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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Passion According to G. H. by Clarice Lispector - translated by Idra Novey

"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, in his introduction to The Collected Short Stories of Clarice Lispector 

My Prior Posts on Clarice Lispector

I first entered the world of Clarice Lispector when I was kindly given a digital review copy of The Complete Short Stories of Ćlarice Lispector.  With a marvelous introduction by Benjamin Moser, I think many will find the reading of these stories the start of a deep fascination with Lispector's work and life.  I think the publication of this collection of short stories will be at least the most important translated work of short stories in 2015.  It is said among short story people that Kathernine Mansfield is the only writer that ever frightened Virginia Woolf, I would just say she never met Clarice Lispector.  

After I finished my first read through of the short story collection, I have posted on about ten of the stories and will be rereading and posting more as time goes on, I read Why This World:  A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser.  This is a truly excellent biography which goes deeply into her cultural roots.  By coincidence shortly before I encountered Lispector I read the complete Yale Yiddish Library and Moser helped me understand the ways in which Lispector is part of the tradition of Jewish Kabbalstic thinkers and how her early life in the Jewish shetls in the very anti-Jewish Ukraine shape her fiction.    Also in the very long ago I studied Spinoza and this helped me.  Moser lets us see the impact of Spinoza in the work of Lispector, especially in her perhaps most overtly philosophical work The Passion According to G. R.  

G.R is the female narrator of the novel.  She is an affluent well regarded  sculpturor living in Rio de Janeiro.  The novel is all about a long very widely ranging interior monologue initiated in the mind of G.R. when she enters the room of her live in maid who recently quit.  She was shocked to see a drawing of herself on the wall.  There are strong post colonial and racial matters in The Passion of G.R, the maid was black.  She then sees a roach on the floor of the maid's room.  She has a horror of roaches and she slams the door on the roach.  He is partially crushed but not killed.  

She begins to reflect on the very ancient, long before man, history of the roach.  Soon all human history unfolds before her.  She begins to reflect on the nature of divinity and of God.

This book way transcends my ability to describe it.  I knew pretty much what exoect in The Passion of G.R. as Moser talks about it a lot in his biography but it still shocked me.  

Mel u

"Señor Pinedo" by Mavis Gallant (1954)

Buried in Print's Mavis Gallant Reading Schedule 

Mavis Gallant on The Reading Life

I have been reading short stories by Mavis Gallant (born Montreal 1922, died Paris, 2014) since 2013.  I was delighted when a blogger I have happily followed for years, Buried in Print, announced they would be reading and posting on her many short stories (116 published in The New Yorker alone) on a weekly basis.   I have on my E Reader The Collected Short Short Stories of Mavis Gallant (contains per Gallant about half of her stories) so I decided to try to read along with Buried in Print's weekly schedule as much as I might.

 This week's story, "Señor Pinedo" is set in a boarding house, a pension in Madrid, sometime after the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939- often portrayed as a war between democrats seeking a free Spain, think Hemingway and such versus Spanish Fascists promising great things for the common man if they will follow the leadership of Francisco Franco now seen as Fascist element  of the Falange Party, remember Picasso's Guernica).  The story did bring to my mind the works in Katherine Mansfield's first collection, In a German Pension.

The boarding house used to be a big middle class home, but as the narrator tells us, economic hard times caused the owners of many such home to turn their houses into boarding homes.  The owner and her brother live there now, in two rooms.  The rest of the building has been subdivided into a number of small rooms.  Our narrator, is an English speaking woman, we don't learn where she is from or why she is in Madrid.  She lives right next to the Pineda family, the 23 year old wife, her civil service employed husband and their baby.  The walls are so thin the Pineda's alarm wakes them up.  She can hear the Pinedas talking about money.  In addition to tourists, there are other permanent tenants.  They include a bullfight promoter, seen as a bit of a vulgarian, a man who used to be a literature professor but now works in a drug store (he lost his job because he was neutral in the Civil War, and others.  I laughed so much when I read the narrator's description of an English woman living in the pension, the description was just so perfect

"There was also the inevitable Englishwoman, one of the queer Mad Megs who seem to have been born and bred for pension life. This one, on hearing me speak English in the dining room, looked at me with undisguised loathing, picked up knife, fork, plate, and wineglass, and removed herself to the far corner of the room; the maid followed with the Englishwoman’s own private assortment of mineral water, digestive pills, Keen’s mustard, and English chop sauce."

Señor Pinedo is very proud of the accomplishments of the government.  He brings home brochures from work describing the great strides of the government.  Gallant has such a masterful touch, in just a few lines she can bring characters to life, let us see below the surfaces of relationships.  In one really great scene he is bragging to the narrator, and his captive audience of fellow residents about the great strides being made in housing.  His wife at once interjects, asking him why then do we not have our own house.  Any married man will come close to cringing at this!

The pension residents have little privacy, a kind of instant intimacy of a transient sort prevails.  I felt in this story a sense limited futures, people clinging to hopes like Senor Pineda's idolization Falange leaders.

To me the tone and colors of this story reminded me of Goya

A tragic event occurs toward the close of the story.  It could have been avoided. We see the fatalism of the Spanish in the close, or at least I do. In a way it is a story also about being an immigrant, about the world views clashing, about anger over indifference in the mind of our narrator.

I read this story in The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant, containing about half of her stories.  As far as I know it cannot be read online.  I also could not locate the first publication data but for sure it was in The New Yorker.

I offer my great thanks to Buried in Print for hosting this one a week read through of Gallant's short stories.  I read this story twice.  I look forward to reading many more.

Mel u

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh (2015, Part Three of The Ibis Trilogy, 624 pages)

Works in The Ibis Trilogy

Sea of Poppies - published 4/2008, read 4/2012

River of Smoke - Published 6/2012, read 2/2015

Flood of Fire - Published 3/2015, read 5/2017

Flood of Fire of Fire is the final installment in The Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh.  The Trilogy is set largely in the Bay of Bengal region of India and in the Canton region of China.  It is historical fiction on a grand scale, over 1600 pages in total.  It's center of focus is the impact of the opium trade on India and China, focusing on the period leading up to the first opium war, 1839 to 1842.

The ship The Ibis, was once used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  A former first mate, Zachary, his mother was an slave owned by his white father, serves as kind of a unifying character.

Book One of The Ibis Trilogy focuses on the impact of the opium trade on people living in the Bengali region of India, near the Bay of Bengal.

Book Two focuses more on the areas of China where opium entered the country, near Canton.  It shows the destruction the drug reaped on the Chinese.

Book Three details the economic aspects of the opium trade and very excitingly depicts naval and land battles between the English and the Chinese.  It goes into a lot of fascinating detail about The British East India Company, which had a very large army.  We learned what is was like to be an English officer, an Indian sepoy in the service of the army, the wife of a top British officer, a servant of an officer and much more.  I think anyone interested in 19th century India, English Colonial activity, the history of the drug trade, or the British East India company will love this book. As The Flood of Fire opens Zachary is in a bit of trouble.  The Ibis has stopped in Bengal and cannot sail for months.  The owner cannot or will not support him while the boat is being repaired.  He is trained as a ship carpenter and is offered a job restoring a Junk to be used as a pleasure craft by a high ranking East India Company officer.  In a weird, ok some will find this unintentionally funny, I think, segment the owner's wife observes him one day, through a telescope, polishing a brass handle.  She notices he often does this and becomes convinced he was engaging frequent masterbation, considered by the woman a great sin.  She approaches him, at first he has no idea what she is talking about, and offers him a brochure on dealing with this "vice".  Soon they become sexually involved, a horrible social offense for both.  During their sexual encounters they speak in pidgin English, I found this over done and silly almost.  Zachary becomes very involved in the opium trade and in naval battles.

Sea of Fire also focuses on an Indian servant of a British officer as well as the widow of an Indian woman, her family was rich from the opium trade, who discovers her husband had a long time mistress, a Chinese woman,  and a son in Canton.  There is a lot of drama surrounding her trip to Canton to meet her husband's son, now a young man. Characters in the previous two books, like Paulette, reappear in Book Three.

To me the best thing, and I'm enthralled by this aspect, was the historical details, the many terms I learned, the inside look at the opium trade and the British East India Company, life in Bengali, and the pervasive corruption and evil of the drug trade.  We also see how the drug trade helped make Hong Kong a great city.

Some say the characters in Book Three are not as well developed as those in the first two segments and I guess I agree.

Don't consider reading Flood of Fire  without reading the first two installments.
To read it in full is a big commitment of reading time.  I was able to recall much of the first two segments by reading my posts on them.  My reading of the work was  over a five year period as I waited for parts two and three to be published.  In the interim I read the author's very good work set in mid 19th century Burma, The Glass Palace.

I strongly endorse this Trilogy to lovers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the time and place the book covers. The work has a kind of old fashioned feel to it which I relished.

Ghosh spent over ten years working on these books, you can see tremendous research behind the details.


Official Site of Amitav Ghosh

 My Prior Posts on Amitav Ghosh

Friday, May 19, 2017

Down Below by Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington (1917 to 2011) was born in England and died in a country she much preferred, Mexico. Interest in her writings and her surrealistic art is now quite high, brought on my recent publications occasioned by the 100th anniversary of her birth, including a collection of her short stories and a biography.

The first quandary one has upon completing Down Below, I read it the minimum needed twice, is to decide if it is a memoir of her period of mental illness and her confinement to an asylum, is it a work of the imagination perhaps stimulated by these experiences or should it be read as a fictional
account of the narrator's descent into madness?  Is it a Dantesque journey into the Under World, the Down Below, of Surrealism inspired by occult theories behind that movement?  You can read it as working out "Daddy Issues" with her very rich father who regarded her interest in the arts as itself a manifestation of mental illness

A good bit of the work is taken up with her time in the asylum.  She talks about her reaction to the arrest of her lover, a leading Surrealist. The narrator hallucinates and views workers and doctors as embodied representatives of evil spirits.  She sees her father everywhere.  We also go along when she escapes to a Mexican consulate and is given shelter, as we're many artists, from the Nazis.  She moves to Mexico.

She was initially pushed into madness when her great love, the artist Max Ernst, was sent to die in a concentration camp for producing what the Germans saw as "degenerate" art.  The narration mixes simple reporting of what happened to Carrington with out of accepted reality interpretation of events.  Down Under is considered one of the great treatments of the descent into madness.  It completely fascinated me.   In the way back I was fascinated by the occult, maybe I'm coming back to this.

The just published New York Review of Books edition of Down Below contains a very informative and generously lengthy introduction by Marina Warner, who was acquainted with Carrington.

Even the publication history of Down Below requires an explanation.  Here are the textual notes from the NYRB edition.

"NOTE ON THE TEXT First written in English in 1942 in New York (text now lost). Dictated in French to Jeanne Megnen in 1943, then published in VVV, No. 4, February 1944, in a translation from the French by Victor Llona. The original French dictation was published by Editions Fontaine, Paris, 1946. Both the French dictation and the Victor Llona translation were used as the basis for the text here, which was reviewed and revised for factual accuracy by Leonora Carrington in 1987."

My prior posts on the short fiction of Carrington contain links to nine of her short stories as well as articles and videos I found interesting.

Please share your experience with Carrington, either through her art or writings, with us.

Mel u

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey (2016)

I was drawn to read Idra Novey's debut novel, Ways to Disappear, for three reasons.  Firstly, It was awarded the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize by the Jewish Book Council for best Jewish book of 2017.  (I highly recommend subscribing to their newsletter.). Secondly she translated The Passion According to G. H. by Clarice Lispector, anyone that helps make her work more accessible has my great thanks. Finally it is set in Brazil, of which I have very fond memories.

The novel is a kidnapping crime mystery work.  One of Brazil's most loved writers was last seen, in Rio, climbing up a tree.  She is now missing.  Her American translator decides to search for her.    There is romance, hey it is Brazil, the ambience of the tropics, the corruption of Brazilian law enforcement, descriptions of Kilogramma, my favorite inexpensive Rio restaurant, and ever complicating mysteries.  Kidnapping is an ever present risk for the wealthy and it looks like this is what may have happened.

The translator reflects on her craft.  The missing writer is Jewish, as was Clarice Lispector, and we see aspects of traditional Jewish family practices.  The setting is not just Rio de Janeiro but also Salvador and an off shore resort island.

Jewish migration to Brazil   goes back to the start of Portuguese rule.  In the early 20th century many Jewish families, as did that of Clarice Lispector, left Eastern Europe for Brazil, to escape vicious anti-Semitic pograms.  Recife in Salvador was the most common initial destination.

Ways to Disappear is an exciting fast read, well worth your time.  It drew extensive rave reviews in the literary press.

Idra Novey is the author of the debut novel Ways to Disappear, winner of the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize, the 2016 Brooklyn Eagles Prize, and a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction. Her poetry collections include Exit, Civilian, selected for the 2011 National Poetry Series, The Next Coun­try, a final­ist for the 2008 Fore­word Book of the Year Award, and Clarice: The Visitor, a collaboration with the artist Erica Baum. Her fiction and poetry have been translated into ten languages and she’s written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, NPR’s All Things Con­sid­ered, New York Magazine, and The Paris Review. She is the recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Poets & Writ­ers Mag­a­zine, the PEN Trans­la­tion Fund, and the Poetry Foundation. She’s also translated the work of several prominent Brazilian writers, most recently Clarice Lispector’s novel The Pas­sion Accord­ing to G.H. She’s taught at Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity, Columbia, NYU, Fordham, the Catholic University of Chile, and in the Bard Prison Initiative. This fall she is the Visiting Distinguished Writer in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at LIU Brooklyn.  From

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Isabel Yap - Two Fascinating Works of Speculative Fiction

Isabel Yap's Webpage. Includes Links to her Stories

Very recently I read and posted on Alyssa Wong's Nebula Prize Winning short story, "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers".   In an interview on Wong's very well done webpage, she recommended several other writers of speculative fiction, among them Isabel Yap.

Isabel Yap's webpage has links to several works of speculative fiction (some use the term "fantasy").  Yap grew up in the greater Manila area, where many of my readers as well as my family and I live, and some of her fiction is set there.  I read two of her stories (there are links to all these stories on Yap's webpage) and I liked them both a lot.

Short, third-person bio: Isabel Yap writes fiction and poetry, works in the tech industry, and drinks tea. Born and raised in Manila, she has also lived in California, Tokyo, and London. In 2013 she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop. Her work has recently appeared on, Uncanny Magazine, Shimmer Magazine, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction volume 2. She is @visyapon Twitter and her website is
Photo credit: Katie Williams
Photo credit: Katie Williams
Longer bio:
I was born in Manila, Philippines in 1990, and grew up in Quezon City. In 2013 I graduated from Santa Clara University with a degree in Marketing and minors in Japanese and English. That same year, I attended the Clarion Writers Workshop in San Diego. By day I work for a San Francisco-based start-up in the mobile app industry (yes, it’s very Silicon Valley).
I once almost slid off the muddy face of Mt. Makiling and plummeted to my doom.
I like to write all kinds of things, especially short fiction and poetry. I’ve also written over a hundred fics for more than thirty fandoms. I haven’t written too many lately, but I pop up every now and then if I think a story needs telling.
Someday I hope to write longer things.
If you feed me sugar I will be rather pleased.
I like nice people, ugly dogs, observation, music, tea, hard lemonade, and ramen. From her webpage 

I will keep my comments on each story brief so as to allow those into speculative fiction to expand without having the plot of the stories overly revealed to them.

"The Orian's Song" is a very impressively written and researched work about the life of a woman being used, during World War II, as a "pleasure girl" by a troop of Japanese soldiers.  She was raised in the floating world of Tokyo in a tea shop, when such places were combinations of brothels and geisha houses.  The soldiers could not have afforded the rates of the floating world so below the surface this is a story of class distinctions.  The woman has been taught to shot and has other duties also.  We come to learn of the names of spirits of the countryside of Japan. The woman hates the soldiers, there is also a seemingly gay young man also with her.  "The Orian's" song is very interesting for the use of folk lore, the recreation of the days of World War II, and for the skill Yap shows in getting us involved with the characters.

"Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?" Is set in Manila.  It really does a wonderful job with the venue in an all girls private school and makes use of a wide range of suspicious or folk beliefs.  It is narrated via conversations among prep school girls.I admit I laughed out loud when I read these lines about one of the teachers at the school.

"Ms. Salinas was young and super skinny, which made up for her ducklike face. On the scale of teachers she was neither bad nor good. She liked to wear white pants, and a rumor had recently spread about how she liked to wear lime-green thongs and was therefore slutty. We amused ourselves during home ec. trying to look through her white pants every time she turned, crouched, or bent."

As to why wearing lime green thongs means you are a slut, who knows, but it for sure rang true as part of the conversations of the students.

The story begins with an account of the opening of the third eye of a teacher.  It quickly expands into various explanations as to how and why one of the students committed suicide.  The story does make uses of Tagalog expressions, to me they enhance the story.  Students at elite private schools all speak English, most instruction is done in English but in conversation even with each other in English they will often use Tagalog expressions.  Google translate will tell you "ate" means "older sister" but there is a deep cultural meaning to this expression and others used in the story.

The girls are all from affluent families and you can sense this in the story.  I really enjoyed this work.

I hope to follow Isabel Yap's development.

Mel u
The Reading Life

Friday, May 12, 2017

Smile by Roddy Doyle (2017)

Smile is the ninth novel by Roddy Doyle I have read and posted upon.  Obviously I greatly enjoy and admire his mostly set in Ireland novels.  I have also read a few of his short stories.

Smile focuses on a middle-aged recently divorced man, Victor Forde, on his own for the first time in years.  He has gotten in the habit of going to the same pub every night for a pint.  One evening a man his age, who he does not quite recall, comes over to speak.  It turns out they went to school together, the teachers were Christian Brothers.  The ensuing conversations bring back memories he had not wanted surfaced of sexual abuse by one of the Brothers.  The man had a sister that Victor fancied.

Flashing back to memories of childhood to those of his marriage we learn Victor was a well known radio commentator famous for his shocking remarks.  His wife is a very well known celebrity and a great beauty.

Like his other novels, Smile is very much a dialogue driven work, the conversations are sharp, funny and real.  We are given real insight into Victor.  As you read on you begin to reevaluate your assessment of Victor.

Smile was a great pleasure to read, just as I expected it would be.

I was kindly given a review copy of this book.

Mel u
The Reading Life

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" by Alyssa Wong ( 2015 Nebula Award Winner for Best Short Story and 2016 World Fantasy Award Winner for Best Short Fiction)

Alyssa Wong's Beautiful Webpage- Includes Links to Eight of her Award Winning Fiction 

From Nightmare Magazine May 2017- A Very Open and Interesting Conversation with Alyssa Wong

A few days ago I as kindly given a review copy of a forthcoming soon anthology, The New Voices of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman.  I was completely shocked by how much I liked the beautiful lead story, "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong.  Last month I first read the surrealistic short fiction of Leonora Carrington.  If April 2017 was for me the month I "discovered" Leonora Carrington, then quite possibly May will be observed as the month I first read Alyssa Wong.  I know this sounds hyperbolic but I can for sure visualize Leonora being stunned by "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers, i certainly was.  I was on first reading mesmerized by the sheer elegance of Wong's prose combined with the very ugly and evil story she tells.

Told in the first person by a young woman out on a first date with a man she met online, a Harvard alumni he claims, the setting is Manhattan.  She is from Taipei.They are on their way to dinner.  We soon learn the woman can read thoughts.  The man is trying to impress her by telling her of his penthouse complete with a Jacuzzi.  Most women would be frightened to learn their date was a serial killer was eagerly looking forward to splitting her body open.  I want to share enough of Wong's style to give my readers a fair sample of her style, which I just love:

"As we cruise uptown toward his fancy-ass penthouse, I ask him to pull over near the Queensboro Bridge for a second. Annoyance flashes across his face, but he parks the Tesla in a side street. I lurch into an alley, tottering over empty cans and discarded cigarettes in my four-inch heels, and puke a trail of champagne and kale over to the dumpster shoved up against the apartment building. “Are you all right?” Harvey calls. “I’m fine,” I slur. Not a single curious window opens overhead. His steps echo down the alley. He’s gotten out of the car, and he’s walking toward me like I’m an animal that he needs to approach carefully. Maybe I should do it now. Yes! Now, now, while the bitch is occupied. But what about the method? I won’t get to see her insides all pretty everywhere—I launch myself at him, fingers digging sharp into his body, and bite down hard on his mouth. He tries to shout, but I swallow the sound and shove my tongue inside. There, just behind his teeth, is what I’m looking for: ugly thoughts, viscous as boiled tendon. I suck them howling and fighting into my throat as Harvey’s body shudders, little mewling noises escaping from his nose. I feel decadent and filthy, swollen with the cruelest dreams I’ve ever tasted. I can barely feel Harvey’s feeble struggles; in this state, with the darkest parts of himself drained from his mouth into mine, he’s no match for me. They’re never as strong as they think they are. By the time he finally goes limp, the last of the thoughts disappearing down my throat, my body’s already changing. My limbs elongate, growing thicker, and my dress feels too tight as my ribs expand."  She changes briefly into his appearance, before she leaves his body near a dumpster, not knowing or caring if he is still alive.

This is not the first man whose life she has ended.   "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" shows us the sexual love of our narrator, her roommate and a high fashion woman she meets for each other.  We also meet the narrator's mother, a hoarder whose house is shoulder high packed with junk, including jars containing the essences of men she has killed, including our narrator's father.  Her mother advised her it is best just to go for common criminals as no one will make a big effort to figure out why they disappeared.  There is a deep feeling of evil in the story, hidden by the beautiful prose and the elegance of the women.

Wong says she wants to write stories in which the chief characters are Asian American lesbians.  There is much in the story I have not touched upon, I want first time readers to not have too much advanced knowledge.

Bio Data from the collection

Alyssa Wong’s considerable reputation rests on only the handful of stories. Still in her mid-twenties, she is the youngest author to appear in this collection. Her work has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Black Static,, and Lightspeed: Queers Destroy Science Fiction. Her first published story, “The Fisher Queen,” earned immediate acclaim and was nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Shirley Jackson awards. Wong’s fourth story, “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” was published the following year to even stronger acclaim, winning the Nebula and World Fantasy awards, and was nominated for the Shirley Jackson and the Bram Stoker awards, and was a finalist for the Locus Award. She was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2016. She lives in Raleigh.

She is the first author of Filipino ancestry to win a Nebula Award.

I will be reading and posting on seven more of her stories.

If just a few of the stories in The New Voices of Fantasy are close to this good, it is well worth acquiring.

Leonora Carrington, best known broadly for her paintings had a very long, seventy years or so, creative career.  I wish the same for Alyssa Wong.

Mel u

Monday, May 8, 2017

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi (2013)

2017 African Reading Challenge- Hosted by Kinna Reads

I have wanted to read Ghana Must Go for years.   I read and posted on her debut work of fiction, "The Sex Lives of African Girls" which was published in The Best American Short Stories of 2012.

As the novel opens Kwaki Sai, a doctor, has returned to Ghana, from living for a long time in America.  He is now living,in a house he designed, with his second wife.  He is slowly dying of a heart attack and is recalling, in a poetically rendered cascade of images, his five children, with his first wife, all grown now and highly accomplished immigrants to America.

The children learn of the news of the death of their father while still in America and plan a reunion in Ghana.  His oldest son has followed his father to become a surgeon, he is married to a Chinese American woman. The Guardian review perfectly describes the children:

"Across the ocean in America their children learn of the news. They have their own pre-existing pockets of grief. There is Olu, the oldest, responsible, neat, also a surgeon, married in Las Vegas to Ling, a Chinese-American for whom his love knows neither beginning nor end, yet whom he finds it difficult to accept as his family. There are Taiwo and Kehinde, the beautiful hazel-eyed twins, whose relationship and self-image were skewered by a horrific episode in Lagos when they were children. Taiwo, a gifted writer, sulky and aloof, is studying to be a lawyer, but flounders into a scandalous affair with the dean of her college. Kehinde has become a successful painter, hidden away in a warehouse studio in Brooklyn with scars on his wrist. And then there is Sadie, the youngest, her mother's favourite, the most insecure of all and bulimic with it, studying her hardest at university to shine as brightly as her siblings."

We learn that Africa students are under intense pressure to excel.  The tangled web of colonialism impacts every one in the story.  I sense that people from Ghana tend to feel inferior to Nigerians, or maybe that is just the perception of Nigerians.

Selasi elegantly renders the chaos of Accra, which is still a magnet for self-exiled citizens.  We see the interactions between the educated affluent Ghanaians and other residents, servants, cab drivers and such.  We see relationships between generations.  There is a starkly rendered horrific sex scene I found disturbing.  Violence is never far from the surface in Accra.

This is a challenging book,just as the immigrant experience confuses the characters, we must concentrate to follow the narrative.

The prose is lush and poetic.  The characters are real and very interesting.

A writer and photographer of Nigerian and Ghanaian descent, born in London and raised in Boston, now living in Rome and Berlin, who has studied Latin and music, Taiye Selasi is herself a study in the modern meaning of identity. In 2005 she published the much-discussed (and controversial) essay "Bye-Bye, Babar (Or: What Is an Afropolitan?)," offering an alternative vision of African identity for a transnational generation. Prompted by writer Toni Morrison, the following year she published the short story "The Sex Lives of African Girls" in the literary magazine Granta.
Her first novel Ghana Must Go, published in 2013, is a tale of family drama and reconciliation, following six characters and spanning generations, continents, genders and classes.

2017 is the fifth year  Kinna Reads has hosted an African Reading challenge.  This novel begins my participation in this wonderful event.  The rules and reading suggestions can be found on the link at the top of this post.

Mel u

Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Uncle Sam Carrington" by Leonora Carrington (1939)

I tried to discover if Carrington had an Uncle Sam but I did not find any references to him in various brief online biographies.  I do know Carrington had serious "Daddy Issues" with her very wealthy father, a Northern England industrialist.   

Uncle Sam Carrington and his wife Aunt Edgeworth (is the name meant to echo Maria Edgeworth?, it brought her to mind for me) occupy the first floor of the family residence.  They laugh hysterically at the full moon and are a source of embarrassment to the narrator's mother.  The narrator, a young girl, sets out one night, carrying a loaf of bread and a jar of jam, to find a solution.  After passing some cabbages involved in a nasty fight, she encounters a good friend, one she tells us will play a big part in her future, a talking horse.  The horse tells her to seek the council of two sisters.  Of course the two sisters are very strange.  She asks them for their help, they ascent to her request but tell her they will ask a high fee.  In these words you can enjoy the flavor of the story.

"The book was titled: The Secrets of the Flowers of Distinction and the Coarseness of Food. When the two women had left, the horse asked: “Do you know how to walk without making a sound?” “Certainly,” I answered. “Then let’s see the señoritas devoted to their work,” he said. “But if your life matters to you, don’t make a sound.” The señoritas were in their orchard which extended behind the house, surrounded by a wide wall. I mounted the horse and a surprising scene offered itself to my eyes: the señoritas Cunningham-Jones, each armed with an immense whip, were striking the vegetables, and shouting: “It’s necessary to suffer in order to go to heaven. Those who do not wear corsets will never arrive.” The vegetables, on their part, fought among themselves, and the older ones threw the smaller ones at the señoritas with angry screams. “Each time it happens so,” murmured the horse. “They are the vegetables that suffer on behalf of humanity. Soon you will see how they pick one for you, one that will die for the cause.” The vegetables did not have an enthusiastic air over dying an honorable death. But the señoritas were stronger. Soon two carrots and a little cabbage fell between their hands."

You can see this as a surrealistic mockery of religious doctrines of numerous sorts.  Horse are important to Carrington.  

In an interview toward the end of her life Carrington said art critics tend to Way over intellectualize her work, looking for hidden meanings.  Carrington tells us just look at her paintings, don't over think them.  For now I am just trying to enjoy the stories of Carrington as I make my first ventures into her world via her short stories.

I am a totally new reader of Carrington, there may well be factual errors in my posts, please feel free to share your knowledge with us 

My prior posts contain links to very good video presentations on Carrington.  

Mel u

Friday, May 5, 2017

"The Oval Lady" by Leonora Carrington (1939, republished in 1975)

Leonora Carrington- Britain's Last Surrealist Tate Shots. A wonderful beautifully done video -  (By the author of The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington, Joanna Moorhead, includes a conversation with  Carrington as well as images of her art)

Leonora Carrington A Surrealist Trip 

"The Occult Lady" was first published in 1939, in French along with six other stories.  In 1975 it was republished in English, translated by Rochelle Holt.  As far as I can determine it out of print and may still be under copyright protection in many countries.  I found online a PDF of the collection, which you can download and read if you wish.  I don't know a lot about Lucretia Carrington but I am pretty sure she would not mind.

As of now I have read and posted upon four of Lenora Carrington's surrealistic short stories.  All are quite brief and can be given a first read in five minutes or so.  Carrington is best known for her art.  Authorities on her work suggest you need an understanding of the symbolism of magic, alchemy, witchcraft and Mexican mythology to decipher the meaning of her stories.  In the long ago I made a bit of a study of such things but I resist for now seeing the best way to way to experience her fiction as attempting to decipher hidden meanings accessible only to occult initiates.

Violence is in all of the stories I have so far read, a cruel murder and the worship of the dead, hate of parents, a talking hyena and a very strange fly are just a few of the delights of her story.

As the story opens the narrator has now walked past the window of a mansion seven times. A very tall thin woman is always standing behind the window, never moving. As the narrator approached the door, it opened.  The lady in the window is ten feet tall, at least.  She does not turn to look at her visitor who struggles to find a conversational entrance:

"Senora, do you like poetry?"

No, I detest poetry

Perhaps you might like a cup tea?

I don't drink.  I don't eat.  I do that to protest against my father, the goat".

The tall girl, her name is Lucretia, she is sixteen, takes the girl to her toy room.  She loves her wooden horse.  Her pet raven Matilda, whose tongue she split ten years ago, flies into the room.  An old servant woman lurking in the background tells Lucretia she must report her activities to her father, whom Lucretia hates and fears.

Ravens, Matilda, wooden horses, oval shaped dishes, giant girls, the number seven all do have occult meanings.

The father inflicts a cruel punishment on Lucretia.

Mel u

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Master by Colm Toibin (2004, Short Listed for the Booker Prize)

Colm Toibin has obtained great commercial and literary success. I have posted on several of his novels and short stories as well as his works of literary criticism.

I first read his The Master about ten years ago, before I began The Reading Life.  I was motivated to read it again by all the glowing reviews and by the sale price for the Kindle edition of $2.95.  I also wanted to reread it after reading a number of the fictions of James and a biography of Constance Fenimore Woolson, about whom I knew nothing ten years ago.

The Master focuses on the life of Henry James from January 1895 to October 1899, years he lived in London.  It is centered on the interior world of James.  It opens with the humiliation of James when his play Guy Domville is a total flop on the London Stage.  James reacts by deciding he needs more solitude to focus on his novels.  He buys a house in London.  One of the things I  recalled from ten years ago was the great pleasure skill Toibin had in showing us the great joy James found in furnishing his house.

We see his complicated relationship to his brother William and his sister Alice as well as to his parents.  The mystery of the sexuality of James is dealt with very subtly.  Homosexuality was illegal and the fate of Oscar Wilde was very harsh.

James had a very close relationship to the American novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson, which plays a large part in The Master.  Some say it was the inability or refusal of James to enter into a romantic relationship with her that led to her suicide.  This is of course speculation.  We see him with her in Venice.

If you are into Henry James then you will find The Master fascinating, as did I.

Mel u

Monday, May 1, 2017

The April Reading Life Review

I will remember April 2017 as the month I first encountered Leonora Carrington

April Blog Stats

There was a surprising change in the top blog visiting home countries, for the first time since I began to track this over seven years ago, India was in second place.

The Philippines

I have had 4,573,305 page views since inception

There was also a change in the most viewed post category

The most  viewed post was

"The Assignment" by Sadaat Manto Hasan, a classic Partition short story, in second place was Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford.  Rounding out the top five were three stories by writers from the Philippines.

The latest new country was Mali.  I also received my first visit, since I began tracking this in February of 2016, from American Samoa.

There are now 3035 posts.

Works Read on Which I did not Post

A Serious History of Jewish Comedy by Jeremy Dauber.  A very good book with some Hilarious jokes:

"An iconic joke of the period depicts two Jews before a Russian firing squad, both offered blindfolds. One accepts, the other scornfully refuses. His friend urges him: “Shh . . . don’t make trouble.”

Hadrian the Seventh by Baron Corvo.  A very strange book!

"A Birthday" by Katherine Mansfield

"The Semplica-Girl Diary" by George Saunders

"Kohl Do" by Sadaat Manto Hasan.  Another Partition short story, some say his most famous work

Literary Biographies

Last month I read two works named by Richard Holmes as among the very best of the form

Lytton Strachey The New Biography by Michael Holyrod

The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography by A. J. A. Symons


Way Station by Clifford Simak. - A Hugo Award Winner

The House of Dreams by Colm Toibin

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Bloodlines by Octavia Butler - A Hugo and Nebula Prize Winning Novella.  A powerful work

Swing Time by Zadie Smith.  Loved it and will try to read all her other novels soon.  I have read several of her short stories

The Dream by Ivan Turgenev, a novella, a rare venture into the supernatural

Additionally I read and posted on four Yiddish Short Stories and three by authors from the Indian Subcontinent

Review Policies

I have no defined policy.  I look at every book I am sent.  I am very interested in posting on new works of literary biography.

Leonora Carrington

I read three of her Surrealist short stories.  I will be reading as much of her work as well as secondary works on her as I can.  I admit I was spooked out a bit when I saw her with a cat that looked just like our Mr. C, passed away in 2012 after 19 years.

I offer my great thanks to all who leave comments.  They are very appreciated and help keep me going.

Mel u

Sunday, April 30, 2017

"The Crocodile's Lady" by Manoj Das (1975)

"Is there something special about the Indian short story? I think there is. It sticks to the traditional rules of the craft. It is in fact short and not a novella or an abridged novel. It revolves round one or at the most two or three characters and does not have a long list of dramatis personae as in novels. It is limited in time and space and does not span decades or spread out in different locales. It also has a well-formulated central theme and does not touch upon several topics or clashes of personalities. It has a distinct beginning, a build-up and usually a dramatic end, frequently an unexpected one which sums up the story. Western short stories tend to be prolix, leaving the reader to guess what it is all about"   Khushwant Singh

"Crocodile's Lady" by Manoj Das (1975, first published in The Illustrated Weekly of India, edited by Khushwant Singh, 1969 to 1979, a premier source for the publication of quality short stories and poems) is a story in the tradition of magic realism.  It is a delightful story which can fairly be called a work of magic realism.  Some say magic realism was born in South America, in truth this tradition in India goes back at least to before Homer.

As the story opens a Western professor visiting India wants to see a real village.  He is taken deep country to a village where there are no other cars in eight miles, few residents have ever seen a movie and the village youngsters come just to look at him.

He tells the man who accompanied him, he was born in the village but moved to the big city long ago,  that he wants to bath in the river as long as the crocodiles are not dangerous.  He is told a wonderful story of "The Crocodile's Lady" who lives in the village, ninety-four years old, widowed at age four.

They had a daughter who had been married at the age of three and had become a widow at four. She lived with her parents and, people say, grew up to be a beautiful damsel. ‘One day while bathing in the river with the other women, she was dragged away by a crocodile. She was given up for dead. But a decade later she suddenly reappeared in the village. Her father had died and her mother was dying. Their little hut on the river was in shreds. ‘One morning, two days later, a crocodile was found crawling on the embankment behind her hut. The earth, loose at one place, gave way under its weight. It slipped down on the village side of the embankment and the people thrashed it to death."

I don't want to tell more of the story, but I really enjoyed this work.  It does an excellent job combining folk stories with magic realism techniques.

I read it in Best Indian Short Stories, Vol. 1, edited and introduced by Khushwant Singh.

Mel u

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Lytton Strachey The New Biography by Michael Holroyd (856 pages, 1994 revision of 1968 original)

"‘What he released was a generation of brilliant experimenters in biographical narrative, who at last began to ask how lives can be genuinely reconstructed …’ Richard Holmes

Lytton Strachey-1880 to 1932

Eminent Victorians 1918

Queen Victoria 1930

When I saw Richard Holmes placed Lytton Strachey The New Biography by Michael Holroyd in his list of Canon status biographies (only six twentieth century Works made the list, including Strachey's Eminent Victorians) I decided I must read this book.  I have a great fondness for literary biographies and I found many saw this book as the best of the century.

I don't wish to give a brief synopsis of Strachey's life but just to make a few reading journal comments.  All who ever hope to write a literary biography should read this book.  Anyone at all interested in the Bloomsbury group will find it a great treasure.

Holyrod brought Cambridge vividly to reality. Strachey is a Gay icon and we learn a lot about his and his circles sex lives and romantic entanglements.  Famous and infamous writers and artists come and go, among them Virginia Woolf, Rosamund Lehmann and Katherine Mansfield.  We are there when Lytton begins to first publish and rejoice over his commercial success.  Lytton never had anything as prosaic as a job for very long.  In his younger days he had modest subsidies from his family but he did become quite affluent through book sales.  Lytton did have long term relationships with women, which might have had sexual elements.  (The movie Carrington was based on his life.). He lived, and thrived, in a high drama atmosphere.  He avoided service in WW One.  He was very influenced by G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica, knew Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell.  The great economist John Maynard Keynes and E. F. Forster were close to him.  Bunny Garnett, son of Constance Garnett who made the Russian literary pantheon available to highly influence Lytton and others, was part of Bloomsbury.

There is just a huge amount in this book I have not touched upon.  The prose is beautiful, highly learned without being tediously pedagogical.

Lytton was a good man, loyal to his friends and devoted to his family.  He inspired love in men and women.  He was a devotee to the Reading Life.  He loved Proust and was overwhelmed by Dostoevsky.

This book is not a casual read.  It is biography elevated to high art.  I am very glad I read this book and I think all serious literary autodidacts would be so also.

Mel u

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"Hamid's Baby" by Saadat Hadas Manto (1953)

"Hamid's Baby"

"Whorehouses and shrines—I feel at peace nowhere else. I’ll quit going to whorehouses soon enough because my money’s about to run out. But India has thousands of saints. I’ll go find one when my time comes.’ ‘Why do you like whorehouses and shrines?’ I asked. He thought for a moment and then answered, ‘Because there, from top to bottom, it’s all about deception. What better place could there be for a person who wants to deceive himself?’ ‘If you like listening".

Saadat Hasan Manto (often called "The Sage of Pakistan") was born in 1912 in Sampala, in then British India, he died in Lahore Pakistan in 1955.  He published twenty two collections of short stories.  He wrote about the impact of the Partition, the lives of those involved with Bollywood, but his best work seems to often involve prostitutes, pimps, and their clients.  Just like Guy de Maupassant.  The extreme poverty and the rigid caste system funneled millions of women into prostitution, the rigid moral code which stipulated a woman should remain a virgin until marriage produced a massive demand.  The workers range from super expensive actresses to young girls following the family tradition.  Many Dalit women became prostitutes.

"Hamid's Baby", I decided to post on this particular story as it can be read online, is a very well done work.

A wealthy older friend of Hamid's late father has arrived from Lahore for a ten day
visit.  He expects Hamid to be at his beg and call as he tours the brothels of Bombay.
The friend's wallet is crammed with 100 Rupee notes.  We soon learn a fresh young girl just in from her village is 100 rupees for 24 hours.  Of course women can be had for much less.  We also learn gangsters charge 1000 Rupees to kill someone.

They hook up, after renting a nice private taxi, with a well known pimp.  He takes the pair to several brothel apartments but nothing suits the guest.  Finally the pimp says ok I know of a Maratha girl, 17, just starting working recently, very innocent and lovely.  They go there and Hamid is struck by how lovely she is and almost offended when he finds out you can have her for 100 rupees.  His friend doesn't want her, saying he doesn't really fancy her.  He recognizes Hamid does and insists on treating him, Hamid is married with kids and feels a bit ashamed of himself, but he goes to a hotel and has sex with the girl while his rich friend goes off with the pimp to explore the decadence and depravity of Bombay.

Hamid becomes infatuated with the girl and sees her twenty days in a row.  Realizing this is a dangerous course of action for a married man, he stops going to the brothel apartment to get her.  But then four months later he feels the urge to go back.  To his dismay she is visibly pregnant.  Fearing he is the father he buys her drugs supposed to cause a miscarriage but they don't work.  He knows his marriage will be ruined if his wife discovers his indiscretion. Her pimp when the man returns to see if she is still pregnant tells Hamid he sent her back to her village to have her baby.   About six months later, shortly after the baby would have been born, Hamid goes to her village.  Once he gets there he hires a gangster to kill the baby but the gangster has a heart and he just turns the baby over to Hamid and tells him to kill the baby, a boy.  Hamid is just ready to smash the baby with a huge grinding stone when he decides to see what his baby looks like.  I will leave the ending for new readers.

The best way I'm aware to sample Manto's work is in the collection Bombay Stories.

His work belongs in the canon of short stories.

Mel u

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"The Beloved" by Leonora Carrington (1975)

The Reading Life Leonora Carrington Project

I will remember April, 2017 as the month I "discovered" Leonora Carrington.  I know most of us living a reading life have had the experience of being amazed by a new to us writer, someone you had never even heard about before the day you first read their work.  You do a bit of Googling only to learn you are seemingly among the very few who have not long ago read their work.  This is a humbling experience but also one of the great pleasures of the reading life world has to offer.  This is how I feel now about Leonora Carrington.  (Be sure and look at her art work also.)

As "My Beloved" opens, it is structured as the narrator repeating the story of another, a man tells a very strange story

"Without letting me go, he took me to the inside of the store, among fruits and vegetables. We shut a door at the far end, and we reached a room where there was a bed on which an immovable and probably dead woman lay. It appeared to me that she had been there for a long time since the bed was covered with weeds. “I water her every day,” said the fruitman with a pensive air. “In 40 years I have not succeeded in knowing whether she is dead or not. She has never moved, nor spoken, nor eaten during that time. But the curious thing is that she remains warm. If you don’t believe me, look.”

My main purpose in posting on her very brief and very weird short story, "The Beloved", reading time under five minutes) is to keep a record of my path through her work and to let my others interested know it can be read online.  (It is included in The Oval Lady Six Stories by Leonora Carrington, published in 1975.  I do not yet know if that was where it first published, if you know, please tell me.)

One of the surrealistic markers of the short stories of Carrington is the telling of very strange totally absurd defying all logic events in a completely straightforward fashion, as if the talking head of an old woman  on a rope in "The Beloved" who says she is not the landlord, rather the fox is is perfectly normal and requires no explanation.

You can see the charm of the story here

"There was no other remedy than to direct ourselves to the fox. ‘Have you beds?’ I asked several times. Nobody responded: he didn’t know how to speak. And again the head, older than the other, but which now descended slowly through the window tied to the end of a little cord. ‘Direct yourself to the wolves; I am not the landlord here. Let me sleep! please!’ I understood that that head was crazy and I did not have the heart to continue. Agnes kept crying. I walked around the house a few times and finally, I was able to open a window, through which we entered. Then we found ourselves in a kitchen with a high ceiling; over a large oven made hot by fire were some vegetables that were cooking and they jumped in the boiling water, a thing that much amused us. We ate well and then we laid ourselves down on the floor. I had Agnes in my arms. We did not sleep. That terrible kitchen contained all kinds of things. Many rats had stuck their heads out of their holes"

I don't doubt this has echoes of mythological and religious references I am not yet getting but really the story is just so much fun.

In observation of the 100th birth anniversary (April 6, 1917) of Leonora Carrington two collections of her short stories and a fascinating sounding biography by Joanna Moorhead, The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington are being published. Carrington was very closely associated with the Surrealist movement, both personally and artistically.  (In the long ago I visited the Museum of the Museo Nationale de Anthropologia in Mexico City where I must have seen one of her works.  Her art is on display in major museums throughout the world.) There are several good articles giving an overview of the life and work of Carrington online, the one from the BBC I linked above is a very good first resource as is our old standby, Wikipedia.

Mel u

Leonora Carrington- Britain's Last Surrealist Tate Shots. A wonderful beautifully done video -  (By the author of The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington, Joanna Moorhead, includes a conversation with  Carrington as well as images of her art)

Leonora Carrington A Surrealist Trip from Lancashire to Mexico. From the BBC

You can read "The Beloved" here

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"The Death of Shaikh Burhanuddin" by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (1963?)

