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Archive for the ‘Women In Translation’ Category

I discovered ‘Temple Alley Summer‘ by Sachiko Kashiwaba by accident. The cover was enchanting, and I thought it was a manga book. After getting it and looking inside, I discovered that it was a regular book. I was mildly disappointed at the beginning, because of this, but as I continued reading, my disappointment melted away, because the book turned out to be what I had thought at the beginning – enchanting.

Kazu gets awake in the middle of the night and he sees a girl wearing a white dress coming out of one of the rooms in his house which has the family altar. She then opens the door and leaves his house. He has never seen her before. He thinks she is a ghost. The next day at school, he sees the same girl in his class. Everyone seems to know her except him. Kazu is puzzled with this mystery. Then when Kazu and his classmates are doing a project on their town, they discover that an old map shows a mysterious temple in his street. When Kazu tries to find out more, Kazu unwittingly ruffles a few feathers and some elders turn up at his house, trying to find out why he is doing this project. It looks like they are hiding a secret. Soon, a mysterious story from an old magazine turns up and before long, real events and fantasy and the mysterious story all start to merge together, while a mysterious lady with a black cat tries to stymie Kazu at every turn…

I loved ‘Temple Alley Summer‘. I read it in one breath. I know it is just the second book of the year, but I think it will end up as one of my favourites at the end of the year. The whole story is gripping and enchanting, the characters are charming, and the ending of the story is perfect. Sachiko Kashiwaba is one of the great writers of children’s literature from Japan, and after reading this book, we know why. This is the first Sachiko Kashiwaba book to be translated into English, I think. The next one, ‘The House of the Lost on the Cape’, is coming out in September. I can’t wait!

I always love discovering new Japanese food through Japanese stories. These were the two things I discovered through this book.

Manjū – “Manjū is a traditional Japanese confection. Of the many varieties of manjū, most have an outside made from flour, rice powder, kudzu, and buckwheat, and a filling of anko (red bean paste), usually made from boiled adzuki beans and sugar. Manjū is sometimes made with other fillings such as chestnut jam. In Hawaii, one can find Okinawan manjū that are made with a filling of purple sweet potato, butter, milk, sugar, and salt, but the most common filling is bean paste, of which the several varieties include koshian, tsubuan, and tsubushian.”

Takoyaki – “Takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special molded pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus (tako), tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger (beni shoga), and green onion (negi). The balls are brushed with takoyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) and mayonnaise, and then sprinkled with green laver (aonori) and shavings of dried bonito (katsuobushi)”.

They both sound delicious 😊 I want to try them one day.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“Listen, Kazu. Everyone says that humans are equal, but we don’t all get the same chances in life. You know that, don’t you? You’re a big boy in fifth grade. Some people are born healthy, and others are born with illnesses and disabilities. There are beautiful people who get adored by everyone, and people of fine character who never get any credit due to their looks. Some children get good grades without studying, while others study like crazy for nothing. Plenty of things in this world are not fair and equal, Kazu. But one thing is the same for everyone, Kazu. Not only on the surface, but through and through. It affects the smart people, the rich people—no matter what they do, they cannot get more of it than their due. Do you know what I’m referring to? Time, Kazu. Time is the same for everyone. Men, women, young people, old people—everyone. A day is a day. An hour is an hour. Time is the one thing applied impartially to all humans, and to every living creature.”

Have you read ‘Temple Alley Summer‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘Out of Time : The Collected Stories of Samira Azzam‘ recently. I was very excited because this is the first time Samira Azzam’s stories are getting translated into English. This collection is published by Arablit Books.

Samira Azzam was born in 1927 in Palestine. When the Naqba happened in 1948 and Palestinians were thrown out of their homes and many of them became refugees abroad, she was 21. She worked as a journalist and wrote short stories. She died in 1967, just shy of her fortieth birthday, very young and many more years of life still ahead. It was heartbreaking. It was also the year when the next wave of violence was unleashed on Palestinians and many of them lost their homes.

