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.
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
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
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
The Moroccan poet, novelist, essayist, and journalist, Tahar Ben Jelloun, is one of France’s most celebrated writers. He has written extensively about Moroccan culture, the immigrant experience, human rights, and sexual identity. An author who intervenes in politics, On Terrorism: Conversations with My Daughter (translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins) is the third book in a series in which the previous titles are Racism and Islam explained. It takes the form of a semi-imagined dialogue between him and his daughter. Continue reading Review | On Terrorism: Conversations with My Daughter, Tahar Ben Jelloun | Small Axes/HopeRoad
“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