BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Self-isolating Minds | April 2020

According to HISTORY UK, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, “infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide – about one-third of the planet’s population – and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans.” Luckily, however horrific the current pandemic, numbers such as those have not yet been reached, with 2,214,461 people declared infected 148,979 deaths and 560,309 people who have recovered at the time of writing. [Worldometer]

As Covid-19 wreaks havoc on all parts of the publishing and writing worlds – the Guardian’s listing of major cancellations makes for sobering reading – book fairs are starting to operate online, the Society of Authors has just announced its Home Festival (20 April to 1 May 2020), and The Royal Society of Literature is sending out an Only Connect thrice-weekly letter to subscribers, “helping us to stay close to one another in these times of isolation”. How sad it is to hear that the Chilean author, Luis Sepúlveda, has died of the dreaded virus at the age of seventy. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Self-isolating Minds | April 2020

Interview | Natasha Lehrer | Translator of the week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I think of myself as a Londoner born and bred, but in fact I’ve lived all over the place since I was a child. I’ve lived in northern California, Manchester, Oxford, Jerusalem and now Paris.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
I was always turning up to live in a new place with a funny accent that I had to shed if I wanted to have a hope of making friends. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I loved stories about misfits who came from foreign lands, and odd little girls who didn’t fit in. The Secret Garden, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Bilgewater by Jane Gardam, The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden. And I adored the Norse myths. Continue reading Interview | Natasha Lehrer | Translator of the week

Podcast LIVE | Talking Thai with Narisa Chakrabongse, River Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

With the arrival on the scene of indie trade publishers like Deborah Smith’s Tilted Axis Press, and Will Evans’ Deep Vellum Books in the US, bringing new fiction from South-East Asia to English- language readers, and young translators like Mui Poopoksakul bringing Thai literature to the English-speaking world, writing offering an inside take on the region is getting fresh impetus and visibility.

River Books has been a respected publisher of books on the region for many years, offering readers in-depth, insider knowledge about South-East Asian art and culture. Narisa Chakrabongse, the founder and CEO of River Books, is the editor of the Oxford River Books English-Thai Dictionary. Chakrabongse Villas, the family home, is a small boutique hotel in Bangkok.

I caught up with Narisa Chakrabongse some months ago at the launch of Rabbit Cloud and the Rain Makers, and we met up later to talk about her unusual Thai-Russian-British background, being a foreigner living in a strange land and, of course, River Books. Continue reading Podcast LIVE | Talking Thai with Narisa Chakrabongse, River Books | Indie Publisher of the Week

Interview | Ivana Dobrakovová | Author of the Week

Ivana Dobrakovová is based in Turin where she works as a freelance translator from French and Italian and is the translator of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels into Slovak. She is the author of three short story collections First Death in the Family, Toxo and Mothers and Truckers; and one novel, Bellevue.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Czechoslovakia, in Bratislava, and I grew up there as well, in a very nice residential district above the castle.

Were the members of your family big readers?
Well, my father was a mathematician, I have never seen him with a novel (although my mum told me he enjoyed Flaubert’s Madame Bovary when he was young), but my mother is still a big reader. She is also a mathematician and she doesn’t like fiction much (although she has read more novels than me); she usually reads all the biographies, books of interviews, historical books and whatever else she can grab hold of.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
I read a lot when I was little girl and during adolescence, but different things, not necessarily fiction. I went through all kinds of phases – for a while I read only fantasy, then books about movies and film-making and critiques (Hitchcock, Truffaut), then I caught Monty Python fever. This was followed by two years of reading only Franz Kafka. My mum tried to guide me, she wanted me to read more conventional books, or what was appropriate for a girl, like Gone with the Wind, or Russian classics, but I disobeyed her and just read what I wanted. I started reading fiction a great deal in my last year at university, which was a very happy time – I remember my amazement at discovering Julio Cortázar´s short stories – and the urge to copy him and try to understand how he “does” it. I started to read contemporary French literature since after school I decided to translate French authors. Ernesto Sabato’s novel On Heroes and Tombs was very important to me during my adolescence, and the section Report on the Blind was my first encounter with madness and paranoia in literature. Continue reading Interview | Ivana Dobrakovová | Author of the Week

Review | This Tilting World, Colette Fellous trs. Sophie Lewis | Book of the Week

Tomorrow, yes, I will leave this house. I’ll abandon the village and the life here, all the faces that I love I will leave. The friends, the objects, the doors, the pavement slabs, the tall eucalyptus and the wild olive trees, the orange groves, the roads, the markets, the music, the fruit, the dancing, the window of blue, I’ll leave it all, no strength left.”

Looking out to sea, Collette Fellous remembers her 1950s Tunisian childhood, her father, and lifelong friend, the writer Alain, who “died like a Greek hero, with an unheard howl, in the middle of the Aegean Sea, at the helm of his yacht.” She looks at the past in attempt to understand the brutal present on which she wishes to turn her back.

I could talk about that death; I haven’t the strength to discuss the others. This tilting world, how can we talk about it, how make sense of it? Only by naming the appalling blow those deaths have dealt each one of us, the deep wound they have gouged which can never be healed, the birth of a new kind of warfare, and this terror that is taking root everywhere, even within our own bodies. Continue reading Review | This Tilting World, Colette Fellous trs. Sophie Lewis | Book of the Week