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





Friday, May 29, 2015

"Mysteries and Offerings" by Sue Guiney (2015, from Cooked Up Food Fiction From Around the World edited by Elaine Chiew)




"Joy is something we need more of, especially in my country. Sometimes I worry that there is an illness eating away at us, like a disease in the root of a tree. We Cambodians were so strong and proud long ago. Now there is a weakness that we cannot overcome. Not without the help of others. It is a great sadness that we all feel, even though we do not show it. It is there behind our smiles, lurking so close to the surface of our laughter."


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

Today I want to spotlight a very good story by Sue Guiney.  She has a vast knowledge and hands on experience of Cambodian culture.  "Mysteries and Offerings" is set in a medical clinic where the poor can go for help.  The medical staff are western volunteers, the staff workers are Cambodians.  Readers of Sue's novels will be, I know I am eagerly looking forward to more of her set in Cambodia books, happy to be back in the clinic.   The clinic has a strong family feel, the doctors are a long way from home and the employees have bonded strongly with them through their work.  The story begins as Christmas Day approaches.  The staff wants to put on a sumptuous Christmas feast for the doctors, of course this is a first experience for the Cambodians. It was great fun to follow the preparation for the dinner.  Guiney does such a great job describing the preparations that I felt I could actually smell the delicious items being prepared.  

I hope to read and post on a few more stories from Cooked Up Food Fiction From Around the World edited by Elaine Chiew in June.  I recommend this anthology to all lovers of the form and if you are a foodie at all, you will love it.

Author Bio

Sue Guiney is an American writer and educator living in London. She has published two poetry collections and three novels and has had work published in literary journals on both sides of the
Atlantic. She was the Writer-in-Residence in the SE Asian Department of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Although Sue has written widely on a variety of subjects, most of her work and inspiration now comes from Cambodia. She has founded a creative writing workshop for at-risk children called ‘Writing Through Cambodia’, where she spends several months a year teaching. Sue is writing a series of novels set in modern-day, post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia, the latest of which, Out of the Ruins, was published in 2014.

For sure I hope to feature more of the work of Sue Guiney going forward. 

Mel u

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What would you do- Holocaust deniers seek to leave a comment

i have  posted on numerous holocaust related books, fact and fiction on The Reading Life. Today I got a comment saying the German concentration camps were not death camps and Jews were paid for their work.  They referred me to a documentary, on YouTube, called Hellstorm Documentary which is a total attack on the allied war efforts, very anti Jewish and anti Russians.  I posted the comment with a note saying posted in interest of free expression.  Should I have posted it or deleted, the comment was anonymously left?  The documentary makes no mention of the Holocaust or the fact that Germans started the war.

Mel u

Ambrosia Boussweau

Monday, May 25, 2015

"The Blind Kittens" by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1961, translated by Stephen Tilley, 2014)





The Blind Kittens was the first chapter in a never completed second novel.

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896 to 1957, Sicily) is remembered for his classic novel, The Leopard. Reading this wonderful book is as close as we can get to time-traveling to 19th century Sicily.  His literary output was sadly very small, consisting of his novel and three short works of fiction.  I have previously posted on his magnificent story "The Professor and the Siren" which I totally loved.  "The Blind Kittens" is included in the same collection.  Like all his work, it is set in Sicily.  If you are at all interested in the history of Sicily, you will be fascinated by "The Blind Kittens".

"The Blind Kittens" is about the economic life of Sicily how land ownership and money lending dominated the island.  The influence of Balzac can be strongly felt here.  We see how one family slowly acquired more and more land.  I loved the descriptions of the food. 

"she offered sicilian cuisine raised to another level —to its cube, in fact—in terms of the number of `portions and the abundance of sauces, thus rendering it lethal. The macaroni veritably swam in oil, buried under a mass of caciocavallo cheese; the meats were stuffed with fiery salami; the “trifle-in-a-hurry” contained three times the prescribed amount of liqueur, sugar, and candied fruit. But all this, as previously said, seemed to ferrara exquisite, the pinnacle of cuisine"

Lampedusa's descriptions of life in Sicily are just exquisite.  His work is part of a deeply cultured tradition.  He was an extreme devotee of the reading life.


