Month: March 2021 Page 1 of 2

Danielle Mémoire: Lecture publique suivie d’un débat (Public Reading Followed by Discussion)

The latest addition to my website is Danielle Mémoire‘s Lecture publique suivie d’un débat (Public Reading Followed by Discussion). Last year John O’Brien, visionary founder of the Dalkey Archive Press sadly died after an illness. The Press was taken over by Deep vellum, with Will Evans as CEO and Chad Post of Open Letter Books as editorial consultant. This book shows that Dalkey Archive, one of the most essential publishers of translated literature, is back with a bang.

This book is very much in the Dalkey experimental literature mode. As the title tells us an author is to give a public reading of a work-in-progress, followed by a discussion with an audience. It is not as simple as that. The author does not have a work-in-progress so he improvises. The improvisation is going to involve a story about an author giving a public reading to an audience. Gradually, we see that the boundaries between author, characters and reader are breaking down as the audience become, in part, both characters and author. Other aspects change as we see the author has a dog. Or two dogs. Or three dogs. His name changes. His cat, which may or may not be lost, changes name and colour. He may be the author but there may be multiple authors, the author may be his brother or it may be a woman. The text changes. The story changes. As one audience member comments, it may be bullshit but it may also be a changing perception of reality. I am going for the latter interpretation as I found the book both very funny but also a serious and fascinating account of literary boundaries.

Sahar Khalifeh : الأول : رواية (My First and Only Love)

The latest addition to my website is Sahar Khalifeh ‘s الأول : رواية (My First and Only Love). Our heroine is Nidal. The novel starts during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine when the Jews are taking Palestinian land with the aid of the British who had the mandate over Palestine. Some of Nidal’s relatives are part of the armed resistance. She meets Rabie, barely older than her, and falls in love with him. They meet a few times but Rabie is involved in the fighting. After the Nakba, many Palestinians move abroad. Nidal becomes a successful artist and has various relationships and marriages but has now (2000) moved back to the abandoned family home in Nablus on her own. One day she receives a visit from an elderly man whom she fails to recognise. It is Rabie who had emigrated to Canada and become a successful businessman but is now a widower. While spending a few nights in her house because of an Israeli blockade, he discovers Nidal’s Uncle Amin’s journal and learns a lot about her family, including her mother. But will the couple get back together? Khalifeh tells a superb story about love gained and lost during a period of war and oppression.

Corrado Alvaro: L’uomo è forte (Man Is Strong; later: Fear in the World)

The latest addition to my website is Corrado Alvaro‘s L’uomo è forte (Man Is Strong; later: Fear in the World). This novel, first published in 1938, tells of an unnamed country which is clearly, to a great extent, the Soviet Union, though neither the country nor any of the cities are named. Both Barbara and Dale are former citizens of this country but they had moved to the West. Barbara returns first and, later, Dale, tired of the decadent West. They have an affair but are clearly concerned that this is not allowed, particularly as Dale has recently returned from the West and is therefore highly suspect. We follow their anxieties about their relationship, the Inquisitor who follows them around and events in the country, such as people arrested and shot for being enemies of the people and a Stalin-like leader. Dale and Barbara must choose – end the relationship, turn themselves in or risk being also enemies of the people. It is not Nineteen Eighty-Four but the similarities are there.

Andrea Bajani: Se consideri le colpe (If You Kept a Record of Sins)

The latest addition to my website is Andrea Bajani‘s Se consideri le colpe (If You Kept a Record of Sins). Our narrator is Lorenzo who learns of the death of his mother in Romania at the beginning of the book. She had been treated as the black sheep by her family and then kicked out of the family when she had an affair shortly after her wedding to a man approved by her mother. The man disappears after Lorenzo is born. She remarries but helps develop a weight-loss machine with another man Anselimi, and the pair move to Romania to make the machine. It is clear that their partnership is not just commercial. She visits and phones but less and less as the time goes by. When she dies, Lorenzo, who had been brought up by his stepfather, had not seen or heard from her for a long while. He goes to Romania for the funeral and to try and learn something about his mother but does not like the country and does not like Anselmi. Like his mother and step-father,he has been abandoned but is unclear what to make of it.

Kazuo Ishiguro: Klara and the Sun

The latest addition to my website is Kazuo Ishiguro‘s Klara and the Sun. The novel is set in the not too distant further in the United States and tells the story of Klara, an AF, i.e. an artificial friend, a robot that acts as a friend to a child, not least because children do not seem to go to school but learn online. We follow the story from Klara waiting in a New York shop to be sold and being bought by the mother of Josie, a girl with health problems. Klara is astute and sensitive and tries to help Josie, not least by invoking the sun, the source of Klara’s energy and nourishment. We meet Rick, next door neighbour and close friend of Josie, we learn how Klara struggles to fully understand humans and the issues with Josie’s divorced parents and whether Klara can save Josie. As in many of Ishiguro’s books there is an underlying sense of foreboding, exacerbated by a hint – but only a hint – of societal breakdown. This book clearly sees Ishiguro back to form and is an excellent work on our possible near future.

