Category: The Modern Novel website Page 1 of 127

Shukri Mabkhout: الطلياني (The Italian)

The latest addition to my website is Shukri Mabkhout‘s الطلياني (The Italian. This is a rare example of a Tunisian novel written in Arabic translated into English. It tells the story of Abdel Nasser whose Italian film star good looks give the book its title. The book opens in the summer of 1990 with the funeral of Abdel Nasser’s well-respected father. Abel Nasser behaves badly, kicking the imam in the head. He will tell no-one why, not even his older brother, whom he looks up to, though there are various theories. Only one person can understand why – the imam’s wife. We then follow Abdel Nasser’s life from a spoilt childhood, left-wing politics at the university and his meeting with another leftist Zeina, very much her own woman. They secretly get married but it does not work out as Zeina is focussed on her studies and Abdel Nasser has affairs while he drifts in to a career of journalism, where he is very successful. Meanwhile the political background in Tunisia of that era (late 20th century) affects them all. It is a complex and well-told story, showing that love and politics do not mix.

Susan Daitch: Siege of Comedians

The latest addition to my website is Susan Daitch‘s Siege of Comedians. This is a superb and highly complex novel with three main characters and lots of secondary ones. We follow Iridia, a forensic sculptor for the Brooklyn Missing Persons Bureau, who uncovers a people trafficking plot but has to flee to Vienna as the traffickers are after herl. We then follow Martin Shusterman who goes to Buenos Aires but his girlfriend is disappeared so he becomes an accent expert. However he is obsessed with a Buenos Aires neighbour , Karl Sauer, a Nazi film-maker, and he also heads to Vienna to track him down. The building in Vienna where Sauer worked had been a brothel in 17th century Vienna and we follow the woman who ran the brothel but also three trafficked women who ended up in her brothel. Daitch is clearly attacking the horrific treatment of women through the ages but also tells a superb and complex story with lots of side issues, making this a very complex novel but one well worth reading.

Akram Musallam: اسيرة العقرب الذي يتصبب عرقا (The Dance of the Deep-Blue Scorpion)

The latest addition to my website is Akram Musallam‘s اسيرة العقرب الذي يتصبب عرقا (The Dance of the Deep-Blue Scorpion). Our unnamed narrator, clearly based on the author, had a epiphanic moment as a teen, when a French woman showed him her blue scorpion tattoo and let him outline the shape of her hips, while naked, on a mirror. He has never seen or heard from her since. We follow him as he now tries to write a novel about himself and the scorpion, but also about his parents (father lost part of his leg, another pivotal moment), his aunt and her stories and the car park where he writes his novel as it used to have an apartment where the famous Palestinian poet Hussein Barghouthi lived. Muted, in the background is the Israeli occupation and the intifada. Above all, our author feels emptiness, nothingness and loss – loss of Palestinian culture, of the dance hall where he first saw the scorpion and meaning in his life.

Un Su Kim: 벗 캐비닛 (The Cabinet)

The latest addition to my website is Un Su Kim‘s 벗 캐비닛 (The Cabinet). This is a wildly inventive novel, telling of Deok-geun Kong, a South Korean office worker, who gets involved in a project to document all cases of symptomers, those people who show signs of abnormal behaviours. These range from people who survive on a diet of petrol or glass or even electricity, to those who meet their doppelgängers, from those who lose several months or even years of their life to those who rewrite their memories and a host of others showing anomalous behaviour. Kong’s boss, Professor Kwon has a theory – that they represent a new species evolving from Homo sapiens. But are they just lonely people in the big city? However, Kwon is dying and Kong is not keen to carry on the work, while the evil Syndicate will do anything to get hold of the papers.