This collection has 31 stories. Many of the stories are about simple people who are struggling to get through the day, and the joys and sorrows they experience, and how their social and economic situation tries to crush them and how sometimes they resist it with defiance. One of my favourite stories ‘No Harm Intended‘ is about a man who comes to a sweetshop everyday and tries samples but doesn’t buy anything. He can’t afford to buy anything and he knows it and the people working in the shop know it. How things unravel after that is told in the story. Another of my favourite stories ‘Lest the arteries harden‘ is about a old woman who visits the bar everyday at a particular time and the story behind that. ‘The Little Things‘ is about a young woman who doesn’t believe in love but suddenly find herself falling in love. ‘From Afar‘ is about a young man who has been cut off by his dad and who is struggling to pay his college fees, when his friend who has an unconventional job helps him out. It is one of the most beautiful stories in the book. ‘Her Story‘ is a moving letter that a sister writes to her brother. ‘The Ironing Man’s Apprentice‘ is about a boy who works with an ironing man and the small dreams he has. ‘The Bicycle Pump‘ is one of the most moving stories in the book. One of the main characters says in the end – “But isn’t it miserable that I can’t promise you I’ll stop this terrible behavior, unless I choose a life of hunger for myself and for my family?” We feel a deep pain in our heart when we read that. ‘When Wives Fall Ill‘ is structured like a play. ‘Night of Riddance‘ is about an old dog. It is a heartbreaking story and there is more to the story than meets the eye. ‘The Rival’ is about a washerwoman who has to compete against technology which makes her job obsolete. ‘Another Year‘, ‘Zagharid‘, ‘When Hajj Mohammed Sold Out His Hajj‘ are all about people who suffer because they’ve lost their homes or they’ve lost their families who are either dead or on the other side of the border where they can never go. ‘Zagharid‘ is about a mom’s sorrow at not being able to go to her son’s wedding, because she lives in Palestine and he lives outside and she’ll never be able to see him again. It is a story which makes us cry.

I loved ‘Out of Time‘. Many of the stories in the collection are poignant and heartbreaking. Some of them have happy endings. Some of them are fun reads. Ranya Abdelrahman’s translation is beautiful. The book has a beautiful essay by Adania Shibli in which she contemplates on the beauty and power of Samira Azzam’s stories.

The book also has a beautiful introduction which quotes what Samira Azzam said about the Arabic short story. It goes like this –

“It seems to me that the Arabic short story is going through difficult times. The reason might not lie in its nature, as much as it does in factors outside of it, including its subjugation to the novel. Writers of the short story have become convinced that writing a novel is the measure of their creativity, especially since short story collections are not heralded by critics the same way novels are : The publication of a story collection goes by without anyone even trying to say a single word about it… And publishing houses hesitate to accept story collections, as if publishing them is a risky venture.”

It is very fascinating, because this is very true today as it was then, and it is true, not just for Arabic short stories, but for short stories in any language. Writers use short stories as a stepping stone before they can publish their novel, publishers regard short stories as an inferior art form when compared to novels, novelists are rewarded with money and fame if they become successful, while short story writers struggle. Alice Munro said after she won the Nobel Prize that the short story is a beautiful art form and it is beautiful for its own sake, but no one is listening and nothing has changed. It is sad.

I felt sad after reading the book, because this is the only Samira Azzam book out there, this is all there is, and there’ll never be another new story by her. But I’m also glad I read it.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book. It is from one of my favourite stories, ‘When Hajj Mohammed Sold Out His Hajj‘.

“People had become addicted to grief, and death seemed a logical, acceptable, and happy ending for everyone, no matter their age. The dead died once, and their deaths were certain and final; they knew why they had died, and they didn’t have to live wondering what they were living for, with their voices smothered by roaring tractors that sliced open the stolen land behind the barbed wire fence. The grief of the living was drenched in sunlight, and they had to grieve with their eyes wide open.”

Have you read Samira Azzam’sOut of Time‘? What do you think about it?

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I read Alina Bronsky’sMy Grandmother’s Braid‘ recently, and liked it very much. So I decided to read her first book ‘Broken Glass Park‘. I read this for ‘German Literature Month’ (#GermanLitMonth) hosted by Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life’, which runs through the whole of November.

