The capital by Robert Menasse

The Capital

 

The Capital by Robert Menasse

Austrian  fiction

Original title – Dia Hauptstad

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source -review copy

Robert Menasseis an Austrian writer. He studied German studies, philosophy and political science then after that he lectured in Brazil. He published his first novel just as he left Brazil. Since returning to Europe he has written a number of books which have He have recurring theme loneliness and alienation. What he also sees as the growing antisemitism in the German-speaking world.  He has been translated into twenty languages this book won the German book prize and is considered the first book to look at Brussels as the capital of Europe. Menasse moved to Brussels in 2010 so he could be part of a man-made world that is the EU.  I reviewing this as part of Blog tour tomorrow is David 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fenia Xenopoulou hd started off in the Directorate-General for competition. The commissionor, a Spaniard, had been clueless. But each commissioneris as good as theor office and she had stood out as an outstanding element of a perfectly functioning office. She got divorced. She had neither the time nor inclination to have a man sitting in her Brussels apartment every second- or later every third or fourth- weekend, or to visit him in Athens and listen to him gossip about athenisan sociey and puff on cigarettes like a caricature of a noveau riche. She had married a star lawyer and ended up throwing a provincial solicitor out of her aprtment!

Fenia is a high flyer after the her first post but then this jobs tests her.

The Captial starts with a Pig on the loose in the city as part of a protest about exporting pigs to China. A greek eurocrat Fenia Xenaopoulou’s is given a new job in the dread directorate-general for Culture is ask to do a celebration for 50th anniversary of the EU an idea. She spends time thinking of what to do and comes up with the idea of Auschwitz . Elsewhere we see David an elderly man move into a nursing home he is a Holocaust survivor who last saw his parents on a train to Poland. An economist Professor Ehart is in Brussels from Vienna trying to sell his Utopian view of the way Europe should move forward. Elsewhere we see an inspector and a Polish hitman circle each other. The is so brilliant piece of observation like when Fenia is given the job and one by one the other people around the table in the group to decide the big part leave with just her left to sort it out. Then a piece that said every Austrian politician says the love the book “a man without qualities”. I could see Thomas Bernhard laughing at this quote.

But I’d like to run through it with you, minister. The personal questions, suchas your favourite boo.

What do you suggest?

It’s a traditional in Austria for politicians to ment the man without qualties. You can’t really opt for a lesser work. And living authors are stictly taboo. People don’t want living authors.

Alright then, Let’s be good Austrians. The man without qualties.Kreisky loved that book as far as I recall.

And sinowat, Kilima and Gusenbauer.

Only socialists ?

I was remind of that desert island with David Cameron that seemed as thou it was done by comittee to appeal to a certain type of people.

We stand 40 odd days away from pulling the plug on us being in Europe. This isn’t a book by a Euroskeptic writer no this is a book about the madness that is the city and the world of the Eu, yes it is a huge monster but at its heart is the principles it was born in that is a greater Europe and yes Auschwitz is a mad choice to celebrate it there but in a way Menasse choice of there is at the heart of what his book is about and that is the divergent route we now face as people in Europe that is moving forward together or get caught up in a far-right xenophobia anti-semetic view of Europe we see it in every country and Maybe yes in looking back at what happened in the Holocaust in this tongue  in cheek way is an eye-opening way. Brussels is the capital of chaos in a way from pigs on the lose bizarrely pigs in  Europe is a recurring theme in the book. This takes satire and the nonsense that follows it in a place like the EU and uses it well I was remind of the pig in the English film A private function which like this also had a celebration at its heart and a pig being kept the secret then on the loose. Another tale of how twisted bureaucracy can get. Read David’s  and the other reviews this week for this book coming out.

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A long night in Paris by Dov Alfon

A Long Night in Paris

A long night in Paris by Dov Alfon

Israeli fiction

Original title –  לילה ארוך בפריז

Translator – Daniella Zamir

Source – review copy

I was sent this and usually maybe not into thrillers. As a youngster, I read more thrillers my father is a huge fan of the genre so growing up there was always a thriller around to read if I want. In recent years the only thriller writer I have read in English is Le Carre being a huge fan of the BBC versions of his smiley works in the 80s  I have read his books from time to time so when Dov Alfon work was compared to that of Le Carre it made me want to read it then when I saw Alfon himself had served in the 8200 unit on top of that had been editor of Ha’aretz the leading Paper in Israeli I knew this book would be one that was relevant and true to life.

