In previous years, I have bemoaned the year just finishing and expressed the hope for better things to come the following year. Not this time. Next year will be worse and you do not need me to tell you why. Did you know that forty countries are having elections next year, including Russia, India, the US, the UK, Iran, China, Pakistan and Mexico?
I shall start with my annual rant. This is a criticism of publicists. I am seeing more and more books described as razor sharp or, occasionally, something similar such as knife sharp as well as books described as pitch perfect. What do those two terms means? I have no idea. I have more than once cut myself on the paper of a book but I am not sure that is what they had in mind. The other annoying publicist phrase is Perfect for fans of Irving B Schnurkelburgerger. Invariably I have never heard of dear old Irving so does that mean I should not bother reading the book? And, surely, the perfect book for a fan of old Irving is another book by Irving and not by some newbie trying to copy him. Rant over.
Last year I read and reviewed only 103 books. I have done a bit better this year with 113. There seems to have been more than the usual scattering, with fifty-one nationalities represented. Ukrainian was my annual 20 book marathon, was clearly top, followed by English and Russian (nine), French (five) and Italian and Mozambican four). I did have a fair amount (a deliberate attempt) of books from countries not so well represented on my site, including Albania, Algeria, Basque, Chechnya, Republic of Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Eritrea, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kurdistan, Moldova, Morocco, Mozambique (one more coming next year), Palestine, Slovenia, Sorbia, Taiwan, Tibet, Togo, Uruguay, Vietnam and Yemen. As I mentioned last year, most (all?) of the Russians are not fans of Mr Putin.
As regards languages the books were originally written in, Ukrainian comes first with eighteen, followed by English, (15), Russian (11), French (10), Arabic (8), Spanish (6), German 5) and Italian (4). There were thirty-two woman authors, just a bit fewer than last year.
New (to me) publishers included Clapton Press, Henningham Family, Kalyna Language Press, Le Castor Astral and Tramp Press.
I read 30837 pages, more than last year, an average of 273 pages, one page more than last year.
As always. I shall not name a book of the year but indicate several I particularly enjoyed.
I have been slowly filling in my Kōbō Abe gap (more to come) and read The Ruined Map, translated by Ernest Dale Saunders. This got more Likes on Twitter than any other book I reviewed this year. I enjoyed it but I am not sure it was the best book of my year.
Miquel de Palol‘s El jardí dels set crepuscles (The Garden of Seven Twilights), translated by Adrian Nathan West, as mentioned last year, was actually more or less published this year and a fine work it is. Hopefully we will be seeing more from de Palol in the not too distant future.
While we are on Catalan literature, we had another great Catalan novel. Ventura Ametller‘s Summa kaòtica (Summa Kaotica)from the excellent Fum d’Estampa, translated by Douglas Suttle, appeared in English, a wonderful chaotic, madcap book, highly critical of Franco. These two are both essential reading.
While we are on long books – I do enjioy long books of this kind – I would mention Michal Ajvaz ‘ s ACesta na jih (Journey to the South), which starts with a ballet version of Immanuel Kant’s of Critique of Pure Reason, with one of the cast murdering an audience member and never looks back. I very much enjoyed Andrew Crumey‘s Beethoven’s Assassins, another wonderfully chaotic book, an everything novel in which Beethoven plays a role if not the major one.
My last long book mention is even more obscure: Miki Liukkonen‘s 961 page Finnish epic O [O] which sadly has not been translated into English and in which the all the characters (there are a lot of them) have some kind of psychoses/neuroses/phobias many of which you will not be familiar with.
As for shorter books I read two books by this year’s Nobel Prize winner, Jon Fosse, both of which were worthwhile. One was translated by May-Brit Akerholt and the other by Damion Searls. A new (in English) Arnon Grunberg was, translated by Sam Garret, as always, worth reading. The same applies to the new Kehlmann, which has not yet appeared in English but doubtless will. And ditto for the latest Lebedev, translated by Antonina W. Bouis. I am guessing Putin does not read Lebedev.
I have been planning to read more Yōko Ogawa but managed just one this year. She has been translated far more into French than into English. Her first full-length novel has not (yet) made it into English which is a pity as I thought it an excellent work.I must mention two Palestinian novels that I really enjoyed. Adania Shibli ‘s >تفصيل ثانوي (Minor \Detail), translated by Elisabeth Jaquette, gives an excellent picture of what Palestinians have to put up with under the Israeli occupation, as does Ghassan Zaqtan‘s ، (An Old Carriage with Curtains),translated by Samuel Wilder, which also focusses on what the Palestinians have lost.
Also in the Arabic-speaking world Ahmed Taibaoui‘s اختفاء السيد لا أحد (The Disappearance of Mr. Nobody), translated by Jonathan Wright, was an interesting novel about the aftermath of the Algerian Civil War.
Many people have not even heard of Sorbia, which Wikipedia insists on calling Lusatia but the BBC does not. I already had one Sorbian novel on my website, translated into German but not English but this year I read what, as far as I am aware, is the only Sorbian novel translated into English: Jurij Koch‘s Der Kirschbaum (The Cherry Tree) and a very fine novel it is.
When I start reading a book that does not work for me, I abandon it. I do not comment on it or criticise it, as the author/trans;ator/publisher have undoubtedly put a lot of work into it and others may enjoy it. It is usually three or four a year (four this year). This means that all the the books I have read and reviewed are all worthwhile.
As always , sadly quite a few writers died this year. Here are the ones on my website (in alphabetical order): David Albahari, Martin Amis, A S Byatt, Edmundo Desnoes, Zurab Karumidze, Milan Kundera, Miki Liukkonen, Cormac McCarthy, , Michela Murgia, Kenzaburo Oe, Dubravka Ugrešić and Martin Walser. And, though they are not on my site, as they are not readily available in English, Here is a list of Palestinian authors killed in Gaza in the ongoing conflict.
As usual I have not seen too much to excite me about nest year but that is undoubtedly my fault for not paying much attention and I have no doubt that, as always, the books I enjoy next year will be ones I have not yet heard of. However I must mention one book coming our next year. In several prevous end-of-the-year reviews, I have mentioned Elfriede Jelinek‘s Die Kinder der Toten (The Children of the Dead)m which I read in German some years ago and which was always about to come out but it now looks as though it will come out next year, in mid-March, from Yale University Press, translated by Gitta Honegger. (Honegger has translated other works by Jelinek and has written a cultural biography of Thomas Bernhard, a writer, like Jelinek, who has enjoyed criticising Austria.) Die Kinder der Toten (The Children of the Dead) is by far Jelinek’s best book.
I wish you a Happy New Year and I hope the year will be better than I fear it might be.