The latest addition to my website is Valeria Luiselli‘s Los niños perdidos : un ensayo en cuarenta preguntas (Lost Children Archive). This is a superb novel about the (pre-Trump) issue of unaccompanied children from Central America entering the US and trying to gain residence. It follows an unnamed couple, who are having their marital problems, and their two children, one each from previous relationships, who drive from New York to the Southern US, she to investigate the issue of the lost children, and he to study the Apaches. They quarrel. The children (he aged ten, she aged five) learn about the world, about sounds, about the Apaches and migrant children and also about getting lost. The parents learn about themselves, about their children and how children react to various circumstances as well as about the deportation of children and what happened to the Apaches. This is another brilliant novel from Luiselli, looking at the world and finding it wanting in many ways.
The latest addition to my website is Gombojav Mend-Ooyo‘s Altan Ovoo (Golden Hill). Mend-Ooyo is best-known in Mongolia as a poet but has also written prose works, including this novel which, unusually has been translated into English (by Simon Wickham-Smith). It is very much a poetical novel and tells of how his father took him to the sacred mountain of Golden Hill, when he was a boy. Golden Hill is important because it is sacred to his people but also it is associated with Genghis Khan (who is revered and not reviled in Mongolia) who may have died near there, after falling off his horse. We also learn of his travels around Mongolia, of his life, of stories of several Mongolian characters and several Mongolian animals and of various Mongolian legends, including their origin legend. It is a joy to read but, sadly, despite being translated into English, very difficult to obtain, as it was self-published in Ulaanbaatar.
The latest addition to my website is Ondjaki‘s O Assobiador (The Whistler). This is written as fable about a young man who has a beautiful whistle, who arrives at a sleepy Angolan town and starts whistling in the church. After some initial misgivings, the whole town, from the padre to the pigeons, is entranced by his whistling. Many of them change their outlook on life, with Ondjaki skilfully using magic and magic realism but also showing highly different effects on the various individuals. From sex to recovering from imminent death, from reconnecting with the sea to simply seeing the world in a different way, the town is changed and all for the better. It is wonderfully written and a joy to read.
The latest addition to my website is Guzel Yakhina‘s Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha). Zuleikha is a Tatar woman, married to an abusive husband, in the late 1920s. Her husband is determined that the Soviets will not have any of his food and he hides. When he is caught and objects, he is shot on the spot. Zuleikha and many other villagers are then sent off to Siberia as former kulaks. The journey is hard, not least because there is a huge backlog of kulaks and other undesirables being sent off to Siberia and they are delayed on their train journey. It is made harder when Zuleikha realises she is pregnant – her husband raped her the night before his death. She has already lost four daughters, all of whom died young, and she is determined to protect her first son. We follow the story of the prisoners, the commandant and, in particular, Zuleikha, from around 1930 to the end of World War II. As the Russian title (Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes) tells us, a good part (but certainly not the only part) is about how Zuleikha develops from being a submissive Muslim woman and abused wife to being someone more independent. Yakhina tells an excellent tale of life in a Siberian camp and of a woman who finds herself there.
The latest addition to my website is Ansomwin Ignace Hien‘s Une flamme dans le noir [A Flame in the Dark]. Though Hien is from Burkina Faso, much of the novel is set in Côte d’Ivoire and most of the main characters are Ivoirian, though not all. The novel tells the story of Simon, an Ivorian architect who falls for a young girl in a remote village but cannot marry her as he is about to go to France for five years. He later returns to Côte d’Ivoire and assists the young daughter of a couple to get an education. His assistance, however, consists of raping her and getting her pregnant. He marries her – she is more reluctant than he is – and we follow their messy later life. Both have affairs, both behave badly and most of the main characters end up dead or thoroughly miserable. It is a grim tale, warning against marital infidelity, unprotected sex and checking out that your partner has no hidden secrets that will come back to hurt you.
The latest addition to my website is Alfredo Pareja Díez Canseco‘s Las tres ratas [The Three Rats]. Alfredo Pareja Díez Canseco was an Ecuadorian realist writer as well as a politician, none of whose work has been translated into English. This novel tells the story of three unmarried adult sisters, whose parents have died, leaving them to manage the farm, on their own. They fail due to a combination of bad luck and inexperience and leave the farm to go and live with their aunt in Guayaquil. They are not particularly welcomed and their inexperience with life and men leads to further disasters. Pareja Díez Canseco shows in this novel the plight of women, particularly women on their own, in Ecuador of the time (first half of the last century).
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.
The latest addition to my website is Nâzım Hikmet‘s Yaşamak Güzel Şey Be Kardeşim (Life’s Good, Brother). Nâzım Hikmet is perhaps Turkey’s best-known poet but he was also a communist. This book is a fictionalised autobiography of his life and is generally agreed to be his best prose work. It was written while he was very ill and he died well before it was published. Indeed, it was first published in Russian translation and then in French translation. It is primarily set in Izmir in 1925, when he was in hiding from the police, trying to publish an underground newspaper, and was bitten by a dog and was worried he might have rabies. However, we also follow his time in Moscow, where he was more interested in Anushka than in politics, the period soon after World War I, when the occupying Allied powers were the enemy and, in particular, his time in prison later, where he was tortured and given a fake execution. Hikmet jumps around in time and place, and from first to third person but writes so well that that is barely a distraction.
The latest addition to my website is Hasan Ali Toptaş‘ Gölgesizler (Shadowless). This is a decidedly strange novel, set partially in a barber’s shop in an unnamed city and partially in a remote village, far away from the city, which also has a a bfrber’s shop. People have the habit of leaving the city barber shop, all under the watchful but somewhat perturbed eyes of the novelist, and suddenly turning up in the village, without explanation and, to a certain degree, vice versa. People also simply disappear from the village and turn up, often a long time later, without explanation for their absence or return. Not only can no-one explain what is happening, no-one tries to. Are some the the fantastical characters responsible or is it the remote state or is it simply because the world is irrational and incomprehensible and things happen that we do not and cannot understand? Toptaş gives us no clues as to the whys and wherefores. It just is.
The latest addition to my website is Elif Shafak‘s Baba ve Piç (The Bastard of Istanbul). This book tells the story of two families, one a Turkish family living in Istanbul and the other an Armenian family, living in the US, with most of their ancestors having been killed in the Armenian Genocide. Both families are dominated by women. Indeed, the Turkish one consists of four sisters, only one of whom, the youngest, has a child, a daughter, Aysa. We do not learn who her father is till the end of the book. The sisters had one brother, Mustafa, who emigrated to the United States and never returned. He married a divorced woman, Rose. Her ex-husband, who never remarried, is part of the Armenian family and their daughter Armanoush/Amy is very much involved in discussions of things Armenian, particularly the Genocide. Indeed, unbeknown to her family, she heads off to Istanbul, to try and track down her roots, staying with Aysa’s family. We learn that the Turks are almost completely ignorant of the Armenian Genocide, something the Armenians discuss all the time. Aysa and Amy, the younger generation, try to bring the two sides together and this issue is the key theme of the book. Indeed, Shafak was prosecuted for insulting Turkishness in this book because of her relatively sympathetic view of the Genocide.