Dana Todorović: Tragična sudbina Morica Tota (The Tragic Fate of Moritz Toth)

The latest addition to my website is Dana Todorović:‘s Tragična sudbina Morica Tota (The Tragic Fate of Moritz Toth). This is a clever tale of an unemployed punk rocker, the eponymous Moritz Toth, who finds salvation as the prompter for the lead tenor in Turandot. However, he also finds that at first one and then two mysterious characters seem to be stalking him. Who are they? Why are they stalking him and are they going to murder him? Meanwhile, we are also following the story of Tobias Keller, Advisor for Moral Issues with the Office of the Great Overseer, who has broken the rules in his role as guide to Moritz Toth by putting pebble in front of his bicycle in breach of Article 98a of the Causal Authority Regulations. Who is Tobias? Who is the Great Overseer? And what have they got to do with Moritz? Todorović tells a fine tale with philosophical conundrums, the problems of determinism and how opera and a loving prostitute can save a worried man.

Kate Roberts: Y Byw Sy’n Cysgu (The Living Sleep; later: The Awakening)

The latest addition to my website is Kate RobertsY Byw Sy’n Cysgu (The Living Sleep; later: The Awakening). This is a feminist novel, telling the story of Lora Ffennig, who learns one day that her husband has left her, stolen her nest egg and stolen from his employer, and run off with a another woman, abandoning Lora and their two children, a boy and a girl. The story is about the fall-out for Lora from this. While the community is initially sympathetic, they condemn her when Aleth Meurig, the local solicitor and former employee of both Lora’s husband and his lady friend, starts calling frequently, even though he only does so when she is not alone. Lora struggles with her own concerns, the reactions of others, the view of the community, her sister, her sister-in-law and mother-in-law, her children and simply trying to get her life back on track. It is a fine novel, well known in Wales but which should better known outside Wales.

Lize Spit: Het smelt [The Melting]

The latest addition to my website is Lize Spit‘s Het smelt [The Melting]. This is a début novel by a young Belgian writer and a superb novel it is. Surprisingly for a début novel, it has already been published in three other languages, with two more early next year and rights sold in several other languages, including English. It tells the story of Eva who lives in a Belgian farming village We learn a lot about her, her family and friends but follow, in alternating chapters, her story in the summer of 2002, when her two close male friends, Pim and Laurens, started behaving very badly and dragged her along with their behaviour, culminating in a traumatic event for all three, and also the present day when she is invited to an event where, it seems she will try to get her revenge for what happened in 2002. Spit gradually reveals bits of the puzzle – what happened that day, what is Eva planning, what happened to Eva’s sister, why did Pim’s brother really die – and shows a conventional Belgian village which hides many grim secrets.

Kate Roberts: Traed Mewn Cyffion (Feet in Chains)

The latest addition to my website is Kate RobertsTraed Mewn Cyffion (Feet in Chains). Kate Roberts was one of the foremost Welsh-language novelists and this is her first full-length novel. Like Roberts’ father, Ifan Gruffydd works in a slate quarry. At the beginning of the novel, in 1880, he has just married Jane. They will go on to have six children, three of each, but they will struggle. The slate quarries are in difficulty and the owners are eager to exploit the workers to the maximum, so that Ifan’s wages go down during the course of the book. Jane has to work hard, with no mod cons, struggles with her mother-in-law, has to help her two sons who go to college, deal with a difficult daughter and, eventually, see her children move away. The book ends in the middle of World War I, with one son already having joined up. During the thirty-five years of the book, Jane has few happy moments. Roberts shows us the grim life and struggles of the slate quarry workers of North Wales of the time, something she presumably had to put up with some degree herself.

Magda Szabó: Katalin utca (Katalin Street)

The latest addition to my website is Magda Szabó‘s Katalin utca (Katalin Street). This is a new translation (September 2017) replacing the one from 2005. It tells the story of three families who had lived in nice houses on Katalin Street, before World War II but, at the start of the book, are living in one flat, the Katalin Street houses having been replaced with social housing. The post-war residents, with one family having been killed (parents sent to a camp, as they were Jewish, daughter killed tragically), one other having been killed in the war and one having defected to Greece, are all miserable with their lot. Bálint, the oldest of the younger generation, who was loved by the three daughters of the other families, has not lived up to expectations (his or anyone else’s) and the others struggle to cope, all the while dreaming of the good times in Katalin Street.

Nicole Krauss: Forest Dark

The latest addition to my website is Nicole KraussForest 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.

Fiona Mozley: Elmet

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.

Nicole Krauss: The History of Love

The latest addition to my website is Nicole KraussThe 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.

Minae Mizumura: 母の遺産 (Inheritance of Mother)

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.

Jean Stafford: The Mountain Lion

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.