Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses by Georges Simenon (translated from the French by William Hobson) for Paris in July 2022

I have been fully immersed in books for Paris in July 2022. It is wonderful to delve into a theme and stay there for awhile. Just as I do with every “challenge”, I found a wonderful author who is new to me. This year, it is Georges Simenon, who is certainly not new to very many. His Maigret novels are well-known, and well-loved, with, I can see, good reason.

Detective Chief Inspector Maigret works at the Police Judiciare in Paris. In this particular novel, Maigret And The Reluctant Witnesses, he is not only solving a case, but working out his imminent retirement and his advancing age.

When he leaves home, his wife reminds him not to forget his umbrella, and he’d better wear a scarf, for it was raining while coming home from the cinema the night before and he’d acquired a stiff neck. Now he feels old.

While arresting a man whose great passion is to sleep in rich people’s domiciles while they are away, using their kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, a call comes in from the prosecutor’s office to say that a man named Leonard Lachaume has been shot. Lachaume…the name brings back the memory of his childhood, where the village grocer sold “cellophane-wrapped biscuits labeled: Lachaume Biscuits. There were Lachaume sweet butter biscuits and Lachaume wafers, both of which, as it happened, had the same slightly cardboard taste.”

Maigret and Janvier head out to the Quai de la Gare, Ivry, where the incident happened and find a once impressive house, with a three-story brick and stone facade. It has since fallen into disrepair, and becomes almost a character in itself with its foreboding.

“Everything was decrepit, the house’s contents as well as its occupants. The family and the house had turned in on themselves, taking a hostile appearance.” (p. 45)

The family who resides there is most odd: a very elderly father and his wife, their son Armand and his wife, Paulette, and a hunchbacked woman who is their maid. The oldest son, Leonard, is lying upstairs in his bed with a gunshot wound in his chest.

The interview which Maigret conducts is most artful, as are his following strategies to solve the murder, for each of the family members is most unwilling to share anything but the most obvious information. Even that is given in one sentence responses, the conversation of which is delightful to read. I can imagine Maigret’s mounting frustration, as I feel it within myself, in trying to uncover the secret they are hiding within their family.

There is none of the contrived drama, the manipulation of facts or theories, which I find so prevalent in today’s mysteries. I was drawn back to my time in France, with the lovely bistros, the telephone booths in glassed walls called cabins, the mirrors behind the bars. Like Maigret, I often long for the charm of the past while being forced to manage the present day changes. I look forward to reading more of his mysteries, and fortunately, there are many to discover.

(Thanks to Tamara and Deb for hosting Paris in July 2022.)

Paris In July 2022 with Perestroika in Paris (“Paris beat all for strange goings-on, and who was he to deny that?”)

Twilight was descending over the vast green expanse of Auteuil Racecourse. The jumps had dimmed into dark shapes against the still vivid green grass. Admiring this, Paras did something that she often did – she pressed against the door of the stall, and this time something happened that had never happened before – it swung open. After a moment, Paras stepped carefully out onto the fine, crunchy gravel and snorted…Paras was a very curious filly.

Perestroika in Paris

I love a well written book with animals. Consider Charlotte’s Web, Pinocchio, and The Wind in The Willows. These creatures have shown me what it is to be brave, or adventurous, or even foolish.

While I was reading Perestroika in Paris, I thought about how delightful it would be to read it to my class. Really, it is such a charming, light-hearted tale of a racehorse, a retriever, and a raven who live in Paris, forming a trio of friendship in some ways similar to The Three Musketeers. They forge their own way, independent and resourceful. They show me Paris through their eyes.

They have taken me, again, to the Champ de Mars, the Place de Chaillot, the Place du Trocadero, and the Tour Eiffel. Their observations of these famous landmarks, and more, are fresh as well as often amusing. Raoul, the raven, has this opinion about the Tour Eiffel:

Raoul was sitting on one of the struts of the great Tour, useless, as far as Raoul could see, to humans, but a wonderful convenience for Aves…

When a young boy, named Etienne, observes Paras from his grandmother’s home where he lives, he invites her in. His grandmother is blind, and deaf, and somehow doesn’t seem to notice (or care about?) the presence of a horse in her salon. Using his own ingenuity, Etienne gains the aid of a butcher, a baker, and a gardener to help keep his secret.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this impossible tale, for while noting that it could not happen in actuality, I was hoping deep down that it would.

