Monday 28 November 2022

Book Review: Storm Birds by Einar Karason tranlsated by Quentin Bates

Storm Birds Storm Birds by Einar Kárason
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This slim little paperback of 110 pages found on my local libraries shelves was a delight. The story of the efforts for survival by the crew of an Icelandic fishing trawler as they battle severe weather in the North Atlantic whilst out fishing for highly valued redfish. Although fiction it undoubtedly draws upon Icelanders experiences of fishing in the late 1950s when it was one of the most deadly occupations in the world. They battle continually against massive ice build up, each new wave of sea water recreating the ice they seaman have chipped away from the deck and its machinery. Each wave lurching the boat onto its side, its stubborn refusal to return to the upright. Days and nights with out sleep the Captain tries everything to lighten the trawler, to escape the freezing winds. The engineers try to keep the engine running. The cooks makes meals to keep the seam's energy levels up for their work. Touch and go for 4 days. I felt I was there, being tossed about, feeling the cold deep into me.
This is a story which anyone who has been to sea will like, anyone who has survived a life threatening storm, readers who like books like The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea and movies like All is Lost .

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Sunday 27 November 2022

Book Review: The War of the Poor by Eric Vuillard, Translated by Mark Polozzotti

The War of the Poor The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a short book and not one I would have picked up but I wanted for various reasons to try and read a piece of creative non fiction fiction which has always been a genre that flummoxed me.
This was billed as an account of an event I knew nothing about namely the German Peasants’ War of 1524–25 and its instigator Thomas Muntzer a radical theologian of the time. It describes conflict between peasants and gentry which I thought might politically be interesting as even today that differential divide between the haves and the have nots continues. As I started to read it felt like a exercise in name dropping - the Archbishop of Magdeburg, various Munzers, Monczer, Miinzers Johann Sylvanus Erganus, , Nikolaus Stroch, Mark Stubner, Thomas Drechsel etc - all names which meant and mean nothing to me . Undaunted I continued to read about how Thomas Muntzer read the Bible, how he transformed into a radical preacher and provocateur. Central hear is the Gutenburg printing of the Bible, its translation from Latin and the relationship between Church, State and Power which as the ordinary people were more and more able to hear, speak and read it in their own languages caused a growing political awareness of their social circumstances and those of the establishment. It brings in John Wycliffe , John Ball , 1380 poll tax in England , Wat Tyler and the violent conflicts that arose at that time between the English Throne and its citizenry . Then it returns to what is happening in Bohemia with Jan Hus Czech translations, sermons and their resulting riots. The writing spans centuries, back and forth, and spans countries and it does it in 66 pages! To that extent it is classic short piece writing, every word must count, nothing is extraneous. But, and for my this is big but, it is like reading a potted history, like a concise Shakespeare, so much is left out, we have just the bare bones. This is not therefore a book which will appeal to readers of historical non fiction, may not appeal to readers of historical fiction as it doesn't give any depth to the characters of their motivations. This book was translated by American Mark Polizzotti and was shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize which is for novels or short story collection but I feel it doesn't quite fit that bill. Not a book for me.

Thursday 10 November 2022

Short Story Podcast Review: The Cafeteria in the Evening and a Pool in the Rain by Yoko Ogawa, read by Madelaine Thien

The Cafeteria in the Evening and a Pool in the Rain The Cafeteria in the Evening and a Pool in the Rain by Yōko Ogawa 

Text at
Audio at New Yorker Fiction podcast Oct 1st 2022
I just listened to Yōko Ogawa's story The Cafeteria in the Evening and a Pool in the Rain on the New Yorker Fiction Podcast Oct 1st 2022 . The podcast audio is read by Madelaine Thien. For me here voice took a little getting used to, I found it too soft, airy, and had to grind my teeth a bit, but I persevered and acclimatized enough to enjoy the story. What was excellent was the discussion Thien and the podcast host Deborah Treisman had about the story afterwards. One to recommend I think.

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Monday 7 November 2022

Book Review: Good Offices by Evelio Rosero, tranls by Anna Maclean and Anna Milsom

Good Offices Good Offices by Evelio Rosero
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A marvelous novella for reading around Halloween. Billed as a satire on the Catholic Church I was a little concerned before picking it up as I am not a great reader of the comical, quite often don't get written humour of any form, but this is one that left me desperately wanting #Guillermo del Toro to get hold of the movie rights. . Its gothic, its surreal, its horror, its Bacchanalian, it reminded me of Victor Hugo, of Robert Burns.

It simmers towards its climax on the night Father Almida and his right hand man the sacristan are off visiting his church's benefactor vainly trying to keep their income flowing, leaving the acolyte Tancredo (the Hunchback), Sabrina the sacristan's niece (Esmerelda) and the church's cooks, the three Lilias (the Three Witches) to host the last minute, last option locum priest Father Matamoros (Auld Nick) who has come to stand in for Father Almida at Mass. To their amazement this disheveled, drunken substitute sings the mass with the voice of an angel and transforms the parishioners. Who can blame them for not wanting Almida to return!

Beautifully translated by Anne Maclean (in this case along with Anna Milsom - the two of them have also translated his Feast of the Innocents) Maclean has also translated the other works by him ( The Armies and Stranger to the Moon and most recently Tono the Infallible) which have so far appeared in English. It would be great to get this translated work available as audio recording.

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