Venice The Lion,the City and the Water by Cees Nooteboom

Venice The lion, the City and the Water by Cees Nooteboom

Dutch travel memoir

Original title – Venetië-de leeuw, de stad en het wate

Translator – Laura Watkinson

Source – review copy

I have featured three books before by the great Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom, I thought it was more oh well I have a few to add at some point. He is one of my favorite writers especially his travel writing I loved his letters to Posiden the yearly ode to the Spanish Islands he has spent many summers visiting.  here we have another place that seems close to his heart Venice he has been traveling there for over fifty years and he always tries to stay somewhere new in the city and he seems to have read most if not all the novels short stories and nonfiction books around the city itself.

A first time, there is always a first time. It is 1964, a rickety old train from Communitst Yugoslavi, final destination; Venice. Beside me, a young woman, American. The long journey here left its mark on us. Everything is new. We take the city as it comes. We have noexpectations, except for those asscoiated with the city’s name, and so everything is good. It is all stored away in the secret tissue of the memory. The train, the cty, the name of the young woman. We all lose touch, lead different lives, find each other our lives, find each other again, much later in the other side of the world, tell each other our lives. More than Fifty years after, that first day, in 1964, will find its way into a story, a story called “Gondolas”.The city, everything that had vanished in the meantime, will form the backdrop for that story.

The opening remembering his first time in the city.

Nooteboom is a wander whether on foot or the vaparetto that cross the city he first arrived on from a train from Communist then Yugoslavia in 1964 he has tried to discover something new each time. The city is full of tales he talks of the old city under the Doges. The earliest writers like Boccacio describing the city. The labyrinth nature of the city from Borges’s short story of the city he explanation of the word in Dutch which has a different meaning than in English. Then many great writers that had later written about the city he tells us of James and Mann Pound and Kafka. Later he later stays in a hotel that Kafka wrote his sad letters to Felice. This is a man that loves to discover anew the city every time he drifts from Rushkin’s time in Venice. Later we are discussing Cassanova and he reminds me of the books of Miklos Szenkuthy who write a book about Cassanova which had caught my eye a while ago. He brings to life the city its ghosts and the very fabric of the place.

A friend had once, long ago, spent her wedding night here, and she would later tell methat Kafka had written his sad letter to Felice in this hotel, a letter that probably read as if it were at last. That same year he had sent her more than two hundred letters and cards, so the message in this letter must have come as a nasty surprise. He has, he writes, reached the conclusion that art and love do not go together, he fears that nothing would come of his work. He expresses it more clearly in his diary:”Coitus as puinshment for the happiness of being together. I shall isolate myself from everyone, living as ascetically as possible, more ascetically than a bachelor, that is the only way for me to endure marriage”

His visit to the Hotel that Kafka stayed in

This is a book for any lover of Lit and Venice as he brings the city to life through those writers that have written about it, I have never been to Venice but love anything to do with the city ever have since seen Michael Palin working as a bin man the recent BBC series following the everyday folk of the city. Cees is a man of book and this for me has given me a list of books to read. As travel to the city is near impossible for the moment with the coronavirus meaning travel is hard you can see the city anew and vibrant through Cees eyes his fifty years of getting lost and discovering new things all brought to life by one of my favorite translators Laura. Have you ever read Cees travel writing?  Have you a city you want to visit at some time?

An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky

An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky

German fiction

original title – Verzeichnis einiger Verluste

Translator – Jackie Smith

Source – Review Copy

This will be the first book by Judith Schalansky I did read Giraffes neck a few years ago when it was on the Booker longlist but never got round to reviewing it. Her books are work in art themselves having twice won the prize for the most attractive book in German with earlier books she studied Art History and Communication design this is her fifth novel four have been translated into English. The book is a collection of twelve stories that we had lost overtime in her intro she says things like the last Male white rhino meaning they will die out,  an animal from the barrier reef that had disappeared. A lost jet a crashed spacecraft so many things while she wrote this book. We are always losing or seing or world change.

