I Live in the Slums by Can Xue

I Live in the Slums by Can Xue

Chinese fiction

Original title – the stories were published in various publications and collected here.

Translators Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping

Source – personal copy

Well, this is the second book from Can Xue or as she is known Deng Xiaohua. I have read the first was the longlisted love in the new millennium which was longlisted for the Booker I read it but wasn’t a huge fan of it I have struggled with Chinese fiction over the years but was willing to try as this was a collection of short stories and  I remember reading at the time I read her novel that it was her medium as she had written over a 120 short stories over the years. Known for her Avant-garde and abstract style of writing. She had worked as a metal worker and then with her husband started a tailoring business before she wrote more she took the pen name Can Xue early on in her career.

The Old man sat up in bed, about to bandage his heel with a rag. He had prepared the rags earlier for this purpose. He made a lot of noise tearing up the cloth. He seemed top be strong, He kept wrapping his foot until it was encased in one large package. The pig squealed more and mpore incositently. they were on the verge of leaping out of the pen. He got out of bed and stepped on the floor without putting a shoe on his injured foot. He went outside to feed the pigs. What was this all about? Whu did he let the house mouse bite his heel ? Was therre a tumor there and he was letting the house mouse perform surgery? What admirable willpower ?

The foot getting nibble and the old man then wakes

I Live in the slums is a collection of 15 stories with the longer story the story of the slums being more of a novella than a short story. As with the story of the slums, the main story is a dark tale of the Chinese underclass our narrator opens with a bone of an old man being eaten a dead man I thought but no he then wakes this is the view of the underclass and later the story goes full circle as the same thing happens to the narrator with his foot being eaten and nibbled by a mouse. The stories view the poor lost voices of Modern China from the urban sprawl to the countryside. It captures that journey of many young chinese from the country to the town.  Almost what I felt is this is the reverse of the American dream as the characters are poor in the country but also those left behind those elders struggling. Then the nightmare of the city is captured catfish pool which shws the urban sprawl destroying the places. The stories are all avant garde and sometimes make the reader struggle but also make the stories hard to describe they are more absorb by the reader.

THe slums were my home, and also the hardest place for me to understand. Genrally speaking, I didn’t make a deliberate effort to understand it. Destiny drove me from one place to anpther. I’d been underground, I’d been to the city, and \i’d lived in all kinds of homes in the slums. There was often crises in my life; the threat of death was ongoing, but I was still alive. Could this be because my ancestors were living in the depths of memory and protecting me? Oh – that boundless pasture, that eagle disappearing into the vast qi, those kin who lay on their stomachsin the underbrush! Thinking of them, I felt I knew everything and was capable of anything. But this was in my memory. The reality was absolutely different. In reality, I knew almost noting, through I had experienced so much.

Near the end of the novella the story of the slums the narrator talks of his life in the slums.

I enjoyed this collection more than I had her Novel I was reminded at times of Herta Mullers writing there is a similar richness to her writing style. also a similar abstract sty;le that takes tiome to absorb as a read this is rich in images and is more about atomspehre setting and events than narrative. The stories have lots of little nods to what is wrong in china the underclasses Building come and go the sort of chaos that follows the unending urban sprawl that has eaten the countryside and spilt people from where they were. The main novella is very dark and has a feel of Kafka an unnamed narrator a downward spiral of life. I will be trying more books from Can Xue whch is a change as before this collection I wouldn’t have picked her up. But I know feel her style is more suit to the short form. Have you read Can Xue ? where next ?

WInstons Score = B  It grew on me.

That was the month that was March 2021 and Booker reaction

  1. Dog Island by Philippe claudel
  2. London Under Snow by Jordi llavina
  3. Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichy
  4. Beowulf a new translation
  5. Summer night , and then comes the night by Jon Kalman Stefansson
  6. Portrait of artist as a young man by James Joyce
  7. The Frightened one by Dima Wannous
  8. Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Now I have just reviewed 8 books this month I have slowed but have reviewed 32 books this year and am on course to get over the 100 review total I set myself for this year. This month’s Journey started in France with a tale of a dog-shaped island in the Med with a dark secret at its heart with the immigrants that are trying to get there.. Then to a collection of short stories from a Catalan writer that has a London connection.THen of to a Swedish novel by a writer with Mittel European heritage and a tale of a cellist seeing his past in a druggy he comes across.  This also made the booker list. Then a new version of the epic poem Beowulf with a feminist twist and brought life with modern slang. Then a village in Iceland that has con mad in the daylight of midsummer, Then it was a nod to St Patrick’s day with James Joyce’s portrait of the artist as a young man that was about his own youth and had one of the characters that were also in Ulysses. Then two friends from Syria on remained the other left to German and then wrote a book about his ex’s life.Then a small toy is really an alien in a tale that has dark undertones from japan, NO new publishers or countries this monthj.

Book of the month

I have picked Beowulf as it brought this book to life for me a text that is hard to get into in older translations this with it clever use of street slang and a modern slant on the book’s events brought the action to life for me.

Non-book events

Edited in Prisma app with Surf

This month saw the first few rules relaxing around lockdown this tied up with a couple of warm days so we could go a little further so on yesterday we had a trip in the peak a walk around Bakewell where we found a couple of Geocaches a new sort of treasure hunt on the phone which we have found this month we get a GPS sight then have to fin either box, bottle or something hidden at that location then log it a fun way to have a walk around we found two in Bakewell we had planned to walk some of the Monsal trails the old railway in the peaks that are now an 8-mile path for walkers or cyclist but everyone I think had same idea hence a walk around Bakewell instead but we had a picnic at Monsall Head later the same day in which I took the above picture. What have you been up to ?

Booker reaction

Can Xue (China), Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping
– I Live in the Slums (Yale University Press)

David Diop (France) & Anna Moschovakis
 At Night All Blood is Black (Pushkin Press)

Nana Ekvtimishvili (Georgia) & Elizabeth Heighway
– The Pear Field (Peirene Press)

Mariana Enriquez (Argentina) & Megan McDowell
– The Dangers of Smoking in Bed (Granta Books)

Benjamin Labatut (Chile) & Adrian Nathan West
– When We Cease to Understand the World (Pushkin Press)

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Kenya)
– The Perfect Nine (Vintage Books)

Olga Ravn (Denmark) & Martin Aitken
– The Employees (Lolli Editions)

Jaap Robben (Netherlands) & David Doherty
– Summer Brother (World Editions)

Judith Schalansky (Germany) & Jackie Smith
– An Inventory of Losses (MacLehose Press)

Adania Shibli (Palestine) & Elizabeth Jacquette
– Minor Detail (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Maria Stepanova (Russia) & Sasha Dugdale
– In Memory of Memory (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Andrzej Tichý (Sweden) & Nicola Smalley
– Wretchedness (And Other Stories)

Éric Vuillard (France) & Mark Polizzotti
– The War of the Poor (Picador

Well, I had reviewed 5 of the 13 books leaving me 8 to read one of which I had started Summer brother by Japp Robben which I read his first book I really enjoyed a few years ago. of the others, I have read books by Can Xue, Mariana Enriquez, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o the other writer are new to me and Lolli Editions is a press I hadn’t read a book from yet. I had three in my prediction post right. I had expected an African novel but I had been read Alain Mabackou which I had brought instead of the Thiong’o so I wish I had brought them both I hope to review the Jaap tomorrow of the books left to read the Enriquez appeals I liked her previous book. In Memory of memory is my type of book I feel. Of the others, I will have to see as most of them I had heard of but hadn’t caught my eye enough to try and the Can Xue was a writer I struggled with last time. It is interesting as most shadow jury has read very little of this list which goes to show how many more books there are out there to be read I look forward to reading them and seeing if this list is better than most of our lists !. What had you read and what do you think of the list.

The Imagined Land by Eduardo Berti

The Imagined land by Eduardo Berti

Argentinean fiction

Original title – El país imaginado

Translator – Charlotte Coombe

Source – personal copy

I have had this on my shelves a couple of years and when I was looking for something that maybe had a love story or romance at its heart this struck me as a contender. It is written by the French-based Argentinean writer Eduardo Berti A cultural Journalist based in France he was elected to the Oulipo group of writers being the first writer from Argentina to be elected to the group. He also works as a transxlator he=aving translated works from Alberto Manguel and Romesh Gunesekera. He has published 15 books of novels and short stories over the last thirty years.

ON the first day of the new year, my father was in such a good mood that he was hardly recognisable; he was usually so moderate, so restrained. He saw that there sun, that the air was fresh, and there wa no threat of clouds on the horizion, of the “corner of the sky” as my grandmother used to call it. This all seemed to be a good omen, since nothing was more desirable for the chu-yi than a crystal clear dawn, Shortly after, at midday, he reminded ius enthusiastically that in the evening we would be joined for dinner bt tje family of his friend Gu Xiangong, who lived about a two hour drive away by car from our city. This was a dangerous ambigous distance

Thy had three daughters the visits why are they coming to visit the family.

