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Posts Tagged ‘Women In Translation’

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 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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I discovered ‘Gerta‘ by Kateřina Tučková recently and I just finished reading it.

It is the eve of the Second World War. Germany invades Czechoslovakia. Germans take over the Czechoslovakian government and welcome the invaders. Gerta lives with her family in the city of Brno. Gerta’s situation is complicated. Her dad is German and her mom is Czech. She speaks both languages fluently and is at home with both cultures. Her dad tries to push German language and culture at home, but Gerta leans more towards her mom and towards her Czech side. Things go bad for the Czech people during the Nazi occupation, before they get better, when the Russian army walks into Czechoslovakia and liberates it from Germany. But better is just an illusion. For Gerta and her family, they are regarded as German by the native Czechs. As soon as the war gets over, Gerta and others like her – German women who live in Brno, or women with both German and Czech parents – are expelled from the city and are taken on a death march. What happens to Gerta and others like her forms the rest of the story.

The book throws light on a little known episode in Czech history of the 20th century and focuses on innocent people who suffered for years because of the vagaries of history. The story is mostly sad and haunting and heartbreaking. But there are also many beautiful moments in it. The kindness of strangers because of which the world survives and thrives, is present throughout the story. We see most of the story unfold through Gerta’s eyes, but in the second part of the book, Gerta’s daughter occasionally makes an appearance and tells the story from her perspective. Kateřina Tučková’s prose is spare and moves the story gently like a river. When I reached the end of the book, I cried.

I loved ‘Gerta‘, though it was mostly heartbreaking to read. I hope to read more Kateřina Tučková books. I’ve heard that ‘Gerta’ has been adapted into a play in Czech, and it has received many accolades and has been admired by fans. I hope I can watch it one day.

Have you read ‘Gerta’? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘All About Sarah’ by Pauline Delabroy-Allard recently and was finally able to read it today.

The narrator of the story is a single mom who has a young daughter. She and her husband divorced sometime back. One day she goes to a party and bumps into a woman called Sarah. Sarah is loud, talkative, unconventional, doesn’t care what people think. Our narrator is drawn towards Sarah and is deeply attracted towards her. And Sarah responds to that. And as they say, it is the end of life as they know it. I won’t tell you anything else about the story here. I’ll let you read the book and discover its pleasures.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part describes the love story between the narrator and Sarah. It has short chapters and it is mostly a happy story. The second part is a bit sad, is a bit dark. It has chapters which are a little longer. I liked both the parts, but I loved the first part more. The attraction, the seduction, the love, the fights, the making up were so beautifully described there. Though I loved the first part more, one of my favourite scenes came in the second part in which a minor character appeared and said some beautiful things. My favourite passage from that scene goes like this –

“Isabella insists on taking me to see the castle. When we stop briefly at a café, we talk about love and the agonies you have to experience in order to appreciate the joys. She doesn’t ask any questions when I start to cry silently. She just says – gently, in her irresistible accent – you have to get through the nights and be fulfilled during the day.”

Pauline Delabroy-Allard’s prose is a pleasure to read and there are many beautiful passages in the book. I’ve shared some of my favourites below. As Sarah is a violinist who performs in classical music concerts, the whole book has a musical backdrop and Beethoven and Schubert and Vivaldi and others make guest appearances in the book which adds to the charm of the book.

I loved ‘All About Sarah‘. It is one of my favourite lesbian love stories. Pauline Delabroy-Allard is a beautiful, new find for me and I’m looking forward to reading more books by her.

I’m sharing below a couple of my favourite passages. The second one has three parts from three different places in the book, which I’ve stitched together, because I felt that they read beautifully together.

“Passion. From the Latin patior, to experience, endure, suffer. Feminine noun. With the notion of protracted or successive suffering: the action of suffering. With the notion of excess, exaggeration, intensity: love as an irresistible and violent inclination towards a single object, sometimes descending into obsession, entailing a loss of moral compass and of critical faculties, and liable to compromise mental stability. In Scholasticism, what is experienced by an individual, the thing with which he or she is associated or to which he or she is subjugated.”

“It’s January but yet again the miracle happens. Yet again winter admits defeat, drags its heels a little longer and tries one final flourish, but it’s too late, it’s over, the spring has won…It’s a spring like any other, a spring to depress the best of us…It’s a spring like any other, with impromptu showers, the smell of wet tarmac, a sort of lightness in the air, a breath of happiness that sings softly about the fragility of it all.”

Have you read ‘All About Sarah‘? What do you think about it?

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I recently read and loved a friend’s reviews of a couple of collections of R.Chudamani’s short stories. I realized that I had one collection of her stories at home and so decided to read that. R.Chudamani was one of my mom’s favourite writers. Everytime I went to the library, my mom used to ask me to get a book by her. But, inspite of this, I’ve never read a story by her. So I was very excited to read these stories by her.

This collection that I read had 63 short stories. Most of them were around 10 pages long. The stories were written in a period spanning 50 years, starting from the early 1950s to the early 2000s.

Many of the stories in the book depict the delicate, infinite states of the human heart, including love in its different forms. There are also many stories about women who fight in gentle ways against the restraints imposed by society and the patriarchy, and who sometimes win their freedom and independence. One of my favourite stories on this theme was about a woman who suffers her whole life. When she dies, a secret about her is revealed. We discover that there came a point in time when she was presented with two alternatives. She could have surrendered her freedom and lived a comfortable life, or she could have been free and would have suffered. She chose to be free and was defiant till the end, in her gentle soft way. There is also one interesting story in which the husband supports his wife when she pursues her interests and her dreams while their daughter is upset that her mom is independent and doing her own thing. In one of my favourite stories about love and attraction, a single mom encourages a young man who is courting her daughter, but the young man starts turning up when the daughter is not around and the mom discovers to her surprise that the young man is courting her. In another of my favourite stories a man is grieving the loss of his wife, and he is just ignored at the funeral, and the person who understands him and comforts him is his lover. In a couple of stories a young man’s heart opens up to love and desire for the first time, and the way Chudamani narrates the story is incredibly beautiful. There are also stories about the relationship between parents and children, about people who try bridging socio-economic barriers through love and friendship which sometimes doesn’t work. There is even a story in which God is the narrator. That story was fascinating.

I loved the whole collection. I knew that it would be good, but I didn’t know that it would be this good. Chudamani’s short stories didn’t read like short stories which came in popular magazines, which mostly had surprises with happy endings, but were complex, subtle and sophisticated. The editors say in their introduction that Chudamani’s art as a short story writer reached its heights in the 1970s, and when I read the book, I realized that it was true, because many of my favourite stories were those which came out in that decade. But I liked her stories from the other decades too. There is a beautiful interview by Chudamani at the end of the book in which she shares her thoughts on short stories. In reply to one of the questions, Chudamani says that writers shouldn’t use short stories as a training ground for writing their first novel, but should respect and love short stories as an independent art form. This is exactly what Alice Munro said years later when she won the Nobel Prize.

Ambai’s tribute to Chudamani

Chudamani was a prolific writer during her time. She has written around 574 short stories, but this collection which has around one-tenth of that, is the largest collection there is. Her stories have been translated into English during the past few years. There are atleast three translated editions in English, and they seem to be subsets of this Tamil collection.

Chudamani lived a simple life. She didn’t go to school and get a formal education, because of a health condition. She was homeschooled in her younger years. This makes her achievements as a short story writer even more astounding. She never married and stayed single all her life. Before she passed, she made a will and gave everything she had to charity, to help poor kids. It is unthinkable in these materialistic days. She was an amazing writer and a beautiful soul.

Have you read Chudamani’s short stories? What do you think about them?

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I decided to read the second and third parts of Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy, ‘The Proof‘ and ‘The Third Lie‘, and write about them together. Just finished reading the third and final part. I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. The English translations of these two books are published by Grove Press, an indie publisher based out of New York.

The second part ‘The Proof‘, continues the story from the first part. But Ágota Kristóf dispenses with Rule #2 : ‘No Names’, and gives names to all the characters. The places are still not named though. We see the events unfold from the point of view of one of the twins. New characters make an appearance in the story, as we follow the events of what happens in this small town after Hungary’s occupation by the Soviet Union after the Second World War. The story takes us to the 1956 rebellion in Hungary against Soviet occupation and goes beyond that too. Many of the new characters are interesting, and many of them show kindness, the pure kind of kindness towards unrelated people that human beings are capable of, during times of great difficulty. The weird stuff continues but it does not reach the heights of the first part, though some of them fill in the gaps which are there in the first part. The story ends in an unexpected surprise.

In the third part, ‘The Third Lie‘, Ágota Kristóf decides that she has had enough, and turns everything upside down. This part is filled with stunning revelations which makes us see the whole story in a new light, makes us question everything, makes us contemplate the nature of truth, and ask ourselves whether such a thing called truth exists. It is like reading a murder mystery which is narrated by the detective and looking at all the suspects and following false leads and reaching dead ends and discovering in the last page that the narrator is the murderer. Or it is like reading a book in which the main character has many amazing adventures and undergoes a lot of hardship and overcomes them in the end, and suddenly we discover that the whole story was a dream. This is the kind of stuff which happens in the third part. I’m still not sure about one or two details and I need to go back and review all the three parts together and see whether my understanding is correct.

I enjoyed reading Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy. My favourite was the first part, because of the narrative voice, the sometimes dark humour. I think the second part was a great sequel. The third part was a literary experiment, in my opinion. I don’t know whether Ágota Kristóf planned all the three novels together before she started writing them, or whether she wrote the first one initially and when it became successful beyond all expectations, she decided to write the sequels and wing it on the way and improvised the story. I somehow feel that she did the second thing, because there is a huge difference between the first novel and the next two. We can even read the first novel as a standalone book. But interestingly, the three books also read well together, and look like three parts of one book, though there is a big dividing line between the first part and the next two.

I’m sharing a couple of my favourite excerpts from the book.

Excerpt 1

Young Man : “I know what you’re talking about. I saw things like that with my own eyes, right here in this town.”

Old Man : “You must have been very young.”

Young Man : “I was no more than a child. But I forgot nothing.”

Old Man : “You will forget. Life is like that. Everything goes in time. Memories blur, pain diminishes. I remember my wife as one remembers a bird or a flower. She was the miracle of life in a world where everything seemed light, easy, and beautiful. At first I came here for her, now I come for Judith, the survivor. This night seem ridiculous to you, Lucas, but I’m in love with Judith. With her strength, her goodness, her kindness toward these children who aren’t hers.”

Young Man : “I don’t think it’s ridiculous.”

Old Man : “At my age?”

Young Man : “Age is irrelevant. The essential things matter. You love her and she loves you as well.”

Old Man : “She’s waiting for her husband to return.”

Young Man : “Many women are waiting for or mourning their husbands who are disappeared or dead. But you just said, “Pain diminishes memories blur.”

Old Man : “Diminish, blur, I said, not disappear.”

Excerpt 2

What we print in the newspaper completely contradicts reality. A hundred times a day we print the phrase “We are free,” but everywhere in the streets we see the soldiers of a foreign army, everyone knows that there are many political prisoners, trips abroad are forbidden, and even within the country we can’t go wherever we want. I know because I once tried to rejoin Sarah in the small town of K. I made it to the neighboring village, where I was arrested and sent back to the capital after a night of interrogation.

A hundred times a day we print “We live amidst abundance and happiness,” and at first I think this is true for other people, that Mother and I are miserable and unhappy only because of the “thing,” but Gaspar tells me we’re hardly an exception, that he himself as well as his wife and three children are living more miserably than ever before.

And when I go home from work early in the morning, when I cross paths with people who themselves are on their way to work, I see happiness nowhere, and even less abundance. When I ask why we print so many lies, Gaspar answers, “Whatever you do, don’t ask questions. Do your job and don’t think about anything else.”

Have you read Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy? What do you think about it?

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