The reprts describing this improbable patch of land were just detailed enough to plausibly prove that it did inded once exist, even if the chronometer never determined its exact postition, for neither Tasman nor Wallis, neither Bougainvile nor even a captain of some wayward whaling ship ever sighted its gentle shores. Again and Again I studied the routes of the south sea expeditions, followed the dashed and dotted lines accross the graticule and through the paper ocean, and compared them with the presumed postition of that island which, in a rash pf imperial setiment, i had mafrked in the bottom most empty square.

Tuanki a lost island of the south seas reported but since lost

We start with an Atholl that disappeared in 1842 or 43 that was there and disappeared in what was an earhtquake the story deals with the fact it was barely known then wasn’t ther as so few westerners had see it in the middle of the Paciffic.  Then the Caspian tiger that walked tfrom Northen turkey through Iran and Afghanstan to the ver west of china when it was there this sepecies died out twenty years ago. we follow the last of them Schalansky starts to beath life in those lost piece she has gagther he box of delights her cabinet of loss. A lost piece of Sappho a lost painting the great Casper David Friedrich. Lost Villa from a famlous groundbreaking architect. A former huge East german Palace this is a lament of what is so eay to lose but these are all things that hadn’t they been collect we may haven’t of fully heard off.

Designed by a collective of architects led by Heinz Graffunder at the East German Building academy, the symbolic goverment building was errected on the derelict land known as Marx-Engels-Platz, on the former site if Berlin’s city palace, which had been demolished in 1950 it took thirty-two months to construct, and was inaugurated on April 23, 1976 as the poeple’s Palace

Palace of the repbulic the lost former Palace of East Germany like the country nearly a figment of imagination.

This isa a collection fo ghost not ghost stories but the sense of what was in each case a n island in the middle of the sea there then gone this has often happened with  earhtquakes and change in ccurrents etc there are place we know now that that won’t be there one day or even the suprise lose like Monserat a coup,e of decade agos. I love the show Abandon engineerong as we see the carcas of what was her is another literary Elephant graveyard , we could all make are own in a way things we know ior we knew. I rememeber the thearte in atockport the Davenport I went at least four or five years to see the pantomine but now there is car park. this is a collection of things she has found over time like a collector a stamp album of loss. Her prose brings each of these stories to life. As with her earlier books this is also a stunningly beautiful work. We all have loss from the personal to the loss of animals, lost building a sort of nod to her East german past with the lose of the grand palace but also the loss of all that it was to be East German good and bad there is an Ost culture from the tv shows to the food and drink they had.Have you read any of her Books ?

 

The day my Grandfather was a hero by Paulus Hochgatterer

The day my Grandfather was a hero by Paulus Hochgatterer

Austrian fiction

Original title – Der Tag, an dem mein Großvater ein Held war

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source – review copy

We will skip of from Spain and move to world war two set novella from Austria. I had read the crime Novel that Paulus Hochgatterer is best known for back in 2012 but it slipped under the review guide but I seem to remember I enjoyed it so when this slim volume fell through the door I had to have a double-take to see if it was the same writer but it was which for me was great I love seeing writers trying different styles of books over there writing career.

They say my name is Nelli. Sometimes I believe them. sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I think my name is Elisabeth or Katharina. Or Isolde, like the young sales assistant in the hat shop. She’s the reason I go into town from time to time. When I stand outisde the shop and peer through tje window, I see Isolde’s torso floating around inside, nack and forth along the shelves. The head with its auburn plait floats in top. I can’t see anything from the waist down. I imagine her lower half having sat itself down somewhere. Perhaps all the toing and froing has become to exhausting. Perhaps it doesn’t like the plait or the way in wjich the upper half says .How may I help you ? But I don’t gell anyone these sort of things

The fragile sense of Nelli here shaken by her past and not sure of herself.

The book is set in the latter part of world war two in 1945 and our narrator is a young girl she has been sent to live with family in the farmlands of Lower Austria. There is a blur to how she got there almost a sense of a girl that had maybe seen too much of the war at home. Nelli was involved with the bombing at Nibelungen tank factories, she had stopped speaking so when the family takes in a fellow victim of the war an Emaciated Russian soldier all he seems to have is a rolled-up canvas that is his most precious object this above all he has chosen to keep safe. There is an illusion in the book that this picture could be a famous lost piece of art from the war The tower of Horse by Franz Marc the picture now lost may have been Mikhail’s picture they decide to hide him and keep him safe passing him off as a fellow Swabian like Nelli. But what happens when the Wehrmacht turns up with a feeling he may be there what will they Do?

Sitting on the left of the corner bench is a young man. I’ve never seen beforfe. He has long blond hair and reddish blond stubble, and is so thin that he looks on the verge of starvatgion. He is wearing trousers and a coat made of filthy canvas.He has one arm around something that could be a pipe or a piece of fence post. It reaches up to his shoulder when he’s sitting, and its wrapped in green oilcloth tied with a carrying strap. The man is as still as a statue and his eyes are fixed fixed on the floor “Who is that” Annemarie ask me softly. “No idea,” I say “Someone whose house has been bombed pr a spy, and I tell her it’s because that’s what I imagine a spy to look like.

Mikhail and one first things noticed is the wrapped up paining in the Oilskin.

This is a slim book but a book that lasts with you Nelli is a narrator that has seen the horror of war so when the Family hides Mikhail and how he is hidden by her family. The narrative is hers but there is descriptions of the world she is living in that bring the world alive of the farmlands of lower Austria. Nelli comes over well as a damaged figure Hochgaterer is a Child Psychiatrist by profession so he manages the fragile mind of a young girl that had seen more horrors than over will see in a whole lifetime. This is only just a 100 pages long but captures a little everyday corner of the war so well and a tale of hiding a fellow damaged soul in Mikhail that has had the worst horrors of the war. This a mix of the Machine gunners ,  whistle down the wind and A meal in winter stuck in a blender and transported to Austria.

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting

Norwegian fiction

Original title –  Søsterklokkene

Translator – Deborah Dawkin

Source – Personal copy

I reviewed his debut novel sixteen trees of the Somme, a couple of years ago. Lars Mytting first caught the English readers with his Non-fiction book about wood Norweigan wood chopping, stacking, and drying. Then his debut np0vel that tracked history via a tree and a coffin and a family history was touching so when I read it. So when this dropped in on winstonsdad’s tower. This is the first of three books and it is based around a wooden Stave church on the side of a lake that is meant to be moved to German to make way for the New.

The sister rarely left the Hekne farmstead, even though they got about better than folk might think. They walked in a waltz- like rhythm, as if carrying a brimful water pail between them. The slopes below the farm were the only think that defeated them. Hekne was situated on a very steep incline, and in the winter the slippery paths were treacherous. But since it was a sunny slope, the spring thaw came early in the year, sometimes by March, ad then the twins would come out with the springtime sun .

Henke was amoung the earliest settlements in the valley and the family had chosen one of the bestg spots for a faermstead. They owned not one , but two seters- summer farms further up the on the mountainside, each boasting a fine milking shed and dairy and a herd of well-fed cows that grazed on the deep green grass all summer.

The Hekne have long been there and have one of the best farms that the conjoined twins live in.

we first find out about the sister bell that is in the church. The church was made in the 1200’s and the bells where cast in silver after the story of two conjoined sisters Gunhild and Halfrid Hekne. The sisters learned to weave four-handed. whose story mixes myth and history and the story of the casting of the bells that are still two hundred years later in the church. But the myths have grown as the bells have a truly unique sound. So When the village of Butangen is given a new young priest Kai Schweigaard is trying to bring the parish into the modern world as the village is caught up in myths and folklore of the local area like that of the sisters and their bell. As part of that modernizing of the parish s the removal of the stave church, he has found that some Germans want it they send a young german architect to oversee this job now add to the mix that descendant of the sisters Astrid she is a headstrong twenty-year-old. She isn’t the usual village girl that wants to settle down she is caught between her modern mind and her family history add to that she falls for the German Gerhard and struggles to battle the new priest and his changes as she juggles her history and the wanting to find out more about Gehard why this man is a ray of light to her with his city ways. Then the bells take over!!!

Gerhard Schonauer stared after the girl for a long time, Her features made him want to draw her, there was a unique quality about her. She was quick and less reserved than the other villagers he had met that morning. The description in meyer’s seemed to sum them up precisely. “The Norwegians are a proud and strong race of Germanic descnet, They are more stoic and slower than the Swedes, but not a phlegmatic as Danes. They can seem very closed and sceptical, but once one earned their trust they are loyal and open-hearted, and they are outstanding sefarer, with the world’s best martitime pilots.

The first meeting of Astrid and Gerhard left a huge impression on him as he watched her walk off after first meeting.

This is a wonderful work there is a real feel of a village caught out of time in the way the voices of Astrid and the other locals have been translated with what feels like a country twang to there voices. The book is about change that old clash of an old and new world together and the actual history of a place the village is fictional but the small mountain village he describes and the way of life lived in the village is described as very well crafted in a Norwegian review of the work I looked up to see how much research he had done on the churches places and time. This is a novel that captures you from the first line to the last and brings the reader a real sense of place it is a well craft historical novel that has a love story, family history and folklore.

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

German fiction

original title – Tyll

Translator – Ross Benjamin

Source – review copy

I had thought I reviewed Daniel Kehlmann before but I had read F when it was on the old IFFP list but I didn’t get round to reviewing it rather like this year I think the time was running against me I had half read this in prep for the Booker prize but when it came to picking it up again I started and read it through in a couple of days. As I said I had read F by him and this is one I was sent and had planned to read as it mixes folklore, historic and a nod to the present in this work which is considered his best book.

Weeks pass before his legs allows him to get back on the rope. On the very first day, one of the baker’s daughter appears and sits down in the grass. He knows her by sight; her father often comes to the mill, because ever since Hanna Krell cursed him after a quarrrel he has been plagunesd by rheumatism. The pain won’t let him slepp, which is why he needs claus’s protective magic.

The boy consideres whether to chase her away. But first of all it wouldn’t be nic, and secondly he hasn’t forgotten that she won the stone throwing contest at the last village festival

As a youth learning the ropes.

The book focuses on the character of Till Eulenspiegel ( renamed Tyll Ulenspiegal here) the character has been in dutch and German folklore. He is a wandering chap a minstrel and jester all in one. But here we see him three hundred years after he first appeared in folklore since the 1500s the story here is set during the thirty years war. We see him growing up walking the rope in his home village that is like other villages but has a Grimm like feel with mentions of goblins and witches here is where the lines between the history of the time and the folk tales of the time. We see as he grows and events happen he has to leave his village to get into the wider world. Then as he leaves we see the events of the 1600s as he heads to the heart of what was called the never-ending war. The bloody battlefield real-life characters from the time are all interlink in what is a series of episodic nature as he meets mary queen of scots mother and her husband the king of Bohemia, counts and see the great battles of the thirty years war.

The fat count nodded and trued to imagine someone seriously shooting at him, aimingover the iron sights. At him, Martin von Wolkenstein, who had never done anyone wrong, with a real bullet made of lead. He looked down at himself.His back hurt, his bottom was sor from days in the saddle. He stroked his belly and imagined a bullet, he thought of the burnt goosehead, and the metall magic about which Athanasius Kircher had written a book on magnets: if you carried a magnetic stone of sufficent strengthin you pocket, you could deflect the bulletdsand make a man invunerable. The legendary scholar himself had tried it. Unfortunately, such strong magnets were rare and expensive.

The great german thinker Kircher

The story for me was a bit to fragment at the time I have scarce knowledge of the thirty years war and given time constraints I hadn’t time to read up which when I have time I would have done, Tyll is an interesting figure there is something of classic jester about him with his clever at times insight. Then there is a large chunk of Grimm here with talk of goblins and witches =. But then a  nod to the times with the madness of court life at times I was reminded of Blackadder here where the court is shown for its pompousness through Tyll’s eyes. Thi has a pinch of historic fiction a pinch of Grimm add some Tolkien and classic historic comedies. I may come back to this at some point when I have more time to read around the vents and setting but it is a book with a nod to the present as well with a reminder of what has been as a warning for what is happening.

The Hungry and the Fat by Timur Vermes

The Hungry and the Fat by Timur Vermes

German Fiction

Original title  – Die Hungrigen und die Satten

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source = review copy

Well, it is to Germany next and the second novel by the German writer Timur Vermes his debut novel was a huge hit look who’s back which imagined Hitler returning and getting involved in politics in the modern age. This is his the second novel which title is a nod to the poem The wandering rat by Heinrich Heine

There are two types of rats:

The hungry and full.

The rich stay happily at home,

The hungry but emigrate.

The novel set in a near-future where Europe has closed its borders to those trying to get there from Africa.

And of course Astrid Von Roell was angry too. Not only because she was obliged to concoct the first story in its entirety, including the refugee model Ashanti 17, but also because on the first day she had to look for models on her own. Without consulting Nadeche, because the editoral team back home had already scheduled the model piece, And then to sit in Nadeche’s tent with senty or eighty photographs, which was enpugh in itself since Nadeche was premanently on the phone.

The first refugee piece where made but as Nadeche s[ends more time she falls for Lionel.

The book is a satire that is set ten years in the future an imagines that the refugee crisis has grown out of control so Europe has decided to shut up shop. So a massive camp of 150,000 refugees has grown up in the south of the Sahara as Europe has paid those north African countries to stop them trying to come to Europe and has put in place a strict limit of those that can come to  Europe meaning only those with a lot of money can get there. A German tv channel has decided to send one of the leading female stars to live in this camp Nadeche sends back a daily show as she gets to know the camp and those there from collecting wood to make fires, to those in the hospital. As she tries to make the camp seem more than it is for the public at home. Meanwhile, the government is trying to find a way to deal with these refugees without them ever reaching Europe. But as she spends more time in the camp Nadeche falls for a refugee Lionel he gets called in Germany where her reports start to get noticed.  Lionel has an idea and that is to lead an exodus of all the refugees this is initially greeted by Nadeche tv company as a great idea and as they move just 15 km a day it seems impossible that they will get to the German Austrian border they so want to get too. But then as the mass group of refugees start to get close to comfort those in charge have to decide what to do? what will they do?

Nadeche Hackenbusch and Lionel: the megastar has let her heart decide – now the fate of 150,00 people hangs on the success of this love affair.

By Astrid Von Roell

We all know the tale of the ugly duckling who turns into a dying swan. This time, however, it’s dofferent. The swan isn’t dying and the duckling isn’t ugly.Rather this is the story of a strong young woman prepared to do anything and everything for love, thereby conquering the hearts of the entire world. It is the story of a women reinventinghimself finally. Finally living the dream that no woman had ever dreamed before.Now Nadeche hackenbusch has made this dream come true; she has left her husband to acompany the great love you only meet once in lifem on his way to Europe on foot and alone. With 150,00 refugees

The Change we see later on in Nadeche from tv personality to poltical figure.

