‘EU Still 28’ Authors to Continue Reading

Throughout 2018 I read one book by an author from each of the present-day 28 EU members states. I called this project ‘EU still 28’. Some of the books that I read were written by authors whose work I was already familiar with. Others, on the other hand, were penned by writers whom I had never read a book by before.

My first time reading certain authors left me eager to know more about their work. Taking into consideration not only my enjoyment of the books that I read but also my interest in the other ones that are currently available in a language that I can read fluently (Portuguese and English), in the future I will certainly read more books by the eight authors listed below.

 

Robert Seethaler

To represent Austria, I read The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler. Having as main character Franz Huchel, it’s a story about sexual awakening set at the time of the rise of Nazism. I now want to read A Whole Life, which is about the return of a soldier to his village in the Alps after the Second World War. Continue reading

2018 Bookish Resolutions’ Evaluation

I had six bookish resolutions for 2018. And I can proudly announce that I’ve managed to fulfil the majority of them! In fact, I’ve only failed to accomplish one of my goals, despite not having done as well as I was expecting to regarding another one.

My main ambition last year was to read one book by an author from each of the still 28 EU member states. I called this project ‘EU still 28’ and completed it before the end of December. I read some truly good books and discovered several authors whose work I want to continue delving into. I don’t regret doing it at all! However, I have to concede that having a relatively long list of books set to read during one year was too restricting, and it was really difficult to find books that immediately appealed to me to represent some countries. Thus, I ended up reading a couple of books that I would have never picked up otherwise and that I didn’t like that much.

I had hoped to read 35 books during 2018. I surpassed that number, having read a total of 39 books! A small number for many of you, but one that I’m really proud of. I also started reading two books that I ended up not finishing, so they don’t count for this purpose. Continue reading

‘The Murderess’ by Alexandros Papadiamantis

My rating: 4 stars

The Murderess, a novella by the Greek author Alexandros Papadiamantis, is a story of a woman’s descent into darkness, which delves into how being born a female was considered by some to be almost a curse and a huge expense to the families. Hadoula, also known as Jannis Frankissa, had various children, three of them were women. But it was the birth of her granddaughter that awoke vile feelings in her. The consequences of these are narrated in a fast-paced manner.

At the beginning of the book, Hadoula was keeping vigil by the cradle of her sick new-born granddaughter, while remembering her past, particularly the time around her marriage and the subsequent years. She was around 60 years old and lived with two of her daughters, one of them was deemed too old to remain unmarried. Her two eldest sons had gone abroad to America and another one was in prison.

Hadoula worked as a healer and picked up herbs. She was a resentful woman who had to face many difficulties throughout her life. In order to overcome them, she had not always resorted to the most respectful methods. She had stolen money from her parents, for example. But she believed that everything her family had was thanks to her, since she had been the one who had managed the money her late husband had earned. Continue reading

‘The Physics of Sorrow’ by Georgi Gospodinov

My rating: 2 stars

The beginning and the ending of The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov have at least one thing in common – they are both exceedingly bewildering. While reading, I kept wondering what could possibly be the purpose of this book. Unfortunately, I still haven’t come up with an answer for that question, and I’m not sure I ever will. It compiles snippets of moments from the narrator’s past, the life of his family and Bulgarian history. These short expositions are supposed to be in some way connected with the myth of the Minotaur, but that association is not always straightforward.

While the prologue suggests that there may be various narrators, there is in fact only one. When he was younger he could go inside the minds of people from his family and, thus, see and relive what happened in the past. This is conveyed in a confusing way, which left me many times unsure about what was happening. Once he went inside his grandfather’s mind and saw him in a tent learning about the myth of the Minotaur, a creature who has the head of a bull and the body of a human.

The narrator was really inquisitive as a boy, which could have been a problem, since he grew up under the communist regime in a poor household. He was particularly interested in the myth of the Minotaur. Although there is even a defence of this mythological creature mid-way through the book, from the narrator’s explanations I couldn’t fully understand the intricacies of the myth. He associates it with abandoned children. Continue reading

‘At the Edge of Night’ by Anise Koltz

My rating: 3 stars

My favourite type of poetry is one that has a great effect on readers and conveys either tangible emotions or fruitful ideas. Although I really enjoyed some of the poems in At the Edge of Night by Anise Koltz, the vast majority of them were forgettable and unremarkable. Compiled in this book is a selection of poems from four collections by the Luxembourgish author – The Call of the Sparrow-Hawk, Shadow-Bearer, Fire-Eater and Blessed be the Serpent. Some of the prevailing themes are the complexity of family relationships, criticism of God, negative aspects regarding mankind and the creative writing process.

Generally-speaking, the poems chosen for this book are really short, were penned in direct language and lack a discernible rhythm. Thus, it was hard for me to feel any real emotion while reading. While I honestly didn’t understand what some of the poems were trying to convey, others I did grasp their message, but they lacked sentiment. They didn’t pack a punch, and nor were they convincingly heartfelt.

Not all poems were disappointing, however. ‘The Poet’, a poem about the importance of choosing the right words was one of my favourites from the collection. It mentions how the freedom that an author appears to have to pick the desired words is curbed by their impact on other people. The importance of language is also touched upon in ‘In This World’, in this instance because it seems to be losing meaning. If these two poems caught my attention mainly for the message, ‘Stop Talking’ stood out because of the language. Despite it also being short and direct, the repetition in the last verses helped to achieve an attractive rhythm. Continue reading

‘High Tide’ by Inga Abele

My rating: 4 stars

Ieva is the main character in High Tide, but it’s only close to the end that she becomes fully fledged and relatable. Inga Abele wrote the book in more or less reverse chronological order, and, thus, Ieva’s present feelings and life decisions only make perfect sense near the end, when we finally have further knowledge about her past. In fact, uncovering Ieva’s personality is part of the appeal of this novel, which delves into how previous decisions can influence our outlook on life forever, although we can always try to do something to improve our situation.

At the beginning of the book, Ieva, a scriptwriter in her thirties, is taking one of her walks in a forest. The reader is presented with a vague life reminiscence, which doesn’t make much sense at first. Nevertheless, it’s wonderfully written and self-examining. She is in love again but rather wishes she wasn’t. Why is she so concerned about the possible consequences of falling in love? Her past is the answer to that question.

“She’s been overcome by a clean and pure love, and she’d like to reduce this fire to embers as soon as possible, so everything would once again be ruled by calm and the quiet crackle of coals deep in the ashes. This peaceful state is her favorite: cinders on the outside and a quiet movement in the depths, the hidden smoldering of the coals. She likes it, but it’s not possible to burn anything out faster than it’s meant to, life is fire, love is fire, and time is fire and warmth.”

Continue reading

‘Census’ by Panos Ioannides

My rating: 3 stars

Unmistakably inspired by the nativity of Jesus, Census by the Cypriot writer Panos Ioannides features various elements from Christian mythology. As the story evolves, it gets progressively more metaphysical. The realistic fiction characteristics of the first part of the book are swapped for too many magical realism elements, and, in consequence, almost all of the characters stop feeling authentic. They start being portrayed as symbols of a theoretical message.

Joseph and Maria Akritas, the main characters in this story, were travelling by car to Spilia when they saw a young man carrying a backpack and a guitar. He was called Michael and was from Patmos. They decided to give him a lift, seeing that they were all heading to the same village. He was going to stay with two friends, the Archangielsks, who were doing some restoration work in a local chapel. Maria seemed to be entranced by him.

When Joseph and Maria arrived at the house they always stayed in while in the village to rest for a few days, their host, Avgi, wasn’t there. She left a note saying that she had to leave in a hurry and didn’t know how long she was going to be away for. The house was at their disposal, though. They were already acquainted with many of the inhabitants and received various visitors. But the most interesting facet of the book is to gradually uncover the reasons behind the tribulations of Maria’s and Joseph’s relationship. Continue reading

‘The Mine’ by Antti Tuomainen

My rating: 4 stars

The Mine by Antti Tuomainen is from the outset an environmental crime mystery, but as the story progresses it starts to shine brighter because of its examination on family bonds and relationships. Throughout the book, various characters have to come to terms with their pasts and decide what they want to do with their lives. Trying to achieve a balance between professional and personal life was proving to be particularly challenging for the main character, Janne Vuori.

A 30-year-old reporter at the newspaper Helsinki Today, Janne received an anonymous email about the nickel mine at Suomalahti in northern Finland. It said that the company was engaged in dangerous activities that could lead to an environmental catastrophe. Intrigued, he decided to go there and investigate the issue. The population of the town nearby the complex had only positive things to say about the mine. Janne believed there had to be something wrong, though, seeing that Finn Mining Ltd had bought the rights to the site for a mere two euros. He just didn’t know what it was yet. Unable to find anything useful near the nickel mine, he returned to Helsinki.

He didn’t give up the investigation, nevertheless. He managed to speak with Harjukangas, whom he thought was still part of the board of directors. She told him that the man who used to be the director of finance and investment had died in an accident at home. Later, at his newspaper, he was told that another journalist had also begun to delve into a story about the Finn Mining Ltd, but he died in a traffic accident. Continue reading

‘Panorama’ by Dusan Sarotar

My rating: 2 stars

The blurb of Panorama by Dusan Sarotar promises it to be a book that “blurs the lines between fiction and journalism”. Journalistic texts are supposed to be informative and grab the attention of the reader. However, I didn’t detect any of these characteristics in this book. In fact, I found it to be unnecessarily confusing and, thanks to the writing style, almost impossible to retain information. The narrator, a writer from Slovenia, travelled around Europe, where he encountered and spoke to immigrants from various countries. The concept is interesting, but the final result is far from engrossing.

The 45-year-old narrator starts by recalling his travels around Ireland. He describes, occasionally in great detail, what he saw there and remarks on certain historical facts and past events. His guide, Gjini, was an Albanian man who had moved to Ireland many years beforehand. Unfortunately, his thoughts on immigration and on immigrants’ feelings are just thrown in amidst the narrator’s ramblings and, thus, don’t have the impact they deserved. Moreover, a few minutes after finishing a couple of pages, I couldn’t remember anything of what I had just read.

The narrator also went to Belgium and Sarajevo where he met with other people. He had various conversations with them, but they don’t sound genuine, which I blame on the writing style. There are no proper dialogues, despite the narrator reporting on what other people said. In certain occasions, it got to the ridiculous point of having the narrator saying that someone said that another person had said something. I’m specifically using the verb ‘say’, because it’s the only reporting verb used throughout the book, which at times was exasperating. Occasionally, I didn’t even know whether the narrator was reporting on someone else’s thoughts and actions or his own. Continue reading

‘Glister’ by John Burnside

My rating: 4 stars

Readers who always require a book to have a clear and definitive ending are probably not the target audience of Glister by John Burnside. It offers a thought-provoking combination of social commentary and atmospheric mystery, supplemented with a pinch of science fiction and magical realism. Through different points of view, we are told a story full of acts of cruelty and gory descriptions, while being reminded that destitution can destroy a community, in this case one that is also dealing with the disappearance of various young boys.

The first boy to disappear from the Innertown was Mark Wilkinson. He went to the poison wood with a couple of friends looking for the devil. When he went alone further into the woods, never to return, his friends were too scared to go look for him and just ran instead. Later on, Morrison, the only policeman in the town, found the boy suspended from a tree. His hands were bound, and it looked like he had been victim of some kind of sacrifice. He didn’t know what to do. He hadn’t become a policeman to solve murder cases. So, he called Brian Smith, who had helped him get the job, and his men got rid of the body.

Smith convinced Morrison to conceal the boy’s death. But in the following years, other boys went missing. Regarding those cases, Morrison doesn’t know what happened and is unaware of whether they are dead or alive. Deep down he is ashamed of himself, despite people not knowing that he didn’t tell the truth about Mark. The official line is that all of the boys left the Innertown of their own free will, looking for a better life somewhere else. While some people believe this story, others are suspicious. Some think that the boys were murdered and then buried in the ruins of the old chemical plant. Continue reading