Friday, December 27, 2019

Javier Mariás - Berta Isla (Hamish, 2018) ****½

Berta Isla is a young Spanish woman who marries Tomas Nevinson, a young Spanish-British man who gets recruited - against his will - by MI6. Because of his perfect language skills, his job is to translate messages by the secret service but gradually he gets recruited to do real spy work. Berta is not allowed to ask him any questions, because it may endanger both their lives and the life of their young son. Tomas has to be abroad a lot of the time, and as time moves forward, he disappears for longer stretches of time. Berta stays at home in Madrid, worried about her young husband and especially about the life of their son, since she feels very threatened by the occasional visit of men whose real intentions she cannot fathom, but it is clear that they are not friendly.

Javier Marías is the omnisicient narrator in the first two chapters, who tells the story from the perspective of Tomas.

In the third chapter, the perspective changes and Berta Isla becomes the narrator, and the subject of her narration is about uncertainty, about what we can know, about what is visible or not, about truth and deception, about following one's heart when there is no longer and present object for that love.

In chapter seven and eight, the omniscient narrator takes over again for the resolution.

Like the other novels by Marías, the lyrical sentences are long, exploring the different conflicting feelings and interpretations that events may lead to, with even more explorations of the ensuing possibilities or needs for action or inaction, resulting in a very realistic depiction of the human psyche in all its hesitating and wavering nature. As usual, and despite the harshness of the plot, the coercion, the absence, the threat of violence, a deep sense of melancholy and sadness permeate the entire story.

Some might find Marías long-winded, but I think his style is utterly enjoyable, and a real treat.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Books of the Year 2019

In the first part of the year, I was still deeply immersed in Voltaire and Emilie du Châtelet, which meant that I spent a lot of time reading biographies and original material by both 18th Century geniuses, including browsing and reading through most of their digitally available material.

Then I read a few novels which were written against the backdrop of espionage, and totally by coincidence: Berta Isla, Sweet Tooth and Warlight. I thought I had read everything by Milan Kundera, but I still found a little gem that was re-issued in English translation this year, together with some more books and poems by Roberto Bolaño. A lot of new books, both fiction and non-fiction, were quite disappointing.

Interestingly enough, some of the best books were suggested by Amazon, based on my previous purchases, rather than by literary reviews on newspapers and magazines.

And I did not manage to read everything I wanted. The new novels by Mario Vargas Llosa, Julian Barnes and Laszlo Krasznahorkai are waiting. I only read 42 books this year, which means that almost half of those books end up in my two books-of-the-year lists, which is of course a little strange. Maybe I should make it two lists of five books each.

The finest novel I read this year is Javier Mariás "Berta Isla", a real work of art, offering an excellent combination of smart plot and beautiful style. The non-fiction book of the year goes to Maria Popova for her astonishing book "Figuring", which describes the evolution of intellectual progress over the last three centuries through the lives of six giants of science, journalism and art.

Top-10 Fiction
  1. Javier Mariás - Berta Isla ****½ 
  2. Laszlo Krasznahorkai - The World Goes On ****½ 
  3. Ian McEwan - Sweet Tooth  **** 
  4. Michael Ondaatje - Warlight  **** 
  5. Olga Tokarczuk - Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead **** 
  6. Milan Kundera - Let The Old Dead Make Room For The Young Dead **** 
  7. Haruki Murakami - Killing Commendatore  **** 
  8. Roberto Bolaño - The Spirit Of Science Fiction ***½
  9. Michael Chabon - Pops  ***½
  10. Virginie Despentes - Vernon Subutex  ***½ 
Top-10 Non-Fiction
  1. Maria Popova - Figuring ****½ 
  2. Barbara Tversky - Mind In Motion  ****
  3. Peter Pomerantsev - This Is Not Propaganda  **** 
  4. Maarten Boudry - Waarom De Wereld Niet Naar De Knoppen Gaat **** 
  5. Judith P. Zinsser - Emilie du Châtelet, Daring Genius Of The Enlightenment ****
  6. Stephen Hawking - Brief Answers To Big Questions  ***½ 
  7. Brian Cox - Forces Of Nature ***
  8. Anthony Gottlieb - The Dream Of Enlightenment ***
  9. David Bodanis - Passionate Minds - The Great Enlightenment Love Affair  ***
  10. Annaka Harris - Conscious **½ 
  11. Anton Jäger - Kleine Anti-Geschiedenis Van Het Populisme **½ 

Barbara Tversky - Mind In Motion (Basic Books, 2019) ****

Barbara Tversky is a cognitive scientist, wife to the late Amos Tversky whose research with Daniel Kahneman is possibly better known. But Barbara Tversky's work in the area of the spatial aspects of cognition is highly original and of equal importance. In "Mind in Motion" she explains in lay language the current state of affairs in her research, with the obvious additions of what other, and more recent, research has unveiled.

