Bellevue by Ivana Dobrakovoa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellevue by Ivana Dobrakova

Slovakian fiction

Original title – Bellevue

Translators Julia and Peter Sherwood

Source – review copy

I was sent three Slovakian books as part of a tour that is happening in the UK by the writers of these books here is the first of these three books Ivan Dobrakova. Considered a leading light in the blossoming contemporary Slovak scene with her books reflecting part of modern Slovakian life and that is having to live abroad so expat literature of Slovakian abroad. She has been compared to writers like Rachel Cusk or Deborah Levy in English as OI haven’t read them it is hard to compare but for me, she captured the experience of living abroad as an expat.

There were five sleeping bags on the floor, and holdalls, pillows, handbags, bath towels, cosmetics, sunscreen, bits of clothing, books lay scattered all around the place, a complete mess. I helped to carry the stuff to a two-bedroom flat in the annexe reached through the main building.past a big drainpipe and a flowerbed, accross a short metal bridge above some sort of crater filled with gravel and finally down a long balcony, the second doo on the left. The flat was very clean, light, with a view of the building opposite, a bathroom, a toilet

When she first arrives at Bellevue and tries to settle.

Blanka has accepted a job in France, well in Marseilles at the Bellevue a centre for people with physical disabilities that has volunteers at a camp in the summer to help out. As she boards the night train for Prague to venture across the train to cross Europe it is full of fellow young people from East  Europe like Poles all trying to get a better life in Europe. She arrives and the Bellevue centre is there on the top of the hill. She arrives and is drawn into the lives of her fellow volunteers and works at the centre looking after the patients but also the love affairs and relationships within the group as she starts to meet people Martina Patrick and Drago some of the  European people at the camp is a mix of Them and Algerians working there. she is drawn into the world of the camp one of the beach days and nightclubs and work. Behind all this Blanka struggles to fit in she is a sensitive 19-year-old a fragile girl maybe this trip wasn’t the right choice for her !! But then a single event hinges a change in her life meaning she is injured and a reversal in her role with Bellevue!!

I’m trying to be helpful, I see that he’s exhausted, he’s fed up with me, he seems to be avoiding me, as if he, too wason the brink of a nervous breakdown, so I brig him fruit, stroke his hairand hand him cloths to fling at a hole in the wall, I’ve no ideawhy he enjoys that, tossing dirty tea towels at a hole in the wall after lunch, I keep begging him not to be cross with me, to forgive me, I know I’m being impossible, I know how difficult I make things for him. but it’s just the time being, I’m sure everything will be all right again soon , just bear with me for a little longer, I don’t have anyone else, everyone hates me, please Drago

Here we see how she is pushed out at times with the line everyone hates me as she is the squre peg in the round hole of the camp.

This tale captures a mix of Hope the dream of the French Riveria and working there for the summer against what is Blanka main problem and that is she has depression and very little self-belief in herself. What is seen is the usual your life of a group of young people when gathered together but her we have Blanka view which sadly is that of an outsider inside the world she is when her life hinges on that one event later in the book you wonder what will happen to her that is the question. Blanka is a different character than I expect she is fragile and in that case unreliable as a narrator at times. Well this is an interesting strand of Slovakian fiction one that I have seen in other books from Polish writers that is the one of the expat experience as I have said before this is a genre that will grow over time a sort of European version of what is the Windrush lit scene that of being an outsider in a new place.  Have you read any books from Slovakia?

 

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Agnes by Peter Stamm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agnes by Peter Stamm

Swiss fiction

Original title – Agnes

Translator – Michael Hofmann

Source – review copy

I have reviewed Peter Stamm three times before on the blog over the years. so when I got the chance to review his debut novel I jumped at the chance as he is a writer whose works I had enjoyed his other books. Agnes had come out in the UK but was never brought out in the US so it gave me a chance to go back twenty years this book came out in 98 in Germany and 2000 in English for the first time. He has written several novels but was a journalist iuntially and has written radio plays as well.

I was back in the library early the next morning, and even though I was waiting for Agnes, I had no trouble concentrating on my work. I knew she would come, and that we would talk anc smoke and drink coffee together. In my head our relationship was already much further advanced than it was in reality. I was already wondering abouther, beginning to have my doubts, though we hadn’t even been out together.

I was working well, reading and making notes, When Agnes arrived, around noon and she nodded to me, Once again, she put her foam rubber cushion down on a chair near me, spread out her things as she had done yesterday, picked up a book and started reading

The beginning of the relationship as they keep meeting in the library sharing coffee and a smoke,

 

An older writer he is unnamed is asked by his younger girlfriend Agnes a cellist studying physics and free spirit in her own way to write a story about her. Our narrator is in Chicago to write about luxury trains. He does what Agnes wants and writes about their relationship He does that but as they are happy and the everyday life of these two. The way they meet and fell in love but this doesn’t lead to the most interesting story about their relationship. As they work together on the story. But, when she tells him she is expecting a baby the narrative changes as he is older and doesn’t want a child he tells her that he doesn’t want the child this is a turning point in their relationship. but also in the story, he is writing about there relationship changes as he starts in that narrative to try and control the younger woman by making her into what he wants her to be as the two worlds the story and real life start to come intertwined as the relationship cracks apart.

We celebrated Christmas Eve together. It was some time since I’d shown Agnes what I’d written. Now I printed out the story on white paper and put it in a folder with a dedication.

“I haven’t got an ending yet,” I said,”But as soon as I do.Ill have the whole thing boiund into a little book for you ”

Agnes had knitted me a sweater

“God knows,I had enough wool, she said.

“Black wool”

“No I had it dyed. Light blue doesn’t really suit you.”I didn’t say anything. We were sitiing on the sofa, with a little christmas tree in front of us that Agnes had decorated with only candles.

Later on the feeling between the two has changed in the story.

As ever Stamm is a master of describing how relationships work but hew also is great at getting that moment when the relationships change the turning point so to speak that unseen event at the start of the narrative that initally seems like the perfect relationship even thou there is an age difference. This sees the writer trying to idealize Agnes later in the book. This is maybe free in style than his later books it is like he is trying a different way of writing in this book it is looser than his other books. But worth reading I alwaylike to try and see how a writer has grown this isn’t as cut and cleaned as say seven years but is still an interesting insight into the dynamics of relationships and also about writing about a relationship which when it is good can seem very boring. Have you read this book?

 

September 2019 that was the month

  1. Welcome to America by Linda Bostorm Knaugard
  2. Years like Brief days by Fabian Dobles
  3. 10 minutes 38 seconds in this strange world by Elif Shafak
  4. Milena, Milena,Ecstatic by Bae Suah
  5. The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist
  6. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
  7. Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

Book of the month

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the first time, I have picked a none translated book as my book of the month but this is one of those rare books that is undefinable it is a monster of a read but the rhythm in those lists where she jumps from here to there in them. My reading journey this month saw me head from a chaotic family in America through Costa Rican village, then a dead prostitute in Istanbul relives her life in the last ten mins of her life. Then a Korean filmmaker meets a strange woman. Then a german classic in a new translation as a marquise tries to find the father of her child. Then I finished it off with a Reworking of Don Quixote by Salman Rushdie. I am still behind on the books read this year on 68 books reviewed want to get to 100 this year I will need to pull my socks up a bit but with german lit month soon I feel I can get there hopefully.

Next month

I have a number of novellas to read from around Europe I can’t see me reading the other booker titles they are just too long especially as I have a 900 pages modern german masterpiece and an even longer Italian novel to read before the end of the year.

Non-book events

I had some time off work and visited the Holocaust museum in Nottinghamshire it is very small but touching it has two exhibits one is about the Holocaust and the other follows one ten-year-old boy’s journey through the Kindertransport in recreations of his home school the boat that brought him here. We also went to see Major Oak the 1200-year-old Oak tree that is in Sherwood forest held up it is huge tree. In my nostalgia tv corner, I have been watching the father Downing mysteries which featured Tom Bosley is best known for playing  The father on Happy days he was also a sheriff in Murder she wrote this series sees him as a vicar investigating crime a fan of Sherlock Holmes with his sidekick a streetwise Nun.

 

Two new Istros titles A wild woman and a lost place

I am a huge fan of Istros books as Susie the publisher has brought us so many great books from the Balkans and Mittel europa and here we have an example of both here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild woman is set against the tough 1970’s in Croatia as we follow a love affair between to literature students as they plunge into an early marriage only for them to discover her other half is a womanisering freeloader. Stuck in a marriage and trying to break free of him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we have an example of Mittel European literature and two novellas post after his death by the Jewish writer Ludovic Bruckstein he was born in Czechslovakia in what is now Ukraine and grew up in the northern region of Transylvania an area which at the time he grew up had a large Jewish community and the books show the effect of the Holocaust on these rural Carpathian villages and how they were havens of religious and racial acceptance before the dark times of the war and after. Have you read you read any books from Istros have you a favorite?

