The Last days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse

The Last days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse

French Fiction

Original title – Le dernier gardien d’Ellis Island

Translator – Natasha Leher

Source – review copy

I said I would have a second European literature prize this time we are in France with the French poet  Gaëlle Josse she started as a poet after studying Law, journalism, and psychology. She now works as a website editor. She has set a prize for young writers as well. Then about ten years ago started writing novels she won prizes with her first three novels. Then got this here fourth novel on the European literature prize list. This book started with the writer visiting the museum of immigration which is on the site of Ellis Island where she saw the history and came up with using some of the people’s stories she read whilst at the Museum.

Liz was my guiding light. Nothing triumphant or blinding like the light that is brandished for all eternity by Lady Liberty. My poor Liz, the very idea would have made me smile. No, she was mellow, constant, serene. We were married only a few years. Too little time, but is the intensity of an experience measured by its duration? The interminable pace of my life today has no significance for me anymore. I get up, work, go to bed and wrangle with the memories I have tried to build walls to keep out. I barely manage, and anyway it will all come to an endone day or another ?

Liz haunts him through out the book.

The book has John Mitchell as the main character in the novel. He has worked over 45 years as an officer of the Bureau of Immigration as the last gatekeeper of Ellis Island he has stayed on the island doing his job as in 1954 the Island is due to close he has carried on working there til the end even thou his colleagues had moved on and the stream of people was a trickle now. Whilst he works we get to look into the mind of John as he recalls the events and people that had passed through Ellis Island over his time there from when it was used a lot when there was a number of Steerage Passengers the sort of lower-class citizens in search of a better life or those needing to escape Europe. This sees us learn of his short marriage to Liz who passed away of Typhus from someone that arrived in the US. but he had a short foray with a Sardina girl Nella and even though it was thirty years earlier it seems to have affected him all the way through it. Memories of those he met during his time are told in brief from A couple from Hungary with communist sympathies elsewhere there is Italian anarchist maybe a warning of the future when McCarthy and even in the 20s the red scare and the tightening of the immigration laws in the late 1920’s which slowed the people through Ellis Island. A look into the last days of somewhere that was the start for so many dreams and Nightmares of what could be the American dream.

From my vantage point on Ellis Island, I observed the continuing existence pof America. The city so neqar, so far way. For me, the island had become an outpost, a watchtower or rampart, with me standing sentinl against invasion.

The activity of the station was in inexorable decline. Today I am the captain of a phantom ship that has been abandoned to its ghosts. Like the ghost of Nella, who arrived on board the cursed Cincinati on April 23, 1923, and still clamors for justice today.

His other ghost Nella arrived in the hieght of the arrivals on the Island.

 

I enjoyed this it is a book of memories but also felt as thou it caught the mood in some ways Ellis Island saw so many lives come through it over the years and we get a lot of brief glimpses here and there is a touch of melancholy over the tales and John himself the one event whilst he was married haunted him a ghost of a woman from Sardina he fell for and a wife that died too early. As we see him over the last eight days of the Island as we read his personal journal. Those years after Liz’s death John was there his job was his life and although we only see a few lives here it is the ones that touched him the most during his time on the island. As the Pogues said in there song pogues thousand are sailing” The island is silent now and but the ghost still haunt the waves and the torch lights up a famished man ” A tale of one man life as the gatekeeper of the US during the first half of the 20th century caught here.

Kokoschka’s doll by Alfonso Cruz

Kokoschka’s Doll by Alfonso Cruz

Portuguese Fiction

Original title – A Boneca de Kokoschka

Translator – Rahul Bery

Source – review copy

I join a blog tour on the day this comes out. I always feel Portuguese literature is a blank area of the blog over the years. So when I got the chance to read a book by the leading light of the Portuguese literature Alfonso Cruz he has published a number of novels this is the second to be translated into English. He is a novelist, artist, illustrator, and member of a blues group called The soaked Lamb (love that band name I must try and find some of his music). This book won the European Union Prize for Literature, I shall be covering another winner in a day or two.

At the age of Forty-two, or , to be more precise, two days after his birthday that year, Bonifaz Vogel began to hear a voice. Intially he thought it was the muce, then he thought about calling someone to deal with the woodworm, but something stopped him. Perhaps ti was the way the voice had given him orders, with the authority of those voices that live deep inside us. He knew it was all in his head, but he had the strange sensation that the words were coming from the floorboars, entering him through his feet. They came from the depths, filling the bird shop. Bonifaz Vogel always wore sandals, even in winter , and hr felt the words slipping through his yellowed toenails

The opening lines just drew me in as a reader. worth noting Vogel is German for bird!!

Now, this is one of those books that you in one part love and in another absolutely hate at times just as it isn’t a linear narrative of a patchwork of little piece stuck together we have three main narratives the first sees Bonifaz Voge who is the owner of a bird shop in Dresden he hears voices from under his floorboards This is just as the bombs in the latter part of the war have fallen and in his cellar Isaac Dresner who end up thereafter he saw a jews friend shot. He starts to talk to the man Vogel who thinks the voice he hears through the floorboards. Vogel thinks it is god and Dresner becomes this man’s inner monologue.  Then we move onto the book within the book a novella called Kokoschka’s doll by Mathias pope a work about the Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka who when his Alma Mahler left him he got a life-size doll made of her. That he took out and strolled with and eventually he smashed a bottle of red wine over her head. In an interview with the writer on youtube, he said he used this as a metaphor for the book as a whole. But also the story of the Varga’s another thread of stories with chapters that are randomly numbered. The latter book is about the novella in the second part of the book and how it is received. The three parts of this novel all interlink this is collection of stories with a dash of Aphorisms and philosophy. There is no clear way to describe this book it is a gem of snippets that see you go around the world and view the same events at views.

FROM OUR FLESH WE WILL MAKE A SINGLE EARTH

” I have always wondered who will bury the last man” my grandfather said to my father, “or in this case who will bury the gravedigger. You will, of courser. You are not a gravedigger, but you will bury me in the same earth as your mother, who died as you took your first breath almost three times seven years ago. Her earth will mix with mine, as it did in life, and from our flesh we will make a single earth”

When my grandfather died, my father did as he wished and they were mixed together for ever

one of the snippets from the opening part called the memoir of Isaac Dressner

I said I feel I haven’t read enough Portuguese literature and I always feel the same after reading books from there the deepness of there writers is always stunning from Pessoa who’s complete The Book of Disquiet I read when it came out the other year but haven’t had time to review I will be doing this soon it maybe would show how we get to writers like Cruz as Pessoa uses a lot of Aphorisms and the is no real linear narrative to the Book of disquiet. Then I have read more modern writers like Peixoto and Antunes both often use different strands in the narrative Peixoto had an odd collection of characters like this book does. I feel this is one for the readers of books like Sophie’s world or night train to Lisburn books that make you think and puzzle that have so much more at the heart and this is one it is about war the aftermath love and loss and life in general and will have you thinking for days after you have put it down.

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