SmallStations - Books in English

Khaled is an Iraqi boy, a member of the Koblai tribe, growing up in the village of Qhissa Hanni in the mountains of north Iraq. He has left school to look after his family’s flock of sheep, but his father and the local schoolteacher think he has the makings of a writer, so they give him a notebook in which he records his aspirations, events in the village, the life of his family, his wish to own a horse which he will call ‘Ahu al-Rih’ or ‘Brother of the Wind’, his secret engagement to the mayor’s daughter, Amrah, so secret that even she doesn’t know about it, the time when he and a friend go frog hunting and slip a couple of frogs into the midwife’s bag, causing havoc when the midwife is due to assist in the birth of Ilaisha’s son… The book is presented as a series of letters which Khaled writes to the son of a European archaeologist, Dr Meira, nicknamed ‘Al-Galego’, who has taken up residence in the village in order to pursue his archaeological studies and because he has grown fond of the Iraqi way of life. But the invasion of the country in 2003 by the United States and its allies casts a heavy shadow over this remote village and its inhabitants, who struggle to come to terms with the issues that are at stake and who will have to draw on all their reserves of courage and strength if they are to survive. The war will bring tragedy to the village and will force Khaled to undertake a journey he has never imagined before, to the heart of the country’s capital, Baghdad. This is a journey of principle, of courage over fear, of faith and friendship, of self-sacrifice, that will change Khaled’s expectations forever.

A young woman, who has left Galicia to go and study marine biology in Mexico (Baja California), is recalled to Galicia when it is found out that her mother is very sick. Her aunt would like her to sign some papers agreeing to take over the family business and renouncing her Mexican studies and emotional ties that she has forged in her new life. However, returning to Galicia and renewing her family ties is not exactly what the woman wants. Her mother has shut herself in her room for the last year, and relations between them have always been strained. She received more affection from a nanny, Felisa, and better advice from her uncle, Cándido. There is also an older brother, Ramón, a larger-than-life figure who has left an indelible mark in the lives of those around him, and an absent father. Will the woman’s visit to see her sick mother turn out to be permanent, and will it soothe any of the festering wounds in her psyche, wounds that she has buried beneath her marine studies and a relationship with her one-time tutor? That’s How Whales Are Born is a return to our origins, a search into the usefulness of stirring up past memories and seeking reconciliation.

Inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, The Book of Imaginary Journeys by Xabier P. DoCampo follows in the tradition of great travel literature that began with Homer’s Odyssey. It purports to be the transcription of two travel journals written by a certain X.B.R., in which the Traveller gives as objective a description as he can of the cities and kingdoms he visits. So it is he comes to a city you can only visit for three days or where you cannot fall asleep, a city balanced on the fine point of a diamond or rotating on a water wheel, a city whose inhabitants are all tree-dwelling women or descended from birds, a city where the tombstones are inscribed not with the names of the deceased but with the titles of their favourite books, a city where money is only valid for a year, where none of its inhabitants can go fishing because all the rods have been turned into soldiers’ lances, whose ministers are made to wear nooses as a warning to stay clean… The Traveller records songs, proverbs and remedies he hears along the way and describes some of the people he meets – a woman who conducts imaginary orchestras, a man who loves the earth so much he would like to plough it with a pair of unicorns, another searching for a treasure guarded by seven keys… Like translation, travel is a return to the source, the point of departure. What the Traveller takes away from the experience is what he has learned.

In An Animal Called Mist, a book of six short stories, the Galician author Ledicia Costas (Winner of the 2015 Spanish National Book Award) walks the tightrope between fiction and reality in a superb and sometimes shocking narrative. She bases herself on real events in and after the Second World War – the Siege of Leningrad, the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the interrogation of Italian partisans by the Banda Koch, the sexual exploitation of women internees in Nazi concentration camps, the trials of high-ranking Nazi officials – and then recreates them, changing and inventing biographical details, giving free rein to her writer’s imagination in order to produce a sequence of stories that look not so much at historical fact as at the essence of barbarism, the capacity of the human mind to conceive ways of torturing and tormenting fellow human beings. This is not a historical account of the Second World War – for that, the reader should consult works of history – but a book of fiction that focuses on the shadow projected by the events, their essence, the granulated content of their darkness. Ledicia Costas is one of Galicia’s best-known writers who, in the tradition of writers such as Manuel Rivas and Agustín Fernández Paz, magnifies the voice of the persecuted in her narrative. An Animal Called Mist won the Losada Diéguez Prize for Literary Creation in 2016.

Against a background of perceived attacks on established religion by the politicians of the day, and the introduction of the newfangled cinematograph to the city of Ourense, the local bishop, His Excellency, faces dissent in the ranks. His assistant, Don Xenaro, while struggling to preserve his loyalty to the bishop, is drawn to side with the canon theologian, Don Telesforo, who is vehemently opposed to the new invention. No less an opponent is the much revered, and soon to be sainted, local nun, Sister Sabina, who appeals to the bishop to save his soul. The bishop seeks solace in food, in the once intellectual but now ailing company of his aged vicar, in memories of a better time, when he studied at the seminary, but ghosts rarely lie down easily, and he will have to chase them away if he doesn’t wish to be defeated. A visit to the cinema, where he witnesses the rowdy atmosphere, the impressive images and the poverty of its pioneers, an indulgent attitude… If he’s not careful, others at the start of this tumultuous twentieth century will take matters into their own hands, and dissent will turn into open revolt. A hilarious look at the internal politics of a cathedral chapter, at the confrontation between conservative and liberal elements, His Excellency is one of Galician writer Carlos Casares’ best-loved and most enduring novels.

