The latest addition to my website is Walter Kappacher‘s Der Fliegenpalast (Palace of Flies) the novel is set over ten days in August 1924 in the Austrian mountain resort of Bad Fusch and follows the Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal who is there to complete three of his works, two of which, we know, he will never complete. He struggles throughout the book, unable to write much, worried about being pestered but yet aware fame is fleeting. He has health problems and has a dizzy spell. (He will die five years later.) He wants to be undisturbed, yet misses intelligent conversation which he will find with Dr Krakauer, the doctor who attends him after his dizzy spell and who is the personal doctor of a baroness. He looks back to his childhood, as he frequently visited Bad Fusch with his parents. Though only fifty, he behaves like an old man, complaining about how things are not how they used to be. Kappacher gives us a first-class portrait of an artist who is seemingly lost and unsure of himself and the world around him.
The latest addition to my website is Joaquim Ruyra‘s Jacobé & Fineta This collection consists of two short stories but very well worth reading . Jacobé tells of a girl who looks after a young boy, Minguet when young but he notices that as she gets older she seems to be deteriorating and even going insane. the local doctor puts it down to the fact that her father and grandfather died of alcoholism and the disease has passed to her even though she is not an alcoholic. The denouement, as the two again meet, takes place on a stormy cliff. Fineta is shorter and tells of a young woman waiting for her brother and father to return from sardine fishing but who is assaulted by a mysterious character while waiting. Both are excellent stories.
The latest addition to my website is Vladimir Sorokin‘s Сердца Четырех (Their Four Hearts). This is the first of apparently eight Sorokin novels that will come out in English translation over the the next couple of years or so. This is the most brutal and transgressive, written by Sorokin as the Soviet Union was breaking up and his ultimate nail in the coffin to the Soviet Union. He takes a standard Soviet trope – four “typical” Soviet people (Stakhanovite worker, war victim, female Olympic athlete, teenage boy) and instead of showing them as model Soviets, we see then as depraved, brutal cruel and violent. They engage in a series of brutal activities (such as murdering the parents of two of the group) and also a series of, to us, incomprehensible rituals. Sorokin spares no-one as he shows, in massive exaggeration, the dark side of the Soviet Union. But beware! It is not for the squeamish.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick McCabe‘s Poguemahone. The title is the Irish for kiss my arse. Our main characters are Una and Dan Fogarty Now (2019) Una has dementia and is in a care home in southern England, where she causes a certain amount of disruption while Dan takes care of her. However, the basis of the story, told in blank verse format and owing a lot to the the traditional Irish song, is the Mahavishnu Anarchist Temple, in London in the 1970s, where Una, Dan and a lot of others live, with plenty of drugs, drink sex and 70s music. The IRA, various ghosts, raucous activities, with complaints by the neighbours and visits from the police and even suicide all feature, told in McCabe’s Irish drinking song style and inevitably ending badly. Una and Dan even visit in 2019 (it is now a motel) and find a medallion Una left behind. It went on a bit too long for me but McCabe certainly had fun writing it.
The latest addition to my website is Erlend O. Nødtvedt‘s Vestlandet [Westland]. This is about a road trip made by the author and his friend the painter Ingve Pedersen. In a battered Ford Camry, they set out from Bergen to the Westland region of Norway (the rainiest region of Europe) carrying the skull of Anders Lysne, a man executed some two hundred years ago by the Danes who were then occupying Norway. Our heroes plan to return it to Lysne’s home town of Lærdal. En route they meet various famous artists, writers and musicians, including Jon Fosse but also deceased ones. They get involved in the Westland Liberation Front (which may or may not exist), get stuck in a tunnel, encounter various animals, drink, break down, try to get in touch with the spirit of Westland, oppose Eastern Man, the symbol of authority and government, meet a survivalist, paint and write, listen to music and finally get to Lærdal, more or less in one piece. It is very humorous, though there is very much a serious intent behind it. Sadly, at the time of writing there is no plan to translate it into English.
The latest addition to my website is Masatsugu Ono‘s 森のはずれで (At the Edge of the Woods). An unnamed family – husband, pregnant wife and young son, possibly Japanese – move to a foreign country, to a house at the edge of the woods. The wife goes back to her parents to have her child, leaving father (who seems not to work) and son. The woods are strange. The trees move of their own accord, there are strange noises and, according to the local farmer and postman, there are imps who steal things and people. The son finds an old woman with her tale to tell. His behaviour becomes erratic. There seems to be a refugee crisis. Two dwarfs appear at the front door. And only the dogs have names. This is an excellent novel in the Japanese ghost story tradition, where things get stranger and stranger.
