I Live in the Slums by Can Xue

I Live in the Slums by Can Xue

Chinese fiction

Original title – the stories were published in various publications and collected here.

Translators Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping

Source – personal copy

Well, this is the second book from Can Xue or as she is known Deng Xiaohua. I have read the first was the longlisted love in the new millennium which was longlisted for the Booker I read it but wasn’t a huge fan of it I have struggled with Chinese fiction over the years but was willing to try as this was a collection of short stories and  I remember reading at the time I read her novel that it was her medium as she had written over a 120 short stories over the years. Known for her Avant-garde and abstract style of writing. She had worked as a metal worker and then with her husband started a tailoring business before she wrote more she took the pen name Can Xue early on in her career.

The Old man sat up in bed, about to bandage his heel with a rag. He had prepared the rags earlier for this purpose. He made a lot of noise tearing up the cloth. He seemed top be strong, He kept wrapping his foot until it was encased in one large package. The pig squealed more and mpore incositently. they were on the verge of leaping out of the pen. He got out of bed and stepped on the floor without putting a shoe on his injured foot. He went outside to feed the pigs. What was this all about? Whu did he let the house mouse bite his heel ? Was therre a tumor there and he was letting the house mouse perform surgery? What admirable willpower ?

The foot getting nibble and the old man then wakes

I Live in the slums is a collection of 15 stories with the longer story the story of the slums being more of a novella than a short story. As with the story of the slums, the main story is a dark tale of the Chinese underclass our narrator opens with a bone of an old man being eaten a dead man I thought but no he then wakes this is the view of the underclass and later the story goes full circle as the same thing happens to the narrator with his foot being eaten and nibbled by a mouse. The stories view the poor lost voices of Modern China from the urban sprawl to the countryside. It captures that journey of many young chinese from the country to the town.  Almost what I felt is this is the reverse of the American dream as the characters are poor in the country but also those left behind those elders struggling. Then the nightmare of the city is captured catfish pool which shws the urban sprawl destroying the places. The stories are all avant garde and sometimes make the reader struggle but also make the stories hard to describe they are more absorb by the reader.

THe slums were my home, and also the hardest place for me to understand. Genrally speaking, I didn’t make a deliberate effort to understand it. Destiny drove me from one place to anpther. I’d been underground, I’d been to the city, and \i’d lived in all kinds of homes in the slums. There was often crises in my life; the threat of death was ongoing, but I was still alive. Could this be because my ancestors were living in the depths of memory and protecting me? Oh – that boundless pasture, that eagle disappearing into the vast qi, those kin who lay on their stomachsin the underbrush! Thinking of them, I felt I knew everything and was capable of anything. But this was in my memory. The reality was absolutely different. In reality, I knew almost noting, through I had experienced so much.

Near the end of the novella the story of the slums the narrator talks of his life in the slums.

I enjoyed this collection more than I had her Novel I was reminded at times of Herta Mullers writing there is a similar richness to her writing style. also a similar abstract sty;le that takes tiome to absorb as a read this is rich in images and is more about atomspehre setting and events than narrative. The stories have lots of little nods to what is wrong in china the underclasses Building come and go the sort of chaos that follows the unending urban sprawl that has eaten the countryside and spilt people from where they were. The main novella is very dark and has a feel of Kafka an unnamed narrator a downward spiral of life. I will be trying more books from Can Xue whch is a change as before this collection I wouldn’t have picked her up. But I know feel her style is more suit to the short form. Have you read Can Xue ? where next ?

WInstons Score = B  It grew on me.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Japanese fiction

Original title – Chikyu Seijin

Translator – Ginny Tapley Takemori

Source – personal copy

I got this book last week for my birthday i had given Amanda a list of books that I thought maybe on Tuesday’s booker longlist and this was one of two Japanese novels this was one the other was Breast and Eggs which if it is on the list Tuesday i will get otherwise it will be a while before I get to that one anyway back to this the second book by Sayaka Muruta to be translated into English the first Convenience store women was a hit and one of those books I didn’t read due to the hype but this had been on my radar mainly because I loved the cover art which in fact relates to the book. Sayaka Murata grew up reading sci-fi and mystery novels from her family see even started to write a novel when she was 14. Finally publishing a novel when she was 24 she has published 11 books so far winning one of Japan’s biggest book prizes Akutagawa prize for her book convenience store women. Her books deal with Family, sex, celibacy, asexual relationships, and sci-fi elements.

