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





Monday, August 31, 2015

The Reading Life Monthly Review - August 2015


My thanks to Max u for the gift cards that allowed me to read some great books.

State of The Blog, August 31, 2015

I am pleased to announce Ambrosia Boussweau has accepted the position of European Correspodent of The Reading Life.  She is the grand niece of Ruffington Boussweau. 


New One Day Record High 


A new one day record for pages views was set this month at 41,669 in 24 hours.  This was driven by a very high readership from India and the Philippines.

For six years and one month the top home country for blog visitors has been the USA, for the last two months The Philippines has assumed this position, with only one third as many residents.  The top city of residence by far is the great Manila metro area.  The American state with the most visits is always California.

Besides older short stories by authors from the Philuppines, the most searched authors on my blog are Katherine Mansfield and R. K. Narayan.  

As of today there are 2639 posts on The Reading Life.


What I Read in August 2015

In August my reading life was dominated by Clarice Lispector and Iréne Némirovsky.  I am fascinated by their personas and in love with their writings.  






(Iréne Némirovsky 1903 to 1942).                            (Clarice Lispector 1920 to 1977)         

I happily received review books of new novels by Kenzaburo Oe, Salmon Rushdie, Umberto Eco, and Kevjn Barry.  I posted on all these works.    

I am slowly working my way through Thomas Bernhard and read his early novel Gargoyles.  

My Balzac Human Comedy Project is in the final quarter at 72 of 91 works read.  

I read two nonfiction works, one on the fate of Russian nobility  after the revolution, Former People The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith.  This, in addition to fitting in perfectly with my interest in Iréne Némirovsky, ended my long held romantic delusions about White Russians.  The other nonfiction work I read was Proust's Way A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time by Roger Shattuck.  I for sure profited from this very well done work.

I read Tarrabas by Joseph Roth.  It was another work of genius.

I continued reading short stories, some by classic authors and some by contemporary stars.  

My great thanks to all who visit my blog and especially to those who take the time to leave a comment.

Mel u

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry (Forthcoming, 2015)






Beatlebone by Kevin Barry is all the proof we need of the literary  brilliance of the Irish.  It centers on John Lennon, in mid-career.  Seven years ago he bought an island off the west coast of Ireland and he has left his residence at the famous Dakota Hotel in New York City to find his island amidst the many coastal islands.  The West of Ireland is a magic place, one of the portals a spirit inhabited world.  It is only gradually revealed in the narrative that we are dealing with the famous John Lennon, considered the intellect and creative force behind the Beatles, but as it is revealed on the cover it is hardly hidden.  But still the slow revelation is very skillful executed.  

John hires a local guide who turns out to be a shape-shifter.  John is concerned the Dublin press will end up swarming all over him.  

The prose of Beatlebone is just incredible, surrealistic at times, then lyrical then journalistic.  More than once I was stunned by the images invoked.  I thought and hope I knew what was meant when John felt a portal to the underworld was opening for him in the west of Ireland.  The dialogues are just a sheer pleasure to read.  As the novel progresses the narrative method or perhaps it is the prose style more than this changes to seem like Kevin Barry is at times writing a journalistic account of Lennon's time looking for the island.  There are also flash backs to older days in the Beatles, accounts of "Scream Therapy", drug fueled parties and numerous very striking minor characters.  We learn how Lennon came to buy an island and are given some West of Ireland cultural  lessons. 

I am sure Beatlebone will be very well received.  I totally loved it.

I was kindly  given a review copy of this book. 


KEVIN BARRY is the author of the highly acclaimed novel City of Bohane and two short story collections, Dark Lies the Island and There Are Little Kingdoms. He was awarded the Rooney Prize in 2007 and won The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize in 2012. For City of Bohane, he was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the Irish Book Award, and won the Author’s Club First Novel Prize, The European Prize for Literature and the IMPAC Prize. His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and elsewhere. He lives in County Sligo in Ireland. - publisher supplied data. 

Mel u




Friday, August 28, 2015

"Praca Maua" by Clarice Lispector (1971)


Feeling Lonely, Bored, Badly in Need of  a Night Out?  Join Clarice at Club Erotica.


" it was nearly three in the morning. The “Erótica” was full of men and women. Lots of housewives went there for fun and to make a little extra cash."


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


My Prior Posts on Clarice Lispector 


"Praca Maua", named after a street in  on the ocean, is a brilliant compelling story about a Rio stripper. She is thirty or so, married to a carpenter, their work hours mean they rarely see each other and she sleeps with customers at the bar she works at to make extra cash.  She does not hate her work at all, sometimes finds it exciting, sometimes boring.  Customers buy her drinks and she make commisions from this even though her drinks are just colored water.  She is friends with a man who also works the bar.  He takes hormones, comes from an upper class family, is popular with sailors, and has adopted a four year old girl on whom he dotes.  

