The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard

The war of the Poor by Éric Vuillard

French Fiction

Original title – La guerre des pauvres

Translator – Mark Polizzotti

Source -review copy

His last book The OPrderer of the Day was one of those books that seemed to be everywhere when it came out I do have a copy of it but the hype put me off a bit even though it was a Prix Goncourt winner. Eric Vuillard studied under the great Jacques Derrida and traveled a lot whilst he studied. He is a screenwriter, writer, and film director. He said when it was on,y when this book came out he made a link in the story of times around the German Peasants revolt and the involvement of the theologian Thomas Müntzer. Thomas Müntzer. He then notices similarities with the current Yellow vest movement that had been running in France for the last two years.

More than anything, Muntzer goes after Latin. He sets the simplicity of the common folk against Latin, and this simplicity is not vulgar, it can be coverted. Mud is gold. And while Luther translates the bible into German, Muntzer speaks to those who cannot read in their own language.

He goes further than Luther, In the church of Allstedt, God speaks German. The Gemran mass causes an uproar. People flock from miles around Allstedt to hear a priest talk to them for the first time in their language.

The opening of the chapter The word is about how he wanted the sermon and bibnles in German not Latin !!

This is a very short book, not even a novella really an unusual choice for the Booker prize. War of the poor is the story of the German Thgeolgian Thomas Müntzer and his life. The book opens with how his life was hard his father had hung himself. By the age of fifteen, he started a league opposed to the Archbishop of Magdeburg and the Church of Rome. He started to preach in the borders of Saxony in the backwater of Zwickau. as he stood in for a minister and he started to use the ideas that Luther had put forward, but he would later want to take things and the reforms within the church further than Luther who he later was opposed to. Then the action shifts back a couple of centuries and the tale of another religious reformer that preached about reforms in the church and the Church of Rome, he wants English bibles and like MUntzer wants to do services in languages other than Latin. He also inspired Wat Tyler a leading figure in the English peasant uprising this inspired Jan Hus a Czech religious reformer and this is what leads to the doctrine that Muntzer preaches notably in The sermon of the Princes his notable sermon there is even an edition published by Verso that has an intro by the left-wing Italian writer collective this event is what leads to him being Involves in the German peasant revolt and well I leave it there !!

Mund means mouth and Zerstorung, destruction. As such, we are free to hear, in Thomas Muntzer, a prodigious affinity between word and negation. Of course, we could see Muntzer as one of thopse passionatie idealist whom the medical profession habitually ridicules. We cpould shove Rosseau, Tolstoy and Lenin onto the couch and squeeze information out of them. We could see in any revolt and in any ardour personal pain transfigured, what of it?

Suddenly, heads turn and bodies have the wieghtlessness of light. And then, anything can be said!Thoughts streak, draw together, those that leave no verbal treace fall away for ever. They fall into the pit. We no longer hear them, no longer see them. We love them with remorse, and remorse is good for you tje great equality of the void.

Muntzer is like many other figures that have stood up over time.

This is one of those books that even though short packs a punch I had never heard of Muntzer I knew a bit about Luther and had heard of Wat Tyler and the English Peasant revolt there is an echo with the modern yellow vest movement this is one of those books that would be described as a turning point or as Javier Cercas said the blind spot, in this case, it is the events leading to the end in the book. This is also an example of the French books that I have seen the last few years as someone once said to me there is a sort of book that isn’t a history book. It is like the Binet work HHhH this has parts that are pure fiction that said it was an evening read I even managed to read it twice. I learnt a bit about the German peasant revolt and can see the connection to the modern movement as freedom, wealth and power are still unequal every where so much has changed but also so little !!

Winstons score – -B would loved a little more but enjoyed what was there!

