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, July 22, 2019

The Book of Salt by Monique Truong - 2003













Works Read so for Paris in July 2019

  1. At the Existentialist Cafe:Freedom, Being and Apricot  Cocktails by Sarah Blackwell.  2016 - An exploration of the Parisian origins of French post World War Two Existentialism 
  2. Suzanne's Children: A Daring Rescue in Nazi Paris by Anne Nelson. 2017- an important addition to French Holocaust Literature
  3. Journey to the Edge of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine -1932
  4. Death on The Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Celine - 1936
  5. "Luc and his Father" - a set in Paris short story by Mavis Gallant - 1982
  6. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer - 2010
  7. Paris Vagabond by Jean-Paul Clebert - 1952, translated 2016
  8. Cheri by Colette- 1920
  9. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - 2011 - Hemingway’s first marriage 
  10. The Bath of Madame Mauriac- A Short Story by Andre de Mandiargues,first published in translation from the French by Albert Herzing, in The Paris Review, Issue 76,  a very weird delightful surrealist story
  11. The Neighbor- A Short Story by Goli Taraghi - 2006. - translated from Farsi by Azizeh Axadi - A Marvelous story about a Family from Tehran adjusting to Life in Paris
  12. The Book of Salt by Monique Truong - 2003 - Paris in the 1930s through the experiences of the Vietnamese cook of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Tolkas, a masterpiece


For Paris in July 2016 I posted on a very good biography of Gertrude Stein, Favored Strangers- Gertrude Stein and her Family by Linda Wagner-Martin.  (Gertrude Stein was born in Alleghaney, Pennsylvania, USA 1874, she died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France in 1946.)

In 1903 she and her brothers moved to Paris.  France, mostly Paris, was to be her home for the rest of her life.  (There is a bit more bio data in my post linked above and some images of Stein and Alice B. Tolkas.  There are also pictures of their home in Paris, where much of The Book of Salt by Monique Truong is set.)

When I began planning for July in Paris I was unaware of the work of Monique Truong until she was mentioned in a tweet buy a writer I am very high on Chaya Bhuvaneswar, author of White Dancing Elephants, endorsed her strongly in a Tweet.  I discovered she has a soon forthcoming novel about women in the life of Lacadio Hearn, a childhood literary interest of mine. Her publicist very kindly sent me a digital review book.  After reading and loving the first twenty percent I stopped to check Truong's  web site and found her 2003 debut novel The Book of Salt was told from the point of view of the gay Vietnamese cook for Gertrude Stein (I learned in The Book of Salt that pretty much nobody but maybe Alice ever called her Gertrude) and was set   in Paris in the 1930s.  I at once acquired The Book of Salt, wanting to share this book with participates in Paris in July 2019.  (I will post on The Sweetest Fruit, the work on Lafcadio Hearn in August.)

Bein left Saigon, then part of French Indo-China, in 1929 to get away from his verbally abusive father, he calls him "the old man", who could not accept his sexual orientation.  He took a job as a galley hand on a ship.  After three years, now an experienced cook and in Paris, he answers an advertisement saying "two American Ladies Want a Live in Cook."   I smiled when their door man told Bein not to act surprised when you meet them.  At first he is confused but when he meets the women he will from then on call  "my Mesdames" he quickly figures thing out.

Bein does not really understand the cultural import of his two Mesdames but through his growing understanding of the comings and goings at their residence at 27 Rue de Fleures we slow learn about their lives.  Alice is very much the wife, educating Bein in cooking their favorites as well as elegant dishes for their salons.  Their house was a center for artistic and literary American expats.  Bein learned to tell who they liked and who bored them.

It was traditional that live in servants are on holiday on  Sunday.  Bein walks all over Paris and knows the city.  He meets a Vietnamese man on a bridge who turns out to be Ho Chi Min, then in exile in Paris. He develops a relationship with him. He calls him "the man on the bridge". Bein retells his life in Saigon.
(I loved it when Ho Chi Min says all Vietnamese were conceived when it was raining.). The life history of Bein  is not related in a linear fashion.  By doing this Truang helps drive us deeper into Bein's consciousness.  We see the depths of the impact of his father's contempt for his sexuality.  In a way it as almost as if the father was French colonial Vietnamese idelogy forcing itself not just on Bein but the country.  It maybe, as I have seen extensively in Irish literature the weaking of paternal authority due to colonialism produces a social climate in which men compensate by becoming abusive to the wives and children.  Bein expresses great sadness over abandoning his mother.



