Javier Pedro Zabala: The Mad Patagonian

The latest addition to my website is Javier Pedro Zabala‘s The Mad Patagonian. This novel was not published in the author’s lifetime and, indeed though it was written in Spanish, it has never been published in Spanish, as the Venezuelan publisher who was to publish it went bankrupt so it only exists in English. It is over 1200 pages long and divided into nine novellas, each one telling a separate story, though some of the stories do link up. It covers a host of topics from the value of love (particularly when passionate sex is part of that love), the supernatural, aliens (both kinds), the Mafia, German spies, the history of Cuba, the pornographic film industry, the Spanish Civil War, Miami and its secrets, good Cuban music, a few unpleasant deaths and much more, with the usual mix of unreliable narrators, characters appearing and disappearing and plots that go all over the place or simply disappear. Zabala wrote it as something of an anti-Bolaño and, while it is not of the same calibre as Bolaño, it is still a highly enjoyable work, particularly, if like me, you enjoy a very long novel.

Mo Yan: 红高粱家族 (Red Sorghum)

The latest addition to my website is Mo Yan‘s 红高粱家族 (Red Sorghum). This is a very colourful novel, set in Mo Yan’s home town, from the late 1920s to the late 1940s. Much of the story tells of the various groups fighting the Japanese, led by the narrator’s grandfather. While they do put up a good fight, despite inferior weaponry, they spend almost as much time fighting rival Chinese groups, though the three groups do combine when faced by the Japanese. We also a lot about about the narrator’s grandmother, a strong-minded woman, widowed three days after marriage (though glad of it). Grandma and grandfather have a lively marriage, with ups and downs, while grandfather becomes something of a bandit, but a good bandit, of course. Mo Yan tells an exciting, action-packed story, which was made into a highly successful film.

David Albahari: Kontrolni punkt (Checkpoint)

The latest addition to my website is David Albahari‘s Kontrolni punkt (Checkpoint). The novel tells about a platoon of soldiers sent to man a barrier on the top of the hill. They have no idea what the barrier is for, where they are – even which country they are in – nor what they are supposed to do. There is no habitation around and no-one wants to pass through the barrier. Initially, it is calm but then one of the soldiers is found murdered. Gradually, other soldiers are picked off. A group of refugees arrives to pass through the barrier but that does not go well. Eventually, a war does arrive as armed forces arrive but it is still not clear either to our original soldiers or, indeed, to the others who is fighting whom and why. What we do know is that the war is particularly barbaric and cruel, both towards the enemy soldiers – everyone is the enemy – and towards the civilian population. Clearly based on the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, the book does not hold back as damning war as pointless and cruel.

Emmanuel Carrère: La Moustache (The Moustache)

The latest addition to my website is Emmanuel Carrère‘s La Moustache (The Moustache). The unnamed hero of this novel decides one day to shave off his moustache to surprise his wife, Agnès. Not only does she not notice, she later insists that he never had a moustache. This previous lack of a moustache is later confirmed by their friends and his colleagues. However, photos seem to show that he did have a moustache. When there seem to be other events that he remembered and she did not – their holiday in Java, the death of his father – he wonders if he is going mad or if she is plotting something against him. However, when he cannot find his parents’ flat, where he grew up, we have our doubts. yet there is clear evidence that, in some cases, he is telling the truth. What is the truth, who is telling it and why are there so many disparities between what he sees and says and what she sees and says? This is a very clever book on truth and lies and different perspectives.

Pat Barker: The Silence of the Girls

The latest addition to my website is Pat Barker‘s The Silence of the Girls. This is a feminist retelling of the Trojan War, based primarily on The Iliad. It is narrated mainly by Briseis, wife of King Mynes of Lyrnessus, an ally of Troy conquered by the Greeks before they conquer Troy. Briseis is captured and made the concubine of Achilles and we see the events of the Trojan War through her eyes, instead of through the eyes of the (probably male) Homer. She and the other women suffer, as they are used for (usually rough) sex but also as nurses, servants, comforters, washers of the dead and other tasks deemed appropriate for female slaves. Meanwhile, Briseis becomes a pawn in the power struggle between Achilles and Agamemnon. We know how it all ends, with many men dead, but it is the women who suffer – rape, death, abuse, enslavement – without being involved in the war excepts as bystanders and/or victims, while the men joyously kill one another. Barker tells her tale well, with the implication being that men may not have improved much in the intervening three thousand years since the Trojan War.