East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


22 Books, and then a few other

I just went through a nice piece on the Conde Nast Traveler website, called 22 Ambassadors Recommend the One Book to Read Before Visiting Their Country.
It’s the sort of article that’s been designed specifically to make me weep – foreign countries and excellent literature, and 22 books to read!

Screenshot from 2018-03-23 03-56-16And indeed, thankfully there’s a few titles I know, but still there’s a number of books in there that I have instantly put on my list.
Kurban Said’s Ali and Nino, for instance, a 1937 novel about a cross-cultural love story set in Baku, Azerbaijan, as suggested by Azerbaijani ambassador.
Or Treasures of the Thunder Dragon, a portrait of Buthan written by the queen of that Himalayan country.
And what about the Estonian alternate history of The Man Who Spoke Snakish? Continue reading


Waiting for the Tartars

9781841959283I’m stealing an idea from my friend Claire’s blog, Scribblings, and her creative task for the Future of Storytelling course.

She tells about the effect that reading Dino Buzzati‘s The Tartar Steppe had on her as a reader and a writer.

The Steppe shattered the prettiness, showed me new depths, and answered some unvoiced, shapeless questions of mine…

I find her observations quite fitting, and I find Buzzati’s novel a worthy subject for my blog.
First, because of its ipothetical Central Asian setting, but secondly and most importantly because I always perceived The Tartar Steppe as a curious take on the adventure novel.

The set up is classical: a fortress in the middle of nowhere, a young officer eager to prove his worth, the hanging menace of fierce barbarians that might be just beyond the horizon.

English: Cover of the pulp magazine Oriental S...

Oriental Stories (October-November 1931, vol. 1, no. 1) featuring Singapore Nights by Frank Owen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This could be the premise of a Central Asian take on Beau Geste, maybe a story out of Oriental Stories, this could be Harold Lamb ready to unleash a storm of action and adventure.
Instead, Buzzati uses the classic adventure setting to write about the end of adventure.
Total absence of change.
The Tartars are not coming.
The hero is bogged down in the petty feuds of his colleagues, he’s smothered by ennui, he wastes his life away.

Buzzati is one of those “serious writers” your literature teacher will not like you to call “writer of the weird” – and yet he is a strong voice in the weird genre, and a darling of my brothers in Lovecraft.
The Tartar Steppe deals with the loss a generation felt about the promise of adventure – and was written in 1940, as my country stood on the brink of a new “adventure” which would turn out to be devastating and traumatic.

I was deeply struck by Claire’s observation…

And as I read, I realised that this was what I wanted to write: not fairy tales, not pretty, sunlit stories, but of this peculiar kind of loss that is no loss of anything tangible, of forever yearning for things that can’t be had, of prices to pay, of the wait itself…

I too felt that darkness, reading the same book.
And if you are a fan of adventure stories, of fantasy, the darkness underlying Buzzati’s work can hit you hard.
So much so that I was probably influenced by it -but not along the same lines as Claire.
To me, the total nothing hanging over the denizens of the fort in The Tartar Steppe is not my theme, but my antagonist – an almost lovecraftian menace my characters implicitly fight, or strive to keep at bay.
I guess that’s why Claire’s a serious writer and an appreciated playwright, and I’m a second row pulp hack writing stories with tentacles on their cover.

But, really, get yourself a copy of Dino Buzzati’s story – it will be a great read.