Dog Island by Philippe Claudel

Dog Island by Philippe Claudel

French fiction

Original Title – L’Archipel du Chien

Translator – Euan Cameron

Source – Review Copy

This is the time of year as the Booker international longlist approaches on the horizon that I start working through some books from the last year I hadn’t got to or I have brought thinking they may make the list. first is a writer that has been featured three times before on the blog over the years all his books are different so you never know what you are going to get from him. Claudel had been a teacher in Prisons for a number of years he has credited this with giving him an insight into Guilt and how we judge people that is evident in this book.

The story takes place on an island. An ordinary island neither large nor small. Not very far from the country upon which it is dependent, but which has forgotten all aboutit, and close to a different continent to the one it belongs to, but of which it takes no notice.

One of the Dog Islands

When you search for this archieplago on the maps, you do not notice the dog at first glance it is hidden. The children have trouble finding it. The teacher whom they have already nicknames the old woman was amused by their efforts, then by their surprise when with the tip of her ruler, she sketched the putline of its jaw, The dog suddenly emerged, They werfe frightened by it, it was like being with certain people whose character you do not really know when you first spend time ith them, who one day bite off your head.

This pasaage has such a dark meaning behind it and the way the dog appears is maybe a metaphor for those that appear to the teacher later!!

The setting for this is vague we are only told that it is a group of Islands in the Med we are not told where in the Med that is a great touch as it could be anywhere in the region. So Dog Island is a book where the characters in the story don’t have names they are just known by the title of their jobs so the story starts when the Teacher of Dog island is out for a jog then he comes across three young black men African emigrants how did they end up there dead washed up on the beach. These are bodies are also seen by a couple of other locals. Then the people that run the island appear the doctor, Mayor and Priest appear. There is already a feeling that these bodies are just the tip of something far more sinister and the Mayor at the heart of all that happens on the Island is now having to try and clean up what is going on before the top comes of plans on the island.

“Did you carry out an autopsy on them, Doctor?” The Teachersaid, and on asking this question he swallowed painfully, as though the word, heard thousands of times on detective series, was too burdensome for him.

“No need,” replied the Doctor, maintaining his good humour. “Drowning alas, is obvious, what did ytou expect they died from ? Sunstroke?”

Swrdy laughed, and so did america. Even the Old Woman smiled, silently, her pale lips curled into a haughty pout over her grey teeth. And the mayor laughted too, but in his case it sounded like the hiss of a snake. The teacher, who was wriggling about on his chair, spoke out in his timid little boy’s voice, which did not correspond to his large, strong frame.

The teacher starts asking questions about the bodies on the beach and what happened to them.

Islands are like small villages closed more so than normal so this is a small glimpse into the world of Dog Island but it isn’t just Dog Island I felt that was the region that we don’t have names it is to make the story universal in its themes that off the dark side of the world of those taking people and make huge profits from those chasing the dream of a new world in Europe. We have all heard stories of bodies washing up especially on the Italian island Lampedusa which we saw in the book I reviewed a while ago.  This shows what when one woman the Teacher tries to lift the lid on the dark trade in People those in authority those corrupted by money and power have to try and shut him up. We read of people buying fake life jackets, overcrowded boats, vast amounts of money and broken dreams are in the bodies of the three men washed up on Dog Island beach. This is one of those books that make you as a reader think of the wider picture of the world around them. Have you read Claudel?

Winstons Score B

 

The Art or Losing by Alice Zeniter

The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter

French fiction

Original title –  L’Art de Perdre

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – from Frank via the publisher

I don’t often ask the translator for a book but this is one I really wanted to read as it seemed like one I would really like and I am a fan of Franks translations so thank Frank. Alice Zentier is a real talent she published her first novel at just 16 years old since then she has written a number of novels. She has also set up a company putting on plays for younger audiences. This novel came out 14 years after her debut and was a huge prize winner in France was on the final list for the Prix Goncourt. She is from a french Algerian family so a lot of the journey of the granddaughter in this book is similar to her own journey.

