Closely Observed trains by Bohumil Hrabal

 

 

Closely Observed trains by Bohumil Hrabil

Czech fiction

Original title –  Ostře sledované vlaky

Translator – Edith Pargeter

Source personnel copy

Upon the sand, upon the bay
“There is a quick and easy way” you say
Before you illustrate
I’d rather state:
“I’m not the man you think I am
I’m not the man you think I am”

And Sorrow’s native son
He will not smile for anyone

And Pretty Girls Make Graves
Oh…

It had to be the Smiths , Milos could have maybe been the first smiths fan if he wanted ! source 

Well I read this years ago , then a few years later thanks to Guardian managed to get hold of the dvd of the film .This slim novella is a classic of Czech fiction .Bohumil Hrabal at the time he was writing was maybe along side writer like Harval , Skvorecky and a few others made Czech lit the lit to read in the cold war . Hrabal himself  studied law postman , clerk and bailer of wastepaper . Before he finally became a writer and spent most of his writing life in Prague . He has a number of his books translated into English .

Dispatcher Hubicka welcomed me back , and told me at once that we were to be on duty together , for after three months of sick I should have to start learning all over again . And then he asked me what the time was , and pulled up my sleeve from my wrist , but instead of looking at my watch he was staring straight t the scar over my healed wound .

Milos is given help but maybe not the best he will learn .

The setting for the book is 1945 , at a small station , but important hub for germans we meet Milos . He Milos is the main character of the book this young man . He  has a girlfriend , whom he is having trouble getting really close to . At work there is the boss a dispatcher called Hubicka . His problem he is more taken with the telegraphist at the station and trying to stamp her on the behind with , than his job . The job is as the title says closely observing trains , thus making sure the trains full of German solders and arms don’t have any hold ups .Milos is stressed doing this letting down his girlfriend and then because of that tries to take his life this is where were we first meet him  . Only to return and get caught in the same cycle again .

But dispatcher Hubicka was gazing unto the blue sky , and now as I followed his gaze , I , too , could see what he was seeing there : our telegraphist Virginia  stretched out across the entire heaven , and my Hubicka gently turning up her skirt , and then taking one stamp after another and with along movements printing those stamps on our telegraphist;s behind ..

this is why he ends up hubicka has his eyes elsewhere .

Now how do you cover this one . It’s hard it is only 90 pages long .But in some ways it covers . Much more than you feel can be covered in 90 pages .Love ,sex and romance through Milos and his boss we see the good and the bad and failure and success in a way . The war this is 1945 and there is an undercurrent of why the German needs this to be so smooth and that is the war is being lost . Satire there is part of this reminds me of Catch 22 at times Milos has similar problems as Yossarian . They are both caught up in a mad world seeing the madness but not able to escape it  .Yossarian being the piloting of the plane . Milos is the inability to perform with his girlfriend . I think the is a real beauty is the way Hrabal evokes this world of a small  bohemian station , subtle details like the trains coming and going remind of us where we are but also add as a commentary on maybe what was happening at the time ,maybe also the Germans could be changed for the Soviets ?  Hrabal wrote the book  in 1965 .I must watch the film again which in its own way brought the dimension of the Prague spring to screen more in a way .

Have you read this book or any by him ?

Welcome to Eastern European Lit month

 

 

Well I’m a day late but earlier in the year I said I waned to do an Eastern European month .Thus reading books from what made up the soviet bloc behind the iron curtain before it fell . I have long enjoyed the literature from this region . From Ismail Kadare , Witold Gombrowicz to new voices like Andrej Nikoladis .The region also has three of my favourite publishers .

Istros books - publishing the best in Balkan fiction . I have reviewed a number of their books and every one has been a gem . Suggest book – The son by Andrej Nikoladis

the son Andrej Nikolaidis

Twisted spoon - They mainly do Czech fiction modern and classic but have done a few from elsewhere in Eastern Europe . Suggested book Of kids and parents by Emil Hakl .

of kids and parents

of kids and parents

Stork press - bring great voice from poland but also a great look at the uk through Polish eyes . Suggested book Madame Mephisto by A M Bakalar .

So a few suggestions .This just a small try out year , obviously with recent events I fell behind in planning but have a few books read for the month and look forward to every ones choices this month ,

The 3 arched bridge by Ismail Kadare

 

 

The 3 arched bridge by Ismail Kadare

Albanian fiction

Original title Ura Me Tri Harqe 

Translator – John Hodgson

Source – Library book

On the way to your brother’s house in the valley deep
By the river bridge, a cradle floating beside me
In the whitest water on the bank against the stone
You will lift his body from the shore and bring him home

Oliver James washed in the rain
No longer
Oliver James washed in the rain
No longer

Oliver James by fleet foxes is a nice match to this traditonal fable story .

