#BookReview A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptiste Andrea @BelgraviaB

A Hundred Million Years and A DayAbout the Book

When he hears a story about a huge dinosaur fossil locked deep inside an Alpine glacier, university professor Stan finds a childhood dream reignited. Whatever it takes, he is determined to find the buried treasure.

But Stan is no mountaineer and must rely on the help of old friend Umberto, who brings his eccentric young assistant, Peter, and cautious mountain guide Gio. Time is short: they must complete their expedition before winter sets in. As bonds are forged and tested on the mountainside, and the lines between determination and folly are blurred, the hazardous quest for the Earth’s lost creatures becomes a journey into Stan’s own past.

Format: Paperback (176 pages)  Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 7th May 2021 Genre: Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation

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My Review

‘It’s true that a story often begins with a road, but I wish I knew what made mine so tortuous.’

The book opens with Stan’s poignant childhood memory of returning home after school, seeing the closed shutters of a bedroom window and realising, even as a six year old, that he should not disturb his mother. ‘In such moments she needed darkness, and darkness alone.’ The reasons for this will gradually become apparent.

Stan’s discovery near his farmland home of a fossil – a trilobite – awakens an interest in palaeontology. ‘It was three hundred million years old, and I was six.’ It’s an interest that is encouraged by his mother but discouraged by his bully of a father (known as the Commander) who desires Stan to take over the family business.

Moving ahead forty years to 1954 and Stan is now a Professor of Palaeontology in Paris. He has never forgotten the story of an old man’s discovery of a dinosaur fossil in a cave within a glacier in the Alps. Finding the site has become an obsession. Along with Umberto, a friend and colleague of many years, Umberto’s assistant Peter, and local guide Gio, the four men embark on the expedition of a lifetime. (There is another member of the group but I’ll leave you to read the book to find out more about him!)

I loved the way each of the men were fully rounded characters.  Umberto is a giant of a man with a ‘good, big, stone soul’.  When it comes to excavation he has ‘magic in his hands’ able to gently release ‘time’s grip’ on a fossil. His loyalty to Stan means leaving personal commitments back home. Gio’s instinct for changing weather conditions and his knowledge of the mountains is unparalleled.  However, he also knows only too well what dangers they hide. Peter is described as having a ‘genius for the absurd’ which will be demonstrated all too clearly.

I admired the way the author explored the dynamics between the men, especially as summer gives way to autumn and every day seems to present a new obstacle to overcome in order to achieve their objective.  The frustration and anger that festers beneath the surface is vividly brought to life in a memorable paragraph delivered in stream of consciousness style.

Another striking aspect of the book is its use of anthropomorphism so that even the weather seems to exhibit a life of its own.  For example, autumn is described as ‘prowling at the edge of the plateau… a beast of flesh and claws’.  As weeks turn to months it becomes akin to a battle of wits between the men and the glacier, as if the glacier is actively seeking to thwart their efforts.  It certainly feels that way to Stan.

When winter truly arrives, every day, every hour even, becomes a struggle to survive and retain a grip on sanity. I really felt I was there on the mountain alongside Stan but, of course, invisible to him, which makes his feelings of loneliness and attempts to ward off madness all the more poignant. At one point he observes, ‘I am surrounded by millions and millions of cubic metres, acres, tons of nothingness, void, absence’.

Interspersed with the story of the expedition are Stan’s memories of events earlier in his life: memories of rejection, loss, cruelty and violence.  However, Stan’s history of misreading situations or misinterpreting the feelings of others made we wonder how much I could truly trust his viewpoint.  The author challenged me to think about Stan’s real motivation. Is it the professional acclaim that will come from the discovery of possibly a new species of dinosaur, the achievement of a long-held dream, or a belated attempt to prove to his father that he is not the failure and weakling he was accused of being?

Sam Taylor’s translation expertly showcases the author’s wonderful turns of phrase. For example, the description of the valley from which the group start their climb as being an ‘eternal vendetta between stone and water’.  Or when, later in the book, the men awake to a heavy snowfall that finds them in snow up to their chests, the scene is likened to a ‘polar morning in Pompeii: our torsos floating on an ocean of powder, statues lost at sea’.

The low page count of A Hundred Million Years and a Day belies the power of the story it contains. As is often the case, the best things do come in small packages. My thanks to Isabelle Flynn at Gallic Books for my review copy, published today in a new paperback edition.

