Category: War Page 1 of 2

Jens Bjørneboe: Frihetens øyeblikk (Moment of Freedom)

Latest on my website: Jens Bjørneboe‘s Frihetens øyeblikk (Moment of Freedom) This is a thoroughly grim account by a forty-six year old Norwegian, living in a remote Alpine part of Germany called Heiligenberg, who cannot remember his own name. He works in a menial position for a court and is writing a History of Bestiality while studying the court and the people of the region. He recounts some of the horrors of the past – the Nazis, the Soviets, the Belgian Congo. The people in Heiligenberg seem, on the face of it, to be ordinary decent bourgeois but are anything but. Mass murders are routine and our hero uncovers a guilty secret which shows that most of the town people are depraved. We also learn of his travels and early life, which have given him material for his History. From my life I can hardly remember anything but murder, war, concentration camps, torture, slavery, executions, bombed-out cities, and the half-burned bodies of children he tells us and all that feeds into his book.

Muhsin al-Ramli: حدائق الرئيةة (The President’s Gardens)

The latest addition to my website is Muhsin al-Ramli‘s حدائق الرئيةة (The President’s Gardens). The novel tells the stories of three close Iraqi male friends. At the beginning of the novel, in the village where htey live, nine crates are found, containing the severed heads of various villagers, including one of the three friends, Ibrahim. The book tells how w got there, with lots of violence as a result of the Iran-Iraq War, the the Gulf War, the interim period when Saddam sees enemies everywhere, the Iraq War and the aftermath of that war. The three friends and we see a huge amount of violence as a direct result of the wars and of Saddam Hussein’s butchery. Al-Ramli spares us no details. We learn why Ibrahim was murdered, the origins of one of the three friends, Abdullah, a foundling, and what the President’s Gardens had to do with the story which, despite the beautiful gardens, turn out to be no prettier than the rest of the book. Al-Ramli left Iraq for Madrid in 1995. This book shows why he and many other Iraqis went into exile.

Najwa Bin Shatwan: الطليانوج حياة خاصة (Catalogue of a Private Life)

The latest addition to my website is Najwa Bin Shatwan‘s (Catalogue of a Private Life). This is a collection of eight stories from Libya. Some are serious, but most are satirical, absurd and/or surrealistic, telling of the grim situation in Libya and the repression of the people, particularly the women. We have a cow that is a giant missile, a village which can travel round the world, a fuel queue from Tripoli to Tunis, and a general with a lot of weapons but no army but also girls who are never allowed to leave their home and a woman who is told she should be forbidden from entering all seven levels of heaven because she was not wearing a hijab. Bin Shatwan tells her stories very well and they are well worth reading.

Maryse Condé: En attendant la montée des eaux (Waiting for the Waters to Rise)

The latest addition to my website is Maryse Condé‘s En attendant la montée des eaux (Waiting for the Waters to Rise). We follow the story of Babakar, a doctor, son of a Malian father and Guadeloupean mother. He is born in Mali, educated in Montreal, returns to Africa (a fictitious country, a neighbour of Mali) where he experiences civil war, the loss of his wife, imprisonment and lots of violence. He flees to Guadeloupe, living a fairly solitary life but (illegally) adopts a baby girl whose Haitian mother has just died in childbirth and whose partner, Movar, is committed to finding the baby’s roots. So off they go to Haiti where life is even grimmer than in Africa and everyone – Babakar, Movar, the baby’s family, various political leaders and others – are caught up in violence, corruption, hurricanes and earthquakes. It is a grim tale but Condé tells it well and we cannot help but pity the innocent caught up in all the mayhem.

Hamid Ismailov: Manaschi

The latest addition to my website is Hamid Ismailov‘s Manaschi. This is another highly colourful book from Hamid Ismailov. The basis of the book is the Kyrgyz national epic Manas. (A manaschi is a reciter of the legend, which is primarily oral.) Baisal, a manaschi, has just died and his his foster-son Bekesh, returns to his village, now on the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border. Bekesh meets his nephew Dapan, who can also recite the Manas and Tumor, Baisal’s eagle. However, there is soon conflict, between the Islamists and those that favour the Manas legend. Things get worse when the Chinese move in to construct a road through the mountains. Some of the events are paralleled in the Manas legend (the Chinese were Manas’ main enemy). Gradually, the curse of the manaschis and the clash between the various sides gets out of hand. Hamid Ismailov is a wonderful story-teller and this book very much confirms that.

