Guest Review | The Fig Tree by Goran Vojnović | Istros Books

In The Fig Tree, deftly translated by Olivia Hellewell, Goran Vojnović portrays three generations of a family whose lives are marked by the disintegration of Yugoslavia and its brutal aftermath.

Outsiders

 Jadran’s grandfather Aleksandar was born in Novi Sad in 1925. Long before the Nazis marched through, Aleksandar’s cautious single mother, Ester Aljehin, married a dentist for his name and abruptly left him to settle in Belgrade, where she worked as a nurse. When she “caught sight of the first Nazi uniforms in the city,” fear drove her to move again and she arrived in Ljubljana in February 1942: “Slovenes seemed less intimidating than Serbs,” although they still treated her with suspicion. Years later, her son Aleksandar Dordevic arrives in Buje, Croatia. Employed as a forest warden, he feels like “an outsider with a local-sounding name.” Aleksandar and his pregnant wife Jana settle in Momjan (which later become part of Croatia), in a house he builds with his own hands with its own fig tree. Continue reading Guest Review | The Fig Tree by Goran Vojnović | Istros Books

Guest Review | Lucy Popescu | The White Dress, Nathalie Léger | Les Fugitives

The White Dress is the final part of a trilogy of works by Nathalie Léger that began with Exposition, translated by Amanda DeMarco, and published by Les Fugitives in 2019.

Brides on Tour: peace not war

On 8 March 2008, Pippa Bacca, a 33-year-old Italian feminist artist, decided to hitchhike from Milan to Jerusalem wearing a white wedding dress to symbolise “marriage between different peoples and nations.” Her aim was to promote world peace and she intended to document her experiences by video. However, on 31 March, having temporarily separated from her fellow bride on tour, Silvia Moro, Pippa was picked up by Murat Karataş in Gezbe, Turkey. He raped and strangled her and dumped her body in a shallow grave among some bushes. Léger /Léger’s narrator meditates on Bacca’s sorrowful journey and interweaves the story of a mother and daughter’s relationship. Natasha Lehrer’s perceptive English translation was notably published on the twelfth anniversary of Bacca’s death.

Continue reading Guest Review | Lucy Popescu | The White Dress, Nathalie Léger | Les Fugitives

Guest Review | Victor Meadowcroft | A Musical Offering, Luis Sagasti | Charco Press

A Musical Offering is Argentinian author Luis Sagasti’s second novel to appear in English. His first, Fireflies (also published by Charco Press and reviewed for The BookBlast Diary) saw translator Fionn Petch nominated for a TA First Translation Prize in 2018, and this is another fine performance from Petch, convincingly reproducing the author’s erudite but effortless prose, with occasional poetic flourishes.

A Note-Perfect Ode to Wonder

The novel opens with an account of the origins of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Suffering from insomnia, Bach’s patron, Count Keyserling, tasks the composer with devising a piece of music that will lull him to sleep. Once completed, the composition is to be played by virtuoso harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who will deliver these “musical sleeping pills” until the Count finally dozes off. From here, Sagasti leads us into the twentieth century, introducing two famous recordings of the Goldberg Variations performed by Canadian piano prodigy Glenn Gould, one at the beginning and one near the end of his career. Continue reading Guest Review | Victor Meadowcroft | A Musical Offering, Luis Sagasti | Charco Press

Guest Review | Lucy Popescu | The Blessed Rita, Tommy Wieringa | Scribe UK

The Blessed Rita is a compelling portrait of the forgotten, and Tommy Wieringa makes a convincing case for empathy with those living on the margins of society. There is a chilling beauty to many bleak landscapes and this stark portrait of a remote Dutch community, expertly translated by Sam Garrett, reminds us that the same is true in literature. Continue reading Guest Review | Lucy Popescu | The Blessed Rita, Tommy Wieringa | Scribe UK

Guest Review | Rachel Goldblatt | The Bell in the Lake, Lars Mytting | MacLehose Press

“And this also”, said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the earth”

 This epigraph, taken from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, sets the tone for Lars Mytting’s sweeping investigation of legend, superstition, and the effects of industrial and ideological change on a small, secluded village in rural Norway. Marlow’s famous statement evokes both an image of literal darkness and ideas about uncivilised nations and their conquest by other – more powerful – empires: both notions are integral to this powerful contemporary narrative that is rooted in history.
Continue reading Guest Review | Rachel Goldblatt | The Bell in the Lake, Lars Mytting | MacLehose Press