Gold Dust by Ibrahim al-Koni

Gold Dust by Ibrahim al-Koni

Libiyan (Tuareg) fiction

Original title – التبر

Translator – Elliot Colla

Source – Personal copy

I shift from Spanish lit to join in Lisa Indigenous lit week for this year and the Libyan Tuareg writer Ibraham al-Koni a book that I have had for a long time. al-Koni grew up as a child in the Desert not learning to read and write Arabic till he was twelve he then went on to study comparative literature in Moscow. This is where he discovered the Lit theory of Geroge Lukac about the novel can’t be outside the city and then decide to set the novel he has written in the desert world he knew thus working against Lukac theory. He has produced over 80 books there have only been a few translated to English. He has taught all over the world and is considered one of the best Arabic writers alive. he was longlisted for the man booker international prize a number of years ago.

When Ukhayyad received the camel as a gift from the cheif of the Ahaggar tribes, he was still a young colt. Back the, on moonligh nights, Ukhayyad liked to brag about the throughbred camel to the other young men of the tribe, taking pleasure in posing questions to himself and then answering them

“Have any of you ever seen a piebald Mahri before ?”

“Never !”

“Have you ever seen a through bred so graceful so light of foot and so well proportioned?”

“Not until now.”

Have you ever seen a Mahri who could compete with him in pride, fierceness, and loyalty?”

“Not like this one”#”Have you ever seen a gazelle who took on the form of a camel?”

“Of course not”

He loved his camel ? a gift the two become close the camel is almost human at times it seems

 

The book focuses on a young Tuareg man as he rejects the wife his father has chosen for him after being persuaded by his wife’s cousin  Duda to divorce her which he pays him in gold dust.  and has thus had to go into exile with only his camel which he was given as a gift by the chief of the Ahaggar tribe it is a thoroughbred camel his pride and joy a piebald camel. The tale is of these two a man and their camel as the two try and survive in the desert as Ukhayyad tries to avoid the men of his tribe the war in the south of the desert as we follow them. The two have a bond that is almost like a pair of best pals the camel at one point saves him from a well when he has fallen down. The camel who like his owner drifts from good health to being on the edge of life as the desert takes it toll on the two of them. the two end up in caves where the walls are covered in prehistoric painting where we see Ukhayyad dream of a house deserted as he hides away from those chasing him.

When the herders brought their camels to the well, they found the young man’s emaciated, bloody body stretched out naked beneath its edge. His foot was still fastened to the tail of the throughbred Mahri that looked as if he had been skinned alive, The camel sttod over his head using his body to shield him from the scorching sun, They carried him into the shade of a nearby lote tree. Under that thick canopy crown, ther dunked his head into a bucket and poured water over him, An older herder hasten to light a fire and heat a kettle of water . The man rifled through his belongings and returned woith a handful of Fenugreeek seeds that he proceeded to cook. The camle herder served the broth to him with a spoon, all the while holding his head like mothers do when they breast feed their children.

ukhayyad nearly dies in the middle of the desert to saved by some camel herders

I have had this on my shelf for too long I know it is considered one of the best books from Arabic and one of the best about desert life as I said this is a buddy book the man and his camel but there is a third character and that is the desert itself the harsh world of the Tuareg is opened up as we follow Ukhayyad and his camel through the Sahara the changing environments as the two on the run try to get by in the tribal world where he has rejected that world when he divorced his with for a bag of gold dust. It is a book about man, desert, tribal life, Sufism, and the natural world. Ukhayyad is a character that isn’t easy to like but you feel for him and the [redicment he has got himself into. A great choice for Lisa’sindigenous lit month ! Have you read any of his books ?

Winstons score – -B an interesting insight into the tuareg world

 

 

The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz

The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz

German fiction

Original title –  Der Reisende

Translator – Philip Boehm

Source – Personal copy

Pushkin has a habit of turning up with these lost gems of writers from around Europe. Here we have Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz. Boschwitz was the son of a Jewish businessman that died in world war one where he was brought up by his protestant mother they left Germany for Sweden but in the mid-thirties he was called up for the Wehrmacht. So they went on the run around Europe before ending up in London in 1939 where he published his second novel under the name John Grane and the original title was  The man who took trains. This and his debut novel didn’t come out in German until a few years ago this is a new translation of the book that follows the events on Kristallnacht written shortly after that night Ulrich captures the chaos but also the loss of personal identity for our main character otto Silbermann.

