Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Little Berliner - A Short Story by Robert Walser - 1914 - translated from German by Helen Watts

German Literature Month, November, 2019

Works so far read for German Literature Month, 2019

1. Allmen and The Pink Diamond by Martin Suter, 2011
2. The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1808
3. Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada - 2014
4. Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada - 1947
5. "The Little Berliner" by Robert Walser, 1914

"Walser’s virtues are those of the most mature, most civilized art. He is a truly wonderful, heartbreaking writer"'. Susan Sontag

"Since then I have slowly learned to grasp how everything is connected across space and time, the life of the Prussian writer Kleist with that of a Swiss author who claims to have worked as a clerk in a brewery in Thun, the echo of a pistol shot across the Wannsee with the view from a window of the Herisau asylum, Walser’s long walks with my own travels, dates of birth with dates of death, happiness with misfortune, natural history and the history of our industries, that of Heimat with that of exile. On all these paths Walser has been my constant companion. I only need to look up for a moment in my daily work to see him standing somewhere a little apart, the unmistakable figure of the solitary walker just pausing to take in the surroundings."  William Sebald

Mel first encountered the work of Robert Walser during German Literature Month in 2013, he followed up with posts on short stories in  2014 and in 2015 on his novel The Tanners.  We are returning to him this year through a very Walserian story, "The Little Berliner".

1878 to 1956 - Switzerland

"The Little Berliner" is narrated by a 12 year old girl from an affuent Berlin family.  The story really is enchanting, magic.  We see how the girl totally has the views of her class.  She knows her main destiny is to marry and have children.  

One very good way to get into Walser is through the Selected Stories collection pictured above.

Oleander Bousweau

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs - 2016

A Revolutionary War Read

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs is a first rate historical novel, bringing to life Alexander Hamilton, his wife, and his era.

But before you read this work, assuming you have not done so, you will enjoy The Hamilton Affair much more if you first read Alexander Hamilton, A Biography by Ron Chernow.

The plot alternates between episodes in the life of Hamilton and his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler.  Things begin in Christiansted, St. Croix, where Hamilton was born and lived until his early teens, in January 1768.  Hamilton's parents were not married, his father deserted the family.  His mother struggled to feed Hamilton and his brother.  There were unsavory rumors about her relationships with men.  Alexander, I feel we can call him that, was about thirteen, working as a clerk for a shipping company.  St Croix was dominated by the sugar industry.  The sugar industry was totally dependent on slaves.  To be a sugar industry slave was a horribly cruel life.  From seeing this Alexander develops a life time aborance to slavery.  Hamilton is so smart and so reliable he received sponsorship to go to work in New York.  Cobbs does a wonderful job creating the insular world of St. Croix.

We the move on to Saratoga New York, June 1770 to meet the future Mrs Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler at the home of her patrician  and wealthy family, lots of siblings, servants and slaves.  The ambience has a kind of Jane Austen feel.  Elizabeth and her sisters are approaching the age to marry and finding a proper husband is of paramount importance.  A lot of the plot in the first third or do of the book shows us how a penniless, illegitimate foreigner wound up marrying and being totally accepted in one of New York's wealthiest families.

Cobbs takes us through the years of the American Revolution, to his close relationship with Geirge Washington, his friendship with Lafayette, his becoming a general. Seeing his importance as a field commander at Yorktown was very exciting.

We are their at the wedding.  There are explicit sex scenes between the Hamilton's.  Of course this is a product of the imagination of Cobb but we know from correspondence that they were very close. 

With alternating chapters as Alexander's work for the government takes him away from home, we get a look at some of the conflicts in the New Republic.  The Hamilton's have lots of children, miscarriages were common as were early deaths.  The Hamiltons are presented as a close couple.  Then Alexander commits a totally out of character blunder, he has an affair.

The novel flashes  on from the tragic senseless death of Alexander in 1804 to the passing of his wife fifty years later.

"Award-winning historian Elizabeth Cobbs brings fresh, unexpected perspectives to our understanding of the past and present. Building upon worldwide research and extraordinary life experiences, Elizabeth writes best selling  fiction and non-fiction that is both scholarly and witty. Her path-breaking books and articles reveal a world that is as intriguing and surprising as it is real.

Elizabeth earned her Ph.D. in American history at Stanford University. She now holds the Melbern Glasscock Chair at Texas A&M University and a Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Her books have won four literary prizes, two for American history and two for fiction. Elizabeth has been a Fulbright scholar in Ireland and a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. She has served on the Historical Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department and on the jury for the Pulitzer Prize in History.". From

Mel u

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The River Capture by Mary Costello - 2019

Canongate - Publisher of The River Capture

My Q and A Session with Mary Costello 

In March of 2013 I read and posted upon Mary Costello's debut collection, The China Factory.  I am delighted to be today featuring her second novel, River Capture. Set mostly in Waterford, Ireland, the river is the Sullane.

