Blog Archives

Sample Saturday: Translated fiction

My Sample Saturday spotlight this week is turned on three books that made their way onto my TBR shelves from Japan, Peru and Iceland.

As a reminder, Sample Saturday is where I look at all the books I own but have yet to read, and decide which I should part company with and which I should keep.

The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa

I’ve had mixed experiences with novels by South American authors. I loved The Armies by Colombian author Evelio Rosero Diago but struggled with his countryman, Gabriel García Márquez. Dom Casmurro by the exotically-named Brazilian author Joaquin Maria Machado de Assis was a hoot but Isabelle Allende didn’t knock my socks off.

I’ve never read any Peruvian authors however, which is how I came to own The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa. It’s the sixteenth novel written by this past winner of the Novel Prize in Literature and is described as “engaging tale of two men who find themselves under threat.”

Here’s the synopsis from the back cover:

The Discreet Hero follows two honourable rebels: a small businessman who finds himself the victim of blackmail; and the successful owner of an insurance company who plans to avenge himself against the two lazy sons who want him dead so they can claim their inheritance. With the love and support of the women in their lives, these two men are willing to risk everything to try and seize control of their destinies. ..

I’ve read a few pages from the beginning of the book which begins with the arrival of the blackmail threat. It’s written in a very fluid style and since the synopsis sounds interesting, I’m planning to keep this one.

The Verdict: Keep

The Sorrow of Angels by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

When I took this book off the shelves I discovered inside, the delivery note which tells me that I bought it in 2015. I have no idea why i wanted it but it may have been that I saw the author’s name on another blog site.

Immediately I see a problem: the back cover tells me that this is the second in a trilogy. Did I not know that when I bought the book or did I know it but was given to understand you didn’t have to have read book one in order to enjoy book two??

Here’s the synopsis from the back cover:

As the villagers gather in the inn to drink schnapps and coffee with the boy reads to them, Jens the postman stumbles in half dead, having almost frozen to his horse. On his next journey to the wide, open fjords he is accompanied by the boy. Both will risk their lives for each other, and for an unusual delivery.

So that sounds like a stand alone story. But a review in The Independent makes it clear that the trilogy follows the boy’s life. In book one he survives a fishing trip that led to his friend’s death, book two takes him on perilous expedition “that in its elemental terrors and existential challenges recalls a Nordic version of one of Cormac McCarthy’s journeys. ” It seems futile just to dive in with book 2 and thus missing out on some formative elements in the boy’s character. I could, of course, buy part one but the association with McCarthy was the deciding factor – if Stefansson’s book is anything like The Road, I know it will not be to my taste.

The Verdict: Abandon

The Decay of The Angel by Yukio Mishima

Another balls-up on my part. The Decay of The Angel is the final part of The Sea of Fertility tetralogy and I’ve not read, nor do I own, the first three books.

I must have been half asleep when I bought this book because it quite clearly says on the cover that it’s the final part of the tetralogy. They are all connected via the central character of Shigekuni Honda, who is a law student in book one (Spring Snow) and a wealthy retired judge in The Decay of the Angel. Each of the novels depicts what Honda comes to believe are successive reincarnations of his schoolfriend and his attempts to save them from the early deaths to which they seem to be condemned by karma.

I can’t see any value in reading just this book but the question is whether I want to read all the earlier ones too? Has anyone read this tetralogy and can give me a view? I’ve seen it described variously as “mesmerising” and emotionally and intellectually limited,

The Verdict: Awaiting Opinions

So that’s one fewer book on the TBR shelves this week. Maybe two depending on your insight about the Yukio Mishima.

Sunday salon: New acquisitions

garden readingSunday greetings from one very hot reader. Here in the UK we’re going through a very hot spell and unusually this one is sticking around for a while.  Even though my garden is in desperate need of some attention it’s far too hot to do anything much beyond pruning the rose bushes and deadheading some border plants. On a day like this there really is only one thing in the garden I want to do and that’s to sit in it with a good book and a glass of something cold.

  • Which makes it fortuitous that I stocked up my reading shelves yesterday. I can hear you saying “I thought you weren’t buying any books till you’d cleared that TBR collection???” I have indeed been doing well on that front – more on that another time – but I had gone to the library to pick up The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan which had finally become available and then found the library was having a book sale. I couldn’t resist taking a look as you might expect and found some titles that will be good additions for my world literature reading project.

So now I’m set up for a lovely few hours of reading. And all I have to decide is which of these to open first.

  • An Elergy for Easterly which is  a collection of short stories by the Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah
  • The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki. This was long listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction (now renamed the Baileys Prize) in 2012. This is the fifth novel by Farooki,  who was born Pakistan to a literary family but now lives in London. It’s about a somewhat shady character who travels around the world adopting a different persona in each country.
  • A book by another Pakistani author caught my eye. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2009. It’s a noel about the shared histories of two families, moving from the final days of the second world war in Japan, and India on the brink of partition in 1947, to Pakistan in the early 1980s, New York in the aftermath of September 11 and Afghanistan in the wake of the resulting US bombing campaign.
  • I’ve never read anything by Mario  Vargas Llosa, the 2010 Nobel Prize winner for literature , nor have I read anything by a Peruvian author so when I spotted Llosa’s The Dream of the Celt, it seemed an opportunity too good to miss. It actually isn’t set in South America but in Ireland where a hero of Irish Nationalism awaits the hangman’s noose having been convicted of treason.

I would have been happy with just those four but the library was offering a discount if you bought five so onto my pile went one book that has nothing to do with world literature: Jennifer Egan’s Look at Me. I have A Visit from the Goon Squad but have yet to open it so I have no idea whether I will like her style. This one predates Goon Squad by 10 years. It’s about a model who is trying to return to life after a catastrophic car accident which so badly impacted her face, she needed 80 screws to fix the back in place. Unrecognisable and unable to return to her former work, she drifts into drink and despair.

If these were your new acquisitions which would you read first?

%d bloggers like this: