The Buddha’s return by Gaito Gazdanov the 700th book review

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The Budha’s return by Gaito Gazdanov

Russian fiction

Original title – Vozvrashchenie Buddy

Translator – Bryan Karetnyk

Soure – library book

Well today I return back to Pushkin press fortnight with last but one of the books I read for the week I had two books by Gazdanov to choose from this and The spectre of Alexander Wolf , as the later is a personal copy  i decided to read the one from the library . Gaito Gazdanov , fought with the white guard in the civil war and after that he managed to flee to Paris where for many years he was part of the émigré lit scene there as well as being a taxi drive at night his work was well admired by Maxim Gorky . His first novel appeared in 1930 he wrote a number of books this was written in the late 1940’s . His works were never published in Russia in his lifetime .

I died . I have searched long and hard for the right words to describe what happened , and , convinced that none of the usual , familiar terms will do , have finally settled on one asscoiated with what seems the least imprecise of realms : death. I died in the month of June , at night, during one of my first yers abroad .This however, was far less remarkable than my being the only person to know of this death, the only one to have witnessed it.

The opening passage our student or is it , has he died or did he dream it ..

 

This is one of those odd crime novels that is more about the people involved in the story. The novel follows a student that is in a state of dreaming the world away , so much that he has trouble splitting his dream world from reality . Our story is told by someone who appears already dead as he describe falling of a cliff. A second body of a billionaire turns up and then we have a missing Buddha statue that is worth a small fortune that has disappeared . The statue owned by a russian that had been in the war and an Officer Pavel .,So did the other russian student kill the first man and what has the narrator to do with it is he the student , if so why does he talk about his own death !! . But is this maybe all part of the students dream we are never sure . This is full of classic noir touches and a large nip of existentialism .

 Then this calm man sank into total silence , which he did not break during the course of those three days that passed I awaited the next interrogation, at which – if i were to believe him – such incredible things were to occur.We were given food twice daily ; at first I was unable to eat it, as it was so disgusting.Only on the third day I managed to swallow a few spoonfuls of some clear-grey liquid and a crust of poorly baked bread .

Is it a breakthrough after three days or the fact the prison food is so bad he will be too weak to hold up to it again !

this is a quirky book , I had a sense and was right when I read it was originally published as a piecework in a russian magazine in the late forties . the novel has ups and downs like you do in the classic piecework where you are left on the edge for next weeks story . The is also a sense of entering a world of Kafka in a way a surreal world of a man being arrest for a crime , but this called all be that mans dream . Then we also have a fellow Russian that has come and become a buddhist and lose his Golden Buddha , which stuck me as a classic piece of setting for a noir story of the time , the Maltese falcon for example to turn the story into a caper somewhat . I liked this book it is quirky enough to suit my taste for crime which is books that take a sideways look on the whole  crime . This does it mixing Ex pats  , Noir Paris ,  two dead bodies  one a billionaire and oh yes a gold Buddha . Oh and a small point this is my 700th review on the blog !!

Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Russian fiction

original title – Последняя Москва.

Translator – Christopher Culver

Source – review copy

Well its a second visit to the Russia this woman in translation month , This time we have a historic novel about writers. Natalia Gromova is from a russian military family , she has lived in Moscow since an early agee and got a job at 16 working in the state historical library whilst finishing her studies , she has work for the Soviet encyclopedia in the past but since the mid 90s has been writing books that she use the historic archives to put together historic novels from original diaries , letters and articles of the time .

Alexander Fyodorovich served Russian literature like a priest: literature had completely replaced religion for his generation. But neither literature nor culture , as it became clear later, could save them from the chaos of revolution and then all ugly realities of Soviet life. many of these high-born gymnasium teachers and university professors looked at the complex issues of society and politics with disgust, and the consequences of this naturally fell on the heads of their children, who swept into the maelstrom of history.

I loved this passage about how literature took over religion in some in the 30’s

Moscow in the 1930’s is set during those pre war years of Stalin rule , we are drawn into a world of house and place that arent there anymore .This stitches together the diaries of writers like Olga Bessarabova, Vavara Grigiryena  are the two main sources for this work  well-known and now even forgotten to paint a picture of a world of writing at the time the friendships . People like Maria Belkina a well-known writer in her time but now forgotten to us in english. I loved the way Natalia brought us behind the doors of these writers as they discuss the works of the day and the writers Bulgakov who at the time was working on his own masterpiece that was set also in Moscow the Master and the Margarita during the 30’s .Daniil andreyev is another character who is in the story he was even in the book arrested by Stalin it turns out a lot of his great works were destroyed by The state secret police .

