Book of my mother by Albert Cohen

 

BookofMyMother_cvr_1

Book of my mother by Albert Cohen

Swiss memoir

Original title –  Le Livre de ma mère

Translator – Bella Cohen

Source – personnel copy

I was flicking through amazon the other day trying to find something that had passed me by that was also cheap and this gem from Archieplago books popped up and was under three-pound for a new copy (i think this was an error but I clicked and brought it ).Albert Cohen is maybe best known for his book Belle de Seigneur one best-selling books of its time in France. He was a writer and editor in France before the second world war working for the Jewish review. Albert Cohen like a number of other Jewish artist and writers  managed to get out of France in 1940 and get to London. In this time away his mother passed away in 1943 and he met his third wife Bella the translator of this book. This book is a collection of vignettes he wrote about his mother for La France Libre he later won the a number of french book prizes .

We had our sunday outings in the summer too, when I was a small boy.We were not rich, but the  tram ride round the cliff road overlooking the sea cost only fifteen centimes. Those one-hour rides wee our summer holidays, our social life , and our hunting expeditions. There we were my mother and  I, fragile, well dressed and loving enough to outdo god. I well remember one of those Sunday outings.

The tram trip was the holidays they were that poor

 

This is one sons touching view of his later mother , her as a person , them as people , the life they lead , the loss of her on him and the loss of that world. He started these piece after his mother passed a sort of collection of memories , thoughts and outcry of pity at the loss of his mother without being there. His mother is one of those women that through his eyes seems proud in herself the way she holds her self , they have no money but she dresses her self . The trip in the tram on a coast road in the summer meant so much,  was worth more than anything for the sea air they were able to breathe. Then the later parts deal with his loss of his mother a reflection of a sons love and guilt at not being there when she passed.

Sons of mothers who are still alive, never again  forget that your mother are mortal. I shall not have written in vain if one of you, after reading my song of death is one evening gentler with his mother because of me and my mother. Be gentle with your mother each day. Show her more love than I showed my mother.Give your mother some happiness each day,that is what i say to you with the right accorded to me by regret; that is the grave message of a mourner.

I was touched by these lines it made me think of my own mother .

This is a book of love  but also guilt . That special bond mothers and sons can have Cohen brings her to life as a caring mother making the best of not being in the best position in life. The way she made him value the simple things the way he talks about the trip in the bus a simple cheap thing to do, but she made him think it meant so much more. I loved this work it brings a tear to the eye as we see Albert doing the journey of  grief not quite the five steps but in writing the way he looked at her you see him coming to terms with the world without her. This is like the works of Sebald one that leaves the reader wanting more and maybe want to call your own mother isn’t that what all good prose should do !

All days are night by Peter Stamm

 

All days are nights by Peter stamm

Swiss fiction

Original title – Nacht ist der tag

Translator – michaael Hofmann

source – library book

Have I said something wrong?
How can I know if you’re not going to speak to me?
There I am, in your eyes
And we’re only playing, but what am I saying?
Oh, what am I saying?
Oh, what am I saying?

Oh, there’s no one like you, no one like that now
There’s always some way that you could bring me down

Maybe it’s just that I fly too high, that the ground is hard
It always hurts me
When I fall over sideways and break out in sores and people start laughing
But it’s not what I’m into

I don’t expect you to know
I don’t expect you to

I’ve  choosen an old wedding present lyric as no one caught heart ache and bitterness better than David Gedge in his songs Gillian could been in one of his songs .

 

This the second book by Peter Stamm I have reviewed here, I reviewed Seven years two years ago and was blown away, but I then download his stories to my late kindle but never got to them so when looking for some ideas for this years German lit month I decide it was time to try another book by Peter Stamm. Stamm started out working at accounts then decide to return to university and studied subjects as varied as English , business and Psychology .He started in radio drama in the early 1990s and has written a number of novels stories and plays Since I last reviewed him he won the frank O’Connor short story prize and been on the man booker international list.

