Monthly Archives: June 2012
Such is the fitting epithet bestowed on Åsa Larsson by Mr Barry Forshaw in his review in the Independent last week of her latest crime blockbuster in translation, The Black Path:
There is a piece of sleight-of-hand at the beginning of this novel by Swedish crime queen Åsa Larsson.
It is a tactic which both wrong-foots the reader and imparts some vivid local colour. A man is sitting fishing on a spring evening in Torneträsk. At this time of year, residents make the trip to a secluded area where the ice is more than a metre thick, riding snowmobiles, and towing their “arks” behind them. These arks are small fishing cabins with a hole in the floor through which the fishermen drill into the ice, and sit inside warmed by a gas stove.
But the fisherman in The Black Path, translated by Marlaine Delargy, is unlucky. Stepping outside in his underwear to relieve himself, he watches in horror as his ark is whipped away by a storm. He knows he will die unless he finds another. Finding a deserted one, he breaks in; he sees a blanket on the bed and pulls it off. Underneath lies the body of a woman, her eyes frozen into ice.
At this point the reader realises that this stunningly described chapter is, in fact, a clever revision of one of the oldest clichés in the crime thriller lexicon: the discovery of the corpse that sets the plot in motion. But those who have read Larsson’s The Savage Altar will know that every element of her work is always granted an idiosyncratic new twist. While many Nordic crime writers are content to locate their bloody deeds in suburban cities not unlike those of Britain, Larsson is always looking for the more off-kilter setting.
Read the full review
But this is just the latest in a flurry of glowing notices for perhaps the strongest book in the series . . .
“Another enormously successful Swedish import, Larsson is a remarkably good writer who has been well served by her translator” Literary Review
“Torture, corruption and perversion: there is no shortage of naughtiness in Åsa Larsson’s The Black Path . . . A superior example of Scandinavian noir” Sunday Telegraph
“Larsson’s chilling insight into the worst of human nature cannot be faulted” Irish Examiner.
“A compelling read . . . this series is really amongst the cream of recently translated Scandinavian crime fiction” Eurocrime
The Black Path is available now in hardback and from September in paperback,
Tireless devotees of the MacLehose blog will remember being informed in December of last year of a book of poetry by Cees Nooteboom that had been translated by David Colmer (also the translator of Peter Terrin’s The Guard).
If you would like to any more about it, KCRW Radio has broadcast an interview with Mr Nooteboom which is available for streaming on their website. The photo on the left is by Marzena Pogorzały, who specialises in writers and icebergs and works at John Sandoe Books — outside which the photograph was taken and in which they have a copy of Cees Nooteboom: Self Portrait of an Other.
A stunning review of Jean-Paul Kauffmann’s A Journey to Nowhere has just been published in the Financial Times, courtesy of Ian Thomson, Primo Levi’s biographer. The full review is essential reading . . .
The literary travelogue – with elements of history, anthropology, personal experience and quest – is a difficult genre. In the absence of conventional plot, the challenge is to create a forward momentum, something that WG Sebald was skilled at doing. In lesser hands, such a book could easily stagnate.
A Journey to Nowhere, fortunately, is a triumph. In absorbing detail, Jean-Paul Kauffmann explores Courland, even though it “no longer exists”. Between 1561 and 1795, Courland (in German, Kurland) was a duchy that extended into modern-day Latvia. Having been subsumed into the Tsarist empire, Courland was occupied by Imperial Germany during the first world war, but subsequently disappeared when Latvia proclaimed independence in 1918. What remains of this once glittering Baltic outpost?
A Journey to Nowhere, superbly translated by Euan Cameron, provides a vivid amalgam of opinion, history and travelogue; I was absorbed from start to finish.
Kauffmann’s book has also been reviewed in Standpoint Magazine by the organ’s editor, Daniel Johnson. The notice was no less rapturous . . .
Although I do not much care for travel writing, there are (as with every literary genre) some exceptions: Patrick Leigh-Fermor for one, V.S. Naipaul for another. A new discovery for me is Jean-Paul Kauffmann. His latest work, superbly translated by Euan Cameron, is A Journey to Nowhere. It describes a journey to Courland, the Latvian peninsula inhabited by the human debris of a history as picturesque and desolate as its windswept landscape.
There is something haunting about this story within the story of Kauffmann’s journey, which is embellished by random encounters with more or less colourful and eccentric Courlanders, none of whom however has the charm of Mara. She belongs to Courland’s amnesiac present, yet evokes its exotic past — from the Order of Livonian Knights to 19th-century Jewish emigrants, fleeing Russian pogroms from the principal port of Liepaja; Baron Munchhausen concocting his fabulous adventures; the exiled Louis XVIII, last of the Bourbon monarchs; and Eduard von Keyserling, whose novels immortalised the doomed Baltic barons: Courland’s Chekhov. Kauffmann’s homage to his lost beloved leaves us all in his debt.
Read the full review . . .
And finally — for now — Clare Russell has reviewed it in The Lady, giving it four stars, although it reads more like a five-star review . . .
Jean-Paul Kauffmann’s Journey To Nowhere is an intriguingly eccentric book – a kind of Gallic version of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare With Amber Eyes. Both are fuelled by an obsession and a quest. Kauffmann – a French journalist – is obsessed with a region. Courland, a stretch of land between the Gulf of Riga, the Baltic and Lithuania, no longer exists. It was once ruled by Teutonic Knights, captured by Nazi Germany, then returned to Soviet Russia. It’s now part of Latvia, and its strange history holds a potent charm for the author and reader alike.
Kauffmann is a gripping narrator. The minute he lands in Riga to find out more about a place that’s possibly ‘not going to be very jolly’, the ‘opposite of Italy’, you’re hooked. His first book, The Dark Room At Longwood, about Napoleon’s exile on St Helena, won six prizes. This should win a few more.
Mentioned in the same breath as W.G. Sebald, Patrick Leigh Fermor, V.S. Naipaul and Edmund de Waal all in one week. Now that is not bad going.
A Journey to Nowhere is available in Hardback at £18.99
Yes, this wonderful and wonderfully wide-ranging collection of articles, essays and criticism from the author of the internationally bestselling Gomorrah will be read on BBC Radio Four every morning next week. Tune in from 9.45 to 10.00 pm Monday to Friday:
Italian journalist Roberto Saviano describes the affects of writing his successful Mafia expose Gomorrah on his life and work. In this episode, he is given a rare release from enforced hiding, to take a trip to the Cannes Film Festival for the opening of the film version of his explosive book, which dramatises his insights going undercover in Naples to reveal the scale and brutality of the modern Mafia operation in Italy and beyond. He is accompanied to Cannes by the youthful stars of the film, ordinary kids from the streets of Naples who play wannabe gangsters, all of whom who have grown up, as Saviano did, in the shadow of violent organised crime.
A series of essays from Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, the celebrated author of Gomorrah – a sensational book exposing the inner workings of the Italian Mafia. Saviano explores a range of his passions, both light and dark, sharing common themes of David vs Goliath and the power of art and talent to overcome difficulties, while offering a compelling insight into his life in hiding and under permanent police protection since Gomorrah’s publication in 2006.
Saviano describes the effects on his life and work of writing the book, including a surreal ‘fish out of water’ trip to the Cannes Film Festival for the opening of the film version.
Abridged by Eileen Horne
Reader: Nicholas Murchie
Producer: Clive Brill
A Pacificus Production for BBC Radio 4.
Beauty & the Inferno is available in paperback at £8.99
Mesmerized is the title of the English translation of German author Alissa Walser’s first novel, Am Anfang war die Nacht Musik. Why did we change the title, rather than translating it straight as something like In the Beginning the Night Music? Well, it’s a bit more catchy. And also, the word “Mesmerized” is derived from the real life protagonist of the novel. Don’t worry though — we did ask the author first!
The handy Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that “mesmerized” comes from the word “mesmerism”, which comes from the French word “mesmérisme“. This in turn was derived from the name of Franz Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician who lived in the age of Mozart and who developed a theory about animal magnetism and believed in a mysterious bodily fluid that allowed people to hypnotise one another. The word now exists in German, too, as “mesmerisieren“, which has synonyms in “faszinieren” and “hypnotisieren“, but Mesmer’s theories haven’t really stood the test of time.
And yet, in Mesmerized, Alissa Walser plays with the tantalising prospect that there was something to them (but not in a sci-fi way). At the beginning of the novel, Mesmer runs his own private hospital in Vienna, where he practises his theories on a wide range of variously deranged patients. He has enemies everywhere: fellow scientists, doctors and physicians are afraid that his methods may bring him to prominence, and hide their fear through ridicule and scorn.
When he is asked to help restore the sight of a blind musical prodigy favoured by the Empress herself, he senses that fame, and even immortality, is within his grasp. Mesmer knows that he will have to gain her trust if he is to open her eyes, but at what cost to her fragile talent? And, with his methods already open to salacious interpretation, will their intimacy result in scandal?
Mesmerized is available in hardback at £14.99