The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili

The pear field by Nana Ekvtimishvili

Georgian fiction

Original title – მსხლების მინდორი

Translator – Elizabeth Heighway

Source – review copy

I had this sent earlier but had tried a couple of times to start it and just wasn’t getting into it. But as the last few weeks, I am now sitting and reading for a couple of hours solid rather than ten to fifteen mins a few times a day. I did what Peirene has always said about their books and that they are like sitting and watching a two-hour film. This is the debut novel from the Georgian writer Nana Ekvtimishvili. She studied philosophy then went to Germany to study film making it is in scriptwriter with Simon Gross she has made a number of films including the well-received In Bloom.  The book has also  been translated into German.

On the outskirts of Tbilisi, where most of the streets have no names and where whole neighbourhoods consists of nothing but soviet high rises grouped into blocks, grouped in turn into microdistricts, lies Kerch Street. There’s nothing worth seeing here, no historic buildings, o fountains, no momuments to soceity’s great accomplishments, jusy tower blocks lining both sides of the street and, now and then, anpother building tucked between them: the college of light industry, up in the plateau surrounded by spruce trees; the kindergarten; the municipal middle school; the officesof the housing managment committee; a small shopping centre; and at the very end of the street, the Residential School for the Intellectually Disabled Children or, as the locals call it, the school for Idiots

The opening lines of the book the grim reality of post soviet Georgia.

The Pear field is set on Kerch street in the capital of Georgia Tbilisi where is the residential school for disabled children or as it is locally called the school for idiots. The book opens and we meet Lela she is in her late teens and could leave the school and go beyond the pear fields but she has stayed for just two reasons which are the driving force for the book. We learn that she really wants to kill her history teacher and then alongside this is the story of Irakli a young boy that Lela has taken under her wing, every week they go to their neighbors of the school for the young boy to ring his mo0ther but over time it is clear the mother is just paying the young boy with her lip service as the story unfolds we see the school the pupils and also the dark reason behind her wanting to kill her teacher. Then there is hope for her young friend as an American couple wants to take the young man to the US to start a new life with the help of Lela and the neighbor Lena they try to help the boy get the American dream.

The school began to lose teachers as well. Only Tiniko, Dali, Vano and Gulnara are left from the old guard Nowadays new teachers come, they teach a few lessons, realize the school has nothing to offer them and go again. New children have stopped arriving too. Maybe parents todays are less willing to abandon their children or maybe there are better schools out there to abandon them in maybe idiots just aren’t being born anymore.

That is why everyone is so suprised when one day the gates open and a well-dressed young woman in her thirties walks in with a girl aged about nine The girl ;ooks smart and well cared for but aso nervous and guarded. Lela strokes the little girl’s hair, then walks them over to Tiniko’s office. Tiniko is expecting them, the woan explains that the little girl is related to her husband, Having lost her parents, she was being raised by her grandmother, Now that she has died, the child’s relative have decided to leave her with the school.

There is the hated teacher Vano for what he has done to her and other pupils over the years.

Well for those of you that don’t know my job is working with learning disabilities. I spent twenty years working in the community a few years ago taking a ward-based role on an assessment and treatment unit where we deal with people in crisis to help them get back in the community. The school setting was like the old institutions the ones I have to look after people were in before things t=change her so Lela’s story of Abuse. It is one I have heard not so much sexual but a lot of physical abuse years ago when people viewed people with learning disabilities like they still do in this book. This is the story of a mother hen to those in the school like young Irakli. But as her heart, she is a damaged young girl who has no memories outside the school and has been damaged by what her teacher had done to her.  This is an interesting finish to the closed universe series Lela world isn’t beyond the pear field just yet but their chance of breaking out is there also this is going on with the background of the break up of the soviet union had just happened and Georgia is still a new state and the school has suffered due to this. If you like post soviet books that look at the personal lives of those involved this is one for you. Have you read this book?

