Category Archives: europa editions

Strike Your Heart by Amélie Nothomb. Translated from the French by Alison Anderson

Strike Your Heart by Amélie NothombTitle: Strike Your Heart
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454852
Genre: Mothers and Children, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction,
Pages: 135
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I am still reeling under the influence of Strike Your Heart by Amélie Nothomb. It is a short novel (could have been a novella if fifteen pages shorter) but the impact it has is tremendous. What a book! What a treat! And yet, it will drain you emotionally – of almost everything you possess – of course temporarily but it will.

Do not be fooled by its size. 135 pages pack a lot more what 350 pages cannot in most novels. This one is a firecracker and how! While I was reading it initially, I thought it was modelled after Madame Bovary and some of it sure was, but it was only in the first couple of twenty pages or so and then the similarity ended.

The book is about Diane but first let’s talk about Diane’s mother Marie, the one with whom it all begins. Marie who had to marry early on and give birth to Diane when she was just twenty. There is no bond between mother and daughter. Marie can’t bear to see her daughter. Diane does what she can to gain approval of her mother. Diane’s father Olivier is merely a spectator. With two more siblings, Diane’s love for her mother doesn’t diminish, till she sees her smothering her sister Célia and decides to step back and live with her maternal grandparents (there is a lot more that happens which I cannot say for now, because spoilers).

Years pass. Diane wants to pursue her dream of becoming a cardiologist (the heart connect) and at university, she befriends an assistant professor, Olivia. Olivia is strangely similar and yet so different to Marie (which Diane realizes much later). Olivia loves power and wants to feel superior to everyone around her, including her own eight-year-old daughter, Mariel. Diane’s life is thrown into a whirlwind and how it all ends up makes for the rest of the story.

“Strike Your Heart” – the very title comes from the quote by novelist Alfred de Musset, “Strike Your Heart, that is where genius lies”. This is what inspires Diane to take up medicine, this is the core of the book – the intensity of emotions and relationships – comes all from the poor old heart.

Nothomb writes with a force of a tsunami, really. Every word and sentence is not wasted. Nothing is out of place. Nothomb is cruel and yet so gentle all at the same time. She moves at a quick pace and doesn’t manage to lose out on all the essential incidents, lives, moments and the on-goings of almost all characters. Even the ones that are hidden – Diane’s brother Nicolas, her best friend Élisabeth, her father, her grandparents, and even Olivia’s husband and daughter. Nothomb has a role to be played by everyone.

“Strike Your Heart” in so many places feels so autobiographical – like it must have happened to someone the author knew or to her. The translation by Alison Anderson is spot on. She is one of my favourite translators of French to English. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is one such example of her genius translated work. Every line seems that it was meant to be there. No syntax changes and the emotion is perfect.

Here is one of my favourite lines from the book:

“She stayed for hours at the side of an old lady who was allergic to solitude”

“Strike Your Heart” will stay with you for a long time. I know it will stay with me for sure. The bitter-sweetness, the longing, the desperation, all of the validation and not to forget jealousy which is so much at the core of this wondrous read.

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The Hazards of Good Fortune by Seth Greenland

The Hazards of Good Fortune Title: The Hazards of Good Fortune
Author: Seth Greenland
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454623
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 624
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I loved Seth Greenland’s “I Regret Everything”. It was witty, sharp and biting and his latest book is no different. Thank God for that! “The Hazards of Good Fortune” while being hilarious and often witty, does not stop being profound or showing us what the author wants us to see, one which is thinly veiled and not exposed to all. He explores big themes, big emotions and a big landscape in this book – New York and the Obama presidency.

Jay Gladstone is the kind of aware and ‘woke’ man I would love to meet. He makes his errors and he is aware of them to the point that he tries to make amends as well. He does not try and absolve himself of his silly ways, so to say. He sees himself a moral man, who doesn’t want to repeat his father’s mistakes. He is born to privilege and checks it at all times. Till life, circumstance and other people happen to him and everything spirals out of control or so it seems.

