The latest addition to my website is Ibtisam Azem‘s وسفر الاختفاء (The Book of Disappearance). The book is set primarily in Jaffa. Alaa is a Palestinian who works as a cameraman. At the beginning of the book his beloved grandmother dies and much of the book is tribute to her and the sufferings she and the other Palestinians have suffered since the nakba. While we are learning about various Palestinians and what they have suffered, suddenly, overnight, all the Palestinians in Israel simply disappear. No explanation is given. We follow the reactions, with Ariel, Alaa’s Israeli friend, who is reading Alaa’s notebook about his grandmother and his views, while many other Israelis are rejoicing that their problem has gone. This is a wonderful book, showing both what the Palestinians have suffered and continue to suffer and the Israelis’ reaction to their disappearance.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Quartier perdu (A Trace of Malice). This has several of Modiano’s favourite themes – looking for the past, finding Paris has changed a lot, a hero who has two personalities – his present and his past one and some murky secret which will gradually come out. Jean Dekker has been living in England under the name Ambrose Guise, where he is a successful detective story writer but now visits Paris for the first time in nearly twenty years. There he tries to reconnect with his past – many of the people are dead – and investigate events of twenty years ago which led to his departure from France. The book was published in English by a publisher who is long since defunct so the book is difficult to obtain in translation.
The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych (Drive Your Plough over the Bones of the Dead). This is a superb novel from the Nobel Prize Winner. It tells the story of Janina Duszejko, an elderly woman who lives on her own in a remote Polish village near the Czech border. Various people start mysteriously dying in the village. Janine who is a great animal lover and opposed to hunting is convinced that it is the animals taking their revenge. Others have different theories. Janine, a former bridges engineer, is a lover of William Blake and his views that there is another world we cannot or will not see. She is also an astrologer, convinced that astrology can explain many things. In short, she sees the human and animal world as closely linked and the world with mysteries that most of us choose to ignore. Tokarczuk gives us both a clever thriller as well as a major novel of ideas. As she says in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech she tells stories as if the world were a living, single entity, constantly forming before our eyes, and as if we were a small and at the same time powerful part of it.
The latest addition to my website is André Salifou‘s Tels pères tels fils [Like Father, Like Son]. Salifou was a long-serving Niger politician but he also wrote many books, including novels. He calls this book a Sahelian saga and it is set in three time periods – the pre-colonial era, the colonial era and the present. We follow a small group of people and their descendants. They all have one thing in common – they are scurrilous rogues, corrupt, vicious, interested in only amassing wealth, no matter how, and enjoying the proceeds of wealth and power, mainly in the form of women and alcohol. Rape, pillage, theft, lying, cheating and abuse of women are all part of their daily modus operandi, right up to the present day when Fewmo turns out to the worst of the lot. If Salifou’s portrait is an accurate description of his country, then it is in terrible shape.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El mago [The Magician]. The short way to describe this novel would to say it is about a depressed magician. Our hero Hans Chans, is an Argentinian magician. Unlike other magicians, he does not perform tricks, he really can do magic. However, he has been reluctant to use his skill, for example, to make money for himself, in case it aroused suspicion so he has made a good and honest living doing a magic act, not using sleight of hand or similar tricks but really doing magic. However, he wants to be more than good, he wants to be great. Much of the novel is about his attendance at a magicians’ congress in Panama where he plans to reveal his new trick and where a lot goes wrong for him, making him even more despondent than he has been. The problem is that he lacks the imagination to invent one. Then his magic seems to have a mind of its own, which he cannot control. But, unusually for Aira, there is a straightforward, albeit completely unexpected solution to his problem. Not one of his best but still a most unusual work, sadly not available in English.
The latest addition to my website is Alberto Fuguet‘s Tinta roja [Red Ink]. Our hero is Alfonso Fernández Ferrer, who is fifty-one when writing this book but looks back at an experience in his early twenties. He had been studying journalism at university and he is sent for a four month internship at a Santiago (Chile) tabloid, where is sent to work on the police section, i.e. crimes and other violent deaths. His boss is Saúl Faúndez, a hardened journalist who likes drinking and women but has a gift for getting to the scene of the crime before the police and finding out what really happened. Alfonso learns a lot from him but we and he learn that there are a lot of bloody deaths in Santiago – murders, suicides and traffic accidents. Fuguet spares us no details as Alfonso gradually becomes immune till the crimes are not happening just to strangers but to those he knows. It is an interesting Bildungsroman but very bloody.
The latest addition to my website is Mircea Cărtărescu‘s Solenoid. This is Cărtărescu’s masterpiece. Partially it is the story of a man who tries and fails to become a writer and ends up a teacher of Romanian in a quasi-Dickensian school in Bucharest. We follow his life – his failed marriage his struggle with is job, his literary interests, his colourful colleagues and his house shaped like a ship but, above all, we see Bucharest, the city designed to be a ruin according to the narrator, which hides great wonders beneath its surface which our narrator slowly and often accidentally discovers. These are palaces of marvels, surrealistic scenes, strange contraptions, biological oddities, all concealed except to a select few including the Pickets, the group he joins which demonstrates against death, despite the opposition of the Romanian state. It is wonderful novel, highly imaginative, highly creative , full of surprised. Sadly it is available in five other languages but not English.
The latest addition to my website is Hamid Ismailov‘s Ялмоғиз Гея ё мўр-малаҳ маликаси (Gaia). This is another wonderful book from Hamid Iamailov, the Uzbek author resident in the UK. Gaia Mangitkhanovna is an Uzbek national, living in a high-rise in Eastbourne in the South of England. In the opening part of the book, she has sex with her carer, a man substantially younger than her, mocks her neighbours and the town of Eastbourne and tells us that she is dying. We follow her life and back-story, as well as the life and back-story of her carer, Domrul, a Meskhetian Turk, his girlfriend, Emer, an Irish evangelical living in Paris and Kuyuk-baxshi. (Baxshi is a traditional musician from Central Asia), whom Emer very much admires. The complicated relationships, exacerbated by their different nationalities, different religions and their often traumatic pasts, the issue of exile, and Uzbekistan, good (the people and their culture) and bad (officialdom – Soviet,and post-Soviet) all create a complex but fascinating tale.
The latest addition to my website is Rodrigo Fresán‘s La parte soñada (The Dreamed Part), the follow-up to his La parte inventada (The Invented Part). Once again, we are following the anonymous writer and his travails. He now considers himself an ex-writer, as his career is going nowhere. As the title tells us, a lot of the book is about dreams (and sleep and insomnia), including the science of dreams but also dreams in literature and his own dreams. We even have a fictitious plague which stops most people from dreaming and an organisation which harvests the few remaining dreams. His mad sister and her obsession with Wuthering Heights and his obsession with Nabokov also feature. It is a long, rambling novel, as was its predecessor, but if you like long and rambling, you will learn a lot about dreams and literature.
The latest addition to my website is Miloš Crnjanski (Mils Tsernianski)s Seobe (Migrations). This novel is set during the 1744 campaign of the War of the Austrian Succession and involves a Serbian troop under the command of Major Vuk Isaković. We follow their journey from modern-day Croatia to the modern-day French-German border. At the same time we follow the fate of Vuk’s wife and daughters, left behind with Vuk’s unmarried brother, Arandjel, a merchant. Neither story goes well for the protagonists. The Serbians have no idea where they are going or why and they are treated badly by the rest of the army. They fight and lose men but do not why or where. Meanwhile back home, Arandjel is attracted to his sister-in-law. This novel is both about the futility of war and about Serbian nationalism and the unhappy history of the Serbian people. It is thoroughly miserable but every well-told.