Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Sunday, August 12, 2018

“The Road of No Return” - A Short Story by Rachel Korn - translated from Yiddish by Mariam Waddington

Ghosts love Yid­dish — they all speak It

“The Road of No Return” by Rachel Korn, set in a World War Two Jewish Ghetto is a deeply moving story about love, hope, sacrifice, in a time of great suffering, massive murders by the Germans.  

Yiddish writers who are Holocaust survivors as was Rachel Korn for the rest of their lives tried to capture vignettes of the Holocaust in their stories.  Many, as did Rachel lost many family members, suffered survivors guilt and a deep loneliness from which there was no way out.

The Germans liked to cause mental pain as much as physical.  In today’s story they have posted notices saying one person from every family must present themselves for transportation to a concentration camp, all knew this meant death.  If a family did not comply by the deadline, everyone in the family would be transported.

At dinner the father, obviously shaken to the core, tells his family of the sign. There is two youngsters, a fourteen year old daughter and a 21 year old son, the father and mother plus an ancient grandmother.  The four older family members say it cannot be the father as he supports all, the mother is the care giver, the girl just becoming a woman.  The 21 year old son volunteered to go, the guilt of making the logical choice of the grandmother is too overwhelming,the grandmother remains silent.  

Everyone thinks she does not understand what is going on and they do not include her in the conversation on who will go.

Then they notice the grandmother is gone.  Looking out the widow, they see her, carrying the one allowed one small bag, walking to turn herself into the Germans.

A beautiful story. 

A read this in Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women.

RACHEL KORN (1898 –1982) Born in 1898 near Pokliski in East Galicia, Rachel Korn grew up among farmers and peasants. At a time when nearly all European Jews lived in cities or sbtetls, her family had owned farmland for several generations. The great love and understanding of nature so prominent in Korn’s poetry can be attributed to her childhood experiences.  Korn learned to read and write in Yiddish as an adult, taught by her husband. Though her first publications were in Polish, she chose to become a Yiddish writer because of the pogroms that followed the First World War. Soon thereafter the Yiddish literary world recognized her talents. The powerful vibrancy and boldness of her nature imagery were a new phenomenon in Yiddish literature. When the nazis invaded Poland, Korn fled to Uzbekistan in the Soviet Union with her young daughter. Her husband was killed by the Germans as were most other members of her family. After the war, Korn returned to Poland, resuming her literary career in Lodz where she was elected to the executive of the Yiddish Writers’ Union. In this capacity she attended a PEN conference in Stockholm. Korn never returned to Poland, spending some time in Sweden before immigrating to Montreal in 1949. Here she remained productive as a Yiddish writer of poetry and short stories. As a Holocaust survivor, she often wrote about her grief and isolation. Though she had lost her family, her social context and most of her Yiddish readership, she continued to write poetry and short stories of great eloquence and poignancy in the language of her youth. In the course of her writing career, Korn wrote nine volumes of poetry and two of short stories. Her works have been translated into a variety of languages including English, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, German and French. Two collections of her poems have been published in English: Generations and Paper Roses. Korn’s short stories appear in translation in Canadian Jcwish Short Storics and Canadian Yiddish Writing. She was awarded numerous literary prizes, including the prestigious Manger Prize for Yiddish Literature presented to her by the State of Israel in 1974. —from Found Treasures:Stories by Yiddish Women 

A very informative article 

Mariam Waddington was also a highly regarded writer who emigrated from Russia to Montreal.

Mel u

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Liliana Colanzi - Two Short Stories - “I Pray for You” and “Chaco” - 2018

Today’s stories by Liliana Colanzi are about life on the edge of the abyss in contemporary Bolivia.  

The Gran Chaco or Dry Chaco is a sparsely populated, hot and semi-arid lowland natural region of the Río de la Plata basin, divided among eastern Bolivia, western Paraguay, northern Argentina and a portion of the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, where it is connected with the Pantanal region. This land is sometimes called the Chaco Plain. 

