Like a Prisoner by Fatos Lubonja

Like a Prisoner by Fatos Lubonja

Albanian shots stories

Original title -Jetë Burgu

Translator – John Hodgson

Source – Review Copy

Well, I move on to Albania today and the second book I have read from Istros books by this writer. Fatos Lubjona’s father was a close ally in the sixties to the leader Hoxha but when he started to distance the country from the soviets and Fatos’s father questioned the regime and was arrested as was Fatos who in his diaries whilst he was a student had questions, Hoxha. He was sentenced to more than 20 years he then spent 13 years in hard labour and was released after 17 years, during this time he kept a diary and there world he won is the world of this short story collection. He is also a critic of the leaders on both sides of the political divide in his homeland.

In the daily life of the camp, Eqerem was very reserved by nature, and apart from his epileptic fits and his rooftop dance, his presence disturbed nobody. None of his family came to see him, and he was therefore ‘without support.

He kept a large bowl that he filled with a mush of bread and soup from the cauldron. He ate everything and never scrounged off anybody. He never argued with the guards, and they generally left him in peace.

Pandi was the only person to call to him in the name of Suzi. Everyone was astonished how he had managed to induce Eqerem to take part in such a game. If anybody else tried to call ‘Suzi’ to him or make the vagina sign, he would give them a furious look and make threatening gestures.

The story Eqerem a man worn down by the camp

these thirteen stories paint a picture of the horrors and inner life of the hard labour camps. The character studies the people around the prison camp like Eqerem. Our narrator notices him after a few days in the camp he had a head that stuck out in the crowd of the camp where they all have shaved heads. he was there for a short time his hair grew just before his release but he then a few years later he came back but was then caught up in events in the prison and ended up in solitary when he came out that had had marks and a few days later he died. A life contained in a story.  The story that hit me hardest was Çuçi the story of Çavo the cleaner prisoner on the wing and his cat he fed it scraps and pieces but this cat wander the camp and was friends with over prisoners. This cat was a free spirit in a world of lost souls trap it caught rabbits and lived both in and out of the camp. The cat kept Çavo on the straight and narrow. So how will he react when the cat disappears and is eventually found dead? The following story follows John Smith’s it says one of the few prisoners that calms not to be Albanian he claimed his father had taken him from Australia to Albania away from his Australian mother well that is the tale he tells. Will the Australians help him ?

In the camps, most of the prisoners who kept cats did not keep them close to themselves. The cats wandered through the yards, ran off, mated wherever they wanted, and were in a much wilder state than Cuci. But she too was free to make love to the tom-cats of Burrel prison, and once had given birth to two kittens. They had not lived, and it’s said that kittens from a first pregnancy never survive. But Çuci also spent hours on end in the cell with us, even during the night. Almost every evening, she came back to the cell after wandering through the yards and hidden corners of the prison. She squeezed in through the observation window in the door, an opening fifteen centimetres square at the level of the human eye, which the guards always left open.

The cats of the camp are free spirits in a world of trapped souls.

I have tried to cover the bare minimum amount of stories as this is one of the collections that need reading there isn’t much out there of first-hand experience of the world of Hoxha and his hard labour camps. This weaves the world of Spaç and those prisoners into the hope and horrors of the camp and its prisoners. I think that is what hit me hard about the cat story one little animal had hope tied to it but also maybe made them forget the horrors of their daily life. As we see how each prisoner our narrator sees how to get by in their camps and what each one does to survive the horror of the numbing world they are all caught up in. This is one of the most grabbing collections of life in a prison camp from the writer’s own first-hand experience of it. If you like books like a day in the life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Have you a favourite book about being a prisoner in a labour camp?

Winstons score – +A  the world of Hoxha’s camps brought to life in this collection

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Canzone di Guerra by Daša Drndić

Canzone di Guerra

Croatian fiction

Original title – Canzone di Guerra

Translator – Celia Hawkesworth

Source – Review copy

When I heard that Susie had decided to publish some of Dasa back catalogue those books that had come out before her success with Trieste. I was very excited as many of you may know I did meet dad at the old IFFP award when she was shortlisted in 2013 this brief meeting we spoke maybe for half an hour maybe a bit more I was shocked she had read the blog but she was one of these people that this blog had given me chance to meet people I would never come across in my every day life in fact when ever I have doubts about this endeavour to cover world literature and books in translations, which is quite often it is those moments like meeting dad that spur me on. she was a writer that need to be read she saw what was over the Horizon even when we meet she saw the tide of the right was over in the distance and as she had done in her books she has always used the past as a way of highlighting the future. Her we have a woman tracing her own families past but also that of the culture she is from.

There is a Lot of literature about pigs, there is almost no genre of the written word into which pigs have not worked their way. They are found in science(Veterinary, biological, medical) in literature (essays, poetry, belles-lettres), not to mention film and painting. As far as life is concerned, here too, in our everyday life, pigs are all around us, and their destiny in the development of civilisation and technology is increasingly bizarre. The bizarre destiny of pigs is our reality

Even an intro on the section about pigs makes you as a reader think (for me I was remind of the film A private function set in the aftermath of the war in England that had a big at the heart of its story)

This book is made up of a collection of factual and fictional stories that at it heart sees the main character in the book Tea Radan a single mother who many years earlier had relocated to Canada to Toronopte as she tries to look at the emigrant life and those in the country around her. (Dasa had some interesting thought on Canada in the after word there is her description of Canada not the most favourable and full of what I remember of her when I met her that mind) She blends things like Pigs as animals to keep and how they effect society from how we keep them how they were Kept in Tito’s Yugoslavia. What we make of the pigs.This leads Tea to her grandfather a man that like to write to Tito ( I always interested with how Tito’s influence over those post – war years loom large but what at the heart of this book is the two events at the start of Tito reign which is the aftermath of the holocaust and we she in typical Dasa style as she shows how those that we involved with the events. of the holocaust escaped the war an we see how they came to Canada (It is hard to accept the dream of free Canada and then we see events like those that on a ship in 1939 that went from place to place as those on board lost hope) I love this as hot is so much of Dasa the person it is about what makes us tick but also she shows us about what has been and what is to come. It is about being lost in your own life and but also lose of identity.

In the course of the last four years, Sara and I have undergone three migrations. A lot of books have been written about migrations about leaving one’s country, about exile, some very stupid, propaganda, some very intelligent. But all those books state clearly that migration is both dying and being born, that it is a very complex phenomenon, hard to comprehend for anyone who has not experienced it.Our arrival in Rijeka from Belgrade, where I had spent forty years of my life and Sara almost all nine of hers, did not fundamentally from our arrival in Toronto.

The truth of being in Exile described so many times in literature !!

I as always find it hard to describe this as it isn’t a liner novel,  is a documentary novel ( a book of lives shown in pieces a mosaic of a world and lives) in the style of writers like Kluge (I could have said Sebald, but for me it is nearer Alexander  Kluge in the way she like to keep hitting at the spot and that is the spot of a warning this book is over 25 years old but in a way is more relevant now with a new wave of refugees from Ukraine we see how previous  waves of those trying to escape war have suffered in what is the real treatment of refugees and the way we portray how we treat refugees this gap is what is at the heart of the book.Those people caught ion those situation from those involved and trying to escape the holocaust and the aftermath of World War Two to those in the 90s trying to escape the horrors of the Yugoslav wars. At the heart of this is Tea ( a thinly veiled dasa) her family that were effected by both these events and the question of what makes us and what is our story. I mention Kluge as he brilliant in his use if  vigenettes and sometimes footnotes like this book does . In his book 30th April 1945 a book about that day when Hitler shot himself and what was going on around the world at that exact moment. Well this takes that moment the tatters of the war and west the aftermath this is that event taken out in one thread from before the event the horror of world war two to the present which now is 25 years ago ( or is it !!!!) because as we see here those events recalled in the past look so much like the future and that is what made Dasa one of the most important writers of her generation as she never turned to be popular or to be linear or to be easy no she told the truth, she saw what was coming as she had seen it so many times before but unlike others hadn’t a sort of cultural amnesia of the past or even a rose coloured glove of the past no this is the truth this is a written like Hogarth in his depiction of the world she lived in  or Goya in his disasters of war Dasa showed us a world warts and all one we want to look away from but one we should really look straight on at !! Have you a favourite book from Dasa ?

Winstons score – ++++A On of my all time favourite books already along with her other books

Stu’s year of Books winstonsdad best of 2021

I am late to the mark here with my best-of list basically I’ve been reading other Blog and Vlogs best-of list for the last year and completely missed that I had not done my own hitting the ground review and reading-wise it isn’t till now I have decided to go back over the last year and pick those books that have stuck with me. Now this may be a different set of books from highlights I have pick of the months of last year as I feel books change after we read them some grow some just stay others just wilt away. So I am not a huge stats person to now I am moving forward using Goodreads a lot more as a way to track my reading and also gain some end of year stats. I reviewed 91 books from 30 countries. I had want to read more African books last year I had read a few more but there is room for a couple more this year. I read books from North and south America, Africa , Europe and Asia but missed books from Oceania and the Pacific which I need to fix this year.any way here are my books of the year I am doing them in the order I read them in the year.

At night all blood is black by David Diop

This tale of two African soldiers in the trenches a story that hasn’t been talked about a lot it follows what happens when your best friend is shot and the enemy is there and you have to get revenge.

30th April 1945 by Alexangder Kluge

Anyone that has followed this blog in the last couple of years will know a writer I am championing and absolutely love is Alexander Kluge here with have vignettes fact and fiction that circle the world on the day that is near the end of world war two.  His books are rabbitholes for the mind it is hard not to pick the other book by him I read but I will resist anyway go out pick him up !!

Tower by Bae Myung- Hoon

I read a hell of a lot more Korean books this year than I have previously and this was one that really stuck with me a futuristic tower building a dystopic world of interlinking stories that in place are funny.

A musical Offering by Luis Sagasti

I’m seeing a theme her of interlinking stories in the book here is another collection that has music at its heart and a diving board for the tales with like Kluge a mix of fact and fiction I loved his previous book I think he is my favourite Latin American writer at the moment

In memory of memory by Maria Steponova

Oh well, another book that drifts as she goes through her grand flat she looks back on her own families history and her homelands at the same time a book that is in that grey area between fiction and non-fiction in a way.

Elegy for Joseph Cornell by Maria Negroni

Oh another collection here of prose and poetry piece that area a bio and tribute to the artist Joesph Cornell a lost gem from Dalkey a man that like to wander his home city of New york

The cheap eaters by Thomas Bernhard

A new translation of one of his lesser-known books a man is drawn onto a group of men that eat the cheapest meals every day in a government-run restaurant in Vienna. I am a long time Bernhard fan and it is always great to add another title to the list of books I have reviewed by him.

The return of Caravels by Antonio Lobo Antunes

Like Bernhard Antunes is a writer I love and this a bok that mix the past and those seafarers returning to Modern Lisbon much to there horror a writer that always deals with his own countries past so well and openly.

To see out the night by David Clerson

A writer whose novel I loved returns with a collection of short stories, I said in the review I am not a short story fan well going through this years choice I think I am a bigger fan than I think anyway QC have been brought use some great books from Quebec her we have people turning to great apes and secret cities under cities.

Special Needs by Lada Vukic

As many of you may know I work on a ward caring and helping get better people with Learning disabilities that are in crisis so I was wary of this book as it is hard to capture that voice of someone with learning disabilities without it seeming wrong but for me this is the best such voice I have read it is such a voice of someone with Autisms view of the world.

 

3 Minutes and 53 Seconds by Branko Prlja

A series of vignettes form a bildungsroman using the writers love of music and the songs for each year I like this as a lot of the songs I knew some I loved other I didn’t but it was a great way to show the upheaval in the  Balkans in his teen years having to move to a new city and his use of music to convey that another underrated gem from Dalkey

Three Bedrooms in Manhatten by Georges Simenon

I have been working through the Penguin books as they have brought out a lot of his books in New translations here is a book from his time in the US capturing those dark post-war years before the shining fifties to lost souls in a big city.

Well there they are my twelve books of the year as ever I feel I am on my own journey in books I love books that have interlink stories of vignettes around themes and also champing small presses and writers I have loved for a long time. What were your books of the year where did your journey take you last year did our paths cross?

 

Special needs by Lada Vukić

Special needs by Lada Vukić

Croatian fiction

Original title – Specijalna potreba

Translator – Christina Pribichevich- Zoric

Source – review copy

I looked forward to this as it had a child with a disability as its main character as I  feel there aren’t enough narratives with people with disablities and when I read Emil the lead character was an elective mute,  although his view of the world around him to me would put him on the autistic spectrum. many years ago I worked with a man similar to Emil a mute he has a great sense of humour and reading this reminded me of him and he like Emil maybe had great hearing as he loved music. This is the first book by Lada to be translated into English. She published short stories around the web and in magazines and won a number of prizes for her work this book her debut novel won a prize as the best-unpublished work in 2016.

My name is Emil and I’m ten years old. The same as the number of fingers I have when I count them one by one, hiding my hand under my school desk and counting. I don’t know what will happen when I reach eleven. I don’t mean fingers. I mean eleven years of age. How will I count then? The teachersays that fingers have nothing to do with counting. Yopu think with your head, not with your fingers. But that’s the only way I know how to count, I do know how to describe the number eleven, though. It’s two ones stnding next to each other. Like two of Emil’s drooping hjeads. Like most of my low scores in assestments.

The opening and Emil says who he can only get to rten becasue of his fingers.

