Agnes by Peter Stamm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agnes by Peter Stamm

Swiss fiction

Original title – Agnes

Translator – Michael Hofmann

Source – review copy

I have reviewed Peter Stamm three times before on the blog over the years. so when I got the chance to review his debut novel I jumped at the chance as he is a writer whose works I had enjoyed his other books. Agnes had come out in the UK but was never brought out in the US so it gave me a chance to go back twenty years this book came out in 98 in Germany and 2000 in English for the first time. He has written several novels but was a journalist iuntially and has written radio plays as well.

I was back in the library early the next morning, and even though I was waiting for Agnes, I had no trouble concentrating on my work. I knew she would come, and that we would talk anc smoke and drink coffee together. In my head our relationship was already much further advanced than it was in reality. I was already wondering abouther, beginning to have my doubts, though we hadn’t even been out together.

I was working well, reading and making notes, When Agnes arrived, around noon and she nodded to me, Once again, she put her foam rubber cushion down on a chair near me, spread out her things as she had done yesterday, picked up a book and started reading

The beginning of the relationship as they keep meeting in the library sharing coffee and a smoke,

 

An older writer he is unnamed is asked by his younger girlfriend Agnes a cellist studying physics and free spirit in her own way to write a story about her. Our narrator is in Chicago to write about luxury trains. He does what Agnes wants and writes about their relationship He does that but as they are happy and the everyday life of these two. The way they meet and fell in love but this doesn’t lead to the most interesting story about their relationship. As they work together on the story. But, when she tells him she is expecting a baby the narrative changes as he is older and doesn’t want a child he tells her that he doesn’t want the child this is a turning point in their relationship. but also in the story, he is writing about there relationship changes as he starts in that narrative to try and control the younger woman by making her into what he wants her to be as the two worlds the story and real life start to come intertwined as the relationship cracks apart.

We celebrated Christmas Eve together. It was some time since I’d shown Agnes what I’d written. Now I printed out the story on white paper and put it in a folder with a dedication.

“I haven’t got an ending yet,” I said,”But as soon as I do.Ill have the whole thing boiund into a little book for you ”

Agnes had knitted me a sweater

“God knows,I had enough wool, she said.

“Black wool”

“No I had it dyed. Light blue doesn’t really suit you.”I didn’t say anything. We were sitiing on the sofa, with a little christmas tree in front of us that Agnes had decorated with only candles.

Later on the feeling between the two has changed in the story.

As ever Stamm is a master of describing how relationships work but hew also is great at getting that moment when the relationships change the turning point so to speak that unseen event at the start of the narrative that initally seems like the perfect relationship even thou there is an age difference. This sees the writer trying to idealize Agnes later in the book. This is maybe free in style than his later books it is like he is trying a different way of writing in this book it is looser than his other books. But worth reading I alwaylike to try and see how a writer has grown this isn’t as cut and cleaned as say seven years but is still an interesting insight into the dynamics of relationships and also about writing about a relationship which when it is good can seem very boring. Have you read this book?

 

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The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marquise of O by Heinrich Kleist

German Literature

Original title – Die Marquise von O

Translator – Nicholas Jacobs

Source – review copy

Well I have only one before reviewed a book where it has two translations that was the double translations of Cre Na Cille that came out a few years ago well I have an updated translation of one of the greatest German writers works that of Heinrich Von Kleist a writer that influenced writers in particular Kafka he was describer in the encyclopedia Britannica as Kleist’s whole life was filled by a restless striving after ideal and illusory happiness, and this is largely reflected in his work. He was by far the most important North German dramatist of the Romantic movement, and no other of the Romanticists approaches him in the energy with which he expresses patriotic indignation. I have reviewed this a part of a collection a number of years ago but didn’t focus on this story.

In M -, An important town in Northern Italy, the widowed Marquise of O – A women of impeccable reputation and mother of well-brought up children, made it known through the newspapers that she had inexplicably found herself in a certain condition, that the father of the child she would bear should make himself known, and that out of regard for her family she was resolved to marry him. The woman who under the pressure ofirremeediable circumstances took such a strange step, risking universal derison with such fortitudewas the daughter of Colonel G

A sort of whose the father Jeremy Kyle style forthe time

The Marquis of O is a novella set during the Napoleonic wars. it starts with a startling piece from a newspaper THat in M a town in Northern Italy has found herself in a certain condition and she wants the father of the child to make himself known. She is the daughter of Colonel G and has arrived at his home in this state after her husband died some years earlier. The early part of the book follows the events leading to the Marquise ending up this way. which saw her home overrun by Russian soldiers and at the risk of being used by them she is saved by Count F who then saves her but later appears to have died and then return and he tries to gain the hand of the Marquise but in the meantime she has been cast out and is returning to her dead husbands estate.

