Christened with crosses by Eduard Kochergin

Christened With Crosses

Christened with crosses(notes taken on my knees)  by Eduard Kochergin

Russian memoir

Original title – Крещённые крестами: Записки на коленках

Translator – Simon Patterson with Nina Chordas

Source – review copy

I often bang on about the small publishers I work with but the reason is this they tend to bring us the titles we wouldn’t see otherwise. That said this was a bestseller the second time it came out in Russia Eduard  Stepanovich Kochergin was born at the height of Stalinism in 1937 and his parents were considered enemies of the state and he as a young boy was sent away to state orphanage for children of political prisoners. This book follows that time and his six-year journey across the heart of Russia from Siberia to Leningrad his hometown.

In the next two wards there was a medical section – one of the most terrifying places in the orphanage, in our language the croakery or kaputka. Few of the children who were taken there returned upstairs. This section was led by a nurse called Absolute Drip. Her assistant, a deaf mute nursing aide, a dirty animal whose stench killed flies, did not clean up, but simply spread filt around

One his arrival to Pipsqueak ward he talks about the other wards, scarry to say the least !!

The book starts with him at home with his family and his christening at a church on Nevsky prospect and also his polish mother and Russian father firstly he was given poles for safekeeping.But was eventually sent to the state house and out to Siberia. We see him on a ward with other young orphans where he meets some other boys with names like the Toad and his deputy screwface. This is a brutal place but seen through a child’s eye Eduard or Stepanych becomes the shadow in these place and disappears. Living only at night when they are alone he grows sadder missing his parents and home, which leads to the young boy setting off on a six-year journey on the trains. He meets thieves. Then stumbles into a village where they still have a tradition of brewing.Gets taught how to make a fire all the time slowly making his way back home but does he?

Food was the main topic of our life. The dreams of the orphans mainly revolved around food, especially in winter and spring. During that time, as our hobbling lady said, we were liable to eat everything that wasn’t nailed down. In summer we ate weeds, rising catching a colon infection and falling into the clutches of the Absolute Drip.

This short passage reminded me so much of Dickens in  particular Oliver when he is at the orpahage as well.

I read this last week as my father was actually in Vladivostok a place in the far east of Russia a place he said still had a feel of its Soviet past. This is tale of a boy become a man but also a tale of post-war Soviet times the toughness of  when Stalin sent so many to the Gulags, this is the flipside of a writer like Solzhenitsyn as it is about the children of those prisoners those young souls we never heard about the brutal nature of the state orphanage. Seen through his eye but in the same way as books; like the boy in the striped pyjamas or curious incident in the night we see how violence can be seen but not really absorbed till much later. There is also a sense of adventure as we follow his homeward journey a sense of entering a wide world and learning skills and about danger first hand. Also glimpsing a dying rural world of Russia hinterlands with rituals and myths still alive in the 1950’s. A powerful memoir of one man’s journey to adulthood in a Soviet world that could have stepped out of a Dickens novel but 100 years on.

 

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That’s how whales are born by Anxos Sumai

THAT’S HOW WHALES ARE BORN

That’s how whale are born by Anxos Sumai

Spanish fiction

Original title –Así nacen as baleas

Translator – Carys Evans-Corrales

Source – review copy

Anxos Sumai is regarded as one of the best writers from Galicia in Spain. She has written four novels and also worked as a radio journalist. She was voted Galician writer of the year in 2007 the year this book came out it also won a prize for short novels. This is another in the series of books that have been sent to me from Small station press who are bringing to us so many new voices from Galicia.

Mother had just turned fifty-five when she decided to lock herself up in her bedroom. The stores had been functioning for a long time without her assistance and were doing well – very well.It was time for her to fall into one of those agonizing maelstroms, because this how it had been throughout her life, When she locked herself into her room she was defeated, yearning to be transported th some place where destiny would be waiting for her. It didn’t matter where: Mother always needed a destiny to set herself into action, to relinquish the voluntary self-exile she would impose on herself when neither death nor her loved pnes could move her at all .

The motherlocked away from her life and the world in pne trying to give up .

