Vesper flights by Helen Macdonald

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

Nature writing

Source – Personal copy

I said to myself at the start of this year I need to add a couple of non-fiction books here and there which is something in all the time I have blogged has been thin on the ground I always see other Bloggers and Vloggers mention different non-fiction books and think I should read some of the books they have mentioned and I have always been a fan of nature writing but had only reviewed one book a year in the woods in my time blogging I had read a couple of other books A roger Deakin being one but not reviewed any of them anyway the second book from Helen Macdonald I brought last year when we visited were we scattered my mum’s ashes in Cheshire (which is an odd connection given the cover could be Jodrell Bank the radio telescope that dominates The area of Cheshire I grew up so the Linocut cover caught my eye). So I brought it last summer and the other memory of that day was a squirrel that was so tame it stood a mere couple of feet away as I place some flowers near when we scattered my mum’s ashes.

This creature was not what I expected, despite its slap of familiarity. It had the forward-meancing shoulder of a Baboon and the brute strtength and black hide of a bear. But it was not really anything like a bear, and what surprised me most of all was that it was nothing like a pig. As the beast trotted up to us, a miracle pf muscle and bristle and heft, I turned to the boy, and said, surprised, “It’s nothing like a pig!” With great satisfactionhe grinned and sad “No they’re really not.”

The meeting of a wild boar in the woods when it was reintroduced to the UK

 

I was immediately grabbed by her writing when Helen Macdonald talked of this collection as being like a Wunderkammern ( a box of curiosities ) this collection of Nature writing. that we get insight into how she first wanted to be a naturist the opening story talks of Nest and egg collection which Naturists used to do in the past but now seems so out date to the modern Naturist. I was reminded of Gald Durrel and his Amateur Naturalist series and book I loved when I was younger the way he collect things like Nest and eggs. Then we see how the reintroduction of Wild Boars makes walking in the wood different these days !! ( this also remind me of the film Beast of the southern wilds which had a recurring motif of an ancient giant Boar running ). An essay that touched me was her connection with a boy that Autism a touching tale of when they met. Then a tale of old Field guides which mention an old guide written about seeing birds through your opera glasses Elsewhere we see the effects of building on birds and An essay about Ants. Hares are the subject of another essay I was reminded of Moring in  Northumberland where I see the Rabbits and hares out in force near Alnwick Castle in the fields around as I walked my first dog.

The process of indentifying aniumals in this way has a fascinating history, for field guides have closely tracked changes in the ways we interact with nature. Untilthe earlyyear of the twentieth century, bird guides, for example, mostly came in two kinds. Some moralised, anthropomphic life hiostories, like Florence merra’s 1889 Birds through an opera-glass, which describes the bluebirdas having a “model temper” while the catbird possessed a “lazy self indulgence”. “If he were a man,” she wrote of the latter “you feel confident that he would sit in short sleeves at home and go oin the street wthout a collar.” The other kind was the technical volume for ornithological collectors.

Old field guide this made me smile with the description of  the old guide looking through Opera glasses.

I think you can guess from my description how much I loved this book I love books that make you think of your own experiences and I have always loved Nature I used to love walking in the Northumberland countryside and now these days in the Peaks I think it was Durrell’s book that opens my eyes and that is the beauty of a book like this is that it reminds you to appreciate the world around us and it also reminds us how fragile the world around is us is and how much effect we can have on the world around us. If you like nature writing I would say pick this up it left me wanting to read more from Helen Macdonald and also wanting to go out and observe the world around us again afresh. Have any of you read her Memoir H is for Hawk?

Winstons score – +A, A gem and uplifting read for a dull January day !!

Literary Miniatures by Florence Noiville

Literary Miniatures by Florence Noiville

French Literary criticism

collected from Le Monde des livres

Translator – Tersea Lavender Fagan

Source – Personal copy

I eread the descrption of this book and the faxct that Florence Noiville had been in charge of foreign literature for the French newspaper Le monde and had doe a regular column that interviewed the worlds great writers this is a selection of those interviews. Initally she started in the fiance world before becoming a literary critic in  1994 she has since also written two biographies one about the Nobel winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, also a number of novels and a number of works for younger readers around Myths.

Liscano admits this from the start – he wanted to write this book in the spirit of Buzzati. In honour of the author who had “saved” him. And because, he says, Like Picasso painted the MEninas to have a dialogue with Velazquez, every novelist writes to converse with his predecessors.”What do they talk about?” Alination, in the strict snse, that is everything that makes an individual becomes “other”- Buzzati speak of the army, but his allegory could be applied to poltiical parties, religions corporitions .. self – awareness is also lost in midst of society. Everything depends on where one places cursor between freedom and security

Carlos Liscano (who was translated in early 200s I have now found !)