Greenland looks at uncomfortable topics unflinchingly – race, class and gender. He doesn’t mince his words. The book reminded me so much of “The Bonfire of the Vanities”. Some things were so similar – a man caught in circumstances beyond his control, the element of race and how it works in the Obama presidency and the question of morals and what place they hold in our lives.

“The Hazards of Good Fortune” is never light (though it may come across that way sometimes). It is an extremely appropriate read for our times and the kind that makes you sit up and take notice of what is going on. The writing is incisive and sharp. The characters play out urban angst fantastically and the author doesn’t hide their weaknesses for one single minute. The plot is layered, the book runs at a break-neck speed and still manages to find some humour in all of this. Read it and find out.

 

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi. Translated from the French by Tina Kover

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi Title: Disoriental
Author: Négar Djavadi
Translated from the French by Tina Kover
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609454517
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

At the very onset, let me tell you that “Disoriental” is not an easy book to read. I think most literary fiction isn’t. You have to give the genre some time to grow on you and once it does, there is no looking back. Having said that, the reading experience differs with every book.

The thing with “Disoriental” is that (and to me, this was important while reading it) it is written in French (the adopted country of the author) and not in the author’s native language Farsi. This in itself says so much about the book and its progression.

The readers are in for a treat when it comes to this book. From a modern-day fertility clinic, we are transported to modern Iranian culture and in the bargain the history of a country. Might I add that there are magic realism elements as well that take your breath away, even if you have read Márquez or Rushdie. Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran with her mother and sisters to join her father in France, at the tender age of ten. She is now twenty-five, in a fertility clinic waiting for her turn and memories come rushing by.

I love how Djavadi has integrated the personal and the political. It is as if they are intertwined and to a very large extent maybe they are. The past, present, and future of the country of birth will somehow in so many ways, will always be linked to ours, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. The Sadrs are a flamboyant lot – from Kimiâ’s formidable great-grandfather to her father and uncles. Not to forget her mother from whom she was greatly inspired.

“Disoriental” besides being a book on identity, exile, and homelessness, is also a book on a family in the midst of political upheaval and regime change. Iran is described on point (not that I have been there but can figure, only going by movies I have watched and other books I have read) and there is mention of “THE EVENT” of March 13, 1994, which is spoken about throughout the book and revealed with a feeling of horror toward the end.

The thing also about “Disoriental” is that it feels as though it has come from a very personal space, almost autobiographical and maybe it is. Family looms large in the narrative and plays along beautifully alongside, combining the personal and the political. Also, not to forget the sexual. Kimiâ’s sexual identity is also explored which I thought was much needed.

“Disoriental” is about distances and perhaps also about the ones we do not sometimes want to traverse. It is about alienation and somehow feeling grounded wherever you are, in a very strange manner. The tone and voice of the narration keep changing in the book, which to me made it jumpy and out of the flow. Having said that, it was needed to give background about characters and the place they came from. There are multiple journeys in one book – they run parallelly to each other and the author uses deep, lyrical sentences that give it the much-needed elegance. At the same time, to understand that all of this is translated into English makes one be in awe of Tina Kover, given how dense the book is.

There is a lot of thread of memory – through objects, people, place and time (you will keep reading about THE EVENT a lot by the way), lending it the Proustian quality (I wasn’t surprised at all). All I can say is that “Disoriental” is a book that has so much to offer, and does it in a lot of ways and stupendously at that.

Time is a Killer by Michel Bussi. Translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside.

Time Is A Killer Title: Time is a Killer
Author: Michel Bussi
Translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN:978-1609454425
Genre: Thriller, Noir
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading Michel Bussi’s, “After the Crash” in one night. I remember not sleeping (thank god it was a weekend, so I eventually did catch up on some sleep) and before I knew it, it was dawn and the book was done. And what a read it was! The same did not happen this time. I loved, “Time is a Killer” but the book was way too long for me to pull an all-nighter and finish it. At 512 pages, not once did I find it dull, boring, or insipid. At the same time, if anything, I just wanted more and more.

Set on Corsica, “Time is a Killer” is a book about murder, revenge, loss, and most of all memories, home and identity. I loved how Bussi very cleverly, quite almost makes this a literary thriller and yet it isn’t that. The book alternates between the summers of 1989 and 2016.

Clotilde Idrissi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Corsican father and a Franco-Hungarian mother, is the only survivor of a terrible automobile accident that takes the lives of her parents and older brother Nicolas in August 1989. Twenty-seven years later, Clotilde is back on the island with her husband Franck and her 15-year-old daughter, Valentine and things aren’t what they seem. While all seems changed on the island, some secrets of that night and accident reveal themselves to Clotilde (of course I won’t tell you through who) and her life is never the same.

Bussi has a knack of merging the present with the past. He has done it in his earlier works as well and does it stupendously in this one too. While sometimes, it might seem a bit tedious to read this book, however, let nothing deter you. It is undoubtedly one of the best noir books I’ve read so far, this year. The mystery is hidden superbly and will have you guessing right down till the last page. It will immerse you and just as I was, so will you be enchanted by the beauty of Corsica, as described by Bussi.

“Time is a Killer” is a great read. It is fast-paced, has the necessary elements of relationships and how sometimes we don’t communicate enough and a good plot. All the makings of a great summer read. Do not miss out on this one!

The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza

Title: The Gardens of Consolation
Author: Parisa Reza
Translated by: Adriana Hunter
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453503
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Gardens of Consolation” by Parisa Reza is a book about common people, literally caught up in conditions which are not ordinary – things happen around them, their country changes and they just hope and pray that things remain the same. It is the story of a family that sees Iran through the changes and what do those changes mean for them and their lives. Historical fiction isn’t easy to write. I mean there is so much already written about history timelines of a country – that sometimes as a reader I wonder: what else is left to read about this? Then comes along a book like ‘The Gardens of Consolation’ that defies my way of thinking and presents me with something new and exciting.

The book is set in 1920s with young newlyweds Talla and Sardar Amir travelling from their native village Qamsar to the suburbs of Tehran, where everything is new to them. Sardar is amazed at what he can do when it comes to work and Talla is slowly coping with the ways of the world – a major change being with the Shah announcing that the chador must not be worn anymore. This is just one of the incidents but it leaves a huge impact on Talla’s life. The book then proceeds with them moving to Shemiran where they raise their son Bahram – who is somewhat of a prodigy in school and after and how his political leanings (nationalist) change him and the family. The overthrow of Mosaddegh plays a prominent role in the book and of course how Iran progressed as a country from pillar to pillar, thereby also witnessing its decline in the coming years.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot, so this is the story in brief. Having said this, the characters of this book almost become family. I could empathize so much with Talla – be it the situation of the chador to the time she is envious of the girlfriends her son brings home to also the time she goes back to her hometown and yet cannot recognize all that was left behind. Reza’s prose and Adriana Hunter’s translation does wonders to the prose. Sardar on the other hand is a content man (so is Talla by the way) and that’s why he is under constant fear of his world being torn apart one way or the other. I think so many of us can relate to this – time doesn’t matter, neither does class, what matters is the common fear of feeling secure throughout your life. Bahram’s character on the other hand is immensely complexed – he wants more and yet he doesn’t want more. We see him grow from a child to a teenager to an adult and see how his perspectives change as well.

Reza’s writing is compassionate. She makes you want to know a lot more about the characters and the situations they face on a day to day basis. “The Gardens of Consolation” makes you hoot for common people and hope and pray that all goes well in their world – and when you start doing that in a book, it means you are hooked to it. Reza makes you weep (a little), smile (a lot) and makes you a see a world that you never thought existed. A read not to be missed.