Anthea Bell RIP

Anthea Bell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today the translation community got the sad news that one of the best-known Translators of the last fifty years had passed away. Anthea Bell is a name readily known too. She had translated a lot of the books I read pre-blog so was a translator. She was best known for her work on the Asterix series. She said in an interview “It’s all about finding the tone of voice in the original. You have to be quite Free”. Klaus Flugge said of Anthea -” Anthea has a talent that not every translator has for catching the mood of a book. Some are a bit more wooden and some try to take too many liberties. She has a knack of hitting the right style and atmosphere,” I was a huge fan of she had featured in a dozen review of her translations over that last eight years of the blog. I had picked my three favorites from the blog.

A minutes silence by Siegfried Lenz – One of the Gruppe 47 writers that post-war set alight German Literature. This is the tale of a doomed romance between a teacher and Pupil.

The glory of life by Michael  Kumpfmüller – The book tells the story of Kafka’s final days as he falls for a younger woman first on the Baltic coast then through Berlin.

Journey into the Past by Stefan Zweig – the tale of Ludwig and his love for a married woman was a novella that Zweig worked on for y=twweig translations were simply stunning works of translation. I also enjoyed here Sebald Translation.

Have you a favorite Bell translation?

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Midnight in the century by Victor Serge

Midnight in the Century

Midnight in the century by Victor Serge

Russian fiction

Original title –  S’il est minuit dans le siècle

Translator – Richard Greeman

Source – Personal copy

I left it to the last weekend to cover my last two NYRB fortnight reads. The first is the second book by Victor Serge I have covered on the blog I reviewed Conquered city a few years ago I went out and got a few more books from him. Serge had an interesting life growing up in an exiled family in Brussels at the turn of the century he was a firebrand and an anarchist in France in 1912 he was sentenced to five years and then expelled to Spain in 1917. He went to Russia in 1919 and joined the Bolsheviks and after that worked in the communist Press service until in 1928 he fell foul of the government and then in 1933 was arrested by Stalin’s police and held for 80 days and the sent in exile in Orenburg a remote city in Russia. He left Russia after two years there.

Mikhail Ivanovich Kostrov, who was not at all superstitous, had a feeling that things were about to happen in his life, They were heralded by almost imperceptable signs. So it was for his arrest. There had been the perculiar tone of voice with which the rector had told him: “Mikhail Ivanovich, I’ve decided to suspend your course for the moment …. you’re up to the directory.* aren’t ypou ? ” Fear obviously, of allusions to the new political turn “So” the rector continued, “prepare me a very short  course on Greece”.

The start of the troubles and Exile for Kostrov when he is called in and arrested.

That two years in Exile is the backbone to this novel and is about a city of Exiles. Chenor also called Blackwaters is where these exiles all live. The place is a mix of Old Bolsheviks like Rhyzik and the narrator, young workers Rodion a man that has taught himself and a splattering of Orthodox church believers and all those that Stalin didn’t want are thrown into the melting pot that is Chenor. It is an insider view into what it was like in Stalin’s Russia as we find out how people got there the fear that everyone at the time lived under the hopelessness of being stuck in exile and no chance of escape. This is the burnt embers of those that shone brightly but were stubbed out by Stalin’s policies and violent regime. We see how Kostrov at the start of the book is sold out by a colleague that was the reason he ended up in Exile. The book sees one of them trying and succeeding in escaping the city.

The forest line grows darker at the horizon. A little over two centuries ago, peasants fleeing serfdom built this little town on the bluff overlooking the river bend. They thought they had gone far enough into the inclement North to be forgotten. They were only half right, but what could they do? however far you flee, your grandchildren will have to flee one day in their turn.

This captures the hopelessness of living in Chenor set up by those that fled serfdom has now trap those there two centuries later.

This is one of those books that draw you into the world he saw that of being an exile and also of living in everyday  Stalin Russia where no one is what the seems. The dreams of the early days of the Bolshevik revolution seems very far and distance in the Russia they are living in. I have read other accounts from the like of Arthur Koestler Darkness at noon (strange the title has a similar tone to the title of this book) also Solzhenitsyn wrote about the cruel nature of the Stalin regime. This is an Orwellian world from the start when our main character is sold out by a colleague at work. Serge is one of those writers that is able to turn his own experience no matter how dark and black they were into touching and heartfelt prose in this great translation.  This is another example of why over the last ten years of the blog I have slowly been buying NYRB books my only wish is they were easily available to buy locally I have brought a few in Sheffield but most I have to buy online. Have you read Serge.

