Category: Civil War Page 1 of 2

Najwa Barakat: مستر نون (Mister N)

The latest addition to my website is Najwa Barakat‘s مستر نون (Mister N). Mister N is a failed Lebanese writer who currently lives in a hotel, rarely leaving it. We gradually learn his story – horrors of the Lebanese Civil War, a mother he hated as she much preferred his older brother, Sa’id, now a successful businessman and a father who was a doctor, helping the poor and whom Mr N saw die. He has had two long-term relationships – the first dumped him and the second was with a Nepali prostitute whose pimp did not take kindly to him. One day he does leave the hotel (looking for a spare part for his toilet) and comes across Luhman. Luhman was a Civil War thug and murderer who died. More importantly, he was fictitious , a character in one of Mr. N’s books. Luhman keeps reappearing, his neighbours have serious mental health issues and he himself is increasingly unable to cope with life, language and people. Gradually we learn of his past and how he ended up in this hotel and who he and Luhman might really be. It is a splendid, complicated, colourful book.

Almudena Grandes: El corazón helado (The Frozen Heart)

The latest addition to my website is Almudena GrandesEl corazón helado (The Frozen Heart). This is a long and complicated novel set mainly in the present but very much looking back to the Spanish Civil War. We follow the stories of two related families, one primarily Francoist and one primarily Republican, and their respective fates during and following the Civil War. The Republican one behaved more or less honourably, the Francoist one did not, cheating the other out of its property. We see much of this through the eyes of Álvaro, son of the Francoist Julio, though he himself is left-wing who, after his father’s death meets one of his father’s bankers and starts an adulterous affair with her. At the same time, he gradually uncovers some of his father’s dirty deeds and what happened to his father’s mother who did not die of tuberculosis, as his father had always claimed. What he uncovers and his affair will disrupt the family. Grandes, who sadly died a couple of weeks ago (27 November, 2o21), superbly exposes some of the non-military horrors of the Civil War and its aftermath.

Vladimir Sharov: Будьте как дети (Be As Children)

The latest addition to my website is Vladimir Sharov‘s Будьте как дети (Be As Children) . This is the third of Sharov’s novels to be translated into English and, in my view, the best. There are three main stories (and several sub-stories): the story of a noble woman who becomes a a Holy Fool, a bandit who sees the light and becomes the religious guide to a Siberian tribe and the story of Lenin’s last days when, following two strokes, he becomes more childlike and more interested in the role of children and starts to consider them as the only true proletariat. These and other stories all link and go off on tangents as we follow the idea of sin and innocence, innocence being represented by children, and the deeper and more fascinating byways of Russian history, including its Christianity, its non-Slavonic tribes and its wilderness. It is a wonderfully long, complex and thoroughly original novel and a first-class read.

Maryse Condé: En attendant la montée des eaux (Waiting for the Waters to Rise)

The latest addition to my website is Maryse Condé‘s En attendant la montée des eaux (Waiting for the Waters to Rise). We follow the story of Babakar, a doctor, son of a Malian father and Guadeloupean mother. He is born in Mali, educated in Montreal, returns to Africa (a fictitious country, a neighbour of Mali) where he experiences civil war, the loss of his wife, imprisonment and lots of violence. He flees to Guadeloupe, living a fairly solitary life but (illegally) adopts a baby girl whose Haitian mother has just died in childbirth and whose partner, Movar, is committed to finding the baby’s roots. So off they go to Haiti where life is even grimmer than in Africa and everyone – Babakar, Movar, the baby’s family, various political leaders and others – are caught up in violence, corruption, hurricanes and earthquakes. It is a grim tale but Condé tells it well and we cannot help but pity the innocent caught up in all the mayhem.

Rosa Maria Arquimbau: Quaranta anys perduts (Forty Lost Years)

The latest addition to my website is Rosa Maria Arquimbau‘s Quaranta anys perduts (Forty Lost Years). The novel tells the story of Laura Vidal, a Barcelona woman, from Francesc Macià declaring Catalan independence (14 April 1931) to 1971. She becomes a dressmaker and does reasonably well. However, the vicissitudes of life in Catalonia affect her, particularly the Spanish Civil War, when she flees the country for France, returning later. Above all, Laura is a feminist and independent woman and is not going to be told what to do, either by her family or men in general and steers her own path through the forty lost years. Arquimbau tells her tale well – Laura is clearly, at least to some degree, based on Arquimbau herself – even if she decides she has lost forty years.

