

Two naked bodies.A man and woman .Licking and sucking .Groans and Moans .Opening and entering .Zeet-meet.The bodies entwined,face to face in a sitting position,the he lies on his back and she climbs on top of him and rides him like a horse rider mounting her steed,she rides him and rides him all the way .

The porn they watch is eye-opening and very secret in Yemen .

Hurma is the story of one young girls journey from being a girl into a women.It is a journey behind the Burka ,to the everyday life of being a woman in Modern Yemen.This is a family tale of a daughter trying to escape her world in a way.Her brother is socialist and has given up on religion,her sister is a extravagant girl who is maybe to sexual for the world see lives in . What we see here is behind the scenes as Hurma discovers her self and through the words of the Egyptian pop star OM Kalthoum (she is one of the biggest Arabic stars ),through her tape finds a way outside the world she lives in.Hurma decides to choose another path to that of her brother and sister and live behind the veil,but even this leads to men that aren’t suited and turn out top be the wrong men.

Cpuld the song have another meaning ?Didn’t the Arabic teacher at the academy tell us the meaning of a line of poetry is in the belly of the poet ?

Nothing is beyond the reach of a people 

When their feet are firmly in the stirrups .

Such beautiful words .. how slow am I ? why haven’t I appreciated the beauty of these words before ? There’s nothing a people can’t do if they set their sights on it and really go for it .Nothing is impossible .

I do wonder given the first quote could this be read another way still to the way the writer wanted ?

This is a crushing look at the inside world of being in Yemen,we often here it mentioned in Middle east affairs , but maybe know little of the country itself.So we see here what it is like growing up in a country with strict Islamic rules and how people live behind the veil (I hate that term,but can’t see any other way to describe it may step into the skin of being a female in the Arab world ).Hurma isn’t her name but a name she takes meaning in arabic Sancity a pointer of the direction she has taken .Arablit pointed out  the three long taboo subjects of Arabic literature are Politics ,religion and sex .Well in this book we see a fair bit of sex underground porn,sexual awakenings .Politic the brother is political shows the views in the modern Arabic world  and Hurma is the view into religion or the lack of it at times .the violent double standards for women are shown here we know they are there things like this happen but it hasn’t alway been written or discussed in fiction.A powerful book topical,also one of the most eye-catching cover this year I think .Another great Arabic title from Darf publishing.

The one before by Juan José Saer


The one before by Juan José Saer

Argentina  fiction

Original title – La Mayor

Translator – Roanne L. Kantor

Source – Review copy

Message In A Bottle”

Just a castaway
An island lost at sea
Another lonely day
With no one here but me
More loneliness
Than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despairI’ll send an SOS to the world
I’ll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle
(Message in a bottle)A year has passed since I wrote my note
But I should have known this right from the start
Only hope can keep me together
Love can mend your life
But love can break your heart

I strangely choose A old Police lyric just as one part of arguments is about throwing a bottle with the word message in into the sea .

Now when this a three other books from the american publisher Open letter arrived for review , I was pleased this book in Particular is by a writer that is on my list of writer to read . Juan Jose Saer born to Syrian parents in Santa Fe , he studied philosophy at Litoral University and after that taught history of cinematography , he later got the chance to studied in Paris where he stayed in Exile up to his death ,Exile , Santa Fe and twins are recurring themes in his fiction according to his wiki page .He passed away in 2005 .

I ate the foods of the world ,My hands touched the stones of famous cities and my body , shriveled now but fit and feral , walked the streets more numerous than ripples in a river ,What man have I not known ? what book have I not read ? What might there be in the warehouse od visible and invisible things that could still be sold to me as a novelty ?

A poet remembering the places he has been Memories serve a part , another story is called scent memory

This book is a triptych of stories . Arguments are snatches of stories range from a paragraph to a few pages ,  thin slices of stories that range from little piece of info , arguments about books , being an exile , and memories  that stack up together to make you as the reader both think and feel  . The second and third story are more straight forward Half erased and the one before . I read the intro by the translator  and found that the Character Pigeon Garay is a character that has featured in other works by Saer ,here  he first appears in arguments here ,we see him wrestling with leaving his life in the last story , but his home town is also wrestling with an on coming flood almost as thou it is trying to wipe clean where he was . But also may drown him where he is which isn’t where he wants to be .

“The best thing a message can say ” said Barco , “is just message .So even when everything would seem to indicate we should write HELP! , I’d suggest that we write this is a message , Or just message  short and sweet .

Tomatis considered this a moment and at last agreed , only to encounter another question : who would write the word ?

I choose the police lyric due to these lines , I love the second part who should write the message .

Well this was my first collection by Saer , he is considered one of the main figures in Latin American fiction . For me I see lots of Borges in the first section .These stories  are like tapas like little pieces of fiction and as I say they are  thin slices so like tapas can be mixed together to everyone’s taste  however each reader approaches them taken what you want from them , rather like Borges made the reader work at times to get to the centre of the labyrinth . For me I got out his love of fiction , his feelings of exile (the parts on exile remind me of Goytisolo another great writer on exile ) The second two stories have a more visceral feel to them more of  a modern feel say like Aira and Bolano write and show how Saer was a writer that links the stylish style of Borges with that brutal cutting edge of prose of Bolano  .A great first book from Open letter books , I have two others coming in the next week or two .

Have you read Saer ?

A project for a revolution in New York by Alain Robbe-Grillet

alain robbe Grillet

A project for a revolution in New York by Alain Robbe-Grillet

French Literature

Original title – Projet pour une révolution à New York

Translator – Richard Howard

Source – Library

Let’s begin, what, where, why, or when
will all be explained like instructions to a game
See I’m not insane, in fact, I’m kind of rational
when I be asking you, “Who is more dramatical?”
This one or that one, the white one or the black one
pick the punk, and I’ll jump up to attack one
KRS-One is just the guy to lead a crew
right up to your face and dis you
Everyone saw me on the last album cover
Holding a pistol something far from a lover
Beside my brother, S-C-O-T-T

I choose a very old rap lyric from New York Band Boogie down productions themselves victims of gang violence in New York when Scott La rock was killed this song is about the aftermath .

Alain Robbe-Grillet is a writer I have had on the list of older writers I want to put on the blog over the next few years .He was one of the leading lights in Noveau Roman movement along side Claude simon and Maguerite Duras .Where each novel was an attempt at a new style and maybe change the way novels are driven ie less about plot more about place or objects .This book is maybe a perfect example of what Alain robbe-grillet had in mind , it has no plot , not much in characters .

The doctor bends forward .Kneels down on one knee and begins to untie the cords binding her ankles .the girls body docile now , lies prostrate as two steady hands part the knees , spreading the smooth brown thighs which glisten in the lamplight ; but the upper part of the body does not lie flat because pf the arms which remain bound together behind the back .

a very Visceral style of writing can be brutal at times .

The book is set in an alternative New York of underground gangs and gang violence .Rather like  what actually happened in the late seventies and early eighties when the gang culture took over the city at times .This book follows that town and the  society with in it falling apart .This is a vision of the city that in someways came about after Robbe-Grillet had written the book . A series of rapes and gang violence scenes follow in this book as we drift through this world  follow in this book . The book has a feel that is disjointed at times .But it is beautifully written and that is what keeps you reading the visceral nature of the words

Whatever the case she then sees a uniformed policeman (It is a fake uniform and a mask that the man is wearing , but she can hardly be aware of the fact ) who . regulation pistol aimed at her belly ,advances towards her , ordering her to keep still and not to move .

