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

Thursday, December 13, 2018

"The Fifteenth District" - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - first published October 30, 1978 in The New Yorker

August 11, 1922 born in Montréal, in 1950 she moves to France to pursue her dream of being a writer

February 18, 2014, dies in Paris, a place she dearly loved

Buried in Print, a Blog I have happily followed for years, is embarked on a grand project, a read through of all of the 
nearly two hundred Short Stories of Mavis Gallant.  I have access to about half of the stories and am Reading along as I can.  

"The Fifteenth District", first published in The New Yorker October 30, 1978 (reprinted as the title story in a collection of Paris based stories) is one of the weirdest or her stories, showing a dark sense of humor one has to look for in her work to find.  Featuring three ghosts, presented as if their reality is taken for granted, I think Gallant is showing us how post World War Two Paris was full of ghosts, of haunted memories of those with still strong ties to the living.  I learned from the post of Buried in Print that there is no Fifteenth District in Paris.  The fictional one seems to have a lot of the displaced poor, foreigners with no strong claim to be in Paris.  I wondered why she made up a district?

What made this work so much fun for me was the details  about the ghosts and their interaction with the living. 

This is really a delightful story, among her briefer works.

Mel u

Saturday, December 8, 2018

“Oedipus in Brooklyn” - A Short Story by Blume Lempel. translated from Yiddish and by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, 2016

The Gateway to Blume Lempel on The Reading Life

Oedipus in Brooklyn” by Blume Lempel

“So here I sit, writing from right to left. My older brother watches over me, telling me what to write in Yiddish. I can’t very well ask him not to speak in the language of exile. Blessed with the gifts of a prodigy, he knows what I’m thinking. Yiddish is not a language of exile, he answers my unspoken words —it is mame-loshn, our mother tongue.” -  Blume Lempel

Today’s  story is the title work in Oedipus in Brooklyn Stories by Blume Lempel, translated and introduced by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub.

Blume Lempel

Born 1907 in The Ukraine

Moved to Paris in 1929, to be near her brother who lived there 

While in Paris she worked as a furrier and attended night school.

1939- having married and had two children, her Family moved to New York State, out of concern over rising anti-Semiticism.  Many in her extended Family died in The Holocaust as would have 

 she and her Family had they not left.  In 1942 French authorities in a compromise with the Germans, agree to arrest and turn over to the Germans all foreign born Jews. 

1943- begins to publish with a Short Story, all her writings were in Yiddish.  In part this was her way of defying those who wanted the magnifcient Yiddish Cultural tradition destroyed.

In 1950 the Family locates permanently in Long Island.

1999 passes away.

I have been reading in Yiddish literature (in translation) for about four years now.  The more I learn about Yiddish heritage  the more convinced I am that no other group cherished reading more.  I was deeply moved when I learned that upon liberation from a concentration camp many asked for something to read.  

There are several common misconceptions about Yiddish literature.  The production of Yiddish Literature is generally  originated about 1875 and ended around 2000, not with the Holocaust.  Most think the writers are almost all men, this is completely false.  Many believe the stories are all about life in old Russia or a small Eastern European shtetl.  This, as illustrated so powerfully by today’s story “Oedipus in Brooklyn” could not be more wrong.  A few authors still write in Yiddish, just as a few poets still write verse in Latin.  

More and more Yiddish works are still waiting to be translated.  Almost everyday I learn of a new story rendered in English.

“Oedipus in Brooklyn” is really a shocking story.  As far from Fiddler on the Roof as you can get.  The story opens tragically.  A married man has just bought a new car, he takes his son out for a drive.  A horrible crash kills the father and blinds the son.  The wife, supported by insurance funds devotes her life to taking care of her son.  They eventually move to Florida to get away from the memories of Brooklyn.  The boy learns Braille and becomes an avid reader. The bond between mother and son is very close.  People advise her it is best to put her son in a residential school for the blind, they tell her she is to young to withdraw from life.

I don’t want to tell the rest of the story as I hope some will read this and her other works.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Lynching - A Short Story by Joseph Opatoshu - 1922 - translation by Jessica Kirzane

My Prior Post on Joseph Opatoshu

You can read “A Lynching” here

 “A Lynching”- A Short Story by Joseph Opatoshu - 1922 - translation by Jessica   Kirzane from Yiddish, 2018

Earlier this year i read a very valuable book that detailed important connections between Russian persecution of Jewish residents in 1903  and the founding of the NAACP.  This is directly related to today’s story of the horrible murder of an African American man by a mob of white southerns, done in retribution for the man’s admitted rape of a young girl.  Here is the relevent  data from my 
post of May 18, 2018.

Pogram Kishinev and the Tilt of History by Seven Zapperstein is a wonderful book.  It tells a detailed story about a pogram that took place in Tsarist Russia in April 1903 and included the murder of 49 Jews, the rape of many Jewish women and girls, the wounding of about 600 and the robbing and destruction of over 1000 Jewish owned homes and businesses.  Zapperstein goes into a lot of detail about what happened during those three terrible days in 1903.  People from neighboring areas actually brought in wagons to carry away stolen items.  

News of the pogram was widely written about in the American and English press.  The Hearst newspaper powerhouse gave very heavy coverage of the pogram.  Zapperstein explains how this journalism lead to the creation of The NAACP largely by New York City based Jews who saw in the wide spread lynching of Black men in the American south a horror much like the Kishinev Pogram.  Zapperstein details how to this very day the pogram caused most American Jews to be liberals.

Joseph Opatoshu in “ A Lynching” begins with a description of a Family of African Americans.  As Jessica Kirzane says in her very informative introduction  Opoatlshu portrays the African American family in very patronizing terms. As The story opens the local sherriff and three deputies have come to take a young man into custody.  He is charged with raping a White girl barely in her teens.  His mother protests that her son would never do such a thing.  He has already taken off for the woods.  In fact he did rape the girl, he says because the father molested his young sister as he admits when captured.  The sherriff tells the mob, with a rope ready to lynch him, that they must let the legal system handle matter.   

But the sherriff is no match for The angry mob, armed with shotguns and hunting rifles.  The do not hang him, they chain him up, douse him with gasoline  and set him on fire.  Opatoshu gives us a very vivid description of the burning.  As the story ends, white children look for small bones or teeth for momentos. 

OPATOSHU, JOSEPH (originally Opatovsky; 1886–1954), Yiddish novelist and short-story writer. Born near Mlave (Poland), Opatoshu immigrated to the U.S. in 1907, where he studied engineering at Cooper Union at night, while supporting himself by working in a shoe factory, selling newspapers, and teaching in Hebrew schools. In 1914 he graduated as a civil engineer, but soon found literature a more congenial profession. From 1910 he contributed stories to periodicals and anthologies, and in 1914 edited an anthology of his own, Di Naye Heym ("The New Home"), which included his story of American Jewish life, "Fun Nyu Yorker Geto." 

When the New York daily Der Tog was founded (1914), he joined its staff and for 40 years contributed stories, sketches, and serials, most of which were later reprinted in book form.

Opatoshu's early work was naturalistic, depicting scenes from contemporary life. Thus his A Roman fun a Ferd Ganev ("A Novel about a Horse Thief," 1912), his first novel to attract wide attention, was based on his boyhood acquaintance with an unusual Jewish thief who made a living by smuggling horses across the border from Poland to Germany and who was killed while defending fellow Jews against their hostile neighbors. Opatoshu expressed his reaction to romanticism by creating thieves, smugglers, and drunkards who were a distinct contrast to the figures in the writings of Sholem *Aleichem or Y.L. Peretz. Opatoshu was one of the first Yiddish writers to depict American Jewish experience in his works. published in 1933, Opatoshu portrays the vanished world of 16th-century Jewish patricians and Yiddish minstrels in a stylized language that utilizes older stages of Yiddish. In his final historical epic, Der Letster Oyfshtand (2 vols. 1948–52; The Last Revolt, 1952), Opatoshu attempted an imaginative reconstruction of daily life in 2nd-century Judea, when the last desperate revolt of the Jews against Roman rule flared up and was crushed.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Rampage MacArthur, Yamashita and The Battle of Manila by James M. Scott - 2018, 640 Pages

Rampage MacArthur, Yamashita and The Battle of Manila by James M. Scott is a wonderful book, must reading for anyone interested in  World War Two, the Philippines or Douglas MacArthur.  In order to hope to understand the Philippines today you have to ponder the terrible consequences of the Battle for Manila.  For five years after the battle was over the population of the city declined due to lives shortened by injuries, poor diets and rampant diseases.

The book very interestingly  begins with a chapter on MacArthur detailing his life long involvement with the Philippines.  MacArthur had a giant ego, many of those who served under him worshipped him while others nicknamed him "Dug out Doug", feeling he kept himself safe, eating steak while his men were abandoned on Corrigidor Island to the Japanese, he escaping to Australia.  Many of his troops despised him, including his one time aid Eisenhower.  Scott does not take sides here, just shows us the facts.  

The second chapter tells us of the pre War history of General Yamashita, a fascinating account that helped me understand the command structure of the Japanese military.  Yamishita was a poet, served in Europe as an envoy before the war  and  had a German mistress, as MacArthur a Filipina.

The book goes into great detail on the battle for Manila.  The Japanese were determined to destroy Manila, they nearly succeeded, and to kill as many civilians as they could.  They behaved just as they did during the battle over Nanking, raping thousands of women and young girls, killing babies for sport.  The purpose of the Japanese was to delay an American invasion of Japan.  The Japanese were enraged by the very pro-American attitude of the Filipinos.  Additionally they seemed to love causing as much misery as possible.  The Japanese acted  in a barbaric subhuman fashion.  Scott spares no details in showing the pointless cruelty of the Japanese.

Time Line

December 10, 1898 - Spain Cedes The Philippines to The United States

December 7, 1941, a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan launched an invasion of The Philippines 

January 2, 1942, General Douglas MacArthur  declared Manila an open city hoping to spare the residents from the war, the Japanese take over Manila 

Manila then has a population of 684,000

April 9, 1942 - The American forces were now headquartered on Corregidor Island.  General Douglas MacArthur, acting on orders from President Roosevelt, leaves the Island, along with Manuel Quezon then president of the Philippines,
for Australia.  His men are taken as POWs.  MacArthur's  pledge that  he would return became the mantra of his life.

Americans as well as Canadians and Europeans were placed in detention.  The largest prison site with about 3400 captives was at The University of Santo 
Thomas.  James Scott greatly details the terrible conditions endured by the captives and made me sense their joy when the Americans liberated them.  The university, founded in 1611, predates Harvard by 25 years.  Our middle daughter graduated from college there in 2017.  Scott does a great job describing the campus converted to a prison.

October 17, 1944 - The Americans invade, coming ashore on the beach at Lingayen Gulf, near the birth place of my wife, about 150 miles north of Manila, on the big Island, Luzon.

October 17, 1944 Douglas MacArthur comes ashore, with coverage from Life Magazine and American army reporters filming it, says “I have returned”.  

The Japanese had 432,000 troops in The Philippines.  

February 3 to March 3 1945 - The Battle For Manila.  The Japanese were determined to kill as many civilians as they could and destroy the city.  As they did in Nanking, the Japanese embarked on a rampage of murder and rape.  Babies were bayoneted for sport.  The Japanese military knew they could not win, their mission was to delay the Americans in their anticipated invasion of Japan.  The Japanese burned or killed with a sword as many as they could, needing to save bullets.  By the end over 100,000 civilians were killed, many by American bombs and strafing.  

Sporadic Japanese resistance, mostly near Baguio, continued until September 5, 1945 when Japan surrendered.  An estimated one million Philippines citizens were killed in the war.  In the war crimes tribunal, over 125,000 incidents of murder of civilians were listed.  The Japanese also executed American and Filipino POWs, contrary to international laws agreed to by the Japanese.  About 10,000 American troops were killed and 225,000 Japanese in the fight to retake the Philippines.  Even though I knew the outcome, Scott made it very exciting.. The incredible fanaticism of the Japanese was a factor in the decision to use the Atomic Bomb.  For five years after the war, the population of Manila continued to decline from war injuries, poor medical facilities, and pestilence.  The economic basis for Life was destroyed.  A once beautiful city, known as “The Pearl of the Orient" was 90 percent destroyed.

General Yamishita, the Japanese commander in the Philippines, was found guilty of war crimes and hung. His defenders at his trial, as shown by Scott, tried hard to advance the claim that Yomishita did not know of the atrocities committed by his troops.  Most of the Japanese troops in Manila were under the command of an admiral, in theory subordinate to Yamishita.  The admiral killed himself rather than be captured.  Yamishita was headquartered in in Bagio, about five hours even today from Manila.  Scott does a very good job helping us to understand the Japanese mentality.  

July 4, 1946 - Philippines Independence Day

Even though we know the outcome, Scott made the battle very exciting if horrifying. This is just a wonderful book, full of great details and fascinating people.  

A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, James M. Scott is the author of Rampage and Target Tokyo, which was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist and was named one of the best books of the year by Kirkus, The Christian Science Monitor and The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. His other works include The War Below and The Attack on the Liberty, which won the Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison Award. Scott lives with his wife and two children in Mt. Pleasant, SC. 

From the publisher

"American General Douglas MacArthur, driven from the Philippines under the cover of darkness at the beginning of World War II, famously vowed to return. This is the untold story of his homecoming.

The twenty-nine day battle to retake Manila resulted in the catastrophic destruction of the city and a rampage by Japanese soldiers and marines that terrorized the civilian population. Landmarks were demolished, houses torched, suspected resistance fighters were tortured and killed, countless women raped, and their husbands and children murdered. An estimated 100,000 civilians were slain in a massacre as heinous as "The Rape of Nanking."
Based on extensive research in the Philippines and the United States, war crimes testimony, after action reports, and survivor interviews, Rampage recounts one of the most heartbreaking chapters of the Pacific war.
James M. Scott is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and the author of several critically acclaimed books of military history."

If you are into World War Two history, you will binge read this book, as I did.

(My father served with General MacArthur in New Guinea as a junior officer.  I dedicate this post to an observation of his 100th Birth Anniversary

Mel u

Sunday, December 2, 2018

“The Five Black Swans” - A Short Story by Sylvia Townsend Warner - initially published June 23, 1973 in The New Yorker

“The Five Black Swans”  by Sylvia Townsend Warner was first published  in The New Yorker, as were all the sixteen stories in her 1977 collection, Kingdom of Elfin. The collection was republished in 2018.

This is just a weird, wonderful story.  I admire The New Yorker for publishing the story.  She has a cult of readers, which I have joined, that love her work.  

One of the joys of The Reading Life is Reading your first work by an author you had never before encountered and knowing this is someone to add to your list of beloved authors.  Once I found Warner loved Siamese Cats that was all it took.  I like stories about alternative worlds overlapping this one and am drawn to fairies and spirit beings.  In certain times the feeling seems mutual.  

The fairies in the stories of Warner border on evil, like those in the stories of the great Irish writer of supernatural stories, Sheridan de La Fanu.  

“Elfindom is an aristocratic society, jealous of its privileges. The ruling classes engage in such pursuits as patronizing the arts or hunting with the Royal Pack of Werewolves, while the lower orders take pleasure in conducting brutal raiding parties into the world to torment mortals.

The Kingdoms of Elfin are more diverse and widely scattered than is often thought; from the Welsh Elfins who, though constitutionally incapable of faith, remove mountains, and the elegant and witty French Court of Brocéliande where castration almost becomes a vogue, to the Kingdom of Zuy in the Low Countries, trafficking suppositories and religious pictures” - from Goodreads

I loved the descriptions of how fairies took Human children and replaced them with fairies.

“The Five Black Swans” begins with portents of a coming death of the aueen of the Kingdom of Elfin, nearly eight hundred old.

“In these flying circles of Elfhame, Tiphaine’s dying was discussed as openly and with as much animation as if the swans were outriders of a circus. A kitchen boy, flying out with a bucket of swill for the palace pigs, had been the first to see them. On his report, there was a swirl of servants, streaming like a flock of starlings from the back door to see for themselves. The head gardener, a venerable fairy, swore he could distinguish Queen Maharit in the swan with the long bridling neck: Maharit had just such a neck. Tiphaine’s servants were on easier terms with death than her courtiers were. They had plucked geese, drawn grouse and blackcock, skinned eels. They had more contact with the outer world where they picked up ballads and folk stories, flew over battlefields, and observed pestilences. The mortals among them, stolen from their cradles to be court pets and playthings, and who, failing in this, had drifted into kitchen society, seldom lived into their second century, even though on their importation they were injected with an elixir of longevity, as tom kittens are gelded for domestication. Thus death was at once more real to them and less imposing. Every day their loyalty grew more fervent. They said there would never again be such a queen as Tiphaine, and had a sweep-stake as to which lady (Elfindom inverts Salic law) would be the next.”

I just don’t really see a great value to recasting the plot.  The wonder of Warner is in her exquisite descriptions of life in The Kingdom of Elfin.

For sure I will read all the stories.

From The Sylvia Townsend Warner Society 

Sylvia Townsend Warner was a highly individual writer of novels, short stories and poems. She contributed short stories to the New Yorker for more than forty years, translated Proust's Contre Saint-Beuve into English, wrote a biography of the novelist T.H.White and a guide to Somerset.
Born in 1893, Sylvia was the only child of Harrow School housemaster George Townsend Warner (remembered as a brilliant teacher) and his wife, Nora. After an unsuccessful term at kindergarten she was educated at home. Sylvia was an accomplished musician, and it is said that the outbreak of War in 1914 alone prevented her from going abroad to study composition under Arnold Schoenberg. In 1917, she joined the Committee preparing the ten volumes of Tudor Church Music published by Oxford University Press between 1922 and 1929. One of her fellow committee members - and long-time lover - was Percy Buck, a married man twenty-two years her senior.
Tall, thin and bespectacled, Sylvia was a disappointment to her mother, with whom she had an uneasy relationship. After her mother's remarriage (George Townsend Warner died suddenly in 1916) matters improved, but mother and daughter were never to be close.
In 1922, Sylvia, at the instigation of Stephen Tomlin, a charismatic if manipulative figure who later became part of the Bloomsbury Group - and who was a former pupil of her father's - went to Chaldon Herring in Dorset to visit the writer Theodore Powys. This melancholic, withdrawn man, whose large family included John Cowper and Llewelyn Powys, had been writing unsuccessfully for years.
Along with Tomlin and the writer David Garnett, Sylvia Townsend Warner was instrumental in the publication of Theodore's novels and short stories which had languished unseen for years. First to be published was "The Left Leg", three stories dedicated to his trinity of supporters. Powys and Warner became great friends and for a time there was almost a "school" of Chaldon writers, quirky, droll and rustic, which included Sylvia's novel "Mr Fortune's Maggot", Garnett's "The Sailor's Return" and many of Powys's short stories.
Also in Chaldon, at Theodore Powys's house, Sylvia first met the poet Valentine Ackland. When in 1930 she bought "the late Miss Green's cottage" opposite the village inn, she invited Valentine to live there. So began a love affair which lasted until Valentine's death from breast cancer in 1969. The couple's joint collection of poems "Whether a Dove or Seagull" was published in 1933. Although most of their life together was spent in Dorset, they also travelled widely and lived from time to time in Norfolk notably at Frankfurt Manor, Sloley and Great Eye Folly, Salthouse (which was later destroyed by the sea).
In 1935, Sylvia and Valentine became committed members of the Communist Party, attending meetings, fund-raising and contributing to left-wing journals. They twice visited Spain during the Civil War. Their lives at this time and most of their writings - like Warner's "After the Death of Don Juan" - were charged with politics.
In 1937 the two women moved to a house on the river at Frome Vauchurch in Dorset. Here Sylvia produced many of her most important works, including "The Corner That Held Them", (1948) set in a medieval East Anglian nunnery. Valentine met with less t in her own painstakingly-sustained career. After her death, Sylvia published a collection of her poems, "The Nature of the Moment". Sylvia lived on for another nine years, dying on May Day, 1978. The couple's ashes lie buried under a single stone in Chaldon churchyard.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Reading Life Review - November, 2018

November Authors 

“Portents accompany the death of monarchs. A white horse trots slowly along the avenue, a woman in streaming wet garments is seen to enter the throne room, vanishes, and leaves wet footmarks; red mice are caught in the palace mousetraps. For several weeks five black swans had circled incessantly above the castle of Elfhame. It was ninety decades since their last appearance; then there were four of them, waiting for Maharit, Queen Tiphaine’s predecessor. Now they were five, and waited for Tiphaine. Mute as a shell cast up on the beach, she lay in her chamber watching the antics of her pet monkey.”. Sylvia Townsend Warner

Column One

  1. Carl Hiaasen- USA- Newberry Award Winner
  2. Theodor Storm- Germany- 19th Century Novelist 
  3. Thomas Mann - Germany
  4. Walter Kempowski- Germany - Chronicler of World War Two Germany

Column Two

  1. Marianna Enríquez- Argentina - powerful dark short stories 
  2. Alison Macleod - Canada 
  3. Thomas Bernhard - Austria- 
  4. Mavis Gallant- Canada

Column Three

  1. Sylvia Townsend Warner - UK - Kingdom of Elkins 
  2. Dana Johnson - USA- winner of The Flannery O’Connor Prize 
  3. Maeve Brennan - Ireland

Column Four

  1. Anjali Sachdeva- USA - exceptional short stories
  2. Brian Kirk - Ireland - following for years
  3. Thomas Fallada - Must read novels on Weimar and Nazi Germany

Countries of Residence 

  1. Germany - 5
  2. USA - 3
  3. Ireland- 2
  4. Canada - 2
  5. Argentina- 1
  6. Austria- 1

There were seven men and seven women featured in November, six living writers and eight having passed to another realm.  Four of the writers were featured for the first time, ten are old companions.  

Blog Stats

As of November 30, The Reading Life has had 5,486,432 page views 

Home Countries of Visitors:

USA, India, Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, France, UK, Canada, Germany and Indonesia 

There are plans to give one billion Indians internet access, once this occurs, I expect a major increase in readership.  

Of the five most viewed posts, three are on short stories by authors from the Philippines and two from India

As far as I know, no other book blog anywhere regularly posts on older short stories from South and South East Asia. 

There are currently 3445 posts on The Reading Life

I read in November three works biographies on which I did not post, all very good books.

  1. Funny Man:Mel Brooks by Patrick McGilligan
  2. Neruda: The Poet’s Calling by Mark Eisner 
  3. Milena:The Tragic Story of Kafka’s Great Love by Margarete Buber-Neumann

I offer my great thanks to Max u for his kind provision of Amazon Gift Cards

December plans and hopes.

I plan to read two nonfiction recently published works focusing on World War Two in Asia

I hope to push on with my nearing completion read through of Honore de Balzac’s La Comedie Humaine.

Mel u