(I read this book for 20 Books of Summer 2022, as well as Paris in July 2022. I am now beginning Paris by Edward Rutherford, and it is merveilleux.

Cats of the Louvre, a Hobonichi Techo cover, and Taiyo Matsumoto

Cats of The Louvre caught my eye as I walked through the library last week. I don’t normally stop at the manga section, but there was something about the artwork on the cover that seemed familiar.

The familiarity was all the more striking when I opened up the book, and then I realized the illustrations looked almost exactly like that of my Hobonichi Techo cover!

Last January I (temporarily) abandoned by beloved Traveler’s Notebook for the Hobonichi Techo A6. I read that the Hobonichi is the most popular planner in Japan, and so, of course, I had to try it. It’s efficacy is a topic for another day; for now, let’s just stick with the covers.

It was Cat Over Kanda which I purchased because it looked exactly like the scene outside of my window when my husband and I left Narita airport on our way to Tokyo.

How it is that a “cartoon” and a landscape can so closely resemble one another I can only attribute to the skills of the artist, Taiyo Matsumoto.

Taiyo Matsumoto drew this Kanda, Tokyo themed illustration for us, and we’ve printed it across the entire techo cover.

The idea for this cover came from our recently moving our office to Kanda, Tokyo. We fell in love with this part of the city and wanted to make a techo designed after Kanda. Taiyo was the first person we thought of to ask for help. We wanted to see Kanda from his unique perspective and reached out to him about working together.

The name of the piece is Cat Over Kanda. You can see the famous arch bridge in Ochanomizu, called Hijiribashi, and the scene is drawn from the perspective of looking out from on that bridge.

Taiyo says, “That intersection between the JR train line at Ochanomizu Station and the bright red Marunouchi line that crosses over the Kanda River is really cool. And lately, I’ve been into drawing flying cats. I drew it this way because I feel happy when I look at cats.”

It’s impressive to see the stark contrast between the flexible and energetic cat and the red cars of the Marunouchi line.

This cover was carefully printed to retain all of the little details of the original illustration by Taiyo: the delicate brushstrokes of the cat’s fur, the texture of the paper that Taiyo himself painted onto, and all the tiny little details of the city.

Hobonichi site

If you decide to use a Hobonichi for your planner, and if you decide on a cover, perhaps this one would appeal to you as well…but, imagine my surprise at coming across a book by the same artist in my city’s library. I checked out the book, and read it in an hour as one is able to do with manga.

Cats of the Louvre, by Taiyo Matsumoto, is a charming story involving the cats which live in the Louvre Museum. “At night, within its darkened galleries, an unseen and surreal world comes alive—a world witnessed only by the small family of cats that lives in the attic. Until now…” ( Matsumoto won his second Eisner Award in 2020 for this book.

Cats of The Louvre is my third book for 20 Books of Summer, the other two being The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, and All The Lovers in The Night by Meiko Kawakami. My thoughts on those may or may not be further discussed on my blog; today I just wanted to tell you of kitties, covers, and the artist who connected them for me. In case you would be as intrigued as I am.

The Shadow Panel for the 2022 International Booker Prize Chooses its Winner

We have read, and sometimes reread, all the books on the International Booker Prize long-list. We have entered scores in a Google spreadsheet for each of these categories: writing, content and longevity. We have met on Zoom, both with ourselves and with translators Anton Hur and Daisy Rockwell. And, we have ”thrashed out” our opinions on Slack. Arriving at the winner for this year’s International Booker Prize was exhilarating and thought provoking. It is some of the best reading and discussing of literature in translation that I do all year.

Our shortlist differed from the official shortlist only by replacing The Books of Jacob and Heaven with Happy Stories, Mostly and The Book of Mother. Therefore, our final vote revealed these results:

6th place: The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman, translated by Leslie Camhi

5th place: Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, translated by Tiffany Tsao

4th place: A New Name by Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls

3rd place: Elena Knows, by Claudia Piñeiro translated by Frances Riddle

2nd place: Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell

1st place: Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated by Anton Hur

It may be interesting to note that Tomb of Sand was behind Cursed Bunny by one point in our scoring.