Emil and his mother  Marina. live together in a small flat in an unnamed city.  He is mute and also has bad legs which mean he has to wear special shoes. All this and the fact all he is able to do in school is count to ten on his fingers. This seems to be trapped by his lack of speech but we view his world which sees him hearing all around him which means he knows what his teachers really think of him as they struggle with fitting him into the class. A touch event is when he hears his teacher has a baby but is yet unaware of her baby. He also has problems connecting with the other kids at the school who just don’t want to get to know him. This leaves him vulnerable to others in a way as he just wants to fit in.  so when someone does show interest in him a local boy that is also a drug dealer he only uses him because he is mute and seems to hear better than others. The other main relationship in the book is mother and son which also sees his uncle put his point of view forward. I love his internal voice it seems to capture someone like Emil so well that unique view of the world of autistic people that filters so much out. add to that a blind professor we have a story that is

You’re so silent, so let me tell you this as well: most people walk through the world unaware of what ies behind the visible and tangibile. I know that, given your incredible hearing, you realize this yourself. You see, these things re like sheet music. In order to know what they say, you have to decipher them. Use the right key. In music we use the treble clef and the bass clef. You don’t read the notes in one key the same way you do another, The rules are dfifferent. And it’s the ame with the world. It lies here before us like a sheet of paoper with a hiddeen melody on it, but not everyone is capable of decipheroing it

Emil’s view is unfiltered ut also he hasn’t ;earnt how to hear yet really.

This is a glimpse into Emil’s world that reminds me of two books that were big hits years ago. They also had special needs children as the narrator. the curious incident in the night which has a similar feel to how Emil looks at the world the fact that emotions and sometimes how the world links together get missed. The other is extremely loud and incredibly close which also like this had a character that had a talent like Emil with his hearing. But this works better having worked with a mute I saw how Emil felt and how others react to the lack of speech some of the events of the book to me right back. I also like his relationship with his mother which also seemed so well drawn. If you like both of those books and books like to kill a mockingbird this is a book that has a glimpse into a world of being mute and how people react to that and sometimes abuse it. Have you a favorite book about someone with a disability?

Blind man by Mitja Čander

Blind man by  Mitja Čander

Slovenian fiction

Original title – Slepec

Translator – Rawley Grau

Source –  review copy

In a podcast, Mitja described himself as a man with three titles the first and his main one for most of his life was as an essayist and literary critic which he did to his 40s then he decides to start helping organize large cultural events such as the city of culture in Maribor and various book events. Then in his last role, he became a director of the publishing house Beletrina. He himself like the main character in his book has always had a problem with his own sight the book came out of his memoir then he decided to make it into a novel. After he got feedback from a well-known Slovenian playwright.

I handed the grocery bags to my wife, sat down at the kitchen table , and pcked up the newspaper. I glanced through the headlines.

“could you bring me something to eat, please? I’m starving, I said without looking up.

She stopped putting the foodaway in the fridge

“They gave you rotten lemos again!

“It happens”I answered calmly. “I doubt it was intentional.”

“This is the second time now. Not long ago iot was the bannas. Those ladies have good eyesight, you know.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m hungry ”

I trusted people on princilpe. I trusted them to always give me back the correct change.

The rotten lemons again this is another passaged that made me laugh

Like tMitja himself the main character is a successful book editor and critic and has been severely impaired vision since his childhood. Thou he has never been part of that blind community so when his vision starts to get worse. He is married and his wife is an editor and translator they live their lives we get some insights like when he shops for the house and returns with fruit and veg she says the people in the shop that gave him the worst produce. This is how he has lived to try to avoid his blindness but after trying to give a talk to a blind group and then is told to apply for funds for his blindness. Then when he doesn’t he appeals but this process ends up being invited into politics and to join and talk to a  party called the front this then grows and becomes the main party in Slovenia and our narrator is invited to join the government and start to organize a large event rather like the city of culture project but this is a huge concept of what will happen in future but the project is underfunded and is maybe a view of the country its self in the 30 years that followed the setting up of Slovenia as an independent country

“You get more beautiful every time I see you!”

“you say that, but you’re half-blind, you know – you don’t see wrinkles, the circles under my eyes, or the other blemishes…but thanks anyway, dear”

In my eye women with truly long hair automatically had an advantage. When we were stdying world literature at university, and even later, when we would bumpo into each other now and thenn, she had always kept her hair short, or medium length at most, Our most important lectures had been in the evening, and they were often the prelude to a long night, she had been one of the most avid oartiers I knew, and no jealous boyfriend could ever comvience her it was time to go to bed, Her boyfriends in fact, had always been somewhere far way,either studying in foreign lands or foreigners themselves, guys she had met travelling or on student exchanges.

I loved the opening of this chapter a compliment or was it !

 

The first part of the book seems to be based on Mitja own life he is blind but he has never been in the government but has been involved in the fact he had organized these large cultural events he has seen how politicians are at first hand. So this is a thinly veiled look at how Slovenia has been since they began so our narrator is impaired in his vision and many in the government has been short-sighted or impaired. There is a great use of language and humor in the book he says in the podcast he used to tell anecdotes you can see some of them grow out into the text a sense of humor and satire of his own life and the world he lives in. He also said he used short sentences in this novel. The descriptive way is described is well caught as that of a man with impaired vision ( having worked and often chatted with a man that lost his vision slowly like Mitja the veg story remind me of a story he told me of making breakfast when his wife had mistakenly put peaches in the place of tomatoes so when he ate his breakfast it was hot peaches, not tomatoes!, also the mapmaking we spent many months walking into the village where I worked till he eventually walked himself remind me of our narrator talking about his blindness in the office )so the world is seen through his prism it is a man trying to work out his place in the world the kafkaesque quest for a grant shows what makes us blind in the eyes of government what happens when you are blind but can see! What happens when those running a country get blinded by their own shining lights rather than what is in front of them a brilliant insight into Slovenia a man that strides both sighted and impaired world but also is blind running a project that is too large and underfunded from a shortsighted government !! What happens like the many chess references in the book that a country plays out and ends up in a stalemate you go back to what point did it happen! a sort of satire of Slovenia!

Winstons score -A an insight into one man’s life that is a wider commentary on the world he lives in

With an unopened umbrella in the pouring rain by Ludovic Bruckstein

With an unopened umbrella in the pouring rain by Ludovic Bruckstein

Romanian fiction

Original title – Mitriya Sgura BeGeshem

Translator – Alistair Ian Blythe

Source – review copy

This is the second work by Ludovic Bruckstein I have reviewed he was a Romanian writer who had disappeared from the Romanian cannon of writing as he left Romania to live in Israel where his brother had settled just after the second world war in the late ’40s. SO in 1970 when Ludovic Bruckstein decided to leave the communist government wiped his works from the country. Bruckstein became a writer after the second world war he grew up in the Town of Sighet where the stories in this collection are set. He was inspired to write by the story of the sonder Komando uprising in Auswitchz which formed his first work a play called Nightshift. He like the rest of his town was sent to Auswitchz in May 1944 as they all went on four trains of his family there was just Ludovic and his brother survived of the 13,000 jews of Sighet only 2000 lived.

Hersch-Leib was a porter from an early age. “I worked in transportation” he wes leter went to say.

He was always cheerful, enterprising, born into a farming family, with numerous siblings, he was never one to twiddle his thumbs waiting for his mother to put food on his plate. He went out to earn his bread.

A man tht drag himself up from the bottom upwards.

The trap was also set in Sighet what he does with these stories is keep alive the spirit of the town at that time as his son said in an interview the town was very cosmopolitan in the pre-war time a mix of people from lots of places and lots of religions. These stories start with the Sabbath and the bargemen and the blacksmith of the local town in the title story. Then in other stories we hear of Hersch Lieb the local porter who grows his business from a young age, he also appears in a later story as a businessman who regularly comes to the town with his large family opts for three stale rolls to make his penny go further Avram opts for the harder sale rolls. Then We have Chaim rives a man with no fear poor but broad-shouldered and healthy a loner of a man that never got conscripted in both wars but in May 44he took his life rather than go on the train. The stories mostly end with the sad day the jews of Sighet left on four long trains as it is put 70 in each carriage 43 carriages to each of the four trains take the town to their death. One of the different stories involves the Italian troops that came to stay in the town which at the time was a hub for the railways they sing, play their mandolins, and lighten up the town in comparison to the Hungarians and German in the town. This is just a glimpse of the tales of the town never to be the same after those trains leave.

Chaim rives was afraid of nothing, He wasx afraid of nothing hard work, nor illness, nor the bad dogs in poeople’s yard, nor dreams, nor ill omens, these was only one thing alone of which he was terribly afraid; tomorrow. He gladly endured hunger today, so long as he knew that tomorrow he would have something to eat,

This fear probably came from childhood, when he had never enough to eat. His mother was a washerwoman with large number of children and a large amound of laundry to wash. He couldn’t remember his father. Nor did his mother ever speak to him of the other children about their father: maybe she had forgotte, maybe she didn’t have the time, maybe there was no point.

From the story the fear one of my favourites in this collection.

Ludovic sin says in the interview here with Susan from Istros Books and also in a piece for Calvert Journal. That his father always told him stories of his hometown in those pre-war years. This collection reminded me of the lost world we met in Grigory kanovich book Shelti love song set in another Jewish community that isn’t there anymore.  Ghost lift of the page as you read of the character that lived in the town before may 1944 before the train left and 11000 souls lost their lives in the Auswitchz. I always say we can never have enough stories that make us remember the holocaust but also where hate can lead. The book is also illustrated by his son who has done drawing for each story. As his som said his father was a realist and unlike Wiesel who he said how could this happen ?, where has God been? Bruckstein knew Wiesel in fact they grew up and went on the same train to Auswitchz two voices of the lost town. A writer worth being rediscovered he brings this town alive with it characters that jump off the page Bruckstein gives the voice to these ghost from the highest to the lowest in the town. Have you read either of his books to be translated?

Catherine The Great and The Small by Olja Knežević.

Catherine The Great and The Small by Olja Knežević.

Croatian fiction

Original title – Katarina, Velika i Mala

Translators – Paula Gordon and Elien Elias-Bursac

Source = review copy

It has been a while since I have reviewed a book from Istros books well here I have one of a new series they have been publishing called On the margins. this is the second I will be doing a review of the first book soon. Olja Knežević studied creative writing at Birkbeck college was where she got an MA this book grew out of her dissertation for her MA.  She has lived in London, , California, Belgrade, and London. This was a bestseller when it came out.

I am Catherine the great, hiding away in small room

We have proclaimed this small room an office. English people calla room of this size a broom closet. the english people are spoiled, or so my husband and I say, even when they’re poor. Thats our attitude all year long right up to Christmas, when the bitter cold sets in. Then we marvel at them running around town in the howling wind, going about their buisness as usual, bald me without hoats, women wearing ballet flats without sock, everyone sleeveless, and againwe remember where we’ve come from a small mediterranean country where as soon as the north wind blows, no one goes outside, where everyone leaves work early – noon at latest – with the excuse of attending funerals and paying respects

The opening and the madness of us living her in the UK viewed by Katarina

We follow Katarina the main character in this book from the late seventies when she is a teen selling ice cream and trying to get by in the small country of Montenegro as it is now but then still part of Yugoslavia her home town was called Titograd after the great leader of Yugoslavia. What we see is her family life this is back up with the cracks that are appearing in the country. As she loses her mother her family is all in the same house as her grandmother is there as well. As she starts to blossom she starts a relationship starts Siniša with whom she loses her virginity. Her other friend Milica is wanting to break free of Titograd Katarina knows her mother as well she calls an Aunt. So When Milica goes there and studies Drama she also discovers Drugs in the Big city. So Katarina is found a job as a child Minder and studied to go Belgrade where she is sent to help and keep eye on her friend. She also dabbles this all happens as the homeland falls apart but this strong girl manages to get out and the latter part of the book catches her in London.

The year was 1988. July in Belgrade was intolerably hot; smell of dead dogs and cats, strays killed by the hear, and dried up insects, black and brown cockroaches. But the pressure was on for my finals. I had to be like a youing stoic and, with books as my only defence, resist desire – summer’s naked, sweaty, sexual desire- and grapple with my demons.

The summer in the big city as she starts to live away from her family

This is a great insight into the break up of Yugoslavia from a young female perspective the pressure of growing up as the world around you starts to tear its self apart it also is a personal view of those times one feels that a lot of this is the writers own life and loves from the western music they listen to to the places they live Titograd now in modern Montenegro called Podgorica the capital of that small country was where Olja was born she has also lived in Belgrade and Zagreb which gives her perspective on all sides of the war and she also lived in London. This is a great coming of age rale the ups and downs of being a female growing up and also of being a woman Katarina i n’t perfect and that is what drew me in / she is a flawed character. This is a perfect choice for women in Translation month. Have you read this or the other on the margins series book

The end and Again by Dino Bauk

The end and Again by Dino Bauk

Slovenian fiction

Original title -Konec. Znova

Translator – Timothy Pogacar

Source – review copy

I move to another small press and one of my favourite over recent years Istros has been brought us all wonderful titles from the Balkans and here we have a Debut novel from a former lawyer and civil servant Dino Bauk.  He was a columnist and began writing short stories. Before this came out it was his debut novel it won the Best debut novel at the Slovene book fair in 2015. It was also longlisted for another book prize in his homeland. This book is set in the years of the break up in the former Yugoslavia and focus on the members of a band.

“So you must be sister something!”

“I’m Mary ”

“Of course, the virgin Mary, who else?”

He felt that his child like didn’t anger, but amused her. She rewarded him with a changed teasing smile, which fuelled his courage. He rose from his seat to take an equal place amoung the small group and push closer to her as she stood behinf her two brothers and sister. One of the two slich=k assholes tried to guide the conversation, but Denis was communicating with her onl, turning the other three Mormons into uslessappendages, which they themselves understood afters severak stops, and gradually retreated into their own cnersation

Denis meeting Mary with her fellow Mormon when he was younger.

The book has a fragmented nature is made of vignettes of memories and a stream of consciousness style. The story is around the break up of Yugoslavia and the effect on the four members of a band Peter, Goran, Denis, and Mary. The band is rather like the famous Serbian band EKV which at this time huge. Denis is the main character in a way he was one of those that lost his identity in the middle of this story he has no place to live being expelled from his homeland due to a problem with his paperwork. whilst his bandmates remain Slovenian and they get caught up in post band activities and make money and corruption as one becomes a manager and the other works in local government whilst their bandmate is near via the books he read whilst on the front reading books in a roofless library and finding out what is going on in the world via his books. Mary is the one that connects them all a Mormon and friend of them then they were sixteen and in the band. Then in the future she tries to find out what happened to Denis and she had seen the world. It is a story of growing and forming one’s identity and what had been lost to some in that and overs that disappeared at the time.

Recording 4

Denis, peter and Goran laugh out loud, at first genuinely, then as theu og on, it’s more and more forced, like teenagers who wanted to show as many passers by as possible what a good time they;’re having, Peter and Goran walk ahead, handing off a bittle of wine, which they alsooffer Denis. She doesn’t drink at all, and Denis declines a swig as well, probably because of her. They had emptied one in the park, before the evening fell and peter and Goran will clearly finish the second on the to the condcert hall.

They drink but Denis is influneced a bit by Mary into not drinking .

This is a layered book as we see all the four-character go from the starting point of a band at 16 and the way post-war in Slovene. The path of each character reflects on things that happened. From the quick wealth post-war that was available and corruption in the two men that remain Peter and Goran. Denis’s tale is a fragmented one as he has disappeared from the people’s lives but also his lies pf place and identity than being in a library of books and discovering a wider world as he read through from one ward. Then Mary is an outsider looking in one the three boys and their lives it is about what haunts them in that boast the loss of a friend but also they in some cases have lost themselves to the future. It is a small window into the war years and aftermath one four people in Slovenia without giving us a solution to there actions or an end or as the tile say the end and again!  Remember to support or small presses through this madness!

Billiards at the Hotel Dobray by Dušan Šarotar

Billiards at the hotel Dobray by Dušan Šarotar

Slovenian fiction

Original title – Biljard v Dobrayu

Translator – Rawley Grau

Source – review copy

Anyone that follows this blog knows what a fan I was of the first book by Dusan to be translated into English Panorama it was one of those books that just lingered with me long after I read it and here is another by him an earlier book but an important book as it was one of the first by a Slovenian writer to deal with the plight of the Jewish population in Slovenia. It is a personal story as it incorporates his own grandfather’s story. A recent visit to our own UK holocaust museum in the summer which like this was full of personal history even sixty years later it is still important to remind the people of event this is told through a single building in a single town what Dusan does is use his personal history to tell a wider story of the events near the end of the second world war.

The old porcelain sky was polished to a shine, It lay motionless above the black earth. Like a coffee cup someone had long ago turned upside down on its saucer. Perhaps this was the work of many fortune tellers who read coffee grounds. Now the black sediment covered the sauce, and high above it, in the blue of the sky, only small traces could be seen, broken signs and msterieous shap[es, which only the ost inspired could interpret.That morning one of those women kept glancing at the black sludge as if she was looking at thesky; then she’d merely shake her head and spit outout a thick dollop of phlegm . She was sitting on the front steps of the Hotel Dobray

Such an evocative descriptive passage here.

The Hotel Dobray of the title was one of those imposing Hotels that many small cities and places have around Europe. This is settled in the town of Sobota which is in the northeastern corner of Slovenian between three countries it was occupied in the war by the Germans they left the Hungarians in charge of the town. The t=story is told from one man’s story which in a way is a wider story of the town. Franz Schwartz is walking back to the town after like all his fellow Jews having been forced out a year earlier. This was just as his son was having a bar mitzvah a talented violinist due to give a performance. The Hotel is housing a special tribunalJoszef the man doing this can see the writing on the wall he knowns the read army in the year from when the Germans arrived in 1944 to 45 and the Red Army expect any time. Then we have a factory owner and local character Josip and a prostitute Linna a former singer and like her friends in the brothel stuck in this sleep backwater as the war draws to its end.As we see Franz heading there and what has happened in that hard year.

