The latest addition to my website is Luigi Malerba‘s Il pianeta azzurro [The Blue Planet]. One of the joys of reading novels, particularly those from other countries, is getting different perspectives on the world. With Malerba, you certainly always get a different perspective – sometimes absurd, often fantasy, often paranoid, and always the view of a lone man who does not quite get the world. In this novel, we read about a man who may or may not be going to kill a man whom he calls only The Professor but who is clearly based on Licio Gelli. The possible killer fantasises, observes, is paranoid and is clearly obsessed with Gelli and with freemasonry, while the narrator reads his diary of the planned killing. Does he intend to do it or is just imagining it? And is the narrator telling the truth any more than the potential killer? It is a wonderful novel, with twists and turns and Malerba’s trademarks ramblings. Sadly, it has not been translated into any other language.
The latest addition to my website is Upton Sinclair‘s The Jungle. This is one of those books (too many, I am afraid) that I should have read long ago but somehow never got around to doing so. While it is not a great novel, it is interesting, as, unlike most novels, it influenced government policy and resulted in changes in US food legislation. It paints a very grim picture of the meat packing industry in Chicago and the horrible situation of the workers in that field, both as regard their working conditions but also the other abuses they are subject to, in housing, health and safety, food and the generalised corruption found in Chicago at that time (and still going on, to a certain degree). Muckraking, powerful and horrifying are some of the adjectives used to describe it. Apart from this novel, I suspect Sinclair is no longer much read, even in the USA.
The latest addition to my website is Milena Ercolani‘s Figlie della luna [Daughters of the Moon]. It is not a novel but rather a collection of short stories, nominally linked by a common theme (a feminist sensibility). Given that there is not much from San Marino, it is here but it really is not very good and I am not too convinced by the feminist sensibility thing either. Of course, it is only available in Italian and I very much doubt that it will every make it into English or, indeed, any other language.
The latest addition to my website is Rafael Chirbes‘ Crematorio [The Crematorium]. Like La larga marcha [The Long March] and La caída de Madrid [The Fall of Madrid], this one is a portrait of Spain, this time set in the 1990s/early 2000s and shows the complete and utter corruption of the construction boom, as the fictitious town of Misent has been massively over-developed to the benefit or Rubén Bertomeu. Rubén’s brother Matías, who opposed his brother’s activities, has just died and we follow, through a stream-of-consciousness approach, the thoughts and feelings of those associated with the brothers. Chirbes gives us a wonderful picture of a thoroughly decadent and corrupt society at the height of the Spanish development boom, a boom that we know will come crashing down. Sadly, though this is a first-class novel, you will not be able to read it in English.
The latest additions to my website are two Anne Enright novels. The first is What Are You Like?, an earlier novel. Frankly, this story of two young women looking for their origins did not really work for me. I found that, while Enright’s writing is, as always, superb, the plotting was somewhat unstructured and wooly and did not awaken my interest as the two women, Maria Delahunty and Rose Cotter, just drifted around. I could not feel any great sympathy for them or, indeed, any interest in them, despite their need to know where they came from and who they were.
The Gathering, however, is a different matter. It deservedly won the Man Booker Prize, apparently unanimously, despite not being the favourite. It is a wonderful story of Veronica Hegarty, one of twelve, whose brother, Liam, eleven months her senior, has just killed himself. Why did he kill himself and what was the role of Ada, her grandmother? The complex nature of large and somewhat dysfunctional families is examined. While, as in What Are You Like?, she jumps around, you always have the feeling that she is focussed on the main issue, Liam’s death, Ada’s role and the problems of large families, unlike in What Are You Like? where the focus seems to drift away from the main issue. This is definitely a book worth reading
The latest addition to my website is Shalom Auslander‘s Hope: A Tragedy, one of the funniest books I have read in a long while. It is very politically incorrect, featuring a still alive but smelly and cantankerous Anne Frank, struggling to write a novel, a Jewish man whose fatal flaw is hope, his mother who spends her life bemoaning her fate as a Holocaust victim, despite the fact that she was born in Brooklyn in 1945 and, like all her close relatives, never went anywhere near Europe, and an arsonist. Solomon Kugel joins the list of literary Jewish heroes who struggle with life and with mothers.
I have just returned from two weeks in Burma, where I saw the biggest book in the world (see photo at left). Other sites of literary interest included the Nationa Museum where they had samples of the handwriting of many Burmese writers, including Ma Ma Lay. I only have one Burmese book on my site – Ma Ma Lay’s Mone Ywe Mahu (Not Out of Hate). I went to the Bagan Book House, the best bookshop in Burma for English language books. They had a small but impressive collection of books but they were all non-fiction – travel, history, ethnography, botany/biology, etc, including some rare out of print memoirs – but no fiction to add to my collection. There were a lot of street sellers selling books in Burmese though obviously I was not able to judge what they were selling.
While there, I read Amitav Ghosh‘s The Glass Palace, the latest addition to my website. It is set in Burma (and India and Malaya as well), and is a family saga, with the various members moving between those three countries. However, it starts with the British invasion of Burma in 1885 and ends with Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest by the generals. It roundly condemns colonialism but shows that the concept is not always too simple, not least with the Burmese objecting to the Indian presence in Burma and, of course, the Japanese invasion of South-East Asia. It is well worth reading whether you know those three countries or not.
Loukis Akritas‘s Νέος με καλάς συστάσεις (Young Man Seeks Position: Good References) is the latest addition to my website and the second Cypriot novel. Both of the Cypriot novels are autobiographical novels. This one is about a young man who leaves Cyprus for Athens in the 1930s but is unable to find any work and suffers considerably – hunger, leaking shoes, poor clothing – while he and many others seek work. It is well told though not particularly original. However, the scenes where he is really is desperate are excellent.
The most recent additions to my website are two César Aira novels. I continue to be amazed by everything I read of his. Varamo (Varamo), which has been translated into English, is a novel about a low level Panamanian civil servant who goes home one evening and, though he has never written, indeed, never even read a single line of poetry, writes, without correction, one of the (fictitious) classics of Central American poetry. As this Aira, lots of other things happen in the space of a fairly short novel, involving forged money, embalming, a possible revolution, the smuggling of golf clubs, pirate publishing and the hearing of voices.
Las noches de Flores [The Nights of Flores], sadly, has yet to be published in English (though it has been translated into several other languages). It tells the story of a pizza delivery service in the Flores suburb of Buenos Aires. It starts off fairly low key, with the account of an elderly couple who work for the service, delivering on foot, as well as stories of some of the young men who work for the service. In particular, there is a kidnapping and murder of a delivery driver. Suddenly, the novel explodes, as a massive conspiracy is revealed and all hell breaks loose. This, like the other six Aira novels I have read, only confirms Aira as one of the leading novelists of the age.
The latest review on my site is Rafael Chirbes‘ La caída de Madrid [The Fall of Madrid]. This follows on from his La larga marcha [The Long March] but this time telling the story of a group of Spaniards, who are all connected to each other, on 19 September 1975, hours before Franco dies. The various participants have their own concerns about Franco’s imminent demise and what it will mean to them. Chirbes tells his story very well, ending it that evening, shortly before Franco actually dies. Sadly, like La larga marcha [The Long March], it has not been translated into English, though it is available in French, German, Croatian and Serbian.