The notebook by Agota Kristof


The Notebook by Agota Kristof

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Le grand Cahier

Translator – Alan Sheridan

Source – Personnel copy




“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” 

Source  Nelson Mandela 


Well I’m back after a couple of weeks and have decide to start with one of those books we al have read and the second we put it down would happily read it again a real breath taking novel .Agota Kristof is a writer a bit like this blog that covered Europe in her life itself .She came from Hungary ,but escaped just to become an exile in the 1950’s in Switzerland .She start to write in french at the age of 51 after studying french ,this book came out in 1986 originally .It won the Austrian lit prize as I say a write like this blog that in her life spent time all round Europe .The notebook (or grand notebook in french although that means slightly more in the french ) was the first of what became a trilogy of novels the other two are called The proof and The third lie .

We call her grandmother

People call her the witch ,She calls us “sons of bitch ” .Grandmother is small thin .She has a black shawl on her head .Her clothes are dark grey ,she wear old army shoes ,When it’s fine ,she walks barefoot .Her face is covered in wrinkles ,brown spots and warts with hair growing out of them .She has no teeth left ,at least none that can be seen

Their first impression of the grandmother isn’t great .

The notebook is the story of two children Twin brothers  ,who just before the outbreak of world war two are left in a small village with the Grandmother .Now this book is their account of this time from the war to the Soviets taking over after the war .We see the world through their eyes but also the cruellness  of this world .The grandmother isn’t bother about them and takes the money their parents send for herself .Now this village has a wonderful collection of oddball character a cobbler that helps them out because he hates the Witch as their grandmother is known within the village ,A sad girl with a horrific harelip ,who just wants to be loved but finds it in all the wrong places especially in one eye-opening scene in the book ,An officer that very cruely treats the twins .The booys quickly learn that to get what they want and to survive the shifting worlkd they are caught in as we see what we may assume is Hungary (we aren’t actually told ) but could be anyone of half-dozen countries that are caught first by the Germans and then as the war is ending the Soviets overrun the country and bring the communist system in .

We put on dirty ,torn clothes ,take off our shoes ,dirty our faces and hands .We go out into the street ,we stop and wait .

When a foreign officer comes by ,we raise our right hands to salute him and hold out our left hands.usually the officer walks on without seeing us ,without looking at us .

They beg from the Armies in the village as they pass by as they get so little from their grandmother .

Now the beauty of this book is the voice of the two brothers ,it just comes across as such a real childlike voice ,it is hard to capture how children speak and think probably for me Andres Neuman recently caught it well in talking to ourselves  ,like that book this is about how the kids see their world ,we as the reader naturally fill in the blanks between Kristof words .She shows the brutal nature of war through a child’s eyes so time and place even at times which army it is are missed just that the war is happening .Kristof also capture in the Harelipped girls story a broken person scrapping by in the world as the boys try to get to know her by first learning this girl’s horrific way of finding love .This is the second book by CB editions I have read this year and they are a publisher I will be looking closer at the back catalogue to find if they have anymore gems their . My first entry for women in translation month 

Have you read this book ?

The German lottery by Miha Mazzini


The German Lottery by Miha Mazzini

Slovenian fiction

Translator – ,Urska Zupanec

Source – review copy via his agent

Orginal title Nemška loterija

Well I was happy to get an email from the US agent of Miha ,whom I had mentioned in a post about literature from Slovenia ,I had also not known I had read a short story from him that was the first translated story to be featured in the Fiction desk collection of stories .Miha Mazzini is a slovenian writer and filmmaker ,his website tells me he has written 27 books all of which have at some point been translated into other languages ,he has written two award-winning screenplays and also made five films to name a few things more info at his website here .

“Good day ,comrade .Are you Zora Klemenc ?”

“Yes ?”

“A registered letter .Can you prove your indentity ?”

“Gladly comrade postman ,just wait a minute ”

“What pride I took in saying those words ! A profession dosen’t only need a uniform ,it needs its own language that sounds strange to the uninitiated ,new words that knit us into a community .

Toni first meets Zora and the letter what is that about ?

The German lottery is set in 1950’s ,but has a feel of a story that could have only be written after the fall of the iron curtain we join Toni a young post man who is drawn into a world of the German lottery after he deliver a package to a women ,the scheme run by the women’s husband ,also  he gets the locals to play the German lottery and thus make some money ,giving  them hope and  a little wealth to the poorest of the locals ,at first Toni thinks he is doing the world of good .But all is not as it first seems and then things fall apart ,but he has also fallen in love which adds to the complications around the story .

Pass me a handkerchief , please

would the magic chain still work ?

Well sure .Everything built on greed is timeless .

I’ll tell you tomorrow …..

the closing lines at a much later time  post communism greed is still there .

Miha has pulled of something great in this book using the past to reflect the present .Greed is the driving force in this book as the locals see what a glimpse of the west can bring forth through the winnings they are seeing .But there is more to this it isn’t as it seems and poor old Toni are the hero in this book is a bit naive and is drawn into a dark world of someone making more money than he imagine from the poorest people around him .This reflects a lot of the modern world ,I read an interview in translation with Miha where he said it was meant to reflect what has happened in Slovenia since communism fell ,I did say on twitter the other day talking about this book the other day it was a dark post communist satire ,but then didn’t follow up why and this is the reason reflect how one small village is driven crazy by greed now reflects the wider world of post communist europe .So thanks to his agent for sending it as they said it is one that seemed to have fallen between the holes in the reviewing world This is part of the reason I love my blog and the ability to bring books like this to you my readers so you can get the chance to break the normal cycle of what your told to read and find something different !!

What gems have you discovered like this one by chance or through a kind person connected to the writer ?

August 2021


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