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





Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 Plans and Hopes for The Reading Life





Reading and blogging are now very closely tied together for me.  I like to tell myself that one should not read to blog but all who have had a book blog for a while know the two activities begin to merge.  



Short Stories are now and have been for four years a very important part of my reading and blogging life.  I have done about eighty Q and A sessions with contemporary short story writers, mostly Irish but now branching out.  If anything is of lasting value on my blog, it is these Q and A sessions.

I have now on my IPAD 73 collections of short stories, easily over 3000 stories.  A few of these I have read but most I have not.  One of my priorities in 2015 will be to read the seven anthologies of short stories by authors from the Indian Subcontinent that I have on hand.  I might devote a month to Short Stories of The Indian Subcontinent. I also have still unread lots of Irish short stories and hope to get to a many of them this year in March during Irish Short Story Month Year Five.  I will continue reading Yiddish short stories thanks to the generosity of Yale University Press.  I will read more short stories by acknowledged masters.  I have been given a lot of short story anthologies by one writer and I will try to get to them sooner than I did in 2014.  I admit it is still hard for me to say no to the offer of a free book.


European Reading Plans and Hopes



One of my reading goals for 2015 is to complete Honore de Balzac's The Human Comedy cycle consisting of 41 novels, 25 novellas, and 25 short stories.  I am about one third through as of today.





I also hope to reread Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past) in the C. K. Scott Moncrieff translation and will possibly also read the Lydia Davis translation of Volume One.  I will also complete my reread through of Moncireff's translations of Stendhal.



For some time now I gave been regularly reading works by Joseph Roth and Stefan Zweig and I will hopefully continue this in 2015.

I hope all to read more of the work of Robert Walzer and all of Kafka and reread Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Faust.  

Additionally I have on my 2015 list rereading Don Quixote in the Grossman translation, The Idiot, and A Sentimental Education, the ultimate dandy novel.


I now have all of the novels and short stories of the great Jean Rhys and hope to read them all in 2015.  This is more my personal tribute than my other projects.

America



I will try to read American classics I have not yet read, including the later novels of Henry James ,The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and more William Faulkner. I hope I will reread Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon. 

England

I hope to read a few more Victorian and Modern classics this year.

Japan



The post World War II Japanese novel is one of the great cultural treasures of the reading life world. I will continue to read on in this inexhaustible area.

Literature, Culture, and History of The Philippines.



The most popular posts on The Reading Life are all on short stories and memoirs of life in The Philippines prior to achieving independance from the USA in 1947.  Most of the readers live in the country but there is a strong world wide interest in these posts.  I know this is partially fueled by university reading assignments.  These stories are a marvelous resource for those into colonial literature, they are beautifully written in a straightforward fashion.


  Most center on day to day family life.  They are now pretty much the last memories of a fading era.  Modern Filipino English language literature began with the short story, written by authors mostly educated at The University of the Philippines and Santo de Thomas (where one of our daughters goes now).  The history of the Philipines is hard to know in much depth for a lot of reasons.  Prior to World War Two, people did not at all see themselves as citizens of the Phillippines (this being a political creation of the Spainards) but identified with their immediate area and often shared no common language with people ten miles away. Upwards of 100 different languages were spoken. There were extensive written records in the southern part of the country when the Spanish arrived but they burned them all, being horrified by the strange to them script so history prior to this is pretty much a guess.   The level of artistic work in gold prior to the Spanish  suggests a very refined culture but it is all speculative.   

In 2015 I hope to post on more short stories by authors from the Philippines, focusing on writers designated as National Artists of the Philippines.

The rest

I will also read a lot at random, seeking out new works by old favorites and looking for great new writers as of now unknown to me. I will continue to read literary biographies, holocaust memoirs and interesting historical works.

As always I am open to joint projects




Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 A Look Back at The Reading Life and some random blatherings

When I began my blog on July 7, 2009 I never thought it would last so long. I never dreamed how starting a book blog would change my life.  My blog has connected me with many wonderful people who love reading.  I no longer feel alone in my love of reading.  I am very proud of the high quality of my readership.  I owe my greatest thanks to those who take the trouble to make comments and those who have done guest posts and participated in Q and A sessions.  


Since inception my blog has had 3,191,198 page views.  In 2014 The Reading Life had 946,222 page views.  The most common countries of residence for a blog visitor are The United States, The Philippines, India, England and France.   The top home cities of my readers are The Greater Manila Area, Mumbai, London, Paris and the San Francisco Bay Area.  The five most read posts are all on short stories by authors from the Phillippines.  The authors most searched for on my blog are Katherine Mansfield with R. K. Narayan a close second.  I have 3818 twitter followers. There are as of today 2648 posts on The Reading Life.  


I don't really have a review policy.  I don't see myself as a "book reviewer" and don't like to be called that.  I just read things and I post on them.  I have received many free books from publishers and authors this year and I declined many more.  I do look at every item I receive. 


The love of reading and the love of books are related but they are not the same thing by any means.   My ethereal theory is that in E reading one connects more directly with the Platonic essence of the text rather than the mode of presentation.  The struggle  between E reader and traditional reading on a world wide basis will go overwhelmingly for the E book as China, all the Indian Subcontinent and " third world" countries gain full and hopefully free access to the internet. 


 Books are not going away, just as I guess  there are still places to buy records, traditional books will always be available.  I see in traditional book stalwarts elitism, a fear the temple will be violated.  The Reading Life wants all the door open, all barriers down.  I do think E Books should be priced lower than physical books as the production costs are significantly lower.  Amazon has a strangle hold on E books, and nearly the publishing industry and their  sales versus price projections will dictate costs.  





In December after German Literature Month ended, I was inspired to do a series of posts set in 1932 in The Grand Budapest Hotel.  

 


The event began as planned, in a series of civilized activities reflecting the best of the culture of Greater Germania but with the collapse of the main event host  Ruffington Bousweau after four days and the arrival of his niece Ambrosia Bousweau 48 hours of pure Weimar decadence began with guests from all over The Reading Life, a Venus in Furs Costume Contest at which I lost all self control, and numerous other happenings best left at The Grand Budapest Hotel.

       
                                                                       Bad Book Bloggers must be chastised.

On New Years Day I will do a post on my blogging plans and hopes for 2015.



















An Old Maid by Honore de Balzac (1836, a novel, A Component of The Human Comedy)



Mel u has asked me to take over The Reading Life for at least the rest of the year.  He gave me full control to  post to on whatever I wanted but he did ask me read An Old Maid by Honore de Balzac and tell you what I thought about it. 


I found An Old Maid over all boring, rambling and disorganized and it was all I could do to push through to the end.  The narrator seems to feel a woman who never marries is sure to turn into a miderable tyaranical shrew dedicated to making everyone's lives miserable.   Like a typical Balzac novel there are concerns over money and some good food scenes and I concede the description of the interiors were well done.

32/91


Monday, December 29, 2014

The Reading Life Big Reads 2014 Fiction List





I have decided to once again list my "Big Reads" for the past year.  (I will do a separate list for nonfiction.)

One very long novel and two short stories had by far the biggest impact upon me. I will list those works first and then the remaining in no particular order with comments occasionally.

1.  "Kleist in Thun" by Robert Walser. This supreme work of art left me stunned. Art of the highest quality.

2.  In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past) by Marcell Proust and translated by C. K. Scott Moncireff.  I wish I could live in this world.  I will begin rereading it soon.

3.  "The Walk" by Robert Walser.   An amazing longer short story.

                                                                               The Rest

1.The Ambassadors by Henry James
2.  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - my third read
3.  The Leopard by Giueseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa - set to reread in 2015
4.  Stoner by John Williams - not on the level of a true classic but worth rereading
5.  As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner 
6.  Cousin Pons by Honore de Balzac
7.  The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy 
8.  The Bell Jar by Slyvia Plath - been meaning to read this for a very long time.
9.   Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.  Ice cold perfection
10.  Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham 
11.  Jacob von Gunter by Robert Walser
12.  Embers by Sandor Marai - now on my read all I can list.
13.  The Leaves of Grey by Desmond Hogan - only two living authors on list
14.  Life Goes On by Hans Keilson - I have now read all his works. Must read Holocaust Era Literature.
15.  Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse
16.  The Trial by Franz Kafka - must reading. 
17.  The Wide Saragossa Sea by Jean Rhys.  I love this book beyond reason.
18.  The Sleepwalkers by Hermann Broch
19.  The Dram Shop by Emile Zola.  A really fun novel about the lower depths of Paris
20.  The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles - a beautiful work 
21.  The Roman Woman by Alberto Moravio
22.  Signatures in Stone by Linda Lappin. - award winning historical fiction of the highest quality. One of two living writers on my Big Reads list.  
23.  Hamlet by William Shakespeare 
24.  Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus 
25.  Middlemarch by George Eliot 
26.  V by Thomas Pynchon 
27.  Notes from the House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoevsky 

Other than the two stories by Robert Walser which simply demanded inclusion, this list does not encompass my short story readings.  For now I find this to intense and personal to render a best of list.












Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 Non-Fiction on The Reading Life




Here are the non-fiction works I read in 2014, listed in order read.  I have rated them with one to five stars and made brief comments.  Normally I do not finish or even go very far in a book I don't  like so most of my non-fiction reviews are  favorable.  Life is too short to finish a bad book just so you can review it.

1.  Out Witting History - Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky. **. A very interesting combination of culture history and book collecting.  Must read for those into Yiddish culture.

2.  How Paris Became Paris  The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean. * good history 

3.  Twilight of the Belle Epoch -  Paris Between 1901 to 1918. *.  By Mary  - lots of interesting cultural information 


4.   Collecting Shakespeare -  The Story of Henry and Emily Folger by Stephen Grant ** fact rich and interesting bibliophiles work.

5.  Penelope Fitzgerald - A Life by Hermione Lee ** a good literary biography, for fans of the subject.

6.  Four Sisters:  The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Dutchesses by Helen Rappaport
** for those into late Czarist history

7.  The Impossible Exile - Stefan Zweig at the End of The World  by George Prochnik
**** must reading for those into Stefan Zweig and between the wars European literary history.

8.  Out of Dublin - A Memoir by Ethel Rohan. Very moving work ***

9.   The Edge of the City -  A Scrapbook 1976 to 1991 by Desmond Hogan. *** a very interesting selection of essays by one of Ireland's greatest contemporary writers.

10.  The Magic Lantern of Marcel Proust by Howard Moss *** a very rewarding highly literate commentary.  

11.  The Snows of Yesterday by Gregory von Rezzori **** a beautiful memoir 

12.  Marcel Proust - A Life by William C. Carter ***** the best secondary work on Proust 

13.  The Most Dangerous Book:  The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham **.  For those very into the subject matter

14.  Vera (Mrs Vladimir Nabokov) by Stacey Sciff *** a book for those very into Nabakov 

15.  The Wandering Jews by Joseph Roth ***** Must read book for those interested in the subject.

16.  Chasing Lost Time:  The Life of C. K. Scott Moncrieff by Jean Findlay ***** I loved this book.  

17.  The Last Jews of Berlin by Leonard Gross **** must reading for anyone into Holocaust history and literature.  

18.  Lewis Carroll:  The Man and his Circles by Edward Wakeling ** only for those very into Lewis Carroll

19.  From Holocaust to Harvard by John Stoessinger ** an interesting memoir

20.  Marcel Proust's Library by Anka Muhlstein *** a very interesting and illuminating book

21.  Balzac's Omlette:  A Delicious Tour of French Food by Anka Muhlstein *** - helped me understand Balzac a bit better and made me very hungry.  

22.  Alive Inside the Wreck:  A Biography of Nathanael West by Joe Woodward *** - a wonderful biography of West and his era.  Lots of data on Hollywood in the 1930s.

23.  In The Garden of the Beasts:  Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson.  *** very well done popular history.

24.  Art of a Jewish Woman by Henry Massie ** good edition to Holocaust literature 

What were your favorite nonfiction reads of 2014?






Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Longshaft's Marriage" by Henry James (August 23, 1883)







Not long ago I read an interview in The Paris Review with Leon Edel, author of a five volume biography of James, says one of the unanswered biographical question on James concerns his attitude toward sexual matters.  Edel says in his novels James is is very guarded about revealing anything about himself but in his short stories he sometimes opens up more.  One of the short stories Edel recommends was "Longshaft's Marriage".  (I hope I am not the only one who at least wondered if the title choice might mean what it does in American slang now but I guess that is just an unfortunate linguistic development.)

As the story opens two young affluent American women on a grand tour of Europe, now in Nice. Anyone who has read much James knows that Europe versus America is one of the big themes of James and it manifests itself strongly here.  

One of the young women is kind of subservient to the richer of the pair as she received a huge gift of money from her from an inheritance.  She notices a very handsome but sickly looking young man has been looking at her friend.  She makes inquiries and finds the young man is from a very wealthy English blue blood family and learned he is thought to be dying of consumption. The man approaches her and tells her he is in love with her friend and wants to marry her.  The friend urges her to do it so she can inherit his vast estate.  The other woman declines fearing he might recover and then she would be stuck married to him.  

Two years go by and the women are back in America.  The richer one now is in the last few months of death by consumption.  She proposes her and her friend go back to Europe.  Her private plan is to try to find the Englishman, hoping he survived and purpose marriage.  By a near Miracle they find the man and marriage is proposed.

I will leave the rest of the story untold.  

I wondered why both the man and woman see marriage as a good option only on their death bed?

"Longshaft's Marriage" is a very interesting story written in the of course sublime prose of James.