The woman is perfectly realized.  She is a hooker for the easy money, beats working in a store.  Clarice does a great job of bringing her to life.  As the story closes, her and her man friend have a fight over a customer when the woman says he is so handsome she would sleep with him for free.  She achieves a brief ephinay as the story closes.

To me this story shows the very broad range of people and situations Clarice can write upon convincingly.  I read this story three times and liked it more each time.  I think the only right way to experience the short stories of Clarice is to read them all in publication order then go back and read as your instincts dictate.  

I think in time I will develop a sense of Clarice's presentation of the status of women in Brazil.  I think "Praca Maua" is an important part of this matter.

Me, I'm heading off to Erotica.  






"Pig Latin" by Clarice Lispector (1974)





What matters is the magnetic love she inspires in those susceptible to her. For them, Clarice is one of the great emotional experiences of their lives. But her glamour is dangerous. “Be careful with Clarice,” a friend told a reader decades ago. “It’s not literature. It’s witchcraft.” Benjamin Moser


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


My Prior Posts on Clarice Lispector 



I have now begun rereading the short stories of Clarice for a second, third or even fourth time.  Her work and person has cast the spell her readers are warned about.  When I first began reading her stories, eighty six in the collection, I planned to post on all of them, one at a time. Then I decided not really good for my blog, new and even old visitors will be turned away by eightty plus posts on a writer maybe they never heard about.  Ok I thought some more, long ago I did seventy five posts on Katherine Mansfield and almost everyday people from all over the world read some of them.  One big purpose of The Reading Life is just to be my reading journal.  I am now long term planning to reread all Clarice's stories again and do at least a brief post on each one.  No set time schedule.  I will also, hopefully eventually read her novels.  I have read her The Passion According to G. R.

"Pig Latin", with a reading time of under five minutes, is centered on a female English teacher.   She is described as not pretty, just ordinary.  Part of what we will get deeper into is how women identify with their preceived looks, accepting societies defining of the worth of women by their appeal to men as portrayed in the work of Clarice.  The woman is a very well regarded teacher and is on a train going to the airport.  Clarice, in the beautiful prose of Katrina Dodson, opens the story perfectly

"Maria Aparecida—Cidinha, as they called her at home—was an English teacher. Neither rich nor poor: she got by. But she dressed impeccably. She looked rich. Even her suitcases were high quality. She lived in Minas Gerais and was taking the train to Rio, where she’d spend three days, and then catch a plane to New York. She was a highly sought-after teacher. She prized perfection and was affectionate, yet strict. She wanted to perfect her skills in the United States. She took the seven a.m. train to Rio."

At first she is alone in her train car.  Then two rough to her looking men get in and sit opposite her.  They begin to speak in Pig Latin which as an English teacher Cidinha understands.  They are talking about how they intend to rape her.  She is a virgin.  She decides if the men think she is a prostitute from the favelas they will not want her.  

She stands up, exposes her breasts and does a samba, in her mind like a prostitute would.

The men say in Pig Latin that she is crazy and leave her alone.  But her luck is not good.  The conductor saw her dance and has her put off the train and arrested as a prostitute.  She ends up spending three days in a  jail.  

In "Pig Latin" Clarice has shown us the precarious status of single women in Brazil.  

The close of the story is very powerful, visually impacting.

"Finally they let her go. She caught the next train to Rio. She’d washed her face, she was no longer a prostitute. What worried her was this: when the two men had talked about nailing her, she’d wanted to be nailed. She was utterly brazen. Andway I’mway away utslay. That’s what she’d discovered. Eyes downcast. She arrived in Rio exhausted. Went to a cheap hotel. Quickly realized she’d missed the flight. At the airport she bought a ticket. And she wandered the streets of Copacabana, she miserable, Copacabana miserable. Then on the corner of Figueiredo Magalhães she saw a newsstand. And hanging there was the newspaper O Dia. She couldn’t say why she bought it. A bold headline read: “Girl Raped and Murdered on Train.” She trembled all over. So it had happened. And to the girl who had looked at her in contempt. She started crying on the street. She threw away that damned newspaper. She didn’t want the details. She thought: “Esyay. Atefay isway implacableway.” Fate is implacable."






  



Thursday, August 27, 2015

"One Hundred Years of Forgiveness" by Clarice Lispector (1971)



"What matters is the magnetic love she inspires in those susceptible to her. For them, Clarice is one of the great emotional experiences of their lives. But her glamour is dangerous. “Be careful with Clarice,” a friend told a reader decades ago. “It’s not literature. It’s witchcraft.” Benjamin Moser


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


My Prior Posts on Clarice Lispector 


"In Recife there were countless streets, rich people’s streets, lined with mansions set amid extensive gardens. A little friend and I would often play at deciding whose mansions they were. “That white one’s mine.” “No, I already said the white ones are mine.”  From "One Hundred Years of Forgiveness"

"One Hundred Years of Forgiveness" is about a poor young girl running the streets of Recife in North Eastern Brazil, just like Clarice once was.  The narrator would run through the rich parts of town, with her best friend.  They would fantasize that they owned the mansions.  Every day she would see beautiful roses at one of the houses and one day she got up the nerve to steal one.  The experience exilirated her and she began stealing roses everyday.  It brought a winderous beauty to her humble home.  

