Monthly Archives: March 2011
And this is how it was: at the Brazilian’s house the macaws laughed all the time; I heard them from the top of my garden wall, when I was up the ladder, picking my oranges, tossing them into the big palm-leaf basket; now and again I sensed the three cats behind me watching from high up in the almond trees. What were they telling me? Nothing, there was no understanding them. Further back, my wife fed the fish in the pond: this is how we grew old, she and I, the fish and the cats, but my wife and the fish, what were they telling me? Nothing, there was no understanding them.
The sun was beginning.
The Brazilian’s wife, the slender Geraldina, sought out the heat on her terrace, completely naked, lying face down on the red floral quilt. At her side, in the refreshing shade of a ceiba tree, the Brazilian’s enormous hands roved astutely along his guitar, and his voice rose, placid and persistent, between the sweet laughter of the macaws; this is how the hours proceeded on their terrace, amid sunlight and music.
In the kitchen, the lovely little cook – they called her Gracielita – washed the dishes standing on a yellow stool. I could see her through the unglazed kitchen window giving on to the garden. She swayed her backside, oblivious, as she worked: behind the short, very white skirt every bit of her body jiggled, to the frenzied and painstaking rhythm of her task: plates and cups blazed in her copper-coloured hands: occasionally a serrated knife appeared, shiny and happy, but somewhat bloodstained. I suffered too, apart from her suffering, from that bloodstained knife. The Brazilian’s son, Eusebito, watched her on the sly, and I studied him studying her, he ducked under a table loaded with pineapples, she buried in the deepest ignorance, self-possessed, unknowing. He, trembling and pale – discovering his first mysteries – was fascinated and tormented by the tender white panties, slipping up through generous cheeks; I could not manage a glimpse of them from where I was, but, more than that: I imagined them. She was the same age as him, twelve. She was almost plump and yet willowy, with rosy glints on her tanned face, her curly hair black, like her eyes: on her chest two small hard fruits rose up as if in search of more sun. Orphaned early – her parents had died when our town was last attacked by whichever army it was, whether the paramilitaries or the guerrillas: a stick of dynamite exploded in the middle of the church, at the hour of the Elevation, with half the town inside; it was the first mass of Holy Thursday and there were fourteen dead and sixty-four wounded – the child was saved by a miracle: she was at the school selling little sugar figures; since then – some two years ago – she has lived and worked in the Brazilian’s house on the recommendation of Father Albornoz. Very well instructed by Geraldina, she learned how to make all the meals, and lately was even concocting new dishes, so for the past year, at least, Geraldina has had no more to do with the kitchen. This I knew, seeing Geraldina tanning herself in the morning sun, drinking wine, stretched out with no concern other than the colour of her skin, the smell of her own hair as if it were the colour and texture of her heart. And not in vain when her long, long copper-coloured hair flew along every single street of this San José, town of peace, if she graced us with a stroll.
The diligent and still young Geraldina saved the money Gracielita earned.
“When you turn fifteen,” I heard her say, “I shall give you all the money you have earned and lots of presents as well. You can study dressmaking, you’ll be a proper lady, you’ll get married, we’ll be the godparents of your first child, you’ll come to see us every Sunday, won’t you, Gracielita?” and she laughed, and I heard her, and Gracielita laughed too: in that house she had her own room, there awaiting her each night were her bed and her dolls.
We, their closest neighbours, could attest with hand on heart that they treated her just like a daughter.
At any time of the day the children would forget the world and play in the garden burning with light. I saw them. I heard them. They ran between the trees, rolled in each other’s arms on the gentle grassy hillsides that stretched away from the house, dropped over the edges, and, after the game, after the hands that slipped together unnoticed, the necks and legs that brushed each other, the breath that intermingled, they went together to watch in fascination a leaping yellow frog or the surprising slither of a snake, which paralysed them with fear.
Sooner or later the shout would come from the terrace: it was Geraldina, more naked than ever, sinuous under the sun, her voice also a flame, sharp yet melodious.
She called: “Gracielita, time to sweep the hallway.”
They left their game, and a slight sad annoyance returned them to the world. She went running at once back to the broom, across the garden, the white apron fluttering against her belly like a flag, hugging her young body, sculpting the pubis, but he followed her and soon enough took up again, involuntarily, not understanding, the other essential game, the paroxysm that made him identical to me, despite his youth, the panic game, the incipient but enthralling desire to look at her without her knowing, delectably to lie in wait for her: all of her a face in profile, her eyes as if absolved, steeped in who knows what dreams, then the calves, the round knees, the whole legs, just the thighs, and if he’s lucky, beyond, up into the depths.
“You climb that wall every day, profesor. Don’t you get bored?”
“No. I pick my oranges.”
“And something more. You look at my wife.”
The Brazilian and I studied each other for an instant.
“From what I can see,” he said, “your oranges are round, but my wife must be more rounded, no?”
We smiled. What else could we do?
“It’s true,” I said. “If you say so.”
The Armies, translated by Anne McLean, won the 2009 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Much-loved Spanish novelist Eduardo Mendoza will publish his latest novel, Riña de Gatos, with MacLehose Press in 2013. In November the novel won the Planeta Prize, which is accompanied by a cheque for €601,000, making it the second most valuable literary prize after the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Riña de Gatos, to be published in English as Madrid 1936, explores the origins of the Spanish Civil War and follows an English art expert who travels to the Spanish capital to assess a collection of Velázquez paintings owned by an aristocrat. Once in situ he is caught up in the intrigues of Soviet spies and Falangist conspirators, as his task of authenticating and valuing the paintings is central to the financing of the fascist coup.
Mendoza burst onto the Spanish literary scene in 1975 with La verdad sobre el Caso Savolta (The Truth about the Savolta Case). Madrid, 1936, is unusual for Mendoza as the action takes place in the capital rather than in Barcelona where he was born and where most of his novels are set, including La ciudad de los prodigios, which is widely thought to be his masterpiece. He has been published many times in English, not least by the Harvill Press, and will once again on this occasion be translated by Nick Caistor, his long-term collaborator.
In 2011 MacLehose Press are releasing six titles by authors who are publishing their second novel with us. Translated from French, Spanish, Arabic and Dutch, two have won Independent Foreign Fiction Prizes while all have been extremely well received by reviewers.
In November of last year we previewed the first three: The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy, The Goldsmith’s Secret by Elia Barceló and Monsieur Linh and His Child by Philippe Claudel. Now its time to turn attention to the three to be published in the second half of 2011, new novels by Elias Khoury, Evelio Rosero and Otto de Kat, translated by Humphrey Davies, Anne McLean with Anna Milsom, and Ina Rilke, respectively.
Yalo, by the great Lebanese author Elias Khoury, was first published by MacLehose Press in 2009. Earlier this year the translator, Humphrey Davies, won the Banipal Prize for Arabic translation for his rendering of the novel into English. It was the second time that this partnership had won the prize, and who would bet against there being a third success?
“This novel is a tour de force for both author and translator, an ambitious work which deals magnificently with the violence of history and the loss and uses of language, with torture and rape and sexuality. An important and complex book, which brings the history of Lebanon vividly, painfully and colourfully to life.”
Margaret Drabble, Banipal citation
As Though She Were Sleeping, the winner of the first Arabic Novel Prize, is in every respect a worthy follow-up. Focusing on the life of young Lebanese woman who takes refuge from reality in sleeping and dreaming, it is richly and powerfully symbolic of the human cost of the ongoing troubles in the Middle East. Jilted by a suitor, Meela marries a Palestinian man many years her senior and leaves her family to live in a city far from home in a country that is soon to be plunge into chaos by the arrival of Jewish settles and the creation of the state of Israel.
Colombian Evelio Rosero won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize – the second of three international literary awards – for The Armies, a beautiful but harrowing novel about a remote rural village destroyed by remorseless violence. The opening paragraphs offer startlingly lyrical prose, and what follows serves as a faithful and unflinching account of the evils that blight an otherwise forward-looking and creative nation.
Evelio Rosero has dipped his pen in blood and written an epic in 215 pages. If anyone has wondered if there is life in the Colombian novel after magic realism, this is the evidence of the extraordinary power of that country’s literature. Linda Grant, Independent
Good Offices is a mischievous and surreal satire on the role of the Catholic Church in Colombia. Tancredo is a hunchback in virtual servitude to the parish, who is relentlessly pursued by the sacristan’s goddaughter. His life takes a turn for the bizarre when a stand-in priest is brought in at the last moment, whose mesmerizing sung mass and unquenchable thirst for aguardiente elicits very strange behaviour from the denizens of the church.
Man on the Move is a poetic and heartbreaking tale drawn from the often overlooked Dutch involvement in the Second World War. Rob, the son of a provincial mayor leaves his home country in pursuit of less restricted life and, after a stint in the mines outside Johannesburg, joins up to fight and is subsequently captured by the Japanese.
“This is a novel of extraordinary power and moral beauty, executed with a poet’s intricate artistry. Between its opening and closing departures, we proceed according to some deep psychic logic, ever further into a life not well-lived but, even so, strangely exemplary.” Paul Binding, Independent
Otto de Kat returns to the Second World War period with Julia. His spare, impressionistic prose is the perfect vehicle for conveying the sense of purpose that gripped Hitler’s Germany in the pre-war years. The story is told from the perspective of a naive young Dutchman who falls in love with a brilliant, vivacious engineer. Yet her irrepressible, libertine spirit puts her on a irrevocable collision course with the Nazi authorities, and Chris’ courage, forever undermined by his shaky self-esteem, will be tested to its limits.
You can read an extract from Man on the Move here. And by the way, if you can tell us who it is that adorns the cover of Julia, you will win all three of the new novels profiled here.
The Folded Earth was Book of the Week on the For Book’s Sake website:
“In the first few pages of the book, Maya exclaims that her husband’s need to visit the mountains made her see that ‘some people have the mountains in them while some have the sea’. It is this turn of phrase that is so utterly enrapturing and which really allows Roy to create a beautifully plaintive story filled with incredibly touching moments . . . The Folded Earth grapples with grandiose themes almost effortlessly. Roy’s writing remains gently poignant and metaphoric throughout, every vignette and scenario she constructs feels multi-layered and deeply meaningful.” Sara Badawi
And in India, The Folded Earth has also been reviewed in the weekly political magazine, Tehelka: “Its pages are crowded with the small intense pleasures of a long trek, to be recalled years later with unbearable yearning by a veined stone, a fossil, a dry leaf. The pain of that intimacy acknowledges the imponderable: we rush to embrace the wilderness and dread the terror of being embraced by it. The Folded Earth embodies this paradox: it is a joyous novel about grief.
Roy is the rare author who can write descriptive prose that does not read like an inventory. The strength of this novel is its evocative language and use of closely observed descriptions of the external world to cue shifts in emotion. The narrator (with whom one empathises instantly) relates her own story through lines like these: ‘In the hills, the sky is circumscribed. Its fluid blue is cupped in the palm of a hand whose fingers are the mountains around us… Here is where sky begins and ends, and if there are other places, they have skies different from our sky.’
Circumscribed too is life in the small town where Roy’s compassionate understanding makes her characters come alive.” Kalpish Ratna
India Today, one of the two major political weeklies, also reviews The Folded Earth: “Comic and shrewd and nasty in leaps and spirals. The Folded Earth negotiates passion and pain, hate and hauteur with a deftness of narrative skill that is distinctly acrobatic. It is never melodramatic, however. Roy’s aim, clearly, is not for the jugular, even if she is traversing tiger-country and has Corbett as her colonial pin-up man… If you look… for the perfect turn-of-word-and-phrase, for that unexpected adjective that will jerk you up short in your reading trek, and for that splendidly unbelievable image that can wrench your gut when you least expect it, you can savour Roy’s second.” Brinda Bose
Love Virtually has been reviewed in Woman’s Way magazine in Ireland: “It’s An Affair To Remember for the internet age. It’s good stuff. Just go with the virtual-voyeuristic flow and enjoy 21st century, out-there romance.”
And the Irish Examiner has reviewed Treblinka:
“It is a commonplace of distressed people to say that words can’t describe their agony. Well in this account of his survival in World War II of the killing camp that was Treblinka, Chil Rajchman uses words, and not lots and lots of them, just 96 pages, and opens a window into the individual and collective agony of up to 1.3 million people exterminated as if they were locusts.
His phrases don’t involve complicated concepts nor do his words elicit elaborate philosophies. He just described what happened to him and to his neighbours and strangers who often spoke different languages to him, but who were homogenised by a killing machine into one mass of Jewness. This was death on a calamitous scale. Engineered death. Rajchman somehow managed to survive to tell the story.
Rajchman did everything in his power to stay alive. The SS looked for volunteer barbers. He had never cut a hair in his life. He became a barber. He describes beautiful young women whose hair he had to shave off before they were sent to the gas chamber. The SS looked for dentists. He volunteered. They had to extract gold teeth from corpses. They filled buckets with them, often with bits of flesh attached.
In the second part of Treblinka there is a lengthy piece of reportage by Vasily Grossman — The Hell of Treblinka. In it he exhorts humanity to bear witness to these events — still frighteningly close to our own lives. Not distant genocide a la Genghis Khan shrouded in the mists of time: ‘It is the writer’s duty to tell the terrible truth, and it is a reader’s civic duty to learn this truth. To turn away, to close one’s eyes and walk past is to insult the memory of those who have perished. to learn it.’
We have many accounts of concentration camp survival, some from literary giants (Primo Levi’s If This is a Man); Romanian poet Paul Celan distorted his syntax as a metaphor for the inconceivable. The poet Sylvia Plath, regarded even the German language as a ‘barbed-wire language’. Ultimately, language must attempt to describe such events, however horrific. Reading too, must play a part.
A postcard from hell. Treblinka was a harangue of logic. Morality eviscerated.” Dan MacCarthy
Towards the end of last year Christopher MacLehose drove with Miska to Pula in Croatia to visit Daša Drndić, author of Trieste. As always, he took his camera along, so for the inaugural MacLehose Press Flickr Friday here a few photographs from the trip. All the photos will also be up on the MacLehose Press Flickr page.
Daša Drndić and Seid Serdarevic, her Croatian publisher, with Miska
An all-weather market stall
Statue of James Joyce
Miska at the Palu Literary Festival
If you have any photographs you would like us to included in a future Flickr Friday then please send them. We are particularly looking for photographs of bookshelves, as chaotic or as tidy as they may be.