Aviaries by Zuzana Brabcova

 

Aviaries by Zuzana Brabcova

Czech fiction

Original title – Voliéry

Translator – Tereza Novika

Source – review copy

I have long been a fan of the books that Twisted spoon press bring out not only as works of literature charting the world of Czech lit but also they have always made their books eye-catching and desirable to own. So this their last is no different it is the last novel by the Czech writer Zuzana Brabcova a writer who had worked as a cleaner, librarian and hospital attendant before the regime fell in 1989 she worked briefly in the government set up b Vaclav Havel who death is actually a starting point in this book. She also worked as an editor she publishes five novels this was her last novel and the book won the Skvorceky prize for it.

The hairs of the moment bristled

and it crouched and barked. In the chambers of Deputies, four communist MPS refused to honor the memory of the first Czech president, spearhheaded by the leader of the Prague communists, Marta Semelova, who instead congratulated tje nationon ridding itself of a pest

Marta Semelova used to be Alice’s first grade teacher.”Your daughter is extremely gifted, she’ll make something of herself one day”she said and covered Alice’s head with her palm like a fortune-teller.

Can the prophetic gesture of a communist even mean anything ? A bark, bristled hair , a pointed sneer ? no it meant absolutely nothing

What might have been for Alice when her teacher was Marta ?

The book is one of those which I love as it has a real fragment nature to it we follow a female Beta as she wanders around the modern and different Prague it opens with a diary entry that states that Havel has died the day before as the fragment build we see a woman on the edge of this city in so many ways as she has no life and is one of those trying to find work and kill time and this is what is her world the vision of the city her life but also the life of her other female relations are touched on her daughter a dreamlike a child that may be in a way is her hope at times and despair at others a sister also on the edge reduce to scavenging to get by and a mother that has maybe gone the way her two daughters will eventually to the pits of despair in depression and  trying to find a way out her life. Another female that recurs is Semelova she was Alice teacher and now a politician to me this is a clever mirroring of the two people Beta and Marta Semelova lives in this post-communist Prague one has risen the other has fallen but also we see the darker side of the city the outskirts the tourist never see she captures in the bums homeless and chav like kids of the city.

January 27, 2015

Seventy years ago, the red army liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp where Nazis had murdered over one million people : 960,000 Jews, 75,00 Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviets pows, 15,000 Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Austrians,Ukrainians,French,Yugoslavians.In April 1947, Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of the liberated camp, was sentenced to death amd hanged symbolically in front of the crematorium of Auschwitz 1.

Don’t miss out! A tour of Auschwitz, a two day trip for two, 46% off

The book has facts like these scattered through this one got me with the last line so apt for the modern world !!

This is one of those books that is like a jigsaw we need to be patient as the piece are all mixed up but as you get into the work it starts to build up and the picture is built  that of a city where dreams have been broken and made were the communist ideals have been replaced even Havel dream of post-communist Czech has fallen apart. The brilliance is in the prose that captures both the everyday working of Beta life but also the dream or nightmare way she envisions the world around her as surreal and hyper-real at over time maybe even both at the same time. I was reminded of the grotesque films of Jiri Barta his strange stop motion films like the club of the laid off although set much earlier has the same impending doom as this book has. A fitting tribute a book that deals with both the plight of females and the mental health issues that can cause in modern Czech society from a writer that always addressed feminist issues in her works.

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Agnomia by RÓBERT GÁL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agnomia by Róbert Gál

Slovakian fiction

Original title –  Agnómia

Translator – David Short

Source – Personnel copy

I had ordered this book last year as the description of it grabbed me as it was One long, unbroken paragraph, blending, memoir, fiction and philosophy. That description grabbed me plus when I read an interview by Frank Garrett with Gal about his use of Aphorisms in his books. Gal has lived in New York, Brno, Berlin and now Prague all these crop up in this book. He has had two earlier books translated to English this is his third book to be translated to English with a fourth to come out this year, Gal has said of his writing he writes in condensed form, in fragments, in aphorisms, and in blocks. This book is 70 pages long and follows a writer called Robert Gal from New York back to Europe.

We’re in New York, she repeats, and the words reflects states of different worlds like cannabine wafts of neat tomorrows from dug-up todays.We need to pinch ourselves to believe. She’s looking at me with that serpentine gaze of a young Prague intellectual who has come to New York at her parent’s expense to seek analogies between this and that and to talk twaddle. There’s a pile of books on the desk from which she would be forever copying out bits and pieces. Once she took me to a pseudo-intellectual hellhole to meet some feminists. The whole ambience had me feeling quite sick.

I remember night in Germany in the late 90s like this before the internet when the books we read mattered more than titbits of books.

The book opens as Gal is the lone Slovak in a group of Czech and Slovaks in 1993 where he met Eugene at a party a brief encounter but he tells us about riding pillion with a girl there discovering complete works of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Beethoven stories like Mike Patton who encourage people that spat at him in concert by telling them to spit more. that drift into a female photograph doing nudes and a sid story of Kant pissing on the stage. Time is intersped as we drift forwards and back marks like Yeltsin’s death music he liked such as John Zorn’s Six Litanies for Heliogabalus a piece that features Mike Patton a sort of looping back in time. Too see Zorn play live his self the Zorn connection is one that rings true about this book.

an, say, a Slovak, as a Slovak, feel democratic anywhere other than in Slovakia? And this leads consquently to other questions, which , once one has mentally posed them and immediately answered them, lead to a gradual appreciationof why most citzens of small, insignificant countries remain struck in them as if there were no other option.It isprecisely in small and insignificant countries that we encounter writers who take it for granted that hey are reproducers of reality, but why reality needs to be reproduced rhey don’t reveal. Claiming – as we do -that reality shouldn’t be artistically reproduced but produced, we also should probably seperate “Work of art” from “art” .

Here he hits the nail on the head about his homeland and the place in the world but also maybe his voice is a new one that needs to be heard .

Zorn is an avant grade experimental saxophone player that has overridden genres in the styles he has chosen to play over the year and this in the Narrative form is what Gal is trying to do. We talk a lot about the current rise of Autofiction. But for me, there has been another slow rising style of writing that has been around but that last few decades has been growing a genre-defying sort it has its leader in a writer like Sebald, Bernhard, Magris even earlier Emil Cioran. In recent times books like river and Panorama all do similar mixing memories of a time, dreams and places into one narrative that is about what is being for one person where it is a trip to the center of Europe or a river remind one of another river and time. Here Zorn and his singer of choice Patton link from Prague to New York many a similar link her in Gals work that mixes his experiences with small philosophies on life. This book is like free form Jazz drifting unprepared startling and compulsive reading. Another challenging writer from Slovakia I have read three books from there in the last few years they are showing literature finally coming out of the shadow of Czech literature with a new twist on the Mittel European work that like Bernhard is sometimes just thrown on the page in one long paragraph.He has a good website here .

Have you a favorite Slovakian writer?

 

Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

Latvian fiction

Original title – Mātes piens.

Translator – Margita Gailitis

Source – review copy

Rather late getting to this one as I await the first title from this years Peirene selection I looked back and last year I hadn’t reviewed one of there books which is a great shame as I have covered most of there books from the first three in year one. Anyway, this is written by the Latvian writer Studied in Latvia then moved to New York to finish her studies. She on her return to Latvia set up the Latvian literature centre and started writing herself she has published over twenty books and has had two translated into English this is her first novel translated to English she also has a short story collection in English life stories is available still.

I don’t remember 15 october 1969. There are people who swear they remember their birth. I don’t. It’s likely that I was well positioned in my mothers womb, because the birth was normal. Not particularly long, or particularly short, with the last contractions coming every five minutes. My mother was twenty five, young and healthy. Her mental state, though was not so healthy, as I learned later.

I do remember , or at least I can picture, the golden, tender calm of October, alternating with forebodings of a long peri=oid of darkness. It’s a kind of boundary month, at least in the climate of this latitude, where seasons change slowly and autumn only graduallly gives way to winter.

The opening liunes as the daughter remembers the autumn month but not her own entering to the world!

I read this first last year and struggled to get into it and thus left it unreviewed but when stuck the other day with a feeling of nothing grabbing me I’d started half dozen books and got thirty pages in and lost interest. But this time I was really grabbed by the voice of the daughter describing her mother and then got the book the nameless narrators tell the stories in flipping narratives the daughter born in 1969 both mother and daughter born in the same month twenty-five years apart. The daughter growing under the Brezhnev regime her mother never feed her on the breast leading to her hating milk. Milk is a recurring motif in the book. The relationship is strained the, mother a tough woman in her story we see how she ended up in a small town a doctor but not allowed to [ratice in the field she studied which is birth and is a researcher on the effects on woman when she tries to help an abused wife and is banished because her husband was a ranking Soviet figure to be a simple country GP all this is told in her story the daughter only sees her mother now a broken woman she struggles to be herself her mother loves western books reads the poorly type books those Samizdat works will these two ever get what they want from their lives and even get to leave the village.

The river was warm as milk. Only late at night could it providerelief from the sweltering heat. The days felt interminable; the short night brought the balm of darkness. At the end of July the ambulatory centre was closed for a month. I began a long, lonely, senseless time. I lay naked in my shadow-filed room,trying to kill the nights and days.

A use of milk her as the description of the river.

I loved the unnamed narrators as their tale is not just a personal story but the tale of the whole under a regime where people could see their dreams destroyed in a single moment. The common theme in Peirene books over the years of the mother-daughter relationship, in this case, is even given a third fold as the state in Soviet times view its self as a mother and the milk they feed some of its citizens was bitter at times leads to  motif of milk from the mother not feeding the daughter milk  but to the daughter not having milk at school the theme of milk is recurring I felt a comradeship with the daughter not drink milk my whole life I get the hatred of this pure white liquid that maybe like its Soviet regime isn’t pure or white is just an emulsion of fat and water very apt for the regime !. I enjoyed this and it was a great intro to Latvian fiction as this is my first book from Lativa having reviewed books from the other Baltic states  I know have the last one covered by this book. It does what it says for the series and shows who even thou the two are at home they aren’t as there home is a  world they can’t get to under the soviet shackle.

The Last Summer by Boris Pasternak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Summer by Boris Pasternak

Russian fiction

original title – Povest

Translator – George Reavey

Source – Personal copy

I love the lesser works of better-known writers, especially if like Pasternak they have won the Nobel prize. and this is a perfect example of that book Pasternak is known mainly known for Doctor Zhivago. His poetry is available. but this book and other novels by him are less available The last summer hasn’t had a new edition since 1990. Written in 1944 it seems a personal book as Pasternak was also based in the Ura in Perm l in a chemical factory like the main character in this book. He also taught a family in Moscow like Serezha the main character in the book.

At the beginging of 1916, Serezha came to stay with his sister, Natasha, in Solikmsk. For the [ast ten years the scattered fragments of this tale have kept coming into my mind, and in the early days of the revoloution some portions f it found their way into print.

But the reader had better forget about these earliest versions of he will become confused as to what the fate ultimately befell each character. I have changed the names of a number of these charactes; as to the fates themselves, I shall leave them as I had found them in those years in the snow under the trees; and there will be no difference of opnion between my novel in verso, spetrsky which I wrote at a later date, and this prose offering; the life in both of them is the same.

The opening shows how the main character is remember the times earlier !

The book was written in 1934 which may be meant the events he recounts in the book have been tinge by the years between the setting of the book. The book is set in 1916 in the middle of the Great War. We meet a tired man is on his way back to his family well his sister. On a long journey from the Urals homeward bound, he drifts into memories of the last summer he had before the war when the world around him seemed a different world the last summer before the war. He was working as a tutor to a rich Moscow family and the world seemed at his feet as he meets many writers and fell in love with the companion of his employer Mrs. Arid and discovered woman at night as he visited  Saskia a prostitute and other ladies of the night as he discovers his sexual side and a world that he seemed to be going forward. This isn’t a war novel there isn’t much mention of the war but it may be also is like holding a breath as it is just before the  Soviet regime took other which at the time Serezha is meant to be isn’t in foreground although there had been failed coups before that are mention the growing strikes that peppered Russian life in pre-revolution Russia.

