Month: December 2020

Sándor Márai: Szabadulás [Liberation]

The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s Szabadulás [Liberation]. This novel is set during the siege of Budapest at the end of World War II as the Russians attack and the Germans and their Hungarian allies defend. Our heroine is Elisabeth. Her father is wanted by the Germans and their Hungarian allies, Arrow Cross , so she struggles to keep him hidden, changing his hiding place regularly. The second part of the book is about how Elisabeth and her neighbours hide out in the cellar, listening to the bombs and shooting and waiting for the arrival of the Russians. There are two Jews with them, hiding from the Arrow Cross and Gestapo and we learn of their experiences. Above all, Márai gives us an excellent portrait of a city under siege and the reactions and feelings of the people inside the city.

Henri Calet: La Belle Lurette [A Long Time Ago]

The latest addition to my website is Henri Calet‘s La Belle Lurette [A Long Time Ago]. This is a grim autobiographical novel about a boy, born in 1900. His parents are both criminals (money forging, prostitution, petty theft). His father is violent, frequently hitting his mother before running off with her daughter from a previous relationship. When World War I starts mother, son and mother’s new Belgian boyfriend flee to Belgium where boyfriend is arrested and mother and son have to flee the Germans to the Netherlands, before returning to Brussels. Both indulge in bad habits – sex and crime – before continuing the same life in Paris after the war. Calet himself continued his bad habits after the events of this book and it is easy to see why.

Artem Chekh: Точка нуль (Absolute Zero)

The latest addition to my website is Artem Chekh‘s Точка нуль (Absolute Zero). This is an account of Chekh’s time serving in the Ukrainian army during the War in Donbass when separatists, aided by Russia, tried to take over Eastern Ukraine. Though we do not see any actual fighting, the men are always ready and scared of snipers. Much of the account is how the soldiers coped with the hard life, how they adapted to it (or, in few cases, did not), corruption and incompetence in the upper ranks, how they felt that they could never win and the comradeship that developed between men of different social classes and from different parts of the country. Chekh tells his story well – it never gets boring – and we can only feel with the men that their task is futile.

Suzanne Brøgger: Jadekatten (Jade Cat)

The latest addition to my website is Suzanne Brøgger‘s Jadekatten (Jade Cat). This is the family saga of the Løvin family, a Danish-Jewish highly dysfunctional family. The focus is on the three later generations, with the first two generations having to cope with World War II, when Denmark was occupied by the Germans and the Jews had to flee, in this case to Sweden, with Katze, the non-Jewish matriarch staying behind with her daughter Li. They do survive the war but marital tension and infidelity, major parent-child disputes, mental health issues, poor decision-making regarding careers and finance and poor choice of partners/spouses result in continuous problems and disasters. Indeed, the entire family both the Løvins, their spouses and closest friends can be said to be thoroughly dysfunctional which means we never get bored and can only be grateful that, however bad our own family may be, it cannot be this bad.

Hervé Le Tellier: L’Anomalie (The Anomaly)

The latest addition to my website is Hervé Le Tellier‘s L’Anomalie (The Anomaly). We follow the stories of various different and seemingly unconnected people, till we gradually learn that they were all on a Paris-New York flight in 2021. The flight was caught in a storm and badly buffeted but eventually came out with only some damage to the plane. The problems start when they try to land at JFK. They are forced to land at McGuire Air Force Base and all passengers and crew are detained. What happened on the flight and the subsequent repercussions for both the passengers we are following and for the world as a whole is the basis for this Goncourt Prize-winning novel. It will appear in English in December 2021.

Joseph Roth: Die hundert Tage (The Ballad of the Hundred; later: The Hundred Days)

The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Die hundert Tage (The Ballad of the Hundred; later: The Hundred Days). This novel tells the story of Napoleon’s hundred days. i.e. from when he fled Elba to his defeat at Waterloo and surrender to the British. The book was criticised when it first appeared in Britain as it is relatively sympathetic to Napoleon. As well as following Napoleon – his loneliness and his hubris – we also follow the story of Angelina Pietri, a Corsican laundrywoman in the Tuileries, Napoleon’s palace, who, though receiving and rejecting two marriage proposal and having a son by one of the men, adores only one man, Napoleon Bonaparte, remaining faithful to him to the end. Roth tells his story well and while he is certainly fairly sympathetic towards Napoleon he can also see his faults.

Anne Serre: Les Gouvernantes (The Governesses)

The latest addition to my website is Anne Serre‘s Les Gouvernantes (The Governesses). This is very much a post-modern French fairy tale. The austere Austeur family engage three governesses, firstly to look after their four boys and secondly because M. Austeur wants a bit of chaos in his life, which he does not get from his staid wife. The three women certainly bring chaos. They are, essentially, forces of nature, likened to The Three Graces. They enjoy life, walking, romping around and, above all, sex. The local young men come round to the gate and fondle them. Any young man bold enough to enter the garden will find himself dragged into the wood and raped. Even when they take the four boys out they strip off, to the delight of the boys. But are they real? Their arrival and departure are mysterious, even though they seem very real, perhaps more than real while working for the Austeurs. Not your standard French fairy story.

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