The Potato eaters by Manuel Rivas

THE POTATO EATERS

The potato eaters by Manuel Rivas

Spanish Galician fiction

Original title – Os comedores de patacas

Translator – Jonathan Dunne

Source – review copy

I always wonder when we get a writer that has been translator but has not had earlier books or the debut novel translated. I wonder what these books are like in many case we never find out but sometimes we have to look to small press like Small station , who I have reviewed a few times before and this is a debit novel from one of my favourite Spanish writers Manuel Rivas , I have reviewed three times before . Manuel Rivas won the Spanish national prize for fiction in 1996 .for his book people of the night . this was his first adult novel from 1991.

Luou never receives visitors. He must feel pretty happy. Lying there, in his spacesuit, without having to talk or eat or anything like that. I watch the saline solution going down and imagine nothing sliding down the course of his blood and breaking up into tiny, invisible droplets that settle at the end of this toes. The bastard, perhaps in a couple of days he’ll be lucky enough to have Miss Cowbutt spoonfed him his soup

Luou had a tip to toe plaster on after the accident Sam view is odd but beleivable even down to the last line of this quote.

The book follows Sam a young man with a bad drug habit. He had a bad crash and end up in hospital after one particular episode but at least he isn’t as bad off as his friend who end up injured tip to toe . In hospital he has people pressing him for money as he is trying to stay off drugs he meets an old man who world view intrigues him. There is also a nurse he likes isn’t there always lol . His family decides to take him home to  the quirky village he grew up knowing as he grandmother lived there. single mother a man who collects everything a mysterious man in the attic as Sam tries to kick his habit  Aita at his grandmother with his mother his world is controlled and they hoped the mountain air would help him.

The mirror

The dampness has entered the mirror as well and unfurled black ivy along its edge, where the spider has woven its web. I am caught. everything passes slowly before my eyes, bringing dry leaves that land on me sleepily and carry words and memories of others.This is Aita a goddamn cobweb I look at myself in the mirror and pretend to be a monster

This shows Riva’s poetic side in this short vignette aout a mirror and Sam trying to be monster in it

 

This is a story of growing up Sam is just on the cusp of adulthood a boy becoming a man and also he has his cross to bear which is his drug habit . the book is taught in schools in the Galician region it seems , although it has been question as a little to earthy in its language , but I am some one that knows kids say certain words and know what certain words mean.  I can see why it is a tale of what drugs can do and that is ruin your life as we see in the knock on effect with Sam friend Luou who ends up in a really bad way after the accident. Rivas style here is to use short vignettes as the course of the novel each chapter is a snippet of Sam’s life with title like Miss cowbutt the nurse that captures his eye whilst in the hospital. The title is also a the title of Van Goch painting of ugly rural peasants eating potatos , this is maybe a way of showing the ugliness of drugs on people but also the people of Aita could have walked of a van Goch painter the richness in the quirky village folk .It is also full of poetic pieces from Rivas worth discovering as a piece of early fiction from a great voice of Galicians fiction but also a poet as well.

 

Nocilla dream by Agustín Fernández Mallo

 

Nocilla dream by Agustín Fernández Mallo

Spanish fiction

Original title -Nocilla Dream

Translator – Thomas Bunstead

Source – Review copy

Agustin Mallo is one of those rare writers that cross field he Physicist by training that became  a writer. Cp snow used to talk of science and literature as being two cultures  .He was part of a new generation of writers in Spain pushing the boundaries of what fiction is the so-called Nocilla generation named after this book which got a lot of praise and prizes when it came out.Mallo has also made films of two to nine minutes of length on his blog.

It’s logical that in a brothel there are all different kinds of women, and even more so here in Nevada Desert. Whose Monotony, the most barron in the whole of the american Midwest , makes necessary certain exotic pallatives. Sherry having make- up applied in the ad-hoc backstage out back.Besides the now dry well.she doesn’t trust the lightbulb-frame mirror they have provided her.

the desert has a brothel that is exotic for its clients .!!

This is one of those books that proves the novel can live on I often here about books challenging the genre and get disappoint when they don’t so when I read this the first in the Nocilla trilogy I was blown away so much I want to wait to do two Mallo books together. this is one of this books that hasn’t a linear story just the fact that the action in places takes part along the line of Route 50 a road that goes across the desert to the glitter of Las Vegas so from a shoe tree where someone one threw up a sho and other follows this is the original tree one of many that form a back bone of small roadside attractions in  the us . Elsewhere we find a woman fall in love with a collector of found images .Mallo’s physics side is an event with small piece on the 113 chapters that form this book and then we have  bits on the birth of the personal computer and  even further afield is the story of a man staying in the airport in Singapore rather like Tom Hanks character in The terminal .An exciting mix of piece by Mallo and other writers mixed to one Oh and one piece is from Bernhard so a double thumbs up from me .

In 1971, a group of hippies took over an abandoned military base in Copenhagen, Denmark proclaiming it the free state of Christiania: a micronation. After grappling with the Danish Government for a period of time, in 1987 it was finally recognized as an independent micronation.Among the eighteen students who occupied the base that night was Hans still a teenager then and as he lay on the floor in a greenish half-light that like a military effluvium seemed to float between the paving and the skylights high above.He made the decision to never wear shoes again : his bare feet a symbol of peace and nonviolence.Christiania present-day population comprises 760 adults, 250 children, 1500 dogs and 14 horse

The no wearing of  shoes here and shoe tree connect the two pieces in a way

 

I often wonder would fiction ever be like hip hop music or like the films of recent years I love like Amelia . Hip hop uses the music  which  is around the people making the music and this is what Mallo does in a way layering written piece , non fiction and fiction in a collage almost  a mix tape of Mallo’s mind. This is like going through a radio stopping for seconds in  some places then a longer time this is a book that A shows what fiction and the novel can be it isn’t a dying art it is a form that can be reinvented. There has been a number of German writers that have used similar techniques using other writers work to mix with their most notably Ulrich Holbein (not translated into english ) and Helene Hegeman whose first novel cause a storm as it used parts of another book. So Mallo is obviously a fan of Borges and Borges was always trying to push the fields of what stories do but in a novel form. Like AMelie this is a novel that darts from place to place and connects unconnected events even down to the finding of photios a main storyline in Amelie This is the first part of a trilogy I have the second part read ready to review soon. I am thankful for Fitzcarraldo as they show why small publishers are so valuable as with the two Enard novels they publish books for the love of words not to make money.

 

On the edge by Rafael Chirbes

On the edge by Rafael Chirbes

Spanish fiction

Original title – En la orilla

Translator – Margaret Jull Costa

Source – review copy

Another later Spanish lit month book here. Rafael Chribes is a writer I had been aware of for a few years he is often mention on list of writers that had to be translated or list of great modern spanish writers .This is his first to be translated into english. He was considered one of the greatest modern writers in spain he died last year he had written nine novels received the National lit prize for Spain. This one of his last novels captures the moment after the collapse of the spanish economy.

On this sunny morning, everything seems quiet and deserted, not a single crane punctuates the horizon, no metallic noises trouble the air, no buzzing or hammering assails the ears. The first time they made the journey after Ahmed lost his job, his friend Rachid laughed at him when he said he was going there to look for work on the building sites,. Work? Only if you want a job digging graves for suicides, Rachid said mockingly

This captures the collapse so well the silence and the despair in one passage .

Olba is a small town on the sea really as the title of the book says on the edge and the people we meet around this town are all on the edge of life or being driven to the edge of life by the down turn that Spain saw like the one in the UK. First we meet two young Muslims that have grasped on to the edge of europe but as Ahmed sees he is a busboy or was  and just lets down due to the wealth he sees around him from |rich Muslims and how he since recent events is under the microscope now A rotting corpse found on the edge of town  adds a sense of mystery to the story .Then we meet Esteban a man who had a factory one of those rich guys that had a partner that left them holding the can when he left with the money. We see latin american eastern Europeans workers trying to cling to life as the bubble has burst and like a small rockpool when the sea has gone out left them all strand in this small town.A modern classic in every sense

We must cling to the few principles we have left. Paella rice must have that golden caramelised crust at the bottom we call socarrat ; foie gras and truffles must come from perigord; and vinegar from modena . He’s joking now. The new principles, the last thing we have to hold on to, serve to help us choose good wine, wooden masts for our yachts and ammunition for our hunting trips.

Chribes has a dry humour at times as he with what matters very tongue in cheek .

This captures the despair of the bubble when it burst. The one who had it and lost it those who never where going to have it like lifting a rock we see all that has gathered under it for shade for the fierce sun and world. This book is deep in narrative and description he was frequently compared to William Faulkner in his writing there is a shared richness in his prose style like Faulkner Chirbbes world seems to be small town spain and the underclass some what.This is the best book I have read about the collapse of the financial markets around the world but what that meant to people on the ground level which is sometimes behind the news headlines what we don’t see the Ahmed or Esteban’s on the ground level.

Have you a favourite read about the financial crash ?

 

The winterlings by Cristina Sanchez- Andrade

The Winterlings by Cristina Sanchez-Andrade

Spanish fiction

Original title – Las Inviernas

Translator – Samuel Ritter

Source – review copy

I was grabbed by this when it had a quote on the back cover by Manuel Rivas calling her writing Original and Unusual was a plus point for me having enjoyed his books, I knew this would be one for me. Cristina Sanchez-Andrade has a degree in law and mass media, she has written for numerous papers in Spain and has published seven novels.In 2013 she was shortlisted for the Herralde prize one of the top prizes in Spain. She has also written a novel about Coco Channel.

