#RivetingReviews June 2024 – Introduction by Rosie Eyre

June has bloomed, the sun is shining (or is trying to), and that can only mean one thing … our #RivetingReviews are back with a sizzling midsummer special! We might not be able to guarantee wall-to-wall sunshine, but we can promise a bumper crop of hot-off-the-press translated titles to whisk you on your travels across Europe this summer.   

As the eyes of the world turn to France for the Paris Olympics, Ewa Sherman kicks off our grand tour with David Foenkinos’s bittersweet novel about the Channel-hopping Franco-English schoolboy who almost pipped Daniel Radcliffe to the role of Harry Potter – and the obsessional ‘onslaught of emotions’ that follow the blow of coming ‘Second Best‘.

From the Paris of noughties boy-wizard mania, we journey 500 miles south and fifty years back in time to Catalonia, where Jean-Baptiste Clément’s Paris Commune-era song provides title inspiration for Montserrat Roig’s novel The Time of Cherries, reviewed by West Camel. While change is in the air as the Franco dictatorship nears its end, the trauma of what has been cannot be so easily shaken off, as protagonist Natàlia discovers on her return to family life in Barcelona after a decade away. 

The spectres of bygone demons also loom large for Nat, the literary-translator lead character of Sara Mesa’s Un Amor – reviewed by Mandy Wight – which sweeps us into the heart of southern Spain for a translation retreat that turns out to be anything but ‘La Escapa’ from her past that the village’s name promises. 

Cruising east from the foot of Spain to the heel of Italy, Riveter-in-chief Rosie Goldsmith brings us the first non-fiction title of this summer’s selection, Your Little Matter, in which Italian poet and broadcaster Maria Grazia Calandrone retraces the untold story of her tragic birth mother, Lucia. Staying in Italy, enigma also fills the air in fictional Venice, the setting of Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini’s The Lover of No Fixed Abode, reviewed by Max Easterman.

If Fruttero and Lucentini’s mystery novel-cum-passion tale is the perfect foil for ‘a glass of good vino del Veneto’, the tone is rather more sober in Turkey, where Petar Penda takes us for the southernmost leg of our journey. Based on real-life events, Çiler İlhan’s Engagement is a slim but powerful parable about ‘modern-day evil and its effects’, fictionalising the intervillage rivalry that led to the massacre of over forty people during an engagement party in 2009.

Striking north to Ukraine and Poland, history also hangs heavy in Tanja Maljartschuk’s Forgottenness – the second of Mandy Wight’s summer reads – where the ‘struggle for Ukrainian statehood’ is explored through the parallel stories of early twentieth-century independence fighter Viacheslav Lypynskyi and the modern-day narrator, whose lives gradually reveal unsuspected connections. 

The early twentieth century similarly provides the political backdrop for Ginster, Siegfried Kracauer’s republished novel from 1928 probing the less glorious face of German home-front fervour during the First World War. Ginster might not be fighting on the front line, but he has more than enough grappling to do with his own conscience in what Paul Burke lauds as a ‘clever alternative narrative of war’.

Jumping forward to the closing decades of twentieth-century history, Caroline Wyatt treats us to a ‘glorious’ slice of contemporary German fiction from Sasha Salzmann, whose loosely auto-fictional Glorious People follows two Soviet-era Russian-speaking Ukrainian families as they flee ‘the wreckage of the USSR’ and head west to Germany ‘to see what they can salvage of their lives’. 

As we leave Glorious People with the coming of age of the families’ youngest generations, Scandinavia beckons with a very different intergenerational tale from August Prize-winning Swedish writer, Linnea Axelsson. Over an epic novel in verse, Ædnan charts the struggles of two Sámi families across a century from 1913 to 2016, as they are forced from their traditional way of life and begin the long road to reclaiming their identity in twenty-first-century Sweden.

After Ædnan’s 400-page epic, Darcy Hurford completes her brace of Swedish picks with Balsam Karam’s slimmer but no more lightweight The Singularity, in which a tragic chance encounter leaves the fates of two women from distant corners of the world indissolubly intertwined. 

Swapping Sweden for Iceland, I take on dystopian referendum drama in Fríða Ísberg’s The Mark, before Max Easterman’s rounds off our Nordic leg – and concludes our summer reading tour – with the latest novel from veteran Faroese crime fiction writer Jógvan Isaksen, who proves that even in a country of under 53,000 people and very little crime, there’s always another case to be solved . . .

We’ll be back with more #RivetingReviews in September, when West Camel will reprise the editing hotseat with the pick of the autumn crop. In the meantime, please feel free to send any review suggestions to contact@eurolitnetwork.com, and we hope that you enjoy a very happy summer of reading ahead!

Rosie Eyre

Category: June 2024

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