The French compass points to Lithuania

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I decide as two books arrived today I would talk about them and save you another review til tomorrow. The first is the first from this years Fitzcarraldo editions and it is a big prize-winning French book this won the Prix Goncourt , I have read a number of the recent winners, this is from a writer I have really enjoyed before Mathias Enard. The book follows a night in Franz Ritter as he is unable to sleep but as the night pass he travels the middle east from Istanbul through Aleppo to Tehran. a bridge from east to west I read an interesting interview about the book and its Orientalist angle of the book from a french website L’orient Litteraire  a very insightful piece. Mathias Enard is one of of the most inventive writers around this is the third book from him I have.

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Then I was contact by the publish of this prize-winning Lithuanain novel as he noted I had yet to review a book from their and this is the first book published by a living writer Laura Sintija Cernauskaite won the 2009 eu prize for this book. The book follows a family with a son with epilepsy whom mother adopts another boy a young Orphan taking him to their country home where their lives will never be the same . This is first of two book they are publishing at Noir press .

What books have you had arrive ?

The great swindle by Pierre Lemaitre

The Great Swindle

The great swindle by Pierre Lemaitre

French fiction

Original title – Au revoir là-haut

Translator – Frank wynne

I am carrying on my journey through books from last year that may make the MBIP2016 and next up is The Prix Goncourt historic novel from Pierre Lemaitre. and a book from one of my favourite translators Frank Wynne  He is better known for his Crime Novels Alex and Irene, I reviewed Irene and enjoyed it , but I was looking forward to this given it’s post world war one setting and the fact it won the Prix goncourt.

This later position was one espoused by Lieutenant d’aulnay-Pradelle. When talking of him, everyone dropped the first name the nobility particle, the “Aulnay” and the hyphen, referring to him simply as “Pradelle” since they knew very well how much this riled him, They could afford to do so, since Pradelle made it a point of honour never to express personal aimus.

The three of them at the start of the book in the same army unit and they have little respect for Pradelle the officer.

The book follows three French soldiers as they start to make their way post war in war-torn France. Now these three are trying to get their own back for the horrors of the war by running a couple of clever confidence tricks. The first two Albert and Edouard met just as the war is about to end in an incident that leaves one of them disfigured and the other with what is know called post traumatic stress disorder after the events that brought the two of them together out of the army they head to Paris and find the streets aren’t paved with gold , but find a clever way to make some money by conning French towns and villages as they go round selling fake war memorials . Then there is Lieutenant Henry D’Aulnay Pradelle is trying to get the hand of a wealthy heiress, but has to find a way to make money so gets a job burying the dead he was the man who sent the first two out on the job that caused them to end up the way they did on a fruitless mission, he is a real cad.What we see is how each man falls down their respective holes post war.

It was these workshops that had produced the magnificent sample coffin that had been sent to the war graves commission, a superb oak casket worth every centime of its sixty francs. Now that it had served its purpose in persuading the adjudicating committee, they could move on to more serious matters, to the coffins that would actually be delivered.

Pradelle sends a great coffin to bury the dead to the graves commission then actually makes some substandard ones in the place.

I loved this it was a slow burner to start as the war burns out,  as he starts to place the characters in their places for what is to follow post war  but as the book gets on the pace picks up some what as we see the three men each start to run their swindles. I think it is a shame the title was changed from Goodbye there , which as Lemaitre explains were the last words of Jean Blanchard a man shot in 1921 after he had done something similar to the title characters. For me one reason is to link this in the English mind to the great pieces of  lost generation literature The great swindle maybe brings to mind the Great Gatsby and as Gatsby in the book in one line of thought is meant to be a swindler that made his money in a very dark way it may be a connection not sure that is just my idea. in the afterword Lemaitre gives a list of world war one books that inspired him Barbusse and Jules Romains (I have Romains Verdun in my TBR pile ). He also notes a number of 19th century French realist writers for inspiring the style of writing in the book, I can see Pradelle is one character that could come from Dickens as Dickens was inspired by a number of the writers on Lemaitre list. The great swindle is a dark look at the underbelly of the post war lost generation and what happens when the dreams of peace don’t go as planned.

