Category: Exile

Wolfgang Hilbig: Das Provisorium (The Interim)

The latest addition to my website is Wolfgang Hilbig‘s Das Provisorium (The Interim). This novel tells the story of C. He had been a good East German, working in a factory and then, at the age of forty, became a full-time writer. He eventually gets a visa to spend a year in West Germany, leaving his live-in girlfriend and mother. Much of his money is made from book tours, which he hates, rarely seeing the city but hanging out near the railway stations, which symbolise the journey home. He does go home a few times but when his visa expires and he has not applied for renewal, he is more or less stuck in West Germany and cannot really cope, feeling he belongs to neither country. He turns to drink and pornography, failing in relationships and moving to a different city, always on an interim basis. A sad but superbly written story of man who has lost his way.

Nabile Farès: La Découverte du nouveau monde (Discovery of the New World)

The latest addition to my website is Nabile FarèsLa Découverte du nouveau monde (Discovery of the New World). This is a trilogy of books first published French in the 1970s. Farès and his father were very much involved in the Algerian War of Independence but were very disappointed with the outcome, in particular the dictatorship that took over and the Arabisation of Algeria (at the expense of Berbers). Farès went into exile in France and these books (and other books he wrote) deal with these issues: exile, identity and leaving, French colonialism, the War of Independence and where it al went wrong. These are not particularly easy books to read – Farès plays around with language and often has an impressionistic or even Joycean/surrealist approach – but they are key works of Algerian literature and it is good that they are finally available in English and well worth reading.

Maria Maïlat: La cuisse de Kafka [Kafka’s Thigh]

The latest addition to my website is Maria Maïlat‘s La cuisse de Kafka [Kafka’s Thigh]. This is a semi-autobiographical novel. Her heroine is called Mina Baïlar. She is born in Transylvania, part Jewish, and has a not particularly easy childhood. However,she becomes first a gymnast and then a writer but the Romanian authorities ban her writing and she has to leave, and goes to Paris, determined to write in French and not about the political situation in Romania. She struggles with the usual problems of exile – housing, right to asylum, a different culture – but also how to be herself and not what the Romanian community want her to be. It is a fine, honest book about struggling to fit in a new environment.

Minae Mizumura: 私小説 from left to right (An I-Novel)

The latest addition to my website is Minae Mizumura‘s 私小説 from left to right (An I-Novel). This book was written and published before her other two novels published in English and, unusually, contains lots of English words and is written horizontally (as the Japanese title tells us) and not vertically as is normal in Japanese. It is semi-autobiographical and tells of her family moving to the United States, when she was twelve. At the start of the novel, she and her sister note that they have been there twenty years. Minae, our narrator, is finishing her Ph.D. (in French) and plans to return to Japan after having done so, perhaps to write a novel. Much of the book is about exile. How you can you adapt to a foreign culture? Can you go home after so long away, as much will have changed? How can you maintain contact with your home culture when in a foreign culture? And how do you deal with the attitudes of the foreign culture to you and your culture? Like all exiles, the two sisters struggle with these issues and do not really resolve them.

Fowzia Karimi – Above Us the Milky Way

The latest addition to my website is Fowzia Karim‘s Above Us the Milky Way. Fowzia Karimi and her family – parents and five daughters – left Afghanistan in 1980 after the Soviet invasion and settled in California. This is their story – how and why they left, the problems of exile and reports of the continuing horrors they left behind. But Karimi is an artist by profession and this story is told by an artist as well as by one of the daughters. She illustrates it herself, both with her own paintings and family photos, but also with her words describing in a poetic/artistic way the joys of pre-Soviet Afghanistan and their family life. Indeed, they are such a close-knit family that she often describes the five sisters as one, even though all five have their own personalities. The book is divided into twenty-six sections, one for each letter of the alphabet, with appropriate themes from Afghanistan (for A) to Zenith (for Z), though her approach is more kaleidoscopic, jumping around with her images, both visual and verbal and her telling of the story in a non-chronological way. The result is a beautiful book, a story of the horrors of war and exile but not by any means a conventional one.

Hamid Ismailov: Hayy-ibn-Yakzan (Of Strangers and-Bees)

The latest addition to my website is Hamid Ismailov‘s Hayy-ibn-Yakzan (Of Strangers and-Bees). This is another superb book from Hamid Ismailov, the Uzbek novelist, about exile and, indeed about bees. We follow the travels and travails of the fictitious Sheikhov (possibly an alter ego of the author) but also of the Uzbekistan-born, Persian philosopher Avicenna who may have died in 1037 in real life but continues on in this book. Sheikhov is both studying Avicenna but is also keen on finding the travelling Avicenna who may be held in prison in France or the US. It is both a very serious book about exile, faith and politics but also, at times, very funny, as we follow Sheikhov’s travels in Europe. In particular, it is a superb read.

Mario Benedetti: Primavera con una esquina rota (Springtime in a Broken Mirror)

The latest addition to my website is Mario Benedetti‘s Primavera con una esquina rota (Springtime in a Broken Mirror). This is only the second of Benedetti’s novels to appear in English. Another one will appear in June 2019. This one is set in the 1970s when the military have taken over power in Uruguay and there is considerable repression, with many Uruguayans going into exile. We follow the stories of five people: Santiago who is in a jail in Montevideo, his wife Graciela, his daughter Beatriz and his father Rafael, who are all in exile in Buenos Aires, and Benedetti himself, who was an exile during this period. Santiago has four more years to serve in prison but is eager to see his wife and daughter again. However, Graciela is having an affair with Rolando, Santiago’s best friend. Benedetti tells an excellent story of how involuntary exile affects these various people and how it changes them.

Burhan Sönmez: Masumlar (Sins & Innocents)

The latest addition to my website is Burhan Sönmez‘s Masumlar (Sins & Innocents. Burhan Sönmez was attacked by the police in Turkey and came to England, specifically Cambridge, both to recuperate and escape. Brani Tawo, the narrator of this book, is based on him. The story is divided into alternating parts. The first involves Brani’s time in Cambridge. While there he meets a fellow exile, Feruzeh, who left Iran with her mother when she was seven and has not been back. She is doing a Ph. D. The two soon become friends and more. At the same time we are following the story of Brani’s family and village back in Turkey, as partially seen through the eyes of a travelling photographer, Tatar. The stories are all grim but eventually link up with Brani and the photo he has of his uncle Hatip and Tatar, which starts off his story in Cambridge. It works well, as Sönmez is a fine story teller for both the Cambridge and Turkey part of the novel and deals with issues such as exile and how to fit in to a foreign country on the one hand and the grimness of life in Turkey, with feuds, bandits, war and its consequences, and the harshness of life in rural Turkey on the other.

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