Down and Out in England and Italy by Alberto Prunetti

Down and Out in England and Italy by Alberto Prunetti

Italian Non-fiction

Original title – 108 metri. The new working-class hero

Translator – Elena Pala

Source – Review copy

I ask to get sent this intrigued by the title a nod to the Orwell book about being poor and finding it hard to find a job. But when I looked up the original title was a homage to the John Lennon song Working-class Heron and the foundry where had worked when they made a 108-meter railing. Alberto has worked as a Pizza chef, a cleaner, and Handyman. He did these jobs whilst and after getting his degree he still wrote and has published five novels and has translated works by Orwell (Hence the nod to his book in the English title ) He has also worked on a series of working-class books for an Italian publisher.

We the cooks of United Kingdon solemnly swear before Her majesty the queen to fight the infamous pathogenic bacteria, given to all manner of vicousness and capable of inducing the most grevious bouts of nausea and vomitting. We will deny Clastridium perfingens access to the British soil – that ghastly, degenrate agitator that creeps into the restaurant and can count on the logistical support of Botulinum. The fearsome staphylococusureus- devious bowel terrorist.- will be pushed back accross the Channel, together with the so-called European Bacillus cereus, which cause abdominal pain and spasms as well as nefarious bouts of blouting.

The opening chapter called The Oath

The book follows the time in the early 200os when after his Graduation Alberto came to the Uk to earn money as he was from a working-class family his father was a steelworker from Livorno in Tuscany the side of the place we never see hen it shown here. I remember the town from its football team which is considered the most left-wing club in Italy historically. Anyway back to the book and we follow Alberto as he arrived in Bristol and he knocks door to door at the local Pizza restaurants when he got a job he falls into a weird brotherhood of the workers a mix of failed actors, Turks that pretend to be Italian.  He joins the club secret group the SKANK (Stonebridge kitchen assistant Nasty Kommittee) a gang of rogue fast food folks. He drifts then through cleaning jobs where he is watched as he goes around the shopping center where he is employed. Cleaning school toilets working with an opera lover toilet cleaner. What we see is that underbelly as he talks about the dying ember of Thatcher’s time still being felt I feel this is something that has grown Brexit has brought even more of a racist feel to our country.

The atomsphere was, in short , intoerably opressive for us Pizza chefs, and I had proof that my locker was being routinely searched for evidence of my wrongdoing.I remember losing my temper one day, shouting and kicking the furniture in the dining room. It was tin response to the umpteenth punitive task the signora, clearly moticvated by her hatred for the British waitresses, had imposed on the girls after an excruicating shift, she’d ordered them to scrub the legs of all the tables and chairs, it was through such measures that she aimed to puinsh the guilty, encourage the righteousm and warn off the evil-minded – predictably, however, thisonly earned her more insults and abuse

The italian owner of his first place of work in Bristol

I loved this book as it remind me of my own experience which was in the early nineties where I worked in a German packing factory. It opened my eyes to those people we don’t always see those restaurants workers, fast food, drivers who many assume are one thing but Like Alberto was and many of the friends I made working in a German factory a mix of students, Germans and a number of workers from the Balkans I had a great connection to a pair from Kosovohe worked in TV there in the football shows he was a huge Football fan. His wife was a professor of Literature. Like the gang of brothers, he made the way I  connected with these people hardworking and saw the other side of the fence being a foreign worker in a foreign country. even down to the acting Italian, my Kosovan friend had another job in an Italian cafe where he tried to look like he was Italian!!  This also reminds me of the description of the workers that Anthony Bourdain gave in his book Kitchen confidential hard working and on the whole workers from around the world working in the kitchens of New York. He captures those unnamed workers we all see but don’t know as well as we think we do. An eye-opening look at working at the bottom here that I feel is maybe worse now given the Gig economy and zero-hour contracts leaving people on the edge of nothing all the time.

Winstons score – A an interesting memoir about being a foreign and working in the UK !!

