The Potato eaters by Manuel Rivas

THE POTATO EATERS

The potato eaters by Manuel Rivas

Spanish Galician fiction

Original title – Os comedores de patacas

Translator – Jonathan Dunne

Source – review copy

I always wonder when we get a writer that has been translator but has not had earlier books or the debut novel translated. I wonder what these books are like in many case we never find out but sometimes we have to look to small press like Small station , who I have reviewed a few times before and this is a debit novel from one of my favourite Spanish writers Manuel Rivas , I have reviewed three times before . Manuel Rivas won the Spanish national prize for fiction in 1996 .for his book people of the night . this was his first adult novel from 1991.

Luou never receives visitors. He must feel pretty happy. Lying there, in his spacesuit, without having to talk or eat or anything like that. I watch the saline solution going down and imagine nothing sliding down the course of his blood and breaking up into tiny, invisible droplets that settle at the end of this toes. The bastard, perhaps in a couple of days he’ll be lucky enough to have Miss Cowbutt spoonfed him his soup

Luou had a tip to toe plaster on after the accident Sam view is odd but beleivable even down to the last line of this quote.

The book follows Sam a young man with a bad drug habit. He had a bad crash and end up in hospital after one particular episode but at least he isn’t as bad off as his friend who end up injured tip to toe . In hospital he has people pressing him for money as he is trying to stay off drugs he meets an old man who world view intrigues him. There is also a nurse he likes isn’t there always lol . His family decides to take him home to  the quirky village he grew up knowing as he grandmother lived there. single mother a man who collects everything a mysterious man in the attic as Sam tries to kick his habit  Aita at his grandmother with his mother his world is controlled and they hoped the mountain air would help him.

The mirror

The dampness has entered the mirror as well and unfurled black ivy along its edge, where the spider has woven its web. I am caught. everything passes slowly before my eyes, bringing dry leaves that land on me sleepily and carry words and memories of others.This is Aita a goddamn cobweb I look at myself in the mirror and pretend to be a monster

This shows Riva’s poetic side in this short vignette aout a mirror and Sam trying to be monster in it

 

This is a story of growing up Sam is just on the cusp of adulthood a boy becoming a man and also he has his cross to bear which is his drug habit . the book is taught in schools in the Galician region it seems , although it has been question as a little to earthy in its language , but I am some one that knows kids say certain words and know what certain words mean.  I can see why it is a tale of what drugs can do and that is ruin your life as we see in the knock on effect with Sam friend Luou who ends up in a really bad way after the accident. Rivas style here is to use short vignettes as the course of the novel each chapter is a snippet of Sam’s life with title like Miss cowbutt the nurse that captures his eye whilst in the hospital. The title is also a the title of Van Goch painting of ugly rural peasants eating potatos , this is maybe a way of showing the ugliness of drugs on people but also the people of Aita could have walked of a van Goch painter the richness in the quirky village folk .It is also full of poetic pieces from Rivas worth discovering as a piece of early fiction from a great voice of Galicians fiction but also a poet as well.

 

Three new arrivals from old favourites

I love to get new books from writers I have previously enjoyed as on the whole for a writer to get a second book published in translation is a success in its self and in this set of three books it is also a chance to read a debut of a writer I really admire.

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Now Manuel rivas is a writer I have reviewed Three times before and this is the second from small stations I have reviewed when Jonathan his translator said he was doing this book I was really excited The potatoe eaters is his debut novel. Follows Sam a drug addict from his hospital bed where he befreinds an old man and has a soft spot for a nurse to the villagew where his brother takes him to hopefully kick the habit. I’m looking forward to this probably next on my tbr pile.

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Then we have another short story collectuon from one of the leading Galcian writers Miguel-Anxo Murado this is also a second book from small stations by this writer his previous collection soundcheck which I read but didn’t get to review but I really liked it so may combine the reviews as the first collection was set mainly in the Balkans .

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I treated myself to this after reading a few good reviews anopther Patrick Modiano , since his nobel win when I know before that win it was fairly difficult to find a book by him but since then many books have come out I have all the Maclehose books but this from Daunt is about a man on holiday discovering a couple and they aren’t all they seem and what they tell him is half truths the usual Modiano themes of memory and identitiy which frequently crop up in his works.

 

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 lone man by Bernardo Atxaga

 

The Lone man by Bernardo Atxaga

Spanish (Basque) fiction

Original title – Gizona bere bakardadean

Translator – Magaret Jull Costa

Source – personnel copy

 

ILW 2016

Well I have managed again to mix Lisa Indigenous lit week and Spanish lit month by reviewing Bernardo Atxaga one of the leading basque writers as Basque is considered an indigenous culture in europe  and he is a  personnel favourite of mine . I have reviewed before Seven house in france  and have also read a couple of his novels in pre blogging days. Atxaga studied in Bilbao economics and then philosophy in Barcelona, he has written seven novels  six of which are available in English.

“Boniek is currently a key figure in the world of soccer ” Carlos read on a page of the sports section lying on the carpet.He had spotted the article as soon as he looked away from the screen. “As we have had occasion to see in Barcelona , this most popular , much – admired figure is idolized by his fans .His team mates have tremendous respect for him too, for no one in Poland can forget the way he stood up for Mlynarczyck when the latter turned up hopelessly drunk at Warsaw airport

Boniek the star of 82 maybe Carlos reading this unaware his old team mates need him .

The book is set in 1982 and follows the owner of a hotel in Barcelona , that has been the home of the polish team. But also at the same time the owner Carlos whom had in an earlier life been also a member of ETA(The Basque terrorist group )  of the hotel has been hiding two Basque gunmen turn up one from his own past on the run after shooting at the police . Which the police know in a way but have to draw them out but at the same time he wants to draw the police out of hiding. Along side this we see the wonderful Polish team featuring the unlikely looking football star Zbigniew Boniek who lead his team to the semi final so over the last few matches of the 1982 world cup we see a cat and mouse game an outsider football team captures the mind of the public and two men in hiding trying to escape.

“Those stupid bloody newspaper say that Jon and I are romantically involved, but it’s not true, in fact it just complicates matters” She concluded, starting to swear again. Carlos deduced that the woman was referring to the articles in the tabloid press reporting the shoot-out with the police she and Jon had had weeks before, articles that compared them to Bonnie and clyde. despite that, there was something about what she had said didn’t quite add up .

Jon and his friend turn up but is all it seems with them ?

There is a wonderful counter point of world cup matches with Poland winning and the drama inside and outside their hotel with Carlos and the two gunmen in hiding. The backdrop of football and the ever more unlikely progress of the Polish team sees a journey of a man from where he is into his hidden past Carlos is a man who tried to run from his past to only nearly get away to the arrival of the two gunmen amid the chaos of the Polish team and the press trying to get them. For me this is as good as anything written by Graham Greene , it is a wonderful lit thriller using football and basque terrorism in the same book is a masterstroke. I was remind of my own memories of the 82 world cup which mixed bot Gerry armstrong the Northern irish strciker scoring and the red haired polish mastero Boniek a wonderfully talent player. A great choice for both Spanish lit month as it highlights the Basque issue and because of the a great choice also for Lisa’s indigenous lit week.

Have you a favourite basque writer ?

The boy whole Stole Attila’s horse by Iván Repila

theboywhostoleattilashorse

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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