At the Edge of the Night by Friedo Lampe

the book cover

At the Edge of the Night by Friedo Lampe

German fiction

Original title – Am Rande der Nacht

Translator – Simon Beattie

Source – personal copy

I have struggled to read so even this short novella took me a lot longer than normal. It is another book from Germany this is the first time it has been in English it came out in German. in 1933 just as the Nazis took over power and it was later banned and had piece cut when republished and wasn’t t to 1999 there was a full addition published. The book was mentioned is mentioned in Patrick Modiano’s Dora Bruder where the main character in the book has read the book and he says that the writer was born in the same year as the main character Dora Bruder.

The two girls were more patient and quiet. They were actually a bit scared: they did not really like rats. Horrible creatures. Pretty much the most trepulsive animals in the world. Especially those smoth, hairless tails,Ugh. And didn’t they go for people? Who had said recently thayt they got into bedrooms and -Brr-don’t think about it. We should go, really- but..it’s quite interesting, actually. And the boys would laugh and rag them, too, Scaredy cats.No…Fifi whispered into Luise’s ear: I’m going count down to thirty,real slow, and if they haven’t come, we’ll just go. They can say what they like. OK?.

THey wait fot he rats to run past them on the ground.

This is one of those books that is hard to describe Lampe was a fanof films we are told in the intro by the translator and the best wat to describe this is a series of little vignettes where we dive in and out of life around the Harbour on one september evening. Hans and Erich and two girls lay down around the rats as the run around them then we see the girls as they head off the tram as they stopped so drunks from boarding the same tram. An old man sits in a park that is how the story goes it is then a couple following to a steamer this is fragment at times and we have the sort of action like the camera drifting here from a steamer to a hypnotist a band  and there this is a a series of events I was remind of Doblin and Joyce of course as the events take place over one evening.

The foxtrot had come to an end, the dancers seperated, standing there in a moment of indecision. The band leader stepped towards the edge of where the bands sat and wearily looked over at them with caution. The faces of musicians glisten just as dull and indifferen. You could see the bass fiddle, dark and brown, the propped-up lid of the piano gleaming smoot and black

Even the band seems dark here this is a world on the edge of what would be madness.

I think I struggled with this as it was rich in a way I would describe it as eating extrememly stick toffee nice but hard work. It is like the films I love by the likes of Altman something like Short cuts or Paul Thomas Anderson’s  magnolia which like this drifts here and there there is also a keen eye in the way he describe little details here and there. There is also a noir feel to the book a feeling of sorrow and lament in the world we are shown DOcks and harbours in big toiwns tend to alwys have a dark belly that just lurks under the surface and that is what we feel here at times the tense and darkness that is just below everyones lives in the story.There is also a spectre of the Nazis not mentioned much but the broken world we see i the post world war one world and the catlyst in many ways for world war two. Lampe himself was injured and had a limb so he sat out  world war one and in world war two  he died weeks before the end of the war shot by mistake as Russian soldier thought he was a SS officer. Have you read this ?

The Revolt by Clara Dupont-Monod

The Revolt by Clara Dupont-Monod

French historic fiction

Original title  – La Révolte

Translator – Ruth Diver

Source – review copy

Dupont-Monod studied Ancient France at university before going into Journalism, radio, and tv work and writing. She has worked at Cosmopolitan and then Marianne, alongside she worked on the radio. She has written a number of novels and been on the shortlist for two of the biggest french book prize she also hosts a weekly Literary column on French tv every week. This is her debut in English. She lives in Paris and says she has been haunted by Eleanor of Aquitaine for many years.

My mother is a self-assured woman. I have absolute faith in her. She owes this assurance ti her birth, for she is the Duchess of Aquitaine, raised amid luxury and learning, haloed by the memory of her grandfather, the first poet. For her there is no difference between silk and sapience. She managed her fiefs with an iron hand from the very start. Vassal’s rebelions, harvests, defing borders, settling disputes …. Eleanor likes to rule, and she knows every alleyway of even the smallest village of her Aquitaine

A strong women for the time loved her home and want to be in charge

Well, there was a clue in the first bit the haunting of her from Eleanor of Aquitaine as she forms the main character in this story it is told from her son Richard the lionheart. She first gets her marriage to Louis VII annulled and she then sets her sights on the English king Henry Plantagenet, but his strong women have misjudged the English king as he is a bully and he has taken a mistress Rosamunde he has also started to try and take over the french piece she has to try and find a way to remove him and this is where Richard who will become king in his place is taken part as he helps his mother gain he freedom from under her brute of a husband. This is a son honoring his mother it is a story of strong women in a time of male society a queen in lands of Kings

My mother loses her illusions two years after her remarriage. One winters evening in 1154, she is due to set sail from the port of Barfleur, on the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula. In her arms she holds her child, born a little more than a year after the wedding. His nam is William. The son Eleanor never gave Louis. And she is pregnant again.

The crew scan the skies. Low clouds. heavy swells, they shpould delay crossing. My father refuses. He has been cursing the wind for weeks. No capricious sea will stop him. His destiny is calls.”England is at the end of a civil war”, he hammers, “she wants her new king”He will be the great saviour. He must banish the looters, raze the insubordinate lords’ strongholds , recover the crown’s asset, and mint new coins. He promises power and justice, and to “Prise the goods of the poor from the rapacious hands of the pwerful” as he had announced

She ses a different side of him after a couple of years of marriage.

This is a short work and works I have struggle with longer works of historic fiction. I am one of the few people that isn’t a huge fan of Wolf Hall and its follow up. This is a similar story but the way it comes across is vibrant and springs to life the world of Eleanor women I only knew by name not her place in the world her she has used a piece of the truth and has woven it with her prose to give a powerful story of the world she was haunted by.  that has been well drawn in English by Ruth Diver in translation. It also has a son’s love of his mother this is a man that would do anything for her even kill a king. The tyrant that is her second husband is a great portrait of a tyrant a man of power who shes her as a thing more than an equal and wife. This is a great first book for my few books for women in translation month.  I must note as well this is one of my favorite covers so far this year. Have you a favorite historic work in translation?

 

A House in Norway by Vigdis Hjorth

A House in Norway by Vigdis Hjorth

Norweigan fiction

Original title – Et norsk hus

Translator – Charlotte Barslund

Source – personal copy

I brought will and testaments earlier this year then remembered I had this by the Norweigan writer Vigdis Hjorth. Vigdis grew up in Oslo she studied Philosophy, literature and political science and has been writing both adult and children’s fiction. She writes about the dilemmas of living in Modern society, her character struggles to come to terms with a rapidly changing world and to find a meaningful way to integrate with others and realize their own potential. She has won many prizes and has a number of her books translated into English she said her influences are Dag Solstad, Bretold Brecht and Louis-Ferdinand Celine. This is the first book by her I have read.

A few days later a woman phined and introduced herself as the interperter for “your tennt Slawomira Tzebuchwaskai”. She spoke broken, but clear coherrent Norweigan. It was concerning her tenant’s housing situation. She said and she wanting to meet with Alama. And Alma was delighted and said yes because she wanted nothing more that to resolve the tenant’s housing situation. The interpreter would visit. Alma in a few days, and the pole would be there as well, almaunderstood, so did this mean that she was moving back in ?

After her husband has to return to Poland she is left as a single parent Alam still willing to help ?

The book follows the life of a divorced textile artist. She lives in an old villa that has an apartment that she has rented out once unsuccessfully so when she lets a Polish Family move in she sees them as steady and she starts work on a large commission doing a tapestry to celebrate a centenary of women’s suffrage in Norway. But then as the Famil have kids and things start to happen like the Husband has to return to Poland leaving the wife and the kids alone in the apartment but they start knawing at Alma like the Mouse that her Polish neighbor says she has but won’t take the traps out like this and other little things start making Alma regret her decision. this leads to a series of letters rent rise changes in the size and description of the apartment it size. This carries on will she get her house back will she finish her commission?

Alma wrote the long-planned letter to her tenant in order to make same demands of her as she would have done of a Norwegian by informing her of the Norwegian attitude to electricty consumption. To be more conscious of her usage and turn down the radiators at night, sort her rubbish for recycling and not mixpaper and cardboard with other waste, and she also requested that she parked her car alongside Alma’s and always in the tarmac rather than on the ground between the treesfurther down where Alma wanted the grass to grow in the summer .

