The latest addition to my website is Goran Petrović‘s Код срећне руке (At the Lucky Hand). This is a clever story which is, on the face of it, a fairly conventional love story (or, rather, several love stories) but with two variants. Characters find that, when they are reading a book, they are not only aware of others reading the book at the same time but can communicate with them or see them. even if they live many miles away. Secondly, they can also enter into the landscape of the book. Adam, our hero, is given a book to edit and finds himself entering into the landscape of the book and, at the behest of another reader, editing the book, thereby changing the landscape. It gets a lot more complicated than that, as we follow modern Serbian history as well as the changing fortunes of several characters. It is very cleverly done though at times confusing.
The latest addition to my website is Alex Pheby‘s Mordew. This is a very original dark fantasy novel, part Dickens, part Peake, all Pheby. While it has some of the usual themes – good versus evil, rich versus poor, betrayal and dirty deeds – Pheby is a thoroughly original writer, telling his story well, both by using familiar and decidedly unfamiliar characters, scenes and events, and also keeping you guessing to the very end. Indeed, this is apparently the first book of a trilogy, so though we have an ending, we can be sure it will not be the final ending. If, like me, you tend to keep away from modern fantasy and find, Harry Potter, well, just a bit childish, this may well be the fantasy novel for you to read.
The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Les aérostats [Airships]. Ange, a nineteen-year old university student in Brussels gets a job teaching a sixteen-year old boy who is allegedly dyslexic (he isn’t) and who needs helps with his French studies. The pay is generous but the father is controlling. However, while the boy makes considerable improvement with Ange, he also starts to fall in love with her. Ange had been very lonely, having no friends but now, at the same time, her professor falls in love with her so she has two men in love with her, one still a boy, one older than her father.
Latest on my website: Sándor Márai‘s Sándor Márai. The story starts when Giacomo Casanova has just made his famous escape from prison in Venice. As the title tell us, he arrives in Bolzano. He is wearing rags. However, he manages to hustle money and credit, tries (not terribly successfully) to seduce the chambermaid and attracts the attention of the people of the town, particularly the women. However, Bolzano is the home of the seventy-year old Duke of Parma. The Duke and Casanova had fought a duel over a young woman, Francesca, which the Duke had easily won. The Duke now visits Casanova, aware that Francesca, now his wife, still loves Casanova. He has a proposition to make to Casanova, offering ample reward if he carries out the relatively simple task and veiled threats if he does not. However, the men had not reckoned with Francesca, very much her own woman and not one to be toyed with. Márai parodies Casanova’s own memoirs, writing in a bombastic and overblown style. The book is certainly great fun but not his best.
The latest addition to my website is Tomás González‘s La luz difícil (Difficult Light). It is narrated by David, a Colombian painter. While he and his family, were living in New York, his son, Jacobo had a terrible car accident, leaving him in permanent and agonising pain. Jacobo decides that he cannot go on living and, with the support of his family, he plans to die. Much of the book is David, now aged 78, widowed, going blind and back in Colombia, writing about Jacobo and the events leading to his planned death, including a car journey from New York to Portland, Oregon. However, we also see the world through David’s painterly eye and it is the combination of the Jacobo plot and David’s view of the world that makes this a masterful novel.
The latest addition to my website is Claudia Hernández‘s Roza, tumba, quema (Slash and Burn). This novel is set in El Salvador before, during and after the Salvadoran Civil War. We follow a young woman, who has seen violence as a child and, once the war starts, is threatened with sexual violence. She joins her father in the guerrillas. When she gets pregnant – she was not aware that she was – and has a baby, the child is taken away from her. She ends up with five daughters and no husband by the end of the war and we follow her struggles to bring up her daughters, her successful attempt at finding her missing daughter and also the struggles of the daughters to survive in post-war El Salvador. Above all, we learn of the extensive violence in the country, mainly though not only against women. It is a grim but important novel about violence.
The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Hotel Savoy (Hotel Savoy). It tells the story of Gabriel Dan who, in 1919, is returning from three years in a prisoner-of-war camp in Russia. The novel is set entirely in the now Polish town of Łódź which is facing something of an upheaval – loss of German population, numerous returning soldiers passing through and economic disruption. Gabriel stays at the Hotel Savoy, which becomes a microcosm for society, with the poor staying in cramped quarters on the upper floors and the rich enjoying themselves downstairs. We see the city and its problems though Gabriel’s eyes as he tries to survive. His rich uncle offers no help but he manages to earn some money but is less successful with Stasia, the dancer who lives above him. However, a crisis is building up, caused particularly by labour agitation and the wise seek to move on. Roth tells the story very well as we get a wonderful portrait of post-World War I Eastern Europe through Gabriel’s eyes.
The latest addition to my website is Bernard Prou‘s Alexis Vassilkov ou la vie tumultueuse du fils de Maupassant [Alexis Vassilkov or the Tumultuous Life of the Son of Maupassant]. This is a complicated story involving the (fictitious) son of French writer Guy de Maupassant and his mother, a Russian woman who models for Renoir and becomes a painter. Alexis the son takes part in the Russian Revolution, becomes Stalin’s doctor, gets sent to a gulag, learns that Tsar Alexander I became the wandering monk Feodor Kuzmich, escapes (with his wife and young son), arriving two days before the Germans invade Paris in World War II and flees to the country (with a (real) French government minister), joins the Resistance and gets involved with collaborationists after the war. And that is just the highlights. Lots of adventure, lots of messing around with history and great fun.
The latest addition to my website is Antonio Moresco‘s Gli Esordi [The Beginnings]. One of my favourite blogs was The Untranslated which sadly retired (though the old posts are still accessible and Andrei continues to tweet as @TheUntranslated). Andrei reviewed a number of fascinating books which, as the title of his blog suggests, have not been translated, at least into English. However, quite a few, though certainly not all, were written in or are available in languages I can read so I shall be giving some of them a go over the next few months.
This one has made it into German but not any other language. It is a long novel, divided into three parts with a reticent narrator who, like Moresco himself, is first a novice priest, then coordinator for a left-wing group and, finally, a would-be novelist. The whole novel is absurdist as our hero takes a vow of total silence in the first part and simply observes, finds the region of Italy where he is active to be almost deserted in the second part, apart from a few decidedly odd characters, and struggles to get his novel published by his former monastery prefect in the third part and ends up partying with Pushkin, Cervantes and Emily Dickinson. It is totally absurd, funny and serious and highly original. No surprise that it is not available in English.
The latest addition to my website is Yuri Rytkheu‘s Сон в начале тумана (A Dream in Polar Fog). Rytkheu is from Chukotka, the far north-eastern part of Russia. The novel opens in 1910. A ship is trapped in the ice and they try to use explosives to free themselves. John MacLennan, a Canadian, is injured and has to be taken overland to a doctor. However, a nearby tribe has a native doctor who cures his gangrene but when they return the ship has managed to free itself and left. John has to overwinter but is so impressed with the Chukchi way of life, he decides to say there. We follow his life there with problems, tragedies, disasters and, above all the threat to their way of life from whites, with their wholesale destruction of the animals, and, towards the end, the hunt for gold and the Bolshevik Revolution. Rytkheu tells an excellent story, sympathetic, of course, to the Chukchi way of life but showing their faults as well.