Author: tmn Page 1 of 144

Ashraf El-Ashmawi: اال>سيدة الزمالك، (The Lady of Zamalek)

The latest addition to my website is Ashraf El-Ashmawi‘s اال>سيدة الزمالك، (The Lady of Zamalek). This novel covers Egypt from the beginning of World War II to almost the end of the twentieth century, focussing on Abbas Mahalawi, a young Egyptian, who, initially, looks as though he is going be a young man made good but soon turns out to be a young man made bad, as he makes lots of money and gains power by totally unscrupulous means, starting with his involvement in a historical robbery and murder. Corruption, lying, cheating, bribery, fraud, using and misusing family members and friends and murder are his stock in trade. He is surrounded by a host of characters, including some historical characters (both King Farouk and Nasser make an appearance), nearly all of whom are as corrupt as he is. The women often do badly, forced into marriages they do not want, but Abbas’s sister Zeinab turns out to be as unscrupulous as her brother and even his daughter, Nadia is not averse to cheating and deception. It is a fascinating portrait of a totally corrupt and immoral society.

Wolfgang Hilbig: Alte Abdeckerei (Old Rendering Plant)

The latest addition to my website is Wolfgang Hilbig‘s Hilbig: Alte Abdeckerei. This is a short novel, set in what was East Germany, in a fairly remote area. Our unnamed narrator, first as a boy and then as an adult,explores the blighted landscape not far from his home. He discovers a foul-smelling stream but also considerable evidence of former mine workings, now not only abandoned but with no maps as to where the tunnels are, so they are dangerous as they are liable to subsidence. As an adult, he discovers an active rendering palnt and sees animals – dead, alive and half alive – dragged to the plant. The whole sight disgusts and horrifies him but, later, when considering a job, he thinks of working there, despite the fact that the workers are very much looked down upon and smell the whole time. However, the mine tunnels are liable to subsidence… This is a first-class novel, superbly invoking the blighted landscape of East Germany.

Maria Stepanova: Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory)

The latest addition to my website is Maria Stepanova‘s Памяти памяти (In Memory of Memory). This is a superb documentary novel, narrated by the author but written, in some respects, like a novel. She deals with the many aspects of memory, the past and history as well as delving into her own past and the past of her family, a family which, she admits, is not terribly interesting. Indeed, she quotes Anna Akhmatova who says that the histories of other peoples families, like others people’s dreams and fornication, are boring. However, as she is a good story-teller, her stories are interesting though what makes this book so worthwhile is the examination of the many aspects of memory, history and the past, quoting numerous authors, both the obvious and less obvious ones. For her it has been a life work – she started work on the book when she was still a child – and it has taken many years of research and detailed thought to produce what is clearly a first-class work.

Maceo Montoya: Preparatory Notes for Future Masterpieces

The latest addition to my website is Maceo Montoya‘s Preparatory Notes for Future Masterpieces. It tells the story of an unnamed Chicano narrator. However, it is a gentle spoof of the conventional Chicano story as not only do we read the autobiography of the (probably unreliable) narrator, we also read the comments of one of his relatives, Ernie, correcting his mistakes about the family, a friend of Ernie, who comments on the work as a Chicanx expert and woke younger person and a professor, commenting as a woke academic. Our hero meets various real Chicano people, including, in particular, the writer Oscar Zeta Acosta, whom the narrator claims to have killed (his actual death remains a mystery). We follow our hero as he goes from would-be great artist who neither paints nor draws but only writes preparatory notes for his works, to the sidekick of a preacher, a long spell in a mental institution and, finally, on a wild ride with Oscar Zeta Acosta, resulting in the latter’s death. It is great fun and Montoya clearly enjoys mocking the great Chicano tradition.

Agustín Fernández Mallo: Trilogía de la guerra (The Things We’ve Seen)

The latest addition to my website is Agustín Fernández Mallo‘s Trilogía de la guerra (The Things We’ve Seen). As the Spanish title tells us this is a three-part novel, but published in a single volume in English. It is a novel in the style of W G Sebald. The first part is about a writer who goes to a conference on the Island of San Simón in the Vigo estuary but he is more interested in the fact that the island was a prisoner-of-war camp in the Spanish Civil War than in the conference. He goes to New York, where he is able to learn more about a prisoner in the camp. The second book is the story of Kurt Montana, the fourth astronaut on the first Apollo moon mission. Apart from his redacted moon mission, the rest of his life has been less than successful. The final story is by the girlfriend of the narrator of the first book. He seems to have disappeared after the conference – she does not know he has gone to New York – so she heads to Honfleur to visit parts of Normandy they had visited together and ruminate on a host of issues à la Sebald. The three stories are linked, often in unexpected ways but, above all, this novel is full of fascinating ideas, plot twists and ruminations on a variety of topics.

Iliazd: Восхищение (Rapture)

The latest addition to my website is Iliazd‘s Восхищение (Rapture). Iliazd was a futurist and surrealist so, though this is seemingly a conventional adventure story, featuring a bandit, it has surrealist touches, as well as influences from Central Asia myth, legend and culture, it also somewhat subverts the conventional adventure story. The hero is Laurence, a man who seeks to avoid being conscripted as he does not want to kill but then becomes bandit … who kills. He is based in a village, living with a family of people who have wens (i.e. cysts or goitres) and they control the area but Laurence gets taken in, first by a man who wants to use him for a big heist and then a party leader who wants him to help overthrow the system. It all goes badly. Meanwhile he has met Ivlita, daughter of a widowed retired forester, and they fall in love but the course of true love does not run smoothly. Iliazd embellishes the book with colourful and often surrealist touches. These touches and the subversion of the adventure genre help make this a fascinating book, first appearing in English eighty-seven years after its initial publication in Russian.

Llorenç Villalonga: Andrea Víctrix (Andrea Víctrix)

The latest addition to my website is Llorenç Villalonga‘s Andrea Víctrix (Andrea Víctrix). This is a dystopian novel set in Palma de Mallorca but now called Turclub. Our unnamed narrator has himself frozen, aged sixty, in 1965 and wakes up in 2050, aged thirty. The first person he meets is the eponymous Andrea Victrix who, like most of the people there is androgynous. not least because, à la Brave New World, there is no more viviparous reproduction. It is all done in a laboratory. The US and Russia have destroyed one another and China is gone so the United States of Europe rules. Big business dominates and buying stuff you do not need is almost compulsory. Our hero and Andrea become close while (s)he tries to convert him to the new ways. However, our narrator and other unfrozen people and a 120 year old psychiatrist try to oppose it. When the economy really starts falling, things get problematical. While this is an excellent novel, Villalonga, through his characters, puts the various arguments for and against the new world (he is against) in a detailed but by no means off-putting manner. Another excellent book from Fum d’Estampa.

Olivier Targowla: Narcisse sur un fil (Narcisse on a Tightrope)

The latest addition to my website is Olivier Targowla‘s Narcisse sur un fil (Narcisse on a Tightrope). This is another fascinating discovery from the recently reborn Dalkey Archive Press. Narcisse has been in an institution for seventeen years. He does not seem to know why nor do we or the doctors. You’ve never had all the symptoms of a particular illness, but instead you have some symptoms of every one of a fairly large number of illnesses. He does not do much but he does have sex with a large number of nurses, not so much out of lust but because they want a child but no permanent man. Eventually, however, the doctors think they have have found out what his illness is and they suggest that he gradually reintegrate into society. The thought terrifies him. When he does go out, he struggles with the crowds, his relatives, whom he has not seen since he was in hospital and the lack of order and structure. Narcisse is Everyman. He wants order and structure and, if he does not have it, he needs help. This is another worthwhile addition to Dalkey’s collection of strange novels.

Ivana Bodrožić: Rupa (We Trade Our Night for Someone Else’s Day)

The latest addition to my website is Ivana Bodrožić‘s Rupa (We Trade Our Night for Someone Else’s Day). It is set in an unnamed city but clearly the Croatian town of Vukovar, Bodrožić’s home town. Nora is a journalist who really wants to investigate the local corruption but that story goes to a man while she has to interview a teacher whose schoolboy lover killed her husband. She is also interested in what happened to her father, apparently murdered in the Balkan War. We follow her as she investigates all three stories, including the corruption in high places, while we also follow a host of crimes – corruption, blackmail, violence and murder. No-one comes out well from this story and quite a few people die violent deaths as Bodrožić shows us that Vukovar has a huge and unpleasant legacy from the Balkan War.

Jon Fosse: Eg er ein annan – Septologien III-V ( I is Another : Septology III-V)

The latest addition to my website is Jon Fosse‘s Eg er ein annan – Septologien III-V ( I is Another : Septology III-V). This is the second in his trilogy, with the first book introducing us to Asle 1 and Asle 2, both Norwegian painters, and ending with Asle 2 seriously ill in hospital after Asle 1 found him collapsed in the snow. This book continues with Asle 1’s musings but is mostly about Asle 2 and his childhood. It soon becomes apparent that the two men are almost certainly the same person, perhaps two alternative versions of their life story. However, both meet in the book and become friends and we see his/their early struggles. We also follow Asle 2 at the present time and his views on painting and religion and how the two converge. Fosse once again gives us a wonderful example of slow prose a deep exploration of the psyche and the soul of a man – two men? – and his art, his religion and his life.

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