I’m living as though I weren’t a jew, he thought, somewhat incredulously. For this time being I’m simply a well-to-docitzen- under threat, it’s true, but as of yet unscathed. How is this possible ? I live in a modern six room apartment, People talk to me and treat me as though I were one of them. They act as if i’m same person I used to be, the liars – it’s  enough to give a man a guilty conscience. Whereas I’d like to show them a clearer picture of reality, namely that as if yesterday I’m something different because I am a Jew. And who did I used to be? no-who am I , really A swear word on two legs, one that people mistake for something else!

It dawns of Otto what has happened and how the world is changing.

The action opens just after Kristallnacht has just happened in Berlin and it has finally dawned on Otto Silbermann a successful Jewish businessman that runs a factory just about until now he thought he was going to avoid the worst of what was happening he isn’t overly Jewish looking and had a German wife. But when he meets his partner Becker after the night as he talks he notices the difference in his manner and later at a hotel he had been going to for years he sees how people treat him differently.  But this single night has turned the world around him to one he doesn’t know and he now must try and get money for his business and try and find a way out of Germany what follows is a wonderful portrayal of a man on the run as he sells his business for a pittance and then goes on the run on train after train rides as he crisscrosses Germany trying to connect with old friends and work a way out of German even at one point he gets to a border but is then turned back into the heart of Nazis Germany. There is a sense of the world shrinking around Otto as he sees who are his true friends and acquaintances are and those that now despise him as it shows the way the Nazis manipulated people.

Silbermann’s coat pockets were bulging out from all the bills, so he went to a shop to buy a briefcase, after making the purchase he realized it was already 6:55, so he dashed to the nearest post offive, where he too a form from the telegragh counter and sent a local telegram to his wife. Because he was worried about returnuning to his apartment, he asked her to meet him in a cafe close to home.

When he left the post office he wondered what he should do with the forty-one thousand five hundered marks he has recovered. He decided no to dwell on the matter of Becker and how deeply his former friend had disappointed him although that did little to stave off his painful, depressing reflections.

AS he starts to go on the run with the money from his buisness and the loss of his friends

This is a classic thriller that goes at full pace as we see Otto trying to get away, of course, the train and escape is a nod towards John Buchan in a way Hannay of course tries to escape the spies that are following him on a train to Scotland. Then he has taken a large linch of Kafka as the world he is living in becomes a maze of these train journeys as he tries to escape and avoid being seen as Jewish the world he knows is changing to a Kafkaesque nightmare before him as door after door gets shut in front of him. Otto is the every Jews Man of Berlin after that night trying to escape the collapsing world around them in Otto case he has the fact he can pass as Aryan but it still means his papers are showing him as Jewish. Another gem from Pushkin and I feel there are still more books out there waiting to be rediscovered that like this haven’t aged the book actually feels modern and the pace it is told at is wonderful we get caught up in the chaos of that world.

Winstons score – +A a true gem rediscovered

Shadow Booker Shortlist 2021

Well we have read all the books between us in the shadow jury and had a successful first-ever zoom chat to discuss the books and it was clear there we had only a few titles of this year’s longlist that we all really loved and for a change they were the same books we all seemed to champion and like this list, this year has a scope but the books although diverse in the style of writing from memoir, verse, vignettes, short stories, nonfiction fiction, sci-fi, historic, autofiction and a novel for a novel prize!

So what are our choices here they are-

David Diop (France) & Anna Moschovakis
– At Night All Blood is Black (Pushkin Press)

Benjamin Labatut (Chile) & Adrian Nathan West
– When We Cease to Understand the World (Pushkin Press)

Olga Ravn (Denmark) & Martin Aitken
– The Employees (Lolli Editions)

Adania Shibli (Palestine) & Elizabeth Jaquette
– Minor Detail (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Maria Stepanova (Russia) & Sasha Dugdale
– In Memory of Memory (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Andrzej Tichý (Sweden) & Nicola Smalley
– Wretchedness (And Other Stories)

Our journey of books takes us from a Sudan soldier in world war I. Then a  book about science and those odd little tales of how things come about. Then a crew of a spaceship both human and android is interviewed about what makes us what we are. A footnote in history that saw a girl’s life change is recalled then and now. A flat clearing turns into an epic about a family but also about art during the 20th century. Then there is a story of breaking free of our roots or is it! Three of the publishers here have supported this blog with books over the years. the other was new to me at the start of this years prize we will be rereading discussing and deciding our winner watch this space guys !!!

