Panorama by Dušan Šarotar

Panorama by Dušan Šarotar

Slovenian Fiction ? or non fiction > or just great prose

Original title – panorama

Translator – Rawley Grau

Source – review copy

Well I reviewed the first in the series yesterday and today I move on to the second of the three books from Slovenia istros books have published in partnership. This was the one I read first because of one passage on the back of the book describing it as reminiscent of W G Sebald , who else couldn’t pick it up the day it dropped through the door. Dusan is also a poet he has written four novels and collections of poetry and Short stories. This book is one of those books that really blends the line of what literature is and draws you into a personnel journey.

Like a mirage at the end of the road, without reflection or gleam,dark and grey, a geometric plane shadowed in pencil on a yellowed sheet of drawing paper – that’s what the sea looked like – shallow, motionless, monastery beer spilled into eternity on to a black stone floor, but mainly trapped in a wide, ever wider, nearly limitless landscape; the nearer I was to the shore, the greater, the more impressive was the bay, in the middle of which stood a black lighthouse on sharp rocks, no bigger than a wizard’s ring, hovering on the motionless surface, while the master’s pale hand, still wearing it proudly, had long ago sunk beneath the sea. Without braking, I went down off the asphalt road on to a wide, neatly mowed grassy area in front of the boathouse and rode up to the sea. I leaned the bicycle against a low breakwater that was protecting the lawn from the high tide and slowly made my way over the grey sand, between the slippery rocks, the black pebbles and the rotting seaweed, into the oneness, the residue and abandonment, the world that remained when that sunken, dead arm last unclenched its hand and released the silt on which I now stepped, I thought as the smell washed over me, as if I was standing in an old, abandoned, invisible maritime cemetery, eerily beautiful none the less, like the romantic landscapes of the Old Masters.

I’ve used one long quote today as it sums up so much I mention here and also the line a wizard ring matches up to line of Galway bay about returning to the claddagh ring

The book has 80 pictures that Dusan took on a trip from Ireland where he had been studying , we see him in Galway bay , I imagined the old irish folk song Galway bay which talked about coming into the town of Galway from the sea , a thing which a large number of people didn’t do more head the other way to the new world but this is the old world and a writer is seeing the storms drift in as he travels around Ireland  .He does this in the company of a driver his driver is like the writer is also from the Balkans an Albanian Gijini  who end up in Ireland and as a driver the two share many a conversation about place and times. there is also a strange sense of a switch of past and present he sees evidence of those that escaped galway back in the dark days as i said in a review last week I am always haunted by the pogues lyrics to the song thousands are sailing “on a coffin ship I came here and I never even got so far I could change my name ” a coffin in a boat is also an image we see in the book . We also see the writer heading back first in Belgium the old cities of the lowland country , I felt these place I visited on a school trip as a kid and drove through one night many year later on my own homeward journey to England from working alongside refugees and migrants in 1992 in Germany from the break down of Yugoslavia. Then back t the heart of the Balkans and Bosnia a sort of rebirth in Sarajevo  I remember the watching the film Torjiza about an orchestra escaping Sarajevo as the do a cow gives birth as they sing to calm the cow and this like the return is a rebirth of the writer.

THe pictures are real of the journey the words are what Dusan added after a way to show how the mind works and how images can make the mind fluid and words can mean more than pictures which is what Dusan wanted the images are there but maybe like those native americans photographed against there will as they felt it took their soul one wonders what they would make of todays Selfie obsessed culture ? Have the value of the photographic image is less than it use to be ? the title of the book is a homage to the artist Gerhard Richter photos and his photo realism in his paintings this is a book that shows that we still need a narrative to our photos . This is a book about language swimming in it like the cover art about what words mean how we use language  oplaces memories can all become a flurry of words more than a single image but a connection  like Sebald place leads to connection and like a fine line of a spider’s web from its centre in the Balkans Dusan works spins a thread around the old world meeting those like himself who have travelled from the home  a book about migration written before the migrant crisis hit but at its heart a story of the endless sense of migration man has been on the move  from those poor Irish souls drive by the poatoe famine to escape from Galway and many other place along that atlantic coast we see in those photos to the migrants that came from the polace that where run by countries to those displaced by war and persecution this is like  a sea of people and sometimes we see a tsunami and in other case a simple wave on settling like in Dusan book but another under the book and after the book that wipes out and redraws the lines that follows it like the simple plague to those lost irish souls , even in Belgium he is near the killing fields of Ypres another line changing event . So this book isn’t a novel or memoir . I discussed it with Susan and she told me about Dusan view it is just what is called in Slovenia Good prose , the idea of fiction non fiction is mainly an English language way of dividing books and then we have books like these that sail the line another watery line. Well I have written more than I have in a long time about a book such is this book it is one of those rare gems that hopefully will get the wider readership it truly deserves .

None like her by Jela Krečič

 

 

None like her by Jela Krečič

Slovenian fiction

Original title –  Ni Druge

Translator – Oliva Hellewell

Source – review copy

I am as many of you know A huge fan of Istros books , this is the first in a series of books they are doing in a new partnership with Peter Owen , where they will release three books  from one country and the first series is books from Slovenia. This is the first of the three books in the series is a novel for Jela Krečič , she is known for being the wife of Slavoj Zizek, she is a journalist her most famous piece is an interview with the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

As he focused on her face, he saw that he liked it. It was pale distinguished by her severe, uneasy expression and stern feature but softened by her lip.And ,if he was not mistaken, by her big blue eyes too, although with the enormous amount of black eyeshadow all over them he couldn’t be quite sure of the colour.Her lower lip punctured with a piercing, a decoration repeated once more on her eyebrow. A red-head version of Larsson’s girl with a dragon tattoo

How ofter do we see this type of girl about whether in Ljubljana or London .

Well this book is an odyssey in a way the title refers to Sara the former partner of Matjaz. He is obsessed about her but to get over her or get her back he has decided to go on a quest to find other woman.What follows is a series of relationships as we see what the women as like in Modern Ljubljana , Each chapter is a different relationship Matjaz is a strong macho man he is a photographer , he is one of this men that uses at times his power over women making them feel less , although at one point this is turned on him when he meets a red head that reminds him of the lead character in the dragon tattoo who doesn’t fall for his patter. For me it is an interesting look at modern balkan relationship. The types you can meet anywhere a TV for example her runs into in a gay club and what one would call a cougar an older woman who husband left her for a younger woman so she now finds younger men. This is a journey of one man to becoming a real man a modern man.

checkmate by the very fact of being born. That’s why she always liked names where she could see the beginnings of a ‘mate’: Matej, Matjaž, Matko, Matic, Matija, Matilda, Mateja, Matahari and so on. But Grandma is dead, he said to himself, he was convinced of it – she had a headstone at Žale cemetery, along with dried flowers, burned-out candles and all of that. Then maybe he was just imagining it; maybe the heat was messing with his head. Finally he looked up – and he saw her. Sara.

She was coming towards him with a crumpled newspaper and her distinctive smile, which struck him right in the stomach. ‘Your newspaper’s crumpled,’ he said upon greeting her, slightly embarrassed. He hadn’t seen her for more than a year.

Late in in the book we meet the woman who started it all  Sara .

This is a clever juxtapose tale with a female writing a male main character, whom she said in an interview she based on those french film stars of the fifties. . But what really works in those women that matzaj meets they are more than just a type Jela manages to make these types see real in the dialogue between the characters. This is a story of Love lost and a hunting of love obsessive love. This is how one man lost in life and obsession through this group of women he finds himself. I love how easily people fall for this guy he is like the Fonz of ljubjana but also like the Fonz character at his heart is a broken soul yes a strong man behind leather jacket but like Fonz , Matzaj is that tragic comic hero in a way the Fonz is yes girls fall at his feet but at his heart he is sad , but there is also a pinch of classic bad boy as well the way he treats his woman as Jela says like a fifties male with that feeling of position of male over female being held.

 

Revulsion : Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador by Horacio Castellanos Moya

 

 

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Revulsion : Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador by Horacio Castellanos Moya

El Salvadoran fiction

Original title – El asco, Thomas Bernhard en San Salvador

Translator – Lee Klein

Source – personnel copy

Now I saw this shortly after it came out in the summer, I was searching for some Bernhard books and this from a writer I have featured twice before on the blog appeared . Horacio Casrtellanos Moya is an ex pat salvodoran writer, he has written eleven novels . This book is the reason he left El Salvador when it came out is was considered to political many calling for it to be banned and his mother received death threats and Horacio himself fled. He now teaches at Iowa university.

The last time my mother came to Montreal twelve-year ago, she warned ,e. Moya , she said I had to return when she died, I couldn’t be an ingrate.Now here I am, even if it’s only a month, even if it’s no more than thirty days, I don’t intend to stay here a day longer, although we haven’t been able to sell my mother’s house; I’m here a place I never thought I’d return to, to which I never wanted to return.Nut IO don’t understand what you’re doing here, Moya , this is something I wanted to ask you, this worries me the most, how could someone who is free to live in another country, some place minimally decent ,prefer to stay in this shithole

The hatred is clear in this passage near the start of the book Vega hatred of the place .

Now the title is a give away here the book is very much an homage to the style of writing that Thomas Bernhard became known , so the book is a single paragraph and in the best Bernhard tradition the main character is miserable . The book is formed of a couple of hours one evening between to men . Vega a professor how escaped the country and was living in Canada till his mother died and a writer called Moya (another nod to Bernhard he has put himself in his books as well) Vega is talking about the country and the way it has changed and go down hill a tirade against Salvador of the time but this is somewhat tongue in check in style there is a dark humour at times. This is a classic pub scene in a way with two men talking about the world one returning has seen the world and wants to tell his friend about how bad this place was .The Bernhard connection is also the last lines of the book as Vega took his name as an alias back in the day as he liked him as a writer.

Television is already a plague; sure, in Montreal I don’t have a television, but here at my brother’s house, where I’ve stayed until this morning, they’ve forced me to watch television whilst eating meals; you wouldn’t believe it, Moya , the television is in front of the dining table,it’s horrible , you can’t eat normally, you can’t have any sort of normal meal, because of television’s on ready to disturb your nerves.

I like this part Bernhard but also partly hilarious in its tones from vega .

I loved this short book Moya is a marmite writer I think you will either love his works like I do or hate them they tend to be grim and like this rather uneventful but full of life , it is easy to see why the book when it came out twenty years ago but not long after the end of the civil war in El Salvador a glimpse into the abyss that was the country before told by Vega and the way he saw the peace. This book is also an homage to modernism ala Bernhard but also Joyce with the action taking place over the space of two hours in an evening as the two get drunk and try to relive their earlier life . Have you read a Moya book , never sure why he isn’t as considered as highly as  Bolano for me he is actually a better writer and in this translation Lee klein has brought the Bernhard side to life for me.He is the master of capturing those dark times of the late 20th century in central america where violence , dark police forces and violence where just below the surface.

From Germany to Germany by Gunter Grass

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From Germany to Germany by Gunter Grass

German Non fiction

Original title – Unterwegs von Deutschland nach Deutschland.

Translator – Krishna Winston

Source – Personal copy

Well I was late review my German reads for German lit month. I always try to include a Grass novel or as in this case a work of his non fiction . This came out a few years ago. But it was the clock turned back nature of this book Grass thoughts on 1990 a man who really didn’t like to keep a diary felt that the year after the wall fell down. The East German government fell in December 1989. Grass felt compelled to write his own thoughts on the events of the following year including the first free elections in east Germany.

I fear my planned trip to the GDR is going to take place during the let-down after the first successful revolutionary rush. But old power structures are proving durable, as might have been expected. The mass exodus continues. The opposition is weighed down with organizational problems. Maybe in June and august I’ll be sitting on Rugen or in the Elbe sandstone mountains writing about progress of the German-pPolish cemetery association.

We all remember those pictures of abandon Trabants all round Germany as people from the east came west.

The year follows not only the world of German politics Grass was an active voice in the spd the German socialist party. Happy as he is that Germany has become one again he worries that the rejoice could turn into something dark from the past of Germany that he remembers and that is nationalism. We also see him struggling to write his latest novel the call of the toad. A novel that at its heart is more about Grass a man than German he was born in Danzig a German in a part of the world that is Polish but not only is Grass German he is Kashubian by birth a nationality he says at some point is part way between being what is German and what is Polish so in some ways he still views German events through this part of his being.We see him meet many figures of the day like a trip to meet Vaclav Haval the czech writer like Grass himself a face of the times. Elsewhere we get glimpse into Grass personal life his wife Ute the time spent in the Algrave were we also see Grass talent as an artist with all his drawings in the books.

Finished Malte Laurids Brigge. The last third makes for disappointing reading: the precise observant and previously mentioned oddities drown in sentiment and in vagueness more typical of Rilke. The scenes set in Denmark are as strong as I remembered them: the loud dying of Old Brahe, or the mothers fear of needles.Remarkable how the book’s demand for a death of one’s own contrast with illness (cancer) of Ute’s mother, which will probably result in death.

I have a new translation of this Rilke work which I plan to review . It makes me think of how does a book change as you age ?

This didn’t come out to after Grass had died, I do wonder if he wanted it published maybe he left instructions after his death. I loved the personal and public mix of his life I mean at the time he was maybe one of the best known german figures and to have his views on this time one of the most significant in my life time. I was on germany a few years after this in 92 and 93 and remember the sense of hope. A sense I think which has now vanished some what. But I also remember a few people being worried as Grass was about the skeleton in the cupboard so to speak. Piece like this only give a small glimpse into a great writers life, he tackled the unification more in his later novel too far afield which follows two older German men around Berlin and is well worth reading .

Book of my mother by Albert Cohen

 

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Book of my mother by Albert Cohen

Swiss memoir

Original title –  Le Livre de ma mère

Translator – Bella Cohen

Source – personnel copy

I was flicking through amazon the other day trying to find something that had passed me by that was also cheap and this gem from Archieplago books popped up and was under three-pound for a new copy (i think this was an error but I clicked and brought it ).Albert Cohen is maybe best known for his book Belle de Seigneur one best-selling books of its time in France. He was a writer and editor in France before the second world war working for the Jewish review. Albert Cohen like a number of other Jewish artist and writers  managed to get out of France in 1940 and get to London. In this time away his mother passed away in 1943 and he met his third wife Bella the translator of this book. This book is a collection of vignettes he wrote about his mother for La France Libre he later won the a number of french book prizes .

We had our sunday outings in the summer too, when I was a small boy.We were not rich, but the  tram ride round the cliff road overlooking the sea cost only fifteen centimes. Those one-hour rides wee our summer holidays, our social life , and our hunting expeditions. There we were my mother and  I, fragile, well dressed and loving enough to outdo god. I well remember one of those Sunday outings.

The tram trip was the holidays they were that poor

 

This is one sons touching view of his later mother , her as a person , them as people , the life they lead , the loss of her on him and the loss of that world. He started these piece after his mother passed a sort of collection of memories , thoughts and outcry of pity at the loss of his mother without being there. His mother is one of those women that through his eyes seems proud in herself the way she holds her self , they have no money but she dresses her self . The trip in the tram on a coast road in the summer meant so much,  was worth more than anything for the sea air they were able to breathe. Then the later parts deal with his loss of his mother a reflection of a sons love and guilt at not being there when she passed.

Sons of mothers who are still alive, never again  forget that your mother are mortal. I shall not have written in vain if one of you, after reading my song of death is one evening gentler with his mother because of me and my mother. Be gentle with your mother each day. Show her more love than I showed my mother.Give your mother some happiness each day,that is what i say to you with the right accorded to me by regret; that is the grave message of a mourner.

I was touched by these lines it made me think of my own mother .

This is a book of love  but also guilt . That special bond mothers and sons can have Cohen brings her to life as a caring mother making the best of not being in the best position in life. The way she made him value the simple things the way he talks about the trip in the bus a simple cheap thing to do, but she made him think it meant so much more. I loved this work it brings a tear to the eye as we see Albert doing the journey of  grief not quite the five steps but in writing the way he looked at her you see him coming to terms with the world without her. This is like the works of Sebald one that leaves the reader wanting more and maybe want to call your own mother isn’t that what all good prose should do !

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