Bellevue by Ivana Dobrakovoa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellevue by Ivana Dobrakova

Slovakian fiction

Original title – Bellevue

Translators Julia and Peter Sherwood

Source – review copy

I was sent three Slovakian books as part of a tour that is happening in the UK by the writers of these books here is the first of these three books Ivan Dobrakova. Considered a leading light in the blossoming contemporary Slovak scene with her books reflecting part of modern Slovakian life and that is having to live abroad so expat literature of Slovakian abroad. She has been compared to writers like Rachel Cusk or Deborah Levy in English as OI haven’t read them it is hard to compare but for me, she captured the experience of living abroad as an expat.

There were five sleeping bags on the floor, and holdalls, pillows, handbags, bath towels, cosmetics, sunscreen, bits of clothing, books lay scattered all around the place, a complete mess. I helped to carry the stuff to a two-bedroom flat in the annexe reached through the main building.past a big drainpipe and a flowerbed, accross a short metal bridge above some sort of crater filled with gravel and finally down a long balcony, the second doo on the left. The flat was very clean, light, with a view of the building opposite, a bathroom, a toilet

When she first arrives at Bellevue and tries to settle.

Blanka has accepted a job in France, well in Marseilles at the Bellevue a centre for people with physical disabilities that has volunteers at a camp in the summer to help out. As she boards the night train for Prague to venture across the train to cross Europe it is full of fellow young people from East  Europe like Poles all trying to get a better life in Europe. She arrives and the Bellevue centre is there on the top of the hill. She arrives and is drawn into the lives of her fellow volunteers and works at the centre looking after the patients but also the love affairs and relationships within the group as she starts to meet people Martina Patrick and Drago some of the  European people at the camp is a mix of Them and Algerians working there. she is drawn into the world of the camp one of the beach days and nightclubs and work. Behind all this Blanka struggles to fit in she is a sensitive 19-year-old a fragile girl maybe this trip wasn’t the right choice for her !! But then a single event hinges a change in her life meaning she is injured and a reversal in her role with Bellevue!!

I’m trying to be helpful, I see that he’s exhausted, he’s fed up with me, he seems to be avoiding me, as if he, too wason the brink of a nervous breakdown, so I brig him fruit, stroke his hairand hand him cloths to fling at a hole in the wall, I’ve no ideawhy he enjoys that, tossing dirty tea towels at a hole in the wall after lunch, I keep begging him not to be cross with me, to forgive me, I know I’m being impossible, I know how difficult I make things for him. but it’s just the time being, I’m sure everything will be all right again soon , just bear with me for a little longer, I don’t have anyone else, everyone hates me, please Drago

Here we see how she is pushed out at times with the line everyone hates me as she is the squre peg in the round hole of the camp.

This tale captures a mix of Hope the dream of the French Riveria and working there for the summer against what is Blanka main problem and that is she has depression and very little self-belief in herself. What is seen is the usual your life of a group of young people when gathered together but her we have Blanka view which sadly is that of an outsider inside the world she is when her life hinges on that one event later in the book you wonder what will happen to her that is the question. Blanka is a different character than I expect she is fragile and in that case unreliable as a narrator at times. Well this is an interesting strand of Slovakian fiction one that I have seen in other books from Polish writers that is the one of the expat experience as I have said before this is a genre that will grow over time a sort of European version of what is the Windrush lit scene that of being an outsider in a new place.  Have you read any books from Slovakia?

 

in the name of the father by Balla

 

In the name of the father by Balla

Slovakian fiction

Original title – V mene otca

Translators – Julia and Peter Sherwood

Source – Review copy

I bring the first book from Slovakia tonight , I’m shocked as I have a lot of Czech novels on the blog but so far not many Slovakian books. Anyway Balla is the name Slovakian writer Vladimir Balla goes by.He studied Economics at Bratislava and then took a job at the district office of Nove Zamky. He has been writing since the 1992 and has published ten books. This book won the book of the year in Slovakia. Balla is often called the Slovakian Kafka for his style of writing.

The era of the great blackout began with the drawing of the drapes across our kitchen window. My wife announced in the semi-darkness that the window would stay covered so that people outside wouldn’t see what we were up to.She claimed the neighbours could see into our kitchen.She ascribed fundamental importance to this. She got into her head that our neighbours sole purpose in life was to spy on the family:

His wife goes slightly mad, but wasn’t every one watching at one time !

The book is the Novella and three very short stories by Balla. The main story “in the name of the father” has been described as being his most Autobiographical work to date. It follows the life story of an unnamed narrator. As he reflects on his life of woes. From the opening lines where he is told not to bear children by a doctor that hate the army and uniforms, where he turned up in his. Then he ends up in a weird house that his brother has built there is a number of rooms below the surface that the brother keeps a number of weird items. Then he starts to tell how his life has been. But there is a sense he feels the victim in his life but as his story unfolds we see he has been the instigator of a lot of his troubles.From his parents to his wife who goes mad and his own two sons. They all mix with the world around them which is a world of shifting nations and people drifting and also a sense of a new post-soviet world of people being individuals rather than a collective, rather like his own family fracturing apart. The three stories follow similar threads of home a woman at home whilst her husband is away. Then a weird tale of two men sharing a house. The first asked his friend to join, only to find he actually hates this chap. But there is also an echo of the wider world changing around them as he is ignored by his friends as if he has a contagion which happens to be the title of the story.

What soon became even more unpleasant was the gap that opened between how my friend and I perceived the process of contamination of our immediate eviroment, To cut a long story short, there came a point when the contagion engulfinfing the furniture and the walls began to affect my friend much more rapidly and with greater intensity than it affected me, his fresh fits manifesting themselves almost as soon as, say, new fuinture had been delivered, the walls repainted or the floor replaced.

From the story contagion a friend sees his friend as an enemy but also the world around him change.

There is a hard thing to call someone the “Kafka ” of somewhere, it isn’t always a title. I like attached to writers. Now that said there is a sense of people being in a world they don’t know but these are post soviet worlds where the goals of peoples lives have changed. hen there is a sense of self-persecution that  Kafka gave his character is very much. In the main narrator of In the name of the father. He feels the world has loaded him with what is wrong with it. The house is maybe a metaphor for this world they built it him and his brother to be a dream home but it ends up not being that.what he has captured are the shifting nature of the post-soviet world of shift border,s people and a change in the nature of people and their attitudes for others.That has been on many books. From Krasznarhorkai satantango a village on the edge, or Andres Ban in the recent Dasa Drndric novel a man also summing his life in the post-soviet world. He is using human nature in all its flaws and a wonderful post-modern look at the world around him. A great intro into Slovakian fiction from a new publisher for this blog Jantar.

 

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