Alek Popov: Мисия Лондон (Mission to London)

The latest addition to my website is Alek Popov‘s Мисия Лондон (Mission to London). Alek Popov was the cultural attaché to the Bulgarian Embassy in London and this is a very funny novel, satirising the Embassy and its relations with the British. The main focus of the story is a charity event, hosted by the wife of a prominent Bulgarian politician, Devorina Pezantova, at which it is hoped that the Queen (the British one, not the Bulgarian one) will be present. The new ambassador has got his job because of the influence of Mrs Pezantova, so everything has to be perfect. Unfortunately for him, most of the staff seem to be corrupt, incompetent or both. Indeed, he calls them all idiots. Allegedly cannibalistic ducks, a large amount of bedpans, Princess Diana and Stephen Hawking pornography, a massive flaming modern art work that goes wrong and, of course, the Queen and the Russian Mafia all feature in this very witty satire. Far from alienating the Bulgarians (except, perhaps, for the diplomatic community), the book was a huge best-seller in Bulgaria and made into a successful film.

Jean Giono: Un de Baumugnes (Lovers are Never Losers)

The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono:‘s Un de Baumugnes (Lovers are Never Losers). This is the second in Giono’s Pan trilogy of novels. This one is a love story. Amédeé, an older itinerant farm worker meets Albin, a young man from the eponymous Baumugnes, a strange (and fictitious) community of non-Catholics driven away during the French religious wars, whose ancestors had their tongues cut out. Albin had seen an attractive young woman, daughter of a farmer, three years ago but had been too shy to approach her and his brash friend, Louis, had seduced her. Eventually, Louis took her back to Marseilles and forced her into prostitution. She had a baby but did not know who the father was. Amédée is determined to find her and goes to work at the farm where her parents live. Initially, there seems to be only the husband and wife and Saturnin, their long-time permanent hand, but he soon suspects there is someone else there. Could it be Angèle? He hurries off to tell Albin. Giono tells a first-class story, full of local colour, both in terms of the wonderful descriptions but also the use of language, at least in the French.

Alfredo Bryce Echenique: Las obras infames de Pancho Marambio [The Infamous Works of Pancho Marambio]

The latest addition to my website is Alfredo Bryce Echenique‘s Las obras infames de Pancho Marambio [The Infamous Works of Pancho Marambio]. Bienvenido Salvador Buenaventura is a fifty-four year old successful lawyer in Lima. He has never been married. His parents and two brother are both dead, the men from alcoholism. The two others were never married either. He has decided to retire, leave Lima and go and live in Barcelona. He stays with an old friend and when he finds a suitable flat, at the recommendation of the friend, he takes along Pancho Marambio. Pancho offers to do the necessary work on the flat, while Bienvenido goes off travelling around Europe. He pays Pancho in advance. Pancho, however, has something of a reputation as a cowboy and, when Bienvenido returns, disaster awaits. He castigates Pancho and sets off again but, this time, the family curse appears and he spends much of his time in bars. When he again returns, things are somewhat better but the colour scheme is diabolical, things do not work and the design is poor. Bienvenido quickly slips into alcoholism and, despite the efforts of friends, gets worse and worse, as we follow his downfall. This is a not a bad book but not of the calibre of his earlier work.

Jaroslav Kalfar: Spacemen of Bohemia

The latest addition to my website is Jaroslav Kalfar‘s Spacemen of Bohemia. Kalfar was born in Prague but moved to the US when he was fifteen and wrote this novel in English. It is about Jakub Procházka, the first Czech astronaut (in 2018), who is sent into space to investigate a mysterious purple cloud between Earth and Venus. The novel certainly has science fiction elements – Jakub even meets an extraterrestrial who may or may not be a hallucination – but is also about a lot more, including his relationship with his wife, dealing with isolation (the journey to the cloud lasts four months), political corruption and abuse of power (Jakub’s father was a secret policeman under the Communist regime), the pretensions of small nations and, of course, as in any good Czech novel, outwitting the Russians. It is both funny and serious and a thoroughly first-class first novel, even if you do not generally take to science fiction.

Robert Coover: Huck Out West

The latest addition to my website is Robert Coover‘s Huck Out West. This is another wonderfully post-modern, iconoclastic, very funny book from Robert Coover. It tells the story of Huckleberry Finn and, to a certain degree, of Tom Sawyer, when they become adults and head out to the Wild West. Finn remains the loveable but somewhat naive and unambitious rogue, essentially decent and trying to do what is best. We follow him as he struggles with General Custer, the Lakota Indians, the Black Hills gold rush and even the Civil War. All he wants is some booze and to be left in peace, with a few friends. Sawyer, however, is ruthless, dishonest, ambitious and devious (possibly based, at least in part, on Donald Trump). Coover thoroughly demythologises both Tom Sawyer and the Wild West but has great fun doing so and leaves us with a wonderful post-modern novel – written at the age of eighty-four.

Aminata Sow Fall: La Grève des bàttu (The Beggars’ Strike)

The latest addition to my website is Aminata Sow Fall‘s La Grève des bàttu (The Beggars’ Strike). This is a mocking satire on officialdom in Senegal (though neither the country nor the city where it takes place are named). The city, presumably, Dakar, is overrun with beggars and the public health department is given the task of clearing them. Mour Ndiaye, head of the department, who is corrupt and incompetent, delegates the task to his assistant, who manages to get rid of them by moving them to a village 300 kilometres away. As a result, the beggars go on strike, which means that the Muslim population cannot perform its charitable obligations. Now there is talk of Ndiaye being made vice-president. He consults his marabouts (Muslim gurus) who tell him that he must make a sacrifice of a bull and give the meat to beggars in all four corners of the city. However, there are now no beggars in any corner of the city and those elsewhere are on strike. Sow Fall mocks Ndiaye, and mocks the corruption and sexism of Senegalese men and tells an amusing story. Surprisingly, the book has been translated into English.

Michel Miniussi: Lei Passatemps [The Pastimes]

The latest addition to my website is Michel Miniussi‘s Lei Passatemps [The Pastimes]. Though born in Paris, Miniussi grew up in Cannes and became a very great supporter of Occitan literature. Sadly, he died at the age of thirty-six. This book, like some of his others, was published posthumously. It is an unusual book for an Occitan writer as it is simply a mocking though mildly affectionate portrait of the Cannes smart set, the rich and idle. They essentially do nothing, not even breed, except talk, travel and pass the time, as the title says. There is little sex, except for lascivious glances at effete young men, little discussion of the arts or politics and absolutely no sign of any remunerative or voluntary employment. They simply talk, go to parties, travel and wander aimlessly around. Though the book did appear in a French translation, it has been virtually ignored by French critics. It has not been translated into any other language.

Public domain in 2017

Out of copyright everywhere except France

For EU countries, the United States and many other countries, copyright on published works is normally in existence till seventy years after the death of the author. Some countries have different copyright rules, as this article shows. Interestingly enough, France has a Mort pour la France category. What this means is that for members of the French military forces who died in action or from an injury or an illness contracted during the service during the First and Second World Wars, the Indochina and Algeria Wars, and fighting in Morocco and the Tunisian War of Independence, and to French civil casualties killed during these conflicts copyright is extended by thirty years. So if you want to publish, for example, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, you can do so royalty-free in most of the world but not in France. The same applies to Irène Némirovsky and other writers mentioned on the site linked above. Spain also has an exception, with copyright extending to eighty years after death for writers born before 1979. This means that writers such as Miguel de Unamuno, Ramón María Valle-Inclán and Federico García-Lorca have only just entered the public domain in Spain, though they have been in the public domain for ten years in most other countries. Here is a list of all the Spanish writers who died in 1936.

However, as regards the main rules, this means that the copyright has expired for most authors who died in 1946. Quite a few interesting authors did die in 1946 and their works can now be published royalty-free. Here is a list of some of them:

Here is a more detailed list and two in German here and here. The latter list includes Alfred Rosenberg and Joachim von Ribbentrop, both executed at Nuremberg but presumably even nasty Nazis have copyright protection.

Sarah Hall: The Wolf Border

The latest addition to my website is Sarah Hall‘s The Wolf Border. This is another superb novel from Sarah Hall and it is, of course, about wolves. Rachel Caine works with wolves on the Nez Perce reservation. She is around forty and single, though she has had many a casual affairs, just as her mother did before her. She is offered the job of managing a project in Cumbria, in the very North of England, where the the owner of the largest private estate in Britain, the Earl of Annerdale, wants to reintroduce wolves into Britain. The estate is near her mother’s care home but she is not tempted and declines. However when she has a quick fling with one of her US colleagues and finds that she is pregnant, she realises that her US heath care will not cover either an abortion or childbirth, so she reluctantly takes the job in Cumbria. The rest of the book covers the wolf project but also her not always straightforward private life and her relationship with her half-brother, with a bit of Scottish independence thrown in. What makes the book particularly interesting is that Hall is continually, though subtly making the comparison between how wolves do things and how humans do things and the wolves seem to come out way ahead. It is, to a great degree, about wolves, though not in a Disneyesque way, but Hall also tells a good story about Rachel’s complicated life and a few other sub-plots but it is the wolves that you will remember.

David Albahari: Pijavice (Leeches)

The latest addition to my website is David Albahari‘s Pijavice (Leeches). The novel is set in Belgrade, where Albahari used to live before emigrating to Canada.The novel is decidedly chaotic. It starts off with our unnamed narrator, a translator, who also writes a weekly column for a local magazine, sometimes on contentious issues. He sees a man slapping a woman by the river bank but does not intervene, not least because he sees another man watching the event. He will continue to see this man, who, he thinks, is following him. He follows the woman but loses track of her. From there on, the novel becomes increasingly chaotic, as he follows mysterious signs round Belgrade, receives a strange manuscript, is contacted by unusual people and gets involved with both a mathematician and Jewish Kabbalists in an attempt to find out what is going on. The more he investigates, the more complex things appear and his life becomes. One area where it is clear, however, is the rampant anti-Semitism in Belgrade, in which he gets caught up, particularly when he writes an article on the topic. He is attacked and threatened. There is no real mathematical or religious solution to the complexity or the viciousness and, like Albahari himself, we learn that he is writing this account from the haven of exile, presumably Canada, where he says, all Serbians go. It is a wonderful novel in the East European tradition of Kafka and the like.