Faces on the tip of my tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faces on the tip of my tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano

French fiction

Original title – Un renard à mains nues

Translators – Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis

Source – review copy

I loved the first book from this writer when it was brought out by And other stories a few years ago Trysting was an unusual book with the detached nature of the voices with in the work. This is a collection of short stories in the french version there were 34 stories but the translator and Emmanuelle decide to trim this down to give the book more of a collective feel. The stories all, on the whole, have unnamed narrators and managed to capture that certain oddness of the countryside this case the french but many of these could easily be set in Rural areas in the Uk. As I show below I linked with a few stories.

I went to the lake every summer when I was alittle girl, I lived on an aec of beach nordered by wooden fences and a forest so thick that we didnt make dens in the trees but dug them in the undergrowth instead. My uncle had built a house on this strip of shore, then a hut for tools and the pedalo, and some wonky terraces where the landsloped down to the rippling water. Near the reeds, right up close to their rustling song and their birds nests, he hadmarked out a meadow where he went in search of sunshine .

My local lake was all the rage every summer.

So we have thirteen tales in this collection. It seems to want to capture the loneliness oddness and quirky nature of the French countryside. Here it opens with a narrator talking about a lake cycling to it this lake in the middle of the nowhere I was reminded of the lake well old quarry that was filled with water near where I grew up, then we meet the local loony as they say I was reminded of a chap the guy in the story had lost his family the guy  I used to pick up on my journey out for the day center he just appeared in the main street in Rothbury never saw his house he was a real country character disheveled and maybe out of pace with time he had a sad story in his past too. Then there was a story of someone that looked very like a grandmother this was another story I could relate to I have pictures of my own grandfather in his army day when he was a bit younger than me but I could see a lot of me and my dad in the picture. Then a cruel tale that I really connect with as we see women waiting at a bus stop she has a learning disability and was told by a cruel doctor that he wanted to marry her so she goes and waits for him.An interesting collection of stories. I connected with them.

The looney and the bright spark. It could be the title of a fairy tale, a bit like “Beauty and the beast”< a sad storywith quite a happy ending. The full title would be the roadside looney and the bright spark at the construction company, but that has less of a ring to it , for a sad story with a more or less a happy ending. My story is sad too, but it has a sad ending, very sad or rather it never ends its starts badly, very badly and nothing comes rightnothing is resolved.I don’t know where it starts.

The looney a man that lost everything waits for them to return in this anti fairy tale !

I was a huge fan of stones in a landslide an early Peirene book that caught a world well this is another world all be it darker and fun at times in that regard I was reminded of the works of fellow Fench writer Pascal Garnier who like some of these tales saw the darkly comic in the everyday and also rural France.. This collection was chosen by the writer and translators as they seem to link in well together from the original 34 stories which means the book fits Peirene two hour read which is about what it took me I had a quick read through and as I did I  make the slow connections which I do as a reader from time to time to my own life having lived in small towns villages in my youth it was easy to make the connection to rural places. Have you read this collection ? or Trysting by Emmanuelle ?

Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė

Lithuanian fiction

Original title –  Lietuviai prie Laptevų jūros

Translator Delija Valiukenas

Source = personal copy

I am trying to fill in the gaps for the Peirene books I haven’t read here is another.from their Home in Exile series and a work from  Dalia Grinkevičiūtė she wrote on scraps of paper after her escape and return to her homeland from a Gulag and then buried the book was discovered in a Jar four years after her death. She spent time in gulags first with her family in the war years this is the period covered in the book. Then later on in the ’50s by herself. But also became a doctor on her return to Lithuania. This book is now considered part of the national canon of Lituania.

