M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Year's End" by Jhumpa Lahiri (from The New Yorker, December 24, 2007)

Since beginning my blo log in July 2009 I have read and posted on eight short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri as well as her recent excellant novel, Lowlands.  Most of her work focuses on highly educated India emigrants living in America, often in Boston or New York City.  Her work deals with the difficulty of maintaining one's cultural identity while striving for material success in a new country.  Often her work centers on the children of first generation emigrants. 

I was very happy to find in the recently and temporarily opened archives of The New Yorker a story by Lahiri I had not yet read.  "Year's End" easily lived uo to my high expectations.  The narrator is a college student attending Swathmore, an elite college.  His father emigrated from Bombay along with his mother.  He was born in The U. S.  His mother died just a few years after he was born and he can hardly recall her.  One day he gets a call from his father,fifty-five and a successful businessman, letting him know he is back from a family visit to India. The father shocks him by telling him that he has remarried and his new wife and her two young daughters are with him. The marriage was arranged by his family, just as that of his parents was.  The father tries to say his family coerced him into it but the son knows nothing would have happened had he not wanted it.  His new step mother, a widow, is twenty years younger than his father and has brought her two young daughters with her.  Christmas is coming soon and the father wants to be sure his son, an only child, will be home.  Of course the son is shocked.

Meeting your new step-mother and much younger step sisters is a a very emotional minefield for the son.  He tries hard not to hold this against his father,not  to see it as a betrayal of his mother.  He tries to see the girls as his sisters and it is clear they desperately want him as a big brother.  He ends up taking revenge on them in a heartbreaking way.

"Year's End" is a very rich, subtle highly nuanced story.  I have deliberately left out the just overwhelming second half of the story.  

You can read this story here, as long as the archives are kept open.

Mel u

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"The Pura Principle" by Junot Diaz (March 22, 2010, in The New Yorker)

If you are a fan of the short stories of Junot Diaz, you will be happy to know that several of his stories are now available in the open to the public for the summer archives of The New Yorker.   

A couple of days ago I posted on his story "The Cheater's Guide to Love".  Like that story, "The Pura Principle" is set among emigrants from The Dominican Republic living in the New York City area.  You have to be tough to survive in the world of the stories of Diaz.  Father's abandon their families for much younger women, people smoke a lot of marihuana and drink a lot,  mothers tend to run and hold the family together.  A young man's dominant motivation is the continuous pursuit of women, often called "putas".  Of course a Dominican man's best love is his mother, which does not mean he won't take advantage of her.  If a Domincan girl won't have sex with her boyfriend it means she is a bitch trying to act like a white girl, if she does then the boy's mother will see her as a whore out to trap her angel.  Dominican women are known to have large rear ends and the stories make constant sexual refrences to this.

"The Pura Principle" plays all this out.  A woman whose husband left years ago for a young "puta" supports two late teenage early twenty year old sons.  She is very dedicated to the Catholic Church. One is not a bad kid, goes to college and the other runs the streets.  The bad one is diagnosed with Leukemia and everything changes.  He goes through chemo, loses a lot of his hair and his strength.  He is supposed to stay home but he goes stir crazy.  He meets a Dominican girl named Pura.  The two sons were born in the USA so they can get a permanent visa for a Dominican wife and eventually citizenship.  You can get a good feel for the prose style of Diaz in the morher's reaction to Pura:

"Pura, man, was another story. For some reason, Pura brought it out in Mami. Right from the beginning it was clear that Mami did not like this girl. It wasn’t just that Pura was mad obvious about the paper thing, dropping hints non-stop about her immigration status—how her life would be so much better, how her son’s life would be so much better, how she would finally be able to visit her poor mother and her other son in Las Matas, if only she had papers. Mami had dealt with paper bitches before, and she never got this pissy. Something about Pura’s face, her timing, her personality, just drove Mami batshit. Felt real personal. Or maybe Mami had a presentiment of what was to come."

This story takes place in a very macho culture.  Violence, especially within the family, is always a risk.  This is a fun story to read.

I hope to read more Diaz stories from the archives, which are only open for the summer.

You can read it here 

Please share your experiences with the work of Junot Diaz with us.

My Post on "Miss Lorna" contains background information on Diaz

"Midnight in Dostoevsky" by Don Delillo (November 30, 2009, The New Yorker)

I am having a great time rummaging through the Archives of The New Yorker, reading for free stories by world famous writers.  Some of the authors I have read have been very familiar to be, like Roberto Bolano and Jhumpa Lahiri.  Others are new to me writers, like Don Delillo (USA, 1936, author of Underworld, White Noise and numerous other highly regarded works.  He has also published a lot of short stories.  

"Midnight in Dostoevsky" is set on a college campus in the U.S. It is located in a very small town.  It is a very interesting story centering on the ruminations of two male college friends as they go on walks.  They minutely pick apart everything they see and each other.  They begin to observe a man in his middle seventies who also walks.  They wonder who he is, where he is firm and how he ended up living in a college town.  We are also there as they attend a class taught by a fifty or so year old professor, the kind of teacher who scared undergraduates (Imagine Ford Madox Ford teaching at Olivet College in Michigan or Vladimar Nabakov at Cornell).  There is a girl in the class that ran into the professor  at a restaurant  and had dinner with him.  He was carrying a book by Dostoevsky and told her he  read him "all the time ".  The boys decide the older man must be the son of the professor, at first they think he must be Russian then they decide maybe Albanian or Lituanian.  

