All About Mothers

cancion_de_tumba_julian_herbert_medIn recent months, for no specific reason I’ve found myself reading stories about mothers. One is the brilliant Canción de Tumba (something like Song of Tomb, a game of words in Spanish where a ‘canción de cuna’ is a lullaby and when changing 2 letters sound like tomb… got it?).  Anyways, in this book the author, Julian Hebert, narrates the story of his life with his mother, a prostitute, who is dying of leukaemia. If there are any publishers looking to translate an absolute jewel of Mexican contemporary literature, please look no further.

mother departsThe second title is Mother Departs by Tadeusz Rózewicz, Poland’s most celebrated writer and poet. Rózewicz has been nominated for the Nobel Prize and it’s one of those authors I am so glad to have discovered.

Mother Departs can be described as the portrait of a life. A truly moving read in which Rózewicz mixes diary entries, notes and poems. The book is wrapped in an atmosphere full nostalgia as it becomes a celebration of the life of: Stefania Rózewicz, his mother.

I found particularly interesting the fact that Stefania herself has a voice in the book  as she narrates her life as a child in the village of Szynkielew. This is a testimony of a world and a way of life long gone. Here she talks about traditions, culture and everyday life in rural Poland in the early twentieth century. Witty and observant, Stefania’s contribution to this book is one that certainly stands out.

The poems included in Mother Departs are also a pleasure to read, especially The Tear and The Photograph. As we move in time, Stefania becomes old and frail. And once again we witness the anguish of a man looking at  his mother fading away. Both Herbert and Rózewicz, in two completely different styles, narrate with an impeccable choice of words the last days in the life of their mothers. Heartbreaking yes, but the literary value of these books lay within the ability of these authors to talk about death with great beauty. In the final pages of Mother Departs, Rózewicz writes:

‘My Good Beloved Old Lady, it’s hard to breathe. But I am writing this like a letter to you. You were my trepidation, fear and joy and breath. I’m kissing your parched hands and swollen legs, dearest, your eyes – your blue hands as you died. I’m kissing your agonised body, which I gave back to our great mother – the earth.’ (p. 106)

They say no one is ever prepared for the death of their mother. I just hope I have many years ahead to enjoy the company of mine, a lady who is, and will always be, an extraordinary woman.

Mother Departs is published in the UK by Stork Press and translated from Polish by Barbara Bogoczek.

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Madame Mephisto: one really bad girl

Madame Mephisto is being marketed with the following phrase “What would you talk about if you were stuck in a room with a drug dealer for five days?”. Well, forget about this long sentence, I don’t think it makes any justice to the novel. So if you see it and feel like shrugging, think twice.

I read this novel on a pdf format, thinking it would prove a huge challenge to keep me interested while keeping my eyes fixed on my computer screen (yes, I don’t have a Kindle and probably never will). Hour and a half later I was still glued to my chair scrolling down Madame Mephisto’s pages with a smile on my face. Need to say more? Ok here I go.

The great triumph of  A.M Bakalar’s first novel is, in my opinion, the tone of the novel. The story is narrated by Magda, a charismatic, beautiful and successful drug dealer who is incredibly honest (and perhaps cynical) about the way she sees life.

Magda yawns at the never ending social pressure of meeting Mr Right Guy,  getting married, having children and living the so perfect family life as if happiness was all about following that recipe. Her mother is sometimes the most annoying creature on the planet, Christmas family lunch can be the year’s most boring event, the Catholic church sucks, the work environment is full of fake and stiff people. Sounds familiar?

A.M. Bakalar created a memorable anti-heroine, worth adapting to the big screen. The fact that she controls and distribute the capital’s cannabis market makes her even more attractive as a character. She is the Polish-Londoner female drug baroness, that reminded me of Teresa Mendoza, the world famous drug trafficker that inspired Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s to write The Queen of the South. See? Women can be bad, really bad girls too!

The narrative in first person gives the story a natural flow making  the events credible. And as the story develops, we are also witnessing a life confession that will end in an extraordinary and moving way. In a nutshell, thumps up to A.M Bakalar for a fantastic first novel!

Madame Mephisto is published in the UK by Stork Press.