There are lots of wonderful food scenes.  It was so much fun to sit in as Alice was instructing Bein in the Kitchen.  Over several years Bein becomes very much a part of the house hold.  In 1934 his Mesdames are thinking about moving back to the USA. Bein is faced with a decision, does he go with or stay in France.

The narrative is wonderfully done.  The prose style elegant.

There are lots of other interesting threads in The Book of Salt.  It can be seen as a study in the sexual attitudes toward gay men and lesbians in Psris.  Bein learns his Mesdames have an active, and noisy, sex life.  Colonialism, expat living are deeply themed.

From the author's website

Born in Saigon, South Vietnam, Monique Truong came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1975. She is a writer based now in Brooklyn, New York.
Her first novel, The Book of Salt (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), was a national bestseller and the recipient of the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, Bard Fiction Prize, PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Literature Award, PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles National Literary Award, Association for Asian American Studies Poetry/Prose Award, and an Asian American Literary Award. In 2003, The Book of Salt was honored as a New York Times Notable Fiction Book, a Chicago Tribune Favorite Fiction Books, a Village Voice’s 25 Favorite Books, and a Miami Herald’s Top 10 Books, among other citations.
Her second novel, Bitter in the Mouth (Random House, 2010), received the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Rosenthal Family Foundation Awardand was named in 2010 as a 25 Best Fiction Books  by Barnes & Noble, a 10 Best Fiction Books by Hudson Booksellers, and the adult fiction Honor Book by the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association.
Her third novel, The Sweetest Fruits, will be published by Viking Books on September 3, 2019.
Truong is the editor of Vom Lasterleben am Kai(C.H. Beck, 2017), a collection of reportage by Lafcadio Hearn, a.k.a. Koizumi Yakumo, the subject of her novel-in-progress. She is also a contributing co-editor of Watermark: An Anthology of Vietnamese American Poetry & Prose (Asian American Writers’ Workshop, 1998).
Truong contributes essays, often about food or memory or both, to O Magazine, Real Simple, Marie Claire, Town & Country, Condé Nast Traveler, Allure, Saveur, Food & Wine, Gourmet, the New York Times and its T Magazine for which she wrote “Ravenous,” a monthly online food column, the Times of London (Saturday Magazine), Time Magazine (Asia edition), and other publications.
In collaboration with the composer/performer/soundartist Joan La Barbara, Truong has written the lyrics for a choral work, a song cycle, and is at work on a libretto for an opera inspired by Joseph Cornell and Virginia Woolf.
A Guggenheim Fellow, U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Fellow in Tokyo, Princeton University’s Hodder Fellow, and a Visiting Writer at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, Truong was most recently the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence at Baruch College in the Fall of 2016.
She has been in residence at Djerassi, Akrai Residency, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Lannan Foundation, Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, Ucross Foundation, Sea Change Residency, Liguria Study Center for the Arts and Humanities (Bogliasco), Fundacion Valparaiso, Ledig House International Writers’ Residency, and Santa Maddalena Foundation.
Truong serves on the Board of Directors of the Authors Guild as a vice president, the Creative Advisory Council for Hedgebrook, the Bogliasco Fellowship Advisory Committee, and the Advisory Committee of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network. For PEN America, she was the Chair of the Literary Awards Committee (2014-2017) and a member of the Advisory Council.
Truong is also an intellectual property attorney, but she hopes that you will not hold that against her. When she is not writing, which is most of the time, she cooks and takes naps. She lacks many basic life skills such as knowing how to drive a car, ride a bicycle, and has only recently learned how to read a map. She has been known to walk long distances, especially if there is a very good bakery located at the end of that walk. The only thing that she really likes to exercise is her right to vote, and she hopes that her fellow Americans will make a better, kinder, more intelligent decision in 2020.


Her website has links to several interesting articles.  YouTube contains interviews and symposiums with Truong.

Foodies will find much of interest in The Book of Salt.

I give my total endorsement to this beautiful very thought provoking novel.  I hope to reread it during Paris in July 2020.

I look forward to finishing The Sweetest Fruit then Bitter in the Mouth.

Mel u












Friday, July 19, 2019

The Neighbor- A Short Story by Goli Taraghi - 2006. - translated from Farsi by Azizeh Axadi - A Marvelous. story about a Family from Tehran adjusting to Life in Paris







 Works Read so for Paris in July 2019

  1. At the Existentialist Cafe:Freedom, Being and Apricot  Cocktails by Sarah Blackwell.  2016 - An exploration of the Parisian origins of French post World War Two Existentialism 
  2. Suzanne's Children: A Daring Rescue in Nazi Paris by Anne Nelson. 2017- an important addition to French Holocaust Literature
  3. Journey to the Edge of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine -1932
  4. Death on The Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Celine - 1936
  5. "Luc and his Father" - a set in Paris short story by Mavis Gallant - 1982
  6. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer - 2010
  7. Paris Vagabond by Jean-Paul Clebert - 1952, translated 2016
  8. Cheri by Colette- 1920
  9. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - 2011 - Hemingway’s first marriage 
  10. The Bath of Madame Mauriac- A Short Story by Andre de Mandiargues,first published in translation from the French by Albert Herzing, in The Paris Review, Issue 76,  a very weird delightful surrealist story
  11. The Neighbor- A Short Story by Goli Taraghi - 2006. - translated from Farsi by Azizeh Axadi - A Marvelous story about a Family from Tehran adjusting to Life in Paris


Today’s story by Goli Taraghi is about a family of Iranian exiles getting adjusted to life in Paris.  Just today CNN said  Iran and the USA are moving toward war.  Despicable American and European politicians rant about immigrants. As he began his first trip in office the current American president said in 
Paris that immigrants were destroying European culture.  The ignorance behind this is nearly unfathomable.  

I have been reading Goli Taraghi for years. I was very happy to discover Words Without Borders has online two of her stories dealing with Iranian exiles living in Paris.  Today I will talk briefly on one, “The Neighbor” and hopefully the other before Paris in July Is over.  If you have not yet read any of her stories either in Farsi or translation, you are in for a treat.  Her work reminds me a bit of another Parisian Exile, Mavis Gallant.

The narrator of “The Neighbor” has recently,along with her family left her ancestral home in Tehran to move to Paris to escape from political violence.  Used to comfort at home, the family lives a in cramped apartment.  She misses the warmth of the people back home.  She gets mixed messages from friends, some say the danger is exaggerated and others report cases of women being beheaded for going outside dressed in violation of tradition.  The biggest problem is she has a horrible neighbor woman living below them constantly complaining about the noise the family makes.  She even demands that thick carpet be installed to muffle sound.

As the story progresses we see the narrator adjusting to life in Paris. Most of all we see a transformation of her perception of the crazy neighbor.

For sure this story is worth reading. 

YouTube has several interesting interviews with Goli Taraghi 


Mel u





















Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Bath of Madame Mauriac- A Short Story by Andre de Mandiargues,first published in translation from the French by Albert Herzing, in The Paris Review, Issue 76, Fall, 1979












An Introduction to a Great Mid-Century Weird Fabulist by Edward Gauvin 




Works Read so for Paris in July 2019

  1. At the Existentialist Cafe:Freedom, Being and Apricot  Cocktails by Sarah Blackwell.  2016 - An exploration of the Parisian origins of French post World War Two Existentialism 
  2. Suzanne's Children: A Daring Rescue in Nazi Paris by Anne Nelson. 2017- an important addition to French Holocaust Literature
  3. Journey to the Edge of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine -1932
  4. Death on The Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Celine - 1936
  5. "Luc and his Father" - a set in Paris short story by Mavis Gallant - 1982
  6. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer - 2010
  7. Paris Vagabond by Jean-Paul Clebert - 1952, translated 2016
  8. Cheri by Colette- 1920
  9. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - 2011 - Hemingway’s first marriage 
  10. The Bath of Madame Mauriac- A Short Story by Andre de Mandiargues,first published in translation from the French by Albert Herzing, in The Paris Review, Issue 76,  a very weird delightful surrealist story

““I have always regarded sadomasochism as one of the best literary instruments, and one of the most powerful generators of emotion at a writer’s disposal, as in Balzac and Flaubert. Does it not have the added advantage of removing or, rather, confusing gender? It seems to me that the answer is yes, and that my greatest happiness, the proof of whether what I’ve written is successful, is when I no longer know who or what I am while writing. Man and woman at once, perhaps neither woman nor man — such is the pure androgyny writing allows me to attain, especially in the erotic tale.” Andre de Mandiargues

1909 - Paris

Travel through Europe with his good friend Henri Cartier-Bresson

He was a prolific writer very influenced by French Surrealism.

1991 - Paris

(For details see the very interesting article by Edward Gauvin linked above)

The Paris Review frequently places online
items from print issues.  (I susbscribe to an E mail that keeps me informed.) This week, almost as if in honor of Paris in July 2019, there is an interview with Simone de Beauvior, “Paris”, a poem by Baudelaire and The Bath of Madame Mauriac- A Short Story by Andre de Mandiargues, a new to me writer.  It turns out he was a highly regarded Award winning writer.  

The Bath of Madame Mauriac is totally strange, weird and wonderful.  Reading time is maybe three minutes.  Madame Mauriac, a famous opera singer, very obese, and Oh so famous, is bathed by nine orphan servant girls who cascade white mice over her naked body.  The occasion is very exotic, open to a few to watch rapture.  For sure this is French surrealism, de Mandiargues makes it very visual,sensual, deeply sexual in a rights of Bacchae tradition.

Here is a good sample:

“Mauriac has numerous friends who have access to her bathroom. Sometimes there is a crowd of courtesans, pressed back into the five corners of the room to allow the orphan girls to move around the tub. Mauriac is extremely obese, with very clear skin, so spotlessly maintained that there is not a single hair from the hairline of her flowing tresses to the tips of her toes, except for her eyelids, her eyebrows, and one small tuft, which she rather fancies, just below her left breast. The mice fall in a warm rain, scampering everywhere over her body, lashing her with their tails and pricking her with their little claws; then, tired of stirring, when they are waves of billowing fur at Mauriac’s sides, her beautiful hand nonchalantly Opens the hole of the drainpipe; then she will pull a cord to induce an additional downpour of fur.
Mauriac’s doctor, a diminutive Chinaman from Batignolles, assures her that, in the ancient East, baths of mice, dormice and rats were commonly used to stimulate the circulation of the blood among the great sedentary beauties of those days. Whether these benefits are real or imagined, it remains true that when the singer leaps forth, her skin flushed rose as if from the glacial pummelings of alpine waterfalls, her throat is crystalline, and from that moment until the moment that she appears on stage, a fata morgana, troubling the senses of the holy hermit from behind a heaven of tulle, the overwhelming frenzy of her voice and gestures is a mighty flood without stint.
Even the most passionate music-lovers, familiar with Thais, come away so transported by Mauriac’s trills that they find it impossible to believe that such a perfect nightingale could have taken wing, in effect, from that Auvergnat throat.”

I have found online another story by de Mandiargues and hope to post on it next week.



(If this story goes offline and you wish to read it, contact us.

Ambrosia Bousweau 












Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - 2011 -

Paris in July 2019 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea 

Works Read so for Paris in July 2019

  1. At the Existentialist Cafe:Freedom, Being and Apricot  Cocktails by Sarah Blackwell.  2016 - An exploration of the Parisian origins of French post World War Two Existentialism 
  2. Suzanne's Children: A Daring Rescue in Nazi Paris by Anne Nelson. 2017- an important addition to French Holocaust Literature
  3. Journey to the Edge of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine -1932
  4. Death on The Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Celine - 1936
  5. "Luc and his Father" - a set in Paris short story by Mavis Gallant - 1982
  6. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer - 2010
  7. Paris Vagabond by Jean-Paul Clebert - 1952, translated 2016
  8. Cheri by Colette- 1920
  9. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - 2011 - Hemingway’s first marriage






The Paris Wife by Paula McLain was a New York Times best seller.  It is an imaginative recreation of the relationship of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, who would be one of four, Hadley Richardson.  When they meet Ernest is 20 and Hadley 28.  I admire some of Hemingway’s work but I have always found his public testosterone fired persona to be overcompensating so I was looking forward to seeing how McLain would present him.  

