Tag: Javier Marías

Distracted by Other Books

Posted October 2, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 12 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in September 2018

For the past few months it has felt like I have really slowed down in my reading, and that felt a little demoralising. Granted, to use the world ‘demoralising’ when referring to one’s reading life is very much a first world problem. To think my biggest problems in my life is about my reading journey really does mean that I have a pretty great life. I am currently in a period of uncertainty with my job where I am unsure if I will be made redundant and yet my concern is directed towards how many books I have read in a single month. As much as I would love to keep my current job, I feel at ease around the whole situation, one path leaves me with work, the other leads to a pay out and more reading time. While I do experience a little worry, it only comes in short waves and honestly I feel like they would be stupid to get rid of me.

Getting back to my reading month, I started off by finishing The Shape of the Ruins. I had put this one aside for the entire month of August because it was Women in Translations Month. Which makes me feel like I have done this book a disservice. Setting down a book normally is caused by not enjoying what I am reading but in this case I was literally distracted by other books. I am more interested in being a part of this great reading event. Juan Gabriel Vásquez is an amazing writer and I feel like my recent discovery of his books is one of the highlights of the year, but when women in translation month came along I could not stop myself from focusing on that event. Do you ever get that feeling? Sometimes I want to go into the new month with a clean slate but there will always be other books to distract my reading journey. I have found my reading niche, and I am happy that my focus is solely on translations, probably because I am now being distracted by less books than before.

One of the highlights of September was a weekend away from everything. My wife had to go down to Brisbane for work, and I decided to come along for the ride. I had a few days in a hotel room with some books I wanted to read. This was an amazing experience. I took down Aracoeli, Fever and Spear and Wait, Blink to occupy my time. There is something refreshing about stepping away from the distractions of your life to focus on some reading. I think this reignited the passion within me and kicked my reading back into normal gear. I was not experiencing a reading slump but I think I was lacking the motivation to read as frequently as I normally do. As far as the three books are concerned, Fever and Spear was the clear highlight. I think I am not smart enough to fully appreciate Aracoeli, but I will get there and Wait, Blink was just a fun quirky read.

The National Book Award in America last year announced that they had added a translated literature award and this month we finally got to see what was on their first longlist. My initial reaction to the list was one of curiosity, mainly because I was unfamiliar with half the picks. There were some obvious choices like Flights which won the Man Booker International prize this year. However The Beekeeper is an interesting pick, mainly because it is the only non-fiction book to make the list. I do feel like I should read the entire longlist just to be a part of the conversation. I listen to a podcast called The Three Percent Podcast which focuses mainly on translations and the publishing world, and just listening to the way they talk so critically about this longlist makes me envious. I know I have only recently focused on reading translations but I hope to be able to get to a point in my life where I can just scoff at a longlist the same way as the hosts. This kind of reaction happens all the time when an award like the Man Booker International longlist is announced. I feel like that kind of familiarity towards the choices is definitely a reading goal for me. Out of the ten books picked, I had only read one of the books picked (Flights), but at the end of this month I have completed three more (Wait, Blink, Love and Trick). Two others are currently being read (Comemadre and Disoriental). Which is leaving me in a really good position to complete the rest of the list, which are Aetherial Worlds, The Beekeeper, One Part Woman and The Emissary. Expect to see reviews from all these books in the next few months.

I finished off the month reading African Psycho, which is obviously a parody on American Psycho but I think I enjoyed it more. Not because there was anything special about the novel, mainly because it was a very different book to what I expected. Half the book I felt was a struggle, and that seemed to be the author emulating that obsession found in American Psycho, but the ending really pulled the whole book together. Finally I ended the month on a low note, The Silence of the Girls, which was the book club pick for October. It was a boring retelling of the Trojan War told from the perspective of a female slave. There was so much potential in exploring the fears this woman might have faced but Pat Barker missed the opportunity. This was told from the first person perspective of the slave so we could hear her thoughts, but for the most part the author wrote lines like “I was scared” regarding a situating with nothing more. You know that old writing advice “show don’t tell”? Pat Barker should have listened to that advice. Just writing about this is making me angry and I have said more about this novel than the others because this will be the last time I put any effort into writing about The Silence of the Girls.

I mentioned that I am currently reading Comemadre and Disoriental. I also mentioned that I want to complete the National Book Awards longlist for translated literature, so I do need to mention that again. I have been feeling very motivated and I hope to take that opportunity to write more. I still have a few reviews to write but I also want to get back into BookTube. I love talking about literature and looking for as many ways to do so as possible. Have you seen The Literary Discord? For those who do not know, Discord is like a modern day forum, it was created mainly for games as a place to build communities, but other communities have utilised it as well, including me when I created The Literary Discord as another place to talk about literature. My plan to return to BookTube is to push myself to speak about books that do not get enough attention (translations). It is a way to practise speaking and develop my voice. I have this blog and my podcast that I am passionate about, I hope to be able to bring that same passion back to BookTube, because I lost it. I hope this new found energy continues for me and I hope you have all had a great reading month.

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Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear by Javier Marías

Posted September 28, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Thriller / 3 Comments

Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear by Javier MaríasTitle: Fever and Spear (Goodreads)
Author: Javier Marías
Translator: Margaret Jull Costa
Series: Your Face Tomorrow #1
Published: Chatto & Windus, May 5, 2005
Pages: 384
Genres: Literary Fiction, Thriller
My Copy: Library Book

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

There is something almost genre bending about Javier Marías’ Fever and Spear. To call it a spy novel would do it a huge disservice. The best way I could describe this novel is to call it a character study. Our narrator, Jacques Deza has recently separated with his wife and, to put some distance between the two, has moved from Madrid to London where he meets an old friend, Sir Peter Wheeler. Deza is recruited into Her Majesty’s secret service where he starts investigating the shady underbelly of international business.

“How can I not know today your face tomorrow, the face that is there already or is being forged beneath the face you show me or beneath the mask you are wearing, and which you will only show me when I am least expecting it?”

Look, the plot to this is not really important, and this makes it rather difficult to write about this novel. Fever and Spear is the first book in the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, and it appears to be some kind of metaphysical thriller, meaning it explores the philosophical notions of metaphysics in the form of a thriller. I talked about literary thrillers in my review of Purge and how difficult it is to find good examples of the genre. I mentioned The 7th Function of Language and In the First Circle as great examples and I seem to have stumbled across another one with Fever and Spear.

“One should never tell anyone anything or give information or pass on stories or make people remember beings who have never existed or trodden the earth or traversed the world or who, having done so, are now almost safe in uncertain, one-eyed oblivion. Telling is almost always done as a gift, even when the story contains and injects some poison, it is also a bond, a granting of trust, and rare is the trust or confidence that is not sooner or later betrayed, rare is the close bond that does not grow twisted or knotted and, in the end become so tangled that a razor or knife is needed to cut it.”

I struggle to find the words to describe how much I enjoyed this novel. There is something about the way Javier Marías explored the past, present and the future that makes it difficult to write about. I had such an amazing experience here and I want to tout this book out but I lack the words. Needless to say, I would have picked up Dance and Dream (book two) right away if I had access to it, and I did not have a huge reading pile.

I might attempt to review Fever and Spear again in the future, I know I will reread it many times. I need to read the entire trilogy to see if I can get my thoughts straight. I know this is no way to review something you connected with, but my thoughts about this novel do not seem to fall into place. I write this mainly to try and make sense of my opinion. I do not think it helped. I hope I have said enough to at least convince someone to give Javier Marías a go, if not Fever and Spear.


Distracted by Other Books

Posted April 3, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in March 2018

I live in a city that often does not get much rain. So when we get two weeks of constant rain it is a rare treat. There is nothing better than curling up in bed with a cup of tea and a good book, while thunder and lightning is raging outside. I was able to spend those two glorious weeks reading Frankenstein in Baghdad. Most people know about my obsession with Frankenstein, the book that literally changed my life. Normally I am apprehensive about any take on this classic novel but Ahmed Saadawi was able to deliver something sensational. His take on the classic was able to compare the tale with post-invasion Iraq in a unique way. Since it has been two hundred years since Mary Shelley’s novel, I cannot help but think about revisiting the book once again. Oxford World Classics did send me a beautiful hardback edition, so a reread is in my very near future.

Thinking about Frankenstein got me thinking about other books that have helped shape my life, which obviously leads me to my obsession with Russian literature. The Anna Karenina Fix seemed like the perfect bibliomemoir for me. As someone with a love for Russian lit, I found myself easily drawn to Viv Groskop’s memoir. One day I will write about all those books about books that I love and I have no doubt The Anna Karenina Fix will make that list. It made me want to reread so many of my favourites and then the ones I have missed, then go back to this book and read it again.

I am the type of reader that reads to learn about the world, to experience different cultures and explore new ideas. However there are times when I need to just switch off and read some palette cleansers. For me, this is crime fiction, but I am very particular about what I like. For the most, I will read an entire crime novel even if I was not enjoying it. Luckily there was something about Babylon Berlin that I loved. This is the first book in the Gereon Rath series and what drew me to this book was that it was set in 1929 Berlin. So in the background of this crime investigation we see Berlin as it changes, with the fears of communism and the newly emerging Nazi Party. I cannot help but compare it the Bernie Gunther series. While I have only read March Violets, since Philip Kerr passed way this month, I think I need to return to this detective and read The Pale Criminal. I did also read The Spellman Files at the suggestion of everyone who compared it to Veronica Mars.

The crime fiction I am attracted to the most is the old pulp era, the stuff from the 1920s to the 1940s. There is something about that writing, it is sharp and to the point, but still remains beautiful. Even forgotten classics like The Seven Madmen from Argentina seem to adopt that same style. The Seven Madmen is the kind of book that will remain with me for a long type and I am tempted to reread it, but I will get distracted by other books. After reading this book, I felt like staying with Argentinian literature and I was able to do that with the next book I read, Die, My Love.

The Man Booker International Prize longlist was announced and like many of my fellow book nerds, I was excited to see what would make the list. I had read Frankenstein in Baghdad but it was the only one on the longlist I have actually read. I would love to read the entire longlist but time and availability is always a factor. My library only had four of the thirteen from the longlist but I owned one already. So I thought I would make use of a Kindle Paperwhite to help. I have often struggled to get into ebook reading but the accessibility was my only hope to read the longlist. I will always prefer physical books, but maybe I will be convinced to read more ebooks. My constant distractions with other books and an ereader might be a deadly combination.

Obviously the first book I read was Die, My Love. The fact that it was Argentinian literature, made this an easy choice. This was such an affecting read, I will have to get a physical copy. After completing this novel, all I wanted to do was stay in Argentina forever. I think I could live a happy life only reading Argentinian lit, it has similarities to Russian literature but still feels very unique. I am also pleased to see a strong literary scene of Argentinian women; from Die, My Love, to books like Things We Lost in the Fire, Fever Dream and Savage Theories.

Unfortunately there were a few books that followed that I was not able to connect with, and left me unmotivated to read. Two were Man Booker International Prize longlist picks, The Dinner Guest and The Stolen Bicycle, but the third was this month’s bookclub pick. It was a modern take on Don Quixote set in India called Mr Iyer Goes to War and all I could think was about rereading Don Quixote. My problems with The Dinner Guest and The Stolen Bicycle were as followed; the first felt too similar to another book, while the later just went overboard with the one topic and that frustrated me.

The Man Booker International Prize longlist left me pondering translations. I love reading from around the world, to the point where I am considering turning it into a podcast. I discovered I do not know as much about translation theory as I would like. Maybe I need to explore some Walter Benjamin or as I discovered, Edith Grossman (who translated Don Quixote) wrote a book called Why Translation Matters. Do I need to know another language to explore translation theory in great detail? I know Umberto Eco also has a book on translations too, it is called Experiences in Translation. This might be another rabbit hole to go down in the new future.

I managed to have a very productive reading month, I finished it off with my second László Krasznahorkai book, which was his short story collection The World Goes On. This made ten books for March, and I am presently surprised, especially since I had three books that were a struggle. The only thing I currently have on the go is The 7th Function of Language, which is another book from the longlist. At this rate, I may be able to read the entire longlist before the prize is announced in May. However the availability of the last seven books is the major factor. I own two and waiting on one from the library, so it is becoming more of a possibility. I am having a hard time guessing what will make the shortlist, so I have delayed a few that I think might be on the list. That way I can still remain in the conversation.

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October 2015 Mini Reviews

Posted October 27, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary, Crime, Literary Fiction, Thriller / 2 Comments

October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: World Gone By (Goodreads)
Author: Dennis Lehane
Series: Coughlin #3
Published: William Morrow, 2015
Pages: 416
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Library Book

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

Ten years after the events from Living by Night by Dennis Lehane, World Gone By, tells the story of Joe Coughlin in a changing world. Prohibition is now dead, the world is at war again and Joe’s enemies have destroyed his empire and killed his wife. The novel is set in both in Cuba and Ybor City, Florida and World Gone By explores the implications of Joe Coughlin’s past. A novel of crime, revenge and the moral complexity of a criminal past while being a good example for his son.

I am somewhat discontent with the state of popular crime fiction and find myself longing to be surprised. Normally I am a fan of crime novels and like to explore the psychological or gritty nature of the plot. World Gone By seems to offer something different, I did not connect with Living By Night, but the synopsis of its sequel was enough to raise my interest. Sadly, this was unable to deliver, and I felt disconnected to the plot due to the fact that it was overly cliché. I wanted to enjoy this book; the time era and the premise are two elements I love in fiction and I had heard such good things. I need to stop listening to hype, or maybe I should give up on crime fiction all together.


October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Mislaid (Goodreads)
Author: Nell Zink
Published: Fourth Estate, 2015
Pages: 288
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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

Set in 1966, at the campus of Stillwater College, Mislaid tells the story of Peggy. A freshman with literary aspirations, Peggy finds herself falling for Lee, a poet and one of her professors. Peggy falls pregnant and the two end up married. The only problem is, Peggy identifies herself as a lesbian and Lee as gay. This turns into some wry joke; they are an odd couple that has been mislaid.

Nell Zink takes it upon herself to explore the complex issue of sexuality with a mismatched pair stuck in a marriage that neither are interested in. The problem with Mislaid, is that this is such a complex issue and Zink was unable to handle the novel in a way it deserves. From the first chapter when the term ‘Mecca for lesbians’ was used, I felt uneasy about the way the GSM (Gender and/or Sexual Minorities) community was being treated. Then the wit found in Mislaid did not work for the majority of the novel. I was less than impressed with this book; it could have been a great story but nothing seemed to come together the way I expected.


October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico (Goodreads)
Author: Javier Marías
Translator: Esther Allen
Published: New Directions, 1996
Pages: 57
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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

I do not know how I found this little gem, I would like to know who recommended it so I could personally thank them. Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico is a short novella that tells the story of Ruibérriz de Torres who is brought in to translate for Elvis Presley who is in Mexico to film Fun in Acapulco. While in town, Elvis and his entourage, find themselves in a seedy bar where they get into a little trouble with a local kingpin.

Javier Marías has managed to create a punchy story that explores a complex life of a translator, on one hand he has a big famous singer/actor that the world idolises and adores but his entourage has got him into trouble with a crime lord that is feared in Acapulco. Ruibérriz de Torres is stuck in the middle unsure if he should be translating the words that could get everyone into a fight. Should he censor the words for either Elvis or the kingpin just to keep the peace? This novella explores the idea of translations and the second hand nature of words, in a very meta way since this novella was translated from the Spanish into English by Esther Allen. This is only fifty pages long, but manages to explore a complex issue in a very interesting way; I have not been able to stop thinking about the ideas found in Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico.


October 2015 Mini ReviewsTitle: Leaving Berlin (Goodreads)
Author: Joseph Kanon
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2015
Pages: 384
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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

Almost four years after World War II, Berlin is a mess, divided in two. The east is occupied but the political ideas from the Soviet Union and the Allies are trying to control the west. This power struggle will later divide Germany into two with the erecting of the Berlin wall in 1961. Alex Meier is a young Jewish writer who managed to flee Nazi Germany to find a home in America. Only he found himself in the crosshairs of Joseph McCarthy during his “Red Scare” witch hunts. Alex and his family are now facing deportation; that was until he was given an alternative by the CIA but is this a solution at all?

The setting for Leaving Berlin is fascinating, the rebuilding and restoration of Germany is interesting enough as it is, but then you have the political struggle and influences of America and the Soviet Union as well. The American propaganda towards communism plays a big part in this espionage novel, and reading a book about a country being torn apart by the Cold War was really interesting. I am very interested in the history behind the Cold War, especially when it comes to the way the media was used to manipulate and of course I am interesting in the Soviet Union. As far as this novel goes, it was entertaining and I enjoyed reading it, however the setting and political history interested me more than the plot. I would have enjoyed a non-fiction novel of post-war Berlin more than Leaving Berlin, but that does not mean I regretted reading it.