The crack in their relationshipo start after her husband isn’t their little things that build up over time.

 

This is done exactly what the description of her writing does in the book we have Alma she is a fair mind woman in her eyes her kids come ever so often. especially Christmas but in your heart you feel she is only renting the apartment for the money and no matter who was there she would eventually pick fault and her we see this she wants to be fair but at the back of her mind is the wanting a quiet life and the things like clearing the snow which when she contact the landlord advice line she does this a number of times not wanting to be seen as a bad landlord. This is all about manners and trying to be polite but there is a simmering undercurrent slowly growing in Alma that silent anger that is hidden just under the surface we see it building I was reminded of the few books I read by Anne Tyler a writer that also is great at capturing a woman at a certain age that simmers so well like Alma does here. Have you read Hjorth?

MR Palomar by Italo Calvino

MR Palomar by Italo Calvino

Italian fiction

Original title – Palomar

Translator – William Weaver

Source – personal copy

Italo Calvino is book review 1001 on the blog his books have featured on the blog five times before.  He is a writer whom I will have his whole cannon on here I have at least four other books on my tbr and a couple I need to get hold off. As a writer He had two periods of writing the first was a more realist writing then, later on, he became involved in the OULIPO group and his writing became more experimental. This is from that later period. It started before his famous work if on a winters night but was finished and published after that. This is a story that is based around the numbers and the world three lots of chapters in 9 sections which is 3 x 3 itself etc.

Mr Palomar is walking along a lonely beach. He encounters a few bathers. One young woman is lying in the sand taking the sun, her bosom bared. Palomar, discreet by nature, looks away at the horizon of the sea. He knows that in such circumstances, at apporach of a strange man, women often cover themselves hastily, and this does not seem right to him: because it is a nuisancefor the woman peacefully sun-bathing, and because the passing man feels he is an intruder, and because the taboo of nudity is implicityly confirmed; becausehalf respected conventions spread insecurity and incoherence of behavior rather than freedom and frankness

The opening of the naked bosom and he ponders what happens when you meet a topless lady.

I read a few pieces about this book the most interesting piece I read was about his original choice of the cover which is an Albrecht Durer of an artist drawing a woman using a frame with boxes and a piece of paper with corresponding boxes and that is what this book is in a way Palomar is the name of a man whom we see observing the world in various ways and situations. Each section is set in a place or later on things like silence, society, and meditations. The stories start with him on holiday. with observing waves but also the pattern of the waves he is observing then as he walks along the beach he observes the various topless ladies on the beach and the naked bosoms. are a couple of vacation tales.  Then in his garden, he observes a pair of tortoise making love. Then he looks at the sky for three more tales one about a moon visible in the afternoon one imagines a supermoon that we have seen a lot the last few years. Palomar is a deep observer of life and his world but there is also a sense he is a little like Mr bean or monsieur Hulot someone that views the world a different way a comic way at times to those around him. One story that touched me was that od Snowflake or Copito de Nieve the only Albino gorilla in a zoo to live to age. The stories are all between one and ten pages long little vignettes.

In the Barcelona zoo there exists the only example known in the world of the great albino ape, a gorilla from equatorial Africa. Mr Palomar picks his way through the crowd that presses into the animal’s building. Beyond a sheet of plate glass, ” Copito de Nieve”(“Snowflake”, as they call him), is  a mountain of flesh and white hide. Seated against the wall, he is taking the sun. The facial mask is a human pink, carved by wrinkles, the chest also reveals a pink glabrous skin, like that of a human of the white race, with its enormous features, a sad giant’s face thurns evry now and then towards the crowd of vistors beyond the gkass, less than a meter from him, a slow gaze charged with desolation and patience and boredom, a that expresses all the rsignation at being the way he is, sole exemplar in the world of a form not chosen, nor loved, all the effort of bearing his own singularity, and suffering at occupying space and time with his precense so cumbersome and evident

The sad life of snowflake so touching capture in the opening paragragh of The albino gorilla.

