Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Celestial bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Omani Fiction

Original title – Sayyidat el-Qama

Translator – Marilyn Booth

Source – personal copy

When the man Booker longlist was announced this is the one book I really knew nothing about and is the first I have reviewed from Oman. It is published by the small Scottish publisher Sandstone press that hit the headlines a few years ago when one of the books made the Booker longlist since then they have been doing a few books in translation including the Babylon Berlin books which I keep meaning to try any way this is the third novel by Johka Alharti and the second book by her to be translated into English she studied Classical Arabic poetry in Edinburgh her works have been translated into English, German, Italian, Korean and Serbian.

Mayya, forever immersed in her Singer sewing machine, seemed lost to the outside world. Then Mayya lost herself to love: a silent passion, but it sent tremors surging through her slight form, night after night, cresting in waves of tears and sighs. There were moments when she truly believed she would not survivethe awful force of her longing to see him.

Her body prstatrate, ready for the dawn prayers, she made a whispered oath. By the greatness of God – I want nothing, O Lord, just to see him. I solemnly promise you, Lord, I don’t want him to look my way … just want to see him. That’s all I want

Mayya has a heart break from a man she loves but can’t be with.

In the intro, it says that the novel tries to capture the two sides of Oman the Modern and traditional side and the struggles of the country from the 20th century. The book is formed of a family saga from the early twentieth century to Now. The story is told in the lives of three sisters and their marriages Mayya who has a huge heartbreak when the man she loves broke her heart and then settles for marriage but then rebels when she gives birth to her first daughter and instead of picking a name that the family would approve she calls her London. The Khawla moves to Canada after her betrothed who has been there for a number of years but it turns out he has been living with a woman. Then Asma the most traditional of the sisters marries the book also revolves around the rest of the family the male member Mayya husband is the main character as the chapters go between the family stories and Abdallah as he is returning home on a plane. The contrast between his present and the past in the other chapters one of the slaves and traditional values at the start of the century. Then his own life of Lonon now grown and not had the happiest of lives his own childhood. This is a compelling picture of a country changing.

As much as I have travelled, I still like getting the seat by the window. I like to stare down at one city after another, dwindling and then vanishing. Papa, London said once, you travel an awful lot. I did not say to her that when we are away from home, in new and strange places, we get to know ourselves better. And that is exactly the way it is with love. London does not know much about strange places or being far from home but she certainly knows about love. Her stubborn endurance under her mother’s blows allured and pained in equal measure, until I cracked the whip myself and married her to him.

Abdallah on his plane home talking about London his daughter that has a life different from her.

Now I shortlisted this above the other book that was translated from Arabic it is a wonderful description of her homeland and the way it has moved through the last century. It is a book th\t in its scope is maybe more an epic but not as long as that  being only 240 pages but has the feel of a 500-page novel there is a variety of characters as you see the world of Oman through three sisters there husbands children and parents that show a land that struggles to be modern with its traditional nature. So a great intro to books from Oman also a gem of a find from this years longlist one of two. Have you read any other books from Oman?

Winstonsdad Man booker shortlist 2019

I was going to not read the list and did my usual guess of what would be on the list and got it so far wrong I wanted to see what was in these books and yes I managed in a month to get nearly through them all bar hundred pages of the Can Xue novel which by the time this post is up I may have read them as I am on the road to Alnwick tomorrow and a short holiday. So my six shortlisted books are-

Drive your plow over the bones of the dead by Olga Tokarczuk

What happens when nature kicks back we see here when things start happening in the Polish hinterlands in a small community. A previous winner is different to flights and shows the depths of her writing.

The shape of Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Image result for the shape of ruins

A book that sees Vasquez as a character in his own book that is about an assignation of a Columbian politician almost like there JFK a great historical novel.

The years by Annie Ernaux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A powerful little book at post-war  France and its generation told through pictures, movies, books, events, and life it builds a vivid picture of the years that followed the war.

