Twelve Days of Messenger’s Blog – Day Eleven

251d4-sorrowOnto my eleventh favourite work for the year, a book that has received accolades far and wide, from the shortlist of the 2016 Best Translated Book Award, and culminating in a longlist nomination for the 2017 Dublin Literary Award. Georgi Gospodinov’s “The Physcis of Sorrow” (Translated by Angela Rodel) sides with the fate of the Minotaur, he argues that he is merely a victim, he had no choice in being born and banished to the underground, he had to eat, and he was trapped in a labyrinth.

A book I thoroughly enjoyed for its humour, its labyrinth style and the cryptic puzzle style. A challenging but rollicking adventure into Bulgarian literature.

My review used the children’s television program “My Little Pony” and an exiled Yugoslavian writer as its reference points. Here is a copy to jog your memories;

Can “My Little Pony”, a Yugoslavian living in the Netherlands, and modern Bulgarian literature have something in common? Let’s see if I can start with the Yugoslav living in the Netherlands, move through an animated children’s television program, and travel through a novel shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. Enter my labyrinth, let’s hope there’s not too many dead ends.

In our contemporary society – which is highly homogenized by the global marketplace – intellectual and artistic heresy is like oxygen. Globalized culture sucks that oxygen from our mental landscape. The global marketplace pretends that it offers us a diversity of products but in fact sells us the powerful substitute of the holy ONE. Today, we get one “subversive” philosopher, one “subversive” artist, and one subversive “writer”: the global market can’t bare more than one! In other words, we get one Coca-Cola, but we believe that by consuming it we consume the whole world. Celebs are our modern prophets, whether they sell the photos of their impressive posteriors, like Kim Kardashian, or the seductive theories, like Slavoj Žižek, or millions of their books, like Haruki Murakami. I don’t have anything against Kim Kardashian or, God forbid, against the great Slavoj Žižek, or my fellow writer Haruki Murakami, but the holy ONE policy (created, ultimately, by consumers themselves) is a quite obvious sign of a society homogenizing its tastes and needs. That’s why many cultural “species” (forms, patterns, genres, practices, ideas, and cultural spaces) are disappearing. The global market standardizes our tastes, our intellectual and cultural needs. In the result, we all read one book, one Bible, one Koran, we all follow one “prophet”; we all wait in long lines to buy a new book by one writer, or in line to see the exhibition of one artist. There is a market pressure to love Him, to buy Him, and as we live in a religious world, we like to establish our modern “prophets” (in visual art, the entertainment industry, literature, film, etc.). And then we like them and respect them because everybody else likes and respects them…

Taken from “A Conversation with Dubravka Ugrešić” by Daniel Medin.

Published in “Music & Literature” Number 6

Given the history of the Minotaur in literature, you would think another work using the mythological beast as a metaphor would fit the contemporary society overflow. A writer with limited coverage in the English speaking world would not fit the profile of a “modern prophet”.

If you google the Minotaur and “popular culture” the results are astounding, wresting, anime, Batman, Doctor Who, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, Dexter, Power Rangers, Time Bandits, Inspector Gadget, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”, Borges, Kubrick’s “The Shining” video games, manga, even My Little Pony.

Not every reader has studied Classical Greek Mythology, and I’m fairly confident children watching “My Little Pony” and coming across a character called “Iron Will”, half bull, half pony, who puts on an “assertiveness” seminar in a hedge maze would have no idea of the references.

For those interested in seeking out the “My Little Pony” reference it is season 2, episode 19 “Putting Your Hoof Down”, written by long term SpongeBob Square pants writer Merriwether Williams (credited with 47 episodes of SpongeBob) from a story by Charlotte Fullerton. A full stream of the “My Little Pony” episode is available on line. In the episode, besides a Minotaur in a hedge maze we have Fluttershy pony becoming ashamed of her newly learned assertiveness and being locked in a dark room. When pressed by other polite ponies about her behaviour she yells; “Iron Will is not a monster, he’s a MINOTAUR.”

In the basement of the palace in Crete, Daedalus built a labyrinth of such confounding galleries that once you went inside it you could never find the exit again. Minos locked up his family’s shame, his wife Pasiphaē’s son, in this underground labyrinth. She conceived this son by a bull send by the god Poseidon. The Minotaur – a monster with a human body and a bull’s head. Every nine years the Athenians were forced to send seven maidens and seven youths to be devoured by him. Then the hero Theseus appeared, who decided to kill the Minotaur. Without her father’s knowledge, Ariadne gave Theseus a sharp sword and a ball of string. He tied the string to the entrance and set off down the endless corridors to hunt the Minotaur. He walked and walked until he suddenly heard a terrible roar – the monster was rushing toward him with its enormous horns. A frightful battle ensued. Finally, Theseus grabbed the Minotaur by the horns and plunged his sharp sword into his chest. The monster slumped to the ground and Theseus dragged him all the way back to the entrance.

–          Ancient Greek Myths and Legends

Georgi Gospodinov’s book “The Physics of Sorrow” sides with the fate of the Minotaur, he argues that he is merely a victim, he had no choice in being born and banished to the underground, he had to eat, and he was trapped in a labyrinth. Why do the majority of references identify the Minotaur as a monster?

As well as the Minotaur, the labyrinth has also featured heavily in popular culture and not just in literature, in fact there have been thesis’ written on the subject of labyrinths and literature, one I found on-line quoting Umberto Eco, (of course Ovid), Friedrich Nietzsche, Jorge Luis Borges, on the opening pages. I’m not even going to address the labyrinth and popular culture…video games, maze runners, it’s endless.

“No one realised that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same.” Victor Pelevin

But Georgi Gospodinov’s work is so much more than a design around the labyrinth motif and the Minotaur as a metaphor. A collection of short personalised views, vignettes, stories, rambling paragraphs, it is a work not easily defined, the deciphering is akin to solving a cryptic crossword, but the resultant challenge and enlightenment, once you find your way through his labyrinth of dead ends, is a very rewarding journey indeed.

Opening with a “prologue” defining seven versions of “I” (1913, 1968, always, never, not yet, 1944 and enduring nature) noting the “seven” definitions, the number of victims sent to the Minotaur, and the specific years, two preceding the two world wars and the other the year Bulgarian forces participated in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.  Later in the novel you will also learn of other important references to the relative years, or time periods. Each and every page contains a wealth of information that may be worth researching, or it may be just a contribution to Gospodinov’s collection of junk, a dead end in the labyrinth.

Once you get a little deeper into the book you discover that the narrator is in fact Georgi Gospodinov himself and we find that he has the ability to inhabit other people’s memories, the stories of his family, his friendships, at times the tales are written in the first-person, at other times in the third person.

I write in the first person to make sure that I’m still alive.

I write in the third person to make sure that I’m not just a projection of my own self, that I’m three-dimensional and have a body. Sometimes I nudge a glass and note with satisfaction that it falls and breaks. So I do still exist and cause consequences.

This family structure is a labyrinth itself, he inhabits his grandfather’s experiences, who was accidentally left behind at the flour mill, during World War One, as a three-year-old. We have the same grandfather visiting the fair, again alone, with a “fiver” which he uses to visit a Minotaur “there is sorrow in him, which no animal possesses.”

Just as the Minotaur is abandoned, has no childhood, lives in sorrow, this is a “novel” that explores human abandonment, the absence of childhood, and of course, as the title suggests, sorrow, the reader is led through the deep caverns (labyrinth) of the author’s mind. There are numerous times and experiences divulged, we have the exploration of growing up in Communist Bulgaria, the boredom, the absence of children, the television programs (propaganda), the training, even the sexual awakening in a repressed society. We have the author himself being exiled, or is it somebody he inhabits?

Let’s wait here for the souls of distracted readers. Somebody could have gotten lost in the corridors of these different times. Did everyone come back from the war? How about from the fair in 1925? Let’s hope we didn’t forget anyone at the mill. So where shall we set out for now? Writers shouldn’t ask such questions, but as the most hesitant and unsure among them, I’ll take that liberty. Shall we turn toward the story of the father, or continue on ahead, which in this case is backward, toward the Minotaur of childhood…I can’t offer a linear story, because no labyrinth and no story is ever linear. Are we all here? Off we go again.

Later in the novel Gospodinov becomes a purveyor of stories, within these stories he can create a childhood, he can reject abandonment, a true storyteller is one who can inhabit another’s thoughts. The labyrinth becomes less dark.

“The Physics of Sorrow” is littered with quotable quotes, philosophical observations about our planet, our very beings, as you read them you wonder, ‘is this another dead end to the labyrinth?’, however, as a whole the collection comes to a crescendo, the final clues of the cryptic puzzle fall into place, the fact that this is indeed a rare gem comes to the fore. Yes it may be a rough unpolished gem in places, that doesn’t mean it is any less precious.

There is also a hilarious, but true, section on the banality of the question “How are you?” and the phobia our writer has for being asked such, a listing of the clichéd replies, a la ‘fine thanks’, ‘hanging in there’, ‘getting by’ and a further listing of the available answers to the question. My personal favourite from the list is “I’m not”.

Experimental in style, moving through myth, fact, fiction, meta-fiction, philosophy, photographs (there are some included as well as artworks) and even noises, this is not a book for those who want a straightforward narrative style. Given the limited media coverage for this work, although being shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award will help, this wonderful book risks being another victim of our “homogenized contemporary society”. To me a work which explores the limits of fiction, another “subversive” writer I am glad the Best Translated Book Award has introduced me to.

Who knows, maybe one day there will no longer be Literature. Instead there will be literary web sites. Like those stars, still shining but long dead, the web sites will testify to the existence of past writers. There will be quotes, fragments of texts, which prove that there used to be complete texts once. Instead of readers there will be cyber space travelers who will stumble upon the websites by chance and stop for a moment to gaze at them. How they will read them? Like hieroglyphs? As we read the instructions for a dishwasher today? Or like remnants of a strange communication that meant something in the past, and was called Literature?

Taken from the Home Page of Dubravka Ugrešić’s website http://www.dubravkaugresic.com/

 

International Dublin Literary Award 2017

Today the longlist of 147 titiels for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award were announced. I have read and reviewed twelve of the titles on my blog (the ones highlighted in bold) and am very unlikely to get t o a whole lot more – although there are two titles I have read but did not get time to write about, maybe one day they’ll become reviews here too.

The prize of €100,000 is awarded to the author of the winning book. However, if the winning book is in English translation, €75,000 is awarded to the author and €25,000 to the translator.

The shortlist will be announced on 11 April 2017 and the winner on 21 June 2017.

For details on every title go to the official website at http://www.dublinliteraryaward.ie/

And here are the 147 longlisted titles:

 all-longlist-books-670x350

“A General Theory of Oblivion” by José Eduardo Agualusa – Translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn

“Woman of the Dead” by Bernhard Aichner – Translated from the German by Anthea Bell

“The Automobile Club of Egypt” by Alaa Al Aswany – Translated from the Arabic by Russell Harris

“Fifteen Dogs” by André Alexis

“The Japanese Lover” by Isabel Allende – Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor & Amanda Hopkinson

“A God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson

“The Heart Goes Last” by Margaret Atwood

“Dry Season” by Gabriela Babnik – Translated from the Slovene by Rawley Grau

“My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises” by Fredrik Backman – Translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch

“The Blue Guitar” by John Banville

“Beatlebone” by Kevin Barry

“Spill Simmer Falter Wither” by Sara Baume

“The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

“Inside the Black Horse” by Ray Berard

“The Long and Faraway Gone” by Lou Berney

“Sweet Caress” by William Boyd

“The Harder They Come” by T.C. Boyle

“Clade” by James Bradley

“The Secret Chord” by Geraldine Brooks

“The Weather Changed, Summer Came and So On” by Pedro Carmona-Alvarez – Translated from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley

“Out in the Open” by Jesus Carrasco – Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa

“Forever Young” by Steven Carroll

“It I Fall, If I Die” by Michael Christie

“The Birthday Lunch” by Joan Clark

“Did You Ever Have A Family” by Bill Clegg

“Confessions of the Lioness” by Mia Couto – Translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw

“Coming Rain” by Stephen Daisley

“The Meursault Investigation” by Kamel Daoud – Translated from the French by John Cullen

“Ancestral Affairs” by Keki N. Daruwalla

“The Devil You Know” by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

“The Bollywood Bride” by Sonali Dev

“Undermajordomo Minor” by Patrick deWitt

“Hollow Heart” by Viola di Grado – Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar

“The Heat” by Garry Disher

“The Green Road” by Anne Enright

“Against Nature” by Tomas Espedal – Translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson

“Hausfrau” by Jill Alexander Essbaum

“The Mirror World of Melody Black” by Gavin Extence

“Where My Heart Used to Beat” by Sebastian Faulks

“The Turner House” by Angela Flournoy

“The Pope’s Daughter” by Dario Fo – Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar

“Purity” by Jonathan Franzen

“Hope Farm” by Peggy Frew

“Our Endless Numbered Days” by Claire Fuller

“The Mare” by Mary Gaitskill

“A Place Called Winter” by Patrick Gale

“The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George – Translated from the German by Simon Pare

“Craving” by Esther Gerritsen – Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison

“Gliding Flight” by Anne-Gine Goemans – Translated from the Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier

“The Physics of Sorrow” by Georgi Gospodinov – Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel

“Best Boy” by Eli Gottlieb

“Chappy” by Patricia Grace

“Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff

“City on Fire” by Garth Risk Hallberg

“The Silent Room” by Mari Hannah

“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

“Delicious Foods” by James Hannaham

“One Minute to Midnight” by Diyar Harraz

“Dictator” by Robert Harris

“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

“This Place Holds No Fear” by Monika Held – Translated from the German by Anne Posten

