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

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Little Berliner - A Short Story by Robert Walser - 1914 - translated from German by Helen Watts

German Literature Month, November, 2019

Works so far read for German Literature Month, 2019

1. Allmen and The Pink Diamond by Martin Suter, 2011
2. The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1808
3. Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada - 2014
4. Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada - 1947
5. "The Little Berliner" by Robert Walser, 1914

"Walser’s virtues are those of the most mature, most civilized art. He is a truly wonderful, heartbreaking writer"'. Susan Sontag

"Since then I have slowly learned to grasp how everything is connected across space and time, the life of the Prussian writer Kleist with that of a Swiss author who claims to have worked as a clerk in a brewery in Thun, the echo of a pistol shot across the Wannsee with the view from a window of the Herisau asylum, Walser’s long walks with my own travels, dates of birth with dates of death, happiness with misfortune, natural history and the history of our industries, that of Heimat with that of exile. On all these paths Walser has been my constant companion. I only need to look up for a moment in my daily work to see him standing somewhere a little apart, the unmistakable figure of the solitary walker just pausing to take in the surroundings."  William Sebald

Mel first encountered the work of Robert Walser during German Literature Month in 2013, he followed up with posts on short stories in  2014 and in 2015 on his novel The Tanners.  We are returning to him this year through a very Walserian story, "The Little Berliner".

1878 to 1956 - Switzerland

"The Little Berliner" is narrated by a 12 year old girl from an affuent Berlin family.  The story really is enchanting, magic.  We see how the girl totally has the views of her class.  She knows her main destiny is to marry and have children.  

One very good way to get into Walser is through the Selected Stories collection pictured above.

Oleander Bousweau

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs - 2016

A Revolutionary War Read

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs is a first rate historical novel, bringing to life Alexander Hamilton, his wife, and his era.

But before you read this work, assuming you have not done so, you will enjoy The Hamilton Affair much more if you first read Alexander Hamilton, A Biography by Ron Chernow.

The plot alternates between episodes in the life of Hamilton and his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler.  Things begin in Christiansted, St. Croix, where Hamilton was born and lived until his early teens, in January 1768.  Hamilton's parents were not married, his father deserted the family.  His mother struggled to feed Hamilton and his brother.  There were unsavory rumors about her relationships with men.  Alexander, I feel we can call him that, was about thirteen, working as a clerk for a shipping company.  St Croix was dominated by the sugar industry.  The sugar industry was totally dependent on slaves.  To be a sugar industry slave was a horribly cruel life.  From seeing this Alexander develops a life time aborance to slavery.  Hamilton is so smart and so reliable he received sponsorship to go to work in New York.  Cobbs does a wonderful job creating the insular world of St. Croix.

We the move on to Saratoga New York, June 1770 to meet the future Mrs Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler at the home of her patrician  and wealthy family, lots of siblings, servants and slaves.  The ambience has a kind of Jane Austen feel.  Elizabeth and her sisters are approaching the age to marry and finding a proper husband is of paramount importance.  A lot of the plot in the first third or do of the book shows us how a penniless, illegitimate foreigner wound up marrying and being totally accepted in one of New York's wealthiest families.

Cobbs takes us through the years of the American Revolution, to his close relationship with Geirge Washington, his friendship with Lafayette, his becoming a general. Seeing his importance as a field commander at Yorktown was very exciting.

We are their at the wedding.  There are explicit sex scenes between the Hamilton's.  Of course this is a product of the imagination of Cobb but we know from correspondence that they were very close. 

With alternating chapters as Alexander's work for the government takes him away from home, we get a look at some of the conflicts in the New Republic.  The Hamilton's have lots of children, miscarriages were common as were early deaths.  The Hamiltons are presented as a close couple.  Then Alexander commits a totally out of character blunder, he has an affair.

The novel flashes  on from the tragic senseless death of Alexander in 1804 to the passing of his wife fifty years later.