Half wake up then drift away. alternatively surfacing and lapsing back into weightlessness .Gillian is lying in water with a blue luminescence. Within it her body looks yellowish, but wherever it breaks the surface, it disappears into the darkness. The only light comes from the warm water lapping her belly and breasts, It feels oily, beading on her skin.She seems to be in an enclosed room, there is no noise, but she still has a sense of not being alone. Love is somewhere filling her up

The opening lines as she wakes up to what has happened to her .

All days and night is the story of a woman Gillian, she starts the book waking after a horrific crash after she had argued with her husband. He did in the crash leaving her with a broken life , broken body and worse of all in a way a broken face.The book follows her struggle to piece together her life together and also we see how the point at which the crash happened her pre crash life with her husband Mathias he was an editor and she was a presenter on tv , this is where she meet the man the caught the problem and why they had a drunken fight that lead to the crash Hubert is the man.He is an artist and took Nude pictures of her , that is what he does takes pictures of women naked at home and Mathias saw them which leads to the crash but why had she a problem with Hubert what part has he in her future ?

The day before the second operation, a sunday, Gillian visited her parents.She hadn’t seen then since the accident. When he mother opened the door and saw her, she turned aside and started crying.Her father stepped up and with an expression of annoyance pushed her mother out of the way

Come on in , he said

The new Gillian after the crash is to much for her mother .

This book has just the same feeling I had when I read seven years Stamm seems to be very good at cold characters, Gillian is a cold woman in a way her life is all face and scratch below that her life with mathias was all for show really. She was jut the face on tv her life had become a show really so when she loses nearly everything and everyone around her as she is now faceless looking for her old face but getting a new face and outlook. Yes Gillian is one of these woman who seems to have everything , but when it comes to that point of the crash what has she nothing for me that is what stamm captures so well in his prose a woman broken rebuilding herself but at the time she does the flaws of before are clear. Stamm has said all character are fiction even if based on real people such is the case her Gillian and mathias are a mix of characters but when you see them on the page you instantly know the sort as I would say .

Have you read Stamm

Barbarian Spring by Jonas Lüscher

9781908323835

Barbarian Spring by Jonas  Lüscher

Swiss fiction

Original title – Frühling der Barbaren

Translator – Peter Lewis

Source – review copy

For two hands, of stone and of thyme
I dedicate this song.. For Ahmad, forgotten between two butterflies
The clouds are gone and have left me homeless, and
The mountains have flung their mantles and concealed me
..From the oozing old wound to the contours of the land I descend, and
The year marked the separation of the sea from the cities of ash, and
I was alone
Again alone

A verso of the Poem Ahmad Al-Za’tar by Mahmoud Darwish , seems to fit the feeling of this book .

 

Another novel from switzerland for German lit month and another from Haus publishing( I love the cover of this book a very german looking cover sparse just what is need on it )  .Jonas  Lüscher was born in Berne , and studied Philosophy , getting a master’s degree first teaching , since then he also did some work alongside the well-known philosopher Michael Hampe .Barbarian spring is his first novel it was shortlisted for the swiss book prize and longlisted in the German book prize .

Preising was all set , then , to exchange the fogs of midland Switzerland for the balmey Tunisian spring .He swapped his customary tweed jacket and Burgundy cords for a houndstooth jacket the colour of egg nog and a pair of chinos with sharp creases ; in all honesty, he found this ensemble ludicrous , but his housekeeper had laid it out ready for him and he was afraid of offending her by spurning it .

I was reminded of Frasier this is just the sort of thing he would do they worry about it .

Barbarian spring is really a double meaning in its title , the first being an older word for the Arab world and the Arab spring , the second and main one is the spring of a group of people who should know better that become barbaric in the face of the Arab spring happening around them .The story is the story of Preising a Swiss industrialist and rather like  a swiss version of Frasier or Niles from the programme Frasier as he is very picky in his ways .We meet him on route to a wedding of two friends from London they are getting married in a resort in Tunisia that has been built-in an Old Berber town and made into the height of western opulence as a hotel the couple haven’t spared any expense the bride arrives in her wonderful dress on the back of a camel  .The marriage goes ahead , but even as Preising is arriving for the Marriage you sense not all is right in the world around them .Add to this the crash in the markets  in London where the couple are from at this time as well .We have two groups living on the edge and a group of overpaid rich people getting  caught up in the Arab spring .