The wind borne  byt the plain from the east dispersing the smoke from the station and distributing it noisily amoung the houses. It was then what ever hope Franz Schwartz still carried inside him collapsed. He knew that Ellsie and Izak would never again appear out of the fog. Here, for a long time to come, people would still be getting on  and off trains, embracing each other and saying teir farewells, but he would always be waiting. He alone would be walking across the tracks and watching for the train that would one day take him away, too

The day they left the town before he returned aloned.

This is the wonderful historic view of the writer’s hometown it must have hit a nerve as a few years after the book came out Murska Sobota put up its first memorial to the fallen Jews of the town. It has a woven tapestry of a small corner of Slovenia from one man’s story to a wider tale and a remembrance of a building and the characters that used it during those war years. The action is slow in this book I was reminded of the films of Bela Tarr the place although in Slovenia was once in Hungary this is another tale of a small town dealing with bigger issues like Tarr’s films and Krasznahorkai who writes most of the books they are based there is a an air of place in this book but also of a place struggling with change the loss of so much marks a place as Dasa Drndrc once said to me when the names of those lost Italian Jews were taken out of the Italian version of the book the fabric of the book fell apart like society itself. Another gem from Istros and Dusan worth reading as one man muses what has happened and what might have been.

The trap by Ludovic Bruckstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trap by Ludovic Bruckstein

Romanian fiction

Original title – Scorbura

Translator – Alistair Ian Blyth

Source – review copy

One of the great things about reviewing translated fiction from around the world is those discoveries that turn up over the years those lost books and writers. In the great intro to the book from its translator about how Bruckstein maybe is the greatest Romanian writer of the post-war era but was little known as he was banned by the Romanian regime. He wrote a number of plays including the night shift that was about sonder Komando revolt at Auschwitz. He wrote this book late in his life it is semi-autobiographical Like the character Ernst in the book he lived in the Transylvanian town of Sighet in the Ghetto there he lost all his family a[art from himself and his younger brother as with most of the towns Jews.

To ernst, a student who had been abroad, the law seemed not only humilating, nt only insulting, but also stupid and ridiculous. It was a small town and everybody knew everybody knew everybody else, and for a fact, everybody knew who was a jew. And who was a Romanian. And who was a Hungarian. And who was a Ukranian and who was a Zipser erman. And who was a Gypsy . Nobody tries to hide what he was. The law was quite simply idotic. If a person knows you, what is the point of his making you wear a sign.

Ernst questioins wearing the star on their clothes.

The book is a selection of two novellas The trap and The rag doll both are set in the Carpathian mountains in the rural towns like his own childhood home of Sighet and shows the ripple effect of the Germans taking over and the changes that brought about and how it ripped the heart out of this town. I am focusing on the trap which has Ernst A student who had spent time away from his home town dealing with having to wear a yellow star. He says why can’t Catholics have a c the reformist has an r and so on as he points out we all we are jews as they are Ukranian or Hungarian or the local Zipser germans. There is a scene where all the jews are stopped and held by so troops for hours Ernst is one of the ones that questions why they are being held there and what for he even says he asks in his best Viennese German to the young troop. The growing trouble as we see the happenings in the town through Ernst’s eyes as they see there lives shrink and the transport trains start to take the Jews away from Sighet.

On the morning of 16 may 1944, Ernst woke up abruptly in his bed of moist hay in the loft of Ioun Stan’s barn

He thought he had heard a noise rising from the town, a strange hum made up of words and cries, mingled with harsh orders. Was it a dream? No, the sound persisted, perhaps more faintly than during sleep, but even so, it could still be heardup there on the slope of Agris Hill

The Ghetoo is being cleared and it wakes Ernst

I was recently at the Uk holocaust museum with My wife we were struck by the exhibition and the stories of those involved. But what is never captured is the lose of a community here Brickstein does a similar thing to the Lithuanian writer Grigory kanovich did in the book Shelti Love song which I reviewed a couple of years ago that caught the lose of a community the Shelti jews of Lithuania here we see the Jewish community of Sighet which was 13000 before the war which was nearly fifty percent of the population I was reminded of the way Dasa Drndric described the Italian edition of her book Trieste which had a list of Italian jews killed was passed around a crowd and if some new a name it was taken out. I read up on Sighet in 2002 there were just twenty jews so it shows the impact of the war in that community Ernst is based on Ludovic he sees his family friends and community slowly squeezed out of the town. I am one that thinks there can never be enough of books like this brought out in English and discovered as we see growing hatred in our own country we need to see what happens further down that road of hatred !! Istros have brought us a lost gem of Mittel European fiction

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