Marino Magliani: Soggiorno a Zeewijk (A Window to Zeewijk)

The latest addition to my website is Marino Magliani‘s Soggiorno a Zeewijk (A Window to Zeewijk). This is a novel in the tradition of writers such as W G Sebald and Esther Kinsky in that Marino Magliani has moved to Zeewijk on the Dutch coast and writes about his impressions, the people, the landscape and the architecture of the area, while also comparing it (to some degree) with his home region of Liguria in North-West Italy. We first meet him with a local, Piet van Bert who explains the history and geography and the pair become flâneurs (though he uses the Ligurian word scutizusu), looking through people’s windows, hanging out at the mall people-watching and, in Magliani’s case, taking occasional trips to Liguria, comparing the two areas (in favour of Zeewijk). As with Sebald, Kinsky and other similar writers, Magliani can make the ordinary fascinating, while telling his stories about the people and the landscape of Zeewijk.

Maria Judite de Carvalho: Os Armários Vazios (Empty Wardrobes)

The latest addition to my website is Maria Judite de Carvalho‘s Os Armários Vazios (Empty Wardrobes). The novel tells the story of Dora Rosário, who marries Duarte young and has a daughter . Duarte, however, is totally devoid of ambition, despite being pushed by a forceful mother, and has a low-paying job and will not allow his wife to work. When he dies while still young, she is left destitute. After a long while, she finds a job managing an antique shop and is able to help her daughter, who wants to be an air hostess. However, she still remains devoted to the memory of Duarte and makes no effort with her appearance. Then, one day, her mother-in-law tells her a secret and she changes, spending time and money on her appearance and seems to capture a man from the narrator. But things do not always work out well. Maria Judite de Carvalho gives an excellent portrait of a woman who is, for all too long, merely seen as a piece of furniture, an empty wardrobe.

Sarah Hall: Burntcoat

The latest addition to my website is Sarah Hall‘s Burntcoat. Our heroine is Edith Harknesss. We follow her life from when she was ten and her mother, a successful novelist, had an aneurysm but survived though much changed. Edith decides to become an artist, focussing on monumental works using shou sugi ban, a Japanese charred timber technique and has considerable success. However a pandemic strikes – seemingly worse than covid just as she is starting the love affair of her life with a Turkish chef and the pair hide out in her huge converted warehouse called Burntcoat. The pandemic leaves Edith with the equivalent of long covid, though this form seems it be generally fatal, as she works on her final monumental work. It is another superb work from Sarah Hall and confirms her as one of Britain’s leading novelists.

Hanne Ørstavik: Presten (The Pastor)

The latest addition to my website is Hanne Ørstavik‘s Presten (The Pastor). The eponymous pastor is Liv. She had worked in southern Germany where she had befriended Kristiane but when Kristiane killed herself, she had applied for and got a job in the far North of Norway. However, things do not go well, not least because she had trouble fitting in and clearly does not have the right temperament to be a pastor, finding it difficult to comfort people in distress. She has also been working on a doctoral thesis on a Sami rebellion in 1852, which took place near where she is now working, and realises that the connection between the two cultures is Christianity – the Sami seemed to have adopted a more fervent Christianity at the time – while language, ultimately the language of the Bible, not at that time available in Sami, is also important. However the struggles of Liv and other women characters are the key to this book.

Petra Hůlová: Stručné dějiny Hnutí (The Movement)

The latest addition to my website is Petra Hůlová‘s Stručné dějiny Hnutí (The Movement). This is a feminist dystopian novel. In this New World, men are sent to a institute – in some cases voluntarily but often at the instigation of their spouses or even simply snatched from the streets, where they are retrained – often fairly harshly – to think of women as people and not as bodies. The training includes masturbating to pictures of ugly older woman and having sex with them. The story is told by Věra, a guard at one of the institutes who seems a lot of her time looking at and handling penises. Once she gets away from the city on a tour, she finds it is women rather than men who are of the most resistant. The book seemed as much a manifesto against men’s view of women as a novel but Hůlová makes her point about the objectification of women and excess pornography.

Ana Schnabl: Mojstrovina (The Masterpiece)

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.

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