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 .

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Darkness at noon by Artur Koestler

Hungarian fiction

Translated by Daphne Hardy

I ve held off on read Koestler for a number of years never quite sure why but recently saw a old penguin modern classic and thought it was about time I read it ,this book  is his most famous .It was on the Modern library’s hundred best english language books ( strange it is a translation ).Arthur Koestler was born in Hungary in the early years of the twentieth century into a Jewish family he lived all over the world in Palestine ,Paris and Berlin then in mid thirties he went to Soviet russia for five years to report on the country this was a the hit of the Stalin show trails and the great purge  and spent time in Spain in the Spanish civil war .On the outbreak of war he was caught in france but eventually made it to England .Shortly after arriving  ub the uk  he wrote this book which is considered his best work  first published in 1940 .

“Put that gun away ,comrade 2 said Rubashov to him .”what do you want with me anyhow ?”

“you hear you are arrested ” said the boy “put your clothes on and don’t make a fuss “.

“Have you got a warrant ?” asked Rubashov

How it all started .

Now darkness at noon is a dark ,dark book it is really an insight into totalitarian regime through the eyes of a little man caught in a party machine ,although when it was written it seems Koestler’s time spent  in both in spain and Russia inspired the book . (He had a lucky escape in spain when he was still a communist and he  got caught in Franco’s camp but avoided being put to death.)The book is one mans story Nicholas Rubashov ,this man is in late fifties and really comes across as an everyman ,in looking up on the book Koestler Said he made him out of a large number of Soviet prisoners of the time .Any way he is arrested suddenly by some men and but in a cell by him self ,the other people we meet along the way are people in the same part of the prison a cell mate called 402 they communicate via taps ,a old ,old man who has spent more than twenty years in solitary confinement  he calls Rip Van Winkle .We follow him as he has four hearing this loyal man who has risked his life on many occasions for the party (it is never called the communist party ) and thus not placing the book in russia as we are never told where the trails are taking place .It is Obvious the madness of the trails there are four in all this makes up the parts of the book  as they unfold  they are a direct reflection of Stalin’s show trails in the thirties. But in the years since , how many times have we seen dictators run trails with no reasons and people arbitrarily killed for no real reason .This book still rings true seventy years after it came out .

“Asked whether he pleaded guilty ,the accused Rubashov answered “yes” in a clear voice .To a further question of the public prosecutor as to whether the accused has acted as an agent of the counter-revolution ,he again answered “yes” in a lower voice ….

The broken man near the end not the man from the early quote .

This Book is a true modern classic and all I can say if you’ve not read it yet , you should you can see its  standing  in  twentieth century writing .A s a child of Kafka obviously this is a more realistic take of what Kafka did with the character  K in his book   The trail and you can see its influence on Orwell in particular 1948 and works by Solzhenitsyn like the gulag archipelago and one day in the life both have the similar anti-Soviet feel .also the recent book by Elias Khoury Yalo has elements owing to this book the dark brutalness of men being broken by the regime . Daphne Hardy the translator  was Koestlers lover at the time she worked with him on this translation from German and gave  the book it’s  English title, the original title  in german meant solar eclipse .But I feel the English title has so much more meaning than the  German one as in the cells there is no real light at times so darkness at noon fits to me .

Have you read this book ?

Do you have a favourite book set in a prison ?

A Far cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark

A far cry from Kensington by Muriel spark

Scottish fiction

Muriel Spark was a Scottish born writer ,she wrote over twenty novels in her life .She studied in Scotland  at Herriot watts a course on precise writing,she then taught english before world war two and in the war worked in intelligence ,after the war she moved to London .She is probably best known for the book the prime of Miss  Jean  Brody .I Haven’t until now tried her works she is one of the writers I class as scary female ,but thankfully for Simon of stuck in a book and Harriet of Harriet Devine who are hosting Muriel spark week as they both took part in my Henry Green reading week I thought this would be an ideal chance to try her so I head to the main library in Chesterfield and found a few of her book on their shelves ,the one that grabbed my eye was the Virago modern Classic of A far cry from Kensington .

So I cracked it open last weekend the book was  A far cry from Kensington I was drawn to the fact this story was partly set in the publishing world  .The book is about Mrs Hawkins a catholic ,war widow , it is told in retrospective ,as she starts on  the low rungs of  the publishing world at a rather poorly run publisher Ullswater press ,I love an early description of her working at the office at how the partners in the business work .I laughed at how she describe the daily life of publishing in the fifties  .Later this company folds and she is left looking for a job ,luckily she did at a more well-known and prestigious publishing house ,but when there she finds things are still run badly .

