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





Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Reading Life Review - March 2019 - hopes for next few months


March Authors





Row 1. Left to Right

  1. David Mitchel - UK - read three of his novels in March
  2. Hersh Norberg - Poland - Yiddish writer
  3. Jacob Dinezon - Lithuania - very prolific Yiddish writer
  4. Roberta Newman - USA - co-author of Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America 
  5. S. A. Ansky - Belarus - author of most important Yiddish drama, Tbe Dybbuk, The Pioneers, and many other works
  6. Danielle McLaughlin - Ireland - short stories - I have been following her since 2012

Row 2

  1. Arundhati Roy - India - Booker Prize Winner for The God of Small Things
  2. Akiyuki Nosaka - Japan. I have featured four of his WW Two Short Stories
  3. Orla McAlinden - Ireland - author of The Fkight of the Wren
  4. Colm Toibin - Ireland - highly regarded multi genre writer, featured many times
  5. Shakti Bhatt - India - short stories

Row 3

  1. Leonora Carrington - UK  to Mexico- renown surrealist writer and artist
  2. Mavis Gallant - Canada to France - featured many times
  3. Amanthi Harris - Sri Lanka - multi genre writer and artist, I hope to follow her work for many years
  4. Chaya Bhuvaneswer - USA - her debut short story collection White Dancing  Elephants is an amazing work.  I hope to follow her for years

Row 4

  1. Selma Carvalho - UK - historian of the Goan Disporsa, short story writer
  2. Alice Nakhimovsky USA - co-author of Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America
  3. Louise Nealon - Ireland - short stories
  4. A. S. Byatt- UK -Booker Prize Winner

In March I posted on the work of 13 women and six men, six deceased authors and 13 living. Six writers were featured for the first time and 13 are old friends of The Reading Life.

Blog Stats

My posts have been viewed 5,631,760 times

Of the five most viewed posts in March, four are on short stories by writers from     The Philippines.  One was on “A Piece of Bread” by Francois Coppee.  I featured this story for Paris in July 2015.

Top visitor countries

  1. USA
  2. The Philippines
  3. India
  4. Russia - world spam head quarters
  5. Ukraine
  6. UK
  7. Germany
  8. Canada
  9. Indonesia

Plans for next few months

I will continue reading along on The Mavis Gallant Project of Buried Print


Feel free to join in on this long term project

I started a new permanent Reading Life Project, Short Stories by South Asian Women.  

I hope to finally finish my read through of The Comedie Humane by Honore de Balzac.

I will continue my readings in Yiddish literature and culture.  

I will keep on with Holocaust related works.

I hope to complete my reread of 2666 by Roberto Bolano.

I am always looking for new to me writers

Oleander Bousweau has agreed to lend her expertise to The Reading Life, on loan from the Bousweau Foundation.  Ambrosia Bousweau remains as European Director.  

To my fellow book bloggers, keep blogging.  The world needs you. 

My great thanks to those who leave comments

Oleander Bousweau
Ambrosia Bousweau
Mel u



















Saturday, March 30, 2019

Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America by Alice Nakhimovsky and Roberta Newman, 2014, 248 pages, Indiana University Press








Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America by Alice Nakhimovsky and Roberta Newman, 2014, 248 pages, Indiana University Press 

Late 19th century and early 20th century  Eastern European Jewish society was  in flux.  People were leaving their ancestral homes in Russia and Poland for America, mostly New York City or Montreal and Toronto.  Rarely did they speak English.  They often lacked formal literacy in any language.  All sorts of matters had to be handled via correspondence.  The authors show us the great importance letter manuals, called brivnshtelers, became very popular.  

There were letters for all sorts of needs.  Marriages were still often at least semi-arranged.  There are numerous sample letters for this as well as letters declaring love.  All sorts of issues between parents and children show up in the sample letters as well as business letters.  The authors explain very well the way the manuals were employed.  There are separate treatments of letters for people in Russia and America.  There are lots of letters in Yiddish literature and the authors do talk about the classic writers.  One of my favorite work of Yiddish literature is the deeply hilarious profoundly revealing The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl by Sholem Aleichem.  


There are lots of examples of letters in Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America.  From them you can increase your understanding of family dynamics, emotional attitudes and much more among Eastern European Jews.

This book will interest anyone into Yiddish literature.  Heritage readers wil be equally fascinated.  This is what most refer to as an academic work.  I am so glad I read this book.

