All Happy families by Hervé Le Tellier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Happy families by Hervé Le Tellier

french memoir

Original title  – Toutes les familles  heureuses

Translator – Adriana Hunter

Source – review copy

I loved the years recently and it reminds me I hadn’t had chance to get to this book that had come out a couple of months ago by another well known French writer Herve Le Tellier is also a member of the OULIPO group. A mathematician by training he became a journalist and editor. He has written a number of books including winning a prize for a comic novel. when he put a book out that he had supposedly translated from Portuguese called Me and Mitterand about a series of letters in a spoof novel by Jamie Montestrela but was Le Tellier himself.

Marafan syndrome is a disorder of the connective tissue. It affects about one person in every five thouseand. The gene whose mutation produces the condition is on chromosome 15, and the mutation can have nearly a thousand variants. Symptons of the syndrome include aortal aneurism, pronouced nearsightedness and unusual bone growt,Sufferers are often very tall with long thin fingers,

The britsh actor Peter Mayhew, famlus for playing the hairy wookie Chewbacca in the star wars movies has the syndrome.Some claim that Abraham Lincoln did too. But that is of no concern to us here

He then mentions Rahmaniov and how he had it.

This is another clever little french memoir. It is a series of vignettes about the writer’s life growing up in his family growing up. He explains early on the book that the time was right his father and stepfather both dead and his mother in the latter stages of Alzheimers he starts to think back at his own youth not as he saw it as unhappy but more a childhood that when looked back on maybe wasn’t the happiest his parents split when he was very young and he grew up with his mother and stepfather guy. Guy is from an old French family and distant to the young boy He was drawn into his world of books as a kid. He also spent a lot of time with his grandparents another tale about them, every weekend. One of the things I most connect with was his chapter about Rachmaninov’s concerto no. 2 which leads to a digression about the condition Marfan syndrome which for me is something I heard mention a lot in my teens as it was thought I had it as I am tall have long fingers and a few other signs I haven’t but to know that is why he was such a great pianist was news to me.

 “My sister’s a whore ” my mother took to saying when the flood barrier of decorium gave way to age and dementia, and she stopped feigning affection.

This whore was also my god mother. My mother admitted she’d never lover her, perhaps precisely because Raphaelle was so loveable.

It was to this first daughter that my grandfather had so genrously bequeathed his name. A happy boistrous girl, she ramined his favourtie. Raphaelle was only eighteen months older than Marceline but numbers are deceptive.There was nearly a decade between them my aunt was a woman at thirteen, my mother not untilshe was twenty.

The aunt and what his mother called her .

 

This is an honest look back at a childhood that wasn’t the happiest but he does it with great humor remember events. All families are like his when we look at it this is a modern family before its time. Where divorce has happened not so common as is shown when they want to change Herve name I remember changing my own name as a child for a couple of years.  I grew up in a stepfamily my stepfather is well may I said an odd chap so I could relate to his tales of his life this is a wonderful set of vignettes that showed his family carbuncles and all his sister father all are compelling reading like his auntie or as his mother called her in the chapter My sister a whore who had a parade line  of men. All told in a witty style that made me want to read his spoof work I mentioned in the first section of this review. Have you read any of Le Tellier fiction ?

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Winstonsdad Man booker shortlist 2019

I was going to not read the list and did my usual guess of what would be on the list and got it so far wrong I wanted to see what was in these books and yes I managed in a month to get nearly through them all bar hundred pages of the Can Xue novel which by the time this post is up I may have read them as I am on the road to Alnwick tomorrow and a short holiday. So my six shortlisted books are-

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

What happens when nature kicks back we see here when things start happening in the Polish hinterlands in a small community. A previous winner is different to flights and shows the depths of her writing.

The shape of Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Image result for the shape of ruins

A book that sees Vasquez as a character in his own book that is about an assignation of a Columbian politician almost like there JFK a great historical novel.

The years by Annie Ernaux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A powerful little book at post-war  France and its generation told through pictures, movies, books, events, and life it builds a vivid picture of the years that followed the war.

At Dusk by Hwang Sok-Yong

An architect is greet by his past in a story that sees two sides of lives in Modern Korea from two people that grew up in a working clas  area and went in different directions but meet at the moment there worlds both are about to change.

The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa

Image result for the death of murat idrissi

 

Maybe the shortest book on the list but for me it is the most powerful as it is about a subject that we all see on the news that of immigration and he uses four characters to encompass a wider world.

Celestial bodies by Jokha Alharthi

 

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

I am yet to review this but this family saga shows the growth of Oman through the lives of three sisters and the family of the sisters going back to the early 20th century and to now with one of the main stories being told by a relative on jumbo heading home to his family.

So here are my six books an  interesting list of books I have discovered three maybe four books that have passed me by. What are your thoughts on the books on the list ?

The Years by Annie Ernaux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Years by Annie Ernaux

French Fiction

Original title – Les Années

Translator – Alison L Strayer

Source – personal copy (kindly sent by Batpoet from twitter the US edition thanks)

I will put my own Shortlist out tomorrow the day the actual shortlist is out I have about hundred pages of the last book to finish and I will have read this year’s longlist I am behind on reviews so this is the ninth book from the long list I have to review three more books to review. Anyway back to this which in a way is maybe the most unusual books on this years list as it is one of those borderline books that I really love. I should know it UK publisher is Fitzcarraldo. It is neither fiction or non-fiction a memoir in a way. Annie Ernaux her books have long chronicled her life over the years over books have dealt with her relationship with her father, the death of her mother and having breast cancer this is considered her masterpiece by French critics.

Memory was transmitted not only through the stories but through the ways of walking, sitting, talking, laughing, eating, hailing someone, grabbing hold of objects. It passed body to body, over the years, from the remotest countryside of France and other parts of Europe: a heirtage unseen in the photos, lying beyond individual difference and the the gaps between the goodness of some and the wickedness of others. It united family members, neighbors, and all these of whom one said “They’re people like us” a repertory of habits and gestures shaped by childhoods in the fields and teen years in wiorkshops, preceeded by other childhoods, all the way back to oblivion

I loved this passage early on in the book.

This is an interesting work as Annie speaks of her life from the early 1940s to the 20th century in a third person narrative of a womans life in France over those years and the generation she is part of the post-war generation of French intellectuals that we all know so well over here it is ashamed Annie herself maybe isn’t better know. She is a French literature teacher she has kids and lives in the Paris suburbs. This book isn’t just about her life but is a work that shows us the culture of those years and the events of those years from the music she listens to from Piaf chevalier and even pre-war acts like Josephine Baker. The books films and general culture.I love she laments how TV is taking over the world at the end of the book. This is maybe a lament to a world that has now gone that of proper discovery that of reading one book then finding another books films because of paper reviews or word of mouth of friends a smaller world a world where things need to be discovered no good reads, no IMDB, etc. The second line is France itself through these years in a way a build up to the pivotal events of 1968 that saw France on the verge of crashing into oblivion and then to here and now where they are part of a greater Europe but events still happen.

Beneath the surface of the things that never changed, last year’s circus posters with the photo of Roger Lanzac, First communion photos handed out to schoolmates, the club des chansonniers on Radio Luxembourg, our days swelled with new desire. On a sunday afternoons, we crowded around the window of the genral electrics shop to watch television.Cafes invested in TV sets to lure clientele.

A world now gone when people would stand and watch tv in a shop window .

 

I loved this I will be rereading this one for years I love books that make me think and books that make you want to discover the world around us. This was a life’s work for the writer she had kept notes for years in preparation for writing this book a look at her generation and what happened during those years and what influenced everyone. Those pivotal moments of Algeria, 1968, September 11, The coming of the digital age. The use of everything from High to low culture is great Adverts for examples those tunes and slogans that we all remember more than even the tv we may have watched this is a book about what is remember later rather than then in the moment it is where it differs from Karl Ove work it has a feeling of being worked over time it is more what has been remembered that what I remembered or what was happening a sort underpinning of the times. Yes this should be on the list it isn’t in maybe straight fiction but is a book that deserves a wider audience.