A very shocking hard to understand event happens at the end of the story.

This is a very interesting story on lots of levels.

You can read it here this summer only.

Here is the narrator's description of the professor

"What did he mean by “things”? We would probably never know. Were we too passive, too accepting of the man? Did we see dysfunction and call it an inspired form of intellect? We didn’t want to like him, only to believe in him. We tendered our deepest trust to the stark nature of his methodology. Of course, there was no methodology. There was only Ilgauskas. He challenged our reason for being, what we thought, how we lived, the truth or falsity of what we believed to be true or false. Isn’t this what great teachers do, the Zen masters and Brahman scholars?"

Mel u

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two Short Stories by Spanish Authors in Best European Fiction 2013

If you want a sense of what is going on in the short story in Europe you would be hard pressed to find a better source than the Best of European Fiction series published annually  since 2011. I recently posted on a very interesting story by a Spanish author from the forthcoming in October Best European Fiction 2015.  Today I want to talk briefly about the two stories by authors from Spain in Best European Fiction 2013 (all volumes published by Dalkey Archives).

"Pirpo and Chamberlain, Murderers" by Bernardo Atxaya starts in the Basque region of Spain around 1935.  Pirpo and Chamberlain were killers for hire, having, as they repeat numerous times, "carte Blanche" to do what ever they want in the largely lawless Pyrenees Mountain Region of Spain.  They also smuggle people out of Spain into France, or kind of do.  What they often did, collecting the money up front, was to walk people up into the mountains and the tell them they were in France even though they were not.  Big trouble for them comes when a maid tips of Pirpo, depicted as a great ladies' man while Chamberlain spends his earnings in brothels, that a rich couple wants to smuggle them into France and that they will be carrying a fortune in gems.  I won't spoil the ending.  The story was a lot of fun to read and I did feel transported back in time to Basque Spain in the 1930s.

Bernardo Atxaga 

Bernardo Atxaga (Joseba Irazu Garmendia, Asteasu, Guip├║zcoa, 1951) belongs to the group of young Basque writers that began publishing in his mother language, Euskera, in the Seventies. Graduated in Economics for the Bilbao University, he later studied Philosophy at the University of Barcelona.  You can learn much more about him on his webpage.


"The Mercury of the Thermometers" by Eloy Tizon is an interesting story about a younger family members making a duty visit to an elderly widowed aunt who lives alone above a pharmacy.  She only goes out to shop and attend mass.  The story revolves around the differences concerning how the young people perceive their aunt's life to have been and what it really was.  The perceptions are interesting and the story is psychologically perceptive.

I am reading these stories  as part of my participation in Spanish Literature Month.

Mel u


"The Cheater's Guide to Love" by Junot Diaz (from The New Yorker, July23, 2012)

My Post on "Miss Lorna"

I have previously read and posted on an excellant short story by Junot Diaz, "Miss Lorna".  Prior to starting my blog I read his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Pao and his first collection of short stories, Drowned.  I hope to read his very well reviewed second collection, This is How You Lose Her one of these days.

"The Cheater's Guide to Love", from the archives of The New Yorker, centers on a Harvard Professor and author from The Domincan Republic and his romantic issues.  A reductionist approach to the writings of Diaz could summarize his work as "man from the Domincan Republic living in New York City or Boston adjusting to society while constantly looking for women to have sex with".  

I think I liked "The Cheater's Guide to Love" more than his novel or other stories I have read.  It is about obsessive love, about the consequences of adultery, about machismo, Dominican culture, about objectifying women, about male bonding all while teaching at Harvard.  The narrator faces racial prejuduce all the time in Boston, of the crudest sort.  When he tries to enter buildings at Harvard security demands to see his ID but lets in others with no checks.  

This is an excellant story and I thank The New Yorker for letting us read it for free this summer.

You can read the story here

Mel u

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Meaning of the Reading Life

A young woman in Gaza searches through the ruins of her house for her precious books.

This is not meant as a political statement at all.  

To me when I see the horrors of war and greed found everywhere in the world I think what a much better place the world would be if world leaders in all areas had the priorities of this young woman.

Mel u

"Big Week" by Zadie Smith (Paris Review, Issue 209, Summer, 2014)

I was very happy to see The Paris Review has generously allowed non-subscribers to read online a story by Zadie Smith (UK, 1975) in the just published Summer of 2014 issue.  In the Spring 2014 issue they published a wonderful story by Smith about a performer in a transvestite show, "Miss Adele Among the  Corsets" which I greatly enjoyed.  

"Big Week" is a very moving and insightful story focusing on a fifty six year old ex-Boston policeman of Irish parentage.  He works as a bartender and drives a limo sometimes.   He has three grown sons.  He talks about how one has a Korean girlfriend, one is married to an African American woman, and one is currently without a girlfriend but he jokingly says maybe he will round things out by hooking up with a Chinese woman.  He is getting divorced butthe tells his son his thirty years with his wife was the greatest part of his life.  

The story has a kind of second half when he picks up a woman from Uganda at the airport, in Boston to speak at a conference on architecture.  You can tell the woman is not really interested in talking to him but he goes on anyway to his captive audience.  You can see his is trying hard to force his spirits up, his divorce is this week.  We learn the pathetically sad reason he lost his job and his police pension.

This is an excellant story.  I have a copy of her novel NW and hope to read it soon.

You can read "Big Week" at this link

Mel u