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Posts Tagged ‘translated fiction’

the seventh cross

Translated from German by Margot Bettauer Dembo

The most powerful and important accounts of people living under terrifying regimes are undoubtedly those written during the times they depict – whether they be fictional or non-fictional accounts. The Seventh Cross is such a novel – written in France after the author had fled Nazi Germany, it was finally published in 1942, after the author and her family had had to flee the Nazis again. Despite being a novel, this must surely still be an important historical document. It also happens to be a hugely compelling read. Virago’s re-issue of this German classic feels to me like a timely warning from time – showing us how easy the lure of fascism was for some.

It depicts the insidious rise of a regime, the daily realities for ordinary people. Fear is unspoken and tangible, and people disappear and then reappear – and everyone is living by new rules. Criminals of the regime – communists for a start have already started to be rounded up, what this novel shows is that local people would have been aware of the camps, made uneasy by them perhaps – though ignorant of the true horrors.

It is a few years after Hitler has taken power in Germany (I assumed 1936/7 due to the mention of unrest in Spain) and seven men escape from Westhofen concentration camp.

“Probably no trees ever cut down in our country were as unique, as strange as the seven plane trees growing at the gable end of Barracks III. Their crowns, for a reason to be revealed at a later time, had previously been cut off and a board had been nailed across each of the tree trunks at shoulder height. From afar they looked like seven crosses.”

It is a disgrace to the camp officers for such a thing to happen. Fahrenberg, the camp commandant is under intense pressure – he vows that all the men will be caught within seven days. Interestingly, Seghars portrays him – increasingly throughout the novel – as man losing his grip – he loses sleep, becomes obsessed with the men’s capture, he knows his days in charge are numbered.

Six of the men are captured quite quickly, and made examples of, cruelly and with evil relish by the camp officers. However, the seventh man George Heisler manages to slip through the net, crawling on his belly through mud, stealing clothes, hiding in churches, the desperate man feels his pursuers are only ever a few steps behind.

“An uncontrollable wish, stronger than any fear, or hunger and thirst, and stronger than the damned thumping in his hand, which had long ago bled through the rag: to just keep lying there – after all, night would come soon. And the fog was already providing him with cover; the sun was just a pale disc behind the haze covering his face. They wouldn’t be searching for him here during the night. He’s have some peace.”

George is a changed man, just a few years ago he was a handsome, confident man, a bit selfish, he didn’t always treat his friends well. He had let down a friend he had been living with, left his wife had taken up with another girl – one of many we get the impression. People from his old life would barely recognise George now, the years in a concentration camp have taken their toll, he is already looking a lot older. He is less certain of himself now, less assured, he carries the calming words of fellow camp mate and escapee Wallau with him on his perilous journey. Who – if anyone, can George trust? Unknown to George the years have changed those close to him too – his brother is now an SS officer; a former lover turns him from her door in terror. Despite his flaws, maybe in some way because of them, George is a wholly sympathetic character, I was rather glad he wasn’t some kind of two-dimensional angel. We can all sympathise with someone hurt, hunted alone and afraid.

Rumours of the escape are murmured by the people living within sound of the camp’s sirens, soon the escape is being talked about on the radio. George’s former in-laws are worried about what it will mean for them. His ex-wife is certain he won’t turn up there – but both she and her father an ageing paper hanger, are taken in for questioning, and watched closely after their release.

Injured, desperate and with time running out, George slowly makes his way back to the town where he used to live – in the hope that his old friends and contacts help him get away. Meanwhile for the officers of the Nazi regime capturing the last man becomes a matter of pride.

Told from a variety of perspectives – Seghers paints a picture of a country held in the grip of terrible times, but where not everyone is happy to bow to the fear instilled by the Gestapo. We meet extraordinary people, who know full well what helping someone like George might mean – but who look the danger full in the face.

“Only once in her life had Liesel ever had anything to do with the police. At the time, she was a child, ten or eleven years old. One of her brothers had got into trouble; maybe it was the one who later died in the war, for there was never any mention of it in the family afterwards. It had been buried with him in Flanders. But the fear they had all struggled with back then was still in Liesel’s blood today. A fear that had nothing to do with a bad conscience; it was a poor people’s fear, a chicken’s fear under a hawk, a fear of being persecuted by the state. An ancient fear that better defines to whom the state belongs than any constitutions or history books. But now Liesel resolved to fight tooth and claw to protect her family, with cunning and deceit.”

This was a fascinating, compelling read for #WITmonth – which has put Anna Seghers firmly on my radar – I really must read more of her work soon.

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cof

Translated by Richard and Lucia Cunningham

In my search for more vintage women writers in translation, I was given the name of Maria Luisa Bombal. Her most creative writing period appears to have been the 1930s and 40s, though this collection seems to have first been published in 1982 – for those following my A Century of Books, publication dates are not always easy to sort out.

I don’t always do well with South American literature because of the magical realism aspect so many writers seem to employ, I have never been fond of magical realism. Still, I decided to give Maria Luisa Bombal a try – and despite the fact there is a little magical realism here too, I enjoyed this slight little volume. A little online research – about a writer I knew nothing about, told me that Maria Luisa Bombal was one of the first Spanish American writers to move away from the realist tradition of storytelling. It seems she paved the way for so many other writers who followed her. Bombal’s writing is beautiful, full of glorious images and she uses these repeated images to great effect.

This slim collection contains just five stories – two of them, the first story The Final Mist and the final story; New Islands, are longer and more substantial. The second story The Tree is apparently one of her most famous.

In, The Final Mist a woman creates her own dream life, in a story where the lines between realty and fantasy become a little blurred. Just a few months after his first wife died, a young woman marries her cousin Daniel, returning with him to his hacienda. Her life quickly becomes one of stifling routine, the relationship with her husband distant and unfulfilling.

“Tomorrow we will return to the country. The day after, I will attend mass in the village with my mother-in-law. Then during lunch Daniel will talk to us about the work on the hacienda. Afterwards I will visit the greenhouse, the aviary, the orchard. Before dinner I will doze beside the fireplace or read the local newspapers. Following dinner, I will amuse myself with the fire – producing small conflagrations by carelessly stirring the coals. Very soon, the conversation will dwindle, give way to an oppressive silence, and Daniel will nosily fit the bars against the doors. The we will go to sleep. And the next day will be the same, and so on for a year, for ten; and it will be the same until old age robs me of any right to love and desire, until my body withers and my face wrinkles and I am ashamed to show myself without artifice in the light of the sun.”
(The Final Mist)

Bombal uses the recurring images of rain, mist and wind to help create the dreamworld this unhappy woman weaves around her. On a visit to the city, one night unable to sleep she leaves the house, and takes a walk – she has a wordless, passionate encounter with a stranger. It becomes the most memorable night of her life – the memory of which seems to sustain her for years to come. The possible twist – suggested by Bombal is what makes this story so successful.

In, The Tree we have another unhappily married woman, who through listening to a series of pieces of music reflects upon her life and marriage. The tree outside her window seems to act as a screen to the realities of her situation, so when the tree is finally felled, and the room flooded with unaccustomed light, the woman makes the decision to leave.

“All night long she could hear the rain thrashing, splashing through the leaves of the rubber tree like a thousand tiny rivers sliding down imaginary canals. All night long she heard the ancient trunk creak and moan.”
(The Tree)

Braids is a rather odd little piece – in which the author reflects on the fabled strength and importance of a woman’s hair. It contains the story of two sisters – one of who takes care of the family hacienda, the other goes to the city. Fire comes to the forest surrounding the hacienda – and the fate of the trees and the woman at the hacienda are linked because we are told her hair and the trees share the same roots.

If that was a little strange, The Unknown is stranger still in my opinion. A pirate ship trapped in the vortex of a whirlpool, lies at the bottom of the sea. The captain and his men seem totally unaware of where they are. Chico a young boy voices his concerns:

“‘Captain,’ the boy said quietly, ‘have you notices that our feet leave no tracks in this sand?’
‘Nor do the sails throw any shadow.’ The captain added in a dry, cruel whisper. Then his anger seeming to abate before the boy’s naïve and puzzled gaze, he laid his rough hand on Chico’s shoulder and said, ‘Let’s go, son. The tide will be in soon.’”
(The Unknown)

What meaning lies behind this story – I really couldn’t say.

new islandsNew Islands is a story with some similarity to The Final Mist – there is a long-held obsession and a hacienda. A hunting party gather at the hacienda of Yolanda and her brother Frederico. One member of the party Juan Miguel develops a passionate obsession for Yolanda, following her around, forcing her to kiss him. Meanwhile another member of the party, a man of late middle age – was engaged to Yolanda thirty years earlier – but she broke off the engagement suddenly and with no explanation. Juan Miguel muses on Yolanda’s age – she doesn’t appear to be the age of her former fiancé. Meanwhile – some new islands have emerged mysteriously out of the lake waters nearby which the group go to look at. Yolanda is a mystery – particularly to Juan Miguel – and after the few days at the hacienda are over – he heads back to the city with the mystery unsolved. The new islands sink slowly back into the lake.

I really enjoyed these unusual stories, Maria Luisa Bombal is a fascinating writer. I need to find to find out what else of hers is available in English translation.

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cof

Translated from Portuguese by Adam Morris

July’s offering from the Asymptote book club was I didn’t Talk by Brazilian writer Beatriz Bracher, which I read at the end of July, so I could review it for the beginning of #WITmonth.

Beatriz Bracher is the latest of the new, strong voices the Asymptote book club has introduced me to. Bracher was born in Săo Paulo, she grew up living under a military dictatorship. It is clear that her upbringing in that environment has informed her writing.

Gustavo is a professor who has just retired and is preparing to leave Sao Paulo for the quiet of the countryside. As he sorts through his papers, Gustavo is assaulted by the ghosts of the past.

In 1970 Gustavo and his brother-in-law Armando were arrested by the authorities and tortured. Later Gustavo was released, hurt but able to continue his work as a teacher. Armando was killed, and no one could ever be really sure that Gustavo didn’t talk. ‘I didn’t talk’ he tells himself – as he told his family at the time. Yet, the torture never really stopped – Gustavo has been haunted by this period of his life ever since.

His wife Eliana had been away when he was arrested – she died of pneumonia – leaving him to raise their daughter. Eliana had died before her husband could tell her he hadn’t talked – died away from him in another country – a loss he has carried ever since. He remembers a time when his daughter had liked to walk happily through the cemetery imagining the lives the dead had lived, death held no fear for her. The child had inevitably wondered why her mother’s name wasn’t there.

“I wished to conserve for what little time I could my happy ballerina for the dead. Dancing for the memory of the dead. I said, it’s true, you’re right, we’ll find your mother’s grave. The next Sunday I took a box of coloured chalk and wrote Eliana’s name and dates on the grave under which Armando, Dona Esther, and my father-in-law Dom Estevăo, lay buried. Ligia drew little flowers and hearts.”

Gustavo has lived his life rather on the fringes, ever since 1970 – always there has been that unspoken accusation – that his release was the result of a betrayal. There is a sense that Gustavo’s life has been stunted by this incident.

“Look, I was tortured, and they say I named a comrade who was later killed by soldiers’ bullets. I didn’t snitch – I almost died in the room where I could have snitched, but I didn’t talk.”

The novel is told in several voices, Gustavo’s first-person narrative is the main one. Yet alongside that are fragments of Gustavo’s brother José’s unpublished, autobiographical novel, his own notes and educational reports from earlier in his career and short extracts from other writers. In José’s writings, we get glimpses of the brothers’ upbringing, the kind of lives they lived growing up. Gustavo remembers his wife, his friendship with Armando, and what he knew back then and what he didn’t understand or didn’t question. These voices help to form a kind of collective chorus – in the midst of a story that is full of silences. There is so much that exists in the past, things not said or merely implied.

There is an ambiguity to Gustavo’s storytelling – not everything is clear – memories are fragile and emotional.

I liked this novel, but I didn’t love it – I wasn’t particularly drawn to any of the characters, but I couldn’t work out why– and I like a stronger sense of place than I felt existed here. What Bracher does do well though, is to portray a life lived in the shadow of one terrible place in time.

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mde

Translated from German by Isabel Fargo Cole

Last month’s Asymptote book club book was the tiny novella The Tidings of the Trees by Wolfgang Hilbig. Hilbig was an East German writer of stories and poetry – and certainly the prose in this little book, is that of a poet. There are throughout this novella passages that the reader stops to re-read – or perhaps would like to read out loud. This story only came to be published after his death – though it was written I am told back in the 1980s or 90s. I knew nothing about Hilbig before this book came into my life – though I read somewhere that this is his most accessible work.

Hilbig himself is a fascinating character. In the 1970s he moved to the then GDR – Hilbig would have been a young man when the Berlin wall was erected. He had spent time in the military, later working as a tool maker and in the construction industry. It was after moving to East Germany that Hilbig became a writer. He was later given a visa to move to West Germany – I don’t know how usual this was. In a blog post on the Asymptote journal website I was interested to read how Hilbig struggled with different aspects of both East and West Germany.

So on with the book- there really isn’t an enormous amount I feel I can say about this beautifully written novella. You will be relieved to hear this review will be shorter than most.

The Tidings of the Trees is a novella about politics – not overtly so perhaps, everything is shrouded in poetic imagery – but at the bottom of it lie the politics of the past. In the present is the wall, and the isolation it creates.

“We lived in a country, cut off, walled in, where we had to end up thinking that time had no relevance for us. Time was outside, the future was outside … outside everything rushed to its doom. Meanwhile we’ve always lived in the past. For us the passage of time existed only on some withered calendar page.”

Where once there was a beautiful wood there now stands an ash smothered field covered in heaps of rubbish. A young man named Waller; a writer, encounters the strange, haunting figures of the garbagemen.

“No one, I said, could know more about the past, no one could be deeper in the know than the garbagemen. But no one asked them, for in the eyes of the world they were the ones with the least say. And if asked, they’d probably have seen themselves in the same way, perhaps they ultimately acquiesced in their somnambulistic doings on the terrain of ash…In actuality, they might think, it’s we, out here, who seal and perfect the process of forgetfulness the townspeople struggle with. Yet we ourselves can never forget… and that is the punchline of the story.”

These desperate men eke out an existence of sorts by rooting through their country’s rubbish. Waller is fascinated by them – he imagines them digging through their country’s history too.

Hilbig, uses some extraordinary imagery in The Tidings of the Trees, mannequins in a variety of poses litter the garbage site. Waller sits in a small corrugated metal hut at the side of the tip, watching the garbagemen and trying to write. He remembers a time when he was younger, when a road he walked along frequently was lined with cherry trees. Those trees are all gone now.

“Now that I’d remembered the road with the cherry trees, I set out for the area nearly every evening. I began going in pursuit of my memories: even in earlier days the perpetual flight from town had been a sort of ritual for me; as I walked those paths I underwent a visible transformation, the whole thing soon becoming an evening exercise in disappearance.”

I continue to enjoy my Asymptote book club subscription, as it introduces me to a variety of voices I would otherwise have not heard. Hilbig weaves imagery rich in meaning through his glorious prose. I read this in a sitting, but perhaps I should have read it more slowly, there is a lot to appreciate in it. There is a beautiful, elegiac quality to Hilbig’s prose that at times becomes quite haunting.

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chillibeanpasteclan

Translated by Nicky Harman

Last month’s book from the Asymptote book club was The Chilli Bean Paste Clan by Yan Ge, the story of a family in a fictional town in West China. This novel is possibly my first experience with Chinese literature.

In her foreword to this novel, Yan Ge explains how the town she grew up in, no longer exists as it was, so much change has come to the region. She describes being swamped by nostalgia as she wrote about Pingle Town a town based very much on the one she grew up in. So, there is certainly an autobiographical element to this novel, though where exactly that starts and ends I wasn’t sure.

The Duan-Xue family are the owners of the lucrative chilli bean paste factory, the younger of two adult sons; Xue Shengqiang is the current owner. He is married to Anqin and has a daughter Xingxing. Oddly, it is Xingxing who is our narrator, although she is never present in the story, but more of that later.

Shengqiang’s position is an enviable one, he has worked his way up through the family business and now he is the boss.

“It was just an ordinary April morning in Pingle Town. Dad had been around for at least forty springtimes and could describe it with his eye shut. The trees suddenly so green they made your eyes sore, the birds and the bees going at it hammer and tongs, the lurid yellow rapeseed blossom, the blazing scarlet azaleas, even the air smelled fertile, he thought sourly. It certainly brought out the crowds, and the streets heaved with day-trippers, songsters, card-players, people out to make a quick buck, and more besides. And of course there were the couples, making out, and breaking up.”

He remembers the time when he was first inducted into the family business, stirring the drums of chili bean paste buying cigarettes to give to his – shifu (foreman) – the man teaching him his craft. He now has a wife and daughter, a driver to take him around the town, and a mistress living in an apartment above his mother’s. He still gets together with his best friend Zhong and his “bros.” He seems to be living a perfect life. He is living in a town he knows well, inside out, yet it has changed beyond all recognition.

“There were no dirt roads left in Pingle Town, and you didn’t see many telegraph poles either. In 2000 or 2001, the powers-that-be got some mad idea into their heads that the town needed a facelift. Up went the stepladders, and the bucket of paint, and all the buildings on and off, the four main roads were covered in white paint. The looked like they had been plastered with stage make-up. After that, the stalls and pushcarts were driven out: the purveyors of cold dressed rabbit, flour shortbread and griddled buns filled with brown sugar even the scissor-menders and knife grinders, were all swept ruthlessly from the face of the town. All those old faces so familiar from his childhood just vanished.”

Now Shengqiang’s mother, straight talking matriarch is about to celebrate her eightieth birthday. Gran – as she is referred to throughout the novel – is to be given a wonderful party to celebrate her milestone birthday. Her middle-aged children begin to gather to make the necessary preparations. Shengqiang’s elder brother, a university teacher arrives, and Shengqiang’s hackles almost immediately rise. There are tensions between the brothers and old resentments are brought to the surface as Uncle starts to take charge. The brothers’ sister Coral also arrives to share in the preparations, and it soon emerges that her marriage to Liu Qukang is in trouble.

In the midst of all his family obligations, Shengqiang struggles – not really very well – to keep his mistress happy, and his wife in the dark. However, in the end the biggest secrets that are revealed come from Gran herself.

asymptoteI had really looked forward to reading The Chili Bean Paste Clan, but it rather underwhelmed me. This is a slightly larger type paperback and at 276 pages it feels a bit overlong. My one main problem with the novel – and it might not be a big thing for other readers – is the narration. The narrator is as I said the main character’s daughter – however she is never present within the narrative itself – there is a suggestion that she has had some sort of mental health issue – and has gone away, but she is never present in the action, or interacts with any of the other characters. This feels a bit odd, especially as she seems to know far more about her father’s sex life than any young daughter should.

While I didn’t love this novel, I certainly didn’t dislike it, I gave it a solid three stars over on Goodreads, and I found many aspects of Chinese small-town life to be fascinating.

