waiting by Goretti Kyomuhendo

Waiting by Goretti Kyomuhendo

Ugandan fiction

Source – personal copy

It has been a while since I add a new country to the list of place I have read from you get to a point where the countries become harder to find I have always had a couple put to one side for an emergency and still have three other countries on my shelves to read but this has been on my list to read for a while it was highlighted on a post for the best books from Africa this one jumped out at me as I hadn’t read a title from Uganda. Goretti Kyomuhendo has written a number of novels and a couple of children’s books. But uin recent years she has been involved with the African writer’s trust and has published a handbook on how to be a creative African writer. This was the last novel she has published in 2007.

We had learned about the details of the war a month before, when Father returned from thje city where he had worked at the Main Post Office as a clerk. He told us that President Idi Amin was about to be overthrown by a combined force of Ugandans who lived in exile and the Tanzanian soldiers who were assisting them. The soldiers were advancoing quickly, heading for Kampala from the southwestern border that Uganda shared with Tanzania. The districts along that route were already in the hands of the Liberators.

Alin’s soldiers were looting shops, hospitals, banks and private homes in the city. They wanted to seize as much as they could before the Liberators arrived, Some were fleeing towards the West Nile and Notrthern Ugandan regions, their home areas. People had vacuated the city in fear of both the advancing liberators and the fleeing soldiers. No one knew what each group was likely to do to civilians

THe first details hit the village from her father.

This follows the wars that raged in the seventies in Uganda that tore the country apart. Where the Liberators are trying to unseat the tyrant Idi Amin or as he was calling himself at the time the Last King of Scotland as his troops go through the country trying to kill all the rebels and those that had helped them. This is all seen through the eyes of a young teen Alinda who because her mother is drawn-out labour has become the main mother figure for the family that is in the village extend family as they all try to avoid the Amin troops. One brother is set on to draw the liberators her mother is trying to give birth but is panicking about getting caught. We are also told how things got so bad the background to the Indians getting sent away from the country. An uncle he then takes on four wives. When he converts to Islam this was due to them getting those businesses that had been left by the Indians when they left all this after he had spent time before that selling black market items to get by. We also see the beliefs and superstitions that drift through the locals as they try their best to avoid the looting and violence that follows Amin troops. Will they get through is there hope outside Uganda.

Mother was gasping, and calling out softly for help. I saw a cushion of blood, and heard a baby crying. Mother told me to find a small bundle under her pillow, which contained a razor blade and some cotton, wool and gauze.

“Cut,” she commanded, when I told her I’d found it

“Cut what?”

“The umbilical cord.”

My hand trembled, and I could not hold the razor blade steady. I could not see the cord. I feared to look at the jellied blood next to the baby. I thought I might vomit and tried hard to contain myself. Then I saw something like a felshy string coiling out of the bloody mess and winding its way to the baby’s stomach

She helps give birth to her baby brother as the war rages outside the village.

Powerful is the word for this book we get to see the last embers of the war as Amin troops try and control the local road. Alina and her family are trying to get by her mother struggling to give birth with all this going on all around. Alinda voice comes through so well in this book as the does the village life the comes and going of the extended family as they all try to keep away from the war but also the spirit of a world that is maybe gone with the use of herbs and nature maybe helping the villagers get through. I have been a fan of books set in Villages as they always show how similar we can be the uncle is a typical figure a black market man that when he sees the chance to get an Indian business comes his way by changing his religion he seizes it with two hands. Will they all survive will they find a way out?

Our circus presents … by Lucian Dan Teodorovici

Our Circus Presents by Lucian Dan Teodorovici

Romanian fiction

Original title – Circul nostru vă prezintă

Translator – Alistair Ian Blyth

Source – review copy

I return for a second visit to Romania this year and this time it is a modern writer from the Dalkey Archive series for the country. Lucian is the manager of the Romanian literature museum and also a festival of literature and translation. He has also written for the Guardian and edited a series of books called the Ego Prose in his native Romania. He has written for numerous publications and has published prose, drama, and screenplays including a feature-length one for this book.

I don’t know , why, but when I was little — it happened a long , long time ago — my father deemed it fitting ti tell me a story, an anecdote, a joke – yes, I think he told me it in the form of a joke — about a circus. So a circus comes to town (I don’t remember which town), and the poster looked something like this

The main attraction!

Our circus presents a unique act:

The birdman !

One day he flies, the next day he dosen’t

He’s not flying today!

I was remind of the Hemingway or not six word tale babyshoes for sale never worn which leads you to wonder like this joke !

The unnamed narrator of this book could be called the birdman. Every morning he steps onto the ledge outside the window as he tries to commit suicide will this be the day he jumps of the ledge or will he carry on like he does most days. This morning he is seen by a neighbour above who wonders what he is doing there. The birdman is a name from something his father said he had seen on a sign in a circus or was it something his father thought was funny. but as a child, he put a smile on his face. As he goes on he spends time ion the church and later on sees a man trying to hang himself from a tree as he saves this man carries it on his back. It turns out the man does this sees a rescuer appear and then hangs this leads to a tale of been hung with a bag of stray dogs being hung and trying to find the man hung next to them as he said he wanted to hear people say he died like a dog. As the two become friends we find our narrator had messed up his first sexual encounter after his father’s advice. he visited prostitutes after that as he and his friend or as he calls him the man with Orange suspenders. But what happens when someone really dies that he knew will this death change his outlook on life. Add to this a third friend that is trying to sleep his way to death.

Now I’m heading toward the station, for the first time truly desirous — and, what matters, fully aware — to spend the night with a prostitue. All that happen back then is in the past. My father, my mother, my brotherare far away, transformed into memories from many years. And I must admit, not even those memories are very pleasent. And so no one can prevent me now, at this very moment, from deciding for myself. There will certainly be no one waiting for me back home, seated on the toliet. And, above all, no one else will have to pay for the girl of my choice.

Haunted by what his father had told him in an ackward sex talk with his father as a teen !

These two and a fellow friend are all trying to take their lives with various reasons why they are doing it and various ways of doing it some alone some wanting to be found others anting someone close as they do. There is an air of desperation amongst them all. This reminds me of a couple of writers Beckett which of course the down and outs of Waiting for Godot come to mind as they talk. But I was also reminded of the American short story writer Raymond carver there is a similar feeling of the lost souls in the world these are scrapping the barrel of life. They just seem stuck in a loop trying to end their lives. This does have dark humor behind it at times yes the subject is very dark but the circle of the suicides are more cries for help and maybe a way of being seen by anyone. I was drawn ion by the way Alastair had translated the voice of the main character you are hooked from the first page to his life and what brought him to where he is? Another example of why Dalkey archive is so important to be kept running thanks to Deep Vellum. I wonder if anyone would be interested in later in the year doing a Dalkey archive week maybe?

Game of the Gods by Paolo Maurensig

Game of the Gods by Paolo Maurensig

Italian fiction

Original title – Il gioco degli dèi

Translator Anne Milano Appel

Source – review copy

Paolo Maurensig first published a book in the sixties but it wasn’t till his second novel the Luneberg Variation that I had reviewed very early on in this blog in fact just over ten years ago. That book came out in 1993 and since then he has written a string of successful novels. That this book like this book revolved around Chess and the world of chess. Because if in fact if there is a master of the novels that involves chess it would be Paolo Maurensig as it says on the front cover he had written four books that had chess involved when he felt drawn to writing this book. The novel is partly based on the real chess player Mir Sultan Khan.

In past years, I had already collected quite a bit of material about Sultan Khan; photos and articles from newspapers dating back to the thirties when he had arrived in Europe in the service of Maharaja Sir Malik Umar Hayat Khan. After four years of successful matches, howeer his career was suddenly interrupted, and once he’d left the circuit of the great international tounaents, he’d been quickly forgotten, No one knew what he might have done in the meantime, and had it not been for the “scandal” related to the legacy of Cecilla Abott, one of the wealthiest women in America.

How did he come to America wjat happened over those years?

The book finds Norman La Motta a writer from the Washington Post that had been sent to cover the growing trouble between India and Pakistan in the mid 1960s. He comes across the old man as he was then Mir Sultan Khan a chess master that had come from Punjab this is the opening into us finding out the life story of Mir Sultan Khan from his humble background as he described how fragile that life was at the edge such as when the Elephants got spooked. He is taught at a very early age the Indian form of Chess Chaturanga from being 9 he eventually comes to the attention of the local Landlord a Maharaja who decides he wants to see if the young boy now becoming a man can play western chess just as well as its Indian counterpart. He is just as good at the other version and this leads the village boy to the heart of Western chess and is brought by the Maharaja to England to beat the best of the western players. but as this is just in the pre-war years he is drawn onto the dark side of world war two where they want to use his mind to build strategies for the war how does he get on how did he end up in the US and how far can he get in the chess world.

That was how I came to move to Delhi, to enter the maharaja’s court as a servant. Going from the humble clay and bamboo hut, where I had lived until then, to the magnificence of his residence seemed like a dream to me. All my miserable clothes were replaced with silks and fabrics ablaze with bright colours. I no longer moved amid the dust and dung of the poor village in which I was born, but in the midst of unimaginable luxury. Sir Umar Khans attendant – genrallyyoung boys from age fifteen up – did not have soecific duties, but had to be able to anticipate his every need and desire: to bring him a thrist-quenching beverage at the right time, arrange a pillow behind his back was comfortable, or cool him with a fan when he appeared to be suffering from the heat

He is let into the Sultans world but with a cost !!

This book like his earlier book is set in the time around the war the earlier book used a game of chess between a younger and older chess master here we see the culture clash of east and west as the situation. It is also a classic tale of someone getting to the top from nothing and also the outsider what Maurensig does is weave those stories together through La Motta meeting and wanting to know the turban-wearing chess master end up in New York but also the journey he had taken from Punjab a lowly stable boy to chess master. The real character was a great player of his time in fact the Elo ranking of him meant he would have beaten most players easily. He was never a master or grandmaster maybe another nod towards the clash of culture and how he was viewed as a lesser player when he came with his Maharaja to play the best of the west but then shock people with his talent. Have you read any of his books ? he had now had a couple of books come out from World editions.

Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness

Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness

Icelandic fiction

Original title – Kristnihald undir Jökli

Translator – Magnus Maagnusson

Source – personal copy

I have featured a number of Icelandic writers of the years. But had yet to feature their Nobel-winning writer Laxness won the prize in 1955. Even though I have six of his books on my shelves so I decided it was about time and I choose this one of the six I had as it seemed different from the others. Laxness wrote for nearly 60 years this is a later book he called a visionary novel. He is best known for Independent people he wrote in various styles over the years. There was a film made of his book.

The bishop handed me a dog-eared scrap of paper that could hardly have come through the post; it looked as if it had been carried from farm to farm and shuffled from pocket to pocket through many districts. Nonethe less, the letter evinced a mental attitude, if you could call it that, which has more to it than meet the ye and which expresses the logic of the place where it belongs but has little validity anywhere else , perhaps, the bishop rattled on while I ran my eye over the letter: And then he’s said to have allowed anglers and foreigners to knock then he’s said to have allowed angler and foreigners to knock up some monstrosity of a building pratically on top of the church – tell him from me to have it pulled down at once!

The Embi sees the letter that lead to his task.

The book follows the sending of a young emissary from the Bishop of Iceland to the pastor of Snaefells Glacier as there have been reports that pastor Jon has been a strange course. The Bishop tells the young man of the glacier and its connection to the Verne book and it has an entrance to the centre of the earth. He wants to find out what is going on he tells the young man just blend in talk with the locals about the weather and gently find out what is going on. So from then on our unnamed emissary is called the Embi he arrives at the glacier finds a church not just run down but also nailed shut by order of the Pastor. He starts to talk to the locals as he discovers how they view what is going on. Why has Jon start being a sort of odd job man and they feel the glacier is now the centre of the world we know it. There is a feel of them all become like a bunch of new-age hippies. While the Embi get to the bottom of what has happened, will he see the truth through the lies he was told to listen to both by the Bishop as he said in the lies he may see more than the little titbits of truth there is a lot of mystery in this book there is a sense of something looming behind the enigmatic Pastor Jon and his wife as the Embi unpicks everything bit by bit?

It’s appropriate here to make a long story short.

Yopur emissary, however, doesn’t wish to delay giving a summary of the tales thart have lived here in this past of the land since time immemorial about a mysteryious women: sometimes gthis woman, sometimes a multide. Sometimes this women has taken the form of somerather disagreeable luggage. Tumi jonsen has now started to tell the icelandic sags in a style that consists principally of casting doubt on the story being told, making no efforts to describe things, skating past the main points, excusing the main characters for performing deeds thart will live as long as the world endures, erasing their faces if possible but wiping them clean, just in case. Therefore it never becomes a story, at best just a subject for a poem. The women carry on with their scrubbing. This was a long morning.

The locals are changing the facts

This is one of those books that has you laughing in one bit as this bizarre outland of Iceland and it locals with there views from the Pastor and his clerk then we start pondering what is going on in the glacier. The style of the book is in reports and dialogue of the interviews he does with locals. As the dead bodies, aren’t getting buried and the talk about being the centre of the world what is happening? What I loved was the collection of local oddballs he meets as he tries to discover what is going on for the Bishop. As Susan Sontag says this book could be sci-fi at times, comic or as Laxness called it visionary novel it is one of those books that has so much more it seems that some of the things that happened in the book are partly based on the actual pastor in the first half of the twentieth century. We view one of those strange community that is cut off from the rest of the world. Have you read any books from Laxness ?

That was the month that was January 2021

  1. The Catholic school by Edoardo Albinati
  2. At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop
  3. A luminous Republic by Andres Barba
  4. Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura
  5. Robinson by Aram Pachyan
  6. Holiday Heart by Margarita Garcia Robayo
  7. Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai
  8. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
  9. Kokoschka doll by Alfonso Cruz
  10. The last days of Ellis Island by  Gaëlle Joss
  11. 30th April 1945 by Alexander Kluge
  12. The sand child by Tahar Ben Jelloun
  13. With an unopened umbrella in the pouring rain by Ludovic Bruckstein

Well, I managed 13 reviews this month, and from 12 countries unfortunately there were no new countries,  no new publishers, but it’s been a while since I reviewed a book from Virago. The journey this month starts with the epic Italian story of a school and some killing then we went to the trenches and some African troops. A small child tells the tales of his medieval Japanese fishing village.  Then some strange children appear in the jungle. Then Modern Armenia is highlighted in a collection of short stories. Then we had the tale of a couple’s American dream falling apart. A day in the life of a pre-war Japan. Then the letters between a New Yorker and an old English bookseller. A series of vignettes take us to wartime Germany and the aftermath. The last week on Ellis Island sees the last guard reflecting on his time on the Island. The day Hitler shot himself is seen in 360 degrees from every angle. Then a girl is forced to grow up a boy to save the family money and lastly we see Sighet in Romania with tales of the Jews that lived there.

Book of the month

We have two winners here –

Firstly the tales of Sighet so touch me in this collection of short stories from a writer that has luckily been saved from oblivion and brought to us thanks to his son’s efforts to get his father’s voice heard.

Then 30th April 1945 is just so rich the multiple layer Kluge forms with his vignettes around the day Hitler shot himself. Kluge is a writer that likes to take a wide angle on his fiction the bigger picture.

Non-book related items

With us in Lockdown I haven’t brought a lot of records this month but spent most time listen back to old Uncut and Mojo cd I have got both these magazines for well twenty years so I have a lot of their CDs and have spent a couple of hours reading and listening to them most afternoons off work. Especially their Americana CDs. I am now on the last of my three nights tonight for this month at work.

Next month

I have already read a couple of books read ready so we shall be in Iceland and with a chess master to start with this month’s reading I hope to add a couple of Arab works this month. Then I will see where I wander knowing me it has been a while since I read a book from a new country so I think that may need to add somewhere new next month what are your plans for the coming month?

With an unopened umbrella in the pouring rain by Ludovic Bruckstein

With an unopened umbrella in the pouring rain by Ludovic Bruckstein

Romanian fiction

Original title – Mitriya Sgura BeGeshem

Translator – Alistair Ian Blythe

Source – review copy

This is the second work by Ludovic Bruckstein I have reviewed he was a Romanian writer who had disappeared from the Romanian cannon of writing as he left Romania to live in Israel where his brother had settled just after the second world war in the late ’40s. SO in 1970 when Ludovic Bruckstein decided to leave the communist government wiped his works from the country. Bruckstein became a writer after the second world war he grew up in the Town of Sighet where the stories in this collection are set. He was inspired to write by the story of the sonder Komando uprising in Auswitchz which formed his first work a play called Nightshift. He like the rest of his town was sent to Auswitchz in May 1944 as they all went on four trains of his family there was just Ludovic and his brother survived of the 13,000 jews of Sighet only 2000 lived.

Hersch-Leib was a porter from an early age. “I worked in transportation” he wes leter went to say.

He was always cheerful, enterprising, born into a farming family, with numerous siblings, he was never one to twiddle his thumbs waiting for his mother to put food on his plate. He went out to earn his bread.

A man tht drag himself up from the bottom upwards.

The trap was also set in Sighet what he does with these stories is keep alive the spirit of the town at that time as his son said in an interview the town was very cosmopolitan in the pre-war time a mix of people from lots of places and lots of religions. These stories start with the Sabbath and the bargemen and the blacksmith of the local town in the title story. Then in other stories we hear of Hersch Lieb the local porter who grows his business from a young age, he also appears in a later story as a businessman who regularly comes to the town with his large family opts for three stale rolls to make his penny go further Avram opts for the harder sale rolls. Then We have Chaim rives a man with no fear poor but broad-shouldered and healthy a loner of a man that never got conscripted in both wars but in May 44he took his life rather than go on the train. The stories mostly end with the sad day the jews of Sighet left on four long trains as it is put 70 in each carriage 43 carriages to each of the four trains take the town to their death. One of the different stories involves the Italian troops that came to stay in the town which at the time was a hub for the railways they sing, play their mandolins, and lighten up the town in comparison to the Hungarians and German in the town. This is just a glimpse of the tales of the town never to be the same after those trains leave.

Chaim rives was afraid of nothing, He wasx afraid of nothing hard work, nor illness, nor the bad dogs in poeople’s yard, nor dreams, nor ill omens, these was only one thing alone of which he was terribly afraid; tomorrow. He gladly endured hunger today, so long as he knew that tomorrow he would have something to eat,

This fear probably came from childhood, when he had never enough to eat. His mother was a washerwoman with large number of children and a large amound of laundry to wash. He couldn’t remember his father. Nor did his mother ever speak to him of the other children about their father: maybe she had forgotte, maybe she didn’t have the time, maybe there was no point.

From the story the fear one of my favourites in this collection.

Ludovic sin says in the interview here with Susan from Istros Books and also in a piece for Calvert Journal. That his father always told him stories of his hometown in those pre-war years. This collection reminded me of the lost world we met in Grigory kanovich book Shelti love song set in another Jewish community that isn’t there anymore.  Ghost lift of the page as you read of the character that lived in the town before may 1944 before the train left and 11000 souls lost their lives in the Auswitchz. I always say we can never have enough stories that make us remember the holocaust but also where hate can lead. The book is also illustrated by his son who has done drawing for each story. As his som said his father was a realist and unlike Wiesel who he said how could this happen ?, where has God been? Bruckstein knew Wiesel in fact they grew up and went on the same train to Auswitchz two voices of the lost town. A writer worth being rediscovered he brings this town alive with it characters that jump off the page Bruckstein gives the voice to these ghost from the highest to the lowest in the town. Have you read either of his books to be translated?

The Sand child by Tahar Ben Jelloun

The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun

Morrocan fiction

Original title – L’Enfant de Sable

Translator – Alan Sheridan

Source – Personal copy

Well, I move to North Africa and an older modern classic from that country that has been sat on the shelves for a while to read. The last book I reviewed from Morroco had a link to this writer as it was also set in the Tazamamart prison which featured also in Ben Jelloun’s best-known book This blinding absence of light. He is often mentioned as a future Nobel winner he has written in French although Arabic is his first language. He has written twenty or more novels and has won a number of big book prizes over the years including the Prix Goncourt.

The father had had no luck. He was convinced that some distant, heavy curse weighed on his life; out of seven births, he had seven daughters, the mother, aunt Ayshaa, and Malika, the old servan woman. The curse was spread over tim. The father thought that one daughter would have been enough. Seven was too many; tragic, even. How often he remembered the story of the Arabs before the advent of Islan wo buried their daughter alive! Since he could not get tid of them, he treated them not with hate but indifference.

Hajji has had a run of daughter so when he has had seven that is enough he makes a plan for number 8

The book starts with Hajji telling of the fact that he had seven daughters to his wife and no matter what his next baby was going to be a Son no matter what happened. So he knew his money would pass through the family as the daughter in Islamic law at the time is only able to get a third of the estate from the Father. Which his brothers knew and had pointed out that they would end up with his money if he hadn’t given birth to a son. So when they are expecting an eighth baby he decides no matter what the babe will be a boy and passes on so much to the elderly midwife Lalla his plan to make even a daughter into a son Lalla ios elderly and sees the benefit of the idea. So when his wife finally gives birth and it is a daughter the secret of that is known by just two people Hajji and the midwife. as the child, who is called Mohamed Ahmed grows they talk about having their chest tied up which is to stop her breast from developing. HE is married to a sickly daughter of a relative the story is told in the form of a storyteller and the young Mohamed writing to a friend but what will happen will Mohamed gather she is actually a woman? there are telltale hints here and there throughout the book and how the father always seemed to have the answer then later are storyteller end up blind and this is a nod to Borges of course.

The truth goes intoo exile. I have only to speak and the truth moves away, is forgotten; I become its gravedigger and disniterer. That is how the voice is: it does not betray me. And even if I wanted to betray it, reveal it in all its nakedness, I could not. I would knt know how. I know its requirement: avoid anger, avoid tenderness, do not shoutm do not whisper- in short, be ordinary. I am ordinary. And I trample underfoot the image that is unbearable to me. God, how heavy that truth wieghs upon me! I am the afchitect and the house, the tree and the sap, a man and a woman. No detail must disturb the harshness of my task, whether from the outside or from the bottom of the grave. Not even blood.

Later his decison wieghs heavy on him and this is just as the  young Mohamed has her first period !

I have the absence of blinding light by him as well but this one jumped out of me as the story seemed one I would enjoy the tale of a down on his luck husband that keeps wish for a son to only have daughters then he decides to sacrifice his youngest and let her grow up a boy in this age of people being able to be more gender fluid this tale of a deliberate swapping of gender seems horrific as it highlights the pain the child had to undertake to be passed as a boy. But also shows how religion can affect people it also highlights the prevailing system at the time in Morroco run by its elderly King. The novel uses the storyteller to tell the story within the story of the book it has nods later on towards Borges not only with the story becoming blind but also when later on the book its has a few Magic realism and Borges touches to the story. This book can easily be read in a day as it is under two hundred pages and each chapter moves the story as we move through various gates. Have you read any books from Tahar Ben Jelloun?

30th April 1945 by Alexander Kluge

30th April 1945 by Alexander Kluge(with an additional piece by Reinhard Jirgl)

German fiction

Original title – 30. April 1945 – Der Tag, an dem Hitler sich erschoß und die Westbindung der Deutschen begann

Translator – Wieland Hoban

Source – personal copy

I fell in love with Alexander \Kluge last year he had long been on my list of writers from Germany to read. Kluge was a leading light in both Literature and film and later on Tv he was a member of the Gruppe 47 writer that featured the like of Gunter Grass and Uwe Johnson for two and in many ways shaped post-war German literature. The discovery of him is the link for me to Sebald as he has a style of interlink vignettes and history like Sebald did. We also have the bargain of a few chapters from his fellow german writer Reinhard Jirgl who adds a few chapters he is another writer on my list to read his book the Unfinished came out last year and is one I want soon.

The most dangerous weapons of the second world war en route further westwards

At night along the Danube, trucks drove up to riverboats that lay hidden in the undergrowth on the riverbank. Barrels were loaded onto barges. The Barrels were unmarked. Even in the darkness, the captains of the six river vechicles were still advancing kilometre after kilometre on the Danube, going upstream, They were ensuring distance from the eastern enemy.

Only years later did those invlved find out that their task had been to prevent the enemy from getting their hands on the nerve gas, tabum, on the river. By day they were meant to look for shelter under overhanging branches on a distributary of the Danube. Before morning had broken, a motorboat caught upwith them and gave the command to unload the containers once more onto pioneer barges.

Thinks getting moved as the russians close in!

The full title of this book in German gives full insight into this book and that is the fact it is the day that Hitler had shot himself in the Bunker as the Russians drew closer to Berlin. As I said this is more a patchwork quilt of a novel that takes us on a tour of the west and eastern front at the time Hitler took his own life. there is a dark cloud over the Wehrmacht as they don’t yet know of Hitler’s passing but there are the red army and western forces heading towards the heart of Germany. Then the wider scope a Neutral ship in the water, the US at the time and there is Zurich we are told which films are shown at the time(and interesting mix of English and German films from the war which is an interesting insight). Then we move forward to Obama visiting Berlin to give a context of the change over a period of time. These 100 or such snippets build an interesting picture of the world at a crossroads in time.

He had Only Got Three of his students Through to Spandau-West

The educator Dr Friedrich Ruhl, who had led 18 pupils into a military intervention and only got three of them through to Berlin, attempted to report to the Ministry of Education, a ruin, where there was nonetheless work going on in some rooms. He was getting on the nerves of the porter, who was still active in his cubicle reinforced by wooden cladding, because he kept appearing day after day and asking for someone to report to. But there was no offical left in the remannts of the bulding to whom he could have spoken about pupils in a military intervention.

Elsewhere people run towards Berlin but loss his pupils along the way.

Like his other book, I reviewed by Kluge he uses short vignettes from a few lines to a few pages. to give small insights of the world at a moment of time I have seen in recent years Youtube use a similar effect to build films of a set day They did one for the new year a couple of years ago where everyone did what they did on the day thus like this showing a myriad of views it shows what a visual writer he is this is a man that isn’t after the shots going through Hitler’s brain no he wants to catch that exact moment outside that bunker as his homeland was on its knees bleeding as the war was coming to the end he also shows the before and after in small pieces that show how we end up with Hitler and also how the world moved on after. So I have to more books by kluge to read and I see there is a number more are four more from Seagull books for me to get. Have you read Kluge, do you see the connection to Sebald? He uses a similar way of layering the story he tales bit by bit I was especially reminded of  The rings of Saturn as we also dart here and there in this book like Sebald did in the rings.

The Last days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse

The Last days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse

French Fiction

Original title – Le dernier gardien d’Ellis Island

Translator – Natasha Leher

Source – review copy

I said I would have a second European literature prize this time we are in France with the French poet  Gaëlle Josse she started as a poet after studying Law, journalism, and psychology. She now works as a website editor. She has set a prize for young writers as well. Then about ten years ago started writing novels she won prizes with her first three novels. Then got this here fourth novel on the European literature prize list. This book started with the writer visiting the museum of immigration which is on the site of Ellis Island where she saw the history and came up with using some of the people’s stories she read whilst at the Museum.

Liz was my guiding light. Nothing triumphant or blinding like the light that is brandished for all eternity by Lady Liberty. My poor Liz, the very idea would have made me smile. No, she was mellow, constant, serene. We were married only a few years. Too little time, but is the intensity of an experience measured by its duration? The interminable pace of my life today has no significance for me anymore. I get up, work, go to bed and wrangle with the memories I have tried to build walls to keep out. I barely manage, and anyway it will all come to an endone day or another ?

Liz haunts him through out the book.

The book has John Mitchell as the main character in the novel. He has worked over 45 years as an officer of the Bureau of Immigration as the last gatekeeper of Ellis Island he has stayed on the island doing his job as in 1954 the Island is due to close he has carried on working there til the end even thou his colleagues had moved on and the stream of people was a trickle now. Whilst he works we get to look into the mind of John as he recalls the events and people that had passed through Ellis Island over his time there from when it was used a lot when there was a number of Steerage Passengers the sort of lower-class citizens in search of a better life or those needing to escape Europe. This sees us learn of his short marriage to Liz who passed away of Typhus from someone that arrived in the US. but he had a short foray with a Sardina girl Nella and even though it was thirty years earlier it seems to have affected him all the way through it. Memories of those he met during his time are told in brief from A couple from Hungary with communist sympathies elsewhere there is Italian anarchist maybe a warning of the future when McCarthy and even in the 20s the red scare and the tightening of the immigration laws in the late 1920’s which slowed the people through Ellis Island. A look into the last days of somewhere that was the start for so many dreams and Nightmares of what could be the American dream.

From my vantage point on Ellis Island, I observed the continuing existence pof America. The city so neqar, so far way. For me, the island had become an outpost, a watchtower or rampart, with me standing sentinl against invasion.

The activity of the station was in inexorable decline. Today I am the captain of a phantom ship that has been abandoned to its ghosts. Like the ghost of Nella, who arrived on board the cursed Cincinati on April 23, 1923, and still clamors for justice today.

His other ghost Nella arrived in the hieght of the arrivals on the Island.

 

I enjoyed this it is a book of memories but also felt as thou it caught the mood in some ways Ellis Island saw so many lives come through it over the years and we get a lot of brief glimpses here and there is a touch of melancholy over the tales and John himself the one event whilst he was married haunted him a ghost of a woman from Sardina he fell for and a wife that died too early. As we see him over the last eight days of the Island as we read his personal journal. Those years after Liz’s death John was there his job was his life and although we only see a few lives here it is the ones that touched him the most during his time on the island. As the Pogues said in there song pogues thousand are sailing” The island is silent now and but the ghost still haunt the waves and the torch lights up a famished man ” A tale of one man life as the gatekeeper of the US during the first half of the 20th century caught here.

Kokoschka’s doll by Alfonso Cruz

Kokoschka’s Doll by Alfonso Cruz

Portuguese Fiction

Original title – A Boneca de Kokoschka

Translator – Rahul Bery

Source – review copy

I join a blog tour on the day this comes out. I always feel Portuguese literature is a blank area of the blog over the years. So when I got the chance to read a book by the leading light of the Portuguese literature Alfonso Cruz he has published a number of novels this is the second to be translated into English. He is a novelist, artist, illustrator, and member of a blues group called The soaked Lamb (love that band name I must try and find some of his music). This book won the European Union Prize for Literature, I shall be covering another winner in a day or two.

At the age of Forty-two, or , to be more precise, two days after his birthday that year, Bonifaz Vogel began to hear a voice. Intially he thought it was the muce, then he thought about calling someone to deal with the woodworm, but something stopped him. Perhaps ti was the way the voice had given him orders, with the authority of those voices that live deep inside us. He knew it was all in his head, but he had the strange sensation that the words were coming from the floorboars, entering him through his feet. They came from the depths, filling the bird shop. Bonifaz Vogel always wore sandals, even in winter , and hr felt the words slipping through his yellowed toenails

The opening lines just drew me in as a reader. worth noting Vogel is German for bird!!

Now, this is one of those books that you in one part love and in another absolutely hate at times just as it isn’t a linear narrative of a patchwork of little piece stuck together we have three main narratives the first sees Bonifaz Voge who is the owner of a bird shop in Dresden he hears voices from under his floorboards This is just as the bombs in the latter part of the war have fallen and in his cellar Isaac Dresner who end up thereafter he saw a jews friend shot. He starts to talk to the man Vogel who thinks the voice he hears through the floorboards. Vogel thinks it is god and Dresner becomes this man’s inner monologue.  Then we move onto the book within the book a novella called Kokoschka’s doll by Mathias pope a work about the Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka who when his Alma Mahler left him he got a life-size doll made of her. That he took out and strolled with and eventually he smashed a bottle of red wine over her head. In an interview with the writer on youtube, he said he used this as a metaphor for the book as a whole. But also the story of the Varga’s another thread of stories with chapters that are randomly numbered. The latter book is about the novella in the second part of the book and how it is received. The three parts of this novel all interlink this is collection of stories with a dash of Aphorisms and philosophy. There is no clear way to describe this book it is a gem of snippets that see you go around the world and view the same events at views.

FROM OUR FLESH WE WILL MAKE A SINGLE EARTH

” I have always wondered who will bury the last man” my grandfather said to my father, “or in this case who will bury the gravedigger. You will, of courser. You are not a gravedigger, but you will bury me in the same earth as your mother, who died as you took your first breath almost three times seven years ago. Her earth will mix with mine, as it did in life, and from our flesh we will make a single earth”

When my grandfather died, my father did as he wished and they were mixed together for ever

one of the snippets from the opening part called the memoir of Isaac Dressner

I said I feel I haven’t read enough Portuguese literature and I always feel the same after reading books from there the deepness of there writers is always stunning from Pessoa who’s complete The Book of Disquiet I read when it came out the other year but haven’t had time to review I will be doing this soon it maybe would show how we get to writers like Cruz as Pessoa uses a lot of Aphorisms and the is no real linear narrative to the Book of disquiet. Then I have read more modern writers like Peixoto and Antunes both often use different strands in the narrative Peixoto had an odd collection of characters like this book does. I feel this is one for the readers of books like Sophie’s world or night train to Lisburn books that make you think and puzzle that have so much more at the heart and this is one it is about war the aftermath love and loss and life in general and will have you thinking for days after you have put it down.

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