Mirror , Shoulder , Signal by Dorthe Nors

Mirror, Shoulder , signal by Dorthe Nors

Danish fiction

Original title – Spejl, skulder, blink

Translator – Misha Hoekstra

Source – personnel copy

This was the second book I read after the longlist was announced on th train home from london book fair is where I read this book although only a few weeks ago it seems an age . I was in two minds about this one first I had read some great Scandinavian female writers in recent years . But Dorthe Nors first books was rather hyped when it came out and I am always wary of hype . So this short novel was one of two books I brought in london yes even after two pushkin press weeks i rarely get books sent by them shame . So this is hype or not hype

He pointed to the spot on her throat where they were supposed to imagine her breathing had gotten blocked. He did the Hemlich on her , his fingers up in her face, inside her collar up and down her arms.At one point he put her into a stranglehold, but that wasn’t the worst of it . The worst was when they had to do the exercises themselves. It was humiliating to be placed in the recovery position by a boy of eighteen,It also made her dizzy .

At the driving school Of folkie she has to do first aid and a nod to her balance problem

the story follows Sonja , I must admit now I have been thinking about the book today I actually connect a bit with Sonja more than I did when I read the book she is like me in her mid forties . But unlike me her relationship she is a translator (another odd connection !! lol ) and her partner a fellow translator has left her he is translating a big star of Swedish crime fiction !thou she finds this crime fiction overly bloody at times  so she tries meditation and she is now trying to reconnect to her sister and also like me I have just decided to start driving . She has two instructors thou they won’t even let her change gears yet , she is their oldest pupil . Then add to this she is drifting in her m ind ot her past maybe in a way retracing those steps she took that lead her to where she is now . This is a woman in a sot of modern mid-life crisis that isn’t a crisis she has lost her connection to the world with no partner and no family tie she is drifting .

Sonja’s come to a standstill in front of her mirror .A  short while before, she was on her way through the bedroom , sandal in hand, when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror on the inside of her wardrobe. It looked as if kate were standing in the wardrobe . That’s weird , she thought. Kate and I never resembled each other, So She stepped over to the mirror to have a proper look.

Kate’s got two sons and her husband Frank.When they’re in Copenhagen , they make a beeline for Tivoli, but other wise they go around  trying to disguise the facts that they’re from Jutland.

Sonja thinking on the sister she has no contact with now .

I initially really didn’t get this book , but since I read it .I have grown to like to Sonja is hapless in a way more of a character that is in a classic comic works by the likes of Wodehouse . The way she is hapless in her various quests to reconnect to her sister  no joy , driving her instructors holding her back and even her job she get pain typing and hates what she works on at times . This is bare of lot more a link series of adventures rather like the cuisine that has swept Denmark in recent year where everything is local but is the also cut back so everything in the meal is just enough to give ut taste and not to many tastes . Like the other Danish novels I have read by Pia Juul and Helle Helle plot is twisted this is a midlife crisis stripped to the bare a woman struggling to get balance , even she has an inner ear problem meaning that this is both actual and literal balance she is struggling for in her own life .A quirky fun novel about struggling to be middle aged and with no one !

 

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Feb 2017 that was the month that was

Well it is now two months of round ups this year . Last month I managed to review 13 books the same as January taking total to 26 books under review this year . I also read two new to me press books Noir press  who are bring us Lithuanian lit to English for the first time . Then Belle Vue press an american press that published The attempt . Ten countries covered last month , I managed to read six books for Pushkin press fortnight , I also have one more to review next month . !2 of the 13 books are translation the one non translated work is my first to be for the Burgeess100 celebration of Anthony Burgess .

  1. Breathing into Marble by Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite
  2. The attempt by Magdalena Platzova
  3. His name is David by Jan Vantoortelboom
  4. Echoland by Per Petterson
  5. Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga
  6. The French Father by Alain Elkmann
  7. The Crew by Joseph kessel
  8. Bird in a cage by frederic Dard
  9. Summer before the dark by Volker Wiedermann
  10. Dear reader by Paul Fournel
  11. The mystery of the three orchids by Augusto De Angelis
  12. Trenor of Intent by Anthony Burgess
  13. The buddha’s return by Gaito Gazdanov

Book of the month –

I loved this tale of the last summer before their worlds all change these great writers at various points in the career are caught in the Belgium seaside and my favourite from Pushkin Press fortnight .

