The latest addition to my website is Nicole Krauss‘ Forest Dark. This is another superb novel from Krauss, telling two parallel stories. One is about Jules Epstein, a sixty-eight year old, divorced Jewish-American man who has made a lot of money but now feels disconnected from his present and finds the need to reconnect with both his personal past (his parents, in particular) and his Jewish past. The other story is about a novelist called Nicole whose failing marriage and writers’ block gives her an epiphany – a sense of being in two places at once but also in the forest dark (a quote from Dante). Both set off to Israel, Jules to reconnect with King David and leave a tribute to his parents, Nicole to reconnect with the Tel Aviv Hilton, where she was conceived and where she has spent many happy hours both as a child and adult, which she thinks might be the key to writing her next novel, but also to find Kafka. Both Jules and Nicole also get their own contemporary but somewhat oddball guides. It is a book about discovering one’s private past but also one’ collective past as well as finding our who we are now.
The latest addition to my website is Robert Walser‘s Der Gehülfe (The Assistant). This is the second book published by Walser (the third he wrote) and is based on his own experiences. The story involves Joseph Marti, a self-critical, somewhat absent-minded young man, who goes to work for Carl Tobler, an inventor. He lives in the house with Tobler, his wife and four children. Tobler has several inventions, such as the Advertising Clock but, unfortunately for him, no-one seems interested either in investing in them or buying them. He gradually runs up debts, which he declines to pay, leaving Joseph spending at least part of his job fending off debt collectors. Joseph, meanwhile, drifts through life and his job, unpaid but often unconcerned. It is enjoyable book though not Walser’s best.
The latest addition to my website is Fiona Mozley‘s Elmet. There have been a lot of interesting novels coming out recently from young British women. I recently read Adelle Stripe‘s excellent Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile, and here is another first-class novel set in Yorkshire. This novel surprised everybody by being nominated for the Man Booker longlist. It tells the story of a bare knuckle fighter, John, and his two teenage children, Daniel and Cathy, who live in a remote area of Yorkshire and live mainly off the land. However, they come up against an exploitative landowner and John takes the fight to him, leading to one of the most explosive endings in a début novel I have read. It is a wonderfully written novel and well deserving of its nomination and I for one would be very happy if it won.
The latest addition to my website is Nicole Krauss‘ The History of Love. This is an excellent book about creativity and authorship, about the Holocaust and about who we are. Leo Gursky was in love with Alma back in Slonim (variously in Poland and Russia). Her father paid for her to go to the USA before the Nazis arrived but Leo did not escape in time. However, he managed to hide out and emigrated to the USA after the war. Meanwhile, Alma, thinking him dead, had married. Leo had written three books before the war. The History of Love, however, was a novel apparently written by Zvi Litvinoff and only available in Spanish, about a woman called Alma. The connection between these characters, the novel and Alma Singer, who is named after the Alma of the novel, forms the basis for the complicated plot.
The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Que ma joie demeure (Joy of Man’s Desiring). This is an unusual book for Giono, as it flirts with fantasy. It is set, as usual, in a farming community in an unnamed region of central France. The region has been affected by a general malaise, making many people unhappy with even the odd suicide. Jourdan, one of the farmers, dreams of someone arriving to heal them and, sure enough, a wanderer, Bobi, turns up. He proceeds to change the general feeling by bringing the community closer to nature – sowing flowers instead of cash crops, feeding the birds with surplus corn, bringing in a tame stag – and generally bringing the community together. Not everyone accepts his views and things do go wrong but the overall message is that we should be closer together and work more together. A worthy message, given the period when the book was written (late 1930s).
The latest addition to my website is Igor Eliseev‘s One-Two. This novel tells the story of two conjoined girls and their life as children in a brutal Soviet institution and then their life in post-Soviet Russia where the capitalist system turns out to be just as cruel as the Soviet system, as they are hired in a Threepenny Opera style begging scam. Eliseev portrays the horrors of both Soviet and post-Soviet systems and the added suffering of the handicapped under both systems, as well as showing us the nature of the twins, their relationship wth one another but also their differences from one another. This is a very original novel and well worth reading.
The latest addition to my website is Claudio Magris‘ Un altro mare (A Different Sea). This novel tells the story of the very real Enrico Mreule. He is friends with two other young men, including the philosopher Carlo Michelstaedter, in Gorizia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The three friends spend their time discussing philosophy and the classics. But, in 1909, Enrico emigrates to Patagonia, where he lives an ascetic and solitary life. He returns to a much-changed world in 1922, partially because of his scurvy but partially because of Carlo’s suicide. Carlo has essentially passed his mantle on to Enrico. Back in what is now Italy, Enrico keeps his ascetic life style and moves out to the coast to a village in Yugoslavia. He continues his solitary and ascetic life, even after World War II and the advent of Communism in Yugoslavia. It is a very interesting story about a man who is not part of the modern world but lives in his own world of philosophy and the classics.
The latest addition to my website is Dumitru Tsepeneag‘s Hotel Europa (Hotel Europa). This is a hilarious, anarchic novel about an unnamed Romanian narrator (clearly based on Tsepeneag himself) who is living in France, married to a French woman, and who is trying to write a novel but is not sure what he wants the novel to be about or where it is going when he does start. However, it soon becomes apparent that the novel we are reading is the novel he is writing. Much of it is about events in Romania following the overthrow of the Ceaușescus in December 1989. He himself had accompanied a Médecins sans Frontières convoy to Bucharest at that time and the journey and the people he met start to form the basis of his novel. In particular, we follow the story of Ion, a young Romanian, who was involved in the 1989 demonstrations but then decides to slowly make his way across Europe to Paris, to escape the chaos of Romania. He encounters thugs who steal his large gambling winnings, several hotels called Hotel Europa, UFOs, women who may or may not be his missing girlfriend and other strange phenomena. It is a wonderful read both funny and serious.
The latest addition to my website is Minae Mizumura‘s 母の遺産 (Inheritance of Mother). This is a feminist novel, about the changing role of women in Japan. We follow three generations of Japanese women, who all have their own problems, caused or exacerbated by their sex. We mainly follow Mitsuki and her older sister Natsuki who are dealing with the illness and then death of their mother, Noriko. Mitsuki, in particular, feels the responsibility she has for looking after her ailing mother, even while she learns that her husband is having an affair and planning on leaving her. But we step back to Noriko and to Noriko’s mother, who both struggled against the contemporary mores regarding the role of women. Things may have improved, but it still is not easy for women in Japan. This is another first-class work by Mizumura.
The latest addition to my website is Jean Stafford‘s The Mountain Lion, a semi-autobiographical novel with the two main characters, brother and sister Roger and Molly Fawcett, being based on Stafford and her brother Dick, who were very close, as are Ralph and Molly. The Fawcetts live in California. Mr. Fawcett is dead but his family are well-off. His widow, Rose, also lost her father when she was young and her mother remarried a rough cattle rancher, Mr. Kenyon, who visits annually. When he dies on one visit, the family get to know, Claude, the only child of his marriage to Rose’s mother, and Molly and Ralph spend the summers at his ranch. The story is mainly about how Ralph drifts away from Molly, wanting to become more manly in imitation of Claude, culminating in the hunt for a mountain lion, while Molly becomes more interested in literature. In many respects, it is a very sad story but very well-told.