The latest addition to my website is Rafał Wojasiński‘s Olanda (Olanda). We follow the stories of a group of mainly elderly people in a fairly remote Polish village. Most of them are fairly lost souls, detached from God and religion and, indeed, often from other people, including their spouse and children, drifting along. If they had a job, it was menial (gravedigger, sump emptier). They tend to be solitary more than lonely, aware of their situation but also more or less unconcerned about their poverty, isolation and impending death. Where they succeed is narrating the world to themselves and they succeed not just for themselves but for us. Each one is an individual and each one is an interesting person, even if not much has happened in their lives. Wojasiński brings out their individual narration to tell a superb story of people who do not. on the face of it, have much of a story to tell.
The latest addition to my website is Filomena Embaló‘s Tiara. This is apparently the first novel published by a Guinea-Bissau woman. It tells the story of Tiara, originally from the fictitious country of Porto Belo (presumably based on Guinea-Bissau). Because of a civil war, her family has to flee to Terra Branca (presumably based on Portugal). There she meets Gino and Kenum from Muriti, whose country is still fighting for independence. She will marry Kenum and join him in Muriti in the struggle. During an air raid she loses her baby and can no longer have children, but, after independence she works hard for the country, sometimes conflicting with local customs. e.g. when she opposes female genital mutilation. We follow her life with its many ups and downs, particularly the opposition of her parents-in-law. It is a well-told story of woman who stands up for herself but sadly it has not been translated into any other language. Thanks to Bookshy for bringing this to my attention.
The latest addition to my website is Yun Ko-eun‘s 밤의 여행자들 (The Disaster Tourist). Yona works for Jungle, a Korean disaster tourism company. When she has problems at work with her boss, she is sent to evaluate a project in Mui, Vietnam, which seems disappointing. However, on the return journey, she gets separated from her group and only returns to Mui with difficulty. She finds that a mysterious conglomerate is upgrading the project with real disasters and real dead bodies. Gradually, she finds that she is going to be more involved in this project that she expected or wants. Yun Ko-eun tells an excellent story, dealing with issues relevant to today about the needs of the community as a whole versus those who may be suffering.
The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s Eszter hagyatéka (Esther’s Inheritance). Esther is in her late forties and lives alone with an elderly aunt. She has only ever loved one person – Lajos. After a long gap he is now visiting her and, as the second sentence of the book tells us, will rob her. He had been the friend of her brother, Laci, and was going to marry Esther but ended up marrying her younger sister, Vilma, with whom Esther did not have a good relationship. Vilma died and Esther briefly looked after her two children while Lajos travelled. When he returned, she cut off contact. But now he is back, smooth, deceitful, dishonest, deceiving Esther, her brother, her friends and everyone else he comes into contact with. People know he is deceiving them and yet they go along with it.
The latest addition to my website is David Mitchell‘s Utopia Avenue. The story starts in January 1967 in London and tells how a group is formed by a Canadian manager of four different characters, three men and one woman and the various trials and tribulations they face including but not limited to sex, drugs, family issues, band relationships, the press, a US tour, record companies, publicity and money. Many real-life famous and not so famous musicians and others make an appearance as we follow the band from their disastrous first gig to US fame and the inevitable problems a band faced in the 1960s as well as one or two not so inevitable problems, including the psychological problems of the lead guitarist. Mitchell tells an excellent story but you will enjoy it more if you are familiar with the era and the musicians of that era.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Encre sympathique [Invisible Ink]. Our hero/narrator is Jean Eyben. He is a would-be writer but works at a detective agency to earn money and get material for his work. His first job is to track down a woman called Noëlle Lefebvre. We follow his not very successful attempts, as he gets misleading clues, meets people who are not what they seem and delves back into his past, as it seems she grew up in the same place as he did. As is normal with Modiano, ten years later he is still looking for and more clues, some misleading, some not, emerge. Did she really exist? Was she really married and, if so, to whom? And is her diary partially written in invisible ink, as his life seems to be? As always with Modiano, the past pops up and then fades, characters come and go and Paris changes and life remains a mystery.
The latest addition to my website is Ruxandra Cesereanu‘s Angelus (Angelus). Three angels arrive in Metropolis, the capital of Homeland. They seem harmless but they are also mute. What do they want? Even they do not know. The first part of the book is the reaction of all and sundry to them – politicians, religious leaders, business leaders, scientists and even the Devil and God. Cesereanu mocks them all but, at the same time shows how they try and use the angels for their own ends, be it politics, religion, money or to promote their world view. In the second part, they are released into the community and changes do take place but more because of how people react to them than because of anything they do. This is a thoroughly original novel, part mocking but part deadly serious, full of ideas and heading in directions you would never have guessed.
The latest addition to my website is Rollan Seisenbayev‘s Мертвые бродят в песках (The Dead Wander in the Desert). The Aral Sea used to be the fourth largest lake in the world. As a result of Soviet activities, it virtually disappeared. This novel tells the story from the perspective of the Kazakhs who lived on its shores, which have long since disappeared. In particular, we follow Nasyr, a fisherman who became local mullah and his son, Kakharman, a scientist. Both try in their own way try to oppose the various activities, involving using the two rivers that feed the Aral Sea to irrigate the desert, in order to grow cotton, as well as the construction of a dam, for irrigation and electricity. Their fight is in vain as the Soviets are determined to grow cotton and even consider diverting rivers from Siberia to assist. We also see the horrors the Soviets have inflicted on Kazakhstan, including a famine in the 1930s, oppression and forced migration, as well as various environmental disasters. It is a well-told but very sad tale, ending with the death of Nasyr and the fall of the Soviet Union, though things have not improved too much with the successor states.
The latest addition to my website is Georges Perec‘s L’Attentat de Sarajevo [The Sarajevo Assassination]. This is Perec’s first (written) novel. It was believed lost and only found and published well after his death. It was based on his friendship in Paris with a group of Yugoslavs. The narrator becomes friendly with a Yugoslav, Branko, in Paris but, when he sees a photo of Branko’s mistress, Mila, he is smitten. When she comes to Paris he sees her for a while but she returns to Yugoslavia. When she writes to him saying that she would like to see him, he is off to Belgrade in a few days. Branko lives in Sarajevo with his wife, Anna, but comes up to Belgrade as the two men struggle for the affection of Mila. Then, when our hero visits Sarajevo, he comes up with a plan to get Anna to shoot her husband out of jealousy. At the same time, we are following a theory about that other assassination in Sarajevo. It is not a great book and it is easy to see why he had difficulty getting it published but still an interesting idea.
The latest addition to my website is Fernando Contreras Castro‘s Única mirando al mar (Única Looking at the Sea). It tells the story of a group of scavengers (they are called divers in this book) who live in a shanty town on the main San José, Costa Rica, rubbish dump. They earn their living from what they can find in the dump, They are there because of bad luck, such as job loss or being abandoned, in the case of a child. We follow Única Oconitrillo, a former teacher’s aide, as she gradually becomes the mother figure of the other divers and finds, among other things, a son and a husband on the dump. Contreras Castro very much treats them all sympathetically but the locals, the police and the government do not. The locals want the dump moved and the divers are caught in the middle, as the government lies to all parties.