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





Monday, January 22, 2018

The Only Story - A Novel by Julian Barnes -February, 2018






Julian Barnes - Born, 1946, Leicester, U.K.

His novels upon which I have posted

Flaubert’s Parrot, 1984

England, England, 1988

Arthur and George, 2005

The Sense of Ending, 2011, Booker Prize Winner

The Only Story, 2018

I was very happy when I was recently given a review copy of The Only Story, a forthcoming novel by Julian Barnes.  The Only Story begins, in England, in the 1960s.  A nineteen year old man and his tennis club mixed doubles partner, a married 48 year old woman, begin after playing together for sometime, an affair.  We follow their evolving complicated relationship beyond the death of the woman to the late age of the man.  

It took me a little while to understand the subtly and power of this novel, the brilliant narrative method.  Told in the first person by the man, his parents signed him up at the tennis club hoping he will meet a nice girl his age.  They are suspicious as he spends more and more time with Mrs, McLeod, we are there when she says call her “Susan” and when they are first intimate.  Susan has been married for a long time, to a man she has not slept  with in ten years.  At first I thought story was being told as a narrative of events as they occupy, but slowly I realized the narrator was looking back from decades ahead.  

Susan, after they have set up house keeping together, slowly becomes an alcholic.  Barnes treatment of the evolving nature of their relationship in which the man becomes a caregiver is totally briiliant.  Slowly the personality of the narrator emerges.  We see him fail in other relationdhips.  We see her spiral downwards.  

There is much more in The Only Story than I have mentioned.  I endorse it highly to all who relish character driven novels.  It really is a wonderful work, it did take me reading a while to realise this.  

Julian Barnes is the author of twenty-one previous books, for which he received the Man Booker Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the David Cohen Prize for Literature, and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; in France, the Prix Medicis and the Prix Femina; in Austria, the State Prize for European Literature. In 2004 he was named Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. He lives in London.  - from The publisher.

Mel u













Sunday, January 21, 2018

“The Eye” - A Short Story by Paul Bowles - and “The Short Stories of Paul Bowles” - An Essay by Francine Prose - 2018




Paul Bowles- born 1910 in New York State, died 1999 in Tangiers, Morocco

Bowles was a very prolific writer, as well as a composer.  The Sheltering Sky, 1949, is his most famous work.  

He published lots of Short stories.

He lived in Tangiers from 1947 until his death in 1999.

He was married to Jane Bowles, author of Two Serious Ladies.

Francine Prose is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her most recent book is Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. She lives in New York City..  from The publisher 



““Ten or twelve years ago there came to live in Tangier a man who would have done better to stay away.” This wickedly portentous sentence, which begins Paul Bowles’s story “The Eye,” could just as easily serve as the opening of most of his novels and stories—especially if we expand the list of ill-advised travel destinations to include nearly all of Morocco and a virtual Baedeker of hellish jungle outposts in Latin America and Asia. For Bowles’s obsessive subject, to which he returned again and again, and which he wrote about brilliantly, was the tragic and even fatal mistakes that Westerners so commonly make in their misguided and often presumptuous encounters with a foreign culture. One can hardly imagine a more timely theme, one more perfectly suited to the poisonous and perilous world in which we find ourselves. Yet, strangely, Paul Bowles’s name never (as far as I know) appeared on those rosters of writers one saw mentioned in the aftermath of September 11, classic authors whose work appears to speak across centuries and decades, directly and helpfully addressing the crises and drastically altered realities (terrorism, violence, our dawning awareness of the hidden costs of colonialism and globalization) of the present moment. Perhaps it’s because the books that were commonly cited (War and Peace, The Possessed, The Secret Agent, and so forth) seemed, even at their darkest, to offer some hope of redemption, some persuasive evidence of human resilience and nobility, whereas Bowles’s fiction is the last place to which you would go for hope, or for even faint reassurance that the world is anything but a senseless horror show, a barbaric battlefield.” —Francine Prose

Prose in her brilliant essay talks about how different Bowles approach to the treatment of the West Meets Colonial East them is that that is the of writers like
 Conrad and Forester commonly seen as the masters in this area. In these writers the encounters seem to end in an increased understanding, a nearness in a common humanity.  In Bowles is portrayed a kind of lost European or American with no home in his own land who comes to what for him is  mysterious Morocco in search of something or to escape into a void, only to increase the misery of the residents he encounters, mostly as servant and merchants and likely to be destroyed himself.

“The Eye”, which as far as I am aware, can be read only in The Collected Short Stories of Paul Bowles, tells a dark sad story about a man given slow poison by his cook who is found dead with inexplicable ritualistic cuts all over his feet.  A fascinating work.

There are thirty three essays in How to Read and Why, including a wonderful essay about the short story as an art form.  I have just begun to read the collection but expect to get lots of new reading ideas from Prose. I was given a Review copy of her book by the publisher.