Why we love women by Mircea Cărtărescu

Why we love women by Mircea Cărtărescu

Romanian fiction

Orignal title – De ce iubim femeile

Translator – Alistair Ian Blyth

Source –  personal copy

Another visit to Romania and I decided to read one from a writer that has in the last few years been a leading name for the Nobel winner. He is a writer I had wanted to try for a while so here is the first of a few books I hope to read from him in the coming year or two I have blinding on my kindle and will be getting Nostaglia which is due out next month from Penguin and his huge Solenoid which is due at some point from DeeVelp vellum in the US this seemed a great intro a collection of short stories around women he has known and other women, they were orignally published in a series in a Magazine in Romania. He grew up in ROmania but like many writers in his generation he was forced to move to France. This collection came in 2008.

The girl was npt just beautiful, she was the tangible images of Beauty itself. I can’t say whether she was merely an aesthetic object, wholly devoid of psychology, of whether, on the contrary, she was pure, a projection of the facinated gazes of those around her. Looking at her, I understood whey the call it ” captivating beauty”: we were all her captives, as if waiting for cruel sacrifice at any moment, one by one. Nevertheless, shyness and innocence were her only powers.

from the first story the Little African women. a vision of beauty he had seen in america in a white sari.

The collection starts with him remembering an attractive Afircan lady in a white sari he said he had never been with any one of another colour but laments this fact. this is a collection of memories with a thjin veil on the whole to make them fiction and in fact in parts he talks abou thow the women in some of these tales were actually the role models for some of his own shprt stories he wrote after meeting them. So D was Gina in a later story from charater tics like the rather large girl he meet gthat had the annoying habit of saying  my ears are pinned back ever so often.  Else where he remembers a drunken night in Ireland  as he was on a tour with two poets who didn’t really get on. I laughed when he said abpout talking in his Iowa English at one point I thought how many other writers from around the world had a similar accent. Also him ordering an Irish coffee not quite knowing it what it was then he talks aboput a Jewish girl and links it to a frank Zappa song the last story is the title tale a ode to what makes women so loveable in his eyes.

At the time, my ind was not quite as innocent as you might imagine. On the poutskirts of Belfast, we had stopped off at a pub, where I had ordered an Irish coffee. Back then (it was in 93) I had no idea what Irishcoffee was. I just wanted to try something local, given that it was my first time in the land of the Druids, Guinness and Joyce. They brought a large cognac glass brimming with hot coffee and two chocolate mint wafers in little dark green envelopes on a saucer. When I got up from the table I realised, to my disbeliefm tjat I could not walk straight. For, in Ireland, the “Coffee”  contain more whiskey than coffee, And so it was that at it grew dark ancd the towns and villages flew past, my state of confusion was amplified

Drunken on a very Irish coffee made me smile !

I’m not sure if this is the best intro to him it seems this is more of a memoir or auto fiction as he is  a writer that has been compared to Thomas Pynchon. Even so I liked the view into his pife and the travel he had done and those women he has met or seen over the years at points there is maybe a feeling that he couldn’t get away with some of the stories and titles now but the time he is remembering is twenty years ago. I brought this as it was a short work by him and for me as a reader I will be reading him again no matter if his other works are different this maybe is one of those to start with later but it has let me know where some of the characters in his other works have come from it is also as a piece of auto fiction into a male view of the world insightful he does notice the femlaes around him and remembers them. So it would be hard to say on this as from all I’ve read it is a different collection to his other works if he is a worthy nobel winner lets see what I think of his other books in a month or two when I get to them. Have you read anything by him are you like me eager to get to Solenoid considered his best book when it comes out ?

Our circus presents … by Lucian Dan Teodorovici

Our Circus Presents by Lucian Dan Teodorovici

Romanian fiction

Original title – Circul nostru vă prezintă

Translator – Alistair Ian Blyth

Source – review copy

I return for a second visit to Romania this year and this time it is a modern writer from the Dalkey Archive series for the country. Lucian is the manager of the Romanian literature museum and also a festival of literature and translation. He has also written for the Guardian and edited a series of books called the Ego Prose in his native Romania. He has written for numerous publications and has published prose, drama, and screenplays including a feature-length one for this book.

I don’t know , why, but when I was little — it happened a long , long time ago — my father deemed it fitting ti tell me a story, an anecdote, a joke – yes, I think he told me it in the form of a joke — about a circus. So a circus comes to town (I don’t remember which town), and the poster looked something like this

The main attraction!

Our circus presents a unique act:

The birdman !

One day he flies, the next day he dosen’t

He’s not flying today!

I was remind of the Hemingway or not six word tale babyshoes for sale never worn which leads you to wonder like this joke !

The unnamed narrator of this book could be called the birdman. Every morning he steps onto the ledge outside the window as he tries to commit suicide will this be the day he jumps of the ledge or will he carry on like he does most days. This morning he is seen by a neighbour above who wonders what he is doing there. The birdman is a name from something his father said he had seen on a sign in a circus or was it something his father thought was funny. but as a child, he put a smile on his face. As he goes on he spends time ion the church and later on sees a man trying to hang himself from a tree as he saves this man carries it on his back. It turns out the man does this sees a rescuer appear and then hangs this leads to a tale of been hung with a bag of stray dogs being hung and trying to find the man hung next to them as he said he wanted to hear people say he died like a dog. As the two become friends we find our narrator had messed up his first sexual encounter after his father’s advice. he visited prostitutes after that as he and his friend or as he calls him the man with Orange suspenders. But what happens when someone really dies that he knew will this death change his outlook on life. Add to this a third friend that is trying to sleep his way to death.

Now I’m heading toward the station, for the first time truly desirous — and, what matters, fully aware — to spend the night with a prostitue. All that happen back then is in the past. My father, my mother, my brotherare far away, transformed into memories from many years. And I must admit, not even those memories are very pleasent. And so no one can prevent me now, at this very moment, from deciding for myself. There will certainly be no one waiting for me back home, seated on the toliet. And, above all, no one else will have to pay for the girl of my choice.

Haunted by what his father had told him in an ackward sex talk with his father as a teen !

These two and a fellow friend are all trying to take their lives with various reasons why they are doing it and various ways of doing it some alone some wanting to be found others anting someone close as they do. There is an air of desperation amongst them all. This reminds me of a couple of writers Beckett which of course the down and outs of Waiting for Godot come to mind as they talk. But I was also reminded of the American short story writer Raymond carver there is a similar feeling of the lost souls in the world these are scrapping the barrel of life. They just seem stuck in a loop trying to end their lives. This does have dark humor behind it at times yes the subject is very dark but the circle of the suicides are more cries for help and maybe a way of being seen by anyone. I was drawn ion by the way Alastair had translated the voice of the main character you are hooked from the first page to his life and what brought him to where he is? Another example of why Dalkey archive is so important to be kept running thanks to Deep Vellum. I wonder if anyone would be interested in later in the year doing a Dalkey archive week maybe?

Robinson by Aram Pachyan

Robinson by Aram Pachyan

Armenian fiction

Original title – Ռոբինզոն 

Translator – Nazareth Seferian, Nairi Hakhverdi, Arevik Askharayan, Nyree Abrahamian

Source – review copy

I have reviewed the debut novel by Aram Pachyan a couple of years ago. This was meant to be part of a collection of books from Armenia that Glasgoslav had brought out and Aram was to give a speech about writing here is that speech.  which I really enjoyed so I am pleased to review this short story collection from one of the leading writers in Armenia. This book won the presidential prize in Armenia. His books have topped the chart in his home country. His works have been adapted into Musicals and experimental play of his book goodbye bird which I reviewed here.

He opened the box with his eyes closed, his breayth held. The colourful ornaments were quietly asleep on the cream-couloured paper. On the surface of those decorations, he saw the sad reflection of his face and the curvy shadows od his pointy hair. In the box, there were layers upon layers of ornaments and streamers hich adorned their christmas tree every year. The small plastic Christmas tree that his parents had brought in the city of Vandzor a long time ago, even before he was born. It’s skelton had grown weak over the years, its green leaves had melted here and there from the heat of the lights. Every year, when he placed the tree, his father would use a copper wire to fasten the tree’s thin trunk to the four legged base, so that it would not fall over.

A proustian moment of a christmas tree remember a close moment with his father.

This is a collection of 16 stories that seem to capture what it is like growing up in Armenia and also the loneliness of modern life. The title story is a nod to the ultimate tale of being alone that of Robinson Crusoe. A series of letters between   Robinson and Friday that then leads to children and their teacher. This gives the tale of being alone a modern twist. Elsewhere there are street chess players. A young boy falls for the local girl of his dreams of her in a sexual way then later on he takes a local girl he has fallen for out she gets drunk he has to go back to the same aunt for some money to bail him out. There are dreams of escape where a young boy reads of Toronto and dreams of escaping there. Mothers trying to sort out their drunk husband by drugging the father to keep him from drinking is observed by a child. In places, the tales feel personal as a number of the characters are called Aram. The most touching was a son whose father is dying remembering the closeness the putting of up of the tree brought him and his father. Who is dying in the hospital he wonders if his father sees a tree there in the hospital and is remembering those moments as well !!

I was embarrassed: how could I ask those boys for more money when they had worked all day like slaves? No, I couldn’t ask them .. What should I do …What should I do ? The thought was born in my head scared me , but the fear felt very pleasent, for the first time I wished to properly feel fear, it was like being run over by a car, when you somehow avoid the blow and manage to calm down afterwards …How I went, I don’t know.. Did I go, did my childhood go? I don’t know. I knocked on the apartment door of number 19 and Lia opened it

Having been made broke by the drunk local beauty he goes to his aunt for some money.

On the back cover, it says the stories contain the inescapable loneliness of people in the modern world. It is a hard world at times he describes tough times tough people also a world where drink and violence can just bubble below the surface. These are great observational pieces the little everyday things are captured here. The despair of a story like John Cheever swimmer can be seen in this collection the despair in the modern world but also the dreams of past and future at times. This lifts the lid on a hard life and a world that we can be thankful we aren’t in.

A quartet from Armenia

 

I have reviewed two books from Armenia one was by Aram Pachyan which I loved. So when I saw that there was four new books from Glagoslav from Armenia.

Robinson by Aram Pachyan was his debut collection won a presidential medal 16 stories each story is a small but sharp painting of various characters. a look at loneliness in the modern world. He was meant to launch these books with a speech a London book fair here is a link to the text of that speech. called the importance of difficult steps .

Raven before Noah by Susanna Harutyunyan Harout raised and saved by an old man grew up in an abandoned village that is home that has escaped torture from Turkey set between 1915 and 1960  one of the most acclaimed writers in Armenia

The door was open by Karine Khodikyan her fiction can be described as intellectual fiction for women. These short stories with a “MYstical touch” tell stories about women – young and old, happy and sad; even when the protagonist is not a woman, the story will immerse you into the life of a woman, revealing her role in anything and everything. These sound great don’t they !!

Point Zero by Narek Malian two historical stories set during the crusades on in Syria and then about pope urban starting the crusades a third story is a love story between a french  woman and a young Arab man in 2015 in Paris

This is a great new insight I looked at the three percent database and that in the ten years on the database there was only three books from Armenia published so this is a great leap forward!

I, City by Pavel Brycz

I, City by Pavel Brycz

Czech fiction

Original title – Jsem Město

Translators – Joshua Cohen and Markéta Hofmeisterová

Source – personal copy

I’ve been struggling to get into books recently so I decided to go and have a good look through my shelves as I am a compulsive book buyer and find something to kick start my reading again so when I came across this from Twisted spoon press that I brought a few years ago I decided it was the one to try. As it turned out with reading the Lars Mytting about a fictional historical place that never existed here is a book that is a sort of remembrance of the loss of the heart of the writers home town in the sixties where the medieval heart of Most was brought down to expand the local mines. This is a story of that city told in a series of vignettes from various points of view.

Most’s poet finished his story, and approached the memorials, The portugeese poet read to himself the names of the long dead as well.

And, suddenly they became completely serious, and forgot the laugh for which they had come, No longer was the absurdity of the Internationale and the youth league shirts. only two of them and the shot dead remained, and the young men felt profound sadness for the fact that people sometimes don’t know how to be people

I am only a new city, not a person.

I am not a hero. I have never defended my walls. Nut when people on my streets and in mu house are truly human, I feel heroic.

I have remebered these poets

Last lines of the Vignette An appearance , heroic.

 

This is a strange novel as it hasn’t a character just a series of little vignettes and historical. They start with a series about the appearance of the city of Most.   Like the Russian occupation where men stayed in the bars and boys stayed men they said. Sports, The photos of Josef Sudek the man famous for his picture of Prague once came to take pictures of Most. The Gypsies those girls that are almost women he loved in the city. Being a man. As you see it is like peeling an onion of the city each pice is a little near the heart of what is Most not a beautiful city like Paris or Prague no this is an industrial place scared by the mining and with its heart torn out just getting by a tough place an industrial city like those other cities like that say Belfast, Newcastle or Glasgow. There is a darkness and humor on the way the city is looked at and her a touch of the magical at times. Moved for the mine the new Most is haunted by the ghost of the past but also the loss of its own soul.

An appearance , fairy-tale

I knew one old lady. She lived on Skupova Street. Her hair was silver and complexion pale

And eyes black, mysterious as her walks.

Where did she emerge from a walk, you never knew.In which place,in which contury.

Her  name was Eva Ezechielova.

Where did she have relatives? In Auschwitz. And in Israel.

Her relatives were there, but she lived her alone. Old and forgotten.From century to century, she took long walks.

She talked to herself.She fed pigeons, sparrows and tits, thought it was foolish. Everythingliving she fed. And with old fairy tales she fed her memories.

The opening and a description of a local character.

This is the work of a writer that has his heart in his home but is also the sort of writer that doesn’t dress it up as this is a place that can’t be dressed up. Clever use of short vignettes takes us to many places from the youngster and to the old from the church to the circus from the highest to the lowest in the city. A lament for the ancient heart now a mine and the soulless present like many modern cities in the sixties I imagine the concrete town of soviet housing and town planning making Most of the present a  practical town,  but soulless and that is the sense of the past haunting the present. This is a clever series of vignettes that slowly build a picture of the city. I wonder what took me so long to read this book. Another gem from the Twisted spoon collection.

The salt of the Earth by Jozef Wittlin

The Salt of the Earth by Jozef Wittlin

Polish Fiction

Original title – Sól ziem

Translator – Patrick John Corness

Source – review copy

Some publisher do a great job at rediscovering old works that have fallen out of print or haven’t been translated into English or maybe were due a new translation the latter is the case for this book they brought out another book from Wittlin which was a success so they got a new translation of this book. Which first came out in English in 1941 and had been out of print for a long time. Jozef Wittlin had an interesting life join the Polish army then initially when they were combined into the Austrian army. He then studied in Vienna and joined with Joseph Roth his friend. He got scarlet fever and end up a prisoner of war working on a translation of the Odyssey. He after the war traveled Europe and promoted Pacifism and then s[ent time in France collecting his materials together to write the Salt of the earth which has the tale of an ordinary man caught up in the madness of World war One.

Piotr’s entire life involved carrying things. As a child he had suffered from that infamous Hutsul affliction for which the human face had the French to thank, apparently. Its symptons were typicalnose and certain defects of vision, which however, did not devolp further with age, Independently of the french Influences, Pitor body was also subject toEnglish ones, the rickets. And so France and England, those two warring elements that had done battle in the historical arena over man centuries, settled their differences in the body of a Hutsul child, To the end of his life Piotr remained bandy-legged.

PIotr is described here as a sort of uncanilly youth.

The novel begins high up in the war as the war begins and Franz Josef signs the papers to start the war. This is in contrast to the book itself which is based around one man’s experience of the war. That man Piotr Niewiadomski is what one would call a peasant he is an illegitimate child and has grown up as a rather Gangly uncannily youth. He dreams of a simple life working on the railways he is a porter but sees the chance to become a linesman. But he is now faced with the chance of being thrust into the war. He ends up as an Infantryman. He has t I wait until he leaves and as they are all due to leave there is a Solar eclipse leading to the feeling of the end of the world, but he is still on rails as he catches the train to Hungary this is where the story shows the madness of war when Piotr is caught up and gets on the wrong side of the sergeant this shows the madness of rank and war as they draw closer to the frontline and battles. It shows a simple man caught in the wheels of a war machine!

Pitor duties were exceptionally onerous in those days,but he managed. He had acquired a fondness for the railway – thatis, for the section entrusted to him. Every day, he walked the four kilometers to signal box 87, beyond which his responsbilties ended. He left his post only when Magda visited. She stood in for him competently, just like a legitimate signalman’s wife. The sight of young girl standing at her post with the little red flag had already on several occasions brought smiles to the weary faces of those returning from death. As if life itselfhad placed her on watch.

The rail is all he dreams about at the sart of the book.

This was meant to be [art of a trilogy of novels he had planned to write but he had the case with the other two works taken and lost at a later date which only a small fragment remain which is at the end of the book. It shows how hard it was for a simple man like Piotr to avoid getting caught up in the madness of the war he is like a polish baldrick maybe a bit cleverer than but a man that has a lover and a simple dream of being a linesman that because of the action in the first chapter. He gets sent to join the army and caught up in the madness of the war machine this is very like The way Blackadder describes his superiors they pay little head for the man on the ground at the front in that trench facing death. Whether today tomorrow but always there rather than planning and not taking part. This follows his own view of the War and his Pacifist point of view. It a shame we never knew more of the trilogy but it sits next to the great books of world war one as for me I have not read a book that captures the build-up to war so well and tension and horror of what was to come so well. Sasson in Fox hunting man captures the upper-class view somewhat but this is the lower ranks view. Another great discovery from Pushkin.

The Females by Wolfgang Hilbig

The Females by Wolfgang Hilbig

German fiction

Original title – Die Weiber

Translator – Isabel Fargo Cole

Source – personal copy

Wolfgang Hilbig had trained as a toolmaker and first got interested more in literature whilst he was a stoker on the ship used in 1968 by a group of east german writers protesting about the centralized censorship and control of literature in East Germany since the start of world war two. He initially worked as a poet but showed no-one, but at the 1968 event which he showed his poetry.  This lead to his poetry being published a number of years after this when he stopped before writing his debut novel Ich(I) which was autobiographical this is a later book that is thematically linked with other books he wrote including the Tiding of trees which I reviewed here. 

My losses accumulated: it seemd I’d even lost my name, yes, I no longer knew who I was, my name was tge property if a strange personage, that alone put it in the presence of females, and they suspected nothing. My name was lost, as all that flowing and rustling hair was lost to me … It was lost because I was forbidden to touch it ah, it was beyond saving

loss despair and sexual loss al her as he losses himself in the maelstrom of his life.

I struggled with the last book by Hilbig I read, in fact, the same happened this time I read this last year and read it again just this week. it is rather like wading through treacle as a reader there isn’t a lot of plot here it reminds me at times of reading Mervyn Peake in my youth there is a wonderfully descriptive nature to Hilbig world as dark and vile as this is as we see Mr c a machinist a nod to Hilbig’s own past working in a factory as he is there he watches the woman that works in the factory but not in his section so he only gets glimpses of them which he describes in a very sexual nature he then says he lost his job at the factory but it doesn’t need to know fully why and why have the woman gone this is where the reader struggles as there is no linear nature to the events that follow they seem to drift back to a dream about getting tortured in a sexual fantasy by the witch of Buchenwald the notorious wife of the commandant of the concentration camp. Then we have a sort twisted masturbation scenes to rubbish and here I was reminded of the similar sexual imagery Ballard used in his book The crash which dealt with the fetish of sex and cars well here it is a similar fetish around rubbish and sex. Mother fixation and a strange dream about stroking a young woman hair and then an attempt to kill himself in an act similar to that of Oskar Brusewitz who killed himself as a political act in 1976 in front police after placing posters about religious freedoms in East Germany. All this is the background to him trying to find where the woman of the town seemed to have disappeared too. This is all a poke at the control of sexual images and natures under the east german regime he grew up in a backlash.

I had gradually begun to transform into a sickness, Like all things I produced, this transformation was utterly excessive, an agony not quite hiuman , it was no longer that of an animal, either. It led to my dismissal from the factory, though the details aren’t worth mentioning, I lived in circumstances in which symptons, I hid in my apartment by day and went out only at night, in the dark, roaming the  town’s deserted streets solilopuizing, holding rousing speeches to myself, sweating, covered woth milky greem pusticles, A terrible thing had happenedsince I’d learned to use life to manufacture descriptions which made an inner life possible for me.

I was remind of Peakes description of , Abiatha Swelter. the chef in gormenghast.

This is a complex work that probably to fully get needs a more careful reader than me and maybe some with more knowledge of former east Germany. But as a work of literature, it is rich with the darker side of the life of what it is like when sexual feelings are repressed then just let out of a dark past echoed in the remains of the concentration camp on the edge of town and our narrator’s sexual dream of an S and M act with Ilse Kock. Hilbig blows open the sexual repression of the East German regime where everyone watched each other so real sexual freedom was deeply repressed.It is a book that reminds me of the rich descriptive style of Mervyn Peake, in fact, the world he describes is similar at times to Peakes Gormenghast. I also remembered the sexual nature of J G  Ballards crash in the description of sex here. Two lines have done a great job bringing him to English.

Billiards at the Hotel Dobray by Dušan Šarotar

Billiards at the hotel Dobray by Dušan Šarotar

Slovenian fiction

Original title – Biljard v Dobrayu

Translator – Rawley Grau

Source – review copy

Anyone that follows this blog knows what a fan I was of the first book by Dusan to be translated into English Panorama it was one of those books that just lingered with me long after I read it and here is another by him an earlier book but an important book as it was one of the first by a Slovenian writer to deal with the plight of the Jewish population in Slovenia. It is a personal story as it incorporates his own grandfather’s story. A recent visit to our own UK holocaust museum in the summer which like this was full of personal history even sixty years later it is still important to remind the people of event this is told through a single building in a single town what Dusan does is use his personal history to tell a wider story of the events near the end of the second world war.

The old porcelain sky was polished to a shine, It lay motionless above the black earth. Like a coffee cup someone had long ago turned upside down on its saucer. Perhaps this was the work of many fortune tellers who read coffee grounds. Now the black sediment covered the sauce, and high above it, in the blue of the sky, only small traces could be seen, broken signs and msterieous shap[es, which only the ost inspired could interpret.That morning one of those women kept glancing at the black sludge as if she was looking at thesky; then she’d merely shake her head and spit outout a thick dollop of phlegm . She was sitting on the front steps of the Hotel Dobray

Such an evocative descriptive passage here.

The Hotel Dobray of the title was one of those imposing Hotels that many small cities and places have around Europe. This is settled in the town of Sobota which is in the northeastern corner of Slovenian between three countries it was occupied in the war by the Germans they left the Hungarians in charge of the town. The t=story is told from one man’s story which in a way is a wider story of the town. Franz Schwartz is walking back to the town after like all his fellow Jews having been forced out a year earlier. This was just as his son was having a bar mitzvah a talented violinist due to give a performance. The Hotel is housing a special tribunalJoszef the man doing this can see the writing on the wall he knowns the read army in the year from when the Germans arrived in 1944 to 45 and the Red Army expect any time. Then we have a factory owner and local character Josip and a prostitute Linna a former singer and like her friends in the brothel stuck in this sleep backwater as the war draws to its end.As we see Franz heading there and what has happened in that hard year.

