What we leave behind by Stanislaw Łubieński

What we leave behind by Stanislaw Łubieński

Polish Nature Writing

Original tile – Książka o śmieciach

Translator – Zosia Krasodomska-Jones

Source – review copy

As many of you know the last twelve months I have featured a lot more nature writing on the blog so when I was sent a book in translation. that was a nature book it was great to combine to the two genres I really love books in translation and Nature writing. Stanislaw has written a number of books. He contributes regularly to paper in Polish papers and magazines this is his first book to be translated into English. He won the NIKE reader prize for one of his earlier books. The birds they sing. It says on his bio he grew up watching birds with his Soviet binoculars (reminds me of the early days I used bird watch a lot with my grandad’s old military binoculars).

Let’s start with a clarification to avoid any misunderstandings: hunting ducks has no practical justification – it’s purely for sport. A display of dexterity, like shooting live clay pigeons.

But what have the ducks done to deserve to die? Pond owners sometimes complain that they eat fish food. They certainly do. According to studies from the 1980s, they eat between 2 and 7,5 per cent of distributed feed. That’s not very much.

Scientists say that the presence of many bird species at ponds brings advantages that outweigh the drawbacks. Ducks, coots, grebes and even herons prevent the surface water from becoming overgrown, they eat the larvae of predacious insects that feed on spawn and fry, and they clear sick or dead fish from the surfaces Why do we kill ducks, then? Simple: it’s tradition.

The question about the value of Duck hunting is there any these Days !!

The book has the subtle A birdwatcher’s dispatches from the taste catastrophe. The book is formed of eight chapters a number of which take waste he had found. As you know I love correlations to my own life as a reader the journey isn’t just that of escape but sometimes reminds inklings of one’s own world and experiences. The first chapter had a collection of shotgun cartridges just left in the woods he speaks about the growing anti-hunting movements around Europe the ducks in the pond. reminded me of seeing shells often in the area I walked around Northumberland when I lived there many years ago with my dog. What Stanislaw does is mix the waste we see and the world he observes it just shows you how near we are to losing it all at times. The third chapter mentioned Gannets which as I had this some been to North Berwick home to one of the biggest Gannet colonies. He talks about the discovery of huge bands of waste drifting in the oceans discovered by sailors I remember how a container of Rubber ducks scattered in the sea. It had shown how far rubbish lost in the oceans can drift. But the worrying thing he talks about is microplastics are now getting into our food chain and the effects of that are relatively unknown long term. A book that sets you thinking and being watchful about your own impact on the world around you.

It’s more than twenty years since the sailor Charles J. Moore discovered a huge rubbish dump floating in the ocean between Hawaii and California. A mass of plastic packaging, bottles, lids and countless tons of unidentified waste. The area was named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and its growth has been monitored apprehensively ever since. New debris accumulates rapidly, carried there on the North Equatorial Current.

The huge rubbish dump was found drifting in the oceans.

It is fair to say I loved this it was inspiring and also an insightful book and also sounds a warning shot of how waste is everywhere even in some of the most remote places he visits he is shocked to see waste there. But each piece of waste in itself is a story of where it came from. Then how it could have ended up there. Even how discarded waste at times has changed nature itself over time. The concept of the book is very entertaining and also hits topping home it combines nature but also the great environmental questions facing the world. Do you have a favourite nature book that combines the natural world but also alongside the current environmental situation? It shows you how much we have to go to sustainable resources and move away from Plastic which is happening but it needs to quicken. As one of the first books to match my two reading styles books in translation and Nature writing this was a great book and shows we should try and get more nature writing from around the world. I will be trying to get some more books from around the world. That deal with nature when I see them around.

Winstons score – A this is an insightful book into the current situation of plastic waste and its effect the natural world.

 

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Standing Heavy by GauZ

Standing Heavy by Gauz

Ivorian Literature

Original title – Debout-Payé

Translator – frank Wynne

Source – Copy

Well it seems apt to review a book that frank has translated the day after we all watched him announce the Booker international winner last night this is the first book for a few month I have read that Frank has worked on this jumped out with its eye catching(lol) cover art. It is the debut novel by the Ivory Coast writer Gauzthe pen name of writer Patrick Armand-Gbaka Brede. As a young man he loved the books of Amadou Kourouma and Louis Ferdinand Celine and has also said the Maryse Conde and Romain Gary have influenced his writing. This was his debut novel and came after he had spent a number of years living in France and it follows a number of fellow Ivorians over three generations. as they try to get by in France.

