Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests





Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Train in Winter An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead (2014)

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Ever since I learned Iréne Némirovsky, author of Suite Francaise and numerous other wonderful works was put on a train in Paris by the Germans and died in Aucshwitz two month after arriving I cannot see what happened to French Jews during the Nazu occupation of France as just statistics, just data without  personal meaning in a history text or a TV documentary.  That a woman who created such beauty and wisdom just from her mind should die under such barbaric and filthy conditions is something I cannot forgive.  The holocaust was an  attack on anyone who ever lived the reading life.  Sadly anti-Semitism seems on the rise in France.   

A Train in Winter by Caroline  Moorehead begins with an account of the progressively worsing development of the Nazi occupation in Paris.  The German troops stationed in France were told to be on their best behavior.  Many French citizens thought Germany was certain to win the war so they accepted things.  Then as the Germans begin to drain France of more and more resources to fuel the their war efforts and to feed Germans, a growing feeling of resentment and hate developed.   The French Police mostly cooperated with the Germans.  The Resitance, as depicted by Moorehead, begins to gain strength when De Gaulle starts broadcasting to Paris from London.   He advocates violent resistance to Germans, Vichy French officials, and most French police.  As this develops tne Germans, with the cooperation of French authorities begin to round up Jews to be sent to concentration camps.  Soon those in the Resitance, many were women as French men were depleted due to war deaths and massive POW captures, began to distribute papers denouncing the Germans.  Germans began to be shot.  The Germans began to shoot fifty at least French prisoners for each German shot.  This did not stop the resistance at all.   The depiction of the great courage and feeling of unity of French women in German custody in Paris was deeply moving.   The resistance broke down very old class lines, a baroness might be in the same cell as a woman who once did her laundry.

Moorehead goes into detail about the participation of many French women.  We see how they were motivated to resist, what they did, how it impacted their lives and we learn how many end up arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

I was very moved in the closing section of the book when Moorehead lists many French women who were captured by the Germans but survived to return to Paris.  Many, perhaps most, had severe lifetime health consequences as a result of their time in German camps.  Moorehead gives a brief biographical sketch of over 200 women, survivors and those who died in German custody.  Many more died than made it home.

A Train in Winter spends a lot of time describing the horrible transportation by trains from Paris to the camps.   It would have been interesting to learn how they reacted upon liberation and how the survivors made their way home.  

As to who should read or buy this book, students of the War in France will already know the basic facts 
of the period.  What is new in the book, to me at least, is the very well developed personal data on the Brave French Women. I found that made the book compelling reading for me.

I recently read Paris at War 1939 to 1944 by David Drake.  It would an excellent companion read with A Train in Winter.



Mel u

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami (1979)





I was very glad to be given a review copy of the republication in translations of the first two novels Huraki   Murakami (1949).  I had previously read and posted on Pinball, 1973 but not his very first novel, Hear the Wind Sing.  Along with The Wild Sheep Chase, 1983, they make up The Rat Trilogy.  I believe I have now read and posted on all of the longer fiction of Murakami, plus a few of his short stories.   In the long ago, he was my first Japanese novelist.  

Murakami in his new preface does not hold these two works in high esteem.  I think readers of his oevere will be happy, as I was, to have access to both these works in translation.

The central character in Hear the Wind Sing is s young man on summer break from college.  He hangs out with his friend Rat.  A lot of the brief work is taken up with his memories of the three women he has slept with.  During the course of the work he begins an ill advised romance with a fourth woman. The work is erotically charged and fun to read.  

In a perfect reading life world, I would suggest those new to Murakami start with these two works and read all his novels in publication order.  



Mel u


Monday, September 28, 2015

"Rodman the Keeper" by Constance Fenimore Woolson 1877 included in Miss Grief and other Stories, edited by Anne Boyd Rioux, forthcoming Feb. , 2016)





                                        1840 to 1894 - USA


Homepage of The Constance  Fenimore Woolson Society

Contains an excellent biographical sketch and a list of her works that can be found online



Homepage of Anne Boyd Rioux








"Roman the Keeper" is a truly great short story.  I have now read four of her, I think, fifty two short stories.  I will endeavor to read her full oevere, not actually that large a body of work.  I had never heard of her until i received a review copy of a perfectly done anthology of her short fiction, Miss Grief and other Stories edited and introduced by Anne Boyd Rioux.  Anyone considering producing an anthology of short stories by an historical author should study this book. Woolson was once a very popular writer but faded from fashion.

As I learned in Rioux's introduction to the story, it is set in a Union (Northen States) Civil War cemetrary like the one in Salisbury, North Carolina.  Emotions still ran very deep in the defeated South against northerners.  Rodman was a soldier for the North in the war.  He advanced to the rank of Colonel and suffered serious wounds.   During the war he lost his fiancé, his family and afterwards his money.  He accepted a job as the keeper, manager, of the cemetrary as he wanted solitude and he somehow sought atonement for the massive war deaths.  Woolson does a just wonderful job of slowly bring Rodman to greater and greater realization.

The century is isolated.  He stops at the well at a nearby house, he thinks it is abandoned and is shocked to find a sick man there.  He was a confederate soldier and they bond over their common experiences.   He sees the man has only the simplest foods so he brings him dinner.  Compressing a lot, he meets the man's only relative left, his younger female cousin.  There is a lot of real depth and brilliance in the depictions of the characters.  I don't want to give away too much.  Some very politically correct readers may rankle at how ex-slaves are portrayed in the story but those were the ways of the times.

I look forward to reading more of her work.

Mel u
  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"The Saleswoman" by Colette (1922?)




If Paris is the city of love, then Collette (1873 to 1954) is the high priestess. ( I am currently reading a very good biography of Colette, Secrets of the Flesh:  A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman which I hope to post upon soon.)   I was looking through Robert Phelp's anthology The Collected Stories of Colette (great to have 100 of her short stories in one place, many newly or never previously translated but there are several critical flaws in the anthology that would cause me to be unable to recommend the purchase of this book) and I found a three page story called "The Saleswoman" so I read it.  It is set in a lady's wear shop.  A Saleswoman is trying to talk a customer into buying a hat.  As I read it I flashed to the early days of Coco Chanel, getting her start selling the hats she made in a small shop.  The great pleasure in reading this story is seeing how the saleswoman skillfully plays on the vanity and insecurity of her customer.  

I want to read more Colette and this story was a good brief reading life interlude for me.

The French literary consensus seems to be that Proust is the most important French writer of the first half of the 20th century with Colette in an uncontested second place.

Ambrosia Boussweau 
European Correspondent of The Reading Life

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Dance Between the Flames Berlin Between the Wars by Anton Gill (1993)





Dance Between the Flames Berlin Between the Wars by Anton Gill presents in a very well developed fashion a city readers of Christopher Isherwood, Hans Falleda, Stefan Zweig, and Alfred Doblin will at one recognize.  I read this book partially as background reading for my explorations of German language literature of the period and for this it is perfect.  I loved it when Gill talked about Zweig's short story, "The Invisible Collection" about a blind art collector whose family has tried to cope with hyperinflation by selling his treasured collection of prints and substituting blank paper for them.  I admit I really like it when Gill talked in a chapter devoted to an important street in Berlin, Alexanderplatz, about a novel set in Berlin between the wars of that name by Alfred Doblin.  I admit I enjoyed hearing he also found it a challenging work of genius, as did I.  Gill's literary references are very acute.  Zweig, for example, wrote little directly about Germany and Gill knows just the relevant works to help make his points.   

All the historians say that it was the very harsh conditions imposed on Germany after their defeat in World War I that lead to the massive unemployment, hyperinflation that destroyed the middle class and began a long period of misery for most Germans. Gill explains this all in a very lucid fashion.   In a culture used to "father figures" as leaders, as Gill totally shows us, this paved the way for Hitler, made a second world war almost inevitable and helped produce the holocaust.  

Gill begins with a depiction of Berlin after the war, with crippled soldiers all over the city.  Many had no homes or families left.  He slowly shows things getting worse and worse for most Berlin residents.  As depicted, most Germans valued order and security above freedom and we see how this leaves the Berliners vulnerable to extreme right wing fanatics and communists.  Gill does a very good job detailing the various players involved and showing how Hitler took over.  Hitler did not really like Berlin but he had to make it his main base of operations.

There Is a  very interesting chapter devoted to the German cinema   Gill explains how the images from classic German movies played into the hands of the Nazis.  Of course there are numerous Nazi monsters depicted in the work.  At first most Jews, liberals, and leftist intellectuals felt the Nazi regime would implode in a few months.  Jewish War veterans thought their Iron Crosses would save them. 

He talks about Weimer Art, of which I am very fond, and how it came to be viewed as decadent.  

He depicts the progressive development of Anti-Semitic laws.  I learned why Jewish stars were yellow.

In the climate of sudden extreme poverty, many turned to selling sex and drugs.  Gill spend a a lot of fascinating time detailing the anything goes Berlin sex trade.   People came from outside the country for cheap sex of all sorts.  Of course this attracted "unsavory" types happy to corrupt the residents of Berlin.  As depicted by Gill, homosexual prostitution and child sex were very much to be found.  It was kind of a "tommorow we may starve" so anything goes today feeling. Anytime someone had any money, they at once went out and bought something as currency for a good period was in free fall.  Those who had excess to foreign currency, especially dollars, were in heaven.  Huge buildings were sold for $500.00, bought from once wealthy Berliners now fighting off starvation. Fabulous meals could still be found in restaurants for those with foreign currency.  I learned lots of small things in this book.   Of course most Beliners hated this degeneration of their society, as they saw it. They hated above all the food shortages.   Of course they were eager to blame it on the Jews, who made up 3.7 % percent of the population.  

Dance Between the Flames Berlin Between the Wars by Anton Gill is a very good book.  Many of those with enough interest in the subject to read the book will find they already know the basic story but Gill brings it all into clear focus, tying lots of things together.  I especially endorse it to literary autodidacts, sexual time travelers, those seeking information on the transition of masters of the German cinema to Hollywood, and those into Nazi history.  It reads as well as an elegant novel. 

I don't think I would have wanted to live in the Berlin of the period but now I can better visualize it. 

