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One From the Archive: ‘When the Doves Disappeared’ by Sofi Oksanen **

When the Doves Disappeared is the second novel by Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen to be translated into English. Already a bestseller in Sweden and Finland, the novel was first published in 2012, and has recently been released by Atlantic Books. Publication in twenty-eight further countries worldwide will follow. Le Monde heralds When the Doves Disappeared ‘an explosive book with a dark heart’. The book’s blurb, which calls it ‘a story of surveillance, deception, passion, and betrayal’ also alludes to the way in which Oksanen ‘brings to life both the frailty, and the resilience, of humanity under the shadow of tyranny’.

9781782391289This is ‘a chillingly suspenseful, deftly woven novel that opens up a little-known yet still controversial chapter of history: the occupation, resistance, and collaboration in Estonia during and after World War II’. Two stories, both of which highlight ‘two brutally repressive eras’ and which largely feature the same protagonists, unfold. The first takes place in 1941, when Roland and his ‘slippery cousin’ Edgar are fleeing the clutches of the Red Army, both having to make sacrifices to stay hidden; and the second in 1963, when Estonia’s Communist control has once again strengthened its hold. In this later story, Oksanen still follows Roland and Edgar, as well as Edgar’s wife, Juudit, who ‘may hold the key to uncovering the truth’.

The prologue gives immediate depth: ‘But I had to bring her [Juudit] to the safety of the forest when I heard that she’d had to flee from Tallinn… She’d been like an injured bird in the palm of my hand, weakened, her nerves feverish for weeks… The men were right… Women and children belonged at home… The noose around us was tightening and the safety of the forest was melting away’. At this time, we are told that ‘the acts of the Bolsheviks had already proved our country and our homes were under the control of barbarians’.

As well as using two differing timespans, Oksanen also blends two different narrative voices – the first person perspective of Roland, who is a soldier at the outset of the book, and the omniscient third person, which largely follows Juudit. The latter is fitting, but Oksanen’s use of the male narrative voice does not feel quite realistic; some of the turns of phrase which she makes use of do not quite sit correctly within the whole, and are not at all what one can imagine a man in Roland’s position to say. I for one cannot personally think of many men who would utter such sentences as, ‘She jumped like a nimble bird’, or ‘Her eyelids fluttered, a sound like birds’ wings on the surface of a lake’.

It seems as though Lola Rogers’ translation of the novel has been thoughtfully done on the whole, but there are a few issues within the text. From time to time, the idioms which have been used are somewhat lost in translation. The use of Americanisms also grated somewhat; words such as ‘frosting’, ‘cookie’ and ‘gotten’ feel too modern for the piece, and serve to jar one from the well-crafted period context. Whilst this is only a minor issue, it does divert attention from what should be a riveting story.

When the Doves Disappeared is well paced, and one of Oksanen’s strengths certainly lies in the way in which she builds tension. Some of her sentences in the more climactic moments are striking: ‘Spies’ eyes glittered everywhere, greedy for the gold of dead Estonians’ dust’. The scenes, too, are well built, and Oksanen’s backdrops, particularly with regard to the war-torn towns and battlefields, have been rather vividly evoked. Roland speaks of how ‘I’d made a record of every smoking ruin and unburied body I’d encountered, with either a house or a cross, even if I couldn’t find words for all those lifeless eyes, these corpses swarming with maggots’. The levels of historical context here lead one to the conclusion that the whole has been thoroughly researched, and details which she weaves in, such as Estonia’s Army uniforms and the lack of available food, further set the scene.

The World War Two story is more engaging than that which occurs in 1961, too; whilst there are items of historical interest within the latter, it does not quite make for the gripping tale which I was expecting. In terms of learning about the war and its aftermath within Estonia, When the Doves Disappeared is fascinating. In comparison to Purge, however, it feels both lacking and a touch disappointing.

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Two Reviews

2017 might not have been my most productive reading year (in terms of pleasure reading at least), but I did manage to read some wonderful books that will remain with me for a good while. I will talk to you about two of them today, a Japanese “classic” crime novel and an American collection of short stories, both of which I immensely enjoyed and made my 2017 a bit more tolerable.