 

The Liquid land by Raphaela Edelbauer

The Liquid Land by Raphaela Edelbauer

Austrian fiction

Original title – Das flüssige Land

Translator – Jen Calleja

Source – review copy

My second woman in translation month book takes me to Austria and a book that was on both the German and Austrian book prize lists make the German book prize shortlist in 2019. Raphaela Edlebauer studied philosophy and has published in numerous publications since 2009 and has had three books published two of them novels and this her first novel was written with a grant she got to write it. She grew up in Hinterbruhl which has a location near it that was the inspiration for the village of Gross-einland in the novel Liquid land a satellite camp, that was making plane parts in the second world war in an area surrounded by former mining sites. Which is similar to the village in the novel.

It was the fourth day of my journey in the Alpine foothills, and I sat down with the nearly split bread rolls in order to plan my trip for the day. As id this inconsqnential rhythm of stopping off at inns, contemplation, dinner, sleep and breakfast buffets were leading me to utter lethargy. I decided every morning  to uphold it. I hadn’t yet been able to let go of the hope of finding Greater Einland I loved simplicity of the conditions.

A village that has disappeared into the ether !

The book follows Ruth Schwarz as she has to deal with the death of her parents in a car crash. She is in the middle of her final thesis at university about the fluid nature of time and is struggling to finish this when the death arrives. This means she has to go back to her parent home village the lost vilage it seems of Greater Einland a village that her parents was form but seems to have diappeared in the time since they left eventually she arrives and start to dort out arrangments of her parents funeral. She is only thinking this may take her a few days but as she starts to speend time in the village she finds the village is caught out of time as the countess the head in a way of the village has tried to stop the effects of time on the village so it is a place oiut of time and also siting in the middle of lots of former mines as this is causing holes to appear around the area and the village seems to be oblivous to this and she evens finds that they already have the answer to why these things are happening with the details held with in the town Library ? What has happent ot make thew Countees act like this what has happen to the village and as time seems to stretch and days become weeks will Rith ever leave Greater Einland as those days she had intend to spend become weeks as she is drawn into find out why all this has happened.

It wasn’t until a few days after the strange encounter with the Countess that it occurred to me that I’d had missed my appointment for the funeral arrangements. I hurriedly called the company’s office from the reception and invented a tall tale about a psychological breakdown, The lady in the secretary’s office gave me a new appointment for the following day without complaint, and asked whether I happened to already know when my parents be transferred.

I said that I didn’t, and [romised to be in touch again soon, Too restless to work, I listened, lying on the floor back in my room, to a coulle of  Chet Baker albums I’d brought in a second hand shop, which fused with the autumn weather.

She meets the Countess and then time slips through her hands

The book has echos of things like the village in Whicker man an island but the way this village is hdden it could be a island itself also with a population that seems to oblivous to the outside world and the start of this is from the Countess that has something of the Miss Havishaim about her, in the way she has wanted time to stand still around here. Time is a large theme in this book a scientist that is sudying time, a village where time seems to move different to the world outside the village and the holes like black holes add ruth surname and the holes you have black holes and this is what is happening her a village caught in darkness as time is slowing down as it falls back but in Ruth’s eyes time is speeding past there. This has nods to a world of Kafkaesque twists and turns if Franz Kafka Dickens and Bernhard co written a book this would have been it a mix of great expectations , a kafka nightmare about to happen and a austrian sense to it all is an interesting mix I felt. Have you a favourite German language woman writer ?

Winstons score – A a new talent a clever tale of time and turniong a blind eye.

Beowulf A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

Beowulf A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

Classic Epic poetry

Original title – Beowulf

Source – review copy

I haven’t reviewed a lot of poetry over the years of the blog which is strange as I have a lot of poetry on my shelves that I tend to dip in and out of so when I was given the chance to read a reworking of the great Anglo Saxon Poem Beowulf. In the acknowledgments for the book Maria said she came up with the idea of translating Beowulf when she was up for a world fantasy prize for her acclaimed book The Mere Wife how she had used a translation of Beowulf in the research for the book and was asked in the Q & A when her translation would be out she decided to pick up the Baton. As for me, I did read the Seamus Heaney about the time it came out as there was such acclaim for that book as it made the poem more accessible but I always feel language moves and there is always room for new angles at old works if it brings something new to the table. as Borges said in his poem about his thought on translating Beowulf.

Poem Written in a Copy of Beowulf

At various times, I have asked myself what reasons
moved me to study, while my night came down,
without particular hope of satisfaction,
the language of the blunt-tongued Anglo-Saxons.

Used up by the years, my memory
loses its grip on words that I have vainly
repeated and repeated. My life in the same way
weaves and unweaves its weary history. Borges

The opening of Beowulf in the new translation!

Bro! Tell me we still know how to speak of kings! in the days

Everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound.Only stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes song hoarded for hugry times

Their first father was a foundling: Scyld Scefing.

He spent his youth fists up, browbeating every barstool-brother, bonfiring his enemies. That man began in the waves, a baby in a basket.

but he bootstrapped his way into a kingdom, trading loneliness for luxury. Whether they thought kneeling necessary or no, everyone from head to tail of the whale-road bent down:

There’s a king, there’s his crown!

Thats a good King

The opening 11 lines of Beowulf !!

 

Beowulf follows the hero of the Title as he heads from Anglo Saxon England (Although England is never mentioned in the text as Q (Arthur Quiller-Couch) pointed out in a lecture in his work “On the art of writing”. he travels to help the king of the Dane who has lost many of his best men to the monster Grendel. he offers his help to kill Grendel and creature that has been terrorizing the kingdom since the creature is meant to be descended from Cain a nod to biblical connection in the origin of the book. They celebrate when Beowulf kills him with his own hands and then on the next night they are attacked by Grendel mother as Beowulf isn’t there but when he arrives back there follows a great battle Beowulf returns home and is made king of his own land only many years later to die fighting a dragon now this is the story but what Maria has done is made it easier to get into with the use of street terms and add a little more flow to the prose.

 

Hidden by fog,grendel roved the moors, God-cursed

Grudge worsening. He knew who hunted:

wine-drunk, mead-met men, and he oined

for his prey. Under storms clouds, he stalked them,

in his usual anguish, feeling a forbidden hearth,

that gulded hall stop the hill, gleaming still,

through years of bloodshed.This was not

the first time he’d hunted in Hrothgar’s hall,

butnever before nor later had he such hard luck.

no one worthyhad historically lain in wait

10 lines from early on in the book just show you how the book pops.

Christopher Hitchens said in his review of Harry Potter many years ok said it would spark a revival of anglo Saxon works like Beowulf as it has since the likes of Tolkien and C S lewis been interwoven with the world of fantasy as well. With dragons, quests warriors it has a link to Fantasy and also back to greek epics but what Maria has done is make it also sound modern with her use of street slang with words like Bro. She has also made it bloody it’s almost as though it has mixed a Nordic noir with an episode of Vikings and has also made the female characters appear a little more than I remembered in the Heaney translation. This is a great new version of the book if you haven’t read it this may be the edition for you if you like a=fantasy or greek epics this is the bridge between those works a cornerstone of English literature given a new breath of life for a new generation !!

At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong

At dusk by Hwang Sok-yong

Korean fiction

original title – 해질 무렵

Translator – Sora Kim-Russell

Source – personnel copy

One of the nice things that have come about from the longlist. It has given me a chance to revisit three writers that have featured before on the blog. This is the second visit I featured Hwang Sok-yong nine years ago. The book ” the guest”  was one of the earliest reviews on the blog when I read that book I liked it but didn’t fall in love with it. But I have since struggled with finding Korean fiction either twee with the folk-like tales of Salmon or Hen dreaming of better things. Then there have been other books that I haven’t connected with. Until now the only one before this was please look after mother and I found this is a different story but it is the same tale of Korea that is the changing face of modern Korea.

It was mere coincidence that I had studied architecture and made a career of it and that Byeonggu had come to own a costruction company, but after meeting again in our forties, we were like hand in glove. Because we needed each other.

Of course, we all like to think that our own stories of difficult childhoods and overcoming adversity are the stuff of tragic epics, but they’re never really worth bragging about. Talking about it is pointless as telling youngsters that they’ve never known true hunger, that they don’t know what it is like to be the hungry kid with no lunch trying to fill his empty stomach at the drinking fountain.

Park partner the one that cause him the trouble and how he dragged himself up her in a neat passage.

We meet Park Minwoo if there was a poster boy for what you could do with your life in Modern Korea. This guy would be if he is at the forefront of making modern Korea as an Architect. He is one of those who are making bright shiny Korea and is good at his work so is an in-demand man for designing the future. He has maybe grown too far. The company he runs is in trouble. The buildings he has been asked to design may not be built but are just there to draw in peoples money in.  This leads Park to rethink his present and his past along with the fact an Old flame Cha Soona. The chapters fall with Parks story in the now and Cha’s story of her and Pask’s younger years. She grew up on what was then the edge of the city and worked in a shop a time when people were the son of this man or daughter of such a man in these case a noodle maker and fishcake maker this harks back to a simpler time. She loved acting literature and books. She had dreams but we see her life now in a tiny apartment. the book draws the past and the present together. From the fact that Park’s wife and child now settled outside Korea. Too Cha living in a small apartment in one of his building as Park meets the ghost of his past in the place where he grew which his building have eaten up.

When my younger brother and I got home from school, we snacked on the torn fishcakes, still warm from the fryer. Once our hunger was sated, we’d laugh and point at each other’s greasymouths. My mother would wrap up the rest of the torn fishcake from that day and send us out to deliver them to places she owed favoursto or anyewhere else that she needed to stay on the good side of. That meant places like the tiny shack inhabited by the elderly man who fetch water from the public tap for us and the other vendors in the marketplace, the garbage collectors station, the police box and so on

Park and his brother handing out the left overs to the community to keep it runninga time now gone and habits now dead.

Now, this is a book that like Please look after mother did that mixes what Korea was with what Korea is. I keep thing back on my recent watching of Tokyo-ga Wim Wenders ode to the Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu which he said Ozu tried to capture in his films the downfall of Japanese society and this is what Sok-yong is doing here with Korean society and the world people lived in from the simple age when people knew every one til you end up like Park lost in the clouds or cha lost in a small apartment with just two stip lights for company. This uses the twin narratives well as the book comes to the end you see the two narrators drawing closer till the end. I am liking this list for the fact I have discovered books that had past me by in the last year.  But also the books are all quite short this took me a little over a day and I am already well into the next on the list. it’s hard to say where this will end up I found it clever using the twin stories and loved some of the use of names like the fishcake makers son. Then it is just a simple tale.

Among the lost by Emiliano Monge

 

Among the lost by Emiliano Monge

Mexican fiction

Original title – Las Tierras arrasadas

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – review copy

Some of the best books I have read in recent years have been from Mexican writers they seemed to have been an explosion of great writers from the from Yuri Herrea, Valeria Luiselli and Guadalupe Nettel. So when I got chance to read another rising star of Mexican fiction Emiliano Monge is a political scientist journalist and writer. His works have featured in the 25 best-kept secrets of Latin American literature and Mexico twenty this is the second of his books to be translated into English Arid sky was translated by restless books. But this has been translated by Frank Wynne which I have long been a fan of his translations.

After a brief silence, Epitafio brings his left hand to his pocketand, as he takes a was of banknotes to give to the boys, he feels a pressure in his bladder. I’m pissing myself,he thinks, handing over the money, then, unbucklinghis belt, he adds; how about we say same place, next thursday? Fine, we’ll be here, promises the older of the two boys, who dragging the younger boy by hand, heads back into the jungle.

As his body empties, Epitafio watches how the two boys hop overa root and how they pull back the curtain of liana.But he does not see the two disappear beyond the wall that separates the clearing from the jungle, because at that moment the petrol genartor belches again and he looks anxiu=ously at the old truck: Fucking hell …I’ll have to wake her up.

His first times in the jungle he is nervous Epitafio

 

 

 

This is a love story in the middle of the hell that is the world of being trafficked through Mexican jungle. Although it is described more of Dante like a trip through hell. The two main characters Estela and Epitafio are the lovers that grew up in a lonely orphanage became lovers then the world tore them apart on too two sides as we see their worlds of brutal trafficking of kids and adults where life can be swift and brutal and for the woman here harrowing. We see there lives as they often have no names just a jumble of words stuck together as a description of them like Estella who is called shewhoadoresepitafo . He Epitafo forced by the head of the gang into a marriage, not to Estella has a wife and son constantly tries to get in touch with Estella but in this hinterland of Mexico his mobile phone rarely works and the vehicles he uses are broken and old so he catches glimpses and seconds with his old lover. Will, they ever escape the hamster wheel of hell that is their lives to be together again.

Two metres from IHearonlywhatiwant, in a nest build unto the rock face, two hatchlings cheep and the sound attracts the attention of this woman, who, on seeing the nest, shifts her thoughts to another person, thinks for a moment about Cementeria: back in El Paraiso, they were responsible for feeding the chickens.

turning back from the sheer drop, estela stares at the fledglings and once again wonders what happened to Cementreria ,where she was all that time she was missing, and why the hell she tookher own life. But her minds quickly accepts that now is not time to think about such things, and her friends suicide is once again replaced by thpoughts of Epitafio: Fucking hell …I didn’t even respond to your message!

I bet you’re pissed off

A brutual world weere they lose friends but estela still after all thinks of her man !!

This book uses the divine comedy as a sort of companion to describe the hellish world the two lead characters find themselves in this is shown by the frequent Dante quotes through the book. I also read he is a Joyce fan as he is one of a group of this is shown to me in the Names of some of the characters which in a way echo Joyce’s way of combining words in Finnegans Wake. This is a grim world that hasn’t been shown through rose colour glasses this is a brutal world where the migrants are the currency for those taking them to the north and the end of the journey for that get to the end that is or those that like Estella and Epitafio are born into this world and never really have a chance to escape this world. A powerful view of his home country wonderfully translated by Frank who has a great intro around names and words used in the novel.

The winterlings by Cristina Sanchez- Andrade

The Winterlings by Cristina Sanchez-Andrade

Spanish fiction

Original title – Las Inviernas

Translator – Samuel Ritter

Source – review copy

I was grabbed by this when it had a quote on the back cover by Manuel Rivas calling her writing Original and Unusual was a plus point for me having enjoyed his books, I knew this would be one for me. Cristina Sanchez-Andrade has a degree in law and mass media, she has written for numerous papers in Spain and has published seven novels.In 2013 she was shortlisted for the Herralde prize one of the top prizes in Spain. She has also written a novel about Coco Channel.

Don Manuel , the priest in Tierra de Cha, used to sit between the two winterlings, who were only little girls back then. He was short and fat, an absolute glutton. He was always somewhere between dinner and Mass. As soon as he finished the sermon, he’d be out and into the street. With great strides, pulling up his cassock to keep the manure off it, he would cross the square to eat his lunch. While the maid was tying a napkin around his neck and serving him, he positively burbled with pleasure.His mouth watered  at the sight of what lay before him : a hearty broth

I loved the imagery this passage evoked in me

The book follows the return of two sisters to a small village in Galicia Tierra De Cha, the two sisters have return after many years away. They have come back to their grandfather’s house. They have grown since they left but the place it self is just the same as the place they fled many years earlier. In a dark past that the village has hidden Delores and Saladina have their own secrets as well they are on course for disaster when a glimpse of light happens the sisters love the glamour of the film world and hear that the American actress Ava Gardener is to come to their part of Spain to make a film and they need some stand ins the sisters feel they could fill this roles. What will happen will they get the part or will everyone have to face their own pasts at last ?They are also drawn to the sea , why !

Throughout the following days, Dolores heard it while she went about her daily chores – immense and powerful and even nearer, turning her actual world into a narrow and boring place – an ocean pulling at her , calling her :”Did you hear that Ava Gardner is coming to Spain ?

To Spain ?

Ava Gardner coming to Spaaaaain ?

Sometimes , the sea was like a cornfield, with waves that ebbed and flowed. Dolores was in the middle of it, it smelt of salt, and that smell impregnated her clothes and hair .

The sea is a large draw to the sisters

I loved this it remind me what I love about fiction set in small villages where everyone knows everyone no matter how far you go from the village they will always remember your past when you return . What Cristina Snachez does so well here is build up the feeling of the dark past the sisters where part of . Also the feel of returning to a village the way they are still part of the place but looked at as thou they aren’t they’ve grown out of the place the sister have had their eyes open to the world by the world they have seen and the films they have watch , hence their wanting to be part of the Ava Gardener production. This also has the feel of an oral tradition of storytelling that Galicia is well-known for. This book is also a perfect choice for the forthcoming Woman in translation month .

what is your favourite Village based novel ?

The portrait by Willem Jan Otten

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The portrait by Willem Jan Otten

Dutch Fiction 

Original title – Specht en zoon

Translator – David Colmer 

Source – review copy 

 

I think images are worth repeating
Images repeated from a painting
Images taken from a painting
From a photo worth re-seeing
I love images worth repeating, project them upon the ceiling
Multiply them with silk screening
See them with a different feeling
Images
Images
Images
Images

Images by Lou Reed and John Cale from their album Songs for Drella about Andy Warhol

When I was asked to review this award-winning Dutch book from scribe ,I was pleased as Scribe the Australian publisher has not long moved into the uk market and has over last few years found some gems in translation ,like David Vogel ,whose books have been on my radar for a while .So The portrait or in its Dutch title Specht and son ,is the fourth novel by Willem Jan Otten ,he is also a well-known poet , playwright and essayist in his native Holland ,he has won a number of awards including two for this book ,the most prestigious being the Libris literature prize a Dutch language prize whose previous winners include Harry Mulisch ,Hugo Claus and JJ Voskull .

I admit to remembering virtually nothing of the moment I was finally brought .It was a nondescript man ,smallish ,in a dark-blue army-disposials coat and paint splashed shoes .He had wide ,avid eyes but I didn’t really see them wile the transaction was taking place .

The canvas is brought and taking tom wait at the studio .

So the portrait ,is an unusual book as the narrator of this book is a canvas , we see the story unfold from its point of view  .The book starts at the end as a man walks in the snow  towards a fire   ,then we go back in time and this canvas is waiting for what it calls the creator to use it  .The creator is an up and coming young painter known for his realistic paintings of people .He has been hired by Specht who is a rich and powerful man who could help the creator become better known  he has asked the creator  to make a photo of his late son into a painting like his other painting and breath life into it , to save  his  own life  .So as the creator starts to cover the canvas we start to find out who is being painted on him ,is it Specht’s son or something more sinster  what is their relationship ? What happened to this young boy ? Who is Specht why was he in such a rush for the painter to create this painting for him ?

Specht had sat down again .

I actually only have one question , he said

His voice ,which had been very quiet the whole time had become virtually inaudible .

Do you also work from death ?

Specht ask the creator does he paint from death and the canvas gets its chance to come to life .

Now this is one of those books that just goes at a pace when you start reading it ,at points I had to keep saying to myself this is just a canvas as the narrator as it’s  jumps of the page ,we see its waiting as the creator ,choose other canvases before it  until the big job he has been destined to be used for comes in .The book has a slightly Moral feel to it almost as thou the story of Specht’s  son is a wider story of lost children everywhere .I read in a Dutch interview I translated online that Otten has convert to Catholicism with his wife in the 90’s and this book was picked as an example of literature reflecting Christian  values and morals  the ClO 15 list ,which also features a book ny his wife Yvone van der Meer  the list shows the literary merit Christian literature can have .Know I can see you shaking your head and I am not a big fan of overtly Christian books ,I can say this isn’t you can read into it that it is but also just read it as a story of a painting being made and the young bo is in the painting a journey through a life of a canvas  and it’s subject .Also another readable and faultless translation by David Colmer  .Have you a favourite book about artist and paintings ?

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