Tag Archives: Small Stations Press

That’s How Whales Are Born

whales

That’s How Whales Are Born
By Anxos Sumai
Small Stations Press – £8.99

[…] precisely because she didn’t hit me, I cried on account of the tenderness I felt, and the tears rolled down my cheeks like streams of caustic soda. They hurt. They hurt and left marks I am still able to see and feel when I look at myself in a mirror or when I place my fingertips, all ten of them, on my face.

That’s How Whales Are Born is a book of such immense depth and literary persuasion, such beauty of life’s veritable clarification; it’s a wonder how authoress Anxos Sumai reached its shimmering and most thought provoking end. Just one of the many reasons being that from the very opening page, one instinctively knows one is in for a roller-coaster ride of the most implicit, yet exquisite emotion:

”Mother looks elated in these photographs, with a bright smile and a joyful look in her eye. Father, handsome but serious, seems distant, aware of something that was not actually taking place at that moment. I think I remember the day when Mother tore up the rest of the photos. I was still very young and lacked the exact words to ask her why she was ripping herself up like that. I was also unable to intuit the meaning of the wrath and misery they held for her.”

Without wanting to give too much away, these 272 pages traipse the exceedingly thin line betwixt familial loyalty (which in this case, just happens to be laced with a profound sadness), and that of the need to follow ones’ own, resolute path of independence.

In other words, a tough dilemma; but, which in the most delicate words of Sumai, ends up bequeathing some sort of inspired beauty – where in truth, only struggle ought to surely prevail:

”She knew too well the sounds of her son’s most intimate ceremony, and knew it barely lasted a minute. She recalled that when Ramon was younger, he’d thought to do it in front of Natalia, who screamed, outraged, that the boy was a damned ape in heat. Immaculate, exquisite, and elegant, Natalia didn’t consider Ramon a human being. At most he was a baby in a man’s body, and babies were asexual beings to her. Sexless angels, innocent souls dancing in limbo like dust motes cavorting in a sunbeam. Mother had to teach him that satisfying desire was a personal thing […]. She even allowed him – on more than one occasion – to lie beside her and touch her. But that was an unutterable secret, something that tormented her every time it happened […].”

I’m hard pressed to think of a recent novel so emotionally fraught with anywhere near as much subliminal hubris, combined with harrowing heartbreak. As such, That’s How Whales Are Born is unquestionably up there with the likes of Arundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things. No mean feat.

David Marx

I Love You Leo A

leo

I Love You Leo A
By Rosa Aneiros
Small Stations Press

     And stay close to groups of women unless you want to spend the whole journey being          ogled like a piece of merchandise! Discretion has never been their strong point!

Part travelogue, part resolute reflection on the human condition, I Love You Leo A is a harmless and enjoyable enough read; but once you’ve reached the end, that’s essentially it. You’ve reached the end.

There’s no literary after thought. Nothing that fundamentally lingers in the mind. Nothing that compels one to re-visit the varying travels and thoughts our protagonist Leo has embarked on; which is okay, although I personally rather enjoy being touched or moved by what I’ve just read.

To be sure, the two main things I came away with having read these 263 pages, was: who was responsible for daubing ”I love You Leo A” on the various walls and flyovers amid Leo’s travels, and, perhaps more interestingly, a brave and altogether vivid portrayal of Istanbul towards the latter part of the book:

”This is the real Istanbul. The Istanbul of contradictions. A combination, sometimes tense, sometimes so natural it’s strange, of modern and ancient. Decadence and technology meet and sometimes give way to conflict[…]. They can’t help feeling nostalgic for their sultans and their leadership of the Eastern Mediterranean, and yet they want to be a real bridge between Asia and Europe. Tradition weighs down too heavily for them to advance, and yet they don’t want to do away with their own history and customs so they can be accepted as another group of Europeans.”

Having lived in a predominantly Turkish neighbourhood of Berlin, I can honestly vouch that all of the above is resoundingly true. Turks do not ”want to do away with their own history and customs.” As such – well in Berlin at least – they’re absolutely not ”accepted as another group of Europeans.”

That said, what truly jumped out of this book, was authoress, Rosa Aneiros, coming totally clean with the following (with regards to Istanbul): ”The black market is too lucrative a business for policemen and officials to pass up. Blackmail and corruption are an everyday occurrence.”

