Month: March 2018

The Dinner Guest by Gabriela Ybarra

Posted March 29, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 4 Comments

The Dinner Guest by Gabriela YbarraTitle: The Dinner Guest (Goodreads)
Author: Gabriela Ybarra
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
Published: Harvill Secker, 2018
Pages: 160
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: eBook

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Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

In 1977, three terrorists broke into the home of Gabriela Ybarra’s grandfather, taking him by force. The first half of The Dinner Guest follows her research into what actually happened. This book blurs the lines between true crime and fiction to create a unique narrative. However, The Dinner Guest doesn’t stop there; the book is also centred around Gabriela Ybarra’s mother dying of cancer.

The story goes that in my family there’s an extra dinner guest at every meal. He’s invisible, but always there. He has a plate, glass, knife and fork. Every so often he appears, casts his shadow over the table, and erases one of those present.

The first to vanish was my grandfather.

I have a feeling that the judges of the Man Booker International Prize are focusing on unique narrative styles, particularly when it comes to exploring grief. Of the four books I have read so far from the long list, these have been the similarities. Whether or not we call this a memoir of grief with fictional elements or an autobiographical novel is not something that I choose to debate. However this book evokes too many similarities to War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, with the latter being a much stronger book.

It is almost impossible to talk about this book without looking it as a piece of non-fiction. The fact her grandfather was taken at gun point is wrapped throughout the narrative. The rest of The Dinner Guest is around witnessing her mother’s heath deterioration and her eventual passing. The two tragic events shapes the majority of the book. Evoking many powerful images but ultimately I never felt it really came together.

There is an idea that seemed to stick with me that never played out to my satisfaction. That was the idea of a person viewed differently, not just after their passing. For Gabriela Ybarra, her mother stopped being her mother long before her death. Her identity was stripped away and all that was left was cancer. There is a line in the book that says, “The last time I saw her, she had already stopped existing.” Even after her death, the press suddenly became interested in her.

At first I couldn’t understand why my mother’s death was of interest to the press. Then I was frustrated, because some of the reflections shared had nothing to do with the way I remembered her.

If it was not for the Man Booker International Prize longlist, I may have never have picked up The Dinner Guest. There is some interesting and notable parts within this book but the more I think about it the less I am satisfied. I love trying to read through the longlist to join in on all the conversations but you cannot expect me to like all the picks. I doubt this will make the shortlist, so instead of reading this one, may I recommend War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans which was translated by David McKay.

Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz

Posted March 28, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 4 Comments

Die, My Love by Ariana HarwiczTitle: Die, My Love (Goodreads)
Author: Ariana Harwicz
Translator: Sarah Moses, Carolina Orloff
Published: Charco Press, 2017
Pages: 128
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: eBook

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Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

Ariana Harwicz’s book Die, My Love is the type of novel that will leave you emotionally drained. Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff, this is a powerful portrayal of a woman trapped in motherhood. Having recently given birth to her second child, all she yearns for is freedom. Never have I read a novel that is so raw with emotion.

Whether or not this woman is suffering from postnatal depression or not is not something I wish to debate. I wonder if trying to diagnose her would sell this book short. She is going through so many different emotions and never holds back with her feelings. Die, My Love feels like a gut punch of emotions. A novel that is to be experienced more than analysed.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is an autobiographical novel. I cannot imagine Ariana Harwicz being able to write this without living the experience. There is an intensity in the writing that never feels fake. The conflicting emotions of yearning for freedom mixed with her motherly instincts hold the narrative together. The connection with nature stems from her constant desire to be free but also a reference to a child’s carefree nature.

“I think about how a child is a wild animal, about another person carrying your heart forever.”

The narrative that Ariana Harwicz is able to weave is so affecting; we are able to follow this vivid portrayal of a mother and experience every single emotion and thought, no matter how dark or disturbing it may be. There are many times where I feel like this protagonist is over sharing but that just adds to the raw and intense honesty. I was left in awe and have not been able to get the images from this novel out of my head. It will be a book that I will come back to again and again.

I have been going down a rabbit hole of Argentinian literature and Die, My Love seems to invoke a common style, often found in recent novellas from this great literary scene. It pleases me to see how many Argentinian women writers are getting their moment to shine and I expect to see more in the future. There is something about these books that are able to explore so much in such a short novel. For great Argentinian books by women including Die, My Love, look no further than Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez, Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin and Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac.

The Last Wolf / Herman by László Krasznahorkai

Posted March 20, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 2 Comments

The Last Wolf / Herman by László KrasznahorkaiTitle: The Last Wolf / Herman (Goodreads)
Author: László Krasznahorkai
Translator: George Szirtes, John Batki
Published: Tuskar Rock, 2009
Pages: 120
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Hardcover

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László Krasznahorkai is one of those authors that has been on my radar for a long time. Not because I always wondered how to pronounce his name (I know now) but because this Hungarian author’s books were always labeled as difficult or demanding. I like a challenge but I thought I might start with something small. I was told that The Last Wolf was a good introduction to László Krasznahorkai and it was not because of the blurb by Sjón on the cover.  The edition pairs two novellas together, The Last Wolf and Herman.

The Last Wolf is a 70 page long sentence, which means you really need to read it in one sitting. I myself turned back to page one and reread the whole thing the next day. Not because it was dense (it is) but because I was captivated by the writing. How often are you able to find a sentence that long that flows so smoothly?

The novella is about a failed philosophy professor who is asked to write about the last wolf in the Spanish region of Extremadura. Although it is another who is conveying the tale to a bartender in Berlin. This narrative is an interesting journey, full of philosophical musing and some self-loathing. It left me wondering if László Krasznahorkai just wrote a satirical jab at himself. It is hard to say more about these stories, you really need to experience them yourself.

While Herman does share similarities, they were originally published twenty-three years apart. Told in two parts, firstly you learn about a master trapper who is clearing a forest of ‘noxious beasts’ in ‘The Game Warden’. While the other story (‘Death of a Craft’) is from the perspective of visitors to the same region. Trust me, these two parts sound like they do not go together but they do.

I am finding it really hard to talk about book, not just because both stories are dense and require many rereads but because it is difficult to express what happens in the books. I am not interested in giving a plot summary, you just have to experience László Krasznahorkai and this does seem like a good place to start. László Krasznahorkai won the last Man Book International Prize in 2015 before it was reincarnated into its current from. Originally the prize was awarded to an author for his entire body of work and he was recognised for his achievement in fiction on the world stage.

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

Posted March 19, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana AlexievichTitle: The Unwomanly Face of War (Goodreads)
Author: Svetlana Alexievich
Translator: Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky
Published: Penguin, 1985
Pages: 331
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich has a unique take on exploring literature. Her books are all oral histories of an event, where she interviews different people and gets their side of the story. Her background in journalism lends a hand, but what stands out is her willingness to share the different experiences of the people. In Secondhand Time, the people had a range of different opinions about the Soviet era and its collapse. While in The Unwomanly Face of War we get to explore the different roles Russian woman had in World War II and the reactions men had toward them.

The Russian title У войны не женское лицо translates to War Does Not Have a Woman’s Face. This should give you a sense of the attitudes women faced. Wanting to serve their country or help in any way possible, these women were often met with opposition from men. Ranging from ‘War is man business’, to a willingness to fight alongside the women but refusing to marry them, and the list goes on and on.  The attitudes of these men constantly made me angry, even though these women were constantly proving they are capable and in many cases better at the tasks than the men objecting.

I expected to find a lot more physical sexual harassment in the book but it turns out that men are fragile creatures and once emasculated they just resort to verbal abuse more than anything else. The women in The Unwomanly Face of War have amazing stories and it does make me wonder why more stories like this are not written down. Oh, that’s right, the publishing world was dominated by men for far too long and history is just that, his story.

“I am writing a book about war… I, who never liked to read military books, although in my childhood and youth this was the favourite reading for everyone. Of all my peers. And that is not surprising – we were the children of Victory.”

Svetlana Alexievich starts this new translation of her book The Unwomanly Face of War with a reflection on her motivations. I am unsure if this was included in the original 1985 books as there are references on how she would have done things differently. But then again an introduction is probably the last part of a book you would write. I do not have a copy of the 1988 English (translator unknown) so I am unable to compare. The reason I bring up the introduction is because this feels like the first time I have read anything about Alexievich’s thoughts on the book and what she would have done differently if she could do it again. Not vital to the book itself but I appreciated that personal touch.

The 2017 edition of The Unwomanly Face of War has a new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. While not my favourite Russian translators I could not turn down the opportunity to read another Svetlana Alexievich having previously loved Voices from Chernobyl and Secondhand Time. There is one final book translated into English, Zinky Boys, which is subtitled Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War, which I hope to be able to read soon. Leaving two more yet to be translated into English, The Last Witnesses: A Hundred of Unchildlike Lullabys and Enchanted with Death.

Svetlana Alexievich is only the second non-fiction writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (the first being Winston Churchhill) “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”. After reading her books, it is not hard to see why she was chosen. She has a unique ability to craft and piece together a narrative from a collection of interviews. She is able to get these people to open up and tell their story (whether she coaches them or not is a different story). I find myself drawn to her books not just because I am interested in Soviet history and the experience of the people but simply for the way she stitches her narratives together.

I am so glad I picked up The Unwomanly Face of War, while there was never any doubts about me reading more Alexievich, I was hesitant because of the translation. This is a book that has stuck with me and I am constantly thinking about it. I think about the treatment of women and their stories, but never about who translated this book. If you have never read Svetlana Alexievich before than I would recommend starting with The Unwomanly Face of War.

The 2018 Man Booker International Prize Longlist

Posted March 13, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Prizes / 2 Comments

The Man Booker International Prize longlist was announced last night and I was able to predict four of the thirteen books. Like most years I am tempted to try and read all the books longlisted but I doubt I would be able to achieve that. I have only read one of the books so far and own another. I checked with my local library and they have four of the longlist (one I own). So as it stands I will have to start with the books available and then take it from there. Sometimes I wish I was an ebook reader, life would be easier.

What did you think of the longlist? How many have you read? Which ones are you excited to read? Personally I am excited to explore the list, I am however surprised to see Virginie Despentes on the list.

The 2018 longlist:

  • 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), Darryl Sterk, The Stolen Bicycle (Text Publishing)
  • Gabriela Ybarra (Spain), Natasha Wimmer, The Dinner Guest (Harvill Secker)

Man Booker International Prize Longlist Predictions

Posted March 12, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Random / 4 Comments

Normally I do not pay attention to the numerous literary awards but The Man Booker International Prize is the exception. I have been following this prize since its reincarnation, when it merged with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP). The main reason I pay attention is to get some reading ideas from the longlist. I never have any intention on reading the entire longlist but I hope to discover new books. As most people know, I have been reading more and more books in translation and it can be hard to discover new books; well, it is getting easier.

Since we are close to the longlist being announced, I thought I would try my hand at predicting some of the books. I know there are some other book bloggers that are better at picking the list, I am talking about the shadow jury, but I thought it would be fun to join the conversation. I love that the Man Booker has helped bring translations into the spotlight and I hope it continues to encourage more people to try new novels.

The White Book by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

A new Han Kang/Deborah Smith novel is an obvious choice, since they won the first Man Booker International Prize. So expect it to make the longlist, maybe even the shortlist but I would be very surprised if it won the prize. Having only read The Vegetarian, I need to make sure I pick this book up at some point; but Human Acts is on my shelves waiting as well.

The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet (translated by Sam Taylor)

Most of my predictions are books I have yet to read (is that cheating?) but The 7th Function of Language is one of the few I have on my shelves. Laurent Binet had great success with his book HHhH, and his new book seems to be doing just as well. This is a political thriller/satire; sounds like the perfect book for me, so maybe I should push this up my TBR.

Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba (translated by Lisa Dillman)

Either Such Small Hands has been doing really well amongst the readers of translated lit, or I am following too many of Portobello Books social media accounts. This dark Spanish novella seems to blend elements of horror and the gothic into the story. Right away, I am reminded of Mariana Enríquez.

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (translated by Jonathan Wright)

One of the only books in my predictions that I have read; Frankenstein in Baghdad won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014 and only recently translated into English. This novel is a brutal look at life in post-invasion Iraq, yet it is still able to be darkly humorous. If you are a fan of Frankenstein, like I am, there are plenty of references to Mary Shelley’s classic novel.

The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo (translated by Janet Hong)

Having another South Korean author on the list might be a long shot, but I believe The Impossible Fairy Tale might have enough on offer to make the list. The novel explores two grade-school girls trying to navigate life and the society they live in. An eerie and unpredictable coming of age novel might be the perfect combination to gain this a spot on the longlist.

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Jennifer Croft)

The novel won the NIKE Literary Award (Nagroda Literacka NIKE) in 2008, which is Poland’s biggest literary prize. I have not read this book yet, but I have heard nothing but good things. I know it is a book about travel but honestly Flights made my list because I trust Fitzcarraldo Editions to deliver great books in translation, is that not enough?

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor)

Also known as The Perfect Nanny, this book has been appearing all over the place. Written by a French author of Moroccan descent, Lullaby offers social criticism on class, race and politics. While this might be too much of a thriller to make the list, I believe Leïla Slimani’s background in journalism and political science might make this more than your average mystery book; it did win the prestigious Prix Goncourt.

The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk (translated by Ekin Oklap)

What Man Booker International longlist would be complete without the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk? At this point, any of this Turkish author’s books that get translated into English are automatically added to the longlist. This book explores life in modern Turkey from the point of view of the middle class, in particular the way Westernisation is effecting traditional culture.

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Best Picture Nominations 2018 – Mini Reviews

Posted March 11, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Film & Television / 2 Comments

Every year my wife, sister-in-law and I try to watch all the Best Picture nominations before the Oscar awards. This is something that never happens, due to the availability of movies in our city but for the first time ever we managed to see all nine nominations this year. I know the Oscars are over and The Shape of Water has already won but I thought I should write a little about each movie. I want to get better at analysing movies and if I do not practise, I will never get any better.  

So why not have a mini review of all the nine movies? I have decided to do this in order of my least favourite to favourite, as a way to show which movies I think were more deserving to win. Do not get me wrong, I think The Shape of Water was a great movie and I am happy to see it win, it just was not my pick. 

Dunkirk (written, directed, and produced by Christopher Nolen) 

This is a movie about the hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers trying to retreat out of Dunkirk. The German soldiers have them backed into a corner and leave them as easy targets for some dive-bomber attacks. This film is often been noted for its historical accuracies, even acknowledged by Dunkirk survivors as realistic. For this reason alone, I can see why this film was nominated. However I felt that this was too much of a generic war movie, with very little time to develop characters. In fact most of the characters looked too much alike in their uniforms that I was only able to recognise some actors, namely Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy.  

Action sequences and a deeper understanding of this battle are the two big draws for this movie, but everything else was lacking. Christopher Nolen added his signature style but I tend to disagree with the critics that called this one of the greatest war films of all time. For me that title goes to films like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Apocalypse Now (1979), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). I was tempted to include Downfall (2004) but I think that maybe that is more a biopic in vein of something like Darkest Hour 

Call Me by Your Name (directed by Luca Guadagnino) 

Based on the coming of age novel written by André Aciman, Call Me by Your Name is the story of the relationship between a seventeen year old boy named Elio and a 24-year-old graduate student, Oliver. Timothée Chalamet did an excellent job in the role of Elio, learning Italian, piano and guitar for the role, plus some of the best acting I have seen from a new comer in a long time. While Oliver, played by Armie Hammer, just served as eye candy.  

There is a slow burn to this movie that seems to work well with the story they are trying to tell. However I feel like the story was too much like that often seen in young adult novels. Especially the love triangle with Esther Garrel doing an excellent job as Elio’s girlfriend Marzia. The cinematography and actor was amazing, I felt the story was its biggest letdown. Having said that, I do believe they did a respectful job at portraying a same sex couples’ relationship. The highlight of this movie was the final scene of Timothée Chalamet sitting in front of a fireplace with nothing but his facial expressions telling the story.  

The Post (directed by Steven Spielberg) 

This movie is Oscar-bait if I have ever seen it. Based on the events surrounding the leak of the Pentagon Papers, this film was written by Liz Hannah and one of the Spotlight writers, Josh Singer. There is not much I can say about this movie apart from the fact that I enjoyed learning more about the battle between the US president and the press. This was an obvious jab, with references and allusions to the current president, Donald Trump throughout the movie. I expected more from Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Katharine Graham, I was not sure what direction they were taking. I understand this would have been Katharine Graham’s first major decision as The Washington Post’s head publisher but her acting was not convincing.  

The film ends with the break at the Watergate, which seems to connect the movie almost perfectly to All the President’s Men (1976). A classic film my wife and I watched after seeing The Post. A far better movie but I had to appreciate the way these two films connect together. Sadly All the President’s Men only mentions Katharine Graham once and that was a reference to her breasts.   

Darkest Hour (directed by Joe Wright) 

While Dunkirk was about the war raging on in Western Europe, Darkest Hour is about the politics happening back in the United Kingdom. Winston Churchill, appears to be trending in film and television at the moment but Gary Oldman probably did the best depiction. There was something about the way Oldman portrayed this Prime Minster that felt so genuine, it was easy to suspend disbelief and see him as Churchill. That was until there was some awkward dialogue to remind you that this is in fact a film.  

This is an interesting look at the politics that happen behind the scenes. Interesting how they dumped a Prime Minster because they were not happy with how he was handling the war. The scenes in the parliament are the standouts in this film. The use of lighting made these scenes far more dramatic and served to empathise the importance of this decision making process; into darkness or into light.  

Phantom Thread (written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) 

This period piece stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a couturier (a high-end dressmaker) who is so devoted to his art that finds little time for relationships. Living with his sister (Lesley Manville) he falls in love with a young waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps). Aesthetically this is a visually pleasing film and combining that with Daniel Day-Lewis’ masterful acting there is so much to like about this movie. The power struggle of the relationship between this renowned fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock and Alma quickly turns this into something far darker than expected.  

The sound editing in one breakfast scene alone, was enough to showcase just good this film is. With these sounds, the viewer was able to experience the same irritations as Daniel Day-Lewis. While this was a disturbing tale, the beauty of the film is what stuck out to me the most. The story was weird and never sat right with me but I think plot took a back seat to the visuals, sound and acting in this one.  

The Shape of Water (directed by Guillermo del Toro) 

We have come to expect an aesthetically pleasing film from Guillermo del Toro and he did not disappoint. The Shape of Water has a gritty Cold War vibe to it that reminded me very much of Rapture in the BioShock game. I appreciate the set design, it was so good that it is like the background is telling a story. This is a film about misfits finding each other more than a love story between a mute woman and a fish man.  

Sally Hawkins is an extraordinary actress and I do think I have even seen her in a role where her performance let down the movie. Her role in Maudie (2016), along with this one will serve as evidence of her great ability. People often talk about how great Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting is, but I think Sally Hawkins can give him a run for his money. It was nice to see Michael Shannon doing what he does best, and that is antagonising everyone. Finally, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer were outstanding in their supporting roles.  

Get Out (written and directed by Jordan Peele) 

I would have been very happy if this film won the Best Picture Oscar. This satirical horror film deals with many relevant race issues in such a unique way. Get Out is a power look at the racial problem in America, in particular taking shots at liberals who consider themselves ‘allies’ in the movement against racism. The people that go out of their way to demonstrate they are no racist to the point that is just uncomfortable. There is so much going on in this film it is hard to cover it all in a mini review.  

This is a must see film, filled with so many hard hitting truths that Jordan Peele decided to change the ending just to make it happier. For me this is the biggest let down, because the tone change at the end is so jarring. I think the original intended ending would have had a far bigger impact to the message Peele was trying to say. Get Out did win Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars making Jordan Peele the first black person to win this award.  

Lady Bird (written and directed by Greta Gerwig) 

Lady Bird is the coming of age story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson living in Sacramento, who cannot wait to leave for college to a city with culture. This is probably the most indie ‘arthouse’ of the movies to make the list but I loved this movie because it was just full of teenage angst. There were so many interesting characters and both Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf had standout performances.  

I loved this movie partly because I think Saoirse Ronan is amazing and partly because I identified with the angst of growing up in a town like that. It was a film of such rich characters, and I would love to see a movie about Lady Bird’s best friend Julianne “Julie” Steffans, played by Beanie Feldstein. This is another movie to star Timothée Chalamet and his role was very different to that of Call Me by Your Name. Both Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet are destined for greatness.  

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (written, produced, and directed by Martin McDonagh) 

There is something very unique about Three Billboards, it was so fresh and original. We left the cinema with such joy (despite the dark themes) similarly because it is so rare to see something so different. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell both had outstanding performances and they were rewarded at the Oscars for that. However it was hard to believe Woody Harrelson and Abbie Cornish as a married couple. Three Billboards is the story of a grieving mother trying to find closure for the brutal rape and murder of her teenage daughter. To put pressure on the police she rents three billboards to remind them that this case is still unsolved.  