This book is set in CHina pre reveloution in a small city we view the life there through the eyes of Ling she is 14 and nurses her grandmother as she says her parents don’t trust him to nurse her. The Grandmother is old and has a great collection of old books that she  has read to her grandchildren especially her granddaughter. The book are to be taken out to stp insects eating them she is told by her father this is something that Ling does herself as her brother isn’t bother this isall part of some old ideas and pratices that her father has that make them seem out of time to those around them. But when pone day they are visited by a local family as there daughter Xiaomei as her brother future bride but the young 14 year old ling is dumbstruck by the beauty of this girl and then decides to befriend her as the two meet in the park over time. This is also intersped with Ling talking with her grandmother who has now passed about what she is feeling and her grandmpther spirit is a guide for her. The two girls discuss going ona run , her brother admits he is in love with a different girl will she be found a husband were will the love take them all and what do the do to follow there parents wishes.

Give me your hand, said Xiaomeri, and I did

Interlacing her fingers with mine, she formed one hand using both out hands and guided it  into the basket. We clumsily grabbed the first piece of paper within our reach.

Xiaomei unfolded the paper to reveal a melon

We will have lots of children,Ling ! she said, laughing.

We laughed even more, however, when before we saiud goodbye, she unfoilded all the pieces of paper to tecveal the drawings melons, melons, nothing but melons.

The two girls grow close as they meet in a park !

If you have followed this blog for any time you know I am a huige fan of fiction set in villages or small city that have a real sense of place  as they have that air of being caught in amber in at times and here is a village that is looking far back to tradition in the values like buying a blackbird the book starts with a blackbird and ends with the vchaning as the bird seller isn’t in the ,market anymore the book is set in the twenties and follows ling to the edge of the reveloutin through the Japanese ocupation. It is obvious as I read in an interview with Berti this China in the book is a mix of real and inmagined China the china of the west the way we like to view it but I was remind fo the documentry channel four showed years ago Beyond the clouds which showed small villages that like this city had got lost in time. That had like this place missed the call of time touched by the modern world like when Ling talks about watchiong films especially of the silent film star Ruan lingyu who died young but was called the Greta garbo of China for the emotions she showed in her film. Ling says Xiaomei is even more beautiful this is a tale of the first love not sexual but of attraction and the blossoming of a young girl struggling with who she is !! Then there is her and her brother struggles to conform with their parents and try and keep the family traditions and values alive. If yoiu like books like Reef where coming of age is mixed with the scenery of a place and spirt this mixes the spirit of the small village. Ann interesting book of a place long gone from a new writer to the bog Have you read anything by Him? Happy Valentine’s day all !!

Why we love women by Mircea Cărtărescu

Why we love women by Mircea Cărtărescu

Romanian fiction

Orignal title – De ce iubim femeile

Translator – Alistair Ian Blyth

Source –  personal copy

Another visit to Romania and I decided to read one from a writer that has in the last few years been a leading name for the Nobel winner. He is a writer I had wanted to try for a while so here is the first of a few books I hope to read from him in the coming year or two I have blinding on my kindle and will be getting Nostaglia which is due out next month from Penguin and his huge Solenoid which is due at some point from DeeVelp vellum in the US this seemed a great intro a collection of short stories around women he has known and other women, they were orignally published in a series in a Magazine in Romania. He grew up in ROmania but like many writers in his generation he was forced to move to France. This collection came in 2008.

The girl was npt just beautiful, she was the tangible images of Beauty itself. I can’t say whether she was merely an aesthetic object, wholly devoid of psychology, of whether, on the contrary, she was pure, a projection of the facinated gazes of those around her. Looking at her, I understood whey the call it ” captivating beauty”: we were all her captives, as if waiting for cruel sacrifice at any moment, one by one. Nevertheless, shyness and innocence were her only powers.

from the first story the Little African women. a vision of beauty he had seen in america in a white sari.

The collection starts with him remembering an attractive Afircan lady in a white sari he said he had never been with any one of another colour but laments this fact. this is a collection of memories with a thjin veil on the whole to make them fiction and in fact in parts he talks abou thow the women in some of these tales were actually the role models for some of his own shprt stories he wrote after meeting them. So D was Gina in a later story from charater tics like the rather large girl he meet gthat had the annoying habit of saying  my ears are pinned back ever so often.  Else where he remembers a drunken night in Ireland  as he was on a tour with two poets who didn’t really get on. I laughed when he said abpout talking in his Iowa English at one point I thought how many other writers from around the world had a similar accent. Also him ordering an Irish coffee not quite knowing it what it was then he talks aboput a Jewish girl and links it to a frank Zappa song the last story is the title tale a ode to what makes women so loveable in his eyes.