 

Four soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli

 

Image of Four Soldiers

Four soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli

French fiction

Original title – Quatre Soldats

Translator – Sam Taylor

Source – library book

Here is another writer from this year longlist that I have reviewed before his book Meal in winter was shortlisted for the old IFFP prize. Here is my review of it. I had seen a review of this before the longlist came out and had seen it at my library so was planning to read it anyway. Hubert Mingarelli left school and joined the Navy for three years he has since then written about twenty novels it is noted that on the whole his novels have just male characters and tend to look at father-son or male relationships like this book where we meet four soldiers in the middle of the Russian civil war that sees how they react in a lull in the war. The book won the Prix Medici

The four of us were still alive and kicking., thanks to Pavel. He was the cleverest of us all. His plans for the hut were perfect, and he was even able to build a real stove using a metal barrel filled with engine oil. A real stove that worked well nd didn’t smoke us out. But most importantly he’d found a way to pass the pipe through the roof without setting fire to it.Because that was how most other huts caught fire. Pavel had made tin tiles by cutting up our mess tins and then he’d nailed them to the roof around the pipe.

The arrival at the station / hut and Pavel sets up the stove after saving them.

We meet these four men as the set up a camp in a lull in the war they are just in the late teens or early twenties. Four young guys in the middle of the Russian civil war and just getting to know the world around them. That get time to know each other and grow closer. Benia the narrator of the book is a man that has time and is growing closer to Pavel then the other two men are Kyabine a simple giant from the Uzbek he is one of those guys that is the butt of all the guys jokes and lastly Sifira. Now it says, four soldiers. but there is a fifth man the so-called Evdokim kid a youngster a man who is a recruit. But he worries them as he is the only one of the group that is able to write and is often seen writing notes. As they try and stop others joining them in the station and get lots of useful items from around them and play dice as they talk this idyllic corner is surely only a short gap in the war.

We’d forgotten the dice in the station, We didn’t try to figure out who was to blame. We just knew tht we’d have to go and hind them s soon as we could, before anypne found them.

The tent was big enough for five. The Edvodkim kid wasn’t to our oil lamp, through, and the smoke hurt his eyes.

Kyabine was kicking up a fus about the watch. I think in reality, he was just oretending not to understand that it was my turn to hve it tonight.”I brought your turn from you last night” I reminded him

The gutys still guard but can swap when .

This is another short novella on this year’s Man Booker list it seems on the surface similar to the Meal in winter as it uses a similar framing device the men in that book end up trapped in a house by the winter. He uses the abandon station for a similar frame here the four main characters plus Evodkim who comes and goes is just on the cusp of manhood as we see in the relationship of Benia and Pavel which could be seen another way. The book isn’t about the war more the effect of war and the fear of war on those involved in it and about the comradeship of war as one of the soldiers that were a character in the tv series band of brothers about his company we in it shall be remembered. We lucky few, we band of brothers. For he who today shed his blood with me shall be my brother.” This what the short interlude is a band of brothers spending time together playing dice getting the things they need to get by and trying to forget what has been and what will be for  a few minutes and this is what Mingarelli captures so well in this book. I can see why this made the longlist it is a powerful book given it is only 120 pages long i’ve seen book much longer not have the same impact as this book does.

SmallCountry by Gaël Faye.

Image result for small country gael faye

Small country by Gaël Faye.

French fiction

Original title – Petit Pays

Translator – Sarah Aridizzone

Source – library

I went a few weeks ago through the library catalogue and try and find a few Man Booker hopefuls just to notch up the total I have read this year when the longlist comes out in a few weeks and this is a book I had seen mentioned a lot as a potential book. It is a Debut novel by the Franco Rwandan rapper and songwriter Gael Faye. This debut novel follows part of his own life when his family like many had to leave the violence that was caused by the civil war in Burundi and Rwanda. He has since lived in France and London and also later return for a time to Rwanda. This book won the Prix Goncourt des lyceens.