I took Piyyut out of my bag. He loked like a white hedgehog plush toy, but actually he was an emissary sent by the magic police on Planet Popinpobopia. Piyyut had given me the magic wand and mirror to help meuse my maigical powers, I explained.

“Wow, Natuski, thats amazing” YUu said, his face serious. “It’s thank to you protecting the earth that we’re living in peace”

“Right”

“HEy. What sort of place is that Planet Popinpo- What’s it called again?”

“Popinpobopia. I don’t know really. Piyyut said it was secret.

“OH”

She is given magic powers to help save the earth by the plush to that is an emissary from another planet.

The novel is told from the point of view Natsuki she grows up spending her summers with her family in the remote mountains with their grandparents in the WIld Nagano Mountains and also there is her Family her Aunt and Uncle and her cousin Yuu. it is during these summers she buys what Piyyut which she thinks at the time is a white hedgehog toy but he is really an alien from the planet Popinpobia to give Natuski magic powers to save the earthlings. What follows is an account of her youth which has two events that shape her future and that of her family the first is abuse from a teacher that sexual abuses her and the other is a sexual awakening alongside her cousin Yuuwhich they are caught meaning the family unit is split and they stop talking to the aunt and Uncle. So when many years later when she is trapped in the city she describes it as a baby-producing factory and she is stuck in a sexless marriage. As she is driven to go back to the mountains this leads to a reunion with her cousin and also the secrets of her youth breaking through the loss of family she missed the after ripples of the kissing and sex with her cousin in her youth. This leads to a shocking end to the journey through the book.

I once asked my husband why he’d registered at Surinuke dot.cpm. “I thought it was written into our contract not to pry into that”, he said, clearly uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry, that was out of order. I didn’t mean to infringe on our contract>”

“No it’s okay. I feel suprisinglu relaxed talking with you. Natsuki.”

It wasn’t that my husband had no interest in sex. Instead he thought it wasn’t something to do rather something to observe. He enjoyed watching, but he was apparantly disgusted by the notion of touching and being touched by someone else who was discharging fluid. Another problem my husband had was that he hated working. This was obvious in his behacviour at work, so he found it hard to hold a job down.

Her advert and contract husband isn’t all she had hoped for at times.

I am not a huge sci-fi fan as you may know but this uses the sci-fi to drive the narrative and also to point things out. This is studio Ghibli if they let the writers from Law and order special victims unit had written it this uses the sci-fi element as a sugar coating to the horrors of sexual abuse from a teacher which then leads her fumblings with Yuu which then leads to suicide and a family break up these events then lead to her marriage and the events at the end of the book. Murata manages to tackle the subjects subtle and with a uniquely Japanese take on events Piyyut is like a Pokmon character manga creation, then things like advertising for her husband in a very Japanese way the loneliness of the city, and being friendless as a teen the knock-on effect of abuse is seen. A powerful work Natsuki is the flip of those lonely males of Murakami’s novels a female perspective on modern Japanese life. Have you read this book or her first book ?

Winstons score  -A an unusual book

Tower by Bae Myung-Hoon

Tower by Bae Myung-Hoon

Korean fiction

Original title – 타워

Translator – Sung Ryu

Source – review copy

I move to Asia today and a novel that is maybe a bit different to the usual ones I read as it is a sci-fi work well more a dystopia novel. Bae Myung- Hoon studied internatrional relations befroe winning a sci-fi short story competion in 2005 he blurs the lines between liteary fiction and genre fiction in his works. This book is his breakthrough work and won both prize for liteary works and sci fi as well. It has been described Social science fiction for the way it uses satire and a futurstic setting to comment on the problems in the present. He has said it is easier to tackle social issues usiong a sci fi setting.

Some liquors serve as currency. In life, there are times when one must give something to someone with no guarntee of getting anything in return. This is different from giving bribes, kickbacks and payoffs, or sweetners, in which case what to give is fairly straight forward and what to get in exchange is crystal clear. But in payment for service relationship that involved far more delicate and sensitive mechanisms like offerning a “token of gratutude” or a “little something,” what that subtle gift might be and what is expected in return afre not specified explicitly. this is how power usually works, eexcept in emergencies.

