Tag Archives: translation

Definitely Maybe – Boris & Arkady Strugatsky

Definitely Maybe - Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

Definitely Maybe:

A good read? Definitely.

As good as Roadside Picnic? Maybe.

I’ve already mentioned my obsession with Roadside Picnic, so you can imagine my joy at finding out that Melville House were going to publish another book by Boris & Arkady Strugatsky as part of their Neversink Library.

This new edition was published in the last month but I found out about it AGES ago. It was like the break in the fifth season of Breaking Bad. I tried to hustle an advanced reading copy, but they were having none of it. I had to wait like everyone else. With all of the anticipation, I couldn’t help wondering if Definitely Maybe could fill the boots of Roadside Picnic…

definitely maybe

No, not that one

When I finally picked it up (from my favourite bookshop, in person), the damnedest thing happened. Every time I sat down to read it, something or someone would interrupt me. It was almost as if the Universe didn’t want me to read it. A couple of days ago, I said ‘to Hell with you, Universe’, and jumped right in.

Set in Leningrad in the 70s, the story concerns Malianov, an astrophysicist working on a thesis about how stars react to gas clouds…or something. He has sent the wife and child off on holiday so that he can get a bit of research done. When he finally sits down to work, it isn’t long before he realises that he is onto something, something big, something worthy of a Nobel Prize. But then the damnedest thing happens…

The chain of interruptions that follows leads Malianov to meet up with other professors who are experiencing similar weirdness to varying degrees of severity and in curiously individual forms. They try to find a link between their diverse fields of study and when they fail, they try getting drunk instead.

What the…?

That doesn’t work either and just as the chaos whirls to a crescendo, something really strange happens without the vaguest hint of warning. About half-way through the book, something changes, stays changed and is never explained. I don’t want to spoil it, but you can’t miss it and it’s definitely one of those rare double-take moments.

But, maybe that’s a little on the cryptic side.

definitely maybe

not that one either

To get back to the concrete business of what the book is actually about, it’s a story about a man who accidentally stumbles across something unimaginably powerful and has to decide between realising his lifelong ambitions and losing everything he has ever loved. The story itself has the pace and the mystery of a conspiracy thriller and it’s delivered with deadpan, defeatist humour, all without losing the cloud of certain doom.

I approached this book with one question on my mind – how does Definitely Maybe compare with Roadside Picnic? They both deal with humanity’s futility in the face of unknown powers. The message in both books is clear – we are all insignificant specks in a universe that doesn’t care about us, ignorant primates who only climbed out of the trees a few thousand years ago, hopeless playthings of vastly more intelligent beings.

It’s definitely not all bad though. In the world of Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, we encounter wonders equally fascinating and terrifying. Like a chimpanzee trying to work a landmine out, these alien artefacts could kill us at any moment, but we are still compelled to understand them. However, like poor Malianov, even the merest fraction of insight could come at a terrible cost.

Okay, maybe it is pretty bad, but that doesn’t change the fact that these stories are fantastic in every sense of the word. So give Definitely Maybe a go – it’s a bit left-field, a bit obscure, but you’ll read it in a couple of days…unless you get interrupted.

The Crocodile – Maurizio Di Giovanni: A Review

the crocodile maurizio de giovanni“So what exactly do you do here at the San Gaetano police station?”

Lojacono decided to give the woman another chance and sat back down.

“I’m in the Crime Reporting Office. But that’s a front. I’m actually spending my days fighting a bloody poker duel with my computer. My weapon of choice is a five-card stud.”

New translated crime, that’s what you need – and I’m only too happy to oblige. I’ve just read The Crocodile (Il Metodo del Coccodrillo), a Neapolitan crime thriller from Maurizio Di Giovanni and it’s quite something.

Detective Inspector Giuseppe Lojocano is a Sicilian cop who finds himself in the purgatory that is the San Gaetano police station in the historic centre of Naples. Caught in a scandal back home, it is decided that it would be best for everyone if he disappeared for a while.

He sits at his desk all day and plays poker on the computer and he is under strict instruction to do nothing but serve his time and stay out of the way.

It should be an easy task but the long, idle hours only give him time to mull over his predicament and consider the shame he has brought upon himself, not to mention his wife and teenage daughter to whom he has become an embarrassment and a stronzo (look it up).

By some administrative fluke, he happens to be the only person on duty one night when the call comes through – there’s been a murder – a sixteen year old boy has been found in a courtyard with a bullet hole in his head.

Lojacono is the first at the scene which irritates his chief no end and he is ordered to return to his desk. Before he leaves, he makes sure to point out a piece of evidence – a pile of used tissues.

As is the habit of the local constabulary, the murder is brushed off as the work of the Camorra – an excuse that works very well until more murdered children are found. The crimes are identical – a single shot to the head at close range from a small calibre pistol and there is one more similarity – at every scene, the killer has left behind tissues soaked in tears.

The press learn of this curiosity and the murderer is soon dubbed The Crocodile – the beast who weeps before claiming his victims. His M.O. is obviously not that of your typical camorrista and soon, the efficacy of the police investigation is called into question. Although his superiors don’t want to listen, Lojacono is the only one with a different theory and he finds himself in a race against time to find the perpetrator before more children are killed.

As Andrea Camilleri did for Sicily and Michele Giuttari did for Florence, Maurizio Di Giovanni evokes the atmosphere of Naples. A Neapolitan himself, it’s perhaps strange that he has chosen an outsider for his protagonist. Lojacono is not only a stranger, but one who sees only the dark side of Naples. He omits the vibrancy and energy of the city and emphasises the ancient air of mistrust. The city mistrusts the sea, the sea mistrusts the city, the citizens mistrust the police and pretty much everyone walks around mistrustfully avoiding each other’s gaze. Everywhere there is anger and guarded hatred and the only joyous element Di Giovanni has thought to include is the quick-fire Neapolitan wit of the characters, caught in a constant battle of playful insults.

It’s a very dark read all-in-all but an enjoyable one and although it isn’t exactly filled with surprises, the strength of the characters keeps the pages turning. I’ve personally found in Lojocano a great creation and I’ll look forward to reading more.

A Challenge Overcome

earthDid you know how many countries there are in the world?

Lots – and some of them have authors living in them. Ann Morgan knows all about that. In 2012, she set herself the challenge of reading a book from every independent country, all 196 of them, to celebrate the Olympics. Writers do mad things, don’t they? You can read the whole story over on her blog – it’s quite inspiring, especially if, like me, you’re somebody who mindlessly sets themselves challenges for no apparent reason.

Today was a typical case in point. In Ann’s latest blog post, she asks her readers to pop along to their local bookshop and count how many countries are represented on the shelves.

“I can do that”, I thought. But then I thought I could do so much more. I decided to find out how well represented each country was within the fiction section, create an Excel spread sheet, and make a pie chart.

piechart3

It got a little out of control and, between helping my beloved customers and chatting to my colleagues, it took all day. Now that it’s done, I have to wonder what I’ve gained from the experience…other than a pretty rubbish-looking pie chart.

I suppose the joy of a job thoroughly completed is reward enough. I’m better equipped to do my job as well. Let’s say somebody comes in looking for a book from Kyrgyzstan. Can you name one? Did you even know there was such a thing as Kyrgyzstan? I can’t say I did, but today I discovered Jamilia by Chingiz Aytmatov…a guy from Kyrgyzstan!

I learned something and you can’t put a price on that.

In closing, here’s the list for all of you anoraks out there.

table

 

Have fun!