Mel u

"Profiles of Chosen Beings" by Clarice Lispector (1964)


"All this, paradoxically, increasingly gave the being the kind of profound joy that needs to be revealed, displayed, and communicated. In this communication the being was helped by his innate gift for liking. And this was something he hadn’t even gathered or chosen, it was a gift indeed. He liked the deep joy of others, through his innate gift he discovered the joy of others. Through his gift, he could also discover the solitude that other people had in relation to their own deepest joy. The being, also through his gift, knew how to play."  From "Profile of Chosen Beings"


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


With the publication of this collection, it is as if a star has exploded across the short story world.  Many will see the reading of her stories as among the greatest of their lifetime reading experiences.  Some will not feel her power.  Her stories have cast a spell on me, going beyond the mere reading of literary works.

I think soon her stories will be heavily analyzed by post-colonial scholars, feminist readers, South American studies, and those who follow the lead of Moser and see her as in the tradition of Jewish writers.  Historians of race and social class in Brazil will find her works a gold mind.  I also strongly urge the reading of Benjamin Moser's biography.  Her works will be studied as if they are texts in an ancient religion, ones for a dark time like those we may now be entering.  I know those who have not yet entered her world or even heard of her will find my words hyperbolic.  On the other side, there will be found those who will say I am holding back, not articulating her full power.  

My Prior Posts on Clarice Lispector 




"Profile of Chosen Beings" is "philosophical" short story, among other things.  The climate of opinion that made Existentialism an influential part of the culture after the war also influenced Clarice.  The story is partially a play on the notion that people create themselves through the chooses they make.  It I also can be seen with dealing with the religous notion of the chosen one.  Clarice repudiated all religions so it will take a lot of thought to unravel this.  Toward the end of the story she speaks of a statue so maybe it is also about Brazilian or other fascistic leaders who have chosen themselves to be the chosen one of history.  Is the chosen one  megalomaniac, is the concept of the one chosen by God being mocked?   There seems perhaps an underlying tone of mockery in the story.  I read it four times. 

Mel u

Friday, September 25, 2015

"Tips for Writing New Adult Fiction" a guest post by Lola Smirnova, author of Craved, a Sequel to Twisted

Today I am glad to share with you a guest post by Lola Smirnova, her bio is below.  

Ambrosia Boussweau.




Cravedby Lola Smirnovais the highly anticipated sequel to Twisted. It was published in August 2015 and is available for sale on Amazon. Genres: New Adult / Suspense

 

Synopsis:

 

Having been to hell and back, the eager sisters from Ukraine - Natalia, Lena and Julia - decide to retire from selling sex and walk the straight and narrow path back home. But when an old friend calls them with an opportunity to make buckets of ‘easy’ money in South Africa, they find it impossible to refuse. 

 

Return to the nightlife of the entertainment business brings along all the old familiar temptations - alcohol, drugs, and prostitution. 

 

Can the girls resist their vices and stay together? Or will this industry destroy their sanity and their family? 

 

Inspired by real life events, Craved is a fascinating story of addiction, survival and the art of making a living in the sex trade.

 

About the Author:

 

Lola Smirnova is an author from Ukraine. Her novels are inspired by real-life events. They are meant for the open-minded readers who are not afraid of a little blood, sweat and semen. 

 

Lola’s debut novel Twisted was released in 2014. The book placed as Honorable Mention in the General Fiction Category of The 2014 London Book Festival’s Annual Competition. 

 

Lola released Craved, the highly anticipated sequel to Twisted, in August 2015. 

 

Lola has fascinating stories to share about the experiences of women in the global sex industry. Her thrilling tales will surely shock and surprise you, with both the storyline and literary value. 

 

Lola lives in South Africa, and is currently working on the third book in her trilogy. To learn more, go to http://lolasmirnova.com/

 

 






Tips for Writing New Adult Fiction

New adult fiction is a genre of writing which is growing in popularity; this is in no small part due to its ability to catapult its authors from indie darlings who got their break through word of mouth, to mainstream success stories.

If you’re thinking “hold on isn’t new adult fiction just about vampires, werewolves and dystopian futures?” you’d be wrong; new adult fiction is all about issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choices.It’s fast paced and lots of fun; and if you get it right as a self-publisher you could be the next big thing.  Here are some tips to making it in the new adult fiction genre.

In new adult fiction the main characters are all 18 – 25; they are young enough to have no responsibilities, but older enough to have sex!  Anyone outside of this age range is relegated to the supporting cast; the quirky Grandma, the workplace mentor, the father figure Professor-type etc.

As most of the new adult fiction fan base is female, it’s best not to describe your heroine in too much detail; feel free to go into every intimate detail about their love interest and their washboard abs and rippling biceps, but leave your heroine as a blank canvass.  This will allow the reader to fill in the gaps and consciously or sub-consciously imagine themselves in that role.  Keep descriptions brief and abstract; a mention of hair colour here, a body hang up there, etc.

One thing you must do is make her likeable; she’s an aspiring actress or frustrated blogger or journalist.  She likes sex, but she isn’t crude or slutty about it.

New adult fiction has an edge to it and successful authors aren’t afraid to tackle the big issues like domestic violence, sexual deviance, marital “issues” and date-rape.  Yes there is always an element of fantasy to the interpretation of these issues, but new adult fiction authors have certainly proved themselves to be willing to give these stories a happy and empowering ending for women everywhere.

 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Lesser Bourgeoise by Honore de Balzac (unfinished at death, completed by Charles Robou, 1855, A Novella, A Component of The Human Comedy)

A post by Ambrosia Boussweu, European Correspodent of The Reading Life 

76/91





Mel u and I have been more or less reading the works in Honore de Balzac's Comedie Humaine in accord with the author's organization of the work segments based on what aspects of French life they deal with.  I think if we were starting again we would read them in publication order.  

The information I found indicates that Thd Lesser Bourgeois was uncompleted at the death of Balzac.  His friend,Charles Robou, a well know novelist at the time, finished the work.  I do not know how much Balzac completed and how much of the novella is the work of Robou.  

The story focuses on the changing residences of an old house.  Other than for those reading through the Comedie Humaine most will prefer to spend their time reading something else.  








Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Felipa" by Constance Fenimore Woolson (1877)




                                        1840 to 1894 - USA


Homepage of The Constance  Fenimore Woolson Society

Contains an excellent biographical sketch and a list of her works that can be found on line



Homepage of Anne Boyd Rioux






"Filipa" is the third short story by by Constance Fenimore Woolson I have so far have had the great pleasure of reading.  Prior to this story I read her "Miss Grief" and "Sister Saint Luke".  Each of these stories is unique but there are interesting commonalities in the work revolving around a central female character.  I am but a Woolson neophyte but a pattern seems to be emerging.  In "Miss Grief" the central female character is a writer, a woman of seeming raw power but unrefined, odd and slightly rough in her manners in the very refined Italian exhile setting of the story.  She appears forty something and has an odd, vague relationship to a woman she lives with.  There is a violent close to the story.  She is an "odd. person who confuses and disturbs others.  "Sister Saint Luke" is set largely on a coastal island near Saint Augustine, Florida.  Sister Saint Luke used to live in a nunnery but was turned out for financial reasons. Her backstory is a bit mysterious.   We are not quite filled in on her history but her life like Miss Grief is in a kind of limbo.  She does not fit in well in the rough world of Florida circa 1875, she like Miss Grief is near asexual in her portrayal.  She cannot find a definition of herself in a male dominated neR frontier place just as in Miss Grief cannot place herself in the male doninated world of publishing.  There is a violent event near the end of this story.

"Filipa", the strangest of the three stories, is also set in Florida.  (Woolson lived for six years in Florida and loved exploring the wild lakes and rivers in N. E. Florida.  Like "Sister Saint Luke" descendants from the Spanish island of Minorca who came I. Large numbers to the area are a factor in the story.  Just like in "Sister Saint Luke" northern USA tourists play a part in the story.  If one wanted you could see elements of a commentary on Protestant-Yankee society versus Catholic culture as seen at the time.  Felipa  is almost a feral child, she is a girl but she dresses as a boy and people call her "Felipe" and treat her as a boy.  Her father is the descendent of Minorcans.  She is described as "dark", she seems wild and uncivilized.  Similar to "Sister Sainf Luke" northern tourist play a big role in the story.  In both cases the characters of the tourists is not totally developed but thT is part of the rhetoric of the story.  One of the tourists, a woman, came to Florida to paint.  They observe and judge the locals.  Felipe develops a crush on one of the male tourists, there are two women and one man.  The story ends a very shocking violent event which I never saw coming.  It was disturbing and exciting.  

All three stories turn on an odd woman who puts people off at first, a sexually ambiguous person, in someways strong, in others weak or destroyed by their strangeness, except in the case of Sister Saint Luke. 

The best way to get into the short stories of Woolson, I think there are fifty two of them, is through an excellent forthcoming collection, Miss Grief and Other Stories edited and introduced by Anne Boyd Rioux.



The total oevere of Woolson is not overwhelmiingly large.  My eventual goal is to read it in full 

Mel u







 



Souls Are Flying - A Collection of Jewish Stories collected and retold by Scott Davis

My brief non-scholarly reflections on the origins of the Yiddish Short Story as a culture entity

My Posts spotlights the story "If I Were Rothchild" based on the work of Sholem Aleichem





My introduction to Yiddish literature came when i was given by the publisher the ten volume Yale University Digital Yiddish Library.  This is a superb collection with very well done highly learned introductions.   I soon learned Yiddish literature is a subject of intense scholarly interest.  This left in my mind a literature not especially suitable for "light reading" and certainly not something for children.  I also learned Yiddish literature was a genre largely with only male authors.  I found it a subject of intense study worldwide. The original stories were often published in small circulation elite literary journals, just like the short stories first published in the Philippines, Japan,  Ireland, America and Australia.  The authors were deeply learned.  Now that I have the introduction of Scott Davis to his Souls are Flying - A Celebration of Jewish Stories I know that stories by the classic Yiddish writers, especially the briefer ones, were often read aloud by teachers to children in a culture where books were expensive.  

  I was fascinated to learn of traveling rental libraries of Yiddish books that would make routes in Eastern Europe stopping at shtetls. On the Sabbath the library owners were prohibited from moving on by religious strictures.  So they rented out books of short stories that could be read in a brief period of time and returned the same day  thus reducing the rental fees.  Short budgets made it hard if not impossible for most to rent a long novel let alone buy one.  Stories were assessable to everyone, just as in outback Australia the genre of the "Bush Story" arose consisting of brief fiction that a person could read in their limited leisure time.   Pushing this a bit more, in Ireland scholars have concluded there was not a large enough audience with the education or leisure time to read novels as there was in 19th century England so the short story became a dominant genre.  Like Ireland of the early 19th century, Yiddish culture very much had a tradition of traveling story tellers, helping to keep the culture alive.  Story tellers often relied on works by famous writers but felt at liberty to alter them to make them more accessible and enjoyable to audiences not highly educated.  

Scott Davis, in my mind,Is in the tradition of the traveling story teller, whose love and intimate acquaintance with Yiddish literature gives him the ability and right  to with complete respect adopt classic short stories for modern audiences including young adults and children.   He wants to restore the tradition of reading Yiddish short stories aloud, to present the literature in a fashion that does not conjure up images of works that can be enjoyed or understood only by people of deep erudition in Yiddish culture.


  

Today I want to talk briefly about a very interesting totally enjoyable story "If I Were Rothchild", based on a story by Sholem Aleichem, on whose stories Fiddler on the Roof is based.  Very recently I read and posted on a story about Rothchild by Jacob Dinezon, "Apocalypse".  (This is included in 
Memories and Scenes, Shtetl, Childhood, Writers- Jewish Stories by Jacob Dinezon edited and introduced by Scott Davis.)  Rothchild was a larger than life figure in Yiddish society, many thought he did not really exist while others saw him with wealth and power far surpassing historical reality.  I think when pressed for money by spouses and children many annoyed  men would say "I am not Rothchild".   

"If I were Rothchild" is presented as if it a man telling an ever expanding story about what he would do if he were Rothchild.  He starts by saying he would make sure wives always have a few rubles for the Sabbath so they don't have to ask their husbands for money.  He begins with things he would do to improve conditions in the town the live in, building schools and better prayer rooms.  By the time the five page story is over he  is explaining how the world works and how he would bring about world peace and happiness if he were Rothchild. His ideas are actually quite good.  The story of the all powerful Rothchild banking family became fodder for anti-Semites but that is another story.


Souls are Flying - A Celebration of Jewish Stories also has short stories based on the work of I. L. Peretz and Jacob Dinezon.  I shall return to this collection.  

I strongly endorse this collection for anyone wanting a way into the amazing world of Yiddish literature or seeking to introduce children and young adults to this area.  


Scott Hilton Davis is a storyteller, playwright, and collector of Russian and Eastern European Jewish short stories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Convinced of the historical, cultural, and ethical significance of stories by Sholem Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, I. L. Peretz, and the lesser-known writer, Jacob Dinezon, Scott now uses storytelling and playwriting to bring works by these beloved Jewish writers to new audiences. He is the author of Souls Are Flying! A Celebration of Jewish Stories and Half A Hanukkah: Four Stories for the Festival of Lights. Scott is a former public television executive with more than thirty-five years of experience writing, producing, and directing documentaries and dramas. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina."



Mel u









Monday, September 21, 2015

"The Solution" by Clarice Lispector (1964)



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


With the publication of this collection, it is as if a star has exploded in the short story world.  Many will see the reading of her stories as among the greatest of their lifetime reading experiences.  Some will not feel her power.  Benjamin Moser says her work is "witchcraft, not literature".  

I think soon her stories will be heavily analyzed by post-colonial scholars, feminist readers, South American studies, and those who follow the lead of Moser and see her as in the tradition of Jewish writers.  Historians of race and social class in Brazil will find her works a gold mind.  I also strongly urge the reading of Benjamin Moser's biography.  Her works will be studied as if they are texts in an ancient religion, ones for a dark time like those we may now be entering.  I know those who have not yet entered her world or even heard of her will find my words hyperbolic.  On the other side, there will be found those who will say I am holding back, not articulating her full power.  

My Prior Posts on Clarice Lispector 




"The Solution" is a brief very powerful story with a shocking close.  It centers on two young female office workers.   One is heavy and sensitive about this.  She seems to have a crush on one of her coworkers.  They take lunchs together and the heavy girl is always very solicitous of the feelings of her friend, who does not reciprocate.  One day the slender woman is late for work and when she arrives all can see she is very distraught and has been crying.  Her friend is very worried and offers to treat her to lunch.  

At lunch the coworker blurts out that her boyfriend has left, moved away.  She calls her friend "fatso" and asks her if she is happy over this news.  The other woman takes a fork and stabs her in the neck. We next meet her in prison where she at last has people around her that care about her.

A very moving story about loneliness, body images and the destructive power of words spoken in anger.

Mel u


Friday, September 18, 2015

"Apocalypse" by Jacob Dinezon. ( from Memories and Scenes, Shetl, Childhood, Writers, edited and introduced by Scott Davis, translated from Yiddish by Tina Lunson)



Home Page of The Jacob Dinezon Project




"“My dream,” says Scott Davis, “is to see an English translation of Jacob Dinezon’s stories sitting on the bookshelf beside the works of his friends, Sholem Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and I. L. Peretz. And to know that Jacob Dinezon has finally returned to his rightful place as the beloved uncle of modern Yiddish literature.”






I first began reading Yiddish literature in translation in December of 2012.  The alleged theme of my blog is literary works about people who lead reading centered lives and I quickly came to see how central reading was to Yiddish culture.  ( I know there are lots of complicated notions packed into the expression "Yiddish Culture" but this not the place and I am far from the person to talk at length on them.)

I think my favorite work of Yiddish literature is the deeply hilarious profoundly revealing The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl by Sholem Aleichem, on whose work the movie The Fiddler on the Roof is based.  In the stories of pogroms by I. L. Peretz a terrible history was brought to life with incredible depth and feeling.  These two writers along with Sholem Abramovitsh whom I have not yet read are considered the classic must read Yiddish writers.  Of course the issue in any literary culture of whose work endures is only partially based on merit, writers come in an out of fashion.  I think in the case of a literature like Yiddish from a partially destroyed culture dependent on translations for works to be read this is very much true.  Of course most publishers are shy to produce the works of relatively unknown writers in translation for fair to them business reasons,  

Thanks to the selfless dedication and strongly focused work of Scott Davis, Jacob Dinezon (1851 to 1919-Warsaw - I urge all to read the very informative webpage on Dinezon I link to at the start of this post for background information on Dinezon and his relationships with other now much better known writers) Dinezon will soon become a canon status Yiddish writer.

There a good number of short stories and some posts more like essays in Memories and Scenes, Shetl, Childhood, Writers- Jewish Stories by Jacob Dinezon edited and marvelously introduced by Scott Davis, with translations by Tina Lunson.  Over all I think anyone already into Yiddish literature needs this book and it is probably an excellent starting point for neophytes.  My custom in posting on a collection of stories is to talk about the works in the collection one at a time and I will follow that here.  



Apocalypse" is set in a Polish shtetl, a small mostly Jewish community. This is a delightful story, hilarious at times, very poignant at others.  It focuses on Mehulemis, a teacher and a widower.awaiting the coming of his third wife.  He spends a lot of his time reading old texts, arguing with other men at the prayer house.  It was fascinating to sit in as he argued with his friend Fighl, supported by the earning from a store his wife owns. They began to debate as to whether or not Rothchild really existed, if he was as rich as claimed, and if he was buying up land in Palestein for a homeland for Jews.  Mehulemis decides he will seek out Rothchild and ask him for money.  His friend tells him he is crazy.  He starts out on a Quixote like quest through Poland which takes a very dark turn.  I want to quote enough from the text to give you a feel for the delightful style.



"Apolacypse" is a first rate story, there is also a lot to be learned about Yiddish history in the story.  The question of the wealth and even existence of Rothchild takes us deeply into a lot of things.  Davis conveniently provided a vocabulary of  Yiddish terms at the end of the collection.

Yiddish literature is one of the great treasures of the reading life.  I salute Scotf Davis and Tina Lunson for making another great Yiddish writer easily accessible.  


"Scott Hilton Davis is a storyteller, playwright, and collector of Russian and Eastern European Jewish short stories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Convinced of the historical, cultural, and ethical significance of stories by Sholem Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, I. L. Peretz, and the lesser-known writer, Jacob Dinezon, Scott now uses storytelling and playwriting to bring works by these beloved Jewish writers to new audiences. He is the author of Souls Are Flying! A Celebration of Jewish Stories and Half A Hanukkah: Four Stories for the Festival of Lights. Scott is a former public television executive with more than thirty-five years of experience writing, producing, and directing documentaries and dramas. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina."


Tina Lunson is the former administrative director and senior consultant to the Vilnius Program in Yiddish Language and Literature. She worked with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as an expert consultant, researcher, and translator for several exhibitions, including “The Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto,” and served as historical consultant and on-site guide for two Holocaust-era film projects. Tina received her Master of Arts in Jewish History from Baltimore Hebrew University and has completed post-graduate work at Columbia University in Jewish Studies. Her English translations of works in Yiddish include Jacob Dinezon’s Zikhroynes un bilder and Der shvartser yungermantshik, Yizkerbukhs (Holocaust memorial books), and commissioned translations of family letters, personal papers, correspondence, and diaries.









Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Sister Saint Luke" by Constance Fenimore Woolson (1877, included in Miss Grief and other Stories, edited by Anne Boyd Rioux, forthcoming February, 2016)








One of the joys of the reading life is coming upon a new to you writer and feeling like you have been encountered a writer you wish you would have begun reading long ago.    I am beginning to feel that way about Constance Fenimore Woolson.  (1840 to 1894, USA- there is a little background information in my prior post.)  

Woolson is as a very well traveled person, especially for woman in her day.  She lived on and offin Florida, with her mother whose health took them there, from 1873 to 1878.  She lived near St. Augustine.  From Anne Boyd Rioux's very good introduction I learned that Woolson loved the untamed wilderness of the area, often cruising water ways, sometimes by herself.

"Sister Saint Luke" is set largely on Pelican Island, barrier island just at the mouth of the Matanzas Island near St. Ausustine, Florida.

                                                                   Pelican Island

There are five people in the story.  Keith and Carrington are two friends who have come together from the north to enjoy the wildness of the area and get away from the cold, tourists.  The other characters include Pedro, a descendent so of the Minorcan colonists who had come long ago in a group of 1300 or so from Greece, as indentured servants,  I Goggled the Minorcans and was fascinated to learn some very interesting Florida history.  I admit I was impressed that pre-Internet Woolson knew this aspect of local history.  To me this shows the real respect Woolson has for her subjects.  Never in this story do I feel the what could have been made backwoods Florida characters treated in a fashion that tries to reduce their full humanity.  We also meet Melvyna, she came from the north to be a private duty nurse and stay there when her patient died.  She ended up marrying Pedro.  I really liked the depiction of their marriage.  They live on Pelican Island and keep the lighthouse there.  Keith and Carrington are staying there a while and they also meet an ex-nun, Sister St Luke who also stays there.