At the time, my ind was not quite as innocent as you might imagine. On the poutskirts of Belfast, we had stopped off at a pub, where I had ordered an Irish coffee. Back then (it was in 93) I had no idea what Irishcoffee was. I just wanted to try something local, given that it was my first time in the land of the Druids, Guinness and Joyce. They brought a large cognac glass brimming with hot coffee and two chocolate mint wafers in little dark green envelopes on a saucer. When I got up from the table I realised, to my disbeliefm tjat I could not walk straight. For, in Ireland, the “Coffee”  contain more whiskey than coffee, And so it was that at it grew dark ancd the towns and villages flew past, my state of confusion was amplified

Drunken on a very Irish coffee made me smile !

I’m not sure if this is the best intro to him it seems this is more of a memoir or auto fiction as he is  a writer that has been compared to Thomas Pynchon. Even so I liked the view into his pife and the travel he had done and those women he has met or seen over the years at points there is maybe a feeling that he couldn’t get away with some of the stories and titles now but the time he is remembering is twenty years ago. I brought this as it was a short work by him and for me as a reader I will be reading him again no matter if his other works are different this maybe is one of those to start with later but it has let me know where some of the characters in his other works have come from it is also as a piece of auto fiction into a male view of the world insightful he does notice the femlaes around him and remembers them. So it would be hard to say on this as from all I’ve read it is a different collection to his other works if he is a worthy nobel winner lets see what I think of his other books in a month or two when I get to them. Have you read anything by him are you like me eager to get to Solenoid considered his best book when it comes out ?

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

Japanese Fiction

Original title –  Hasen (破船)

Translator – Mark Ealey

Source – personal copy

I will try a couple of books for this year’s January in Japan here is my first book one I have had sat on the shelves a good while ago. Akira Yoshimura was president of the Japanese writers union for over twenty years and a member of Pen. He was married to a fellow Japanese writer Setsuko Tsumura. He wrote over twenty novels and also a number of non-fiction books including one that was about a Tsunami that sold well after the 2011 tsunami his wife donated the profits to a village affected by the Tsunami. This book is one of two he is best known for.

His mother chatted with the old women as they trudged along the path. Isaku was happy; for the first time he had helped the men carry the firewood up to the crematory for a funeral. He was being treated as an adult; before long he would be carrying the coffin with the men. But he was small for his age and slight of build. His father was due to return in two and half years, and like other teenage boys and girls in the village Isaku would no doubt be sent into biondage in his fathers place, pretending to be two or three years older than he actually was.  At such time, if he was small, the broker would either refuse to barter for him or would take himon for a paltry amount

He has to grow beyond his years and beyond his frame in the book

The book is narrated and seen through the eyes of Nine-year-old Isaku. The setting is a small fishing village in Medieval Japan where his father has had to go and spend three years at sea as an indentured sailor to help the family thrive. Life for this nine-year-old is tough as he becomes the man of the house trying to help his mum as much as possible. Struggling learning to catch driftwood this is a tough world but he gets on there are moments where we see him growing when he notices a girl a year older than him that also lives in the same poor village as him Tami he worries she will be sent away as a servant as they never return to the village the life is tough the things they do the fishing follows the seasons and when things are hard to catch they suffer. like the lack of octopuses. They also make salt from the seawater in large cauldrons this is a day and night job on the beach when the chief appoints Isaku in charge of keeping the fire going overnight in the cauldrons his mother is honored but this act as a lure to get sink ships that are lured onto the rocks in the winter or as the village calls it O-fune-sama its been a while since a ship has done this so when one does and then the agents for the owners start sniffing around the village panics but what happens when later a second ship with no real bounty just the red outfits of the dead sailors arrives what happens to the village after this event. Will Isaku’s father make it home?

It was agony tending the salt cauldrons on snowy nights. Again and agian Isaku would carry firewood throughthe driving snow and throw it under the cauldrons. The snow appeared to dance wildly, glimmering red from the colour of the flames. Once in Febury, they were hit by a blizzard. The houses were snowed in; it was almost dark inside. Isaku and his mother cleared the snow from the roof and outside the windows, making a space for the sunlight to shine in

A harsh world for the ten year old Isaku looking after the fire every night through the winter.

This is a beautifully written book of a harsh world the village is a dive the only way out is through indentured work for those living there and that is via the man in the next village that gets them the jobs. Like Isaku’s father or his observance of all the young girls that are sold off to be servents and never return which means either they die from overwork or just never see freedom again. Stark world of the village is governed by the seasons from the capturing of the small fish then, they move on the go for octopuses or look to the mountain and rabbits to eat. a tough world that is dotted with funerals but also a hard observation at times like when food is scarce the rice running low and a dying relative is taking too long to die and is still eating his share. I am always a fan of books set in the village and here we see a village caught in its time the lack of options is hard to accept through modern eyes so you feel for this ten-year-old and his be=leak future and no wonder his mother seems so distant at times she is broken by the loose of her husband and having to bring up three children. Have you read this book?

Storm Birds by Einar Kárason

Storm Birds by Einar Kárason

Icelandic fiction

Original title –  Stormfuglar,

Translator  – Quentin Bates

Source – Personal copy

It been over a year since I have reviewed an Icelandic novel which is a shame as it is one of those countries that most of the books in translation I have read over the time of the blog I have enjoyed. This book when it arrived appealed I am a fan of films that deal with the weather and the sea the likes of Perfect storm or the finest hour to name two. So when I read that this is based on actual events that happened in 1959 and the events that lead to a number of boats getting in trouble. The book is written by Einar Kárason. He has been writing since the late seventies his debut novel from 1981 was also translated into English as Devils island. He has since he has written over fifteen more novels this came out in 2018.

When the young deckhand Larus had said farewell to his parentrs and waved as the willys drove away, he went up Mavur’s gangplank.He went to the heelhouse and reported to the first mate who was there, who told him that he crew beginning to turn up and everything was almost read, sh he should go and find himself a berth in the deck crew’s quarter,  forward under the whaleback; he could then get himself a cup of coffee from the galley Larus carried his kitbag accross gthe deck, opened an iron dorr andf then another one beyond it, and made his way down a couple of steps. There were two cabins, and from both came loud voices, drunken talk and clouds of tobacco smoke, and Larus wondered whether he dar go in there

Larus arrives on the boat and sees the old sea dogs bel;ow deck.

Storm birds is told about the crew of the trawler Mávur which in which we are told the event of late February in 1959 as the fishing trawlers head from Iceland to the fishing grounds around the Grand banks just off Newfoundland. This was also the setting for the film and book The Perfect storm. The events of the voyage to fish is told by a young man Larus a young man of just 18 that is sent of by his parents although when his fellow crewmates arrive he gets embarrassed by them as they are a collection of salty seadogs and he is the new boy. The skipper has them knocking the ice of the boat as the weather starts turning to freeze the boats as the weather worsens we see the harshness of the sea that cruel sea of Monserrat as he had described it during the war years. So as they reach the fishing grounds but as it comes clear the boat and others around them are in distress they work  22 hours a day just trying to get through any downtime is spent forgetting the weather as at one point Larus talks about the books they are reading the radio Operator book chest were he finds war stories and biographies. another is reading Laxness. The story is on the edge as we find if they all make it as they try to get out of the weather back to the safety of Harbour. The events show how they dealt with the conditions as they find out what happens to the fellow fishermen on their boats just voice in the distant some too far away to help.

Larus continued to turn the pages of his book of maritime diasters when ever he had time to read, and its accounts became all the more horric because he knew they had been so close to such a tragedy.

The mess was often busy with card games in the evenings, and sometimes they played poker for matches or cigarettes.Some of the crew lounged around reading the various contents of the radio operator’s book chest – biographies, war stories; one of the engineers was reading Laxness, Iceland’s Nobel Prizer Winners, and would occasionally shake with silent laughter

Larus describes what they do in the free time on the boat.

This is almost a thriller as the tension is always there from their setting off but it is soon the men against the weather as the waves rage and the ice forms as the temperature sinks down. That is what is handled so well in the book is the conditions from the struggle keeping the ruining parts of the boat’s free so they can carry on. and struggle this is the classic of man’s battle with the elements that we have seen before from those North Atlantic convoys of “The Cruel Sea ” to the comradeship and battling spirit of the fishermen in The perfect storm as we see how a crew battle with nature itself and we find the true power of nature. This is a short book but full of colour and works in English as the translator brings the colour and conditions of the voyage to life. If you like an adventurous man against nature books then this is one for you. Have you a favorite book in that genre?

