Review of The President by Miguel Ángel Asturias

In a fictional Central American dictatorship, based on Guatemala of Asturias‘s youth, the military’s highest ranking general is early one morning murdered in the street by a mentally ill beggar. The president takes the opportunity to pin the murder on another highranking general, suspected of plotting a revolution, and it sets off a chain of events that reaches into every fabric of society.

The story is in The President told sporadically from a number of different perspectives, which could easily have turned out erratic and difficult to follow, but it works seamlessly and the here very subtle hints of Asturias’s magical realism ends up feeling more real than reality itself. As a result the reader efficiently gets provided with a glimpse into what it’s like to live in a dictatorship where absolutely anyone at any given time can find themselves inescapably beneath the bootheel of a law that is always “righteous” by definition, except a president who is unconditionally above it, and a terrifying understanding of how a people, out of fear, essentially can oppress itself simply by constantly autocorrecting the “truth” into whatever suits the president best for the moment.

The President is however not quite as focused and consistent in its voice, and therefore not quite as excellent and captivating, as for instance Men of Maize but it’s a very strong, passionately angry, early effort from an eventual Nobel laureate.

4,5/5 rounded down to 4

Review and Recommendation of ‘Life and Times of Michael K’ by J.M. Coetzee

Michael K was born with a hare lip and his mother, not liking the sight of him, sent him to an institution for orphaned, unwanted and unmanageable boys where he was raised. Now a grown up in a war torn South Africa he lives by himself in Cape Town and works as a gardener at a local park, his only developed social relationship being that with his now elderly mother. Michael’s mother has worked all her life as a housekeeper for wealthy families and is now, of too bad and fragile health to perform her former duties, allowed a small room to lodge in and kept alive by the last family she worked for. When her street gets evacuated and Michael’s mother is left behind forgotten Michael builds a one-seat pushcart out of his bike and sets off with her out of the city towards the countryside and the farm where she was born and wishes to die.

Life and Times of Michael K is a war story, but from a perspective not often considered. It’s a story about war, but it’s not a story about bravery, camaraderie or disillusionment of soldiers; it’s not a story about cruelty or callousness of generals and it’s not a story about noble sacrifices of the general public. What it is is an exploration of the question

‘What happens in times of war to those who don’t fit the narrow mold for people of use or interest to the war? What happens to the homeless, the sick, the old and the cripplingly poor? What happens in a war to all those who don’t have a stake in the fight and before the war broke out were minding their own business with their hands full just staying alive?”.

Coetzee’s prose is poetic in its simplicity yet powerfully understated and the story is told with a rare sense of empathy that manages to stare the most primitive and animalistic aspects of human nature dead in the face without mock, fright or condescension. The result is a strangely uplifting experience in all it’s dark and brutal honesty.

Truly recommended.

Like Clocking Fuckwork, first three chapters

I’ve decided to shelve my novella Like Clocking Fuckwork as far as I am concerned. It was my trial run into self-publishing and although I’m not sure how much I have actually learned from the experience I will now move on to instead start seriously preparing for publishing the novel that I have already finished a number of drafts for. Wish me luck! I’m sure as shit going to need it.

To see it out, I have put up a preview of Like Clocking Fuckwork on my blog and here below in this post, consisting of the first three chapters. Enjoy.

LCF liten

He stared at the limp heap of human flesh lying at his feet while his feelings drifted from triumph to anger and disappointment as his adrenaline level was subsiding. He couldn’t believe he had done it again. How was it even possible? It shouldn’t have been considering his age and the complete lack of effort he had put in since he quit doing it professionally all those years ago. Sure, he had had his doubts about this one from the start, he wasn’t the best he had brought there by a long shot, but still, he had actually felt himself aging since last time and he really didn’t think he would have a chance against anybody that young by now. Now he would have to go through it all again.

It had been so many he had lost count and he seriously started to doubt if he had another one in him. Why couldn’t he just lose? He couldn’t even lose on purpose, he had tried. It would have sufficed if he could just manage to force himself to drop the guard for an instant, a blink of an eye. Then his opponent would get the upper hand and it would be out of his hands from then on. But no. Each time, as soon as it kicked off, he reverted back to acting on pure instinct and the conscious part of his brain could do nothing but observe the events unfolding from the very best seat in the house. He had always had that gift. It was why he had become an invincible fighter in the first place and now it was of course the reason why he still had what appeared to be an insurmountable edge over all these much younger champions despite them being in a physical shape he barely remembered how it felt to be in. He wished he could teach someone else how to do it, it would have felt good to pass the gift on, but he had no idea how he himself had gotten it to begin with. As far as he knew he was simply born with it. He clearly remembered having put it to good use already in his earliest schoolyards, which had added up to quite a few because of it. He couldn’t help, to this day, to feel resentment towards how it had all been handled back then, by the schools and all the grown-ups involved. He was never a troublemaker. In fact he hadn’t started a single fight throughout his entire time in school, which could easily have been verified if just the smallest bit of effort had been made, but the first couple of times the school had simply taken the other boys and their pleading parents by their word and from then on he had had the label on him and no one had even bothered that much. He had of course finished all the fights in style though and he realized in retrospect that that must have made it difficult for him to be perceived as the victim. He could see why they had tended to side with the ones lying bleeding on the ground.

