David Grossman, whose novels are regularly translated and make their way to the U.S. I especially enjoyed his Mr. Mani, a sweeping tale of six generations of a Sephardic family. His latest The Extra trans. Stuart Schoffman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) concerns Noga, an Israeli-born harpist, living in Holland. Following her father's death, her brother wishes their mother to leave her Jerusalem apartment and move to an assisted living facility near his home. His mother resists, so a compromise is reached - she will try out the facility for three months. Through a quirk of the law, she risks losing her Jerusalem apartment if it is not occupied by a member of the family, so Noga is asked to take a leave from her job with a Dutch orchestra and stay in Jerusalem for that period.
Saturday, July 30, 2016
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Since this is the obverse of an espionage novel, the plot as such is not the point, but... it is the 1960s. Lily's husband, Simon, who works a mid-level job for British Intelligence, is asked by his superior, Giles, to return a sensitive file when Giles unexpectedly lands in the hospital. Lily unwittingly discovers it and buries it to protect her husband. Simon is just unimportant enough in the power hierarchy, and the file just important enough, that he becomes a scapegoat when its disappearance must be covered up. He home is searched. He is carted off, awaiting a courtroom trial in a jail cell and Lily and her children gradually become ostracized.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Saturday, July 16, 2016
The debut novel of Spaniard Juan Gómez Bárcena - The Sky Over Lima (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) - is a mischievous, Escher-like paean to the power of the written word. His protagonists are 20-year-old Carlos and José, the first the scion of an aristocratic family, the second of a nouveau-riche manufacturer. Both are rich enough to rent a Parisian-like garret in their home city of Lima, and, although they live with their parents, go there to live out a fantasy of being great writers. They have a passionate crush on literature, playing a game in which every person they encounter is turned into a character in a great novel. Their law professor become's Tolsoy's Ivan Ilyich. A woman of their acquaintance, Madam Bovary having lived into old age. When they learn that Ramón Jiminéz, the Nobel-winning Spanish bard that they idolize, has published a volume not available in Peru, they struggle to write a letter that will convince him to send them a copy, unsatisfied with draft upon draft, until they realize:
They must embellish reality, because in the end that is what poets do, and they are poets, or at least they've dreamed of being poets on many late nights like this one. And that is exactly what they are about to do now: write the most difficult poem of all, one that has no verses but can touch the heart of a true artist.
It starts out as a joke, but then it turns out it's not a joke. One of the two say, almost idly, It would be easier if we were a beautiful woman, then Don Juan Ramón would put his entire soul into answering us, that violet soul of his - and then suddenly he stops, the two young men look at each other a moment, and almost unintentionally the mischief has already been made.