M Train by Patti Smith

M Train by Patti Smith

American Memoir

Source – personal copy

A change today I’ve been down a bit so when I read a bit about this book by the singer poet Patti Smith a week or so a go I went head and ordered it. I’ve listened to her music over the years and had seen that she had published a number of books that had been well received in the music magazines I read. But it was just a fancy for a change in my reading and it was a welcome surprise how much I enjoyed it. It follows Patti in recent years after the death of her husband Fred smith from MC5 it is also littered with her own polaroids.

Cafe ino didn’t exist back then. I would sit by a low window in Caffee Dante that looked out into the corner of a small alley, reading Mrabet’s The Beach cafe. A young fish-seller named Driss meets a reclusive, uncongenial codger who has a so called cafe with only one table and one chair on a rocky stretch of shore near Tangier. The slow-moving atomshere surrounding the cafe so captivated me that I desired nothing more thn to dwell withinit. Like Driss, I dreamed of opening a place of my own. I thought aboutit so much I could enterit : the cafe Nerval, a small haven where poets and travelers might find the simplicity of asylum.

Her she dreams of various cafes she has visited and read about.

The book opens and Patti drinks a black coffee at her favorite cafe where she is shocked when Zak her favorite waiter and maker of coffee is due to leave and open a beach cafe this reminds her of the beach cafe she read about in a book translated by Paul Bowles, we find out how she meet Bowles in Tangiers as she spoke in a conference about Beat writers she was friends with Wiliam Boroughs since her early twenties. This is a wonderful reflection on a reader and her love of books from Beat writer Jean genet whose grave she visits then takes a visit to Berlin and her love of Bulgakov on her last visit a sideline about various angels made me smile as it mentions that ode to Berlin wings of desire. Then another trip is Japan and Murakami a writer she said like Bolano and Bulgakov she got fully drawn into. Then she mentions the master of Japanese cinema Ozu and Akira Kurosawa via one of the few filmmakers to work with them both. Then a visit to Zak  Beach cafe a meeting with an old friend this is a warm book tinged with the memories she had with Fred as she revisits places for the first time alone.

MY BERLIN HOTEL was in a renovated Bauhaus structure in the Mitte district of former East Berlin. It had everything I needed and was in close proximity to the Pasternak cafe, which I discoverd on a walk during a previous visit , at the hieght of an obsession with Mikhail Bulgakov’s The master and the Margarita. I dropped my bags in my room  and went directly to the cafe. The proprietress greeted me warmly and I sat at the same table beneath the photograph of Bulgakov. As I was taken by pPasternak’s old wolrd charms. The faded blue walls were dressed in photographsof beloved Russian Poets Anna Akhmatova and Vladmir Mayakovsky.

Another city, another cafe this time Berlin.

A change but when you read smiths taste in books it is very much a reader I would share a lot in common and it also has influenced Smith writing style there is a touch of Sebald here for me it is full of her own experiences around the world as she visits various graves and thinks of Fred there is a sense of her love of books and life but also the sense of her own mortality which really touched me. Then there is smiths love of Itv 3 as a fellow crime drama fan I so agree wh=ith the way she just falls into watching them. Smith has a great chance to do all this as she is well Patti Smith a true one-off and has the chance to go place and see things that we don’t so it is a glance into a world that is unique. I loved her polaroids as well they speak so much from Bolanos chair to Frida Khalo crutches. Have you read any of Smiths other books

Tazmamart by Aziz Binebine

Tazmamart by Aziz Binebine

Moroccan Memoir

Original title – Tazmamart

Translator LuLu Norman

Source – review copy

When this arrived I decided it was a good time to read a few other books from Morroco alongside this one and I found I had two others both of which had a connection to this book. Aziz was a young officer when by chance he was caught up in the attempted coup on King Hassan 2nd. His brother is a prize-winning Moroccan writer Mahl Binebine. The story of his time in Tazmamart prison which he told his fellow Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun which he used as the bases of his novel this blinding absence of light.

By evening,everything was ready. The drill had been rehearsed a few minths earlier, but with different actors, this time, the finger of fate pointed to us. After a hard day’s work, we gathered for supper in the officers mess, in combat uniform of course, with guns and ammo.as he entered the mess, ithe school’s doctor, a young Feench Lieutenant doing his military service, exclaimed “My god, you look like you’re planning a coup!” A burst of laughter greeted his remark, but a seed of doubt had been sown.

The night before the coup that was meant be an exercise but could be seen as a coup!!

