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Book recommendation – Australian Literature : a sequel

September 25, 2017 10 comments

Hello everyone,

Thanks a lot for all the book recommendations I received when I asked about Australian lit books. What a great response to my billet!

You can find lists by Lisa here and here and one by Sue here. I compiled a list of all the titles I could gather from lists and comments and I want to share it with you, it might be useful.  I hope I didn’t miss one, there were so many!

  1. The Three Miss Kings by Ada Cambridge
  2. The Sitters by Alex Miller
  3. I For Isobel by Amy Witting
  4. Behind the Night Bazaar by Angela Savage
  5. Paris Dreaming by Anita Heiss
  6. Barb Wires and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss
  7. Double-Wolf by Brian Castro
  8. The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
  9. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
  10. Painted Clay by Capel Boake
  11. The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy
  12. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
  13. The Glass Canoe by David Ireland
  14. Ransom by David Malouf
  15. Remembering Babylon by David Malouf
  16. Fly Away Peter by David Malouf
  17. Glissando – A Melodrama by David Musgrave
  18. The Book of Emmett by Deborah Forster
  19. The Catherine Wheel by Elizabeth Harrower
  20. The Watchtower by Elizabeth Harrower
  21. Three Dollars by Elliott Perlman
  22. Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire
  23. All the Birds, Singing by Evi Wyld
  24. My Brother Jack by George Johnson
  25. Barley Patch by Gerald Murnane
  26. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  27. The Fortune of Richard Mahoney by Henry Handel Richardson
  28. Walkabout by James Vance Marshall
  29. Panthers and The Museum of Fire by Jen Craig
  30. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  31. Gilgamesh by Joan London
  32. The Secret River by Kate Grenville
  33. The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville
  34. That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott
  35. True Country by Kim Scott
  36. Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar
  37. (For the Term of) His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke
  38. The Cardboard Crown by Martin Boyd
  39. Lexicon by Max Barry
  40. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
  41. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
  42. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail
  43. The Death of Bunny Munroe by Nick Cave
  44. And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave
  45. Amy’s Children by Olga Masters
  46. Loving Daughters by Olga Masters
  47. Voss by Patrick White
  48. The Tree of Man by Patrick White
  49. The Eye of the Storm by Patrick White
  50. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
  51. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
  52. The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
  53. The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea by Randolph Stow
  54. The Sound Of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan
  55. Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan
  56. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
  57. Floundering by Romy Ash
  58. Swords and Crowns and Rings by Ruth Park
  59. The Harp in the South by Ruth Park
  60. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
  61. The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
  62. The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
  63. A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
  64. The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll
  65. Life in Seven Mistakes: A Novel by Susan Johnson
  66. Drylands by Thea Astley
  67. Coda by Thea Astley
  68. Dirt Music by Tim Winton
  69. The Riders by Tim Winton
  70. Breath by Tim Winton
  71. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
  72. Black Teeth by Zane Lovitt

The titles in bold are the ones I already have on the shelf, so, obviously, I’ll start with these. I think that For the Rest of His Natural Life is a must read. Then I’ll try to mix genres, times and topics. I have a soft spot for short books, so I’ll probably take the number of pages into account. I know it shouldn’t be a criteria but sometimes you have to be pragmatic: it’s a way to discover more writers in a limited reading time.

In bold green is my wish list. I hope I’ll have time to read this soon and now I have to think about reading them in the original or in translation. Some might not be available in French, I haven’t checked out yet. So, this list is not final but I wanted to let you know what I was inclined to read.

Of course, if you have new reading ideas, don’t hesitate to leave a comment! 🙂

To be followed…

Emma

Portuguese lit: The Memorables by Lídia Jorge

September 10, 2017 20 comments

The Memorables by Lídia Jorge (2014) French title: Les Mémorables. Translated by Geneviève Leibrich.