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brother in ice

Translated from Catalan/Spanish by Mara Faye Letham

When this genre defying novel (?) first arrived from the Asymptote book club I had a flick through it, and somewhat confused, felt it might not be for me. Well I was wrong, we should never judge these things too quickly. Certainly, Brother in Ice took me a little outside my comfort zone, both in style and form but I found myself reading it quickly with great enjoyment. I was particularly fascinated by the way Alicia Kopf had chosen to structure her book, after a while it started to make sense. It all works wonderfully well, what an interesting writer this woman is.

Having won awards in both its Catalan and Spanish editions, this edition is published by And Other Stories.

“I placed my foot on very thin ice. First I slipped. Now I’m sinking…
Moments of sun alternate with gusts of pain and longing that cut through my chest with the whimper of a dog that’s been run over.”

polarexplorersPart research notes, part first person fictionalised account, part travelogue, Alicia Kopf uses the stories of famous polar explorations to explore her narrator’s family and coming of age. Our narrator becomes fascinated by the tales of these long-ago explorers, Shackleton, Peary, Admundsen, Cook and Scott, so throughout the book she scatters little bits of internet research about these men, their triumphs, controversies and failures. These are stories of heroism of survival and loss. We quickly get drawn into these often well-known stories that still have the ability to fascinate.

“My brother is a man trapped in ice. He looks at us through it; he is there and he is not there. Or more precisely, there is a fissure inside him that periodically freezes over. When he is present, his outline is more clearly defined; other times he’s submerged for a while.”

In the narrative sections our narrator explores her difficult, fragile family and her own artistic life. Like Kopf herself the narrator has an older brother who is on the autistic spectrum, although he remained undiagnosed until well into adulthood. She sees her brother as a man trapped in ice – and strives to understand how his mind might work. When he is tired he doesn’t go to bed unless he is told to, he needs to be told to do most things otherwise he remains frozen, trapped. Her mother is sometimes distant, caught up with her own work and caring for her son. Still processing her parents’ separation years earlier, our narrator is a thirtysomething artist, lurching through a series of unsuitable job and unsatisfying relationships.

“The desires frozen for lack of money or unrequited love are different from the ones we freeze because we’ve given up on them. The latter have the gleam of stoic heroism. Even though we might be renouncing our desires out of fear, and we’ll spend our lives blind, without feeling or seeing anything…On the other hand, if we obey our desires we could end up lost.”

She lives in an unnamed city, working in a cold, white studio – one of many metaphors for cold or ice. Later she travels to Iceland, and I must admit this was probably one of my favourite sections of the book, as I had a short holiday in Reykjavik in February 2017, and I am sure I will go back.

I couldn’t help but wonder where our narrator ended, and the author Alicia Kopf began, there is so much that feels autobiographical. I understood completely the author’s fascination with polar exploration and stories of survival – her use of these stories in exploring her unnamed narrator’s brother’s condition is surprisingly powerful. Kopf captures the mood of strained family relationships against the struggle of a woman searching for an artistic independence of her own.

My main reason for joining the Asymptote book club was to take me outside me comfort zone, and this book has done that brilliantly. I heartily recommend these subscriptions – book six has recently arrived and this time we shall be travelling to modern China with The Chilli Bean Paste Clan by Yan Ge – another English Pen Award winner published in English by Balestier Press.

 

 

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trick

Translated from Italian by Jhumpa Lairi

This delicate, tender novel was the last Asymptote book club read (the most recent one has just arrived) – and I was immediately intrigued, because while the author is unknown to me, the name of the translator is very familiar indeed. A literary writer in her own right, I think I read at least one of her books, maybe two – though so long ago, pre-blog I can’t be sure.

Trick is apparently the fourteenth novel to be published by Domenico Starnone, it is the story of a grandfather and grandson, a story of ageing, childhood and artistic ambition.

“What really prevented me from waving my arms and calling out for help was shame. I’d wanted to be more than the place I’d grown up in, I’d sought out the world’s approval. And now that I was at the end of my life and taking stock of it, I couldn’t bear looking like an hysterical little man who screamed for help from the balcony of the old house in which he’d been a young boy, the one he’d fled from, full of ambition. I was ashamed of being locked outside, I was ashamed that I hadn’t known how to avoid it, I was ashamed to find myself lacking the controlled haughtiness that had always prevented me from asking anyone for help, I was ashamed of being an old man imprisoned by a child.”

Daniele is over seventy, a widower and an artist and illustrator of some renown, who has been living in Milan for about twenty years. His adult daughter; Betta lives in Naples with her husband and their four-year-old son Mario. The couple are mathematics academics and having been invited to attend a mathematics conference in another city, Betta calls her father and asks him to come to Naples to look after Mario for a few days. Daniele is irritated at the request at first – but of course he agrees, though he is so distracted by his latest commission – and the reception of it – that he leaves it until the last minute to travel to Naples. The apartment where his daughter lives is in a house where Daniele once lived as a child, and so his memories of his past are very much caught up in his present.

Daniele is a wonderfully crafted character, reminding us that just because a person is a bit older, it doesn’t mean that their ambition lessens, neither does their need for approval. Daniele is shaken by the less than effusive reaction to the drawings he has recently submitted to the publisher of a new edition of the Henry James story The Jolly Corner he has been asked to illustrate. It is his work that is mostly on his mind as he arrives at his daughter’s apartment – the day before she and her husband head off to the conference. Mario is told that sometimes Grandpa will have to work, which he solemnly accepts, but Mario is four and doesn’t really know what that is.

Mario is an absolute dream of a child character, precocious, vulnerable, frustrating and loving, in only the way a four-year old can be. We see everything that occurs through the eyes of the child’s grandfather – yet it is Mario who drives most of the action and he is viewed by his grandfather with great affection and bewilderment. Daniele hasn’t spent all that much time with Mario in the past, and so the child is giddy with joy at having his grandfather come to stay. So much so he refuses to go to nursery.

The action (such as it is) takes place over just four days, days in which Daniele in tested to the limit. Time and again Mario gets the better of his old grandfather, Mario can’t read or tell the time, but he knows how to lay the table has an impressive vocabulary and claims to know how everything in the apartment works. Mario tells his grandfather his drawings are too dark, an assessment his grandfather takes very seriously and muses upon a lot.

The time that Mario and his grandfather spend together is certainly not all plain sailing. Daniele is rather out of practice and he doesn’t know Mario as well as perhaps he should. While Daniele can be moody and cross, he is also very loving and eager to keep the little boy happy, pushing himself to the limits of his physical capabilities when he is playing with the boy. However, he can also be a little careless and neglectful and it is Mario who soon starts to rule the roost.

“Seeing him go up and down, tirelessly, wore me out. I dragged a chair over to the ladder and sat down, but I forced myself to monitor any tiny faltering in his movements so that I could leap up in time. It was amazing, the amount of energy in his flesh, in his bones, in his blood? Breath, nutrition. Oxygen, water, electromagnetic storms, protein, waste. How he tightened his lips. And the way he looked up, the effort those too short legs had to make in order to span the gaps between the rungs with ease.”

Disaster (almost) strikes with a balcony door that only opens from the inside, (having previously read The Days of Abandonment I’m now seriously concerned about the doors in Italian apartments) and I read on with my heart in my mouth.

A kind of appendix to the novel, after the main narrative is concluded gives us some of Daniele’s drawings and artist notes. Here we get an insight into the mind of the artist and the grandfather in a very intimate way.

So, the Asymptote book club continues to introduce me to exciting voices in world literature – the latest arrival – looks like taking me right outside my comfort zone. I’ll be honest I’m very unsure about it – I’ll let you all know in due course.

 

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