Monday, September 21, 2020

Finland: The Iron Age, Arja Kajermo

The Girl who narrates this slim novel lives on a farm in post war Finland. Conditions are bleak. Finland is paying reparations to Russia for their part in the war. The Girl's father is violent, damaged by his part in the war in which a huge number of Finnish men died. The Girl observes her family - father, mother and younger brothers Tapio and Tuomas, and Grandmother who owns the farm. Eventually after an argument with grandmother, the family leaves the farm and crosses into Sweden to find work. This is a quiet but beautifully written short book. The contrasts between rural Finland and urban Stockholm are seen through the eyes of the young narrator. The novel is based on a short story which was shorlisted for the Davy Byrnes Award in 2014. Arja Kajermo is a cartoonist, born in Finland, raised in Sweden and currently residing in Ireland. It was published in 2017 by Tramp Press.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Venezuela: It Would Be Night in Caracas, by Karina Sainz Borgo

When I started this project I thought that there would be plenty of books available from South America. It turned out that, while that was true for Argentina, Brazil and Chile, amd also for Colombia, it was a lot more difficult to find books from Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay. So I was pleased when this recently published book turned up at our local library. Reading it certainly explained why the Venezuelans may have had other things on their minds than writing and publishing novels. Adelaida Falcon is the only daughter of a single mother, also Adelaida Falcon. As the story opens, Adelaida the daughter is standing by her mother's grave in Caracas. Her mother has died of cancer at a time of increasing civil unrest and rampant inflation, when cancer drugs are hard to come by or almost non-existent. Adelaida's only other relatives are two elderly aunts who live in Ocumare de la Costa, a town described in the novel as a "sleepy backwater" and seemingly remote, although when I checked on the map it didn't seem to be too far from Caracas. But after years of unrest, roads are bad and travel is difficult. As the riots worsen, Adelaida's apartment is taken over by a gang of women who are in league with the oppressive forces of the government. Adelaida embarks on a desperate course in order to survive the violence. Chapters of the book alternate between the past and the present, revealing Adelaida's life from her childhood, her upbringing by her well educated mother, her job as an editor and the unravelling of civil life in Venezuela. I found the book entirely absorbing and Adelaida's actions in pursuit of survival very credible, even though somewhat extreme. At a little over 200 well-spaced pages, it is not a long novel. It is the author's first novel (preceded by two works of non-fiction) and I would be very happy to read more of her work in future. Karina Sainz Borgo was born and raised in Venezuela. She has lived in Spain since immigrating there over a decade ago. "It Would be Night in Caracas" was translated by Elizabeth Bryer and translated by Harper Collins in 2019.