Our eclectic November top ten reads rejoice in strong women and have a radical, cosmopolitan flavour. We continue our celebration of 15 years of the Childrens’ Bookshow, highlighting two more books featured in this year’s tour. Happy reading! Georgia @bookblast
Rasputin and Other Ironies by Teffi (Pushkin Press) buy here Translated by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Rose France, Anne Marie Jackson
“A semi-literate peasant and a counsellor to the Tsar, a hardened sinner and a man of prayer, a shape-shifter with the name of God on his lips. They called him cunning. Was there really nothing to him but cunning? I shall tell you about my two brief encounters with him . . .” Teffi’s portrait of Rasputin, and her description of his unwanted advances, is a disturbing reminder of how sex-pests using positions of power to get their dirty way are not a new phenomenon. All of the women saying #MeToo on Twitter are standing on the shoulders of the women who came before them.
Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Lokhvitskaya – who wrote under the pseudonym Teffi – was born in 1872 into a family prominent in Saint Petersburg society. An essayist, poet and playwright, she became so popular that there were Teffi sweets and a Teffi perfume. She supported socialism and the 1905 revolution, and worked for the first Bolshevik paper, New Life, which was later shut down by the Leninist authorities. She left Russia in 1919 and settled in France, where she died in 1952. Her engaging, witty and empathic writing belies a bleak undertow of loss and nostalgia for lost worlds as she writes about life before the revolution, fellow writers, emigration, and life in Paris.
Oriana Fallaci by Cristina de Stefano (Other Press) buy here Translated from the Italian by Marina Harss
“The city is destroyed, plundered. A very interesting city. Polish culture. An ancient, rich Jewish colony. These frightening bazaars, dwarfs in hooded coats, hoods and side-locks, the aged, a school street, ninety-six synagogues, all half-destroyed, and stories – American soldiers were here, oranges, cloth, thoroughfare, wire, deforestation and wasteland, endless barren land. Nothing to eat, no hope, war, everyone is equally bad, equally foreign, hostile, inhuman, before life was traditionally peaceful” – from Isaac Babel’s 1920 Diary in which he describes his experiences with the Cossack cavalry during the Polish-Soviet war.
To actually feel what it was like to be caught up in the most momentous event of the 20th century, and to walk in the shoes of those who either stayed and wrote under the increasingly tricky conditions of censorship, or fled to become émigrés pining for a lost world, or visited from abroad wanting to see revolution in action . . . read Pete Ayrton’s anthology Revolution!Writing from Russia 1917. Of all the books marking this year’s centenary of the Russian Revolution, this is the one to go for.Continue reading Review | Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917, Pete Ayrton (ed.) | Book of the Week
Where were you born, and where did you grow up? I was born in South London and grew up in various place in the South East of England.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences? There were very few books in the house. No fiction at all. My first influence came from English teachers at school – a rather enlightened man gave me Crime and Punishment at fourteen. It all started there. And probably all ends there. My new novel has been compared to Dostoyevsky.Continue reading Interview | Neil Griffiths | Author of the Week
“A room without books is like a body without a soul,” Cicero.
Little children do what grown-ups do. So when mother and father read aloud to them at bedtime and enjoy doing it, a positive precedent is set. As books and ideas become a staple of home life, the pleasures of discussion and debate continue into adulthood. Reading also alleviates boredom and loneliness, which I remember from my own childhood: books were my first friends.
Home learning is one thing, school learning another. As the curriculum gets more and more intense, packed with demanding schedules, the fun of learning dissipates. In her exclusive interview with BookBlast®, Siân Williams, the founder of The Children’s Bookshow says that a core aim of the tour is “to bring the children joy”. Writers and illustrators who go to schools to do workshops and work with the children on their own creative writing are bringing with them the gift of storytelling. Once learned it is never forgotten – a bit like riding a bike – even though exams, and then life, take over. After all, as adults, we are surrounded by every imaginable kind of storytelling, in myriad forms.Continue reading Review | Yours Sincerely, Giraffe & The Fire Horse by Megumi Iwasa & Mayakovsky, Mandelstam, Kharms
“Translation does not simply jump from one language to another. It also ‘crosses’ languages in the sense of blending them, as you might cross a bulldog with a borzoi, or two varieties of rose . . . Translation can cross languages that have much in common – for example, English and French – and language that are very distant – like English and Malay; it can span languages that share the same script system (Japanese and Korean) and those that don’t (Japanese and Arabic or German); it can go between dialects (or between a dialect and a language) or between different words of the same language . . . Translation can be done by one person, or several, or hundreds – or by machine. It can be a matter of life or death, as in a war zone; or an ordinary part of everyday existence in a multilingual community.” Matthew Reynolds, Translation: A Very Short Introduction
In short, language-learning and translation skills are vital in our global era. Ever more so for Brexit Britain: as links are severed with Europe, forging new links with faraway foreign countries will become crucial. How ironic that the prevailing mood is so bulldog British, with foreign language learning on a downward slide, and languages no longer being part of the core curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds. To expect everyone else to speak English, the lingua franca spoken across the world, and no longer be embarrassed by being monolingual, is a deeply arrogant and short-sighted attitude. Language is the means by which one accesses a culture, and is the expression of a culture.
There are oases of hope. Thank goodness for those universities which run language courses and postgraduate degrees in translation – Westminster, Roehampton, SOAS, UCL, UEA and Portsmouth among them.
Britain is part of Europe – like it or not! Border controls do not function when it comes to words since ideas have no borders. Books in translation disseminating knowledge and cultural awareness matter more than ever as prejudice and discrimination make an unwelcome (re)appearance on the Western stage.
As part of the build up to France’s invitation of honour to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2017, a series of discussion panels – “triangular talks” – were held on Monday 13 March at the French Institute in London. Leading book editors from Germany, France and Britain met to discuss fiction, non fiction and what the future holds. Publishers, translators, agents and scouts packed out the library at the IFRU to hear them. Lucie Campos, Head of the French Book Office, chaired the discussions.
Russia: friend or frenemy? The Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s direct military involvement in the Syrian Civil War are generally reported with an anti-Russian bias. Britain’s phobia has its roots in the 19th century and fear of Russia’s rising power. Today, still, Russia asserting its national interests is presented as an act of blatant aggression. A Cold War mentality lives on. Yet Western militaristic aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya are portrayed as noble moral endeavours, bringing democracy to the unenlightened.
The Sabres of Paradise was first published in 1960, a hundred years after the story it recounts had ended, after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was at last complete. Nikita Khrushchev was in the Kremlin. President Kennedy was running for the White House. Soviet power was at its height. The republics of the Caucasus were just another comer of the vast Soviet empire cowed into conformity by the brutalities of Stalin. The episode of Imam Shamyl’s thirty-year resistance to Russian expansion − perhaps the most dramatic story ever to emerge from the Caucasus (where dramatic stories are hardly in short supply) − had receded to its rightful place in ancient history. The days of small bands of mountain guerrillas raiding, hostage-taking, hiding up in the thick Chechen forests were long gone; whole divisions being tied down by such tactics was unthinkable in an age overshadowed by nuclear weapons.
Forty years on, the story looks a little different and a lot more relevant; now − post-Vietnam, post-Afghanistan, post-Soviet Union and post-September 11. Who, in 1960, would have dared predict that the heirs of the Red Army − that vast force which had done so much to shape the geo-politics of the late twentieth century, already humiliated by the Afghan mujahideen − should in 1996 be defeated, run out of its own territory by a band of lightly-armed Chechens which rarely exceeded a few thousand in number?