Also known as Khama Ahmed Abbas, one of the greatest 20th century Punjabi authors

The Reading Life Guide to Getting Started in the Indian Short Story

"The Death of Shaikh Burhanuddin" by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (translated from Urdu by Khushwant Singh, my date of publication information is a guess) is told from the point of view of a Muslim man living in New Delhi at the times of the horrible post partition religious based riots in which thousands were killed, massive amounts of property was stolen or destroyed.  The three primary opposed factions were Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.  The narrator has a viscous hatred for Sikhs, partially coming from their support of the British during the period of the Raj.  He also feels contempt for what he sees as the filthy unkept beards and long hair of the men.  (He does admire the beauty of the women.)

"My name is Shaikh Burhanuddin. When violence and murder became the order of the day in Delhi and the blood of Muslims flowed in the streets, I cursed my fate for having a Sikh for a neighbour. Far from expecting him to come to my rescue in times of trouble, as a good neighbour should, I could not tell when he would thrust his kirpan into my belly. The truth is that till then I used to find the Sikhs somewhat laughable. But I also disliked them and was somewhat scared of them."

Abbas in just a few pages brings the sheer madness and terror of the riots very much to life.  Like any racist, he finds the cultural customs of the groups he hates ridiculous .  He is fixated on what he sees as the unkept long hair and beards of the men.  As a legacy of colonialism, he has a grudging admiration for the British.

Toward the close of the story, a Sikh mob has approached the narrators house.  They are bent mostly on stealing everything they can from his house, if he gets in the way or if he is unlucky, he and his family will be killed.  His Sikh neighbor comes out of his house and tells the Sikh mob that he is entitled to first picks of the items in the house as he has had to endure the man's abuse for years.  As the mob moves on (I will tell more of the plot than I normally would as most will not be able to read this story as it is not online, as far as I know), the narrator is shocked when the Sikh and his family return all the items they had taken from his house, their intention all along was to protect the narrator.

This is a very exciting story, violent, full of vivid descriptions and scenes of religious hatred magnified by post colonial attitudes redeemed by a very courageous act. I see it as a classic post partition short story.

This story is included in an anthology I highly recommend, My Favorite Short Stories, edited by Khushwant Singh and Neelam Kumar.  Their are a generous  selection of stories from the major language groups and a decent introduction with good mini- bios of the authors.  This would be a decent pick as your started Indian Short Story Collection.  My only fault with it is that they do not provide first publication data on the stories.

Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (1914-1989) was a journalist, novelist and film producer-director of international repute. A writer with leftist leanings, Abbas published over 40 books in Urdu including Diya Jale Sari Raat (novel), Main Kaun Hun, Ek Ladki and Zafran Ke Phul —all collections of short stories. His other important works include When Night Falls, Face to Face with Khrushchev, a 2-part biography of Mrs Indira Gandhi —Indira Gandhi: Return of the Red Rose and its sequel That Woman.

Mel u

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Two Short Stories by Chanelle Benz,from The Man Who Shot Out my Eyes, her debut collection

The Diplomat's Daughter

James III

Website of Chanelle

Based on the advance press on The Man Who Shot Out my Eyes, the debut short story collection of Chanelle Benz, my expectations were very high for the two of her short stories that I was happily able to find online. Both are included in the collection which I hope to read and post further upon in May.  I loved both stories and do not at all hesitate to endorse purchase of her collection.  It is good to see such great stories by a new writer.  Interestingly both of these very different stories comply with Frank O'Connors famous dictum that the deepest Short Stories deal with loneliness, given voice to the marginalized, speak for the mute.  In both these stories Benz dramatically  presents the consequences of loneliness and marginalization.

I will just talk a bit about each story as I do not wish to spoil anyone's first read.  I read each story twice and will hopefully reread them in May along with the full collection.

"The Diplomat's Daughter" focuses on a young woman, once kidnapped away from the home of her American diplomat father.  It is a fast moving story, beginning in a terrorist cell in the Kalahiri Desert, Beirut in the time period 2001 to 2011.  The woman is under the sway of a man who uses her for sex and to commit terrorist acts.  It is evidently the Stockholm syndrome impacting her.  Then we flash back  to Lynchburg, Virginia in 1997 where we see her as an adolescent, insecure about her weight and being a typical difficult at times teenager.  There are segments in Mexico City, back in Beirut, and in Washington, D.C.  As I read the story, told mostly in very skillfully rendered dialogue, it reads almost like a play, I tried to ponder what terrible emotional lacuna could I discover from the conversations of the young woman with her siblings and her Columbian stepmother.  In a away I'm inclined to see her as somehow suggesting the father of the terrorist own repudiation of America but maybe this is pushing things.  This is a beautiful story that will more than repay repeated readings.

"James III" is set in the rough poverty ridden inner city of Philadelphia.  It is narrated by a twelve year old boy, he has just been mugged, his shoes have been stolen and it
a very cold winter.  The boy's father is in prison, his mother has a boyfriend.  He decided to take the train to his aunt.  We subtly are shown he is not just your ordinary inner city boy when he makes a reference to Mr. Brown low, Oliver Twist's benefactor.  He goes to a Quaker school, tuition paid by his aunt.  He reads the sonnets of Petrach.

Much of the plot action is carried by dialogue.  The boy lives in a rough world where showing any weakness is a mistake.  We go along when his cousin takes him to visit his father.  We learn how he came to be James III.

"“And I’m named after my father, your granddaddy. Now that man? That man was born evil and done stayed that way. But because he was named James, I got named James, and your grandmomma said you got to be named James, that way at the end of the day you got his hard and my heart. You James the third.”

"James III" presents a very intelligent young msn, he was in the state spelling be finals, forced to be wise beyond his years.  We get a sense we are in The Philadelphia inner city.  We hope for the best for James.

These are two first rate stories.  As mentioned, I hope to read the full collection in May.

Chanelle Benz has published short stories in Guernica,, Electric Literature'sRecommended Reading, The American Reader, Fence and The Cupboard, and is the recipient of an O. Henry Prize. She received her MFA at Syracuse University as well as a BFA in Acting from Boston University. She is of British-Antiguan descent and currently lives in Houston.  From

Mel u

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Leonora Carrington and Katherine Mansfield -- Two Fly Centered Short Stories

A link to "Mr Gregory's Fly"

Leonora Carrington- Britain's Last Surrealist Tate Shots. A wonderful beautifully done video -  (By the author of The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington, Joanna Moorhead, includes a conversation with  Carrington as well as images of her art)

Leonora Carrington A Surrealist Trip from Lancashire to Mexico. From the BBC

I first began reading the short stories of Katherine Mansfield almost eight years ago, I read my first work by Leonora Carrington eight days ago.  I recently completed (post coming soon) a very illuminating and valuable work on Mansfield by Gerri Kimber, Katherine Mansfield The Early Years which has inspired me to reread her stories.  The centenary observation of the birth of Carrington has stimulated renewed interest in her stories (she is most famous for her Surrealistic art).  Two editions of her stories have just been published as well as a biography by Joanne Moorhead, The Surrealistic Life of Leonora Carrington, which I hope to post upon next month.  The NYRB has just brought back into print Carrington's memoir of her mental breakdown, Down Below with a very informative introduction by Marina Warner.  I have been able to locate eight of Carrington's stories online and will post on all of them individually just as I did with Mansfield.  My quick research indicates that several of Carrington's works are out of print but hopefully renewed interest will bring them back into print.  You can view, and I think you will be fascinated as I was, many of her paintings online.  

I don't yet know if Carrington read Mansfield's short stories or not but for sure there are significant Life similarities worth remarking upon.  Both came from wealthy families, Carrington's father was a wealthy industrialist, Mansfield's was Chairman of the Bank of New Zealand.  Both women had serious  issues dealing with dominating fathers with little sympathy for their artistic interests.

