Month: July 2017

Adelle Stripe: Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile

The latest addition to my website is Adelle Stripe‘s Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile. This is Stripe’s first novel though she has been writing poetry for many years. It it a fictionalised biography of Andrea Dunbar, a young playwright who grew up on a poor estate in Bradford, Yorkshire, and died aged twenty-nine, from a brain haemorrhage. Stripe gives us Dunbar’s story – her miscarriage at age sixteen, her three children by three different fathers, her drinking – all of which she used in writing her plays. But Stripe, as she says in the foreword, embellishes the story, giving us a feminist novel and a novel showing the misery on sink estates in modern Britain, with the women bearing most of the burden. It is an excellent novel about the sad tale of a playwright who died too young but also the sad state of modern Britain.

Janne Teller: Hvis der var krig i Norden (War)

The latest addition to my website is Janne Teller‘s Hvis der var krig i Norden (War). This is a story that imagines that it is the Danes that become refugees (in the Danish original) but the British in this translation of the book. Britain as been taken over by a dictator with his nasty Britification police and is at war with the Scandinavian countries, who are bombing the UK. The fourteen year old boy (though Teller uses the second person to drive the point home to the readers) and his family have to flee and go to Egypt where there is a large refugee camp but where they are not particularly welcome, not least because the British behave badly. We follow their difficulties in trying to get asylum, work and learn the language, while things are not going well at home. Showing the problems faced from the British point of view is highly effective and, is of course, Teller’s aim.

Ghassan Zaqtan: وصف الماضيالمرآة (Describing the Past)

The latest addition to my website is Ghassan Zaqtan‘s Ghassan Zaqtan: وصف الماضيالمرآة (Describing the Past). This is a wonderful novel of memory and death and sensuality, set primarily in a Palestinian refugee camp. There are three main characters, never named, referred to only as I, he and she, all of whom tell their own stories in the first person, though I is nicknamed Christian and he the Iraqi. As boys, both see and are attracted to the woman, the young wife of an elderly Hadj. After the Hadj’s death, the Iraqi will later marry the woman while Christian moves on. It is his return to the camp, after the death of the Hadj and of the Iraqi, which is recounted by Christian, bringing back memories of the woman, but also of deaths, both casual and brutal, of the Nakba and of his past life. Zaqtan is a poet and he gives us a beautiful though sad poetic novel.

Jean Giono: Le Chant du monde (The Song of the World)

The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Le Chant du monde (The Song of the World). This is another superb novel from Giono, something of a Western but with a very French flavour. Sailor, a man of the forest, calls on his friend, Antonio, a man of the river, to help him find his son, Danis, who seems to have disappeared. Danis had a twin brother, who died the previous year. The two men set out and, on the way, come across a blind woman giving birth, a group of cattle herders working for cattle boss, Maudru, and Maudru’s nephew, who has been shot in the stomach. Antonio soon works out that Danis had shot him. They find Danis and Gina, Maudru’s niece, hiding out at Sailor’s brother-in-law and the inevitable Western-style showdown occurs. While the plot is certainly worth following, what makes this book is Giono’s wonderful portrayal of the natural environment and how much the people are in tune with it.

Naomi Alderman: The Power

The latest addition to my website is Naomi Alderman‘s The Power, winner of 2017 Women’s Prize for Fiction. It was the first science fiction novel to win the Women’s Prize. Most of the novel is set in the near future (or an alternative present) and takes as its premise that women (primarily younger women) acquire power to inflict an electric shock of varying degrees of intensity. The prime use of this is to repel (and, in many cases, kill) assailants, nearly all men who assault them. The book tells the story of four individuals and those associated with them – three women and one man – and we see the inevitable changes in the world through their eyes. The man is a Nigerian who becomes the unofficial chronicler of the age, while the three women (two British, one American) are all involved directly in the ensuing events. The novel culminates in a major clash between a Saudi army based in Northern Moldova and a state in the same area run by women. Alderman shows that the women with this power can be just as violent as the men while, at the same time clearly making the point about male violence and abuse of power.

Julien Gracq: Le Rivage des Syrtes (The Opposing Shore)

The latest addition to my website is Julien Gracq‘s Le Rivage des Syrtes (The Opposing Shore). This is is considered Gracq’s best novel, though clearly is related to Dino Buzzati‘s Il deserto dei Tartari (The Tartar Steppe). Like the Buzzati, our hero goes to the remote outpost of a fading empire, which borders a mysterious country. The two countries are at war. Our hero is Aldo, a man from an influential family, the country is Orsenna and the remote outpost is the Syrtes of the French title. There has been a war lasting three hundred years with Farghestan, but there is no fighting and, indeed, no contact between the countries. The men there generally hunt and fish and go to the nearest town, Maremma, to party, though Aldo prefers to remain at Syrtes and enjoy the remote port. When he meets Vanessa,, daughter of another influential family, though one with a bad reputation, things start to change. Something is clearly going on and Vanessa, Aldo and others are clearly tired of this uneasy peace. The book is still in print in English and is well worth reading.

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