The blind spot by Javier Cercas

 

The Blind Spot_HB.jpg

The Blind spot by Javier Cercas

Spanish Essay

Original title -El punto Ciego

Translator – Anne Mclean

Source – review copy

I am loving the fact that in recent years there has been more and more non-fiction lit book been translated into English. This time it is one of my favorite Spanish writers Javier Cercas. I have featured his novels on the blog before four of them all of which have made me question what a novel is? This is in part the question he answers or tries to answer in this book. This book is formed from a series piece he had read or written before thus formed into a book-length essay on various aspects of the novel.

In 209 I published a book , called The anatomy of a moment, which at the time the Majority if Spanish readers did not consider a novel; I myself, althoug I knew or felt that it was a novel, would not allow my editor to present it as one. Why?

Anatomy explores a decisive momnet in the recent history of Spain. It happened the last time we Spaninards practised our national sport, which is not football as tend to think, but Civil war or , failing that a coup d’etat; at least until very recently; after all, up until very recently all experiments with democracy in Spain were ended by Coup d’etat, to such an extent that in the last two centuries there were more than fifty of them.

I loved the football piece in this opening to a chapter about his book on the 1981 coup attempt.

The first thing that captures in this book is the cover which depicts the great white whale of Moby Dick and is the same cover as the Spanish version of the book. The points that Cercas fix on is one the Blind spot of the title in the Novel. That is the question in some books that seem central to the book that can go unanswered the perfect example of this is Quixote where Cercas points out, the question is Don Quixote crazy or Not. Other examples are for Example in Kafka trial what is Josef K exactly accused off! Waiting for Godot the blind spot is Godot himself. The more Cercas mentions examples the more I thought of myself I thought of the blind spot of what is happening to Europe in regards right-wing politics in Dasa Drndic Belladonna(I choose a fellow Maclehose book as this for me was an example I thought of when reading this piece.) Then he also asks the question which I have asked at times and that is about his book The Anatomy of a moment and how you classify a novel like this which walks the line between being reportage, history, and fiction. I go back to the word I was told there is in Slovenian for just good writing that defies categories. He also mentions books like HHHH and in cold blood, also New Journalism which was started by the likes of Tom Wolfe and expands this into a third novel for on top of the two that he had heard Milan Kundera. These are the digressive novel like Quixote and the second the realist novel with books from Zola and Dickens. Cercas says the third movement is writers like Calvino and Perec as he says Postmodern Narrative and may the anatomy of a moment belongs here.

Let’s get back to the question of form.

Vargas llosa considers himself a realist writer, This means in short, that each one of his novels aspires ideally to cinstruct a fictious reality as powerful and persuassive as real reality, a hermetic world fabricated out of words in which to enclose the reader under lock and key to make him live through a vicarous experince. That is Vargas Llosa objective, and to that objective the moral framework and formal arrangment of all his novels are subordinated.

A piece about Llosa and in particular his debut novel The time of the hero

As you can see I loved this essay series as it was one of those books that made me as a reader want to discover more about the books discussed in the essays. But also in a way found some answers to my own blind spots as a reader of Cercas work and that is how he views his own worker, in particular, The anatomy of a moment which for me when I read it eight year ago this week early on in the life of this blog was one of the books that drove me forward as a blogger as it was such a clever novel and since then it has led to  a quest for me as a reader to push the boundaries of what we call fiction in the books I read  and also what drives us as readers. Also to what connects books from different places like Cercas highlights here  with the blind spot is an example of a thread that can link a lot of great books together from around the world.

 

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The little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg

The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg  | Daunt Books Publishing

The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg

Italian Memoir

Original title – Le piccole virtù

Translator – Dick Davis

Source – Personal copy

One of the writers I saw mentioned in the book Not to read by Alejandro Zambra was Natalia Ginzburg. Ginzburg was a writer when Zambra discovered he couldn’t decide whether to shout out about or keep just for themselves.But he let it slip very soon about him. Natalia Ginzburg. He first novel was published under a pseudonym in 1942 as she was Jewish.After that, she worked for the Italian publisher Einaudi that published books by the likes of Primo Levi, Cesare Pavese and Italo Calvino.Then in the fifties, this is the most productive period for Ginzburg as a writer she wrote most of the pieces in that period of time.

