The Dry Heart By Natalia Ginzburg

The dry heart by Natalia Ginzburg

Italian fiction

Original title – È stato così

Translator – Frances Frenaye

Source – personal copy

I mentioned on Twitter I was struggling to finish and concentrate on reading books recently. So I decided when I was in Macclesfield the other day to look for a short novella that was from a writer I have enjoyed before as maybe a way to kick start my reading as I hadn’t finished any book for more than a week. So when I saw this from the Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg which I’m sure I’ve seen this month around twitter of this book and others by her. she is one of those writers `I read and knew I would read everything I could get my hands on. Ginzburg, she worked for one of the best publishing houses in Italy. A publisher that had published the likes of Carlo and Primo  Levi, Cesare Pavese and Italo Calvino some of my favourite writers. Since she has been republished in the last few years she has had a revival and after reading this it is welcome to see people reading her.

‘TELL ME THE TRUTH, “I said.
What truth?’ he echoed. He was making a rapid sketch in his notebook and now he showed me what it was: a long, long train with a big cloud of black smoke swirling over it
and himself leaning out of a window to wave a handkerchief.I shot him between the eyes.

He had asked me to give him something hot in a thermos bottle to take with him on his trip. I went into the kitchen, made some tea, put milk and sugar in it, screwed the top on tight, and went back into his study. It was then that he showed me the sketch, and I took the revolver out
of his desk drawer and shot him between the eyes. But for a long time already I had known that sooner or later I should do something of the sort.

The opening is also the end in a way of the relationship

The Dry heart it is told from the perspective of a wife. The book opens as she shoots him between the eyes as she puts it what follows is a sort of remembered version of their time together of her meeting and falling in love with Alberto. She met him one day in the cafe but from the first, there is a sense the relationship is one-sided he asks her about her but when she tries to discover. more about him he is evasive about his life.The two form a bond she likes his interest in what she sees as her boring life as a teacher. They get close but he is always at at a neutral place like cafes or by the river. But then it isn’t til something happens to his mother that she finally gets a glimpse behind Alberto’s facade when he greets her in a dishevelled state. This maybe makes them see him as more human. But she still senses there is a real sense of two souls that shouldn’t be together coming together. Ginzburg draws you into this relationship and how it started and then fell apart from the perspective of some caught in the car crash of a relationship told in a way it is subtly explained and drawn in

BEFORE WE WERE MARRIED, when we went for a walk or sat in a café, Alberto enjoyed my company even if he wasn’t in love with me. He went out of his way to call on me; yes, even if it was raining he never failed to come. He sketched my face in his notebook and listened to what I had to say.

But after we were married he didn’t sketch my face any more. He drew animals and trains, and when I asked him whether trains meant that he wanted to go away he only laughed and said no.

The changes after they marry are the start of the relationship crashing

As I said I wanted a writer that I had enjoyed and this was the case with Ginzburg I had read the little virtues I had thought it was only a couple of years ago it turns out it was four years ago at the time I knew I want to read another from her but hadn’t thought it be so long anyway this is a book that even thou written in 1947 shows the power of great writing as it feels as thou it was written yesterday. it shows the dynamics of relationships are the same. The narrator tells the relationship in a fragmented nature we see how she ends up at the end which is also the beginning of the book shooting Alberto. It shows how a relationship is built bit by bit but like if you build a house on the sand the house is never stable and won’t ever last and this is the case here you read between the lines of the relationship growing there are gaps which we see in this relationship as they get drawn together but even the narrator sees this herself but is in denial or maybe just wants to ignore the faults she sees this is maybe what I like most about the book the sense of human nature in it how blindly we move at times through the world especially those nears to use we sometimes miss the faults and Alberto is a man that has many. it6s the fly on the wall that looks at a relationship from the female perspective that even 75 years later sounds familiar. Have you read any books by Ginzburg if so which should I try next?

Winstons score – a – it is amazing how it is still relevant and reads as thou not was written yesterday.

Space Invaders by Nona Fernadez

Space invaders by Nona Fernandez

Chilean fiction

Original title – Space Invaders

Translator – Natasha Wimmer

Source – personal copy

I saw the cover of this book on Twitter and it caught my eye so when I was away last week in Northumberland and I had seen it in the new book shop in Alnwick and started to feel the Drag of books in translation again I decided it would be a great choice for this Spanish lit month. Nona is a pet name that the writer had growing up and she has had a variety of jobs firstly selling clothes growing up and Began to write she wrote her first novels whilst living in Barcelona. Her writing is considered part of the literature of Children’s canon(Literatura de Los Hijos) a term coin around a group of novels from Chile mainly but elsewhere in Latin America that view the years of the dictatorships around Latin America through children’s eyes. the term was originally coined by Alejandro Zambra. I have reviewed books by him here.

