The latest addition to my website is Ana Schnabl‘s Mojstrovina (The Masterpiece). The novel is set primarily in 1985, five years after Tito’s death but with Slovenia still part of Yugoslavia and the communists in control. Adam, a university lecturer, has written a novel (called Masterpiece) which he has submitted to Ana, an editor at a major Slovenian publisher. She has obtained her position by agreeing to spy on potential dissidents for Sofia and Vitomil, a married couple working for the secret police. They now want her to spy on Adam but she and Adm (both married with children) start an affair. How will the novel, Sofia and Vitomil and, indeed the respective spouses affect the affair? Schnabl tells a superb story about a love affair made complicated, analysing it psychologically in some depth and also the complications the novel and Sofa and Vitomil bring to the situation.
The latest addition to my website is Mitja Čander‘s Slepec (Blind Man). Our hero is not blind but, because of a defect at birth, has very poor sight. He works as a book editor and sticks to the areas he knows but is suddenly asked to speak for a new political party and then offered a ministerial post which he accepts. It does not work out well as his poor sight is a hindrance and there is, as in many political systems, more bullshit than practical actions. He quits only to propose a programme called Slovenia 2100 about what Slovenia should look like in the future. He is made head of the project and the bullshit gets worse. Meanwhile his wife has just had their first baby and is feeling neglected. While a satire on political shenanigans, it is made more interesting by seeing it from the perspective of an almost bind man, whose actual and metaphorical vision cause him all sorts of problems.
The latest addition to my website is Katja Perat‘s Mazohistka (The Masochist). The novel is narrated by Nadezhda von Moser. She was found as a baby, abandoned, in a basket by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the man whom Richard von Krafft-Ebing named masochism after. Sacher-Masoch brought her up but he was neither a good father or husband. She meets the rich Maximilian von Moser and they marry and move to Vienna, where she meets famous people such as Freud (from whom she has treatment), Klimt and Mahler. She is not particularly impressed with any of them or, indeed, with her husband, ending up in Trieste where she meets Rilke and Joyce. It is a very clever,feminist novel, witty and cynical but also serious about sexism and the role of women and what we know to be the final period of the Hapsburg empire.
The latest addition to my website is Ivan Cankar‘s Hiša Marije Pomočnice (The Ward of Our Lady of Mercy). Cankar is often considered the father of the modern Slovenian novel. This is a very sad story, set entirely in a charity ward for girls in a Viennese hospital. All the girls have some unpleasant disease and most of them will die during the course of the novel. We see all the girls as individuals, Malchie, based on the daughter of Cankar’s landlady in Vienna, Tina who has visions, Lois, the haughty girl from a rich family but whose parents are obnoxious, Katie, the lonely working-class girl whose father is a drunk and whose long-suffering mother dies before she does. The charity ladies are mocked as are some of the parents but Cankar feels a lot of pity for these poor girls, as we do after reading this novel.
The latest addition to my website is Aleš Šteger‘s Odpusti (Absolution). This is a very funny book in the great East European tradition of using humour to damn the political system. Adam Bely (formerly of Maribor) and Rosa Portero (formerly of Cuba) are both living in Austria and working for Austrian radio and are nominally in the Slovenian city of Maribor to report on its role as European Capital of Culture but are really there to destroy the Great Orc, a network of thirteen people who are said to control the city but are formed of the souls left by Xenu, a galactic leader concocted by Scientology leader, L Ron Hubbard. No single person in the network knows all the others members, so their job is made more difficult as they try to identify the thirteen, while giving them absolution (in the form of oyster crackers) to save their souls, which generally drives them mad. Šteger’s aim is to mock the city of Maribor, endemic corruption in Slovenia, neoliberalism and, of course, religion and pseudo-religions and this he does very well, using the image of the octopus, you can see on the front cover above. It is a very original work and great fun to read.
The latest addition to my website is Dušan Šarotar‘s Panorama (Panorama). This is a superb meditative novel, along the lines of the work of W G Sebald and Claudio Magris, though very much of its own kind. It is more poetical work than those, and makes extensive uses of photographs. Our narrator travels to Galway Bay, where he focuses on the terrible weather but also meets Gjini, an Albanian immigrant to Ireland who will act as his guide/alter ago both here in Galway and later in Belgium, specifically Ypres. He takes his photos, describes what he sees and listens to Gjini and others talk about issues such as language, belonging, identity, homeland and, of course, war and death. His travels (and the travels of others he recounts) take him to Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp, Ypres, Sarajevo, Maribor and Mostar, where he takes his photos and meets others, particularly Eastern Europeans, who have often fled their homeland. He often sees the dark side but is not entirely negative by any means. It is a superb poetical work, the first work of Šarotar to be translated into English.
The latest addition to my website is Feri Lainšček‘s Namesto koga roža cveti (Instead Of Whom Does The Flower Bloom). Lainšček grew up in north-eastern Slovenia (then Yugoslavia) near Roma villages and got to know the Roma people. These book is about a Roma family and their neighbours. Halgato (it is a type of gypsy violin playing) is the son of Mariška (real name: Sanji) who, at the beginning of the book, has knifed a secret service agent. He will shortly be arrested. Before his arrest he passes on his nickname, his talent and his violin to his son. Sanji/Halgato’s mother, Tereza, is soon joined by Bumbaš, an itinerant tinker and his three children. He takes the children, including Halgato, with him on his rounds but is not very successful, spending what little cash he earns on drink and women. He soon realises that this is not going to work and his son, Pišti, goes off to school (the only gypsy in the book who learns to read) while he takes Halgato to Bazika Joska, an experienced violinist. Bazika Joska recognises Halgato’s talent and Bumbaš and Halgato set off touring, living on what Halgato’s playing earns them. When they return home, Bumbaš finds that both of his daughters have been made pregnant by the same man. When this man’s body is fished out of the river, Bumbaš is arrested. Meanwhile, Pišti has started an affair with Iza but when he causes a fatal car crash, he is arrested and sent to prison. Halgato, who is also in love with Iza, seizes his chance. Meanwhile, Pišti kills guard while trying to escape and is sentenced to further imprisonment. The books starts when Halgato and Pišti meet up, after Pišti has been released, gone to the US and returned. The meeting is naturally bitter. The gypsies in the book all seem to be stereotypes and all seem to be unhappy. Halgato plays the violin a lot (the title of the book comes from a song he plays) but it does not seem to make him happy. Indeed, he continually is looking for a way out but cannot see one. However, the book is interesting in giving a portrait of a culture which, for most of us, will be unknown and Lainšček tells his story well.
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