Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Black Moses

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou

Congolese fiction

Original title – Petit Pimen

Translator – Helen Stevenson

Source – review copy

As I limp on trying to get through the man booker list , well that said I am reading the last book on the list and just have my reviews to write-up . Today i catch up with the latest from one of the most featured writers on the Blog Alain Mabanckou  widely regard as one of the best African writers of his generation called Africa Samuel Beckett . this is also the third book he has had on the short and longlist for this and the old independent foreign fiction prize. So to  Black Moses

Back on the platform again , still with hid escort of wardens , Dieudonne Nguoulmoumako launched into grand-orator mode, explaining how we were the builders and protectors of the scientific socialist revolution. On his jacket , just above “where his heart beat” as some people put it, gleamed a badge with three letters on : CWP . You had to get up really close tp read , in small writing under the letters : Congolese Workers Party

The Orphanage under communism and their leader

This follows one boys coming of age story in the Congo of the 1970’s , like many other places in africa at that time the country had swung to the left and fallen in with Communism , like many regimes of the time this was just an excuse for a man called Ngoulmouako and his henchmen to try to run the orphanage where our Hero Mose lives and what follows here is a modern twist on the orphan made good story that made so many great books from Charles dickens , it’s not Oliver twist  or pip no Moses has it hard but he is in the town of Point-Noire the colourful town that has been at the centre of most of Mabanckou fiction Moses gets help from Maman fiat 500 whom he tells her he is called little pepper , part of his robin hood fantasy (I love this name classic Mabanckou) the mistress of the local whore , who finds him a job as a docker and tries to help him out he spends time with her  and the girls.he gets in many scraps with his group of friends as they hang out with Mamans Zairian girls  Then the world start to turn dark Maman disappears the girls are forced out as there is a drive for girls just from Congo as they are driven out we see the dark side of the regime .

Anyway, what’s your name ?

“Little Pepper …”

She looked surprised :

“What kind of a name is that ? You must have a real name , like everyone else?!

When i didn’t react she sighed “Never mind, we’ll call you that ! My name is Maman fiat 500!

She took out a ten thousand CAF franc note and held it out to me .

Here , Little Pepper , that’s for you, buy yourself a shirt and a pair of horts ,what you’re wearing looks like you live in a cave , for good sake !”

Moses and Maman meet for the first time

 

This feels like a writer loving his homeland , after his last book which saw Alain return for the first time in many years to his home town of Point Noire , which is the setting for the novel , I feel this maybe is part of a story he heard on his retutrn that he has woven into a tale of growing up in the town on a different path to his own Moses is a take of the orphan story rather more like artful dodger with his gang of friends and then there is Maman story , her story is almost like the Harlots Progress  as her girls follow the path and rise and then fall like in Hogarth’s etchings  as with Mose is maybe like tom in the rakes progress series of etchings , even to the end where we see mose is in a cell in a prison for the criminally insane . He has revived the classic orphan tale in a Congo under the yoke of communism where the bad take control .

Women as lovers by Elfriede Jelinek

Image result for women as lovers elfriede

Women as lovers by Elfriede Jelinek

Austrian fiction

Original title – Die Liebhaberinnen

Translator – Martin Chalmer

Source – Library book

I carry on with my second german lit month book and another big hitter of German lit .When Elfriede jelinek won the Nobel prize her writing was described as difficult and hard. I at the time didn’t read her books so now eleven years after her winning the Nobel prize I decide to try her but not with the best known of her book the piano teacher I choose this an earlier book by her and I am pleased I choose this book as it wasn’t challenging or hard to read in fact if anything it was very entertaining.

The example of Paula is from the country. Until now country life has held her in check – just like her sisters erika and renate, who are married. One can already write both off, it is as if they were not in the world at all. It’s different with Paula, she is the youngest and still properly in the world .she is 15 years old.

Paula is now ready to find the world and a man her family seems

Women as lover is the story of two factory girls and their lives. The two Brigitte and Paula are of an age where they are wanting to find that last lover the one to be married to and the story follows both of them in this action with each chapter in turn telling the story of each girls progression. There paths go two ways one meets a businessman a man on the upward path of life but he also motivates Brigitte to become a better women herself even thou they aren’t initially attracted he isn’t really her type. Then Paula she meets and falls head over heels for a man of similar standing as her self a forest worker Erich ,he is handsome compared to Heinz so Paula goes feet first into married. But as the story evolves it has twist initially you feel for Brigitte struggling to meet her new mans standards but getting there and what initially seems a perfect match turns very sour as Erich isn’t all he seems.

The wedding of Heinz and Brigitte is very moving and solemn

The wedding of Erich and Paula is very moving and solemn

Brigitte is very happy

paula is very happy

Brigitte has made it

Paula has made it

Brigitte is pregnant and will soon be able to hold her child in her arms.

