Reading Plans for 2017: The EU 27 Project

All of last week I’ve been catching up with reviews of books that I read in December and over the holidays, but what are my reading plans going forward?

Initially, I was going to take it easy in 2017. I dropped my Goodreads challenge to 120. [Yes, it sounds like a lot, but I’ve been reading between 155-180 for the last few years.]

The physical and electronic TBR piles are intimidating – almost a health hazard! So I’ve joined the TBR Double Dare Challenge of reading only from the books I already own for the first 3 months of the year. After single-handedly subsidising the publishing industry for the past 4 years, I resolve to buy no new ones for several months. Of course, that doesn’t include books I receive for review on Crime Fiction Lover and other sites, but no more novelties or even ARCs on my own blog.

I’ve already cheated slightly, following the death of John Berger. I remembered how much I enjoyed his Pig Earth when it was on my reading list for anthropology, but I didn’t own it, so… Well, it’s not my fault that he died just after the 1st of January, is it?

So those were my only plans, on the vague side of the spectrum. But then some ambition woke up in me.  The year that Britain triggers Article 51 would be a good year to read a book from every member country of the EU, I decided. Especially following the resignation of the UK’s ambassador to the EU amidst the frankly frightening cries of ‘traitor! pessimist! how dare you tell us that it might be complicated?’ (I’ve heard it all before in another country, but I never thought I would hear it here.)

27 sounds manageable, right? I’m excluding the UK, because obviously I’ll be reading plenty of home-grown authors anyway. A few of these books are sitting on my bookshelves already, while others will require a bit of research. Here is what I have to date, with gaps where I have nought. Also, some suggestions in italics and with question marks, in the hope I might be able to track them down in libraries and keep costs down.

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Austria     Arthur Schnitzler:  Später Ruhm

Belgium    Patrick Delperdange: Si tous les dieux nous abandonnent

Bulgaria    Ilija Trojanow: Macht und Widerstand

Croatia    Miljenko Jergovic: The Walnut Mansion

Cyprus

Czechia [sic?]   Ivan Klima: Lovers for a Day

Denmark  Inger Christensen: Poetry?

Estonia    Sofi Oksanen – she is officially Finnish, but has an Estonian mother and writes about Estonian history?

Finland     Kati Hiekkapelto: The Exiled

France    Romain Gary: La vie devant soi – or can I get away with claiming that he is Lithuanian (born in Vilnius)?

Germany   Sascha Arango: The Truth and Other Lies

Greece   Nikos Kazantzakis: The Last Temptation (reread, unless I find something new)

Hungary   Miklós Bánffy: They Were Counted

Ireland   Davy Byrnes Story Awards 2009

Italy    Andrea Camilleri: Rounding the Mark

Latvia    Inga Abele sounds interesting, not sure if she’s been translated?

Lithuania

Luxembourg    Jean Portante?

Malta

The Netherlands   Gerard Reve: The Evenings?

Poland   Andrzej Stasiuk: On the Road to Babadag

Portugal    Fernando Pessoa: The Book of Disquiet

Romania    Ileana Vulpescu: Arta compromisului

Slovakia

Slovenia  Goran Vojnovic: Yugoslavia, My Fatherland

Spain    Javier Marias: Dance and Dream (Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 2)

Sweden   Liza Marklund: Last Will

Any suggestions would be gratefully received! And if you want to join in (with your own selection of books, of course, these are just the ones I happen to have to hand), please let me know in the comments below. If there are enough of us who want to do it, I might set up a separate linky. We have all year to do it, so that’s a leisurely book a fortnight. Or, even better: I see no reason why we might not meander over into 2018, very much like the EU disentanglement process itself.

 

 

Blockbuster of the Summer: Jaume Cabre’s Confessions

cabreJaume Cabré is a Catalan philologist, possibly a philosopher, as well as a writer, and it shows in this massive doorstopper of a book, which takes you through most of the European history of the 20th century, plus quite a few centuries of Spanish history (notably the Inquisition). The translator Maya Faye Lethem must have the patience of a saint, because the plays on words, the fragments from other languages, the philological inventiveness and sudden changes in time frames must have been extremely challenging to interpret and translate.

