The latest addition to my website is Hamid Ismailov‘s Hayy-ibn-Yakzan (Of Strangers and-Bees). This is another superb book from Hamid Ismailov, the Uzbek novelist, about exile and, indeed about bees. We follow the travels and travails of the fictitious Sheikhov (possibly an alter ego of the author) but also of the Uzbekistan-born, Persian philosopher Avicenna who may have died in 1037 in real life but continues on in this book. Sheikhov is both studying Avicenna but is also keen on finding the travelling Avicenna who may be held in prison in France or the US. It is both a very serious book about exile, faith and politics but also, at times, very funny, as we follow Sheikhov’s travels in Europe. In particular, it is a superb read.
The latest addition to my website is Rodrigo Márquez Tizano‘s Yakarta (Jakarta). This is a dystopian novel from Mexico, describing a country called Atlantika, where a horrible epidemic, with the virus vector carried by rats, strikes the country regularly. The latest one – the Ź-Bug – has been brought under control but everyone knows another one will be back. The people have their bread and circuses in the form of a jai-alai type game, called Vakapý, played by robots, where statistics are very important and where a lot of people spend a lot of time and money on betting on it. Our unnamed narrator is part of a clean-up team and bets on Vakapý. He also has a girlfriend, Clara, who has found a strange stone which gives her and, later, him visions, possibly of a different future. But above all the novel is unremittingly bleak.
The latest addition to my website is Maik Nwosu‘s Alpha Song. Our hero, a Nigerian who adopts the name Taneba Taneba when he is estranged from his father’s family, never really finds where he fits in and where is going. His uncle gets him a job at the post office (twice) but that does not work out. He has various girlfriends but none seems to work out. His first wife dies, while he and his second wife, despite having a young son, split up, His friends die, go insane or just disappear. At the beginning of the book, he is forty-five, dying of an incurable disease, his system damaged by debauched living, writing a testament – this book – to his five-year old son, whom he does not see. It is a sad tale worsened by the fact that most of the other characters also struggle to find their place in the world.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Princesa primavera [Princess Springtime]. This is something of a subversion of the traditional fairy tale. The eponymous princess lives in a palace on a small island off the coast of Panama. Apart from servants, she is alone. Most of the locals survive from fishing. She, however, is a professional translator of popular novels, not well paid but happy enough. One day, however, the island is threatened with an attack from General Winter, a legendary enemy of her family. All the princess has to help her is the corpse of the famous pianist Vladimir Horowitz, his widow, a decrepit French botanist, a castaway called Picnic and talking ice creams. Don’t look for logic in an Aira novel but you will find philosophical discussions, subversion of traditional forms and the entirely unexpected. The book has not been translated not English.
The latest addition to my website is Mircea Cărtărescu‘s Levantul [The Levant]. This is a mock epic, which, in the original Romanian was written primarily in verse form, but, for the translations (French, Italian, Spanish and Swedish but not English) was primarily converted to prose, with some verse. It tells of the adventures of a band of Romanians and quasi-Romanians in the first half of the nineteenth century who wish to liberate Romania from the Ottoman Empire. As this is a mock epic, it is written in a deliberately flowery language, paying homage to various Romanian writers of the past and present, and involves the usual fantastical creatures and places, great heroes, battles and, of course, treachery. As it is post-modern, Cărtărescu, as author/narrator, makes numerous appearances, chatting both to his characters and to his imaginary (female) reader, before inviting all of his characters to coffee in his present-day Bucharest flat. It is great fun and very cleverly done but sadly not available in English.
The latest addition to my website is Mario Vargas Llosa‘s Tiempos recios [Hard Times]. The novel deals with the overthrow of the democratically elected Guatemalan president Jacobo Árbenz in 1954, by Guatemalan forces, supported by the CIA and the US Ambassador to Guatemala. He was primarily overthrown because he had wanted to tax the United Fruit Company, which orchestrated a successful campaign in the US, “proving” he was communist (he was not). We follow various key characters, some real, some fictitious, some good, some definitely not. Vargas Llosa makes no bones about his views, which are that the United States illegally subverted a democratic country and that its actions have had profoundly negative effects on Guatemala and on other Latin American countries as a result.
The latest addition to my website is Rodrigo Fresán‘s La parte inventada (The Invented Part). This is a long, rambling novel, the first of the trilogy, about Fresán’s favourite subject – writers and writing. We follow the story of the Writer and his career, from his childhood to his later life, when his writing is not as successful as it had once been. We also follow the story of his mad sister, Penelope, and her association with the colourful Karma family. But we also follow the stories of various writers, both real (William Burroughs and F. Scott Fitzgerald being the main ones) and fictitious. We learn about how and why writers write, including using their friends and families as source, as both our writer and Fitzgerald did. Perhaps not entirely surprisingly, it all ends up in the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. It is rambling and colourful and inventive and a long read.
The latest addition to my website is Miloš Crnjanski‘s Roman o Londonu [London Novel]. This is a long and sad tale, based on Crnjanski’s own life, about a Russian prince, Nikolai Rodionovich Repnin, and his wife, Nadia,in exile in London. They had fled Crimea in 1922 and travelled around Europe but, because of World War II, are now (late 1947) in London. Initially, they had survived by selling valuables but now they are broke. Nikolai manages to get a few odd jobs but never seems to fit in particularly with the British but nor with the many Poles nor, indeed, with his fellow Russians. Nadia makes and sells dolls but it is not very lucrative. We follow in detail their struggles with housing, jobs, money and, above all, depression over their fate. Both consider suicide. In the end, Nadia goes to the United States, where she has an aunt, and tries to get a visa for Nikolai. This is an excellent novel on the travails of forced exile. It is not available in English but surprisingly, it has just appeared in Italian, forty-eight after its original publication in Serbian.
The latest addition to my website is Nicolás Giacobone‘s El cuaderno tachado (The Crossed-Out Notebook). Giacabone is a scriptwriter so it is not surprising that his first novel tells the story of a scriptwriter, Pablo Betances. Pablo had wanted to be a musician but did not make it so became a writer and then a scriptwriter. He had written for the greatest living Argentinian film director, Santiago Salvatierra. He was flattered when Salvatierra invited him to his house, so he told no-one, so no-one now knows that Salvatierra has kidnapped him and he has been locked in Salvatierra’s basement for five years, writing scripts. We follow his scriptwriting but also his writing in a notebook which, as the title, tells us, he crosses out. He ruminates (on Salvatierra, his life, art), he masturbates and he sleeps but still keeps on writing and is still stuck in the basement.
The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Mendoza‘s La ciudad de los prodigios (The City of Marvels). This is something of an epic novel, following both the story of the city of Barcelona from the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition to the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition as well as following the story of Onofre Bouvila. Bouvila comes to Barcelona in 1887 to make his fortune and will end up the richest man in Spain and, possibly, in the world. While we can admire his resourcefulness, he is a very flawed human being. He is ruthless, cruel, ambitious and violent. As predicted by a fortune-teller, there are three women in his life and none of three comes out of their contact with him particularly well. Mendoza tells a fine tale about his beloved Barcelona, as we follow its history in some detail during a period when it is growing and changing, but it is Bouvila and his rise that makes the novel.