All About H. Hatterr – G. V. Desani

Hatterr

The Indian ‘Ulysses’

Do we read for enlightenment?

Warning!

‘Melodramatic gestures against public security are a common form of self-expression in the East. For instance, an Indian peasant, whose house has been burgled, will lay a tree across a railway line, hoping to derail a goods train, just to show his opinion of life. And the Magistrates are far more understanding…’
Anglo-Indian writer

Indian middle-man (to Author): Sir, if you do not identify your composition a novel, how then do we itemise it? Sir, the rank and file is entitled to know.
Author (to Indian middle-man): Sir, I identify it a gesture. Sir, the rank and file is entitled to know.
Indian middle-man (to Author): Sir, there is no immediate demand for gestures. There is an immediate demand for novels. Sir, we are literary agents not free agent.
Author (to Indian middle-man): Sir, I identify it a novel. Sir, itemise it accordingly.

So opens this romp and wordplay by G.V. Desani, a writer born to Indian parents in Nairobi, Kenya, and raised in Sind, India (located in the present day Pakistan). This ‘gesture’ follows H. Hatterr on his search for enlightenment. Our protagonist, and author, is the son of a European merchant officer and a Penang lady, raised and educated in missionary schools in Calcutta.

Before you join Hatterr’s journey seeking out seven sages, from Calcutta, Ranoon, Madras, Bombay, Delhi, Mogalsarai-Varansi and All India, you need to decolonise your thinking. The cultural impact of a colonial missionary upbringing is represented through Hatterr’s obscure and garbled English. What we have been taught is thrown back in our faces, forcing us to shift our paradigms.

That’s all why this book isn’t English as she is wrote and spoke. Not verbal contortionism, I assure. (p16)

A wild satire, at times reminiscent of Cervantes’ Quixote’s adventures, Laurence Sterne’s rollicking and obscurity, and with the characterisations suggestive of Charles Dickens, this ‘gesture’ is unpredictable in many ways;

All pelmanism and former McCoy forsook him. Thus humbled, this once Apostle of Enthusiasm refrained from self-pity, and acted. HE gave up digging for good; and – fall of man! – he climbed down; evolved backwards. From the high station of a seeker of wisdom and learning, he went below; to the lowest bottom-rung of the human progress-ladder. He decided to become a writer! – belong to the frisky fraternity of autobiography-makers, the fellers who keep a tally of their does, and, in the sunset of their days, make an oyez to humanity, asserting the motto, Everyman, I will be thy guide! – damme, clowning and vaudeville-turning! (p31)

Each of the seven main chapters exploring H. Hatterr’s seach for enlightenment with each of the seven sages. They contain a “Digest”, “Instruction”, “Presumption” and a “Life Encounter”. Seven? Reminiscent of the seven deadly sins, pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wroth and sloth, although which teaching is which? For example in Chapter II, Hatterr lusts after a circus owner’s wife, and is reduced to lion taming, cowering on the floor with a raw steak on his stomach whilst the lion eats. Is this lust or gluttony? There is a possible explanation in the closing of the book, a critique of the book by Hatterr’s friend, seven quotes from the Bible , for Chapter II the reference is ‘Comfort me with apples: I am sick of love’. This closing part of the book consists of 80 paragraphs, again a number is used to imply other connections, “The number 8 is extremely symbolic: v. 8-limbed Raja Yoga, etc.” To add to the maze, the book also uses symbols, mathematical and to represent the planets.

Hatterr’s accomplice Banerrji, speaks a garbled Shakespearian waffle;

‘Honest Iago,’ says the feller, greatly agitated, ‘I am as meek as Moses, but I have just heard that you have been mishandled by that Bhata Govinda. Whip me, ye devils! Roast me in sulphur! Gall, worse than gall! A rascally yea-forsooth knave! Three Judases, each one thrice worse than Judas! Falstaff speaking, I am as subject to heat as butter. A man of continuous dissolution and thaw! What valour were it, when a cur doth grin! If I can but catch him once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him!’ (p189-190)

The absurdity of Western customs and rituals always bubbling to the surface;

Baw-saw: Why do the Occidental males wear neck-wear?
The Sheik: It is a mystic symbol and is called the Neck-tie. Their system of mysticism is called Etiquette. Accordingly, their women suffer equality with men: and assume leg-wear, the Garter! Mystically baptised the Honi. I have heard it said, in answer to another query, that the highest respect an Occidental husband can accord his spouse is the addressing of the incantation, You are a super, sweetheart! You don’t let the side down! Good show! (p104)

At times the language can be difficult to follow, with circular references, including allusions to the book itself, and spoonerisms, misquotes, incorrectly attributed references and more! Here Hatterr is travelling as a mystic, from town to town seeking alms as he has no money;

The trump card of us Balaamite fellers is the mumbo-jumbo talk : The priestcraft obscurantisms and subtlety : (…Wherefore, pious brethren, by confessing I lie, yolks! I tell the truth, sort of topholy trumpeting-it, by the Pharisee G. V. Desani: see the feller’s tract All About…, publisher, the same publishing company) : a language deliberately designed to mystify the majority, tempt ‘em to start guessing, and interpreting our real drift, and allegory, what the hell we mean : pursue our meaning on their sthula (gross), the sukshama (subtle) and para (supreme) planes, and levels, and still miss the issue and dash their heads against the crazy-paved rock of confusion, (…Wherefore, what we found, we forsook: what we did not find, we kept. Answer: Lice. A Greek writer feller called Homer, Plutarch confirming, killed himself trying to solve this.) Meantime, while heads are being dashed, and good Greeks killed, we the Wherefore, wherefore fellers, the masters of perplexing parable-speech, remain the all-knowing, never puzzled minority! (p120)

Heavily italicised, exclamation marks throughout the tongue in cheek jibes at the English, are forever flowing;

Damme, almost said to the feller, in his own tone and lexicon, ‘Cheer-o! Cheer-ho! Same to you! Blaw, blaw! Appadine-bloomin’-Sinclair! Huntin’ and shootin’! Good show! Good show! Ain’t cricket, Featherstonehaugh! Play the game, Cholmely-Smythe! A century, old bean! A daisy-cutter! A pink ‘un, Cru’shank! You are a Briton, sir! A real blightah, sah! A sahib, a durai, a tuan, a thakin, and a bwana, bay Jove! A fine dato, Finerty-Milliceep! Fore, there, fore! O mother, O begetter, O jewel! O bearer of the pangs of childbirth! Mama mia, madre, matka, anya, mata, meri! May Appadine-Sinclair’s dago arteries be squashed for turning up at this inauspicious moment! (p248)

Yes, Joycean in style and tone, this is a work that demands re-reading, a slow contemplative absorption, where you can take in the enlightenments, and the references to English (and European) literature.

