Nona’s room by Cristina Fernandez Cubas

Nona's Room

Nona’s room by Cristina Fernandez Cubas

Spanish fiction

Original title – de La Habitación de Nona

Translators – Kathryn Phillips-Miles and Simon Deefholts

Source – review copy

My first book for Spanish lit month is the first of the three from the second |Peter Owen World series were they are every year publishing three books from a certain country the first in the series was Slovenia this second series is three books from Spain. The first book is from Cristina Fernandez Cubas she has bee writing since the 1980’s this is her first book to be translated into English, she has written ten books, including one using a male pseudonym, this collection won National Narrative and critics prize when it came out.

My sister is special. That’s what my mother told me at the time she was born in the bright and sunny room in that hospital.She also said, “Special is a lovely word.Never forget that “. I’ve never forgetten, oif course , but it’s more than likely that the scene I’ve described didn’t happen in the hospital but much later in some room and that Nona wasn’t a newborn or even a baby but rather aa little girl of three or four years old .

Nona isn’t what we think this is the start but as the story unflds it takes more turns.

Cubas is well known for putting her female characters in very unsettling situations or out of their comfort zone. The first story is told by an older sister about her young sister Nona of the title of the book. As the story unfolds as told by a child you sense something is very wrong with her younger sister almost unnatural in a way. The next story follows a young woman who is about to meet a friend in a cafe feels sorry for an older woman Ro as she finds out that is sat by herself in the cafe looking lost and lonely.The young woman called Alicia is in need of a place to stay and this older woman offer hers a place in her flat, encourages her to see the flat before her friend arrives. She does but does she return and is all as it seems is this older lady whom she seems. Then a story revolving around a picture that is a girl looking for something under a bed another strange figure leads a writer to she the picture in person. There are three other stories.

Alica thought Ro was charming , a charming old lady.

“I’m on the fifth floor.”

Alicia imagined the fifth floor was like. There would be an enormus flat full of keepsakes. It would be a flat typical of the Ensanche district. There would be the dining room and a glazed veranda at one end and the master bedroom at the other .There would be a long corridor, which Ro would struggle up and down a thousand times a day. Ro, she said to herfself .Now she thought about it , her last chance was actually RO

Ok I’ll come in for a bit, just for a bit

Alicia goes to see a flat but is that All ?

This is a collection of  slightly creepy stories , I was reminded of Roald Dahl  short stories, at times she is almost a female version of his tales of unexpected where everything isn’t what it seems on the surface the perfect example is the second story talking to old ladies that until the last third seems a simple story of an older lady offering a younger a place to stay but no there is a classic twist in the tail, which is what Dahl did so well in his tales of the unexpected stories .I’m surprised it has taken so long for her to be translated into English

Love and Garbage by Ivan Klima

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love and Garbage by Ivan Klima

Czech Literature

Original title – Láska a smetí

Translator = Ewald Oser

Source – Library book

I have a number of his books on my shelves, but in my recent visit to the library, this book by the great Czech writer Ivan Klima struck me as a perfect holiday read as i t was under two hundred pages. Klima has lived an extraordinary life where his family and he ended up at a concentration camp aged ten, then as he grew as a writer he spent time in prison due to his writing and even had to take a simple job as a street cleaner which inspired this novella. He has written more than thirty books and has had a good number of those books have been translated into English.

I wrote , for hours and days and weeks. Plays I would never see staged and novels which I assumed would never be published in the language in which they were written. I was working, but at the same time I was afraid that the silence which surrounded me would eventually invade me, paralyse my imagination and kill my plots. I would sit at my desk and be aware of the weight of the ceiling, the weight of the walls and of things which might overwhelm me at any moment with their indifference.

Kafka ran through this also how could you write and write and never have it seen by anyone.

This was published three years before the fall of the Czech regime, but when it did finally get into print in the Czech Republic it sold 100,000 copies. The book follows a street sweeper, but he is also writing a thesis about the great writer Franz Kafka, a piece he knows will never see the light of day. The narrator has a lover Daria she is the sculptor , which is tough as he already married. So as he describes his coworkers a mixture of hard workers that have to be on the job, fools, youngsters as he wanders the streets he thinks of his country the troubled past, Kafka, Daria, writing and Struggling to be heard and appreciated, He feels like the Garbage he is sweeping is the life he is living that he is seeing how human souls and dreams are thrown away like the trash.

Thus I moved in my orange vest through the little streets and lanes of my native city whoch was slowly giving up its spirit, my companions at my side as witnessses. We were cleaning  the town on whoch refuse had fallen and soot and ashes and poisoned rain and oblivion. We strode along in our vesys like flamingoes, like angels of the dying, sweeeping away all rubish and refuse, angels beyond life, beyond death, beyond all , scarcely toyched by the jerkish  time, our sppeech resembled our  age-old brooms, it came from a long way back and it moved along

I loved this Orange vest and flamingoes comparison

Kilima is one of those voice of the Soviet era, that still rings true now. It seems so distant but I remember the scenes when the Soviet bloc fell they seem distant and it is hard to remember how hard it was for those writers like Klima. The narrator in this book is part Klima own story at the time he lived part of what the character did, part Kafka character in the hopeless nature of his existence, writing but unable to be read or heard. The book stands the test of time as the nature of the writing jumps of the plate, the characters in the book his fellow street sweepers the dark sense of foreboding and feeling of oppression on the streets as they sweep. Managing to keep a wife and mistress happy at this time.A lot of action and thoughts in 200 pages.

Have you read Klima?

Two Japanese classics

I hadn’t been to the local Oxfam (sorry anyone locally it has very little in translation on its shelves as I have them!) for ten day which for me is a long time due to training last week and other things I hadn’t got to town. But I was pleased to find two Japanese classics one had been on my radar a while and the other is by a writer I have tried before and want to try again as my first encounter wasn’t the best but everyone rates him as a writer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First up is Kobo Abe’s Woman in the Dunes, a modern classic that is also a well-known film. It follows seven years in a man’s life as he is trapped by the woman in the dunes. A cat and mouse tale as the two try to escape and the woman uses here female sensuality to keep him there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we have another backlist book from Peter Owen (i do wish they’d make more of the backlist it is one of the best around) this is by Yukio Mishima whose sailor who fell from grace with the sea, I really didn’t get along with since then I have brought a couple of his books to read . Looking back it reminds me it is a year and half since I reviewed a book from Japan so I need to address that missing Tonys Japan in January which is when I would save my Japanese books to read.

What gems have you found recently ?

Nevada Days by Bernardo Atxaga

 

 

 

Nevada Days by Bernardo Atxaga

Basque (Spanish) fiction

Original title – Nevadako Egunak

Translator – Maragaret Jull Costa

Source – Review copy

Another from the ten-year celebration library of Maclehose Press called Read the world. I have already reviewed one of the Series Belladonna by Dasa Drndric , which I reviewed last month. Like Dasa Bernardo is another favourite writer I have read most of his books, there are two under review here. Seven house in France and The Lone man . There is still a number of books to come from the read the world list it is worth checking them out they are all from well known or rising writers from around the world.

In the image I found on the internet the spider was black and shiny, as if it were made of a mixture of metal and plastic. It had a red mark like a diabolo on its belly. Its legs were long and strong and hairless, almost polished. Its body was no longer than a hazelnut.

According to the article accompanying the image, the poison of the black widow was a neurotoxin, and its bite, which might seem innocuous at first, caused severe pain, like the pain of a heart attack or appendictis, only simultaneously. It also caused tremors, faintness, dizziness, nausea and wort of all , a sudden rise in blood pressure. the article emphasised, however , that the bite was rarely fatal,  and was only really a danager to children and the elderly.

The meeting with the Black widow that nipped him .

Nevada Days is a wonderful collection of Vignettes about a nine-month visit to Nevada where Bernardo Atxaga is to teach at the Basque department at the University of Nevada. We see over 150 of these snippets how he and his family settle in. From their initial meetings with a few of the less savoury locals a racoon that takes to watching over them, then a Black Widow spider. Then the scenery of this place drifts over Bernardo reminds him of his past, but also the present as he drifts from his Basque childhood to the present and wild horse in these little gems. The family, I laughed at times especially when he talks to his mum a remark about his brother that never married ( he is gay ) a worry for his elderly mother. Then there is the food the shock the first time we see them eat they are shocked by the size of the portions which face them.

“I can remember waking up in the morning, and, as far as i could see in any direction, there were only sagebrushes and rocks and runted little junipers. Though the Basques are used to being alone, these deserts were something else. In the first months, how many times I cried in my camp bed at night – remembering my home, remembering the beautiful green Basque country”

The early Basques that came to Nevada were Shepards, poor and struggle to adapt from there homeland.

Atxaga stated in an interview he had 250 of these small reflections he had written at the time and he had edited down to 150 pieces. His other books have all reflected somewhat on life from the lone man a  man with secrets, then in seven house, it is a reflection on a war. Here it is a reflection on his life a time in his life when he sees more behind him than in front of him. This is classic Maclehose press choice of a book. one that defies categories it is part autobiography, part fiction and part lament for Basque home and family life. The tales range from the intimate to the observational, witty and laments. A piece about the shepherds reminds me of the shepherds from Basque Adrein Bosc book Constellation that died in that crash but on the way to a new life in Nevada.

Our dead world by Liliana Colanzi

 

 

 

Our Dead World  by Liliana Colanzi

Bolivian Fiction

Original title – Nuestro mundo muerto

Translator – Jessica Sequeira

Source – Personnel copy

As I said the other week , I have been adding a few new titles from my own money to the tbr pile , this is a new writer from Bolivia , I was attracted by the fact there has been so little lit from the country , Liliana Colanzi is  writer , journalist and editor . She currently lives in New York this is her third collection of stories and the first to be tranalstated into English by her

She ran to the bathroom, hoisted her foot on the toilet bowl and lifted up her skirt . She took the razor and without breathing made a crosswise cut on her thigh where some old scars were fading , she gave herself three ,four ,five quick slaps on the face until the bathroom mirror returned an image of burning cheeks . Then she tucked her hair behind her ears a, cleaned the blood from her thigh with a piece of toilet paper, flushed it away and went back to bed , where she stayed reading Maira Dimma’s The marvelous Secret of the souls in Purgatory until she fell asleep.

A girl marks herself in the opening story of the collection

 

Now this is a strange collection of short stories , mostly all have a hint of  sci-fi in there  nature , I was reminded in part of Early Murakami and other writers  . It has a mix of real and surreal worlds touching. A wave in one story comes across a university coming across making the students kill them selves, this is stories about stories . A man on Mars see ghostly animals in the desert of Mars as memories of his home on earth surface . , a family gather for that yearly photo and sparks fly . A dead youngster is being buried and a daughter and her  religious mother discuss what happens after you die  . A couple on the run in Paris run into a killer as they  arrive in the city , but are they to be dinner .

The day we arrived in Paris the police confirm the cannibal is hiding in the city. He lands on a commercial flight and the airport cameras show him passing through security controls, barely disguised in a copper coloured wig. He wears a Mickey mouse T-Shirt and has a distinct beauty and fragility that makes him look like an adolescent rock star than a butcher. It’s May and raining and from the seventh floor of the hotel the streets of Paris look like an Ocean off moving heads with colourful umbrellas floating here and there.

A couple in Paris the same time as a potential killer .

This is a short collection of eight stories that mix real life and magical realism.But also a future that could be where creatures have gone and come back in ghostly views , echos of Amazion Indian  powers and magic. I felt this is a nice short taster of what could be a new voice from her country , has already won a major prize for Spanish female writers under 35 .This is a writer trying out styles  a mix of everyone from Classic JG Ballard with the sense of abandon worlds and Murakami earlier works , where explained things happen this crops up in Colanzis work like in Early Murakami books . Also a nod to Borges this is a collection from upcoming new writer .A collection you can read in an evening .