There are three main threads in Karen Harrison’s poetry, which intertwine: nature, God and her personal life. But they are not simply ontological, they belong to each other, they widen each other, they talk amongst themselves. In Harrison’s nature, there is room for many birds, but the most important are those that sing at night (hence the title of the book), just as God made darkness His home. Her God is a long pilgrimage starting with an entire belonging, but also allowing for a critical mind: she will protest in front of the United Nations about Him, who permitted such diversity in faith, but accepts only true believers. In her intimate moments, she suffered a terrible illness, but this is not a reason for closing herself off; for Harrison, it is a source of communication. The soul of this poet is open towards the other. It is a poetry – and a life – of relation. In this way, she confirms that most Christian postulate: that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. We hold in our hands a book of aesthetic poetry, a silent book that sounds more like messages than conversation. This is autobiographical poetry, but it has deeper roots in the Spirit, which Church Fathers describe as a fish swimming in the open sea, in God. “Like a fish in an aquarium, I am a thing of the Spirit,” writes Harrison.

Fools for Christ are men and women who live outside the social norms, whose behavior is considered shocking or unusual. But in a time of dictatorship, when these stories were first published, “foolish” behavior can be a form of protest. So, a child who is unable to access the forbidden fruits of a pastry shop, out of protest, refuses to eat the chickpeas that are offered to him; another child, who cannot pay for a ride on the merry-go-round, slips under the tarpaulin when the ride is not working and creates his own ride out of his own fantasy. A fat child, who is bullied and made fun of by the town’s more respectable children, makes friends with a paschal lamb, which then, to his shock and horror, is served up for dinner. Another boy takes to setting the corner of a whitewashed house on fire with his coloring pencils. It is the children who throw away their toys or who torture animals that are somehow considered normal. The Foolish Children contains twenty-one micro-fiction stories by Ana María Matute in Spanish and in English translation. The original was first published in Spain during Franco’s dictatorship. It was rated by the Nobel laureate Camilo José Cela as “the most important work written in Spanish by a woman since the Countess Emilia Pardo Bazán.” Ana María Matute, along with Camilo José Cela and Miguel Delibes, is widely considered one of Spain’s most distinguished writers of fiction in the twentieth century. She was awarded the National Prize for Literature twice and, in 2010, received the Spanish-speaking world’s most prestigious literary award, the Cervantes.

‘Possibly the most impressive novel ever written in the Galician language’. With these words, the eminent critic Basilio Losada describes Suso de Toro’s novel Tick-Tock in a letter to the author. Suso de Toro is alternative in everything he does, he rearranges the boundaries, surprises the reader, does the unexpected, persons, tenses change, and what could be construed as an atheistic, chaotic novel acquires hints of religiosity. Nano, the narrator, is a man of uncertain age who has never made it in the world, but who likes to hold forth all the same, to fill notebooks with his thoughts on fishing in the Gran Sol, on controlling his libido, on inventing machines that serve no purpose. The novel centres on his experiences, and on the lives of those around him: his mother, his father and half-brother, the people who occupy the building where his mother cleans. Tick-Tock, a sequel to Polaroid, received the Spanish Critics’ Prize for its unconventionality and narrative expertise, and is the author’s most popular work.

In this second instalment of Leo’s travelling adventures, Leo, a university graduate, has been travelling on her own for three months. She finds herself on the outskirts of Ankara, the capital of Turkey, after visiting the famous rock churches of Cappadocia. She returns to Istanbul, hoping to find her current boyfriend in the hotel room where she left him. A moment of panic causes her to lash out and buy a one-way ticket to Prague, where she hooks up with a group of Americans, practises her English and tours Bohemia with its ups and downs. She then dresses up as a Vestal Virgin to see if she can fool the man of her dreams in the Roman Forum. Another misunderstanding almost leads to disaster, but the other members of Ruth & Co. – the group of buskers who are a joy for the pocket and a heaviness for the heart – prevent this, and together they travel to Siena, Bologna and Venice in Italy before Leo decides it is time to visit her favourite aunt in Paris. Along the way, Leo continues to come across graffiti that says ‘I Love You Leo A.’ – who is the anonymous author of these messages that pursue her wherever she goes?

‘Poetry is the taste of thinking in the mouth,’ writes translator Erín Moure in introducing New Leaves. In the face of so much migration and precarity, poet Rosalía de Castro sets herself to thinking and recognizes repetition as key to humanity; she views the social as intimate; she creates poems in dialogue so that subjectivity reverberates; she examines the notion of home and articulates the effects of migration on women, the widows. ‘Thinking,’ continues Moure, ‘fills the absence when love and hope are missing.’ New Leaves confronts the conundrum of human existence and the injustices suffered by those left behind in the fight (flight) for (economic) survival. As such, Rosalía de Castro is our contemporary in our own times of migration. New Leaves was her second and last major work of poetry in the Galician language, after Galician Songs, and is here presented in award-winning poet Erín Moure’s memorable translation.

Page 2 of 5