The Vatican Cellars by Andre Gide

9781908313690

The Vatican Cellars by Andre Gide 

French fiction 

Original title – Les caves du Vatican 

Translator – Julian Evans

Source  – review copy 

 

FBI Team Leader: It’s an interesting setup, Mr. Ross. It is the oldest confidence game on the books. The Spanish Prisoner. Fellow says him and his sister, wealthy refugees, left a fortune in the home country. He got out, girl and the money stuck in Spain. Here is her most beautiful portrait. And he needs money to get her and the fortune out. Man who supplies the money gets the fortune and the girl. Oldest con in the world

From the film spanish prisoner by David mamet  from imdb 

I have long been a fan of Gallic books ,they publish a wide range of books from France from crime  to lit fiction in translation ,so there discussion to start doing some classic French writers is great and where better to start than with Andre Gide ,one of the most well-known names in 20th century French literature .Born in Normandy he grew up in isolation really ,he started writing at age 21 .He is best known for his books Strait is the gate and the Immortalist , this book came out a few years after that just on the outbreak of world war one .Gide influence the next generation of French writers Camus and Satre in particular .

In 1890 , in the papal reign of Leo XIII , the reputation of DR X—- , a specialist in rheumatic diseases , persuaded Anthime Armand-Dubois , Freemason , to travel to Rome .

“What?” his brother-in-law , Julius de barglioul exclaimed “You’re going all the way to Rome to get your body look after ! I hope that when you get there you’ll realise how much sicker your soul is !”

One family heads to Rome .

 

Rhe Vatican cellars is the tale of French upper class society falling victim to a band of Con men called the Millipede .The story follows three families Armand-Dubois family live in Italy Anthime has recently convert to become a Christian after he has a miracle cure ,meanwhile in Paris His wife sister  Marguerite and her husband Julius sister  ,he has recently written  a book and are movers in the Literary world of Paris , the third family Amedee who is Julius sister anyway these three families end up as a target for the millipede who want them each to give them 20,000 francs as they have 140,000 to help free the real Pope Leo XIII as they make them believe that the Pope there now is a fake Pope .Along the way the is some sex and comic turns .

“To have lost a pope is a frightful thing ,Madame ,there is no doubt about it . But even more frightful is a false pope ! Because to conceal its crime – what I am saying  – to inveige the church into pulling itself apart and fatally weaken itself ,in place of Leo XIII the lodge has installed on the papal throne who knows what puppet of the Quirinal .

The crumbs of the fake pope and why it happened are sowed .

Now this book when it arrived I knew the plot somewhat as it is a classic Scam , called the Spanish prisoner ,where the dupe is lead to believe that some one has been change and replaced with a double or variations on that theme .I would suggest if you like to see a modern version of the scam watch the David Mamet film Spanish prisoner (a very underrated film ) .So this book has been out print for 25 years is a good choice for a reissue and new translation .For me yes it has a strong theme of god and the church ,but also at points is quite brilliantly blackly comic ,I think one of the reason it hasn’t been popular is the plot is at times quite drifting and it is easy to lose where you are ,a few times I had to turn back a couple of pages and check I had it right Julian Evans is very good with older books I am halfway through his translation of Foundling boy another book from Gallic books I am reading .I had read Gide once before about 20 years ago  and have  couple on my shelves to read ,I think it may be a bit less time between his books this time .

Have you read Gide ?

In the Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom

in the dutch mountains

In the Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom

Dutch fiction

Translator –  Adriene Dixon

Original title In Nederland

Source review Copy

Well I’ve cover his short stories before now and Also have an Interview with Cees Noooteboom  here on the blog ,he is the best known living Dutch writer and someone frequently mention for a Nobel Literature prize .This book is a reissue of his   1984 Novel and this one book is probably the  most perfect piece of writing I have ever read ,but also shows the Plaudits given to Nooteboom are due .This is one of two books Maclehose have reissued the other being Rituals which I hope to read soon .I would also suggest reading the Intro by Alberto Manguel .

I am a foreigner ,but I still remember it all ,and I don’t intend to keep quiet about it .My name is Alfonso Tiburon de Mnedoza .I am inspector of roads in the province of Zaragoza ,part of the ancient kingdom of Aragon ,in spain .In my spare time I write book .As a student I spent some years in Delft on a scholarship to study road and bridge building ,and I might as well say at once that the nortern Netherlands have always inspired me with fear ,a Fear that demands a capital letter .

He was touch by his time in Holland .

In the Dutch mountain is The story of a writer retelling a classic fairy tale with a new setting .The writer is a Spaniard Alfonso Tiburon de Mendoza ,he works in the Zaragoza region of spain as a road inspector ,he is a failed man ,he has been writing ,but has never sold many copies of his book but every week he goes to a schoolroom and sits behind a kids desks and writes ,the story we join him on  his   retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson story the Snow Queen ,he has alter the name of the two main child characters too Kai and Luicia they are circus kids  the setting is now in Holland  the mountains of Southern Holland  , where Alfonso  spent some time years ago ,as we follow the story we also follow a bit of Alfonso life as we see the kids revisit  the fairy tale of  the snow queen as through the eyes of Alfonso .

Camino ,carretera, way ,street,road .It has always intrigued me that in Dutch the word weg ,way also means absent .In Spanish el camino is not only the road but also Journey .

I love how words can have dual means elsewhere myself .

This is what reading books in translation is about for me discovery and different approaches , I ve read books before about writers ,and them taking part in the writing process .But none have touched the mark as well as this one did  he really caught the whole process .Alfonso is the perfect embodiment of the failed writer, he has it all in his head but seems to have failed over time  in conveying it in what he writes ,through him we see how he is using a classic tale to try to spark his own writing but also use his own life to add to the fairy tale .A short book 150 pages it seems much longer (a cliché I know but its hard to say anything else its a real gem ) .I have books I know will stick with me for the rest of my life after I have read them for example rings of Saturn by W G  Sebald or Wonder by Hugo Claus , Now I ll be adding this book to that list .Nooteboom also tackles what a fairy tale is a Alfonso takes apart a classic tale and rebuilds it in his own version we get an insight into what makes a great fairy tale and that is the parts of it not the story more what the story in its parts tell you .

Have you read this book ?

What was the last book you read that you knew was going to stick with you ?

Nada by Carmen Laforet

Nada by Carmen Laforet

Spanish fiction

Translator Edith Grossman

Carmen Laforet is one of the great writers of modern Spanish fiction this was her début novel .Born in Barcelona in her early days she moved to Canary islands ,returning to Barcelona at 18 to study and she stayed with family .In 1944 penned this novel aged just 23 .She went on to writer a number of other novels but this her début is probably the best known and loved .she died in 2004 aged 83 .In spain the phrase Después de Nada is used a lot and came from her book .

So Nada (meaning nothing in spanish ) ,Follows Andrea a poor  orphan 18-year-old as she travel from the countryside to spend time with her family in the Catalan capital Barcelona ,she hasn’t seen them for years but knows they used to be well to do when she was young .Her  hope  is to study literature .So we see her arrive in the dead of night and enter the household of her Grandmother .This household with her aunties and uncles living there as well ,is a strange one to say the least .We see how she changes from a shy country girl into a modern woman .The family she expected  them to be well off but because the civil war they are broke .Reduced to living in a small room in the Calle de Airbau .They are all in there with the piano and  the uncle loves to play it .Andrea is shocked by how her family are living post civil war  .Another aunt runs away to join a cult ,her uncle Roman commits suicide .Andrea makes friends at university .We also glimpse the broken city of Barcelona that is trying to pick itself up off the floor after the civil war with the heart of the city a war-torn place .Jo Labanyi in her very short intro to Spanish fiction says she was shocked that due to the uncle Roman suicide as in 1945 when the book came out it was still illegal in Spain .Plus it isn’t very Franco friendly

In front of me was a foyer illuminated by a single weak light bulb in one of the arms of the magnificent lamp,dirty with cobwebs ,that hung from the ceiling .a dark background of articles of furniture piled one on top of the other as if the household were in the middle of moving .And in the foreground the black -white blotch of a decrepit little old woman in a nightgown ,a shawl thrown around her shoulder ,I wanted to believe I’d come to the wrong flat ,but good-natured old woman wore a smile of such sweet kindness that I was certain she was my grandmother .

Andrea entering her families home in Barcelona .

Now the book is told completely in first person narrative we see Andrea life through her eyes ,we see her life change was she interacts family ,they all have their problems and in a way this gives Andrea the strength to become a strong women over the year she spent in the house .It’s hard to pull of first person narrative with out it feel self-indulgent which this never does .I feel the strength of this book is that it is probably quite near to the writers own life she went to Barcelona spend time with her family .She was a very young woman at the time she wrote this and that is the made a lot of in reviews I read after I read the book .I did worry some times the feeling of a writer being a L’Enfant Terrible l,this is the feeling about Carmen Laforet can be of putting but this is a neatly written book of a young girls journey into womanhood and naturally this translation which is the third time into English works ,it should it is from Edith Grossman regarded by many as the finest translator from Spanish in the late 20th century .Andrea is a wonderful creation her life was a delight to read I thoroughly enjoyed the book .The book seems to be maybe an early example of the tremedismo style of Spanish literature that dealt with the civil and post civil war period championed by writers such as Cela

Have you read this book ?

View of dawn in the Tropics by G. Cabrera Infante

View of dawn in the Tropics by G Cabrera Infante

Cuban Fiction

Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine

Guillermo Cabrera Infante is probably the find of this reader ever since I read three trapped tigers .I d been wanting to try another of his books .He grew up in cuba his parents were militant communists and when he was seven spent time in prison on the canary islands they returned to Havana when he was 12 .He started writing in the fifties and fell foul of the Batista regime being censored ,He initially supported the Castro regime and was appointed to the national council of culture when Castro came to power ,but was later a critic of the regime and was sent to Belgium by castro then via spain finally settled in Exile in London .So to view of dawn in the tropics which was another Sheffield find from a couple of months ago .

