Jean Michelin’s Those Who Stay is a powerful and deeply human novel about the impact of war on soldiers fighting in distant countries, and what these men are like when they return. Wearing a mask of silence to avoid the expression of strong feelings for fear of losing control comes at a high cost. The story centres around a private investigation done by four soldiers when one of their unit is reported missing. Their adherence to the military doctrine based on mutual trust between leaders and those they lead is unshakeable, even when back home on civvy street. Those Who Stay also shows the detrimental effect of their arrivals and departures on the families, girlfriends and wives who stay behind; and the children growing up alone with their mother.
This year’s Beyond Words Festival featured a great line-up from across the Channel. Throughout the week, the Institut Français du Royaume Uni in South Kensington, London, was bustling with people eager to see their favourite French authors in conversation with their British counterparts discussing not only their latest books, but many things words and ideas from France, past and present.
The first event I attended was A Gallic Evening with Muriel Barbery, Antoine Laurain and Jean-Baptiste Andrea, chaired by Viv Groskop. Gallic Books publish “the very best of what the French are actually reading.” Over the past decade, they have brought over one hundred authors to the British reading public.
Stalking the Atomic City by Markiyan Kamysh must be one of the strangest examples of tourist literature ever written. Its focus is about visits to ‘the Zone’: the radioactive Exclusion Zone around the devastated nuclear power plant at Chornobyl (the Ukrainian spelling of the place). Markiyan Kamysh describes his frequent illegal visits to the Zone during the 2010s, before the Russian invasion. At first, these sound unbelievable. Why would anyone want to crawl through barbed-wire fences, run from border guards and — in winter — suffer below freezing temperatures as they spent days and nights sleeping rough in decaying apartments and collapsing industrial machinery?
It was a delight to return, in person, to European Literature Days (ELit) a three-day literary festival, held in Krems, lower Austria. This year the theme was ‘Comedy and Crisis’. As Walter Grond, the festival’s founder and artistic director suggests: “Black humour often prevails where sheer hopelessness prevails, it is a fundamental human approach.”
Ukrainian writer, translator and journalist, Natalka Sniadanko opened the festival with a stirring address. Her debut novel, Collection of Passions, was published in 2001, and in 2013, her novel Frau Muller isn’t Disposed to Pay More was shortlisted for the BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year award. Essays and stories of hers have appeared in English in publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Republic, Brooklyn Rail, and Two Lines, translated by Jennifer Croft. Continue reading Guest Feature | Lucy Popescu @lucyjpop | European Literature Days 2022
A prolific and acclaimed writer in his Italian homeland, Erri De Luca’s thought-provoking, philosophical investigation builds in suspense ending with an emotional bomb. Although a work of fiction, to what extent Impossible is inspired by his actual experiences of being sued for an alleged incitement to sabotage to the Lyon-Turin high speed train line on environmental grounds is open for debate. (De Luca was cleared on 19 October 2015 when a not-guilty verdict was pronounced.)
A senator from the centre-left Democratic party supportive of the high speed train line, referred to De Luca as being a relic of the ‘years of lead’, the restless political period of the 1970s-‘80s when left-and-right-wing activists carried out numerous violent attacks, including the abduction and murder of former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro.