Dritëro Agolli: Komisari Memo (The Bronze Bust)

The latest addition to my website is Dritëro Agolli‘s Komisari Memo (The Bronze Bust). It is nice to know that Ismail Kadare is not the only Albanian novelist translated into English. While this book is not of the same calibre as Kadare, it is still a well-told tale, about Albanian partisans in World War II, fighting the Germans and Albanian nationalists (in cahoots with the Germans). The main focus is on the eponymous (in the Albanian title) Commissar Memo, a communist hero. We know he has died from the beginning, as a group of people are hauling a bronze bust of him up a hill. We follow his career as he tries to change the political views of the locals, antagonises the nationalists, gets shot in the leg (badly), hides out in a town occupied by the Germans and then joins a partisan group fighting the Germans and nationalists. He is certainly the standard communist hero, though not without faults. Not a great work but a good read.

Paolo Maurensig: Il diavolo nel cassetto (A Devil Comes to Town)

The latest addition to my website is Paolo Maurensig‘s Il diavolo nel cassetto (A Devil Comes to Town). This is a tongue-in-cheek fable about a remote Swiss village, where everyone is a would-be writer but all have their manuscripts rejected. When a young woman, considered simple-minded by the other villagers, wins a literary prize, word spreads and the Devil, in the form of a publishers, arrived in the village to help the villagers publish their work. The curate of the village, who is telling the story, engages the Devil in a life-and-death struggle. With foxes as the avatars of the Devil, the publisher as the Devil and amateur writers as tools of the Devil, Maurensig is clearly having fun with this work.

Dawn Powell: The Golden Spur

The latest addition to my website is Dawn Powell‘s The Golden Spur. This is another very witty novel from Powell – her final novel – set, of course in New York (in 1955), centred around a watering hole (the eponymous Golden Spur) and about a naive young man – Jonathan Jaimison – from the provinces (Ohio). His mother (now dead) had spent some time in New York more than twenty-five years ago, as a typist for various writers, and he has just learned from his aunt, his mother’s sister, that his mother returned from New York to marry Jonathan’s father, already pregnant. Jonathan’s mission in New York is to try and find his biological father. He soon has several candidates, based both on his mother’s friends but also his own preferences for a father. We follow his time in New York, his search for a father and his effect, invariably positive, on the various people he meets.

Pola Oloixarac: Las constelaciones oscuras (Dark Constellations)

The latest addition to my website is Pola Oloixarac‘s Las constelaciones oscuras (Dark Constellations). This novel tells the story of stunning scientific discoveries and inventions, in the field of botany, genetics and information technology, from 1882 to some time in the not too distant future. In all cases, the discoveries/inventions lead to a new way of looking at the world. In the present/near future, we follow Cassio, a top hacker who is involved in a project which allows governments in Latin America to track all individuals purely on the basis of their genetic imprint, a dangerous invention which Cassio finally realises. Oloixarac enthuses about these technological and scientific changes that she describe, while being less ready to point their harmful effects. Despite that, this really is an original and innovative novel.

César Aira: La cena (Dinner)

The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s La cena (Dinner). This is Aira’s zombie novel. The narrator, a sixty-year old, never married bankrupt man, living with his mother on her pension, and the mother go to dinner with a friend. The mother and friend gossip about the people in the town, past and present, and then the friend shows them various curiosities he has in his house, of which the mother does not approve. That evening, while the narrator is channel surfing, zombies rise en masse from the cemetery and attack the town, sucking the endorphins from the brains of the inhabitants. They kill many and badly damage the town but a solution is found, connected with the events of the dinner that evening. It is not quite your standard zombie novel, primarily because of the way the zombies are controlled, but it is certainly one of Aira’s most unusual works.

