2

Really Underrated Books (Part Three)

We have reached midway in my rather enormous underrated books wishlist.  I hope you’re enjoying the mini series so far, and finding something which catches your eye.  In this particular post, I have focused upon translated works.

 

1. Le Batarde by Violette Leduc 9781564782892
‘An obsessive and revealing self-portrait of a remarkable woman humiliated by the circumstances of her birth and by her physical appearance, La Batarde relates Violette Leduc’s long search for her own identity through a series of agonizing and passionate love affairs with both men and women. When first published, La Batarde earned Violette Leduc comparisons to Jean Genet for the frank depiction of her sexual escapades and immoral behavior. A confession that contains portraits of several famous French authors, this book is more than just a scintillating memoir. Like that of Henry Miller, Leduc’s brilliant writing style and attention to language transform this autobiography into a work of art.’

 

97815856765142. Hash by Torgny Lindgren
‘The main ingredient in the recipes for Swedish hash, a dish known among the peasants of remote northern villages for its delectability and restorative powers, differ widely. The meats, offal, and grain that go into its preparation – an elaborate process of boiling, pickling, steaming, and stewing – can range from the heinous to the dangerous, and the results can be alternately emetic and sublime. The search for the most delicious dish of hash – the ultimate hash – forms the backbone of the blackly comic, marvellously innovative new novel from one of Sweden’s most esteemed and best-selling authors. In a small town where an epidemic of tuberculosis rages, two very different men arrive to a scene of suffering accepted by the inhabitants not with stoicism or as a test of fate, but almost with glee. Robert Maser is a travelling garment salesman whose accent and demeanour betray the fact that he is actually the fugitive Martin Borman, the Nazi leader rumoured to have slipped past Red Army lines during the fall of Berlin. He engages the local schoolteacher, Lars, on the bizarre quest to find world’s best hash, and together they wander the Swedish countryside, inviting themselves into peasant homes to sample the variety of humble family recipes. As their search becomes more impassioned, it becomes clear that their goal is much more than a culinary marvel, and that what they’ve really been seeking is the force of life that must present itself even in dark times.’

 

3. The Case of Comrade Tuleyev by Victor Serge
‘One cold Moscow night, Comrade Tulayev, a high government official, is shot dead on the street, and the search for the killer begins. In this panoramic vision of the Soviet Great Terror, the investigation leads all over the world, netting a whole series of suspects whose only connection is their innocence—at least of the crime of which they stand accused. But The Case of Comrade Tulayev, unquestionably the finest work of fiction ever written about the Stalinist purges, is not just a story of a totalitarian state. Marked by the deep humanity and generous spirit of its author, the legendary anarchist and exile Victor Serge, it is also a classic twentieth-century tale of risk, adventure, and unexpected nobility’

 

4. The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch 9780679755487
‘It is the reign of the Emperor Augustus, and Publius Vergilius Maro, the poet of the Aeneid and Caesar’s enchanter, has been summoned to the palace, where he will shortly die. Out of the last hours of Virgil’s life and the final stirrings of his consciousness, the Austrian writer Hermann Broch fashioned one of the great works of twentieth-century modernism, a book that embraces an entire world and renders it with an immediacy that is at once sensual and profound. Begun while Broch was imprisoned in a German concentration camp, The Death of Virgil is part historical novel and part prose poem — and always an intensely musical and immensely evocative meditation on the relation between life and death, the ancient and the modern.’

 

5. Cleaned Out by Annie Ernaux
Cleaned Out tells the story of Denise Lesur, a 20-year-old woman suffering the after-effects of a back-alley abortion. Alone in her college dorm room, Denise attempts to understand how her suffocating middle-class upbringing has brought her to such an awful present. Ernaux, one of France’s most important contemporary writers, daringly breaks with formal French literary tradition in this moving novel about abortion, growing up, and coming to terms with one’s childhood.’

