From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus, translated by Ann Goldstein

From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, is the story of a young unnamed woman’s grandmother just at the end of WWII in Italy after the 1943 American bombing of Cagliari.  Despite the namelessness of the main characters, there are named secondary characters in the slim novel that provide it depth and the main characters some roots.  The granddaughter is telling the story of her grandmother after her death, reminiscing about the growth and change in family.

The life of this family has seem good times and bad times, with some members experiencing greater hardships than others.  The grandmother in particular has a number of suitors that fail to come back after several weeks due to rumors about her sanity.  Her own family keeps her at arms length and often hidden from public view unless necessary.  She’s the black sheep of the family, though from what we learn about her she has normal urges of a young woman and a desire for freedom.  More than that, she’s got a creative mind and a penchant for writing.

“One day my great-grandmother waited for her in the courtyard with the whip, made of ox sinew, and began to hit her until even her head was bleeding and she had a high fever.”  (Page 14)

After a number of miscarriages and failed pregnancies, the grandmother has little recourse but to take action and find away to rid herself of at least one health problem.  On a trip to take care of her kidney stones in the healing waters, the grandmother meets a young man, known only as the Veteran.  In many ways, they are the same, but they also have different tragedies to overcome.  He was a concentration camp survivor after being captured during the war, while she is an escapee from her family.  Like the many times destroyed home on Via Manno, families are built and rebuilt as the darkness is torn out of the house and light once again filters in through its large windows with new hope.

From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, is about family and how it can be ripped apart and held together by secrets.  But it also is about dreams and love, and the sacrifices we must make to live into the future.  In many ways, its about the perseverance of our ancestors and how they can shape us in the future, even without our knowledge.

About the Author:

Milena Agus was a finalist for the Strega and Campiello prizes, and was awarded the prestigious Zerilli-Marimò prize for Mal di petra (From the Land of the Moon). It is her first novel. Agus lives in Cagliari, Sardinia.

About the Translator:

Ann Goldstein is an editor at The New Yorker. For Europa Editions, she has translated three novels by Elena Ferrante—The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, The Lost Daughter—Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, The Chill by Romano Bilenchi, The Father and the Stranger by Giancarlo de Cataldo, and The Worst Intentions by Alessandro Piperno. Her translation of Linda Ferri’s Cecilia is forthcoming in May 2010. She received a PEN Renato Poggioli Translation Award and was a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome. She is currently editing the complete works of Primo Levi, for which she received a Guggenheim Translation fellowship. She lives in New York.

This is my 74th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

170th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 170th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2012 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please visit the stops on the 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

Today’s poem is from Carsten René Nielsen from House Inspections:

Mail (page 61)

After an acquaintance remarked that a certain, newly erected building
looks like a piece of set design, the mailman, more and more, has
entertained the possibility that there's nothing on the other side of the
house fronts, no floors either, but that the letters, as soon as they have
disappeared through the letter flaps, continue their fall downwards,
whirling through an all-engulfing darkness.

What do you think?

The Caller by Karin Fossum, translated by K.E. Semmel

The Caller by Karin Fossum, translated by K.E. Semmel from the Norwegian, is the eighth book in her Inspector Konrad Sejer series of books.  It is not only a mystery with a adrenaline rush, but also a psychological examination of the criminal and victims minds.  Rather than a mystery that needs to be unraveled, Fossum creates an unsettling atmosphere that keeps readers on the edge.  What will happen next, how will the criminal again strike fear into those around him — neighbors, family, strangers.

And yes, this is a book about fear — the fear of death — the fear of death when it calls.  Death is always unexpected when it arrives, but what if you are lulled into an artificial sense of security by your own contented perceptions of your home and neighborhood?  What if something occurs that simply disrupts your preconceived notions of security?  Fossum asks these questions with each new prank and situation, and she ramps up the anxiety with each page turned.  From the very first pages, readers become aware that the Norwegian landscape will darken and tranquility will become tentative.

“Poor little thing, she thought, and tore its thighs off.  She liked the cracking sound the cartilage made when tearing from the bone.  Light and tender, the meat let go easily, and she succumbed to the temptation to stick a piece in her mouth.  It’s good, she thought, it has just enough seasoning, and it’s lean too.  She filled the pie dish and sprinkled on Cheddar cheese.  The she checked the time.  She didn’t worry about Margrete.  If the child sneezed she would know it immediately.  If she coughed or hiccuped, or began to cry, she would know.  Because there was a bond between them, a bond as thick as a mooring line.  Even the slightest tug would reach her like a vibration.”  (page 2)

However, it is the undercurrent under the surface plot that ripples beneath, providing just enough suspicion to keep readers wondering who the true criminal is.  Readers get a sense of Inspector Konrad Sejer as an honest man whose seen it all, but continues to work for the police as a way to ensure justice.  But readers also get to know how much his life has changed over the years and where his strength comes from — his family and young nephew Matteus.  His health may be failing, but the case is always important, pulling him away from his own misery into that of the victims and even the possible perpetrator.

