Tag Archives: OrbisTerrarum

Love Begins In Winter by Simon Van Booy

Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories by Simon Van Booy

Harper Perennial, New York, 2009

Borrowed from my library.

Often when I read a story collection I will devour two or three at a time, like some snack i can’t stop eating.  Simon Van Booy’s stories are like a velvety rich Creme Brule.  I could only have one and then savored it over days until I was ready for the next.

These stories are about people finding love in many forms, sometimes when they least expect it.  The writing is dreamy and lyrical, the stories strange and sometimes sad,  perfect for dark rainy afternoons curled up with a hot cup of tea.

I wasn’t sure what to write about this book because it strikes me as very personal,  I’m sure each reader, if they enjoy these stories at all, will be deeply touched at some level.  I was.

In September, 2009, Love Begins in Winter won the Frank O’Connor Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection.

Other reviews:

The Bluestocking Society



Filed under Fiction, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Stories

The Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

0312340710.01._SY190_SCLZZZZZZZ_ The Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

Translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder

Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2006

Winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award 2005

At a birthday party for an eight-year-old boy a medical student discovers a toddler chewing on a human bone.  The bone, a rib, was found at a construction site on the edge of the growing city of Reykjavik.  With this discovery Detective Inspector Erlender Sveinsson and his colleagues must solve a crime that is decades old.

Erlender has his own problems, his estranged daughter is gravely ill, and his colleagues are not always as helpful as they could be.  The detectives dig back into the 1940’s,  trying to find out who owned the land  and identify a 60-year-old corpse.

Within this well crafted crime drama Indridason draws  a devastating  portrait of domestic violence.   With clarity and compassion he tells of a mother’s loss of self at the hand of her abusive husband, and of her childrens suffering.  This is one of the most honest descriptions of an abusive relationship that I have read.  Irdridason is a master storyteller, weaving different times together in a graceful novel of love and heartbreak.

I am fascinated by all the crime fiction coming out of northern Europe.  I think Irdridason is one of the best in the bunch.  I look forward to reading his other novels.


Filed under Mystery, Orbis Terrarum 2009, R.I.P. IV, Review

The Part About Archimboldi – 2666 by Roberto Bolano – Chile


2666 by Roberto  Bolano

translated by Natasha Wimmer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008

Finishing the final part of 2666 has me imagining Roberto Bolano standing in the shadows, turning away and closing a door behind him.  He is smiling, knowing he managed to get as much as he could into this novel before dying.

The Part About Archimboldi is stuffed with all the final thoughts Bolano wished to express.  It is layered with family, friendship, love and human failing.  It is a treatise on war and violence.  It examines writing and publishing and contains a great love of books.  It ends with a journey to Santa Teresa,  wrapping the first four parts together and leaving me sad and sorrowful.

Parts of Archimboldi are beautiful.  I loved the young Hans Reiter with his copy of Plants and Animals of the European Coastal Region.  His delicate drawings of seaweeds and desire to swim under water.

Young Hans Reiter also liked to walk, like a diver, but he didn’t like to sing, for divers seaweed2never sing.  Sometimes he would walk east of town, along a dirt road through the forest, and he would come to the Village of the Red Men, where all they did was sell peat.  If he walked farther east, the was the Village of the Blue Women, in the middle of a lake that dried up in summer.  Both places looked like ghost towns, inhabited by the dead.  Beyond the Village of the Blue Women was the Town of the Fat.  It smelled bad there, like blood and rotting meat, a dense, heavy smell very different from the smell of his own town, which smelled of dirty clothes, sweat clinging to the skin, pissed-upon earth, which is a thin smell, a smell like Chorda filum.

I loved Hans’s observations and thoughts. He is like a sponge. Art and physics and music are woven through conversations Hans has with his friends and acquaintances.  He leaves home, goes to war, commits a murder,  discovers a notebook and carries it with him everywhere.  His life is crammed with the history of western Europe during World War II. He seems so alone, even with friends and lovers.

The Part About Archimboldi is where I began to hear Bolano’s poetic voice.  Is Reiter a mirror for Bolano, taking in the author whole and then shining him back at us?  There are so many huge ideas and concepts in 2666 and what I come away with is a poet’s need to express what he sees,  his skill with words, his anger and his rush to write down everything before he meets death.

I know there is so much more in this novel.  This is the first time I have read Roberto Bolano.  At times I felt overwhelmed. Parts of 2666 were easily accessible, others were daunting and call for a second read. I plan on reading his poetry and The Savage Detectives, and maybe revisiting 2666 agian.

I hold the last book in my hand, its pages are dog-eared and there is a pile of notes in front of me but I find I have nothing more to say.  Maybe some distance will help.

