Ana Schnabl: Mojstrovina (The Masterpiece)

The latest addition to my website is Ana Schnabl‘s Mojstrovina (The Masterpiece). The novel is set primarily in 1985, five years after Tito’s death but with Slovenia still part of Yugoslavia and the communists in control. Adam, a university lecturer, has written a novel (called Masterpiece) which he has submitted to Ana, an editor at a major Slovenian publisher. She has obtained her position by agreeing to spy on potential dissidents for Sofia and Vitomil, a married couple working for the secret police. They now want her to spy on Adam but she and Adm (both married with children) start an affair. How will the novel, Sofia and Vitomil and, indeed the respective spouses affect the affair? Schnabl tells a superb story about a love affair made complicated, analysing it psychologically in some depth and also the complications the novel and Sofa and Vitomil bring to the situation.

Nabile Farès: La Découverte du nouveau monde (Discovery of the New World)

The latest addition to my website is Nabile FarèsLa Découverte du nouveau monde (Discovery of the New World). This is a trilogy of books first published French in the 1970s. Farès and his father were very much involved in the Algerian War of Independence but were very disappointed with the outcome, in particular the dictatorship that took over and the Arabisation of Algeria (at the expense of Berbers). Farès went into exile in France and these books (and other books he wrote) deal with these issues: exile, identity and leaving, French colonialism, the War of Independence and where it al went wrong. These are not particularly easy books to read – Farès plays around with language and often has an impressionistic or even Joycean/surrealist approach – but they are key works of Algerian literature and it is good that they are finally available in English and well worth reading.

Vladimir Sharov: Будьте как дети (Be As Children)

The latest addition to my website is Vladimir Sharov‘s Будьте как дети (Be As Children) . This is the third of Sharov’s novels to be translated into English and, in my view, the best. There are three main stories (and several sub-stories): the story of a noble woman who becomes a a Holy Fool, a bandit who sees the light and becomes the religious guide to a Siberian tribe and the story of Lenin’s last days when, following two strokes, he becomes more childlike and more interested in the role of children and starts to consider them as the only true proletariat. These and other stories all link and go off on tangents as we follow the idea of sin and innocence, innocence being represented by children, and the deeper and more fascinating byways of Russian history, including its Christianity, its non-Slavonic tribes and its wilderness. It is a wonderfully long, complex and thoroughly original novel and a first-class read.

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Sara Stridsberg: Kärlekens Antarktis (Antarctica of Love)

The latest addition to my website is Sara Stridsberg‘s . This is one of those novels where the narrator is dead. Kristine, drug addict and prostitute, but also mother, sister and daughter, struggles with her life – both parents are drunks and her adored younger brother drowns when he was seven. Her only escape is heroin and when she is joined by Shane, father of her two children, things do not improve. They give up their daughter after her birth and their son is taken away and fostered. When the murderer finally comes, she is almost expecting him and not too sad about dying. She tells the story of her life but also watches her children, her parents and the murderer for quite a long while after her death. It is a very sad tale – no-one is happy – but superbly told.

Mario Bellatin: Salón de belleza (Beauty Salon)/Poeta ciego [Blind Poet]

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The latest addition to my website are two stories by Mario Bellatin. The first is a new translation of Salón de belleza (Beauty Salon) and the second an untranslated work Poeta ciego [Blind Poet]. The first tells of a beauty salon for women run by three cross-dressing, gay men. When an AIDS-like pandemic breaks out the owner converts it into a hospice/mortuary where seriously ill men (and only men) can come to die. However, all the time – both as a beauty salon and as a hospice/mortuary – he remains obsessed with his aquarium fish. And then he gets symptoms of the disease.

Poeta ciego [Blind Poet] tells of a blind poet who inherits a lot of money and founds a bizarre sect, apparently (according to the author) based on the Peruvian The Shining Path terrorist group. (Bellatin was living in Peru at the time.) The Blind Poet is murdered by his wife when she finds him having sex with his nurse but the sect carries on, preaching and practising violence and austerity and preaching but not always practising celibacy.

Harald Voetmann: Vågen (Awake)

The latest addition to my website is Harald Voetmann‘s Vågen (Awake). Voetmann is a classicist and this book is about Pliny the Elder, famous for his Natural History, an early encyclopedia, and for his death from the fumes of Vesuvius. The book is narrated by Pliny and by his nephew and adopted son Pliny the Younger. We follow Pliny the Elder’s compilation of the work but also see a comparison between his worthy intellectual effort and the ugliness of the world in which he lives. Pliny aims to catalogue the whole world but even he realises this is not feasible and many of the things he believes to be facts are not, with our greater knowledge, at all accurate. His nephew takes a more pragmatic view, preferring sex to his uncle’s great labours.

Javier Serena : Últimas palabras en la Tierra (Last Words on Earth)

The latest addition to my website is Javier Serena‘s Últimas palabras en la Tierra (Last Words on Earth). This is a fictionalised account of a novelist called Ricardo Funes who is based on the great Chilean novelist, Roberto Bolaño. We follow his struggles, firstly in Mexico and his involvement with what is called here negativism but is clearly based on Infrarealism, to his struggles in Spain where he faces rejection but ruthlessly sticks to his literary principles. He has a fairly happy marriage and two children but also health issues, caused by his chain-smoking. Above all success is hard to come by. We see the story through the eyes of a fictitious fellow writer as well as through the eyes of Funes and his wife. Whether you enjoy the work of Bolaño or not, this is a fascinating account of a writer’s struggles.

Richard Powers: Bewilderment

The latest addition to my website is Richard PowersBewilderment. This is another superb novel from Powers, about a widower, Theo, an astrobiologist bringing up a highly intelligent and very sensitive son, Robin who does not fit in and does not want to attend school. Indeed, he really wants to be another Greta Thunberg. To keep the authorities away Theo has Robin participate in an experiment which involves mapping the boy’s brain to another brain map, in this case his late mother’s. While it seems to work, there is an enemy, a Trump-like president who hates science, immigrants and civil liberties. The world is going to hell, while Theo tries to look beyond our world and Robin struggles with our flawed world. Highly recommended reading.

Serhiy Zhadan: Ворошиловград (Voroshilovgrad)

The latest addition to my website is Serhiy Zhadan‘s Ворошиловград (Voroshilovgrad). This novel is set in Eastern Ukraine but not in Voroshilovgrad which isn’t called Voroshilovgrad any more. Our hero Herman, working in Kharkiv, is summoned to the small town of his birth not far from the Russian border, when his brother, who runs a garage, has disappeared. He has a whole host of problems, including a less than reliable staff, officials who are after him and thugs who want to buy the garage and can be very unpleasant when people do not do what they want. We follow his adventures with smugglers, Shtundists, gypsies, nomadic Mongolians, aging football players, a secret train that goes nowhere, gypsies, punk farmers and a host of other characters, some of whom are friendly and some of whom are definitely not. Zhadan leaves us with the moral that your friends and family may be peculiar but when things go wrong they are the ones who will stick by you.

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