The more I read , the more colourful a picture I got of an old Moscow home . There were more than enough of these in the past. TO a degree, these Moscow homes were literary figures in themselves: fro the Rostovs happy home on Provarskaya street in War and Peace to the home of Gromeko family on the Arbat in Doctor Zhivago. Here the doors were always wide open, the house would teem with guests, a number of relatives would be resident, and holidays would be regularly celebrated, with Christmas festivities for children and adults

In her diary, Olga Bessarabova described the Dobrov home in the same way

An open door for the writer of the day to spend time with Olga and her family .

This is one of those books you need a notebook next to you as you read to note the names of the writers mention and their works . I did this and then looked to see what is available not much but I still have some to check out further Andreyev for example his later book roza mir , rose of the world came out in the late 90’s. Natalia Gromova brings a long gone Moscow to life , this is one of a number of books she has written using the same technique of real diaries and setting as a frame for her novels .I found this compelling if a slow read so much to absorb makes it a book that I will be rereading and discovering again.

 

Gnedich by Maria Rybakova

Gnedich

Gnedich by Maria Rybakova

Russian Fiction

Original title – Гнедич

Translator – Elena Dimov

Well time has flown I was off work last week and had hoped to post a few post but I was so busy , I didn’t get chance any way it is now August and I still have a few Spanish reads to do over the next few days but today is the first day of  Woman in translation month and it seems fitting to start with a great find in a way. I was contacted by Glasgoslav books thanks to my friend Lisa at Anzlitlovers point them in my direction and one of the recent books is this unusual book by the Russian writer Maria Rybakova , who has written a number of novels which have n=been translated into a number of languages , but this is her first book to be translated to English, It was shortlisted for the Andrei Bely prize. Maria Rybakova is from a family of writers her grandfather and both her parents are writers he mother Natalie is editor of Banner a respect lit magazine in Russia

Homer says : youth is alway frightening ,

and the memory of it is the most dreadful or all.

Sing,goddess, it is your amusement

to sing our sorrows, our pain is your glory,

but when you come to me

pretending to be an ac tress

I will agree to suffer, said Gnedich,

and loooked in the mirror with one eye.

In the dark hole of glass he saw

either the cyclops or the hero lover,

then Homer, then suddenly no one really,

just fuinture and the sickly candle

The loss of  his eye draws comparison with Homer world and words for Gnedich

Gnedich is the name of a Translator in the 19th century Russia. He was the first man to translate Iliad by Homer from Russian into English. The book is told in the style of Homers work in twelve songs or Cantos about Nikolai Gnedich’s own life. From his childhood where he had smallpox that leaves mark on the young man who drives him to a become a librarian but also to books, to him discovering Homer and reading him to deciding that his lifetime task was to work on the Iliad  to bring it to a wider audience .All this at a back drop of when Russia as a country was at its height Imperial Russia is brought to life in Homeresque style as we see how one mans quest for the perfect Iliad is his own life’s work. From his own life his best friend also a poet .

Of course , he wanted

the girls to love him,

but they smelted of sweat and they cackler,

showing their blackened teeth,

and Gnedich decided to wait

until Moscow or Petersberg,

where goddesses would walk

in beautiful dresses: they would be the ones to love him,

but the later it appeared they also were afraid

to look at him

and Gnedich decided to wait a little more-

til his death

Sad he like the girls but they don’t like him thus driving more to his book and the work to translate it .

I said this was a unsual work and a perfect example of what we should all be trying to both read and promote during  Woman in Translation month. A work by a female writer, but also a work that you would only find from a small press. Who else would bring a short novel in poetic verse in the style of Homer from Russian and that is no one. It is also a tale of the art and passion of Translators the unsung heroes of world lit that like Gnedich bring the great works to readers in whatever language. The power of the written word to drive one man to transform it into his own language is shown here .  So my journey through some female writers in translation has started in Russia and we will next move west to Romania .

Have you a favourite Novel in Verse ?

Conquered city by Victor Serge

conquered-city-victor-serge-paperback-cover-art

Conquered city by Victor Serge

Russian Fiction

Translator – Richard Greenman

Original title – Ville Conquise

Source – Library

Well I  have been wanting to try Victor  Serge for a long time after reading a few review of his NYRB reissues , then I check my library catalogue and saw they had a 1970’s copy of Conquered city So clicked the button to get it sent up from Derby  .Victor Serge is a Russian writer ,Born in Belgium and wrote in French  ,he became involved with Marxism and Socialism around the time of the Russian revolution he support the anarchists during the revolution ,he was in Petrograd at this time 1919 .This is the setting for this novel .Post revolution he start to become critical of the Stalin and the regime .Serge’s real  life reads like a grand Novel. I love  at some point to read a bio of him one day ,He reminds me of other great writers of Russia that followed him Grossman and Solzhennitsym that have also question the regime .Although 80 years old this book still feels very modern .

The long nights seemed reluctant to abandon the city .For a few hours each day a gray light of dawn or dusk filtered through the dirty white cloud ceiling and spread over things like the dim reflection of a distant glacier .Even snow ,which continued to fall ,lacked brightness .This white silent shroud stretched out to infinity in time and space .

setting the scene in the opening lines of Conquered city

 

So Conquered city follows what happened in St petersberg ,Petorgrad or Leningrad as the city has been known in the 20th century this is the story of the revolution in that city ,as I said before Serge was in the city at the time of the revolution so although this is a novel it has a feel of almost reportage at times .So we get glimpse the main character of this book is the city and the people who  lived in it during the revolution and afterwards  (well that is hard to say because for a lot of the people it wasn’t living as such ) .We see how well-meaning people with Ideals get easily drawn into doing the wrong things in the white heat of war .We also see Serge question the reason for the revolution and also who really won the war and what happen due to this .

“I can do without everything ” comrade Zverena would say ,in the full voice of unction “except flowers ,don’t laugh at me ” she would add ,”I have had such a sad life !”

One of the comrades with ideals ,but do they last long !

This novel is hard to describe because it breaks the bounds of what a novel is more of a non fiction feel  to it at times we get a glimpse of people and action almost like a collection of piece written at the time and put together at a later date  .There  is a lot of rhetoric in the book as well , given this book was written in 1932 ,when it was obvious Serge is  looking back at the time of the revolution  ,but also what happen to the city since that time under Lenin the Stalin took charge of Russia has change his view of what he was fighting for at the time but also what his comrades where fighting for as well .Bleak is his outlook this isn’t a book the sings the glories of the Russian revolution no this is a book that lifts the lid of revolutions and what happens in them ,timely was my reading of this book ,given recent events in Egypt how strange it is you change the names and the settings and the story could be the same almost at times .

Have you read Serge ,if so what would you say to read next ?

Has he had a good Biography written ?

An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman

An armenian sketchbook

An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman

Russian Non fiction

Translator – Robert and Elizabeth Chandler

Original title – Dobro Vam

Source – Review Copy

Pleased to get this from Maclehose , as I’ve dabbled with life and fate  but never got far  into it and sat  finished the book .So this was the first full book I have  read by him .Vasily was born to a Jewish family in Ukraine ,he reported during world war two  this formed many of the views that he put in his great Novel Life and fate , he was a respect  journalist as well as a novelist .He sadly died four years after the journey he took in this book .

In October 1960 Grossman had submitted the manuscript of Life and fate to the editors of a soviet Literary Journal ,It was the height of the Khuschev’s “thaw” and Grossman seems genuinely to have believed that lif and fate could be published in the Soviet Union ,even though a central theme of the novel is that Nazism and Stalinism are mirror images of each other .

Just before he went to Armenian from the intro to the book

An Armenian notebook follows a Journey Vasily Grossman took during 1960 ,he was out of favour in a way his famous now book Life and Fate had been stopped by the soviets .So he had decided to take a chance and work on an epic Armenian novel that required a  better translation .So he head to Armenian ,one of the thrills in getting this is my own Knowledge of the region is very scant .So Grossmans simple clear prose brought to life this remote stone cover land and it quite unique people ,as we follow his travels .So we get to see each person he meets in little sketches about them and their life gently build a wonderful picture of the folks he meets .Armenian is a place that is caught between Asia ,Europe ,Russia and the persian world ,this leads to a very interesting mix of people .Vasily him self wasn’t in the best of health when he wrote this but still managed to inject a good deal of humour to his words .He is also fair in his observations,the  fact is  he has that great Journalistic skill of good journalistic writing in not being biased the best writing of place leaves it to the reader to make their minds up and this he does well here ,it would have been easy for Grossman to have made this book seemed very anti soviet to make this place seem as thou it was an out laying region with out anything good from Communism but it didn’t. He also made me want to read the book he was translating ,I never read a book from Armenian so if any one knows if it is available in English let me know .

A second day passed ,and a third .The new arrival ceased to think of himself as an exotic parrot in the mountain village .Now the people he met were beginning to greet him .And he was greeting them back .

He already knew many people : the young women from the post office ,the man at the village shop ; the night watchman – a melancholy man with a rifle ,two shepherds ,the old man who looked after the thousand-year old walls of the Kecharis monastery

Grossman is drawn into a remote villages life

So what did I discover ,well a writer of Non fiction I love Grossman is such a beautiful and clear prose writer it is hard not to fall in love with his words and use of words .,He manages to catch the place as a whole the people ,nature ,building and even the feel in the air (if you know what I mean I always feel every place you go to have a spirit about it something in the air that you can’t quite put your finger on ,this he manages to capture ).The sadness of Armenian he talks about the link the Armenian feels of the horrific event in 1916 and the Jewish massacre during world war two .  My favourite parts where around his village to a remote Mountain Village ,as all follows of this blog will know I have a great love of villages  as they say so much more about people than big cities do .

Have you read this book ?

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