Nine people witnessed the abduction iof Yaniv Meidan from Charles de Gaulle airport, not including the hundreds of thousands who watched the security camera footage once it had been posted online.

The intial report of the French police described him as ” an Israeli passenger, approximately twenty years old”, although a week earlier he had celebrated his twenty fifth birthday. His colleagues described him as “Mischievous”, some calling him “Childish”. They all agreed he was “Fun-loving”.

The opening chapter and the sense of how far info goes is caubght in the line about the camera footage !

A night in Paris opens when a young man a marketing man for a software company disappears with a woman in a sexy red dress after arriving at harle de Gaulle. Then another passenger from the same flight happens to disappear from his hotel room. The French police assign Commissaire Leger to sort the case. But also on the same flight, the two arrived on is the new head of 8200 unit Colonel Zeec Abadi Like Alfon that wrote the book is from Tunisia and had family in Paris he is on the way to visit his mother so he contacts his deputy in Tel-Aviv  lt Oriana Talmor to try and get info on the victims and what is happening to lead to the third side of the story a bunch of Chinese commandos sent and using the woman in red to get hold of certain people in the hold of certain facts. As the night goes on the bodies pile up and even in Tel-Aviv the deputy has trouble after falling out at a meeting and then she is subject to an attempt to be rape only saved by the fact she is very good a Krav mag. A long day will Zeev get to the kidnap victims back.

Oriana hoovered above Paris. She knew it was Paris because she could see the Eiffel tower below, and Abadi was waving to her. She landed softly beside him, like tinker bell. She wore a short, peach-coloured dress but she was not cold; it was a beautiful day with as blue a sky as only a dream might conjure. She asked Abadi weren’t supposed to be in uniform. Abadi said no. He was wearing a three piece suit but had fins on his feet; he told her they were going diving into the seine to find Rav Turai Yerminshi’s body and that she was dressed prefectly for the mission

THe two in aParis search for the second kidnap victim as they aim to search the river!

I like this it has a wonderful flow t the tale it is told in 120  short chapters each a little tale in itself as we wind our way around Paris and find out what is really happening it has some great thriller touches Zeev the main man has a touch of Bond and Smiley maybe more of the Smiley side the 8200 unit collects data and codes and is the leading technical unit of its sort in the world. That is what Alfon has caught this is maybe a new line in the thriller with China as the enemy. We also see technology and information as the new currency in the spy world. The place is something that is covered well here Paris is a great backdrop to the night of action here as we move around the city’s arrondissements. Every main character in a thriller needs his back team and in Oriana, he has a modern woman that has sharp wits and is his only ally at this moment.So all the box are tick for a great thriller add to that black suit Chinese commandos with heat seeking bullets you have great thriller it has been sold to make both a film and Tv series in Israeli. This is what Steve Jobs would have written as a thriller or Bill gates this is the modern thriller for the tech age where what we think and the information is paramount.

Katalin Street by Magda Szabo

Katalin Street by Magda Szabo

Hungarian fiction

Original title – Katalin utca

Translator – Len Rix

Source – review copy

I am surprised I hadn’t reviewed Szabo already I had read the doo and Iza’s Ballad and had enjoyed both but it seems they may have both gone unreviewed. So I start with the latest of her books to be translated into English this is a new translation there was a translation a number of years ago but this is by Len Rix who has also translated The door by her. Szabo wrote post world war two and her initial works saw her fall foul of the Communist authorities in Hungary which meant she lost he job in the ministry and became a Teacher for a few years at a girls school.

Henriette always insisted that she had a perfectly clear memory of the day they moved into Katalin Street, but that could have hardly been true. If by “remember” she meant thing she could directly recall herself, then that extended only to the h=general upheavel and excitement, the train going over the bridges and the facesof one or two people who would play key roles later on in her life. Everything else had been told by her parents, by the Eleke’s family, or by Balint, who was the oldest of the four children and the one with the clearest recollection of events. Likewose, with the exception of a single sentence, her “recollection” of what had been said on that day had also come down to her, in all its detail, through her parents or the other children, she had after all, been just six years old when they moved from the country

The opening of thw 1934 section and the arrival of the Held’s on the street.

This is a tough book to get into. It is a strange collection of voice we come across in the opening. We here about the Elekes family Mrs. Elekes and the children of Katalin Street Balint, Iren and Blanka the sister of Balint who ends up in Greece telling her story and adding the story of Henriette Held the daughter of the \jewish Dentist. Then the novel becomes more straightforward as we have a number of different years that follow the children of the street from 1934. That is when the Jewish Held arrive on the street and quickly become part of the street Iren gets a gold card from her teacher her father is the head teacher much to the dismay of her sister Blanka the sort of wild younger sister the children of Major  Balint. Blanka notes Balint always had a thing for Iren. This is shown when the two of them get together. The father the Major tries to help the Held’s but is unable to stop them going to the deaths. Blanka is horrified by the war and post-war is a different person as we see via the Balint now a doctor working at the same hospital as Blanka. the street itself in 1956 is having a facelift as the old house they all lived has changed. The next two sections round of the stories of the Eleke’s parents, Iren their daughter the youngest now in Greece and son of the Major. Also, the spirit left behind of the young Henriette Held is there seeing the post-war times.

Even today I don’t understand why it was only then, and not much earlier, that I realised I was jealous of Henriette. Ever since she had moved into the street she had somehow belonged not just to all of us but especially Balint. That he had never smacked her as hard as he did either Blanka or Me was not in itself surprising, She wasn’t the sort of person you would ever want to hit, being so quiet and timid, and the smallest of the three, There was a certain pleasure in slapping Blanka, in pinching her leg ir smacking her bottom, but it was never like that with Henriette.

Iren remember the fragile Henriette in 1944 when she dies like her parents.

I was reminded of when I was a child and would get a jar or bucket full of creatures from a rockpool and watch them over the coming days some lived others as I was too young to know to need the changing tide to feed and were trapped in that rockpool I had caught them in. This novel like that Bucket is a microcosm of the rockpool. Szabo has gathered together four children and the parents like the little fish and shell creatures of the rockpool and we watch them over time. The events they see have changed Budapest and its own Microcosm forever from the end of the great Austro Hungarian years in 1934 till the shadow of the Nazi and the loss of the Held’s echoing so many others in the city. The post-war years and people like Blanka seeing the world with eyes afresh after the war and being changed by the war and what she saw. Szabo gathers the horror and the post-war communist suffering of Hungary. in fact, this novel is maybe one that needs reading now as we see the suffering of both sides here and the world before that in a brief glimpse at what was a better world before the chaos of the Nazi and Soviet eras of Hungary. Not the easiest book to get into but worth the last two-thirds of the book. Have you read Szabo or have you a favorite Hungarian writer?

My Name is Adam by Elias Khoury

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My Name is Adam by Elias Khoury

Lebanese fiction

Original title – Awlad AL-Ghetto- Esme Adam” (أولاد الغيتو- اسمي آدم)

Translator Humphrey Davies

Source – review copy

Well I haven’t reviewed a novel by Elias Khoury in a while. I reviewed While you were sleeping and Yalo a few years ago. I am a huge fan of his work he has a wonderful way of capturing the world he lives in and is lauded as a future Nobel winner and one of the leading voices of his generations of Arabic fiction. This latest book he uses a modern writer to look back at the moment in 1948 when the world around his home fell apart. This book is the second time he has tackled the 1948 conflict but this time from a whole new angle.

These notebooks came into my possesion by coincidence, and I hesitated at the length before deciding to send them to Dar Al-Abab in Beiruit for publication. To be hionest, the reason for my hesitation lay in that ambigous feeling that combines admiration and envy. love and hate, I had met the writer and hero ot htese text. Adam Dannoun or danoun in New York, where I reach at the university. I remember I fold my Korean student how good looking I thought he was . It was towars the end of Feburary2005.If memorey serves me correctly.

This is a clever book which sees the writer himself Elias Khoury looking into fictional writers notebooks. This happens when the man Adam Damnoun he is an old man who grew up in the early years of the founding of Israeli but eventually left there and fled to the US. He strangely for an Israeli strangely end up in New York working in a restaurant serving Middle-eastern dishes where his path crosses the real-life Khoury the two talk but when Adam sees A version of one of Elias books as a film,  he storms off and that seems to be it. But when this old man dies in a fire his lifetime of notebooks falls into the hands of Elias Khoury. What we see is Khoury reading and pulling into shape this mans past and his family connection to the events that happened in 1948 around the city of Lydda an infamous massacre and what was his families part in it! The tough times that the 1948 conflict had on everyone on each side. What was his true / past is he the man Khoury thinks he was or had Adam been someone else in the past and just rewritten his history. Was the man Khoury got to know as Adam really an Israeli or Palestinian.

As my mother told the tale, I was born in thrist. Now, as I write about that woman who vanished from my life when I was fifteen, I don’t know whether her lips were indeed cracked in Parallel, straight lines, or of it is the image of thirst, which has pursed me since childhood, that transforms her thirsty lips whenever I recall her.

She was my mother, and she was Manal, daughter of Atif Suleiaman, f the village of Eliabourn in Galiee. When I remember her , I say “Manal was …” for to me she’s like the first word in a sentence that was never completed. After I left the house at fifteen to work in Mr Gabriel’s garage in Haifa, I discovered that the woman passed through my life like a sigh of wind, leaving behind her nothing but her world of stories,

The stories of his mother and his mix together in this book.

I love the framing device here of the fictional meeting of these two men of similar age one that is a clever device for Khoury telling the story of 1948 from another angle. The point when Adam runs off and losses contact with Khoury is when he saw the Film version of Khory’s book A gate of the sun which is another book dealing with 1948. So when Khoury starts working through the notebooks of Adams history and tales of his families life through the same time he gives light to another voice and another world from Adams perspective. This is the first in a collection of novels by Khoury called the Children of the Ghetto a nod to Lydda which is where the first ghetto in the region as the native Palenstines called it.

Lampedusa by Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta

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Lampedusa gateway to Europe by Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta

Italian Memoir

Original title –  Lacrime di sale

Translator – Chenxin Jiang

Source – review copy

Its take a while to get to this book. I did stat it when I was sent it last year but it got put to one side as I got caught with other books. Which was a shame as I was enjoying the few pages I had read? The book is written by Pietro Bartolo the doctor in the Island Clinic on Lampedusa. Where he has treated and helped many of the refugees that have arrived on the coast from North Africa. He was helped by RAI journalist Lidia Tilotta in writing this book.

One red shoe on Favaloro Pier. That one shoe and so many others like it lie there, scattered like pebbles in a trail thatleads nowhere, breaking off abruptly like the migrants”hope of coming ashore in a different world. Those shoes appear in my nightmares. So do all the little pendants, necklaces, and braclets on all the tiny bodies I examine. It is my job to unzip them, one by one, from those horrible green bags.

Pietro haunt by those dead childs bodies he has to see day after day.

The book is formed of a number of short memoir pieces as Pietro as he describes the world he lives in where he runs the clinic on Lampedusa. Where he has treated and seen most of the quarter of a million refugees that have arrived on boats to this small Italian Island over the last 25 years in a growing number. From the deaths hitting home in the second piece which talks about the one read shoe that he sees on the beach. For me, it evokes the famous words from Hemingway bay shoes for sale never worn. a single read shoe is all that is shown of a life lost at sea. Then we see his own life his father and the boats they took to sea in. Two women in another tale Faduma and Jerusalem one from Somalia and the other a younger one from Eritrea as he tells there tales Faduma 37 seems much older paralyzed struck by the emotional and mental trauma of her life. Then Jerusalem 15 thinks she may be with child but thankfully this young girl tyha\t thinks she is a woman isn’t. Each is touching brutal images a bay found attached to the mother still by the umbilical cord both buried with a teddy that Pietro had put in it. One man and his island trying there best to get the best care for these new arrivals but struggling under the sheer numbers at times.

Faduma: aged thirty-seven, Somali. Jerusalem: aged fifteen, Eritrean. The list grows longer. My USB drive fills up every day with names and faces of women, some of whom are adults, other little more than children. Mothers, daughters, wives. I catalgue their names and preserve their stories with merticulousness of an archvist.

I do this because I do not want them to be forgotten. I travel all over Europe telling their stories , and I want to give each of them the space they deserve. I do not want to leave any of them put. I hope their gripping tales will help people to understand what is happening . They have certainly helped me understand what has changed over the years, and what kinds of problems we can expect to confront.