"Award-winning historian Elizabeth Cobbs brings fresh, unexpected perspectives to our understanding of the past and present. Building upon worldwide research and extraordinary life experiences, Elizabeth writes best selling  fiction and non-fiction that is both scholarly and witty. Her path-breaking books and articles reveal a world that is as intriguing and surprising as it is real.

Elizabeth earned her Ph.D. in American history at Stanford University. She now holds the Melbern Glasscock Chair at Texas A&M University and a Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Her books have won four literary prizes, two for American history and two for fiction. Elizabeth has been a Fulbright scholar in Ireland and a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. She has served on the Historical Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department and on the jury for the Pulitzer Prize in History.". From

Mel u

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The River Capture by Mary Costello - 2019

Canongate - Publisher of The River Capture

My Q and A Session with Mary Costello 

In March of 2013 I read and posted upon Mary Costello's debut collection, The China Factory.  I am delighted to be today featuring her second novel, River Capture. Set mostly in Waterford, Ireland, the river is the Sullane.

The theoretical model behind my blog calls for me to focus on literary works about people who lead reading centered lives. River Crossing is a brilliant example of such a work. The central character Luke O'Brien is obsessed with Leopold Bloom from Ulysses.  He has just returned from Dublin where he was teaching Joyce.  He often reacts to passing events by wondering what Leopold Bloom would do under the same circumstances.  He seems to have both Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man so well internalized that segments enter his consciousness through out his day as involuntary memories.  He sees himself in terms of his relationship to Joyce and his work.  He has vague plans to write a book on Joyce now that he is back on the family farm.  There are lots of quotes from Joyce and even references to Richard Ellman's biography.

Luke is kind of at odds as what to do with his days.  Much of his time is spent visiting his Aunt Ellen, his only living relative besides a sister in Australia.  He seems slightly unhappy.

Luke has had a gay relationship as well as one with a woman, both way in the past but he thinks about them a lot.  He is lonely but he is used to that.  

One day a woman comes to his farm and asks him to adopt her uncle's dog. They gradually develop a relationship. Ruth brings a much needed element of chaos into Luke's life.

As the plot reaches about midpoint Luke's mind takes on an almost Joycean synsesis of human culture.  The language is exquisite.  

Irish romantic relationships are stereotypically portrayed as restrained, we see into and beyond that in the evolving relationship of Luke and Ruth.

This is very much a set in place story, deeply rooted in Ireland.

From the publisher

"Mary Costello lives in Galway. Her short story collection, The China Factory (2012), was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award and shortlisted for an Irish Book Award. Her first novel, Academy Street (2014), won the Irish Novel of the Year Award at the Irish Book Awards and was named overall Irish Book of the Year. It was serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime and was shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award, the Costa First Novel Prize, the EU Prize for Literature and the Prix Littéraire des Ambassadeurs de la Francophonie en Irlande, and has been translated into several languages. The River Capture is her second novel."

Mel u

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada - 1947 - translated from German by Allan Blunden 2016

German Literature Month November 2019

During German Literature Month in 2015 i read two novels by Hans Falada, Wolf Among Wolves and Every Man Dies Alone.  Promo Levi said Every Man Dies Alone was the greatest work on life in Nazi Germany.  In 2016 I read his A Small Circus, in 2018 Once a Jail Bird (Fallada spent several years in jail).

Nightmare in Berlin was his final novel, set in Berlin starting with the arrival of Russian troops in Berlin.  From this point it follows lives of a married couple as they try to restore their pre-war life.

Nightmare in Berlin is closely based on his life with his wife in the closing days of the war and a year or so on.  Like the lead character, Doll (ok the name irritated me), Fallada was made mayor of a small town by Russians and his wife was a heroin user.
Doll encounters lots of ex-Nazi party members but nobody will admit they liked Hitler.  Doll and his wife return to Berlin but there old apartment is occupied by others.  They seek medical help in a broken down system.  Everyone in the book desperately wants American cigarettes. Everybody drinks heavily and seeks drugs to dull the pain.

Berlin truly is a nightmare City.  Everyone is constantly hungry, everyone is crooked.  

The Review in The Guardian said this was a very poorly translated book. The reviewer laughs at the work of the translator.

Start Fallada with Everyman Dies Alone then decide if you want to read more.

Bio Data from Melville House

“Before WWII, German writer Hans Fallada's novels were international bestsellers, on a par with those of his countrymen Thoman Mann and Herman Hesse. In America, Hollywood even turned his first big novel, Little Man, What Now? into a major motion picture

Learning the movie was made by a Jewish producer, however, the Nazis blocked Fallada's work from foreign rights sales, and began to pay him closer attention. When he refused to join the Nazi party he was arrested by the Gestapo--who eventually released him, but thereafter regularly summoned him for "discussions" of his work.

However, unlike Mann, Hesse, and others, Fallada refused to flee to safety, even when his British publisher, George Putnam, sent a private boat to rescue him. The pressure took its toll on Fallada, and he resorted increasingly to drugs and alcohol for relief. Not long after Goebbels ordered him to write an anti-Semitic novel he snapped and found himself imprisoned in an asylum for the "criminally insane"--considered a death sentence under Nazi rule. To forestall the inevitable, he pretended to write the assignment for Goebbels, while actually composing three encrypted books--including his tour de force novel The Drinker--in such dense code that they were not deciphered until long after his death.

Fallada outlasted the Reich and was freed at war's end. But he was a shattered man. To help him recover by putting him to work, Fallada's publisher gave him the Gestapo file of a simple, working-class couple who had resisted the Nazis. Inspired, Fallada completed Every Man Dies Alone in just twenty-four days.”

Mel u
Ambrosia Bousweau 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Hersh Dovid Nomberg: ‘The Golden Fantasy’ Translated by Daniel Kennedy from Yiddish

Hersh Dovid Nomberg: ‘The Golden Fantasy’ - 1906- Translated by Daniel Kennedy from Yiddish -2019

April 14, 1876. - Mszczonow (near Warsaw) Poland

November 21, 1927. -Ofwock, Poland

(For biographical data see the link below from The YIVO Encyclopedia of Eastern European Jews.)

“The Golden Fantasy” is my first encounter with the work of Hersh David Nomberg.  Thanks to Daniel Kennedy there will soon be available a collection of Homberg’s set in Warsaw short stories.

My main purpose today is let those interested know that a new translation of a pre-World War One   Yiddish  short story is now online.

This fascinating story is structured as if we were sitting in on a conversation between friends.  The time is 1906, the 1905 Russian revolution began to change everything for the Jews of Warsaw. 

I will share with you the opening of the story, I found it drew me deeply into the social world of the young doctor, his ability to keep hope in a grim world.

“You claim that there are people in this world without fantasies, who live without hope or illusions? In my opinion you’re quite wrong. It’s as hard for me to conceive of a human life without oxygen, as one without hope.”
The young, newly qualified doctor stroked his black goatee and continued.
“If you wish, I’ll tell you the story of a man who currently finds himself with us in the psychiatric ward. I knew him before he came to us; five years ago, he was an acquaintance of mine. I had been kicked out of the university and found myself in a circle of very interesting young people: lost, rejected and adrift. We stuck together, living as friends, bound by the vagaries of life despite having quite different characters and persuasions.
Not much is left of our little group now: some took their own lives, one is in Siberia, one died in prison, some have moved on to other careers and so on. But forgive me, I wanted to tell you about the man without illusions who is now in the madhouse. I knew him and I think I understood him well enough, though for the longest time he was something of a puzzle to me. Not just to me in fact; everyone who knew him­—Gurshteyn is his name—was taken aback by the extent of his serenity and apathy. Nothing, it seemed, could stir his heart or have any effect on his blank, nonchalantly satisfied face, nor could anything wipe away the smile in those lifeless eyes of his. No event, either in the world at large or in his own circle of acquaintances, ever took him by surprise.”

He is part of a circle of friends trying to scrap together a living.  
Times are hard, we see the consequences of anti-Czarist activity, we learn of more suicides, we are given a deeper look into the man without fantasies or illusions. The men seem without wives or any sort of women in their lives and no hopes to do much more than survive.

I will leave the plot line for you to explore.

“Nomberg's stories explore modern Jewish life in the growing cosmopolitan city of Warsaw: young intellectuals in pursuit of truth, beauty, and love; working class fathers tempted by schemes for easy money; teenagers divided between their traditional religious upbringings and the world of secular culture and political revolution. By turns comic, satiric, and earnest, Nomberg's stories take the pulse of Warsaw's Jewish society at the dawn of the twentieth century”.  from the website of the translator.

Mel u

Saturday, November 9, 2019

“Can't Go Out" - A Short Story by Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano - 2019 - translated from Cebuano by John Bengan

My Posts on the Literature and History of the Philippines

"Can't Go Out" - A Short Story by Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano - 2019 - translated from Cebuano by John Bengan

From Words Without Borders - November 2019

I was delighted to discover that for the first time ever Words Without Borders in The November 2019 edition is featuring Short Stories, Poems and Essays featuring writers from the Philippines. For a writer to make use of one of the 156 indeginous languages is a political as well as a literary statement, an affirmation old ways can endure in a Society increasingly dominated by mega malls and Facebook.

In years past I have posted on  pre-World War Two short stories and stories by National Authors of the Philippines as well as non-fiction. Readership on these posts is very high, showing there are lots of people interested in older Filipino literature.  These stories are a great resource for those into the history of the Philippines, a cultural treasure.  Soon all with a living memory of this era will be gone.

Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano’s story “Can’t Go Out” is set in the southern Phillipines, among indeginous people of Davao Del Sur
(Davao del Sur (Cebuano: Habagatang Dabaw) is a province in the Philippines located in the Davao Region in Mindanao. Its capital and largest city is Digos.) 

The time of the story is not explicitly stated. Probably it is sometime in the 1950s.  The central character Is a young woman.  She has heard of televisions but not yet seen one, she has seen cars but never ridden in one.  

I think the beautiful opening will be enough to illustrate the author’s ability to bring rural Philippines perfectly to life 

“Darkness falls in the afternoon. It’s going to rain again. The carabao and the goats have been herded off to shelter. The newly harvested corn has been covered. The house smells of fuel because our tiny lamp has been lit. Smoke rises from the hearth, a signal that Mama is cooking something. The five of us can’t go out. I want to go out so I can wait for Papa. I want to look out for what he brings, but I can’t go out.
The other week, Papa brought meat from hunting. Mama prepared it in a delicious broth. Rod and I fought over a large piece of wild boar meat. Mama got upset because we shouldn’t fight at the table. 
But last night, she and Papa were arguing. The five of us slept on empty stomachs. I couldn’t find my malong cloth. I fell asleep in our cold corner of the forest in Datal Fitak, a mountain in Matanao.
My teacher asks if we have ever seen a TV. I’ve seen one in a picture but I don’t know what it’s for. I haven’t been to Digos or to Davao, but I’ve heard about those places. So many people, they say, so many vehicles. Sometimes I don’t feel so bad because so many people and so many vehicles might run me over.  “

The story displsys the intense closeness of Filipino Family.  We see tbe role of the mother as care giver, Family rule giver and nourisher. Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano makes marvelous use of food.  

I will leave the action of the story for you, it is very intense.

I have a theory sbout the history of the Philippines not in full accord with what is taught in schools.  We are taught that the Philippines was founded by traders from Malaysia and China.  The problem with this idea is they came without women.  The contribution of aboriginal proples is way underestimated.  Historical linguistics suggested a region with many languages has a very ancient culture.  Probably about 500,000 years ago archipelago began to be settled by people from Siberia.  

I mention this as I greatly respect the efforts of Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano to keep alive history.

Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano received a BA in Mass Communication from Holy Cross of Davao College, where she developed her dedication to journalism and passion for creative writing. She works as a college instructor, teaching Development Communication at Southern Philippines Agribusiness and Marine and Aquatic School of Technology (SPAMAST)–Malita, Davao Occidental. She is proud of her Igorot, Kapampangan, and Blaan roots. Her writing is also her advocacy for the indigenous people of Davao del Sur. It focuses on indigenous people, motherhood, and children, as she is also a mother and a wife.

John Bengan teaches at the Department of Humanities in the University of the Philippines Mindanao. His work has appeared in Likhaan 6, Kritika Kultura, BooksActually’s Gold Standard, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, among others. He holds an MFA in creative writing from The New School. A recipient of a Ford Foundation International Fellowship, he has won prizes from the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards and the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for his short fiction. He lives in Davao City

Mel u

Friday, November 8, 2019

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada - 2014 - translated from German by Susan Bernofsky - 2016

Works read so far for German Literature Month, 2019

1. Allmen and The Pink Diamond by Martin Suter, 2011
2. The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1808
3. Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada - 2014

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada  - 2014 - translated from German by Susan Bernofsky - 2016

During another magnificent book blog event, The 12th Year of the Japanese Literature Challenge I read a wonderfully creative darkly humorous dystopian novel, The Emissary.  By Yoko Tawada, it was originally written in Japanese.  Here my summation of this work

"The Emissary by Yōko Tawada, translated from The Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani, won The 2018 National Book Award for Best Translated Literature.  It potrays a Japan after some sort of tremendous ecological decay which causes children to be born weak, deformed with little capacity for positive development.  The older citizens, sixty plus or so, keep getting stronger as they age.  People are triving at 120.  Japan has become completely isolationist.  Using foreign words is illegal. Every thing is just totally weird."

Tawada is one of the very few authors, to my knowledge the only one, to have obtained commercial success and literary aclaim in both Japanese and German.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear is a very strange, challenging and preplexing book.  It is also tremendously entertaining, politically acute and satrical of much more than I probably grasp about Germany.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear consists of three novelas about the members of a family of Polar Bears, a grandmother, her daughter and her grandson.  They become well known writers, circus performers, enter into intra-species relationships with humans all the while convincingly depicted as bears.  Of course this is a work in the tradition of magic realism.

The first section is devoted to the grandmother, a circus performer living in the Soviet Union.  She writes a successful autobiography.
Section two centers on her daughter, who has moved to the German Democratic Republic, she also works in the circus.  The last section is devoted to the grandson.

There is a lot to ponder in this book.  I think you can see it partially as a commentary on colonialism, an attack on venal publishers, a trashing of the treatment of animals in the circus and much more.

 Those new to Tawada are in for a true multicultural treat.

"Called “magnificently strange” by The New Yorker and frequently compared to Kafka, Pynchon, and Murakami, Yoko Tawada (b. 1960) is one of the most creative, theoretically provocative, and unflinchingly original writers in the world. Her work often deals with the ways that nationhood, languages, gender, and other types of identities affect people in contemporary society, especially in our postmodern world of shifting, fluid boundaries.  She is one of the rare writers who has achieved critical success writing in two languages, both in her native Japanese and in German, the language of the country where she has lived since 1982. Five volumes of her work in English translation have been published by New Directions and Kodansha, and her work has been translated into many other languages. Her numerous literary prizes in both Japan and Europe include the Gunzo Prize for New Writers for "Missing Heels,” the Akutagawa Prize (Japan's most important prize for young writers) for "The Bridegroom Was a Dog," the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize for her contributions to German-language literature, the Izumi Kyōka Prize, and the Goethe Medal."

From Words Without Borders

Susan Bernofsky


Susan Bernofsky’s literary translations include seven works of fiction by the great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser, as well as novels and poetry by Jenny Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada, Gregor von Rezzori, Uljana Wolf and others. She chairs the PEN Translation Committee and is co-editor (with Esther Allen) of the 2013 Columbia University Press anthology In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means. She received the 2006 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize and the 2012 Calw Hermann Hesse Translation Prize as well as awards and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the PEN Translation Fund, the NEA, the NEH, the Leon Levy Center for Biography and the Lannan Foundation

Mel u
Ambrosia Bouseweau