Sunday, November 8, 2015

Badenheim 1939 by Aharon Appelfeld

Think that this particular edition has now slipped out of print which is a great pity as this rightly deserves to be regarded as a classic, translated by Dalya Bilu, who also translated Appelfeld's novel The Age of Wonders, the Penguin Modern Classics edition also comes with an introduction from Gabriel Josipovici. I'd have to admit that this is my first reading of any by Appelfeld and I really enjoyed it, the prose is pitch perfect as it balances itself between meditative scenes which carry a poetic and emotional resonance. The scenario of the novel is the rounding up of the town's Jews in the local hotel prior to being deported to Poland, and then onto.. Appelfeld's prose is affecting as his characters summarise the events unfolding unbeknownst of their eventual fate, I've seen a video interview with Appelfeld where he talks of writing as recapturing the innocence of childhood, and this can be felt in the portraiture of his characters, we read their potted histories, past lives and individual foibles, of the band coming to perform at the town's music festival, and the Dr's and Professor's as they try to trump each other's reputations, and of those being caught up confoundingly in proceedings simply by mistake. At the start it has the feeling that they are about to depart for a holiday but the modus and definition of their departure begins to blur as death enters the narrative. There are many moments glimpsed in the novel which convey terror unbeknown, the eventual departure at the town's railway station, the selling of lemonade, an example of normal life's continuity, before - they were all sucked in as easily as grains of wheat poured into a funnel, an affecting read with scenes of great, yet understated potency that remain with the reader after reading.       

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Devil in the Hills by Cesare Pavese

The Devil In The Hills is set in Pavese's native Piedmont, the jacket notes mention that much of the narrative is drawn upon the autobiographical, the novel originally appeared as Il diavolo sulle colline and was translated by D. D Paige, this is an older hardback edition published by Peter Owen. The narrative of the novel follows Oreste, Pieretto, Poli and the narrator who remains nameless, caught in various transitional stages and environments of their lives, they seem to want to escape the ennui of the city, which here is Turin, and also the stagnancy of the countryside, that said there are many discussions over which of the two is the better, the narrator seems to envisage an arcadian life in the country which seems to come to the fore during a visit to Oreste's family home rooted in the rural landscape, Pavese's prose often capture's the physicality of their existence, the revelling in the nude sunbathing.

Appearing to be the antithesis to Pieretto, Oreste and the narrator is Poli, who perhaps is identifiable as the devil of the novel's title, born into a well off family, he leads a life that appears to be a few gears up from the rest of them, the drinking and cocaine, the novel witnesses him embroiled with two women, Rosalba, (who quite literally takes a shot at Poli), and later he marries Gabriella, their estate in the country finishes off the novel with the scene of a rowdy party with a group of revellers from Milan.

Pavese's control of his prose is something to marvel at, as the narrator observes the groups of people and the individuals who orbit the novel, their feels something climatic just in their descriptions, this underlining sense culminates at the end of the novel. Reading the book I remained uncertain of what Pavese was trying to communicate through the novel, it remains perhaps a portrait of the various insecurities of growing up, but it is a gripping portrait of youth in transition caught at the peripheries of discovering perhaps the unchangeable world, very much enjoyed Pavese's style, there feels a fragility to it and I'm glad to have read this evocative novel and would like to catch up with The House On The Hill in the near future.

The Devil in the Hills at Peter Owen


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Weep Not My Wanton by A. E Coppard

The memory of seeing this book in a book shop came back to me today out of the blue so making a note of it here for future reference, and indeed of other titles from Turnpike Books, as a book prompt for the future.

Turnpike Books

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"There are seconds when you feel the presence of the eternal harmony perfectly attained. It is something not earthly - I don't mean in the sense that it is heavenly - but in the sense that man can not endure it in his earthly aspect. He must be physically changed or die. This feeling is clear and unmistakable: it is as though you apprehend all nature and suddenly say "Yes. It's right: it's good." It ... is not being deeply moved, but simply joy. You don't forgive anything, because there is no more need of forgiveness. It is not that you love - oh! there is something higher in it than love: what is most awful is that it is terribly clear and such joy. In those few seconds I live through a lifetime and I'd give my whole life for them because they are worth it."


forward quote from Gilbert Cannan's The Release of the Soul

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I Was Jack Mortimer - Alexander Lernet-Holenia

Published last year by the ever impressive Pushkin Press, once hooked I raced my way through this novel originally published in 1933 as Ich War Jack Mortimer and translated by Ignat Avesey. It could slip into the genre of being a thriller although it's a highly original one. The character at the centre of this novel of misappropriated identity is Sponer, who lives a somewhat uneventful life as a taxi driver, he has been in a slightly stagnant relationship with Marie Fiala, at the end of a night out with her the relationship is described as - It was the end of a love affair that just would not end. At the beginning of the novel Sponer becomes infatuated with a fare, Marisabelle Raschitz, a woman who is a few scales up the social strata than he, in the end he is chased off by Marisabelle's brother. The first part of the novel follows Sponer picking up fares filling in the details of his somewhat non-existent life, until he picks up a passenger who Sponer realizes is being non-responsive to his questions. After hearing what he thinks is a truck misfiring he turns to realize that the passenger is slumped over, shot dead. There are some fragmentary scenes where Sponer hypotheses reporting what has happened to the police, these seem to overlap with Sponer beginning to realize that he will be suspect number one in any subsequent investigation and he begins to analyse the possible outcomes of his course of actions, how to cover his connections with the dead passenger - Jack Mortimer.

Halfway through the novel the narrative turns in telling how Jack Mortimer came to be in the taxi, without wanting to divulge too much of the plot, his story begins on a different continent, then through Paris to Vienna, another character prominent in Jack's story is Montemayor a successful singer, whose wives Jack seems to have the knack of pinching. The story picks up with Sponer again when he decides, or perhaps the circumstance pushes him into taking up Jack's identity in the  Hotel Bristol where he begins to receive calls from an unknown woman, the two stories ingeniously begin to connect.

I Was Jack Mortimer at Pushkin Press.          

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks

I've not read anything from either author in a while so this was a great way back into their writing, telling of the Carr/Kammerer case, in almost alternating chapters written by Burroughs and Kerouac. Perhaps the best place to head after this is Satori in Paris, feels right. Some associations mentioned from the book, although maybe not all -

The World is Waiting For Sunshine - Benny Goodman
Port of Shadows/Le Quai des brumes directed by Marcel Carne
New World A Coming - Roi Ottley
The Four Feathers - Alexander Korda
Jean Cocteau by Modigilani
Pavel Tchelitchew
Eleonora Duse
Schlitz beer
Don Birnam in The Lost Weekend
La Grande Illusion by Jean Renoir
Woody Guthrie - Bound For Glory
Joe Gould's Secret by Joseph Mitchell

And the Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks at Penguin

trailer for Kill Your Darlings

Friday, January 9, 2015

Devil's Yard by Ivo Andric

I've known of Andric's The Bridge Over the Drina for sometime, so perhaps I loaned a copy of Devil's Yard in subconscious anticipation that I might actually track out and read a copy at some point this year. Devil's Yard translated by Kenneth Johnstone was published in this edition from John Calder in 1964, so this edition has just notched up it's fiftieth birthday, the inside copyrights mention that the book first appeared in the translation in the United States in 1962, the book was originally published in 1954 as Prokleta Avlija. Set at the end of the Ottoman Empire the book opens with the death of a Brother Petar, the other inmates itemising his possessions reflect on the stories that he told, and in an omnipotent kind of fashion the narrative begins, relating how Brother Petar, acting as a kind of emissary from Bosnia came to be imprisoned in the harsh jail on the outskirts of Istanbul. The inmates are a cross section of men from neighbouring countries, mainly comprising of men from the lowest echelons of society, the prison is ruled over by Draconian chief warden, Karadjos, whose past is entwined with the criminal fraternity that through a twist of fate he is now charged to rule over.
The narrative begins to take a different course with the arrival of a new cell mate for Brother Petar in the form of Djamil Effendi, a peculiar young Turk who not long after his arrival is taken off to what is described as the White Tower for preferential treatment, he stands out as a special case. In Brother Petar's cell, Djamil, is replaced with Haim, a garrulous inmate who relates the story of Djamil, a son of the city of Smyrna, born of parents of mixed nationalities, his mother a Greek and his father a well respected Turk, Tahir Pasha, the story of Djamil's parents is one laced with tragedy, with the premature death of his sister, and the mental anguish of his mother, brought on by grief due to a twist in the story involving the funeral at sea of his sister. As Djamil grows older, we learn that he was thwarted in love and turned to study and travel, inheriting his father's estate after his funeral. An aspect that remains slightly unclear throughout the story is the true reason of Djamil's incarceration, which only becomes clearer towards the end of the novel. Djamil is known for his studious nature in particular is his interest in the story of Djem Sultan and his fight with his brother Bajazet for the throne of Turkey after their father, Sultan Mehmet passes away, Djem Sultan's story is related and is a story of betrayed allegiances, as at first he finds sanctuary on the Island of Rhodes with the Knights of Jerusalem, but then is sold off at first to the French and then to the Pope, the image of Djem arriving at the port of Civitavecchia is one that is returned to later in the narrative, and it feels that Andric is emphasizing this momentus occasion with it's powerful imagery.
This intrigue sees France and Rome using Djem for their own ends, an attempt to invade Turkey by the French and also in an attempt to spread Christianity to Turkey by Rome, and at the same time Bajazet is involved in the subterfuge in paying ransoms to ensure Djem's incarceration and away from Turkey. It feels that Andric's is using the story from the 15th century in a subtly allegorical way, and also it relates to Djamil's predicament in the novel, who is under suspicion from the authorities due to his research into Djem Sultan, caught between the two religions and unable to find sanctuary, as the narrative observes - But for Djem no such possibilities of escape exist. All the inhabited world, ranged into two camps, Turkish and Christian, contains no refuge for him. Djamil's is a suspect and perceived a threat to the reigning Sultan and Caliph, as the novel progresses Djamil begins to confuse himself with Djem, when relating the story he refers to events occurring to Djem as being to himself.
Devil's Yard has made a good companion over the past few days, which transports the reader to several moments in Ottoman/Turkish history and proposes interesting insights to them, it's quite a short novel at 125 pages, and some of the names had me turning to the internet to learn more about the historical story of the feud between Cem Sultan and his brother  Bayezid II, there appears a few incongruities, one being the date of the death of Mathias Corvinus, which I think the modern reckoning of the date of his death is somewhat later than it appears in the novel. As to the fates of the characters of the novel perhaps I'll leave it to you to discover their fates. 
Ivo Andric's page at Nobel