Dedicated to classics and hits.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Like A Fading Shadow (2017) by Antono Munoz Molina

Book Review
Like A Fading Shadow (2017)
 by Antonio Munoz Molina

   The Man Booker International Prize 2018 (it's every two years) announced the long list on March 12th.  The shortlist comes out April 12th.  The long list consists of the following titles:

• Laurent Binet (France), Sam Taylor, The 7th Function of Language (Harvill Secker)
• Javier Cercas (Spain), Frank Wynne, The Impostor (MacLehose Press)
• Virginie Despentes (France), Frank Wynne, Vernon Subutex 1 (MacLehose Press)
• Jenny Erpenbeck (Germany), Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone (Portobello Books)
• Han Kang (South Korea), Deborah Smith, The White Book (Portobello Books)
• Ariana Harwicz (Argentina), Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff, Die, My Love (Charco Press)
• László Krasznahorkai (Hungary), John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet & George Szirtes, The World Goes On (Tuskar Rock Press)
• Antonio Muñoz Molina (Spain), Camilo A. Ramirez, Like a Fading Shadow (Tuskar Rock Press)
• Christoph Ransmayr (Austria), Simon Pare, The Flying Mountain (Seagull Books)
• Ahmed Saadawi (Iraq), Jonathan Wright, Frankenstein in Baghdad (Oneworld)
• Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), Jennifer Croft, Flights (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
• Wu Ming-Yi (Taiwan, China), Darryl Sterk, The Stolen Bicycle (Text Publishing)
• Gabriela Ybarra (Spain), Natasha Wimmer, The Dinner Guest (Harvill Secker)

     The 1001 Books list published it's last update in 2012, with no new edition of the horizon.  It seems like the hardest part of identifying books going forward is squaring the need to find books from non-English speaking authors that have 1) been translated within a year or two of the original publication date and 2) been read in English.  The Man Booker International Prize seems like a good source for potential selections.  Looking at the long list  Binet's The Seventh Function of Language stands out as a book that was actually read by a decent sized audience.  Korean Han Kang is a prior winner of this prize, for The Vegetarian

   The Man Booker International Prize draws from English publishers, so many of the long listed books haven't been published in the United States just yet.  One exception is Like a Fading Shadow by Spanish author Antonio Munoz Molina, which has already been published in the US by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.   

  I wasn't overwhelmed with Like A Fading Shadow, which combines a retracing of the steps of Martin Luther King Jr. assassin James Earl Ray in Lisbon, when he was on the run after the King assisination with the recollection of the "author" about his experience in Lisbon in the 1980's, before his break-out as a succesful writer of literary fiction.   It's a familiar kind of meta-fiction, combing historical fiction with the vagaries of the process of writing fiction.  Like every protagonist of European fiction in the past century, the author figure of Like A Fading Shadow does little but wander around a European city, thinking about life. 

  The portions focusing on the peregrinations of James Earl Ray are more interesting, but cover territory similar to the territory explored by Don DeLillo via John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in Libra.  At the same time, the idea of a non-American author tackling a discrete subject in American history (the assassination of Martin Luther King) is certainly novel.   I haven't been able to round up many more of these books, but I've got my eyes peeled for the Han Kang joint.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Islands (2005) by Dan Sleigh

Image result for cape town castle
The Castle of Good Hope in modern day Capetown.  
Book Review
Islands (2005)
by Dan Sleigh

  Islands was one of the few books from the original edition of the 1001 Books list that was removed, not in the major 2008 revision, but in the minor (11 titles) 2010 revision.  Of those 11 titles, only 5 were from the original 2006 list, the rest were from the first major revision in 2008.  Two of those five titles- Islands and The Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda come from South Africa, suggesting an over-representation of South Africa in the original list.  It is a suggestion made even stronger by the status of J.M. Coetzee as the most represented author on the original list. 

 Islands was translated from the original Afrikans.  Author Dan Sleigh reportedly spent two decades writing this vast historic epic- 750 pages- charting the history of the Dutch East India Company and its employees in Cape Town and the island of Mauritius- which was settled by the Dutch in the 17th century and abandoned early in the 18th century.  There is nothing "post-modern" about Islands, which could have been written at any time in the 20th century.   Perhaps the most surprising fact about Islands is that a 750 page historical novel about one of the most despised groups in world history could obtain a wide release in both the UK and the United States after being translated out of Afrikaans.

  The vast story is told by several different narrators, linked together through the life of Eva, a young girl who belongs to one of the native groups which encountered the Dutch when they arrived at Cape Town.  Eva marries a doctor for the East India Company, and give birth to several children.  Her daughter, Pietranella, becomes the hinge for the second half of the book, which takes place largely on Mauritius.   Many of the most well known figures from early Afrikaans history are depicted with a realism that likely shocked the diminished minority who still hold the early Dutch settler in high regard.

   The Dutch settlements in South Africa and Mauritius were a corporate affair in a way that is very different from the way North and South America were settled.  In those places, the sovereigns of Empires like Spain, Portugal, England and France maintained a strong presence.  In Cape Town, the corporation was the law and the government.  The action ends in the early 18th century- a half century before America declares independence, and it becomes clear by the end of Islands that turning over the settlement and population of an overseas colony to a faceless corporation probably wasn't the best choice.


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