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





Thursday, January 31, 2019

“The Office of Missing Persons” - A Short Story by Akil Kumarasamy- from her collection Half Gods





You can read “The Office of Missing Persons” here

Website of Akil Kumarasamy


Post in The New Yorker on Half Gods


Gateway to works by Amanthi Harris focusing on Sri Lanka




I first became aware of the near overwhelming stories of Akil Kumarasamy in a news letter from PEN.  It was announced that she, along with four other writers, was shorted  listed for their annual award for Best Debut Short Story Collection. On her website I learned of numerous awards and looked through the glowing reviews.  I am very interested in fiction dealing with the interface between south  Asian culture and that of the Anglophone west.  I knew I wanted to learn more about her work.  (I have posted on works related to the civil war and social unrest in Sri Lanka before, occasioned by a reading of short stories by Amanthi Harris.)

“The Office of Missing Persons” shows us what happens when the seventeen year old son of one of Sri Lanka’s leading entomologists goes missing.  The man’s discoveries of new insect species has raised the prestige of Sri Lanka in entomological circles to such a degree that he is sometimes referred to as “The President’s insect man”.

Kumarasamy does a wonderful life in her vividly cinematic presentation of the man’s visit to the office of missing persons.  The officer in charge at first tries to suggest the boy may have just run off on a lark:


“Jeganathan paused. “He did not return home after his studies.”
“These young Tamil boys always getting into trouble. They don’t know how to be proper citizens,” the officer said and scratched something on the paper in blue ink. Jeganathan remembered his younger boy, Prem, shaking on the floor as they questioned him, his eyes flushed with tears as he cut through the bond of the womb and revealed the trip Jeevan had planned that night with Amutha to the local Shiva shrine, and before then all their meetings under the neem trees by the abandoned pharmacy, the way his brother unraveled her braid, tied her hair around his hand like a bandage.

His wife has often urged him to leave Sri Lanka, taking a teaching job outside the country.  Things begin to turn badly for Jeganthan.  People assume his son was “disappeared” for unacceptable to the anti-Tamil forces political actions or speech.  People begin to shun him and his wife.  Their household helper quits.  He eventually loses his university position.  I will leave the rest of the story untold.

I do what to share enough of her beautiful prose to let you see why this story is so marvelous.


“Jeganathan worked as an entomologist. He was not prone to chatting except in the lecture halls in front of his students, talking of what he loved best. He was fastidious with what he could control, his ironed suits and finely trimmed mustache, the way he recorded his work in his notebook, the column for wingspan blank until he measured the specimen three times.
He had never been militant. He joked about dueling other entomologists like William de Alwis, the Sri Lankan butterfly man, because they seemed harmless. In keeping company with insects, he had avoided addressing the war altogether, though his wife disagreed on that matter. In her eyes, he was a man so dedicated to his work that he was willing to get both his legs blown off for some dung-eating insects.
“Weren’t you almost killed by a mob in Colombo? And look, we’re still here in this country,” his wife said after hearing of his job transfer from the capital to up north. “I thought by marrying a professor we’d end up in Toronto, Sydney, London, anywhere better, and now you want to take me to Jaffna. Do you want to get us deeper into this war?”
Jeganathan had decided to transfer to Jaffna not because of politics but because of a discovery. While praying in the Murugan temple in Nallur, he saw a blue beetle skitter across the floor. The strange wings and streaks along its abdomen forced him to his knees, and he crawled after the specimen. He carried the beetle in a jar all the way back to his office in the capital. After his examinations, he suspected he had discovered a new species. He named the insect—Nicrophorus m. kumaratunga—after the president at the time, and when questioned by officials what the m stood for, he said, Madame, not the Hindu deity Lord Muruga. While officials hassled other Tamil intellectuals at the university, they did not bother with him, the professor whose blue-winged insect talisman granted him a level of immunity.”

The characters are all rendered with great verisimilitude, you can almost feel the shimmering heat of a tropical mega-City.

From the publisher’s website 

A startlingly beautiful debut, Half Gods brings together the exiled, the disappeared, the seekers. Following the fractured origins and destines of two brothers named after demigods from the ancient epic the Mahabharata, we meet a family struggling with the reverberations of the past in their lives. These ten interlinked stories redraw the map of our world in surprising ways: following an act of violence, a baby girl is renamed after a Hindu goddess but raised as a Muslim; a lonely butcher from Angola finds solace in a family of refugees in New Jersey; a gentle entomologist, in Sri Lanka, discovers unexpected reserves of courage while searching for his missing son.
By turns heartbreaking and fiercely inventive, Half Gods reveals with sharp clarity the ways that parents, children, and friends act as unknowing mirrors to each other, revealing in their all-too human weaknesses, hopes, and sorrows a connection to the divine.