I am haunted by the idea of returning. Not a day goes by without the country calling me, A secret sound, a scent on the breeze, a certain afternoon light, a gesture, sometimes a silence is enough to stir my childhood memories. “You won’t find anything there , apart from ghosts and a pile of ruins,” Ana keeps telling me, She refusesd to hear another word about that “Cursed country”. I listen and beleive her. She’s alwaysbeen more clear-headed than me. So I put it out of my mind, I decide, once and for all, that I never going back. My life is here. In France.

A lament for his home and the Burden of Exile forever haunted by the past that is never the future.

the book is told through the eyes of Ten-year-old Gabriel a middle-class boy living comfortably in a Suburb with a number of Ex-pats like his own father. In Burundi with his sister and mother, the book starts as a usual tale of a boy growing up with no real difference to any other childhood. This is being told from Gabriel now in his thirties living in Paris looking back at the break up of his homeland. The viewpoint of Gabriel has that naive nature we all had as kids when the world around us seems distance as we ride on our BMX and discover friends play hooky and take part in stealing things with our friends This is all told as the dark clouds of the Civil; war slowly creep in and darken the world around Gabriel world of privileged kids in the rich Suburb. but his mother who lives in Burundi having to have left Rwanda herself is in Exile sees what is happening. As we see Gaby’s childhood slowly falling apart and those Halcyon days disappear as the war takes over.

Papa and I spent Christmas together, just the two of us. My present was a red BMX bike with mutlicoloured tassels on the handles. I was so excited that, at first light on Christmas morning and before Papa was awake, I took it to show the twins who lived in the house oppositem at the entrance to our street. They were suitably impressed. We messed about doing tcheleles – skids in the gravel. Then Papa appeared in his stripped pyjamas, livid and dished out a slap, in full view of my friends, for leaving the house so early woithout permission. I didn’t cry, or perhaps I did a little, but my tears were fromthe dust kicked up by our skids or else a fly caught in my eye, I can’t remember now.

I loved this it summed up a ten year old so well the excitment of the bike then the pain of having a slap and crying and the bravado of it not being crying for that but soemthing else.

This is a brilliant description of how easily one person’s life can change in a matter of days its one person tale that echoes the hundreds that both escaped and died in this horrific time. The war is captured so well in the way Gaby views the world when he starts to discover who he and his family is in conversations with his father Faye captures that moment we all have when the blinkers of childhood after life and we have to raise a hand and avoid getting blinded by the wider world and this is the lament at that moment but this is also a lament for a lost time and place that he or his family could never go back to it is worse than being an exile as there is a chance of return no this leaves the young, man rootless as his roots have gone. Now, this would have been a dead cert if it was the old IFFP as it has that feel of an IFFP book now I’m not sure I’d like to see it on the long list myself. Have your read this book ?

Now,Now, Louison by Jean Fremon

Published on 24 September 2018, paperback original with flaps, 180x120, 115 pages

Now, Now, Louison by Jean Fremon

French Fiction

Original title – Calme toi

Translator -Cole Svensen

Source -personal copy

Jean Fremon is a French gallerist famous for promoting a number of the best-known artists of the 20th century including the subject of this book Lousie Bourgeois also the likes of David Hockney and Franci bacon are just a few that have been through his Leong gallery over the years. His writing is described as cross-genre and a mix of art history essays and fiction he has written a couple of long books like this based around the artists lives the book is a mix of his years of knowing Bourgeois for more than thirty letters and personal accounts of her.

But you, you love spiders. They’re beautiful, they’re clean, and they manage to simultaneously both quick and calm.They wait, motionless, in corners, never flustered, never obsessive, never hysterical; they’re serenebeings, holding themselves apart. With an animal patience. And they destroy various things that make life unbearable, such as flies and mosquitoes. Ah! the mosquitoes in Easton! how we could have used a good herd of spiders ! and it must be said the take good care of their young. Ypu watch them, in the garden , in the attic, on the stairway, in the basement.

I loved this description of spiders she hit the nail on the head I don’t like spiders but they have there uses.

