Winter Flowers by Angélique Villeneuve

Winter Flowers by Angélique Villeneuve

French fiction

Original title – Les Fleurs d’hiver

Translator – Adriana Hunter

Source – personal copy

I move on in the books I think maybe around the Booker international longlist when it comes out and to an old favourite publisher Peirene and the second book from their series of books for 2021. Angélique Villeneuve was born in Paris and has lived in Idia and Sweden before she returned to France and became a writer she has written books for both Adults and Children. known for how she portrays the lives of women challenged by events in her life in one of her most recent books. I was looking forward to this book as it struck me it could almost be a companion book to another french book I read many years ago pre-blog day but had a lasting Impression and that was Marc Dugain’s The officer’s ward which follows a soldier that was in a ward like the husband of our main character in this book as he recovered and had facial reconstruction. This book is also like the famous book The return of the Soldier by Rebecca West also follows what happened when the soldier involved in the great war returned to their home.

At first Jeanne stays rooted to her chair, entirely consumed with watching him and avoiding him.She knows what should see, through, where she should look, but bounces about, slips away from her. What she does grasp is that hes taller and handsome in his unifor, and unfanilar too.

She  doesn’t think,He’s here, she thins, it’s here. This unknown thing thart’s coming home to her. That she’s dreaded, and longed for. It’s here. It’s going to come in, it’s going to make its life with her, and with Leo too, it will come here, into this room that the two of them have shared so little since they left Belleville

On his return you can just see the way the tension comes into her thoughts of his reutrn!!

What happens when a family is reunited after the war Toussaint left his wife and then returns to their small apartment after two years away. who has worked as a seamstress through his time away to make money now has to try and make a life with a man that isn’t the man that left not just the effects of the war he has since then spent time in the Val de grace hospital having his face rebuilt but he no way looks like the man that left them two years ago.  Now home unable to talk the dynamics of the home has changed Jeanne and Leonie have struggled and become very close so when Toussaint returns this man his daughter has no idea who he is and Jeane has done what many of the women left behind in both wars and that forms her own circle of friends. mainly woman around her but has you feel grown as a person in the absence of Toussaint who is maybe now a burden on her as she is now in the traditionally male role of the time as the breadwinner for the family. What will happen will the two ever be able to reconnect and build a new life. How much more of recovery will he make? All this in a time when support for things like this happening was rather thin on the ground?

Tousaint introduces something new. not just within the walls of the small fourth-floor room, but also into Jeanne’s life and, to a lesser extent, into Leo’s ; silence.

For the first few days, curled ina foteal posistion under the eiderdown or sitting in the armchair with his head lolling forwardm he sleeps a great deal, although it’s not clear whether he’s boundlessly tired or if this withdraw; is in fact to eradicate his whole body.

The mother and daughter whisper around him, in the narrow spaves requished to them by this silence.

Toussaint is a home but still a burden it seems and there is a sense of unease around him !

As you may tell from my description of this book I loved it I have always been a fan of the books the Peirene choose every year they seem to pick three great books and that is maybe why three gives them chance to find gems around a loose theme. For me this book sits with other great books about war Little woman for example this is one little woman but it follows what happened after. the connection to The officer ward really struck me as almost a follow on to that book that followed soldiers in world war hospital also having facial surgery. The fear in Jeanne at his return is clear both the fact they have got used to him not being there but also the man that returns isn’t the same one! Also at the heart of the is the hardships of the war on those involved struggling to get by and keep themselves going. It is another gem from Peirene a glimpse into one family and through them, there is a wider story of the families during world war I. Have you read this book? Do you have a favourite book about world war One?

Winstons score – A a well written and translated story of three lives changed by war

Painting Time by Maylis de Kerangel

Painting Time by Maylis de Kerangel

French fiction

Original title – Un monde à portée de main

Translator – Jessica Moore

Source – Review Copy

I move for the fifth book this month to France to a book that could be on the man booker longlist that I didn’t get to last year a book from a writer I have reviewed another book by her Mend the living. She has been writing novels since 2000 her 2010 novel birth of a bridge was on the Prix Goncourt shortlist and also won a number of other prizes with this book. and with the book I have read Ment the living which was also made into a film. So here I have her latest book that follows a young woman from her student days to her first day in work and also the group of friends she made while studying. What follows is how they develop as artists and people

YOU MIGHT WONDER HOW PAULA KARST, THIS AVERAGE young woman, sheltered and predictable (and a little on the lazy side)_ someone who spends most of her time sitting in a cafe booth in the company of others like her, every ounce of existence frothing in the espresso with the mix of grace and vacuity that grazes genius; hpw this impetuous dabbler, for whom the future was invaribly and comfortably concealed in sfumato, ended up plunging headlong into the large studio on the rue de metal. even more suprising: she rushed there.

As she studies and liuves woth Jonas and has kate about the coffee and the drinks flows

The book follows Paula  Karst and her group of friends she made while studying art at an Institute in  Brussels what Maylis paints is a broad group of people a Female Bouncer from Scotland Kate is a tall blonde with her roots showing big teeth made her lips look thin then Jonas described as having owl-like eyes and lassos for arms these three stay close out of a class of 20 odd students the=ose months of nights out and drink draw them into a close relationship. What they are learning is how to use the techniques that make up the style of art Trompe-l’œi those works made to deceive the viewer but the question is here who is deceiving as she starts to work on film sets working on the sets this work takes her from place to place job to job but she wonders what is the point of this at times is she a real artist of just a Trompe-l’œi herself! this is a young woman that has the techniques but the jobs she is in has closed her creativity to just copying we she here learning how to fake effects with the friends this is ultimately tested when she has to fake the famous cave paintings of Lascaux as she reworks them we get an insight into her and her friend’s world.

But very quickly, in a pendulum swing that she anticipates mischievously, these same students start to worry about their originality, they squirm, stand on tiptoes to stick their heads above the pack, and stake their  claim to their way of doing things, their unique brushstoke. This thirst for distinction that torments them surfaces again after the shock treatment of their traing in woods and marbles it reappears like a lump in batter, and soon the students make it clear that they see the required exercises as strait jackets, ridgid, narrow, stifling their movements, suffocating their personalities, drying up their desire – this is how they express themselves incensed.

The struggle between the craft of paint and the art of being an Artist is caught well and is at the heart of what is Paula.

This is a book about learning who we are about those boundaries between art and craft Paula has the craft it is the bedrock of her style but like her surname which is an eroded landscape where the rick has been shaped into peaks and troughs, this is maybe a nod to what has happened to the Artist Paula Karst of the book, over time her artistic creative side has disappeared as she becomes a craft person is there a difference to me there is that spark is getting lost in her but she is working that paradox is hard to live with. As she starts working on the sets for Cinecitta. Like her other books, Maylis manages to turn the focus of her book onto one subject a heart her is is painting but what is painting is coping tricking art or craft !! This also maybe says something about her own life and that of her friends and the art. The book is rich in the techniques and study of art and what it takes to perfect the Trompe-l’œi style but at what cost! I read this thinking it would be a possible Man booker international chance after reading it I would be shocked not to see it on the list. I’ve never read a book that captures what it is to be an artist so well the craft of painting as they learn is caught well and then how they then go on to lose the techniques is caught well it is about art more than the people for my opinion. What did you think about this book? did it draw you into the world of art as a reader like it did me?

Winstons score – ++ A. One of my favourite books recent times

Winter In Sockho by Elisa Shua Dusapin

Winter in Sockho by Elis Shua Dusapin

Swiss fiction

Original title – Hiver à Sokcho

Translator – Aneesa Abbas Higgins

Source – personal copy

I picked this up in a charity shop recently as I am one to avoid hype books but when I read the book blurb again it grabbed me somewhat and the writer of the book Elisa Shua Duspain a writer from a french Korean background that grew up around Europe and had won a number of writing prizes including the National book prizes for the best-translated books. The book was popular when it came out and had a rather eyecatching book I am always wary of books that seemed hype but it is a short book perfect for sitting and reading on a winter day off so that is what I did today.

My mother was squatting in the kitchen, her chin pressed top her neck, arms plunged into a bucket. She was ixing fish liver, leeeks and sweet potato noodles to make the stuffing for the squid. Her soondae were known to be the best in Sockho.

“Watch me work the mixture. See how i spread the stuffing evenly”

Iwasnt really listening. Liquid was spurting from the biucket, pooling around our boots and running towards the drain in the middle of the room. My mother lived at the port, above the loading bay, in one of the apartments reserved for fishmongers. Noisy. Cheap.My childhood home. I went to see her on sunday eveninggs and stayed over until Monday, my day off off. She’d been finding it difficult sleeping alone since I’do moved out.

