Tag: Natasha Wimmer

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.

Read More


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

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

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.


Best Books of 2017

Posted December 15, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in What are you Reading / 4 Comments

As 2017 finally comes to an end, all I can think is ‘Thank God’. While this has not been a bad reading read (over a hundred books), I did not achieve some of my goals. Most importantly I was stuck in a real creative slump for most of the year and I had trouble climbing out. I decided to take a step back from BookTube because I did not feel like it was the right medium for me. I was hoping to focus more on blogging and writing essays but that never happened either.

My goals for 20017 included writing an essay a month and I failed miserably, but now I havae co-founded a literary journal so I have to make sure in 2018 I write more. For my reading goals, I planned to read 50% books in translation which I was able to achieve and I hope to continue with this in future years. I also had a list of about ten books I wanted to read in 2017 and ended up reading only three of them. I guess planning my reading is not for me and with that in mind, I decided to have no reading goals for 2018. I just want to read what I want, when I want. I want to be carefree and enjoy my reading journey. I hope this will help me get back into my creative groove and blog or write more frequently.

Having said that, 2017 was a pretty decent reading year for me and I thought I should cover off some of my favourite books. I probably should make sure I review all these books at some point but here is my list. First, I want to give an honourable mentions to The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark, Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa (translated by Howard Curtis), The North Water by Ian McGuire, Belladonna by Daša Drndić (translated by Celia Hawkesworth) and The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (translated by Natasha Wimmer).

Read More


The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Posted July 27, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 6 Comments

The Savage Detectives by Roberto BolañoTitle: The Savage Detectives (Goodreads)
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
Published: Picador, 2007
Pages: 577
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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

Chilean author Roberto Bolaño may have only gained traction in the English-speaking world shortly after his death in 2003 but he quickly cemented his legacy as a great South American author. In fact, Chris Andrews’ translation of By Night in Chile was the first English translation of Bolaño and it was released in December 2003. Between Chris Andrews and Natasha Wimmer, all but two of his novels were translated into English, not to mention his short story collections, poetry and essays. That is twelve novels translated in which two Roberto Bolaño novels get the most attention, The Savage Detectives and 2666.

The first Roberto Bolaño novel I read was By Night in Chile, a novella that managed to make a big impression on me. The book saw Jesuit priest Father Urrutia reflect on his life while in a feverish daze and open with the brilliant line “I am dying now, but I still have many things to say”. The fever seems to allow Bolaño to explore an idea of the reliability of memory because you could help wondering if it was an unreliable narrator or he just lived an unorthodox life. By Night in Chile is a novel that I still think about and even though I feel like I read it recently, I am keen to return to it.

Because of this novella, I was keen to pick up more Roberto Bolaño and I recently joined in with a group of people to read The Savage Detectives. My experience was different than what I initially expected. First, it is difficult to compare The Savage Detectives with By Night in Chile, they are very different in style and themes. Also, out of the eight-people reading this, five of them never finished, while I think I was the only one that really enjoyed it. At times it was struggle to read, but I think getting to the end gave me a real sense of accomplishment and the novel will stick in my head for a very long time.

To get an idea of what Roberto Bolaño is trying to achieve in this novel you really need to understand a little about his life. He was born in Chile but his family moved to Mexico while he was a teenager. He never finished school because he dropped out to work as a journalist. He left Mexico to return to Chile to help the socialist regime of Salvador Allende but was thrown in prison after Augusto Pinochet’s coup. On his return to Mexico, he started living as a bohemian poet and saw himself as an enfant terrible of literature, his own editor Jorge Herralde recalls him saying that he was “a professional provocateur feared at all the publishing houses even though he was a nobody”. He was a young ambitious poet, what was he to do? Naturally he tried to start a literary movement which was called Infrarrealismo.

What makes The Savage Detectives so interesting is that it is a parody of Roberto Bolaño’s own life. His alter ego is one of the principal characters, and every other character is based off someone in his life. While By Night in Chile reflects on life from the deathbed, The Savage Detectives takes a similar but drastically different approach. It was like Bolaño wanted to reflect on his ambitious ideals and just how cocky he was. It felt like he was never afraid to poke fun of himself and I think if I knew more about his life, I would have gotten a lot more out of this novel.

I do not know enough of Mexican literature (especially the poetry) but I found The Savage Detectives to be a very approachable novel. You get a sense right away that the Visceral Realist are a parody, the name itself conjures up an image of trying hard and failing. I was so glad I finally got to this novel and I know that I will have to pick up more Roberto Bolaño in the future. In fact, I think he is an author that deserves to be read completely (well everything translated into English at least). I will admit that my knowledge in South American authors is lacking but the more I read, the more I appreciate their style. Next up… Jorge Luis Borges.