Our lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga

 

OurLadyoftheNile

 

Our lady of the Nile by Scolastique Mukasonga

Rwandan fiction

Original title – Notre Dame du Nil

Translator – Melaine Mauther

Source – Library book

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

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

Maybe they should have been Taught their own history !!

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

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

“Which one ?”

“Our lady of the Nile, the statue .”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Two green otters by Buket Uzuner

Two Green Otters

Two green otters by Buket Uzuner

Turkish fiction

Original title – İki Yeşil Susamuru, Anneleri, Babaları, Sevgilileri ve Diğerleri

Translator – Alexander Dawe

Source – review copy

It wasn’t so long ago when there wasn’t many Turkish novels available outside those by Orhan Pamuk was small , but this last couple of years a few more writers have appeared and a number of strong female voices from Turkey Buket Uzuner I would count in that group like Birgul Oguz and Ciler Ilhan that I have reviewed in recent years shining a light on the female experience of modern Turkish life . Buket studied biology and environmental studies before becoming a writer.

That year a lot of my friends parents got divorced, and we picked on each other in a way that only children can do . We’d say , “Yours aren’t divorced yet ? That’s so uncool, and then we’d laugh. These days I often run into those old friends of mine and nobody laughs about it the way we used to .

Those parents who were leaving hom at the time started up another trend : They’d move to “undiscovered” little towns and villages on the mediterranean coast. Sevin, my mom’s friend from college, was the first in our family to get divorced.Ner husband Semih, an electrical engineer, moved to Bodrum with a young actress and opened a restaurant

I connect with this passage as my own parents split and like Nilsu it was rare in this time for parents to divorce.

The book is the story of  one young womans life in the 1980’s Nilsu has lost her mother how has abandon her at maybe the most important point in her life the verge of adulthood. Her mother took off and this has left the young woman struggling to trust and vulnerable to the wider world at this point she meets the enigmatic Teo who is the leader of a green party in the Turkey . The two fall for each other but hold off on doing anything that is until Teo own mother takes her life and leads him to a downspiral with only Nilsu to help him out as the two draw closer and his political world becomes more turbulent. They try to help them get back to the calmer side of life and carry on with their lives .

“We can talk about Thoreau , Gandhi , Tolstoy and Schumacher “, he said , full of zeal, “but Lao-Tse was the grandfather of them all! Now there is Foucault , and maybe me!” around the same time Siddhartha was making waves in europe and thanks again to Ulla , Teoman got a copy- she still sends him books now and then – hut he knew how differently such a book would affect European Christians and Mediterranean Muslims.

This shows how when books get translated the power they can have over those that read them !!

This is a wonderful insight into how a young woman struggles to get by through in their own world especially in what in Turkey is a very Male oriented society add to the lix her involvement with the green movement at a time when Turkey was just getting over the last of a number of military coups that had happened during the 197o’s . A country that had decide to start looking to the west and is growing, but the green movement is the flipside of this growth. Nilsu and Teo are the new face of Turkey the fresh-faced willing to stand alone and willing to sand together finding strength together in the end as they stop each other from diving into the depths of despair .A great insight into Turkey at the time just as it is waking up to the world maybe and a great leap forward .

 

 

The tale of Aypi by Ak Welsapar

The Tale of Aypi

The tale of Aypi by Ak welsapar

Turkmenistan fiction

Translator – W M Coulson

source – review copy

It is rarer and rarer  these days I add new countries to the list of book I have read from list. So to add Turkmenistan is a nice addition especially as AK Welsapar is one of those rare writers that writes despite oppression from his own country where his writing has been banned since 1993 , he was also under house arrest for a year at this time . He was trained as a journalist in Moscow. It was in this capacity that he highlighted the environmental problems that where left in the central Asian area in the post Soviet era.

A few days later, when they next gathered on the same spot, the old men were finally compelled to discuss with each other what they had always avoided mentioning ; namely when they would relocate. Like it or not, this had to be resolved , before the problem forced its own resolution. Naturally, after quite a bit of beating around the bush, the council got underway . Hodja spoke his mind first .”Shipmates share their soul they say, and if we’ve gotta go , let’s not drift off one by one, but let’s pick a day and ship out together.”

THe men decide what to do when told to relocate .

This book follows a despite between the fishermen of a small village on the Caspian sea and the soviet regime that is wanting to oust them from their homes but also their way of life have been asked to relocate . One of this group the Araz , he use the myth of Aypi  of the title has decide he wants to fight for their way of life and to stand firm for their past and the myths they believe in. Like that Aypi a young woman who was killed unjustly and has haunted the men of the resion for many years . The book is a fight between small and large , good and evil , old and new . Will Araz save his way of life but also that of everyone in his village.

At the first premonition of dawn. Aypi’s ghost floated down from above and into the winding, dishevelled streets.As the sun rose in the sky to the height of a spear, the village , as it always did came to life. Like sturgeon in shallow water, people went back and forth leaving wakes behind them.

I loved the imagery of this short opening to a chapter about Aypi but also the village .

I loved the nature of this book of bygone times and also how people’s lives can change. for me it remind me of a story I heard many years ago I worked in a day centre over 25 years ago and one of the ladies their had worked many years earlier, on the herring boat fleet as what was called a herring girl where she followed the fleets of boats fishing Herring up and down the east coast of Britain , LIke Araz and his friend this community had its own way of life. I often reflect on how similar fisherman’s lives can be around the world as it ends up as man against nature most of the time . This is a life that had been for many years the way of life for many girls from the north-east. This like Araz is a life that is dying out, well in this case had died out. This story is also a bigger story of violent regime trying to push people of their land also  destroying the  land and sea around them.A K welsapar is one of those writers that use a small story to paint a wider picture of the world around him and what he sees .Another gem from the Glagoslav .

A temporary sojourn and other stories by Nasreen Jahan

A temporary sojourn by Nasreen Jahan

Bangladeshi Fiction

Original title –

Edited by Niaz Zaman

Translators – various

Source – review copy

I was sent this via a fellow blogger Chelsea McGill who blogs from the globally curious  and lives in India . The collection she sent me is from one of the best known Bangladeshi writers Nasreen Jahan , she joined the Chander hat a national organsation for children organisations in 1974 and was at this time also encouraged to writer short stories which eventually got published in a daily paper in Bangladesh. She has written novels and short stories and also a number of prizes including the Bangla prize.

Kader Ali had cleaved the boy in two with his axe and fled the village in a frenzy. By the time he reached the riverbank at the end of the river, it was past sundown. An unpredictable wind was blowing, sometimes motionless and dead, sometimes they lash at you so hard you’re startled. In this unruly state of nature the river waters are in a fix. Fortunately a pitch darkness has defended or else this behaviour of the wind on her anchal waves pulling in one way and baring the other would have caused the river to fail miserably in keeping herself decent.

A temporary sojourn opening passage

The stories in this collection all for me had an eerie feel to them a collection of tales of low lives and people on the edge of life.A husband in the title story kills his son because he feels his wife hasn’t really become a muslim after they married. Elsewhere a mother and daughter fall out over the daughters lover the mother has deformed legs this remind me some what of Maugham characters in of human bondage only with the roles shift in sexes. Other stories head into Marquez and magic realism with cattle thief clashing with the vultures and elsewhere animals turning up. These are stories of everyday Bangladesh where we she how hard life is for the woman there and how often they are let down by the males around them. A refreshing collection of stories from a new name for the blog and new country for the blog.

A vulture is perched between the outstretched legs of the dead cow that had been lying on Nayar Char for sometime. It is jumping about like a new-born calf.

Kutubuddi is watching from a distance. There is not a single soul in sight anywhere. The sky seems to have descended on the Char like the breast of a white cow. Today Kutubuddi is a skilled hunter. his feet are [added like a cat;s. Indifferent to the thorny bushes that are scratching him and drawing blood he creeps forward

Man and Vulture get to it over a dead cow in the story Vulture , I felt this had a large echo of Marquez in it.

When I started winstonsdad these are the books I wanted to review the rare gems those books that show how yes these stories are set in Bangladesh but also the stories could remind you so much of the people we see every day on Jeremy kyle being at the bottom is hard wherever you are but this also shows how strong the woman are in Bangladesh for me this is also a perfect books for woman in translation month. Yes some of the translations are maybe raw and the voice isn’t the same as it is when one translator does a short story collection but it is also refreshing to see so many translators that can translate Bangladeshi fiction into English eleven in all. Many thanks for Chelsea for sending it to me .Have you read any books from Bangladesh.

Man tiger by Eka Kurniawan

 

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Man tiger by Eka Kurniawan

Indonesian fiction

Original title Lelaki Harimau

translator  Labodalih Sembiring

Source – personnel copy

Winstons score B+ a fresh voice from an emerging country in translation in English , owes much to Marquez but worth reading.

Eka Kurniawan had been on my radar since his first novel beauty is a wound appeared last year, so when the second book by him Man tiger appeared on the man booker I was pleased to get the chance to add Indonesia to the list of countries this blog has covered. Eka Kurniawan grew up in a small coastal town and studied philosophy he is also a graphic designer. Also in the introduction to this book there is talk about how Eka discovered books and the two books he loved that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the old crime novels of the detective Nick Carter.

 

Boar hunting had become their pastime many years ago, back when Sadrah was still the town’s military commander. Anwar Sadat himself had always been highly enthusiastic every time the harvest season ended, when people were no longer bound to the soil, which was left fallow temporarily. Although he had never raised a spear or run up and down the hills, he always provided boxed meals of rice and fried egg and a truck to take the hunters to the jungle’s edge. Three times a year they enjoyed this sport, going on the season’s non-stormy Sundays. Between hunts they would tame ajaks and train them to course their prey.

Anwar like Margio was a hunter as well .

I don’t often read introductions to books but am pleased I did to this one as it placed the work in context to me. Baring in mind the book is 11-year-old, its safe to say this is a book written firmly under the spell and style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If Marquez had grown up in a small coastal town in Indonesia this is possibly the book he would have written. Man tiger follows, the death of Anwar Sadat (am I the only one that find it is strange the choice of a Egyptian president that also like the main character in this book is shot) . Now this is a not a who dunit as we know who shot him it is more a whydunnit in a way.Anwar was shot by Margio a young man with a white tiger as a friend whose famlies past has often crossed with the womanizer Anwar Sadat a failed artist. What drove the young man to kill the older man who had been a thorn in his families side for so long. Margio talks about the tiger also being inside him.

The coffin was covered by a golden sheet with silvery tassels, inscribed with the words of the Shahada. Kyai Jahro led the salawat chants as it left the surau, a few people following behind, mostly Margio’s friends who had been hunting boars on the mountain and gave no thought to their mud-smeared clothes. Margio was among them, right next to the coffin, scattering the flowers Mameh had picked along the way. Komar bin Syueb was to be buried at the Budi Darma public cemetery, accompanied by frangipani and champak, a furious little Marian waiting for him on the other side

I loved the atomsphere of this passage it evokes the place so well .

I enjoyed this As I said it remind me of Marquez but also of Classic crime from America where it isn’t always a whodunnit but more of whydunnit as I said this also harks back to the classic crime novels of Latin America where it is more about the scene than we in the uk have to try to find out who did the killing. We also have a trying to pay himage to Marquez without going full magic realism in a way lots of talk about having a tiger in a man but no men becoming tigers here bu the lines nearly get blurred at times. I do wonder about the chhoice of Sadat as a name is that a wider comment on his homeland it wasn’t til 2004 when this book was published the country had its first free presidential election.Well will it make the actual shortlist I think so our I am not sure it is close this year I think you will have to wait to tomorrow and the Shadow shortlist is announced. I have now reviewed all this years longlist.

 

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