The traitors Niche by Ismail Kadare

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The traitors Niche by Ismail Kadare

Albanian Fiction

Original title – Kamarja e turpit

Translator – John Hodgson

Source – Library copy

I near the end of the man boomer journey with last but one longlist book . I was surprised like Ellen Battersbye this  was on the list as the original book came pout in 1978, I do wonder why it took so long to translate , what isn’t such a bad novel. I have reviewed Ismail Kadare four times before on the blog , he has used history in the past to shine a light on his homelands present. I always view him like Pamuk or Llhosa as a future Nobel winner in that he writes good not great books but always good books to read.

It was not hard to imagine why this square had been chosen for the niche where the severed heads of rebels viziers or ill-starred senior officials were placed. Perhaps nowhere else could the eyes of passer-by so easily grasp the interdependency between the imposing solidity of the ancient square and the human heads that dared to show it disrespect. It was clear at once that the head’s lifeless eyes surveilled every corner of the square . In this way , even the feeblest and least imaginative passer-by could visualise, at least for a moment , his own head displayed at this unnatural Height.

The traitors niche is there to show the citizens who is who and keep them in line .

The Traitors niche is a tale about the backlash of the Ottoman Sultan to the area of his land that was Albania , he has sent his courier to this province to make sure that he gets the heads pf those the Sultan has ordered killed for standing up to the ottoman empire , he has also orders the end of the languages and customs of this place , as he is scared that history will repeat as they rebelled 400 years before that so as we follow Abdulla the courier sen to ge the heads as he gets slightly mad carrying the heads back home . The heads are destined to be put up on the Traitors niche which is guarded by Tundj and his two fellow guards. They have to follow a list of orders to make sure the heads are kept as long as possible by caring for them .

Albania had rebelled many times since the death of Scanderberg , may he never rest in peace, but never like this.This was an extended rebellion that came in waves like the shocks of an earthquake, sometimes overtly, sometimes in secret. It had been started long ago by the old Bushatli family in the north and continued by Ali Pasha Tepelena in the South, and was shaking the foundations of the historic empire .

There was always rebellion in Albania , but sometimes it needed stamping on like in the book .

This is classic Kadare his books are so set in the heart of his homeland this like most of historic novel are as much about the time they were set as the present . I was reminded in the way Tundj cared for the heads remind me of the way the soviets took care of the dead leader and I wondered if he imagined that Hoxha would want his body kept. Themn there is the way the Sultan wiped out an opposition to his ruler , much the way Hoxha did using his secret police to wipe pout any opposition . At this time Kadare was still writing and living in Albania and used the historic themes in his novels of the time like this and Three arched bridge and twilight of the eastern gods  both of which I have reviewed and both of which had been written around the same time as this book. KAdare used the past to highlight the violent repressive regime of his homeland .

 

The Shadow Man booker shortlist

We choose this year to announce the shortlist after the actual announcement . This was mainly as we all had a number of books to read this year and a number were 400 plus pages we gave everyone chance to read them , I read them all in the time but haven’t reviewed them all yet this week I hope to be done and will look back at the six below titles as we try to find the actual shadow winner .Well our six books are

Fever dream by Samantha Schweblin

Compass by Mathias Enard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen

Judas by Amos Oz

Fish have no feet  by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

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Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer

So there is our six a great list I feel as it has two books by two of my favourite publisher Fitzcarraldo and Maclehose press. What has been your favourite book

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans

 

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans

Belgian fiction

Original title – Oorlog en terpentijn

Translator- David Mckay

Source – review copy

Stefan Hertmans is a poet , novelist and short story writer . He has won a number of prizes including the AKO prize for this book. this is the next stop on the man booker list this is the one I felt would be on the liust as it was frequently compared to Sebald when it came out, which in a way made me get to it later in the list in case I was disappointed by it , which I wasn’t that it was very Sebald like (it isn’t really yes it has pictures and place and memories but in another context it isn’t Sebald work mainly dealt with the outfall of world war two ).

Strange as it may seem, there were details of my own world that never offered up their historical secrets until I read his memoirs: a gold pocket watch shattering on the tile floor ; an oval cigarette from a silver case , smoked in secret, which made me nauseous when I was fifteen years old ; a worn reddish-brown scarf on the discard cupboards in the dilapidated greenhouses, covered within droplets of the disoriented blackbirds that would throw themselves against the glass in panic .

Images of his youth come to life in his grandfathers notebooks

 

The story goes Urbain wrote these notebooks and he died in the sixties the son of a painter also called Urbaine were passed to his grand son Stefan the writer but he left them for thirty year what follows is his story of reading them. The first part of the story is pre world war one father and son in a the city og Ghent  just getting by making ends meet painting small fresco in churches around the town , a one point the son takes a job in gelatine factory , remind me of the time we see David Copperfield an artist in the making in the bottle factory another dangerous job .Now unlike Dickens in Urbaine case the war sends his life in another direction the most of the book is the grandfathers notebooks of his war experiences , very much like most war accounts of the tome we have a real feel of Mud , the trenches , rats and death in the air all around them. A break comes when he is sent to Liverpool to recover and paints the sea and places round Wallasey (I found an ironic connection to Hitler , here who many years earlier was in the same city painting ) The last part is post war a love story.