“Chaco”, which appears in translation in by Julia Sanchez, in Bogata 39, takes us along for a ride down a very dark road trip through the Chaco plain in the company of a young man whose consciousness is intermingled with that of a Mataco Indian whose head he bashed in with a rock as he lay passed out drunk in the street.  He was living with his mother and she has told him she is going to live with a relative so now he is on his own.  He hits the road.  Colanzi very visually evokes the brutality of the once beautiful countryside and the ravegement of aborginal cultures by outsiders.

“clouds from the cement factory hung, bloated and heavy, above our heads, and at sunset gleamed in every colour. Those who didn’t have a skin condition had sick lungs. Mama had asthma”.

A truck driver picks him up.   Life on road is nasty, he ends up having to give the driver blow job.  He bashes in the head of a mentally challenged child with a rock.  

We see the deep destruction of the psyche brought about by the legacy of colonialism:

“Soon after, the Mataco’s voice got inside my head. He mostly sang. He’d no idea what had happened to him and crooned in that mournful, almost swampy way that Indians do. Ay-ay-ay, he cried. I dreamed his dreams: herds of javelinas fleeing through the forest, the warm wound of a deer struck by an arrow, an earthy steam rising up to the sky. Ay-ay-ay . . . The Mataco’s heart was a red mist. Who are you? What do you want? Why have you come to live inside me? I asked. I am the Ayayay, the Avenger, he who Gives and Takes Away, the Killer, the Furious Rage, said the Mataco, and asked, in turn: Who are you? There’s no you or me any more, I said. From now on, we are only one will. I was euphoric, I couldn’t believe my luck.”

The ending is very startling, blending Christian beliefs with Indian traditions buried so deep in consciousness of the young man it takes magic realism to show us.

A very good story.

“I Pray for You”, which can be read online at the link above, is another road based story.  It shows us the relationship of a young couple.  

For sure worth reading.

Liliana Colanzi is a Bolivian writer who has published the shortstory collections Vacaciones permanentes (El Cuervo, 2010) and Nuestro mundo muerto (Almadía, 2016). Nuestro mundo muerto has been translated into English and Italian and was shortlisted for the Gabriel García Márquez short story award (2017). She is the publisher and editor at Dum Dum editora. She won the Mexican Aura Estrada Literary Prize in 2015 and has contributed to publications such as Granta, Letras Libres, Gatopardo, the White Review and El Deber. She lives in Ithaca, New York State, and lectures in Latin American Literature at Cornell University. From Bogata 39

Bogata 39 is a collection of Short stories by authors from fifteen Latin American Countries, all the writers are under forty.

More details can be found on the publisher’s webpage, One World Publications.

I hope your full collections of Short Stories will soon be translated as I would love to read more of her work.

Mel u

Thursday, August 9, 2018

AT THE RICH RELATIVES by Celia Dropkin, a Short Story, Translated by Faith Jones

Why Read Celia Dropkin by Faith Hill - from The Yiddish Book Center

Another Yiddish woman poet was Celia Dropkin (1887-1956). An eager student, she was formally educated for most of her youth in Belarus. She began writing poetry in Russian at 

age 10 and was encouraged to keep writing by Uri Nissan Gnessin, a Hebrew poet who she became close with. After getting married, Dropkin immigrated to New York. She began 

translating her Russian poems into Yiddish and published them in several leading Yiddish 
literary magazines. While some of Dropkin’s works were about her life experiences and children, she is famed for her passionate poetry about sex, eroticism, love, and relationships, themes that resonate with readers today. In the early 1900s, most people thought that Jewish women only wrote tkhines, Yiddish prayers often concerning domestic matters and child-rearing; Dropkin challenged that. While a number of critics felt that her works were too personal and too overtly sexual, her contemporaries were generally positive about her writings. Modern-day Yiddish enthusiasts have not forgotten Dropkin’s contributions to Jewish literature, as her poems have been published in several contemporary Yiddish anthologies and set to song by klezmer bands.. From The 
Jewish Women’s Archive Blog 

