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

de classics, modern fiction,

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"Drive My Car" by Haruki Murakami (2015, translated by Ted Goossen, in Arrival, edited by John Freeman)

A new anthology of short stories focusing on travel experiences of diverse sorts, Arrival edited by John Freeman contains a number of promising looking essays and short stories.  Upon looking the collection over, I was very happy to see a new, or at least new in English translation, short story by Haruki Murakami.  

"Drive My Car" centers on an actor, a widower in his fifties.  He is mostly a stage actor but has had success as a character actor in the movies and done some TV.  He was married to a beautiful very well regarded actress for twenty years.  She died of overian cancer at forty nine.  He tells the mechanic working in his Saab that he needs a driver.  He likes to rehearse his lines in the car on the way to the theater.  The mechanic recommends a twenty five year old woman for the job of driver.  We learn the tradgedy of the actor's life was the four affairs of his wife.  Their relationship to him always seemed very good and he does not understand her motivation.  The wife never realized he was aware of her affairs. In a conversation with the driver we learn he deliberately set out to become friends with one if the actors involved with his wife in an effort to find a way to take revenge.  

We learn a bit about the driver and more about the actor as they spend time in the car.  "Drive My Car" is a very interested low key story.  I was kindly given a D R C of Arrival and exoect to read more from it.

I hope to soon post on two recently brought back into print very early novels by Murakami, Pinball and   Wind

Ambrosia Boussweau 

Friday, May 22, 2015

"Valley of the Girls" by Kelly Link (2011, included in Get in Trouble)

This afternoon I wanted to read a short story by an established writer whose work I have not yet experienced.   My "problem" was I did not know which of the 3000 plus short stories on my E-Reader to read.  I opened more or less at random New American Short Stories edited by Benjamin Marcus and "Valley of the Girls" by Kelly Link came up on the screen.  Problem solved.

"Valley of the Girls" is set in one I would describe as a kind of alternative universe.  It is post 20th century but many of the ideas of Ancient Egypt about the after life, including burial in pyramids and mummification persist.  The teller of the story is a young woman from the upper classes.  There are strange customs, not all real easy to understand.  It seems like the woman may be sealed up alive in a tomb as the story closes but she does not clearly know that.  I really liked this story and hope to read more of the work of Kelly Link.

Kelly Link is the author of the collections Get in Trouble, Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters. She and Gavin J. Grant have co-edited a number of anthologies, including multiple volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and, for young adults, Monstrous Affections. She is the cofounder of Small Beer Press. Her short stories have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. She has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Link was born in Miami, Florida. She currently lives with her husband and daughter in Northampton, Massachusetts. from New American Short Stories

Mel u

"A Breath of Lucifer" by R. K. Narayan (1956? First Published in The Hindu Times)

R. K Narayan is one of my favorite writers.  I have read and posted on eleven of his novels and a number of his short stories.  J. K. Lumpari considers him one of the masters of the short story.  Most of his stories are set in the imaginary community of Narayan's creation, Malguidi, India.  Older residents of India may recall the wonderful TV series  based on his stories, Malguidi Days, many can be found on YouTube.  

One of Narayan's evident objectives was to portray people in lots of different jobs.  Today we meet Sam.  He makes his living as an attendant for the sick in hospitals.  He stays full time in a patient's room.  His current client has undergone eye surgery and is eagerly awaiting the removal of coverings over his eyes.  Sam is always talking about his time working as a medical aid in numerousGra military campaigns but he cannot quite recall any exact wars or battles he worked.  He rarely stops talking, complaining about the nurses and second guessing the doctors.  Something very unexpected happens, either the patient has a very vivid dream or Sam without authorization took him outside for a drinking party.  We learn Sam is not a perfect saint, he learned to drink while working for the military, and even though married has a long term acquaintanceship with one of Malguidi's "public women", a euphemism for what it sounds like.

This is for sure a fun story.  There is a magical quality to the prose style of Narayan I cannot quite describe.  I read this in an anthology of his short stories, Grandmother's Tale and other Stories.  It is a good collection though I would suggest you buy first the anthology his  of short stories edited by J. K. Lumpari, Malguidi Days.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"The Burned Sinners and the Harmonius Angels" by Clarice Lispector 1964

The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lipsector, to be published August, 2015, translated by Katrina Dodson, edited and introduced by Benjamin Moser

"Burned Sinners and the Harmonius"is strikingly different from any of the other stories by Clarice Lispector I have so far read.  In Why This World:  A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser I learned that this story is her only one written in the form of a play.  Moser says it was written in Switzerland in 1949 but not published until 1964.  Evidently it took her a long time to feel ready to publish it and many journal editors found it strange.  

It reads almost like an ancient liturgical drama or a Greek play  centering on the execution of a woman taken in adultery. I do not know how versed Lispector was in Kabbalistic thought but some of the dialogues of the Angels sounds sourced from there.   It is a deeply felt story about birth, death, guilt, social mores and much more.   It could be set 2000 years ago as their are refrences to what seem the miracles of Jesus and might be reflective of a culture in moral decline, focusing on a woman who committed adultery and not deeper issues.

Thus is a very interesting story and I think it would be very good for class room discussions.

Mel u

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Door by Magda Szabó (1987, translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix, 2005, awarded The Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize)

"at the center of this self-conscious narrative of a clash between high and low cultures is a story of such savagery that it demands both silence and truth."  Ali Smith

The Door by Magda Szabó is almost an overpowering work, it almost seemed to bludgeon me into submission as I was driven to read on and on being drawn further and further into the story of the relationship of a professional writer, a woman of the upper class, and a woman she engages to help her with the household chores, Emerence.   The story takes place well after the terrible years of World War Two in Hungary but not so far away that  the memory those dark years does not overshadow much of daily life.  In one very powerful memory image we learn of a troop of Germans who machine gunned  a herd of cows.  We don't know why they did this but the pure mindless destruction and cruelty of it informs our experience of The Door.  Szabó is a true master of the small detail. 

The character of Emerence is something I find myself unable or unwilling to try to describe.  She is just a powerful almost chthonic woman.  She totally repudiates all religion.  She is capable of huge amounts of work.  She is a servant but she is far from servile.  There is a never ending struggle for power between the novelist, who narrates the story, and Emerence.  There is amazing use made of a dog, Viola, in the story.  Cats also play an important part in the life of Emerence.  As the story progresses we learn more and more about the mysterious past and life of Emerence.  Foodies will appreciate the many gastronomic refrences and we also sense we are in a place where not long ago just having enough food was a day to day issue for most Hungarians.

Emerence looks upon the work of the writer, as the novel nears the end she wins a big award, as little more than playing.  She only respects real work done with your hands.  She is close with a Lieutenant Colonel in the police, not as a romance, but we never really learn how this came to happen.  Terrible things happen in this novel, scenes of horrible squalor and pain.  Szabó makes us not just intellectualize this but feel it, smell it and experience  the pain brought down on all.  Sections are near to nausea inducing.  

There is much more in this wonderful novel than I can bring out here.  I am so glad I read this powerful book.  It kept me totally captivated wanting to know what will happen next.  It is very much a work about economics and class distinctions.  There are a lot of exciting events and interesting minor characters.  Emerence always refers to the writer's husband as, Tne Master.  We are being taken way back in Eastern European history and culture.

I hope to read more by Magda Szabó.  I would love to see the movie.  

Magda Szabó (1917–2007) was born into an old Protestant family in Debrecen, Hungary’s “Calvinist Rome,” in the midst of the great Hungarian plain. Szabó, whose father taught her to converse with him in Latin, German, English, and French, attended the University of Debrecen, studying Latin and Hungarian, and went on to work as a teacher throughout the German and  Soviet occupations of Hungary in 1944 and 1945. In 1947, she published two volumes of poetry, Bárány (The Lamb), and Vissza az emberig (Return to Man), for which she received the Baumgartner Prize in 1949. Under Communist rule, this early critical success became a liability, and Szabó turned to writing fiction: her first novel, Freskó (Fresco), came out  in 1958, followed closely by Az oz (The Fawn). In 1959 she won the József Attila Prize, after which she went on to write many more novels, among them Katalin utca (Katalin Street, 1969), Ókút (The Ancient Well, 1970), Régimódi történet (An Old-Fashioned Tale, 1971), and Az ajtó (The Door, 1987). Szabó also wrote verse for children, plays, short stories, and nonfiction, including a tribute to her husband, Tibor Szobotka, a writer and translator of Tolkien and Galsworthy who died in 1982. A member of the European Academy of Sciences and a warden of the Calvinist Theological Seminary in Debrecen, Magda Szabó died in the town in which she was born, a book in her hand. In 2017 NYRB Classics will publish Iza’s Ballad (1963).

Len Rix is a poet, critic, and former literature professor who has translated five books by Antal Szerb, including the novel Journey by Moonlight (available as an NYRB Classic) and, most recently, the travel memoir The Third Tower. In 2006 he was awarded the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize for his translation of The Door.

From webpage of The New York Review of Books

Mel u

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Run on the Molars" by Elaine Chiew (from Cooked Up, Food Fiction From Around the World, 2015)

I love short stories and food, not necessarily in that order, so I was elated to be given a D R C of a forthcoming very soon anthology devoted to short stories centering on food. I was delighted to see that  Cooked Up Food Fiction From Around the World edited and introduced by Elaine Chiew contains stories  by Rachel Fenton and Sue Guiney.  I have previously posted on two of Rachel Fenton's wonderful short stories and she kindly did a very interesting Q and A session on my blog.  Sue Guiney helped me do something relatively unique of which I am proud.  She conducts for at risk Cambodia children fiction workshops in which participants express themselves in English through stories and poems drawn from their experiences.  (A mastery of English is essential for professional success). I was given the honor of publishing many of these very moving works.  I have also read and posted on two of Sue Guiney's set in Cambodia novels, both of which I highly recommend. I was also happy to see a short story by Krys Lee included, having enjoyed one of her works a while ago.  The diversely selected other contributors all have very interesting bios.  I hope to also post on the stories by Sue Guiney, Rachel Fenton and Krys Lee and perhaps some of the new to me writers but will today talk about "Run of the Molars" by the editor of the collection, Elaine Chiew. a story I greatly admired. 

As "Run of the Molars" opens an elderly woman is flying in from Singapore for a month long visit in London with her three adult daughters.  Singapore is on my list of great dining cities, from the elegant buffets at the top hotels to the incredibly interesting  food Hawker Halls.  As a Singaporean side benefit, cleanliness standards are very high. Singapore food is a mix of Indian, Malay and Chinese.  The daughters feel guilty because they did not want to spend the money to fly home for their father's funeral.  Whenever he lost at cards, he used pick out a daughter and whip her so they did not feel much love for him. 

Chiew has done a brilliant job with the character of the mother, her daughters and most of all the family relationships.  The mother has a very sharp tongue and is not shy to express her criticism.  Her first impression of London is that it is a filthy run down place.  She has a number of predjudices and quirks.  The family gatherings revolve around food and of course nothing the daughters can fix is good enough.  I loved this scene, it seems so real.  Under it all the mother is just a bit of a monster, pulling the chains of her girls but you know she had to be tough to survive and to raise her daughters as best she could.

"There was steamboat. Her mother gazed at the broth as if to discern the tidal urges of fate, but her mouth narrowed immediately, and she tucked in her chin. The broth was missing key ingredients, like goji berries, licorice root, dong quai or jujubes. These were things on her list of must-haves. Their mother was about to leave and all Tom and Maggie had succeeded in doing was climbing onto her shit-list. True to form, when they sat down to eat, her mother didn’t pick up her chopsticks, didn’t look at the platters of shrimp, fish-balls, tofu cubes, choy sum, or anything else jostling for space on the laden formica table. Instead, she asked for two slices of white bread. ‘You have?’ she asked Maggie. Maggie stood up and flung her chopsticks into the corner. She started cussing in Hokkien. Her eyes bulged like a pomfret. Winnie clapped her hands over her ears. Tom tried to downplay the escalating emotion by shushing Maggie. Matthew stood up as well but sat back down when he realized there was little he could do. Only Leenie and her mother exchanged glances. Her mother’s eyes were curiously glassy, a dull flush pollarded her cheeks, and Leenie could see the thin gleam of her teeth between the cracks, the agitations of her jaw – as if grinding her teeth at a succubus over Leenie’s shoulder."

"Run on the Molars" is long enough to allow us to understand the family dynamics.  There is a scene of  near heartbreaking sadness and beauty near the close of the story that really quite amazed me.  It made me rethink my perceptions of the mother, not on the surface an easy person to like.  It was an image to haunt dreams.  This story is a very much a work of art and it is flat out a lot of fun to read.  Anyone with a mother they dearly love who might not be all sweetness and light all the time will relate and relish this story.

Official bio

Elaine Chiew is a London-based writer, and her short stories have won the Bridport Prize (2008), Camera Obscura’s Bridgethe-Gap competition (2010), been shortlisted for the 2014 MsLexia Prize, and been shortlisted twice for the Fish Short Story Prize (2012). They have also been selected by Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web (2008), Wigleaf’s Top 50 Microfiction (2008), storySouth’s Million Writers Award (Top 10 Winner, 2006), the Per Contra Prize (Top 10 Winner, 2008) and Glimmer Train’s Top 25 Emerging Writers Competition2006), the Per Contra Prize (Top 10 Winner, 2008) and Glimmer Train’s Top 25 Emerging Writers Competition (2005). They’ve also appeared in numerous publications, including One World: A Global Anthology (New Internationalist, 2009) and Short Circuit: Guide to the Art of the Short Story (Salt, 2009). She is the editor and organizer of this anthology. She blogs about food and fiction on redemptioninthekitchen.blogspot.com

Mel u

The Red Inn by Honore de Balzac (1831, A Novella, A Component of The Human Comedy)

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The last few works by Balzac I have read have been works mostly for those reading through The Human Comedy.  Even mediocre Balzac works will have good descriptions so I do not mind the lesser works.  The Red Inn, a brief novella is a step back toward the Balzac we love, who creates full bodied characters we can visualize. 

Balzac for sure stereotypes people based on where they are from.  "The Red Inn" is structured as a German stopped over at The Red Inn responding to a request of a group of visitors that he tell them a scary story.   There is a feeling of good natured ribbing in Balzac's description of the German.  German's are portrayed as very serious no-nonsense types and we are surprised to find this German enjoyable company.  He begins a story about two young surgeons who just joined the German army.  The two men, friends, are assigned to a unit and hope to advance in rank. Of course they are looking for adventures along the way. The two men end up sharing a room with a third man who tells them he has a huge amount of gold coins in the bag under his pillow and he feels very secure sleeping in the room with two army surgeons.  Now the story does get very exciting and scary.  The man is found dead with his money missing and one of the two surgeons is blamed for the crime, a capital offense.  He is sure he did not do it but he has vague doubts he might have some how had a mental lapse and did kill the man but cannot recall it and he fears his friend framed him.  Balzac does a great job with this party of the story.  In the last chapter Balzac goes into the efforts of a third man to prove the surgeon innocent and save him. I felt the narrative power waned here, but over all a good work.  

I will next read Balzac's three part novel based on the life of Catherine de Medici.

Ambrosia Boussweau 

Mel u