Month: August 2021 Page 1 of 2

Joseph Roth: Die Kapuzinergruft (The Emperor’s Tomb)

The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Die Kapuzinergruft (The Emperor’s Tomb). This was the last novel he published in his lifetime, when he was living in exile, after the Nazis had annexed Austria. He died the following year. It is a sad and gloomy tale focussing on Franz Ferdinand Trotta, cousin of the hero of Radetzkymarsch (The Radetzky March). Trotta is so taken with his Slovenian cousin and friend that he escapes from his man about town life in Vienna to visit them. War (WWI) is declared while he is there. Instead of joining his Vienna regiment, he gets a transfer to his cousin’s regiment and is almost immediately taken prisoner, returning to a defeated Vienna, where everyone is broke. And then the Nazis take over. It is the end of an era.

Mateiu Caragiale: Craii de Curtea-Veche (Gallants of the Old Court; later: Rakes of the Old Court)

The latest addition to my website is Mateiu Caragiale‘s . This is a new translation of a novel voted the best Romanian novel by a poll of Romanian readers. It follows a dissolute group of people who carouse, drink, gamble and whore in fin-de-siècle Bucharest in the area of the Old Court, a now much ruined former castle/palace. Caragiale uses a rich and colourful language and pours on the descriptions, sparing no-one (except perhaps the unnamed narrator) his lavish portrayal of a dissolute society, where there is virtually no redeeming character. It is great fun to read through the eyes of the somewhat naive narrator and an excellent addition to the canon of Romanian novels in translation.

Pat Barker: The Women of Troy

The latest addition to my website is Pat Barker‘s The Women of Troy. This follows on from Barker’s previous novel, The Silence of the Girls, where we followed the story of Briseis, a captured royal who became Achilles’ trophy. At the beginning of this novel, Achilles, rightly fearing his impending death, marries her off to Alcimus. The events in this novel takes place after the events described in The Iliad, starting with the Wooden Horse and the fall of Troy, with the focus on what happens to Briseis and the other Trojan women after the fall. We see the men drinking, holding games and having rough sex with the women, while the women suffer, burying (or, in the case of King Priam, trying to bury) the dead, tending the sick and trying to survive. As always in war and its aftermath, it is, as Barker clearly shows, the women who are the greatest victims.

Sasha Filipenko: Красный крест (Red Crosses)

The latest addition to my website is Sasha Filipenko‘s Красный крест (Red Crosses). Sasha, a recently widowed young man moves to Minsk, where he buys a flat. He has one neighbour on the same floor – Tatyana Alexeyevna. Though she has Alzheimer’s, she tells him her story. She had worked in the Soviet Union during the war for the NKID. Her husband was captured by the Romanians, making both him and her a traitor. She is sent to a gulag and her daughter is sent to an orphanage. When she finally gets out, she spends her time looking for her daughter, her husband and one other man. Above all the books is about the horrors of the Soviet system – a system, Filipenko claims – is still, to a certain extent still in existence in Belarus.

Abdulla Qadiri: Oʻtgan kunlar (Days Gone By)

The latest addition to my website is Abdulla Qadiri‘s Oʻtgan kunlar (Days Gone By). This is allegedly the first full-length Uzbek novel and tells the tale of a love story which does not go as planned as well as the political situation in the region (Tashkent, Khanate of Kokand) in the mid-nineteen century, which is often bloody and nasty. Our hero, Atabek, falls in love but his parents do not approve and he has a conniving enemy trying to outdo him, all against the background of the aforementioned political situation.

English-speaking readers, however, may have been familiar with it, as it features in Hamid Ismailov‘s Jinlar Bazmi (The Devil’s Dance), a novel about Qadiri (spelt Qodiriy in that book), which I can highly recommend.

Amélie Nothomb: Premier sang [First Blood]

The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Premier sang [First Blood]. The book starts with a man facing a firing squad and moves to his childhood in an unconventional Belgian aristocratic family. We gradually realise that it is, in fact, the story of Nothomb’s father, Patrick, a diplomat who served in the former Belgian Congo where he did, indeed, face a a firing squad. Patrick died last year (2020) so presumably Nothomb had to wait till he died to reveal some of his secrets or, perhaps, her imagined secrets, though the account is generally a very sympathetic one.

Tchicaya U Tam’si: Les Cancrelats [The Cockroaches]

The latest addition to my website is Tchicaya U Tam’s‘s Les Cancrelats [The Cockroaches]. The novel is set from 1902 to 1945 and primarily tells the story of two siblings – Sophie and Prosper, born in Côte d’Ivoire to an Ivorian mother, who dies soon after Prosper’s birth, and Congolese father. He takes them back to his home but he, too, will die. Sophie will look after her younger brother throughout the book, as he makes poor choices (two marriages, where he neglects his wife, the first one dying). They will both work for the son of the Frenchman who employed their father, Sophie as his mistress, before they end up in Brazzaville. Tchicaya U Tam’si was a poet and this is more a poet’s novel, with the author focussing less on the plot and more on relationships and key events. In particular, it is critical of French colonial rule,a seen as cruel and arbitrary.

Rémy Ngamije: The Eternal Audience of One

The latest addition to my website is Rémy Ngamije‘s The Eternal Audience of One. Rémy Ngamije, like his hero Séraphin, was born in Rwanda. His family fled Rwanda during the Rwandan Civil War and ended up in Namibia via Kenya. Séraphin is, like a lot of young men, unsure of where he is going, feels it is him against the rest of the world and likes sex (lots of it). The main thrust of the novel involves his study of law in Cape Town where he has lots of sex, gets into fights and hangs out with a group of friends. By the end of the novel, he is basically unchanged. Interesting as a novel about a refugee in a country he does not particularly like but the character of our hero remains trying to be clever, lost soul throughout the book.

Almudena Grandes: Los aires difíciles (The Wind from the East)

The latest addition to my website is Almudena Grandes Los aires difíciles (The Wind from the East). Juan Olmero, a successful, unmarried orthopedic surgeon is moving from Madrid, with his his ten year old niece, Tamara, and his mentally handicapped brother, Alfonso to Jerez. Tamara’s parents have both died as the result of a car crash. We gradually learn that Juan has something of a past which is a key theme of the novel. Opposite the Olmeros is Sara Gómez, also unmarried, also from Madrid and also with something of a past, another key theme of the book. Can these two redeem themselves and their past by taking care of Tamara and Alfonso, as well as of their joint cleaner, Maribel and her son Andrés? And will the past come back to haunt them? Grandes tells a superb tale with a difficult moral conundrum.

Maryse Condé: En attendant la montée des eaux (Waiting for the Waters to Rise)

The latest addition to my website is Maryse Condé‘s En attendant la montée des eaux (Waiting for the Waters to Rise). We follow the story of Babakar, a doctor, son of a Malian father and Guadeloupean mother. He is born in Mali, educated in Montreal, returns to Africa (a fictitious country, a neighbour of Mali) where he experiences civil war, the loss of his wife, imprisonment and lots of violence. He flees to Guadeloupe, living a fairly solitary life but (illegally) adopts a baby girl whose Haitian mother has just died in childbirth and whose partner, Movar, is committed to finding the baby’s roots. So off they go to Haiti where life is even grimmer than in Africa and everyone – Babakar, Movar, the baby’s family, various political leaders and others – are caught up in violence, corruption, hurricanes and earthquakes. It is a grim tale but Condé tells it well and we cannot help but pity the innocent caught up in all the mayhem.

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