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, October 25, 2014

White Horse by Yan Ge (2014)

White Horse by Yan Ge is a very interesting coming of age story set in a small village in contemporary west China.  The central character is Yun Yun, a twelve year old girl living with her widowed father.  She is very close with her slightly older female cousin and her mother plays a big part in the story.  The story focuses on the developing sexuality of the girls.  Of course like all children that age they cannot imagine their parents ever having sex.  The cousin begins to develop breasts before Yun Yun and in one shocking and powerful scene she kisses the breasts of her cousin.

We see a lot of the village life, we sit in on meals, the food sounds good, and witness some terrible family fights.  The cousin gets a boyfriend and Yun Yun observes them kissing on the mouth, something they have been told only "dirty foreigners" do.  The cousin's mother finds out she has a boyfriend and things get very ugly for a while.  We see how success in school at an early age sets the stage for a potential better life. 

There are dark secrets in the family which are very exciting.   

A lot of the book is about the development of sexual feelings and knowledge by  the two young girls.  They live in a repressive culture without the internet or cable TV so they have to more or less learn on their own.  Of course growing up in the country they have seen animals having sex.  We see them developing interest in boys at school.  We see how competitive school was.  

Yan Ge does a superb job of making the central characters all very real.  I cared about the characters and found them very well developed and interesting.  

Dreams and visions  of a white horse haunt Yun Yun.  The horse is an important figure in Chinese mythology and is the seventh figure in the Zodiac.  

I enjoyed this book a lot.  I think it could be treated as a young adult novel with a mild caution warning but certainly readers of all ages will find much to like about White Horse.

White Horse is published by Hope Road Publishing.  

Hope Road Publishing's mission statement.

From their webpage

"HopeRoad Publishing is an exciting, independent publisher, vigorously supporting voices too often neglected by the mainstream. We are growing a reputation as promoters of multicultural literature, with a special focus on Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. At the heart of our publishing is the love of outstanding writing from writers you, the reader, would otherwise have missed.

Most of our titles are e-books only, but we have ventured into print with three outstanding titles: The Cost of SugarTula the Revolt and Indian Magic. Our list? It covers fiction, non-fiction, young adults, and works in translation. Very soon we are launching something new: a crime fiction list."

Take a few minutes and look at the offerings of Hope Road Publishing and you will probably find several books you want too read soon, I know I did.

Official Bio of Yan Ge

Yan Ge was born in 1984 in Sichuan in the People’s Republic of China. She recently completed a PhD in comparative literature at Sichuan University and is the chairperson of the China Young Writer Association.

Her early work focused on the wonders, gods and ghosts of Chinese myth and made her especially popular with teenagers. The novel May Queen (2008) saw her break through as a critically acclaimed author. She now writes realist fiction, strongly Sichuan-based, focussing with warmth, humour and razor-sharp insights on squabbling families and small-town life. People’s Literature magazine recently chose her – in a list reminiscent of The New Yorker's ‘20 under 40’ – as one of China’s twenty future literary masters, and in 2012 she was chosen as Best New Writer by the prestigious Chinese Literature Media Prize (华语文学传媒大奖 最佳新人奖). Yan Ge was a guest writer at the Netherlands Crossing Borders festival in The Hague, November 2012.

Her new novel 《我们家》(The Chilli Bean Paste Clan) was published in Chinese in May 2013 by Zhejiang Literature Press. 

Mel u

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (first preformed 1603)

 "You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon."  Klingon Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscoverd Country

It is pushing 45  years since I last read Hamlet.  I am not sure what prompted me to reread it now.  
Shakespeare has a very good claim to be called the best writer who ever lived.  I think I might have been prompted to reread it now through my recent readings of classic French  writers like Proust, Balzac and Zola to try to climb as high as one can in the reading life, to experience possibly the very best.  I see Hamlet epitomized Italo Calvino's definition of a classic work of literature as one that is inexhaustible, that can be read over and over always knowing you will discover more about the work and yourself with each reading.   

I found I recalled parts of the plot and parts I had totally forgotten.  I remembered many of the lines that  have passed into the culture.  Reading it again was not like rereading an old friend like Oliver Twist but seeing without fear it was not beyond reading as enjoyment and for the sublime pleasure only rereading the very best works of literature can bring.  

If you have old memories of pedantic pedagogical professors doing their best to make you hate Shakspeare then purge these.  In fact in a shameful  moment this morning on the American TV Fox Network the hostess suggested only the pompous and prentitious pretended to read Shakespeare.  I fear for a culture where those who read great literature are mocked. 

I hope to reread Hamlet at least once in 2015.  I will next reread King Lear.  

If you first read Shakespeare in college and then reread it years later just because you felt like it, please share your experiences with us.

Mel u

Friday, October 24, 2014

"Grandmother's Tale" by R. K. Narayan (1994)

A Story Based on Family History.   Among the Very Last Work of R. K. Narayan

R. K. Narayan is one of my favorite writers.  I have read and posted on thirty five of his works.  His failure to win a Nobel Prize is a travesty. 

Narayan stopped writing in 1994 when his daughter died of cancer.  "Grandmother's Tale" is one of the very last of his works.  It is not set in his imaginary community of Malgudi but draws from his own families history.  The story takes Narayan, he identifies his role in the story, back to his days when he was at home living with his parents.  "Grandmother's Tale" is structured as if it were the author's grandmother telling him a story about her mother, his great grandmother.   It is a beautiful story that shows us much about the nature of arranged marriages and the status of women in society in the early 20th century.   We also come to understand how impacting being married prior to puberty was on the lives of girls. Once a girl is married, which can be at age ten or less, she can no longer go out to play among her peers but must stay inside as befits a married woman. Education stops.   The marriage, as we learn in the narrative, is not customarily consummated until the girl reaches puberty and their is a separate ceremony marking this.   

The story is not just your standard one person telling another a story narrative.  There is a lot of interaction between Narayan and his grandmother.  The way the story is told tells a lot about the relationship.  It was, I admit, fun to see Narayan told off by his grandmother!  I don't want to tell the story but it is really a captivating account of a marriage which shows the hidden strength of the grandmother and her willingness to be ruthless, some would say cruel and deceptive to preserve her marriage. We do see her travel across India alone in search of her runaway fiancé.   It was fascinating to see her revert to a proper subservient home bound wife once she got what she wanted.

As far as I know this story can only be read in The Grandmother's Tale and Other Stories.

Narayan, Wife, and Daughter

Mel u

"In Greenwich There Are Many Gravel Walks" by Hortense Calisher (August 12, 1950 in The Yorker)

My Posts on Hortense Calisher

I recently discovered another new to me writer I wish I would have known about fifty years ago.  The sad thing is I know there are many such writers out there and the wonderful thing is I know there are many such writers out there.  

Hortense Calisher's (1911 to 2009- born and died in Manhattan) full collection of published works is over a meter long. (There is a little background information in my prior post on her.)  "In Greenwich There Are Many Gravel Walks" is the lead story in the Open Road Publishing Edition of The Collected Stories of Hortense Calisher, introduced eloquently by John Hollander.   I will be reading all of the thirty six stories in the collection and will at least journalise my reading of them.

This story is set in the Greenwich area of New York City in 1950.  The area is comfortably affluent, there are lots of artists, what were once called "Bohemians", gays and various flotsam.  The story starts with the story of a twenty something returning veteran, W W II ended just a few years ago, living with and taking care of his badly alcoholic mother.   They live from income left by her husband.  We see the interaction and mutual dependency of the pair.  Then the son goes to the brownstone of Robert.  Robert is or fancies himself to be a supporter of promising young artists and a perhaps pretentiously a bit reader of mostly French literature.  I think there is a code meaning when Robert says "one no longer needs to read Gide" but I am not quite sure what Gide meant in Greenwich in 1950.  I am assuming it is a reference to an emerging gay culture but I am wondering if it has a concrete meaning.  Robert has many books and he seems to lead at least a partially reading life.  Robert is at least twenty five years older than those who visit him.  Telling a bit of the plot action, for a reason we never know, one of Robert's guests kills himself by leaping out a window. Then a third distinct element of the story begins.

We learn a lot about several people in just a few pages (the estimated reading time is 19 minutes).  We are kind of thrust in the middle of several lives and situations and that is how we leave.  

I greatly enjoyed this story, a work of refinement and cultural depth.

Much of the work,of Calisher is published by Open Road Media.  Their fairly priced very interesting and diversified collection can be viewed at the link in this very accurate quote from Independent Publisher.

“Groundbreaking,” “cutting-edge,” “light years ahead of their time” – call them what you will, Open Road Integrated Media is a true leader in digital book technology. Started in the summer of 2009 by Jane Friedman (former President and CEO of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide) and Jeffrey Sharp (an Academy Award and Golden Globe-winning filmmaker), Open Road has flourished in the e-book and digital market.

Mel u

Augustus by John Williams (1972)

Augustus is the third novel by John Williams (1992 to 1994, USA) I have recently read.  I first read his set in American academia novel Stoner and then Butcher's Crossing, a stunning and horrowing work set in the American west in the 1870s.  Obviously I greatly admire his books.  I have no favorites among his novels but Stoner is, I think the most read so I guess you might start there.  Williams wrote another novel based loosely on his World War II experiences but he later repudiated it so probably I won't read it.

Augustus is a very interesting work centering on the life and reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus who ruled the empire from 27BC to 14AD.  The work is narrated through a series of letters, journal entries, historical works, and official texts, all created by Williams but based on long research. Augustus lived a very long time, up to seventy seven, in a job not known for security.  Much of the deeper meaning of the novel is about living a long life, about out living the friends of your youth, about pondering or trying to impose a meaning on your experiences as you reach the end of days, about how history is wriiten.

There are lots of voices in this work, from Egyptian priests to Augustus's daughter Julia, whom he exhiled  to a small island for violating his dictates on sexual morality., We see the same events from different  perspectives.  We see the incredible cruelty of the times combined with exquiste cultivation.  Virgil and Ovid play minor roles and Cicero a larger part.  Cleopatra crosses our path in a very interesting segment.  We learn a lot about imperial family life.  Of course everywhere slaves make the empire run. In one very moving segment we see the reaction of a now very old woman who once nursed Augustus on seeing him as Emperor. Each letter and journal from a different writer is well individuated.  Some writers recur, others only have one brief moment upon the stage.  The closing forty pages or so is devoted to a long letter of Augustus to his only still living friend in which Augustus reflects on his life.  Herod appeard as do other lesser known figures from history.  We go to Roman games, Augustus did not really care for them but put them on to keep the masses happy.  We learn a good bit about the extreme importance of the army.  I think some of the most interesting letters were from minor lost to history figures who appear but once.  We see how marriage among the nobility was very political.  We see some writers are deeply sincere, others the most venal of obsequious suck ups.

In several of the letters from Roman nobility written in advanced years, they said all they wanted now was the time to read great literature and philosophy.  The wealthiest men in the Roman Empire after long years in power yearned for the time to live the reading life.  Being able to live out any fantasy they saw reading as the greatest thing they wanted from life.  One of the wonderful things about the very rich Augustus is that you can see what you want in it and I am open to the idea that this is what I was meant to see.

A good picture of life in the times emerges.  I have been fascinated with this era in Roman history ever since loving and still missing the TV series Rome.  


It really is a great pleasure to read a book this marvelous. 

Please share your experiences with John Williams with us.

Mel u

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bald New World by Peter Tieryas Liu - 2014- An Amazing Debut Novel by the Award Winning Author of Watering Heaven

"I was eleven when everyone in the world lost their hair."

My Post on Watering Heaven

My Q and A with Peter Tieryas  Liu

In January of last year I read Peter Tieryas Liu's debut collection of short stories, Watering Heaven. I was actually shocked by how good it was, by how much I liked it.  Here is a part of my concluding remarks on the collection:

"I really liked the stories in Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas Liu.  They contain strong elements of surrealism, I think Alfred Jarry would like them, and magic realism.  The stories are very mega-city urban and very tuned in to how social media and its permeation of the world connects us no more than it isolates us.  There is a preoccupation with death and suicide.  Someone kills themselves in a number of the stories.  There are a lot of hookers and no happy old fashioned relationships or marriages accept maybe of a character's grandparents and even that may have been a sham.  The use of language is marvelous, the details are perfect.   At the start of the e-book there is a quote about the book that says "his surreal brilliance and vulnerability reminds one of the best of Borges, Calvino and Pynchon".   When I first read this I thought "oh, sure" but I now fully agree with this."

I knew I wanted to read much more of Peter's work and hopefully watch his talent develop.  Long before his first novel, Bald New World came into print I thought what a brilliant title.  I have now read Bald New World twice, once three months ago and just last week.  I waited three months to read a second time as I wanted to let the work sink into my consciousness for a while and I knew right away that the book would get a lot of attention so I waited.  I was right as it has received glowing reviews all over the internet and beyond.

When I read the opening section describing world wide reaction to the day everyone in the world went bald overnight I thought I sure would not want to be in Manila when that happened. Just about every other TV commercial here is for hair products.  

There is just so much in Bald New World to like it is hard for me to feel I can adequately react to the book.  The narrative covers some twenty years and is kind of centered on two experimental film makers trying to produce movies about this new world.  The richest people are now the wig manufacturers.  Much time is spent in this world trying to understand why everyone lost their hair, the blame is placed on everything from the extreme environmental pollution of the world to seeing it as some kind of divine punishment. There is a plot about hair restoration.  Poverty is extreme, corruption is rampant and life is very cheap.  Showing my age and echoing the remarks of numerous others, this novel will make you think of the great movie, Blade Runner.  

The novel also deals with how social media and gadgets are totally changing how we live, in all ways.  A leading sport is cricket fighting where people somehow lock up mentally with crickets.  One of the lead characters was once a famous cricket fighter (think Avatar) and when he gets in trouble he agrees to fight again.  The scenes where he enters into the consciousness of a cricket are really brilliant.  The scenes of the fights and the mating with crickets were enough to make one feel the revulsion of this brave new world.

The hysteria now being created by The Fox Network about Ebola some how reminds me of the parts of Bald New World in which we learn of the many overt and covert ways the very rich and their minions try to control the masses by distracting them from their real problems.   The role of the army in wars against African "enemies" as a last chance employer and feeder of vendor wealth for sure is see-able as a commentary on the foreign and domestic priorities of the United States.

Blad New World would make a great movie.  It is very visually oriented, fast moving, has some nasty sex scenes (not just the ones where you feel you are having sex with crickets!) with beautiful women, lots of diverse locations, interesting villains, strong women and I would love to see scenes of all the ways people cope with being bald. A brilliant filming of the first day of baldness could be an immortal classic scene in the right hands. There are prison escapes and plot twists abound.  This is a very dark, brilliant and at times very funny book.  I can almost guarantee you will never be bored reading Bald New World.

Liu has created a very real feeling virtual world.  Aldous is smiling while he awaits to see Liu's next trip through the doors of perception.  

Official Author Bio from his webpage

Peter Tieryas Liu is the author of Watering Heaven (Signal 8 Press, 2012), Bald New World (Perfect Edge Books, June 2014), and Dr. 2. Bald New World was listed as one of Buzzfeed’s 15 Highly Anticipated Books of 2014one of the Best Books of Summer 2014 from Publisher Weekly in a star review, and Watering Heaven was an Amazon best-seller and long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Int’l Short Story Award. He has a variety of work published in places like the Adirondack Review, Camera Obscura Journal, Electric Literature, Evergreen Review, Gargoyle, Hobart, HTMLGiant, Indiana Review, Kotaku, New Letters, New Orleans Review,  Rain Taxi, Toad Suck Review, and ZYZZYVA to name a few. He is also a VFX artist who has worked on films like Men in Black 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, Alice in Wonderland, and Hotel Transylvania and he has worked as a technical writer for LucasArts, the gaming division of LucasFilm.

I endorse this book without reservations of any kind other than to say it will offend members of The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Crickets.

I hope to read lots more by Peter Tieryas Liu.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Seraphita" by Honore de Balzac (1834 - a novella - A Component of The Human Comedy)

"Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). In a letter written in 1837 to Madame Hanska, his mistress and later his wife, the great French novelist declared that 'Swedenborgianism' was his religion. The influence of Swedenborg on Balzac is most clearly seen in Louis Lambert and Seraphita (the latter a seminal work which influenced artists as diverse as Strindberg, Yeats and Schoenberg), but references to Swedenborg and Swedenborgian teachings may also be seen in La Peau de ChagrinA La Recherche de l'AbsoluUrsule MirouëtCousin Pons and other works. Reference: Lynn R Wilkinson, The Dream of an Absolute Language: Emanuel Swedenborg and French Literary Culture (1996)". From the webpage of the Swedenborg Society.

Seraphita starts out with a magnificent descriptions of the fjords of Norway in Chapter One.  In chapter Two we meet a mysterious person, Serphita, that appears as a beautiful woman to a young man that loves her and a handsome man to a  fervently anamored young woman.  From this point on Seraphita is devoted to theories of Swedenborg.   These go on and on for a loooong  time.  They are structured as one person explaining  the doctrines of Swedenborg to the young man and woman.  Reading these long explanations of Swendenborg's theories, which sound kind of like a combination of the Book of Revelations, medieval Kabbalistic theories and Neoplatonism put in a blender at high speed.  I am glad I read this work early in my reading of The Human Comedy but in my future Balzac readings I am fast forwarding through any lengthy accounts of the philosophy of Swedenborg. 

A very lucid account of the thought, life, and influence of Emanuel Swedenborg (1668 to 1772) can be found here