“The Making of Zombie Wars” by Aleksandar Hemon

“The Illegal” by Lawrence Hill

“Submission” by Michel Houellebecq – Translated from the French by Lorin Stein

“Black River” by S.M. Hulse

“The Evening Chorus” by Helen Humphreys

“Avenue of Mysteries” by John Irving

“The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro

“The Star Side of Bird Hill” by Naomi Jackson

“Day Boy” by Trent Jamieson

“The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin

“Where All Light Tends To Go” by David Joy

“The World Without Us” by Mireille Juchau

“Man on Fire” by Stephen Kelman

“The African Equation” by Yasmina Khadra – Translated from the French by Howard Curtis

“The Helios Disaster” by Linda Boström Knausgård – Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles

“Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll

“Imperium” by Christian Kracht – Translated from the German by Daniel Bowles

“The Festival of Insignificance” by Milan Kundera – Translated from the French by Linda Asher

“Fortunate Slaves” by Tom Lanoye – Translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison

“The Prophets of Eternal Fjord” by Kim Leine – Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

“The Great Swindle” by Pierre Lemaitre – Translated from the French by Frank Wynne

“Birdie” by Tracey Lindberg

“The Discreet Hero” by Mario Vargas Llosa – Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

“The Story of My Teeth” by Valeria Luiselli – Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney

“Bits of Heaven” by Aishah Madadiy

“Don’t Forget to Remember” by Sonia Mael

“The Offering” by Grace McCleen

“The Antipodeans” by Greg McGee

“Circling the Sun” by Paula McLain

“Slade House” by David Mitchell

“A Reunion of Ghosts” by Judith Claire Mitchell

“The Legend of Winstone Blackhat” by Tanya Moir

“The Promise Seed” by Cass Moriarty

“Signs for Lost Children” by Sarah Moss

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

“Till Kingdom Come” by Andrej Nikolaidis – Translated from the Montenegrin by Will Firth

“Girl at War” by Sara Nović

“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

“The Fishermen” by Chigozie Obioma

“The Little Red Chairs” by Edna O’Brien

“Miss Emily” by Nuala O’Connor

“The Illuminations” by Andrew O’Hagan

“Orhan’s Inheritance” by Aline Ohanesian

“Under the Udala Trees” by Chinelo Okparanta

“When The Doves Disappeared” by Sofi Oksanen – Translated from the Finnish by Lola M. Rogers

“Asking for It” by Louise O’Neill

“A Strangeness in My Mind” by Orhan Pamuk – Translated from the Turkish by Ekin Oklap

“The Horn of Love” by Bozin Pavlovski – Translated from the Macedonian by Vesna N Krsteski

“The Lost Child” by Caryl Phillips

“A Measure of Light” by Beth Powning

“The Watchmaker of Filigree Street” by Natasha Pulley

“Above the Waterfall” by Ron Rash

“You Have Me to Love” by Jaap Robben – Translated from the Dutch by David Doherty

“Feast of the Innocents” by Evelio Rosero – Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean & Anna Milsom

“Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” by Salman Rushdie

“The Year of the Runaways” by Sunjeev Sahota

“The Kindness” by Polly Samson

“The Mystics of Mile End” by Sigal Samuel

“A Whole Life” by Robert Seethaler – Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins

“Ghachar Ghochar” by Vivek Shanbhag – Translated from the Kannada by Srinath Perur

“The Book of Aron” by Jim Shepard

“Yo-yo” by Steinunn Sigurðardóttir – Translated from the Icelandic by Rory McTurk

“The English Spy” by Daniel Silva

“The Chimes” by Anna Smaill

“Golden Age” by Jane Smiley

“Before the Feast” by Saša Stanišić – Transtlated from the German by Anthea Bell

“The Winter War” by Philip Teir – Translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally

“Duke” by Sara Tilley

“The Last Flight of Poxl West” by Daniel Torday

“Salt Creek” by Lucy Treloar

“The Orange Grove” by Larry Tremblay – Translated from the French by Sheila Fischman

“A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler

“The Jaguar’s Children” by John Vaillant

“Aquarium” by David Vann

“The Illogic of Kassel” by Enrique Vila-Matas – Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean & Anna Milsom

“Yugoslavia, My Fatherland” by Goran Vojnović – Translated from the Slovene by Noah Charney

“The Dying Grass” by William T. Vollmann

“Ledger of the Open Hand” by Leslie Vryenhoek

“My Sunshine Away” by M.O. Walsh

“Gold Fame Citrus” by Claire Vaye Watkins

“These Are The Names” by Tommy Wieringa – Translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett

“The Gap of Time” by Jeanette Winterson

“The Natural Way of Things” by Charlotte Wood

“Weathering” by Lucy Wood

“A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara

“Eighty Days of Sunlight” by Robert Yune