We see them meet, develop a relationship and against the advise of Hadley’s sister, marry.  It was Ernest’s dream to move to Paris to write.  We see them struggle to get by on her trust fund income of $2000.00 a year and his earnings as a journalist.  Both are  serious drinkers.  Ernest drinks to relax and Hadley joins him.  They meet other famous expat writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald with his wife Zelda, Gertrude Stein who seems like a mother figure to Ernest, Ford Madox Ford and Janes Joyce.  Paris in the early 1920s attracted many idol rich with literary pretensions. Ernest like to box with his male friends and is quoted as saying he does not trust people who don’t get drunk.

They go to the famous running of the bulls festival Pamplona Spain and to some bull fights.  Ernest talks about how beautiful this all was, I found it repulsive and stupid.

In the character depicted by McLain, I did not sense much literary genius.  I knew the relationship would fail and I did feel bad for Hadley.

I found the best part of The Paris wife for me was in the famous people we encounter.  I got bored with Hadley, as did Ernest.  I enjoyed hearing about the rest of Hadley’s life, she tells the story, and her happy thirty five year second marriage. She gives us a brief account of Ernest’s post divorce from her life which was interesting.


I acquired this book in Kindle format during a flash sale for $1.95, it is now priced at $11.95.

Obviously many loved this book.  I found the use of slang from the 1920s distracting, the almost fawning over the rich tiresome.  The wellsprings of Ernest’s best work are not at all illuminated. Hadley seems almost like a once sheltered girl having a fling with a bad boy, a macho drunk.


I cannot  endorse the purchase of this books to those I do not know.

It was fun to see McLain try to deal with young Hemingway.


Paula McLain was born in Fresno, California in 1965. After being abandoned by both parents, she and her two sisters became wards of the California Court System, moving in and out of various foster homes for the next fourteen years. When she aged out of the system, she supported herself by working as a nurses aid in a convalescent hospital, a pizza delivery girl, an auto-plant worker, a cocktail waitress–before discovering she could (and very much wanted to) write. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996.

She is the author of The Paris Wife, a New York Times and international bestseller, which has been published in thirty-four languages. The recipient of fellowships from Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, the Cleveland Arts Prize, the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, she is also the author of two collections of poetry; a memoir, Like Family, Growing up in Other People’s Houses; and a first novel, A Ticket to Ride. She lives with her family in Cleveland.  From The website of Paula McLain




Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope - 1894






Sir Anthony Hope

February 8, 1863 - Lower Compton - UK





Educated as a barrister and a lawyer, he wrote 32 works of fiction.  Only two are still read, with The Prisoner of Zenda now by far the most still read.


YouTube has the 1979 movie starring Peter Sellers.  I thought it captured the comic spirit of the book.  Five 

Movies have been based on The Prisoner of Zenda.


1894 - The Prisoner of Zenda




1898 - Rupert of Hentzau

July 8, 1933 - Walton on the Hill, UK



I am not sure what motivated to read The Prisoner of Zenda.  Maybe I just wanted to read a classic that I knew would probably be a fun easy read, it was only 142 pages and the Kindle edition was free.  

The novel is set in the imaginary kingdom of Ruritania.  It is a political action mistaken identity fantasy work.  The novel 



centers on Rudolf Rassendyll.  From London he leaves his comfortable life there for the kingdom of Ruritania,a small country in central Europe.  It turns he looks like the twin brother of the King,Elphberg.  On the eve of his cornation the King is kidnapped and held as a prisoner.  The king’s evil brother Prince Rupert, hoping to steal the throne is behind the plot.  If the King does not show up to be cornated, his 

brother will declare him dead and take the throne.  After 


that he and his henchmen will make the King disappear.  The advisor to the King meets Rudolph and trains him to play the part of the King. 

There is a romance, The king’s intended bride falls for 

Rudolph. There are violent conflicts and lots of exciting plot twists.



This was a fun book.  After i finished it I discovered there is even a genre of literature called Ruritania fiction which means a work set in an imaginary kind of comic opera 

country.

I might read Rupert of Hentzau.

I