Til kingdom come by Andrej Nikolaidis

Til Kingdom come by Andrej Nikolaidis

Montenegrin fiction

Translator – Will Firth

Source – review copy

 

You better run You better run and run and run
You better run You better run
You better run to the City of Refuge
You better run You better run
You better run to the City of Refuge

You stand before your maker
In a state of shame
Because your robes are covered in mud
While you kneel at the feet
Of a woman of the street
The gutters will run with blood
They will run with blood!

You better run, you better run
You better run to the City of Refuge
You better run, you better run
You better run to the City of Refuge

No other reason to feature this song other than I know Andrej is a Nick Cave fan and we meet in a huge city of refugee for so many .

I have featured the first two books from Andrej Nikolaidis ,what is a loose trilogy that this book forms the third part of set . The book take part around the city of Ulcinj .Andrej also did a piece for the blog about his love of Thomas Bernahrd .I have also meet and had lunch with him a couple of years ago (more about that later ) .Any way this is the latest title from him and his publisher Istros books .

I wrote for the newspaper and that’s how I made ends meet .For a while , I used the money my grandmother has leftnto me , but soon learned to save , and what I earned from six articles would last until the end of the month

I wrote quickly and with ease , and what I wrote had an audience ,They were commentary piece at first , fiery and provocative .People liked to read them, especially those who didn’t agree with me –

I laughed at this as Andrej writes a lot of articles and is known for speaking his mind !!

The story starts here Ulcinj ,as a report writes a story that leads to him finding out his own history isn’t true the person who brought him up wasn’t a relative and who was his mother ? This leads him into a world of women trained as killers and trained to kill opponents of the Yugoslavian government of the time .The journey goes to london and back but also to the present and the past as one man tries to find out the truth of his own heritage .Add to this a dose of Jewish mysticism , philosophy and being cynical you have a story that never lets up from start to finish .

That’s how I remembered you – it’s not every day that someone listens to the story about the hidden grave as if it was the greatest secret in the universe  .More tea ? He asked as he shook my hand and apologized for having to leave me . “Work calls ”

Felling poisoned by all the nicotine .I walked to the other end of the square , passing a Korean who must have been a singer and was posing in a white shirt for a photographer and his numerous assistants .I jumped the fence and headed to the left ,I strolled into the Conway hall ..

I loved the scenes in London Conway hall is home of Istors books Andrej’s uk publisher .

I included this long quote above about being sat in red lion square , as I sat in red lion square and drank mint tea and smoked cigarettes with Andrej ,Susan from Istros  books the day we had lunch , whilst we did this a man who did look rather like a pop star was having a number of pictures taken by a professional photographer .I am amazed that an event I was at creeped into a book as a very small scene , that just shows the writer’s mind at work , Andrej said he was working on this book at the time we meet , but little did I expect the place and events i had also witnessed that day to make it into this book . As ever Andrej has used his books to examine the past of his homeland ,but also ask questions about that past about how we remember the past and what importance that past has now . For me this is what makes him a significant writer as he leaves us the reader with many questions long after we put the book down and for me that is one of the great things literature should make us do and that is question and wonder about our own existence and the world around us .

The son by Andrej Nikolaidis

the son Andrej Nikolaidis

The son by Andrej Nikolaidis

Montenegrin fiction

Original title –  Sin

Translator – Will Firth

Source – Review copy

I’ve reviewed the first book in this what is a lose trilogy of novels by Andrej Nikolaidis .He is a well-known figure in Montenegro where he is quite outspoken at times and is firmly a writer that likes to give his opinions over .He also kindly wrote a piece for this blog on his love of Thomas Bernhard .He said to his publisher this book was more influence by Bernhard than his first novel the coming .

April is the cruellest month , according to Eliot .But he never lived on the Montenegrin Riviera , and his fellow citizens didn’t rake in the wealth by renting out rooms .He never saw tourist arriving in his peaceful town like hordes of Huns and turning it into a giant barbarian amusement park

I loved this line ,as I want to go to Montenegro on holiday at some point and be one of the hordes .

 

Well given the fact that we know in part this is a book that is influenced by Bernhard ,we can see it straight away as we meet our narrator he is a writer and is unnamed .We meet him on one evening in his life as he wanders round Ulcinj partly the setting for Nikolaidis earlier novel .We follow him through this night as he wanders the city but also interacts with numerous folk along the way a piano student from Vienna ( another nod to Bernhard I think as his book about Glenn Gould the great Canadian pianist  is set in Vienna ) this man has quit piano and become a Muslim . a preacher also crosses his path .Also refugees from Kosovo ,I loved this part I spent a summer in Germany in the mid 90’s working in a factory with a couple from Kosovo so this brought back memories of that time . Add to this the Son of the title is struggling in his real life and his father blames him for his mother’s death and we have a dark evening of guilt and the past of this city itself slaves that made the city initially  and communist past echoes around the narrator .Also a good dose of drinking this is a novel that grabbed me as a reader .

My mother cursed the day she bore me .She was in hospital in Podgorica ,melting away before my eyes as uterine cancer ate her up from the inside , she literally de materialised as the emptiness of her womb spread like the expanding universe ,and disappeared into that void like light is devoured by a black hole

Powerful and touching lines here .

Well I loved this as much as I loved The coming for me Nikolaidis is the reason I read translation ,voices like his make reading books in translation a pleasure .Had I not loved Bernhard works and his unique narrators would I have been able to see his influence on Nikolaidis the narrator her could walk of the page of a Bernhard novel but this isn’t just an homage to Bernhard we see the last twenty years of modern Europe ,very much  the balkans  ,the refugees from Kosovo are a great example of the times their country and recent history sums up the history of the Balkan conflicts religion and Serbia at the heart of it .There is also a dose of almost dream like drifting into the past ,almost like you have had a few drinks as yoy read add to this Andrej has added a playlist to the book I include one song he listen to while writing this book Steve Earle John walker blues (I love Earle since hearing copperhead road as a kid )

Hansens’s Children by Ognjen Spahic

Hansen’s Children by Ognjen Spahic

Montenegrin fiction

Translator Will Firth

source – review copy

Ognjen Saphic is another from the wonderful new publisher Istros books .He is another young Montenegrin writer only 35  ,he has two collections of short stories and a this was his début novel .It won the Ovid prize in Romania (a prize for emerging talent ).He is currently writer in residence at university of Iowa for there international writer programm.This book has already been translated into another of othee languages .

Hnasens children is a clever slice of communism falling apart  in the late 80’s ,the title comes from the name for Leprosy  by some people  call it Hansen’s disease ,Hansen was a scientist in Norway that discovered  Mycobacterium leprae that causes leprosy .Anyway we are in Romania the totalitarian regime of Nicholae Ceausecu and to the very south-east of that country is a house and in that house is the last leper colony in europe .So we meet the house via the narrator of book who we are never told who he is only that he shares a room with an america with the condition called Duncan and another patient called zoltan that has been there for a very long time .But we just see the events in the house and in the greater Romania as a whole unfold and the very Stalinist regime in place was toppled  .A country is falling apart and there is a feeling of the people in the house maybe having a chance of a new way of life  .But as these glimpse of what might be happening the future , the outside world comes to them as violence and ultimately murder happens in the house .

In Centuries past we were blasted by all manner of christian anathemas ,which overlooked the fact that christianity itself was the main culprit for us rotting away in agony .It was none other than the crusaders ,returning from their campaigns at the beginning of the second millennium who introduced the disease to Europe

a historic insight in the book .

 

This is classic Balkan writing ,where everything is there in one book wit ,sadness,surrealism , friendship  and horror .I saw a brief clip here on you tube where Spahic says his literary heirs are people like the great Ivo Andric .

I reminded of people like Conrad at times in this book  this place is almost like heart of darkness in europe at times a world in chaos as the sane and insane struggle with reality as the rule of law goes when the regime falls chaos follows and we see how the people round the narrator cope with this sea change .And others the Hungarian writer like Krasznahoraki and Nadas ,as like them we see the communist world unfolding and the chaos of that ,but in this case  all through the eyes of one man in a small leper colony  by a toxic factory in a corner of Romania .The third part Spahic bring is leprosy itself we get little bits of the history of leprosy  the colony itself and the man Hansen that discovered the cause of it all those years ago .Even now this is greatly misunderstood condition that cause it users to be hidden by regimes like the Romanian one ,in a way I was reminded of the scenes in Walter Salles film the motorcycle diaries where we see Che Guevara in a leper colony in south america .That is all squeezed somehow into 151 pages giving a book that seems longer to the reader and lasts in your head for a long time after you have finished .Will firth and Istros have brought another gem to the english speaking world .

 

 

 

The Coming by Andrej Nikolaidis

The coming by Andrej Nikolaidis

Montenegrin fiction

Translator Will Firth

The first chapter of this book was featured in this years best european fiction Andrej Nikolaidis is a rising star of central european fiction born to a half greek family he spent his youth in between his current homeland and Bosnia and you can see the effect on his book ,he won the Montenegrin section of the european literature prize last year and has so far publish three novels .He is well-known for speaking his mind in his Native country on a number of subjects mostly to do with Serbia thou  and has work closely at times with the new government in Montenegro .He is also married to a famous poet from the region .

As soon as I opened my agency ,though it seems all of Ulcnj decided to start killing ,robbing ,abducting and raping .And there was plenty of adultery too it seems to be close to a dozen marriages torn apart .

Is the detective just describe the town or what happened in the areas in  a wider sense .

SO the coming is An.drej first book to reach us in english what is about well like all good central european fiction it is about a lot more than it seems on the surface .For on  the surface it could be view as a crime novel  but also cynical and comic with a touch of the historic novel and some epistolary touches as he likes to use emails . The story starts when someone dies and the local library burns and   a father the town’s sheriff of Ulnjc  starts to investigate as he does so his son appears he has been in Austria .Then we have a second story line of Fra Dolcino a heretic born in the late 1200’s that announces the return of the messiah hence the title of this book and the manuscript by Fra Dolcino call the” the book of the coming” .Add in a third strand of strange things happening in the local environment and you have just scratched the surface of this book .This book even has it own soundtrack at the back of the book to listen to as you read I knew most of the tracks but enjoyed listening to the non english artists on the list that I didn’t know but I liked Andrej taste in music as a huge fan of Nick Cave ,the smiths and stone  roses .He says music helps his writing process and he falls asleep to music every night .

The other theme of the book is the end of the world coming but also about what happened in the region Andrej comes from he grew up between Bosnia and Montenegro ,he was caught up in Bosnia civil war 1992  .I heard an interview via Andrej publishers Istros books with Andrej and Will firth  the translator .I worked alongside a Bosnia Croat in the mid nineties as he and I lived in Germany so the sense of how the war could happen and the end of something is some I felt from book also the first chapter when the detective describes what he has seen in the village can be expand to the canvas of the Bosnian war .I found this book a real hidden gem I must admit Will Firth looking for a new voice from this region and the new country of Montenegro has turn up a real gem and a strong new voice .That reminds you of why you read books in translation it is to see worlds through different eyes and concepts .   There  is a lot of imagery in this book the Fra Dolcino section could be seen as what happens when people’s views get out of hand .I say if you like a book that makes you think for weeks after but isn’t as long as a Umberto  Eco  this is the one for you .

August 2017
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