October Reading Round Up

I’ve read last month:

Blade of Light ( 2012) by Andrea Camilleri (Trans. by Stephen Sartarelli) (B)

A Hero in France (2016) by Alan Furst (B)

Death in the Clouds, 1935 (Hercule Poirot #10) by Agatha Christie (B)

The ABC Murders, 1936 (Hercule Poirot #11) by Agatha Christie (A+)

The Secret Agent (1907) by Joseph Conrad (B)

The Other Side of Silence (2016) by Philip Kerr (A)

Review: The Other Side of Silence (2016) by Philip Kerr

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Quercus, 2016. Format: Kindle edition. File size: 2236 KB. Print length: 418. ASIN: B011IYIDSM. eISBN: 978 1 78429 560 8.

isbn9781784295608Book Description: The French Riviera, 1956. A world-weary Bernie Gunther is working under a false name as a hotel concierge. His attempts to keep his nose clean go horribly awry when a wartime acquaintance sucks him into a blackmail plot involving one of the most famous British writers of the 20th century and the Cambridge Spies. Bernie is missing his old detective life when his past walks through the door in the shape of Harold Hennig, a former captain in the Nazi security service – the man who, in 1945, was responsible for the deaths of thousands, among them a woman Bernie loved. Hennig now enjoys a lucrative career as a blackmailer. Hennig’s target on the Cote d’Azur is a famous resident with a dark past and plenty to hide – the writer, Somerset Maugham. A shared love of bridge draws Bernie to Maugham’s magnificent villa, where Maugham tells him of the existence of a very compromising photograph. Taken in 1937, it shows Maugham among a group of naked men beside a swimming pool – one of whom is the infamous spy and homosexual, Guy Burgess, who, with Donald Maclean, has recently defected to Moscow. Hennig has the photograph and is demanding $50,000 for its release. Bernie is reluctant to become Maugham’s agent but his former life has made him as vulnerable to blackmail as Maugham himself. Not only that – he has a massive score to settle with Hennig.

My take: The story takes place mainly in the French Riviera in 1956. Bernie Gunther is the concierge at the Grand Hôtel du Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. He knows well the hotel business; for awhile he was the in-house detective at the famous Adlon Hotel in Berlin. His wife has just left him, and yesterday he tried to kill himself. On the rare occasions he doesn’t feel sorry for himself, he spends his free time playing bridge. He lives under a false passport that was given to him by Erich Mielke himself, the actual deputy head of the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police. The action begins when at the hotel entrance appears another German who calls himself Harold Heinz Habel, although Bernie Gunther knows pretty well that his real name is none other that Harold Henning who, during the last months of the war, had been captain of the SD, the intelligence body of Nazi Germany. In January 1945, during the Battle of Königsberg he had embarked in the M.S. Wilhelm Gustloff who was subsequently torpedoed by a Russian submarine with a loss of more than nine thousand civilian lives. Heening was one of the few who managed to survive the sinking.

Thus begins the eleventh book in the series featuring Bernie Gunther. A novel that, like almost all the ones in the series that I’ve read,  I very much liked. I particularly enjoyed the way Philip Kerr blends actual facts and fiction. As already noted by some reviewer –mentioned below, the story stands out by the intricacy of the plot and the detailed description of all characters involved, both real and fictional. All in all, a memorable novel. I’m looking forward to reading Prussian Blue. Meanwhile, I’m planning to catch up on the rest of the books in the series I’ve not yet read.

My rating: A ( I loved it)

About the Author: Philip Kerr was born in Edinburgh and read Law and Philosophy at Birmingham University, subjects which drew him to Germany: “The most interesting legal philosophy is German, so naturally I went to Germany, particularly to Berlin, quite a bit.” Following university, Kerr worked as a copywriter at a number of advertising agencies, including Saatchi & Saatchi. Here he started working on his first novel about a Berlin-based policeman. His first Bernie Gunther novel, March Violets, was published in 1989. After leaving advertising, Kerr worked for the London Evening Standard and produced two more novels featuring Bernie Gunther: The Pale Criminal (1990) and A German Requiem (1991). The trilogy was published as an omnibus edition, Berlin Noir, in 1992. Breaking with Bernie Gunther, Kerr experimented with a range of different forms and stand alone stories  over the next two decades, including children’s literature (The Children of the Lamp series), and science fiction (see for example his techno-thriller, A Philosophical Investigation (1993), before returning to his famous Berlin-based detective in The One from the Other (2006) and eight subsequent novels, the latest Prussian Blue will be launched on April 2017. He has also written another series of novels on Scott Manson: January Window (2014); Hand of God (2015); and False Nine (2015). Philip Kerr is married to writer and broadcaster Jane Thynne. The couple live with their three children in Wimbledon. (Source: British Council)