Sitting in the shade , Snaford started talking about the niceties of the Berber village societies and the role played by women , and preising , who’d read a bit about native peoples , chipped in from time to time .

Preising and one of the guests talk about the natives , but see the world from a western view .

Now this book is a story of what may have happened but what could have happened of course the two events in the book the Arab spring and the Market crashes happened a different times but what Jonas does in the book is imagine them happening in a future event and how this has a knock on effect on the Couple , their party and Preising .But also the people in the Resort around them those everyday Tunisians .This of course leads to the darker side of human nature taking hold not just survival but also what happens when there are no rules for everyone and effectively we are all on the same level for once caught in  a storm of events .Also certain scenes show one world smashing into another like a luxury coach crashing into a group of camels , in one way the part in the coach unhurt and the family that own the camel destroyed by this one event .Short but thought-provoking fiction , using an outside eye on recent events like the market crashes and Arab spring make for an exciting and different debut novel .

have you read any books about the Arab spring ?

A price to pay by Alex Capus

9781908323736

A price to pay by Alex capus

Swiss fiction

Original title – Der Fälscher, die Spionin und der Bombenbauer

Translator – John Brownjohn

Source – review copy

To answer a question
It’ll probably take more
If you’re already there
Well then you probably don’t know
Well we were the people
That we wanted to know
And we’re the places that we wanted to go
It’s hard to get hold of
And hard to let go
Always something we look for
From the day we were born
Instead we’re the people that we wanted to know
And we’re the places that we wanted to go
Yeah we’re the places that we wanted to go
We’re the places that we wanted to go

The first verse of people as place as .. by modest mouse seem to match this book a bit source

Another book for German lit month , today I bring a book from Switzerland .Alex Capus is French swiss writer , he was born to a French father and Swiss mother in Normandy in France , spent his first few year in Paris , then moved to switzerland where he studied in Basel at the university .Working as a Journalist then and editor ,his big break through came in 1994 with his first book by 1997 he had developed a style of writing he is now known for using a Classic narrative style .What I like about Alex Capus is in one writer he maybe sums up this blog a bit of europe all mixed up in one  .He has previously been longlisted for the German book prize .

I like the girl .It pleases me to picture her sitting in the open doorway of the rearmost carriage of the Orient Express with the glittering silvery waters of lake Zurich gliding past her .It could be early November 1924 .I don’t know the exact date .She is thirteen years old , a tall , tin , rather gawky girl with a small but deeply incised furrow on her nose .

Opening lines the young Laura on her way through Europe on the Orient Express .

This book follows three lives Emile Gillieron , Laura d’Oriano and Felix Bloch over the course of 15 to 20 years , we first meet them as they all wait on a station platform in 1924 in Zürich , this is the only time the three of them are together what follows in alternating chapters is the journey to the second world war .Emile is a budding draughtsman who gets drawn into Forging is at the station to scatter his father ashes , but then gets drawn into ,making fake relics , is actually considered the greatest forger of his age  whilst in Greece .Laura is a singer on the music hall , moving to italy and in the end becomes a spy for the allies in the second world war  a sort of world war two Mata Hari .lastly is Felix is a physicist that becomes a member of the  Robert Oppenheimer team that made the Nuclear bomb who also after the second world war won the Nobel prize for his work during the wat  .We follow each life from that meeting on the station to each ones end .

Felix Bloch never set eyes on the girl in the Orient Express because she didn’t get out in Zürich .That November afternoon .Laura d’Oriano travelled on via Basel to Belfort , where while Felix Bloch was calling at ETH’s enrolment office and Emile Gillieron waiting for his steamer in Trieste

The three crossed paths for just a brief second of time .