Melvyna is a strong self reliant woman living in a place where you have to know how to take care of your self and your family.  She and Pedro have a good, it seems, relationship.  Buried in the storyline is no doubt a commentary on the differences of the attitudes toward life of Catholic Pedro, his name is no accident, and  Protestant Mevyna of tough "Yankee" stock.  Sister Saint Luke is an interesting person, it seems somehow she was left at a nunnery at an early age and put out once she became an adult.  She is a bit child like, longing to return to the security of the nunnery.  The characters of Keith and Carrington are not quite as well developed but from their actions and words we get to know them.  They are both decent men.

There are beautiful descriptions of the area.  There is a powerful storm.  The description of the flock of 100s of Pelicans makes me so wish I could time travel to see it.  


Exciting things happen toward the close of the story which I will leave for others to enjoy discovering as I very much did.

I really enjoyed reading this story.  I have a special interest in Florida history and that made the story resonate greatly with me.  

In her very well done introduction to Miss Grief and other Stories Anne Boyd Rioux mentions two other set in Florida short stories and I hope to read them both very soon.  

There is a lot of depth in this story, issues about cultural contrast buried in a passing remark.  It is also flat out a lot of fun to read.






Coco Chanel A Life by Justine Picardie (2010)








In July of this year I read and was fascinated by Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda Garelick.  For sure Coco Chanel (1883 to 1971)  is one of if not the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century. Worldwide her influence on fashion is tremendous.  When I started reading Garelick's superb biography I knew very little about Coco Chanel.    Upon reaching the end I felt I had been taken deeply into the psyche and life of an incredibly creative woman, a business genius who created from nothing a fashion and perfume empire worth billions of dollars, a woman who began life as an orphan and ended it atop the fashion universe.  I also saw a complex, deeply troubled and very much a flawed woman.  I admired her to a degree but found her often very selfish, insecure and I find her anti-Semiticism despicable.  I am convinced by the information in this book that Chanel did not just collaborate with the Nazis but tried to use the antiJewish laws they put in place to cheat the Jewish family that bought ninety percent of the rights to her famous perfume, Chanel # 5 from her.  

After finishing Gatelick's biography I did not really have any plans to read another biography of Coco Chanel.  I was, however, offered a copy of Coco Chanel A Lifs by Justine Picarde for the one day only price of $1.95 so I bought it.  Picarde's book begins with a glowing description of the beautiful highly refined full of very expensive pieces found at The House de Chanel at 31 Rue Cabon in Paris.  In including in the beautiful objects are a collection of books that Chanel is represented as having read.  

"Two walls are lined with leather-bound books: antique editions of Plutarch, Euripides and Homer; the memoirs of Casanova and the essays of Montaigne; The Confessions of St Augustine and The Dialogues of Plato; the complete works of Maupassant and Molière in French, Shelley and Shakespeare in English" 

There is one problem with this, Chanel read none of these books, they obviously were purchased just for appearance no doubt by an agent told to get some classic books.  Chanel as detailed by Garelick did not and probably could not have read such works.  The entire book is just a love letter to Coco, ignoring all her glaringly negative characteristics.  No mention is made of her early occasional work as a prostitute or her relentless gold digging, her willingness to sell herself, her fawning over rich men, her petty cruelty at times to employees.   Picarde does not deal clearly with the issue of Coco Chanel and the Nazis, missing entirely how the whole fashion ethos of Coco, including her famous emblem, can be seen as in sympathy with much of Nazi ideology.  There is no denying her romance with a Nazj officer, a baron, thirteen years her junior and her fraternizing with Nazis at The Ritz.  I would personally guess the German Baron was told to romance Chanel to see what use could be made of her.

Picarde's book is close to cloying.  It also provides little information on how Chanel developed her business empire.  She was a genius at marketing, using herself as an icon. 
Coco Chanel changed the way women wanted to look.  She was a design genius, there is no denying this.

I cannot, I admit, get past an image of the beautiful impeccably groomed no doubt an admirer of the work of Coco, Iréne Némirovsky being put on a train to Auschwitz with other French Jews and Coco Chanel dancing in the Ritz, liking this idea.

If you are interested in Coco Chanel, then by all means read Garelick's biography.  I cannot accept for those totally fascinated by Coco and wishing to read a largely panegyric book about her, endorse Parelick's book.  




Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Preciousness" by Clarice Lispector



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


With the publication of this collection, it is as if a star has exploded in the short story world.  Many will see the reading of her stories as among the greatest of their lifetime reading experiences.  Some will not feel her power.  Benjamin Moser says her work is "witchcraft, not literature".  

I think soon her stories will be heavily analyzed by post-colonial scholars, feminist readers, South American studies, and those who follow the lead of Moser and see her as in the tradition of Jewish writers.  Historians of race and social class in Brazil will find her works a gold mind.  I also strongly urge the reading of Benjamin Moser's biography.  Her works will be studied as if they are texts in an ancient religion, ones for a dark time like those we may now be entering.  I know those who have not yet entered her world or even heard of her will find my words hyperbolic.  On the other side, there will be found those who will say I am holding back, not articulating her full power.  

