Publisher: Europa Edition

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi

Posted October 19, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 8 Comments

Disoriental by Négar DjavadiTitle: Disoriental (Goodreads)
Author: Négar Djavadi
Translator: Tina Kover
Published: Europa Edition, 2018
Pages: 338
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature 2018
Longlisted for the BTBA 2019

Normally I am not a fan of multi-generational stories but there is always an exception to the rule and Disoriental is just that. My major problem is that there is never enough time spent with the characters. In this novel we follow Kimiâ Sadr who fled Iran with her mother and sisters at the age of ten. They join their father in France in the hopes for a better life. Now fifteen years later Kimiâ is overwhelmed with the memories of her ancestors.

What I loved about this novel is the way Négar Djavadi focuses specifically on one person but uses her as the foundation to look at the ancestry of her family. The constant waves of memories and stories are the driving force of Disoriental which allows the reader to explore the cultural history of Iran. From her great-grandfather Montazemolmolk, who had a harem of fifty-two wives, to Kimiâ, a queer woman sitting in a Parisian fertility clinic.

The inner flap refers to this novel as a kaleidoscopic story and I cannot think of a better way to describe Disoriental. We experience many key moments in Iranian history from the perspective of the Sadr family. We look at the cultural changes, the politics and the family throughout. The difference between Kimiâ and her great-grandfather are vastly different. A key element I found fascinating was the treatment of the LGBTQI community. A place where losing your virginity before marriage, having an affair, or abortion, or even a drug addiction is better than being a homosexual. I was surprised to learn that sex changes are legal in Iran, it is better to change your entire gender identity than be same sex attracted.

This whole history makes up the struggle for Kimiâ in the fertility clinic. She is torn between family traditions and her own ‘disorientalisation’ as a modern woman. While this might sound like a bleak novel and in many ways it really is, Négar Djavadi offers so much tenderness to the whole experience as well. We look at the history, we see the family dramas but we also see the triumphs as well. Living in Paris where Kimiâ has more freedom than she may have had in an alternate life. There is so much more to explore within Disoriental but for me this was a novel of identity. Her family’s past defines Kimiâ Sadr as much as her own identity.

I found so much tenderness within such an important book. It was the little moments in their lives that really helped along the way. For example at the beginning of the novel Kimiâ’s father Dirius never took the elevator. He say they were for ‘them’ and by ‘them’ he meant the citizens of France. In this little anecdote we see so much about the attitude he had as an immigrant. Without going into the bleak backstory we know Dirius Sadr sees himself as a second-class citizen not wanting to do anything that might offend the people around him. This small tale says so much without going into specifics. It is this kind of storytelling that allows Négar Djavadi to write about so much about the world without adding to the bleakness.

I am very impressed with Disoriental. I love a novel that can explore important subjects and deal with the current start of the world without making the whole reading experience feel like a chore. I assume that this novel is semi-biographical but I am only speculating. Négar Djavadi has done an amazing job and it is important to have novels like Disoriental in the world. Tina Kover did a wonderful job translating this book which allows me to understand a little more about the world I live in. I highly recommend Disoriental, and it is my pick to win the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2018.

Trick by Domenico Starnone

Posted October 17, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Trick by Domenico StarnoneTitle: Trick (Goodreads)
Author: Domenico Starnone
Translator: Jhumpa Lahiri
Published: Europa Edition, 2018
Pages: 192
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature 2018

Have you ever read a novel that you felt was completely pointless? That is how I feel about Trick by Domenico Starnone. The novel follows the story of Daniele Mallarico a successful illustrator coming to the end of his career who was asked by his daughter to look after his grandson Mario. Set over 72 hours we follow Daniele struggling with his own thoughts towards his illustrations and dealing with his four-year-old know-it-all grandson.

I admit I identified with the solitude and grumpiness of Daniele and was constantly feeling frustrated with Mario. I have no idea how someone deals with a young child that thinks they know everything. Especially when that child wants to do everything because they know how to do it, but, when something goes wrong, breaks down. Daniele’s daughter and son-in-law think that Mario is independent and will look after himself but this is far from the reality.

This is a very plot driven novel and I felt like the characters were too flat. I liked Daniele but in reality I do not know him. An aging illustrator who likes to live alone is the extent of the character. It is hard to write children, so Mario read like a bratty teenager who is in reality a four-year-old. The relationship of Mario’s parents seems like a more interesting narrative but that all happens off the page.

I am disappointed with Trick and am glad that it was a quick read. Translated by Jhumpa Lahiri, this seems to be the main reason Domenico Starnone is getting attention. I plan to give Starnone one more chance with Ties but if that reads similar to Trick, I probably will never return to his writing. I just expect more from my literature.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Posted December 2, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 3 Comments

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel BarberyTitle: The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Goodreads)
, 2006
Pages: 325
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Renée Michel is a concierge for an upscale apartment building that is inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée is an intelligent autodidact that hides herself from the residents of this elegant apartment, trying to confirm every stereotype they might have towards a concierge. However a precocious girl named Paloma suspects there is something more about Renée. When a wealthy Japanese business man moves into the building, he sees right through the concierge’s façade and tries to befriend her for some intellectual conversations.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a highly successful novel by Muriel Barbery who obtained her agrégation in philosophy before becoming a professor for the Université de Bourgogne. The publication I read was a Europia edition that was translated by novelist and Literary translator Alison Anderson. L’Élégance du hérisson was translated into more than forty languages and has also been adapted into the 2009 movie The Hedgehog (Le hérisson) staring Josiane Balasko, Garance Le Guillermic and Togo Igawa.

This novel is full of allusions towards works of literature, music, films, and paintings, which is one of the reasons I loved this book. While it might come across as pretentious and somewhat cynical The Elegance of the Hedgehog plays a lot with the ideas of stereotypes, class-consciousness and acceptance. A philosophical novel that explores ideas of how we present ourselves to the world and if we should pretend to be someone different, if that is what others expect from you.

There are plenty of philosophical ideas running through this novel that presents different ideologies, Muriel Barbery has stated that literature is an effective way to explore philosophy. Having sat through plenty of long and boring philosophy classes she wanted a way to explore the ideas in a more effective and interesting way. I suspect people can get lost in the pretentious nature of this book but also the ending; however I think it was a fitting ending for the novel.

I found The Elegance of the Hedgehog to be a beautiful, if not recherché little novel and I enjoyed every moment of it. I wanted to turn back to page one and start again; I think there is plenty within this book to offer its readers. If you pay close attention to the book you might also notice that most of the book was told in a first person, present day nature that makes for a fresh look at the story that I didn’t notice till near the end. I know I should have paid more attention but this is one of the main reasons I wanted to re-read the book.

Lovers of philosophy and literature would love this book but also anyone interested in Marxism.  I know I didn’t talk much about the class struggle within the book but that is because I have much to learn in this area. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an intelligent novel, full of references to literature, witty and smart humour with a satirical nature. The way this French novel translates into an elegant English novel is a testimony to Alison Anderson’s ability but she had a great piece of literature to work with. I would highly recommend this novel to everyone but maybe that isn’t a good idea, I think you have to be in the right frame of mind or mood to truly enjoy this book.