Slum Virgin by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

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Slum Virgin by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

Argentinean fiction

Original title – La Virgen Cabeza

Translator – Frances Riddle

Source – Review copy

I reviewed the first of three books from New press Charco press last week a new publisher featuring the freshest voices in Latin American fiction. I was grabbed when I saw Andres Neuman was quoted on the front cover calling this book Pure dynamite. More than enough for me to want to read the book, having met and read Andres books I trust his taste. This was Gabriela debut novel and won a number of prizes when it came out. She has since written four more novels this is her first book to appear in English.

Oh, Quity, if you’d only started the story at the beginning you’d understand things so much better. What’s the beginning? There are loads of beginnings, my sweetness, because there are loads of stories, but I want to tell the story of this love of ours, which you don’t remember to well, Quity.You tell some things like the happened and some of the other things , well I don’t know what you do my love say all kinds of stupid stuff.So I’m going to tell our story myself

One of the chaoers where Cleo first speaks interupting Quity as she writes.

Slum virgin is told in the form of someone sitting writing a story about the Slum in Buenos Aires and a transvestite prostitute called Cleo. The main Narrator of the story is a journalist Quity who is searching for the story of the year to climb the ladder in her job at the newspaper when via a friend Daniel, the story of Cleo and how she is trying to better the slums where she lives. So the journalist goes where she has not been before to the slums to see what Cleo is trying to do for the slum people and herself as she had seen a vision fo the Virgin Mary telling her to sort her life and those around her out. The story is told mixing the slum world with Quity obvious classical world loving prose as she sees the world of the slum-like greek and classical myths. The two grow closer and closer as the book goes on.

I know I’m famous because I cantalk to the virgin and not because of my tits, even thou they are pretty big. For someone who claims to be straight, I have to say you went pretty crazy for them, and when I got these huge nipples that youlove so much and cost us a fortune to redo in Miami you made me feel like the wolfthat nursed beoth Remus and Romulus .

The quote comparing Cleo breast to the wolf from Classical greek myths

This book has a lovely feel to the prose it is written as thou we are reading Quity writing about the story in short piece almost like the small pieces for a newspaper with the continuing story of Cleo and the slum. But this is also interrupted at times as Cleo in her voice sets the record straight. Like in the start where Quity starts at the end of the story and Cleo interupts between chapters and says she should start at the start. I loved the vision of comparing the world to that of classical myth this is rather similar to Joyce and Ulysses where certain situations follow Homers prose. Her we see Cleo whose surname is the spanish for Wolf sees her impressive fake breast compared to that of the wolf that fed Romulus and Remus in classic myth. A powerful novella about trying to change the world in a world of drugs, secret police private security, transvestites, dealers and the down and outs in the underbelly of Buenos Aires.


So the path does not die by Pede Hollist

So the path does not die by Pede Hollist

Sierra Leone fiction

Source – review copy

One of the things I promised myself this year I would try and read a few more titles from around Africa, I have been buying and have been sent over the last few years. Pede Hollist is now based in the US as a professor of English at Tampa University. He is originally from Sierra Leone and has been shortlisted in the past for Caine prize and he has been included in a number of collections of Sierra Leone stories. His work focus on African Migration.

The shouts, wails, and curses heaped on her, her father , and her family ascend into the air.Finaba had heard them in the leaves and had seen them arrayed in the moonlight sky when she and Amadu emerged from the forest; and now, as she lay on the bare metal table of a disinfectant-laden examination roomin the chiefdom health clinic, they echoed in her head.

Just after the attempted FGM , she is already nearly an outcast because of it ina was called Finaba then.

This is an age-old story of the Journey from Africa to the US. We follow Fina a young woman, as we follow her life from her home in a village, where we see her just about to have an FGM, when she is taken away by her family and isn’t given the procedure, because of this she is stunned by the other people within her village. So they decide to move to the capital of Freetown Were she settles, but with the curse and past still in her mind.She soldiers on and manages to go to university and this enables another path to the US and a hope of a new life. She arrives and is successful but struggles to fit in again as she finds the world she lives in divide into Afro Americans, people from the Caribbean and then her group of people from Africa. She then begins to want to return home.She hs a finance but life is still strained for her.