So yes, I’m not going to lie to you: it is not the easiest thing to sink your teeth into. It is long, complex, toying with your mind, suddenly veering into another story, another character’s point of view, another point in time. Even in the middle of a paragraph. Nevertheless, it’s all done with great verve, charm and wit and remains coherent (just about) and fun. Even though the subject matter is anything but fun, and it can be quite emotionally draining at times. You do have to succumb to it and allow yourself time to read quite large chunks daily, otherwise the magic might dissipate.

It’s the story of Adrià Ardèvol, who comes to realise he was born in the wrong family, that he has always been very much alone. He writes a long letter to his beloved, a sort of examination of his life, before he sinks into the enforced silence of dementia. He talks about his loveless childhood; his father’s distasteful business practices and the blood-spattered background to the family heirloom, a priceless Storioni violin; about never quite living up to expectations; his love for the beautiful Sara and trying to meet her Jewish family. Interwoven with the personal, we find moving accounts and moments of sharp insight about the Spanish Civil War, about the suppression of the Catalan language, about medical experimentation and gas chambers in the German concentration camps, religious and ideological battles throughout Spanish history and so much more.

Some of the repetitions are funny, others moving, while yet others are occasionally annoying. The sudden stops mid-sentence and switching of topic can be off-putting. I think it’s supposed to reflect Adrià’s growing mental confusion. There is perhaps too much ‘bagginess’ in the novel’s structure, but the book rewards those who persevere and reveals its secrets gradually (and with an element of surprise which appears more often in mystery novels). Above all, it appears to be a meditation on the nature of evil: it is unbearably bleak at times, showing that evil has always existed and is inescapable.

This was not a #20booksofsummer effort (I wish it had been!), but it had been sitting on my shelf for far too long. I was intimidated by its length and reputation of being ‘difficult’, but the imminent move made me decide to tackle it (so that I can decide whether to keep it or donate it).

This has ‘cult book’ written all over it. As a teenage fan of Foucault’s Pendulum and One Hundred Years of Solitude, I think it’s a keeper.

 

Authors to Explore

Don’t worry, I won’t go on and on about the Salon du Livre in Geneva, but browsing the stand of one of the publishers there gave me some ideas…

Actes Sud is one of my favourite French publishers, founded in Arles in 1978 – a revolutionary step at the time, as most publishers are firmly ensconced in Paris. They not only publish more experimental and unusual French language authors, but also translate high quality literary fiction (plus they also have a crime fiction imprint, graphic novels, children’s literature and much more). Just to give you an example of some of their authors: Svetlana Alexeyevich, Matthias Enard, Kamel Daoud, Imre Kertesz, Jerome Ferrari, even a lesser-known work by one of Romania’s classical novelists of the early 20th century, Liviu Rebreanu.

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So, partly inspired by authors on their list, and partly as a result of researching other sources, I’ve set up a tentative plan of writers whom I would like to explore further.

East European

Irina Teodorescu – young Romanian writer, moved to Paris at the age of 19 and started writing in French, but is still inspired by the folk tales of her childhood – also a graphic artist, as demonstrated in her debut La Malédiction du bandit moustachu (The Curse of the Bandit with a Moustache)

Dan Lungu – Romanian literary theorist and professor of literature, as well as a multi-talented writer (short stories, novels, plays, poetry).

Andrzej Stasiuk – one of the best known contemporary Polish writers

Imre Kertesz – Hungarian Nobel Prize winner, author of a celebrated Holocaust trilogy, controversial in his home country for his outspoken views and critique

Noémi Szécsi – younger Hungarian writer, whose irreverent debut novel The Finno-Ugrian Vampire sounds very funny (she has written several others since)

Georgi Gospodinov – Bulgarian writer – finding a way to live with sadness, loss of meaning

Matei Visniec – Romanian author, fled to France in 1987, when all but his poetic work was banned in Romania. Playwright (apparently one of the most performed in Romania) and journalist for Radio France Internationale.

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Other European

Javier Cercas – Spanish writer, focusing particularly on recent history (Civil War and the Franco dictatorship)

Christos Chrissopoulos – contemporary Greek writer, involved in multiple multimedia and multicultural projects, as well as depicting Athenian life during the austerity years

Jerome Ferrari – French writer, who has lived in Corsica, Algiers, Abu Dhabi

Maria Ernestam – Swedish writer, dramatic psychological relationship novels

Janice Galloway – Scottish novelist, short story writers, poetry and librettos(i)

Anna Enquist – pen name of Dutch poet and novelist, music and secrets play a large part in her work

Nina Berberova – the life of Russian exiles in Paris in the 1920-30s

Isaac Babel – I’ve read a few short stories by this author, but it’s been such a long time ag;, I want to read the full Odessa Tales

 

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Other Parts of the World

Chi Li – young Chinese novelist and TV writer, chronicles young people’s everyday lives in modern China

Nancy Huston – Canadian-born writer, writes predominantly in French and translates her own work into English

Mieko Kawakami – Japanese singer/songwriter before she turned to poetry and fiction about the confused younger generation

Yu Miri – Japanese-Korean writer of fiction, memoir and plays, as well as acting and founding a theatre troupe

Milton Hatoum – Brazilian writer and translator – Ashes of the Amazon and The Brothers – a critique of the military regime, political and family destruction

Michel Tremblay – Quebecois novelist and playwright, Plateau Mont-Royal chronicler – a working-class neighbourhood

In Koli Jean Bofane – Mathématiques congolaises – from the Democratic Republic of Congo, lives in Belgium, children’s fiction initially

Aki Shimazaki – Japanese but moved to Canada and writes in French

Yu Hua- Chinese author known for his rather detailed descriptions of the brutalities of the Chinese Revolution and often direct critical comment of a society undergoing major social upheavals

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Have you read any of the above and whom would you recommend? Obviously, I won’t get to all of them immediately (especially after my recent book splurges), but are there any I should prioritise?

 

 

 

 

My Percentage of Foreign Books

A recent flurry of Twitter exchanges made me realise that I’m a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to literature in translation. I’ve read 64 translated books (or in the original French or German) this year, which sounds like a lot. Until you realise that my grand total of all books read is 175, which makes it a proportion of 37%. If I manage to finish all the books I have planned for December as well, I will have read 65 foreign books out of a total of 182, which reduces the percentage even further to 36%. And even that’s from a rather narrow pool: mostly European countries (OK, make that predominantly French and German-speaking writers).

That may not seem too bad, but I am humbled by comparisons to some of my favourite book bloggers. Stu Jallen has read 126 translations out of 130, Tony Malone has 112 out of 120 titles in translation, Jacqui 67 out of 97. I have even less an excuse than most to NOT read foreign books, since I am based in a non-English speaking country. I have access to French and Swiss writers galore, plus so many translations into French from writers who are not easily available in English. I am not even a native English speaker… originally. Although my parents assure me that my Romanian has gone to pot since I moved abroad twenty years ago.

Percentages

So you know I joined the TBR Double Dare Challenge for the first 3 months of 2015 – or possibly longer, until I make some inroads into my toppling piles of books? I thought I’d take a quick sneak peek to see how the translated/foreign percentage fares over the next few months.

On my bookshelves I’ve got about 28 foreign books, plus 4 graphic novels (BD), and 23 in English (by which I mean, of course, also American or Australian or other writers who write in English). On my tablet it is the other way round – almost frighteningly so! 90 in English, 22 in translation. The eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that the numbers don’t quite match up with my previously stated totals, but that’s give or take a few piles or files that are temporarily misplaced. The result is the same: 50 out of 113 are foreign, which makes it 44%. Slightly better, I suppose.

I’ll have to be careful what I borrow from the library from now on… I’ve got Modiano and Daniel Pennac waiting in the wings (i.e. on my night-table). And, who knows, maybe I’ll get an aid parcel of books by Romanian writers from my parents and friends at some point? (That surely doesn’t count against the TBR double dare, if it’s someone else’s initiative?)