|Bagpipes player Neseber, Bulgaria|
Sometimes I'm asked to write reviews, sometimes I write them entirely for my own pleasure, combined with a feeling that I want to let others know about this book or film or theatre production though usually it's a book, and far more often than I actually write something I imagine writing something and might even take notes and meanwhile, life goes on and other things come up, appear, distract or involve me.
I've put some links below to reviews written this year that have appeared elsewhere (and others can be found on the Online Publications page of this blog).
Michel Houellebecq's Soumission
Ajay Close's A Petrol Scented Spring
The fantastic production of Shakespeare's Othello by Smooth-faced Gentlemen
Tangram Theatre's brilliant, hilarious, sell-out production – a musical interpretation of Darwin's Origin of Species.
Books come into my life in all kinds of ways, people give me them or recommend them, some I discover, some I seek out. And before this year slips away I want to mention a few of my favourites of the past year. In this post, two volumes of poetry, one from a Bulgarian/American writer, another from an Estonian poet, and the third from a Bosnian novelist now living in Sweden. (The images for this post are random, though there is a connection with Katerina, who comes from Bulgaria, though now lives in USA).
|Train in Bourgas station, Bulgaria|
The Porcupine of Mind – Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, Broadstone Books, 2012
These poems are full of warmth (especially for creatures we tend not to notice because they don't use our language) and humour (for language and everything else). Katerina Stoykova-Klemer has an ability to catch a transient feeling and turn it into a narrative tapestry that hangs in a room on the mind's wall, urging you to touch it lightly each time you pass.
From One Should Exercise Caution – 'when kissing a daffodil./ Someone could get hurt./ It helps to have dabbled in botany.' From Clarification – 'The beetle/lying on his back/is not kicking in the air./ He is praying/for wind.' This book is guaranteed to make you delight in the world around you, but it may not let you off the hook of your past indifference to all life-forms. Or there again, it may.
|Sunflowers, seen from the Bourgas to Sofia train|
Of Snow, of Soul – Juri Talvet (trans HL Hix) Guernica, 2010
These poems mix intimacies – family, homeland, nature and weather – with a large literary and actual landscape, including Germany, Denmark, Canada and Spain, and the works of Lorca, Mickiewicz, Bulgakov and Pessoa.
From 58: It grows so empty so empty – 'A snowdrift has taken it in its lap/in the sun-glitter –/ this house where a soul calls another soul/from night to night/now that it is winter
From Exiting Summer - 'don't fear impossible love – even/the celts knew it – and besides/it's the only kind'.
Juri Talvet's prize-winning poetry mixes the lyrical, the literary and the sensuous, giving us a glimpse into the snow-bound beauty of Estonia's landscape.
|Approaching Sofia, Bulgaria|
Thinner than a Hair – Adnan Mahmutović, Cinnamon Press, 2010
Written in the voice of a young Bosnian it describes her experiences as tension rose in her country leading to the outbreak of the Balkan wars in the 1990s. This was experienced as growing suspicion and hostility from neighbours who had only recently been friends. Fatima and her boyfriend Aziz discuss whether or not to leave. They go to Sarajevo to get passports.
'The city was like a haunted mind. It was beautiful and uncanny at the same time....The whole sight of kids and sweets, and the pigeons, calmed me. The brave and mad sweets man made me feel safe.'
But there is increasingly, nothing of safety for Fatima and Aziz, not even in their relationship. Everything lurches into uncertainty, cracks appear in the most stable-seeming fabrics until the inevitable eruption of violence, the flight of the young people, and the places and people they find themselves with. Circumstances are harsh and there are no easy outcomes. The language of Mahmutović's prose is astonishing, innovative, and deeply authentic, drawing on his own experience, as the author was himself a young refugee from the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and now lives in Sweden.
|Street in Sofia, Bulgaria|
|Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia|