Category: Women Page 1 of 30

Ingeborg Drewitz: Eis auf der Elbe [Ice on the Elbe]

The latest addition to my website is Ingeborg Drewitz‘s Eis auf der Elbe [Ice on the Elbe]. An unnamed West Berlin woman keeps a diary (in 1981) about her not entirely happy life. She is a lawyer and sees the unpleasant side of life – refugee women who are struggling, for example, but she is also defending a (male) murderer. She has three adult daughters whose lives are not always perfect, particularly her eldest Christine, whose husband is a drunk who hits her. Our narrator is not particularly fond of her controlling husband Heinrich, though looks after him when he has cancer. She does not like the weather, the traffic, the crime. The only thing she does enjoy is the monthly lunch she prepares for her daughters and their families. She looks back at the war, when her father was killed and their house burned down. She wonders how the young generation cope with the guilt of being German. But, as the title implies, life is always cold.

Pat Barker: The Women of Troy

The latest addition to my website is Pat Barker‘s The Women of Troy. This follows on from Barker’s previous novel, The Silence of the Girls, where we followed the story of Briseis, a captured royal who became Achilles’ trophy. At the beginning of this novel, Achilles, rightly fearing his impending death, marries her off to Alcimus. The events in this novel takes place after the events described in The Iliad, starting with the Wooden Horse and the fall of Troy, with the focus on what happens to Briseis and the other Trojan women after the fall. We see the men drinking, holding games and having rough sex with the women, while the women suffer, burying (or, in the case of King Priam, trying to bury) the dead, tending the sick and trying to survive. As always in war and its aftermath, it is, as Barker clearly shows, the women who are the greatest victims.

Amélie Nothomb: Premier sang [First Blood]

The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Premier sang [First Blood]. The book starts with a man facing a firing squad and moves to his childhood in an unconventional Belgian aristocratic family. We gradually realise that it is, in fact, the story of Nothomb’s father, Patrick, a diplomat who served in the former Belgian Congo where he did, indeed, face a a firing squad. Patrick died last year (2020) so presumably Nothomb had to wait till he died to reveal some of his secrets or, perhaps, her imagined secrets, though the account is generally a very sympathetic one.

Almudena Grandes: Los aires difíciles (The Wind from the East)

The latest addition to my website is Almudena Grandes Los aires difíciles (The Wind from the East). Juan Olmero, a successful, unmarried orthopedic surgeon is moving from Madrid, with his his ten year old niece, Tamara, and his mentally handicapped brother, Alfonso to Jerez. Tamara’s parents have both died as the result of a car crash. We gradually learn that Juan has something of a past which is a key theme of the novel. Opposite the Olmeros is Sara Gómez, also unmarried, also from Madrid and also with something of a past, another key theme of the book. Can these two redeem themselves and their past by taking care of Tamara and Alfonso, as well as of their joint cleaner, Maribel and her son Andrés? And will the past come back to haunt them? Grandes tells a superb tale with a difficult moral conundrum.

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.

Sheng Keyi: 死亡賦格 (Death Fugue)

The latest addition to my website is Sheng Keyi‘s 死亡賦格 (Death Fugue). The novel is set in two fictitious countries – Dayang, clearly based on modern China, and Swan Valley, a seemingly idyllic country that becomes a sort of Brave New World. Our hero Mengliu was a successful poet and got involved in demonstrations against the authorities, prompted by the mysterious appearance of a huge pile of excrement in the main square, whose source the authorities tried to conceal. Eventually, the authorities crack down. Mengliu’s girlfriend,Qizi disappears and he becomes a surgeon but continues to look for Qizi, ending up in Swan Valley and seemingly unable to escape. This is a superb dystopian novel,complex and very well thought-out.

Rosa Maria Arquimbau: Quaranta anys perduts (Forty Lost Years)

The latest addition to my website is Rosa Maria Arquimbau‘s Quaranta anys perduts (Forty Lost Years). The novel tells the story of Laura Vidal, a Barcelona woman, from Francesc Macià declaring Catalan independence (14 April 1931) to 1971. She becomes a dressmaker and does reasonably well. However, the vicissitudes of life in Catalonia affect her, particularly the Spanish Civil War, when she flees the country for France, returning later. Above all, Laura is a feminist and independent woman and is not going to be told what to do, either by her family or men in general and steers her own path through the forty lost years. Arquimbau tells her tale well – Laura is clearly, at least to some degree, based on Arquimbau herself – even if she decides she has lost forty years.

Inga Abele: Paisums (High Tide)

The latest addition to my website is Inga Abele‘s Paisums (High Tide). Unusually, this story is told more or less in reverse order, i.e. it starts with our heroine, Ieva, as she is now, an independent woman, in love but finding this love an unneeded distraction and ends with her birth. We gradually learn of the decisions she makes in her earlier life and how they have affected who she is now and why. She has various problems to overcome – she is brought up by her grandparents and, indeed, her own daughter is brought up by Ieva’s mother. She marries a man to whom she is clearly unsuited – she is an intellectual, he is an anti-intellectual. He will end up in prison for murder and we only find out later why. She has an affair which goes wrong. She struggles with relationships and careers but, somehow, manages to pull through, ending (as we see at the start of the novel) as an independent woman who likes nothing better than to roam the woods. Abele gives us a complex portrait of a woman who may not always make the right choices but does manage to keep her head above water.

Lana Bastašić: Uhvati zeca (Catch the Rabbit)

The latest addition to my website is Lana Bastašić‘s Uhvati zeca (Catch the Rabbit). Sara is a Bosnian woman who has been living for some time in Dublin with her Irish boyfriend. One day, out of the blue, she gets a call from Lejla, her childhood friend, with whom she has had no contact for twelve years. Lejla wants her to drive her from Mostar (in Bosnia) to Vienna. Sara declines still she learns that Arnim is there. Arnim is Lejla’s brother who disappeared many years ago. The story revolves around both their drive but also their earlier life as friends. Lejla is a larger-than-life character, very much her own girl and then her own woman. Sara admires her, looks up to her but is afraid of her and feels threatened by her. Their relationship is very up and down and, indeed, when they reunite for the drive to Vienna, there is a lot of quarrelling. What makes this book is both the colourful relationship between the two but also the character of Lejla, a woman who carries her own story.

Mieko Kawakami: ヘヴン (Heaven)

The latest addition to my website is Mieko Kawakami‘s ヘヴン (Heaven). This story is about bullying but it is no Tom Brown’s School Days. Our unnamed narrator is a fourteen year old boy at the start of the novel. He has a lazy eye, is not particularly bright and not good at sports. He is frequently and viciously bullied by a group of boys, led by a boy who is taller, athletic, very bright and very popular. One day he starts receiving anonymous notes and, eventually, an invitation to meet. Fearing the worst, he goes but finds Kojima, a fellow pupil, who is bullied because she is often scruffy. The two become close, but not too close, allies in their victimhood. However, both Kojima and one of the bullies, whom our narrator challenges, give an unconventional view of he bullying. Kojima sees it primarily as a way to bring the two together and feels they are morally stronger than the bullies. However it is does not end well… Kawakami gives a first-class story with an unconventional look at bullying.

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