The Birdcage Archives

Friday 30 August 2013

Seamus Heaney Passes

Hello Gentle Reader

The Emerald Isle, is in a moment of shock. Their Nobel Laureate in Literature, the poet Seamus Heaney, has passed away. His work is surrounded by the green landscape of Ireland. His works “Death of a Naturalist,” and “Door in The Dark,” dealt with the parochial country living, and details of rural living. Other works like “Wintering Out,” and “North,” dealt with the troubles of Ireland. With these works, Heaney had tried to place the unrest, in historical context. In these regards, it would allow the human experience of the unrest to become more universal. Unfortunately, Heaney was referred to as an ‘apologist,’ for these attempts. Still, Heaney was a symbol of hope for some. The last time, I personally saw Heaney, was his interview in regards to Transtromer winning the Nobel Prize. Something that Heaney had said: ‘we had all been hoping for that, for years now.’

Heaney was considered the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats. His work was known for its praise of the everyday. According to the citation by the Swedish Academy, he was awarded: “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.” –

I personally do not own a collection of Heaney’s. That being said, from the poems that I have read, he shows grace, and wisdom. Wisdom that came from his inspiration of being a farm boy, but also that comes from the contemporary history, in which he witnessed. Helen Vendler had called him a poet of the in-between. He was the poet who stood in the narrow gap between Ireland and England; Catholicism and Protestantism. Heaney used poetry as an attempt to console the nation of Ireland over the loss of the innocent. Heaney was aware of the educational properties of poetry, on a personal level; where it reaches one, not by lecture, but by a shared personal experience.

Seamus Heaney is a remarkable poet – which can only hint at the longevity of his poems.

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 29 August 2013

The Best European Fiction 2013

Hello Gentle Reader

Europe is so vast and complex place, yet paradoxically small. Yet despite its sometimes geographical shortcomings, it is still a place of political powers and economic as well as historical and cultural importance and significance. This makes Europe a grand place of the world, whose blood runes through the ancient ruins, of their past cities and the cities beneath their feet, but also of their new world conquests of the America's, and Caribbean; as well as Africa, Asia, Oceania/pacific as well as India and the Middle East. That is why Europe refuses to relinquish its own importance - self and genuine. The borders of Europe have constantly changed. Empires have been built and crumbled by the weariness of time. Monarchies have come and once again dissipated in times tireless hands. Dictators have controlled and ruled; only to be in the end overthrown or to die, usually in some bloody revolution and struggle. The breath of change constantly blows through the continent; all the way from Albania down to the United Kingdom. Yet Europe is an amazing place, full of countries unique and overlooked. From Liechtenstein landlocked in the alpines, constantly in the shadow of both Switzerland and Austria. Then there is the small country of Belgium who has felt the horrors of both World Wars and is often identified as being one country along with the Netherlands - and for some reason going under the name Holland. Then there is Bosnia who is never called by its true name Bosnia and Herzegovina - somehow it's just Bosnia and is the bad brother of Croatia. Which both countries, have been formed after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, which dissolved after the liquidation of the former Soviet Union and the surrounding Iron Curtain. Poor Malta so small, is often forgotten. With a population of only four hundred nine thousand eight hundred thirty-six, it is no wonder that Malta is forgotten. Yet it does look like a wonderful place to visit - warm yet not stifling, and no worries about a drug cartel lopping off one's head. Then of course there are the unique countries like Hungary, Finland and Estonia who do not speak an Indo-European language; but rather a long structurally complex language of deep throated pronunciations and is actually a Uralic language. Then one heads to the complicated and political charged east of Europe. A place where green eyed cats bare quite a grudge. They bare these grudges from old Russia who took their lands over, and was not about to hand them over: from poor little Poland constantly changing hands; to the dark horse of Europe Romania; all the way to the poor forgotten Albania in the south east of Europe.

"The Best European Fiction," series is the pet project of Aleksandar Hemon. A Bosnian (then born Yugoslavian) author who has since immigrated to America, because of the Yugoslavian war. Hemon is the editor and anthologist of this particular project. Besides "The Best European Fiction," series to his name; Hemon is a short story writer, novelist and columnist. He is also a recipient of the Macarthur Foundation Grant. One of Hermon's most famous books is "The Lazarus Project," which is a interesting book in that it uses the comical and linguistic games of humour and grammatical beats of jokes, in order to tell a more cruel story. Not a story of despair and horror with ironic humour. Rather a comedic story of despair - a paradox because it makes one laugh; but only on the most uncertain grounds. It is thanks to Aleksandar Hemon that we can owe "The Best European Fiction." It's a mix box of chocolates - or if you prefer a more healthy snack; a mixed bowl of nuts or even a variety basket of fruit. With this collection one is going to find the familiar but also they are going to find the surreal nightmares, the allegorical dreamscapes, and the flights of the fantastical in the most realistic and mundane of settings. Yet they are also going to find stories, which deal with the past and the recent history. These stories are populated by: a shadow (?) or some dark mass with, a purpose - sinister or otherwise; unknown. There is a theatre troupe who takes the concept of Brechtian theatrical dealings of alienation to a surprisingly new level. A.S. Byatt makes an appearance - past well known contributors from the United Kingdom/England have been two-time Booker Prize winning author Hilary Mantel, and shortlisted Booker Prize author Deborah Levy. Other past contributors include Norwegian playwright and novelist Jon Fosse; the Swiss German language author Peter Stamm; Olga Tokarczuk of Poland; and German author Ingo Schulze. These authors that some English readers may recognise, allows for a point of reference or comfort to the rest of the unknown authors. It also allows for a sense of illusion that we read International Literature, from other languages, and are not just interested in our own language works. The fact that, John Banville also wrote the preface for this anthology, further shows not just an attempt to make English readers more interested in translated books; but also show that we are not insolent in our interest in foreign cultures.

There are so many stories in this book - and many of my notes on them have gone missing; it is difficult to talk about them and write a review. One of my personal favourites was Hungarian authors Miklos Vajda's story "Portrait of a Mother in an American Frame," which is a story about the ambiguous stories a son feels towards his mother. Maternal love is certainly expressed; yet it is something that is unable to be expressed verbally between the two characters. This allows for the story to remain in a less sentimental area. It's not melodramatic or overtly emotional. It reads more of an account of the personal meeting the greater and wider historical events. Semezdin Mehmedinovic from Bosnia, story "My Heart," discusses a fifty year old man's heart attack he has in the shower. Certainly not the most convenient place to have a heart attack; but it is less of a comedic situation than it sounds. "My Heart," is one of the longer stories in this collection, but it is also one of the well written stories, especially in its stream-of consciousness like style. Where the events pass by like the landscape of a car window. They just melt into each other. Scene after scene; event after event. Everything becoming a spinning nightmarish world where one has no real control over the events.

"What is more, the ease with which these strangers shift my body through space creates an impression of my own weightlessness. I am what is left over of me, my mortal remains, as I lie in my bathrobe, under which I am naked."

Serbian writer Borivoje Adasevic in his story "For a Foreign Master," deals with the liquidation of Yugoslavia and the horrors of the resulting war, through a multilayered story, in which the brutality that was committed throughout the war, is addressed in a frank way.

That being said, not all these stories deal with the historical past, and the events that have since shaped the future. The first stories of this collection appeared surreal, and strange. I was wondering what kind of book I had got myself into. These slightly funny works where we doubt the sanity of the characters and the events presented to us. Yet these sometimes turn out to some absurdly funny stories. Like Bulgarian author Rumen Balabanov whose story "The Ragiad," deals with a poor man turned into a rag, and at first the poor housewife who must cope with this complaining household item, who does not want to dust or wipe or anything down - and who has a slight alcohol problem it almost appears. Yet do not be deceived by that premise, it is still a well accomplished story. The others like it, such as "The Breakup," in which some shapeless mass grows behind the television set, becomes allegorical. Then there is a story of a group of people who become stuck in an elevator. There desperate attempt at survival against one another, and the prospect of never being rescued. Yet when they finally are freed of their small confinement there is a longing to be with each other.

One of the best stories of this collection comes from Finland with Tiina Raevaara, and her story "My Creator, My Creation," which has been labeled and linked to a modern day version of Frankenstein. This story deals with the creation, and the eventual development of the creations character. Also its tragic relationship it has with its own creator. Written in deceptively simple prose and with delicate naivety in the first person, as a reader we come to inhabit this creations daily life and the observations are abound. Dame A.S. Byatt's story "Doll's Eyes," is a story of love - in more ways than just one; a slight creepy pseudo-collection for lack of a better word; and the betrayal that happens of loving another person. From Ireland there is the comedic tale of a man who hears an orchestra that plays in his bones. Hence the title "Music in the Bone." The story that ensures is a comedic farce of trying to understand it, and an embarrassed, wife of her musically gifted husband. Whose musical performances in public received no applauds - because no one else could hear the music. Other stories worth mention like "The Eye of the Maple," by Ieva Toleikytė tells of a nameless disease that turns children blue - and the pseudo-doctors who try to heal them - and the barbaric acts of casual almost ritualistic violence of children. Then there is the hilariously romp of a story "Me and My Sacred Cow," which is surreal strange and yet a thorough delight, in all its oddities, which comes from Tania Maliarchuk of the Ukraine. Frances Marie Redonnet and her story "Madame Zabee's Guesthouse," discusses our inability to control fate - as the characters cross cultural borders and nationalities and sexual taboos and genders, we understand that no matter how we change, it still a very fatalist story. Yet well written in a lush prose style. A peculiar example of Europe and its language crossing barriers is the Turkish writer Zehra Cirak who writes in German. Her story "Memory Cultivation Salon," is one of bitter sweet feel good. The premise is about the main character - an elderly woman; reminisces about her first kiss with an older man, and where she learned to blow smoke rings. It's incredibly bittersweet, at least for me. The memories of sharing a first kiss and the fact that no one will ever achieve that again that first moment that sensation is a bitter sweet and wistful feeling. One were you smirk to yourself in that private memory.

There you have it Gentle Reader. "The Best European Fiction [of] 2013," a delightful mixture of surreal and magically mundane tales; to the political and historical to the personal tales dealing with memories and the individual lost in the greater historical era. Some succeed, while others do not match their counterparts. These stories are funny, powerful, haunting, personal and tragic - they are even difficult. They are carnivalesque masks in which each author adorns, and celebrates European fiction. A delightful read that, in the future I can see myself dipping into repeatedly.

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

Friday 23 August 2013

Nobel Speculation (continued)

Hello Gentle Reader

First and foremost – allow me to extend my warmest and gracious thanks to all of you who have read my previous post in regards to my own speculation, of the Nobel Prize for Literature. As summer winds down the literary awards start the final round – the most notable one: The Nobel – and for English readers The Booker and for the German readers The German Book Prize. Again my thanks to all the readers, who read the speculative nominees. Still Gentle Reader, there is so many more author’s I’d like to name – and we will get to them. First and foremost though I wanted to talk about an interesting article I read the other day.

The other day, I read an article in the online publication of “World Literature Today,” in regards to Ismail Kadare – a perennial runner for the Nobel Prize for Literature – along with Czech writer Milan Kundera. The article titled “Why Ismail Kadare Should Win the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature,” by Nina Sabolik a PhD student – begins with: “I should hate Ismail Kadare.”

What follows is a dissertation and historical lesson on Albanian and Macedonian feud. Which Kadare further supported with his refusal to sign a petition, which recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name. In doing so Kadare was the only one out of seventy authors at the conference, not to sign the petition. Five of those seventy authors were Albanian. In these regards the dissolution of the Former Yugoslavia’s consequences in some regards are still felt. Another reason the author claims why she should hate Kadare is that he collaborated with communist leader Enver Hoxha and his regime. In doing so Kadare did not protest enough. Still what I have understood is that Kadare did work for the government – but; was also highly critical of the government, and had committed publishing offenses. To the point where the censors – the police of the official party reality; had actually banned his books from publication. So this is not the Mo Yan case. Still at the end of this, first paragraph Ms. Sabolik, clarifies that she does not hate Kadare – after reading his work; and is so amazed by his work that she would like to nominate him for the Nobel Prize for Literature. From here on she explains why.

The bulk of this article was what pleased me the most. The author (Nina Sabolik) didn’t just base her opinion on the fact that the author was popular or at the forefront of Albanian or a giant of world literature. She analytically provided factual data, in order to support her claim. The most aggravating aspect of, people touting their favourite authors to win the world’s most prestigious and lucrative literary prize is that they just say:

“Because he is the king of [insert country here] letters.”

“Because [insert country here] has not won the prize ever/been two decades [or more].”

Among other; less factual statements. What most people to need to understand about the, Nobels (all of them) is that they are not the Olympics. These are scientists, writers and poets, activists and politicians and doctors, each nominated for the award, based upon their individual merit. This is not running around a track, throwing a javelin; skating in figure eights. The authors nominated, are not donning their head bands, and putting on their running shoes. They’re not running around the track like some horse race.

Sabolik goes on to detail the achievements and life of Kadare. She details his avoidance of writing clearly about the dictatorship. In favour of being elusive, and metaphorical in his criticism of the government. Often making compassions of historical figures or historical times and atrocities and folklore, to get the message across. For this though, the President of the League of Albanian writers and Artists had deliberately criticized Kadare; for his inability to deal with contemporary political situations. Instead focusing on history and folklore. The greatest piece of work that Sabolik uses, in favour of Kadare is his monumental novel “The Siege.”

“The Siege,” has been given comparison to Márquez, Coetzee, Pamuk, and Rushdie. Set in the fifteenth century the novel deals with Albania’s inability to come to terms with the Ottoman Empire. This means war is lurking overhead, and the fate of the people has been sealed. – Then the inevitable happens. The war begins. The novel details the days, weeks and months that follow the war. The battles that ensure, the despair of the plain, the bloodshed and all those involved. – It can be in a way difficult to think of this as a parable, to contemporary Albania. Annexed into the Soviet Union; and the puppet rule of Enver Hoxha.

The best quote from this article in regards to Kadare and why he should win the Nobel Prize for Literature is the following:

“All the main objections to Kadare’s nomination for the Nobel Prize stem from a single source: the inability of a Western audience to leave behind its own cultural provincialism and appreciate a writer who does not fit the world literature stereotype of, as James English describes it, a locally flavored multicultural mélange.”

Nina Sabolik; goes into further detail that Kadare is not an openly dissident author. He left Albania and sought out political asylum in nineteen-ninety one, only a year before Albania communist regime collapsed. Though many called Kadare the “Albanian Solzhenitsyn.” The west felt it has been misplaced on him. Still with Kadare’s comments:

“Dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible. The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship.”

Obviously this no Mo Yan again. At the same time, Kadare has also been a bit critical of being referred to as a “Solzhenitsyn-figure,” – because dissidence in Enver Hoxha regime was impossible, according to Kadare:

“Dissidence was a position no one could occupy [in Enver Hoxha's Albania], even for a few days, without facing the firing squad. On the other hand, my books themselves constitute a very obvious form of resistance.”

In these regards, Kadare is neither a conformist, nor a dissident, but an author who just happened to escape; and slyly took on Hoxha. This again though is not Mo Yan’s cowardly display of criticism. Criticism, which is given only to the regional political matters – not to that of the totalitarian government as a whole. Kadare went after Hoxha, and his regime. Kadare used folklore and historical references to hide his attack, in less political atmosphere, which was still criticised.

Still it doesn’t matter that Kadare’s work is opaque, his country too small, or that readers don’t know about Albania period. Then there is the complaint that his work is to sparse. What these critics who are grasping for straw need to remember, in Sabolik’s opinion, is that Kadare is awarded not by his country, not by his works difficult; but the merit that is there. Kadare is a giant in world literature. This however does not guarantee anything. But to for anyone to find fault in Kadare’s work, based on region, subject matter, or writing style is a bit ridiculous. Opaque is James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake.” Overwritten is Thomas Pynchon.

I write the above though, not in support, but as my own enjoyment of what I had read, by Nina Sabolik. Ms. Sabolik writes with confidence in her dissertation. She provides coherent and detailed, factual evidence that, supports her claim. She provides evidence, why it could not happen, and then counter argues. Her statements were clear and concise. They were easily understandable and Ms. Sabolik has enough confidence in her arguments that they, hold their own weight.

This brings me to the following.

Mieko Kanai – Japan – Kanai is my alternative to Murakami. This Japanese author is a poet and a fiction writer. She has two books translated into English – one from “Dalkey Archive Press,” – “The Word Book,” while the other is “Indian Summer,” and is impossible to find. Mieko Kanai at the age of twenty years old, she was the runner up for the Dazu Osamu Prize. The following year she received the Gendashi Techo Prize for poetry. Her work is known for its sensuality, and its meta-fictional properties (fiction wise), and its dream-like landscapes of “The Word Book.” One of the stories, had inspired a short film: “The Fragments of Winter.” The film is based off the short story “The Moon,” by Kanai, from her short story collection “The Word Book.” It was filmed by Edmund Yeo, and was acclaimed.

Friederike Mayröcker – Austria – To be honest Gentle Reader, I was very mad at myself for letting Mayröcker slip my mind. She’s Austria’s foremost poet. She’s known for a avant-garde style of poetry. It is rather complicated and complex. She’s described her writing process as being infused visually. Everything for Friederike Mayröcker comes in pictures. Her memory is filled, with photographs. Like an art gallery/exhibit, or a photo album. Mayröcker then goes inside of the pictures, and from there turns the pictures into language. This effectively translating the image into the linguistic realm. She is one of the most influential members of the Vienna Group. It should be noted that Mayröcker finds it impossible, to write outside of Vienna. The entire city has become part of her creative process. Mayröcker has known to experiment with short prose pieces. She has found success outside of poetry with radio dramas.

I forgot a few writers, and poets that I had not included in the previous Nobel Speculation thread.

H. A. Sayeh – Iran/Germany – An Iranian poet, who has been living in Germany since nineteen-eighty seven. He first published poetry while still a high school student. However Sayeh’s output has been small. He has an obsession with perfection – phraseology and philosophical discussion. This often leaves his poetry glittering in its well perfected craftsmanship.

Kiwao Nomura – Japan – This is an avant-garde Japanese poet. Again an alternative to the popular Murakami. He’s poems are different, subtle and unique. They play with form, linguistic structure. They are also known for being performed by dancers – and Nomura himself is known for his creative, performances as a poet, and organizer of poetry festivals. It is said that Nomura and fellow Japanese poet Yoshimasu Gozo have no equivalent in the English language.

Yoshimasu Gozo – Japan – Is another avant-garde Japanese poet. He is also well known as a photographer, artist and filmmaker, along with other activities. Many of his poems feature a cross-bending of linguistic word play. As well as multilingual blending elements from: French, English, Gaelic, Chinese and Korean, to name just a few. His poems rely on an intimate closeness, to them. Usually it happens in a historical location or geographical spot. This allows for the present and past to co-exist in the experience.

There you have it Gentle Reader. My blog post, to apologize for missing yesterday, because of some technical difficulties. I wanted to continue the Nobel speculation, and apologize to the above authors. Again trying to be as open to authors throughout the world, and genres: fiction writer, poet, and playwright; in countries that are not well known. As well as discussing, a good article that makes their case; quite well and strong. The Nobel speculation will continue when Ladbrokes announces their own, betting odds.

The Article:

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


Hello Gentle Reader

There was a line in “Maidenhair,” by Mikhail Shishkin – one of the greatest and renowned contemporary authors of Russian Literature; that (this will not be quotes because it may not be verbatim – I was reading in travel when I read this passage): fate takes pity on some, punishes others. This all happens with no scrutiny. Peter the master of fate in “Maidenhair,” by Mikhail Shishkin, scrutinizes, and is well aware that he holds the keys to the gates of paradise. Looking across the table of the refugees who, do their best to make their case heard. While our main character only known as the “the interpreter,” (of Russian refugee’s) only translates the petitioners pleas for mercy, for asylum. Yet Peter is skeptical. His matter of fact way of interviews, Name, Age, and reason for asylum is all meant to discover a lie; any false information at all. Yet there is an issue. The ever skeptical Peter is out to look for fault some false embellishing of information. But if you have only your story – your words; all past evidence of documentation or testimony’s left behind; how can you convince the ever skeptical Peter?

In this long sprawling novel, of just over five hundred pages, Mikhail Shishkin tries to answer the question; but also questions about life and death; love and world; as well as God. Ambitious subject matter – that also has potential to fall into cliché. Yet with such a novel that defies easy summarization, Shishkin has done something rather unique. Something difficult and does not always succeed in. Yet he accomplished something that I doubt many authors will or would be able to do, and pull off. It’s ambitious. it’s difficult and tightly packed with literary allusions, and shifting narratives and a continual steam of consciousness like style that – at times as a reader one may feel that they have bitten off more than they can chew – and often wonder if Mikhail Shishkin has also bitten off more than he can chew as well.

Mikhail Shishkin is not a new name on the literary scene. Shishkin is the handsome contemporary Russian author. With salt and pepper hair, trimmed scruff, and those pale sky blue eyes. I first came to know who Mikhail Shishkin back in two-thousand and eleven. The German website “,” had an interview with the Russian author. The interview was conducted because the German version of Maidenhair then translated as “Venushaar,” had won that, years “German International Literature Award.” Mikhail Shishkin has been living abroad though, for quite some time. Since nineteen-ninety five – almost twenty years; the author has been living in Switzerland. Though the Russian reading public and critics have revered and celebrated the author. In the interview, Shishkin has explained why his novels, were difficult to get translated in German. They were often rejected because they were seen as too ‘demanding,’ and therefore were risky in the market. Yet with the publication of “Venushaar,” in Germany and now “Maidenhair,” in English speaking countries – it is certainly understandable why there were reasonable concerns in regards to publishing a translation; at the same time it has proven to be well worth the risk.

If there are two literary darlings of two-thousand and twelve and two-thousand and thirteen it would be the Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai and Mikhail Shishkin. Both authors write demanding and challenging work. Yet both have been well received by critics and international readers, for their ability to challenge and reward. Mikhail Shishkin has had a different life from Krasznahorkai. After graduating from university where he studied English and German, Shishkin worked as a street sweeper, road worker, journalist, translator, and school teacher – then finally in nineteen-ninety three, Shishkin debuted with a short story “Calligraphy Lessons.” From nineteen-ninety five he lived in Zurich, Switzerland. Shishkin’s prose has been compared from Dostoevsky to Tolstoy all the way to expatriate author Vladimir Nabokov and even to James Joyce. Though many say if he were to be compared to any Russian writer it, would be Pushkin. Shishkin however had this to say in regards to the authors that have taught him, and which he admires:

“Bunin taught me not to compromise, and to go on believing in myself. Chekhov passed on his sense of humanity – that there can’t be any wholly negative characters in your text. And from Tolstoy I learned not to be afraid of being naïve.”

Mikhail Shishkin also made some news back in the early part of May. Mikhail Shishkin had asked for his name to be removed from an international literary event, as he did not want to represent a country: “where power has been seized by a corrupt, criminal regime [and] where the state is a pyramid of thieves.” Shishkin therefore did not attend the expo on ethical grounds as he put it. Though it still has not changed much political efforts in Russia. Just recently the government signed legislation that would ban talking about homosexuality and its existence with children – Santa Claus exists but not gay people! Other criticism has come over Russia defending the Syrian government regime, and there unresponsive attitude towards North Korea’s threats.

This is a difficult and demanding novel. “Maidenhair,” pushes the boundaries of logic without a second thought. The prose is lucid, lyrical and deals with a lot of stream-of-consciousness. There is no running continual arch of a story. No real plotline. This does not demean the work. As the short story writer, William Trevor once pointed out: a story does not need a plot; but it does need a point. Mikhail Shishkin’s novel does have a point over plot. He uses the interrogations or interviews between Peter and the petitioner – while the interpreter acts as the mode of correspondence; as a way of both showing the truth is subjective.

Many of the stories told through the interviews, are farfetched beyond belief. But in a sense Shishkin plays with the idea of truth, as well as stories. As it’s pointed out the people do not have any documentation or paper work to back up their claims. No matter how absurd they are. So Peter is less to catch their lies; scrutinize their supposed true accounts of their persecution. Yet these, stories like, much in this book baffles logic; and laughs at any concept of order. It is written in a sense of dream logic. Everything happens because it happens. Not with rhythm not with reason. In that sense this book can be very hard. It’s hard to get into because there is no relation and sometimes the demands that are being forced upon the reader, can sometimes be a bit too trying. In that sense its innovation is also its biggest flaw. At times it can be a rather large blemish. Yet it does succeed a lot. We understand what is going on only when we cease to attempt to place any sense of order on it. Eventually memories, memoirs, interrogation, and stories – they all merge into one another; bleed in and out.

I must admit though Gentle Reader; the question and answer format is not something that I particularly enjoyed in this book. It really tested my own tolerance for what I can accept, in an attempt at logical understanding or rational comprehension. It just proved to be frustrating, and tried the patience, that did not always run smoothly.

Yet there is salvation in the notebooks of Isabella. A young Russian girl who first starts keeping a notebook and diary during The Great War, and later lives on during the Soviet Union. She proves to be a humanely narrator. One who has hopes and dreams – she recounts observations of her family; she falls in and out of love; she feels no greater pleasure than to love. Each time she pours out her feelings of love and infatuation towards the new object of her affection. Yet later down the road it meets its eventual end. She recounts her admirable farther, her dutiful mother; her siblings that drift in and out of her life, like dandelion seeds in the wind. They all flicker in the incandescent light bulb of her memory. A continual tango of her life of highs and stalling periods, and lows where she confesses and pours out once again; only later on to be on the rise again.

Yet Isabella can at times be self-pitying and offer only banal observations that a young person can offer: such as her ugly hands; her enjoyment in the activity of singing, petty jealousies, annoyances with friends. Yet it’s much appreciated, and a sense of grounded realism and the story can be followed nicely feels more like an achievement and less like a bad mistake, or that you haven’t quite grasped what everyone else is so hyped up about. Yet its Isabella’s narrative that takes on a lot of the necessities of the novel, and in that sense, it allows for Mikhail Shishkin to show is novelistic abilities, and show, that he can deal with human concepts or abstract concepts and how they affect they individual. These themes of love, and war – death and heart break, blend so easily in with Isabella’s narrative. The loss of one of her lover, who went out to war, out of some senseless duty – or irritated jealousy and not being self-sacrificing like all the other brave soldiers; and instead finding himself sitting around debating why war happens and how to prevent it. Yet as Shishkin shows with Isabella, people have the uncanny ability to move on. Too forget their love and their loss for the dearly departed. They move on, and love again. They love the living. They feel the heartbeat. They laugh with them. They rejoice the sunshine on their skin. In a sense in Shishkin’s novel love does not belong to someone solely. It transfers and transcends from individual to individual. It is constantly in a shift. Constantly in movement. Husbands take lovers; and wives meet a gentleman caller. All because affection, has once again changed to some degree or another. Perhaps it’s not an original concept. Yet Shishkin deals with it well. Always avoiding clichés, but finding unique characters, and showing that the banality can be as interesting in the narrative in fact more true to the narrative then action filled events – like a war or some revolution. Though war and revolution also work for Shishkin; as Isabella lives though the events of the twentieth century, we see everything presented through her biased eyes. It is still very interesting.

Unfortunately this novel is very difficult to review. I feel as I’ve only been acquainted with this novel, and will most likely have to read it again and again and again before it starts to make sense; before I start to understand the literary allusions that are being presented in the text, and how they accompany and make it work. I can see why it was nominated for the Best Translated Book Award, but also how it was beat out by “Satantango,” is the Mikhail Shishkin writes and deals with themes that will need to be re-read and over looked again and again. One does not completely understand or comprehend what they are reading with “Maidenhair,” the first time they read it. They come to understand it more and more, after each re-reading, becoming not just acquainted with the work, but forming a deeper understanding and relationship with the text, and with what Shishkin has tried to accomplish and has in many ways achieved.

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 15 August 2013

Nobel Speculation 2013

Hello Gentle Reader.

Back in May, the Swedish Academy, released a tweet, announcing that the five candidates had been chosen. This set off a small firestorm of speculation. English publications released their usual suspects: Haruki Murkami of Japan; Don DeLillo and Philip Roth of America; and many were calling for the prize to be awarded posthumously to Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. Yet still let’s walk away from the usual suspects, and think about other authors eligible and named in speculation for the prize.

It cannot be denied though that with the death of Chinua Achebe that Africa as a continent, and its literature is at the forefront of the prize. The last Africa writer – in the sense from the continent of Africa (sorry Toni Morrison), and actual 'native,' or African by tribal origin; was playwright and poet Wole Soyinka from Nigeria, in nineteen-eighty six.

Here is the list, and the names that have been passed around. These are the ones that I have chosen to focus on. Yet will only see who wins until October.

Africa –

Ayes Kwei Armah – Ghana – Armah deals with postcolonial Africa, traditional African beliefs, and an invading western culture. Ayes Kwei Armah characters usually deal with, a sense of homeland and loss, and a new western world and existence – usually in the form of education. Armah has been cited as belonging to a new generation of Africa writers after Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. He has written about an increasing age of despair. A time of cross roads. With the exception “Two Thousand Seasons,” which goes back thousands of years, and discusses the transatlantic slave trade. It was written in allegorical format, and philosophised discussion; a departure from the autobiographical and the realistic of his other novels.

Nuruddin Farah – Somalia – The self-imposed exiled Somali writer, who writes in English, has been an international writer from, the continent. He has won numerous international awards, which includes the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. His most famous work is perhaps the “Blood in the Sun,” Trilogy; a coming of age story, in a post-independent world. It is in fact the first part of this trilogy “Maps,” that has cemented his reputation as a heavy weight champion, in contemporary literature. “Maps,” uses the second person narration, to discuss cultural identity and post-colonialism; set during and around with the Ogaden Conflict of nineteen-seventy seven. Farah himself has described his purpose of writing as “keeping his country alive by writing about it.”

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o – Kenya – Is a Kenyan author, who may be best described as using magical realism, in order to deal with African dictatorships, and traditional African beliefs. In this way, Thiong'o writes satirical and allegorical works that deal with contemporary political matters; without being obstinately realistic in their depiction. What does make this author interesting though is that he writes in a traditional African language. He chooses not to write in colonial English. He writes in Gikuyu / Kikuyu a tribal language. This is a bold move in keeping his language alive, where he may find his work more accessible by others countries, because of English being more accepted.

Mia Couto – Mozambique – Is Perhaps the most interesting author under the possibilities from Africa. First and foremost Mia Couto is actually the son of Portuguese immigrants, who had moved to the former colony. This does not lessen him though as a African possibility as he is a Mozambique author. Couto’s literary career started when he was fourteen. Some of his poems were published in the local newspaper. Three years later Couto went to university (Eduardo Mondlane University) to study medicine. Around this time the anti-colonial guerilla group “Mozambique Liberation Movement,” was struggling to overthrow colonial rule. After the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon, and the overthrow of the Estado Novo regime, Mozambique was on it was to independence. From there Couto’s studies were postponed to become a journalist for the Liberation Movement. Couto worked as a journalist, until nineteen-eighty five, to finish his studies in biology. Couto is considered one of the strongest voices of Mozambique literature. He has experienced the ‘African Experience,’ in the ways of independence, and use magical realism, to discuss a magical and fairy-tale like violent land. This year alone (twenty-thirteen) Couto won the Camões Prize; the most prestigious Portuguese language award.

Ben Okri – Nigeria – The youngest author to win the Booker Prize, at the age of thirty two; for his third novel “The Famished Road.” Ben Okri is one of the leading authors of Africa. Okri is hard to categorize within genre. Because of his realism and the depiction of the Spirit World, Okri is best called a magical realist. This goes against any postmodern claim; because of his affinity that there is something ahistorical and transcendent universal truths. That being said Okri does not identify himself as a magical realist, claiming that such a title is lazy on the parts of critics. Okri’s childhood and the belief of different realities has lead to the magical elements of writing and the questioning of a universal reality: “I grew up in a tradition where there are simply more dimensions to reality: legends and myths and ancestors and spirits and death [. . .]” This is why Okri is often compared to other authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie.

Ondjaki – Angola – I mention Ondjaki to humour myself. The author is far too young to win the award, at the age of thirty six. Yet from what I have read, Ondjaki deals heavily with the political situation of Angola. Ondjaki is a rising star of Angola and the African continent. Whose works are a stunning depiction and example of African Letters. I look forward to Ondjaki’s works of the future, and to see what he comes up with.

Middle Easte –

Adunis – Syria – Adunis is the grandfather of all modern Arabic poetry. With the turmoil and civil war happening within Syria thanks to the Arab Spring, Syria has been placed under the microscope; which also brings Adunis to the forefront. The greatest criticism or backlash was when Tomas Transtromer won the Nobel in two-thousand and eleven. Peter Englund the Permanente Secretary of the Swedish Academy had cited that the award is not given on political grounds; citing that such a notion is “literature for dummies.” Still Adunis literary merit alone is grand and prolific. The author has reshaped Arabic poetry, and has become in a sense a rebellious poetic figure; often breaking the rules of established Arabic poetry. Adunis has also helped spread the works of Transtromer in the Arabic world.

Amos Oz – Israel – Amos Oz recently took the Franz Kafka Prize earlier this year. Other authors who have won the prize are Harold Pinter and Elfriede Jelinek. Both went on to win the Nobel. Politically speaking, Amos Oz in regards to Israel and the Arabic world has been cited as a left leaning intellectual. He supports the idea of a two state system between Israel and Palestine. Yet this does not foreshadow his own literary merit and output. He is known for his realistic characters, and ironic touch; with the accompanying landscape and life in the kibbutz. All wrapped up with a slight critical tone.

Asia and Indo-subcontinent –

Ko Un – South Korea – Ko Un is often called a Zen poet. He is an embodiment of eastern philosophy. This categorization is also works because Ko Un, was once a Buddhist monk. Ko Un’s poems are accessible and universal. Individual stories have littered his poems; creating a large tapestry of what his poems come to represent, and discuss. His “Ten Thousand Lives,” has been a monument as the poet writes about all the lives he has encountered over his life time. Other aspects of his poetry, is a deep universal humanistic approach; as well as at times an all engrossing sadness – which has been brought on by the divided Korea’s, and the subsequent Korean War. Ko un has also written memories/autobiography, fiction, travel essays, essays, drama, and translations of classic Chinese. Still Ko Un is known primarily as a poet.

Oh-Jung Hee – South Korea – Oh-Jung Hee, is the Korean Virginia Woolf. Jung Hee is known for her feminist stance in the patriarchal Korean society. Were women authors have always been pushed aside in favour of male writers. Jung Hee first work was very imagistic. Her later period though has now mellowed into family life and domesticity; a trap for women.

Anita Desai – India – Is interesting because she is an Indian writer, literal language English, but also a woman. She was a founder of ‘Lyrical India,’ also known as the Indian Boom. Because she is a woman, many feel that she has a change, as the Swedish Academy will attempt to fill the women ‘quota,’ – also because she is a Indian author she may have another chance. Though still with the Nobel being awarded last year to a Asian author it may be unlikely.

Vijaydan Detha – India – A prominent Indian writer; who specialises in short stories. Though this name is a new one to me, the author is well known in Hindi literature. He is known as the “Shakespeare of Rajasthan Literature.” In two-thousand and eleven his name was listed as a contender for the Nobel Prize. Still one Detha is almost ninety years old, which may not play in his favour. Though specialising in the short story is interesting, seeing as no author has just been a short story author, and awarded the Nobel. The closely though would be the Russian author Ivan Bunin. Detha’s work is inspired and has a folktale and traditional story elements to them.

Europe –

Yves Bonnefoy – France – Frances preeminent poet, is now ninety years old. He is a prolific writer. He has written numerous collections of poetry; several books of tales; countless critical studies and essays on art; as well as a dictionary on mythology. Bonnefoy was breiefly part of the Surrealist movement. His poetry is deeply detailed with water, bread, stone, tree, blood and so on. His poetry is austere, and immediate and intimate. Creating a empathetic tie with reader and poet. His poetry embodies the common good. Yet Bonnefoy’s age works against him.

Philippe Jaccottet-- Switzerland – Is another poet. The grand Swiss poet has translated the likes of Rilke, Goethe, and Homer, into French along with his own work. Jaccottet’s poetry deals with the secrets, and the beauty of the world, and how it is both fleeting and all too real; yet avoids capture. Jaccottet’s later poems are prose poems. They deal with a constant awareness of death. Utilizing a hunted animal as a metaphor for the fate in which we all share. Jaccottet however is eighty eight years old, which may play against him.

Anita Konkka – Finland – Anita Konkka is not a well-known writer to English readers. Anita Konkka has only one book translated into English. She lacks significant representation in the English language. Yet she has been anthologized in the Best European Fiction twenty eleven. Anita Konkka writes about dreams, and their relation to the waking world and reality. She has been publishing since the late seventies, and has written essays and radio-dramas; as well as a dream book. She is a scholar of love and its relationships – the entire spectrum; problematic and not. Yet not with pity, but instead with a friendly emphatic understanding.

Peter Nadas – Hungary – From Hungary there is Peter Nadas. Hungarian literature has been a rising star in Eastern Europe. Peter Nadas is known for his depiction of isolation and alienation, from behind the Iron Curtain. Nadas is however most importantly known for his innovation and stylistic tendencies. His novel “A Book of Memories,” took him twelve years to write. It also earned Nadas comparison to Proust. Yet this book, was just the beginning of the authors next longer piece of work. “Parallel Stories,” is a door stop doozy of a book. It runs to about one thousand, five hundred, and twenty pages long. It was written in three volumes, in Hungary. It took eighteen years to write. Nadas work is strong, detailed, innovative and of course extremely demanding.

László Krasznahorkai – Hungary – Krasznahorka is the shining star of Hungarian letters. He is in high demand with the literary elite. He is the master of long winding sentences; and the Beckett and Bernhard, avoidance of the paragraph. Krasznahorkai deals with the metaphysical in his work. Along with a constant feeling and threat of apocalyptic doom. That with his long winding sentences, lack of paragraph breaks, it leaves one with a feeling of claustrophobia. Though only a few of his books have been translated, he is known as an amazing writer – well renowned in his native Hungary and Germany.

Ersi Sotiropoulos – Greek – Only two Greek writers have won the Nobel Prize. Both of who were poets. The last author was Odysseas Elytis in nineteen-seventy nine. Only two books by Ersi Sotiropoulos have been translated in English. Again she has been lack representation in the English language. Still what I have been able to gather is that Sotiropoulos is one of Greece’s most acclaimed writers. She was the first Greek writer to win both the Greek National Book Award, as well as the Greece’s Book Critics Award. Ersi Sotiropoulos is a prolific author of short stories, novels as well as poetry. She writes in a naked bare bone style, with great depth, and natural lucidity. Though her prose do away with beginnings, middles and ends.

Kiki Dimoula – Greece – Kiki Dimoula is the foremost female poet of Greece. Her poems have an economy of words, often to the points of being minimalist in structure. Leaving a lot of white on the page. This however works in Dimoula’s favour. Like a faded photograph Dimoula’s, poems come to symbolise the fading completeness of existence, and the eventual oblivion and nothingness that awaits us all. That being said Dimoula retains a sense of hope in a troubled and unforgiving world. Her themes orbit dissolution, especially, that of the post-war era, and the civil war that followed, which lead to the coup and another dictatorship.

Leonard Nolens – Belgium – Nolens is the giant of Flemish poetry and literature. Leonard Nolens is a poet and a diarist. His debut was in; nineteen sixty-nine; with baroque and experimental poetry. By the nineteen eighties, Nolen’s poetry became more sober. His work is known for its serene reflection on oneself and on others. Leonard Nolens is haunted by his themes, especially the desire to escape ones identity. Still all of Nolens poetry is known for its profound thoughts. His journals are fascinating because they straddle the line between poetry and identity freely. His most recent collection “Tell The Children We’re No Good,” shows a departure away from the singular ‘I,’ figure that most poets use.

Javier Marías – Spain – Marías is one of Spains most beloved writers. Under Franco’s dictatorship, social realism was the norm, and was the only approved literature. The kind of literature, which awakens the consciousness of others, to the atrocities around them. I am not well versed with Marías much on a personal level. He is a beloved figure in Spain; a bestselling author, and a translator.

Olga Tokarczuk – Poland – Tokarczuk is still a bit young, but her merits alone are strong. She writes her novels in a ‘fragmented consciousness,’ style. In other words: she writes her novels with brief vignettes and stories. Her work is fragmented and beautiful. Mixing the mythological, and the supernatural, along with metaphysical to create a varied and colourful tapestry of the human condition. Only two of her novels have been translated as of yet: “Primeval and Other Times,” and “House of Day, House of Night.” Both novels depicted small communities and their personal histories, and the impact of the larger history. Tokarczuk’s work is entertaining, thought provoking, accessible and thoroughly beautifully written.

Adam Zagajewski – Poland – Another Neustadt International Prize for Literature Laureate; Zagajewski is a prolific contemporary poet. Poland, has housed famous poets Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska – both won the Nobel Prize; and both were the two living Laureates of Literature from Poland until two-thousand and when Miłosz died. Zagajewski was once a protest poet, under the communist regime. But has since moved away from that title, and class, and has since moved towards other more pressing themes. The most notable is the presence of history in the ordinary day to day life of the present.

South and Central America –

Rodrigo Rey Rosa – Guatemala – Rodrigo Rey Rosa is elusive. He is known to travel extensively. In all biographies, each wills state that not much is known about him, until he moved to New York. He is known to have been have been the protégé under Paul Bowles, becoming his literary executor, after his death. Rose has based books on and around North African myths and the myths of the indigenous people of South and Central America.

Eduardo Galeano – Uruguay – Galeano is one of the most prolific and renowned Uruguayan writers, and journalists. He has shown a keen detail for history and interest in Latin American history. Yet if one were to describe his work the following passage from “The Nobodies,” does it best:

“Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream of escaping poverty: that, one magical day, good luck will suddenly rain down on them – will rain down in buckets. But good luck doesn’t rain down, yesterday, today, tomorrow or ever. Good luck doesn’t even fall in a fine drizzle, no matter how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their left hand is tickling, or if they begin the new day on their right foot, or start the new year with a change of brooms. The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The nobodies: the no-ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, dying through life, screwed every which way. Who are not, but could be. Who don’t speak languages, but dialects. Who don’t have religions, but superstitions. Who don’t create art, but handicrafts. Who don’t have culture, but folklore. Who are not human beings, but human resources. Who do not have faces, but arms. Who do not have names, but numbers. Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the crime reports of the local paper. The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.”

Dalton Trevisan – Brazil – Trevisan is the short story writer from Brazil. His stories are known for their colloquial language, and often brutal discussion of the lower class life of his home city of Curitiba. His work is known for being refined, and compared to that of being haiku in prose. Only one of his books have been translated and published in English. That was in nineteen-seventy two with: “The Vampire of Curitiba.” With the use of popular drama, underlying violence, lack of morals and often called perverse tales, revealing the underside of society.

Australia and Oceania –

Gerald Murnane – Australia – Is a reclusive author. It is famously stated that Murnane almost never leaves the state of Victoria. His first works were grammatically interesting, with long weaving sentences, and were largely autobiographical as they dealt with his childhood and adolescents. Murnane is a curious creature. His later works are known for being fascinating and obscure. He is not well known, but he has a devoted readership, in Australia and internationally. He is known as one of the best writers, currently working in the English language. He is admired by J.M. Coetzee a Nobel Laureate.

Honourable Mentions –

I have a renewed vigor and enjoyment for the short story now. This is why these two authors are mentioned. While some authors go out of their way to write a thousand pages, phone book epic – these two authors choose to write, in the intensity of the moment. But also use flashes of memory and dialogue to create elaborate and beautiful back stories. They tackle the human condition with empathy and sympathy. They are ironic; and they are comical.

Alice Munro – Canada – One cannot help but be a bit, bias towards their own country. Alice Munro is a perennial favourite for the Nobel. The Canadians that actually aware of the Nobel Prize, each year hold their breaths (for short periods of times) that Alice Munro may receive it. She is the best shot. Her stories have been compared to novels in depth, and characterization. Her themes are secrets, coming of age in the back drop of small towns, as well as the conflict that comes with small town morals and values; and family expectations. Later works encompass the trials of middle age, of loneliness, and in a sense a keen awareness of the passing of time. Obsessively almost Munro deals with the passage of time and its lament that it leaves. Her work has been described as encompassing what it means to be a human being. The desire for love and for work – and the failings at both of them. The short comings of being individuals. As well as the epiphany that sheds light on the moment.

William Trevor – Ireland – William Trevor is considered one of the greatest short story writers of all time. He is also an accomplished playwright and novelist. Trevor though is known primarily as a short story writer. He has had a long career over some decades; and has written acute observations of the human condition within this timeframe. He is known for his comical touch, and dealing with Ireland and England equally in his stories. As well as the great divide between Protestant and Catholic. His later novels have become more complex and sophisticated both in style, and in ways of dealing with the subject matter.

There you have it Gentle Reader. My list of different authors. All while attempting to avoid the usual suspects. Did I achieve the goal? No. At least not entirely. I did add some of my own hopes for the prize, as everyone does. But for now Gentle Reader, we wait to see what happens, in October, and update the list as other speculative lists are released.

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 8 August 2013

To Mervas

Hello Gentle Reader

Poets often make the best prose writers. They have a distinct understanding of language. They know how well placed words and precise diction, can enforce the narrative. They have an ear for musical scale of vowels. They know how to use rhyme and a sense of metre in sentences. They are also capable of using original and precise metaphors and association of words, to create images that reinforce the narrative itself. Poets have an acute sense of image and emotion. Yet poetry itself is often deemed difficult, and that poets often write poetry for other poets. That being said there are some amazing poets in this world, who understand simplicity and inclusiveness in their work. Many poets often branch out of the poetic sphere, and show that their poetic work is more than just mere lines on a page. Poems can be performed. Dancers interpret the words, sounds, and images into cohesive movements putting the poem into a more physical sphere. Yet it is when they turn to prose, that their talents shine the most. Such authors like Herta Müller, Elfriede Jelinek, Ersi Sotiropoulos, and Bei Dao; and even though she has not written poetry, her work carries the same air to it: Amy Hempel. Each of these authors knows constraint. They know what words will deliver a more effective impact. They understand that less truly is more. They know that writing should be compact and air tight. Herta Müller’s short sentences are so precise. The sentences have an economy of words. They build up and up. They are individual brush strokes, which paint an often bleak and dour picture. Yet with beautiful language, the melancholy often becomes crystallised. With surreal imagery and often Kafkaesque situations, Herta Müller often is able to depict life under Communism in Romania, from the perspective of an alienated person, whose naturalised language is foreign. It is the duality of language that Herta Müller has admitted that has helped gather an often appreciative understanding of the power of words, and her often uniquely comparative use of association. One of the greatest examples is the rose. In Germany the rose is of female association. Whereas in the Romanian language, the rose is of male association. Herta Müller straddles both languages equally. The German of her childhood, and the Romanian of the city, come together in often surprising ways. In the case of the rose – Herta Müller simply puts the man in a dress.

Elfriede Jelinek on the other hand, deals with language as a musician deals with sounds of varying instruments. It is no surprise that Jelinek who trained from a young age in the acts of musical composition, by studying the piano, recorder, viola and guitar. Yet it is often funny that Jelinek abandoned her prestigious and prodigious musical talents in favour of a more abstract world of words and definitions. Yet Jelinek tackles linguistic ingenuity with often surprisingly and very intimate writing. Though the content is rough, and very grotesque to the point of being deliberately obscene; it is written in such a high culture and refined way that it is no more pornographic as the statute of David. Yet it is certainly more scathing and vicious. Elfriede Jelinek uses, very fragmented language, dual meaning of words, and a steady stream of puns, word plays, and often references to both high and low cultures, to present a society and a world that continually undermines the individuals, in its own use of refined sense of language. From commercials and marketing to the poetics of the mundane and the downright obscene. She presents a world fractured and fighting with in itself.

Sotiropoulos is the most deceiving. She is a poet by nature. Yet her language is not ornamental. It is bare bones. Yet her prose is image driven. It’s vivid and detailed. With sudden use of free association of words, Sotiropoulos turns the everyday into the abstract and the ambiguous. It is transformed and renewed in a far scarier and often scrutinizing light. Violence is dark shadows, which flicker around the edges. Yet her writing is compact. Everything is sketched only as far as it needs to be. Allowing for a lot to hide and left to be discovered. It is these unrealized moments, and stories that have neither a beginning nor an ending that gives the prose an often inconclusive ending. When I read Bei Dao’s short story collection “The Waves,” the first thing that comes to mind, is just how deceptively simple it is. Yet how much the works are full of wisdom. Yet what is surprising is how Bei Dao does not look toward a grand political or ideological, villain. He presents the worlds of the characters and their lives, as pieces of a shipwreck that happened after the Cultural Revolution. How they drift along, and are still recovering and recollecting their now shattered lives. Yet once again it is how much is shown; rather than spoken that gives it, its unique air, and vitality.

Admittedly I think some of the greatest authors, who are poets, could and would have written some of the most beautiful stories. Wisława Szymborska already had a sense of narrative in her poetry. With a light touch of the ironic, and a gentleness that is compassionately human and incredibly empathetic person that would surely shine in her prose. I could picture those stories as small little gems – like fables, that speak of the quiet beauty and the necessities of life.

Elisabeth Rynell is both a poet and a prose writer. She has a beautiful command of language. At times lyrical and airy, but also incredibly visceral. “To Mervas,” is her first book translated into English. It was shortlisted for Sweden’s August Prize. To describe Rynell’s writing is to call it what it is: emotional. “To Mervas,” deals with some extreme emotions; and as the reader, we mine and make our way through the troubled landscape of Marta’s very extreme inner self. Beauty and terror are one in the same for Rynell.

“Somewhere in my life is a city shrouded in darkness. It’s a big city, probably a capital. All roads lead to it, into the dark, where they dissolve. I know the this city exists, that like all cities it has houses and streets, that a kind of living takes place there, stories are formed, meetings and scenes.”

The internal dreamscapes of Marta at times become grounded in the everyday. Memories follow Marta like a guilty shadow. A ball and chain. A reminder of her penance. Rynell handles the melodramatics’ very well. She understands the nature of the work, and the interest on focusing on a characters psychology of being both victim and perpetrator, will have pit falls. Some avoidable; and others one cannot help but fall into. Yet it is the ease and poetic beauty of the language that is always the saving grace. Observations are abounding, and the format of the writing is very intimate and personal. As a reader one comes to understand Marta, and her search identity as she herself slowly reveals and begins to face the past, that walks behind her, and the present and future to which she walks towards. That being said Rynell also uses a limited third person narrative to make observations and pass judgements. Marta is human. Flawed by design. Mistakes are made as by her nature.

In this narrative, though, there is a lot mysticism and myth making. When Marta’s son is taken away from her, she describes herself as a mother bear, a tigress, and a lioness. A hissing spirited animal. Her motherly instincts kick in, and she immediately fights back. Though this is all in vain. She latter describes herself as being declawed. Weak and defeated; she can do nothing. She accepts it.

“Back then, no other world existed except for the one contained inside the hospital red bricks. I had to subscribe to that world and its routine, routines that made the day so similar they eventually like one, like a simple, rhythmic pattern repeated again and again, a ticking without variation that kept the world going. No suffering or can resist being swallowed by a hospitals regulations and stubborn reasoning. An ingenious protective net of cleanliness and restraint is perpetually suspended over the abyss. It wasn’t until I was locked up inside this alien order that I began to understand what the pedantic rhyme in my own life had been about.”

In the end Marta’s world revolves around her handicapped son. Though everything in this novel is in some way the after events. The outcome of the past and the decisions made. Marta was obviously emotionally troubled before her handicapped son, entered her life. her father was abusive and well-rounded in the pervasive tactics of all forms of abuse and torture. The carpet beater is his favourite impellent, in his degraded form of discipline. Yet Marta exhibits the years of this relationships effect on her. Marta reflects on the first time Kosti and her had met. He was warm towards her, and she only occupied a seat. She thoroughly cared only for her studies not for the human companionship that he had offered. Yet persistence changed Marta. She grew out of her isolation and her exile away from others, and yet in turn had to depart once again. Enter her handicapped son, the product of a one night stand, and both her reason to live, and the very strenuous cause of her own emotional failure; as both a mother and an individual. In the end this is the greatest sin she committed to herself. This is where it unfortunately gets very tense, and often feels a bit forced. Whenever one deals with lovers or motherhood and parental love, there is always a certain sentimental act involved. Fortunately Rynell handles this well. Yet it still left me feeling very cold. It left a deep emptiness inside of me. It felt like it was too easily, wrapped up. That the journey that Marta undertakes, both physically and emotionally was never fully realized to the full potential. Yet getting past that, the prose is beautiful. Harrowing one moment, and the next a luscious understanding of the natural world, and human kinds own place within it:

“It takes time to discover that the forest is a place where the space between things matters more than the trees, that it is a swaying in-between world where light and shadow rule. Someone is playing an instrument in there, sometimes low and gliding, other times jerky and bouncy, a bow of light and shadow slides across the strings of all the tree trunks and branches and twigs.”

I think the greatest observation though comes from the beginning of this novel, in which Rynell proclaims, with grace and poetic philosophy that “Life must be a story, or else it will crush you.” And so it could be said about this novel. It’s a story that Marta tells in order for the weight of her own life not to crush her. Though there are at times, flaws, and the extremity is not handled so carefully (somehow it is different than Jelinek) and it did leave me feeling slightly empty; the lyrical precision on its own, makes this novel so wonderful and certainly worth a second reading.

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 1 August 2013


Hello Gentle Reader

Personally I suspect that there will always be a delight in narratives, about children. This innocent directionless view of the world. Were one is carried away more on the wind then by their internal compass. From south wind, with its gentle breeze carries one off to some summer paradise. Or the west wind that follows one behind, like an invisible dog – carefully watching and observing one as they kick stones. Boredom preoccupying the mind. To the north wind that blasts the face. Soft shards of snowflakes sticking to the scarves and toques that our mothers made us wear; and which we begrudgingly wore. Yet after the north wind, bitter and mean, pushed at our jackets, tried to nip at our ears, and went after any exposed flesh, we became more thankful for our mothers: thankful for their warm hearts, and their almost doting fuss over us. The east wind was the most horrifying in my opinion. It pushes over the prairies. It’s warm and dry, like locusts breath. It appears to come off at the very edge of summer. When it mixed with the coolness of the sky and the silent stillness and the wet humidity of an incoming storm, disaster was almost abound. A cloudburst of hail! Small ice orbs, which hurt like stones. Dinting the car and shattering on impact, when they hit the ground. They tear and shred the plants. Petals massacred around. Their home plants unadorned heads naked and bruised. House siding punctured full of holes. Tree’s left in tatters. Their leaves lacerated and pockmarked, like rusted tin cans. When it’s all over and done with, the damage is evident. Yet with a slight thankful “phew,” it wasn’t worst then it could have been. A tornado was in the forecast – well at least a warning. It’s the east wind speciality; this feared spinning vortex of dirt and dust. Then in the end, its parting leaves an oddment: a rainbow. A bow of vibrant colours from all over the day. Blue from the sky, yellow of the prairie harvest, green of the grass, red of the flowers, and violet the passing and last colour of the day. All placed on the backdrop of the grey sullen clouds of the east wind, with an eerie silence permeating throughout the landscape. – The best writers who write in the coming of age work use a lyrical prose and almost magically infused realism. In essence they depict a world foreign and incredibly unique to childhood and children. These childhood stories for adults are some of the best work that I have had the chance to read. I think of the children that have populated the works of some of the best works I have read, like Kamal from Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Cairo Trilogy,” who especially in “Palace Walk,” where his innocence often, offers the most comedic elements of the work. The ‘girl,’ from Adania Shibli’s “Touch,” – whose impressionistic and lyrical prose, shows the beauty of the world; and its unfiltered (though not understood) horrors of life, to the forefront. Jean-Marie Gustav Le Clezio’s characters: Mondo, Lullaby, and Daniel – characters who try to understand the worlds natural beauty; to refusing to go to school, and exploring the world; to young boy who decides to see the sea, and live amongst an ocean of blue. I know there was enjoyment in their simplicity. Their almost earthly sense of the world. Taking everything at face value, and yet still having a sense of wonder of the world. They offer some of the most profound, innocent and comical understandings of the world.

Severo Sarduy was a highly acclaimed Cuban poet, novelist, playwright and literary critic. He lived and worked in Paris and is considered one of the best prose writers of the twentieth century – along with so many other great prose writers. He died at the age of fifty six in nineteen-ninety three, from complications of AIDs. In nineteen-seventy two he won the Prix Médicis (Medici Prize) for his novel “Cobra.” Along with other Cuban writers: Alejo Carpentier, José Lezama Lima, and Reinaldo Arenas – he was considered one of the greatest writers from Cuba. Sarduy wrote very lyrical and Barque inspired prose. The prose itself is something entirely splendid and unique in its own way. The entire world and landscape that Severo Sarduy presents is both dreamlike, exotic and a mystical nightmare. One in which the poor main protagonist Firefly appears to inhabit. With his lack of direction he often disrupts the surroundings, and finds himself in some of the most nightmarish and comical situations. The syntax of the sentences renders each situation with colourful and vivid descriptions. Often to the point of excessive visual delight. As Roland Barthes stated; to read Sarduy is to be immersed in: “the teeming flux of every kind of linguistic pleasure.”

“To us, they appear as if in yellowed photographs or old faded postcards, surrounded by their appurtenance, their favourite gadgets, like peasants at a fair with the wooded cigarette’s, desiccated cockatoos, sailors’ caps, or tiny rings, all produced by the photographer and yet true to the subject; identity.”

Set in the fictional city of Upsalón U – “Firefly,” recounts the whole history of pre-Castro revolution Cuba. Sprinkled with symbols and images, along with their own cultural markers of hurricanes, slave markets, squalid brothels, mystical Caribbean cults, radios, jukeboxes, and baseball caps – all of it exists in this dreamscape of what maybe a baroque hallucination. A favourite passage early on, remarks about how each family has their own secret recipe for rat poison. As the commercially bought product, has but become ineffective.

“Each family kept a potion of its own invention (the beasts were invulnerable to store-bought ones, immune to all known poisons), which they spread among the armoires and under the beds before retiring and kept in the pantry alongside bunches if onions hanging from the rafters, whole hams for Christmas Eve, copper frying pans, and one or more seven-armed Toledo lamps, vestiges of a nearby antique dealer gone bankrupt or a long-past fire in some synagogue.”

One can just almost see the portrayal: An exotic land, of vibrant coloured birds; phosphorescent insects, dazzling snakes of sunlit scales, and fish with translucent moonlit bellies. Amidst all this a culture based off of African and colonial mixed cultures. Of Christian symbols desecrated with afro-voodoo. Of skulls and spirits, find home in the gardens where their tribal marked practitioners sold as slaves; carryon their ancient customs of their far off homeland. Just picture the radiant houses and buildings. Their colours polished to the point of luminosity. Red, greens, aquamarines, blues as deep as the ocean, turquoise the colour of the sea at sunset; hazy sulphuric lemon yellows; violets as vibrant as bird feathers, and purples that glimmer like dusk. Those simply constructed buildings. Adorned with the arabesque balcony railings; the barque inspired decoration. Simply sweeping arches, held up by the Greek inspired plaster sculpted columns.

Firefly’s problems all start, with the arrival of the hurricane. That frightens him. His fear becomes a cruel joke by his family. So no one will know he was afraid; Firefly comes up with a concoction – an alchemistical brew of homemade rat poison and linden tea. Yet his homicidal plot is foiled, when taken to the hospital the affliction is realised rather suddenly and abruptly by two grotesque master doctors – Gator the herbalist and Isidro the fat anatomist. Who discover the fake comatose Firefly – and are his exiling judges, who force him away from his childhood world and home. These two imposing quacks often appear throughout the narrative. They become symbols of Firefly’s paranoia of the world, and become the embodiment of the islands corruption.

From there, our poor Firefly is found by some mystical priestess in a cloth turban, wrapped around her cranium. It is she who takes Firefly to Munificence; who – as her name suggests; runs a charity house. It is there that Munificence offers Firefly a job and a place to sleep. It is there as an errand boy that Firefly begins his surreal misadventures. From falling in love with the redheaded Ada; discovers alcohol; and catches a case of Lethargy cubensis (which is a made up disease, which is cleverly invented to poke fun at lazy drunk Cubans); but from there Firefly is subjected to strange and seedy brothels and nightmarish sex shows. This is all woven in Sarduy’s beautifully composed of mayhem prose, which with barque imagery and surreal logic, creates a very strange and unique world all on its own. It is here that Firefly is set on his journey. A search for his identity; through the landscape of a decadent island. A place populated by slave markets, eccentric characters, and a rotting landscape. It often reads like a, alcoholics three week bender, when the sound of one’s mind is compromised by the liquor in the stomach. It’s that kind of feeling one has when their legs shake, and the body can barely be kept composed on land. When lights flash bye, and faces morph and shape into the most grotesque masks. Sarduy does not allow Firefly, to escape this morally ambiguous world. He keeps him confused and he keeps him lost:

“He sensed in an opaque way, as if he had received an unspoken but fatal warning, that he would always be lost, disoriented, lacking an interior compass, as if the entire Earth were a laborious labyrinth or a perverse mirage of movable walls someone had contrived just to get him lost, to bring him down.”

In this sense Sarduy is incredibly cruel to the poor innocent Firefly. He suffers from the cruel world; from sexual impulses, shameful betrayals a multitude of feelings and instincts in which he cannot understand. By the end of the novel Firefly see’s the truth of the matter. He sees what people are truly capable of. He understands that people can be sold as slaves; children handed over to the inquisition. Firefly’s resentment grows after he breaks free from his disillusioned chrysalis. It is here that Sarduy makes his profound statement clear. Firefly the poor exiled, alienated and lonely creature comes to understand the pessimistic truth:

“Man is the shit of the universe.”

Though the tale is comedic, and has absurd overtones with surreal experiences and baroque imagery, it’s essentially a very cruel joke. Though we are enveloped in the lush beautiful and polyphonic, poetic composed prose – the experiences and message is quite clear. This is a story set in the sunshine and golden rays and palm trees. It’s a place of exotic beauty. Yet it is a where disaster is hidden behind the shudders of the houses. It lurks behind the flamingo pink walls and the sea foam green painted fences and red doors. Where hurricanes come bursting and blowing down the street.

There is a feeling that this novel is a lament to Sarduy’s lost homeland. After Fidel Castro came into power, in nineteen-sixty, Sarduy left the country. He never returned. For the rest of his life he lived in exile, in Paris, a city that welcomed dissident and young writers from all over. It is in this novel that Sarduy writes of exile: exile from his country, its geographical exile, its political exile, the alienation of adolescences and its existential exile, and in many ways the social exile of Sarduy’s sexuality.
This novel though is a pleasure to behold. An even greater pleasure to read. Despite the bleak undertones, Sarduy’s verbosity is wonderful. Full of twists and turns. If you read it out loud it tickles the tongue with its musical capabilities. The juxtaposition of this bleak store mixed with the gold and the pastel seashells, and the beauty of the world, truly is something on its own. Though Sarduy is eclipsed by more well-known Latin American boom writers, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, Fuentes (the three great writers of Latin America) and Jorge Luis Borges – Sarduy is a magnificent treasure to behold. Underappreciated and well accomplished in his form and style. Thanks to Mark Fried and Archipelago Books, which this book was able to be translated into English. It shows a master at his greatest – even before his untimely death.

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