Hiromi Kawakami: ニシノユキヒコの恋と冒険 (UK: The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino; US: The Ten Loves of Nishino)

The latest addition to my website is Hiromi Kawakami‘s ニシノユキヒコの恋と冒険 (UK: The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino; US: The Ten Loves of Nishino). This is another clever novel from Kawakami about the complexity of love and relationships. Yukihiko Nishino has affairs with ten women in this book (though probably a lot more in actuality). Each one is slightly different but each has a few similarities. Firstly, the relationship does not last. For various reasons, usually because he finds someone else, he moves on, though sometimes not moving on till he is well into the relationship with the next woman. Secondly, he does seem devoted to each woman, proposing to several of them (they do not take his proposal seriously), even while, as we know and, in some cases, they know, there is another woman in the offing. Thirdly, even if their relationship is very brief, they do not forget him. He seems to have a profound effect on them, as is seen at his funeral. (We know, early on, that he is to die, as he appears as a ghost to one of his lovers.) Kawakami tells her tale her well, with each relationship different, despite the similarities, and each time we and the women ask, will this one last?

Igiaba Scego: Oltre Babilonia (Beyond Babylon)

The latest addition to my website is Igiaba Scego‘s Oltre Babilonia (Beyond Babylon). Scego is an Italian writer of Somali origin. This novel tells the stories of four women, Zuhra, daughter of Maryam and Elias (Zuhra she has never met Elias), Maryam, Mar, daughter of Miranda, an Argentinian woman now living in Italy, and an unknown Somali man, and Miranda, a published poet. Scego jumps around in time and place, as we follow the Italian occupation of Somalia, its independence and what went wrong later, the repression in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s, the story of Elias, Maryam’s husband who is now back in Somalia and who Zuhra has never met, and his parents as well as the journey Miranda, Mar and Zuhra make to Tunis to study classical Arabic, a key part of the novel, with each woman finding out something about herself. What makes this novel is a whole slew of colourful back stories, wonderful imagery and, above all, the fact that the four women. all happily freely and often wittily speak their minds on controversial issues (female genital mutilation, racism and sexism) and on less controversial issues (jobs, family, Peter Sellers). It is a first-class book – the second of Scego’s book to be translated into English – and one that deserves to have considerable success.

Ali Smith: Spring

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Spring. This is another superb novel from Smith in her four-seasons tetralogy. The key theme in this book is the harsh treatment meted out to refugees in the UK but there is much, more more to the novel. We follow two stories. Richard Lease is a TV director. He has not worked for a while and is asked to direct a sexed-up version of a novel which tells of Katherine Mansfield and Rainer Maria Rilke who apparently stayed in the same remote Swiss hotel at around the same time in 1922 but probably never met. Meanwhile his great friend and normal scriptwriter, Paddy Neal is dying and does die. He can take no more and heads off to Scotland, getting off at Kingussie. Also heading for Kingussie are Britt and Florence. Britt works for a security company in an Immigration Removal Centre, while Florence is a strange twelve-year old girl, who managed to get changes made at the Centre and has an unusual effect on most people she meets. Smith raises many themes, from grief to clouds, from women artists to Brexit, from dumbing down to the UK government austerity programme, all leading to another first-class work.

Dawn Powell: The Golden Spur

The latest addition to my website is Dawn Powell‘s The Golden Spur. This is another very witty novel from Powell – her final novel – set, of course in New York (in 1955), centred around a watering hole (the eponymous Golden Spur) and about a naive young man – Jonathan Jaimison – from the provinces (Ohio). His mother (now dead) had spent some time in New York more than twenty-five years ago, as a typist for various writers, and he has just learned from his aunt, his mother’s sister, that his mother returned from New York to marry Jonathan’s father, already pregnant. Jonathan’s mission in New York is to try and find his biological father. He soon has several candidates, based both on his mother’s friends but also his own preferences for a father. We follow his time in New York, his search for a father and his effect, invariably positive, on the various people he meets.

Pola Oloixarac: Las constelaciones oscuras (Dark Constellations)

The latest addition to my website is Pola Oloixarac‘s Las constelaciones oscuras (Dark Constellations). This novel tells the story of stunning scientific discoveries and inventions, in the field of botany, genetics and information technology, from 1882 to some time in the not too distant future. In all cases, the discoveries/inventions lead to a new way of looking at the world. In the present/near future, we follow Cassio, a top hacker who is involved in a project which allows governments in Latin America to track all individuals purely on the basis of their genetic imprint, a dangerous invention which Cassio finally realises. Oloixarac enthuses about these technological and scientific changes that she describe, while being less ready to point their harmful effects. Despite that, this really is an original and innovative novel.

Diamela Eltit: Vaca sagrada (Sacred Cow)

The latest addition to my website is Diamela Eltit‘s Vaca sagrada (Sacred Cow). This is a feminist, post-modern novel by a Chilean writer who stayed in Chile during the Pinochet regime. She tells the story of a woman who has two messy, violent relationships, with violence on both sides, showing indirectly, in the relationships, the violence that is going on in Chile under Pinochet. The unnamed and unreliable narrator, who may be also the same person as Francisca, a woman we first meet when bloody and bruised, struggles with life, with alcohol, with men, with getting a job and with sex. She feels totally insecure, unsure, ready to tell lies for no reason, and ready to get involved in messy relationships but finding them no escape. It is not an easy read but Eltit is clearly intent on showing women’s bodies as the battleground in what is going on in Chile and that is what she does.

Olga Grjasnowa: Gott ist nicht schüchtern (City of Jasmine)

The latest addition to my website is Olga Grjasnowa‘s Gott ist nicht schüchtern (City of Jasmine). Grjasnowa is an Azerbaijan-born German national, married to a Syrian. This novel primarily takes place during the recent Syrian Civil War. We follow the fate of three Syrians caught up in it. Hammoudi has studied medicine in Paris and briefly returned to Syria to visit his family and renew his passport. However, though his passport is renewed, he is not allowed to leave the country. Amal is the daughter of a rich man, who is studying drama. She is also demonstrating against the repression by the Assad Regime. She meets Youssef, a young director. Amal and Youssef both get arrested and later leave the country, though their troubles are far from over. Hammoudi works as a doctor in his home town of Deir ez-Zor, while under heavy attack from both the Syrian army and Isis, before escaping to Turkey and also having further problems as a refugee. It is a thoroughly grim novel but interesting to see the crisis from the perspective of the ordinary Syrian trying to survive.

Guzel Yakhina: Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha)

The latest addition to my website is Guzel Yakhina‘s Зулейха открывает глаза (Zuleikha). Zuleikha is a Tatar woman, married to an abusive husband, in the late 1920s. Her husband is determined that the Soviets will not have any of his food and he hides. When he is caught and objects, he is shot on the spot. Zuleikha and many other villagers are then sent off to Siberia as former kulaks. The journey is hard, not least because there is a huge backlog of kulaks and other undesirables being sent off to Siberia and they are delayed on their train journey. It is made harder when Zuleikha realises she is pregnant – her husband raped her the night before his death. She has already lost four daughters, all of whom died young, and she is determined to protect her first son. We follow the story of the prisoners, the commandant and, in particular, Zuleikha, from around 1930 to the end of World War II. As the Russian title (Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes) tells us, a good part (but certainly not the only part) is about how Zuleikha develops from being a submissive Muslim woman and abused wife to being someone more independent. Yakhina tells an excellent tale of life in a Siberian camp and of a woman who finds herself there.

Elif Shafak: Baba ve Piç (The Bastard of Istanbul)

The latest addition to my website is Elif Shafak‘s Baba ve Piç (The Bastard of Istanbul). This book tells the story of two families, one a Turkish family living in Istanbul and the other an Armenian family, living in the US, with most of their ancestors having been killed in the Armenian Genocide. Both families are dominated by women. Indeed, the Turkish one consists of four sisters, only one of whom, the youngest, has a child, a daughter, Aysa. We do not learn who her father is till the end of the book. The sisters had one brother, Mustafa, who emigrated to the United States and never returned. He married a divorced woman, Rose. Her ex-husband, who never remarried, is part of the Armenian family and their daughter Armanoush/Amy is very much involved in discussions of things Armenian, particularly the Genocide. Indeed, unbeknown to her family, she heads off to Istanbul, to try and track down her roots, staying with Aysa’s family. We learn that the Turks are almost completely ignorant of the Armenian Genocide, something the Armenians discuss all the time. Aysa and Amy, the younger generation, try to bring the two sides together and this issue is the key theme of the book. Indeed, Shafak was prosecuted for insulting Turkishness in this book because of her relatively sympathetic view of the Genocide.