Winstonsdad Longlist Guess for the IFFP 2013

Well it’s that time of year when the Independent Foreign fiction prize longlist is announced and I m going to do my annual guessing for it .I want to say 2012-2013 has in my humble opinion has been one of the brightest years in recent times so without further ado I’m going try to guess what will make the longlist and when the list is announced tomorrow how many I have got right –

Certain –


Satantango by László Krasznahorkai

Well this is the book ,I ve read twice and it is the best book from the last twelve month .A man returns to a remote collective farming village after two years away but has he changed is he the devil .

hhhh laurent binet

HHhH BY Laurent Binet

Probably the most talked about translation in the last twelve months ,two men set of to kill a notorious Nazi Officer .


Dublinesque – Enrique Vila-Matas

One of the most well-known names in Spanish Literature returns with a new translation and his Homage to Ireland and to the fiction of James Joyce .

Death in the Family, A

My struggle part one(A death in the family ) by Karl Ove Knausgaard

The first of five books that kept Norway hooked for the last few year part bio part fiction .Proust for a modern age .

three strong women

Three strong women by Marie Ndiaye 

The Prix Goncourt from 2009 finally reached us in English the story of three African women show how hard life can be gripping stuff .

traveller of the century

Traveller of the Century by Andres Neuman 

An Argentina writer I had look forward to in English didn’t disappoint a mix of Latin american and Europe set in a medieval Europe .

seven years peter stamm

Seven years by Peter Stamm

Says what it is on the cover but so well written ,A husband strays after they’ve been together for seven years .

where I left my soul Jérôme Ferrari

Where I left my soul by Jérôme Ferrari

Three men in the Algerian war show the many sides of the war and the horrors of war ,he recently won the Prix Goncourt .

where tigers are at home

Where the Tigers are at home by Jean Marie Blas de Robles

The stunning epic and the most overlooked book in the last twelve months .A man in the back and beyond of Brazil ,writes a bio and meet many people .

my brillant friend

My brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Two friend grow up in Fifties Italy ,a story of how two friends from the same place can end up so far apart .

the briefcase

The briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami 

A Japanese take on the May to December story a young women and her old teacher who is retired have a romance .


Necropolis by Santiago Gamboa 

A writer is invited to a strange conference of writers in Israeli .Someone is murder there and we hear the other writers stories .

Our man in IRAQ

Our man in Iraq by Robert Perisic

A Journalist with a trouble marriage sends a family member to the Gulf war to report trouble follows .


Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan

A monk in the 5th century working on a text is tempt by the devil ,this won the Arab Booker .

Murder of Halland

Murder of Halland by Pia Juul 

My favourite from last years Peirene books a new take on the crime from the wife of the victim and how she copes .

the sounds of things falling

The sound of things falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez 

A man remembers a man he knew and the time of the drug cartels and their power in Columbia

Well sixteen books there and a few others just on the verge for me

Zbindens progress –  Christoph Simon

The island by Carlos Gamerro

The human part by Hari Hotakainen

Heaven and Hell by Jon Kalman Stefansson

What are your thoughts ?

The whispering muse by Sjon

The whispering muse by Sjon

Icelandic fiction

Translator Victoria Cribb

Now I mention a lot of Sjon past in my review of from the mouth of the whale earlier in the year and had a great interview with him on the blog yesterday .So I dispense with usual bio start today .

So whispering muse ,follows quick on the heels of From the mouth I can’t blame Telegram ,There has already been five of his books translated to English by Victoria Cribb ,I met her briefly at the Iffp prize giving and she said she had done five of his books already ready for sales here but also to show the books to publishers around the world .Right this book centres on Valdimar Haraldson ,he is an oddball Icelander that has spent his life writing a seventeen volume book on the connection between fish consumption and the greatness of the Nordic people .Fisk og Kulture ,came with this on every title page .

Its our belief that the nordic race ,which has fished off the maritime coast for countless generations and thus enjoyed a staple diet of seafood ,owes its physical and intellectual prowess above all to this type of nutrition,and that the Nordic race is for this reason superior in vigour and attainments to other races that have not enjoyed such ease of access to the riches of the ocean .

As you see our Valdimar is a first class bore in a lot of ways ,any way that was in the inter war years also with so far out ideas about where the nordic folk came from ,but it’s now 1949 and he has been invited to spend some time on a Danish merchant ship by a former fan of his books .Well that is half the story and  he arrives on the ship and on the end of the first evening they all gather like you do round the ships table and start telling tales of the seafaring days ,one of this crew says he is Caneus one of argo crew from Jason Argonauts from the Greek myth ,Now I know very little on Greek myth in fact my earliest memories of Greek myths are of two things from tv the first is a French Japanese cartoon series called Ulysses 31 ,which moved greek myths to outer space .as we follow Ulysses in his quest to find his way home after he fell out with the gods for killing the Cyclops (rather like bloom in the pub with the one-eyed Irish patriot  oh wonder where Joyce got that idea from )

The other is the film Jason and the Argonauts that was often shown over holidays as I Grew up so I was vaguely aware of the character Caeneus although not in the actual film ,but if you’ ve not seen the film it is well worth seeing as it features some wonderful stop animation from Ray Harryhausen and great intro into the greek myths for people like me that maybe find the idea rather scary .

But it did lead me to read some of the myths around Jason after seeing the film .Caenus was born a women and then became a man and survived on the argo it is these tales he recalls the crew with every evening .So we see  Valdimar who is maybe in some ways the human incarnation of Douglas adams Vogon’s and one does imagine that his books fish and culture are maybe the equivalent of the Vogon poetry .So we see the bore ,start to open his eyes as he is let into the world of Greek myth but also as always with Sjon it is the fact that this is going on and it is just after the war that maybe shows the changing world around them they have cargo from the soviet bloc ,This remind me of a former colleague when I worked in Northumberland that had  been a merchant seaman and his first run after qualifying as a petty officer was to go to the north of Russia and pick some cargo of course being young and not prepared he said he end up wearing margarine to stop frost bite and in a way Valdimar is a man who is unprepared properly for life maybe a Nordic forest Gump ,no that is a bit  unfair he has intelligence is  just focused in the wrong direction ,you may say he even has a mild form of asperegers  where one is so focused on a subject it hard to pull the blinkers down some time due to the nature of aspergers   ,although this isn’t mention in the book it is just a feeling I got from the nature of my work and people I ve meet over the years  .Know from yesterday we know that Sjon was listening to Thelonious monk and rather like monk who I know very little about other than he was rather good at impro piece of jazz that where  rifts on well-known bits of music that spread out and rather like that this book is a rift on Greek myth and how travel can change people. I know  picture old Sjon with a pot full of ideas for books at home picking a few out  and sticking them in his blender of a  mind and coming out with rather wonderful cocktails or in his case novels  .It’s easy to mix genres and ideas up like a cocktail barman might but it takes skill to make the end product work so well like Sjon seems to every time  .So what is The whispering muse well its part travelogue ,part myth ,part odd couple drama with a large twist of dry humour over the top of it .I leave you with Valdimar

My neighbour says I have changed since I came home from my voyage .And I respond with the following question :

“What is the point of travelling if not to broaden your mind ?

Valdimar on his arrival home is he a new man after meeting Caeneus .


So do you have a favourite myth or character from myth ?


An Interview with the shadow IFFP winner Sjon

1. In both From the Mouth of the Whale and The Whispering Muse there is a seafaring feel do you sail or have a connection to the sea ?

Being born on island means that from an early age you are very aware of the sea. Throughout history things and people have come floating to your shores and the only way out was over the sea. So, I think sailing, swimming, and sinking will always be a part of the stories told on an island. As well as the great depths teeming with strange beings and everything the sea has swallowed.

2. Myth plays a big part in your fiction. What is your favourite myth ?

In general, I like the mischievous gods: the tricksters. So, Loki’s stories are a favourite: especially the one where he helps the Aesir (the principle members of the pantheon of Norse gods) to get out of the deal they made with a giant about building the fortress walls around Asgard. The gods promise the giant the Sun, the Moon and the hand of the fertility goddess Freyja as a reward if he finishes the job in time. When they realize too late that the giant will be able to do it they look to Loki for help. So, Loki transforms himself into a gray mare and lures the giant’s work horse away. Without his horse the giant can’t finish the walls. Later Loki has an affair with the horse, which results in the birth of Odin’s eight legged horse Sleipnir. Sleipnir, is the Nordic Pegasus, who can easily transport us across the borders of the many worlds that make up our universe …

3 .You’ve been connected to music. As I’ve read your books I feel a rhythm. Do you listen to music as you write? If so, what music?

Each of my novels has a special form and style, a new challenge for me to meet, so I listen to different kinds of music while writing them. I usually try to find something that in one way or another fits the theme or the mood of the novel, either by contrasting with it or by complementing it. With From the Mouth of the Whale it was two particular pieces by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt: Alina and Spiegel am Spiegel; with The Blue Fox it was Schubert’s string quartets and with The Whispering Muse it was Theolonius Monk.

4. We all loved Victoria’s translations. How closely did you work with her ?

And I love them as well! How close she wants me to be depends on the work. Sometimes I get many emails with questions about my intention with this phrase or that, or what outside source I am alluding to in one scene or another. Then sometimes she just asks me to read it over when the work is done. I trust her 100% and am always at her service if needed.

5. Which writers have influenced you ?

Samuel Beckett, Karen Blixen, Jorge Luis Borges, Mikhail Bulgakov, André Breton, Leonora Carrington … To name some of Bs and one of the Cs …

6. As much as your books are historic, are we meant to read a modern context into them ?

Yes, you are!

7 .Which of your books are not yet translated. Should we keep an eye out for any when they come out ?

This year I am finishing the third volume of a trilogy I have been working on since the early 90s. It tells the story of a man in Reykjavik who is telling an eager but sceptical listener the story of how he came into being as the result of the rendez-vous between a Jewish man fleeing the concentration camps and a chamber maid in a guesthouse in northern Germany in the middle of WWII. That he believes himself to have been fashioned from a lump of clay taken from the remains of the Golem of Prague is just one of the threads in the novel. There is also a corrupt stamp-collector, a gender confused archangel, a self-mutilating swimming pool attendant, a government official who believes half of the Icelandic population are descended from werewolves, a girl with four fathers, and many more characters with their own stories and occupations. Yes, I hope you will be on the lookout for those three …

8. For the person that has not read you, can tell them what to expect from you in one sentence ?

The smell of a puffin stew cooking over camp fire flickering in the shadows of gallows built on the ruins of a great library.

9. What’s the literary scene like at home and are there any writers from your
country we should read?

It is quite robust, thank you. Of our contemporary authors, I recommend Kristín Ómarsdóttir. Her novel Children in Reindeer Woods has just been published by Open Letter Books in the US. And for the deceased ones, I recommend our Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness. I am especially fond of his turn of the 20th century novel The Fish Can Sing.

Shadow IFFP WINNER 2012

A quick word from me Stu the Chair of this years Shadow IFFP .I want thank all my fellow Judges for making this such a successful first year for the shadow IFFP .







We all undertook the Journey of judging the 2012 shadow IFFP eight weeks ago .This journey first took us to Asia , 1980’s Tokyo or is it ? ,a mother disappears in Seoul and then a book highlighting the Aids crisis in China were are three stops there .Then we read two Hebrew novel the first set in the present an old man and a village the other a young jewish man on the run in world war two hiding in a most unexpected place .The to Germany and two books dealing with death the first a husband shocked at is wife’s view of him after she is dead ,the other a women called Alice has friends and lovers die around her .We the journey north firstly we meet a professor stuck in a mid-life crisis and having witnessed a murder ,then to meet Chaim the head of a jewish community in a second world war ghetto .We then met a villain of the top order in 18th century europe and a shipwreck man who may or may not be finish in our two stops in Italy .A skip to 1980’s paris a group of friend facing the ,the AIDS crisis face on .lastly a Basque writer takes us to Colonial Africa and a man heading into an army camp gone rogue .This journey hasn’t been the easiest for us as judges most of the books dealt with the dark side of human life and death .But they show the wealth of talent around the world and the wonderful job of modern translators .We as judges have discovered a lot about each other digesting and discussing the books and slowly trimming or list down to our winner and it is with great pleasure we announce our winner .

From the mouth of the whale by Sjon
Translator – Victoria Cribb
Publisher in the uk telegram books
We all liked and some of us loved this book no one really had a bad word about it ,I think from when ever any one of us judges read it we feel for it as a book and Sjon’s voice  .We felt Sjon had captured through Jonas eyes the 17th century Iceland so well ,this was helped by Victoria translation that through its usage of older languages and grammar gave it a feel of a book that had just been unearthed not a modern book .A worthy winner for the fist  shadow IFFP winner 2012

Shadow iffp reviews

Here’s a list of links to all the reviews done by the ‘Shadow’ Jury for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Thanks to Mark for keeping it through out the shadow panel 

IQ84 (1&2) by Haruki Marukami (from Japanese; trans. Jay Rubin) (Harvill Secker)
Tony’s Reading List

Alice by Judith Hermann (from German; trans. Margot Bettauer Dembo) (The Clerkenwell Press)
Tony’s Reading List

Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld (from Hebrew; trans. Jeffrey M. Green) (Alma Books)
Inside Books
Tony’s Reading List

Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke (from Chinese; trans. Cindy Carter) (Constable)
Tony’s Reading List

From The Mouth of the Whale by Sjon (from Icelandic; trans. Victoria Cribb) (Telegram)
Parrish Lantern
Tony’s Reading List
Inside Books

Hate: A Romance by Tristan Garcia (from French; trans. Marion Duvert/Lorin Stein) (Faber)
Parrish Lantern
Tony’s Reading List

New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani (from Finnish; trans. Judith Landry) (Dedalus)
Parrish Lantern

Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki (from German; trans. Anthea Bell) (Peirene)
Tony’s Reading List
Inside Books

Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas (from Hungarian; trans. Imre Goldstein) (Jonathan Cape)
Tony’s Reading List (part one) (part two)

Please Look After Mother by Kyung-sook Shin (from Korean; trans. Chi-Young Kim) (Weidenfeld)
Tony’s Reading List
Inside Books

Professor Andersen’s Night by Dag Solstad (from Norwegian; trans. Agnes Scott) (Harvill Secker)
Parrish Lantern
Tony’s Reading List

Scenes From Village Life by Amos Oz (from Hebrew; trans. Nicholas de Lange) (Chatto & Windus)
Rob Around Books
Tony’s Reading List

Seven Houses in France by Bernardo Atxaga (from Spanish; trans. Margaret Jull Costa) (Harvill Secker)
Parrish Lantern

The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg (from Swedish; trans. Sarah Death) (Faber)
Tony’s Reading List

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (from Italian; trans. Richard Dixon) (Harvill Secker)
Tony’s Reading List
Inside Books


1q84 vol 1 and 2 by Haruki MurakamI

1q84 by Haruti Murakami

Japanese fiction

Translator Jay Rubin

Well I ve said a lot about Murakami in previous posts about him ,so I ll talk about his running .I link to a interview here in running world where he says he has been running for over twenty years .He wrote a non fiction book a few years ago called” what I talk about when I talk about running ” A book I d recomme3nd short but full of insights into the japanese mind ,which in a rather clunky way brings me to 1q84  Whch I feel is his most Japanese .

How many people could recognize Janaecks sinfornetta after hearing just  the first few bars ? probably somewhere between “very few ” and “almost none” .but for some reason .Aomame was one of the few in the world

Janacek sinfonetta to express the contempoary free man ? is start of one line of surrealism in this novel .

I have been putting off reading 1q84 for a number of reasons partly the uneven reviews it got in the newspapers ,also some bloggers who views I  trust were not overly keen on it .So I finally decide to read it when it was named on the IFFP longlist having dodged it some what already  for man Asian shadow  reading  I couldn’t for the second time .I  then decide to entered open  minded ,to forget all the bits I ve read about it before  and was surprised how much I enjoyed it for a Murakami fan there is the usual Murakami traits people on the edge or just coming into adulthood ,a lonely girl ,a writer,a whole host of surreal parts  and set in the 80’s .T he novel is told in the form of two story lines from April to September  Aomame ,she is a thirty year old women ,she works for a strange organisation as a sort of assassin ,we meet her as she is of to kill some one  but has to rush and escapes a txi as she is running late and hear the Janacek piece and sometimes wonder if she is in a different 1984 maybe 1q84 .The other main character is Tengo he is a teacher at a prep school but dreams of being a novelist and when he helps a young girl that has written a manuscript called air chrysalis .But he  is surprised when this book takes off  and its young writer forgets his work on it .Well that is the bones of the book we see these two characters lives but then like a pair of skylarks mating the end up flying closer and closer together ,we see this as the story draws them together and to complete the analogy there is a third minor character but he is the third narrator Ushikawa he is a grotesque hired to follow first Tengo then Aomame so he is like a hawk watching the two skylarks falling and rising as they get drawn together .Also add in a cult and a some of his best surreal touches and do you have his magnum opus well when it first came out in Japan it seemed that way .I m not sure I enjoyed the book much more than I initially thought I would ,I do sometimes wonder if the surreal bits of this book pass me by at times .I also wondered if this book has a great meaning to the Japanese reader I feel the issues and subjects dealt with in the book are the most Japanese of his books I ve read .  I Think it is now in my three favourite books by him ,I will finish the story later this year when I read third part of the book .

What did you think of this ?

Are you planning to read it ?

The shadow Independent foreign fictionprize shortlist 2012

Well the four weeks since the longlist was announced and us of the shadow jury have read and digest all the books on the longlist between us .I read the remaining nine books from the longlist I d not read before and have reviewed eight of them .So after we all scored the books partly for story and partly for translation for this first round we came up with the shadow shortlist which was chosen from seven books one missing out by a fraction of a point .Next round we will be discussing and not scoring the boos so here is our shortlist –

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist this year has once again shown us just how powerful and emotive translated fiction can be. The overall tone of this year’s Prize has been a dark and sombre one, with many of titles taking us back to reflect on the horrors of the past. As such the reading experience has been wholly affecting, and it has proven to be no easy task in reducing the longlist down to a final selection of six.
Encapsulated in our final ‘shadow’ shortlist selection is what we feel to be the cream of the crop of this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. These are the six titles which not only fully demonstrate the range and scope of this year’s Prize, but they also stand as a glowing example of what can be achieved when writer and translator form the perfect bond.

Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas translator Imre Goldstein .

Sex and violence behind in cold war era central Europe

Scenes From Village life by Amos Oz translator Nicholas De Lange

A Israeli village from the point of view of an old man

The Prague cemetery by Umberto Eco translator Richard Dixon

A master of evil pulls the stings in 19th century europe

From the mouth of the whale by Sjon translator Victoria Cribb

Birds whales and one chap in 17th century Iceland

Next world Novella by Mattihas Politycki translator Anthea Bell

Married is it what we think ,she dies he finds out

Seven Houses in france by Bernardo Atxaga translator Magaret Jull Costa

Heart of the Congo it is really dark .

So that is our fab six we will be choice our winner from this and also choosing a winner from the proper booktrust IFFP shortlist out tomorrow .Lets compare our lists then .

thanks to my fellow judges so far –







From the mouth of the Whale by Sjon

From the mouth of the whale by Sjon

Icelandic fiction

Translator Victoria Cribb

Sjon is an icelandic writer his full name is Sigurjon Birgir Sigurosson ,he started as a poet in the late 1970’s ,during 80’s he work closely with the icelandic band Sugarcubes in their early days and is himself involved in the local music scene  and has worked with Bjork since she left the sugarcubes on a number of projects .He has written seven novels this was his latest novel ,I first notice him a couple of years ago when some fellow bloggers reviewed his novel The blue fox .At moment these are his only two books to be translated in to english lets hope more get done .

Jonas drew diagrams from worm showing how the fish lay in the sea ,wielding its tusk like a lance ,and a comparison of these with the royal specimen convinced worm that it was a Narwhal skull with a tusk and nothing more .And so that day in the museum wormianum the Unicorn’s fate was sealed :a year after his meeting with Jonas Palmason .Ole Worm published a epoch-making article on the similarity between Narwhal tusks and Unicorn horns .

Jonas helps Ole Worm

So His latest book to be translated into english is From the mouth of the whale it is set in 1635 ,maybe just before the age of enlightenment but this is part of this books story the change from myths and legends to real science is facing the world and maybe via this simple guy .At the centre of the novel is the life of Jonas Palmason ,Jonas is a daydreams ,a bit of vagrant and has had really bad luck.He seen at the start  eating weird  things like ravens head .Nature is a recurring theme in this book from the title to Jonas only friend a purple sandpiper .He spends time with Ole worm a scientist of sorts He does this while in exile .I feel what we see is the progression of Jonas He starts of as a man stuck in tradition of magic and myths of Iceland ,he learnt via dead creatures how bodies worked and became a sort of healer using nature  ,then in the middle section we see him connecting with science ,like a description of a unicorn horn that isn’t but a narwhal horn having seen one years ago in a museum  I remember reading there was a roaring trade in deceiving people it  was a real unicorn horn,he shows how Ole worm worked out it would need to be a surreal horse of gigantic size that could wear such a horn on its head . Then  in the end examing the world anew seeing  all the wonderful creatures .We also see the woes of some Basque whalers that have arrived to whale the icelandic waters .


This book is strange gem wonderfully dynamic poetic prose ,a wonderfully  quirky lead character and a cast of odd people and creatures ,a feel like it could have been written 300 years ago but also with a lightness of humour at times .I could picture this tale being told by a beard chap by fire light as we all gather round there are certain passages in this book you just want speak out loud to feel the word on your lips .As I read I was reminded one programmes I loved as a kid was Noggin the nog the peter Firmin animated series ,in that we saw account dragons , talking birds and ships .as it was based on Nordic sagas this book had the same feel  as from the mouth did .Victoria Cribb has worked wonder on the translation which has kept a certain poetic tone and also not lost what is the sagaic feel of the book (in my opinion not reading icelandic but one feels it must have )

Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz

Scenes from Village life by Amos Oz

Hebrew Literature

Translator Nicholas De Lange

So I move on to the other novel by a hebrew writer ,Unlike Aharon Applefeld I have read a couple of Amos Oz’s books and had one on the tbr pile so was pleased when this was on the list to read .Amos Oz is probably the best known modern hebrew writer his best known book being his 2003 work a tale of love and Darkness ,a novel from his own experiences that has been translated in 23 plus languages including Arabic  .He is a professor of literature and he has also been a journalist and a vocal speaker in political matters and a supporter of the two state solution to Israelis current problems .He has won numerous awards over the last thirty years most notable the Goethe prize  in Germany .

So scenes from village life ,when I read the blurb about this book I wished I d followed through my half heart village challenge as it turns out this book would have been perfect for that challenge as it is set in a village (fictional it seems ,but I feel Oz knows places like this )  but has the feel of any village even thou like a lot of books set in village like this is about so much more .We meet an Old man who has lived in the village since it was formed after Israeli state was formed  and is our guide to the village he has lived in and seen change .We find out about this village in a series of eight chapters ,which you could say are almost little stories, but all narrated by the old man so from his daughter Rachel  who is the local school teacher ,this is the longest story in the collection they argue and when the old man say ,there is digging but this isn’t happening and is just in the old mans head and almost become a metaphor for the old mans past he was a politician and the Rachel’s student a  young arab man hears it as well as  the old man hears the sound . Maybe this is a sign of the shift thoughts in some in Israeli society like Oz’s himself .Other stories involve visiting singing neighbours ,the after math of the Holocaust ,a lonely boy falls for the librarian an older women ,then a rather quirky final chapter /story that I ll leave you too find .

They are digging ,I tell you !It starts an hour or two after midnight ,all sorts of tapping and scraping sounds .You must be sleeping the sleep of the just if you don’t hear it .You always were a heavy sleeper .What are they digging for ,in cellar or under the foundations ? Oil ? Gold? buried treasure ?

the old man wonder who’s digging as his daughter denies it is happening .

I said midway through this book on twitter I was loving it and I did right to the end it was one of those book I could happily read as much again. Oz’ village was so real it drew you in ,but also on another level was surreal  as there is no animals and a lot of the young people had moved away, so it is a dying village .I do wonder how much of this is Oz’s comment on the current state of affairs in the country as a whole maybe like the village they need some new life or the may die off .I felt the old man could have almost been one of the character from S Yizhars books about  the forming of israeli as a nation one of the men that fought then governed the country and now seeing what went wrong .I did have a feeling I read something similar to this but not set in Israeli but there been lot of interlocking story books recently and this is among the best ones I’ve read ,Nicholas De lang the well-known Hebrew translator and Professor of hebrew and Jewish studies at Cambridge has translated Oz and also S Yizhar (who’s book I suggest you read before or along side this one as they seem to connect on some level )

Have you read Amos Oz ?


Blooms of darkness by Aharon Appelfeld

Blooms of darkness by Aharon Appelfeld

Hebrew Literature

Translator Jeffery M Green

I just don’t know what has taken me so long to get to one of his books I pleased The IFFP longlist gave me the nudge to try him Aharon Apppelfeld is an Israeli writer ,he was born in Romania and spent time in the concentration camp in Romania with his father which he never saw again after they arrive ,he then moved to Palestine after the world war two  was over and then to the state of Israeli when it was founded .He is well-known for using his war experiences as a diving board to explore the holocaust and not maybe his own tale  but the effect of the holocaust and afterwards how the people involved returned to normal life .He is also a great admired in the Jewish writing community ,the writer Philip Roth used him as a character in one of his novels and said of him he is a displaced writer writing displaced fiction .

So we get to the book , blooms of darkness and it is a story set in Poland in world war two just as the Nazis invade ,it’s the  story of two souls that maybe for the wrong reason find solace and love in one another .The first is  a young boy Hugo,he is thoughtful boy more worried about his parents than himself . He is Jewish and is brought by his parents to be hidden in the home of Mariana .Now we come to Mariana is a prostitute. She is a women that hates her life and the fact that she is given the chance to help this young boy is a bright light in her dark world .So Hugo arrives and find himself in a pink girly room that of Marianne ,in the times when no ones about he comes out into the room but at other times when she ha to service the german soldiers he has to stop in a dark closet as he hers the sounds outside and how badly treated Mariana is  by the soldiers as they abuse her  .He just has to sit there and she his savour take this .This maybe is what makes the second part of the book his feelings of caring

For a long time Hugo stands still ,wondering about the nature of this Roomy place.Finally he sums it up for himself :it’s not a beauty Parlour .There isn’t a broad bed in the middle of a beauty Parlour .

Meanwhile ,Marianna comes back with a tray of little sandwiches and says ,”this is for you .Sit in the armchair and eat as much as you want ”

Young Hugo arrives at the brothel to be put in the care of Mariana .

As the war moves on Hugo is a boy who quickly grows to the edge of  manhood Mariana when she leaves him in another women’s care at the brothel .He has to escapes capture,finds Mariana and comes  to rescue her from the bottle  as she has started drinking heavily .I know some of the judges have struggle with the dynamics of this relationship but I feel it is natural you spend time with someone in such circumstances it ends people care and Hugo is such a gentle chap and Mariana is the classic tart with a heart that needs a knight in shining armour and that turns out in the end to be Hugo.  A form of Stockholm syndrome (not Helsinki as some people say ).This is a new take on a holocaust story A boy hidden I m reminded a bit of the german film Europa Europe the story of a boy who spent the war pretending to be german not Jewish and had relationships along the way ,this is part love story ,part coming of age .Like Anne franks diary it shows that love can be a strong tie what ever the circumstance   .Aharon has shown why he considered one of the foremost Hebrew writers .Jeffrey M green translated it he has a number of major Hebrew writers you can see here .

Have you read Appelfeld  ?

What’s your favourite Hebrew writer ?


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June 2023


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