Besides March Violets, I’ve read by Philip  Kerr Prague Fatale and A Man Without Breath.

The Other Side of Silence has been reviewed at The New York Times (Marilyn Stasio), Open Letters Monthly (Irma Heldman), Kirkus (J. Kingston Pierce), Reviewing the evidence (Yvonne Klein).  

Quercus publicity page

Penguin Random House publicity page

Audible

Bernie Gunther Fan Site

Philip Kerr Web Site

Bernie Gunther at The Thrilling Detective Web Site

The other side of silence (Al otro lado del silencio) de Philip Kerr

Descripción del libro: La Riviera francesa en el 1956. Cansado del mundo Bernie Gunther trabaja con un nombre falso en la recepción de un hotel. Sus intentos por no meterse en problemas salen espantosamente mal cuando un viejo conocido de la  época de la guerra le fuerza a meterse en un complot para chantajear a uno de los más famosos escritores británicos del siglo XX que afecta también a los cinco de Cambridge. Bernie echa en falta su antigua vida de detective cuando su pasado entra por la puerta en forma de Harold Hennig, un ex capitán en el servicio de seguridad nazi, el hombre que, en el 1945, fue el responsable de la muerte de miles de personas, entre ellas la mujer a la que Bernie amaba. Hennig ahora disfruta de una carrera lucrativa como extorsionador. El objetivo de Hennig en la Costa Azul es un residente famoso con un pasado oscuro y mucho que ocultar,  el escritor, Somerset Maugham. Una afición compartida por el juego de bridge conduce a Bernie hasta la magnífica villa de Maugham, donde Maugham le habla de la existencia de una fotografía muy comprometedora. Tomada en 1937, muestra a Maugham entre un grupo de hombres desnudos junto a una piscina, entre ellos se encuentra el famoso espía homosexual, Guy Burgess, que, junto con Donald Maclean, ha huido recientemente a Moscú. Hennig tiene la fotografía y le exige 50.000 dólares por su entrega. Bernie se resiste a convertirse en agente de Maugham, pero su vida anterior le ha hecho tan vulnerable al chantaje como al propio Maugham. No sólo eso, tiene una enorme cuenta que saldar con Hennig.

Mi opinión: La historia se desarrolla  principalmente en la Riviera francesa en 1956. Bernie Gunther es el director del Grand Hotel du Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Conoce el negocio de hotelería, durante un tiempo fué el detective de la casa en el famoso Hotel Adlon en Berlín. Su mujer acaba de dejarle, y ayer trató de suicidarse. En las raras ocasiones en que no siente lástima de él, ocupa su tiempo libre jugando al bridge. Vive bajo un falso pasaporte que le fue entregado por el propio Erich Mielke, el actual jefe adjunto de la Stasi, la policía secreta de Alemania Oriental. La acción comienza el día en que en la entrada del hotel aparece otro alemán que dice llamarse Harold Heinz Habel aunque Bernie Gunther sabe muy bien que su verdadero nombre no es otro que Harold Henning y durante los últimos meses de la guerra había sido capitán de la SD , el cuerpo de inteligencia de la Alemania nazi. En enero de 1945, durante la Batalla de Königsberg se había embarcado en el M. S.  Wilhelm Gustloff, que posteriormente fue torpedeado por un submarino ruso con una pérdida de más de nueve mil vidas civiles. Heening fue uno de los pocos que lograron sobrevivir al hundimiento.

Así comienza el undécimo libro de la serie protagonizada por Bernie Gunther. Una novela que, como casi todas las de la serie que he leído, me ha gustado mucho. He disfrutado particularmente con la forma en que Philip Kerr mezcla hechos reales y ficción. Como ya se ha señalado, por algún crítico –mencionado anteriormente, la historia destaca por la complejidad de la trama y por la descripción detallada de todos los personajes que intervienen, tanto reales como ficticios. En definitiva, una novela memorable. Estoy deseando leer Azul de Prusia. Mientras tanto, tengo la intención de ponerme al día con el resto de los libros de la serie que aún no he leído.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Sobre el autor: Philip Kerr nació en Edimburgo y estudió derecho y filosofía en la Universidad de Birmingham, materias que le llevaron a Alemania: “La más interesante  filosofía del derecho es la  alemana, así que naturalmente me fuí a Alemania, en particular a Berlín, bastante a menudo”.  Después de la universidad, Kerr trabajó como redactor en varias agencias de publicidad, incluyendo Saatchi & Saatchi. Aquí comenzó a trabajar en su primera novela sobre un policía con sede en Berlín. Su primera novela de Bernie Gunther, Violetas de marzo, se publicó en 1989. Después de dejar la publicidad, Kerr trabajó para el Evening Standard de Londres y escribió dos novelas más protagonizadas por  Bernie Gunther: Pálido criminal (1990) y Réquiem alemán (1991). La trilogía se publicó en un sólo libro, Berlín Noir, en 1992. Abandonando a Bernie Gunther, Kerr experimentó con una variedad de formas diferentes y de historias independientes en las dos décadas siguientes, incluyendo literatura juvenil (la seire Los hijos de la lámpara“) y ciencia ficción (véase, por ejemplo, su tecno-thriller, Una investigación filosófica (1993), antes de regresar a su famoso detective berlonés,  en Unos por otros  (2006) y ocho novelas posteriores, la última Prussian Blue se presentará en abril de 2017. También ha escrito otra serie de novelas sobre Scott Manson: Mercado de invierno (2014); La mano de Dios (2015); y El falso nueve (2015) Philip Kerr está casado con la escritora y periodista Jane Thynne La pareja vive con sus tres hijos en Wimbledon.

Review: The Secret Agent (1907) by Joseph Conrad

Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

This is my first contribution this month to Crimes of the Century. The year chosen has been #1907. Please don’t forget to visit Past Offences to read the contributions of other fellow bloggers.

The Penguin English Library, reprinted 1984. Format: Paperback. With an Introduction and Notes by Martin Seymour-Smith, 1984. ISBN-10: 0 14 043228 0. 272 pages.    

3bcb4fa75312e9a592f6b5a5377444341587343The back cover blurb reads: From the seed of an actual attempt, made in 1894, to blow up the Greenwich Observatory, Conrad created one of his most tense and chilling plots. The world of The Secret Agent – the world of law and order, fatuous civil servants and corrupt policemen – is grotesquely mirrored in its underworld, a squalid terrorist landscape inhabited by, among others, the Professor, who always carries a bomb in his pocket, and Verloc the pornographer, deceiver and spy. Repulsive characters and amoral caricatures collaborate to form a black satire on English society, a satire sharpened into focus with a portrait of ‘family life’: Winnie Verloc’s story relentlessly told to its ‘anarchic end of utter desolation, madness and despair’. The bones of this tale, Conrad agreed, make up a ‘grisly skeleton’, yet The Secret Agent is certainly his most humorous and probably his most popular book and, according to F. R. Leavis, ‘one of the unquestionable classics of the first order that he added to the English novel’.

My take: The Secret Agent  was first published in instalments in 1906 and took its final shape, as we know it today, when published in book form in 1907. The story is based on a real event, a bomb explosion in Greenwich Park, close to the Observatory, on 15 February 1894. However the action in the book takes place in 1886 and revolves around the family of Adolf Verloc. Adolf and his wife Winnie have no children of their own, but Winnie finds an object of quasi-maternal affection in her brother Steve, a young man with a certain mental disability, who also lives with them together with Winnie’s mother. They all live in a small house, which can only be accessed through a small shop where they sell, among other things, some pornographic articles  and other small-value items. When the story begins, Mr Verloc is heading to attend a meeting at an Embassy of an unnamed country, to which he had been summoned by a peremptory letter. We soon learn that, eleven years ago, he was recruited as secret agent by Baron Stott-Wartenheim –at that time Ambassador in Paris, with instructions of settling down in London, considering that he was a natural-born British subject. Now times have changed and, in words of the First Secretary, Mr Vladimir, the Embassy has no need for his services. What they need now is to administer a tonic to the Conference of Milan. Its deliberations, upon international action for the suppression of political crime, don’t seem to go anywhere. Consequently, Mr Vladimir suggests an attack at the very heart of science, at The Royal Greenwich Observatory. Mr Verloc doesn’t consider himself prepared to carry out this mission. But Mr Vladimir suggests he can be helped by the anarchist cell who often gathers around him, and is made up of individuals that are as indolent and incompetent as Verloc himself. Contrary to what it might seem at first sight, Verloc’s wife, Winnie, will end up being the genuine protagonist of this story.

It’s not an easy task to judge this book with today’s eyes and even more taking into account the personality of its author. One of my favourite authors, by the way. Its reading can surprise many, it may not be what they are expecting, given that, on occasions, it’s been considered an spy novel and, I believe, it is far from being so. I must confess it’s not one of my favourite Conrads. In a sense, it’s dated and I don’t believe it may attract today’s audience. Although it may also be that I have not been able to grasp in its full extension all the irony contained through its pages. It’s true however that I found really interesting to see how Mr Verloc considers that what happened was something alien to him, besides being unable to recognise the consequences of his own actions. In essence, even if I enjoyed Conrad’s prose and I have found very interesting his nonlinear narrative, I believe it would only be of interest to scholars of this author.

My rating: B ( I really liked it)

About the author: Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was born in the Ukraine and grew up under Tsarist autocracy. After spending years in the French, and later the British Merchant Navy, Conrad left the sea to devote himself to writing. In 1896 he settled in Kent, where he produced within fifteen years such modern classics as Youth, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Typhoon, Nostromo, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes.

Penguin Classics Publicity page

The Secret Agent – a study guide

The Secret Agent – eBook versions at Project Gutenberg

The Joseph Conrad Society

Audiobook Sample

El agente secreto de Joseph Conrad

La propaganda de la contraportada dice: A partir del germen de un atentado real, realizado en el 1894, para hacer volar el Observatorio de Greenwich, Conrad creó una de sus más tensas y escalofriantes tramas. El mundo de El agente secreto – el mundo de la ley y del orden, de fatuos funcionarios públicos y policías corruptos – se refleja de forma grotesca en el  mundo de los bajos fondos, un miserable  paisaje terrorista habitado por, entre otros, El Profesor, que siempre lleva una bomba en su bolsillo, y Verloc el pornógrafo y mentiroso espía. Personajes repulsivos y caricaturas amorales colaboran para dar forma a una sátira negra de la sociedad inglesa, una sátira enfocada con más precisión a un retrato de ‘vida familiar’: La historia de Winnie Verloc contada inexorablemente hasta su ‘anárquico final de profunda  desolación, locura y desesperación’. Los elementos de este cuento, admite Conrad, conforman un “macabro esqueleto’, sin embargo, El agente secreto es sin duda su libro más humorístico y, probablemente, el más popular y, según F. R.  Leavis, ‘uno de los clásicos indiscutibles de primer orden que incorporó a la literatura inglesa’.

Mi opinión: El agente secreto se publicó por entregas en 1906 y tomó su aspecto definitivo, tal como lo conocemos hoy en día, cuando se publicó en forma de libro en 1907. La historia está basada en un hecho real la explosión de una bomba en el parque de Greenwich, cerca del Observatorio, el 15 de febrero de 1894. Sin embargo, la acción en el libro se desarrolla en 1886 y gira en torno a la familia de Adolf Verloc. Adolf y su esposa Winnie no tienen hijos, pero Winnie encuentra un objeto de afecto casi maternal en su hermano Steve, un  joven con una cierta discapacidad mental, que también convive con ellos, junto con la madre de Winnie. Todos ellos viven en una casa pequeña, a la que sólo se puede acceder a través de una pequeña tienda donde venden, entre otras cosas, algunos artículos pornográficos y otros objetos de poco valor. Cuando comienza la historia, Mr. Verloc se dirige a asistir a una reunión en una embajada de un país no mencionado, a la que ha sido convocado por una carta perentoria. Pronto descubrimos que, hace once años, fue reclutado como agente secreto por el Barón Stott-Wartenheim -en aquél entonces Embajador en París, con instrucciones de establecerse en Londres, teniendo en cuenta que era por nacimiento ciudadano británico. Ahora los tiempos han cambiado y, en palabras del primer secretario el señor Vladimir, la Embajada no tiene necesidad de sus servicios. Lo que necesitan ahora es administrar un tónico para la Conferencia de Milán. Sus deliberaciones, sobre la acción internacional para la represión de la delincuencia política, no parecen ir a ninguna parte. En consecuencia, el Sr. Vladimir le sugiere un ataque en el corazón mismo de la ciencia, en el Observatorio Real de Greenwich. Mr. Verloc no se considera preparado para llevar a cabo esta misión. Pero el señor Vladimir sugiere que puede ser ayudado por la célula anarquista que a menudo se reúne en torno a él, y se compone de individuos que son tan indolentes e incompetente como el propio Verloc. Al contrario de lo que podría parecer a primera vista, la mujer de Verloc, Winnie, va a terminar siendo la verdadera protagonista de esta historia.

No es una tarea fácil juzgar este libro con los ojos de hoy en día y más aún teniendo en cuenta la personalidad de su autor. Uno de mis autores favoritos, por cierto. Su lectura puede sorprender a muchos, puede que no sea lo que están esperando, dado que, en ocasiones, se ha considerado como una novela de espionaje y, según creo, está lejos de serlo. Debo confesar que no es uno de mis libros favoritos de Conrad. En cierto sentido, está anticuado y no creo que pueda atraer a la audiencia de hoy. Aunque también puede ser que yo no haya sido capaz de captar en toda su extensión toda la ironía contenida en sus páginas. Es cierto sin embargo, que me pareció muy interesante ver cómo el señor Verloc considera que lo que ocurrió fue algo ajeno a él, además de ser incapaz de reconocer las consecuencias de sus propios actos. En esencia, aunque me gusta la prosa de Conrad y he encontrado muy interesante su narrativa no lineal, creo que sólo puede ser de interés para los estudiosos de este autor.

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó  mucho)

Sobre el autor: Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) nació en Ucrania y creció bajo la autocracia zarista. Después de pasar años en la marina mercante francesa, y más tarde en la británica, Conrad dejó la mar para dedicarse a escribir. En 1896 se estableció en Kent, donde creó en un período de quince años unos clásicos modernos tales como Juventud, El corazón de las tinieblas, Lord Jim, Tifón, Nostromo, El agente secreto y Bajo la mirada de Occidente.

To end the Jewish question by Jean-Claude Grumberg dramaturgy and directed by Josep Maria Flotats

To end the Jewish question (Serlo o No para acabar con la cuestión judía) by Jean-Claude Grumberg dramaturgy and directed by Josep Maria Flotats

Two neighbours often meet on the stairs landing. What might happen when one finds out on the Internet that the other one is Jewish? A comedy by one of the most tragic French comic authors of his generation, directed and performed by Josep Maria Flotats.

Yesterday Begoña and I have had the opportunity to go to the Teatro Español to see To end the Jewish question (Serlo o No para acabar con la cuestión judía) by Jean-Claude Grumberg dramaturgy and directed by Josep Maria Flotats. For quite some time, we had not gone to a theatrical play, and it was well worth. We liked it a lot and enjoyed it very much.  

Josep Maria Flotats writes in the programme:

I am very happy to offer our audience the opportunity to discover Jean-Claude Grumberg, a great playwright, renowned and recognized –over thirty five plays (eight Molière awards, a César award, and a prize from the Académie Française), all successfully premièred in France and around the world – but not yet performed in Spain. In August 2013, at a lunch in Saint Germain, Jean-Claude Grumberg offered me the text of Serlo o no [To end the Jewish question] hot off the press, when it had not yet even reached the bookstores. Late in the afternoon on the same day, I said I wanted to stage the play and that I would do so in October 2014. For reasons that are not relevant here, it couldn’t happen. Later on the play premiered with great success at the Teatre Lliure in Barcelona last November in Catalan, and, now, in September 2016 at the Teatro Español in Spanish Castilian. Serlo o no is a work based on a pretext which consists of conversations between two neighbours on the same staircase, with contradictory attitudes, knowledge and beliefs. And in the course of these discussions, there is a palpable underlying theme of identity, as suggested by the verb in the title: collective, and above all personal identity, and tolerance. Those are a recurring theme throughout the work of Jean-Claude Grumberg, which – while anchored in the immediate present – always evokes historical memory to highlight the violence and the absurdity of the present. Political theatre from a comic perspective. This can be seen in the trends in today’s drama: plays are being written once again not only about politics, but instead directly about politicians, as Justo Barranco so aptly pointed out in his article in La Vanguardia on 27 February. In the work of Jean-Claude Grumberg, in the same way as modern representational painting learned a great deal from abstract painting, Serlo o no is a work that has learned much from the theatre of the absurd and has surpassed it after having been enriched by its experience. By means of an incisive dialogue between the two characters and using an irresistible and extremely intelligent humour, Jean-Claude Grumberg makes us consider the most important issues in the human condition: our ethical, social and moral commitment to ourselves, to everyone, to language, culture and history. Where are we from? Who are we? What are we?

The play will be on stage up to 13 November 2016 in the Teatro Español  (Main Hall), Plaza Santa Ana, Calle Príncipe 25 (Madrid), Tuesday to Saturday at 20:00h,Sundays at 19:00h. Duration: 1 hour 20 minutes (Approx.) no interval.

Pour en finir avec la question juive by Jean-Claude Grumberg. Translated from the French language by Mauro Armiño / dramaturgy and directed: Josep Maria Flotats / setting: Alejandro Andújar / lighting: Albert Faura (a.a.i.) / music play: Dani Espasa / director assistant: Pep Planas / second assistant director: José Gómez-Friha / set up made by Neo Escenografia SL / coat design: Goretti / hairdresser: Toni Santos / cast: Arnau Puig and Josep Maria Flotats /  co-produced by Teatre Lliure and Taller 75.

Teatro Español and Madrid Teatro (in Spanish)

Josep Maria Flotats at Wikipedia

Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.es.

OT: Cesaria Evora, Sentimento

Sentimento (Feeling) English translation

My love, pray for me
Hear my pain, for heaven’s sake,
Sweet image of my life
I want to live on your chest
So I’ll can confess my pain
My love, pray for me
Hear my pain, for heaven’s sake,
Sweet image of my life
I want to live on your chest
So I’ll can confess my pain
Your gentle little eyes belong to me
The smile upon your face it’s because of me
Tell me if you want to get over me
Tell me, my love
Your gentle little eyes belong to me
The smile upon your face it’s because of me
Tell me if you want to get over me
Tell me, my love
I searched for the words I want to speak to you
Through this verse without fame
I want you and I love you
I want you and I love you
I feel it in the depths of my soul
I searched for the words I want to speak to you
Through this verse without fame
I want you and I love you
I want you and I love you
I feel it in the depths of my soul
That smile you have
It’s more than a sun, it’s the whole sky
Sit with me, oh Tututa
I only love you in this world
Your gentle little eyes belong to me
The smile upon your face it’s because of me
Tell me if you want to get over me
Tell me, my love
Your gentle little eyes belong to me
The smile upon your face it’s because of me
Tell me if you want to get over me
Tell me, my love
That smile you have
It’s more than a sun, it’s the whole sky
Sit with me, oh Tututa
I only love you in this world
Your gentle little eyes belong to me
The smile upon your face it’s because of me
Tell me if you want to get over me
Tell me, my love
That smile you have
It’s more than a sun, it’s the whole sky
Sit with me, oh Tututa
I only love you in this world