I enjoyed this on the level I read it I know there is a lot more here and I think this book would welcome a second reading in a few years I would unlock more about the finite connections between the stories and how they build a picture of the wider world the question is what are we here and what is the world and the way we see it in  Palomars eyes is different. From his qh=uestion of waves, the sound of a blackbirds singing,  the mechanism of Tortoise lovemaking, a gecko in the sun His shopping goose fat for example echoed with the artwork of the time from Beuys his throwing of fat against the wall for effect. An albino gorillas world and life. Then the world and its place in question as he observes the stars and the planets and our solar system. This is only 100 pages long a slim novella but like the other collection from him in this style I read The castle of cross destinies, there is a lot more than first seems here. Have you a favorite work from Calvino?

 

The Sad Part was by Prabda Yoon

The sad part was by Prabda Yoon

Thai fiction

original title – kwam na ja pen

Translator – Mui Poopoksakul

Source – personal copy

Well, I add another new country today with Thailand. I haven’t read enough books that Tilted Axis has brought out so I choose this one as one to read. The writer Prabda Yoon has many talents he has written twenty works of fiction. He has also illustrated hundreds of book covers.He has also translated books from Nabakov, Salinger, and Burgess whose Clockwork Orange he has translated(always have time for a Burgess translator). His works of both fiction and Art have done well in Japan. This is his first book to be translated into English and was mainly from the collection Kwan na ja pen.

The film My grandfather screened most often was Dracula, The black and white version starring Bela Lugosi. If it was pouring outside when Friday came around, there was no need to wonder which movie he’d choose to suit the weather. Come to think of it, he resembled Lugosi’s count Dracula. His cheeks were sallow, his eyes were sunken, and he wore his hair combed flat to his head; his jaw narrowed shrply to the oint of his chin, while his jet black eyebrows slanted up towards his temple. The only difference was that he didn’t have fangs , and I never spotted any tell tale puncture wounds around the base of my grandmothers neck.

A grandson grew up watch dracula that his grandparents showed in their pop up cinema.

He is considered a leading light of Thai fiction and this is a collection that shows his talent as a writer the stories are all set around Bangkok. There is a sense in many of them of that passing of the crown from an older generation to the younger generation. With a story like pen in parentheses with the grandparents showing Dracula on an old bedsheet. This links to the present when the grandson makes an ad with breath mints and Dracula.. but there is a sense of lack of connection between the generations even thou the grandson had tried by the use of the vampire. Then there is another story with vampires in.  Then we have a schoolgirls insight into her life via her diary. Then there was the crying party a strange tale of people eating hot chillis in order to cry, one of these strange rituals that crop up as a sort of rights of passage in the youth of modern Thai do when they are a certain age. Strangers meeting in a park this is a slice of modern Bangkok. Snapshots of Bangkok in the 90s the orignal collection was published in 2002.

“You all met up here every Sunday to get drunk and eat raw bird’s eye chilies until tears came out of your eyes? And competed to see who could cry the longest and the most That sounds ridiculous… and kind of awful,” Lert opined after I’d finished explanning the gist of the crying parties to him.

He seemed to have a good grasp of it

It probably no great revation to say that june was the one who instigated the crying parties. As I understood it, she founded them on a day when she was dealing with some form of heartache. But June didn’t breath a word of this to is- she even acted particularly cheery when she opened the doorto welcome the first to the gathering.

The crying party isn’t all it seems but people still go to it .

I felt these all capture parts of modern Thai life from the grandson trying to connect with his grandparents with his advert that is a nod to his youth sat watching the old Bela Lugosi film on a bed sheet but there is a barrier there, like the strangers in the park it takes time til the young man can be accepted by the older man.I feel I would like to read moire of Yoon work he seems to capture a world that isn’t perfect in fact there is a touch of melancholy to these stories but maybe that is just what happens when you live in a fast-moving city like Bangkok the speed of life sometimes drains the beauty life like a victim of a Vampire a little pale a little detached. these snapshots of a city from generation youth to strangers meeting a love affair cover every day so well. Have you read this collection? or any other from Tilted Axis what to read next?