Mel u


The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahari (2003)




Jhumpa Lahari is one of my favorite contemporary writers.  I have recently read articles by eminent literary critics claiming the literary novel is dead.  I seriously doubt any of them have read the three novels of Jhumpa Lahari.  With the completion of The Namesake, her first novel, I have now read, I think, all of her published fiction, including  her short stories in The New Yorker which are not yet anthologized.  The Namesake was initially published as a long short story, "Gogol" in The New Yorker.

I do not have a favorite Lahari, I have throughly enjoyed each work.  Most of her fiction centers on Bengali immigrants to the northeastern part of the United States.  Most begin with a central character seeking education in top quality American schools in order to insure a comfortable life.  Most of the male characters are engineers or academics.  I love works replete with well done unforced literary references from the reading life of the central characters.  In The Namesake I was very moved when a lead female character talks about reading Stendhal's The Red and the Black in the translation by C. K. Scott Moncireff.  Above all the novel is driven by refrences to Russian literature, especially Gogol.

I am not inclined to retelling the plot.  It covers many years in the lives of a Bengali family and develops profoundly the conflict of the immigrant in maintaining his or her culture while succeeding in a new country.  They go back and forth to Calcutta numerous times.  There are numerous great Bengali food scenes.

I liked The Namesake a lot.

I hope to read many more works by Jhumpa Lahari.

Mel u

Friday, December 26, 2014

"Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor" by John Cheever (December 24, 1949 in The New Yorker)

"And when it came Christmas morning, how could you explain it, how could you tell them that Santa Claus only visited the rich, that he didn't know about the good? How could you face them when all you had to give them was a balloon or a lollipop?"



John Cheever (1912 to 1982) is widely regarded as one of America's greatest short story writers. My research indicates much of his work centers on middle class people living in what are called "suburbs" (I am not sure what that is and I am sure I would not like them).  Mel u has posted on some of his more famous stories so when I saw that one of his stories focusing on Christmas, from 1936 a time of great economic hardship in much of the world, could be read on the webpage of The New Yorker I decided to include it as my last Christmas story for this year.  




The story centers on Charlie, an elevator operator in a residential complex for the wealthy.  Charlie lives alone in one room in a boarding house whereas the people in the building have ten rooms and multiple servants.  It is Christmas Day and Charlie cannot help but brood on the disparity between his life and the building residents.  Whenever a resident gets in the elevator Charlie plays on their sympathy, partially to get tips but he is also invited to many Christmas dinners, all take out as he has to man the elevator, plus way to much liquor.  

I really hope you can avail yourself of the opportunity to read this story so I will leave the rest of the story untold.

If you have ever dreaded Christmas because you feared you could not live up to the expectations the media has given your children, you will relate directly to this story.  







Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Of Cows and Love" by Atul Chandra (1971)








"Of Cows and Love" by Atul Chandra (1903 to 1986, Assam India, author of over 100 books) is set in a half Moslem half Hindu town, after the terrible wave of deaths in 1992.  People of the town always had lived in peace, even friendship but when a cow drops dead at the front door of the house of a Moslem woman it sets off a lot of consternation among her neighbors.  Some Hindus say the cow 
must have poisoned by the Moslem woman just out of hate.  The problem then becomes what to do with the body.  Hindus won't touch the body, only a member of a Dalit caste can move the body.  The woman has to pay an outrageous fee to get the cow removed right now, to leave it dead in front of her house invites disaster.  She begins to think back to a Muslim man she loved and who loved her but ultimately repudiated her as he knew his family would never accept the relationship.  


I read this very poignant and funny story with deeper veins of pain and sorrow in Our Favorite Indian Stories edited by Khushwant Singh and Neelam Kumar.



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Christmas Morning" by Frank O'Connor (1936, originally published in The New Yorker)


"And I knew that the look in her eyes was the fear that, like my father, I should turn out mean and common and a drunkard".  From "Christmas Morning.

I admit I never heard of Frank O'Connor until I noticed Mel u has posted on a number of his stories.  He is from one of the world's great literary cities Cork, Ireland.

"Christmas Eve" was first published in The New Yorker in 1936.  I read it in Mel's copy of The Collected Stories of Frank O'Connor published by Open Road Media.



The story is told by a young boy maybe nine at the most.  He has a younger brother that is the bane of his existence.  His mother puts a very high emphasis on education even though he hates school.  His little brother, a consummate suck up excels at school and always parades his success in front of their mother.  He has to constantly hear "why can't you be like your little brother".  Their father is a drunk.  On Christmas Eve he brings home his pay and begrudgingly gives his wife a little extra for the holiday. She tells him she knows most of his pay will go to "publicans" for his drinks.  The boys are arguing about Santa Clause, is he real, how do they get in touch with him?  Older rough neighbor boys have told them Santa Clause is a fraud, it is your parents.  The boys still cling to Santa Clause.

