While we were Dreaming by Clemens Meyer

While we were Dreaming by Clemens Meyer

German Fiction

Original title -Als wir träumten

Translator – Katy Derbyshire

Source – Personal copy (I did have an e-galley)

I am late to a couple of the international booker reviews. I have left this as it was my personal favourite of this years longlist. Meyer is a writer whose work I have long admired. He was first brought to us by And other stories that brought out All the Lights which I reviewed on the blog 12 years ago. He has since then been published by Fitzcaraldo; such is the nature of books in translation that this was his debut novel, and his second novel, bricks and mortar, which I had also reviewed, came out I loved. But this novel captures him. as a raw young writer. Meyer is a writer who has lived a life growing up in the East. He has worked blue-collar jobs as a security guard and forklift driver. He has been in the situations and worlds his characters live in. This writer has lived in part of the world he writes about, and this group of lads trying their best to make their way in their world after the wall fell and their world changed utterly.

The shooting was over. The green lamp at the shooting range for the electric rifles had lit up one last time, a hit, my last shot, six out of ten, not bad at all, and the pop of the air rifles had stopped over in Room Two where the Free German Youth had been shooting. We put the electric rifles down on the tables and went to the door.
‘Did you see, Danny? I was really good,’ Mark said down in the schoolyard, and he laughed and slapped his chest. ‘Almost like Old Surehand! You’ll never beat my nine

The boys at the fair shooting early on things get darker when they get older .


This classic piece Bildungsroman focuses on the tight n=knit group of four boys living in Leipzig and trying to see the world beyond their brewery quarter hard living tough streets.Rico, Mark, Paul and Daniel. We see their world as they try to get through every day in their hard-hitting world. From drinking, stealing cars, Danny getting prison tattoos, the boxing matches, this is a man’s world. Danny and his dad support football his dad an alcoholic. We see the football club they love and the violence involved in the football of the late 90s, as the boys try to get to Manhood as they run through the nights, escaping the law and running illegal clubs. This is a world of a world emerging from oppression, hope but no hope really at this time. Danny is Meyer. He is, as Tony put it in our group chat, the one that is there but seems to avoid the worst of the trouble. One imagines Clemens has rewritten himself slightly.

the Tattooist and Thilo the Drinker donit know each other, and that’s a good thing cause Thilo be Drinker talks a lot of crap and pisses people off and wort stop talking stupid crap at them when he’s had a drink and he’s almost always drinking.
Tattoo-Thilo doesn’t drink much; he broke the habit in jail. He’s been to jail a couple of times even though hes not yet twenty, and he doesn’t like people talking stupid crap at him. I don’t know exactly what he did time for, but GBH was on the list.
I get my tats from Tattoo-Thilo ’cause he’s got a pretty good reputation when it comes to tats, not just in our neighbourhood. Rico told me there are even guys from the red-light district who go to him, and Rico got inked by him as well, but that was in jail. Rico doesn’t talk about jail much, but I know almost all tattooists get their training there.

Danny gets his tattoos

I was drawn to this before it came out or was on the list of comparisons to Irvine Welsh. I get that part.I was a huge Welsh fan back in the day. I was in my 20s a lad I loved drinking, loved football, got in fights, have been in tricky situations and have known a number of shady characters, but I am maybe more of a Danny than any of the other characters I am a bit straight-laced at times. But to me, this is more bloody Shane Meadows all four of these characters could have fallen off the screen into the pages of This is England series set over the same period and also following a similar group of lads through their ups and downs. I know there is a film of this but I tell you, Meadows would make this book a masterpiece of a film. It captures the lost hope of the working-class world. It is the ghost of those early Springsteen songs running the streets on the edge of the law. It is hard to hold back how much I loved this it reminds me of the kitchen sink and working-class novels I loved in my youth. Have you read any books from Meyer?

Winston’s score of A++++++++ is just stunning !!!

A System so Magnificent it is blinding by Amanda Svensson

A System so Magnificent it is Blinding by Amanda Svensson

Swedish Fiction

Original title – Ett system så magnifikt att det bländar

Translator – Nichola Smalley

Source – Personal copy

There are always one or two books on the Booker longlist that are new to me. There is so many books coming out it is hard to follow everything that comes out in Translation every year.  I had Read Nichola’s other book she had translated on the Booker longlist. SO knew this, like her other translation, would be a  complex book. Amanda Svensson won two large book prizes in Sweden with this book. She has written four novels. This is her last to be published in Swedish but is the first to be translated into English. The book follows a set of triplets. It is a complex book of many layers and narratives.

Like his own to Violetta, from the day she came into the picture until what happened finally happened.

During his years with Violetta, Sebastian had spent more and more time with her family, and less and less with his own. Perhaps it was easier to belong in a context where belonging was less a matter of course.

Violetta was also an only child. Shed learned at an early age to demand the love Sebastian had taken for granted – to stop at nothing to get

As I say her death is a void in this family

The book follows the Isaksson triplets, that have spread themselves all around the world. When an event draws them all back to their Homeland Sweden the Father has gone missing, but as this happens, their mother throws them a curve ball over the origins alongside the father disappearing. The main Triplet is Sebastian he is settled in London a leading scientist in his field, and has joined the strange London Institute of Cognitive Science. He has a patient he is working with that only sees the world in two dimensions (this made me remember the scene in  Supermen where the villains are sent into exile in a 2d world). Then Clara visits Easter Island to join a Doomsday cult, but as she visits the island a few times, she bumps into someone related to Sebastian’s boss. This is how the stories cross over. Then there is the final triplet. Matilda has escaped Berlin to her Hokmeland as she is on the run from a colour. These stories cross and intersect at times this is a complex book then we have a space well what may have been the space filled by Sebastian’s girlfriend that committed suicide and has often left a void in those she touched with in the family.

He got off at Mornington Crescent. A Dalmatian peed on a lamppost, the tiles on the Tube station opposite shone blood-red in the sunshine. The air smelled of exhaust fumes and caramelised almonds and expensive perfume evaporating from the sweaty skin of women, it smelled of marijuana. Sebastian was, by nature, a very honest person, he rarely lied to anyone, not even to himself – naturally, he knew why hed come here. He wanted to see her house, her door, her windows, he wanted to see the magnolia in her garden that she’d spoken about with a kind of tenderness in her vocal cords. He wanted to see her child, perhaps. Her husband, her shopping bags, her pot plants, if she had any. He tried to convince himself that this wasn’t pathological behaviour, but he wasnt sure. Was it really so strange, to want to know everything about another person? Wasnt that the very essence of love?

I like the locations in London and Mornington Crescent always makes me smile.

I must admit I struggled with this one I think more than it not being a great book, it was the wrong time for me to read the book; its reading spanned the House move. I had read about 35%  before we moved and then hadn’t returned to it till last week, so I maybe should restart the book, but the book follows the triplets. The part of the book I connected with the most top was the bits in London; it made me wonder if she had spent a much time in London. Especially mention of Mornington Crescent made me wonder if she was a radio four fan, as well as it is a game on I’m Sorry, I haven’t a clue. This is part family saga, part road movie sprinkled with some magic realism. I could picture Wim Wenders in his prime making this a world-shaking road movie film with the triplets at its heart. It has humour at times, but to me, I wonder if it needed unpicking and would make a striking quartet of books the triplets and then the space left by Violetta’s death, it is a book brimming with ideas and stories, but m,e as a reader would like a few things tied up better at times. Also felt it could be a book double the size to fill the bits I maybe want to know about but didn’t get answers for, if that makes sense; she seems like a writer full of great ideas to write about. But this is one of those sprawling books that maybe needs to be read few times to fully get the sense of all that happens. It is hard. I want to love this one, but I felt it just missed the mark for me.,

Winstons score – -B I just maybe read it at the wrong time. I may reread it at some point and see if I feel better about it.

Is Mother Dead ? by Vigdis Hjorth

Is Mother dead by Vigdis Hjorth

Norwegian fiction

Original title –Er mor død

Translator Charlotte Barslund

Source – personal copy

This is the second book by the Norwegian writer Vigdis Hjorth I have read; I have a copy of Will and Testament by the same writer and have reviewed A House in Norway. It was mentioned in the review comments to Will and Testament, and this book, it seems, are thinly veiled works of auto-fiction that use her own life as part of the story. This book came after the family reaction to the book Will and Testament. This book follows her own splitting with her mother and sister. It is a novel but has part of her own experience sprinkled over it. This is open book from the longlist I would have gotten to. At some point, I am a sucker for these great Nordic works of fiction that blur the writer’s own life and their fictional worlds.

Ruth thinks talking to me won’t do Mum any good. Mum can’t take any more. Mum hasn’t been able to cope with what has already happened, my sudden departure, my work, which exposed her to shame, that I didn’t come over during the diff-cult time, for Dad’s funeral. Mum is finally over me and any contact with me might reopen old wounds. I understand.

Early on we see what ghas caused the rift with her mother.

The book is a novel about family and family connections, in this case, two daughters with their mother, but what happens when one daughter has made a piece of art that has upset the mother as it is about the mother and their childhood. What is it like to be that daughter, the artist looking in now on the relationship with your mother that is broken and her relationship with your sister? This is the premise for the book Joanna recently widows and has had to return to her home country of Norway. She had been on course to become a lawyer in her earlier years when she met an art teacher and fell in love. The course of her life changed, and she produced art that made a rift. Now she has to confront the rift her art has caused her works on motherhood as we see her become a spy on her mother and watch her. Still, also, as she is doing this, we see her looking back at her and her sister’s interactions with the mother her hatred is focused on the sister Ruth in a lot of ways after a rather blunt text from her sister about she’d only let her know when her mother was dead.We see Joanne spy from as distance in the house they grew up in many years after her last visit past and present merge in one as she tries to get a handle on the now from what has happened.  The title in Norwegian is a play on words around death and murder, as the words are similar in Norwegian. Will she be able to fix what she has broken her parental and sibling relationships with her art.

In the house where I grew up and the house we moved to when I was in my early teens, there were several photographs of Ruth and me on the large antique bureau in the living room. A black-and-white photo of each daughter on her third birthday, taken by a professional photographer. We had bows in our hair to keep our fringes out of the way. Confirmation pictures and then wedding photographs followed, first Thorleif and me in front of the old stone church, then Ruth and Reidar in front of the same church, the summer before I left.

As Joanne sits opposite hidden watchuing her Mum’s house the house she grew up in

I said it was autofiction because it is partly the fallout of her previous book, which made accusations that her father had caused a rift in her own family, like what Joanna’s paintings have in this book. There was a similar reaction to Knausgaard’s work when he brought out his epic book. Sometimes it is hard to face the truth as Joanne sees it in her reaction to the past and her art  and then to deal with the aftermath of your truth. It also looks at sibling relationships the feeling that can bubble under with those you are closes to the things you see from the outside like Joanna does that make her wonder around what happened years ago. This is a work that uses a writers own life in opart but then uses it to build a compelling npovel about loss of a relaionship , the past and what to do with it. The triangle of the relationships in this mother daughter and sister with sister. Yet another twist on the theme of motherhood on this years longlist reading. Have you read any books from Hjorth ?

Winston score -A  This novel pulls apart a mother daughter spilt can it be mended ?

The Birthday party by Laurent Mauvignier

The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier

French fiction

Original title – Histories de la nuit

Translator -Daniel Levin Becker

Source – Personal copy

When the longlist came out there were a couple of books from Fitzcarraldo, as there is every year, it seems, and I hadn’t got them, but as they are a publisher, I have yet to read a book I have really hated (that said I rarely read bad books I have a built-in radar for books I enjoy). Mauvignier is a writer that studies art and has written several books a couple of which have been translated by other publishers over the years. This is his first book from Fitzcarraldo and was the last book by him to be published in French. The title is different from the French title. I do wonder if it is to give the books a little nod towards the Pinter play of the same title, which shares a few characteristics. He has also written for tv and film. There is a sense of that this could easily be a six-part drama series in a novel.

Well, instead of chitchatting, you’d better hurry up.

It’s true, Christine is right, he has to put up the decorations in the living room and set the table, go into town

– not exactly next door, because of the risk of traffic on the ring road – it’s Bergogne who speaks of the ring road, while Christine, incorrigible Parisienne that she is, calls it the périph, as though the name would change anything about the reality of the fifty-odd kilometres Bergogne has to travel to pick up his wife’s gift.

Early on as the night is getting underway .

The book is set over the course of one evening in Rural France as a husband comes home to sort out the 40th birthday party for his wife, Marion. Marion is due home later. She is a figure of mystery to fill out the village they live in. There is a daughter Ida and a neighbour, Christine, an artist whose star is fading. Still, she actually spends most of her time looking after Ida after school as the parents have to work hard to keep her head above water Patirce, the father and husband of the family, is working the family farm, and his wife is working to help out. So Ida spends more time with Christine than with her parents. The other house in the three-house hamlet of three lone girls is empty. So the evening begins to unfold a car appears, and there have been some letters sent that have unnerved the family, and there is a sense that there is more to Marion, the wife’s life before they meet is a blank slate as she talks little around it. So her husband is unaware of why she has this huge tattoo and why she has it. What is her real past? What happens when a person’s dark past catches up on them and the past and present collide? This is what is at the heart of the story; it is a thriller about when ones past catches you in the present and the fallout from that meeting. Who has come to three lone girls on her 40th birthday? What is her past? Why is there so much violence from her past?

For now, the only thing that really changes with Bergogne’s arrival is that one of the two men, the older one, the one who said his name was Christophe and who wanted to see the house for sale, said he’d have to go down to, he said, welcome Mister Bergogne.

That’s what he said: welcome Mister Bergogne.

Mister Bergogne, and Christine thought just you wait to welcome Mister Bergogne’s fist to your face, pretending not to be surprised that in saying this the man had above all confessed to her that he wasn’t here by chance, that he knew the names of the hamlet’s residents; and in spite of her anger, she still can’t get over these words that seem so respectful and polite but that are really what, she won-ders, these words that beneath their polish barely hide their irony and sarcasm, Mister Bergogne,

The two home invaders are there when Patrice returns but

I said this could have been a six-part drama. The way the story unfolded reminded me of the Canadian tv series Cardinal which, like this book, is a slow burner of a series and this is that type of book slow but still page-turner novel it is hard to combine both and make it work. He does to some point aI still would have like to have seen 100 or so pages cut but is has a French feel to it reminding me of slow-moving films like le boucher where the action is slow and also set in a village has a lot of violence but also has a similar pace to this book. That is because, actually, sometimes in real life, these things are slow to develop it just is as the night happens, we see the past of his wife come to light as these men have done a home invasion and taken all of these small hamlet hostage. All of this is standard thriller territory. The home invasion, the dark past, and the social position the family find themselves in rural politics is also thrown into the mix. It is like someone has hired Thomas Bernhard to write an action thriller, and this is his take on the thriller. A book that is a take on a thriller using a more modernist in style than a page-turner may be the first thriller of the slow movement !!

Winstons score – B,I’d love see what he writes next, if this is just a one-off or if he is writing a new style of thriller !!

Boulder by Eva Baltasar

Boulder by Eva Baltasar

Catalan fiction

Original title – Boulder

Translator – Julia Sanches

Source – Personal copy

I had seen this doing the rounds before the Booker longlist came out, and I had read Permafrost but had to have it back at the library before I could review it. So I knew when this made the longlist it was a book I would like as I had intended to read it at some point. Because I love poets that become novelists, they usually have such remarkable visuals and imagery in their language. I have also enjoyed many of the recent books I have read that have come from Catalan in recent years. Eva Baltsazr is, as I said a poet. She released ten volumes of poetry and she has won several literary prizes this book and the other book I read form a triptych of books about three different women. She lives in the mountains with her wife and two children.

She doesn’t like my name, and gives me a new one. She says I’m like those large, solitary rocks in southern Patagonia, pieces of world left over after creation, isolated and exposed to every element. No one knows where they came from. Not even they understand how they’re still standing and why they never break down. I tell her I’ve seen rocks like those in the middle of the ocean. The ships skirt them in silence, as though some mythological creature could awaken and attack them. They’re not always by themselves. Sometimes there are more just a short distance away. Sometimes they form labyrinths you would be wise to avoid. Samsa lets her hair down and tickles my forehead, my eyelashes, my neck.She calls me Boulder and I don’t know why we laugh. Maybe love is unfurling above us like an enormous branch that bends and touches all the most sensitive, reticent parts of us.

How Boulder became Boulder.

This is a complex book about relationships, desire, lust and also motherhood. it is the story of two women; the title character Boulder is as she says early on in the book that she is a self-taught cook on a merchant ship sail around the world, but what happens when this lonely woman a loner, is maybe on the ship because she loves being herself and in a constant movement around the world. She is hit sideways when one night in a bar, she meets an older woman Samsa. They have a fierce, passionate night of passion as we see Boulder fall for Samas and decide to change the course of her life when she finds Samsa has taken a job in Iceland. They settle down and the years drift by and we see the two drift apart slowly Samsa rises up the career ladder and we see Boulder drift like an unanchored ship from job to job as this happens, Samsa decides she is getting no younger and wants to be a mother. Not as keen, Boulder agrees, and they have a child, but this sees the relationship dynamics change, and Boulder starts to feel outside the trio. What will happen? Will they weather the storm of motherhood?

Ragnar insists we have to celebrate. Here I was thinking we were friends. I tell him all I have to celebrate is the fact that Ive reached new heights of stupidity, that I can’t bring myself to hurt or leave Samsa, to understand the magnitude of her desire and say no. He tells me he felt the same when he had his first kid but that everything changes after the second or the third; they come out of their moms and grow up all on their own, all you have to do is feed them. He makes some dig that I can’t remember about the food truck and slaps my back so hard i choke.

