Tag Archives: Other Press

Acts of Infidelity by Lena Andersson. Translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel

Acts of Infidelity Title: Acts of Infidelity
Author: Lena Andersson
Translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel
Publisher: Other Press
ISBN: 978-1590519035
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I love how some authors treat the subject of infidelity in their books and what is infidelity in this time and age of polyamorous relationships? Does it even exist? Hold any value? Sure it does and it is all about the people in the relationship/s after all.

Acts of Infidelity by Lena Andersson, translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel is a book about Ester Nilsson, writer and poet, who very quickly gets involved in an affair with a married actor, Olof Sten. She hopes he will divorce his wife and marry her. Olof is very clear about him not ever leaving his wife. He also does not object to Ester’s advances and continues the affair. The affair lasts for several years and the book is the account of that affair.

As I read the book, I found both these characters to be utterly selfish and callous in their behaviour. One knows that she can never get him so to say and continues to pursue him, no matter what. Olof basks in the attention and glory, shrugging every ounce of responsibility of the affair.

Andersson makes us see the roles we assign to women and absolve men of all responsibility. Her writing focuses on the woman being the mistress and the man nothing, so much so as going far to not even acknowledge the relationship. The writing is nuanced, racy, sentimental, and at the same time raises so many issues that you can’t help but wonder why you empathised with Olof at some point in the book. This is to me the brilliance of Andersson’s writing then to make you empathise with a character initially and then make you see under the layers of hypocrisy and who he really is at the heart of things.

The translation by Saskia is on point. She captures the frustration, ethos, confusion, and even the cruel way society boxes women as either wife or mistress in a very nuanced manner. The double standards come alive and how the book smartly raises the issues of love, faithfulness, and ultimately looks at the cheating from a feminist point of view. Acts of Infidelity is a book that is not easy to shake off once you are done with it. It is the kind of book that will also make you question the way you think or feel when confronted by such situations, either through your experience or someone else’s. A definite read for our times.

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Women by Mihail Sebastian. Translated from the Romanian by Philip Ó Ceallaigh

Women by Mihail SebastianTitle: Women
Author: Mihail Sebastian
Translated from the Romanian by Philip Ó Ceallaigh
Publisher: Other Press
ISBN: 978-1590519547
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I am so glad I read this rediscovered classic. This book is a short, simple story of love. It is a book about a young Romanian man who has just finished his medical studies in Paris and quickly decides to vacation in the Alps. This is where the action begins. This is where he falls in love with three women. The book is about each of them, in context with him, and of course what happens next.

There are four interlinked stories in the book, of course all relating to Stefan Valeriu. I love books that have stories that are again interrelated. Something extremely satisfying reading such books. I think the landscape of the book helped a lot as well – the Alps and Paris – glorious as ever.

The sections in the book are titled after the women they describe: Émilie, Maria, Arabela, and so on. The book actually takes place over two world wars but I am glad that none of them are spoken about in great detail. The idea I think was just to focus on personal relationships and not political, as often is the case in his books. The character of Stefan Valeriu is so complex and yet so simple, that sometimes I wondered what was the author trying to tell us through him. The unrequited loves and passions are highlighted wonderfully through some really short sentences throughout the book, which seem to work very well.

Women is a very strong and powerful novella/novel. It makes so many points that sometimes I would wonder while reading it, how could Sebastian manage to do all that in such a short book and yet he did. Also, might I add that regret is one of the recurring themes in the book – which is handled so delicately. I haven’t read too many books where this has been brought out this well. The long diary sections are a treat to read and extremely memorable.

Women is elegant and lyrical. It is the kind of book that is languid in its pace and deserves to be read that way. Also, Philip Ó Ceallaigh has managed to keep the elements of ennui and alienation extremely intact through the prose. I think very few translators manage to do that, and just for this I will look at his other works. Women is a book which is most certainly not to be missed.

 

 

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi Title: A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear
Author: Atiq Rahimi
Publisher: Other Press
ISBN: 9781590513613
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

So reading, “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear” by Atiq Rahimi was a part of my reading project – “Around the World Reading”. The series of books that I plan to read first are either based in Afghanistan or written by Afghan origin writers, this being one of them. I had read “The Patience Stone” by Atiq Rahimi last year and loved it. This year it was this one, another novella by Rahimi, set in Afghanistan.

“A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear” is set in 1978-1979, Kabul, Afghanistan. It is just on the brink of the Soviet War in Afghanistan. The novella is written from a stream-of-consciousness perspective and yet it is just not the narrator’s version or his take on things. There are more layers to the story.

A man is found outside a woman’s house – beaten and bruised. The woman takes him into her house. She has a child and another man whose identity is not revealed for a while. The entire drama unfolds in the lady’s house and in the mind of the narrator.

The stream of consciousness is strong throughout the novella. The past and present intertwine beautifully in Rahimi’s words. The plot is threadbare and yet holds so much action in it for a novella. The reader wants to know more and is at the same time satisfied with what is served.

“A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear” is complex most times. It will not be an easy read. The story elucidates the concepts of freedom, hope, and love. It might take you some time to get into the book, but once you do, it will want and demand complete attention. I highly recommend this read if you want to know more about Afghanistan’s political landscape.

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Book Review: Enough About Love by Herve Tellier

Title: Enough About Love
Author: Herve Tellier
Publisher: Other Press
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
PP: 240 pages
ISBN: 9781590513996
Price: $14.95
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Thomas loves Louise, a lawyer. Louise is married to Romain, a scientist. Louise loves Thomas. Yves, a writer, loves Anna. Anna, a psychiatrist, loves Yves, a man she found “unsettling.” Anna is married to Stan, an ophthalmologist. Thomas is Anna’s psychoanalyst. No, this isn’t an LSAT logic problem or a torrid soap opera. These are the characters that comprise Le Tellier’s urbane, au courant Paris comedy, a droll romp that is nevertheless intimate and complex within the playful pages. It’s packed with contagious quotes that you want to spread:

“Everyone should have analysis. It should be compulsory, like military service used to be.”

Or, let’s say you are jealous of a woman and want to share a canny reproach with a friend:

“She sees herself as slim, lives being slim as synonymous with being rigorous. Gaining weight, she is convinced, is always a lapse.”

Lots of light, saucy bon mots flash through this story, but there are small earthquakes that convulse now and then. At 228 pages and 51 short chapters (and an epilogue), most chapters are structured in pairs, such as “Thomas and Louise” and “Anna and Yves,” alluding to couples, as well as Abkhazian dominoes, a game that is close to Yves’ heart. “He is a writer who has readers, but not a true readership.” He may obscure himself further by titling his next novel after that titular game.

Throughout the wry novel, the coupling and uncoupling of husbands, wives, and lovers overlap and cross, and sometimes meet. The themes and ideas may be common but the characters are genuine and close. The dialog is inspired, not prepared or clichéd. The prose slides creamily off the tongue, like a filled croissant, and is peppered with paradox and the double entendre, pointed aphorisms and learned allusions. And life can be turned into aphorisms, instructs Thomas to his patient, Anna, as a way of fixing life into words.

“…what attracts us about another person has had more to do with what makes them fragile…Love is kindled by the weakness we perceive, the flaw we get in through, wouldn’t you say?”

There’s a gravitas that manifests subtly, an accretion of observations and details that examine love from every curve and angle. You can visualize this dialog-heavy book as a film, or a play. There is no way not to compare Le Tellier to the best of Woody Allen–a little bit Lubitsch, a little bit Jewish, some Annie Hall, some Stardust Memories, a profusion of Freud. But this is French, and you will imagine that you are walking through Jardin du Luxembourg or running across the Quai des Grands Augustins on a grey, Paris day. It’s eclectic, though, with American as well as other infusions. The savvy prose serves up a savory atmosphere, drifting through outdoor cafés and public squares. Some of the time, though, you are indoors, near a bookcase, and often a bed…

Cultural icons, such as François Truffaut, are included, not just as a reference, but as meaning to the story at hand. Thomas emails Louise, after they first meet, that doesn’t a scene in Stolen Kisses anticipate the future of email? But the scene he shares, in detail, is the buttering of his desires.

There is even a postmodernish, double-column chapter; on one side is Yves’ dry, but increasingly inventive lecture of the word “foreign,” with emphasis on the fact that the French have only one word for it, l’etranger. Juxtaposed on the other side is the cuckolded Stan, seated in the back row, agonized in a stream of invective consciousness. The linguistic stunt work by the author is more than a showcase; it concludes in a probing, poignant place of alarm and discovery.

The characters in these triangular love affairs share universal elements– sex and death, guilt and virtue, grief and ecstasy, illusion and certainty, passion and ennui. And, of course, love. But enough about love.

Eminent credit goes to Adriana Hunter for her luminous translation from the French.