Aziz Binebine was an officer and from a family close to the King his father was an adviser to the king when one day he was told of an exercise the next day that they were doing. At the time he jokes it could almost be a coup so when this exercise was an actual coup the young man was caught and captured and then sentenced to ten years in prison he initially went to a normal prison but then after another coup he and 57 fellow prisoners are taken to a special underground prison the king had built so these men will be forgotten. The only escape is death in their tomb as he calls it they are fed poorly and have to live through illness and sickness they survive through keeping each other spirits up in Aziz part that is through retelling the novels he remembers over and over again. Baba Driss his fellow prisoner a man that imagines he is being attacked by snakes as he loses his grip a close friend from his academy days also loses his will to lie this is a story of Aziz but also those around him.

At midday the guards arrived, they served us a smallbread roll and a carafe of chickpeas boiled in water with a little salt. This would be eternal, unchanging menu, with a pot of pasta, again boiled in a slightly salted water

Ass the transfer had taken place in mid-augusty, we each received a khaki canvas shirt and trousers, the classic military summer uniform. The striped uniform of civilan prison were taken away, through we kept the plastic sandals we’d arrived wearing.we swapped our clothes quite cheerfully. Deep down, we were almost relived to take off that shameful apparel in favour of the more or less reputable uniforms of the army, to which – after all we still belong.

The arrival at the new prison is grim food wise for them.

Now, this sounds familiar as it was a three-hour interview he gave many years ago to Tahar Ben Jelloun that was the base of his prize-winning novel but since then he has said he had neem pressured into the interview and in an open letter denounced the book. I will be reading that book later in the month. But this is a personal account the names are the names not like in the novel where a character has been made up. This is his memory of those 18 years in Tazmamart the horror of having to do surgery on oneself to live, to remember works of literature which remind me of the recent NYRB book that captured  Józef Czapski’s lectures on Proust as he recalls retelling those great Russian writers he loved this shows the hope literature can give as I read in Albert Manugels history of reading where there is a section about books that have been read by prisoners over various times. The other thing he does is show the loss of his inmates over the 18 years half of those 58 prisoners didn’t make it to see the light of day most of them ending up going mad with the despair of their situations. Have you a favorite book from Morocco

 

 

Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė

Lithuanian fiction

Original title –  Lietuviai prie Laptevų jūros

Translator Delija Valiukenas

Source = personal copy

I am trying to fill in the gaps for the Peirene books I haven’t read here is another.from their Home in Exile series and a work from  Dalia Grinkevičiūtė she wrote on scraps of paper after her escape and return to her homeland from a Gulag and then buried the book was discovered in a Jar four years after her death. She spent time in gulags first with her family in the war years this is the period covered in the book. Then later on in the ’50s by herself. But also became a doctor on her return to Lithuania. This book is now considered part of the national canon of Lituania.

I’m touching something. It feels like cold iron. I’m lying on my back …. How beautiful … the sunlight …and the shadow

I am aware tgat a phase of my life has come to an end, a line dran underneath it. Another i beginning, uncertain and ominous. Twenty four people lie nearby. Asleep? who knows? Each of them has their own thoughts. Each is leaving behind a life that ended yesterday. Each has a family, relatives, friends, They’re all saying goodbye t their loved ones. Suddenly the train jolts. Something falls from the upper bunk No one is asleep now. Silence I dress hurriedly- I have to say goodbye to Kaunas

The opening as she is on the train heading she doesn’t know where

The book follows Dalia her mother and her older brother as the family is wrenched out of their home in Kanuas and deported by the regime as she joins a lot of fellow Lithuanians on a train covered so no-one knows where they are going. The journey last weeks as they are spilt in to groups as they are sorted and divide. The conditions on board  are horrid on board. They have dreams they are heading to America but end up by a river and in some wooden huts trying to keep together sing national songs they get wood from the forest and try to get by but this is shortlived now on a barge they finally reach the Artic and the tundra is a  wasteland freezing as they are dressed in the clothes for a Baltic summer and now have to work building a fish processing factory. Hundreds die that first winter but Dalia manages to get through. This is very hard work as they live in simple jurt with next to no clothes as the winter draws in and those around her start to fall apart she has a overwhelm spirit of hope that shines through her words As we see the dark underbelly of the Soviet regime and how it tried to break the people from the Baltic states.

I look around and am chiled to the bone. Far and wide, tundra, naked tundra, not a sprig of vegetation, just moss as far as the eye can see. In the distance, I notice something tat looks like a small hill of crosses. We learn that these are the graves of the Finns. Two weeks ago, they were brought in from Leningrad already debilitated as a result of the blockade, starved and suffering from typhus, and now they are dying, suddenly, I’m gripped by rear. What if this becomes a “death Zavod” rather than a “fish zavod” ? I hear the steamer sound ger horn and start to move, manoeuvring our empty barges through a maze of rafts .

They arrive on the island and the horror of this world faces her the line about the crosses in just twoi weeks is chilling !!

it is great when works like this are found that pay testament to the hardship of the Soviet-era regime. It is like a Soviet Anne frank they both share that hope of spirit that gives them such hope for the future no matter how horrific their present is. The Gulag has been well documented in the work of the great Russian writers Solzhenitsyn and Kochergin A day in the life and Christened with crosses are two powerful works. I covered Midnight in the century by Victor Serge that followed another writer being in Exile. The world she wrote about is so well written the biting cold the fish factory being built the starving the being looked down on by locals on the island that view these prisoners from around the soviet states as underlings. Powerful work and so thankful it survived discovery from the KGB.

When Death takes something from you give it back (Carl’s book) By Naja Marie Aidt

When death takes something from you give it back Carl’s book By Naja Marie Aidt

Danish Memoir

Original title – Har døden taget noget fra dig så giv det tilbage

Translator – Denise Newman

Source – review copy

Books have been with me all my life and they have helped me deal with things and sometimes just escape the world around me this is a book that follows the Journey that the Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt as she tries to piece together the world after the accidental loss of her son at just twenty-five. One of the greatest writers of her generation she struggles to find a way to put down and write about what happened to her son, the aftermath and moving forward with grief. I have taken my time to get to this but I have been two years dealing with the loss of my  mother at what seemed too early and recently as my wife and myself grasp with the loss of her brother who took his own life six months ago and we are still grieving so I found some solace in Naja’s book and the journey she made.

The french poet Stéphane Mallarmé’ never wrote a book about his eight-year-old-son, Anatole, who died in 1879. He wanted to. But could not. He wrote 202 fragments or notes. He wrote:

So as not to see it anymore

except idealized

afterwards, no longer him

alive there – but

seed of his being

taken back into otself- seed allowing

to think for him

  • To see him <and to>

I DARE NOT THINK ABOUT YOU

WHEN YOU WERE ALIVE

FOR IT IS LIKE KNIVES IN 

THE FLESh

The discver of the fragments Mallarme left behind I found very touching.

A tragic accident end Carl Aidt life in 2015. What follows is how Naja piece together what happened and how she came to find a way to put it in words from early memories of Carl growing up it is the gift of a book from a friend of the French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s  A tomb for Anatole an incomplete work that is a fragment poem to his dead son showed  Naja she said in an interview the way forward and that it isn’t in a whole but in pieces so the book mix the discovery of how she remembers Carl from those early days to the last few texts between them. works like C S lewis Grief observed and Time lived, Without its flow by Deinse Riley french writer Roubard book about his grief.As we see her trying to cope with death and wrestling with words.

I write in my journal

12 January 2016.

IT’S grey today, there’s a hush in the living room. Death is something we now live with every day. I have no idea how. I’ll be able to put all my energy. So much presence, concentration and energy. Beauty has abandned my language. My language walks in mournu=ing clothes. I’m completely indifferent .

Roubaud writes

To cling to death as such, to recognize it as a real hunger, has meant admitting, something over which I have no control.

I liked the line about words in mourning I have felt that experience of being unable to find words from time to time.

I am just a mere blogger,  a small writer. But I know the struggle death and grief bring to a writer it is wrestling with something so large it fills the room and yes as time pass we see around it and when that happens we maybe have words to fill the void or reading  for me it  was the discovery of Barthes mourning diary that helped me like Naja to  deal with grief. The discovery of that book was thanks to Joe from Rough Ghost who pointed me in the direction of the Barthes and this is another book about how one person has dealt with there grief and loss in Barthes case it is the loss of his mother. How we piece our lives together how we start living that point when the blackness lifts slowly and we want to remember those we have lost a remembrance and this is what this is of Carl this sits alongside the other works mention as how great writers deal with the worst thing and that is the loss of a close one. Have you ever found a book that helps you at a tough time?

Lampedusa by Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta

Lampedusa.jpg

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

Jacob’s room is full of books by Susan Hill

 

Jacob's Room is Full of Books

 

Jacob’s room is full of books ( a year of reading) by Susan Hill

Lit memoir

Source – personnel copy

I think I saw a picture of this book on facebook a few weeks ago and was reminded how much I had loved her first Lit memoir Howard’s end is on the landing. Which I reviewed when it came out, a few years ago.So when I saw this followed a year of Susan’s reading. She is also a  reader that has previously Judge on the Booker prize. Susan Hill won the Somerset Maugham prize and is best known for Woman in Black and her crime series Simon Serrailler.

The hound of the Baskervilles is the best of all Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Other people might pick other stories, and it is surprising, given their lasting and worldwide popularity, how few of these there actually are, though Conan Doyle wrote plenty of other things .

