The Birdcage Archives

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Chinua Achebe Dies

Hello Gentle Reader

The Great African Writer – the Grandfather of African Literature has passed away at the age of Eighty Two, last Friday. Chinua Achebe was away from his homeland of Nigeria when he died. He was in a Boston hospital, battling illness. Unfortunately later that day Achebe died Since the nineties, Chinua Achebe was living in America, after being paralysed in a car accident. He never forgot Nigeria though; and often admitted to missing it. His family has requested privacy in this grieving time. He was not only a beloved and inspirational writer, but also a beloved husband, father, uncle, and grandfather. In his life time, Achebe had written about the colonization of Africa, and the post colonization of Africa. Who could forget his essay in which he called Conrad and his novel “A Heart of Darkness,” a racist piece of work? It was Chinua Achebe that open Africa up to the world, and which other African writers would take after, and follow in his footsteps from Nobel Laureate and fellow Nigerian writer and playwright Wole Soyinka, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Nuruddin Farah and so many others. Even though far from home, Achebe was well informed of the politics of his homeland and twice he refused the attempt of being named a Commander of the Federal Republic. Regardless now though, Nigeria is in mourning at the loss of a great writer; a writer who took the reins of his country and continent and discussed it with the world. It is however unfortunate that Chinua Achebe did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature. An accolade that he would share with fellow writer of Nigeria, Wole Soyinka. If anyone would have deserved it in twenty-thirteen it was Chinua Achebe. However he is a national write of Africa. He is by all means the Grandfather of all contemporary African fiction writing – a writer of national stature.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday 21 March 2013

Silent House

Hello Gentle Reader

Youth is a time of reckless behaviour, stupid behaviour, experimentation, and learning – and sometimes that learning and education comes at, some very high costs and prices, with some consequences that are less than kind. It is a time of hedonism, and impulses driven by both pleasure, and a desire to impress – impress for and by standards, as well as impress to show romantic strength and courtship. Falling in and out of love; alcohol and drugs, racing cars, and a feeling of entitlement. It’s a time like no other – and a time that no one can ever have back; and reminiscing one feels that youth is truly wasted on the young; yet in the end secretly we all think back at those time of youthful stupid adventures, with a small smile pulling at the corners of our lips.

This youthful energy is equally placed, in the text that is written on the pages of this book. The use of words, is at times, placed in a manner that reminds one of a young author, yet to reach their mature or prime stage. There is just a vehement feeling, in the use of the words. Not quite polished to perfection, and edited and placed in an order that can be seen in later works (or will be seen in later works), but the words vibrate. The author is doing their best, to contain the excitement of telling the tale, or sharing their ideas – the act of communication is such a new and profound experience for the authors is just difficult for the author to contain and withhold.

Orhan Pamuk, had reminisced about this novel, in his essay collection “The Other Colors,” he points out that of all his books, younger people like this novel out of all his books; and further points out his own place and his youth within this novel:

“Each of the young characters in The Silent House was me. In each of them, I tampered a different aspect of the youth.”

All aspects of youth are completely on display in this novel. Nilgun and Hasan’s political and idealistic convictions – though polished and heartfelt lack wisdom and perception; but are also very clever on how they point out the divide of the time, in Turkey between the Communists and the Nationalists, and a curious love story (however doomed) is played out; again in youthful fashion of impulsiveness and an almost unbearable feeling of passion! There is, Metin’s reckless desires for money and a longing for America, all mixed up in youthful passion and then of course love, and subsequent heartbreak.

Much of what would entertain many of Orhan Pamuk’s later works are, all on display here in their rough forms. At this phrase in the author’s career, one can just see the early obsessions and themes that will haunt the author moving forward. Impossible love affairs; or a dance of courtship that may be difficult; a game of identity being lost or taking on a new identity or persona; enclosed spaces – or rather a short time period that within the authors use of different characters and perspectives allows for a feeling of more time being moved when in reality and subtle hints, it has yet to move past a day ;fragmented narratives and at times a very avant-garde but readable postmodern style – all of which can be seen in Orhan Pamuks later works like “The Black Book,” and “My Name is Red.”
“Silent House,” is also a good example of the author slowly itching his way into his own skin. There are noticeable references and influences of other authors like William Faulkner in this blend of gothic Turkish novel. However the fragmentation of the novel and the delightful play of identity if not yet as extreme as his later works, it is a taste of what is to come; which of course is anti-climactic because one already knows what the author achieved in later years.

The bare bones of this novel takes place over a week, in nineteen-eighty. The air is tense with the oncoming military coup, which would restore balance to the country after the onslaught of anarchy caused by the rival factions of the left leaning Communists and the right leaning Nationalist. The air is thick of this divide; but also the divide of east and west is also displayed. Fatma wrestles with the haunting of her memories and of her late liberal thinking modern doctor Selahattin Bey, and his rotten alcoholism and obsession with his encyclopedia, which has rotted his insides, and tortured his wife dearly. His self-obsession and martyrdom of a scientific and revolutionary thinker in Turkey, takes its toll on Fatma and her jewellery box, and also on her well-being as a human being; and in the form of a dwarf who is also her servant, and in that physical form Fatma is left with the remnants of her husband, and his rotten life, which she continues to wrestle with. His proud proclamations that there is no God like Nietzsche; his desire to free all of mankind of its bondage to the physical world, by traditions, superstitions and values, and open their minds up to rational and analytical thinking of science and theories like Rousseau and Voltaire had attempted. These same heroes, Selahattin admired also allow him and in his own mind persuade him to do aspects that damaged Fatma beyond repair.

The relationship between Fatma and Selahattin comes from Orhan Pamuk’s own life. In the early twentieth century, Orhan Pamuk’s grandfather had travelled to Berlin to study law and constantly wrote to his grandmother. Though his grandfather had already been corrupted by Western ideas and thoughts. This corruption showed up in his letters. This is reflected when Orhan Pamuk reminisces about the novel in the essay collection “Other Colours,”:

“The attitude of these letters are like Selahattin Bey's teachings of Fatma Hanim. I know that my grandmothers' attitude to these letters are of sin, forbidden things and indifference. When I tried to dream about their unhappy relationship I had started to fictionalize ‘The Silent House.’”

The relationship between Fatma and her late husband and the smoothness of the prose, is wonderful and the most experimentation that one gets out of this book in its most bold way of the author. For the most part, Orhan Pamuk played it relatively safe, in his dealings with interior monologues, that came or across as first person narratives with slight of track detours into psychological zones, but only went so far as to point out how one felt or the emotional implications behind a motive or action. So the breath of fresh air of a true bold step, as Selahattin becomes a character in his own right – even though he is dead; and has his ghostly fibres sewn deep into Fatma’s psyche, makes the work delightfully interesting, as the two represent Turkey’s conflict with modernity, and contemporary times, as the air has become blue with television lights; and the melancholy atmosphere of a resort being created from a former port town, and al the disturbances it brings – but silence is ever present.

Selahattin has both a compatriot and foil in his grandson Farruk a fellow intellectual, and self-loathing intellectual; who unlike his vanity seeking brother of great and grand triumphs as he returns from America. Farruk a historian only sees history and its interesting intellectual facts as fun stories, but other than that and their entertaining value they are ineffectual and do not resonate in reality or have any physical exchange; and so drowns himself with pleasure, in ‘raks’. Though at moments one can see Farruk truly wake from his almost lame slothful alcohol induced slumber, and enjoys the pleasures of history once again, and reading and discovery and contemplates writing much like his grandfather; though this small glimmer of Selahattin’s intellectual curiosity is always pushed to the side, in favour of something more substantial – if only it rots his insides; like the stories in his mind like withering worms.

This is a really interesting piece of work by Orhan Pamuk. It displays a diverse if yet small group of characters, at war with themselves, each other, and others around them. It touches on subjects of the modernization of the east, and its often complicated relationship of the east and west; where idealistic intellectuals like Selahattin failed in awakening the country, and placing it alongside other countries of the west that had achieved such intellectual superiority like Germany, France, the United Kingdom – where the disappearance of God is a openly discussed subject, and not looked upon with disgust or the hushed and almost paranoid whispers of people being ‘infidels,’ or atheist with a negative connotation, but rather simply someone who is not out of the norm, nor in a norm, just an individual lost in a rationalized society. Where superstitions and shamanistic thought process and mystical beliefs are scoffed and looked down upon, as child’s play and imaginative thinking; and concerns with the body and health, and maladies and malaise are tended too by doctors and nurses. In this piece of work Pamuk does not take sides of whether or not people like Selahattin are right in their radical ideals, and trying to change the country through the power of books; nor does he take the side of Fatma who holds on to her raised beliefs, religious traditions and values and has since looked at the work of the modernization with indifference and if looked at all with any keen interest with disgust and contempt. Rather it almost feels like Pamuk takes a step back, away from both and allows the reader, to see both sides of the issue – from both a westerns point of view but also from the easts traditional point of view.

It still cannot compare to “The Black Book,” but it is still a good book of Pamuk’s repertoire. Its short confined space, and small time period, that moved through history and memory and the internal functions of the characters, allowed for a rather neat literary treat. Though the “The Black Book,” has one up on this book, for the authors more comfort with his own style, but also how the city of Istanbul had become a character in its own right, represented by the numerous characters and populated names that came up throughout the book. Still this narrative and book was very interesting. Though anti-climactic if you have already read later works by Orhan Pamuk, it is well worth the read.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong*

M. Mary

Thursday 14 March 2013

It’s Getting Later all the Time

My Dearest Gentle Reader

Before his premature death, Antonio Tabucchi was often cited as the successor of Italo Calvino. When Italo Calvino had passed away he was Italy’s foremost writer, of an international standard and reputation. Italo Calvino was known for his modernist and postmodernist fables that often had flights of fantasy; but were always grounded in the real world. When discussing fantasy Italo Calvino had this to say:

“That only a certain prosaic solidity can give birth to creativity: fantasy is like jam; you have to spread it on a solid slice of bread. If not, it remains a shapeless thing, like jam, out of which you can’t make anything.”

Antonio Tabucchi could be said to do a lot in the same fashion. Though were Italo Calvino wrote fables, and often dealt with flights of fantasy, in a dream like fashion with almost modernist and later postmodernist experiments; Tabucchi differed in another way. He was influenced more by an alien culture. A foreign place; west of Italy. It was a place where the white mists and fogs of the harbour, became wraithlike. Ashen and clammy, and blanketing everything in a moist cloud; it is a place, drenched in shadowy obscure mists. A place of nostalgia and wistful melancholia. It was there, that the young author would discover one of the most mysterious writers of Europe. It was in Paris that the world of Pessoa and Portugal were discovered. The aspiring author in the nineteen-sixties took a journey to travel Europe in the footsteps of the literary figures that he admired. While in Paris he discovered a poem by the elusive Pessoa titled “The Tabaco Shop,” or “Tabacaria.” With its mixture of pessimism and measured hope from the line – “I have within me all the world,” – that Antonio Tabucchi had discovered his lifelong obsession. It was because of Pessoa that Antonio Tabucchi began to translate not only Pessoa but other Portuguese authors into Italian, but also why Tabucchi decided to live in Portugal for half of the year. He even wrote “Requiem: A Hallucination,” in Portuguese; and the ghost of Pessoa makes an appearance. On his death the Portuguese culture sectary declared Tabucchi “the most Portuguese of all Italians.” But don’t be deceived so quickly; Antonio Tabucchi was an avid commentator on Italian politics and life. He was especially a harsh critic of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Whereas after World War II, Italo Calvino distanced himself from politics, and later left the Italian Communist party, over the atrocities that the Soviets had committed.

Pessoa on the other hand from, Italo Calvino; was a mad fiddler. A vessel of different creative voices and personalities; and he simply was the medium in which his fragmented inner world reached the wider public. In his short twenty three year career, Fernando Pessoa went practically unnoticed. He was also well aware of how close he was toeing the line to instability and mental anguish, and falling into the depths of insanity. Like so many others of his family. Yet he persisted; and his heteronyms all got their voice. Each one presented an entirely new aspect of their medium. Each one had a specific voice and tone. A style all their own. Yet it was Pessoa who they talked through. Along with Luís de Camões, Pessoa is often cited as a national poet of Portugal.

Even writing that though makes me feel like, I am talking of madness. When one talks of such matters like Pessoa’s heteronyms, or even how he came to create them, or how his/their different writing styles came to be; one treads a rather ambiguous and answerless space. Yet it is Pessoa’s fragmented identity, his mysterious personality and life, which have all but influenced Antonio Tabucchi – among other authors.

The Epistolary novel is by nature fragmented. It is forced to cycle, and criss-cross and re-cross already explored territory with a new perspective. It is a form that many authors may not actually be able to do right. One of my own pet peeves with this type of form, is when an author interludes, the form with actual dialogue. How can a highly biased form, of literature – a letter is always written from the point of view of the writer; be so clear or objective to remember the conversation word for word, able to transcribe that verbatim? Some will argue that, this is the author’s intention. They are intentionally playing with the concept of objectivity. My argument is that it comes across as forced. It’s out of place. In a minimalist house, one wouldn’t catch something that is overtly decorated – aka something of the arts nouveau. Those clean straight lines, which have done away with ornate styles, would have no use for the nature inspired swirls of curls of a whip. Sometimes the pastiche of complete opposites comes across as gluing wood to metal. It just refuses artistic merit; and therefore loses credibility. This comes with streams of dialogue with an Epistolary novel. It jars the reader. It’s out of place. This is why; I have always had an issue with the Epistolary novel. It appeared that writers were not able to do it correctly. Even when I retell an event to someone I am talking to, it never comes off exactly as may have happened. Sure the description of the tree that was swaying to the right was correct. Oh yes he most certainly was wearing a black scarf around his neck. And if you listened carefully – blocking the sounds of the howling winter wind; one could hear the cold clunky sound of the branches beating against each other. But when it comes to dialogue, the words are always open to the tainted editing of my memory. Depending on the circumstances and feelings toward each other, the dialogue that will be recounted will never be the exact same. They could never be a carbon copy.

In today’s world the art of writing a letter, has but all disappeared. It has been replaced by text messages, messengers and e-mails – phone calls also had a hand in its destruction. New ways in which people learn to communicate will always push the soon to become obsolete aside. Now day’s people can have a conversation via a computer, no matter how far away they are. As commutation technologies, evolve other forms dye out. Today cursive writing is being debated on whether or not it is useful. When I was growing up, it was one of the very skills that would make you a successful person. It was faster than printing and left your own significant calling card on it. It was personable and intimate way to communicate; just like reading a hand written letter.

Antonio Tabucchi however, has also done something entirely different with his novel of letters. They are not unified letters. They are connected more by thematic overlap, than by any attempt at a conscious attempt at a single narrative. Seventeen different men, write to their long lost lovers; a few are dead. Some are missing. But it becomes apparent that these men are not necessarily writing to the same woman. Most even realize that they are never going to be given a greeting. They recognize their futile attempts at communication. They know that rekindling the love affair is over. The ship has passed, and they are left on the dock waving goodbye, as that shadowy fading memory of her evaporates into time itself.

“I am sending you an impossible greeting, like one who waves vainly from one bank of the river to the other knowing that there are no banks, really, believe me, there are no banks, there is only the river…We worried so much about the banks, and instead there was only the river. But it's too late, what's the point in telling you all this?”

It would be safe to say that most of these senders; these heartbroken men, are in some way or another facing some sort of emotional crisis. In which they turn to her. A better time it must have been when they were with her. These men differ though in many ways. They are a composer, an actor, a theatre director, a Jewish harpist, a widower with two children; and so many more. Yet they are all connected; but not by their lovers; as I had first thought. They are connected by their crises. They are connected by their fall into the present; and look back with nostalgia; when life appeared happier.

Our dear senders also enjoy running into tangents. They discuss the soul. One even went so far as to theorize that the soul is in the blood. One crimson little tear, houses the human soul.

“[ . . . ] One of their heads, rotated by an internal mechanism, has turned to one side so that the public can clearly see the Pierrot-style tear that furrows its cheek, and the lighting engineers spotlight, like a knife point, pierces that tear, the crystal of a trinket that once served as a common woman’s earing that we bought at the flea market to stick on this cheek of the fake actors.”

However Tabucchi’s prose is not always lucid. These dear senders have their own tangents to discuss. Often referencing some obscure arcane source, or philosophy; or even discussing at times in the most banal language, an event, that becomes cryptic. This novel is impressionistic and moves with images both dreamlike and nightmarish; it can fall into poetics, and as a letter they often don’t reveal everything so easily. As a third person reading this letter, the events surrounding it or the past affair are all but shadowy references.

Still it is a good book. One that will certainly need to be re-read countless times. Each time, producing new results. It was an enjoyable read as well; not always entertaining and at times, a bit heavy on self-consciousness and philosophical discussions, but with anything Tabucchi had produced it became a wonderful experience, in looking into the world of a master who sees the world, and realizes that there is more than what meets the eye. Questions of identity are ever apparent in this novel. Each letter is another layer to this work; both individual on its own terms, but also revealing a new secret; answering questions, and asking more.

“Look, dear spectators, these are the real actors, they are mechanical marionette’s with tape recorders inside their wooden bellies, they have no innards, they have no heart, they have no soul, all they have is wood shavings and a magnetic tape that feigns their emotions.”

If one does not like experimental fiction, they will not like this book. That is a guaranteed. It is obscure; it is dense at times, it can become very frustrating. It does not reveal everything and a lot is left in the shadowy world of ignorance, and speculation. But to many degree’s that is what most fun about it. All the speculation, the feeling that there is a life had happened before this letter, and will continue long after it is written; will leave many unsatisfied. Answers are not given to a reader, with a silver spoon. Some questions may never be answered. Yet in the end, that is what makes this piece of work, such an interesting one at that.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Wednesday 6 March 2013

The Best Translated Book Award Fiction Longlist 2013

Hello Gentle Reader

“Three Percent Review,” has released their longlist for the Best Translated Book Award in Fiction for twenty thirteen. Previous winners include the Polish writer Wiesław Myśliwski for his novel “Stone Upon Stone,” “The Confessions of Noa Weber,” by the Israeli author Gail Hareven. Previous poetry accolades are the experimental Japanese poet Kiwao Nomura for his collection of poetry (and first time published and translated in English) “Spectacle and Pigsty,” as well as the Slovenian poet Aleš Šteger “The Book of Things.”

This year’s longlist of fiction has some very interesting authors on its longlist. Some of them have already been read, others were previously unknown or passed in a brief moment of browsing.

Familiar names on this list include “Satantango,” by László Krasznahorkai, a novel about a small collective estate’s eventual demise and collapse and the arrival of a messiah or a con man. Written in Krasznahorkai’s signature prose, of long winding sentences, and a sense of apocalyptic dread, all played out with a bleak sense of humour. “The Hunger Angel,” by Herta Müller, the two-thousand and nine, Nobel Laureate in Literature, whose gulag novel, is not the typical documentary novel. Written in Herta Müller signature prose, of an episodic and fragmented poetically detailed language, Müller brings the experience of the shared experience of exile and homeland painfully alive on the page. It’s a testament for both Müller’s mother and the late poet Oskar Pastior, and all the others who history has left unclaimed and forgotten. The deceased author and great Brazilian modernist Clarice Lispector’s posthumous novel “A Breath of Life,” also has made the longlist. That last novel that Clarice Lispector ever wrote, and was not published in her life time. It is a fragmented novel, which takes the shape of a dialogue between author and creation. Karl Ove Knausgaard makes another appearance on a translated prize longlist. Along with “Satantango,” and “Dublinesque,” by Enrique Villa-Matas, his epic novel of confession and personal experience taking on the problems and universal questions of the human experience. So it’s no surprise that “A Death in the Family: My Struggle Book 1: Vol 1.”

Other books on this longlist that are on the “to read,” list include “Mama Leone,” by Miljenko Jergović and “Maidenhair,” the Russian author Mikhail Shishkin. Frances Michel Houellebecq’s new novel, and also his most distinctly departure from his earlier work.

Others on this list are:

“Prehistoric Times,” by Eric Chevillard
“The Planets,” by Sergio Chejfec
“The Colonel,” by Mahmoud Dowlataba
“Atlas,” by Dung Kai-Cheung
“Kite,” Dominique Eddé
“We, The Children of Cats,” by Tomoyuki Hoshino
“Basti,” by Intizar Husain
“Awakening to the Great Sleep War,” by Gert Jonke
“Autoportrait,” by Edouard Levé
“The Lair,’ by Norman Manea
“Traveler of The Century,” by Andrés Neuman
“Happy Moscow,” by Andrey Platonov
“With the Animals,” by Noëlle Revaz
“Joseph Walser’s Machine,” by Gonçalo M. Tavares
“Island of Second Sight,” by Albert Vigoleis
“Transit,” by Abdourahman A. Waberi
“My Father’s Book,” by Urs Widmer

Good luck to all the authors’ longlisted. There is certainly a wide variety of themes and topics here, with these novels, and it looks to be an exciting shortlist. On a personal note it adds more to the reading list, with excitement raised, and double looks taken.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Monday 4 March 2013

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Hello Gentle Reader

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Longlist has been announced. Thirteen different languages and sixteen very different novels. Each work tackles different themes. From the political, to the personal and the historical. From Norwegian to Arabic, to Afrikaans, and back around to Dutch and Spanish; the list encompasses well-known names, like those of Nobel Prize Laureate Orhan Pamuk, to the Nobel Prize Perennial nominee Ismail Kadare; to a confessional prose writer Karl Ove Knausgaard; also an IMPACT Dublin Award winner and gardener by trade Gerrband Bakker also makes the list.

The Longlist are as follows:

“A Death in the Family: My Struggle Book 1: Vol 1,” by Karl Ove Knausgaard
“Satantango,” by Laszlo Krasznahorkai
“Bundu,” by Chris Barnard
“The Detour,” by Gerrband Bakker
“Black Bazaar,” by Alain Mabanckou
“Cold Sea Stories,” by Pawel Huelle,
“Dublinesque,” by Enrique Villa-Matas
“HHhH,” by Laurent Binet
“In Praise of Hatred,” by Khalid Khalifa
“The Last of the Vostyachs,” by Diego Marani
“The Sound of things Falling,” by Juan Gabriel Vasquez,
“Traveler of the Century,” by Andrés Neuman
“Trieste,” by Dasa Drndic
“Silent House,” by Orhan Pamuk
“The Murder of Halland,” by Pia Juul
“The Fall of the Stone City,” by Ismail Kadare

There you have them Gentle Reader, the longlist. Ten will be eliminated by April 11th, leaving a six fictional strong short list. From the obscure, to the literary all-stars, the work compromises some of the best fiction. – On a personal note, two of the books that have been longlisted, I have already read. Their reviews coming shortly.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary