Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The little red chairs - Edna O'Brien

"You would not believe how many words there are for home and what savage music there can be wrung from it." Edna O'Brien ~ The little red chairs

I finished The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien yesterday and what a novel 🌠I'm word-less 💜 More than the story, and the way it was told, it is O'Brien's way of looking at the world & at the people in it, that I love. With O'Brien, I've found a writer who is tuned to the same rhythm I feel around me, she captures the same colours & sounds I see and hear. And she makes me understand them better, and see them clearer. Now that's quite rare isn't it 💙 and it should be.

The story is set in a remote Irish village in which, one day, Dr Vlad arrives and settles. Vague about his past, but presenting himself as a healer, Vlad slowly becomes a member of this closely-knit community. Fidelma, a married woman who has not been able to have children with her husband & who badly wants a child, approaches Vlad asking him to father her a child. Vlad agrees & warns her this is not an affair. Once she falls pregnant, they stop seeing each other but it is too late. Everyone knows. And it is the moment when Vlad gets arrested and his true identity is revealed. He was the Butcher of Bosnia, who was behind the Sarajevo siege and massacre. Fidelma is now in danger. After the horrendous attack she suffers, she flees to England and tries to understand the part she has played in the life of this war criminal, and he in hers. An exploration of the notion of 'sin', and of its weight.

'The little red chairs' is a reference to the 11,541 red chairs lined & left empty in Sarajevo in remembrance of the victims of the 44-month siege of the city, 643 of them were for children. Rest in peace.

The Mischief - Assia Djebar's first novel

'La Soif' (The thirst) is Assia Djebar's first novel. It was published in 1957 by Julliard editions in Paris, France. By all accounts, it was a difficult novel to own up to for Djebar immediately after its publication. 'La Soif' not only appeared during Algeria's war of independence, while the fighting against France was raging in Algeria, but it was set very far away from war or any matters relating to colonisation.

Narrated by a young priviledged Algerian woman during her summer holiday, La Soif is the story of a complex foursome, two couples, who spend the summer together by the sea. As tensions rapidly build between the two women and men, the foursome disolves into a threesome. This mischievous slip will lead to tragic events that will affect the life of each character, for ever.

'La Soif' is an intimate and sensual novel. It is built looking inward, by a woman who looks at her body, and tries to understand its needs, her tendency for what she feels is petty cruelty, and the weight of her actions.

Djebar's first novel did not go unnoticed in France once released, and with it, Djebar emerged as a powerful voice to be reckoned with in literature.
'La Soif' appeared in English one year after its publication, in 1958, translated by Frances Frenaye as 'The Mischief' and published by Elek Books (Great James Street London). This translation seems to be one of the very first - if not THE first - novel by an Algerian writer translated into English.

Both the original work, La Soif, and the translation The Mischief are terribly hard to get a hold of as both seem out of print.

To celebrate 8 March - for what it's worth - here is the full English version 'The Mischief' in PDF -> THE MISCHIEF BY ASSIA DJEBAR

Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Escape by Ahmed Akkache - the first Algerian Prison Break

'The Escape' (L'évasion) by Ahmed Akkache is the 'Prison Break' epitome of Algerian literature. Set in the 50s, Akkache tells the story of the attempted escape of five Algerian men imprisoned in the political wing of a French prison, in the city of Angers.

Ahmed Akkache was a communist militant and an important figure during the Algerian war of independence, as well as post-war. During his militancy, he was arrested by the French authorities. He was sent to France and jailed there - a customary tactic of the French authorities to break the link between freedom fighters and their groups, and which was implemented before and throughout the war of independence.

In these French prisons, Algerian militants were grouped in the same jail-wings to contain them, and to contain the news and facts of war that these men would otherwise necessarily reveal to French men if they were jailed together.
While in jail in Angers, Akkache managed to escape from the prison's hospital aided by a group of French communists. It is this real escape that Akkache has used to build the scenario of a daring and courageous 'prison break' in L'évasion

This novel was published in 1973 by SNED, and is prefaced by Yacine Kateb. The pair had known each other for 20 years and were great friends. They had met and worked together at the newspaper Alger Républicain.

Fancy reading L'évasion? Click here to download the full novel:

Ahmed Akkache, born in 1926, died aged 84 in 2010. Rest in peace. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

"The Woman in Black" by Susan Hill was a fantastic read, so fluid I read it all in practically one sitting. As deliciously eerie as an Edgar Allan Poe, gothic and dark, told in a language that brilliantly captures the tone of a late 19th novel (although written in 1983!)

The story is told by Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor sent by his firm to the funeral of their client Mrs Drablow, and instructed to go through all her documents to bring back those related to her estate. Mrs Drablow was a widow with no children who lived in a large house on the marshes outside the village. It is in the house that brave Kipps is going to spend the two nights that will change his life forever.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

"Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis is a novel described as a satire of academic life and of academics, and that's very much the axis on which the narrative revolves. Beyond that though, it is as much the story of a young man who tries to fit in and to make do with the only opportunities he feels are before him, both in his private life and in his working life and slowly, despite his efforts, finds himself suffocated by conformity and let's his (good humoured) nature take over. 

The story is set in the head of the main character, Jim, who describes everything he sees and hears with a joke. Initially, this is a bit tiresome for the reader as you might imagine. It took me a good one hundred pages to get used to this style and to fully see that beyond the jokes lay intelligent and deeply honest remarks about society's expectations, and about a rigid class system now beginning to break open within academia in 1950s.

Once I got used to the flow and figured out where all his jokes where heading to, I really enjoyed the story. One element did stick out throughout the novel though: every woman is portrayed as neurotic, irrational, or eccentric. The only redeeming quality in the woman Jim ends up falling for is her youthful beauty and self-righteousness (and she's loaded). Perhaps it was a comment on the author's part of how men were programmed to see women, or perhaps that is just how the author wanted them. All the same, as a woman I found it was an issue for me.