Alternate worlds and recreated memories – The Irish Times
The titles of Nona Fernández’s twin novels, The twilight zone (Daunt Books, 272 pages, £9.99) and space invaders (Daunt Books, 96pp, £9.99), both translated by Natasha Wimmer, might suggest mild nostalgia, but it soon becomes clear that its subject is to serve the memory of those who were tortured and murdered in Chile when Pinochet was president.
The Twilight Zone is its name for the nowhere that all those who have disappeared dwell in. An alternate world that will never be located. As is the case with several other Latin American novels, these two books stick to verifiable facts that are presented without frills but with added elements of fiction. The testimony of Andrés Antonio Valenzuela Morales, commonly known as “the man who tortured people”, whose daily “work” infuses brutality with banality, is of paramount importance for the elaboration of these novels. The novels mirror each other, allowing for different perspectives on many of the same events. My suggestion would be to read the longer book first.
True nostalgia becomes a central element of Temporal Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 307pp, £14.99) when, as the culmination of a novel that meditates on the nature of memory and time, the countries of the EU (and Switzerland , always ready for a new referendum ) vote on the country or decade they would like to recreate and relive with precision.
To begin with, the narrator’s enigmatic friend, Gaustine, constructs painstakingly detailed versions of average living rooms as they would have been in certain years, the hope being that this will help trigger memories in people who have suffered severe loss of life. memory. This method of helping people with dementia and other degenerative diseases leads one to think about how entire populations could benefit from living in a time when their country was experiencing its period of greatest hope. But, fascinating as it all is, it’s often Gospodinov’s asides and musings that are the most engaging and entertaining aspect of an immensely enjoyable book that reaches depth with an affable narrative voice.
The monumental contributions of Irish writers to international modernism may seem to have quickly given way to a preference for the realist novel. But there have always been Irish writers who accepted narrative challenges from the great notables. Among them was Eoghan Ó Tuairisc whose novel I’m lustful has been translated from Irish for the first time by Micheál Ó hAodha (Bullaun Press, 106pp, €12.95) in a playful and ingenious recreation of the original novel that swings in and out of Loodeen’s (Lewy’s) perspective, six years, in a free indirect style.
Through him, one understands and misunderstands both the tumults of the Revolutionary War, the meaning of religion with the swirling confusion of a circus, his grandfather’s funeral and the terror induced by the nuns. Lewy’s perplexity fits perfectly with the way we as readers must ourselves discover the circumstances of the scenes in which we are placed in media res. The language matches this instability of certainty, recreating both Irish and English and often rendering it as Lewy might interpret it phonetically. Bullaun Press – based in the Aran Islands – said its mission was to make translated literature “its sole focus”. Their first publication – a witty and inventive novel – is a very welcome addition to world literature.
Towards the start of Anthony by Beatriz Bracher, translated by Adam Morris (Pushkin Press, 187pp, £9.99), the character to whom everything is directed in the novel is told by his grandmother that “the story of our lives is not not yet finished, and it never will be”.
This thought is central to a novel in which we are given three perspectives on lives and events that had an immense impact on the life of Benjamin, the character to whom the other character’s memories are told. Benjamin acts like a black hole. We never get his point of view, and we only know him because of how he impacts those around him. The three people talking to him, separately answering questions we can guess about his father, Teo, a catastrophically unstable presence – then absence – in his life, are his grandmother, Isabel, a man who was a friend of the Isabel’s husband and a man who was a friend of Teo.
Besides the fascination of the stories they tell, much of the plot of this very fine and subtle novel stems from what we intuit as each character tells stories that reveal themselves in a way that they do not intend. As with lies that need to be covered up with more lies, our self-serving interpretations of the past will always be contradicted by the judgment of the present.
The first of many striking aspects of wire ripper by Amalie Smith, translated by Jennifer Russell (Lolli Editions, 216pp, £12.99) is the immediate appeal of this book as a physical object. The text is arranged in short paragraphs arranged almost like poems with different and unique fonts on the back and front pages. This distinction between left and right is embodied in the text, with different schools of thought on either side. It is never shocking or dissonant because, in a particular case, both parties are engaged in the same subject.
The points of convergence are often linked to the long prehistory of computers, starting with the automation of the loom and the impressive mathematical discoveries of Ada Lovelace. We chase examples of apparent transformation and progress as Smith weaves floating thoughts about episodes of his contemporary life: a visit to Japan, his passionate but hesitant feelings about a man called William, and his close affiliation with nature. ; always admitting that we are only one stage in the evolution of all nature. Through Smith’s luminous writing, we are presented with entirely original, thoughtful and resonant observations.
In A Treatise of Human Nature, David Hume wrote that the self is “nothing but a bundle of different perceptions which follow one another with inconceivable rapidity”. Such a definition could well apply to the ipseity of the central presence in The city of torment by Daniela Hodrová, translated by Veronique Fikusny and Elena Sokol (Jantar, 588pp, £25). This mutable and multiplied woman is in search of what remains of her childhood, her father, the streets of Prague and the inhabitants of this city in the collective illusion of memory. This is achieved in an expansively efficient manner, complex in structure, yet a joy to read in a terrifically ingenious translation.
Through the author’s imaginative leaps, we experience a number of characters’ attempts to match their subjective visions to the limits of human ability. Thus, the dead should not be able to interact with the living. But in the realm of this novel, they do. Originally three separate books, the trilogy shifts from third-person to first-person narration as the central presence descends “into itself, into childhood and into its own non-being” and emerges from the labyrinths dark and threatened by precursors like Franz Kafka and Bruno Schulz to produce a novel of exceptional brilliance.