Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg

 

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Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg

Polish fiction

Original title – Guguly(unripe)

Translator – Eliza Marciniak

Source – review copy

I choose to jump this up my books to review I only finished it this morning it is another tale of childhood like the previous review and also like tha has a slightly Fable like stories in it . Wioletta Greg grew up in the Jurassic Highlands of Poland , where this novella is set she left in 2006 , she is a poet as well as a writer she won the Griffin poetry prize for her poetry this is her first novella to be translated to English .

Disobeying my mother , I started sleeping with Blacky, Blacky smelled of hay and milk and had a snow-white map of africa around his neck. He would come to me in the night, lie on my duvet and start purring, kneading the covers like dough under his paws .Ever since I found him up in the attic we lived in a strange state of symbois. I’d carry him inside my jumper like a baby, steal cream for him from the dresses and, on Sundays, feed him chicken wings from my soup .

THe cat she has Blacky which disappears as quickly as he appeared in the attic .

This as I said is the story of a childhood , one must assume it is some what from Wioletta’s own childhood . It follows Wiola a young girl , she has a cat that she likes to have slept on her bed even thou her mother has vowed this shouldn’t happen the cat Blacky mysteriously disappears one day , She also likes to collect Match labels this nearly gets her into trouble after she takes them into school for a show and tell. Then they have the excitement of Pope John Paul visiting his homeland and they are told he may go through their village in his popemobile .These are a glimpse of a childhood , in the background we see Lech Walsea  and then when the strikes keep happening through Wiola eyes we see a change of regime when Jaruzelski took control of the Government in 1981 when her favourite tv show isn’t shown more a speech by the General on what is happen Martial law see through a childs eyes not quite getting the full view of what is happening.

In the same year that a rumour spread through Hecktary that the pope would drive past ou village, my father took over the running of the farm and , to my grandmothers dismay, began to introduce reforms, gradually turning our homestead into an unruly and exuberant zoo. It wasn’t just beehives and cages with goldfinches, canaries and rabbits, or a dovecote in the attic, where clumsy nestlings hatched out of delicate eggs that looked like table-tennis balls. In the middle of February,right after my birthday, wanting to cheer me up after the loss of Blacky, Dad pulled out of his jacket a little soggy, squeaking ball of fluff, which by the warmth of the stove gradually began to turn into a several-weeks old Tarta sheepdog.We called him Bear

The year the pope may have come to the village they open a zoo, I remember the roundabout zoo on League of gentlemen .

This is a childhood of a child growing up in Poland , but I was remind how much of what Wiola said about the Poland of the time I remembered . It seems another world now where British tv showed news of what was happening in Poland at that time I still remember without even looking up the face of Lech Walsea and General Jaruzelski. This is full of a love of the place but also a sense of the darkness in the background . Wioletta style of writing is rich like that of Herta Muller full of colour and place the village life  and characters we meet jump of the page. I said I jumped this up the review list as it was similar in nature to The brothers where we see a world through a childs eyes a fable like world These are fragments of her past the style is rather like Laurain the french writer in a way the both evoke the 80’s which is why both grab me , as their memories are intertwined with my own of the times as they are from my own youth when here we took more notice of the outside world than we do now.The title was changed but I like the view of the original one Unripened fruit at the time of fruit picking rather like Wiola in her world not quite an adult in an adult world .

the vegetarian by Han Kang

The vegetarian by Han Kang

korean Fiction

Original title – 채식주의자

Translator – Deborah smith

Source – review copy

 

Heifer whines could be human cries
closer comes the screaming knife
this beautiful creature must die
this beautiful creature must die
a death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the flesh you so fancifully fry
is not succulent, tasty or nice
it is death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the calf that you carve with a smile
is MURDER
and the turkey you festively slice
is MURDER

Back when this came out maybe being vegetarian was the same here as it was for Yeong -Hye in Korea .Of course only one lyric for this book Meat is murder by the mighty smiths .

I was sent this just before it came out and I read it back when it came out and was going to review it then , but the day I went to write a post I saw a couple of other people had posted and a few did the next day so rather than be a  small fish in a shoal of fish ,I decided to wait til this month as I thought well I’m sure folks would be interested at the time and a gentle nudge may make a few more people want to read this book .Han Kang Teaches creative writing at Seoul institute of arts and has won a number of prizes in her native Korea incurring the Korean Literature novel award .

Before my wife turned vegetarian .I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way . to be frank , the first time I met her I wasn’t even attracted to her .Middling height ; bobbed hair neither long nor short ; jaundiced , sickly-looking skin ; somewhat prominent cheekbones ; her timid sallow aspect told me all I needed to know .As she came up to the table where I was waiting .I couldn’t help but notice her shoes – the plainest black shoes imaginable ,and that walk of hers – neither fast nor slow , striding not mincing .

Well poor Yeong-Hye her husband didn’t even notice her the first time they met bar her plain shoes .

Well I was excited about this especially after hear a discussion on  trying to find Vegetarian restaurant on the three percent podcast made me aware that there is actually not many vegetarians or a culture of being vegetarian in Korea  so the main decision in this book is a hard one to make .This novel is a trio of stories about one wives Yeong-Hye journey into become vegetarian and how it affects her husband and her sister and brother-in-law the later whom happens to be a video artist and uses Yo=eong-Hye in what are becoming more and more sexual and erotic works of art .All this send this woman into a downward spiral of self-destruction and sees her own sister come near to the edge as well .We see the ripples of this decision to become vegetarian .

“Lie on your side for me ” slowly as though timing her movements to some music only she could hear , she bent her arms legs and waist and rolled onto her side . He panned the camera down the ridge of her side and over the soft curve of her buttocks , then filmed first the flowers  on her back the flowers of night and the the flowers of the sun on her front .

I choose this as it shows Yeong-Hye could be very sensual in another’s eyes

The book is really a study of what happens when one person decides to do something outside society’s norms .The trio of stories  or as I view them myself they are more like a triptych so the in three parts the start middle and end of this breaking of the norms of society . The beginning sees the family coping how families cope , rather extreme at times as she is almost force-fed at some points .The next part sees a woman slowly become alone , but as this happens falling into an unhealthy partnership with the failing artist of a brother-in-law .the last part well I leave that to you to find lout this book is one that ,makes you think what would make people react the way Yeong-Hye family and friends reacted in the uk these days . I’m not sure what but I think if someone say is from a strong religious , cultural background or class the fallout may be the same as in this book . It shows what happens when a person is pushed out .I was reminded of some of the great pieces of central european fiction for example Blaugast , I have read where the story is the flip  and it is a male  perspective  on  being on the outside of society .Also a great translation by Deborah who we all followed on twitter as she did this one of her first translations .I love the cover which you have to look art ever so carefully to fully get !!

Have you read this book or any other korean novel ?

Winston’s books first book in post

image

The first book to arrive this year in the post is thanks to Deborah Smith the translator of this book .This book tells in three acts the reaction to Yeong-Hye a women that has become the focus for her brother in laws art which are video art of an erotic nature .If the cover is a reflection of the book in its subtle nature .I’ll be happy ,yes just have a closer look at the cover it is by the same guy that did the original cover of Hawthorn and son a few years ago .
What was your first book in the post this year ?

Charlie Chaplin’s Last Dance by Fabio Stassi

charlie chaplin's last dance

Charlie Chaplin’s Last Dance by Fabio Stassi

Italian fiction

Original title – L’ultimo ballo di Charlot

Translator – STephen Twilley

Source – review copy

Men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other.

Francis bacon

Fabio Stassi is a Rome born Italian writer ,that grew up in Scilly .He start writing whilst working in Rome in oriental studies ,he would write every day on his trip to work .He has so far written six book ,this Charlie Chaplin’s last dance is the first to be translated to English .The book its self won the prestigious Italian book prizes Premio campiello , prize Cielo D’Alcamo,  Award Alassio Hundred Books and Premio Leonardo Sciascia Caves Racalmare .

Death : enough,it’s getting late.

Man : Wait ,not yet .I’ll .. I’ll make you laugh ,it’s the

only thing I know how to do

Death : No one has ever made me laugh ,

Man : I will .I’m sure of it watch this .

Charlie gets a glimmer of hope from death as he has never laughed before .

The plot of Charlie Chaplin’s last dance is really in the title of the book ,we meet Charlie Chaplin  at the time is probably the most famous person alive on christmas eve 1971 , he is 82 years old but a father very ,late in his life and he gets a visit from Death his time is up .Charlie has been waiting thou he was told this would happen in 1910 by a fortune-teller so is ready to face death .But no Charlie wants ,more time so they strike up a bargain ,death will give him an extra year if He Charlie the greats comic of his age can make him death laugh .So Charlie manages after a few times ,so he has another year and so this carries on as death keeps to the same bargain if Charlie can keep him laughing on christmas eve every year .In-between Charlie starts to write down his history and life for his son to read when he grows up .From his humble beginnings in London on the Vaudeville stage ,to his earliest  days in America struggling to get by .To the big breakthrough in Hollywood in the silent film era , then his marriages  the decline of his career and his final years

                              Corsier-sur-Vevey 24 December 1977

Dear Christopher James ,

This evening will mark my eighty-eighth Christmas .Once again ,I will spend it with my family , and the story I am about to tell is my gift to you .I know that I owe you a debt I cannot settle .You’re my last child barely fifteen years old , conceived when I was more than seventy you will grow up without me .So now I need to hurry , to pass this on to you , before the news of my demise sparks a global uproar .

Charlie tells his life in a letter to his son .

Fabio Stassi has cleverly mix his childhood love of Charlie Chaplin ,he says in the back of the book since he was a boy and first read Chaplin’s autobiography ,he has reread it through out his life .He has taken the bones of that book and chucked in a mixer with Ingmar Bergman’s  Seventh seal and may I say the humour of Death from the teen comedy Bill and Ted’s bogus journey which of course saw death have a sense of humour and also play a mean double bass (although he doesn’t in this book ). Then he came up with a witty take on a man trying to avoid dying and looking back on his life .Also we see Charlie Chaplin match in his reason for wanting to live on ,in  what is  said in this article about the top five regrets of the dying .This is a fun book ,by a writer I hope gets more of his books translated if they are as fun as this one .

A meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli

a-meal-in-winter

A meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli

French fiction

Orginal title – Un repas en hiver

Translator -Sam Taylor

Source – review copy

Hubert Mingarelli is a French writer ,he left school at 17 joined the navy and saw the world travelling around the Mediterranean and pacific .He took up writing in the late 1980’s and published his first book in 1992 .A meal in winter is his first book to be translated into English  .He won the Prix Médicis a major French lit prize in 2003 for an earlier book .

As usual , he gave us what we asked for ,and we left the next morning – Emmerich Bauer and myself ,We went at dawn before the first shootings .That meant missing breakfast ,but also meant not facing Graaf who would be filed with hatred we went over his head .

The three set off after getting the ok

I read this book one evening last November and was struck by it’s sheer power in the fact it is a simple story but with lots of power on the moral nature of man .The book has just five main characters they are three Nazi solders sent by their commander  not Lt Graff  there intimidate boss , to fetch a runaway Jewish boy / young man and a Pole they meet whilst doing this . The story starts when the three solder are sent out in the deep winter to recapture an escape Jew and deal with him as they see fit .The man has escaped but due to the weather and the place they are ,he hasn’t got to far but far enough for them all to get stuck , and is recaptured by the three .they then decide to take shelter and seek something to eat at the farm house ,then they are joined by a  very anti Semitic Pole .This simple meal and what happens during it may change the five men caught in the very deep winter of middle Europe .Each questions the actions .

The Pole seeming unwilling to stop staring at the Jew and his peeled-back lips expressed a sort of satisfaction .Bauer demanded .”what’s got into you ? ”

The Pole ,looking at Bauer ,quickly said a few words before his gaze swung back to the storeroom .And then he spoke in the universal language of Malice ,his head nodding maliciously .

The Pole shows his colours to the three men .

This book is short as I said at 138 pages long and not the biggest hardback ,but for what it lacks in size and length it makes up for in style ,this book is from the pen of a talented writer sparse is the story but deep as well .We see how the soldier did this to escape shooting ,the Jewish boy is almost like a mute witness but at the centre of it all an unnamed young man that is the target of the Pole when he arrives in the narrative .But for the soldier catching him is easier than killing others which is what they had to do .Moral questions are ask by all what forms values like a lot books that maybe focus on the German side of the conflict you see the different values of the men and when faced with someone truly anti Semitic ,they begin to question there own views .I review another book from this time yesterday from Hanna krall I felt these two actually suited being reviewed in consecutive days different styles of writing this sparse to the point no drifting the other drifting and full of the war ,this is just five people .

Do you like sparse narrative books when done well ?

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