The latest addition to my website is Sakinu Ahronglong‘s 山豬 (Hunter School). Ahronglong belongs to the Paiwan people, one of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan and this is basically his story and the story of his people and their attempts to preserve their way of life. He does this by telling tales of himself, his family and their people. Above all, they are in tune with nature and remain so, even when hunting. We learn about their habits and the habits of the animals, about their relationship with the neighbouring Amis people (not always good), with the majority Han Chinese (definitely not good), about how drunkenness has become common and how the people have lost their way. Ahronglong’s aim throughout the book is to preserve their way of life and restore their lost cultural values. It is a thoroughly enjoyable book, very well told by its author.
The latest addition to my website is José de Almada Negreiros‘ Nome de Guerra [Nom de Guerre]. This is a Bildungsroman but also a mocking of the conventional romantic novel. Antunes, a thirty year old man from the provinces, is sent to Lisbon by his uncle in order to make a man of him. He is handed over to D. Jorge, a man who is both stupid and vulgar. He takes Antunes to a club where they get drunk but where they meet a young prostitute, Judith. Antunes falls for Judith, though both his gentlemanly upbringing and his nice girlfriend, Maria, back home, do give him some pause but, ultimately, he wants to experience the pleasures of a sexual adventure. He analyses his motives to death but it is clear (both to us and to him) what they are. Negreiros has his fun and, indeed, so does Antunes, realising that Judith is just an experience to go through and then move on. And Judith? Well, she knows that true love is not for her.
The latest addition to my website is Martín Caparrós‘Sinfin [Endless]. The key theme of the book is immortality. We follow the development from the present time to 2072 of a system called 天, Chinese for heaven, which is a fairly sophisticated way of transferring the human brain to a smart machine, replete with artificial intelligence and virtual reality so that, after death, we can all live the life we want. Caparrós goes into considerable detail about the various steps along the way, which, inevitably, are not always straightforward. At the same time,we are following world events (bad), the takeover of the Chinese and the real story (as opposed to the official story), as told by our investigative narrator, who finds the real truth behind the project which, inevitably, is not as it seems. It is an excellent book, not least because Caparrós goes into considerable detail about how the project was developed, including its failures and success and still finds time to mock that nice Mr. Trump.
The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s A zendülők (The Rebels). The book is set in May 1918. Four young men have just finished school and are waiting to join the army. They formed a gang at school which, initially, was just an anti-teacher and anti-parent gang but has become more sinister. They steal on a fairly large scale, primarily from their parents. Indeed, they steal so much, they have to rent a place to store it. When an itinerant actor becomes close to them and they realise that the fathers of two of them returning from the war, will discover the thefts, things take a turn for the worse. Márai tells a superb story of relationships, superficially smooth, but with hidden issues, partially class-based, and how rebellion is not always straightforward.
The latest addition to my website is Leylâ Erbil‘s Tuhaf Bir Kadın (A Strange Woman). This is a feminist novel about Nermin, who is nineteen in 1950 and struggles both to be independent and to be seen as an intelligent woman, rather than merely as a sex object. Her mother, old-fashioned, a strict Muslim, is her worst enemy. We follow her early struggles, the story of her father, a naval engineer, who is dying, her father’s funeral, where her mother is out of control, and her life as a left-wing activist, trying to help the poor but not succeeding with that or in her personal life. Erbil gives us a worthwhile account of the problems facing a feminist and someone with left-wing views in a still very traditional and conservative country.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier (So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood). This one starts in 2012 but still maintains the usual Modiano feel of the past. Our hero is Jean Daragane, a solitary man, a (former) writer, living in a borrowed flat in Paris. He loses his address book and it is returned by a man who has looked into it and wants to now about a person whose name is in it. Daragane gradually gets dragged into the story behind the man and an investigation, which turns out to involve not only a possible murder but his own childhood and the strange woman who seemed to be looking after him. It gets murky, as we move between the past and the present but it is another fine mysterious tale from Modiano.
The latest addition to my website is Olja Knežević‘s Katarina, velika i mala (Catherine, Great and Small). It tells the story of Catherine (Katarina), a Montenegrin who grows up in Titograd (now Podgorica), Yugoslavia, moves for a while to Belgrade and then back to Titograd as Yugoslavia breaks up, before moving off to London. Catherine makes mistakes, sees loved ones die or leave, is betrayed but somehow manages to struggle through life, her head held up high, as those around her fall. Boyfriends leave, her mother and grandmother die, her husband gets a girlfriend, her country collapses, London is hard work, but she more or less comes through, still smiling, ready for the next challenge.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Margarita. This is not one of Aira’s best. The narrator, presumably based at least in part on Aira himself, is, just eighteen, and is to leave his hometown of Coronel Pringles (Aira’s hometown) to study in Buenos Aires. As the date approaches he is suddenly overcome by a terrible fear of leaving his friends and family but manages to overcome it by writing poetry. The family will later go to spend summer in their large family house. Margarita, whose father has challenged the Argentinian authorities and been persecuted for it, is staying nearby with her father. The narrator and Margarita have an apparently non-sexual, nature-based relationship, which is short-lived as her father has to leave suddenly. And that is it. Give this one a miss.
The latest addition to my website is Bernard Chambaz‘s Vladimir Vladimirovitch. This is a novel about Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin, both of them. The narrator, called Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin, is a former university professor, now a tram driver, a few months older than the Russian president, and similar in appearance. He has a dull life but one of his hobbies is maintaining notebooks about his namesake (whom he admires). We learn a lot about Putin the president but because our hero has such a dull life, vainly pursuing a neighbourhood woman, bemoaning the defeat of the Russian ice hockey team and dabbling in painting, the book does not really hit it off.
The latest addition to my website is Amanda Michalopoulou‘s Η γυναίκα του Θεού (God’s Wife). This is, indeed, the story of a fairly ordinary young woman (aged seventeen) who marries God, the conventional Christian God, who apparently gets lonely. He insists it is a platonic relationship but, apart from that, they live as man and wife, sharing a bed and living together. Like many men, he is not an easy husband, controlling, often absent and liking bad jokes. However, though there is humour in it, it is also a serious work about the nature of God and human interaction with Him, his inability to fully understand humans and how we (those who believe in God) might imagine Him.