Books read –

You can follow what I have been reading on instagram I am a few books ahead as ever of what I am reviewing but with a few long books coming on tbr pile I hope to catch up and be back on par by end of this month .

Non Book discovery

A second new record shop in Chesterfield called Vanishing point I imagine after the film or primal scream track selling second-hand vinyl and CDs . After a year or two with no record shops and from four at one point many year ago it will be nice to have another place to spend time browsing .

How was your month ?

 

 

 

 

The Buddha’s return by Gaito Gazdanov the 700th book review

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The Budha’s return by Gaito Gazdanov

Russian fiction

Original title – Vozvrashchenie Buddy

Translator – Bryan Karetnyk

Soure – library book

Well today I return back to Pushkin press fortnight with last but one of the books I read for the week I had two books by Gazdanov to choose from this and The spectre of Alexander Wolf , as the later is a personal copy  i decided to read the one from the library . Gaito Gazdanov , fought with the white guard in the civil war and after that he managed to flee to Paris where for many years he was part of the émigré lit scene there as well as being a taxi drive at night his work was well admired by Maxim Gorky . His first novel appeared in 1930 he wrote a number of books this was written in the late 1940’s . His works were never published in Russia in his lifetime .

I died . I have searched long and hard for the right words to describe what happened , and , convinced that none of the usual , familiar terms will do , have finally settled on one asscoiated with what seems the least imprecise of realms : death. I died in the month of June , at night, during one of my first yers abroad .This however, was far less remarkable than my being the only person to know of this death, the only one to have witnessed it.

The opening passage our student or is it , has he died or did he dream it ..

 

This is one of those odd crime novels that is more about the people involved in the story. The novel follows a student that is in a state of dreaming the world away , so much that he has trouble splitting his dream world from reality . Our story is told by someone who appears already dead as he describe falling of a cliff. A second body of a billionaire turns up and then we have a missing Buddha statue that is worth a small fortune that has disappeared . The statue owned by a russian that had been in the war and an Officer Pavel .,So did the other russian student kill the first man and what has the narrator to do with it is he the student , if so why does he talk about his own death !! . But is this maybe all part of the students dream we are never sure . This is full of classic noir touches and a large nip of existentialism .

 Then this calm man sank into total silence , which he did not break during the course of those three days that passed I awaited the next interrogation, at which – if i were to believe him – such incredible things were to occur.We were given food twice daily ; at first I was unable to eat it, as it was so disgusting.Only on the third day I managed to swallow a few spoonfuls of some clear-grey liquid and a crust of poorly baked bread .

Is it a breakthrough after three days or the fact the prison food is so bad he will be too weak to hold up to it again !

this is a quirky book , I had a sense and was right when I read it was originally published as a piecework in a russian magazine in the late forties . the novel has ups and downs like you do in the classic piecework where you are left on the edge for next weeks story . The is also a sense of entering a world of Kafka in a way a surreal world of a man being arrest for a crime , but this called all be that mans dream . Then we also have a fellow Russian that has come and become a buddhist and lose his Golden Buddha , which stuck me as a classic piece of setting for a noir story of the time , the Maltese falcon for example to turn the story into a caper somewhat . I liked this book it is quirky enough to suit my taste for crime which is books that take a sideways look on the whole  crime . This does it mixing Ex pats  , Noir Paris ,  two dead bodies  one a billionaire and oh yes a gold Buddha . Oh and a small point this is my 700th review on the blog !!

Dear Reader by Paul Fournel

Dear reader by paul Fournel

French fiction

Original title – La Liseuse

Translator – David Bellos

Source – Library book

Well we enter the second week of Pushkin Press fortnight with a quirky french book. Fournel is a culture icon in France , he has worked in publishing and has written a number of novels he is also the secretary and president of the Oulipo , the french writing collective whose members include Italo calvino , Georges Perec and Harry Mathews te later with whom Fournel wrote a book with. he has also been a cultural attaché in London and Cairo .

