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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