There is no big conclusions, no revelations but maybe realizing that you can steal a rose and bring it home was a big revelation to a poor young girl in Recife.  

Clarice (for better at worse, everyone in Brazil calls her that and I will from now on also) made me feel I was on the streets of Recife.  I think it is about the existential reality of poverty,  how  thievery can liberate.  

"It felt so good that I simply began stealing roses. The process was always the same: the girl on the lookout, while I went in, broke off the stem and fled with the rose in my hand. Always with my heart pounding and always with that glory that no one could take away from me."





Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"The Dinner" by Clarice Lispector. (1954) - Iréne Némirovsky and Clarice Lispector My 2015 Literary Crushes


"What matters is the magnetic love she inspires in those susceptible to her. For them, Clarice is one of the great emotional experiences of their lives. But her glamour is dangerous. “Be careful with Clarice,” a friend told a reader decades ago. “It’s not literature. It’s witchcraft.” Benjamin Moser


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




My Prior Posts on Clarice Lispector 




(Iréne Némirovsky 1903 to 1942).                            (Clarice Lispector 1920 to 1977)                


"But I am still a man. Whenever they betrayed or murdered me, whenever someone leaves forever, or I lost the best of what I still had, or when I found out that I am going to die—I do not eat. I am not yet this power, this structure, this ruin. I push away the plate, reject meat and its blood"  from "The Dinner" by Clarice Lispector.

So far this year I have developed two very strong literary crushes, one began on March 15 when I read the first published short story of Clarice Lispector, "The Triumph".  Just as Benjamin Moser warned,  her stories and her life have guest a spell over me, I see the witchcraft in her work.  My other crush is on Iréne Némirovsky.  I am now reading my way through her works.  There are common traits to both women.  Both were of Eastern European Jewish heritage.  Lispector's family fled in near poverty the Ukraine to escape terrible anti-Semitic programs settling in Recife in North Eastern Brazil when Lispector was very young.  Némirovsky's family fled the Kiev area of Russia after the revolution.  Her father was very rich and they moved to Paris.  Both writers made use of the language of their home country.  You can see deeply the impact of their cultural heritage from Jewish backgrounds in their work.   Both died before they should have, Lispector of ovarian cancer and Némirovsky in a German concentration camp at age forty.  I know this is selfish, but Némirovsky wrote about a novel a year and I deeply blame the Germans  for cheating me out of thirty novels.  Lispector's mother died young as a consequence of injuries sustained when she was raped in pogram in the Ukraine.  This loss had a life time impact on her.  


I have completed my first read through of The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lispector and posted on a few of the stories.  I predicted in March on The Threshold Short Story Forum that this book would be at least the short story in translation event of the year and massive main stream print coverage has shown I was right in my prediction.  I think many short story people will count reading her stories as a very major reading life event.  I also read her novel, many consider it her masterwork, The Passion According to G. R.  Then I read Benjamin Moser's superb biography, Why This World A Biography of Clarice Lispector which I highly recommend.  

Lispector is a very "philosophical writer", Moser has stated she is the most important Jewish  writer since Kafka.  When I first read this I thought, "please spare me the literary hyperbole" but now I agree.
Moser helped me see Spinoza, the Yiddish tradition, and medieval Kabbalism in Lispector.  

 

The Dinner" reminded me a bit of Katherine Mansfield's early story "German Meat".  Lispector greatly admired the stories of Mansfield and had a deep empathy for her troubled too short life.  As the story opens our narrator is having dinner in a restaurant.  The narrator sees a man about sixty take a table, a powerful looking man of gravity.  He orders steak.  As the narrator observes him eating, he begins to feel almost nauseous.  The man is in no way inherently disgusting.  It his too fleshly embodiment and his fixation on his food that somehow revolts the narrator.  "The Dinner" is also a socially aware story, as is all her work.  The waiter knows he is the sort of man who will tip well so he is catered too in a toadying fashion.  At the close of the story the narrator tries to rise above his own nausea at his trapped in a body angst as seen in the closing lines of the story:

"But I am still a man. Whenever they betrayed or murdered me, whenever someone leaves forever, or I lost the best of what I still had, or when I found out that I am going to die—I do not eat. I am not yet this power, this structure, this ruin. I push away the plate, reject meat and its blood".




Monday, August 24, 2015

Número Zero by Umberto Eco (2015, translated by Richard Dixon)





A post by Ambrosia Boussweau 
European Correspondent, The Reading Life



It has been five years since I read a novel by Umberto Eco (1932, Italy).  I first read his The Name of the Rose and then The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.  Both of these works are highly regarded works of art.  Of the two my favorite is The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, about an antique book dealer.  These are challenging works that required serious attention.  

Número Zero, published in Italy in 2012 and a best seller there, is forthcoming in an English translation in November this year.  I was very kindly given an advance review copy.  

Numero Zero is set in Milan in 1992. The center of the story is a start up newspaper.  One of, perhaps the main, character is a writer who needs a job so he accepts an offer.  The work has a strongly noir feel in the shady world of Italian gossip and political scandal journalism.  We meet the several people recruited to work on the new newspaper.  Each person comes with their own baggage.  

The lead character is offered a big bonus to write an article in which he asserts that contrary to everything in the history books, Mussolini was not killed in 1945.  The person killed was Musolini's double.  We learn of various right wing plots to bring the real Mussolini back, in the story being pushed he was able to escape to Argentina with the help of the Vatican.   The writing of this story and his confusion over the possible truth and motivations behind it begins to take over the reporter's life.  

I am glad I was able to read this book.  It is only 208 pages and I find the Amazon prepurchase prize for a Kindle edition, $13.95, too high.  

This is a book for those eagerly awaiting anything new by the author, not for Eco neophytes.



Sunday, August 23, 2015

Jezebel by Iréne Némirovsky (1936, translated by Sandra Smith, 2010)


I offer my great thanks to Max for the gift card which allowed me to read this book.




Many great writers have died under cruel barbaric circumstances. I am, for reasons not entirely clear to me, very impacted by the knowledge that Iréne Némirovsky died at age forty in Auschwitz.   





Like most of her readers, my literary love affair with Iréne Némirovsky (1902 to 1942) began when I read her acknowledged by all master work Suite Francaise.  I then read her most autobiographical novel, The Wine of Solitude.  Next I read her very interesting David Golder centering on a White Russian family living in Paris.  From there I moved on to a very fun and wickedly funny novella about a teenage girl's revenge on her mother (Iréne Némirovsky did have "mother issues"), The Ball.  I also read her The Courilof Affair and Snow in Autumn, both deal with White Russians living in Paris.

Jezebel is a work of great psychological penetration.  Jezebel is, of course, a biblical adulterous, branded by history as a whore, a stealer of husbands.  Gladys Eyesenach, the lead character in Jezebel, is first presented to us at age sixty, on trial for mudering her twenty year old lover in a fit of jealousy.  The opening chapters shows us the trial, the various witnesses for and against Gladys and most of all Gladys herself.  At sixty, still possessesing significant sexual appeal and a decadent kind of beauty.  She is very wealthy, from her late husband.  

I do not want to at all spoil this powerful book for other Némirovsky lovers who have not got to it yet, but it presents a brilliant picture of a woman you are sure to hate.  It shows us a corrupt society where women internalize the idea that they are of value only as long as they are attractive and young.  There is a terrible conlict between Gladys and her daughter climaxing in a scene painful to read.  Némirovsky can write very visually and this scene will leap out for your throat.  We follow Glady's liife as she ages and is taken over by a fear she will lose her power over men.  We meet lots of interesting characters. I think this must be one of the first works of fiction in which the procedures for an abortion are openly talked about.  

The biographers tell us that Némirovsky's mother was a cruel woman, a terrible mother.   

Jezebel is a very powerful work.  My advice is first read Suite Francaise then ponder a read through of Némirovsky's oeuvre.  

I have begun her novel The Fires of Autumn.

Mel u

Friday, August 21, 2015

Proust's Way A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time by Roger Shattuck (2011, 300 pages,725 KB)

Great Thanks to Max u for Providing an Amazon Gift Card which allowed me to read this book




This is a post by Ambrosia Boussweau, European Correspondent of The Reading Life


"True life, life finally discovered and illuminated, is literature; that life which, in a sense, at every moment inhabits all men as well as the artist." Marcel Proust


In Seach of Lost Time by Marcel Proust is one of the very greatest literary works of all time.  My uncle Ruffington Boussweau was a close friend of the great translator C. K. Scott Moncrieff. The most prevalent myth about Proust is that he was prissy and effeminate.    In Search of Lost Time is, among many things, one of the greatest books about the reading life.  Mel u regards the reading of this work as one of his very peak lifetime reading experiences.  He plans another read through once he has completed Balzac's Comedie Humaine.

The biggest hurdle In Search of Lost Time presents is the length of over 3000 pages.  It is not a difficult book in the way Ulysses or The Sound and the Fury might be.  You can certainly just pick it up and read it on your own, maybe reading a few online articles on Proust for background.  To those who wish to learn a lot about the life and work of Proust, Mel u highly recommends William Carter's biography.  That being said, it is a great of art, complex in structure and narrative meaning with multifarious things to tell us about life.   

Read Proust first otherwise you will be experiencing this transcendent work of art through someone else's eyes.  Shattuck helped me to gain an overview of the novel, how the various elements work together.   It is a very good lesson in close reading.  He also talks a bit about War and Peace and I found his remarks very perceptive and illuminating.   

When I first read these lines, "True life, life finally discovered and illuminated, is literature; that life which, in a sense, at every moment inhabits all men as well as the artist." Marcel Proust I knew I thought I agreed but I was not sure how to understand them.  Literature and Art and Opera all play important roles in Proust.  Shattuck helped, I think, deepen my understanding of Proust's view of the arts.

He also talks about why the book became so long.  He repudiates biographical readings of Proust and discusses the merits of various translations. I have no ability to judge this but I do have a very high regard for C. K. Scott Moncreiff.  His book was published before the new translation's of volume one by Lydia Davis and a revision of the book one by Moncreiff done by William Carter.

New York Times Obituary of Roger Shattuck



In Search of Lost Time is one of the supreme artistic achievements of humanity.  Shattuck's book helped me understand it better.  


Ambrosia Boussweau
European Correspondent, The Reading Life



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard (1967, translated by Richard and Clara Winston)


Our great thanks to Max u for the gift card that made it possible to read this book.

This is a post by Ambrosia Boussweau, European Correspondent of The Reading Life


Gargoyles is the fourth novel by Thomas Bernhard(1931 to 1989) we have so far read.  First there was his Wittgenstein's Nephew, then  Concrete, and after that Extinction.  I, as does Mel u, find his works compelling in an odd sort of way I cannot really articulate.  I know eventually I will be driven to read all nine of his novels.  (The Reading Life was very kindly given an advance review copy of the first bilingual edition of his early poetry and I hope to read and post  on that in November for German Literature Month.)

Gargoyles is set in Austria.  As the story opens, it is in part narrated by the son of the doctor, a doctor and his son are out on calls to his various patients.  They range from a musical prodigy locked in a cage, a woman on the verge of death and other macabre characters, hence the title Gargoyles.  It was very disturbing, especially since it rang so true, to listen to the doctor tell his son how horrible life was for the women in their area.  One thing we can expect, at least so far we have been so treated, is a long rant by  a mentally unbalanced a bit paranoid but at times supremely brilliant and erudite figure and Gargoyles has a great one.

Thomas Bernhard's work is very dark, quite over all contemptuous of humanity.  It is brilliant and a painful pleasure to enter his world but don't expect anything uplifting!  

Please share your experiences with Bernhard with us.

Ambrosia Boussweau, European Correspondent
The Reading Life

 
 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

New High One Day Traffic on The Reading Life

Yesterday my blog readership reached a new one day high with 41,669 pages views in 24 hours.  This translates into about thirty thousand visits in one day.  Most of the viewed pages were on short stories by Indian Subcontinent authors and by top name Filipino writers of older short stories.  

As Internet access grows in The Subcontinent, Africa, and China I exoect world wide book blog traffic should rise.






My blog is very important to me.  I know I am bragging but who with a product, and yes book blogs are competing with a billion other things on the net, does not do so.


Monday, August 17, 2015

"Gaudissart II" by Honore de Balzac (1846, A Short Story, A Component of The Human Comedy)




"Gaudissart II" is a quite brief (reading time under ten minutes) short story about the approach of  salesmen in Paris, specializing in shawls and materials for ladies' dresses, to their female customer.  It is written in a kind of arch mode and shows how the salesmen quickly size up their customers and play on their vanity and such to make a sale.  Some of the shawls seem very expensive and I assume their is a  large Commision on a ten thousand franc shawl.  The narrator describes how all sorts of women come in the shop, from ordinary house wives, women of easy virtue and the very rich.  An experienced salesmen knows how to play each one.  

This was actually a fun story to read and it is a good slice of a small part of the human comedy.

I will next read his novella about working your way ulm in a government agency, Bureaucracy.

Ambrosia Boussweau 

A Prince of Bohemia by Honore de Balzac (1840, trans. by Clara Bell, A Short Story, A Component of The Human Comedy)

Overview of The Comedy Humaine as a reading project.  A must do project for serious literary autodidacts.  

71/91


"Balzac’s one-hundred-volume printout of all French society comes in separate packages; the links between the volumes serve as a special reward for the persevering."  From Proust's Way A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time by Roger Shattuck.

It bothers me that academic authorities on French literature often get the deminsions of Balzac's La Comedie Humaine so wrong.  Of course faced with reading "one hundred volumes" many readers will see themselves as unable to find the time to do this and in doubt whether the time needed to read this is worthwhile.  

Here are the components of The Human Comedy

41 Novels.  Only a few over 500 pages, most around 250 pages or less

25 short stories - none with a reading time over thirty minutes.

25 Novellas estimated reading time between one to two hours.

If we overestimate for most the reading time of the novels at eight hours each, they would take 328 hours. We will round up to 400.   The short stories in total say 15 hours.  The Novellas at the top fifty hours.  So as a guess 465 hours to read the full cycle.  Many book bloggers I follow could read this in three or four months, a number in much less time. In return you have met 2000 very well articulated and described characters, been all over Paris and much of France and a good bit of Italy as well.  It is as close to time traveling as you will find.  It is also for literary  autodidacts a work of tremendous importance.  The only non-online work on Balzac I have read, other than the chapter on French Realism in Auerbach and a bit in Ford Madox Ford's The March of Literature is Stefan Zweig's Balzac, which I highly recommend.  

