Author: tmn Page 2 of 144

Andrea Bajani: Se consideri le colpe (If You Kept a Record of Sins)

The latest addition to my website is Andrea Bajani‘s Se consideri le colpe (If You Kept a Record of Sins). Our narrator is Lorenzo who learns of the death of his mother in Romania at the beginning of the book. She had been treated as the black sheep by her family and then kicked out of the family when she had an affair shortly after her wedding to a man approved by her mother. The man disappears after Lorenzo is born. She remarries but helps develop a weight-loss machine with another man Anselimi, and the pair move to Romania to make the machine. It is clear that their partnership is not just commercial. She visits and phones but less and less as the time goes by. When she dies, Lorenzo, who had been brought up by his stepfather, had not seen or heard from her for a long while. He goes to Romania for the funeral and to try and learn something about his mother but does not like the country and does not like Anselmi. Like his mother and step-father,he has been abandoned but is unclear what to make of it.

Kazuo Ishiguro: Klara and the Sun

The latest addition to my website is Kazuo Ishiguro‘s Klara and the Sun. The novel is set in the not too distant further in the United States and tells the story of Klara, an AF, i.e. an artificial friend, a robot that acts as a friend to a child, not least because children do not seem to go to school but learn online. We follow the story from Klara waiting in a New York shop to be sold and being bought by the mother of Josie, a girl with health problems. Klara is astute and sensitive and tries to help Josie, not least by invoking the sun, the source of Klara’s energy and nourishment. We meet Rick, next door neighbour and close friend of Josie, we learn how Klara struggles to fully understand humans and the issues with Josie’s divorced parents and whether Klara can save Josie. As in many of Ishiguro’s books there is an underlying sense of foreboding, exacerbated by a hint – but only a hint – of societal breakdown. This book clearly sees Ishiguro back to form and is an excellent work on our possible near future.

Pola Oloixarac: Mona (Mona)

The latest addition to my website is Pola Oloixarac‘s Mona (Mona). Our heroine/narrator is Mona Tarrile-Byrne, a Peruvian writer. Her first novel was well received and helped get her onto a doctoral programme at Stanford. Her second novel and, indeed,her personal life are not going so well. She has been nominated to receive the prestigious Basske-Wortz Prize, a Swedish prize. All fourteen nominees are invited to Sweden for a conference, with the prize presented at the end. The conference involves sex, food and saunas but also discussions on a host of topics, giving Oloixarac opportunity to mock various literary ideas (the stereotypical Latin American, the pathetic pervert Frenchman) as well as various serious topics (the multinational viewpoint, death, computers to write novels in the future) and ending with an important topic – violence to women. It is another superb and original novel from Oloixarac.

Omaima Al-Khamis: رواية مسرى الغرانيق في مدن العقيق (The Book Smuggler)

The latest addition to my website is Omaima Al-Khamis:‘s رواية مسرى الغرانيق في مدن العقيق (The Book Smuggler). This is a superb book set in the Islamic world of the early eleventh century. Our hero/narrator is Mazid al-Hanafi, and he is very keen on book learning. He comes from the desert region of Al-Yamama and moves to Baghdad, where there are religious and political disputes. He just wants to study but gets involved with a group called the Voyagers, who try to disseminate worthy books throughout the Islamic world. These books are often considered heretical and include translations of Greek books as as well as Islamic works. We follow Mazid travels through the Islamic world – Jerusalem, Cairo and ending up in Cordoba – and the many problems he has, including religious, political and even romantic as he tries to get the books to the right people without being caught by the wrong people. It is a wonderful tale, full of colour, adventures and religious and political ideas, and the first book on my site by Saudi woman.

