Hansens’s Children by Ognjen Spahic

Hansen’s Children by Ognjen Spahic

Montenegrin fiction

Translator Will Firth

source – review copy

Ognjen Saphic is another from the wonderful new publisher Istros books .He is another young Montenegrin writer only 35  ,he has two collections of short stories and a this was his début novel .It won the Ovid prize in Romania (a prize for emerging talent ).He is currently writer in residence at university of Iowa for there international writer programm.This book has already been translated into another of othee languages .

Hnasens children is a clever slice of communism falling apart  in the late 80’s ,the title comes from the name for Leprosy  by some people  call it Hansen’s disease ,Hansen was a scientist in Norway that discovered  Mycobacterium leprae that causes leprosy .Anyway we are in Romania the totalitarian regime of Nicholae Ceausecu and to the very south-east of that country is a house and in that house is the last leper colony in europe .So we meet the house via the narrator of book who we are never told who he is only that he shares a room with an america with the condition called Duncan and another patient called zoltan that has been there for a very long time .But we just see the events in the house and in the greater Romania as a whole unfold and the very Stalinist regime in place was toppled  .A country is falling apart and there is a feeling of the people in the house maybe having a chance of a new way of life  .But as these glimpse of what might be happening the future , the outside world comes to them as violence and ultimately murder happens in the house .

In Centuries past we were blasted by all manner of christian anathemas ,which overlooked the fact that christianity itself was the main culprit for us rotting away in agony .It was none other than the crusaders ,returning from their campaigns at the beginning of the second millennium who introduced the disease to Europe

a historic insight in the book .


This is classic Balkan writing ,where everything is there in one book wit ,sadness,surrealism , friendship  and horror .I saw a brief clip here on you tube where Spahic says his literary heirs are people like the great Ivo Andric .

I reminded of people like Conrad at times in this book  this place is almost like heart of darkness in europe at times a world in chaos as the sane and insane struggle with reality as the rule of law goes when the regime falls chaos follows and we see how the people round the narrator cope with this sea change .And others the Hungarian writer like Krasznahoraki and Nadas ,as like them we see the communist world unfolding and the chaos of that ,but in this case  all through the eyes of one man in a small leper colony  by a toxic factory in a corner of Romania .The third part Spahic bring is leprosy itself we get little bits of the history of leprosy  the colony itself and the man Hansen that discovered the cause of it all those years ago .Even now this is greatly misunderstood condition that cause it users to be hidden by regimes like the Romanian one ,in a way I was reminded of the scenes in Walter Salles film the motorcycle diaries where we see Che Guevara in a leper colony in south america .That is all squeezed somehow into 151 pages giving a book that seems longer to the reader and lasts in your head for a long time after you have finished .Will firth and Istros have brought another gem to the english speaking world .




The shadow of what we were by Luis Sepulveda

The shadow of what we were by Luis Sepulveda

Chilean Fiction

Translated by Howard Curtis

Luis Sepulveda is a real character of chilean fiction and politics ,his bio reads like a huge novel.A student activist then a member of the Allende regime in the late sixties ,where he was involved in the culture department one thing he did was make cheap copies of classic books available to all in Chile .When Pinochet came to power ,he flew the coup set up a drama group protesting at the Pinochet regime He was caught and tried ,then sentenced to life in prison then reduced to 28 years and then finally  8 years   in exile after he had spent two years in prison .He then spent time in Germany as he had loved reading German literature in prison, Argentina and Uruguay he is involved in teaching indians to read to help them selves .He is involved with Greenpeace and goes on their ships round the world  .All that he has written over 15 novels and made four films as a director .Quite a life .

To my comrades ,male and female

who fell ,and picked themselves up ,

Licked their wounds .cultivated their laughter ,

Preserved their Gaiety ,and carried on regardless .

A preface from Luis I felt caught the spirit of this book well .

So the shadow of what we were ,what is it about well it is a story of old rebels meeting .These three friends who all fought in the socialist liberation army as supporters for the Allende regime after the coup by Augusto Pinochet .They meet after a request from an old comrade an anarchist known “the shadow ”  .But he has been held up and they ve  got to sort it for him themselves and these three aren’t the best at planning lets say .They on a hunt for some money that was from a bank robbery that the Shadows grandfather had carried out in 1925 ,he was a sort of Chilean Robin Hood of his day .So they ve been asked to rescue it and are in a whare house   .But this is thirty years on from their days as freedom fighters and they have maybe settled and have other lives in exile .So  they drift into conversations on the trivial in their own lives  Chilean wine ,coffee why they are so good and such .So a plan is hatched and the man chosen to do the Job is Coco Avarena ,he is the butt of the jokes in the past from his fellow comrades  ,a bit of a disaster area I picture a frank spencer type guy a nice chap but one hell of whirlwind of things going wrong . So I let you find out if they find the money or not .

They ate,drank ,and talked of their lives ,while the rain ,which showed no sign of stopping clattered on the roof .They didn’t say so ,but the three of them felt good here ,by the fire they talked ,reviving the lost custom of a good chat over wine .

They meet and chat away .

Well Luis Sepulveda is a new writer to me ,this is the first book I’ve read by him and I now ask myself why I d not tried him before but that said it looks like he has only had a couple of books translated .The book is filled with a wry dry humour of people looking back after time with lighter eyes on their past .But also a large chunk of sadness at fallen comrades things that were lost when Pinochet took over .This is one of those books you love from Europa editions  maybe not  a straight forward choice for translation as it is a little left field . But I learnt a lot about how it felt to be involved in Chile at the time  the way people just disappeared ,went in exile and were just killed by the Pinochet regime .We also  see how time affects people who were fierce in there youth and maybe have mellowed over time  .Sepulveda is maybe best placed having lived in  the times of the characters  and also been involved in the resistance to Pinochet .I really hope some of his other books make it to English I was moved by this book from laughter to tears .

Have you read this book ?

Do you have a favourite Chilean writer ?

Shadow Man Asian prize winner 2011

‘An amazing enterprise’ – David Parker, MAN Asian Prize Chair director

‘Please Look After Mother’ wins ‘Shadow’ MAN Asian Literary Prize 2011


‘Please Look After Mother’ by Kyung-sook Shin (pub. Weidenfeld&Nicolson, UK/Aus; Knopf, US) has won the ‘Shadow’ MAN Asian Literary Prize for 2011.


‘Please Look After Mother’ was the stand-out choice of a team of bloggers from across three continents, who reviewed all twelve of the titles originally longlisted by the official MAN Asian Literary Prize jury.


The ‘Shadow’ jury described ‘Please Look After Mother’ as ‘a heart-warming story of family’; ‘a deceptively simple novel’;  and ‘a splendid work of literary fiction.’


Chair of the ‘Shadow’ jury, Lisa Hill of ANZLitLovers.com, said: ‘It is testament to the quality of this year’s long- and shortlists that our decision was not unanimous, but ‘Please Look After Mother’ clearly prevailed overall.’


The ‘Shadow’ MAN Asian Literary Prize is entirely independent of the official MAN Asian Literary Prize, whose winner will be announced on Thursday March 15, and of MAN Group. The ‘Shadow’ Prize is intended to highlight the main Prize by broadening the discussion about the long- and shortlisted titles via the social networking community. Links to all ‘Shadow’ jury reviews and interviews can be found via http://goo.gl/LGyw4


The ‘Shadow’ jury comprised: ANZLitlovers.com; matttodd.wordpress.com; whisperinggums.wordpress.com; readramble.wordpress.com; me ; eleutherophobia.co.uk



Logo © Matt Todd. For queries about this press release contact: mark@eleutherophobia.co.uk

Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki

Next world novella by Matthias Politycki

German fiction

Translator – Anthea Bell

Matthias Politycki is one of the most succesful German writers of recent years having published twenty novels and some poetry collections .Shocking this is his first book in English !!.born in Karlsruhe he has won numerous awards ,recently on board ship as a writer in residence on a cruise ship .he is also a huge real ale fan .

Now I quickly tweet with Matthias last year when the book came out I then read the book,but got stuck on reviewing it always intending to get round to it but some how it fell from my review pile ,then when the IFFP longlist was announce I remembered I need to review it .Well my main problem first time round was how to describe the book but like every good book coming back and glancing through it months later you go oh yes and oh that .So what is next world novella about it is a story of a couple on is alive the other has just died although you could say in hind sight she maybe died before that .the couple Hinrich schepp a sinologist ,now we discover he recently had an eye operation and as his sight improved his eyes reopened on the world .Doro his wife another academic working on manuscripts .She is the one that has died and now we Hinrich who has found her looking through this manuscript .

Schepp almost reached towards the manuscript to put it some where dry then only to embrace Doro ,warm her perhaps put her to bed .

this manuscript will change his life .

Well as he reads he sees something different the notes his wife had been writing in the margins form another story that as it unfolds he sees it  is his story ,his wife knew what he was up too (don’t they always my Amanda knows me better than me ) .This shocks him there in later  middle life .He had an affair with a younger women a waitress in a bar he went to after his eye operation .This man like Hinrich has had bright hopes but hasn’t seen them through and it turns out the Doro an equally talent women gave up her chances academic stardom to be with Hinrich .

As you see this is a book where the point of view shifts what was real at the time wasn’t what is thought hidden wasn’t and Hinrch had missed it all but I must admit as a man we do sometimes miss simple things(although I ve never had an affair I tend to miss things I done that upset Amanda don’t we all ?) .I think that is why I struggled to review this first off although Hinrich life isn’t like mine at all I can see faults he has and faults .I maybe found that hard to deal with first off sign of a good book .This book also has a number of motifs a painting of a lake and the after life as Doro was obsessed with the afterlife when she was alive maybe she is living it via Hinrich reading .I was also reminded of the film Last year in Marianbad a bit that film is about a man who thinks he met a women the summer before but the women says she hasn’t that is a bit like the fact that Hinrich saw his life one way but in Doro’s eyes it was different  This book would make A great book for a male book group and might I say as I know Matthias like his ale this would be on to discuss and have a drink other at the same time .I’m pleased this of all the year of man Peirene press books made the longlist of IFFP .A very gentle translation of a book that is subtle and clever by the wonderful Anthea Bell .

Have you read this book ?

Fear of De Sade by Bernardo Carvalho

Bernardo Carvalho is a Brazilian writer and Journalist he has spent time in france and America as a correspondent for a brazilian paper ,fear of de Sade  is his sixth Novel .He has also translated books from English into Brazilian Portuguese by the likes of Oliver Sacks and Bruce Chatwin .

The fear of de Sade is a novel in two act the first is told in dialogue between an unnamed voice and the Baron of LaChafoi a forty-year old that is a bit of a libertine ,he had before been taken to prison had an orgy with three other people and spanish fly in the mix it becomes a scandal  ,he is being asked to remember this by the voice and thus solve what happened and how that some one  had died as a result of the orgy ,all this is set during the terror period of the french revolution .Over time the Baron feels the voice maybe the man he admires De Sade the infamous French noble man   and a man much admired by the baron .

VOICE : And what proves it wasn’t you ? that you’re not lying ? The fact that you don’t remember doesn’t mean much .Who can tell if you’re not really mad, and committed the crime in a fit ?

BARON :Master,I swear it !

Voice: don’t call me master !

BARON: I beg of you .My defence depends on you helping me .

the baron and the voice (de Sade?) talk

This first part does remind me of Kafka ,whether I d call it Kafkaesque I m not sure it is easy to put that title to piece that seem to not show the full picture and people on the edge or caught in the judicial system ,and I often see it mention and it is even ,mentioned on the back of the book ,But I feel this maybe owes something more to Beckett two unknown voices other than the baron’s  name and the act he has supposed to have committed we are told nothing else .I m remind of the plays of  Beckett detached voices ,people meeting in odd circumstances .

The second part of the book is about a couple,following a game that was devised by the Baron on his following of De Sade ,where the partners taken in turn to create fear in the other as the feeling is that when love dies all that can remain is fear its self  ,so we see the acts by each partner crank-up one by one ,but they act as thou this is normal  and thus this leads to the partners getting more radical with there ideas and thus leading to the husband taking a radical final step to put the fear in his wife .Again like the first part of the book this has no names the couple are just referred to as husband and wife .

In one of his books ,a moralising novel in dialogue form ,the baron recounted how he had avenged himself on the wife who was betraying him : he deflowered the illegitimate daughter she’d had by his cousin .Because according to the Baron’s philosophy ,only treachery liberates .Treachery is repaid with treachery .

The couple discover the Barons words .

This book is a gem an unusual and refreshing style of book inventive and an interesting insight into the human psyche .How far people will go in pursuit of an idea .

Have you a favourite Brazilian Novel ?


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