Akil Kumarasamy is the author of the book Half Gods (Farrar Straus & Giroux, forthcoming). Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in American Short Fiction, Glimmer Train, Guernica, Harper’s Magazine, and the Massachusetts Review, among others. She has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and San Diego Writers’ Ink. She holds a BA from Barnard College and an MFA in Fiction from the University of Michigan.

I greatly look forward to reading the full collection and following the work of Akil Kumarasamy for a long time.  We know all his life Jeganathan, his wife and younger son will wish they had long ago left Sri Lanka.

Mel u





Years ago when I first began posting on short story collections I followed standard procedures, post briefly on a few of the stories then conclude with metaphor laden concluding remarks and issue a recommendation.  Sometime ago I moved toward focusing on individual stories.  If I like a writer as much as I do Chaya Bhuvaneswar I post on numerours of the stories.  This seems more respectful of the writer, better for serious readers and for me also.  Writing about a work seems to increase my understanding and helps me recall the story.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Tale of the House of Physics - A Short story by Yoko Ogawa - Translated by Ted Goossen




Home Page for The Japanese Literature Challenge 12 - #jlc12

A Very Illuminating Post on The House of Physics by A Bookish Way of Life





Works I Have So Far Read for The Japanese Literature Challenge 12



  1. “Insects” - a Short Story by Yuchi Seirai, a post Atomic Bomb work,2012
  2. The Great Passage by Shion Miura, 2011, a deeply moving work centered on the creation of a Japanese Language Dictionary 
  3. "The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine" A Short Story by  Akiyuki Nosaka- 2003- translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori - 2015
  4. “Bee Honey” - A Short Story by Banana Yoshimoto- 2000 - set in Argentina during the annual Mother’s March for Disappeared Children.
  5. Killing Commendatore: A Novel by Huruki Murakami- 2017
  6. The Master Key by Masako Togawa - 1962 - translated by Simon Grove
  7. "The Elephant and its Keeper" - A Short Story by Akiyuki Nasaka- 2003. translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemari
  8. The Emissary by Yoko Tawada - 2014 - translated by Margaret Mitsutani
  9. “The Prisoner of War and the Little Girl” - A Short Story by Akiyuki Nasaka- 2003. translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemari. I did not post on this story.
  10. “The Soldier and the Horse” - A Short Story by Akiyuki Nasaka- 2003. translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemari. I did not post on this story.


Yōko Ogawa is another great author I probably would have never discovered were it not for my participation in prior Japanese Literature Challenges.  I have posted upon two of her novels, The House Keeper and The Professor, probably her best known work, as well as  Hotel Iris.  Additionally I have read a few of her shorter fictions.  After reading the very insightful post on A Bookish Way of Life on a short story by Ogawa, “The House of Physics”, I was glad to find the work included in The  Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories.


As the story open the narrator, getting ready to retire from his thirty two year career at a publishing company is making a list of all the books he edited,some 135.  He reflects on his career.  He wonders how someone can write a beautiful book yet be a jerk.  He was never a big star editor, he tried to let his authors speak and stay out of their way.  The very first work on the list is The House of Physics, he cannot seem to recall who wrote the work.

He begins to think back to his childhood, seemingly a few years after the war, playing with his friends.   A mentally disturbed in her own world woman lives in the neighborhood, in an abandoned building that once housed The House of Physics.  No one knows anything about her life history, there are various speculations, but she is allowed to stay in the building.  In a very telling interlude, the boys find a dead weasel and give it a ceremonial burial.   

The boys, including the narrator begin to try to talk with the woman, who normally avoids all contact and conversation.  She tells them she was a novelist.  When they ask where her novels are, she tells them they were all destroyed in the war.  They just figure she is crazy.  One day he enters the building and finds her sick.  He discovered some written paged he cannot decipher.  She begins talking, tell a tell from an other universe.  

I do not wish to tell more of the plot.  Ogawa shows people are not always what they seem, how memories influx our consciousness.

This is a very good story. I look forward to reading more by Yoko Ogawa.

Mel u











Tuesday, January 29, 2019

"White Dancing Elephants" A Short Story by Chaya Bhuvaneswar.- from her Debut Collection





Website of Chaya Bhuvaneswar - with links to her work, interviews, and reviews


Dhanz Books - One of the most interesting publisher's websites I have seen




I first became aware of the amazing stories of Chaya Bhuvaneswar in a news letter from PEN.  It was announced that she, along with four other writers, was shorted  listed for their annual award for Best Debut Short Story Collection. On her website, one of the best and most respectful to readers of author websites I am familiar with, I learned of numerous awards and looked through the glowing reviews.  I am very interested in fiction dealing with the interface between south  Asian culture and that of the Anglophone west.  I knew I wanted to learn more about her work.

Years ago when I first began posting on short story collections I followed standard procedures, post briefly on a few of the stories then conclude with metaphor laden concluding remarks and issue a recommendation.  Sometime ago I moved toward focusing on individual stories.  If I like a writer as much as I do Chaya Bhuvaneswar I post on numerours of the stories.  This seems more respectful of the writer, better for serious readers and for me also.  Writing about a work seems to increase my understanding and helps me recall the story.

" White Dancing Elephants" is the title and lead story of the collection.
Told in the first person by a South Asian woman living in London consists of her thoughts, nearly her stream of consciousness,as she walks through the financial district of London during what she describes as a "tropical rain".  (Having been in rain storms in London this in itself is a very acute aspect of the skill of Bhuvaneswar.). She thinks of her experiences around a miscarriage.  The rain brings to her mind the flow of blood that signeled this event.  She begins to speak to the lost child, telling him, she seems to personify him as a boy, what sort of life he might have had.  As she her walk takes her into the Indian section of London, she begins to intwine her reflections with Hindu/Buddhist idelogy and culture.  She imagines her lost son married to a woman dancing for celestial musicians, an image taken from temple mosaics of the Khmer empire.  She turns the sounds of London into the roars of tigers. 

I want to share with you enough of the amazing prose to give you a feel for her style.


"Every May Day, here on the riverbank where I’m stumbling now, there is a festival with Ferris wheels and carnival contraptions, displays and tricks that can cause accidents. And there are animals—swans, horses, maybe even dancing elephants. I lie down on the grassy bank and dream of you. I dream of elephants, thumping a distant melody, disrupting the forest. (If you were here now, my darling, how we’d dance, my love. And if you were old enough and strong enough to move your feet deliberately, you’d sing. You’d talk to me.) I lie down now and feel the weight of it on me, a white dancing elephant that I can see with my eyes closed, airy and Disney in one dream, bellowing despair and showing tusks in the other. In the last dream, a gash of red stains the white hide, and I am forced to watch an elephant dying. It makes want to sink into the earth, ashamed and finally mindful of my own blood. The sound of people walking on the bridge becomes a din. I close my eyes, drained, dreaming of six white tusks entering my flesh. I slide off my shoes. Now I could roll underwater. Now I could write the words describing how and why I ended my life. The woman found in the Isis River in June of this year was forty but was found to be pregnant. She was on her way, authorities learned, to give birth at her father’s home outside of London, as is the custom for Asians, but by the time she reached the river she had lost the pregnancy. Or it is possible, though less likely, that the child was born along the way and disappeared below the ripples of water, along the bank".

As I read this story for the third time I am still not sure how long ago these events occured.  The story is structured almost as if the walk from an affluent area of London into a South Asian jungle long ago.  

This is a very powerful story.  I greatly look forward to reading the other sixteen stories in White Dancing Elephants.

CHAYA BHUVANESWAR is a practicing physician and writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, The Awl, Tin House, Michigan Quarterly Review, Notre Dame Review, story South, aaduna, r.k.v.r.y. and elsewhere. She has received a Henfield writing award, a Rhodes scholarship, and is a frequent public speaker on social justice as well as trauma and recovery. Her debut short story collection, White Dancing Elephants, was selected as the winner of Dzanc Books' 2017 Short Story Collection Prize.  From  the publisher's webpage

