Storia di Codarotta di Tim Bruno (Guido Gnone)

Le avventure di un coniglio dalla cattività alla libertà

Storia di Codarotta è il primo romanzo che ho letto a mia figlia. Dopo aver rispolverato dalla mia infanzia la tanto adorata collezione delle fiabe classiche di tutto il mondo, mi sono voluta cimentare con qualcosa di nuovo. All’inizio è stato un po’ difficile catturare la sua attenzione di bambina di cinque anni, per via della sparuta presenza di illustrazioni e la complessità del linguaggio. Ho pensato di aver forzato i tempi, ma ho poi letto su Amazon che questo libro di circa un centinaio di pagine è consigliato proprio per la fascia 5-8 anni. L’ho letto a mia figlia di sera come se fosse un feuilleton, un romanzo a puntate per farla addormentare. Dopo i primi capitoli, si è immersa nella narrazione e ha ascoltato con trepidazione le varie vicissitudini del coniglio protagonista, soprattutto il temibile attacco della donnola. I miei riassunti dopo ogni “puntata” l’hanno aiutata a riannodare i fili della storia, la più lunga che le abbia letto finora.

Il libro Storia di Codarotta è stato inizialmente pubblicato nel 2015, nell’ambito della prima collana della bella iniziativa Conad Insieme per la Scuola. All’epoca però mia figlia aveva solo due anni e così ho aspettato che crescesse abbastanza prima di leggerle questo romanzo di Tim Bruno (pseudonimo del biologo genovese Guido Gnone, coordinatore scientifico dell’Acquario di Genova dal 2003) ispirato alla storia scritta dai bambini di una terza elementare della provincia di Napoli e con una trama che presenta alcune somiglianze con La Collina dei Conigli (1972) di Richard Adams. Nel 2016, il libro di Tim Bruno è stato ripubblicato dalla Nord-Sud Edizioni con il semplice titolo di Codarotta.

Cinquantuno è un coniglio che vive in un allevamento, insieme a tanti altri conigli bianchi rinchiusi in gabbie individuali. Il cibo è buono e non manca mai, ma Conigliopoli è l’unica realtà che conoscono. Quando scopre che il loro destino è quello di essere uccisi dagli esseri umani, Cinquantuno decide di fuggire e ci riesce. Scopre così la bellezza ma anche i pericoli della natura. Se i conigli selvatici bianchi sono molto rari, un motivo c’è: non sono mimetici, divenendo così facile bersaglio dei predatori. Per sua fortuna, Cinquantuno viene salvato da un’adorabile coniglia di nome Mirtilla che sceglie per lui il nuovo nome di Codarotta e convince i capi della comunità di Sottobuco ad accogliere il nuovo arrivato. Codarotta avrà ben presto modo di sdebitarsi dell’accoglienza sventando prima il famelico attacco di una donnola e poi quello dei malvagi conigli di Covonero, in quest’ultimo caso addirittura tornando a liberare tutti i conigli dell’allevamento per inscenare il leggendario esercito dei mille conigli bianchi. Il tutto è inframmezzato dalla breve prigionia dorata nella casa di Sofia, una bambina lentigginosa e dai capelli rossi che continuerà a fare visita a Codarotta e ai suoi compagni anche a Colleverde, oltre i campi di girasole che circondano la fattoria.

Una nota a margine: Sofia decide di ribattezzare Cinquantuno/Codarotta con il nome di Caffelatte perché “ha la punta delle zampe marrone. Sembra che le abbia pucciate nel caffelatte.” Ebbene, io odio il verbo “pucciare”, forma dialettale diffusa in Liguria, Lombardia e Piemonte e corrispondente all’italiano “inzuppare”. Un verbo a me alieno che mi ha catapultata istantaneamente nell’ormai lontano anno scolastico 2006/2007, ai tempi del mio assistentato di lingua italiana in Austria, quando una tirocinante universitaria genovese nella sua lezione a una classe di studenti tirolesi di scuola superiore insegnò il verbo “pucciare” con tanto di scritta a caratteri cubitali sulla lavagna, senza specificare (magari perché inconsapevole) che si tratta di una forma dialettale, di cui ho intuito il significato ma che personalmente mai avevo udito prima. È come se io, durante le mie di lezioni, avessi insegnato che il tedesco “essen” si traduce con il romano “magnare” invece che con “mangiare”! Orrore degli orrori! Volete colorire i vostri scritti con un tocco dialettale? Beh, inserite almeno una bella nota esplicativa, grazie. Ve ne sarò riconoscente.

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Il cappotto della macellaia di Lilia Carlota Lorenzo

Dopo il grande successo ottenuto dall’ebook tramite il self-publishing, il romanzo “Il cappotto della macellaia” di Lilia Carlota Lorenzo è stato pubblicato da Mondadori nel 2016. L’autrice, argentina risiedente in Italia, è laureata in architettura, ma nella vita ha svolto molti mestieri diversi.