Which leads me to the introduction, by Anthony Burgess, the same fellow I referred to earlier in the week and his Joycean reference to Alisdair Gray’s ‘Lanark’. Here he specifically references ‘Ulysses’;

The reader who expects the shapeless mind-wandering regularity associated with an amateur search for Truth, must now be informed that H. Hatterr’s story is carefully, even pedantically, planned as Ulysses. There are seven long sections, each of which begins with H. Hatterr consulting a sage. That means seven Sages, each from a different Oriental city, each specialising in a different aspect of Living (H Hatterr’s capitalisation is infectious). The student, having learnt some great Generality, the proceeds to an Adventure, in which he attempts to spread the gospel to other aspiring minds. He ends the section in a discussion with his friend Banerrji, then, refreshed and more hopeful than ever, he proceeds to the next stage of enlightenment. Some such patter, as Joyce knew, was essential if the fine flood of language was not to take chaotic control. (p10)

Here I will agree with Anthony Burgess, this is a highly enjoyable, yet challenging, humorous romp towards enlightenment. I’d give you the keys in summation, but that would be a spoiler alert and it would deprive you of the wonderful journey of H. Hatterr.

Another work complete in my journey through the world of Ulysses.

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Lanark – Alasdair Gray

LanarkThe Scottish Ulysses

Based on a list of twelve “novels that have been described, whether by critics or the authors themselves, as the Ulyssi of their respective cultures”, compiled by writer Joshua Cohen, late last year I added a post “A World of Ulysses”.

I did extend the listing of twelve adding a number of novels that other readers have claimed fit the Ulysses tag. At that time, I was encouraged to add Alasdair Gray’s ‘Lanark’ as the Scottish Ulysses, as apparently Anthony Burgess had referred to it as such.

I know only a little about Anthony Burgess, famous because Stanley Kubrick made a film based on one of his books, or that he spat the dummy and refused to turn up to the Booker Prize in 1980 because William Golding had written a better book, or that he wrote a LOT of reviews. Attempting to find the Ulysses reference by Burgess has been part of the ‘Lanark’ journey, I never found the alleged reference, maybe he never compared the two, however I have found a lot of references comparing Gray to Joyce, and the oft dragged out quote:

 “It was about time Scotland produced a shattering work of fiction in the modern idiom. This is it…the first major Scottish novelist since Sir Walter Scott”

It’s a bummer really as I was going to write a whole piece about how ‘Lanark’ is nothing like ‘Ulysses’…

Let’s start with the book’s structure, something that is out of the ordinary, a structure best described by the author, in the book itself;

“When Lanark is finished (I am calling the work after you) it will be roughly tow hundred thousand words and forty chapters long, and divided into books three, one, two and four.”
“Why not one, two, three and four?”
“ I want
Lanark to be read in one order but eventually thought of in another. It’s an old device. Homer, Virgil, Milton and Scott Fitzgerald used it. There will also be a prologue before book one, and interlude in the centre, and an epilogue two or three chapters before the end.”
“I thought epilogues came after the end.”
“Usually, but mine is too important to go there. Though not essential to the plot it provides some comic distraction at a moment with the narrative sorely needs it. And it lets me utter some fine sentiments which I could hardly trust to a mere character. And it contains critical notes which will save research scholars years of toil. In fact my epilogue is so essential that I am working on it with nearly a quarter of the book still unwritten. I am working on it here, just now, in this conversation….” (p483)

Books three and four, the bookends, take place in a futuristic setting and feature a character named Lanark in the city of Unthank, books one and two, in the centre of the novel, is a coming of age story about the Glaswegian artist Duncan Thaw. Glasgow not just the setting but also a “character”;

“Then think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively. What is Glasgow to most of us? A house, the place we work, a football park or gold course, some pubs and connecting streets. That’s all. No, I’m wrong, there’s also the cinema and the library. And when our imagination needs exercise we use these to visit London, Paris, Rome under the Caesars, the American West at the turn of the century, anywhere but here and now. Imaginatively Glasgow exists as a music-hall song and a few bad novels. That’s all we’ve given to the world outside. It’s all we’ve given ourselves.” (p243)

To counteract this imbalance of foreign culture and awareness, Alasdair Gray paints an intricate picture of the city, a place where the sun doesn’t shine a lot;

Sliding patches of evening sunshine mingled with flurries of so warm a rain that nobody thought of sheltering from it. Drummond led them round Sighthill cemetery, across some football pitches and up a wilderness of slag bings called Jack’s Mountain. From the top they saw the yellow-scummed lake called the Stinky Ocean, then came down near a slaughterhouse behind Pinkston power station, along the canal towpath, between bonded warehouses, across Garscube Road and into a public house. The customers sat on benches against the wall, staring at each other across the narrow floor like passengers in a train. (p329)

Whilst a futuristic dystopian novel, interrupted by a coming of age story, that highlights Glasgow, this is also a political work:

Many hard workers make noting but wealth. They don’t produce food, fuel, shelter or helpful ideas; their work is just a way of tightening their grip on folk who do.” (p409)

Using several interesting techniques throughout as a reader you are always pitched into a new realm to discover, for example instead of repeating a route or the scenery;

Consider him passing along the route described at the start of Book One, Chapter 18 only he dozes most of the way and gets out at Glencoe village. (p351)

Creating loops for you to follow, skipping back and forth as Lanark is being told the life of Duncan Thaw. The Epilogue, as referred to above by the writer himself, and not appearing at the end, was for this reader the highlight of the book. Does Alasdair Gray pre-empt the world’s issues by fifty years (‘Lanark’ was published in 1981 however some parts are “copyright 1969”)? Here Lanark is attending a meeting as the representative of Unthank to plead the case to ensure the city’s longevity;

You move about discussing the woes of Unthank with whoever will listen. Your untutored eloquence has an effect beyond your expectations, first on women, then on men. Many delegates see that their own lands are threatened by the multi-national companies and realize that if something isn’t quickly done the council won’t be able to help them either. So tomorrow when you stand up in the great assembly hall to speak for your land or city (I haven’t worked out which yet), you are speaking for a majority of lands and cities everywhere. The great corporations, you say, are wasting the earth. They have turned the wealth of nations into weapons and poison, while ignoring mankind’s most essential needs. The time has come etcetera etcetera. You sit down amid a silence more significant than the wildest applause and the lord president himself arises to answer you. He expresses the most full-hearted agreement. He explains that the heads of the council have already prepared plans to curb and harness the power of the creature but dared not announce them before they had the support of a majority. He announces them now. All work which merely transfers wealth will be abolished, all work which damages or kills people will be stopped. All profits will belong to the state, no state will be bigger than a Swiss canton, no politician will draw a larger wage than an agricultural labourer. In fact, all wages will be lowered or raised to the national average, and later to the international average, thus letting people transfer to the jobs they do best without artificial feelings of prestige or humiliation. Stockbrokers, bankers, accountants, property developers, advertisers, company lawyers and detectives will become schoolteachers if they can find no other useful work, and not teacher will have more than six pupils per class. The navy and the air forces will be set to providing children everywhere with free meals. The armies will dig irrigation ditches and plant trees. All human excrement will be returned to the land. (pp490-491)

I believe this is an uneven novel, one that soars at times, but meanders along with a simple narrative plot at other times. The references to the African delegates (in the meeting above) as the “blacks” and their speech punctuated with “man” made them caricatures not characters. And the representation of females?

The gallery was filling with older people who were clearly delegates or delegates’ wives, and other in their thirties who seemed to be secretaries and journalists. There were more red girls too, though few of them now wore the whole red uniform. (p504)

In the future women still aren’t delegates, they are simply wives, or secretaries….and the whole novel does overly hinge on male bravado, women simply exist to adorn the men, even in the future the “princess” is rescued by the “prince”.

Enjoyable, clever, but at times tedious (frequent visitors here would know how I hate coming of age stories) and now somewhat dated, the structure is one part that is interesting. No ‘Ulysses’ sorry.

 

 

Adam Buenosayres – Leopoldo Marechal (translated by Norman Cheadle)

Buenosayres

The Argentine Ulysses?

In “Finnegan’s Wake”, James Joyce describes “Ulysses” as “his usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles”, Leopoldo Marechal’s hero, Adam Buenosayres, has a notebook, which is presented in Book Six of this monolith, called “The Blue-Bound Notebook”. However, “Adam Buenosayres” (originally titled “Adán Buenosayres”) is not uselessly unreadable, in fact it is a very complex, many layered work, and it is not simply a “blue book” reference which links this work to “Ulysses”.

As regular visitors to this blog would know, I am, very slowly, looking at the many worlds of Ulysses and books that have been identified as being the “Ulysses” of their nation. Joshua Cohen identified “Adam Buenosayres” as the Argentine Ulysses, and unlike a few other works I have read the parallels here are justified.

The novel is expertly translated by Norman Cheadle (assisted by Shiela Ethier, who is credited on the title page but nowhere else!). Cheadle writes a detailed Introduction and provides 77 pages of detailed notes and a Bibliography, these are extremely handy to decipher a number of Argentine terms or references, and if the comparison to Joyce is considered tenuous then that should be dismissed quickly as the introduction provides a section titled “The Joyce connection and the culture wars”;

Another clear source of inspiration is Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) (p xiii)

This massive novel consists of seven “Books” and an “Indispensable Prologue”, where we learn, on the first page, that the protagonist is dead, after the funeral, Leopoldo Marechal advises us;

In the days that followed, I read two manuscripts that Adam Buenosayres had entrusted to me at his death: The Blue-Bound Notebook and Journey to the Dark City of Cacodelphia. Both works struck me as so extraordinary that I resolved to have them published, confident that they would find a place of honour in Argentine literature. But I later realized those strange pages would not be fully understood by the public without some account of who their author and protagonist was, so I took it upon myself to sketch out a likeness of Adam Buenosayres. At first I had in mind a simple portrait, but then it occurred to me to show my friend in the flow of his life. The more I recalled his extraordinary character, the epic figures cut by his companions, and above all the memorable exploits I had witnessed back in those days, the more novelistic possibilities expanded before my mind’s eye. I decided on a plan of five books, in which I would present my Adam Buenosayres from the moment of his metaphysical awakening at number 303 Monte Egmont Street until midnight on the following day, when angels and demons fought over his soul in Villa Crespo, in front of the Church of San Bernardo, before the still figure of Christ with the Broken Hand. Then I would transcribe The Blue-Bound Notebook and Journey to the Dark City of Cacodelphia as the sixth and seventh books of my tale. (pp3-4)

Like Joyce’s “Ulysses”, which focuses on a single day in Dublin, these first five “books” of “Adam Buenosayres” focuses on three days, April 28-30, in an unspecified year in the 1920’s, in Buenos Aires (hence the protagonist’s name). It does say “one day” in the introduction however we also have the manuscripts themselves and, of course, the funeral. But I could rant on for ages about the influences and inspirations, the translator’s introduction to the book most definitely explains it better than I ever could.

As explained by Norman Cheadle, this work could be interpreted as a Roman à Clef, a novel with real life keys overlaid with a façade of fiction. The main characters “carticatures of clearly recognizable individuals”, Luis Pereda is Jorge Luis Borges, the astrologer Schultz being the artist Xul Solar, the philosopher Samuel Tesler is the poet Jacobo Fijman, and Bernini the writer Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz, the protagonist Adam Buenosayres Marechal himself. Buenosayres’ beloved, Solveig Amundsen has been associated with Norah Lange, however this is under dispute. Cheadle says “caution must be exercised when interpreting Adán as a roman à clef. On the other hand, it can be read as a Kűnstlerroman whose most obvious model is Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, though these two subgenres can hardly account for the novel in its totality.”

A work so rich in literary styles it requires a serious commitment if you want to enjoy its riches, it is a book that demands many readings, and the rewards for complete immersion and further study would obviously be many, however Norman Cheadle greatly assists any reading with his detailed notes.

He haunted the night because, in his era, the torch of daytime incited a war without laurels; it raped silence, it scourged holy stillness. Daytime was external like skin, active like the hand, sweaty as armpits, loud-mouthed and prolific in falsehood. Male by sex, daytime was a young hairy-chested hero. He shied away from the light of day because it pushed him toward the temptation of material fortune, induced the anxiety to possess useless objects, as well as other unhealthy desires: to be a politician, boxer, singer, or gunman. “and the night?” Colourless, odourless, insipid as water, nighttime nevertheless kindled the dawn of difficult voices and deep calls which the day with its trombones drowns out. Antipode of light, night made the tiny stars visible. Destroyer of prisons, she favoured escape. Field of truce, she facilitated union and reconciliation. Female who healed, refreshed and stimulated, she lay with man and conceived a son called sleep, the gracious image of death. (pp19-20)

The story of a man, struggling with unrequited love, a hero who is about to undertake adventures, where the underbelly of Buenos Aires will be exposed. The first five books, consisting of 355 large pages, is Marechal coming to terms with his place in Argentina, his struggles with writing and his role within the wider literary circle;

Did Adam concoct, as was his wont, some poetic analogy to express such a vexed duality? He had no need, Plato’s inimitable simile sprang to mind: his soul was a like a wingèd chariot pulled by two different horses. One of them, sky-coloured, its mane bristling with stars, its delicate hooves airborne, tended to draw always upward, toward the heavenly meadows where it was born. The other, earth-coloured, slack-lipped, balky, its crupper twisted, paunchy, long-eared, knock-kneed, down at the mouth, and stumble-gaited, always pulled downward, itching to get stuck in muck up to the crotch. Poor Adam, the driver, held the reins of both horses and strove to keep them on track. When the accursed colt prevailed and dragged down the soul’s entire equipage, the divine equine seems to be asleep in its traces. But when the celestial steed took over, its limbs plied a marvellous light, its nostrils flared to the scent of divine alfalfa fields, and the coach flew, hoisting aloft the dead weight of the earthly horse. The sublime charger kept going higher until it sensed the air thinning, its sinews slackened, and it fell asleep drunk on loftiness. That’s when the terrestrial animal woke up and, finding its teammate asleep, let itself fall down hard, given over to voracious hunger for impure matter. When satiated, this beast nodded off, the noble bronco awoke and was master of the coach once more. Thus, between one horse and the other, between heaven and earth, now pulling on this rein and now on that one, Adam’s soul rose up or tumbled down. At the end of each trip Adam the coachman wiped acrid sweat from his brow. (p27)

Using many literary and philosophical references throughout, the influences of European thinking and culture upon Argentine progress is a subtle backdrop to the travails of our hero and his merry band of writers, artists, poets. The philosopher Samuel Tesler appears in chapter two, he does not wash as a rejection of being baptised (as per Stephen Dedalus?) and his appearance ensures there are many philosophical debates throughout their journey.

In Book Two, Adam Buenosayres wanders the streets, a la Bloom in “Ulysses” and meets a large cast of characters, this is the melting pot of Buenos Aires. A funeral crosses his path, we have dishwashers calling on Melpomene “the tragic muse” quoting poetry, Polyphemus appears as a blind street beggar who owns rental properties, drinking funeral coachmen, old witches who have been fleeced, men doffing hats to statues of Christ, large pregnant women, nymphs in blue, white and green revealing a “Hesperides of incalculable abundance”, Clotho with a spinning wheel, Syrians smoking the narghile, and it all comes together with a resounding crescendo…a fight;

Standing in the first row of the ring, Adam Buenosayres studied the combatants. There were the Iberians of thick eyebrows who’d left northern Spain and their dedication to Ceres to come here and drive orchestral streetcars; there were those who drank from the torrential Miño River, men practiced in the art of argumentation; those from the Basque countries, the natural hardness of their heads concealed by blue berets. Then there were the Andalusian matadors, abundant in guitars and brawls. And industrious Ligurians, give to wine and song. Neopolitans erudite in the fruits of Pomona, who now wield municipal brooms. Turks of pitch-black mustachios, who sell soap, perfumed water, and combs destined for cruel uses. Jews wrapped in multi-coloured blankets, who love not Bellona. Greeks astute in the stratagems of Mercury. Dalmatians of well-rivetted kidneys. The Syrio-Lebanese, who flee not the skirmishes of Theology. And Japanese dry-cleaners. In short, all those who had come from the ends of the earth to fulfil the lofty destiny of the Land-which-from-a-noble-metal-takes-its-name. Adam studied those unlikely faces and wondered about that destiny, and great was his doubt. (p94)

As the journey continues the reader is exposed to an array of Argentine history, myth and sub-cultures, the five books coming to a nationalistic conclusion;

The Argentine, by nature, was and must be a sober man, as our country folk were and still are. And so were, and are, the immigrants responsible for the existence of the majority of us. Bet what’s happened? Foreigners have induced us into a cult of sensuality and hedonism, inventing a thousand needs we didn’t have before. And – of course! – it’s all so they can sell us the geegaws they produce industrially, and so redeem the gold they pay us for our raw materials. In plain language, that’s what I call eating with both hands! (p336)

A full novel contained in the first five books, Marechal’s “Ulysses”, but this only constitutes a little over half of the work, we still have “The Blue-Bound Notebook” and the final book “Journey to the Dark City of Cacodelphia”.

“The Blue-Bound Notebook” is a metaphysical exploration, a delving into the soul of Adam Buenosayres, a philosophical musing on existence and love. The book where he has written his inner most desires for Solveig, this section explores Adam’s heart;

She moved slowly forward, beneath a sun perpendicular to the earth: her body, without shadow, had the firm fragility of a branch, a sort of combative force in her lightness, a terrible audacity in her decorum. She wore a sky-blue dress wrapped round her like a whisp of mist; but the garden, the light, the air, all heaven and earth joined forces and worked to clothe her, so much to be feared was her nakedness. With her face turned to the sun, she showed the two violets of her eyes and the slight arc of her smile; a bee buzzed in circles around her hair. As she walked, her small feet crushed golden sand, seashells, and the carapaces of blue beetles. Her arrival seemed to last an eternity, as it The One came from very far off, across a hundred days and a hundred nights. (p384)

After exploring Adam Buenosayres soul and inner machinations it is time for a decent into Hell, a la Dante’s “Inferno”, here nine stages of the helicoid tracking the living hell of Buenos Aires, the masses chewing, swallowing and shitting whatever news is fed to them, sexual debauchery, where Chapter 15 “Circe” in “Ulysses” instantly sprang to mind;

Why, it’s Don Moses Rosenbaum! He has exhumed his ancient lustring frock coat and his astrakhan hat. See how his crazed gaze wanders over the banquet table! And observe how, in the face of such devastation, he tears tufts from his beard, weeps without a sound, raises his arms toward the ceiling, as though trying to prop it up? Great God, what’s he doing now? In his madness, the poor wretch has started gathering crumbs from the tablecloth, righting toppled glasses, and salvaging the spilled wine. But no one sees or hears him, and around him the debauchery intensifies. (p470)

Occasional spices of humour appear, for example the dragon guarding the door into the fifth circle of hell needs to be put to sleep, how they do so is to read it Argentine literature.

