Tuesday, 20 July 2021

International reading


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)

'The Panda Theory' by Pascale Garnier (no translator credit), who was apparently a very prolific writer. This is a curious little story about a stranger arriving in a small town, who both resists and invites being befriended by the locals. His presence is not explained explicitly but hints are dropped about a traumatic past. He seems like a lovely but troubled character trying to find solace. The slightly grotesque characters around him become more beautiful under his gaze, they are somewhat enchanted by him. I allowed myself to be sucked in, and then he just drops you in it at the end. Curiously satisfying. 

"Madeleine's face appeared through a fog of cigarette smoke. She had changed her hair, which was now held back on either side with combs. It suited her, made her look younger. Just behind her stood Rita, her badly lipsticked lips stretched in a crooked, timid smile.
'You look like you've seen a ghost. Shall we get a table? The bar's too busy.'
Rita instinctively headed over to the same table that she had shared with Marc two days earlier. Force of habit. The three of them sat down and José served each of them a glass of champagne.
'It's on the house! And there's more where that came from. Gabriel's like a brother to me. Just tell him whatever you want and I'll be right over.'
The women sat side by side, the curly little hairs on the backs of their necks visible in the mirror behind them. Madeleine raised her glass.
'I'm not sure what we're celebrating, but cheers!'
They clinked glasses. People are fragile. Hard and fragile, like glass." (p.86)

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:

"She was always clean, never smelled bad and often glistened from the way she oiled her legs and hands. I often saw her moisturise, and sometimes I glimpsed her washing her clothes at the tap in the mosque before hanging them in some Good Samaritan's courtyard, either inside or in the open air. Opposite the mosque's eastern door, there was a walled-off area covered with hessian and plastic sheeting that was home to two scraggly neem trees that spread scant shade beneath them.
The woman changed her position as the sun moved. In the morning she sat on the north side of the wall, in the neem tree's shade, and in the afternoon she sat at the base of the wall on the east side, where shadows of the trees and building advanced towards her. At night she sometimes curled up there, while other times she disappeared. Some people supposed that she slept in the mosque, while others guessed that she went to a courtyard across the street, to shelter from the rain like anyone would. Either way, she always reappeared shortly afterwards like a rainbow." (p.43-44)

Stay safe. Be kind. Read something foreign.

1 comment:

  1. I have been reading Jose Saramago's The Notebook, which is collection of blogs he wrote over a period of a year. A perfect lesson in getting to the point - and with force - what a writer.


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