The curency of the tower whiskey swapping hands not a bribe as such but.

The tower is set in a 624 skyscraper called the beanstalk in the interconnectiong stories  of the world that is the Beanstalk. Firstly, we meet Professor Jung Of the beanstalk power research. He is looking into the pratice of giving expensive whiskey.So he looks into the circulation of the expensive whiskey around the Beanstalk to dear to buy and drink. It is  more used as gifts  almost a currency in itself for future deeds from folks as the tracks down the circulation of the bottles he ends up finding the heart of this situation is a dog in a room.  that is getting lots of gifts sent too. Then we meet Writer K (an obvious nod to Kafka) who has terraphobia a fear of being on the ground and has lived in the beanstalk for years after events in his younger years. But folks start to wonder when he starts writing about nature due to some  as he previous works had been based around the beanstalk. coming up with titles like the dog and the elevator a nod to the first story. Then we have an elephant being used as crowd control by a man that has just come to the Beanstalk. A pilot is saved as he is shot sown and being on the run. Thre is also an appendix which links into events in the stories like an extract of writer K work another work or a woman that had written a work just on one floor and the comings and going.

excerpt from ” The Bear God’s Afternoon by Writer K

once it rose, the sun was in no hurry to set. One day lasted one year in the Bear God’s realm, which remained buried in snow all year long, “The Bear Godwas the evil ruler of night. As the long, long night wore on for half a year, the Bear God’ would show the,self fleetingly admist the infinte emptiness and darkness pouring in from the far side of the univers. The Bear god brought a cold blizzasd with them wnerever they went. When bitter winds, rasping like the futile breath of the grim reaper, those the eatrs and reached the heart, all good bears had to retreat into their caves for a seemingly eternal slumber.

From the appendix an excerpt fro writer K work

I really got into the world of the beanstalk althogh not a sci fi reader I do like some dystopic ficion and some great sci films. This is in the vein of writers like Orwell , kafka and maybe a chunk of sci fi writers like China Mieville anpther modern writer that seems to blur genre lines in his works. The beanstalk itself could be an ancestor of the great sci fi story universe from Robert Heinlein set on a huge abandon ship that has become the inhabitations universe like the world of the beanstalk it has its divides. The book is a commmentary on issues with sounth korea things like corrupition , social issues and the state itself the divide nation. He creates a world of the tower the floors the half a million people living there therte is also a hunour like in the first story that remind me of something Douglas adams would come up with the dog at the heart opf it all remind me of the deep thought and the answer 42. The second story of writer K is an obvious nod to Franz Kafka characters. This is a clever collection of interconnection stories bits from other stories crop up in other stories. As I said at the start it wouldn’t be a book I would pick myself but it is one I would now recomend.this has just come out from Honford star. Also this is one ofmy favourite covers this year so far

 

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

Indian fiction

Source – personal copy

I ran a bit late and here is my last 1956 club book. It is one I have been wanting to read for a number of years as it is considered a classic of Indian fiction and one of the best books about the partition of Pakistan and India. Khushwant Singh Studied in London law and was called to the bar after that. He then worked in Lahore before partition and in the Indian foreign service these experiences lead to him writing this book about the events in 1947. He was later an editor and journalist for various publications. He also was a politician later in his life.

The summer of 1947 was not like other Indian summers. Even the weather had a different feel in India that year. It was hotter than usual and drier and dustier. And the summer was longer, No one could remember when the monsoon had been so late. For weeks, the sparse clouds cast only shadows. There was no rain. People began saying that God was punishing them for their sins

This is the opening and that long hot summer is felt like a pressure cooker of events that year.

The beauty of this book is how he chooses to use one single village that until the events of 1947 the village of Mano Marija is on the border between the two new countries as the partition is happening until then it has seen all that lived there which is a mix of both Sikhs, Hindus and Muslim. In fact the only three brick built building s are the respective temples for each religion.We have shown events the events which happen after a money lender Ram lal is murdered the suspicion falls on Jugga. When he has things taken in the robbery that lead to the moneylender’s death. This is all going to be looked at by the second main character Hukum Chand he is a magistrate that has come to see events the village has a regular train from Pakistan that arrives on a set schedule. One day Iqbal arrives on the same train as some police reinforcements this young man is very political and seems out of place in this small village. As time moves on the three main characters can Jugga prove he was just set up and what happens when the train stops coming but also when there are dead Sikhs who are caught between the two in this situation on the train from Pakistan?

The train this morning was only an hour late- almost like pre-war days. When it steamed in, the crying of hawkers on the platform and the passengers rushing about and shouting to each other gave the impression that many people would be getting off. But when guard blew his whistle for depature, most of them were back on the train. Only a solitary sikh peasant carrying an Ironshod bamboo staff followed by his wife with an infant resting on her hip remained with the Hawkers on the platform.The man hoisted their rolled bedding onto his head it there with one hand, In the other he carried a large tin of clarified butter.

The trains arrival is the heartbeat of the village as passengers and hawkers are about !

This is a short book but one of those that is like an epic in a way as it has so many little threads and little side stories about those around this small village. Yes, the village is small but the events there reflect the events in both countries as Partition happened as people tried to get to the side they wanted. The village is run by the train that comes through as everyone arrives for the train coming those selling things to the passengers and the Villagers. Then those wanting to go and come to the village in the three main characters we see the official side the political idealist. This is one of those books that everyone that has no idea of the chaos of this time and the violence that followed partition is worth reading. Have you read this classic?

Hunter School by Sakinu Ahronglong

 

Hunter School by Sakinu Ahronglong

Taiwanese fiction

Original title –  山豬.飛鼠.撒可努

Translator – Daryl Sterk

Source – review copy

This book won the 2000  wung Yung-fu literature prize. The book originally came out two years earlier and was later made into a film called the sage hunter. Sakinu himself grew up in Pawian village as part of the indigenous tribe of Pawian people. He grew up to first be a police officer and then later he became a forest ranger. He then later formed his own hunter school to pass on the traditional hunting skills of the Pawian people he learned. This book is a series of short stories that form the early life of a fictionalized version of the writer himself.

Alas, the last time I heard the flying squirrels sing the song of the squirrel love was when I  was in secondary school. I didn’t immediately notice when they stopped, or rather when they failed to sing one spring, perhaps because I had never fallen in love myself, either with a girl or with the ,ountain forest. But I knew someone who had not only fallen in lovr but had a lover’s intimate knowledge of objectof his love.

“Hey dad!” What happened to the flying squirrels ?” I asked him one day “Where have they all gone ?”

The loss of squirrels is a showing of the changing enviroment in Sakinu’s world

As I said this is a collection of stories that start when the fictional version of Sakinu was growing up and is taught by his father the hunting techniques of his forefathers. The first two chapters are about Flying squirrels and Wild boar both staples of the tribe. But what is noted by the young Sakinu is the loss of flying squirrels from his younger days when they could be seen in the village to now they have to find them and then they are hard to catch than they use to be. A story of the local monkeys and the observance of when the King monkey of the tribe that lives by them dies and leads to a power vacuum that they see cause a fight as other tribes fight to gain ground and become kings themselves almost human-like the way he told it then we see the importance of Millet and his grandparents that both had field growing this crop that forms tha backbone of what they eat. Then as he ages and the rites of passage drinking then the later parts of the book see the adult looking at his world that is changing as the Han Chinese have shrunk the lands of his people and he has also seen the young of his tribe lose skills. They have to leave to Taipei or to the sea to get by and their own histroy is slipping. The last part sees him marrying his father is there his father is the harsh man but one that is a connection to the past here.

My Maternal Grandfather and grandmother have always loved to sing. They like to drink fresh national milk, Mr. Brown coffee, and millet wine. Sometimes they ask me to go to the corner shop to buy them thousand-year-old eggs to go with the wine. When they are a bit drunk, they start to sing love songs, both Paiwanese songs, and Old Japanese song. Sometimes they even throw in an old Taiwanese song.

