Category: War Page 1 of 2

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.

Miljenko Jergović: Buick Riviera [Buick Riviera]

The latest addition to my website is Miljenko Jergović‘s Buick Riviera [Buick Riviera]. Hassan is a mild-mannered low key Bosnian Muslim who fled Bosnia as the war was starting and is now in Toledo, Oregon, married to Angela, a German actress. He is devoted to his Buick Rivera, which Angela cannot stand. She works in Salem and normally gets a lift but he offers to pick her up. It is snowing and he skids into a ditch. He is rescued by Vouko, a fellow Bosnian but a Serb who, as we learn but Hassan does not, is a war criminal. Vouko is also loud-mouthed, aggressive and is currently leaving his American wife, after having killed her puppy for defecating in his slipper. When Vouko turns up in Toledo, having found Hassan’s lost wallet, the two men clash and both men make separate, major, irrational, life-changing decisions. Culture clash, how we carry our culture with us wherever we go and, ultimately, how people can make rash decisions that have huge repercussions on their lives are the theme of this interesting but occasionally disturbing book.

Fowzia Karimi – Above Us the Milky Way

The latest addition to my website is Fowzia Karim‘s Above Us the Milky Way. Fowzia Karimi and her family – parents and five daughters – left Afghanistan in 1980 after the Soviet invasion and settled in California. This is their story – how and why they left, the problems of exile and reports of the continuing horrors they left behind. But Karimi is an artist by profession and this story is told by an artist as well as by one of the daughters. She illustrates it herself, both with her own paintings and family photos, but also with her words describing in a poetic/artistic way the joys of pre-Soviet Afghanistan and their family life. Indeed, they are such a close-knit family that she often describes the five sisters as one, even though all five have their own personalities. The book is divided into twenty-six sections, one for each letter of the alphabet, with appropriate themes from Afghanistan (for A) to Zenith (for Z), though her approach is more kaleidoscopic, jumping around with her images, both visual and verbal and her telling of the story in a non-chronological way. The result is a beautiful book, a story of the horrors of war and exile but not by any means a conventional one.

W V Tilsley: Other Ranks

A few years go I read W V Tilsley‘s Other Ranks. This is an account of a soldier in Word War I. It was originally published in 1931 and never republished. It was very hard (if not almost impossible) to find a copy. As a result of my review, I was contacted by a lady who was related to Tilsley by marriage. She was determined to get the book published and worked very hard to do so. I am happy to report that it has now been republished and you can get it direct from the publisher, Unicorn Publishing. Their website says of them Unicorn Publishing Group LLP is a leading independent publisher with three distinct imprints: Unicorn, specialising in the visual arts and cultural history; Uniform, specialising in military history; and Universe, specialising in historical fiction. I would highly recommend this book, particularly if you are interested in accounts of war, World War I or simply good writing. Hopefully the book will now become better known.

Mo Yan: 红高粱家族 (Red Sorghum)

The latest addition to my website is Mo Yan‘s 红高粱家族 (Red Sorghum). This is a very colourful novel, set in Mo Yan’s home town, from the late 1920s to the late 1940s. Much of the story tells of the various groups fighting the Japanese, led by the narrator’s grandfather. While they do put up a good fight, despite inferior weaponry, they spend almost as much time fighting rival Chinese groups, though the three groups do combine when faced by the Japanese. We also a lot about about the narrator’s grandmother, a strong-minded woman, widowed three days after marriage (though glad of it). Grandma and grandfather have a lively marriage, with ups and downs, while grandfather becomes something of a bandit, but a good bandit, of course. Mo Yan tells an exciting, action-packed story, which was made into a highly successful film.

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