Drive your plow over the bones of the dead by Olga Tokarczuk

 

 

Drive you plow over the bones of the dead by Olga Tokarczuk

Polish fiction

Original title –  Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych.

Translator – Antonia Lloyd Jones

Source – Review copy

I read flights but one thing and another last year I never reviewed it which was a shame as I really liked it as it turned out it was well reviewed and my little review would have been a small piece in a larger yes for the book. So when I was sent her latest to be translated I decide I pull my finger out and review it as soon as it came out. Olga has been writing since the late 80’s and has twice won the NIKE prize in Poland which is their version of the Man Booker prize. She also won the Man Booker international prize last year. This book is very different to flights.

The naming of Big foot occurred in a similar way. It was quite straightforward – it suggested itself tp me when I saw his foor prints in the snow. To begin with. , Oddball had called him “Shaggy”, but then he borrowed “Big Foot” from me. All it means that I had chose the right nam for him.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t choose a a suitable name for myself. I regard the one that’s written on my identity card asscandalously wrong and unfair- Janina. I think my real name is Emilia or Joanna. Sometimes I think it’s sometimes I think it’s something like Irmtrud too. Or Belldona. Or medea.

Meanwhile Oddball avoids caling me bymy name like the plague. That means something too.Somehow he always finds a wa to address me as “You”

The use of names bring the human characters near the animals in a way.

The book opens with the main character Janina Duszejko a sixty-year-old that is a translator of William Blake, works at the local school. She also is interested in Astrology ad loves her animals. She is with another local Oddball at the home of another neighbor Bigfoot a local hunter who has died. In bizarre circumstances choking on a small deer bone. The two of them dress him before the police come. But they can’t explain the animal footprints around the dead man and the exact cause of his death. Now for Janina, this seems like the animals are maybe getting the revenge she even starts seeing this in the stars she likes to read the signs she says are in the movement of the planets. This idea grows when more local hunters and people that abuse animals start turning up dead around the local Valley. But the valley has also changed in recent years this is told in a long spoken warning by Janina. Then Janina tells the police but they think she is just an old busybody. Who is the real killer?

That evening, just after dusk, Big fFoot’s dog began to bay again. The air had turned blue, sharp as a razor. The deep, dull howling filled it with alarm. Death is at the gates, I thought. But then death is always at our gates, at every hour of the day and night. I told myself. For the best conversations are with yourself.At least there is no misunderstanding.I strtched out on te couch in the kitchen and lay there, unable to do anything else but listento that piercing wail

The dog of Bigfoot miss his master.

I like this it had a piece of classic Noir. In other places, it drifts into Magic realism as Janina sees the Animals doing the killings as she sees how the stars have written what is happening in the way she is reading them. I also felt echoes to classic crime writers the use of Endless night by William Blake which is also used as a title for an Agatha Christe novel. The busybody nature of Janina is rather like Miss Marple if Miss Marple had been written by Gabo she’d have been Janina reading the stars and living in her own world of Blake. But she starts to scare her pupils with her ideas.This questions on what we would do if the animals did turn on us we have seen this in other media over the last few years the tv series Zoo that saw animal turning on people. But the nearest comparison for me was the video for Queens of the stone age video No ones knows which saw a deer attacking humans. This is a thought-provoking work about the changing world of hunting how we treat animal development in rural areas. Add to that The words and thoughts of William Blake a man that had a lot to say about good and evil. This is a novel that subverts crime and noir and uses a different lead character that isn’t a detective but at the heart of the events happening.

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King Stakh’s Wild hunt by Uladzimir Karatkevich

King Stakh's Wild Hunt

King Stakh’s Wild hunt by Uladzimir Karatkevich

Belarusian fiction

Original title – Дзікае паляванне караля Стаха

Translator – Mary Mintz

Source – review copy

I move further east and to another new country for the blog a second, this month with the first book from Belarus Uladzimir Karatkevich was one of the leading figures in Belarusian literature. He learned to read at an early age and was always interested in Belarusian history and folklore. He went on to study literature but always had the history in his homelands past. He started this book whilst at university but then spent a number of years working at it. This was considered his greatest novel. It was also made into a film although it seems the film only used part of the plot.

