The latest addition to my website is Hamid Ismailov‘s Ялмоғиз Гея ё мўр-малаҳ маликаси (Gaia). This is another wonderful book from Hamid Iamailov, the Uzbek author resident in the UK. Gaia Mangitkhanovna is an Uzbek national, living in a high-rise in Eastbourne in the South of England. In the opening part of the book, she has sex with her carer, a man substantially younger than her, mocks her neighbours and the town of Eastbourne and tells us that she is dying. We follow her life and back-story, as well as the life and back-story of her carer, Domrul, a Meskhetian Turk, his girlfriend, Emer, an Irish evangelical living in Paris and Kuyuk-baxshi. (Baxshi is a traditional musician from Central Asia), whom Emer very much admires. The complicated relationships, exacerbated by their different nationalities, different religions and their often traumatic pasts, the issue of exile, and Uzbekistan, good (the people and their culture) and bad (officialdom – Soviet,and post-Soviet) all create a complex but fascinating tale.
The latest addition to my website is Miloš Crnjanski (Mils Tsernianski)s Seobe (Migrations). This novel is set during the 1744 campaign of the War of the Austrian Succession and involves a Serbian troop under the command of Major Vuk Isaković. We follow their journey from modern-day Croatia to the modern-day French-German border. At the same time we follow the fate of Vuk’s wife and daughters, left behind with Vuk’s unmarried brother, Arandjel, a merchant. Neither story goes well for the protagonists. The Serbians have no idea where they are going or why and they are treated badly by the rest of the army. They fight and lose men but do not why or where. Meanwhile back home, Arandjel is attracted to his sister-in-law. This novel is both about the futility of war and about Serbian nationalism and the unhappy history of the Serbian people. It is thoroughly miserable but every well-told.
The latest addition to my website is the Sema Kaygusuz‘s Yüzünde Bir Yer (Every Fire You Tend). This is an intense feminist Turkish novel, whose starting point is Dersim rebellion in Eastern Turkey, which was brutally crushed by the Turks in 1938, with many killed and many sent into exile, including the author’s grandmother. We follow four strands. Firstly there is the exile of the Dersim people. Secondly is the narrator talking to the unnamed granddaughter of a woman who escaped the massacre and went into exile, and whose journey we follow. The third involves Hızır, a prophet/angel who assumes multiple disguises as he wanders through the book and through the centuries, generally helping where he can. Fourthly, we follow a series of other stories, set both in the past and present. The whole is superb and powerful work about language, violence, Turkish homogenisation, feminism and figs (which play a key role in this book).
The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Mendoza‘s Sin noticias de Gurb (No Word from Gurb). This follows Mendoza’s usual pattern, in that we see Barcelona and its inhabitants from the perspective of the narrator/protagonist. However, the difference is that the narrator is not from planet Earth but part of a two-man team (the eponymous Gurb is the other one) exploring the Universe. When they land, Gurb soon disappears and our narrator spends the rest of the book looking for him. We follow his struggle with humans, his view of humans and, in particular those from Barcelona, and his failed and increasingly ignored search for Gurb, as he is sidetracked by the difficulties of living on an alien planet. It is at times very funny, at others a bit silly.
The latest addition to my website is Nino Haratischwili‘s Das achte Leben (The Eighth Life). This is a monumental Georgian novel that tells the story of several generations of a Georgian family, from the beginning of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century. The story is told against the background of the history of Georgia and the history of the Soviet Union during this period, both of which have a huge effect on the family members. The family members often make poor choices, particularly in their choice of romantic partners and we follow their up and their downs, with real people, particularly Lavrentiy Beria having a huge influence on their lives. It is a wonderfully imaginative and colourful story, full of life as well as full of sadness, but never leaving us bored.
The latest addition to my website is Konstantin Paustovsky‘s Кара-Бугаз (The Black Gulf). Paustovsky is best-known in English and in Russian for his six-volume autobiography Повестью о жизни (Story of a Life) but he did write several novels, two of which have been translated into English. This one is sadly long since out of print but is well worth reading. The hero, for want of a better word, is the eponymous gulf, called Kara-Bugaz in this book (which is a transliteration of the Russian title) and Garabogazköl by Wikipedia. It is a lagoon off the Caspian Sea, in a very inhospitable part of the world. The novel describes the various people (Russian) who explored and exploited the area. All, of course, are somewhat eccentric and all have their own views on what is appropriate for the area. Some of the visitors were unwilling, such as the Communists deposited there without food and water by the White Russians during the Civil War, and left to die. Most do but not all. While these novelised stories of real people are fascinating, we also follow the lagoon itself, which is like a malicious spirit, threatening, dangerous and unpredictable. This novel was recommended in an excellent article by translator Will Firth.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Dora Bruder(Dora Bruder; The Search Warrant: Dora Bruder). Our narrator (presumably Modiano himself) comes across a 1941 newspaper announcement about a missing fifteen-year old girl, Dora Bruder. Over the course of the next few years, he decides to track her down, as far as he can. He finds out some details about her and her origins. Her parents were immigrant Jews. She was headstrong and clearly ran away from the Catholic convent school to which she had been sent. Some of the information he speculates about, based on the situation. Dora Bruder is just one girl among many who disappeared during the Nazi occupation of France but Modiano here is showing how she represents the other Jews arrested and murdered simply because they were Jews.
The latest addition to my website is Piero Chiara‘s La stanza del vescovo (The Bishop’s Bedroom). This book, now published in English for the first time forty-three after it was first published in Italian, is set in 1946. The unnamed narrator owns a yacht on Lake Maggiore and, as he has some money, is putting off the day when he has to go work and, at the same time, trying to recover the youth he lost in the war. He meets a man called Orimbelli who owns a villa on the lake, where he lives with his wife and sister-in-law. Orimbelli soon becomes the narrator’s crew and they sail round the lake, often with women, with whom they have casual sex. However we and, eventually, the narrator realise that there is something shady about Orimbelli. When a tragedy occurs, our suspicions are reinforced, despite Orimbelli’s alibi. Chiara gives us a good portrait of one part of post-war Italy, while also giving us a story where we gradually learn that all is not as it seems.
The latest addition to my website is Alberto Fuguet‘s Mala onda (Bad Vibes). This novel had considerable influence in Chile, dealing as it does, with a rebel without a cause, seventeen-year old Matías Vicuña, who comes from a well-to-do Pinochet-supporting family and is disenchanted with his life, his family, his school and even, to some degree, his friends. He does drugs, drinks, plays truant, has casual sex (though he is in love with Antonia, who finds him too self-centred) and has no idea of what he wants or where is going. A brief fling on a school trip to Rio, reading Catcher in the Rye and an interest in his newly discovered Jewish heritage are the few things that seem to arouse him. The entire story is told against the background of the 1980 Chilean constitutional referendum, though Matías himself, too young to vote, is indifferent to it. As a teenage angst novel, it is like others we have read but interesting as a portrait of disaffected Chileans of the 1980s.
The latest addition to my website is Johannes Anyuru‘s De kommer att drunkna i sina mödrars tårar (They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears). Anyuru is Swedish but with a Ugandan father. He converted to Islam in 2007. We start with a terrorist attack on a bookshop in Gothenburg, where an author, Göran Loberg, who has caricaturised the Prophet Mohammed, is signing books. Two men and a woman carry out the attack. The woman claims she does not know her real name but is known as Nour. Only later do we learn the results of the attack, as we jump two years forward, where she is in an asylum for the criminally insane. She claims that she comes from an alternative future, where Muslims are brutally repressed, primarily because of the bookshop attack and murder of Loberg and others. In the real world, she came back from the future and prevented the murder of Loberg and others. But who is she? A famous Muslim author investigates. There are no easy answers, only that Sweden, in both the real and alternative world, is a racist country.