Georges Perec: L’Attentat de Sarajevo [The Sarajevo Assassination]

The latest addition to my website is Georges Perec‘s L’Attentat de Sarajevo [The Sarajevo Assassination]. This is Perec’s first (written) novel. It was believed lost and only found and published well after his death. It was based on his friendship in Paris with a group of Yugoslavs. The narrator becomes friendly with a Yugoslav, Branko, in Paris but, when he sees a photo of Branko’s mistress, Mila, he is smitten. When she comes to Paris he sees her for a while but she returns to Yugoslavia. When she writes to him saying that she would like to see him, he is off to Belgrade in a few days. Branko lives in Sarajevo with his wife, Anna, but comes up to Belgrade as the two men struggle for the affection of Mila. Then, when our hero visits Sarajevo, he comes up with a plan to get Anna to shoot her husband out of jealousy. At the same time, we are following a theory about that other assassination in Sarajevo. It is not a great book and it is easy to see why he had difficulty getting it published but still an interesting idea.

Fernando Contreras Castro: Única mirando al mar (Única Looking at the Sea)

The latest addition to my website is Fernando Contreras Castro‘s Única mirando al mar (Única Looking at the Sea). It tells the story of a group of scavengers (they are called divers in this book) who live in a shanty town on the main San José, Costa Rica, rubbish dump. They earn their living from what they can find in the dump, They are there because of bad luck, such as job loss or being abandoned, in the case of a child. We follow Única Oconitrillo, a former teacher’s aide, as she gradually becomes the mother figure of the other divers and finds, among other things, a son and a husband on the dump. Contreras Castro very much treats them all sympathetically but the locals, the police and the government do not. The locals want the dump moved and the divers are caught in the middle, as the government lies to all parties.

César Aira: El divorcio (The Divorce)

The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El divorcio (The Divorce). The book is about a lot of things but not divorce, except for the title and the fact that our US narrator Kent is recently divorced. Kent heads to Buenos Aires for a month and, while in a café, the owner opens the awning and soaks a passer-by. The passer-by, Enrique, turns out to know Kent, his companion and another customer and his connection with each one leads to one or more fantastical, improbable, Aira-like tales, involving Krishna, a major school fire, a drug dealer masquerading as a sculptor, a management manual which seems to be the key to all wisdom and the Chinese economy and its influence on the Argentinian economy, amongst other things. Even the water that soaked Enrique may be divine intervention. It is a wonderful, thoroughly original imaginative story, with Aira on top form.

Boris Poplavsky: Аполлон Безобразов (Apollon Bezobrazov)

The latest addition to my website is Boris Poplavsky‘s Аполлон Безобразов (Apollon Bezobrazov).
The book was written in the 1930s but only a few chapters were published in an émigré magazine, till 1992, when it was serialised in a Russian magazine and finally published in book form in 1993. It was intended to be part of a multi-volume work but only one other in the series was published (not translated), also in 1993.The narrator is Vasya,a young Russian exile living (badly) in Paris. He meets and becomes close to the decidedly strange Apollon Bezobrazov. Apollon Bezobrazov can spend his time doing absolutely nothing or he can be a whirlwind of activity. He seems indifferent to his poverty and enjoys his bohemian existence. They are joined by Tereza, daughter of a religious fanatic, who has left a monastery where it seemed she was having an affair with the abbot. The three, joined by a Siberian son of an Old Believer live first in a mansion on the outskirts of Paris and then in a castle in Switzerland. Tereza believes Apollon may well be the devil and there is some evidence for that, though he may just be the typical Russian holy fool/devilish character. It is certainly an unusual book and a fascinating one as Apollon is very unpredictable.

Miloš Crnjanski: Roman o Londonu (Novel of London)

Last year I read and reviewed Miloš Crnjanski‘s Roman o Londonu (Novel of London). This book is a classic of Serbian literature, a literature virtually unknown in the English-speaking world.

I read the book in French as it was not available in English at that time. However, it has since been published in English by New Orleans-based publsher Lavender Ink / Diálogos, a publisher which, I must admit, I had not heard of till this book, in a translation by the very excellent Will Firth.

Sadly, publishing it early this year meant its London launch got swamped by the Covid-19 news and lockdown and since then, it seems to have disappeared without a trace. The matter has not been helped by the Serbian copyright-holder allowing only a 500 print run and not allowing a digital version.

The book is not cheap at $40/£30 though, at the time of writing, it is on sale from the publisher at $29.95. If you are reluctant, let me remind you of the fate of three other great novels published in limited edition and since difficult to obtain.

The first is Oğuz Atay‘s Tutunamayanlar (The Disconnected), a great Turkish novel. It was published in a very limited edition of 200 by the ad hoc publisher Olric Press. They hoped a commercial publisher would pick it up. None has. You can no longer get a copy for love or money.

The second is Arno Schmidt’s Bottom’s Dream. I have a copy but have not yet been brave enough to read it. It is also long since out of print. The UK version of a well-known only bookseller has it for £150 while the US version is charging the interesting amount of $389.47, in other words a lot more than the original price.

Finally I would mention Miquel de Palol’s Troiaccord. This book is in five volumes and only available in the original Catalan. I also have a copy and also have not yet been brave enough to start reading it. However, it is very difficult to obtain and very expensive if you do manage to find a copy.

In other words, my advice is buy this book now or it will go out of print and will be difficult and expensive to obtain in the future and the current price will seem like a real bargain.

While I am discussing this issue, I would urge you that, wherever possible, to buy books published by small publishers directly from the publisher. I mentioned this in May and that blog post contains links to many small publishers who are selling their own books, both print and ebooks, so please buy directly from them. Many of them (probably all of them) run on very tight budgets and the Covid-19 crisis has really hit them so they need every penny/cent/euro/dollar/pound/peso/yen/etc. they can get.

Roberto Bolaño/A G Porta: Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce [Advice from a Disciple of Morrison and a Fan of Joyce]

The latest addition to my website is Roberto Bolaño‘s and A G Porta‘s Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce [Advice from a Disciple of Morrison and a Fan of Joyce]. This novel was written before both writers were famous and tells the story of a Catalan writer, Ángel Ros, who is writing, not very successfully, a Barcelona Ulysses with one major difference, namely that his hero, Dedalus, is an armed robber. While Dedalus is an armed robber, so are Ángel Ros and his girlfriend, a South American called Ana. The two make no effort to conceal their identities and are soon wanted by the police, as, indeed, are others, as there appears to be a crime spree in Barcelona at the time. We follow Dedalus, Ángel and Ana and, frankly, it does no go particularly well for any of them. As Bolaño commented, it is very violent and while it is an interesting idea, it is not a great novel and would not be here, were it not for its authors.

Sakinu Ahronglong: 山豬 (Hunter School)

The latest addition to my website is Sakinu Ahronglong‘s 山豬 (Hunter School). Ahronglong belongs to the Paiwan people, one of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan and this is basically his story and the story of his people and their attempts to preserve their way of life. He does this by telling tales of himself, his family and their people. Above all, they are in tune with nature and remain so, even when hunting. We learn about their habits and the habits of the animals, about their relationship with the neighbouring Amis people (not always good), with the majority Han Chinese (definitely not good), about how drunkenness has become common and how the people have lost their way. Ahronglong’s aim throughout the book is to preserve their way of life and restore their lost cultural values. It is a thoroughly enjoyable book, very well told by its author.

José de Almada Negreiros: Nome de Guerra [Nom de Guerre]

The latest addition to my website is José de Almada NegreirosNome de Guerra [Nom de Guerre]. This is a Bildungsroman but also a mocking of the conventional romantic novel. Antunes, a thirty year old man from the provinces, is sent to Lisbon by his uncle in order to make a man of him. He is handed over to D. Jorge, a man who is both stupid and vulgar. He takes Antunes to a club where they get drunk but where they meet a young prostitute, Judith. Antunes falls for Judith, though both his gentlemanly upbringing and his nice girlfriend, Maria, back home, do give him some pause but, ultimately, he wants to experience the pleasures of a sexual adventure. He analyses his motives to death but it is clear (both to us and to him) what they are. Negreiros has his fun and, indeed, so does Antunes, realising that Judith is just an experience to go through and then move on. And Judith? Well, she knows that true love is not for her.

Martín Caparrós: Sinfin [Endless]

The latest addition to my website is Martín CaparrósSinfin [Endless]. The key theme of the book is immortality. We follow the development from the present time to 2072 of a system called 天, Chinese for heaven, which is a fairly sophisticated way of transferring the human brain to a smart machine, replete with artificial intelligence and virtual reality so that, after death, we can all live the life we want. Caparrós goes into considerable detail about the various steps along the way, which, inevitably, are not always straightforward. At the same time,we are following world events (bad), the takeover of the Chinese and the real story (as opposed to the official story), as told by our investigative narrator, who finds the real truth behind the project which, inevitably, is not as it seems. It is an excellent book, not least because Caparrós goes into considerable detail about how the project was developed, including its failures and success and still finds time to mock that nice Mr. Trump.

Sándor Márai: A zendülők (The Rebels)

The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s A zendülők (The Rebels). The book is set in May 1918. Four young men have just finished school and are waiting to join the army. They formed a gang at school which, initially, was just an anti-teacher and anti-parent gang but has become more sinister. They steal on a fairly large scale, primarily from their parents. Indeed, they steal so much, they have to rent a place to store it. When an itinerant actor becomes close to them and they realise that the fathers of two of them returning from the war, will discover the thefts, things take a turn for the worse. Márai tells a superb story of relationships, superficially smooth, but with hidden issues, partially class-based, and how rebellion is not always straightforward.