In red by Magdalena Tulli

 

In red by Magdalena Tulli

Polish fiction

Original title –  W czerwieni

Translator – Bill Johnson

Source – personal copy

One of the publishers over the years I have discovered is Archipelago. I have reviewed a number of their books over the years and have brought a lot as they are so pretty in their design. Magdalena Tulli is one of the writers from them I hadn’t tried and this short novella seemed a great intro. Magdalena Tulli is a writer and translator she has been five times on the prize list for the Nike prize in Poland (the polish Booker Prize), this book was one of the books to make that prize list.

Left to prey to foreign forces, stitchings filled with stories that previously no one had ever heard or wanted to hear. In the house of pleasure, in the downstairs parlor, at night officers in jackets unbuttoned in contravention of the regulations fell madly in love, sang. andlaughed; during the day the other ranks were let in through a side door and took the creaking stairs to the second floor. They thronged the poorly lit corridor, wreather in cigarette smoke, grasping metal tokens in their sweaty palms.

The town is change by Germans , this passage remind me of the Brel song Next where a soldier loses his virginity.

This book follows a small town in Poland Stitchings a town where time stands still even thou the world moves on around them.We follow the town over the period pre world war one to pre world war two. This story tells little tales of the multitudes from the workers in the main factory their Loom and son and the two other big factories in the town. German invaders the officer and the ranks their impact on the town both during the war and afterwards. The creation of Poland is proclaimed after the war to the citizens of the town. A young woman who has to decide between the two most eligible bachelors in the town. This is an odd world like that of say Dylan Thomas llareggub full of dark characters that are touched with a bit of magic realism but also the dark realism of that period of history.

Every morning the unemployed demoblized soldiers, a snarl of anger frozen on their faces, would read the newspapers, in which there was not a single piece of good news for them. They lit one roll-up cigarette from the previous one, and blew the acrid smoke up towards the ceiling. They paced from wall to wall in their basements, irritable and gruff

The men left after the war have little hope in stitchings .

I liked this book it is in the spirit of the likes of Calvino and Saramago that fine line between realism and magic realism. Stitchings is a surreal mix of dark characters that like fireflies in the night appear for a second then disappear as death hovers over the town itself. We meet folks then they die it is a strange place. But I felt in a way it is an attempt to capture the madness the encapsulated Mittel Europa in those first forty years of the twentieth century. Where lives burnt brightly at times and lives were short at times. I enjoyed Johnson translation he managed to keep the feel of this being magically real at times. The spirit of how a town is shaped by war and death is what Tulli tries to show here and that is what works it is about the place rather than the people in way.

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Mister Blue by Jacques Poulin

Mister Blue by Jacques Poulin

Quebec fiction

Original title –  le Vieux Chagrin

Translator – Shelia Fischman

Source – Personal copy

Well, I have read a number of books recently but this one has jumped straight to the top I read it in one sitting on Friday. Jacques Poulin is considered one of the best writers of his generation of French Canadian writers, he has won numerous writing prizes during his career and has published fourteen books. I have to say I love the cat on the cover of this book from Archipelago books.

Dear Marika,

Welcome, Old Mr blue and I hope your visit here will be a pleasent one, as much as out inhospitable shores allow. Try not to let the cold and the damp bother you much. Walk on the beach and the sandbar as much as you want: that’s an excellent way to shake off your worries, as I’ve often discovered myself.

I have lived alon for a long time and solitude is propitous for my work, but it warns my heart to know that you’re at the other end of  the bay. Now that you’re there, everything seems possible, even the wildest, most secret dreams, the ones we never talk about, those that lurk beneath the surface of ourselves, I cannot help thinking that your presence is kind of invitation to begin everything again, to start from scratch.

Thought I don’t yet know your face, you already live in my heart.

Jim writes a note to the unkown woman owner of the book his one human connection.

This is a tale of a writer, Jim he is trying to write a great love story. this is hard for a man that lives by himself in an isolated part of Quebec in his cottage. Jim has withdrawn from life, he was a professor teaching Hemingway to his students, but something we never told what made him end up trying to write about love. He admits he has never been in love and to add to this he finds some footprints on the beach near the house and follows them into a cave and in this cave on a rock shelf above the tideline he finds a copy of 1001 Arabian nights, the book has a name on it Marika.He then starts writing notes to this imaginary woman. Then we find out there is a refuge for woman near by and a spirit soul of a woman Jim calls La Petite appears at the house and talks with Jim at times, this is where we find out about Jim’s past. The only real thing we meet is his Cat Mister Blue and he is maybe the one thing that Jim really loves, as we see when he panics when the cat disappears and Jim Panics.

I waited all week for Marika to come and visit. But in vain. Ten times a day I leaned out of the attic window , hoping to see the women I’d invited,  the womanwho was creating such a strange turmoil in me, on whom I was counting to bring my story back to life.

When she doesn’t come he starts to panic, is she real or just a fragment of jims past that has reappeared!

