M 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

de classics, modern fiction,

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"The Monstro" by Junot Diaz (from The New Yorker, June 4, 2012)

"Monstro" is a strange apocalyptic story by Junot Diaz set in the Domincan Republic and Haiti.  The June 4 and June 11, 2012 issues of The New Yorker featured works of science fiction by writers not normally known for this genre.   Diaz's story starts out with the narrator, a young Dominican man attending Brown University in Rhode Island hoping to become a journalist, talking about a mysterious disease that "actually makes Haitians darker" that has just begun to be noticed in relocation camps. 

Like most of the narrators in Diaz's fiction, the teller of this story is obsessed with hunting for women and is very much bonded to his mother.  The disease begins to spread rapidly.  Soon over 500,000 have it.  The disease takes a series of very strange twists.  Periodically the victims all simultaneously begin to make for about thirty seconds a terrible high pitched noise.  They cannot stand to be separated from each other.  The strange symptoms of the disease are very interesting.

The narrator is very good friends with another Brown University student from Santo Dominigo.  He comes from a hyper-wealthy family.  A lot of the story is just the two men hanging out together.  Our narrator is in awe of his friend's wealth.  

This is very much a fun story.

The story can be found here.

Mel u

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Wandering Jews by Joseph Roth (1926, translated 2001 by Michael Hoffman)

The Wandering Jews is the eighth book by Joseph Roth I have so far have the honor of reading.  One of the most sincere compliments a reader can pay to a writer is simply reading all their books you can.  I am committed to reading all of the translated available as Kindle edition works of Joseph Roth. (There is some background information on Roth in my prior posts.)

The Wandering Jews is a briiliant and odd collection of articles on the place of Jews in European society and culture in the 1920s.  The composition history of the book is not made totally clear in Michael Hoffman's interesting introduction.  Roth was at the time one of the best paid journalists in the world.  It appears to me he probably wrote these first to be published in journals with inclusion in a book in mind.  Roth had his issues but he was of surpassing brilliance, as smart as they come.  

I cannot read anything wriiten in 1926 about European Jews without the coming Holocaust over writing the text.  Much of current world events is driven still by Anti-Semiticsm.  Roth's book will help to understand the place of Jews in world history. 

In the 1920s and continuing on culturally there is a divide of great importance between the so called European and The Eastern European or Yiddish Jew.  As later detailed by Hannah Arendt the Yiddish Jew or Shetl Jew did not want to assimilate.  The European Jew, in the words of Roth,  totally adopted the look, the clothes, the language and the ways of their host countries.  Many became ardent patriots. Roth heeps scorn on Jews who volunteer to fight in inter-European wars.  Above all other places, the European Jew most prospered within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Roth tells us that this in part happened because the Empire was so multicultural that Jews were seen by the authorities as just another group.

There is a great deal of valuable information in this wonderful book.  Roth explains why Jews were often found in certain lines of work.  He talks in a fascinating way about the work of the peddler and installment seller, the money trader, the Rabbi, and wonderfully about the love of reading deeply found within Jewish culture.  He talks about immigration, how older people might live for decades in New York City and speak little English while their grandchildren would rise to places of prominence.  There is an interesting chapter devoted to immigration to America and a lot of illuminating insights on Zionism and Palestine.

The Wandering Jews is a brilliant work.  A miasma of bitter sadness hangs over the book 
as you read of the very old fascinating culture of Eastern European Jews knowing what will soon happen in Europe.

In one really poignant line Roth said that behind the most sophisticated fully assimilated Eurooean Jew, there are just a bit back Yiddish Jews that would embarrass them in front of the Goy.

This book also gives us a lot to ponder about in terms of post colonial issues and contemporary Middle Eastern Issues.  In my opinion, much of the political trouble in the world  has its roots in European Anti-Semiticism.   Behind much terrorism lies Anti- Semiticism.  

One of the biggests pleasures in this book is the opportunity to come in contact with the brilliance of Joseph Roth.  

"The Bear Came Over The Mountain by Alice Munro ( December 27, 1999 inThe New Yorker)

When Alice Munro won The Nobel Price short story lovers world wide felt gratified to see the genre recognized.  Alice Munro has published 139 short stories and one novel, most set in her native rural Ontario.    I was kindly recently give an advance review copy of her forthcoming collection of twenty five short stories published from 1995 to 2014,  Family Furnishings.  It is a generous collection, well over five hundred pages.  

