Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests





Sunday, April 30, 2017

"The Crocodile's Lady" by Manoj Das (1975)









"Is there something special about the Indian short story? I think there is. It sticks to the traditional rules of the craft. It is in fact short and not a novella or an abridged novel. It revolves round one or at the most two or three characters and does not have a long list of dramatis personae as in novels. It is limited in time and space and does not span decades or spread out in different locales. It also has a well-formulated central theme and does not touch upon several topics or clashes of personalities. It has a distinct beginning, a build-up and usually a dramatic end, frequently an unexpected one which sums up the story. Western short stories tend to be prolix, leaving the reader to guess what it is all about"   Khushwant Singh

"Crocodile's Lady" by Manoj Das (1975, first published in The Illustrated Weekly of India, edited by Khushwant Singh, 1969 to 1979, a premier source for the publication of quality short stories and poems) is a story in the tradition of magic realism.  It is a delightful story which can fairly be called a work of magic realism.  Some say magic realism was born in South America, in truth this tradition in India goes back at least to before Homer.

As the story opens a Western professor visiting India wants to see a real village.  He is taken deep country to a village where there are no other cars in eight miles, few residents have ever seen a movie and the village youngsters come just to look at him.

He tells the man who accompanied him, he was born in the village but moved to the big city long ago,  that he wants to bath in the river as long as the crocodiles are not dangerous.  He is told a wonderful story of "The Crocodile's Lady" who lives in the village, ninety-four years old, widowed at age four.

They had a daughter who had been married at the age of three and had become a widow at four. She lived with her parents and, people say, grew up to be a beautiful damsel. ‘One day while bathing in the river with the other women, she was dragged away by a crocodile. She was given up for dead. But a decade later she suddenly reappeared in the village. Her father had died and her mother was dying. Their little hut on the river was in shreds. ‘One morning, two days later, a crocodile was found crawling on the embankment behind her hut. The earth, loose at one place, gave way under its weight. It slipped down on the village side of the embankment and the people thrashed it to death."

I don't want to tell more of the story, but I really enjoyed this work.  It does an excellent job combining folk stories with magic realism techniques.

I read it in Best Indian Short Stories, Vol. 1, edited and introduced by Khushwant Singh.

Mel u












Saturday, April 29, 2017

Lytton Strachey The New Biography by Michael Holroyd (856 pages, 1994 revision of 1968 original)








"‘What he released was a generation of brilliant experimenters in biographical narrative, who at last began to ask how lives can be genuinely reconstructed …’ Richard Holmes

Lytton Strachey-1880 to 1932

Eminent Victorians 1918

Queen Victoria 1930

When I saw Richard Holmes placed Lytton Strachey The New Biography by Michael Holroyd in his list of Canon status biographies (only six twentieth century Works made the list, including Strachey's Eminent Victorians) I decided I must read this book.  I have a great fondness for literary biographies and I found many saw this book as the best of the century.

I don't wish to give a brief synopsis of Strachey's life but just to make a few reading journal comments.  All who ever hope to write a literary biography should read this book.  Anyone at all interested in the Bloomsbury group will find it a great treasure.

Holyrod brought Cambridge vividly to reality. Strachey is a Gay icon and we learn a lot about his and his circles sex lives and romantic entanglements.  Famous and infamous writers and artists come and go, among them Virginia Woolf, Rosamund Lehmann and Katherine Mansfield.  We are there when Lytton begins to first publish and rejoice over his commercial success.  Lytton never had anything as prosaic as a job for very long.  In his younger days he had modest subsidies from his family but he did become quite affluent through book sales.  Lytton did have long term relationships with women, which might have had sexual elements.  (The movie Carrington was based on his life.). He lived, and thrived, in a high drama atmosphere.  He avoided service in WW One.  He was very influenced by G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica, knew Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell.  The great economist John Maynard Keynes and E. F. Forster were close to him.  Bunny Garnett, son of Constance Garnett who made the Russian literary pantheon available to highly influence Lytton and others, was part of Bloomsbury.

There is just a huge amount in this book I have not touched upon.  The prose is beautiful, highly learned without being tediously pedagogical.

Lytton was a good man, loyal to his friends and devoted to his family.  He inspired love in men and women.  He was a devotee to the Reading Life.  He loved Proust and was overwhelmed by Dostoevsky.

This book is not a casual read.  It is biography elevated to high art.  I am very glad I read this book and I think all serious literary autodidacts would be so also.

Mel u





Thursday, April 27, 2017

"Hamid's Baby" by Saadat Hadas Manto (1953)



"Hamid's Baby"


"Whorehouses and shrines—I feel at peace nowhere else. I’ll quit going to whorehouses soon enough because my money’s about to run out. But India has thousands of saints. I’ll go find one when my time comes.’ ‘Why do you like whorehouses and shrines?’ I asked. He thought for a moment and then answered, ‘Because there, from top to bottom, it’s all about deception. What better place could there be for a person who wants to deceive himself?’ ‘If you like listening".

Saadat Hasan Manto (often called "The Sage of Pakistan") was born in 1912 in Sampala, in then British India, he died in Lahore Pakistan in 1955.  He published twenty two collections of short stories.  He wrote about the impact of the Partition, the lives of those involved with Bollywood, but his best work seems to often involve prostitutes, pimps, and their clients.  Just like Guy de Maupassant.  The extreme poverty and the rigid caste system funneled millions of women into prostitution, the rigid moral code which stipulated a woman should remain a virgin until marriage produced a massive demand.  The workers range from super expensive actresses to young girls following the family tradition.  Many Dalit women became prostitutes.

"Hamid's Baby", I decided to post on this particular story as it can be read online, is a very well done work.

A wealthy older friend of Hamid's late father has arrived from Lahore for a ten day
visit.  He expects Hamid to be at his beg and call as he tours the brothels of Bombay.
The friend's wallet is crammed with 100 Rupee notes.  We soon learn a fresh young girl just in from her village is 100 rupees for 24 hours.  Of course women can be had for much less.  We also learn gangsters charge 1000 Rupees to kill someone.

They hook up, after renting a nice private taxi, with a well known pimp.  He takes the pair to several brothel apartments but nothing suits the guest.  Finally the pimp says ok I know of a Maratha girl, 17, just starting working recently, very innocent and lovely.  They go there and Hamid is struck by how lovely she is and almost offended when he finds out you can have her for 100 rupees.  His friend doesn't want her, saying he doesn't really fancy her.  He recognizes Hamid does and insists on treating him, Hamid is married with kids and feels a bit ashamed of himself, but he goes to a hotel and has sex with the girl while his rich friend goes off with the pimp to explore the decadence and depravity of Bombay.

Hamid becomes infatuated with the girl and sees her twenty days in a row.  Realizing this is a dangerous course of action for a married man, he stops going to the brothel apartment to get her.  But then four months later he feels the urge to go back.  To his dismay she is visibly pregnant.  Fearing he is the father he buys her drugs supposed to cause a miscarriage but they don't work.  He knows his marriage will be ruined if his wife discovers his indiscretion. Her pimp when the man returns to see if she is still pregnant tells Hamid he sent her back to her village to have her baby.   About six months later, shortly after the baby would have been born, Hamid goes to her village.  Once he gets there he hires a gangster to kill the baby but the gangster has a heart and he just turns the baby over to Hamid and tells him to kill the baby, a boy.  Hamid is just ready to smash the baby with a huge grinding stone when he decides to see what his baby looks like.  I will leave the ending for new readers.

The best way I'm aware to sample Manto's work is in the collection Bombay Stories.

His work belongs in the canon of short stories.

Mel u






Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"The Beloved" by Leonora Carrington (1975)






The Reading Life Leonora Carrington Project









I will remember April, 2017 as the month I "discovered" Leonora Carrington.  I know most of us living a reading life have had the experience of being amazed by a new to us writer, someone you had never even heard about before the day you first read their work.  You do a bit of Googling only to learn you are seemingly among the very few who have not long ago read their work.  This is a humbling experience but also one of the great pleasures of the reading life world has to offer.  This is how I feel now about Leonora Carrington.  (Be sure and look at her art work also.)

As "My Beloved" opens, it is structured as the narrator repeating the story of another, a man tells a very strange story

"Without letting me go, he took me to the inside of the store, among fruits and vegetables. We shut a door at the far end, and we reached a room where there was a bed on which an immovable and probably dead woman lay. It appeared to me that she had been there for a long time since the bed was covered with weeds. “I water her every day,” said the fruitman with a pensive air. “In 40 years I have not succeeded in knowing whether she is dead or not. She has never moved, nor spoken, nor eaten during that time. But the curious thing is that she remains warm. If you don’t believe me, look.”

My main purpose in posting on her very brief and very weird short story, "The Beloved", reading time under five minutes) is to keep a record of my path through her work and to let my others interested know it can be read online.  (It is included in The Oval Lady Six Stories by Leonora Carrington, published in 1975.  I do not yet know if that was where it first published, if you know, please tell me.)

One of the surrealistic markers of the short stories of Carrington is the telling of very strange totally absurd defying all logic events in a completely straightforward fashion, as if the talking head of an old woman  on a rope in "The Beloved" who says she is not the landlord, rather the fox is is perfectly normal and requires no explanation.

You can see the charm of the story here

"There was no other remedy than to direct ourselves to the fox. ‘Have you beds?’ I asked several times. Nobody responded: he didn’t know how to speak. And again the head, older than the other, but which now descended slowly through the window tied to the end of a little cord. ‘Direct yourself to the wolves; I am not the landlord here. Let me sleep! please!’ I understood that that head was crazy and I did not have the heart to continue. Agnes kept crying. I walked around the house a few times and finally, I was able to open a window, through which we entered. Then we found ourselves in a kitchen with a high ceiling; over a large oven made hot by fire were some vegetables that were cooking and they jumped in the boiling water, a thing that much amused us. We ate well and then we laid ourselves down on the floor. I had Agnes in my arms. We did not sleep. That terrible kitchen contained all kinds of things. Many rats had stuck their heads out of their holes"

I don't doubt this has echoes of mythological and religious references I am not yet getting but really the story is just so much fun.


In observation of the 100th birth anniversary (April 6, 1917) of Leonora Carrington two collections of her short stories and a fascinating sounding biography by Joanna Moorhead, The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington are being published. Carrington was very closely associated with the Surrealist movement, both personally and artistically.  (In the long ago I visited the Museum of the Museo Nationale de Anthropologia in Mexico City where I must have seen one of her works.  Her art is on display in major museums throughout the world.) There are several good articles giving an overview of the life and work of Carrington online, the one from the BBC I linked above is a very good first resource as is our old standby, Wikipedia.

Mel u





Leonora Carrington- Britain's Last Surrealist Tate Shots. A wonderful beautifully done video -  (By the author of The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington, Joanna Moorhead, includes a conversation with  Carrington as well as images of her art)

Leonora Carrington A Surrealist Trip from Lancashire to Mexico. From the BBC

You can read "The Beloved" here

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"The Death of Shaikh Burhanuddin" by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (1963?)

Also known as Khama Ahmed Abbas, one of the greatest 20th century Punjabi authors




The Reading Life Guide to Getting Started in the Indian Short Story




"The Death of Shaikh Burhanuddin" by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (translated from Urdu by Khushwant Singh, my date of publication information is a guess) is told from the point of view of a Muslim man living in New Delhi at the times of the horrible post partition religious based riots in which thousands were killed, massive amounts of property was stolen or destroyed.  The three primary opposed factions were Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.  The narrator has a viscous hatred for Sikhs, partially coming from their support of the British during the period of the Raj.  He also feels contempt for what he sees as the filthy unkept beards and long hair of the men.  (He does admire the beauty of the women.)

"My name is Shaikh Burhanuddin. When violence and murder became the order of the day in Delhi and the blood of Muslims flowed in the streets, I cursed my fate for having a Sikh for a neighbour. Far from expecting him to come to my rescue in times of trouble, as a good neighbour should, I could not tell when he would thrust his kirpan into my belly. The truth is that till then I used to find the Sikhs somewhat laughable. But I also disliked them and was somewhat scared of them."



Abbas in just a few pages brings the sheer madness and terror of the riots very much to life.  Like any racist, he finds the cultural customs of the groups he hates ridiculous .  He is fixated on what he sees as the unkept long hair and beards of the men.  As a legacy of colonialism, he has a grudging admiration for the British.

Toward the close of the story, a Sikh mob has approached the narrators house.  They are bent mostly on stealing everything they can from his house, if he gets in the way or if he is unlucky, he and his family will be killed.  His Sikh neighbor comes out of his house and tells the Sikh mob that he is entitled to first picks of the items in the house as he has had to endure the man's abuse for years.  As the mob moves on (I will tell more of the plot than I normally would as most will not be able to read this story as it is not online, as far as I know), the narrator is shocked when the Sikh and his family return all the items they had taken from his house, their intention all along was to protect the narrator.

This is a very exciting story, violent, full of vivid descriptions and scenes of religious hatred magnified by post colonial attitudes redeemed by a very courageous act. I see it as a classic post partition short story.

This story is included in an anthology I highly recommend, My Favorite Short Stories, edited by Khushwant Singh and Neelam Kumar.  Their are a generous  selection of stories from the major language groups and a decent introduction with good mini- bios of the authors.  This would be a decent pick as your started Indian Short Story Collection.  My only fault with it is that they do not provide first publication data on the stories.



Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (1914-1989) was a journalist, novelist and film producer-director of international repute. A writer with leftist leanings, Abbas published over 40 books in Urdu including Diya Jale Sari Raat (novel), Main Kaun Hun, Ek Ladki and Zafran Ke Phul —all collections of short stories. His other important works include When Night Falls, Face to Face with Khrushchev, a 2-part biography of Mrs Indira Gandhi —Indira Gandhi: Return of the Red Rose and its sequel That Woman.

Mel u

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Two Short Stories by Chanelle Benz,from The Man Who Shot Out my Eyes, her debut collection




The Diplomat's Daughter

James III

Website of Chanelle



Based on the advance press on The Man Who Shot Out my Eyes, the debut short story collection of Chanelle Benz, my expectations were very high for the two of her short stories that I was happily able to find online. Both are included in the collection which I hope to read and post further upon in May.  I loved both stories and do not at all hesitate to endorse purchase of her collection.  It is good to see such great stories by a new writer.  Interestingly both of these very different stories comply with Frank O'Connors famous dictum that the deepest Short Stories deal with loneliness, given voice to the marginalized, speak for the mute.  In both these stories Benz dramatically  presents the consequences of loneliness and marginalization.

I will just talk a bit about each story as I do not wish to spoil anyone's first read.  I read each story twice and will hopefully reread them in May along with the full collection.

"The Diplomat's Daughter" focuses on a young woman, once kidnapped away from the home of her American diplomat father.  It is a fast moving story, beginning in a terrorist cell in the Kalahiri Desert, Beirut in the time period 2001 to 2011.  The woman is under the sway of a man who uses her for sex and to commit terrorist acts.  It is evidently the Stockholm syndrome impacting her.  Then we flash back  to Lynchburg, Virginia in 1997 where we see her as an adolescent, insecure about her weight and being a typical difficult at times teenager.  There are segments in Mexico City, back in Beirut, and in Washington, D.C.  As I read the story, told mostly in very skillfully rendered dialogue, it reads almost like a play, I tried to ponder what terrible emotional lacuna could I discover from the conversations of the young woman with her siblings and her Columbian stepmother.  In a away I'm inclined to see her as somehow suggesting the father of the terrorist own repudiation of America but maybe this is pushing things.  This is a beautiful story that will more than repay repeated readings.


"James III" is set in the rough poverty ridden inner city of Philadelphia.  It is narrated by a twelve year old boy, he has just been mugged, his shoes have been stolen and it
a very cold winter.  The boy's father is in prison, his mother has a boyfriend.  He decided to take the train to his aunt.  We subtly are shown he is not just your ordinary inner city boy when he makes a reference to Mr. Brown low, Oliver Twist's benefactor.  He goes to a Quaker school, tuition paid by his aunt.  He reads the sonnets of Petrach.

Much of the plot action is carried by dialogue.  The boy lives in a rough world where showing any weakness is a mistake.  We go along when his cousin takes him to visit his father.  We learn how he came to be James III.

"“And I’m named after my father, your granddaddy. Now that man? That man was born evil and done stayed that way. But because he was named James, I got named James, and your grandmomma said you got to be named James, that way at the end of the day you got his hard and my heart. You James the third.”

"James III" presents a very intelligent young msn, he was in the state spelling be finals, forced to be wise beyond his years.  We get a sense we are in The Philadelphia inner city.  We hope for the best for James.

These are two first rate stories.  As mentioned, I hope to read the full collection in May.

Chanelle Benz has published short stories in Guernica, Granta.com, Electric Literature'sRecommended Reading, The American Reader, Fence and The Cupboard, and is the recipient of an O. Henry Prize. She received her MFA at Syracuse University as well as a BFA in Acting from Boston University. She is of British-Antiguan descent and currently lives in Houston.  From chanellebenz.com

Mel u








Saturday, April 22, 2017

Leonora Carrington and Katherine Mansfield -- Two Fly Centered Short Stories







A link to "Mr Gregory's Fly"

Leonora Carrington- Britain's Last Surrealist Tate Shots. A wonderful beautifully done video -  (By the author of The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington, Joanna Moorhead, includes a conversation with  Carrington as well as images of her art)

Leonora Carrington A Surrealist Trip from Lancashire to Mexico. From the BBC



I first began reading the short stories of Katherine Mansfield almost eight years ago, I read my first work by Leonora Carrington eight days ago.  I recently completed (post coming soon) a very illuminating and valuable work on Mansfield by Gerri Kimber, Katherine Mansfield The Early Years which has inspired me to reread her stories.  The centenary observation of the birth of Carrington has stimulated renewed interest in her stories (she is most famous for her Surrealistic art).  Two editions of her stories have just been published as well as a biography by Joanne Moorhead, The Surrealistic Life of Leonora Carrington, which I hope to post upon next month.  The NYRB has just brought back into print Carrington's memoir of her mental breakdown, Down Below with a very informative introduction by Marina Warner.  I have been able to locate eight of Carrington's stories online and will post on all of them individually just as I did with Mansfield.  My quick research indicates that several of Carrington's works are out of print but hopefully renewed interest will bring them back into print.  You can view, and I think you will be fascinated as I was, many of her paintings online.  

I don't yet know if Carrington read Mansfield's short stories or not but for sure there are significant Life similarities worth remarking upon.  Both came from wealthy families, Carrington's father was a wealthy industrialist, Mansfield's was Chairman of the Bank of New Zealand.  Both women had serious  issues dealing with dominating fathers with little sympathy for their artistic interests.

Both left their home countries at an early age, never to live there again.  Both began to seriously pursue their passions only after becoming an exile.  Both drew inspiration for their work from their adolescent angst, it shines through in the first story I posted on by Carrington, "The Debutante".  Both had an interest in the Occult, Carrington's the stronger.  Both were drawn to "Guru" type men.  

After reading  Carrington's "Mr Gregory's Fly" I decided to reread a Mansfield story I read eight years ago, "The Fly".  I was happy to see I could recall almost all the story.  The first time I read it I was doing a "read through" of Mansfield's stories, about eight core works.  I wanted to see if I would still love it after eight years of reading short stories.  I found the story deeply moving for the  portrayal of the grief of two old men, both from England, one was once the other's boss, who talk over their mutual loss of a son during WW One (Mansfield's beloved brother was killed in the war).  One of the men is now retired, he has had a stroke and his wife and daughters supervise him closely.  On Tuesdays he is allowed to go out on his own and he often goes to visit his former boss at his office.  You can see both men are normally emotionally reserved but the conversation about their lost sons causes the boss to breakdown.  When left alone he notices a fly has gotten some ink on his wings (people used fountain pins and inkwells in 1922).  He watches the fly try to dry his wings.  I don't want to impair the first time experience of new readers on this story so I will tell no more of the plot.  In the fate of the fly the man seems to see the fate of his son, on another level the man takes on the role of the cruel Gods that took his son from him, that took all meaning from his life accumulating business which he intended to pass to his son.  The close is open to numerous views and I am sure this would be a very good classroom story for advanced students. 

"Mr Gregory's Fly" is a surrealistic story, very different from "The Fly".  Gloria Orenstein in her introduction to the 1975 collection of six of Her says

"Leonora Carrington's express the system of being through occult parables whose true meaning becomes accessible to those initiated into the specific form of symbolism that a work displays. The symbols are emblems derived from a deep knowledge of alchemy, Cabala, Magic, the Tarot, witchcraft and mythology".

I have issues with the notion of short stories having "a true meaning" but this is an illuminating remark.  Long long ago I was quite into the occult, I studied various system of Magik.  I know Katherine Mansfield had some acquaintance with occult theories on the order of those expounded by The Order of the Golden Dawn but I did not recall any specific occult symbolism about flys.  I did a Google search and did not find any big revelations so I decided just to enjoy "Mr Gregory's Fly" as fun very brief surrealistic story poking fun at a pretentious business man. 

"Once there was a man with a big black moustache. His name was Mr. Gregory (the man and the moustache had the same name). Since his youth Mr. Gregory was bothered by a fly that used to enter his mouth when he spoke, and when somebody spoke to him, the fly would fly out of his ear. “This fly annoys me,” said Mr. Gregory to his wife, and she answered, “I understand, and it looks ugly. You ought to consult a doctor.” However no doctor was able to cure Mr. Gregory of his fly. Although he went to see several doctors, they always said that they had never heard of this disease. One day Mr. Gregory went to see another doctor, but he got the wrong address and by mistake went to see a midwife. She was a wise woman and she knew a lot of other things besides childbirthing."

This captures well the flavor of the prose.  The wise woman says she can get rid of the fly but the man must give her three quarters of his assets to her.  He agrees knowing he actually owns little or nothing.  He follows her suggestion, the fly is gone but there is a side effect:

"Later Mr. Gregory took the pills in the tea made of little drops of mustard in noodle water, according to the instructions of the wise woman. Next day the fly had totally disappeared, but Mr. Gregory had become navy blue with red zip fasteners over his orifices. “It’s worse than the fly,” said his wife, but Mr. Gregory didn’t say much because he knew that he had cheated the wise woman. I deserved it, he thought. If I only had that little fly again, I’d be happy. But he was still navy blue with red zip fasteners and stayed like that till the end of his days, and this was very ugly, especially when he was naked in his bath."

To me "Mr Gregory's Fly" is and was meant to be fun but I don't doubt there are deeper meanings.

Mel u




















Thursday, April 20, 2017

Two Yiddish Short Stories by Joseph Opatoshu (Aka Yousef or Yosef) author of The Romance of a Horse Thief








Yousef Opatoshu, 1986, born in Miana Poland, moved to New York City, 1907, died in New York City 1954, (aka Yosef, Americanized pen  name Joseph) did not begin writing Yiddish prior to immigrating to New York City.  There are two very interesting short stories, about Eastern European Jews in America, included in the necessary anthology Jewish Literature in America.  My one small issue with this huge collection (815 works) is that no first publication dates are given for the works.  Some I can find via a Google search, some, like these two, I have guessed.

"Judaism" (1919?) is a story of a Rabbi's abuse of a young Christian woman who has come to him to be converted.  She wants to marry a rich young a Jewish man.  The Rabbi asks her how her family feels about this and she says they love her fiancé.
He subjects her to a much more lengthy and demanding course of study than normal.  He is tired of being the lackey of his rich congregation and is taking it out on her.

"The rabbi’s Sabbath had been disturbed. Why did he take such pride in following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, when in reality he was a lowly slave who did whatever the wealthy Bizhorn told him to? Abulafia took revenge. He saw to it that the lessons with Helen would be a living Hell for the girl. Right away, at the first lesson, the rabbi threw up a mountain of difficulties."

"President Smith" (1923?) is set in Chicago. Just as have other immigrant groups, people from the same area in Poland would tend to live in the same area in America, relatives and friends helping each other.  The Synagogue was the heart of the community.  This is the story a Rabbi, who when just a young man and already a Rabbi, moved to New York City where most of his congregation landed in Chicago.  Forty years has long by and he is come to visit them in Chicago.  The President of the Synagogue is Mr. Smith. He changed his name and most of his cultural trappings as he over many years has become rich.  The story is kind of about President Smith's acknowledging his cultural roots.  In just a few pages Opatoshu brings a lot of the Yiddish immigrant experience to life.

"It was the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah. The New York-to-Chicago express train raced in like a demon, whistling and gasping. Passengers started tumbling out of the cars. Some moved to the exit and others just stood there. From the last car, Reb Yosl the cantor emerged. He was a tall man with a long black beard that was turning gray at the edges, and he was wearing a rabbi’s hat. He had come to pray with his fellow townsmen, the people of Mlave, on the High Holy Days. Reb Yosl put down the valise he had been holding in his hand and started looking around, looking for the delegation from the Anshey Mlave synagogue". From "President Smith"

Joseph Opatoshu
BORN YOYSEF-MEYER OPATOVSKY ON CHRISTMAS EVE, 1886 NEAR MŁAWA, POLAND, TO A FAMILY OF LUMBER MERCHANTS, HE IMMIGRATED TO THE U.S. IN 1907. WHILE HE WORKED IN A SHOE FACTORY AND OTHER ODD JOBS, HE DEDICATED HIMSELF TO WRITING. HE CONTRIBUTED STORIES AND SKETCHES TO THE NEW YORK-DAILY DER TOG FROM ITS START IN 1914 UNTIL HIS DEATH 50 YEARS LATER. HIS FIRST NOVEL TO RECEIVE WIDE NOTICE WAS ROMANCE OF A HORSE THIEF (1912) ABOUT JEWISH THIEVES WHO SMUGGLED HORSES BETWEEN POLAND AND GERMANY—ROMANTICIZING THIEVES, DRUNKS, AND OTHER MEMBERS OF THE JEWISH UNDERCLASS IN STARK CONTRAST TO HIS QUAINT AND MORE FRIENDLY JEWISH FIGURES DESCRIBED BY HIS CONTEMPORARIES SUCH AS SHOLEM ALEICHEM.
OPATOSHU ALSO WROTE DETAILED DESCRIPTIONS OF EVERYDAY JEWISH LIFE IN POLAND, AND THE INTERACTION BETWEEN DIFFERENT GROUPINGS OF JEWS AND BETWEEN JEWS AND NON-JEWS AS IN HIS FAMED IN POLISH WOODS(1921), A HISTORICAL NOVEL DESCRIBING THE DEVOLUTION OF THE KOTZKER DYNASTY BETWEEN THE AGE OF NAPOLEON AND THE POLISH REVOLT OF 1863. From Yiddiskayl.org



Yiddish Literature on The Reading Life

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dawn by Olivia Butler (1987, Part One of The Lilith's Blood Trilogy)



Olivia Butler 1947 to 2006, multi-awarded American Science Fiction Writer


Dawn is part one of Olivia Butler's Lilith's  Blood Trilogy.  I have previously read her Bloodchild and Kindred.  It is my hope to read all of her fiction available as Kindles.