The theoretical model behind my blog calls for me to focus on literary works about people who lead reading centered lives. River Crossing is a brilliant example of such a work. The central character Luke O'Brien is obsessed with Leopold Bloom from Ulysses.  He has just returned from Dublin where he was teaching Joyce.  He often reacts to passing events by wondering what Leopold Bloom would do under the same circumstances.  He seems to have both Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man so well internalized that segments enter his consciousness through out his day as involuntary memories.  He sees himself in terms of his relationship to Joyce and his work.  He has vague plans to write a book on Joyce now that he is back on the family farm.  There are lots of quotes from Joyce and even references to Richard Ellman's biography.

Luke is kind of at odds as what to do with his days.  Much of his time is spent visiting his Aunt Ellen, his only living relative besides a sister in Australia.  He seems slightly unhappy.

Luke has had a gay relationship as well as one with a woman, both way in the past but he thinks about them a lot.  He is lonely but he is used to that.  

One day a woman comes to his farm and asks him to adopt her uncle's dog. They gradually develop a relationship. Ruth brings a much needed element of chaos into Luke's life.

As the plot reaches about midpoint Luke's mind takes on an almost Joycean synsesis of human culture.  The language is exquisite.  

Irish romantic relationships are stereotypically portrayed as restrained, we see into and beyond that in the evolving relationship of Luke and Ruth.

This is very much a set in place story, deeply rooted in Ireland.

From the publisher

"Mary Costello lives in Galway. Her short story collection, The China Factory (2012), was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award and shortlisted for an Irish Book Award. Her first novel, Academy Street (2014), won the Irish Novel of the Year Award at the Irish Book Awards and was named overall Irish Book of the Year. It was serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime and was shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award, the Costa First Novel Prize, the EU Prize for Literature and the Prix Littéraire des Ambassadeurs de la Francophonie en Irlande, and has been translated into several languages. The River Capture is her second novel."

Mel u

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada - 1947 - translated from German by Allan Blunden 2016

German Literature Month November 2019

During German Literature Month in 2015 i read two novels by Hans Falada, Wolf Among Wolves and Every Man Dies Alone.  Promo Levi said Every Man Dies Alone was the greatest work on life in Nazi Germany.  In 2016 I read his A Small Circus, in 2018 Once a Jail Bird (Fallada spent several years in jail).

Nightmare in Berlin was his final novel, set in Berlin starting with the arrival of Russian troops in Berlin.  From this point it follows lives of a married couple as they try to restore their pre-war life.

Nightmare in Berlin is closely based on his life with his wife in the closing days of the war and a year or so on.  Like the lead character, Doll (ok the name irritated me), Fallada was made mayor of a small town by Russians and his wife was a heroin user.
Doll encounters lots of ex-Nazi party members but nobody will admit they liked Hitler.  Doll and his wife return to Berlin but there old apartment is occupied by others.  They seek medical help in a broken down system.  Everyone in the book desperately wants American cigarettes. Everybody drinks heavily and seeks drugs to dull the pain.

Berlin truly is a nightmare City.  Everyone is constantly hungry, everyone is crooked.  

The Review in The Guardian said this was a very poorly translated book. The reviewer laughs at the work of the translator.

Start Fallada with Everyman Dies Alone then decide if you want to read more.

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
Ambrosia Bousweau 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Hersh Dovid Nomberg: ‘The Golden Fantasy’ Translated by Daniel Kennedy from Yiddish

Hersh Dovid Nomberg: ‘The Golden Fantasy’ - 1906- Translated by Daniel Kennedy from Yiddish -2019

April 14, 1876. - Mszczonow (near Warsaw) Poland

November 21, 1927. -Ofwock, Poland

(For biographical data see the link below from The YIVO Encyclopedia of Eastern European Jews.)

“The Golden Fantasy” is my first encounter with the work of Hersh David Nomberg.  Thanks to Daniel Kennedy there will soon be available a collection of Homberg’s set in Warsaw short stories.

My main purpose today is let those interested know that a new translation of a pre-World War One   Yiddish  short story is now online.

This fascinating story is structured as if we were sitting in on a conversation between friends.  The time is 1906, the 1905 Russian revolution began to change everything for the Jews of Warsaw. 

I will share with you the opening of the story, I found it drew me deeply into the social world of the young doctor, his ability to keep hope in a grim world.

