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





Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (2013)



Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri was born in 1967. She is a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama.   She has a PhD in Renaissance Studies.   
 
She is the author of four works of fiction: Interpreter of Maladies(1999), which won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; The Namesake (2003), adapted into the popular film of the same name; Unaccustomed Earth (2008); and The Lowland (2013), longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.  The Lowland has also been long listed for the National Book Award.  In 2008 the judges for the Frank O'Connor international Prize declared Unaccustomed Earth the winner, dispersing with a short list, saying that her collection was overwhelmingly the best.  
There is additional background information on her in my prior posts.  I have read both of her short story collections.
The Lowland is a very good novel, fully worthy of both a Booker Prize and a National Book Award.  Like much of her prior work, the central characters are highly educated Bengali immigrants to the USA, in this case Rhode Island.  There are already numerous blog posts and reviews detailing the plot so I will not.   The novel covers sixty years or so in the lives of its central characters.   The characters are brilliantly developed.  It is about the power and pain of families, about immigration, about the love between brothers, about the impact of mothers, about trying to preserve your culture against the power of America.  There is a lot to be learned about Indian politics from this novel.  

I loved it when the novel moved briefly to Ireland.  The Lowland is a step up from her powerful short stories, which is saying a great deal.   The prose is exquisite.  

I think people will be reading The Lowland for many years to come.  I hope to read her first novel, The Namesake soon.  


"Drifting" by Horacio Quiroga (1912).






The First South American Master of the Short Story- The Edgar Allan Poe of the Amazon Basin 

Horacio Quiroga (1878 to 1937-Salto Uruguay) is considered the first modern South American short story writer.    He called Edgar Allen Poe his greatest teacher (and he lead a life at least as tragic as Poe's).    He has been called "The Edgar Allen Poe of the Amazon" as he is most famous for his horror stories set in the jungles of the Amazon.   His stories are about people at the end of their rope, people driven mad by the isolation of the jungle,  the borders between hallucinations and reality and above all, death.   

Quiroga's father accidentally shot himself  before he was three months old.   Quiroga accidentally killed his best friend while cleaning a gun.    His best friend, also an author, shot himself after a bad review.   He had several very doomed from the start love affairs and marriages    When he was 22 his step father shot himself.   

At about twenty two Quiroga  discovered Edgar Allen Poe and knew he must become  a short story writer.   He also wrote several novels but his 200 or so short stories are his legacy to the world.   At about this same time he went along as official photographer on a trip with the famous Argentine poet, Leopoldo  Lugones, to  visit Jesuit missions in the Amazon region.    Quiroga fell in love with the jungle areas of the Amazon.   He was enthralled by the lush danger, the feeling of unlimited fecundity, the strangeness to him of the native people, and one must admit the cheapness with which land could then be bought there.   He set up a farm there and did many experimental things no one else had tried before.   Most of them were failures (I sense he was best at starting things!) but they show he had a great practical intelligence not just literary.   (There is a very interesting article on him HERE that details his numerous romances.   

Quiroga is as death obsessed a writer as you are likely to find.  Roberto Bolano greatly admired his work.  "Drifting" is a painfully vivid account of what it was like to die from snake bite in the Amazon basin in 1910, hours from any medical care.  Quiroga's description of the impact of the bite is really brilliant.  It hurt to see the victim's leg swell up to double size.   The man perceived his only hope for surviving was by taking a five hour canoe ride to the nearest bigger town where medical help is available and where he has a friend.  The beauty of the river is almost that of an hallucination.  We see the man become increasingly unable to tell reality from his snake vermin induced perceptions.  The riverine journey becomes a passage to another world.   I don't know what dying from a snake bite feels like but now I can imagine it.

This story was translated by Margaret Pedar.








Friday, September 27, 2013

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)



Thomas Hardy is one of the highest regarded late Victorian writers.  His productive years extended well beyond the reign of Victoria.   Most of his fiction is set in an imaginary county in England he created.  I have previously posted on his The Return of the Native and some of his short stories.  

Jude the Obscure is considered by many to be Hardy's best novel.  I will say it is a very sad book which many will find depressing.   It seems to present a vision of a world not worth living in.   The novel is in many ways about aspects of the reading life.  Jude, born into a lower class family and a stone worker by trade, desperately wanted to go to college at Christchurch (said to be Cambridge).   He learns Greek and Latin and reads deeply in the classics. He educated himself to a very high level.  Part of my pondering in reading the novel was whether or not his very real depth of reading in fact only intensified his misery.  It seems to me it did.   He loved his books and sacrificed to purchase them.   We can see he was, he acknowledges this, that he lets his desire to have sex  helped to ruin him.   Neither of the two women he loved respected or understood his love of the reading life.   He read in near complete isolation and had no one to share his passion.  I can relate.  

There are lots of things in the novel about the nature of marriage and the hypocrisy of sexual and social  standards. There are numerous narrational asides of deep insight.  The characters are very subtly drawn.  Tragic events occur, deeply horrible things.  The close of the novel is shocking.  

Jude the Obscure is a canon status work, high art.  It does, to repeat my warning, have the power to depress.  Hardy saw a bleak world and he depicted it masterfully.  I will next read, once I recover from this one, his The Mayor of Casterbridge.   


Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Bobcat" by Rebecca Lee. (From Bobcat and Other Stories, 2012)



author bio (from web page of Penguin)

Rebecca Lee is the author of the critically acclaimed novel The City Is a Rising Tide and the short story collection Bobcat and Other Stories. She has been published in The Atlantic and Zoetrope, and in 2001 she received a National Magazine Award for her short fiction. Originally from Saskatchewan, Lee is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is now a professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

"Bobcat" is the title story in Rebecca Lee's highly regarded short story collection, Bobcat and Other Stories.  I have previously posted on her very good short story, "On the Shores of the Vistula", from the collection.  Both of these stories center on very educated, cultivated people with academic backgrounds. 

"Bobcat" is set at the house party of affluent cultured Manhattan couple.  The wife is an attorney.  Her biggest case now involves a Hmong tribal man living in New York City.  His tradition rejects modern medicine as witchcraft.   He refused to allow his critically ill young daughter to receive Western medical care and she died as a result.  She and her partner are trying to keep him out of prison.  

The story deals a lot with how people try to project themselves versus how we think they do.  It also makes a lot of subtle points about relationships.  Three of the people at the party have written books, one about a bobcat attack.   It was a lot of fun to read about the pre-party preparations and the food sounds great. I liked this story a lot.  I admit I liked "On the Shores of the Vistula" a little bit more.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Your Duck is My Duck" by Deborah Eisenberg (from 2013 O. Henry Prize Stories)



Author Bio 

Over the past three decades, Deborah Eisenberg has produced four short-story collections:Transactions in a Foreign Currency (1986), Under the 82nd Airborne (1992), All Around Atlantis (1997), and Twilight of the Superheroes (2006). She has also written a play,Pastorale (1982), a monograph on the artist Jennifer Bartlett (1994), and criticism, much of it for The New York Review of Books. Her preeminence as a short-story writer has been recognized by countless critics and a host of awards, including a DAAD residency, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, many O. Henry prizes, the pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and a MacArthur “genius grant.”
The yearly anthology of the O. Henry Prize Stories is one of the most important short story collections of the year.  The requirement for consideration is that your work must have been published in an American or Canadian publication.  I really like the way the collections are done and the secondary articles in which the judges talk about their favorite short stories.  

"My Duck is Your Duck" by Deborah Eisenberg is the lead story in the collection.  It was my first exposure to her work and I will, hopefully be reading more of her work soon. The central character, a woman, is a struggling painter.  She tells the story and she is interesting, perceptive,and intelligent.  I don't want to tell much of the plot.  She is invited to come stay at the island retreat of a hyper-wealthy family that admires her work.  Everything about the story is intriguing.  It is about a lot of things.  The nature of art, the exploitive nature of the rich, the decay of many local cultures caused by intrusions, big business and much more.  There is a puppet show master also staying there 

Monday, September 23, 2013

"The Salary Man" by Krys Lee (from Drifting House, 2012)



Krys Lee is a new to be writer that I am thrilled to have found.   Most of her stories focus on residents of North or South Korea or immigrants to the USA.   The stories I have so far posted on deal with the mind numbing hardship of life in North Korea and the struggles to survive of those in the South or in the USA.    Older immigrants stay totally in the boundaries of Korean communities.  

"The Salary Man" shows in a painfully real and vivid fashion what happened to 1000s of people who thought they had life time employment locked in when the South Korean economy collapsed in the mid  1990s.   At one time if you got a job at a major Korean corporation you were almost guaranteed life time employment.   Managers were revered, at least to their face, and corporations were paternalistic.  In bailing out the Korean economy, the International Monetary Fund put such strict requirements on the government that businesses were forced to lay off large numbers of workers.  Many workers, including the central figure in this story was so shamed they waited long periods before telling their families, often getting dressed for work and then sitting in the park all day.  We witness the terrible decline and hardship of the salary man.  He sends his wife and kids to live with her parents, saying once he is back working he will set up a home for them again.    His life becomes worse and worse every day.  Soon he is among many 1000s of homeless ex-salary men.  His wife divorces him.  He learns to survive on the street though his mental state degenerates sadly. ,

I hope to read a lot more of the work of Krys Lee.  

Krys Lee was born in Seoul in The Republic of Korea and raised in England and the United States.  Her debut collection of short storiesDrifting House (2012) is drawing great praise from all over the world, with the exception of North Korea where I suspect being caught with a copy would get you in very serious trouble





Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Sunstroke" by Horacio Quiroga (1908).


The First South American Master of the Short Story- The Edgar Allan Poe of the Amazon Basin 

Horacio Quiroga (1878 to 1937-Salto Uruguay) is considered the first modern South American short story writer.    He called Edgar Allen Poe his greatest teacher (and he lead a life at least as tragic as Poe's).    He has been called "The Edgar Allen Poe of the Amazon" as he is most famous for his horror stories set in the jungles of the Amazon.   His stories are about people at the end of their rope, people driven mad by the isolation of the jungle,  the borders between hallucinations and reality and above all, death.   

Quiroga's father accidentally shot himself  before he was three months old.   Quiroga accidentally killed his best friend while cleaning a gun.    His best friend, also an author, shot himself after a bad review.   He had several very doomed from the start love affairs and marriages    When he was 22 his step father shot himself.   

At about twenty two Quiroga  discovered Edgar Allen Poe and knew he must become  a short story writer.   He also wrote several novels but his 200 or so short stories are his legacy to the world.   At about this same time he went along as official photographer on a trip with the famous Argentine poet, Leopoldo  Lugones, to  visit Jesuit missions in the Amazon region.    Quiroga fell in love with the jungle areas of the Amazon.   He was enthralled by the lush danger, the feeling of unlimited fecundity, the strangeness to him of the native people, and one must admit the cheapness with which land could then be bought there.   He set up a farm there and did many experimental things no one else had tried before.   Most of them were failures (I sense he was best at starting things!) but they show he had a great practical intelligence not just literary.   (There is a very interesting article on him HERE that details his numerous romances.   

Yesterday I acquired a collection of short stories by Horacio Quiroga.  He was one of Roberto Bolano's favorite writers.   I have read and posted prior today on seven of his stories.   His best known stories are "The Decapitated Chicken" and "The Feather Pillow".  Like these two stories "Sunstroke" deals with death, making use of belief's about death of people of Uruguay.  There are interesting similarities between some of the views of Irish country people in the same period.  

Quiroga wrote a lot of children's stories.  The protagonists of this story are a group of dogs who all belong to the local patron.  They talk to each other.  They know they have a good master and a better life than most of the dogs in the area.  He does not beat them and they are well fed.  One morning one of the dogs see death approaching their master.  All of the dogs fear his passing will mean the end of their comfortable existence.  It was a lot of fun to listen to the dogs talk and running the field with the pack.  Death does not seem to come back and the dogs hope it was all a false alarm.

Quiroga masterfully describes the countryside, plantation life, the world of the dogs, and their relationship to each other and the patron.  The story does not end happily, few of his seem to have one.  The story was translated by Margaret Paden.




Friday, September 20, 2013

"At The Edge of The World by Krys Lee (from Drifting House).


"At The Edge of The World" is the third short story by Krys Lee on which I have posted.  Her stories are perfectly structured works of art, beautifully written, incredibly insightful as regards her characters and a joy to read.  Most of her stories are about life in North Korea or about Korean immigrants to America.

There are three central characters in the story.   A married couple and their ten year old son.   At sixteen the mother, while living in North Korea, had been sold to a Chinese man who got her pregnant,  she met her husband while walking across China to gain entrance to a special refugee program for the USA.

When we meet them they are in Los Angeles.   There son is a super achiever in school, at ten he is already determined to go to medical school.   Most in the Korean community have become devout Christians.  In one very telling line we learn the husband is an atheist, he got enough of region when he was forced to treat the Korean dictator as God. The parents drift apart, the boy has his first crush.

The beauty in this wonderful story is in the amazing details.  I loved the subplot involving the Korean shaman who moved in next door.

I endorse this story to all lovers of the form.  

Krys Lee was born in Seoul in The Republic of Korea and raised in England and the United States.  Her debut collection of short storiesDrifting House (2012) is drawing great praise from all over the world, with the exception of North Korea where I suspect being caught with a copy would get you in very serious trouble












Thursday, September 19, 2013

" A Report to an Academy" by Franz Kafka (1917)


Recently I read a very interesting article by Tessa Hadley, author of Married Love (a highly regarded collection of short stories)  in the Manchester Guardian in which she listed ten of her favorite short stories.   The first story she mentioned was "The Dead" by James Joyce followed by Anton Chekhov's devastating "Ward Six" about life in a late Czarist era mental hospital.  Most of the stories I have read.   One I had not was "A Report to an Academy" by Franz Kafka.   

I have posted on several of Kafka's works.   No one would say they are light reads by any standard.   The major short stories of Kafka are must readings for anyone seeking to understand modern literary, especially European,  sensibilities.  Given a full focus and respect, his works are immensely rewarding.   

I hope you will read this story (it is about five pages and a translation is in the pubic domain) so I will just post briefly on it more to help me recall it in the future.   The story is told in a very elegant and sophisticated fashion by an ape, speaking to an academy of highly learned members about his conversion from wild ape to a "civilized" one.  We learn of his horrific capture in the jungle and his caged shipboard return to Europe.   We learn of the process where he became less ape like and more human.  We sense deeply buried his self loathing.   Underlying the story is a deep contempt for what passes for humanity.   

Mel u


Monday, September 9, 2013

A Farewell to Prague by Desmond Hogan (1995, republished 2013 by Dalkey Archives, 2013). My Meeting With Desmond Hogan




On May 2nd of this year I had the great honor of meeting Desmond Hogan.  Shauna Gilligan, PhD, invited me to a reading at his publisher, Lilliput Press in Dublin.   Shauna and I were early so I took a seat in the lovely public area.  I was the only one there when a man knocked on the door.  It was Hogan and I let him in and introduced myself.   I was deeply moved when he profusely thanked me for my posts on his amazing short stories.   We talked as if we had known each other for years. He was currently reading Zora Hurston and we talked about her life in Florida.  I asked him if he had read Nathaniel West and it turned out Des knew the power of West  well. It is hard to describe the reading only to say it was amazing.   To me it was as if Des was an ancient poet reading from depths of pain and insight most cannot close to fathom. 

I have posted on a number of Hogan's short stories and his beautiful first novel, The Ikon Maker.   I anticipate posting on and reading Hogan the rest of my life.  I have copies of about twenty short stories I still have not read. 

Farewell to Prague is considered by some his best work to date.  It is very different from The Ikon Maker and is similar to some of the short stories.   

I am under the weather so I will not be doing a long post on this work.  I am sorry my health makes it hard right now to do justice to this great book. It is a dark work, full of pain, death saturated.   In it the central character roams Germany, Prague, Northern California and Alabama, among other places.

I will read this book again soon and endorse it as among the greatest works I have ever read.   I think Nathaniel West would be proud to have his work compared to Hogan.  I know I am proud to have met and conversed with Desmond Hogan. 

Mel u

Saturday, September 7, 2013

"Girl On a Leash" by Krys Lee (2013, 5 pages)

Krys Lee was born in Seoul in The Republic of Korea and raised in England and the United States.  Her debut collection of short stories Drifting  House (2012) is drawing great praise from all over the world, with the exception of North Korea where I suspect being caught with a copy would get you in very serious trouble..  

I posted last year on the title story in her collection, "Drifting Home".   I was very happy to find a new story by Lee in a recent issue of Guernica.  Lee focuses on Koreans.   Some of her stories are about life in North Korea, some in Seoul, and some deal with first and second generation Korean immigrants to the USA.  

"Girl on a Leash" has three main characters, a married couple.  The father mops the floors at an American college at night.  He graduated from the University of Seoul, he resents the barbarians, as he and his wife call Americans.  They save to open a laundry. 

They also have a late teenage daughter. They keep her,not sure if we are to take this literarily or metaphorically, on a leash.

"She had always been latched to a leash. Had grown up with a handsome pink leather collar encircling her neck, a leather strap holding her at rigid attention. Everywhere she walked, her father and mother trailed behind, slackening or tightening it.

They worried. If she fell asleep, the downbeat of the leash shuddered her alert. When she was slow, her father snapped it against her clavicle. But when shadows scudded along the lintels, they drew the leash in and harbored her in the cove of their arms."
There biggest fear is that American college boys will sexually prey on their developing into a beauty daughter.   They fear her sexuality will be her downfall.  They repeatedly warn her to trust no American men.  They constantly search her room for signs of trouble.  When they find love letters, they tighten the leash so if she resists she will fall over.
This kind of parental tyranny often leads to trouble and can produce the very results parents fear.
This is a very powerful story.  I recommend it to all.   It is an excellent introduction to what most may find a wonderful new writer.

Mel u



Friday, September 6, 2013

"The Finding" by Valerie Trueblood (2013, from Search Party: Stories of Rescue)


Search Party:  Stories of Rescue by Valerie Trueblood is receiving a lot of positive notices.   Her previous short story collection, Mary or Burn, was short listed for The Frank O'Connor Prize.  

"The Finding" is a very emotionally intelligent deeply moving story.  A woman, a nurse, is at the office of an optomologist awaiting an examination.  The doctor comes out and tells her his nurse just quit.  He seems at a loss.   He tells her he will have to wait until his daughter arrives as he needs a woman in the office during examinations of females.   The woman worked near the doctor in a hospital.  He is a decent man, frazzled. He tells her his wife has left him and he is living in a hotel.  Her eyes are dilated and the doctor offers to drive her home, she took the bus there.  He tells her that once he drops her off he is going to go to his house as his wife, who hates dogs, has kept his beloved old dog just for spite.  The woman says she wants to stay with him until he get the dog, to support him.  The doctor nearly breaks down when he sees his poor old dog's neglected condition.  The woman feels deep sympathy for the man.  She senses the humanity in him, where he had at once just seemed remote.  

I don't want to disclose more of the plot of this story other than to say it ends with the rescue of more than just the dog.  Pet lovers will totally get this story.  

If you download a sample of the book, you can read the story.

Valerie Trueblood grew up in rural Virginia, USA, studied with John Hawkes and John Berryman, worked as a caseworker in Chicago and as a reference librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. In 2006, Trueblood’s first novel, Seven Loves, came out from Little Brown and was a Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Writers”. She lives in Seattle and the Methow Valley.

Mel u

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Let The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O'Connor (1960)




Flannery O'Connor (1925 to 1964, Savannah, Georgia, USA) is tremendously influential very highly regarded writer working a style called "Southern Gothic".  I have now read all of her short stories and both of her novels.   Virtually all of her work has deeply religious themes.   There was nothing moderate about O'Connor's commitment to her version of Catholicism.     Certainly she believes literally in damnation.   The plot in Let the Violent Bare it Away centers on a man and his nephew.  The uncle is certain the nephew is detained to bring a revelation. When the nephew rebels, he is in revolt against God.   Almost every sentence is a wonder.  As in her work, people are strange, given to violence.  There are things to ponder in O'Connor.  Why are women who have sex with men they are not married to called "whores", why do white characters nearly all call people of color "niggers"?  By 1960 this was unacceptable language, even in Georgia.  

This is a powerful work many will find disturbing.  

Of her two novels, I prefer Wise Blood".   

Her short stories are required reading in Masters in Fine Art programs focusing on creative writing.

Mel u

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Ikon Maker by Desmond Hogan (1976, republished 2013 with an epilogue, 146 pages)





I hold Desmond Hogan in very high esteem.  I have done about twenty posts on his short stories.  The Ikon Maker is his first novel.   For the work of a young man, twenty six, it is amazing for its profound insights and the beauty of the prose.  I read it twice.   Once in a kindle edition and once in a traditional book.  

I think most readers of this novel will before they begin think it is a coming out story of a young Galway man.  It is this but it is much more.  It is the story of a woman who loses her husband and her son.


You should read The Ikon Maker as soon as you can.

Please excuse this short post, I am a bit under the weather.



Mel u