Well yesterday saw me review  a book by Roberto Bolano today I’m reviewing Ismail  Kadare another writer whom has featured a number of times on this blog , I have reviewed three of his book before now .Kadare is one of the names often mentioned as a potenial Nobel prize winner .

As expected , the news of the bridge to be built over the Ujana e Kepe spread rapidly ,Bridges had been built now and then in all sorts of places , but nobody remembered any of them causing such commotion .They had been built with virtually not a word of comment , to the muffled sounds of hammers on wood

The bridge is built but keeps falling down why !

This rather like an earlier novel I reviewed by Kadare the pyramid  which is also  set in a past , although  this book is not as far back as the pyramid .The book  is set in  the 14th century .The book is based on a legend /myth of the region about a castle being built , for this book  thou Kadare has changed the castle to a bridge that connects the then split up into tiny regions Albania to the rest of Europe via this bridge .Which keeps being destroyed  , also the men working on the bridge keep falling ill , is it by the ferry men or is it something else happening , the people start sing songs about the bridge and the ferry men also a tale of a castle like the original tale that Kadare based this book on  and it is decided that a sacrifice  is needed to save the bridge but whom ? Who will be willing to let them selves be killed to have a bridge built , the victim face is remembered in plaster on the bridge .All this is narrated to us by a monk Gjon .

A few days before the final work on the bridge , one of the foreman’s two assistants  , the fat one , fell ill with a rare and frightening disease : all the hairs on his body fell out . They shut him in a hut and tried in every possible way to keep his sickness secret , but there was no way it could be concealed .

Another worker falls sick , as they try to get the bridge built .

Rather like the book the pyramid which I have also reviewed  , I felt this maybe more than it seems on the surface  which is an Albanian folktale retold with a few changes in the story  a bridge instead of a castle .No to me this is more a book of its time  which is the mid seventies  , than a story of something that happened over five hundred years before that .I feel the book , which was written in 1976 , maybe shows the events in Albania at the time using the myth and legend to maybe show the isolation of the Hoxha regime of the time , maybe the bridge falling is the way he kept Albania separate from Europe .I feel the sacrifice maybe eludes to what he felt at that time , what people had to do to get the bridge built (or the links and more open regime in Albania ) .I do prefer these books that have been translated directly from Albanian and like in places that John Hodgson has manage to keep a traditional feel to the piece of old songs and words used by Gjon

have you read any books by Ismail kadare ?

By night in Chile by Roberto Bolano

 

 

By night in Chile by Robert Bolano

Chilean fiction

Original title – Nocturno de Chile

Translator – Chris Andrews

Source – Library book

 

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive as you or me
Tearing through these quarters
In the utmost misery
With a blanket underneath his arm
And a coat of solid gold
Searching for the very souls
Whom already have been sold.

I choose  a Dylan lyric I dreamed of St .Augustine a song that is about Augustine of Hippo who wrote about Guilt and evil !

Well another year another Bolano  novel on the blog .I intend at some point to get all the books by Roberto Bolano  on this blog, for now  this is the seventh book by him I have reviewed on this blog .I’ve mentioned lots about Bolano before so , lets just say its twelve years since he dies and we are nearing the end of his books being published with just two more to come out in English one of those still to come out in  Spanish , that being  the  mysterious Diorama to come out .But the last on the list out in spanish is Little Lumpen novelita which came out in US late last year , no UK date I can see at the moment  .

I am dying now  , but still have many things to say .I used to be at peace with myself .Quiet and at peace. But it all blew up unexpectedly ,That wizened youth is to blame .I was at peace .I am no longer at peace .There are a couple of points that have to be cleared up .

The opening lines as he decides to write his own story on this one evening .

By night in chile could maybe called his stab at a modernist novel in a way it is a single piece told in one long paragraph by a priest  whom writes this all in the course of one night .who is also a poet Father Sebastian Urrutia lacroix , who is under the impression this is going to be his last night on earth so is writing the tale of his life down .A life of a poet and a priest , but of a nearly man  , a man who touched greatness in his life he knew Pablo Neruda , the great poet of Chile .But what we see is how his life also got caught up in the politics of Chile at the time the shift from the Allende regime to the stricter and ruthless reign of  Augusto Pinochet .The latter of which he ends up teaching , about communism .Added to this he is a member of Opus Dei what comes across is an embittered man who is so twisted by who he is inside it all comes pouring out on to the page over the course of this  one night as he thinks he is dying  .