The book is formed up of 29 interviews and encounters she has had with a number of the greatest writers. I knew about 80% of the writers had read most of those there is a few I hadn’t heard of as they appear to have not been translated into english yet. The book opens with the Late Aharon Appelfeld a writer I once briefly meet when he won the IFFP prize a Holocaust survivor he described himself as  “A Jew writing in Israel” about how he learned to read the bible. don Deillo interviewed around tjhe time he brought out a point omega and how at theat time following the deaths of MAiler and Bellow he was on the cuspo of being America great writer. Nadine Gordimer a writer that was at odds with the country she grew up in. I was remind of a Chinese writer I had read many years ago and I think I will be reading some time son Yu Hua. I read his chronicle of a blood merchant. Now fpr a writer I hadn’t heard of Carlos Liscano a writer that I think hasn’t been translated or very little has been translaqted into english a poltical prisoner he had read and connected wioth the writing of Irtalian writer Dino Buzzati a writer I have reviewed a couple of times on the blog. Then a firm favouriteof this blog Cees Nooteboom is interviewed and Florence is amazed as his language as he drifts from french(that he learned after not being able to insult a man after he trod on his foot) Then whilst being interviewed he slips to Flemish with his wife and then German and english all this on a spanish island Menorca he loves as shown in one of the books I have reviewed from him.

Nooteboom greets you in French, speaks to his wife in Flemish, answers the phone in Spanish, then German, finshes a sentence in ENglish and uses latin to talk about species – planted by his own hands – in his garden that is his pride and joy. Hibiscous, euphoirbia. plantago.. “the garden is a personal creation, he says looking at the tops of the trees. “THEre is a photo of me with Hugo Claus: palm trees are up to out knees. The Japanese say that a garden is the portrait of a soul. Mine must be rocky because thereare a loit here, like my poetry” -he regrests that this important part of his work has not been translated into french. “I’ve noticed that either you like stones or you don’t. The minorcans think they store the heat and posseses secret healing powers.”Like poems?”

The Great Cees Nootboom interviewed his great ability with Language.

I like this I love pen pictures of writers Although I had read a lot of the writers , A writer like Carlos Liscano is one I will be watching out for. Elsewhere it remind me of the craft of William Trevor as she describe him as a writer that chips away to make his stories a nod towards his previous career as a wood craver. I wish we had a section like this in one of our papers a small glimpse nto great writers but also a portal of discovery for readers the beuty is finding new voices Florence style pof interview draws you to the writer and want to discover more or rerread them. A great choice from seagull books as it a wonderful collection of pen pictures of the later part of the 20th and early part of the 21st century writers a good place to start on the cannon of great wrtiers of this time.

Winstons score – + A I love little gems like this another wonderful discovery from Seagull books !!

Childhood by Tove Ditlevsen

Childhood by Tove Ditlivsen

Danish memoir

Original title – Barndom

Translator – Tiina Nunnally

Source – personal copy

I am late to the party on this trilogy of books from the Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen. It was published in the 90s as a book with the second vol but it wasn’t till last year the full trilogy came out I was lucky enough to find the first two books in the trilogy in a local Oxfam shop and thought it would be the perfect choice for  Woman in Translation month. Although she wasn’t that old when she died only 58 she was one of the best-known writers in demark having written over 29 novels a lot based around her childhood which was tough and this lead to struggles with alcohol and depression in her adult life. She was married four times and eventually the struggles lead to her taking her own life.

Down in the bottom of my childhood my father stands laughing. He’s big and black and old like the stove, but there is nothing about him I’m afraid of. Everything that I know about him I’m allowed to know, and if I want to know anything else, I just have to ask. He doesn’t talk to me on his own because he doesn’t know what he should say to little girls. Once in a while he pats on the head and says “Heh ,heh.” Then my mother pinches her lips together and he quickly takes his hands away. My father has certain privileges because he’s a man and provides for all of us

Her father a socialist and maybe a typical father of the time.

This is the story of Tove and her friend Ruth a red-haired girl that to Tove was a lot of things that she couldn’t be when she was growing up, From the gruff parents her socialist father that doesn’t want her to be the writer and struggles to connect to his kid this typical father of his time. Add to that a brother that is maybe a few years to old to connect too She wants at times. she has and the friendships she has made.  the lack of being able to express herself what comes across is a world that hard she lives in the slums of Copenhagen a tough place where they are considered worse of as the flat hasn’t a view of the street. At the heart is her childhood growing up a reader poor but in love with books. There is a passage I love a piece where the teacher talks about children books and the young Tove turns around and says she is reading Victor Hugo which made me smile in what is a dark world this is what is at the heart of the problem to Tove her childhood is tough as she is different to the other kids it is lat on when she discovers poetry the first light appears.

