The latest addition to my website is Vítězslav Nezval‘s Valérie a týden divů (Valerie and Her Week of Wonders) . Nezval was a committed surrealist, friends with André Breton and other surrealists when he wrote this book in 1932 (thirteen years before it was finally published in Czech). It is a spoof Gothic novel with a host of surrealist touches and follows Valerie in her first week of menstruation, when various characters try to corrupt her sexually and otherwise. In particular there is the polecat, a 104 year old devil/vampire/former lover of her grandmother (Valerie’s parents, a bishop and a nun, are dead) who has a host of wicked plans. Fortunately, Orlik, possibly the son or nephew of the polecat and maybe but maybe not Valerie’s (half-)brother helps her, as she helps him. From fowl pest to witch-burning, from secret vaults and premature burials, from magic potions to defiled virgins, Nezval throws it all in for a wonderful Gothic spoof.
The latest addition to my website is Sergei Lebedev‘s Дебютант (Untraceable). This is a story inspired by but not based on the Salisbury poisonings when Russian agents used the nerve agent Novichok to try and kill a former Russian double agent and his daughter. This novel tells of a scientist who develops a similar agent, called Neophyte in this book and Debutant in the Russian original but finds that the failing Soviet Union and its Russian successor seem uninterested so he defects but finds to his horror that the West is not interested either. He is living in a small town in Austria but has plans to find a country that may be interested. At the same time we follow a pair of Russian agents who have been sent to kill him, but things go somewhat wrong for them. Lebedev gives us an excellent portrait of the obsessive scientist and of the dutiful Russian agent who will do whatever his bosses tell him to do.
The latest addition to my website is Minae Mizumura‘s 私小説 from left to right (An I-Novel). This book was written and published before her other two novels published in English and, unusually, contains lots of English words and is written horizontally (as the Japanese title tells us) and not vertically as is normal in Japanese. It is semi-autobiographical and tells of her family moving to the United States, when she was twelve. At the start of the novel, she and her sister note that they have been there twenty years. Minae, our narrator, is finishing her Ph.D. (in French) and plans to return to Japan after having done so, perhaps to write a novel. Much of the book is about exile. How you can you adapt to a foreign culture? Can you go home after so long away, as much will have changed? How can you maintain contact with your home culture when in a foreign culture? And how do you deal with the attitudes of the foreign culture to you and your culture? Like all exiles, the two sisters struggle with these issues and do not really resolve them.
The latest addition to my website is Brenda Lozano‘s Cuaderno ideal (Loop). This is the story of a modern-day Penelope (from The Odyssey). Our thirty-year old Mexican woman lives with Jonás, whose mother has recently died. She was Spanish so Jonás, his sister and his father go off to Spain to trace her roots, with Jonás staying longer to travel around. Meanwhile our Penelope is left at home weaving, only her weaving is in the Ideal Notebook of the Spanish title. She jots down not a plot-based novel but snippets of her life and, above all, of the anchors in her life, be they family and friends, books and music or what she calls useless things. She discourses on many things from typefaces to Juan de la Cosa, from dwarves to swallows, all the
while waiting, waiting and hoping Jonás will come back safe and sound. It works very well as she jumps around, as we gradually get a picture of her life.
The latest addition to my website is Iraj Pezeshkzad‘s حافظ ناشنيده پند (Hafez in Love). This is a wonderful book about a period in the life of Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, better known as Hafez, the fourteenth century Persian poet. A new ruler has taken over (by force) in Shiraz, where this book is set – Mubariz al-Din Muhammad, known as Mobarez in this book, and Hafez, not known for his tact, risks making an enemy of him and others, including the police chief who is as attracted to the poet Jahan Malek Khatun as Hafez is. She, of course, prefers Hafez but the police chief now has two reason to get rid of Hafez. Hafez seems to be indifferent to the danger he faces,though his friends are not, while he prefers to focus on his poetry, his lively social life and Jahan Malek Khatun. When he is arrested, it seems that his friends were right. It is a lively book with an interesting plot and lots of colourful and poetic discussion among the poets.
The latest addition to my website is Tahi Saihate‘s 星か獣になる季節 (Astral Season Beastly Season). Two seventeen- year old boys are obsessed with a J-Pop star, attending all her concerts. When she is accused of murder, the two, who are in the same class but are polar opposites and have rarely spoken to one another before, get together to save her and they try to do this by one of them, Morishita, doing further killings so that the police will suspect him and not her while the other, Yamashiro, is reluctantly dragged in. The killing spree continues… The second part, set two years later, has three survivors reviewing the situation. It is a chilling and somewhat sinister book but superbly well told.
The latest addition to my website is Dmitri Lipskerov‘s О нём и о бабочках (The Tool and the Butterflies). This is a complex story, focusing on one Arseny Iratov who, at the beginning of the novel, is rich (money made from Soviet-era illegal currency speculation, and later dealing in precious stones and an architectural business he owns) with a much younger, loving girlfriend, Vera. One day he wakes up to find his genitals have disappeared (the tool of the title). Soon other men are in the same situation. Meanwhile we are following a series of people, mainly male, who seem to be connected to him (one is his grandson) who seem to be different, on the face of it ordinary people, but with strange powers and knowledge, particularly detailed knowledge of Arseny and his life and, in the case of the grandson, superior intelligence. While telling his complicated tale, Lipskerov is wittily satirising contemporary Russia – corruption, drunkenness and the like. It is a very clever and original book and well worth reading.
The latest addition to my website is Andriy Kokotiukha‘s Адвокат iз Личакiвської (The Lawyer from Lychakiv Street). It is set in 1908, primarily in Lviv, now in Ukraine but then called Lemberg and in the Austro-Hungarian empire, with a majority Polish-speaking population. Our hero is Klymentiy Nazarovych Koshovy, known as Klym, a lawyer from Kyiv, who had been arrested for subversive activities but had been freed thanks to the influence of his father and had decided to flee to Lviv, to stay with his friend, Genyk Soyka. However, when he arrives he finds Soyka dead, apparently a suicide but, in fact, a murder. Much of the book is his Sherlock Holmes-type investigation, involving murky Russia/Ukrainain/Austrian politics, terrorism and the murky underworld of Lviv, and with our hero, like Sherlock Holmes, always one step ahead of the police.
Every year I plan to give an indication of books published 50, 100, 150 and 200 years ago and every year I forget. This year I remembered so here goes.
Not a bumper year. It included Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years), the follow-up to his better-known Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship)
Walter Scott’s Kenilworth
James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy and Shelley’s Adonaïs. I have to admit to having read none of them.
Definitely a better year with George Eliot’s Middlemarch (the first instalments) being the highlight and also including:
Henry James’ Watch and Ward
George Meredith ‘s The Adventures of Harry Richmond
Palgrave’s Personal Narrative of a Year’s Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia
Émile Zola’s La Fortune des Rougon
Lewis Carroll ‘s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There
Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. And I have read all of them.
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