Sascha Naimann lives with her mom and her younger brother and sister. One day a tragedy happens in her family. Sascha decides to avenge this and kill the perpetrator. What happens after that forms the rest of the story. This is the vaguest of the vague description of the story. You need to read the book to find out more. Don’t want to spoil your reading pleasure by telling you more 

There is good news and bad news. First, the good news. Sascha is a irreverent, fascinating character. She is also the narrator of the story and she doesn’t mince any words, and she calls a spade a spade. It is very interesting to see the world through her eyes. Alina Bronsky’s writing is sharp and cuts like a knife. It is also filled with style and humour. It is a pleasure to read. The pages just fly. I read most of the book today, and I didn’t know how the pages flew by! One of my favourite passages comes in the beginning of the book and it goes like this –

“My name is Sascha Naimann. I’m not a guy, even though everyone in this country seems to think so when they hear my name. I’ve given up counting how often I’ve had to explain it to people. Sascha is a short form of Alexander and Alexandra. I’m an Alexandra. But my name is Sascha—that’s what my mother always called me, and that’s what I want to be called. When people address me as Alexandra, I don’t even react. That used to happen a lot more when I was new in school. These days it only happens when there’s a new teacher.”

I loved the first part of the book, in which Sascha describes the people in her life and what happened and what she plans to do about it. There is a character called Maria who helps out Sascha and her family, who is fascinating.

Now, the bad news. In the second part of the book, Sascha packs her backpack, leaves her home, and goes on a Holden Caulfield kind of adventure, meeting unknown people and sometimes doing crazy stuff. Some parts of this were interesting, but I didn’t like this as much as the first part. I wanted to know more about how Sascha was plotting her revenge and whether she was able to pull it off. This sidetrack into a totally different story felt like a distracting digression. However, if we look at the story as a coming-of-age story, instead of as a revenge story, it looks much better. So probably I was underwhelmed by the second part because of my own expectation.

Inspite of all this, I enjoyed reading ‘Broken Glass Park‘. Mostly because of Alina Bronsky’s writing. I have to say though that I loved ‘My Grandmother’s Braid‘ more.

Have you read ‘Broken Glass Park‘ or other books by Alina Bronsky?

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One day Naja Marie Aidt receives a call in the evening. The person at the other end says that her son is dead. Her son is twenty five years old. This tragedy devastates Naja Marie Aidt and her family. They say that the worst misfortune that can befall a person is when they have to bury their child. It happens to Naja Marie Aidt. It plunges her into a deep abyss of grief. And while she is grieving, she takes her pain and misfortune and creates art. And we have this book. So that we can read it, and we can grieve with her. And we can grieve for those we have loved and lost forever.

I’m sharing with you some of my favourite passages from the book.

“…Aristotle’s description of how a tragedy is structured. This description comes from his work Poetics. You choose a hero, someone you can identify with. A person, like anyone in the audience, with ordinary character traits and ordinary minor flaws, but who is one hair nobler, one hair better…

The tragic element begins when the hero commits hamartia, a fatal flaw or a fatal miscalculation. This fatal miscalculation is never malevolent, but is carried out with the best intentions. An action anyone in the audience could commit if the circumstances were in place. A small, insignificant action…

But the miscalculation in the tragedy is the triggering factor for peripeteia – a reversal of fortune. A reversal of fortune is the sudden shift from lucky to unlucky. In the reversal of fortune, you get caught by your good intentions…

Aristotle believed that tragedy after a reversal of fate would inspire fear and compassion in the audience. Compassion, for those who do not deserve trouble. Fear, when someone gets into trouble who, in many ways, is like ourselves. Our equal. The impact on the audience needs to be strong and gripping. The audience has to experience catharsis – a shock-like effect that makes the audience’s hair stand on end. And here is the crux of the tragedy and this entire unfortunate situation…

After the tragedy, the audience will leave the theatre feeling humble about their own ability to avoid trouble, and will think twice about looking down on one of their fellow human beings, whose life has ended in a failed situation. I hope that everyone with us today in this room will learn from this tragedy.”

“Nick Cave says in the film, ‘One More Time With Feeling (2016)’ : Most of us don’t want to change, really. I mean, why should we? What we do want is a sort of a modification of the original model. We keep on being ourselves, but just hopefully better versions of ourselves. But what happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that you just change? You change from a known person to an unknown person. So then, when you look at yourself in the mirror, you recognize the person that you were, but the person inside the skin is a different person.”

Have you read Naja Marie Aidt’s book? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Hanne Ørstavik’sLove‘ when I was looking at Archipelago Books’ catalogue last year. I got it at that that time, but never got around to reading it. Then I read Miracle’s (from ‘The Book-Butterfly) review of the book recently, and got inspired by it and decided to pick this book up. I finished reading it today in one sitting.

A single mother and her son have moved into a small town. It is the son’s birthday the next day. By an accident of circumstances, they both leave the home in the evening, and end up meeting strangers and having different adventures. You have to read the book to find out what happened next.

The story has only a few main characters. Nothing much happens in it. There is a lot unsaid which is there below the surface, waiting to burst out. Hanne Ørstavik’s offers a masterclass on the old creative writing rule – “Show, don’t tell”. Whether the author describes different kinds of love in the story, or whether she leaves the interpretations of love to our imagination – this is all up to discussion. You should read the book and ask yourself what you think about it.

My favourite character in the book was an old man who comes in the beginning. He was cool. But all the characters in the story were quite interesting. Hanne Ørstavik writing is soft and flows smoothly like the evening breeze.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite quotes from the book.

“She wants her hair to look like a cloud caressing her face.”

“She feels like they share something now. It feels like pushing a boat from the shore, the moment the boat comes free of the sand and floats, floats on the water.”

“The whisky is golden, like distilled fire.”

“I’ll sheathe us both in speechless intimacy, until we’re ready for the abruptness of words.”

“She thinks the speed at which a person reads says something about the kind of rhythm they possess, the way they are in life.”

“She feels the lure of sitting with a good book, a big thick one of the kind that leave an impression stronger and realer than life itself.”

Have you read Hanne Ørstavik’s book? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Alina Bronsky’sMy Grandmother’s Braid‘ through a friend’s recommendation. I’ve wanted to read Alina Bronsky for a long time and so I decided to start with this.

Maxi lives with his grandma and grandpa. They are Russian refugees who have newly moved to Germany. Maxi’s grandma is white Russian, but his grandpa is Central Asian Russian. Maxi’s parents are not there on the scene, and we don’t know what happened to them. Maxi’s grandma is a dominant figure and runs the family like a matriarch. Maxi and his family become friends with their neighbour Nina, who is a single mom and her daughter Vera, who is Maxi’s age. Before long, Maxi discovers that his grandfather is in love with Nina, but his grandmother doesn’t seem to be aware of that.

What happens after that, does all hell break loose – you have to read the story to find out.

‘My Grandmother’s Braid’ is humorous and hilarious. When Maxi describes his conversations with his grandmother, or the events happening in their lives, it makes us laugh aloud most of the time. There are sentences like these, for example –

“She had my medical files with her, they were bound in leather and looked like the rediscovered handwritten manuscript of a lost classic.”

“Vera’s tactlessness fascinated me, and I put genuine effort into satisfying her curiosity.”

Maxi’s grandmother is a traditional matriarch who keeps making sharp comments, and if we take her seriously, we’ll not like her, but if we take a step back and keep her at arms-length and listen to her talk, we’ll find it hilarious and we can’t stop laughing. The humour is sharp and very Russian. The grandmother is a fascinating character. I loved most of the characters in the book, especially Maxi’s grandfather, who keeps quiet most of the time, but we soon discover that there is more to him than meets the eye.

There is a mention of Russian condensed milk in the book (‘sgushyonka’) which made me smile. It is something that I’ve wanted to try for many years, because everyone who has tried it,  raves about it, but it is not easily available where I live. Many years back when I visited my Russian friend, she took out a tin of sgushyonka and asked me to try some, and like an idiot, I didn’t. I’ve bitterly regretted it ever since. I hope in this life, I get to try it once.

I loved ‘My Grandmother’s Braid’. I can’t believe that I’ve waited so long to read an Alina Bronsky book. I want to read her first book ‘Broken Glass Park‘ soon. It seems to have a totally different kind of plot, and I want to find out whether it is as humorous as this one.

Have you read ‘My Grandmother’s Braid’? What do you think about it?

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We’ve all heard of ‘Hurricane Season’. Well, this is not that 😊 In these parts, it is ‘Dry Season‘ 😊 With Gabriela Babnik.

A woman in her sixties is walking through the streets of Burkina Faso. She meets a man in his twenties. Sparks fly. What happens next? She is in her sixties, he is in his twenties. She is white, he is black. Will this work? You have to read the book to find out.

I loved the central premise in the book. I haven’t read many (=any) spring–autumn romances, especially in literary fiction, especially in which the woman is older. It is common in movies and TV shows. But I haven’t seen many books featuring this. So that was wonderful. Gabriela Babnik’s prose is elegant and is a pleasure to read. I loved that. The story is narrated by the two lovers alternatively. They talk about their past and how they came to be where they were in the present. I loved those parts which delved on their past history. The parts in which they talked about their relationship and about each other – I found them hit and miss. Sometimes I loved those parts, sometimes I found them underwhelming.

One of the things I love reading in books is the description of food. There is a description of a Burkina Faso food in the book – “tô, kneaded balls of dough soaked in sesame sauce.” I want to try that 😊

Towards the end, the story has a cinematic climax, which in my opinion felt thrust in. I would have loved it when I was younger. But now, I was a little bit disappointed. But the book has won widespread acclaim and won awards. So probably, the problem is with me and not with the book.

I am glad I read ‘Dry Season’. It has many things to recommend it. It is also my first Slovenian book 😊 So, yay! My dream is to read atleast one book from every language from the Balkan region. Till now I’ve read Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Slovenian books. Only Montenegrin and Macedonian are left. Looking forward to reading them also soon.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“In fact, I don’t really know how it is with the body – when, exactly, does it start to decline, when does it surrender to that cold blast of wind, not asking, not hoping anymore, that things might change for the better? The only comfort is the here and now, which becomes the best you’ve got.”

“I swore to myself that I would learn to make sentences, not just letters and words, but long weaving sentences, and would someday write it all down in the dust, in the ground, in the earth. And when somebody looks down at my writing from above, their heart, from all the beauty of it, will cling to their inner walls and simply stand still.”

“Should I be like other elderly people who sit in remote villages and gaze into the fire and at certain rare moments think their life could have encompassed something other than simply what it is now? Or like the elderly lady who watches people’s faces through the window of a café, people too preoccupied to return her look? All my life I had lived the way other people wanted me to live, my mother, my father, my son, my ex-husband, my customers; all my life I had been the person they wanted to see. I could remember periods of my life lived through as somebody else, so now I had no need to pretend. So all those men sitting at that low table, and the woman by the window – I was able to return their gaze.”

“The desire to have a baby was, for him, a form of control, but there’s nothing new about that. It happened to generations before me and even a generation or two after me, and it undoubtedly happened to the women I was watching from under the mango tree.”

“Nowhere does evening come the way it does in the desert. The darkness comes over you so suddenly you sit in front of it motionless. It swarms a while through your entire body, then settles in your feet, and all you can do is light a paraffin lamp. The mosquitoes gather in formation around it, and you have to shoo them away with your hand.”

“The frog does not know there are two kinds of water if he never falls into the hot kind.”

Have you read ‘Dry Season’? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Marina Šur Puhlovski’sWild Woman‘ in an interesting way. I was looking for more translations by Christina Pribićević-Zorić, because she had translated two of my favourite books, ‘Dictionary of the Khazars‘ and ‘Zlata’s Diary‘. And that is how I stumbled upon ‘Wild Woman’.

The story starts with a young woman in an apartment with her dog. The apartment is in a mess. There is no food and the woman and her dog are literally scraping the barrel. This woman tells us what happened, and how events led to this situation. She takes us back by many years, when she first went to college and met a guy on the first day, and sparks started to fly. What happened after that – you have to read the book to find out.