 

This is a tongue-in-cheek a what if like his previous book that put the question of what if Hitler returned what would he do.  Well, this takes the refugee question and says what if you stopped it would it go away. Would those trying to reach the dream of living in Europe and a life of plenty stop, well no as shown the camps swell and grow huge, Then he takes a swipe at the media Nadeche visit is like a real-life version of I’m a celebrity get me out of her the way they want suffering but photogenic suffering. But then the other question posed is what would happen if all those refugees waiting to come all arrived at once what would a country do? it is a question that hasn’t been asked since the Balkan conflict which did see many people from the Balkans go to Germany as refugees in the 1990’s I remember working in a German factory and at a Jugendwerkstatt with Bosnians, Croats, and Kosovans but they were European what if that huge even larger influx was from sub-Saharan africa would the welcome be different well the door is firmly shut but the question is what would the government do, what would public pinon be? As our recent election show the fearmongering press usually shows the way to everyone. This is a Wenders road movie remade into an apocalyptic African exodus. It is I’m a celebrity mixed with the worst sort of heartstring-pulling tv as they show the power of the media. As shown with Brexit the public can lap up lies and mistruths. Vermes shows us an Orwellian version of the refugee question.

 

30 covers for #WITMONTH more Vernon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will be getting to this before the year is out it is the second part of the Vernon subtext a trilogy by the French writer Virginie Despentes a writer best known for her controversial book that was made into a film Baise-moi. Vernon subtext follows Vernon a famous record shop owner after his life and store is closed as he tries to get by it has been made into a TV series in France which I hope we get see in the UK.

The last days of el Comandante by Alberto Barrera Tyszka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last day of el Comandante by Alberto Barrera Tsyzka

Venezuelan fiction

Original title –  Patria o muerte

Translators – Rosalind Harvey and Jessie Mendez Sayer

Source – review copy

Now back to Spanish lit month and here I have a second book from Alberto Barrera Tyszka. I reviewed the Sickness when it was on the IFFP list. That was eight years ago so this last book that follows the time running up to the death of Hugo Chavez from a main character and those around him, Tyszka wrote Chavez’s  biography he is influenced by writers such as Dostoyevski, Dumas, Stevenson, and Chekov as well as Salvador Garmendia and Jose Ignacio Cabrujus two of the greatest Venezuelan writers of recent years.

“I wouldn’t be surorised if it was all lies,” Beatriz muttered “Something the cubans made up to distract us.”

Sanabria wathced in silence.

Chavez looked thin and pale. He was on his feet behind the podium, and , oddly he was reading out a written text instead of improvising in front of the camera, It was unheard of for this man, so fond of speaking for hours in fromt of any audience, to restrict himself to a few word, suddenly held hostage by a small piece of paper.

I loved that last line of being held hosatge by a piece of paper this man that could talk for hours starting to look unwell !

The main character in the book is a retired Oncologist Miguela Sanabria he is sort of a middling figure neither anti or pro Chavez but given his previous profession, his opinion is sort by both sides. His wife is very anti-Chavez in her views. He is contacted by his brother a pro-Chavez then his Nephew Vladimir who is high up in the regime who has hold of a mobile that has the truth about how bad the president is a recording whilst Chavez had surgery. Outside all this Miguel is asked by a mysterious Cuban to become chairman of the condominium they live in. Their neighbor Fredy is writing about Chavez but is offered a fresh angle on this book. When he is given a chance to see some medical reports. that means he will have to leave alone without his family for the US. THen There is Young Maria being homeschooled by her mother  Cecilla who is stuck in the apartment as she is scared of the outside world. So Maria turns to Chat rooms after Cecilla has the internet installed to keep the little girl in touch with the outside world. She talks to Fedy son Rodrigo on these chat rooms they offer a different view on the world around . them. This is a snapshot of Middle-class lives in Venezuela as the life of Chavez hung in the Balance.

“The problem isn’t your neighbours. The problem is you” This was the brother’s response to his various sorrows. Miguel had gone to visit him and told him about everything that was going on in  his building. From Antonio’s point of view, letting the boy into his house had been his first mistake.

“What was I supposed to do? The husband’s awat, their family lives in Maturin, and she was standing ther, crying, totally overwheklmed.”

As Miguel lets a neighbour in his house afterthe husnband has left his brother thinks he is making a mistake ?

Tyszka has a sideline like a lot of Latin American writers have as a soap writer and this is like that a slice of everyday life capturing the effects of the end of Chavez when he was dying of characters using a group of characters connected by family or location. Middle class but all struggling Miguel walking a fine line between his family members but at a point knowing things are worse than they are being told. Fredy a journalist given a chance and his son chatting with a fellow youngster in the building a new face of Venezuela in the chat rooms. A powerful work on everyday lives of those caught up in the last days showing how entwined we all are.  As the death of the great leader looms on the horizon. Like a soap opera, it mixes News and Melodrama and some outrages bits. Hae you read Tyszka?

 

Lord of all the dead by Javier Cercas

 

Lord of All the Dead

Lord of all the dead by Javier Cercas

Spanish fiction

Original title –  El monarca de las sombras

Translator – Anne McLean

Source review copy

I have reviewed five books by Javier Cercas before four novels and a work of non-fiction he is one of my favorite writers so I am always excited when new work has been translated into English by him. For me, he has a unique talent at telling an individuals story and using that one person’s tale as a wider view of his homeland from that of the storming of parliament in 1982 and the story Lt Col Telero or the tale of one mans lies in the imposter.  This is his latest book and a personal story of a family legend for Cercas last name is Mena and this is the story of Manuel Mena a favorite uncle of his mother that fought on the Republican side during the Spanish civil war.

Manuel Mena was born on April 25,1919. Back then Ibahernando was a remote, isolated and miserable village in Extremadure, a remote, isolated and miserable region of Spain, over towards the border with Portugal, The name of the place contraction of Viva Hernando; Hernando was a Christian Knight who in the thirteenth century contributed to conquering the moors from the city of Trujillo and incorporating it into the possessions of the king of Castil, who presented his vassel with adjoining lands as payment for services rendered to the crown,Manuel Mena was born there, his whole family was born there including his niece, Blanco Mena,including Blanco Mena son Javier Cercas.

A hundred years tomorrow was the birth of Manuel it seemed fitting to publish this review in time for this .

This was a story that Cercas had longed to tell about his own family hero. But in doing so he would have to accept his families past and the fact his father fought for the Franco side in the civil war. Manuel Mena has a lot of similarities to the young character in his book soldier of Salamis where the young man in that saves a leaders life and is a hero what here made Manuel Mena the family hero he was and this is what  Javier sets out to find out paint his early life in remote isolated town how he came from young boy to the man who in two short years left the village and died from wounds before his turned nineteen. Cercas finds that a man in a famous family photo of Manuel and his fellow soldiers. he interviews this man and finds out more how his uncle was injured and died in the largest battle of the war. Then another photo was taken as he posed with his cap to one side and looking relaxed before he went to the front. Cercas compares his uncle’s wartime service to That of Drogo in Dino Buzzatis work The Tartar Steppe or of a character in a work by Kis. He discovers a man caught in time and maybe we all have a family Hero.

The top two buttons of the jacket are left undone, as is the right brest pocket : this delibrate carelessness allows a better view of the white shirt and black tie , both similarely spotless. It is striking how thin he is; in fact, his body seems unable to fill out his uniform: it is the body of a child in the clothing of an adult.The position pf his right arm is also striking, with his forearm crossed in front of hisabdomen and his hand clutching the inside of his elbow, in that gesture does not seem natural but diocated by the photographer (we might also imagine the photographer suggesting the jaunty angle of the peaked cap, which cast a shadow over Manuel Mena’s right eyebrow) But what is most striking is his face, it is unmistakeably, a childish face, or at most adolescent

Manuel Mena in a photo is still a child in the army.

I was reminded in this novel of  my own family hero story of my own grandfather that served in the Africa and Italy during ww2 but told a story of a first aid box he constantly had during the war after getting in trouble for leaving it behind once the one story he told of his war really but he was on the cover of the telegraph liberating an Italian village with his fellow tank drivers . What Cercas does  is remind us how important these single stories of are the war every family has a Manuel Mena in there past and that is what reminds us how horrific a war is the loss of this pone boy barely an adult in his jaunty hat in the biggest battle of the civil war has a ripple effect that leads to this book to his mother grief at the loss of this beloved uncle she briefly knew. That ends with Cercas finding the battleground where his great uncle passed. I discussed this earlier on twitter and was told it was a favorite of a Spanish translator I said for me it was great but I still loved the Anatomy of a moment.

The faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg

The Faculty of Dreams

The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg

Swedish fiction

Original title – Drömfakulteten

Translator – Deborah Bragan-Turner

Source – review copy

This is the second of the Man Booker longlist that wasn’t out at the time the Longlist came out. But it was brought forward and came out a few weeks after. Sara Stridsberg was trained as a Lawyer but decide she wants to be a writer. She won acclaim for her first novel Happy Sally wich liked this book focused on a real person in that book it was the first Scandinavian woman to swim the English Channel. She has also worked as a translator. She worked on the Swedish version of The SCUM Manifesto from the main character of this book Valerie Solanas. This book won the Nordic council literature prize the biggest prize in Scandinavian fiction

A hotel room in the tenderloin, San Francisco’s red-light district. It is Alril 1988 and Valerie Solanas is lying on a filfthy mattress and urine-soaked sheets, dying of pneumonia,Outside the window, pink neon lights flash and porn music plays day and night.

On April 30 her body is found by hotel staff. The police report states that she is found kneeling by the side of her bed( has she tried to get up?Has she been srying?) It states that the room is in perfect order, papers neatly piled on the desk, clothes folded on a wooden chair by the window. The police reports also states that her body is covered with maggiots and her death probably occurred around April 25

The opening is the sad end of this poor womans life.

This book is a novel that tries to build a life for the radical feminist Valerie Solanas. She wrote the radical SCUM Manifesto. That put forward the theory that Man had ruined the world and it was up to the woman to mend the world and get rid of all the men. The society of cutting men as it stood for. This follows her life from her tough childhood where she was abused and ended up at a young age on the streets battling to get to college and how to see ended up in the New York her life is a mix of ups and downs and also a lot of mental illness so she never quite seems to have control of her world and even some of her friends like cosmo and silk boy verge on being surreal the action is told in conversations with Valerie both with the likes of Andy Warhol whom she had sent a play to that was too graphic for even him. She even ended up with a part in one of his films. She was on the verges of his factory scene. But that leads to what is maybe what she was most famous for and that was trying to kill him after she had a turn and want the script back she had sent him years earlier and shot him. There is clips of the trail what Stridsberg tries to build is a fuller picture of this deeply troubled woman. Her frequent visit to mental hospitals shows how fragile she was.

The Narrators

A. A heart full of black flies. The loneliness of a desert. Landscape of stones. Cowboys. Wild mustangs. An alaphbet of bad experiences.

B. Blue soke on the mountains. I am the only sane one here.There were no real cowboys. There were no real pictures. I vacuumed all the rooms; the dust was still there. I cleaned all the windows; I still could not breathe. It had something to do with the construction. The sun burned through the umbrellas.

C. The american film. The camera’s lie’s. World literature’s. America was a big adventure with its unreal blue mountains, its desert landscape.

The books has couple of alphabets like this one.

I was aware of Valerie mainly as she is part of the song cycle that Lou Reed and John Cale did for the songs of Drella which mentions Valerie and what happened with Andy. Sara has tired here to maybe make her seem a slightly more complete person rather than have that one event be the epitaph of her life. This pieces her life from her abuse and living her family and the times on the streets which meant she sold her body and also it fixed those ideas which she wrote about in her Manifesto as all men as a rapist. Her view was extremes but this shows how they were formed by her own life which was tragic. She also recently featured in an Episode of American horror story the cult series but this is maybe the best version of her life it brings a cinematic view of her life. I was reminded of some French novels of recent years that also take a real person as the central figure and build a novel around it from HHHH to The adversary and build a life narrative like that.

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