It has been a great experience reading Roberto Bolano’s massive final novel along with so many wonderful people.  I want to thank Claire and Steph for pulling this together.  I do not think I would have finished the book on my own.

Find more here, here, here and here.


Filed under Lost In Translation 2009, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Read-Along, Review

The Part About The Crimes – 2666 by Roberto Bolano


2666 by Roberto  Bolano

translated by Natasha Wimmer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008

No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them…

From The Part About Fate

Hell,  an idea that runs through human  history from the Greek Tartarus to Dante’s Inferno, depicted in images from the Buddhist realm of rebirth to Goya and Bosch.  In 2666Roberto Bolano has given us another mythic vision, but this vision is based in reality.  Santa Teresa is Bolano’s portrayal of Ciudad Juarez, a city in northern Mexico where in 1993 someone began killing women.  The killing continues.

My response to this section of 2666 was intense, I would even call it physical.  For me, and I’m sure for many others, The Part About The Crimes is the heart of  2666, surrounded by The Part About Critics, Amalfitano, Fate and Archimboldi like a Russian nesting doll.  It is very compelling.   I was drawn into it , falling as if sliding down a very steep hill.  That’s what it felt like.  I wanted to stop, but couldn’t.  Here Bolano is relentless, the language is visceral.

Midway through February, in an alley in the center of the city, some garbage-men found another dead women. She was about thirty and dressed in a black skirt and a low-cut white blouse.  She had been stabbed to death, although contusions from multiple blows were visible about her face and abdomen.  In her purse was a ticket for the nine a.m. bus to Tucson, a bus she would never catch.  Also found were a lipstick, powder, eyeliner, Kleenex, a half empty pack of cigarettes, and a package of condoms.  There was no passport or appointment book  or anything that might identify her.  Nor was she carrying a lighter or matches.  Page 355

I read each passage, the descriptions of the woman,  as a blow to the body.  A litany that becomes more and more grueling,  and layered with these descriptions are the stories of people investigating the crimes or perhaps even involved in the crimes.  Sometimes there is no way to tell, it is all just a mash-up.  The police seem helpless,  controlled by management that does not want these crimes solved.  A reporter is gunned down in the street.  A sheriff from Huntville, Texas, searching for the murderer of a young women from his town, disappears. There is the constant poverty surrounding the maquiladoras as more and more people travel to Santa Teresa to find work.   There is a psychic healer who must speak of these murders.  A congresswomen’s friend disappears and the search for her leads to parties given by a banker connected with a drug cartel and his political cronies.  And on and on, more and more murders..

Bolano weaves threads together beautifully, tighter and tighter.  When there is a loose end it leads nowhere, the whole thing unravels in your hands.  Few people seem to care.  These murdered women are invisible. As I read I became angry, then furious.  The spare, cold language carries with it  Bolano’s disgust over the lack of  serious investigation into these murders.      Never directly, never blatantly, but I could feel his anger, could feel it with every keystroke of every letter in every word.  Maybe that is my anger.  I can not imagine what it must be like living in Ciudad Juarez, or what it is like for the people searching for answers to these crimes.

I am amazed by this novel, by Bolano’s ability to present a world that is so twisted and so mundane with such clarity.  If these killings have the secret of the world hidden in them I don’t think I want to know what that secret  is.

Thank you to Steph and Claire for organizing this read along.  Richard at Caravana de recuerdos has an amazing analysis of The Part About The Crimes here, here, here, here, and here.  Please visit kiss a cloud and check out the links to others who are reading along with us.


Filed under Challenges, Lost In Translation 2009, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Read-Along, Review

Little Bee by Chris Cleave – England

82d5155a5ecbbf059786a795477434d414f4541 Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2008

When you pick up a copy of Little Bee and read the dust jacket it doesn’t tell you much.

“We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book.  It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.”

Is that enough to draw you in?  I have been seeing this book everywhere and just the bits I heard about it had me intrigued.

Little Bee is a young refugee from Nigeria.  She escapes to England, lives in a detention center for two years and searches for a white couple, Sarah and Andrew, she and her sister met on the beach in Nigeria.  The girls were running from their village and the atrocities that happened there.  It is the storyof this young girl’s  past, her search for safety and the friendship that grows between Little Bee and Sarah and Andrew’s son, Charlie.  Little Bee is much more than that but to say anymore would give the story away.  The publicists who wrote the dust jacket were right.  You need to read the novel and find out what happens for yourself.

My one concern was the idea of a white male journalist giving voice to the two female characters, a young Nigerian girl and a white British magazine editor.  Cleave was brave to take this on and did a superb job.  I loved Little Bee, her strength, her heart and her intelligence.