The weather was stifling. Serezha, with the aid of a grammar, was refreshing his scant and neglected study of english. At dinner time, he and Harry used go upstairs to the ballroom where they kicked their heels while waiting for Mrs Frsteln to appear. Then they would follow her into the dining-room. Mrs Arild would arrive in the ballroom five to ten minutes before Mrs Fresteln; and Serezha would talk loudly with the Danish woman until the ladt of the house emerged znd then part from her with obvious regret.

His budding romance to the Lady’s companion is in fleeting momnets as these things where at the time.

This is a strange novel it has a certain dream-like feel throughput as the memories have sepia tones at times but there is also a strong feel of Pasternak look back from post-revolution times the book was written in 1934 which is just the time Pasternak and his friends really fell foul under Stalin regime. A close friend Mandelstam was arrested,  this lead to Pasternak getting a call from Stalin about his friend. But later laid the path for Pasternak troubles in his future writing. The is a touch of \bildungsroman about the summer in Moscow Serezha had spent. But also a feeling of Lost love which is something Pasternak was dealing with at the time as he had a romance with the daughter of the family he was brought in to teach Ida. A lost novella that needs reading it is short but feels like most great Novellas do as much more.

Have you a favorite lesser work of a great writer?

The Penguin Classic book week

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was sent this lovely Hardback book by Henry Elliot of the history of Penguin classics which covered all the books Penguin classic have brought out over the years little pen pictures of writers and some of the books. This is the sort of dip in and out of the book you can have for the rest of your life. I decided the best way to get it across would be maybe a personal but open to all reading week. I have decided the second week of April to have read these four books from my Tbr that are all in the Penguin Classics book. So if you have a chance between the 8th April and the 15th to read a penguin classic you are welcome to join in .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First up and I go way back to Ancient Greece and my copy of the Iliad by Homer and my 70’s edition which is translated by E V Rieu. A book that is considered the greatest work of Greece and my first foot into Classical literature on this blog. I’m not sure how good this version is or if it is but the Penguin Classic book says it has had the most translations of any Penguin classic over the time they have been bringing the book out.I often feel I have a huge gap in my reading from so little classics I have read so this is a time to change that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I go now forward to Victorian times and to Charles Dickens I choose A tale of two cities by him as it is one that isn’t talked about as much as other and also given its setting partly in France fits nicely in the blog and it is one of the few by him I hadn’t read years ago. I was at his museum a few years ago for a book launch and said then I need to read him and especially as my best friend is a huge Dickens fan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the first Italian novels tells the birth of Modern Italy.  Confessions of an Italian tells the great story of the Italian Risorgimento through a sweeping tale of Love, betrayal, villainy, and heroism. I also love the cover of this book for me the picture on the cover just wanted me to buy this book when it came out a few years ago. italo Calvino was a huge fan of this book. An epic at more than 800 pages this is one I have been wanting to get to but keep putting aside now seems a good time.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last off I go to Russia and an Outsider in the time he wrote Nikolai Leskov story collection Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and other stories. I was grabbed by the fact he had used Shakespeare’s characters for his fiction. A chance to read one of the most unique voices of Russian literature in a book that came out in 1987 for the first time in Penguin Classics.

With 1200 books being published by Penguin classics I’m sure everyone has one or two li=ying around and maybe getting Henry Eliot’s book would be a great intro and guide to them!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katalin Street by Magda Szabo

Katalin Street by Magda Szabo

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Katalin utca

Translator – Len Rix

Source – review copy

I am surprised I hadn’t reviewed Szabo already I had read the doo and Iza’s Ballad and had enjoyed both but it seems they may have both gone unreviewed. So I start with the latest of her books to be translated into English this is a new translation there was a translation a number of years ago but this is by Len Rix who has also translated The door by her. Szabo wrote post world war two and her initial works saw her fall foul of the Communist authorities in Hungary which meant she lost he job in the ministry and became a Teacher for a few years at a girls school.

