Mirror , Shoulder , Signal by Dorthe Nors

Mirror, Shoulder , signal by Dorthe Nors

Danish fiction

Original title – Spejl, skulder, blink

Translator – Misha Hoekstra

Source – personnel copy

This was the second book I read after the longlist was announced on th train home from london book fair is where I read this book although only a few weeks ago it seems an age . I was in two minds about this one first I had read some great Scandinavian female writers in recent years . But Dorthe Nors first books was rather hyped when it came out and I am always wary of hype . So this short novel was one of two books I brought in london yes even after two pushkin press weeks i rarely get books sent by them shame . So this is hype or not hype

He pointed to the spot on her throat where they were supposed to imagine her breathing had gotten blocked. He did the Hemlich on her , his fingers up in her face, inside her collar up and down her arms.At one point he put her into a stranglehold, but that wasn’t the worst of it . The worst was when they had to do the exercises themselves. It was humiliating to be placed in the recovery position by a boy of eighteen,It also made her dizzy .

At the driving school Of folkie she has to do first aid and a nod to her balance problem

the story follows Sonja , I must admit now I have been thinking about the book today I actually connect a bit with Sonja more than I did when I read the book she is like me in her mid forties . But unlike me her relationship she is a translator (another odd connection !! lol ) and her partner a fellow translator has left her he is translating a big star of Swedish crime fiction !thou she finds this crime fiction overly bloody at times  so she tries meditation and she is now trying to reconnect to her sister and also like me I have just decided to start driving . She has two instructors thou they won’t even let her change gears yet , she is their oldest pupil . Then add to this she is drifting in her m ind ot her past maybe in a way retracing those steps she took that lead her to where she is now . This is a woman in a sot of modern mid-life crisis that isn’t a crisis she has lost her connection to the world with no partner and no family tie she is drifting .

Sonja’s come to a standstill in front of her mirror .A  short while before, she was on her way through the bedroom , sandal in hand, when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror on the inside of her wardrobe. It looked as if kate were standing in the wardrobe . That’s weird , she thought. Kate and I never resembled each other, So She stepped over to the mirror to have a proper look.

Kate’s got two sons and her husband Frank.When they’re in Copenhagen , they make a beeline for Tivoli, but other wise they go around  trying to disguise the facts that they’re from Jutland.

Sonja thinking on the sister she has no contact with now .

I initially really didn’t get this book , but since I read it .I have grown to like to Sonja is hapless in a way more of a character that is in a classic comic works by the likes of Wodehouse . The way she is hapless in her various quests to reconnect to her sister  no joy , driving her instructors holding her back and even her job she get pain typing and hates what she works on at times . This is bare of lot more a link series of adventures rather like the cuisine that has swept Denmark in recent year where everything is local but is the also cut back so everything in the meal is just enough to give ut taste and not to many tastes . Like the other Danish novels I have read by Pia Juul and Helle Helle plot is twisted this is a midlife crisis stripped to the bare a woman struggling to get balance , even she has an inner ear problem meaning that this is both actual and literal balance she is struggling for in her own life .A quirky fun novel about struggling to be middle aged and with no one !

 

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Black Moses

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Congolese fiction

Original title – Petit Pimen

Translator – Helen Stevenson

Source – review copy

As I limp on trying to get through the man booker list , well that said I am reading the last book on the list and just have my reviews to write-up . Today i catch up with the latest from one of the most featured writers on the Blog Alain Mabanckou  widely regard as one of the best African writers of his generation called Africa Samuel Beckett . this is also the third book he has had on the short and longlist for this and the old independent foreign fiction prize. So to  Black Moses

Back on the platform again , still with hid escort of wardens , Dieudonne Nguoulmoumako launched into grand-orator mode, explaining how we were the builders and protectors of the scientific socialist revolution. On his jacket , just above “where his heart beat” as some people put it, gleamed a badge with three letters on : CWP . You had to get up really close tp read , in small writing under the letters : Congolese Workers Party

The Orphanage under communism and their leader

This follows one boys coming of age story in the Congo of the 1970’s , like many other places in africa at that time the country had swung to the left and fallen in with Communism , like many regimes of the time this was just an excuse for a man called Ngoulmouako and his henchmen to try to run the orphanage where our Hero Mose lives and what follows here is a modern twist on the orphan made good story that made so many great books from Charles dickens , it’s not Oliver twist  or pip no Moses has it hard but he is in the town of Point-Noire the colourful town that has been at the centre of most of Mabanckou fiction Moses gets help from Maman fiat 500 whom he tells her he is called little pepper , part of his robin hood fantasy (I love this name classic Mabanckou) the mistress of the local whore , who finds him a job as a docker and tries to help him out he spends time with her  and the girls.he gets in many scraps with his group of friends as they hang out with Mamans Zairian girls  Then the world start to turn dark Maman disappears the girls are forced out as there is a drive for girls just from Congo as they are driven out we see the dark side of the regime .

Anyway, what’s your name ?

“Little Pepper …”

She looked surprised :

“What kind of a name is that ? You must have a real name , like everyone else?!

