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

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Paris in July 2019 - My Plans and Hopes - Plus a Recap of Paris in July 2018

My Official Event Song

This will be my tenth year as a participant in Paris in July, hosted by Thyme for Tea.  Paris in July is a wonderful international event devoted to all things Paris.

The very simple rules are on the sign up page.  

My Paris July 2018 readings

  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 - 
  5. Gerorge Sand by Martine Reid 2017
  6. ,THE ARCHIVE THIEF The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust LISA MOSES LEFF
  7. “Cousin Claude” by Blume Lempel
  8. Taste of Paris:A History of the Parisian Love Affair with Food by David Downie
  9. “The Beggar” by Gaito Gazdanov, 1962
  10. “Images on a Blank Canvas” by Blume Lempel

Blume Lempel left the Ukraine for Paris to escape anti-Semitic pograms.  She loved Paris but did leave for Canada, settling in New York City shortly before World War Two began.  She loved Paris and always wanted to return but never did.  I was delighted to find four short stories, translated from Yiddish, by Lempel set in Paris.  Of course I could not neglect Colette.  Taste of Paris:A History of the Parisian Love Affair with Food by David Downie left me hungry.
THE ARCHIVE THIEF The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust by LISA MOSES LEFF is a very valuable addition to Holocaust Literature.  Lost Times - Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp by Józef Czafski -translated and introduced. by Eric Karpeles left me humbled. Gerorge Sand by Martine Reid was edifying.  The Beggar” by Gaito Gazdanov, is a story by a Russian Cab driver in Paris, writing stories of his experiences.  He deserves to be better read.  

Participates can share their experiences on anything from your favorite Paris restaurant, a movie about Paris, my pick is Ninotchka, a French artist, a trip to Paris or a fashion designer.  Paris history is also a rich topic.  

Literary stars such as Balzac, Zola, Proust, Flaubert, Hugo, Colette, de Maupassant are must reads.  Plus of course there are great set in Paris works by Americans, the best of which, in my opinion, is The Ambassadors by Henry James.  Hemingway's The Movable Feast would be a very good pick.

Here are some works I hope to read for Paris in July 2019

  1. The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette 
  2. Suzanne's Children - A Daring Rescue in Nazi Paris by Anne Nelson -nonfiction
  3. Death on the Installment Plan by Celine - This is a companion volume to his  Journey to The End of the Night which I read for Paris in July 2017
  4. At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell - cultural history of French existentialism
  5. Paris Vagabond by JEAN-PAUL CLÉBERT -1952 a poetic exploration of "sites of great poverty or cheap debauchery in an unknown Paris."
  6. Cheri by Colette
  7. Proust's Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-De-Siecle Paris by Caroline Weber
  8. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.  Set in Paris during WW Two. I just completed her set in Marseille The Flight Portfolio
  9. Paris Seven AM by Lisa Wieland - The acclaimed, award-winning author of A Watch of Nightingales imagines in a sweeping and stunning novel what happened to the poet Elizabeth Bishop during three life-changing weeks she spent in Paris amidst the imminent threat of World War II.
  10. Four set in Paris Stories by Mavis Gallany 
  11. Also I hope to read a few other short stories 

Getting an early start, I have begun several of my choices.  I probably won't finish them all and hope to learn about new to me works from other participants.  

I will be assisted by Ambrosia Bousweau 

Mel u

Sunday, June 16, 2019

“Eveline” by James Joyce - 1914 - from Dubliners - In Observation of Bloomsbay

From June 16, 2011

"Eveline" by James Joyce (1914, 4 pages, in The Dubliners)

During Irish Short Story Week I   a number of people posted on a short story by James Joyce.   (Irish Short Story Week II is scheduled for March 11 to March 21, 2012-I hope lots of people will join in.)   I posted on his "The Sisters" on "The View from Mount Parnassus Day".    I also posted on Joyce's "The Dead" on Blooms Day June 17, 2010.     This week I want to post on a beautiful short work that goes deeply into the heart of a young woman, "Eveline"

Ulysses by James Joyce (1888-1941 Dublin) takes place on June 16, 1904.    Every year for a long time now Bloomsday (Leopold Bloom was the central character of the book) is observed in Dublin and elsewhere by oral readings of parts or even all of Ulysses in marathon  reading (OK and drinking!) sessions.      .