Don Manuel , the priest in Tierra de Cha, used to sit between the two winterlings, who were only little girls back then. He was short and fat, an absolute glutton. He was always somewhere between dinner and Mass. As soon as he finished the sermon, he’d be out and into the street. With great strides, pulling up his cassock to keep the manure off it, he would cross the square to eat his lunch. While the maid was tying a napkin around his neck and serving him, he positively burbled with pleasure.His mouth watered  at the sight of what lay before him : a hearty broth

I loved the imagery this passage evoked in me

The book follows the return of two sisters to a small village in Galicia Tierra De Cha, the two sisters have return after many years away. They have come back to their grandfather’s house. They have grown since they left but the place it self is just the same as the place they fled many years earlier. In a dark past that the village has hidden Delores and Saladina have their own secrets as well they are on course for disaster when a glimpse of light happens the sisters love the glamour of the film world and hear that the American actress Ava Gardener is to come to their part of Spain to make a film and they need some stand ins the sisters feel they could fill this roles. What will happen will they get the part or will everyone have to face their own pasts at last ?They are also drawn to the sea , why !

Throughout the following days, Dolores heard it while she went about her daily chores – immense and powerful and even nearer, turning her actual world into a narrow and boring place – an ocean pulling at her , calling her :”Did you hear that Ava Gardner is coming to Spain ?

To Spain ?

Ava Gardner coming to Spaaaaain ?

Sometimes , the sea was like a cornfield, with waves that ebbed and flowed. Dolores was in the middle of it, it smelt of salt, and that smell impregnated her clothes and hair .

The sea is a large draw to the sisters

I loved this it remind me what I love about fiction set in small villages where everyone knows everyone no matter how far you go from the village they will always remember your past when you return . What Cristina Snachez does so well here is build up the feeling of the dark past the sisters where part of . Also the feel of returning to a village the way they are still part of the place but looked at as thou they aren’t they’ve grown out of the place the sister have had their eyes open to the world by the world they have seen and the films they have watch , hence their wanting to be part of the Ava Gardener production. This also has the feel of an oral tradition of storytelling that Galicia is well-known for. This book is also a perfect choice for the forthcoming Woman in translation month .

what is your favourite Village based novel ?

One million cows by Manuel Rivas

ONE MILLION COWS

One million cows by Manuel Rivas

Spanish Galican fiction

Original title -un millon de vacas

Translator – Jonathan Dunne

Source – review copy

I received the first for books from a small publisher Small station press , the press was set up by the translator of this book. There aim was to bring the best of Galican fiction to English for the first time . I reviewed Polaroid by the same press as well last year. I saved this for this spanish lit month as it is by one of my all time favourite Spanish writers |Manuel Rivas I have reviewed two of his novels all is silence and the carpenters pencil both of which were translator by Jonathan. This is a collection of short stories from early in the career of this writer.

“Did you see that guy ?” asked Rita. “He smells bad.”.In this day and age , still wearing a corduroy jacket,” remarked pachi. “He’s covered in dandruff,” observed Virxinia. Raul had a doubt “Does he not talk, or is he dumb?””That Girl complained Marije , no longer knows what to do to surprise us. First , she hooks up with an Arab and now she brings along a country bumpkin. Do you think she’s taken him to bed yet ?

A stranger appears with dandruff on his jacket or is it fish scales ?

One million cows is a selection of 18 stories with setting in modern-day Galica in the 1980’s . A time when spain had just shaken of the shackles of the Franco years. The stories range from a schoolgirl recounting her last day at school her favourite art teacher. A man returns from England in another. Then there is how we get the title when it is reported on a news piece that there is a million cows living in farms in Galicia. My favourite piece was a comic story of a man given the job of answering the phones at an army base , when he receives a call  from a woman asking for Jose to be let off on leave to come and sort out the cotton fields, but she won’t say which Jose and there is a lot of them do we ever find out which Jose she wants ? Elsewhere a stranger appears in a town covered in fishscales.

Having been assigned to the telephone exchange , i was one of the others, needless to say on that filthy afternoon, from behind the window of the exchange I thanked my lucky stars that I was only half a man . Until a bell rang , a noisy buzzer that warned of an incoming call.

“INfantry barracks, how can I help you ?”

Is Jose There ?”, asked the distant voice of a woman .

“Jose , what Jose ?”

“Jose is that you ? Can you put Jose on the line ?”

“What Jose , madam ? there are lots of Joses here ”

“I wanted Jose to be given leave, it’s for the cotton, you know. For harvesting the cotton

I like this short tale of a call to an Army Barracks .

I always wonder what the less known works of writers are, you often look at a writers Wiki page or interviews with them translated and see books or as in this case short stories that haven’t been translated this is where the small press come in and the ability to fill in the gaps in the cannon of great writers. I am a fan of Rivas he has a real eye of detail in his writing and that is shown here but also i liked the fact he had humour in a few of the stories which is something I discovered about his writing. I also like that fact in this collection of post Franco tales there was no mention of the fact it was post Franco era.

Do you like to reader lesser known works of writers in translation ?

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