Elle serrait contre elle la copie des plans dessinés par la main de celui qui, trente ans plus tôt, avait mis en marche cinq mille hommes contre un régime décrépit, un de ces régimes si long et si séniles qu’ils laissent du fumier sur la terre pour plusieurs siècles. She held to her chest a copy of the maps designed by the man who, thirty years before, had led five thousand men against a decrepit regime. It was one of those long and senile regimes that left manure on earth for several centuries.

“She” is Ana Maria Machado, a young Portuguese journalist who works for CBS in Washington DC. The five thousand men mentioned in this quote are the military men who participated in the coup d’état on April 25th, 1974 in Lisbon, the one that led to the Carnation Revolution and the fall of the Portuguese dictatorship.

After reportages in war zones, Ana Maria’s boss asks her to go back to Lisbon and film a documentary about the Carnation Revolution and the miracle of this peaceful revolution where the military takes power to bring democracy to their country.

Ana Maria is reluctant to go back to Lisbon where she has unresolved issues with her father, Ántonio Machado, a famous political editorialist whose column always proved to be insightful. He was also close to the people who did the revolution. Ana Maria needs a crew for her mission and rekindles a working relationship with Margarida and Miguel Ângelo, two reporters she knew in journalism school.

Ana Maria decides against telling her father about her project, mostly because she doesn’t want him to interfere with her vision of the events. In Ántonio’s office, she borrows a picture taken on 21st of August 1975, in a restaurant, the Memories. This picture portrays all the people who were decisive participants in the revolution and close witnesses of the events. This photo will be the Ariadne thread of the documentary.

Ana Maria and her friends want to reconstruct the minutes this 25 of April 1974 and understand what everyone did and when. They will go and interview these key actors or their widow to discover what they did that day, how they felt, how they lived afterwards and how they reflect on the revolution, thirty years later.

Lídia Jorge autopsies the military coup that brought democracy to her country but more importantly, she questions what happened to the major players of the Carnation Revolution. Her book was published in 2014, for the fortieth anniversary of the 25 of April 1974 events. Ana Maria writes her story six years after she did her documentary and what she narrates happened in 2004, for the thirtieth anniversary of the revolution. Symbolic years. Time and remembrance are important in her book.

I wanted to read about the Carnation Revolution and it gave me a better vision of what happened and how extraordinary it was to have such a smooth transition to democracy. Lídia Jorge points out two disconcerting facts about these events: one, the major actors of the military coup were never properly thanked and none had a glorious career after that. And two, they were forgotten from the public. This is very different from what Petros Markaris describes about Greece in Bread, Education, Freedom or what Yasmina Khadra writes about Algeria in Dead Man’s ShareBoth Markaris and Khadra explain how the actors of the country’s liberation cashed on their being on the right side, either during the decisive demonstration against the Greek regime or against the French. In these two countries, these men became untouchable heroes, grabbed on power and didn’t let it go.

According to The Memorables, no heroes were born from the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. Ana Maria knew the men on the photo because her parents gravitated in their circle. Margarida and Miguel Ângelo had to research them. Lídia Jorge wants to celebrate them, to remind them to the Portuguese and show how ungrateful the Republic was towards them. None of them benefited from their act.

In addition to the questioning about the place they have in the Portuguese collective memory, Lídia Jorge muses over the impact of living through such historical events. How do you go back to normal after that? How does one leave their glorious days behind and go on with a mundane everyday life? How do you survive to the I-was-there-and-part-of-it syndrome? There is a before and an after the 25th April 1974 for all the Portuguese who were old enough at the time to grasp the importance of this day, but for the people who prepared the coup and succeeded, how does the rest of your life measure up to this? (I’ve always wondered how Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr survived to being a Beatle)

Ana Maria’s personal story is also linked to the 25th of April. That day, her mother, Machado’s lover, was supposed to fly back to her country, Belgium. The beginning and the excitement of the Carnation Revolution convinced to stay in Portugal. So, Ana Maria’s existence is also an outcome of the revolution. As mentioned before, her parents were close to the new power and knew the key players. Coming back to Lisbon is a personal journey for her. She’s estranged from her father and never saw her mother again after she divorced her father when she was twelve. She doesn’t want him to ask questions about her current assignment and therefore avoids asking questions herself. They live together but barely talk to each other. This added a dimension to the novel.

What can I say about my response to The Memorables? Honestly, sometimes I found it very tedious to read. When I read Dubliners, I wondered Do you need to be Irish to love Dubliners by James Joyce? because there were so many precise political details in the short stories that I felt I was missing vital clues in the stories. I felt the same here and I wondered if I needed to be Portuguese to fully understand the meaning of The Memorables. All the historical characters mentioned in the novel through a nickname are pathetic in the interviews with Ana Maria and her friends. It’s puzzling. They all have issues and are eccentric. How real are they? It made the book difficult to read and I don’t know how much is true and how much comes from the novelist’s licence. On top of that, Ana Maria is not exactly a warm character and it’s hard to root for her. And that’s probably the major problem I had with The Memorables. I was never fully engaged in the reporters’ quest. It could have been suspenseful and it wasn’t, except for the last 100 pages when Ana Maria uncovers her father’s secrets.

All in all, I’m glad I read it but it was not an agreeable read. I’d love to hear about your response to it. Alas, this is not available in English so none of my English-speaking followers will have read it. So, I’d be glad to hear from French and Portuguese readers who might have read it.

Street Art in Lisbon. Salgueiro Maia, member of the MFA, the “Armed Forces Movement”

Christiane Taubira & Feminism

July 28, 2017 10 comments

Christiane Taubira is a French politician from the overseas department of French Guiana. She was minister of Justice from 2012 to 2016 and was instrumental in the law authorizing same sex marriage in France. She’s very literate, in love with literature in general and poetry in particular. Toni Morrison is one of her favorite writers because they share the heavy history of slavery and of the oppression of women.

She was invited by the director of the theatre festival in Avignon. He asked her to pick literature excerpts to make a performance during the festival. She accepted and she gave an interview to Télérama at the end of June to talk about the festival, her immense love for literature, her opinion that a politician should always be literate and rely on books to learn new things and keep in touch with the society. She’s a vibrant feminist and I wanted to share her answer to this question about the texts she selected for the show.

Journaliste: Sur quels thèmes portent les textes que vous avez choisis?

Sur les femmes, notamment: leur regard sur la planète, leurs conquêtes, ou les formes de discriminations qu’elles subissent. L’inégalité hommes-femmes est à mes yeux la matrice de toutes les discriminations. Une fois celle-ci éliminée, les autres –fondées sur des préjugés ou des faits culturels– s’écrouleront. Tant que nous n’aurons pas installé psychologiquement et intellectuellement cette nécessaire égalité au sein de nos sociétés, tant que les lois et les faits toléreront le sexisme, nous donnerons prise aux autres inégalités…

My translation:

Journalist: What do the texts you picked talk about?

About women, among other things. About their vision of our planet, their conquests, or the kind of discrimination they suffer from. Inequality between men and women is the mother of all inequalities. Once this one is eradicated, the others– based on prejudice or on cultural facts– will crumble. As long as we have not psychologically and intellectually settled this necessary equality in our societies, as long as laws and facts will tolerate sexism, there will be room for all the other inequalities…

Thought-provoking, isn’t it?

Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century by Patrik Ouředník

June 30, 2017 10 comments

Europeana. A Brief History of the Twentieth Century by Patrik Ouředník (2001) French title: Europeana. Une brève histoire du XXè siècle. Translated from the Czech by Marianne Canavaggio.

Patrik Ouředník is a Czech writer born in 1957. He emigrated to France in 1984. He translated Rabelais, Alfred Jarry, Raymond Queneau and Samuel Beckett into Czech. Despite his excellent French and his living in France, he still writes his books in Czech. I understand that it must be hard to write in another language but I wonder why his books are not self-translated into French.

I bought Europeana. A Brief History of the Twentieth Century after reading Ouředník’s literary UFO, Ad Acta. As its title says it, Europeana is a subjective/objective history of Europe in the 20th century. Why subjective/objective? Subjective, because Ouředník decides which facts he relates and in which order. Objective because all the facts are true, no fake news to make the buzz here.

To give you an idea of his style and his tone, here’s the first page of the book. (English translation by Gerald Turner)

The Americans who fell in Normandy in 1944 were tall men measuring 173 centimeters on average, and if they were laid head to foot they would measure 38 kilometers. The Germans were tall too, while the tallest of all were the Senegalese fusiliers in the First World War who measured 176 centimeters, and so they were sent into battle on the front lines in order to scare the Germans. It was said of the First World War that people in it fell like seeds and the Russian Communists later calculated how much fertilizer a square kilometer of corpses would yield and how much they would save on expensive foreign fertilizers if they used the corpses of traitors and criminals instead of manure. And the English invented the tank and the Germans invented gas, which was known as yperite because the Germans first used it near the town of Ypres, although apparently that was not true, and it was also called mustard because it stung the nose like Dijon mustard, and that was apparently true, and some soldiers who returned home after the war did not want to eat Dijon mustard again.

The 150 pages of the book are made of the same cloth. Europeana is the accumulation of odd and random facts. They are told in this playful tone but some of them are dreadful. Ouředník covers the twentieth century in all aspects. He mixes singular information, excerpts from surveys and historical facts. It blends sociology and history. It puts the stress on all kinds of events that built the 20th century in an organized / disorganized kind of way. It questions the idea of history, how we tell it, how we highlight some facts and not others and how this choice affects the global picture that we have of an era. Ouředník does not concentrate only on politics and wars but also on the changes in mores, on progress in science. He reminds us that art and pop culture are part of our history.

His being from Eastern Europe brings another angle to Europe’s history. He doesn’t gloss over the brutal communist dictatorships in Eastern countries and that’s fortunate. Despite mentioning culture, science and mores, the 20th century remains a century of horrors. It’s full of mass killings and dictatorships. Italy, Spain and then the Nazi plague followed by the Communist cholera. Totalitarianism bloomed in this century, leaving millions of victims in its wake. This is not new. What’s new is how he assembles facts and how he lines them up like beads on a necklace. It’s almost absurd, ludicrous and it’s not a surprise coming from a man who translated Rabelais, Jarry and Beckett.

It looks absurd but everything is true. We’re not reading Ubu Rex a king we know never existed. We’re reading true facts. In this age of Brexit and Fake News, Europeana is a good way to remember why the EU was created and why journalism and facts matter.

I have one reservation, though. I enjoyed reading Europeana and it’s good to read it in small doses because the number of facts becomes overwhelming after a while. It’s also a reminder that the accumulation of information saturates the brain. Things blend and we lose our capacity to absorb what we read and process it. We lose our ability to be upset, to oppose to Something because it’s soon pushed to the back of our mind by other information. Now, I’d be totally unable to quote exact facts from the book. Either we consider it’s one of the book’s weakness or we consider that it’s one of its strengths because it shows how limited we are in remembering data.

Has anyone read Europeana too? If yes, what did you think of it?

The Duck Hunt by Hugo Claus

June 11, 2017 8 comments

The Duck Hunt by Hugo Claus (1950) French title: La chasse aux canards. Translated into French from the Dutch (Belgium) by Elly Overziers et Jean Raine.

I’m terribly late with my billets and here I am in June, writing about a novel I read back in January. I am overworked and I don’t have enough time to keep up with everything but let’s be honest, as far as this billet is concerned, I was dragging my feet.

The Duck Hunt is the bleakest story I’ve read this year, it’s even worse than Caribou Island. We’re in the early 1920s in the Dutch speaking countryside of Belgium. The Metsiers live in an isolated farm. Here’s the picture: the father was killed during a duck hunt, the mother has an affair with Peter, the farm hand; Yannie, the mildly-retarded son is head over heels in love with his…sister Ana and the said daughter and sister just broke things off with another farmer, the Fat Smelders. Then Ana meets Jim Braddock, a black American soldier stationed in her village. That’s the cheery setting of The Duck Hunt.

Hugo Claus alternates short chapters, all one-person narratives. We see the events through everyone’s eyes: Peter, Ma, Ana, Yannie, Jim Braddock and even Jules, another villager. The American soldier is the only one who’s called by his full name, probably because he’s the stranger and the foreigner.

Although I admire Claus’s craft –he manages to pack a lot in a short 137 pages – I can’t say I enjoyed or even like The Duck Hunt. I have trouble liking books set in grim villages where unhealthy relationships are born from too much isolation and too much proximity. It gives an unpleasant vibe of consanguinity mixed with crass ignorance. It made me shudder and I wasn’t keen on finishing it and I’ve been procrastinating the billet ever since, reluctant to go back to this disagreeable atmosphere. It’s like The Passport by Herta Müller, a book I really disliked.

It’s obviously a good piece of literature but it’s not what I like to read. After reading this and A Cool Million by Nathanael West, I bought The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald because I was in desperate need of a feel-good novel. I’ve just read it and the billet will hopefully come soon.

Three short stories from Bacacay by Witold Gombrowicz

May 12, 2017 15 comments

Three Short Stories from Babacay by Witold Gombrowicz. (1928) French version : Le festin chez la Comtesse Fritouille et autres nouvelles. Translated from the Polish by Georges Sédir.

French publisher Folio has this collection of little books at 2€ each to make reader discover forgotten texts or try new writers. They usually are about 120 pages long and cover various types of literature. I bought Le festin chez la Comtesse Fritouille because I’d never read anything by Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz and I wanted to try one of his books.

My copy is a collection of three short stories coming from Bacacay, a larger collection of Gombrowicz’s short stories. This Folio 2€ includes A Premeditated Crime, Dinner at Countess Pavahoke’s and Virginity. The three were written in 1928. The French translation by Georges Sédir follows the translation codes that consist in translating names even if it’s not necessary. This is how you end up with characters named Antoine and Cécile in A Premeditated Crime or a countess Fritouille instead of Pavahoke. According to Google Translate, Pavahoke does mean Fritouille in French but I have no idea what it means and the internet is clueless too.

A Premeditated Crime is the story of a judge who arrives at the estate of Ignace K. They were old schoolmates and have a business meeting about an inheritance affair. When the judge arrives at the estate, he discovers that Ignace K. just died from a heart attack. The judge being a judge can’t help wondering if this death is natural or not. From then on, he’ll do his best to find everything strange and prove that Mr K. was murdered. Is the judge delusional or was Mr K. really killed in cold blood?

Dinner at Countess Pavahoke’s is told by a bourgeois who is invited to the Countess Pavahoke’s exclusive Friday dinners. These dinners are reserved to special guests and are the days where they only eat simple meals made of vegetables. This would be considered as stingy if it were organized by common people but since it’s set up by an aristocrat, it’s fashionable. Follows the description of a cruel and extraordinary diner but writing more about it would spoil the short story.

Virginity is the strange tale of Alice and Paul. They have been engaged for four years and Paul is just back from China to finally marry his fiancée. Paul is obsessed with Alice’s virginity and innocence. She’s 21 but what he loves most about her is this feeling of purity. But Alice’s mind is not as pure as Paul’s would like. I must confess I didn’t understand where Gombrowicz wanted to go with this story. If someone can enlighten me, comments and explanations are welcome.

I enjoyed Gombrowicz’s wits (and I’m not going to try to say this aloud, my French tongue is already in a twist) and his curious ideas for stories. He has a great sense of dark humour.

This is one of my contribution to Marina Sofia’s #EU27 Project – Reading the European Union.

 

Book Around the Corner: the age of reason

May 5, 2017 42 comments

Seven is the age of Book Around the Corner. Seven is also the age of first grade, the year we learn how to read. I remember being so excited to go to primary school because I was going to learn how to read books by myself. I’ve always loved stories and books.

When I launched my blog seven years ago, it was a promise to myself at the dawn of a new chapter of my life. My kids weren’t toddlers anymore, I had more free time and it was time to set free the part of myself who loved literature and never felt quite complete without books.

I’ve done several Blog Anniversary posts, like here in 2012, 2013 or 2014. Looking back on these seven years, how do I feel about book blogging? It might be disgustingly sweet but I just feel happy about it. I think I created my special little corner on the literary blogosphere. I mix my French background with the English language. I’ve introduced you to several French words that I adopted in my English blogging atmosphere. Seven words for seven years.

1. Billet. I’ve explained in my 2012 post why I use the French billet instead of review. “That said, English-speaking bloggers need a word to name their articles, a special word that isn’t review. French bloggers have a nice one for their posts. They call them billet. (pronounce beeyay) I like this word. A billet doux is a love note you pass to your lover, a billet d’humeur is a column in a newspaper, always an opinion, not a professional review. So, you’ll hear about billets now, no more reviews because sometimes I write love notes about books, sometimes I’m a little provocative and most of all, literature isn’t my profession.”

2. Libraire: A bookworm who works in a bookstore is not a book seller, it’s a libraire. It’s a noble profession and I never found the equivalent in the English language. There’s an implicit curtsey in the word libraire, the one you have in store for people who bow to literature and will recommend books with insight and passion. They work in librairies and here’s a lovely one in Périgueux.

3. Bouquin: A loving way to say book. When I visited the Père Lachaise cemetery, I came across a tombstone for the Bouquin family. How lucky they are to have such a positive surname!

4. Bouquiniste: A libraire who sells used bouquins. Tourists know the bouquinistes on the bank of the Seine river in Paris. There’s one at a corner of Central Park too.

5. Bande-dessinée (BD) It’s a neutral word that covers comic books, graphic novels and all books with images and bubbles. French people are great BD readers and France is the second market for mangas, after Japan.

6. Polar: a generic and affectionate word to call crime fiction books. This is why Lyon’s crime fiction festival is named Quais du Polar. (Quais means banks and it refers to the banks of the two rivers of Lyon, the Rhône and the Saône)

7. OVNI littéraire. It means Literary UFO. We use it when a book doesn’t fit into any category. It’s alien to all genres and since we need boxes at any cost, a literary UFO it becomes.

This leads me to another corner of my literary garden, the odd categories. Regular readers of Book Around the Corner know them. They are: Literary UFO, Beach & Public Transport, Sugar without Cellulite and the latest one Translation Tragedy.

There are also words that are useful to describe books but I think have no English equivalent.

Second degré: when things you read should not be taken at face value but have a subtle upper meaning. They seem plain or stupid but they aren’t because there’s a second meaning.

Rire jaune: The hollow laugh you’ll have when you’d rather go for a nervous laugh than dissolve in tears. Very useful in times of political horror.

Jouissif: The closest word I know for this is exhilarating but jouissif has another undercurrent meaning. Melissa wrote about it here and I love to use it when a book made me smile, gave me energy and makes me want to buy it to all my friends.

But enough of French words and enough about me. I wanted to mention these words because it is my way to bring a bit of France in your literary world. They’re part of my trademark, if I may say so.

Along these seven years, Book Around the Corner has found its readers. I know where the frequent commenters come from but I know nothing about the silent readers. Of course, WordPress has statistics but they say nothing meaningful. I don’t care about the number of hits per country. I care about you, who read my billets on purpose. So, let’s play a game. If you could all leave a simple comment with your first name and your country, I’d be glad to discover where the real readers of my blog come from.

Wherever you are, I’m happy to share my literary journey with you. Thanks again for reading my clumsy prose, for giving me part of your precious free time and for all the wonderful exchanges we’ve had. I have learnt a lot in the book blogging community. I discovered new writers and like-minded people. I learnt to stop hiding my bookworm side and my literary coming out made me realize I had book lovers around me, especially in the office. I also had the great pleasure to meet fellow bloggers in real life and it’s always been a fantastic experience. There’s an immediate connection between members of book lovers’ family. Really, don’t hesitate to contact me if you ever come to Lyon.

This literary adventure started with a Promise at Dawn and I hope that you, me and Book Around the Corner have a long Life Before Us. This life will probably full of lost battles against ever growing TBRs, of laughter, of admiration for writers and full of book-nerdiness.

Cheers,

Emma

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