 As a convenience, you can get the entire cycle as an E book for $2.95 but it means you will be reading older probably in some cases toned down translations.   Many of the components do not seem to have modern translations but the top name novels all do and The New York Review of Books has just published new translations of the most famous short stories.  Upon completion of my read through I will boldly post The Reading Life Guide to Getting Started in Balzac.

"A Prince of Bohemia" is another story structured as one person telling a story to a group of people at a social gathering.  Bohemia as a political entity in 1840 is roughly continuous with contemporary Czechoslovakia.  The expression "bohemian" comes from the perception in France and elsewhere in the first half of the 19th century that Bohemians were very artistic and intellectual types.  Balzac heavily types people based on where they are from.  It is a decent story about how a family got rich and how they dealt with the political turmoil in France.

Ambrosia Boussweau  
 







Saturday, August 15, 2015

Tarabas A Guest on Earth by Joseph Roth (1934, translated by Winifred Katzin)


I offer my great thanks to Max u for the gift card which made reading this book possible.






Joseph Roth's oeuvre  is one of the great treasures of 20th century European literature.  I started out with, as most do and neophytes should, with his acknowledged by all master work The Radetsky March.  Next I read the sequel to this work, The Emperor's Tomb, then one of my personal favorites of his novels, Savoy Hotel.  So far I have read nine of his novels, three novellas, and two collections of essays.  There are six more novels to go and I hope to read them all.  None of his novels are very long and there has not been one I had to drag my way through yet.   Some of his work, as does Tarabas A Guest on Earth partially,focuses on the fate of the Jews of Eastern Europe and Russia.  



Tarabas A Guest on Earth is set during the period of The Russian Civil War.  (I recently read a very good  book on this period, Former People The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith and this book and Roth's work perfectly together.  I once had a romantic view of White Russians but this view did not withstand my exposure to the historical reality of the bloody pograms of the White Russians.

When we first meet Tarabas he is living in New York City.  He misses his home but has found a Russian girlfriend.  It was a great pleasure to read Roth's depiction of New York City life (I wish so much he could have moved there around 1932 when he left Austria for Paris, to escape the coming Nazi rule of Austria).  He gets in a jealousy caused fight with a bar owner in NYC and when he hears war has broken out in Russia he at once decides to fight in that war.  

We next meet Tarabas on his father's property in eastern Russia.  The country is in complete turmoil.  The Czar has been killed and there is not yet a viable government in place.  He and his father have a strained relationship.  He wants to marry a cousin who works on the farm but he is forced into a White Russian brigade.  He has no sense of the various ideologies involved,  but he does hate Jews, especially red haired ones.  He favorable impresses the commander and he makes him a captain.  He turns out to be an excellent leader, admired by his men.  We go along as the troops roam the anarchic Russian countryside.  The White Russians blamed Jews for the revolution and Tarabas and his men were involved in vicious pograms against totally harmless people.  He ends up being promoted to a colonel.   Many of his men begin to desert as the war makes no sense to them.  Many are killed.  He has a small cadre of soldiers who have been with him for a while and some few of these are loyal.

He ends up back on his father's farm.  Years have gone by.  His parents exhibit less than the joy he had hoped for on his return and the girl he loved married a German and has moved to Germany.  He accepts this.  He has perhaps gained some wisdom from his troubles.  The ending I will leave untold.

Tarabas   A Guest On Earth has lots of great details and marvelous descriptions of the events of the period.  It is the story of a man caught up in the turmoil of his times.  The characters are very well developed.  It has a kind of the feel of a fable.  

I will next read his novel Rebellion. 

Mel u



Friday, August 14, 2015

"Dimanche" by Iréne Némirovsky ("Sunday", 1934, translated by Bridget Patterssen, 2000)






Like most of her readers, my literary love affair with Iréne Némirovsky (1902 to 1942) began when I read her acknowledged by all master work Suite Francaise.  I then read her most autobiographical novel, The Wine of Solitude.  Next I read her very interesting David Golder centering on a White Russian family living in Paris.  From there I moved on to a very fun and wickedly funny novella about a teenage girl's revenge on her mother (Iréne Némirovsky did have "mother issues"), The Ball.  I also read her The Courilof Affair and Snow in Autumn, both deal with White Russians living in Paris.

"Dimanche" ("Sunday") is my first venture into her short stories.  (1934 is my best guess on the publication year, if you have the correct information please let me know.). It is a beautiful story about the complex relationship of a young woman, maybe twenty, just beginning to experience love and sexuality, and her mother.  It set within an affluent Parisian family.  The dynamics of the story turns on each the way the mother and daughter view each other.  The daughter is having her first affair.  The daughter sees the mother, maybe forty, as aged past the point where passion can motivate her.  The mother sees her daughter as in a fairy tale world.

"Dimanche" is a beautiful story.  I look forward to read more of her work.

I read this by downloading a sample of the Kindle edition of Dimanche and Other Stories by Iréne Némirovsky.  

Mel u



Thursday, August 13, 2015

"Madman" by Lucy Corin (From New American Short Stories edited by Benjamin Marcus, 2015)



"I hugged him and took the bag. “What have we here!” I said, and dug in. It was a harness for my madman, the best kind, made of real leather with quality hand-stitching and brass appointments."

"Madman" by Lucy Corin is a wonderful story, funny, sad, wise and very original.  The prose is a sheer delight and Corin presents an alternative world that is a little to close for comfort.  In this society, when a girl has her first mensuration custom dictates that she go to a huge givernment medical type warehouse and picks out her very own personal madman (which can be a woman).  Boys go at thirteen.   The set up kind of like in an animal shelter where the madmen are kept in  with descriptive cards on the front of their cages.  Attendants take people around.  We never  learn how people end up in the facility or learn how this practice came about. We do learn there are millions of madmen.  

We tour the facility with the girl and her parents.  The descriptions of the various madmen are just flat out great, a pure delight to read.  We learn why people need to get a madman assigned to them when young.

"The whole idea is you take in a madman and that teaches you about Facing the Incomprehensible and Understanding Across Difference, and soon we are one big family."


The story takes a wonderfully even darker turn as it draws to a close. I did not see it coming but I loved the close.

I don't doubt there are deep points about contemporary American society made in "Madman".  

For sure I would like to read more by Lucy Corin.


Lucy Corin is the author of the short story collection The Entire Predicament (Tin House Books) and the novel Everyday Psychokillers:  A History for Girls (FC2).  The collection One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses was released in September 2013 from McSweeney’s Books.

Stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, Conjunctions, Ploughshares, Tin House Magazine, and many other places.  She spent 2012-13 living at the American Academy in Rome as the 2012 John Guare Fellow in Literature.  She is at work on a novel, The Swank Hotel.

Lucy Corin has a BA from Duke University and an MFA from Brown.  She’s an Associate Professor at University of California, Davis where she teaches in the English Department and Creative Writing Program along with fiction writers Pam Houston, Lynn Freed, and Yiyun Li, and poets Joshua Clover, Joe Wenderoth, and Katie Peterson.  From lucycorin.com


Mel u


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"A Man of Business" by Honore de Balzac (1845, A Short Story, A Component of The Human Comedy)

"Colette would later observe that she had never liked fairy tales or children’s books, and had begun reading The Human Comedy at the age of seven. “I was born in Balzac,” she told an interviewer as an old lady. “He was my cradle, my forest, my travels.” 







70/91

"A Man of Business" is set at a gathering of old friends, in Paris.  The topic of discussion is the eternal war of creditors versus debtors with a digression into the romantic foibles of a fifty year old widower.   The narrative is carried entirely by dialogue.  

In one very interesting segment, one of the men present says he always paid his larger business debts in a timely fashion but he has made his milliner call twenty seven times to try to collect a trifling amount.  He says it would be shameful of him to have on his person the mere twenty francs the milliner is owed.  He says it is ok for his cook or  coachmen to have twenty francs upon him but not for a gentleman.  He says he will make the mi,liner happy by giving him a bigger commission which he can pay without seeing a triffler.   Of course he may not actually have twenty Francs at the moment but this is never mentioned.  

We learn various ways to delay payments, to use the laws of France to your advantage.  The conversations are lively and ring true.

One of the men, a widower of fifty, tells how he set up an attractive young girl of eighteen in a reading room.  He says she will be his first "commoner", always before involved with ladies of the aristocracy.  Of course it does not quite work out, a wealthy man took her over from him.  

This is a decent story.  


Ambrosia Boussweau 




Snow in Autumn by Iréne Némirovsky (1931, translated by Sandra Smith)


I owe my great thanks to Max u for the gift card which allowed me to read this work. 





"She was dead. Her little body floated for a moment, like a bundle of rags, before disappearing from sight, swallowed up by the shadowy Seine."  From Snows of Autumn 

Snows of Autumn (reading time under an hour) is perhaps the most moving most poignant of the six works of Iréne Némirovsky's (1902 to 1942) I have so far read.  I am new to Némirovsky, I just last month first read her Suite Francaise, where I guess most everyone starts.  

Snows of Autumn is set in very late Czarist Russia.  The central of the narrative is an elderly woman who has worked for the last fifty one years as a servant to a family of Aristocrats.  Her life revolves around the great house in which they live.  As the story opens, the two sons of the family are of to join the White Russian Army in combat against the Bolesivicks.  The woman recalls the men as babies and fears for them.  They tell her not to worry as they are quite confident of an easy victory over the Bolesivicks.  Of course we know this is not going to happen.

The family flees Russia for Paris where there is a sizable White Russian community.  Némirovsky does a marvelous job describing the families adoption to their new home.  The old servant lady rarely leaves the small apartment in which they live.  The family begins to lose the old conservative ways of Russia and adopt a freer Parisian life style.  The servant longs for the old days.  

The ending is terribly sad, it has a terrible beauty that can nearly overwhlem if you open yourself to it..  


I will next read her novel, Jezebel and then Fires of Autumn. As much as I can I will read her in full.

Please share your feelings on Némirovsky with us.  

Mel u

 



The Courilof Affair by Iréne Némirovsky (1933, translated by Sandra Smith)


I offer my great thanks to Max u for providing me with a gift card that allowed me to read this book




Like most of her readers, my literary love affair with Iréne Némirovsky began when I read her acknowledged by all master work Suite Francaise.  I then read her most autobiographical novel, The Wine of Solitude.  Next I read her very interesting David Golder centering on a White Russian family living in Paris.  From there I moved on to a very fun and wickedly funny novella about a teenage girl's revenge on her mother (Iréne Némirovsky did have "mother issues"), The Ball.

Today I will talk briefly on her novel The Courilof Affair.  It is the story of a pre-Russian revolutionionary terrorist who in 1903 participated in the murder of a Czarist official.  He is telling his story in a Cafe in Nice.    The Courilof Affair almost feels like a work that Joseph Conrad could have written.  One of the great strengths of Némirovsky is that she can show how good and evil struggle for mastery in her characters.  We feel sympathy for the murderous lead character and we see the strengths and weakness that lead him to be an Ancient Mariner old at fifty telling his story over and over.

The novel goes into lots of interesting details about life in Russia in 1903.  As I read on it is hard to see how the murder of this official will help anyone.  It was fascinating to see Némirovsky depiction of the importance of female terrorists to the anti-Czarist cause.  

The Courilof Affair is very much worth reading.  Those who know her only through her Suite Francaise will be delighted to see her write about her homeland, Russia.

I am now reading her novella, The Snows of Autumn, centeried on an elderly woman who has worked as a house servant for a Russian aristocratic family for fifty-one years.



Mel u

Monday, August 10, 2015

Former People The Final Days of The Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith (2012)


I offer my great thanks to Max u for providing me with the gift card that allowed me to read this wonderful book




Former People The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith is a magnificent work, chronicling in superb detail what happened to the two million members of the Russian aristocracy as a result of the Russian Revolution.  I have been interested in Late Czarist history for a very long time (I am still holding my Trans-Siberian Railroad Bonds).  I love the great Russian writers.   I pictured ex-Russian counts working as waiters in Paris or countesses living in style on the Italian Rivera on jewels smuggled out of the country.  I knew the Czar and his family were executed, of course.  I knew Ruffington Boussweau had extensive contact with Prince Felix Yousepoff both before and after the revolution.  After reading Former People The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith I realizd how superficial my understanding of this period was.

Here are some of the things I learned from Former People The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith.  I have always had  a romantic admiration for the cause of the White Russians, fighting to defeat the communists and then holding on to the dream of restoring the old regime while living in exhile.  I was deeply shocked, though I should have realized this, that the White Russians were extremely Anti-Semetic.  They blamed the Jews for the revolution and undertook murderous pograms in which thousands were hung.  They butchered whole villages if they suspected the inhabitants were supportive of the communists.  My admiration for the White Rusśians is over.

I learned the Russian Revolution was very much supported by members of aristocratic families.  Only aristocratic young men had the educational background to develop the ideological structure to support revolution.   Many aristocrats, as Smith details, felt the system of terrible inequality in Russian was completely immoral.  


Smith tells his story by following what happened to members of two aristocratic families.  We very much see them as fully realized people.  The communists declared the two million people they classified as  Aristocracy as "former people", stripping them of all rights.  In order to live in a Russian city after the revolution you needed a ration card, former people were at first denied cards.  In the big cities most ate in government cafeterias and you needed a card to use these places.  The struggle for food became paramount in the lives of people used to living in pampered luxury.

Former People The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy explains how many, probably most, former people met their deaths through execution, disease, killed in  wars, or disease.  A number were helped by serfs they once owned.  The communist government did not have nearly enough educated people to run the society they were trying to create so many ex-aristocrats found givernment work.  Many hid or denounced their past alliances.  

What emerges so powerfully in Former People The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy is the sheer will of the ex-aristocrats to survive.  Survivors found ways to continue on with life, couples married, babies were born.  Many did leave Russia but it was not an easy choice to make.  There love for their country and heritage was very deep.

Former People The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith is a marvelous  book.  Anyone into Russian history and culture will be very glad to have  read this work. 

You can find information about the author and his other books on his webpage


He is working on a biography of Gregory Rasputin and I am looking forward to reading that one day.

Mel u

With assistance from Ambrosia Boussweau