When he comes home (this ellipsis in my story is the one that appears in Ali’s story, the one that had Hamid and Naima will encounter when they try to retrace his memories: no one will ever say anythinhg but two words, “the war”, to account for these two years), Ali is faced with the same crippling poverty, which his mitlitary pension alleviates only a little.

The following spring, he takes his little brothers Djamel and Hamza, to wash in the Wadi swollen with the waters of the melting snow, The current is so stroing they have to cling to the rocks and tufts of grass on the riverbamk to avoid being swept away. Djamel, the scrawniest of the three, is terrified, His brother laugh, they mock his fears, playfully tug at his legs while Djamel sobs and prays, thinking that the current is pulling hu=im under and then

Back home as ali is caught in a flood with his brothers.

The book follows three generations of an Algerian then a french Algerian family through the start of the Algerian war seen through Ali the father of Hamid who we meet in the fifties as the country is starting to fall apart we view this through his eyes as he is growing but as he meets his wife and his dreams of being a father to a son. Then when the war is ended takes the hard decision to leave in the aftermath of that. So the journey moves on to the son to France for a new life as he struggles with his father and growing up in France. Where the first two years of their lives where they live in a camp that is like a pressure cooker full of violence and threats to the two of them having a future in the new home. Added to this is the tussle of being Muslim in France at the time as Hamid grows up and meets his wife a traditional french wife, so he loses his identity somewhat, and thus when they have Naima she is more French than Algerian. Then the story moves on to his daughter Naima who is more French than Algerian this is a story of the generation that is silent Naima knows little of her ancestry. She works at a gallery as she says she hasn’t traveled much as she views the world through the art she shows in the Gallery but when her boyfriend sends her to Algeria as she is preparing to show new art from there she uncovers her own past as she reconnects with those of her family that was left behind. returning she says to her gran she could go but I was touched by the line her gran said it is near the end of the book and maybe for me summed up the migrant experience I’m not going home to sleep in a hotel. having just said she want to return there to die. The loss of place is the silence in the world of being an immigrant loss of home.

Sometimes , she jokes about her family background, she says: “MY grandmother got married when she was fourteen, my mother met my fahter when she was eighteen. At least one woman in this family needs to break the mould”.

And yet, at twenty-five she decides to put the brakes on this, It is not that her desire waned, or that some ancestral form of mortality had caught up with her, it is that suddenly she has the impression that her actions have been rendered so banal by American TV series – particularly Sex and gthe city – they have become the norm.

The change in the granddaughter and the american influence on Fench life in one!!

A family world is a voice for a wider generation in this book is a book that has three-parts of this novel. Are the grandfather’s life than the father’s and finally the daughter as we see the transition of one family from Algerian to French but still haunted by the silence of her history. of the Algerian part of her life, this is what Alice Zeniter has tried to fill in with this book. It is part of a growing number of books in French that tackle the journey and history of immigrants in France from David Diop’s work and this both of which won prizes in the same year. This is a voice to those that have been faced with silence about their past. But also hints at the modern problems in France where the tension of the past and past crimes still haunt the present. This is one of those zeitgeist books that capture the world for those three generations and the wider community. maybe this is the French Windrush fiction of those voices that haven’t spoken since they came in 62 to France and the loss of their identity in their children. Have you read this book?

winstons score A-

The Sand child by Tahar Ben Jelloun

The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun

Morrocan fiction

Original title – L’Enfant de Sable

Translator – Alan Sheridan

Source – Personal copy

Well, I move to North Africa and an older modern classic from that country that has been sat on the shelves for a while to read. The last book I reviewed from Morroco had a link to this writer as it was also set in the Tazamamart prison which featured also in Ben Jelloun’s best-known book This blinding absence of light. He is often mentioned as a future Nobel winner he has written in French although Arabic is his first language. He has written twenty or more novels and has won a number of big book prizes over the years including the Prix Goncourt.

