Tongue Twister

Posted on by David Gelber

What is the cost of keeping a secret from someone you love? In Berta Isla, a novel by the celebrated Spanish author Javier Marías, a couple’s minor disloyalties – which they justify as mere ‘parentheses’ or emergency measures in their relationship – breed further betrayals until they find their lives ‘swathed in mist and mystery’. […]

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Copacabana’s Boys

Posted on by David Gelber

Roberto Saviano’s The Piranhas addresses a simple question: what happens when the older mafiosi go to prison? As the novel shows, the guaglioni – Neapolitan for ‘boys’ – take over and mayhem ensues. The guaglioni are the ‘malleable raw material’ plentifully available in the city’s old neighbourhood of Forcella. They are ‘minors with no criminal […]

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A Knight to Remember

Posted on by David Gelber

It was recently reported that the authorities in Hong Kong have branded Haruki Murakami’s new novel ‘indecent’, prohibiting its sale to minors. Without wishing to be glib about the concerns of those who see this as a sign of creeping illiberalism in the territory, you don’t have to squint too hard to see where they’re […]

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Tales from the Gulag

Posted on by David Gelber

This collection of stories forms a Gulag memoir to rival Solzhenitsyn’s, as Solzhenitsyn himself acknowledged. Between 1954 and 1973, after fifteen years spent mainly in the camps of the Kolyma region of northeast Siberia, Varlam Shalamov (1907–82) poured out stories that – once the Khrushchev thaw was halted – he knew might never be published. In 1968 Kolyma Stories was leaked to the West and in 1980

Fronting Up

Posted on by David Gelber

To Die in Spring begins and ends with a first-person narrative, written by the unnamed son of Walter Urban, who was involved in the Waffen-SS in the last months of the Second World War. He was seventeen when he was persuaded to ‘volunteer’ for service along with his friend Friedrich Caroli, known as Fiete. We […]

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No Country for Young Men

Posted on by David Gelber

‘We become visible’ reads a placard held by ten African refugees on hunger strike in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. Jenny Erpenbeck, who won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for her last novel, The End of Days, wrote Go, Went, Gone in 2015, when the refugee crisis dominated newspaper headlines and political debate across Europe. That was the […]

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Dream Logic

Posted on by David Gelber

It’s not an admission that reflects all that well on me, but every now and then, as I read through this excellent and revelatory volume of posthumously published Kafka stories, I found myself thinking of Viz magazine – in particular, about the misadventures of Buster Gonad & His Unfeasibly Large Testicles. I will assume that […]

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Mixed Felines

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As Europe struggles to admit refugees from Syria, it is easy to forget that not long ago it was the citizens of the former Yugoslavia who were seeking asylum in western and northern Europe. Pajtim Statovci’s novel tells the story of two generations of Kosovan Albanians who have fled to Finland. Emine was born in […]

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Liar, Liar

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Javier Cercas is one of Europe’s most serious and attractive writers. Soldiers of Salamis, his breakthrough novel (published in English in 2003), dealt with an incident of mercy in the Spanish Civil War, The Speed of Light (2006) with the empty heart of a Vietnam War veteran, and Outlaws (2014) with a gang of thieves […]

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Spinning Out Yarns

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Let’s begin by dispelling a misconception: in essence, László Krasznahorkai’s sentences aren’t long. While the use of the comma or coordinating conjunction in place of the full stop can imbue a writer’s words with a feeling of breathlessness or urgency (or, in the worst cases, of turgidity and torpor), in Krasznahorkai’s case it has little […]

Carte Blanche

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

We might turn, dear reader, to the fundamental paradox of the colour white. It is a blankness that is perceptible, a colour and also an absence of colour. It is symbolically associated with light, purity, innocence, perfection, marriage, birth and swaddling cloth, yet also with winding sheets, ice and snow, mute eternity, death, creepy marble and ghosts

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In Franco’s Shadow

Posted on by David Gelber

These two books examine the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, years of poverty and silence. Emili Teixidor, who lived from 1933 to 2012, was a Catalan teacher and journalist who wrote a number of novels and books for children in his native language. Manuel Rivas (born in 1957), one of Spain’s best-known novelists, writes […]

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Question Time

Posted on by David Gelber

Patrick Modiano has ignored those critics who accuse him of writing the same book over and over again. His narrators and protagonists seem to be in a state of permanent adolescence, even though the latest of their number are now in their fifties and sixties. His lost boys of this new century are much like […]

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Self-Examination

Posted on by David Gelber

The central conceit of Alejandro Zambra’s Multiple Choice is simple: the text is structured in a manner that replicates the format of Chile’s Academic Aptitude Exam, which until 2003 was compulsory for all individuals wishing to enter higher education. The early sections of the book comprise a series of one-word multiple choice questions; these become […]

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Exquisite Truths

Posted on by David Gelber

Once upon a time, if a novelist was lucky, she might occasionally receive kindly questions about her work. How do you get your ideas and do you write at a desk and are your books autobiographical? And the novelist would explain that actually she wrote while hiding behind the sofa and, no, her books were not autobiographical

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