Author: tmn Page 1 of 162

Esther Kinsky: Rombo (Rombo

The latest addition to my website is Esther Kinsky‘s Rombo (Rombo. This is another wonderful book from Esther Kinsky, this one giving an account of the 1976 Friuli earthquake and, in particular giving the accounts of seven people from an affected village. Kinsky lets them tell their stories – what life was like before the earthquake but also the the events of the day and the aftermath. But she also gives us a vivid description of the area- the geology, the geography, the rivers, the plants and animals, the rivers as well as what life was like in the region for the locals. As always her account is both fascinating and informative and she very much brings to life not only the people but also the animals. Rombo, by the way, is what the locals call the noise an earthquake makes before the eruption.

Hiroko Oyamada: いたちなく (Weasels in the Attic)

The latest addition to my website is Hiroko Oyamada‘s いたちなく (Weasels in the Attic). This book consists of three linked stories. In the first the unnamed narrator and his friend Saiki visit Shuzo Urabe who had an exotic fish shop which has closed. He now lives above the shop with his wife and daughter, The narrator is envious of the baby – he and his wife have been trying for a baby without success – but the focus is on the mating habits of the fish, Urabe dies and the narrator and his wife visit Saiki, now married and living in the country and plagued by weasels in the attic. The narrator’s wife tells how her father dealt with the problem. They visit again when Saiki and his wife have a baby and they get caught in a snowstorm and have have to spend the night in a room where the fish are kept, including the jumping bonytongue. The book is about fertility – humans and animals – and marriage but Oyamada’s skill is to insert little episodes which make us uneasy.

Vasily Grossman: Народ бессмертен (The People Immortal; No Beautiful Nights)

The latest addition to my website is Vasily Grossman‘s Народ бессмертен (The People Immortal; No Beautiful Nights) . The book had been translated into English in 1945 but this version uses the original manuscript, some of which was censored, often by Grossman himself. It is an account of the relatively early period of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, in which the Germans ruthlessly drive forward, forcing the Soviets back. We follow one troop, in particular their Marxist expert commissar, a womanising soldier who is always willing to undertake any task assigned to him and various commanders. Grossman shows that the Germans are more efficient and organised than the Russians. (Stalin had claimed that the Germans had better equipment which was not true.) We see the bombing of Gomel, almost completely destroyed. We also see the effect of Stalin’s Order No. 270 which forbade Soviet troops from surrendering or retreating on pain of death and required them to fight to the death. The troop we are following is encircled, as many Soviet troops were and we see how they deal with it. Grossman is both an excellent reporter and an excellent novelist and this is another first-class work from him.

Orhan Pamuk: Veba Geceleri (Nights of Plague)

The latest addition to my website is Orhan Pamuk‘s Veba Geceleri (Nights of Plague). This tells the long and complex story of the fictitious Mediterranean island of Mingheria. The story opens in 1901 when Mingheria is part of the failing Ottoman Empire. There has been an outbreak of plague (though denied by the Governor) so the Sultan sends his expert to deal with it. He is soon murdered. Next to arrive is another expert, married to the Sultan’s niece. We will later learn that the narrator is the great-grand-daughter of the couple. We follow a complicated plot with the many problems of dealing the with the plague but also Mingheria’s move toward independence. The population is part Greek, part Muslim, bringing its own problems but, of course many break the quarantine and there are also sorts of devious plots and sub-plots, not least when the Great Powers and the Sultan get involved. We follow the story more or less to the present day though the main action is at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is a first-class, complex story, with plots and sub-plots, dirty deeds, international politics, love and romance and a primer how not to deal with a plague.

Jorge Enrique Lage: La Autopista: The Movie Freeway- La Movie)

The latest addition to my website is Jorge Enrique Lage‘s La Autopista: The Movie Freeway- La Movie. Set in mid-twenty-first century Havana, this surrealist/absurdist novel recounts the adventures of the unnamed narrator and his friend El Autista (meaning the Autistic Person) around the massive Freeway linking Havana to the USA. The two men have a series of absurd adventures, including involvement with Seminoles searching every Hard Rock Café for some missing but unspecified item, involving Philip K. Dick and the Grand Unified Theory, finding a prehistoric skeleton, giant Transformer-like machines fighting a hurricane called Katrina who looks like a blow-up doll, performing an on-the-spot heart transplant and meeting various US and Cuban cultural icons. The two men are filming a documentary film of the freeway, whch, of course, has a traffic jam. The book is great fun but clearly not to be taken too seriously.

Perhat Tursun: Chong shähär (The Backstreets)

The latest addition to my website is Perhat Tursun‘s Chong shähär (The Backstreets). Perhat Turson is probably the foremost Uighur author but sadly has been imprisoned by the Chinese for sixteen years. This is his first book in English and a very fine one it is. It tells of one night in the life of the unnamed narrator. He has arrived from his village to take up an office job in Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang. It is a menial job and he is working primarily with Han Chinese who mock and abuse him.No lodgings come with the job. He had tried sleeping in the office but was thrown out. He is now looking for a specific building where there might be lodgings but he does not know his way around the city and it is very foggy. As he searches we learn of his life and how much an outsider he is, even in his own country. The Han Chinese ignore, avoid him, refuse to help and even physically attack him. All the while we follow his thoughts about his life and his struggles. This is a superb novel in the outsider genre and made the more interesting for being a rare Uighur novel.

Ian McEwan: Lessons

The latest addition to my website is Ian McEwan‘s Lessons. This is McEwan’s longest novel and tells the story of Roland Baines, his friends and family from World War II to the present day, Baines is clearly based in part on Mc Ewan himself but only in part. The basic theme is that we are who we are because of world events but also because of things our parents and others do. This may be very obvious but Mc Ewan shows us how the life of Roland, his wife Alissa and others are shaped by these events. A key event in Roland’s life is when he is seduced by his piano female teacher when he is only fourteen and the affair will change his life. Another key event is when Alissa walks out on him and their one year old son to become a novelist. Both sides of the story are given – the women’s reasons and the effect on Roland. Both parents had been influenced by the war and its aftermath. Roland drifts through life but has a more or less happy life, with ups and downs and we follow the changes he faces and the other main characters face. This is certainly the best McEwan novel for a while .

Enrique Vila-Matas: Montevideo

The latest addition to my website is Enrique Vila-MatasMontevideo. Our unnamed narrator has written one novel while living in Melilla, turned to drug dealing in Paris and goes back to his writing career in Barcelona before setting off on his travels, particularly to Montevideo, where he explores a hotel, which was the subject of stories by two different Argentinian writers, concerning a hidden door. This leads on to other explorations of doors and their symbolic meaning in life and literature, including one that leads from Paris to Bogotá. However, as we would expect from Vila-Matas, we meet numerous writers, both real and fictitious, with their stories, ideas and oddities and we also learn about ambiguity in both life and literature. Yes it is something of a hodgepodge but, as usual, from Vila-Matas fascinating and learned.

A. M. Homes: The Unfolding

The latest addition to my website is A. M. HomesThe Unfolding. Homes tells two linked stories relating to the Hitchens family. The family is the Big Guy (we never learn his real first name), a very successful and rich businessman, his wife Charlotte, an alcoholic who feels her whole life has just been as an adjunct to her husband, and their eighteen year old daughter, Meghan. The novel is set between the day of the 2008 US presidential election, when Barack Obama defeated John McCain, and Obama’s inauguration on 20 January 2009. The Big Guy and his friends are not happy with a black man as their president and plot to do something about it, though, initially, there is more talk than action. At the same time his marriage has serious problems, because of both his past and present behaviour, with both Charlotte and Meghan upset with him. This is all pre-Trump, though written over the past ten years with full knowledge of Trump and his dirty deeds but shows how a non-Trumpian faction might react.

László Krasznahorkai: Aprómunka egy palotaért (Spadework for a Palace)

The latest addition to my website is László Krasznahorkai‘s Aprómunka egy palotaért (Spadework for a Palace) This is a short novel about a New York librarian called herman melvill (sic). He has various obsessions, including the idea that only librarians should be able to visit libraries. He gradually becomes obsessed with his namesake Herman Melville and, following Melville’s journey from his home to his work at the Customs House, and adds in an obsession with Malcolm Lowry (who walked the same area) and architect Lebbeus Woods, who lived and worked in the area. This leads to an obsession with our interconnectedness with nature, a theme he believes, of Melville and Woods. The obsessions start taking over his life and his wife leaves him and his boss is concerned. This is a first-class work on literary madness and obsession.

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