When death calls, even in its mistiest form, The Caller by Karin Fossum, translated by K.E. Semmel tackles the what ifs and the inevitability that comes with that visit, including the reassessment of behavior and routine, love, and perseverance.  The atmosphere of the novel is by turns complacent and topsy-turvy, and Fossum’s characters must navigate the new world into which they are thrust.

About the Author:

Karin Fossum is the author of the internationally successful Inspector Konrad Sejer crime series. Her recent honors include a Gumshoe Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for mystery/thriller. She lives in a small town in southeastern Norway.

About the Translator:

K.E. Semmel is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in Ontario Review, the Washington Post, Aufgabe, The Brooklyn Review, The Bitter Oleander, and elsewhere. He has worked as the Publications & Communications Manager of The Writer’s Center, an independent nonprofit literary organization based in Bethesda, MD that offers over 300 workshops in writing annually and hosts around 50 literary events a year.  He is known for his work translating Simon Fruelund’s fiction, and he has received a translation grant from the Danish Arts Council.

This is my 71st book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah, translated by Geoffrey Strachan

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah, translated by Geoffrey Stachan is a quiet novel that hits the heart, twisting it until tears pour from the reader’s eyes.  Beginning slowly with the main character awaking from a dream, the novel builds to a crescendo, followed by still powerful diminuendo of reflection.  Appanah and Stachan’s translation provide a sense of distance from the characters at first, but pull readers in through the magic of the dreams and the jungle, generating the sense of hollowness and fullness of love in tension.

Set in Mauritius, Raj is in his 70s and is looking back on his time as an abused child in a poor family and the one friend he made following a major disaster that struck his small village of Mapou, which forced his family to leave and live near the island’s Beau-Bassin prison.  Raj’s family is poor, but happy as his two other brothers — Anil and Vinod — look out for him, even though he is the middle brother.  He is the one chosen to attend school, which he gladly shares with his brothers when he returns home to share the chore of obtaining water from the well.

“. . . in the old days at Mapou we used to crouch down, eating our mangoes with both hands, with the juice trickling down our forearms, quickly catching it with our tongues.  In the old days at Mapou we ate the whole mango, the skin, the little, rather hard tip that had held it to the branch and we sucked the stone for a long, long time until it was rough and insipid, good only to throw on the fire.” (page 44)

The connection between the brothers is severed and Raj is forced to leave his home with his parents as his father begins working as a guard at the Beau-Bassin prison, where in 1940 Jews were exiled during WWII.  Raj is still a child by modern standards at age 9 when he discovers the true wrath of his father and the world around him.  His father is easily displeased, particularly when drunk, and he often beats his children after taking whatever displeasure he has out on his wife.  In many ways, this rage shapes the boy that Raj becomes — secretive and imaginative.  He spends afternoons in the jungle, hiding and observing, especially once he learns of the prison and the bad man his father says are imprisoned there. It is his father’s rage and beatings that send Raj to the hospital inside the prison to recover and where he meets David.

Much of Raj’s life after leaving Mapou has been empty, but meeting David awakens in him his childhood and renews feelings of brotherhood.  The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah and translated by Geoffrey Stachan is stunning in its double entendre as the story of the last brother Raj and his own last “brother” David.  Raj is a deeply complex character as he looks at the past, his regrets about the choices he made and promises he could not keep, and his hope that the future will learn about the past so as to maintain the memory of those who have been lost.

About the Author:

Nathacha Devi Pathareddy Appanah is a Mauritian-French author. She comes from a traditional Indian family.

She spent most of her teenage years in Mauritius and also worked as a journalist/columnist at Le Mauricien and Week-End Scope before emigrating to France.

Since 1998, Nathacha Appanah is well-known as an active writer. Her first book Les Rochers de Poudre d’Or (published by Éditions Gallimard) received the ” Prix du Livre RFO”. The book was based on the arrival of Indian immigrants in Mauritius.

She also wrote two other books Blue Bay Palace and La Noce d’Anna which also received some prizes for best book in some regional festivals in France.

***I read this because of Anna’s glowing review at Diary of an Eccentric.

This is my 35th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.