Mel u




Sunday, January 27, 2019

In Observation of International Holocaust Day - The Ghetto Dog by Isaiah Spiegel

"The Ghetto Dog" A Short Story by Isaiah Spiegel
Set in The Lódź Ghetto 1942








Prussia, the ruler of Germany, was always an enemy of the intellect, of books, of the Book of Books—that is, the Bible—of Jews and Christians, of humanism and Europe. Hitler’s Third Reich is only so alarming to the rest of Europe because it sets itself to put into action what was always the Prussian project anyway: to burn the books, to murder the Jews, and to revise Christianity."  Joseph Roth, 1933"


 There is, for me at least, a huge elephant in the room when one talks of the very real glories of German Culture, from Goethe, the great novels and music and Ulm Cathedral.  That elephant is the Holocaust.  Some will say. every culture has a dark side and try to rationalise things.  Others, as does Joseph Roth and I, see it as more than that.  There are strange connections in history.  Not long ago I read a very scholarly biography of the German Emperor Frederick the Great, worshiped by the Nazis for his military bravado.   The main thesis of the book was that Frederick became a warrior king to prove his father, who rightly saw that Frederick was  a homosexual, was wrong.  From this the Prussian ethic developed and the Nazis state was derivative from Frederick’s trying to show his father  he was wrong.  Jews were treated as sexual deviants and homosexuality was criminal, though of course many Nazis were homosexuals.  Hitler raved about the decadence of the Weimar Republic.  

Yiddish literature derives from a thousand year old culture based in Eastern Europe and Russia.    No culture that I’m familiar with cherished the Reading Life more.  The Holocaust was in part a war on those who loved books, knowledge and Reading.  Germans tried very hard to destroy this culture, it was not an aberation.  Joseph Roth is right.  

Today’s story, “The Ghetto Dog” by Isaiah Spegel, written when he was confined in The Lodz Ghetto in Poland, takes us inside the Ghetto.  He was there from 1941 to 1944, when he was shipped out to Auschwitz.  He survived and wrote wonderful stories focusing on the small details of life in Łódź under the Germans.

Laureen Bacall reads this story at the link above.  She does  a wonderful job.


I must warn you that this is very much a story of deep pain, heart breaking in the cruelty and subhuman behavior of the Germans.  Some will be disturbed by this but that is ok, you should be disturbed. I listened to it once last night and again this morning.  It is The most powerful literary work I have read this month for sheer depth of feeling and insight.  

As “The Ghetto Dog” opens an elderly Jewish woman, living with her beloved old dog Nicki, is ordered out of her home of decades, one she shared with her late husband, by a uniformed armed German.  When her normally completely placid dog prepares to go for the throat of the German she restrains him, begging the German not to shoot him.  She is moved into the part of Łódź, 
Poland, where Jews are allowed to live.  The Germans place her and Nicki in a room with a prostitute, called Big Bertha.  This alone is a shock to the widow. At first Bertha is very upset over having to share her quarters, she says Nicki is scaring her clients and tells the widow to go out on the balcony while she services a visitor.  

In a very moving perfectly done scene, something happens that bonds the two women, Bertha comes to love Nicki.   They sleep on the couch together.  Then the Germans issue a cruel vicious degree, all animals owned by Jews must be turned over to the Germans.  Many in the ghetto survive with the help of the animals.  Spegel,shows us whole families leading “Jewish Cows, Jewish Horses and Jewish Dogs” to be turned over.  They weep, kiss the animals as they part.  The horses and cows are taken away by German farmers.  The dogs are shot.

Bertha goes with the widow to turn Nicki over, there is no hiding him.  The close of the story is so moving, with almost a supernatural beauty and wisdom. It is perfect, so visual.

It takes thirty minutes to listen to “The Ghetto Dog”, Leonard Nimoy, deeply into Yiddish literature introduces the story and gives background information.  

This is a masterwork, deeply felt and moving.


This is a great story, I know I sound hyperbolic, but that is how I feel.  

From Northwest University Press 

Ghetto Kingdom
Tales of the Lodz Ghetto
ISAIAH SPIEGEL

Isaiah Spiegel was an inmate of the Lodz Ghetto from its inception in 1940 until its liquidation in 1944. While there, he wrote short stories depicting Jewish life in the ghetto and managed to hide them before he was deported to Auschwitz. After being freed, he returned to Lodz to retrieve and publish his stories.


The stories examine the relationship between inmates and their families, their friends, their Christian former neighbors, the German soldiers, and, ultimately, the world of hopelessness and desperation that surrounded them. In using his creative powers to transform the suffering and death of his people into stories that preserve their memory, Spiegel succeeds in affirming the humanity and dignity the Germans were so intent on destroying.

About the Author

Isaiah Spiegel was born in the industrial city of Lódz in 1906. After surviving Auschwitz, he immigrated to Israel, where he continued to write stories, novels, poems, and essays. He died in Israel in 1990.

End from publisher.

I wish I knew much more  about his post WW Two Life, he survived forty five years.  I hope he was happy, had a great wife and family.  I have researched him but could not find much more than the above. If you know something please leave a comment.

YouTube has thirteen, at least dramatic readings of stories by Eastern European Jews, commonly called Yiddish stories though some were originally in  Russia or Hebrew.

Mel u






Friday, January 25, 2019

The Emissary by Yōko Tawada - 2014 - translated from The Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani







Home Page for The Japanese Literature Challenge 12 - #jlc12


My Introductory Post For Japanese Literature 12









Works I Have So Far Read for The Japanese Literature Challenge 12



  1. “Insects” - a Short Story by Yuchi Seirai, a post Atomic Bomb work,2012
  2. The Great Passage by Shion Miura, 2011, a deeply moving work centered on the creation of a Japanese Language Dictionary 
  3. "The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine" A Short Story by  Akiyuki Nosaka- 2003- translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori - 2015
  4. “Bee Honey” - A Short Story by Banana Yoshimoto- 2000 - set in Argentina during the annual Mother’s March for Disappeared Children.
  5. Killing Commendatore: A Novel by Huruki Murakami- 2017
  6. The Master Key by Masako Togawa - 1962 - translated by Simon Grove
  7. "The Elephant and its Keeper" - A Short Story by Akiyuki Nasaka- 2003. translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemari
  8. The Emissary by Yoko Tawada - 2014 - translated by Margaret Mitsutani


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.  The story centers on a deformed boy and his great  grandfather.  The older man has great strength of character trying to cope.  

The very real pleasure to be found in The Emissary is in learning about the super imaginative dexriptions of the bizzare transformations in Japanese society.  


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


Mel u


Thursday, January 24, 2019

“Grafter” - An Original Short Story by John Duffy, author of "Death Road" and "One Day in London"











The first time I read a story by John Duffy it was during my read through of Abandoned Darlings, a collection of writings by the 2011 and 2012 MA in Creative Writing classes at the National University of Ireland at Galway. His story was about a very dangerous bus trip through the Andes in Bolivia.  (You can read my post on the story on the link above.). These words sum up how I felt about Duffy's really well done story, "Death Road".

You might have seen a National Geographic Channel program about the terribly dangerous road through the Andes in Bolivia that the narrator in this story crosses in a bus ride sure to scare anyone out of their wits who is not from there.   The first person speaker in this story is an Irishman out for an adventure in the wilds of South America and he happens to hook up with a beautiful and delightful sounding "French girl of Lebanese extraction".   Some cynics say the reason the English conquered India was because they could do things and have adventures there that they could never do at home.   I think that is part of the deeper theme of this very interesting marvelously cinematic story.    

Today I am very pleased and honoured that John Duffy has entrusted me to share another of his stories on The Reading Life, "The Grafter".





"Grafter" by John Duffy 

It was early afternoon when I cycled back to the office to collect payment after a short shift at Labour Ready. In no rush as the day was bright and sunny and I thought about the dispatcher in the office and how he could probably threaten me with another job if I arrived back too early. I spotted an opening in the bushes and there was something about this little path that looked enticing. I pulled the back brakes hard and skidded to a stop. It was early summer and there was overgrowth and briars in bloom. I made a way through, pushing back branches as I went. A tree lay across the path so I lifted the bicycle over it and kept going. Go on a little adventure there man. Seek some peace among the gentle sounds of the natural world and take a break away from all the commotion and traffic.

The air smelled fresh and it felt cooler among the trees and shade. At a clearing, such a lovely blue sky overhead and a few billowy clouds sailed past. Back in the dream time, ships, dinosaurs and dragons. I heard the sound of water running nearby so I continued to find it. Left the old Cherokee against a tree and climbed down an embankment. There were salmon berries, growing bright and red among the briars and light green leaves. I plucked a few and ate a handful, juicy salmon berries swirling around. Good choice there fellow. Let somebody else do the work for a change. How long have we even got here? At the sandy bank by the river an uprooted tree had fallen across the space and its branches dipped into the water. It could not have fallen in a better place.
There were a few diamonds in the rough alright, it was just a matter of skipping through the music player to find them. I opened a can of mango lemonade and took a swig. Across the river a single white butterfly flew by the reach of the trees. I marveled at this tiny creature for a while, this flutter of yellow- white glory as it climbed to the highest reaches of the tree tops. I thought about our baba at home. He’d be with his mother back in the city. They might be out buying fruit or formula or something. A wave of fulfilment and peace passed over me for a while. Follow the flow, away downstream, little waves of water and a fish with a strawberry sheen along its lateral line jumped and landed with a splash.