After years in iceland Boulder never settles but tries to stay with Samsa

This follows a usual path of a relationship with a burning passion that draws us together, then the settling period and then what happens next it uses a queer relationship to follow this path. I loved the imagery Baltsar used at times; the passion of the relationship jumped off the page. I felt the could be a little more character-building, but I felt I knew these women. The Boulder character reminded me of a few people I knew years ago in Germany. So even thou they are mere pen sketches of characters, you feel as thou you know them. It captures that first flame of passion as the two make love, but it also manages to do what next, which I haven’t seen much in books because life isn’t happy ever after it is warts and all. Then throw in Motherhood and what happens when the relationship balance has changed and one of the couples feels pushed out by the baby. It is a great slice of relationship literature. It touches on some of the same subjects: Still life motherhood and not wanting children but this is more about the effect of motherhood on the relationship dynamics and the passion that started that relationship.

Winstons score – B A little novella that packs a punch.

Whale by Cheon Myeong Kwan

Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan

Korean Fiction

Original title – 《고래》

Translator -Chi-Young Kim

Source – Review copy

I had asked for a review copy of this before it appeared on the Booker longlist, as I had seen it doing the rounds, and it appealed as it sounded a little surreal. It It was selected as a youth-recommended book by the Korean Publishing Ethics Committee, the Korean Culture and Arts Committee as an excellent literature book. It was the debut novel by the writer and screenwriter Cheon Myeong-Kwan it was his debut novel when it came out in 2004 he has since written several books and also a few screenplays and has directed a film from his own writing. This book had been translated a few years ago as part of the DalkeyArchive Korean lit series, but we on the shadow jury were discussing if it did come out. There is a cover for it, but some have the same number in the series, and it is a different book and a new translation.

Every time the old crone’s eyes met her daughter’s, she was reminded of the halfwit, which tormented her. So she hit her. Not a day went by without a bruise forming on the little girl’s stick-thin body. Every time she was beaten, the girl would crouch in the corner, crying, and look up at her mother. Her wretched gaze reminded the old crone even more of the halfwit; it was as if she could hear his voice, his frightened look, and outstretched hands as he sank into the dark water.

I don’t want to take a bath.

The other main character is the old crone maybe harking back to the sotorytelling and surreal side of his book.

The whale is set ion a remote village and takes place over several years as the village, and the country itself see excellent changes. We are let into this village through a surreal collection of strange characters.the two main characters are a mother and daughter Geumbok, the mother wanders with a fishmonger in the aftermath of the Korean war. What we see is her journey to success from a moment glimpsing a whale’s tail which; later plays a part when she opens a whale shape cinema. As her life grows from those early days and her inventive ideas with the fishmonger, then moves on with the money she uses to build a life and see her empire grow. She has a way with men and manages to escape her violent father and eventually build a brickyard. This is where her mute daughter  Chunhui works her story forms another strand of this complex novel as does an old witch like a woman that has involvement with the family add some twins the ability to talk to elephants, and you have a unique book that mixes storytelling and surrealism.

By the time the fishmonger reached Geumbok’s village, the salted fish had long been spoiled and the musty smell made people pinch their noses, and the rancid flesh had become mush and disintegrated into fish sauce that flowed under the wooden chests. Not many whole fish were left, with many heads gone missing. Geumbok’s village was so small and so deep in the mountains that the fishmonger often turned back to the coast before he even got there, so the old folks–who craved anything fishy and smacked their lips when someone roasted a piece of mackerel that was so preserved as to be indistinguishable from a block of salt, even as they attempted to behave with dignity by saying “That stinks” or “That tastes like it’s turned”

-waited eagerly for the fishmonger despite his unimpressive wares.

She uses the fishmonger to futher her life

I am pleased I ask for this as I am maybe one of those readers that hasn’t 100% connected with Korean lit, and this isn’t [perfect, but it is known in Korea for being the bookshelf of one of the members of the group BTS (I’ve not listened to them but know they are huge in Korea and around the world. So this book is considered a cornerstone in the modern Korean canon. For me it has part of please look after mother, part Royanderson surrealism that grim odd world he conjures up, part Dickensian tale of a character’s world to goodness and part cinema Paradiso. Dickens as it is a story of someone escaping the worst and building a life ala Dickens, then it has a chunk of surrealism that is odd but believable. Then like PLease look after mother, another book that captures those whirlwind years in Korea that saw Korea shoot forward as a country. Have you read this how did you find it ? Have you a favourite book that uses Surrealism and Magic realism which this book does both?

Winstons score- A – the solid first book of this year’s Booker shadow Jury reading and the sixth book from the list I will have read and reviewed.

Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov

Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov

Bulgarian Fiction

Original title – Времеубежище,

Translator – Angela Rodel

Source – Personal copy

I am still in Eastern Europe. I have moved from Hungary to one of the leaders of Bulgarian writing, and his latest book to be translated into English is Time shelter. Georgi Gospodinov had several books already translated into English, one from Dalkey, another from a university press and one by Open Letter, which I do have somewhere to read. He has won several book prizes and has been on the shortlist of prizes like the Italian Stega prize. He was also a writer in Residence in Zurich a fact he mentions in the afterword of this book.