The latest addition to my website is Daša Drndić‘s Canzone di guerra. Our narrator is Tea Radan, a Croatian single mother who has emigrated to Çanada. In a series of sketches, she describes her life, bringing up a daughter as an émigré in Canada (of which she is very critical) but also a whole range of issues relating to Croatia and Yugoslavia, including the horrors of the Nazi occupation, the Holocaust, the Tito era and the post-Tito break-up of Yugoslavia. Her time in Canada is far from perfect. For Tea and other Yugoslav émigrés, many of whom are highly skilled graduates, getting an appropriate job because of language difficulties and recognition of Croatian/Yugoslav qualifications is almost impossible so they end up selling hot dogs or stuffing envelopes. She also finds that Canada has been very lax about former Nazis and carries out her own investigation. Using a mixture of wry humour, bitterness, a strong sense of what is right and wrong, a dogged persistence and a strong critical faculty, she gives is an excellent picture of the situation in her homeland and the life of an émigré.
The latest addition to my website is Vladimir Sorokin‘s День опричника (Day of the Oprichnik). This novel is set a few years in the future. Russia now has a Tsar again and, as with Ivan the Terrible, he is protected by an armed force called the Oprichniks. The story tells a day in the life of Andrei Danilovich Komiaga, the fourth highest ranking Oprichnik and an exciting and busy day it is. He and his colleagues start off by attacking the the house of a nobleman, who has run foul of the Tsar. The nobleman is hanged, his wife gang-raped and his children sent to an orphanage. While killing and other brutalities happen later, we also see bribery and corruption, book burning, flogging, drug use, alcohol and wine, special privileges, outwitting the Chinese and, I might mention, glowing genitals. We see it all through the eyes of Komiaga who is firmly committed to the cause and works hard to protect sacred Russia (yes, Russia is Christian). It is clearly an attack on both Ivan the Terrible and Putin, but an indirect one with no direct satire, sarcasm and humour and, as such, works very well.
One of the first published writers in Ukrainian was Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko. His best-known novel Marusia was translated into English while his novel Oksana was translated into French but both are very difficult to obtain. Iryna Vilde was one of the first twentieth century prose writers, writing in Ukrainian to receive any acclaim. None of her work has been translated into English but a short story collection has been published in German as Das grüne Tor and is available.
The first grouping here is authors who were mainly or entirely first published during the twentieth century, prior to the break-up of the Soviet Union. Note that, during the Soviet era, many/most of them would have written in Russian and that the translations into English were mainly published by Soviet presses and that the books are now quite difficult to find. All of these with English titles were published in English. Where there is a link to an author, it is to an article about him/her. Where there is a link to a title, it is to a review (however brief) of the book. Author names are in bold. If you want just the post-Soviet authors/works, go here.
Bernyk was a science fiction writer who got into a lot of trouble with the Soviet authorities
черный папирус (Black Papyrus)
Apostle of Immortality (story collection)
Земля світлячків (In the Land of the Living Lights) (stories)
I will also mention Oles Honchar who wrote in Russian and was a committed Soviet supporter but wrote a couple of interesting novels which I have reviewed: Людина і зброя (Man and Arms) and Собор (The Cathedral), the latter being of particular interest. Other works of his appeared in English, including Прапороносці (Standard-Bearers), Прага (Golden Prague), Тронка (Tronka), Циклон (The Cyclone), Берег любові (The Shore of Love) and Твоя зоря (Your Dawn).
Many Ukrainians as well as Russians perished in the Soviet terror. Borys Antonenko-Davydovych is one. Three of his books have appeared in English: Смерть (Death), За ширмою (Behind the Curtain) and Between the Trenches : Selected Prose Fiction.
Before the Storm : Soviet Ukrainian fiction of the 1920s is an interesting collection of stories from that era.
However, a lot has been published since the fall of the Soviet Union and that is when the most interesting Ukrainian work appears. The following is a brief introduction to some of these writers in a fairly random order, with the three most interesting (in my view) contemporary novelists who have been translated into English appearing first. As above, where there is a link to an author, it is to an article about him/her. Where there is a link to a title, it is to a review (however brief) of the book. Author names are in bold.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Companion Piece. As the title implies, this is an appendage to her brilliant Seasons tetralogy and is somewhat similar, in that we follow current events, with Smith criticising what is happening in the UK. However, we also follow the story of Sandy Gray, a not very commercially successful artist (she paints poems) and her relationship with Martina Pelf, with whom she was at university. Martina phones Sandy (after thirty years of no contact) because of something strange that happened to her while she was detained at Heathrow airport. Sandy, who is in covid lockdown and struggling with her aged and ill father, gets caught up with Martina and her family. At the same time we learn of a seventeenth century young woman and her struggles and her tangential link to Martina’s story. Above all this novel is about women telling stories, about the horrors of modern Britain, about the ill-treatment of women, about language and about how life is not always as straightforward as it seems. It confirms Smith as one of the foremost British writers of this century.
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