 

The red collar by Jean-Christophe Rufin

The Red collar by Jean-Christophe Rufin

French fiction

Original title – Le Collier rouge

Translator – Adriana Hunter

Source – review copy

John Brown went off to war to fight on a foreign shore
His mama sure was proud of him
He stood so straight and tall in his uniform and all
His mama’s face broke out into a grin

“Oh, son, you look so fine, I’m glad you’re a son of mine
Make me proud to know you own a gun
Do what the captain says, lot of medals you will get
We’ll put them on the wall when you get home”

That old train pulled out, John’s ma began to shout
Tellin’ ev’ryone in the neighborhood
“That’s my son that’s about to go, he’s a soldier now, you know”
She made well sure her neighbors understood

John brown is about the aftermath and outfall of war by Bob Dylan

Well today is Bastille day , so a perfect day for French novel and this is the most recent I have been sent , I may remind you there are  59 books from france under review on the blog ., Jean-Christophe Rufin is one of the founders of doctors without borders and a former ambassador of France to Senegal , he also won the Priz Goncourt for a debut novel in 1997 , he has also won the main prize in 2001 , and has since then he has written over ten books .He is also the second youngest member of the French academy .This book won the Prix Maurice -Genovoix a yearly French  book prize .

At one o’clock in the afternoon , with the crushing heat over the town , the dog’s howling was unbearable , The animal had ben there on the place for two days it had barked . It was a big brown , short-haired dog with no collar and a torn ear .

The opening lines as the dog barks all day long .

This book is about a dog and three people , the story is set in the aftermath of world war one .A small town of Berry has a dog that is barking all day and night long during this hot summer .A war hero Jacques Morlac is awaiting a trial as a deserter and  the arrival of the second person in this story a judge , but this judge has had his worldview scared by the war and what he saw during . The third person is a young woman Valentina she is related too Jacques .We discover how all three faired during the war and what the dog that is barking has to do with them all .Why does the dog wearing a red collar “ribbon” . What did the dog do during the war and how did he connect these three souls .

After the armistice , Lantier saw his appointment to the military justice system as serendipity .The relevant committees must have felt he was ripe for this difficult responsibility : protecting the military institution , defending the interests of the nation and understanding mens failings .

But this prisoner was different .He belonged to both camps ; he was a hero , he had defended his country , yet at the same time loathed it .

Lantier the judge to decide on what to do with Jacques .A job that brings back his own life during the war .

I loved this short book it is one of those perfect for a summer evening reads .IT is about war , being human under pressure also the loyalty of a dog to the ones they love .I was reminded of the book by Dan Rhodes Timolean vieta come home ,which like this the dog is a dumb  witness to various peoples lives .in the way mention and seen but never do we know the dogs view of all this .Its a simple story of three people and the damage that war can do . From the fallen hero , to the man damage because of what he saw and the damage of being behind the lines during the war .I was also reminded of a book like A month in the country , this book has a similar feel of damaged souls after the horrors of world war one .This is a post war story of the out falling of war , in particular the war to end all wars .

Do you have a favourite book from france ?

The Ogre by Michel Tournier

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The Ogre by Michel Tournier

French fiction

Original title – Les Roi des aulnes

Translator – Barbara Bray

Source – personnel copy

Belligerent ghouls
run Manchester schools
spineless swines
cemented minds
Sir leads the troops
jealous of youth
same old suit since 1962
he does the military two-step
down the nape of my neck
I wanna go home
I don’t want to stay
give up education
as a bad mistake
mid-week on the playing fields
Sir thwacks you on the knees
knees you in the groin
elbow in the face
bruises bigger than dinner plates
I wanna go home
I don’t want to stay

Another school in Manchester The smiths talk about there brutal school days .

Well I had a lucky day a few weeks back I found this and Roger Vailland book the law both Prix Goncourt winners . The Goncourt is the top french prize for fiction and one of the original prizes for fiction around the world . Michel Tournier . Was born on Paris , but has always had a connection to Germany , he studied german and spent many a summer in his youth there . A number of his books have a German connection like this one .He is often mentioned as a possible Nobel winner .Although with Mondiano winning last year it may be to late now

Febuary 8 1938 , sometimes you have to reach bottom before you at last see a glimmer of hope pierce the clouds .It was the  Colaphus that revealed to me for the first time the astonishing protection I was to be the object of , and which still hovers over me .

When do we know what is bottom thou ?

The Ogre or as it was also published The erl king is his most well-known book . The book is the story of one man growing from a shy boy to the so-called Ogre of Kaltenborn . Abel Tiffauges tale is one of what nuture can do . The story is told by Abel and narrated as we see him move from a simple man working at a garage , a keeper of pigeons and then he joins the army and is caught by the Germans and ends up working at a Nazi school were his job is to recruit kids for this school . How does this bullied school boy become the Ogre of a Nazi school ? When will he see the world for hat it is around him .