When we cease to understand the world by Benjamin Labatut

When we cease to understand the world by Benjamin Labatut

Chilean  fiction

Original title – Un verdor terrible

Translator – Adrian Nathan West

Source – review copy

I’m late to this it has already been on a couple of year-end lists in the papers I have seen. itis described as a non-fiction novel. To me it is a digressive work the like I have read by another Spanish language writer Augustin Mallo who also uses scientific facts and history in his stories. Benjamin Labatut own Life story is as interesting Born in Rotterdam he grew up in Hague, Buenos Aires, and Lima a real mix of places. He has had two works of fiction out and this is his first book to be translated into English and he has called it a non-fiction Novel.

In a medical examination on the eve of Nuremburg trials, the doctors found the nails of Hermann Goring’s fingers and toes stained a furious red, the consequence of his addiction to Dihydrocodeine, an analgesic of which he took more than one hunderd pills a day. William Burroughs described it as similar to heroinm twice as stong as codeine, but with a weird coke like edge, so the north American doctors felt obliged to cure Goring of his dependency before allowing him to stand before the court. This was not easy.When the allied forces caught him, the Nazi leader was dragging a suitcase with more than twenty thpusand dosesmpartiically all that remianed of Germany’s production of the drug at the end of the second world war.

The opening  stry and lines of the book grab you straight away.

I see this as a collection of interlinking essays or stories somewhere in between. It starts with Prussian blue which starts with the Addicted medication Dihydrocodeine that Goring took in large quantities with resulting effects on his body and the writer William Burroughs took over the years and he compared it to heroin. as he used it on mass the story winds around a mix of history and little stories. Till we get to the invention of the color Prussian Blue. The favorite of this collection is The heart of the heart which has at its heart Mathematicians tales starting with the Japanese blogger Schinichi Mochizuki whose 600-page thesis on the proof of him solving A+B+C a thesis which no one has understood to this point this leads to one of the best-known Mathematician Alexander Grothendieck a man who won the fields medal and was a leading thinker of his time but he withdrew from the world and started to live like a hermit in France racing around the countryside in a Hurst he published a 1000 page autobiography about his time in the maths world a piece that showed how everyone he had been connected with had used him to launch their own careers this work is being translated into English and struck me as a singular work.I will let you discover the tales and journeys in this book.

“The great turning point” was the term Grothendieck used to decribe the change in the direction of his life during his forties. ALl at once, he found himself swept up by thespirit of the age: he became obsessed by ecology, the military industrial complex and nuclear proliferation. To his wife’s despair, he founded a commune at home, where vagabonds, professiirs, hippes, pacifists, theives nuns and prostitutes dwelt side by side .

He became intolerent of all comforts of bourgeois life; he tore up the carpets from the floors of his house, considering them superfluous adornments, and began to make his own clothign; sandals from recycled tires, trousers sewn from old burlap sacks.He stopped using a bed, instead sleeping on a door torn from its hinges.

THe change in his life views that changed Alexander Grithendieck into a hermit over the years and withdraw from life.

I lived this I am a huge fan of digressive books since reading Sebald in my twenties I am always after books that break the mould that drifts from here to there stories we know titbits or as I remember Irwin’s character in The history boys calls it gobits those little gems we have heard but have forgotten or have never been written down from how Goering dies or we discovered Prussian blue this takes us through those gobits of the science world. I discovered Alexander Grothendieck an interesting figure that I had never heard of and this is what I love about these books they are the journey of the mind and you set sail and discover new ports to try at a later date historic figures pieces of history. This is a voyage through science wonderfully entertaining and engaging it is well-paced. A new writer to the blog and one I will be reading again. Have you tried this book?

The salt of the Earth by Jozef Wittlin

The Salt of the Earth by Jozef Wittlin

Polish Fiction

Original title – Sól ziem

Translator – Patrick John Corness

Source – review copy

Some publisher do a great job at rediscovering old works that have fallen out of print or haven’t been translated into English or maybe were due a new translation the latter is the case for this book they brought out another book from Wittlin which was a success so they got a new translation of this book. Which first came out in English in 1941 and had been out of print for a long time. Jozef Wittlin had an interesting life join the Polish army then initially when they were combined into the Austrian army. He then studied in Vienna and joined with Joseph Roth his friend. He got scarlet fever and end up a prisoner of war working on a translation of the Odyssey. He after the war traveled Europe and promoted Pacifism and then s[ent time in France collecting his materials together to write the Salt of the earth which has the tale of an ordinary man caught up in the madness of World war One.

Piotr’s entire life involved carrying things. As a child he had suffered from that infamous Hutsul affliction for which the human face had the French to thank, apparently. Its symptons were typicalnose and certain defects of vision, which however, did not devolp further with age, Independently of the french Influences, Pitor body was also subject toEnglish ones, the rickets. And so France and England, those two warring elements that had done battle in the historical arena over man centuries, settled their differences in the body of a Hutsul child, To the end of his life Piotr remained bandy-legged.

PIotr is described here as a sort of uncanilly youth.

The novel begins high up in the war as the war begins and Franz Josef signs the papers to start the war. This is in contrast to the book itself which is based around one man’s experience of the war. That man Piotr Niewiadomski is what one would call a peasant he is an illegitimate child and has grown up as a rather Gangly uncannily youth. He dreams of a simple life working on the railways he is a porter but sees the chance to become a linesman. But he is now faced with the chance of being thrust into the war. He ends up as an Infantryman. He has t I wait until he leaves and as they are all due to leave there is a Solar eclipse leading to the feeling of the end of the world, but he is still on rails as he catches the train to Hungary this is where the story shows the madness of war when Piotr is caught up and gets on the wrong side of the sergeant this shows the madness of rank and war as they draw closer to the frontline and battles. It shows a simple man caught in the wheels of a war machine!

Pitor duties were exceptionally onerous in those days,but he managed. He had acquired a fondness for the railway – thatis, for the section entrusted to him. Every day, he walked the four kilometers to signal box 87, beyond which his responsbilties ended. He left his post only when Magda visited. She stood in for him competently, just like a legitimate signalman’s wife. The sight of young girl standing at her post with the little red flag had already on several occasions brought smiles to the weary faces of those returning from death. As if life itselfhad placed her on watch.

The rail is all he dreams about at the sart of the book.

This was meant to be [art of a trilogy of novels he had planned to write but he had the case with the other two works taken and lost at a later date which only a small fragment remain which is at the end of the book. It shows how hard it was for a simple man like Piotr to avoid getting caught up in the madness of the war he is like a polish baldrick maybe a bit cleverer than but a man that has a lover and a simple dream of being a linesman that because of the action in the first chapter. He gets sent to join the army and caught up in the madness of the war machine this is very like The way Blackadder describes his superiors they pay little head for the man on the ground at the front in that trench facing death. Whether today tomorrow but always there rather than planning and not taking part. This follows his own view of the War and his Pacifist point of view. It a shame we never knew more of the trilogy but it sits next to the great books of world war one as for me I have not read a book that captures the build-up to war so well and tension and horror of what was to come so well. Sasson in Fox hunting man captures the upper-class view somewhat but this is the lower ranks view. Another great discovery from Pushkin.

Lives and Deaths essential stories by Leo Tolstoy

Lives and Deaths essential stories by Leo Tolstoy

Russian Fiction

Translator – Boris Dralyuk

Source – review copy

It has been 8 years since I read the new translation of War and Peace by Tolstoy so when I was offered the chance to review a collection of stories by the master that revolved around life and death. I couldn’t say no when I was offered the chance to read these for new translations from Boris Dralyuk. The stories are mainly from later in his writing life the earliest is from 1859 the latest is from 1905. The main story in the collection is the Death of Ivan Ilyich a novella the pother three stories in the collection are Three deaths, pace-setter, and Alyosha the pot. all center around death.