The book follows a young woman journey home. Having escaped her family and living in Baja California Mexico where she is studying Marine biology.In particular to do with whales that do crop up as a recurring thought in her mind. The girl receives a call from her Aunt that her mother a figure whom she had numerous problems with her mother. As she returns we found out about her past the mother who never seemed to recover from the husband that left her even now she has shut out the world and lives in her room. The older brother Ramon, a fat boy with a violent temper and disability that is always eating in her mind and then sleeping this was the time they could get around him without him lashing out. The whale at times is a figure she uses for her brother, with the vast appetites. Add a caring Nann the Aunt and Uncle we see a woman struggling to readjust t0 her home but also seeing those around her after returning.Maybe time is right. She is caught up in an affair with her tutor.

Except that the little girl barelyunderstood anything she was being told when Ramon interrupted them, Excuting turns at the entrance to the kitchen, ramon looked like a fat, flabby potato that gyrated and gyrated until he hit one of the walls. The little girl burst out laughin. Ramon made her ;laugh all the time, unless he was asleep.It was like having a clown all to herself, a joyful clown weighing over one hundred kilos.ramon could eat her up if he wanted to. He could eat her up in the same way he could eat a roasted capon all by himself.He could even flatten her when he breathed.

The brother larger than life like a whale a mystery at times

This is an interesting study of a family a modern family. This maybe shows who the dynamics work when there is no father. The problem of having a large than life figure in that of the brother Ramon. He may be overshadowed the narrator(I sense this we never even know her name). THere is a feeling of her runaway but the elastic of her home never quite breaking and being flung back into the family. But with her eyes opened by the trip to Mexico and also maybe having spent time with whales she sees more in her brother Ramon than she did. This is a book about memories the writer has said in interviews also she wants us the reader to draw our own view on the family.The title came from the time she imagined Ramon spending in the tub a fat boy in the tub and a whale ! I really like this book as it does what she wants us as a reader to do and that is thinking about the characters and the situation of an unnamed girl returning to her odd family.

 

Sweet potato by Kim Tongin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Potato by kim Tongin

Korean short stories

Original title – Gamja  감자

Translator – Grace Jung

Source – review copy

Kim Tongin or Kim Dong-in as he was also known. Like many Koreans of his generation in the early 20th century he studied in Japan in Tokyo. But dropped out to become a writer as he had funds from a family inheritance, which meant he lived an extravagant lifestyle til his funds start running out in the thirties, he launched a magazine in the mid-thirties.He then visited China and in the forties, he was sent to jail in Japan. He died in 1951 aged just fifty. This is the first collection of his stories to be published in English from new publishing house Honford star.

It’s strange how when one person gets disciplined everyone else in the room shakes. (it’s neither public rage nor camarderie.) It;s not just that the body shakes, but thae heart shakes with it.the first time i experienced these shakes is when I got beaten up for three hours straight and shook like a po[lar in the detention room for two hours.(This is now something I deal with at least twice a day) the room is like a dead person’s cell.Not a sound . I can’t even breath loudly.No one wants to look inside here for fear that that they might encountewr a ghost.

From the story flogging a powerful passage on fear of violence shown in a body shaking .

There is a selection of stories from all over his career. They paint a picture of Northern Korea that I think is now long gone. From a tale of boat folk a brother who is a boatman make nightly trips from a small fishing village a story told over a number of years. Then Flogging is about a man in a jail in Japan, there is a real sense of the hatred between Korea and Japan in the way they treat each other. He builds a sense of fear, with comments like when one person gets discipline they all shake around him a real sense of fear. Then the title story follows an arranged marriage of a young poor girl to an older man shows power struggle as she ends up in poverty after getting raped at a salt mine by the boss and ends up turning to the street.This is also one of a number of well-written female characters in the book. A woman has an affair with a married man whom she tries to turn into something better.

Fighting, adultery, murder, begging, imprisionment – the slums outside the Ch’ilssong gate were tje point of orgin for all of life’s tragedieds and conflicts. Pongnyo and her husband were farmers – the second in class ranking (scolar, farmer,artisan and tradesman). Pongyno was poor but raised in a household that upheld principles.The strict rules of sonbi were left behind once the family fell into the rank of farmer.But some level of discipline, order and intelligence lingered.

The opeining lines of Sweet potato tell of a girl that grew with pricnciples but has a hard life when she marries.

 

Kim was known for the realistic nature of his works and he does here seem to set a world that is long gone the Korea of the past a more rural world, a slower world than the one now and in the case that most of the stories are set in the north of Korea a world that is now shut to public eyes. The title story has been made into a film a couple of times the first version is on youtube but hasn’t subtitles which is a shame. The cover art for the book was specially painted by a south Korean artist jee-ook Choi to reflect the title story.A great intro into one of the best regard writers from Korea one of the first true modern writers from that country a man that fought for a Korean voice in his writing.

International translation day 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saint Jerome is the patron saint of translation and it is the day we celebrate translation on international translation day. Well, maybe a look back over the eight years of this blog 750 books 90% in translation. Has seen me travel in my armchair with books from Afghanistan to Yemen in books. But also has seen an explosion in people publishing books from Peirene, Istros, tilted axis, honford star and Noir to name a few, have seen books reach us in English that would have not have done when I started the blog. The future is bright with two new prizes in the pipeline for books in translation and Booker behind what was the Independent foreign fiction prize, people seem more willing to try world lit . As for me the blog has grown and still gives me pleasure especially discovering places and writers. I now start to try and improve navigation of the blog as I want to divide  the reviews into a number of sections such as war, village life, experimental, family, cities, crime and short so as to show the common themes we see in literature no matter of place. How do you think translation has moved on in the last eight years ?

Two new shorts and a german seagulls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m off for a night out later so not time to do a review. So I have chosen to show a few recent arrivals at Winstons towers. Sweet Potato. The first is from new publisher Honford Star. The collection from Kim Tongin is an insight into the first fifty years of the 20th century in Korea a time before its rise in power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pushin press has a new collection of stories by the mast of the short story Chekov in a new translation from Nicolas Pasternak Slater the nephew of Boris Pasternak. There are thirteen stories in the collection including ones such as a day in the country, The lady with the little dog and the kiss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now some purchases first is a collection of short stories from Robert Wasler from a few years ago. I have read one of his books but now how well regarded he is as a writer. The book covers most of his life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then two books by the late Swiss writer Urs Widmer. The first the Blue Soda siphon is an adult fairy tale that follows a man returning to his childhood in the 40s then his younger self, going forward to the 90s and the gulf war. In the congo follows a man that works in a retirement home where his father has just moved in and it follows the discovery his father wasn’t a boring man as he thought he was.The journey takes him to Congo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A trip for a grandfather and grandson to China goes slightly wrong. when then grandfather dies the grandson carries on writing back to family fantastic tales of what they were doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then a second book for the tbr pile from German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Tumult follows his life and the world from 1963 til 1970 as he was a left winger, spend time in the Soviet Union and Cuba. the last four books are all from Seagull books.

A different sea by Claudio Magris

A different Sea by Claudio Magris

Italian fiction

Original title – Un altro mare

Translator – M.S.Spurr

Source – Library copy

Claudio Magris in yesterdays list of Nobel hopefuls, earlier in the summer. I read this short novella by him. But have waited till now to review it. Claudio Magris has won many prizes with his books like the Stega for his book Danube. Which I hope to bring to the blog at some point. He has also won some prizes for the body of his works like the Prince of Asturias and Franz Kafka. 
In those brief, still days, Enrico had seen the threads of his destiny, had seen the coins of his life thrown up high  and glitter for a moment as they turned over in the air. When Argia was not on the beach she was indoors playing the piano, Playing Beethoven for Carlo she revealed the abyss that comes between the individual and his destiny; she annulled time and with it the misery and transcience of life, and she demonstrated the tragic joy to be gained by living only for the moment.
This piece shows how Enrico lived his life, like his friend had said .
 
This book follows Enrico, a young Greek man, in the early part of the twentieth century. He is good friends with the Italian Philosopher Carlo Michelstaedter. A man who passed away to young. But his philosophy was about living in the moment by living in the moment is how a man can set him free. There is a third friend, Nico whom Enrico keeps in contact with over time. We Follow Enrico after his friend died. He sets forth to try and live in the moment By setting off to Patagonia. The life there where he lives with his Greek books and the idea of his friend. He spends over a decade working herding animals. Whilst he reading as he escaped National service by escaping to South American. He then returns to Trieste and the Istria coast. In those inter-war years, as we see through his eyes. The political landscape  of the time in that region and also what living in the moment can make on one’s life. 
After all , he left the country to avoid military service, and he is fed up with hearing about the Great War. What do they expect of him, sitting there at their desks? Let them learn the aorist tense: that is already enough
In patagonia he kept in his pocket both the Odyssey and the Agamemnon edited with commentary in Latin by Simon Karsten. But a discourse on the fate of the sons of Atreus, or on the suffering of Electra- Carlo liked her best of all – would be out of place in front of these boys.
I was remind of my step grandfather who carried Dickens in his pocket all his working life .
 
This is a sparse novella, that shows how to follow an idea of what happens. When one chooses to live in the present as Carlos had chosen to do so. It is a wonderful insight into the lone life on the Pampas as he searches for a life free of Social falsehoods. The search for who we are set off by the early death of a friend and also wanting to act out on his ideas of Michelstaedter. A man I knew very  little of her is an interesting piece about him here.I liked this novella it left  me thinking of what life is about and also the world they lived in which when Enrico returns is one that is in flux as the clouds of the following years are seen through the world of Istira and Trieste.

Nobel lit 2017 who will follow Dylan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well it is fast approaching the time of year when the betting for the Nobel literature prize opens

Ive look at odd checker and here are the top ten runners-

 

 

 

 

  1. Haruki Murakami – Always near the top of the list Not sure it is his year myself review 
  2. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o – For me, this may be the year, a review of one of his books
  3. Magaret Attwood – Only read one of her books I did like it so maybe
  4. Amos Oz – I loved his latest Judas  when we read it for Man Booker my review of it
  5. Adunis – always near the top he is another one I feel may win I did have one poem by him
  6. Claudio Magris – A writer I love and pleased to see him here my review of blindly 
  7. Don Dellio – probably one of the best American writer around  I reviewed him a few years ago
  8. Ko Un another poet I did feature one poem a few years ago
  9. Javier Marias – he has written one epic trilogy and a number of good books  have reviewed him before .
  10. Jon Fosse – could it be a home win I have reviewed him here 

Then I have a few names outside to mention

Laszlo Krasznahorkai – brilliant writer

Antonio Lobo Antunes – another favourite of mine

Ismail Kadare – a solid writer like Pamuk!

Peter Handke – maybe to outspoken but has written some great books

Cesar Aira – A writer I’d like to read more of !!

Who do you think will win after Dylan last year ?

The House with the Stained-Glass window by Żanna Słoniowska

The house with Stained-Glass window by Żanna Słoniowska

Polish fiction

Original title – Dom z witrażem

Translator – Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Source – review copy

This is another from Maclehose new collection of press editions of books from around the world. This book is by one of the rising stars of  Polish fiction. Żanna Słoniowska she won the Conrad prize a prize for a debut novel and also the Znak prize which had over a thousand books in contention for it. She was born  In Lviv in Ukraine but now lives in Krakow. She works as a Journalist and Translator.

On the day of her death, her voice rang out, drowning many others, rancous sounds. Yet death, her death, was not a sound, but a colour. They brought her body home wtrapped in a large, blue and yellow flag – the slag of a country that did not yet exist on any map of the world.She was tightly shrouded in it, like an Egyptian mummy, thoug in one spot on the surface a dark, blood-red stain was breaking through. As i stood and starred at that stain, I was strucj by the feeling someone had made a mistake.

The opening and her mothers death and the first mentio of Blue and Yellow .

This book is set in the town of Lviv, in fact in a way it is as much as a character in the book as the people that live in the House with Stain glass. The story is told through the three woman who all live in the house and really cover the whole of the last century. The house in Lviv in Ukraine is home to Great Grandma grandma Aba and Mother Marianna and her Daughter. All live in the house the books open as Marianna is killed, she is a famous Opera star and leader of the movement to free Ukraine from the Soviets. The story is told from the daughter’s point of view she tells of her grandmother’s  struggles and during the wars. The loss of the fathers in history. Also, the grandmother could have been a painter and due to circumstances missed out. The daughter herself many years later start an affair with an older man as we see how the fight to get the blue and yellow flag was flown has affected all those living behind the stained glass window in Lviv four woman and hundred years of history.

That winter in the mid -1990’s , Balconnies started falling on peoples heads and walking close to the houses became dangerous.

“Mind your head!”wnet the refrain to anyone who ventured outside.

“Yesterday, on So and Son Street, balcony mouldings from tje second floor of house number six collapsed onto the head of a woman walking below” I read in the newspaper “Although the pieces of plaster were not heavy, she was seriously injured and taken to hospital.#

This made me thing of those advert” have you had a balcony hit you !! ” as the kept falling on people .

The other great female writer about Ukraine Svetlana Alexievich this book shows the true spirit of females in the Soviet Era. Also the constant struggle of the sleeping giant that was Ukraine. This is a portrait of family but also on a great scale of the country. from the grandmothers war time and exile from the original homeland through the mother’s struggle to lead the first movement to freedom, To the present day told from the daughter and those recent years we also saw on the news where the country kept going one way to another. The other character in this book is Lviv one of those great towns full of ghosts and touch so much by the history of the 20th century. An amazingly confident book for a debut novel.

 

In red by Magdalena Tulli

 

In red by Magdalena Tulli

Polish fiction

Original title –  W czerwieni

Translator – Bill Johnson

Source – personal copy

One of the publishers over the years I have discovered is Archipelago. I have reviewed a number of their books over the years and have brought a lot as they are so pretty in their design. Magdalena Tulli is one of the writers from them I hadn’t tried and this short novella seemed a great intro. Magdalena Tulli is a writer and translator she has been five times on the prize list for the Nike prize in Poland (the polish Booker Prize), this book was one of the books to make that prize list.

Left to prey to foreign forces, stitchings filled with stories that previously no one had ever heard or wanted to hear. In the house of pleasure, in the downstairs parlor, at night officers in jackets unbuttoned in contravention of the regulations fell madly in love, sang. andlaughed; during the day the other ranks were let in through a side door and took the creaking stairs to the second floor. They thronged the poorly lit corridor, wreather in cigarette smoke, grasping metal tokens in their sweaty palms.

The town is change by Germans , this passage remind me of the Brel song Next where a soldier loses his virginity.

This book follows a small town in Poland Stitchings a town where time stands still even thou the world moves on around them.We follow the town over the period pre world war one to pre world war two. This story tells little tales of the multitudes from the workers in the main factory their Loom and son and the two other big factories in the town. German invaders the officer and the ranks their impact on the town both during the war and afterwards. The creation of Poland is proclaimed after the war to the citizens of the town. A young woman who has to decide between the two most eligible bachelors in the town. This is an odd world like that of say Dylan Thomas llareggub full of dark characters that are touched with a bit of magic realism but also the dark realism of that period of history.

Every morning the unemployed demoblized soldiers, a snarl of anger frozen on their faces, would read the newspapers, in which there was not a single piece of good news for them. They lit one roll-up cigarette from the previous one, and blew the acrid smoke up towards the ceiling. They paced from wall to wall in their basements, irritable and gruff

The men left after the war have little hope in stitchings .

I liked this book it is in the spirit of the likes of Calvino and Saramago that fine line between realism and magic realism. Stitchings is a surreal mix of dark characters that like fireflies in the night appear for a second then disappear as death hovers over the town itself. We meet folks then they die it is a strange place. But I felt in a way it is an attempt to capture the madness the encapsulated Mittel Europa in those first forty years of the twentieth century. Where lives burnt brightly at times and lives were short at times. I enjoyed Johnson translation he managed to keep the feel of this being magically real at times. The spirit of how a town is shaped by war and death is what Tulli tries to show here and that is what works it is about the place rather than the people in way.

That was the month that was August 2017

  1. The ultimate tragedy by Abdulai Sila
  2. Winter Quarters by Osvaldo Soriano
  3. Inventing love by Jose Ovejero
  4. Seeing red by Lina Meruane
  5. The painter of birds by Lidia Jorge
  6. FAdo Alexandrino by Antonio Lobo Antunes
  7. Mister Blue by Jacques Poulin
  8. An animal called mist by Ledicia Costas
  9. The exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto
  10. The white city by Karolina Ramqvist

I managed to review ten books on the blog last month. From 8 countries, no new publishers this month. But one new country for the blog Guinea Bissau with the first book to be published in English. Bring the total books reviewed this year on the blog to 75 still in the range of getting 100 books reviewed this year on the blog.

Book of the month

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fado Alexandrino by Antoino Lobo Antunes

A novel that looked at the disaster that was Portugal at war in Africa a sort of European Vietnam from the point of view of five men that fought at the same time and lives went in different ways after what happened there. Proof if need, why Antunes runs high in Nobel, Lit betting in recent years.

Non-book discovery

Well , I’ve been taken back to my childhood recently with Drama the UK Tv channel starting of the long running UK police series The Bill from the beginning which was in 1984 , it was one of the first shows I was allowed to stay up and watch as a kid so I am enjoying rewatching them 33 years later.

Next month

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a number of new books I have brought a couple from the US publisher  Open letter and the latest Javier Cercas one of my favourite writers of all time.

What was your favourite last month ?

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