Faysal Khartash: دوار الموت ما بين حلب والرقة (Roundabout of Death)

The latest addition to my website is Faysal Khartash‘s دوار الموت ما بين حلب والرقة (Roundabout of Death). The novel is set in the worst part of the Battle of Aleppo in 2012. Our hero, Jumaa, an Arabic teacher, his family and frirneds are trying to survive the horrors of thew war, which include regular bombs and missiles from Russian planes, sniper fire, lack of food, water and electricity, arbitrary arrests and tortures and the inability to move easily around because of damage, roadblock, sniper fire and the Russian plane attacks. But Jumaa is not going to let it get him down. He is going to sit in his favourite café with his friends, in the main square, probably safe as it is under regime control and when it is no longer safe – it gets bombed – they just move to another café. His poor mother suffers – her house is bombed – and his wife is particularly upset when their son is arrested. While Jamma is very concerned for his mother, his wife and their son, he is determined not to let it get him down too much, even when he goes to Raqqa, under the control of the Islamic State.

Javier Cercas: El monarca de las sombras (Lord of All Dead)

The latest addition to my website is Javier CercasEl monarca de las sombras (Lord of All Dead). This is another non-fiction novel from Cercas, as he sets out to find the true story about his great-uncle, Manuel Mena, who fought for the wrong side, i.e. Franco, in the Spanish Civil War. Most of those involved are dead, Mena himself having been killed at the Battle of the Ebro, aged nineteen. He investigates Mena’s story and finds missing element and inaccurate information but he also looks into the motives of people like Mena and others who supported Franco against what Cercas considers their own interests and investigates these and other issues such as honour and glory as well as the idea that history is often more complicated than it seems at first glance. It is another first-class work from Cercas.

Claudia Hernández: Roza, tumba, quema (Slash and Burn)

The latest addition to my website is Claudia Hernández‘s Roza, tumba, quema (Slash and Burn). This novel is set in El Salvador before, during and after the Salvadoran Civil War. We follow a young woman, who has seen violence as a child and, once the war starts, is threatened with sexual violence. She joins her father in the guerrillas. When she gets pregnant – she was not aware that she was – and has a baby, the child is taken away from her. She ends up with five daughters and no husband by the end of the war and we follow her struggles to bring up her daughters, her successful attempt at finding her missing daughter and also the struggles of the daughters to survive in post-war El Salvador. Above all, we learn of the extensive violence in the country, mainly though not only against women. It is a grim but important novel about violence.

Eugene Vodolazkin: Соловьёв и Ларионов (Solovyov and Larionov)

The latest addition to my website is Eugene Vodolazkin‘s Соловьёв и Ларионов (Solovyov and Larionov). This is Vodolazkin’s first novel (though not the first to appear in English) and a superb one it is. General Larionov was a general in the Russian Civil war but on the White Russian side. He commanded a force in the Crimea and held off a superior army of Soviet soldiers for some time. The most surprising thing for those who study him, is that he survived to a ripe old age, living in Russia, and was not arrested or shot for his actions. Solovyov is a young historian. The fact that his first girlfriend was called Leeza Larionova may have helped him to have an interest in the general. Solovyov is a dogged and serious researcher and he is determined to track down the general’s missing memoirs and find the reason why he escaped being shot, as well as solving other mysteries regarding the general and, finally, trying to find Leeza, who seems to disappear. He has a series of adventures, attends a conference on the general, which enables Vodolazkin to mock academics, and pursues his searches and researches assiduously. It is a wonderful story and superbly told by Vodolazkin.

Rodrigo Rey Rosa: El material humano (Human Matter)

The latest addition to my website is Rodrigo Rey Rosa‘s El material humano (Human Matter), Though called a novel, it has been described as more of notes for a novel than an actual novel. It tells about Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s investigation into the archive project (now online) relating to the police activities during the Guatemala Civil War and to research the cases of intellectuals and artists who either had been investigated by the police or had collaborated with them as informants. Rey Rosa naturally finds strange entries in the archive, speaks to the son of the former head of the police records, discusses his mother’s kidnapping and is discouraged and warned off from pursuing his researches. Not surprisingly, he has a variety of tales to tell us about what went on during the war and what is still going on. We are waging a battle against Evil. That is how extrajudicial executions are justified, says one police officer and, sadly, this view is still to be found.

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