And it’s a wrap for the sixth month of the year! I can’t believe we’re already midway through 2022. I hope that the year has been kind to everyone so far. Otherwise, I hope that the coming months will be better for you. But before we can move on to July, let me look back at the previous month, which was basically an extension of my May European literature journey. As always, it was scintillating. In some other parts, I haven’t been doing well, especially with my personal resolution of reading more and buying less. HAHA. It has been a struggle really for there are just too many books I want to read. Speaking of, in the past month, I have obtained a couple of books I am featuring in this book haul update. I just realized that, except for two books, all are translated works. Moreover, the writers originated from nearly all parts of the globe. Happy reading!
Title: Käsebier Takes Berlin
Author: Gabriele Tergit
Translator: Sophie Duvernoy
Publisher: New York Review of Books
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 277
Synopsis: Berlin, 1930: Käsebier is the name on everyone’s lips. “Cheese” and “beer” is what it literally means, an unglamorous name for an unglamorous man who used to perform on a shabby stage for laborers, secretaries, and shopkeepers. Until the press showed up.
Because now Käsebier is a star. Margot Weissmann, patron of the arts, hosts champagne breakfasts for him; Muschler the banker will build a theater in his honor; Willy Frächter, a parvenu writer, is making a mint off Käsebier books and trinkets. All the while, the journalists who catapulted Käsebier to fame watch the churning monstrous commercial machine in amazement – amused and not a little aghast at what they have unleashed.
In Käsebier Takes Berlin, the journalist Gabriele Tergit wrote a searing satire of the excesses and follies of the Weimar Republic. Chronicling a country on the brink of fascism and a press on the edge of collapse, Tergit’s novel caused a sensation when it was published in 1931. As witty as Kurt Tucholsky and as trenchant as Karl Kraus, Tergit portrays a world too entranced by fireworks to notice its smoldering edges.
Title: Castle Gripsholm
Author: Kurt Tucholsky
Translator: Michael Hofmann
Publisher: New York Review of Books
Publishing Date: 2019
No. of Pages: 127
Synopsis: Castle Gripsholm, the best and most beloved work by Kurt Tucholsky, is a short novel about an enchanted summer holiday. It begins with an assignment: Tucholsky’s publisher wants him to write something light and funny, otherwise about whatever Tucholsky wants. A deal is struck and the story is off: about Peter, a writer; his girlfriend, known as the Princess; and a summer vacation far from the hurly-burly of Berlin. Peter and the Princess have rented a small house attached to a historic castle in Sweden, and they have five weeks of long days and white nights at their disposal; five weeks for swimming and walking and sex and talking and visits with Peter’s buddy Karlchen and with Billy, the Princess’s best friend. It is perfect, until they meet a weeping girl fleeing the cruel headmistress of a home for children. The vacationers decide they must free the girl and send her back to her mother in Switzerland, which brings about an encounter with authority that casts a worrying shadow over their radiant summer idyll. Soon they must return to Germany. What kind of fairy tale are they living in?
Title: One Part Woman
Author: Perumal Murugan
Translator: Aniruddhan Vasudevan
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 2014
No. of Pages: 240
Synopsis: Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child have been in vain. Hounded by the taunts and insinuations of others, all their hopes come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of Maadhorubaagan, the half-female god. Everything hinges on the one night when rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night could end the couple’s suffering and humiliation. But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test.
Title: The Third Reich
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publishing Date: 2011
No. of Pages: 277
Synopsis: On vacation with his girlfriend, Ingeborg, the German war games champion Udo Berger returns to a small town on the Costa Brava where he spent summers of his childhood. Soon they meet another vacationing German couple, Charly and Hanna, who introduced them to a band of locals – the Wolf, the Lamb, and El Quemado – and to the darker side of life in a resort town.
Late one night, Charly disappears without a trace, and Udo’s well-ordered life is thrown into upheaval; while Ingeborg and Hanna return to their lives in Germany, he refuses to leave the hotel. Soon he and El Quemado are enmeshed in a round of Third Reich, Udo’s favorite World War II strategy game, and Udo discovers that the game’s consequences may be all too real.
Written in 1989 and found among Roberto Bolaño’s papers after his death, The Third Reich is a stunning exploration of memory and violence. reading this quick, visceral novel, we see a world-class writer coming into his own and exploring for the first time the themes that would define his masterpieces The Savage Detectives and 2666.
Author: Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai
Translator: Anita Nair
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publishing Date: 2011
No. of Pages: 238
Synopsis: First published in 1956, Chemmeen was adapted into a film of the same name, and won critical acclaim as well as unprecedented commercial success. A deeply affecting story of love and loss set amidst a fishing community in Kerala, the novel transports us into the lives and minds of its characters, Karuthamma and Pareekutty, whose love remains outside the bounds of religion, caste, and marriage. Then, one night, Karuthamma and Pareekutty meet and their love is rekindled while Palani, Karuthamma’s husband, is at sea, baiting a shark.
Title: Life A User’s Manual
Author: Georges Perec
Translator: David Bellos
Publisher: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.
Publishing Date: 1988
No. of Pages: 500
Synopsis: Life: A User’s Manual is an unclassified masterpiece, a sprawling compendium as encyclopedic as Dante’s Commedia and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and, in its break with tradition, as inspiring as Joyce’s Ulysses. Perec’s spellbinding puzzle begins in an apartment block in the XVIIth arrondissement of Paris where, chapter by chapter, room by room, like an onion being peeled, an extraordinary rich cast of characters is revealed in a series of tales that are bizarre, unlikely, moving, funny, or (sometimes) quite ordinary. From the confessions of a racing cyclist to the plans of an avenging murderer, from a young ethnographer obsessed with a Sumatran tribe to the death of a trapeze artist, from the fears of an ex-croupier to the dreams of a sex-change pop star to an eccentric English millionaire who has devised the ultimate pastime, Life is a manual of human irony, portraying the mixed marriages of fortunes, passions and despairs, betrayals and bereavements, of hundreds of lives in Paris and around the world.
But the novel is more than an extraordinary range of fictions; it is a closely observed account of life and experience. The apartment block’s one hundred rooms are arranged in a magic square, and the book as a whole is peppered with a staggering range of literary puzzles and allusions, acrostics, problems of chess and logic, crosswords, and mathematical formulae. All are there for the reader to solve in the best tradition of the detective novel. (Source: Goodreads)
Title: Island Beneath the Sea
Author: Isabel Allende
Translator: Margaret Sayers Peden
Publishing Date: 2010
No. of Pages: 457
Synopsis: Born on the island of Saint-Dominigue, Zarité – known as Tété – is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tété finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and voodoo loa she discovers through her fellow slaves.
When twenty-year-old Toulouse Vamorain arrives on the island in 1770, it’s with powdered wigs in his trunks and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father’s plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. Although Valmorain purchases young Tété for his bride, it is he who will become dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.
Against the merciless backdrop of sugarcane fields, the lives of Tété and Valmorain grow ever more intertwined. When the bloody revolution of Toussaint Louverture arrives at the gates of Saint Lazare, they flee the brutal conditions of the French colony, soon to become Haiti, for the raucous, free-wheeling enterprise of New Orleans. There Tété finally forges a new life, but her connection to Valmorain is deeper than anyone knows and not easily severed. With an impressive richness of detail, and a narrative wit and brio second to none, Allende crafts the riveting story of one woman’s determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been so battered, and to forge a new identity in the cruelest circumstances.
Author: Ama Ata Aidoo
Publisher: The Women’s Press Ltd.
Publishing Date: November 1991
No. of Pages: 166
Synopsis: In this lively and touching novel about Esi, freshly separated from her husband and confronted with the near impossibility of finding male love and companionship on anything like acceptable terms, the distinguished Ghanaian writer, Ama Ata Aidoo, shows herself once more on entertaining and unreformed subversive.
Changes is her latest novel, and in it she indulges in a skilful play of irony and social satire brought off with irrepressible joyousness that will delight new readers and old friends alike.
Title: Caleb’s Crossing
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publishing Date: 2011
No. of Pages: 300
Synopsis: In her new novel, Caleb’s Crossing, Geraldine Brooks once again takes a shard of little-known history and brings it vividly to life. In 1665, a young man from Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American graduate of Harvard College. From the few facts that survive of this extraordinary life, Brooks creates a luminous tale of passion and belief, magic and adventure.
The voice of Caleb’s Crossing belongs to Martha Mayfield, growing up in the tiny island settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneering English Puritans. Possessed of a restless spirit and a curious mind, Bertha slips the sounds of her rigid society to explore the island’s glistening beaches and observe its native inhabitants. At twelve, she meets Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a secret bond that draws each into the alien world of the other.
Bertha’s father is Great Harbor’s minister, who feels called to convert the Wampanoag to his own strict Calvinism. He awakens the wrath of the medicine men, against whose magic he must test his faith in a high-stakes battle that may cost his life and his very soul. Caleb becomes a prize in this contest between old ways and new, eventually taking his place at Harvard, studying Latin and Greek alongside the sons of the colonial elite. Bethia also finds herself in Cambridge at the behest of her imperious elder brother. As she fights for a voice in a society that requires her silence, she also becomes entangled in Caleb’s struggle to navigate the intellectual and cultural shoals that divide their cultures.
What becomes of these two characters – the triumphs and turmoil they endure in embracing their new destinies – is the subject of this riveting and intensely observed novel. Like Brooks’s beloved narrator Anna in Year of Wonders, Bethia proves an emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha Vineyard and to the intimate spaces of the human heart. The narrative travels from the sparkling harbors of Martha’s Vineyard to the mean, drafty dormitories of early Harvard and, as ever, Brooks buttresses her richly imagined fiction with the fascinating and meticulously researched detail that has brought her legions of readers and a Pulitzer Prize.