Butterfly wings by Mohamed Salmawy

 

Butterfly wings by Mohamed Salmawy

Egyptian fiction

Original title أجنحة الفراشة

Translator – Raphael Cohen

Source – Library edition

I took some short novels from the library to read on my time off , but as ever when you are away time was short sightseeing and spending time with amanda but I did manage to read this great Arabic novel by Mohamed Salmawy . Salmawy is the president of the writers union of Egypt and secretary-general of the Arab Writers and also editor of a leading daily newspaper. This book came out just before the events of 2011 , so in a way is quite insightful about what happened then .

Doha imagined that meeting Ashraf al-Zayni on the plane had been a chance encounter.It would be over when the flight ended and they went their separate ways- she to Milan for the annual fashion show and he to Palermo in Scilly for the international NGO conference. Fate , however had something in store for her that she neither expected nor imagined.

The three and a half hours of the flight from Cario to Rome left an impression that would remain with her for the rest of her life.She had never met anyone like Ashraf al-Zayni before .She saw in him something she not seen in other politicians, plus  he had brought back to life something inside her that she had not believed still existed

The chancce encounter leaves an impression on the both .

This is a story with two main characters in it Doha is a fashion designer , a sort of link between the west and arab world , she comfortably travels between here homeland and The fashion world of Italy . Her husband is a leading figure in the Murbareck regime . We see their privileged world . But after a chance encounter with Dr Ashraf a man from the opposition she meets when they are both in Rome after talking to him she sees a new insight into her world . But even with this sense the wind may be changing in her homeland she returns and like the old saying about chaos theory a butterfly wings flapping can change the world the butterfly appears time after time whether flying or in patterns on the clothes Doha is wanting to show , the two meet later in the book as the tables are turned slightly from their first meeting  . Add to that a couple of small side stories about a man waiting to meet his internet wife and a pair of brothers hunting for the real mother.

Unable to rest, Doha flicked through The butterflies of Egypt , she came to a photograph of the mural in the tomb where the ancient  Egyptian artist had painted a picture of the butterfly . The tomb belonged to a noble called Nob Amun. According to the book , there were fifty-eight indigenous species in Egypt , which was a relatively small number in comparison with other countries. This was due to Egypt’s desert environment . Neverless , Egypt’s butterflies had adapted to the harsh conditions and were able to survive and maintain their beauty despite hardships

LIke the country itself the butterflies make a good metaphor from the Egypt post Arab spring .

This is another book that captures the can of worms that was opened in Egypt when Murbarek regime was on the verge of collapsing as part of the Arab spring A figure like Ashraf , is a passionate voice of a the young people on the street we saw so much in the TV coverage  clever wanting a bright future , which as we know never really happened . There is also echos of this change in the brothers seeking their mother a new mother maybe is clever metaphor for a new country and leadership. I also love the subtle use of butterflies as a recurring Motif throughout the book. But also a larger motif of the country emerging as a butterfly from it catalyst moment of the riots being the start of something beautiful like a pure white Butterfly. This is clever look at the recent past of Egypt.

That was the month that was May 2017

  1. War and turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
  2. The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
  3. Traitors Niche by Ismail Kadare
  4. Fish have no feet by Jon kalman Stefansson
  5. Monte Carlo By Peter Terrin
  6. Mourning diary by Roland barthes
  7. Bodies of summer by Martin Felipe Castagnet
  8. Hair everywhere by Tea Tulic
  9. Belladonna by Dasa Drndic
  10. The Children by Carolina Sanin
  11. Listening for Jupiter by Pierre-Luc Landry

Things got back to normal on the blog this month after a couple of lean months review wise. I managed to finish the man booker longlist. I managed to read books from 10 countries .No new Publishers this month but the second book from Notting hill editions the Barthes Diary. So I have reviewed 49 books this year on the blog leaving me on course to read over 100 books this year.

Book of May

Belladonna by Dasa Drndric

It is a tough month as there has been a number of books that have touched me the Barthes is a great book for me at the moment but in the long run Dasa’s book is one that needs to be read Andreas Ban is a anti hero that shows us , what we need to be thinking about.

None book discovery

 

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I am due to leave work tomorrow after 17 years , I am sad but also looking forward to my new job in three weeks. I have just brought a Lomo La sardina Camera for my holiday next month, a retro camera with flash filter should make some memorable photos from our holiday.

Looking forward

 

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I have had a little extra money last few months so have slowly been getting some US translations from publishers like Open letter, Dalkey archive , Deep Vellum and archipelago books . The Castagnet from this month was the first of these books , I have a Magdalena Tulli I am reading at the moment. How was your month and what plans have you to read next month ?

Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes

French Memoir

Original title –Journal de deuil

Translator – Richard Howard

Source – personnel copy

I said I got this after reading a piece about books written after losing a close family member. This was also a chance to add Barthes to the blog , I have his Mythologies on my shelf that i read many years ago. He was one of the best known french thinkers , literary theorist , semiotics and was of the school of structuralism and post structuralism  . This was published many years after Barthes own death which happened a couple of years after the diary when he was hit by laundry truck on the way home from a dinner given by the president Mitterand

Every morning  around 6:30 in the darkness outside , the metallic racket of the garbage cans.

She would say with relief: the night is finally over (she suffered during the night , alone , a cruel business)

His mum was Ill like my mum sometimes suffering is best gone .

 

Having lost his father at a very early age , so was very close to his mother , so when he lost her in october 1977 he started to writer these short passages about his live, his mourning , his mother and how he is coping over the space of two years. We see the emptiness of the world with out his mother , he worries about how long he should feel this and that . The way grief can overtake him all of a sound .

Reread for the first time this mourning diary, tears each time there was any question of her – of her person – not of me

So emotivity returns

fresh as on the first day of mourning

I know this feeling so well-looking back is sometimes to hard I am going head long into a new life!!

This is a tough book to describe it is like a collection of thought more than a straight diary . The form of it was notes of paper he collected over those two years that he hadn’t done much with, he did after this write a piece about the pictures of his mum and who he felt about them , almost as thou he had healed more than when  these piece were left. two years earlier. We sense this is the first real taste of death that made him Barthes question his own death in a way it is more following the journey of grief that we are meant to take , I will show examples of each from the diary its self.

  1. denial isolation -“In the sentence “she is no longer suffering “, to what , to whom does “she ” refer? what does that present tense mean ?”  He has a sense of deinal to the present of the no suffering .
  2. Anger -“.. That this death fails to destroy me altogether means that I want to live wildly madly and that therefore the fear of my own death is always  there, not displaced by a single inch.” I sense anger here driving him wildly and madly to danger !
  3. Bargaining -“My overcoat is so deary that I know Maman would never have tolerated the black or grey scarf I always wear with it , and I’m keep hearing her voice telling me to wear a little colour .For the first time , then , I decide to wear a coloured scarf (scotch plaid)” I sense him bargaining with his mother
  4. Depression -” autumn 1921 Proust nearly dies (overdose of veronal).- celeste “we’ll all meet in the valley of Jehosphat”-“Ah! do you really believe there’s a chance of that? If I were sure of meeting Maman again , I’d die right away ” A sense of depression in the way he said he would die to meet his maman again .
  5. Acception -“- I write my suffering less and less but in a sense it grows stronger, shifting to the realm of the eternal since I no longer write it ” Acceptance of a sort that the writing stage is over for him.

This is one mans touching journey a book of thoughts regrets and making his way through his personnel grief . I was so touched in so many ways this is a book that will linger with me for the rest of my life .

