The latest addition to my website is Chloe Aridjis‘ Sea Monsters. It tells the story of Luisa, a seventeen year old Mexican girl in 1988. She has no siblings and few friends. She is not close to her parents, who have their own preoccupations. She is not particularly interested in her school work or her future. She comes across Tomás, who has dropped out of school, and gradually they become closer. She reads about a troupe of Ukrainian dwarves who have defected from a Soviet circus troupe in Oaxaca and persuades Tomás that they should run away and go looking for the dwarves, so they head off to Zipolite. The second part of the book tells of her time there – she and Tomas drift apart – as she meets the mysterious Merman, thinks she sees the dwarves and has fantasies about the sea and about the dwarves. It is all about a young woman trying to find who she is and where she is going and what life holds for her.
The latest addition to my website is Dawn Powell‘s The Locusts Have No King. This is a love story, about the many vicissitudes in the love life of Frederick Olliver, a struggling but very serious writer, and Lyle Gaynor, a married and successful playwright (with the plays written jointly with her invalid, sexually incapable husband). We follow their love life, and their relationships with others, while, at the same time, Powell satirises all and sundry, from the New York social scene to the intellectuals, the artists, the journalist and advertising men, the gossipers, the ambitious arrivals from the sticks (specifically Baltimore in this case) and anyone else who falls under Powell’s scrutiny. It is an enjoyable read but not her greatest novel,
The latest addition to my website is Rabeah Ghaffari‘s To Keep the Sun Alive. This novel has two related stories. The first tells of an extended family in Iran before the 1979 Iranian Revolution and as the revolution unfolds. The various members have different views on the political situation, from the liberal to the religious right and, when the revolution breaks out, take different sides. Ghaffari is clearly against the religious right and shows some of the nasty things they do but she also shows some of the nasty things done by both the Shah’s regime and by foreigners, particularly, in this case, the US, UK and Belgium. We also follow the story of one of the family members more than thirty years after the revolution, who is now in exile in Paris and struggling to get by. Ghaffari tells her story very well, enhanced by the story of the Shazdehpoor, the man in exile in Paris, as he seems unable to fit in anywhere.
The latest addition to my website is Jana Beňová‘s Preč! Preč! (Away! Away!). This is a short, post-modernist and bitty novel about a Slovak woman, Rosa, who wants away: away from her current boyfriend, away from wherever she happens to be and away from her job(s). She has a boyfriend, Son, whom she lives with but, one morning, she is off with Corman, leaving not only Son but Slovakia, as they head to Austria. Corman does not last long as she comes across a puppet show and Pierre, the puppet master also wants away. But she goes back to Son – for a while. She and Son also travel together, where they meet her uncle whom she had last seen in the United States but he has moved away. As with his niece, the move does not make him happy. Rosa is never really content wherever she is, whoever she is with. She quite simply does not fit in – anywhere. The book ends with the words Where are you going? Where to?, which sums it up. It is an interesting tale but does jump around a bit.
The latest addition to my website is Yolanda Oreamuno‘s La ruta de su evasión [The Route of Her Escape]. This is a superb Costa Rican feminist novel, Oreamuno’s only published novel. It tells the story of the Mendoza family: Don Vasco, the cruel paterfamilias, his long-suffering and now dying wife, Teresa, and their three sons, Roberto, Gabriel and Alvaro. Don Vasco has consistently bullied and abused Teresa. Roberto gets Cristina pregnant and marries her but tells her that he does not love her and he has no affection for her. She dies in childbirth, having gone to the hospital on her own. Gabriel has two girlfriends, one of whom is under the control of her also bullying father, who rejects Gabriel, and the other one who is a victim of Gabriel, as the other women in this book are victims. Poor Alvaro cannot cope with his life or his family and just stays in his bedroom masturbating. Oreamuno paints a grim picture of male dominance, male bullying and men’s idea that they are inherently superior to women. Sadly, this novel has not been translated into English or any other language.
The latest addition to my website is Dubravka Ugrešić‘s Muzej bezuvjetne predaje (The Museum of Unconditional Surrender). This is another first-class novel from Ugrešić about her favourite topics: exile, the break-up of Yugoslavia and its consequences, her mother, a sense of community with other Slavs, language and memories. We get a lot of stories, in particular about her mother, herself an exile (from Bulgaria) but also about friends, fellow exiles, artists and herself. As she tells us at the beginning of the novel, the novel might appear bitty but it all joins together if you stick with it. We follow her wanderings, her meetings with writers and artists and what it means to lose your country and getting lost in another one.
The latest addition to my website is Daša Drndić‘s Doppelgänger. This book actually has two novellas: Doppelgänger and Pupi. Doppelgänger is about an elderly couple who meet on New Year’s Eve 1999 (actually at 4 a..m. on New Year’s Day). Both are widowed and both incontinent. We learn about them – thirty-six members of Isabella’s family were murdered in the Holocaust and she loves chocolate, Artur was in the Yugoslav Navy and collects hats. They have fumbling sex but things do not turn out well.
The life of Pupi, the eponymous protagonist of the second story, also does not turn out well. He has retired on a meagre pension at age 50, a former chemist and not very good secret agent. He lives with his parents but, when they die, his brother throws him out and things go downhill, as he become mentally unstable. Though grim Drndić throws in plenty of humour and absurdity and both stories work very well. Things do not turn out well for the rhinoceroses in the zoo, either.
The latest addition to my website is Dawn Powell‘s A Time to Be Born. This is was Powell’s first commercially successful novel and it is easy to see why, as it is a wicked satire on New York society when war was raging in Europe but before the US had entered the war. There are two heroines, both from Lakeville, Ohio. Amanda Keeler has come to New York to promote her novel and has managed to snare successful publisher and newspaper owner, Julian Evans and has used her marriage to him to promote her novel and by writing articles, though as we soon find out, her role both in writing her articles and second novel is limited. She soon denies Julian sex and has a relationship with her former boyfriend and then a Hemingway-like journalist and novelist. Also from Lakeville is the more naive Vicky Haven, Amanda’s protégée, who gets caught up in Amanda’s plotting while trying to make a life of her own after failing in Lakeville. Powell satirises virtually everybody in this book – high and low – which makes it great fun to read
The latest addition to my website is Rita Indiana‘s La mucama de Omicunlé (Tentacle). This is a wonderful post-apocalyptic novel from the Dominican Republic, set both a short time into the future and but also, partially, in the seventeenth century. Acilde Figueroa, a woman, goes from being a pretend male prostitute, to being a maid for a Santeria priestess to becoming a man, and a man who may be be able to go back in time and save the world from an ecological disaster. The Servants of the Apocalypse, the Chosen One, performance art, an underwater god called Olokun, pirates, invading Spaniards, President Said Bona, with his voice like Balaguer’s and face like Malcolm X, video art, fishing and its difficulties, rare engravings about buccaneer life in the seventeenth century and, of course, quite a bit of sex, murder and mayhem, are all grist to Indiana’s mill.
The latest addition to my website is A L Kennedy‘s The Little Snake, a children’s fable for adults, in the style of Le petit prince (The Little Prince). The eponymous little snake is both the Angel of Death (at least where nasty cruel rich and powerful people are concerned) and a friend to the very good, such as our heroine Mary, whom we and the snake first meet as a young girl. Mary lives in a divided city, with the very rich and very poor. During the course of the book, things get worse, but the snake, when not killing the rich and powerful, helps Mary and her family, who eventually have to leave the city, with conditions having deteriorated so much. It is an amusing fable and a good read for both children and adults, not mawkish or trite and not averse to making its political point.