“What family is this?” I asked imprudently.”Where am I ?”

The old woman’s eyes blazed with anger.

“You are in the castle of March firs. And you ought to be ashamed of yourself no to know the owners. They are the Yanovskys. You understand the Yanovskys! You must have heard of them!”

I answered that I had, of course, heard of them. This statment of mine must have reassured the old woman.

With a gestiure worthy of a queen, she pointed to the armchair, approximately as queens do in thetheatre when they point to the executioner’s block ready for their unlucky lover. “There’s your place, you ill fated ine”. Then left me alone.

The creepy nature of the place is clear when Andrey ask where he is on arrival at the Marsh Firs.

This uses a classic myth of the Wild Hunt which is a myth about a group of riders on a Black horse and black dogs that hunt. The story starts when a young man that is a folklorist ends up at the castle of Marsh firs. Andrey Belaretsky is stuck there in a storm. He meets a young woman there Hope Yanovsky she is from an old aristocratic. He father has died due to the hunt and she has struggled after this and is sleepwalking. So stays in the castle. The young man falls for this young woman and tries to find out what has happened to her and her family. Why have they fallen foul of the wild hunt? A relative Gregory isn’t all he seems he has more to do with her father’s death than Andrey first knows. Another claimant on the title employed the midget to scare Hope. Then there is the midget an oddly shaped man like a character from a Herzog film that has strange features. He is there to maybe aid the mistress of the house descends into Madness Can Andrey help her find out what is really happening and work out why the hunt has targeted this castle.

“I saw him theree times and each time from afar. Once it was just before the death of my father. The other two, not long ago. I’ve also heard hom perhaps a hundred times. Nor was I ever frightened, except perhaps the last time ..just a litle, a very little.I went up to him, but he disappeared. It is really a very little man, he reaches up to my chest, skinny, and reminds one of a starved child. his eyes are sad, his hands are very long, and his head is unnaturally long. He dresssed as people used to dress 200 years ago, only in a westen manner. His clothes are green

The Midget brought in by another heir to scare Hope decribed by Hope.

 

This is a classic piece of folklore it has echoes of many myths from Dracula with a woman going mad and a man getting stuck in a castle. The wild hunt is a myth that is common in Belarus and Germany. The piece to first mention of this myth was written by the Grimm’s in the folk tales. I see why the film version of this book which I watched briefly on youtube as it had no subtitles but had a real feel of Hammer horro about this and I kept picturing those eerie castles in the hammer films and strangers end up in them like Andrey does. There is a romance as the young man tries to help Hope a cursed woman as she sees it but he starts to unravel it. He was called the master of historical detective novels and this is in a way a detective novel he tries to find out what the truth is behind what has happened to the Yanovsky family. I was also reminded of the moor scenes in Hound of the Baskervilles sometimes the places in this book at to the scary feeling of Hope the marshes near the castle reminded me of the Grimpen mire of Hound of the Baskervilles. I love that Glagoslav can publish writers like Karatkevich to us in English.His wiki page in Belarusia a long one says when roughly translated said he had a twenty-five vol collection of his works published he was a major writer.

Fleeting Snow by Pavel Vilikovsky

Fleeting Snow by Pavel Vilikovsky

Slovakian fiction

Original title – Letmý sneh

Translators – Julie and Peter Sherwood

Source – review copy

I now move over from France to Slovakia and the second book from there I have reviewed. Also, the first to be published by Istros press from there as they move a little further afield. They have chosen a writer considered the greatest living Slovak writer. He only wrote two books whilst communism was in control of the country. but since the regime change, he has written over a dozen books. This was his latest Novel to come out in Slovakian. He is also a leading translator of books from English into Slovak including great writers like Faulkner, Conrad, and Woolf. It is great to see more Slovakian fiction coming out.

