Review | So It Goes – Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between, Nicolas Bouvier | Eland Publishing

You don’t travel in order to deck yourself with exoticism and anecdotes like a Christmas tree, but so that the route plucks you, rinses you, wrings you out, makes you like one of those towels, threadbare with washing that are handed out with slivers of soap in brothels. You leave far behind you the excuses or curses of your birthplace, and in each filthy bundle lugged about in crowded waiting rooms, on little station platforms appalling in their heat and misery, you see your own coffin going by. Without this detachment and lucidity, how can you hope to convey what you have seen?” — from Nicolas Bouvier’s The Scorpion-Fish

The Swiss writer and photographer, Nicolas Bouvier, (1929-98) was a traveller in the real sense of the word, navigating different worlds and writing about forgotten people and changed places. He gives us alternative perspectives on places like the Balkans, Iran, Azerbaijan, Japan, China, Korea and the highlands of Scotland.

He is unusual in the way he writes, at times, in a stream of consciousness about the world around him and how he feels in the instant so directly and openly. In The Scorpion Fish, his description of a bomb blowing up a bus and the grisly aftermath is not only very beautifully written but mirrors his inner collapse and sense of physical decrepitude. Continue reading Review | So It Goes – Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between, Nicolas Bouvier | Eland Publishing

Guest Review | Henrietta Foster | Mazel Tov, J.S. Margot | Pushkin Press

Ahead of the first two live podcast recordings of the 15-part weekly #BridgingTheDivide series going out on Thursday 30 July, here is a guest review of the featured book, Mazel Tov,  to give a taste of what you’ll hear and experience. Tune in on Thursday at 5 and 6 p.m. to hear author J S Margot and publisher Adam Freudenheim talk about their experiences.

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Towards the end of this marvellous memoir the narrator writes “If I occasionally had the temerity even briefly to think I could penetrate the millefeuille of Jewish culture, I was soon disabused of this idea.” The book is full of various cultural millefeulles that require penetrating – ironic considering that patisserie is the one gastronomic art that the Belgians do not excel in. 

Mazel Tov is the story of an extraordinary friendship – in fact several extraordinary friendships that marked the twenties of the author J.S.Margot. At first sight it is the story of a young Flemish woman at university in Antwerp who teaches the four children of an Orthodox Jewish family to earn a bit of extra money. It is also the story of her first great love for an Iranian political refugee. In both cases she is exposed to a culture and religion that is not her own. She also begins to realise that she is on the receiving end of a certain amount of paranoia and suspicion from both her employers and her boyfriend. Continue reading Guest Review | Henrietta Foster | Mazel Tov, J.S. Margot | Pushkin Press

Interview | Sam Taylor, translator

Tell us a little bit about yourself
I grew up in England, worked as a journalist on The Observer for eight years, moved to France and wrote four novels, then translated my first novel (Laurent Binet’s HHhH) in 2010. Two years later, I moved to the US, where I now divide my time between writing and translating.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
The Lord of the Rings is the first book I remember loving. I was a big Italo Calvino (tr. William Weaver) fan as a teenager, Baron in the Trees in particular. I’ve always been attracted to fairytale-like stories that have aspects of the real world but also some magical difference.

How did your career as a translator come about?
Around 2009, I realized I could no longer make a living as a novelist, so I tried to think what else I could do to support my family. I was living in remote rural France, so journalism was out, but by then I could speak French fluently. So I asked my agent how I could become a literary translator. She put me in touch with editor Rebecca Carter (then at Harvill Secker), who advised me to write reader reports on French novels for UK publishers. The first one I wrote, luckily, was about HHhH. Continue reading Interview | Sam Taylor, translator

News | The BookBlast® Podcast 2020 series | Bridging the Divide, full listing

The BookBlast® Podcast 2020 | Bridging the Divide: Translation & the Art of Empathy | 30 July to 05 November

Thursday 30 July, 5 pm: A ground-breaking weekly podcast series kicks off, championing independent publishers committed to publishing writing in translation; their authors and translators; including a guest interview with the publisher behind Nordic Noir.

The podcast line-up features award-winning, bestselling authors from across Europe, including Lars Mytting, J.S. Margot, Tommy Wieringa and Tahar Ben Jelloun, as well as interviews with their publishers Christopher MacLehose, Adam Freudenheim and Philip Gwyn Jones. Continue reading News | The BookBlast® Podcast 2020 series | Bridging the Divide, full listing

Review | Negative Capability: A Diary of Survival, Michèle Roberts | Book of the Week

Who am I addressing in this diary? Diaries are private documents, written for the author alone. The diarist writes to herself. Perhaps keeping this diary will compose a self for me, a future self, a possible self, a strong self I’ve touch with. In any case I need to keep on writing it. If I don’t, I may lose myself in that strange, timeless, scattered state again.”

An intimate confessional, a personal dialogue between the diarist and their persona, a record of private thoughts and feelings, an internal investigation juxtaposed with external observations of people set against a certain social and literary milieu – everyone is fascinated by diaries. A writer’s diary is of particular interest and very readable since storytelling is second nature. The text becomes a work of literature in itself, and is not just a record of daily doings. Continue reading Review | Negative Capability: A Diary of Survival, Michèle Roberts | Book of the Week