Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Russian fiction

original title – Последняя Москва.

Translator – Christopher Culver

Source – review copy

Well its a second visit to the Russia this woman in translation month , This time we have a historic novel about writers. Natalia Gromova is from a russian military family , she has lived in Moscow since an early agee and got a job at 16 working in the state historical library whilst finishing her studies , she has work for the Soviet encyclopedia in the past but since the mid 90s has been writing books that she use the historic archives to put together historic novels from original diaries , letters and articles of the time .

Alexander Fyodorovich served Russian literature like a priest: literature had completely replaced religion for his generation. But neither literature nor culture , as it became clear later, could save them from the chaos of revolution and then all ugly realities of Soviet life. many of these high-born gymnasium teachers and university professors looked at the complex issues of society and politics with disgust, and the consequences of this naturally fell on the heads of their children, who swept into the maelstrom of history.

I loved this passage about how literature took over religion in some in the 30’s

Moscow in the 1930’s is set during those pre war years of Stalin rule , we are drawn into a world of house and place that arent there anymore .This stitches together the diaries of writers like Olga Bessarabova, Vavara Grigiryena  are the two main sources for this work  well-known and now even forgotten to paint a picture of a world of writing at the time the friendships . People like Maria Belkina a well-known writer in her time but now forgotten to us in english. I loved the way Natalia brought us behind the doors of these writers as they discuss the works of the day and the writers Bulgakov who at the time was working on his own masterpiece that was set also in Moscow the Master and the Margarita during the 30’s .Daniil andreyev is another character who is in the story he was even in the book arrested by Stalin it turns out a lot of his great works were destroyed by The state secret police .

The more I read , the more colourful a picture I got of an old Moscow home . There were more than enough of these in the past. TO a degree, these Moscow homes were literary figures in themselves: fro the Rostovs happy home on Provarskaya street in War and Peace to the home of Gromeko family on the Arbat in Doctor Zhivago. Here the doors were always wide open, the house would teem with guests, a number of relatives would be resident, and holidays would be regularly celebrated, with Christmas festivities for children and adults

In her diary, Olga Bessarabova described the Dobrov home in the same way

An open door for the writer of the day to spend time with Olga and her family .

This is one of those books you need a notebook next to you as you read to note the names of the writers mention and their works . I did this and then looked to see what is available not much but I still have some to check out further Andreyev for example his later book roza mir , rose of the world came out in the late 90’s. Natalia Gromova brings a long gone Moscow to life , this is one of a number of books she has written using the same technique of real diaries and setting as a frame for her novels .I found this compelling if a slow read so much to absorb makes it a book that I will be rereading and discovering again.

 

Wakolda by Lucia Puenzo

 

Wakolda by Lucia Puenzo

Argentinean fiction

Original title – Wakolda

Translator – David William Foster

Source – Library book

Well I said the next stop of my woman in translation journey would be Argentina. Lucia Puenzo was part of the Granta best young Spanish writers edition a few years ago. She has won number of awards for her film work, she is a film maker as well as a writer. This novel is also a film she made with the english title the German Doctor, which was a feature at Cannes film festival when it came out . This strangely is also the second novel I have read this year about germans in Latin american after the second world war.  the other being Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun.

That day, mixture of sodium cholride and magnesium nitrate, injected with infinite patience into each eyeball, would change forever the course of science. The mass sterilization, the vivisections, the frustated attempts to change skin and hair colour using subcutaneous injection and even the night on which he thought he had finally succeeded in joining the veins of two twins to create a Siamese twins, only to find them a few hours later gasping like fish out of water – all his failures would be forgotten if he could manage to change the colour of the eyes of this child

The opening lines a chilling look at the man and what he did in the past !

As I said in the first paragraph the book revolves around an escape German from the second world war in this case it is a more famous German than in Rodrigo Hasbun book the escaped german in this story is Josef Mengele himself the man known as the angel  of death during his time as a doctor at the Auschwitz death camp . This is 1960 and Jose has settled in Bariloche a place that a number of Nazis have lived since the war in relative quiet from the rest of the world . Jose wants to carry on his work , that of trying to find the perfect human being. This leads him to a family that have all the qualities he is looking for except their daughter Lilith who has a growth defect . Add to that her mother is now expecting twins and the doctor had previously worked with twins in Auschwitz where he sewed two together like siamese twins to see what happen, but in this case he is fighting to keep them alive as the net is closing around him. We see most of the action through the eyes of the young girl who has a doll called Wakolda that Jose gave here.

Her father occupied the following pages , alongside her brothers , alongside her brothers, also surrounded by numbers and measurements.

she read Homo siriacus

she came last

Her illustration had more details than the others: measurements of almost all her bones, the circumference of her head notations in German, number and more numbers, calculations along with results, a list 0f illnesses … feeling a lump in the pit of her stomach, she gathered up the arms and legs of her doll. She left the dagger , the ring and the notebook where she’d found them. she climbed out the window after making sure that everything was exactly as she’d found it .

Jose notes about lilith  she finds in his office

This book is a clever take on fact and fiction Josef Mengele did spend time in Argentina after the war. This is imaging what would have happened had he decide to hide and carry on what he did it is a story of what is right and wrong in Ethics and how far people will go in the pursuit of perfection. Again as I have found in a number of latin american novel in recent years is the use of the child narrator from Andres Neuman to Marcelo Figueras .Lilith would have died in Auschwitz but here she has grabbed Jose by why she is here as part of what is otherwise a perfect aryan family what is the cause of her in this perfect family.

Have you a favourite novel about nazis on the run ?

Woman in translation reviews from Sept 15 to July 16

I will quickly wrap up all the reviews in the year since the last Woman in translation month.

2015

20150824_192726

Voices from Chernobyl  by Svetlana Alexievich – Her work on the characters and effect of the disaster on all effected.

The woman who fed the dogs by Kristein Hemmerechts The wife of Belgium’s most notorious murder is told.

The defenceless by kati Hiekkapelto Finnish crime novel link to the immigrant girls .

She is not me by Golnaz Hashemzadeh A young womans journey to adulthood as she struggles to be a swede from Iraq

Coup de Grace by Marguerite Yourcenar A novel set during russian civil wart a love triangle of sorts

Memory at bay by Evelyne Trouillot  Two people from Haiti In a Paris hospital from both sides of the Papa doc regeime

Gone to ground by Marie Jalowicz Simon One womans survival as a Jews In wartime Berlin

Decompression by Juli Zeh A love triangle on a hoilday Island

The other woman by Therese Bohman The other woman tells her story a doctor falls for a staff member at the hospital.

2016

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The decision by Britta Bohler – Thomas Mann decides to call the Nazis as he decides to publish a piece against them.

Mend the living by Mayliss De Kerangal A day in the life of a human heart and the two people it touches

Hah BY Birgul Oguz a collection of Turkish short stories

Ladivine by Marie Ndiaye Three woman’s lives connect by family

The story of the lost child by Elena Ferrante – The last part of the story sees the two friends older, but not together

The little communist that never smiled by Lola Lafon – The story in novel for off Nadia Comanecci apt for this Olympic year .

The body Where I was born by Guadalupe Nettel A tale of a girl with a sight problem growing up

The winterlings by Christina Sanchez-Andrade Two sisters return to the childhood home .

Well 17 books isn’t bad in what has been the poorest 12 months of blogging. This is my 1300 post on the blog it is nice it comes as I’ve  managed to post a few reviews this week.

What did you read in the last year by woman in Translation ?

 

 

 

10 female writers for International woman’s day

I’ve decide to look back and bring ten female writers in translations for International woman’s day today. There is a lack of women in translation that needs addressing but if we knew how many male female writers where published in each country we may then know better what in translation is the right amount if that makes sense.Anyway today also saw the Bailey prize longlist so if you fancy a walk on the other side of lit and want to try ten female writers in translation instead of the Bailey longlist here you go –

1.

Stones in a landslide by Maria Barbal

stones in a landslide

One my all time favourite books , this the story of Conxa a young girl sent to another village that seems another world in her eyes although only a few miles from her home we see here grow up in this wonderful Novella . My review 

2 The Belly of the atlantic by Fatou Diome

belly of the atlantic by fatou diome

An early review on the blog follows two siblings drawn from Africa to europe one the sister in france the footballing brother dreaming of playing top flight football in France for me this book is more relevant than when I reviewed it six years ago. My review

3 Exiles by Ciler Ilhan

 

A powerful collection of short stories that lay bare modern turkish life. I loved the way she weaved recurring themes and motifs into these stories .From american involvement in Turkey to Honour killing no subject is taboo in this collection . My review 

4.

Innocence or Murder on a steep street by Heda Margolius Kovaly

innocence by Heda Margolius Kovaly

A czech crime novel written by a writer who translated the best known Noir writers in Czech pays homage to them in this story better known for her non fiction work under a cruel star about her time under communism. my review 

5

Thanks for not reading by Dubravka Ugresic

thanks you for not reading

A collection of essays around the world of books takes the two-fold look back at the years under communism when writers where in one way gods to the modern-day when she sees Joan Collins opening London book fair and ask why the west has fallen for Celeb memoirs and fiction . My review 

7

Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich

voices from Chernobykl

When she won the nobel last year few people had read her books I had managed to read this just before. Her style is to talk to every one involved in a situation and then writer their stories but it is the way she draws you into the lives affected and the wider picture of the fallout of the Chernobyl disaster. My Review 

8.

The passion according to GH by Clarice Lispector

IMG_20150805_144452

One of the writers I have really enjoyed the last few years is the late brazilian modernist writer Clarice lispector this follows one womans descent into madness over the course of one day. I have her stories to read soon and another novel so there is plenty of her to read out their. My review 

9

The woman who fed the dog by Kristien Hemmerechts

The Woman Who Fed The Dogs

The story is based on the wife of Marc Dutroux the most Well known  serial killer in Belgium history one woman who saw but didn’t see what he was doing. The book lives you wondering whether see was a bystander or more. My review

10.

Decompression by Juli Zeh

Juli Zeh

A clever take on the love triangle story from the upcoming German writer Juli Zeh .My review 

There is many more female writer in translation on the blog to find but here is a good selection of fiction and non-fiction.

 

Thank you for not reading by Dubravka Ugresic

thanks you for not reading

Thank you for not reading by Dubravka Urgesic

Croatian non fiction

original title – Zabranjeno čitanje

Translator – Celia Hawkesworth

Source – personnel copy

At the record company meeting
On their hands – a dead star
And ooh, the plans that they weave
And ooh, the sickening greed
At the record company party
On their hands – a dead star
The sycophantic slags all say:
“I knew him first, and I knew him well”
Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!
Re-evaluate the songs

Paint a vulgar picture by the smiths is about how music is a product .

I mention this book a week or so ago and how blown away by it I was .Ugresic had long been on my list of writers to get too , so when this work of essays and observations on writing was in a recent sale at waterstones in Nottingham ,I couldn’t resist it . Dubravka Ugresic studied Russian literature at Zagreb , she  has written a number of novels  her best known books in the jaws of life , described as post modern .She  left Yugoslavia in 1993 ,since then she has lived in the US and most recently the Netherlands .

What does this all have to do with literature ? Almost nothing .Then why mention something as trivial as Joan Collins pink suit ? Because trivia has swamped contemporary literary life and become , it seems more important than the books .A books blub is more important than the book itself , the author’s photograph on the book jacket is more important than it’s content , the authors appearance in wide circulation newspapers and on tv is more important than what that author has actually written .

Joan Collins or any celeb writing a novel is just the sad state of books and reading .

Thank you for not reading is a collection of essays all based around books , the market for books and her observations on coming to the west to promote her books . , it starts when she is at the london book fair in the 90s and the fair is being opened by Joan Collins . This is the first of a number of observations by her of what is the market force lead western , well english book market . This is contrast with her memories of growing up under Tito where books and writers where values how the soviet system treated writers in one way and then in other ways both good and bad but they were valued for what they wrote not who they were !

Milan Kundera wrote that one day , when everyone writes , nobody will listen .The markets , it seems , is creating utopia .But nevertheless , in the whole commercial whirlgig , there is a sad and paradoxical truth :glamour is a populist longing , a sign of absence .Literacy can have an aura of glamour only where literacy does not exist .

I agree with this statement , literacy is so important !

A breif description as it is more my reaction to this book that is what I want to talk about as for me it touches on a point about books that I often go on about , but feel I struggle to get across . I will give an example that mirrors the book I was at the recent launch of Olja Savicevic book Farewell cowboy , which was being filmed t=by the Croatian news to be broadcast on the evening news .There was an air of surprise when I pointed out that this wouldn’t happen here in the uk .Like this book it is a sign of what books have become and this is my constant point the big selling books and writers now can like Urgesic observed can be celeb writings or celeb writers (if you know what I mean !).But the flip of this is what I call “Adding to the critical discussion on books in translation or in general  ” that is raising books to high culture thus making them seem unreadable or unobtainable to the masses  . I mean just today we are talking about giving every kid a library card .It is not just that gets people reading it is making books seem interesting not adding to a critical discussion on books !!  An example  would  be John Buchan was the most wide read writers in the trenches of Flanders when the Everyman was reading his books . Now Buchan is considered a literary writer , but back then was read by the masses , so I agree with Urgesic view that making writers seem like heroes but heroes we can touch ,so in one book she has touched on so much that makes me blow my top the putting of books on high peaks whilst promoting drape books to the masses , it is our right to choose what we want to read not to be told book a is right because we come from a certain social or educational background Jesus would you have been the one top grab the 39 steps out of the hands of the Tommy because they couldn’t add to the critical discussion of books !! I have drift into arant her but isn’t that what a great book can make you do . For me this is the heart of why I read books from around the world knowledge is free to all well here and too most readers of this blog so don’t let books scare you because you are told they may be high culture .This book is funny and possibly ahead of its time when it was written .

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