The night circus by Uršuľa Kovalyk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The night circus by Uršuľa Kovalyk

Slovakian fiction

Original title – Travesty šou

Translators – Peter and Julia Sherwood

I come to the second of three Slovakian writers currently touring the UK in part to celebrate 30 years since the velvet revolution. Her we have another strong Female writer. Uršuľa Kovalyk is a feminist writer and also works as a social worker. She has published three she has won the short story collections and two novels one of them is also available from this publisher Parthian. She has won the most prestigious literary prize in Slovak the Anasoft litera award and also the bibloteka award.

“That hair of yours is going to blind me one of these days” I say,  winding the car window down. Paula tosses her red mane and bares her teeth at me flirtatiously. A predator, I think. Not even a corpse could resist Paula’s sex appeal. She isn’t all that young or beautiful nor even particularely fit, but every time I see her I’ m ensanred by her charm, like a fly falling into a pot of honey. I tried to puzzle out what makes her so attractive. It must be her velvety voice or perhaps those taut blue veins on her beautiful neck that put me in this wicked frame of mind.

Predator her friend isn’t stunning but is appeal to twist men around her fingers.

This is part of the collection mention but has had a few stories added it is still a very tight collection of stories mainly female voices and also very short stories this collection is 98 pages long and in that we have 16 stories. We start with two women driving in a car that picks up a hitcher but one of them warns the other one Paula who she says is a predator, not a woman that lets the men hunt her but hints the men so when they pick up this man she is told to leave him alone. An unnamed person wakes in a room with a fridge that has parts of a large white dog that opens into another world. This story is maybe the most surreal in the collection. THen a woman Julia has sex with a man but her mind seems elsewhere before during and after the act itself. she is described as a porcelain doll, in fact, is described as a ghost.  A dying woman talks about sex with her three daughters. The title of the original collection Travisty show sees a fading star that was a famous singer but over the years her demand wained until there is a time when no invitations to events arrive at her door until a reunion invitation where she ends up at a strange stage show of her life with earlier versions of herself.

The evening takes the faintly lit room in its lazy embrace. Julia has just finished washing her body under the shower. It seems even paler than usual against the backdrop of brightly coloured towels hanging in the bathroom, She rubs in some aromatic oil and looks at her face in the mirror, lost in thought. The sound of an engine starting can be heard through the open window. He is waiting in bed. Julia is rubbing the oil into her dry skin, \slowly, her skin gfeedily devours the greasy drops of oil. It is white. Like a china bowl,Julia thinks.

Julia a pale girls just about to sleep with her partner but her mind seems elsewhere.

This is a tight collection of stories no weak tales each has a strong female voice the only one that is different is the dogs in the fridge which is a surreal tale. the others are mainly set at home. from the Julia in her bathroom then the bedroom, three daughters around the bed of there dying mother. There are other strange events transporting us to the rainforest. The real world is here but just to the left at times each character views the world through there own prism making this an interesting collection of stories of modern women’s lives in Slovak. Slithers of life and like real life itself some of these tales haven’t that big punch but leave you thinking. Have you read anything by this writer? I must also not this is one of my favorite covers this year.

Bellevue by Ivana Dobrakovoa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellevue by Ivana Dobrakova

Slovakian fiction

Original title – Bellevue

Translators Julia and Peter Sherwood

Source – review copy

I was sent three Slovakian books as part of a tour that is happening in the UK by the writers of these books here is the first of these three books Ivan Dobrakova. Considered a leading light in the blossoming contemporary Slovak scene with her books reflecting part of modern Slovakian life and that is having to live abroad so expat literature of Slovakian abroad. She has been compared to writers like Rachel Cusk or Deborah Levy in English as OI haven’t read them it is hard to compare but for me, she captured the experience of living abroad as an expat.

There were five sleeping bags on the floor, and holdalls, pillows, handbags, bath towels, cosmetics, sunscreen, bits of clothing, books lay scattered all around the place, a complete mess. I helped to carry the stuff to a two-bedroom flat in the annexe reached through the main building.past a big drainpipe and a flowerbed, accross a short metal bridge above some sort of crater filled with gravel and finally down a long balcony, the second doo on the left. The flat was very clean, light, with a view of the building opposite, a bathroom, a toilet

When she first arrives at Bellevue and tries to settle.

Blanka has accepted a job in France, well in Marseilles at the Bellevue a centre for people with physical disabilities that has volunteers at a camp in the summer to help out. As she boards the night train for Prague to venture across the train to cross Europe it is full of fellow young people from East  Europe like Poles all trying to get a better life in Europe. She arrives and the Bellevue centre is there on the top of the hill. She arrives and is drawn into the lives of her fellow volunteers and works at the centre looking after the patients but also the love affairs and relationships within the group as she starts to meet people Martina Patrick and Drago some of the  European people at the camp is a mix of Them and Algerians working there. she is drawn into the world of the camp one of the beach days and nightclubs and work. Behind all this Blanka struggles to fit in she is a sensitive 19-year-old a fragile girl maybe this trip wasn’t the right choice for her !! But then a single event hinges a change in her life meaning she is injured and a reversal in her role with Bellevue!!

I’m trying to be helpful, I see that he’s exhausted, he’s fed up with me, he seems to be avoiding me, as if he, too wason the brink of a nervous breakdown, so I brig him fruit, stroke his hairand hand him cloths to fling at a hole in the wall, I’ve no ideawhy he enjoys that, tossing dirty tea towels at a hole in the wall after lunch, I keep begging him not to be cross with me, to forgive me, I know I’m being impossible, I know how difficult I make things for him. but it’s just the time being, I’m sure everything will be all right again soon , just bear with me for a little longer, I don’t have anyone else, everyone hates me, please Drago

Here we see how she is pushed out at times with the line everyone hates me as she is the squre peg in the round hole of the camp.

This tale captures a mix of Hope the dream of the French Riveria and working there for the summer against what is Blanka main problem and that is she has depression and very little self-belief in herself. What is seen is the usual your life of a group of young people when gathered together but her we have Blanka view which sadly is that of an outsider inside the world she is when her life hinges on that one event later in the book you wonder what will happen to her that is the question. Blanka is a different character than I expect she is fragile and in that case unreliable as a narrator at times. Well this is an interesting strand of Slovakian fiction one that I have seen in other books from Polish writers that is the one of the expat experience as I have said before this is a genre that will grow over time a sort of European version of what is the Windrush lit scene that of being an outsider in a new place.  Have you read any books from Slovakia?

 

Agnomia by RÓBERT GÁL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agnomia by Róbert Gál

Slovakian fiction

Original title –  Agnómia

Translator – David Short

Source – Personnel copy

I had ordered this book last year as the description of it grabbed me as it was One long, unbroken paragraph, blending, memoir, fiction and philosophy. That description grabbed me plus when I read an interview by Frank Garrett with Gal about his use of Aphorisms in his books. Gal has lived in New York, Brno, Berlin and now Prague all these crop up in this book. He has had two earlier books translated to English this is his third book to be translated to English with a fourth to come out this year, Gal has said of his writing he writes in condensed form, in fragments, in aphorisms, and in blocks. This book is 70 pages long and follows a writer called Robert Gal from New York back to Europe.

We’re in New York, she repeats, and the words reflects states of different worlds like cannabine wafts of neat tomorrows from dug-up todays.We need to pinch ourselves to believe. She’s looking at me with that serpentine gaze of a young Prague intellectual who has come to New York at her parent’s expense to seek analogies between this and that and to talk twaddle. There’s a pile of books on the desk from which she would be forever copying out bits and pieces. Once she took me to a pseudo-intellectual hellhole to meet some feminists. The whole ambience had me feeling quite sick.

I remember night in Germany in the late 90s like this before the internet when the books we read mattered more than titbits of books.

The book opens as Gal is the lone Slovak in a group of Czech and Slovaks in 1993 where he met Eugene at a party a brief encounter but he tells us about riding pillion with a girl there discovering complete works of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Beethoven stories like Mike Patton who encourage people that spat at him in concert by telling them to spit more. that drift into a female photograph doing nudes and a sid story of Kant pissing on the stage. Time is intersped as we drift forwards and back marks like Yeltsin’s death music he liked such as John Zorn’s Six Litanies for Heliogabalus a piece that features Mike Patton a sort of looping back in time. Too see Zorn play live his self the Zorn connection is one that rings true about this book.

an, say, a Slovak, as a Slovak, feel democratic anywhere other than in Slovakia? And this leads consquently to other questions, which , once one has mentally posed them and immediately answered them, lead to a gradual appreciationof why most citzens of small, insignificant countries remain struck in them as if there were no other option.It isprecisely in small and insignificant countries that we encounter writers who take it for granted that hey are reproducers of reality, but why reality needs to be reproduced rhey don’t reveal. Claiming – as we do -that reality shouldn’t be artistically reproduced but produced, we also should probably seperate “Work of art” from “art” .

Here he hits the nail on the head about his homeland and the place in the world but also maybe his voice is a new one that needs to be heard .

Zorn is an avant grade experimental saxophone player that has overridden genres in the styles he has chosen to play over the year and this in the Narrative form is what Gal is trying to do. We talk a lot about the current rise of Autofiction. But for me, there has been another slow rising style of writing that has been around but that last few decades has been growing a genre-defying sort it has its leader in a writer like Sebald, Bernhard, Magris even earlier Emil Cioran. In recent times books like river and Panorama all do similar mixing memories of a time, dreams and places into one narrative that is about what is being for one person where it is a trip to the center of Europe or a river remind one of another river and time. Here Zorn and his singer of choice Patton link from Prague to New York many a similar link her in Gals work that mixes his experiences with small philosophies on life. This book is like free form Jazz drifting unprepared startling and compulsive reading. Another challenging writer from Slovakia I have read three books from there in the last few years they are showing literature finally coming out of the shadow of Czech literature with a new twist on the Mittel European work that like Bernhard is sometimes just thrown on the page in one long paragraph.He has a good website here .

Have you a favorite Slovakian writer?

 

Fleeting Snow by Pavel Vilikovsky

Fleeting Snow by Pavel Vilikovsky

Slovakian fiction

Original title – Letmý sneh

Translators – Julie and Peter Sherwood

Source – review copy

I now move over from France to Slovakia and the second book from there I have reviewed. Also, the first to be published by Istros press from there as they move a little further afield. They have chosen a writer considered the greatest living Slovak writer. He only wrote two books whilst communism was in control of the country. but since the regime change, he has written over a dozen books. This was his latest Novel to come out in Slovakian. He is also a leading translator of books from English into Slovak including great writers like Faulkner, Conrad, and Woolf. It is great to see more Slovakian fiction coming out.

1.B If, as the saying goes, every person is unique, their name ought to be unique too. Except that it doesn’t work like that. What is unique about say, Stefan Kovac, whose name is about as common as Stephen Smith is in english? In this country, no first name can ever be truly unique – the church and the clerks at the register office have seen to that – and if your surname happened to be Kovac the to boot, you’ve had it: you’ll end up being known as Kovac up the valley, or Kovac the shepherd. Slovak is a garrulous language, we don’t mind throwngin an extra word here and there, but even with additional piece of information, does a name convey anythingunique about a person?

the second part of the first story about how come the name is but also how they use extra wrds to identify a stefan Kovac who is ours ?

This is a book that has five interweaving stories at its heart. This is a fragmented book almost like a snowflake with the five points coming out. The first story is the tale of a man at the end of a long marriage that seems to be losing his mind early on we hear he is called Stefan Kovac but has now taken the name Cimborazka and is a self-declared Cimborazka. The second story tells us about a pair of step twins and talks about the soul. The third starts with an avalanche and the fourth story strand a scholar called Stefan, that has recently had a book about North American Indian languages in the US. This fourth links to the first story and where we have a talk about certain US place names that may have Native American origins. The fifth strand finds someone looking through old photos. The strands of the stories cross and the link they are about life, language particular Slovakian and old age. The loss of memory in old age. The snow is the metaphor in a way for so much in this book memories fade like snow old age leads to dementia which is like an avalanche that clears that top layer of one’s memories leaving what was under.  There is a sense of the fleeting nature of life art tines and what makes us as people who is Stefan Kovac a name we are told early on is as common in Slovakia as Stephen Smith is here.

1.J My real name is Cimborazka but I haven’t told ayone. What would be the point ? It would be the same changing your phone number: your friends will remember your new number but the will still use it to ring the same person as before, the same idea of a person. But I don’t want to receive letters addressed toDear Mr Cimborazka, which would be like addresssing a different person each time. Cimborazka is a clean blank sheeet; a reminder that I am a person – not an entity, just a being, albeit a human one. And that every human possibility is therefore still open to me each and everytime. It is a silent, secret challenge to honour my name

What is a name like the first quote another on identity as Kovacs becomes Cimborazka or does he .

This is a meandering book about the nature of life in a way questioned in many ways. Language and how it is used the short passages that make this book up reminded me of the little snippets in books like The book of Disquiet or Zibaldone thou this has more narrative and a central figure that of Stefan Kovac is he the same person, or a step twin or just another character. As in the end all the strands end in one final passage as a couple talk about how many words are in Slovakian and then as they wander on to find a disk on the ground showing distance to place and maybe placing them back in their world with a thrown word over the fact that Vienna is only 57 kilometers away. This is a writer in his old age trying to write a series of themes that must have been important to him in his life like Slovakian for a translator which is a language he mentions for how many more words there are in it. What we are what he has written about what lies after the writer’s life is gone or like the snow what remains when it has melted just the memory of it.

in the name of the father by Balla

 

In the name of the father by Balla

Slovakian fiction

Original title – V mene otca

Translators – Julia and Peter Sherwood

Source – Review copy

I bring the first book from Slovakia tonight , I’m shocked as I have a lot of Czech novels on the blog but so far not many Slovakian books. Anyway Balla is the name Slovakian writer Vladimir Balla goes by.He studied Economics at Bratislava and then took a job at the district office of Nove Zamky. He has been writing since the 1992 and has published ten books. This book won the book of the year in Slovakia. Balla is often called the Slovakian Kafka for his style of writing.

The era of the great blackout began with the drawing of the drapes across our kitchen window. My wife announced in the semi-darkness that the window would stay covered so that people outside wouldn’t see what we were up to.She claimed the neighbours could see into our kitchen.She ascribed fundamental importance to this. She got into her head that our neighbours sole purpose in life was to spy on the family:

His wife goes slightly mad, but wasn’t every one watching at one time !

The book is the Novella and three very short stories by Balla. The main story “in the name of the father” has been described as being his most Autobiographical work to date. It follows the life story of an unnamed narrator. As he reflects on his life of woes. From the opening lines where he is told not to bear children by a doctor that hate the army and uniforms, where he turned up in his. Then he ends up in a weird house that his brother has built there is a number of rooms below the surface that the brother keeps a number of weird items. Then he starts to tell how his life has been. But there is a sense he feels the victim in his life but as his story unfolds we see he has been the instigator of a lot of his troubles.From his parents to his wife who goes mad and his own two sons. They all mix with the world around them which is a world of shifting nations and people drifting and also a sense of a new post-soviet world of people being individuals rather than a collective, rather like his own family fracturing apart. The three stories follow similar threads of home a woman at home whilst her husband is away. Then a weird tale of two men sharing a house. The first asked his friend to join, only to find he actually hates this chap. But there is also an echo of the wider world changing around them as he is ignored by his friends as if he has a contagion which happens to be the title of the story.

What soon became even more unpleasant was the gap that opened between how my friend and I perceived the process of contamination of our immediate eviroment, To cut a long story short, there came a point when the contagion engulfinfing the furniture and the walls began to affect my friend much more rapidly and with greater intensity than it affected me, his fresh fits manifesting themselves almost as soon as, say, new fuinture had been delivered, the walls repainted or the floor replaced.

From the story contagion a friend sees his friend as an enemy but also the world around him change.

There is a hard thing to call someone the “Kafka ” of somewhere, it isn’t always a title. I like attached to writers. Now that said there is a sense of people being in a world they don’t know but these are post soviet worlds where the goals of peoples lives have changed. hen there is a sense of self-persecution that  Kafka gave his character is very much. In the main narrator of In the name of the father. He feels the world has loaded him with what is wrong with it. The house is maybe a metaphor for this world they built it him and his brother to be a dream home but it ends up not being that.what he has captured are the shifting nature of the post-soviet world of shift border,s people and a change in the nature of people and their attitudes for others.That has been on many books. From Krasznarhorkai satantango a village on the edge, or Andres Ban in the recent Dasa Drndric novel a man also summing his life in the post-soviet world. He is using human nature in all its flaws and a wonderful post-modern look at the world around him. A great intro into Slovakian fiction from a new publisher for this blog Jantar.

 

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