Both left their home countries at an early age, never to live there again.  Both began to seriously pursue their passions only after becoming an exile.  Both drew inspiration for their work from their adolescent angst, it shines through in the first story I posted on by Carrington, "The Debutante".  Both had an interest in the Occult, Carrington's the stronger.  Both were drawn to "Guru" type men.  

After reading  Carrington's "Mr Gregory's Fly" I decided to reread a Mansfield story I read eight years ago, "The Fly".  I was happy to see I could recall almost all the story.  The first time I read it I was doing a "read through" of Mansfield's stories, about eight core works.  I wanted to see if I would still love it after eight years of reading short stories.  I found the story deeply moving for the  portrayal of the grief of two old men, both from England, one was once the other's boss, who talk over their mutual loss of a son during WW One (Mansfield's beloved brother was killed in the war).  One of the men is now retired, he has had a stroke and his wife and daughters supervise him closely.  On Tuesdays he is allowed to go out on his own and he often goes to visit his former boss at his office.  You can see both men are normally emotionally reserved but the conversation about their lost sons causes the boss to breakdown.  When left alone he notices a fly has gotten some ink on his wings (people used fountain pins and inkwells in 1922).  He watches the fly try to dry his wings.  I don't want to impair the first time experience of new readers on this story so I will tell no more of the plot.  In the fate of the fly the man seems to see the fate of his son, on another level the man takes on the role of the cruel Gods that took his son from him, that took all meaning from his life accumulating business which he intended to pass to his son.  The close is open to numerous views and I am sure this would be a very good classroom story for advanced students. 

"Mr Gregory's Fly" is a surrealistic story, very different from "The Fly".  Gloria Orenstein in her introduction to the 1975 collection of six of Her says

"Leonora Carrington's express the system of being through occult parables whose true meaning becomes accessible to those initiated into the specific form of symbolism that a work displays. The symbols are emblems derived from a deep knowledge of alchemy, Cabala, Magic, the Tarot, witchcraft and mythology".

I have issues with the notion of short stories having "a true meaning" but this is an illuminating remark.  Long long ago I was quite into the occult, I studied various system of Magik.  I know Katherine Mansfield had some acquaintance with occult theories on the order of those expounded by The Order of the Golden Dawn but I did not recall any specific occult symbolism about flys.  I did a Google search and did not find any big revelations so I decided just to enjoy "Mr Gregory's Fly" as fun very brief surrealistic story poking fun at a pretentious business man. 

"Once there was a man with a big black moustache. His name was Mr. Gregory (the man and the moustache had the same name). Since his youth Mr. Gregory was bothered by a fly that used to enter his mouth when he spoke, and when somebody spoke to him, the fly would fly out of his ear. “This fly annoys me,” said Mr. Gregory to his wife, and she answered, “I understand, and it looks ugly. You ought to consult a doctor.” However no doctor was able to cure Mr. Gregory of his fly. Although he went to see several doctors, they always said that they had never heard of this disease. One day Mr. Gregory went to see another doctor, but he got the wrong address and by mistake went to see a midwife. She was a wise woman and she knew a lot of other things besides childbirthing."

This captures well the flavor of the prose.  The wise woman says she can get rid of the fly but the man must give her three quarters of his assets to her.  He agrees knowing he actually owns little or nothing.  He follows her suggestion, the fly is gone but there is a side effect:

"Later Mr. Gregory took the pills in the tea made of little drops of mustard in noodle water, according to the instructions of the wise woman. Next day the fly had totally disappeared, but Mr. Gregory had become navy blue with red zip fasteners over his orifices. “It’s worse than the fly,” said his wife, but Mr. Gregory didn’t say much because he knew that he had cheated the wise woman. I deserved it, he thought. If I only had that little fly again, I’d be happy. But he was still navy blue with red zip fasteners and stayed like that till the end of his days, and this was very ugly, especially when he was naked in his bath."

To me "Mr Gregory's Fly" is and was meant to be fun but I don't doubt there are deeper meanings.

Mel u

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Two Yiddish Short Stories by Joseph Opatoshu (Aka Yousef or Yosef) author of The Romance of a Horse Thief

Yousef Opatoshu, 1986, born in Miana Poland, moved to New York City, 1907, died in New York City 1954, (aka Yosef, Americanized pen  name Joseph) did not begin writing Yiddish prior to immigrating to New York City.  There are two very interesting short stories, about Eastern European Jews in America, included in the necessary anthology Jewish Literature in America.  My one small issue with this huge collection (815 works) is that no first publication dates are given for the works.  Some I can find via a Google search, some, like these two, I have guessed.

"Judaism" (1919?) is a story of a Rabbi's abuse of a young Christian woman who has come to him to be converted.  She wants to marry a rich young a Jewish man.  The Rabbi asks her how her family feels about this and she says they love her fiancé.
He subjects her to a much more lengthy and demanding course of study than normal.  He is tired of being the lackey of his rich congregation and is taking it out on her.

"The rabbi’s Sabbath had been disturbed. Why did he take such pride in following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, when in reality he was a lowly slave who did whatever the wealthy Bizhorn told him to? Abulafia took revenge. He saw to it that the lessons with Helen would be a living Hell for the girl. Right away, at the first lesson, the rabbi threw up a mountain of difficulties."

"President Smith" (1923?) is set in Chicago. Just as have other immigrant groups, people from the same area in Poland would tend to live in the same area in America, relatives and friends helping each other.  The Synagogue was the heart of the community.  This is the story a Rabbi, who when just a young man and already a Rabbi, moved to New York City where most of his congregation landed in Chicago.  Forty years has long by and he is come to visit them in Chicago.  The President of the Synagogue is Mr. Smith. He changed his name and most of his cultural trappings as he over many years has become rich.  The story is kind of about President Smith's acknowledging his cultural roots.  In just a few pages Opatoshu brings a lot of the Yiddish immigrant experience to life.

"It was the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah. The New York-to-Chicago express train raced in like a demon, whistling and gasping. Passengers started tumbling out of the cars. Some moved to the exit and others just stood there. From the last car, Reb Yosl the cantor emerged. He was a tall man with a long black beard that was turning gray at the edges, and he was wearing a rabbi’s hat. He had come to pray with his fellow townsmen, the people of Mlave, on the High Holy Days. Reb Yosl put down the valise he had been holding in his hand and started looking around, looking for the delegation from the Anshey Mlave synagogue". From "President Smith"

Joseph Opatoshu

Yiddish Literature on The Reading Life

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dawn by Olivia Butler (1987, Part One of The Lilith's Blood Trilogy)

Olivia Butler 1947 to 2006, multi-awarded American Science Fiction Writer

Dawn is part one of Olivia Butler's Lilith's  Blood Trilogy.  I have previously read her Bloodchild and Kindred.  It is my hope to read all of her fiction available as Kindles.

Dawn begins on a vast space ship, itself a living being.  Around 250 years ago America and Russia had a nuclear war which left the earth virtually uninhabitable.  The aliens aboard the ship, the Oankali, removed the survivors and have placed them in deep sleep.  They are planning to return them to earth after they are trained in survival skills.  The Oankali are very strange, to the humans, multitentacled beings.  Lilith, who is African American in origin, is being kept in a room with an alien when we meet her.

The best thing, and it is very well done, about Dawn, is the conceptual ideas, the creation of the aliens, who have been on the ship so long they do not know for sure where there home world is located.  The weakest aspect of the novel, and I found this pretty wanting, was the relationships that develop between the wakened humans as the aliens prepare to return them to the earth, in a jungle environment.

I enjoyed this book.  It falls short of greatness but the overall idea behind it was super interesting.  I have begun part two, Adulthood Rituals.  I bought the trilogy on Amazon for $2.95.