My shoes are worn out , and the friend I live with at the moment also has worn out shoes. When we are together we often talk about shoes. When we are together we often talk about shoes. If I talk about the time when I shall be an old, famous  writers, she immediately ask me” What shoes will you wear ?” Then I say i shall have shoes made or green sude with a big gold buckle on one side.

Worn out shoes is about her war time experiences using her shoes as a metaphor about the war and its experinces on the public.

There is twelve piece in Little Virtues. From the first piece about the winters in her home region of  Abruzzi where she says they only really have Winter and Summer with her saying the spring is like winter, she describes how the region deals with the conditions and how many of the workers come home from the summer work for Christmas. Then a wonderful piece written about her war experiences called worn out shoes about how she managed to cope with just a  single pair of Shoes and how her friends also have to. It ends with lines about having to learn to walk in worn out shoes. Then my favorite piece is called England a Eulogy and lament. is a witty piece about how she found England when she visited not the most flattering view of our country but funny and I was reminded of the Black and white films of the late forties with the grey smog filled country she describes the English stations as the place where England is most openly gloomy. Then she talks in the later piece about types of silence and her relationships

England also expresses its sense of fantasy in its cafes and restaurants. They often give them tfoerign names to make them more attractive- “Pustaza”, “Chez Nous”,”Rome”,”Le Alpi”. When you look through the windows you see wispy climbing plants, Chinese lanterns, shap oeaks of rock, the blue of glaciers. Or you see skulls and crossbones black walls , black carpets, funeral candles – and because these place are oftendeserted a mournful silences reigns.

Enland through her eyes is a strange and and odd place.

Natalia Ginzburg is due to have a revival with this recent reissue of this book and a couple of others in recent years like me a new generation of readers can discover this great female Italian voice. The pieces in this collection started in the world war two Italy to post-war England and glimpse into her personal life. Her style is conversational at times you are drawn into her essays and feel as she is describing her world as thou you are next to her. There is subtle wit at times behind her writing especially her times in England, which has a wonderful dry view of drab post-war Britain. I want to try one of her novels next. It is great to see more non-fiction in translation.

The Impostor by Javier Cercas

 

The Impostor by Javier Cercas

Spanish Non-Fiction

Original title – El Impostor

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – review copy

Well, a change from German lit month for a book from one of my favourite Spanish writers of recent years. Javier Cercas has featured on the blog three times before. This is his latest book to be translated. He has won the Iffp prize in the past.Also has been the Impac Dublin book prize longlist a couple of times. This book is rather like his earlier book Anatomy of a moment as it uses an actual historical event as the start of the book. This is a look at one man Enric Marco. He was thought to be a champion of the Unions with a history of fighting fascism a survivor of the Nazi death camps and opposed Franco.

On May 11 2005, the truth was discovered: Enric Mrco was an impostor. For the previous twenty-seven years Marco had claimed to be prisoner No. 6448 from German conce/ntration camp Flossenburg: He had lived this lie and had to made it live: for almost three decades, Marco gave hundreds of talks about his experiences of the Nazi regime, he was president of the Amical de Mauthausen, the association of Spanish survivors of Nazi camps, he was awarded notable honours and medals and on January 27 2005, he moved many members of both houses of the Spanish parliment to tears ..

He spoke so well on what wasn’t his life but anothers .

The book begins at the point when in 2005 He was unmasked as a fake.Cercas met him four years after that but it wasn’t until a few years later he decides to try and find the truth behind the man and his story. Marco is an enigma as the first part of the story shows called Onion skins like Gunter Grass whose biography is called Peeling the onion. We peel the layers away from the man and his story. The time Marco choose to invent his history is about write a time when people could still make up a past if they wanted. He is a man that wanted to be more than he was. He wanted to be a hero also a champion of the underdog. But as he rose in the public eye the lies he had told became harder to hide.He had been in a German Prison. He went to Germany as a worker not a prisoner from the republic. when he was in the civil war he went to France and was arrested as a criminal, not to a death camp.He rose to be the leader of the Spanish organisation for prisoners of the death camps and their families. it was just as they were to celebrate sixty years as the story of his deception broke he wasn’t in the camp he said he was and his story starts to unfold.

Marco was born in an asylum ; his mother was insane.Is he mad too? is this his secret, the condrum that explains his personality? is this why he always sided with the majority ? Does this explain everything, or does it at least explain the essentials ? And if Marco truly is mad, what is thhe nature of his madness.

Now, this is a great piece of narrative non-fiction like his earlier book Anatomy of a moment. Cercas has chosen a historic event to explore his own countries past, but this through one man’s journey.This book is around maybe at just  the right time. We are so interested in real life tales with the podcast like S town and serial. There is a saying that truth is often stranger than fiction and Enric Marco is an example. He was bigger than Billy Liar. His story held up longer than the fake 9/11 victim that like Marco wanted to be held up as a hero and also fight for the victims. This is a study of what makes a man lie! Then the snowball effect of those lies, how when the ball is rolling it was hard to turn back time and stop it. Till like in Marcos case it is a final event that explodes his world open. As ever frank has brought a poetic tone to Cercas words. This is a tale of a man’s twisted journey he did good but is that enough for the lies? Marco is an enigma even after this I still not sure what to make of him.

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?

Irish Journal by Heinrich Böll

Irish Journal by Heinrich Böll

German Memoir

Original title –Irisches Tagebuch

Translator – Lelia Vennewitz

Source – personnel copy

The last time I saw you was down at the Greeks
There was whiskey on Sunday and tears on our cheeks
You sang me a song as pure as the breeze
On a road leading up glenaveigh
I sat for a while at the cross at finnoe
Where young lovers would meet when the flowers were in bloom
Heard the men coming home from the fair at shinrone
Their hearts in tipperary wherever they go

Take my hand, and dry your tears babe
Take my hand, forget your fears babe
There’s no pain, there’s no more sorrow
They’re all gone, gone in the years babe

Well who else but the Pogues Broad majestic shannon a song about having Ireland in your heart .

I have reviewed three  other books by the late great german writer Heinrich Boll Billards at half past nine ,The lost honour of Katharina Blum  and Safety net. I won this one a couple of German lit months ago with the copy of safety net so it seems fitting to review it for German lit month. Heinrich is a writer I have been a fan of for years in fact he was one of the writers I had in mind reviewing when I started this blog , since then I feel yes the Melville house books came out but in some ways he is fading from the limelight which is a shame he was an important voice of post war West Germany .

Once a year I have to go there to visit my parents, and my grandmother is still alive. Do you know County Galway ?

“No” murmured the priest ”

“Connemara?”

“No.”

“You should go there , and don’t forget on your way back in the post of Dublin to notice what’s exported from Ireland : children and priests , nuns and biscuits, whiskey and horses, beeer and dog ..

THe point is a lot of things were leaving Ireland as Boll travel to Ireland .

Well this is a memoir piece by Boll where he recounts his visits over time in the 1950’s to Ireland. He arrives and even before he has set foot there feels the need to defend this land he has wanted to go too, the land of Joyce etc. When he hears someone dismissing it before he has seen it himself. He arrives and loves what he sees the slow languid pace of 1950’s Ireland a land run by tradition and the Church. The contrast from the war ravaged and damaged Germany that is caught up in rebuilding to the Neutral and untouched Ireland. We see the land through a man who has fallen for the place faults included .

