Miklós Szentkuthy: Fekete Reneszánsz (Black Renaissance)

The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Fekete Reneszánsz (Black Renaissance). This is the second in his St Orpheus Breviary series. It has not yet been translated into English (I read it in French) but will be appearing from Contra Mundum Press in the not too distant future. Nominally about Claudio Monteverdi, his opera L’incoronazione di Poppea and Venice, these three scarcely make an appearance as Szentkuthy romps through various parts of European intellectual history, including Tacitus (Monteverdi’s source for information on Poppea), Tiberius, Empress Theodora and the man she hid for twelve years Anthimus, Pope Sixtus IV, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi and Roger Ascham, tutor to the future Elizabeth I. How are these people connected? All too often they are not but this does not stop Szentkuthy setting off on innumerable tangents to tell their stories and to make his point about the dualities in European intellectual history. It is enormous fun and full of great learning, if you can keep up with him.

Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès: L’Île du Point Némo (Island of Point Nemo)

The latest addition to my website is Jean-Marie Blas de RoblèsL’Île du Point Némo (Island of Point Nemo). Like his earlier work, this is a madcap romp, with adventures, sex and violence, world travel and characters from all over the world. It features amputated feet, a racing pigeon fancying, breast-loving Chinese manufacturer of e-readers, the Bloop, the Battle of Gaugamela and, of course, Point Nemo as well as a character called John Shylock Holmes who is not Sherlock Holmes though he almost is, two women in a coma, Creationist terrorists and the impotent Dieumercie Bonacieux. It is great fun, post-modern and thoroughly unpredictable.

Gloria Guardia: Tiniebla blanca [White Darkness]

The latest addition to my website is Gloria Guardia‘s Tiniebla blanca [White Darkness]. The unnamed narrator, like Guardia, is a Panamanian student at Vassar College. One evening, while in New York, she has forgotten her money and tracks down an uncle and aunt, Antonio and Carmen. They are very friendly but she soon discovers that Antonio is perhaps too friendly. However, Carmen is eager to assure her that she is like the daughter they never had (they have no children) and hopes that she will help repair their failing marriage. However, when she is staying there one evening, Carmen is absent and uncle and niece behave in a decidedly un-uncle-and-niece like manner. Guardia was only twenty and still at Vassar when she wrote this. I hope it was not autobiographical.

Hamid Ismailov: Jinlar Bazmi (The Devil’s Dance)

The latest addition to my website is Hamid Ismailov‘s Jinlar Bazmi (The Devil’s Dance). It tells the story of the last nine months of the life of Uzbek writer Abdulla Qodiriy, spent in a Stalinist prison in 1937-38, prior to his execution as a bourgeois nationalist. Just prior to his arrest, Qodiriy had planned to write a novel set in mid-nineteenth century Bukhara and Kokand, about Nasrullah Khan, Emir of Bukhara and Madali Khan, Khan of Kokand, both distinctly unpleasant men, and the unfortunate Oyxon, who was married to both of them as well as Madali’s father, all against her will. We follow Qodiriy’s time in prison, while he writes the book in his head, changing the emphasis a lot, in the light of his discussions on the history of the period with his fellow prisoners, particularly as regards the Great Game. Ismailov superbly shows his creative process and how Qodiriy’s plight overlaps with that of Oyxon and other victims of that time, as well as telling us about nineteenth century Bukhara and Stalinist prisons.

Rana Haddad: The Unexpected Love Objects of Dunya Noor

The latest addition to my website is Rana Haddad:‘s The Unexpected Love Objects of Dunya Noor. This is the first novel by a Syrian woman who has spent her adult live in England. This novel tells the story of a Syrian woman, daughter of an English woman and a Syrian heart surgeon, Dunya Noor who, growing up in Syria, does not behave either in the way a young woman is expected to behave in Syria nor does she uncritically support the (Hafez) Assad regime. When she refuses to attend a voluntary demonstration, her mother takes her back to England before there are serious problems. There she meets another Syrian, Hilal, who is a physicist, studying the Moon. They live together but, when Hilal learns of his father’s death six months after the event, they decide to return. Hilal disappears and Dunya, with the help of a singer she meets in a men-only café, tries to track him down. This is a fascinating feminist, anti-Assad love story.

Ricardo Piglia: Plata quemada (Money to Burn)

The latest addition to my website is Ricardo Piglia‘s Plata quemada (Money to Burn. This is a novelised account of an actual robbery from a bank armoured car in Buenos Aires. Piglia was a journalist at the time and reported on the case. The robbery succeeds but the police track down the robbers, with others betrayed by an informer. There is a final shoot-out in Montevideo. Piglia gives the book both a political edge – it seems that some politicians and police officers might have been involved – as well as a psychological edge, as the criminals seem to be psychopaths, serious drug users and generally mentally flawed. The novel was controversial – Piglia was sued three times over it (details in review) – but it has been acclaimed as a foremost Latin American novel and is certainly a good read.

Paolo Cognetti: Le otto montagne (The Eight Mountains)

The latest addition to my website is Paolo Cognetti‘s Le otto montagne (The Eight Mountains), which won the prestigious Strega Prize in Italy. It tells the story of Pietro, only child of two mountain lovers. His father, in particular, is very keen on climbing at high altitudes in the Italian Alps and Pietro gets the bug. His mother, who prefers the lower reaches, persuades the father to rent a small cottage in Grana and the father and then, when he is older, Pietro go up the mountains. It is in Grana that Pietro meets Bruno, a boy of his own age and they become lifelong friends. Bruno is a mountain man and their close relationship helps Pietro develop his love of mountains. There is a falling-out between father and son, and between the friends when Pietro becomes a teenager but Pietro rediscovers his love of mountains with the help of Bruno.

J. G. Farrell: Troubles

The latest addition to my website is J. G. Farrell‘s Troubles. This novel, which won the Lost Man Booker Prize more than thirty years after the author’s death, is the first in Farrell’s acclaimed Empire Trilogy. It is set in the crumbling Majestic Hotel, a symbol of the decaying British Empire, located in County Wexford in Ireland, at the end of the First World War and during a period when unrest in Ireland is increasing. Major Archer, who had been invalided out of the army for what we would call post-traumatic stress disorder, seems to have accidentally got engaged to Angela, daughter of the owner of the Majestic and goes to stay with the family there, her father, staunchly opposed to any Irish independence, her irresponsible brother and her almost evil twin sisters. He barely sees Angela, who is ill, but watches as both the hotel and British rule in Ireland, crumble in synchronicity. It is a superb novel and deserves the reputation it had when it first came out.

Chico Buarque: Leite Derramado (Spilt Milk)

The latest addition to my website is Chico Buarque‘s Leite Derramado (Spilt Milk). The book is narrated by a hundred-year old Brazilian man, who is lying in a hospital bed in Rio de Janeiro, in a public hospital. He comes from a rich family but the family has fallen on hard times, partially through poor investments, partially through dishonest dealings. His father was murdered, either because of sex or money, his son-in-law ran off with the family money, his grandson was murdered by the police (apparently) and his great-grandson killed in a dubious kidnapping. His great-great grandson seems to be well-off, though possibly from drug dealing. His wife left him with a baby, though it is not clear what happened to her, as various explanations are given by this unreliable narrator. Now he lies in a hospital bed, talking to his daughter, the nurses and his long dead parents about the family and his not very successful life, criticising all and sundry. It is both a funny book but also a serious attempt to look at Brazil, its history, its corruption and its racism.

The murals of Sheffield, Tasmania

Yesterday & Tomorrow copyright Aileen Gough & Karen Armstrong

Sheffield, a small town in Northern Tasmania, has since December 1986, become the town of murals. All over the town, you will see murals on walls and boards, most of them highly imaginative and colourful. Every year, the town holds a a mural festival.

My favourite was the one you can see in my not very good photo above to the left, Yesterday & Tomorrow , painted by Aileen Gough and Karen Armstrong . You can see more about their paintings and many other murals here.