For another few minutes neither spoke.Then, in a softer, less accusatory tone, Fina began again.”After college, I wamted so badly to get out of Sierra Leone to come and live here, where it wouldn’t ,atter what ethnic group i belonged to, whether I was a foster child, or that I was a woman”

She paused .Edna saind nothing

“Boy did I get that wrong! O just replaced the circles on my back tith ones that say Black, Afrcian and Foreign- no alien . Black and alen. Is this what life is all baout? running away from place to place trying to fit in, to belong

Fina struggles as her american dream crumbles as it is still about groups!!

This is an interesting insight into the story of being a fish out of the water all your life. from not having the brutal FGM procedure in her village that leads to being pushed out. To grow up in the capital with questions as to why they are there!  Then arriving and seeing the dark side of the American dream the way people divide themselves into where they are from still. Then we have the questions around FGM and how it is still acceptable in some villages and girls that opt not to have this awful procedure can be pushed out of their home and their own community and we see how this one act has a lasting effect on Fina and her life where she is a square peg trying to squeeze into the round hole. This has a feel of writers like Chinua Ahcibe especially the first part in the village has a similar feel to his writing. The cover for this hardback is very tactical.



To back of Beyond by Peter Stamm









To back of beyond by Peter Stamm

Swiss fiction

Original title – Weit über das Land

Translator – Michael Hofmann

Source – library book

I usually try over the new year to catch some books that may be on the man Booker longlist. A good place to start is writers that have been on the list before so this is the first of two books I have got from the library from previous longlisted writers. Peter Stamm has won a number of prizes in Germany for his writing which is described as being sparse.I have reviewed his books twice before on the blog, he is a writer I feel could be on the longlist this year.

When astrid realized that Thomas wasn’t lying beside her, she would suppose he was already up, even though she almost invaribly got up first. She would go upstairs half asleep and wake the children and go downstairs again. Ten minutes later, freshly showered and in her robe she would emerge from the bathroom and call the children, who were bound to be still in bed. Konrad!Ella! Get a move on! If you don’t get up now, you’ll be late,Always the same sentence.

Astrid goes into auto mode when Thomas goes.

Like his other books, this has a moment at the start of the tale. The moment this book starts is when a perfect or so it seems couple Thomas and Astrid with their 2.4 children return from a perfect holiday in Spain. Next Day Thomas walks out of there house and starts to do a Forest Gump and walk around Switzerland. Meanwhile, his with Astrid is like a rabbit caught in headlights and just stays as she is covering for her missing husband.Thomas initially stays in a caravan then heads to the mountain trying to live off the land as best he can stumble into a brothel. Well, Astrid tries to help the children then she decides to let the world know what has happened. Why did Thomas escape, why hasn’t Astrid acted sooner? This is about keeping face in a way for Astrid there perfect life had tiny cracks in but they failed to see them.

It was daybreak when Thomas awoke.The moon was high, but it didn’t shed much light in the brightening sky. The group if trees that Thomas had seen as an outline the previous nightwere just a few sick specimens with leafless crowns, their trunks a tangle of ivy. A sweetish smell hung in the air.

Thomas clothes were sodden, but he didn’t feel cold. He rubbed his hands on the damp grass and wiped the sleep from his eyes .

Thomas is in a dream state at times .

This is a novella and touches on what modern life is about in a way. Those who like Thomas just drift off this isn’t quite Christopher Mccandless into the wild Thomas isn’t making a point in a way he seems  more hunting for what is seldom seen these days in our towns and cities and that is as Kierkegaard said “I found I had less to say, until finally, I became silent, and began to listen.I discovered in silence, the voice of God. Maybe not quite God, but Thomas is seeking that clarity it brings to people sometimes. Their life isn’t all it seems this is classic Stamm in a way he has a way of going under the veneer of modern life. He has a way of placing his characters into situations using a starting point.Like in seven years he uses a classic storyline a man leaving his family in a mid-life crisis a Reg Perrin or Frank Bascombe life falling apart. What is your favourite Peter Stamm book?

