The latest addition to my website is Daša Drndić‘s Doppelgänger. This book actually has two novellas: Doppelgänger and Pupi. Doppelgänger is about an elderly couple who meet on New Year’s Eve 1999 (actually at 4 a..m. on New Year’s Day). Both are widowed and both incontinent. We learn about them – thirty-six members of Isabella’s family were murdered in the Holocaust and she loves chocolate, Artur was in the Yugoslav Navy and collects hats. They have fumbling sex but things do not turn out well.
The life of Pupi, the eponymous protagonist of the second story, also does not turn out well. He has retired on a meagre pension at age 50, a former chemist and not very good secret agent. He lives with his parents but, when they die, his brother throws him out and things go downhill, as he become mentally unstable. Though grim Drndić throws in plenty of humour and absurdity and both stories work very well. Things do not turn out well for the rhinoceroses in the zoo, either.
The latest addition to my website is Hwang Sok-yong‘s 해질무렵 (At Dusk). This is a superb book about an architect who, though successful, is a bit lost in his life, his wife having left him, his friends dying and his increasing concern about declining values. He receives a note asking him to phone a number – that of his old girlfriend he has not seen for years. At the same time we follow the story of a twenty-something would-be theatre director and playwright. It is not going well for her and she has to supplement her income working the graveyard shift at a convenience store. She has an enigmatic friend, whose mother she meets, but considers her life hopeless. These two stories eventually merge, of course. Part of the novel is about the changes (for the worse) in South Korea over the years and part simply about two people who are struggling to fit in.
The latest addition to my website is Dawn Powell‘s A Time to Be Born. This is was Powell’s first commercially successful novel and it is easy to see why, as it is a wicked satire on New York society when war was raging in Europe but before the US had entered the war. There are two heroines, both from Lakeville, Ohio. Amanda Keeler has come to New York to promote her novel and has managed to snare successful publisher and newspaper owner, Julian Evans and has used her marriage to him to promote her novel and by writing articles, though as we soon find out, her role both in writing her articles and second novel is limited. She soon denies Julian sex and has a relationship with her former boyfriend and then a Hemingway-like journalist and novelist. Also from Lakeville is the more naive Vicky Haven, Amanda’s protégée, who gets caught up in Amanda’s plotting while trying to make a life of her own after failing in Lakeville. Powell satirises virtually everybody in this book – high and low – which makes it great fun to read
The latest addition to my website is Rita Indiana‘s La mucama de Omicunlé (Tentacle). This is a wonderful post-apocalyptic novel from the Dominican Republic, set both a short time into the future and but also, partially, in the seventeenth century. Acilde Figueroa, a woman, goes from being a pretend male prostitute, to being a maid for a Santeria priestess to becoming a man, and a man who may be be able to go back in time and save the world from an ecological disaster. The Servants of the Apocalypse, the Chosen One, performance art, an underwater god called Olokun, pirates, invading Spaniards, President Said Bona, with his voice like Balaguer’s and face like Malcolm X, video art, fishing and its difficulties, rare engravings about buccaneer life in the seventeenth century and, of course, quite a bit of sex, murder and mayhem, are all grist to Indiana’s mill.
The latest addition to my website is Mo Yan‘s 天堂蒜薹之歌 (The Garlic Ballads). This is a thoroughly grim tale set in Mo Yan’s usual Northeast Gaorni Township. We follow two main characters. Gao Ma is in love with Jinju but her family is determined she will marry a 45-year old wreck and do everything to stop Gao Ma marrying her, including resorting to brutal violence (on both of them) and influence in high places. Gao Ma and Gao Yang get caught up in a riot when the peasants cannot sell their garlic, despite having been exhorted to grow only garlic by the government, and both end up in prison, and both are subject to brutality. Several of the main characters end up dying a violent death, while the others end up far worse off than they were, with no-one living happily ever after.
The latest addition to my website is Heinrich Eggerth‘s Die Papierrose [The Paper Rose]. It is narrated by a man whose almost ten year old daughter has died of a brain tumour. He visits her grave almost every day and talks to her, over a period of many years. The books is his (obviously one-sided) conversations with her. We learn about how she died, the two operations she had and her cheerful, chatty nature. We also learn about how bitter he is that she had to die before her time and how he feels guilty – was the tumour caused when she fell off him, when playing, or was God punishing him for not quitting his smoking habit? He tells her of his life and the life of their family (he has a wife and another daughter, though they are barely mentioned) and imagines her growing up and having a family of her own. It is a sad book but not mawkish or overly sentimental. Apart from a few poems, none of Heggerth’s work has been translated into English or any other language.
The latest addition to my website is A L Kennedy‘s The Little Snake, a children’s fable for adults, in the style of Le petit prince (The Little Prince). The eponymous little snake is both the Angel of Death (at least where nasty cruel rich and powerful people are concerned) and a friend to the very good, such as our heroine Mary, whom we and the snake first meet as a young girl. Mary lives in a divided city, with the very rich and very poor. During the course of the book, things get worse, but the snake, when not killing the rich and powerful, helps Mary and her family, who eventually have to leave the city, with conditions having deteriorated so much. It is an amusing fable and a good read for both children and adults, not mawkish or trite and not averse to making its political point.
The latest addition to my website is Cheikh Hamidou Kane‘s L’aventure ambigue (Ambiguous Adventure). This is a semi-autobiographical novel about Samba Diallo, son of a Senegalese chief. He is a committed Muslim (like nearly all Senegalese) and clearly believes the Senegalese should follow the Muslim way. However, he is sent to France and very much struggles with the issue of how an African can retain his essential values and fit in to the modern world. He spends much time contemplating and discussing this and does not really come to a conclusion. This book is not a particularly easy read, as it is deadly serious throughout and the characters tend to speak as philosophers and theologians, using aphorisms and learned arguments, rather than as ordinary people.
The latest addition to my website is Samir Naqqash‘s فراعراقية (Tenants and Cobwebs). Samir Naqqash was an Iraqi Jew whose family emigrated to Israel when conditions for Jews in Baghdad became very difficult in Iraq. He never really fit in while in Israel and, unlike, many Jewish émigrés, persisted in writing in Arabic rather than Hebrew, which meant he had less success than other Jewish writers in Israel. This book is set in a Baghdad neighbourhood in the 1940s, when the situation is getting bad for the Jews, following the Farhud (pogrom), as a result of Nazism, Zionism and Arab nationalism. We follow the stories of a host of colourful characters, Jewish and Arab, as they struggle with their own lives, all the while becoming increasingly aware that their stay in Iraq is drawing to a close after many hundreds of years and they will have to leave (By 2013, only five Jews remained in Baghdad, down from 50,000 in 1900). Naqqash tells a superb story of their own problems and disputes, against the background of rising tensions and the gradual realisation that they will have to leave Baghdad.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Prins, his most recent work to date. The narrator is a writer of Gothic novels, a job that pays well because they sell well but a job he seems to hate. However, he does not know what else he could do with his time. After considering and rejecting various possibilities, he comes up with the only possible solution: opium. En route to the dealer, on bus 126, he meets Alicia. He buys the opium from a house called Antiquity. The opium is delivered but as the key to Antiquity is hidden in the huge quantity of opium, he also gets Ujier, the dealer, as well. The narrator, Alicia and Ujier hide away in his massive house. However, the opium starts to have an effect and life becomes one of his Gothic novels. Another strange but fascinating work from Aira, not yet available in English.