Posts Tagged ‘books of the year 2022’

Books of the Year 2022 Part 2

December 27, 2022

Marzan, Mon Amour by Katja Oskamp (translated by Jo Heinrich)

It’s not obvious that the story of a chiropodist from an uninvitingly concrete housing estate in East Berlin would become one of my favourite books of 2022, but that is, indeed, what happened. Marzan, Mon Amour is never sentimental, but often heart-warming, without ever disguising the difficulties of life. The format allows Oskamp to share the stories of her narrator’s many customers, which in turn allows her to present a picture of East German society as it was in the years before the Berlin wall was pulled down. Yet another wonderful find from Peirene books who, despite only publishing three books a year, are frequent contributors to my top ten.

The Anomaly by Herve le Tellier (translated by Adrianna Hunter)

A much more likely inclusion in the best books of 2022 is the 2020 Prix Goncourt winner The Anomaly. The story of a plane which lands twice – once when due and then an exact copy, passengers included, three months later – never has Oulipo been used to such page-turning effect. Telling the story from the point of view of numerous characters is no mere gimmick but actually adds to the tension, and the many nods to Oulipo writers of the past – and even the inclusion of a book within a book – at no point get in the way of readability. Most impressive of all, given its concept, le Tellier produces an ending that works.

Stranger to the Moon by Evelio Rosero (translated by Anne McLean and Victor Meadowcroft)

2022 saw the return of Columbian writer Evelio Rosero to print in English for the first time since 2015 thanks to new publisher, Mountain Leopard Press. Stranger to the Moon is a small book in everything but ideas, Rosero crafts a world where the Clothed and the Naked live divided, the latter largely confined to a crowded house (the narrator spends much of his time in a wardrobe) while the former are free. In what is a disturbing fable about social division, Rosero does not lose sight of his main character as an individual who does not feel like he belongs with either faction. An unsettling tale that you are not likely to forget quickly.

The Twilight Zone by Nona Fernandez (translated by Natasha Wimmer)

The publication of Nona Fernandez fiction in the UK by Daunt books is to be celebrated. The Twilight Zone, which, like Space Invaders, uses popular culture as an entry point to life in Chile under dictatorship, focuses on one particular member of the armed forces who was involved in the systematic torture of those who opposed the regime – we know this because he confesses in the 1980s in a magazine article the narrator remembers. This is another smart novel on the part of Fernandez as the story of the soldier becomes linked to the story of the narrator, providing an anchor for the reader as well as a reminder that brutal regimes have a long-lasting effect on ordinary people.

Still Born by Guadalope Nettel (translated by Rosalind Harvey)

Still Born is also a political novel, but here the politics are personal. Nettel is not the first writer to consider the pros and cons of having children, but she asks the questions here in a particularly nuanced way. The novel tells two stories of two women: the narrator, who has made the conscious decision not to have children, and one of her friends, who falls pregnant. Both women are put in a position where their beliefs are challenged: the former by the neglected child of a neighbour, the latter by giving birth to a child who is not expected to survive. Never preachy, the novel makes a genuine attempt to explore the concept of motherhood.

Books of the Year 2022 Part 1

December 21, 2022

All Our Yesterdays – Natalia Ginzburg (1952) translated by Angus Davidson

Author of numerous short novels / novellas (take your pick), All Our Yesterdays is, I suspect, Natalia Ginzburg’s longest novel. Set in 1930s Italy, it tells the country’s story – and the rise of fascism in particular – through the story of one family. It displays all the skill with which Ginzburg generally portrays family relationships but with national narrative in the background – history through a domestic lens. Comical at times, but also moving, I can’t agree with many reviewers that Anne is the main character as this feels like an injustice to its wider cast. For all the wonder of her miniature masterpieces, this is surely her crowning achievement.

Whole Days in the Trees – Marguerite Duras (1954) translated by Anita Burrows

This year I read some of Marguerite Duras’ early work: her novel, The Little Horse of Tarqinia, and her short story collection, Whole Days in the Trees. Both impressed me, and I was particularly taken with the variety on offer in Whole Days in the Trees, as well as the sympathetic portrayal of older women. Though both ‘The Boa’ and ‘The Building Site’ feature the sexual curiosity of adolescent girls, the former has a counterpoint the ageing teacher who has never been loved. The title story portrays the difficult relationship of a young man and his mother, with Duras taking no sides, and ‘Madame Dodin’ is the love story of a middle-aged concierge and a binman. Duras’ keen observation of human behaviour, and ability to reveal her characters surreptitiously through small moments, is clear to see.

Death in Rome – Wolfgang Koeppen (1954) translated by Micheal Hofmann

Wolfgang Koeppen’s Pigeons on the Grass, the first in a loose trilogy, was one of my favourite novels of 2021, and so naturally I followed it up by reading not the second volume but the third, Death in Rome (luckily each book stands alone). It, similarly, tells its story via a cast of alternating characters, though here they are members of the one family. Where Pigeons on the Grass took place in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, here some time has passed, but the repercussions continue. Koeppen skilfully weaves the various strands into an intricate tapestry which gathers narrative force as the novel progresses. (Expect the second volume to feature next year…)

The Life Before Us – Romain Gary (1975) translated by Ralph Manheim

Alongside Marguerite Duras, I have also been exploring another French writer now sadly neglected in English, Romain Gary, reading both The Life Before Us and Lady L. The former is the more affecting novel, though there is much to admire in the darkly amusing Lady L. The Life Before Us was the novel with which Gary won the Prix Goncourt for the second time, having published it under a different name. The novel is the story of the relationship between an orphan, Momo, and an ex-prostitute. Madame Rosa. Despite the harsh environment which both have experienced, and the need to develop a tough exterior, the love between them becomes clearer as the novel progresses, and what could have been a bleak tale of poverty becomes something beautiful.

Dawn – Sevgi Soysal (1975) translated by Maureen Freely

Turkish writer Sevgi Soysal was completely unknown to me until earlier this year when I read this new translation of her fourth (and final) novel, Dawn. Set a time of political repression, it centres on a police raid during which the novel’s characters are arrested and then taken to the local police station to be interrogated. Many of them are related, including the two brothers Mustafa and Huseyin, one of whom has recently been released from prison. Another former prisoner, Oya, is the only woman to be taken. Soysal moves effortlessly between the thoughts and stories of the various characters, providing a detailed and unsettling picture of life in a police state