The next day I was at Heliosstrasse first thing in the morning, Mr. S. had given me the address. I found the apricot-colored building on the western shore of the lake, separated from the other houses on the hill. It was massive yet light at the same time, four stories with a fifth attic floor, a large shared terrace on the second level, and smaller balconies on the other floors. All the windows looked to the southwest, which made the afternoons endless, and the day’s final bluish glimmers nested in them until the very last moment, while the light blue wooden shutters contrasted softly with the pale apricot of the facade.

There is some wonderfully descriptive passages in the book

Like many books from Eastern Europe, it is a retrospective of those communist years, but that also makes it a prism of the present. The framing device for all this is the activity of an assistant for a Therapist called Gaustin. He has a radical treatment that involves rebuilding exact replicas of people’s past for when they have dementia. It is the assistant’s job to go out. He finds the past in the present and rebuilds the individual’s past. As he collects those small trinkets we remember from the red typewriter ( a memory I saw and mentioned how I’d loved the same typewriter back in the day) But is the problem is the past when for you, the past is as a  Holocaust survivor worth reliving ? His clinic grows, and as it does Gaustine’s ideas are more grandiose. They start to think of making countries into individual decades. This would be when that country had a particular peak or significant period of history. The problem is living in the past and what that effect has is it dangerous to dwell on or relive those moments. As the clinic has grown more people, haven’t dementia but just want to grasp their own past.

All elections up until this point had been about the future. This would be different.




Those were the headlines in European newspapers. If nothing else, Europe was good at utopias. Yes, the Continent had been mined with a past that divided it, two world wars, hundreds of oth ers, Balkan Wars, Thirty-Year Wars, Hundred-Year Wars… But there were also enough memories of alliances, of living as neighbors, memories of empires that gathered together supposedly ungatherable groups for centuries on end. People didn’t stop to think tha in and of itself, the nation was a bawling historicalinfant masquerading as a biblical patriarch.

Maybe the past is a recurring events and

This book looks at those post-war years but also the present. It is an attack on nostalgia why it can be dangerous. In a way, why do we want to live in the past? Is it healthy at times, yes? But for others, it is a danger to relive those years. This is the book for me it has a bit of Sebald that memorialises the past of objects, especially in a book like the rings of Saturn? Then he has a chunk of Nadas as a writer I think how Wonderfully and darkly, at times, he captures his own past and Hungarian history and the brutal nature of that past. Then I was reminded of Topol’s book Devil’s workshop, which is a book that tackles how we deal with or sell the past this case, how we use the Naszi death camps. It isn’t as entertaining park as imagined in that book. It deals with how we use the past in a way as entertainment or history or is it a warning ?. This book’s title in Bulgarian is more of a term that suggests hiding in time like a bomb shelter. Have seen since the fall of communism, some countries and people have had a sort of nostalgic view of the past and the dangers of viewing it with rose colour spectacles. There have been several films around this nostalgia. Have you read any of his books or any other Bulgarian fiction?

Winston’s score – +A great book and a writer I will be watching for his next book!!

Pyre by Perumal Murugan

Pyre by Perumal Murugan

Indian fiction

Original title – Pūkkul̲i, Tamil –  பூக்குழி

Translator – Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Source – review copy

I draw to a close this month with one of the major Indian writers Perumal Murugan this is the first book I have read by him it is the third book to be translated by Pushkin press from him. He has written 11 novels and five collections of short stories, which means we have a lot more books to come from the book. Murugan has been writing from an early age he was featured on Indian radio as a kid he grew small holding and his father ran a soda shop which is also what Kumaresan is doing as he saves to escape with his new wife Saroja. so some of the settings has some of his own backgrounds.

As they neared the rock, she could see the faces of the women sitting there. Their voices rose in a cacophony. As soon as they saw the couple, they all got up. Everyone was silent for a minute. Saroja stood with her head bowed, while Kumaresan set the bag on the ground and looked at them.

No one said anything. There were five or six men in the crowd too.

Suddenly, from within one of the huts, there came a wail, and an aggrieved voice lashed out at them: ‘You have ruined me!’

The rock is like the island in a sea hatred.

The book was longlist for the south Asian prize and is set in the village of Kattuppati a remote village. A young man has brought home a bride after spending some time in the city. when he returns to his village and to his house on the rock ( I always feel this maybe add to the story the rock is like an island in the sea of hatred they face) with his new bride Saroja is from a different caste to her husband they return n to sure what will happen the minute they get back you get a sense that they maybe hadn’t gathered how bad the reaction Kumaresan marrying this girl from a lower caste. His mother curse her and from the get-go there is a real sense that Saroja doesn’t want and the locals will do their best to get rid of her. Meanwhile Kumaresan  is trying to build a soda business as the plan was to get the money to move this becomes more of the plan when Saroja falls pregnant but this comes as Kumaresan has to go away maybe for a few days Saroja worries about what will happen.

Then appucchi spoke again. ‘Run away from here before your uncles return. They want to hack you to pieces.

They are very upset that the boy whom they raised has done something like this. Your uncles had plans to build you a tiled house on the rock and get you married to a nice girl Couldn’t you find a girl in our village, from within our caste? We can’t even face our people. You have shamed us all. If your uncles see you now, they will hack you to death.

Hey, you! Give them something to eat if you want and send them on their way. If our boys ask, we will tell them that we were feeding some workers’

Later on the tension and what may happen becomes clearer.

This for me has so many things I love in literature the clash of cultures here is almost like a car crash as the new couple from different castes The village is a typical insular village I was reminded of the book  Stones in the landslide (as you may know one of my favourite books) where some one from the next village down moves to the village and seems like an alien to the locals this is the same feeling but tenfold. Another feeling I had was a Dickensian feel with the bottle shop reminding me of David Copperfield but dickens also tackled marriage and relationships across the class divide. It also has that feeling of cranking up the tension as the full extent of the relationship and the outfall of this marriage on the village and his family and the locals as you feel the dark and tension grow. It if Satyajit Ray had ever done an Indian version of Emmerdale this would have been it has the feeling of tension that soap operas do well at building slow tension over time you as a reader can see it coming Ray also captures the Indian village so well in his films. this is one of those books that shows us why we need more Indian books in translation the only thing we miss is as the translator says is the subtle sense of language between the village and city folks those subtle dialects that is always hard to convey in translation but it doesn’t lose anything for not having it.

Winstons score – +A I am always a fan of books set in villages and clashes of classes (Well caste her as well)


Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel

Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel

Mexican fiction

Original title – La Hija Unica

Translator – Rosalind Harvey

Source – Personal copy

It is always good to get back to a writer you have read and enjoyed it is like getting that old jumper out of the draw you know it will fit you perfectly. `So I am late to my Spanish lit month but I am starting in Mexico with Guadalupe Nettel. A writer from Mexico has written a. number of novels and short stories and we are lucky that most of her books have been translated into English. She is one of the group writers in the Hay Bogota 39 group a number of years ago. I have reviewed her twice before on the blog and both those books were ones I loved so when I saw this had come out I just had to get it to read especially when I read the theme of motherhood and being able to choose to have children something that has taken years for society’s view on women having children.

It is easy, when we are young, to have ideals and to live according to them. What is more complicated is acting consistently over time, and in spite of the challenges, life puts in our way. Shortly after I turned thirty-three, I began to notice the presence – the appeal, even – of children. For two years, I had been living with an artist from Asturias, who would spend hours in our apartment devoted to his work, impregnating the air of our shared space with the heady scent of his oil paints. His name was Juan. Unlike me, he knew how to be around children, and enjoyed it. If he came across a child when we were out at the park or at a friend’s house,

Nettel, Guadalupe. Still Born (p. 21). Fitzcarraldo Editions. Kindle Edition.

The book follows the path around the theme of motherhood or whether to be a mother around a couple of friends Laura and Alina who are high fliers in their jobs and are both climbing the career ladder. They don’t want to have children at the moment well Laura doesn’t want to and she felt as though her friend had the same feeling as she did. So when the two women go on their own paths as one decides to have not children Laura makes sure she can’t have kids. But at this point, her friend meets someone and then decides that she wants to have a child this is the second strand her first IVF treatment which is told with a wonderful detached nature that gives it that clinical feel to such a personal moment in a woman’s life. Then when during the birth there is a twist that will change the future of `Alina and her partner Aurelio when they discover their newborn will have a disability which makes them reassess their future and what motherhood will be for them with a child with a disability and short-lived outlook. Then add to this there is a second tale of motherhood with the son of a neighbour.

On Monday I turned up at my gynaecologist’s office without an appointment and asked him to tie my tubes. After asking me a series of questions to gauge how certain I was, the doctor looked at his diary. I had the surgery that same week, convinced I’d made the best decision of my life. The surgeon did his job skilfully, but while I was recuperating in the hospital, I got an infection caused by one of those superbugs are so hard to eradicate. I returned home with a fever and spent several days like that without telling anyone what I’d done, not even Juan. Afterwards, when I was given the all-clear, I called Alina, feeling sure that only she would be able to understand me.