THE BLIND WOMAN
Accompanied by her husband, her daughter and her dog, a blind woman is doing the sales. The man chatters to her constantly; his accent is from somewhere in the South of
France, and he speaks in precise, carefully constructed sentences. She spends time stroking the fabrics in order to make her choice. From time to time, he gently places his hand
on hers to steer her in the right direction. Another couple compelled to touch. Another display of tenderness. Another relationship based on co-dependency. The woman’s disability enhances the communication of those around her.

One of the character pen pictures we get throughout the book.Here about a Blind woman in the shop.

As I said the bookfollows three generations of a men as they arrive in Paris from the Ivory Coast and how over time they have often end as Security guards as they try to get by with out the right papers. The first in the 60s is Ferdinand(A nod to Celine I wonder) His story remind me of the wind rush literature I have read recently for he like many in those oaks arrived full of hope only to have it dashed. Then in the 90s We follow two Ivorians as they see a Paris in Flux then we have some that maybe is some like Gauz himself that’s traveled in the millennium years and ends up as the all seeing eyes of the security guard. Now that is a quick breeze through those three for me the part of the book is the little vignettes that we get a sort off Guards speak and Knowledge names customers etc what we get is a satirical view of their mundane lives but how they see all there but as so often not see by most shoppers barring the Arab princess.He capture the comradely but also the struggles of the immigrants.

 Security Guards in the Movies

In the tens of thousands of movies and B-Movies that have been made since the Lumber brothers first made The arrival of a train at La ciotart, no security guard has ever been shown as a hero. On the contrary, security guards are usually the characters who quickly and casually killed off as part of the hero’s plan to get final confirmation with the bad guy in the last scene

The Last scene of Brain De Palm’s scarface, when Tony Montana’s house is attacked is a perfect example of the senseless slaughter of security guards in cinema

They are sometime like the Guys in the red uniform in the first series of Star Trek a one episode Job!!

I enjoyed this is as I regularly work with some agency staff at work everyday who work along side us and there to help with the risks we have with a patient and a number of them are from Nigeria and Ghana and when they chat about there work and lives it struck a chord with Gauz  characters and their stories and shows how certain jobs end mainly being done by African immigrants as they are just suited and have the skills for them. So I love it when you connect to works of fiction on a personal level and this especially when it is in books of translation so when these guys chatted it felt like some of the chats we have at work.I loved his eye for detail those little vignettes and pen pictures about what they see and how they work but also however time you can read people so well. It is an insight into those guards. I mean how often do we see them  apart from as it is point out those Babies always seem to smile or they try to make them smile. Now this is Gauz Debut novel and as Tony mentioned in his review he has written another book that sort of flips the story here as it follows a white man in the Ivory Coast in the 19th century. Which I we may hopefully see.If you are after a satirical look at life as a Guard in Paris. Do you know any other novels that highlights those people that we pass unseen in jobs that are there but we don’t see the cleaner, waiters, etc. A great new voice and one I hope we see more from him and Frank has brought this vibrant book to life.

Winstons score – +A an insight to that man in the corner of the shops in Paris.

Painting Time by Maylis de Kerangel

Painting Time by Maylis de Kerangel

French fiction

Original title – Un monde à portée de main

Translator – Jessica Moore

Source – Review Copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love in Five Acts by Daniela krein

Love in Five acts by Daniela Krien

German Fiction

original title – Die Liebe im Ermsfall

Translartor – Jamie Bulloch

Source – review copy

It is always nice to revisit a writer that the first time you read them wasn’t what you thought they were well Daniela Krein is such a writer I was sent her debut novel Someday we’ll tell each other everything which when I finally read it I Loved like this novel it focus on relationships and also was set in former East Germany. Krien is also a documentary filmmaker who grew up in former East Germany and has lived in Leipzig where this book is set since the late 90’s. The book focus on five people from Leipzig and how relationships and families work in the 21st century and tackle tough subjects like children dying.

Every evening she waited for Ludger to come home.The tempering job took up his time like no other project and he often got back late. While she waited, she cooked, read made telephone calls or stood by the window, never forgetting thaft everything she was doing was merely killing time. The tension only ended when she heard his key in the lock and Paula wondered whether  it was really just down to the apartment and its emptiness

Just after they are married she has a void will the children fill it for Paula .

As I said the book has five stories that are all set in and around Leipzig where Daniela Krein lives. They start with Paula and her husband and children. She met what was an eccentric guy but when they married he became authoritarian her husband is a traditional head of the householder but when they lose their daughter Joanne her husband blames his wife for the loss of their daughter as he struggles with his grief and lass out at her.  so leaves her and goes Abroad leaving the fragile Paula trying to rebuild her life and find some love in it after a double blow of both the void of her daughter and now her husband !. Then we meet Judith a doctor and Horsewomen.  I liked Judith she is a woman that is a rider I have to say I’ve meet a few Judith over the years one of these horsewomen that is more interested in Horse than men really but we see her navigate the world of Online dating and the ups and downs that brings along the way. She is also a good friend of Paula so linking the stories together. Then Brida who like Paula is connected to Judith as she is a patient of Judith she is a writer but is at a crossroads of her life where she has to choose whether it is love or writing the path she should follow! there are two more stories but I will leave them for you to follow.

Judith lights a cigarette. She gets up and opens the window, then writes;

Dear succesful, striking, masculine man, empathy is the ability to read another persons feelings. Anybody claiming to have empathy “in spades” strikes me as suspicous.

She addsa winkering smiley and clicks send

Judith smokes serenly, not hastily like those nictoine addicts. In search of her preferences she chose non-smoker and no desire to have children. She  generous about age. They can be betwen thiry-five and fifty-five, although a fifty-five year old must have quite a bit to offer to make up for the age difference. She’s a doctor, she’s familar with the problems men can have over fifty. By theb a hard sustained errection is an improable bonanza. Like a lottery win. But she doesn’t do the lottery

Judith looking on line for love and the men she meets !!

I enjoyed her first book although at the time I remarked on the cover art this cover I like it captures the strength that is just below in all the women in the book in this series of interlinking stories of modern life and love in Leipzig. The book is more on the inner turmoil and not so much full of action but more the inner lives behind closed doors as we are drawn into the lives of these five women all connected. Thou set in Former East Germany this isn’t much of a theme just in the background of characters at the fringe of the stories. A look at the modern world for German wives, singletons, sisters, and well Horsewomen !! Five viewpoints that see the both sexual, emotional, martial, and work lives explored. I have to agree with another review I read that said about Jamie’s translations he had translated the first book from Krien. They hadn’t disliked a book he has translated I agree with that sentiment plus his translations never seem overly clunky they flow. Have you read either of the books from Krien that have been translated?

Winstons score – A It is  a solid book about modern women’s lives.

Summer Night , and Then comes the Night by Jon Kalman Stefansson

Summer Night, and Then Comes the Night by Jon Kalman Stefansson

Icelandic fiction

Original title – Sumarljós og svo kemur nóttin

Translator – Philip Roughton

Source – review copy

I am now back on to the last few titles to squeeze in before the booker international longlist comes out at the end of the month. Here we go back to a writer that I have featured on the blog three times before he was a winner of our shadow prize a while ago. He taught at the high school level for a time and also wrote for a newspaper. He spent time in the 80s living in western Iceland doing odd jobs. This is  where the book is set, though the book is set in the 90s there. The book come to us in English now, but it was published a number of years ago in Iceland. Before the Heaven and Hell trilogy of books that came out here. This is a collection of interconnecting stories around the village of 400 souls as the days are full of light before that dark or winter arrives.

Back in the day, the post office was one of the hubs of the village, through which letters and parcels streamed, where there were two telephone booths for those who needed to make calls outside the country, and at which queues would often form on tuesdays- the deadlune for ordering alchol from the south that was supposed to be drunk over the weekend. But now those phone booths have been taken away; are goneare the days when agusta could listen in. Now the village even has its own off-licence open from 1pm to 2 30 pm. Tuesdays and Thursdays; thus does everything change.

