The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Hiob (Job, the Story of a Simple Man). This is a modern (late 19th/early20th century) updating of the story of the Biblical Job, whom God made suffer, in order to test him. Our Job is Mendel Singer, a Russian Jew, living in Zuchnow, a fictitious town in Tsarist Russia. He is married with four children. His youngest is handicapped. Things get worse when his two eldest sons are called up the army, with one fleeing and escaping to the US, and his daughter has a Cossack boyfriend. The son who escaped pays for his parents and sister to join him in the US and things start to look up, when more afflictions fall on Mendel and he ends up wanting to burn God. He eventually adapts and moves on but he does have his fair share of suffering.
The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Radetzkymarsch (The Radetzky March). This is a superb novel, following the downfall of Austria from its defeat at the Battle of Solferino in 1859 to the death of Emperor Franz Joseph I, who led his troops at Solferino, and who lived till 1916. Along with the downfall of Austria, we follow the rise and downfall of the Trotta family. Lieutenant Joseph Trotta is known as the Hero of Solferino, as he saved Franz Joseph’s life and is amply rewarded. He, his son and his grandson benefit from this, all three meeting the Emperor, but Carl Joseph, the grandson, even with these advantages, like his country, gradually slides down the slope and for all three – Austria, Carl Joseph and the Emperor – it does not end well.
The latest addition to my website is Joseph Roth‘s Hotel Savoy (Hotel Savoy). It tells the story of Gabriel Dan who, in 1919, is returning from three years in a prisoner-of-war camp in Russia. The novel is set entirely in the now Polish town of Łódź which is facing something of an upheaval – loss of German population, numerous returning soldiers passing through and economic disruption. Gabriel stays at the Hotel Savoy, which becomes a microcosm for society, with the poor staying in cramped quarters on the upper floors and the rich enjoying themselves downstairs. We see the city and its problems though Gabriel’s eyes as he tries to survive. His rich uncle offers no help but he manages to earn some money but is less successful with Stasia, the dancer who lives above him. However, a crisis is building up, caused particularly by labour agitation and the wise seek to move on. Roth tells the story very well as we get a wonderful portrait of post-World War I Eastern Europe through Gabriel’s eyes.
The latest addition to my website is Georges Perec‘s L’Attentat de Sarajevo [The Sarajevo Assassination]. This is Perec’s first (written) novel. It was believed lost and only found and published well after his death. It was based on his friendship in Paris with a group of Yugoslavs. The narrator becomes friendly with a Yugoslav, Branko, in Paris but, when he sees a photo of Branko’s mistress, Mila, he is smitten. When she comes to Paris he sees her for a while but she returns to Yugoslavia. When she writes to him saying that she would like to see him, he is off to Belgrade in a few days. Branko lives in Sarajevo with his wife, Anna, but comes up to Belgrade as the two men struggle for the affection of Mila. Then, when our hero visits Sarajevo, he comes up with a plan to get Anna to shoot her husband out of jealousy. At the same time, we are following a theory about that other assassination in Sarajevo. It is not a great book and it is easy to see why he had difficulty getting it published but still an interesting idea.
The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s A zendülők (The Rebels). The book is set in May 1918. Four young men have just finished school and are waiting to join the army. They formed a gang at school which, initially, was just an anti-teacher and anti-parent gang but has become more sinister. They steal on a fairly large scale, primarily from their parents. Indeed, they steal so much, they have to rent a place to store it. When an itinerant actor becomes close to them and they realise that the fathers of two of them returning from the war, will discover the thefts, things take a turn for the worse. Márai tells a superb story of relationships, superficially smooth, but with hidden issues, partially class-based, and how rebellion is not always straightforward.
The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Dom dzienny, dom nocny (House of Day, House of Night). The novel is set in the Polish town of Nowa Ruda, south-west Poland (Tokarczuk lives in a nearby village). It used to be in Germany but became Polish after the war. It is on the Czech border. The female narrator tells stories of herself, her neighbours, the other inhabitants and people who visit the town, including the German occupiers in the war. We go back to the local saint Wilgefortis aka Kümmernis, who had a woman’s body but the face of Christ (with beard) and the two world wars and up to around 1980. Most of the inhabitants are somewhat eccentric. However, we are not spared the horrors of wars and multiple deaths. All the stories are highly imaginative and original, with mystery and otherworldliness hanging over them. It is another first-class work from Tokarczuk.
The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Prawiek i inne czasy (Primeval and Other Times). This is the second of Tokarczuk’s novels published in English. It tells the story of a quasi-mythological village in Poland called Primeval. The village has fairly precise geographical coordinates but does not exist in real life. We follow the Niebieski family and their relatives from 1914 to approximately 1980. In some cases we get realistic accounts, e.g. of the two world wars and their effect on the village, and in other cases, Tokarczuk uses fantasy or magic realism to show other aspects of the village, in the way that Gabriel García Márquez does in Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years Of Solitude). The whole story mirrors the suffering that Poland has experienced during the period, from the two world wars to Communism and its corruptions. It is a superb introduction to Tokarczuk’s work.
A few years go I read W V Tilsley‘s Other Ranks. This is an account of a soldier in Word War I. It was originally published in 1931 and never republished. It was very hard (if not almost impossible) to find a copy. As a result of my review, I was contacted by a lady who was related to Tilsley by marriage. She was determined to get the book published and worked very hard to do so. I am happy to report that it has now been republished and you can get it direct from the publisher, Unicorn Publishing. Their website says of them Unicorn Publishing Group LLP is a leading independent publisher with three distinct imprints: Unicorn, specialising in the visual arts and cultural history; Uniform, specialising in military history; and Universe, specialising in historical fiction. I would highly recommend this book, particularly if you are interested in accounts of war, World War I or simply good writing. Hopefully the book will now become better known.
The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Mendoza‘s La verdad sobre el caso Savolta (The Truth about the Savolta Case). This novel, Mendoza’s first, is set in Barcelona between 1917 and 1920. The eponymous Savolta is the name of a family and the Barcelona armaments factory they own. Paul-André Lepprince, a seemingly rich and elegant Frenchman arrives in Barcelona at the beginning if the War and is soon given a senior position in the firm. Our hero, Javier Miranda, who works as a legal assistant, is detailed to assist Lepprince and soon becomes embroiled in Lepprince’s efforts to control striking workers. When the other senior managers of the firm are murdered, apparently by anarchists, Miranda is even more embroiled and is suspected by Inspector Vázquez. We know from the beginning that he somehow gets out and emigrates to the United States but there is a long and complicated plot before we find out the details of what really happened. The book has been translated into English but is currently out of print.
The latest addition to my website is Józef Wittlin‘s Sól ziemi (The Salt of the Earth). This was originally published in 1935 and originally published in English in 1939 but this is a new translation. It is a World War I novel, part-mocking, part-serious. It is also the first part of a trilogy but only the first section of the second book remains, the others having been lost during World War II. We follow Piotr Niewiadomski, an illiterate, half-Polish, half-Hutsul railway worker. When World War I breaks out (we see Franz Josef signing the order), he is first promoted to acting signalman and then called up into the army. Because the Russians might be breaking through, he and his fellow conscripts are shipped off to Hungary, where we follow their hard life in a garrison (next door to the abattoir and cemetery). The first part is more mocking, both the people the area where Piotr lives but also the preparations for war, while the second part is more serious, with criticism of the cruelty of the officers and NCOs. Wittlin is clearly anti-war and puts over his point of view well but it is a pity that we do not see the men in action.