Then I took a train to Turin , where I visited Fr Angelo , curate of St Paul of Succour , who was also versed in the falconers art .His falcon , called Othello  , had struck terror into the heart of every pigeon in Turin  , although as Fr Angelo confided in me , Othello was not the only falcon in the city ,

I choose this on a whim to quote just because H is for Hawk won the Costa just as I was finishing this book the other night !

Now I’ve been a bit vague as this is only a short novella and I’m not wanting to give too much away as ever the main character is a poet ,which I have found is the case in most of the novels by Bolano .The book is far more political than the other books I have read by Bolano , it is a lot more about , his homeland and the events that happened in the country in his youth .It is worth noting at this point , Bolano himself spent time in prison , which he describe in a story , but was it a story it seems as thou he may have been at Mexico at that time according to other reports .I love the mystery around his own life at the time .But what comes across in the book is that in some ways Lacroix is the juxtaposed of Bolano , some that stayed , some that worked with the regime , some one that was a poet as well .But by this time I feel Bolano viewed himself more as a Novelist than a poet , so unlike Lacroix , he had started to see success .Add to this Falconery as a hobby , years spent in Europe and an Opus Dei  side story in a way .At the start of this review I called this a Modernist Novel for me this was an attempt by Bolano to maybe do a Woolf or Joyce so to speak  an homage to their style in some ways I was most reminded of Mrs Dallowway in a way as it isn’t just one evening but also the course of a life in one book .

Have you read this or any shorter Bolano books ?

Winston’s books hello again

Well this week has seen arrival of two book by writers I have written about before but also from different sides of the middle east .

Hilltop by Assaf Gavron

First to arrive this week was this Novel from Israeli , the fourth book to be translated to english from this writer whom I first reviewed here on the blog with his book Almost dead , this seems to a more mature work from a writer whom , I like first time round .this book has been called the Great Israeli novel and follows the goings , comings and politics of one hilltop in modern Israeli .

The broken mirror / sinalcol by Elias Khoury

Then today dropped through from Elias Khoury ,another writer I have reviewed before on the blog two books by him  Yalo  and As though she were sleeping .Considered by many to be one of the finest voice from Arabic literature this is his latest offering and follows one man’s journey back to Beirut from the safety of France to find the mythical ghost of a man the hero of the civil war Sinalcol .

So two writers from different sides of the middle east both at the height of the career be interesting to see which I enjoy most this time round .

Have you had anything interesting arrive this week ?

Driven to read but have I passed the detours to do that !

20130422-131324.jpg

I always enjoy one of Simon at Savidge reads thoughtful posts about what it is to be a reader , like yesterdays rainy day books post .Well as ever it set me thinking and well I have been thinking for a year or two about firstly this blog and me as a reader , of course the two are connected I do choose what goes on the blog .Do i thou because this last twelve to eighteen months I have felt a bit  like a runaway lorry in my reading  habits and my blog has become the M1 (main motorway in the uk ) for books in translation .To steal an idea from Julio Cortazar with his book about traveling the main road in france , well this blog maybe has been driving to long and maybe needs to start turning into one or two rest stops , by this I mean books in english , african fiction things I used cover more when this blog first started , my biggest problem is I can’t help myself with books in translation , I just love them but after nearly two hundred straight books in translation , I’m feeling the need to break with my routine .A perfect example would be the collection of Anthony Burgess novels I was sent a couple of years ago , I was so excited to get these as I loved him when I used read anything years ago , but they kept being pushed back and my pile of books sent to read kept growing and they never got read , even now writing this post I have a large tinge of regret about that lack of reading those books .I’ve written about this before and sure I will again ,I’m very driven in what I read and maybe need to just make myself lighten up a bit ! I could try a challenge to do this but no I will try for 10% books this year not in translation this year .

What are your bad reading habits

Portrait of the mother as a young woman by Friedrich Christian Delius

 

Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman

Portrait of the mother as a young women by Friedrich Christina Delius

German Fiction

Original title – Bildnis der Mutter als junge Frau

Translator – jamie Bulloch

Source – review copy

My Wandering Days Are Over”

You know my wandering days are over
Does that mean that I’m getting boring?
You tell me
I’m tired of listening to myself now
I’m tired of fixing things for Michael and the rest of them

You know my bip-bopping days are over
I hung my boots up and then retired from the disco floor
Now the centre of my so called being is
The space between your bed and wardrobe with the louvre doors

I said “My celibate days are over”
You put me straight on the finer points of my speech rehearsed
In the mirror of my steamy bathroom
Where the lino tells a sorry story in a monologue

Well after watching the film last night of Stuart Murdoch first film , I thought of his lyrics as he seems to capture what is going on in the mind so well in his songs and wandering days from Belle and Sebastian debut album seemed just right .

