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 ?


Rebirth a novel by Jahnavi Barua

Rebirth by Jahnavi Barua

Indian Fiction

Jahnavi Barua is a Bangalore based writer this is here second book ,the first being a collection of short stories .She has had many short stories published in collections and anthologies .she grew up in Assam the setting for the novel ,is a doctor .Rebirth is on the man Asian long list and is another of the my shadow man Asian reads.As part of the shadow man judges .

“Maybe you can write about Kabini ,no ?” Preeta waves towards the river “why not ? ” indeed ,why not.

“What about Ron ? ”

I am angry suddenly .”What about him ?”

“what is going to happen ? you may need to actually earn a living ”

A conversation between friends about a childhood incident



Rebirth follows Kaberi ,she is newly married and now with child .Her marriage to Ron is on unsteady ground over the course of the book we find Kaberi talking to her unborn child about her marriage but also what sort of father Ron would make .It’s fair to say Kaberi has fairly rose-coloured glasses in regards her husband,one main things about this book is it is modern India we talk about she her friends Tarun and Preetha  at coffee shops ,they wear and talk about sports  wear .Her friends and family also see here husbands faults more than she does .Also she is going for doctors check ups ,we see Ron grow into an  awful husband over time we spend with him in the book  . We see her childhood as well as a prelude in some ways to how she end up where she did  .For me this a novel of self rhetoric as Kaberi talks her self round to the fact that her husband isn’t the dream man she had wanted ,she even says this and the fact that she idolized him slightly only made things worse .So the title has a duel mean both the birth of the new-born baby but of a  Kaberi  as well  .I also got a real sense of place this the north-east part of India which the writer is from which gives real credence to the settings as it is the places she grew up in and obviously knows well .Even thou this is an arranged marriage and set in india I feel the main themes of this book are universal worry of marriage ,idealizing one’s partner and having a baby are the same all over the world .I did say on twitter the other day and Lisa picked up on this that I felt on one level this is a book females would feel more empathic for than men  .I m struck by what Harold Bloom said

” love tempered by ambivalence ” is a fitting four word quote for this book .

Many thanks to Penguin India that sent a copy to me for the shadow man .

Here is fays review

Into the war by Italo Calvino

Into the war by Italo Calvino

Italian Fiction

Translator Martin Mclaughlin

Italo Calvino was considered one of the most inventive modern italian writers in his time born in cuba he grew up in San Remo which was occupied by the german when the occupied the northern area of italy ,he joined the partisans ,this collection of three short stories  set during the second world war was published during the fifties .They have just been translated into English .

Into the war is a trio of loosely interlinked short stories this collection is only 90 pages all together .It also demonstrates the more straight forward side of Calvino’s writing ,more known for his later  experiential works like invisible cities and on a winter night .. .The books are set in 1940 and focus on three different generations , the first into the war we meet a young guy just join Il Duce’s army he is moved around told to do this and that and is let down from the dreams he had in a way .the second Avanguardisti in mention ,we join an army unit this is a slightly more  experienced solider ,as he  and his comrades travelled to an occupied part of france and the only bit that the Italians took early in the second world war .The third story is a comic war-time tale as we see what can happen in a blackout ,as a man the narrator isn’t where he was supposed to be looking after a school, no he is  trying  to find strange delights in the night .

It was a moonless night .The school building still reflected a vague brightness .I had arranged to meet Biancome there,but of course he was not on time .Beyond the school ,in the darkness ,there were houses and fields .You could hear the sound of crickets and frogs .

from story UNPA  nights (an Italian form of air raid wardens )

I can’t say much about the stories as that give away too much, a little research into Calvino’s own background shows that a lot of what happened him these stories certainly the first to is from first hand experience ,he was in the fascist scouts and briefly had to join the army and travelled to the part of france described in the second story during the same  time  as the story set .These as I said a start are from the journalistic side of his writing and shows that at the end of the day he was a great writer with out the need to use the  clever tricks and oulipo style he used in later novels and is more known for than this more autobiographical style of writing .I now really want to read his novel based on his time during the war” The path to the nest of spider ”  which he published before these stories but is also largely autobiographical like the stories are The three stories were translated by Martin Mclaughlin and these stories were translated by him last year 2011 .A worthy successor to the great William Weaver who translated most of Calvino’s other work .

Have you read any of Calvino’s works ?


New Finnish Gammar Diego Marani

New Finnsh Grammar by Diego Marani

Italian fiction

Translator Judith Landry

Diego Marani is a translator and newspaper columnist ,he worked for the council of europe as a translator at this time he invented a language called europanto a joke language poking fun at the euro in workings .This is his first novel to be translated into english and has taken a number of years to translate .This book was suggested as a book I should read at the IFFP by Nick Lezard of the guardian and I wish I d picked it up sooner as it is one of the truly great books in translations this year .

Doctor Friari’s eyes were the first living thing I saw emerging out of nothingness.

Sampo wakes .

Now on the surface this book can be compared to Ondaatje’s English patient as the kernel that the story is from is similar a man is found in this case on a beach in italy his personnel effects leads to the belief he is Finnish ,although he can’t talk and has had some horrific injuries ,now this is where the similarities with English patient end as the English patient spins of to a death and love story ,this story spins of in another direction .That direction is language and citizenship ,does how you are make you what you are ? Is this man finnish ? as these questions are answered you discover that Finnish is a hard language to learn but also to relearn in the case of Sampo as the man becomes known due to a name on a jacket ,and that it’s a Finnish name .He is helped in Italy where he is found ,by a Finnish doctor Friari who helps him recover and relearn or learn Finnish ,we are not sure who this man is as he is not sure who he is .The book springs the idea that in some ways in the chaos of war we can be reborn as someone else .

fire ! iron and fire ! These are the only things that count in war ! You whose name is Sampo – did you know that you are born of fire ? Sampo is a sacred word for the Finns ; the whole of the Kalevala revolves around it .

Sampo learns about his name and a Finnish epic .

As for Finland which Sampo returns to we learn about its national treasure a long poem called Kalevala this work is central to Finnish identity as it was used in the breakaway from Russia in 1917 ,which also counters the current time when Sampo is in Finland as the war nears its end , when they are trying to stop Russia overrunning them again .We also see the doctor return and to try to find out what happened to his patient .Now this book is complex and is one of those books that you never want to end as you are drawn into the world and feel Sampo struggles with who he is and really want to find via his quest who he is or who he was .I also found this book is maybe like being a baby and with a clean slate how do you learn a language is it there in you or is it taught the old nature versus nurture debate ,can a brain be wired to learn a complex language from the start or is the wiring laid as we learn ? .The book is a masterpiece and unique ,since it was published Marani has written five more novels I for one am now waiting to see what this wonderful writer has written next .He deserves to sit amongst the greats of modern Italian literature Eco and Calvino .

New year new plans into year three of blogging

Well 2011 has drawn slowly to a close here I’ve been away from blogging over Christmas to spend time with family .but am now ready for next year I ve decided to avoid challenges this coming year as I felt they distract my reading as I tend to find it hard to stick to them as I m a flighty reader , whether later in year this may change but at moment I just want to feel free in my reading again ,I be more careful with review choices next year as I feel ive been pigeonholed as a bit of a crime lover which I am but my main love will always be lit fiction And mainly fiction in translation especially those books that get overlooked or we re missed when they came out  .Plans I ve set down so far thou for next year  are – the shadow Asian reading and Judging which I m enjoying ,henry green week which is at the end of this month ,shadow IFFP reading and a Spanish Language fiction month at some point in the year ,which is enough as I start to try to get my rhythm back with blogging ,book reading target well I managed 132 books again like it was in 2010 last year (can see how far behind I fell with my reviews in last few months ,as I enter the third year of blogging regularly I feel I found my niche in the blogging world  now and have now got my own style of blogging, which suits me .I feel three to four post a week which is the level I want to be posting at and need to clear backlog of books unreviewed .I added twenty new countries to the blog this year and read from books from fifty different countries ,slightly less than last year but new countries are getting hard to find and I wanted to add some depth to places and felt I did that I ll do the same next year .

Londoners by craig Taylor

I won this just before Christmas on twitter  and was intrigued by it and london in general as a northern and proud of it , who has only visited London on half a dozen occasions I wanted to see if this book by Craig Taylor, who is also  the editor of seven dials magazine would give me an insight into what it is to be a Londoner and is there any peace in the madness as it seems to the outsider .Craig spent over seven years interviewing people from all walks of life on what effect London has had on them and what they do every day  .The book is loosely organised in sections following an arc of arriving in london too what happens every day the people how entertain, feed and look after us whilst there and ultimately the people who see us into then next life .these range from pilot that bookends the book arriving at the airport and leaving as he puts it moving away from all that life in the city .

But london has cross winds .Nothing’s stable .Nothing’s set it can be tough work too. if it is rough you might duck into grey cloud pilot

Kevin Pover on landing in london but this nugget seems to sum up London a bit as well .

I loved Taylor’s style of interviewing letting people chat and obviously editing it into little nuggets and gems and getting rid of waffle whilst still keeping the feel of every person via the grammar and use of language .I felt like I spent seven years on a tube train every day talking to a different person or in a pub for seven years .Craig has done for modern London what the mass observation project did in the second world war ,captured it like a fly in amber  for all time .Some of my favourite people in the book where the Pakistan currency guy that had marfan syndrome just because he had that as a tall thin man this syndrome was often mentioned to me as something I may have due to my build and shape , till my mum took me for tests and I hadn’t it but his story remind me of that time .

I also has some problems with my health .Some eye problems .I had retinal detachment -I have a genetic reason for that ,Marfan Syndrome ,which makes me tall and causes eye problems . karman Sheikh currency trader talks about his health problems a syndrome I was suspected of having but didn’t .

The funeral director that show the cosmopolitan nature of London has led to him working with people in Poland and Nigeria on a regular basis even opening a branch in Nigeria as he was shocked at the facilities .

I went into one mortuary and there were bodies lying on the floor at various stages of decomposition when they’d not kept up the payments .

The ambulance man talking of delivering babies here there and every where also the fact he delivered babies of all races and every one is the same when it come to child-birth .this book is the best non fiction book I ve read all year and one everyone should read I think .

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