This is a very polarising movie, that people either love or hate, and I can understand the criticism. Despite the themes of grief and hatred, this film seems to be more about people putting aside their differences in order to heal. The film has also inspired activist groups to adopt similar methods to get their message across, with over five different groups hiring billboards and bus advertisement to spread their message.  

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez

Posted March 5, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Horror, Short Stories / 2 Comments

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana EnríquezTitle: Things We Lost in the Fire (Goodreads)
Author: Mariana Enríquez
Translator: Megan McDowell
Published: Portobello Books, 2017
Pages: 202
Genres: Horror, Short Stories
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

It seems that 2017 was my year of reading books from Argentina. From the classic The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares to the beautiful reflection into libraries in Alberto Manguel’s essay collection The Library at Night. In more recent releases there was Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac and of course the much hyped Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. These four books would have been enough to satisfy any reader, but there was one that stood out far more than these, and that was Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez. Translated by Megan McDowell, this collection introduced the English world to a great example of Argentine Gothic; however, this could easily fall into the horror genre.

What made this collection stand out is the way Mariana Enríquez was able to explore issues within Argentina without addressing the history directly. The beauty of using literature instead of journalism was the ability to offer social criticism and personal opinions in a stylised and entertaining way. Here we can read about the gruesome realities that many people live in Buenos Aires. Starting from the opening story “The Dirty Kid” which explores the fear a woman faces living alone in the slums. Not to mention the poverty, drug abuse, gang-related killings and even satanic rituals that surround her every day.  In the translation notes by Megan McDowell she states that “Mariana Enríquez’s stories, Argentina’s particular history combines with an aesthetic many have tied to the gothic horror tradition of the English speaking world”. There are many of the tropes found in the horror genre including abandoned houses, supernatural elements, and body dismemberment or mutilation. However, it is not these, but the everyday situations that often terrify the reader.

For me, “The Inn” appears of one of the unsung heroes within the collection, it combines a real issue with a bizarre story. This story explores adolescent antics as the girls begin to explore their own sexuality. However, there is the lurking terror of the looming presence of the Alfredo Stroessner soldiers. Enríquez was able to explore the horror of unexpected terror in the time of the Paraguayan dictator. Hinting at the constant state of terror and the clandestine torture centres without mentioning them directly.

Mariana Enríquez has an amazing ability to explore so many issues without mentioning them. I am confident with a better understanding of Argentinian history, Things We Lost in the Fire is a completely different book. Exploring many themes from poverty to the corruption facing the country, but the biggest focus is the treatment of woman. You cannot really talk about this short story collection without spending time talking about the title story “Things We Lost in the Fire”, which explores the idea of women taking control of their own beauty in a rather unique way. The story leaves Silvina in the position to either betray her mother and the Burning Women movement or physically mutilating her own body.

This is the final story in the collection that not only sums up the underlying themes throughout the book but it also leaves you with this feeling that women must often be subjected to a choice where all choices are harmful, leaving her to pick the lesser of two evils. This story is the title story for a reason, if you only read one of the stories make sure it “Things We Lost in the Fire”. However, I do recommend the entire collection. It is a socio-political masterpiece, exploring the horrors and struggles of Argentina and women around the world. If you only read one short story collection in your life, make it Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez.

This review was originally published in the literary journal The Literati

Distracted by Other Books

Posted March 1, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 6 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in February 2018

My reading in February started off with the amazing The Unwomanly Face of War. It is a book I have not been able to get out of my mind. My wife often gets an intense hatred toward men and I think this is the first time I have come close to understanding how she fully feels. I understand how she would be angry, you just need to look at the news to see all the stupid or terrible actions been taken by men. However while reading The Unwomanly Face of War I got very angry toward men. Especially when one man told Svetlana Alexievich that war was ‘man business’ and she should write about men in war (because we do not have enough of those books). This was a fascinating collection of interviews of the woman and their involvement in war. It highlights the bravery of these women but what really shone through was just the way men reacted and their contradictory nature. The male ego is so fragile.

I have been a fan of Alexievich and but I will admit I am never impressed with these translators. I was reluctant to get The Unwomanly Face of War; luckily I did not let the translators stop me. Translating is such an art form and there are so many different thoughts on the topic; for me I prefer a translator to aim to retain the beauty of the text over complete accuracy. Other people have different opinions and I think it is important to find what works for you; especially if there are other options. One day I might have the opportunity to re-read The Unwomanly Face of War with a new translator, but until then, I take what I can get. With Svetlana Alexievich, I do not want to wait for a new translator. Speaking of which, I still need to get myself a copy of The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson. The Odyssey has been translated heaps of times, but I believe this is the first time it was translated by a woman. I am curious to see how this epic reads without the male gaze and I hear nothing but great things about this translation.

