Tag Archives: The Road
We begin with the paperback of Daniel Pennac’s wonderfully prognostic book, School Blues – which has caught the attention of both the Economist:
“. . . Describes what faces a school dunce when the teacher before him cannot recall what it felt like to be ignorant . . . Playfully written . . . “School Blues” joyously combines the profound with the seemingly trivial. It gently reminds readers how ignorant it is to have forgotten what it felt like to have but little knowledge.”
And the Sunday Business Post:
“What makes a good teacher? In this reflective and philosophical account, Frenchman and former teacher Daniel Pennac suggests his own theories for this timeless conundrum, in a drily humorous, yet impressively cohesive way. Translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone, as a manual preaching mutual understanding in the classroom, this is hard to beat. Essential reading for any teacher.”
The Vintage and the Gleaning has made it into the September review pages of the Irish Tatler:
“Written with an authentic voice and infused with beauty, brutality and sadness, this is a compelling observation of men, women and country. A remarkably accomplished debut novel that is unputdownable.”
The paperback of Claudie Gallay’s The Breakers, has been reviewed in the Guardian this weekend:
“ . . . the recursive prose is subtly hypnotic, mimicking the obsessive circularity of mourning and the tendency of insight to be always belated . . . the effect is oddly intriguing.” Chris Ross
Librarian, Aileen Smedley, picks Jacques Bonnet’s outstanding book about books, Phantoms on the Bookshelves for the Lytham St Anne’s Express:
“It is witty, entertaining and slightly intimidating in its breadth. Well worth a read for anyone passionate about books.”
Journal by Hélène Berr has been reviewed in the South Wales Evening Post:
“A harrowing account but an incredibly important piece of writing.”
Jake Kerridge has reviewed Until Thy Wrath Be Past in this weekend’s Telegraph:
“Larsson’s laid-back style makes her unflinching probing of icy depths of the human heart all the more chilling”
Whilst in the blogosphere a senior member of the Royal Navy reviews Until Thy Wrath Be Past for the website dedicated to members of the British army:
“Set in contemporary rural Sweden the author has created a variety of detailed characters each with a richly painted background … The story unfolds at a quick pace and seems straightforward but there are one or two twists that I didn’t expect which make for great reading. Sadly, despite being 300+ pages in hardback this is a very quick book to complete. Good news for some but I enjoyed it so much I wanted it to continue. In fact the storyline was so good I could see this making a really good feature film. A good book and one I enjoyed so much so that I’m going to hunt out more from the author, to that end I’m giving this book 4 out of 5.”
Yet another review for Until Thy Wrath Be Past, this time found on Winston’s Dad blog:
“I’ve read other Nordic crime books over the last few years and this one needs to sit near the top of the pile . . . The crime is realistic – which is more than I can say of some of the other Nordic crime novels I’ve read. I enjoyed reading female leads that I could get on with as a male reader . . . So much better than Harry Hole [Jo Nesbø’s main character] for me. Yes she is the ‘other’ Larsson but Rebecka [Martinsson] is not another Lisbeth Salander, she is a new face for Nordic crime.”
And the Book Bag also gets in on the Åsa Larsson action, with their review:
“The words ‘third book’ might give you cause for concern, but don’t worry. I have to admit that I, too, was an Åsa Larsson virgin. I suspect that there are spoilers for the earlier books in Until Thy Wrath Be Past . . . but it works perfectly well as a standalone. It’s a good story and a neatly-turned plot which can’t help but pull you in. I knew where the story was going but the evolving detail of the background and exactly who has instigated the murders caught me by surprise. Martinsson makes an excellent protagonist too – intelligent, physically courageous and very much her own woman – and an elegant contrast to Mella with her insecurities.”
And last but not least the paperback of The Road continues to be reviewed across the papers. This time in the Daily Express (5 stars):
“From satire to comedy and tragedy this is a fantastic collection translated into English for the first time. Including Stalin’s purges and the Holocaust, these short stories and articles are accompanied by introductions that put Grossman’s life into context.”
And the Sunday Times:
“. . . his vivid dispatches, some newly translated for this superb collection, retain a freshness that only the finest journalism can. The 11 short stories also collected here show a writer of infinite variety, and the bulk of them will enhance his reputation . . . his is a powerful voice of conscience.”
The Road by Vasily Grossman, a collection of short fiction and articles (translated and edited by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler) is published this month in paperback amidst a positive extravaganza of renewed interest in the author of Life and Fate, a vivid account of the lives of a vast cast of characters living through battle of Stalingrad, and regarded by many as the greatest Russian novel of the twentieth century.
This week and next sees the celebration and broadcast on Radio 4 of Life and Fate, (also translated by Robert Chandler and first published in the UK in 1985). Admirers and scholars of Grossman gathered last Friday in Oxford to take part in a two-day conference hosted by St Peter’s College and the BBC, which has shown possibly unprecedented commitment to the work by giving it every drama slot on Radio 4 apart from The Archers for an entire week. The dramatisation is the brainchild of Mark Damazer, former controller of Radio 4, but his enthusiasms have been transferred to his successor, Gwyneth Williams. Kenneth Branagh takes the role of Viktor Shtrum, supported by David Tennant, Janet Suzmann, Greta Scacchi, Sam West, Harriet Walter, Kenneth Cranham and others.
But how to break up such a novel without losing its vast epic quality? Life and Fate offers a rich historical panorama on the one hand, and on the other an emotionally resonant mosaic of humanity. Radio script writers Jonathan Myerson and Mike Walker discussed the enormous challenge of distilling 900 pages and a cast of a thousand characters into thirteen Chekhovian episodes, a process that has taken four years from conception to broadcast. (The extent of their meticulous work on the project might be encapsulated in the fact that sound recorders were dispatched to the Tank Museum in Dorset to fire up an original T-34.)The writers and producers hope that they have brought across the essence of the work by building up complex layers of narrative through dialogue and through the emotions of their characters. On Sunday at 3 p.m. we can hear if they’ve been successful, or whether, as one panellist feared, it might turn out to be a “Stalinist version of the Archers”.
This week’s edition of Start the Week – with Antony Beevor (author of Stalingrad and editor of Vasily Grossman’s A Writer at War, Linda Grant (who has written an introduction to the latest paperback edition of Life and Fate), and novelist Andrey Kurkov – was recorded during the conference, and you can read more about that here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radio4/2011/09/andrew_marr_-_life_and_fate.html. Discussing the historical and literary context of Life and Fate, and Grossman’s career as a brilliant war journalist (see A Writer at War and The Road) were Robert Chandler and Lyuba Vinogradova, primary researcher for Stalingrad and Grossman’s A Writer At War, whose forthcoming books on Russian woman snipers and pilots will be published by MacLehose Press.
Robert Chandler’s translation of Life and Fate was first published in 1985, even though Grossman had completed it many years earlier in 1959. It had been submitted for publication in 1960, after which Grossman’s apartment was raided and any material relating to the book confiscated. Politburo’s chief Mikhail Suslov informed him months later that it would not be published for two or three hundred years, a measure both of the threat that it represented for the Soviet Union, and a recognition of its potential longevity. But Grossman had taken the precaution of distributing one or two copies amongst trusted friends; writer and broadcaster Zinovy Zinik remembers Samizdat copies of the novel circulating in Moscow in the early 1960s. The novel then began a tumultuous historical journey of its own: with the help of Soviet dissident and future Nobel prize winner Andrei Sakharov it was smuggled out of Russia on microfilm in the mid-seventies, already ten years after Grossman’s death, and published for the first time in Switzerland in 1980.
See the Radio 4 website for more links and information relating to the dramatisation.
It’s Vasily Grossman month and The Road, a collection of his short fiction and essays, has just been published. Here are just some of the reviews the hardback received last year
“Taken together, the collection is a treasure trove that lends the reader an insider’s understanding of what it was like to live through the Soviet era, at the same time as it introduces us to Grossman’s enduring preoccupation with the wonder and terror of humanity”
Gillian Slovo, Guardian
“Blistering reportage, eye-opening stories and heart-rending letters from the author of Life and Fate. His account of the Treblinka death camp is unforgettable”
Boyd Tonkin, Independent
“Readers familiar with his novels will be surprised by his short fiction. They show a writer of infinite variety. If Life and Fate deliberately echoed War and Peace, his short stories are pure Chekhov”
Victor Sebestyen, Sunday Times
“Unstinting championing of ordinary human emotion is what still strikes hardest in Grossman’s style”
Tim Martin, Telegraph
“All his stories exemplify his ability to pick out the moments when an individual’s fate is decided or his or her personality is revealed, and to clothe those moments in characteristic details . . . so as to place his characters in the great events of their time”
Geoffrey A. Hoskings, Times Literary Supplement
“Extraordinary, punctuated with small details that stop the eyes and drag them back to read certain phrases again”
Chris Power, Guardian
“A fascinating collection of short stories, letters and articles . . . Chandler, surely one of the best translators in the business, is also a fine editor – the detailed notes he provides are phenomenal”
Lucy Popescu, Independent
“Offers a highly personal, disturbing but philosophical look at the atrocities that took place in Soviet Russia between the ’30s and the late ’50s”
Xanthi Barker, Time Out
“Grossman’s stories are so affecting partly because they look so unflinchingly at human nature, combining a journalist’s eye with a fascination for humanity enduring under near-intolerable circumstances”
Claire Allfree, Metro
The excellent news for today is that not only will Cees Nooteboom be in conversation with A. S. Byatt on the 17th June at the British Library as part of the LRB World Literature Festival.
but ALSO, 3 stories from The Foxes Come at Night will be read in the BBC Radio Readings Radio 4 Afternoon Reading slot which will be broadcast at 3.30pm on Tuesday 19th July, Wednesday 20th July and Thursday 21st July.
