Transparent City by Ondjaki translated by Stephen Henighan
But this isn’t only the story of Odonato and his family: it’s about the wide-ranging community that inhabits and/or visits the tower. The narrative flows like water from the Seashell Seller and his blind companion to the Mailman delivering the letters he’s written himself, pleading for the motorbike he needs to complete his rounds. It streams from corrupt tax inspectors to an investigative journalist to the businessmen seeking to extract underground oil. It trickles from a scientist visiting from America to tourists arriving to view the eclipse to the women peddling their wares on the pavement at the entrance to the building.
I didn’t find it as difficult as I expected to keep track of the numerous characters; nor was the eccentric rationing of capital letters and punctuation marks as distracting as I feared. While I’m sure I missed many of the nuances, I enjoyed this literary blend of satire, realism of magic realism. It’s both a welcome introduction to Angolan literature and a universal story of the evils of corporate greed. (On the day I finished reading it, the news featured another shameful episode in the saga of the Grenfell Tower fire. Yes, it’s not only in African countries where capitalism trumps public safety.) Thanks to UK publishers Europa editions for my advance proof copy.
Winter Flowers by Angélique Villeneuve translated by Adriana Hunter
I didn’t take to the voice initially: it read like a fanfare, heralding a momentous journey. But it settled - or I settled - into a lovely understated tone as the dynamics of small family shift to accommodate the third member. I really felt for Jeanne, the young mother. She’s worked long hours making artificial flowers to support herself and her daughter, and still she’s cold and half starved. Now there’s another mouth to feed, a man who is and isn’t the person she fell in love with not so many years before.
A moving novella about learning to live with loss and the consequences of war. Thanks to Peirene Press for my review copy.
Although she was born after it ended, the First World War impacts on my character, Matty, the quirky protagonist of my latest novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home. She romanticizes her father, of whom she has no memory, as he died when she was a baby. Was he a war hero and why does it matter? As Matty has a fuzzy boundary between fantasy and reality, it might take some working out!
“This devil’s yours, Sambo. Kraut won’t see you coming in the dark.”
The stallion had a malicious glint in its eyes, but the glint in the captain’s was meaner. Walter had never ridden before; Beauty had never seen action. But they’d learn; they had to: hesitant horses were dinner; the deserter’s fate was worse.
Patience paid off. Walter soothed Beauty’s nerves on the battlefield; Beauty eased Walter’s yearning for home. Gassed, shell-shocked and wounded, Walter returned to St Kitts to die. He left his medal with Beauty in Flanders. It belonged to the horse as much as to him.