14 July La Fête Nationale: A Salmagundi of French Literature

Prise de la Bastille by   Jean-Pierre Houël Source:Wikipedia

Prise de la Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël
Source:Wikipedia

Today is a holiday here in France, marking the celebration of la fête nationale or as we know it in English Bastille Day, commemorating 14 July 1789 when the population fearing an attack by the royal military stormed the Bastille prison and released the many political prisoners in what became a symbol of the end to the rule of the monarchy and the beginning of independence.

There will be a military parade in the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris and here in Aix-en-Provence and most towns in France there will be organised displays of fireworks to commemorate.

To celebrate the National Holiday, I am following the initiative of Marina Sofia at Finding Time To Write to highlight some recently read and upcoming French reads, now available in English, here is my salmagundi of French Literature!

Click on the title to read the review and read to the end to find the definition of that tasty word for the day Salmagundi:

Two French Books I am looking forward to reading:

Poisoning (3)

The Poisoning Angel by John Teule

translated by Melanie Florence

This book is actually to be published today 14 July 2014 and the author is a well-known name in French contemporary literature. In fact I have one of his books in French on the shelf already.

This one is based on a true but gruesome story of one of the most notorious serial poisoners that France has ever known and was described by the Sunday Telegraph as:

“a bawdy romp one minute, a gruesome tragedy the next. The writing is beautiful, witty, grisly and moving, and reeks of authenticity.”

Let’s hope all that comes off in translation.

Vatican Cellars

The Vatican Cellars by André Gide

translated by Julian Evans

This book will be published in August 2014 to mark the centenary of the book’s first publication. It is set in the 1890’s around a group of ingenious fraudsters who claim that the Pope has been imprisoned and a false Pope enthroned in his place.

I haven’t read anything by this author, but he sounds like he caused quite a sensation with this novel and others, as he took it upon himself to explore morality in his work and was a major influence on the writing of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947 and one year after he died (in 1951) his works were placed on the Vatican’s list of banned books.

Three French Books I Read This Year:

Nagasaki (2)

Nagasaki by Eric Faye

translated by Emily Boyce

A short novella, based on a true story of an event that happened in Japan, that will make you check your fridge contents and ensure you lock the door at night.

Foundling2

The Foundling Boy by Michel Deon

translated by Julian Evans

Coming of age story of a young boy left as a baby on a doorstep, who grows up and has an insatiable need to travel and experience the world. The sequel soon to be translated into English as well.

People in Photo

The People In the Book by Hélène Gestern

translated by Emily Boyce,Ros Schwartz

A wonderful epistolary novel about a young woman searching for answers about events in her mother’s life before she was born, a photo provides a clue to those she knew.

Two Great Books Set in France:

All the Light

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

Paris and Saint-Malo pre and during WWII following the lives of two children and their growth into adolescence, Marie-Laure who lost her sight at six and Werner who lost his parents and is raised in an orphanage. An excellent story that leads to the crossing of paths of these two characters and wonderfully evocative of place.

I Always Loved You

I Always Loved You

by Robin Oliveira

An insightful historical novel about the American painter Mary Cassatt, her life in late 1800’s Paris as she struggles to establish her name in the art world, enduring a life-long though fractious relationship with the impressionist painter and sculptor Edgar Degas.

Salmagundi:

  1. a mixed dish consisting usually of cubed poultry or fish, chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, onions, oil, etc., often served as a salad.
  2. any mixture or miscellany.

 Bonne Fête!

 

 

 

The Italian Chapel

They were brought to the island as ‘the enemy’ and by the time they left they would have developed relationships and connections that continue to endure today between the inhabitants of the Orkney Islands and Moena, the Italian mountain village where the artist and decorator Domenico Chiocchetti originally came from and where he returned after the war.

the_italian_chapelPhilip Paris has written both a non-fiction account of the short history of the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm and this book, the novel I have just read and adored. The fictional form allows the author to imagine some of the relationships for which there is little detail and create others that may have been.

It is a war-time story without guns, battles and tragedy, it could even be said it depicts what war purports to be all about, a strategy to create peace and establish tolerance and what better conduit to promote acceptance than to build a chapel, whose sole purpose is for prayer and reflection, a sanctuary from the day-to-day reality.

