Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Faerie Tree - A Short Story by Kathleen Kayembe - From Lightspeed - November 201

"The Fairie Tree" - A Short Story by Kathleen Kayembe - 2019

I love stories about Fairies.  Among my favorites are The Child Stolen by Fairies by Sheridan le Fanu and The Elfin Stories of Sylvia Townsend-Warner.

Fairies in Celtic and Eastern European traditions are far from the popular Disney Land version of Tinkerbell.  Real Fairies are easily offended, given to stealing children, and taking revenge it offended.
They can sometimes  be persuaded to intervene in human affairs but only at a price, often a cruel one.  

The Fairie Tree by Kathleen Keyembe can take a place among the classic Fairie tales.  Our narrator, Marianne, a young woman, we are delightfully tantalized by the suggestion she is not quite human, is sitting under a Faire tree when we meet her.  I was hooked from the opening description of the tree.

"Its branches are gnarled like an old woman’s fingers, knobbed like her knees, and the trunk hunches down like she’s reaching for my house. Mamaw said the hole at the base of faerie trees is where faeries come out or rush in or leave gifts if it’s big enough, though I was too young to remember. She says I was fussy in any arms that weren’t hers or the tree, least ’til I got used to everything. When I was real little, Sister says she could always find me curled half in the tree if I’d toddled off, like I fell asleep tryin’ to find Mamaw’s faeries. Still, after she showed me, I was scared to sit in its big open lap for a time, scared faeries would rush on out and into me, and I would have wings beating in me and they’d fly me far from home, just buzzing along like a balloon through the clouds"

Marianne is very distressed today. Her sister had married a man she despises, without telling anyone in the family in advance.  She is pregnant.  Marianne hated him on first sight. At first the parents argue about the man. Marianne calls him the scarecrow.

Something terrible happens which cries out for revenge. Marianne calls out to the Fairies for revenge.  An agreement is reached but the Farires demand a cruel payment.

I liked this story so much I read it three times.

Stories involving the occult only resonate with some, if you are so inclined read "The Fairie Tree" by Kathleen Kayembe.

"Kathleen Kayembe is the Octavia E. Butler Scholar from Clarion’s class of 2016, with stories in Lightspeed, Nightmare, and several Best of the Year anthologies; an essay in the Hugo-nominated anthology Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler; and previous publications with Less Than Three Press. She writes romance as Kaseka Nvita and lives on Twitter as @mkkayembe. A longtime member of the St. Louis Writers Guild, she organizes write-ins instead of movie outings and falls in love with the world every time she uses a fountain pen. You can find her in St. Louis running Amherst Writers and Artists writing groups, scribbling stories into a notebook with an odd little smirk, or playing obnoxiously sensible RPG characters who won’t let party members die." From the author's website.

I hope to soon read her You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych

Mel u


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

"The Rap of the Tiger Mom" - A Short Stody by Elaine Chiew - from her collection, The Heartsick Diaspora - 2019

Gateway to Elaine Chiew on The Reading Life 

Rap of the Tiger Mom - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew from her Debut Collection The Heartsick Diaspora. 2019

"Tiger Mothers so gangsta they bring kickass cupcakes So gangsta their kids can speak five languages So gangsta they read and write and spell at four Play the piano like lil’ beethoven. Ms Beatrice, yo? Tiger Mothers so kool they da first at da skoolhouse door So kool they drive up in Porsches four-by-four Juicy J sweat-bottoms rockin all couture Tiger Mothers come in all stripes Ms Beatrice-teach French, Italian, Brit-ish, even Kazakhstan fosho Ain’t just Chinese, nemmind Amy Chua actin’ all superior If Tiger Mothers rule the world, if I rule the world Our sons will inherit the world, this be the new gospel y’all."

"Rap of the Tiger Mom" is the third story from Elaine Chiew's collection The Heartsick Diaspora so far featured on my blog.  The first story in the collection, "The Coffin Maker" was set in Singapore during World War Two.  "The Run of the Molars" focused on a family reunion, set in London, of three sisters from Singapore and their flying in for a visit mother.

"Rap of the Tiger Mother" showcases a woman from Singapore now living in London, focusing on her role as a mother.  It is tremendously entertaining and insightful.  You might subtitle it "Crazy Rich Asians Mothers in Belgravia Competing for Tiger Mother of the Year".

The narrator of the story, Charlotte is divorced and has a four year old son, Ethan.  He is enrolled at a very expensive pre-school in Belgravia.  She was at one time a very well paid corporate executive but now she focuses on being a mother.

"How ironic, in my investment banking days I used to get up at 5am to fly to America’s heartland – the industrial belt, places like Indianapolis, Columbus and Detroit – to conduct due diligence and meet with a company’s board of directors and I got paid mega-bucks for it."

