Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests





Thursday, July 19, 2018

“Cliffs of Fall” - A Short Story by Shirley Hazzard - 1961






My Q and A Session with Catherine McNamara


Shirley Hazzard 

Born 1931 Sidney, Australia 

Notable Books
The Transit of Venus
The Great Fire

Died 2016, New York City

I begin my initial post on a work by Shirley Hazzard with an offer of thanks to Catherine McNamara, author of two highly regarded short story collections, Pelt and other Stories and The Cartography of Others for suggesting I read Shirley Hazzard.  I decided to begin with the title story of her collection Cliffs of Fall.  

My post today will be brief, I have number of works I hope to complete this month and I’m planning lots more posts in honour of Shirley Hazzard.

“Cliff of Fall” is set in the beautiful Swiss alps.  Three people are on holiday together, Cyril, his wife Greta and their good friend, Elizabeth.  Elizabeth’s husband has not long ago died in a plane crash. The purpose of the Holiday is to help Elizabeth cope with this death, only a few months after they were married.  Hazzard marvellously brings into play the complex emotions involved.  We see Elizabeth struggling with guilt as she tries to get on with her life.

Hazzard makes wonderful use of the brilliant background of the Alps.  We don’t learn a great deal about the history of the characters but they have real verisimilitude, obviously cultured sensitive individuals.

There are ten more stories in the collection, I’m planning to read all of them.

Mel u






Tuesday, July 17, 2018

THE ARCHIVE THIEF The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust Lisa Moses Leff 2015








THE ARCHIVE THIEF The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust LISA MOSES LEFF is part of my participation in Paris in July 2018,an international event devoted to all things Parisian

Paris in July hosted by Thyme for Tea is a great event.  I Focus on literary works and nonfiction but you are invited to share your thoughts and experience on anything Paris related, from a great recipe, a favourite movie set in Paris, mine is Ninotchka, an account of your stay in Paris.  I hope lots of people join in.  Just be sure to  link you post on The event home page.

Already there are lots of very interesting posts from food bloggers, Francophiles, travel bloggers, as well as book bloggers.  Normally I don’t venture far from the international book blog community so for me this event is an excellent way to expand my horizons. 

So far I have posted on

  1. “A Yiddish Poet in Paris” by Blume Lempel, 1978
  2. Vagabond by Colette, 1904
  3. Lost Times - Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp by Józef Czafski -translated and introduced. by Eric Karpeles - 2018
  4. “Her Last Dance” by Blume Lempel - 2018
  5. Gerorge Sand by Martine Reid


Zosa Szajkowski

January 10, 1911 born Zareby, Poland

He spent many years in Paris

September 26,1978 dies in New York City

Zosa Szajkowski is a fascinating figure.  He left Poland for France then left France for New York City driven out by concerns for his safety.  .Much of his family in Warsaw had been murdered by the Germans and their Polish backers.  (As I read on in Holocaust studies i see many try to blame the Holocaust not just on the Germans but the Nazis, trying to give Germans an excuse. The truth is clearly the vast Majority of Germans supported the idea of killing all the Jews. In all the areas the Germans conquered they found very willing collaborators.  Leff very convincingly shows us the willingness of French at all levels to turn over Jews, then steal their property.) Szajkowski was a war hero, a briiliant autoditactic, a saviour of huge amounts of historical documents related to Jews in Paris and he was a thief, stealing documents and selling them for income.  

I first became aware of this essential book through the news letter of The Jewish Book Council.  I will quote from the book to give an overview of the scope of the work:

“At the center of the intrigue is a peculiar individual: the historian Zosa Szajkowski (Shy-KOV-ski, 1911–1978), a pioneer in the field of French Jewish history. Szajkowski wrote scores of articles in the field, most on topics no one had ever researched before and many of which are still considered indispensible decades after they were written. Beyond his scholarly work, Szajkowski was also a devoted collector of French Judaica. He began his collecting in the late 1930s when, impassioned by Jewish history, he solicited donations from French Jews who had materials of historical interest among their family papers. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, wracked by grief and determined to facilitate the writing of an objective history of catastrophe, he gathered evidence of the persecution from Jewish leaders in Paris and from the wreckage of bombed-out buildings in Berlin. Many Jews France and the United States saw his collecting of those papers as a heroic effort to preserve the evidence for posterity. But in time, this rescuer became a thief. Most of the documents he acquired in the 1950s—mostly pertaining to Jewish history in France since the seventeenth century—he stole from the archives. Some were taken from state archives, where he stealthily evaded the gaze of the archivist in the “panoptical” reading room, often cutting old documents out of bound volumes to evade detection. Others were stolen from the private collections of synagogues and private Jewish libraries, institutions that had only recently begun to recover from what had happened in the years of Nazi occupation.”

I will just talk a bit about some of the numerous things in this book that struck me.

Leff talks about the assembling of Archives of Jewish documents.  There were serious differences of opinion about what should be done with the largely Yiddish documents recovered after the war.  Some said return them to places they were stolen from.  Others, including Szajkowski countered that these societies were destroyed.  They felt the best way to secure these documents was to move them to the United States, mostly to the Yivo Institute and several high end universties in The New York City area with some sent to Israel.  Leff helped me understand archiving for sure helped preserve Yiddish Jewish culture but it also made it harder for Jews left in Europe to maintain a sense of identity.  (I greatly admire The YIVO Institute and think moving the documents was best.)


Szajkowski loved his work.  He was as knowledgable as any highly degreed academic.  He was not able after the war to obtain a full time position at an American University as he did not even complete high School.  He was fluent in German, French, English, Polish and Yiddish. He served in the USA army in Germany as an interpreter during the de-Nazification process.  

Leff, as she must, talks about fate of Jews in Paris under German rule.  She talks about the two myths about the behaviour of the French:  one was that almost everyone wanted the Jews gone so they could steal 
their property and the other myth was that most of the French were secret resistors.  The truth is in Middle but this was not France’s finest hour.  In a compromise the French puppet authorities initially agreed to arrest and turn over foreign born Jews, Yiddish speakers, for transportation to death camps.  The hope was French Jews, many of whom have roots going back to around 1500 when the Jews were expelled from Spain and some to times before Charlemagne in the Eighth Century could stay in France. They rarely spoke Yiddish or Hebrew. One of the conflicts in European Jewish culture in the 1930s was the fear of Western European Jews who dressed, spoke and looked just like their countrymen that they would be dragged down by the flood of Eastern European immigrants.  Soon enough all French Jews were subject to deportation.  Leff illuminates this period of French history.

We learn about the business side of selling stolen documents.  Librarians in France trusted him as he was really a great expert.  He would use a knife to cut pages out of old books, removing all marks of ownership.  In addition to institutional buyers, he was connected to wealthy American collectors.

His post war home was in New York City.  We learn about his never quite settled down private life and his marriage.

At age 67 he was charged with stealing documents from a New York City library.  He had been caught once in Paris but was let off with a warning.  Knowing his reputation would be ruined, he committed suicide.

This is beautiful book, bringing to life a man anyone interested in the preservation of Jewish history must respect.  In a better world he would have had an endowed research chair at Harvard.  There is just so much to learn here about archives, French Jewish history, the Holocaust and much more.  All libraries who can should stock this book.



I highly recommend pairing this book with Who Will Write Our History: Rediscovering A Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto by Samuel Kassow.


Both of these works are among my autodidactic selections.

Mel u







































Sunday, July 15, 2018

“The Cake Tree in The Ruins” - A Short Story by Akihuki Nosaka - 2003 - translated 2015 by Ginny Tapley Takemori





“On 15th August, the war the grown-ups had started finally ended. The whole of Japan had been burnt to the ground and everyone was hungry, but amidst the ruins stood just one cake tree. It was always surrounded by children gorging themselves on its delicious leaves and branches, but the grown-ups passed right by without ever even noticing it was there.”

Post World War Two Japanese fiction is a World Class cultural treasure.  Underlying much of the tremendously creative and often profoundly wise literature is the impact of Japan’s defeat in the war.  When The Emperor addressed his subject on the radio on August 15, 1945 and told them Japan had surrendered and that he was not a god, the cultural basis for Japanese society was devastated.  Kenzaburo Óe has said the most valuable result of the atomic bomb attacks was in the wisdom the terrible suffering brought to the survivors and care givers.  Some writers,  responded by writing elegant accounts of a destroyed tradition, others shifted to very violent sexually graphic works representing a now limit free ethos, others to magic realism. Some, like Akiyuki Nosaka strives to capture the pain of ordinary Japanese.  

In “The Cake Tree”, set in a Kobe after it was firebombed in 1945
we are presented a very moving account of the daily existence of a group of children, ages five to ten.  These lines show the impact on the children 

“Adults were better at enduring these conditions, but it was really tough on growing children, especially since it was the grown-ups who had gone to war in the first place while the children were simply innocent victims. For those children between the ages of five and ten in 1945, it really was a miserable existence—they had never eaten anything tasty, while however hungry the grown-ups were now they could remember eating their fill of delicious food in the past. They would reminisce about the tasty eel in suchand-such a restaurant, and the mouth-watering tempura in another, especially the shrimp and vegetable fritters”

The search for food became the work of the children:

“Rice had been rationed since 1941, sugar was hard to come by, the cakes and candies that had once flooded into the ports had vanished, and by the end of the war the only sweets available were dried bananas and sweet potatoes. In order to survive, the children formed gangs to go scavenging for the tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins and other vegetables people had started growing in the ruins. They knew it was wrong to steal, but survival was more important to them, and they could sniff out exactly where tomatoes were turning red or pumpkins were swelling up nicely. “Hey, what’s this tree?”

The tree’s story is just so beautiful, magic realism with the touch of a master.  I don’t want to tell the marvelous close of this story but I loved it.  Nosaka, drawing on his own experiences, in just a few pages bringing to life a world now largely forgotten

This is the title story in a collection of that name forthcoming from Pushkin Press. There are eleven other WW II era stories in collection, one about a whale that falls in love with a submarine and a very deep story about the relationship of an American POW and a little girl.

All into Japanese fiction, especially works about the war, need to add this to their to be read list.  I will be returning to these stories for more 
posts.

Akiyuki Nosaka was born in 1930 in Japan, and was a member of the yakeato generation, ’the generation of the ashes’, who survived the devastating firebombing of Japan during the Second World War. Nosaka was an award-winning novelist, short-story writer, essayist, lyricist, singer and politician. His adoptive parents were killed in the Allied firebombing of Kobe, and after he was evacuated with his sister, she died of malnutrition. These experiences inspired the stories in this collection, as well as one of his best-known works, Grave of the Fireflies, which was turned into a hugely successful Studio Ghibli film (called ’a masterpiece’ by the Guardian), and which is forthcoming in a new translation from Pushkin Press. Nosaka died in 2015. From Pushkin Press

Mel u





Saturday, July 14, 2018

George Sand by Martine Reid - 2013. Translated and introduced by Gretchen. Van Slyke - 2018









George Sand by Martine Reid 


Paris in July hosted by Thyme for Tea is a great event.  I Focus on literary works and nonfiction but you are invited to share your thoughts and experience on anything Paris related, from a great recipe, a favourite movie set in Paris, mine is Ninotchka, an account of your stay in Paris.  I hope lots of people join in.  Just be sure to  link you post on The event home page.

Already there are lots of very interesting posts from food bloggers, Francophiles, travel bloggers, as well as book bloggers.  Normally I don’t venture far from the international book blog community so for me this event is an excellent way to expand my horizons. 

So far I have posted on

  1. “A Yiddish Poet in Paris” by Blume Lempel, 1978
  2. Vagabond by Colette, 1904
  3. Lost Times - Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp by Józef Czafski -translated and introduced. by Eric Karpeles - 2018
  4. “Her Last Dance” by Blume Lempel - 2018
  5. Gerorge Sand by Martine Reid

July 1, 1804, Amantine Lacile Aurore Dupin was born into a Nobel family.  She was called “Aurore” by friends and family.

