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Chateau de Lavigny: Readings from International Writers

20140831_172441I had the great pleasure to attend my first reading at Chateau de Lavigny last year and I wrote some more about this writers’ retreat with a very special atmosphere then.  This year I was only able to attend the very last reading of the season last night, but it was no less magical. It was an extremely diverse group of writers, both in terms of nationalities and languages spoken, but also in terms of style and subject matter.

20140831_172422First up, there was French poet Franck André Jamme, who has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and ‘philosophical fragments’ (for want of a better word), has translated from Hindi and Bengali literature, and has collaborated with a number of artists. He read from Au secret, a sort of travel journal, against a background of birds chirruping.

Second author was Jessica-Maria Tucelli, anthropologist turned film-maker and actress, now writer. I had read excellent reviews about her ambitious debut novel Glow and it was from this novel that she read, with an impeccable Southern accent.  The novel traces the lives of the descendants of a white slave-owner and moves back and forth in time and in voice, weaving an almost mystical tale of hardship, race relations and family tissue.

20140831_172530The third reader was Bulgarian translator Neva Micheva, who is her country’s foremost translator from Spanish and Italian. She had some very interesting things to say about translations, namely that, contrary to popular belief that the writer creates the original while the translator makes a copy, each good translation is an equally original interpretation and creation. On the other hand, bad writers and bad translators can create equally bad fake literature. Alongside the greats such as Primo Levi, Italo Calvino, Javier Marias, she also translates books she personally enjoys and cannot forget, books she wants to share with others.  She read to us what she described as ‘her one and only attempt to translate poetry’, from The Poems of Sidney West by Argentine writer Juan Gelman, who very kindly answered her many, many questions about the text before his death in January of this year.

The fourth writer is Austrian/Slovak writer Zdenka Becker, who writes fiction, plays and screenplays, mostly in German. She read from a short play entitled Odysseas Never Returned, which has been translated into English and performed off-Broadway.

20140831_172457Finally, there was Jason Donald, whom I already knew from the Geneva Writers’ Group. Born in Scotland, raised in South Africa, he worked for a while in the UK where he published his first novel in 2009, and currently lives in Switzerland. He read a very vivid, funny yet cruel extract from his novel Choke Chain.

So I came away as usual with a wealth of lovely words in my head, a couple of signed books, conversations to treasure and the inspiration to carry on. Long may these summer events of Chateau de Lavigny last!

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August: Holiday Reads But Also More…

I’m not going to repeat the holiday reads for the first half of the month, as I’ve written a separate post about them, but here are some statistics for the whole month of August.

20 books read, of which 11 labelled as crime fiction. 13 women authors. 5 books in translation, plus one in German and one in French, so 7 foreign books in total. In terms of setting: 3 each in the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and the United States, 2 each in Greece and France, plus one book set in Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and the Solomon islands. A bit less variety than usual, perhaps, but this is probably because of the ‘easy escapist holiday reading’ mission that I had set myself. And easy usually means the familiar to most of us, right? Yet there have been plenty of more serious, questioning and thought-provoking reads as well.

The Corpse with the Platinum Hair
Keep Your Friends Close
The Waiting Years
The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman and Suspicion
Crossing the Line
See You Tomorrow
Your Beautiful Lies
The Long Way Home
The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos
Scellé plombé
The Year of Magical Thinking
The Bull of Mithros
Devil-Devil
The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb
Mating for Life: A Novel
Fear in the Sunlight
L'Amour Actually
The Black Life
Kafka on the Shore
Tattoo Murder Case

 

 

Finally, here are the most recent books I have read, which have not been mentioned in previous posts. All of them are going to be reviewed more extensively either on this blog or on Crime Fiction Lover over the next couple of weeks.

Tore Renberg: See You Tomorrow – desperate losers in Stavanger

Frederique Molay: Crossing the Line – a medical school cadaver leaves a final surprising message

Friedrich Durrenmatt: Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman – is a policeman ever justified in setting a known criminal up for a crime he did not commit?

Paula Daly: Keep Your Friends Close – family torn apart by their own weaknesses and a ruthless manipulator

Cathy Ace: The Corpse with the Platinum Hair – locked-room mystery in a Las Vegas VIP suite

Fumiko Enchi: The Waiting Years – sad story of the fate of wives and mistresses in Japan at the turn of the 20th century – this was going to be my review for Women in Translation month, but sadly I am not going to get around to writing it in August.

My top crime fiction read of the month is Louise Penny’s The Long Way Home and my top read across all genres is a tie between Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking.

 

Friday Fun: Barn Conversions

So many of you liked the barn conversion picture I posted last Friday that I thought I would go out and take pictures of more barns in the area for you. They are a bit different from barns in the UK or US: there’s a lot more stone involved, for one.

This is usually the starting point - just four walls crumbling.

This is usually the starting point – just four walls crumbling.

This is your basic conversion: doors and windows all kept to the original size.

This is your basic conversion: doors and windows all kept to the original size.

This is the more ambitious and modern version.

This is the more ambitious and modern version.

This is the version which combines tradition and modernity.

This is the version which combines tradition and modernity.

And this is the farmhouse wing right next to the barn above. Pure charm and my ideal living space!

And this is the farmhouse wing right next to the barn above. Pure charm and my ideal living space!

One little confession: When I first moved to this area, I dreamt of owning a chateau with a vineyard on the hills of La Cote, overlooking Lake Geneva. With this view.

From The Guardian.

From The Guardian.

By now I would be quite happy with a converted barn in my area, slightly further away from the lake and without a vineyard (but maybe an orchard?).

The truth of course is that I will never own any property in this area, as the prices are exorbitant. But hey, we can always dream a little…

One of My Favourite Poems (with Translation)

I was tending the bar at dVerse Poets Pub yesterday and gave a poetry prompt which had most participants puzzled, bemused, scratching their heads… or labelling me crazy. I asked for a homophonic translation of a Romanian poem, which means a translation based on sound and random similarity of word patterns. It was really interesting to see all the different interpretations of the same poem. As one comment said, it was the Rohrschach of poetry – in that same inkblot of a poem we each saw our own obsessions, thoughts, fears, hopes and personalities.

The poem itself, however, is one of my favourite poems in any language. It is by Romanian poet (also playwright, philosopher, essayist) Lucian Blaga and it’s a lyrical love poem tinged with melancholy. I remember reciting it with my high-school sweetheart as we walked under the linden trees lining the boulevards leading from our school to the park. ‘Florarul’ (the flowering one) is the old folk name for the month of May.

 

Risipei se dedă Florarul

Ne-om aminti cândva târziu
de-aceasta întâmplare simplă,
de-aceasta bancă unde stam
tâmplă fierbinte lânga tâmplă.

De pe stamine de alun,
din plopii albi, se cerne jarul.
Orice-nceput se vrea fecund,
risipei se deda Florarul.

Polenul cade peste noi,
în preajmă galbene troiene
alcătuieste-n aur fin.
Pe umeri cade-ne şi-n gene.

Ne cade-n gură când vorbim,
şi-n ochi, când nu găsim cuvântul.
Si nu ştim ce păreri de rău
ne tulbură, pieziş, avântul.

Ne-om aminti cândva târziu
de-această întâmplare simplă,
de-aceasta bancă unde stam
tâmplă fierbinte lânga tâmplă.

Visând, întrezărim prin doruri -
latente-n pulberi aurii –
păduri ce ar putea sa fie
şi niciodată nu vor fi.

It’s been set to music several times, here is one version of it by Nicu Alifantis in concert:

And here is the translation, courtesy of Cristina at the blog Fantasy Pieces (with some of my own tweaks). She also provides a bit of commentary on this poem.

May Gives Itself with Sweet Abandon

 

We’ll remember someday later,
This simple moment, so fine,
This very bench where we are seated,
Your burning temple next to mine.

From hazel stamens, cinders fall
White as the poplars that they land on,
Beginnings yearning to be fertile,
May gives itself with sweet abandon.

The pollen falls on both of us,
Small mountains made of golden ashes
It forms around us, and it falls
On our shoulders and our lashes.

It falls into our mouths when speaking,
On eyes, when we are mute with wonder
And there’s regret, but we don’t know
Why it would tear us both asunder.

We’ ll remember someday later,
This simple moment, so fine,
This very bench where we are seated
Your burning temple next to mine.

In dreams, through longings, we can see—
All latent in the dust of gold
Those forests that perhaps could be—
But that will never, ever grow.

So that’s the literal translation… But, to be honest, I liked some of the free associations and unknowing translations even more!

Showcase Sunday: New Books Acquired

SSsmallInspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren, the aim of Showcase Sunday is to highlight our newest books or book related swag and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops and downloaded onto eReaders each week. For more information about how this feature works and how to join in, see the sparkling and fizzy blog of Books, Biscuits and Tea.

I am on currently on a book buying embargo. I have bought so many books this year (both electronic and physical), that I have no more space on my bookshelves, nor time in my days (or nights) to read them all.

Of course, that does not necessarily mean I don’t have any new books to talk about this week. There are still library books, books for review, books I’ve already paid for… plus the odd book that has slipped through my net…

Books for Review: 

strangersunset1) Eden Baylee: Stranger at Sunset

It is January 2013, following the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The luxury resort of Sunset Villa in Jamaica is struggling, not from the storm, but from a scathing review by caustic travel writer, Matthew Kane. They’ve invited him back in the hope he will change his mind. Also in the mix are an odd assortment of guests, including Dr. Kate Hampton, a respected psychiatrist. Sounds like a modern update on Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’.

CrossingtheLine2) Frédérique Molay: Crossing the Line

I enjoyed the first book in this series set in Paris, featuring the Head of La Crim’ Nico Sirsky, so am looking forward to the second one. Review and book giveaway coming up on the 17th of September.

Books from Netgalley:

3) Louise Douglas: Your Beautiful Lies

Following a book review at Cleopatra Loves Books, I rushed out to download this book and have already reviewed it. I didn’t like it quite as much as Cleo did, but that’s perhaps because I was expecting more of a murder mystery.

Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng 4) Celeste Ng: Everything I Never Told You

I’ve heard very good things about this debut novel about a Chinese American family in 1970s small-town Ohio. When the middle daughter is found drowned in the local lake, the whole family struggles to come to terms with the tragedy.

 

 

Subscription from Peirene Press:

Tripoli5) Kamal Ben-Hameda: Under the Tripoli Sky

Libya in the 1960s and another patriarchal society ready to crumble. I never read a book by a Libyan author before, so a great way to expand my horizons. Beautifully produced, as always, by Peirene.

Library Haul:

incardonaspleen 6) Joseph Incardona: Banana Spleen

The daily life of a thirty-year old drifter, struggling to keep afloat and mostly legal in the expensive city of Geneva, exposing the underbelly of the picture-postcard town. Might be an interesting similarity here to the Tore Renberg book I’ve just read, set in the oil-rich city of Stavanger. Incardona is going to be present at the Book Festival in Morges, coming up September 5th-7th, so I thought it was a good time to become familiar with his work.

 

The One That Got Away…

runcie7) James Runcie: Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night

With the TV series coming up soon – under the title ‘Grantchester’ – and with the Cambridge setting (which I can never resist), I thought it was about time to familiarise myself with the gentle, cosy mysteries featuring a detecting vicar. Plus, it was only 51p for Kindle on Amazon. (And that’s why it’s hard to resist Amazon, despite all our ethical qualms.)

 

 

Friday Fun: A Walk in the French/Swiss Countryside

I live in a rural area on the Franco-Swiss border, but the proximity to Geneva makes it a popular place to live, so there are always building works going on. Given the nice weather today (we have not been blessed with much sunshine this summer), I thought I’d take a walk through some traditional local villages. And document it with pictures, before they completely disappear under the weight of new blocks of flats.

Today’s walk started and ended in Grilly, a village bearing the name of a medieval lord de Grailly, who owned approximately a thousand hectares of land straddling the Versoix river (which nowadays forms the border between France and Switzerland) and controlled the trade route between Lake Geneva and the Jura mountains.

20140822_140506

Sunflowers with the Jura mountains in the background

 

If you turn to face the other way, you get this view over the Alps.

If you turn to face the other way, you get this view over the Alps.

Border stone: now marking the border between the cantons of Geneva and Vaud. Formerly marking the border between France and Switzerland (dates from 1808)

Border stone: now marking the border between the cantons of Geneva and Vaud. Formerly marking the border between France and Switzerland (dates from 1808)

Bridge of Grilly over the river Versoix, marking the Swiss-French border. Madame de Stael fled on this path from France to her family property in Coppet in 1792.

Bridge of Grilly over the river Versoix, marking the Swiss-French border. Madame de Stael fled on this path – formerly the trade route between the lake and the mountains – from France to her family property in Coppet in 1792.

Farmhouse in Chavanne des Bois, Switzerland.

Farmhouse in Chavanne des Bois, Switzerland.

Chateau de Chavanne - in fact, a large manor house with adjacent farms. I bought a bag of plums from the farm shop here to eat along the way.

Chateau de Chavanne – in fact, a large manor house with adjacent farms. I bought a bag of plums from the farm shop here to eat along the way.

Opposite this charming old house and garden in Sauverny (France)...

Opposite this charming old house and garden in Sauverny (France)…

...you'll find the inevitable new development.

…you’ll find the inevitable new development.

The path from the mill in Sauverny to the village of Grilly, bordered by oak trees and corn.

The path from the mill in Sauverny to the village of Grilly, bordered by oak trees and corn.

Village houses in Grilly, France.

Village houses in Grilly, France.

A refurbished barn in Grilly. What do you think: very covetable or a modernisation too far?

A refurbished barn in Grilly. What do you think: very covetable or a modernisation too far?

 

No Pictures, But Plenty of Books…

I’m back from the holidays and I haven’t got the pictures to prove it. Suffice it to say that Crete was beautiful, hot but not unbearably so, full of history as well as good food and long beaches… and that it was lovely to spend time with some of my dearest friends. Yet, despite all these distractions, I also managed to get quite a bit of reading done. All with a holiday theme (or, at the very least, a beautiful location suitable for holidays).

  1. ZouroudiAnne Zouroudi: The Bull of Mithros – well, how could you go to Greece and not opt for the mouth-watering, sensuous descriptions of Greek landscape, food and way of life… oh, and crime too?
  2. Paul Johnston: The Black Life – also a Greek setting, but much more sombre subject, dealing with the deportation of Jews from Thessaloniki and its present-day consequences
  3. Takagi Akimitsu: The Tattoo Murder Case – intriguing glimpse of life in post-war Japan in the floating world of kinky-ness, tattoo artists and dubious bars
  4. Murakami Haruki: Kafka on the Shore – reread this novel of magical realism and permanent search set in Shikoku, Japan - this time in translation, hence with a lot more comprehension
  5. Melanie Jones: L’Amour Actually – fun, farcical but not terribly realistic portrayal of the transformation of a Louboutin-touting London gal into a French farming enthusiast
  6. EmeraldCathy Ace: The Corpse with the Emerald Thumb – corruption, death and intrigue in Mexico, with a lesson in tequila-making for an engaging, feisty middle-aged heroine
  7. Nicola Upson: Fear in the Sunlight – another installment in the murder mystery series featuring Josephine Tey, this one is set in the purpose-built fake village of Portmeirion in Wales and also features Alfred Hitchcock – yet it’s much more thoughtful and darker than it sounds
  8. Marissa Stapley: Mating for Life – a mother and her three daughters struggle with love, secrets, family and fidelity in this charming but not quite substantial enough tale set largely in the family vacation home on an unspecified lake in the United States.
  9. KellaGraeme Kent: Devil-Devil – the first novel I’ve ever read set in the Solomon Islands just before independence, this is not just an interesting crime story, but also a lesson in anthropology, featuring the delightfully unlikely detecting duo of Kella, a native policeman with tribal peacemaking responsibilities and Sister Conchita, a Catholic nun with a penchant for breaking the rules.

 

Summer, Sea, Sun and … So Long!

I’m off on holiday and hope to get lots of lovely sunshine and beach reading, as well as meet some dear friends that I don’t get to see nearly as much as I would like!

While I’m away, be as good as you can, as bad as you need to, as bold as you want, and read and write with va-va-voom!

Here are a few summer-inspired goodies to tide you through until we meet again…

Summer Idyll – a poem

Escapist Holiday Pictures 

What we all dream of: a writers’ retreat in beautiful landscape

Quintessential summer song: Kokomo by The Beach Boys. Never mind that it’s associated with the rather silly film ‘Cocktail’ (and that some of us don’t like Tom Cruise anymore)…  when my boys sing it to me: ‘Come on, pretty Mama…’, believe me: it doesn’t get much better than that!

Friday Fun: Dreamy Holiday Homes

No need for words… Just let yourself be swept away by these beautiful images… It’s holiday season, after all!

Montana house, Decoist.

Montana house, Decoist.

Design: Sawyer, Domaine Home.

Design: Sawyer, Domaine Home.

Design: Okitu Beach House by Pete Bossley, Minimalisti.

Design: Okitu Beach House by Pete Bossley, Minimalisti.

Cap Martin, South of France, Sotheby's.

Cap Martin, South of France, Sotheby’s.

Cabin in Maine, Decoist.

Cabin in Maine, Decoist.

Green Lantern, Decoist.

Green Lantern, Decoist.

And, finally, something of more modest proportions, but great pedigree. Close to where I live.

Le Corbusier Villa Le Lac.  Dwell.

Le Corbusier Villa Le Lac. Dwell.

Lionel Messi and the Cult of Personality

This was written in response to a poetry prompt about how our modern-day mythology is the frenzied celebrity culture. It struck me during the recent football World Cup in Brazil how much we are looking for a single Saviour out there to make us forget all our inadequacies and needs…

 

Defeating armies of unbelievers

His touch on the ball deemed divine

The crowds cheered him into the promised stadium

But miracles failed to show up

On tap

On golden boot

Or on any part of his divine body.

No Messiah after all,

Merely messy.

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