I was born on December 14, 1918, in a little two room apartment in Vesterbro in Copenhagen. We lived at Hedebygade 30a; The”A” meant it was in the back building, in the front building, from the windows of which you could look down on the street, lived the finer people. Though the apartments were exactly the sames as ours, they paid two kroners more a month in rent, It was the year that the Worl War ended and the eight hour day was insituited. My brother Edevin was born wne the World war began and when my father worked twelve hour days. He was a stoker and his eyes was always bloodshot from the sparks from the furnace.

The tough world she lives in and her brother who is distant as well.

that reminds me of the stories I heard of the thirties in the northeast an industrial area where life was tough and parents and children relationships were far more traditional than they are now what she draws is a world that has gone even though it is Denmark and Copenhagen it could easily be Newcastle, Belfast, glasgow any of those cities where there are large slum areas and poverty was a way of life for many and like her fathers view culture wasn’t for his daughter. It was easy to see why so many people fell for this trilogy there is clarity to the writing. She is like a color-lego figure in a grey-lego city out of place and never quite in place. She depicts a world that has gone but we needed to be reminded off. this is another of those lost gems that keep turning up. also shows that being a biography it doesn’t need to be huge this is under 100 pages long and is a gem. I  have the second part which I will save for the next woman in translation month. Have you read this book?

Winstons score – A+ perfect lost gem.

 

Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe

Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe

Nigerian Non-Fiction

Source – personal copy

I said I want to try and focus a bit more this year on African and Arabic literature over the next year. I did use cover a lot more when I first started the blog I have always been a fan of the African writer series. Chinua Achebe was the editor of that series in the early days with the first wave of post-colonial African fiction.I had thought I had covered him before on the blog but I haven’t so when I found this the over week. I choose this as my first read as it dealt with African fiction as it was a collection of three essays that he gave as speeches lat on in his life.

My problem with Joyce Cary’s book was not simply his infuriating principal character, Johnson. More importantly, there is a certain undertow of uncharitableness just below the surface on which his narrative moves and from where, at the slightest chance, a contagion of dostaste, hatred and mockery breaks through to poison his tale. Here is a short expcerpt from his description of a fairly innocent party given by Johnson to his friends,”the demonic appearance of the naked dancers, grinning, shrieking, scowling, or with faces whioch seemed entirely dislocated, senseless and unhuman, like twisted bags if lardm or burst bladders” Haven’t I encountered this crowd before? Perhaps, in Heart of Darkness, in the Congo. But Cary is writing about my home Nigeria, isn’t he ?

HIs problems with Cary’s book Mister Johnson.From the first essay My home under Imperial fire

The three essays are interlocking the first deals with his childhood the nation he grew up in the Igbo people and the fact they are distinctive in themselves. Then the fact that when he first went to school and then university. The books he was given to read were all European in nature and there wasn’t many African books and then the one book that deals with his own country by the Anglo-Irish writer Joyce Cary. He said it didn’t cover the country in a real way Cary had served in Nigeria but didn’t portray the country and this is what drove Achebe to write his first novel to give a truer picture. The second essay deals with those early years that he was an editor of the African writer series. When Dylan Thomas put his weight behind one of the early success Palm wine Drunkard. elsewhere he mentions Camara Laye, Mongo Beti and Cheikh Hamidou Kane as among those that first made inroads with eh post-colonial voices of African literature I choose those three as they are covered here. The last essay deals with the modern African literature and post-colonial scene and literature about Africa. He talks about a change in language from Conrad times to modern-day.

The Launching of Heinemann’s African Writer Series was like the umpire’s signal for which African writers had been waiting on the starting line. In one short genration an immense library of new writing had sprung into being from all over the continent and , for the first time in history, Africa’s future genration of readers and writers – youngsters in schools and colleges – begn to read not only David copperfield and other engliush classics That I and my genration had read but also works by their own writers about their own people

The series which he edited for many years in the second essay The Empire fights back !

It was an inspiring collection of essays from a writer who was always passionate about his work and the influence of African fiction. Here he shows how the African continent was misportrayed in English literature here he starts to mention Conrad a subject he often wrote about. The terms he used in the heart of darkness, but as he pointed out it still has changed but not much he mentions V S Naipaul use of Bush in his novel Bend in the river as a small change from Conrad’s day. A slim collection but worth looking out if you are a fan of African literature as it has some interesting points about fiction about Africa and post-colonial African fiction. Have you read this collection?

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.

 

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 .

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