An accidental Russian theme has crept into my reading for this month, which I’ve put together from titles waiting patiently on my shelves and a couple of new review copies. Perhaps my leaning towards northern climes reflects the bitterly cold weather we’ve been experiencing here recently; perhaps it’s just my ongoing yearning for travel. Either way, it seemed serendipitous that almost all the books I picked for February should be united under this one umbrella.
Anticipating more cold weather and thus plenty of reading time, I’ve plumped for the fattest book I got for Christmas: Erika Fatland’s The Border, which has been translated from Norwegian by Kari Dickson. Sitting alongside this are the latest essay title from Fitzcarraldo Editions (due to be published in the middle of this month) and a book of newly translated Russian short stories, a German novel and Donal Ryan’s Strange Flowers – the only book that breaks the theme, but one I’ve been looking forward to reading for while.
This month I’m also going to be diving into two new titles from German translation specialists V&Q Books, which given the calibre of the previous batch are most likely to be brilliant. Reviews will follow closer to publication: The Peacock and The Blacksmith’s Daughter are released on 1 March.
The monthly booking for February is:
Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan (Doubleday)
What the publisher says: ‘In 1973, twenty-year-old Moll Gladney takes a morning bus from her rural home and disappears. Bewildered and distraught, Paddy and Kit must confront an unbearable prospect: that they will never see their daughter again. Five years later, Moll returns. What – and who – she brings with her will change the course of her family’s life forever. Beautiful and devastating, this exploration of loss, alienation and the redemptive power of love reaffirms Donal Ryan as one of the most talented and empathetic writers at work today.’
The Border by Erika Fatland, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson (MacLehose Press)
What the publisher says: ‘Erika Fatland travels along the seemingly endless Russian border – from North Korea in the Far East through Russia’s bordering states in Asia and the Caucasus, crossing the Caspian Ocean and the Black Sea along the way. The Border is a book about Russia and Russian history without its author ever entering Russia itself; a book about being the neighbour of that mighty, expanding empire throughout history. It is a chronicle of the colourful, exciting, tragic and often unbelievable histories of these bordering nations, their cultures, their people, their landscapes.’
In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, translated from the Russian by Sasha Dugdale (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
What the publisher says: ‘With the death of her aunt, Maria Stepanova is left to sift through an apartment full of faded photographs, old postcards, letters, diaries, and heaps of souvenirs: a withered repository of a century of life in Russia. Carefully reassembled with calm, steady hands, these shards tell the story of how a seemingly ordinary Jewish family somehow managed to survive the myriad persecutions and repressions of the last century. In dialogue with writers like Roland Barthes, W. G. Sebald, Susan Sontag and Osip Mandelstam, In Memory of Memory is imbued with rare intellectual curiosity and a wonderfully soft-spoken, poetic voice. Dipping into various forms – essay, fiction, memoir, travelogue and historical documents – Stepanova assembles a vast panorama of ideas and personalities and offers an entirely new and bold exploration of cultural and personal memory.’
Love and Youth: Essential Stories by Ivan Turgenev, translated from the Russian by Nicolas Pasternak Slater (Pushkin Press)
What the publisher says: ‘An icon of Russian literature, Turgenev was able to contain the narrative sweep of a novel in a single short story. His protagonists experience the joy and painful turbulence of first love, the thrilling adventures of youth, and the layered reflections of maturity. His great skill is to make his readers feel alongside these characters, rendering their complex interiorities, whether nobility or serf, in these stories charged with a profound social conscience. This collection, in a lyrical new translation by Nicolas Slater, places Turgenev’s great novella First Love alongside a selection of his classic stories.’
Kein Sturm, nur Wetter by Judith Kuckart (DuMont)
What the blurb says: ‘We are what we’ve forgotten. Sunday evening, Berlin–Tegel airport: in a café in Departures, she falls into conversation with a man. Robert Sturm is thirty-six, eighteen years younger than she is. He is on the way to Siberia, returning at the end of the working week. On Saturday. A day she will wait for . . . ’ From what I can gather, Kein Sturm, nur Wetter is an intriguing-sounding novel about memory and neurobiology, a melancholy look back on one woman’s history, the events she has lived through and the men she has loved.