THe Marquise came with her two children to the forecourt of the castle where shooting, now at its heaviest, was already lighting up the night, forcing her, out of her mind where she sould turn next, back into the burning building. Her she was unfortunate enough to meet a band of hostile riflemen just as she was intending to slip out by the back door. At the sightof her they suddenly fell silent and slung their weapons over their shoulders and took her with them whilst making abominable gestures.Tugged and pulled this way and that by hte terrifying pack fighting among themselves

Her fate seems doomed her when she ran into the gun men by her old house

This has many twists in the tale and like the best of Kafka there is a little of not knowing who is who here with no full names just Colonel G , count F and Marquise of O remind me of the way Kafka never used characters full names them there is the hint that the Marquise may have been raped not clearly in the book but there is a feeling that something is wrong with how the baby was conceived.. Will the count ever be able to make the Marquise his Countess ? The book leans on the lines that see the Count take the MArquise when she is very tired from the group of Russian soldier is this when they had relations? it isn’t said but implied. It is also a studied into how people react under stress Her father the Marquise, the Count each act differently.  I enjoyed this new translation I remember the story didn’t grab me much in the collection as I choose two other stories to describe in the collection I hope that Pushkin get some of the other Von Kleist works to translate especially An Earthquake in Chile and Michael Kohlhaas which where the two stories I liked in the other collection.

Milena, Milena, Ecstatic by Bae Suah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milena, Milena,Ecstatic by Bae Suah

Korean short fiction

Original title – 밀레나, 밀레나, 황홀한

Translator – Deborah Smith

Source – review copy

I read Bae Suah Wiki page and was interested. That she had studied Chemistry and was working in the airport on the disembark desk and had taken writing up as a hobby when she got a story published. An inspiration to all writers I think. I also read there she had spent a year in Germany and has translated books from German in Korean including works by Sebald, Erpenbeck and Kafka. This short book is only 35 pages long.

On his occasional visit to a cafe, he onlyever drinks espresso – It’s the only kind of coffe whose flavour is strong enough to neutralise the taste of machine. He always orders two singles rahter than one double, drinking one first, then the other, so as to experience the difference in temperature, foam and mouthfeel – just like he does at home. It jappens to be a mild day, when the cries of the collared dove can be heard, he set the cup on the table by the window, so the coffee receives the morning light. Cold coffee doesn’t bother him especially. Neither does feel the fine granules against his tongue and against his throat.

His odd coffee habit of two singles instread of a double.

This is a third-person narrative of a day in a man’s life. Hom Yun is a bit of hipster in the way Bae describes him he only drinks Double espresso but has them as two single shots. We see his day from a man that loves to read in the bath he has one book a copy of Letters to Milena which links to Bae time in German and also in a way to this story they are a collection of Kafka letters. The letters haunt him and also the former owner of his collection from the inscription in the book. This story then takes a strange turn as Hom is dressed and of to an interview at a Cultural foundation that he doesn’t quite remember to apply for with his film project that is a mix of fiction and Documentary around the Scythian graves that Herodotus wrote about in his histories. Hom is usually a loner in his filmmaker but this is his biggest idea and he may need an assistant so when he leaves the Foundation the secretary from there follows Hom and then spends the night trying to get him to hire them in a strange Kafkaesque even of cross meanings between the two.

HIm yun examines the inside cover. There, someone has written a sentence in German, in pencil stiff and crooked as though the writer were not familiar with the German alphabet and had simply copied out the words, the handwriting scattered clumsily and slanted irregularely and in indvidual strokes that did not join up with each other

“Ecstatic MIlena”

There are no marking other than that single sentence, whichhe absolutely had not written himself. This means that this book is not Hom Yun’s

THe letter to Milena that he owns isn’t his own !

This book has some subtle details in it like Hom habit of splitting his double espresso into two single shots so he can experience each shot at a different temperature. The sitting in the bath reading, the way he dressed in all black made him seem like a real hipster to me. There is a number of nods to Kafka the love of his book the evening he spends with the secretary which takes many odd turns. Then Hom being haunted by his letters to Milena. This is a short novella but feels like much more after you have read it He jumps of the page this hipster filmmaker and his mad film idea is well built around his idiosyncratic behaviors. This is part of a collection of short Korean works called The Yeoyu series from stranger press there are seven other books in the collection.

