forty-nine.

Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos (2012)
“‘Go and fuck your fucking mother, you bastard, fuck off!’ I know this isn’t an appropriate way to begin, but the story of me and my family is full of insults. If I’m really going to report everything that happened, I’m going to have to write down a whole load of mother-related insults. I swear there’s no other way to do it, because the story unfolded in the place where I was born and grew up, Lagos de Moreno, in Los Altos, Jalisco, a region that, to add insult to injury, is located in Mexico.”
Orestes is the second oldest of 7 siblings and their family is middle-class. All the children are named after Greek heroes or mythology. But Mexico in the 1980s is not politically stable which makes the family’s economy unstable. The result is that there are several variations of the daily quesadillas; inflationary quesadillas, normal quesadillas, devaluation quesadillas and poor man’s quesadillas. 
Orestes is a poet, and loathes his older brother. One day during the curfew, the family needs to go shopping. And in the state owned grocery shop, the twins suddenly disappear. The parents are devastated, but Orestes sees this as an opportunity to get more quesadillas. Then his older brother, Aristotle, is convinced that aliens have kidnapped the twins and goes looking for them, dragging Orestes with him.
The second book by Villalobos is even better than the first. I fell in love with the family, and Orestes is a great narrator. Although the story is funny, the undertones are serious and the downgrade of the family is sad. I was about to get really upset about the end, but fortunately it turned out to be awesome. Juan Pablo Villalobos is an author I will definitely keep reading, and so should you.

forty-four.

All Dogs Are Blue by Rodrigo de Souza Leão (2008)
And what if a blue dog really existed? It would be fucking amazing to have one. And if it had a puppy, would it be born blue, too? If he could bark and eat, what would a blue dog eat? Blue food? And if he got ill, would he take blue medicine?”
The narrator is a schizophrenic who is a patient at a psychiatric hospital in Brazil. He spends his days thinking, and conversing with his imaginary friends, Rimbauld and Baudelaire.

I had a hard time following the train of thoughts of a mad man. What was real and what wasn’t? There were parts, mainly stand-alone sentences which I really enjoyed reading, but most of the time I kept counting the pages I had left to read. Thankfully, it’s just a mere 109 pages long.

I have a feeling that this is a book you’ll either love or hate. Or rather, understand or not getting the point. And I’m definitely one of those who don’t get it.  

twenty-six.

Captain of the Steppe by Oleg Pavlov (1994)
“They used to deliver newspaper like potatoes to the company stationed out in the steppe: a month’s worth at a time, or two, or even enough to see them through to spring, so as not to waste fuel and not to pamper the unit.”
Khabarov is the captain of the 6th regiment far out on the Kazakh steppes. Surrounding their camp there’s nothing as far as the watch towers can see. Food is always scarce, so when the captain gets the brilliant idea of planting the potatoes instead of eating them, he reckons he has solved their food shortage. But this is Soviet where no one does anything without a permission from someone above them in the system, so Khabarov soon finds himself in serious trouble.
My first reaction after reading it was: all that trouble because of potatoes? Second: what the hell did I just read? Definitely too much confusion and those Russian names I never can tell apart, made this a hard one. Yet there are definitely good parts and some parts had me snickering. And I do have a feeling that this will get better with a second read. It is the first book in a trilogy, and I do hope that And Other Stories is going to publish the other ones as well, as it has received grand reviews and prizes, not only in Russia, but also abroad.

six.

Black Vodka by Deborah Levy (2013)
 “Have you ever had that weird feeling in an airport when you panic and don’t know what to do? One screen says Departures and another screen says Arrivals and for a moment you don’t know which one you are. You think, am I an arrival or am I a departure?” (from Pillow Talk)
Black Vodka is ten stories about Europe. Ten stories about identity, love, loss and longing which take the reader around Europe. I liked them all and they certainly made me think. There are many charming sentences, and they are all full of wit and sadness. Although, sometimes the Europeaness was too obvious, I mean, not every person in the book didn’t need to have several identities.

The story I liked best was probably Cave Girl; a story about a young girl who dislike herself so much she gets a total make-over. It is told by her brother and it is disturbing to read how the brother develops feelings for the sister.

Deborah Levy made me want to read more short stories, and more importantly, force my students to read, so I ordered a few anthologies with various authors to use in class, but of course I have to read them first. I also am going to read Swimming Home soon.

“Kissing you is like new paint and old pain. It is like coffee and car alarms and a dim stairway and it’s like smoke.” (from Placing a Call)

twenty-seven.

Happiness is Possible by Oleg Zaionchkovsky (2010)
Suddenly I was swamped by the noise of the city, as if someone had jacked it up to full volume. Leading the acoustic assault with its screeching and howling was a trolleybus, followed by a tumultuous herd of invisible cars, roaring and snarling in every possible register. Birds’ wings started clapping, music stared playing, invisible crowds of people started babbling and scraping their feet. We were in Moscow.”
A writer is residing with his dog, Phil, after his wife, Tamara, suddenly divorced him. Yet, he sees her and her new man all the time. He is struggling with writing his next book and spends his days wandering around Moscow, going to the datcha and drinking too much alcohol. In this way he meets many interesting people who gets a space in his narrative.
I’m torn between really liking this book and it being just an okay read. I really enjoyed reading it, but then an hour later I can’t hardly recall anything from it. Does the writer even have I name? I can’t remember. But I know that I read most of it with a smile, and sometimes even laughed out loud. Because the old writer’s observations and stories are funny.  And somehow it moves, but slowly, forward. But I guess I’m really not that impressed.
This was the first book of the year published by And Other Stories which I started subscribing too. There’s something special seeing your name in the back of the book and knowing that my book is special because it’s numbered.

sixty-four.

Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos (2010)
“Some people say I’m precocious. They say it mainly because they think I know difficult words for a little boy. Some of the difficult words I know are: sordid, disastrous, immaculate, pathetic and devastating. There aren’t really many people who say I’m precocious. The problem is I don’t know that many people. I know maybe thirteen or fourteen people and four of them say I’m precocious.”
  Tochtli is an only child, living with his father and some helpers in an enormous house far away from everyone. He has a private teacher that teaches him about the world. He collects hats and animals. His biggest wish is to get a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus.
Tochtli is starting to realise that something odd is going around in their house. Why are the four empty rooms in the house locked? And why is his father worried about the news showing corpses and body parts? And when he discovers that his father has been lying to him, he decides to go mute.
I laughed half-way through this book and then suddenly everything got very serious and I was close to tearing up. I spent a week getting through the 70-page long story, but it was because I wanted it to last. It is filled with humour and great sentences.
“When we run out of body parts we look up new ones in a book that has pictures of all of them, even the prostate and the medulla oblongata. Speaking of the brain, it’s important to take off your hat before you put bullets in somebody’s brain, so it doesn’t get stained. Blood is really hard to get out. This is what Itzpapalotl, the maid who does the cleaning in our palace, always says”.

This book is published by And Other Stories, which allows subscriptions for either 2 or 4 books a year. And after reading this book and having taken a look at the other books they have published, I will subscribe.