Month: May 2022

Montserrat Roig: Ramona, adéu! (Goodbye, Ramona)

The latest addition to my website is Montserrat Roig‘s Ramona, adéu! (Goodbye, Ramona). The novel tells the story of three women, all called Ramona, from three successive generations. Ramona 1 lives in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century and feels her life as a wife and mother is boring. She almost has an affair to liven things up. Ramona 2 had an affair before marriage but it did not work out and now she is married to Francisco. She is very concerned when she thinks he might have been killed in a terrorist attack in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War but, later, she is not happy in her marriage. Ramona 3, living in the 60s, is more liberated but she has man trouble with her boyfriend Jordi and, like her forebears, feels patronised and unhappy with her family, with Barcelona and with her life. Roig makes her point clearly, that women in Catalonia (and obviously elsewhere) were expected to follow the marriage-motherhood path and do little else, even though they would have liked to have a more fulfilling life.

Zou Jingzhi: 九栋 (Ninth Building)

The latest addition to my website is Zou Jingzhi‘s 九栋 (Ninth Building). This is an account by Zou Jingzhi of his life in China during the Cultural Revolution. We first meet him as a boy in 1966 when he and his friends form a Red Guard unit. In some respects they behave (and misbehave) like normal boys but, at the same time, they are rooting out class enemies, including their parents when appropriate, and regularly see older people physically abused and also see several dead bodies. As an educated person – his father is already imprisoned in a cowshed – Zou is sent to the Great Northern Waste where, for eight years, he has to carry out arduous agricultural work. Getting transferred, illness or injury (real or fake) and death are the three ways out. Zou survives and returns to Beijng to make a career as a writer. Though there are other works set in the Cultural Revolution, this one focusses on the life of an ordinary person and how he survives.

Georgi Gospodinov: Времеубежище (Time Shelter)

The latest addition to my website is Georgi Gospodinov‘s Времеубежище (Time Shelter). Gaustine, who may or may not exist but whom we have met before in Физика на тъгата (The Physics of Sorrow), is a geriatric psychiatrist. Assisted by the narrator who calls himself Ishmael but may well be the author, he sets up a series of homes for the Alzheimer’s/dementia patients which are seemingly set in various decades in the past, with all the relevant trappings, thus making these patients feel more at home as they regress to the past. However, eventually, the EU decides to do the same for countries as a whole, with the favourite decade decided by popular vote. Some of the book is clearly Gospodinov ruminating on memory, the past, the future, death, forgetting and remembering, with a host of fascinating ideas about how we are regressing to the past while struggling with the future. As always with Gospodinov, a thoroughly original book.

Eugene Vodolazkin: Брисбен (Brisbane)

The latest addition to my website is Eugene Vodolazkin‘s Брисбен (Brisbane). The story is told in alternating chapters, the first telling of the early life of our hero Gleb Yanovsky, till he becomes famous as a musician, and the second from, 2012 when three key events change his life. He is born and bred in Kyiv (like Vodolazkin) where, under the influence of his father, he takes up music. He eventually studies guitar but his dream is to go to Leningrad, where he studies language rather than music. He meets and marries Katya, a German woman, and they both become teachers. He is attracted by a generous offer to play music, so they go to Berlin, where the offer does not work out. However, he gets his chance and we gradually see his career take off. However,in the later story, we learn early on that he has Parkinson’s disease and the second half is, in part, how he copes with that, as well as political events. Vodolazkin is clearly concerned with the issue of how Gleb’s music and his life are interconnected and, to a lesser degree, his language(s) as he speaks Russian as a child to most people but but his father speaks Ukrainian. This is another complex and fine book from Vodolazkin.

Mieko Kawakami: すべて真夜中の恋人たち (All the Lovers in the Night)

The latest addition to my website is Mieko Kawakami:‘s すべて真夜中の恋人たち (All the Lovers in the Night). Our heroine/narrator is Fuyuko Irie. She is a loner. We learn nothing about her parents and she seems to have no siblings. She has one (female) friend at school but they never meet outside school. After college, she becomes a proofreader for a publisher but has minimal contact with her colleagues. When offered a freelance proofreading job she takes it. Her only contact is with the lively Hijiri, who works for the publisher, and it is Hijiri who brings her out of herself somewhat. She even takes up drinking. She considers taking classes (that does not work out well) but she does meet a man, Mitsutsuka, a school physics teacher and they slowly start a platonic relationship But, ultimately, she says I’m all alone, I thought. I’d been on my own for ages, and I was convinced that there was no way I could be any more alone, but now I’d finally realized how alone I truly was.

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