 

 

Tatouine by Jean-Christophe Rehel

Tatouine by Jean-Christophe Rehel

Quebecian fiction

Original title – Ce qu’on respire sur tatouine

TranslatorsKatherin Hastings Peter McCambridge

Source – review copy

In recent years I have always raved about the great fiction coming from Quebec in the last few years. It has been a while since I have reviewed one so this came out a while ago and is from QC fiction. The writer of this book Jean Christophe Rehel is a poet and also does radio shows. He like the main character in this book suffers from cystic fibrosis. A disease that taints his hand a lot, indeed he explores a lot the themes of loneliness, fatigue, and illness His writing is however tinged with a lot of humor, often self-deprecating. His works describe both the beauty and the blandness of everyday life it says on his Wikipedia page. I agree with this and this is a great example of this.

The days are long. By the end of the first shift, I considered committing Hari-Kiri between the hunting magazines and the Maurice tourism guides. But I didn’t . I’ve never had such a thing as a boring summer job. I never thought I’d get hired at a tourist office, but unfortunately for me, I was the only applicant. Nobody ever comes in. I arrange the brouches and sweep the floor and stare at the celling.Every now and again, Charles , the guy who works in the park, drops by for a chat. I can talk to him about star wars and my obsession with the planes Tatouine I think about my life. Not very original, I know; everyone trhinks about their life.

This is the opening andf a great example of the stream of consciousness style of writing.

We meet our narrator he reminds me of a character that has either fallen off the page of a Douglas Coupland novel orClerks the film he has just caught that world so well the narrator is working collecting trolleys at the Super C a convenience store In Canada. But what he does is to cover his mundane existence by thinking he lives on the desert planet of Tatouine where Luke skywalker lived and that has recently returned in the new star wars series the Madolrian. He mixes his everyday life with a sort of daydream world of star wars and other cultural references from the last twenty years from Die hard movies to the music of the white stripes. Of course, the world is an escape from the life he lives from reading a book he took off a friend’s shelf. Which he retitles The desert and mountains of Cystic Fibrosis. It captures the loneliness of suffering and living with a limiting condition as he uses his dreams to escape the pain in his everyday life. As the book draws to the end he discovers the set is still in Tunisia and is planning to try and visit the earth-based Tatouine is his health holds out.

I’m in the little waiting room at the pharmacy. I think Qui-Gon Jinn’s my favourite Jedi. A guy the same age as me is holding a baby in his arms; it’s screaming blue murde. It reminds me a little of Elliot smith. I pull a face at babies behind people’s back. Weirtd, I know, but it it what it is. I watch the baby’s eyes widen in surprise, which makes me laugh. It stps crying, forgets why it was sad. It stares at me. I pull another face. It can’t believe it, I wish it worked forme,too. I wish people would pull faces at me on every block.

There is a sense of humour in some places like here where he teases a babe at the pharmacists.

I as many of you know always rave about QC books I have reviewed a number of the last few years and the books they choose to translate always seem to be ones I really get into. Here is a perfect example a gen x narrator as saying he reminds me especially of the characters in clerks the way the writer uses the narrator’s daydream world to make his mundane life seem exciting as he uses his love of mainly Star wars to dream a better world than he lives in. This is a modern life lonely cut-off and remote it sees the world through the eyes of a limited life what worked is that when I read that Jean-Christophe himself suffered from CF a lung condition that makes the suffer tired and prone to illness needing thinks like postal drainage to help clear lungs. In a modern novel about modern life, there are hundreds of single men that live in a world like a narrator with a life with added star wars narrative added to it. What book reminds you of the fast going modern world of use living lonelier lives that before .

The Great Homecoming by Anna Kim

The Great Homecoming by Anna Kim

Austrian Fiction

Original title – Die große Heimkehr

Translator – Jamie Lee Searle

Source – copy via translator

I left this a bit as it was a book from I writer who I read a few years ago and didn’t review so this time around it deserved a great review. Anna Kim grew up initially in Germany then moved to Vienna she has been writing since 1999 and was sent by project mitSsprach gehts  to Greenland that visit formed two of her earlier novels which included the one I read a few years ago. She has one the European literature prize. This was her latest novel it came out in 2017 and saw her look back at her own Korean Heritage, This is what excited me about this book as it was interesting that a writer that had lived outside Korea looked at the history of her homeland. Plus one of my best friends, when I lived in Germany, was from Korea as well.  

No, I was drawn south, not North, I packed up the few things I owned and left Nosan, went wherever the wind blew me and the waves propelled me; on days when it rained, I would study the color of the rain from beneath the shelter of a tree, trying to memorize it, on other days I followed the traces of light until it disappeared in a valley. I traveled on foot, hiking cross-country, sleeping in caves,cornfields  and under bridges. My new friends were homeless like me, children, teenagers, refugees from the North, refugees from the south, people without ages or names who had become arbitary, transparent, during the search for their famlies. We shared the little foot we managed to beg, shared the warmth of our caves, we shared everything we owned, and yet we lost one another.

I was reminded here a bit of grave of fireflies with setsuko in a cave with her fireflies.

At the heart, if this story is a triangle of friendship two old friends Yunho and Johnny how are meeting after the conflict Yunho has been cut off from his family so heads to the hustle and bustle of Seoul, and his best friend this is where we meet the third main character in this Book Eve a little older than the two school friends she is the start of the book as well as the much older Yunho receives notice of her death as she has died in the US hence the book is his flashback through two turbulent years and the political events but also there is Yunho past this takes us back to the Japanese occupation of Korea a horrific time for the country, There is a lot of history but this for me fills out evens as the trio head as Junho also falls for his friend, lover but when a tragic event and a dead body cause a rift which side of the divide will they all end up on. This is all in a time when the city is full of spies refugees and chancers. A story of three lives in the post-war chaos of the two Koreas.

My rendezvous with eve were as clandestine as my conspiracy with sangok, Mihee and Jang, but it was this secret that proved fateful: whereever the needle goes, the thread must follow.

I don’t know whether she felt the same way; But I was happy, and as I zigzagged my way through the narrowest alleys and darkest corners of nocturnal seuol, which in my mind were part of Eve- for I cpuldn’t have envisaged her in any other place in the world, Eve the Korean woman withthe American name – it seemed a miricale to me that I was ableto find her, that I couldfool the blackness of the night.

The mysterious Eve is she more than they know.

This is a clever book it has another subplot of a Korean German writer returning to Korea to discover there past and the main story of the trio of friends. This is a mix of spy story love story post-war story and also a chunk of modern Korean history thrown in the mix. A European Epic take on post-war Korea. This is one of the best novels on the time I have read it uses the friendship and the way the characters move through the north and south which isn’t like it is today with its closed border but there is a sense that is growing closer as we see Yunho facing turning to the north and leaving Seoul to head to Pyongyang which at the time seem to be prosperous. Then Add Eve moon she is a dancer but she could have walked out of an Ian Fleming novel for being a character she is more than she seems to the boys. Jamie sent me this as she felt it was one of those books that flew under the Radar as it came out during COVID.Which is a shame it is a book that I was going to read at some point as it had been well received in Germany and was on my radar

Fire Doesn’t Burn by Ralf Rothmann

Fire Doesn’t Burn by Ralf Rothmann

German Fiction

original title – Feuer brennt nicht

Translator – Mike Mitchell

Source – – personal copy

I am now with my next in my attempt to try and get to 100 books from Germany by the end of the year leaving 24 books to read before the end of the year. Here I have a book from Seagull books German list and the Novelist Ralf Rothmann. His works were initally based around the Ruhr arfea of Germany where he grew up but he has lived in Berlin for a number of year and this novel is one of his novels from berlin his works tend to deal with the Bourgeois side of german life.  Here he has a man facing two women in his life his wife and a former lover.

When the novel’s finished,he invites Alina to go on a trip with him and she chooses Amsterdam, where she’s never been before.He often went there during his younger days in West Germany because of the easily available joints and the concerts in the pardiso- and was repeatedly driven back home by the cold, damp wind in the narrow brick lanes He can only stand being close to the sea in the South. Moreover, he finds the ubiquitous crime a strain and when he says “Forget Amstersam”, she nods, sadly, but then she says that would be a good title for a book. At that he gives her a kiss and books a room in a hotel on the Prinzengracht.

Here we see the age gap between them shows her.

We meet Wolf a middle aged writer who initally had a passionate affair with the Alina but over the years there passion has faded. She was a bookseller who was twenty years younger than Wolf they lived seperate lives from each other in seperate apartments. He is thinking of moving from there area of berlin  where there apartments are next to each other that hasn’t been as trendy as it once was. So they decide to head out to the greener area of Berlin in Muggelsee. But the move isn’t the real problem what we have is a man scared of aging and getting old.As they move in together they seem to grow further apart than they were. So when an old Flame charlotte reappears in the writers life. As the affiar happens he uses the dog as an excuse to see charlotte. She is now a professer and writer herself that in some way seems like a writer that may be real. Here is a man in middle age crisis and is caught between to women.

