Category: Surrealism

Najwa Bin Shatwan: الطليانوج حياة خاصة (Catalogue of a Private Life)

The latest addition to my website is Najwa Bin Shatwan‘s (Catalogue of a Private Life). This is a collection of eight stories from Libya. Some are serious, but most are satirical, absurd and/or surrealistic, telling of the grim situation in Libya and the repression of the people, particularly the women. We have a cow that is a giant missile, a village which can travel round the world, a fuel queue from Tripoli to Tunis, and a general with a lot of weapons but no army but also girls who are never allowed to leave their home and a woman who is told she should be forbidden from entering all seven levels of heaven because she was not wearing a hijab. Bin Shatwan tells her stories very well and they are well worth reading.

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.

Gellu Naum: Zenobia (Zenobia )

The latest addition to my website is Gellu Naum‘s Zenobia (Zenobia ). Naum was a Surrealist poet and this is very much a Surrealist poet’s novel. Our hero is called Gellu Naum. While visiting Mr Sima in the country in the depths of winter, he meets and immediately falls in love with Zenobia, the name he gives her – we never know her real name – and his love is reciprocated. The pair set off together and go and live in a burrow like moles with Dragoş, an old, an almost inanimate man. After surviving the winter, Gellu explores the swamps before the threesome set off for Bucharest. Dragoş will go off with Empedocles as a child, while Gellu wanders the streets of Bucharest, meeting many dead people – he admits to not being able to tell the difference being the dead and living – and the pair will live in surrealistic but relatively happy harmony before returning to the swamps. The book is full of surrealistic images – death and animals abound – and strange behaviours but is interesting reading if you do not expect the conventional.

Vítězslav Nezval: Žena v množném čísle (Woman in the Plural)

The latest addition to my website is Vítězslav Nezval‘s Žena v množném čísle (Woman in the Plural). This is not even vaguely a novel but,rather, a collection of pieces – poetry, short prose pieces and a drama – all of which are surrealistic in nature, as Nezval was on one of, if not the leading Czech surrealist, a friend of Breton and other leading French surrealists. The drama, for example, starts off with the Bird of Doom and a Neurasthenic Woman, and an event for which may people have paid but not only do neither we nor they know what it is about, nor do the organisers. It gets worse. The poems and prose pieces are full of surrealistic imagery – no Moon in June or daffodils floating in the breeze, even though his poems are vaguely love poems or, at least, about women, and a few nature poems. Images such as widowed scallops and a chess-playing flea abound. It is all enormous fun but, of course, serious fun. He concludes But what disgusts me most is the fool who laughs at this desperate poem of mine.

Vítězslav Nezval: Valérie a týden divů (Valerie and Her Week of Wonders)

The latest addition to my website is Vítězslav Nezval‘s Valérie a týden divů (Valerie and Her Week of Wonders) . Nezval was a committed surrealist, friends with André Breton and other surrealists when he wrote this book in 1932 (thirteen years before it was finally published in Czech). It is a spoof Gothic novel with a host of surrealist touches and follows Valerie in her first week of menstruation, when various characters try to corrupt her sexually and otherwise. In particular there is the polecat, a 104 year old devil/vampire/former lover of her grandmother (Valerie’s parents, a bishop and a nun, are dead) who has a host of wicked plans. Fortunately, Orlik, possibly the son or nephew of the polecat and maybe but maybe not Valerie’s (half-)brother helps her, as she helps him. From fowl pest to witch-burning, from secret vaults and premature burials, from magic potions to defiled virgins, Nezval throws it all in for a wonderful Gothic spoof.

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