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Dilara’s Reads in 2020: January to May

Club Read 2020

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Edited: Feb 16, 11:20am Top

Dilara’s Reads in 2020: January to May

This is my third year in Club Read. My previous threads are here:

2018 thread
Q1 2019 thread
Q2, Q3, Q4 2018 thread

I like literary and speculative fiction. I’m interested in world literature and am always looking for books in translation because I can only read fluently in French and English, although I’m trying to improve my Spanish. I’ll be following Reading Globally’s themes again this year. My aim is to read as widely as possible, with a good mix of places and author backgrounds.

My goals for this semester are:

  • Read less in French (I used to read next to no French fiction, but I over-corrected in the last couple of years)
  • Read two books in the original Spanish
  • Read more non-fiction
  • Read books that fit Reading Globally’s quarterly themes: Fascism is back (really excited about this one, but I have no idea where it will take me) and Southern Africa
  • Read more classics, especially from the nineteenth century or older, as well as classics written by women and authors from countries other than the UK, the US and France.
  • Read Chinese fiction
  • Read at least one book originally in a language I haven’t encountered yet - Done. Europa Hôtel by Farhad Pirba, written in Kurdish

Carry-overs from 2019

  1. Les furtifs by Alain Damasio
  2. Cumin, Camels, and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey by Gary Paul Nabhan

Edited: Feb 7, 3:03am Top

Places I've visited so far this quarter:

  • Orange and the South of France
  • Arabian peninsula, India, China, Mediterranean countries, etc. (countries involved in the spice trade)
  • Oxford, UK and various "Orient Express countries"
  • The Caribbean
  • France, other European countries, including Spain
  • Song China
  • Paris, France
  • Germany x 3
  • Mali x 3
  • A castle in Brittany (France)
  • Denmark
  • Lacki roma, a Roma village in the Prekmurje region of Slovenia (near the Hungarian border)
  • Toulouse (France)
  • Java (Indonesia)
  • Turkey
  • India, including Mumbai
  • Switzerland (probably)
  • Vietnam
  • Québec
  • USAx2
  • Iceland
  • France
  • Cerbère, French Catalonia (France)

Edited: Feb 3, 10:59am Top

January reads

  1. The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two by Philip Pullman
  2. La Poésie Antillaise by Morgane Enjalbert and numerous poets from the Caribbean
  3. Mon cousin le fasciste by Philippe Pujol
  4. Le Vrai goût du Mali : Une traversée du pays en 50 recettes by Lydia Gautier and Jean-François Mallet
  5. Quand mon âme vagabonde en ces anciens royaumes by Bertrand Goujard and numerous poets from the Song era
  6. J'apprends l'allemand by Denis Lachaud
  7. Soundjata by Djibril Tamsir Niane
  8. Au château d'Argol by Julien Gracq
  9. Visages by Tove Ditlevsen
  10. Halgato by Feri Lainšček
  11. Une tombe au creux des nuages : essais sur l'Europe d'hier et d'aujourd'hui by Jorge Semprún
  12. Terminus Berlin by Edgar Hilsenrath
  13. Compléments du non by Aurore Lachaux
  14. Méchantes blessures by Abd Al Malik (unfinished)
  15. Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It by Shane Burley (unfinished)
  16. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  17. La Fille du Rivage: Gadis Pantai by Pramoedya Ananta Toer
  18. Les meilleures recettes turques by Leyla Güz
  19. Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous by Manu Joseph
  20. Métaquine, Tome 1 : Indications by François Rouiller
  21. Je ne reverrai plus le monde : Textes de prison by Ahmet Altan
  22. Mãn by Kim Thùy
  23. A Changed Man: A Novel by Francine Prose
  24. The New Faces of Fascism: Populism and the Far Right by Enzo Traverso
  25. Histoire de chambres by Michelle Perrot

Original languages of the books I've read this month:

  • French: 13 and 1/2
  • English: 5
  • Chinese: 1
  • Danish: 1
  • Slovenian: 1
  • Spanish: 1/2
  • German: 1
  • Indonesian: 1
  • Turkish: 1

  • Number of female authors this month: 6
  • Number of male authors this month: 16
  • Mixed male/female collaborations this month: 3

Jan 3, 11:35am Top

Cumin, Camels, and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey by Gary Paul Nabhan

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: USA
Original language: English
Translated into: N/A
Location: all over the world, from Central and South America to Europe to Asia and Africa

This was part of the University of California Press’s collection on food and food ethnology that’s available on Scribd. It describes in very readable, cosy prose spices and spice routes, their history, the people who worked on and off them, with special attention given to Jewish and Muslim merchants, and interreligious relations. There are also a few recipes – one in each chapter. It’s informative, entertaining and very generous in its outlook. A lovely find!

Jan 4, 10:41am Top

>4 Dilara86: Sounds interesting!

Jan 4, 12:06pm Top

>5 kidzdoc: It was! And I forgot to say that it's also a bit of a travelogue.

Jan 4, 2:52pm Top

>4 Dilara86: Happy new year! I enjoy books like this that are part travelogue, part social history, part random something else (in this case food). Sounds enjoyable!

Jan 4, 11:19pm Top

>4 Dilara86: sounds fun. Following and wish you a good year.

Jan 5, 8:11am Top

I found your thread, starred it and therefore should be able to follow it more regularly this year, although it's always a source of temptations! I wish you a happy new year and happy reading!

Edited: Jan 5, 10:22am Top

Les furtifs by Alain Damasio

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: The city of Orange and other places in the South of France (Porquerolles, Gorges du Verdon, Marseille…)
First published in 2019

Cult SF writer Alain Damasio’s long-awaited last novel, Les furtifs was published last March, fifteen years after La Horde du Contrevent. It takes place in a near-future where cities have been bought and are run by multinational companies: Paris is Paris-LVMH, Orange is… Orange (as in the French Telecom corporation), Lyon is Nestlyon, etc. Society is divided in tiers according to the level of service individuals can afford: Standard, Premium, Privilège. Some people survive off-grid on the margins, out of choice, to avoid constant surveillance, or because they are too poor or without legal existence. So far so dystopic.

The novel is centered on Lorca Varèse, a sociologist who has been recruited by the Récif, a military research unit specialising in hunting “furtifs”, stealthy mythical beings whose existence has been hidden from the general public. His move from the counterculture to the army was motivated by the disappearance of his 4-year-old daughter and his fascination with furtifs, who he thinks might have something to do with it. The narration alternates between different points of view (his, his ex-wife Sahar Varèse, his colleagues/friends Saskia Larsen, Hernán Aguëro and Nèr Arfet, and graph artist Toni Tout-fou), indicated by diacritic signs at the start of each part and inside the text (good luck to the translators whose languages actually need those signs). There is no doubt that Lorca is the main and most fleshed-out character however, and that Damasio has put a lot of himself in him. Perhaps too much and in a way that feels at times self-indulgent and conceited, and at others extremely personal and moving. It describes paternal love, the loss of loved ones and how it feels to grieve for your child, with a rawness and honesty that I haven’t encountered often. That is especially the case for paternal love, which in literature, tends to be hinted at indirectly, through characters’ actions, rather than through the direct description of feelings that Damasio had the courage to write.
I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that it is at heart an introspective novel, however. It still is science-fiction written by someone who no doubt watched a lot of superhero movies, played a lot of video games and RPGs, and knows how to build suspense.
And it’s not just action and feelings. You can tell Damasio has read Michel Foucault, Deleuze and Guy Debord. There’s a lot of sociological and philosophical theory hidden in plain sight. Not to mention Balinese religious practices. It’s very creative stylistically: there’s a lot of work on typography, on language and communication in general, on the nuts and bolts of the French language in particular (verbal moods and tenses…), and on idiolects (it helps to know English and Spanish as well as French and each character has a distinctive voice – which I think is overdone, but YMMV). That’s not even touching the work on sound which is central to the writing and to the novel’s premise (no spoiler!)

In its themes and general feel, Les furtifs is, I think, closer to La zone du dehors (not my favourite book), even though the use of symbols to tell narrators apart will remind readers of La horde du Contrevent (which I loved). In any case, it is a 700 page experimental novel, and therefore not for everyone. Personnally, I’m torn. Reading it was a rollercoaster of emotion, from total suspension of disbelief to the hardest of eye-roll. I definitely don’t regret reading it, and it is giving me a lot of food for thought, but some of Damasio’s stylistic and narrative choices work better than others.

Edited: Jan 5, 9:42am Top

Well, this was a hard review to write...

>5 kidzdoc: >7 AlisonY: >8 dchaikin: >9 raton-liseur: Happy New year to you all!

Jan 5, 9:59am Top

>10 Dilara86: Difficult to write, but really interesting to read!
It's interesting to have your detailed point of view on this novel, especially because M'sieur Raton read it a few months ago, which made me decide not to read it (I liked La Horde du Contrevent but did not love it). Maybe a bit overdone, that's the main point I keep from your review and his, but it helps if you consider it as an experimental novel as you did.

Edited: Jan 5, 10:08am Top

La Poésie Antillaise by Morgane Enjalbert (director), Ricardo Mosner (Illustrator), René Philoctète (Author), Saint-John Perse (Author), Derek Walcott (Author), Edouard Glissant (Author), Ernest Moutassamy (Author), Daniel Maximin (Author), Guy Tirolien (Author), Ernest Pépin (Author), Joseph Zobel (Author), Georges Castera (Author), René Depestre (Author), Léon Gontran Damas (Author), Serge Patient (Author), Karibé Mamba (Author), Sonny Rupaire (Author), Kettly Pierre Mars (Author), Emmelie Prophète (Author), Monchoachi (Author), Aimé Césaire (Author)

Writer’s gender: Mostly male
Writer’s nationality: Mostly French (from Guyane and the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique), also Haitian and Saint-Lucian
Original language: French, Créole
Translated into: I’m going to write N/A – I can’t see a translator for Derek Walcott
Location: N/A or the Caribbean
Published in 2006

Another of those illustrated poetry collections I like, this time featuring poems from Caribbean authors, some well-known, some less so. I enjoyed all of the poems, but I cannot stress enough how much I hate the illustrations. I know Ricardo Mosner is a renowned Argentinian painter and all, but I find it hard to get past all the crypto-blackface.

Jan 5, 10:12am Top

Following along again. Happy reading!

Jan 5, 11:53am Top

>14 Petroglyph: Thank you!

Edited: Jan 5, 12:08pm Top

Mon cousin le fasciste by Philippe Pujol

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: France, Spain
Published in 2017

« Viens que je te présente. Voilà Pierre Sidos, le fondateur de l’Œuvre française et de Jeune Nation. Pierre… C’est Philippe Pujol, mon cousin, un journaliste. C’est un bolch*, il est à La Marseillaise, mais ils sont comme nous, ils ont une politique sociale. »

« On répète souvent que le FN spécule sur la peur, sur l’ignorance. Je me rends compte que son meilleur terreau reste la frustration. Un sentiment accentué par l’incessante et universelle peur du déclassement, vivre moins bien que ses parents, que les derniers immigrés arrivés ne nous rattrappent. Pire ! Qu’ils nous doublent. Le dernier arrivé ferme la porte ! Parmi mes connaissances, des Arabes votent Front National – « parce qu’on est français » - et même des gitans – « parce qu’on ne veut pas être pris pour des Roms ». Pire encore ; certains bien blancs comme moi ont été soudain pris de bigoterie**. Pas au point d’aller à la messe le dimanche, mais la civilisation chrétienne leur est tout à coup apparue importante. Leurs parents militaient pour la plupart au PCF, à la CGT ou à la CFDT***. Eux désormais se prennent pour les croisés du XXIe siècle et voient le progressisme dans le passé. »

« Paradoxalement, c’est dans l’idéologie sociale-libérale de gauche que se sont infiltrées les prémisses de la pensée réactionnaire contemporaine. Bien malgré eux, les penseurs du social-libéralisme ont ouvert la voie au populisme. »

« Cette fin de l’approche du monde sous l’angle exploitation-domination favorise étonnamment les regroupements normalement contre-nature autour de ce fameux antipolitiquement correct. La description du complexe (qui n’a rien d’un spectacle médiatique) est perçue comme une pensée unique. Lui est donc préférée une succession de visions simplistes qui s’opposent ou s’unissent ; Le résultat est une étrange coalition des réactionnaires au nom d’une identité nationale dont personne ne partage la même définition. Antisémitisme, islamophobie, machisme et homophobie se côtoient, certains prennent le tout, d’autres une partie seulement. On ne s’unit plus pour des idées communes, mais contre des ennemis communs. L’ennemi du Français de souche. »

* short for “bolchévique”
** bigoterie is a false friend: it means ostensible religiosity in French, not prejudice. Think of Jacques Brel’s song Les bigotes, for example.
*** PCF= French communist party, CGT = a union on the hard left, CFDT = a union that tends to be more sympathetic to some right-wing policies

This was a chance find on my local library’s Fascism shelf. There were other, thicker, more academic, tomes, but I thought I’d start with something easy, plus I’d like to read more non-fiction in common with the rest of you.

Award-winning journalist Pierre Pujol is a lefty. His cousin Yvan Benedetti is a politician and activist on the far right. They hate each other’s politics but they love one another and are in regular contact, meaning that Pujol has been able to follow the far right’s progress almost from the inside. In this book, he analyses the rise of the far right, describes their roots, the way they function and find their way in every area of French society, and in parallel tells us about himself and his relationship with his cousin. I cannot understand how they can be as close as they are. Benedetti is a violent thug and a puppet-master to more violent thugs, as far as I’m concerned. Still, this book is short, enlightening and to the point. The quotes above speak for themselves, I think.

Edited: Jan 5, 12:24pm Top

The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two by Philip Pullman

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Translated into: N/A
Location: Oxford (UK), Wittenberg (Germany), Prague (Austrian-Hungarian Empire), Geneva (Switzerland), Smyrna (Turkey) and all sorts of places in the Near-East.
Published in 2019

This is the latest instalment in the Dark Material universe. It’s more complex and of a wider scope than the previous volume, La Belle Sauvage, but it’s not quite as breathtaking as the first trilogy. In particular, Pullman seems to have more or less given up on inventing alternate etymological doublets for countries and things, which is disappointing as it was such a powerful, playful and erudite world-building tool.

Jan 5, 12:30pm Top

Happy reading in 2020. I'll look forward to following along.

Jan 5, 12:49pm Top

>17 Dilara86: So the Book of Dust is the sequel to His Dark Material? I had not made the link between the two series, thanks for putting me in the picture. It's a shame it's nos as good as the first trilogy, but this was such a great read that I don't think I will be able to resist the urge to read it!

Jan 5, 12:56pm Top

>18 rocketjk: Thanks!

>19 raton-liseur: Yes. The Book of Dust is the name of His Dark Material's *second* trilogy. The first volume was La Belle Sauvage. It describes events around the time of Lyra's birth and babyhood. The second is The Secret Commonwealth. In this novel, Lyra is a student at Oxford. The last volume is not yet out, but I hope we won't have to wait long: volume Two ends with the most frustrating of cliff hangers! They are worth reading if you liked the core trilogy, in my opinion...

Jan 5, 1:53pm Top

>20 Dilara86: Argh... The first book that I won't be able not to buy for 2020... Where are my 2020 resolutions going?

I'll start with the first one and might wait for the third to be released to read 2 and 3, I hate it when I have to wait for the next volume and I see there is no sign it will be published soon...

Jan 5, 7:50pm Top

>13 Dilara86: What a great cover!

Jan 6, 4:35am Top

Le Vrai goût du Mali : Une traversée du pays en 50 recettes by Lydia Gautier (author – explanatory texts), Jean-François Mallet (author - recipes), Mahamadou Sountoura (Bambara translator)

Writers’ genders: Female and male
Writers’nationality: French
Original language: French – with chapter titles and recipe names in Bambara
Translated into: N/A
Location: Mali
Published in 2006

I borrowed this book not knowing what to expect but willing to take a chance: one the one hand it is written by Europeans, and therefore possibly inauthentic and exoticising; on the other, the fact that the recipes are circumscribed to Mali rather than Africa or West Africa is a good sign that the writers have put in the hours. Oddly, the German version of this book, Der Geschmack Afrikas: 50 Rezepte doesn’t mention Mali. It most definitely is a Malian cookbook, centered on the Sahel and the Niger valley – there are no jollof rice or tiep bou dien (well, there is, but it’s not called that) or other recipes from further South, except in the fusion food section at the end.

It turns out I have read – and loved – another cookbook by Lydia Gautier: Thés et mets. Just like Thés et mets, Le vrai goût du Mali isn’t a straightforward cookbook, but rather, a book about history, geography and local customs related to food, in this case Malian. The recipes are classified according to the Malian rather than French mindset. So you don’t get recipes for breakfast, first course, main course, desserts, etc. but marketplace food, and sauces, street food, wedding feasts, fusion dishes, etc. It’s very instructive and engaging. There are plenty of nice photos throughout, of food, places and people. The recipes themselves look perfectly doable, especially with modern technology. We are not always advised on possible substitutes for hard-to-find ingredients, such as pumpkin leaves, fonio, etc. which is not a problem for me because I have access to these through African and Asian shops and a local farmer sells fresh produce at the market when they’re in season. It might be difficult for others, though…
In any case, it was a lovely find.

Jan 6, 7:59am Top

J'apprends l'allemand by Denis Lachaud

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Paris (France), Saarbrücken and various other places in Germany
Published in 1998

I discovered Denis Lachaud by chance last year. His last book, Les métèques, caught my eye at the bookshop, because of the title, and then the subject matter (ethnic cleansing in France in a dystopic near-future – perfect for Reading Globally’s Fascism is Back theme, incidently). Having read it, I was intrigued by his other novels, which seem to all deal with marginalised people, transnationalism and complex identities. I managed to borrow J’apprends l’allemand the last time I visited my town’s main library. For once, it wasn’t out!

The Wommel family – Horst, Katarina, Max and Ernst (Max Ernst - get it!) - have German passports, but they live in France, only speak French and seemingly have no relatives in Germany. Germany is a taboo subject for Ernst’s parents, which makes him all the more curious about it. When Ernst decides to learn German at school, and goes on a class exchange in Saarbrücken, he strikes what is described in the book’s back cover as “une tendre amitié” (a tender friendship) with his penfriend Rolf. It goes a bit beyond that in my opinion, unless it is now normal for people to have sex with their friends… Year after year, as the seventies and eighties roll by, he learns more about the country, its people, and their awkward, painful and at times defensive (for the older generation) or reproachful (the younger ones) relationship with the second world war and the nazi ideology, culminating, with Rolf’s encouragement, in the discovery of his own family history. I read this novel in one evening. It was engrossing and written in very easy conversational French (easy for native speakers, that is).

Edited: Jan 8, 4:25am Top

Quand mon âme vagabonde en ces anciens royaumes by Bertrand Goujard (editor, translator), Dai Dunbang (illustrator), Li Yu (poet), Xia Song (poet), Lin Bu (poet), Kou Zhun (poet), Liu Yong (poet), Fan Zhong Yan (poet), Yan Shu (poet), Ou Yang Xiu (poet), Wen Tong (poet), Yan Ji Dao (poet), Su Shi (poet), Huang Ting Jian (poet), Qin Guan (poet), He Zhu (poet), Zhou Bang Yan (poet), Shi Yan (poet), Mao Pang (poet), Zhu Dun Ru (poet), Song Hui Zong (poet), Li Gang (poet), Li Qing Zhao (poet), Zhang Yuan Gan (poet), Liu Zi Hui (poet), Yue Fei (poet), Lu You (poet), Fan Cheng Da (poet), Yang Wan Li (poet), Zhu Xi (poet), Zhu Shu Zhen (poet), Zhang Xiao Xiang (poet), Xin Qi Ji (poet), Jiang Kui (poet), Liu Guo (poet), Dai Fu Gu (poet), Yan Rui, Liu Ke Zhuang (poet), Ye Shao Weng (poet), Wen Tian Xiang (poet), Zhang Yan (Author)

Writers’ genders: Male and female
Writer’s nationality: Chinese
Original language: Chinese
Translated into: French
Location: China, N/A
Published in 2018

This is a lavishly-illustrated collection of classical Chinese ci poems written during the Song period (960–1279 CE). The translator’s overreliance on typical poetic tricks such as the suppression of articles and unusual word order made them sometimes difficult to understand. Dai Dunbang’s paintings – one opposite each poem – are gorgeous. The Chinese original and the French translation are printed side by side. I have the feeling the publication of this book was rushed: some of the endnotes were incomplete, missing, wrongly numbered, or did not make sense, or they looked like answers to a colleague’s notes (eg, “We could also use this word here” – yes, we know, that is the word I can see on the page...) It seems to be trying to be several things at the same time : a coffee-table book that lay-people can leaf through, a primer to Chinese classical poetry, and an academic-minded tome that sometimes uses Chinese characters in place of pinyin in the middle of French sentences. Despite its flaws, I very much enjoyed this book, and I discovered a number of poets that I would like to know more about, including Li Qingzhao.

Jan 8, 4:35am Top

>24 Dilara86: I've got that on my shelf, I must have bought and read it when it first came out, but I don't remember it at all, apart from the title and that it was "LGBT interest"...

Edited: Jan 13, 4:17am Top

Soundjata, ou l'épopée mandingue (Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali) by Djibril Tamsir Niane

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Guinea (Guinea-Conakry)
Original language of the oral version: Manding (with no information as to which specific language(s) of the Manding group the writer’s sources used)
Original language of the written version: French
English version available
Location: the Mali Empire in West Africa
First published in 1960

This is a retelling of the story of Soundjata, who created the Mali Empire in the thirteenth century (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Sundiata) and who is remembered in many a griot’s tale. Griots are oral historians and bards who have been passing on their knowledge to the next generation over centuries. DT Niane’s book is an attempt at committing to paper those monuments of oral literature, and especially Djeli Mamadou Kouyaté’s version (diverging versions are mentioned in footnotes). It has been said that this epic story inspired Disney’s Lion King. Now that I’ve read the book, my opinion is that this is a misunderstanding arising from the fact that Soundjata has been called The Lion King because his father’s clan’s animal is the lion, as exemplified in David Wisniewski's children’s book Sundiata: Lion King of Mali. But who can blame publishers for trying to ride on Disney’s wave? Just as important, and it is certainly mentioned more often in this book, is the buffalo, Soundjata’s mother’s tutelary animal.

Soundjata had difficult beginnings: he was just as ugly as his mother Sokolon, he could neither talk well nor walk as a child, and the kingdom that diviners said would be his was given to his elder half-brother thanks to his evil stepmother’s machinations. Sokolon and her children had to seek asylum in neighbouring kingdoms, until Soundjata came into his own as a hunter, a soldier, a ruler of men and a magician. With the help of his griot, his sisters and his young half-brother, he took back his land and conquered a huge territory comprising modern-day Mali and Guinea, as well as parts of Senegal, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast, earning the nickname Djoul Kara Naïni (ie, Alexander the Great) of the West.

I’m glad I read this book because it is a classic and I’m interested in non-European history and literature, but epic writing is not my cup of tea. Too many descriptions of battles etc. For that reason, it was a bit of a slog for me, but I’m pretty sure a) it would appeal to many readers (in fact, it clearly did: there aren’t many African works in translation catalogued on LT by over 200 people, let alone 515); b) it would make a great action movie.

Jan 9, 6:11am Top

>26 thorold: Yes, I noticed your name was on the work page. I was looking forward to reading your review, but there isn't one ;)

Jan 9, 10:41am Top

Lots of interesting books in your thread since the beginning of the year.
>24 Dilara86: This particular title does not really appeal to me, but reminds me of your interesting review about Les Métèques, that sounds more interesting.
>25 Dilara86: Left me wonder if it would be a nice gift for someone who likes Chinese poetry and painting, but your caveat about the notes make me doubtful.
>27 Dilara86: And this one is a nice found. I am also interested in non-European classics so I might get tempted although not sure it will be easily findable.

I hope you'll continue on what seems a very interesting reading spree!

Jan 9, 11:21am Top

>29 raton-liseur: It would make a nice gift nevertheless, I think, just for the illustrations and poems. It costs 35 Euros new. There are more photos on the publisher's website: https://www.editionsdelacerise.com/livre/quand-mon-ame-vagabonde-en-ces-anciens-.... They also sell posters of the illustrations. The right thing to do for the publisher would be to sell the faulty version at a discount (through cut-price bookshops, for example), and reissue a new, corrected version...

You're in luck! I just checked, and Soundjata, l'épopée mandingue is available online on Amazon, fnac, Gibert... There are plenty of other versions too, for adults and for children, but I don't know whether they're any good. Look up "Soundjata" or "Soundiata".

Jan 9, 1:51pm Top

>16 Dilara86: "I cannot understand how they can be as close as they are"
I can't either I have trouble getting on with people slightly right of centre

Jan 9, 2:02pm Top

>30 Dilara86: Thanks a lot for all this information!
I have not being buying from big bookstores from quite some time now (only independant bookshops for me), and I am not buying from Amazon anymore (part of my attempt to a GAFA-free life...), but I checked as well, and my favorite bookshop can order Soundjata and has Quand mon âme vagabonde en ces anciens royaumes in stock.
Tempting, tempting...

Jan 11, 6:26pm Top

>25 Dilara86: looks beautiful, anyway. and >27 Dilara86: Glad you read your review, because it sounds like a fascinating attempt at capturing what is essentially an artifact. Reading your take...it does sound like a variation of The Lion King, or, I mean, TLK sounds like it could have had this in mind. Just replace elder half-brother with villain and neighboring kingdom with Hakuna Matata...

Jan 13, 4:56am Top

>31 baswood: I've been ruminating on this for days, and I came to the conclusion - given how he writes about his cousin - that Pujol has a fascination for strong men. He also feels special as the only lefty who does not get beaten up by Benedetti's thugs. It makes me think of those boys who enjoy special protection by school bullies, but don't get involved themselves. I think he's basically Benedetti's pet and chronicler.

>32 raton-liseur: So, did you give in?

>33 dchaikin: Thanks for chiming in. So, the epic of Sundiata would have been an inspiration for The Lion King (and/or for Kimba the White Lion), rather than a direct retelling?

Jan 13, 9:04am Top

I’m just waving my hands, but yes, suggesting something like that. A rough translation from human lore to Disney...

Jan 13, 4:31pm Top

>34 Dilara86: Not yet, not yet. I had ordered La Belle Sauvage earlier that I picked this week end. But my list for my next trip is already filling up. I have to read more to allow myself to buy more...

Jan 13, 5:54pm Top

>35 dchaikin: I have had a particular aversion to Disney my whole life. The studio has ruined so many fine children's novels by vitiating the stories and managing to destroy the viewpoints which made these works morality plays for children. Think of Mary Poppins, the Little Mermaid, The Jungle Book.

Of course the contemporary Disney seems to be better, but I never understood why Disney did not write its own stories if the classics were not to their taste.

Jan 13, 6:57pm Top

>37 sallypursell: yes to all that. Seriously, Disney warps a lot of good stories.

Jan 14, 3:14am Top

>23 Dilara86: ‘...isn’t a straightforward cookbook, but rather a book about history, geography and local customs relating to food’ - the best kind of cookbook! I don’t know much at all about Mali, so I will keep half an eye out for this. I do enjoy dipping into books like this.

>24 Dilara86: I hadn’t heard of Denis Lachaud, but I’ve added this one to my wishlist, and I was able to download a sample of Les Métèques to my Kindle, which I’ll have a look at later.

Jan 20, 3:22am Top

We weren't allowed to watch Disney movies at home when I was a child. My parents (well, mainly my mum...) didn't approve for the reasons given above and for the blatant racism of a lot of their content. There was one exception: my dad took us to see The Jungle Book because it's set in India. There were so few films featuring India or Indians, we'd go and see all of them, however inappropriate they were. I saw Heat and Dust at the cinema when I was 8, and was completely traumatised! Of course, I still managed to watch a number of Disney movies at friends' houses... In any case, I kept this rule for my own child, but I probably wouldn't for my (hypothetical) grandchild (on a case by case basis, for new movies).

>39 rachbxl: Looking forward to your thoughts on Les métèques, if you decide to read it.

Jan 20, 7:06am Top

Au château d'Argol (The Castle of Argol) by Julien Gracq

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Brittany (France)
First published in 1938

An unsettling and mysterious love triangle with gothic/fantastic overtones.

Edited: Jan 20, 7:33am Top

Visages: roman( Ansigterne/The Faces) by Tove Ditlevsen, translated by Danièle Rosadoni

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Danish
Original language: Danish
Translated into: French
Location: Denmark
First published in 1968

I discovered Tove Ditlevsen not long ago, thanks to recent articles in the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/nov/30/best-fiction-of-2019, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/nov/23/translated-fiction-can-open-the-wo..., https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/oct/16/the-copenhagen-tirlogy-by-tove-dit...). (Well, I must have also read some of her poetry ages ago in The Penguin Book of Women Poets.) The Copenhagen Trilogy looked interesting, but I went with Visages because it was her only borrowable book carried by my local library… It’s a detailed description of a woman – a wife, mother and renowned author - slipping into mental illness, probably schizophrenia. Very moving and skilfully written.

Edited: Jan 20, 8:08am Top

Halgato by Feri Lainšček, translated by Liza Japelj-Carone

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Slovenian
Original language: Slovene
Translated into: French
Location: Lacki roma, a Roma village in the Prekmurje region of Slovenia (near the Hungarian border)
First published in 1991, published in French in 2017

This was a chance find. Halgato was on display at the library. I’d never heard of Feri Lainšček, but I’m always on the lookout for Slovenian authors, and thought it would probably fit Reading Globally’s Mitteleuropa theme. It turns out Halgato was made into a film in 1995. It’s a tragicomedy centered on the eponymous Halgato, a Roma boy then man and violin-player in post-war Yugoslavia. There’s quite a bit of “essentialising” – about the Gipsy soul, fatalism, etc. – and the amount of racism the author shows Roma people face is breathtaking. This is counterbalanced with a bit of slapstick humour, which I didn’t get on with.

Edited: Jan 20, 8:35am Top

Terminus Berlin (Berlin… Endstation) by Edgar Hilsenrath, translated by Chantal Philippe

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: German
Original language: German
Translated into: French
Location: Berlin (Germany)
First published in 2006

Terminus Berlin’s main character is a Holocaust survivor and Jewish German writer living in exile in New York. He decides to go back to Berlin at the end of the eighties, where he witnesses the end of the GDR, the rise of neonazism, and has a lot more sex than he previously did in the US, where women – allegedly – only have sex with men if they’re rich, even managing to impregnate a teenager, which again, he wouldn’t have been able to do in the US, because they frown down on that sort of behaviour over there. It’s all sufficiently tongue-in-cheek to allow for plausible deniability on claims of sexism and rape apologia. On the good side, there’s food for thought on the subject of how both Germanies and Germans dealt with the nazi legacy. Still, I can’t say I enjoyed this fictional autobiography very much.

Jan 20, 8:43am Top

Compléments du non by Aurore Lachaux

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: France, including the Toulouse area
First published in 2019

This is a short stream-of-consciousness book where Aurore Lachaux mourns her father and expresses all her anger at the inhumane way employees – whether they are middle-aged engineers like her father before his early death, or substitute teachers, as she is – are treated by HR and the system.

Jan 20, 9:30am Top

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: British (born in Japan)
Original language: English
Translated into: N/A
Location: A fantasy Britain in the Dark Ages
First published in 2015

A lovely allegorical story about Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who set off on a journey to their son’s village on the other side of the Great Plain at a time of unease between Britons and Saxon settlers, not long after King Arthur’s death. There might be dragon to slay or not and what might look like a quest, but it is a slow-paced, meditative read.

Jan 20, 9:55am Top

La fille du rivage : Gadis Pantai (The Girl from the Coast) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, translated by François-René Daillie

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Indonesian
Original language: Indonesian
Translated into: French
Location: Java
First published in 1965

This novel was inspired by the early years of the author’s grandmother in nineteenth-century Java, at a time where Java was functionally a feudal society under Dutch rule. The Girl from the Coast, whose name we never learn, was a pretty fisherman’s daughter whose beauty earns her a marriage to a local nobleman – the Bendoro – aged 14. She then lives a life of complete subservience in the Bendoro’s household, where she is too lowly to be considered a “proper wife”, until she gives birth to her first child, at which time he sends her back to her parents, as he did with all his previous 14-year-old brides. There is a lot of social and political criticism crammed into this slim fictional biography.

Jan 20, 9:59am Top

Les meilleures recettes turques by Leyla Güz and Régine Teyssot

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Turkish, French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Turkey

A slim collection of Turkish recipe, a lot simpler and blander than I would expect.

Jan 20, 10:22am Top

By the way, did any of you go to a La nuit de la lecture (UNESCO Reading Night) event last Saturday? My town paid hommage to Toni Morrison, with readings and music in different libraries. I went to the one closest to me. It was nice and cosy.

Jan 20, 10:58am Top

>49 Dilara86: I must be living in a cave, as I have not heard about this event at all. Nice to hear you liked it. Maybe I should think about attending next year?

Quite a lot of reviews posted today, I really enjoyed reading them and seeing the variety of your reading!

Jan 21, 10:35am Top

>50 raton-liseur: La nuit de la lecture is a really good idea and I hope it takes. Of course, it will only work if librarians are able and willing to go beyond their job's description... In my local library, we had the Toni Morrison musical reading I already mentioned, and then (herbal) tea and games. We read tongue-twisters picked at random, and were encouraged to create book-spine haikus with books from the library's shelves. It's actually quite a good way to discover new titles...

Jan 21, 1:17pm Top

>51 Dilara86: Interesting! As a volunteer librarian I have no job description, so maybe that's for me!

Jan 21, 1:30pm Top

Interesting about the UNESCO reading night. I’ve never heard of this, no clue if it had anything happening here, in the US. Enjoyed the peak at all these books you’ve gone through.

Jan 22, 10:52am Top

Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous by Manu Joseph

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Indian
Original language: English
Translated into: N/A
Location: Mumbai and Gujarat (India)
First published in 2018

A fast-paced satirical and political thriller set in Mumbai and inspired by the Ishrat Jahan case (warning: this Wikipedia article contains a photo of corpses) and the rise of the BJP, those cryptofascist thugs. A movie might be in the works...
Akhila Iyer is a medical student and online prankster. When a building collapses close to her home, she goes to investigate, and as the smallest and fittest person on site, volunteers to crawl through the debris to get to a survivor. Alarmed by his mumblings about a terrorist called Jamal, she’ll have to decide on how to act, as will the secret service(s). The humour and politics are not subtle, but then again, neither are the real-life events and politicians on which the novel is based. I was struck by how similar Manu Joseph’s take on Indian corruption and politics was to Pavan K. Varma’s in Being Indian, which I read last year.

Jan 23, 11:42am Top

Une tombe au creux des nuages : essais sur l'Europe d'hier et d'aujourd'hui by Jorge Semprún, translated by Serge Mestre

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Spanish
Original language: French and Spanish
Translated into: French (when necessary)
Location: Nominally Europe, but mostly Germany
First published in 2010

This a collection of speeches Jorge Semprún wrote over the years on subjects related to Europe and the Second World War, including the Holocaust and Jorge Semprún’s experience in Buchenwald. Most of them were given in Germany and draw heavily on German philosophy. The title “Une tombe au creux des nuages” was taken from a poem by Paul Celan. Some essays were more interesting or less of a slog than others. I don’t really regret reading this book, but I was looking for something more cohesive and organised.

Jan 24, 2:55am Top

Je ne reverrai plus le monde : Textes de prison (I Will Never See the World Again) by Ahmet Altan, translated by Julien Lapeyre de Cabanes

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Turkish
Original language: Turkish
Translated into: French
Location: Turkey
First published in 2019 (French translation)

Ahmet Altan is a Turkish novelist, journalist and newspaper editor. His sympathy for the Kurdish and Armenian minorities is well-known. Like so many civil servants, teachers and writers, he was put in prison during the wave of arrests following the 2016 coup. He was first charged with sending a subliminal (!) pro-coup message on TV, then with the less hazy, but just as ridiculous, crime of "conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization", and sentenced to life imprisonment, as was his brother Mehmet Altan. In I Will Never See the World Again, Altan writes in pared-down prose about his arrest and his life in prison. He comes across as thoughtful, erudite and kind. These memoirs were longlisted for the 2019 Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction. I have to read some of his fiction.

Jan 24, 3:44am Top

Mãn by Kim Thùy

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Canadian (lives in Québec, born in Vietnam)
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Montréal (Québec, Canada), Vietnam, France
First published in 2013

So much wasted potential. The first chapters were stylistically interesting and the story looked promising, but it descended into airport pap fairly quickly. I don’t think I’ll ever find a good novel that includes recipes.

Edited: Jan 24, 4:16am Top

>56 Dilara86: It might be a tough book, I am not sure I am in the right mood for that at the moment. But if he has written fiction (that might be tough as well), I would be interested in hearing what you think of it.

Edited: Jan 24, 4:17am Top

>57 Dilara86: Are you looking for that type of books specifically? You might creat a new sub-genre (or does it already exist?)
Have you read Como agua para chocolate, I think there are some recipes in this book. I remember it as a good enough book.

Jan 24, 8:51am Top

Interesting about Pullman's 2nd trilogy, I had not realized there was one. While I read the first -- so long ago, I may pass on the 2nd trilogy as I'm sure it will show up eventually in the HBO series. There are so many more books to read!

Jan 24, 9:31am Top

>57 Dilara86: Top of my “do not read” list of novels-with-recipes would be Es muß nicht immer Kaviar sein, by the great Austrian filler of airport bookstall shelves, Johannes Mario Simmel. Basically James Bond in an apron.

Jan 24, 10:40am Top

>58 raton-liseur: I'll you know about his fiction when I get hold of it. No local library has any of his books apart from his memoir, for some reason... There is no graphic violence in Je ne reverrai plus le monde. I think we've all heard terrible things about Turkish prisons, but it never gets quite as bad as this for Altan, and he doesn't dwell on unpleasant situations.

>59 raton-liseur: I can't say I'm looking for that type of books specifically, but I like cooking and I like literature, and wished that books that mix the two were less disappointing... I've read Como agua para chocolate/Chocolat amer/Like Water for Chocolate, Mãn, Nine Rabbits, La cuisine totalitaire/Küche totalitär: Das Kochbuch des Sozialismus and probably others that I can't recall right now, and although they were not awful, they didn't enrich my life in any way... One novel that sticks in my mind as a great disappointment is John Saturnall's Feast. It doesn't contain recipes, but it is about food. It ticked so many boxes for me (food, magical realism, history, witches...) on the face of it, and yet... One exception is Vie et passion d'un gastronome chinois/The Gourmet by Lu Wenfu, which I loved. I've had more luck with literary cookbooks: I usually enjoy writers' cookbooks, such as Mémoire gourmande de Madame de Sévigné, Les carnets de cuisine de George Sand, but then my expectations are probably lower for these...

>60 avaland: The second trilogy is very recent! The first book came out a couple of years ago, the second last year, and the third isn't published yet! Has the HBO series started airing? I saw the trailer a few weeks ago, and it looked striking, although I'm not sure why they moved the story to the Forties.

>61 thorold: That's a shame. I looked at the reviews, and they're quite enthusiastic!

Jan 24, 10:50am Top

>60 avaland: I'm tempted by the Altan, but there are so many temptations, I see if it goes beyond temptation.

I was about to recommand Vie et passion d'un gastronome chinois, which I read a few years ago as well.
That's right that I can't think about many books with mix cooking and litterature that I would recommand. Nice challenge, though, so I'll keep thinking about it.

Jan 24, 10:56am Top

>63 raton-liseur:
I was about to recommand Vie et passion d'un gastronome chinois, which I read a few years ago as well.

You sort of did! I bought it after reading the excerpt you copied on the "page 100" thread of the French forum.

Jan 24, 11:50am Top

Tagmash: https://www.librarything.com/tag/fiction,+recipes

It seems to be a popular idea: there are more than 500 hits, including quite a few food-based crime series.

The only one there I’ve read apart from Simmel and Esquivel is Butterflies in November, which I liked. It has a memorable recipe for “undrinkable coffee”, inter alia. And knitting patterns.

Lobscouse and spotted dog is supposed to be good, but probably not unless you’ve read Patrick O’Brian.

Simmel was a genius at what he did, well-researched, slick, funny novels that made the reader feel sophisticated and enlightened without any actual intellectual challenge. But that was sixty years ago. If you read it nowadays you’d probably just see the tasteless WWII nostalgia and blatant sexism (this is all about how much better cooking would be if we let men do it...), and the shameless name-dropping and brand-snobbery.

Jan 24, 11:57am Top

I've just had a look at the tagmash. Some authors churn 'em out! Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson looks interesting.

I'll try Butterflies in November: I liked Miss Iceland by the same author. I'm intrigued by the "undrinkable coffee"...

Jan 24, 1:08pm Top

>64 Dilara86: Happy you enjoyed it, then!

Jan 27, 6:54am Top

I don't see The Last Chinese Chef in your library. There aren't recipes but it is about food. I thought it was quite lovely but a lot of reviews refer to it as "light" which is a fair description.

Jan 27, 11:11am Top

>68 rhian_of_oz: Thanks for the rec!

Edited: Jan 29, 3:24am Top

Histoire de chambres (The Bedroom) by Michelle Perrot

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Europe and the USA, but mainly France
First published in 2008

This is a social history of bedrooms, from the kamera in Ancien Greece and the cubiculum in Rome, to today’s modern bedroom. Michelle Perrot writes about sleeping habits, bedroom furniture, and types of bedrooms – from one-room dwellings where whole families live, work and sleep, to aristocratic private apartments, to hospital dormitories and prison or monastery cells. A whole chapter is devoted to Louis XIV’s bedroom ceremonies: he rose and went to bed in public with elaborate rituals in a public bed chamber. Then, when once the courtiers were gone, he moved to his private – or the Queen’s, or his mistress’s – bedroom. As befits a historian specialising in women’s history – she wrote a History of Women in the West in five volumes -, female experiences are covered. As expected coming from a French writer, she mainly – but not exclusively (Emily Dickinson, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Teresa of Avila and Thomas Mann make an appearance, for example) – quotes French novelists: Proust of course, François Mauriac, George Sand, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, etc. She focuses on literary sources, which is frustrating when you’re looking for hard data. This book is eminently readable, and great for trivia, anecdotes and reading recommendations, but not so great for a synthetic, scientifically accurate survey of the subject matter.

Feb 2, 1:41am Top

Nice! Two years ago, I read Bill Bryson's At home. A short history of private life, which describes the social history of various rooms in the home.

Feb 3, 10:56am Top

>71 edwinbcn: Sounds interesting!

Edited: Feb 14, 3:24am Top

February reads

  1. Textermination by Christine Brooke-Rose
  2. L'explication by Alain Badiou and Alain Finkielkraut
  3. Anthropologie by Eric Chauvier
  4. L'Embellie by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
  5. Le racisme hitlérien: machine de guerre contre la France by Andrée Viollis
  6. Onanisme: roman by Justine Bo
  7. Susto by luvan
  8. Ma Bible des microbiotes by Danièle Festy and Anne Dufour
  9. Madame Béate et son fils by Arthur Schnitzler
  10. Œuvres poétiques complètes by Li Qingzhao
  11. Kamouraska by Anne Hébert
  12. Il est de retour by Timur Vermes (unfinished)
  13. Cadavre exquis by Agustina Bazterrica
  14. A la recherche du texte perdu by Ricardo Bloch
  15. Europa Hôtel by Farhad Pirbal
  16. by
  17. by
  18. by
  19. by

Original languages of the books I've read this month:

  • French: 8
  • English: 1
  • Icelandic: 1
  • German: 2
  • Chinese: 1
  • Kurdish: 1

  • Number of female authors this month:
  • Number of male authors this month:
  • Mixed male/female collaborations this month:

Feb 6, 1:12pm Top

L'explication by Alain Badiou and Alain Finkielkraut, moderated by Aude Lancelin

Writers’ gender: male (with a female moderator)
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: France
First published in 2010

This is the transcript of a discussion between two public intellectuals on opposite sides of the political spectrum. They’ve had words before, and this is an attempt at understanding how and where they disagree exactly, and at finding common ground other than the fact that they’re both called Alain and are both secular Jews. Alain Badiou is a marxist – formerly maoist – philosopher, well-known for his anti-capitalist, anti-nationalist, anti-racist, anti-colonialist and pro-Palestinian views. He’s had his share of controversies. It took him a long time to admit that communist regimes had behaved criminally, but he’s done his mea culpa now. Alain Finkielkraut, is a radio presenter on France Culture and an académicien, and at this point in time, a parody of a reactionary grumpy old man, always ready to mouth off about The Youth of Today and the fact that France is going down the pan because of all those foreigners. His English Wikipedia page does not give a clear picture of his politics and the long list of controversies he’s been involved in.
The book is in four parts: national identities and nations; Judaism, Israel and universalism; May 68; and communism. I was expecting to find both men too extremist for me. This didn’t happen. To me, Badiou was the sane voice, no doubt an idealist with no practical political answers, but his arguments were logical and his outlook, compassionate. On the other hand, my opinion of Finkielkraut went down, and God knows it wasn’t high before. I thought he was a reactionary, big C Conservative, but after reading this book, I now think he is clearly racist, fascist and unhinged.

In French, “explication” can mean two things: it can be a straightforward explanation, or it can be used euphemistically for an argument or even a fight. Badiou and Finkielkraut managed to keep to the first. It wasn’t a pleasant read because they still talked at cross purposes sometimes (and Finkielkraut is scary), but I’m a lot clearer about their respective positions, and I didn’t have to buy or borrow a book with Finkielkraut as a sole author…

Feb 6, 2:25pm Top

Finkielkraut sounds like some members of my family

Feb 7, 2:32am Top

>75 dchaikin: My commiserations. My grandparents had their moments as well. It's not pleasant.

Feb 7, 6:01am Top

Lettres à Yves (Letters to Yves) by Pierre Bergé

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Paris (France), Marrakech (Morocco), etc.
First published in 2010

I found this book in a Little Free Library. Its NRF cover stood out among the usual mass paperbacks and ancient France Loisirs hardbacks. I thought it would be a badge of literary quality. It wasn’t. The writer, Pierre Bergé, was haute couture designer Yves Saint-Laurent’s life and business partner. I have no particular interest in fashion, but I’m always curious about people’s domestic lives, and I also thought there might be some interesting political content in it (Pierre Bergé was a gay rights activist and one of the few businessmen who supported the French socialist party).
I feel bad criticising this book because it contains 107 pages of heartfelt letters Pierre Bergé wrote to Yves Saint-Laurent in the year after his death, but I don’t think it should have been published. Bergé might have been a reader – and he does let us know about it - , but he was a graceless writer. He alternates between Dear Diary-type entries and direct addresses to YSL that we can’t always make sense of (“I saw Bill today. You know how he is.”), and paragraphs explaining or justifying his behaviour and the way their lives turned out. He paints a picture of a jet-setting co-dependent couple, with one half – Yves Saint-Laurent – deeply depressed and addicted to drugs and alcohol, and both halves seeking solace and sex elsewhere. There weren’t many insights and the writing was awkward. The book is going straight back to its shelf in the Little Free Library. Hopefully, someone else will like it more than I did.

Edited: Feb 7, 6:33am Top

Le racisme hitlérien: machine de guerre contre la France by Andrée Viollis

Available online on the Gallica website

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: France and the rest of Europe
First published in 1943

Andrée Viollis was a feminist and antifascist writer, and one of the first female war journalists. I discovered her name recently, thanks to Alain Badiou, who mentions her in L’explication.
This work is a passionate anti-nazi pamphlet written during the Second World War by Viollis who was then in her seventies, living in Lyon, and part of the Résistance. Obviously, it was published and distributed clandestinely (by the Mouvement National contre le Racisme). In it, she describes what witnesses have been telling the Résistance about death trains and camps, denounces the nazi ideology, advocates for Jews, and criticise Vichy, with a good dollop of French patriotic rabble-rousing.

Feb 8, 3:08am Top

Métaquine, Tome 1 : Indications by François Rouiller

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: Swiss
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: unspecified, but has to be Switzerland
First published in 2016

François Rouiller is a pharmacist by day, and a SF writer by night. In Métaquine, he explores the machinations of Big Pharma and its underhand attempts at selling us drugs for every complaint, in a near future where some people are so addicted to Virtual Reality, they’ve become vegetables. A pharmaceutical company has developed a new drug to cure hyperactivity in children called Métaquine, which they’re pushing aggressively as a cure for as many ailments as they can make up. François Rouiller created a bold multiple-voice narrative to tell his story. Although I recognise the cleverness and the effort it took, I found the voices overdone, artificial and annoying. I don’t think I’ll be reading Métaquine, Tome 2 : Contre-indications. I’d like to know what happens to the characters – volume 1 ended with a cliff-hanger – but I don’t think I can take another 600 pages of contrived inner monologues. Someone tell me the end?

Feb 8, 4:20am Top

>79 Dilara86: I like the conclusion of your review. Unfortunately, I won't be this good samaritan, and thanks to your review, won't even read the first volume...

Edited: Feb 14, 9:02am Top

A la recherche du texte perdu (In search of lost text) by Ricardo Bloch, Marcel Proust and Google Translate

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: 50 languages, from Afrikaans to Zulu, then back into French
Location: France
First published in 2019

When I came across this book at the bookshop, I was so certain it was for me after reading the back cover, I just looked at a couple of pages inside before buying it. That’ll teach me! The book’s basis is simple: take the first page of Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past/In Search of Lost Time), translate it into another language using Google Translate, then machine-translate it back into French, and laugh at the results. Rinse and repeat with 50 different languages. That’s a couple of hours’ work at best, and anyone with an Internet connection can do it. It did not occur to me that someone would have the nerve to publish this straight-up, without commentary. Well, someone did.
Daniel Pennac – bless him – wrote a six-word (!) preface for this book, which is more than it deserves.

Feb 14, 3:57am Top

>81 Dilara86: You can just imagine the sales pitch to the publisher: “The world is full of clever people who will want to have this on their bookshelves and enjoy laughing at themselves for buying it...”

When Google translate first came out, we used to do that with Shakespeare sonnets on long afternoons in the office. Or with communiqués from higher management...

Feb 14, 9:09am Top

Heh. I'm a (technical) translator, and spend most of my days post-editing (meaning, rewriting in decent French) machine-translated communiqués from higher management...

Feb 14, 11:20am Top

Ma Bible des microbiotes by Danièle Festy and Anne Dufour

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: The human body
First published in 2019

This is a comprehensive and accessible family health reference book about human microbiota: one of the latest – and most far-reaching - trends in health, nutrition and well-being. The authors are respectively a pharmacist and a journalist specialising in nutrition and aromatherapy. They explain in chatty, “women’s magazine” prose (which in passing, I find annoying), the roles that the microbiota (the microorganisms (bacteria, yeasts…) that live in and on us) play – or could play (research pending) - in a number of illnesses and complaints, such as IBS, UTIs, food intolerance, hypothyroidism, asthma, obesity, etc. They advise us on how to maintain a healthy skin, gut, eye, vagina and mouth microbiota and how to balance or boost them if necessary through nutrition and the use of probiotics. There’s then a one-week program to kick-start lifestyle changes in different areas, including nutrition, hygiene and physical exercise, that should set us on a path to a healthier, more balanced microbiota. The last part of the book is a recipe compendium.

I’m torn about this book. On the one hand, it’s quite comprehensive and methodical, and it contains a lot of applicable advice, but on the other hand, I couldn’t help noticing that the authors contradict themselves here and there. Is moisturising good or bad for the skin? Should we wash our hands regularly to avoid picking up bacteria, or not? If it depends on the context, it wasn’t made clear… And there are some glaring blind spots, such as make-up, which we’re expected to wear. Surely, if we’re advised to switch to unscented washing powder and stop applying products to our skin, we should be going makeup-free if we can, rather than just be told to apply makeup away from the eyes? I keep picturing people doing their shopping while wearing ballet-dancer stage makeup – the type where the under-eye line is drawn half an inch from the lower eyelid, and makes people look like manga characters… The makeup thing leads me to another blind spot: men. The writing is as grammatically neutral as the French language can be, but culturally, it is clear that the intended readership is female: they wear makeup, they shave their legs but not their faces, they have vaginas, and the program and recipes are geared towards women’s appetites, needs and habitus… There are just a few lines about penises – as a subsection of the vaginal microbiota chapter -, and it contains absolutely no practical advice. Given the fact that men and women are socialised differently, and that health pursuits, unless they are sports-related, are already coded as female, I fear most men would dismiss the book’s advice, and that would be a shame.

Feb 14, 12:10pm Top

>81 Dilara86: >82 thorold: Several years back, for some reason I know longer recall I ran Google translate on a Facebook message that was in Finnish and got this:

I asked for building mest, workmen could switch me my thing. He didn't understand a word. Where in reality I lived all these years? It's not a book language? Roy Kauppi, petya kauppi, to now, help!

For some reason, I cut and pasted it into a Word doc on which I keep odds and ends that amuse me and/or that I want to remember.

Feb 14, 12:34pm Top

>85 rocketjk: It's a prose poem!

Feb 15, 9:07am Top

>81 Dilara86: Yes a lot of fun but.........

At our last Assemblée général of the comité des fêtes I usually do a translation of the Presidents report for the english members. This year the president passed me a copy of her report (in English) and told me she had already translated it for me to read out. When I got to the second paragraph I was reading that we had problems with traffic circulation: the centre of our village has five houses and one small road. I realised it was a google translation.

Feb 16, 11:57am Top

>87 baswood: This is funny!
What's your status post Brexit? Have you asked for a "carte de séjour", or are you naturalised? I'm curious because my partner is British and the bureaucracy is driving him up the wall...

Edited: Feb 16, 12:04pm Top

Kamouraska by Anne Hébert

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Canadian (Québec)
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Québec City, Sorel, Kamouraska (Québec, Canada)
First published in 1970
There is an English translation

Celui qui dit “le” table au lieu de “la” table, se trahit. Celui qui dit “la Bible” au lieu des “Saints Évangiles”, se trahit. Celui qui dit “Élisabeth” au lieu de “Mme Tassy”, se compromet et compromet cette femme avec lui.

Emotional repression, love, sex and murder in Canada.
Fifteen-year old Élisabeth is married to Antoine Tassy, seigneur de (lord of) Kamouraska, in Victorian Québec. She’s too young and innocent to realise that she’s now shackled for life to a violent and suicidal alcoholic. Three years and two pregnancies later, a dark, handsome American stranger walks into her life, and things take an even more dramatic turn.

The writing is gorgeous: very poetic and evocative, and fairly challenging as far as form is concerned. But this modern classic of French-Canadian literature was a bit too highly-strung and “windswept” for my taste. Think Wuthering Heights meets Thomas Hardy meets Maria Chapdelaine meets Virginia Woolf. It was turned into a movie back in the seventies (https://elephantcinema.quebec/films/kamouraska_2832). The trailer gives a good idea of what to expect…

Edited: Yesterday, 10:04am Top

Œuvres poétiques complètes (Li Ching-Chao: Complete Poems) by Li Qingzhao, translated by Liang Paitchin

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Chinese
Original language: Chinese
Translated into: French
Location: China
First published in 1971 (French edition)

Li Qingzhao was a Chinese female poet from 11th-12th century. I discovered her recently, in an anthology of poetry from the Song Dynasty (Quand mon âme vagabonde en ces anciens royaumes). Thankfully, her complete poems, beautifully translated by Liang Paitchin in the seventies, were available in my library’s stores. Li’s poetry is extraordinary; Liang’s work is stellar.

Edited: Feb 16, 12:36pm Top

Cadavre exquis (Cadáver exquisitoTender is the Flesh) by Agustina Bazterrica, translated by Margot Nguyen Béraud

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: Argentine
Original language: Spanish
Translated into: French
Location: Argentina
First published in 2019

A virus has made all non-human animals unfit for consumption. Because apparently, becoming vegetarian is not an option – meat is too addictive – the Argentinian authorities have institutionalised cannibalism. First, with undesirable people (criminals, illegal immigrants…), then through human farms. It’s silly and stomach-turning at the same time, and I feel my time could have been better spent than with this novel. The cover's nice, though...

Edited: Yesterday, 10:02am Top

Le lac de Grunewald (Grunewaldsee: Roman) by Hans-Ulrich Treichel, translated by Barbara Fontaine

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: German
Original language: German
Translated into: French
Location: Malaga (Spain), West Berlin and Gliesmarode, near Hanover (West Germany)
First published in 2010

It’s the eighties. Paul has just finished university in West Berlin. He’s waiting for a teaching post to come through, but it will take years. Meanwhile, he’s spending a year in Malaga, teaching German for a pittance and having an affair with María, who happens to be married and pregnant. Back in Berlin, more years come and go while he’s still waiting for that job (or indeed, any job), and for María (or any other woman for that matter) to choose him. Paul is clueless and strangely passive, and frankly unsympathetic. He has zero emotional intelligence and is completely self-involved. For example, he’s annoyed by his mother’s behaviour following his father’s death, and someone has to point out to him that she might be depressed. He still won’t offer his support. His conduct towards his girlfriends is appalling, but he always fears that he might be too nice and submissive. I usually don’t have a lot of patience for antiheros of that sort, but this novel is the exception. The irony was omnipresent but gentle. I’m sure a lot of it went over my head. No doubt people who know more about the sociology of Berlin neighbourhoods and Germany in general would get a lot more chuckles out of it than I did, but it was still enjoyable.

Edited: Today, 8:31am Top

Unfinished Books

Le Bal des folles (The madwomen’s ball) by Victoria Mas

Writer’s gender: Female
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: Paris, Hôpital de la Salpétrière, the psychiatric hospital where Charcot worked.
First published in 2019

I had really good hopes for this novel which tells the story of women committed to the Salpétrière asylum where Charcot used them for his lectures/shows, but I could not get on with the writing. It was clichéd and artificial, like a bad TV film. No point in going on.

Il est de retour (Look Who's BackEr ist wieder da) by Timur Vermes, translated by Pierre Deshusses

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: German
Original language: German
Translated into: French
Location: Berlin
First published in 2012

I enjoyed the first 50 pages, and just as I was starting to wonder what was in store that made so many people give up this book in disgust, I became more and more aware that Hitler was a vessel for the author’s criticism of modern life. It is unlikely that they would have the same pet peeves, especially regarding the vulgarity of modernity and the loss of a human scale. Has he never looked at a picture of a Nazi rally? It felt crass and uninformed.

Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It by Shane Burley

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: USA
Original language: English
Translated into: N/A
Location: USA
First published in 2017

Nothing awful about this book. It’s just that I read it as an e-book, and realised that I find it difficult to take in what I read on a tablet. There wasn’t much point in soldiering on in the circumstances, especially since it was so clearly aimed at US citizens, and I’m not one.

Méchantes blessures by Abd Al Malik

Writer’s gender: Male
Writer’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Translated into: N/A
Location: France, USA
First published in 2019

This is a novel written by author and Rap Artist For The Intellectuals Abd Al Malik (he wrote a book on Albert Camus). I had read his autobiography, which was OK, and thought I’d venture further, but I found this novel clunky and gave up fifty pages in. I’ll still borrow his collected lyrics from the library at some point because I recognise the artistry in rap, but just can’t get into the music and I can’t hear the words properly. (That’s my Senior Moment!) Reading them seems like a good way in.

Group: Club Read 2020

71 members

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