His family keep there history alive

This is an ode to a tribe of indigenous people that I knew little about they have a language that is related to the pacific tongues of other indigenous tribes of the Pacific. Sakinu is trying to keep his tribe alive and here in this collection of stories he has a wonderfully evocative world that has a connection to a lost past in many places from the image if his father wrestling with creatures in wellys and not much more. He weaves a world that even in his lifetime is shrinking even more this is a book of his people and an important work. I’m not sure there are many other works around his people available in English. It evokes the past lost community the passing of knowledge from father to son those traditions to survive that have been lost to most of the world. One man’s life captures a world that it’s shrinking. Fair to say I loved this book this is what I read books in translation for those couple of times a year discoveries that set me as a reader alight. Another gem from Honford star that has been bringing us some great Asian fiction.

The Sad Part was by Prabda Yoon

The sad part was by Prabda Yoon

Thai fiction

original title – kwam na ja pen

Translator – Mui Poopoksakul

Source – personal copy

Well, I add another new country today with Thailand. I haven’t read enough books that Tilted Axis has brought out so I choose this one as one to read. The writer Prabda Yoon has many talents he has written twenty works of fiction. He has also illustrated hundreds of book covers.He has also translated books from Nabakov, Salinger, and Burgess whose Clockwork Orange he has translated(always have time for a Burgess translator). His works of both fiction and Art have done well in Japan. This is his first book to be translated into English and was mainly from the collection Kwan na ja pen.

The film My grandfather screened most often was Dracula, The black and white version starring Bela Lugosi. If it was pouring outside when Friday came around, there was no need to wonder which movie he’d choose to suit the weather. Come to think of it, he resembled Lugosi’s count Dracula. His cheeks were sallow, his eyes were sunken, and he wore his hair combed flat to his head; his jaw narrowed shrply to the oint of his chin, while his jet black eyebrows slanted up towards his temple. The only difference was that he didn’t have fangs , and I never spotted any tell tale puncture wounds around the base of my grandmothers neck.

A grandson grew up watch dracula that his grandparents showed in their pop up cinema.

He is considered a leading light of Thai fiction and this is a collection that shows his talent as a writer the stories are all set around Bangkok. There is a sense in many of them of that passing of the crown from an older generation to the younger generation. With a story like pen in parentheses with the grandparents showing Dracula on an old bedsheet. This links to the present when the grandson makes an ad with breath mints and Dracula.. but there is a sense of lack of connection between the generations even thou the grandson had tried by the use of the vampire. Then there is another story with vampires in.  Then we have a schoolgirls insight into her life via her diary. Then there was the crying party a strange tale of people eating hot chillis in order to cry, one of these strange rituals that crop up as a sort of rights of passage in the youth of modern Thai do when they are a certain age. Strangers meeting in a park this is a slice of modern Bangkok. Snapshots of Bangkok in the 90s the orignal collection was published in 2002.

“You all met up here every Sunday to get drunk and eat raw bird’s eye chilies until tears came out of your eyes? And competed to see who could cry the longest and the most That sounds ridiculous… and kind of awful,” Lert opined after I’d finished explanning the gist of the crying parties to him.

He seemed to have a good grasp of it

It probably no great revation to say that june was the one who instigated the crying parties. As I understood it, she founded them on a day when she was dealing with some form of heartache. But June didn’t breath a word of this to is- she even acted particularly cheery when she opened the doorto welcome the first to the gathering.

The crying party isn’t all it seems but people still go to it .

I felt these all capture parts of modern Thai life from the grandson trying to connect with his grandparents with his advert that is a nod to his youth sat watching the old Bela Lugosi film on a bed sheet but there is a barrier there, like the strangers in the park it takes time til the young man can be accepted by the older man.I feel I would like to read moire of Yoon work he seems to capture a world that isn’t perfect in fact there is a touch of melancholy to these stories but maybe that is just what happens when you live in a fast-moving city like Bangkok the speed of life sometimes drains the beauty life like a victim of a Vampire a little pale a little detached. these snapshots of a city from generation youth to strangers meeting a love affair cover every day so well. Have you read this collection? or any other from Tilted Axis what to read next?

Let’s give it up for Gimme Lao! by Sebastian Sim

Let’s give it up for Gimme Lao! By Sebastian Sim

Singapore fiction

Source – Personal copy

I am finding it hard to read in the lockdown just a feeling of not wanting to read a lot and maybe worries around family and work so I decided to try a few books that have been sat around Winstons towers for a while and here is one I think I found via an article about books from Singapore and of course me being me immediately decided to order a book from the ones mentioned and this that was a finalist in the Epigram books fiction prize (the publisher of the book based in both Uk and Singapore. The writer Sebastian Sim grew up in a two-room flat with his parents were part of the pioneer generation of independent Singapore. He has traveled and has had many jobs from salesman bartender and worked in McDonald’s this is his first English language novel.