Selim Özdoğan: Die Tochter des Schmieds (The Blacksmith’s Daughter)

The latest addition to my website is Selim Özdoğan:‘s Die Tochter des Schmieds (The Blacksmith’s Daughter). This is the first in a trilogy which focuses on Gül, a Turkish woman, who grows up in Turkey in the period immediately after World War II and, by the very end of the book,will emigrate to Germany. We follow her story from before her birth to just prior to her departure to Germany with her two daughters – her husband is already in Germany. She is determined and hard-working and despite the various problems in her life – her mother dies when she is young and her father soon remarries, her husband drinks, gambles and hits her, she is seen by her in-laws as a servant – she is a survivor. As well as Gül, we get a host of other characters – family, friends, neighbours – to give us a full picture of life in Turkey in that period.

Mohamedou Ould Salahi: The Actual True Story of Ahmed and Zarga

The latest addition to my website is Mohamedou Ould Salahi‘s The Actual True Story of Ahmed and Zarga. Mohamedou Ould Salahi is best-known for having been unjustly imprisoned in Guantánamo for fourteen years but this novel, which he wrote in English, has nothing to do with his imprisonment. Indeed, no Westerners appear in it at all. It recounts the tale of a camel herder, Ahmed, between the world wars, who loses a camel and his hunt across the Sahara for her. We learn of his many adventures, from a poisonous viper to cannibals but also both the hardships of the Sahara and the camaraderie of the nomads. It is a very fine story as we follow not only his colourful adventures, but learn of his past, the past of his family and of his tribe.

Isabel Bogdan: Der Pfau (The Peacock)

The latest addition to my website is Isabel Bogdan‘s Der Pfau (The Peacock). This novel gives the impression of being written by a Scottish or English writer, being set entirely in the Highlands of Scotland and featuring primarily Scottish and English characters. Lord and Lady McIntosh rent out holiday cottages on their estate and are planning, for the first time, to rent out the West Wing to a group of bankers (with their own cook and psychologist) who are coming for a team-building exercise. They are worried about their peacock which attacks anything blue and has attacked the car of a guest, causing damage. When the laird sees that the banker boss’s car has been attacked, he shoots the peacock and conceals it under leaves. However, the bankers’ boss’s dog discovers it and the boss thinks her dog has killed it. She instructs one of her staff to get rid of it. The cook volunteers to cook it, pretending it is pheasant and then, later a goose. She finds gunshot in it so now everybody has different ideas on the fate of the peacock. Throw in the bankers’ not entirely successful team-building exercise and a snowstorm and things get messy. It is a very enjoyable book but also a serious discussion of how we can have different perceptions of the same event.

Saulius Šaltenis: Kalės vaikai (Bees on the Snow)

The latest addition to my website is Saulius ŠaltenisKalės vaikai (Bees on the Snow). The novel is set in a village in eighteenth century Lithuania. The problem for the Lithuanians is that the Germans, in particular, but also the Russians control the area. Early on, we see a Lithuanian family driven out of their home and tavern just because a German family want it. We get a host of colourful characters such as Fingerless Limba, the teacher and coffin-maker, the herdboy who becomes bell-ringer, Karvelis, poor Lotė the Betrothed and her fatherless child Jonelis and, above all, Pastor Kristijonas whose mother negotiated with Death to save him from the plague and who chooses his coffin, seemingly after he has died. Their enemies are mocked – the Germans, the bishop and his retinue and the small squire who married a much larger woman. Above all we get a host of wonderful linked stories- sometimes more than one version of the same situation – and lots of colourful characters, some good, some bad, quite a few both

Romanian literature Part 2

I have now read twenty Romanian novels in a row. The overall impression is that Romanians have had a thoroughly miserable twentieth century. Starting with the oppression of the peasants, as described in Zaharia Stancu‘s Desculț (Barefoot), followed by World War I, described in several of the novels I read, for which the Romanians were spectacularly unprepared and were soon overrun by the Germans, the anti-Semitism of the late 1930s (Mihail Sebastian‘s De două mii de ani (For Two Thousand Years)), World War II, covered far less than World War I in these twenty novels, and then the aftermath of World War II and the Gheorghe Gheorghiu-De era, described in Petru Dumitriu‘s Incognito (Incognito). Then there is Nicolae Ceaușescu era, mentioned in several of the novels and then the post-Ceaușescu era, covered in Augustin Buzura‘s Recviem pentru nebuni și bestii (Requiem for Fools and Beasts). In all cases, it is a story of unremitting suffering, with brutal and cruel governments, secret police, wars, poverty starvation, arbitrary killings, lots of violence and little chance of escape.

It may well be that there are Romanian novels which give a rosier picture but either I have missed them or, more likely, they have not been translated or, perhaps, even more likely, they have not been written.

You would think that at least the Romanians could have love and romance as a redeeming part of their life but, at least according to these novels, that is not the case. The first novel I read, published in 2011, does not deal with the horrors of the Romanian experience but is is about a woman writing her story to her boyfriend whom she is dumping, as he is useless. Vica in Gabriela Adameșteanu‘s Dimineață pierdută (Wasted Morning) also has a useless husband who just sits at home watching TV all day. Indeed, most of the men in the book do not fare well as husbands and lovers. Donna Alba is nominally a love story but what a messy one, as our hero, to get the girl, behaves very badly indeed. Camil Petrescu‘s Ultima noapte de dragoste, întâia noapte de război [The Last Night of Love, the First Night of War] might seem like a love story but it is about a love affair gone wrong. Gellu Naum‘s surrealist Zenobia (Zenobia ) is perhaps the closest we come to a happy romantic relationship. In short, happy marriages and relationships are rarely to be found in these novels.

There are few of these novels that do not deal with the oppressive political and economic situation. Gellu Naum‘s surrealist Zenobia (Zenobia ) is one, though we do see a life of hardship. Cecilia Stefanescu‘s Intrarea soarelui (Sun Alley) mentions the Securitate only in passing and politics does not enter into the story, though it is far from a happy story. Ioana Pârvulescu‘s Viața începe vineri (Life Begins On Friday) is set in 1897. we are in Bucharest so we do not see the hardships of the peasants and while politics do occur, they are not vicious or threatening as in novels set in later periods. Dumitru Tsepeneag‘s post-modern Pigeon vole (Pigeon Post) avoids the problem entirely. It is written in French, set in Paris and does not have a single Romanian character in it.

As for my favourite, I very much enjoyed the two Istros novels – Cecilia Stefanescu‘s Intrarea soarelui (Sun Alley) and Viața începe vineri (Life Begins On Friday). Both have a clever bit of time travel in them, though, in neither case is it key to the plot. Sun Alley tells of a love affair going doubly wrong and is a very intense novel but superbly written. Life Begins On Friday is also a clever novel and tells a good tale well. Max Blecher‘s Întâmplări din irealitatea imediată (Adventures in Immediate Irreality; later: Occurrence in the Immediate Unreality)‘s a formidable visionary novel. However, what I shall take away is that I am glad that I did not live in Romania in the twentieth century.

Mihail Sebastian: De două mii de ani (For Two Thousand Years)

The latest addition to my website is Mihail Sebastian‘s De două mii de ani (For Two Thousand Years). This is a novel about anti-Semitism which, for a long time, was very prevalent in Romania. Our narrator is at university studying law in the 1920s and he and others Jews are frequently attacked, not just verbally but also physically. He is befriended by a lecturer in political economics, Ghiţă Blidaru, who is based on Nae Ionescu. Sebastian considered Ionescu his mentor ans asked him to write a foreword to this book which turned out to be a vicious anti-Semitic diatribe. Blidaru is sympathetic towards our hero and steers him away from law to architecture. We follow his career as an architect, starting with a huge oil well/refinery project. Anti-Semitism, while it seemed to quieten down, is still rife and he is horrified by the anti-Semitic comments of both a very good friend and his boss towards the end of the book. Sadly, anti-Semitism will continue in Romania.

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