“You claim that there are people in this world without fantasies, who live without hope or illusions? In my opinion you’re quite wrong. It’s as hard for me to conceive of a human life without oxygen, as one without hope.”
The young, newly qualified doctor stroked his black goatee and continued.
“If you wish, I’ll tell you the story of a man who currently finds himself with us in the psychiatric ward. I knew him before he came to us; five years ago, he was an acquaintance of mine. I had been kicked out of the university and found myself in a circle of very interesting young people: lost, rejected and adrift. We stuck together, living as friends, bound by the vagaries of life despite having quite different characters and persuasions.
Not much is left of our little group now: some took their own lives, one is in Siberia, one died in prison, some have moved on to other careers and so on. But forgive me, I wanted to tell you about the man without illusions who is now in the madhouse. I knew him and I think I understood him well enough, though for the longest time he was something of a puzzle to me. Not just to me in fact; everyone who knew him­—Gurshteyn is his name—was taken aback by the extent of his serenity and apathy. Nothing, it seemed, could stir his heart or have any effect on his blank, nonchalantly satisfied face, nor could anything wipe away the smile in those lifeless eyes of his. No event, either in the world at large or in his own circle of acquaintances, ever took him by surprise.”

He is part of a circle of friends trying to scrap together a living.  
Times are hard, we see the consequences of anti-Czarist activity, we learn of more suicides, we are given a deeper look into the man without fantasies or illusions. The men seem without wives or any sort of women in their lives and no hopes to do much more than survive.

I will leave the plot line for you to explore.

“Nomberg's stories explore modern Jewish life in the growing cosmopolitan city of Warsaw: young intellectuals in pursuit of truth, beauty, and love; working class fathers tempted by schemes for easy money; teenagers divided between their traditional religious upbringings and the world of secular culture and political revolution. By turns comic, satiric, and earnest, Nomberg's stories take the pulse of Warsaw's Jewish society at the dawn of the twentieth century”.  from the website of the translator.

Mel u

Saturday, November 9, 2019

“Can't Go Out" - A Short Story by Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano - 2019 - translated from Cebuano by John Bengan

My Posts on the Literature and History of the Philippines

"Can't Go Out" - A Short Story by Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano - 2019 - translated from Cebuano by John Bengan

From Words Without Borders - November 2019

I was delighted to discover that for the first time ever Words Without Borders in The November 2019 edition is featuring Short Stories, Poems and Essays featuring writers from the Philippines. For a writer to make use of one of the 156 indeginous languages is a political as well as a literary statement, an affirmation old ways can endure in a Society increasingly dominated by mega malls and Facebook.

In years past I have posted on  pre-World War Two short stories and stories by National Authors of the Philippines as well as non-fiction. Readership on these posts is very high, showing there are lots of people interested in older Filipino literature.  These stories are a great resource for those into the history of the Philippines, a cultural treasure.  Soon all with a living memory of this era will be gone.

Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano’s story “Can’t Go Out” is set in the southern Phillipines, among indeginous people of Davao Del Sur
(Davao del Sur (Cebuano: Habagatang Dabaw) is a province in the Philippines located in the Davao Region in Mindanao. Its capital and largest city is Digos.) 

The time of the story is not explicitly stated. Probably it is sometime in the 1950s.  The central character Is a young woman.  She has heard of televisions but not yet seen one, she has seen cars but never ridden in one.  

I think the beautiful opening will be enough to illustrate the author’s ability to bring rural Philippines perfectly to life 

“Darkness falls in the afternoon. It’s going to rain again. The carabao and the goats have been herded off to shelter. The newly harvested corn has been covered. The house smells of fuel because our tiny lamp has been lit. Smoke rises from the hearth, a signal that Mama is cooking something. The five of us can’t go out. I want to go out so I can wait for Papa. I want to look out for what he brings, but I can’t go out.
The other week, Papa brought meat from hunting. Mama prepared it in a delicious broth. Rod and I fought over a large piece of wild boar meat. Mama got upset because we shouldn’t fight at the table. 
But last night, she and Papa were arguing. The five of us slept on empty stomachs. I couldn’t find my malong cloth. I fell asleep in our cold corner of the forest in Datal Fitak, a mountain in Matanao.
My teacher asks if we have ever seen a TV. I’ve seen one in a picture but I don’t know what it’s for. I haven’t been to Digos or to Davao, but I’ve heard about those places. So many people, they say, so many vehicles. Sometimes I don’t feel so bad because so many people and so many vehicles might run me over.  “

The story displsys the intense closeness of Filipino Family.  We see tbe role of the mother as care giver, Family rule giver and nourisher. Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano makes marvelous use of food.  

I will leave the action of the story for you, it is very intense.

