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 ?

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