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

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Rider on the White Horse by Theodor Strom - 1888 - translated from the German by James Wright

Read so far during 
German Literature Month Eight 

  1. Once a Jailbird by Hans Fallada - 1947

 2.    The Loser by Thomas Bernhard - 1988

  1. Doctor Fausus by Thomas Mann - 1948

  1. The Rider on the White Horse by Theodor Strom - 1888

Theodor Strom

1817 - Born  Schleswig -Holstein. Then an independent state 

1846 - Marries a cousin

1853- moves to Potsdam in Prussian when Schleswig -Holstein is incorporated into Denmark, being very Germanic in orientation.  Becomes a circuit judge- he had a law degree

1864 - when Schleswig -Holstein is conquered by Prussia, he moves back

1888 - dies

The Rider on the White Horse is considered the masterwork of Theodor Strom.  (It is the only one of his works available in translation as a Kindle.)  The setting is the low lying coastal area bordering on The North Sea.  The area is under continual threat from flooding.  In the past floods have caused great damage and loss of life.  Strom focuses on the impact of a dyke built to protect the area.  

The start has a bad omen.  The son of the dyke master maliciously kills the cat of an old woman.  She issues a curse on him even though he tries to mollify her.  A mysterious rider on a white horse is observed racing on the top of the dark.

There are five main characters.

  1. The Dyke Master, in charge of maintaining the dyke
  2. His wife, she is the daughter of the prior Dyke Master
  3. Their mentally challenged daughter 
  4. The Prior Dyke Master
  5. The old dyke masters top employee, who had expected to become dyke master and is now very critical of how the dyke is maintained 

The dyke is owned by a few local shareholders, with the Dyke Master and his father in law the major owners.  Strom did not really make it clear how the dyke functions as a business, how it makes money but it does.  In the local pub there is a lot of worried talk about whether or not the Dyke will hold.

Sure enough the sea rises up.  I will leave the ending untold 

This is classified as a novella.  I see it as for sure worth reading for those wanting to expand their knowledge of 19th century German Literature.  I enjoyed the depiction of the importance of the dyke and the community.


Monday, November 12, 2018

“All The Names They Use for God” - A Short Story by Anjali Sachdeva - 2017

An Interview With Anjali 

Not long ago I did a search on “best short story collections of 2017”.  Among the results was All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva.  Through her very well done webpage I read a story. I  read a few of the numerous glowing print reviews.  I found the Kindle edition on sale for $1.95 so I hit “purchase now”.

Today’s story is the title work in the collection.  (The author talks about her research methods in the Q and A session linked above.) “All The Names They Used for God” is set in Nigeria, the central characters are two women kidnapped by Boko Haram at around age twelfe.  They escaped somehow and are now in their early twenties, both married.  Escaped does not at all mean they are free.  Sachdeva lets us see how their years of captivity involving forced  labour, sexual slavery, and rigid adherence to religious law, as seen by the Boko Haram have impacted them.  Both women are now married, they saw it as the choice between being raped by many men or by one man over and over.  One of the women has learned how to control her husband, using dark magic tricks she learned from a prostitute.  Both seem to hate their husbands, who can divorce them on a whim.

Based on this story, i greatly look forward to reading the other eight stories in the collection.

Mel u

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Hoot by Carl Hiaasan - 2002- A Newberry Honor Book

Home Page of Carl Hiaasan

If you are looking for a great book for children and teens, you need look no further than the list of Newbery Award Winners.

The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Here is the description on the Newbery Award Website of Hoot by Carl Hiaasan:

"Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf)

"Hiaasen’s wildly funny satire features the new kid, Roy, joining forces with tough Beatrice and the elusive Mullet Fingers to defeat a bully, thwart an avaricious corporation and save a colony of burrowing owls."

Hoot is a very entertaining book, for young adult readers of all ages.  

The main characters are about 13, just getting interested in opposite sex, asserting their independent characters, and mixing in the drama of middle school.  The setting is South East Florida, an area the born in Florida Hiassan knows well.  Having a nodding acquaintance with the area, I put the location as in Collier County, South of Naples, not too far from the Everglades.  Only an author who really knows the area would include a reference to the invasive Brazilian Pepper Bush when depicting landscape.

The lead character, Ray, the  only child of a Department of Justice employee and a stay at home mother, recently moved from Montanna to Florida, when his father was transferred. He misses Montanna.  Being the new kid in school is never easy.  Early on we meet the school bully who has it in for Ray, Beatrice, a very athletic girl, a mysterious boy.  In the end it ends badly for the bully.

A new pancake restaurant, 469 in the chain, is under construction.  We meet the construction forum, a decent cop who wants to move up to detective (he gets in trouble when he falls asleep in his patrol car and walked to find the windows all painted black, a nasty corporate type, teachers, more kids and the guidance counselor.

Hiaasan does a great job showing the development of a teenage relationship between Ray and Brenda. Brenda is a very strong person, a star soccer player, nobody messes with Brenda.

We also get to know a policeman, the construction foreman, a few other adults. The poor policeman fell asleep in his patrol car.  When he awoke the windows were painted black and his captain was very mad.  Figuring out who did this helps drive the action.

It turns out an endangered species of Florida birds, the burrowing owl has nests on the site of the future pancake place.  It is a violation of Federal  law to disturb their nests without a special permit.  The restaurant chain tries lots of tricks to get around the rules.

There are several sets of parents, ranging from very good to models of parental dysfunction. 

I laughed out loud several times while reading Hoot.  There are very well done Everglades scenes, anyone who has ever done an Air Boat Everglades Ride will love  going along with Ray and Brenda.  Brenda's kind of mysterious step brother plays a big part in the plot.  At first he seemed just crazy but then Ray and I bonded with him.

I loved the ending.

I enjoyed Hoot a lot, so many exciting developments, great characters and strong values.

I think this would make a good Christmas gift for young readers

Mel u

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

"The Intoxicated Years" - A Short Story by Mariana Enríquez . 2017 from. her collection Things We Lost in the Fire- translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell

Gateway to Mariana Enríquez on The Reading Life

You may read “The Intoxicated Years” here

Very Perceptive post from The Kenyon Review on Things We Lost in the Fire

“I realized she had slept with him. Andrea smelled different, and sometimes she looked at us with contempt and fake smiles. I told her she was a traitor. I reminded her of Celina, a girl from our school a little older than us who had died after her fourth abortion, bleeding out in the street as she tried to get to the hospital. Abortion was illegal and the women who performed them sometimes just threw the girls into the street afterwards. There were dogs in the clinics, they said the animals ate the fetuses so they wouldn’t leave any traces behind. She looked at us angrily and said she didn’t care if she died. We left her crying in the plaza.”  

Recently i did a Google search on “The best short story collections of 2017".  Of course the list is just the opinion of the maker, or maybe something they were paid to write.  I found on the list Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez.   I read one of her stories (see the link above) and wanted to enter further into her vision of the mean streets of Argentina.

"The Intoxicated Years" (see the link above) begins in 1989 with three late teenage girls learning to use cocaine.  Enriquez makes you wish for a razor.  

We skip to 1994.  The friends have moved onto acid.  We are their as they are splitting a tab.  One of them now has a boyfriend who is with them.  Lots goes on with them in this session.  The descriptions are marvelous.

I hope  to read more of her work, eventually her entire collection.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Doctor Faustus The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told by a Friend by Thomas Mann - 1948 - translated from The German by Joseph Wood

German Literature Month Eight - Links to Reviews and More

The Reading Life Greater Germania Gateway

Thomas Mann on The Reading Life

Read so far during 
German Literature Month Eight 

  1. Once a Jailbird by Hans Fallada - 1947

 2.    The Loser by Thomas Bernhard - 1988

  1. Doctor Fausus by Thomas Mann - 1948

Thomas Mann

Born June 6, 1875

Buddenbrooks - 1901

Magic Mountain - 1924

Awarded Nobel Prize 1929

1939 - moves to U.S.A

1944 - Becomes U.S.A citizen

He never again lived in Germany but he made frequent post war visits 

Doctor Faustus is the fifth work by Thomas Mann upon which I have posted.  During prior German Literature Months read Buddenbrooks, Magic Mountain, Death in 

Venice and Royal Highness.

This year I read a work long on my list, Doctor Faustus.  I must first observe that The Vintage Press Kindle edition is an error riddled mess showing contempt for consumers.  In the bio included of Mann, one of hundreds of issues, he is described as the author of “Suddenbrooks”.   It appears it was scanned into a Kindle format but never even looked at 

before it was placed on Amazon.

My mental state now is somewhat low.  If you need home work help on this Wikipedia has a good article.  I am glad I read this book and was elated when I got to the end.

I liked his reflections on Germany a lot.  