A massive novel that contains riches upon riches, a work that deserves better recognition as a canonical piece of Argentine literary history, a book that is not an easy read, a mental exercise that took me many months to complete. Late in the book Leopoldo Marechal explains it thus;

Reader, my dear friend, if I had to justify the drowsiness that came over me in the fourth circle of Schultz’s inferno, I should remind you of a hundred illustrious precedents recorded in as many infernal excursions. Alighieri, being who he was, slept quite a bit in the descent he made. If the metaphysical character of his journey allows us to assign a symbolic value to that bard’s siestas, we can say that Alighieri slept in the proper place at the proper time. Less fortunate than he, I made an infernal descent without theological projections. I didn’t sleep when I should have, but rather when it was humanely possible to do so. How lucky are you, reader! For, having no metaphysical obligations or any cares whatsoever, you can cop a snooze on any page at all of this, my true story! (p481)

Underappreciated, sadly released in English with barely a whimper, “Adam Buenosayres” was longlisted for the 2015 Best Translated Book Award, not even making the shortlist (the eventual winner was Can Xue’s “The Last Lover”), which is extremely disappointing given the massive effort that the translator has put in here and given the novel’s place in Argentine literary history. Lauded by Julio Cortázar shortly after the novel was released in 1948, where he said “The publication of this book is an extraordinary event in Argentine literature.”

For lovers of complex literature this is worth reading, not because it is a materwork, but just for the ending where an insatiable desire of knowledge and the allure of reading is debated. Of all the national “Ulysses” I have read, I must say the comparison here is completely justified.

Three Trapped Tigers – Guillermo Cabrera Infante (translated by Donald Gardner & Suzanne Jill Levine)

ThreeTrapped

Have you ever looked into a mirror and not recognised, or not liked, what you’ve seen?

I saw a young man opposite me (he was to one side of me as I entered, but I turned around), tired-looking with ruffled hair and hollow eyes. He was badly dressed, his shirt was filthy and his loosely knotted tie hung free of his collar, which had no button or clasp. He needed a shave and a limp unkempt mustache drooped round the corners of his mouth. I raised my hand to shake his, bowing slightly at the same time, and he followed suit. I saw he was smiling and sensed I was smiling too: we both got the message at the same time : it was a mirror. (p48)

Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s “Three Trapped Tigers” holds a mirror up to Havana, and pre-Revolution Cuba, and what is seen is not always as expected. A common theme throughout, the mirror appears in the waters of the bays, in the skies, in many many scenes, a book that presents a distorted, or is it a realistic?, view of Havana.

Originally published under the Spanish title “Tres Tristes Tigres” in 1965, the title translates literally as “Three Sad Tigers” but the traditional tongue-twister would be lost in translation, hence to English title. This is a complex and multi layered work and to simply review the whole novel by presenting the narrative plot line would not do the work justice, nor would it to explore all of the themes (I don’t have time to write a thesis!!) so I’ve taken a look at a few high level interesting components, …. And the recurring use of the mirror.

Opening with a “Prologue” it is “Showtime”, from the “Tropicana! the MOST fabulous nightclub in the WORLD”. Our MC introduces not only the players on the cabaret stage but also the audience, “ENORMOUS American audience of glamorous and distinguished tourists who are visiting the land of the gay senyoritas and brave caballeros”, even individually calling out a number of guests. Cuba is the melting pot of external influences.

Our novel essentially follows Cúe the actor, Seseribó the musician, Silvestre the writer and Códac the photographer, all of them chasing art, hunting down the ultimate rhythm, the missing word, the conclusive image. Besides these four “core” characters we have Bustrófedon, whose word plays feature heavily throughout, and La Estrella, a huge singing talent, both coming into and out of focus. But these are not the only players here, this is a novel that is peppered with rich local characters, the melting pot that is Havana figuratively coming into the readers view page after page.

As we were walking along we saw the Cripple with the Gardenias coming out of the dark opposite, with his crutch and his tray of gardenias and his good evening said so politely and with such courtesy it seemed almost impossible he could be so sincere and crossing another street I heard the harsh, nasal and relentless voice of Juan Charrasqueado the Sing-Singing Charro singing the single verse of the lottery which he always sings and repeats a thousand times, Buy your number and buy your number and buy your number and buy your number and buy, meaning they should throw money into his sweaty sombrero as he forcibly passed it around, creating an atmosphere of mock obsession which is poignant because everyone knows he’s incurably mad. (pp74-75)

Billeted as the Cuban “Ulysses” this novel uses a raft of literary techniques to portray a place that is in decay, “twenty-year-old beauties and total hunger are too much in competition with each other for the prize of Havana” (p148). We have first and third person narratives, word games, blank and totally black pages, a sequence of tales written by imagined writers about the assassination of Trotsky, single sentences that cover many pages, as the driver is speeding through the streets, emulating the rush, pictures and a whole lot more…The influence of James Joyce on Guillermo Cabrara Infante is obvious, as is the homage to a city and the compressed time frame.

We talk : about my birthday which wasn’t today but in three months’ time, about the anniversary two weeks back of the day when Bloom’s moll sitting on the bog had let flow a long stream of unconsciousness which would become a milestone, a mill-stone in the shape of a solid shit turd in literary history” (p150-151)

A novel where the cultural references come thick and fast, a work where a reader who is not au fait with music, film, and book influences of the 1960’s and earlier, will require google to be handy. I am sure a magnificent Spotify playlist could be made of the Cuban (and Latin American) musical references;

He didn’t say because I had forgotten Kuérkegaard the next minute and was remembering Count Dracula instead, the unforgettable Bela Legosi” (P363)

Readers of Camus would immediately understand the opening line reference to the section “I Heard Her Sing”;

Bustrófedon died yesterday, or is it today?
Is life a concentric chaos? I don’t know, all I know is my life was a nocturnal chaos with a single center that was Las Vegas and in the center of the center there was a glass of rum and water or rum and ice or rum and soda and that’s where I was from twelve o’clock on, and I turned up just as the first show was finishing and the emcee was thanking his charming and wonderful audience for coming and inviting them to stay for the third and last show of the night and the band was striking up its theme song with a lot of noise and nostalgia, like a circus brass band but changing from the umpa-pa to the two-four or six-eight beat of a
charanga trying out a melody: the noise of a ragtime band coming on like a Kostelanetz string orchestra, something which depresses me even more than knowing I’m already talking like Cué and Eribó, and all the other six million soloists of this island called Tuba and while I’m rubbing the glass in my hands and digressing that sober little man who sits inside me and speaks so low nobody but me can hear him tells me I’m losing my footing and as that genie of the bottle I am has just said very softly now Cuba, and Hey presto! there she was greeting me, popping out of nowhere to say, Hi there honey and at the same time giving me a kiss just where the cheek meets the neck and I looked in the mirror, mirror on the wall (of bottles) and I saw Cuba, every inch of her, bigger and more beautiful and sexier than ever and she was smiling at me so I turned around and put my arm around her waist, And how’re you Cuba baby, I said and kissed her and she kissed me back and said, Be-au-ti-ful, and I don’t know if she was okaying the kisses she was testing with that sex sense she carries on the tip of her tongue or if she was extolling her soul, as Alex Bayer would say, because her body sure didn’t need any padding. Or maybe she was simply glowing over the evening and our chance meeting. (pp292-3)

There’s the mirrors again, only a few pages earlier we had; Bustrófedon, he…”has taken a trip to the other world, to his opposite, to his negative, to his anti-self, to the other side of the mirror”…(p284), we then have a full page of mirrored text!!!

Ending with a large section where our characters descend into melancholy, a night of drinking, driving and incessant word game playing, the disintegration of a cultural identity becomes more and more evident.

Art (like religion or science or philosophy) is just one more attempt to focus the light of order on the gloom of chaos. (p361)

Complex, difficult, playful, engaging and enlightening, this is a masterful work of literature, amazingly a fringe player on the world stage, it pre-dates a number of Roberto Bolaño’s themes (the diagrams were hauntingly familiar), whilst paying homage to great maters such as Proust, Kafka and Joyce;

Besides, I haven’t the slightest reverence either for Marcel Proust (which he rhymed, distinctly, with pooh), or for James Joyce (Cué pronounced it Shame’s Choice) or for Kafka (it sounded like caca in his otherwise well-behaved voice). This is the Holy Trinity, whom you must adore if you are to write in the twentieth century – and as I wouldn’t be able to write in the twenty-first… (p352)

There are so many themes one could follow here, from the opening Epigraph from Lewis Carroll and “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” and a paragraph that gets “smaller and smaller and smaller and yet smaller”, or the list of characters, or a listing of all the musical references – you could follow hundreds of threads. Another book for those who like their works to challenge, savour the use of language, the word play, the mish-mash of cultural references, Guillermo Cabrera Infante has held a mirror up, he is separated from his country, his culture, his youth, it appears as though he doesn’t recognise what he sees.

I read James Joyce’s “Ulysses”

Ulysses

Righteo, I read “Ulysses”, apparently that’s an achievement. Instead of writing a post full of your usual Joycean delving, probing or analysis, I thought I’d simply write about the reading experience. Let’s be honest, if you want to find out more about “Ulysses” there are thousands of places to go, classes, internet tools, books, clubs, you could keep yourself busy and increase your blood pressure for the remainder of your life and still walk away not 100% convinced you’ve understood a damn thing.

“Ulysses” has a reputation, one that precedes itself, “unreadable”, “life’s too short to read Ulysses”, and numerous other derogatory comments litter the reading websites, a demanding work obviously and numerous people just aren’t looking for focused concentration when they open a book, all of this myth had me concerned before I’d even opened page one.

First up I should mention the edition I chose to read. I’m sure every city has them, a chain of bookstores where remainders are marked, and then sold off at about a third of the recommended retail price. The shops that are littered with the next bestseller that actually never sold, thousands of copies of Jodi Picoult, Dan Brown et al. Occasionally I wander into these concrete caverns and browse, only to find some obscure out-of-print book that I’d long been looking for. On a recent visit they had one copy of the Gabler Edition of “Ulysses”, for $10 – bargain. In a nutshell the “Gabler” is a revised edition attempting to correct any errors made in earlier editions – there’s a decent “Foreword” and a large “Afterword” explaining the discovery process and the substantial effort put in to editing and publishing a definitive edition, that’s not for this post.

Before I go on, apologies to any Joyce scholars, or avid readers of “Ulysses”, below are my thoughts as I read the book, these are not in any way scholarly, nor have they been researched, do not take offence at a simple man’s views on what he thought whilst reading. If you disagree with anything, feel free to let me know, however I re-iterate that these are my thoughts, and plenty of times I have been known to be wrong.

Onto the book itself;

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently-behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Not that hard, Buck’s walking down the stairs with a bowl of lather, a crossed mirror and razor, about to have a shave….I actually made it through chapter one in a single sitting, undaunted, not overly perplexed, a chapter a day, be done in eighteen days. What’s the fuss? I’d started on a positive footing, a few google references required for some of the Latin quotes, a quick check of Homeric allusions, no guide required, I will be right. I had gone in blind, like heading out for a multi-day hike with some water, enough food, equipment, a rough idea of the terrain and hoping for the best. I’d managed to find the Linati and Gilbert “schema” on the internet, it gave a few pointers for each of the chapters (the map?) but I intentionally did not refer to the numerous multi layered guides, highlighting every nuance, dissecting every sentence.

At the highest level I understood Stephen Dedalus was trying to reconcile his blame for his mother’s death, I knew that Bloom was aware of Molly’s indiscretion, I figured out Bloom’s grief process for his young son, his father’s suicide, and of course the funeral. Surely you don’t read “Ulysses” for these broad narrative brushes!

Could I keep reading a chapter a day and be done in eighteen days? Of course I was wrong, I had underestimated the complexity, my resilience, in some cases the sheer length of some chapters (as well as my free time), a chapter a day was unachievable but it took me until Chapter Eight before I realised such….more struggles…and then I hit Chapter Fourteen “Oxen of the Sun”.

Complex, cryptic, but extremely rewarding, the gestation of the English language in a chapter about embryonic development, this section apparently mimicking the c14th travels of Sir John Mandeville, (I’ve added my simplified interpretation after each sentence):

And in the castle was set a board that was of the birchwood of Finlandy and it was upheld by four dwarfmen of that country but they durst not move more for enchantment. (A table with carved legs?)

And on this board were frightful swords and knives that are made in a great cavern by swinking demons out of white flames that they fix then in the horns of buffalos and stags that there abound marvellously. (Knives and forks with bone handles?)

And there were vessels that are wrought by magic of Mahound out of seasand and the air by a warlock with his breath that he blases in to them like to bubbles. (Glasses – glass blowing molten sand?)

And full fair cheer and rich was on the board that no wight could devise a fuller ne richer. And there was a vat of silver that was moved by craft to open in the which lay strange fishes withouten heads though misbelieving men nie that this be possible thing with they see it natheless that are so. And these fishes lie in an oily water brought there from Portugal land because of the fatness that therein is like to the juices of the olivepress. (A can of Portugese sardines in olive oil?)

And also it was a marvel to see in that castle how by magic they make a compost out of fecund wheatkidneys out of Chaldee that by aid of certain angry spirits that they do in to it swells up wondrously like to a vast mountain. (Bread?)

Basically a table with cutlery, some bread and a can of sardines!
Needless to say I got bogged down here and in the following “Circe” Chapter. But I soldiered on, sometimes vividly imagining the setting, other times simply reading the words, clueless as to what on earth was going on.

And then suddenly Bloom returns home, in the wee hours of the morning, Chapter Seventeen, “Ithaca” Odysseus returns, and then “Penelope”, Molly Bloom’s stream of consciousness, back to a chapter a day.

Of the Homeric references, there would be plenty I missed, but I particularly enjoyed “Nausicaä” chapter Thirteen. In the Odyssey, Odysseus is shipwrecked on the island of Scheria (or Phaeacia), Nausicaä and her handmaidens go to the sea-shore to wash clothes (thanks Wikipedia). In “Ulysses” we have the readable, and controversial when it came to banning the book, chapter where Bloom masturbates whilst observing the flirting Gerty on the beach. But early on in the chapter we have the equivalent of the handmaidens’;

The three girl friends were seated on the rocks, enjoying the evening scene and the air which was fresh but not too chilly. Many a time and oft were they wont to come there to that favourite nook to have a cosy chat beside the sparkling waves and discuss matters feminine…

The washing coming in lines 173+

She had four dinky sets with awfully pretty stitchery, three garments and nighties extra, and each set slotted with different coloured ribbons, rosepink, pale blue, mauve and peagreen, and she aired them herself and blued them when they came home from the wash and ironed them and she had a brickbat to keep the iron on because she wouldn’t trust those washerwomen as far as she’d see them scorching the things.

Once completed I attended a seminar in Melbourne which was an “Introduction to Ulysses” and there were hints about what chapter’s to read in what order, pointers as to Joyce’s life, reflections upon certain sections (although not everybody has the same edition of course) and a few discussions about interpretation. A room full of people wanting to delve further and further into this iconic book. Me? I’ll dabble again, I’ll pick it up and dip in and out, I’m highly unlikely to read it from cover to cover again, and I’m even unlikely to attend another seminar.

Late last year I posted a list of works, from various sources, which have been referred to as the “Ulysses” of their country or language. I’d really enjoyed a number of books on that list, for their complexity, their boldness, their experimentation, and will slowly work my way through the majority that have been mentioned. A sort of quest, a challenge, yes, but an enjoyable approach to looking at world literature. Is there time to read Joyce again?

 

 

 

The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa by Yasunari Kawabata (translated by Alisa Freedman)

ScarletGang

My post on “A World of Ulysses” was quite popular, generating a few social media comments, and garnering a higher than usual number of views. Today I look at the “Japanese Ulysses”, as identified by Joshua Cohen, Yasunari Kawabata’s “The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa” (translated by Alisa Freedman), Cohen advising us:

This lurid novel, teeming with teen prostitutes and slumming littérateurs, earned its author the prize that eluded Joyce, the Nobel. Originally published in a daily newspaper—surely one of the strangest serializations ever—Kawabata’s monster is a manic crawl through the dingy Asakusa: Tokyo’s red-light district.

I can assure you this novel does share something with Joyce’s work, it is a difficult read.

The “Foreword” by Donald Richie advises that Kawabata was part of a group labelled the “New Perception School”. His “ambition was to view every incident of the human condition through new eyes….one of the tenets of the new aesthetic movement, modernism.”

The first thirty-seven chapters of the novel originally appeared as a serialization in the Tokyo Asahi newspaper between 20 December 1929 and 16 February 1930, at the bottom of the first page. From September 1930 chapters 38 through 51 appeared under the title “The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa” in Reconstruction (Kaizō, volume 12, number 9), with Chapters 52 through 61 appearing as “The Red Sash Society” in New Currents (Shinchō, volume 27, number 9). This format leads to a repetition, especially in the first 37 chapters, where the “action” is repeated to emphasise the crucial narrative beacons to new readers. In later chapters the narrative flow smooths out and therefore becomes a little more readable.

In a nutshell the story is about the region of Tokyo where the bawdy revues sit alongside the homeless, the young girls of Asakusa who have been tricked into prostitution, and the shady dealings of the inhabitants of this region.

The Scarlet Gang uses votive stickers, but they do it in a way all their own. It’s not that they are curious enough to want to learn that the practice of using votive stickers was begun by Emperor Kazan, who stuck them on all the places of worship he visited, and that stickers were even designed by ukiyoe artists like Utagawa Toyokuni. Also, they don’t believe in the efficacy enough to go around slapping them on shrines and temples just for that reason. I’ll give you an example. One day that little tyke Boat Tokikō (his father is a boatman on the Ōkawa, so he is called Boat Tokikō) said to me: You know the Five Story Pagoda?
– The one at the Sensō Temple?
– Yep. On the third story counting from the top or the bottom on the corner near the Nio Gate, there’s this ridge-end tile sticking out. It’s got a monkey’s face on it, and its eyeballs are all gold. Well I want to stick my sticker flat on the monkey’s face.
So just like that, under the cover of night, they stick their Scarlet Troupe votive stickers at truly inappropriate locations. For example, the middle of the three big paper lanterns at the Nio Gate entrance to the Sensō Temple, or on the black-lacquered bottom of that lantern from Irifune-chō, or the horns of the cow statue in the grounds of the Ushijima Shrine over in Mukōjima. (p6)

As you can see, from this short quote, the dialogue is presented as though you are listening in on a conversation, the different speakers delineated by em dashes, in this example it is a reportage of a conversation, however in other sections you are only glimpsing part of the conversation. To understand who is speaking is very difficult, and at time to know what they are speaking about is even more cryptic.

Unlike other works by Kawabata, this appears as an experimentation, the future winner of the Nobel Prize, honing his craft with different styles, methods of creating, reportage. However the imagery remains vivid, the themes, where sexual undertones float aplenty, are forming in the young writer’s mind.

A young woman in a red dress is pounding the piano in the entryway. The bright red stands out against the black of the piano, and the white of her legs, bare from knees down to feet, is young, fresh. The entryway isn’t much wider than a wooden sandal is long, and from where I stand, just outside, it seems as though I can reach in and give that black ribbon around her waist a tug. This ribbon is the only decoration, but because the dress is sleeveless with a low neckline, it’s something like an evening gown. No, even here at home she’s wearing something for the stage – a dance costume? Traces of white powder cling to the nape of her neck, and above it her hair is cropped close as a boy’s. (p10)

We follow this girl, Yumiko, she does fade from view only to return later, and the sexual references continue, for example where she is on a boat with a “customer” Kawabata advises us “And Yumiko polishes the glass globe, her head lowered, cheeks flushed, lost in thought” (p70).

All the seediness of Asakusa bubbles in the background, as our novelist wanders the streets and parks at night, relaying to us his observations;

Right under your nose, you can find lady bums dressed as men. You just laugh them off. But a man dressed as a woman, face thick with white powder, elaborate Japanese-style wig, all decked out in red, slipping off with another man into the dark alleys behind the temple – this sends chills up your spine like you’ve just seen a peculiar lizard or something. (p51)

The horror of child prostitution is also peppered throughout, young girls from the country taking work, during the Depression, and being tricked into prostitution;

It’s not so surprising that the little girl who rode the holy horse in the May Sanja Shrine festival already now in June has to sell her body to support her family. (p128)

Although a cast of 100’s move in and out of view, it is the seediness, the lure of the erotic, and the area of Asakawa that is the focus here:

Asakusa is Tokyo’s heart…
Asakusa is a human market…
The words of that popular writer Soeda Azenb
ō: Asakusa is Asakusa for everyone. In Asakusa, everything is flung out in the raw. Desires dance naked. All races, all classes, all jumbled together forming a bottomless, endless current, flowing day and night, no beginning, no end. Asakusa is alive…The masses converge on it, constantly. Their Asakusa is a foundry in which all the old models are regularly melted down to be cast into new ones. (p30)

A work that is a dichotomy of styles, the writing is influenced by the modernism of the West, the revues are snippets of the West, but there is a lament for the loss of Japanese culture;

For example, dear reader, have you listened to manzai lately? Manzai used to be funny. But in 1929, because the manzai people have been pushed by the “modern”, by that wild reckless nonsense straight from America, they have become pathetic clowns in both senses of the word. (p93)

There are historical laments too, a section set just after the massive earthquake of 1923 where Asakusa was flattened. And as you can see in the above quote, the direct address to you, “the reader”, occur frequently, as does the theme of Kawabata writing this book:

I tossed around the idea of writing a long, strange novel. And, dear reader, in these pages, after ten years, I have finally begun to do that. (p133)

This edition contains a very useful Foreword and Afterword by Don Ritchie as well as a Translator’s Preface, where the difficulty of translating the slang and references to Japanese culture and literature are explained, as well as an extensive Glossary and Selected Bibliography, greatly assisting academics, and the University of California Press should be congratulated for bringing this little known work into print.

A difficult read given the dialogue style, the lack of character development, and the subject matter, this is a curio in Kawabata’s work, one where he is experimenting with styles and the modernist, as well as serialized approach. It is a worthwhile addition to the world listing of Ulysses, and it is an interesting addition for readers who have enjoyed his more famous works such as “Snow Country”, “The Sound of the Mountain” and “The House of the Sleeping Beauties”, however I would not recommend starting your 1968 Nobel Prize winning journey with this book.

A World of Ulysses?

Ulysses

As regular visitors here would know, I love a list, it gives me some structure, helps with what to read next. I recently came across an article by author Joshua Cohen, written in 2010, for the 106th anniversary of Bloomsday, in which he identified “12 novels that have been described, whether by critics or the authors themselves, as the Ulyssi of their respective cultures.”

What a great reading list, twelve Ulysses from various nations:

The Russian Ulysses Petersburg By Andrei Bely 1913

The British Ulysses Mrs. Dalloway By Virginia Woolf 1925

The German Ulysses Berlin Alexanderplatz By Alfred Döblin 1929

The Japanese Ulysses The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa By Yasunari Kawabata 1930

The Hungarian Ulysses Prae By Miklós Szentkuthy 1934

The Indian Ulysses All About H. Hatterr By G.V. Desani 1948

The Argentine Ulysses Adán Buenosayres By Leopoldo Marechal 1948

The Turkish Ulysses A Mind at Peace By Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar 1949

The Welsh Ulysses Under Milk Wood By Dylan Thomas 1954

The Brazilian Ulysses The Devil to Pay in the Backlands By João Guimarães Rosa 1956

The Israeli Ulysses Past Continuous By Yaakov Shabtai 1977

The Spanish Ulysses Larva: Midsummer Night’s Babel By Julián Ríos 1983

From there Nathan “NR” at Goodreads has extended the list to include a further fourteen titles:

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson

Macunaíma by Mário de Andrade

Die Tutoren by Bora Ćosić

Leg Over Leg (all four volumes) by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq

Alastalon salissa by Volter Kilpi

The Bloodworth Orphans: A Novel by Leon Forrest

Rama and the Dragon by Edwar al-Kharrat

Belarmino and Apolonio by Ramón Pérez de Ayala

Dessen Sprache Du Nicht Verstehst: Roman by Marianne Fritz

The Disconnecte d by Oğuz Atay

Three Trapped Tigers by Guillermo Cabrera Infante

La Medusa by Vanessa Place

The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by João Guimarães Rosa

Divine Days by Leon Forrest

It was my reading of The Disconnecte d by Oğuz Atay which alerted me to these lists and then I went on to read the first volume of Luis Goytisolo’s four volume “Antagony” which was compared to Joyce’s work by Mario Vargas Llosa, this got me thinking that a longer world journey of national Ulysses could well be undertaken (of course not back to back!!!)

Amazingly I own eleven of these titles, counting Leg Over Leg as one title even though it is four books, therefore I think a little Christmas reading is in order (along with a serious attempt at getting through another 100 pages of Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream”).

Instead of hunting down the various lists each time I go to choose my next read, I thought it prudent to capture it here. Of course, if anybody has any further references to novels which have been compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses then please leave a comment, I’d love to extend the list!!!

UPDATE

Two new suggested titles that have been highlighted to me via social media (I’ll keep adding as titles become known):

The Scottish Ulysses – “Lanark” by Alasdair Grey

“Women and Men” by Joseph McElroy “Big. Difficult. Masterpiece” I’ve been told.