She explains why and how front/back, left/right and upside/down perspectives may impact our way of perceiving reality and how we think. She shows how errors of perception arise because of these perspectives. For instance: most people will misjudge distances, overestimating what is close by and underestimating what is far away, which corresponds with discerning details or not. Extrapolating, you could see how that level of perception also impacts how we judge cultures that are far away from us: they are all the same, while people living close by all have different identities.

She shows how our own body perception impacts the way we see, or how the use of our hands, gestures but also drawings help in having different approaches to understanding reality or by turning our intuitions into concepts and thoughts.

She builds her narrative around the Nine Laws Of Cognition:
  1. There are no benefits without costs
  2. Action molds perception
  3. Feeling comes first
  4. The mind can override perception
  5. Cognition mirrors perception
  6. Spatial thinking is the foundation of abstract thought
  7. The mind fills in missing information
  8. When thought overflows the mind, the mind puts it into the world
  9. We organise the stuff in the world the way we organise stuff in the mind.
Like with all recent work on cognitive science, a simpler version of these findings should be compulsory teaching in every school in the world. With a better understanding of the mechanism underlying our thinking, I am convinced the world will be a better place. 

Even if many chapters are very descriptive and not all findings are immediately surprising or unsettling (less than in Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast And Slow"), it is a must read for anybody interested in the workings of our mind. 

Michael Ondaatje - Warlight (Penguin, 2018) ****

This is the story of two children, Nathaniel and Rachel, brother and sister, who grow up as orphans when their parents suddenly abandon them when they're young adolescents. They grow up under the supervision of a shade figure, named The Moth, who looks after them initially from a distance, but gradually the two children get mixed up in the criminal activities of the gang The Moth belongs to.

In the second part of the book, Nathaniel is older and tries to put all the missing pieces back together, including the fact that his mother had been a spy, and even many of the facts and events do not make sense yet, he's trying to turn everything into an understandable and coherent story.

"If you grow up with uncertainty you deal with poeple only on a daily basis, but to be even safer on an hourly basis. You do not concern yourself with you must or should remember about them. You are on your own. So it took me a long time to rely on the past, and reconstruct how to interpret it. There was no consistency in how I recalled behaviour. I had spent most of my youth balancing, keeping afloat".

Life is like a puzzle, with many pieces that do not fit together, and with many pieces missing.

The writing is good, the story captivating and memorable, the characters interesting and unusual, the atmosphere coherent and kept throughout the book.

A good read.

Ian McEwan - Sweet Tooth (Vintage, 2013) ****

Serena Frome is an intelligent, educated and cultivated person, who gets hired to join MI5 as the result of a love affair with her history teacher. She is confronted with two love stories that form the plot lines of the novel. The first one is with her former history teacher, who suddenly dumps her and disappears, the second one with a young and promising novelist who gets recruited by Serena to offer some counterforce against the communist influence in British literature.

McEwan is his own brilliant self. Through the very personal and emotional narrative by Serena, who sees and understands only half of what is happening, McEwan tells a tale of post-Cold War Britain and the place of literature and desinformation in global politics, while at the same keeping us captivated with a detective story about the mysterious disappearance of her former professor, and on top of this all some essential questions are asked about moral principles and ethics, as in who's on the good side of history and how far can an individual go to without being compromised, and even deeper: what if love and ethics collude?

The novel is - as can expected - carefully crafted, well-structured and very entertaining. Serena is real-life person, with her skills and flaws, uncertainties and strong character, some moral flexibility but with principles. And it is through the contradictions of her character that we can also perceive the different sides of our own world: its truth and deception, and apparent truths which had been lies and guaranteed lies which appear to have some truth in them.

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto - Out Of Our Minds (One World, 2019) *

Felipe Fernández-Armesto is a history professor at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

The book was and is presented as a "journey through the history of the human imagination", which sounds promising. And while his journey starts in an interesting way, his religious beliefs of catholicism soon start to intervene. His interpretation of the Englightenment in the 18th Century France, and the demand for a secular society, are clouded by his own personal vision of how the world should be organised, instead of describing what the 'minds' of Enlightenment achieved. The role of religion in the last centuries is clearly overstated, and receives much more attention than its actual impact on society deserves.

"But after the failure of politics and the disillusionments of science, religion remained, ripe for revival, for anyone who wanted the universe to be coherent and comfortable to live in."

In fact, the book discusses the role of religion in a world of science where religion no longer has a true place, except as the object of research. But Fernández-Armesto does not delve into this. Quite to the contrary, religion offer meaning and is presented as a solution, its an apologetic proposition for the place of religion in society.

In a way, the publishing company lured its readers with false claims.

Valérie Manteau - Le Sillon (Le Tripode, 2018) ***½

"Le Sillon" is the story of a French journalist living in Istanbul and reporting about the assassinated Turkish Armenian militant Hrant Dink, who started a newsletter called "Agos" (furrow). This is recent history. Dink tried to reconcile Turks and Armenians by trying to make them look forward instead of backward at the genocide which took place during WWI.

The narrator lives in the more progressive part of the city, but the small community they belong to, of journalists, activists and writers is under contstant threat by the repression of the state. The novel holds the middle between a diary and a reflection on life in Istanbul, seen from a Western European's eyes. She's had a relationship with a Turkish militant and she's only half part of the community in which she lives. She has friends, but many wonder why she stays in the country.

Her personal story unfolds through clearly delineated scenes, and while her own personal life gets more complicated and uncertain, she gradually lays bare the structural failures in the Turkish dictatorship and the murder of Hrant Dink, not as a journalistic objective narrative, but as a personal one.

Manteau's writing style is easy and with a very natural flow, as if she is telling the story rather than giving a real life reproduction. In this sense, there are no real dialogues, just personal descriptions of how past dialogues happened. Interestlingly enough, this narrows the distance between reader and writer, as if you're telling the story yourself rather than observing what's happening.

Intimate and relevant.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

David Dolo - Hü (Self, 2018) **½

This is a very strange and bizarre story. It is a nightmare. Francis, a young man, gets out of the subway train and walks in the dark to the end of the tunnel where he ends up in a strange country with no references to his previous world, and taken prisoner by a highly unfriendly creature with a bag over his head.

There is no escape, and completely at the mercy of the unfriendly man, he tries to devise plans to save his own life, because it's clear that the stakes are high.

The writing is good, but the story is too long, and Francis' ordeal is maybe emphasised by this, but then what. Because it's a fantasy novel, anything might happen. It's a mirror of our world, with power struggles, loyalties, creativity and new alliances. In that sense it may give the reader some base for reflection. Some events in the novel are so strong and brutal that it is a memorable book after all.

If you like to be out of your comfort zone, I can recommend it. Otherwise, you don't miss anything by not reading it either.

Karl Ove Knausgaard - Some Rain Must Fall (Harvill Secker, 2016) **½

This is the fifth novel about Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard's own life, or the fifth volume in his series "Min Kamp" ("My Struggle").

The part of his life described here are his early attempts at being a writer, the false language of imitating favorite authors, the dialogue with respected Norwegian authors who gave him writing classes, his romantic love and rejection, his puerile behaviour and further exploration of alcohol, the fun and stupidity of friends, the love of rock music and the local band with his brother and some friends.

Even if the writing is fluent, and the time, behaviour and culture depicted are very close to mine, and hence very recognisable, it all becomes a little too much after so many books. After having read this one, I decided not to read the sixth volume. What more can it offer me? This one is already a repetition of the other ones, even if the story is a little different. And where the first novels where relatively fresh and funny in their solid recreation of the life of a child and young teenager, this has largely disappeared in this volume, maybe because of the age, maybe because of his writing which has become more automatic and less discerning.

Olga Tokarczuk - Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead (Fitzcarraldo, 2019) ****

After the wonderful "Flights" that I mentioned as the best book that I read in 2018, I had to read more by her. "Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead" can also be recommended, even if it is less innovative.

It tells the story of an elderly woman living on a hill in a small village in Poland, near the Czech border. She looks after the empty holiday houses of some townspeople. When people get murdered in her environment, she comes with the amazing story that the victims were killed by the deer in the woods, as a vengeance against their hunting habits. She keeps being rejected by the police who - obviously - do not believe her theory.

Tokarczuk is a great writer. The story-line is original by itself, but Janina's - the old lady - narrative is even more fun. She recounts her story with opinions on each and every thing she sees, commenting on the fly, using her belief in astrology as a guiding rod and the poetry of William Blake as its mirror. She has energy despite her many Ailments.

Here's just a little taste of her tone of voice, by itself already a strong achievement.

Under the surface of the crime story, is the story of human existence, its hesitance between free will and determinism, between the boundaries of humans and animals. Who is responsible for which act? And who defends whom? It's a story about loneliness and society and about the individual's right to be different, to think differently. And it is so much fun to read. In her small village on the border, Tokarczuk managed to create a universe with its own human dysfunctionality.

Stephen Hawking - Brief Answers To Big Questions (John Murray, 2018) ***½

This is the last non-scientific publication by astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, in which he explains the most important questions and answers of our time, some of which he was instrumental in answering.

The topics range from the (non-)existence of god, the origin of our universe, the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe, the inside of black holes, the possibility of time travel to the need to colonise space.

In the early chapters he also talks once in a while about himself, as a young researcher, the onset of his disease (ALS), his life at the university, and considering the value and the situation of Hawking, these are welcome, even if unusual in books of this nature. The early chapters are also the most scientific, presented in a clear an easy to understand language for some of the most complex topic that exist. In the later chapters, when discussing time travel, or the need to colonise space, or the future of artificial intelligence, he talks more about possibilities and things that need to be done or organised rather than about what already is. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but these are more his personal ideas and viewpoints rather than scientifically substantiated claims.

Regardless, the book is worth recommending only because of the author's wonderful depiction of our universe, its origin, evolution and hard to fathom size and weird structure. Not every aspect will be understood by lay readers, but those parts of the text are rather limited. The rest is fascinating.

Roberto Bolaño - The Spirit Of Science Fiction (Picador, 2018) ***½

The "Spirit Of Science Fiction" is a story of two young poets, stranded in Mexico City and trying to get notoriety and recognition. One of them, Jan Schrella, is also passionate about science fiction, and half the novel are letters written by Jan to his idols of the science fiction genre: Alice Sheldon, Forrest J. Ackerman, Fritz Leiber, Ursula Le Guin, Robert Silverberg, James Hauer, which clearly remain unanswered, but that does not keep him from continuing to write. While Jan increasingly becomes a hermit in their flat, the other poet, Remo, is trying to build a life in the city and meet people.

The narrative chapters are not only interlaced with Jan's letters, but also with long dialogues and dreams. This is one of Bolaño's earlier works, now translated by his heirs. The novel shows all of his potential, his sense of literary experimentation, his fascination (and experience) with young people who devote their lives to something as commercially unsustainable as poetry. Also stylistically, the future writer is already present here, with descriptions full of alternate possibilities, uncertainties and open-endedness. His style is propulsed forward by his own love of language and the crazy thoughts that come up in his imagination. Because of all this, it's at times hard to follow what it is all about, but that's not really important. Even if not essential, Bolaño fans will be more than happy to have this translation, which, despite the fact that it's an early work, still stands well above the average of most books that are published today.

Roberto Bolaño - The Unknown University (Picador, 2013) ****

"The Unknown University" is a book of more than 800 pages, offering a collection of poems and texts that Bolaño wrote over the years, and found on his computer by his heirs. They decided to publish it as it was. The book comes with the original Spanish on the left page and the English translation on the right. This is fun, and it shows the freedom and creativity and insight of the translators.

His poems are all his own, little stories about crime and themes that come out of movies, or that could develop into movies, short reflections, melancholy moments, moments of fear and existential angst.

The book again demonstrates the formidable work energy that Bolaño had, producing words and sentences and texts in huge quantities. Many of the scraps of texts are possibly building blocks for new stories, possibly just short texts who can stand on their own, or as part of a string of like-minded texts that are sprinkled throughout the book. Obviously you cannot read this as a book. Keep it on your coffee table and read one poem or one text a day. It will keep you busy for a while. And fascinated.

Peter Pomerantsev - This Is Not Propaganda (Faber & Faber, 2019) ****

Peter Pomerantsev is the son of Russian dissidents who fled the Soviet Union and who later worked for the British intelligence service and radio. He is himself a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economics and an expert in social media manipulation for political purposes.

In this astonishing book, he shows how both democratic and dictatorial forces use social media to wage their wars. He travels around the world to talk to people who have actually used these covert techniques, and who are surprisingly proud of what they are able to achieve, even if it is mass-scale deception. Russia is quite prominent, but also the Balkans, the Philippines under Duterte, North Korea and Latin America. He equally travels through time, recounting comparable stories of oppression that his parents suffered in the Soviet Union.

For anyone who believes in democracy and the power of freedom, the facts described by Pomerantsev are shocking and highly disturbing. It is a part of society that remains unchallenged by politicians because they can benefit from it, regardless of which side they're on.

A book like this one should be re-written as educational material for everyone. Its current form is highly convincing for educated readers, but the people who should understand the reality of what's happening in media warfare do not usually read books.

Elizabeth Strout - My Name Is Lucy Barton (Penguin, 2016) ***

Lucy Barton wakes up in a hospital bed, and is confronted by her mother whom she hadn't seen or heard in years. Even if the latter is concerned about her daughter, the emotional distance and problems of communication between both women is obvious. Lucy recounts the story of her life, trying to involve her mother into it, sometimes also to verify if she could interpret the experiences with the same perspective or not. Growing up in poverty and exclusion in their village created traumas that come to the surface again.

Strout's story is delivered with an authentic voice and crafty structure and balance.

Shusaku Endo - Silence (Picador, 2003) ***½

Endo's novel "Silence", originally published in 1966, has become famous by the movie Martin Scorcese made of it. It's the story of a Portuguese priest, Sebastian Rodrigues, who sails to Japan in 1640 to find out what happened with priests who moved to Japan before, and who after converting many Japanese to christianity, are now oppressed, including the renunciation of his faith by his predecessor, under torture.

Even if he is soon captured by the Japanese, their only interest is to make him renounce his faith to, but now by torturing him personally, but by torturing his fellow christians to make him change his mind.

It is a story of changing allegiances, not only by people, but especially in the mind of Sebastian Rodrigues himself, and his moral dilemma: choosing for the people or for his God.

The novel is based on historical fact, which makes it all the more poignant. Endo's narrative is strong and mature: he depicts the internal struggle of the priest with respect and good psychological insights. Endo himself was a christian, and I'm not. I can imagine it has even more power of ambiguity if you are a christian to confronted by the silence of an absent god whose adherents undergo the most atrocious fate.

It's an interesting read, but not a novel I would want to re-read.

Maria Popova - Figuring (Canongate, 2019) ****½

There are still surprises in the world of books. One of them was Olga Tocarczuk, who redefined the concept of literature with "Flights", and there's Maria Popova, who redefines the concept of non-fiction with "Figuring".

This majestic and voluminous book (over 500 pages) describes the lives of significant figures that shaped one part of our common history over the last three centuries. It is hard to describe what the book is about, as it meanders through the lives of significant people in history, starting with Johannes Keppler (1570-1630) (and his mother), the astronomer Maria Mitchell (1818-1889), journalist Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), sculptor Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908), the poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) and the biologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964).

By focusing on the somewhat connected lives of these six individuals, Popova gives a sweeping overview of intellectual history and emancipation in the past centuries. The book is not about science, it is not about literature, it is not about philosophy, it is not about sociology or religion, but it's about all of this, about the fight of these people to pursue their own personal insights and convictions, no matter what. Popova illustrates their own struggles, doubts and passions with letters, poems and other texts. It's about the human struggle for truth and meaning in the challenge of the established thoughts and morals of the day. Around these characters, all the other influential figures orbit: Goethe, Einstein, Beethoven, Whitman, Tennyson, Hawthorne, Kant, Milton, ... not just for purposes of name-dropping but with little facts that support her story.

It is possibly the human, emotional aspect that makes the book exceptional, because it tells about the aspirations, the frustrations, the victories and the recognition, not only of highly gifted women with strong ideas against the establishment of the day, but also about their love life, which for most women in the book is about lesbian love.

The six individuals in the book fought against all odds to emancipate themselves, to invest themselves and to change the way society operates and perceive.

It is not clear whether the book has a real thesis to defend, except from illustrating how powerful some individuals can be in their endeavours, and how their fights for love, tolerance, truth, knowledge, democracy and environmentalism find each other in society and manage to make a difference. "Figuring" is very detailed, and maybe often too detailed, but I guess that's the price to pay for a book that is well-researched and thorough.

Popova's very high bird's eye view on the intellectual history of the past decades, and paradoxically seen by the eyes and minds of six remarkable people from totally different backgrounds, is unprecedented.

Highly recommended.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Nicole Krauss - Forest Dark (Bloomsbury 2017) **½

In 'Forest Dark' a young American jewish woman travels to the Hilton in Tel Aviv so that she can write about her youth memories and the family holidays at the hotel. She is approached by a literature professor, Silberman, who claims to have the hidden manuscripts by Franz Kafka, including the incredible story that he did not actually die in Prague, but that he staged his death and continued to live as a humble painter in Israel.

In parallel, the famous New York lawyer Jules Epstein leaves his wealth and home and moves to Israel to further spend the rest of his wealth. He's also staying at the Tel Aviv Hilton.

Krauss leads us through the plot in the space between reality and fiction, between the characters' imagined life and the real world, with the knowledge that you risk to disappear in that space, or even encounter yourself already present there.

The narrator and Epstein are not really interesting characters, a little tormented, seekers in a way, but not the kind of individuals whose personality is immediately captivating and driving the story forward. On top of that, Krauss' writing is not very creative and rather bland. Her journey is all about being a jew in this day and age, with Kafka accepting his jewishness or rejecting it, it is not clear. It's the same in the Epstein story, where he gets lured by a rabbi to come to a meeting of direct descendents from King David (!), and which he bizarrely enough accepts, even when he is non-religious.

To me this a mystery of modern day jewish authors: even if they are no longer religious, and possibly condemn the politics of the current Israeli government, they are still fascinated by the jewish identity and culture. As a non-religious person brought up in catholicism, my emancipation from our obscure and narrow religious background is a liberation, including the freedom to embrace the world and finding borders and national identity as something of the past, and more often than not the cause of all evil and war, I find it hard to understand why a modern person like Krauss would dive headfirst in this tradition, especially because you don't want to be defined by it. There is a level of absurdity in this, which I cannot grasp.

Milan Kundera - Let The Old Dead Make Room For The Young Dead (Faber, 2019) ****

Once in a while I check whether anything new was published by some of my favourite authors. Milan Kundera is one of them. I have read everything he's written (as long as it's available in English, French or Dutch), but then I find this little gem, by browsing the internet. It's only fourty pages long, more a short story than a novel, but published as a little book.

It's the story of a woman who meets a former - and younger - lover in the street, so many years after her own husband died. Actually, she travelled to his city to secure a place for her dead husband in the local cimetery, but his tomb has been replaced by a new corpse because she forgot to extend the lease. This explains the title of the story, which in turn captures the renewed sense of attraction between the woman and the man. Is what happened to them so many years ago still alive today? Can they continue where they left off? Can the reality of now replace the memories of then?

Kundera's writing is brilliant: sensitive, subtle, erotic, inventive, balanced, concise, precise, ... it raises questions of psychology, sociology and philosophy by one simple situation. As the omniscient narrator, Kundera can dive deep in their choices, in the difference between what is said and what is thought, what is done with firm decision or full of uncertainty.

Roberto Bolaño - A Little Lumpen Novelita (Picador, 2014) ****

I thought that I had read everything there was to ready by Bolaño, but I was wrong. More of his material is being translated, and we can be very happy for that.

In this 'novelita', a young girl - Bianca - and her younger brother live together in a small flat after the death of their parents in a car crash. Bianca, is the narrator of the story. She works as a waitress. One day her brother invites to friends to join them in the alreay small space, two petty criminals, one from Bologna and one from Lybia who looked like brothers. In order to escape their dreary situation, they plan to commit a robbery, based on some insights that they heard about a rich man's hidden stash.

This novelita is an unmistakable Bolaño story. The pace is fast, the writing is economic, the characters are human and real, and escape any stereotype (the petty criminals are friendly and help around the house and kitchen). Bianca's narrative is full of uncertainty. Every choice has several options, sentences hesitate, descriptions fail, interpretations become their opposite. Because of their poor financial situation, it does not seem to matter what they do any more. Even if everything is presented in a friendly way, and concepts such as ethics and morality become really blurry. But deep down, the misery and hopelessness reign.

What he writes is so good, it is so fluent, deep and comes over like a casual conversation or narrative.

Find it, read it.