The latest addition to my website is Katja Perat‘s Mazohistka (The Masochist). The novel is narrated by Nadezhda von Moser. She was found as a baby, abandoned, in a basket by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the man whom Richard von Krafft-Ebing named masochism after. Sacher-Masoch brought her up but he was neither a good father or husband. She meets the rich Maximilian von Moser and they marry and move to Vienna, where she meets famous people such as Freud (from whom she has treatment), Klimt and Mahler. She is not particularly impressed with any of them or, indeed, with her husband, ending up in Trieste where she meets Rilke and Joyce. It is a very clever,feminist novel, witty and cynical but also serious about sexism and the role of women and what we know to be the final period of the Hapsburg empire.
The latest addition to my website is Sara Lidman‘s Regnspiran (The Rain Bird). The novel tells the story of a small Swedish farming community at the very end of the nineteenth century. Egnor, a former womaniser and drinker but now a very devout fifty-year old Christian is married to Hanna. They had been trying for a child without success but now Linda arrives unexpectedly. Egnor feels he is too old to be a father. Hanna is torn between Egnor’s strict religious rules and her child and, once she is old enough, father and daughter clash. When Egnor dies, a death foretold by Linda, things get worse. It starts with Simon, a hard-working but not very bright boy, adopted by neighbours, and as Linda becomes a young woman, she brings disruption to the village, both intentionally and unintentionally. Lidman tells her story well, showing Linda as a complex character. Is she bad, out of her time or just self-willed?
The latest addition to my website is Marilynne Robinson‘s Jack. This is the fourth book in Robinson’s Gilead series. Unlike the others, none of it takes place in Gilead, Iowa, but is mainly set in St Louis. It goes back in time and tells the story of Jack Boughton and Della Miles, the outcome of which we learn of in Home. Jack is the black sheep of the family. He has been in prison (unjustly, he claims), drinks, cannot hold a job, steals and generally live the life of a down-and-out, a trial to his family. His father is a church minister. He meets Della, whose father is also a church minister. Della is black and, in those days, mixed relationship were frowned upon and cohabitation and marriage of mixed-race couples were illegal in some states, including Missouri. We follow Jack’s not always successful attempts to reform and Della’s not always successful attempts to help him, all the while knowing that she is upsetting her family and risking her job. If you read only this book, you will get the feeling that rather than a bad man, Jack is ultimately merely a weak man, unable to get his life on track. A good woman, which Della certainly is, should help but, as we know by the time of Home does not. This is superb book about a lost soul and his and Della’s attempt to save it.
The latest addition to my website is Vigdis Hjorth‘s Leve posthornet! (Long Live the Post-Horn). Ellinor, our narrator, is a thirty-five year old woman, who owns a small PR company with Dag and Rolf. She is already going through a bad patch, when she learns that Dag has suddenly quit, without warning. Soon after, he is found dead, possibly suicide. Her sister’s miscarriage does not help and nor does her mundane relationship with Stein, who also seems to be having his problems. However, she gradually takes over Dag’s project, helping the Post Office trade union oppose an EU directive which would open up the postal service to full private sector competition. She gradually gets more and more involved, seeing both the value of the postal service, particularly in a country with remote parts, and also the feeling that she is fighting for an important cause. Hjorth tells an excellent story of a woman who overcomes what she describes as her Sylvia Plath moment, to be saved by the Post Office.
The latest addition to my website is Claudia Hernández‘s Roza, tumba, quema (Slash and Burn). This novel is set in El Salvador before, during and after the Salvadoran Civil War. We follow a young woman, who has seen violence as a child and, once the war starts, is threatened with sexual violence. She joins her father in the guerrillas. When she gets pregnant – she was not aware that she was – and has a baby, the child is taken away from her. She ends up with five daughters and no husband by the end of the war and we follow her struggles to bring up her daughters, her successful attempt at finding her missing daughter and also the struggles of the daughters to survive in post-war El Salvador. Above all, we learn of the extensive violence in the country, mainly though not only against women. It is a grim but important novel about violence.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Summer. This is the final novel in Ali Smith’s Four Seasons tetralogy and is bang up to date with not only references to Brexit but to the Boris Johnson administration, coronavirus, lockdown and the wearing of masks and also George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. We follow several stories, starting with Grace, a former actress who is bringing up two children, an environmentally-conscious sixteen year old girl and a malicious Dominic Cummings-inspired thirteen year old boy. Her ex lives next door with his girlfriend. We follow these and several other stories as Smith looks at the bad (Brexit, coronavirus, detention of immigrants, the breakdown of language, the failure of relationships and environmental irresponsibility) and the good (art, nature, environmental responsibility, community spirit and successful relationships) This is the conclusion of what must be the finest British set of novels of the 21st century.
The latest addition to my website is Filomena Embaló‘s Tiara. This is apparently the first novel published by a Guinea-Bissau woman. It tells the story of Tiara, originally from the fictitious country of Porto Belo (presumably based on Guinea-Bissau). Because of a civil war, her family has to flee to Terra Branca (presumably based on Portugal). There she meets Gino and Kenum from Muriti, whose country is still fighting for independence. She will marry Kenum and join him in Muriti in the struggle. During an air raid she loses her baby and can no longer have children, but, after independence she works hard for the country, sometimes conflicting with local customs. e.g. when she opposes female genital mutilation. We follow her life with its many ups and downs, particularly the opposition of her parents-in-law. It is a well-told story of woman who stands up for herself but sadly it has not been translated into any other language. Thanks to Bookshy for bringing this to my attention.
The latest addition to my website is Yun Ko-eun‘s 밤의 여행자들 (The Disaster Tourist). Yona works for Jungle, a Korean disaster tourism company. When she has problems at work with her boss, she is sent to evaluate a project in Mui, Vietnam, which seems disappointing. However, on the return journey, she gets separated from her group and only returns to Mui with difficulty. She finds that a mysterious conglomerate is upgrading the project with real disasters and real dead bodies. Gradually, she finds that she is going to be more involved in this project that she expected or wants. Yun Ko-eun tells an excellent story, dealing with issues relevant to today about the needs of the community as a whole versus those who may be suffering.
The latest addition to my website is Ruxandra Cesereanu‘s Angelus (Angelus). Three angels arrive in Metropolis, the capital of Homeland. They seem harmless but they are also mute. What do they want? Even they do not know. The first part of the book is the reaction of all and sundry to them – politicians, religious leaders, business leaders, scientists and even the Devil and God. Cesereanu mocks them all but, at the same time shows how they try and use the angels for their own ends, be it politics, religion, money or to promote their world view. In the second part, they are released into the community and changes do take place but more because of how people react to them than because of anything they do. This is a thoroughly original novel, part mocking but part deadly serious, full of ideas and heading in directions you would never have guessed.
The latest addition to my website is Leylâ Erbil‘s Tuhaf Bir Kadın (A Strange Woman). This is a feminist novel about Nermin, who is nineteen in 1950 and struggles both to be independent and to be seen as an intelligent woman, rather than merely as a sex object. Her mother, old-fashioned, a strict Muslim, is her worst enemy. We follow her early struggles, the story of her father, a naval engineer, who is dying, her father’s funeral, where her mother is out of control, and her life as a left-wing activist, trying to help the poor but not succeeding with that or in her personal life. Erbil gives us a worthwhile account of the problems facing a feminist and someone with left-wing views in a still very traditional and conservative country.