‘Wild Woman’ is a beautiful, dark, heartbreaking book. It describes what happens when we fall in love, and things don’t go as we expect, and how sometimes we fall into a bottomless abyss from which we find it impossible to extricate ourselves.

I loved ‘Wild Woman’, though the word ‘love’ doesn’t begin to describe what I feel about it. It was powerful and moving and heartbreaking, and it pulled my heartstrings and it made me angry and it made me scream. Sometimes it felt like I was reading a contemporary version of the Ingrid Bergman movie ‘Gaslight‘.

Marina Šur Puhlovski’s prose is beautiful and I couldn’t stop highlighting my favourite passages. She has been writing for a while, but it appears that this is her only book which has been translated into English. Wish more of her work gets translated.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“What hurts is what you don’t have. And it hurts, say the experts, because the brain won’t accept that you no longer have what you once did, what it still remembers, and so it turns its absence into the pain of loss, which keeps going back to the beginning. That’s my story, I guess. Because if it weren’t, then I wouldn’t be sitting here for three days now, incapable of extricating myself from it.”

“I stepped out like a sleepwalker, in my nightgown, barefoot, at that magical moment in the morning that belongs to the surrounding forest, when life wakes up and you are filled with this sense of awakening, as at the dawn of humankind, when the first human realised that he was alive, because he hadn’t known it before, it came to him suddenly. And it’s no different today, the wonder of life remains hidden from us during the day, and turns into fear at night, and it is only like this in the early morning that we understand it, when we are alone and when it’s spring and when the forest within us breathes, or the sea within us breathes, when we imbue each other.”

“A magical wonder is when something doesn’t look real but is, I realised as they took me around – like the way Plitvice’s waters forged their own paths through the rocks and bushes, through the grey and green, through the air and earth, creating a work of art out of nature, making it look like child’s play, untaught, becoming a work of art in itself, based on some primeval memory. It was as if we became a work of art ourselves, rather than creating one, a higher form of existence that we did not sufficiently appreciate, because it eluded us, I thought, walking with my feet in the moss and ferns and my head in the air.”

“What else is love except a kind of blindness, I reflected, you see what you want, what you like, what catches your fancy, what makes you grow, you see what you need but you don’t see what you don’t need. When you see what you don’t need you try not to see it, to attribute it to a random instance, to hide it from yourself, because you compare what you see with the ideal that they’ve drummed into your head and try to make it fit that ideal. Sometimes it more or less works, unless you completely fail, because basically you always fail, but even an approximation is something, at least it’s bearable. The world exists on the basis of approximation. But it’s awful when it turns out that what you get is not even close, that it’s the exact opposite, that you had imagined somebody else! And, of course, he helped you along, he tried to be what he thought you wanted him to be, not what he was, but he could pretend to be what you wanted until he captured you, until he took away your freedom, in life and, worst of all, within your inner self, because the hardest thing was to save yourself from yourself. By saving him I was saving myself from myself, I realised, from the debt of love, I supposed, a debt you couldn’t just discard as if it never existed, it doesn’t exist now but it did, it was your life and if it is worthless then so are you and your life; how do you live with that?”

“…gazing at the early autumn greenery that has only just started to turn yellow and red and to decay, a moment with no continuation, but all the same a moment that existed, that fell into place with everything else that existed, the unreal attaching itself to the real which, once it passes, itself seems unreal, and passes in a heartbeat, as if it had never existed, but you know that it did, and so a vicious circle.”

You can find Marina’s (from ‘Finding Time to Write’) beautiful review of the book here.

Have you read ‘Wild Woman’? What do you think about it?

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I have read three books by Jelena Lengold before and loved them all and so I was excited to read this one, ‘Giving Up‘ (‘Odustajanje‘ in Serbian).

The story is told by a young girl in the first part of the book. In that part our narrator describes her childhood and the experiences and adventures she has. Her relationship with her brother, who is much older than her, and who is her frequent companion in her adventures, is beautifully described. It is a beautiful evocation of childhood, almost golden like the Garden of Eden. It made me think of Marlen Haushofer’s depiction of childhood in ‘Nowhere Ending Sky’ and Danilo Kiš’ depiction of childhood in ‘Garden, Ashes’. Then something goes wrong and the story turns dark and it depicts the narrator’s loss of innocence, as happens in the best coming-of-age stories.

In the second part, our narrator is a young woman, and she is living in another city, and she describes her life and loves. The past, of course, doesn’t leave her alone and tries to catch up with her. As our narrator says,

“Sometimes you leave something behind and hope that item of the past will never resurface. That no mud will wash her ashore. You can pretend to the world and to yourself that it no longer exists, just as an amputated leg does not exist. Where once there was a part of your life, there is now an empty space. You should not even try to fill it with anything, because that is impossible. Just don’t lift the lid, never, not for a living. And I stuck to that, years ago. But the amputated leg found its way by itself, happened and fell in front of me. And now what?”

In the third part, our narrator is an older married woman with a grown-up daughter, and we see how life has turned out for her, and how her childhood past keeps impacting her life even after so many years.

One thing I didn’t realize while reading the book, but only noticed after I finished it was that most of the characters don’t have names. The narrator doesn’t have a name, neither does her brother or her parents or her husband. I remember only three names from the story – the narrator’s boyfriend has a name and so does her daughter and her boyfriend. It is fascinating, because I didn’t notice this while reading, and it didn’t impact the flow of the story.

Jelena Lengold’s prose is beautiful and is pleasurable to read. I highlighted so many favourite passages. Jelena Lengold first pages are always spectacular, and this book is no exception. She is also famous for her cat passages and cat stories, and this book also has a beautiful one.

The ending of the story is moving and poignant and surreal, but I won’t tell you what it is. You have to read the book to find out.

I loved ‘Giving Up’. It is a beautiful evocation of childhood, and it is also about how the past and family secrets keep haunting us for the rest of our lives.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

This is from the first pages of the novel. It is long and so I am giving only a little part here.

“Nothing really prepares you for how quickly life goes by. Rush through your days, convinced for a very long time that something important is yet to come. And that the burden you carry with you will disappear, somewhere along the way. That it will melt, the way the muddy deposits of snow on the pavement melt, as soon as the first March sun arrives. That you will forget and leave behind that heavy cloud that has been overwhelming you with fatigue for decades. That the noises that fill the room as soon as it gets dark and rush at you in the meaninglessness of your apartment, which is supposed to be a reflection of you, will be lost. But there are only notes and scribbles around you, they follow you through life like loyal beings and do not help at all. The cup of tea stays where you left it. The pile of mail keeps getting bigger and all you can do is dread how it will one day come crashing down on you. You live in an apartment that is so dumb and dead that it makes you a little crazy…”

Jelena Lengold is famous for her cat stories, and this is the beautiful story featured in this book.

“The cat was anxiously walking around the yard because we were disturbing her perfect July tranquility in every way and threatening to rob her basement hiding places. She went reproachfully from one to the other, wrapping herself around our legs, which, translated from her language, was a polite but firm request for us to calm down and stop making noise around the yard. What was wrong with yesterday, said the cat, when you all just lay in cloth chairs and read the newspapers? But no one paid any attention to the cat’s remarks, so in the end, with a little angry snort, she went and sat under the thuja tree, in the shade, to watch from a distance the continuation of our unreasonable behavior. Even then, I knew that cats are, in a sense, much wiser than people. They know exactly when some things no longer depend on them, they withdraw, they give up trying to educate the world. But people don’t. People always think that they can influence what bothers them, that it is their duty to do so as long as there is an iota of strength in them. They are not able, like cats, to hide in the shade and wait for the world to do something of its own.”

This passage about fear was another of my favourites.

“Sometimes he would ask me if I wasn’t afraid to walk alone in the city at night. Fear, I guess, was supposed to be a natural state of the world. Fear of loneliness, hunger, robbers, fear of appearing ridiculous and pathetic in front of those we care about, as well as in front of those we don’t care about, because we still want them to think the best of us. Fear of elevators breaking loose and plunging us into the abyss. Fear of our own impotence. I didn’t admit to any of that. And I didn’t care. As I walked through the night, at the same time and in the same place, the night walked through me. I couldn’t possibly explain it to Komar or anyone else, nor did I want to. The night had reason to fear me.”