Sherlock Holmes has become not just a Victorian detective in a series of short novels and stories ,he has become one of those iconic literary figures who take on a life of their own, out of context of their books.

I agree with this , i love the lines about the Lord running and his heart bursting in Hound !!

Now like the earlier book we see a year of what Susan Hill reads, I found this an interesting insight into a reader’s life. But also I discovered a reader that like me at times can go off at a tangent like reading one spy novel then three more straight after that. Also the insight into how writers drift in and out of fashion, she mentions reading C P Snow a writer who I have been collecting his strange and brother series of novels, which have dropped out of fashion. There is also insights into books like Stoner those books that grow by word of mouth. Great, she mentioned Embers an old book that was also a huge word of mouth and a bonus a translation. She also rereads a number of book. Where she shows how books change over time and we view them different every time we read them.

During the Last Man Boooker prize I judged, we had heated arguments, and the Late Ion Trewin, most loved of bookmen, had almost to wade in and separate one or two of us.But when we had decided on the shortlist, we then asked him to tell us how many novels by woman we had selected and to give us the break down on which publishers had books on the shortlist. We genuinely had no idea about either because neither had been relevant.

The  last line got me they matter of sex of the writer not being relevant is spot on it is the words .

Now this is yet another lit Memoir , but I liked ita lot.  For me as a reader these type of books are almost like a palate cleanser between books or a spa break that leaves me refreshed for new challenges and discoveries. Now I do have one little quibble with Susan’s reading that is in a year of reading about a hundred books that only six of them were Translations, it was also noted that she lists a group of writers she hasn’t read Kafka, Pamuk , Knausgaard and Svevo among them she noes a lot aren’t english, but also all were male. I could write a list of female writers I haven’t read but I felt maybe she had lost something by not trying these writers especially Pamuk and Knausgaard both great chroniclers of their times and worlds. I also agree with Lisa who noted that there maybe has been a few to many lit memoirs in recent years. But this is a vibrant look at one readers life and one that has been inside publishing and books for most of her life so know’s what she likes , just love her to try a few more translations.

 

 

Book of my mother by Albert Cohen

 

BookofMyMother_cvr_1

Book of my mother by Albert Cohen

Swiss memoir

Original title –  Le Livre de ma mère

Translator – Bella Cohen

Source – personnel copy

I was flicking through amazon the other day trying to find something that had passed me by that was also cheap and this gem from Archieplago books popped up and was under three-pound for a new copy (i think this was an error but I clicked and brought it ).Albert Cohen is maybe best known for his book Belle de Seigneur one best-selling books of its time in France. He was a writer and editor in France before the second world war working for the Jewish review. Albert Cohen like a number of other Jewish artist and writers  managed to get out of France in 1940 and get to London. In this time away his mother passed away in 1943 and he met his third wife Bella the translator of this book. This book is a collection of vignettes he wrote about his mother for La France Libre he later won the a number of french book prizes .

We had our sunday outings in the summer too, when I was a small boy.We were not rich, but the  tram ride round the cliff road overlooking the sea cost only fifteen centimes. Those one-hour rides wee our summer holidays, our social life , and our hunting expeditions. There we were my mother and  I, fragile, well dressed and loving enough to outdo god. I well remember one of those Sunday outings.

The tram trip was the holidays they were that poor

 

This is one sons touching view of his later mother , her as a person , them as people , the life they lead , the loss of her on him and the loss of that world. He started these piece after his mother passed a sort of collection of memories , thoughts and outcry of pity at the loss of his mother without being there. His mother is one of those women that through his eyes seems proud in herself the way she holds her self , they have no money but she dresses her self . The trip in the tram on a coast road in the summer meant so much,  was worth more than anything for the sea air they were able to breathe. Then the later parts deal with his loss of his mother a reflection of a sons love and guilt at not being there when she passed.

Sons of mothers who are still alive, never again  forget that your mother are mortal. I shall not have written in vain if one of you, after reading my song of death is one evening gentler with his mother because of me and my mother. Be gentle with your mother each day. Show her more love than I showed my mother.Give your mother some happiness each day,that is what i say to you with the right accorded to me by regret; that is the grave message of a mourner.

I was touched by these lines it made me think of my own mother .

This is a book of love  but also guilt . That special bond mothers and sons can have Cohen brings her to life as a caring mother making the best of not being in the best position in life. The way she made him value the simple things the way he talks about the trip in the bus a simple cheap thing to do, but she made him think it meant so much more. I loved this work it brings a tear to the eye as we see Albert doing the journey of  grief not quite the five steps but in writing the way he looked at her you see him coming to terms with the world without her. This is like the works of Sebald one that leaves the reader wanting more and maybe want to call your own mother isn’t that what all good prose should do !

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