That a church service can only begin when the priest arrives is obvious; but that a movie can only begin when all the priests, the local ones as well as those on vacation, are assembled in full strength is somewhat surprising to the foreigner used to continental customs.He can only hope the priest and his friends will soon finish their supper …

He has to wait for the priest to watch the film, I believe this my other grandparent told me of banks of priests at football matches at Manchester united in the forties.

I was reminded of my own grandparents talking of the trips to Ireland, well to the south from their home in Derry, They went to Dublin most years to the Antique fair or to Donegal to a cottage they rented for years so the world Boll talked about to me seemed like theirs. The way it seemed the south was always at that time so far behind the North but was always more relaxed as said when a  Train is late well god made time and there is plenty of it. A lot of the towns He visited Mayo Limerick and of course Dublin I went to as a kid and young adult as well (it has been a few years since I last had a visit ). We see a man in love with a place because it hasn’t caught up with the times and seemed out place but he seemed to get it, but he wasn’t blinked he did see the darker side of this land the poverty and lack of direction somewhat (This was before the Celtic tiger took off ) This is the land that the character in a book like Brooklyn were going to america to escape (and of course then remember they came from their for decades after ). I enjoyed this but do wonder if it was a little rose-tinted it was a tough place to live in the 1950’s Ireland but was still one green unspoilt country .I choose an older cover mine is the Melville cover but liked this one more.

Have you read this ?

Thank you for not reading by Dubravka Ugresic

thanks you for not reading

Thank you for not reading by Dubravka Urgesic

Croatian non fiction

original title – Zabranjeno čitanje

Translator – Celia Hawkesworth

Source – personnel copy

At the record company meeting
On their hands – a dead star
And ooh, the plans that they weave
And ooh, the sickening greed
At the record company party
On their hands – a dead star
The sycophantic slags all say:
“I knew him first, and I knew him well”
Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!
Re-evaluate the songs

Paint a vulgar picture by the smiths is about how music is a product .

I mention this book a week or so ago and how blown away by it I was .Ugresic had long been on my list of writers to get too , so when this work of essays and observations on writing was in a recent sale at waterstones in Nottingham ,I couldn’t resist it . Dubravka Ugresic studied Russian literature at Zagreb , she  has written a number of novels  her best known books in the jaws of life , described as post modern .She  left Yugoslavia in 1993 ,since then she has lived in the US and most recently the Netherlands .

What does this all have to do with literature ? Almost nothing .Then why mention something as trivial as Joan Collins pink suit ? Because trivia has swamped contemporary literary life and become , it seems more important than the books .A books blub is more important than the book itself , the author’s photograph on the book jacket is more important than it’s content , the authors appearance in wide circulation newspapers and on tv is more important than what that author has actually written .

Joan Collins or any celeb writing a novel is just the sad state of books and reading .

Thank you for not reading is a collection of essays all based around books , the market for books and her observations on coming to the west to promote her books . , it starts when she is at the london book fair in the 90s and the fair is being opened by Joan Collins . This is the first of a number of observations by her of what is the market force lead western , well english book market . This is contrast with her memories of growing up under Tito where books and writers where values how the soviet system treated writers in one way and then in other ways both good and bad but they were valued for what they wrote not who they were !

Milan Kundera wrote that one day , when everyone writes , nobody will listen .The markets , it seems , is creating utopia .But nevertheless , in the whole commercial whirlgig , there is a sad and paradoxical truth :glamour is a populist longing , a sign of absence .Literacy can have an aura of glamour only where literacy does not exist .

I agree with this statement , literacy is so important !

