The latest addition to my website is Kirmen Uribe‘s Bilbao-New York-Bilbao (Bilbao-New York-Bilbao). This is a Basque novel, which is not really a novel and is not really about travel between Bilbao and New York. Uribe describes his efforts to write a novel about his grandfather, a fisherman, the Basque painter, Aurelio Arteta and Arteta’s friend, the Basque architect, Ricardo Bastida. We jump around between those three, Uribe’s own life, his contact with writers from minority cultures, his family, his travels by plane (comparing it to Bastida’s son’s transatlantic crossing by ship) and Basque culture and life. He tells lots of amusing and informative stories and ends up with this book, which is, more or less, the novel he always meant to write, a novel about real people, rather than fictitious ones.
The latest addition to my website is Alfredo Navarro Salanga‘s The Birthing of Hannibal Valdez
This short novel from the Philippines tells the story not so much of Hannibal Valdez but of his grandfather, Leon. Leon’s daughter-in-law, daughter of one of his tenants, is about to give birth to a child. Leon is sure that it will be a boy and not like his weak and unmanly son, Antonio, father of the child, but manly like his grandfather. The child is born – a boy – but the mother dies. Leon does not care as he will now he able to bring up the boy as he wishes. He is visited by a US major (the tale takes place in 1945, after the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese by US forces). The rest of the book involves Leon telling the major about his exploits in the war against the Spanish and how he became the successful man he is today. Indeed, this book might well be called The Boasting of Leon Valdez. It i still an enjoyable tale, full of bravado and braggadocio.
The latest addition to my website is Taha Hussein‘s دعاء الكروان (The Call of the Curlew). Taha Hussein is considered as one of the greatest Egyptian novelists but is also noted for his liberal views and for the fact that he earned academic and political distinction as well, despite being blind from the age of three. This novel tells of a mother and two adult daughters, who are forced to leave their village in shame when their husband/father is killed for his womanising. They find work elsewhere but one of the daughters, Hanadi, is seduced by her employer, an engineer, and again they have to leave. Hanadi is murdered by her uncle for bringing further shame on the family while her sister, Amina vows revenge on the engineer. Hussein tells his story well and is clearly full of sympathy for the hapless women, innocent victims of a male society.
The latest addition to my website is Fernando Aramburu‘s Patria (Homeland). This book has been hugely successful in Spain and has been translated into several languages and will appear in English in March 2019. It tells the story of two Basque families. In one, the father, Txato, is murdered by ETA, the Basque separatist group as he does not pay the revolutionary tax, a contribution demanded by the ETA from Basque businesses. The other family, initially close friends with the first, have a son, Joxi Mari, who becomes an ETA killer and who may or may not have killed Txato. We follow the lives of all the members of the two families – two children in the first case, three in the second – and their lives both before and after the murder of Txato, including Joxe Mari’s time in prison (a sentence of 126 years). Aramburu is clearly more sympathetic to the victims, particularly, Txato’s widow, Bittori, but understands even if he does not agree with the ETA side and their supporters. Aramburu tells a first-class story about what it means to be Basque during the ETA era and how it affected all sides.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s How to Be Both. This book tells two stories and, when it was originally published, half were printed with one first and the other half with the other one first. The first one (that I read) concerned the Italian painter Francesco del Cossa, known for his frescoes in Ferrara. The second story concerns George, a sixteen-year old English girl, whose mother suddenly died recently. Cross-dressing, gender fluidity and bisexuality are the both of the title though they do not figure prominently. The two are connected as, before her death, Carol George’s mother, takes George and her brother to Ferrara to see the frescoes. Carol is also an Internet rebel (Google bombing) and highly critical of certain politicians and, as a result, may or may not be under surveillance. I found the novel somewhat rambling but the George story was certainly more interesting than the Ferrara one.
The latest addition to my website is Yulisa Pat Amadu Maddy‘s No Past, No Present, No Future. Maddy is known as Sierra Leone’s greatest playwright but he wrote one novel, this one, a grim tale of three young Sierra Leonean men who lose their way in Bauya, an obvious proxy for Sierra Leone, and then in the UK. Joe is from the urban poor and is abused by his drunken parents and is not sorry when they are killed when their still explodes; Ade is from the well-to-do middle class and falls out with his parents when a young woman dies trying to abort her baby which, she claims in a note, Ade is the father of; Santigie is the son of a chief and the only one to be educated but is, to his disappointment, not elected to be chief when his father dies. They all work on the railways (and steal from their employer and the customers) and then, with the money earned, head for the UK. Things do not end up much better there, with racism and bad behaviour continuing. It is a sad tale of three young men who lose their way in a changing world.
The latest addition to my website is Norah Lange‘s Personas en la sala (People in the Room). This is the second Lange book I have read but the first to be published in English, sixty-eight years after it first appeared in Spanish. It tells the story of a seventeen-year old woman who observes the three sisters who live in the house opposite and almost never leave the house or, indeed, the room. She wonders who they are and, eventually, gets to know them but still learns little about who they are. The whole story is told about the four women, as though sealed off from the rest of the world, with only occasional appearances by other, peripheral characters. There is a feeling of death, sadness and complete isolation hanging over them and the story. Lange tells her story very well, with what is not said as important as what is said.
The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Barokk Róbert [Robert Baroque]. Though only published three years after his death, this is an early work, written when he was eighteen (and, apparently, never revised or even reread). It is essentially an autobiographical work about his eighteenth year and includes his home and school life, the conflict between his religious feelings and his lustful feelings towards young women and his desire to be a writer. He has many ideas for novels, stories and even a play, which he shares with us but which never get written. He also often veers off into flights of fantasy about his life, his writing and the young women he is attracted to. While not a great work, it is interesting to see what the young Szentkuthy was like and how his lurid imagination carried him away even then.
The latest addition to my website is Emiliano Monge‘s El cielo árido (The Arid Sky). This novels tells the story of Germán Alcántara Carnero, known as El Gringo, from conception in 1901 to death in 1981. El Gringo is a local boss and is happy to use whatever violence he needs to keep the local indigenous population and priests under control. Torture, brutal murders and horrible deaths are all part of his modus operandi, as we follow his rise to the top. Then, aged fifty-five, he decides to retire. However, he does not know what to do with himself nor how to control his anger, till he meets Dolores. However, as the narrator comments, a man may escape his life but never his shadow.. Monge shows a violence-filled life, from his violent conception to his violent death and lots in-between, an indication of what life has been and is in Mexico.
The latest addition to my website is François Bon‘s L’enterrement [The Funeral]. This short novel/long story tells of the unnamed narrator’s visit to a remote village in the Vendée region of France for the funeral of Alain, an old friend. We do not know how Alain died but we suspect it was suicide. The narrator observes the village and the funeral ritual. He was last there five months previously for the wedding of Alain’s sister who is now visibly more than five months pregnant. Nothing much happens but the narrator observes how the village has changed, how it looks somewhat run-down and how the people still just carry on. The narrator is an excellent observer and tells his account well but is eager to leave the village at the end.