Santiago de Chile. 1980. A ten-year-old girl walks into Avenida Matta school holding her father’s hand. A leather satchel hangs on one shoulder and the laves of her right shoe are undone. Outside, the pavement is strewn with the remains of a celebration; flyers, empty bottles, trash. The new constitution proposed by the military Junta was approved by a broad majority. The school caretaker sweeps the litter from the gate, watching the girl’s father. The man takes off his officer’s cap to say goodbye to his daughter. He gives her a kiss on the cheek and whispers a few words in her ear. The girl smiles and heads down the hallway with one shoelace trailing on the tiles. In front of the statue of the Virgen del carmen, she kneels and kisses her thumb

The opening a girl with one lace undone is the centre of the book.

So this is a strange book as it isn’t a linear story more a collection of pieces memories, dreams, nightmares and letters about a class and one of the pupils in that class Estrella. She was in the class but her father was a high-ranking official in the Pinochet regime over a period of years from that ten-year-old girl with her father just as the new constitution was proposed. Then someone in the class remembers her two long braids and pulls them this is the nature of the book a fracture scattering of the class and what happens over time as they grow first in the present in retrospect that time and their present. Things like the regimented nature of the class line up singing the anthem(these bits remind me of old communist schools I remember seeing on the tv years ago that indoctrination at a young age). Then what it means to live under the regime when a teacher stumbles when asked about politics shows how dark these times were deaths in the poor areas common described through the eyes of the children. as the class moves through time we come back after each life lost a few years later to we come to them as adults. Add to this is a chunk of the 80s

a green glow in the dark hand. Riquelme keeps dreaming about it, can’t shake it. This time he sees it on a television screen, The hand advances rapidly, in the pursuit of extraterrestrial children. They run back and forth, fleeing in terror, but the hand clutches at the first martian within reach and at its touch there is an explosion. The body of the little Martin flies apart into coloured lights that vanish from the tv screen

The liking to the space invader as one of the other characters plays it.

This book tries to see how you cope with the trauma of being a child in a conflict and how those events can haunt our waking moments and or dreams as kids Estrella was in their class and the events around them were out of their control so this is a horrific fragment journey into there lives around Estrella and the events and how in retrospective they seem a lot darker. Nona uses the space invader of the title as a sort of framing device as the story moves on each part is life in the game. I have read a number of books from the children of literature over the years and they all have a fragment sent to them and also that sense of how we view and remember childhood events and then what happens when later in life parts cross again. I enjoyed this it is a mosaic of time and events it’s left for you to fill the gaps at times and it is like a collection of soundbites of the time. The book is a short one I read it in an evening and have reread a lot of it this morning. Have you read any books from the literature of children genre ?

Winston score – B what happened to the class is remembered and what it meant rinds deep.

Winter In Sockho by Elisa Shua Dusapin

Winter in Sockho by Elis Shua Dusapin

Swiss fiction

Original title – Hiver à Sokcho

Translator – Aneesa Abbas Higgins

Source – personal copy

I picked this up in a charity shop recently as I am one to avoid hype books but when I read the book blurb again it grabbed me somewhat and the writer of the book Elisa Shua Duspain a writer from a french Korean background that grew up around Europe and had won a number of writing prizes including the National book prizes for the best-translated books. The book was popular when it came out and had a rather eyecatching book I am always wary of books that seemed hype but it is a short book perfect for sitting and reading on a winter day off so that is what I did today.

My mother was squatting in the kitchen, her chin pressed top her neck, arms plunged into a bucket. She was ixing fish liver, leeeks and sweet potato noodles to make the stuffing for the squid. Her soondae were known to be the best in Sockho.

“Watch me work the mixture. See how i spread the stuffing evenly”

Iwasnt really listening. Liquid was spurting from the biucket, pooling around our boots and running towards the drain in the middle of the room. My mother lived at the port, above the loading bay, in one of the apartments reserved for fishmongers. Noisy. Cheap.My childhood home. I went to see her on sunday eveninggs and stayed over until Monday, my day off off. She’d been finding it difficult sleeping alone since I’do moved out.

Her mother struggles with her not being there

The book follows a relationship between a young french Korean girl and a Fench comic artist that has come to stay at the Guesthouse where she has been working for the elderly owner. But now it is winter in the resort she is in is this summer resort that is like one of those western towns with tumbleweed getting blown around as the tourists have now gone and it is a ghost city as it is winter. so when Kerrand appears this older French man catches her eye, as he is the opposite of her boyfriend an airhead that is trying to forge a career as a model the fumbling embrace where see describes his hand touching a scar on her leg that scar which causes her to bite at this airhead as she expects him one day to ask her to change herself for him. This is heightened by a fellow guest that has had recent facial surgery laying low in the winter town. So as Kerrand gathers are narrator can speak french he asks her to introduce him to the real Korea as they take a road trip to the border she is more drawn to this man. Although she despairs at the fact he isn’t that into the food as her mother the other main person in this book is a woman that can prepare the deadly pufferfish. I was reminded of the Simpson’s episode where the chef had maybe wrongly cut up the fish that Homeer had eaten a fine line. They used to share a bed in her mother’s small apartment and she is starting to struggle as she is away most of the week working at the hotel. This is a young woman drawn to the mysterious older man as she dreams of him noticing her even more than he does. Will he write his comic book about the place?

Kerrand was listening to me intently, head down, one hand on his forehead tohold back his hair. The only display that had caught my attention was one with schoolchildrens shoes from the north along with Choco pies packaged in blue instead of their trademark purple. Were they the real thing? Did they actually have a cake inside or had they been specially made for the Musuem?

She is so drawn to this mysterious older man

I liked the descriptions in this book she caught that feel of a seaside town when the tourist have gone in the winter I remember visiting my grandparents that lived in a seaside town in winter it is an eerie place a place of spaces that was this is echoed in the narrator description of his drawings full of white spaces. The story is a classic older man younger woman with a boyfriend that isn’t all he seems I was reminded of Lost in Translation the connection between these two is less intense but the feel of them discovering places is the same as she views those places again when she goes with Kerrand. it works it hasn’t that feel of Woody Allen at times where the relationship between a young woman and the older man feels forced what effect has she had on Him if any? It is a perfect winter read it is a subtle take on a relationship like those french movies Amelie for example where her encounters are brief and intense like our narrators take on these days of visiting small conversations. What are your favorite books or films around brief encounters?

Winstons score – B+ a wonderful short read set in a dead seaside town.

A cat, A man And two women by Junichiro Tanizaki

 

A Cat

A cat, a man and two women by Junichiro Tanizaki

Japanese fiction

Original title – Neko to Shōzō to Futari no Onna

Translator – Paul McCarthy

Source – personnel copy on Kindle

I have been using my Kindle a bit more recently as I had a few books I had brought cheap and want to read this being one of them. Tanizaki is a writer I had to want to feature on the blog for a while. He was one of the best writers of the mid 20th century. He himself was a translator working a lot during his life translating the Epic Tales of Genji into modern Japanese. He also was known forthright intimate nature of his writing. This is a lesser work but for me a very personal insight into a family life.

Shozo repeated the same thing over and over again. He would give her a fish, then himself a little drink, and calling ‘Lily’ would raise the next prize high. There must originally have been some twelve or thirteen mackerel on Shozo’s plate, each about two inches long, of which he himself had actually eaten perhaps three or four. For the rest, he had simply sucked out a bit of the vinegar dressing before giving the flesh to Lily. ‘Ohh-ohh … owww! That hurts!’ Shozo let out a shriek: Lily had leapt onto his shoulders and dug in her claws.

Shozo even feeds the cat more than himself

The book as the title suggests is about a Man Shozo, he is on his second marriage that is the two women referred to in the title of his first and second wives. There is also Shozo Cat Lily. The story focus on the relationship between the four characters. This happens when the first wife asks for Lily the cat back Shinako a seamstress by trade hasn’t got over losing her husband. She knows that Lily the cat may bring him back to her. Now his current wife isn’t a fan of Lily this is shown when she isn’t happy when she cooks 13 pieces of fish for her husband and he gives most of it to the cat. They even share the bed together at night. Who will win this power battle between the two women the rather lazy husband and the cat Lily?

Now, Fukuko was a cousin of Shozo’s; and, given the circumstances under which she became his wife, there was no need for her to worry about pleasing a difficult mother-in-law. So from her second day of married life, she did just as she pleased in everything. All the same, she could hardly stand by and watch her husband trying to wield a kitchen knife, so in the end she made the marinated fish for both of them, though under protest. To make matters worse, they had been dining off mackerel for five or six days running. Then, two or three days ago, it had struck her: Shozo wasn’t even eating the food he’d insisted on having, ignoring his wife’s complaints; instead, he was giving it all to the cat! The more she thought about it, the clearer it all became: the mackerel were small, with little bones, easily chewed; there was no need to fillet them, and they could be served cold; and one got a lot for one’s

He married a distant relative but his mother made life hard and now the cat and ex aren’t helping either !

This is really a mans ode to the cat. Lilly is the one character from the book I’d like to meet. Shozo is a lazy man that has lost one wife. But end with a younger model but at the end of the day is more into his cat than his wife even sharing the bed with the Cat then we have Shinako a perfect example of the scorned wife she wants to use Lilly as a pawn in her game to get back her man from the younger wife. She also loved this tortoiseshell cat and her man. This is one lonely lady that wants something back into her life. Fukuko his current wife has to find her place with him in there married life and somehow keep Shozo and keep him happy even if this means he gets to keep his cat! There is all of human life here love, loneliness, marriage, divorce and one man and his cat. This is a recent reissue from Daunt books and shows why it is good to bring lesser works by great writer back especially when like this they have a certain timeless feel to them. I haven’t read enough by him to say if this is the best entry book but I read it in a night and it brought a smile to my face and made me think of Winston and Merlin my two ex-pet dogs.

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