“At the Rich Relatives” by Celia Dropkin, translated from Yiddish by Faith Jones, from Beautiful as the Moon, Radiant as the Stars:Jewish Women in Yiddish

“At the Rich Relatives” is set in late Tsarist Russia.  A widow and her 14 year old daughter recently lost there house in a fire started during a pogram.  Their rich relatives have invited them to come stay on their estate.  The daughter initially resists, saying her rich cousins look down on her.  They make the move anyway.  Just as the daughter worried, she feels inferior to others in the family her age.  They have much better and many more clothes.  The rich families income comes from a factory about a mile away.  The workers live in shacks near the factory and are barely paid enough to live.  One of the cousins has a fire for social justice.  He tells the family their luxurious life comes from the misery of others.  

He begins to talk to the girl about communist ideologies.  Mingling a romantic feeling, they become bonded in their love for justice.

Dropkin very well develops the characters and her descriptions of the property of the rich and their splendid diet in contrast to that of the poor have the power of Zola.

I have access to a few more stories by Dropkin and will be posting upon them.

My thanks to Faith Jones for her elegant translation

FAITH JONES is a short-story writer and translator and a researcher of book and library history. Her work has been published in anthologies and in scholarly and literary journals such as Canadian Jewish Studies, Lyric, Bridges, Fiddlehead, and Geist. She is a librarian in the Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library and is active in Yiddish, feminist, and peace organizations.

Mel u

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Shauna Gilligan - A Wide Ranging Q and A Session with the author of Happiness Comes From Nowhere

Shauna Gilligan, author of Happiness Comes From Nowhere has done a great deal to increase my understanding of Irish literature.  She has contributed several guests posts  including a very recent interview with Patrick Samples.  She wrote a very illuminating introductory post for The Reading Life Desmond Hogan Project and has given me lots of good advise on Irish literature and culture.  I am very happy she has consented to do a Q and A for Irish Short Story Week.  I have been following her work for almost seven years now.  You will find links to online short stories by Gilligan on The Reading Life

Shauna Gilligan is a member of the Threshold Short Story Forum.

Author Data

Shauna Gilligan is a novelist and short story writer from Dublin, Ireland.  She has lived and worked in Mexico, Spain, and the UK, and now lives in County Kildare with her family and a black and white cat called Lucky.
She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of South Wales, is a registered teacher with the Teaching Council of Ireland, an active member of the Arts Council of Ireland Writers-in-Prisons Panel and a Professional Mentor with Irish Writers’ Centre. Shauna facilitates creative writing workshops with people of all ages. She teaches students in universities, in the community, and in prison settings.

Shauna enjoys collaborating with visual artists and is particularly interested in exploring the crossover of art and literature in storytelling, the depiction of historical events in fiction, and creative processes.

Her debut novel Happiness Comes from Nowhere was a critical success and the Sunday Independent review declared it to be a “thoroughly enjoyable and refreshingly challenging debut novel.” 

Shauna is represented by Charlotte Seymour at Andrew Nurnberg Associates International Literary Agency... from Shauna Gilligan’s Website

1. Who are some of the contemporary short story writers you admire? If you had to say, who do you regard as the three best ever short story writers? The best woman?

Contemporary writers? Alice Munro, Desmond Hogan, Colm Tóibín, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Kevin Barry, Carol Shields, Edna O’Brien, Anne Enright. Others would be Maeve Brennan, Ernest Hemingway, Seán O’Faolain, Katherine Mansfield, Raymond Carver, James Joyce. Three best ever short story writers? It’s a hard one as there are so many but top would be Alice Munro (the best woman).

2. I have read lots of Indian and American short stories in addition to Irish and alcohol plays a much bigger part in the Irish stories. How should an outsider take this and what does it say about Irish culture.