At Dusk by Hwang Sok-Yong

An architect is greet by his past in a story that sees two sides of lives in Modern Korea from two people that grew up in a working clas  area and went in different directions but meet at the moment there worlds both are about to change.

The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa

Image result for the death of murat idrissi

 

Maybe the shortest book on the list but for me it is the most powerful as it is about a subject that we all see on the news that of immigration and he uses four characters to encompass a wider world.

Celestial bodies by Jokha Alharthi

 

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

I am yet to review this but this family saga shows the growth of Oman through the lives of three sisters and the family of the sisters going back to the early 20th century and to now with one of the main stories being told by a relative on jumbo heading home to his family.

So here are my six books an  interesting list of books I have discovered three maybe four books that have passed me by. What are your thoughts on the books on the list ?

The Years by Annie Ernaux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Years by Annie Ernaux

French Fiction

Original title – Les Années

Translator – Alison L Strayer

Source – personal copy (kindly sent by Batpoet from twitter the US edition thanks)

I will put my own Shortlist out tomorrow the day the actual shortlist is out I have about hundred pages of the last book to finish and I will have read this year’s longlist I am behind on reviews so this is the ninth book from the long list I have to review three more books to review. Anyway back to this which in a way is maybe the most unusual books on this years list as it is one of those borderline books that I really love. I should know it UK publisher is Fitzcarraldo. It is neither fiction or non-fiction a memoir in a way. Annie Ernaux her books have long chronicled her life over the years over books have dealt with her relationship with her father, the death of her mother and having breast cancer this is considered her masterpiece by French critics.

Memory was transmitted not only through the stories but through the ways of walking, sitting, talking, laughing, eating, hailing someone, grabbing hold of objects. It passed body to body, over the years, from the remotest countryside of France and other parts of Europe: a heirtage unseen in the photos, lying beyond individual difference and the the gaps between the goodness of some and the wickedness of others. It united family members, neighbors, and all these of whom one said “They’re people like us” a repertory of habits and gestures shaped by childhoods in the fields and teen years in wiorkshops, preceeded by other childhoods, all the way back to oblivion

I loved this passage early on in the book.

This is an interesting work as Annie speaks of her life from the early 1940s to the 20th century in a third person narrative of a womans life in France over those years and the generation she is part of the post-war generation of French intellectuals that we all know so well over here it is ashamed Annie herself maybe isn’t better know. She is a French literature teacher she has kids and lives in the Paris suburbs. This book isn’t just about her life but is a work that shows us the culture of those years and the events of those years from the music she listens to from Piaf chevalier and even pre-war acts like Josephine Baker. The books films and general culture.I love she laments how TV is taking over the world at the end of the book. This is maybe a lament to a world that has now gone that of proper discovery that of reading one book then finding another books films because of paper reviews or word of mouth of friends a smaller world a world where things need to be discovered no good reads, no IMDB, etc. The second line is France itself through these years in a way a build up to the pivotal events of 1968 that saw France on the verge of crashing into oblivion and then to here and now where they are part of a greater Europe but events still happen.

Beneath the surface of the things that never changed, last year’s circus posters with the photo of Roger Lanzac, First communion photos handed out to schoolmates, the club des chansonniers on Radio Luxembourg, our days swelled with new desire. On a sunday afternoons, we crowded around the window of the genral electrics shop to watch television.Cafes invested in TV sets to lure clientele.

A world now gone when people would stand and watch tv in a shop window .

 

I loved this I will be rereading this one for years I love books that make me think and books that make you want to discover the world around us. This was a life’s work for the writer she had kept notes for years in preparation for writing this book a look at her generation and what happened during those years and what influenced everyone. Those pivotal moments of Algeria, 1968, September 11, The coming of the digital age. The use of everything from High to low culture is great Adverts for examples those tunes and slogans that we all remember more than even the tv we may have watched this is a book about what is remember later rather than then in the moment it is where it differs from Karl Ove work it has a feeling of being worked over time it is more what has been remembered that what I remembered or what was happening a sort underpinning of the times. Yes this should be on the list it isn’t in maybe straight fiction but is a book that deserves a wider audience.

 

The pine Islands by Marion Poschmann

The Pine Islands

The Pine islands by Marion Poschmann

German fiction

Original title – Die Kiefern Inseln

Translator – Jen Calleja

Source – personal copy

This was one of two books that hadn’t come out when the Longlist of the Man Booker was announced the publication date was brought forward for this book that was previously shortlisted for the German book prize (the German booker). It is the fourth novel by Marion Poschmann two of her other novels have been on German book prize lists. Marion studied German philology, philosophy, and Slavic studies. She then taught German as part of a German-Polish project for primary school children. Since then she has been a freelance writer living in Berlin. A member of German Pen. As part of writing this book, she spent Three months in Japan.

He exchanged some money and brought a travel guide and a couple of Japanese classics in English translation from a newsagent. The works of Basho, the tales of Genji, the pillow book. He had always assumed that, like him, everyone knew the Japanese classics of by heart, but standing in front of the shelf with the pocket books he now had to admt that he himself had at most watched only a couple of Japanese films during his lifetime and had never been able so much as to recite a haiku.

How he gets to discover Basho by chance at the airport and pass over the islands on the plane there.

Now, this is a classic take on the man in his mid-life crisis. Gilbert the man character has just discovered his wife is having an affair so he head of to Japan. He is a lecturer on Beard in cinema (could there be a less hipster lecturer title than his). He arrives at the airport and picks up a number of the classics of Japanese literature including the works of Basho especially his travel verse piece  Oku no Hosomich the long road to the north which follows his journey to the Pine island a book that was described as the soul of Japan. So as he tries to cope with his relationship with Mathilda a strange one he talks then doesn’t talk but then writes to her about the discovery of Basho but also how he wound up on a station to find Yasho who also has a book about suicide he is trying to jump in front of a train when he meets the Gilbert the two of them set of to rediscover themselves and try and find the world that Basho described ending up at Matsushima the pine island. This is maybe a tongue in cheek look at the genre of books that talk about Pilgrimage. 

Yosa Tamagotchi had been pised to thrpw himself in front of the train because he was afraid he wasn’t going to pass his exams. The bag contained a suicide note, carefully calligraphed and dated. He studied petrochemistry, and his marks were good, but maybe not good enough.Fearful of social exculsion he grew a beard, he knewno company would hir him in that state.If he were unsuccessful he could say that it was down to the beard, or should luck smile down on him and a firm took him on anywat there would be nothing straightforward than shaving it off.But his exam fear grew, paralysing him to such a degree that he was no longer capable of thinking.

Yosa is saved by meeting Gilbert at the Station but loive the comic touch of his beard and Gilbert talking about beards all the time.

The East has long been a subject in German literature Herman Hesse wrote about Indian culture and also wrote a book about discovery Journey to the east this isn’t in that league no this is more a look at the modern obsession with pilgrimage or even middle age men escaping their world and discovering themselves.  From Martin Sheen in The way doing the way of St James in Spain or the likes of even someone like Bill Bryson and his old friend doing the Appalachian Trail this book has the classic character of two leads one in search of what his life means Yosa the man Gilbert saves is this and another is  Gilbert a man that needs to take time out of his life. Add to that a book that makes you want to pick up one of the greats of Japanese literature Basho. Also reconnecting with the world around us is another thread in the book. Similar to books like rings of Saturn or A whole life the later more so than rings of Saturn. I enjoyed this I like books that see folks discovering themselves and having a book that means something to them I remember Herodotus histories in English patient meaning so much to Almasy or a book like Geert Mak book where he followed the route of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley like this book saw a world that is now gone. An interesting book that would passed me by except for the Man Booker.

Four soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli

 

Image of Four Soldiers

Four soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli

French fiction

Original title – Quatre Soldats

Translator – Sam Taylor

Source – library book

Here is another writer from this year longlist that I have reviewed before his book Meal in winter was shortlisted for the old IFFP prize. Here is my review of it. I had seen a review of this before the longlist came out and had seen it at my library so was planning to read it anyway. Hubert Mingarelli left school and joined the Navy for three years he has since then written about twenty novels it is noted that on the whole his novels have just male characters and tend to look at father-son or male relationships like this book where we meet four soldiers in the middle of the Russian civil war that sees how they react in a lull in the war. The book won the Prix Medici

The four of us were still alive and kicking., thanks to Pavel. He was the cleverest of us all. His plans for the hut were perfect, and he was even able to build a real stove using a metal barrel filled with engine oil. A real stove that worked well nd didn’t smoke us out. But most importantly he’d found a way to pass the pipe through the roof without setting fire to it.Because that was how most other huts caught fire. Pavel had made tin tiles by cutting up our mess tins and then he’d nailed them to the roof around the pipe.

The arrival at the station / hut and Pavel sets up the stove after saving them.

We meet these four men as the set up a camp in a lull in the war they are just in the late teens or early twenties. Four young guys in the middle of the Russian civil war and just getting to know the world around them. That get time to know each other and grow closer. Benia the narrator of the book is a man that has time and is growing closer to Pavel then the other two men are Kyabine a simple giant from the Uzbek he is one of those guys that is the butt of all the guys jokes and lastly Sifira. Now it says, four soldiers. but there is a fifth man the so-called Evdokim kid a youngster a man who is a recruit. But he worries them as he is the only one of the group that is able to write and is often seen writing notes. As they try and stop others joining them in the station and get lots of useful items from around them and play dice as they talk this idyllic corner is surely only a short gap in the war.

We’d forgotten the dice in the station, We didn’t try to figure out who was to blame. We just knew tht we’d have to go and hind them s soon as we could, before anypne found them.

The tent was big enough for five. The Edvodkim kid wasn’t to our oil lamp, through, and the smoke hurt his eyes.

Kyabine was kicking up a fus about the watch. I think in reality, he was just oretending not to understand that it was my turn to hve it tonight.”I brought your turn from you last night” I reminded him

The gutys still guard but can swap when .

This is another short novella on this year’s Man Booker list it seems on the surface similar to the Meal in winter as it uses a similar framing device the men in that book end up trapped in a house by the winter. He uses the abandon station for a similar frame here the four main characters plus Evodkim who comes and goes is just on the cusp of manhood as we see in the relationship of Benia and Pavel which could be seen another way. The book isn’t about the war more the effect of war and the fear of war on those involved in it and about the comradeship of war as one of the soldiers that were a character in the tv series band of brothers about his company we in it shall be remembered. We lucky few, we band of brothers. For he who today shed his blood with me shall be my brother.” This what the short interlude is a band of brothers spending time together playing dice getting the things they need to get by and trying to forget what has been and what will be for  a few minutes and this is what Mingarelli captures so well in this book. I can see why this made the longlist it is a powerful book given it is only 120 pages long i’ve seen book much longer not have the same impact as this book does.

At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong

At dusk by Hwang Sok-yong

Korean fiction

original title – 해질 무렵

Translator – Sora Kim-Russell

Source – personnel copy

One of the nice things that have come about from the longlist. It has given me a chance to revisit three writers that have featured before on the blog. This is the second visit I featured Hwang Sok-yong nine years ago. The book ” the guest”  was one of the earliest reviews on the blog when I read that book I liked it but didn’t fall in love with it. But I have since struggled with finding Korean fiction either twee with the folk-like tales of Salmon or Hen dreaming of better things. Then there have been other books that I haven’t connected with. Until now the only one before this was please look after mother and I found this is a different story but it is the same tale of Korea that is the changing face of modern Korea.

It was mere coincidence that I had studied architecture and made a career of it and that Byeonggu had come to own a costruction company, but after meeting again in our forties, we were like hand in glove. Because we needed each other.

Of course, we all like to think that our own stories of difficult childhoods and overcoming adversity are the stuff of tragic epics, but they’re never really worth bragging about. Talking about it is pointless as telling youngsters that they’ve never known true hunger, that they don’t know what it is like to be the hungry kid with no lunch trying to fill his empty stomach at the drinking fountain.

Park partner the one that cause him the trouble and how he dragged himself up her in a neat passage.

We meet Park Minwoo if there was a poster boy for what you could do with your life in Modern Korea. This guy would be if he is at the forefront of making modern Korea as an Architect. He is one of those who are making bright shiny Korea and is good at his work so is an in-demand man for designing the future. He has maybe grown too far. The company he runs is in trouble. The buildings he has been asked to design may not be built but are just there to draw in peoples money in.  This leads Park to rethink his present and his past along with the fact an Old flame Cha Soona. The chapters fall with Parks story in the now and Cha’s story of her and Pask’s younger years. She grew up on what was then the edge of the city and worked in a shop a time when people were the son of this man or daughter of such a man in these case a noodle maker and fishcake maker this harks back to a simpler time. She loved acting literature and books. She had dreams but we see her life now in a tiny apartment. the book draws the past and the present together. From the fact that Park’s wife and child now settled outside Korea. Too Cha living in a small apartment in one of his building as Park meets the ghost of his past in the place where he grew which his building have eaten up.

When my younger brother and I got home from school, we snacked on the torn fishcakes, still warm from the fryer. Once our hunger was sated, we’d laugh and point at each other’s greasymouths. My mother would wrap up the rest of the torn fishcake from that day and send us out to deliver them to places she owed favoursto or anyewhere else that she needed to stay on the good side of. That meant places like the tiny shack inhabited by the elderly man who fetch water from the public tap for us and the other vendors in the marketplace, the garbage collectors station, the police box and so on

Park and his brother handing out the left overs to the community to keep it runninga time now gone and habits now dead.

Now, this is a book that like Please look after mother did that mixes what Korea was with what Korea is. I keep thing back on my recent watching of Tokyo-ga Wim Wenders ode to the Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu which he said Ozu tried to capture in his films the downfall of Japanese society and this is what Sok-yong is doing here with Korean society and the world people lived in from the simple age when people knew every one til you end up like Park lost in the clouds or cha lost in a small apartment with just two stip lights for company. This uses the twin narratives well as the book comes to the end you see the two narrators drawing closer till the end. I am liking this list for the fact I have discovered books that had past me by in the last year.  But also the books are all quite short this took me a little over a day and I am already well into the next on the list. it’s hard to say where this will end up I found it clever using the twin stories and loved some of the use of names like the fishcake makers son. Then it is just a simple tale.

Mouthful of birds by Samanta Schweblin

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin

Mouthful of birds by Smanta Schweblin

Argentinean short fiction

Original title – Pájaros en la boca

Translator – Megan McDowell

Source – library copy

When the longlist of the Man Booker came out I was happy I had one book on the list and had read half of it just in case it made the longlist as I had it on loan from the library. This is the second book by Samanta Schweblin to be listed by the man Booker international prize. She has published three collections of short stories and one novel. She was chosen by Granta in 2010 as one of the best 22 Spanish language writers under 35. I enjoyed her previous shortlisted book Fever Dream.

When she reaches the road, Felicity understandsher fate. He has not waited for her, and, as if the pastwere a tangible thing, she thinks she can still see the weak reddish glow of the car’s taillights fading on the horizon. In the flat darkness of the countryside, there is only disappointment, a wedding dress, and a bathroom she shouldn’t have taken so long in

Sitting on a rock beside the door, she picks grains of rice from embroidery on her dress, with nothing to look at but the open fields, the highway, and, besides the highway, a women’s bathroom.

The opening lines of the first story Headlights a woman jilted on her wedding day.

The collection has twenty stories. The opening story Headlights is a tale of a bride jilted left by the side of the road. I was hit by one line in the opening as she picked the rice from the embroidery of her dress so soon after they haven’t even fallen out themselves. Ther woman Felicity then wanders and meets another woman Nene who it seems was expecting her to be there. Then the next story sees a pregnant woman and her partner trying to get free of the pregnancy in some strange ways. Further on a strange tale of a brother visiting his depressed brother Walter a man that everything is a struggle for him to do. The title story is Sara who has decided she will only eat living birds a macabre tale and how it affects her relationships with her father he comes to take her to live with him after hearing about his daughter’s new diet. It ends with a bird being left in Sara’s room in a cardboard box and the door being closed. Then lastly the Merman a woman heads to a dockside bar and finds him sat on a post nearby looking at her the two have a conversation. In which she explains about her ill mother who is slightly insane and how her brother isn’t accepting the fact she somehow ends up kissing the merman.

I’m sitting at the port, waiting for Daniel, when I see the merman look at me from the pier. He’s sitting on the first concrete column, where the water is deeper and the beach hasn’t begun, some fifty yard out. It takes me a minute to relize what I’ seeing, what he is eexactly: such a man from the waist up, such a sea creature from the waist down.He looks to one side, then calmly to the other, and finally his eyes turn back to me.

The woman sat having a coffee has caught the eye of the merman the two then talk .

I enjoyed fever dream but for me, this collection maybe shows her real talent is with short stories there is a real sense of the supernatural and surreal at times in this collection. Schweblin has cleverly left place out of this collection which means it makes the tales more universal in there feeling. She also seems to nod towards the great of short stories a pinch of Poe in the supernatural tales, in the depressing ones I saw a real touch of Raymond Carver for me the opening tale especially had hints of his sorrowful style. even Roald Dahl in the darkness in the tales which is something he was great at.  then if Borges had rewritten Grimms tales for a modern reader he would produce something like this the merman for example where maybe the Mermann is a mirror of what the woman wanted her brother to really be? ok cold to kiss but willing to listen to her. I can see why it made the longlist finishing it off since the list came out it is one of the best short story collections I have read probably since circus Bulgaria

Man booker international longlist 2019

 

  • Jokha Alharthi (Arabic / Omani),  Marilyn Booth, Celestial Bodies (Sandstone Press Ltd
  • Can Xue (Chinese / Chinese), Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, Love In The New Millennium (Yale University Press)
  • Annie Ernaux (French / French), Alison L. Strayer, The Years (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • Hwang Sok-yong (Korean / Korean), Sora Kim-Russell, At Dusk (Scribe, UK)
  • Mazen Maarouf (Arabic / Icelandic and Palestinian), Jonathan Wright, Jokes For The Gunmen (Granta, Portobello Books)
  • Hubert Mingarelli (French / French), Sam Taylor, Four Soldiers (Granta, Portobello Books)
  • Marion Poschmann (German / German), Jen Calleja, The Pine Islands (Profile Books, Serpent’s Tail)
  • Samanta Schweblin (Spanish / Argentine and Italian), Megan McDowell, Mouthful Of Birds (Oneworld)
  • Sara Stridsberg (Swedish / Swedish), Deborah Bragan-Turner, The Faculty Of Dreams (Quercus, MacLehose Press)
  • Olga Tokarczuk (Polish / Polish), Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Spanish / Colombian), Anne McLean, The Shape Of The Ruins (Quercus, MacLehose Press)
  • Tommy Wieringa (Dutch / Dutch), Sam Garrett, The Death Of Murat Idrissi (Scribe, UK)
  • Alia Trabucco Zeran (Spanish / Chilean and Italian), Sophie Hughes, The Remainder (And Other Stories)

I didn’t get any right and a quick check of my library last night and the funds being low I’ll not be covering much over the long list well that’s what I thought last night but in the cold light of day I have managed to find second-hand copies of four books and only have the Can Xue Annie Ernaux and Marion Poschmann the later isn’t out yet.  I have reviewed two of the book have one more from the library at home and have order the other two my library has so after thinking last night it was a desperate situation it isn’t so bad three quarters is reasonable for now.

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