The village is full of life but in ways dying off with things disappearing over time.

When the stories open with the line that the houses are younger than the ninety-year-olds that live there but no one of any note has really come from there and there is no church or graveyard there we get the sense this is a strange place and here we see the inner lives of some of those that live in the village. The action opens up with a girl in a black velvet dress and an astronomer a girl that got a job as the director at the knitting factory a few years ago. She is the dream of many a man in the village. Then we see a summer affair and a wife’s revenge on the couple leaves Kjartan on the end of revenge from his wife. Characters like the nosey postman who has read everyone’s mail and knows what is going on in the village. A lawyer who has some strange beliefs about how the world is !! A man loses his virginity, a doctor keels over when a dog barks.

Destiny takes strange paths – that is, of er acept that it exosts that our exostence isn’t dependent on the terrible power of coincidence. Hannes breaks beneath the wieght of the darknessthe shadows catch him, he hangs himself, leaves a letter for his son and another for Gudmundor and Solrun, in which he asks his friends to see to it that jionas had be given a full-time postition as a police office: “I belive this to bethe only way to make him a man. It will be difficult schooling, but that’s life, he has the bones to bear it: underneatrh his meekness is an unexpected and mysteryous strength” Hannes was probably alone in his view, which, at best, seemed merely preposterious, wishful thinking.

Detstiny has run all over the village over time.

This a glimpse of a strange world cut off from the rest of Iceland the ordinary lives of the locals. Now one review I read of the book mentioned a comparison to Undermilk wood I can see that there is the same sense of every day and the bizarre of every day that was Llareggub Dylan Thomas distant Welsh village. But for me, there is a little more of Iceland lit in there. One of the Laxness work I reviewed a while ago under the Glacier which is another work set in a remote Icelandic village like the village in this story had a church but hasn’t anymore but the vicar has never been to our village wherein Laxness work the vicar went rogue. The locals now a sense of the otherworldly just a distance away from the rest of the world. I was also reminded of another book from Iceland And the wind sees them all especially the story of Elisabeth and her velvet dress which folks dreamed of her was similar in feel to Kata in her polka dot dress cycling through the village. This is a great collection of interlinking stories of a small insular community that has drifted away from the world. the stories re glimpse into ordinary folks at those times when the world is a bit mad and it is all Brilliantly brought alive from Stefansson. Have you a favorite book from Iceland?

Winstons score – A-

 

Dog Island by Philippe Claudel

Dog Island by Philippe Claudel

French fiction

Original Title – L’Archipel du Chien

Translator – Euan Cameron

Source – Review Copy

This is the time of year as the Booker international longlist approaches on the horizon that I start working through some books from the last year I hadn’t got to or I have brought thinking they may make the list. first is a writer that has been featured three times before on the blog over the years all his books are different so you never know what you are going to get from him. Claudel had been a teacher in Prisons for a number of years he has credited this with giving him an insight into Guilt and how we judge people that is evident in this book.

The story takes place on an island. An ordinary island neither large nor small. Not very far from the country upon which it is dependent, but which has forgotten all aboutit, and close to a different continent to the one it belongs to, but of which it takes no notice.

One of the Dog Islands

When you search for this archieplago on the maps, you do not notice the dog at first glance it is hidden. The children have trouble finding it. The teacher whom they have already nicknames the old woman was amused by their efforts, then by their surprise when with the tip of her ruler, she sketched the putline of its jaw, The dog suddenly emerged, They werfe frightened by it, it was like being with certain people whose character you do not really know when you first spend time ith them, who one day bite off your head.

This pasaage has such a dark meaning behind it and the way the dog appears is maybe a metaphor for those that appear to the teacher later!!

The setting for this is vague we are only told that it is a group of Islands in the Med we are not told where in the Med that is a great touch as it could be anywhere in the region. So Dog Island is a book where the characters in the story don’t have names they are just known by the title of their jobs so the story starts when the Teacher of Dog island is out for a jog then he comes across three young black men African emigrants how did they end up there dead washed up on the beach. These are bodies are also seen by a couple of other locals. Then the people that run the island appear the doctor, Mayor and Priest appear. There is already a feeling that these bodies are just the tip of something far more sinister and the Mayor at the heart of all that happens on the Island is now having to try and clean up what is going on before the top comes of plans on the island.

“Did you carry out an autopsy on them, Doctor?” The Teachersaid, and on asking this question he swallowed painfully, as though the word, heard thousands of times on detective series, was too burdensome for him.

“No need,” replied the Doctor, maintaining his good humour. “Drowning alas, is obvious, what did ytou expect they died from ? Sunstroke?”

Swrdy laughed, and so did america. Even the Old Woman smiled, silently, her pale lips curled into a haughty pout over her grey teeth. And the mayor laughted too, but in his case it sounded like the hiss of a snake. The teacher, who was wriggling about on his chair, spoke out in his timid little boy’s voice, which did not correspond to his large, strong frame.

The teacher starts asking questions about the bodies on the beach and what happened to them.

Islands are like small villages closed more so than normal so this is a small glimpse into the world of Dog Island but it isn’t just Dog Island I felt that was the region that we don’t have names it is to make the story universal in its themes that off the dark side of the world of those taking people and make huge profits from those chasing the dream of a new world in Europe. We have all heard stories of bodies washing up especially on the Italian island Lampedusa which we saw in the book I reviewed a while ago.  This shows what when one woman the Teacher tries to lift the lid on the dark trade in People those in authority those corrupted by money and power have to try and shut him up. We read of people buying fake life jackets, overcrowded boats, vast amounts of money and broken dreams are in the bodies of the three men washed up on Dog Island beach. This is one of those books that make you as a reader think of the wider picture of the world around them. Have you read Claudel?

Winstons Score B

This was co-funded by

 

Kokoschka’s doll by Alfonso Cruz

Kokoschka’s Doll by Alfonso Cruz

Portuguese Fiction

Original title – A Boneca de Kokoschka

Translator – Rahul Bery

Source – review copy

I join a blog tour on the day this comes out. I always feel Portuguese literature is a blank area of the blog over the years. So when I got the chance to read a book by the leading light of the Portuguese literature Alfonso Cruz he has published a number of novels this is the second to be translated into English. He is a novelist, artist, illustrator, and member of a blues group called The soaked Lamb (love that band name I must try and find some of his music). This book won the European Union Prize for Literature, I shall be covering another winner in a day or two.

At the age of Forty-two, or , to be more precise, two days after his birthday that year, Bonifaz Vogel began to hear a voice. Intially he thought it was the muce, then he thought about calling someone to deal with the woodworm, but something stopped him. Perhaps ti was the way the voice had given him orders, with the authority of those voices that live deep inside us. He knew it was all in his head, but he had the strange sensation that the words were coming from the floorboars, entering him through his feet. They came from the depths, filling the bird shop. Bonifaz Vogel always wore sandals, even in winter , and hr felt the words slipping through his yellowed toenails

The opening lines just drew me in as a reader. worth noting Vogel is German for bird!!

Now, this is one of those books that you in one part love and in another absolutely hate at times just as it isn’t a linear narrative of a patchwork of little piece stuck together we have three main narratives the first sees Bonifaz Voge who is the owner of a bird shop in Dresden he hears voices from under his floorboards This is just as the bombs in the latter part of the war have fallen and in his cellar Isaac Dresner who end up thereafter he saw a jews friend shot. He starts to talk to the man Vogel who thinks the voice he hears through the floorboards. Vogel thinks it is god and Dresner becomes this man’s inner monologue.  Then we move onto the book within the book a novella called Kokoschka’s doll by Mathias pope a work about the Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka who when his Alma Mahler left him he got a life-size doll made of her. That he took out and strolled with and eventually he smashed a bottle of red wine over her head. In an interview with the writer on youtube, he said he used this as a metaphor for the book as a whole. But also the story of the Varga’s another thread of stories with chapters that are randomly numbered. The latter book is about the novella in the second part of the book and how it is received. The three parts of this novel all interlink this is collection of stories with a dash of Aphorisms and philosophy. There is no clear way to describe this book it is a gem of snippets that see you go around the world and view the same events at views.

FROM OUR FLESH WE WILL MAKE A SINGLE EARTH

” I have always wondered who will bury the last man” my grandfather said to my father, “or in this case who will bury the gravedigger. You will, of courser. You are not a gravedigger, but you will bury me in the same earth as your mother, who died as you took your first breath almost three times seven years ago. Her earth will mix with mine, as it did in life, and from our flesh we will make a single earth”

When my grandfather died, my father did as he wished and they were mixed together for ever

one of the snippets from the opening part called the memoir of Isaac Dressner

I said I feel I haven’t read enough Portuguese literature and I always feel the same after reading books from there the deepness of there writers is always stunning from Pessoa who’s complete The Book of Disquiet I read when it came out the other year but haven’t had time to review I will be doing this soon it maybe would show how we get to writers like Cruz as Pessoa uses a lot of Aphorisms and the is no real linear narrative to the Book of disquiet. Then I have read more modern writers like Peixoto and Antunes both often use different strands in the narrative Peixoto had an odd collection of characters like this book does. I feel this is one for the readers of books like Sophie’s world or night train to Lisburn books that make you think and puzzle that have so much more at the heart and this is one it is about war the aftermath love and loss and life in general and will have you thinking for days after you have put it down.This book was made possible by a grant from –

Storm Birds by Einar Kárason

Storm Birds by Einar Kárason

Icelandic fiction

Original title –  Stormfuglar,

Translator  – Quentin Bates

Source – Personal copy

It been over a year since I have reviewed an Icelandic novel which is a shame as it is one of those countries that most of the books in translation I have read over the time of the blog I have enjoyed. This book when it arrived appealed I am a fan of films that deal with the weather and the sea the likes of Perfect storm or the finest hour to name two. So when I read that this is based on actual events that happened in 1959 and the events that lead to a number of boats getting in trouble. The book is written by Einar Kárason. He has been writing since the late seventies his debut novel from 1981 was also translated into English as Devils island. He has since he has written over fifteen more novels this came out in 2018.

When the young deckhand Larus had said farewell to his parentrs and waved as the willys drove away, he went up Mavur’s gangplank.He went to the heelhouse and reported to the first mate who was there, who told him that he crew beginning to turn up and everything was almost read, sh he should go and find himself a berth in the deck crew’s quarter,  forward under the whaleback; he could then get himself a cup of coffee from the galley Larus carried his kitbag accross gthe deck, opened an iron dorr andf then another one beyond it, and made his way down a couple of steps. There were two cabins, and from both came loud voices, drunken talk and clouds of tobacco smoke, and Larus wondered whether he dar go in there

Larus arrives on the boat and sees the old sea dogs bel;ow deck.

Storm birds is told about the crew of the trawler Mávur which in which we are told the event of late February in 1959 as the fishing trawlers head from Iceland to the fishing grounds around the Grand banks just off Newfoundland. This was also the setting for the film and book The Perfect storm. The events of the voyage to fish is told by a young man Larus a young man of just 18 that is sent of by his parents although when his fellow crewmates arrive he gets embarrassed by them as they are a collection of salty seadogs and he is the new boy. The skipper has them knocking the ice of the boat as the weather starts turning to freeze the boats as the weather worsens we see the harshness of the sea that cruel sea of Monserrat as he had described it during the war years. So as they reach the fishing grounds but as it comes clear the boat and others around them are in distress they work  22 hours a day just trying to get through any downtime is spent forgetting the weather as at one point Larus talks about the books they are reading the radio Operator book chest were he finds war stories and biographies. another is reading Laxness. The story is on the edge as we find if they all make it as they try to get out of the weather back to the safety of Harbour. The events show how they dealt with the conditions as they find out what happens to the fellow fishermen on their boats just voice in the distant some too far away to help.

Larus continued to turn the pages of his book of maritime diasters when ever he had time to read, and its accounts became all the more horric because he knew they had been so close to such a tragedy.

The mess was often busy with card games in the evenings, and sometimes they played poker for matches or cigarettes.Some of the crew lounged around reading the various contents of the radio operator’s book chest – biographies, war stories; one of the engineers was reading Laxness, Iceland’s Nobel Prizer Winners, and would occasionally shake with silent laughter

Larus describes what they do in the free time on the boat.

This is almost a thriller as the tension is always there from their setting off but it is soon the men against the weather as the waves rage and the ice forms as the temperature sinks down. That is what is handled so well in the book is the conditions from the struggle keeping the ruining parts of the boat’s free so they can carry on. and struggle this is the classic of man’s battle with the elements that we have seen before from those North Atlantic convoys of “The Cruel Sea ” to the comradeship and battling spirit of the fishermen in The perfect storm as we see how a crew battle with nature itself and we find the true power of nature. This is a short book but full of colour and works in English as the translator brings the colour and conditions of the voyage to life. If you like an adventurous man against nature books then this is one for you. Have you a favorite book in that genre?

 

 

Freetown by Otto De Kat

Freetown by Otto De Kat

Dutch fiction

Original title – Freetown

Translator – Laura Watkinson

Source – review copy

Well here is the first bi-weekly review post from me and I have chosen a Dutch Novel From the Dutch writer Otto De Kat which is the pen name of the Dutch Publisher Jan Geurt Gaarlandt a publisher of Non-fiction and someone I would love to chat with as he has published a ten-volume on world Literature now that is one book that could do with being translated into English!  I read one of his earlier books Man on the Move a few years ago and have also read a couple of others that I was sent. I decided it was time to feature him again on the blog.

Sierra Leone, yes, that was where Ishael came from. I asked him where he’d lived befpre, hoping he would say something, and to was away the thought of my rash offer.

“He held his right hand to protect himselfand keep the dog in her place. I noticed the pale palm of of his hand with its dark edges.It was a momnet before he said:”Sierra Leone”>I tried to remember exactly whereit was, that country I’d never met anyone from Sierra Leone.It was only a place on the mao for me, somewhere involving Diamonds and civil war. But that wasa long time ago, and it didn’t make the headlines anymore

The offer to live with her and her trying to think where he was from

This book follows a couple that had split up in their sixties. Maria is one of those women that has made it through the world herself. She is in her sixties but she has taken in a young boy Ishmael he is a refugee from Sierra Leone he delivered her papers and they struck up a friendship that leads to him living with Maria this goes well they get on and over time the older woman looks on this guy like her son. SO when she wakes one day not long after he has become a Dutch citizen. So she turns to her old lover Vincent a man who loved her but it just wasn’t ever right but as they start to discuss their own past but also what has happened to Ishmael, this will take Maria back to the heart of where he came from and confront the ghost of and the loss of a boy.

I visited his village, Vince, I havent been back from Sierra Leone that long. For three wees, I was in Ishmael’s homeland instead of where I said I was. I’d told Maarten I really wanted to make a trip to france on my own. That was fine by him, he was busy with his own life.

“Three weeks- it seemed – like an ocean of time.But it tricjkled away into the Landscape, into the river, into the villages, int the endless people. I’ve been back two months now, but sometimes I wonder if I was ever there at all.

“My first time in Africa, I don’t think you’ve been there, have you? I remember you saying you’re a European through and through, You thought rome was far enough, you didn’t need to go any further than that, did you ? And maybe you’re right. A white person in Africa, it’s not right. I was suddenly very aware of my colour.”

Her view of being a white women in Africa as she hunts for Ishmael.

The book isn’t what it seems the story has a refugee but this isn’t a refugee story it is a story of the two old lovers and what happens about human nature when Maria reconnects with Vincent how we see has never really got over the split between the two of them. The past that looms large as they talk over their memories about what they have been through but there is also the present looming large especially in Maria’s mind and discovering where Ishmael disappeared to what was his story. I feel this is what Otto De Kat does well in his books is talk about the inner working of what makes us all human he peels the onion skins back of the past of Maria and Vincent as we see what lead them to the point they are at now. This is often as the two characters recall monologues about their relationship But then when we see the part of the book where they discuss Africa it shows how People from European view Africa in a certain way. It is what I expect from Dutch literatur4e something that has real soul and a subtle view of the world a sort of Quiet loud that remains with me as a reader if that makes sense.This was made possible by a grant for the translation

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?

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