30 covers for #WITMONTH England through a German eyes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe not the most exciting cover Fitzcarraldo covers are all the same and are a homage to the original James Joyce Ulysses cover in their style. Here we have a recent favourite from them River by Ester Knsky saw her living in London and using the Thames as a launchpad for her memories of both London and the other cities and places as she was growing up by other rivers as the prose flow you are drawn into her world.

That was the month that was July 2019

  1. The house of Ulysses by Julian Rios
  2. Vlad by Carlos Fuentes
  3. Quiet creature on the corner by Joao Gilberto Noll
  4. the posthumous memoirs of Bras Cubas by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
  5. The Hedge by Miguel Delibes
  6. Atlantic hotel by Joao Gilberto Noll
  7. The fish child by Lucia Puenzo
  8. The Iliac crest by Cristina Riera Garz

I managed eight books all for Spanish and Portuguese lit month. I start with a book about a book Julian RIos House of Ulysess. Then a Mexican take on the Vampire story a poet winds up in a prison writing poems after raping a girl in Brazil. A man whose life is a failure writes about his life from the afterlife. A man gets sent to the country to recover and gets hemmed in by an ever-increasing hedge and sees those around him as animals another trip to Brazil and a man falling apart in front of his eyes from a hotel with the murder happened he then went on a bizarre road trip. A pair of young girls from different sides of the tracks fall in love as one is the maid for the other.and lastly two women turned up at a mans ouse but is he a man and is all as it seems a wonderful selection of books from four countries, no new publishers but an interesting selection. It has taken the total of books reviewed this year to 53 lower than other years but still hoping to pass 100 by the end of the year.

Book of the month

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a huge fan of James Joyce so this book was a great choice it follows a group of readers following their wat through the book.

Next month-

We’ll have more Spanish and Portuguese lit month offerings. Two writers, I have reviewed before one from Venezuela writes a book about the last year of Chavez from the point of view of one of his doctors then another book around a leader Tyrant Memory by Horacio Castellanos Moya about a 1930’s leader of El Salvador. Both spins on the classic Dictator novel a staple of Latin American literature. A Dutch classic set in China. I am working three of the next four days and on Saturday we will be visiting our local Food festival and celebrating our wedding anniversary. So I will be back on Tuesday unless I get time to review a book. I will add a few titles for Women in translation month.

Other none book events last month

I always like mention something new I’ve found well this month it is a great rediscovery and that is Gerry Anderson’s Space 1999 a seventies sci-fi series I had missed the great guest roles in the past from the likes of Christopher Lee and Leo McKern. It has a similar political undertone.  about it that we found in Start trek when it was shown. I have also been a huge fan of the return of Lloyd Cole his new album is rather good as he uses more Keyboards than he has in the past but still has that Cole feel.

What are your plans?

Five for woman in translation month

Stones in a landslide by Maria Barbel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have chosen to do a list of five  books for the woman in Translation month. I have long held this up as the best book I have read from Peirene press for me it captures a microcosm of a world through the eyes of a Conxa a young girl that until she was thirteen knew just the village she grew up in the Pyrenees to move to a bigger village. I would recommend  Peirene books to everyone and they have published a number of great books by women in translation including Mussel feast and The blue room as two other to try. Here is my review of Stones in a landslide .

The white book by Han Kang

 

Image result for han kang white book cover

I loved this book when I read it as I was just getting over the greif of losing my mother and found this collection of Vignettes by Han Kang that wrote her own mother lost a child before she was born and she reflects on how grief is treated in Korea. The rice moon cake child she lost I was touched by that image. If you had read this I would point you in the way of Deborah smiths press she translated this book and started Tilted Axis publishing female writers from Asia.

The tongue’s blood does not run dry by Assia Djebar

 

 

I picked this as she was considered to be a Nobel worthy winner before she passed away a few years ago Assia Djebar was the first writer of Maghreb origin to sit on the French academy. This was a collection of stories and a long novella the later dealt with a woman that was dying and all had a female perspective on the modern Arab world. I will be reviewing soon three books from Nawal El Saadawi that Saqi books have recently reissued.

Trieste by Dasa Drndric

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A powerful tale by another great writer and one I was lucky enough to have met Dasa has a number of books now available in English this was the first to be translated and had the harrowing list of every Italian Jew that died in the second world war. I would also point you towards to more books from that region Farewell cowboy and Hah both from the great Istros books.

The Passport by Herta Muller

 

I read this early on in my blogging Career as it blew my mind with her descriptive skills and imagery it follows Windisch as he attempts to get a passport as a German in a small enclave in Romania. Two other great German books from Women I have read in the last year are The giant Dwarfs and River 

I will be publishing Five more next month from the many female’s writers I have read in the last ten years.

The Hedge by Miguel Delibes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hedge by Miguel Delibes

Spanish fiction

Original title – Parabola del Naufrago

Translator – Frances M. Lopez-Morillas

Source – personal copy

I again add an older writer and her it is one of the stars of post-war Spanish writing one of the Generation of 36 writers Miguel Delibes sat on Chair E of the Spanish Academy from 1975. He wrote about mainly city dwellers that had lost touch with the natural world. He was also considered one of the leading Catholic writers of the second half of the 20th century like Greene and Boll. He won most of the major Spanish lit prizes. His books in English seem to be out of print.

He (Jacinto) appears to be rather meticulous man and he yearns for personal security. A few months ago he went through a very uneasy peroid when he observed the progress made by the adding machines in the office, thinking that the expert calligraphers were a dying breed, but Don Abdon, who is a father to everyone, reassured him with his end-of-the-year speech, when he said that the most perfect electronic brain wasn’t worthy to untie the shoes of a good solid craftsman. That was what Don Abdon said, Don Abdon who is a father to evryone, and this calmed Jacinto, who often, in view of the conquests of technology, belives that he is dispensible and lives of charity.

The quiet Jacinto and his changing workplace as machines take over.

The book follows a caligrapher Jacinto working in an office for the overpowering as he is described Don Abdon he runs the factory but also the town they live in and he is Jacinto’s boss. Jacinto is a loner a sort of everyman. But he is also worried that his job is about to be automated. The boss is described as” the father of them and the mother of the fathers” It is when he has a relatively series of zeros to copy out this meek man finally breaks it is shown when the language we see has the punctation spelled out so it is comma this and full stop that almost showing his mind breaking. He is sent to the town’s country retreat in this remote cabin but far from getting away he is given a bag of seeds to plant and then wakes up the next day to find the cabin he is in cover and surround by one almighty hedge and one of his colleagues is now dog he tries to tunnel burn and otherwise get past the hedge whilst himself seeing his body grow fluffy hair.

Sometimes Jacinto loses his footing , the bend or fork of the hedge fails him and he is again submerged in that vegtable sea and observes that he is asphyxiating and  moves his arms and groans until he comes to the surface again and then he sighs deeply, but as night falls , and the yellow petals closes over the stamens and the enervating odor of the flowers began to spread, Jacinto thinks the end has come , but he tries no to give in he rejects the intoxicating prefume and yells “Damm You!”

The hedge is all around and is hold Jacinto with inside it as he tries to escape it !

This is a strange book Delibes was known for his playful use of language it is shown here in part when we see the punctation seep on to the page out of the reader or Jacintos mind as we see him breaking before he moves to the county and faces a struggle with nature and maybe finally becomes part of nature. It is easy to compare this to Orwell it tells me that on the back of the book itself written in the later years of the Franco regime it is obviously a sideways punch at Franco with the Don Abdin character obviously a veiled Franco esque character . For me I was reminded of the book restraint of beast in the later part of the books as we see the character Jacinto getting trapped in the hedge was like the characters in the book restraint of beast that see themselves fencing themselves in separate from the world.It also showed Delibes love of nature and how he felt people were losing touch with the world around them which it seems was a theme in a lot of his books. Have you read any books by Miguel Delibes ?

 

The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan

The storyteller by Pierre Jarawan

German/Lebanese fiction

Original title – Am Ende bleiben die Zedern

Translators – Sinead Crowe & Rachel McNicholl

Source – review copy

I have joined the Blog tour for this Novel as I loved the sound of it and I have reviewed a lot of books from World editions and am pleased to have another title from them to review. This book from the German Lebanese writer Pierre Jarawan who’s parents like his characters fled Lebanon when he was three years old and settled in German His father was Lebanese and his mother is German. He started out doing poetry slams and this was a play that later he expands out into a novel. It has since been translated into Dutch where it was also a big seller.

Meanwhile, history was being made in Lebanon. Beirut, once a dazzling beauty, rubbed its disfigured face and staggered out of the ruins. A city felt for its pulse. In neighbourhoods, people thumped the dust out of their clothes and wearily raised theirheads. Thge war was over, militiamen became citzens again, laying down their guns and taking uop shovels instead. Bullet holes were filled in. Facades painted, burned-out-cars removed from the pavements. Rubbkle cleareed away, the smoke disperser. The huge sheets hanging in the streets were takendown, as there were no longer any snipers whose view needed to be blocked. woman and children swept debrisoff balconies and removed borads from windows, while fathers carried mattresses back up to bedrooms from cellars thatr had served as bunkers.In short, the lebanon did what they’ve always dfone: they carried on

The country awakes from the turmoil of the civil war that tore it apart and ripped the heart out of the land.

This is a classic story that of a son going in search of a lost father. Samir decides he wants to find his long-lost father. He leaves the safety of his life in German. He has an old photo of his dad and the stories he remembered his father told him when he was a little boy that painted a vivid picture of Lebanon his father lived in. He tries to find out what happens to his father as he tries to find out what happens the characters from his father’s stories become real people as he finds out what happened when his father returns after twenty years he slowly builds a picture of his family and what happened to them. The father Brahim disappeared when he was eight and he told one last story and left. He returned to his homeland. The son has held his lost father close for all those years as he retraces his father’s steps after all those years you see in the past and the events in war-torn Beirut when his father had when he returned. The past and present grow close but will they ever meet again?

Father was quick to realise how important it was to learn German. After fleeing burning Berut in spring of 1983, the first refuge myu parents found in Germany was the secondary school’s sports hall in our town. The school hall in our town, The school had been shut down the previous year when routine inspections during the summer holidays had revealed excessive levels of asbestos in the air. But there were no other options, so the sports hall ended up asa refugee reception centre. Fathersoon managed to get hold of books so that he could teach himself this foreign language. At night, while others around him slept wrapped in blankets on the floor, he clickedon a ;ocket torch and studied German

His father got to German and quickly learned german as the slept in a codemened school hall.

This is a tale that has been told a number of times of over then years. A son on the hunt for a lost father or even parent for me the recent film Lion is a similar story top this a young boy loses his family and goes home all he has like Samir is the slimmest of memories about his father the old photo and his stories for Samir and in the film Lion it is the lie of the land around his home and the fact it was a train ride away from where Saroo end up in the book and film. This builds a picture of their parent’s bit by bit and this is the case here we see that Brahim stories had those friends and families around him as he told his baby son those bedtime stories but also planting a love for his homeland and also maybe like a magician weave a magical past and also leave a trail of breadcrumbs that his son follows twenty years later. Here are the other blogs on the tour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That was the month that was March 2019

  1. Small Country by Gael Faye
  2. Aviaries by Zuzana Brabcova
  3. Nocilla Lab by Agustin Fernandez Mallo
  4. Mama’s boy by David Goudreault
  5. Mouthful of birds by Samanta schweblin
  6. At dusk by Hwang Sok-yong
  7. Four soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli
  8. The death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa

I managed to review eight books last month which still keeps me on course for 100 reviews this year. I managed to pass the 900 books reviewed mark this month. I read books from seven countries no new presses. I read five books from writers I have read before. It also saw me start on the Man Booker longlist having opted to leave the shadow Jury, for now, I may decide to start my own in the coming years. When the longlist came out and I had read so few of these books I wanted to compare my thoughts on what should have been on the list as I hadn’t a single book on my prediction list right. So although I had thought I wouldn’t get to read them all I have nearly now I put my head down the last few days of March to make sure I had only a few left to finish in April. The reviews will follow but for me finishing the longlist is the most important thing.

Book of the month

I will choose Mama’s boy as I don’t want to indicate which of the man booker books I like and Mama’s boy is an interesting view into growing up in care and the knock-on effect that can have on one’s life this is a book that in its heart is universal in its themes. Again showing the strength of French language literature from Quebec.

Non book events or everyday life

The world flies by so the first event I need to mention is expanding my penguin reading week is now going to run for a month this is because I decide we need a holiday so I book that initial week off I had chosen for the Penguin reading week. I won’t be blogging the days I am away we visit Alnwick in Northumberland as Amanda and I will spend time in a place I lived in my twenties also itis home to the biggest second-hand book shop in the UK Barter books which I’m sure I will find some books to read. I have turned another year older this month. It has seen two years since I lost my mother and we went to coroners court.  It hasn’t been the best month add to that on the last weekend I was injured at work I am happy to turn the corner I did manage to get four more of the Man Booker list read so will be reviewing them from tomorrow. Elsewhere I listen to the latest Lambchop album and the Beth Gibbons Album that came out on Friday of her singing Henryk Gorecki symphony no3 symphony of sorrowful songs a modern classical album. Film wise I watch a lost eighties classic They live by John Carpenter a film that imagines the world has been invaded by aliens but you can only see them with special sunglasses.

What events and books have you been reading ?

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