I highly recommend Marina Warner's introduction to the collection, which can be read online on The Paris Review webpage in a slightly different form.   Warner helped me understand the mythology behind his work. 


I hope to reread The Leopard in June.

Mel u



Saturday, May 23, 2015

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



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

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

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

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

Ambrosia Boussweau 




Friday, May 22, 2015

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





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

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



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

Mel u




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




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

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

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


Thursday, May 21, 2015

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


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



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

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

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

Mel u


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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



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


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

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



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

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

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






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

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

From webpage of The New York Review of Books



Mel u

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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







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

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

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

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

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

Official bio


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


Mel u

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






64 of 91

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

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

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

Ambrosia Boussweau 

Mel u

Monday, May 18, 2015

"Food Bank" by Rachel Fenton (2015, from Cooked Up Food Fiction From Around the World, edited by Elaine Chiew)



My Q and A Session with Rachel Fenton


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

Today I will  be posting on the wonderful story by Rachel Fenton, "Food Bank".  A food bank, there is no such thing in the Philippines, is a charitable outlet that offers free food supplies for home use for those who are having serious hardships.  As the story opens the female narrator is inside a food bank. She is talking to a woman who works there about two nights she spent with a man who made her chile.  He has an evident routine in which he makes his women visitors chile.  Chile is for many very much a comfort food, simple, warm, rich in flavor and very filling.  We almost sense the woman is at least in part there for the food.  The close of the story is poignant and powerful, we can feel the woman trying to maintain her pride in front of her son.  There are lots of very subtle  social class indicators in the story and the conversations are wonderfully wrought.


Official Bio



Rachel J. Fenton was born in 1976 and grew up in relative poverty in South Yorkshire. She has a BA in English Studies from Sheffield Hallam University, where she studied under the tutelage of E. A. Markham before relocating to Auckland in 2007. Winner of the 7th Annual Short Fiction Competition (University of Plymouth) and the 2013 Flash Frontier Winter Award, she is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Short-listed for the 2013 FishInternational Poetry Prize (judged by Paul Durcan), the 2012 Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize, Binnacle Ultra-Short Competition (named honoree), the Fish One Page Prize, the 6th Annual Short Fiction Competition, and the Kathleen Grattan Award, other listings include the Bristol Prize, and the Sean O’ Faolain International Short Story Prize.

Recent publications include the journals The Stinging Fly MagazineShort Fiction #7;JAAM #30, #31; brief #44-45, #47; French Literary Review #18Cordite Poetry Review;Pank; and Metazen; and a comprehensive list can be found at http://snowlikethought.blogspot.com.

AKA Rae Joyce, she is an AUT award winning graphic poet, was mentored by Dylan Horrocks, is featured in New Zealand Comics and Graphic Novels (Hicksville Press), Two Thirds North, The Poetry BusFlash FrontierThrush Poetry Journal, and was 2013 Artist in Residence at Counterexample Poetics. Between 2011 and 2012, she wrote, drew and published a page per day of the epic web-comic Escape Behaviours.

I greatly enjoyed "Food Bank" and look forward to following the literary work of Rachel Fenton.

Mel u

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"Monkeys" and "Journey to Petróplois" by Clarice Lispector (1964, two stories from Foreign Legion)


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



In 1944 Clarice Lispector left Brazil with her husband, a Brazlian diplomat.  She lived with him for the next fourteen years in Europe and The United States.  She returned to Braźil in 1959 when her marriage effectively ended.  Her best work is considered to have begun upon her return.

When I began to read the short stories of Lispector, eighty five in the forthcoming collection, it was my intention to read and post on all of them.  I will still read all of them but will only post on a portion of them.  It is just to time consuming to post on them all.  This is not a value judgement but  a question of blog management.  

Some of her stories are very set in Brazil, others could occur anywhere.  Rio de Janeiro, a city I know, plays an important part in the two short stories I will post on today, "Monkey's" and "A Trip to Petróplois".  

"Monkeys" can be read in a delightful three or so minutes.  Set in a Favella, hills side communities some would call slums in which the poor of Rio de Janeiro lived, it is the significance a pet monkey.  This is an interesting story in which monkeys can be seen as playing numerous symbolic roles.  It is about the fragile  nature of life, about how the poor try to find joy and a meditation on the nature of love.

"Journey to Petróplois" begins with an account of a very old woman with no home of her own whose family has all passed away.  She is taken care of by a family in Rio.  One day a son  in the family, in the company of his girl friend and two of sisters, are off to visit the home of his older brother in Petróplois.  He decides to take the old woman along and leave her there.  We see inside the mind of the very old woman as she passes in her mind from her past life when her husband lived to the trip she is on.  The ending is kind of sad made sadder by not somehow being as sad as it should be.

We are very much convinced of the depth of these stories.  Each one is worthy of extended discussion.  There are common elements in the story and later on we will go into them.

Mel u

Ambrosia Boussweau 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Use of Man by Aleksander Tišma (1980, translated from Sebro-Croatian by Bernard Johnson, 1989)




It took me about  third into The Use of Man by Aleksander Tišma (1924 to 2003, Sebro-Croatia) before I realized it is truly a masterpiece, the power of the work kind of sneaked up on me.  It is set right after the close of World War Two, with memories of times of the war and in concentration camps.

Terrible things happened in the Novi Sad, in what is now Yugoslavia.  We see things from the point of view if several characters.  There is a horrific extremely well realized section focusing on a year a female inmate in a concentration camp spent as a work in a brothel  for camp workers and German soldiers.  Tisma writes out of deep feeling and culture.  It somehow is so sad to me to imagine how many who truly lived the reading life  died in the Holocaust.  There is a very fascinating section on a young man who gets the only job he can, translating for the police.  He knows some will view him as a traitor but he has to gave money coming from somewhere.  Prostituition is rampant as men are gone to soldiers or camps and women have few options.  Sex is cheap and soon the police translator is our all the time looking for women.  There is a wicked very interesting  twist to his story.  

The novel is structured in an intricate circular fashion.  The Use of Man is very much a first rate work of art and should be on the reading list of anyone into Holocaust and post World War II in Eastern Europe fiction.  



About the Author


Aleksandar Tišma (1924–2003) was born in the Vojvodina, a former province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that had been incorporated into the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia after the First World War. His father, a Serb, came from a peasant background; his mother was middle-class and Jewish. The family lived comfortably, and Tišma received a good education. In 1941, Hungary annexed Vojvodina; the next year—Tišma’s last in high school—the regime carried out a series of murderous pogroms, killing some 3,000 inhabitants, primarily Serbs and Jews, though the Tišmas were spared. After fighting for the Yugoslav partisans, Tišma studied philosophy at Belgrade University and went into journalism and in 1949 joined the editorial staff of a publishing house, where he remained until his retirement in 1980. Tišma published his first story, “Ibika’s House,” in 1951; it was followed by the novels  Guilt and In Search of the Dark Girl and a collection of stories, Violence.  In the 1970s and ’80s, he gained international recognition with the publication of his Novi Sad trilogy: The Book of Blam (1971), about a survivor of the Hungarian occupation of Novi Sad; The Use of Man (1976), which follows a group of friends through the Second World War and after; and Kapo (1987), the story of a Jew raised as a Catholic who becomes a guard in a German concentration camp. Tišma moved to France after the outbreak of war and collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, but in 1995 he returned to Novi Sad, where he spent his last years.  From The New York Review of Books

In the interests of full disclosure I was given a review copy of this book.

Mel u

"Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin (first published 1958, in Partisan Review, included in 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore, forthcoming 2015)




The last time I read James Baldwin (1924 to 1987) he was still alive.  I was very happy to see what is considered his best short story, "Sonny's Blues", first published in 1958, included in an excellent forthcoming anthology of short stories 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories edited by Lorrie Moore.  (I will post more on this collection, I was given a D R C, soon.)



"Sonny's Blues" is a very beautiful story about two brothers growing up and living in Harlem, in New York City.  In 1958 Harlem was a place stereotyped as a community of poverty, blight, crime, and drug addiction.  Most residents were African American's.  In a time before crack,  heroin was the drug of choice, a tool of escape producing a mellowing out high.  The story focuses on two brothers, seven years apart in age.  One has his life together, Sonny is a heroin user who has done time in prison.  The story shows us how the atmosphere of Harlem and America's climate of racial q, impacted the two brothers and the greater community.  The brothers parents have passed and each is the others only family.  The older brother tries to help Sonny as he can.  The relationship between the two brothers, the sense of why Sonny needed heroin and his blues music to survive is just wonderfully depicted by Baldwin.  

Heroin is very important in this story.  The takeover in poor communities world wide by drugs line crack and methamphetamines from the older opiate based drugs like heroin have severed the connection between creativity and drugs.   

I am guessing it has been forty years since I have read a work by Baldwin.  I am very glad he is now among the writers included on The Reading Life.


From 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories

Mel u

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sicily An Island at the Crossroads of History by John Julius Norwich (2015, forthcoming)



Long ago I read John Julius Norwich's trilogy on the Byzantium Empire.  I was happy to be provided the opportunity to read and post on his latest and what he says will probably be his last book, Sicily An Island at the Crossroads of History.  I would say I was disappointed in this book and in some of the  prejudices of Norwich against what he calls "orientals".  I was shocked to read these lines 

"he was an oriental through and through. His life was more like a Sultan’s than a King’s, and his character embodied that same combination of sensuality and fatalism that has stamped so many eastern rulers. He never took a decision if he could avoid it, never tackled a problem if there was the faintest chance that, given long enough, it might solve itself. Once goaded into action, however, he would pursue his objectives with ferocious, even demonic, energy."

There are numerous such  passages, some worse than this, to be found. 

This attitude to me tainted the book badly.   He also numerous times suggests "fair haired, light skin rulers" we're loved for their good looks over "darker" rulers.  

This is pretty much just a history of who ruled the island.  You will leave it with no sense of how the citizens of the island, even the rulers, lived their lives, what they ate, wore, etc.  

For most I would say just read the Wikepedia articles on Sicily and save your $32.00 for something else.

Mel u

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"The Enemy Within" by Kirstin Zhang (2005 Scotsman and Orange Prize Short Story Award Winner)




Last week I had the great pleasure of reading Kirstin Zhang's 2015 Harper's Bazaar Prize Winning Short Story "The Shrine".  Set on an isolated Japanese island during the waning days of  WW Two, in just a few pages it evoked in a powerful  fashion the sense of how it must have felt to live on this island as your world collapsed.

"The Enemy Within" is set in Indonesia in 2005, a bad outbreak of dengue fever has killed hundreds.  One of the best ways to protect against dengue, there is no vaccine, is to spray the area around where you live for the disease carrying Mosquitos.  Akbar, the central character, has a job as a sprayer.  He buys his spray and he makes his money by charging those he sprays for more for the chemical than he pays.  The story depicts a pervasive culture of corruption.  Akbar overcharges his customers and then lies to his partner about how much a customer pays.  

The structure of the story is quite intricate.  Akbar's wife tells him she was leaving for her brother because she is very mad that their refrigerator broke  down.  There  are several instances of involuntary memories that melt into each other and the themes of the story.  Akbar thinks  of the dog he had as boy, he seems in his late forties when he finds a puppy in a garbage container.   This seems kind of a metaphor for life at the bottom of society in Indonesia.  His work partner tells him they will earn enough in a rich part of town to allow him to buy his wife a refrigerator.  The people in the area they will work tommorow are so rich "that they can afford to run their air conditioning for their Persian cat.  Maybe the maid from the Philippines will give him ice coffee".  In a culture where thousands of women leave to work as maids in the Middle East or Hong Kong, to import a maid from outside Indonesia is not just an obvious wealth marker but a subtle repudiation of your own lower classes as not qualified to clean your cat's litter boxes.  

There are other enemies within at work in this story besides the dengue virus.  Akbar has dreams of attacking giant mosquitoes with a machine gun only to find one of the insects with the face of his father.  In 1965 as many as a million people were killed when the government retaliated against communists by slaughtering unarmed people in rural Indonesia.  The communists were enemy the state could not really see but the slaughter against the people went on with the same ferocity as the attack in 2005 on Denque Mosquitos.  

Zhang's story compresses a vast amount of social data in just a few pages.  There is much more to the story than may meet the eye on a first reading.  Small incidents are mirrors of huge issues.  The characters are very well realized.  The conversations are perfect.  Married men will relate well to Akbar's wife's ultimatum on the refrigerator.  I felt I was there as I read the story.  It is a lot of fun to read as well as being a serious work of art.

As far as I know only this and "The Shrine" can be read online.  I have access to three of Zhang's print literary journal stories and will read and post on them quite soon.

I loved this story.  I live in a tropical mega-city where Denque is an issue and there are great gaps between the poor and the rich, a place where petty corruption is the accepted norm, and I totally believed in Zhang's story.

Zhang has kindly agreed to do a Q and A session so look for that soon, once I have posted on all the stories to which I have access.  

You can read "The Enemy Within" here (this link also has bio data on Zhang)



Mel u













Monday, May 11, 2015

"Family Ties" by Clarice Lispector (1960, title story in her collection, Family Ties)





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



"Family Ties" is the title story in Clarice Lispector's collection Family Ties.  The collection was first published in 1960, the individual stories in the collection were first published from 1952 to 1955. 

As "Family Ties" opens an adult daughter is taking her mother to the train station.  The mother stayed with her son-in-law, daughter and grandson for two weeks, long enough.  The relationships are uneasy, not simple and comfortable.  The power and interest in this story is in the very subtle ways the relationships of those in the family are conveyed.  The son is developmently delayed but it is not clear, the story is from a time in which such things were seen as just a little bit shameful, precisely what is wrong.   

I also read "The Dinner", a very strange story about watching a man eat.  Additionally I read "Preciousness", a very typical Lispector story.

16, 17, and 18


Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) was Brazilian journalist, translator and author of fiction. Born in Western Ukraine into a Jewish family who suffered greatly during the pogroms of the Russian Civil War, she was still an infant when her family fled the disastrous post-World War I situation for Rio de Janiero. At twenty-three, she became famous for her novel, Near to the Wild Heart, and married a Brazilian diplomat. She spent much of the forties and fifties in Europe and the United States, helping soldiers in a military hospital in Naples during World War II and writing, before leaving her husband and returning to Rio in 1959. Back home, she completed several novels including The Passion According to G.H. and The Hour of the Star before her death in 1977 from ovarian cancer.  - from New Directions Publishing web

Ambrosia Bousweau 

Mel u



Sunday, May 10, 2015

Maïtre Cornelius by Honore de Balzac (1831, A Novela, A Component of the Human Comedy)





63 of 91

This novella is set in Tours in 1479.  It begins at Vespers on All Saints Day.   There are a few of these historical works included in The Human Comedy.  Maïtre Cornelius is to me formula Balzac 101.  If it took him more than three hours to write it I will be surprised.  It is a work for those reading through The Comedie Humaine.  

Ambrosia Bousweau

Mel u

The Green Road by Anne Enright (2015)





In 2012 I read and greatly enjoyed Anne Enright's novel The Pleasures of Eliza Lynch.  Set in Paraquay in the 1860s it is about  the Irish mistress of the ruler of the country.  I have also read a few of her highly regarded short stories.  

The Green Road centers on an Irish family, The Madigans.  The family consists of the mother, the father is deceased, and her adult children, two sons and two daughters.  Major publications such as The Guardian and The Irish Times have done highly laudatory reviews.  It has been referred to as a "very Irish work".  It is hard to disagree.  

The real time action is in Ireland in 2005 but much of the novel  is taken up with stories of the past of the children.  A very well realized section, focusing on Dan, the gay son who at one time wanted to be a priest, is set in New York City in the early 1990s.  Dan is engaged to a lovely woman but is heavily into gay sex at the height of the aids epedemic.  This era has been the locale of numerous literary works but Enright does a good job of letting us feel what it was like, with the special emphasis of Dan as a handsome Irish lad.   Another son is an aid worker in Mali.  We see the terrible poverty he tries to alleviate and are shown the various relationships of the workers.  One daughter stayed at home and we see her kind of cramped life.  Alcohol plays a big role in everyone's life.  The beauty and history of Ireland are wonderfully evoked in The Green Road.

In my 500 or so posts on Irish literature I have often, taking a lead from Declan Kiberd, said that one of the dominant themes of Irish literature is that of the weak or missing Irish father.  The Green Road, to me, very much exemplifies this.  The father is now dead but as he lived we see he began to disappear in silence.  The famine years play a big part in the background of the plot.   

Ireland is a magic place, one from which there seems little permanent  escape.  

The Green Road is a lovely book, with some very marvelous sections, very interesting characters skillfully set in time and place. The plot action is exciting and will keep you interested.  I recommend it to all with no reservations.

Anne Enright was born in Dublin, where she now lives and works. She has published three volumes of stories, one book of nonfiction, and five novels. In 2015, she was named the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction. Her novel The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize, and her last novel, The Forgotten Waltz, won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.


I was kindly given a review copy. 

Mel u


Friday, May 8, 2015

Wilke Collins A Brief Life by Peter Ackroyd (2015)



Wilkie Collins A Short Life by Peter Ackroyd could be described as just what you need in a biography when you want more than just the bare facts of Wikepedia but are not up for a massive work.  I have not read a lot of the very large output of Collins (1824 to 1879, England), having read just his most famous novel The Woman in White and one of his numerous short stories.  

Ackroyd, in his very pleasant style, starts at the beginning, with the parents of Collins.  He was born into an affluent though not fabulously wealthy family.  Collins was very close to his family.  We see how he begins his writing career.  Of course his parents were worried about the viability of this.

It was fascinating to see the nature of his very long enduring friendship with Charles Dickens.  They worked together on literary journals, I was I admit surprised to learn journals with the serial editions of now famous novels often sold over 100,000 copies.  Collins was for a good while the second highest earner among English authors of his day, behind Dickens.  Collins loved to enjoy himself, he liked women, for years he kept two mistresses, having children with them.  He never married though he took care of his children and was a decent father.  He liked living well and once his books and plays began to do well he always traveled first class.  He was what one might call a pleasure seeker or to use a word more likely to be employed in the 19th century than the 21st, he was a voluptuary.  He suffered medical problems including long bouts with gout, the rich man's disease of the period.  Some might see in his closeness to his mother and emotional dependence the reason for his not marrying.

Ackroyd does a very good job of weaving the plots of his novels into the life story.  I felt I knew Collins after reading the book.  He came across to me as a decent man without a lot of hang ups.  He liked to thumb his noise at the hypocrisy and prudery of Victorian England in his work and his life style.  

I recommend this book for anyone who finds the subject matter of interest.  

Mel u



"The Smallest Woman in the World" by Clarice Lispector (1960)



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



16 of 85

"The Smallest Woman in the World" is the first Lispector story which ventures beyond concrete reality, beyond the confines of the affluent side of Brazlian society.  It is a strange fable like story centering on a legendary explorer of Africa encounter with what the story tells us is "the smallest woman in the world".  The woman is 44 centimeters (just over 17 inches), she is pregnant and black.  Brazil has its own very complicated history of race relations in a once slave based economy and it would take some pondering how one should take this, I think. I do know that in Brazilian society in 1960, the lighter one was the higher your social status tended to be, especially for women in the marriage market.   The woman is described as leaving mostly in the trees and coming from an endangered tribe which is pursued by cannibals.  

The story line then returns to the slightly claustrophobic domestic scenes of Lispector when a picture of the woman appears in the Sunday Paper and a people begin to talk about her.  Part of the deeper themes of Lispector I see emerging is the need for people, women in particular, to hide from the true nature of their lives.  The small woman may be possibly taken as a symbol for the reduction in spirit women must seemingly take on to be accepted by society.  These lines get at the core of Lispector, so far:

"This is what the mother recalled in the bathroom, and she lowered her pendulous hands, full of hairpins. And considered the cruel necessity of loving. She considered the malignity of our desire to be happy. Considered the ferocity with which we want to play. And how many times we will kill out of love. Then she looked at her clever son as if looking at a dangerous stranger. And she felt horror at her own soul that, more than her body, had engendered that being fit for life and happiness."

Life is a double bind trap, a cruel joke on those who understand the masks they must wear and a reduction of us all to a much smaller person than we could be.  Love is a trap, but one we cannot escape while remaining human.

If you look, you can find this story online.  My first guess is that this is a violation of copyright but I don't  know how it came to be posted.  

Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) was Brazilian journalist, translator and author of fiction. Born in Western Ukraine into a Jewish family who suffered greatly during the pogroms of the Russian Civil War, she was still an infant when her family fled the disastrous post-World War I situation for Rio de Janiero. At twenty-three, she became famous for her novel, Near to the Wild Heart, and married a Brazilian diplomat. She spent much of the forties and fifties in Europe and the United States, helping soldiers in a military hospital in Naples during World War II and writing, before leaving her husband and returning to Rio in 1959. Back home, she completed several novels including The Passion According to G.H. and The Hour of the Star before her death in 1977 from ovarian cancer.  - from New Directions Publishing web

Ambrosia Bousweau 

Mel u



Thursday, May 7, 2015

"A Drama on the Seashore" by Honore de Balzac (1834, A Short Story Component of the Human Comedy)






62 of 91

"There are, as it were, two youths, — the youth of belief, the youth of action; these are often commingled in men whom Nature has favored and who,like Caesar, like Newton, like Bonaparte, are the greatest among great men."

"A Drama on the Seashore" is set in the sea coast area of Brittany, a rugged area.  Once you leave Balzac's Paris you enter a different world, literally and symbolically.  The people of Brittany are as rugged as the cliffs that border the sea.  The story is really two stories within a story.  As the story begins we are with a Parisian couple on holiday.  The encounter a fisherman carrying his catch from a day's work.  He works the tidal pools as he has no boat, not even a net.  The couple learn the man, 37, works to take care of his father who is disabled.  He is single as he does not earn enough to support a wife and children, though we feel his loneliness.  The couple offers him ten times the market value for his catch.  At first the man refuses it, not wanting to cheat the couple.  They agree to hire him as a guide to walk them along the seashore.  

They pass a man dressed in the worst rags isolated on a small island.  We learn his very tragic very sad story.  I will leave the story of the man unspoiled.  

The story shows a lot about the values, in the world of The Comedie Humaune, of the provinces versus Paris.  There is a lot to ponder in this short work about class consciousness. 

Ambrosia Bousweau 


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"Happy Birthday" and "Imitation of the Rose" by Clarice Lispector. (1960, in Family Ties)



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



Stories 14 and 15 of 85

The short stories of Clarice Lispector I have so far read center on marriages and family life.  There are layers of meaning built into the sophisticated narrative method of Lispector.  I plan for sure to read and post on all of the stories.  For a while until I feel more secure in my understanding of Lispector's stories I will just be largely journalizing my reading of the stories.   Later on I will try to talk in a bit deeper fashion about the stories.

"Happy Birthday" is a really great story that would make a terrific thirty minute TV show.  An extended family whose members do not especially like each other has gathered for the birthday of the 85 year old mother and grandmother and mother in law to the family.  The family members are all trying to make an impression on each other.  It is a very anchored in Rio story with lots of local references. The grandmother just sits their in silence, but she is thinking how did I give birth to this worthless pack of idiots and why did my sons marry these terrible women.  In a scene both hilarious and terribly sad the grandmother has a great outburst in which she curses out the entire family.  

"Imitation of the Rose" is yet another story of a woman waiting for her husband to come home.  In this very interesting story the woman appears to have just returned from treatment for some sort of break down.

The editors did not provide the publication data on the stories so we are on our own with this.  We should not be.

Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) was Brazilian journalist, translator and author of fiction. Born in Western Ukraine into a Jewish family who suffered greatly during the pogroms of the Russian Civil War, she was still an infant when her family fled the disastrous post-World War I situation for Rio de Janiero. At twenty-three, she became famous for her novel, Near to the Wild Heart, and married a Brazilian diplomat. She spent much of the forties and fifties in Europe and the United States, helping soldiers in a military hospital in Naples during World War II and writing, before leaving her husband and returning to Rio in 1959. Back home, she completed several novels including The Passion According to G.H. and The Hour of the Star before her death in 1977 from ovarian cancer.  - from New Directions Publishing web




Mel u