Henriette always insisted that she had a perfectly clear memory of the day they moved into Katalin Street, but that could have hardly been true. If by “remember” she meant thing she could directly recall herself, then that extended only to the h=general upheavel and excitement, the train going over the bridges and the facesof one or two people who would play key roles later on in her life. Everything else had been told by her parents, by the Eleke’s family, or by Balint, who was the oldest of the four children and the one with the clearest recollection of events. Likewose, with the exception of a single sentence, her “recollection” of what had been said on that day had also come down to her, in all its detail, through her parents or the other children, she had after all, been just six years old when they moved from the country

The opening of thw 1934 section and the arrival of the Held’s on the street.

This is a tough book to get into. It is a strange collection of voice we come across in the opening. We here about the Elekes family Mrs. Elekes and the children of Katalin Street Balint, Iren and Blanka the sister of Balint who ends up in Greece telling her story and adding the story of Henriette Held the daughter of the \jewish Dentist. Then the novel becomes more straightforward as we have a number of different years that follow the children of the street from 1934. That is when the Jewish Held arrive on the street and quickly become part of the street Iren gets a gold card from her teacher her father is the head teacher much to the dismay of her sister Blanka the sort of wild younger sister the children of Major  Balint. Blanka notes Balint always had a thing for Iren. This is shown when the two of them get together. The father the Major tries to help the Held’s but is unable to stop them going to the deaths. Blanka is horrified by the war and post-war is a different person as we see via the Balint now a doctor working at the same hospital as Blanka. the street itself in 1956 is having a facelift as the old house they all lived has changed. The next two sections round of the stories of the Eleke’s parents, Iren their daughter the youngest now in Greece and son of the Major. Also, the spirit left behind of the young Henriette Held is there seeing the post-war times.

Even today I don’t understand why it was only then, and not much earlier, that I realised I was jealous of Henriette. Ever since she had moved into the street she had somehow belonged not just to all of us but especially Balint. That he had never smacked her as hard as he did either Blanka or Me was not in itself surprising, She wasn’t the sort of person you would ever want to hit, being so quiet and timid, and the smallest of the three, There was a certain pleasure in slapping Blanka, in pinching her leg ir smacking her bottom, but it was never like that with Henriette.

Iren remember the fragile Henriette in 1944 when she dies like her parents.

I was reminded of when I was a child and would get a jar or bucket full of creatures from a rockpool and watch them over the coming days some lived others as I was too young to know to need the changing tide to feed and were trapped in that rockpool I had caught them in. This novel like that Bucket is a microcosm of the rockpool. Szabo has gathered together four children and the parents like the little fish and shell creatures of the rockpool and we watch them over time. The events they see have changed Budapest and its own Microcosm forever from the end of the great Austro Hungarian years in 1934 till the shadow of the Nazi and the loss of the Held’s echoing so many others in the city. The post-war years and people like Blanka seeing the world with eyes afresh after the war and being changed by the war and what she saw. Szabo gathers the horror and the post-war communist suffering of Hungary. in fact, this novel is maybe one that needs reading now as we see the suffering of both sides here and the world before that in a brief glimpse at what was a better world before the chaos of the Nazi and Soviet eras of Hungary. Not the easiest book to get into but worth the last two-thirds of the book. Have you read Szabo or have you a favorite Hungarian writer?

Rapture by Iliazd

Rapture

Rapture by Iliazd

Russia fiction

Original title – Voskhishchenie

Translator – Thomas J Kitson

Source personal copy

I’ve been admiring the Russian library series since they came out a couple of years ago they have such eye-catching cover and the books themselves as works of Russian literature are all very interesting. So I decided earlier this year to buy a few of them this was the first. Iliazd or Illa Zdanevich as he was known . A Georgian born Russian exile writer. His own life is as interesting as his novel is, He was an Exile in Paris a writer this was his second novel and came out in 1930. But he also an Avant-garde artist a to the likes of Picasso, Chagall, Miro, and Max Ernst. He has a number of solo exhibitions at the Pompidou and Museum of modern art after he died. There is a great intro to the book that describes him in late life living with thirty cats and in a huge sheepskin coat herding these cats as he took them out around Paris. There is a great intro I recommend reading it

So on account of her useless qualties, because of the mountains, and thanks to the back of beyond, Ivlita’s lot was becoming more complicated and confused, although thus far she herself suspected nothing. And for that reason, the girl’s exostence remained just as dull and even as ever nothing more than a reflection of the seasons.

Ivlita is considered useless but is a real beauty in Laurence’s eye a simple man himself.

This is a story of one man’s story that of a draft dodger Laurence. A man that has tried to avoid the draft by going on the run in the Highlands as he heads on the way he finds a beautiful woman Ivlita in a wooden house and decides to liberate her as he sees it. They end up in the cave in the mountains but over time he is drawn into a gang of revolutionaries that make him do increasing acts of violence like casting bombs. He is a man that has been caught by there dreams. But is it his battle of there battling he went on the run to escape violence and he worships the young now pregnant women he brought to the hills as he heads back to the city to get money and do the attacks but is he with the right women is he doing the right thing?

Laurence was wary of being rousted out during the night, since he couldn’t be certain the highlanders weren’t concealing beneath their courtesy a resolution to assault him, But he needed to sleep inordinately after blundering two whole days in the woods and drinking so much now; he was also taking account of the acute possibility that gendarmes would be searching the vicinity for him (while, as it happens, the townsfolk had swiftly headed home after the murder).The cretins stable, then, was an impregnable fortress.

Laurence finally arrives in the highlands but is still looking over his shoulders to see if he gets caught ?

This is an interesting novel. It is a simple adventure story in a way a man on the run falls for a woman is a classic adventure story line. His acts of robbery and terrorism and daring adventure have echoes of earlier books. For me, Buchan and those writers of early spy fiction from Conrad and Le Queux came to mind. Laurence is a sort of early anti-hero caught up in what is around him like Hanny in 39 steps. there is something of an old-fashioned tale there. But there is an undercurrent of a writer trying to experiment. Here dead characters returning almost a sense of that magical nature of the countryside a sort of early magic realism which is maybe a nod to his artistic world. Then there is the exile question of what the revolution brought. to a simple man like Laurence got caught up on the run but is lead into the frontline by others in the gang!! then there is also a sense of speed in the writing no full stops is something you as the story rolls like a juggernaut what will happen to Laurence in the end? An interesting book from a writer that was banned in the Soviet Union now finally in English after eighty years. I love the cover of this book and all in the series such an eye-catching design.

Have you read a Russian library book?

Midnight in the century by Victor Serge

Midnight in the Century

Midnight in the century by Victor Serge

Russian fiction

Original title –  S’il est minuit dans le siècle

Translator – Richard Greeman

Source – Personal copy

I left it to the last weekend to cover my last two NYRB fortnight reads. The first is the second book by Victor Serge I have covered on the blog I reviewed Conquered city a few years ago I went out and got a few more books from him. Serge had an interesting life growing up in an exiled family in Brussels at the turn of the century he was a firebrand and an anarchist in France in 1912 he was sentenced to five years and then expelled to Spain in 1917. He went to Russia in 1919 and joined the Bolsheviks and after that worked in the communist Press service until in 1928 he fell foul of the government and then in 1933 was arrested by Stalin’s police and held for 80 days and the sent in exile in Orenburg a remote city in Russia. He left Russia after two years there.

Mikhail Ivanovich Kostrov, who was not at all superstitous, had a feeling that things were about to happen in his life, They were heralded by almost imperceptable signs. So it was for his arrest. There had been the perculiar tone of voice with which the rector had told him: “Mikhail Ivanovich, I’ve decided to suspend your course for the moment …. you’re up to the directory.* aren’t ypou ? ” Fear obviously, of allusions to the new political turn “So” the rector continued, “prepare me a very short  course on Greece”.

The start of the troubles and Exile for Kostrov when he is called in and arrested.

That two years in Exile is the backbone to this novel and is about a city of Exiles. Chenor also called Blackwaters is where these exiles all live. The place is a mix of Old Bolsheviks like Rhyzik and the narrator, young workers Rodion a man that has taught himself and a splattering of Orthodox church believers and all those that Stalin didn’t want are thrown into the melting pot that is Chenor. It is an insider view into what it was like in Stalin’s Russia as we find out how people got there the fear that everyone at the time lived under the hopelessness of being stuck in exile and no chance of escape. This is the burnt embers of those that shone brightly but were stubbed out by Stalin’s policies and violent regime. We see how Kostrov at the start of the book is sold out by a colleague that was the reason he ended up in Exile. The book sees one of them trying and succeeding in escaping the city.

The forest line grows darker at the horizon. A little over two centuries ago, peasants fleeing serfdom built this little town on the bluff overlooking the river bend. They thought they had gone far enough into the inclement North to be forgotten. They were only half right, but what could they do? however far you flee, your grandchildren will have to flee one day in their turn.

This captures the hopelessness of living in Chenor set up by those that fled serfdom has now trap those there two centuries later.

This is one of those books that draw you into the world he saw that of being an exile and also of living in everyday  Stalin Russia where no one is what the seems. The dreams of the early days of the Bolshevik revolution seems very far and distance in the Russia they are living in. I have read other accounts from the like of Arthur Koestler Darkness at noon (strange the title has a similar tone to the title of this book) also Solzhenitsyn wrote about the cruel nature of the Stalin regime. This is an Orwellian world from the start when our main character is sold out by a colleague at work. Serge is one of those writers that is able to turn his own experience no matter how dark and black they were into touching and heartfelt prose in this great translation.  This is another example of why over the last ten years of the blog I have slowly been buying NYRB books my only wish is they were easily available to buy locally I have brought a few in Sheffield but most I have to buy online. Have you read Serge.

 

A School for Fools by Sasha Sokolov

A School for Fools

A school for Fools by Sash Sokolov

Russian fiction

Original title – Школа для дураков

Translator – Alexander Boguslawski

Source – personnel copy

I’m a bit late joining in Lizzy Siddals NYRB fortnight. I have a lot of there books on my shelves and haven’t reviewed too many on the blog so I had hope get a few more read but I have managed this so far and part way in two other books. This is what we like about NYRB well I do they seem to republish books that may have not got put out again this came out to a seventies as it had been one of those books that when it came out in Russia was put around underground in Samizdat copies. Sasha Sokolov. Tried many times to escape Soviet Russia once via Iran he was caught and only family connection saved him from a long prison sentence. He then manages in 1975 to escape and eventually became a Canadian citizen. He has published another book that has only just been translated I have that on my tbr pile. This is considered a modernist masterpiece.

This is what the teacher Pavel was saying, standing on the shore of the Lethe. River water dripped from his washed ears, and the river itself flowed slowly past him and past us with all its fishes, flat bottom boats, ancient ssailboats, reflected clouds with those who are invisible and those who will drown, with frogs eggs, algae , relentless water striders, torn piece of net m grains of sand from the beloved seashore and golden braclets lost by someone, with empty cans and heavy hats of Monomakh

Surreal passages like this make me wonder if there was anopther level we miss in english in the original Russian but the richness of his words can be seen like treacle going slowly down your throat.

Now this is one of those books that you get to the end of and really need to start again , but this time around I haven’t time anyway the book starts with one narrator telling of his school the school of fools( a school for those disturbed kids)  of the title and his summers at a dacha cottage that many Russian do during the summer escaping the city. His romance or lack of it (yes it is one of those books that you are never quite sure what is real ) with Veta. Now that sounds enough but then we get a second narrator that seems to be another side of our first narrator telling is a more far-fetched tale. This other voice is almost a monologue at times. The action flips from summer to the school and at times is surreal things like a bizarre dress code from the headmaster of the school. As time and what is life drift and we see the world through our narrators disturbed views of the world a hard world at times and memories of summers and school days all get mixed as well as strange digressions here and there as the book goes on. It is like a memory of a drunken few years glimmers of lives mixed with the dreams of life.

But Veta dosen’t hear. During the night of your arrival in the land of the lonely Goatsucker, the thirty-year-old teacher at our school.Veta Arkadievna, the strict teacher of botany, biology, and anatomy, dances and drinks winer in the best restaurant in the city with soem young, yes, relatively young man – funny, mart, and generpus. Soon the music will end – drunken violinist and drummers, piano players and trumpeters will get off the stage.

Veta is someone he is in love with at times and other not during the book !!!

Now this is one of the oddest books I have read it is hard to get a handle on and is what we well I read translation for Sokolov himself is considered a master of the Russian language on par with the likes Of Joyce with English of Schmidt in German and those two are two I have picked as for me it has nods to the Schmidt novella I read a few years ago with detached and strange Narrators and the stream of consciosness style at times is a nod to Joyces style. It maybe is also a way of capturing the madness of Soviet Russia at times the two extremes of the world the summers at the Dacha and the school reflecting Soviet life at times. Also, the playful nature of the words sometimes reminds me of how Anthony Burgess used language the translator is a lifelong friend of Sokolov so kept some Russian words in the text. He also wrote the intro. A great first choice for my NYRB fortnight.

Eleven Prague Corpses by Krill Kobrin

Eleven Prague Corpses

 

Eleven Prague Corpses by Krill Kobrin

Russian fiction

Original title – 11 пражских трупов

Translator – Veronika Lakotova

Source – personnel copy

I was saying I was overwhelmed with reviews and what is annoying I am reading fast than I can review so I let books slip and this was nearly one of those. This book grabbed me with the description of Krill as a writer he is interested in the cultural history of Russia and the Czech Republic. He is one of the founds of Russian Psychogeography and one of his novels is a tribute to Flann O’Brien. Oh, and he is also called the Russian Borges (i do hate that but I can see it here as Borges like twisting the detective short story as well).

Maurice approached me at the fuenral. He said – stuttering as usual and as usual in broken English – ” An apprpriate way of dying for a former restaurant critc isn’t it ? Professional, so to speak. Acute Pancreatitis. Caused by what ? by the excepitonal Czech dumplings pork, and beer. Anf of course, by always exceptional czech doctors. Dammned Prague.” It started to drizzle, the heavy scent of the earht mixed with the smell of damp clothes.It was difficult to breathe. “Dammned Prague”I agreed.” Dammned Central Europe”

His dislike of his hime is shown here but also the inkling of the first death being more than it seemed.

The series of Stories in this collection is narrated by an unnamed narrator. Now I am never sure as it is one guy or a collection of guys all Russian that all have a strong dislike of the home Prague. So the eleven short stories all tell various stories of deaths in and around Prague and how are the narrator was connected to them. From the death of a restaurant critic to the death of a teacher our narrator at times is an obituary writer and seems to be there or hear about these events shortly after they happen from people involved in a High school massacre in the US turning up in Prague. He hates the city and sees it as too Kafkaesque at times the shadow of Kafka hanging over his world as the deaths keep plying up. But Like Holmes he has logic on his side and clearly cuts through each death.

The next day I rang the Private British school to nail down some of the details of the late Mr. Lengthy’s life. Of course, of course, Mr  Taborsky. Such a sad loss for us. Yes, yes, we’ve sent everything you’ll need for the opbituary. Nothing to add. A detail? A striking detail? Hmmm you might be interested – the russian students of our school called him”London Dandy”. Yes yes, in russian “dan-dee Long-dong-ski” You unerstand russian ? oh excellent . Mr Lenghty wasn’t a fop, no, don’t imagine that please, nuthe did dressin an impecable was, and he took special care of his hands. A little old fashion isn’t it?

I was remind of a watson description in a Holmes cases here of small characteristics of people.

This is an interesting take on the detective short that has lots of Nods to classic writers like Doyle and Christie, in particular, there is a sense of this in the use of a British restaurant critic and English master in two of the stories. There is also a sort of Russian distaste of Prague underlying the stories as well the feel of him not fitting into the city now. The sense of Kafka looming over the city. Prague itself is a character in this book rather like the London of Doyles Holmes of the Devon setting of Christie’s books. The Borges claim holds up as the books have that sense of twist styles and shift settings and using plots from other writers in new ways that Borges did so well in his own stories. The narrator has a pinch of Holmes, Poirot and for me a nod to those hard-boiled crime detectives of classic American Noir. There is a clear logical min there like Holmes a man out of place like Poirot the Belgian in England. But also a world-weariness of the classic American detective those that hate there beat at times that are drawn to the dark side of the city.

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