Fremon has tried to enter Bourgeois world and describe her life in short burst a mixture of her inner monologue glimpse of personal history and the artist she has seen or heard about. There is another thread that is called the spider book. I most remember her as the spider woman from the Tate exhibition a number of years ago where her giant spider sculptures rose in that huge space frighting visions that both scare and intrigued me as a person like a natural version of HG wells martian invaders walking the space. Family life things like her mother passing is captured when her mother was the only person she felt secure with. A mixture of art antidotes like Duchamp visiting an aviation show and the outfall of that. Her visiting controversial exhibits like Serranos works which include the work Piss Christ where he mixed bodily fluids and religious symbols like Bourgeois who had to defend the use of sexual imagery in her own work over the years. Then the spider book which has facts she finds over the years about spiders. A mix of styles of writing makes a mosaic of a great artist that lived here.

You don’t sleep. Insomnia has always been your friend, though it’s a stormy friendship, it must be said. When the children still lived with you, you would wake them up in the middle of the night. Simply because yoiu were the only one not sleeping. Now that you no longer have anyone to wake up, you ponder, you draw. In the morning, there are drawings everywhere, on the bed, on the rug … Jerry picks them up .They’re called insomnia drawings.They are cries, letters of love or of pique

One of the glimpse and the art she made when she didn’t sleep here is a glimpse at them

I knew a little about her life I saw the Tate show an interview with her at the time. Her first love was maths then art Jean Fremon builds a wonderful tone to her voice and the way he uses inner monologue the glimpse of her life on a personal and artistic level. It is a biography more an art piece itself what he has done is take her life break it into small piece and build a mosaic image that has a small glimpse of her life from her Exile in the US the loss of her parents to small everyday glimpses. slowly build a picture of this artist an impression an abstract view of her world it is an unusual style of writing compelling I read it through twice and each time found little gems in the short choppy paragraphs that range from a couple of lines to a few pages. I choose this as one of a few books I’d buy pre Man Booker as it fits my criteria of what prize-winning translations should be that is fresh, different, challenging to the reader, small press this is the sort of book we only get due to those small presses and those that run them, in this case, it is Les Fugitives which is bringing the best of French writing to use.

The spirits of the earth by Catherine Colomb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spirits of the Earth by Catherine Colomb

Swiss-French fiction

Original title – Les Esprits de la terre

Translator – John Taylor

Source – review copy via Tranalstor

II was contacted by John the translator of this novel as he felt it had fallen out of sight and shouldn’t have done. I agree as it is a clever little modernist novel. Catherine Colomb was orphaned when she was five and grew up in her grandparent’s house in the canton of Vaud where she spent most of her life. As it is elegantly put on her french Wiki page between old families and the parks, castles, lake, and vineyards of the region. Her four novels were all set in this region THis book came out in 1953.

In the hallways of Fraidaigue, one will henceforth have meet up with the dead Abrham attending to his transparent affairs while running into his mother whose head is topped off with some snowy construction, his sister isabelle surrounded by her suitors, and his deformed brother Ulysse pressinf a black marble inkpot against his chest with his dwarfed ar, . And Uncle Cesar? where Uncle Cesar ? HIs dear nephew has just fallen from the cornice and vanished !

This from the opening page remind me of Manderley and also I wondered if the name Ulysse was a nod towards Joyce ?

The book has a great intro by the translator himself that talks about Catherine life and the book the book has echoes of her own life as it has a lot of death and loss in it like she experienced at an early age. The book is set in two homes owned by the same family an older brother Cesar and his sister Zoe and two other brothers Eugene and Adolphe. The two brothers have been happily Married for a while and each lives at the families two properties. Fraidaigue John explains in his intro this means cold water and is the lakeside home of the family they also have Masion d’en Haut the families country estate. The book is a modernist work that follows these four lives and the deaths that happen in these families like their parents and nephews. It follows the family mainly through the eyes of Cesar a man that lost his closest friends when young and the world he lives in is filled with both the living and the ghost of those he once knew. He should be the head of the family but is just wandering the world as a victim.

Meanwhile, with the coming of spring, a strangely feverish Cesar was leaving the Masion d’en Haut and looking forward to seeing the naked pale purplish earth of the first vineyard; standing at the bottom of the Avenue, Melanie, watching him vanish, she placed her hand on her tumultuous breasts, squattering in front of the emerald green faience stove, all sisterlyaffection done away with and dressed in the white gown of insane women, Zoe was warming her fingers, with their overgrown nails, for the last time that season. When Cesar leaves. this means winter has given way, that the osier bushes are reddening at the edges of the stream, that the whole world is taking on the smell of th stables and manure

The world she knew so well is shown through how Cesar lives his life moving through the seasons from place to place never settling.

This is a high modernist novel in a way in his intro John says she was often compared to Woolf I can see this there is part of a world-changing like in Mrs. Dalloway where we see a woman look back over an evening over her life and the changing post world war. In this case, we see Cesar a man caught out of time drifting between the worlds of the living and dead. I’d like to suggest another writer I think inspired her maybe Du Maurier for me she often used her local Cornwall and Vaud both have the feeling of places caught out of time. The house in this book reminds me of the way Manderley is described in Rebecca the ghosts of those they have known is clinging to the walls of these houses. There is also the menace of what happened in these houses before in both books. John has done a poetic of her words he is mainly a Poetry translator and this shows how he has kept what at times are fragile narratives of a world between the living and dead.A touching and challenging read that has the reader wondering where they are for long after they put the book down.

Have you read this book or any other Swiss list books from Seagull books ?

The wicked go to Hell by Frédéric Dard

 

The Wicked Go to Hell by Frédéric Dard

The wicked go to hell by Frédéric Dard

French Noir fiction

Original title – Les salauds vont en enfe

Translator David Coward

Source – Library book

I reviewed another novel by Dard a couple of years ago Bird in the cage. Which I enjoyed so when I saw this in the library I decided it was time to try another by this prolific French writer. this was indeed the first of four books he wrote in 1956. This was also made into a film the year before the book came out although the book seems slightly different to the film details when I read them on Wikipedia.this is a tight two-handed tale of two cellmates.

“Our man has got to escape and escape he will … with you!” He looked at me to see my reaction but I’d long been used to letting the sky fall on me without battling an eyelid.

“We’ll lock you both up in the same jail cell … a tough one.. the sort of place that gives kindly old ladies the shivers. The pair of you escape!

“You’ll hole up somewhere and you’ll wait. The breakout will be big news. The head of the organization, knowng thatnhis man has escaped, will want to get him back..At some point or other he’ll break cover..Then , when you’ve got your hands on him”

He made a chopping motion with the dside of his hand.The gesture meant death.

Merin’s boss the old man a scary old chief that sets clear whathe has to do.

The book is set firstly in one of France toughest prison and on cellmates. What we are told about Frank and Hal is that one of them is a policeman called Merins was called in by his boss the old man to trap this spy. So he was sent into the prison to uncover. a spy ring and the overman is an enemy spy and leader of a spy ring that is centered on the prison the two initially don’t get on and fight. Thou in the fighting we see thou the two men Frank and Hal are on different sides of the fence in terms of what side they are on they in personality are similarly tough men as reach accuses the other of being a spy or the stool pigeon. The prison splits them up after a number of fights and sends both men to solitary but they get together in the cell and over time a collective loathing of prison life draws the two together as the plan an escape as they do they get closer. The plan works but leaves Frank worse for wear they land on an isolated island in the southern part of France Carmargue that wetland where there are many small islands. The two hide there till another person from a shipwreck ends up with them drawing the two to a final end. But who was who!

When the bull had gone, the two new men remained standing side by side for a moment, without looking at each other. Then there was a kind of click of release. Time, which had been flowing over them without intruding on the consciousness, suddenly jolted them out of the prisoner’s stupor and swept them up on its aimless way. They looked at each other up with fierce intrest. Like two animals who come face to face. Eventually, one of them – the one with the eye half-closed eye- give a shrug.He looked round the cell. There were three hinged cots, each with a straw mattress and a blanket.The prisoner who couldn’t speak occupid the fatherst one.

The first time they are alone in the cell Frank and Hall weight each other up.

The clever device in this book is Dard not telling you who is Merins the opening chapter sees him get the job and then we are thrown into the cell with Frank and Hal and questioning who is the cop and who is the spy. The story is also a classic take on the buddy film the two initially hate each other but other the courst=e of the book they form an uneasy alliance due to the conditions they find themselves in. Dard lets us know that no one at the prison knows Merins is there as they are not sure how far the spy ring goes in the prison. Dard builds the tension as the strained relationship and violent nature of both men maybe sees them seeing a bit of themselves in the other man. Leading to the escape and the friendship becoming closer as one saves the other from the water to drag him onto the island. As human nature not what side each one is on takes over. A simple story but with a clever few twists. I do hope Pushkin carry on bring Dard’s out he did write nearly 200 books in his time.

Tell them of Battles , kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard

Tell them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard

French fiction

Original title – Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d’éléphants

Translator – Charlotte Mandell

Source – review copy

A break today from German lit a recent novella from one of my favorite writers of recent years Mathias Enard. This Novella appeared in French after his book Zone Reviewed here and street of thieves which also I have reviewed. This is a book that for me is more connected to his most recent book Compass as it tackles the connection between the east and the west the gateway to the Orient as once it was known  Constantinople. What Enard has done is used a piece of actual history around the time and added a story that might have happened to it.

Three bundles of sable and mink fur, one hundred and twelve panni of wool, nine rolls of Bergamo satin, the same quality of gilt Florentine velvet, five barrels of saltpetre, two crates of mirrors and one little jewellery box: that is the list of things that disembark with Michaelangelo Buonarroti in the port of constantinople on Thursday, 13 May 1506. Almost as soon as the frigate moors, the sculptor leads ashore. He sways a little after six days of difficult sailing. No one knows the name of the Greek dragomanwaitint for him, so we’ll call him Manuel.

The trade imortance is shown by what has arrived with Michelangelo in the boat from Italy.

The book is set in 1506 where we join the rising Artist Michelangelo who has been asked to make a trip to Constantinople by the Sultan of the town to try and design a bridge to go over the Golden Horn. He is following in the footsteps of Leonardo who was asked to design a bridge but his design wasn’t liked by the Sultan so he has asked Michaelangelo to come and put his mark on the world by building a great and wonderful bridge to Join east and west. The young man has his eyes and heart opened by the Ottoman world he sees so different from his own home as he tries to bridge the ap and one night sees a singer that captures his eye. As he is guided around the city by Mesihi (an actual member of the Ottoman court at the time). We also see the trade route that the city is the crossing road of the produce from the Orient to those going from Europe to the east on the various ships and barges he sees in the port area. As he tries to get the bridge right in his mind and then on the paper but eventually he gives his friend Mesihi a drawing of Elephants.

Little by little, sittin cross-legged on his cushions, Michelangelo feels overwhelmed with emotion. His ears forget the music, or elseperhaps it’s the music itself that is plunging himinto this state, making his eyes tremble and filling them with tears  that will not flow; as it was on that afternoon at Santa Sophia, as it is every time he touches beauty, or approaches it, the artist shivers with happinedd and suffering intermingled.

Next to Michelangelo, Mesihi observes him; he sees him overcome by this pleasure of the body and soul together that only Art, or perhaps opium and wine, can offer, and he smiles, happy to discover that the foreign guest os moved by the rhythm of the androgynous jewels to which his eyes riveted

He falls for the androgynus singers of the Ottoman era the first time he sees them

This book cleverly uses real people all the main character existed. Leonardo did go and design a bridge that was rejected. But there is no proof that Michaelangelo did although as Enard points out there is drawing in the Sultans collection that had been attributed to Michaelangelo. If a bridge had been started or even built a huge earthquake three years after the book is set could destroy it. The book shows the art of storytelling a simple idea did he go is a way of lifting the veil of the Ottoman world of the 16th century and also its importance as a trading post and crossroads or a bridge between to worlds as Orhan Pamuk said “To be able to see the Bosphorus, even from afar—for İstanbullus this is a matter of spiritual import that may explain why windows looking out onto the sea are like the mihrabs in mosques, the altars in Christian churches, and the tevans in synagogues, and why all the chairs, sofas, and dining tables in our Bosphorus-facing sitting rooms are arranged to face the view.” His modern city has seen many changes from the Sultans time but the Bosphorus is still the blood ruing through the body of the city connecting the west and east sides and the two worlds. The title is a nod to Kipling and is a quote from a story that is told by an elderly Indian to a young westerner.

Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah

Tropic_of_Violence.jpg

Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah

Mauritian fiction

Original title – Tropique de la violence

Translator – Geoffrey Strachan

Source – review copy

I often wonder when I review a book from one of the more unusual places around the world if I will ever review another book by the same writer. That was what I wondered over the years when I reviewed Nathacha first book to be translated into English The last brother that was eight years ago , I had seen a copy of another of her books had come out in the US last year which I had been looking at getting so when this dropped through my letterbox I was excited to be reading her writing again. This is set on another French colony of Mayotte which at the time I wrote the review of The last brother she was living of the island of Mayotte this is from her experiences of this distant island.

She points to one of the baby’s eyes. I don’t understand, i can see nothing , the baby’s asleep. ashe becomes impatient, she points to her two eyes, then to mine, then to those of the baby. Oh, is your baby blind ? She shakes her head vigorously ad suddenly the baby begins to wriggle, smacks its lips once or twicce, as if it is searching for the nipple and the young woman holds it out to me as you might do with something theat both frightens you and disgusts you. I don’t know why I take this baby that’s being handed to me and the infant stretches out in my arms and this warm little body snuggling up to me is wonderful, The child opens its eyes. the mother shriks back against the bed.

His mum is scared of him due to his eye colour but what happened to this young woman.

This is the tale of a sons journey to discover who he really is the story opens with Marie she is a nurse the books opens with her story of a failed marriage and her not having her child with her husband this is how she ended up in Mayotte working as a nurse in the frontline of the city so when one day a Baby that has one green and one dark eye that his teen mother feels has the curse of the Jinn on it Marie adopts this baby. She calls him Moise for the first few years of his live everything is great he is in a private school a dog called Bosco after his adoptive Mums favorite writer Henri Bosco. But he is a teen and being raised in this all-white world in a way he knows he is different he questions his background. Then the worst happens his world falls apart when Marie dies so the young boy takes his mom backpack and the boy and the river and sets of to Gaza the large Slum near the capital of Mayotte this brings him into conflict with the head of a local gang Bruce he also meets a policeman Called Oliver and a volunteer called Stephane as the young man tries to discover his past but also tries to survive in the present as Bruce sees him as bad as the white people that come to the  slum to help out.

La Teigne told me about you, he told me he’d met a Black Muzungu but he thought you were African, a proper negro, one of them who wears shirts and trousers and speaks Frenc, not one of them dying in the gutter in rwanda, the Congo or Somalia. He said you followed him everywhere like a dog, that you put your hand into your pocket without a second thought and you were  called Mo and had a weird eye. Weird that’s the word he used, the dumb bastard.

Bruce in Gaza the Slum when Mo first goes there and is seen in a certain way by them.

This has some similar traits to the earlier books a boy struggling for identity which was a thread in the earlier book The last brother. Another common theme is that of identity her it another boy struggling with his childhood and being different. This has been a theme of many books of the years. There is something Dickens at times the story of Moise fits neatly into a Dickens-like story adoption having a good life the losing it could almost be Great Expectations. There is also something a bit Magic realist to this as well the sense of Moise journey that reminded me at times of Marquez writing that sense of viewing the world the way he did is something that we see with Moise.Also the thread of the book by Henri Bosco a writer I haven’t read yet but will be doing at some point.  There is something of a commentary on the place itself Mayotte. This distant colony has struggled with its large refugee population slums which have led to riots on this far-flung piece of France. This won a  big prize for female writing in France the Prix Femina Des Lyceens a prize for Female fiction which is chosen from a shortlist of ten by high school kids.

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