When i didn’t react she sighed “Never mind, we’ll call you that ! My name is Maman fiat 500!

She took out a ten thousand CAF franc note and held it out to me .

Here , Little Pepper , that’s for you, buy yourself a shirt and a pair of horts ,what you’re wearing looks like you live in a cave , for good sake !”

Moses and Maman meet for the first time

 

This feels like a writer loving his homeland , after his last book which saw Alain return for the first time in many years to his home town of Point Noire , which is the setting for the novel , I feel this maybe is part of a story he heard on his retutrn that he has woven into a tale of growing up in the town on a different path to his own Moses is a take of the orphan story rather more like artful dodger with his gang of friends and then there is Maman story , her story is almost like the Harlots Progress  as her girls follow the path and rise and then fall like in Hogarth’s etchings  as with Mose is maybe like tom in the rakes progress series of etchings , even to the end where we see mose is in a cell in a prison for the criminally insane . He has revived the classic orphan tale in a Congo under the yoke of communism where the bad take control .

The Major refutation by Pierre Senges

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The Major Refutation by Pierre Senges

French fiction

Original title – La réfutation majeure

Translator – Jacob Siefring

Source – review copy via translator

I have from time to time be contacted by the translator to review their latest book and this was the case with Jacob , whom I knew vaguely via twitter and the fact he has been championing this writers work. He has translated a number of works by Pierre Senges . Pierre Senges start initially as a jazz musician , this I note as later I do wonder if this hs influenced his style of writing . He has been a writer since the 1990s and has written over fifteen books and also a large number of works for radio in France. He is noted for his baroque style and the way he twists history with a way of keeping the original style to his works .

If this New world actually existed, if its measure could be had in hectares and in tons, or maliciously in carats to reflect the value of its diamond mines, or in nautical miles because it is semmingly capable of devouring an entire hemisphere as a crab would , going from north to south and from east to west- if this were the case , then adventures would have set foot there long ago ,smugglers failing to find better use for their discovery would have taken it as their refugee

From the opening page of the Major Refutation , this seems true how could something so large be unknown !

This book is meant to be a work that was written by Antonio De Guevara , this is a work that was mention supposedly and lost then found and it is a work The book is a work about trips to discover what is the new world then to send people these  written as a treatise to Charles V  , about the falsehood of the new world. this is back in a time when of course some people thought the earth was flat and places unknown on maps were often just marked with the words here be monsters ! De Guevara argument is that the new world isn’t all it is meant to be and is a creation by others to deceive the king and other and De Gueveara brings many arguments to why this is the case in what are letter like chapters.

The invention of the new world and of the useless islands supposed the invention of evidence, fabricated on this side f the earth, on the continent, in the portuguese colonies perhaps but always brought back into port; for it is impossible to make a country of fog,of phantoms and of gleaming gold exist out there with out having some exotic but tangible scraps wash up on our beaches .Some talk might have sufficed; our taverns are full of those boasters returned from afar, full of one-armed men who clasped in an embrace the great Khan of China and the incestuous gang of prester John

The New World is made up of lies , boasters and false goods

When I started blogging the real hunt for me wasn’t just world lit , no I could just count countries I do but not in a race . For me the reason I blog is to be like an explorer of books a discoverer of fiction , an adventure on the edge of what the novel is and this is why getting connect with guy like Jacob and been introduce to a writer like Pierre Senges this book is a book that has thanks to the time Jacob spent translating it , you can find out more on Jacobs blog . This is a book that defies pigeonholed .For me the fact in his early life he was into jazz and was a musician plays a part in this book , great jazz can take something ordinary and twist it and bend it into something totally new.so like John Coltrane in his working of my favourite things we have some part of the original . Well lets break this down Fray Antoino de Guevera was a preacher and his preaching was about peace and a different vision of what empire was , Charles the fifth was the spanish lead at the time the new world was discovered. So  the parts are their want Pierre Senges has done is create a rift on the two men and the idea of there being a treatise on there not being a new world . I loved this as Jacob said it is a unusal book and one that if he hadn’t pushed we wouldn’t have read , one great thing is so many transltors have there pet projects and maybe publisher need listen to them more (a sublte nod here to Horcynus Orca which I know is a pet project of Andrea Camelleri translator ), how many more are out there !!

Compass by Mathias Enard

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Compass by Mathias Enard

French fiction

Original title – Boussole

Translator – Charlotte Mandell

Source – review copy

Well strange I did my round-up and book of the month for february yesterday .I am sure unless something unexpected comes along this will be March’s  book of the month only a day in . This is the third novel by Mathias Enard I have read and for me this is his best . It won the Prix Goncourt in 2015. Mathias Enard studied Persian and Arabic and has spent long periods in the Middle east . This is his tenth novel

Sarah found that pharse extraordinary, “Take me, lead me where you like ; I won’t bother you, I sleep all day, in the evening you can let me go to the concert and at night you can do what you like with me ” a declaration of absolute beauty and despair, a total nudity – unlike Liszt , I know where she is buried , the montmatre cemetery. Which Sarah showed me

sarah quotes Marie Duplessis Liszt’s mistress and a woman who inspired Alexander Dumas .

