The latest addition to my website is Dina Salustio‘s A Louca de Serrano (The Madwoman of Serrano). This is the first novel written by a woman published in Cape Verde and the first in English. It may well be the first magic realist and feminist novel from Cape Verde. It tells the story of the remote village of Serrano, where the midwife is all important, where the madwoman dies aged thirty-three and is reborn aged nine and where the sexual relations between the men and women, including those involving strangers coming to the village, are complicated and make up the bulk of the story. We follow the stories of various characters but primarily three people, a man and two women, whose lives do not always turn out the way they want. Salustio is a wonderful story-teller and tells her story well.
The latest addition to my website is Soledad Puértolas‘ Queda la noche [The Night Remains]. This book follows the story of Aurora a thirty-something, single Spanish woman who struggles to cope with life. She has a series of desultory affairs but they do not really work out. She travels East with a male friend, particularly to New Delhi, where she meets a group of men and is attracted to two, an Indian and an Englishman but that does not work out, at least not in the way she hoped. Back home, things start to go wrong: parents, friends, boyfriends, relatives, life, all made more difficult by what happened in India turning out to be far more complicated than she (and we) had been aware of. It is a sad book, as all that remains for her is, as the title, says, the night. It has been translated into for languages, but not English.
The latest addition to my website is Margaret Atwood‘s The Testaments. This is her well-publicised follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, and is set some fifteen years after that book ended, still in Gilead, a successor country to the United States. In this book we primarily follow the story of three women. Aunt Lydia is in charge of the Ardua Home, where women are trained either to be wives/mothers or aunts (older women who mentor/teach younger women). She had been a lawyer before the revolution which led to the Sons of Jacob taking over and oppressing women in accordance with the men’s view of the Bible. She is now a survivor. Agnes is a young woman from a well-to-do home who is being trained to be a wife/mother but decides to become an aunt. Daisy was a Gilead baby but had been smuggled out to Canada and only learns of her fate at the beginning of the book. We follow the story of these three women and the fate of Gilead. Atwood again gives us a superb story and very much makes her point about the oppression of women.
The latest addition to my website is Salman Rushdie:‘s Quichotte. This is nominally Rushdie’s pastiche of Don Quixote, with its inspiration more from US TV shows and Pinocchio than from Cervantes. We follow a TV-obsessed Indian immigrant to the US, who wants to win the heart of a former Bollywood, now US TV star and sets out on a journey to do so. However, his story is being written by another Indian immigrant to the US. Both men have similarities with Rushdie himself, both men have fallen out with her sister and both men are estranged from their son (one real, one imaginary). However, Rushdie goes all over the place – cheap jokes, US TV, science fiction, fantasy, racism and Trumpism, the road novel increasingly prevalent psychological disorder in which the boundary between truth and lies became smudged and indistinct. It is quite a fun read but really not a very good novel.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El testamento del mago tenor [The Will of the Tenor Magician]. This book, not translated into English, tells the story of a magician who, on his deathbed, leaves a special magic trick to the Eternal Buddha. The Eternal Buddha is a god but also very much a living being and very small indeed, living in a dilapidated house in the Punjab, with his housekeeper, Mrs Gohu, with whom he has a tempestuous relationship. We follow this story but also the story of Jean Ball, a lawyer, who takes the trick to the Buddha but who meets the lovely Palmyra on the way out and, on the way back, the mysterious Mr Gauchat who is reading a book about Buddha, in which Ball is featured. As is usual with Aira, it is all decidedly strange but highly enjoyable, if you do not mind some mystery in your life.
The latest addition to my website is Tullio Avoledo‘s L’elenco telefonico di Atlantide [The Atlantis Telephone Directory]. The story is about Giulio Avoledo, a lawyer with a regional bank in North-East Italy. He has various problems. The bank is being taken over by a larger bank, Bancalleanza, and he may lose his job. His marriage has problems. The flat where he lives is below a flat owned by a drunk and heroin addict who makes so much noise all night long that Giulio’s wife and young son have gone to live with her mother. Things get worse when there are strange goings-on in his building and he is told of a massive conspiracy, involving Bancalleanza, Egyptian gods, an alternative past, his building and its inhabitants, his HR officer and, inevitably, Nazis. Much of it is very much tongue-in-cheek, with Avoledo mocking conspiracy theories and Giulio proving to be a smarter adversary than his enemies anticipated. Sadly, the book has not been translated into any other language.
The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Bieguni (Flights). The Polish title refers to a sect of Old Believers who believed that they should run away from anti-Christian authorities. However, though this issue briefly comes up later in the book, the novel is essentially a series of chapters of varying lengths, primarily on the theme of travel or, at least, of elsewhere, telling stories, historical anecdotes, experiences of travel, travel philosophy and her obsession with biological and anatomical oddities. She tells us some wonderful stories, introduces to the idea of plastination (a technique or process used in anatomy to preserve bodies or body parts) and tells us her philosophy of travel – It Doesn’t Matter Where I Am, it makes no difference. I’m here. It is not a conventional novel but if you have ever travelled or wanted to travel, you will find it a joy to read.
The latest addition to my website is Peter Adolphsen‘s Machine (Machine). This is another short but very inventive novel from Adolphsen. We follow the life of an oil molecule, from its creation some fifty-five million years ago (from the heart of a Eohippus) and how it either directly affects various various people or how things happen to them when it is being transported or used. There are two main characters – Jimmy Nash, originally from Azerbaijan, who extracts the oil from the ground, and Clarissa Sanders who puts the molecule in her car in the form of petrol. Their lives and the molecule interact in surprising ways. It is very clever, very inventive, very informative and a joy to read.
The latest addition to my website is Sergio Chejfec‘s Los incompletos (The Incompletes). This is a decidedly strange novel. The unnamed narrator tells of his friend Felix, who has decided to leave Argentina and travel the world. Much of the book takes place in Moscow, where Felix stays in a hotel well away from the centre, with the building seemingly having a life of its own. The book is about his relationship with Masha, daughter of the owner and receptionist, though they essentially have no relationship, except watching one another. Felix does not leave the hotel till later in the book, when he discovers a huge, mysterious crater. Meanwhile the narrator (Chefjec himself?) muses on the whys and wherefores of Felix, Masha and their non-relationship, which may (or may not) help each of them make the other more complete.
The latest addition to my website is Mircea Cărtărescu‘s Orbitor Vol 3, Aripa dreaptă [Blinding – The Right Wing]. This is the third book in his Orbitor (Blinding) trilogy. This one has many of the themes of the first two books – Mircea’s life, from childhood to adulthood, Romanian politics and stunning and highly imaginative visions of Bucharest, of butterflies and his own life but it also focusses on the 1969 Romanian Revolution which saw the overthrow and execution of Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena. Mircea does not take much part in it, though he seems to participate in one or two of the demonstrations, but he certainly witnesses and comments on it. However, what makes this book is Cărtărescu’s wonderful vision as we see Bucharest and the people (and insects!) in it not just as they are but through the author’s colourful imagination, often surrealistic, sometimes horrific but always stunningly creative.