This maybe is a theme people not knowing who people are really , he has a similar theme in his film last year at Marienbad

I found it hard to descibe this one as it hasn’t much plot but is more a series of events slice of a city descending into chaos , very much a book of its time the sex and violence could be recalled in the same ways as it happens in Anthony Burgess Clockwork Orange and the way gangs and underground city of New York is depicted is like that of Burgess the book were written 8 years apart . But for me the book style wise remind me much more of William Burroughs , Robbe Grillet doesn’t shift to such a far fetch take on reality that Burroughs did but more a take on a city falling apart at the seams and the way it spirals into volence .This one of those books that open your eyes to what can happen , but also with a bit of toungue in cheek in time , rather like Kubrick in his take on clockwork orange the world at times seems a bit OTT and the violence maybe to much .I loved this so much I was pleased to buy another by him on my recent trip to York .Also love this old cover .

The Illogic of Kassel by Enrique Vila-Matas


The Illogic of Kassel by Enrique Vila-Matas

Spanish Literature

Original title –  Kassel no invita a la lógica

Translated by Anne McLean & Anna Milsom

Source – Library book

Day comes up sicker than a cat
Something’s wrong, that is that

Mr. Somewhere missing somewhere, never did figure just how much
A boat from the river takes you out
‘Cross the other side of town, to get out, to get out
You take the tide, any tide, any tide
Like there isn’t gonna be any tide

Mr. Somewhere missing somewhere, never did figure just how much
Missing somewhere, never did figure just how much

I picked Mr Somewhere as it is about trying to find somewhere and it was an album I brought in Kassel in 1992 .

This is the third book by Enrique Vila-Matas to feature on the blog the two previous books Dublinesque  and Never any end to Paris were two of my favourite books whilst doing this blog .So when I saw his latest book was a book about going to the german city of Kassel to attend the Documenta . I couldn’t resist it .

That night at home I watched a television documentary about the growing power of modern china until my wife went to bed , when I started investigating Kassel ,I learned all the telescopes in the french sounding Orangerie Palace were pointing toward clocked perspective , a piece by the Albanian artist Anri Sala , located in Karlsaue , two kilometers away .

I visited the orangerie it is an impressive building .

So to Kassel , I like Enrique have been to Kassel during a Documenta , mine was the 1992 one and I was their with an old girlfriend who happened to be German and her father lived in Kassel . So like Enrique , in this book I have wondered at the piece and people who form the Documenta . The story starts when Enrique out of the blue gets a phone call to come to Kassel and be part of the 2012 Documenta , this is in the form of sitting in the window of a Chinese restaurant and writing every morning .Whilst in the city he learns about the city but also sees all the art that is going on and in a way you can feel as he writes the art rubbing off and inspiring him .Also he remembers the past and the part Kassel played in that .

I had been so many men ( I thought , parodying Borges ) , and now I was just a resident writer  they’d invited to come and do a chinese number .To cap it off , you could tell the sign had been handled by a large number of writers who’d been invited in the preceding weeks , some of whose names I remembered : Adania Shibli , Mario Bellatin , Aaron Peck , Alejandro Zambra , Marie Darrieussecq , Holly Pester

Not the only writer there a couple of these names will be on this blog over the next few months .

Well this is a splendid piece of Metafiction with Enrique at the heart of the story . A man surprised to be asked to join a modern art show as a piece of art , the sitting in the restaurant to write reminded me of  the story of Geroges Simenon being stuck in a glass bubble and writing a book in a day   .But as he drifts through the city he sees so much and absorbs so much .Rather like Walter Benjamin as he wandered the arcades of Paris he is awaken and driven by the strange world of modern art gives Enrique a new burst of life as a writer  .I remember on my visit in 1992 gazing at wonder and amazement  at the installations ,also I remember hearing about earlier piece still in the city especially those by Joesph Beuys a German artist that has always been a favourite of mine he put rings round trees throughout the city I think they are still there  .A fun book about discovering art and being a piece of art yourself , or trying to work out why they want you as a piece of art .

Do you have a favourite Novel with connections to the art world ?

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