The latest addition to my website is Wolf Wondratschek:‘s Selbstbild mit russischem Klavier (Self-Portrait with Russian Piano). The unnamed Austrian narrator meets Suvorin, a retired Russian classical pianist in a café and they become friends, meeting regularly in a Italian restaurant. Much of the novel is Suvorin recounting his life, his views on various matters, particularly literature and music but also on ageing. He has given up playing and even going to concerts. His wife was killed in an accident and his children have moved away, so he is very solitary, though occasionally meeting other retired musicians. We learn little about the narrator, who wanted, when young to be an opera singer, but a lot about Suvorin and the problems of ageing. Wondratschek tells his story well, showing ageing and all its problems. This is Wondratschek’s first book published in English.
The latest addition to my website is Yoshikichi Furui‘s 白髪の唄 (White-Haired Melody). This is a superb story about an elderly man (he is, in fact, only fifty-seven) and his confrontation with ageing and death. The unnamed narrator, his young friend, Yamagoe, and his two fifty-seven year old friends, Sugaike and Fujisato, confront death on a regular basis. All of them have lost family members to death, often a premature death, and Furui fills the book with a catalogue of major disasters in Japan, which have some relevance to the characters. In the case of Yamagoe, it seems all of his family members were born at the same time as a disaster. The others remember these various disasters and, in the case of recent ones, we and they learn about them during the course of the book. They also recount various gruesome tales of death and disaster. Yet, the characters generally seem to take death and brushes with death in their stride, accepting that death is a normal part of life. It is not all death and disaster. As they get older, they have memories, sometimes, of course, of death, but also of their earlier lives and, in the case of the narrator, sometimes false memories. Other features of ageing – voices sounding distant, the fluidity of time and a general acceptance of life, as they have accomplished all that they set out to accomplish – are also brought in. Overall it is a first-class novel and can only make us regret that more of Furui’s work is not available in English.