 

97815901709536. Asleep in the Sun by Adolfo Bioy Casares
‘Lucio, a normal man in a normal (nosy) city neighborhood with normal problems with his in-laws (ever-present) and job (he lost it) finds he has a new problem on his hands: his beloved wife, Diana. She’s been staying out till all hours of the night and grows more disagreeable by the day. Should Lucio have Diana committed to the Psychiatric Institute, as her friend the dog trainer suggests? Before Lucio can even make up his mind, Diana is carted away by the mysterious head of the institute. Never mind, Diana’s sister, who looks just like Diana—and yet is nothing like her—has moved in. And on the recommendation of the dog trainer, Lucio acquires an adoring German shepherd, also named Diana. Then one glorious day, Diana returns, affectionate and pleasant. She’s been cured!—but have the doctors at the institute gone too far?  Asleep in the Sun is the great work of the Argentine master Adolfo Bioy Casares’s later years. Like his legendary Invention of Morel, it is an intoxicating mixture of fantasy, sly humor, and menace. Whether read as a fable of modern politics, a meditation on the elusive parameters of the self, or a most unusual love story, Bioy’s book is an almost scarily perfect comic turn, as well as a pure delight.’

 

7. The Spanish Ballad by Lion Feuchtwanger
The Spanish Ballad (originally published as “Die Jüdin von Toledo“) is a 1955 novel by German-Jewish writer Lion Feuchtwanger. The story focuses on the “Golden Age” of learning in medieval Spain, and also describes the affair of Alfonso VIII with the Jewish Raquel in Toledo.  In Lion Feuchtwanger’s prologue to the story, he mentions that the ballad was originally written by Alfonso X of Castile in regards of his Great-Grandfather (Alfonso VIII).’

 

8. Lost Paradise by Cees Nooteboom 9780099497158
‘Cees Nooteboom, hailed by A. S. Byatt as “one of the greatest modern novelists,” is one of Holland’s most important authors. In Lost Paradise, Nooteboom’s most ambitious book yet, he sets out to uncover the connections between two seemingly unrelated travelers: a beautiful stranger aboard a Berlin-bound flight and a haggard-looking man on a Holland train platform. With his fleeting impressions of these encounters, Nooteboom builds a complex, haunting story of longing, regret, and rebirth in the dawn of the new millennium. Alma, a young woman of German descent, leaves her parents’ Sao Paolo home on a hot summer night. Her car engine dies in one of the city’s most dangerous favelas, a mob surrounds her, and she is pulled from the automobile. Not long after, Dutch novelist Erik Zontag is in Perth, Australia, for a literary conference and finds a winged woman curled up in a closet in an empty house. The intersection of their paths illuminates the ways in which the divine touches our lives. Lost Paradise is an affirmation of our underlying humanity in an increasingly fragmented age, a deeply resonant tale of cosmically thwarted love.’

 

9. Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge
‘Unforgiving Years is a thrilling and terrifying journey into the disastrous, blazing core of the twentieth century. Victor Serge’s final novel, here translated into English for the first time, is at once the most ambitious, bleakest, and most lyrical of this neglected major writer’s works.  The book is arranged into four sections, like the panels of an immense mural or the movements of a symphony. In the first, D, a lifelong revolutionary who has broken with the Communist Party and expects retribution at any moment, flees through the streets of prewar Paris, haunted by the ghosts of his past and his fears for the future. Part two finds D’s friend and fellow revolutionary Daria caught up in the defense of a besieged Leningrad, the horrors and heroism of which Serge brings to terrifying life. The third part is set in Germany. On a dangerous assignment behind the lines, Daria finds herself in a city destroyed by both Allied bombing and Nazism, where the populace now confronts the prospect of total defeat. The novel closes in Mexico, in a remote and prodigiously beautiful part of the New World where D and Daria are reunited, hoping that they may at last have escaped the grim reckonings of their modern era.  A visionary novel, a political novel, a novel of adventure, passion, and ideas, of despair and, against all odds, of hope, Unforgiving Years is a rediscovered masterpiece by the author of The Case of Comrade Tulayev.’