Mel u


Friday, January 19, 2018

“I Wish”. - A Short Story by Riham Adlay - November, 2015











This is the second  of a series of posts I’m planning on the wonderful short stories of Riham Adly





Riham Adly known as Rose among friends is a published author  and a creative writing instructor from Gizah, Egypt. Several of her short stories were published in international online literary journals and websites.

 Riham is also first reader/ marketing coordinator in "Vestal Review" literary magazine.

 Riham moderates "Roses's Cairo Book Club" in the American University in Cairo Tahrir Campus each month for those few yet growing avid bibliophiles.

Riham has also started her own writing group on FB "Rose's Fiction Writing Club" to motivate her students to keep on writing and sharing their work with emerging and aspiring writers from around the world. . Data from Author




This is the second story by Riham Adly upon which I have posted.  Previously I talked about her wonderful MAKAN award winning story about conflicts of loyalty “The Darker Side of the Moon”.

Today I will be posting on another of her stories, “I Wish”, very different from “The Darker Side of the Moon”.  “I Wish” begins when the narrator, a young woman, wishes upon a seeing star.  As she does so the world around her seems to dissolve into a new reality, she wonders why the end of her world has to be in darkness.  Suddenly a light spreads.  She then casually wishes, not meaning it to come true, that she had some water.  A cup of cool water appears in her hand.  Intrigued, she tests her powers by wishing for and then getting a big juicy hamburger.  Her mind wanders and soon she is on a beach, an unreal from her old world scene filled with all sorts of luscious gastronomic delights.  Now she is convinced she has been given special powers.  Her wishes expand, including even a man to satisfy all her sexual fantasies.

Now the story takes a fascinating turn.  She says all these things are not real and wishes for the return of her old reality.  

I will not talk about the very creative close of the story only to say their are numerous ways to understand the close.  You will not, I for sure didn’t, see the ending coming.

Her prose is beautiful, drawing you deeply into the story.

You may read this story and other works of Dr. Adly at the link above.  I will be featuring several more of her works soon.

Mel u







Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Daniel Deronda - The Final Novel of Gerorge Eliot - 1876 - 752 pages









George Eliot

1819 to 1880, England

Since beginning my blog I have read and posted on these four of her seven novels:

Middlemarch-1871

Silas Marner-1861

The Mill on the Floss-1860

And her final novel, Daniel Deronda, 1876.

Middlemarch is seen by many as the greatest novel written by an author from England.  For sure it is among the greatest novels of all time.  

Daniel Deronda is not quite up to the level of Middlemarch, but then what is?  It is the only one of her novels set in contemporary to writing time.

It is a very serious challenging book.  As in the greatest literature, you will learn somethings about yourself from this book. It might take a while to get the characters straight in your mind but they will all fall in place.

The title character Daniel Deronda is the ward of a wealthy bachelor.  Everyone, including Daniel, assumes he is Sir Hugo’s child from a clandestine affair.  The other central character is a young woman, Gwendolyn who Daniel first meets at a casino in Germany.  Gwendolyn has just lost a lot of money at roulette, to which she seems abducted.  Their stories structure much of the novel.  

About a third way into the novel Daniel saves a young Jewish woman who is trying to drown herself in the Thames.  He takes her to the house of a wonderful family who shelter her.  In one of the very best segments of the novel we learn her terrible life story. 

Much of the novel is taken up with the question of the place of Jews in English society.  Daniel adopts as his teacher in Jewish culture a man dying of consumption. This man thinks Daniel, his heritage is at this point unknown, is Jewish but Daniel does not believe this.

There are some very interesting plot turns I will leave untold.  Exciting things happen, big revelations are made.

To those new to Eliot, by all means first read Middlemarch.  

I would like to read her other three novels, maybe I will read Adam Bead next.

Please share your experience with George Eliot with us

Mel u


“Rosh Hashanah” and “Two Heads” - Short stories by Yente Serdatzky - translated from Yiddish- 1949







Both of the stories I am posting upon this morning first appeared, in English translation in 2003, in a very interesting and culturally valuable book,
Beautiful as the Moon, Radiant as the Stars: Jewish Women in Yiddish Stories, An Anthology, edited by Sandra Bark and introduced by Francine Prose.  This book will correct, as it did mine, the common impression Yiddish literature means only male authors writing in Poland, Lithuania, or Russia about life in the shtetl, small Jewish towns. Now I know there are wonderful written in Yiddish stories by women, and I know Yiddish Literature thrived in New York City and Montreal.  These stories are often about the immigrant experience. 

“Rosh Hashanah”, translated by Ellen Cassidy, set in New York City, probably written between 1949 to 1954, is narrated by a young woman.  As the story opens she is recollecting her families observations of The High Holidays.  By then she had already lost her believe in the teaching of her heritage faith.  She senses this hurts her mother terribly.  She moves to a bigger city and becomes involved in what are preceived as anti-government activities.

“We scheduled meetings for both days: every free moment had to be used for agitation. On the first day of the New Year, we went to a remote corner of the city and crammed ourselves into one tiny room. The air was thick with tobacco smoke, yet we emerged with shining faces. We were living in the future. The next day we were arrested. For three months we sat in prison. After that, some of us were exiled to the cold villages of Siberia. Others they set free, including me, on the condition that we leave Russia for good. We had comrades who had fled to America, so we crossed the ocean and came here.”

The narrative picks up in New York City, sometimes she thinks of her family but she has lost almost all sense of being a Jew.  She is intensely lonely.  I noticed something of much interest in this story, to me.  In pre-Holocaust Europe many Jewish people felt if they kept quiet, did not agitate and acted “European” they would be spared the pograms.  You can see this in the work of many writers including Stefan Zweig and Irene Némirovsky.  This feeling is brilliant illustrated below.  


“Across the street, two young women were sitting on the stoop. Both had little babies, which was why they couldn’t go to the synagogue. One of them I knew a little—we often ran into each other. Once as I passed by I’d heard her aim a curse in my direction. She’d run away from home because of the pogroms, I figured, and now that things were going well for her here, she thought that if only people like us would stop stirring things up, there’d be no more troubles for the Jews. Now as she talked to her friend she flicked her eyes at me like daggers, her lips moved, and I had the feeling she was cursing me again.”

The story ends on Rosh Hashanah, the narrator is flooded with memories. Her friend Helenka is with her as she enters a deep state of dispair

“Why am I living here? I asked myself. What do I have in my life? Not the holy, poetic stillness of the shtetl and not the exhilaration of the struggle. Not my dear family members from home and not my beloved comrades. Here is only loneliness, loneliness, smoke, noise, sweat, rudeness—and the reward for it all? Nothing but a crust of bread. From the kitchen, Helenka’s pacing grew more restless still. I felt sorry for her, my only friend in the world, and although I felt like throwing myself on her and pouring out all my thoughts in a flood of tears, I didn’t want to make things harder for her. And so, standing before the mirror in the dimness, I forced myself to begin combing my hair. But suddenly my body began to tremble: at that moment, my face bore an uncanny resemblance to my grandfather’s. There was a roaring in my ears and the blood rushed to my face. A rainbow-colored mist shimmered before the mirror and a wavering column of pale figures began to emerge from afar. Volodya, Sonya, Solomon . . . all at once I could plainly see the tall, refined figure of my grandfather, the velvet skullcap skullcap perched high on his head and the deep wrinkles creasing his pure white forehead. Raising his silver brows, he looked at me, his eyes so sad. He tottered toward me, and now I could feel him. I wanted to turn to him but could not. In the mirror I saw him lift his trembling hands over my head. His tender voice whispered in my ear: “May the Lord bless you and keep you in good health, may He cause His countenance to shine upon you, and may He give you peace.” I felt a violent pain in my breast. My legs buckled under me and my head grew heavy. “Grandfather!” I wanted to call out, but the words stuck in my throat. I leaned my head backward—I wanted to rest against his chest and weep. But he was too far away, and my head fell back, back, back. . . . I feel a commotion around me and a sharp pain in the temples. They’re sticking me with pins. They’ve resuscitated me. You may ask-why?”

A marvellous story, about loss of faith, memories, loneliness and under that the role of Reading in her life.

“Two Heads”, translated by Sheva Zucker, joins my favourite stories about people who lead reading cantered lives.  ( I like it so much I have placed a quote from the story in my introductory top right sidebar.). It is narrated by a very lonely woman, living by herself in a rooming house.  She reads much of the time, it makes her feel less alone.  One day she hears noises from the room next to hers, vacant for a long time.  She begins to imagine a man living there, as lonely as she who loves reading.

“How does he live? His room is certainly as gray and sad as hers . . . there must also be a lot of books there . . . also unbound! And he reads . . . day and night he reads. And he reads with passion . . . with excitement . . . as if he were searching for lost treasures, forfeited riches, and holy things impossible to recover; the wrinkles deepen on his high brow . . . his blue eyes become more doleful . . . more pensive”.

The ending is a twist, funny sad and poignant.

YENTE SERDATZKY was born outside Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1877. In 1905, she left her husband and children and went to Warsaw to pursue a literary career, in which she was encouraged by I. L. Peretz. In 1907, she came to the United States. She ran soup kitchens in Chicago and New York while publishing stories and oneact plays in many Yiddish periodicals. Her only book, Geklibene shriftn [Selected Works], was published in 1913. She worked for the New York Yiddish newspaper Forverts until 1922, when she was dismissed in a quarrel with the editor. She withdrew from the literary world until 1949, when she began writing again and was published in the Nyu yorker vokhenblat. She died in 1962.

After reading these two wonderful stories I did find one of her stories online and will post on it soon.

Mel u
















Tuesday, January 16, 2018

“Mother Catherine” by Zora Neal Hurston - A folk lore study by a master of the short story- 1929

















1891 Born in Alabama

1960 Dies Fort Pierce, Florida

1937 - Published Their Eyes Were Watching God 

Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, a master of the short story, an anthropologist, focusing mostly on the culture of African Americans in central Florida and on the influence of Voodoo on the religious and spiritual views of those in this area.  Her short stories are world class cultural treasures. She studied anthropology with Franz Boaz, mentor to Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. She was extremely well read and highly educated.  Tragically she died in poverty and obscurity.  Her work is vital to students of Florida history.

I began  reading her work years ago, quite by a happy accident.  Only a few of her short stories are online and her Collected Short Stories is not available in a kindle edition.  I was very happy to recently come upon one of her stories, “Mother Catherine” readable online.

“Mother Catherine” is kind of a mixture of a folklore study written with the literary craftsmanship of a master of the short story. Set in New Orleans along the Industrial Canal, maybe 1929 or so, Mother Catherine is a combination street preacher, healer and spiritual advisor to the African American community, her ideology is a mishmash of her knowledge of West African teachings , Voodoo and Christianity.  You can read this in just a few minutes.  It really is a pure delight.

Mother Catherine was a real person, you can read more about her at this link


I will share a bit of the work with you so you can get a feel for the prose style of Hurston:



“Catherine of Russia could not have been more impressive upon her throne than was this black Catherine sitting upon an ordinary chair at the edge of the platform within the entrance to the tent. Her face and manner are impressive. There is nothing cheap and theatrical about her. She does things and arranges her dwelling as no occidental would. But it is not for effect. It is for feeling. She might have been the matriarchal ruler of some nomadic tribe as she sat there with the blue band about her head like a coronet; a white robe and a gorgeous red cape falling away from her broad shoulders, and the box of shaker salt in her hand like a rod of office. I know this reads incongruous, but it did not look so. It seemed perfectly natural for me to go to my knees upon the gravel floor, and when she signaled to me to extend my right hand, palm up for the dab of blessed salt, I hurried to obey because she made me feel that way.”

Mel u






















Monday, January 15, 2018

Swamplandia by Karen Russell - 2011- Plus my List of the Three Greatest Florida Novels

















I give my great thanks to Max u for the provision of an Amazon Gift Card with which I acquired this book.



There are three great set in Florida Novels, all written by authors with deep ties to Florida, one was born there, two died  in the state.  All are by women.  

The first was Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston, 1937, set in rural south Florida, in the Lake Okechobee region, focusing on African-Americans.

The second is The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1938, focusing on poor white rural people in North Florida, called at the time “Florida Crackers”.

Seventy three years will pass, a World War will be fought, millions will move to Florida, Disney World will open, the great influx of Cubans and others from Latin America will make it a nearly bilingual state until the next Great Florida novel is published, Swamplandia by Karen Russell, in 2011.  Like the first two great Florida novels, Swamplandia is set among marginalised people on the fringes of mainstream Florida, among people living in the Everglades, in the Ten Thousand Island Area In Collier County Florida. Collier County is one of the most affluent counties in America.



I really like Swamplandia.  I was expecting a lot based on the short stories in Vampires in the Lemon Grove and it exceeded my expectations.  Swamplandia is a once prosperous tourist attraction, an alligator farm and wrestling show.  Pure tack to the rich in Naples.  It is a brilliant celebration of a lost to most segment of Florida’s past.  I learned a good bit about the development of the Everglades, (it is set maybe in 1950), the ecological balance of the swamps.  The main characters are all part of the Bigtree family.  The father is an Indian, the mother white. Russell makes wonderful use of Florida Indian history explaining how the original Aboriginal occupants of Florida were nearly 100 percent wiped out by European diseases.  We learn of the origins of the non -Florida origins of the Seminoles.  

Swamplandia is very much a novel about a family struggling to keep going after the mother, who was the star of the wrestling show, dies.  It is also a voyage into the underworld.  

““Hopes were wallflowers. Hopes hugged the perimeter of a dance floor in your brain, tugging at their party lace, all perfume and hems and doomed expectation. They fanned their dance cards, these guests that pressed against the walls of your heart.” 
Karen Russell, Swamplandia!

There is so much to love in Swamplandia, much more than I have touched upon.

Karen Russell (born July 10, 1981) is an American novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, Swamplandia!, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She was also the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" in 2013.  From publisher.