Now these are actually three real people , we don’t know if they actually meet but what Alex capus has done is throw three people with relatively unknown stories around the second world war and see what lead to their part in the war .I was reminded of the jesuit saying show me the boy I ‘ll show you the man , show us the young people on a station , We find out their lives here and how the war effected them .Capus uses alternate chapters to tell the stories , sometimes the paths cross after the first meeting but not quite .The original title shows more about the book which translates as the The forger , the spy and the bombmaker , which of course is all three of them .Capus has been compared in German reviews to both Delius and Grass both of whom like Capus use the second world war as a main part of their fiction .The three characters show how people’s lives can have a knock on effect and how we may think we are on one path but a slight shove or chance meeting may lead your life in a whole different path .Fate is out their for all of us and we never know where it will take us .

Have you a favourite novel based on a real person ?

The Chef by Martin Suter

 

The Chef by Martin Suter

Swiss fiction

Original title – Der Koch

Translator – Jaime Bulloch

Source – Review copy

 

I can change the world
With my own two hands
Make it a better place
With my own two hands
Make it a kinder place
With my own two hands
With my own
With my own two hands
I can make peace on earth
With my own two hands
I can clean up the earth
With my own two hands
I can reach out to you
With my own two hands

with my own two hands a love song by Jack Johnson , reminds me of what Maravan made with his own two hands source 

Well its been a quiet German lit month here on winstonsdad , I’ve chosen a bestseller from Switzerland .Martin Suter started out as a copywriter , working for one of the best known ad agencies in Basel for twenty years ,before setting up his own company .He also has a well-known coloumn in a monthly magazine in Switzerland .He got his breakthrough novel in 1997 , small world which was made into a film .The cook is his seventh novel .he spends his time between Spain and Guatemala now .

By the time  Andrea left that evening she had been initiated into the aphrodisiac secrets of milk and urad lentils , saffron and palm sugar ,almonds and sesame oil ,saffron Ghee and long peppers , cardamom and cinnamon , asparagus and liquorice ghee .

The food describe at times makes you mouth water and you Andrea discover the power food can have .

The chef  is the story of two former restaurant employees , their former restuarant was one of the best known in Zurich to the fact its chef was a well-known , but after the financial crash lead to job cuts . So  Maravan the Tamil who was the dishwasher and Andrea the beautiful waitress find themselves without a job .The pair discover that Maravan , is actually a wonder in the kitchen , he learnt to cook back in his native Sri Lanka .But the food he cooks is more than food it has almost magical powers in the love department , as the people who eat it seem to be given added sexual powers they discover this after Maravan cooks one of his meals for Andrea and she falls for him after eating the food he cooks .This leads to the idea of starting a company cooking for couples and becoming partners in the buisness  .As the business grows we start to find out a little more about Maravan’s life before he came to switzerland ,where he shouldn’t be .They also grow and some of the people he is dealing with are shady seling arms this leads them into a underworld .

“The dirty stuff ”

Andrea understood immediately what he was saying , but asked “what dirty stuff ”

Maravan paused .

“If someone rings and wants ,you know , sex dinners .As far as I’m concerned you can say yes ”

“Oh that .All right , I’ll take that on board , anything else ?”

“Nothing.”

As soon as Maravan had hung up ,she looked for the number of the caller who had asked about the sex dinners ,she had noted it down , just in case .

They decide to move their business in a new direction using the special qualities in Maravan’s food .

Now I don’t usually read blockbuster novels in English , the books you may call airport books , but as I read just translation these days we come across these books from time to time Suter is a big star in Europe ,his books have been made into films .His novels from what I read tend to have like this one a social justice message behind them from Maravan’s own story to that of his friend from Ethiopia  , a bit of love and a bit of crime .I can’t really match it to an English writer as I say I don’t really read blockbuster novels .but that said I was reminded of the thing Stephen king does in his books and that is the sense ,Suter seems to have  an eye for this book ,possibly becoming a film .In fact the film version of this book is out in the next few weeks in German-speaking world .Entertaining quick read , that has a little bit of everything thrown into the mix , culture clash , cooking , love ,sex ,crime and murder , also a detailed description of the financial events around the world as the crash starts to happen .We also get the recipes that Maravan cooks .

Have you read a bestseller from around the world that has been translated into English ?

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