I think that is because alcohol is part of Irish culture – or more precisely, part of the way the Irish socialise, especially in rural areas. The church and the pub have always gone hand in hand. Even these days, socialising revolves around drinking, but increasingly, it also involves eating (or dining) like on the European continent, though the chat and the craic (fun in Irish) over a pint will never cease. The flip side of this, of course, is that there are high rates of abuse of alcohol and from that, increases in certain social problems such as suicide can also be linked back to the relationship with alcohol, using it to mask emotions, and sometimes not being able to socialise without a few (alcoholic) drinks. 

3. Declan Kiberd has said the dominant theme of modern Irish literature is that of the weak or missing father? Do you think he is right and how does this, if it does, reveal itself in your work.

I do think this is one of the themes though not necessarily the dominant theme of modern Irish literature. In my novel, Happiness Comes from Nowhere, the father, Sepp, is largely absent though not entirely. His presence is still felt. This was deliberate as the focus was on the mother-son relationship. 

4. When did you start writing?

I can’t remember a time when I was not writing. I’ve always written. But I started to take my writing and the notion of myself as a writer seriously in 2008.

5. A character in an Ali Smith short story, asks in a conversation on the merits of short stories versus novels ""Is the short story a goddess and nymph and is the novel an old whore?" Does this make a bit of sense to you?

It’s a funny line, and a good one, but I don’t agree.  I always think of the short story as a small lawn, perfectly manicured, you perfect it time and time again whereas the novel is like a big field, filled with wild flowers, chaotic and beautiful and you’re trying your best to tame it, put a shape on it. 

6. (Ok this may seem like a silly question but I pose it anyway-do you believe in Fairies?-this quote from Declain Kiberd sort of explains why I am asking this:
" One 1916 veteran recalled, in old age, his youthful conviction that the rebellion would “put an end to the rule of the fairies in Ireland”. In this it was notably unsuccessful: during the 1920s, a young student named Samuel Beckett reported seeing a fairy-man in the New Square of Trinity College Dublin; and two decades later a Galway woman, when asked by an American anthropologist whether she really believed in the “little people”, replied with terse sophistication: “I do not, sir – but they’re there." 

Yes, I do believe in faries. I grew up with stories of them, notions of their existence as part and parcel of my childhood – walks in the woods, looking for them, leaving my teeth for the fairies, visiting fairy forts, knowing the look and feel of the bark of the oak tree where they might have their homes. The sense of something other being present with us. 

7. Do you think the very large amount of remains from neolithic periods (the highest in the world) in Ireland has shaped in the literature and psyche of the country?

Interesting question. I don’t know that they have influenced the psyche at a conscious level. But I do know that we (governments over time) have been very lax in appreciating them – exceptions are Newgrange, for example, which you should try and visit when you’re here. 

8. Do you like the Stories of an Irish R. M.? either the stories or the TV show? are the stories of Edith Somerville and Martin Ross mocking or celebrating Irish heritage?

Again, something I remember from my childhood. A different Ireland, or a different picture to the Ireland in which I grew up and in which I now live. I would have to revisit these stories again to answer the question properly. 

9. How important are the famines to the modern Irish psyche? 

I think the notion of ownership and responsibility, as something the famine times might be seen to represent is, in today’s Ireland, very much present. 

10. Does the character of the "stage Irishman" live on still in the heavy drinking, violent, on the dole characters one finds in many contemporary Irish novels?

It seems this question alludes to the notion of taking something real and exaggerating it for the sake of fiction. I don’t know that the colonial question haunts us as much as it used to – I think we’ve burdened and repressed ourselves well enough in the last (almost 100) years of independence to stop the finger pointing. We have enough to be writing about without having to create stage personas. 
The Irish writer has always been confronted with a choice. This is the dilemma of whether to write for the native audience – a risky, often thankless task – or to produce texts for consumption in Britain and North America. Through most of the nineteenth century, artists tended to exploit far more of Ireland than they expressed. Cruder performers resorted to stage-Irish effects, to the rollicking note and to “paddy-whackery”, but even those who sought a subtler portraiture often failed, not so much through want of talent as through lack of a native audience. Most of these writers came, inevitably, from the upper classes and their commerce with the full range of Irish society was very limited.