The Master Key by Togawa Masako **** 36396709

A very well-crafted and quirky mystery novel which hooked me from the very beginning. I really enjoyed how the different stories of each character all came together in the end and the mystery kept being unveiled until the very last page. All the characters were so unique and well-rounded and the story of each individual was also compelling on its own. It was definitely refreshing, a mystery very unlike the usual ones and definitely one which deserves everyone’s attention.

Although there was not a main detective in charge of solving the case and the structure of the novel is vastly different from similar Western crime novels of the time (this one was published in 1962 in Japanese), there is something about this mystery that strongly reminds me of Agatha Christie. I can’t say if Togawa is Christie’s Japanese equivalent, or even if such an assumption is fair, but I enjoyed reading The Master Key tremendously and I will definitely seek out more of her work.

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks ****

35011288I usually am very cautious and shy away from books written by celebrities – no matter how much I like or admire the celebrity, more often than not the books they publish are yet another publicity stunt to make the number in their bank account even bigger. Needless to say I was taken aback when I heard Tom Hanks, one of my most respected actors, was releasing a short story collection.

Despite my initial skepticism, I have to admit I truly enjoyed this collection. While not all stories were my cup of tea, and some felt rather dull or without a specific point (as it happens with most short story collections), the vast majority were stories that made me smile, brought tears to my eyes and offered me a wonderful experience. Tom Hanks is a truly gifted writer and I didn’t expect his prose to feel so natural and adeptly crafted.

The tone and voice of the stories were inherently American and the characters and plots felt like they jumped out of Tom Hanks’s most successful ’90s films. Although I’m not American, they managed to evoke a feeling of nostalgia for an era well gone and for a certain innocence and naivete of people which is scarcely found today. I also enjoyed the fact that some characters were recurring in later stories, which made them feel even more realistic to the reader, as a different aspect of their lives or perspective was offered in each story they appeared. Overall, a wonderful collection of stories which made me wish there will be more to come.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think about them? 🙂

Both books were provided to me by their respective publishers via NetGalley.

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Book Haul: 2017

I have vowed not to buy any books whatsoever in 2017, choosing instead to read everything on my to-read shelves, and all of those tomes which I optimistically downloaded onto my Kindle a couple of years ago and have yet to get to.  Of course, if I do manage to finish everything, I will begin to replenish my shelves, but it looks highly unlikely at this juncture.

With that said, there are many books which I bought or received at the end of 2017 which I have yet to include in a haul post such as this.  Without further ado, I shall therefore detail every book which has come into my possession since my last haul post.

9781447294894I shall begin with my new Kindle books.  I saw a very favourable review of Lionel Shriver‘s The Standing Chandelier: A Novella on Goodreads, and ended up buying myself a copy for around £1; I’m very glad I did, as the idea is both original and inventive, and I certainly enjoyed the reading experience.  I took advantage of one of the daily deals, and got myself a copy of A Manual for Cleaning Women, a short story collection by Lucia Berlin which I have had my eye on for ages.

On Instagram, a fellow reader whom I follow had hauled a copy of Otto Prenzler‘s The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, which they found in The Works for just £4.  Whilst I was unable to find a copy in store, I ordered it and picked it up the next day, along with a copy of Ghost: 100 Stories to Read with the Lights On, which is edited by Louise Welsh.  I also couldn’t resist ordering a copy of The Morlo by L.A. Knight, a travelogue about seals, which I randomly came across on a vintage bookshop on Etsy.

I took a trip to a local charity shop which sells four books for 99p, and chose a few to add 9780099478980to my to-read shelf at University.  I ended up getting 12 Days by Shelly Silas, which was a collection of rather mediocre Christmas stories; Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres in a lovely hardback edition, which I will be reading during my Around the World in 80 Books challenge this year; A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, which I enjoyed, but not as much as most others seem to have; the very enjoyable, and very quick to read, The Girls by Emma Cline; and The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel.

9781786573353Another travel guide also made its way onto my to-read list.  My boyfriend and I have booked a holiday to Canada at the end of January, and so it was exciting to order a copy of Lonely Planet Canada.  They are definitely my favourite range of travel guides, and I’m very excited to dip in and see what Toronto has to offer.

Of course, I received some wonderful Christmas books this year, three of which were signed, which was very exciting.  My parents got me copies of Pablo Picasso’s Noel, Carol Ann Duffy‘s festive poem for 2017; Turtles All the Way Down by John Green; Winter by Ali Smith; Here Is New York by E.B. White; and I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell.  I have 9780241207024already read and loved all of these.  Those which I have outstanding are Mythos by the wonderful Stephen Fry, and a random choice from one of my dearest friends, The Seven Noses of Soho by Jamie Manners, as she knows how much I am currently missing London.

I made the decision to order the 34 books which I needed for my Around the World in 80 Books challenge from AbeBooks.  I have scoured my Kindle and bookshelves for tomes which I could include, but there were many which I did not personally own, and which I was unable to find in either of my local library systems.  I ordered so many books, in fact, that the poor postman had to deliver them using a crate.  Whilst this enormous order sounds very greedy, I thought that ordering all of the books which I needed during 2017 would help me stick to my book-buying ban (fingers crossed!).  I shall detail them, along with the countries which they will be included for, in a bullet pointed list below, as this seemed the easiest way to organise such a big list of books!

  • Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood (Cuba) 9781447226888
  • The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (Colombia)
  • Broken April by Ismail Kadare (Albania)
  • The Sojourn by Andre Krivak (Slovakia)
  • Kaddish for an Unborn Child by Imre Kertesz (Hungary)
  • The Quiet American by Graham Greene (Vietnam)
  • The Bondmaid by Catherine Lim (China)
  • Resistance by Anita Shreve (Belgium)
  • Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell (Cyprus)
  • First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung (Cambodia)
  • The Night Buffalo by Guillermo Arriago (Mexico)
  • Train to Trieste by Domnica Radulescu 9780307388360(Romania)
  • Solo by Rana Dasgupta (Bulgaria)
  • Mosquito by Roma Tearne (Sri Lanka)
  • Blood-Drenched Beard by Daniel Galera (Brazil)
  • The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees (Syria)
  • The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas (Norway)
  • The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (Switzerland)
  • Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra (Chile)
  • Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras (Argentina)
  • Death of a Prima Donna by Brina Svit (Slovenia)
  • The Colour by Rose Tremain (New Zealand)
  • The Diviners by Margaret Laurence (Canada)
  • A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov (Georgia) 9781408843161
  • The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
  • Lies by Enrique de Heriz (Guatemala)
  • The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna (Croatia)
  • Ours are the Streets by Sunjeev Sahota (Pakistan)
  • Burmese Days by George Orwell (Myanmar)
  • The Beach by Alex Garland (Thailand)
  • The Hacienda by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran (Venezuela)
  • Landfalls by Naomi J. Williams (Pacific Islands)
  • Ali and Nino by Kurban Said (Azerbaijan)
  • Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel (Saudi Arabia)

 

Have you read any of these?  Which were the last books that you bought?

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2017’s Yearly Challenge: Round Up

I decided to put together four lists this year – one of authors I wanted to read, another of books which had caught my eye, and projects made up of French and Scottish-set books.  I have not done anywhere near as well with my yearly challenges as I had anticipated.  I overstretched myself rather; although I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year, I have neglected these lists over the last few months, and have been reading at whim instead.  I thought that I would just write a relatively concise post about how I did with my challenges in terms of numbers, and which books were particular highlights for me.  You can see my full list, with all of the titles, here.  On a brighter note, I did manage to complete my Reading the World challenge, where I scheduled a review of a piece of translated literature every Saturday.  My full list can be found here.

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George Sand

With regard to the authors, I actually did rather well.  Out of nineteen pinpointed, there were only four which I did not get to (Amelie Nothomb, Lydia Millet, Leena Krohn, and Gunter Grass).  Wonderful discoveries for me from this list were George Sand, John Wyndham, Ira Levin, and Anita Desai.  It was lovely to revisit some favourite authors too – Rebecca West and Agatha Christie, to name but two.

With regard to my book list, I fared worse.  Out of quite an extensive list of titles (thirty-four in all), I only managed to read seventeen.  There were a few books which I was disappointed with (The Shining by Stephen King, The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn), but I found some new favourites too.  Amongst those which I rated the most highly are the beautiful, quiet Welsh novel The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price (review here), the gorgeous and immersive This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell, the perfectly paced The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, the haunting and strange Fell by Jenn Ashworth, the hilariously funny Where Am I Now? 9780143128229by Mara Wilson (review here), the profound and beautifully poetic The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (review here), and the downright creepy The Dumb House by John Burnside.

My efforts for my French reading project were paltry; I only read nine books out of a list of thirty.  Particular standouts for me were the lovely non-fiction account by Peter Mayle of his move to France, entitled A Year in Provence, Julia Stuart‘s terribly charming The Matchmaker of Perigord, the wonderfully bookish A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse, and the beautiful Strait is the Gate by Andre Gide.  Of my rereads, I very much enjoyed revisiting Irene Nemirovsky, whose books I adore, as well 9781933372822as Elizabeth McCracken‘s searingly touching An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination.

My Scottish reading project was a little better.  Out of twenty-nine books, I read eight, and gave up on four.  I was particularly charmed by Anne Donovan‘s Buddha Da, my reread of Maggie O’Farrell‘s wonderful The VanishingAct of Esme Lennox, and Jenni Fagan‘s engrossing, and awfully human, The Sunlight Pilgrims.

I have set my sights a little lower for my 2018 reading challenge, choosing only to participate in the Around the World in 80 Books group on Goodreads.  I will be reading books from, or set within, eighty different countries around the world, and could not be more excited about what I will discover.

How did you get on with your 2018 challenges?  Do you always set reading challenges, or do you prefer to read without any restrictions?

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Reading the World: Wrap-Up

This post marks the end of my 2017 Reading the World Project.  When setting out what I wanted to achieve with this particular challenge, I wrote that I wanted to consciously choose and review works of translated literature.  I thought that a structure such as the one which I came up with would allow me to continue with my project throughout the year, without reaching that mid-July slump that I invariably get with reading challenges.  I am pleased to report that I have found the exercise thoroughly successful, and have discovered some new gems, and some little-reviewed tomes too.

Without further ado, I thought that it would be nice to have a wrap-up post to show the best of the books which I read for this challenge, as well as to tot up the numbers of distinct languages which I chose to include.  For this project, I wrote forty-six original reviews, and also included six from the archive.

My top ten picks in translation:

  1. Gilgi, One of Us by Irmgard Keun (German) 9780099561378
  2. The Leech by Cora Sandel (Norwegian)
  3. Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky (French)
  4. The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price (Welsh)
  5. Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau (French)
  6. Strait is the Gate by Andre Gide (French)
  7. The Immoralist by Andre Gide (French)
  8. Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russian)
  9. Art in Nature and Other Stories by Tove Jansson (Finnish)
  10. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese)

 

Language breakdown by number of books read (I think one can say that I like French literature!):

  1. French: 15
  2. Korean: 4
  3. Norwegian: 4 9780956308696
  4. Russian: 4
  5. Finnish: 3
  6. Austrian German: 2
  7. Dutch: 2
  8. German: 2
  9. Spanish: 2
  10. Swedish: 2
  11. Japanese: 3
  12. Argentinian Spanish: 1
  13. Chinese: 1
  14. Danish: 1
  15. Hungarian: 1
  16. Icelandic: 1
  17. Kannada: 1
  18. Portuguese: 1
  19. Turkish: 1
  20. Welsh: 1

 

I have also discovered some wonderful new authors whilst reading for this project.  They include Clarice Lispector, Cora Sandel, Irmgard Keun, Annie Ernaux, Samanta Schweblin, Angharad Price, Jean Cocteau, George Sand, Andre Gide, and Albert Camus.

For a full list of my 2017 Reading the World books, as well as links to their reviews, please visit this page.  Please let me know which of these books you’ve read, and which review has been your favourite.