 

978178168859510. Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan
‘A new generation of young literary figures in Indonesia, emerging after decades of repressive dictatorship ended in 1998, is renewing the culture of the world’s largest Muslim nation (and its language, which was only nationally instituted in 1945). Kurniawan’s Beauty Is a Wound and Man Tiger are the capstones of this movement. A slim, wry story set in an unnamed town near the Indian Ocean, Man Tiger tells the story of two interlinked and tormented families, and of Margio, an ordinary half-city, half-rural youngster who also happens to be half-man, half-supernatural female white tiger (in many parts of Indonesia, magical tigers protect good villages and families).  At once elegant and bawdy, experimental and political, Man Tiger will help to establish Indonesia’s new voice, underrepresented in world literature, while demonstrating the influence of world literature on Indonesian writers.’

 

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2

Really Underrated Books (Part Two)

Part two of my underrated books wishlist is here!  It’s rather a nice mixture of fiction, and works in translation.  Have you read any of these?

1. Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Akinari Ueda 9780231139137
‘First published in 1776, the nine gothic tales in this collection are Japan’s finest and most celebrated examples of the literature of the occult. They subtly merge the world of reason with the realm of the uncanny and exemplify the period’s fascination with the strange and the grotesque. They were also the inspiration for Mizoguchi Kenji’s brilliant 1953 film Ugetsu.  The title Ugetsu monogatari (literally “rain-moon tales”) alludes to the belief that mysterious beings appear on cloudy, rainy nights and in mornings with a lingering moon. In “Shiramine,” the vengeful ghost of the former emperor Sutoku reassumes the role of king; in “The Chrysanthemum Vow,” a faithful revenant fulfills a promise; “The Kibitsu Cauldron” tells a tale of spirit possession; and in “The Carp of My Dreams,” a man straddles the boundaries between human and animal and between the waking world and the world of dreams. The remaining stories feature demons, fiends, goblins, strange dreams, and other manifestations beyond all logic and common sense.  The eerie beauty of this masterpiece owes to Akinari’s masterful combination of words and phrases from Japanese classics with creatures from Chinese and Japanese fiction and lore. Along with The Tale of Genji and The Tales of the Heike, Tales of Moonlight and Rain has become a timeless work of great significance. This new translation, by a noted translator and scholar, skillfully maintains the allure and complexity of Akinari’s original prose.’

 

2. King of the Badgers by Philip Hensher
‘Far from London’s crime and pollution, Hanmouth’s wealthier residents live in picturesque, heavily mortgaged cottages in the center of a town packed with artisanal cheese shops and antiques stores. They’re reminded of the town’s less desirable outskirts—with their grim, flimsy housing stock and chain stores—only when their neighbors have the presumption to claim also to live in Hanmouth.  When an eight-year-old girl from the outer area goes missing, England’s eyes suddenly turn toward the sleepy town with a curiosity as piercing and unblinking as the closed-circuit security cameras that line Hanmouth’s idyllic streets. But somehow these cameras have missed the abduction of the girl, whose name is China. Is her blank-eyed hairdresser mother hiding her as part of a moneymaking hoax? Has she been abducted by one of the lurking perverts the townspeople imagine the cameras are protecting them from? Perhaps more cameras are needed?  As it turns out, more than one resident of Hanmouth has a secret hidden behind closed doors. There’s Sam and Harry, the cheesemonger and aristocrat who lead the county’s gay orgies. The quiet husband of postcolonial theorist Miranda (everyone agrees she’s marvelous) keeps a male lover, while their daughter disembowels dolls she’s named Child Pornography and Slightly Jewish. Moral crusader John Calvin’s Neighborhood Watch has an unusual reason for holding its meetings in secret. And, of course, somewhere out there is the house where little China is hidden.  With the dark hilarity and unflinching honesty of a modern-day Middlemarch, King of the Badgers demolishes the already fragile privacy of Hanmouth’s inhabitants. These characters, exquisitely drawn and rawly human, proclaim Philip Hensher’s status as an extraordinary chronicler of the domestic, and one of the world’s most dazzling and ambitious novelists.’

 

97815901701373. The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermout
The Ten Thousand Things is a novel of shimmering strangeness—the story of Felicia, who returns with her baby son from Holland to the Spice Islands of Indonesia, to the house and garden that were her birthplace, over which her powerful grandmother still presides. There Felicia finds herself wedded to an uncanny and dangerous world, full of mystery and violence, where objects tell tales, the dead come and go, and the past is as potent as the present. First published in Holland in 1955, Maria Dermoût’s novel was immediately recognized as a magical work, like nothing else Dutch—or European—literature had seen before. The Ten Thousand Things is an entranced vision of a far-off place that is as convincingly real and intimate as it is exotic, a book that is at once a lament and an ecstatic ode to nature and life.’

 

4. The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink
‘Nothing exciting ever happens to Kirby or Bitsy Mellen–that is, until their mother inherits a motel in Florida from her great-granduncle Hiram, complete with a roster of eccentric guests. New this winter are the Browns, obsessed with their suntans; Miss DeGree, obsessed with her poodles; and two mysterious men, obsessed, like Kirby, with trying to find Uncle Hiram’s rumored secret treasure.’

 

5. The Forest of Hours by Kerstin Ekman 9780701166144
‘Ekman’s central character is Skord, a magical being who is neither man nor animal. The novel begins in the Middle Ages when Skord finds himself in a forest with no memory, no past and no language. As he observes the behaviour of the human beings he meets in the forest, he begins to gradually to understand human civilisation and to learn their language. Although he can pose as one of them, however, he is also able to assume the form of animals and cause things to happen simply by willing them. Skord survives for five hundred years and lives many different lives but, despite his learning, he finds it difficult to resist the call of the forest and returns there periodically to rejoin the band of forest outlaws who live outside human society. He will live to see the nineteenth century and the age of steam, but, by then, he will have discovered that man’s supposed cultivation is in fact destructive and the most important thing in life is love – his love of a forest woman.’

 

6. Light by Torgny Lindgren
‘In medieval Sweden, a small community shares its meagre subsistence with its domestic livestock. When an imported rabbit introduces the plague the population is annihilated, all except a few villagers and the odd pig. By the author of Bathsheba and The Way of the Serpent.’

 

97814929805067. The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories by E.M. Forster
The Celestial Omnibus is a collection of short-stories Forster wrote during the prewar years, most of which were symbolic fantasies or fables.’

 

8. Famine by Liam O’Flaherty
‘Set in the period of the Great Famine of the 1840s, Famine is the story of three generations of the Kilmartin family. It is a masterly historical novel, rich in language, character, and plot–a panoramic story of passion, tragedy, and resilience.’

 

9. The Pilgrim Hawk by Glenway Westcott 9780940322561
‘This powerful short novel describes the events of a single afternoon. Alwyn Towers, an American expatriate and sometime novelist, is staying with a friend outside of Paris, when a well-heeled, itinerant Irish couple drops in—with Lucy, their trained hawk, a restless, sullen, disturbingly totemic presence. Lunch is prepared, drink flows. A masquerade, at once harrowing and farcical, begins. A work of classical elegance and concision, The Pilgrim Hawk stands with Faulkner’s The Bear as one of the finest American short novels: a beautifully crafted story that is also a poignant evocation of the implacable power of love. ‘

 

10. The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren by Iona Opie
‘First published in 1959, Iona and Peter Opie’s The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren is a pathbreaking work of scholarship that is also a splendid and enduring work of literature. Going outside the nursery, with its assortment of parent-approved entertainments, to observe and investigate the day-to-day creative intelligence and activities of children, the Opies bring to life the rites and rhymes, jokes and jeers, laws, games, and secret spells of what has been called “the greatest of savage tribes, and the only one which shows no signs of dying out.”‘

 

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