I have a theory sbout the history of the Philippines not in full accord with what is taught in schools.  We are taught that the Philippines was founded by traders from Malaysia and China.  The problem with this idea is they came without women.  The contribution of aboriginal proples is way underestimated.  Historical linguistics suggested a region with many languages has a very ancient culture.  Probably about 500,000 years ago archipelago began to be settled by people from Siberia.  

I mention this as I greatly respect the efforts of Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano to keep alive history.

Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano received a BA in Mass Communication from Holy Cross of Davao College, where she developed her dedication to journalism and passion for creative writing. She works as a college instructor, teaching Development Communication at Southern Philippines Agribusiness and Marine and Aquatic School of Technology (SPAMAST)–Malita, Davao Occidental. She is proud of her Igorot, Kapampangan, and Blaan roots. Her writing is also her advocacy for the indigenous people of Davao del Sur. It focuses on indigenous people, motherhood, and children, as she is also a mother and a wife.

John Bengan teaches at the Department of Humanities in the University of the Philippines Mindanao. His work has appeared in Likhaan 6, Kritika Kultura, BooksActually’s Gold Standard, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, among others. He holds an MFA in creative writing from The New School. A recipient of a Ford Foundation International Fellowship, he has won prizes from the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards and the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for his short fiction. He lives in Davao City

Mel u

Friday, November 8, 2019

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada - 2014 - translated from German by Susan Bernofsky - 2016

Works read so far for German Literature Month, 2019

1. Allmen and The Pink Diamond by Martin Suter, 2011
2. The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1808
3. Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada - 2014

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada  - 2014 - translated from German by Susan Bernofsky - 2016

During another magnificent book blog event, The 12th Year of the Japanese Literature Challenge I read a wonderfully creative darkly humorous dystopian novel, The Emissary.  By Yoko Tawada, it was originally written in Japanese.  Here my summation of this work

"The Emissary by Yōko Tawada, translated from The Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani, won The 2018 National Book Award for Best Translated Literature.  It potrays a Japan after some sort of tremendous ecological decay which causes children to be born weak, deformed with little capacity for positive development.  The older citizens, sixty plus or so, keep getting stronger as they age.  People are triving at 120.  Japan has become completely isolationist.  Using foreign words is illegal. Every thing is just totally weird."

Tawada is one of the very few authors, to my knowledge the only one, to have obtained commercial success and literary aclaim in both Japanese and German.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear is a very strange, challenging and preplexing book.  It is also tremendously entertaining, politically acute and satrical of much more than I probably grasp about Germany.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear consists of three novelas about the members of a family of Polar Bears, a grandmother, her daughter and her grandson.  They become well known writers, circus performers, enter into intra-species relationships with humans all the while convincingly depicted as bears.  Of course this is a work in the tradition of magic realism.

The first section is devoted to the grandmother, a circus performer living in the Soviet Union.  She writes a successful autobiography.
Section two centers on her daughter, who has moved to the German Democratic Republic, she also works in the circus.  The last section is devoted to the grandson.

There is a lot to ponder in this book.  I think you can see it partially as a commentary on colonialism, an attack on venal publishers, a trashing of the treatment of animals in the circus and much more.

 Those new to Tawada are in for a true multicultural treat.

"Called “magnificently strange” by The New Yorker and frequently compared to Kafka, Pynchon, and Murakami, Yoko Tawada (b. 1960) is one of the most creative, theoretically provocative, and unflinchingly original writers in the world. Her work often deals with the ways that nationhood, languages, gender, and other types of identities affect people in contemporary society, especially in our postmodern world of shifting, fluid boundaries.  She is one of the rare writers who has achieved critical success writing in two languages, both in her native Japanese and in German, the language of the country where she has lived since 1982. Five volumes of her work in English translation have been published by New Directions and Kodansha, and her work has been translated into many other languages. Her numerous literary prizes in both Japan and Europe include the Gunzo Prize for New Writers for "Missing Heels,” the Akutagawa Prize (Japan's most important prize for young writers) for "The Bridegroom Was a Dog," the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize for her contributions to German-language literature, the Izumi Kyōka Prize, and the Goethe Medal."

From Words Without Borders

Susan Bernofsky


Susan Bernofsky’s literary translations include seven works of fiction by the great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser, as well as novels and poetry by Jenny Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada, Gregor von Rezzori, Uljana Wolf and others. She chairs the PEN Translation Committee and is co-editor (with Esther Allen) of the 2013 Columbia University Press anthology In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means. She received the 2006 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize and the 2012 Calw Hermann Hesse Translation Prize as well as awards and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the PEN Translation Fund, the NEA, the NEH, the Leon Levy Center for Biography and the Lannan Foundation

Mel u
Ambrosia Bouseweau

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Marquise of O - A Short Story by Heinrich Von Kleist - 1808 - translated from German 1978 by David Luke

German Literature Month, 2019

Works read so far for German Literature Month, 2019

1. Allmen and The Pink Diamond by Martin Suter, 2011
2. The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1808

The Marquise of O - A Short Story by Heinrich Von Kliest - 1808 - translated from German 1978 by David Luke

October 18, 1777 - Frankfort, Germany

November 21, 1811 - Berlin,Germany

This is The third time I have posted on a work 
by Heinrich Von Kleist during German Literature Month.  In November 2012 I posted on The Begger Woman of Locorno, during 2017 on The Earth Quake in Chile.  I liked both these stories a lot.Today i am posting on his perhaps most now read work, The Marquise of O.

The opening paragraph sets the stage for the intriguing plot

“IN M—, an important town in northern Italy, the widowed Marquise of O—, a lady of unblemished reputation and the mother of several well-brought-up children, inserted the following announcement in the newspapers: that she had, without knowledge of the cause, come to find herself in a certain situation; that she would like the father of the child she was expecting to disclose his identity to her; and that she was resolved, out of consideration consideration for her family, to marry him. The lady who, under the constraint of unalterable circumstances, had with such boldness taken so strange a step and thus exposed herself to the derision of society, was the daughter of Colonel G—, the Commandant of the citadel at M—. About three years earlier her husband, the Marquis of O—, to whom she was most deeply and tenderly attached, had lost his life in the course of a journey to Paris on family business. At the request of her excellent mother she had, after his death, left the country estate at V—where she had lived hitherto, and had returned with her two children to the house of her father the Commandant. Here she had for the next few years lived a very secluded life, devoted to art and reading, the education of her children.”

As her family estate is being taken over by Russian soldiers, the Russian count in charge of the soldiers stops them from raping the Marquise.  He does continue on to seize the family property as was his military duty.  He soon returns the estate to the father. 

The father is outraged at his daughter, he thinks she is lying and had sex most likely with the Russian count or an unknown person.  He at  first wants her out of the house so she moves to the estate of her late husband.

The Russian count proposes marriage but denies having had sex with her, out of consideration for her family and her honor, to marry him. If they marry, the social code of her time forgets about the outside of marriage sex. first turns this down, saying the barely know him.  He must depart on military matters but the family agrees she will marry no one until he returns and stays with them to allow a mutual love to develop.

The wife places an advertisement in the local newspaper asking the father of her child to come forth. (There is a funny side plot in which a groom claims to be the father.). A response is received saying the father will present himself at family estate at 300 pm  the next day.  The mother of the Marquise makes her father apologize in a very touching scene.  Everyone awaits the arrival,both her father and brother a ready to fight a duel.

The ending is fascinating, showing a lot of psychological depth.

We are left to wonder if the Russian count, of course he is wealthy, is the father and if so did he rape her.

This work, some classify it as a novella, reminded me a lot of shorter set in Italy works by Stendhal. It was fun to read and might have been shocking in 1808.

I read this story in The Marquise of O—AND OTHER STORIES Translated with an Introduction by DAVID LUKE AND NIGEL REEVES, a lovely collection with ten stories.  

Heinrich Von Kleist (1777 to 1811) was a famous poet, perhaps the leading dramatist of German Romanticism, a novelist but is now, I think, most still read outside of academia, for his short stories.  This will be the third year in which I post on one of his stories during German Literature Month.  (I recommend a collection of his short stories, The Marquise of O and other Stories
edited and translated by David Luke and Nigel Reeves.  It includes eight stories, as well as a very informative introduction. Kleist lived a life worthy of a Romantic poet, ending in a suicide pact with a Lady.

If possible i would like to read his novella, The Betrothal in Santo Domingo, set during period of The Hatai slave revolt.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple -2019 - 520 pages

The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple -2019 - 520 pages

An autodidactic corner selection 

December 31, 1600.  The British East India company is granted a Royal Charter to engage in trade on the Indian Subcontinent.  The initial investors were wealthy London business persons with experience in international trade.  All would profit beyond their dreams.

The company at it apex controlled much of the Subcontinent,either directly or through puppet rulers and generated half the world’s international trade.  Among the  chief items of trade exported from India were cotton, silk, salt, spices, tea and opium.

Through the company, The British Empire in India developed.  

Dalrymple provides us details on The Dutch and Portugese trading companies founded before The British East India Company.

In The 18th century the company, now having a standing army of 260,000, twice the size of the British Army, takes political control of much of The Subcontinent. Dalrypmple goes into a lot of background about wars between the Mughal Empire, Princely States and the army of the BEC.  Both sides were cruel, killing women and children and prisoners of war.  Eventually superior battle tactics, weapons, organization and the ability to play different India political entities against each other allowed the BEC to prevail.  Dalrymple talks a lot about Indian princes, potentates, generals, and such.  I enjoyed learning one ruler of a large princely state collected Persian cats.

As the BEC became incredibly profitable it began to purchase the support of English politicians.

Dalrypmple explains that the BEC basically ruled India from 1757 to 1857, in 1858 the Crown took over rulership.creating the British Raj.

Dalrypmple’s book is must reading for anyone into Indian or British history.  Any reader of 19th century British literature will recall all the family fortunes made in India, the younger brothers hoping to come home rich and marry the girl they love, hoping her parents will accept him now that he is wealthy.  

The book is just so full of fascintating knowledge. We see that 
 Dalrymple is so right in telling us that The BEC conquest of India is greatest act of corporate violence in history. Not since Cortes was such richs brought back to Europe.  Dalrymple details the English figures who ran The BEC.  I was fascinated to learn Indian bankers coluded with The BEC to put puppet rulers in place to protect their income.  For sure i wish now to know more about The Seth Bankers.

I was very surprised to learn that large battalions composed of highly trained African slaves were part of BEC’s army.  I really want to know more about The Slave trade in India.  Dalrymple just kind of tantalizes us with this.  Dalrymple says Africa to India slave trade began when The Sierra Leone company was formed in 1592. (The Wikipedia article on The company tells a totally different story about the origins of this company.  I think we need more details to accept this as a fact.)

The is a fascinating work.  It is mostly a political  history of India in the period.  We learn next to nothing about the lives of ordinary Indians but a huge amount about their rulers.

For bio data and a list of The author’s other books, i refer you to

This is a wonderfully  written book.  

Monday, November 4, 2019

Allmen and the Pink Diamond by Martin Suter - 2011 - translated from German 2019 by Stephen Morris

Allmen and the Pink Diamond by Martin Suter - 2011  - translated from German 2019 by Stephen Morris

During German Literature Month November, 2017 I read a very interesting novel by Martin Suter, The Last Weynfeldt.  

I am happy to begin my participation in German Literature Month 2019 with another novel by Suter, Allmen and the Pink Diamond.
Short, 203 pages it is a fast reading detective story.  It is part of a series of novels starring Johann Friedrich von Allmen and his Guatemalan butler Carlos.  Allmen is hired to retrieve a fabulously expensive pink diamond.  Perpetually strapped for cash, there is a huge fee involved if he recovers the gem.

Tracks lead to a grand Baltic beach resort.  Before then they stop in London and Zurich.. A mysterious Russian is the first suspect.  
 It was fun to vicariously indulge in the wonderful food served at the hotel and observe the other guests.  As befits a story set in an expensive hotel on the Baltic, there are semi-shaddy guests, ranging from the idol rich to international software pirates.  Of course there is a bit of mild sex.

I enjoyed reading this but..the characters could be better developed, some of the dialogue does not ring true. This might be a translation issue but an upper class Englishman talks like a character out of an Ali Gee skitt by Sasha Cohen.  I did enjoy the section on stock manipulations.  It ends happily )for Allman and Carlos.  I liked the ending.

I was kindly given a review copy of this novel.  I think the price is to high.  I would not suggest a friend pay $10.95 for this book.  I found
The Last Weynfeldt much more interesting.  

About Martin Suter

Martin Suter, born in Zurich in 1948, is a novelist, screenwriter and newspaper columnist. He has written a dozen novels, many of them best-sellers in Europe and translated into 32 languages. Suter lives with his family in Zurich.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

My Plans and Hopes for German Literature Month - Novrmber - 2019

This will be the eighth year in which I have participated in German Literature Month.  Events like this are part of the reason that the international book blog community is such a great entity.  There are reading suggestions on the host blog and the many participants always surprise me with wonderful new to me writers.

I hope to read most of the books in the list below.  Not all the authors were born in Germany but all the items were first originally written in German.

In no particular order

1. Blue Night by Simon Buchnolz - 2016 . Crime novel
2. Goethe: Life as a Work of Art by Rödiger Safrsnsh
3. Memoirs of a Polar Bear by YokaTawada
4. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döibin - premier Weimar era novel.  I will be joining the read along
5. Allman and the Pink Diamonds by Martin Suter - a detective novel. 2017
6. A Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil - this is a long work, I might break up the posts
7. Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada -his final work
8. Heinrich Von Kleist - two short stories
9. Stefan Zwieg.  Researching what to read
10. Robert Walser. Researching ideas

I have numerous backup books in mind and I know I will be lead to other works as the month goes on.

Our thanks to Caroline and Lizzy for hosting this wonderful event.

Mel ü
Ambrosia Bousweau

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Reading Life Review - October. 2019

October Authors

The Reading Life is a multicultural book blog, committed to Literary Globalism.  

Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Yiddish Culture,Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among our interests.

Row 1

1. Eleanor Fitzsimons - Ireland - author of The Lives and Loves of E. Nesbit and Wilde's Women
2. Anne Boyd Rioux - USA - author of Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist
3. Ron Chernow - USA - Pulitzer Prize winning biographer
4. Leo Tolstoy - Russia

Row 2

1. YZ Chin - Malaysia to USA - author of prize winning debut collection of short stories, Though I Get Home.  To be featured in November
2. Lydia Davis - USA - novelist, short story writer, translator of Proust and Flaubert
3. Gustave Flaubert - France
4. Mavis Gallant - Canada to France - featured many times

Row 3

1. Brian Kirk - Ireland - featured eight times, hopefully to be followed for many years
2. Katherine Mansfield - New Zealand
3. Danielle McLaughlin - Ireland - award winning short story writer, featured numerous times

Home Countries of Authors

1. Ireland - 3
2. USA - 3
3. France - 1
4. Malaysia - 1
5. Canada - 1
6. New Zealand - 1
7. Russia - 1

In October 7 women were featured, four men, three deceased, eight living.  Only one writer was featured for the first time, YZ Chin.

Blog Stats

The Most Viewed Posts in October were all on short stories by South and South Asian writers, three pre-WW Two stories from the Philippines, one from India, "Yellow Fish" by C. S. Lakshmi (aka Ambai) with the most viewed post being The Century Carver" by Oka Rusmini-An Indonesian Short Story.  These are long standing trends.

Top Home countries of visitors

1. USA
2. The Philippines
3. India
4. The Netherlands -first time in this list
5. Russia.- spam factories?
6. Canada
7. Ukraine 
8. Germany

There has been 5,848,483 page views since inception.

Works read in October but unposted Upon

1. The Sympathizer by Viet Nguyen
2. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
3. Millard Filmore: Biography of a President by Robert Rayback 

Mel also read two short stories he did not post about but he wanted listed. Both appeared in THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY OF THE YEAR Volume Eleven, 2017

1. You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay, Alyssa Wong- there are several posts on this writer.  Mel is very high on her work, there are posts on her stories on RL, including links
2. RED DIRT WITCH N.K. Jemisin - she won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2016, 2017, and 2018, unprecedented.  

Both these writers will be featured in time, I think.

November Plans

For the eight year, I will be participating in German Literature Month

Details are here- I will soon do a post on my plans for this year.

I will continue reading along on Buried in Print's Mavis Gallant Project

We might do a reading plan post for the next two months

Our thanks extended to Max u for his kind provision of Amazon gift cards

To those who leave comments, you keep us going.

Oleander Bousweau

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

It's Not Me It's You by Brian Kirk - 2019

Brian Kirk is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist from Dublin, Ireland. His work has appeared in the Sunday Tribune, Crannog, The Stony Thursday Book, Revival, Boyne Berries, Wordlegs and various anthologies.

I first began reading short stories by Brian Kirk in March of 2013.  This will be the eighth time he has been featured on The Reading Life.  Only writers for whom I have great regard, from any era, are given such treatment. (In the link to the Q and A session you can find links to his stories.) I urge anyone interested in the short story to read his Q and A session.

It's Not Me, It's You features three of Kirk's stories.
I will share enough about two of them to try to convey why I like his work so much.

That New Girl

"That New Girl" will resonate with anyone who has worked in an office with a high rate of employee turn over, especially an office in which a lot of the workers are relatively young.  Whenever a new woman, they call her a girl, starts everybody wonders what she will be like.  Sexual curiosity runs high. The narrator of the story, married a couple of years, sees the girl interested in Dan. He seems a bit jealous of the fact that the girls all seem to like him.

Kirk has a gift for bringing characters to life in a few sentences:

"Anyway, when I was single I was never that popular with the girls, so I can’t see how my being suddenly unavailable would affect anything either way. Sure, I enjoy a night out and used to do my best with the chat up lines when I had a few drinks inside me, but I was never a player; not the way Dan is. All the clichés you hear about women liking a bastard appear to be true in his case. For some reason this bothers me; probably because I consider myself a nice guy. Over the years that he’s been with the company Dan’s dated most of his female co-workers. Some have been one-night stands, some longer, but never for more than a month or two. I don’t mean to judge him or anything, but somehow it doesn’t seem right.
It’s always the new girls he goes for. Fresh meat, he calls them. We laugh, Sara and I, when we talk about it."

As the story progresses we see the strains the narrator's marriage is under.  

Nothing shocking or flabbergasting happens in "That New Girl".  It is simply a great pleasure to read the elegant prose of Kirk while maybe you think back on your days working in an office, either as a young man or as a "new girl" or you contemplate the state of your marriage.

The Shawl

Brian Kirk's story, I will just describe it briefly as I do not want to spoil the experience of reading it for the first time for you, is about a subject few will like to think about.  Among other things, it is about what can happen to a romance when the money runs out.   Robert and Helen have been living together for some time.  Robert is a stock broker, the time of extreme prosperity in Ireland, called the Celtic Tiger, is winding down.   There are murmurs of staff reductions at his office.  He and Helen push these thoughts out of their minds.  

One night they find an almost magic shawl.

"They found the shawl on the back of a chair in a bar, forgotten or discarded by its owner. It was beautiful, golden, with many coloured threads woven into it. Robert saw it first, and showed it to Helen. He imagined an elegant older woman with pale complexion and red lips wearing it, loosely thrown around her shoulders against the chill of a late summer evening. They were about to leave and, rather than hand it in to the barman as she would normally have done, Robert watched as Helen simply folded it neatly and placed it in her bag."

 Soon the shawl takes on, or almost takes over their sex lives.   

" When he was naked he started to undress her slowly, removing each garment methodically, not kissing or even touching her flesh yet. When she was completely naked he reached down to the floor and took up the shawl from where it lay. He coiled it like a rope and bound her two hands loosely to the wrought iron headboard.
          Helen’s eyes opened in surprise as he did this, but she did not attempt to stop him. He felt a rush of excitement, a throb like a dull ache at the back of his skull, and he noticed how she smiled as she lay back on the covers, apparently surrendering herself to the exquisite otherness of restraint. Robert wasn't sure why he had done it. There was something about the shawl, and the way Helen was attracted to it, that told him it was okay. "
Soon they do not go to bed together without using the shawl in a bondage routine.   Both feel much more sexually aroused than without it.

In addition to Robert and Helen we meet some of his work friends.   One of the men is getting married soon and he cannot wait as he says he has found the perfect woman.  Of course his mates give him a hard time about it.   The good times do not last forever and relationships have their ebbs and flows.   I hesitate to tell to much of the story so I won't give away more of the plot.  The denouement of the story is in fact very complicated, not simple norbwill, I think, be the reaction of most people.   

I urge you to read this story.   "The Shawl" by Brian Kirk has a great deal to tell us about how money permeates our relationships and can be too important in determining self esteem if we have no  anchor in life. It is a story to which  anyone who was once riding high on what they thought was an endless wave of prosperity can directly relate.   Women may wonder what they would do if the same thing happened in their relationship and men will wonder what their partner might do. 

 Some time ago I read in a Japanese novel (I cannot recall the name of it) that when a man loses his money, often his relationship with the woman in his life takes a down turn or ends.   The man will quickly think, "OK I am broke so she left me".   In fact it is often the man does not have the strength or the inner resources to live with out his money propping up his ego and he behaves in a way calculated to drive the woman away so he can then tell himself that this shows she never loved him.  Of course then the woman who leaves will also wonder about her own values.   

You can read this wonderful story here.

Here is the story behind this work, from Brian's website

"Last Thursday, 26th October 2019, Southword Editions published their first two Short Fiction Chapbooks: A Middle Eastern No by Jill Widner and It’s Not Me, It’s You by Brian Kirk (that’s me!).
Both publications are now available from Munster Literature Centre and Amazon. I hope both books gain many new readers and also some reviews over the coming weeks and months. I’m very proud of the three stories that appear in my chapbook and want to thank Southword Editions for doing such a great job in publishing them. I’d also like to thank the editors of the magazines and journals who published these stories originally.  That New Girl was published by Steve Moran, Willesden Herald New Short Stories in November 2018; The Shawl was published by Jen Matthews in Long Story Short Literary Journal in March 2013; The Invitation was published by Valerie Sirr in Issue 7 of The Lonely Crowd in June 2017.
I’d also like to acknowledge the support I received from South Dublin County Council Arts Office by way of a bursary in 2017 when I was writing these stories. My final and particular thanks go to John Murphy who has been a first reader and a vital critical eye for me for many years and t0 Dermot Bolger who mentored me during 2018 and 2019 as I prepared my full collection of short stories for which I am now actively seeking a publisher."

I hope to follow the work of Brian Kirk for a long time.

Mel u