I don't want to tell the very sad ending of this story.  O'Connor in his spare prose compresses years of misery in the close and we see the narrator learn something no boy should have to, at any age.





Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Bertie's Christmas Eve" by Saki 1908


I noticed Mel u in a rare display of good taste on his part has posted on a number of stories by the great gentle Edwardian satirist of upper crust society Saki.  Saki's central characters are often adolescents or adults stiff chaffing at the constraints of social adulthood having fun with their elders.



"Bertie's Christmas Eve" begins at a Christmas Eve dinner with the members of a large extended family.  Everything is as John Bull as it could be and everyone is happy but Bertie.   Bertie, his parents have evidently passed, is at his uncle's for Christmas.  Bertie has been over much of the British colonial world in the tradition of young male relative people don't want around much and he finds this family fuss dinner a huge bore.  Then someone says that the Russians belief that on midnight on Christmas Eve for one hour animals can talk.  One of the more dottie Aunts, though I doubt she is a match for my Aunt Euphemia, suggests they all  go to the cow barn to see if this is true.  Compressing a bit, Bertie locks the whole family in the barn for several hours, just for a lark.  Of course the family sees little humor in this and I will leave the rest of this really fun story unspoiled for you.







Sunday, December 21, 2014

"At Christmas Time" by Anton Chekhov. 1900 (includes the full story)



Mel ü has asked me to take over The Reading Life until at least next year.  I will be featuring a few classic Christmas stories, among other things.  

"At Christmas Time" is set in Russia in 1900.  I am somewhat familiar with this milieu through wintering on the Black Sea with Moma at one of Felix's palaces while Felix and Uncle Ruffy were touring Japan with Nicholas.  To dispell any scandal mongers, yes my mother was once in service to the Maharani of Ragapour until she met my father Sheridan Boussweau, but that is a story for another day.

"At Christmas Time" is a very moving masterfully compressed short story that perfectly expresses the emotion of separation at Christmas and the depth of family bonds.  As the story opens an older woman is telling her husband how much she misses her daughter whom she has not heard from for many years, ever since she married and moved away.  She does not even know if she has grandchildren.  Her and husband are illiterate but they know of a man  who for a fee is known to write an elegant epistle. They go to the man and the old woman pours her heart out to him, telling him what she wants to say.  She is in a panic as her heart is overflowing with what she wants to tell her daughter.  Instead of actually listening the writer just sends a sort of form letter in which he says all is fine.  When he learns the daughters husband is a security guard he includes really pompous and pointless career advice for military men even though he is not in the army.

In the second part of the story we see the daughter overwhelmed with emotion upon the arrival of the letter.  She seems to fear her husband.  In one heartbreaking line we learn the daughter had given her husband several letters over the years to her parents for him to mail, she thought they no longer cared about her as they never answered them, but in truth he did not want to spend the money for postage to mail them.  

Chekhov compresses years of pain and longing in just a few pages.  

I present to you the full story





At Christmas Time

By Anton Chekhov

Translated by Mariam Fell 1915 -

"WHAT shall I write?" asked Yegor, dipping his pen in the ink.

Vasilissa had not seen her daughter for four years. Efimia had gone away to St. Petersburg with her husband after her wedding, had written two letters, and then had vanished as if the earth had engulfed her, not a word nor a sound had come from her since. So now, whether the aged mother was milking the cow at daybreak, or lighting the stove, or dozing at night, the tenor of her thoughts was always the same: "How is Efimia? Is she alive and well?" She wanted to send her a letter, but the old father could not write, and there was no one whom they could ask to write it for them.

But now Christmas had come, and Vasilissa could endure the silence no longer. She went to the tavern to see Yegor, the innkeeper's wife's brother, who had done nothing but sit idly at home in the tavern since he had come back from military service, but of whom people said that he wrote the most beautiful letters, if only one paid him enough. Vasilissa talked with the cook at the tavern, and with the innkeeper's wife, and finally with Yegor himself, and at last they agreed on a price of fifteen copecks.

So now, on the second day of the Christmas festival, Yegor was sitting at a table in the inn kitchen with a pen in his hand. Vasilissa was standing in front of him, plunged in thought, with a look of care and sorrow on her face. Her husband, Peter, a tall, gaunt old man with a bald, brown head, had accompanied her. He was staring steadily in front of him like a blind man; a pan of pork that was frying on the stove was sizzling and puffing, and seeming to say: "Hush, hush, hush!" The kitchen was hot and close.

"What shall I write?" Yegor asked again.

"What's that?" asked Vasilissa, looking at him angrily and suspiciously. "Don't hurry me! You are writing this letter for money, not for love! Now then, begin. To our esteemed son-in-law, Andrei Khrisanfltch, and our only and beloved daughter Efimia, we send greetings and love, and the everlasting blessing of their parents."

"All right, fire away!"

"We wish them a happy Christmas. We are alive and well, and we wish the same for you in the name of God, our Father in heaven--our Father in heaven--"

Vasilissa stopped to think, and exchanged glances with the old man.

"We wish the same for you in the name of God, our Father in Heaven--" she repeated and burst into tears.

That was all she could say. Yet she had thought, as she had lain awake thinking night after night, that ten letters could not contain all she wanted to say. Much water had flowed into the sea since their daughter had gone away with her husband, and the old people had been as lonely as orphans, sighing sadly in the night hours, as if they had buried their child. How many things had happened in the village in all these years! How many people had married, how many had died! How long the winters had been, and how long the nights!

"My, but it's hot!" exclaimed Yegor, unbuttoning his waistcoat. "The temperature must be seventy! Well, what next?" he asked.

The old people answered nothing.

"What is your son-in-law's profession?"

"He used to be a soldier, brother; you know that," replied the old man in a feeble voice. "He went into military service at the same time you did. He used to be a soldier, but now he is in a hospital where a doctor treats sick people with water. He is the door-keeper there."

"You can see it written here," said the old woman, taking a letter out of her handkerchief. "We got this from Efimia a long, long time ago. She may not be alive now."

Yegor reflected a moment, and then began to write swiftly.

"Fate has ordained you for the military profession," he wrote, "therefore we recommend you to look into the articles on disciplinary punishment and penal laws of the war department, and to find there the laws of civilisation for members of that department."

When this was written he read it aloud whilst Vasilissa thought of how she would like to write that there had been a famine last year, and that their flour had not even lasted until Christmas, so that they had been obliged to sell their cow; that the old man was often ill, and must soon surrender his soul to God; that they needed money--but how could she put all this into words? What should she say first and what last?

"Turn your attention to the fifth volume of military definitions," Yegor wrote. "The word soldier is a general appellation, a distinguishing term. Both the commander-in-chief of an army and the last infantryman in the ranks are alike called soldiers--"

The old man's lips moved and he said in a low voice:

"I should like to see my little grandchildren!"

"What grandchildren?" asked the old woman crossly. "Perhaps there are no grandchildren."

"No grandchildren? But perhaps there are! Who knows?"

"And from this you may deduce," Yegor hurried on, "which is an internal, and which is a foreign enemy. Our greatest internal enemy is Bacehus--"

The pen scraped and scratched, and drew long, curly lines like fish-hooks across the paper. Yegor wrote at full speed and underlined each sentence two or three times. He was sitting on a stool with his legs stretched far apart under the table, a fat, lusty creature with a fiery nape and the face of a bulldog. He was the very essence of coarse, arrogant, stiff-necked vulgarity, proud to have been born and bred in a pot-house, and Vasilissa well knew how vulgar he was, but could not find words to express it, and could only glare angrily and suspiciously at him. Her head ached from the sound of his voice and his unintelligible words, and from the oppressive heat of the room, and her mind was confused. She could neither think nor speak, and could only stand and wait for Yegor's pen to stop scratching. But the old man was looking at the writer with unbounded confidence in his eyes. He trusted his old woman who had brought him here, he trusted Yegor, and, when he had spoken of the hydropathic establishment just now, his face had shown that he trusted that, and the healing power of its waters.

When the letter was written, Yegor got up and read it aloud from beginning to end. The old man understood not a word, but he nodded his head confidingly, and said:

"Very good. It runs smoothly. Thank you kindly, it is very good."

They laid three five-copeck pieces on the table and went out. The old man walked away staring straight ahead of him like a blind man, and a look of utmost confidence lay in his eyes, but Vasilissa, as she left the tavern, struck at a dog in her path and exclaimed angrily:

"Ugh--the plague!"

All that night the old woman lay awake full of restless thoughts, and at dawn she rose, said her prayers, and walked eleven miles to the station to post the letter.

II

Doctor Moselweiser's hydropathic establishment was open on New Year's Day as usual; the only difference was that Andrei Khrisaufitch, the doorkeeper, was wearing unusually shiny boots and a uniform trimmed with new gold braid, and that he wished every one who came in a happy New Year.

It was morning. Andrei was standing at the door reading a paper. At ten o'clock precisely an old general came in who was one of the regular visitors of the establishment. Behind him came the postman. Andrei took the general's cloak, and said:

"A happy New Year to your Excellency!"

"Thank you, friend, the same to you!"

And as he mounted the stairs the general nodded toward a closed door and asked, as he did every day, always forgetting the answer:

"And what is there in there?"

"A room for massage, your Excellency."

When the general's footsteps had died away, Andrei looked over the letters and found one addressed to him. He opened it, read a few lines, and then, still looking at his newspaper, sauntered toward the little room down-stairs at the end of a passage where he and his family lived. His wife Efimia was sitting on the bed feeding a baby, her oldest boy was standing at her knee with his curly head in her lap, and a third child was lying asleep on the bed.

Andrei entered their little room, and handed the letter to his wife, saying:

"This must be from the village."

Then he went out again, without raising his eyes from his newspaper, and stopped in the passage not far from the door. He heard Efimia read the first lines in a trembling voice. She could go no farther, but these were enough. Tears streamed from her eyes and she threw her arms round her eldest child and began talking to him and covering him with kisses. It was hard to tell whether she was laughing or crying.

"This is from granny and granddaddy," she cried-- "from the village--oh, Queen of Heaven!-- Oh! holy saints! The roofs are piled with snow there now--and the trees are white, oh, so white! The little children are out coasting on their dear little sleddies--and granddaddy darling, with his dear bald head is sitting by the big, old, warm stove, and the little brown doggie--oh, my precious chickabiddies--"

Andrei remembered as he listened to her that his wife had given him letters at three or four different times, and had asked him to send them to the village, but important business had always interfered, and the letters had remained lying about unposted.

"And the little white hares are skipping about in the fields now--" sobbed Efimia, embracing her boy with streaming eyes. "Granddaddy dear is so kind and good, and granny is so kind and so full of pity. People's hearts are soft and warm in the village-- There is a little church there, and the men sing in the choir. Oh, take us away from here, Queen of Heaven! Intercede for us, merciful mother!"

Andrei returned to his room to smoke until the next patient should come in, and Efimia suddenly grew still and wiped her eyes; only her lips quivered. She was afraid of him, oh, so afraid! She quaked and shuddered at every look and every footstep of his, and never dared to open her mouth in his presence.

Andrei lit a cigarette, but at that moment a bell rang up-stairs. He put out his cigarette, and assuming a very solemn expression, hurried to the front door.

The old general, rosy and fresh from his bath, was descending the stairs.

"And what is there in there?" he asked, pointing to a closed door.

Andrei drew himself up at attention, and answered in a loud voice:

"The hot douche, your Excellency."


I hope you enjoyed this story.  Tommorow I hope to post on a really fun Christmas story by Saki.











Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Christmas Eve" by Guy de Maupassant (December 25, 1882)

An unconventional Christmas Eve Story 




Guy de Maupassant is considered one of the greatest short stories writers of all time, a scion of French literature.  In reading the short stories of de Maupassant I have informally divided them into three categories.  The first is the ten or so stories universally considered great works, then there is a vast body of stories in the middle range mostly still read because he wrote them then there is a goodly number of stories in a category something like "what in the world were you thinking Guy" category that seemed aimed mainly to titilate and shock.  ( Frank O'Connor said in The Lonely Voice:  A Study of the Short Story that de Maupassant's best stories centered on prostitution.)

"Christmas Eve" opens on that day.  We are with a writer who has gotten behind in his work so he decides to stay in that night and work.  Soon he hears his neighbors having parties, hears revelers in the streets.  He gets restless and decides to go out and find a hooker to spend Christmas Eve with.  His taste ran to plus size women, with a special fondness for large breasts and big stomachs.  To his delight he quickly finds a huge swollen specimen and brings her home.  He orders in a Christmas meal and she devours it as if she was starving.  Knowing why she is there, she gets into bed and removed her clothing.  Then to his horror, she gives birth to a bady and all her wonderful bulk is gone.  He goes for a doctor, midwife and wet nurse.  Knowing his neighbors will all think the child is his, he provides for his schooling and maintenance.  To make it worse, the now slender woman falls in love with him and stalks him but he wants nothing to do with her anymore.  He only likes very big women. 

I pondered is Maupassant just making sales with a shocking for 1882 story or is this some sort of commentary on the fate of unmarried women on the streets of Paris.

"Christmas Eve" was fun to read and I admit I laughed when the girl gave birth in the man's bed. 

Ambrosia Bousweau 




Friday, December 19, 2014

The Last Jews in Berlin by Leonard Gross (1981)


When Hitler became ruler of Germany on January 30, 1933 there were 160,000 Jews living in Berlin.  By February 27, 1943 when Goebels declared that Berlin was nearly totally "Judenfrei" there were still about 4000 German Jews living in Berlin, some hiding in cellars, some in broad daylight trying to pass as "Aryan".  The Last Jews in Berlin by Leonard Gross tells the story of the 1000 or so Jews still living in Berlin when the war ended.

Most German Jews, as did the American and British governments, thought Hitler would "calm down" or not last in power.  Per Gross, in W W One German Jews were very loyal to Germany.  Many Jews felt their WW One Iron Crosses would save them.  Many did not first understand what happened to Jews rounded up and shipped out.  

I was somehow very glad to learn that every Jew who survived did it with the help of nonJewish Germans.  Many helped put of pure moral goodness, and many were paid.  Perhaps the most disputable persons were Jews who acted as "Jew Catchers", turning in people often for petty rewards. 

The story is told via the life history of about ten people, some alone, some in families.  They could not in most cases just hide in a celler and wait it out.  They had to have money and ration cards to live so most had to go above ground where they were in grave danger.  There are numerous vivid encounters with the Gestapo and Jew Catchers in the book, near escapes and people brazen out Gestapo men, usually not very bright, by acting outraged when asked if they are Jews.  We learn how the Jews lived, many ordinary Germans helped them.  

As the war turned against the Germans, Berlin was subjected to nightly bomb attacks of ever increasing proportion.  Even though it threatens them the Jews saw it as sign the war might soon end. Many had radios and listened to the BBC.

The Jews were able to come out of hiding when the Russians reached Berlin.  Russians were feared, with good reason, as mass rapists, but many were happy to help the Jews.  

The final section in which Gross tells us of the great lives the Berlin Jews, most of whom stayed in the country made for themselves and their families was extremely moving.  

The Last Jews in Berlin is a very exciting, scrupulously researched and morally uplifting book anyone interested in the period and the Holocaust should read.

I was given a review copy of this book.

Author Auto Biography 

I'm the author, co-author or ghostwriter of 22 books, including my latest novel The Memoirs of JFK. Prior to writing books and later films and plays , I wrote for numbers of magazines, principally LOOK, on whose staff I served for twelve years as a senior editor, Latin American correspondent, European editor and West Coast editor. 

Mel u



Thursday, December 18, 2014

Prometheus Bound attributed to Aeschylus (c. 430 bc? - new translation by Joel Agee 2014)

A New Translation by Joel Agee   -- Commisioned by The J. Paul Getty Museum


Prometheus Bound cover

I did not have any plans to read an Ancient Greek drama this month, I read a number of them in the long ago, but when I was offered a review copy of a new translation of Prometheus Bound done by Joel Agee published by The New York Review of Books and commissioned by The J. Paul Getty Museum I felt the pedigree was just to high to pass up.

Aeschylus (525 to 456 BC) was the first Greek Dramatist, proceeding Sophocles and Euripides.  There is now, as detailed by Joel Agee in his very interesting and informative introduction, scholarly controversary existing over who really wrote Prometheus Bound, some put the first performance date as 430 BC but no one has been put forth as an alternative author.  I guess this matters most to scholars.

What has come down through history as Prometheus Bound is 11 fragments of a full drama.  The basic plot has passed into the common literary consciousness.  Prometheus stole fire from the Gods so Zeus had him bound to the side of a mountain.  The drama, as were all Greek Dramas, is simultaneously making religious and political statements.  Prometheus represents the liberation to humanity that knowledge of nature, of science, can bring to humanity.  Zeus wants humanity kept in total thrall to the capricious forces and whims of the Gods and this conflict drives the drama.

Reading the fragments was a deeply moving experience, like being at the very start of one of the great streams of western literature.  There are many themes in Prometheus Bound that would make for interesting class room discussion.

I would love to see this preformed one day.

Mel u


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Muse of the Department by Honore de Balzac (1843, A Novel, A Component of The Human Comedy)



The Muse of the Department is set in the Loire Valley, France's premier wine producing area, in the town of Sancerre.  A local beauty has just married a man thirty years her senior who most think will die soon, leaving her wealthy.   The husband is normally very tight with money, mainly being interested in buying more land and expanding his income.  His wife begins to acquire a few Platonic male friends and compressing a good bit, she decides to set up an intellectual salon on the model of the famous gatherings of Madame Staël.

There is a lot of intrigue, money matters, of course, but by far the most interesting aspect of The Muse of the Department lies in the intellectuals, writers and artists attracted to the salon.  I did not develop much interest in the characters.

This is a work for those reading through the full Comedie Humaine.  

31/91

I am now reading An Old Maid.

Mel u