Whether or not Ulysses is the greatest novel of the 20th century is a matter of literary taste.   Vladimir Nabokov, whose Lectures on Reading I am now being edified by, says it is.    If you love it, if you hate it, or if you see it as  a work that can be read only by those with a serious literary education and lots of reading time,  it cannot be denied its place as the most influential novel of the 20th century (and so far nothing has come along in the 21th century to threaten this position).    About a year ago I began to overcome a life time misguided aversion to the short story as a literary form.   As I began to read various authors I decided I would read the very best short stories first so I would have something to compare others with.    Stories  in Joyce's  The Dubliner (1914)  were on almost all lists.

"Eveline", told in the third person, is about a young woman longing to be free but afraid of leaving the only place she has ever known and trapped by feelings of obligation to her family.     She is also somehow trapped by the things in her life.
Her mother is now dead, her father needs to be controlled.   He drinks to much and he used to beat his two sons.       Eveline takes care of the house and fixes the meals.     She longs to get away.    She also works at a store for a harsh woman who cares nothing about her.   

Eveline has met a merchant marine.   My first impulse was to think Oh no she has fallen for a sailor in town for a few days.   There is a passage that seems to suggest that Eveline fears being beaten or worse by the father now that she is nineteen and has no one to protect her.    Joyce's prose is beautiful.

" She would not be treated as her mother had been. Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father's violence. She knew it was that that had given her the palpitations. When they were growing up he had never gone for her like he used to go for Harry and Ernest, because she was a girl but latterly he had begun to threaten her and say what he would do to her only for her dead mother's sake. And no she had nobody to protect her. Ernest was dead and Harry, who was in the church decorating business, was nearly always down somewhere in the country. Besides, the invariable squabble for money on Saturday nights had begun to weary her unspeakably. She always gave her entire wages -- seven shillings -- and Harry always sent up what he 
could but the trouble was to get any money from her father".

It seems the sailor, Frank, is a decent man.   He wants Eveline to marry him and set sail for Buenes Aires, Argentina where there is a house waiting for them.    The story is set in a time 1000s of people are leaving Ireland and Buenes Aires  was a very frequent destination for Irish emigrants.

I do not wish to tell more of the plot of this brief short story.   As the story closes it seems to me that Eveline has made a mistake but one we can all relate to.   

Joyce has compressed several lives into just four pages but really he has compressed much of the history of Ireland.    You can almost feel the loneliness of 
Eveline in this story.
JoAnne @ Lakeside Musings  has a wonderful post on this story. 

I hope everyone around the world enjoys Bloomsday and that we will all be back next year to observe it again!

I think one powerful reason there are so many wonderful 20th century Irish short story writers is that Joyce set the standard so high.

You can read it online HERE

Friday, June 14, 2019

Hershelle: A Jewish Love Story by Jacob Dinezon - 1891 - translated from Yiddish by Jane Peppler - 2016

1851 - New Zhanger, Lithuania

1891- Publishes  Hershelle:A Jewish Love Story

1919 - Warsaw

I first began reading Yiddish literature in translation in December of 2012.  Yale University Press inspired my interest with a gift of The Yale Yiddish Library Collection. The alleged theme of my blog is literary works about people who lead reading centered lives and I quickly came to see how central reading was to Yiddish culture.  

I think my favorite work of Yiddish literature is the deeply hilarious profoundly revealing The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl by Sholem Aleichem, on whose work the movie The Fiddler on the Roof is based.  In the stories of pogroms by I. L. Peretz a terrible history was brought to life with incredible depth and feeling.  Dinezon was friends with them both.

Thanks to the selfless dedication and strongly focused work of Scott Davis, Jacob Dinezon (I urge all to read the very informative webpage on Dinezon I link to at the start of this post for background information on Dinezon and his relationships with other now much better known writers) Dinezon will soon become a canon status Yiddish writer.