Cees should also be featured in this week’s issue of the New Statesman in the books Q&A section and Time Out are interviewing him tomorrow morning as part of a larger feature on the festival. Cees will also be interviewed on The Strand which is broadcast on BBC World Service around the 16th June.
And in case you’ve not heard the latest news on The Road author, Vasily Grossman, his epic novel, Life and Fate is set to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as part of an eight-hour dramatisation from the 18 – 24th September, starring Kenneth Branagh and will be preceded by a series of free public events to discuss the novel including a special recording of Start The Week at St Peter’s College, Oxford University, on 9 September http://www.bbc.co.uk/
On to warmer climes with a review of the paperback of No-one Loves a Policeman in the Sunday Business Post in Ireland:
“[A] frantic and wryly comic novel … It’s a potent mix that initially appears overly complicated, yet Orsi’s dry writing style – ably translated by Nick Caistor – saves the day for his love-lorn protagonist as well as his audience.” Julian Fleming
The Last Brother is awarded 5 stars as both an excellent personal read as well as a group read by reader, Anne Williams in the May/June edition of New Books Magazine:
“This little gem is just 200 pages long, from a Mauritian novelist, superbly translated by Geoffrey Strachan. It’s an incredibly moving story … a relatively short adventure the two boys have, but it’s told in an achingly beautiful way … Some of the images will stay with me a long time. Tender and lovely, I’d really recommend this one most highly.”
For this week’s MacLehose Monday we return to Vasily Grossman’s The Road and its prolific editor and translator Robert Chandler.
Chandler has previously translated Grossman’s novels, Life and Fate and Everything Flows, as well as co-translating works by Andrey Platonov and editing Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida.
The Road - published earlier this month – is Chandler’s selection from Grossman’s essays and shorter fiction, spanning his whole career and charting the evolution and refinement of his style.
Sarah Young is a lecturer in Russian at The School of Eastern European and Slavonic Studies. She recently interviewed Chandler for her website and has kindly allowed us to host a selection on the Quercus blog.
The full text of this fascinating and in-depth discussion of Grossman, his short fiction and his place in Russian literature can be accessed at:
SJY: Your new book The Road includes not only Grossman’s short stories, but also essays and letters. Is your decision to combine different genres in one volume an indication of the way you view him as a writer?
RC: Yes, Grossman’s fiction is always firmly grounded in fact. And his journalism is best seen as a sustained effort to imagine the historical truth and to present it as vividly as possible. The Road includes two pieces about the Shoah. ‘The Old Teacher’ is a short story written in 1943, a fictional account of one of the Nazi massacres of Jews that took place on Soviet soil. ‘The Hell of Treblinka’ is a long journalistic article, one of the first publications about a Nazi death camp in any language.
Grossman was endowed with an imagination of supreme power and above all steadiness. And he employs this imagination in all his work, both in his fiction and in his journalism.
SJY: Grossman has still not achieved the recognition he deserves, in Russia particularly. Is this primarily because of his often painful subject matter?
RC: Certainly, this is part of the reason. Many Russians just don’t want to have to think any more about the Gulag or the Terror Famine. And yet there are clearly many people who do feel the need to read about such matters. I also once read an interview with a French theatre director. During the audience discussion after a performance of a one-woman play also based on ‘The Last Letter’ [the final piece in The Road], an elderly Jewish woman got up and said, ‘I never received a “last letter” from my own mother but now it feels as if I did.’ This simple comment constitutes as profound a validation of the purpose of art as I have ever come across.
SJY: But I sometimes wonder if there might be some other reason for Grossman’s lack of recognition in Russia. Might it also be something to do with Grossman’s particular approach to his subject matter?
RC: Twentieth-century Russian literature is full of brilliant stylists – Babel, Dobychin, Zoshchenko, Platonov. Grossman, in contrast, never tries to dazzle the reader. He uses unusual language or metaphors only occasionally only when no other words will do. It takes time to realize the depth of perception beneath the often ordinary surface of his writing. Even when Grossman is at his most poetic, I have been oddly slow to appreciate the power of his images.
SJY: I’m a newcomer to his short stories as well, and they’ve certainly come as a revelation to me. Would you like to say more about one of your favourite stories?
RC: Grossman’s stories are often about events of historical importance, but he presents them from an unexpected perspective. ‘The Dog’, for example, is about a stray mongrel who is being prepared to be the first living creature to be sent into space and then return again to earth. While she is undergoing her training, the usually tough-minded chief scientist grows unexpectedly attached to her, imagining not so much that she will penetrate the cosmos as that the cosmos will penetrate her. The dog, who had always clung to her freedom, grows unexpectedly attached to the scientist. The story ends with the dog returning to earth and, eventually, greeting the scientist. She licks his hands so eagerly that he is unable, for some time, ‘to see the eyes that had taken in the universe.’