Blue Self-Portrait by Noémi Lefebvre

Published 15th June 2017 / ISBN 978-0-9930093-2-7 / 160 pp / 180 x 120 / paperback / RRP: GBP 10.99 The inner monologue of a woman haunted by German composer Arnold Schoenberg’s portrait, following a complex romantic encounter with an American-German pianist-composer in Berlin. As the irresistible, impossible narrator flies home she unpicks her social failures while the pianist reaches towards a musical self-portrait with all the resonance of Schoenberg’s passionate, chilling blue. A contemporary novel of angst and high farce, Blue Self-Portrait unfolds among Berlin’s cultural institutions but is more truly located in the mid-air flux between contrary impulses to remember and to ignore. Yet music is shown to continue to work on and through us, addressing past trauma while reaching for possible futures. This book is supported by the French Institute (UK) as part of the Burgess programme, and is the recipient of a translation grant by the Centre National du Livre (CNL).

Blue Self-Portrait  by   Lefebrve

French fiction

Original title  – L’autoportrait bleu

Translator – Sophie Lewis

Source – review copy

I move a step closer to 100 books from France . With another intriguing novel from the new publisher Les Fugitives, who are trying to bring the brightest female French voice to us in English. Today we have  Noémi Lefebrve A writer who studied Music and Fench and German identity. She then became a political scientist. She has published three books since then. This is her first book to be translated into English.

Nonetheless, he hung the Blue Self-Portrait in the here and now of the Brandenburgian countryside, as if this was the only thing to do at this precise moment: bring together the living memory of Schoenberg as captured in the painting and the deathly precence of Brandenburg nature, conversely bring together still and temporary life with the natural memoryof Schoenberg captured in paint .

The description of Schoenberg famous self portrait in Blue.

I liked the first book I read from Les Fugitives Translation as Transhumance. Blue self -portrait is an internal monologue of a female, as she visits Berlin. What unfolds is an internal trip around the Cultural highlights of Berlin. Told from this woman. This is mixed with her haunting views about the works of Schoenberg. The title derives from the title of his Self-portrait in Blue that haunts her. She is getting over a failed romantic encounter with American German pianist that played was known for the way he could interpret  Schoenberg. She has also been reading Theodor W Adorno is someone, she has been reading. This, of course, this links also to Schoenberg as he played him as a trained pianist. He is also one of the leading lights in the Frankfurt school of philosophy. A female worrying about her place in the world. Her troubles with men and also her future. whilst wandering around the places to be in Berlin.A journey to the heart of a soul from her thoughts.

After reading Schoenberg’s letter to the Reich’ culture minister, the pianist had gone back to the Blue self portrait intending to examine the portrait’s blue, had registered the blue’s chill negativity, had taken a few steps back because of the negativity, this reflex which was unfolding a scene at once musical, Nazi and fashionable.

A pianst tries to enter his mind using the pic and How schoenberg went to the US to escape the Nazi’s

This is a trip with one mind through one city. Like Walter Benjamin’s trip through the arcades of Paris. We see places, culture and characters. That are all interlink in the thoughts of one woman as she tries to work out her life. The prose has a flow similar to that of a writer like Thomas Bernhard or Proust like the later she is recounting her romantic failures at times.This is a sort of anti-sex and the city for the modern girl it is more what not to do its as if Lena Dunham had written sex and the city. The theme of loss is a recurring motif in the book,  from the repetitive views of Cow that has lost his calf, to her own lost love and lost chances in a way.  This in a way is the opposite of the short film  Torsion which saw a cow giving birth as a choir escaped war-torn Sarajevo. There is a feeling of loss within this novel of being blue not just like Arnold Schoenberg in his picture, but also Blue inside ourselves is maybe a disease of the modern age. Schoenberg liked islands and maybe this proves we are all islands drifting in the deep blue sea of life as we try to moor with one another. A wry look at the modern female world y an up and coming writer.

Life in the court of Matane by Eric Dupont

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Life in the court of Matane by Eric Dupont

Canadian Quebec Fiction

Original title –Bestiaire

Translator – Peter McCambridge

Source – Review copy

I have found that many of my favourite books have come from the Quebec based publisher QC that are translating the best of that regions literature. Peter said to me in a tweet this was the book that made him want to become a translator and thus start QC books. Eric Dupont is considered one of the leading lights in the New Quebec lit movement. He has been called an essential to read of this movement of writers. His books have been longlist for a number of prizes.

July 1976. Monteral. The 21sr Olympic games. A tiny Romanian gymnast stands on a mat and waves to the crowd. For thirty seconds, she swings back and forth between twp wooden bars, defying the laws of gravity.Her landing is perfect.She even manages a smile, and gambols away from the blue mat as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened, With the whole world looking on, she gets a perfect score. Ten . Nadia comaneci, the child who had been getting by on a egg a day, had just revealed to Quebec’s metropolis the possiablties in weightlessness, Of this impressive demonstration of grace, courage, and agility, history would remember her smile most of all.

And behind the smile is like Erics a sad life hidden behind beauty.

I am so pleased Peter sent me this book. I was like Eric the narrator of this book a child of a family that split up.This is now fairly come. But in the early eighties wasn’t so. When my parents split up it wasn’t so much so as the narrator of this book shows it is hard on us kids of broken families. This book had so many echoes with my own life. I wasn’t like Eric enthralled by the Nadia Comaneci Gold medal performance. For me, a similar memory would be the first space shuttle launch in 1981 the first holiday with my dad after their divorce. Which is similar to Eric’s he is a couple of years older than me. The story unfolds chapter by chapter using an animal the young narrator meets along the way.This echoes the French title which is Bestiary.  Which is, of course, an ancient medieval way of using animals to tell moral tales to the readers. We have also seen in modern times writer like Borges use the form as well. It also shows the choice of the beasts. As a growing strength in the narrator Eric as he faces his life. As he says every birthday we had a new address and place as he tries to live up to his police father, schoolyard bullying a dream life in Russia. Also the sheer fact of growing up in the ever-changing and fast-moving world of the late seventies and early eighties.

A few hours after sputinik 2’s launch, the soviets announced what they had knwon from the beginning. Lakia wouldn’t be coming back to earth. Sputnik 2 wasn’t deisgined for return flight. All the scientists knew this. even Oleg Gazenko. The dog was to die , poisoned  after ten days  Years later, scientists mo longer moving within Russia’s orbit revealed the horryfinh deatails: Laika had probably survived nom more than a few hours abard sputnik2 .

As I said the shuttle launch in1981 is a memory from my life like this was to many at the time.

It’s fair to say, I connected with this book as it has so many comparisons with my own life. Isn’t this what the best of writers try to do at times,  they draw us into their world.We as readers draw our own experiences and this book did that in spades. We all grow up and this is what makes  Bildungsroman is a classic form of novel and one that we have all rea But this book uses a number of clever framing devices the animals and the feeling of each animal giving him a little hope. Then using  Nadia performance as a metaphor for the gymnastic all us kids of split families.Would have to be. Like the best of this fiction.As it takes the tough side of childhood. Books like Black swan green  or even Kestrel for a knave another book that echo the human and animal themes as we saw how one animal lifted Billy Caspers life her we see how a flurry of animals ending with the wisest of them A great horned Owl, Owls have long symbolized knowledge but also a letting go of the knowledge of the past such as the quote of Hegel


Philosophy, as the thought of the world, does not appear until reality has completed its formative process, and made itself ready. History thus corroborates the teaching of the conception that only in the maturity of reality does the ideal appear as counterpart to the real, apprehends the real world in its substance, and shapes it into an intellectual kingdom. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, one form of life has become old, and by means of grey it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known. The owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.

The tragic fate of Moritz Toth by Dana Todorovic


The tragic fate of Moritz Toth by Dana Todorovic

Serbian fiction

Original title – tragična sudbina Morica Tota

Translator – the writer herself

Source – reivew copy

I m so pleased to get to the third in Peter Owen series of world series of books. This time the stop on their journey around the world is Serbia. This written by the half Serbian, Half American writer Dana Todorovic was shortlisted for a number of prizes when it first came out in Serbian. Including the big prize the Nin pirze. Dana also works as a translator of mainly films and theatre. She has also worked as Interpreter at the UN.

This is when I discovered that the red priest, that is IL Prete Rosso, had been the nickname of the legendary Italian violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldion account of his flaming red hair and the fact he had briefly studied to become a priest. As a hardcore punk , I owed my flaming red hair not to genetics but to a tube of Koleston hair dye of the shade 77/44, and my wardrobe at the time consisted of scruffy wollen sweaters stretched down to the knees and black t-shirt dedicated to the funeral ,stairway to hell and filthy communion.

He is called the red priest at the opera he finds out why here .

The book is formed of two narratives. The first narrative finds The title character Moritz Toth narrating his life. He is a former punk who has suffered a recent number of setbacks including the loss of a close female friend. He has a turn of luck when he gets a job in the Opera as a prompter. The guy that sits in a wooden box on the front of the stage helping the singers if they forget lines. His first job is tackling the complex Puccini opera Turandot. As the story of his life unfolds he has a sense that like a character in a Greek myth his life is being controlled and who is that feeling or being he keeps sensing in the background behind him.He also has to cope with being stuck in a small wooden box all day  The second storyline in the book follows an official Tobias Keller.Who works for The moral issuses adviser with the office of the great oversee. We follow him through a number of meeting and as his job and reason for being in the book starts to unfold we see how he is connected to Moritz.

“Your name ”

These were the presiding officers first words to Tobias. His voice was rather thin for such a large man,and Tobias suspected that he was burdened with something of a orthodontic anomaly, as he spoke with a certain impediment, causing missiles of saliva to shoot across the room at random targets,

“Tobias Keller,” he answered.

“What is it that you do, Mr Keller?”

“I am the adviser for the moral issues with the office of the great oversee”

Tobias face a panel and gives his ambiguous job title to the committee


This is a short novel about one man struggling with his life. Then how the other person actions have affected those it shows how a chance and events. Can change people s lives. Both men are effects as Tobias influence of Mortiz life is considered by those he worked for as maybe wrong. I got a sense of Tobias’s  world is rather like that of the world within the film  Brazil and in fact in the way he deals with Moritz is like the angel visions of Jonathan Pryce in that film. but maybe it also harks back to the old nature of the Yugoslavia of the past with its inner working and committees like those Tobias gets caught up in. I managed to get through this review without mention Kafka, but yes there is a sense of his world in Tobias narrative.

The system of Vienna by GertJonke

The system of Vienna by Gert Jonke

Austrian fiction

Original title – Himmelstraße – Erdbrustplatz oder Das System von Wien

Translator – Vincent King

Source – Personal copy

I always look to find new writers for German Lit month. Thomas Bernhard is one of my favourite writers. So I decided to look for another Austrian writer. I found the writer Gert Jonke and brought this Novella. LIke Bernhard Jonke won most of the Major prizes in German literature.He started off studying German studies at University. Then worked in radio dramas.Before writing novels, he was known for his experimental style of writing. This novella follows a journey on the streetcar in Vienna.

I spent the hot summer back in those years mostly at the house of a great-aunt in the country, though, where I would sink down into her garden as if into a sutropical rain forest, in the shadows of the larkspur along the trailers and stalks of vegetables with pods and hulls bursting open in the heat, planted all the way out to the twilit place where menacing stands of horsetail and hemlock woods lined a pondoceanswamp in the sour-smelling surf of which the afternoons coursed along, garbed as tribal migrations of dragonflies in the sky,under whose evening attire my great-aunt would tell me about the most exciting and, to her most decisive moment of her life, which was referred to as the neumarkt air, so good ,so healthful.

One of those long sentences the austrians do so well.

The book follows the twelve stops of his journey on the streetcar. But this journey is one in time and the history of the city itself. The story is said to be autobiographical. But the twelve stops also have separate tales.From a woman arriving at a hospital in one tale. Then another looking back on summers spent with an aunt in the country. Then we have characters like a man that has lost his slides for a lecture. A fish dealer gives his views on Austrian politics and his part within the system. A stamp collector tells how they change the King of Yugoslavia stamp after he passed away. A man that has a view of life formed by what he has found by chance over the years.

“Take a look, though. Don’t you see that the building shouldn’t be standing where it is ? The French emabassy over there was built in the wrong place, although no one intended it to be, but they delivered the wrong plans to the construction firm; they sent the construction firm in charge of the French embassy in Vienna the plans for the French embassy in Bangkok, and delivered the counstruction firm in charge of the French embassy in Bangkok the plans for the Fench embassy in Vienna.

Not sure if this is true but a fun tale told to the narrator.

This is one of those strange little books that are a compelling read.I was drawn in by the mention of the likes of Lawrence Sterne and Italo Calvino on the cover. He has the humour and absurd nature of Sterne for sure. LIke Calvino at the heart of every tale is Vienna Wien.As the tales get stranger and stranger. He takes everyday characters we may see on a streetcar and turns them into the surreal. From a man viewing the world through found items, like the flotsam and jetsam washed up on a shoreline. Building in the wrong place, I was reminded of the comment the German artist Joesph Beuys said when he felt the Berlin wall was too short to be in perspective with the rest of the city. An absurd idea like moving a building in Vienna because it is in the wrong place.He also like Bernhard is a master of the long sentence as you see in the first quote. He is Another writer I will be reading more from and another powerful voice from Austria. Have you read Jonke if so which book should I try next?

in the name of the father by Balla


In the name of the father by Balla

Slovakian fiction

Original title – V mene otca

Translators – Julia and Peter Sherwood

Source – Review copy

I bring the first book from Slovakia tonight , I’m shocked as I have a lot of Czech novels on the blog but so far not many Slovakian books. Anyway Balla is the name Slovakian writer Vladimir Balla goes by.He studied Economics at Bratislava and then took a job at the district office of Nove Zamky. He has been writing since the 1992 and has published ten books. This book won the book of the year in Slovakia. Balla is often called the Slovakian Kafka for his style of writing.

The era of the great blackout began with the drawing of the drapes across our kitchen window. My wife announced in the semi-darkness that the window would stay covered so that people outside wouldn’t see what we were up to.She claimed the neighbours could see into our kitchen.She ascribed fundamental importance to this. She got into her head that our neighbours sole purpose in life was to spy on the family:

His wife goes slightly mad, but wasn’t every one watching at one time !

The book is the Novella and three very short stories by Balla. The main story “in the name of the father” has been described as being his most Autobiographical work to date. It follows the life story of an unnamed narrator. As he reflects on his life of woes. From the opening lines where he is told not to bear children by a doctor that hate the army and uniforms, where he turned up in his. Then he ends up in a weird house that his brother has built there is a number of rooms below the surface that the brother keeps a number of weird items. Then he starts to tell how his life has been. But there is a sense he feels the victim in his life but as his story unfolds we see he has been the instigator of a lot of his troubles.From his parents to his wife who goes mad and his own two sons. They all mix with the world around them which is a world of shifting nations and people drifting and also a sense of a new post-soviet world of people being individuals rather than a collective, rather like his own family fracturing apart. The three stories follow similar threads of home a woman at home whilst her husband is away. Then a weird tale of two men sharing a house. The first asked his friend to join, only to find he actually hates this chap. But there is also an echo of the wider world changing around them as he is ignored by his friends as if he has a contagion which happens to be the title of the story.

What soon became even more unpleasant was the gap that opened between how my friend and I perceived the process of contamination of our immediate eviroment, To cut a long story short, there came a point when the contagion engulfinfing the furniture and the walls began to affect my friend much more rapidly and with greater intensity than it affected me, his fresh fits manifesting themselves almost as soon as, say, new fuinture had been delivered, the walls repainted or the floor replaced.

From the story contagion a friend sees his friend as an enemy but also the world around him change.

There is a hard thing to call someone the “Kafka ” of somewhere, it isn’t always a title. I like attached to writers. Now that said there is a sense of people being in a world they don’t know but these are post soviet worlds where the goals of peoples lives have changed. hen there is a sense of self-persecution that  Kafka gave his character is very much. In the main narrator of In the name of the father. He feels the world has loaded him with what is wrong with it. The house is maybe a metaphor for this world they built it him and his brother to be a dream home but it ends up not being that.what he has captured are the shifting nature of the post-soviet world of shift border,s people and a change in the nature of people and their attitudes for others.That has been on many books. From Krasznarhorkai satantango a village on the edge, or Andres Ban in the recent Dasa Drndric novel a man also summing his life in the post-soviet world. He is using human nature in all its flaws and a wonderful post-modern look at the world around him. A great intro into Slovakian fiction from a new publisher for this blog Jantar.


Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gansel

Pub date: 1 November, 2017 ISBN 978-0-9930093-3-4 / Flapped paperback 190x130 / 128 pages / RRP GBP10.00 A slim half-memoir, half-philosophical treatise musing on translation's potential for humanist engagement by one of the great contemporary French translators. Hansel has lived her life as a risk-taker. Going back to her childhood in post-war France she reflects on her origins as a translator; then she evokes her encounters with banned German writers in 1960s East Berlin. During the Vietnam war, Gansel went to Hanoi to work on an anthology of Vietnamese poetry. With the city under bombardment, this section of the book is a fascinating account of wartime danger, hospitality and human kinship.  Photograph by Natasha Lehrer


Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gansel

Translators memoir

Original title – Traduire comme Transhumer

Translator – Ros Schwartz

Source – review copy

I bring you today a complex memoir from a French translator Mireille Gansal from German to French. She also has translated a lot of the first books of poetry from Vietnam into French after she lived in Hanoi in the 1970’s and discovered the writers of that country. This is another from the new publisher Les Fugitives a small press wanting to bring the most interesting French female voices to English. If this is and the two of the first three books I have read My review of Eve out of the ruins is her  There will be a review of a Blue a self-portrait as well soon. They are a publisher bring us real gems.

If translation is building a bridge between tow foreign shores, I realised that night how important it is for each one of the piles to be firmly anchored .

Translation is also about taking the byways that lead to distant places. The ultimate refuge: poetry as the language of survival, of unassailable liberty.

Two short quotes fromGansel about the art of translation ?

Mirellie Gansal grew up German during the post-war years, but as we find out her family heritage is one of Hungarian with Yiddish being the main language her father spoke growing up. She tells in on passage her wonder of letters arriving from family in Hungarian and how strange those words look, or visiting an aunt who language was a mix of Hungarian , Yiddish , German as she spoke the young Miriell a girl that would grow to love language and her describing the German of writers like Appelfeld and Kerstez the german from beyond Germany .Then to her first journey into that world of the translator when hit by one word a word that can not be held by strict dictionary definition and thus opening the oyster of the translators art and that is to discover the pearls from the words they are translating into English and this is what the book describes also how she discovered the wonderful poetry which she has translated into French and discovered whilst in Hanoi.Then she tells us about Nelly Sachs the Nobel winning Swedish poet that was German escaped Nazi persecution as a German Jew and then wrote about the tragedy of the Jewish people and was also a friend of Paul Celan.

To my delight , the section of the letter my father was reading was about me . He initially translated a word used by his brother or one of his sisters as “beloved” stumbled over the next word and repeated this – actually rather ordinary- adjective once, stumbled again and then rrepeated it a second  time.That triggered something in me. I dared to interupt him. I asked : But in Hungarin, is it the same word? He replied evasively:”it means the same thing!” Undettered I pressed him : But what are the words in Hungarian ? then one by one, he enumerated, almost with embarrassment, or at least with certain reticence, as though there were something immodest about it, the four magic words which. I have never forgotten :Dragam,Kedvesem,aranyoskam,edesem.

Her early wonder at hungarian but also what is in the meaning behind words .

I loved this Gansal brings to life so well her world that of a translator, her reaching out and connecting to the writer’s reality when she translated Reiner Kunze, she hit that nail so well the way a great translator looks beyond the words to bring the writers world to life. then I also was drawn into her early life she may have been one of the last true Mittel Europeans those families that came from everywhere Germany, Austria Hungary and had wonderful stories to tell of their lives. She also shows how she discovered the new voice in Vietnam at a time when America was trying to bomb them back to the stone age she discovered wonderful poets and their works. I feel this is a must-read for any fan of translation and translators and maybe the start of a new trend in translator memoirs?

That’s how whales are born by Anxos Sumai


That’s how whale are born by Anxos Sumai

Spanish fiction

Original title –Así nacen as baleas

Translator – Carys Evans-Corrales

Source – review copy

Anxos Sumai is regarded as one of the best writers from Galicia in Spain. She has written four novels and also worked as a radio journalist. She was voted Galician writer of the year in 2007 the year this book came out it also won a prize for short novels. This is another in the series of books that have been sent to me from Small station press who are bringing to us so many new voices from Galicia.

Mother had just turned fifty-five when she decided to lock herself up in her bedroom. The stores had been functioning for a long time without her assistance and were doing well – very well.It was time for her to fall into one of those agonizing maelstroms, because this how it had been throughout her life, When she locked herself into her room she was defeated, yearning to be transported th some place where destiny would be waiting for her. It didn’t matter where: Mother always needed a destiny to set herself into action, to relinquish the voluntary self-exile she would impose on herself when neither death nor her loved pnes could move her at all .

The motherlocked away from her life and the world in pne trying to give up .

The book follows a young woman journey home. Having escaped her family and living in Baja California Mexico where she is studying Marine biology.In particular to do with whales that do crop up as a recurring thought in her mind. The girl receives a call from her Aunt that her mother a figure whom she had numerous problems with her mother. As she returns we found out about her past the mother who never seemed to recover from the husband that left her even now she has shut out the world and lives in her room. The older brother Ramon, a fat boy with a violent temper and disability that is always eating in her mind and then sleeping this was the time they could get around him without him lashing out. The whale at times is a figure she uses for her brother, with the vast appetites. Add a caring Nann the Aunt and Uncle we see a woman struggling to readjust t0 her home but also seeing those around her after returning.Maybe time is right. She is caught up in an affair with her tutor.

Except that the little girl barelyunderstood anything she was being told when Ramon interrupted them, Excuting turns at the entrance to the kitchen, ramon looked like a fat, flabby potato that gyrated and gyrated until he hit one of the walls. The little girl burst out laughin. Ramon made her ;laugh all the time, unless he was asleep.It was like having a clown all to herself, a joyful clown weighing over one hundred kilos.ramon could eat her up if he wanted to. He could eat her up in the same way he could eat a roasted capon all by himself.He could even flatten her when he breathed.

The brother larger than life like a whale a mystery at times

This is an interesting study of a family a modern family. This maybe shows who the dynamics work when there is no father. The problem of having a large than life figure in that of the brother Ramon. He may be overshadowed the narrator(I sense this we never even know her name). THere is a feeling of her runaway but the elastic of her home never quite breaking and being flung back into the family. But with her eyes opened by the trip to Mexico and also maybe having spent time with whales she sees more in her brother Ramon than she did. This is a book about memories the writer has said in interviews also she wants us the reader to draw our own view on the family.The title came from the time she imagined Ramon spending in the tub a fat boy in the tub and a whale ! I really like this book as it does what she wants us as a reader to do and that is thinking about the characters and the situation of an unnamed girl returning to her odd family.


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