The last but one  sentence of the intro is the key  to what  this book is about  simply Enard is a huge fan of the Middle east and this book is his ode to the way us in the West and the east mix together . I’m now not sure what we call this area the middle east or as Nawai El Saadawi who’s middle east , the Wests middle east ! so from the middle west here is my view of this wonderful book . Then we have the term Orient the older term which is the one Enard seems to prefer . Anyway the Arab speaking world and How Enard has chosen to show us this  west and east struggle via Franz Ritter a Austrian musicologist who over the space of one late night and early morning suffering  with a bout of insomnia he recalls his frequent trips to this part of the work . so from Istanbul to Tehran and place like Aleppo and Damascus we follow Franz but also Sarah a spirited french woman like Franz caught between west and east. SO as the night goes on the arc of the relationship maybe also arcs the relationship of west and east . Like the point of a compass this book points east to the heart of Arab world and an affair that was doomed but also the clashing of the west and east how the west has viewed the east through music , art and literature and how these have been tinged by the East from Franz Liszt to Agatha Christie the east has touch many artists and their works .

The debate became stormy ; Sarah had mentioned the great name, the wolf  had appeared in the midst of the flock , in the freezing desert: Edward Said .It was like invoking the Devil in a Carmelite convent ; Bilger , horrified at the idea that he could be associated with any kind of Orientalism, immediately began embarrassed auto criticism, renouncing everything : Francois-marie and julie were nuanced on the question, while still acknowledging that Said had asked a burning but pertinent question : the relationship between knowledge and power in the Orient

Said one of the main names you connect with Orientalism

Well as you see this book is one that it is easy to fall in love with it is one of the novels that you will also need a note-book and maybe Spotify hand to listen to the music mentioned and the books mentioned. So as we see Franz wrestle with on coming sleep and the dreams to remember the good and bad times of the relationship. This is also an ode to that lost world his times in Aleppo , which is now a smoking ruined city instead we see the Aleppo that drew people there before the war . We get a sense of a past that isn’t there now a time when the world wasn’t so tense in this Joycean evening of vivid dreams of a long past relationship and world .

The french Father by Alain Elkmann

 

The French Father by Alain Elkmann

Italian fiction

Original title – Il padre francese

Translator – Alastair McEwen

Source – personnel copy

Well I chose this to be the first book of the second Pushkin Press fortnight .A s I felt its writer maybe in his own life a captures Part of what Pushkin Press are about international literature and this writer has a truly international flavour  . Alain Elkmann  is an American born son of a french industrialist  and an Italian mother , who has spent most of his life in Italy and was married to the daughter of the boss of Fiat. This was his second book to be translated into English. He has written twenty books and writes a regular piece for a number of Italian Newspaper. I must note it is also Pushkin Press 20th anniversary so lets hope they have many more. May I also note I have had or made no contact with them about this fortnight. This year also sees ten years of Maclehose press more about that at a later date !!

After a step or two, I saw a new grave, on which a white stone bore the name “Roland Topor” in Black letters .I knew that Topor had been an artist, a writer. I had met him with my ex-wife and recalled having seen reports of his death in the newspapers. I remembered him with a glass of red wine in his hands, laughing in a coarse way and smoking a cigar .It had been one night in Paris, at the house of a painter friend

He had once meet his fathers new neighbour

The story starts when a son pays a visit to his father’s grave in the famous Parisian cemetery Montparnasse , like him his father was Jewish it is a while since he has been to his father’s grave but in line with tradition he has to visit on the eleven month with his sisters . When he sees that there is a new grave next to that of his fathers that of Roland Topor the well-known French Polish surrealist. Alain the son then sets about finding out as much as possible to discover as much as possible about the man sat in the ground next to his father as he seems so different to his stiff upper class father a man of the old french world of power and honour . As the story unfolds we see the son discovering more about Roland and his family . the two men below the ground are all so talking about themselves and naturally with two men at such different ends of the spectrum they argue about their lives and how they lived it .

“No I don’t feel like talking about my father . It’s not something I can do yet ”

“I should like to go to the cemetery with you , Your father’s grave is very spartan . My father is buried beside his parents .How is it that your grandparents aren’t buried beside your father”

“Just a minute who are you ? I don’t even know you. I’ve told you that I don’t want to talk about this matter, you ask me and you expect an answer ?

Alain asks Roland’s son about him , but later thinks he may have gone about it the wrong way

 

This is a quirky book and if I had said in less than a year after reading The dirty dust I would be reading another book about people talking in their lives in their graves I would have laughed but no here is another book where the dead talk about their lives. It’s a class of french Upper class lives and the Bohemian world of france sharing two graves next to each other . Then there is the son drive to discover more about his fathers new neighbour which drives him into his own investigation of Roland Topor , he knows he wrote a book that Roland Polanski made into a film and he was quite  a character in his time but not much else as he untangled his past and discovers more than he thought . This is all packed  into 120 pages , this is one of those quirky novellas that have you thinking for ages after you have put it down and finished it. So this is ,my first Puskin Prees fortnight review , what from them have you been reading ?

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