The latest addition to my website is Javier Cercas‘ El monarca de las sombras (Lord of All Dead). This is another non-fiction novel from Cercas, as he sets out to find the true story about his great-uncle, Manuel Mena, who fought for the wrong side, i.e. Franco, in the Spanish Civil War. Most of those involved are dead, Mena himself having been killed at the Battle of the Ebro, aged nineteen. He investigates Mena’s story and finds missing element and inaccurate information but he also looks into the motives of people like Mena and others who supported Franco against what Cercas considers their own interests and investigates these and other issues such as honour and glory as well as the idea that history is often more complicated than it seems at first glance. It is another first-class work from Cercas.
The latest addition to my website is Zakhar Prilepin‘s Обитель (The Monastery). This novel tells the story of Artiom Gorianov who is a prisoner in the 1920s in the remote Solovki prison camp. Initially we do not know why he is there but we later learn that he is not a political prisoner but has murdered his father. This very long novel tells his story as well as those of other inmates and how they survive or, in quite a few cases, do not survive. There is much cruelty, particularly from the inmates who are made guards. The prisoners have to work and the work can be hard and it can get very cold. However, there are also arbitrary punishments and even killings. Artiom manages to have an affair with the commandant’s girlfriend and she is able to protect him some of the time but his big mouth and cockiness often get him into trouble. It is a superb but very long novel and Prilepin does not hold back on any of the gory details.
The latest addition to my website is Sigrid Undset‘s Olav Audunssøn i Hestviken (The Axe (Part 1) The Snake Pit (Part 2); later: Olav Audunssøn. 1. Vows). This a new translation of the classic 1925 novel by the Nobel Prize winner, set in the late thirteenth century. Olav Audunssøn is fostered to a family when his father becomes ill and dies (his mother died in childbirth). He grows up with Ingunn, the oldest daughter of the family, about his age and they become friends and later lovers, having been promised to one another as children. It all goes wrong first when Ingunn’s parents dies and their next of kin have other plans for Ingunn and then Olav gets into a fight with one of Ingunn’s relatives and has to flee the country. With a troubled political situation things look bleak for true love. It is a first-class story and in an excellent new translation.
The latest addition to my website is Yan Ge‘s 异兽志 (Strange Beasts of China). The novel is narrated by a woman novelist and is set in Yong’an. The narrator is a writer and she writes about the strange and imaginary beasts that live in the city. These beasts generally look like humans and share many human characteristics but have their own idiosyncrasies. We have the sorrowful beast who can never smile, with the females able to mate with humans but the males unable to do so. There are the beasts that grow like plants but take human form, the beasts that can see a thousand years into the future and many more. Our narrator writes stories about each one but also gets involved with each one, sometimes emotionally, all the while having a love/hate relationship with her former zoology professor and gradually finding out that she, the professor and his assistant may not be quite who she thought they were. It is is a stunningly original and imaginative novel, whether you take the story literally or as symbolic of human foibles.
The latest addition to my website is Sonia Nimr‘s الاتمرتبة الأولى في جائزة الاتصالات (Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands). Our narrator/heroine is Qamar. Her father lived in a remote Palestinian village. When he was thirteen, he was allowed to visit the city with his father, He discovered a book – Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands – and the daughter of the bookshop owner. She gives him the book and five years later he is back and marries her. They have twins, one of whom is Qamar. When her parents die, she decides to follow her parents’ dream and travel, something that is very risky for a woman on her own at that time (early-mid 19th century?) and in that region. She does, however, and has many adventures, including being enslaved, being a pirate and other Arabian Nights-style adventures. The book has lots of colourful tales and is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
The latest addition to my website is Volter Kilpi‘s Gulliverin matka Fantomimian mantereelle (Gulliver’s Voyage to Phantomimia). This is the first Kilpi novel to be translated into English but was not completed as Kilpi died before he could finish it. It tells of the fifth voyage of Lemuel Gulliver, including a ship getting trapped in a vortex and the (18th century) survivors getting rescued and finding themselves in the 20th century. Translator Doug Robinson claims to have transcreated this novel. He has added his own very post-modern story about the finding of the manuscript, translated the text into 18th century language and also completed the novel, based on the ideas Kilpi left to his son. His transcreation is likely to be controversial, though his post-modern story about the manuscript worked more for me than his Trumpian King Dick the Stiff in the completion.
The latest addition to my website is Ismail Kadare‘s Kukulla (The Doll). This novel is very different from his usual historical novels, it is an autobiographical novel, focussing on his life but, in particular, on the eponymous doll, who is his fragile mother. We follow her life as she arrives as a seventeen-year old bride, having not met her husband till the wedding ceremony. The house she is to live in is very different from what she is used to. The house is forbidding and oppressing (it eats me up, she will later say). It even has its own jail. Even more forbidding is her mother-in-law, the dragon mother-in-law of myth and legend. We also follow Kadare’s career as a writer from his novels which are mainly ads for the novels, rather than novels themselves, to his early publication of poetry and finally his exile to France. It is an enjoyable novel, if not of the calibre of his early work.
The latest addition to my website is Antonio Moresco‘s Canti del caos [Songs of Chaos]. This is the second book in his monumental trilogy. The book weighs in at well over a thousand pages and has not been translated into any other language. We follow the publisher of this book struggling with writing the preface to this novel before it is written and an advertising agency discussing the mechanics of the book, before taking on a new client – God – who wants to sell the planet as he is fed up with it. But to whom can they sell it? At the same time a software designer is designing, the writer is writing and various numbers of characters both appear as characters in this book as well as characters in the book being written and the software designer’s video game. When God gets really fed up, he decides to uncreate and immobilise the world and then things really get chaotic. It is complex, post-modern, madcap, pretty well incomprehensible in parts and a thoroughly original masterpiece, but unlikely to appear in English.
The latest addition to my website is João Gilberto Noll‘s Harmada (Harmada). This is another strange novel from the Brazilian writer. We follow an unnamed man, a former actor, as he drags himself round an unnamed country, capital Harmada, with a few strange, unexplained adventures. He will end up in a homeless shelter, where he spends many years. A young woman in distress, Cris, arrives at the shelter. He had met her as a baby when he was involved in a sexual escapade with her mother. He now returns to the stage, directing Cris in a monologue, which has some success but still things do not go well for him. It is a grim, dark and decidedly strange novel.
The latest addition to my website is Wolf Wondratschek:‘s Selbstbild mit russischem Klavier (Self-Portrait with Russian Piano). The unnamed Austrian narrator meets Suvorin, a retired Russian classical pianist in a café and they become friends, meeting regularly in a Italian restaurant. Much of the novel is Suvorin recounting his life, his views on various matters, particularly literature and music but also on ageing. He has given up playing and even going to concerts. His wife was killed in an accident and his children have moved away, so he is very solitary, though occasionally meeting other retired musicians. We learn little about the narrator, who wanted, when young to be an opera singer, but a lot about Suvorin and the problems of ageing. Wondratschek tells his story well, showing ageing and all its problems. This is Wondratschek’s first book published in English.