 

DSC prize Longlist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LONGLIST ANNOUNCED FOR THE DSC PRIZE FOR SOUTH ASIAN
LITERATURE 2018
16 novels including 4 translated works in contention for the coveted prize
New Delhi, October 10, 2018: The much anticipated longlist for the US $25,000 DSC Prize for South Asian
Literature 2018 was announced today by eminent historian and academic Rudrangshu Mukherjee, who is the
chair of the jury panel for the distinguished prize. The longlist of 16 novels which was unveiled at the Oxford
Bookstore in New Delhi includes 4 translated works where the original writings were in Assamese, Kannada,
Tamil and Hindi. The longlist features six women authors and three women translators, and two outstanding
debut novels that find place alongside the works of several established writers. The longlist represents the best
of South Asian fiction writing over the last year and includes submissions from a diverse mix of publishers and
authors of different backgrounds writing on a wide range of issues and themes. The novels include stunning
portrayals of migration, war and the pain of displacement, poignant love stories, the exploration of new found
relationships and identities, and vivification of the personal struggles, hopes and aspirations that symbolize the
urgent and divisive realities of contemporary South Asian life. Apart from authors based in South Asia there are
writers based outside the region who have incisively and evocatively brought alive the subtle nuances of South
Asian life and culture. The longlist announcement event was attended by publishers, authors and literary
enthusiasts who welcomed the selection of the longlist.
This year the DSC Prize, administered by the South Asian Literature Prize & Events Trust, received 88 eligible
entries and the five member international jury panel diligently went through these entries to arrive at this year’s
longlist of 16 novels which they feel represent the best works of fiction related to the South Asian region.

The longlisted entries contending for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018 are:
 Anuradha Roy: All The Lives We Never Lived (Hachette, India)
 Arundhati Roy: The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness (Alfred Knopf, USA and Hamish Hamilton, Canada)
 Chandrakanta: The Saga Of Satisar (Translated by Ranjana Kaul, Zubaan Books, India)
 Deepak Unnikrishnan: Temporary People (Penguin Books, Penguin Random House, India)
 Jayant Kaikini: No Presents Please (Translated by Tejaswini Niranjana, Harper Perennial, HarperCollins
India)
 Jeet Thayil: The Book Of Chocolate Saints (Aleph Book Company, India and Faber & Faber, UK)
 Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire (Riverhead Books, USA and Bloomsbury, UK)
 Manu Joseph: Miss Laila Armed And Dangerous (Fourth Estate, HarperCollins, India)
 Mohsin Hamid: Exit West (Riverhead Books, USA and Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House, India)
 Neel Mukherjee: A State Of Freedom (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, USA and Hamish Hamilton, Penguin
Random House, India)
 Perumal Murugan: Poonachi (Translated by N Kalyan Raman, Context, Westland Publications, India)
 Prayaag Akbar: Leila (Simon & Schuster, India)
 Rita Chowdhury: Chinatown Days (Translated by Rita Chowdhury, Macmillan, Pan Macmillan, India)
 SJ Sindu: Marriage Of A Thousand Lies (Soho Press, USA)
 Sujit Saraf: Harilal & Sons (Speaking Tiger, India)
 Tabish Khair: Night Of Happiness (Picador, Pan Macmillan, India)

About the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature:
The US $25,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature which was instituted by Surina Narula and Manhad Narula
in 2010, is one of the most prestigious international literary awards specifically focused on South Asian writing.
It is a unique and coveted prize and is open to authors of any ethnicity or nationality as long as the writing is
about South Asia and its people. It also encourages writing in regional languages and translations and the prize
money is equally shared between the author and the translator in case a translated entry wins.
Now in its 8th year, the DSC Prize has been successful in bringing South Asian writing to a larger global audience
through rewarding and showcasing the achievements of the authors writing about this region. Past winners of
the DSC Prize have been H M Naqvi of Pakistan, Shehan Karunatilaka of Sri Lanka, Jeet Thayil and Cyrus Mistry
from India, American author of Indian origin Jhumpa Lahiri, Anuradha Roy from India, and Anuk Arudpragasam
of Sri Lanka who won the prize last year.
In line with its South Asian essence, the DSC Prize Award ceremony is held in various South Asian countries by
rotation. The winner of the DSC Prize 2015 was announced at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India, the winner
of the DSC Prize 2016 was announced at the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka, the winner of the DSC Prize 2017
was announced at the Dhaka Lit Fest in Bangladesh, whereas the winner of the DSC Prize 2018 would be
announced in a South Asian country which is being finalized. For more information, visit: www.dscprize.com 

Another day and today see the longlist for the DSC prize for south Asian literature.I hope to read the four translated books on the longlist.

 

A School for Fools by Sasha Sokolov

A School for Fools

A school for Fools by Sash Sokolov

Russian fiction

Original title – Школа для дураков

Translator – Alexander Boguslawski

Source – personnel copy

I’m a bit late joining in Lizzy Siddals NYRB fortnight. I have a lot of there books on my shelves and haven’t reviewed too many on the blog so I had hope get a few more read but I have managed this so far and part way in two other books. This is what we like about NYRB well I do they seem to republish books that may have not got put out again this came out to a seventies as it had been one of those books that when it came out in Russia was put around underground in Samizdat copies. Sasha Sokolov. Tried many times to escape Soviet Russia once via Iran he was caught and only family connection saved him from a long prison sentence. He then manages in 1975 to escape and eventually became a Canadian citizen. He has published another book that has only just been translated I have that on my tbr pile. This is considered a modernist masterpiece.

This is what the teacher Pavel was saying, standing on the shore of the Lethe. River water dripped from his washed ears, and the river itself flowed slowly past him and past us with all its fishes, flat bottom boats, ancient ssailboats, reflected clouds with those who are invisible and those who will drown, with frogs eggs, algae , relentless water striders, torn piece of net m grains of sand from the beloved seashore and golden braclets lost by someone, with empty cans and heavy hats of Monomakh

Surreal passages like this make me wonder if there was anopther level we miss in english in the original Russian but the richness of his words can be seen like treacle going slowly down your throat.

Now this is one of those books that you get to the end of and really need to start again , but this time around I haven’t time anyway the book starts with one narrator telling of his school the school of fools( a school for those disturbed kids)  of the title and his summers at a dacha cottage that many Russian do during the summer escaping the city. His romance or lack of it (yes it is one of those books that you are never quite sure what is real ) with Veta. Now that sounds enough but then we get a second narrator that seems to be another side of our first narrator telling is a more far-fetched tale. This other voice is almost a monologue at times. The action flips from summer to the school and at times is surreal things like a bizarre dress code from the headmaster of the school. As time and what is life drift and we see the world through our narrators disturbed views of the world a hard world at times and memories of summers and school days all get mixed as well as strange digressions here and there as the book goes on. It is like a memory of a drunken few years glimmers of lives mixed with the dreams of life.

But Veta dosen’t hear. During the night of your arrival in the land of the lonely Goatsucker, the thirty-year-old teacher at our school.Veta Arkadievna, the strict teacher of botany, biology, and anatomy, dances and drinks winer in the best restaurant in the city with soem young, yes, relatively young man – funny, mart, and generpus. Soon the music will end – drunken violinist and drummers, piano players and trumpeters will get off the stage.

Veta is someone he is in love with at times and other not during the book !!!

Now this is one of the oddest books I have read it is hard to get a handle on and is what we well I read translation for Sokolov himself is considered a master of the Russian language on par with the likes Of Joyce with English of Schmidt in German and those two are two I have picked as for me it has nods to the Schmidt novella I read a few years ago with detached and strange Narrators and the stream of consciosness style at times is a nod to Joyces style. It maybe is also a way of capturing the madness of Soviet Russia at times the two extremes of the world the summers at the Dacha and the school reflecting Soviet life at times. Also, the playful nature of the words sometimes reminds me of how Anthony Burgess used language the translator is a lifelong friend of Sokolov so kept some Russian words in the text. He also wrote the intro. A great first choice for my NYRB fortnight.

Eleven Prague Corpses by Krill Kobrin

Eleven Prague Corpses

 

Eleven Prague Corpses by Krill Kobrin

Russian fiction

Original title – 11 пражских трупов

Translator – Veronika Lakotova

Source – personnel copy

I was saying I was overwhelmed with reviews and what is annoying I am reading fast than I can review so I let books slip and this was nearly one of those. This book grabbed me with the description of Krill as a writer he is interested in the cultural history of Russia and the Czech Republic. He is one of the founds of Russian Psychogeography and one of his novels is a tribute to Flann O’Brien. Oh, and he is also called the Russian Borges (i do hate that but I can see it here as Borges like twisting the detective short story as well).

Maurice approached me at the fuenral. He said – stuttering as usual and as usual in broken English – ” An apprpriate way of dying for a former restaurant critc isn’t it ? Professional, so to speak. Acute Pancreatitis. Caused by what ? by the excepitonal Czech dumplings pork, and beer. Anf of course, by always exceptional czech doctors. Dammned Prague.” It started to drizzle, the heavy scent of the earht mixed with the smell of damp clothes.It was difficult to breathe. “Dammned Prague”I agreed.” Dammned Central Europe”

His dislike of his hime is shown here but also the inkling of the first death being more than it seemed.

The series of Stories in this collection is narrated by an unnamed narrator. Now I am never sure as it is one guy or a collection of guys all Russian that all have a strong dislike of the home Prague. So the eleven short stories all tell various stories of deaths in and around Prague and how are the narrator was connected to them. From the death of a restaurant critic to the death of a teacher our narrator at times is an obituary writer and seems to be there or hear about these events shortly after they happen from people involved in a High school massacre in the US turning up in Prague. He hates the city and sees it as too Kafkaesque at times the shadow of Kafka hanging over his world as the deaths keep plying up. But Like Holmes he has logic on his side and clearly cuts through each death.

The next day I rang the Private British school to nail down some of the details of the late Mr. Lengthy’s life. Of course, of course, Mr  Taborsky. Such a sad loss for us. Yes, yes, we’ve sent everything you’ll need for the opbituary. Nothing to add. A detail? A striking detail? Hmmm you might be interested – the russian students of our school called him”London Dandy”. Yes yes, in russian “dan-dee Long-dong-ski” You unerstand russian ? oh excellent . Mr Lenghty wasn’t a fop, no, don’t imagine that please, nuthe did dressin an impecable was, and he took special care of his hands. A little old fashion isn’t it?

I was remind of a watson description in a Holmes cases here of small characteristics of people.

This is an interesting take on the detective short that has lots of Nods to classic writers like Doyle and Christie, in particular, there is a sense of this in the use of a British restaurant critic and English master in two of the stories. There is also a sort of Russian distaste of Prague underlying the stories as well the feel of him not fitting into the city now. The sense of Kafka looming over the city. Prague itself is a character in this book rather like the London of Doyles Holmes of the Devon setting of Christie’s books. The Borges claim holds up as the books have that sense of twist styles and shift settings and using plots from other writers in new ways that Borges did so well in his own stories. The narrator has a pinch of Holmes, Poirot and for me a nod to those hard-boiled crime detectives of classic American Noir. There is a clear logical min there like Holmes a man out of place like Poirot the Belgian in England. But also a world-weariness of the classic American detective those that hate there beat at times that are drawn to the dark side of the city.

Explosions by Mathieu Poulin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explosions (Michael Bay and the Pyrotechnics of the imagination) by Mathieu Poulin

Quebecian fiction

Original title – Des explosions

Translator – Aleshia Jensen

Source – review copy

A quick return to one of my favorite place to read books from Quebec and one of my favorite publishers QC. Now after a thoughtful short book we have a clever comic book. Mathieu Poulin initially was a film fan (which given this book is easy to guess), but a teacher inspired him into books and writing. He has cohost a culture show in Quebec and also writes the comic piece about sport this is his debut novel.

At the age of Two, Michael Bay was adopted by Harriett Stamper, a professor of Literature at the University od California, Los Angeles (UCLA) specializing in American and French Poetry(her doctoral thesis, defended in 1964, was titled ” Transalantic Filiations: from Whitman to Ginsberg and Aragon”), and Jim Bay, a plastic surgeon in the midst of forging a reputation as a “magician” and “career-booster” among women with acting or modelling ambitions.

this gives the perfect mix of maybe what made Bay poetry philosophy and films in the beauty of films.

We are all aware of the films that Michael Bay has made. those all action films that are full of explosions and violence and a bit OTT. Well, what we have here is a book that reimagines Michael Bay as a left field man that has used his films to bring a subtle message across. He thinks everyone gathers that is what his films are about? We imagine he was into philosophy and those long films I love but my other half always says at the end what happened!! Directors that made a difference. What is shown is a man want to strive but also one that doubts he is given the appreciation he is due.So instead of bad Boys being a buddy cops film, it is a commentary on colonization hence all the badies in the film being white and Miami is a replacement for Africa. Then other films like Pearl Harbor is a thesis on what is freedom his. The rock is about understanding one’s peers. Then Armageddon is what would happen if the earth end. This rips apart Michaels life then rebuilds it as a very different version of who he is and what his movies mean. He also struggles with his being adoptive at times. But his adoptive parents are the ones that inspired his discovery of books and philosophy.

A brilliant yet restless student, michael studied and was particularly interested in the examination of identity in Shohei Imamura’s films, the influence of Noveau Roman narrative techniques in last year in marienbad , porter’s aesthetics of tableau, the poetry and temporal relationship in Tarkovsky’s stalker, the ethical dilemas raised by Serge Dubrvsky’s fiction, the post colonial discourse in Conrads Heart of Darkness, was also one of the first note the ground breaking theoretical importance of French Philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s the movement Image.

Michael was attractch to the great thinker of cinema and writers Like Conrad.

As you see this is a clever twist on the Autobiography. I know very little about Michael Bay other than his films are very OTT and sometimes more about the special effects than the story. now it is believable he could really be a man trying to be the new Goddard trying to show the woes and mistakes of the modern world through the lens of his camera. An unsung hero underrated and misunderstood! This what Mathieu has done so well this tongue in cheek book is fun. He has taken a character that has often been held up for the dumbing down of cinema plowing the same furrow when he made follow-ups to the transformer movies. It is a book that can make you laugh out loud at times it is one of those books that shows you how comic novels should be. So nect time you lick on to a Ba film just linger and think what is behind this film really !!! then turn over.

 

Drive your plow over the bones of the dead by Olga Tokarczuk

 

 

Drive you plow over the bones of the dead by Olga Tokarczuk

Polish fiction

Original title –  Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych.

Translator – Antonia Lloyd Jones

Source – Review copy

I read flights but one thing and another last year I never reviewed it which was a shame as I really liked it as it turned out it was well reviewed and my little review would have been a small piece in a larger yes for the book. So when I was sent her latest to be translated I decide I pull my finger out and review it as soon as it came out. Olga has been writing since the late 80’s and has twice won the NIKE prize in Poland which is their version of the Man Booker prize. She also won the Man Booker international prize last year. This book is very different to flights.

The naming of Big foot occurred in a similar way. It was quite straightforward – it suggested itself tp me when I saw his foor prints in the snow. To begin with. , Oddball had called him “Shaggy”, but then he borrowed “Big Foot” from me. All it means that I had chose the right nam for him.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t choose a a suitable name for myself. I regard the one that’s written on my identity card asscandalously wrong and unfair- Janina. I think my real name is Emilia or Joanna. Sometimes I think it’s sometimes I think it’s something like Irmtrud too. Or Belldona. Or medea.

Meanwhile Oddball avoids caling me bymy name like the plague. That means something too.Somehow he always finds a wa to address me as “You”

The use of names bring the human characters near the animals in a way.

The book opens with the main character Janina Duszejko a sixty-year-old that is a translator of William Blake, works at the local school. She also is interested in Astrology ad loves her animals. She is with another local Oddball at the home of another neighbor Bigfoot a local hunter who has died. In bizarre circumstances choking on a small deer bone. The two of them dress him before the police come. But they can’t explain the animal footprints around the dead man and the exact cause of his death. Now for Janina, this seems like the animals are maybe getting the revenge she even starts seeing this in the stars she likes to read the signs she says are in the movement of the planets. This idea grows when more local hunters and people that abuse animals start turning up dead around the local Valley. But the valley has also changed in recent years this is told in a long spoken warning by Janina. Then Janina tells the police but they think she is just an old busybody. Who is the real killer?

That evening, just after dusk, Big fFoot’s dog began to bay again. The air had turned blue, sharp as a razor. The deep, dull howling filled it with alarm. Death is at the gates, I thought. But then death is always at our gates, at every hour of the day and night. I told myself. For the best conversations are with yourself.At least there is no misunderstanding.I strtched out on te couch in the kitchen and lay there, unable to do anything else but listento that piercing wail

The dog of Bigfoot miss his master.

I like this it had a piece of classic Noir. In other places, it drifts into Magic realism as Janina sees the Animals doing the killings as she sees how the stars have written what is happening in the way she is reading them. I also felt echoes to classic crime writers the use of Endless night by William Blake which is also used as a title for an Agatha Christe novel. The busybody nature of Janina is rather like Miss Marple if Miss Marple had been written by Gabo she’d have been Janina reading the stars and living in her own world of Blake. But she starts to scare her pupils with her ideas.This questions on what we would do if the animals did turn on us we have seen this in other media over the last few years the tv series Zoo that saw animal turning on people. But the nearest comparison for me was the video for Queens of the stone age video No ones knows which saw a deer attacking humans. This is a thought-provoking work about the changing world of hunting how we treat animal development in rural areas. Add to that The words and thoughts of William Blake a man that had a lot to say about good and evil. This is a novel that subverts crime and noir and uses a different lead character that isn’t a detective but at the heart of the events happening.

The Tree of the Toraja by Philippe Claudel

Tree of the Toraja_TPB+F_20mm.jpg

The Tree of the Toraja by Philippe Claudel

French fiction

Original title- L’Arbre du pays Toraja

Translator – Euan Cameron

Source – review copy

I have been a fan of Claudel’s writing since I read Monsieur Linh and the child review it here a few years ago. Since then I have also reviewed his book Parfums. So when this dropped through the letterbox his latest book to be translated into English. I always think books and life sometimes run so close together it makes one wonder. As I struggle with my own grief and questions of life. I find that his latest book is about similar subjects being middle-aged and questioning what life was about.

We bury our dead. We burn them too. Never would we dream of entrusting them to the trees. Yet we lack neither forests nor imagination. Our beliefs, however have grown meaningless and inconsequental. We prepetuate rituals taht most of us would find hard to explain. In our world, nowdays we play down the presence of death. The people of Toraja make it a focal point of theirs. So which of us in on the right path

The lines where he questions whether we are right in trying to avoid death rather than celebrate it.

Our Narrator is a filmmaker as the book opens he is visiting The Toraja people of Indonesia their island home of Sulawesi. He arrived there after he heard about the custom they have of sewing inside the bark of the village tree the bodies of children that die within in the first few months of their lives. They are then placed in the tree bonding them with the tree. This is also tied with death on the island where it can take a year to organize a funeral of an adult that has died and to organize everyone coming. This is all in the bag when we see are narrator returning to his home and finding out that his close friend from school days Eugene is dying. This leads our narrator to question his life when his friend dies he starts to question his wider life and what death means. As this is the first death he has seen that isn’t by accident, old age or suicide. He has to take the time to question his own life. This involves meeting a younger woman in his apartment block. Slowly his life moves on as he thinks about a new project involving this younger woman in apartment 107  and finishing his film about the Toraja.

I have always been haunted by the words of Montaigne that “To philosophise is to learn how to die” and that “it is not death that is difficult but dying” I am not a sixteenth-century man, accustomed to epidemics, to wars, to the sudden and frequent loss of friends, paerents and children, and for whom a forty-year-old is already an old man.But his book we read affect us with the intensity of a knife thrust into an organ without the “Survival prognosis” – this is an expression that has always delighted me in that it ascoiates a light hearted subject, such as a horoscope, a racegoer’s prediction, a weather forecast, with a word that causes us to tremble like a leaf – being really life- threatening”?

How death has change the line when he was forty and an old man struck me as I don’t feel old and am in the later forties myself.

This was a very personal journey for me as a reader I really felt a real connection with the narrator. Firstly I was interested in the Toraja customs mention this of course lead me down a rabbit hole of death around the world via google. I took a similar journey after reading the white book by Han Kang. We all see death differently around the world and being I have read many books over the years touched with how we view death especially this last year or two. What Claudel shows us here are the different ways it is viewed. As the narrator questions various people about death from philosophy through his own media of films and writers like Kundera who his friend Eugene recite his book titles as he was near the end. This is a highly personal book you feel the Narrator is in some ways Claudel himself he is of that age when you can lose close friends to illness like Cancer. What he shows is what we all do what I have done since my mother’s death and that is to take stock on what is happening in my own life and what we do to carry on the narrator like me felt does he have the right to carry on. Maybe we should all be like the Toraja and celebrate death turning the end into a celebration then carrying on. This isn’t a light book but a thoughtful book and maybe one for a lot of us middleaged reader that taste death at close quarters for the first time !!

A cat, A man And two women by Junichiro Tanizaki

 

A Cat

A cat, a man and two women by Junichiro Tanizaki

Japanese fiction

Original title – Neko to Shōzō to Futari no Onna

Translator – Paul McCarthy

Source – personnel copy on Kindle

I have been using my Kindle a bit more recently as I had a few books I had brought cheap and want to read this being one of them. Tanizaki is a writer I had to want to feature on the blog for a while. He was one of the best writers of the mid 20th century. He himself was a translator working a lot during his life translating the Epic Tales of Genji into modern Japanese. He also was known forthright intimate nature of his writing. This is a lesser work but for me a very personal insight into a family life.

Shozo repeated the same thing over and over again. He would give her a fish, then himself a little drink, and calling ‘Lily’ would raise the next prize high. There must originally have been some twelve or thirteen mackerel on Shozo’s plate, each about two inches long, of which he himself had actually eaten perhaps three or four. For the rest, he had simply sucked out a bit of the vinegar dressing before giving the flesh to Lily. ‘Ohh-ohh … owww! That hurts!’ Shozo let out a shriek: Lily had leapt onto his shoulders and dug in her claws.

Shozo even feeds the cat more than himself

The book as the title suggests is about a Man Shozo, he is on his second marriage that is the two women referred to in the title of his first and second wives. There is also Shozo Cat Lily. The story focus on the relationship between the four characters. This happens when the first wife asks for Lily the cat back Shinako a seamstress by trade hasn’t got over losing her husband. She knows that Lily the cat may bring him back to her. Now his current wife isn’t a fan of Lily this is shown when she isn’t happy when she cooks 13 pieces of fish for her husband and he gives most of it to the cat. They even share the bed together at night. Who will win this power battle between the two women the rather lazy husband and the cat Lily?

Now, Fukuko was a cousin of Shozo’s; and, given the circumstances under which she became his wife, there was no need for her to worry about pleasing a difficult mother-in-law. So from her second day of married life, she did just as she pleased in everything. All the same, she could hardly stand by and watch her husband trying to wield a kitchen knife, so in the end she made the marinated fish for both of them, though under protest. To make matters worse, they had been dining off mackerel for five or six days running. Then, two or three days ago, it had struck her: Shozo wasn’t even eating the food he’d insisted on having, ignoring his wife’s complaints; instead, he was giving it all to the cat! The more she thought about it, the clearer it all became: the mackerel were small, with little bones, easily chewed; there was no need to fillet them, and they could be served cold; and one got a lot for one’s

He married a distant relative but his mother made life hard and now the cat and ex aren’t helping either !

This is really a mans ode to the cat. Lilly is the one character from the book I’d like to meet. Shozo is a lazy man that has lost one wife. But end with a younger model but at the end of the day is more into his cat than his wife even sharing the bed with the Cat then we have Shinako a perfect example of the scorned wife she wants to use Lilly as a pawn in her game to get back her man from the younger wife. She also loved this tortoiseshell cat and her man. This is one lonely lady that wants something back into her life. Fukuko his current wife has to find her place with him in there married life and somehow keep Shozo and keep him happy even if this means he gets to keep his cat! There is all of human life here love, loneliness, marriage, divorce and one man and his cat. This is a recent reissue from Daunt books and shows why it is good to bring lesser works by great writer back especially when like this they have a certain timeless feel to them. I haven’t read enough by him to say if this is the best entry book but I read it in a night and it brought a smile to my face and made me think of Winston and Merlin my two ex-pet dogs.

One hundred twenty one day by Michele Audin

One Hundred twenty one days by Michele Audin

French fiction

Original title – Cent vingt et un jours

Translator – Christina Hills

Source – personal copy

Another book for Woman in translation month. This is a real gem as well as being the second book from a female member of the Oulipo group to be translated into English. Michele Audin is a French Mathematician and professor her special area was Symplectic Geometry. She joined the Oulipo group in 2009. Her father was a famous Mathematician as well that was killed in Algeria an event that led to her turning down the Legion of Honour. After the president refused to reply to a letter about her father her mother had written.

The murderer had his sense knocked out of him

(le petit Parisen, july 2 1917)

We have been informed that Robert Gorenstein(and not Roger Goldstien, as we printed in error), the polytechnician and officer on leave who arrested last week for the murder of his uncle, his aunt and his brother( three and not four crimes as was written in haste in the previous article) was a victim of an artilery shell last January. Almost all the men in his battery were killed, and he himself hit his head.

In a horrible development, according to informantion gathered from neighbors, the three Gorenstein children were orphans and had been raised by their aunt and her husband.

As th time, miltary doctors considere him recovered, and he was sent back to the front. He is presently undergoing psychiatric exams

One of the news paper reports about Robert G .

Now when you know a book has come from an Oulipo writer you know it is going be an unusual book. This one also doesn’t disappoint. it is a mixture of styles of writing about a group of various mathematicians from France and follows both wars. From an opening piece on a childhood, we follow with a diary set in the middle of world war one following the worst parts like Verdun from a French woman’s point of view. Then a collection of newspaper cuttings about various figures from world war one then on afterward about the case of Robert G a man that killed members of his family in a sort of what would now be called a PTSD attack. Then we see the announcement of Magurite the writer of the diary and a professor. Then a chapter involving Andre Silberberg as the led character. Later we see how his life led to the title of one hundred and twenty days as that was the happiness in his life he worked out in a later chapter in the book. The rest follows with people trying to find out more about various mathematician a chapter of just numbers and their meaning in relation to the book. The book also shows what part peoples notebooks can play in history as people in the present search for the notebooks of various mathematicians. Including Christian M one of those Mathimaticians he grew up in Senegal we follow his wart years.

The numbers, in order, starting with the negatives:

-25  the tempratur (in dgrees celsius) in Upper Silesia in January 1945 during the evacuattion of Auschwitz

0.577215…., Eulers constant

0.625  or 5/8 Jewish would have been each of Mireille’s and Andre’s children

1   single bullet managed to remove one of M’s eyes, his nose, and half his Jaw

1.414213…, the square root of 2, the length of the diagonal of a square with a side of 1

A selection of numbers from the chapter of numbers.

 

This is a clever book that use the various styles of writing to build layers of lives that we dip in and out of and those mathematicians. The thread that runs through the book is maths and the wars the knock-on effect of these seen in various documents. The families involved in the texts have the lives followed through the 20th century. I like this book it is one of those books that can be reread and reread like most of the Oulipo books it is complex and like the type of maths she studies about complex linear groups and patterns, this is a complex  piece of writing building on lives through the years and it shows  how the war affects them. From a brief fling of 120 days, that means more than anything to one man. To seeing others that collaborate during the war years.  This is a challenging read from a great small publisher Deep Vellum this is why we have a publisher like them those books that are edgy clever and relive history in a different way to others. Also to keep up with the number theme this is the 100th French book on the blog

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