The father had had no luck. He was convinced that some distant, heavy curse weighed on his life; out of seven births, he had seven daughters, the mother, aunt Ayshaa, and Malika, the old servan woman. The curse was spread over tim. The father thought that one daughter would have been enough. Seven was too many; tragic, even. How often he remembered the story of the Arabs before the advent of Islan wo buried their daughter alive! Since he could not get tid of them, he treated them not with hate but indifference.

Hajji has had a run of daughter so when he has had seven that is enough he makes a plan for number 8

The book starts with Hajji telling of the fact that he had seven daughters to his wife and no matter what his next baby was going to be a Son no matter what happened. So he knew his money would pass through the family as the daughter in Islamic law at the time is only able to get a third of the estate from the Father. Which his brothers knew and had pointed out that they would end up with his money if he hadn’t given birth to a son. So when they are expecting an eighth baby he decides no matter what the babe will be a boy and passes on so much to the elderly midwife Lalla his plan to make even a daughter into a son Lalla ios elderly and sees the benefit of the idea. So when his wife finally gives birth and it is a daughter the secret of that is known by just two people Hajji and the midwife. as the child, who is called Mohamed Ahmed grows they talk about having their chest tied up which is to stop her breast from developing. HE is married to a sickly daughter of a relative the story is told in the form of a storyteller and the young Mohamed writing to a friend but what will happen will Mohamed gather she is actually a woman? there are telltale hints here and there throughout the book and how the father always seemed to have the answer then later are storyteller end up blind and this is a nod to Borges of course.

The truth goes intoo exile. I have only to speak and the truth moves away, is forgotten; I become its gravedigger and disniterer. That is how the voice is: it does not betray me. And even if I wanted to betray it, reveal it in all its nakedness, I could not. I would knt know how. I know its requirement: avoid anger, avoid tenderness, do not shoutm do not whisper- in short, be ordinary. I am ordinary. And I trample underfoot the image that is unbearable to me. God, how heavy that truth wieghs upon me! I am the afchitect and the house, the tree and the sap, a man and a woman. No detail must disturb the harshness of my task, whether from the outside or from the bottom of the grave. Not even blood.

Later his decison wieghs heavy on him and this is just as the  young Mohamed has her first period !

I have the absence of blinding light by him as well but this one jumped out of me as the story seemed one I would enjoy the tale of a down on his luck husband that keeps wish for a son to only have daughters then he decides to sacrifice his youngest and let her grow up a boy in this age of people being able to be more gender fluid this tale of a deliberate swapping of gender seems horrific as it highlights the pain the child had to undertake to be passed as a boy. But also shows how religion can affect people it also highlights the prevailing system at the time in Morroco run by its elderly King. The novel uses the storyteller to tell the story within the story of the book it has nods later on towards Borges not only with the story becoming blind but also when later on the book its has a few Magic realism and Borges touches to the story. This book can easily be read in a day as it is under two hundred pages and each chapter moves the story as we move through various gates. Have you read any books from Tahar Ben Jelloun?

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.

At Night All Blood is Black By David Diop

At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop

French fiction

Original title – Frère d’âme

Translator – Anna Moschovakis

Source – review copy

Today I move on to world war one and a view of the war from a different angle with the tale of two Senegalese soldiers on the front line in the trenches.  It was written by the French writer David Diop Born in Paris but spent a lot of time in his youth in Senegal. He returned to France to finish his studies, where he has since taught literature at the University of Pau. He wrote a couple of books before this one, but this was his debut novel. The book was shortlisted for Ten major French book prizes when it came out winning the Prix Goncourt des Lyceens the one chosen by High school pupils.

in the trench. I lived like the others , I drank, I ate like the others. Sometimes I sang, like the others. I sing off-key and everyone laughed when I sang ” They would say, “You Ndiayes, you can’t sing” . They made fun of me, a little, but they respected me. They didn’t know what I thoiught od them, I found them Foolish, I found them idotic, becauuse they didn’t think about anything. Soldiers, black or white, who always say “Yes”.  When commanded to leave their shelterof their trench to attack the enemy, defencelesss, it’s yes “When told to play the savage, to scare of the enemy.

A view of how they are viewed in the army says a lot for these tough men.

This is the story of one man and his dead friend Alfa Ndiaye is said to be the son of the old, old man is at the western front fighting for France. He is on the line with his friend  Mademba Diop or as Alfa calls him my more-than-brother. The book opens as Mademba is fatally wound and ask his friend to end his life but he can’t an act he regrets and maybe sets forth the later event in the story?  as he is bleeding from a mortal wound in his stomach. Before he dies Alfa asks who had done the task the dying man can only tell his friend as he is dying that it was a blond blue-eyed german that did the task. He drags his friend from the battlefield back to the French trenches. This is where the story takes a dark turn as Alfa sets about revenge and vengeance for his dead friend so goes over the trench with his machete and returns with hands of dead blonde soldiers every night. as he seeks retribution for his more than a brother. As he does this his fellow soldiers start to fear him. He is offered the military cross for his actions to try and calm Alfa from his mission of revenge but also find out what is driving him to do it.  As he shows how brutal war is but also how badly the Chocolat soldiers were treated this is a dark story.

Gad’s truth, I was inhuman. I didn’t listen to my friend, Iistened to my enemy, So when I capoture the enemy from the other side, when I read in his blue eyes the screams his mouth can’t sling into the skies of war, when his open belly had become nothing more than a pulp of raw flesh, I turn back the clock , I finish off the enemy. As soon as he’s made a second plea with his eyes, I slit his throat like a sacrified lamb. What I didn’t do for Mademba Dioop , I do for my blue eyed enemy.Out of my reclaimed humanity

This is a dark book as we see one man driven by revenge to bring to justice the man that killed his friend as every night he heads out to get another hand off a dead man to add to his collection when he has too many he start to worry his comrades as he describes there is only one other soldier got why he did it and he has since died. I was reminded of the film the patriot where the main character sees his son killed by a callous officer from the other side and sets off on a killing spree with some fellow soldiers here it is one mans revenge. The man he has known since a child died in front of him asked him to put him out of his misery this is heartwrenching as the story becomes just one man’s tale of the war and not even the war but his path of revenge. It shows how guilt can drive someone to do the most horrific acts as a source of comfort for their loss but also we see an often-overlooked corner of the war those Chocolat soldiers as it says in the book those many soldiers that fought in world war one from Africa and Asia that have to often been whitewashed out of history so it is easy to see why this book would do so well oin schools telling an unknown story. Have you read this book?

The white dress by Nathalie Léger

The White Dress by Nathalie Léger

French fiction

Original title – La Robe blanche

Translator – Natascha Lehrer

Source – personal copy

When it comes towards the end of the year I look at end of the year list for translated fiction and try and find a few books that have passed me by in the last year this is one such book I have read other titles from the published Les Fugitives a publisher that has been publishing interesting books by female writers from France over the last couple of years. This is the latest book written by Nathalie Leger. this the last in three books she had written about women she had discovered in her work as a curator of various exhibitions. This novel is based on a true story about the last few weeks in the life of Italian Performance Artist Pippa Bacca.

One of Guiseppina’s most important creations was called Eva Adamovich. Certain days, as her friends and relativesdecribed at the inquest, Pippa became Eva, and as Eva, whom Guiseppina had invented from head to foot, as Eva she had all the desirable assests : vivacity, daring , a tounch of cruelty – though it was all an act, her friends insisted. Dressed up as Eva, inhabiting Eva,she strode briskly throug the streets of milan in twelve centimetre heels, a tiny pair of shorts, a greem lame sweater and a boa, calling everyone “love” or “sweetheart”, like she was tough as nails letting it be nderstood that she knew all about mrn, that she didn’t trust them.

This was one of the roles she performed over the years.

This is a strange mix of real-life and a personal memoir and the writer thinking about the events that lead up to the last few weeks of the life of Italian performance artist Pippa Back. As we find the events that lead Pippa to run in a white wedding dress from Milan to Jeruselum in the wedding dress as a walk for peace and to do performance using people she knew along the way as the trip was a video for a later date. This sparks an inner journey that is taken by the writer on a journey through her own parent’s divorce and the bitter affair that she viewed from her mother’s side and the fact that she was abandoned when her father ran off with another woman. Meanwhile, we see events in Pippa’s life like when she played Eva Adamovich a role she played. in high heels and short shorts. Also a thread about performance art over the years. Pippa makes it to Turkey. When her sister doesn’t hear from her this leads to a search and the sad end to her walk for peace.

The artis, her name is Jana Sterbak, wove wire into a long, straight dress with open arms, long sleeves and a round neckline that stands on the floor some say like a shelter, other like a cage, and belted at the waistby an electrified filament made of nickel chrome that makes the dress light up when someone approaches. The dress stands errectg, possessive and threatening, welcoming qand repelling, it is called I want you t feel the way I do ..(The Dress)

Another dress sparked by the wearing of the dress by Pippa bacca in her walk for peace.

I am leaving the end of the book and the last section where the writer views those events that end the walk this is a book about the writer as much as Pippa Bacca. What I Like is the way little events in the life of Pippa make Nathalie think of her own life. This is a mix of c=fiction biography but also a creative enquiring mind. It is about those mind journeys that we all take when we read about or discover some new fact or life story that is what we have here the sparks of a mind those journeys the two take through the book and how Pippa walk although cut short inspired a personal introspection of the writer I will read the two earlier books in this loose trilogy. them two both inspired by the work she has worked on over the years. Have you read this book did it inspire you? This is why we read books in translation those books that break the mould in the Form.

 

Three rival sisters by Marie-Louise Gagneur

Three rival sisters by Marie-Louise Gagneur

French fiction

Original title – Trois soeurs rivales

Translators – Anne Aitken and Polly Mackintiosh

Source review copy

I always enjoy when small presses find writers that haven’t seen the light of day in English. Here is another example of such a discovery from  Gallic books. A leading feminist writer in her time Marie-Louise Gagneur born in Doumblane she wrote more than twenty novels in her lifetime. They often focused on Anti-clericalism and the status of women. She campaigned to change the divorce laws, She was appointed to the chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur a year before her death. Her daughter was a famous sculptor. This is the first time she has been translated into English and is one of three books from Gallic books of french feminist writers the Revolutionary women series.

Henriette was twenty-five years old, with brown hair. Her features, whilst less refular than those of her sisters, had nonetheless a certain refined and intelligent appeal. Unlike her sisters, she was not immediately beautiful, but beneath her rather forbidding exterior lay a passionate nature, and her energetic and sharp movements suggested a stormy temperament that had been rather supressed by her upbringing had turned her natural tendency to moderate her bahaviour into a cunningness that manifested itself in the thin line of her mounthand her dark searching eyes.

I was remind of Mary bennet here in the story with the description of the eldest sister.

There are two stories in the book the first is a tale that is in a classic style of the time I was reminded of those period dramas I watched years ago. from Austen to even Catherine Cookson sisters as rivals for a man is a recurrent theme in stories around this time. it is a tale of three sisters and a man. set in the village that the writer grew up in herself. The sisters Henriette described as not as regular as her sisters but with a forbidding exterior lay a passionate nature energetic with a temper. Whereas Renee is described as like a Durer subject while her blond hair and blue eyes that look like pools of kindness I loved that description then Gabrielle is described as a mixture of her sisters the cat is set amongst the pigeons when a man appears the three sisters compete for his affections and eventually marriage. But when the race is run is the prize as sweet as expected !!