The wind borne  byt the plain from the east dispersing the smoke from the station and distributing it noisily amoung the houses. It was then what ever hope Franz Schwartz still carried inside him collapsed. He knew that Ellsie and Izak would never again appear out of the fog. Here, for a long time to come, people would still be getting on  and off trains, embracing each other and saying teir farewells, but he would always be waiting. He alone would be walking across the tracks and watching for the train that would one day take him away, too

The day they left the town before he returned aloned.

This is the wonderful historic view of the writer’s hometown it must have hit a nerve as a few years after the book came out Murska Sobota put up its first memorial to the fallen Jews of the town. It has a woven tapestry of a small corner of Slovenia from one man’s story to a wider tale and a remembrance of a building and the characters that used it during those war years. The action is slow in this book I was reminded of the films of Bela Tarr the place although in Slovenia was once in Hungary this is another tale of a small town dealing with bigger issues like Tarr’s films and Krasznahorkai who writes most of the books they are based there is a an air of place in this book but also of a place struggling with change the loss of so much marks a place as Dasa Drndrc once said to me when the names of those lost Italian Jews were taken out of the Italian version of the book the fabric of the book fell apart like society itself. Another gem from Istros and Dusan worth reading as one man muses what has happened and what might have been.

All my cats by Bohumil Hrabal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All my cats by Bohumil Hrabal

Czech fiction

Original title – Autíčko

Translator -Paul Wilson

Source – review copy

I have a number of books from the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal I read his books on the whole pre-blog he is the most translated Czech writer of the 20th century. I have so far on this blog reviewed his book once maybe his best-known work Closely observed trains which was made into one of the best known Czech films. Hrabal himself was born at the start of world war one he had a number of ordinary jobs a railway labourer, insurance agent, travelling salesman, labourer and paper packer as he was nearly forty when he became a full-time writer.  He around this time lived between Prague and his weekend cottage in Kersko which was known for the number of cats that he had living there. This is something that is paralleled in this story.

Back then, in wintertime, the cats would grow despondent, fearful of what would happen if I failed to show up. They’d sleep on the balcony or in the hay under the gazebo, and from that vantage point on the second floor they’d keep amd eye on the lane through the woods that  led in from the main road. When I’d arrived from Prague by bus and trudge in through the snow and reach a certain point on the lane. I culd see little cats’ ears poking up on the balcony.

Early on and the cats are then in force in his country cottage in the winter time .

The book follows an unnamed narrator and his wife and like Hrabal himself, his time is divided between {rague and the weekend cottage they have in Kresko. Whilst he is back in the city he worries about the five cats he leaves there all the time how are they feeding themselves but the biggest worry is they start breeding this happens and as he returns far from the five cats he and the wife like to be snuggled up in the bed in the nights in the country. They have all had a number of kittens and the cottage and there lives is starting to get overrun. Now if you are a deep cat lover stop here !! As our narrator decides the only course pf action is to kill the kittens and he decides to but them in a sack and smash them to death against a tree. This brutal act then comes back to haunt are narrator as he is unsettled and unease of his actions trying to justify this one act of barbaric against the cats.

And so the kittens grew and got their first view of the world in the woodshed, and the old ugly cat continued to come in from the  soldats attic to our place to eat, and when the two mother cats met they would give each other kisses and lick each other necks, and a month after they’d given birththey had more time to themselves and they’d lie together for hours washing each other under the neck and they loved each other as they had before.

The kittens start arriving and the problems start for our narrator

This work shows maybe events that affect his own mind and life he was known for the large group of feral cats he helped and look after on his weekends in the countryside. It shows what happens when you leave these cats unchecked it is a warning to neuter the cats in the future rather than let them breed and breed. It shows how the kindness of the writer towards his cats but he is drawn towards madness as he sees more and more cats turning up and is drawn to that one horrific act in the present will continue to haunt and worry him at his own actions that the madness of all these cats drew him too. This is a personal work by the writer with one horrific at it heart but also maybe the worry of what to do with feral cats which all over Europe in some places is still very common I remember lots of kittens and cats at the apartments we stayed in at the Algarve many years ago. Have you read Hrabal?

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