Kiberd, Declan (2009-05-04). Inventing Ireland (p. 136). Random House UK. Kindle Edition. 

I think the notion of choice for the Irish writer - as outlined by Kiberd in your quote - is an interesting notion. It has, in a less obvious way than in previous eras, carried through to the 21st century. Writers such as Julian Gough claim (and somewhat rightly) that many of us are still stuck in the dilemma that Kiberd refers to, thus writing about the same subject matter (the weak fathers, emigration etc) that Irish writers have been writing about for centuries. But I think there is a wave of writers who are not interested in or who do not want to engage with this so-called choice of audiences or, indeed, are not prepared to limit their subject matter - and why should they? I'm thinking of writers such as Kevin Barry with his gritty prose, or poets Noel Duffy and Dave Lordon who have their own very individualistic take on what it means to be Irish and a poet writing and performing in the recession-riddled Ireland of today. I think we should not be restricted in viewing writers through the polarised lens of colonialism or indeed, post-colonialism. I'd be inclined to agree with sociologist Tom Ingles who, at a conference in NUI Maynooth in the summer of 2012, talked about how much Irish identity is tied to the relationship we have and have had with the body. This relationship has been dictated by Church and State (think of the recent reports on the Magdalene Laundries, for example) and we are now in a period - as we all know - of enormous change. And these changes are reflected in and will continue to be seen in how we identify ourselves as Irish, particularly in relation to the body, and more particularly, the female body. This is something, I believe, that can be seen in the writing of many of my contemporary female writers, such as Nuala Ní Chonchúir or Órfhlaith Foyle. So to respond to that first line of the quotation, for me when it comes to writing, the inclination is to write from the gut rather than with a "choice" (of) audience in mind.

11. William Butler Yeats said in "The Literary Movement"-- "“The popular poetry of England celebrates her victories, but the popular poetry of Ireland remembers only defeats and defeated persons”. I see a similarity of this to the heroes of the Philippines. American heroes were all victors, they won wars and achieved independence. The natioonal heroes of the Philippines were almost all ultimately failures, most executed by the Spanish or American rulers. How do you think the fact Yeats is alluding too, assuming you agree, has shaped Irish literature?

It seems Yeats is alluding to the notion – again – of the colonial power asserting its authority and might and the underdog, the colonised left with nothing but its woes. Martyrs make great national heroes; the living generally disappoint. There is something to be said, here, I think, for the number of Irish writers (Joyce, Beckett etc) who have left Ireland and never returned – and wrote kindly and unkindly about the country and its people. 

12. Who was the first great Irish writer who was not at all Anglo/Irish? 

I’d need this question clarified – when you say “Anglo/Irish” are you talking about linguistically, racially, thematically or something else? 

13. Do you think poets have a social role to play in contemporary Ireland or are they pure artists writing for themselves and a few peers?
Why single out poets? I think art as a whole – be it fiction, poetry, visual art or whatever – has a function to play in society. I agree with the function Victor Shklovsky assigned to art in Art as Technique whereby “Art…exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony…the technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar’. I also believe that writing – especially literary fiction – both explores the absurd and also tries to experience it by examining themes or actions in great detail, so that we can find our place in the world, where we belong, where art itself belongs. Writing for me is an act of extreme curiosity. 

18. "To creative artists may have fallen the task of explaining what no historian has fully illuminated – the reason why the English came to regard the Irish as inferior and barbarous, on the one hand, and, on the other, poetic and magical."-is this right? Kiberd, Declan (2009-05-04). Inventing Ireland (p. 646).

