The latest addition to my website is Sergei Lebedev‘s Дебютант (Untraceable). This is a story inspired by but not based on the Salisbury poisonings when Russian agents used the nerve agent Novichok to try and kill a former Russian double agent and his daughter. This novel tells of a scientist who develops a similar agent, called Neophyte in this book and Debutant in the Russian original but finds that the failing Soviet Union and its Russian successor seem uninterested so he defects but finds to his horror that the West is not interested either. He is living in a small town in Austria but has plans to find a country that may be interested. At the same time we follow a pair of Russian agents who have been sent to kill him, but things go somewhat wrong for them. Lebedev gives us an excellent portrait of the obsessive scientist and of the dutiful Russian agent who will do whatever his bosses tell him to do.
The latest addition to my website is Minae Mizumura‘s 私小説 from left to right (An I-Novel). This book was written and published before her other two novels published in English and, unusually, contains lots of English words and is written horizontally (as the Japanese title tells us) and not vertically as is normal in Japanese. It is semi-autobiographical and tells of her family moving to the United States, when she was twelve. At the start of the novel, she and her sister note that they have been there twenty years. Minae, our narrator, is finishing her Ph.D. (in French) and plans to return to Japan after having done so, perhaps to write a novel. Much of the book is about exile. How you can you adapt to a foreign culture? Can you go home after so long away, as much will have changed? How can you maintain contact with your home culture when in a foreign culture? And how do you deal with the attitudes of the foreign culture to you and your culture? Like all exiles, the two sisters struggle with these issues and do not really resolve them.
The latest addition to my website is Brenda Lozano‘s Cuaderno ideal (Loop). This is the story of a modern-day Penelope (from The Odyssey). Our thirty-year old Mexican woman lives with Jonás, whose mother has recently died. She was Spanish so Jonás, his sister and his father go off to Spain to trace her roots, with Jonás staying longer to travel around. Meanwhile our Penelope is left at home weaving, only her weaving is in the Ideal Notebook of the Spanish title. She jots down not a plot-based novel but snippets of her life and, above all, of the anchors in her life, be they family and friends, books and music or what she calls useless things. She discourses on many things from typefaces to Juan de la Cosa, from dwarves to swallows, all the
while waiting, waiting and hoping Jonás will come back safe and sound. It works very well as she jumps around, as we gradually get a picture of her life.
The latest addition to my website is Iraj Pezeshkzad‘s حافظ ناشنيده پند (Hafez in Love). This is a wonderful book about a period in the life of Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, better known as Hafez, the fourteenth century Persian poet. A new ruler has taken over (by force) in Shiraz, where this book is set – Mubariz al-Din Muhammad, known as Mobarez in this book, and Hafez, not known for his tact, risks making an enemy of him and others, including the police chief who is as attracted to the poet Jahan Malek Khatun as Hafez is. She, of course, prefers Hafez but the police chief now has two reason to get rid of Hafez. Hafez seems to be indifferent to the danger he faces,though his friends are not, while he prefers to focus on his poetry, his lively social life and Jahan Malek Khatun. When he is arrested, it seems that his friends were right. It is a lively book with an interesting plot and lots of colourful and poetic discussion among the poets.
The latest addition to my website is Tahi Saihate‘s 星か獣になる季節 (Astral Season Beastly Season). Two seventeen- year old boys are obsessed with a J-Pop star, attending all her concerts. When she is accused of murder, the two, who are in the same class but are polar opposites and have rarely spoken to one another before, get together to save her and they try to do this by one of them, Morishita, doing further killings so that the police will suspect him and not her while the other, Yamashiro, is reluctantly dragged in. The killing spree continues… The second part, set two years later, has three survivors reviewing the situation. It is a chilling and somewhat sinister book but superbly well told.
The latest addition to my website is Max Besora‘s Aventures i desventures de l’insòlit i admirable Joan Orpí, conquistador i fundador de la Nova Catalunya (Adventures and Misadventures of the Extraordinary and Admirable Joan Orpí). This is a wonderful, post-modern novel about the very real Joan Orpí who founded New Barcelona (now Barcelona), Venezuela. While there is a real book about him, this story is based on a tale told by a captain at the Siege of Barcelona and written down by a soldier and found by our narrator. Joan is a naive young Catalan who has a host of improbable and, at times anachronistic adventures, before ending up in what is now Venezuela, where he becomes governor of the city he has founded. However, his adventures are not over. It is very witty, very post-modern and very clever, with an unreliable narrator, anachronisms, improbable tales and parody everywhere.
The latest addition to my website is Dmitri Lipskerov‘s О нём и о бабочках (The Tool and the Butterflies). This is a complex story, focusing on one Arseny Iratov who, at the beginning of the novel, is rich (money made from Soviet-era illegal currency speculation, and later dealing in precious stones and an architectural business he owns) with a much younger, loving girlfriend, Vera. One day he wakes up to find his genitals have disappeared (the tool of the title). Soon other men are in the same situation. Meanwhile we are following a series of people, mainly male, who seem to be connected to him (one is his grandson) who seem to be different, on the face of it ordinary people, but with strange powers and knowledge, particularly detailed knowledge of Arseny and his life and, in the case of the grandson, superior intelligence. While telling his complicated tale, Lipskerov is wittily satirising contemporary Russia – corruption, drunkenness and the like. It is a very clever and original book and well worth reading.
The latest addition to my website is Andriy Kokotiukha‘s Адвокат iз Личакiвської (The Lawyer from Lychakiv Street). It is set in 1908, primarily in Lviv, now in Ukraine but then called Lemberg and in the Austro-Hungarian empire, with a majority Polish-speaking population. Our hero is Klymentiy Nazarovych Koshovy, known as Klym, a lawyer from Kyiv, who had been arrested for subversive activities but had been freed thanks to the influence of his father and had decided to flee to Lviv, to stay with his friend, Genyk Soyka. However, when he arrives he finds Soyka dead, apparently a suicide but, in fact, a murder. Much of the book is his Sherlock Holmes-type investigation, involving murky Russia/Ukrainain/Austrian politics, terrorism and the murky underworld of Lviv, and with our hero, like Sherlock Holmes, always one step ahead of the police.
Every year I plan to give an indication of books published 50, 100, 150 and 200 years ago and every year I forget. This year I remembered so here goes.
Not a bumper year. It included Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years), the follow-up to his better-known Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship)
Walter Scott’s Kenilworth
James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy and Shelley’s Adonaïs. I have to admit to having read none of them.
Definitely a better year with George Eliot’s Middlemarch (the first instalments) being the highlight and also including:
Henry James’ Watch and Ward
George Meredith ‘s The Adventures of Harry Richmond
Palgrave’s Personal Narrative of a Year’s Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia
Émile Zola’s La Fortune des Rougon
Lewis Carroll ‘s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There
Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. And I have read all of them.
With the malaise of post World War 1 easing off, this was quite a good year. It saw:
Hjalmar Bergman‘s Farmor och Vår Herre (Thy Rod and Thy Staff)
John Galsworthy’s To Let, the last of the The Forsyte Saga
Jaroslav Hašek‘s Osudy Dobrého Vojáka švejka Za Svetové Války (The Good Soldier Schweik)
Aldous Huxley‘s Crome Yellow
Sigrid Undset’s Husfrue (The Wife or The Mistress of Husaby, second part of Kristin Lavransdatter)
Henry Williamson‘s The Beautiful Years, the first in his Flax of Dream series
Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I have to admit to not having read the latter.
With the modern era well under way, we are now getting some more exotic books, with:
Oğuz Atay‘s complex, post-modern and difficult to obtain Tutunamayanlar (The Disconnected)
Kofi Awoonor‘s This Earth, My Brother …
Ingeborg Bachmann‘s Malina (Malina)Gruppenbild mit Dame (Group Portrait with Lady)
Don DeLillo‘s Americana, his first book
George Garrett‘s Death of the Fox, one of my favourite historical novels
Bohumil Hrabal‘s Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (I Served the King of England)
the second volume of Uwe Johnson‘s Jahrestage (Anniversaries)
Ismail Kadare‘s Kronikë në gur (Chronicle in Stone)
the controversial Jerzy Kosinski‘s Being There, possibly his best novel but possibly plagiarised from Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz‘s Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy (The Career of Nicodemus
Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven
Doris Lessing‘s Briefing for a Descent into Hell
Naguib Mahfouz‘s المرايا (Mirrors)
Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall
V. S. Naipaul‘s In a Free State
Joyce Carol Oates‘s Wonderland
Walker Percy‘s Love in the Ruins
Anthony Powell<'s Books Do Furnish a Room
Tayeb Salih’sبندر شاه مريود (Bandarshah)
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914
João Ubaldo Ribeiro‘s Sargento Getúlio (Sergeant Getúlio)
John Updike‘s Rabbit Redux
I haven’t read the Solzhenitsyn but have read the rest. I have missed out quite a few which you can see here. I shall probably forget to do this next year.
In case you missed it… 1 January is when some books are out of copyright and and can be published without royalties. This list mentions quite a few for this year but, warning!, it applies to the US. Other countries may have different rules. As you can see there are quite a few interesting works now out of copyright and not just books, but also films and music. I shall now feel free to sing Yes Sir, That’s My Baby in the bath without fear of retribution (except from my wife).