Supposedly Human, the World’s Shame

Between Enemies
Andrea Molesini, trans. Antony Shugaar and Patrick Creagh
Allen & Unwin
November 2015
AU $29.99

between_enemiesAndrea Molesini’s Between Enemies is an eloquent tale of occupation, collaboration and resistance set in WWI.  Based on true events, it follows the aristocratic Spada household as their property is requisitioned by German soldiers, then Austrians.  Their village is occupied.  Eventually the whole household as well as several villagers are drawn to resist the occupiers.

Told from the perspective of 17-year-old Paolo, writing as an adult some ten years later, the story is full of high drama, but also nostalgia and melancholy.  Because the narrator is a teenage boy during the events, the story is also sadly filled with the objectification of Paolo’s crush Giulia.  While this is probably realistic, it’s a little tiresome to read, especially when the novel purports to say something about the natures of men and women and their relationships*.  This is usually by way of commentary delivered by Paolo’s eccentric but wise grandfather, and manages to be the same sort of thing supposedly wise men always say about women in stories of this kind.  If authors** could stop doing that, that would be swell. Continue reading

A Better Life Imagined in his Eyes

The Belly of the Atlantic
Fatou Diome, trans. Lulu Norman and Ros Schwartz
Serpent's Tail
2006

the_belly_of_the_atlanticFatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic is a passionate story about the dream of migration and its harsh reality.  Told from the point of view of Strasbourg resident Salie, the novel nonetheless focuses mostly on her brother Madické.  Madické lives on  the Senegalese island Niodior and dreams of being headhunted to join a big European soccer team.  This dream is shared by many of his friends, persisting despite the warnings of Salie and the teacher Ndétare that neither the road to nor the life in Europe is as good as they believe. Continue reading

You’ll be Given Love

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
Sun-Mi Hwang, trans. Chi-Young Kim
Oneworld

the_hen_who_dreamed_she_could_flyThe Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a beloved story in South Korea*, appearing for the first time in English after its initial release in 2000. It follows the chicken Sprout, who has lived her life inside a battery farm and dreams of one day hatching an egg of her very own. She is given up for dead and thrown out. This is when Sprout finally gets the opportunity to fulfil her dream.

Targetted at both adult and child readers, at least in English translation, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a simple tale with a complex message.  The writing is enchanting, evoking the seasonal changes and the dangers of living in the wilds.  The story is concisely told, with drama and adventure in measured doses.

With easy comparisons to Charlotte’s Web and similar such tales, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a gentle and enjoyable read.

*According to the author information anyway. Since I don’t speak Korean, know any South Koreans, and have never been to South Korea, I cannot verify this first-hand.

On the Banners, Visions of the Future

HARD TO BE A GOD
Arkady & Boris Strugatsky , translated by Olena Bormaschenko
Gollancz, RRP $22.99
June 2015

HardToBeAGod_smOlena Bormaschenko’s translation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Hard to Be a God represents the second translation of the Russian sci-fi classic into English.  As much is discussed in the forward to the book, by Ken MacLeod, who admits to an abortive first attempt to read the novel back in 1977.  Admittedly not a reader of much sci-fi myself*, I had never heard of Hard to Be a God before receiving it for review.  I am certainly glad for the new translation, if MacLeod’s criticisms are accurate.  Bormaschenko’s edition is a clear and easily readable one.  Indeed, in terms of translation my only quibble is with the use of rather twee insults and phrases at times.  However, since the book was written in the 1960s, this is likely an accurate reflection of how it reads in Russian.

Hard to Be a God is the rather Star Trekish tale of a future earth man living undercover as an observer on a planet and in a feudal kingdom.  Because of the similarities of this planet’s feudal culture to Earth’s European middle ages, Anton and several other historians are there to note social development and… stuff.  Unfortunately, what Anton sees unfolding does not follow the progression his historical studies have prepared him for.  Instead, he finds the unmistakeable signs of fascism emerging.

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If You’re Lost and You Look then You Will Find Me

IN THE NIGHT OF TIME
Antonio Muñoz Molina (trans. Edith Grossman; Tuskar Rock, 2015) ISBN: 978 1 78125 463 9. RRP $35.99 In the Night of time

Antonio Muñoz Molina is a Spanish literary heavyweight who I, poor ignorant, had never heard of before reviewing this book.  In the Night of Time is his 23rd book, a tome of luscious long paragraphs* and reverie; of love and desire; and of Spain at the outbreak of the devastating civil war of the 1930s.

My familiarity with Spanish literature, it must be said, is virtually non-existent.  I’m also not particularly well-apprised of the history of Spain, with my familiarity of any kind ending with the reign of of Ferdinand and Isabella.  That’s a good 650-odd years of history there.  Shame on me.  But the point of all this is to say that I can’t really comment on a number of matters regarding Molina’s novel.  Is it historically accurate?  It… seems to be.  Where does it fit in terms of Spanish-language literary trends?  It kind of seems vaguely similar to some of the South American books I’ve read in the past?  So for that I apologise, guys.

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