Maria Stepanova ‘In Memory of Memory’

Booker International Prize 2021: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“In Memory of Memory”: In order of reading book number 4.


I must have been about twelve. I was hunting around for something interesting to look at. There was plenty of interesting stuff: with every death a pile of new objects appeared in our apartment, deposited just as they were, trapped in a sudden end state, because their previous owner, the only person who could have freed them, was no longer amongst the living.


I don’t know who chose the shortlist for this prize this year but he certainly wanted to make it difficult to follow. I guess there must have been some powerful lobying. I’ve read doctoral theses with far less references. I had assumed this to be a fiction prize but it would appear in this case not and I should confess up front that my Kindle tells I only managed 42% of this particularly long book (I never normally give up during a book).


The opening quote tells us something of the subject, do memories die with the person and what do we do to prolong them, firstly our own before we die and secondly those of others after their dissapearance. How have momories changed and our understanding of them from the time of the handwritten letter to the time of the selfie. Stepanova then takes us through the twentieth century, its pogroms and revolutions, state terror and the Shoah and of the terribly small chance of a Jewish family to have lived through these times intact no matter which choices they had made at the turn of the century.


The children of the turn of the century had three choices before them, and they all looked much the same. Revolution, assimilation and Zionism


How in this situation of mass interruption of the memory line can or should the memories of these whole families, whole communities, whole people be assured. This is as far as I got, the premise seems interesting and should be. As I’ve mentioned, I’m a stubborn reader, good luck with the others.


In contemporary Europe, with its barely healed wounds, black holes, and traces of displacement, a well-preserved family archive is a rarity.


First Published in Russian as “ПАМЯТИ ПАМЯТИ” by Novoe Izdatel’stvo in 2017.
Translated into English by Sasha Dugdale, and published as “In Memory of Memory” in 2021 by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Olga Tokarczuk ‘Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of The Dead’


With age, many men come down with testosterone autism, the symptoms of which are a gradual decline in social intelligence and capacity for interpersonal communication, as well as a reduced ability to formulate thoughts.


Olga Tokarczuk’s multi-prize winning book begins on the remote, high, snow covered Polish plains, close to the Czech border, with the death of Big Foot at his filthy home, and his neighbours, Oddball and Duszejko, finding his body. Duszejko then discovers both the overt and the covert original sins that are at the driving forces behind the book. No spoilers here, we’ll only consider the overt original sin. As they arrive, a group of wild deer seem to be watching them intently with deer tracks around the house, Duszejko then discovers to her horror and disgust that Big Foot had set up a feeding area at the back of his house and that he had shot a deer from his grange as they came to feed.

How much does it take to push a convinced believer into radical action? To the poetry of Blake, as the book advances the retired and recluse engineer Duszejko, who’s views of Hunters are clearly laid out in the opening quote, slowly sees a group of friends coalesce around her, whilst in parallel the number of suspicious deaths of hunters builds up.

At each crime scene no obvious murder weapon is to be found but there are deer tracks found around the bodies, after each death Duszejko, an old woman, who believes everything in life can be explained by astrology and who is not taken seriously, goes into town, to the police station to explain about the deer tracks and to push the police into considering that the animals are taking revenge.

As the hunters die, we discover that illegal actions within their number lead to payoffs to the police whilst the rest of the community scrape to get by.

Amongst many of the quotes from Blake, being translated into Polish by Dizzy, one of Duszejko friends, one sums up this state of affairs:


God made Man happy & Rich but cunning made the innocent Poor.


This is a book that would push you towards the animal cause, confronting two ideologies, the responsibility of man towards animals to help them live a full and happy life and that of the hunters epitomised by the following quote from the local priest blessing the hunters:


My dear brothers and sisters, hunters are the ambassadors and partners of the Lord God in the work of creation, in caring for game animals. Nature among which man lives needs help in order to flourish. Through their culls the hunters conduct the correct policy.


A great deal of work is carried out by the hunting lobby to show that hunters are necessary to regulate the wilds and that Q.E.D. They are the animals’ best friends.

Back to the whodunit, just a small detail, a lovely touch, Duszejko’s car, a Samouraï.

First Published in Polish as “Prowadż swój pług przez kości umarlych” in 2010 by Wydawnictwo Literackie.
Translated into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and published in 2018 as Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Fitzcarraldo Editions.
Translated into French by Margot Carlier and published in 2012 as “Sur les ossements des morts” by Les Éditions Noir sur Blanc

The quote as read in French

L’âge venant, beaucoup d’hommes soufrent d’une sorte de déficit, que j’appelle “autisme testostéronien”. Il se manifeste par une atrophie progressive de l’intelligence dite sociale et de la capacité à communiquer, et cela handicape également l’expression de la pensée.

Dieu créa l’homme heureux et riche. La ruse rendit pauvres les innocents

Les chasseurs, chers frères et sœurs, sont les ambassadeurs et les compagnons de Dieu dans l’œuvre de la Création et de la protection de la faune. Ses meilleurs collaborateurs. Il faut aider la nature qui nous accueille en son sein à se développer. Grâce à l’abattage systématique du gibier, les chasseurs mènent une action juste.

Fernanda Melchor ‘Hurricane Season’

Booker International Prize 2020: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“Hurricane Season”: In order of reading book number 6.

In order to follow this event, I have managed to write articles on all six of the short listed books and will propose my winner before the official announcement.
Visit the official site for more details: Booker International Prize 2020


Lagarta, you little shit-stirrer, you’re sick in the head, only you could come out with such a rotten, disgraceful pack of lies, aren’t you ashamed of yourself, whoring around and then pointing the finger at your cousin? There’s only one thing’ll stop you wanting to leave the house, you wicked little tramp. Grandma had cut off all her hair with the poultry shears while Yesenia sat motionless, as still as a possum in the headlights, terrified of being slashed by those icy blades, and afterwards she’d spent the whole night out in the yard, like the mongrel bitch that she was, and Grandma had said: a stinking animal that didn’t deserve so much as a flee-ridden mattress beneath its fetid coat.


As the story begins, the body of the witch is found in an irrigation canal on the outskirts of Matosa. To help us make sense of this discovery, chapter by chapter we follow what has happened through the eyes of one or the other of the protagonists. In sentences, rivalling Proust for length, through these different accounts we get a feeling for the town, Matosa:


They say that’s why the women are on edge, especially in La Matosa. They say that, come evening, they gather on their porches to smoke filterless cigarettes and cradle their youngest babes in their arms, blowing their peppery breath over those tender crowns to shoo away the mosquitos, basking in what little breeze reaches them from the river, when at last the town settles into silence and you can just about make out the music coming from the highway brothels in the distance, the rumble of the trucks as they make their way to the oilfields, the baying of dogs calling each other like wolves from one side of the plain to the other; the time of evening when the women sit around telling stories.


In this desperate town where the women seem to live from prostitution, and the men from the women we get a feeling of hopelessness, take for instance Lagarta from the opening quote, brought up harshly by her grand mother, as are so many of her cousins, nephews and nieces when their young parents runaway or are jailed. The hopelessness of their situations are drowned in Aguardiente, drugs or religion with dreams of having enough money to get a bus away from here.

The story is of machism and homosexuality, and the fine line between the two, of young girls discovering their power and becoming women too soon and preys of the men and of the age old solutions to unwanted pregnancies, with the witch central to both of these conflicts.

A second South American book in the selection, set 150 years after the first, The Adventures of China Iron , but treating many of the same subjects but this time through a realist vision, of the two, I preferred the first.

First Published in Spanish as “Temporada de huracanes” in 2017, in Mexico by Literatura Random House.
Translated into english by Sophie Hughes and published as “Hurricane Season” by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2019
Translated into French by Laura Alcoba and published as “La saison des ouragans” by Grasset in 2019