The tale of two women and their world is what Pietro is trying to keep alive when he talks to people or here has written about them.

There have been a few books about the situation in Lampedusa but this one is very touching from a man that has been at the heart of the crisis that is facing Lampedusa. The mix of his own past and the present flesh out him and those near him. This is a man that has sen a trickle of people from around the world tries to enter the promised land of Europe via boats some not even getting there in overcrowded boats or just being too worn down by getting to the coast of North Africa. Form Africa and places like Syria. His clinic has been a become of hope but as the local mortician, he sees everyone as he records all the people he has seen over the years to his USB. A crisis that hasn’t really been given the full coverage of the Horrors they have to endure. I remember the shock of the Vietnam boat people ok the journey was long but these short journeys are so dangerous and the dream isn’t there for most. I

Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah

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Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah

Mauritian fiction

Original title – Tropique de la violence

Translator – Geoffrey Strachan

Source – review copy

I often wonder when I review a book from one of the more unusual places around the world if I will ever review another book by the same writer. That was what I wondered over the years when I reviewed Nathacha first book to be translated into English The last brother that was eight years ago , I had seen a copy of another of her books had come out in the US last year which I had been looking at getting so when this dropped through my letterbox I was excited to be reading her writing again. This is set on another French colony of Mayotte which at the time I wrote the review of The last brother she was living of the island of Mayotte this is from her experiences of this distant island.

She points to one of the baby’s eyes. I don’t understand, i can see nothing , the baby’s asleep. ashe becomes impatient, she points to her two eyes, then to mine, then to those of the baby. Oh, is your baby blind ? She shakes her head vigorously ad suddenly the baby begins to wriggle, smacks its lips once or twicce, as if it is searching for the nipple and the young woman holds it out to me as you might do with something theat both frightens you and disgusts you. I don’t know why I take this baby that’s being handed to me and the infant stretches out in my arms and this warm little body snuggling up to me is wonderful, The child opens its eyes. the mother shriks back against the bed.

His mum is scared of him due to his eye colour but what happened to this young woman.

This is the tale of a sons journey to discover who he really is the story opens with Marie she is a nurse the books opens with her story of a failed marriage and her not having her child with her husband this is how she ended up in Mayotte working as a nurse in the frontline of the city so when one day a Baby that has one green and one dark eye that his teen mother feels has the curse of the Jinn on it Marie adopts this baby. She calls him Moise for the first few years of his live everything is great he is in a private school a dog called Bosco after his adoptive Mums favorite writer Henri Bosco. But he is a teen and being raised in this all-white world in a way he knows he is different he questions his background. Then the worst happens his world falls apart when Marie dies so the young boy takes his mom backpack and the boy and the river and sets of to Gaza the large Slum near the capital of Mayotte this brings him into conflict with the head of a local gang Bruce he also meets a policeman Called Oliver and a volunteer called Stephane as the young man tries to discover his past but also tries to survive in the present as Bruce sees him as bad as the white people that come to the  slum to help out.

La Teigne told me about you, he told me he’d met a Black Muzungu but he thought you were African, a proper negro, one of them who wears shirts and trousers and speaks Frenc, not one of them dying in the gutter in rwanda, the Congo or Somalia. He said you followed him everywhere like a dog, that you put your hand into your pocket without a second thought and you were  called Mo and had a weird eye. Weird that’s the word he used, the dumb bastard.

Bruce in Gaza the Slum when Mo first goes there and is seen in a certain way by them.

This has some similar traits to the earlier books a boy struggling for identity which was a thread in the earlier book The last brother. Another common theme is that of identity her it another boy struggling with his childhood and being different. This has been a theme of many books of the years. There is something Dickens at times the story of Moise fits neatly into a Dickens-like story adoption having a good life the losing it could almost be Great Expectations. There is also something a bit Magic realist to this as well the sense of Moise journey that reminded me at times of Marquez writing that sense of viewing the world the way he did is something that we see with Moise.Also the thread of the book by Henri Bosco a writer I haven’t read yet but will be doing at some point.  There is something of a commentary on the place itself Mayotte. This distant colony has struggled with its large refugee population slums which have led to riots on this far-flung piece of France. This won a  big prize for female writing in France the Prix Femina Des Lyceens a prize for Female fiction which is chosen from a shortlist of ten by high school kids.

Lost Empress by Sergio De La Pava

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Lost Empress by Sergio De La Pava

US fiction

Source – review copy

I don’t often review non-translated titles these days. But there is maybe one writer I would always review it would be Sergio. Naked singularity was a great slice of modern America the madness and chaotic world of the legal system. So when I saw this book took two more uniquely American themes. That of Sport, which for me as a none American has always fascinated me the way the stats to these sports become such an integral part of the sport. Also, the nature of Franchise in sport is an American idea that I hope doesn’t creep into UK sport. The second thread is Prison the overcrowd privatize nature of American jails is also a trending coming over here.

Legless woman runs out of time

A Bronx woman, who a decade ago lost her legs following a vicious assault by her boyfriend, was killed yesterday in the apartment of that same man, when he savagely beat her to death using one of her prosthetic legs.

Miranda Johnson, 39, apparantly crawled on he belly to dial 911 during the assault, but was then unable to speak into the line provide any information. 911 operator 7744 was unavailable for comment, but her inability to procure the information is beinf viewed ad a proximate cause of the tragedy.

One of the 911 calls, this had a slightly dark humour to it.

The book follows two lives. Nuno DeAngeles An inmate of Rikers Island that has been locked up apart from Dia who is the Love of Nuno life. But she Dia is the deputy of the other main character Nina She is the daughter of a wealthy sports team owner and had been running the Dallas Cowboys where she had to lead them to a number of championships. But when her father passes, she is only left with a small indoor football team the Paterson Pork.he arrives there and we see a glimpse of Paterson a town famous for the poems of Wiliam Carlos Williams and the recent film from Jim Jarmusch set there. So when her brother no in control of the Bigger Dallas cowboys gets greedy and causes a lockout of all NFL games. She tries to attract the crowds to watch the less popular Indoor game. Then we have Nuno who is a criminal that is on the ladder each time he commits a crime he is going up the ladder of the scale of crime so he wants to escape the prison to get to the money that he sees will get him back to Dia. These three lives are a slice of the various class and worlds in Modern America. Nuno is wanted to avenge a death of a young boy and this is why he has to get free to avenge a mistake in the justice system.. He is a strange character he asks for the books the Tunnel in Spanish and Man without qualities in German when first in prison. Add to this a third storyline some different items like 911 logs, pamphlets. Then we have a thrilling climax but I leave that to you to find out.

What the hell is Paterson, New Jersey anyway? That the pork are based there is close to happenstance. Their original owner, Marion Bent, a highly respected Mobster who was dogged by constant rumors that he had ties to egtimate buisness, had essentially exhausted what little community goodwill there wasfor his Edison Emperors.One night, or early morning, under the cloak of darkness(a cloak that was entirely unnecessary as no-one really cared), he loaded all Emperor chattel, most of which had already been heavily lienedon, into several company trucks whose acquisition involved more broken thumbs than Bent’s nearby littlest league catchers Camp nd translorted everything north into the welcoming arms of the then-Mayor of Paterson

How the team arrived at Paterson could never see an English fooball team moving town but who knows it has happened once !

I used to want to try the great American novel and over the years have read books that fall into this category. From Moby Dick through the Great Gatsby, Herzog the rabbit books the epics of Norman Mailer. I only fell down of Infinite Jest which is a shame as this book has a sports theme like that one did. But I did read Underworld which for me was the great American novel of the later 20th century and for me, Sergio is writing books that capture the Trump world of America the overblown nature of sports is shown here. The nature of the world were sports is overblown run by money. I was reminded of the film Idiocracy where the sport has become primitive and overblown over time. Nina shows how sports are run and when her team isn’t on tv it is unknown outside New Jersey she tries to get the contract to fill the void left by the lack of NFL. Then we Have Nuno and his prison his trying to help his cousin who had lost his son and felt justice hadn’t been done. Again like in Naked singularity bring the cracks in the US legal system to light like the myriad of podcasts that have appeared since Serial first came out a few years ago. When books capture the Zeitgeist of the time they may be called the great novel of that time and maybe this is what Sergio is doing in his books. This has a lot of threads and isn’t at the time the easiest to follow but if you want easy you’d not be reading this blog or trying a 600 page novel about indoor football in New Jersey and a prison break from the unbreakable Rikers Island!!