In conjunction with this book I recommend  two works on the immigration experiences of Eastern European Jews.  Dealing with Canada, The Montreal Shtetl: Making Home After the Holocaust by Zelda Abramson and John Lynch.  For New York City, there is World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made by Irving Howe.



Alice Nakhimovsky is a professor of Russian and Jewish Studies at Colgate University, where she directs the Program in Russian and Eurasian Studies. She has written extensively on Russian-Jewish literature and everyday life, and served on the editorial board of The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Roberta Newman is an independent scholar living in New York City. She is the Director of Digital Initiatives at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and was the Illustrations Editor and Director of Archival Research for The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Mel u




Friday, March 29, 2019

"The Accidental Wife" - A Short Story by Orla McAlinden - from 2014 Collection









Website of Orla McAlinden


“The Accidental Wife"  is The Title  Story in  Orla McAlinden's  award-winning debut 2014 Collection of set in Ireland short stories.  

I first encountered the work of  Orla McAlinden in September of last year when I read her novel The Flight of the Wren.  Everyone who has read this book loved it, for sure I did.  Here were  my opening thoughts 

"No other, of the numerous  works of fiction and nonfiction I 
have read on the Irish Famine Years (1845 to 1849) comes as close to capturing the lived experience of the Irish people than Orla McAliden’s darkly beautiful debut novel, The Flight of the Wren."

The Flight of the Wren is just an amazing book.  It would make a great movie. 

Of course I wanted to read more of McAlinden's work.  I was happy to discover she previously published a collection of short stories.  The stories in The Accidental Wife are set in Northern Ireland.  They deal with seven decades in the McCann family.  

"The Accidental Wife" in just a few pages covers twenty five years in the life of Marion, a widow, and her daughter Joan.  She lives in a small house in a council     estate, a development that replaced a slum.  Marion now supports the family cleaning houses, doing laundry for the wealthy.  Her daughter after school delivers the launder on her bicycle.  Surprisingly for a charwoman, Marion also gives piano lessons.  This is her way of keeping  a sense of beauty and culture in her house.  Her tone and manners are above her station.  The other women in the neighborhood call her "Lady Muck".  Joan stays in school much longer than the other girls in the area, who drop out to become maids or shop assistants.  

About half way through the story we flash twenty-five ahead.  Joan is now well married, with children and has "more than enough money".  We learn about her marriage, her future in laws, wealthy landowners, who did not want a girl from the councils as a daughter in law.  McAlinden does a marvelous job showing us how Joan became the accidental wife of Dominic over the opposition of both sides of parents.

I look forward to following the work of Orla McAlinden for many years.

I strongly endorse The Flight of the Wren

Kildare, Ireland
Award-winning Irish writer, inspired by Ireland's complex and difficult history.

The Flight of the Wren, Published 2018 winner of the CD Lewis award and the Greenbean Novel Fair. 


The Accidental Wife, winner the Eludia Award, 2014. 

I hope next month to read her story, included in The Accidental Wife, "The Visit", which won the 2016 Irish Short Story Award.

Mel u 














“The Accidental Wife"  is The Title  Story in  Orla McAlindrn's  award-winning debut 2014 Collection of set in Ireland short stories.  

I first encountered the work of  Orla McAlinden in September of last year when I read her novel The Flight of the Wren.  Everyone who has read this book loved it, for sure I did.  Here were  my opening thoughts 

"No other, of the numerous  works of fiction and nonfiction I 
have read on the Irish Famine Years (1845 to 1849) comes as close to capturing the lived experience of the Irish people than Orla McAliden’s darkly beautiful debut novel, The Flight of the Wren."

The Flight of the Wren is just an amazing book.  It would make a great movie. 

Of course I wanted to read more of McAlinden's work.  I was happy to discover she previously published a collection of short stories.  The stories in The Accidental Wife are set in Northern Ireland.  The deal with seven decades in the McCann family.  

"The Accidental Wife" in just a few pages covers twenty five years in the life of Marion, a widow, and her daughter Joan.  She lives in a small house in a council     estate, a development that replaced a slum.  Marion now supports the family cleaning houses, doing laundry for the wealthy.  Her daughter after school delivers the launder on her bicycle.  Surpringly for a charwoman, Marion also gives piano lessons.  This is her way of keeping  a sense of beauty and culture in her house.  Her tone and manners are above her station.  The other women in the neighborhood call her "Lady Muck".  Joan stays in school much longer than the other girls in the area, who drop out to become maids or shop assistants.  