In three words: Powerful, moving, immersive

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Jean-Baptiste AndreaAbout the Author

Jean-Baptiste Andrea was born in 1971 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and grew up in Cannes. Formerly a director and screenwriter, he published his first novel, Ma Reine, in 2017. It won twelve literary prizes including the Prix du Premier Roman and the Prix Femina des Lycéens. (Photo credit: Publisher author page)

About the Translator

Sam Taylor is an author and former correspondent for The Observer. His translations include Laurent Binet’s HHhH, Leila Slimani’s Lullaby and Maylis de Kerengal’s The Heart, for which he won the French-American Foundation Translation Prize.

#BookReview The High-Rise Diver by Julia von Lucadou, trans. by Sharmila Cohen @WorldEdBooks

The High-Rise DiverAbout the Book

Riva is a “high-rise diver”, a top athlete with millions of fans, and a perfectly functioning human on all levels. Suddenly she rebels, breaking her contract and refusing to train. Cameras are everywhere in her world, but she doesn’t know her every move is being watched by Hitomi, the psychologist tasked with reining Riva back in. Unquestionably loyal to the system, Hitomi’s own life is at stake: should she fail to deliver, she will be banned to the “peripheries”, the filthy outskirts of society.

For readers of The Handmaid’s Tale, The Circle and Brave New World, this chilling dystopia constructs a world uncomfortably close to our own in which performance is everything.

Format: Ebook (288 pages)            Publisher: World Editions
Publication date: 2nd March 2021 Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Literature in Translation

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My Review

In the High-Rise Diver, Julia von Lucadou creates a vivid, if disturbing, picture of a future society in which surveillance is not just widespread but constant and invasive. Think activity trackers that monitor your sleep patterns, nutritional intake and vital signs. Where every action you take online is recorded and scrutinized. Where facial recognition technology is omnipresent and your location is tracked in real time using the tablet device that continuously bombards you with news alerts and advertising messages.

The book introduces the reader to a highly stratified society in which those who have earned the right to dwell in the city enjoy privileges denied to those who live in the ‘peripheries’. The only route out of the latter is via success at “casting sessions” at which future life and career paths are determined based on a candidate’s performance. Naturally, the sessions are live-streamed on social media to millions.

Reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, many children are conceived by ‘breeders’ and even those who aren’t may have little contact with their ‘bioparents’. However, like everything else in this society, the simulated experience of family life can be bought for a price. And if you don’t have the credits for that, there’s always the ‘parentbot’ app.

Readers are likely to have varying responses to certain features of the book, such as the absence of speech marks and the frequent use of ™ appended to certain words. Personally, the former didn’t cause me a problem and, although I found the latter a little annoying, it did underline the sense of a society in which anything can be commercialized, even a celebrity’s favourite cocktail. Pour me another flydrive™ barman. (You may be reassured to know that you can still get a martini even in this imagined future.)

If you thought an annual appraisal with your manager was something to be apprehensive about just imagine a situation in which your performance is continuously monitored, evaluated and rated by your superior, and in which your income, social status, accommodation and other ‘privileges’ are dependent on the outcome. If that doesn’t make you shudder, then how about the thought of having a date reviewed and rated by the other party and having to complete a profile in advance setting out your sexual preferences and expectations.

Although it wasn’t hard for me to imagine why Riva might not want to continue training in order to perform ever more daring dives off high buildings – surely a metaphor for the status conscious society imagined by the author – I’m not sure I really felt much connection with her. I was more drawn to Hitomi’s story, that of the watcher who is constantly watched herself and is gradually overwhelmed by the nature of her assignment.

The High-Rise Diver paints a rather grim vision of a possible future, one I hope will never come to pass. By the end, I definitely found myself hoping that Hugo Masters, Hitomi’s creepy boss, might have an encounter with a defective flysuit™. And if you’ve ever lacked the motivation for a digital detox, The High-Rise Diver will definitely provide the kick you need.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of World Editions via NetGalley.

In three words: Chilling, thought-provoking, imaginative

Try something similar: A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock

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About the Author

Julia von Lucadou was born in Heidelberg in 1982. She studied film and theater at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and Victoria University of Wellington and earned her PhD in Film Studies in 2015. Lucadou worked as both an assistant director and a television editor prior to writing The High-Rise Diver, her debut novel, which was nominated for the Swiss Book Prize in 2018. She lives between Biel, New York, and Cologne. (Bio credit: Publisher author page)

About the Translator

Sharmila Cohen is an award-winning writer and German-to-English translator who has translated the works of several leading German-language authors. Her work has been featured in publications such as BOMB and Harpers, and her projects span from poetry and literary fiction to crime and children’s stories. Originally from New York, Cohen came to Berlin in 2011 as a Fulbright Scholar to complete an experimental translation project with local poets. She now divides her time between both cities. (Bio credit: Publisher author page)