There is one other Asian mother with a child at the school, Xu Yuan, the music teachers keeps confusing them .  Both fathers are Caucasian, Charlotte's English and Xu's Sweedish.  They kind of pretend they are friends as they are the only Asian mothers but Xu Yuan not very subtly lords it over her because her son is more advanced.  We sit in on the  first parent teacher group meeting.
Charlotte finds another mother who used to work in investment banking in New York City and they set up a play date for their sons.

There are lots of very well done conversations between the mothers.  I don't want to tell too much about the story as it is just so delightful.

""Elaine Chiew is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.
Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.
Elaine lives in Singapore" . From her publisher

I give my total endorsement to this collection.  I plan to post on all fourteen stories.

Monday, January 13, 2020

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine - 2014 - 298 Pages

Not long ago Amazon suggested An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine was a work I might enjoy.  Amazon has nearly 25 years of data on my purchases and browsing so I do normally look at their suggestions.  In this case, they were totally right.  The book was available in the Kindle Unlimited Program (I am on a three months trial membership for $0.99 a month) so of course I selected read now.

When I began my Blog July 9, 2009 I planned to focus on literature about people who lead Reading centered lives.  Since then I have gone down many literary rabbit holes but this concept still animates  me.  An Unnecessary Woman is a quintessential book about the reading life.

This turned out to be a perfect book for me to read at my current juncture in life.  Set in Beruit in a time of civil violence on a dangerous scale, the narrator is a 72 year old woman, Aaliya,  who truly has lived a reading life.    She sees her past through the works she has read.  She is coping with her physical decay, as am I, looking back on her life and the people she had known.

Her husband, whom  she has scant regard for, is deceased, the love of her life was another woman.  She has no children.  In her environment lesbian relationships were unacceptable to most.

The novel ranges from long interior monologues to extended descriptions of the hardships of life in Beruit.  The narrator speaks very harshly of Beruit but you can sense her deep love for the city.  

The heart of this book is in Aaliya's dialogues with her vast, and I do mean vast readings.  Her birth language is Arabic, she is fluent in French and capable in English.  She spent most of her adult life working in a modest book store.  She has translated over fifty books from French into Arabic.  Once she completes a translation, she puts it in notebook.  None of her translations are ever published.  She is currently working on Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald. There are very interesting reflection on translating Sebald from the French translation to English.

"Rabih Alameddine was born in Amman, Jordan to Lebanese parents, and grew up in Kuwait and Lebanon. He was educated in England and America, and has an engineering degree from UCLA and an MBA from the University of San Francisco. He is also the author of the novel Koolaids: Or The Art of War, the story collection, The Perv, and, most recently, I, the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters. His pieces have appeared in Zoetrope, The Evening Standard and Al-Hayat, among others. Mr. Alameddine, a painter as well as an author, has had solo gallery exhibitions in cities throughout the United States, Europe and the Middle East. He has lectured at numerous universities including M.I.T and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. Mr. Alameddine was the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2002. He divides his time between San Francisco and Beirut." .  From Amazon

Friday, January 10, 2020

“When you talk about what you feel” - A Short Story by San Lin Tun - September 2019

“When you talk about what you feel” - A Short Story by San Lin Tun - September 2019

As this deeply moving story  opens, Moe is  at his desk in his office. He is inundated with involuntary memories of his best friend, now passed six months ago.  The description of his feelings is almost Proustian in feel and depth

“Moe did not know what he could do while he sat in his chair and his mind drifted like a kite floating with the free flow of wind. Something dampened his strength and he felt frayed. He had been feeling this way for a couple of days. It started gradually till it took concrete shape in his mind, tending to block his mental processes. That is why he could not  focus on his job. He decided to try to deal with it…
Though he felt it, he could not name the sensation. He picked up the pen from the rectangular lacquer pen holder in front of him on the table, unconsciously. He did not intend to use the pen but his laptop. He sighed at his confusion and looked at his watch — fifteen past four in the afternoon. He stood up, pushed his laptop away and picked up his shoulder bag that lay in a slant against the foot of the table.
Moe heard a voice inside. The voice spoke softly. Nostalgia is a state of mind which readily tends to think, feel, hear, touch or listen to someone from the past or something one cherished, but that person or thing will not be with him for a certain time — maybe short or long, maybe temporary or forever.
He wanted to be alone. He suffered from an indescribable sensation tinged with a kind of sadness or loss.”

Moe’s memories are saturated by thoughts of his friend.  They went everywhere together.  You feel loneliness when you go to places you once visited with your friend.  He cannot lose the loneliness nor does he want to without losing contact with his friend.

His friend expanded his world:

“Moe and his friend were 25 years apart. However, age did not separate them. They had become fast friends. They both had similar childhood troubles — being not on good terms with their fathers. When they both met, they talked openly about it to heal their wounds. There were several things Moe reminisced about his friend. Among them, he remembered the day on which his good friend introduced him to local arthouse films, which were novel to him. Till then, Moe had not heard of them.
On that day, Moe’s friend asked him to meet him at the street corner around 6 pm at their usual meeting point. Then, they hailed a cab and went to the coffee shop.
In the cab, his friend told Moe that that night they would be seeing an arthouse film which was quite different from Hollywood movies. Moe usually watched movies from Bollywood or Hollywood to kill his boredom in the evenings.
When they both reached the coffee shop, there were not many people inside the shop. They just saw a few people — two girls, three boys who were sitting inside the mauve lounge. Moe noticed that when he entered the small room, it was decorated with splendid and sparkling art deco.”

As Moe and his friend converse we see attitudes toward marriage and romantic freedom in traditional Myanmar impact their lives.

I am at the point in my life where most of my close friends have passed. Samuel Johnson has said as one gets older it becomes harder to make friends. I think Moe senses years of loneliness coming.

I found this story to be very perceptive in the emotions depicted.

This is first time San Lin Tun has been featured on The Reading Life. I hope to follow his work for many years.

“San Lin Tun is a freelance Myanmar-English writer of essay, poetry, short story and novel and he has published ten books including “Reading a George Orwell Novel in a Myanmar Teashop and Other Essays” and his latest novel “An English Writer”.  His writings appeared in NAW,, Hidden Words/Hidden Worlds short story anthology, PIX, South East of Now, Asia Literary Review and Opening Up Hidden Burma. He worked as editor-in-charge of Learners’ English Educative Magazine, and a freelance contributor to Home and Services Journal and Myanmore. Currently, he is contributing his essays, and articles to Metro Yangon Section in Myanmar Times Daily” - author provided 

Mel u

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Introducing Ralph V. Brooks - Author of Six Books - Advocate for Advancing Childhood Literarcy

Today I am very honoured to share with my readers a guest post by Ralph V. Brooks.  Ralph has written six books.  In his post he tells us of his passion for helping children learn to read.  I have known Ralph for over twenty years.  He lives the values he writes about.  On his website (there is a link at the bottom of the post to his website) there is additional information on his work.

Introducing Ralph V. Brooks, Author, by Ralph V. Brooks

Right) Ralph V. Brooks, President of Brooks-n-Books, (Left) Darrell Ingram, Vice President

Ralph V. Brooks is a derived author from Eufaula, Alabama born from a background of hard-working and determined parents,
Mary and Ralph Brooks, Sr. With his father only having a third grade education and his mother an eighth, Ralph, Jr. was very much eager and committed to learning the fundamentals of reading. Upon making it to the fourth grade, Mrs. Emma S. Mask, Ralph’s English teacher, noticed a spark in his eyes for his embracing desire to learn to read. At the time, Brooks was struggling and falling behind his classmates who were learning to read and comprehend their assignments on a more advanced level.

Brooks states, “I was often afraid to pronounce certain words and felt so embarrassed that I could not seek help from those nearest to me”. Brooks’ motivation grew from his inability to read in 1972 to now being a notable author who has published six books to date. In 2004, Brooks wrote his first book “Day by Day Living with Epilepsy” as a self-help guide to educate individuals about seizures. In 2006, Brooks wrote “#89 the Road to Number One” a memoir about Brooks playing high school sports and being a player on the 1981 Football State Champions team in Eufaula, Alabama. Between 2018-2019 Ralph Brooks wrote and published four children’s books in both English and Spanish. One of the books named “Three Words” was dedicated to the Philippines to show appreciation for the abundance of love given to him and his best friend, Darrell Ingram, Vice President of Brooks –n- Books, during their travel that started in 2010 and continues today.

According to a 2011 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “A first grader who reads below grade level is at a marked disadvantage, and teachers might have to spend additional time helping the child catch up. Children who don’t read at grade level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school”. With this being said, Ralph believes his books are one added value to help the fight against illiteracy and break the barrier of children reading below their grade levels."

Head over to our website

End of Guest Post.

Again I offer my thanks to Ralph V. Brooks.  I expect great things from him.  

Mel u

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

WASHINTON’S IMMORTALS The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution by Patrick K. O’Donnell - 2016

The American Revolution could have easily ended  soon after it began were it not for the courage and determination of a brigade of four hundred men, called “Washington’s Immortals”.   A Month after The Revolution began, in July 1776, Washington’s army was is desperate straights. His troops were outnumberd and surrounded in the battle of Brooklyn.  Thanks to this regiment Washington was able to evacuate his army from what seemed like either certain capture or slaughter.

The men who formed this brigade were all volunteers, forming The First  Maryland Brigade. Officers and soldiers often had to provide their own guns and equipment.  The men were largely considered “gentlemen”, professionals,rich merchants and  affluent farm owners.  The men mostly knew each other. Several married sisters of their comrades in arms.  They fought in key battles of The Revolution, including Trenton, Princeton, Camden, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, and Yorktown, where their heroism changed the course of the war.

O’Donnell goes into fascinsting significant detail about their friendships, their trials, and the impact of the war on their families.  As the work dragged on, they increasingly struggled just to find food and adequate clothing. We learn of their conflicts with loyalists and about the British Army.  The British officer corps were largely from wealthy families who bought them commissions.  They laughed at the Americans as an army of farmers and blacksmiths.  There were freed slaves in the regiment and we learn about them.

Through focusing on one group of men, O’Donnell tells the story of how the most powerful military in the world were defeated by an army of amateurs.

“Combat historian, bestselling author, and public speaker Patrick K. O'Donnell has written eleven critically acclaimed books that recount the epic stories of America's wars from the Revolution to Iraq. He is a premier expert on elite and special operations units and irregular warfare. O’Donnell’s books are described as “nonfiction that reads like fiction.”

I think all into The American Revolution will enjoy this book.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

"The Run of the Molars" by Elaine Chiew - from her collection The Hesrtsick Diaspora - 2019

"The Run of the Molars" is the second story in Elaine Chiew's debut collection, The Heartsick Diaspora. Last week I posted upon the lead story, "The Coffin Maker".

As "Run of the Molars" opens an elderly woman is flying in from Singapore for a month long visit in London with her three adult daughters.  Singapore is on my list of great dining cities, from the elegant buffets at the top hotels to the incredibly interesting  food Hawker Halls.  As a Singaporean side benefit, cleanliness standards are very high. Singapore food is a mix of Indian, Malay and Chinese.  The daughters feel guilty because they did not want to spend the money to fly home for their father's funeral.  Whenever he lost at cards, he used pick out a daughter and whip her so they did not feel much love for him. 

Chiew has done a brilliant job with the character of the mother, her daughters and most of all the family relationships.  The mother has a very sharp tongue and is not shy to express her criticism.  Her first impression of London is that it is a filthy run down place, and compared to Singapore she is right. She has a number of predjudices and quirks.  The family gatherings revolve around food and of course nothing the daughters can fix is good enough.  I loved this scene, it seems so real.  Under it all the mother seems a bit of a monster, pulling the chains of her girls but you know she had to be tough to survive and to raise her daughters as best she could.

"There was steamboat. Her mother gazed at the broth as if to discern the tidal urges of fate, but her mouth narrowed immediately, and she tucked in her chin. The broth was missing key ingredients, like goji berries, licorice root, dong quai or jujubes. These were things on her list of must-haves. Their mother was about to leave and all Tom and Maggie had succeeded in doing was climbing onto her shit-list. True to form, when they sat down to eat, her mother didn’t pick up her chopsticks, didn’t look at the platters of shrimp, fish-balls, tofu cubes, choy sum, or anything else jostling for space on the laden formica table. Instead, she asked for two slices of white bread. ‘You have?’ she asked Maggie. Maggie stood up and flung her chopsticks into the corner. She started cussing in Hokkien. Her eyes bulged like a pomfret. Winnie clapped her hands over her ears. Tom tried to downplay the escalating emotion by shushing Maggie. Matthew stood up as well but sat back down when he realized there was little he could do. Only Leenie and her mother exchanged glances. Her mother’s eyes were curiously glassy, a dull flush pollarded her cheeks, and Leenie could see the thin gleam of her teeth between the cracks, the agitations of her jaw – as if grinding her teeth at a succubus over Leenie’s shoulder."

"Run on the Molars" is long enough to allow us to understand the family dynamics.  There is a scene of  near heartbreaking sadness and beauty near the close of the story that really quite amazed me.  It made me rethink my perceptions of the mother, not on the surface an easy person to like.  It was an image to haunt dreams.  This story is a very much a work of art and it is flat out a lot of fun to read.  Anyone with a mother they dearly love who might not be all sweetness and light all the time will relate and relish this story.

As I read this story I realized there was more love in the sharp toothed remarks of my Mother, all very well deserved, than I realized before she departed. I miss them so much.

The story also is included in Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World, edited by Elaine Chiew, a foodies delight.

I give my total endorsement to the collection.

"Elaine Chiew is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.
Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.
Elaine lives in Singapore" . From her publisher

Mel u