The latest addition to my website is Jens Dittmar‘s Sterben kann jeder [Anyone Can Die]. This is the first novel from Liechtenstein on my site and, inevitably, it has not been translated into any other language. We follow the story of Jodok, a Liechtenstein national, and his wife, Ilse, a German national, who lives with her husband in Liechtenstein after the war. Jodok is killed in a fire in 1972. Ilse lives for many years later and, for much of the story, is in an old people’s home, reminiscing about her time with Jodok, to her son, Lorenz. While we follow their story and Dittmar throws in a few tangents, the main plot, which takes up only a small part of the book is why did Jodok die? Was it murder, suicide and or accident? All is – sort of – revealed at the end.
The latest addition to my website is Josef Pánek‘s Láska v době globálních klimatických změn [Love in the Time of Global Climate Change]. This is a witty (with Czech-style wit) novel about racism and racial differences. Tomáš is a divorced molecular biologist, attending a conference in Bangalore. He does not like the place – the heat, the smell, the noise, the food, the lack of alcohol. He has not had sex for some time (exactly how much depends on his mood) and cannot countenance having sex with an Indian woman. He then meets an Indian woman, first in the street and later at the conference and he starts to wonder whether he was mistaken. Throughout the book he mocks those he meets, the places he visits, his family, the Czech institutions and above all, himself and his attitudes. It is very funny but, at the same time, seriously discusses the issue of racism and racial differences.
The latest addition to my website is Peadar O’Donnell‘s The Big Windows. Brigid lives on an island and has married Tom, who lives on the mainland, in a glen, surrounded by mountains. She moves to the mainland to join her husband but things do not go well. Some of the women jostle and bully her, resentful of the fact that she has stolen one of their men, a much coveted man. There is a shortage of men, as many have gone to Boston or to Scotland to earn money to go to the United States. Her widowed mother-in-law tries to teach her the ways of the glen. Tom realises that she is missing the large vistas living on an island offers and suggests installing big windows for her. Initially, there is opposition but when the windows arrive, everyone helps out. However, the healing is only superficial and things do not go well. This may be O’Donnell’s best novel.
The latest addition to my website is Juan Cárdenas‘ Ornamento (Ornamental). This is another dystopian novel from Latin America, this one from Colombia. Our unnamed narrator is testing a new drug on four women (it only works on women) and while three sleep through the test but later report a pleasurable sensation, one, known only as no 4, remains awake and talks throughout. Her ramblings, about her rebuilt mother, her son, her father and stepfather and others topics, will continue to interrupt throughout the book. Our narrator is married to a not very talented but highly successful cocaine-sniffing artist and No 4 is brought into the relationship. Indeed, our dilatory narrator had considered leaving his wife for her. It is all ornamentation, “good taste”, cheap thrills. This is what the world is coming to.
The latest addition to my website is Rafik Schami‘s Die dunkle Seite der Liebe (The Dark Side of Love). Coming in at around 900 pages this may be a suitable book for the lockdown. It will keep you entertained for days. It is about the love affair between Farid and Rana, whose families have been having a bitter feud for some time and are of different religions, not Muslim vs Christian, but Catholic vs Orthodox. We follow not only their stories, but the stories of their relatives, families and friends, many of which are violent. Sex abounds but so does mistreatment of women, abuse of human rights and other unpleasantnesses. The story starts with a murder, that of a secret service officer, which is seemingly resolved quite quickly. Culprits are found but though they are punished, they are not guilty. The rest of the book is the background to the murder and, given the length, we soon forget the murder victim, who only pops up late in the book. It is colourful, at times funny, often grim but a wonderful set of stories to keep you entertained during lockdown.
The latest addition to my website is Dola de Jong‘s De thuiswacht (The Tree and the Vine). This book became famous as it is about lesbianism at a time (1954) when respectable Dutch women did not write about the topic. Bea is a sensible and responsible young woman. She meets Erica, an erratic and unpredictable young woman. Both are trainee journalists. It is 1938. They soon become close friends and move in together. Bea finds Erica’s behaviour both trying yet fascinating. They fall out when Bea’s boyfriend, Bas, and Erica clash. Erica wins and Bas is gone. It is only halfway through the book that Erica admits to Bea that she is lesbian and feels sure that Bea is too. Bea is certainly spellbound by Erica but she is resolutely heterosexual. The two continue their up and down relationship but Erica is half-Jewish and a German invasion is imminent. The book has now just been published for the third time in English and clearly the lesbianism helps but what makes it, is the complex and unpredictable relationship between two very different women.
The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s Bebi, vagy az elsö szerelem [Bebi or First Love]. the novel recounts the story of Gaspar, a fifty-four year old Latin teacher in the Hungarian town of Z. Though he gets on well enough with his colleagues, he lives a solitary life, having no friends, no romantic life, no family, no pet and no connection with religion. As he is getting older, he is starting to feel his loneliness more and more and frequently complains about it. He is persuaded to go on holiday – the first time in twenty-eight years – and visits the somewhat seedy resort town he visited twenty-eight years ago. He meet another solitary man but though they briefly connect, the man lives in Vienna. Back in Z. things get worse, particularly, when he starts obsessing about the relationship between Madar, a poor but very good student, and Margit, a girl in the same class. Márai gradually and skilfully develops Gaspar’s increasing irrational behaviour.
The latest addition to my website is Gustavo Faverón Patriau‘s Vivir abajo [Living in the Basement]. This novel, already declared a key novel of twenty-first century Latin American literature by some critics, is a brilliant and complex novel about the politics and violence of Latin America and the United States but also of their culture. We follow around a dozen stories, with all of the key characters having a dark past, sometimes more than one past, and invariably very dark, which we gradually learn about during the course of the book. The stories all eventually link up, directly or indirectly, with characters from one story appearing in unexpected ways in another story. All are involved with violence in one way or another, though they also get involved in culture, particularly literature and cinema, though also art and music. The main point is to show the violence in Latin America, with particular reference to Peru, Paraguay and Chile, and US involvement in this violence but also to show the cultural background to the region. It is a brilliant book and it is to be hoped that some publisher will be brave enough to publish it in English.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue (In the Café of Lost Youth). While there are similarities with his other novels, this is unusually narrated by four different narrators, including the usual Modiano-like naive wannabe writer, but also the inevitable mysterious woman and two other characters. All the characters meet at the café Condé, including real-life writers as well as other literati. Louki, the mysterious woman, joins them but never seems fully integrated into the group, though she does have an affair with Roland, one of the narrators. We follow Roland, who becomes Louki’s boyfriend and believes in the idea of the eternal return and what he calls neutral zones in cities, Louki’s troubled life and the theory of how we all need fixed points to cope with the maelstrom of the city. Of course, it all ends miserably as people die, disappear and move on but it is till one of Modiano’s best.
The latest addition to my website is Clara Usón‘s Corazón de napalm [Heart of Napalm]. There are two stories going in. The first concerns Fede, an overweight thirteen year old boy, whose parents spend their life partying and doing drugs. When it all goes wrong, the parents split up and Fede and his father move to Santander, where his father has a new wife. Fede and his stepmother hate each other and Fede decides to run away to find his mother. It does not work out well. Meanwhile, Marta is painting for the famous artist, Maristany. He has a tremor so he has the ideas and she carries them out. The clients are none the wiser. However, she is fired by Maristany’s new wife, Solange. Sometime later she meets Juan, a judge specialising in juvenile crime. They start an affair, which has its ups and downs, while she struggles to make a living, till Solange phones her after Maristany’s death, to carry on her work. Though various things go wrong in both stories, the two do converge and in a surprising way. It is a very clever book with interesting ideas on art and juvenile crime but sadly not available in English.