The Shadow Booker international shortlist

Our shadow jury of bloggers and reviewers of translated fiction has completed our reading of the International Booker 2020 longlist, and has chosen our own Shadow Shortlist.

In alphabetical order of the original author’s name our chosen six books are:

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (Farsi – Iran), tr. Anonymous (Europa Editions)

The Other Name Septology I-II by Jon Fosse (Norwegian – Norway), tr. Damion Searls (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Spanish – Mexico), tr. Sophie Hughes (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese – Japan), tr. Stephen Snyder (Harvill Secker)

Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (French – France), tr. Sophie Lewis & Jennifer Higgins (Peirene Press)

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Dutch – Netherlands), tr. Michele Hutchison (Faber & Faber)

Firstly, we would like to congratulate the judges on choosing a very strong longlist. There are some stunning books on the list, and almost all of them, including those that missed out on our shortlist, had their champions among us. The books didn’t always make for an easy read – some are quite graphic in their depiction of violence – but certainly a thought provoking one,

You will see that four of our choices overlap with those of the official jury.

The Adventures of China Iron impressed many of us, but couldn’t quite squeeze on to our list. Instead we chose the cleverly connected short stories from Faces on the Tip of My Tongue.

When we were predicting books on the longlist The Eighth Life was the novel we most expected to see given its undoubted popularity both in the Anglosphere but also internationally. And we had expected it to make both the official and our shadow shortlist. Somewhat to our surprise, it missed out on both – the magic of the hot chocolate clearly doesn’t work on everyone.

We were though more surprised, and disappointed, at the exclusion of The Other Name from the official list – Jon Fosse’s trademark slow prose is stunning, and it makes for a very different reading experience from the others on the list. It is a timeless novel, and we fear the jury’s not unreasonable focus on novels relevant for the Covid-19 era may have counted against it. But with the next volume due in the autumn perhaps Fosse will make next year’s shortlist and he’s also overdue the Nobel Prize.

At the other end of the spectrum, the officially shortlisted Tyll didn’t spark much enthusiasm in our panel. But the one provoking the strongest reactions was Serotonin: several of the books on our shortlist are brutal or visceral but parts of Houllebecq’s novel simply felt gratuitous. Only three of our judges finished reading it and none of those were terribly impressed by its inclusion on the longlist.

We’ll now embark on the period of further re-reading, reflection and discussion to choose our winner. We wonder if we and the official jury will see eye to eye as we did in 2018, or reach a different view as we did last year.

(Thanks to Paul Fulcher for writing such an eloquent, and perfectly summarized, post for our shortlist decision. You can find him on Twitter at @fulcherpaul and on Goodreads here.)

Winstonsdad  I am pleased with our shortlist I had just about bar a few hundred pages finished the longlist I am behind on review but have enjoyed this year list there have been some eye-opening and shocking titles that show the wider nature of literature in translation I will review the rest of the longlist before we announce our winner I am now aiming to get to the 1000 reviews in the next few weeks.

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Dutch Fiction

original title –  De avond is ongemak

Translator – Michele Hutchinson

Source – review copy

I was pleased when this made the Booker longlist as I had already said I would review it today as part of a Bokenweek tour which I have taken part through over the last few years. I have long been a fan of Dutch lit so when the chance to review a book from one of the rising stars of Dutch Lit Marieke Lucas Rijneveld first came to notice with a poetry collection Calfskinwhich won a poetry prize. She grew up in the North Brabant area of The Netherlands where it is a large dairy farming area and religious as well. Her middle name was initially a fantasy friend when she was growing up but in her late teens, she took the name as a way to show her as an intermediate person. The discomfort of evening is her debut novel like the main character she also lost a sibling growing up.

“But he’s not dead” Mum said to the vet. She got up from the edge of the bath and extricated her hand from a pale blue flannel. She’d been just about to clean Hanna’s bottom, otherwise there was achance she’d get worms. They made little holes in the cabbage leaves. I .  was old ebough to make sure I didn’t get worms and I wrapped my arms around my knees to look less naked now the vet had suddenly come into the bathroom

The vet tells the mother it is fatal but this is the start of the world they know falling apart.

