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 ?

The Attempt by Magdaléna Platzová

 

Image of Magdaléna Platzová’s “The Attempt”

The Attempt by magdalena Platzova

Czech Fiction

original title – Anarchista

translator – Alex Zucker

Source – personnel copy

the end of last year I was reading through the world literature todays best translations of 2016 and decide to order a couple that caught my eye and this by the Czech writer Magdalena Platzova caught my eye. She Studied philosophy in the Us and UK after this she became firstly a journalist then she became an editor and  also writes a weekly column. She has published a number of novels this is her second book to be translated to english and is based partly on the true story of Alexander Berkman and his life long partner Emma goldman and the attempt to kill the industrialist Henry Frick in 1892 .

One of the books, published by a small university press in the United States, was an anthology of biographies of the most important anarchists.Andreis B wasn’t one of them, but he did play a supporting role in the story of Louise G .. an anarchist of Russian origin

There were two photos of him. A portrait from 1892 , when he attempted to assassinate Kolman and a snapshot from the mid-thirties: Andrei on the promenade in Nice, wearing a light suit, cane and straw hat in hand , running to catch up with a group of friends, dominated by the short, broad frame of Louise G

The book about the two that Josef has leads to a theory Jan maybe her great granddaughter .

 

The book set in the present day as we follow a Czech historian Jan as she is trying to find out more avout Andrei B he is a fictional version Of Alexander Berkman , and his affair and life with Louise G a fictional version Emma Goldman , One of jan’s friend a fellow historian has a theory that Jan’s on family line comes from the child of these two. So Jan has become entranced with these two and like them decides to cross the ocean to America. This is just at the time that anarchist’s are in the forefront of the news with the occupy wall street movement is in full turn. Jan is here to study the Kolmans files about the time the Kolmans is a stand in for the Henry Frick who was the real target in the real life events of the attempt on his life.

I hit on the plan of how to get to Kolman’s daughter while I was in the reading room of the New York Public Library, looking through a book about Kolman house that Eleanor herself put together thirty years ago.

I was amazed at how much kolman’s taste changed in the space of a few years , how perfect the New York collection seemed in comparison with what was on display in the rooms of the first family residence. It encapsulated the difference between a metropolis and provincial city , between the mentality of cultured art dealers like Duveen brothers and the outlook of an unsophisticated businessman, who accumulated works of art solely for his own pleasure .

Jan finds a way to get to the Kolman home to find out about them

This is a clever look at the past that serves at a look at the present. A clever use of  letters notebooks build the picture of the past whilst in the background we see what drives Jan to find out about the characters driven by Josef theory . This is a clash of Ideas Europe against american the growth of wealth that has been the driving force behind the american way of life those collections Kolmann like the real life Frick had seem so opposite to what Jan knows from his european ideas then there is what drives us is money freedom well,no from what we discover about the family but also on the other end of the scale can Anachists  ever be the answer ? well no because some of us need guidance. This is modern and past america viewed through Czech eyes we get the madness of it all like we do in the works of Kafka or more so Skvorecky like Magadlena spent time in North America in his great book The engineers of human souls . that also followed a czech across the atlantic but also looking to europe as in his case he tried to escape his past her we try to discover the past to get the present and as that book title came from Stalin saying of writers being the engineers of human souls this is a book about searching our souls .

Two weeks to Go to Pushkin Press fortnight mk two

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A quick reminder that it is two week to the second Pushkin Press fortnight . I am super excited I have order nine books from my library system to go with the three I have already to reading including the The evenings which has been on my radar for ages.file_000-5

I have also ordered from the library Summer before the dark the story of the year beofre the war and a fictional meeting between Stefan Zweig and Joesph Roth in the seaside of Belgium .

 

I have also ordered a couple of the Vertigo crime Novels The Dard novel Bird in a cage that Jacqui reviewed so well . Also Mystery of the three Orchids , it has been a while since I read a Italian crime novel. What have you lined up to read  for Pushkin Press fortnight ?

Havoc by Tom Kristensen

Havoc by Tom Kristensen

Danish Modernist fiction

Original title – Hærværk

Translator – Carl Malmberg

Source – review copy

I was so pleased when I was contacted by Duncan from Nordisk the publisher , I had heard of them late last year via Susan from Istros who said they were publishing a classic Modernist Novel. The fact that this book isn’t as well known as many other books from its time.say Vile Bodies or USA both modernist classic published the same year as this book. THe book Havoc was the best known book by its writer Tom Kristensen  a poet as well as a novelist in fact the poem in this book Angst about the effects of drinking. Like the main character in this book Kristensen work for most of his life as a book critic for a newspaper.

“mother madonna, and comrade in battle,

Beloved woman and happy warrior,

Mother of revolutions

He intoned the words crudely, apropos of nothing and without looking at Jastrau, who cringed at hearing quoted the words of “proletarian woman ” one of his youthful revolutionary poems

Saunders smiledmaliciously

Jastrau made a wry face. “Oh that!” he said

His two friends remind him of his past and his present using one of his old poems as a weapon for him.

AS I said in the intro this is Ole Jastrau is a lit critic for the newspaper Dagbladet , is sat with two friends just as the election of 1929 is happening the two friends are communist and one is a poet like the writer himself. There future is pinned on the election , they remind him of his own past as a poet on the edge before he married and settled down with his wife. So as the two poke fun at him for his comfortable life, This then as his wife choose to spend time away from him, he decides rather than going to the paper one day he visits the bar opposite and then gets drunk , this starts off a series of nights and days where he lose time drinks and goes down a spiral into the darker side of the city of ladies of the night and cocktail bars and the colourful characters that live in them, Will Ole Jastrau come up of air pr will he fall of the cliff into the depths of the drinking world.

Jastrau got up quietly. Here among this group, he suddenly felt like a person in disguise, like a sober fool at a carnival.He had to believed that he belonged here? why did the memory of the two hooligans who had been locked in the cell next to his suddenly become so warmly intimate and pleasant ? was it there that he belonged down at the lowest level of existence where things were so nice ?

Jastrau sees where he ending up and still not sure if it is really for him .

When I start this blog it was to discover the world of books from around the world but now in recent years I feel part of the reason I love blogging is discovering those books that have been lost or missed and this is one of those , I can see why Duncan was so keen to republish the book , it did come out on a small university press in 1968. This is a true lost classic , a wonderful Modernist novel Part Blaugast part Vile bodies. Like both of them books it follows the inter war years where a certain class started drinking more and being in clubs ,cocktail bars and wild parties like Adam in Vile bodies Ole is drifting into the world of drinking the mad world of the bright young things in Copenhagen but like Waugh this is a thinly veiled version of the world he lived in the setting and jobs is all very similar to the writers own life at time and also shows  how easy it is to fall down that spiral of drinking like the lead character in Paul Leppin book Blaugast another man stuck in a mundane job in Mitteleuropa is driven this time by a woman into a spiral of drinking.This is an epic book of one mans life over a few tough months of his life .

 

Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

cockroachesNewRH

Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

Rwandan Memoir

Original title –  Inyenzi ou les cafards

Translator – Jordan stump

Source – Personal copy

Mukasonga grew up in rwanda as part of the smaller Tutsi tribe, she luckily left and went to live in France before the 94 genocide that in its wake killed 27 of her family member that were unable to escape. This is the first of a triolgy of autobiographical works the other two being Barefoot woman and L’lguifou . her first novel which followed these three books Out lady of the Nile won one of the biggest French language African Lit prizes the Ahmadou Kourouma prize and also a number of french book prizes.

The first Pogroms against the tutsi broke out on All saints ‘ day , 1959. The machinery of the genocide had been all set into motion. it would never stop.until the final soultion it would never stop

Needless to say , the anti-tutsi violence didn’t spare Butare province.I was three years old and that first images of terror were etched into my memory.i remember

The stark reality of the world she grew up in from her first memory .Also note the day the catholic church had a part in this in a small way !!

 

The book follows Her life from the early 1950’s her childhood and is told in vignettes through the years. Far from being an ideal childhood , as is the case with genocide the undercurrent of the problems have been there since the start of her life when even as a three-year old she saw violence . The thing we also see is her fathers drive to have his kids learn ,which as we see later on is a reason that Scholastique herself managed to get away from her homeland.We see the first stepping up as the family have to move of their good land on to poor land the echoes here are so much to the Jews being moved in Nazis era. They are moved as the Hutus wave machetes , this also remind me of those horrific picture of people having limbs hacked of by these machetes and having to struggle on with their lives. This is an insight into her family the opening lines touched me where she mentioned family members “For all those of Nyamata who are named in this book and the many more who are not ,

for the few who have the sorrow of surviving.

For a long time I had no news of my parents , my brother, my sisters who’d stayed behind in Nyamata. Writing them was out of the question. Letters from Burundi were considered suspicous and could cause their addresses serious trouble. I kept an ear out for rumors and news from Rwanda. I urgently questioned anyone who’d dared to go there. Not until Andre was in Senegal could he get a letter through to our parents to them of our new lives. Evidently mail from West Africa wasn’t thought to be dangerous

I was reminded of my old Bosnian friend that was unable to speak to his mother , I’d feel so grateful at times .

 

Some books are testaments to a time and need to be read to understand a time and the history. I was reminded of the opening of world at war where we follow a camera through the village of Ordour-Sur-Glane the french village where the was a brutal massacre and the village was left as ut was destroyed at the end of the war as a testament . this book about the Tutsi genocide is another work that needs to be read. Those horrific scenes on the news at the time are long gone but as this book shows the wounds are still there not just the physical ones the mental ones this is a prelude to the violence but also like the build up to the world war two the undercurrents to this conflict can be seen in the early years of Scholastique life . The conflict grew after independence with the events of april , may and june 94 being the  explosive and brutal end that saw maybe a million people killed in two months . So this book need s sit along the works of writers Like Elie Wisel or Primo Levi as those touched and saw the violence in their time. So this is the story of one of those cockroaches as the Hutu called the Tutsi in that time .

 

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