Monday, August 29, 2022

Book Review: "Time Shelter" by Georgi Gospodinov

The protagonist of the novel Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel (Liveright May, 2022), call him Ishmael if you will, reads a newspaper article describing a geriatrics doctor who “decked out his office in the style of the ’60s,” complete with a gramophone and a poster of the famous Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. The doctor noted, the article said, that when visiting his office, patients with memory issues "became more talkative, in other words, they felt at home."

“That was my idea,” claims the protagonist, a writer of fiction. “I’ve had it in my head for years, but clearly somebody beat me to it.” He envisions a story in which he meets a fictional geriatrics doctor named Gaustine, creating with him a “clinic for the past” for patients suffering from memory loss. Rooms are prepared with scents and settings from different decades providing relief for the varied memory ailments from which the patients suffered.

The author takes this concept to a larger scale. As detailed in the next part of the novel, memories of better times lead European citizens across the continent to hold referendums in which they vote to which past they should return in order to solve their nation’s particular woes in the present day.

After considering the results of these national referendums, the protagonist returns to the homeland of his own past, Bulgaria. Seeing a giant Bulgarian flag pulled by 300 drones across the sky; watching a thundering horo dance; and smelling the scent of roasted peppers at dusk; all provide him with an opportunity to place his visions of fictitious Gaustine into perspective.

At times satirical, at others philosophical, the novel Time Shelter is written in Gospodinov’s unique “anarchic and experimental” style, as The New Yorker described his debut book, Natural Novel. Time Shelter is not as fragmented as the author’s second novel, The Physics of Sorrow, but its non-linear plot may not appeal to all readers.

The underlying theme in Time Shelter is whether our memories of the past, real or imagined, can protect us from the temporal chaos outside our daily lives. In real life, memories may not shield us from that chaos, but in the imagination of Georgi Gospodinov, anything is possible.

Originally published in World Literature Today.

Related article:

Review of The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Men of North Country - Live!

"Where did you first hear about Men of North Country?" my wife and son asked, before joining me to see the band in a life performance at the Ozen Sub Culture Center on Tel Aviv's King George Street.

I couldn't give them an exact answer but I first listened to their music—described on their Facebook page as "soul music, kinda…"—in 2016 and wrote this review: "Northern Soul Music from Tel Aviv".

At the time, I was so enthralled by their unique sound—catchy English lyrics and a talented vocalist, powerful guitars, strong drum beats, and a horn section that gives the band its signature sound—that I made a special trip to buy their CD "The North".

My connection to the band, also known by their acronym MONC, came full circle when I returned to the music store where I bought that CD—Haozen Hashlishit (The Third Ear)—because the show was in an adjacent hall. With its massive collection of vinyl records, the store is a step back in time to how my wife and I listened to music when we were young.

Speaking of being young, or rather not being young, we were nearly the oldest people in the club. The only person older was the mother-in-law of MONC's lead singer. I had bought tickets in advance and learning that the hall's doors open at 19:30, that's exactly when we arrived, only to be the first ones there. Luckily our early arrival enabled us to find a seat at one of the hall's three tables.

We have never previously visited a small club like this to hear a live performance, so this was a first for us. For our son, it was quite a different experience after having just attended a Coldplay concert in Belgium.

Our seats were a few meters from the stage. The opening act was a funk guitarist who was so incredibly bad, that we couldn't stop laughing. And then MONC took the stage—the lead singer, two guitars, the drummer, two trombone players, and a saxophonist.

MONC's music, according to the group's website, is "basically soul with influences of mod 79 sounds and punk 77 music," whatever that means. The band played several of their new songs and a few I recognized from the CD I purchased six years ago.

We enjoyed the band's performance, although the music blaring from the speakers just above our heads was very, very loud. More than that, we enjoyed the experience—following an indie band's career until seeing them perform live at a 'hip' club.

MONC is about to leave on a mini-tour of clubs in Germany. We were glad we had a chance to hear them in Tel Aviv.

Image taken from MONC's Facebook feed.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Scandinavian Politics, Scandinavian Crime

What do you know about the Danish government? Or about Swedish police procedures? We knew absolutely nothing until we started streaming “Borgen” and binging on “The Bridge”.

We really enjoy both Scandinavian television shows!

Part one of two

The best political show from any country

“Borgen” is a Danish political drama about a prime minister’s rise to power, and how power changes her. In the wake of back-stabbing coalition negotiations, the leader of a small minority party becomes prime minister in a compromise. This scenario is very familiar to an Israeli audience! The show also portrays how the country’s leading television news station covers the political turmoil.

Sidse Babett Knudsen plays Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg, and she is a very believable character. Not only does she need to deal with her political partners and enemies, but also with family dramas and the eventual break-up of her marriage. We later saw Knudsen in a very unflattering role in the independent film “Limbo”, but here she is excellent, her face very expressive as she deals with one setback after another.

In the first three seasons of the show, which ran between 2010-2013, and was first aired by the BBC in 2012, each episode saw the government handle a specific problem. The fourth season, which dropped on Netflix in 2022 with the subtitle ‘Power & Glory’, is much darker.

A single plot line runs through season four – mining rights in Greenland. Birgitte Nyborg returns, this time as Denmark’s foreign minister. Knudsen continues to shine in the role, even if she no longer smiles and worry lines have appeared on her face. Set against a backdrop of the Danish government’s internal and external battles, “Borgen” is truly an enjoyable series.

Next: "The Bridge"