The latest addition to my website is Minae Mizumura‘s 私小説 from left to right (An I-Novel). This book was written and published before her other two novels published in English and, unusually, contains lots of English words and is written horizontally (as the Japanese title tells us) and not vertically as is normal in Japanese. It is semi-autobiographical and tells of her family moving to the United States, when she was twelve. At the start of the novel, she and her sister note that they have been there twenty years. Minae, our narrator, is finishing her Ph.D. (in French) and plans to return to Japan after having done so, perhaps to write a novel. Much of the book is about exile. How you can you adapt to a foreign culture? Can you go home after so long away, as much will have changed? How can you maintain contact with your home culture when in a foreign culture? And how do you deal with the attitudes of the foreign culture to you and your culture? Like all exiles, the two sisters struggle with these issues and do not really resolve them.
The latest addition to my website is Tahi Saihate‘s 星か獣になる季節 (Astral Season Beastly Season). Two seventeen- year old boys are obsessed with a J-Pop star, attending all her concerts. When she is accused of murder, the two, who are in the same class but are polar opposites and have rarely spoken to one another before, get together to save her and they try to do this by one of them, Morishita, doing further killings so that the police will suspect him and not her while the other, Yamashiro, is reluctantly dragged in. The killing spree continues… The second part, set two years later, has three survivors reviewing the situation. It is a chilling and somewhat sinister book but superbly well told.
The latest addition to my website is Almudena Grandes‘ Las edades de Lulú (The Ages of Lulu). This is undoubtedly the most erotic/[pornographic novel I have ever read. Our eponymous heroine, Lulu, the seventh of nine children is essentially neglected by her parents and looks for love in all the wrong places, the wrong places being unlimited and hugely varied sex, prompted by a romp with her brother’s best friend, who is twelve years her senior and who, when she is fifteen, essentially sexually assaults her, albeit with her not unwilling consent. They will maintain a highly colourful and varied sexual relationship and have a daughter, till she moves away from him, and finds sex elsewhere, including on her own. It made a list of the 100 best novels in Spanish of the 21st century but did not really work for me.
The latest addition to my website is Wioletta Greg‘s Guguły (Swallowing Mercury). This is a delightful and poetical tale of a girl growing up in rural Poland, a village called Hektary, during the 1970s and 1980s. Despite the changes taking place in Poland at that time, these seem to have only minimal impact on Hektary. We follow the story of Wiola, a wilful and independent-minded girl for whom things often go wrong but she seems to generally take it in her stride, going her own way. Greg is poet and she writes the story with a poet’s eye, observing the details of the natural life of the village but also the customs and behaviour of the people, religious and yet superstitious, though living under a communist regime. We end as Wiola is becoming a woman and Poland is becoming free
The latest addition to my website is Ingeborg Drewitz‘s Gestern war heute [Yesterday Was Today]. The novel follows fifty-five years in the life of Gabriele, from her birth in 1923 to the birth of her granddaughter in 1978. Unlike her mother and previous generations of women in her family, Gabriele seeks far more independence but very much struggles with her own role, both as a teenager (teenage angst) and then later when she, too, becomes a wife and mother. While we are following her struggles and search for identity (as well as those of other women), we are also following events in Germany and the world, particularly the rise of the Nazis and World War II. As Gabriele and her family are in Berlin, they particularly suffer, even though Uncle Bruno is a Nazi. Above all, however, the focus is on Gabriele and her search for her own identity and role in the world.
The latest addition to my website is Suzanne Brøgger‘s Jadekatten (Jade Cat). This is the family saga of the Løvin family, a Danish-Jewish highly dysfunctional family. The focus is on the three later generations, with the first two generations having to cope with World War II, when Denmark was occupied by the Germans and the Jews had to flee, in this case to Sweden, with Katze, the non-Jewish matriarch staying behind with her daughter Li. They do survive the war but marital tension and infidelity, major parent-child disputes, mental health issues, poor decision-making regarding careers and finance and poor choice of partners/spouses result in continuous problems and disasters. Indeed, the entire family both the Løvins, their spouses and closest friends can be said to be thoroughly dysfunctional which means we never get bored and can only be grateful that, however bad our own family may be, it cannot be this bad.
The latest addition to my website is Anne Serre‘s Les Gouvernantes (The Governesses). This is very much a post-modern French fairy tale. The austere Austeur family engage three governesses, firstly to look after their four boys and secondly because M. Austeur wants a bit of chaos in his life, which he does not get from his staid wife. The three women certainly bring chaos. They are, essentially, forces of nature, likened to The Three Graces. They enjoy life, walking, romping around and, above all, sex. The local young men come round to the gate and fondle them. Any young man bold enough to enter the garden will find himself dragged into the wood and raped. Even when they take the four boys out they strip off, to the delight of the boys. But are they real? Their arrival and departure are mysterious, even though they seem very real, perhaps more than real while working for the Austeurs. Not your standard French fairy story.
The latest addition to my website is Sigrid Undset‘s Olav Audunssøn i Hestviken (The Axe (Part 1) The Snake Pit (Part 2); later: Olav Audunssøn. 1. Vows). This a new translation of the classic 1925 novel by the Nobel Prize winner, set in the late thirteenth century. Olav Audunssøn is fostered to a family when his father becomes ill and dies (his mother died in childbirth). He grows up with Ingunn, the oldest daughter of the family, about his age and they become friends and later lovers, having been promised to one another as children. It all goes wrong first when Ingunn’s parents dies and their next of kin have other plans for Ingunn and then Olav gets into a fight with one of Ingunn’s relatives and has to flee the country. With a troubled political situation things look bleak for true love. It is a first-class story and in an excellent new translation.
The latest addition to my website is Yan Ge‘s 异兽志 (Strange Beasts of China). The novel is narrated by a woman novelist and is set in Yong’an. The narrator is a writer and she writes about the strange and imaginary beasts that live in the city. These beasts generally look like humans and share many human characteristics but have their own idiosyncrasies. We have the sorrowful beast who can never smile, with the females able to mate with humans but the males unable to do so. There are the beasts that grow like plants but take human form, the beasts that can see a thousand years into the future and many more. Our narrator writes stories about each one but also gets involved with each one, sometimes emotionally, all the while having a love/hate relationship with her former zoology professor and gradually finding out that she, the professor and his assistant may not be quite who she thought they were. It is is a stunningly original and imaginative novel, whether you take the story literally or as symbolic of human foibles.
The latest addition to my website is Zsuzsa Selyem‘s Moszkvában esik (It’s Raining in Moscow). This is a series of interrelated stories concerning the Beczásy family, who were driven out of Armenia and settled in what was then Hungary, but in the last century changed hands three times and is now in Romania. Aided by various animals, who comment on both events and human foibles, we follow in particular the story of István Beczásy from his sexual initiation as a young man to the age of ninety-seven when he dictates his memories to his granddaughter. In particular, he and his family are driven out as enemies of people and settled in remote Romania. He is arrested and tortured but survives. Selyem does not hold back her hatred of the communist regimes and clearly has a strong affection for István, despite his faults, a man who loves plants and the land.