But Gabrielle, with her senesitive disposition, vivid imagination and a loving nature that bordered on obsessive, longed to find love as a prisoner longs for freedom and fresh air. She was like a carnation whose stem drooped under the weight of too many petals; she felt burdened by her overflowing heart. Her steps became slow and heavy and her shoulder stopped, her eyes were glassy and her gaze feverish, her pink nostrils flared ocasionally as if shewere drinkingin some hidden pleasure from the aire, she laughed or cried hysterically at the slightest provocation. And then paul Vaudrey would take her hand and look into her eyes with an expression that made her tremble. She was in love with him , and adored him with all the impulse and virginal devoution of first love.

They say love is blind her is a perfect description of that !!

I said it was like period dramas it is in the initial story the three sisters’ good have jumped off the pages of Pride and prejudice. I was reminded of the Benet sisters especially the description of Henriette was very like the way Mary was described. There is a second story a man loses his first wife as she is poisoned leaving him to marry his lover it is a shorter story the main story is the sister’s story which has a feminist twist on the pursuit of the man and also when they marry Paul is he all he seemed well given the time we maybe get a less rose glassed version than Austen did in her book once they married there it all went well here we get a glimpse at what probably happened when a modern woman of that age married a man. An interesting book that is of its time but isn’t aged and would make a great tv drama.

 

The Revolt by Clara Dupont-Monod

The Revolt by Clara Dupont-Monod

French historic fiction

Original title  – La Révolte

Translator – Ruth Diver

Source – review copy

Dupont-Monod studied Ancient France at university before going into Journalism, radio, and tv work and writing. She has worked at Cosmopolitan and then Marianne, alongside she worked on the radio. She has written a number of novels and been on the shortlist for two of the biggest french book prize she also hosts a weekly Literary column on French tv every week. This is her debut in English. She lives in Paris and says she has been haunted by Eleanor of Aquitaine for many years.

My mother is a self-assured woman. I have absolute faith in her. She owes this assurance ti her birth, for she is the Duchess of Aquitaine, raised amid luxury and learning, haloed by the memory of her grandfather, the first poet. For her there is no difference between silk and sapience. She managed her fiefs with an iron hand from the very start. Vassal’s rebelions, harvests, defing borders, settling disputes …. Eleanor likes to rule, and she knows every alleyway of even the smallest village of her Aquitaine

A strong women for the time loved her home and want to be in charge

Well, there was a clue in the first bit the haunting of her from Eleanor of Aquitaine as she forms the main character in this story it is told from her son Richard the lionheart. She first gets her marriage to Louis VII annulled and she then sets her sights on the English king Henry Plantagenet, but his strong women have misjudged the English king as he is a bully and he has taken a mistress Rosamunde he has also started to try and take over the french piece she has to try and find a way to remove him and this is where Richard who will become king in his place is taken part as he helps his mother gain he freedom from under her brute of a husband. This is a son honoring his mother it is a story of strong women in a time of male society a queen in lands of Kings

My mother loses her illusions two years after her remarriage. One winters evening in 1154, she is due to set sail from the port of Barfleur, on the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula. In her arms she holds her child, born a little more than a year after the wedding. His nam is William. The son Eleanor never gave Louis. And she is pregnant again.

The crew scan the skies. Low clouds. heavy swells, they shpould delay crossing. My father refuses. He has been cursing the wind for weeks. No capricious sea will stop him. His destiny is calls.”England is at the end of a civil war”, he hammers, “she wants her new king”He will be the great saviour. He must banish the looters, raze the insubordinate lords’ strongholds , recover the crown’s asset, and mint new coins. He promises power and justice, and to “Prise the goods of the poor from the rapacious hands of the pwerful” as he had announced

She ses a different side of him after a couple of years of marriage.

This is a short work and works I have struggle with longer works of historic fiction. I am one of the few people that isn’t a huge fan of Wolf Hall and its follow up. This is a similar story but the way it comes across is vibrant and springs to life the world of Eleanor women I only knew by name not her place in the world her she has used a piece of the truth and has woven it with her prose to give a powerful story of the world she was haunted by.  that has been well drawn in English by Ruth Diver in translation. It also has a son’s love of his mother this is a man that would do anything for her even kill a king. The tyrant that is her second husband is a great portrait of a tyrant a man of power who shes her as a thing more than an equal and wife. This is a great first book for my few books for women in translation month.  I must note as well this is one of my favorite covers so far this year. Have you a favorite historic work in translation?

 

The treasure of the Spanish civil war by Serge Pey

The treasure of the Spanish civil war by Serge Pey

Franco- Spanish fiction

Original title – Le Trésor de la guerre d’Espagne

Translator – Donald Nicholson Smith

Source – review copy

I have gone for my first read for Spanish lit month with a French novel. Well, this is a French writer that grew up in one of the concentration camps that was home for those who escape Franco regime. Serge Pey is a child of Spanish civil war refugees. He is well known as an artist and performance artist. So yes my first book is a Spanish sounding writer that is French but this is a book that could only be written in French a piece of history that has n’t been written about much or mentioned much.

The boy watched an eagle wheeling in the sky. As though harnessed to an invisible noria, the majestic bird drew all the sunshine towards the two of them where they stood amidst shadows. The boy would remember this. The man kept silent for a long while, observing the eagle as it turned towards the mountain, perhaps to check its worl and draw the sun to another valley. At last the manturned and spokje to the boy.

“Give me you knife”

The man gutted the piglet and wrapped it in leaves, then dug a hole and lit a fire with dry wood. When he had glowing embers he placed the animal’s spread eagled carcass on them and cover it with soil.

A boy sees an eagle as they eat the pig they cooked on the run

The stories here were published in France as a novel of interlinking stories. They are all set around the fifties and the camp were Serge himself grew up. The stories all can stand alone a couple of characters reappear. The first story follows a boy as he tries to escape some guards with his father a couple of interesting images an eagle wheeling overhead like a Spanish water wheel as the guards’ circle in the boy finds a snail then he ends up snail-like in a hole hiding away. Then later on how they learned french watching the dub films in the cinema in the camp. Then how the guards used many of the kids when they arrived to teach them to torture the other kids in the camp in the story a piece of wood. A boy buying horse meat meant only for a dog is that hungry he is tempted to eat it but then thinks of another young child that ate it and end up ill. These are tales that Serge must have heard and seen around the camp the lives of these lost souls retold. The harsh world they lived in.

The boy waited for the butcher’s van. He had spent three days longing to  buy meat for dogs. He chose the moment when the butcher was packing up to ask the man for dog meat. The man tossed him some horsemat wrapped in newspaper, telling him that the dog would have a feast and assuring him that the meat was fresh.

Trembling the boy thrust the paclage under his shirt. He wentround the back of the house to find the dog, which was in the kennel, In the ditch by the fig tree he opened up the blood-soaked newspaper. And then, without consultation between boy and dog, the two fell upon the meat

A boy buy horse meat uncoocked that is meant just for dogs or else you fall ill

This is a collection of vignettes there is a sense of stories the writer had heard when young he was a child when the stories are set this is the world he grew up in his parents, friends, and families in this collection there is a sense of a world where the extreme has become the normal his translator said it is like magic realism or surreal all thou he hated the terms this is a world where things are different. Yes he has some great imagery in his prose that sometimes are too poetic more than prose driven but how else can you face this horrific world. The violent harsh reality in the world often seen through a child’s eye. this isn’t a large collection just over 130 pages and it is a small archipelago book as well.A world not written much about these lost voices of Franco’s exiles need to be heard as it is a remind of the horror of war but also the fate that fell them when they reached the camps in France !

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