"The Bear Came Over the Mountain" was originally published in The New Yorker.  It is set in rural Ontario and centers on a retired college professor and his wife.  My main purpose in this post is to keep a record of my reading of this excellent story and to share with my readers a link to the story. 

Many have rightly said that Alice Munro can do more with thirty pages than most other authors can do with three hundred.   This is very true of "The Bear Comes Over The Mountain".  One day the professor finds his wife wandering around outside, she does not recognize him.  He has to choice but to place her in a facility.  Much of the story takes place on his visits.  She and a man their have formed a very close bond. ,He talks to the nurses their and they say these things happen but they pass.  The husband thinks back on the decades of their marriage.  We see the impact on changing habits on college life.  In time he meets the wife of the man his wife is bonded with.  She tells him not to be concerned on sex as her husband is not capable. The insights into both marriages are very moving.  The ending of the story was very satisfying. 

This is a very much worth your time story which you can read here

Mel u

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (1915, 736 pages)

How can you not like a novel that uses "Meredithian" as an adjective?

Over the last three years I have read and greatly enjoyed two short stories by W. Somerset Maugham (1874 to 1965-there is some background information on him in my posts).  I knew that Of Human Bondage was his undisputed master work.   The main reason I have previously not read it is basically the length.  I am so glad I overcame my hesitation.  The Manchester Guardian recently listed it as the 44th best novel of all time and that was what pushed me to go ahead and read it.  

Of Human Bondage is a coming of age story that covers about 20 years in the life of Philip Carey.  Based on current events in the story it takes place from about 1880 to 1905.  He was made an orphan by the early death of his mother and went to live with an uncle, an Anglican cleric. Philip has a club foot and this was an important factor in his life.  Philip was expected to become a cleric himself and was educated with that in mind. I totally loved the scenes in the book where Phillip first comes to read in his uncle's library of 4000 or so books.  Anybody that came to the reading life on their own at a young age will identify strongly with Philip. Phillip does not thrive at University and his uncle pressures him into a five year apprenticeship at an accounting firm.  Everywhere Philip goes Maugham does a marvelous job of making the experience come to life with marvelous minor characters and great descriptions.  Maugham lets us feel we are walking the streets of London and later Paris.

Against the advise of his Uncle, who controls his money until he is twenty one, he quits the accounting work, he was doing poorly any way, and moves to Paris to follow his dream of becoming a painter.  Much of the novel deals with his life as an art student in Paris.  Now the central villain of the novel appears, Mildred, who will be the near ruination of Philip's life.  

Compressing a lot, Philip comes to see he has no real talent as a painter and returns to England to study medicine.  His father was a doctor.  His uncle approves of this after reprimanding him for time wasted.   Maugham lets us see exactly how one became a doctor in London.  He also takes us through areas of terrible poverty.  Philip has to drop out of school for years, becomes homeless, all basically caused by his obsession with the incredibly nasty Mildred.  I don't want to tell too much but he does return to school and becomes certified as a doctor. While working in a hospital he becomes friends with a patient there and ends up almost a part of the man's extended family.   I will not say more of the plot.  You will come to hate Mildred and feel Philip is in need of a good thrashing!

The prose is elegant and simple in sentence structure.  There are lots of great literary references, this is for sure part of the reading life canon of books about people who lead reading centered lives, and artistic discussion.  

(A scene in from the movie, in Philip's quarters, with Mildred)

 I strongly endorse the reading of this book.  I downloaded it for free from Manybooks.org.  

Please share your experiences with Maugham with us

Did you like the happy ending?

What Maugham novel should I read next.

Mel u

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (1949)

Paul Bowles (1910- born in New York City, died 1999 in Tangiers) was a highly talented composer, a great writer and is probably most now remembered as Counter-Culture icon of the 1960s.  (There is some background information on Bowles in my posts on those of his  short stories I have read.)  Bowles spent many years of his life living in Tangiers.  He was deeply into the culture of the region.  

Bowles' most read literary work is his novel, set in Algeria, The Sheltering Sky.  It a book people fall in love with.  It is the story of three Americans on a journey of no real purpose across North Africa.  It helps us see into the impact of colonialism, Algeria being at the time a French colony, on the colonized and the colonizer.  Taliking place in a setting of savage beauty, the Americans look upon the inhabitants as little more than tourist couriousties, the good ones are servile and obsequious, the bad ones are sinister, nearly beyond the bounds of reason.  They are always concerned with being robbed, with whether or not they can find any edible food.  The descriptions of the desert landscape are very evocative and powerful.  The central characters in the novel are perfectly realized. 

The Sheltering Sky  is a very deep book. In my opinion going further into the roots of racism and the colonial mentality than The Heart of Darkness.  In the very powerful closing sections of the book we see how colonialism is tied into visions of masculinity, of the white traveler in a place where he thinks he can do whatever he wants. It is also about the nature of travel, being a stranger in a strange land.  It is a very painterly book.

Scene from the movie based on the book

I hope to reread this book in 2015.  I have a collection of sixty five of his stories and will be working my way through them.   This is truly a great work of art.

Please share your experience with Bowles with us.

Mel u

"Alone" by Yiyun Li (November 16, 2009, from The New Yorker) -A Short Story by the Winner of the 2005 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize

If one day you are looking for quality new to you short stories one very good place to start is by looking in the archives of The New Yorker for works by winners of the annual Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize. I was happy to find some stories by Yiyun Li in the archives.  Yiyun Li won in 2005 for her debut collection of stories A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.  I have previously read and posted on several of her short stories and one of her novels, Vagrants.  I also read but did not post on Kinder Than Solitude.  Most of her work is either set in China or deals with experiences
 of Chinese born  immigrants to America.  A deep sense of sadness and aloneness permeates her work, a sense you will never really be understood.  

My main purpose in this post is to journalise my reading of the story and to let others  know it can be read in the archives of The New Yorker for a little while.

The story centers on a woman originally from Bejing now living in the American Pacific Northwest.  Her husband of sixteen years, now back in Bejing, has filed for a divorce and she recently returned the papers. She is on a road trip alone to Vancouver, a forest fire is threatening towns.  She thinks now her husband can go to hostess bars in Bejings with his clients and not feel guilty.  She cannot escape a terrible tragedy she experienced at age twelve.  I just cannot reveal this as it would spoil the experience of first time readers.  It will make you ponder how having such an event, kept secret for decades, even from her husband, impacted her consciousness.  As the father of teenage girls, it made me think very hard to try to understand the tragedy. 

This is a suberbly told story.  I will be reading all of the Yiyun Li stories in the archives.

You can read the story here

From author's webpage

The Vagrants


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, and 2014 Benjamin H. Danks Award from American Academy of Arts and Letters, 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 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.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson (March 3, 2014 in The New Yorker)

I offer my great thanks to Max u for providing me a gift subscription to The New Yorker.  This gives me the opportunity to read and share with my readers my thoughts on works by some of the greatest contemporary short story writers in the world.  Whenever I can I will provide a link to the story.  

"Once in a while, I lie there as the television runs, and I read something wild and ancient from one of several collections of folktales I own. Apples that summon sea maidens, eggs that fulfill any wish, and pears that make people grow long noses that fall off again. Then sometimes I get up and don my robe and go out into our quiet neighborhood looking for a magic thread, a magic sword, a magic horse."

Denis Johnson has been mentioned by a number of the short story writers with whom I have done Q and A sessions as a short story writer whose work they greatly admire. I have learned to trust their advise.   I was happy to find a new story by Johnson in a recent issue of The New Yorker. 

"The Largesse of the Sea Maiden" started out a bit slow for me, seeming like kind of a combination of a Cheever and a Carver story about a hard drinking advertising copywriter, formerly of New York City now living in San Diego.  I was not really that taken with the story for the first few pages then as the story began to wander down the dark back streets of New York City, the narrator was there to pick up an award for one of his TV commercials at a ceremony, I came to understand why people like Johnson so much.  Much of the story is taken up with glimpses into the lives of people he meets.  

I will leave the main plot of the story untold so as not to spoil the experience of first time readers.  I for sure hope to read Jesus's Son one day.

You can read this story here:

Born in Munich on July 1, 1949, Denis Johnson was raised in Tokyo, Manila, and the suburbs outside of Washington, D.C. He studied with Raymond Carver while earning his MFA from the University of Iowa. While still enrolled, his first collection of poetry, The Man Among the Seals (Stone Wall Press, 1969), was published.

During the next few years, Johnson published several collections of poetry, including Inner Weather (Graywolf, 1976); The Incognito Lounge (Random House, 1982), selected by Mark Strand for The National Poetry Series in 1982; andThe Veil (Knopf, 1985); as well as four novels, including Angels (Knopf, 1983), which received the Sue Kauffman Prize for First Fiction from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

During this time he struggled with alcoholism and various other addictions. It was out of these experiences that he wrote his breakthrough volume of stories, Jesus’ Son (Harper Perennial, 1992), which was later adapted for the screen.

Please share your experience with Johnson with us.

Mel u