There were three things Gimme Lao did not know about himself.

The first occurred at the point of his birth. The second happened way befor e he was born. And the third repeated itself many times over his life.

Strictly speaking, the third was not about him. It was about the pivotsal impact he had on other people, which he never found out about.

Take for example Yik Fan. Gimme Lao and Yik Fan went to the d=same primary school Being two years apart, they were notin the same class, nor did they end up in the same extracurrucular sports team. As far as he was concerned, Gimme Lao never knew Yik Fan existed

But Yik Fan knew of him, then its about how his folks meet and the missing out on being the first baby.

What I like about this when I choose it from the list of books from Epigram was it seemed to give you a good picture of post-independence Singapore and even in that Gimme Lao is cheated from being the firstborn on Singapore’s independence day by a nurse but that is maybe the first thing that sets him in his life as he is pushed by his parents is the teacher’s pet and appearing in the news media as a prize-winning student. . Then later at high school he turns on a friend to gain and claws his way to become a  doctor. This is all set in the times from the ban on long hair on men in the 60’s as the society grows so fast in wealth and  as the class is there for the likes of Gimme to climb the ladder and when he rises as a doctor dealing with the Sars outbreak. He is tricked into a marriage but has another child out of wedlock. Then he has a gay son and he is also been pushed by his mother to be a politician but as happens a lot in this clever satire Gimme has the chance to get to the top but is always shooting himself in the foot or his personality or those around him cause his falls. One doctor’s tale that is maybe a thinly veiled form many of those in the post-independence political class in modern Singapore.

Inspiried, Gimme Lao and Omala made a pact to study hard so that hey could both make it into the TEP cohort. When Mary Lao arranged for a tuition teacher to brush Gimme Lao up on the examination subjects, he insiisted Omalaattend the tuition sessions too. Mary Lao was secretly amazed by the exceptionally strong bond the two children managed to foster. When both scored brillantly for the PSLE, she had no objections tp their selecting thje TEP programme in the same secondary school. In her mind. she could see Gimme and Omlaa growing old and sharing memories as lifelong friends.

How far from the truth was his mothers idea her !! they hated each other but need each other to progress.

I was reminded when I got this of Rushdie’s book Midnight’s children but the only common factor is that characters are al born on the day of the country’s independence. In a way what Sim has done here is what I had looked for a lot in the last few years in Chinese fiction and that is how you cope with those giant leaps that countries in Southeast Asia have made in the last few decades this her captures the single-mindedness that was needed to compete and survive in the school system and to get to be a doctor. He also questions the society from the long hair ban craze through the years, tragic event land also the anti LGBT laws of Singapore all come under the spotlight here. A book that spent to long on my shelves and another country to the list of those read from Winstons dad.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage tree by Shokoofeh Azar

The enlightenment of the Greengage Tree  by Shokoofeh Azar

Iranian fiction(Australia)

Original title –  اشراق درخت گوجه سبز

Translator – was named in the Orignal Australian copy but has since been removed from the UK and US editions for their safety

Source – Review copy

Shokoofeh Azar left Iran as a Refugee in 2011 and settled in Australia. She had written many articles and children’s books and was the first Iranian female to walk the SIlk road (I hope we read a description of this journey at some point). This is her first novel since arriving in Australia it was on the shortlist for the Australian version of the old Orange prize the Stella prize and was her first work to be translated to English. This is the latest on the Booker longlist this year.

Around five O’clock the next morning , dad, Beeta and I woke up n the thick morning fog to see the last foxes returning to their dens after hunting Razan’s  chickens and roosters and to feel the wings of the hoopoe just inches away. Mom had once again returned to the highest bough from her peregination among the planets and cities villages, islands, and tribes in time to hear ghd song of thousands and thousands of sparrows, and to see a hedgehog curl up and roll down the forest slope because dad had moved.

The magic realim in this one pasaage grabbed me early on

Shokoofeh was born the same year as I was and the narrator of her book is a few years younger than we are as she is thirteen and narrating the book and the events in the book after she has died Bahar tells the story of her family and the events that followed the Iranian revolution the violence and fervent religious zealots that run the country and the knock-on effect on one family. The family is an academic famil there is much talk early on of the books she loved to read from her father’s precious library. He had already been expelled for the university early on for his socialist views. They lead Tehran thinking that this will save them from the madness of the capital but as they settle in the village of Razan the revolutionary guards reach even reaches there as the country turns mad as this place that was until recently so remote it was years behind the rest of the country also adds a sense of Persian storytelling to the story. as the lines between the real the living and the dead blur, there is a dash of magic realism at play but there is a sense of a young girl using those great stories as a way of avoiding the worst of the violence. the mother disappears, then her brother dies. As the books they loved are burnt music is banned as the regime cracks down this is the portrait of one family’s implosion during the Revolution.

We counldn’t bear the wailing of Shakespeare and Rumi, Hafez and Confucius, Zoroaster, Budha and Khayyam any longer, so we set off towards the house. En route from the village square, towards te alley and up the slope to our grove. I sa with my own eyes how clumps of dad’s hair had turned grey. For seven days after that, no one in the house said a word. Standing in the porch as the fire and smoke from the books filled the valle, and the breeze spread far and wide the burnt smell of the feather by Matheson, even Mom cried meanwhile, Sohrab was keeping watch from atop a distant tree. The house had abruptly become devoid of cheer. It became silent, Empty. Hollow

The shock of losing there books as they are burnt.

I admit this had passed me by before the longlist although my fellow Blogger Lisa at Anzlitlover was a huge fan of the book when it came out. It came out a few years earlier via the greatly named WIld dingo press I even missed her enthusiasm which I should have noted she is someone whose opinion I value. Anyway, this is one of my favorites from the longlist so far it mixes a bit of Salman Rushdie, a dash of Marquez  and maybe a dash of Mo Yan and moves it too Iranian. A brave book that could only be written from the distance of Australia now more than forty years after the regime still isn’t willing to have a novel written that questions what happen to people those educated ok Western but still through there love of books very much in touch with there Persian world. This is what I love about the booker it always brings a couple of books that Had passed me by completely.

The glass slipper and Other stories by Shotaro Yasuoka

The Glass Slipper and other stories by Shotaro Yasuoka

Japanese Short Stories

Original title -ガラスの靴 (title story glass shoe)

Translator – Royall Tyler

Source – personal copy

I have brought a number of Dalkey Archives older books when I have seen them cheap. I picked this up by the Akutagawa Prize-winning Shotaro Yasuora. He fought in the Philippines in world war two and was one of the few survivors to come back from there. He then started to study English but near the end of this contracted tuberculosis which affects his spine, he had spent a long time just lying on his back that is what started his writing career. The title story of this collection was one of the spending time recovering and amongst his earliest ones. He wrote and was listed for the Akutagawa prize but he did win it two years later in 1953. He won a number of other prizes and was the translator of Alex Haley’s books after he had visited the south of the US during that time and wrote about it.

I soon became caught up in Etsuko’s fantasy play. I enjoyed it goign along with her stories mademe feel as though I had taken possession of her. At her suggestion we played hide and seek. For all pratical purposes, the house and evertything in it belonged to us. There were hiding places everywhere – under the bed, behind the curtains, in the chest of drawers, in the dressing room woth all of it mirrors, I went upstairs and hid in a battlefield water bag that hung unused, in the closetat the end of the hall.

The played as the romance blossomed in the glass slipper

The title story The glass slipper sees the narrator a young man that has a job in a gun shop as he is asked to deliver a rifle to a US Colonel. Colonel Craigow house. When he arrives with his delivery he is meet by the families Japanese maid Etsuko he is smitten with her and returns as they spend the summer but then she isn’t there a nod to the fairy tale of the glass slipper. There are eight other stories. One sees a man selling his father’s beautiful enameled war medal to a US serviceman so he can make ends meet in the poor post-war times which is the time the stories are all set. Elsewhere a man is told by his boss to compose the company song via a shared love of verse. Jingle bells as the title suggest see a boyfriend on his way to his girlfriend but are running late and as is the case he keeps getting held up.