Dawn begins on a vast space ship, itself a living being.  Around 250 years ago America and Russia had a nuclear war which left the earth virtually uninhabitable.  The aliens aboard the ship, the Oankali, removed the survivors and have placed them in deep sleep.  They are planning to return them to earth after they are trained in survival skills.  The Oankali are very strange, to the humans, multitentacled beings.  Lilith, who is African American in origin, is being kept in a room with an alien when we meet her.

The best thing, and it is very well done, about Dawn, is the conceptual ideas, the creation of the aliens, who have been on the ship so long they do not know for sure where there home world is located.  The weakest aspect of the novel, and I found this pretty wanting, was the relationships that develop between the wakened humans as the aliens prepare to return them to the earth, in a jungle environment.

I enjoyed this book.  It falls short of greatness but the overall idea behind it was super interesting.  I have begun part two, Adulthood Rituals.  I bought the trilogy on Amazon for $2.95.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"The Debutante" by Leonora Carrington (1939



You can read "The Debutante" here

Very well done video and reading by reelwomen.com of "The Debutante"

Leonora Carrington- Britain's Last Surrealist Tate Shots. A wonderful beautifully done video -  (By the author of The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington, Joanna Moorhead, includes a conversation with  Carrington as well as images of her art)

Leonora Carrington A Surrealist Trip from Lancashire to Mexico. From the BBC




In observation of the 100th birth anniversary (April 6, 1917) of Leonora Carrington two collections of her short stories and a fascinating sounding biography by Joanna Moorhead, The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington are being published. Carrington was very closely associated with the Surrealist movement, both personally and artistically.  (In the long ago I visited the Museum of the Museo Nationale de Anthropologia in Mexico City where I must have seen one of her works.  Her art is on display in major museums throughout the world.) There are several good articles giving an overview of the life and work of Carrington online, the one from the BBC I linked above is a very good first resource as is our old standby, Wikipedia.

I was very happy to find I could read one of her most famous short stories "The Debutante" online.  My main purpose here is to journalize my first venture into the literary world of Leonora Carrington and to let interested readers know that some small portion of her work can be read online.



"The Debutante", Reading time for most will be under five minutes but it maybe all you can digest in 24 hours.  It is told in the first person by a teenage girl who will soon be going to a debutante ball.  Her best and perhaps only friend is a highly intelligent hyena she visits almost every day at the zoo.  She has taught him to speak French and from him (or her) she has learned the communicative system of hyenas.  She tells the hyena she hates the idea of going to the ball.  When the hyena hears about all the great food that will be served, he offers to go in her place.  I don't want to tell more of the plot of this story but it lives up to the canons of surrealism.  I loved it and look forward to learning more about her.

I suggest you first read the story then in a day or so watch the video production of the story by reelwomen.com.  It has a brief interview with Carrington and includes a good bit of her art.




I will soon post on her story, "The Fly".

Please share your experiences with Leonora Carrington with us

Mel u


Sunday, April 16, 2017

"Sweeping Past" by Yiyun Li (August, 2007, in The Guardian)





Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. Her debut collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award for first fiction. Her novel, The Vagrants, won the gold medal of California Book Award for fiction, and was shortlisted for Dublin IMPAC Award. Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, her second collection, was a finalist of Story Prize and shortlisted for Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. Kinder Than Solitude, her latest novel, was published to critical acclaim. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Yiyun Li has received numerous awards, including Whiting Award, Lannan Foundation Residency fellow, 2010 MacArthur Foundation fellow, 2014 Benjamin H. Danks Award from American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize, among others. She was selected by Granta as one of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35, and was named by The New Yorker as one of the top 20 writers under 40. She has served on the jury panel for Man Booker International Prize, National Book Award, PEN/Heminway Award, and other. She is a contributing editor to the Brooklyn-based literary magazine, A Public Space.

She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their two sons, and teaches at University of California, Davis.  from yiyunli.com

My Posts on Yiyun Li

"Sweeping Past" on The Guardian




Yiyun Li is one of my favorite contemporary writers.  I have posted on both of her novels and her profound memoir Dear Friend I Write From My Life to Yours as well as several of her beautifully crafted short stories.

My main purposes today are to journalize my reading of "Sweeping Past" and to let anyone interested know that the story can be read online on the webpage of The Guardian.

"Sweeping Past", set in China, is a fifty year look back on the lives of three girls who became "sworn sisters".  The practice was looked down upon as feudal in Maoist China.  The times were to turn ugly as a hatred for anything that seemed "western" or capitalistic became despised.

The women are now in their early sixties.  China has largely become a capitalist country.  A granddaughter of one of the women, her parents emigrated to Portugal long ago and own a very prosperous Chinese restaurant, is back in China for a two week vacation.  She learns much about the family history of the girls, a grandson of one raped and murdered the daughter of another, not wanting to wait for their intended marriage for sex.  He was executed.

I don't want to tell more of the story.  You can read it in ten minutes or so.  Li is a master at the depiction of the passing sweep of time.

Mel u







Friday, April 14, 2017

Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)




The Olivia Butler Society. Your first resource




A few days ago, inspired by an essay by Zadie Smith, I made my first venture into the fiction  of Octavia Butler (1947 to 2006, multi-awarded American Science Fiction writer), Bloodlines.  This Hugo and Nebula Prize Winning Novella about human alien relationships was so good I wanted to read more of her work.

I decided to next read her very highly regarded and commercially very successful fantasy novel, Kindred.  The plot description of a modern African American woman who involuntarily time travels back to a slave plantation in the old south in 1816 sounded very interesting
and most reviewers seem to love Kindred so I hit the "Buy Now" button and it was on my E Reader.

Kindred begins in Los Angeles, California in 1976.  Dana is an aspiring writer married to Kevin, a white man, who is a commercially successful writer.  They met working as temporary employees doing inventory at a big auto parts place.  They bonded though their love of books and their interest in pursuing a literary career.  They are maybe 27 or so.

One day Dana feels dizzy, she wakes up in Maryland, on a plantation by a river where a young boy, the son of the plantation owner, is drowning.  She rescues him and is completely shocked when he calls her a "nigger" and asks her who owns her.  The young boy says she "talks funny", she realizes somehow the boy is one of her ancestors.  Of course she is terrified to be on the plantation in these times, has no idea how she got here.  She witnesses a slave being beaten for attempting to run away, savaged by the boy's father.  She is transported back to her home in California, she is covered in mud, Kevin says she was only gone for two minutes but it seems like hours to Dana.

In all Dana time travels six times, she learns she will somehow go back when she is in mortal danger.  Dana experiences the cruelty of slave life when she is beaten with a bull whip, nearly raped by a white slave catcher who thought she was a run a way, sees children sold away from their mothers so the plantation mistress could buy some new furniture, works under backbreaking conditions in the field (house slave had in better than field workers) and witnesses her own foremother, a freed slave, forced into concubinage status to the young boy, now grown, she saved long ago.

Kindred is not just about slavery in America, it is about the marriage of Dana and Kevin, both their parents opposed the mix race marriage.  Dana loves reading and is into the reading life (as was Octavia Butler) with her husband.  When she returns beaten she fears if she goes to a doctor they will think Kevin did it and if she or Kevin tell the real story, they will be thought crazy.

There is much more in Kindred than I have touched upon.  It is so exciting and more than a bit frightening to watch Dana's life on the slave plantation.  In one episode Kevin goes with her, five years pass but when they return only a few days have passed.  Kindred is beautifully narrated.  We see the kitchen slaves eating table scraps, the slaves informing on each other to curry favor with the master, get to hate the owner's wife who has to pretend she does not notice the slave children who resemble her husband.

Kindred would be a great class room book, in the hands of a skilled pedagogue.

I have added Olivia Butler to my "read all I can list".  I will next read her futuristic Lilith Trilogy.

Please share your experiences with Olivia Butler with us.

Mel u















Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Jews Eyes" by Sholem Asch (1948, translated by Barnett Zumpoff)




A very good biographical article on Sholem Asch - from The Yivo Encyclopedia of Eastern European Jews

My Posts on Yiddish Literature








“You look, we didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Said at a conference by the press secretary for the president of the USA, apparently unaware of the use of chemical weapons in the Holocaust

Normally I refrain from posting on short stories that cannot be read online.  Today I read a story by Sholem Asch (last name sometimes spelled as "Ash", 1980 to 1957, born Kunto, Poland, died London, England), "Jews Eyes" so heartbreaking, that it almost moved me to tears.  I think the supreme ignorance embodied in the remark I quote above motivated me to post on this story.  I have said numerous times that the Holocaust was, among many things, an attack on a people as dedicated as any culture has been, to the reading life, to study, to knowledge for the beauty of knowing.

I will tell a bit of the plot (reading time under 15 minutes).  A woman from the Warsaw Ghetto smuggled her child into the Buchenwald concentration camp, after hiding her for a long time in an attic.  The woman was assigned to a work group that prepared the clothes of those murdered in the camp for distribution to German citizens.  The girl was the only child packed in with eighty women, almost all of their children were dead.  The women hid her, gave her food from their very sparse rations and mothered her as much as she could.  In repairing the clothes of the dead, one of the

women found a doll and gave it to the girl.  One day the Nazi woman in charge of the group make a surprise inspection tour, she saw the doll which had been left out and  thought there must be a child hidden.  Accompanied by two SS men and German dogs, they find the girl. The woman is amazed by the eyes of the girl.  In a  scene chilling to the bone,  which hurts to read, the full inhumanity of the German ideology comes through

"Mirele’s gaze fell upon the eyes of Fräulein Gertruda, and it was as if some unknown, previously unfelt sensation animated Gertruda. Mirele’s pitch-black pupils moved down to the horizons of her large, watery eye-pools, and from beneath the thinned-out, emaciated corneas they shone out with a moist, heartbreaking, pleading look. The pupils changed color with the speed of a waterfall as she gazed: now they took on the hue of a pitch-black abyss and now their borders quickly changed and manifested an orange glow, then a violet glow, and then turned to a deep blue like two large, otherworldly, water-clear sapphires. “What eyes!” Fräulein Gertruda couldn’t restrain herself and exclaimed to the two S.S. men who were standing behind her.....Her face even changed for a second —creases appeared in her smooth, white, creamed cheeks, near the corners of her mouth. Even her cool, feline, steely-sharp blue eyes shone with light. The flash of light in Fräulein Gertruda’s eyes, together with the creases around her mouth, ignited a ray of hope in the women’s hearts. “Real sapphires! I’ve never seen anything like them,” exclaimed one of the Gestapo men. “Ach, what earrings you could make out of them,” the second one said. “What?” “Jews’ eyes, of course.” “How?” “If one can petrify animal’s eyes, it must be possible to do the same with human eyes.”  “Jews’ eyes.” “It’s a thought.” The entire conversation between Fräulein Gertruda and the S.S. men lasted only a minute. They conducted it quietly, as if the women couldn’t hear them. Suddenly Fraulein Gertruda shook herself, grabbed the girl that the dogs had dragged out by the feet, and turned the child’s head toward her. “A knife!” she called out to the S.S. men. And immediately the blade of a knife that one of the S.S. men had drawn from its sheath, on which the words “Blood and Honor” were engraved, glinted in the air like a sacrificial knife. “Cut with a lot of flesh,” one of the S.S. men, who was holding the child’s hand and turned her on her back, advised in a loud, indifferent tone.  A shriek like the roar of an animal was heard from the women. Immediately, however, they choked back their outcry. Several of the women threw Mirele’s mother onto a shelf and stopped up her mouth with their fists."



Excuse the long quote, but as it cannot be read, as far as I know, online, I wanted to share this with you.

Gertruda makes earrings from the eyes, having them preserved by a famous taxidermist, and wears them to a German Cultural Festival where all admire the earrings made from a Jew's Eyes.


Believe it or not, the story has almost a happy ending.  I think it might make a good class room story though many will find this story very intense.


This story was first published in Yiddish, in New York City, in 1948 in a collection of short stories, Tales of my People.

I read it in Volume I of Yiddish Literature in America, a great contribution to Yiddish literature, indeed to the world.






Monday, April 10, 2017

"Bloodchild" by Octavia Butler (1984, Hugo and Nebula Award Winner)


"Bloodchild" can be read here










It is funny how on a Tuesday you have never even heard of a writer and by Friday you have her placed on your read all I can list along with Joseph Roth, Clarice Lispector, R. K. Narayan, Irene Nemirosky, all writers I would never have read but for my participation in the  international book blog community, the world's best readers.

After reading Science Fiction classic
The Way Station by Clifford Simak (in the long ago I was a big reader of Sci Fi but I stopped nearly three decades ago so I know very little about writers who have come (and in some cases gone) in the last three decades.  My research indicated Olivia Butler (1947 to 2006, born in the Los Angeles, California area in 1947 and died in 2006 in Lake Forest Park, Washington after a bad fall), winner of every award in the genre including the Hugo and Nebula Awards was a writer I wanted to check out.  As I researched her (primarily on the links above) I read she was an extreme devotee of the reading life.  Like many of us, Butler came to love reading as an escape from a world in which she did not feel comfortable, a very shy child, books were her friends.  Not only did Butler have serious commercial success she is now avidly studied by academics.  (Just take a quick look at the web page for the Olivia Butler society to see the various ways in which her work is now being mined.)

I looked for a work by Butler I could read online, I located only one, Bloodchild".  I found it was


given the Hugo, Nebula, Chronicles of Science Fiction, and Locus award for best Science Fiction Novelette of 1984.

I was captivated and gripped  by "Bloodchild" in the first paragraph in which a human girl, maybe in her early teens is laying in the arms of a human size very intelligent insect like creature, on a planet far from her ancestors home on earth and far in the future.  It is not a sexual embrace but more a maternal protective embrace.  The girl is quite comfortable with this.



Long ago the ancestors of the girl had left Earth, where they were mistreated, settling on planet compatible to their life support needs.  The planet was home to Tics.  In order to reproduce Tics must implant their eggs in a host animal.  Once the humans arrived they were found to be ideal hosts for the eggs.  The Tic created a protected preserve for the humans, took care of them.  Many Tics bonded with particular humans and became sort of family members.  Tics fed and watched over their human families.  There was a very big negative to being implanted with Tic eggs.  Once the eggs hatched they would eventually begin to eat through their host as they made their way out.  In one vivid scene, the hatchlings have to be cut out of the man in which they are implanted.  The story is narrated by the girl's brother.

I really don't want to give out much more of the plot of "Bloodchild".  (Reading time easily under thirty minutes.). I think it would be a great classroom read, stimulating lots of discussion.


Butler is now firmly on my read all I can list.

I thank Buried in Print and Fred for remarks on Octavia Butler (in the comments on my recent post on Way Station).

Wikipedia has a decent article on Butler and one on "Bloodchild".  In 1995 she became the first


Science Fiction writer to receive The MacArthur Award (commonly called "The Genius Award")a

Have you read Butler?  Please share your experience with us.

Do you have a favorite Science Fiction writer.?

Many academics call Butler an "Afro Futurist Writer".  Are you comfortable with labels like that?













Sunday, April 9, 2017

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (2016)



Dance Lessons for Writers from Dancers by Zadie Smith - A Most Interesting Essay

Taiye Selasi's Review of Swing Time (author of Ghana Must Go)



Swing Time is the first novel by Zadie Smith I have read, I have posted on four of her short stories.  Swing Time has received well deserved rave reviews all over the book blog world and in the press.  I was very happy to be given a review copy.  (I am keeping my post brief partially because the review by Taiye Elasi, author of Ghana Must go and whose debut short story, "African Girls Sex Life Begins With Uncle" I posted upon several years ago, I link to above is far better than one I could do and also I am feeling a bit lazy.)

My bottom line is Swing Time is a wonderful work of art, if you worry about the future of the novel, this will end your worries.  It is above all a tremendously fun book.  On a personal note as the father of three girls 18, 21, and 23, growing up in a mega city bigger than London where Swing Time begins, it gave me a bit more insight into their world in which social media, pop stars I have never heard about and the all important peer group play a huge factor.

Swing Time is the story of two girls born in the poor side of London.  They meet at a neighborhood dance and initially bond over their admiration of great dancers from the past.  One girl is studious and focused on bettering herself, she narrates the story.  The other girl is rebellious, hard for her mother to control, her dad is in prison, sexually an early starter.  The narrator becomes a personal assistant for a super pop star from Australia. We follow the girls for many years, flashing back and forth in time.  One travels the world first class, helps build a school in Ghana, the other never gets out of the neighborhood and has kids by multiple men.

Swing Time very intelligently focuses on issues of racial identity, class and gender.  It is a pure delight

Zadie Smith has four earlier novels and I hope to read them all.



Mel u







Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography by A. J. A. Symons (1934)


Corvo top 





Baron Curso - A K A Frederick Rolfe (1860 to 1913, born England, died in Italy) published Hadrian the Seventh in 1904

Alphonse James Albert Symons (1900 to 1941, England, the son of Russian Jewish Immigrants, remembered primarily for this book
Not long ago I read and posted upon a book that will doubtless become required reading for those interested in the art of literary biography, The Long Pursuit:  The Romantic Biography by Richard Holmes.  Holmes taught a Masters class in writing biographies for years at the University of East Angelia.  For that he prepared a list of what he considered "canon status" biographical works that he wanted his students, all aspiring biographers, to read.  Among the seven from the 20th century was The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography by A. J. A. Symons.  I fell in love with this book five pages in!

The Quest for Corvo is widely regarded as one of the best of literary biographies.  Symons has given the world a biography of the author of Hadrian the Seventh written in exquisite prose.  His every sentence is a polished gem.  We also see how he came to write the biography and his methods of research.

Hadrian the Seventh is the story of how a sexually depraved poverty stricken Englishmen became pope and ended up dying in abject poverty in Venice.

Symons was given lots of papers and a copy of Hadrian the Seventh by a friend.  On reading the novel he was determined to find out all he could about the author.  He discovered both a con man and a genius, living from borrowing money and art projects and some money from writing.  He was Gay and the book is considered an early GLBT classic.  We follow along as Symons contacts through letters initially friends and family of Corso.  He had assumed the title Baron, claiming with no substantiation he had been awarded the honor, and tried to live like royalty.  He died in the gutters of the bad side of Venice.

This book is worth reading just for the prose style, the many people we meet and for an appreciation of how hard serious biographical research in pre-internet days.  I guess no more books like this will probably be written, more the pity.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Dream by Ivan Turgenev (1877, translated by Constance Garnett, 1897)





The Dream (some would classify this work as a short story, others as novella, the reading time will be for most all under thirty minutes) is the first work by Turgenev I have so far read with a supernatural overcast.  Turgenev had serious mother issues (she ruled over 5000 serfs with a very cruel hand to the point of severe whippings  for petty offenses), his biographers said she treated Turgenev very harshly after the death of his father.  This sort of a cold indifferent mother abused and abandoned is very much like the mother of the first person narrator of The Dream.  

Garnett's prose beautifully sets the story in motion

"I was living at that time with my mother in a little seaside town. I was in my seventeenth year, while my mother was not quite five -and -thirty; she had married very young. When my father died, I was only seven years old, but I remember him well. My mother was a fair -haired woman, not very tall, with a charming, but always sad -looking face, a soft, tired voice and timid gestures. In her youth she had been reputed a beauty, and to the end she remained attractive and pretty. I have never seen deeper, tenderer, and sadder eyes, finer and softer hair; I never saw hands so exquisite. I adored her, and she loved me…. But our life was not a bright one; a secret, hopeless, undeserved sorrow seemed for ever gnawing at the very root of her being.....
No! something more lay hidden in it, which I did not understand, but of which I was aware, dimly and yet intensely aware, whenever I looked into those soft and unchanging eyes, at those lips, unchanging too, not compressed in bitterness, but, as it were, for ever set in one expression. I have said that my mother loved me; but there were moments when she repulsed me, when my presence was oppressive to her, unendurable. At such times she felt a sort of involuntary aversion for me, and was horrified afterwards, blamed herself with tears, pressed me to her heart. I used to ascribe these momentary outbreaks of dislike to the derangement of her health, to her unhappiness…."

The story unravels in a very suspenseful way the mystery behind the sadness of the mother.




My Posts on Ivan Turgenev


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Way Station by Clifford Simak (1963, Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novel, 1964)



Open Road Media - Publisher of 1000s of high quality value priced E Books

Open Road is the publisher in E Book fashion of Clifford Simak and lots of other top name science fiction writers





In the long ago I used to enjoy reading a lot of science fiction.   My favorite science fiction novel was Dune by Frank Herbert.

I decided to read Way Station by Clifford Simak (1904 to 1988, Wisconsin, USA) for three reasons, it was a Hugo Award Winning novel, the description intrigued me and the Kindle edition was on sale for $0.99.

The central character in Way Station is Enoch, he is over 100 years old but looks thirty.  Ever since the civil war (the story seems set in the 1920s, in rural America.  Enoch was always a loner, made more so by his war experiences.  One day a stranger wandered up to his house.  He turned out to be an alien and he set up on Enoch's property a Way Station for intergalactic travelers.  Beyond earth there exists a huge universe of much more advanced beings who have a way of traveling through space involving transmission to Way stations throughout the universe.  Enoch becomes fascinated with the aliens who visit him.  He begins to attract attention from neighbors and the government.  Simak does a great job making this all very believable and super interesting.

There are very suspenseful events involving a deaf mute girl and her brutal father, the CIA and a sinister alien.

Way Station was a lot of fun, easy quick reading that will make you think.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The House of Names by Colm Toibin (forthcoming May, 2017)




My Posts on Colm Toibin



"Cassandra lifted her beautiful head and haughtily caught my eye, as if I had been placed on earth to serve her; then she looked at Electra, who stared at her in wonder. Many other chariots had come by now, some bearing treasure and others filled with slaves, their hands bound behind them. Cassandra stood apart from this, glancing with disdain at the slaves who were being led away. I moved towards her, and invited her to enter the palace, signaling to Electra that she should follow." Spoken by Clytemnestra upon the return of Agamemnon, her husband, from Troy

Colm Toibin (Ireland) is a tremendously successful author.  I have posted on several of his novels, short stories and his illuminating literary essays.  His fiction ranges from contemporary Ireland to recreations of ancient stories

I was very happy to receive a review copy of his latest novel, The House of Names.  Toibin focuses on Ancient Greece, circa 500 BCE at the court of King Agamemnon upon his return from Troy, nine year ago.  It centers on Clytemnestra's revenge for Agamemnon's sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia.  Her father had promised she would marry Achilles but at what she and her mother thought was to be her wedding day, she was sacrificed to the Gods to assure smooth sailing to Troy.

The story, full of violence and suspense, is told from four points of view.  Clytemnestra is consumed by her hatred for her husband and her contempt for the Gods.  Her murder of her husband is very vividly rendered.  We enter the consciousness of Electra, younger sister of Iphigenia.  Agamemnon brought with him as one of the spoils of war a beautiful young woman who he intends to be his wife, with Clytemnestra being reduced to a servant.  In the character of Orestes, younger brother of the girls, we see his divided loyalties.

House of Names is an exciting and thought provoking work.  I enjoyed very much Toibin's imaginative recreation of these ancient Homeric myths.

Mel u





Sunday, April 2, 2017

Two Short Stories by S. Ansky- Author of The Dybbuk




Excellent Bio on S. Ansky- from Jewish Heritage Online



"In the Tavern", 1884, translated by Robert Szulkin

"The Sins of Youth", translated by Lucy Danidowicz, 1910



I know for sure if I had not entered the international book blog community years ago I would have never dreamed of reading Yiddish literature.  Sometime back Yale University Press gave me the wonderful gift of all the books, eleven, in The Yale Yiddish Library.   Among them were a collection of works by the famous dramatist, S. Ansky, best now recalled for his play, The Dybbuk, first produced in 1914 and still widely preformed.

Yiddish literature, a great deal of which was written in America, is a world class cultural treasure.   (I recently acquired a fabulous 1500 page anthology, Yiddish Literature in America, 1870 to 2000, edited by Emmanuel Goldsmith and translated by Barnett Zumolf which will, I hope, greatly expand my erudition in Yiddish literature.).

Ansky grew up in what is now Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire.  The stories I am featuring today are set in the now lost culture of the shtel. They are not happy feel good stories, they depict the lives of the impoverished.

"In the Tavern" lets us see what goes on in a shtel tavern.  The tavern is the social center of the Shtel.  Sansky lets us see the business side of the tavern and the escape of the patrons into drunken oblivion.  It is a very harsh look which has the complete feel of the truth.

"The Sins of Youth" centers on a young teacher.  He has set up shop in a shtel he just moved to, tutoring a number of boys.  He gets in trouble when he begins to teach literature besides religious studies.  When there are rumors of a possible coming pogram, the shtel Rabbi says it is warning of God that this teacher must leave the community.  In a chilling scene, the community members burn a mass of forbidden books.


The two short stories I am featuring today are both set in

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Reading Life Review - March, 2017






There are now 3014 posts online

The Reading Life has had 4,534,646 hits

The top countries of origin for March were

USA, The Philippines, Russia, India and Belgium

The Russian hits were from bots, once or twice a month they inundate the blog, why I am not yet clear.

Normally in March I have focused on Irish Short Stories, this year I did not.  I still love this reading area and will return to it.

Works I read but did not post upon

"The Lady of the House of Love" by Angela Carter. From The Bloody Chamber

"Glory" by Lesley Nneka Arimah. A 2017 O Henry Prize Story.  I will post on her work soon

The Shadow in the Garden A Biographer's Tale by James Atlas.

Literary Biographies



I read two first rate just published literary biographies, one on Angela Carter and another on Elizabeth Bishop.  I will be reading more.

Novels

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, a reread after fifty years

Coco Chanel by C. W. Gortner-a very well done literary treatment of her life




Buried in Print is conducting a read through of the short stories of Mavis Gallant.  I read for this a great story "The Other Paris".

I give my humble thanks to those who have left comments.  It means a great deal to me.

Mel u