Month: September 2021 Page 1 of 2

Vladimir Sharov: Будьте как дети (Be As Children)

The latest addition to my website is Vladimir Sharov‘s Будьте как дети (Be As Children) . This is the third of Sharov’s novels to be translated into English and, in my view, the best. There are three main stories (and several sub-stories): the story of a noble woman who becomes a a Holy Fool, a bandit who sees the light and becomes the religious guide to a Siberian tribe and the story of Lenin’s last days when, following two strokes, he becomes more childlike and more interested in the role of children and starts to consider them as the only true proletariat. These and other stories all link and go off on tangents as we follow the idea of sin and innocence, innocence being represented by children, and the deeper and more fascinating byways of Russian history, including its Christianity, its non-Slavonic tribes and its wilderness. It is a wonderfully long, complex and thoroughly original novel and a first-class read.

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Sara Stridsberg: Kärlekens Antarktis (Antarctica of Love)

The latest addition to my website is Sara Stridsberg‘s . This is one of those novels where the narrator is dead. Kristine, drug addict and prostitute, but also mother, sister and daughter, struggles with her life – both parents are drunks and her adored younger brother drowns when he was seven. Her only escape is heroin and when she is joined by Shane, father of her two children, things do not improve. They give up their daughter after her birth and their son is taken away and fostered. When the murderer finally comes, she is almost expecting him and not too sad about dying. She tells the story of her life but also watches her children, her parents and the murderer for quite a long while after her death. It is a very sad tale – no-one is happy – but superbly told.

Mario Bellatin: Salón de belleza (Beauty Salon)/Poeta ciego [Blind Poet]

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The latest addition to my website are two stories by Mario Bellatin. The first is a new translation of Salón de belleza (Beauty Salon) and the second an untranslated work Poeta ciego [Blind Poet]. The first tells of a beauty salon for women run by three cross-dressing, gay men. When an AIDS-like pandemic breaks out the owner converts it into a hospice/mortuary where seriously ill men (and only men) can come to die. However, all the time – both as a beauty salon and as a hospice/mortuary – he remains obsessed with his aquarium fish. And then he gets symptoms of the disease.

Poeta ciego [Blind Poet] tells of a blind poet who inherits a lot of money and founds a bizarre sect, apparently (according to the author) based on the Peruvian The Shining Path terrorist group. (Bellatin was living in Peru at the time.) The Blind Poet is murdered by his wife when she finds him having sex with his nurse but the sect carries on, preaching and practising violence and austerity and preaching but not always practising celibacy.

Harald Voetmann: Vågen (Awake)

The latest addition to my website is Harald Voetmann‘s Vågen (Awake). Voetmann is a classicist and this book is about Pliny the Elder, famous for his Natural History, an early encyclopedia, and for his death from the fumes of Vesuvius. The book is narrated by Pliny and by his nephew and adopted son Pliny the Younger. We follow Pliny the Elder’s compilation of the work but also see a comparison between his worthy intellectual effort and the ugliness of the world in which he lives. Pliny aims to catalogue the whole world but even he realises this is not feasible and many of the things he believes to be facts are not, with our greater knowledge, at all accurate. His nephew takes a more pragmatic view, preferring sex to his uncle’s great labours.

Javier Serena : Últimas palabras en la Tierra (Last Words on Earth)

The latest addition to my website is Javier Serena‘s Últimas palabras en la Tierra (Last Words on Earth). This is a fictionalised account of a novelist called Ricardo Funes who is based on the great Chilean novelist, Roberto Bolaño. We follow his struggles, firstly in Mexico and his involvement with what is called here negativism but is clearly based on Infrarealism, to his struggles in Spain where he faces rejection but ruthlessly sticks to his literary principles. He has a fairly happy marriage and two children but also health issues, caused by his chain-smoking. Above all success is hard to come by. We see the story through the eyes of a fictitious fellow writer as well as through the eyes of Funes and his wife. Whether you enjoy the work of Bolaño or not, this is a fascinating account of a writer’s struggles.

Richard Powers: Bewilderment

The latest addition to my website is Richard PowersBewilderment. This is another superb novel from Powers, about a widower, Theo, an astrobiologist bringing up a highly intelligent and very sensitive son, Robin who does not fit in and does not want to attend school. Indeed, he really wants to be another Greta Thunberg. To keep the authorities away Theo has Robin participate in an experiment which involves mapping the boy’s brain to another brain map, in this case his late mother’s. While it seems to work, there is an enemy, a Trump-like president who hates science, immigrants and civil liberties. The world is going to hell, while Theo tries to look beyond our world and Robin struggles with our flawed world. Highly recommended reading.

Serhiy Zhadan: Ворошиловград (Voroshilovgrad)

The latest addition to my website is Serhiy Zhadan‘s Ворошиловград (Voroshilovgrad). This novel is set in Eastern Ukraine but not in Voroshilovgrad which isn’t called Voroshilovgrad any more. Our hero Herman, working in Kharkiv, is summoned to the small town of his birth not far from the Russian border, when his brother, who runs a garage, has disappeared. He has a whole host of problems, including a less than reliable staff, officials who are after him and thugs who want to buy the garage and can be very unpleasant when people do not do what they want. We follow his adventures with smugglers, Shtundists, gypsies, nomadic Mongolians, aging football players, a secret train that goes nowhere, gypsies, punk farmers and a host of other characters, some of whom are friendly and some of whom are definitely not. Zhadan leaves us with the moral that your friends and family may be peculiar but when things go wrong they are the ones who will stick by you.

Ingeborg Drewitz: Eis auf der Elbe [Ice on the Elbe]

The latest addition to my website is Ingeborg Drewitz‘s Eis auf der Elbe [Ice on the Elbe]. An unnamed West Berlin woman keeps a diary (in 1981) about her not entirely happy life. She is a lawyer and sees the unpleasant side of life – refugee women who are struggling, for example, but she is also defending a (male) murderer. She has three adult daughters whose lives are not always perfect, particularly her eldest Christine, whose husband is a drunk who hits her. Our narrator is not particularly fond of her controlling husband Heinrich, though looks after him when he has cancer. She does not like the weather, the traffic, the crime. The only thing she does enjoy is the monthly lunch she prepares for her daughters and their families. She looks back at the war, when her father was killed and their house burned down. She wonders how the young generation cope with the guilt of being German. But, as the title implies, life is always cold.

Maurizio Maggiani: Il romanzo della nazione [The Novel of the Nation]

The latest addition to my website is Maurizio Maggiani‘s Il romanzo della nazione [The Novel of the Nation]. Despite its somewhat arrogant title, it is, in fact, primarily the story of the author’s family and, particularly his father, a man who fought in World War II, became a Communist, is austere and never shows any affection – indeed barely even talks to his wife and son. The key event for his son is the death of his father, though we learn a lot more about the father (a secret poet!) as well and other family members as well as about father-son relations, not showing affection, a life well lived, then and now, old age and its problems and, of course, death. The book has not been translated into any other language and, I suspect, may not be, as it is a mishmash and very Italian.

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