Sunday 2 January 2022

In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts [In Times of Fading Light] by Eugen Ruge

First published 2011 by Rowohlt
First English translation 2013 by Graywolf Press
Translated by Anthea Bell

This is an atmospheric family saga which depicts the dissolution of both the four generations of a German family and the fall of communism in East Germany. The novel but goes back and forth in time from 1952 to 2001, but it climaxes with the fall of Berlin wall in 1989. We can see the frustration felt by the characters in the book, partly because they realize (and some even choose to deny) that communism is doomed to fail. It’s not a feel-good story, and Ruge is wise to not dwell too long on the failure of communism or how the ideology promotes hypocrisy, and portray the characters' generational conflict.

Thursday 6 January 2022

مسرى الغرانيق في مدن العقيق [The Book Smuggler] by Omaima Al-Khamis

First published 2017 by Dar Al Saqi
First English translation 2021 by Hoopoe
Translated by Sarah Enany

This is a novel in the tradition of travel writing from the mediavel era. Set in the years 1009–1014 AD, it tells the story of Mazid, a desert Arab whose passion for books and learning carries him on a journey to save and distribute (or smuggle) the books that are considered heretic by the ruling caliphs. I appreciate this work as a novelistic account of the fitna that befell Islam during that time, when various theological schools and political factions are vying for adherents and power. It’s astounding how little has changed in the modern Islamic world, especially with regards to how easy it is for people to shed blood because they don’t tolerate different beliefs.

Saturday 8 January 2022

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

First published 2019 by Alfred A. Knopf

This is a dense, hyper-literate and multi-layared novel that tells a very important story about lost children, child immigrants who disappear while crossing the Mexican border into the US. The book is told in a form of a travelogue written by a soundscape artist (or documentarian) who is on a road trip with her husband and two children, although its second half is told from the son’s perspective. She tells us that the family is taking a long trip to Arizona because her husband and she are working on their final soundscaping work, the husband on the Appacheria and she on the lost children. We then learn that because her marriage is unraveling, and later in the road trip her two children leave the trip to find and help the lost children. I think it’s a challenging yet rewarding book that is influenced by many writers, but most of all it reminds me of WG Sebald in its use of intertextual elements such as pictures, quotes, and allusions.