Iliazd: Восхищение (Rapture)

The latest addition to my website is Iliazd‘s Восхищение (Rapture). Iliazd was a futurist and surrealist so, though this is seemingly a conventional adventure story, featuring a bandit, it has surrealist touches, as well as influences from Central Asia myth, legend and culture, it also somewhat subverts the conventional adventure story. The hero is Laurence, a man who seeks to avoid being conscripted as he does not want to kill but then becomes bandit … who kills. He is based in a village, living with a family of people who have wens (i.e. cysts or goitres) and they control the area but Laurence gets taken in, first by a man who wants to use him for a big heist and then a party leader who wants him to help overthrow the system. It all goes badly. Meanwhile he has met Ivlita, daughter of a widowed retired forester, and they fall in love but the course of true love does not run smoothly. Iliazd embellishes the book with colourful and often surrealist touches. These touches and the subversion of the adventure genre help make this a fascinating book, first appearing in English eighty-seven years after its initial publication in Russian.

Llorenç Villalonga: Andrea Víctrix (Andrea Víctrix)

The latest addition to my website is Llorenç Villalonga‘s Andrea Víctrix (Andrea Víctrix). This is a dystopian novel set in Palma de Mallorca but now called Turclub. Our unnamed narrator has himself frozen, aged sixty, in 1965 and wakes up in 2050, aged thirty. The first person he meets is the eponymous Andrea Victrix who, like most of the people there is androgynous. not least because, à la Brave New World, there is no more viviparous reproduction. It is all done in a laboratory. The US and Russia have destroyed one another and China is gone so the United States of Europe rules. Big business dominates and buying stuff you do not need is almost compulsory. Our hero and Andrea become close while (s)he tries to convert him to the new ways. However, our narrator and other unfrozen people and a 120 year old psychiatrist try to oppose it. When the economy really starts falling, things get problematical. While this is an excellent novel, Villalonga, through his characters, puts the various arguments for and against the new world (he is against) in a detailed but by no means off-putting manner. Another excellent book from Fum d’Estampa.

Olivier Targowla: Narcisse sur un fil (Narcisse on a Tightrope)

The latest addition to my website is Olivier Targowla‘s Narcisse sur un fil (Narcisse on a Tightrope). This is another fascinating discovery from the recently reborn Dalkey Archive Press. Narcisse has been in an institution for seventeen years. He does not seem to know why nor do we or the doctors. You’ve never had all the symptoms of a particular illness, but instead you have some symptoms of every one of a fairly large number of illnesses. He does not do much but he does have sex with a large number of nurses, not so much out of lust but because they want a child but no permanent man. Eventually, however, the doctors think they have have found out what his illness is and they suggest that he gradually reintegrate into society. The thought terrifies him. When he does go out, he struggles with the crowds, his relatives, whom he has not seen since he was in hospital and the lack of order and structure. Narcisse is Everyman. He wants order and structure and, if he does not have it, he needs help. This is another worthwhile addition to Dalkey’s collection of strange novels.

Ivana Bodrožić: Rupa (We Trade Our Night for Someone Else’s Day)

The latest addition to my website is Ivana Bodrožić‘s Rupa (We Trade Our Night for Someone Else’s Day). It is set in an unnamed city but clearly the Croatian town of Vukovar, Bodrožić’s home town. Nora is a journalist who really wants to investigate the local corruption but that story goes to a man while she has to interview a teacher whose schoolboy lover killed her husband. She is also interested in what happened to her father, apparently murdered in the Balkan War. We follow her as she investigates all three stories, including the corruption in high places, while we also follow a host of crimes – corruption, blackmail, violence and murder. No-one comes out well from this story and quite a few people die violent deaths as Bodrožić shows us that Vukovar has a huge and unpleasant legacy from the Balkan War.

Jon Fosse: Eg er ein annan – Septologien III-V ( I is Another : Septology III-V)

The latest addition to my website is Jon Fosse‘s Eg er ein annan – Septologien III-V ( I is Another : Septology III-V). This is the second in his trilogy, with the first book introducing us to Asle 1 and Asle 2, both Norwegian painters, and ending with Asle 2 seriously ill in hospital after Asle 1 found him collapsed in the snow. This book continues with Asle 1’s musings but is mostly about Asle 2 and his childhood. It soon becomes apparent that the two men are almost certainly the same person, perhaps two alternative versions of their life story. However, both meet in the book and become friends and we see his/their early struggles. We also follow Asle 2 at the present time and his views on painting and religion and how the two converge. Fosse once again gives us a wonderful example of slow prose a deep exploration of the psyche and the soul of a man – two men? – and his art, his religion and his life.

Jon Fosse: Det Andre Namnet – Septologien I-II (The Other Name – Septology I-II)

The latest addition to my website is Jon Fosse‘s Det Andre Namnet – Septologien I-II (The Other Name – Septology I-II). This contains the first two novels in what Fosse calls a septology, though they will be published as a trilogy in English. The novel is narrated by a man I shall call Asle 1. He is a painter, a widower, childless reformed alcoholic, religious and devoted to his work. He is friends with another painter also called Asle, whom I shall call Asle2. Asle 2 is twice divorced with three children he does not see, not religious, a serious alcoholic and a man who struggles with his painting. Asle 1,coming into Bjørgvin, clearly based on Bergen, from the small fishing village where he lives, finds Asle 2 collapsed in the snow and rescues him. What makes this book is Asle 2’s thoughts on his art, his religious views and their influence on both his life and art, his relationship with his rough-and-ready neighbour, Åsleik and his thoughts about his late wife, Ales. There are no fireworks but the book is a wonderful read.

Eva Baltasar: Permagel (Permafrost)

The latest addition to my website is Eva Baltasar‘s Permagel (Permafrost). This novel is based on Baltasar being told by her therapist to write about her life, which she did, while adding quite a bit of colour to her real life. Our narrator is a lesbian, passionate about sex (but less so about life), suicidal, obsessed with reading, though ultimately quite lazy about her non-reading and non-sex life, concerned about her body and bodily functions and a good sister and aunt. We follow her excesses both in her waking and sleeping hours and her struggles to determine who she is and where she is going when she is not reading or having mad passionate sex. There no easy answers and that is what makes this book a fascinating read, as we we follow her struggles with life.

Danielle Mémoire: Lecture publique suivie d’un débat (Public Reading Followed by Discussion)

The latest addition to my website is Danielle Mémoire‘s Lecture publique suivie d’un débat (Public Reading Followed by Discussion). Last year John O’Brien, visionary founder of the Dalkey Archive Press sadly died after an illness. The Press was taken over by Deep vellum, with Will Evans as CEO and Chad Post of Open Letter Books as editorial consultant. This book shows that Dalkey Archive, one of the most essential publishers of translated literature, is back with a bang.

This book is very much in the Dalkey experimental literature mode. As the title tells us an author is to give a public reading of a work-in-progress, followed by a discussion with an audience. It is not as simple as that. The author does not have a work-in-progress so he improvises. The improvisation is going to involve a story about an author giving a public reading to an audience. Gradually, we see that the boundaries between author, characters and reader are breaking down as the audience become, in part, both characters and author. Other aspects change as we see the author has a dog. Or two dogs. Or three dogs. His name changes. His cat, which may or may not be lost, changes name and colour. He may be the author but there may be multiple authors, the author may be his brother or it may be a woman. The text changes. The story changes. As one audience member comments, it may be bullshit but it may also be a changing perception of reality. I am going for the latter interpretation as I found the book both very funny but also a serious and fascinating account of literary boundaries.

Sahar Khalifeh : الأول : رواية (My First and Only Love)

The latest addition to my website is Sahar Khalifeh ‘s الأول : رواية (My First and Only Love). Our heroine is Nidal. The novel starts during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine when the Jews are taking Palestinian land with the aid of the British who had the mandate over Palestine. Some of Nidal’s relatives are part of the armed resistance. She meets Rabie, barely older than her, and falls in love with him. They meet a few times but Rabie is involved in the fighting. After the Nakba, many Palestinians move abroad. Nidal becomes a successful artist and has various relationships and marriages but has now (2000) moved back to the abandoned family home in Nablus on her own. One day she receives a visit from an elderly man whom she fails to recognise. It is Rabie who had emigrated to Canada and become a successful businessman but is now a widower. While spending a few nights in her house because of an Israeli blockade, he discovers Nidal’s Uncle Amin’s journal and learns a lot about her family, including her mother. But will the couple get back together? Khalifeh tells a superb story about love gained and lost during a period of war and oppression.

Corrado Alvaro: L’uomo è forte (Man Is Strong; later: Fear in the World)

The latest addition to my website is Corrado Alvaro‘s L’uomo è forte (Man Is Strong; later: Fear in the World). This novel, first published in 1938, tells of an unnamed country which is clearly, to a great extent, the Soviet Union, though neither the country nor any of the cities are named. Both Barbara and Dale are former citizens of this country but they had moved to the West. Barbara returns first and, later, Dale, tired of the decadent West. They have an affair but are clearly concerned that this is not allowed, particularly as Dale has recently returned from the West and is therefore highly suspect. We follow their anxieties about their relationship, the Inquisitor who follows them around and events in the country, such as people arrested and shot for being enemies of the people and a Stalin-like leader. Dale and Barbara must choose – end the relationship, turn themselves in or risk being also enemies of the people. It is not Nineteen Eighty-Four but the similarities are there.

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