Richard Powers: Bewilderment

The latest addition to my website is Richard PowersBewilderment. This is another superb novel from Powers, about a widower, Theo, an astrobiologist bringing up a highly intelligent and very sensitive son, Robin who does not fit in and does not want to attend school. Indeed, he really wants to be another Greta Thunberg. To keep the authorities away Theo has Robin participate in an experiment which involves mapping the boy’s brain to another brain map, in this case his late mother’s. While it seems to work, there is an enemy, a Trump-like president who hates science, immigrants and civil liberties. The world is going to hell, while Theo tries to look beyond our world and Robin struggles with our flawed world. Highly recommended reading.

Serhiy Zhadan: Ворошиловград (Voroshilovgrad)

The latest addition to my website is Serhiy Zhadan‘s Ворошиловград (Voroshilovgrad). This novel is set in Eastern Ukraine but not in Voroshilovgrad which isn’t called Voroshilovgrad any more. Our hero Herman, working in Kharkiv, is summoned to the small town of his birth not far from the Russian border, when his brother, who runs a garage, has disappeared. He has a whole host of problems, including a less than reliable staff, officials who are after him and thugs who want to buy the garage and can be very unpleasant when people do not do what they want. We follow his adventures with smugglers, Shtundists, gypsies, nomadic Mongolians, aging football players, a secret train that goes nowhere, gypsies, punk farmers and a host of other characters, some of whom are friendly and some of whom are definitely not. Zhadan leaves us with the moral that your friends and family may be peculiar but when things go wrong they are the ones who will stick by you.

Ingeborg Drewitz: Eis auf der Elbe [Ice on the Elbe]

The latest addition to my website is Ingeborg Drewitz‘s Eis auf der Elbe [Ice on the Elbe]. An unnamed West Berlin woman keeps a diary (in 1981) about her not entirely happy life. She is a lawyer and sees the unpleasant side of life – refugee women who are struggling, for example, but she is also defending a (male) murderer. She has three adult daughters whose lives are not always perfect, particularly her eldest Christine, whose husband is a drunk who hits her. Our narrator is not particularly fond of her controlling husband Heinrich, though looks after him when he has cancer. She does not like the weather, the traffic, the crime. The only thing she does enjoy is the monthly lunch she prepares for her daughters and their families. She looks back at the war, when her father was killed and their house burned down. She wonders how the young generation cope with the guilt of being German. But, as the title implies, life is always cold.

Maurizio Maggiani: Il romanzo della nazione [The Novel of the Nation]

The latest addition to my website is Maurizio Maggiani‘s Il romanzo della nazione [The Novel of the Nation]. Despite its somewhat arrogant title, it is, in fact, primarily the story of the author’s family and, particularly his father, a man who fought in World War II, became a Communist, is austere and never shows any affection – indeed barely even talks to his wife and son. The key event for his son is the death of his father, though we learn a lot more about the father (a secret poet!) as well and other family members as well as about father-son relations, not showing affection, a life well lived, then and now, old age and its problems and, of course, death. The book has not been translated into any other language and, I suspect, may not be, as it is a mishmash and very Italian.

Carl de Souza: Jours de Kaya (Kaya Days)

The latest addition to my website is Carl de Souza‘s Jours de Kaya (Kaya Days). The book is about the 1999 Mauritian riots following the death in custody of Kaya, a popular Mauritian seggae musician, who had organised a concert calling for the decriminalisation of marijuana. We follow Santee, a teenage girl who has gone to pick up her brother from school but, when she finds he has already left, goes looking for him and gets caught up in the riots. However, this is not a straightforward, realistic account but something of a mythical, quasi-Dantean journey through a sort of hell, with Santee becoming Shakuntala, a mythical woman from the Mahabharata as she gradually takes on the mantle of Shakuntala. Helped by a man she calls Milanac and, eventually, her brother, Santee/Shakuntala loots, dances and continues her journey. It is only a short book, but de Souza packs a lot in.

Jon Fosse: Eit nytt namn – Septologien VI-VII (A New Name : Septology VI-VII)

The latest addition to my website is Jon Fosse‘s Eit nytt namn – Septologien VI-VII (A New Name : Septology VI-VII). This is the conclusion of his brilliant trilogy about three days in the life of an artist/two artists, Alse. I say two artists as there are two Alses but they seem likely to be doppelgängers of one another. In this novel Alse 1 (as I call him but Fosse does not) essentially abandons painting and moves towards the final phase of his life. What has always mattered to him more than anything is Ales, his long since dead wife, and he will see her on a symbolic boat journey, as he moves towards a state of grace. His doppelgänger, however, will spend the entire book in a coma, almost certainly caused by excessive drinking. We do jump back – Alse 1’s meeting with Ales and his artistic career and Alse 2’s marital problems – but the focus of the book is the move towards the end. This trilogy has been haled as one of the great works of the twenty-first century and I can only concur.

Lo Yi-Chin: 遠方 (Faraway)

The latest addition to my website is Lo Yi-Chin‘s 遠方 (Faraway). Our hero, also called Lo Yi-Chin, is a Taiwanese novelist. His father left China in 1949, abandoning his family, and fled to Taiwan where he started a new family. He has since been back and has now gone on a tour when he has a stroke. Lo Yi-Chin and his mother fly to Jiujiang (a fuckhole of a town, our author describes it), in what he considers very much a third world country. Much of the book is devoted to his dealing with the Chinese system (bribes obligatory) and trying to fly his father back to Taipei, where he can be treated properly, though he ruminates on many topics including novels and novel-writing, the other patients and, of course, father-son relationships. It could have been boring but Lo Yi-Chin writes so well that we never lose interest.

Kōbō Abe: 他人の顔 (The Face of Another)

The latest addition to my website is Kōbō Abe‘s 他人の顔 (The Face of Another). Our hero, a plastics engineer, is badly injured in an industrial accident, leaving his face badly scarred. People – even his wife – are repelled by him. He decides to develop a plastic mask and considers wearing the mask while accosting or even assaulting his wife. What makes the novel are his complex studies on the topic – people’s reaction to him without and with the mask, what masks mean in our society, does the mask have a personality of its own and how it has changed him. Another superb novel from Abe.

Joseph Roth: Die Kapuzinergruft (The Emperor’s Tomb)

The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Die Kapuzinergruft (The Emperor’s Tomb). This was the last novel he published in his lifetime, when he was living in exile, after the Nazis had annexed Austria. He died the following year. It is a sad and gloomy tale focussing on Franz Ferdinand Trotta, cousin of the hero of Radetzkymarsch (The Radetzky March). Trotta is so taken with his Slovenian cousin and friend that he escapes from his man about town life in Vienna to visit them. War (WWI) is declared while he is there. Instead of joining his Vienna regiment, he gets a transfer to his cousin’s regiment and is almost immediately taken prisoner, returning to a defeated Vienna, where everyone is broke. And then the Nazis take over. It is the end of an era.

Mateiu Caragiale: Craii de Curtea-Veche (Gallants of the Old Court; later: Rakes of the Old Court)

The latest addition to my website is Mateiu Caragiale‘s . This is a new translation of a novel voted the best Romanian novel by a poll of Romanian readers. It follows a dissolute group of people who carouse, drink, gamble and whore in fin-de-siècle Bucharest in the area of the Old Court, a now much ruined former castle/palace. Caragiale uses a rich and colourful language and pours on the descriptions, sparing no-one (except perhaps the unnamed narrator) his lavish portrayal of a dissolute society, where there is virtually no redeeming character. It is great fun to read through the eyes of the somewhat naive narrator and an excellent addition to the canon of Romanian novels in translation.

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