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Three Notable Novels

Here are some highlights about this year’s three notable books written in languages other than English .  The German novels have already been published, whereas the French one is coming soon.

DurchzugEinesRegenbandesThe first German title that caught my attention is Ulrich Ziegler’s novel Durchzug eines Regenbandes (Passage of a Rainband). Ten years in the making, it is a dense, stylistically exuberant triptych channeling the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, the classic cinema of the 1920s and 30s and popular German TV shows. In the first part, which exudes a film noir atmosphere, a journalist called Norden meets a stranger who tells him the incredible story of the Island Bienitz and its hierarchic society. The man with the exotic name Weh-Theobaldy belongs to the oppressed ethnic minority of Lapislazuli who are forced to wear paper clothes and do menial jobs. Weh-Theobaldy’s confession to a murder triggers Norden’s investigation into a tangled web of secret plots and conspiracies. The second part is set in GDR in 1969. Its main focus is yet another investigation: the search for an old lady who disappeared in the coal cellar of her own house. The protagonist of this part is a pop singer who performs cover versions of West German schlagers. The main character of the third part is a hard-drinking, delirious painter. The bulk of the narrative is made up of his stream of consciousness, sprinkled with numerous references to television lore. The German reviewers describe Passage of a Rainband as a confusing puzzle of a book, which might require several readings to make sense.

1330_01_Kopetzki_Risiko.inddIf you enjoyed Against the Day, you might be interested in a novel that specifically focuses on the Great Game, which, as you remember, was one of the pivotal subjects in Pynchon’s book. Steffen Kopetzky’s Risiko (Risk), which, like Ziegler’s novel, also took its author ten years to write, is a meticulously researched fictional account of  the The Niedermayer–Hentig Expedition. The main goal of this mission was to persuade Afghanistan to declare independence from the British Empire and side with the Central Powers in World War I. In this book we follow the adventures of navy radio operator Sebastian Stichnote, who joins the secret expedition and travels together with the other members 5,000 kilometers across Western and Central Asia. The broad canvas of the narrative does not only include loads of geographical, historical and cultural data, but also accommodates amusing anachronisms and postmodern games with the reader.


Finally, all those who have been waiting for the publication of the English translation of Pierre Senges’ encyclopedic novel Fragments of Lichtenberg, there is something else to get excited about: the French writer is about to publish a new novel, which is as bulky as Fragments. The novel is called Achab (Sequelles)  (Ahab (Aftermath)) and, as evident from the title, it is about the fate of Captain Ahab after his last encounter with the white whale narrated at the end of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Senges’ Ahab tries to capitalise on his tragic experiences by attempting to sell his story first as a musical on the Broadway, and then as a script for a Hollywood movie. There will also be flashbacks to Ahab’s youth when he embarked on a voyage to London at the age of 17, intending to become an actor. The synopsis promises the appearance of Cary Grant, Orson Welles and Scott Fitzgerald.

There seems to be a heightened interest in Herman Melville recently, as the Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai’s next project is “a novel about Melville after the publication of Moby Dick” which he will be working on at the Cullman Center.


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Je suis Charlie


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January 7, 2015 · 16:52

Submission (Soumission): New Novel by Michel Houellebecq

SoumissionLike wildfire, the news of the new Houellebecq novel is spreading throughout the cyberspace. The first post in English that I noticed had appeared in the indispensable Literary Saloon. The information in French is available now at various sites;  for example:  Le Figaro, France 24, Sud Ouest. It looks like the most complete information for the time being is at Les Inrocks.  

The Local provides a write-up in English about the forthcoming novel under the headline Muslims rule France in provocative new novel. So, Houellebecque’s forthcoming dystopia will deal with “a future France where a Muslim party wins the presidency”. Something one could expect from the author of the scandalous  Platform.

According to the short description of the novel, the main character is a literature instructor at university specialising in the French fin-de-siècle writer Joris-Karl Huysmans. Well, interesting choice, as Huysmans not unlike Houellebecque had his fair share of provocation at the end of the 19th century with the publication of The Damneda novel about Satanism rampaging in France with a shocking (for that time, of course) description of a black mess. I am not going to draw any hasty conclusions before Houellebecque’s novel is published, but I do hope that the inevitable scandal will not spiral into a Salman Rushdie or a Danish cartoon situation. Anyway, Huysman’s novel looks like a useful preliminary read for those waiting for the publication of Submission. 

Update 1: The Germans, as expected, are the first to deliver the translation of Houellebecque’s new offering. Unterwerfung is already available for pre-order. 

Update 2: My review of the novel is now up.

Update 3: Actually the Italians seem to have beaten the Germans to the punch, with Bompiani releasing Sottomissione on January 15.

Update 4: The UK edition of Submission is now available for pre-order.

Update 5: At last, the US readers have a chance to pre-order the American edition of Submission to be published by  Farrar, Straus and Giroux on 20 October.

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Orhan Pamuk’s New Novel Out Soon

If like me, yKafamdaPamukou cannot read Turkish, you, most probably would not be able to read this announcement by  Milliyet, or, naturally, this one by Radikal Kitap. Fortunately for us, there is already some information in English available from the English language Today’s Zaman. The novel, whose Turkish title is Kafamda bir Tuhaflik, is due on December 9, and this is what they have to say about it:

The 480-page book follows the love story between a street vendor named Mevlut and his girlfriend, as well as Mevlut’s life in the streets of İstanbul throughout a period that spans over four decades, from 1969 to 2012, during which he works in a range of different jobs. Throughout these decades, Mevlut witnesses the various transformations the city, the people and Turkey in general undergo. All the while, Mevlut often wonders what the source of this “strangeness” in his head is — a strangeness that makes him different from all the “others”

The English title suggested by Pamuk himself in several interviews is A Strangeness in My Mind. According to the author, it should be available in English in 2015, which means that the translation should be already under way. I personally quite liked the weird atmosphere of his The Black Book, which I heartily recommend. Judging by the works discussed on this blog, you would probably guess that for me the stranger, the better, and I do hope that Pamuk’s new novel, which he spent six years writing, will not disappoint me in this respect.

Update 1. The English translation is already available for pre-order. The translator is Ekin Oklap.

Update 2. Here is the official description of the book:

Mevlut has spent his whole life selling a local alcoholic drink on the streets of Istanbul. It is the 1990s, and although there were once thousands of boza vendors, Mevlut now cuts a lonely figure on snowy winter nights. Falling deeply into debt, and desperate to marry off his incompetent son and satisfy his mistress, Mevlut turns to his old friend Ferhat, who collects payments on electric bills. The partners traverse the backstreets of middle-class neighborhoods and shantytowns, venture into flats, shops, restaurants of the poor, relishing their power to punish cheaters and collect bribes. But when the dangers of Istanbul’s underbelly catch up with Mevlut, he finds himself beaten and threatened at every turn. Istanbul is exposed as a city with a rich and dynamic underground culture that seeps into its secular business centers and mainstream society. Mevlut serves as a flighty guide, occasionally attuned to the city’s nuances, but with a wild imagination and instincts tainted by desperation.


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H. G. Adler’s The Wall. Will you climb it?

I’ve jusTheWallt remembered that tomorrow the translation of H. G. Adler’s final installment of the Shoa trilogy is scheduled for publication, a stream-of-consciousness novel about a Holocaust survivor haunted by nightmares and having troubles to readjust to normal life after the atrocities of World War II. I first learnt about the book on Thomas McGonigle’s  blog. This promises to be a challenging and harrowing book, judging by the early reviews. Random House in their synopsis  draw the inevitable comparisons to the usual suspects when we talk about literary modernism: Joyce  Kafka,  and Musil. Out of the three early reactions to the book (by Kirkus Reviews, by  Publishers Weekly and by Historical Novel Society)  the last one is the longest and the most detailed so far. To my mind, the key sentence from that review, which is bound to intrigue any adventurous reader, is the following: “Since this is a novel unlike most others, the best way to read it is not to approach it like other novels.” We also learn that the translator Peter Filkins has generously added a list of characters and a summary of events for the reader not to be completely lost in this apparently disorienting  narrative without chapter breaks. A German language reader will be surprised to find out that  the German edition (the original title is Die Unsichtbare Wandt)  is actually out of print. Can’t help remembering that old Biblical saying about the prophet in his own home town. I expect to see more detailed reviews coming up in the next few weeks, but based on what little has been said on the novel in the English language information space so far, the publication of The Wall is certainly going to be an important literary event for all of us.

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