Last week I wrote about the #EU27Project and some books by EU authors which I am looking forward to reading. This week I thought I’d recommend some books I’ve enjoyed by EU authors. A link in italics takes you to my review, in plain text to the book’s Goodreads page.
Irish fiction is strongly represented in my recent reading, including three different takes on the aftermath of the economic crisis. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney is about a young man growing up in Cork’s gang culture, Anne Enright’s The Green Road is a contemporary take on the matriarchal family saga and The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan has an intriguing narrative structure – each chapter is narrated by a different character.
Portuguese author Jose Saramago’s Blindness is an allegory that defies easy answers. In a world afflicted by an epidemic of blindness, will good or evil prevail? Some people have found this hard going because of the lack of punctuation, particularly of dialogue. I listened to the audiobook which meant someone had done the hard work for me.
I’ve recently enjoyed a couple of books from countries where I know very little about the literature. In Craving by Dutch author Esther Gerritsen a woman with autism casually tells her adult daughter she is dying, with darkly comic consequences. The Devil’s Workshop by Jáchym Topol is a dark satire from the Czech Republic/Czechia about a former Nazi prison transformed into a tourist attraction. It asks difficult questions about what we should remember and how.
I am particularly interested in Spain and books in Spanish. I’ve read quite a few books by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. If I had to choose one, it would probably be The Club Dumas, because it’s a book about books – a mystery about a rare book dealer chasing a manuscript of The Three Musketeers, who becomes caught up in a Dumas-like adventure. I don’t read much poetry these days, but I love the Selected Poems of Federico García Lorca from Bloodaxe which has the originals and Merryn Williams’ English translations side by side. This is ideal if, like me, your Spanish is good but not fluent. You can tease out the layers of meaning from the English and enjoy the rhythm and sound of Lorca’s own words. (The Bloodaxe book is out of print but other translations are available.)
Before I thought about this post, I would have said I’ve read a lot about European countries, in fiction and non-fiction. But I’ve realised that much of it is by British or American authors, in particular in the Mediterranean countries. They give an outsider’s perspective (endless rhapsodising about cafés etc). This seems to be against the spirit of the #EU27Project which is an opportunity to see the world through European eyes (though I may write a separate post some time on books set in or about Spain).
But I’m going to include Gerald Brenan’s South from Granada, a fascinating account of life in a remote mountain village in the Alpujarra in the period between the end of World War One and the Spanish Civil War.
Brenan was a British writer who served in the army and was a friend of the Bloomsbury group. But he was born in Malta, to Anglo-Irish parents, lived much of his life in Spain, and died there. This gives him connections to at least three EU27 countries.
His biography sums up the complexity of defining identity through nationality. Many people in the EU live on one side of a border and work on the other, or have connections to another country through migration or family, or just travel between countries at the weekend to socialise or shop. Let’s hope that openness and freedom isn’t lost.