Well I reach last of the first year of Peirene books , the year of the woman series and this was actually Peirene no 1 .Now I will spare you another stream of consciousness homage  review like I did for the first review .Since the book came out FC Delius has written three more books and won the Georg Buchner prize , considered the most important prize in German literature .

Her beloved husband could not have sought out a better refugee , she could not have found a lovelier German island , and the child inside her stirred at these thoughts , she stopped , felt the movement of the little legs and arms , she took this as a sign of consent and responded by slipping her right hand under her coat and slowly stroking her dress and curved belly ,

Just as she is walking clues to a forthcoming son maybe ?!

The book follows a young woman on a walk through the streets of Rome to see a Bach concert , whilst taking this walk we enter her mind and see what she is thinking as she is walking her husband is due to be moved to fight for the Germans on the African front again .A clue to what is making her think this is the fact she has just left the doctors ! She things over her past present and future as she walks alone , things like a concert they saw in kassel ( I remember this although near end of the book as it is where an old girlfriend of mine was from so I spent time in Kassel years ago ) .What comes across is the feeling of being a woman lost during the war , a husband away fighting for the homeland and wondering how the world they live in  end up this way .

every time she went to church this old poster reminded her of the days shortly before her engagement in October ’40 , when Gert and she had heard Orpheus and Eurydike in Kassel Opera House and had so enraptured by the blissful music that afterwards she hummed the she is gone , and gone for ever ,

The scene from earlier in their relationship when they were in kassel .

Now to be honest I struggled to review this book five years ago and still have this time , although I enjoyed it more second time round and felt I got more out of the prose this time .There is a real sense of being in the mind in the thoughts of the woman , who has just left the doctors and is thinking mainly back on her life and meeting her husband and their life .There is also a bit of denial and fear in one she is trying yo avoid what may face her husband but also knows deep down what is happening and that at this point the war seems to have no end in sight in 1943 .It’s hard to imagine this book isn’t partly inspired by Delius own mother in some way , he was born in 1943 , which is the same year and time as the woman in the book leaves the doctor in January 1943 .I made more of the connection to James Joyce in the first review , of course the title is a play in a way to Joyce’s book a portrait of an artist as a young man .Delius has written this in a modernist style but it isn’t as complex prose wise as say Joyce or Woolf .More a nod to these master using a small glimpse of time a walk to a concert , like the day of Ulysses or day of Mrs Dalloway’s party to expand a small amount of time into a lifetime and the events of a simple walk through the mind’s eye become the events of ones life .

Have you read this book ?

Eastern Europe month March 2015

File:EasternBloc BorderChange38-48.svg

Now I do like a  good reading month, so far  I have run two Spanish Lit months and now want to do an Eastern european reading month , i tried and failed to do a Polish one a few years ago so East Europe seems a better chance more countries more writers .What countries you may ask  , so all the countries in this picture  , or them since the split of the eastern bloc so this map shows it just before the split ,of course there is many more countries now .I for one have a huge collection of books from the former Eastern Bloc countries waiting to be read also some of my favourite pulishers, publish from their Istros books and Twisted spoon  .Have you a favourite country and writer from the former Eastern Bloc ?

 

 

looking back and looking forward the year that was and the year to come

512px-Janus1

 

 Picture credit 

Firstly hope everyone had a good Christmas , I did although working Amanda and I had the afternoon and evening together and although we had a tight budget I got a new reading lamp from my darling wife .I was just happy to have a nice day with my wife and eat some lovely food .So I got my annual report from WordPress , I haven’t published these I just like to see them for myself but the good point was the growth in number of post from last year ,also more comments than last year .My longest tun of post was 13 in a row .But beyond the figures , I enjoyed doing the Shadow IFFP  again and will be doing that again next year .It was a sad year with the loss of my dear boy and faithful hound  the name sake of this  blog Winston Allen .I also managed to reach to milestones of 500 reviews and a 1000 posts this year .So out with the old and in with the new  a new year is just around the corner and where is the blog going , well as ever trying to keep up with reviews to reading is a big thing so the first few months of 2015 I’m going try to slow my reading blog a bit more catch up on remainder of 2014 and get 2015 reviews going as bok read book reviewed not book read a month later I get to it as it has been the last few months .I will be adding a new page next year along side my books read , I ‘ll be doing films watched as well , I just signed up for MUBI a curated film streaming service that has a lot of films from around the world on to try to widen my film watching experience , but you will also see my love of bad movies as much as I love art house cinema ,I also have a love of the kitsch bad movies from the likes of sy fi channel or asylum films .The more surreal the idea behind the film , the better I like them .Next year will also see another IFFP shadowing , I have been trying to find a number of books I missed recently so I have as many from longlist read as possible when it comes out .I think another spanish lit month may be on the cards as well given my poor participation and running this year (due to the loss of  my boy ) .I hope to bring more interviews next year as well it is something I have dabbled with before and I wish to carry more with both writers and translators .I’m also looking to have a few more guest posts in the next year from around the world of Translated fiction .So happy new year to you all I will be back 1st January .

How was your year ?

What you looking forward too next year ?

Winston’s books of the year

Well its been a bumper year and I always find picking my books of a year hard so here we go with 12  from what I’ve read the year .of course there is many more I would have added but a dozen  seems a good number and  the dozen I chosen have challenge me in some ways and maybe pushed me as a reader .I also include a similar book this year on each book .

1.Heaven and hell / The sorrow of angels by Jon Kalman Steffanson

The first two books of a trilogy of novels that I finally got to read this year set in Iceland follow a young man’s journey through Iceland ,.Both these need two readings by myself but in the end I feel in love with Stefansson poetic vision of the world . also butterflies in November by Audur ava Olafsdottir

SOrrow of angels

2 The search warrant by Patrick Modiano

Well a quick jump in his betting before winning the Nobel prize prompt me to try the only book that was readily available at the time . A man trace a young Jewish woman’s journey during the war , but also finds intersections with his own life .Great that he won the Nobel so now we can get more of his book to read ! also The safety net By Heinrich Boll

 

 

 

 

3 Zone by Matihas Enard

Zone follows a man’s train journey through Italy as he remembers how europe fell apart and how he has in his case the secrets to this and the chance to redeem himself by selling this to the vatican also the tower by Uwe Tellkamp

zone_cover

4 The corpse washer by Sinan Antoon

A gem discovered via this years IFFP prize a young man in Iraq’s dreams shattered as he returns to his father’s career as a corpse washer during the war . also The Iraqi christ by Hassan Blasim

The Corpse Washer

5 The ingenious gentleman and poet Federico Garcia Lorca ascends into hell by Carlos Roja

Well it wins the title for the longest title this year a clever novel that follows the spanish poet Lorca through hell as he relived parts of his life .also The sermon on the fall of Rome by Jerome Ferrari

Carlos Rojas the ingenious gentleman and poet Federico Garica Lorca ascends to hell

6 Bilbao – New York – Bilbao by Kirmen Uribe

A writer think ing about his novel he is writing about growing up in a small fishing port on a flight to New york . A clever ode to a dying world of his family and their fishermen lives . also A notebook by Agota Kristoff

 

 

7 A french novel by Frederic Beigbeder

Auto fiction a story of a night after he won a prize and was arrested and then remembering the relationship he has had with his brother . also Liveforever by Andres Caciedo

a french novel

8 The false apocalypse by Fatos  Lubonja

The collapse that followed capitalism dawning in Albania is captured and told on the national and personnel level by one of the leading minds in the country . also Sworn Virgins by Elvira Drones

IMG_1977

9 The Neruda case by Roberto Ampuero

A young solider is enlist by the great Chilean poet to trace the woman in Neruda’s life to find out what happened to them a journey that takes him around the world . also twilight of the eastern gods by Ismail kadare

10 Zenith Hotel by Oscar Coop -Phane

Well I am on the cover of this book quote a woman sits in  a hotel as the flotsam and jetsam of the local city sleep with her we hear her story and their stories .also The people in the photo by Helene gestern

zenith hotel cover

11 Dead lake by Hamid Ismailov

The story of a man that stayed a child after swimming a lake in the former soviet unions hinterland .Also Solar plexus by Rustam Ibragimbekov

the dead lake

12 Harraga by Boualem Sansal

Two women bought together in a house one young a modern arab woman the other dreamy and quiet a typical arab woman see the changing world of Algeria outside them .also Barbarian spring by Jonas Luscher

IMG_1974

 

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