“JIngle Bells” was playing on the radio, and I was walking in time to it. It was christmas day. Noonetheless, the eateries lining both sides of the street in front of the station were flying big red-and-white banners against the leaden sky advertising “Grilled Sweetfish Tamagawa Specialty!Tasty !Tasty

Jingle bells, jingle bells

I tred not to walk in step, but it didn’t work. I seemed to have cords around my ankles that kept me marching along. I remembered how in my first year as a member of the Takasski Infantry Regiment the sergant had called “Hup,Two,Three,four” they called came a gap in the rhythm. Jingle(Hup) Bells(two) Jingle (three) Bells(four)

Jingle bells a man called by his girlfriend to visit her.

I read that this is a collection that Murakami recommends to readers it is a light-hearted collection of self-perception with a collection of characters that are all struggling in post-war Japan. The translator is American so we have a lot of American terms like Pants and vacations. But you can cope with that, Shotaro characters all have odd jobs a man guards a half-burnt house, a man writing a song and a translator. A varied section of post-war Japan. he died a few years ago. There is only this and another collection available in English by him. Have you read him?

Letters of blood by Rizia Rahman

Letters of blood by Rizia Rahman (library of Bangladesh)

Bangladesh literature

Original title – Rokter Okkhor

Translator – Arunava Sinha

Source – personal copy

I read a while ago about the library of Bangladesh series of books I am a fan of publishers trying to collect together literature from a particular country. Seagull books have published books for us in the UK and US. Rizia Rahman is one of the most respect Bangledesh writers having published more than fifty novels. This was her fourth novel when it was published in 1978 she was inspired to write it from an article called the prostitutes of Dhaka. She was unable to visit the brothels but used Male journalist reports and photographs of them in the brothels to imagine there lives. She said when this came out in English received a lot of praise for the book, but also had to endure an equal amount of abuse.”

One side of the termite-ridden door of Bokul’s room has collapsed. Yasmin shivers at the sight of Bokul’s naked, unconscious form on the bed, lit by the reddish glow of the lamp. A wild animalseems to have sliced up her body with its claws. She is bleeding. A miserable Shanti is wiping her body with a rag. She doesn’t look as thpough she had a violent quarrel with Bokul this morning. Yasmin tells Zarina, who’s standing there, “MANNAN should have dettol in his shop. Get a bottle”

Violence is always just below the surface of those living in the brothel.

This is the second book in the last few months I have read based around a Brothel the other was the booker longlist 10 minutes 38 seconds by Elif Shafak. This like that book lifts the lid on the everyday life of those women in the brothel here in such a short book we get to know a number of the girls and their stories. We have Yasim she was involved in the war of liberation and is from a middle-class background unlike a lot of the girls she lives with she has had a hard time to wind up there. This is a woman who falls on hard times and is similar to the lead character in Elif’s book. Then we have some of the other girls some of them that dress like the movie stars of the day in a sort of escape from every day lives. Others try to get the richest clients and use that as a way to fame and fortune and the way out. She also captures those little arguments everyday tasks they have to do in-between clients the things that make their days in this bleak world go by the risk of diseases and abuse always in the background and everyone is just a day away from a fall that may stop them earning and having a living.

Mashi begins to abuse the women ” You line iof wores, what do you think you’re doing! You’ve become too big for your own good. I’m informing the police at once.They eat out of my hands, They’ll beat you all of you to a pulp”

Marjna stans up to her ” To hell with your police. You scare us with talk of police to exort money from us every month. You think we don’t understand?”

They try to stand up for themselves against those that are trying to exploit them.

This book is just 140 pages long but it does what I think great novellas do well and that seems like an epic trapped in a small book. This is a lifting of the veil on a world that one imagines in the time the book was written to now hasn’t changed much. Rizia has a sensitive eye for the girls of the brothels her writing is never judgemental and shows the lives of bones and all. How vulnerable they are they can be sold and moved on anytime. She captures their world. The men in this book are in the background but depicted as violent abusive wanton or as the pimps for the girls. There world is them on top of one another and the sense of this meaning that there is trouble always just around the corner as they compete for the men there. I was sad to read that Rizia Rahman had passed away last year she seemed an interesting writer that has just this book translated into English so far.

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