Portrait of the mother as a young woman by Friedrich Christian Delius


Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman

Portrait of the mother as a young women by Friedrich Christina Delius

German Fiction

Original title – Bildnis der Mutter als junge Frau

Translator – jamie Bulloch

Source – review copy

My Wandering Days Are Over”

You know my wandering days are over
Does that mean that I’m getting boring?
You tell me
I’m tired of listening to myself now
I’m tired of fixing things for Michael and the rest of them

You know my bip-bopping days are over
I hung my boots up and then retired from the disco floor
Now the centre of my so called being is
The space between your bed and wardrobe with the louvre doors

I said “My celibate days are over”
You put me straight on the finer points of my speech rehearsed
In the mirror of my steamy bathroom
Where the lino tells a sorry story in a monologue

Well after watching the film last night of Stuart Murdoch first film , I thought of his lyrics as he seems to capture what is going on in the mind so well in his songs and wandering days from Belle and Sebastian debut album seemed just right .

Well I reach last of the first year of Peirene books , the year of the woman series and this was actually Peirene no 1 .Now I will spare you another stream of consciousness homage  review like I did for the first review .Since the book came out FC Delius has written three more books and won the Georg Buchner prize , considered the most important prize in German literature .

Her beloved husband could not have sought out a better refugee , she could not have found a lovelier German island , and the child inside her stirred at these thoughts , she stopped , felt the movement of the little legs and arms , she took this as a sign of consent and responded by slipping her right hand under her coat and slowly stroking her dress and curved belly ,

Just as she is walking clues to a forthcoming son maybe ?!

The book follows a young woman on a walk through the streets of Rome to see a Bach concert , whilst taking this walk we enter her mind and see what she is thinking as she is walking her husband is due to be moved to fight for the Germans on the African front again .A clue to what is making her think this is the fact she has just left the doctors ! She things over her past present and future as she walks alone , things like a concert they saw in kassel ( I remember this although near end of the book as it is where an old girlfriend of mine was from so I spent time in Kassel years ago ) .What comes across is the feeling of being a woman lost during the war , a husband away fighting for the homeland and wondering how the world they live in  end up this way .

every time she went to church this old poster reminded her of the days shortly before her engagement in October ’40 , when Gert and she had heard Orpheus and Eurydike in Kassel Opera House and had so enraptured by the blissful music that afterwards she hummed the she is gone , and gone for ever ,

The scene from earlier in their relationship when they were in kassel .

Now to be honest I struggled to review this book five years ago and still have this time , although I enjoyed it more second time round and felt I got more out of the prose this time .There is a real sense of being in the mind in the thoughts of the woman , who has just left the doctors and is thinking mainly back on her life and meeting her husband and their life .There is also a bit of denial and fear in one she is trying yo avoid what may face her husband but also knows deep down what is happening and that at this point the war seems to have no end in sight in 1943 .It’s hard to imagine this book isn’t partly inspired by Delius own mother in some way , he was born in 1943 , which is the same year and time as the woman in the book leaves the doctor in January 1943 .I made more of the connection to James Joyce in the first review , of course the title is a play in a way to Joyce’s book a portrait of an artist as a young man .Delius has written this in a modernist style but it isn’t as complex prose wise as say Joyce or Woolf .More a nod to these master using a small glimpse of time a walk to a concert , like the day of Ulysses or day of Mrs Dalloway’s party to expand a small amount of time into a lifetime and the events of a simple walk through the mind’s eye become the events of ones life .

Have you read this book ?

Stones in a landslide by Maria Barbal

stones in a landslide

Stones in a landslide by Maria Barbel

Catalan fiction

Original title – Pedra de Tarera

Translator – Laura McGloughkin and Paul Mitchell

Source – Review copy

Bored yet busy with my hands
Cargill you’ll have me round the bend
Cargill you’re pulling all the strands
Of my heartstrings entangled in your net

My luck’s turned thrawn
Always the quayside chores
A sister on each arm
Strong of shoulder weak at the knees
Cargill I’m the finest catch that you’ll land

Cargill do not presume to understand
The dread of counting home the fleet
The sudden thrill of seeing you’re safely back
Your catch has fallen at your feet

King Cresote Lyrics for Cargil from his recent album seemed perfect he comes from a small village near my Aunties house in fife .

Well when asked for my favourite book by Peirene , I always say this one , I sometimes thnk I may be the only person  that thinks it is their best at the time  when I read it five years ago was a perfect book .So I was a bit scared to reread this one , would it be the same now as it was then ? would I connect with it as I did five years ago ?  Well we will find out in a min , the real sad point of this story is Maria Barbal hasn’t had any more books translated and brought out in English  since this one came out  , which is a shame !

My aunts and uncle’s house was very big almost as big as my parents house ‘ at Ermita .Many years ago it must have been a house full or people and hustle and bustle because it had a ground floor and two storeys and then a loft under the roof

Amazed at the size ,but also how empty the house she has come to work is .

