When we go for a charity shop trawl I often find that I am coming across books I have already read, and so I tend to gravitate towards authors with foreign sounding names, and it has been an excellent way to come across some interesting reads (as I have frequently found with translated fiction in the past.) First up 'The Sickness' by Venezuelan writer Alberto Barrera Tyszka, translated by Margaret Jill Costa (who also translated Jose Saramago's 'Death at Intervals'). Illness makes people behave peculiarly sometimes: Dr Miranda cannot bring himself to tell his elderly father that he (the father) is dying. Along side their relationship is his secretary Karina, who starts a correspondence with a very persistent hypochondriac patient that the doctor is attempting to ignore. Having pretended to be the doctor and offered a sympathetic ear she finds herself sucked in deeper than she expected, or can cope with. Both situations meander through the book and resolve themselves with a little honest, human communication, and the whole story is a delightful insight into the human condition, both its strengths and its weaknesses.
"Andrés ought to go to his father, show him the x-rays, tell him the truth, tell him exactly what's happening; he should, moreover, explain that further tests are needed, that from now on, his relationship with medicine will become uncomfortably close, so close he'll grow to loathe it; he should go to his father and tell him that it's hopeless, that there's not a thing they can do about it, that he has cancer and doesn't have much longer to live. How much longer exactly? Medical calendars tend to be vague: not much longer. Which always means less.
But he doesn't do any of these things. Postponing duties, especially when those duties are painful ones, is also a temporary way of surviving. The poet William Carlos Williams was also a doctor. He wrote: 'Many a time a man must watch the patient's mind as it watches him, distrusting him ...' Andrés didn't know how his father would react when he found out the truth. He distrusted both his and his father's minds because he wasn't at all sure about himself, about how he would react once he'd told his father the truth. He'd decided to confront the situation, however tragic, head on and talk to his father; but when the moment came, he didn't know how to, he felt invaded by thousands of tiny fears that raced around his mind like trapped lizards and always led him to postpone that duty yet again: he should talk to his father, but not just then, later." (p.43-44)
Rania Mamoun is a Sudanese writer, and 'Thirteen Months of Sunrise' (translated by Elizabeth Jaquette) is a delicate little collection of stories. I say stories, but it feels like anecdotes would be a more accurate description. It is like you are sitting beside her on the bus and she is just recounting something that happened to her, or to her friend. Nothing much happens in any of them, life is just happening, they are little windows on life. Here, 'A woman asleep on her bundle' describes a young girl's fascination with a homeless woman: