Summer before the dark by Volker Weidermann

Summer before the dark by Volker Weidermann

German fiction

Original title – Ostende. 1936, Sommer der Freundschaft

Translator – Carol Brown Janeway

Source – Library book

When Lizze mentioned doing a second Pushkin Press week , the first book they had brought out in the last year was this one . I am a cover junkie at times and this remind me of those old Railway post in the UK from the same time , It turns out the post was a Belgian railways. The book is the second book from Volker Weidermann , He was literary editor at the German magazine Der spiegel .This is his first book to appear in English .

It’s summer up here by the sea , the gaily colored bathing huts glow in the sun. Stefan Zweig is sitting in a loggia on the fourth floor of a white house that faces onto the broad boulevard of Ostend, looking at the water. It’s one of his recurrent dreams, being here,writing,gazing out into the emptiness, into summer itself .Right above him, on the next floor up is his secretary, Lotte Altmann, who is also his lover, she’ll be coming down in a moment , bringing the typewriter, and he’ll dictate his buried candelabrum to her, returning repeatedly to the same sticking point , the place from which he cannot find a way forward. that’s how it’s been for some weeks now .

Perhaps his great friend Joseph Roth will have some advice .His friend ,whom he’s going to meet later in the bistro.

The two meet when Roth arrives in Ostend to talk .

The book focus on one summer just before the otbreak of world war Two. It focus on two writers , I wonder if the idea came from the photo at the end of the book that shows Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth sat together in 1936 in Ostend . The resort at this time was a hip hangout for the great writers of the day Arthur koestler , the other half of Irmgard Keun Joseph Roth girlfriend at the time . We see how both writers are coping with the struggles of the Nazis taking over Germany. The two writers are both at the top of their game but their lives are going different ways Roth is in a relationship that is destructive and as we all know after he only had three years after this . Zweig was working on his last work his only novel at the time . This shows a group of writers as ordinary people . But also maybe slowly waking to what was happening back home as their publishers where either going or changing .Rather like the book I read last year the Decision  about Thomas Mann at this time having to decide what way he was going to go, unlike him Zweig and Roth both Jewish writers were already doomed .

Nineteen thirty-six is a year of farewells and decisions for Stefan Zweig .His German publishing no longer publishes him, the German market is lost to him , along with Austria , his collection and his magnificent house – all of ir is now nothing but a wearying burden.Its not easy to jettison what one has built up over the years.An entire life.

The world is closing in and the Nazis are killing the Jewish writers world

This is a wonderfully craft novel about a time that has long gone a last summer before the darkness descended . Stefan Zweig is a household name in many was due to Pushkin Press . Roth is a writer I see growing every year since I started blogging Granta has been bringing his books out in very nice new additions. What Weidermann has done is weave a novel out of the bits he found from all those involved their letter ,diaries and interviews .The last chapter tell you what happened to the writer Roth sad decline, Zweig in Latin America but killing himself just six-year later Koestler was recovering from the Spanish civil war when he was there then went on to write his masterpiece Darkness at Noon . Keun never reach the heights ,  she was at before she meet Roth , she is another writer whose works have appear in English over the last ten year.This is a book that can be read in an evening as you settle into the art deco Ostend and behind the public face of these writers .

Have you read this book ?

 

Bird in a cage by Frédéric Dard

 

 

Bird in a cage by Frédéric Dard

French Noir fiction

Original title – Le Monte-charge

Translator – David Bellos

Source – Library book

This is my third choice for Pushkin press fortnight and the first from the Vertigo range I have read , which is a collection of Crime and Noir novels from around the world . This one really caught my eye after Jacqui’s review . Now Frederic Dard is another like his fellow French language writer Simeon that had written an amazing number of books over 240 , a large number of those are from the series San-Antoine , a french detective whose name he choose by pointing a figure on the map of american and choose the nearest place to his finger he wrote 170 books in that series. Pushkin is translation a number of his books into English.

The place was like a fairy grotto piled high with glittering treasures. Christmas tree decorations were stacked on the shelves : glass birds, paper Father Christmases, baskets of fruit made of painted cotton and all those dainty balls as fragile as soap bubbles that help make a tree in a fairy tale.

I was next to be served.There were people waiting behind me

“What can I get you”

I pointed to a silver cardboard birdcage sprinkled with glitter-dust. inside it an exotic bird mak=de of blue and yellow velvet stood on a golden perch

The birdcage but also a dream like feel to the shop .

This is one of Dard’s novel of the night series , a series rather like the Roman Durs of Simeon that look at the darker side of human nature. The novel set in the build up to \Christmas and follows  Albert a man return to his home patch , his mother has died and it is christmas eve and he is back home  in his childhood home for the first time in a long time to bury his mother . He goes to the local area to remind himself of the past , he buys a little silver birdcage that some how reminds him of an image from the past . He then goes for a meal in  a local bar and  he’s meets a mysterious women who  is their with her daughter, but is this woman all she seems   how invites him to her apartment . But is she all she seems and is she leading him into the darkness. and maybe into a trap

She was leaning on me heavily.I could feel her womanly warmth spreading through my body. A troubling desire for her had been nagging me ever since we started walking side by side , with our hips brushing each other.

Ar one point i felt a shiver go through her.

“Are you cold ?”

“A bit”

“Do you want to go into a bar ?”

“i don’t want to see anybody ”

Albert’s  woman as they leave the bar is it a shiver of cold or something else !!

I was remind somewhat of works of David lynch with this where you are never quite sure if you are in a real world or a dream world there is a sense this is maybe Albert’s nightmare world . Did he get to his mothers and fall asleep and all the has followed is a dream. What is the mean of a birdcage , is he cage by his past , of is he now like a wild bird caught in a cage to be an attraction for some else . I kept half expecting a dwarf or a giant to appear like in a Lynch piece  . Dard use the bare bones to guide you through the story rather like Simeon his great friend there is a sense of the darkness with in the human soul . Another writer I was reminded of is Magnus Mills a writer that use the labyrinth of time and being drawn into situations so well in his books I was remind how easily his characters fall into a world they don’t know . I still shocked Dard hasn’t capture the English reader before if this is an example of his novel of the night series of books  I will be visiting the other Pushkin have been publishing as this is a classic dark evening read one of those books you can sit and read in a sitting no problem . Have you a favourite from the Pushkin Vertigo range ?

 

 

The crew by Joseph Kessel

 

The Crew by Joseph Kessel

French fiction

Original title – L’Équipage

Translator – Andre Naffis-Sahely

Source -Library book

Well today on the second day of Pushkin press fortnight , I move to France and a book written nearly a hundred years ago this book came out in 1923 just five years after the end of the great war . Its writer Joseph kesssel in the first part of the century was in of the best known french writers Joseph Kessel was a member of the French academy and  legion of honour. His best known book was Belle de Jour which of course was made into a great film in the 1960’s . A number of his books were made into films as this was in 1928 a silent film .

“There he is, captain.”

A biplane swerved to the right above the field and its landing gear grazed the ground. The pilot was the first to climb down. He was wearing his flight suit and leather helmet, with his goggles resting on his forehead. He looked like a deep-sea diver of the skies. Jean couldn’t make out any features except for a scar that ran all the way from his mouth to the edge of his aviator hood. He was limping

The first time Jean meet Claude as he landed his plane that they would later both be in

 

The book focus on those brave flyer of the first world war a french squadron and its day-to-day life .There job is t photograph the battlefields a daily job that is a great risk . Two of these men Jean Herbillon and Claude Maury are mates in the squadron until they gather that Jean miss tress he left  and  Claude wife are one and the same  and they have  fallen  for the same women this wedge means every time they go in the air they may be a chance one may not come back but may also not get back  as the other has killed his love rival . This is largely autobiographical as he was an aviator during the first world war so the sense of danger that each flight could be there last and the scenery all jump of the page as you are up in the clouds with these two men and there comrades as the first world war rages on .

Herbillon forgot about everything else as he savoured the pleasure that went with being strong and healthy, and flying into thee blue at dawn

The captain’s plane was first to reach high altitude, and Jean saw his comrades follow suit like brown rockets. Then the group headed towards enemy lines, having assumed a triangular formation.

The euphoria of flying was still new to Jean. The engine’s gigantic breaths, the propeller’s vortex, the furious winds, all combined into a vast, brutal symphony, which left hum stunned.he’d barely begun to be able to distinguish all the instruments .

The thrill of flying still captures the younger man , I love this description of them taking off

This capture the early days of flying like his fellow french writer Antoine de saint-exupery Kessel manages to capture in words what it must have been like to fly in those open cabins of those early planes also the danger that is involved in the flying of that time from the ground , air and the craft themselves not being the most reliable vehicles . Two men on new to the job in search of glory Jean a young man untainted by war left his life to go and fly and the woman only to discover that woman was his captains wife , he is a man scarred by the loose he has seen around him one that sees the grim reality of war and not just the Glory . We see these two men fly as they try to live through the horror of war this is a real tribute to those early flyers and those flimsy planes they so bravely flew and the daily horrors they faced . I can see why this was a huge success when it came out it has a mix of boys own adventure , romance  , jealously and bravery .

 

The french Father by Alain Elkmann

 

The French Father by Alain Elkmann

Italian fiction

Original title – Il padre francese

Translator – Alastair McEwen

Source – personnel copy

Well I chose this to be the first book of the second Pushkin Press fortnight .A s I felt its writer maybe in his own life a captures Part of what Pushkin Press are about international literature and this writer has a truly international flavour  . Alain Elkmann  is an American born son of a french industrialist  and an Italian mother , who has spent most of his life in Italy and was married to the daughter of the boss of Fiat. This was his second book to be translated into English. He has written twenty books and writes a regular piece for a number of Italian Newspaper. I must note it is also Pushkin Press 20th anniversary so lets hope they have many more. May I also note I have had or made no contact with them about this fortnight. This year also sees ten years of Maclehose press more about that at a later date !!

After a step or two, I saw a new grave, on which a white stone bore the name “Roland Topor” in Black letters .I knew that Topor had been an artist, a writer. I had met him with my ex-wife and recalled having seen reports of his death in the newspapers. I remembered him with a glass of red wine in his hands, laughing in a coarse way and smoking a cigar .It had been one night in Paris, at the house of a painter friend

He had once meet his fathers new neighbour

The story starts when a son pays a visit to his father’s grave in the famous Parisian cemetery Montparnasse , like him his father was Jewish it is a while since he has been to his father’s grave but in line with tradition he has to visit on the eleven month with his sisters . When he sees that there is a new grave next to that of his fathers that of Roland Topor the well-known French Polish surrealist. Alain the son then sets about finding out as much as possible to discover as much as possible about the man sat in the ground next to his father as he seems so different to his stiff upper class father a man of the old french world of power and honour . As the story unfolds we see the son discovering more about Roland and his family . the two men below the ground are all so talking about themselves and naturally with two men at such different ends of the spectrum they argue about their lives and how they lived it .

“No I don’t feel like talking about my father . It’s not something I can do yet ”

“I should like to go to the cemetery with you , Your father’s grave is very spartan . My father is buried beside his parents .How is it that your grandparents aren’t buried beside your father”

“Just a minute who are you ? I don’t even know you. I’ve told you that I don’t want to talk about this matter, you ask me and you expect an answer ?

Alain asks Roland’s son about him , but later thinks he may have gone about it the wrong way

 

This is a quirky book and if I had said in less than a year after reading The dirty dust I would be reading another book about people talking in their lives in their graves I would have laughed but no here is another book where the dead talk about their lives. It’s a class of french Upper class lives and the Bohemian world of france sharing two graves next to each other . Then there is the son drive to discover more about his fathers new neighbour which drives him into his own investigation of Roland Topor , he knows he wrote a book that Roland Polanski made into a film and he was quite  a character in his time but not much else as he untangled his past and discovers more than he thought . This is all packed  into 120 pages , this is one of those quirky novellas that have you thinking for ages after you have put it down and finished it. So this is ,my first Puskin Prees fortnight review , what from them have you been reading ?

Our lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga

 

OurLadyoftheNile

 

Our lady of the Nile by Scolastique Mukasonga

Rwandan fiction

Original title – Notre Dame du Nil

Translator – Melaine Mauther

Source – Library book

I was rather shocked when last week I popped into the main branch of our Library in Chesterfield and saw this on a stand as last time I looked for an archipelago book my library hadn’t any so this was a real shock as it was on my to get list after earlier this year I reviewed Cockroaches by Mukasonga left me with a sense I had to get to this book at some point . Scholastique Mukasonga has lived in france since 1992 and worked as a social worker in Caen .

There were only two Rwandans on the entire teaching staff of the Lycee of Our Lady of the Nile: Sister Lydwine, and the Kinyarwanda teacher ,naturally. Sister Lydwine taught History and Geography, but she made a clear distinction between the two subjects: History meant Europe , and Geography, Africa.

Maybe they should have been Taught their own history !!

Now I for one am not a huge reader of boarding school books , even back when I was young they never grabbed me . But this is a school story that shows that a place can reflect the country it is part of the school in the book Our lady of the Nile is on the high on a hill by the origins of the Mighty Nile river  and is a private school  the sort where young girls are sent to become women  , where the staff are nearly all from outside Rwanda Nuns and fathers from the Catholic church . The book unfolds with each chapter about a particular girl but as the book progress like the year in the school we are following the life of the girls in the school turns darker. The problems start with a limiting on the number of Tutsi . This leads to tension in the school where some girls start to accuse people of being Tutsi due to their nose ,even the virgin Mary statue is a Tutsi statue. This slice of Rwanda in the 1980’s when the book is set a number of years before the genocide that the writer herself lost 27 members of her family.

“Modesta” said Glorisoa . “Have you taken a good look at the Virgin’s face ”

“Which one ?”

“Our lady of the Nile, the statue .”

“Yes and ?Sure it’s not like the other Marys . It’s Black the whites put black makeup on her . Probably to please us Rwandans , but her son  in the chapel remains white ”

“But did you notice the nose? It’s a straight little nose, a Tutsi nose ”

“They took a white virgin , painted it black and kept that white nose ”

“Yes but now she’s black , it’s a Tutsi nose ”

The Tutsi nose that cause a spilt and fights in the school !!

I enjoyed this as much if not more so than Cockroaches there is almost a freedom Mukasonga found in the fiction of  the event that lead up to the Genocide and using the school with its catholic nuns and priest  teaching the elite who are all from the outside Rwanda  barring two maybe don’t see what happens just under the nose where bullying and the inequality in even getting to the school all point to the undercurrents that lead to the uprising . The translation has kept a number of french words in place like Lycee (french for high school ), for me it kept a sense of place as most of the nuns seem to be from French-speaking Belgium , which was the country that ran Rwanda before Independence . This capture the sense of a place boiling under those racial tensions that had been simmering til the country boiled over in 1994. I was reminded of the Ulster of my youth in some ways where the tension between the sides came out in painting things and murals and of course the violence of the troubles but also a story my late step mother told me of a friend hers where he was stopped in Belfast in the seventies one evening as asked was he protestant or catholic , he said Jewish at which point he was as Protestant Jewish or Catholic Jewish , the point is that like Gloriosa the Bully in this book is like all  bullys will be violent what ever like the Nose in the book sometimes you have to be on one side or another even if you are not !!

 

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