Paula already has a baby. She has already been holding it in her arms for a while.But today the baby must stay at home.

Heinz is now master in the house, as he says good humouredly

Erich is now master in the house, as he cannot formulate, but as others whisper to him

This Call and Response style of writing as the pair marry and their paths split off in different directions.

 

I loved the style of Jelinek writing at points she use almost a call and response style of writing as shown above when the two girls lives are told in parallel . This book also made me wonder if Anita Raja the women who is now thought to be Elena ferrante , her self a translator of German Lit into Italian had worked on this book as it seems although totally different in many ways the initial idea of two female friends and the life beginning is may the same core idea as the Naples  quartet? also the way the two characters lives drift in two directions is also similar to the ferrante books characters. The book also shows how fragile some female lives can be and how married can sometimes be like a prison sentence for some and on the flipside of the coin for other can be the chance to blossom and grow.

 

 

Constellation by Adrien Bosc

Constellation

Constellation  By Adrien Bosc

French fiction

Original title – Constellation

Translation – Willard wood

Source – review copy

I again go back to France as I seek to move the total of books reviewed on the blog from France towards the hundred mark with this the 80th french book reviewed , from a rising star of french fiction . He has set up the publisher edition Sous-sol a very succesful French publisher. This was his debut novel it made a number of longlist and shortlist of major french prizes when it came out and I also noted when it arrived that it was one I felt , I would love as it remind me somewhat of the fellow french novel windows on the world  that also followed  a group of people after a major event.

The passengers are strapped in , Marcel Cerdan jokes with Jo Longman, while Paul Genser stares fixedly out of the pothole. Ginette Neveu clasps the case containing her two violins , A stradivarius and Guadagnini – a week ago she only owned one. At the front of the aeroplane, their seat harnesses clinched, the cockpit crew prepare for landing

The violin in piece later turned up in pieces by the Azores

 

Constellation follows the 48 people who where on an Air France plane a Lockhead Constellation from Paris to New york one of those wonderful post war planes all silver and gleaming like the cover of the book . The plane has to stop at the Azores to refuel this is where the plane had crashed. What Bosc does here is tells the post war years through those 48 people in little pen pictures of them all. From five Basque shepherds that are trying to get to the new world to make a new life for themselves following a path that many Basques did at that time. Then there is a boxer on the way to a title fight in America, a former lover of Edith Piaf . Then the story that touch me most is that of a Ginette Niveau a child prodigy on the violin now an adult she is heading to america to perform as her career is on the p Piaf’s lover also on the flight Marcel Cerdan lover Piaf said afterwards she and him would have travelled a thousand miles to Her Neveu . Then we see the pilots story of the war years, then the man who brought Disney merchandising to europe that meant every child had chance for mickey mouse on their wrist.

Only world war II slowed Disney’s rising power. THe company built on its popularity by taking part in the war effort. On July 14, 1942, the studios – in collaborations with Lockhead aircraft (The company that would build the constellation) – released a cartoon on the techniques of riveting aeroplanes,, an instruction manual in the form of a short animated film, Four methods of flush riveting , aimed at the governments civilian contractors.

Disney’s war years through there war films is just a small hiccup in their eventual rise to a mega company they are today .

I loved the way Bosc sitch together fact and fiction from Niveau a well-known person so her life is fact to that of the lowly five Basques who have left their village in search of the new world. Then the modern world from Kay Kamen and the birth of merchandising to coming to America to box or perform . This is a collection of lives just as europe was getting on it feet caught in an air crash that end their lives but we see the paths they were taking and what France and the real world was like at that time a nice slice of historic fiction for those who like me aren’t always the keenest on historic fiction.

The Little Communist who never smiled by Lola Lafon euro 2016 book 1

 

The Little Communist Who Never SmiledThe little Communist who never smiled by Lola Lafon

Original title – La petite communiste qui ne souriait jamais

Translator – Nick Caistor

Source – review copy

Well today sees the Euro 2016 championship kick off and there is a strange symmetry to this book and the first game which is a novel by a French writer about a famous Romanian which mirrors the opening game of the Euro 2o16 championship which sees France take on Romania. Lola Lafon has written three novels this is her third novel, she is also a well-known feminist in France and also a singer. This book won a number of book prize in France ten in all.

They are waiting for her. This first press conference is packed out, all five hundred seats and more on the ground, there is no room anywhere. The walls are covered in embrodieries of flowers. When she finally arrives, dressed in the romanian team’s tracksuit with blue , yellow and red bands and the hammer and sickle on her chest, her coach lifts her and carries her at arms length to her place; the doll she is clutching is wearing the same tracksuit and their hair is done the same way, with two bunches tied up with red ribbons. Above her head, a portrait of President Ceauseacu.