But when, right at the beginning, he tests the water by telling her about Charlotte as an acquaintance from the past, he happened to meet in a cafe and they had drink and chat together, she stares at the floor and already looks hurt. Or of that just his imagination? Whatever, she certainly pale, which, with her complexion, means white. So, he doesn;t go on, he doesn;t want to upset her. “And ” she asks anyway, in an attempt at a lighthearted tone.She’s cutting up food for the dog, greyish-yellow tripe,”Did you end up in bed?”

Well you have read the book to find out what Wold answers after meeting charlotte after all those years !!

There is no doubt this is maybe autobipgraphical there is a similarity between wolf and Ralf. The writer himself has lived all aroundBerlin over thirty years after leaving his home area of the Ruhr region. There is also certain facts like the book wolf is most famous for is simila rto Ralf Rothmanns other works. Even Charlotte is a nod to another german writer that has the same name. What at the heart of this is a classic middle aged male scernario caught between his wife settled and saf and the danger of charlotte and rekinlding an old fire the danger is the excitment the clandestine nature of there meetings. The other great thing on this book is following the changing face of berlin where it is the heart of the post unification German as the east and west join here we see it from Wolfs eye. a new writer to the blog who I will try again as he has three other books translated into English Have you read Ralf Rothmann or any of the other Seagull books German list ?

 

The Marvel of Biographical Bookkeeping by Francis Nenik

The Marvel of Biographical Bookkeeping by Francis Nenik

German fiction

Original title – Vom Wunder der doppelten Biografieführung

Translator – Katy Derbyshire

Source – Personal copy

I received the three books that are forthcoming this month from the new English Imprint V&Q. There was one from the description made me want to see if the writer had any other books in English. The writer Francis Nenik is a farmer by day and writer by night. He has published several novels this is what caught my eye he had published a work in loose leaves which reminds me of the great book by B S Johnson that has a similar format. the book coming out soon is similar to this as it follows the real-life of someone. Here is the life told in a short book of two poets.

The only person, it seems to take an interest in Nicholas Moore thenceforth is the man who steals his wallet in the crush at London’s petticoat lane market; containing not so much money as letters of inestimable value – letter that moore had exchanged over the years with the American poet Wallace Stevens and the British writer Osbert Sitwell.

All that remains is lonely, wasted land.Everywhere around him. Not only has Priscilla left, but she has also taken their daughter with her, and Moore has to give up theflat where three of them previously lived. He finds a new place to live (Where he stays for the rest of his life) : a small groud floor flat in a desolate part of Southeast London.

Moore life falls aprt when his wife leaves him. He does later remarry.

The two poets in this book only met through the letters they sent to each other but both had a lot in common in their careers. Nicholas Moore was in his day as well thought of and Known as Dylan Thomas. He wrote in the forties reaching his height in 1948 when he won a big prize after that he fell out of fashion and eventually took a job as a seed merchant that wrote the occasional poems. Meanwhile, in Brno a poet called Ivan Blatny aspiring and well regard through the forties. He ran off when he was part of a delegation to London in 1948. Meanwhile, the Nicholas moore whose wife had written down his poems leaves him he has to move into a small house that he lived in the rest of his life Ivan was like Nicholas a member of the new Apocalyptics Ivan was also in a group Skupina 42. After his arrival in the Uk he starts to have problems with his mental health. He ends up in Claybury hospital and this is where he writes to Nicholas there js a few letters between the men a swapping of biographies as both saw hard times after there bright youth but in later years had a few poems out in later life but never the success of earlier years. 

On the letters

The fact that not only the letters from Nicholas Moore to Ivan Blatny, but also those from Blatny to Moore have been preserved, is due to the fortuitous circumstance that Blatny made copies of his letters in a notebook contained in the file. The possibility that these copies might be mere drafts appears unlikely since the transcriptions contained no crossings out, etc. whether such drafts existed or Blatny committed his letters directly to paper cannot be determined with any certainty. No such drafts have been found to date. Nevertheless, the letter of 16th March 1963 shows that, at least in this particular case. Blatny wrote in several stages

the letters were kept and found between the two poets.

This is a short book 60 pages in a very small edition but he brings these two poets out of the literary bin both had fallen out of notice. we even have a small Blatny poem that Moore translates in a letter as he learns Czech to read his fellow poet’s work. A touching look at what happens when you burn bright when young then are forgotten. This is what appealed about the other forthcoming work he has to pick interesting lives sad in these cases the two men never met apart from in letters but their lives seem to have had so much similar in what happened with their writing. I can’t wait to read his longer work Nenik has mixed biography, epistolary style, and history with a bit of fiction to brew up something truly unique.

Previous Older Entries

May 2021
M T W T F S S
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

Archives

%d bloggers like this: