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Translated Literature: Themes From This Year's Hay Festival in Wales Explored

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Each year a number of Hay Festivals take place around the globe - Denmark, Mexico and others - in the spirit of bringing together both the reader and the writer from all walks of life, in an atmosphere that enables participants to debate and encourage others to learn, to explore ideas and thoughts with one another, to bridge generational differences and backgrounds and to share a love of the written word with a number of workshops and discussions that question the world around us channelling our favourite writers alongside fellow readers. This year's theme - Imagine The World - is explored across many platforms with each speaker discussing a related topic under the theme's umbrella. They are asking us to step away from the world we know and think beyond our singular experience, our present comfort zone, and describe what we imagine is out there behind the machines and brands of the present and the near future. Perhaps it's technology that interests you? Or medical advances? Diseases? Food production? All of these topics and more are covered and I have chosen three very different books I love that are instantly relatable to three topics discussed at this year's festival in Wales: Grave New World, Everyday Life and Triumph And Turbulence.


Grave New World

Before 1984, before Huxley's Brave New World (note the subtitle reference) and before Ayn Rand and Kurt Vonnegot, there was only Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (and actually elements of We could be traced back to prior works by H.G. Wells). Zamyatin was working as an engineer, writing fiction as a hobby.

Disturbed by the politics of Russia at the time, he wrote We as a political satire. It was uniformly banned and smuggled into the West where, over time, it's stature grew. It was seen as a prophetic work, something raw and something that captured and bottled those fears of the future we all struggle with from time to time. A satire was written yes, but it became so much more than that.

It is a splendid book, easy to access and comprehend, it's short and it's fascinating reading it again now in 2017 just to see how much it went on to influence it's much more famous counterpart, Orwell's 1984 (though it must be said, Orwell really did do his own thing with the general idea of a dystopian future, let's not take anything away from him). It's also a terrifying signifier of the present times and how politics can surprise you with its unpredictability. Despite the possible early H.G. Wells influences, Zamyatin was the forefather of dystopian literature and We the benchmark by which all else afterward would be compared. 

The Evenings

Everyday Life

This is a book I read very recently after having being rediscovered last year much like 2013's Stoner (and in many ways it runs parallel to Stoner - the intricacies of life, the moments of tedium interspersed with moments of happiness...or sadness, career worries, life's anxieties. It's all here). Published initially in 1947 when Reve was only 24, The Evenings delves into the minute details of ten days in the life of Frits van Egters. And the details are not very exciting, the hours the days plod by, but it allows for a lot of characterisation and with Reve's keen eye and way with dialogue, The Evenings is bursting the endless furrows and layers of this protagonist.

Frits is fearful of idleness, fearful of the near future, scared and frustrated with the loneliness he feels, the lack of sex he has, the deadend job but he does nothing to change these matters and in fact welcomes the job as it keeps him, more or less, occupied. So does it fit under the Everyday Life subtitle here? Absolutely. It is as topical now as it was in 1947. Those rational and irrational fears and anxieties Frits feels are timeless - dealing with family, socialising, trying to fit in, trying to figure out what exactly normal is and do I want to be 'normal'...should I care? We've all had those thoughts; where has the time gone, or how I wish time would hurry up, stepping into the past or present and removing ourselves from the present moment. It's your everyday life.

No Knives in the Kitchens of This City

Triumph And Turbulence

This is not the typical book I would pick up and read but I was so enraged with some of the pictures being released from Aleppo at the time that I needed to know more, to understand on some level what was happening. I scanned several books, fiction and non-fiction, before settling on this at the behest of someone else. I did not regret it. I admit openly now; I had never heard of author/poet/screenwriter Khalid Khalifa. An award winner, he is held in high regard abroad and at home by those who support his disdain for the Syrian government. He has fought suppression all his life.

No Knives in the Kitchens of This City is his fourth novel and bounces back and forth in episodic fashion between three generations over 40 years all woven around the same city. The narrator's voice embodies his own personal outlook on life; to remain careful and measured at all times, and is in strikingly marked contrast to his openly gay uncle Nizar and sister Sawsan who features throughout as the attention seeker, the wildling, the one who's open personality and spirit won't be crushed. Until it is. The small triumphs of the day to day life for the many characters represented throughout No Knives will finally combust, the positivity and hope will quickly fade and all shall fall into the total disintegration of the once beautiful Aleppo. But it is a remarkable story, told with an honesty and a open heart that is not always easy to find in a work historical fiction.

Shane O’Reilly has lived in Dublin all his life; that’s 34 years of memories and adventures around the city centre. While he watched as his friends emigrated during the recession, he started ... Show More

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