1822 Marries Casmir Dudevant, they have two children, seperate in 1835 and begins a series of affairs with well known men, most famously Frederic Chopin (1837 to 1847)

1831 -published the first of fifty novels

1832 - Published Indiana and begins to use the pen name George Sand under which she will be for ever famous 

George Sand by Martine Reid is a decent informative book on a writer who, i am guessing, is most now known for using her pen name, dressing as a man, smoking cigars and for her ten year affair with Frederic Chopin.

Reid details her childhood and her up formative years.  One of her grandfathers was the illegitimate son of a Polish King.  She was raised in affluence.  Reid for sure helped me understand the childhood of Sand, something many literary biographers often skip over.  

Reid goes into depth about why Aurore, Reid calls her that, assumes a male name and dressed as a man.  In part it was that women writers were assumed to be lacking in depth.  Also as Reid explains dressed as a man Aurore could go about in Paris than an unescorted woman.  We also see gender blending aspects of her psyche.

Reid devotes a good bit of space to the Chopin romance.  We learn a good bit about Chopin also.

Reid places Sand in context of 19th century French literature.  Sand had intellectual relationships with Balzac and Flaubert.  Both admired her talent but neither saw her as a peer.

Reid relies heavily on Sand’s autobiography.

I think anyone interested in 19th century literature will be glad to have this book as am I.



The kindle price (for an under three hundred page book) is $22.95.  I do  not find myself able to recommend this book to anyone but a specialist in the field at that cost unless price is not a concern.




































































Wednesday, July 11, 2018

“Her Last Dance” by Blume Lempel - initially published 1986 - translated. from Yiddish 2017 by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Taub




Paris in July




“My older brother watches over me, telling me what to write in Yiddish. I can’t very well ask him not to speak in the language of exile. Blessed with the gifts of a prodigy, he knows what I’m thinking. Yiddish is not a language of exile, he answers my unspoken words —it is mame-loshn, our mother tongue. I have tremendous respect for my brother. He believed in the goodness of man, the goodness of all. He met with a double disaster —disappointed first in his faith, then in himself. Now he watches over me, directing my stories from beyond the grave with a sure touch. This is how it was. This is what happened. So must it be recorded. Each according to his ability must convey what he saw, what he lived through, what he thought, what he felt. You did not survive simply to eat blintzes with sour cream. You survived to bring back those who were annihilated.”.  From The Yiddish Writer by Blume Lempel

Paris in July hosted by Thyme for Tea is a great event.  I Focus on literary works and nonfiction but you are invited to share your thoughts and experience on anything Paris related, from a great recipe, a favourite movie set in Paris, mine is Ninotchka, an account of your stay in Paris.  I hope lots of people join in.  Just be sure and link you post on The event home page.  There are already lots of fascinating posts.

I was gratified when my post on a story by Blume Lempel “A Yiddish Poet in Paris” drew attention from event participants.  Many thousands of Eastern European Jews immigrated to France in the 1930s, hoping they would be safer from the Nazis.  


Blume Lempel

Born 1907 in The Ukraine

Moved to Paris in 1929, to be near her brother who lived there.

While in Paris she worked as a furrier and attended night school.


1939- having married and had two children, her Family moved to New York State, out of concern over rising anti-Semiticism.  (Many in her extended Family died in The Holocaust as would she and her Family had they not left.  In 1942 French authorities in a compromise with the Germans, agree to arrest and turn over to the Germans all foreign born Jews. 

I am currently reading a fascinating work focused partially on Jewish culture in Paris in the 1930s, THE ARCHIVE THIEF The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust by LISA MOSES LEFF.  This quote from her book will help us understand Yiddish Paris:


“The highly politicized, culturally dynamic milieu that Szajkowski found in Paris was an important hub in the vast global diaspora of Yiddish-speaking Jews that formed in the turbulent 1920s and ’30s. This meant that many of the same political and cultural ideas that Szajkowski had encountered as a boy in Zaromb—Communism, Jewish socialism, Zionism, and diaspora nationalism—also shaped life among the 90,000 immigrants who formed the majority of Paris’s interwar Jewish population of about 150,000. In those years, antisemitism and economic hardship pushed many Eastern European Jews to migrate across the globe, as they sought new situations in which they could support themselves and live their lives in peace.” 

(It should be noted that not all French Jews self identified as Yiddish, many had been in France for centuries but this is complex matter.)


Lempel came to love Paris and became fluent in French. Shortly after she and her family  left France her brother was killed by the Germans as a resistance fighter.



1943- begins to publish, starting with a Short Story

All her writings were in Yiddish.  In part this was her way of defying those who wanted the magnifcient Yiddish Cultural tradition destroyed.

In 1950 the Family locates permanently in Long Island.  I was happy to learn she lived 92 years and continued to publish well into her eighties.

1999 passes away.

I could not find much sbout the details of her life in Long Island, there is a great bio or novel in this for someone.

“Her Last Dance” was published in English translation in a collection of her work, Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories, named for one of the stories, translated and introduced by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Taub, assembled from two Yiddish language collections published by Lempel.  In my prior posts on Lempel there are links  to two very good lectures by the translators. I thank them for bringing Lempel to the Yiddish lacking literary world.

This story is set in Paris, the allies have just landed in Normandy.  Our chief character Simone  is the mistress of the Nazi selected French chief of police for Paris.  She has a dangerous secret.  Her lover has no 
Idea her parents are Yiddish speaking immigrants from Lithuania.  She has died her hair blond and has learned to get by on her looks and a willingness to trade sexual accomodation for comfort and luxury. Simone begins to wonder if she is trapped, how can she survive when the now obviously worried Germans leave Paris?  Lempel  takes us to a café gathering of Nazis.

“Among the full and empty glasses on the table were scattered newspapers in various languages. It was the summer of 1944. The Allies had landed on the golden beaches of Normandy. This new situation placed the bleached blond mademoiselle in a dilemma. The worm of doubt that lurked within every turning point had crawled into her pampered soul. Simone did not believe in principles; she led her life by caprice alone. In fact, one could say that principles played no part in her life at all. She relied on her intuition to take her from one stage to the next, even into the bedroom. Now her intuition was whispering that it was time to turn over a new leaf.”

Now the Gestapo bosses of the mayor begin to think, very incorrectly, that she may be a spy for the resistance.  Simone begins to wonder how can she escape being labeled a collaborator once the war is over?  All she ever wanted was to get by on her looks and help her parents, who dont really approve of her life style but these are dark times.

Simone begins to help downed fighter pilots get out of France:

“This very morning she had carried out a daring mission. She had smuggled out an R.A.F. flier who had escaped from custody and delivered him to the Resistance. She had hidden the flier in her maid’s attic quarters, dressed his wounds, provided him with civilian clothes and a false passport, and driven him in her car to his destination. Simone Bonmarchais worked only for prominent men, wanting nothing to do with ordinary people. She was the ideal mistress for her lover, as she asked no favors of him. Underlings did the preparatory work, providing her with the passports and warning her of danger. She rewarded them with higher positions and better pay. With an aesthetic outlook, she dismissed the rumors of mass murder. In her bleached blond head, such outrageous stories could not take up residence. The scope of the atrocity was so far beyond human comprehension that lies were more believable than truth.”

She likes to help pilots as they are exciting figures.


I will give Lempel the last word on the fate of Simone, now in the custody of the SS

““My dear fraulein, you’re too charming to argue with. But an order is an order.” He took her by the arm and led her outside. Two S.S. men were waiting. They settled the fraulein into the car and drove from the Champs-Élysées to the Place de Concorde, passing the elegant restaurants where she and M. Legrand had once been so happy. From there the car turned deeper into the woods, where a single bullet dyed her blond hair a hideous shade of red.”

“Her Last Dance” is a very deeply perceptive story.  It feels like a plot for an exciting movie.

Yesterday I was given a Review copy of A German Officer in Occupied Paris 1941 to 1945 - The Journal of Ernst J Ünger. Únger was a famous German writer, his primary job in Paris was to read French publications looking for anti-German Ideas.  I hope to post on this soon.  

Mel u