Jacques Roumain: Gouverneurs de la rosée (Masters of the Dew)

dew

The latest addition to my website is Jacques Roumain‘s Gouverneurs de la rosée (Masters of the Dew). While not the first Haitian novel on my website, it is the first written in French. Moreover, it is a considered a classic of Caribbean literature. It tells the story of Manuel, a Haitian man who has been absent from his country for fifteen years, working on sugar plantations in Cuba. When he returns, he finds two things have changed. There has been a serious dispute over land sharing, resulting in armed conflict and death and with the two extended families still at loggerheads. Secondly, there has been an extended drought, so much so that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the villagers to grow their crops. One or two have started leaving to start a new life elsewhere. Manuel, as a more or less outsider, makes it his task to find a new source of water and to bring the two warring families together, so that the water can be efficiently and equitably delivered to the village. He tries to do this with the help of Annaïse, a woman from the family opposed to his, but he has opposition not only from Gervilen, a man from the same family, who is in love with Annaïse, but also from the police chief, who wants to take the land for himself, by lending money to the villagers at usurious rates and then taking the land when they cannot repay. While Roumain was a communist and he does preach the idea of solidarity as the best way forward for the working man and woman, this is not a communist novel. Rather it is a first-class novel about the struggle to survive and live a good life.

Ciro Alegría: El mundo es ancho y ajeno (Broad and Alien Is the World)

alegria

The latest addition to my website is Ciro Alegría‘s El mundo es ancho y ajeno (Broad and Alien Is the World), a classic Peruvian novel of the 1940s. Alegría was a fighter for the rights of the native population of Peru. This novel is about the brutal exploitation of the natives by the rich and powerful landowners of Spanish descent. The story is about a remote Andean village called Rumi, where the native, Quechua-speaking population has lived and owned the land for many years. However, the local rich landowner has his eye on their land, both for his own greed but also because he hopes to force the natives to work in his mines and other industrial plants. The public defender says that the villagers have nothing to fear, as their claim is valid but the landowner manages to bribe the judge, the public defender and various others, who act as false witnesses. The villagers have to move out and relocate to a hilly village, where it is difficult to grow crops and breed cattle. Indeed, the cattle, of their own accord, head back to the village of Rumi where the landowner’s men take them. The mayor of the village and hero of the first part of the book tries to reclaim one of his cows and he is arrested and thrown into prison. He will later be beaten up and die.

ajeno

The mayor and his late wife had brought up a child who was the son of a rape victim during one of the civil wars This boy had fled when accused of a crime but now, many years later, unaware of what has happened, returns to the village. When he finds out what has happened, he organises resistance but, again the landowner wants the villager’s land for the same reasons as before and the fight is unequal. Alegría makes no bones about where his sympathies lie. He tells a superb tale of the dignity of the natives resisting the cruelties of the oppressors but also gives us a detailed portrait of the culture, beliefs and superstitions of the native population. With the advent of the Latin American boom, classic Latin American novels like this have faded into the background. This is a pity. Though a straightforward realistic novel, without a hint of magic realism, this is a very fine novel which should be better known outside Latin America. Fortunately, it is readily available in Spanish, English and several other languages.

Francesco Piccolo: Il desiderio di essere come tutti

piccolo

The latest addition to my website is Francesco Piccolo‘s Il desiderio di essere come tutti. This is a very political novel, telling the story of a man who is now fifty, born in Caserta, who joined the Italian Communist Party, as a result of Jürgen Sparwasser, scoring the winning goal for East Germany against West Germany in the 1974 World Cup. The book is about his political and intellectual apprenticeship, where he describes the key events in his life (love, his family relationships) and in Italy (the 1980 earthquake in Irpinia, Berlinguer (head of the Italian Communist party) and his alliances with the more right-wing parties, the kidnapping and death of Aldo Moro and, of course, the rise of Berlusconi) and relates them to his life. At the same time, he compares various events and concerns in his life with books and films and analyses the two together. As both the story of the apprenticeship of an Italian man and detailed examination of Italian politics over the past forty years, it works very well, though may not be for everybody. It won this year’s Strega Prize.

Feri Lainšček: Namesto koga roža cveti (Instead Of Whom Does The Flower Bloom)

lainscek

The latest addition to my website is Feri Lainšček‘s Namesto koga roža cveti (Instead Of Whom Does The Flower Bloom). Lainšček grew up in north-eastern Slovenia (then Yugoslavia) near Roma villages and got to know the Roma people. These book is about a Roma family and their neighbours. Halgato (it is a type of gypsy violin playing) is the son of Mariška (real name: Sanji) who, at the beginning of the book, has knifed a secret service agent. He will shortly be arrested. Before his arrest he passes on his nickname, his talent and his violin to his son. Sanji/Halgato’s mother, Tereza, is soon joined by Bumbaš, an itinerant tinker and his three children. He takes the children, including Halgato, with him on his rounds but is not very successful, spending what little cash he earns on drink and women. He soon realises that this is not going to work and his son, Pišti, goes off to school (the only gypsy in the book who learns to read) while he takes Halgato to Bazika Joska, an experienced violinist. Bazika Joska recognises Halgato’s talent and Bumbaš and Halgato set off touring, living on what Halgato’s playing earns them. When they return home, Bumbaš finds that both of his daughters have been made pregnant by the same man. When this man’s body is fished out of the river, Bumbaš is arrested. Meanwhile, Pišti has started an affair with Iza but when he causes a fatal car crash, he is arrested and sent to prison. Halgato, who is also in love with Iza, seizes his chance. Meanwhile, Pišti kills guard while trying to escape and is sentenced to further imprisonment. The books starts when Halgato and Pišti meet up, after Pišti has been released, gone to the US and returned. The meeting is naturally bitter. The gypsies in the book all seem to be stereotypes and all seem to be unhappy. Halgato plays the violin a lot (the title of the book comes from a song he plays) but it does not seem to make him happy. Indeed, he continually is looking for a way out but cannot see one. However, the book is interesting in giving a portrait of a culture which, for most of us, will be unknown and Lainšček tells his story well.

Zurab Karumidze: დაგნი ანუ სიყვარულის დღესასწაული (Dagny or a Love Feast)

dagny

The latest addition to my website is Zurab Karumidze‘s დაგნი ანუ სიყვარულის დღესასწაული (Dagny or a Love Feast). Dagny is Dagny Juel, a Norwegian writer, model for Munch and lover of Strindberg, who, in 1901, travelled to Tbilisi, Georgia, where, after three weeks, she was murdered by her Polish lover, Władysław Emeryk. The novel is allegedly about the last three weeks of her life but it is about much more as, in Tbilisi at the time, were the young revolutionary who would become Stalin and the spiritual teacher George Gurdjeff. Karumidze, without any evidence, surmises that Dagny met both of them and we follow their activities in Tbilisi during that period, though with a lot of mocking. While Karumidze discusses the people he calls shamans (which includes Gurdjeff) and false shamans (which includes Stalin), he also treats us to a wonderful romp through Tbilisi at the time with food, drink and sex naturally featuring but also Japhetic linguistics, revolutionary terror, higher consciousness, the post-modern novel, The Great Game, art, music and astronomy, with even an appearance from an extraterrestrial watching down over a young Albert Schweitzer. It is all glorious fun, albeit with something of a serious intent hidden in there somewhere, and shows that the novel in Georgia is as alive as it is elsewhere.

Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist

The only one I have read
The only one I have read

This year’s Man Booker Prize longlist was announced today.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris (Viking)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)
The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre)
J, Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)
The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound)
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (Sceptre)
The Lives of Others, Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
Us, David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Dog, Joseph O’Neill (Fourth Estate)
Orfeo, Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
How to be Both, Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
History of the Rain, Niall Williams (Bloomsbury)

The favourite?
The favourite?

This is the first year that all writers from the English-speaking world are eligible, which means that US writers are included. The score is four US writers, four English, two Irish, one Australian, one Indian and one Scottish. Five (Jacobson, Mitchell, Nicholls, O’Neill and Smith) have not yet been published in the UK and the Flanagan has only just been published in the UK, though has been out quite a while in Australia. I have only read one (Orfeo), which I did enjoy but did not think one of his best. The bookie William Hill has O’Neill has the favourite, followed by Mitchell and Flanagan. Given that the first two have not been published in the UK and the third only just, I am not sure how they can make this decision. Paddy Power favours Flanagan, followed by Jacobson and then, jointly, Mitchell and Mukherjee. I may well read two or three – eventually – but I am not particularly inspired by this list. Missing in action: McEwan, Self, Nicola Barker, Sarah Waters, Irvine Welsh, Teju Cole, Alan Warner, Hensher, Danielewski, Lethem, Joseph Boyden, Helen Oyeyemi, Elizabeth Gilbert, Damon Galgut, Jenny Offill and, of course, Donna Tartt.

Waiting for Google or Google fail Redux

The John Williams who wrote this did not write Stoner
The John Williams who wrote this did not write Stoner

If you have ever perused my website you will know that, for each author on my website, I do a page, which contains a biography, links to other sites about the author and a bibliography, which contains links to books by the author I have reviewed. One of the problems occurs when I have authors with similar names. Being the only person on the planet not have read John Williams’ Stoner I plan to add him to my website. However, when I went to do research on him, I found several authors called John Williams: the Welsh novelist, the African-American novelist, John A Williams, John Sibley Williams, the poet, John Hartley Williams, the Welsh poet, John Richard Williams and the Welsh poet, John James Williams. I did sort them all out as you will see when I eventually get round to reading Stoner.

Kathryn Davis, but not the one who writes about volleyball
Kathryn Davis, but not the one who writes about volleyball

Kathryn Davis is another writer whom I should have added to my website some time ago but better late than never. While exchanging emails with her, she informed me that she was aware of two other writers called Kathryn Davis. (This was prompted by my informing her that I had found six other women called Kathryn Davis born in the US the same year as her.) The first is Kathryn Lynn Davis, a writer of romance novels. (Just to make things more confusing there is a book illustrator and graphic designer called Kathryn Lynn Davis, who also uses the name Nancy Davis which was, of course, the name of Ronald Reagan’s second wife.) The second is Kathryn (L(ouise) Davis who writes about volleyball and fitness. When I Googled the latter, this is “>what I got.

this page. As you will see, the title is Report an issue with a book. Of course, that is not what it means. I made a report to this page. Here is there response:

Thank you for contacting Google and for reporting the incorrect listing of authors for “Kathryn L. Davis”. I apologize for the disruption this has caused in your reading experience.
Our team supports customers who are reading or purchasing books on Google Play (play.google.com). I noticed that the issue you are inquiring about regards Google Books (books.google.com), which is our digitization project.
Because Google Play is a different product from Google Books, we’re unable to offer you support through this channel. We apologize for the inconvenience. However, you may find information about Google Books through the Help Center website at http://support.google.com/books/
If you’re an author or copyright holder who would like to report an issue with a book, please visit the Google Books Partner Program Help Center – http://support.google.com/books/partner/
Should you have additional questions about Google Play products and services, feel free to include them in a direct response to this email and I will gladly assist you further.

In other words, not our problem, despite the misleading heading of their reporting page and the left hand could not possibly forward it to the right hand. You deal with it, because we are Google and too mighty to bother or care. This was signed by Megyn (Google employees do not have last names. It seems to be official policy.) who claims to be The Google Support Team (sic), i.e. not the Google Play Support Team, just the Google Support Team.

I then contacted Google Books and here is their response:

Thank you for notifying us of this issue.

I’ve taken a look at this book, and it’s what we call a scanless book. Scanless books exist in our system as metadata-only records, much like you’d find in a library catalog: the data we have is basic bibliographic information about the book itself (such as the title, author, ISBN, and publication date), and doesn’t include content from the copyrighted pages. You may have noticed that there’s no preview available for this book on Google Books.

The information we display for scanless books is acquired automatically from third-party metadata providers, and we received the metadata for this particular book from Baker, Bowker, Ingram and OCLC WorldCat. We suggest you to contact them so that they can ensure that their records are accurate as well. Any change they make will be reflected on Google Books as soon our records are synced with theirs.

I appreciate your interest in Google Books.

This was signed by Tony, The Google Books Team.

Same message. Polite but still, screw you, not our problem even though it is on their page and not mine.

Wittily enough, they later sent a survey asking how I thought they had done. I told them.

I also responded to Tony and got a reply from Reeta, also of the Google Books team. She said:

Thank you for your reply. We understand your frustration. Please note that we’re pulling this information automatically from the metadata providers, and we can’t change this information manually on our end. Additionally, if these providers are distributing information that might not be correct, it is possible that other websites are also pulling it, which is why the best approach here is to correct the information directly from the sources. We appreciate your understanding.

Clearly Reeta and Tony could not be bothered to contact the sources they suggested.

I had heard of Bowker, Ingram and OCLC WorldCat but not of Baker. Googling showed an evangelical Christian publisher called Baker, though I later learned that it refers to Baker & Taylor (a leading distributor of books, videos, and music products to libraries, institutions and retailers). I had no idea how to contact Bowker, Ingram and OCLC WorldCat. I am a regular user of WorldCat but have had nothing to do with the other two. I perused their websites and they, naturally, had various forms to fill in for various types of contact but it was not clear (at least to me) which was relevant in this case, so I found three likely email address and contacted all three. OCLC have yet to reply. Ingram said they checked the ISBN and it wasn’t them. However, Bowker, in the form of Kristen Stroehmann, Technical Support Consultant II, were wonderful. She acknowledged the issue, admitted it was their problem and very promptly sorted it out and corrected the error. All kudos to Kristen and Bowker/ProQuest. If anyone from Google is reading this (highly unlikely, I know), hire her at once, double her salary and give her the job of Megyn, Tony and Reeta.

Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Google
Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Google

But you may recall that this post is called Waiting for Google. As Samuel Beckett so aptly put it in his version of Waiting for Google, Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful. Once Kristen had got it sorted, I contacted Google again. Here is their response:

Please know that our system pull information from third parties in a periodical manner. If they have updated their records, it should be updated in our records in our next fetch. This may take a month or two.

Google

A month or two? When the EU makes a ruling allowing people to remove criticisms about them from Google search results, they act within a day or two. When it comes to avoiding tax, there is no hesitation. But updating one single page takes a month or two. I have said it before and will say it again. Google is incompetent. Google is evil. Time for Google to go.

Marina Warner: Indigo

indigo

The latest addition to my website is Marina Warner‘s Indigo. This novel is loosely (at times very loosely) based on the plot of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. There are two stories being told, both concerning the fictitious Caribbean country of Enfant-Béate. The first starts just before the British take over the country. We follow Sycorax (a witch in The Tempest) who is a witch/healer/counsellor and who also develops the technology of indigo dyeing, which the British will steal from her. She is joined by a both a Caliban and an Ariel. Caliban is Dulé, the baby of African slaves who have been thrown overboard, but he somehow survived and was rescued by Sycorax. Ariel is a girl in this novel and she is the daughter of Arawaks who have been captured but subsequently died and Sycorax has taken her in, too. Ariel becomes Sycorax’s assistant while Dulé grows up and joins the men on the neighbouring island who fish and hunt and, later, fight the British. Everything goes wrong when the British under Kit Everard arrive. Everard is not a bad man and a good Christian but he sees the ‘savages’ as inferior and the island ripe for exploitation.

The second story concerns his descendants, who now live in London. Sir Anthony Everard, based in name on Antonio of The Tempest, is an old-fashioned gentleman and former master of The Game, a sort of cricket game but involving much more stealth and strategy than cricket. His son Kit is named after his ancestor but is a fairly-low key person. His daughter is called Miranda but she does not really resemble the Miranda of The Tempest. Kit’s mother drowned and Sir Anthony has married Gillian, a much younger woman, and their daughter, Xanthe, is much more lively. We follow Miranda and Xanthe as they grow up but not much happens till Xanthe’s friend takes them all to Béate-Enfant, where he has developed a high-class health farm. During the celebrations for the 350th anniversary of the settlement of the island, there is an uprising, as Warner shows us that exploitation of the island and the islanders still carries on. Warner makes much of the myths of the island and the comparison between the culture and values of the islanders and the British. It is an excellent book, even if the story of the contemporary Everards does tend to drag at times.

Francesco Pecoraro: La vita in tempo di pace [Life in Peacetime]

vita

The latest addition to my website is Francesco Pecoraro‘s La vita in tempo di pace [Life in Peacetime]. Though somewhat long-winded, this a worthwhile novel about Ivo Brandani, an Italian civil engineer. At the time of writing – May 2015 – he is sixty-nine and working for a company that is installing fake coral in the Red Sea. The story takes the form of his journey out of the part of Egypt he is in and looking back on his life, as he travels to the airport, waits for the plane and flies. As the title states, he was born just after World War II. He initially studied philosophy at university, where he was involved in the student demonstrations of the time but switched to engineering, particularly after a holiday he took to Scotland, with Clara, his girlfriend and, later wife, to see the Forth Bridge. But what makes this book interesting is Ivo himself and his views of the world. He has a few obsessions – wondering why Byzantium fell to the Ottomans in 1451, looking forward to the Apocalypse, and the possibility of being killed by Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba, are just a few. But he also assumes that a catastrophe is always about to happen, whether it is a pan catching fire on a stove or a plane crashing. He does not like the way the world is going, despite the peace. He does not like the fakery and the obsessive money-grabbing, despite the fact that the firm he works for is heavily involved in both. His only joys seem to be the Island, a Greek island he and Clara discovered, and sitting in an airport, after security, waiting for the plane to take off. Inevitably this book is about the Italian economic crisis and that certainly features in this book. It is not a bad book at all, despite the fact that a bit of editing would have been worthwhile. Unfortunately, it has not been translated into any other language as yet.

Victor Rangel-Ribeiro: Tivolem

tivolem

The latest addition to my website is Victor Rangel-Ribeiro‘s Tivolem, the first novel from Goa on my website. Goa is now an Indian state, albeit the smallest one, but was a Portuguese colony and still retains much Portuguese influence. This novel is set in 1933, when it was still very much a Portuguese colony. It concerns two people who have returned to Tivolem, a small and fictitious island off the coast of Goa, after having spent many years abroad. Marie-Santana Pereira had gone to Mozambique as a child, where her father ran a business. After he died, the mother took over and then, when she died, Marie-Santana took over. However, neither of the women had much idea about how to run a business and relied on the manager, John Fernshaw. Marie-Santana even fell in love with him. However, he defrauded her and then disappeared. Marie-Santana worked hard to pay off her debts and then returned to Tivolem, to live with her grandmother. Simon Fernandes had also left as a child but his parents had gone to Kuala Lumpur. He had been brought up there and had become a civil servant and has now retired. Like, Marie-Santana, he never married but has two interests – he is a keen violinist and a keen stamp collector. He has a younger brother, John, who is very fair and pale-skinned, so much so that his father suspected his wife had been unfaithful (she had not) and John himself thought that he had a different father. In fact, the day after the mother dies, he disappears. We learn early on (though the characters do not) that he is the John who defrauded Marie-Santana. Much of the novel is about the inevitable relationship between Simon and Marie-Santana, helped by the fact that they are next-door neighbours. However, it is also full of local colour and lively characters and we follow their lives in this remote enclave but which is still exposed to the world, mainly through the radio of another returnee. We learn of the great events of 1933, particularly the rise of Hitler but also about Gandhi. While certainly not a great novel, it is certainly a pleasant read and an interesting account of an isolated community and its daily doings.