As soon as my health and the weather permitted I went out searching .Maud was right:in St James Street I found the church of St Vincent de Paul. My heart was pounding as I entered its damp , sparsely decorated interior. On the dingy walls to the left, there was no sign of any murals my father might have worked on. On the right , I found the stations of the cross on panels .there happened to be men at work in the church , whitewashing walls. They couldn’t recall any frescos under the whitewash.

Urbain tries to find a fresco his father did in Liverpool was he recovers

Now the book is littered with pictures the start that inspired father and son , the buildings of Ghent . Then in the war years the only picture we see is the one of Urbaine in his uniform at the end of the war a man with that thousand yard stare of someone who has seen death in the eye. This is slightly like Sebald , even in the last part of the book there is a quote from Vertigo .  The nearest english novel would be Siegfried  Sassoon cycle of books The Sherston trilogy , which follows a mans pre war and post war and war-time journey like this novel does . Hertmans manages to capture the madness brutality and darkness of the first world war.  I enjoyed this book it is destined to be a modern classic.

That was the months that was March April 2017

  1. Cheese by Willem Elssch
  2. Compass by Mathias Enard
  3. Octavio’s journey by Miguel Bonnefoy
  4. The Major Refutation by Pierre Senges
  5. The principle by Jerome Ferrari
  6. Judas by Amos Oz
  7. Fever dream by Samanta Schweblin
  8. Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou
  9. Mirror , Shoulder , Signal by Dorthe Nors
  10. The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin
  11. Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer
  12. The explosion chronicles by Yan Lianke

 I Missed last month for obvious reasons so this is a round up of the twelve books I managed to review between April and March . One new press Contra Mundun from whom I reviewed The Major Refutation a quirky french novel .Eight countries have been covered by me in the last two months and I have read a number of french novels pushing the blog total to 90 french novels and nearer the goal of 100 for this year . with the twelve here it brings this years total of books reviewed to 38 .

Book of March and April

Compass by Mathias enard

I think this is a masterpiece an ode to a world that has now long gone the syria of many years ago is told over one night and a love story .

None book discovery

Well being Honest this has been a crap couple of months for me . I lost mum in March we had funeral in April and I am now mid way in the process of getting a new job in NHS , so I am rather sad at having to leave a place I have worked for twelve years but with my mum and step mothers passing in the last couple of year I had decided long term I need a job that would see me best in my last twenty odd years of work. But like many folks in time of trouble we seek solace in what we know and for me that has been the last two star wars film which I got on bluray disc the last few months they have given me many an hours break from what has been a hard couple of months.

Looking forward

well we have the shadow shortlist to come out soon . I have a number books I have brought recently and a huge backlog of review books to read. BellaDonna  I hope finish tomorrow is another great book from an old favourite of this blog Dasa Drndic , also the second Peter Owen world series three books from Spain I have read Nona’s room already a stunning collection of short stories .

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

French Memoir

Original title – Immortelle Randonnée : Compostelle malgré moi

Translator – Martina Dervis and Malcom Imrie

Source – Review copy

I have reviewed one novel by Rufin before Red collar ,which I loved and him as a person I felt was an interesting character he was an early member of Médecins Sans Frontières and also action against hunger . He has also been an ambassador for France to Senegal and Gambia . He has also won two versions of the Prix Goncourt in his time the one for the first novel with his debut and the main prize for his book Red Brazil .But this non fiction work grabbed me when it dropped through the door earlier this year.

What makes the camino de santiago different is that it is not a punishment but a voluntary ordeal. At least , that is what you think, though this view will be swiftly challenged by experience.Anyone who walks the Camino will sooner or later end up thinking they were condemned to it . The fact that they condemned themselves alters nothing; the punishments we impose on ourselves are often no less rigorous than those society inflicts.

Before he sets out he tries to find out more about the camino

The reason I was grabbed bu this book is because I have a small interest in the way of st james or as it is called Camino de Santiago a group or pilgrimage paths across  France and Spain and earlier ones that go into england as well  . We follow Jean Christophe across the Northern route which is the coastal path  the northern route as he considered it a quieter route and would meet less pilgrims on the way but also the journey he recalls the place this one takes in a number of cities along the way Bilbao and Ovideo both of which Rufin describeds very well and then the few pilgrims he meets he describes in breif pen sketches their reasons and where they are from for the journey .as he recalls his time on the Camino .

The third category , not so much romantic but no less touching, is composed of those who knew love a long time ago , entered into the sacred bonds of matrimony, and then suffered its trials and tribulations until their greatest wish was to be free again but the freedom they seek is of the kind and considerate sort – they don’t want to break up a happy families or hurt anyone, they just want a breather,with a little help from Saint James

The man he met from the saint James association was from this third group that take Pilgrimage.

The book is written after he completed the walk , so he kept no notes so what is kept is the bare bones pf what he remember . He took it as a challenge , a journey of discovery but he wanted a to take a less trodden route the northern one .I first came across the way of Saint James in the series Brian Sewell did in the early 2000 about his journey on the camino back in the 1960 when it wasn’t quite as popular as itis now , with 200,00 plus people a year taking the route from barely a 1000 in the early eighties . Another story about the Camino is the 2010 film which  Martin sheen starred in a film directed by his son called the The way about a father completing his late son journey on the camino . The we also have Cees Nooteboom book . Like Rufin they all reveal how people are effected by the camino. The journey is more followed now maybe the pilgrimage is like the third type of pilgrim is a way to clear your slate in the modern age a trip into a  mythical past of monks churches getting your stamps as you follow the way if st james and it scallop shells and get your pilgrim card stamped

 

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