The big boss , Monsieur Meunier , told me too ..

“Is that what he is called ?” Meunier ”

“Don’t you know him ?”

“only too well ”

So you know, He told me to bring you this ”

“This being what , precisely?”

“Er, it’s a reader, A kindle , an Iclone .One of those gizmos He said he’d put all your weekend manuscripts on it, it would take a weight of your shoulder.Do you want me to show you ? Look it’s like a screen with all your manuscripts on it .They’re on your genuine wood style virtual bookshelf.One tap and they open . There’s a heap of them . you’ve never going to get through all that in two days !Look this is how you open a book .”

Dubois get his device to read his scripts on instead of good old paper .

This book is an ode to books in a way , this age of e readers we meet an elderly french publisher looking back at Robert Dubois , is looking at the present this middle aged man is struggling to get up with the modern world of e books  and how his younger colleagues dress and talk ,  whilst struggling with the tech he looks back at a life in the books in france and even further a field with a piece about publishing in England. . So what is the constraint on this book in line with him being a member of Oulipo , that was to make the book that couldn’t be c hanged .His view was that in the future what the reader will interact with the written works they are reading so the works will be fluid .

I’ve set aside tomorrow morning for what I consider to be the finest bookshop in Europe: Mr James Daunt’s establishment in marylebone . It’s got a modest exterior but inside turns into a labyrinth. Yopu go from room to room and pass on section to another . Nothing but dark wood, stairs , gangways and books – all as English as its leather armchairs.Adele is daydreaming in the long room on the lower floor that constitues the travel section .daunt is a courteous host and takes me on an owner tour

His favourite bookshop is one of the great bookshops of London

This is both quirky and an Ode to the written world I was reminded of other books about reading and books. Thank you for not reading by Dubravka Ugresic , her book like this laments the changing taste of readers in her case the celeb world of books , in fournel book interactive books and reading may be on the way . Then there was Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas  another publisher looking at the changing world of books as he take a pilgrimage to Dublin maybe to bury the modern book  and publishing like Dubois struggling with the move towards e-books .This is work on the paper of books and what that means , for books aren’t just the book but the art work the item themselves as it is pointed out here you can’t keep notes on an e-reader screen can you !!

What  is your favourite book about Publishing you have read ?

Summer before the dark by Volker Weidermann

Summer before the dark by Volker Weidermann

German fiction

Original title – Ostende. 1936, Sommer der Freundschaft

Translator – Carol Brown Janeway

Source – Library book

When Lizze mentioned doing a second Pushkin Press week , the first book they had brought out in the last year was this one . I am a cover junkie at times and this remind me of those old Railway post in the UK from the same time , It turns out the post was a Belgian railways. The book is the second book from Volker Weidermann , He was literary editor at the German magazine Der spiegel .This is his first book to appear in English .

It’s summer up here by the sea , the gaily colored bathing huts glow in the sun. Stefan Zweig is sitting in a loggia on the fourth floor of a white house that faces onto the broad boulevard of Ostend, looking at the water. It’s one of his recurrent dreams, being here,writing,gazing out into the emptiness, into summer itself .Right above him, on the next floor up is his secretary, Lotte Altmann, who is also his lover, she’ll be coming down in a moment , bringing the typewriter, and he’ll dictate his buried candelabrum to her, returning repeatedly to the same sticking point , the place from which he cannot find a way forward. that’s how it’s been for some weeks now .

Perhaps his great friend Joseph Roth will have some advice .His friend ,whom he’s going to meet later in the bistro.

The two meet when Roth arrives in Ostend to talk .

The book focus on one summer just before the otbreak of world war Two. It focus on two writers , I wonder if the idea came from the photo at the end of the book that shows Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth sat together in 1936 in Ostend . The resort at this time was a hip hangout for the great writers of the day Arthur koestler , the other half of Irmgard Keun Joseph Roth girlfriend at the time . We see how both writers are coping with the struggles of the Nazis taking over Germany. The two writers are both at the top of their game but their lives are going different ways Roth is in a relationship that is destructive and as we all know after he only had three years after this . Zweig was working on his last work his only novel at the time . This shows a group of writers as ordinary people . But also maybe slowly waking to what was happening back home as their publishers where either going or changing .Rather like the book I read last year the Decision  about Thomas Mann at this time having to decide what way he was going to go, unlike him Zweig and Roth both Jewish writers were already doomed .

Nineteen thirty-six is a year of farewells and decisions for Stefan Zweig .His German publishing no longer publishes him, the German market is lost to him , along with Austria , his collection and his magnificent house – all of ir is now nothing but a wearying burden.Its not easy to jettison what one has built up over the years.An entire life.

The world is closing in and the Nazis are killing the Jewish writers world

This is a wonderfully craft novel about a time that has long gone a last summer before the darkness descended . Stefan Zweig is a household name in many was due to Pushkin Press . Roth is a writer I see growing every year since I started blogging Granta has been bringing his books out in very nice new additions. What Weidermann has done is weave a novel out of the bits he found from all those involved their letter ,diaries and interviews .The last chapter tell you what happened to the writer Roth sad decline, Zweig in Latin America but killing himself just six-year later Koestler was recovering from the Spanish civil war when he was there then went on to write his masterpiece Darkness at Noon . Keun never reach the heights ,  she was at before she meet Roth , she is another writer whose works have appear in English over the last ten year.This is a book that can be read in an evening as you settle into the art deco Ostend and behind the public face of these writers .

Have you read this book ?

 

The crew by Joseph Kessel

 

The Crew by Joseph Kessel

French fiction

Original title – L’Équipage

Translator – Andre Naffis-Sahely

Source -Library book

Well today on the second day of Pushkin press fortnight , I move to France and a book written nearly a hundred years ago this book came out in 1923 just five years after the end of the great war . Its writer Joseph kesssel in the first part of the century was in of the best known french writers Joseph Kessel was a member of the French academy and  legion of honour. His best known book was Belle de Jour which of course was made into a great film in the 1960’s . A number of his books were made into films as this was in 1928 a silent film .

“There he is, captain.”

A biplane swerved to the right above the field and its landing gear grazed the ground. The pilot was the first to climb down. He was wearing his flight suit and leather helmet, with his goggles resting on his forehead. He looked like a deep-sea diver of the skies. Jean couldn’t make out any features except for a scar that ran all the way from his mouth to the edge of his aviator hood. He was limping

The first time Jean meet Claude as he landed his plane that they would later both be in

 

The book focus on those brave flyer of the first world war a french squadron and its day-to-day life .There job is t photograph the battlefields a daily job that is a great risk . Two of these men Jean Herbillon and Claude Maury are mates in the squadron until they gather that Jean miss tress he left  and  Claude wife are one and the same  and they have  fallen  for the same women this wedge means every time they go in the air they may be a chance one may not come back but may also not get back  as the other has killed his love rival . This is largely autobiographical as he was an aviator during the first world war so the sense of danger that each flight could be there last and the scenery all jump of the page as you are up in the clouds with these two men and there comrades as the first world war rages on .

Herbillon forgot about everything else as he savoured the pleasure that went with being strong and healthy, and flying into thee blue at dawn

The captain’s plane was first to reach high altitude, and Jean saw his comrades follow suit like brown rockets. Then the group headed towards enemy lines, having assumed a triangular formation.

The euphoria of flying was still new to Jean. The engine’s gigantic breaths, the propeller’s vortex, the furious winds, all combined into a vast, brutal symphony, which left hum stunned.he’d barely begun to be able to distinguish all the instruments .

The thrill of flying still captures the younger man , I love this description of them taking off

This capture the early days of flying like his fellow french writer Antoine de saint-exupery Kessel manages to capture in words what it must have been like to fly in those open cabins of those early planes also the danger that is involved in the flying of that time from the ground , air and the craft themselves not being the most reliable vehicles . Two men on new to the job in search of glory Jean a young man untainted by war left his life to go and fly and the woman only to discover that woman was his captains wife , he is a man scarred by the loose he has seen around him one that sees the grim reality of war and not just the Glory . We see these two men fly as they try to live through the horror of war this is a real tribute to those early flyers and those flimsy planes they so bravely flew and the daily horrors they faced . I can see why this was a huge success when it came out it has a mix of boys own adventure , romance  , jealously and bravery .

 

Two weeks to Go to Pushkin Press fortnight mk two

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A quick reminder that it is two week to the second Pushkin Press fortnight . I am super excited I have order nine books from my library system to go with the three I have already to reading including the The evenings which has been on my radar for ages.file_000-5

I have also ordered from the library Summer before the dark the story of the year beofre the war and a fictional meeting between Stefan Zweig and Joesph Roth in the seaside of Belgium .

 

I have also ordered a couple of the Vertigo crime Novels The Dard novel Bird in a cage that Jacqui reviewed so well . Also Mystery of the three Orchids , it has been a while since I read a Italian crime novel. What have you lined up to read  for Pushkin Press fortnight ?

Pushkin Press fortnight MK2 Feb 13-28 2017

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It was three years ago I did the first Pushkin press fortnight in 2014. As a publisher whose books I have enjoyed not just reading but also there design . Since the original fortnight Pushkin Have grown with a number of new imprints Pushkin Vertigo doing crime fiction One of their books  I recently saw was  by Frederic Dard,which  caught my eye , he was a friend of Simenon he wrote nearly as many as his fellow writer with 200 books in french.Pushkin Children whihc has been publishing the Dutch fantasy series by Tonke Dragt. Pushkin Collections this is where  all those Tranlsated classics we all love . The most recent is The Odessa stories by Isaac Babe was a paperback of the week in the Guardian l. One the best of english lit The fisherman was on the booker list from this imprint. As for me I’m looking forward to reading The Evenings by Gerald Reve for the fortnight.Why now you ask well it is thanks to Lizzy from Lizzy Siddal  who herself is trying to cut her TBR pile and in doing so found a number of Pushkin books so ask me if I would do a second Pushkin press fortnight , SO the last 15 days in Feburary if you could try and read one of more books from Pushkin press it would be great . Have you a favourite from them ? Please leave a comment of post on twitter with the Hashtag#ppf2

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Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun

Affections by Rodrigo Hasbun

Bolivian Fiction

Original title –  Los Afectos

Translator – Sophie Hughes

Source – Review copy

Another review for this years Spanish lit month and for the blog a new country a rare occurrence these days. Rodrigo Hasbun has published two novels and was one of the writers chosen a few years ago for the Hay festival Bogotá 39 collection of Latin american writers he was also on the list of the Granta best Spanish writers under 35 in 2010. Two of his stories have already been made into films .Affections is his second novel and the first to be in English.

Papa and my sisters had been in the jungle for months so mama and I spent that christmas on our own. It was the best one of my life.

I shouldn’t say this, it was our little secret, but I will anyway: while we prepared dinner, I smoked for the first time.

it was Mama who offered it to me.

“Want a drag?” she asked out of nowhere.

I smiled it was unbeleivable.

I was almost thirteen. Twelve and ten months to be precise

Trixi with her mother who starts her smoking at 13

Heidi , Monika and Trixi are three sisters, their father is Hans Ertl one of those mad german Explorer that was also a talented cameraman who had worked with Leni Riefenstahl on her early Nazi films as he had pioneered  a number of unusual camera styles and thus when the war end he took his family in 1950’s to Bolivia as he search adventure again, taking his daughters to the heart of the country and the poverty that it was suffering at the time what effect it has on his daughters seeing this horrors. Well one escapes to the city and is drawn into the way it can make her invisible from herself and her family. The other Monika is drawn to fight alongside the poor of the country and in her own right is well-known as a terrorist and freedom fighter . The other turns her back and returns to Europe to a domestic life. The story unfoldss in little bites of storries each interconnecting and passing the story of the sisters and their father.

But it’s no exaggeration to say that ultimately it was Monika who I thought about more than anyone. I was twenty six, and then twenty eight and twenty-nine , and sex was my way of holding on to my youth. In the moment these women I would start to feel safe again, but a few hour later I’d invariably ask them to leave. How it was possible that someone who never belonged to me kept returning I don’t know, but monika was always present, watching me screw those other women.

A strange dynamic that remind me of the images of olympia the young people exercising almost had a sexual feel to them,

I enjoyed this it remind me in a way of  Che Guevara book the motorcycle dares where he like Monika also saw the poverty and dark side of Latin america and like Monkia took up arms. she also took over from Che in Bolivia after he moved on . Elsewhere I saw echos to their fathers past where one sister is drawn to younger men the old she gets to keep her young it was like the scenes in the film her father made Olympia with loads of virile young men.The family slowly grows apart in the heat of the Latin america, LIke the Klinkl characters in the Herzog movies the father is drawn to the adventure of the land. Whilst it is also a drama of a family falling into pieces and driving in the wind like shatter shards.

Have you ever read a book from Bolivia ?

The boy whole Stole Attila’s horse by Iván Repila

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The boy who stole Attila’s horse by Iván Repila

Spanish fiction

Original title El niño que robó el caballo de Atila

Translator – Sophie Hughes

Source personnel copy

I was looking at some of the books that came out last year that may be on the man booker radar and this one I remember when it appeared last year seemed to get a number of good reviews in the papers and around the web so when I was in Sheffield earlier this week I decide to buy myself a copy to read. This is Ivan Repila second book in Spanish but his first to be translated to English. I can see why it may have been chosen as the first by him to be translated into english it has a certain universal nature to the story. A book that remind me so much of a Japanese film.

It looks impossible to get out, he says. And also: “But we’ll get out.”

To the north, the forest borders the mountain range and is surrounded by lakes so big they look like oceans. In the centre of the forest is a well. The well is roughly seven metres deep and its uneven walls are a bank of damp earth and roots, which tapers at the mouth and widens at the base like and empty pyramid with no tip.

The impossible to get out of well they are in, these are the opening lines of the book .

The book is the story of two brother Small and Big. They are stuck in the bottom of a well, we are given no idea how the pair arrived there. What follows in this short novel is the struggle to survive and the slow madness that comes to them both as they are stuck down this hole. Repila has a way of the horrific days and months of there being stuck there seem poetic in a brutal nature. As the bigger brother starts to try to keep small alive. This seen remind me of the Grave of the fireflies an early Studio Ghibli film that like this film follows siblings in that case a brother and sister , but we see the same brutal and sad demise as the two retreat to a small cave by a river and feed on the insects around them . (this is the one film I won’t watch again it is so sad be warned this one rather like this book can rip your heart out )

Small is so hungry that he can no longer control his body. He baulks, puts out his hand, into which Big places a colossal maggot, as juicy as a ripe apple.

“Abuser. Nasty pig. I hate you”

Finally he eats. He chews the gelatinous fibre of the maggot a dozen times and the bitter juice that oozes from it dances on his tongue. He drools like a hungry dog. It doesn’t taste of chicken: It’s better than chicken he bursts into tears like the little boy that he was.

“You’re the best. I love you. I love you.”

The feast goes on all night.

This scene and a few others reming me of the film The grave of the fireflies, I also like the chicken line here!

Replia has chosen two strange quotes at the start of the book one from Margaret Thatcher (why anyone would quote her is beside me ) About free trade and being rich and poor . The a Brecht quote from his poem To posterity about death and uprisings. I think we are meant to read Big and small as a wider story of survival in people and stripping the two lead characters of all identity barring their size has given this a fairy tale feel a timeless nature to the story. I was reminded of another Spanish novel I read last year Out in the Open   another story of human suffering like the two boys in this book, maybe this is a modern take on a Spanish tradition that can be traced back to the books of Cela that take a look at the brutal nature of human life-like his book The family of Pascual Duarte life is brutal for some like big and small only one is destined to come through this ordeal.

Have you read this book ?

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