Miljenko Jergović: Buick Riviera [Buick Riviera]

The latest addition to my website is Miljenko Jergović‘s Buick Riviera [Buick Riviera]. Hassan is a mild-mannered low key Bosnian Muslim who fled Bosnia as the war was starting and is now in Toledo, Oregon, married to Angela, a German actress. He is devoted to his Buick Rivera, which Angela cannot stand. She works in Salem and normally gets a lift but he offers to pick her up. It is snowing and he skids into a ditch. He is rescued by Vouko, a fellow Bosnian but a Serb who, as we learn but Hassan does not, is a war criminal. Vouko is also loud-mouthed, aggressive and is currently leaving his American wife, after having killed her puppy for defecating in his slipper. When Vouko turns up in Toledo, having found Hassan’s lost wallet, the two men clash and both men make separate, major, irrational, life-changing decisions. Culture clash, how we carry our culture with us wherever we go and, ultimately, how people can make rash decisions that have huge repercussions on their lives are the theme of this interesting but occasionally disturbing book.

Jóusè d’Arbaud: La bèstio dóu Vacarés (The Beast and Other Tales)

The latest addition to my website is Jóusè d’Arbaud (aka Joseph d’Arbaud)‘s La bèstio dóu Vacarés (The Beast and Other Tales). The title story is set in fifteenth century Provence and is about Jaume, a solitary gardian, i.e. cowboy/bull herder. While out riding he comes a strange creature and when he gets close to it, he finds that it has a human face, horns and cloven feet. He assumes it is the devil but neither the sign of the cross nor reciting an exorcism ritual has any effect. The creature can speak and assures him that it is not the devil. Jaume feels a mixture of fear and sympathy for the creature till it shows its extraordinary and fearful power, leaving Jaume affected for life by his experience – a fear, a friendship, a mystery and remorse, he says. Three other fine stories are also included in the book. Though the main story had appeared in a collection of French tales, it is wonderful to have this tale, a classic of European literature, properly translated and published English

Narcís Oller: La bogeria (The Madness)

The latest addition to my website is Narcís Oller‘s La bogeria (The Madness). This is a short novel set in the late nineteenth century about a Catalan engineer and landowner called Daniel Serralonga whom we watch slowly slipping into insanity. His parents soon fell out with his mother becoming very religious and his father a gambler. The father will disown Daniel’s younger sisters, saying he is not their father, so they are brought up by an aunt. The father will later kill himself. We are following the story through the eyes of an unnamed narrator, a lawyer, who is a friend of Daniel. He sees Daniel intermittently and each time there is some new episode dragging him towards instability – imprisonment for hitting a police commander, his obsession with General Prim and then conspiracy theories when the General is assassinated, a major inheritance dispute with his sisters, stock market problems. Each time we see him, he is looking worse and behaving more and more erratically. It is a delightful short novel, mocking, funny but also showing a certain amount of sympathy for a man who clearly cannot cope. The book is published by a new press – Fum d’Estampa Press – specialising in Catalan literature and I am looking forward to reading more of their publications.

Ivan Vladislavic: The Distance

The latest addition to my website is Ivan Vladislavic‘s The Distance. This novel tells the story of two brothers, Branko and Joe, growing up and living as adults in Pretoria. Each tells his version of the story, in alternating sections. They are very different, with Branko as the gregarious, sporty but not very intellectual one while Joe is the intellectual, solitary one, not very good with the girls. To Branko’s surprise and annoyance Joe becomes mildly obsessed with Muhammad Ali and we learn a considerable amount about the boxer. As adults Joe becomes a mildly successful writer and then digs out his box of Ali clippings, with a view to writing a novel. He calls on his brother’s help. Branko initially thinks it is going to be a novel about Ali but when Joe convinces him that it is, in reality, about them and their childhood, he reluctantly get involved, though he is not by any means a writer.

Vigdis Hjorth: Leve posthornet! (Long Live the Post-Horn)

The latest addition to my website is Vigdis Hjorth‘s Leve posthornet! (Long Live the Post-Horn). Ellinor, our narrator, is a thirty-five year old woman, who owns a small PR company with Dag and Rolf. She is already going through a bad patch, when she learns that Dag has suddenly quit, without warning. Soon after, he is found dead, possibly suicide. Her sister’s miscarriage does not help and nor does her mundane relationship with Stein, who also seems to be having his problems. However, she gradually takes over Dag’s project, helping the Post Office trade union oppose an EU directive which would open up the postal service to full private sector competition. She gradually gets more and more involved, seeing both the value of the postal service, particularly in a country with remote parts, and also the feeling that she is fighting for an important cause. Hjorth tells an excellent story of a woman who overcomes what she describes as her Sylvia Plath moment, to be saved by the Post Office.

Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz : Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy (The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma)

The latest addition to my website is Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz‘s Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy (The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma). While very well-known in Poland, if this book is known in the English-speaking world, it is because Jerzy Kosinski borrowed extensively from it for his novel Being There. It tells the story of a poor young man, down on his luck, who manages, by dint of carefully listening to people and parroting what they said, saying very little himself and using the ideas of others, gradually rises to the top, being offered the post of prime minister. It is very cleverly done, as Dyzma keeps falling on his feet, both in terms of career and love life, while essentially being not very bright and being thoroughly amoral. Dołęga-Mostowicz is clearly mocking the corruption of contemporary Poland while giving us an original character whose name is now a byword in Poland for a phony, a fraud, especially one whose trickery depends on others’ assumptions, self-deceptions, and moral shortcoming. It is nice to have the book in English, nearly ninety years after its first publication in Polish, allowing us, if we want, to judge how much Kosinksi borrowed. However, read the book for its own merits and forget Kosinski,

Gamal al-Ghitani: ااب التجليات (The Book of Epiphanies)

The latest addition to my website is Gamal al-Ghitani‘s ااب التجليات (The Book of Epiphanies), another recommendation from
The Untranslated, though I have had a copy of the book for many years. As did the Untranslated, I read the French translation of the book as the English translation is a substantial abridgement. It has not been translated into any other languages. The book is narrated by Gamal, i.e. the author, and recounts his spiritual journeys, guided by various Islamic scholars and mystics, looking back from on high at his family (including the birth of both of his parents), the early history of Islam, Islamic mysticism, particularly Sufism, and the modern history of Egypt, focussing on Gamal Abdel Nasser and his military adventures, particularly the war with Israel, which al-Gitani wholeheartedly supports. It is very long, very complex and very well done but if you can read French, read the whole book in French and not the partial book in English.