The Tree of the Toraja by Philippe Claudel

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The Tree of the Toraja by Philippe Claudel

French fiction

Original title- L’Arbre du pays Toraja

Translator – Euan Cameron

Source – review copy

I have been a fan of Claudel’s writing since I read Monsieur Linh and the child review it here a few years ago. Since then I have also reviewed his book Parfums. So when this dropped through the letterbox his latest book to be translated into English. I always think books and life sometimes run so close together it makes one wonder. As I struggle with my own grief and questions of life. I find that his latest book is about similar subjects being middle-aged and questioning what life was about.

We bury our dead. We burn them too. Never would we dream of entrusting them to the trees. Yet we lack neither forests nor imagination. Our beliefs, however have grown meaningless and inconsequental. We prepetuate rituals taht most of us would find hard to explain. In our world, nowdays we play down the presence of death. The people of Toraja make it a focal point of theirs. So which of us in on the right path

The lines where he questions whether we are right in trying to avoid death rather than celebrate it.

Our Narrator is a filmmaker as the book opens he is visiting The Toraja people of Indonesia their island home of Sulawesi. He arrived there after he heard about the custom they have of sewing inside the bark of the village tree the bodies of children that die within in the first few months of their lives. They are then placed in the tree bonding them with the tree. This is also tied with death on the island where it can take a year to organize a funeral of an adult that has died and to organize everyone coming. This is all in the bag when we see are narrator returning to his home and finding out that his close friend from school days Eugene is dying. This leads our narrator to question his life when his friend dies he starts to question his wider life and what death means. As this is the first death he has seen that isn’t by accident, old age or suicide. He has to take the time to question his own life. This involves meeting a younger woman in his apartment block. Slowly his life moves on as he thinks about a new project involving this younger woman in apartment 107  and finishing his film about the Toraja.

I have always been haunted by the words of Montaigne that “To philosophise is to learn how to die” and that “it is not death that is difficult but dying” I am not a sixteenth-century man, accustomed to epidemics, to wars, to the sudden and frequent loss of friends, paerents and children, and for whom a forty-year-old is already an old man.But his book we read affect us with the intensity of a knife thrust into an organ without the “Survival prognosis” – this is an expression that has always delighted me in that it ascoiates a light hearted subject, such as a horoscope, a racegoer’s prediction, a weather forecast, with a word that causes us to tremble like a leaf – being really life- threatening”?

How death has change the line when he was forty and an old man struck me as I don’t feel old and am in the later forties myself.

This was a very personal journey for me as a reader I really felt a real connection with the narrator. Firstly I was interested in the Toraja customs mention this of course lead me down a rabbit hole of death around the world via google. I took a similar journey after reading the white book by Han Kang. We all see death differently around the world and being I have read many books over the years touched with how we view death especially this last year or two. What Claudel shows us here are the different ways it is viewed. As the narrator questions various people about death from philosophy through his own media of films and writers like Kundera who his friend Eugene recite his book titles as he was near the end. This is a highly personal book you feel the Narrator is in some ways Claudel himself he is of that age when you can lose close friends to illness like Cancer. What he shows is what we all do what I have done since my mother’s death and that is to take stock on what is happening in my own life and what we do to carry on the narrator like me felt does he have the right to carry on. Maybe we should all be like the Toraja and celebrate death turning the end into a celebration then carrying on. This isn’t a light book but a thoughtful book and maybe one for a lot of us middleaged reader that taste death at close quarters for the first time !!

The shape of the ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

 

The shape of the ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Columbian fiction

Original title – La forma de las ruinas

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – review copy

I read this a while ago but as the world cup unfold in the last week and it being Spanish Portuguese lit month I waited to review it. I have long been a fan of Vasquez books having reviewed three of his books. He uses the history of his country and has said he tries to avoid the Rhetoric of the Magic and marvelous Latin America. He has been on the IFFP shortlist in the past and his last novel in English the sound of things falling won the Impac award.

April 9 is a void in Colombian history, yes, but it is other things beside; a solitary act that sent a whole nation into a bloody war; a collectibe neurosis that has taught us to distrust each other for more than half a century. In the time that has passed since the crime we colombians have tried, without sucess, to comprehend what happened that friday in 1948, and many have turned it into a more or less serious entertainment and their time and energy have been consumedby it.There are also Americans – I know several – who spend their whole lives talking about the Kennedy asassination, its details and most recondite particulars

The parallels explained at the dr party early on in the book.

This book is in many ways the most personal book from Vásquez as the writer himself is at the center of the book. He is at a party held by Dr. Benavides a family friend when he meets another man Carlos Carballo over this evening they discuss a couple of events in the past of Columbian history an event the Carballo compares with the Kennedy assassinations of JFK and Robert. The first killing is that in 1948 of Jorge Gaitan a progressive liberal politician that was shot to death by Juan Sierra. This man was later killed by a mob. This assassination does echo the JFK and the killing of  Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. Then an earlier killing of another liberal Leader and Senator who was hacked to death by two men in Bogota. We see Vasquez and the two other men look into their countries past. Carlos is a man that sees conspiracies and a long dark arm going through Columbia history. There are pieces of each story they discover have gone missing over the coming years. But we do see the spine of Gaitian in a Jar an eerie look at the death like those relics of the JFK Killing that leads those like Carballo to those wild theories of what happened. Along side this we see the everyday life of Vasquez the writer, his marriage, his wife giving birth. A man looking at his own countries dark past.

“My Father believed there’d been a second shooter” said Benavides,” At least for a time”

He was referring to one of the many conspiracy theories surrounding Gaitián’s assassinatin. According to this one, Juan Roa Sierra did not act alone on April 9: He was accompanied by another man, responsible for the other shots and one of the lethal bullets. During the 1950’s , the theroy of the second shooter was gaining groundm in large oart due to an uncntrovertible fact: one of the bullets that killed Gaitian had not appeared in the course of the autopsy”And of course, peoples imaginations does what it does said Benavides

Missing Bullets and other missing parts to the case lead to questions of what really happened.

I loved finding out about these two deaths this is what Vásquez does well as a writer and that draws you as a reader into his homeland’s history. This shows that everywhere has it conspiracies There is many Carlos and also many people like the Dr and Juan that are drawn into uncovering these stories of their own countries dark past. The feeling of him diving down the rabbit-hole of these deaths does remind me of the interviews and claims Oliver Stone made around the time he made JFK the parallels of these stories with the US killing is easy to see there are gaps in each story that can draw people into making their own stories of what happened. The character of Uribe in a twist back to Marquez was the person he based Aurelio Buenida in 100 years of solitude. So as England face Columbia tonight maybe you could try a great novel from there.

Daša Drndić, At true great of European fiction has passed.

The pic is of Dasa when I meet her the day at the IFFp in 2013 when her first book to be translated into English. Trieste had been shortlisted for the prize. I had a good half hour chat that evening with her. She told me about how the Italian edition of the book Trieste had a tear-out section of the list of names of Jewish people killed in Italy and the idea was that people could take out a name they knew and over time as the pages went like the losses of the people the book became unstable like the loss of all those voices on society. This is a perfect example of the power of her as a writer. I have reviewed the three books she has been translated into English they are Trieste, Leica Format and Belladonna. She also paid me the highest compliment in say she had read my blog, although I could do with an editor she said. She also commented a few times on the blog which for me was touching. Her books dealt with big subjects and showed the brutal heart of Europe a writer that needs to be read. I’m sorry to hear of her passing today and remember a warm summers day I meet her a number of years ago. Her words when her last book was up for the Croat book of the year sum her views up well.

We live in a very sick time, in a time that destroys spirit, thought, freedom, individuality, joy, beauty, knowledge, and love, and at the same time destroys ourselves. Just like a carcinogenic pancreas, whenever it eats the bodies surrounding it, it disappears alone. To those who write this topic to pretek. Within this globally collapsing, decaying world (the world), floats countless stories of small and large, known, unknown, for literature more than enough. After all, those who read (and increasingly reads a leafy, quick and easy digestive book with enough additives to absorb the original flavor of ‘material’) are at least at times privy to their voyeur passion, a foolish fool, in English called the ‘pacifier’. So the everyday life remains cloudy, and the imaginative readers are unaware of their existential limbo.(a google translation but gets the spirit of her words)

 

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