A breif description as it is more my reaction to this book that is what I want to talk about as for me it touches on a point about books that I often go on about , but feel I struggle to get across . I will give an example that mirrors the book I was at the recent launch of Olja Savicevic book Farewell cowboy , which was being filmed t=by the Croatian news to be broadcast on the evening news .There was an air of surprise when I pointed out that this wouldn’t happen here in the uk .Like this book it is a sign of what books have become and this is my constant point the big selling books and writers now can like Urgesic observed can be celeb writings or celeb writers (if you know what I mean !).But the flip of this is what I call “Adding to the critical discussion on books in translation or in general  ” that is raising books to high culture thus making them seem unreadable or unobtainable to the masses  . I mean just today we are talking about giving every kid a library card .It is not just that gets people reading it is making books seem interesting not adding to a critical discussion on books !!  An example  would  be John Buchan was the most wide read writers in the trenches of Flanders when the Everyman was reading his books . Now Buchan is considered a literary writer , but back then was read by the masses , so I agree with Urgesic view that making writers seem like heroes but heroes we can touch ,so in one book she has touched on so much that makes me blow my top the putting of books on high peaks whilst promoting drape books to the masses , it is our right to choose what we want to read not to be told book a is right because we come from a certain social or educational background Jesus would you have been the one top grab the 39 steps out of the hands of the Tommy because they couldn’t add to the critical discussion of books !! I have drift into arant her but isn’t that what a great book can make you do . For me this is the heart of why I read books from around the world knowledge is free to all well here and too most readers of this blog so don’t let books scare you because you are told they may be high culture .This book is funny and possibly ahead of its time when it was written .

The false Apocalypse by Fatos Lubonja

The False Apocalypse by Fatos Lubonja

Albanian Non-fiction

Original title – Nëntëdhjeteshtata – Apokalipsi i rremë

Translator – John Hodgson

Source – review copy

When one voice rules the nation
Just because they’re top of the pile
Doesn’t mean their vision is the clearest
The voices of the people
Are falling on deaf ears
Our politicians all become careerists

They must declare their interests
But not their company cars
Is there more to a seat in parliament
Than sitting on your arse
And the best of all this bad bunch
Is shouting to be heard
Above the sound of ideologies clashing

I ve gone for Billy Bragg song ideologies as this is a story of ideas falling apart

I love the fact that Susan at Istros books is publishing books like this one for I feel no one else would publish a book about Albania internal politics .Fatos Lubonja is the son of Todi Lubonja who was one of the closet aids to Hoxha , until the early 1970’s when he was arrested and Fatos , where Fatos then spent the next 17 years in Jail  , he is considered an outspoken critic on the post communist world of Albanian politics and also the writer Ismail Kadare .In the introduction he is called the closest thing tp an intellectual conscience in Albania .

The arrival of a boatload of sugar , whose sale would pay off all his debts , was the last deception used by the mastermind of the pyramid scheme to palm off the daily demands of his creditors .Qorri has made this boat the focal point of the novel , a symbol of people’s hope and trust in the victory of capitalism over reality of socialism ,The arrival of the sugar boat would solve everything .

The premise of the Novel Fatos Qorri called Sugar boat about one pyramid scheme .

The False Apocalypse is a story of the years after the fall of communism within Albania .The book has two narratives one that follows the greater picture of Albania at the time  the government of Sali Bershia that was the leader of the country at the time .The problem with the regime was the fact they let to many fraudsters take over the country , in particular a number of Pyramid schemes (the schemes used new investors to pay old investors whilst appearing to make money , the only ones that made money where the leaders of the scheme ) , these schemes had grown since the fall of Hoxha and the fall of communism in 1991 , the schemes had grown and grown so in 1997 the collapse of them was going to take the whole country down with it .As the public start to protest and riots begin as scheme after scheme collapses .The second narrative thread in the book is the personnel story of Fatos Qorri ( akter ego of fatos lubonja ) describes the events of 1997 through his own eyes through diary entries . He is in the process of writing a novel in fact about the pyramid schemes and as he is doing so the events take over him .

The victory of the guns in Vlora created a nightmare for thee Tirana government .Could Berisha weather these events ? The Government was on the brink of resignation , with dozens of deaths laid at it’s door State institutions had collapsed , Vlora was in rebellion with fighting in the streets , and the nation faced bankruptcy .moreover , after what had happened , Albania was split in two and Berisha’s people didn’t dare set foot in the south .

The first real crack appeared at Vlora the first of many .

Now I remember the aftermath of this when the west rode in to save the government of Berisha .What I enjoyed about lubonja book is the way he used his own personnel experience at the time and mixed it in with the wider picture of what was going on in Albania at the time .what we see is a country trying to run before they have learnt to walk .A government that has really lost control over the schemes and the country as a whole , this is what happened when the prisons were opened , the gangs are allowed to take control . The former secret service has also  become a force to be watched after it was not taken apart from the fall of communism .What we get is the chaos explained , what happens on the wider scale when a country starts to fall apart but also on the personnel scale to the man on the street .This book appeals to anyone that has an interest in the fall of communism and maybe wants to learn more about Albania .

Have you a favourite non fiction book in translation ?

The story of a shipwrecked sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

shipwreck sailor

The story of a shipwrecked sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

Columbian non fiction 

Original title – Relato de un náufrago

Translator – Randolph Hogan 

Source personnel copy 

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

From rime of the ancient mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge  source

Well this is a book hung over from Spanish literature month that I didn’t get time to review ,which is a real shame as I had want to include the two non fiction books I had read by Marquez for Spanish literature month  .Marquez worked as a journalist most of his life .He started as a journalist he was a member of the Barranquilla group a group of Journalist ,philosophers and writers based in the city of Barranquilla  in Columbia .This group was also featured in his novel one hundred years of solitude .Now to this book based on the true story of a Columbian sailor .

At six o’clock the destroyer began pitching violently .Luis Rengifo was awake one bunk below me .

“Fatso ” he asked me ,”Haven’t you gotten sick yet ? ”

I said no ,but I admitted I was worried .Rengifo ,who as I said was an engineer -very studious and a good seaman explained why it was unlikely that something could happen to the Caldas in the Caribbean

How untrue this was !.

 

In 1955 a crew of eight set sail on a Columbian navy destroyer Caldis ,that has spent time in the US .The book sets of with a crew that maybe had partied too much when in America and a lot of stuff on board they shouldn’t have ,so when they hit a storm in the middle of the Caribbean ocean ,the crew and items they were returning to Columbia with all end up in the sea .Now the Navy searches and finds no one .But actually Luis Alejandro Velasco ,he managed to grab stuff and make him self a raft ,he spent ten days drifting on the ocean in which time he drank little ,manage to wrestle  fish from the sharks around him ,also kill a gull which he didn’t eat (can’t blame him I have a friend that grew up in the wilds of highland and shot regularly and once shot and tried a gull which he didn’t like one bit ) .Any way he manages to drift to land which luckily for him is actually his homeland of Columbia  ,he is brought back  to the city nursed back to health and given a heros welcome ,this is the point where his path crosses with Marquez who likes his story and decides to write this book to keep it for prosperity .

Hunger is bearable when you have no hope of food .but it was never so insistent as when I was trying to slash that shiny green flesh with my keys .

After a few minutes ,I realized I would have to use more violent methods if I wanted to eat my victim .

Velasco struggle to find food to eat .

This is a good old adventure yarn ,but far from being fiction it actually happened Luis Alejandro Velasco did spend ten days at sea ,he did suffer but like any true hero he had to fall t o rise and be honoured .As I read this I wondered if Yann Martell had read this .I think he did in some ways this is rather like a blueprint for A life of Pi but if Marquez had written this as a novel it would have been near Martell’s book I do wonder if in some way if life of pi was a way to see what happens when you add magic realism to a shipwreck story .Velasco story is of course like other stories Crusoe (based on the real life Alexander Selkirk from Lower Largo in Fife ,I used pass his statue on the way to my Gran’s every year ) which Defoe wrote and spawn many similar stories in what are known as Robinsonade fiction books about  a shipwrecks and sailors  from William Golding with Pincher Martin to Umberto Eco with the island of the day before  and also life of Pi .The actual book cause Marquez a lot of trouble due to the way he told the story of the contraband the ship was carrying and he had to actually leave Columbia for a while he also hand the writes to the book to Velasco in Spanish ,but kept the translation Rights himself  ,even thou Velasco tried to sue for them ,but then later made up with Marquez .Have you read this or have a favourite Robinsonade story ?

An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman

An armenian sketchbook

An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman

Russian Non fiction

Translator – Robert and Elizabeth Chandler

Original title – Dobro Vam

Source – Review Copy

Pleased to get this from Maclehose , as I’ve dabbled with life and fate  but never got far  into it and sat  finished the book .So this was the first full book I have  read by him .Vasily was born to a Jewish family in Ukraine ,he reported during world war two  this formed many of the views that he put in his great Novel Life and fate , he was a respect  journalist as well as a novelist .He sadly died four years after the journey he took in this book .

In October 1960 Grossman had submitted the manuscript of Life and fate to the editors of a soviet Literary Journal ,It was the height of the Khuschev’s “thaw” and Grossman seems genuinely to have believed that lif and fate could be published in the Soviet Union ,even though a central theme of the novel is that Nazism and Stalinism are mirror images of each other .

Just before he went to Armenian from the intro to the book

An Armenian notebook follows a Journey Vasily Grossman took during 1960 ,he was out of favour in a way his famous now book Life and Fate had been stopped by the soviets .So he had decided to take a chance and work on an epic Armenian novel that required a  better translation .So he head to Armenian ,one of the thrills in getting this is my own Knowledge of the region is very scant .So Grossmans simple clear prose brought to life this remote stone cover land and it quite unique people ,as we follow his travels .So we get to see each person he meets in little sketches about them and their life gently build a wonderful picture of the folks he meets .Armenian is a place that is caught between Asia ,Europe ,Russia and the persian world ,this leads to a very interesting mix of people .Vasily him self wasn’t in the best of health when he wrote this but still managed to inject a good deal of humour to his words .He is also fair in his observations,the  fact is  he has that great Journalistic skill of good journalistic writing in not being biased the best writing of place leaves it to the reader to make their minds up and this he does well here ,it would have been easy for Grossman to have made this book seemed very anti soviet to make this place seem as thou it was an out laying region with out anything good from Communism but it didn’t. He also made me want to read the book he was translating ,I never read a book from Armenian so if any one knows if it is available in English let me know .

A second day passed ,and a third .The new arrival ceased to think of himself as an exotic parrot in the mountain village .Now the people he met were beginning to greet him .And he was greeting them back .

He already knew many people : the young women from the post office ,the man at the village shop ; the night watchman – a melancholy man with a rifle ,two shepherds ,the old man who looked after the thousand-year old walls of the Kecharis monastery

Grossman is drawn into a remote villages life

So what did I discover ,well a writer of Non fiction I love Grossman is such a beautiful and clear prose writer it is hard not to fall in love with his words and use of words .,He manages to catch the place as a whole the people ,nature ,building and even the feel in the air (if you know what I mean I always feel every place you go to have a spirit about it something in the air that you can’t quite put your finger on ,this he manages to capture ).The sadness of Armenian he talks about the link the Armenian feels of the horrific event in 1916 and the Jewish massacre during world war two .  My favourite parts where around his village to a remote Mountain Village ,as all follows of this blog will know I have a great love of villages  as they say so much more about people than big cities do .

Have you read this book ?

Thomas Bernhard in Person

Well in the run up to Thomas Bernhard week I decide to watch a couple of things on You tube .I always love to place and see the writer as a person .So with my basic schoolboy German I watch these .First is a documentary with Bernhard talking about why he writes .

The next piece was a staging of Letter Bernhard had written over the years to his German Publisher Siegfried Unseld .I beleive these are in process of being translated into in english .

The German paper Die Zeit had this to say about this book

 

»Great cinema, a publisher and his pugnacious author write one another. And themselves. Correspondence as Fight Club.« Florian Illies, Die Zeit

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