I’m touching something. It feels like cold iron. I’m lying on my back …. How beautiful … the sunlight …and the shadow

I am aware tgat a phase of my life has come to an end, a line dran underneath it. Another i beginning, uncertain and ominous. Twenty four people lie nearby. Asleep? who knows? Each of them has their own thoughts. Each is leaving behind a life that ended yesterday. Each has a family, relatives, friends, They’re all saying goodbye t their loved ones. Suddenly the train jolts. Something falls from the upper bunk No one is asleep now. Silence I dress hurriedly- I have to say goodbye to Kaunas

The opening as she is on the train heading she doesn’t know where

The book follows Dalia her mother and her older brother as the family is wrenched out of their home in Kanuas and deported by the regime as she joins a lot of fellow Lithuanians on a train covered so no-one knows where they are going. The journey last weeks as they are spilt in to groups as they are sorted and divide. The conditions on board  are horrid on board. They have dreams they are heading to America but end up by a river and in some wooden huts trying to keep together sing national songs they get wood from the forest and try to get by but this is shortlived now on a barge they finally reach the Artic and the tundra is a  wasteland freezing as they are dressed in the clothes for a Baltic summer and now have to work building a fish processing factory. Hundreds die that first winter but Dalia manages to get through. This is very hard work as they live in simple jurt with next to no clothes as the winter draws in and those around her start to fall apart she has a overwhelm spirit of hope that shines through her words As we see the dark underbelly of the Soviet regime and how it tried to break the people from the Baltic states.

I look around and am chiled to the bone. Far and wide, tundra, naked tundra, not a sprig of vegetation, just moss as far as the eye can see. In the distance, I notice something tat looks like a small hill of crosses. We learn that these are the graves of the Finns. Two weeks ago, they were brought in from Leningrad already debilitated as a result of the blockade, starved and suffering from typhus, and now they are dying, suddenly, I’m gripped by rear. What if this becomes a “death Zavod” rather than a “fish zavod” ? I hear the steamer sound ger horn and start to move, manoeuvring our empty barges through a maze of rafts .

They arrive on the island and the horror of this world faces her the line about the crosses in just twoi weeks is chilling !!

it is great when works like this are found that pay testament to the hardship of the Soviet-era regime. It is like a Soviet Anne frank they both share that hope of spirit that gives them such hope for the future no matter how horrific their present is. The Gulag has been well documented in the work of the great Russian writers Solzhenitsyn and Kochergin A day in the life and Christened with crosses are two powerful works. I covered Midnight in the century by Victor Serge that followed another writer being in Exile. The world she wrote about is so well written the biting cold the fish factory being built the starving the being looked down on by locals on the island that view these prisoners from around the soviet states as underlings. Powerful work and so thankful it survived discovery from the KGB.

And the wind sees all by Guðmundur Andri Thorsson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the wind sees all by  Guðmundur Andri Thorsson

Icelandic fiction

Original title – Valeyrarvalsinn

Translators – Bjorg Arnadottir and Andrew Cauthery

Source – personal copy

We were discussing on Twitter the other night that it has been ten years of Peirene Press and there would be thirty books and I went back and I have missed a number of them over the last few years so I decided to order three I hadn’t read and this was the first to arrive. Guðmundur Andri Thorsson has written ten books including four novels and this was the first to be translated to English. It was up for the Nordic lit prize but lost out to Kim Leine book which I reviewed a while ago here . The books original title means The Waltz of Valeyri the small village the book is set. Knowing this I was reminded of the dance to the music of time the Powell sequence of novels that took its title from a painting by Poussin that features time and people dancing around it well this is a village dancing around time. 

 The old couple sit at the kitchen table munching custard creams. Skipper Cudjon is thinking about the great northern diver he was in the valley at Lake Valeyri yesterday evening, about its majestic glide along the lake and its long dive for fish, as if careless of time, as if free. Sveinsina is somewhere in the middle of Briggi’s guitar solo at that gig on Austurbaejarbio, the solo which, later that night, he said had been for her alone

The Captain remembers the diver he saw but also another event

This takes place in just two mins and captures the thoughts and stories of a small Icelandic fishing village that has at its heart that the beautiful choirmistress of choir Kata she is cycling through the town in her new blue polka dot dress in the last practice before the tonight’s highly anticipated show. What follows is a series of Vignettes as each character sees Kata on that bicycle and we get glimpses into their lives A priest with money troubles from Gambling online and has lost touch with those around him. The brother and sister that don’t speak he is wandering trying to remember what caused the break up between them as he does. A sea captain remembers a great Northern diver that he saw on the water such a graceful bird leads him to a sad event in his life. The Choirmistress own past is clouded and she is an incomer but her past isn’t fully known. An idealistic poet that has set his bar and ideals to high. The little touches get you the music folks are listening to by the likes of  Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, he Finnish composer Avro Part and Dixieland music

He lifts his pen expectantly, takes a sip of cold coffee, puts his mug back down and looks up, stroking his beard, From the window he sees Kata choir gliding past on her bike, her forehead rinkled in concentration, wearing a white dress with blue polka dots. He smiles and scribbles something in the notebook lying next to the white sheet of papoer. He writes “sea”, “shore”,”grass”

The poem has fluttered away into tomorrow

I loved this line about the poem fluttering away

Joyce first tried a day in Ulysses and an hour in Finnigans wake. But here we have just two mins and a sort of Camera Obscura that has come to life as we see the bike go through the heart of the town we see all Human nature from Loss, envy, gambling, despair this is village warts and all. Of course, many villages have been written about from the classic Sherwood Ohio which uses the same vignette style of writing through Thomas Under milkwood this isn’t as dark as that book for me but the feeling is the same it seems to capture a world in Amber just that two mins and what everyone is thinking fro the present to the past the loss of sons, falling outs and falling into gambling addiction. The future Kata and her choir’s forthcoming performance that is most eagerly wondered about. If you ever wished the google street view would come to life this is it we capture the spirit of a village through those that live there and it shows that there is a story in everyone background. I so pleased we discussed the amount we had read it gave me a chance to find this gem of a book. Have you read it ?

 

Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

Latvian fiction

Original title – Mātes piens.

Translator – Margita Gailitis

Source – review copy

Rather late getting to this one as I await the first title from this years Peirene selection I looked back and last year I hadn’t reviewed one of there books which is a great shame as I have covered most of there books from the first three in year one. Anyway, this is written by the Latvian writer Studied in Latvia then moved to New York to finish her studies. She on her return to Latvia set up the Latvian literature centre and started writing herself she has published over twenty books and has had two translated into English this is her first novel translated to English she also has a short story collection in English life stories is available still.

I don’t remember 15 october 1969. There are people who swear they remember their birth. I don’t. It’s likely that I was well positioned in my mothers womb, because the birth was normal. Not particularly long, or particularly short, with the last contractions coming every five minutes. My mother was twenty five, young and healthy. Her mental state, though was not so healthy, as I learned later.

I do remember , or at least I can picture, the golden, tender calm of October, alternating with forebodings of a long peri=oid of darkness. It’s a kind of boundary month, at least in the climate of this latitude, where seasons change slowly and autumn only graduallly gives way to winter.

The opening liunes as the daughter remembers the autumn month but not her own entering to the world!

I read this first last year and struggled to get into it and thus left it unreviewed but when stuck the other day with a feeling of nothing grabbing me I’d started half dozen books and got thirty pages in and lost interest. But this time I was really grabbed by the voice of the daughter describing her mother and then got the book the nameless narrators tell the stories in flipping narratives the daughter born in 1969 both mother and daughter born in the same month twenty-five years apart. The daughter growing under the Brezhnev regime her mother never feed her on the breast leading to her hating milk. Milk is a recurring motif in the book. The relationship is strained the, mother a tough woman in her story we see how she ended up in a small town a doctor but not allowed to [ratice in the field she studied which is birth and is a researcher on the effects on woman when she tries to help an abused wife and is banished because her husband was a ranking Soviet figure to be a simple country GP all this is told in her story the daughter only sees her mother now a broken woman she struggles to be herself her mother loves western books reads the poorly type books those Samizdat works will these two ever get what they want from their lives and even get to leave the village.

The river was warm as milk. Only late at night could it providerelief from the sweltering heat. The days felt interminable; the short night brought the balm of darkness. At the end of July the ambulatory centre was closed for a month. I began a long, lonely, senseless time. I lay naked in my shadow-filed room,trying to kill the nights and days.

A use of milk her as the description of the river.

I loved the unnamed narrators as their tale is not just a personal story but the tale of the whole under a regime where people could see their dreams destroyed in a single moment. The common theme in Peirene books over the years of the mother-daughter relationship, in this case, is even given a third fold as the state in Soviet times view its self as a mother and the milk they feed some of its citizens was bitter at times leads to  motif of milk from the mother not feeding the daughter milk  but to the daughter not having milk at school the theme of milk is recurring I felt a comradeship with the daughter not drink milk my whole life I get the hatred of this pure white liquid that maybe like its Soviet regime isn’t pure or white is just an emulsion of fat and water very apt for the regime !. I enjoyed this and it was a great intro to Latvian fiction as this is my first book from Lativa having reviewed books from the other Baltic states  I know have the last one covered by this book. It does what it says for the series and shows who even thou the two are at home they aren’t as there home is a  world they can’t get to under the soviet shackle.

Dance by the Canal by Kerstin Hensel

 

 

Dance by the Canal by Kerstin Hensel

German fiction

Original title – Tanz am Kanal

Translator – Jen Calleja

Source – Review copy

Well, I always love reading the Novellas Peirene, choose every year. Over the time I have blogged, Peirene has been publishing books. I have been reviewing them on this blog. This third book of the year is by Kerstein Hensel the German writer initially trained as a nurse in the former East Germany and then studied literature. This book originally published in Germany in 1994. Only a few years after the reunification of Germany. She has won numerous prizes for her works. Including the Lessing Prize for the body of her works.

I avoided Fraulein Brinkman. I knew that I had to do something to not stand out.The “I” was a sign in the register. From then on I did my fair share of staple throwing and chair rocking. My fellow pupils cheered me on and accepted me as one of them; Ha , the doctors kid wants to play too!

The first teacher at school had her down as an I from the intelligentisa the only one in the class !!

Told from the point of View of Gabriela. Gabriela is born into a family of Nobility in the Former East Germany. Her full surname is Von Haßiau. She is the daughter of a Surgeon, her mother is a society Hostess. Now, this would be great a wonderful start to life in the west but this is the old east of Germany. Gabriela is expected to follow in the family way so when she is just five she is appointed a Violin teacher. Although her playing never amounts to much it is her teacher that touches her. after she lost her Uncle the one they called the Bad German is shot by the regime. Frau Popiol and her red hair have a lasting impact on the young Gabrielia as she compares her first school teacher unfavourably to this woman. On her first day at school, her fellow pupils laugh at her name. As she is described by the teacher as A bourgeoisie relic for using the Von piece of her name. But as her father intervenes for her next day is different. But she has one friend at school. Katka is the poorest in the class is her friend they connect most to her mother’s dismay. THey get on til the teen years where Katka grows up after her first period. But Gabriela starts to go down hill. Ending up under the bridge living by the Kanal.We also see through her childish eyes. The family fall apart, early on in the book she describes her mother drinking. Then later finding her in bed with another man. Then Her father who she says only talks about Varicose and his clinic. He like many fell foul of the east German regime. We see all this as Gabriela tells her story when the wall falls down as a homeless woman in East German to a west German Magazine.

Katka left me standing there. I wasx suddenly alone. Wanted to get away. Where to? Whereever you want. I walked through the city. The city eneded aty the canal. Where to now? Yes or no.Wherever you want. I don’t know where I wantto go. Yes. No I’ve never been kissed. Don’t lie.On the canal there’s a little house. Who lives in this little house ? Yes of no. Steer clear of it. Why? don’t know wherever you want.Dance by the Canal

The passage icluding the title she had danced earlier there with Katka in thr town of Liebnitz she grew up in.

 

The parents say the daughter is Blnka when she was bad and Ehlchen when she was good.But this is a story of a girl that never really fits. Her parents you see from her point of view are distant then her school doesn’t work. This doesn’t help when her father won’t let her join in certain organizations within the school that all the other pupils are in but her. It is a story of a downfall. In the intro to the book on the Website says you look into the face of a homeless person and wonder why them not me. I get this sense myself. If our lives twist one way or another would we be Gabriela? What she shows is that even the highest can fall but also I feel the path is laid for Gabriela in a way. She has parents that we see maybe have other agenda in their lives but her and then she puts her self straight on the back foot at school. One downfall is a maybe the voice of thousands that fall through the cracks.  Also, shows the darker side of life on the streets when Gabriela has something happen and isn’t believed.

The empress and the cake by Linda Stift

 

The empress and the cake by linda Stift

Austrian fiction

Original title – Stierhunger

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source – review copy

My fourth german lit month book is one from one of my favourite publishers Peirene and also one that in recent years provide a number of great german reads and this latest book from Austria is another one of what Meike the founder of the press calls a two-hour journey in words. Linda stift studied German Philology and slavic studies then took a job as an editor after that she won a writing competition for a magazine in Vienna. Then she started to write novels her first came out in 2005 and has since written three novels this is her second book she has also won a number  of prizes for her work.

The shop assistant cut a marbled Gugelhupf into two halves and packaged these in boxes like the one on her head. Three euros each, please, ladies I paid my share and took the box. I was now in possession of half a gugelhupf I had no idea what I was going to do with; I’d hardly touched sweet things for years. I tried to say goodbye to the strange woman, annoyed by the pointless purchase I’d been coerced into,but she ignored my attempts to leave .

The first meeting and a slice of cake gives a glimpse into a past that is about to be reborn.

Now what happens when a young woman sat in a cafe innocently accepts a slice of marble cake of a woman sat by her that in her mind reminds her of a lost Austrian royal . Well in this strange fairy tale she takes the cake from her bt what we don’t know at first is the cost of the cake for her. She has spent many year clear of an eating disorder that this small cake will unlock but also at the same time she is drawn into a mad world of the Frau Hohenembs getting invite after invite to join her in her old apartment building. Then she steals a syringe used by the empress for her drug use.Pretending to be the empress in a competition. Where will this journey end ?

I was learning a new vomiting technique and was eating by colours. I started with chemical sweets such as bright-green gummy frogs or pink foam bacon bits or claret so-called laces and snakes. These took time to mix with the mush of food that followed, which meant that my vomiting could be monitored.I would puke until I’d arrived at this tough, lurid mass, so I could be sure I’d got everything out.

horrific lines but many young woman and men suffer from this condition and we need to talk about it sometimes .

This is a sort of odd take on the Alice story eat one slice of cake then be sick as at one point she says releasing multi colours. This is a story of addiction , illness and madness from two sides that of the older controlling Hohenembs and the younger women  who is drawn by temptation under the spell of the older woman and her servant. And like Alice a number of tasks have to be done along the way by the young woman to escape both the older woman and the monster from her past the bulimia she is now gripped again by As the bizarre epigraph points too “I can eat as much as I’d like to vomit ”  by Max liebermann taken in another context to that which he said after jewish art was banned in Germany . So the city of Freud has brought us again to the woman of the city like those that crossed his doorway they have there problems but in this tale there is no Freud to talk to them no this is more a Kafka or in my mind I was reminded of the twisted journey of Blaugast in Paul Leppins novel of the same name a twisted journey like this one of the characters in this book. A look at what it is to suffer with an eating disorder it is a subject rarely written about and not in such a surreal way as this book that feels like a trip into madness.

 

Her Father’s daughter by Marie Sizun

Her Father’s daughter by Marie Sizun

French Fiction

Original Title – Le Pere de la petite

Translator – Adriana Hunter

Source – review copy

Well I have another choice for woman in translation month and this is from one of my all time favourite publishers Peirene press ,  they also publish my favourite book by a female writer in Translation Stones in a landslide. So every book by them is usually a gem. Marie Sizun is an example to every one that it is never to late to start writing she taught literature for many years but it wasn’t till she turn 65 and this her first novel came ou in French. She has since written Seven novels and a Memoir.

It’s a winter afternoon in the kitchen of the apartment. They’re both there, the mother standing doing her ironing, a tall figure, and beside her the little girl, sitting in her special chair. They’re not talking at the moment. the child is thinking about what her mother has just said. On the radio a few minutes ago there was some news, news about the war , as usual. When the announcement ended, her mother switched off the radio and still ironing, said something like “your poor little daddy “… or perhaps ” When your poor little daddy comes home ” … offhand like that.

The later is the truth her world is about to change .

There is a memoir feel in my view to this book given that Marie her self was born in 1940 the story in Her father’s daughter which sees a little girl she her world shift after her father arrives home after the second world war. We see the pre father time when in their small apartmnet the child called France is the centre of the mother’s world as she is called My darling by the mother. Of course the world shifts once the father is back in the fold and the child feels as thou she has lost her position in the world to the father. To her the Father was a mythic being in a way having not seen her till she was four and this is what she wants him to become again. As sh opens up to the father a secret is revealed and this will yet again change the dynamics of this relationships.

The child may now have a father but, on the other hand, she might as well no longer have a mother. Because as if by magic her mother is reduced to being a docile wife to her husband, his sweetheart, his servant. Perhaps she no longer feels like it . Beside, indications have been made that she should limit her displays of affection towards her daughter, she should stop sitting her on her lap as she used to, and stop using any excuse to address her with that idiotic “my darling”

The world she knew is about to collapse around her when her father wants to change her relationship with Mum.

What Marie Sizun has done is taken a story that happened a hundred times in a hundred places around the world at this time and that is the return of the lost father figure to the family fold and the child France point of view is told and that is one many children would have had at the time the one of wanting to reject the father figure and for the house to return to normal. Marie Sizun has captured the world so well through a childs eye that innocent way of seeing the world before our thoughts get to grey where we see the world in black and white and in good and evil. Another gem from Peirene and another great book for Woman in translation month . Next time I will be in Argentina and another world war two touched tale.

Have you a favourite book about family returning home  ?

The man I became by Peter Verhelst

 

The Man I became by Peter Verhelst

Belgian  fiction

Original title – Geschiedenis van een Berg

Translator – David Colmer

Source – review copy

It’s translation Thursday so I choose the latest book from one of my favourite publishers and the first in this years series. As you may or may not know every year Peirene collects their books around a theme, this years theme is Fairy tale. Peter Verhelst has written more than twenty books and has won a number of major prizes such as the Flemish state prize. This is his 11th novel . He is considered a post modernist writer, he also writes poetry and plays.

I don’t know exactly when – I still couldn’t think in terms of days and years, that’s how long ago it was – but the heat made us so drowsy that we nodded off and slept whole afternoon away in a heap, spread eagled on top of each other. We caught termites by pushing long twigs, as flexible as blade of grass, into their mounds and then licking the twigs clean.

Opening as the gorilla remembers where he was before he was captured

The man I became is the story of a gorilla told from his point of view, from being captured to arriving in europe where they start to turn the Ape to human to get him to fit in. The first way of trying to fit in first is at a cocktail party then he ends up at an over the top theme park. In this novel we meet the gorilla he learns to talk  and starts to think like a human even in the sense of times and starts on a path to become human in a way even thou he isn’t  but the more he sees of the human world the more he finds it against his own nature and then the theme park burns down.

Dreamland was a success. After every performance the applause was tumultuous. It attracted newspapers, magazines, camera crews. People came from all over the new world. The organizers decided to go from two shows a day to three. After a week the first accident happened. One of the Giraffes broke a leg. As a result the other giraffes had to work even more.

At the morning meeting the next day, the human ordered me to take over several off his duties. He would be concentrating on the supply of new animals and trainers. I worked day and night to ensure that both the training and organization of the shows ran smoothly. the giraffe with the broken leg was nowhere to be seen

I liked this as I imagined removing the animal names and adding refugees being overworked !

This is not the first book told by an ape , I loved will self’s great apes years ago and this is on a similar vein the use of the gorilla is a symbol for showing the flaws in human nature . This is a clever way at looking at human nature , why would we want an ape to be a human ? , then be in a show on civilization with a whole load of other animals trying to be human. I loved the way dreamland is put together its like a nightmare version of disneyland put together by Werner Herzog. He also shows the way we can all break replace an Ape with say a Syrian man or a child from sub Saharan Africa and at the core of this is an allegory to being an outsider in a different place we don’t always fit and sometimes we need to break out.A powerful modern take on a fairy tale it does what Orwell did in animal farm and communism with a theme park and refugees or people forced into europe .

Have you read a book narrated by animal ?

White hunger Aki Ollikainen

White hunger by Aki Ollikainen

Finnish fiction

Translator – Fleur and Emily Jeremiah

Original title –  Nälkävuosi

Source – review copy

I carry on with my journey through books on the MBIP2016 contenders. This is the first if two Peirene titles that could be on the longlist and given Peirene recent history of always having a book on the old IFFP longlists it is a good shout that they should have one this year on the new prize. This was the debut novel by Finnish writer Aki Ollikainen it won the best debut novel in Finland the year it came out and even cooler was the fact the book had won something called  the Finnish book blogger book of the year.

The colour of death is white, at funerals, people wear black, the living that is even the deceased is in black, because he is dressed in best clothes he owned while alive, but his face is always white. When the soul leaves a human, only white remains.

The color is being drained from Juhani’s face the first to go was red, the colour of blood. Red changes into yellow, then yellow too, vanished, leaving grey, which is now gradually fading into white.

A brilliant description of the way a dying person turns sallow in the way they look then white after death.

Marja is the main character in this story we follow her and her two children as we follow her on her journey to try to get to the Russian city of \St Petersburg where she has heard there is bread to eat and food available. This is 1867 and it is the second year in the 3 year Finnish famine. This was after three rainy years  that saw crops fail which like Irish potato famine of the 1840’s the finnish problem is caused because they rely on Root crops for the main stable of their diet. What we see in part as the story of Marja desprate journey is the wider story that of the finnish government through a senator  who didn’t want to borrow money to save the population The minister Snellman struggles to cope with the crisis that has gripped his country (there is a good wiki page with info on these year ).This is one womans journey through hunger to save her kids and the boy they manage to gain along the way. as they survive on thing like poisons lichen bread and Pine bark.

By way of a response, the senator feels an icy breath on his face.

He spent the whole of yesterday leafing through the bible, reading about Joesph’s prophecy, about those seven lean and those seven fat cows. Years of crop failure have now passed, one after the other, but there is no sign of the fat cows on the horizon. Has his incessant talk of finlands beautiful forests been in vain ? are these people good for nothing, apart from tearing bark off trees to supplement their bread.

I like the way used the figure of the Senator and his life to show a wider picture of the famine

I loved this when I read it last year but as always I put it to one side and decide a quick reread and found myself even more captivated by the way Aki capture Marja desperate life. This is as one may say a warts and all account of a journey into hell. This uses one womans life to paint a great picture of true horror that saw one in five Finns die during these years of famine a really interesting story of famine hunger and the search for hope that isn’t just Finnish but universal in the nature Marja could be Mary on her way to Dublin , or Maryse on her way to Addis Ababa and so on. In 130 short ages Aki has maybe done a better job than Hamsun did in his great book Hunger at putting over how it feels to be hungry and struggling to find that food.

Have you read this book ?

 

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 ?

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