The island came out of the sea like a venus land :out of the foam constantly beautiful .But there were more islands .in the beginning they were solitary islands .

The opening of View of ..

So view dawn in the tropics is an experimental novel ,a collection of roughly a hundred pen picture or vignettes which ever takes your fancy .These little gems tell the story of his homeland Cuba from the first Time the Spanish reached it in 1492 ,through the death of the native Indian tribes ,the slave trade ,uprisings of  the slaves . the war with America ,The cuban Jazz age ,the Batista regime and the finally the Castro led revolution ..So we see the Tobacco trade and haunting snippets of how the white owners treated the Black slaves when they tried a mutiny by hang corpses from trees as a warning to all the over slaves not to revolt .Then we later see the black dandy’s dressed in all there splendour in the 1930 as the Jazz age and america’s influence gripped the island some these little snippets remind me of Infante’s other book three trapped tigers that is set during the same  time and had a real Cuban jazz  beat to its writing .Then first the hope of Castro  coming to power and then the despair of castro .

Dawn came as always .The moon was hidden early and venus first became more luminous and then paler,fainter.The land breeze had stopped .but it was cooler than it had been at sunset.

I choose this as it echo the opening and came nearer the end of the book .

This book is a classic piece of modernist experimental  fiction ,hard to call a novel not a history really ,I feel maybe as I know he was a fan of Joyce (he translated Dubliners into Spanish )it maybe owes something to Ulysses as this is a collection of micro episodes like Ulysses is .Two other books that  I was reminded of was Gunter Grass my century, that I feel is influenced by  this  book as grass told german history in the twentieth century also through  a hundred vignettes   by Grass .The other  book I was reminded of mainly because I’d  read it earlier this month is HHHH by Laurent Binet  another book that style wise use small vignettes but not with the power of the writing  Infante does in view of  .I find it hard to believe this guy isn’t better known  in the english speaking world he should be up next to Fuentes and Marquez .For his use of language is simply breath-taking he seems to make clever puns even work in translation  ,rhythmic passages always seem to come with that cuban jazz beat behind them . But all that without being over bloated .Because every one of these vignettes ,feels like a gemstone that has been cut and polished until the shine and glitter .So why isn’t someone reissuing his cannon ,three trapped tigers was reissued in 2005 but with a terrible cover(sorry to mention covers again but it is a matter that bothers me great books with bad cover is worse than bad books with good covers to me ) well moan over .So hope for the second time I get someone to try this writer he is the most refreshing writer I ve read this book is so different to three trapped tigers and I think that is the mark of a master able to change writing style from book to book and to keep it readable .

Have you read Infante ? if so do you agree with me ?

What is your favourite Cuban novel ?

Welcome to Spanish Lit Month

Well it’s here July  tomorrow and I’m excited to see what books every one has chosen but if your still struggling for a book to read for Spanish language lit month ,I ve a few tips here to help my co host richard has done two posts of book lists .the first has 200 books that have been picked on various lists  the second had a further list of 100 plus books from classic to the modern age from spain and latin america .

Right another great port of call is the complete review Michael the guy behind complete review has many more reviews of spanish fiction here  and Latin american fiction here .Mostly modern but it has best selection of Latin american fiction I ve seen .

The site for new Spanish books available to be translated is a great site to see what is happening in Spanish .Nick Caistor and Stefan Tobler advise on here two  people I know are trustworthy .

Then I ll give you five to read from my blog

1.Don Quixote –

US EDITION DON QUIXOTE

This is the head water of all modern european fiction we may think use in the english speaking world got the ball rolling on the novel no its  this book has it all ,meta fiction ,playful story lines ,History and oh the mad don and his faithful friend .

2 Three trapped tiger G Cabrera Infante

The cuban Ulysses the call it but actually it is very different it has a very cuban feel you can feel a jazz beat as your read about a day in Havana just before the revolution .A lost classic this one .

3 I the supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos

Another classic of latin american fiction ,the story of a 19th century dictator in latin america echos of the present in the past image ,controlling the media and writing your own history still go on in the present day

4 Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras

One of my favourite books of recent years ,the dirty war seen through a young boys eyes .It is touching and entertaining  and with a believable child narrator .

5 Exiled from almost everywhere by Juan Goytisolo

He is the wonderful master of spanish fiction I ve read a few but this only one since I ve blog a wonderfully wacky tale that maybe needs a wider audience  . As does Juan he may win the Nobel one day soon and if you’ve not read him you’ll kick your self .

Oh and needless to say Borges is a must read anything by him is going make your reading life a little brighter .

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