Le Déserteur by Hélène Kaziende

Text of Le Deserteur against blue sky

a nutshell: in a letter addressed to Africa from Samzi Dikinfa of Erquifa, this short yet immensely powerful piece of prose shares an insight into the complexities around why someone might leave a homeland – not necessarily by choice

a line: I’m leaving, tired of aborted promises and murdered suns” (“je m’en vais, lassé des promesses avortées et des soleils assassinés”)

an image: I found myself moved by the portrayal of being surrounded by ‘professional’ drunks, while the self-described deserter thirsts not for alcohol but rather for a bit of justice and freedom

a thought: I wondered whether there was any significance to the date of the letter, 15 August 1990, and discovered through the internet that it was on this day that at least 150 people were killed in clashes between the African National Congress and Inkatha Freedom Party, South Africa

a fact: this story won a prize in a competition by radio station Africa No. 1 and features in the 1992 collection Kilomètre 30, which I managed to get a copy of through Better World Books – its arrival was quite poignant, as it was the very final book to arrive for my entire project

want to read Kaziende’s writing? visit here

The City Where Dreams Come True by Gulsifat Shahidi (tr. Altima Group)

book cover with woman in red dress in beautiful countryside

a nutshell: these four stories give a rare glimpse of what life can look like amid social unrest (particularly with reference to perestroika) across three generations in Tajikstan, recounting episodes of love, loss and ultimately hope

a line: “The world is not without good people and it is inherent that I join them at the helm to bring joy, kindness and happiness to others”

an image: I loved the description of memory as an unwritten book (also can’t help but share one of the wonderful illustrations within the pages – see below!)

a thought: time & time again in the books I’ve read during this project there’s been a comment on the depth and breadth of women’s suffering worldwide and this one was no exception, noting how hard it is to be a woman following an account of a predatory older neighbour accosting and later threatening a single mother

a fact: born in Leningrad in 1955, Shahidi graduated in journalism from Tajik University and wrote this collection in Russian – her hope is that the English edition is just the start of it being translated into other languages

want to read The City Where Dreams Come True? visit here

drawing of three women by water

Call Me by My Name: Poetry from Kosova in a Bilingual Albanian-English Edition by Flora Brovina (tr. Robert Elsie)

Bovina

a nutshell: Brovina’s lyrical poetry* powerfully bears witness to the violence and tension in Kosova across the late 20th century

a line: “Flowerpots hurtling through the air | Know nothing of the curfew” (‘The year 1981’)

an image: in ‘Exodus’, Brovina describes flowers walking hand in hand towards the sun while behind them grows flowerless grass

a thought: moving beyond the poems I had read, I was (i) shocked to discover Brovina was abducted in 1999 and accused of ‘terrorist activities’ under Article 136 of the Yugoslav Penal Code (ii) moved by her declaration during proceedings in which she said her objective had been to dedicate herself as a doctor, poet and woman to rights for women

a fact: in March and April 1981, Kosovo Albanians took to the streets in peaceful protest to demand more autonomy within the former Yugoslavia – this was met with tanks and troops

want to read some of Brovina’s poetry? visit here

[*note: I read a selection of the poems available online]

Le Journal de Maya by Coralie Frei

cat on cover of kindle, black and white

[note: I read this in the original French as it is not yet available in translation]

a nutshell: at times hilariously melodramatic and perfectly ‘feline’, this diary of a five-year-old Siamese cat will have many familiar scenes for cat lovers such as myself

a line: “this is my philosophy: Patience, virtue of cats”

an image: Frei renders even the simplest of acts beautifully, such as when joy gives Maya the wings to jump and land heavily on the sink

a thought: I thoroughly enjoyed reading these observations from a cat’s perspective – particularly the comment on how humans possess the art of complicating their lives (if only we took a leaf out of our cat’s book!)

a fact: Frei is the first Comorian woman to have written a novel, and has also written poetry

want to read Le Journal de Maya? visit here

‘Time’ by Dragana Tripković (tr. Peter Stonelake)

Dragana

a nutshell: exploring history and the present, this poem reflects on how nothing (and no one) lasts – not even the reader

a line: “Memories are the heaviest burden in that pigsty”

an image: rather than revolutionary and bloody, the pavements are concrete whores whose names change with the lust of rulers

a thought: I was thrilled to stumble on this poem through this Words Without Borders issue from March 2017 – a commendable effort to ensure Montenegrin women’s poetic voices are better heard

a fact: born in 1984 in Montenegro, Tripković is a poet and playwright who was one of the founders of the theatre group Alternative Theater Active Company (ATAK)

want to read ‘Time’? visit here

‘In Which Language to Write’ by Odete Semedo (tr. Alejandro Aguilar)

a nutshell: alternating between languages, these poems reflect Semedo’s dislocating experience of living in both Portuguese and Guinea-Bissau Creole (‘Criollo’)

a line: “But what signs to leave | The grandchildren of this century?”

an image: the poet declares that she’ll leave a message on parchment in this Portuguese language that she misunderstands

a thought: I found it interesting how most of the verses are formed of questions (not statements) – such as whether the poet will talk in Portuguese despite it denying her art or muse, which led me to learn from Wiki that Guinea-Bissau Creole is the country’s language of informal literature

a fact: born in 1959, Semedo went on to assume prominent roles including Minister of National Education and Minister of Health

want to read ‘In Which Language to Write’? visit here

‘Melting Sun’ by Laila Neihoum (tr. D Mohamed Hassan and Neihoum)

a nutshell: over five short verses Libyan writer Neihoum probes the notion of familial expectations against a setting of unnaturalness, from an unturning tide to an eclipsed noon

a line: “What if I had not been my parents’ sculpture”

an image: halfway through the poem, the narrator faces an abandoned cave where a tear is the only water spilled into emptiness

a thought: I couldn’t help but pick up on how the poem’s first three words, things fall apart, echo the title of Chinua Achebe’s debut novel published in 1958 (over forty years before this poem was written), suggesting a broader significance to its themes – namely the influence of colonialism on African families

a fact: Neihoum was the first writer from her country to be accepted to join the International Writers Programme at the University of Iowa – she wrote a poetic manifesto for Libya which can be read on Words Without Borders

want to read ‘Melting Sun’? visit here

‘From where the voice is born’ by Carmen Naranjo

a nutshell: this fifty-line poem by Costa Rican poet & novelist Carmen Naranjo is a beautiful reflection on voice, silence, presence and absence

a line: “I have goodbyes in my hair | and forgetfulness in the eyes”

an image: towards the end, the poet describes being in front of the stars opposing a challenge to be brilliant

a thought: Naranjo’s line about a voice naked of ‘yes’s and ‘no’s made me think about my own commitment to balancing my ‘yes’s and ‘no’s – for so long I have said yes to everything and finally I’ve come to realise the sense in knowing how not to

a fact: born in 1928, Naranjo enrolled in a writers workshop following her return to Costa Rica in 1964 (having worked for the UN in Venezuela) and soon began publishing both poetry & prose

want to read more of Naranjo’s poetry? visit here

The Tram Journey by Milena Ercolani (tr. Pasquale Iannone and Robyn Marsack)

a nutshell: this quiet, gentle poem draws parallels between the course of life and a journey on a tram

a line: “Our faces | masked our uncertainties”

an image: slow steps, a shaking hand, his gaze lit by nostalgia – the fellow passenger’s old age emerges only gradually through hints

a thought: I interpreted this poem as a mediation on the loss of a loved one, perhaps a father or grandfather, particularly through how the onlooker saw herself in his face

a fact: born in 1963, Sammarinese poet and novelist Ercolani is President of the Sammarina Cultural Association – promoting the artistic work of San Marino and the surrounding region

want to read The Tram Journey? visit here

Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero (tr. Frances Riddle)

cockfight book yellow cover against blanket floral

a nutshell: through 13 stories of extraordinary power, this steely debut from Ecuadorian writer Ampuero spotlights the ruinous & cyclical nature of domestic abuse

a line: “But it was just faith, the most pathetic of feelings. Faith didn’t do a goddamn thing”

an image: Ampuero is astonishingly talented at building tension, such as when one character describes how the presence of her friends’ father means they had to whisper and the air filled with an electric energy, wet, like when a huge storm is coming

a thought: I was bowled over time & time again by these stories, particularly their dagger-like endings, and finished the book within hours (which really is something, given that I’ve struggled to engage fully with books as we approach our 14th week of lockdown no.2 in Melbourne) – one thought that’s stuck in my head is a protagonist’s comment about vacations in these countries being all about contrasts – I have been guilty of this, a desire for contrasts, in my travels

a fact: this interview is a fascinating exploration of the mind behind Cockfight (& I couldn’t agree more with Ampuero that there’s nothing more profound than the harm your family can cause you; as she shares, “You can leave your family, I did it many, many years ago, but your family does not leave you”)

want to read Cockfight? visit here