He had to make a superhuman effort now to overcome the viscous resistance grinding in his belly and breast , but preserved , knowing all was as it should be when he turned to look up for the last time at Ephraim , all he saw was a six -pointed star turning slowly against a black sky .

The closing lines of this book as he sees the world slightly differently .

This book is an example of what happens when a simple man in a way meets an evil world . Abel becomes like the world around him but how easy it is to get drawn in by the Nazi mindset . Abel is one man but he maybe is also the voice of so many that fell foul of the Nazi regime those how came to blindly believe  at what they are told . But given his past you see how that lead to the present . I was reminded in a way of Alex in clockwork orange especially near the end of the book were both characters see what their effect on the world has been. What we have here is a book full of ideas and how ideas can change the world for good or bad  , The book has been made into a film in the 90’s which I must try to find to watch .Has anyone seen it ?

What is your favourite Prix Goncourt winning book ?

What became of the white savage by François Garde

What became of the white savage by François Garde

French fiction

Original title –  Ce qu’il advint du sauvage blanc

translator – Aneesa Abbas Higgins

Source – Prize winner

 

In eighteen hundred and forty-six
On March the eighteenth day
We hoisted our colors to the top of the mast
And for Greenland sailed away, brave boys
And for Greenland sailed away

The lookout in the crosstrees stood
With spyglass in his hand
There’s a whale, there’s a whale
And a whalefish he cried
And she blows at every span, brave boys
She blows at every span

The captain stood on the quarter deck
The ice was in his eye
Overhaul, overhaul! Let your gibsheets fall
And you’ll put your boats to sea, brave boys
And you’ll put your boats to sea

I choose a Pogues song about Whalers in the 1800’s seemed fitting to this book .

This was a lucky win for the French inisitute on their facebook page , which ask for comments on the cover , I put this is what happens when you fall asleep and leave the pens out for the kids , which won me this book . The book is a prize winning French novel it won the Prix Goncourt Roman , which is the section of the french prize that is awarded to the best first novel . This is The first Novel by Francois Garde , he worked as a senior civil servant for many year in the french overseas territories in Pacific and Indian oceans .

When he reached the top of the small cliff he realised that he was alone . There was no sign of the dinghy drawn up on the beach , no sign of a boat floating on the blue-green water . The schooner lying at anchor in the entrance to the bay was nowhere to be seen , no sails visible on the horizon . He closed this eyes , shook his head .Nothing they had left .

The opening as he sees he is all alone .

This like an earlier Goncourt Roman winner I reviewed HHhH is a novel based on a historic event .This is the true life story of  Narcisse Pelletier a young French sailor who in the 1840 was apart of a french ship that left him behind and was shipwreck in the far reaches of Australia .He is lucky to have been found by a tribe of Aboriginals whom adopt him after he removes his clothes and they see he is a man just like them  . The  story starts when he is discovered after seventeen years in the wild and taken under the wing of a French geographer whom brings the young man named the White savage because of the way he looks .On the way back to France the two men try to discover what happened to Pelletirer , who he is where the rest of the crew are and what he has done for the last seventeen years .

“He belongs to neither the black nor the yellow races . This is evident from the colour of his skin , his build and the texture of his hair . Nor is he of the semitic races this can be seen from his high forehead , straight nose , straight brown hair and full beard . I must also point out that he is circumcised , not in the way that Jews and muslims are , but rather in the manner of the natives of this country .

Narcisse when he is first found is a mystery where did this White savage come from .

To be truthful I hadn’t heard of Narcisse Pelletier or his story before this book . But have always been a fan of Robinsonade  books like The island before tomorrow  , pincher martin or even my childhood favourite Abels island , books inspired or similar by Robinson Crusoe .This in a way is the flip of that story when Crusoe tamed the savage , This sees the white man go native to survive another reason I love these stories is traveling up every year to my grans we passed through the village of lower Largo the home of Alexander Selkirk , whom many thinks was the role model for Robinson Crusoe after he spent five years on an island of the coast of Chile . If you like a novel with a lump of true life this is the one for you as the story unfolds from the two mens points of view , Narcisse telling his story and Octave the geographer telling the story of the journey back via a collection of letters . A book about who we really are where we from or where we have grown !

Have you a favourite novel from the Robinsonade Genre ?

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