My Prior Posts on Clarice Lispector 




When I first posted on a short story by Clarice Lispector I was already certain the publication of her complete short stories would be the most important event in short stories in translation in 2015.  I now think for sure it will be seen as the most important event in the short story world in 2015 and  I see it as almost certainly the major literary event in the Anglophone world.  The 86 stories in the collection should be all read so you can see Clarice develop.  Then you should go back and read the stories that speak most deeply to you several times.  

"Preciousness" is told in the persona of a fifteen year old Rio school girl.  She is up early to make her long commute to school.  A focus of the story can be seen as the girl's awakening sense of her sexuality.  As she makes the commute, she sees her self as "not pretty", she fears men in the bus will look at her.  She also has a sense if class consciousness, she comes from an affluent family with a maid and the men on the bus are working class.  She seems to dread her sexual development, talks almost of becoming a nun to avoid sex.  There are a few brief lines in her conversatio. With the maid that are just so amazing.  They are almost a history of race relations in Brazil.  Long story short, maids and workmen are dark, the affluent lighter skinned.  Brazil hid from its African roots for generations and this is buried deep in this story.  


Mel u

Monday, September 14, 2015

My Mother's Kitchen A Novel With Recipes by Meera Ekkanath Klein (2014)

IFoodies take note. Lots of great easy to follow recipes included 




I knew I wanted to read My Mother's Kitchen by Meera Ekkanath Klein as soon as I learned we shared a passion for the great Indian writer  R. K. Narayan.  (I urge everyone to read the guest post she kindly contributed to The Reading Life on him.). Narayan's work is largely set in the South Indian city he created Malguidi.  There is a very strong sense and love of place in the work of Narayan and I find that same love in My Mother's Kitchen.  

My Mother's Kitchen, her debut novel, is very family centered.  The heart of the home is the kitchen and the heart of a family is the mother.  The author has done just a wonderful job of creating a sense of the Family at the heart of this novel.   

The most stage center characters are the mother and her teenage daughter.  The locale is south India.  After a prelude, the story, narrated by teenage Meena begins in 1955 Mahagiri in South India.  Her  family has about fifty or so milk cows, her father lives away sometimes on a plantation they own.  I loved these lines from Meera, they just felt totally real to me:

"Our cows are my pets. I love everything about them from their graceful, swaying walk to their long tails that look so much like my mother’s hair in a braid. I like their wet noses and gentle eyes, and I particularly like spending time in the cowshed where it is always warm and cozy."

Every chapter is sort of a mini-story.  Some begin with a story from ancient Hindu culture, most chapters end with a recipe for a dish the mother cooked in the chapter.

As the novel goes on you can see Meena grow up, all with daughters will love the relationships in the story line.  We see the daughter mature.  We learn a lot about the culture of the area.  For example we see  the ancient rituals associated with a girl's first mensaturation. We learn how the dairy business works.  In one really exciting scene we are front row center when a pregnant cow needs to have her calf pulled out manually.  I am very interested in gypsies, now called Roma, who originated in India, and was very excited to see what happened when a tribe of gypsies camped on a field owned by the family.  I was interested in seeing how Gypsies were placed in the ancient caste system of India.

I loved it when Meena stood up for herself when her uncle tries to force her into an arranged marriage. We see the conflicts between "modern" and "traditional" India played out very dramatically.

In any family followed over a long period there will be tragedies and heartbreak and this family is no exception.   This is a very heart warming book I greatly enjoyed reading.  This book throughout and the ring of truth with no false notes. 

The novel ends with an opened ended exciting development and I will be eager to see what happens next for Meena and her family. When the novel closes she is eighteen.

This is a very well crafted, plotted novel with characters you will love. As a bonus there are the marvelous all vegetarian recipes.  I totally endorse this novel.


Official Bio

You can enter the serene world of Mahagiri in award-winning author Meera Ekkanath Klein’s debut novel, My Mother’s Kitchen: A novel with recipes. Find out more athttp://meeraklein.com/



Author Meera Ekkanath Klein, Meera Klein, author, novelist
     Award-winning author, Meera Ekkanath Klein, deftly weaves her love of cooking and story-telling into an irresistible tale. My Mother’s Kitchen: A novel with recipes (2014, Homebound Publications) was selected as a Winner in the 2015 International Book Awards in the Multi-Cultural Fiction category. The book was also selected as Finalist in the 2015 National Indie Excellence Book Awards and in 2015 Beverly Hills International Book Awards, both in the Multi-Cultural Fiction category. She was one of 40 authors at the celebrated 2015 Authors on the Move fundraiser for the Sacramento Library Foundation dinner and auction.  She was featured on Capital Public Radio on April 2, 2015 and interviewed by host Beth Ruyak. She has participated in the Local Author Festival at the Sacramento Library and will be a presenter at the Great Valley Book Fest in October. She will also make presentations at the Woodland Friends of the Library annual meeting in June and at the Greenhaven/Pocket area Library in July. A former newspaper reporter and columnist, Klein, honed her writing skills in a busy newsroom. She mastered the art of Indian cooking in her own mother’s kitchen in the beautiful Blue Mountains or Nilgiris of south India. Klein currently lives in northern California and is completing a sequel to My Mother’s Kitchen, as well as a YA book based on Indian legends and mythology.
Mel u