Nettel, Guadalupe. Still Born (pp. 22-23). Fitzcarraldo Editions. Kindle Edition.


This is an insight into the world of choosing not to have a babe and it uses the two friends as a wider comment on how society views motherhood and having children. I thought back to a film like Parenthood that dealt with having kids but society has moved on and there are more women wanting children Later in life or not at all as they want to pursue a career. It is all about choices and the ability to have them. But it also tackled the problem of having a child with a disability, after 30 plus years of working with people with disabilities you find there are certain ways parents over time have dealt with their children but also the way things have changed over time. The narrative times in the book have a detached nature at times that may be due to Laura being the one that is narrating the events and is the one that isn’t into children or being a mother. She views the world in her way and that gives it an interesting perspective and feel to the book. bu Laurt has a close bond with her friend and the horror of learning about they’re  Child’s disability and the effect it will have on everyone. Have you read any books from Nettel ? or around motherhood or choosing not to have children?

Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi

Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi

Chinese Memoir

Original title – 九栋

Translator – Jeremy Tiang

Source – review copy

It was great when Hanford star got listed for the Booker prizes this year. I have been sent books by them since they started and it is great to see them get some more recognition as they are a smaller publisher and one of those like Istros and Nordisk that focuses on one area to publish works from. They have brought books from all over Asia in the last few years I have reviewed most of them here. This is one from a Chinese writer  I have often said I have a feeling I want a writer from China I can really connect with and I think in Jingzhi I may have he has written both fiction, poetry, scripts and here is what is a memoir but it is more an Episodic Memoir than a linear memoir but a work of fiction so Chinese Auto-fiction.

Ninth building was the building I lived as a child. It’s been demolished now, and on the same plot, they built a bigger, taller Ninth Building. My words concern the previous incarnation.

Before the block disappeared, I went back to take some pictures of it. A place I spent my early years. With its vanishing, there’d be no traces left of my childhood.

The loss of the building made him write this to remember the times and events in the Ninth building !!

I said this is a book that is a fictional memoir but it is more the writer sat and remember little episodes of his life and it follows him and his family in two times the first was his time in Beijing as a young boy the book is set in Beijing just as Mao and this cultural revolution is taking place and we see it through the eyes of aa young boy the young Zou as he is caught up in the fever of the times where they are told to tell on anyone that seems to not be the thing the party line. They want to be red guards as they seem heroes to the young kids buying armbands to be like them. Now we see this how he saw out at the time and that is as a kid sees things he wants to be accepted by his peers and telling on those around him in the ninth building is the way it is. The book captures this but also what it is to be a child in the midst of chaos and not see it as he said the building as he wrote this looking back had gone and there was now a larger building it captures China just as it is entering the dark times and we see this in the second two-thirds of the book which follows a now teen You as he and his family has been sent to the northern hinterlands of China in Exile like many people were from Beijing. So we see him in 1960 arrive in the village of Yangfangdian where they are expected to return to the land and have to toil and grow things the vignettes here are sparked by items events those little rascals he met twins he could never tell who was who. As they all toil in what they called a  return to the land but is actually really a labour camp for them as his father is here considered dangerous as he fails to comply we see a young man awaken in the horror of the wastelands of china working hard and trying to be a young man at the same time.

My family moved to Yangfangdian in 1960. All around our building were vegetable fields, and in the midst of this greenery were white stone tablets(commonly known as “Turtleback stones”) on which were inscribed huge characters, most of which we couldn’t recognise as we stared up at them. It didn’t help there wasn’t any punctuation at all. Nonetheless, we persisted in reading them out to demonstrate the joy of learning. several children would stand in a group and chant in unison. Something something memorial. some lines had not a single comprehensible word, and still we’d something-something-something-something our way through, no shortcuts. I get nostalgic now thinking of a gaggle of kids chorusing “Something”

His new home in the wastelands of China feeling out of place


I loved this captures his life and that is a tale that isn’t told in a Rosie way this is warts and all it shows how as a kid we can be swayed to do things one thing of how the Stasi in Soviet times influenced kids to think it was normal to watch and report own this around them. It shows how the red guard was made to seem like hers to the kids. One of my main problems with a lot of Chinese lit we get is it has never seemed to be very personal and this does this is Zou’s voice and his world we are dragged into as a reader from those days as a young boy as the craziness of the red guard and the cultural revolution are just taking hold of the country the way the young kids want the armbands and to be part of there own gang. Then the sheer tedium of life and backbreaking work alongside a coming of age work as he starts to see the woman around him among all this. Have you a favourite book from China or a book about the cultural revolution.

Winstons score – A -a writer I want to read more from !!

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June 2023


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