 

He remembered the first time he met Jimmy the Jailor. Of course he wasn’t Jimmy the Jailor yet then, just simply Jimmy or “that sneaky little rascal Jimmy” as he had seemed to be referred to rather often. He was in the locker room preparing for a title fight and the organizer of the event came in with a bunch of boys who were all bruised up and bleeding but walking tall as peacocks and sporting smiles that seemed too big for their faces. He instantly knew they were the winners of the pre-fights as that look was unmistakable, he could even remember the feeling behind it, and he started congratulating them and shaking their hands before the organizer started introducing them. Jimmy was the smallest one in the bunch by far and just overall looked way too scrawny to be a fighter. He was just this pale kid with dirty fuzzy blond hair and big green eyes who didn’t at all look like he belonged in a place like that. All the others had looked at Torben like little kids looking at Santa on Christmas day and told him how big of an idol he was for them and wished him good luck for his fight. When he was shaking Jimmy’s hand Jimmy looked up at him with a sort of proud cheeky smile and said

‘So you’re the champ, ey? Enjoy it while it lasts pops, ‘cause one day I’m gonna take that belt from ya!’

‘Oh, really?’

Torben responded, trying to look serious while holding back a laugh.

‘Is that so? You got quite some confidence there little man. You don’t think I’ll probably lose it before then though, huh?’

‘You won’t tonight at least.’

Said Jimmy.

‘That’s for sure. That chump is barely a snack for you.’

That memory always put a smile on his face, despite everything. And he had been right too, Jimmy. The fight that night had been one of the easier ones of his career. He had liked Jimmy immediately. There was just something about him with that cocky fearlessness and cheeky confidence in such a seemingly harmless little person. Torben had always despised when people sucked up to him, which had of course been the norm since he was first crowned champion, and Jimmy’s in-your-face attitude towards him was a breath of fresh air. Already that evening after the fight, at the victory party his manager threw for him in a nicer-than-usual-for-them pub, he had asked his manager to find out what he could about Jimmy and follow his progress. His manager remembered Jimmy from his fight earlier that night but said he had just laughed at the little thing and when Torben tried to explain what he had seen in him he told him that all the hits to his head were starting to take their toll.

 

The usual procedure of hiding the body, he did it entirely on autopilot by now. He had even stopped worrying so much about someone bursting in. Those doors wouldn’t buckle for anything short of a tank and no one had a reason to force their way in there. He took his time with it, made some tea and sat staring at the body, reflecting on things. He didn’t feel the least bit of remorse over what he had done, only disappointment. When he stared at the champion lying smashed to pieces on the concrete floor before him he didn’t feel any pity for him at all, he was just angry, so furiously angry, that this one hadn’t been up to the task either. Besides, all the remorse he could possibly muster up was reserved for Jimmy.

When he had finished cleaning up the mess on the floor and had nothing left to do but wait for the cement to dry he started planning for his next move. Maybe it was time to try a different approach. Leaning dreamily back in his chair with his eyes closed he recapped all the fights he had had with the champions he had brought there. Well, the ones he could remember anyway. Some of the fights were really fuzzy and he had probably forgotten a few altogether. They hadn’t really had a chance, had they? Not a single one of them. What was even worse was that the fights had recently been getting easier. How that was even possible was beyond his imagination but the trend was clearly there. This wasn’t going to get him what he needed and arranging the tournaments was an increased risk every time. There were already folk lore ghost stories going around about what had happened to all the vanished champions. Sure, he would continue to follow all the usual events intently and if he spotted a fighter there who might possibly be up for it he wouldn’t hesitate, but organizing his own tournaments would now have to be a closed chapter, filed under tried and failed. He really shouldn’t have gone the distance with this last one either, he knew that. It had been an act of desperation. He had known the guy wasn’t nearly good enough but he hadn’t wanted to see it. Hope is a thick filter to observe reality through and undisputable facts get distorted.

But what was he going to do now then? If there was no professional fighter who could beat him, where would he find one who could? Perhaps he should have become a trainer and tried to pass his own skill on after all. Well, it was too late for that now anyhow so no point speculating about it, besides it hadn’t been his skill that had taken him to where he was, had it? Most of the guys now permanently resting in the concrete floor of this, his rented, warehouse had no doubt been more skillful than he had ever been, surely. And even if he could have molded someone into a fighter good enough to beat him, by the time his apprentice would be ready he would himself be too old for there to be a point to it all. But where would he look for his next opponent then? As he sat there sipping his tea he hadn’t the smallest hint of an idea.

End of preview. Find out here where you can get the rest of the novella.

Read & Write

I read the world
The world is a book to me

I
read people
read rooms
read situations
read conversations

I read
almost hidden expressions on faces
dilated pupils
averted gazes

I
read you
read me
read us
read them

and then
I write it
dictated back
by
the voices in my head

Nosy Neighbour – 79 word story

She woke up,
same time she always did,
drank coffee by the kitchen window,
as she always did,
and watched her neighbour leave,
same time he always did.

It was funny.
She had seen him leave so many times.
He seemed to always be wearing the same clothes
and she couldn’t remember him ever coming back again.

This morning she followed after,
through town,
through an old rusty gate,
and then she woke up,
same time she always did.

Facebook and an old school ebook giveaway

Yeah, I now have an author Facebook page,

so feel free to friend it and like it and shit…

And to inaugurate it I thought I’d have a bit of an old school giveaway of my novella Like Clocking Fuckwork (which you can find on Amazon here).
Like Clocking Fuckwork

If you would like a free copy, send me an email at cwviderkull (at) gmail (dot) com and tell me which format you would like it in and I’ll send it back to you.

I’ll keep it open to the end of the week or as long as I feel like it.