First year of blogging Top3 reads

Where there it is, the end of my first year of blogging, I’ll spare you  my feelings and go for the facts. My end of year report follows.


1 year of blogging
50 posts exactly

Top 3 books read this year to be recommended (there were a handful of other contenders)

1. Andreï Makine A Woman Loved

2. Tim Gautreaux The Missing

3. Roman Gary La Vie Devant Soi

I took part in the Spanish literature month and am looking forward to the German literature month as well as my next year’s reading.

From a community point of view I am slowly growing the blogs I like to read.

My reading choices are becoming more personal, influenced of course by my blogging network.


Raphael Jerusalmy ‘The Brotherhood of book hunters’

Initially, searching through audio books at my local lending library it was the cover of this book that caught my attention, I had not heard of the author.
After graduating from the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Sorbonne, and then working with Israeli military intelligence, the atypical Raphaël Jerusalmy is now a trader in antique books and an author.

After Jean Teulé in 2006, Jerusalmy basis his book around the medieval poet François Villon, who as well as being ‘the first poet of the modern era’ was also a brigand and a thief who after being condemned to death by strangling then hanging is pardoned but banned from Paris, soon after he disappears for ever. As Jerusalmy says ‘how could he resist such an invitation’.

Jerusalmy’s ‘Brotherhood of book hunters’ is a medieval conspiracy thriller which plays between Paris, Florence, Jerusalem and Rome. These are troubled times, Gutenberg is one of many printers operating in Germany, the inquisition is losing its battle outside of Italy and Spain, the powers of the Medicis in Florence challenges that of the pope in Rome, the king of France’s power is challenged by his brother and knowledge and writings are controlled by bigots. Against this background Villon is sent on a number of missions by the bishop of Paris which lead him on a quest to find writings from ancient civilisations which have been rescued and saved over the years by the brotherhood, a Jewish organisation who are slowly disseminating these works which could rock the very foundations of Christianity.

Shades of Dan Brown if you will, I found this an entertaining read.

First published in French as ‘La Confrérie des chasseurs de Livres’ by Actes Sud in 2013
Translated into English by Howard Curtis and published as ‘The Brotherhood of Book Hunters’ in 2014 by Europa Editions

Patrick Modiano ‘La Petite Bijou’

For my second excursion into Modiano I chose his 2001 novel not yet translated into English ‘La Petite Bijou’ The Little Jewel.*** From the first book on this blog ‘La Rue des Boutiques Obscures’ we find certain similarities such as a quest for identity and past obscure events linked perhaps to a period around the Second World War.


The story concerns a young woman, not yet 20 years old, Thérèse, as the story opens she sees a woman in a yellow coat on a metro platform who resembles her mother, supposedly dead in Morocco several years earlier. As Thérèse begins to follow her we discover a fragile and traumatised girl who has no hunger for the life she lives and who stops eating and taking care of herself.

Throughout the book we follow Thérèse, as the story flows we understand that she was abandoned by her mother ‘The Bosche’ when she was 8 years old and that she had never known her father. This initial crossing of paths with the woman in the yellow coat sparks a desperate search amongst her distant memories of that epoch for an explanation to these events which left her with no family, no friends and no qualifications.

She lives from taking care of a young girl for several hours a week, through her eyes we see the transposition of her own feelings on this family, we understand that she sees the father as being almost always inexplicably absent and the mother treating her daughter as Thérèse felt treated by her mother.

As the story unfolds and Thérèse becomes slowly weaker she crosses paths with two improbable yet sympathetic carachters, firstly a translator Moreau-Badmaev who speaks twenty or so languages including ‘Prairie Persian’ and who spends his nights listening to far off radio programs by the reassuring green light of his radio, and secondly a female chemist who helps her home and watches over her at night.

The distress felt by Thérèse leads eventually to an attempted suicide, and as she awakes in hospital she feels reborn.

First published in French as La Petite Bijou by Gallimard in 2001
***Read in French, my translation

Katharina Hartwell ‘The Thief in the Night’

Katharina Hartwell’s latest book, ‘Der Dieb In Der Nacht’ ( The thief In the night) did not make it onto the Deutscher Buchpreis long list, but luckily it made it onto my reading list! As the novel begins, Felix has been missing with no trace from Berlin for ten years when Paul accidentally meets someone he is persuaded is Felix in Prague. This person presents himself as Ira Blixen.

Hartwell’s story is steeped in the five senses, the descriptions of taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing are detailed and present throughout the book as is Hans Andersen’s cruel view of the world (Felix’s mother studies Andersen and tells his stories to him and his sister).
Paul is introduced to us as a photographer who goes through the prettiest city in the world (Prague) taking photos. And gets paid for it.
But something is clearly not as it should be, first of all Paul’s view of Prague is not so simple ‘The prettiest city in the world -what does that mean? How do you measure beauty in a city and who decides that it’s the prettiest of them all?’*** We learn he doesn’t like going out, prefers staying in with the curtains closed and when he is due to leave Prague Blixen asks him ‘Have you ever been over to the Kampa peninsula?’*** And Paul answers him ‘I still don’t have a good feel for the city, probably not, I haven’t seen much so far’*** and the narrator reinforces our feeling of something not being right when he adds ‘He hadn’t once managed to cross the Karlsbrücke to the other side, he had never been to the Café Slavia, he had not been to the astronomical clock in the old part of the city where he had not heard it chime at the hour, nor seen the skeleton figure ring it’s bell.’*** Odd behaviour for a photographer.
We are slowly shown Felix’s (and Paul’s) world, Paul comes from a dysfunctional (and poor) family which he refers to as his ‘wolf family’, from the moment he gets the chance he becomes Felix’s friend and quickly becomes part of his family up to the point where Felix’s mother, refers to him as their ‘adoptive son’, living with and off them. (a parasite?)
However Felix’s family is in itself far from ideal, his father is a recluse, living in their house but without a relationship to his children. Felix’s mother is present but extremely independent from both her husband and her children. Felix’s sister, Louise is younger than him and fragile.

The story enters a dreamlike portion where Blixen becomes a central character, taking over the lives of both Paul and Louise with a reference to a similar event in a Karen Blixen short story (a parasite?), the story then cycles between the real and the unreal, between the fairy tale and the hard reality of Felix’s absence.
This is a major piece of fiction, well worth an English and a French translation.

If you found this review useful remember to hit the like button

Published in German in 2015 by Berlin Verlag
***My translation

Nicolas Fargues ‘Au pays du p’tit’

Now here was a challenge! How to write up this book put forward as a major offering for the ‘Rentrée Littéraire’! Fargues’ protagonists are rarely likeable but Romain Ruyssen is perfectly obnoxious, Fargues serves us up a hero who has written a book about France, supposedly researched (Ruyssen is a university sociology teacher) Where he ‘violently criticises the culture and beliefs of the French’.


In itself this could be built up as a refreshing view point with a few examples quoted here.

‘Anyone having one day taken the Eurostar will tell you : there is absolutely no comparison between the impression given by the Gare du Nord in Paris and St Pancras, in London.’*** Followed by a detailed list of differences.

‘I carried out a poll of nearly one hundred French citizens living there (in London)…I questioned three categories of immigrants : the young who were there for a short spell…The second working as expatriates for British or French companies with contracts varying from two to five years? And finally the third , whilst keeping their French nationality, having decided to live indefinitely in London with their family, returning to France only for their holidays. In the series of questions about their motivation for choosing London, most put forward better employment opportunities in London rather than France. Those having created their companies speak of the simplification of administrative procedures and the high income bracket always come back to the fiscal advantages offered over the channel.***

This however, goes on page after page after page ad nauseam, thus nullifying any serious critique and going well beyond satire.

Ruyssen throughout the book is about as sexist and self sufficient as any character I have yet come across in life or literature, here are a few of the dozens and dozens of his comments about women.

‘She gave however a general impression of health and freshness, a necessary prerequisite for mating.***

´Few people know the subtle power of hearing and caring : those being heard attach themselves, naturally, to their listeners, so rare, that often they finish without realising it by becoming dependant on them. And it’s with women that this is most shown to be true.***

You may say that I was unable to appreciate the acid humour of Fargues’ character, Ruyssen, who was all too human and self conceited, and that other readers will appreciate this, maybe. I will however put forward that Fargues gave me no reason to want to understand him, in life I would simply avoid him.

As for the finale, no one who has ever used social media, let alone a man in his forties, would be so naïve as to put himself in this situation during a one night stand, in 2015!

You may have understood that I did not appreciate this book.

Published in French by P.O.L. in 2015
***My translation

Thomas B Reverdy ‘Il était une ville’

Reverdy is no newcomer to dramas set in faraway worlds, after his last work, ‘Les evaporés’ (Those spirited away), published in 2013 and set In Japan, ‘Il était une ville’ (There was a city) is an ambitious book with three story lines set in a post apocalyptic Detroit, except that the apocalypse which is the background for the book actually took place!

In the presentation of the book Reverdy’s editor explains that ‘he tells us what love is in the times of catastrophe’***


Reverdy takes us to Detroit in 2008, where Eugene, a young manager with an already chequered past, is sent to Detroit by his Corporation (Either as a punishment or as a last chance) to lead a multi-national team on a project that can never realistically see the light of day.

Reverdy shows us from several view points the central theme of the book,

” ….. And this is also what is at stake in human society. Run, we don’t know how to do anything else. And when things start to go wrong, we accelerate – what else can we do ?….At the precise moment of their fall, all civilisations seem to be like headless chickens”***

With the Corporation that continues to imagine grandiose solutions in spite of its own inevitable demise, forgetting about its different teams along the way.

With Detroit where “You had to carry on buying houses, cars, filling your supermarket caddy, but there weren’t any more jobs”.***

With the City Police where due to the bankruptcy of the city administration they no longer have the adequate equipment to do their job whilst the mayor of the city is forced to resign after the murder of an ex call girl brings to light  his sex parties and fraud on a massive scale.

With more than seventy youths who go missing over a period of several months without the police being notified in a shrinking city (Detroit actually shrinks by one third of its population) and who are found living together in the abandoned city center.

In this chaos, Reverdy shows us some people that care and gives us a story of love and hope that does not seem out of place.

The ravages of capitalism on Detroit shown in this book do not seem so very different from that shown on Moscow by Makïne in ‘A Woman Loved’

If you found this review useful remember to hit the like button

Published in French in 2015 by Flammarion
***My translation

Andreï Makine ‘A Woman Loved’

Andreï Makine, who won the biggest French literary prize the Goncourt in 1995, was rescued from an orphanage in Siberia in 1960 by his grandmother and raised speaking French, his own parents were “probably” deported. Makine, whose classical style writing stands out from other modern French literature, took political asylum in France just two years before the Berlin Wall came down.

A Woman Loved is exceptional, it had me thinking how interesting a couple of chapters of Wolf Hall written in the style of Makine would be! Now there’s a challenge.


This book centres around an initially young film director Oleg Erdmann, Russian but of German origin. Erdmann is a tortured individual “back then he had been someone caught between his two origins, suffering from his past and wishing feverishly to succeed his future, he didn’t know how to define himself in relationship to the world, he invented complicated identities, alibis and reasons for himself.”***he lives to bring the essence of Catherine the Great, a German princess who becomes the ruler of Russia, to the screen. Makine brings us through the difficulties of the late Soviet era (how to get a film past the Soviet film board), with Brezhnev dying before the film is finished.

Catherine’s supposed numerous love affairs and wild sexual life, the payoff for her favourites, the intrigues, murders and revenge are so well reported that throughout the changes, from soviet to oligarch to new Russia, Oleg is unable to get beyond the rumours to the truth of Catherine’s life as he imagines it. A Woman who cannot escape from her own caricature but who in her early 50’s falls in love and is ready to leave everything for her lover Lanskoy.

Oleg is able to recycle himself and his work in the post Soviet world, producing a successful television series on Catherine, selling out on all of his values delivering an ever escalating soft porn version of Catherine’s life.

He eventually comes full circle to the actress who played Catherine from the first Soviet version of his work, who he had never been able to forget and finishes through her in finding out who he actually is through the power of love “a simple identity….a man reflected in the eye of a woman who is loved”***

What a beautiful description!

First published in French as Une Femme Bien Aimée by Seuil in 2013
Translated into English by Geoffrey Strachan and published in 2015 by MacLehose Press
***Read in French, my translation