This is what it would be like, you see, if I had to stop and explain every little thing to the girls back home.  I would have to explain linoleum and bleach and soft-core pornography and the shape-changing magic of the British one pound coin, as if all of these everyday things were very wonderful mysteries.  And very quickly my own story would get lost in this great ocean of wonders because it would seem as if your country was an enchanted federation of miracles and my own story within it was really very small and unmagical.  But with you it is much easier because I say to you, look, on the morning they released us, the duty officer at the immigration center was staring at a photo of a topless girl in the newspaper.  And you understand the situation right away.  That’s the reason I spent two years learning the Queen’s English, so that you and I could speak like this without an interruption.  Pages 5/6

Truly, there is no flag for us floating people.  We are millions but we are not a nation.  We cannot stay together.  Maybe we get together in ones and twos, for a day or a month or even a year, but then the wind changes and carries the hope away.  Death came and I left in fear.  Now all I have is my shame and the memory of bright colors and Yevette’s laugh.  Sometimes I feel as lonely as the Queen of England.  Page 80.

Thoughts on refugees, resource extraction and racism spill from these pages and yet this is a quiet story, never heavy handed.  I will be thinking about it for a long time.

From Chris Cleaves notes:  “Thank you for reading this story.  The characters in it are imagined, although the action takes place in a reality which is intended to call to mind our own. ”

Visit Cleave’s website and find out more about this wonderful book.

Other reviews:

Fresh Ink  Books

kiss a cloud

Lesley’s Book Nook

The Book Lady’s Blog


Filed under Challenges, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Review

This Earth of Mankind by Promoedya Ananta Toer – Indonesia

This Earth Of Mankind by Promoeyda Ananta Toerear0140256350.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_

Translated from Indonesian by Max Lane

Penguin, New York, 1996

Born in 1924 of Javanese parents Promoedya

Promoedya Ananta Toer was born in 1925 of Javanese parents.  Java is one of the largest islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Toer began writing around the time of the armed struggle for Indonesian independence, in 1945.  After being arrested and spending time in a Dutch jail he began writing  novels and short stories.  In the 1950’s he took up the serious study of  Indonesian history and lectured in journalism and history at acadamies and universities in Jakarta.  He planned a series of novels that would take place around the time of the awakening of Indonesian national consciousness, 1890 to 1910.

In 1965 there was a coup attempt.  The Indonesian army took control of the country and during that time almost all progressive and left-wing political groups were persecuted.  It is estimated that as many as 500,00o people where killed in the purge.  Promoedya Ananta Toe, along with thousands of others, was arrested and thrown in jail where he was held for 16 years.  He was never tried.  Originally Toer told the story of This Earth Of Mankind to fellow prisoners so that the story would not be lost.  He began writing it down in 1973 and finished it in 1975.  It is the first section of his Buru Quartet.

This Earth Of Mankind follows the life if Minke, the native son of a nobleman, as he finishes school, becomes a journalist and meets his future wife.  Annalise is the daughter of a Dutch dairyman and his concubine, Ontosoroh.  Minke lives in the midst of the colonists and the colonised.  He struggles against the confines of Dutch rule, colonialism and the all pervasive social hierarchy of  Javanese society.  All of Toer’s characters are richly drawn but the one I found most fascinating is Ontosoroh, the concubine with no rights, who has adapted to her circumstances,  become self-educated, a sharp business woman and is incredibly strong and knowledgable.  It is she who teaches Minke about life and helps him begin to thrive in the political, cultural and social turmoil that is Java at the turn of the twentieth century.

Having watched the political struggles in Indonesia over the last decade reading the first book of the Buru Quartet has been quite a history lesson.  I hope to finish the rest of the quartet.


Filed under Challenges, Lost In Translation 2009, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Review

2666 – The Part About Fate – Roberto Bolano – Chile

26662666 by Roberto  Bolano

Translated by Natasha Wimmer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008

This is a group read organized by Claire and Steph.  Thanks to both of them and to the other participants for inspiring me to read and really think about this massive work.

Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was Bolano.  I’m having a hard time getting my thoughts together. I feel like I’ve gotten on a train heading one way and ended up somewhere else.  With The Part About Fate Bolano takes on journalism, North American history and race as well as ongoing themes of violence and madness, all in a style that is quiet, very quiet.  It reads like noir.

Quincy Williams is known as Oscar Fate. He a black political reporter from New York who writes for a publication called “Black Dawn”.   He seems lost, as if he is sleepwalking.   Through his mother’s death and her  funeral, the death of her neighbor, the death of a colleague, Oscar is in a fog.  I found him somewhat empty, no reactions, no emotions, just his need to take things in.  He is quite the observer.  After a while I began to miss Almafitano, the professor on the edge of madness from the second section of 2666.

Fate flies to Detroit to interview Barry Seaman, one of the founders of the Black Panthers.  Seaman is based on  Bobby Seale,  and has even become somewhat famous for writing a cookbook.  Fate listens as Seaman speaks at a church.  Seaman has a lot to say.  Fate takes notes.  Fate dreams.  As he is about to head back to New York he gets a new assignment, the magazine’s sports writer has died, Fate needs to cover a boxing match, in Mexico, in Santa Teresa.

This is where Oscar Fate seems to come alive.  He looks and listens, he overhears conversations,  and as he is following the events leading up to the boxing  match,  he hears bits and pieces about the murders.  He realizes that the big story is the missing girls, their murders.  He meets Amalfitano’s daughter, Rosa, and is very attracted to her.  They become friends.  He meets a reporter named Guadalupe Roncal who asks him if he is interested  in the Santa Teresa killings.  She talks to him,  tells him things.

“Like I said already, I’m a reporter,” said Guadalupe Roncal.  “I work for one of the big Mexico City newspapers.  And I am staying in this hotel out of fear.”

“Fear of what?” asked Fate.

“Fear of everything.  When you work on something that involves the killings of women in Santa Teresa you end up  scared of everything.  Scared of being beaten up.  Scared of being kidnapped.  Scared of torture.  Of course, the fear lessens with experience.  But I don’t have experience.  No experience whatsoever.  I’m cursed by a lack of experience.  You might even say I’m here undercover, as an undercover reporter, if there is such a thing.  I know everything about the killings.  But I’m not really an expert on the subject.  What I mean is, until a week ago, this wasn’t my subject.  I wasn’t up on it, I hadn’t written anything about it, and suddenly, out of the blue, the file landed on my desk and I was in charge of the investegation.  Do you know why?”

Fate nodded.

“Because I’m a woman and women can’t turn down assignments.  Of course I already knew what happened to my predecessor.  Everybody at the paper knew it.  The case got a lot of attention.  You might have heard about it.”  Fate shook his head.  “He was killed of course.  He got in to deep and they killed him…” Pages 296/297

Guadalupe asks Fate if he will accompany her to visit the accused killer in jail.  He goes with her.  The end of The Part About Fate is like a dream.

As I said, maybe it was the heat.  I will read The Part About Fate again, before moving on to The Part About The Crimes.  I need to get a better hold on it.   Thanks again to all who are taking part in this read-along.

I have reviewed The Part About The Critics here and The Part About Almafitano here.


Filed under Challenges, Lost In Translation 2009, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Read-Along

2666 – The Part About Amalfitano – Roberto Bolano – Chile


2666 by Roberto  Bolano

translated by Natasha Wimmer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008

This is a group read organized by Claire and Steph. We read Part One in May. It is wonderful to share thoughts and exchange ideas with a group of people focusing on the same book.

Again I have to praise Natasha Wimmer’s translation, often when I’m reading a book that’s been translated into English I deeply regret not knowing the original language.  I feel confident that I am getting everything  Bolano crammed into 2666 through Wimmer’s skill and knowledge.

Part Two – The Part About Amalfitano

The rushing language of Part One, which to me felt like I’d drunk way too much coffee or taken speed, has hit the skids.  Amalfitano, a Chilean literature professor at the University of Santa Teresa whom we first met showing  The Critics around the city, is sinking into depression and, it appears, slowly going mad.  We learn of his wife, Lola, who recently died of AIDS, and of his daughter, Rosa, whom he raised by himself and who shares his house.  There are scenes that reflect back on his interactions with the critics,  Pelletier and Espinoza and a creeping sense of dread. He finds a book he doesn’t remember owning and hangs it from a clothesline as a “ready-made”, in the style of Marcel Duchamp.

Amalfitano’s mind wanders.  He remembers his wife, who left  him years ago, he remembers bits of philosophy, of art and of the history and terrors of Chile.

Anyway, these ideas or feelings or ramblings had their satisfactions.  They turned the pain of others into memories of one’s own.  They turned pain, which is natural, enduring, and eternally triumphant, into personal memory, which is human, brief, and eternally elusive.  They turned a brutal story of injustice and abuse, an incoherent howl with no beginning or end, into a neatly structured story in which suicide was always held out as a possibility.  They turned flight into freedom, even if freedom meant no more then the perpetuation of flight.  They turned chaos into order, even if it was at the cost of what is commonly known as sanity.

Eventually Amalfitano begins to hear a voice.  Does the voice belong to his father or to some telepathic messenger from Chile’s past?   He befriends the violent son of the dean of the university, a relationship he does not  understand. He ends up lost in a dream.

The text is often broken into small sections, like shards of glass.  Bolano used the shards of text and repeating phrases to break up and weigh down the rapid, speeding feel of the first section of the book.  He exposes more of his own history and the history of his native country, Chile.   He brings us closer to the violence of Santa Teresa that is the soul of this novel.  The Part About Amalfitano was harder for me to read and take in then The Part About The Critics.  I am still trying to understand it.


Filed under Challenges, Lost In Translation 2009, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Read-Along, Review

This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun – Morocco

This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jellounbli1565847237.01._SY190_SCLZZZZZZZ_

Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

The New Press, New York, 2002

Tahar Ben Jelloun has created a heart wrenching novel from a real life narrative.  This novel tells the story of 23 men held prisoner in a desert prison after a fail coupe against the king of Morocco.  Finally, after nearly 20 years, international pressure forced the Moroccan government to release the few surviving men.

Working closely with one of the survivors Ben Jelloun, in simple, clear language,  tells the story of the “non-existent”  prison, the prison guards and the few who survived.  The narrator describes the horrific conditions of the three by six foot cells, the physical and mental deprivation the prisoners suffered and the unbelievable will and endurance that kept a few of them alive.  He describes his thoughts, his dreams and the choices he made in order to stay alive.  This is a harrowing book, I can not say I enjoyed reading it but I’m glad I did.

The hardest and most unbearable silence was that of light.  A powerful and manifold silence.  There was the silence of the night, always the same, and then there was the silence of the light.  A long and endless absence.

Outside, not only over our pit but above all far away from it, there was life.  You could not think too much about it, but I liked to imagine it so as not to die of forgetfulness.  Imagine, and not remember.  Life, the real one, not that dirty rag blowing across the ground, no, life in its exquisite beauty, I mean in its simplicity, its marvelous banality: a child smiling after tears: eyes blinking in too bright a light; a women trying on a dress: a man sleeping in the grass…page 51/52

Other reviews:

an adventure in reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Challenges, Herding Cats 2, Lost In Translation 2009, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Review

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberyhog1933372605.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_

Translated from the French by Alison Anderson

Europa Editions, New York, 2008

I decided to read this book after noticing some recommendations from bloggers I trust.  The translation is wonderful, the language crisp and sharp.

In many ways the book is a delight.  The novel is character driven, and Barbery has taken great care letting her readers into the thoughts of her protagonists.

There is Renee Michel, a fifty-four year old widow and concierge of a fine apartment building on the rue de Grenelle in Paris. The tenets are wealthy and upper class (or at least purport to be so).  Renee  takes a disparaging view of most of them, hides her intelligence behind sluggish, self-denigrating behavior and shares tea and pastries with her only friend, Manuela.

“Unbeknownst to all I learned to read.  When the teacher was still droning away with the letters of the alphabet to my classmates, I had already been long acquainted with the solidarity that weaves written signs together, the infinite combinations and marvelous sounds that dubbed me a dame in this place, on the first day,  when she had said my name.  No one knew.  I read as if deranged, at first in hiding and then, once it seemed to me that the normal amount of time to learn one’s letters had elapsed, out in the open for all to see, but I was careful to conceal the pleasure and interest that reading afforded me.” from page 45

Then there is Paloma, twelve years old and filled with all the qualms normal for a young person entering adolescence as well as a sharp wit and a terrible sadness.  She is also very smart.

Personally I think grammar is a way to attain beauty.  When you speak, or read, or write you can tell if you’ve said or read or written a fine sentence.  You can recognize a well- turned phrase or an elegant style.  But when you are applying  the rules of grammar skillfully, you ascend to another level of the beauty of language…I get completely carried away just knowing there are words of all different natures, and that you have to know them in order to be able to infer their potential usage and compatibility.  I find there is nothing more beautiful, for example, than the very  basic components of language, nouns and verbs..from page 158

These two share their thoughts with us in ways that are personal, perceptive and at times, very funny.  They eventually become friends and, through the introduction of a new tenent, Kakuro Ozu, their lives are changed.

As I said, in many ways the book is a delight, smart, funny and  heartbreaking, but there is something about it that doesn’t sit right with me, it feels a bit gimmicky.  Perhaps it feels different that way because it is in translation and I would love to hear from someone who read it in the original French.

Other reviews:

Boston Bibliophile

Jenny’s Books


Shelf Life

Vulpes Libris


Filed under Challenges, Lost In Translation 2009, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Review