This is a gentle book about solitude Jim imagines so much it is hard to see what apart from Mister Blue is real in his world at times the Writer’s Block as he is trying to write a love story. Love is there in this world imagined love the notes to this woman Marika are playful and flirty, La petite a parental love in a way and Mister Blue the love we have for our pets. A view of a man that obviously has a secret in his past but like his hero, hemingway Jim is a man’s man so he doesn’t dwell on it but the sense is of a forgotten past at times. A book for lovers of subtle stories of being alone and the tricks it can play on one’s mind.

Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

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Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

Rwandan Memoir

Original title –  Inyenzi ou les cafards

Translator – Jordan stump

Source – Personal copy

Mukasonga grew up in rwanda as part of the smaller Tutsi tribe, she luckily left and went to live in France before the 94 genocide that in its wake killed 27 of her family member that were unable to escape. This is the first of a triolgy of autobiographical works the other two being Barefoot woman and L’lguifou . her first novel which followed these three books Out lady of the Nile won one of the biggest French language African Lit prizes the Ahmadou Kourouma prize and also a number of french book prizes.

The first Pogroms against the tutsi broke out on All saints ‘ day , 1959. The machinery of the genocide had been all set into motion. it would never stop.until the final soultion it would never stop

Needless to say , the anti-tutsi violence didn’t spare Butare province.I was three years old and that first images of terror were etched into my memory.i remember

The stark reality of the world she grew up in from her first memory .Also note the day the catholic church had a part in this in a small way !!

 

The book follows Her life from the early 1950’s her childhood and is told in vignettes through the years. Far from being an ideal childhood , as is the case with genocide the undercurrent of the problems have been there since the start of her life when even as a three-year old she saw violence . The thing we also see is her fathers drive to have his kids learn ,which as we see later on is a reason that Scholastique herself managed to get away from her homeland.We see the first stepping up as the family have to move of their good land on to poor land the echoes here are so much to the Jews being moved in Nazis era. They are moved as the Hutus wave machetes , this also remind me of those horrific picture of people having limbs hacked of by these machetes and having to struggle on with their lives. This is an insight into her family the opening lines touched me where she mentioned family members “For all those of Nyamata who are named in this book and the many more who are not ,

for the few who have the sorrow of surviving.

For a long time I had no news of my parents , my brother, my sisters who’d stayed behind in Nyamata. Writing them was out of the question. Letters from Burundi were considered suspicous and could cause their addresses serious trouble. I kept an ear out for rumors and news from Rwanda. I urgently questioned anyone who’d dared to go there. Not until Andre was in Senegal could he get a letter through to our parents to them of our new lives. Evidently mail from West Africa wasn’t thought to be dangerous

I was reminded of my old Bosnian friend that was unable to speak to his mother , I’d feel so grateful at times .

 

Some books are testaments to a time and need to be read to understand a time and the history. I was reminded of the opening of world at war where we follow a camera through the village of Ordour-Sur-Glane the french village where the was a brutal massacre and the village was left as ut was destroyed at the end of the war as a testament . this book about the Tutsi genocide is another work that needs to be read. Those horrific scenes on the news at the time are long gone but as this book shows the wounds are still there not just the physical ones the mental ones this is a prelude to the violence but also like the build up to the world war two the undercurrents to this conflict can be seen in the early years of Scholastique life . The conflict grew after independence with the events of april , may and june 94 being the  explosive and brutal end that saw maybe a million people killed in two months . So this book need s sit along the works of writers Like Elie Wisel or Primo Levi as those touched and saw the violence in their time. So this is the story of one of those cockroaches as the Hutu called the Tutsi in that time .

 

A general theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

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A general theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

Angolan fiction

Original title – Teoria Geral do Esquecimento

Translator – Daniel Hahn

Source – copy from translator

I was lucky that Daniel saw I was after this when it was mentioned on the longlist for the Man booker international prize. He said he had a spare copy of the us edition (extra bonus as it is an archipelago books copy so very pretty as well ) . I had looked for this on ,my library system just before the man booker but they hadn’t a copy as the book of chameleon by Jose Eduardo Agualusa an earlier book by him had won the prize and also been one I had really enjoyed. Jose Eduardo Agualusa  is not just a writer,  he has a radio show dedicate to African song and poetry and also publish books from around the Portuguese speaking world .

Ludo opened the box. Inside, looking fearfully at her, she found a little white newborn puppy.

“He’s a male. A German shepherd ” Orlando explained. “They grow quickly. This one’s an albino, rather unusual. He shouldn’t get too much sun. What are you going to call him ?”

Ludo didn’t hesitate

“Phantom!”

“Phantom?”

Orlando shrugged his bony shoulders

“Very well. Then Phantom he shall be ”

Ludo gets her dog. Now the strange thing is my Mum has a dog his name is also Phantom he is a greyhound thou I love the way books and real life cross sometimes.

A general theory of Oblivion follows one woman story but not just that the story of her home and homeland post freedom Ludo a woman decides on the eve of Angola becoming a free country to brick herself away from the outside world into her apartment. What follows is a collection of her life and what she glimpses from behind the walls . As she faces life through her collection of books her albino German shepherd dog, also her memories of a man who might have been the one Orlando and the radio the only link to the world apart from the glimpse and chance encounter she has over a number of year like a burglar that she encounters. The book is a wonderful mix of life and dramas real and imagine worlds and how someone avoids madness just in more than thirty years apart from the real world.

The days slide by as if they were liquid. I have no more notebooks to write in. I have no more pens either. I write on the walls, with pieces of charcoal, brief lines.

I save on food, on water, and on adjectives.

I think about Orlando. I hated him, at first. Then I began to see his appeal. He could be very seductive. One man and two women under the same roof- a dangerous combination.

A  short piece this captures almost her being on the edge of madness in her words as she remembers the past and Orlando .

From what I have read I think this novel is actually based on the real life person . Her notebooks Diaries and poems that where all collected after she died after spending 28 years cut off from the world. It seems Jose was given access to this body of work initially to write a radio play. That is odd as I felt when I finished this book  the small pieces that make this book up are almost like turning a radio dial through the years that Ludo had spent apart but also like gems in the dirt of african history waiting to be unearthed. I can see the mix of styles in this book can put the reader off but to me they drew me in as we see Ludo and her world and how her world starts to slowly fall apart from the lose of her dog, to having to burn her books and then the end. But what we also see through these piece is a glimpse of the past and present in Angola using both the real world and a mythical world.  This book shows why we maybe should be trying to get more books out of the Lusophone world!

Have you read any of the other books By Jose ?

A new site for archipelago book

Well it’s always nice when a publisher you like makes a real effort to improve the user experience on their site and with the new just launched site from non profit publisher Archipelago books they have spent time it seems make it a great user experience I ve a few of their books under review I advice you to take a whirl round the new site here

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The Eleven by Pierre Michon

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The Elven by Pierre Michon

French Fiction

Translators Jody Gadding and Elizabeth Deshays

Original title Les Onze

Source  Review Copy

Pierre Michon is one of the most highly regarded writers in France raised by his mother ,he studied literature at Clermount -Ferrand ,he then decide to join a travelling theatre company travelling .He entered the world of Literature at the age of 37 with the book small Lives ,a collection of interlocking stories looking at eight lives  also published by Archipelago .This book the eleven is his twelfth novel  and even thou it is a short book at just 97 pages it is one that Michon spent fifteen years working on .It won the French Grand prix prize from the French academy .

We know he was born in Combleux in 1730.
It is just upriver from Orléans with its visible church towers, and
it bathes gently on both branches of the Loire. Overhead of course
are those French Poussinian skies, which he rarely painted, and from
one steeple to the next following the levee the length of the river,
those islands, willows, rushes where as a child, one would have loved
to hide, and the sudden flights of birds. The Loire carried boats at that
time: and it is because of the boats, and what carried them, that the
creator of The Eleven was born on the shores of the Loire.

Corentin  early life and origins described

So the Eleven the title is taken from a painting a fictional painting that was supposed to have been painted during the height of the French revolution .The Artist Corentin is brought in to compile a painting the one of the title the eleven ,this  title refers to the eleven members of the  committee of .WE see how this painting was made from a number of angles ,we learn of the artist ,how he came to do the painting his thoughts whilst he is painting the paint ,the people in the painting .First Corentin this guy is a man who rose through the society he lives in, due to his talent as a painter .He rises  from his humble beginnings in Limousin region a rural area of France  .The committee well to mention a couple of names -Robespierre and Saint – Just two names that even I had heard of in regards the French revolution  .The struggle of Corentin in how he is to portray these men on the canvas with his feeling for them and how they want to be shown on the canvas .He is also comission to paint before this the mistress of louis XIV . So we see where his conflict comes from

Can you see them, Sir? All eleven of them, from left to right: Billaud,
Carnot, Prieur, Prieur, Couthon, Robespierre, Collot, Barère, Lindet,
Saint-Just, Saint-André. Unchanging and erect. The Commissioners.
The Great Committee of the Great Terror. Four point thirty by three
meters, a bit less than three.

The painting described and who starred in it

Corentin is maybe a representation of a number of artist that probably painted during the French revolution and how they maybe struggled at times with the art and the subjects they were painting   .Well as you see this is one of those French books that is very French(that sounds wrong ,I  mean in a publishing context ) I  can hardly see a British publisher taking a chance on a slim book about a fictional painting and painter  that has very little happen in it yet so much this is one of those books that makes you think .I was reminded at times of the Robles novel I read last year ,as this book has the same feel of themes on top of themes a web of ideas ,The eleven is rereader a book that I ‘m sure you get more from after every time you read it .The main theme is of course the connection between art and politics ,well the power of politics and politicians.I mean how often do we see the dictators round the world surrounded by images of themselves painting sculptures  .Also how often has art been used to capture a moment in time , I mean some of the most famous paintings from France  that I remember are paintings that fall in that category The raft of the Medusa being one of them also Delacroix liberty leading the people an image also from the French revolution  .We see the turmoil of the artist doing these paintings of these figures who hold the power but have let the power get to them .

Have you a favourite novel on art ?

Link to the publishers site .

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