Sunday, November 4, 2018

“Melvin in the Sixth Grade” - A Short Story by Dana Johnson - from her collection Break Any Women Down::Stories- 2001

Website of Dana Johnson

Roxane Gay’s Top Ten Books

Three things lead me to read today's story.  Very recently I read Roxanne Gay's introduction to Best American Short Stories 2018.  Obvious to me was her love of the form and her knowledge of the contemporary American Short story.  In a commercial website I follow (linked above) she listed her top ten books.  Break Any Woman Down by Dana Johnson, a collection of short stories centered on the experiences of African American women in California was on her list.  I discovered the collection won The Flannery O'Connor Award for 2001 for American authored short stories.   Johnson's website (linked above) drew me further toward reading her work.  Here is her bio data:

"Dana Johnson is the author of the short story collection In the Not Quite Dark, from Counterpoint in August 2016. She is also the author of Break Any Woman Down, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and the novel Elsewhere, California. Both books were nominees for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, Callaloo, The Iowa Review and Huizache, among others, and anthologized in Watchlist: 32 Stories by Persons of Interest, Shaking the Tree: A Collection of New Fiction and Memoir by Black Women, and California Uncovered: Stories for the 21st Century. Born and raised in and around Los Angeles, she is a professor of English at the University of Southern California."

Now for the clincher.  The lead story in the collection is "Melvin in the Sixth Grade".  Having once been a Melvin in the Sixth Grade I decided I wanted this story referenced on The Reading Life👀

An African American girl, in the Sixth grade, maybe 13, and her family have just moved from the dangerous gang violent part of Los Angeles, with mostly African American residents to a safer part of the city.   Starting school mid term is always stressful and bring the only none white student made it really stressful.  She forms a bond with a white boy from Oklahoma, Melvin who hatesvhis name.  He is also an outsider among the California students.  We see the difficulty of their relationship.  Her father is against it.  To me the most moving moment in the story was when she begins to realize her old way of speaking is fading away.

I liked this story a lot.  I enjoyed getting to know Melvin also.  I hope to read more by Dana Johnson.

Mel u

Friday, November 2, 2018

“The Four Seasons”. - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - i1976

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

“Women love a fascist, the boot in the face”. Sylvia Plath

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.  

Today’s story, “The Four Seasons” is the opening work in her collection of nine stories, The Fifteeth District, named for a section of Paris.  The post of Buried in Print elegantly covers the essence of the plot of the story, the publisher, NYRB called it as a novella, I will just talk a bit about what struck me.

The setting is small town Italy, starting a bit before World War Two begins and ending in the opening days of the war.  The Unwins are an English couple, with a naive admiration for Mussolini (fascist leader of Italy 1922 to 1943).  We know a bit about the Unwins but with characteristic subtly Gallant makes us figure out most of their story.  They seem in their late thirties or early forties.  The wife has a grown son from another relationship, they have two children under three Mrs Unwin seems to regret having, thinking she might be too old.  They have just enough money to barely get buy, from an income in England. There are a few other Anglophone expats there.  Gallant lets us see the various class distinctions between them.

Carmela, 13, is their newly hired Italian servant girl.  She speaks no English at first but she is a fast learner.  She and the children quickly bond.  Soon she is essential to family, through her we learn more about the Unwins and Italy in the period.  Mrs Unwin seems to especially admire Mussolini.  Lots of the English saw him as a bulwark against the Communists.  We see how panic spreads as Italy declares war on England.

I came to like Carmela a lot.  I will leave the ending untold.  It was gratifying to learn that many years later Carmela still had small items the Unwins had given her.  Small touches like this are the mark of a master.I wondered how she survived the war, it appears her father was killed fighting in North Africa, if she would one day be married and have her own family.  She is already wise beyond her years.

I look forward to reading along with Buried in Print for years 

Mel u

The Loser by Thomas Bernhard - 1983- translated from German 1991 by Jack Dawson

Read so far during 
German Literature Month Eight 

  1. Once a Jailbird by Hans Fallada - 1947

Thomas  Bernhard

Born 1931 in The Netherlands 

Died 1989 in Austria by assisted suicide,

The Loser: A Novel by Thomas Bernhard - 1991

Wittgenstein’s Nephew was my first encounter with the work of a man many consider Austria’s greatest post World War Two novelist, Thomas Bernhard took place during German Literature Month in November of 2014.  Since then I read, in this order, Woodcutters, Gargoyles, Concrete, and Extinction.  After adding Loser to my read list, there remain two novels translated into English and available as Kindles I have not read, Frost and Lime.  I decided to read Loser this year as I found it a while ago on sale for $1.95. (It is now back up to $11.95.

All of his novels are long monologues, very long, mostly of a man, never a woman, thinking about events, people, whole countries, especially Austria, his family, old acquaintances, all of which he holds in near total contempt.  

As is common in his works, the narrator of The Loser has a significant inheritance, of course he has no gratitude for this.  There are two prominent off-stage persons in the monologue, the Canadian piano virtuoso Glenn Gould and an acquaintance of the narrator.  Both the narrator and his friend aspired to be concert pianists until they heard Glenn Gould play.  They knew they could never approximate his work.  The narrator never really found any direction in his life, his friend became a piano teacher.  The Loser is a refracted reflection on genius, on music, suicide, and a number of other random topics.

The long monologue is interesting, you can slowly recover the actual events of their lives if you read carefully.

I enjoyed The Loser.

Thomas Bernhard is not for everyone.  His narrators may bore some.
I will, I hope, eventually read the remaining two of his books still on my list.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Once a Jailbird: A Novel by Hans Fallada - 1934 - translated from German 2014 by Eric Sutton

German Literature Month

Once a Jailbird: A Novel by Hans Fallada - 1934 - translated from German 2014 by Eric Sutton 

Born 1893 Greifswald, Germany 

Died 1947 Berlin

I am glad to be initiating my participation in German Literature Month Eight with     a novel by Hans Fallada.  This is the fourth work by Fallada to be featured on The Reading Life, all during a German Literature Month.  In 2015 I posted on two of his novels.  A Small Circus is centered on just that. Wolf Among Wolves is a grand sweeping panorama of society in Weimar Germany (1919 to 1933).  Some call it the Vanity Fair of the era. In 2016 I read his consensus masterwork, Every Man Dies Alone.  Primo Levi said it was the best presentation of life in Nazi Germany.  It is the best by far of the four Fallada books I have read.   For sure start Fallada there.

 Once a Jailbird is set toward the end of the Weimar Era (1919 to 1933), we meet our central character, Klaus, as he is finishing up a five year prison term for embezzlement.  We learn quite a bit about what life was like in the prison.  Klaus was a three star prisoner, awarded more privileges for good behavior.  He keeps his cell very clean and he works diligently at the piece work the prison assigns him.  He will be paid for this work upon release.  He has only a few days to go.  The warden, not too bad a person, asks him his plans.  His parents are passed and his brother in law will not help him. He was an experienced typist before he was arrested and hopes to get a job doing that.  He wants to move to Hamburg where no one knows him.  The warden refers him to a service that houses ex-convicts and the unemployed and luckily runs a business typing addresses on envelopes. He finds the money he thought he was getting, maybe three months living expenses, will be paid him through the manager of the home.  When he objects the warden tells him it is for his own good to prevent him from squandering his money

Of course after five years he wants a woman, they call them girls, and this being The crashed German economy the streets are full of cheap women.  He soon wants a real girlfriend, some decent food, some drink, and to make money.

Fallada devotes a lot of time to showing us how ex convicts were taken advantage off, cheated and of course looked down upon.  Klaus meets lots of shady characters.  He and eight others decide to start their own typing business after discovering they were being ripped off by their employer.  Of course it starts out well but......

No one wants to trust him.  We hear the refrain “once a jailbird” quite a few times.  Klaus sometimes wishes he was back in jail where at least he got food and had no rent.

Fallada gives a vivid picture of life on the mean streets of Weimar Hamburg.  There are lots of interesting people.

Once a Jail Bird was an enjoyable read for me.  

There are several more Fallada novels available as Kindles and I hope to read one in German Literature Month in 2019.

I purchased the Kindle edition on a flash sale for $1.95.  It is back up to $11.95.  My guess is it will go back on sale soon and I don’t endorse this book to those I do not know at the full price.  

Bio Data from Melville House
Before WWII, German writer Hans Fallada's novels were international bestsellers, on a par with those of his countrymen Thoman Mann and Herman Hesse. In America, Hollywood even turned his first big novel, Little Man, What Now? into a major motion picture

Learning the movie was made by a Jewish producer, however, the Nazis blocked Fallada's work from foreign rights sales, and began to pay him closer attention. When he refused to join the Nazi party he was arrested by the Gestapo--who eventually released him, but thereafter regularly summoned him for "discussions" of his work.

However, unlike Mann, Hesse, and others, Fallada refused to flee to safety, even when his British publisher, George Putnam, sent a private boat to rescue him. The pressure took its toll on Fallada, and he resorted increasingly to drugs and alcohol for relief. Not long after Goebbels ordered him to write an anti-Semitic novel he snapped and found himself imprisoned in an asylum for the "criminally insane"--considered a death sentence under Nazi rule. To forestall the inevitable, he pretended to write the assignment for Goebbels, while actually composing three encrypted books--including his tour de force novel The Drinker--in such dense code that they were not deciphered until long after his death.

Fallada outlasted the Reich and was freed at war's end. But he was a shattered man. To help him recover by putting him to work, Fallada's publisher gave him the Gestapo file of a simple, working-class couple who had resisted the Nazis. Inspired, Fallada completed Every Man Dies Alone in just twenty-four days.

Mel u