Category: The Modern Novel website Page 2 of 138

Amélie Nothomb: Le livre des soeurs [The Book of the Sisters]

The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb: Le livre des soeurs [The Book of the Sisters]. The book tells of Tristane, born to parents who are more interested in one another than they are in their daughter so she is often left to her own devices. She teaches herself to speak, to read and to write. At the age of two she becomes the godmother to her cousin, daughter of her very irresponsible aunt Bobettea and, a couple of years later she will essentially manage Bobette and her four children. When her parents finally give her a sister, it is the four year old Tristane who looks after her while her parents are at work. The two sisters become very close, as Nothomb and her sister were and are. Though they start to diverge as adults, they still remain close while Tristane also struggles to break free of her mother’s not always positive influence. But, as the title tells us, it is above all the story of two sisters.

Ibrahim Al-Koni: ـلـيـل فـي حـق الـنـهـار، روايـ (The Night Will Have Its Say)

The latest addition to my website is Ibrahim Al-Koni‘s ـلـيـل فـي حـق الـنـهـار، روايـ (The Night Will Have Its Say). The book is set in the late seventh/early eighth centuries in North Africa during the Umayyad Caliphate. The Ummayyads are aiming to conquer the Berbers to convert them to Islam but the Berbers, under al-Kahina, a woman leader, are resisting. Kahina is not opposed to Islam, only to how the Arabs are applying it, i.e. using it as an excuse to obtain territory and booty. We follow her and how she resists the Arabs both intellectually and militarily . We know she will lose but for us and for al-Koni, it is clear that, despite her mistakes, her stance had been correct, being more open-minded, thinking of the people and giving women a greater role to play. Al-Koni makes his point well and no doubt his message is relevant today and not just just as regards Islam.

Sonallah Ibrahim: العمامة والقبعة (The Turban and the Hat)

The latest addition to my website is Sonallah Ibrahim‘s العمامة والقبعة (The Turban and the Hat). The novel takes place during the French occupation of Egypt from 1798 to 1801. The historical figure Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti wrote the only surviving account of the occupation from the Egyptian point of view. In this novel, the unnamed narrator mirrors the account by al-Jabarti, his teacher, but unlike al-Jabarti, gives the account from the point of view of the ordinary people. We follow his story, including an affair with Pauline Fourès, a historical figure who was also Napoleon’s mistress. However, we see the changes and chaos following the French occupation, made more awkward (for the French) by the English blockade, Napoleon’s incursion into Syria and a plague epidemic. However, while this is interesting, following the machinations of our hero both as regards his love life and his perspective on the occupation is what makes this such a worthwhile novel.

Sylvie Germain: Jours de colère (Days of Anger)

The latest addition to my website is Sylvie Germain‘s Jours de colère (Days of Anger). This book, a reissue by publishers Dedalus, is a classic modern French novel, mixing Gothic and Greek tragedy in a remote wooded area of France. Ambroise Maupertuis witnesses an altercation between Vincent Corvol and his wife Catherine and blackmails him into handing over his forests and his daughter Claude to marry Maupertuis’ son Ephraim. Ephraim prefers the gargantuan Fat-Ginnie and is disowned and disinherited by his father when he marries her and they produce nine sons, all born on 15 August. Maupertuis makes Marceau, his second son, marry Claude and they have a daughter Camille, the spitting image of her grandmother Catherine. However, when Camille finally grows up and meets the nine brothers, things go drastically wrong. This is a superb poetic novel which deservedly has a great reputation in France.

Georges Magnane: Où l’herbe ne pousse plus (Where the Grass No Longer Grows)

The latest addition to my website is Où l’herbe ne pousse plus (Where the Grass No Longer Grows). The novel is a fictionalised account of a historical event – the massacre of a643 inhabitants of a French village in 1944. Magnane has created a fictional village, Verrièges, and we follow the events there. The French villagers are shown to be ordinary people, making their living primarily from farming. They have been relatively spared the worst of the war, when an SS troop, heading towards Normandy to help repulse the Allies after D-Day, hears that weapons have been hidden in the village. When they cannot find them, they massacre the entire village. The Germans are shown to be vicious and evil, though the massacre is prompted by one particular vicious Nazi. It is very skilfully done as Magnane compares the evil Nazis with the ordinary, but not always saintly French.

Brenda Lozano: Brujas (Witches)

The latest addition to my website is Brenda Lozano‘s Brujas (Witches). We follow the story of three Mexican women. Paloma is, in fact, a muxe, assigned male at birth but who dresses and behaves in ways otherwise associated with women. She starts off as Gaspar, following the family tradition of being a curandero, a traditional healer, before continuing as Paloma. The book starts with her murder. We also follow Feliciana, related to Paloma, who becomes a successful curandera, both of physical ailments and disease of the soul. By the time she is twenty, she has three children and is a widow. The third woman is Zoe, a journalist from Mexico City, who is subject to sexism, though we also follow the story of her family, particularly her more colourful sister Leandra, who, among other things, sets fire to her school. All women, like others in this book, are subject to male violence but all three show how women live their lives.

Vladimir Sorokin: Теллурия (Telluria)

The latest addition to my website is Vladimir Sorokin‘s Теллурия (Telluria). This novel is set in a future where Russia and Europe have splintered into smaller states and seem to have been recently fighting a Christianity-Islam war which the Christians have won. The story is told in fifty vignettes, recounting the current siltation and the past, and we get a mixture of quasi-mediaeval tales, futuristic ones and those outlining what is going on. The key is tellurium, the drug of choice, found only in the microstate of Telluria in the Altai mountains (ruled by a Frenchman!). This is sold (usually illegally) in the form of nails which have to be hammered into the user’s head by a skilled carpenter (with the inevitable risk of death) and which people eagerly try to get hold of. Above all, Sorokin tells a mixture of stories about this world, what it looks likes and how it got to be be what it has become and gives us only a passing nod to Putin.

Salvador Elizondo: El hipogeo secreto (The Secret Crypt)

The latest addition to my website is Salvador Elizondo‘s El hipogeo secreto (The Secret Crypt). The novel is about a writer called Salvador Elizondo who is writing a book called The Secret Crypt. We start with a disparate group called Urkreis and we gradually learn that they are, possibly, the characters of this novel. Gradually, Elizondo, the real author but also the author who is the subject of the book, who may or may not be the same person and may or may not exist, tries to come to terms with his characters (and they with him), himself as both author and subject, the reader, who is reading the book in which she is one of the subjects and where the book has not actually been written yet, as we are reading it as it is being written. If you are lost, you will be further lost as all these conundrums get more and more complicated as the book progresses. It is very clever, very original and fun to read if you are not looking for a clear outcome.

Sergey Kuznetsov: Хоровод воды (The Round Dance of Water)

The latest addition to my website is Sergey Kuznetsov‘s Хоровод воды (The Round Dance of Water). This is a novel that tells the story of an extended family, from the Revolution to the present day, though with the main focus on the post-Soviet era. Kuznetsov himself stated that he wanted to write about my contemporaries who are trying to understand themselves by looking at the past of their families and their country. Several of the extended family do not know who their father is or have little or no contact with him. For many of the modern ones casual sex and alcohol are important in their lives. However, we gradually learn about their ancestors and their roles in the Soviet era – from a NKVD member to a couple who helped build the Moscow Metro. The modern ones struggle with life but, by the end, the main ones are starting to realise that family is important and that there is more to life than booze and sex. It is superb a novel, quite unlike many of the other modern Russian novels you may have read.

Eva Baltasar: Boulder (Boulder)

The latest addition to my website is Eva Baltasar‘s Boulder (Boulder). Our narrator works as a mess-hall cook in various places in Chile, getting a job on a freighter early in the book. She is a complete loner, wanting only drink, tobacco and sex. In her travels she meets Samsa, a Scandinavian geologist, and they start a Lesbian relationship. When Samsa gets a job in Iceland, our narrator, now called Boulder by Samsa (I’m like those large, solitary rocks in southern Patagonia, pieces of a world left over after creation), goes with her. Boulder has no intention of being the housewife and gets a series of badly paid cook jobs but the pair manage to survive for several years. And then Samsa wants a baby. Boulder definitely does not want one but knows she will lose Samsa if she refuses. She struggles with the issue and then meets Anna. This is a fascinating portrayal of a single-minded woman who wants little out of life beyond, sex, alcohol and her own independence.

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