Miljenko Jergović: Rod (Kin)

The latest addition to my website is Miljenko Jergović‘s Rod (Kin). This is an 800-page family novel, as the author calls it, but do not let that put you off. It is essentially the stories (mini-novels) of, primarily, his mother’s family, going back to the beginning of the twentieth century but also of his extended family, friends and neighbours, set over a hundred years, ending in 2012 with his mother’s death. We cover a large range of languages, ethnic groups, a few religions, plenty of divergent political views, different overlords and, of course, a few wars. The author tells his story up to the death of his mother in 2012 (he had moved to Zagreb, she was still in Sarajevo). The key event in her life was the death of her brother, Mladen, who died when she was seventeen months old, killed while fighting for the Germans. Her mother never forgave her for living while Mladen died and she, too, was far from a perfect mother. Above all, however, Jergović tells us a host of mini-novels, some funny, some sad, some involving famous people, but many involving ordinary people but all fascinating, colourful and highly imaginative.

Sonallah Ibrahim: االلجن وردة (Warda)

The latest addition to my website is Sonallah Ibrahim‘s االلجن وردة (Warda). This tells the story of Rushdy, a left-wing Egyptian, who has spent time in prison for his political activities. When younger he had met and fallen for Shahla. She and her brother went off to Oman to fight in the Dhofar Rebellion, and Shahla, taking the name Warda (meaning Rose), leads a guerilla troop. Rushdy, visiting, some thirty years later, a cousin who is living in Oman, is determined to track down Warda who seems to have disappeared. He gradually gets hold of her diaries and we follow her troop and her views on the left-wing political events of the day, with Warda and her comrades convinced that the triumphant march forward will bring liberation for the Arab peoples. Meanwhile Rushdy is finding contemporary(i.e. 1992) politics are more complicated than he realised as he travels round Oman looking for Warda. Lost love meets politics in a fine novel.

Raül Garrigasait: Els estranys (The Others)

The latest addition to my website is Raül Garrigasait‘s Els estranys (The Others). The narrator is to translate the memoirs of Felix Lichnowsky, a Prussian army officer who fought in the Carlist wars in the mid nineteenth century. In his research, he come across the papers of Rudolf von Wielemann who was also there. Von Wielemann is an indolent Prussian who is sent by his father to Spain to help the Carlists and prove himself but when he gets there,he finds there is no role for him. He is left in Solsona when the army retreats and we follow both his stay in the battered but more or less deserted city as well as the comments on the situation by the narrator and his friend. In particular we see the conflict between Prussian order and Catalan disorder. Garrigasait uses a judicious mix of ribald humour and serious discussion to produce a first-class story.

Agustín Fernández Mallo: Trilogía de la guerra (The Things We’ve Seen)

The latest addition to my website is Agustín Fernández Mallo‘s Trilogía de la guerra (The Things We’ve Seen). As the Spanish title tells us this is a three-part novel, but published in a single volume in English. It is a novel in the style of W G Sebald. The first part is about a writer who goes to a conference on the Island of San Simón in the Vigo estuary but he is more interested in the fact that the island was a prisoner-of-war camp in the Spanish Civil War than in the conference. He goes to New York, where he is able to learn more about a prisoner in the camp. The second book is the story of Kurt Montana, the fourth astronaut on the first Apollo moon mission. Apart from his redacted moon mission, the rest of his life has been less than successful. The final story is by the girlfriend of the narrator of the first book. He seems to have disappeared after the conference – she does not know he has gone to New York – so she heads to Honfleur to visit parts of Normandy they had visited together and ruminate on a host of issues à la Sebald. The three stories are linked, often in unexpected ways but, above all, this novel is full of fascinating ideas, plot twists and ruminations on a variety of topics.

Artem Chekh: Точка нуль (Absolute Zero)


The latest addition to my website is Artem Chekh‘s Точка нуль (Absolute Zero). This is an account of Chekh’s time serving in the Ukrainian army during the War in Donbass when separatists, aided by Russia, tried to take over Eastern Ukraine. Though we do not see any actual fighting, the men are always ready and scared of snipers. Much of the account is how the soldiers coped with the hard life, how they adapted to it (or, in few cases, did not), corruption and incompetence in the upper ranks, how they felt that they could never win and the comradeship that developed between men of different social classes and from different parts of the country. Chekh tells his story well – it never gets boring – and we can only feel with the men that their task is futile.

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