Pola Oloixarac: Mona (Mona)

The latest addition to my website is Pola Oloixarac‘s Mona (Mona). Our heroine/narrator is Mona Tarrile-Byrne, a Peruvian writer. Her first novel was well received and helped get her onto a doctoral programme at Stanford. Her second novel and, indeed,her personal life are not going so well. She has been nominated to receive the prestigious Basske-Wortz Prize, a Swedish prize. All fourteen nominees are invited to Sweden for a conference, with the prize presented at the end. The conference involves sex, food and saunas but also discussions on a host of topics, giving Oloixarac opportunity to mock various literary ideas (the stereotypical Latin American, the pathetic pervert Frenchman) as well as various serious topics (the multinational viewpoint, death, computers to write novels in the future) and ending with an important topic – violence to women. It is another superb and original novel from Oloixarac.

Omaima Al-Khamis: رواية مسرى الغرانيق في مدن العقيق (The Book Smuggler)

The latest addition to my website is Omaima Al-Khamis:‘s رواية مسرى الغرانيق في مدن العقيق (The Book Smuggler). This is a superb book set in the Islamic world of the early eleventh century. Our hero/narrator is Mazid al-Hanafi, and he is very keen on book learning. He comes from the desert region of Al-Yamama and moves to Baghdad, where there are religious and political disputes. He just wants to study but gets involved with a group called the Voyagers, who try to disseminate worthy books throughout the Islamic world. These books are often considered heretical and include translations of Greek books as as well as Islamic works. We follow Mazid travels through the Islamic world – Jerusalem, Cairo and ending up in Cordoba – and the many problems he has, including religious, political and even romantic as he tries to get the books to the right people without being caught by the wrong people. It is a wonderful tale, full of colour, adventures and religious and political ideas, and the first book on my site by Saudi woman.

Selim Özdoğan: Die Tochter des Schmieds (The Blacksmith’s Daughter)

The latest addition to my website is Selim Özdoğan:‘s Die Tochter des Schmieds (The Blacksmith’s Daughter). This is the first in a trilogy which focuses on Gül, a Turkish woman, who grows up in Turkey in the period immediately after World War II and, by the very end of the book,will emigrate to Germany. We follow her story from before her birth to just prior to her departure to Germany with her two daughters – her husband is already in Germany. She is determined and hard-working and despite the various problems in her life – her mother dies when she is young and her father soon remarries, her husband drinks, gambles and hits her, she is seen by her in-laws as a servant – she is a survivor. As well as Gül, we get a host of other characters – family, friends, neighbours – to give us a full picture of life in Turkey in that period.

Mohamedou Ould Salahi: The Actual True Story of Ahmed and Zarga

The latest addition to my website is Mohamedou Ould Salahi‘s The Actual True Story of Ahmed and Zarga. Mohamedou Ould Salahi is best-known for having been unjustly imprisoned in Guantánamo for fourteen years but this novel, which he wrote in English, has nothing to do with his imprisonment. Indeed, no Westerners appear in it at all. It recounts the tale of a camel herder, Ahmed, between the world wars, who loses a camel and his hunt across the Sahara for her. We learn of his many adventures, from a poisonous viper to cannibals but also both the hardships of the Sahara and the camaraderie of the nomads. It is a very fine story as we follow not only his colourful adventures, but learn of his past, the past of his family and of his tribe.

Isabel Bogdan: Der Pfau (The Peacock)

The latest addition to my website is Isabel Bogdan‘s Der Pfau (The Peacock). This novel gives the impression of being written by a Scottish or English writer, being set entirely in the Highlands of Scotland and featuring primarily Scottish and English characters. Lord and Lady McIntosh rent out holiday cottages on their estate and are planning, for the first time, to rent out the West Wing to a group of bankers (with their own cook and psychologist) who are coming for a team-building exercise. They are worried about their peacock which attacks anything blue and has attacked the car of a guest, causing damage. When the laird sees that the banker boss’s car has been attacked, he shoots the peacock and conceals it under leaves. However, the bankers’ boss’s dog discovers it and the boss thinks her dog has killed it. She instructs one of her staff to get rid of it. The cook volunteers to cook it, pretending it is pheasant and then, later a goose. She finds gunshot in it so now everybody has different ideas on the fate of the peacock. Throw in the bankers’ not entirely successful team-building exercise and a snowstorm and things get messy. It is a very enjoyable book but also a serious discussion of how we can have different perceptions of the same event.

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