Category: Women Page 1 of 33

Najwa Barakat: مستر نون (Mister N)

The latest addition to my website is Najwa Barakat‘s مستر نون (Mister N). Mister N is a failed Lebanese writer who currently lives in a hotel, rarely leaving it. We gradually learn his story – horrors of the Lebanese Civil War, a mother he hated as she much preferred his older brother, Sa’id, now a successful businessman and a father who was a doctor, helping the poor and whom Mr N saw die. He has had two long-term relationships – the first dumped him and the second was with a Nepali prostitute whose pimp did not take kindly to him. One day he does leave the hotel (looking for a spare part for his toilet) and comes across Luhman. Luhman was a Civil War thug and murderer who died. More importantly, he was fictitious , a character in one of Mr. N’s books. Luhman keeps reappearing, his neighbours have serious mental health issues and he himself is increasingly unable to cope with life, language and people. Gradually we learn of his past and how he ended up in this hotel and who he and Luhman might really be. It is a splendid, complicated, colourful book.

Montserrat Roig: Ramona, adéu! (Goodbye, Ramona)

The latest addition to my website is Montserrat Roig‘s Ramona, adéu! (Goodbye, Ramona). The novel tells the story of three women, all called Ramona, from three successive generations. Ramona 1 lives in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century and feels her life as a wife and mother is boring. She almost has an affair to liven things up. Ramona 2 had an affair before marriage but it did not work out and now she is married to Francisco. She is very concerned when she thinks he might have been killed in a terrorist attack in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War but, later, she is not happy in her marriage. Ramona 3, living in the 60s, is more liberated but she has man trouble with her boyfriend Jordi and, like her forebears, feels patronised and unhappy with her family, with Barcelona and with her life. Roig makes her point clearly, that women in Catalonia (and obviously elsewhere) were expected to follow the marriage-motherhood path and do little else, even though they would have liked to have a more fulfilling life.

Mieko Kawakami: すべて真夜中の恋人たち (All the Lovers in the Night)

The latest addition to my website is Mieko Kawakami:‘s すべて真夜中の恋人たち (All the Lovers in the Night). Our heroine/narrator is Fuyuko Irie. She is a loner. We learn nothing about her parents and she seems to have no siblings. She has one (female) friend at school but they never meet outside school. After college, she becomes a proofreader for a publisher but has minimal contact with her colleagues. When offered a freelance proofreading job she takes it. Her only contact is with the lively Hijiri, who works for the publisher, and it is Hijiri who brings her out of herself somewhat. She even takes up drinking. She considers taking classes (that does not work out well) but she does meet a man, Mitsutsuka, a school physics teacher and they slowly start a platonic relationship But, ultimately, she says I’m all alone, I thought. I’d been on my own for ages, and I was convinced that there was no way I could be any more alone, but now I’d finally realized how alone I truly was.

Daša Drndić: Canzone di guerra

The latest addition to my website is Daša Drndić‘s Canzone di guerra. Our narrator is Tea Radan, a Croatian single mother who has emigrated to Çanada. In a series of sketches, she describes her life, bringing up a daughter as an émigré in Canada (of which she is very critical) but also a whole range of issues relating to Croatia and Yugoslavia, including the horrors of the Nazi occupation, the Holocaust, the Tito era and the post-Tito break-up of Yugoslavia. Her time in Canada is far from perfect. For Tea and other Yugoslav émigrés, many of whom are highly skilled graduates, getting an appropriate job because of language difficulties and recognition of Croatian/Yugoslav qualifications is almost impossible so they end up selling hot dogs or stuffing envelopes. She also finds that Canada has been very lax about former Nazis and carries out her own investigation. Using a mixture of wry humour, bitterness, a strong sense of what is right and wrong, a dogged persistence and a strong critical faculty, she gives is an excellent picture of the situation in her homeland and the life of an émigré.

Fernanda Melchor: Paradais (Paradais)

The latest addition to my website is Fernanda Melchor‘s Paradais (Paradais). The novel is set in an exclusive gated community in Mexico. The sixteen-year old Polo has dropped out of school but his mother has forced him to take a job at Paradais, where he has to clean up, garden and keep the place tidy, a job he hates almost as much as he hates his controlling mother and his pregnant cousin who lives with them. His only friend is Franco, whom he nicknames Fatboy, grandson of Paradais residents, who has also dropped out and provides cigarettes and alcohol. Fatboy lusts after one of the residents, Marian Marono, wife of a TV star, while Polo cannot wait to get away, for which he needs money. Both can be obtained from the Maronos home and Fatboy knows how to get in. Violence, crime, drugs, alcohol consumption and the huge disparity between rich and poor are all themes of this book, where no-one seem content and poverty and wealth clash.

Adelle Stripe & Lias Saoudi: Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure

The latest addition to my website is Adelle Stripe & Lias Saoudi‘s Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure. This book is a fictional biography and an alternative version of historic events about Fat White Family, a contemporary English rock/punk band. The book is told in the third person (presumably by Stripe) with first person commentary by Saoudi, the frontman of the band. Saoudi (Algerian father, English mother) started at art school but soon moved into music and, in particular, aggressive, punk with outrageous performances. We follow the rise of the band (with many hiccups on the way) and their thoroughly self-destructive nature (lots of alcohol and drugs, continual squabbling, lots of personnel changes, clashes with the authorities) . Whether you are interested in the Fat White Family or not, the book is certainly a fascinating account of a band that set out to shock and is clearly self-destructive, narcissistic, provocative, controversial and badly-behaved.

Lídia Jorge: O Vento Assobiando nas Gruas (The Wind Whistling in the Cranes)

The latest addition to my website is Lídia Jorge‘s Vento Assobiando nas Gruas (The Wind Whistling in the Cranes). The Leandro family have owned a canning factory in the Algarve since 1908 with a ten year gap from 1975 when it was given to the workers following the Carnation Revolution. The factory is no longer used as a factory but is the home of an extended Cape Verdean immigrant family, the Matos. The Leandro matriarch, Regina, somehow escapes from an ambulance and makes her way to the Factory where she dies. All her family are away except for Milene (thirty in years and fifteen in age according to her aunt). The plot revolves around Milene’s relationship with the Matos, her family wondering what to do about her and also their attempt to to take back the factory to sell it to a developer. Racism, drug dealing, corruption and shady deals all feature as Jorge tells us a long and complicated story.

Gerd Brantenberg: Egalias døtre (UK: The Daughters of Egalia ; US: Egalia’s Daughters)

The latest addition to my website is Gerd Brantenberg‘s Egalias døtre (UK: The Daughters of Egalia; US: Egalia’s Daughters). This novel is set in Egalia, a fictitious country which does not seem to resemble (as regards its geography and history) any country I know of. The key issue is that the traditional roles and stereotypes of male and female are completely reversed. Those men lucky enough to get a wife stay at home looking after the children and the house, while all the important work is done by woman, with unmarried men only doing unskilled labouring jobs. Men take their wife’s surname. When not looking after the children, men try to make themselves look beautiful for their wife. They wear blouses, skirts, and dresses, carry fancy handbags and also wear a peho (= penis holder), a fancy codpiece that draws attention to the genitals and is presumably the male equivalent in this book of the bra. In this society women are called wom (plural: wim) and men menwom (plural: menwim). Female is fele, while male is mafele. There are other similar changes.

We follow the story of Ruth Bram, who has an important, well-paid job, her husband (called housebound) Christopher and their children Petronius and Ba. After a third child is born Christopher is castrated. Petronius, aged sixteen, with a few friends and his unmarried male teacher, start a masculist movement , i.e. the equivalent of a feminist movement, for male liberation, to the disgust of his mother.

Whie Brantenberg makes some sensible and serious points about the respective role of the sexes, some of the book is quite amusing from womo sapiens to Ruth giving birth publicly , from Bloody Maurice forBloody Mary to men foolishly spending all their time gossiping, but it all shows how sexist we are.

Berit Ellingsen:The Empty City

The latest addition to my website is Berit Ellingsen‘s The Empty City. Ellingsen is of South Korean origin and writes in English. This novel tells the story of Brandon Minamato, of mixed origin living in a tower block in an unnamed city. He has a boring office job and tries to distract himself, first by extreme activities and then by urban exploration – the depths of the underground railway system, an abandoned psychiatric facility, where is attacked and elsewhere but, gradually, moves to living more and more in an imaginary world, a dream world, where he visits imaginary, fantastic places and has lucid dreams, ones where is able to change the dream even as he is dreaming it. Eventually, he imagines the city is empty and quits his boring office job. Clearly, Ellingsen is telling us, we need to move more and more away from our dull, routine life in the physical world and explore our inner consciousness.

Kjersti Skomsvold: Jo fortere jeg går, jo mindre er jeg (The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am)

The latest addition to my website is Kjersti Skomsvold‘s Jo fortere jeg går, jo mindre er jeg (The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am). Mathea Martisen, who is elderly but we are not sure how elderly, lives in a flat with her husband Epsilon. He is a professional statistician. She has never worked (except for one day). She is a loner. She has no friends, her relatives are all dead and she is pathologically shy. She spends much of the day watching TV but ruminates on life and on death. I’m just as afraid of living life as I am of dying. she says. She has no children (one false alarm) and her dog died because of her foolishness. When there are events she can attend, she either declines to do so or it does not work out well. Epsilon is something of a loner too though presumably has work colleagues and he does interact with people. Both seem to be obsessed with death – her favourite reading is the obituaries in the newspaper – and she in particular thinks about it often, including imagining that she might die alone in the flat with nobody discovering her body. The one major event in her life was being struck by lightning at school but she recovered. This is when she met Epsilon who asked her about the experience. There are certainly elements of humour in this story but, on the whole, we can only feel sorry for Mathea as she just cannot cope with life.

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