The latest addition to my website is Eugene Vodolazkin‘s Соловьёв и Ларионов (Solovyov and Larionov). This is Vodolazkin’s first novel (though not the first to appear in English) and a superb one it is. General Larionov was a general in the Russian Civil war but on the White Russian side. He commanded a force in the Crimea and held off a superior army of Soviet soldiers for some time. The most surprising thing for those who study him, is that he survived to a ripe old age, living in Russia, and was not arrested or shot for his actions. Solovyov is a young historian. The fact that his first girlfriend was called Leeza Larionova may have helped him to have an interest in the general. Solovyov is a dogged and serious researcher and he is determined to track down the general’s missing memoirs and find the reason why he escaped being shot, as well as solving other mysteries regarding the general and, finally, trying to find Leeza, who seems to disappear. He has a series of adventures, attends a conference on the general, which enables Vodolazkin to mock academics, and pursues his searches and researches assiduously. It is a wonderful story and superbly told by Vodolazkin.
The latest addition to my website is José María Arguedas‘Todas las sangres [All the Bloodlines]. This is José María Arguedas’ longest book and goes into great detail about a story of oppressed Indians, ruthless Peruvians and a US mining company. Fermín and Bruno Aragón de Peralta are rich brothers who hate each other. Their father kills himself at the beginning of the book. Bruno wants to be a feudal landlord, controlling (and brutalising) his Indians, while Fermín wants to run a modern business, particularly though not only a silver mine. He has managed to buy up much of the land from his fellow Peruvians and they are now broke and bitter. However, Fermín will be outmanoeuvred by Wisther-Bozart, the US mining company, whose deep pockets and ability to buy political favours means that they will get the mine. However, it is the Indians who suffer, paid less by Wisther-Bozart, exploited by all the whites and repressed whenever they object. Arguedas makes no bones about where his sympathies lie.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El llanto [Crying], one of the many of his works that sadly has not been translated into English. This one is also particularly strange though Ì have probably also said that before about an Aira work. Our narrator is a writer whose career is faltering and, more particularly, so is his marriage, as his wife, the beautiful Claudia, has run off with a Japanese terrorist. Indeed, our narrator witnesses the terrorist assassinate the Argentinian prime minister. He is now left alone in his flat, with only the company of their dog Rin-Tin-Tin, when Claudia goes out, which is frequently. Not surprisingly, the dog, and other animals, talk to him. Three-quarters of the way through the novel, the narrator announces the story is about to start and, indeed, everything changes again. Unusual by most other standards but perhaps not by Aira’s.
The latest addition to my website is Hiromi Kawakami‘s ニシノユキヒコの恋と冒険 (UK: The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino; US: The Ten Loves of Nishino). This is another clever novel from Kawakami about the complexity of love and relationships. Yukihiko Nishino has affairs with ten women in this book (though probably a lot more in actuality). Each one is slightly different but each has a few similarities. Firstly, the relationship does not last. For various reasons, usually because he finds someone else, he moves on, though sometimes not moving on till he is well into the relationship with the next woman. Secondly, he does seem devoted to each woman, proposing to several of them (they do not take his proposal seriously), even while, as we know and, in some cases, they know, there is another woman in the offing. Thirdly, even if their relationship is very brief, they do not forget him. He seems to have a profound effect on them, as is seen at his funeral. (We know, early on, that he is to die, as he appears as a ghost to one of his lovers.) Kawakami tells her tale her well, with each relationship different, despite the similarities, and each time we and the women ask, will this one last?
The latest addition to my website is Uwe Tellkamp‘s Der Eisvogel [The Kingfisher]. Wiggo Ritter is a lost soul. His father is a ruthless banker and Wiggo hates everything he stands for. He studies philosophy, to his father’s disgust, but gets into a dispute with his professor and loses his job. He then meets Mauritz and Manuela Kaltmeister. They belong to a group called Rebirth, a right-wing group, which believes the elite should rule. Mauritz is pushing for terrorist activities to scare the populace into wanting a law-and-order group like his to take over and where better to start than with the professor who fired Wiggo? We know it goes wrong, as the book opens with Wiggo shooting and killing Mauritz and he ending up in hospital with severe burns. This is a fine book, only translated into Polish, about urban terrorism and a lost soul not finding his way.
The latest addition to my website is Christophe Bernard‘s La Bête Creuse [The Hollow Beast]. This is a very long, very funny novel, written in broad Quebecois dialect, about a family that may have a curse on them though, as we soon learn, it is possible that the curse is merely excessive consumption of alcohol. It starts in 1911 with Monti Bouge brilliantly saving (with his teeth) the puck in a key ice hockey game but he is pushed into the goal and the goal is awarded. He vows revenge on the referee, Victor Bradley. Many years later he again meets Bradley, now a postman, and goes out of his way to make his life miserable (delivering heavy items to his remote cabin). Monti eventually heads off to find gold in the Yukon. He does find money but not the conventional way and returns home rich. Meanwhile, we are also following his grandson François, alcoholic, drop-out and chronicler of his family, determined to show there is a curse. He too has his adventures. It is hilarious fun, with kidnapping, unreliable narrators, mad taxi drivers, dodgy poker games, odd beasts, and lots and lots of alcohol.
The latest addition to my website is Ričardas Gavelis‘ Sun–Tzu gyvenimas šventame Vilniaus mieste (Sun-Tzu’s Life in the Holy City of Vilnius). This is a wonderful witty romp through Soviet and post-Soviet Lithuania, as seen through the eyes of the narrator, a sex-obsessed, philosophical, scientific gangster, whose real name we do not know but who has adopted the name of the famous Chinese strategist. This Sun-Tzu has no moral scruples and takes full advantage of corruption in post-Soviet Lithuanian but, at the same time, has highly original ideas about, for example, the second brain or turning his enemies into works of art, while stealing whatever he can and even losing his wife in a card game. He is avowedly evil and proud of it, not least because the Lithuanians are all dolts. Gavelis has great fun in his final novel, demolishing all and sundry and giving us a thoroughly original read.
The latest addition to my website is Vasily Grossman‘s За правое дело (Stalingrad). This book was first published in the Soviet Union in Novy Mir magazine in 1952 and then in book form in 1954, soon after Stalin’s death, without which it may not have been published. Both versions were heavily censored. Only now, with the translators, Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, using Grossman’s original manuscript, has the book finally been published as Grossman intended it. The plot follows the situation in Stalingrad leading up to the Battle of Stalingrad and the beginning of that battle and immediately precedes the events taking place in Grossman’s famous Жизнь и судьба (Life and Fate). It is superbly told, as we see the action from all sides, both the ordinary Soviet citizen and those directly involved in the fighting whether as ordinary soldiers or senior officers, as well from the German side, including a couple of appearances by Hitler. By the time the book ends, the Germans have entered Stalingrad and are confident of taking it, with the Soviets offering fierce resistance but being pushed ever further back. It is brilliantly told, full of action and gives us a view of the Battle from all perspectives. It is destined to join Жизнь и судьба (Life and Fate) as a major Russian classic.
The latest addition to my website is Dritëro Agolli‘s Shkëlqimi dhe rënia e shokut Zylo [The Rise and Fall of Comrade Zylo]. This a witty satire on ambitious government officials. Comrade Demkë, our hero, is a civil servant in the Ministry of Culture, who would like to spend his time writing fiction but is obliged to spend his time writing reports for his seniors, for which they take all the credit. At the beginning of the book, Comrade Zylo has just become his new boss. Zylo is ambitious, very astute politically but full of useless ideas (he writes his Thoughts down on bits of paper) and the long-suffering Demkë has to do his bidding, often requiring late hours. However as the title tells us, Zylo gets caught out and we follow his gradual decline, though it is possible that he will somehow survive elsewhere. This book had great acclaim Albania for it s witty mockery of officialdom but, sadly, is not available in English.
The latest addition to my website is Will Eaves‘ Murmur. This is a fictionalised account of Alan Turing, focussing on the period after he had been receiving diethylstilbestrol to reduce his libido, after his arrest for homosexual offences in 1952. Eaves superbly shows the intellectual life and thoughts of Turing as well as his personal life and, in particular the effect on both his body and mind of the chemical castration he was receiving. The book is both a condemnation of the horrific treatment of homosexuality as though it were a disease – a view, sadly, that still exists in some parts of the world – as well as a tribute to a brilliant mind who sadly died far too young.