By Rodrigo Hasbun
Pushkin Press – £9.99
Every now and then, it does seem as if one is living in both a veritable
vacuum of one’s own making – whether by design, whether by default. And such is most definitely the case with the prime protagonists in this seemingly dark investigation into the human psyche.
Affections is admittedly, an affectionate book so far as (three) sisters’ troubled relationships can be concerned; yet it’s also a scenario of political reportage with regards the Bolivian revolution – in which Che Guevara was captured and murdered (supposedly financed by the US government).
But what I found the most alluring and satisfying about the Bolivian, Rodrigo Hasbun’s overtly convincing novel, was it’s all prevailing, under-written humanity – the subliminal trajectory of which, was never far away: ”I saw my sister everywhere. Not a single day went by when I didn’t see her. If the telephone went, my first reaction was always to think it was her. I bought a dog, and then another. I needed to feel like I had company, that someone was always there waiting for me at home […]. It’s not true that our memory is a safe place. In there, too, things get distorted and lost. In there, too, we end up turning away from the people we love the most.”
Written in such a way that is capable of stopping one in their everyday tracks, these 142 pages, are, if nothing else, poignant, powerful and provocative, as substantiated by El Pais: ”Hasbun’s writing has a strange power. He likes to reach into the darkest places. Reading him is like… a journey to the brink of an abyss.”
It’s no wonder this book is the Winner of an English Pen Award.
Summer Before The Dark
Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, Ostend 1936
By Voker Weidermann
Pushkin Press – £12.99
”Little lies. It was war. Truth was dead.”
There’s something extraordinarily expressive and expansive about the way friendship has been conveyed throughout this altogether elgaic book. Almost all of its 168 pages – with the 169th depicting a black and white photograph of the two prime protagonists – appear to be drenched in the sort fraught sincerity one doesn’t often hear about – let alone come across, today.
Anchored in the Belgian, seaside town of Ostend during the summer of 1936, Summer Before The Dark bequeaths the reader with coterie of artists, intellectuals, drunks and madmen, all of whom are essentially on the run from the vile powers that be.
At the vanguard of said posse of silent lunacy, are the two literary sensations, Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, one of whom is (even) more off the rails than the other. But what makes the book so utterly rewarding, is its slightly warped and opaque description of an era underlined by desperation: ”Roth felt on the verge of death. His room, he said, looked like a coffin […] at some point there’ll be a return journey. But when? The more urgent this question becomes, the less often it is posed. With every day of this vacation that goes by, any return becomes less plausible. They all know it. But it’s never discussed. Optimism is a duty. There’s a length of rope in the suitcase, but nobody talks about it.”
Such descriptive nonchalance is what perhaps accounts for The Financial Times having written: A marvellous book… literary biography at it s best. Faithful to facts, it reads like a novel […] extreme personalities, tense political backdrop and tragic central relationships, it would make a terrific film – Death in Venice with more sex, more booze, more action and considerably more conversation.”
Sounds more akin to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but instead of Richard and Liz going at it, we have two fesity, ageing writers – flung together by way of jealousy and ambition, The Nazis and ultimately, love.