When ten-year-old Jas loses her older brother and one of her five siblings through a skating accident. At this point her world starts to fall apart.she is on the cusp of being a teen discovering her body but also struggling with the loss of her brother. From believing her family ios hiding Jews in the cellar aftermath of Foot and mouth is still felt in the community times are hard for the family these are dark times. From toads under her bed to strange events with cows on the farm Jas is trying to bring her brother back and help her siblings. As her mother stops eating and the father buries his head in the farm. Matthies is dead and they can’t mention him as the family struggles this is a portrait of a meltdown viewed from the eyes of a ten year but a ten-year-old with a weird way of dealing with her grief her self.

“How’s it going in the basement ?”

I don’t look at my mother but fix my gaze on  the floweery meadow on her apron, It’s possible that mum will move into the basement one day ; that she’ll find the family, the Jewish people that live there, nicer than us. What wikl hapopen to the three kings then, I don’t know: Dad is still incapable of evening heating up milk for coffeee. and if he lets it even tht boil over, how could he ever keep his children at the right temprature?

The family is spliting before Jas eyes.

This is a slow unravelling of a family through grief it is heartbreaking dark and mesmerizing at times. In the hinterlands of Holland, a ten year old narrates as her family falls apart from the loss of the eldest son. The parents are there but aren’t there this takes the book into a similar territory of books like lord of the flies. As Jas her sister and brother start to do thing that are strange and odd rituals touching animals touching each other as they have no outlet for their grief their actions turn. As they grapple with the cusp of adulthood and also sexual awakening tinged with disbelief at loss add to the odd world. I was reminded of Gerbrand Bakker twin in the setting a dairy farm in the hinterlands of holland also dealing with death. But this is a darker book than that was it is brutal death is never far away as anyone how has grown up in the countryside nature and farming can both be brutal at times. What are your thoughts on these books ? I reviewed this as part of a boken week tour her are the other stops

 

 

Happening by Annie ernaux

Happening by Annie Ernaux

French memoir

original title – L’événement

Translator – Tanya Leslie

Source – review copy

I have reviewed two Annie Enraux books before on the blog the first A women’s story and then The years both of which I really enjoyed she has a real talent for bringing her own life and events pop off the page. She has been writing mainly books around her won life since the 1970’s she has won numerous prizes for her books. Although this is a shorter work and is based in 1963 the year she had an abortion this was written a number of years later. It still has the same descriptive and insightful view into her world.

I wasn’t the least bit apprehensive about getting an abortion. It seemed a highly feasible undertaking, admittedly not an easy one, but one that did not require undue courage. A minor ordeal. All I needed to do was ffollow in the footsteps of the mryiad women who had preceded me.Since my early teens I had gleaned many stories of abrotions, taken from novels or inspired by local gossip through hushed conversations. I had acquired some vague idea of the methods yo use – a knitting needle, parsley stalks, injections of soapy water or violent horse rides – The ideal solution being to find a quack doctor or a back street abortionist; both chargfe extremely high fees although I had no idea ow much. The previous year, a young divorcee had told me that a doctor from Strasborg had rid her of a child, sparing me the details except that “It was so painful I was clinging to the bathroom sink” I too was prepared to cling to the sink, I didn’t think it might Kill me.

She knew a bit but not the horrors that could happen as it is just whispered in the background of society.

This is one of those books that needed to write and read as it shows the importance of choice to women. Written a number of years after the events she recalls what happened to her in the early sixties. She is the daughter of a working-class religious family just starting to taste the freedom of the early days of her university career and the summer before. She has an early encounter with a man just called P in the text he was studying political science she had met in the summer holidays in Bordeaux this was her first sexual encounter. Her memories of the time are of seeing the film the rape of Sabine women and her saying it had come to mean one thing. I was there and I didn’t know I was becoming pregnant. When this occurs she must find one of those back streets abortionists as with the Uk Abortion was banned in France until 1975 with the Veil laws. So she finds out the details of one of these women but is it the right thing to do ? Does she know what she was doing? This is all brought about in the present as another casual account many years later had lead Annie to have a test for HIV.

I can’t remember how long it took her to insert the probe. I was crying.It had stopped hurting, now I just felt a wieght in my stomach. She saidthat it was all over, that U was not too touch it. She had stuffed a large was of cotton wool between my thighs in case the waters broke. I could walk and go to the bathroom normally, It would come away in a couple of days; If I didn’t I was to call her. We both drank coffe in the kitchen. She too was glad it was over. I don’t recall handing over the money

The actual event described by Annie as sehe recalls it many years later.

This is a wonderfully written piece about what must have been a harrowing decision to make at just 23 new to the world and also maybe a touch Naive as she hasn’t had much of sexual awakening as yes this is the sixties before the swinging part of it. This is a society far different from today’s this is a world of clandestine whispers about who to see and then find the women in question this has been covered in fil and tv in recent years from Mike Leighs Vera drake and on Tv where one of the Midwives grandmother is a back street abortionist both show how dark and clandestine this world was here and in France. Both also showed how dangerous it was to have an abortion before the laws changed. This shows the effect on one young woman now and back then. Another gem from this french writer that needs to be read it can easily be read in an evening as it is only 77 pages long.

Billiards at the Hotel Dobray by Dušan Šarotar

Billiards at the hotel Dobray by Dušan Šarotar

Slovenian fiction

Original title – Biljard v Dobrayu

Translator – Rawley Grau

Source – review copy

Anyone that follows this blog knows what a fan I was of the first book by Dusan to be translated into English Panorama it was one of those books that just lingered with me long after I read it and here is another by him an earlier book but an important book as it was one of the first by a Slovenian writer to deal with the plight of the Jewish population in Slovenia. It is a personal story as it incorporates his own grandfather’s story. A recent visit to our own UK holocaust museum in the summer which like this was full of personal history even sixty years later it is still important to remind the people of event this is told through a single building in a single town what Dusan does is use his personal history to tell a wider story of the events near the end of the second world war.

The old porcelain sky was polished to a shine, It lay motionless above the black earth. Like a coffee cup someone had long ago turned upside down on its saucer. Perhaps this was the work of many fortune tellers who read coffee grounds. Now the black sediment covered the sauce, and high above it, in the blue of the sky, only small traces could be seen, broken signs and msterieous shap[es, which only the ost inspired could interpret.That morning one of those women kept glancing at the black sludge as if she was looking at thesky; then she’d merely shake her head and spit outout a thick dollop of phlegm . She was sitting on the front steps of the Hotel Dobray

Such an evocative descriptive passage here.

The Hotel Dobray of the title was one of those imposing Hotels that many small cities and places have around Europe. This is settled in the town of Sobota which is in the northeastern corner of Slovenian between three countries it was occupied in the war by the Germans they left the Hungarians in charge of the town. The t=story is told from one man’s story which in a way is a wider story of the town. Franz Schwartz is walking back to the town after like all his fellow Jews having been forced out a year earlier. This was just as his son was having a bar mitzvah a talented violinist due to give a performance. The Hotel is housing a special tribunalJoszef the man doing this can see the writing on the wall he knowns the read army in the year from when the Germans arrived in 1944 to 45 and the Red Army expect any time. Then we have a factory owner and local character Josip and a prostitute Linna a former singer and like her friends in the brothel stuck in this sleep backwater as the war draws to its end.As we see Franz heading there and what has happened in that hard year.

The wind borne  byt the plain from the east dispersing the smoke from the station and distributing it noisily amoung the houses. It was then what ever hope Franz Schwartz still carried inside him collapsed. He knew that Ellsie and Izak would never again appear out of the fog. Here, for a long time to come, people would still be getting on  and off trains, embracing each other and saying teir farewells, but he would always be waiting. He alone would be walking across the tracks and watching for the train that would one day take him away, too

The day they left the town before he returned aloned.