 

 

A book to help with Mum’s passing

I read a piece last week by Scott Esposito called On books we read (and write) to get by . The piece was about Naja Marie Aidt on her  struggle to get by with the death of her son . She was given a number of books by her fellow writers one of those was Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes , which hit me as it followed his life a year in little sections after his own mothers death, I have just had a numb hole in my heart and mind for the last few months as I put my Mum’s passing to the back of my mind as I struggle to process all that I have lost.This arrived yesterday and I already read half of it as a shared journey . This may not be the total but maybe like Naja reading her books which lead to her own book as she puts it her (translated ) Grief is giant fucking monster that destroys everything  , she wrote a book about her son Carl and how she dealt with the loss  .I’m not talented enough maybe to write a book about mum but I want her to be remembered so I may write something even if she gets a mention in a review.Have you ever find solace in a book ?

Fish have no feet by Jon Kalman Stefansson

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Fish have no feet by Jon Kalman Stefansson

Icelandic Fiction

Original title – Fiskarnir hafa enga fætur

Translator – Philip Roughton

Source – Review copy

So I reach the final post of this years Man Booker journey , with one of my favourite writers and a writer that has been on the longlist for the old iffp . Jon Kalman Stefansson is another of those talent Icelandic writers. This is also the first time he has tackled a more modern-day Iceland than before in his books the earlier two I reviewed were from his trilogy Heaven and Hell and The sorrow of angels . Like his earlier book it also involves family and  but in a more personnel way than before.

I mean no disrespect , but ari is the only person who could have dragged me back here , across  the expanse of black lava that ground to a painful halt hundreds of years ago, naked in places, but elsewhere moss has softened and soothed it, clothed it in silence and serenity; you drive out of Reykjavik past the long aluminium smelter and into the lava, which at first is an old scream , and then moss-covered silence .

Ari returns to a changed place with his friend !!

This is a journey into the heart of what is modern Iceland told through two generations of the same icelandic family . The first is Ari in the present but also his childhood years  on the seventies and eighties . He has arrived home from Copenhagen and  is remembering his childhood in the town of Keflavik , a town that is home to the huge Us airbase NASKEF that was in use til 2005 , this also had like many airbases there is a ripple effect this is seen through Ari memories of his childhood of trying to grow up in the Iceland of the day which wasn’t the one we know but on the way and being tinged by America .Then Nordfjordur is the setting for the second tale a small fishing village cling to the land and the story of Ari grandparents is a tragic love story . This is juxtaposed by the modern marriage of their grandson. This is a story of nation that has changed so much in two generations .

We walk past the january 1976 bar , from which two middle-aged woman emerge , lighting cigarettes before the door shuts behind them, shuts on Rod Stewart singing “Maggie May” inside, It’s evening and we’re tipsy from the red wine and whisky we drank at the hotel and we walk down Hafnargata street, which is far tidier now than in the past, when we first walked down it with Asmundur ; Mayor Sigurjon has done a good job cleaning things up.

I liked this passage as it was as thou past, present we’re one leading me to think the narrator wasn’t in the present just the past !

Now it is hard not to see Ari in some part as being a veiled version of the writer himself , there is points when he talks about the eighties and growing up the music he listen to you feel him looking at his own collection of music and life , Like Ari Jon Kalman spent time in Denmark and also grew up in Keflavik. He has managed to writer a semi biographical novel using Ari but not as ari but more as a friend of him that is the narrator of the story, I was reminded of tv shows of recent years that use a detached voice as the narrator for the series , especially the recent netflix series thirteen reason why  which like this recounts past events in the present. Also Desperate housewives   where the whole series was told by a woman who was dead at the beginning of the book.Is this unnamed narrator an actual person or a lost friend of Ari that is long gone. In some ways this is maybe his answer to the likes of Knausgaard writing less of rooting in ones own past and pouring it on the page for every one to read no this is a carefully picked version of his history and how it feels to return home and remember what you like because the black side is there but isn’t what we remember this is the sense of drawing what was best in someway in your childhood.This is more personnel than his  earlier books which means it is maybe a harder read but more accessable

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