I love the doll in her hands and the way she is carried like a doll into this first conference after the perfect ten.

Now the book is a imagine work on the life before during and after the Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, shock the world when in the 1976 olympics , when she got a perfect ten for her routine on the uneven bars the first time this had even happen. What we see is how she is discovered trained then wins the gold medal . This point is where her life really changes she becomes firstly a figurehead for woman around the world but also a pawn in the cold war . Used by the Romanian regime of Ceauusecu as a figure-head for the country ,  but this weighs heavy on this fidgety young girl that is yes a great gymnast but propelled into a world of craziness that was the propaganda of the cold war. Thing like Romanian eat better than West German the bountiful land displayed by fake food in photos she is involved with.

In 1984 or 1985, I can’t remember which, a woman died after an abortion. The securitate forced her family to organize the funeral outside the factory, her body was exhibited as an example. An example.. they exhibited living womans bodies as well, like Nadia with those postcards of her everywhere, and her triumphs; dead or alive, we could be used.

The dark side of the regime no abrotions and woman either held up or put down .

I enjoyed this book I knew Very little of Her life other than the grainy footage of her 1976 win and that perfect ten moment that she got . Which has been part of an advert here in the Uk in recent years. Her life is an example of what was so wrong with the cold war the myths lies and untruths that both sides made. But in particular regimes like the one in Romanian where the face of the nation on the press wasn’t the actual face of the world and we see this through Nadia’s eye a young girl growing and seeing the world from both sides the huge palace of Ceausecu to the home she lived in and her training. Lafon has captured the cold war through one womans story and also captured the sad life of a heroine and a true great in her field .A great book about sport to read on opening day of euro 2016 and France and romania which is just about to kick off….

Have you a favourite Novel  about a famous person ?

The prone gunman by Jean-Patrick Machette

I was sent this a couple of years ago by the lovely jacqui after I mentioned I hadn’t read manchette and she had two copies of this book. I wonder why it took so long for me to get to Manchette, I have read so many french writers over the years it was only a matter of time before mine and Manchette’s paths crossed. I’m not sure if his last book was best place to start but it left me wanting to work back through his canon in English.

He was tall but not massive, with a calm face, blue eyes, and brown hair that just covered the top of his ears. He wore a reefer, a black sweater, and blue jeans; he had fake Clarks on his feet. He kept his upper body erect, leaning against the right door of the cab, his legs on the bench seat, the soles touching the left door. One would have taken him for thirty or a little more; he was not quite that old. His name was martin Terrier. an ortiges automatic pistol with a redfield silencer rested on his lap .

Martin described on the first page anyone till that last line and the gun with the silencer on it .

Well this what I love about french fiction when it takes a well-known genre here the hard-boiled crime novel ,  the anti-hero , the chase and oh a a rekindled childhood romance, all thrown in a french blended and given that french Je-ne-sa-quoi . I imagined the french films of the era Diva for example which was made in the same year as the book came out. So we have Martin Terrier are hero/anti-hero is a man at the top of his game as an assassin, but he has just done his latest job and returned home to Paris. He has decide to move back to the South of France and settle down with his childhood sweetheart. He tells his employers this is his plan and they want him to do one last job and Martin refuse and has to escape the clutches and shots of the people sent to bring him back in the fold so to speak.So we see him try to get back to the girl and to a past he once had.

“Well it was only dislocated” said the doctor on duty, whose address Terrier had found on a list in the window of a closed pharmacy. “You straightened it out yourself? seriously? ”

“Yes”

“Bravo. You’re a stoic fellow”

According to the doctor, there was no call to put in a cast.He showed terrier how to use an elastic bandage so that the swollen finger would stay completely immobilized.

“I know,”  said Terrier

Terrier is used to repairing himself like this example where he relocates his own finger.

This is a sparse book  all action no real filler , we see how Martin is trying to escape this world. But he is caught in a world he entered ten years earlier as a very young man and grew to the top of his chosen job Killer   and hasn’t fully grasped the game, he is good at the killing but hasn’t grasped that this means he can’t be let go. Terrier is a man who has seen horrors and now want to turn the clock back but you can’t turn that clock back! I was thought back to the books I read as a Teen  My dads thrillers books like  Solo Jack Higgins for example another cat and mouse crime novel involving a hitman and of course day of the jackal both characters have a detachment I felt from Terrier , why go back to a woman he left ten years earlier , she would be gone. This is good Noir a little far-fetched , fun and fast paced if you look over the fact he seems to have struggled with an ending (but that is more than made up for with the first two/thirds of the book. The book was made into a film by Sean Penn, although it seems to have changed the story some what as Martin Terrier is a lot younger than Penn in the book but I may watch it just see how it turned out.

French fiction

La Position du Tireur Couché original title 

Translator – James Brook

Source – personnel copy (gift)

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