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
“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
Starting a new job in the middle of a global pandemic is not something many people would find enviable, though I was obviously delighted for the opportunity as so many others were being furloughed. When I began working for BookBlast in West London, it was in the context of not knowing what the weeks and months ahead had in store. I was meant to be starting an internship at Bloomsbury in April, which was postponed indefinitely due to Covid-19. With the prospect of an endless stretch of time ahead with no work, and any notions of career progression firmly on hold, I had a sinking sense of dread about the rest of 2020. Continue reading Guest Feature | Rachel Goldblatt | Dispatches from the Intern’s Desk
Any thought of escaping home and summer in London for sun, sea and al fresco lunches – paella, gelato, freshly grilled octopus – has been scuppered by the recent global lockdown. The world is at a standstill as we are besieged by Covid-19. Travel plans and holidays have been either postponed or cancelled. A trickle of pictures of lunches by turquoise seas and sun-kissed legs keeping cool under striped umbrellas have only very recently begun to sneak back onto my social media feeds from the lucky few who have managed to get away.
So reading Heaven, Manuel Vilas’s latest collection of poetry and short fiction published by Carcanet Press, translated from the Spanish by poet and Cambridge don, James Womack, abated my craving for the Hispanic sun, cool cobbled church squares and ocean swims. Complex, rich, melancholy, beautiful, biblical and profane, this is one of the finest and most powerful collections of contemporary poetry I’ve read in recent years. Violence, beauty, tenderness, sex and death coexist and have a momentum all of their own, at times even eclipsing the author. Continue reading Guest Review | Rachel Goldblatt | Heaven, Manuel Vilas | Carcanet Press
Anna Kim’s The Great Homecoming, published by Granta Books just before Lockdown is a sweeping tale of friendship and betrayal that explores the devastating impact of the Korean War, Russian and American politicking and the Cold War on individuals, families and cities in Korea and Japan during the 1950s and ’60s.
Anna Kim was born in Daejeon, South Korea but grew up in Austria and wrote the novel in German. She has garnered much praise and recognition for her previous work, and is the recipient of, among other accolades, the Austrian State Fellowship for Literature and the 2012 European Union Prize for Literature, for her second novel Frozen Time. This slick and accomplished translation by Jamie Lee Searle is sure to widen Kim’s fanbase and acclaim, and rightly so.
The novel begins in the present day. A young translator, Hanna, who was born in South Korea but then adopted by a German couple, visits an elderly Korean man, Yunho Kang, who lives in the American missionary quarter in Seoul. When Hanna translates a letter that Yunho has received from America informing him of the death of a Mrs Eve Lewis, he embarks on reminiscing about Eve Moon, or Yunmee – for she is a woman of many names and identities – and his friend Johnny, in Seoul in 1959. Continue reading Guest Review | Rachel Goldblatt | The Great Homecoming, Anna Kim | Granta Books