The announcement was bordered in  black ” It is with deepest sorrow that Praskoyva FyodofovnaGolovina informs relatives and friends of the demise of her beloved spouse, Member of the appellate court Ivan Ilyich Golovin, which occured on 4TH Febuary 1882. The funeral will be held on friday at one o’clock in the afternoon”

Ivan Ilyich had been a collgue of the assembled gentlemen, well liked by all of them. He had been ill for several weeks; they had heard the illness was incurable.His position had been kept open, but itwas assumed that, in the event of his death, Alekseyev would be appointed to replace him.

The opening of Ivan Ilyich that sees him=s death notice and we then see what haopened in the weeks before.

Well,  the main part of this collection is the Death of Ivan Ilyich. Ivan is a Judge and has a settled life the story opens with people reading a notice of his death but then we see the events that lead to his death. He has just moved into a new house when he has a fall and gets pain on his left side, Then he starts to have a bad taste in his mouth as he gets worse one of his friends Peter sees his friend is getting worse. His wife Praskovya is well to put it one way more of a lady who lunches and has her own life and is only trouble when Ivan’s illness affects their activities together. Ivan questions after he gets the word from the doctor that he is going to die why it is happening to him. We have the three deaths of a noblewoman a lady is traveling on a coach and at the posting station is seen by a doctor who says she won’t make it home but she wants to be home to die. Uncle Hvedor an old coachman is dying in the common room of the posting station. we have a tree dying as the third death. The Pacesetter is set in a stable and told from the point of view of the horses in the yard. Then the last story Alyosha the pot about a quiet young man called the pot after he broke a pot when he was a youth and is a meek soul.

Alyosha was the younger brother. They nicknamed him Pot because one day his mother sent him to the deacon’s wife with a pot of milk, but he stumbled and fell, and the pot broke. His mother gave him a whipping and the boys teased hom, called him “Pot” .The nickname stuck – Alyosha the Pot

Alyosha was a thin little felow, with lop-ears (His ears were like wings), with a big nose. The boys used to teasehim, shouting “Alyosha’s nose is like a dog on a hill” There was a school in the village, but Alyosha didn’t have much time for it

THe youg mannamed pot is a meek young man in his lfe.

I hadn’t read Ivan Ilyich before so was pleased to have read this new translation from a Judge that in many ways his life with a wife that is caught up in her own world and a man that has maybe been to up himself that hadn’t seen his impending death coming it brings up the question of what our lives are valued for and even we think we may be entitled to live longer that is not always the collection the other stories show three different deaths from the highest and lowest of society to that of a tree. Then we have the goings-on of a  stable told from the horse point of view his imagining of their social world is interesting then the quiet Alyosha life is summed up in a mere ten -pages. The stories show how he viewed death change from the earliest story three deaths which were written nearly thirty years earlier than the other works the later maybe shows how when we get to view death differently the older we get.

The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marquise of O by Heinrich Kleist

German Literature

Original title – Die Marquise von O

Translator – Nicholas Jacobs

Source – review copy

Well I have only one before reviewed a book where it has two translations that was the double translations of Cre Na Cille that came out a few years ago well I have an updated translation of one of the greatest German writers works that of Heinrich Von Kleist a writer that influenced writers in particular Kafka he was describer in the encyclopedia Britannica as Kleist’s whole life was filled by a restless striving after ideal and illusory happiness, and this is largely reflected in his work. He was by far the most important North German dramatist of the Romantic movement, and no other of the Romanticists approaches him in the energy with which he expresses patriotic indignation. I have reviewed this a part of a collection a number of years ago but didn’t focus on this story.

In M -, An important town in Northern Italy, the widowed Marquise of O – A women of impeccable reputation and mother of well-brought up children, made it known through the newspapers that she had inexplicably found herself in a certain condition, that the father of the child she would bear should make himself known, and that out of regard for her family she was resolved to marry him. The woman who under the pressure ofirremeediable circumstances took such a strange step, risking universal derison with such fortitudewas the daughter of Colonel G

A sort of whose the father Jeremy Kyle style forthe time

The Marquis of O is a novella set during the Napoleonic wars. it starts with a startling piece from a newspaper THat in M a town in Northern Italy has found herself in a certain condition and she wants the father of the child to make himself known. She is the daughter of Colonel G and has arrived at his home in this state after her husband died some years earlier. The early part of the book follows the events leading to the Marquise ending up this way. which saw her home overrun by Russian soldiers and at the risk of being used by them she is saved by Count F who then saves her but later appears to have died and then return and he tries to gain the hand of the Marquise but in the meantime she has been cast out and is returning to her dead husbands estate.

THe Marquise came with her two children to the forecourt of the castle where shooting, now at its heaviest, was already lighting up the night, forcing her, out of her mind where she sould turn next, back into the burning building. Her she was unfortunate enough to meet a band of hostile riflemen just as she was intending to slip out by the back door. At the sightof her they suddenly fell silent and slung their weapons over their shoulders and took her with them whilst making abominable gestures.Tugged and pulled this way and that by hte terrifying pack fighting among themselves

Her fate seems doomed her when she ran into the gun men by her old house

This has many twists in the tale and like the best of Kafka there is a little of not knowing who is who here with no full names just Colonel G , count F and Marquise of O remind me of the way Kafka never used characters full names them there is the hint that the Marquise may have been raped not clearly in the book but there is a feeling that something is wrong with how the baby was conceived.. Will the count ever be able to make the Marquise his Countess ? The book leans on the lines that see the Count take the MArquise when she is very tired from the group of Russian soldier is this when they had relations? it isn’t said but implied. It is also a studied into how people react under stress Her father the Marquise, the Count each act differently.  I enjoyed this new translation I remember the story didn’t grab me much in the collection as I choose two other stories to describe in the collection I hope that Pushkin get some of the other Von Kleist works to translate especially An Earthquake in Chile and Michael Kohlhaas which where the two stories I liked in the other collection.

A nail, A rose by Madeleine Bourdouxhe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A nail, A rose by Madeleine Bourdouxhe

Belgian fiction

Original title – Sept Nouvelles

Translator – Faith Evans

Source – review copy

I featured a picture of this for my women in translation covers piece earlier in the week. I had read this a while ago as it came out in May but felt it was a great choice for women in translation month as it shows what Pushkin do so well and that is rediscovered writers that have disappeared here we have the Belgian writer Madeliene Bourdouxhe although she moved with her family at a young age to Paris  during world war one returning to Brussels to attend university, She married a maths teacher  and began writing during the war she was in the resistance . After the war, she frequently went to Paris meeting writers like Simone de Beauvoir and Raymond Queneau. This collection was published firstly in the late eighties and it great it is back in print in a Pushkin edition.

Come on, “he said, “get some change..”

She went in and returned with the notes. She watched Nicholas as he hung the hose back on the petrol pump and handed over the change; she watched the cas as it pulled out , re-entered the right lane, and disappeared in the direction of Masions-Alfort. At the garage over the way anpther car pulled in. The women who worked there was tall, gaunt and older that Anna, and she wore an old fashion chignon on the crown of her head , fastened not with hairpin but with four or five criss-crossing nails, which formed a rosette around the chignon, a real curiosity

I loved anna description of the woman over the road her hair sounds so unusual and destinctive with its nails holding it in place!!

This is a collection of stories all but one is told from a female point of view. The woman, on the whole, seem to maybe be a general vision of women in the pre and war years this book came out in 1944 the last story touches on this story Sous le point Mirabeau follows a Belgian woman, just become a mother and with many others trying to get into France. I liked another story Blanche it starts with a husband asking if his shirt is ironed but his wife is wistful dreamy Blanche doesn’t see her life as a housewife so doesn’t iron her short this is a woman that maybe is one the edge at one point when she heads into the woods with her son its dark he says but we are looking for squirrels to reassure him this scene makes you wonder what was going to happen . In other stories, we have one  Rene is the flip of the other stories a man looking at ordinary women lives this is a subtle collection of ordinary lives brought to life from Heartbreak to Trauma.

Blanche hurried along the path, holding her hand. Some drops of rain were still falling but the heat of the day lingering and the air was warm.

“Shall we walk through the wooods? Blanche said.

“Its all black in therem I’de be frightened” said Jean-Louis

“You mustn’t be afraid of the wood. We might see some squirrels in there …”

“Squirrels? All right then,” Said Jean-Louis

Blanche takes her son into the dark woods one night …

I held this back as it was so perfect for this month from the great cover art of a factory girl of the time a strong woman, an ordinary woman which is what Bourdouxhe captures so well in this book. she captures the voice and internal feeling of the women she writes about okay they are all very similar in character but they also show maybe the changing thoughts of the writer at the time this collection came out in 1944 a time when the writer her self had seen action in the resistance but women’s roles  in the home and workplace had changed during those war years. I feel this is an undercurrent in these characters from Blanche feeling unlike a housewife to trying to get to France in a crowd. There is a number of other books that the translator had translated inn the eighties lets hope they also get reissued. Have you read her books?

 

Thirty covers for #WITMONTH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second cover will be one I am reviewing this month as ever {ushkin press has turned up another lost gem this collection of short stories from the Belgian writer Madeleine Bourduxhe her stories of everyday life are full of color and depth.

Red Dog by Willem Anker

Red Dog by Willem Anker

Red Dog by Willem Anker

South African fiction

Original title – Buys

Translator – Michiel Heyns

source – review copy

This is the first title to be translated into English by the prize-winning Afrikaans writer Willem Anker. This book won four prizes. He studied Lit at the University of Stellenbosch his final dissertation sounds very interesting and also in a way links to this book. The nomadic self: schisoanalytical views on character subjectivity in the prose work of Alexander Strachan and Breyten Breytenbach. He is also now a teacher of creative writing at the same university. This book has been re-title in English its original title was Buys a border novel. 

With my father’s inheritance, I buy two cows and a dozen sheep. David Dimwit lets them graze on his part of the farm and they multiply. At eleven I am taller than my brother-in-law; at thirteen I’ll be more than six feet tall. During the day I herd cattle with Saterdog a bushman child, perhaps a year or so older than I, but younger of body, named, for no particular reason, for the sixth day of the week.

The early years of Buys life.

The book is the retelling of the life of Coenraad de Buys a real-life character that was an advisor to Xhosa chief and also friends to the missionary Johannes Theodorus van der Kemp. This is a story of a man that saw his father die when he was eight years old leaving him very little. He sets forth and the boy grows into a man. He is a trekker and man of the veldt. He spends time with his wives and various mix of children from his three wives over the years. There are little passaged that shows his world growing. He is a man of the wild veldts this is the late 18th and early 19th century and his home is under winds of change. This man married three times but over the years his farm grows and his power swells. He is one of these untamable wilds as they years go we see his life swing one way to another then in the later 1790 the English take over the land he lives on and declare him an outlaw he then spends time wandering the borders between English and  the colonies he grew up in that are shrinking the forty years covered in this book saw five small wars break out all this told in a brutal world that shows the harshness of the new world as it still was then. He pays the price with wives and time with his kids but this man is happiest in the middle of nowhere with the wild dogs at his feet hence the English title.

A man vomits and his friends laugh and gob. Somebody bumps into me and I look around into the beggars face and looks away.

The Baboon grabs the nearest dog and brings the animal’s faceup to its own, Bo they know how much they look like each other? With the revishing jaws that decorate many a farmhouse, it tears off the face of the fighting dog, who until recently resembled the protp wolf from hich all dogs are descended.

I rub my thumbs and index fingers together until I can feel a static crackling. The remaining dog keeps tugging at the guts.The baboon curls up against the carcase next to him and there is a tremor in one hand and something like a yawn and I see something in his eyes and then he is dead

The brutal world is wonderfully summed up in these few passages of the book.

This is one of those books that draws the reader into a world gone the veldt of the late 1790s and early 1800s. this shows the world and borders for one man shrinking a man that is one of those larger than life figures a raconteur, swindler, and ladies man he is a mix of robin hood and Kevin Costner’s character in dances with wolves. A wild man of the veldt large than life in a world that is violent from his early days and the death of his father violence is always just below the surface as is the harsh world he lives in. He is compared the great American writer Cormac McCarthy and yes I have read a coup,e of his books decades ago it has that same sense of wild untamed lives and worlds. But for me, the writer I was most reminded of was Patrick White the way he described the outback and a harsh world that mix indigenous and colonial worlds especially his book the tree of man I reviewed a few years ago. As I said the main title character is like one of the characters he must have written about in his dissertation a nomadic self!!

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