Paul Gadenne: Rue profonde [The Deep Street]

The latest addition to my website is Paul Gadenne‘s Rue profonde [The Deep Street]. This is strange, short novel about an unnamed poet, living in a garret in Paris, who is writing a short poem, something he will continue to do throughout the book. He struggles with this poem, influenced by various images (the shadow of his building on the opposite one, a horse struggling with a cart). However, his poet friend tells him to get out, stroll around and see life, which he does and, inevitably, he meets a woman. Though the relationship is short and not particularly sweet, it does change his life. Sadly, the book has not been translated into English, only into Spanish.

Mario Benedetti: Primavera con una esquina rota (Springtime in a Broken Mirror)

The latest addition to my website is Mario Benedetti‘s Primavera con una esquina rota (Springtime in a Broken Mirror). This is only the second of Benedetti’s novels to appear in English. Another one will appear in June 2019. This one is set in the 1970s when the military have taken over power in Uruguay and there is considerable repression, with many Uruguayans going into exile. We follow the stories of five people: Santiago who is in a jail in Montevideo, his wife Graciela, his daughter Beatriz and his father Rafael, who are all in exile in Buenos Aires, and Benedetti himself, who was an exile during this period. Santiago has four more years to serve in prison but is eager to see his wife and daughter again. However, Graciela is having an affair with Rolando, Santiago’s best friend. Benedetti tells an excellent story of how involuntary exile affects these various people and how it changes them.

Mo Yan: 蛙 (Frog)

The latest addition to my website is Mo Yan‘s 蛙 (Frog). The basic theme of this novel is family planning and, in particular, the Chinese one-child policy. As usual the novel is set in Northeast Gaomi Township, the fictionalised version of Mo Yan’s hometown. We follow the narrator, Wan Zu, also known as Xiaopiao and as Tadpole, and, more particularly, his aunt, known as Gugu. She is a midwife – Wan Zu was the second child she delivered – and she delivers over nine thousand babies. However, she is also an enthusiastic supporter of the one-child policy and much of the novel involves her attempts to get people to adhere to it and their attempts to evade it. We also follow Wan Zu’s attempts to have a son as well as the usual multiple side stories about the inhabitants of Northeast Gaomi Township, including Gugu’s own less than successful romantic life. Given the subject matter, it is somewhat more serious than Mo Yan’s usual novels but it certainly is an eye-opener about the One-Child policy and the effect it had on people.

Sergei Lebedev: Гусь Фриц (The Goose Fritz)

The latest addition to my website is Sergei Lebedev‘s Гусь Фриц (The Goose Fritz). We follow Kirill, a Russian living in the contemporary period, who, under the influence of his grandmother, becomes interested in his ancestors, who were of German origin. He tracks down their stories, going back to the late eighteenth century, how they coped, seen as Germans, with German names, and how they were, despite their best efforts, never quite fully Russian. Lebedev give us a highly colourful account of how they were involved in many of the key events of Russian history, from the Napoleonic Wars to the Stalinist purges and how they just about survived (though many did not, dying premature deaths, often violently). Cannibalism, the various wars, rebellions and revolutions in Russia, epidemics, insanity, and love and (lots of) death are seen though the eyes of those who want to be insiders but never manage it. It is a brilliant book and confirms Lebedev as one of the foremost contemporary Russian novelists.

Miguel Ildefonso: Hotel Lima [Hotel Lima]

The latest addition to my website is Miguel Ildefonso‘s Hotel Lima [Hotel Lima]. Our hero/narrator is called Dante and we follow him in his journey underground, though his underground is merely the seedier parts of Lima, where he meets prostitutes, drug addicts, strange women and, in particular, poètes maudits. He comes in contact with an underground organisation called the Not-Poets, who detonate bombs around Lima and leave poetry rather than political slogans. He meets one member, Rosa, who, he says is the ugliest woman he has ever met, though he does have sex with her. She offers him free board and lodging to work on his latest novel – he has written two successful novels but, partially because of alcoholism, had not written anything recently. He declines. He also follows the lives of famous (in Peru) artists and poètes maudits. Ultimately, it is a poetical novel about a Peruvian writer who has lost his way and cannot seem to find it. It has not been translated into any other language.