1.B If, as the saying goes, every person is unique, their name ought to be unique too. Except that it doesn’t work like that. What is unique about say, Stefan Kovac, whose name is about as common as Stephen Smith is in english? In this country, no first name can ever be truly unique – the church and the clerks at the register office have seen to that – and if your surname happened to be Kovac the to boot, you’ve had it: you’ll end up being known as Kovac up the valley, or Kovac the shepherd. Slovak is a garrulous language, we don’t mind throwngin an extra word here and there, but even with additional piece of information, does a name convey anythingunique about a person?

the second part of the first story about how come the name is but also how they use extra wrds to identify a stefan Kovac who is ours ?

This is a book that has five interweaving stories at its heart. This is a fragmented book almost like a snowflake with the five points coming out. The first story is the tale of a man at the end of a long marriage that seems to be losing his mind early on we hear he is called Stefan Kovac but has now taken the name Cimborazka and is a self-declared Cimborazka. The second story tells us about a pair of step twins and talks about the soul. The third starts with an avalanche and the fourth story strand a scholar called Stefan, that has recently had a book about North American Indian languages in the US. This fourth links to the first story and where we have a talk about certain US place names that may have Native American origins. The fifth strand finds someone looking through old photos. The strands of the stories cross and the link they are about life, language particular Slovakian and old age. The loss of memory in old age. The snow is the metaphor in a way for so much in this book memories fade like snow old age leads to dementia which is like an avalanche that clears that top layer of one’s memories leaving what was under.  There is a sense of the fleeting nature of life art tines and what makes us as people who is Stefan Kovac a name we are told early on is as common in Slovakia as Stephen Smith is here.

1.J My real name is Cimborazka but I haven’t told ayone. What would be the point ? It would be the same changing your phone number: your friends will remember your new number but the will still use it to ring the same person as before, the same idea of a person. But I don’t want to receive letters addressed toDear Mr Cimborazka, which would be like addresssing a different person each time. Cimborazka is a clean blank sheeet; a reminder that I am a person – not an entity, just a being, albeit a human one. And that every human possibility is therefore still open to me each and everytime. It is a silent, secret challenge to honour my name

What is a name like the first quote another on identity as Kovacs becomes Cimborazka or does he .

This is a meandering book about the nature of life in a way questioned in many ways. Language and how it is used the short passages that make this book up reminded me of the little snippets in books like The book of Disquiet or Zibaldone thou this has more narrative and a central figure that of Stefan Kovac is he the same person, or a step twin or just another character. As in the end all the strands end in one final passage as a couple talk about how many words are in Slovakian and then as they wander on to find a disk on the ground showing distance to place and maybe placing them back in their world with a thrown word over the fact that Vienna is only 57 kilometers away. This is a writer in his old age trying to write a series of themes that must have been important to him in his life like Slovakian for a translator which is a language he mentions for how many more words there are in it. What we are what he has written about what lies after the writer’s life is gone or like the snow what remains when it has melted just the memory of it.

Daša Drndić, At true great of European fiction has passed.

The pic is of Dasa when I meet her the day at the IFFp in 2013 when her first book to be translated into English. Trieste had been shortlisted for the prize. I had a good half hour chat that evening with her. She told me about how the Italian edition of the book Trieste had a tear-out section of the list of names of Jewish people killed in Italy and the idea was that people could take out a name they knew and over time as the pages went like the losses of the people the book became unstable like the loss of all those voices on society. This is a perfect example of the power of her as a writer. I have reviewed the three books she has been translated into English they are Trieste, Leica Format and Belladonna. She also paid me the highest compliment in say she had read my blog, although I could do with an editor she said. She also commented a few times on the blog which for me was touching. Her books dealt with big subjects and showed the brutal heart of Europe a writer that needs to be read. I’m sorry to hear of her passing today and remember a warm summers day I meet her a number of years ago. Her words when her last book was up for the Croat book of the year sum her views up well.

We live in a very sick time, in a time that destroys spirit, thought, freedom, individuality, joy, beauty, knowledge, and love, and at the same time destroys ourselves. Just like a carcinogenic pancreas, whenever it eats the bodies surrounding it, it disappears alone. To those who write this topic to pretek. Within this globally collapsing, decaying world (the world), floats countless stories of small and large, known, unknown, for literature more than enough. After all, those who read (and increasingly reads a leafy, quick and easy digestive book with enough additives to absorb the original flavor of ‘material’) are at least at times privy to their voyeur passion, a foolish fool, in English called the ‘pacifier’. So the everyday life remains cloudy, and the imaginative readers are unaware of their existential limbo.(a google translation but gets the spirit of her words)

 

Alma Mahler by Sasho Dimoski

 

alma mahler fc

Alma Mahler by Sasho Dimoski

Macedonian fiction

Original title – Alma Mahler

Translator – Paul Filev

Source personal copy

I found this book when looking around recent books that had been brought out by Dalkey Archive. I have been a fan of there books for a while as they are always trying to find new places to bring books from. So when I saw Macedonia was one of the countries they had just bought a book out from there I had to try it. Sasho Dimoski has written three novels and studied comparative literature in Skopje and is currently working as a Dramatist. This is his first book to be translated into English.

We had time, Gustav. Time stood still when we weren’t in it. It came to a halt, and nothing took place here or elsewhere. Nothing. We always had time. Always. Every wrong righted in the present, and smoothed over for the future. Every unspoken word for every innermost place within the soul, for every rise and fall within it.Every you and every I, for the various forms the days took, and that slumbered at night. And whenwe awakened our time, you and I always knew that n the other side of the looking glass stands the unkown. Something only we two could know, That we still know. And that we live today, in thwese final days that I drag along like shackles.

An undercurrent of her silence and growing unease is here

This book follows the life of the wife of the composer Gustav Mahler. Alma Mahler married him late in his life they were married for nine years this book describes those years just before his death. It uses his symphony as a guide for the chapters. we see their marriage from her point of view. She was a talented composer and a woman that in many ways must have been a muse she later Married the founder of the Bauhaus movement and the writer Franz Werfel. She was also painted by the other Gustav Klimt (that crops up in the book). What we see is the power struggle of a clever woman forced into the shadows and with a husband that at times is so wound up in his music that he doesn’t see her at times. She puts at one point she gave up long ago and now lives day to day. Late on he reveals she was every to him but she didn’t know when he falls ill after his ninth working on his tenth symphony.

There is something I must tell you, Gustav

I Fell in love with the idea of being Alma Mahle. Then I fell in love with you

Assurances? No. What kind of assurances are you talking about? I could have had that from any number of men. Indeed, I did have it from quite a few. I reveled in your greatness, which I later came to learn largely meant profound sorrow.Immencse lonliness. Great effort. Considerable. Numerous sacrifices. Umpteen missed birthdays, countless significant dates forgotten, unshared beds. Symphonies concerts, different towns, changing residences, searching for new homes, suitcases, makeup, tears, silence, sadnees,silence, tears, make up, grief, suitcase, anguish, sorrow!

That silence again her looking back on wanting to be his wife, but regretting it for the missed reasons.

This is a short book. sixty pages of a poem like prose. It is one of those books that defy being place in a pigeonhole a prose poem, a novella and it also has music notations in places of each symphony also a strong feeling of a monologue. In an interview in Bosnian, I translated on google the writer talks about the silence in the book. There is many spaces and also the silence of the love between them and the silence in the music. as he says the silence that stands against the music. this is a book about the gaps in their relationship in a way a great mind and a woman of great will silenced, she had written music but early on she shows she now lives in his shadow. An interesting intro to Macedonian lit. I understand this has been made into a stage show. In the Bosnian interview, he is asked about the theatre in Macedonian Lit. For me it would work well as a monologue piece the vice of Alma comes through in the text I could see it working as a stage piece.

