The latest addition to my website is Ece Temelkuran‘s Düğümlere Üfleyen Kadınlar (Women Who Blow on Knots). This is a superb feminist novel about four women – the unnamed Turkish narrator, a Tunisian dancer and hacker, an Egyptian academic and a somewhat mysterious older woman who is Amazigh – who start off in Tunisia in the Arab Spring and then set out on an overland journey to Syria, via Libya (with anti-Gaddafi guerrillas), Alexandria and Beirut. The older Amazigh woman wants to kill an ex-lover, the Egyptian and Tunisian women gradually reveal secrets of their past and all four show that a revolution is not a revolution unless women play a major role in it and women’s issues are to the fore. It is a brilliant adventure story but also a novel raising key topics of great importance to our current world.
The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Jean Giono: Le Moulin de Pologne (The Malediction). This is not the joyous Giono novel of his early years but, as the English title tells us, a novel about a curse. The Coste family lived in the Moulin de Pologne (Poland Mill), an estate rather than simply a mill. Mr Coste had lost his wife and two sons suddenly and unexpectedly and is determined his surviving daughters will marry men without any family history of disease or disaster. The matchmaker finds two brothers who meet his needs but the curse is still there and it strikes his daughters and their families and subsequent generations, till we get to the last survivor, Julie, a contemporary of the narrator. She seems somewhat unstable so everyone is surprised when she marries the rather gruff new owner of the Moulin de Pologne. They have a son and everything seems to be going well for the family but the curse of the Costes is still there. It is not a bad book but definitely grim and not, in my view, as good as his early work.
The latest addition to my website is Nicola Pugliese‘s Malacqua (Malacqua). It tells a story of Naples over four days when it rains continually and heavily. While this could have been a straightforward catastrophe novel, Pugleise’s superb writing gives it an aura of a religious apocalypse, with cars disappearing into a chasm, a haunting screeching noise which turns out to be coming from a doll, with other identical dolls found at other catastrophe locations, and a house collapsing, killing the inhabitants. All the while we follow a journalist, a passive observer, as much concerned with his own issues as with the rain, we also follow a succession of other characters, all of whom seem to be living in a strange world of their own. It is a brilliant and very original novel, Pugliese’s only novel, and we must be grateful to And Other Stories that it now appears in English. Already – yes, early November – in the Spectator’s Best Books of the Year, Anna Aslanyan describes it as this year’s strangest and most seductive book. I can only agree with her.
The latest addition to my website is Angus Robertson‘s An t-Ogha Mór: No, Am Fear-Sgeòil air Uilinn (The Ogha Mor). This was the the second Scots Gaelic novel written and the first to be translated into English. It isn’t a very good novel, written in a stilted, forced archaic style and starts off plot lines and then abandons them. Its basic theme is the clash between the clans, particularly following the Jacobite of Rising of 1715 and leading to the 1745 Rising. We follow the stories of a few individuals involved in the fight for or against the Stuart cause and see the evil and treacherous plotting of the anti-Stuarts (including the then Prince of Wales) and the brave and honest actions of the pro-Stuarts. It is an interesting read but it is easy to see why the English translation is long since out of print and difficult to obtain, though the Gaelic version is still available.
The latest addition to my website is Margarita Khemlin‘s Дознаватель (The Investigator). This is a complicated murder mystery, set in Chernihiv (Chernigov in this book), Khemlin’s home town, in the Ukraine in the early 1950s. The eponymous investigator, Police Captain Mikhail Ivanovich Tsupkoy, is not Jewish but the victim, Lilia Vorobeichik, stabbed, and most of the people he deals with during the case are Jewish, as was Khemlin. The murderer is soon found. Her boyfriend, an actor, confesses and soon after kills himself, without leaving a note. However, Mikhail is not convinced and continues the investigation, getting more and more embroiled in the case and in the various activities of the Jewish population. Indeed, his involvement has a serious effect on his marriage, his job and his mental stability. Khemlin tells an excellent and complicated story with something of an unexpected outcome but also shows us the treatment of the Jews in Ukraine and the Soviet Union
The latest addition to my website is Claudio Magris‘ Alla cieca (Blindly). This is another highly inventive work from Magris, telling the story of man who thinks he is two different people – the fictitious Salvatore Cippico (born 1910) and the very real Jørgen Jørgensen (born 1780). Salvatore is recounting his tale to a psychiatrist in Trieste. He has fought for the Communists in Australia, Italy, Spain and Yugoslavia and has been imprisoned for his beliefs in all but Spain. Jørgen helped found Hobart but was later sent there as a convict and, in between, was briefly King of Iceland, served time in Newgate prison and fought at the Battle of Waterloo. Both had highly colourful lives, made more colourful by the two lives being conflated in Salvatore’s account, which is long, verbose and often confused. It is a wonderful tale, more in the realm of legend than history but the better for it.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s La costurera y el viento (The Seamstress and the Wind). This is another madcap adventure by Aira, as a mother (the eponymous seamstress) thinks her young son is in a lorry that is heading to Patagonia (the end of the world) and sets off in a taxi in pursuit, carrying a bulky wedding dress which she is sewing for a woman who has to get married suddenly. The taxi crashes into a lorry, she is carried by the wind and her gambling husband joins the hot pursuit, he, in turn pursued by a strange small blue car, with all of them ending up in a strange gambling joint in the middle of nowhere. All the while the narrator is commenting on travel (he hates it though he is writing the novel in Paris), memory and forgetting. It is glorious fun even if you have no idea what is going to happen or why.
The latest addition to my website is Liana Badr‘s رج عين المرآة (Eye of the Mirror). This novel is set in the Tal el-Zaatar refugee camp in the mid-1970s and recounts the events of Siege of Tel al-Zaatar, as seen through the eyes of one Palestinian family and, in particular, the eldest daughter, Aisha. Aisha had been working at a convent in return for an education but is pulled out following the Ain el-Rammaneh bus massacre. She lives with her hard-working mother, her abusive, alcoholic, lazy father and her two younger siblings. As the siege intensifies, life becomes harder. Aisha falls for a guerrilla but he is promised to someone else and she is forced into a marriage with one of his comrades. She resists but cannot prevent it. Medicine, food and drinking water become harder to obtain, most of the men are killed and Aisha, as a Palestinian and woman, knows her life will be one of suffering. There is nothing positive to take from this novel, not least as we know, twenty-six years after its publication, things have not improved and the prospects for an independent Palestinian state are as remote as ever.
The latest addition to my website is Rainald Goetz‘s Irre (Insane). The book is about both a psychiatrist called Raspe and a multimedia artist called Rainald Goetz, both of whom worked in a psychiatric clinic which both have left by the end of the book. Goetz was in real life a psychiatrist and he has written an impassioned often angry book about the failures of psychiatry and psychiatrists, often taking the view that we are all insane, that psychiatrists may be more insane than the rest of us and that art may be the salvation. We follow Raspe’s career in the clinic, we hear the ravings of both the staff and patients and, in the final part, we see Goetz and, to a lesser extent Raspe trying to deal with the effect of their career on their lives. At times it reads like a cry from the heart and at others an indictment of the world we live in but it both cases it is an amazing read and we must be grateful for Fitzcarraldo for making it available in English thirty-four years after its publication in German.
The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Le Hussard sur le toit (US/UK: The Horseman on the Roof; UK: The Hussar on the Roof). This novel is set in the 1830s during a major cholera pandemic. Angelo Pardi is an Italian revolutionary, fleeing Italy after killing a baron in a duel. He arrives during the cholera pandemic, which is vividly described by Giono. He sees many dead bodies, sees people dying and is also affected by the consequences (towns and villages barricaded, superstitious locals killing people suspected of bringing cholera, difficulties in obtaining food and drink). He does help a few people but ends up in Manosque (Giono’s hometown) where he has to live on the roofs, to avoid the mob. Eventually, he manges to escape, after a series of adventures, with a young but married woman, Pauline. Giono gives a superb portrayal of a country devastated by disease but counterbalanced by the optimism and pragmatism of Angelo and Pauline.