I once quit my job, took a year off, refused to pick the phone when it rang, and read for the whole day. This passage is how I felt. This is one of the reasons I love reading. We think our experiences are unique, and no one will be able to understand us even if we explain it to them, and them we read a book, and there is a passage in it which exactly explains our feelings and what we went through. It is amazing, beautiful, surreal.

“A man who becomes a true loner is usually not even aware that he has become so. He doesn’t hate other people, he just doesn’t need them. He prefers to hide in a shady part of the street, avoid crowds and passers-by. Sometimes he does not answer the phone for days because he is enveloped in silence. He prefers to spend the pale winter afternoons lying down, until barely noticeable movements betray him at night. He tells himself that one of these days he will call someone, go somewhere, and sometimes he actually does, but the whole time he’s there, he’s actually waiting to be alone again. A true loner is just as selfish as most other people, except that unlike others, he admits it to the morning mist that he has no need to share with anyone.”

Have you read ‘Giving Up’ or other books by Jelena Lengold? What do you think about them?

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After reading one Kateřina Tučková, I decided to read another 😊 It was ‘The Last Goddess‘.

Dora is researching on her family’s past. At the same time she is also researching on female healers from her hometown, who were traditionally persecuted as witches in previous centuries, but who were called ‘goddesses’ in her hometown. These two areas of research intertwine, of course – what is the fun otherwise – because we discover that Dora’s aunt who brought her up, her mother who died when she was young, her grandmother and her female ancestors all formed a long line of ‘goddesses’, who were healers, who were persecuted. As Dora delves more into her family history, she discovers many secrets, some surprising and some unpleasant, and from the pages of her family’s history there arises a mysterious character who seems to have played a major part in persecuting her family members. The identity of this person and the secrets that are revealed and the way Dora’s family story intertwines with her country’s history forms the rest of the book.

The Last Goddess‘ is a very different book compared to ‘Gerta‘ because it delves into female healers, witchcraft, witch trials. But it has one common thing with ‘Gerta’. It brings to light a little known facet of Czech history. I was surprised that much of the book was based on facts, and the author has done her research well. That makes the book even more fascinating. The women characters in the book are all fascinating, even one of the characters who practises dark magic. The ending of the story was surprising and heartbreaking – I didn’t see that coming.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Last Goddess‘. Kateřina Tučková has written one more novel in Czech. I hope it gets translated into English soon. I can’t wait to read it.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“…the people of Kopanice held on to the notion that they were exceptional because they lived in an exceptional setting. Dora would have liked to begin here in the writing of her dissertation. But of course, it was nonsense to open an academic work with an essay on a mountainous landscape whose slopes were covered with forests of Carpathian beech and oak, their trunks too broad to put one’s arms around, where the hillsides were dotted with narrow tilled fields and squat little cottages and meadows that, in summer, were aglitter with rare orchids and anemones. An academic work cannot begin with a description of a fresh summer day in the mountains that gives way in a moment to winds and storms that swathe the ridges in dark, impenetrable clouds, nor with one of a hard winter when the hills are whipped with snowy gusts more reminiscent of Siberia than southern Moravia. The pages of such a work cannot describe the huge round moon and the shreds of night sky between the tips of the serried hills, nor can it observe that on a cloudless night, the hillside paths are seen almost as clearly as in daytime; that when at such a moment you stand on the crest of a hill at the threshold of your cottage, you might believe yourself in heaven, the whole world open beneath your feet; and that the lights of cottages scattered across the hillside opposite wink at you, as do those of Hrozenkov from a hollow between hills, like a babe in its cradle. Everyone knows of everyone else, regardless of the distance between them. They are alone, yet together. That would have been a proper beginning for her dissertation, showing how magical Kopanice in the White Carpathians was and that only in such a place could something as special as the goddesses originate and develop. In an academic work bound by strict rules in which aesthetics counted for naught, there was no place for it, however.”

Have you read ‘The Last Goddess‘? What do you think about it?

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