Her mother struggles with her not being there

The book follows a relationship between a young french Korean girl and a Fench comic artist that has come to stay at the Guesthouse where she has been working for the elderly owner. But now it is winter in the resort she is in is this summer resort that is like one of those western towns with tumbleweed getting blown around as the tourists have now gone and it is a ghost city as it is winter. so when Kerrand appears this older French man catches her eye, as he is the opposite of her boyfriend an airhead that is trying to forge a career as a model the fumbling embrace where see describes his hand touching a scar on her leg that scar which causes her to bite at this airhead as she expects him one day to ask her to change herself for him. This is heightened by a fellow guest that has had recent facial surgery laying low in the winter town. So as Kerrand gathers are narrator can speak french he asks her to introduce him to the real Korea as they take a road trip to the border she is more drawn to this man. Although she despairs at the fact he isn’t that into the food as her mother the other main person in this book is a woman that can prepare the deadly pufferfish. I was reminded of the Simpson’s episode where the chef had maybe wrongly cut up the fish that Homeer had eaten a fine line. They used to share a bed in her mother’s small apartment and she is starting to struggle as she is away most of the week working at the hotel. This is a young woman drawn to the mysterious older man as she dreams of him noticing her even more than he does. Will he write his comic book about the place?

Kerrand was listening to me intently, head down, one hand on his forehead tohold back his hair. The only display that had caught my attention was one with schoolchildrens shoes from the north along with Choco pies packaged in blue instead of their trademark purple. Were they the real thing? Did they actually have a cake inside or had they been specially made for the Musuem?

She is so drawn to this mysterious older man

I liked the descriptions in this book she caught that feel of a seaside town when the tourist have gone in the winter I remember visiting my grandparents that lived in a seaside town in winter it is an eerie place a place of spaces that was this is echoed in the narrator description of his drawings full of white spaces. The story is a classic older man younger woman with a boyfriend that isn’t all he seems I was reminded of Lost in Translation the connection between these two is less intense but the feel of them discovering places is the same as she views those places again when she goes with Kerrand. it works it hasn’t that feel of Woody Allen at times where the relationship between a young woman and the older man feels forced what effect has she had on Him if any? It is a perfect winter read it is a subtle take on a relationship like those french movies Amelie for example where her encounters are brief and intense like our narrators take on these days of visiting small conversations. What are your favorite books or films around brief encounters?

Winstons score – B+ a wonderful short read set in a dead seaside town.

Literary Miniatures by Florence Noiville

Literary Miniatures by Florence Noiville

French Literary criticism

collected from Le Monde des livres

Translator – Tersea Lavender Fagan

Source – Personal copy

I eread the descrption of this book and the faxct that Florence Noiville had been in charge of foreign literature for the French newspaper Le monde and had doe a regular column that interviewed the worlds great writers this is a selection of those interviews. Initally she started in the fiance world before becoming a literary critic in  1994 she has since also written two biographies one about the Nobel winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, also a number of novels and a number of works for younger readers around Myths.

Liscano admits this from the start – he wanted to write this book in the spirit of Buzzati. In honour of the author who had “saved” him. And because, he says, Like Picasso painted the MEninas to have a dialogue with Velazquez, every novelist writes to converse with his predecessors.”What do they talk about?” Alination, in the strict snse, that is everything that makes an individual becomes “other”- Buzzati speak of the army, but his allegory could be applied to poltiical parties, religions corporitions .. self – awareness is also lost in midst of society. Everything depends on where one places cursor between freedom and security

Carlos Liscano (who was translated in early 200s I have now found !)

The book is formed up of 29 interviews and encounters she has had with a number of the greatest writers. I knew about 80% of the writers had read most of those there is a few I hadn’t heard of as they appear to have not been translated into english yet. The book opens with the Late Aharon Appelfeld a writer I once briefly meet when he won the IFFP prize a Holocaust survivor he described himself as  “A Jew writing in Israel” about how he learned to read the bible. don Deillo interviewed around tjhe time he brought out a point omega and how at theat time following the deaths of MAiler and Bellow he was on the cuspo of being America great writer. Nadine Gordimer a writer that was at odds with the country she grew up in. I was remind of a Chinese writer I had read many years ago and I think I will be reading some time son Yu Hua. I read his chronicle of a blood merchant. Now fpr a writer I hadn’t heard of Carlos Liscano a writer that I think hasn’t been translated or very little has been translaqted into english a poltical prisoner he had read and connected wioth the writing of Irtalian writer Dino Buzzati a writer I have reviewed a couple of times on the blog. Then a firm favouriteof this blog Cees Nooteboom is interviewed and Florence is amazed as his language as he drifts from french(that he learned after not being able to insult a man after he trod on his foot) Then whilst being interviewed he slips to Flemish with his wife and then German and english all this on a spanish island Menorca he loves as shown in one of the books I have reviewed from him.

Nooteboom greets you in French, speaks to his wife in Flemish, answers the phone in Spanish, then German, finshes a sentence in ENglish and uses latin to talk about species – planted by his own hands – in his garden that is his pride and joy. Hibiscous, euphoirbia. plantago.. “the garden is a personal creation, he says looking at the tops of the trees. “THEre is a photo of me with Hugo Claus: palm trees are up to out knees. The Japanese say that a garden is the portrait of a soul. Mine must be rocky because thereare a loit here, like my poetry” -he regrests that this important part of his work has not been translated into french. “I’ve noticed that either you like stones or you don’t. The minorcans think they store the heat and posseses secret healing powers.”Like poems?”

The Great Cees Nootboom interviewed his great ability with Language.

I like this I love pen pictures of writers Although I had read a lot of the writers , A writer like Carlos Liscano is one I will be watching out for. Elsewhere it remind me of the craft of William Trevor as she describe him as a writer that chips away to make his stories a nod towards his previous career as a wood craver. I wish we had a section like this in one of our papers a small glimpse nto great writers but also a portal of discovery for readers the beuty is finding new voices Florence style pof interview draws you to the writer and want to discover more or rerread them. A great choice from seagull books as it a wonderful collection of pen pictures of the later part of the 20th and early part of the 21st century writers a good place to start on the cannon of great wrtiers of this time.

Winstons score – + A I love little gems like this another wonderful discovery from Seagull books !!

But you did not come back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens

But you did not come back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens

French Memoir

Original title Et tu n’es pas revenu

Translator – Sandra Smith

Source – Personal copy

I found this slim memoir in a charity shop and was gripped by the description the book is a memoir of the life of the writer Marceline Rozenberg she was born to Polish parents as the family moved to France after world war one, she thought in the french resistance. Along with her father, she was deported to the concentration camp at Auschwitz – Birkenau on the same train as Simone Veil. when she arrived she was separated from her father this is the kernel that gave the book its title. After the war, she married twice hence her double-barrelled name her second husband was the Documentary filmmaker Joris Ivens she was a communist and made films in China but fell foul of the regime.

I wa quite a cheerful person, you know, in spite of what happened to us. We were happy in our own way, as a revenge against sadness , so we could still laugh. People liked about me . But I’m canging. It isn’t bitterness, I’m not bitter, it’s just as if I were already gone. I listen to the radio, to the news, so I’m often afraid because I know what’s happening. I don’t belong here anymore. Perhaps it’s an acceptance of dearth, or a lack of will I’m slowing down.

And so I thin about you.I can picture the note you managed to get to me back there , a stained little scrap of paper almost rectangulas, torn on one end. I can see you writing, slanted to the right, anxd four or five sentences that I can no longer remember.I ‘m sure of one line the first  ” My Darking Girl”

The words have gone but she remembers the piece of paper so well after all this time.

The book talks about how she ended up in the camp and that she had been split from her father. Later on, she gets a note from him this is the last she hears from her father. This short note was passed on by an Electrician an act of kindness in the madness. That haunts her and the fact that time has washed away the words. The book is about the loss of a void in her life. as she passes her father’s life in France that undercurrent of antisemitism that had been there before that I have read in other books set in Provincial France at the time. and then later her own as a testament to surviving the horror of the camp this is a short book but powerful an unflinching look at the horrors told without sugar to sweeten it to us as a reader the camp is brought to life and the effect like others that were there it spurred her on but also at times it made life after war horrific as the past haunted the present after the war but she also gives a voice to herself and her father.

I don’t know how much time passed between those two moments, those two estures, the last between us.Several months, I think. Perhaps less. You remembered my block number. The first in the rw closet to the crematorium, and you had the message brought to me. You didn’t ign it “PApa” but your first name, in Yiddish, “Sholime” ghat became Solomon in Fance you had returned to the land where you were born, which hadn’t waited for the nazis to persecute the jews; you surely needed toi affirm your identity, your Jewishness, in this universe where we were nothing more than Stucke:things.Perhaps you even found some relatives again in the camp, cousins in Poland who alway called you Shilome still today, whenever I hear the word “Papa”, I’m startled, even seventy five years later

Her father polish used his originl Yiddish name in the note.

I loved this it is a perfect evening read it is what  Meike would call a movie in a book it took as long as an average movie to read. There is a place for Holocaust literature there can never have enough to remember what happened this is a highly personal almost letter from marceline to a father to make up for the fact she had seen the note but time had made those words dissolve of the page. There is a filmmaker’s eye to the words and images here. Marceline’s second husband was Joris Ivens the Dutch filmmaker and a man that made movies alongside Chris Maker at times had a style of documentary filmmaking that we see here in her words a clarity that is no holds barred in the world she saw and lived in. Another powerful voice in the gallery of Holocaust literature. Have you read this powerful little book ?

Winstons score – Just read it any work from  Holocaust survivors is worth reading to remember what happened!!

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

This was co-funded by

 

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.

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