This is the wonderful historic view of the writer’s hometown it must have hit a nerve as a few years after the book came out Murska Sobota put up its first memorial to the fallen Jews of the town. It has a woven tapestry of a small corner of Slovenia from one man’s story to a wider tale and a remembrance of a building and the characters that used it during those war years. The action is slow in this book I was reminded of the films of Bela Tarr the place although in Slovenia was once in Hungary this is another tale of a small town dealing with bigger issues like Tarr’s films and Krasznahorkai who writes most of the books they are based there is a an air of place in this book but also of a place struggling with change the loss of so much marks a place as Dasa Drndrc once said to me when the names of those lost Italian Jews were taken out of the Italian version of the book the fabric of the book fell apart like society itself. Another gem from Istros and Dusan worth reading as one man muses what has happened and what might have been.

The Funeral party by Ludmilla Ulitskaya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Funeral Party by Ludmilla Ulitskaya

Russian fiction

Original title -Веселые похороны

Translator – Cathy Porter

Source – personal copy

when the Nobel was due a few weeks ago there were a few betting sites giving odds less than normal but as ever I marked a few of the names that I hadn’t read and haven’t  got books by and the Russian writer Ludmilla Ulitskaya was high on the list and has had a lot of books translated into English over the years. Her first novella was published in 1992 in Russian she has won the Russian booker and was up for the old Man booker prizes and has won awards around the world. She is known for not delving into the past of her characters but the present and moving forward with the situations they are in.

The heat was terrible, with one hundred percent humidity. It was as if the whole of this great city, with its inhuman buildings, its magical parks, its different coloured people and dogs, had reached the point od a phase transition and at any momentits semi-liquefied people would float up int the soupy atomsphere.

The shower was permanently occupied, with a que of people standing outside, For a long time they hadn’t bothered with clothes, although Valentina wore a bra to prevent her large breasts chafing in the heat; normally she never wore one. Everyone was dripping wet, the sweat failed to avaporate from their bodies, towels didn;t dry and hair had to be dried with Hair dryer.

The opening lines give a view of the heat that summer in New york in Alik’s  small apartment

The book follows the last days of a Russian Emigres Alik an artist as he is dying. Those gathered around him remember him and also in the background there is the Uprising in Moscow where tanks came into the city in 1991 as it is a red hot summer in New York. As his wire Nina a drinker but also religous wants him to come back into the church. He has done artworks around the last supper and is an agnostic but will agree if there is also a rabbi with the priest! Alik has fallen on hard times and his bills are being sorted by another of the women around his bed Irina she maybe shows how some Russian Emigres came to thrive in the US. She was an Acrobat and former lover of Alik but has become a reasonable succesful lawyer and pays her old friend’s bills. The woman he was meant to marry in the US Valentina is there a marriage that never happened. Maria an older woman a motherly figure that is trying to save him with her mix of old fashion herbal remedies. One few other men is Firma a Russian doctor reduce to a lab assistant as he isn’t able to pass his US medical exams. What we see is how each has interacted with this Artist that until now was the glue between these people and a vibrant man to be around. As they visit him this hot summer some of his old lady friends get too hot and a strip off this is all part of the comic side of this book.

Father victor arrived at about nine, without socks and in sandals, carrying an attache case and a bulging plastic bag. He was wearing a baggy hirt tucked into light, shortish trousers, and a baseball cap with the innocuous letters “N” and “Y” on it

He tyook off the cap as he came in and rested it on the crook of his arm, greeting everyone with a smile which wrinkled his short nose.

Because it was Saturday there was a large number of visitors: valentina, giola with the little grey dostoyevskt under her arm, Irina, Maika, Faika, Libin and his girlfriend, all the usual crowd. Also present were the Beginsky sisters, recently arrived from Washington

The crowd around his dying bed every day.especially at the weekend

This book captures the myriad of emigres experiences from the settle and succesful to those broken by coming to the US to follow there American dream Alik himself has seen both sides of this world since his arrival in America. He is a womans man given by the women around him in his last days his wife the woman that should have been his wife his ex-lover and the motherly figure all have deep connections to this man this is what Ludmila does so well in this book and that is build up the layers and connection in each characters life. There is a comic tone at times in this book it isn’t all doom and gloom in this small room as some of the women around strip off shocking some of his other visitors. Lisa reviewed this book a number of years ago, I said then I must get a copy I finally did and enjoyed it tis is a writer I will be reading again at some point Nobel win or not !!

 

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