Hershelle: A Jewish Love Story is the third novel by Jacob Dinezon I have had the pleasure of reading.  I also read and posted on a few of shid shorter fictions, all published in new translations from the Jewish Story Teller Press.

Hershelle is a student at a yeshiva, a traditional Jewish seminary.  He is considered a brilliant young man, a fine young scholar.  His family is poor.
Poorer students often ate one of their evening meals at the home of one of the richer families of the community, called a charity meal.  This helps the student and the school.  Unintentionally it was often, especially in times of transition like Poland in 1890, a way different social elements of society could interact.  

Here is how Dinezon masterfully sets the events in motion:

The widow is unhappy with every boy that comes for a charity meal.  She keeps rejecting all the boys,  all big eaters, until she is finally happy with one of them, Hershelle. 

“Finally, God saw her misery and sent her a boy of the exact sort she wanted: a quiet child, not much of an eater, but one who was so refined and shy that she often came to him and asked him to eat a bit more. This boy was Hershele. Because the head of the yeshiva needed a favor from Brayndl, he convinced Hershele to accept her paltry Wednesday meal. He then arranged for Hershele—who certainly deserved it for his clever head, zeal, and quietness—to take his Thursday meal with Borekh the butcher. Borekh was known to provide the best charity meal in the whole village. But over time, Hershele came to enjoy Brayndl’s Wednesdays more than Borekh’s Thursdays. Her house was always clean, rich, and bright—it was a pleasure to sit there even without anything to eat. Borekh’s house was always dirty and full of shouting and tumult. And though Hershele quickly became tired of eating, Borekh’s wife hurled more of everything onto his plate. He could barely finish one piece of meat before she laid on another. He sweated, lost his strength to eat, and tried to slow down to catch his breath, but Borekh shouted in his butcher’s voice: “As long as you have a soul in you, keep at it! If you eat as you should, you’ll also learn as you should. Eat like a big fellow and that will give you the strength to be a big fellow before the Torah, which I know can sap your strength!” While eating at Brayndl’s, Hershele felt more refined, but at Borekh’s he became coarser, stuffing himself with meat, kishke, and tripe, and listening to coarse words, curses, and abuse—words he was embarrassed to even think about. Borekh found only one defect in his yeshiva student: “If only he had the strength to eat as he should. He’s a great boy. He can explain the law or a complicated story from the holy Torah. If he’d just eat like a proper person!” Brayndl, on the other hand, found this a fine trait in Hershele. “He’s a refined child, very genteel,” she’d say, “quiet as a mouse, eats like a bird. No matter how much one gives him, he thinks it’s too much. God grant that he’ll eat up what I don’t begrudge giving him—I know I’m getting a mitzvah through this.”

Of course a problem develops. The young and besutiful dsughter of the widow and Hershelle fall in love.  In a culture where marriages were largely arranged, such a match was socially unacceptable.  The widow has engaged a marriage broker who does all they can to make Hershelle look like a horrible potential husband.  However, the butcher wants Hershelle and his dsughter to marry.  He turns against Hershelle, who he feels is insulting him and his dsughter.  Now nobody like Hershelle.  The Widows sees him as a fortune hunter way below her daughter and the butcher is outraged by his rejection of his daughter.

From this conflict a lot of exciting turns of events are generated.  Hershelle gets in trouble.  The ending Is very powerful.

Hershelle: A Jewish Love story gives us a look at life in a Polish sthetl.  There is humour and pain in this story.

I highly recommend all three of the Jacob Dinezon novels.

I would suggest you read them in publication order, The Dark Young Man, Hershelle, and Yosele.

JANE PEPPLER - Translator

Jane Peppler graduated from Yale University with a degree in Russian language and literature. She began singing Yiddish songs in 1983 and directed the Triangle Jewish Chorale in North Carolina for fourteen years. Peppler studies with Yiddish professor and textbook author, Sheva Zucker, and has attended two intensive summer Yiddish courses at the Medem Bibliotheque in Paris.
In addition to translating Yiddish stories by Sholem Aleichem, Ayzik Meyer Dik, and Mendele Moykher Sforim, Peppler has completed English translations of Jacob Dinezon’s Yosele (, Alter, and Hershele.
In 2014, Peppler published Yiddish Songs from Warsaw 1929-1934: The Itsik Zhelonek Collection. She has also produced and performed on several albums of Yiddish music, including “I Can’t Complain (But Sometimes I Still Do),” “Cabaret Warsaw: Yiddish and Polish Hits of the 1920s-1930s,” and the three volume set, “Yiddish Songs from Warsaw.”

Mel u

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Sea People - The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson - 2019 - 362 pages

Sea People - The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson, 2019, 362 pages

An Autodidactic Corner Selection.

From the very start I loved this marvelous book.  It is the epitome of the very best narrative non-fiction. The 

publisher Harper Collins elegant description 
Is accurate:

“Sea People - The Puzzle of Polynesia is blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands 

of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know.”

I am very interested in the history of the Philippines.  Once you go back to the days prior to the conquest by the 
Spanish everything is pretty much conjecture.  I have wondered where the first settlers of the Philippines came from.  The text book answer is it was traders from Malaysia and China.  But the archipelago as not unpopulated when they arrived.  Further they did not come as colonists so 
expeditions were largely men only.  So who were the people they met?  Recent studies have found human remains over 700,000 years old in Luzon.  This is not the topic of Thompson’s book but from it I learned how linguistics evidence, cultural artifacts show the first inhabitants of the Philippines probably were part of a very long term migration from Madagascar.  I was fascinated to learn from Thompson that the linguistic diversity of an area is a reflection of how long it has been settled.  The 100 plus languages of the 

Philippines testifies to a very old settlement.  It takes a long time for many languages to develop.  

Here is the puzzle this book comes close to answering:

“For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle 
stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians can trace their roots to a group of epic voyagers who ventured out into the unknown in one of the greatest adventures in 
human history.
How did the earliest Polynesians find and colonize these far-flung islands? How did a people without writing or metal tools conquer the largest ocean in the world? This conundrum, which came to be known as the Problem of Polynesian Origins, emerged in the eighteenth century as one of the great geographical mysteries of mankind.” From Harper Collins

"The book begins as an adventure story, telling us about the voyages of Captain Cook and others into Polynesia.  Early explorers came looking not for scattered island settlements but for a fabled lost continent or a way to India".

Thompson spends a lot of wonderful time detailing the first encounters of Europeans and Polynesians.  Some were 
peaceful, some violent. The two groups were very curious about each other.  Of course the sailors wanted sex and women were willing to service them for trade goods.  The people were considered very attractive. Thompson goes into a lot of details about  early studies and theories of Europeans.  Some thought the Polynesians were a lost tribe from Israel, others felt they were originally from South America or India.

Throughout the huge region, the people were similar in appearance, life style, religion, food and language.  Most islands had pigs, dogs chickens and an unwanted stowaway, the black rat.  They found some islands with only  dogs! 
Thompson  helped me understand how language similarities can be used to help us understand the history of ancient societies.  Polynesia was a pre-literate society relying on the memory of bards for their historical knowledge.  Thompson explains how the Polynesians viewed their past.  They knew they had come from else where and these views are fascinating. She details the work of early European students of the culture.  

Thompson goes into the history of theories of scholars and anthropologists from the mid-19th century up to the great strides made when radio carbon dating was developed (Thompson does a fine job explaining technical matters in a lucid fashion.)She ends the book talking about how DNA research and computer analysis has advanced the field.

Thompson's book is not just science.  Her husband is a Maori and her sons carry the DNA  of ancient Polynesian.  

I loved this book for several reasons.  It taught me lots of history I did not know, in an intriguing fashion. Thomson showed me how conclusions are reached and justified.  I learned about language groups with thousands of items, including the 100s of languages of the Philippines.  