I finally read my first Émile Zola novel; A Love Story which is the eighth book in the Les Rougon-Macquart series. This might not have been the best place to start but what can I say, I love Oxford World Classics, and could not pass up the opportunity to work with them and read some Zola. This was a joy to read and there will be so much more Zola in my future; Thérèse Raquin sits on my shelves waiting. While I do love to receive books in the mail, I do not often review ARCs, simply because I have enough to read. My instinct is to reject any offers to review a book, unless it is a book I know I want to read. In the past I found it difficult to get the balance right, so now it is a rare occurrence. I hope to work with Oxford University Press more in the future but do not expect to see many reviews for upcoming releases. If you look at the books I talk about, it is rare to see a new release.

There are some exceptions, for example, if an author like Julian Barnes releases a new novel, or it is a book club book. This is why The Only Story and Mythos by Stephen Fry was on my reading list for this month. I love what I have read from Barnes and still more to go. As for Mythos, it felt more like Greek mythology for dummies. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just made me want to read those classics; especially Metamorphoses by Ovid (yes, I know he is a Roman and not Greek), or maybe I should read The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. I really need to read both books at some point but reading Mythos only served to remind me how much I need to read from the Greeks and Romans.

This month was the first book club meeting of 2018. It was me and fifteen woman. Sadly I am the only male that turns up to book club; there have been others in the past but they never last long. It did feel very crowded for a book club meeting and I feel like it was too many. Luckily, I suspect that a lot of the new people came as part of their New Year’s resolution, so it is unlikely they will return in March. I am at book club to step out of my comfort zone and I think the books picked do just that. I would not have picked up Mythos on my own; I have enough books on my shelves to read without picking up a retelling of Greek mythology.

There are so many books I need to read, I always feel like I am playing catch up. Luckily I do not need to go through my shelves and do a major cull…yet. While I was starting to get use to the idea of a major move, at this point, it does not look like it is going to happen. I have startied culling my shelves but nothing major yet. There must be twenty or thirty books leaving my shelves this month, but only a few were unread books.

One of the biggest advantages of quitting BookTube, is the fact that I do not have to try and pronounce a name like László Krasznahorkai. It still annoys me that I mispronounced Michel Houellebecq in a video. For an Australian that only speaks English, there are so many authors I read that I am yet to learn how to pronounce. I normally look up how to pronounce the name before filming a video, but still have gotten it wrong. I got to read two novellas by László Krasznahorkai which was in the one collection. Sjón claimed this is the perfect starting place for Krasznahorkai in the blurb on the front but that was only part of the reason I started with The Last Wolf & Herman. In fact I do not know why I picked up this book first, I did have Satantango on my wishlist first. It must have been as a result of some of the bloggers I admire, either Tony at Messenger’s Booker or Stu at Winstonsdad’s Blog.

It is hard to remember why I put a book on my wishlist, this is one of the main reasons I am writing these reading updates. The Fountain in the Forest by Tony White was added to my wishlist because of the high praises from Andy Miller on Backlisted (my favourite podcast). I still do not recall why I wanted to read A Girl in Exile, maybe because Ismail Kadare is Albanian. The novel reminded me of The Trial to begin with but it lost momentum quickly. The book left me with the feeling that male authors should not write about breasts. I will not go into my reasoning but let’s just say it feels too creepy.

On the other side, when Natsuo Kirino writes about rape in Out, it feels so brutal. At least when Kirio talks about breasts, it does not feel like she is breathing heavily in ecstasy. Out was such a compelling thriller, and she did not shy away from the brutal nature of the topic. I do enjoy a dark crime novel and the Japanese are able to deliver. I might need to seek out some recommendations but I think I will be reading more Natsuo Kirino in the future.

Seven books read in February, while three did come from the library. I also purchased three new books, Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, Stalin by Oleg V. Khlevniuk and The Seven Madmen by Roberto Arlt. I have already started Frankenstein in Baghdad but not sure what else will be read in March, except The Seven Madmen and maybe that biography on Stalin. I hope everyone else had a great reading month.

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