So there you have it: only read this book if you (really) want to know what makes Istanbul tick. Other than that, you’ll probably find I Love You Leo A somewhat forgettable.

David Marx

 

His Excellency

carlos

His Excellency
By Carlos Casares
Small Stations Press –

So far as novels go – which I admittedly don’t read that many of – one has to essentially relate to what’s being said. And of course, how it’s being said, which in far too many instances, is a near miss. The mind invariably wanders, the words don’t add up, and before you know it, there’s no connection.

I unfortunately found this being the case with Carlos Casares’ His Excellency; a book where religiosity and the semi-suppression of ”the new newfangled cinematograph to the city of Ourense” are the prime subjects of a rather dense and occasionally dark story of foreboding.

With the exception of a couple of intrinsically interesting lines:

”Passing in front of a bakery, the smell of octopus pasties reminded him of the tragedy of a faraway appetite which still hadn’t come back […].”
”The editor’s words flew around in front of his eyes like monstrous, headless birds.”

And the altogether delightful, following description:

”His Excellency’s laugh began under his breath as a prayer. Then he remained stuck in breathless respiration for a few moments, and finally exploded like a rowdy line of cannons. He had to hold his stomach with his hands, to throw back his head, and wasn’t at ease until a flood of sobs and tears dragged out a dark and murky river of many days, possibly of many years.”

I have to admit to this short novel having passed me by without having made much of an impression. Upon reflection, (perhaps) not so much the story being told, but rather, the way in which it’s being told.

Can’t win ’em all…

David Marx

Brother of the Wind

brother

Brother of the Wind
By Manuel Lourenzo Gonzalez
Small Stations Press 

[…] because now I must live out my existence with the shame of belonging to a civilisation and a country whose political representatives were capable of declaring a war of plunder to be just so they could continue to make the high costs of their  rhythm of life fall on the misery of others.

Equally powerful and poignant, Brother of the Wind is unremittingly charming; as if plucked from a long-forgotten well of all too good intentions. It’s a story of unbelievably, inspired bravery; set within the fraught and uncertain parameters of the initial Gulf War of 1991.

As succinctly regaled by a young teenage boy by the name of Khaled, these 172 pages are a shimmering combination of grit’n’guts and power’n’poetry. Each one follows on from the other in such a way that profound literature was always meant to be – but very rarely is.

As such, within the turning of the pages, one is quintessentially reminded of what was like to have once been young. And innocent. And in love.

And in love…
Now wasn’t that/isn’t that something to truly behold?
The sort of love that simply transcends; whether it’s love for one’s father, love for one’s partner, or indeed, love one’s country. All three of which are wonderfully combined and traversed herein:

Take me to the warmth of my beloved,
take me to my new home in the forest,
where everything can start again,
take me to where the wounds of the past heal
but don’t disappear

A wonderful eye-opener of a book that I absolutely cannot recommend highly enough.

David Marx

The Potato Eaters

rivas

The Potato Eaters
By Manuel Rivas
Small Stations Press – £7.99

When did her teeth start falling out? Has she always had the inklings of a moustache?

Having read most of Manuel Rivas’ books, I still have to say, if not fully maintain, that the brilliant Books Burn Badly is still my favourite. That’s not to say his books published since (The Low Voices, One Million Cows, From Unknown to Unknown) do not make for intrinsically interesting and occasionally captivating reading.

They absolutely do and The Potato Eaters is no exception.

From the opening gambit that evolves around drug addiction with a sense of humour – in which the protagonist is more than attracted to what sounds like a well-stacked nurse by the name of Miss Cowbutt (great name, somewhat reminiscent of Eddie Izzard’s Mrs Badcrumble) – the reader instinctively knows s/he is in for a quintessentially robust ride of a journey. The sort of which, one has come to expect from Rivas, of which the opening quote above is a most pristine example.

From a short piece simply entitled ‘The Umbrella,’ it is preceded by the altogether hooky, kooky summerisation of an endemically bonkers game show: ”Recordman today, it has been announced, is going to be more intellectual. It’s a question of using your head. The contestants, a couple of men who look like primates in their Sunday best, have to knock down a wall of breeze blocks with their heads. The first one to do so will get a million. The gong goes, and they all rush to the wall. From the initial impact, one them, the one who looked most hard-headed, falls flat on his face and is looked after by two recordwomen, who today are wearing tight, discreet dresses, though they do have a hole right over their nipples, The audience claps. Unbelievable! This is great.”

Indeed!

Blankety Blank it most clearly isn’t – which is what essentially accounts for The Potato Eaters being the sort of book it (most provocatively) is: witty, satirical, and like a lot of the Galician author’s writing, prone to going off on totally terrific tangents.

David Marx

Los Ninos Tontos

fbb4b6a86e716d470f9aaf0dffc43cd5_m

Los Ninos Tontos/The Foolish Children
By Ana Maria Matute
Small Stations Press – £7.99

With the discerning eye of an artist, Ana Maria Matute employs bright, bold tones or sometimes soft, impressionistic tints to express her profound pessimism with the Spain that Franco ruled. Possibly she hoped her stories would serve as a catalyst for change.

Throughout this angular, alternative book, lies an undercurrent of childlike, yet political darkness. The sort of which really is a prime preponderance to be reckoned with; reason being, it comes at you when you least expect it. That said, by the time one has reached the end of Los Ninos Tontos/The Foolish Children, authoress Ana Maria Matute’s literary moves remain just as equally foreboding and fraught with daring as at the outset.

In and of itself, this should come as no surprise, especially when one comes to terms with just how and where, many of these micro-fiction stories eventually pan out.

There are twenty-one in all (written in both Spanish and English), many of which are occasionally lyric in tonality (”The child turned to ashes. He was just a little pile of thirst” – ‘Thirst and the Boy’) while simultaneously anchored in poetic imagery (”The dog, lying at the child’s feel all night, shed two tears. They clinked like little bells” – ‘The Little Blue-Eyed Black Boy’).

As noted in the Translators’ Introduction: ”Many critics have noted that Ana Maria Matute’s fiction represents an ”immediately recognisable blend of lyricism and stark realism, sombre intuition and determined sociopolitical engagement” […]. Throughout her life, Ana Maria Matute criticised the injustices of the Franco regime and referred to the dictator as ”la momia” (the mummy). Early on she developed this ”solidaridad con ‘los otros, con los silenciados (solidarity with ‘the others,” with the silenced ones).”

For this alone, Matute is to be roundly applauded and this fine publication, roundly embraced.

David Marx

The Painter With The Hat Of Mallows

painter

The Painter With The Hat Of Mallows
By Marcos Calveiro
Small Stations Press – £7.99

This very sunny, evocative book has been carefully, yet most deliberately written within the rather poignant parameters of being told through the inquisitive, innocent eyes of a teenage boy; purposefully sent by his mother to spend a few days in the country as a way of keeping him out of trouble.

The Painter With The Hat Of Mallows (cool title) is set in the town of Auvers-sur-Oisee, one hour north of Paris, where the boy finds life with his horribly sounding great-aunt unbearable; that is until the arrival of the Dutch master painter, Vincent van Gogh!

There’s love, along with a touch of both temptation and violence – yet is as far removed from the trajectory of the bible as one could possibly imagine. Although personally speaking, it’s the consistent, utterly toptastic, many one-liners that make this book such a joy to read.

Among many others, these include: ”She smiled, revealing a row of white teeth like cherry blossom..” ”Beauty resides in truth, in life just as it presents itself to us. All I do is try to reflect it with humility.,” ”the sadness will last forever.,” ”My soul is covered in the soot of scepticism. I’m an unbeliever and don’t expect anything any more.,” and of course, author Marcos Calveiro, quoting Van Gogh himself: ”Let’s not forget that small emotions are the great captains of our lives.”

The writing as a whole is captivating in a story-telling sort of way, whereby the reader can put the book down at any moment, and simply carry on from where one has left off without the slightest of hesitation nor need to go back re-read.

Declaring style of writing, which, at the end of the day, is what good fiction is all about isn’t it?

Interspersed with a number of black and white etchings, these 155 pages shed light on a terrific writer whose ability to inadvertently intoxicate, is as natural as sunshine itself: ”[…] they didn’t miss one ounce of his fervent discourse. It was happening again, before my very eyes: the apostle of absinthe haranguing a disbelieving public that slowly turned into a devoted congregation, captivated by his passion and sentiment.”

Great stuff.

David Marx