SmallStations - Jonathan Dunne

In this second instalment of the saga by Elena Gallego Abad devoted to the Galician dragon Dragal, the schoolboy Hadrián, who with his friend Mónica discovered the dragon’s remains in the catacombs under St Peter’s Church, is locked in a struggle with the dragon to see who will come out on top. Mónica has promised to take some food to the Moor’s Pool, where her friend has gone for refuge, but is unsure what dragons eat when they’re not devastating the local population. Before setting out, however, she receives strange, handwritten messages of warning, telling her not to go. She seeks help – first from the parish priest, Father Xurxo, who produces an ancient box containing three objects that might be the Grand Master’s keys, and then from a police officer, Cortiñas, who turns out to have a vested interest in the dragon’s well-being. When Hadrián goes missing, his mother calls the police, but only Mónica knows where he really is. Will she inform the police and break her promise not to reveal where he is hiding? If she does, will the police be in time to save her friend, and what will become of the dragon he has started to turn into?

‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,’ writes H. P. Lovecraft at the start of his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature. In real life, the author Agustín Fernández Paz, Galicia’s answer to H. P. Lovecraft, is reading the newspaper and comes across a classified ad for a haunted house. He imagines what would happen if someone answered that ad. Then what would happen if they went to see the house and liked it. Then what would happen if they had enough money and decided to buy it. And finally what would happen if they went to live there and discovered that the house was really haunted. This is the plot of Winter Letters, one of the best-selling Galician novels of all time. The house will bring to mind, for older readers, the Bates’ home in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho. Inside the house is a book of prints that may remind younger readers of Tom Riddle’s diary in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. However this may be, the reader is sure to be drawn in by the force and power of the narrative, which is as smooth and sinuous as the sirens’ song heard by Ulysses from the sanctuary of the mast of his ship.

After university, Leo is due to go travelling for six months with her friends Aldara, Inés and Martiño, but at the last minute her friends pull out and Leo is left to travel on her own. Her first stop, in Lisbon, Portugal, is a rain-soaked disaster. She is dragged around the city by her overbearing host and only really gets a feel for the city during the final few days, when she is cooped up in his apartment. But everything changes with her next destination, Barcelona, where she meets up with a group of friends from Latin America who call themselves ‘Ruth & Co.’ and busk for a living. Romance, excitement, frustration, appalling and luxurious living conditions, familiar and foreign cultures, follow as Leo travels to Granada, Córdoba, Seville and Cádiz in Andalusia, Marrakesh in Morocco and finally Istanbul. In this first instalment of Leo’s travelling adventures, Leo discovers that she must learn how to leave a place before she can truly enjoy her experiences, and how travelling can bring you back full circle. She is also mystified by the graffiti that keeps appearing along her route: ‘I Love You Leo A.’ Who is it that has scrawled this graffiti wherever she goes, and what do they want? Only by continuing with her journey and not giving up will Leo find out the answer to this riddle!

One of the most exciting works of literature to have come out of Galicia in the last thirty years, and the first adult-fiction title by Suso de Toro to be made available in the English-language market. There is something startling about this book. With Raymond Carver-like simplicity, the author extracts the commonplace events and ordinary frustrations of life, shedding light on them, exalting them and undermining them at the same time, so that the reader is left in a hiatus, expectant and fulfilled. What goes on here is impossible, outrageous, and yet it happens. A blind man beats and is poisoned by his wife, an aged housemaid tries to breastfeed the baby when the parents are out, a second-hand typewriter insists on typing out its own message, a rapist awaits the family’s vengeance while wishing he knew the victim’s name, a cash machine flirts with a customer of the bank by making spurious deposits into her account, a jumper turns murderous, a porn model seeks an intimate relationship that isn’t confined to the glossy pages of a magazine, a mother loses track of her child, Cain and Abel appear in modern dress, the hero Theseus is driven to question whether he really is a hero or not, a man finds his wife having an affair in the wardrobe… There is something absolutely surprising about these stories that signalled a new direction in post-Franco Galician literature, in a book the author himself described as ‘an outburst of fury inspired by punk.’

From the author of The Low Voices and The Carpenter’s Pencil, the book of short stories that set him on his way and revolutionized Galician literature when it came out at the end of the 1980s. For the first time, Galician prose dealt with the Galician landscape in a modern context, uniting tradition and modernity, placing the poetry of landscape alongside the irony of modern society. In One Million Cows, a collection of eighteen short stories by Manuel Rivas, the first he published, a boy tries to find out if his cousin is really a battery-operated robot, a sailor who has been shipwrecked at sea turns up dead in a local bar, the inhabitants of a village transport a young suicide so that he can be buried in an adjoining parish, a Galician who has recently returned from England dreams of building a golf course on the mud-flats of his childhood, and a prospective councillor is put off by the fish scales on a fishwife’s hands. Manuel Rivas is Galicia’s most international author, and once again the reader will be able to enjoy his striking metaphors, his commitment to what he writes, and his lingering eye for detail.

After the death of his father in a caving accident, Hadrián is forced to move to Galicia with his mother and start at a new school. His mother gives him a medallion that belonged to his father, showing a dragon in a threatening posture on one side and the same dragon incubating an egg on the other. When the dragon’s tails move, the boy realizes this is no ordinary medallion. Meanwhile, he has noticed the stone effigy of a dragon on the cornice of St Peter’s Church, which winks at him and infiltrates his thoughts. The boy’s destiny, it seems, is to sacrifice himself so that the dragon can come back to life after an interval of a thousand years, during which it has been protected in the catacombs under the church. The boy and his classmate Mónica will first have to locate the catacombs with the help of the parish priest, Father Xurxo, before they can ascertain whether the dragon’s existence is for real.

A teenage boy is sent by his mother to spend a few days in the country as a way of getting him out of trouble. In the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, one hour north of Paris, the boy finds life with his great-aunt unbearable – that is until the arrival of the painter Vincent van Gogh, who has come to escape difficulties in the south. It is the summer of 1890 and already eight months have passed since the boy left his mother. He begins a friendship with the painter, taking him to places he hasn’t seen and engaging in conversations that open his eyes to a different way of viewing the world, bringing to an end his turbulent past. He also struggles with the reasons for his mother’s disappearance from the town where she grew up and experiences the first embers of romantic love when he develops an interest in the daughter of van Gogh’s innkeeper, Adeline. Based on real events, this imaginative story of a teenage boy’s friendship with an inspired painter and participation in the events of a provincial town, where he meets the local doctor, a war hero, and railway pointsman, as well as the man who could turn out to be his real father, rushes to its inevitable conclusion like the trains that slice through the countryside on their way to Paris.

André Santomé Lobeira is a teenager whose parents divorced when he was five. He puts on a front at school to defend himself against the bullies Raúl Pernas and Héctor Solla, who do everything they can to make his life miserable. He starts deliberately getting low marks in the hope they will ignore him. This encourages his grandfather to intervene, and André goes to live with his grandparents, who run a restaurant, The Birdhouse, in the garden of which his grandfather has an orphanage for birds. André finds a baby cut-throat finch, a finch with a red line across its neck, and keeps it as a pet. He is torn between two girls – Halima, a Moroccan girl in his class whose mother died as they were crossing into Spain, who helps him stand up to the bullies; and Dove, a girl he meets on the Internet, who helps him with his homework and when his grandfather falls ill. Dove arranges for them to meet in person, but André is afraid this will ruin their friendship and feels a strange sense of betrayal to the other girl in his life, Halima. He almost wishes Dove had never arranged their meeting…

Víctor Moldes is an outstanding psychiatry student, looking to test his knowledge on patients. He is given a job at the prestigious Beira Verde Clinic in Galicia, near the Portuguese border, and handed a patient, Laura Novo, who is capable only of writing her name on blank sheets of paper. Slowly he draws her out of herself and she agrees to tell him her story, how she left Madrid in order to work on her thesis and escape a difficult relationship that was going nowhere. Her return to the land where she grew up, to stay in a guest house run by a schoolteacher she had fallen passionately in love with when she was a teenager, has fatal consequences. Her presence in the remote area of Terra Chá awakens the Great Beast, who up until that moment had been slumbering in the depths of the earth. Once awake, the Great Beast has one year to achieve its objective. Dr Moldes finds himself drawn into a conflict he is barely able to understand, let alone control, and, having finally pieced together the fragments of the narrative, he is in a race against time to save his patient.

How are English words connected? Is there a consistent set of rules by which words in the English language are connected not according to their etymology, their evolution over time, but according to their letters? These letters may be rearranged, read back to front, altered according to the laws of phonetics, their position in the alphabet, their physical appearance, their numerical value. So while the reverse of live is evil, we can count down from I to O and find love instead (as sin gives son). The ego, by taking a step back in the alphabet, can be turned into God. Using the laws of phonetics, we can realize that the true purpose of the self is to serve. In The Life of a Translator, Jonathan Dunne offers a clear, direct introduction to the ways in which English words can be connected according to their DNA, arguing that words have something to tell us about human life, but their meaning is hidden and must be deciphered (God is code). In this sense, language is similar to the environment. We think we see what is around us, but we are spiritually blind even after we have opened our eyes, and it is this spiritual blindness causing a crisis in the world because of how we treat our world, the environment, each other and, ultimately, ourselves.

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