550 Italian soldiers are captured during WW2 in Egypt and sent to Camp 60 on Lamb Holm, Orkney Islands where they live in ramshackle Nissen huts and are used as free labour to build barriers between the islands to prevent entry to the mainland from invading forces.

“The nearest land is mainland Orkney, which is also an island. You will know from your journey that we are a long way from Italy. You’re all here to do a job, to help build a unique set of barriers between mainland Orkney to the north and between the islands to the south of Glimps Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay. Four barriers in all.”

In the opening pages, bulldozers arrive with instructions to raze camp 60 to the ground, leaving no trace of the former POW camp. The Italian Chapel sits there beside the Nissen huts awaiting its fate. We then learn the story of how it came to be there.

Image of the Madonna

Image of the Madonna

The novel introduces us to key characters in the camp, the artist Domenico Chiocchetti from the northern Italian village of Moena who keeps a small prayer card his mother gave him, with the image of the Madonna’s face in his pocket throughout the war, retrieving it at moments when he needed to escape the present, or remember the past and whose image will become a symbol of the thing he leaves behind, the only physical reminder that there was a POW camp on the Scottish island during the war.

We meet Aldo, who doesn’t talk about his family, but can source anything the men require, Buttapasta, a cement and stone artist, Giuseppe the romantic who had been a foundry worker in the US, they will all become instrumental in the project that occupies the men when the causeway barriers are complete and their status changes after Mussolini is sacked and the Italians are no longer the enemy. The men decide to create a chapel out of two unused Nissen huts and scraps from shipwrecks and whatever their captors can source.

The prayer card becomes the inspiration for Chiocchetti’s portrait of the Madonna and child, painted on plasterboard behind the altar.  An altar is made from concrete left over from building the Barriers, tiles are rescued from a sunken blockship ( a ship deliberately sunk to prevent access to a channel) and wood salvaged from a shipwreck is transformed into a tabernacle. Carved lanterns are created from Bully Beef tins and candlesticks made from the brass stair rods, all contributing to create a beautiful and peaceful interior.

Philip Paris author observing the Rood Screen built by Italian POW soliders

Philip Paris author observing the Rood Screen built by Italian POW soliders

It is a story of optimism, incredible resourcefulness and the things men do to keep their spirits up when the circumstances are against them. It is an easy, light read and moving without being overly sentimental and knowing this wonderful refuge actually exists made it all the more meaningful and special for me as a reader.

Philip Paris has researched this period in history and tried to track down those who were on the island or their relatives and creates a memorable and heartfelt story of tough times that are lightened by a mutual desire to build not just a chapel, but a refuge of incredible beauty that can still be visited today.

“It was the prisoner’s escape, a tunnel to spiritual and cultural freedom, while their bodies remained in captivity.”

Literary Blog Hop Winners!

 

I am delighted that two readers will soon be turning the pages of these wonderful books:

Carrots and Jaffas, an insightful imagining of a period in the life of identical twin boys when they become separated and;

The Blue Room a stunning translation of Norwegian Literature, a book that spans a day in the life of a young woman locked in her bedroom by her mother.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Literary Blog Hop and thanks again to Judith at Leeswammes for organising it. I’ve had lots of visitors here and a few new followers.

The Winner of  Carrots and Jaffas is….

AMB wins

A.M.B!

who writes about books, writing, and the law at The Misfortune of Knowing

The Winner of The Blue Room is…..

Madness

 Elizabeth who writes about love, self acceptance and confidence at ChubbyMadness

I hope you enjoy the books,  I would love to hear your thoughts on them and thank you to everyone else for participating, you are all winners really!

Happy Reading!

Literary Blog Hop Book #Giveaway

From today until Wednesday June 25th I am participating along with many other international bloggers in a Literary Blog Hop Giveaway hosted by Judith at Leeswamme’s Blog, an avid reader and reviewer from the Netherlands.

literarybloghop

Comment below to win the books I am offering and visit the other blogs to enter their offers.

I am offering two books, recent reads and not the usual thing you find in a bookshop. Both titles are literary gems, one an award-winning Norwegian translation, the other a riveting, thought-provoking glimpse into a cross cultural family that thanks to blogging and twitter connections I became aware of. They are fabulous reads, but do check out my reviews first to find out if they sound like something you might enjoy.

You can enter for one title only or for both, one comment puts you in the draw for both books, unless you tell me you are only interested in one of the titles. Ok, here they are:

COMMENT to WIN A COPY of

The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik translated by Deborah Dawkin - read my review here.

“a gripping portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship that will send a chill down your spine.”

OR

Carrots and Jaffas by Howard Goldenberg – read my review here.

 “a glimpse into the heart of an ancient land and a fractured family, through the story of a stolen child.”

 

BlogHop Button

To enter the giveaway, open worldwide to anyone whether you have a blog or not, just leave a comment below to be entered in the draw.

Follow my blog Word by Word to get two chances to win and mention it in your comment.

Follow the blog Word by Word and @clairewords on twitter to have three entries in the draw.

If you are already following, make sure to remind me in your comment.

Good Luck and enjoy visiting the other blogs listed here, just click to visit:

Linky List:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. The Misfortune of Knowing
  3. Bibliosue
  4. Too Fond
  5. Under a Gray Sky
  6. Read Her Like an Open Book (US)
  7. My Devotional Thoughts
  8. WildmooBooks
  9. Guiltless Reading
  10. Fourth Street Review
  11. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  12. Word by Word
  13. Words And Peace (US)
  14. Ciska’s Book Chest
  15. Falling Letters
  16. Roof Beam Reader
  17. Readerbuzz
  18. The Relentless Reader (US)
  19. Mom’s Small Victories (US)
  20. Daily Mayo (US)
  1. The Emerald City Book Review (US)
  2. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
  3. Lost Generation Reader
  4. Booklover Book Reviews
  5. Bay State Reader’s Advisory
  6. River City Reading (US)
  7. Books Speak Volumes
  8. Words for Worms
  9. Wensend
  10. Bibliophile’s Retreat
  11. Readers’ Oasis
  12. The Book Musings
  13. My Book Retreat (N. Am.)
  14. Books on the Table (US)

Carrots and Jaffas

Allia NurseAll quiet on the blogging and reading front recently as life’s dramas intervened and demanded my full attention. Our daughter had a diabetic crisis 2 weeks ago and has been in hospital, she is stable now and happy to be home and said I can use this new picture she created for her Facebook page.

Consequently I have been carrying Carrots and Jaffas around with me and rereading passages, though I finished it more than 2 weeks ago and finally today had time while our son was at hip hop to move my scribbles here. Apologies Howard for taking so long to share your wonderful book.

Carrots and Jaffas is a wonderful example of how the virtual world allows us to come across writing voices that we don’t always find in bookshops or through mainstream publishers, that don’t require one to have publishing connections or be in the know. Just to be open to the random, serendipitous crossing of paths.

We find them when we are curious, someone may write 140 characters on twitter that prompt us to follow them, read their blog, consider their book and Voila, an instinct results in the arrival of a unique and intriguing book and an unforgettable reading experience.

Howard Goldenberg followed me on twitter, and this is what I saw when I considered whether to follow back.

Howard Tweets

 

Intrigued, I clicked on his blog link and perhaps uncharacteristically, as his posts are quite varied, the first thing I read was a book review for a book called Joyful by Robert Hillman. The author name seemed familiar, so I read on and was captivated by the review, not just Howard’s account of the story, but the homage to the book and its author his review paid. I thought not only does this sound like a wonderful book, but I want to read more of Howard Goldenberg’s writing and continued to read post after enthralling post.

When his novel Carrots and Jaffas arrived I opened the first page and read praise of the book by the author I mention above, Robert Hillman and a few pages further on, I realised why the name had sounded familiar. There on a page of epigrams preceding the first chapter I read the following quote from one of my Top Reads of 2013 The Honey Thief I reviewed here:

“My heart and my mind, my bones and my flesh and all the organs of my body are bound together with the cords of the stories I was told.” From The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman

CarrotsCarrots and Jaffas is a story of twin boys, one of whom will be stolen, the people who surround them and whom they encounter, and how the events that occur change their lives and character.

The boys are the identical sons of Luisa and Bernard, a couple who worked and met in the same hotel. We are witness to their initial encounters and courtship in the opening chapters of the book, Luisa with her unique use of the English language, peppered with old-fashioned biblical words and quotes, charming in her deliverance. Bernard is enraptured by this exotic woman who interprets his comments in ways he could not have imagined, and is curious to understand more.

A month or so into these pleasant outings, an envelope appears on Bernard’s desk. Square in shape, lilac in colour, unbusinesslike, it sits on his keyboard like a question mark. Curious, he picks it up. A hint of gardenia in his nostrils. Bernard, more than curious, hefts the envelope, feels its substance. Fast fingers break the seal and Bernard reads:

La Señorita Luisa Morales

Has pleasure in inviting

El Señor Bernard Wanklyn

To Mate.

The delight and humour encountered in their courtship sits in stark contrast to the first pages in which we are witness to a kidnapping and the deranged thinking of the captor as we understand he justifies his act with thoughts of retribution for an elderly Aborigine lady Greta, who had two sons stolen from her by the authorities many years before, something that pains her still today.

Louisa and Bernard’s family unit is a metaphor for lives changed by tragic disappearance, the intersection of mixed cultures, social classes, politics and dysfunctional families. Luisa is an Argentinian immigrant whose parents were part of the “disappeared” during the time of the generals. After her grandmother took her to the park one day when she was three years, ago, they returned to discover both her parents gone, disappeared. Her grandmother continues to sit with Las Madres of the disappeared, mothers waiting, never giving up hope that their sons and daughters might return.

Separation changes relationship dynamics and Goldenberg deftly handles the effect of passive versus active separation on the identical twins with surprising, thought-provoking results. The experience is unusual and exposes the reader to the positive growth of someone in an otherwise traumatic situation. Observing the separate experiences of the twins exposes the suffering of those left behind, helpless in their efforts to find their son, the brother and yet when we are with Jaffas we are not afraid for him.

Image from the film Rabbit Proof Fence based on book by Doris Pilkington

Image from the film Rabbit Proof Fence based on book by Doris Pilkington

There are so many layers and learnings, such acute observations and joy in language and celebration of storytelling in this novel, it is difficult to describe without spoiling the experience for the reader, the spontaneous humour, the obvious cultural aspects, all round it was a pleasure to read and engaging all the way through. There were perhaps a few too many coincidences that made me pause for consideration, but then we know stranger things happen in real life and certain experiences can tend to gravitate towards people, repeating in history, so I let it pass.

Thoroughly recommend seeking this out and checking out Howard’s blog here. He writes fun poetry too.

Thank you @HelenHelenback for sending me a copy of the book.

Tove Jansson Anniversary 100 years #TOVE100

TOVE 100 © Moomin Characters™

TOVE 100
© Moomin Characters™

2014 is TOVE100, 100 years since the birth of the Finnish artist and writer Tove Marika Jansson.

I have read a few of her books (the adult books translated by Thomas Teal), discovering her about a year ago and I have become a little obsessed with her work since then.

To celebrate her 100 years, I plan to read a few more books by or about Tove Jansson and invite you to join me if you wish.

Books Read

A Winter Booksee my review here

A quiet, honest collection of stories, containing evocative black and white photos that add to the atmosphere the author evokes making the reader experience life on the island and all its challenges, right up to the final story, Taking Leave, the last visit, when the nets have become too heavy to pull, the boat too difficult to handle, the sea too unpredictable for two aging women.

The Summer Booksee my review here

An elderly artist and her six-year-old grand-daughter spend a summer on an island in the gulf of Finland. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, whims and desire for independence, coming to an understanding, teaching each other something along the way.

The True DeceiverSee my review here (coming)

An aging women artist living alone on the outskirts of a village is befriended by a younger woman, who after faking a break-in moves in with her brother, allegedly to provide companionship. It is a relationship that peels back the layers of both women, bringing their inclinations and bugbears to the surface, a face-off between truth and kindness, both containing elements of deception.

Sculptors daughterPlanning To Read

Art in Nature by Tove Jansson

The Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson

Fair Play by Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson Life, Art, Words: The Authorised Biography, Written by Boel Westin, Translated by Silvester Mazzarella

The Moomintroll Books

Tove Jansson with her brother Per Olov © Moomin Characters™

Tove Jansson with her brother Per Olov
© Moomin Characters™

She wrote and illustrated children’s books and later in life began to write for adults as well. She was close to nature and spent nearly every summer on a family island in the Pellinge archipelago, in the Gulf of Finland, an environment that features often in A Winter Book and The Summer Book.

Born on 9 August 1914 to a family of artists, her mother was a graphic designer and her father a sculptor. An artist before anything, she was multi-talented, painting, illustrating and writing, not confined to any one genre. Her first book for adults was part fiction, part memoir, The Sculptor’s Daughter, written 10 years after her father’s death.

Although I admit to never having read any of them, she is most well-known for nine children’s books that grew out of her family of characters, little white trolls living in Moominvalley named Moomintroll, Moominmamma and Moominpappa along with other creative creatures such as the Hattifatteners, Mymbles and Whompers. She also illustrated other classic children’s books including versions of Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit.

Tove Jansson and Her Moomintrolls © Moomin Characters™

Tove Jansson and Her Moomintrolls
© Moomin Characters™

Her career started early, drawing for a liberal satire magazine Garm at the age of 15, the title where her large nosed character Moomintroll made its first appearance. I think she may have been filling in for her mother, based on a comment I read in The New Yorker, but I’ll find out more when I read the biography. Her first book Sara and Pelle and the Octopuses of the Water Sprite – was published when she was just 13.

Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages, making her one of the most well-known Finnish artists, remembered by many from their own childhood and continuing to gain new audiences today.

“I didn’t realise it was set in a real place. I thought she’d made Finland up. Finland was like Narnia, with these incredible characters that were so strange but instantly recognisable because you had met lots of them – noisy Hemulens or neurotic, skinny Fillijonks.” Frank Cottrell Boyce

Events

There are numerous events happening worldwide and the national gallery of Finland, Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki is holding an exhibition of all oeuvres of Jansson’s career, her surrealistic paintings of the 1930s, modernist art of the 1950s and more abstract works in the 1960s and ’70s, as well as her satirical anti-war illustrations for the magazine Garm, her murals created for public spaces, and illustrations of her Moomin characters and stories. I’m unlikely to make it to Helsinki, but was pleased to discover the audio presentations linked below, 2 minute descriptions (in English) of 12 of her paintings which you can view while listening.

Further Reading, Listening

Two Minute Audio Descriptions of 12 of her Paintings, via the Finnish Art Museum, Ateneum

TOVE100 – website with events happening internationally, resources

The Hands That Made the Moomins – An article in the New Yorker

 

Have you read any of Tove Jansson’s books? Are you planning to read any of them this year?

la fête du muguet et du travail

Le Muguet

Le Muguet

Au mois de mai, fais ce qu’il te plait.

In the month of May do what your heart fancies.

Provencal proverb

Today is a public holiday here in France, to commemorate la fête du travail and la fête du muguet.

I wrote a little about this tradition two years ago here, sharing my experience of a neighbour knocking on our apartment door and presenting me with this small token of friendship and bonheur (happiness) le muguet. Around town, I noticed people selling the small flowers in the street.

This commemoration actually has two origins and two separate histories, one dating back to the Middle Ages and the other to Chicago in 1886.

La muguet, also known as lys des vallées (lily of the valley) is a plant originating in Japan, long symbolising the arrival of spring, and on 1 May 1561, the year he became King, Charles IX chose it as a gift to bring bonheur to the women of the royal court.

Charles IX, King of France 1560-1574

Charles IX, King of France 1560-1574

It wasn’t until 1976 that it was also associated with la fête du 1er mai, la fête du travail.

In Chicago in 1886 a movement was launched to lobby for the 8 hour working day and the 1st of May was chosen to commemorate it. A strike involving 400,000 workers on May 4, referred to as the Haymarket Riot, paralysed a number of factories, the protest became violent resulting in the death of a dozen people including seven police.

Haymarket Riot, 4 May 1886, Chicago, Illinois

Haymarket Riot, 4 May 1886, Chicago, Illinois

In June 1889 in Paris, for the centenary of the French revolution, it was decided to associate the 1st of May with the objective of attaining the 8 hour working day and in commemoration of the movement launched in Chicago on 1 May 1886.

Initially, they wore a red triangle to represent the triple objectives, 8 hours work, 8 hours sleep, 8 hours of leisure. This was replaced by the flower l’églantine and finally in 1907 by le muguet.

On 23 April 1919, the 8 hour day was ratified by the French senate and on 24 April 1941, during the German occupation,  the 1st of May was officially designated la fête du travail.

8 hours

Today la fête du travail is celebrated in most countries across Europe, except Switzerland and the Netherlands. It is also celebrated in South Africa, Latin America, Russia and Japan.  In the UK, the first Monday in May is celebrated and in the US, Labour Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September.

Voila! Bonne fête à tout le monde.