Uwe Tellkamp: Der Eisvogel [The Kingfisher]

The latest addition to my website is Uwe Tellkamp‘s Der Eisvogel [The Kingfisher]. Wiggo Ritter is a lost soul. His father is a ruthless banker and Wiggo hates everything he stands for. He studies philosophy, to his father’s disgust, but gets into a dispute with his professor and loses his job. He then meets Mauritz and Manuela Kaltmeister. They belong to a group called Rebirth, a right-wing group, which believes the elite should rule. Mauritz is pushing for terrorist activities to scare the populace into wanting a law-and-order group like his to take over and where better to start than with the professor who fired Wiggo? We know it goes wrong, as the book opens with Wiggo shooting and killing Mauritz and he ending up in hospital with severe burns. This is a fine book, only translated into Polish, about urban terrorism and a lost soul not finding his way.

Ramon Saizarbitoria: Martutene (Martutene)

martutene

The latest addition to my website is Ramon Saizarbitoria‘s Martutene (Martutene). This is a mammoth (816 pages) Basque novel, that has claims to being the Great Basque Novel. Primarily, it tells the stories of two couples. One couple is Martin, a successful Basque short story writer who is trying to write his first novel, and Julia whose husband was a Basque freedom fighter/terrorist, who has been killed, and who is translating Martin’s stories – often about their relationship – into Spanish. The other couple are both doctors, he a gynaecologist and she a neurosurgeon. Both relationships are under stress as all four have had or are having affairs. We also have an epidemiologist is who is bored with her marriage and is trying to find a man she bumped into, on a plane. We know who he is and, indeed, he plays a role in the book; she does not know who he is or what his name is. While about relationships and their difficulties, this book is about much more. It is about the Basques and Basqueness. It is about violence and death. It is about writing and literature. The main characters struggle with these issues and with who they are. It is a first-class novel and we must be grateful to Hispabooks for making it available in English.

Antal Szerb: A királyné nyaklánca (The Queen’s Necklace)

queen

The latest addition to my website is Antal Szerb‘s A királyné nyaklánca (The Queen’s Necklace). According to Szerb’s introduction to the book, this is not a novel but then, in his posthumous papers, he claims that it might be sort of a novel. In my view it is perhaps what we might call a popular history. However, it certainly reads like a novel and is clearly written by a novelist. The story it tells is a well-known historical one, that of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. The necklace was made by two German jewellers based in Paris, who hoped to sell it first to Madame Du Barry, Louis XV’s mistress and then, when he died, to Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI. However, they got caught up in a scam involving a descendant of the Valois royal house and her fake aristocrat husband, a cardinal, a probably fake magician and a few others. The jewellers and the Cardinal thought the necklace was to be bought by Marie Antoinette. However, she knew nothing of it. When everything came out, Marie Antoinette, however, was blamed by the French public for her role and this was one of the incidents that led to the French Revolution. Szerb tells the story well but, more particularly, goes into some detail into the contemporary state of affairs in France and the whys and wherefores of the impending French Revolution. A novel it is not but it still a fascinating story.

A reading list in response to the Paris attacks

The Syndicat de la librairie française (the French booksellers’ association) has put out a reading list of books to read following the terrorist atacks in Paris. The list is, of course, in French and nearly all the books are non-fiction, though there is one fiction work I have read: Mathias Enard‘s Boussole [Compass], not yet available in English but surely will be, sooner or later. Most of the books were originally written in French and I have not found any translated into English (though I have not checked every title). The list does include Stefan Zweig’s The Right to Heresy; Castellio against Calvin, translated from the German.