Christina Thompson is the author of Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, due out March 2019 from Harper, and Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All,which was shortlisted for the 2009 NSW Premier's Award and the 2010 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. 
A dual citizen of the United States and Australia, she was born in Switzerland and grew up outside Boston. She received her BA from Dartmouth College and her PhD from the University of Melbourne and held post-doctoral fellowships at the East-West Center in Honolulu and the University of Queensland before becoming editor of the Australian literary journal Meanjin.
Since 2000 she has been the editor of Harvard Review. A recipient of fellowships from the NEA, the Australia Council, as well as an NEH Public Scholar Award, she teaches writing at Harvard University Extension, where she was awarded the James E. Conway Excellence in Teaching Writing Award in 2008. Christina lives outside Boston with her husband and three sons.  From the authors website.

I bought this during a one day flash sale for $2.95.  

Mel u

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer - 2019 - 566 Pages

“To be in Marseille, not Paris, still carried a certain novelty, a whiff of the unknown. If Paris reeked of sex, opera, art, and decadent poverty, Marseille reeked of underground crime, opportunism, trafficked cocaine, rowdy tavern song. Paris was a woman, a fallen woman in the arms of her Nazi captors; but Marseille was a man, a schemer in a secondhand coat, ready to sell his soul or whatever else came quickly to hand”.

Website of Julie Orringer

Cynthia Ozick's Review of Flight Portfolio - from The New York Times

Varian Fry (image above)

October 15, 1907. New York City

December 7, 1941 - USA declares war on Germany

September 3, 1967 Redding, Connecticut

Varian Fry's father was an affluent stock broker, the epitome of Protestant Wasp gentility.  Fry, a Harvard graduate, was meant to join the American between the wars elite.  In 1935 he took a trip to Berlin.  He was deeply appalled by the violence directed against Jews by the Germans.  Five years later he is living in Vichy controlled France, in Marseille, directing the American funded Emergency Relief Committee.  Their mission was to get prominent Jewish artists, intellectuals and anti-Nazi dissidents to the United States.  He eventually helped over 2000 people designated for deportation to death camp escape.  (1994 - Fry became the first United States citizen to be listed in the Righteous among the Nationsat Israel's national Holocaust Memorial, award by Yad Vashem.From Wikipedia)

Orringer has turned this history into a true master work.  She makes Marseille into a character in the novel.  I felt very much I was walking the streets of Marseille, feely a bit too secure, smelling the sea, eating the food, dealing with corrupt officials and ordinary French citizens trying to figure out how to survive the food shortages.  Fry finds his clients challenging, among them are the great artist Marc Chagal, Hannah Arendt, Thomas Mann's son and daughter in law, numerous Surealists and anti-Nazi leaders.  

Orringer shows us lots of people involved with the work.  Everyone is totally viable.  The people all were very interesting. Marseille is a dangerous place.  The Vichy government is under the thumb of the gestapo.

A romance is center stage in Flight Portfolio (I really liked the name of the novel once I learned where it comes from) between Varian and another man. This relationship goes back to their days as Harvard students.  The other man is hiding a secret.  Varian is married, his  wife is rich, eight years older and she accepts his attraction to men. 

There are  interesting plot turns  among frequent exciting developments in the efforts to get people out of France.  Varian finds way to deal with all sorts of problems, though he has his failures.  

I found Flight Portfolio deeply enthralling, almost painfully  so at times.  I did wonder how the hidden family background of Varian's boyfriend related to the Germans treatment of Jews.  I think we are being told to look deeper into our own history.

Flight Portfolio is a beautiful profound work of art.  I give my great thanks to Julie Orringer for the years that went into this novel.

I hope to read her debut novel The Invisible Bridge in July.

Julie Orringer is the author of two award-winning books: The Invisible Bridge, a New York Times bestselling novel, and How to Breathe Underwater, a collection of stories; her new novel, The Flight Portfolio, tells the story of Varian Fry, the New York journalist who went to Marseille in 1940 to save writers and artists blacklisted by the Gestapo. All her work has been published by Alfred A. Knopf, and her books have been translated into twenty languages. Her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Granta Book of the American Short Story and The Scribner Anthology of American Short Fiction. She is the winner of the Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Cullman Center at the New York Public Library, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, the MacDowell Colony, and Yaddo. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and children, and is at work on a novel set in New Orleans. From the author's website

Mel u