Yuz Aleshkovsky: Николай Николаевич (Nikolai Nikolaevich)/Маскировка (Camouflage)

The latest addition to my website is Yuz Aleshkovsky‘s Николай Николаевич (Nikolai Nikolaevich) and Маскировка (Camouflage), published in the same volume in both Russian and English. Both are distinguished by vicious anti-Soviet satire and the extensive use of obscenities. Николай Николаевич (Nikolai Nikolaevich) is about the eponymous hero, a former prisoner, who finds work first as a laboratory assistant and then as the laboratory guinea pig, which requires him to masturbate every day, with his semen to be used to create a new race of humans to be sent into space. Unfortunately the laboratory gets caught up in the Lysenkoism issue and is closed down.

Маскировка (Camouflage) is about a fictitious town where nuclear arms are secretly made. The activity has to be disguised so camouflagers are used to pretend to be normal Soviet citizens, which is what the US spy satellites will see. Being a normal Soviet citizen means being permanently drunk and Fyodor Milashkin, our hero, does that very well, till he and the other members of his brigade are found by the police one morning having being anally raped. While mocking the Soviet drink culture, Aleshkovsky goes on to eavesdrop on a meeting of the Politburo Brezhnev, Kosygin and Co – and mercilessly mocks them. Both books are very funny, very obscene and very anti-Soviet,

Shi Tiesheng: 我的丁一之旅 (My Travels in Ding Yi)

The latest addition to my website is Shi Tiesheng‘s 我的丁一之旅 (My Travels in Ding Yi). This was Shi Tiesheng’s final book and he packed a lot into it. The story is told by a spirit who inhabits the bodies of humans. He first started with Adam in the Garden of Eden and still loves Eve, for whom he is always on the look-out. However, he now spends most of his time in a Chinese boy (later man), Ding Yi, though he also flits in and out of or author, Shi Tiesheng, with whom he does not always agree. Ding Yi, as an adult, is very much into sex, something the spirit does not comprehend, except as a means of reproduction, though he does understand love. Not having a body himself, he does not understand humans’ greed for food either. Indeed, considering how long he has been inhabiting humans, he seems remarkably ignorant of their behaviour and foibles. Much of the book concerns the issue of sex and love. Ding Yi and others are influenced by the film Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Indeed, Ding Yi writes a play based on it. While this is certainly an interesting tale, I found it dragged a bit but you will certainly learn about how a non-human feels about sex and love.

Andrej Nikolaidis: The Olcinium Trilogy

The latest addition to my website is Andrej NikolaidisThe Olcinium Trilogy ((Sin (The Son), Dolazak (The Coming), Devet (Till Kingdom Come)). This is a superb trilogy of novels, related but separate, about life in contemporary Montenegro. We follow three separate stories each one fairly grim, exposing the underbelly of post-Yugoslavia Montenegro, with a host of issues, ranging from massive conspiracies, corruption, spatio-temporal lapses, climate change and a general collapse into drug and alcohol abuse.They are mainly set in and around Ulcinj, where Nikolaidis lives, and they often delve into Ulcinj’s somewhat murky history. Nikolaidis tells his stories very well holding nothing back and, while, to quote the Independent newspaper reviewer, they may not be as cheerful as Samuel Beckett, they are certainly first-class novels,

Eduardo Mendoza: El misterio de la cripta embrujada (Mystery of the Enchanted Crypt)

The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Mendoza‘s El misterio de la cripta embrujada (Mystery of the Enchanted Crypt). The novel, Mendoza’s second, is nominally a detective story. However, the detective is a homeless man who is on (temporary) release from a mental hospital. Under orders from the police, he is investigating the temporary disappearance and then reappearance of girls from a posh Catholic convent school in Barcelona. They are using him because of his connections to the underworld, though he soon finds out that it is more his cunning, lying, deception and ability to adopt multiple personalties that is of more use. Mendoza has great fun with the complicated and unpredictable plot and brings in a host of odd characters (our hero’s prostitute sister, a large Swedish sailor and a possible giant creature in the enchanted crypt of the title being just a few). Mendoza has said that this is his favourite of all his novels and you can see why, as it is great fun to read and must have been great fun to write.

Patrick Modiano: Les Boulevards de ceinture (Ring Roads)

The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Les Boulevards de ceinture (Ring Roads). This is the third novel in Modiano’s Occupation Trilogy. The narrator, probably called Serge, a young novelist, first met his father when he was seventeen. The pair tried various nefarious scams, finally hitting on forged dedications in novels to sell to collectors. However, it seems that the father tried to kill his son. Ten years later, during the German occupation, the son has tracked down the father in a village. He is now involved with a group who appear to be both dealing in the black market and publishing a magazine which uses blackmail as a way of earning money. The father does not seem to recognise his son and the son does not introduce himself, though he gets involved with the group. Inevitably, things do not work out well, though we are never sure if the narrator is telling us the truth and what really happened.

Eugene Vodolazkin: Соловьёв и Ларионов (Solovyov and Larionov)

The latest addition to my website is Eugene Vodolazkin‘s Соловьёв и Ларионов (Solovyov and Larionov). This is Vodolazkin’s first novel (though not the first to appear in English) and a superb one it is. General Larionov was a general in the Russian Civil war but on the White Russian side. He commanded a force in the Crimea and held off a superior army of Soviet soldiers for some time. The most surprising thing for those who study him, is that he survived to a ripe old age, living in Russia, and was not arrested or shot for his actions. Solovyov is a young historian. The fact that his first girlfriend was called Leeza Larionova may have helped him to have an interest in the general. Solovyov is a dogged and serious researcher and he is determined to track down the general’s missing memoirs and find the reason why he escaped being shot, as well as solving other mysteries regarding the general and, finally, trying to find Leeza, who seems to disappear. He has a series of adventures, attends a conference on the general, which enables Vodolazkin to mock academics, and pursues his searches and researches assiduously. It is a wonderful story and superbly told by Vodolazkin.

José María Arguedas: Todas las sangres [All the Bloodlines]

The latest addition to my website is José María ArguedasTodas las sangres [All the Bloodlines]. This is José María Arguedas’ longest book and goes into great detail about a story of oppressed Indians, ruthless Peruvians and a US mining company. Fermín and Bruno Aragón de Peralta are rich brothers who hate each other. Their father kills himself at the beginning of the book. Bruno wants to be a feudal landlord, controlling (and brutalising) his Indians, while Fermín wants to run a modern business, particularly though not only a silver mine. He has managed to buy up much of the land from his fellow Peruvians and they are now broke and bitter. However, Fermín will be outmanoeuvred by Wisther-Bozart, the US mining company, whose deep pockets and ability to buy political favours means that they will get the mine. However, it is the Indians who suffer, paid less by Wisther-Bozart, exploited by all the whites and repressed whenever they object. Arguedas makes no bones about where his sympathies lie.

César Aira: El llanto [Crying]

The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El llanto [Crying], one of the many of his works that sadly has not been translated into English. This one is also particularly strange though Ì have probably also said that before about an Aira work. Our narrator is a writer whose career is faltering and, more particularly, so is his marriage, as his wife, the beautiful Claudia, has run off with a Japanese terrorist. Indeed, our narrator witnesses the terrorist assassinate the Argentinian prime minister. He is now left alone in his flat, with only the company of their dog Rin-Tin-Tin, when Claudia goes out, which is frequently. Not surprisingly, the dog, and other animals, talk to him. Three-quarters of the way through the novel, the narrator announces the story is about to start and, indeed, everything changes again. Unusual by most other standards but perhaps not by Aira’s.

Hiromi Kawakami: ニシノユキヒコの恋と冒険 (UK: The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino; US: The Ten Loves of Nishino)

The latest addition to my website is Hiromi Kawakami‘s ニシノユキヒコの恋と冒険 (UK: The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino; US: The Ten Loves of Nishino). This is another clever novel from Kawakami about the complexity of love and relationships. Yukihiko Nishino has affairs with ten women in this book (though probably a lot more in actuality). Each one is slightly different but each has a few similarities. Firstly, the relationship does not last. For various reasons, usually because he finds someone else, he moves on, though sometimes not moving on till he is well into the relationship with the next woman. Secondly, he does seem devoted to each woman, proposing to several of them (they do not take his proposal seriously), even while, as we know and, in some cases, they know, there is another woman in the offing. Thirdly, even if their relationship is very brief, they do not forget him. He seems to have a profound effect on them, as is seen at his funeral. (We know, early on, that he is to die, as he appears as a ghost to one of his lovers.) Kawakami tells her tale her well, with each relationship different, despite the similarities, and each time we and the women ask, will this one last?

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.