Stones in a landslide is the story of one woman , well woman when we first meet her she is really still a girl Conxa , who at 13 is sent from her own little village to another Village , to work for her better off aunt .This is like being torn from one world to another for the young girl , then years later she falls in love with a man .But is this to be cut short by the spanish civil war ?

They liked everything ; the chorizo and the black pudding ,the cuts of ham .They liked the bacon .Its much tastier than the stuff down their ,they would say .I enjoyed seeing how they kept helping themselves to more and the way they used their knives .

early on in new village , I choose the same quote as I did in the first review as it shows Conxa’s wonder at her new life .

Now in my first review , I marvelled in the small world of Conxa , how even the short journey from her home village to her aunts village ,in her eyes is like moving from one world to another ! .I compared it at the time to the Northumberland I heard of as a young man working in a day centre with the elderly ,when they used speak about the small villages and places in and around Alnwick struck me the same as conxa’s world and still did .But now more than five years ago ,has this world gone ? when we all spend our lives looking at glowing screens of various sizes , has the village died ? somewhat but through books like this it is kept alive .A world caught in Amber so to speak and we are the outsides looking in at it .So did it hold up to my placing it top of Peirene pile well yes it did , is it still my favourite yes it is so to go back to last part of my review and actually part of my early reviews I may bring back !

Winston’s score

mountain goat a bit mad I used compare books to things but this book is like the mountain goat symbol of the Pyrenees this book is tough and clings to the mountain of the mind !

spainsh goat ,via telegraph website

Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov

the dead lake

Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov

Uzbekistan fiction

Orginal Title – вундеркинд Ержан

Translator – Andrew Broomfield

Source – Review Copy

All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan from Good reads


I don’t need to tell you how much I look forward to the three books and theme every year from Peirene Press ,so here we are in the year of coming to Age it is the first of three book this year ,written by Uzbek Journalist ,poet and Writer .He escaped in 1994 from Uzbekistan to the Uk .He has since worked for the World service and he has published a number of book which have been translated into various European languages .His books are banned in his Homeland .

Anyway , I was standing at one end of the carriage , gazing out – for the fourth day already – at the deary, monotonous steppe ,when a ten or twelve-year-old boy appeared at the other end .He held a violin and suddenly started playing with such incredible dexiterity and panache that at once all the compartments doors slid open and passengers dowsy faces appeared .

Is it a young boy thou ?

The Dead lake (a title for UK edition the Russian version is called prodigy Erjan ,But I prefer our title because it captures what the book is about Yerzhan the main character of the book enters the Dead lake and his life is forever frozen by the one short act .For this is the soviet hinterland and the pollution caused by the Nuclear industry in the Kazak  countryside .Yerzhan is a musician that plays the Folk violin ,he is in love with his neighbour’s daughter .So we see what happens when a boy on the Cusp of manhood has it whipped away from him after swimming in  the dead lake and stays the Boy we meet him before during and after this when as a man in his mid twenties he hasn’t aged a day and is now a man in a boy’s body .

The water was dark Blue , its own blueness added to the blueness of the sky ,Yerzhan saw his own reflection as a vague blob .His eyes had grown tired from uninterrupted galloping ,with nothing but yellow steppe flowing into them .

The first sight of  The dead Lake .

Now of course ,I read the review in the guardian and Gunter Grass Oscar comes to mind ,but I was also reminded of  F scott’s Benjamin Button for the story is partly a story of Love lost a point when love might have been but due to one growing old and the other staying for ever you this love can never be .Also music is a big part of this I’ve not listen to Uzbek Music but have heard a number of Ukrainian and Russian Folk music over the years so have an Idea and Of course this is maybe the one Job left for Yerzhan as a musician where size doesn;t matter ,Then there is the other side the Post Soviet Fallout of Pollution , Atomic test sites etc ,etc .We here so little of this but according to figures mention it effected 200000 people in the soviet era in just Uzbekistan ,shocking figures really .So is it going to be another bumper year from Peirene press ,well yes Meike has turn up trumps  again .

Have you a favourite Soviet or Post Soviet era book


Chasing the king of hearts by Hanna Krall


Chasing the king of heart by Hanna Krall

Polish fiction

Original title – Król kier znów na wylocie

Translator –  PhilipBoehm

Source – Review copy

Hanna Krall is a polish writer born in 1935 in Warsaw to a Jewish family she survived the second world war in hiding ,but lost many member of her own family .After the war she graduated in Journalism and started working for the polish magazine life of Warsaw and moved around working a a literary manager ,before becoming a novel writer in the 1980’s since then she has written nearly twenty years .this book was published too much acclaim in 2006 in Poland .

She’s right ,too there he is ,second row ,first card on the right – the king of hearts next to him the six of hearts ,which means a trip .Of course those three of spades are a bad sign .Terenia explains ,but even that’s not so tragic : you should be getting news any day

from chapter with title of the book and also a card reading of what may happen to Izolda .

Chasing the king of hearts is a story set during the second world war story ,it is a Jewish second world war story ,it is a jewish second world story of what happened to many Polish and other Jewish people during the war .This book is about one women surviving the horrors of that time ,this book is her story Izolda Regenberg .Her story as told in this book is a collection of vignettes   editorial piece ,articles the novel is a series of glimpses into Izolda and her life ,her great husband Shayek ,we follow them and all the people around her  in her life as they enter the ghetto .We glimpse the ever opening doors of horrors at the war and what it has brought them too .Izolda hides but ends up in many a tight corner as she tries to escape from the war and the Nazis ,but she ends up getting caught up and ends up in Auschwitz but will he love save the day as it was foretold near the start in a card reading .The novel is also litter with pictures that help you picture the people and things mentioned so well .

After all ,I carried him inside me ,like you carry a child is it my fault ? is a pregnant woman guilty for having a belly ?

The closing lines of the book as Izolda looks back .

I liked this book last year when I read it but left it to review it  and as I feel it is going be a strong contender for this years Independent foreign fiction prize 2014  I decide to do it today .The book is a very different novella it is very polish in that I mean it is firmly rooted in the polish reportage style of writing .The little choppy chapter keeps you as a reader at the edge of your seat as you follow the bits of Izolda life but also the greater world around her ,bit she does remind me of scenes from Schindlers list where one women visits Schindler as she is hiding but want help for her family ,another thing I was remind of is the german film Europa ,europa the true story of Solomon Petrel a German jew that pretend to be a Nazis to survive the war .I was so touched by Izolda feeling about suriving it mus have been so hard to have been a survivor of this horror.Yet again Meike from Peirene  has shown even the field of holocaust fiction can be enriched by wonderful books like this .

Have you read this or any other books around the Holocaust ?

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke

the mussel feast

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke

German fiction

Original title – Das Mushelessen

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source – personnel copy brought on Kindle

Birgit Vanderbeke is a German writer ,she lived in Frankfurt growing up and studied German .Before becoming a freelance journalist .She currently lives in southern France .The mussel feast is her best known book and a set text in most German high schools .

This evening of all evenings we’d say we decided to eat mussels.But it really wasn’t like that .Ypu couldn’t call it a coincidence .After the event, of course

The sit to have the mussels what does it mean ?

So the mussel feast is set on one evening a family sit down for the special meal of Mussels to eat .There is a mother son and daughter .The story is being told by the daughter ,all that is missing is the father .As the evening unfolds we see why there having this meal as it is the fathers favourite meal ,the mother really isn’t keen on this meal but happily spends hours scrubbing the mussel’s to the point that her hands start to bleed .This family now in the west had managed to escape the east of German .The family is a strange one the mother is a teacher a nervous women who seeks solace in playing Schubert on the piano .The father has grown up embarrassed of his origins as an illegitimate child this he make the family feel as he tries to mould them in an imagined image of them .The daughter she is the most level head of the family .The son now he gets a lot of dressing down and abuse from the father . So when they sit at 6.00 there is a Erie silence as the father should and always is there ,the bowl of mussel is laying their cooling there to afraid to eat them .The story is virtually poured out as the daughter lets the history of the family and even the bowl the meal is cooked in that came with them from the East to West Germany .The four-hour later a phone rings what’s happened ?

My mother said ,forget the martyrdom ,this is absolute purgatory ,but my father said it helps ,and he laughed at us when we fussed; stop making such a fuss ,he’d say and ,pain is relative that,in fact is true ,because my father had hardly any sensitivity to the sun .

The mother hates the sun but the father seems to think it is a minor point .

Now I love Peirene ,well Meike choices ,this is a classic choice what is amazing is that it has taken 23 years for this book to reach us in English.This still has an impact but at the time would have  been  electrifying  and timely ,yet again showing the importance of people like Meike that champion the smaller books from round Europe ,even thou it is late we still get the glimpse behind the irom curtain  .Now the book its self ,well I know that this is one of those books that has two levels the first is to see it as a family story the story of a family in fear of a father and coping ,surviving come from East to West ,but in some ways regeretting thinks from the east maybe an early example of ostolgia ? .The pther level is what is the father is he more than he seems is he indeed a simple example  for a wider figure in the old east Germany ,the Stasi man (or women ),is the way the family is all in fear of one a wider view of what life was like in East Germany  .Yes the father seems like a repressive regime at times making the whole family bow and bend to his will . Now style wise this is in the classic vein of central european writing that feel of being full on comma after comma ,give an almost breathless feel to the narrative and  add to the feel of the book that makes you feel the tension at the table ,the shadow of this father falls of the page over you as the reader .To the point you worry is he coming back ?

Have you read this book ?

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