Then as now ,all jobs in publishing were greatly sought after ,and perhaps consequently ,poorly  paid

think even sixty years after this book this is still true .

The other tract of the story is her home life she lives in a house divide into flats .In one of these flats lives Wanda a polish women and a dress-maker  ,this also leads to a few comic lines about her out look on life .That is a enough of the comic parts as the book is dark as well things turn strange when Mrs Hawkins called a writer   a pisseur de copie (urinates frightful prose ) as he wants the Ullswater press to put his work out this desire takes a dark turn and at a later point the man Hector Bartlett is possibly  involved with Wanda but later in the book things start going bad for Wanda and is it this man ?and her work and home life collide with a shocking results .

“How is Wanda getting on ,Mrs Hawkins ?”

Wanda ,the Polish dressmaker ,had enough problems to fill up the rest of the afternoon.Mr York filled his glass,and I him in about Wanda

“Wanda ” I said “suffers greatly ”

“I never met a pole who doesn’t ”

this little passage made me laugh .

I really didn’t know what to expect from Spark but didn’t expect to fall in love with her clear prose style the way she drew you into the story with twist and turns of the plot ,the main characters all seemed so well drawn out to me , very real Hawkins a war widow and Catholic struck me in some part as a thinly veiled Spark  .I would imagine post war the was a number of Polish or other eastern european women like Wanda  after the second world war I was drawn to a character in Christie’s  book a murder is announced called Mitzi she had the same paranoid and suffered personality as Wanda .Muriel spark  did live in London after the war but not in Kensington but Camberwell .and worked as an editor  for a poetry magazine so would have had interaction with the Publishing world of the time .I m going to try to pick another spark on my visit to sheffield later this week hoping the second hand shop has some of the great early penguin covers .Thanks to Simon for host the week

Have you read spark ?

What would you suggest to try next ?

The history of the man in black by Oliver goldsmith

I going try to go through a few irish short stories for Mel of reading lives irish short story month .I was born in Ireland myself co down in the north and my family has a history on my father’s side going back over 300 years in Ireland ,so irish literature is something I read when young with frequent visits to family and friends meant I want to learn more about Ireland .But in the last ten years I ve read less and less so I chosen a few short stories and may try a few novels later this year after my IFFP reading .

so to the story it is told by a son his father was a poor member of a well to do family he had joined the church as a youngest son in Ireland at the time this was normal in middle class families the first son would inherit the second join the army and the third the clergy ,well his son wants some money as he dislikes his families poverty we see how he goes about it in this very short story of four pages ,it does capture a part of Ireland that was in existence for many years .All so shows how quick one could fall from well to do to poor in Ireland in the 1700’s

My father ,the younger son of a good family  was possessed a small living in the church .His education was above his fortune and his generosity greater than his education .

Opening of this short story .

Oliver Goldsmith was a Anglo irish writer alive from the 1720 to the 1770 .he grew up in Ireland went to trinity college in Dublin then went to london after college where he became a member of the club,the exclusive dining club run by Samuel Johnson and Joshua Reynolds ,they meet every two weeks and discussed art and writing .

This story is in my 10 volume collection the worlds thousand best short stories .

Trieste by Dasa Drndic

Dasa Drndic she is a Croat novelist ,playwright and critic ,she has spent time in Canada and now is a professor at Rijeka university in Croatia .

Trieste is her first book to be translated in english and I for one am so pleased it has been as I feel it is a truly important novel .When this arrived I had a flick through the book and saw it was very unusual containing a number of photos and lists and host of over literary devices .But as you dive into this book it all becomes clear .The initial glance made me think of Sebald and the fact that this book is about the second world war and Seblad’s Austerlitz touched in part that time as well but this is the story of southern europe of Italy in particular but also the neighbour places and it spreads out from the two main characters Haya Tedeschi a women who as we find out she had a son via the Lebensborn programme the Germans ran to produce a perfect Aryan race .Early on we find out her story as she waits for her son how she end up father her son and her family’s wartime story.

For sixty-two year she has been waiting .

She sits rocks by a tall window in a room on the third floor of an Austro Hungarian building in the old Gloriza .The rocking chair is old and ,as she rocks it whimper .

Haya waits for her son and thus we find her story .

The father of this babe was a ss officer that was one of the most notorious ,as he was a savage guard at Treblinka camp .The other character is Haya son she hasn’t seen him for over sixty years and now their meeting but before they do we see how this happened and this is what is most inventive in this book ,how that story is told in a number of ways that sets it apart from normal fiction written about the war as most of the people mention in this book are real people ,The ss officer Kurt Franz although I myself prefer the title murderers that Chil Rajchman in Treblinka calls them but he singles out Franz and his dog that is pictured in Trieste ,he had taught this dog to bite prisoners anyway I m getting sidetrack here my review of Treblinka will come in the next month .

A thirty year old German in a uniform comes into her tobacco shop.Oh ,he is handsome as a doll .The German already has the polish nickname Lalka ,but at this point ,when she first see the dashing German Haya knows nothing of that,the dashing german tells her later .

DOll or Lalka was due to Franz doll-like face .explained here

Another devices to shock and make the reader think is printing all 9000 plus names of the Italian jews that died in the second world war I was initially going to flick through this but no I read through and was hit by the effect tens even hundreds of people with same name and probably the same family wiped out by the war ,this is a real eye-opening device and brings the true effect of the holocaust.

Fritz Schmidt ,SS – Unterscharfuhrer born 1906 in Eibau ,Germany .Guard and chauffeur in Sonnenstein and Bernburg 1940-41 .chauffeur and head of garage at Treblinka in 1942 ;looks after equipment for gas chambers .In Trieste in 1943 .Arrested by allies in Saxony .In december 1949 sentenced to nine years in prison ,but escapes to West Germany and no-one cares .Dies in 1982

One of the many pen picture portrays of Treblinka guards .

Elsewhere Dasa uses little pen picture biographies of the guards from Treblinka ,slowly build the character of her sons father bit by bit you feel your skin cringe as every man record is told and what happened to them post war.I feel Dasa achieves here what Bolano tried in part in his Nazi literatures in the Americas using small bios to highlight a great whole of course that was neo Nazis in the America’s but the feel is the same using the bios to build a picture of the whole in this case the true horrors of Treblinka .Dasa has managed to do what seems impossible that is too mix real life and fiction at one of the darkest times and not make it seem not right which it could have easily been .But she has done it seamlessly ,without making the story seem like it is fiction and on the other hand with out it making it seem to outlandish to be true .This is one of those books you want place in people hands and just say read and then discusses ,this needs to be talked about to highlight the holocaust but also the Lebenborn programme that I for one knew little or nothing about .Because the further we get from this time the more it needs reinforcing in people’s minds the horrors that happened .This books sits well along side the books of Levi and such .

Dasa Drndic is visiting uk and is here at Jewish book week on 26th February

 

Glorious Nemesis by Ladislav Klima

Glorious Nemesis by Ladislav Klima

Translator Marek Tomin

Czech Fiction

Ladislav Klima grew up in Bohemia in the late part of 1800’s and early part of 1900’s expelled for his views on church and state from his school he lived hand to mouth in the later part of his life making money doing short-term jobssuch as a shoe shiner or in hotels .In fact  most of his work was published after his death at the age of  50 in 1928 from tuberculosis .This is the latest to be brought to english by The czech based publisher Twisted spoon .

When I read the pitch for this book from the publisher ,I knew it would be a book I loved ,as I have  a great fondness for pre world war two central European fiction from likes of Kafka ,Leppin ,Zweig and so on this book falls firmly into this group of writers  where they question life and social standing and what it is to be human .saying that this  is a short novella of a 123 pages and also includes a number of special commissioned Illustrations for the book by the Czech artist Pavel Rut ,the whole book is wonderfully package with a striking cover that uses the virgin mary /two sister motif    .The book is the story of a young man Sider, he is 28 ,and whilst on a holiday in the Tyrol. He comes across two women on a black cliff these are sisters Errata and Orea .The are dressed in red and blue which happens to be the colours of the Virgin Mary ,he falls in love with these women and this sets the scene for the  story ,as he is  always returning to the place where  he saw them  first and he sees echoes of them even after the women have gone and even died .I m remind of other books of the time and think this fits in as we watch Sider descend into madness as he treads a line between the real and unreal ,this book touches many things over its short length philosophy , religion ,love and longing also the Czech tradition of the ordinary turning into the surreal and  absurd as Sider see thinks that aren’t there and meets various people .

Finally ,the older women ‘s eyes regarded him .She said something to her companion .Now their conversation became livelier …. and then the younger of the two looked intently at Sider for a long time ,for an almost indecent length of time .He was the first to avert his eyes .

Sider gets a close look at the women as they descend towards him .

I love the quote from the recently departed Vaclav Havel” Klima almost always shocked ” I can see how Klima has influence figures like Havel and Haki also quote it’s that czech thing of walking the line between the everyday and the unusual  motifs in both writers work ,and how easy it is too become obsessed and then mad because of obsession. As ever another triumph from Twisted spoon as they continue to unearth the hidden gems of central European fiction for us to read in English .This book can easily sit next to a Zweig or Kafka .Here is Complete reviews take on it 

What is your favourite Czech novel ?

 

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