Also, while those two quickly emerged as the favorites, I must stand by my personal choice of A New Name by Jon Fosse. While it is not necessarily a stand-alone book, for it is part VI-VII of Septology, the brilliance with which it is written, and translated, is undeniable. I understand that my fellow jurors questioned A New Name’s ability to win, as it is more fulfilling to read the two books which came before (The Other Name and I Is Another). Of course, I agree; it is best to read all three books in Septology to get their full effect. However, the reflection on his life that the main character makes is made all the more profound by Fosse’s use of flowing sentences with no periods, by words and themes which repeat each other, by the comparison of another life in the shadow of Asle’s. To me, no other book compares. In fact, I was unable to read any book, for several weeks, after finishing A New Name.

And so it is that we conclude this year’s round of shadowing the International Booker Prize. May I commend the insight and brilliance of my fellow panelists: Stu, Paul, David, Frances, Oisin, Vivek and most especially Tony, who tirelessly led us through it all. I respect each of you more than you know, and thank you for continually broadening my reading horizons.

Sunday Salon: Twenty Books of Summer, a Taste of Spring in Illinois, and anticipation for the International Booker Prize Winner.

It’s great that Cathy allows flexibility in her Twenty Books of Summer challenge because I have been tossing around lists in my mind since she first announced it. “Should I cull all the books I’ve wanted to reread?” I asked myself, for they are legion.

“Or, should I read all the review copies which have been sent my way this Spring while I was focusing on the International Booker Prize list?” (and what an exceptional list it is!).

“Maybe the best thing to do is open the Japanese literature books that I gathered for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15 but never got around to reading…,” I thought, and that is how I’ve decided to begin.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami is, of course, a reread for me. But, all the others are new, especially Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight by Riku Onda. The WSJ says this of it: “Part psychological thriller, part murder mystery – it is audacious in conception and brilliant in execution.” I am so eager to begin this book sent to me by Bitter Lemon Press.

I must confess to already beginning Me by Tomoyuki Hoshino, as I have been listening to it on my walks. Publishers Weekly says, “Hoshino’s ambitious novel is pleasingly uncomfortable,” which indeed it it. It seems there is a bit of unreliable narrator going on, and I can see that it will look deeply at what our identity is. I particularly anticipate the afterword by Kenzaburo Oe. (You can find a review on Tony’s Reading List, who clearly has read it before I have.)

The rest include The Roads to Sata, Lonely Castle in the Mirror, and people from my neighborhood. Each one calls my name in its own way, as I am so hungry for Japan. Perhaps some of these may appeal to you, too?

May I show you a few pictures from our walks this Spring? Truly, Illinois has its beautiful moments. Before we get to our ghastly summers, which my husband aptly calls Hell’s Front Porch.

Finally, this week brings us the winner of the International Booker Prize, which will be announced on Thursday, May 26. Our Shadow Jury will declare our winner before that, and I will tell you they are strongly inclined to choose Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell, or Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated by Anton Hur. I, however, will never sway from my opinion that Jon Fosse’s Septology is far and away the best I have read in years. So much so that when I finished A New Name it was many weeks before I could even read another book.

Sunday Salon: A Book for The #1954 Club and a new limited edition Traveler’s Notebook

Reading events from the blog-o-sphere give me impetus to read (or finish!) books that I probably would not have. My editions of the Narnia Chronicles were gifted to me as a child, and they are well tattered with use. But somehow I never finished The Horse And His Boy, although it is my son’s favorite. (And, the reason you see it on my kindle is so that I can read it late at night in the quiet dark.)

Published in 1954, The Horse and His Boy seemed a perfect fit for the #1954 Club hosted this week by Karen and Simon. It is a children’s book, after all, and a welcome respite after some heavy International Booker Prize longlisted books. (Books of Jacob I’m talking to you.) I almost forgot how powerful C. S. Lewis’ faith is, along with the insight he has in portraying it.

Briefly, Shasta lives with an unkind fisherman whom he calls father. When a visitor riding a war horse named Bree appears, Shasta discovers that Bree is a Talking Horse who longs for Narnia. As Shasta also longs for the North, they decide to run away together, and on the way encounter Aravis going to Narnia with her horse, Hwin.

Here I will leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.


…dismiss it all from your minds and be comforted…be of good hope.


But as long as you know you’re nobody special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole…


I was quite safe. That is why the Lion kept on my left. He was between me and the edge all the time.

My dear friend Carol’s favorite quote is this, when Hwin comes quite bravely up to the Lion she says, ”You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”

Really, this book is as remarkable a treatise on faith as something written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (You can find a most fascinating discussion of this book on Calmgrove’s post, as he is hosting a read-along of the Chronicles of Narnia.)

And now for something completely different! Let’s talk about Traveler’s Company notebooks. I have always told myself, as Mary Poppins tells Jane and Michael, “Enough is as good as a feast.”

But, it didn’t hold true this time. While I enjoyed my regular sized Traveler’s Notebook in brown from 2016 to 2021, I have become greedy and purchased the Kyoto edition, and now the passport Traveler’s Train. I like to think that it was the invitation to take an imaginary journey, to go wherever you like, while sitting in the dining car with your notebook and your thoughts. Apparently, a feast is made up of three or more.

It’s World Book Day! Celebrate with ten free books in translation from Amazon…

Click here.

Included amongst the titles are a travel memoir from Bolivia, literary fiction from Tunisia, a memoir from Ghana, psychological thrillers from the Netherlands, historical fiction from Israel, book club fiction from India, contemporary fiction from Japan, fantasy from China, and a children’s book from Venezuela.

The Puma Years by Laura Coleman: “The rapturous story of one woman’s liberating journey in the Amazon jungle, where she fell in love with a magnificent cat who changed her life.”

The Ardent Swarm by Yamen Manai: ”A stirring allegory about a country in the aftermath of revolution and the power of a single quest.” (translated by Lara Vergnaud)

North to Paradise by Ousman Umar: ”The inspiring true story of one man’s treacherous boyhood journey from a rural village in Ghana to the streets of Barcelona.” (translated by Kevin Gerry Dunn)

Where The Desert Meets The Sea by Wernie Sonne: ”A heart-stirring story where the boundaries of love and friendship are challenged by the intractable conflicts of war.” (translated by Steve Anderson)

An Eye for An Eye by Carol Wyer: ”A detective spiraling out of control works to uncover the truth and stop an elusive killer before they strike again.”

The Other Man by Farhad J. Dadyburjor: ”A heartwarming and transporting romantic comedy about finding happy ever after on your own terms.”

The Easy Life In Kamusari by Shion Miura ”In this lively coming-of-age tale, a young man is thrust from city life into the trials, mysteries, and delights of a mythical mountain forest.” (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter)

Mother Dear by Nova Lee Maier “A nightmarish home invasion prompts one woman to do the unthinkable to protect her family.” (translated by Jozef van der Voort)

To The Sky Kingdom by Tang Qi: ”Spanning a millennium of tangled lives, this story delves into the powerful forces that drive mortals and gods alike toward revenge, loyalty—and love.” (translated by Poppy Toland)

The Caiman by Maria Manrique: ”The unforgettable story of how one man’s friendship with his alligator sparked a lasting legacy.” (translated by Amy Brill)

Thank you so much, Amazon, for honoring this day by gifting us ten free books from around the world! I have already downloaded all ten for my kindle, and wonder if you’ll do the same?

Sunday Salon: Midway through the International Booker Prize 2022 longlist, and wondering about books which shock us

Herrick Lake

Reading has always been an open path for me. It is the route to escape, joy, adventure, companionship, and with my appreciation of of translated literature, developed about ten years ago, the understanding of other cultures. So, reading the #IBP22 long list is a special anticipation for me every year.

This year’s list, in my opinion, is particularly brilliant. I am only half way through it, but I have read of mothers with Parkinson’s and manic depression, daughters who love them, Polish Jews from the 1700s, and a head coming out of a toilet made of fecal matter and trash. Wait, what?

There are those readers who thrive on bold writing. Writing in which the author knows no boundaries in imagination, vivid imagery, and horror to capture our attention in conveying their point. While I admire the audacity required to write like this, I personally struggle with feeling disgust at the same time.

Brave souls in our Shadow Panel adore this kind of writing, the kind written by Fernanda Melchor and Bora Chung. What does it say about me who likes other books better? Do I expect the world to fit into a neat concept of “ironed tablecloths, bone china, and polished silverware for tea”? No, our world is full of rags, chipped pottery, and no utensils at all for food which can scarcely be found. I know that…

I read for pleasure. I read for increased understanding. I read for enlightenment and new awareness. But, I inwardly struggle with books which highlight the grotesque. Do you?

The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman, translated from the French by Leslie Camhi (International Booker Prize 2022 Longlist)

This is the third novel from the International Booker Prize long list, out of the five I’ve read so far, which has a mother and daughter relationship at its core. (More Than I Love My Life by David Grossman, and Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro, are the other two.)

We were used to Maman’s sporty driving habits. She was constantly running late, and she sometimes climbed onto the sidewalks when the roads were backed up, a time-tested method for avoiding traffic jams. Cigarette dangling from her left hand, she’d scream at pedestrians: Get out of my way! We’re late! … It was no surprise that Maman drove like a madwoman, the rules of the road were purely theoretical to her, and pointlessly annoying, although she would, if she saw a truck bearing down on us as we swerved into the wrong lane, retreat: Oh well, he’s rather big, that one!

(p. 2-3)

While it begins rather humorously, The Book Of Mother quickly reveals a painful side. This is what it was like living with a manic- depressive person, myself. They are the life of the party until they aren’t. It is up to the steadfast family members who dwell in the shadows to pick up the pieces and fit them back together. In this case, it is Maman’s daughters, Elsa and Violaine.

Not once did this novel become a long whine into “poor me.” It kept me riveted throughout, to the encroyable antics of Maman, Catherine, and the enormous compassion and strength that her daughters displayed. I could feel the profound love the three had for each other, flawed as the relationship may have been.

Violaine’s book is written in first person; it is autofiction, a combination of autobiography and fiction, and therefore deeply personal as well as engaging. Yet, isn’t it always autofiction when we tell our life stories? Which of us is able to relate our past experiences with anything other than our own perspective? And surely, mine is not objective.

The Book of Mother made me think of my own mother. Not because she is even vaguely as volatile as Catherine was, but because she is a free spirit deeply loved by me.

The last page of the book has a poem which Violaine wrote to her mother when she was in school. Violaine finds it in one of her mother’s desk drawers, folded in half, which she can hardly read through eyes blurred with tears:

Maman, Maman,

You who love me so

Why, without telling me, would you go?

My deepest desire is to express to you

How deeply I love you!

(p. 211)

That is exactly what Violaine Huisman does in this magnificent book. I found it deeply moving and wonderful, far more than I can express in this silly post.

More Than I Love My Life by David Grossman, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen “You choose dead man over living girl? What sort of mother are you? What sort of woman are you? What sort of person are you?”

I told him: ’I am not mother anymore. I am not a woman, I am not a person. I am nothing. Mother and woman and person Novak Vera is dead. You killed her reason to live. I won’t sign for you. Do what you want.

(p. 217)

This is what Vera tells the ”doctor colonel” toward the end of the novel. It has taken a long time to get here, the built up secret that Vera knows, but her daughter doesn’t.

Except, she does. What child is unaware of the decisions her parents have made, whether they are voiced or not? We don’t need words to indicate whether we’ve been abandoned or betrayed.

This is how Nina has felt since she was six and a half, sent to live with her mother’s sister and husband, without really understanding why. And where was her mother, Vera, for roughly two years? She had been sent to Goli Otek, a prison on a rocky island, because she would not sign that her husband was a traitor. It didn’t matter to her that her husband was already dead; she would not destroy his name, his memory, the person he was.

Vera loved her husband more than her daughter. She loved her husband more than she loved her own life. Her decision cost her dearly. Not only did she suffer on the island, forced to stand over a fragile plant to protect it from the brutal sun, but her daughter suffered in her mother’s absence. So wounded was the little girl, that she could not be a good wife or mother to her own daughter.

The strength of Vera is brought forth in spectacular description. She was inspired by Eva Panic Nahir, a well-known and admired woman in Yugoslavia. ”Eva became a symbol of almost superhuman courage, epitomizing the capacity to sustain one’s humanity under the harshest conditions.” (Acknowledgments)

Yet my admiration for her is reserved because I think it takes far more courage to be a steadfast mother.