One hundred year of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One hundred years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Columbian fiction

Original title – Cien años de soledad

Translator – Gregory Rabassa

Source – Personal copy

I said this was this year read-along for Spanish lit month. I got out my copy which isn’t the one I read but a later edition I read it from the library as I did most of my books in my late teens the little Library in Alnwick was a great gem. I am not much of a rereader but I decided to go back and cover this as it has been five years since Marquez passed he is still the giant of the Latin American boom. I dod wonder if I would find it as engrossing as I did when I read it all those years ago sometimes my not wanting to reread is a wanting to avoid the disappointment of a book seeming less on second reading.

MAny years later, as he faced the firing squad, colonel Aureliano Buendia was to rememeber that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe house, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormus, like prehistoric eggs.The world was so recent that many things lacked names and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point

The stunning opening of the book as some one on twitter sad maybe the best !!

I then set off to the strange village of Macondo and to the founding family of that Village the Buendia family. The village is an island or is it that is the point of the book it is a family history but a lot of the book you see each generation as similar or as a pale copy of the previous in a way the use of similar names in fact in most generations the same name Aureliano is a name a family name that crops up in the second generation after Jose Arcadio Buendia the founder of the village, in fact, the opening lines is his son and the closing lines is another Aureliano in a more modern Macondo. The village seems to want to avoid moving forward the solitude of the title is the village it ways each generation is a subject to some family intermarrying first cousins etc. Each generation also has a beautiful and alluring female Remedios, Santa Sofia, Remedios the beauty (another recurring name !). A band of visiting gypsies that bring the great inventions of the day and whose lead dies but comes back to the village.pilar that lived for 140 odd years after sleeping with some brothers. These all add to the mystic and strange feeling of the whole place being caught in a revolving door of time.

During a pause in the caresses. Jose  Arcadio stretched out naked on the bed without knowing what to do while the girl inspire him. A gypsy woman with splendid flesh came in a short time after accompanied by a  man who was not of the caracan but who was not from the village either, and the began to undress in front of the bed. Without meaning to, the woman looked at Jose Acradio and examined his magnificent animal in respose with a kind of pathetic fervour

The women in Marquez’s book always seem similar as thou remembered from his own past

So was it worth rereading well yes I loved it like I did the first time I know some people get lost with the names and generations but I let flow over me like a river and just drift with Marquez prose for me, the book is full of him as a writer? I have cover five of his book before on the blog. The pace Macondo is a veiled version of his home town of Acacataca part of the history mirror-like the arrival of the fruit company something that happened itself in the village. A beautiful woman well this is maybe where he will fall down at some point in the future as Marquez loved to describe beautiful women in his books I often feel he is describing the same group of young women from his teen years over and over again. Then there is the revolving sense of the village and this is something that seems more distant now than it did when I first read the book I remember visiting the distant village in Northumberland and the people I picked up for the elderly  day centre known the history of these places back for years and generations like the Buendia family also the way he misses giving technology encroaching on Macondo something that has been lost as the internet and everything it brings has steamrollered that world. It is fair to say yes this book was as good in fact in a way it has changed how I viewed it in the twenty-plus year since my first reading Marquez was a master of what he did

Transfer window by Maria Gerhardt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transfer window by Maria Gerhardt

Danish fiction

Original title – Transfervindue

Translator – Lindy Falk Van Rooyen

Source – review copy

Maria Gerhardt was a Lesbian icon, Dj she was known as Djuna Barnes, she was called the Queen of the night. She was a judge for a while on the Danish X factor. She started a Magazine and wrote three novels that all dealt with her Breast Cancer this was her last book and came out a few days before her death to cancer. This is Nordisk latest books. This seems the perfect choice for my last Women in translation book. I have posted my 30 covers and maybe not done as many reviews as I usually do but feel I taken part more than other years.

The further I fell, the cleaner our place had to be; our books were colour-coordinated, our music was sorted, nothing depressing, please, and our beffing from Egypt was always washed and ironed. Where we’d acquired such tast, I really don’t know. The terrace cane chairs were scored on an auction, likewise, the saucers with a label. Stuffed butterflies danced on the display in the corner cabinet There was not a fault to be found in our French mirrored wardrobes, and nothing but my bare toes adorned our white pigment floors. Monday mornings saw me submerged in a tub with marble lion feet, the black moroccan soap within my reach. The only hitch was my psyche, my sickness and a sprinkle of ah from our fireplace.

A utopia but is it or just a waiting area for death ?

This is an unusual book told in very short vignettes some longer passages. We have a female narrator her life story is a mirror of the writer her self. But this is a parallel universe in the future. She lives in a large Hospice this hospice occupies part of what is Copenhagen now and is run by New age Nuns that grow cannabis for the patients. This Hospice come town in itself has no music, but they can relive there lives through VR booths and they have Juice bars and health food shops instead of the coffee and bars they usually have. This other life she lives away from her friends but reliving her past as the present and future have drawn in as time gets short.  A world she lives in with her fellow patients seem perfect but there is always that clock ticking in the background.

We are given such healthy food to eat. farmers arrive with their produce from Samso, Hven and Amager. Tuborg Harbour looks like a food market in Bangkok, every day of the week. I decide to go for a vegetable juice, I choose to sit out in the sun. This is what grown-ups do; this is how to take care of yourself. The difference is that I din’t have to wash up, and I don’t have to deal with the oesky pulp.A lady in her sixties with a sullen face and crutches jumps the queue. Aruckus about the lack of fresh beetroot juice ensues. I give her a cold stare. “take it easy, lady,”I say, “I’m just here for the sugar”.

The world is healthy as they try to keep them healthy !

This is a very short book 90 pages but as most of them are small vignettes it is probably only fifty pages I love the idea of the city as a hospice the other space within the city of Copenhagen I had seen this done before in the Danish film Allegro that had a part of its character past trapped in a part of the city called the zone here we have a woman dying in the present reliving her past via VR in  a hemmed of community in this city. An autobiographical work of a weird future utopia that is really a dystopia as we see a writer facing death by escaping into this world of community hospice but still in the world she wrote having to face the future which like the book itself is short. It is a heart-wrenching work and a perfect example of my love of what make small publishers so valuable in the world of translated fiction a book like this is such a perfect example!

 

30 covers for #WITMONTH A Slovenian fonz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There have been three collections in the Peter Owen world series this is from the Balkan collection. Jela Krečič is the wife of the well known Slovenian thinker Slavoj Zizek. She is a philosopher and journalist best known for an in-depth interview with Julian Assange. I really liked the way she chooses a male character as the lead in this novel as I said in my review that Matzaj the main character was a Slovenian Finz a charismatic character as we follow his ins and out with various women. Her is my review

The last days of el Comandante by Alberto Barrera Tyszka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last day of el Comandante by Alberto Barrera Tsyzka

Venezuelan fiction

Original title –  Patria o muerte

Translators – Rosalind Harvey and Jessie Mendez Sayer

Source – review copy

Now back to Spanish lit month and here I have a second book from Alberto Barrera Tyszka. I reviewed the Sickness when it was on the IFFP list. That was eight years ago so this last book that follows the time running up to the death of Hugo Chavez from a main character and those around him, Tyszka wrote Chavez’s  biography he is influenced by writers such as Dostoyevski, Dumas, Stevenson, and Chekov as well as Salvador Garmendia and Jose Ignacio Cabrujus two of the greatest Venezuelan writers of recent years.

“I wouldn’t be surorised if it was all lies,” Beatriz muttered “Something the cubans made up to distract us.”

Sanabria wathced in silence.

Chavez looked thin and pale. He was on his feet behind the podium, and , oddly he was reading out a written text instead of improvising in front of the camera, It was unheard of for this man, so fond of speaking for hours in fromt of any audience, to restrict himself to a few word, suddenly held hostage by a small piece of paper.

I loved that last line of being held hosatge by a piece of paper this man that could talk for hours starting to look unwell !

The main character in the book is a retired Oncologist Miguela Sanabria he is sort of a middling figure neither anti or pro Chavez but given his previous profession, his opinion is sort by both sides. His wife is very anti-Chavez in her views. He is contacted by his brother a pro-Chavez then his Nephew Vladimir who is high up in the regime who has hold of a mobile that has the truth about how bad the president is a recording whilst Chavez had surgery. Outside all this Miguel is asked by a mysterious Cuban to become chairman of the condominium they live in. Their neighbor Fredy is writing about Chavez but is offered a fresh angle on this book. When he is given a chance to see some medical reports. that means he will have to leave alone without his family for the US. THen There is Young Maria being homeschooled by her mother  Cecilla who is stuck in the apartment as she is scared of the outside world. So Maria turns to Chat rooms after Cecilla has the internet installed to keep the little girl in touch with the outside world. She talks to Fedy son Rodrigo on these chat rooms they offer a different view on the world around . them. This is a snapshot of Middle-class lives in Venezuela as the life of Chavez hung in the Balance.

“The problem isn’t your neighbours. The problem is you” This was the brother’s response to his various sorrows. Miguel had gone to visit him and told him about everything that was going on in  his building. From Antonio’s point of view, letting the boy into his house had been his first mistake.

“What was I supposed to do? The husband’s awat, their family lives in Maturin, and she was standing ther, crying, totally overwheklmed.”

As Miguel lets a neighbour in his house afterthe husnband has left his brother thinks he is making a mistake ?

Tyszka has a sideline like a lot of Latin American writers have as a soap writer and this is like that a slice of everyday life capturing the effects of the end of Chavez when he was dying of characters using a group of characters connected by family or location. Middle class but all struggling Miguel walking a fine line between his family members but at a point knowing things are worse than they are being told. Fredy a journalist given a chance and his son chatting with a fellow youngster in the building a new face of Venezuela in the chat rooms. A powerful work on everyday lives of those caught up in the last days showing how entwined we all are.  As the death of the great leader looms on the horizon. Like a soap opera, it mixes News and Melodrama and some outrages bits. Hae you read Tyszka?

 

30 covers for #WITMONTH a french modern classic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I move to France on one of the great French female writers from post war France. Set in Russia in what is now Lativa a woman and the men that are trying to impress her. All that on the surface as Yourcenar puts a lot of things under the surface in her characters. Here is my review 

30 covers for #WITMONTH England through a German eyes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe not the most exciting cover Fitzcarraldo covers are all the same and are a homage to the original James Joyce Ulysses cover in their style. Here we have a recent favourite from them River by Ester Knsky saw her living in London and using the Thames as a launchpad for her memories of both London and the other cities and places as she was growing up by other rivers as the prose flow you are drawn into her world.

That was the month that was July 2019

  1. The house of Ulysses by Julian Rios
  2. Vlad by Carlos Fuentes
  3. Quiet creature on the corner by Joao Gilberto Noll
  4. the posthumous memoirs of Bras Cubas by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
  5. The Hedge by Miguel Delibes
  6. Atlantic hotel by Joao Gilberto Noll
  7. The fish child by Lucia Puenzo
  8. The Iliac crest by Cristina Riera Garz

I managed eight books all for Spanish and Portuguese lit month. I start with a book about a book Julian RIos House of Ulysess. Then a Mexican take on the Vampire story a poet winds up in a prison writing poems after raping a girl in Brazil. A man whose life is a failure writes about his life from the afterlife. A man gets sent to the country to recover and gets hemmed in by an ever-increasing hedge and sees those around him as animals another trip to Brazil and a man falling apart in front of his eyes from a hotel with the murder happened he then went on a bizarre road trip. A pair of young girls from different sides of the tracks fall in love as one is the maid for the other.and lastly two women turned up at a mans ouse but is he a man and is all as it seems a wonderful selection of books from four countries, no new publishers but an interesting selection. It has taken the total of books reviewed this year to 53 lower than other years but still hoping to pass 100 by the end of the year.

Book of the month

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a huge fan of James Joyce so this book was a great choice it follows a group of readers following their wat through the book.

Next month-

We’ll have more Spanish and Portuguese lit month offerings. Two writers, I have reviewed before one from Venezuela writes a book about the last year of Chavez from the point of view of one of his doctors then another book around a leader Tyrant Memory by Horacio Castellanos Moya about a 1930’s leader of El Salvador. Both spins on the classic Dictator novel a staple of Latin American literature. A Dutch classic set in China. I am working three of the next four days and on Saturday we will be visiting our local Food festival and celebrating our wedding anniversary. So I will be back on Tuesday unless I get time to review a book. I will add a few titles for Women in translation month.

Other none book events last month

I always like mention something new I’ve found well this month it is a great rediscovery and that is Gerry Anderson’s Space 1999 a seventies sci-fi series I had missed the great guest roles in the past from the likes of Christopher Lee and Leo McKern. It has a similar political undertone.  about it that we found in Start trek when it was shown. I have also been a huge fan of the return of Lloyd Cole his new album is rather good as he uses more Keyboards than he has in the past but still has that Cole feel.

What are your plans?

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