For me this description is that of humanity – the ultimate in contrasts, in contradictions. The oppressor always needs to place the oppressed into a box that is labelled other. In other words, the oppressed must be defined by what the oppressor is not. The wonderful play by George Bernard Shaw, John Bull’s Other Island is a classic example of this. 

19. OK to ignore this question- Do you think Irish Travelers should be granted the status of a distinct ethnic group and be given special rights to make up for past mistreatment? are the Travelers to the Irish what the Irish were once to the English? I became interested in this question partially through reading the short stories of Desmond Hogan.

This is a very loaded political question. Desmond Hogan – in his fiction - portrays a particular view of the Travellers which is not necessarily representative of the Travellers as a group or indeed as individuals. 

20. Where is the best place in Dublin and Galway to get a real Irish breakfast? Fish and Chips and Irish Stew. 

In Dublin - I’d try Johnnie Fox’s pub ( up the mountains and then for fish and chips Burdocks. 

21. What is the best book store in Dublin to buy collections of Short Stories?

Books Upstairs (just opposite Trinity College) or the Winding Stair Bookshop (in front of the Ha’penny Bridge).

22. Do you prefer ereading or traditional books?

Traditional books by far. However, I do read books on my Kindle.

19.What is your response to these lines from a famous Irish Poet? 

I was born to the stink of whiskey and failure 
And the scattered corpse of the real. 
This is my childhood and country: 
The cynical knowing smile 
Plastered onto ignorance 
Ideals untarnished and deadly 
Because never translated to action 
And everywhere 
The sick glorification of failure. 
Our white marble statues were draped in purple 
The bars of the prison were born in our eyes 
And if reality ever existed 
It was a rotten tooth 
That couldn't be removed. Michael O'Loughlin 

My response is – how miserable. It captures the creeping menace that the great Patrick McCabe has in all his novels. 

 20. (you can ignore this and I know I asked u before but American readers will have this come to mind ) "How do you feel about or has the TV show Gilligan's Island ever been shown on TV in Ireland

The first time I heard of Gilligan’s Island was when I was in Mexico and people had seen it. Now that you mention it, I’ve looked it up online. It seems like it was (is?) a very successful TV show. I don’t watch TV (apart from occasional documentaries for research reasons) but as far as I know it hasn’t been shown on TV in Ireland. 

21. Once you knew your novel, Happiness Comes from Nowhere" was going to be published, how long until you had a copy?

It was a quick lead in from contract to publication – 13 months  - but the lead up to contract was longer than that. 

22. Can you describe the feelings when you first saw your book in the store and/or when you read the first reviews of your work?

My reaction was one of detachment like it wasn’t anything to do with me. I experienced this also when I had finished my masters and PhD thesis. I think when you’re so close to a piece of work and then you let it go out into the world, in a way you abandon it, it is as it is. Yes, it is something I have written, but it is quite detached from me and me from it. I’m already (and was already) into my next work(s). However, I can’t deny that I’m not thrilled and honoured both to see it on the shelves and to read the reviews. 

23. What do you miss most about Ireland when you are out of the country? what are you glad to be away from?
I’ve lived in many other countries and what I missed most about Ireland was the ability to chat to random strangers on trains, at bus stops, in queues. There is a lovely warmth about this chattiness.
What I was glad to be away from was the narrow mindedness, the constant backward glance and the moaning. We’re great at moaning.

24. quick picks?

Cats or Dogs? 
Cats. Mine is called Lucky, the same name, I recently discovered, the American poet Weldon Kees called his cat.

Irish Fish and Chips or English 

Have to say Irish.

Dublin or London best city for neophyte writers

What about Paris? Or Berlin? 
I think writers shouldn’t need to pay too much attention to where they are, really. 
But in terms of agents, publishers, then it’s London by far. My publisher is based in London. 

RTE or The BBC