The end of A family story by Peter Nadas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The end of a family story by Peter Nadas

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Egy családregény vége

Translator – Imre Goldstein

Source – Personel copy

Well, I pleased that this cycle of the year club Simon and Karen run is on 1977. As when I looked up books that had been published in the original language that year.One of the books I found was the debut novel by Peter Nadas, I reviewed his Magnus opus Parallel stories a few years ago. Nadas is one of the most regarded European writers. He own story reads like a novel he lost his mother at 13 and his father when he was 16 leaving Nadas and orphan. When his father committed suicide he was the head of a ministry that had been accused of various things.

When Grandpa died, grandmama filled the largest pot with water and put it on the stove. She poured two handfuls of salt into it and some black powder and then kept stirring . In the boiling brew she cooked her brown, gray , and dark-blue dresses untill they were black it was bad about the gray one, I liked that dress, especially when she wore it with the gold butterfly broch.Only her satin dress with the big flowers she didn’t cook, she left it the way it was – black flowers on a white background.

Death is a recurrent theme but like this passage I was remind of how Victorians mourned at times.

Like parallel stories, this is a novel set in the heart of Communist Hungry.This is a first thread and how they were able to break families But also it has a second and third part. The second line is a family saga. Simon the grandson of a family is in sent to an institution where everyone lives in silence. He keeps himself going with remembering over time his family story from his grandmother and grandfather at home the grandfather whom at times seem half dead. Had been one of these men that loved telling stories and tales these are what heartens the boy in a silent world. They also lead to the third thread in the book which is stories and thoughts around religion and communism. Both Catholic church and the Jews histories are told to the boy from his grandfather bring threads of their lives to Rome and the other way to Jerusalem. as a young boy becomes a man as he has also in this time lost his father and mother and being drawn into the adult world much earlier than he should have been Simon only solaces is remembering those tales and trying to draw some heart out of them.

One day up in the attic Grandpapa was telling me about our ancestors. Grandmama had brought fish from the market. She was very glad to have got one because Grandpapa loved fish. She stood in line for two hours, but she couldn’t go to the church with the fish.When she got wind of something being available she’d take me along, too. I didn’t like that because people would yell at her.” Look at her shoving and pushing!” “Don’t they know where the end of the line is ? Back there!” “Must be deaf””Where are you bulldozing your way to now ?”

Simon was used to help fetch bits from the market in those hard communist days of waiting being a sport this is later in the book showing the shifting feel of time at times in the book.

Like in parallel stories Nadas paints bleak times with a brush that makes his words float off the pages and through Simon and his world show even in the worst of times there is a glimmer of light to lead the way. It is a book that drifts through time this is also something he did in Parallel stories. Then there is Death and one must feel the fact that both Nadas himself and Simon had lost their parents the feelings of loss must be Nadas own and death is a recurrent theme in his books, lives being cut short. But also a sense of how the communist world of the 1950’s when the book is set would strangle those who did fit in and break the others who tried to be themselves.

The book of Tbilisi

 

The book of Tbilisi by Various

Georgian fiction

Stories translated by Philip Price, Mary Childs, Maya Kiasashvili, Nino Kiguradze, Tamar Japaridze and George Siharulidze.

Source – review copy

I am never the most proactive at reading short stories, but sometimes when I get the chance with a collection like this it is a wonderful chance to get a glimpse into a new country. I’m not sure how many books from Georgia are out there to be read. As Ann Morgan point out on her world tour, this is changing as the government of Georgia is putting money in translation. So as Comma as brought its latest collection of city-based stories to Georgia to the capital Tbilisi and these writers.

 Ina ArchuashviliGela ChkvanavaErekle DeisadzeShota IatashviliDato KardavaLado KilasoniaZviad KvaratskheliaBacho KvirtiaIva Pezuashvili & Rusudan Rukhadze 

I’ve included the links to the comma bio pages of each writer.