Le vicende del romanzo sono ispirate a un assassinio realmente accaduto nel 1943 e di cui l’autrice è venuta a conoscenza tramite la madre e la nonna. La storia è ambientata nella pampa argentina, in un paesino dal nome fittizio di Palo Santo, ma che sappiamo essere relativamente vicino a General Guëmes, città nel nord dell’Argentina. Il cappotto che la sarta sta cucendo, contrariamente a quanto potrebbe far pensare il titolo, non è invece per la macellaia ma per la figlia di quest’ultima.

Mentre in Europa imperversa la Seconda Guerra Mondiale, Palo Santo regala ai lettori una pittoresca ambientazione stile western in salsa argentina, con il suo sparuto numero di case costruito lungo l’unica strada che costeggia la ferrovia.

“Il cappotto della macellaia” offre un piacevolissimo linguaggio crudo e irriverente che dà voce ai pensieri dei personaggi senza il soffocante filtro delle convenzioni, troppo spesso piegate alle anguste regole della diplomazia, dettate da ipocrisia, conformismo, norme sociali e quieto vivere.

La narrazione è scorrevole, coinvolgente e a tratti perfino spassosa, ma il finale troppo cruento ed esagerato. Un monito contro gli sbagli che si commettono quando ci si fa giustizia da soli? E tante corna equivalgono a una visione pessimistica della vita, magari innescata da esperienze personali negative?

Quel che resta dopo la lettura? Un retrogusto amaro. “Il cappotto della macellaia” è un romanzo in cui tutti sono al contempo vittime e carnefici.

La copertina dell’edizione Mondadori, con il particolare di un dipinto del celebre Botero, è azzeccatissima. L’immagine dell’edizione autopubblicata, al contrario non avrebbe mai suscitato in me l’interesse per questo romanzo.

Dopo la lettura, una domanda sorge spontanea: perché in questo libro sono tutti cornificatori e/o cornuti? Perché nessuno resiste alle immancabili tentazioni della vita?

Mi sono dovuta sorbire una sfilza di personaggi abbruttiti dalla malasorte e dalle proprie colpe, per certi versi simili a quelli tanto odiati de “Il fu Mattia Pascal” di Pirandello e “I Malavoglia” e “Mastro Don Gesualdo” di Verga che, come tante generazioni di studenti, ho dovuto leggere nei miei ormai lontani anni di liceo. Negatività all’ennesima potenza. Libri così deprimenti oppure terribilmente noiosi come “La casa in collina” di Pavese e “Lessico famigliare” di Natalia Ginzburg da far pensare che i docenti auspicassero un suicidio di massa tra gli studenti.

Nel romanzo “Il cappotto della macellaia” nessuno merita commiserazione perché, ad esempio, l’anziano barbiere greco in pensione Zotikos, non aveva alcun diritto di fare sesso con la sorella ritardata della merciaia, procurandole persino una gravidanza. Il fatto di non aver mai avuto successo con le donne, a causa della sua scarsa avvenenza, e l’essersi dovuto accontentare per tutta la vita di “cessi e puttane” non è certo una scusante per un crimine così orribile.

“Il cappotto della macellaia” è un libro spumeggiante, la cui vivace caratterizzazione dei personaggi non può sicuramente essere resa dall’asciutta enunciazione della trama. Un romanzo catalogato come thriller, ma in cui l’unico omicidio presente si svolge nelle ultime pagine, a detrimento degli amanti del genere ma con mia somma gioia, dato che non ne sono un’appassionata.

La figlia del macellaio è un’ingorda ragazza obesa viziata dal padre, ma mi è comunque dispiaciuto vedere il garzone portarsela a letto e metterla incinta al solo scopo di sposarla per impossessarsi della macelleria, diventando nel frattempo anche l’amante fisso della matura ma fascinosa merciaia.

Avrei voluto che Solimana trovasse e uccidesse il vero colpevole e che tutti quegli uomini sposati idioti non cedessero alle sue avances, né che la mogliettina felice del bel matrimonio d’amore al centro della storia tradisse il marito.

Purtroppo la storia della letteratura è piena di tradimenti, fin dai suoi albori, come quello di Ulisse che si ricongiunge all’amata Penelope che lo attende castamente per anni, pur assediata dai Proci, senza però disdegnare le varie tentazioni che gli si offrono nel periglioso viaggio di ritorno verso Itaca. E quel farabutto d’Enea? Come dimenticare l’abbandono della povera Didone nel nome della fondazione di Roma? La bella regina di Cartagine improvvisamente diventa un impedimento, una donna-zavorra che impedisce all’uomo-eroe di portare a termine la sua nobile missione, una sorta di Eva, la madre di tutte le tentatrici che offrendo ad Adamo il frutto proibito ne provoca la cacciata dall’Eden.

Ecco perché do quattro stelle invece di cinque a un libro estremamente coinvolgente che si legge d’un fiato. Non possiamo vivere tutti come bruti.

 

La trama

 

La cosiddetta macellaia, che in realtà è la maestra del paese, ha una figlia che continua a ingrassare senza sosta, ragion per cui la quarantatreenne sarta signora Fernández è costretta ad apportare continue modifiche al suo cappotto.

La sarta non è mai stata particolarmente avvenente e si è rovinata la vista cucendo. Si è sposata dopo i trent’anni e solo per mettere a tacere le insistenze della madre. La signora Fernández (nata Tomasetto) è profondamente insoddisfatta del marito scansafatiche e poco passionale. L’uomo non ha un vero lavoro e la famiglia in realtà si sostenta grazie alla professione di sarta della donna. La coppia ha un figlio di nome Pepincito, un undicenne imbranato che però almeno contribuisce al reddito di casa aiutando la telefonista vedova Manchú con la spesa.

Il quarantottenne signor Andreani, macellaio di Palo Santo, è il marito della maestra, detta la macellaia. Il signor Andreani ha conosciuto sua moglie mentre lavorava come garzone nella macelleria di quello che sarebbe poi diventato suo suocero. Era fiero di aver sposato una donna istruita, ma dopo il matrimonio la moglie aveva tirato fuori il suo caratteraccio ed era pure ingrassata.

Reinoso è il peggior allievo della signora Andreani. Brutto, strabico e alto un metro e ottanta, a sedici anni frequenta ancora la terza elementare. Non perde occasione per metterla in ridicolo, facendo ridere tutta la classe, e la bacchetta non gli fa più paura. La maestra teme invece di ricevere un pugno in faccia da quell’energumeno.

La bella quarantacinquenne Solimana Paganini è la merciaia del paese. Anni prima è stata abbandonata quando mancava ormai poco alle nozze. Il fidanzato aveva preferito sposarsi con una donna brutta ma ricchissima. La sorella Marcantonia, trentottenne con ritardo mentale, si occupa invece della casa.

La cinquantaquattrenne vedova Manchú è la telefonista di Palo Santo. Non esce mai di casa, ma adora ascoltare e annotare le conversazioni degli abitanti del paese.

Il settantenne Zotikos, detto Tiko, è un barbiere greco in pensione. Vive in affitto in un appartamento di proprietà del macellaio e la sua unica ragione di vita è spiare quello che succede nel negozio di quest’ultimo attraverso il buco della serratura di una porta chiusa.

Il cinquantenne signor Fernández, marito della sarta e cacciatore, si è invaghito della merciaia. Sua moglie, invece, non fa che pensare al macellaio. Un giorno Solimana attira il cacciatore in casa sua dopo aver dato un sonnifero alla sorella, lo fa spogliare e lo osserva minuziosamente, ma poi lo invita ad andarsene alla svelta dicendogli che la sorella si è svegliata, anche se non è vero.

La figlia della maestra e del macellaio ha diciannove anni e pesa ottanta chili. Suo padre teme a ragione che il garzone voglia sposarsi con lei per impadronirsi della macelleria.

È ormai trascorso quasi un anno dal misterioso fatto che ha scatenato il terrore di Pepincito nei confronti della signorina Solimana. Il ragazzino crede di aver assistito a un tentato atto di cannibalismo da parte della signorina Solimana nei confronti della sorella.

Dopo aver sedotto il cacciatore, la merciaia adocchia il macellaio e il garzone. La signorina Solimana fa spogliare quest’ultimo durante una consegna, si lascia baciare ma poi lo manda via con la solita scusa della sorella.

Pepincito convince Reinoso a derubare la merciaia sperando che la uccida. La signorina Solimana lo fa spogliare ma poi deve tornare in negozio. Reinoso ne approfitta per frugare nella credenza ma viene colto in flagrante e la merciaia fa chiamare la polizia.

Arriva il giorno del matrimonio di una coppia di innamorati a cui è stato invitato tutto il paese, ma la figlia del macellaio non può indossare il cappotto nuovo perché è ingrassata troppo.

La signorina Solimana attira il macellaio in casa sua e finalmente sembra aver trovato quel che cercava.

Flashback: Marcantonia è incinta ma si rifiuta di dire alla sorella chi è il padre del nascituro. Solimana non la fa uscire di casa per nascondere la gravidanza ai compaesani e l’aiuta a partorire ma il bambino nasce morto. Pepincito la sorprende con la placenta in mano ma non comprende la vera natura dei fatti. Solimana nota una voglia sul neonato e, decisa a scovare l’uomo che ha abusato della sorella, inizia a sedurre tutti gli adulti di sesso maschile di Palo Santo per vederli nudi. Il macellaio le piace davvero, ma scambia una macchia di grasso per la famosa voglia e lo uccide rubando di nascosto il fucile del cacciatore, credendo così di vendicare la sorella ritardata. Il vero colpevole è però l’anziano barbiere in pensione Zotikos, proveniente da una famiglia i cui maschi presentavano la famosa voglia solo a generazioni alterne.

Il signor Fernández viene arrestato per l’omicidio del macellaio. Sua moglie lo va a trovare in carcere ogni mese, convinta che il marito sia veramente l’autore del crimine che lei stessa gli aveva chiesto di commettere dopo essere stata umiliata dalla moglie del macellaio che aveva esposto in negozio il cappotto che la figlia obesa non era riuscita a indossare, facendole così perdere la clientela. Il cacciatore, invece, pensa che l’assassina sia la moglie ma non si scagiona perché, con lei in carcere, non saprebbe come mantenere il figlio.

Il tempo passa e la sarta e il muratore del paese diventano amanti. La figlia del macellaio, già incinta di due mesi al momento della morte del padre si sposa con il garzone, ora nuovo macellaio del paese nonché amante fisso della merciaia. Anche la maestra e il greco Zotikos iniziano a frequentarsi in segreto.

Gli sposini che avevano invitato tutto il paese vivono felici per cinque anni, poi lei scappa a Buenos Aires con un cugino del marito, abbandonando anche i quattro figli avuti insieme.

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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent (2016) is the second book written by Sarah Perry. This British author was born in Essex in 1979, grew up in a strict Baptist family and has a PhD in creative writing. Her first novel was published in 2014.

The Essex Serpent was inspired by the myth of a sea-serpent on the Essex coast. New Year’s Eve: a man walks along the banks near the estuary of the River Blackwater. His body is full of beer and when a cloud hides the moon he feels lost in the darkness. The tide is turning and the marsh becomes suddenly muddy. He thinks to see a giant creature with scales, but then the moon appears again and he decides to take off his shirt to have a quick dip. A gorgeous first chapter. A wonderful description of the turning tide at night.

London, January: Dr Luke Garrett is a thirty-two-year-old surgeon, no higher than the shoulders of most men. Michael Seaborne has died of throat cancer and the doctor is now interested in his patient’s widow, whose name is Cora. Michael Seaborne was a member of the House of Commons and refused the surgery because he wanted to die without scars. Cora is a tall woman with grey eyes who didn’t love her husband. The black-haired Francis is their son and Martha is his nanny. Mr Seaborne was a violent man and Cora has a scar on her collarbone because her husband had once pressed a candlestick into her flesh.

Cora is a wealthy woman interested in fossils. She admires the palaeontologist Mary Anning (1799-1847). Mary’s father was a carpenter who taught her how to find fossils. Mary found and sold several of them, but prematurely died of breast cancer. Cora had met Michael Seaborne through her father, when she was seventeen. Her mother had died long before.

Francis is eleven years old. He collects strange things and has strange thoughts like hoping that a wad of fur might still contain a flea or a thick with blood inside. He also knows how many steps there are between his room and his mother’s. He looks autistic.

A month after her husband’s death, Cora moves to the small town of Colchester to find fossils. Francis’s teachers are relieved by the boy’s absence at school. A beggar tells Cora the story of the Essex Serpent which dates back to 1669. After that, the monster vanished for two-hundred years and appeared again only after the Colchester earthquake of 1884. This book is set eight years after that, in 1892.

The Essex Serpent looks like a dragon with wings and Cora finds the beggar’s tale really interesting. In Colchester, Cora encounters Charles and Katherine Ambrose. The man was one of her husband’s colleagues and the couple is now visiting friends.

Colchester is surrounded by miles of mud and marsh. The only things Cora did in London were walking and reading books. The Ambroses introduce Cora to Reverend William Ransome, his wife Stella and their children. They live in a fictitious village called Aldwinter.

The drunken man of the first chapter was found dead on New Year’s Day with his neck broken, but Reverend Ransome thinks that the story of the Essex Serpent is just a superstition.

Francis cuts his pillow to count the feathers. Cora is unable to control him, so she goes out for a walk. Francis is a real nuisance.

Cora was in love with her husband during their first months together. He had been her first and only man. She hadn’t divorced him because her son couldn’t tolerate any change in his routine.

Cora was twenty when her son was born, so now she’s thirty-one. At first, Francis acted as a normal baby, but after a few weeks he started to become nervous when his mother was near him.

Cora is so exasperatedly feminist that you’re constantly reminded that this is a 21st-century book set in the late 19th century and not an authentic novel of that time like Dracula by Bram Stoker. Moreover the story instead of having a linear chronological narration reveals Cora’s past, that is her life before her husband’s death, in annoying tiny bits that leave you unsatisfied like a woman who kisses and touches a man, but then tells him she won’t have sex with him because she’s a good girl.

The Essex Serpent has a gorgeous cover and synopsis, but I found the happy widow Cora hideous and her autistic son a real nuisance. I suffered thinking about his poor teachers. Cora and his nanny Martha always try to please him to avoid his rage, so he’s free to sleep with a piece of fur probably full of fleas and to cut a pillow to count its feathers because his mother can pay for it.

In The Essex Serpent, the author introduces too many characters that disrupt the flow of events with their points of view. The result? A slow narration.

Dr Luke Garrett arrives in Colchester with his friend and colleague George Spencer after receiving a letter from Cora. In Colchester, Cora has found just a toadstone or two. Anyway, she isn’t interested in fossils anymore, because now she’s focused on the Essex Serpent. She looks exactly like what she is, that is a bored rich lady which one day has a fancy and the next day a new one. I can’t stand such people. What they really need is go and work for a living. Since the Essex Serpent supposedly looks like a winged snake, Cora thinks it could be a dinosaur.

Martha is instead a fervent socialist and she despises the kind Spencer just because he’s rich. She is a pestering do-gooder who thinks that also people who get drunk, gamblers and women who have many children from many fathers should be accepted by London’s new housing plan. Is she crazy? If the rich behave viciously, she should fight to correct them, instead of legitimating the right of the poor to follow their immoral path.

Edward Burton is the man saved by Dr Luke Garrett, an insurance clerk stabbed by a colleague. Samuel Hall was neither handsome nor witty and Edward made fun of him. Martha visits him regularly and Edward falls in love with her, but she doesn’t want to marry him and be obedient as a wife is expected to be.

Stella is ill with consumption. She obviously knows her death is quite near, but she isn’t afraid. She also knows her husband has fallen in love with Cora, but she isn’t angry because the illness is affecting also her mind.

I hate Cora so much! With her tall and sturdy appearance, I can’t avoid imagining her as an author’s alter ego, with the same giantess body. A hideous happy widow, a bored rich woman and a husband stealer. Despite all these negative qualities, everybody seems in love with her (Reverend Ransome, Dr Garrett and even Martha) and that’s so suspicious… How could an author stand for such a character if it weren’t an author’s reflection? She looks like the projection of Sarah Perry’s secret erotic fantasies.

Both Martha and Dr Garrett are jealous of Reverend Ransome because they want Cora only for themselves, so they decide to have sex thinking of her. That’s simply disgusting. The characters of this book look like beasts who can’t restrain their base instincts.

One morning the villagers are woken up by a terrible stench coming from the carcass of a big fish and they finally realize that the Essex Serpent never existed, it was just an oarfish slowly killed by a tapeworm. Some villagers keep seeing something strange in the water, but this time it’s just a sunken boat.

Cora goes back to Aldwinter after spending some time in a London hotel and goes out for a walk with Will. The sun goes down and the couple grows intimate in the woods. Cora isn’t surprised because she thinks that even if Will loves his wife he can love her too. She’s such an impudent slut!

Stella tries to commit suicide with the help of Frankie, but she’s saved by the boy’s repentance. Spencer is told that Martha is living with Burton and reacts moving with his friend Luke. They will work as surgeons together. Luke can’t use his right hand properly anymore after being stabbed by Samuel Hall during his second attempt to kill Burton, but he can still tell Spencer what to do.

Cora moves back to her London house and exchanges letters with Will who in the meanwhile takes care of his sick wife while their children are living away to avoid being infected.

The Essex Serpent on the whole is neither really bad nor exceptional. I was charmed by its cover and intrigued by the first chapter, but then I was so bored by the slowness of the plot that I was tempted to abandon it many times. I managed to finish it, but only after several months and in the breaks I took I didn’t miss its hideous characters at all. Bram Stocker’s Dracula is thousands times better than Sarah Perry’s novel. Dracula is a “real” monster and an authentic Victorian novel, while The Essex Serpent is a historical novel so poorly written that it constantly reminds the reader its 21st-century origin. The exaggerated feminism of Cora and Martha was simply unbearable as well as the endorsement of the immoral relationship between the happy widow Cora and Reverend Ransome. He’s a clergyman and he’s already married. He shouldn’t surrender to the temptations of Cora’s flesh. Reading the book’s synopsis the nature of the relationship between Cora and Will was clear, but I didn’t expect him to be already married. I can’t stand infidelity and even less its endorsement, this is why I think that readers should be warned beforehand about the presence of such contents. This isn’t a book about friendship, but the umpteenth confirmation of the impossibility of real friendship between a woman and a man because at least one of them will always have a sexual interest.

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EBOOK GRATIS: Gli Occhi Di Una Mosca

GRATIS su Amazon l’ebook Gli Occhi Di Una Mosca da martedì 3 aprile a sabato 7 aprile!

LINK EBOOK: https://www.amazon.it/dp/B07BPPK5VF

Amore non corrisposto, amore a distanza, amicizia, scuola da studente e da docente, vita, morte, gioventù e vecchiaia. Aborto spontaneo. Primavera, estate, autunno e inverno. Pioggia, muffa, neve, inquinamento. Vista, occhiali, lenti a contatto, laser. Internet. Precarietà e lavoro. Luna, falena, mani da mostro, oblio. Gelosia, delusione, rabbia. Diversità e adozione, anima e corpo, scrittura e lettura. Italiano, inglese e spagnolo. Roma, Messico e Sardegna.

La nuova raccolta con tutte le poesie di Consuelo Murgia.

Il mio nuovo regalo per voi! Vi aspetto! 🙂

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My Year in Books 2017

And another year is over. Dear readers, thank you very much for visiting my blog and reading my posts from all over the world! I wish you all the best for 2018!

And thank you to all the writers who made available their books for free and to those authors who sent me a copy of their works!

Thank you to who interviewed me and helped me promote my latest novel and thank you to the nice readers who reviewed it!

Here’s a recap of the reviews I have written this year:

  1. “What am I?” by Papatia Feauxzar
  2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories by Truman Capote
  3. Fixed Up! by Papatia Feauxzar
  4. Planet Police by Natalie Vellacott
  5. White Monkey by Carlos Hughes
  6. The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment Is Reshaping Africa by Irene Yuan Sun
  7. Tears before Exaltation by Fidelis O. Mkparu
  8. Saddam City (I Am The One Who Saw) by Mahmoud Saeed
  9. A Portal in Space by Mahmoud Saeed

Now I’m reading The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, so please stay tuned! 🙂

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A Portal in Space by Mahmoud Saeed

A Portal in Space by Mahmoud Saeed was published in Arabic in 2012 and in English in 2015. The novel is mainly set in Basra, a port city in southern Iraq and in Baghdad, the country’s capital, while the events develop during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).

Basra is being bombed by Iran and Anwar wants a portal in space, so that he can escape to a world where he feels safe. He’s graduating as an architect in a few months, but he looks so childish while he’s resting on the sofa with his head on his mother’s lap.

Anwar and his family live in a military base. He’s twenty-two. Anwar’s father is a judge. He arrived in Basra as an attorney almost a quarter of a century before.

After his degree in architecture, Anwar falls in love with Abir. Anwar’s mother is a friend of Abir’s mother, so he hopes to marry her, but after three months of training, Anwar is ready to be sent to the front.

His sister Nur, who is two years younger than him, is still attending university. Anwar’s mother works instead in a school.

Anwar is missing. He has disappeared at the front after having been conscripted, like many other recent graduates.

Mundhir and his wife travel to Baghdad to inquire about their son. There they meet a woman in her forties and Mundhir is immediately attracted by her beauty.

The bare-headed woman comes from Amara. She wears a long black dress and high heels. Her fair skin is as white as milk and her hair is as black as coal. Moreover she has a thin body. Her nose is straight while her lips are naturally rose-red.

After Anwar’s disappearance, his mother is always in a bad mood and Mundhir is annoyed by her reaction. He starts to travel to Baghdad alone. His wife is weak, has lost a lot of weight and doesn’t want to go with him. After six months of weekly trips nothing has changed. Anwar isn’t in any list, but Mundhir meets the beautiful lady again. Her husband was a high-ranking official and died during the war against Iran, but she wants to know what happened to her husband’s brother who is still missing.

Mundhir complains about her wife. Before losing Anwar she was obedient and responsive, but now she keeps screaming and weeping. The beautiful lady suggests to leave her, but Mundhir doesn’t want to ruin his twenty-year-old daughter’s life, even if she’s already living like in hell with her mother who forbids her to laugh, watch TV or listen to music.

The beautiful lady’s husband worked for a bank, but during the last ten years he devoted himself to Saddam’s party. He was blond and blue-eyed. She was madly in love with him, but that feeling died in less than a year and after that she just shared his ambitions.

The woman tells that she is trying to write a novel and Mundhir admits that he’s also writing a book, even if about his most important cases. Zahra teaches Arabic, but she doesn’t know how to begin her novel.

Mundhir and Zahra spend the day eating in a restaurant and visiting a fortuneteller who immediately understands their mutual feelings. On their way back home, Zahra openly declares her love and they kiss each other.

Zahra tells Mundhir that she saw him for the first time three years before. Even if she was with her husband, she immediately fell in love with the judge Mundhir.

When they arrive in Amara, Zahra asks Mundhir to leave her near the post office and to meet her there the following week.

My opinion? A woman who tries to seduce a married man is a whore and an unfaithful husband is a fucking bastard.

Anwar’s mother is suffering for her missing son, but her husband is annoyed by her reaction and instead of helping her in such a difficult moment, he relieves his pain with another woman!

Zahra already sees herself as Mundhir’s new wife. She wants to marry him.

During their second meeting, Mundhir and Zahra share a hotel room, but she tells the man she’ll have sex with him only after their marriage. She says she’s a pious woman and when he comes out from the bathroom, he finds her praying with her head covered. Hmm, a pious woman shouldn’t be having a relationship with a married man at all; just avoiding sexual intercourse isn’t enough. The truth is that she wants to arouse him to dominate his will.

Zahra kisses and touches Mundhir, but she allows neither nudity nor sex. She has two children: Lubna who is fourteen and Mahdi who is six years old.

One more year and also Nur will graduate. After that, she’ll move to Baghdad to work for a newspaper. Her mother is so embittered that she told her she would have preferred losing her than her brother, her favorite and spoiled child. My thinking? People shouldn’t have more than one child if they can’t share their love fairly among them.

Six months after his retirement, Mundhir is asked to go back to work because many judges don’t want to work in Basra anymore because of the daily bombings.

Zahra is suddenly obliged to stop her travels to Baghdad, since a party official told her mother-in-law that she hadn’t traveled in a taxi.

The months go by and the two lovers can just speak on the phone. In the meanwhile Nur finishes her studies and the following day she leaves for Baghdad. Adil, one of her brother’s friends, asked to marry her and she loves him. He will be a resident physician in al-Falluja.

Mundhir continues to travel to Baghdad once a week to read the new lists of prisoners and to visit his daughter.

Two years and a half after their last meeting, Zahra pays a visit to Mundhir while he’s still in his office. Their lengthy telephone conversations had become suspicious; this is why she stopped calling him. Her missing late husband’s brother has come back home and wants her to give him all her money, but Zahra doesn’t agree, so both him and his mother are trying to convince her to marry him. This is why Zahra hopes Mundhir will marry her instead, even though his wife has just recovered from an attempted suicide. Mundhir’s wife has finally stopped smoking and now lets her husband watch TV again. He’s also free to listen to music, drink and laugh as he did before Anwar’s disappearance.

Mundhir and Zahra still love each other, but Mundhir knows that his wife would kill herself or go insane again, if he marries a second wife. His daughter and her husband would also be furious.

Zahra is disappointed and goes back to the city where she lives, but she doesn’t give up because she never accepts defeat.

No! This means that the evil temptress will attack again and the sinner Mundhir will succumb! I’m so sad for his poor wife! She didn’t deserve an unfaithful husband.

Mundhir should avoid meeting Zahra again, especially if alone with her, otherwise he’ll surely succumb to the temptation of her flesh.

Zahra is a really dangerous creature. She would do anything to fulfill her immoral desires. I believe she could even tell Mundhir’s wife about her relationship with her husband. Mundhir’s wife was jealous of Zahra from the beginning and she was right. If Mundhir’s wife commits suicide or she’s otherwise killed, the vulnerable judge will marry Zahra to quench his lustful thirst.

But maybe Zahra’s greedy brother-in-law could send someone to kill her first and Mundhir and his wife could finally be a happy couple again. Wait, even better: Mundhir’s wife, after discovering her husband’s unfaithfulness, should leave him alone crying over Zahra’s tomb and find a more deserving man for herself.

Date palms plantations, swamps and the banks of the Tigris. I really enjoyed the descriptions of several varieties of Iraqi landscapes, really different from the sad monotony of brown desert dust and grey ruins of bombed cement buildings we’re used to see on TV.

It was also interesting to read the depictions of the different physical features of the Iraqi population with white, fair-skinned and brown people, as well as their different attires in the 1980s ranging from a bare-headed woman wearing jeans to older ladies whose black abayas hid everything except their faces.

This time the English translation is excellent. It flows so naturally that it doesn’t even look like a translated text. I advise the author to always choose a high-quality translator like the one of this novel. I highly recommend this book!

P.S. I have received a paperback copy from the author.

 

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Saddam City (I Am The One Who Saw) by Mahmoud Saeed

Mahmoud Saeed was born in Mosul, Iraq in the late 1930s, but after being imprisoned six times for political reasons between 1963 and 1980, in 1985 he finally succeeded to emigrate to the United Arab Emirates. Since 1999, he has been living as a political refugee in the United States.

The novel I Am The One Who Saw was originally written in Arabic in 1981 and published for the first time in Syria in 1995. It was later published in English as Saddam City by Saqi Books in 2004 and in Italian by Edizioni Spartaco in 2005 with the same title of the English edition.

Saeed’s books were censored and banned for their political content. Nobody could disagree with the government. Reading Saddam City prompted me to look for more information about the historical background. Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire, but after World War I, the United Kingdom established a pro-British regime ruled by a dynasty of Saudi kings. This monarchy lasted from 1921 to 1958, until an Iraqi nationalist coup d’état. The dictator Saddam Hussein was born in 1937. He was a leading member of the Ba’ath Party, founded in 1947 and inspired by a mix of Arab nationalism and socialism. Saddam joined the Ba’ath Party in 1957 and played an important role in the 1968 coup that brought it to power in Iraq. He was Vice President of Iraq from 1968 to 1979 and then the absolute leader of the country from 1979 to 2003. Saddam was executed in 2006.

I was born in 1983, so the first time I heard about Iraq was during the First Gulf War (1990-1991). I still remember the black and green images of night bombings shown on TV and one of my primary school teachers asking us for newspaper pictures about the war. She thought that every kid had parents who read newspapers, but mine were too busy with their jobs to read them, so my mother bought one just to allow me to cut and bring some pictures to my teacher.

The novel Saddam City starts on the first Monday of the year. A note says that the novel is set in 1979. The narrator is released after 15 months, but in the meanwhile the Iran-Iraq war has begun (22 September 1980), so there’s something wrong! Maybe the note?

Mustafa Ali Noman is the main character and first-person narrator. He has a teaching job, a wife and two school-age children, a son and a daughter, but one day his routine is tragically disrupted by two agents who are waiting for him on his workplace. They think his real identity is Mustafa Ali Othman and for this reason he’s taken to the Security Headquarters for an interrogation. After arriving to the Security Headquarters, Mustafa is blindfolded and handcuffed. He’s slapped in the face and his right eye starts to bleed. Mustafa Ali Othman has supposedly spent several years in the northern Kurdish-speaking part of Iraq and has traveled extensively abroad. Maybe Mustafa has been mistaken for a supporter of the Kurdish rebels who fight for their independence.

Mustafa Ali Noman hates the Ba’ath Party and his wife has been accused of having Iranian ancestry, but he only occasionally talks about politics with his friends. He knows that it’s risky to utter even a single word in a society full of amateur spies.

Saddam City made me think about the book “La frontera extraviada” (The Lost Frontier) written by the Chilean Luis Sepúlveda, the Argentinian desaparecidos and the people spied by the Stasi, the official state security service of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in the novels I read for a German literature exam.

Saddam City allows the reader to witness the mass wave of arrests, torture and assassinations for political reasons in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The day after his arrest, Mustafa is obliged to board a truck because Basra is already full of prisoners. The truck stops in Baghdad.

A few months before being arrested, two agents had visited Mustafa’s house to oblige him to become a member of the Ba’ath party.

During his detention, Mustafa Ali Noman meets several other prisoners, but I found two stories particularly scary. The first was that of a man executed because his little daughter had been asked at school if her father loved Saddam and she answered that he spat every time he saw Saddam on TV. The second deals instead with some prisoners who lost their hair and went insane after mysterious injections. I was reading in bed and I couldn’t sleep well that night.

In Sulaymaniyah, Mustafa Ali is interrogated again. He is accused of being linked to the Peshmerga guerrillas, military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan. He is tortured with electrical cables. The torturers show him a picture taken fifteen years before. Mustafa was playing poker in a casino and standing behind him there was a wanted man called Amr Abbas, but the truth was that he didn’t know him.

The officers finally realize that there has been a mistake about Mustafa Ali’s name. They decide to release him, but he must heal completely before being allowed to go home after fifteen months spent in several jails across Iraq. The protagonist case is an example of mistaken identity and it is possible that the photograph showed to him has been modified to cover the mistake.

Mahmoud Saeed was so kind to send me a paperback copy of the Italian edition, but I also bought the ebook version in English. I read both. It was the first time that I read the same novel in two different languages and it was interesting for a translator like me to compare the two editions. I usually prefer to read a book in the original language, but in this case it wasn’t possible since I don’t speak Arabic and I must admit that I was really surprised to see that the Italian text (even if it had been translated from English and not from the original Arabic novel) was better than the English one! The latter is indeed full of grammar and spelling mistakes, maybe due to the fact that the translator isn’t an English native speaker. It was really a pity to find errors like “Lets (Let’s) leave the rest to him”, “May be (Maybe) they intended to inquire”, “several time(s)”, “the sort kind of mistake” instead of “the same kind of mistake” and “May be (Maybe) they would contact the school”. “Maybe” meaning “perhaps” is systematically wrongly spelled as “may be” throughout the novel! Then there are also mistakes like “confusion about may (my) name”, “like (al)most everybody”, “he is a looser (loser)”, “coup de tate” instead of “coup d’état”, “In those days I used to buy a few bears (beers) from the black market”, “to by (buy) cigarettes”, “a peace of meet” instead of “a piece of meat” and “an easy pray (prey) for their traps”. This novel deserves a better English translation. It also lacks consistency: it isn’t acceptable to find the characters’ names written in two or even three different ways (ex. Mustafa Ali Noman/Mustafa Ali Nomaan, Mustafa Ali Othman/Mustafa Ali Ottoman, Javaad/Javad, Hossein/Hussein, Abu-Wael/Abu Wael/Abu Waeel). It was as painful as when I had to translate English manuals written by some Chinese native speakers or when I had to correct the exams of many of my English students.

As I said above, the Italian translation is better than the English one, but isn’t perfect. In this case, the biggest mistake is surely the word “yashmagh” (headdress worn by Arabs, also called keffiyeh) that becomes “yashmak” (a Turkish type of veil or niqab worn by some Muslim women to cover their faces in public).

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