A small notice twirled on the breeze nearby. A memorial note, suspended by a string from a branch with a photograph of a young man. Back in time. We will never forget you. Family and loved ones. Remember the times. Maybe he liked it by the river as well.

Later, I packed up and made my way back up the path. It was still and quiet in the forest and the sound of the lively stream seemed distant now. The birds I heard earlier in the day neither chirped nor sang their sweet melodies. Everything felt a little too quiet and with the depth of the stillness a chilly, uneasy feeling passed over me. I climbed the embankment to the path and picked up the old Cherokee. There was a bear, looking straight at me, a black bear, his stout head of frizzy hair and shiny frame of fur filled the path. I couldn’t see past him. He stood there with his paws up. It was the first time I had ever seen a bear and I was gripped with fear.
Back in the old country a person might encounter a bunch of nettles or a swarm of bees for pain while out and about in the wild. I’ve seen the bull saunter behind a herd of cattle walk up the old boreen by the sea. Easy going animals. The fat brass ring lobbed through his nose and he licking his nostrils. To the dry stone walls of the western fields, carefully laid pieces of limestone, each a memory to some soul.

A lamb lay sleeping on his side, so you’d have to tip toe around him not to disturb his peace. It became clear in an instant I was dealing with a different pot of mackerel over here.

I leaped onto the bicycle and pedaled away faster than I ever pedaled a part. There was no point turning around. I hit a few tree roots along the way and nearly went flying over the handle bars. Then I thought about other bears that could be nearby. A whole sleuth of them could move out from the growth at any moment, looking for something to eat. Not too hot, not too cold, just about right. There’s not a pick on me lads. You’d be wasting your time. It’s all muscle here. I thought of my wife and son and if I would ever see them again. Bollocks. The path turned a corner ahead and I thought about what might be around the bend. I jumped off and wheeled the bike down the embankment, then stepped out into the river. I was fortunate, the water was low and the current weak enough to allow such a manoeuver. I waded across, feeling the water flow hard, rising up to my knees, trying not to slip on the bigger rocks. I thought of our boy as an adolescent in his future life, wearing a school uniform, talking with his friends.
‘What happened to your old man?’
‘He was taken by a bear back in the day. He wasn’t long in the country.’
‘What?’
Not today. I felt a surge of power in my legs and pushed through the water.
There was a bridge ahead and a road to my great relief. I heard a rattling sound in the woods and voices. A man and a child cycled along the path.
‘Hey,’ I called to him but he made no reply. ‘Excuse me. Hey man.’ Still nothing. ‘There’s a bear.’
‘What?’
‘There’s a bear on the path.’ ‘Where?’
‘You’re cycling towards him.’ ‘OK. Thanks for letting me know.’
I climbed the fence and got back on the road and then into the cycle lane again. Lucky boy, made it to the highway, then over the bridge, racing the freight train east. Then he turned the key and pushed open the apartment door.
‘Hey. Look who’s here. Daddy’s home.’ I gave my wife an extra-long hug.
‘Are you ok?’
‘Yes.’


‘I can’t believe you cycled there. What was it like?’
‘Good. It’s a beautiful day out there.’
‘Oh it’s just gorgeous. We went to the farmers market.’
‘Perfect timing anyway. His diaper needs to be changed.’
‘I’ll take care of it. You lie down for a while if you want. This is an easy job for me.’ ‘There you are now buck o. Clean as a whistle.’
‘Da, Da. Vroom, vroom. Car, car.’
‘That’s right baba, that’s a car, car alright.’
The lovely smell of his baby head and then the milky, puke smell of his banana bib bringing you back to reality. Hold him there and take his little foot in your hand and tickle his toes. And you’re happy to give, because everything is worth it. And nothing beats being there. And you will hold him for as long as he needs to be held because it’s the best feeling in the world.

End 

John Duffy is from Ballina, County Mayo. He writes short fiction and poetry as a hobby.

He has a BA in English and History from NUI Galway and an MA in Writing. 
He has contributed to Abandoned Darlings, an anthology of fiction and poetry, The Georgia Straight and to The Reading Life

An electrician by trade, John lives in Vancouver, Canada.

I look forward to following John Duffy's work for many years.

Mel u





Wednesday, January 23, 2019

"The Elephant and its Keeper" -A Short Story by Akiyuki Nosaka. 2003. Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori








Works I Have So Far Read for The Japanese Literature Challenge 12



  1. “Insects” - a Short Story by Yuchi Seirai, a post Atomic Bomb work,2012
  2. The Great Passage by Shion Miura, 2011, a deeply moving work centered on the creation of a Japanese Language Dictionary 
  3. "The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine" A Short Story by  Akiyuki Nosaka- 2003- translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori - 2015
  4. “Bee Honey” - A Short Story by Banana Yoshimoto- 2000 - set in Argentina during the annual Mother’s March for Disappeared Children.
  5. Killing Commendatore: A Novel by Huruki Murakami- 2017
  6. The Master Key by Masako Togawa - 1962 - translated by Simon Grove
  7. "The Elephant and its Keeper" - A Short Story by Akiyuki Nasaka- 2003. translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemari


The Japanese Literature Challenge,  #jlc12, runs until March 31.  Everyone is invited to join us.  Maybe as happened to me by participating in JLC 3 back in 2009, ten years from now you will count numerous Japanese writers among your favorite writers.

"The Elephant and its Keeper" is the third story included in The Cake Tree in the Ruins, a collection of short stories by Akiyuki Nasaka, published by Pushkin Press I have now read.  Six of the twelve stories, for sure I will read them all, feature animals in the title.  All of the stories in the collection are set in the final days of World War Two. Much of the population of Japan is near starvation, much of the country, especially Tokyo, is in ruins.  There is no hope left of victory and nothing to look forward to but more misery.  Nasaka's stories focus on the most innocent victims, children, animals, and country people.  His amazing "The Whale Who Fell in Love with a Submarine" reads almost like fairy tale but cuts deeply.  

"The Elephant and its Keeper" begins in Tokyo in 1945.  Government officials are worried that American bombs may free potentially dangerous Tokyo Zoo animals, lions, tigers, wolves etc.  The animals are closed to starving and might attack residents.  Plus it takes too many resources to feed them.  A machine is designed to strangle the animals.  All are killed but for the zoo's biggest resident, the elephant.  The machine does not work on him. The officials decide to stop feeding him and let him die of starvation.  They tell his keeper, of many years, not to come anymore.  It was so sad when the elephant heartbroken looks for his keeper.  The keeper did not just feed him but stayed with him nearly all the time.  The keeper cannot stand the thought of his friend starving.  Against regulations, he begins sneaking food to the elephant, enough so the officials wonder why he lives on.  The keeper discovered they plan to shot his friend.  He tells the elephant they will leave tommorow night and hide in the countryside, where the elephant can eat grass.  The keeper knows he will be in big trouble if they are found.  Under the cover of night they sneak out.  

I don't want to reveal much more of this very poignant story.  It is a love story on both sides as the elephant shows the depth of his returned love
when the keeper's darkest hour comes.

Akiyuki Nosaka was born in 1930 in Japan, and was a member of the yakeato generation, 'the generation of the ashes', who survived the devastating firebombing of their country during the Second World War. Nosaka lost both his parents and sister in the bombing and its aftermath, but went on to become an award-winning novelist, short-story writer, essayist, lyricist, singer and politician. His novel Grave of the Fireflies was turned into a hugely successful Studio Ghibli film and is forthcoming in a new translation from Pushkin Press.Nosaka died in 2015...from Pushkin Press

Ginny Tapley Takemori studied Japanese at the universities of SOAS (London), Waseda (Tokyo), and Sheffield, and now lives in rural Japan. She has translated a dozen or so early modern and contemporary Japanese authors, and her most recent publications include From the Fatherland with Love by Ryū Murakami (with cotranslators Ralph McCarthy and Charles de Wolf), Puppet Master by Miyuki Miyabe, and The Whale that Fell In Love with a Submarine by Akiyuki Nosaka... From Words Without Borders

Four short stories translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori can be read at Words Without Borders.


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