Jordi Cussà: Cavalls salvatges (Wild Horses)

The latest addition to my website is Jordi Cussà‘s Cavalls salvatges (Wild Horses). The story shows that in many small towns in Catalonia in the 1980s, most young people were heroin junkies. The story is narrated to a great extent by Lex, clearly based on the author, and he and virtually all of the fairly large cast spend their time shooting up heroin, with some casual sex and some rock’n’roll. They deal drugs, they steal, they get high, they die – from AIDS, overdoses, hepatitis, suicide and various drug-related complications. Some go to prison. Some try to give up, rarely succeeding. No-one quits horse. Once you get in the saddle you’re in it for life, says one character. Why do they do it? I still believe that at the outset of our addiction we were hooked not just on the drugs but also on the lifestyle that came with them, says Lex. Jordi Cussà himself died from a respiratory condition, presumably drug-related,as he was a serious heroin junkie. It is a sad story but one that is likely to put you off heroin abuse.

Juan Pablo Villalobos: La invasión del pueblo del espíritu (Invasion of the Spirit People)

The latest addition to my website is Juan Pablo VillalobosLa invasión del pueblo del espíritu (Invasion of the Spirit People) . Set in an unnamed city but almost certainly Barcelona, this novel follows Gastón, an immigrant who runs a market garden. His friend Max, has a restaurant but he has lost his lease and refuses to leave while Gastón’s dog called Kitten is dying of cancer. Meanwhile Pol, Max’s son is working in the tundra but suddenly appears, with tales of aliens using directed panspermia to control us, while Max’s father turns up, on the run from the authorities in his country. Gastón just wants to have Kitten die peacefully in his garden, not at the vet’s, while watching the greatest footballer on Earth play, though he, too, seems to have his problems. Immigration is clearly the main topic as most of the main characters are immigrants (including the footballer) and those from Russia and China face greater opposition from the local vigilantes but, in Villalobos’s view, they enrich the local culture. With his usual humour, colourful story and sympathy for the immigrants, Villalobos gives us another fine novel.

Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles: El síndrome de Lisboa (The Lisbon Syndrome)

The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles‘s El síndrome de Lisboa (The Lisbon Syndrome). The novel is set in Caracas, Venezuela, where repression by the authorities is at its height. One day, Lisbon disappears and we eventually find out it might have been hit by an asteroid. Meanwhile, our hero Fernando, whose marriage is breaking up, is focussing on the local drama group for teenagers and it is going well, though the authorities are not too keen. The building was provided by Moreira, a Portuguese exile whose story we learn and he and Fernando remain close friends. Meanwhile, the repression is getting worse and the people have no choice but to stick together and fight back. The original Spanish was self-published through Amazon, which shows self-published books can be of high quality, as this one clearly us.

Miklós Szentkuthy: Prae (Prae Part 2)

The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Prae (Prae Part 2). This is the second part of Szentkuthy’s monumental novel, the first part having been reviewed previously. Like the first part it is long and very complicated, with key themes – love/lust, loneliness, religion, morals and coping with life, examined in a decidedly complex way. While the early part of the novel focusses on Leatrice, whom we met in the first part, and examines her dreams, her loneliness, her relationship with her Uncle Peter and with a drug-using actress, the second part is the ruminations of a sixty-year old Anglican priest living in Exeter. He is a flawed character – drug using, unfaithful to his wife, with whom he has frequent fights and generally unhappy with his life – but, as we might expect, he ruminates on a variety of topics, including, of course, love/sex. women, loneliness, religion and morals. This work might be better known had it been written in English, French or German but, whatever the language, like Joyce and Proust, it is one of those works likely to be more talked about than read.

Markiyan Kamysh: Оформляндія або прогулянка в Зону (Stalking the Atomic City)

The latest addition to my website is Markiyan Kamysh‘s Оформляндія або прогулянка в Зону (Stalking the Atomic City). Markiyan Kamysh is a stalker, which means he enters Chernobyl illegally and wanders round exploring, regardless of the dangers of radiation, wild animals, snow drifts and the police. He has faced all four and survived. Why does he do it? He is not entirely sure but has done it, at the time of writing, one thousand one hundred and forty-six times. He sometimes takes tourists in but he despises them. He likes nothing better than being there alone with few provisions, enjoying the solitude and nature. The police try to get him and sometimes do but he always comes back for more. He tells us what he finds, what he sees, what he takes with him. Every time I came back, I swore that it would be my last, my very last visit but it never is.

Hermann Bürger: Brenner Part 1 Brunsleben (Brenner)

The latest addition to my website is Hermann Bürger‘s Brenner Part 1 Brunsleben (Brenner), This is the semi-autobiographical story of Hermann Arbogast Brenner, a man who has failed at most things but is now writing a diary as he is dying of cancer. Bürger himself took his own life three days after the book was published. Hermann should have been a tobacco merchant but as his grandfather died at the wrong time, the business passed to another branch of the family. Hermann has had health issues so has drifted around and now survives on a pension from his second cousin who runs the family tobacco business. He is completely estranged from his wife, sons and siblings, whom he despises and has intellectual friends though he himself is decidedly anti-intellectual, considering reading a waste of time. His one joy is tobacco – he smokes a huge variety of cigars – but has decided to write his vaguely Proustian diary (he has never read Proust but his friends have) while driving around in a expensive sports car, visiting his friends. His diary is witty, cynical mocking as he recounts his childhood, his view on his family his country and life and, of course, tells us a lot more more tobacco than we could ever want to know.

Miklós Szentkuthy: Prae (Prae Part 1)

The latest addition to my website is Prae ( Prae Part 1). Miklós Szentkuthy published this novel in 1934 and it has never been translated into any other language (apart from one chapter in French) till now. This is the first part, a mere 950 pages in length. My review of the second part will appear in July. It is a very complex, very modernist novel whch is impossible to sum up in any way. It has been compared to Proust and Musil and Joyce and Kafka but in reality it is not like any of them, except that it is complex, long and difficult. There is a sort of plot but much of the novel finds Szentkuthy, often through one of his chracters, Leville-Touqué, philosphising, often for many pages. Critics have called it formless, encyclopedic, the ultimate failed modernist hyper-novel,forerunner of the postmodern novel and an attempt to find the one and only physical and metaphysical principle that would account for all of the phenomena of the world. It is all of those and much more. Had it been written in English, French or German, it would be much better known and its publication in English should definitely ensure it is added to the canon of great (and probably all too often unread) modernist novels (think Finnegans Wake). However, if you are at all interested to see the direction the modernist novel took, read this and Szentkuthy’s other works available in English.

Yuri Felsen: Обман (Deceit)

The latest addition to my website is Yuri Felsen‘s Обман (Deceit). This novel was first published in 1930 and is one of three surviving novels by Felsen, others being lost after he was sent to Auschwitz and murdered, and the first to appear in English. It is written in the form of a diary by a Russian exile in Paris who is a businessman rather than a writer (apart from the diary). He is receiving the niece of an old friend (herself divorced) and, even without meeting her, is convinced she is the one. She is not, at least as far as she is concerned. Two desultory affairs with two other Russian women are messy and unpleasant. However, the real interest in the book is that our narrator examines himself psychologically and it is not all together a pretty sight. He sees himself as a victim, cannot understand why people do not see things his way and ends ups saying It is impossible to live without deceit. It is an excellent read though not as some have said particularly Proustian.

Ulrike Almut Sandig: Monster wie wir ( Monsters Like Us)

The latest addition to my website is Ulrike Almut Sandig‘s Monster wie wir (Monsters Like Us). The novel is narrated by Ruth, now a successful violinist to her almost invisible (in this novel) Finnish boyfriend Voitto. Ruth grew up in East Germany where she met Viktor at school and the two became friends. However, they have one other thing in common – both were sexually abused, Ruth by her grandfather and Viktor by his half-sister’s husband. They briefly talk about it but if you don’t talk about it, then it hasn’t really happened. That’s right isn’t it?. After the fall of Communism, Ruth gets on with her musical career while Viktor becomes a right-wing thug and then, improbably, an au pair in France where he recognises that the boy in his care is also a victim of sexual abuse and takes appropriate action. While the sexual abuse theme is key, we learn a lot about life in East Germany, from the founding to the fall and afterwards.

Manuel Astur: San: el libro de los milagros (Of Saints and Miracles)

The latest addition to my website is Manuel Astur‘s San: el libro de los milagros (Of Saints and Miracles). Marcelino, a naive young man living in Asturias, a remote rural part of Spain, is cheated out of his farm by his conniving brother (who takes after their drunken, violent father). He kills his brother and flees to the hills. He manages – just – to keep one step ahead of the police but soon becomes not just a local folk hero – tourists come from miles around to try and get a glimpse of him -but is even declared a saint, with the eponymous miracles occurring. He is oblivious to it all, intent on merely surviving. Astur mixes in the story of Marcelino’s hard childhood, local myths and local anecdotes as well as a view of life in a remote part of the country.

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