Like most men, Baldy looked old for his age. He lit up his cigarette and asked Redhead what it was that couldn’t wait until the morning. In reply, Redhead said he wanted a story, a real one with blood, corpses – in other words something scandalous.

Baldy took him to his neighbour, a former investigator who had seen a lot in his time, having worked for both Soviet and Georgian police forces.

The rookie reporter listens to the older mens dicatapes.

The collection has ten tales in it. The first we meet a rookie newspaperman called Redhead is shown a tape by his fellow journalist Baldy an older man. That thinks he has found a gem of an old story about the killing of a man a few years ago. We follow him as he listens to the tapes from the time the tale of Uncle Evgeni a popular figure when the country first gained independence even sparking protests. in Dato Kardava story the naive reporter listens to the tapes and as the past unfolds he learns what happen back then. Then we see a piece of graffiti on the side of one of these old block of flats about a couple. This causes all the locals to go to facebook and find all Thea to see just who she was in the piece that said Anzor and THEA = LOVE. Then a young boy is looking after his sister as she is dying and he is getting no help from the state a sad tale. Then a quiet woman is the talk of three blocks of flats after she moves in with her husband but speaks with no-ones until the last line of the story after she is suspected to have run off. There are six other tales.

Her name is Peride. She doesn’t talk to anyone, and doesn’t pay attention to anyone either. It’s a blessing that I remember when she and her rusband first moved here more than thirty years ago. Otherwise, I might have believed she was not of this world, and that they’d brought her here from a parallel universe.

A woman moved in to the block years ago but never talks to her neighbours.

This is a great glimpse into a country that is just waking from its Soviet past. The one thing you found in the sense of a new world emerging after the bleakness of the place some were very sad especially the sister died in the rail carriage it made you feel how lucky we are. As with other collection I have read over the years like the Granta writer series the Spanish one, I do hope we get to read some of these writers in either fuller story collections or novels there is a wonderful chance with these ten stories to turn them into ten books and thus grow a library of Georgian fiction where we find out more about this country where neighbours are close and nosey and the world they are living in is bleak at times but also showing the small glimmer of want to grow and flourish again.

 

in the name of the father by Balla

 

In the name of the father by Balla

Slovakian fiction

Original title – V mene otca

Translators – Julia and Peter Sherwood

Source – Review copy

I bring the first book from Slovakia tonight , I’m shocked as I have a lot of Czech novels on the blog but so far not many Slovakian books. Anyway Balla is the name Slovakian writer Vladimir Balla goes by.He studied Economics at Bratislava and then took a job at the district office of Nove Zamky. He has been writing since the 1992 and has published ten books. This book won the book of the year in Slovakia. Balla is often called the Slovakian Kafka for his style of writing.

The era of the great blackout began with the drawing of the drapes across our kitchen window. My wife announced in the semi-darkness that the window would stay covered so that people outside wouldn’t see what we were up to.She claimed the neighbours could see into our kitchen.She ascribed fundamental importance to this. She got into her head that our neighbours sole purpose in life was to spy on the family:

His wife goes slightly mad, but wasn’t every one watching at one time !

The book is the Novella and three very short stories by Balla. The main story “in the name of the father” has been described as being his most Autobiographical work to date. It follows the life story of an unnamed narrator. As he reflects on his life of woes. From the opening lines where he is told not to bear children by a doctor that hate the army and uniforms, where he turned up in his. Then he ends up in a weird house that his brother has built there is a number of rooms below the surface that the brother keeps a number of weird items. Then he starts to tell how his life has been. But there is a sense he feels the victim in his life but as his story unfolds we see he has been the instigator of a lot of his troubles.From his parents to his wife who goes mad and his own two sons. They all mix with the world around them which is a world of shifting nations and people drifting and also a sense of a new post-soviet world of people being individuals rather than a collective, rather like his own family fracturing apart. The three stories follow similar threads of home a woman at home whilst her husband is away. Then a weird tale of two men sharing a house. The first asked his friend to join, only to find he actually hates this chap. But there is also an echo of the wider world changing around them as he is ignored by his friends as if he has a contagion which happens to be the title of the story.

What soon became even more unpleasant was the gap that opened between how my friend and I perceived the process of contamination of our immediate eviroment, To cut a long story short, there came a point when the contagion engulfinfing the furniture and the walls began to affect my friend much more rapidly and with greater intensity than it affected me, his fresh fits manifesting themselves almost as soon as, say, new fuinture had been delivered, the walls repainted or the floor replaced.

From the story contagion a friend sees his friend as an enemy but also the world around him change.

There is a hard thing to call someone the “Kafka ” of somewhere, it isn’t always a title. I like attached to writers. Now that said there is a sense of people being in a world they don’t know but these are post soviet worlds where the goals of peoples lives have changed. hen there is a sense of self-persecution that  Kafka gave his character is very much. In the main narrator of In the name of the father. He feels the world has loaded him with what is wrong with it. The house is maybe a metaphor for this world they built it him and his brother to be a dream home but it ends up not being that.what he has captured are the shifting nature of the post-soviet world of shift border,s people and a change in the nature of people and their attitudes for others.That has been on many books. From Krasznarhorkai satantango a village on the edge, or Andres Ban in the recent Dasa Drndric novel a man also summing his life in the post-soviet world. He is using human nature in all its flaws and a wonderful post-modern look at the world around him. A great intro into Slovakian fiction from a new publisher for this blog Jantar.

 

The Beauties essential stories by Anton Chekhov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beauties essential stories by Anton Chekhov

Russian fiction

Translator- Nicolas Pasternak Slater

Source – review copy

I have read Chekhov before and my good friend Rob of rob around books has read and reviewed a lot of his stories.Chekhov is considered one of the first modern writers alongside Ibsen and Strindberg, he was a doctor by trade and wrote in his spare time in his short life of just 44 years he produced a number of works both short stories and Plays. He started writing to pay for his tuition. This is a new translation of thirteen of his stories by the nephew of the great Russian writer Boris Pasternak.

It was a moth-like beauty – the beauty that goes so well with a waltz, or darting accross a garden, or with laughter and merriment , and which has no buisness with serious thoughts, sorrow or repose.It seemed as if a good gust of wind blowing along the platform, or a sudden shower, would be enough to make that fragile body suddenly wilt, scattering its caoricious beauty like pollen from a flower.

“Ye-es…” sighed the officer. when the second bell sounded and we walked back to our carriage

One night on a platform a glimpse of a beauty on the platform.

There is a thirteen stories in this collection I will just describe a few of them here. The first the title story is a tale of beauty. It follows a man who is stopped for a few minutes at a station one night ,  when he glimpses a great Armenian beauty, which he had met many years earlier when they visit the girl’s grandfather. A day in the country follows a day in the life of a man Terenty , he is found by a little girl and he spends time with her and her brother both orphans we follow them through the day. Grief deals with a couple a drunk husband a loss of a son, a failing marriage  a wife who may actually also be dead. The husband laments how much his wife changed from the merry lass he married. The huntsman like the previous story I mention also deals with a couple this time a hunter Yegor now working for local landowner as a huntsman for him. They  meet one day on a country path his wife whom he hasn’t seemed for many years. She tries to persuade him to spend more time with her, but he has other ideas.

“It’s a long time since I saw you last, Yegor Vlasych..”says Pelageya, gazing tenderly at the huntsman’s shoulders as he moves.”Ever since Holy week, when you looked into our hut fr a minute and had a drink of water- we haven’t seen you since then.. Dropped in for a minute in Holy week, and God knows whay state you were in then.. drink and all … swore at me,beat me up, and walked out.. and I’ve been waiting and waiting.. worn my eyes out with watching for you … Oh, Yegor Vlasych, Yegor Vlasych! If only you’d come by some time

Husband and wife meet , a sad wife wants he even thou he beat her last time a sign of the times the bopok was written !!

I think most readers of this blog will know Chekhov.If not this new Pushkin collection edition would be a perfect place to start, I would think. I have read other translations of these stories, I like Pasternaks Slater use of words and he has done a great job keeping the wry humour of Chekhov also his sense of human nature. The collection has a good selection of his stories through out his career. I was touched by the beauties a story which is a bit like a story version of the you’re beautiful by James Blunt a glimpse of a beauty on a train platform echos with a memory of meeting another beauty years earlier. I also remembered the lines of Jack Palance in City slickers talking about his one love a woman he glimpse for a matter of moments earlier in his life has imprinted on his memory like the young man on the train in the beauties. A nice collection for any fan of Russian lit.

Christened with crosses by Eduard Kochergin

Christened With Crosses

Christened with crosses(notes taken on my knees)  by Eduard Kochergin

Russian memoir

Original title – Крещённые крестами: Записки на коленках

Translator – Simon Patterson with Nina Chordas

Source – review copy

I often bang on about the small publishers I work with but the reason is this they tend to bring us the titles we wouldn’t see otherwise. That said this was a bestseller the second time it came out in Russia Eduard  Stepanovich Kochergin was born at the height of Stalinism in 1937 and his parents were considered enemies of the state and he as a young boy was sent away to state orphanage for children of political prisoners. This book follows that time and his six-year journey across the heart of Russia from Siberia to Leningrad his hometown.

In the next two wards there was a medical section – one of the most terrifying places in the orphanage, in our language the croakery or kaputka. Few of the children who were taken there returned upstairs. This section was led by a nurse called Absolute Drip. Her assistant, a deaf mute nursing aide, a dirty animal whose stench killed flies, did not clean up, but simply spread filt around

One his arrival to Pipsqueak ward he talks about the other wards, scarry to say the least !!

The book starts with him at home with his family and his christening at a church on Nevsky prospect and also his polish mother and Russian father firstly he was given poles for safekeeping.But was eventually sent to the state house and out to Siberia. We see him on a ward with other young orphans where he meets some other boys with names like the Toad and his deputy screwface. This is a brutal place but seen through a child’s eye Eduard or Stepanych becomes the shadow in these place and disappears. Living only at night when they are alone he grows sadder missing his parents and home, which leads to the young boy setting off on a six-year journey on the trains. He meets thieves. Then stumbles into a village where they still have a tradition of brewing.Gets taught how to make a fire all the time slowly making his way back home but does he?

Food was the main topic of our life. The dreams of the orphans mainly revolved around food, especially in winter and spring. During that time, as our hobbling lady said, we were liable to eat everything that wasn’t nailed down. In summer we ate weeds, rising catching a colon infection and falling into the clutches of the Absolute Drip.

This short passage reminded me so much of Dickens in  particular Oliver when he is at the orpahage as well.

I read this last week as my father was actually in Vladivostok a place in the far east of Russia a place he said still had a feel of its Soviet past. This is tale of a boy become a man but also a tale of post-war Soviet times the toughness of  when Stalin sent so many to the Gulags, this is the flipside of a writer like Solzhenitsyn as it is about the children of those prisoners those young souls we never heard about the brutal nature of the state orphanage. Seen through his eye but in the same way as books; like the boy in the striped pyjamas or curious incident in the night we see how violence can be seen but not really absorbed till much later. There is also a sense of adventure as we follow his homeward journey a sense of entering a wide world and learning skills and about danger first hand. Also glimpsing a dying rural world of Russia hinterlands with rituals and myths still alive in the 1950’s. A powerful memoir of one man’s journey to adulthood in a Soviet world that could have stepped out of a Dickens novel but 100 years on.

 

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