About half way through the story we flash twenty-five ahead.  Joan is now well married, with children and has "more than enough money".  We learn about her marriage, her future in laws, wealthy landowners, who did not want a girl from the councils as a daughter in law.  McAlinden does a marvelous job showing us how Joan became the accidental wife of Dominic over the opposition of both sides of parents.

I look forward to following the work of Orla McAlinden for many years.

I strongly endorse The Flight of the Wren

Kildare, Ireland
Award-winning Irish writer, inspired by Ireland's complex and difficult history.

The Flight of the Wren, Published 2018 winner of the CD Lewis award and the Greenbean Novel Fair. 


The Accidental Wife, winner the Eludia Award, 2014. 

I hope next month to read her story, included in The Accidental Wife, "The Visit", which won the 2016 Irish Short Story Award.

Mel u 









Thursday, March 28, 2019

Richard the English - A Short Story by Selma Carvalho - 2018





“Richard the English” by Selma Carvalho 

Franz Fanon in his groundbreaking works on post colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks helped me see how writers from once colonial societies often define their characters against  the culture of their former masters.  I first learned to see this through the work of Edward Said and saw how to use this point of view in deeping  my reading in Inventing Ireland by Declan Kiberd.  For sure we can see this at work in Selma Carvalho’s delightful story, “Richard the English”.

We never learn the narrator’s nationality, age, name or even for sure that the narrator is a woman, though it seems so.  All we know for sure is she lives in England and is not English. She moved to England ten years ago.  She has never been inside the home of an English person.  She personifies it with the term “English home”.  

She decides to completely remodel her house, to convert the insides to her vision of an English house.  We know she seems to live on Mulberry Parade Street, located in the heart of central London.  As we can see in the quote below she has a vision of the English home based on literary and historical remembrances.


“I’ve never been inside an English home. Ten years I’ve lived here but I’ve never been invited to an English home. Of course, I’ve had glimpses of it, like today, whenever doors have opened in my presence. Left ajar so that I can have a quick look inside whilst walking down Mulberry Parade Street. Sometimes at night, light pours out from these half-open doors, onto the street, drawing me in. I’ve seen narrow hallways leading to stairwells, with boots lined against walls and brollies stuck in stands, but beyond that I have no idea what exists in an English home. I imagine the smell of scented baths and packet potpourri, of roasting lamb and wood fires. I imagine Tudor beams holding up history, the anguish of two World Wars staring from tables stacked with photographs, Dickens’s ghost wandering in the study, Constable’s pigmented browns gracing bedrooms, and William Morris’s return to innocence plastered over walls. But that’s just my imagination, isn’t it? I’ve got no evidence. Ah to be English. Jolly good.”

She hires Richard, to her the very embodiment of an English man, strong, reliable, capable.  He says he and his crew of three men can completely redo the inside of her house in three months.  They totally rip out the inside of the house.  As the job approaches completion, Richard stays late to get things done.  She is moved back in and begins to suffer anxiety over him leaving.  We don’t sense a romance or sexual feeling just a kind of longing to shore up her alliance to the English by keeping Richard around. He seems to make her feel secure.

The ending is interesting, puzzling, thought provoking and in a strange way funny.   

On a personal observation, I live in the Philippines, an American colony up until 1946.  There are appalling to me advertisements on TV aimed at young women (we have three daughters 20, 23, and 25) which claim their products will make your skin lighter.  The obvious suggestion is lighter is better, more desirable.  This is a sad legacy of colonialism.  All of the media stars have much lighter than typical complexions.

"Richard the English" can be read in just a few minutes.  I highly recommend this story.

I hope to read more of Selma Carvalho going forward, especially her works on the Goan immigration to British East Africa.  

Selma Carvalho is a British-Asian writer, columnist and author of three books documenting the Goan presence in British East Africa. Between 2011-2014, she led the Oral Histories of British-Goans Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund UK. Her short fiction and poetry have been published by Litro,  Lighthouse and online Mechanics’ Institute Review (Birkbeck) among others. Her work appears in several print anthologies including the London Short Story Prize 2017 Anthology (Kingston University Press, 2018) for which she was a shortlist finalist. Her short stories have been placed in numerous competitions, most recently highly commended for the University of Winchester Writers Festival SS Prize 2018. She is the winner of the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2018.

From Amazon

Selma Carvalho grew up in Dubai when the place was just an arid patch of land with a few houses huddled around the Creek to attest to the presence of life. After marriage, she lived for seven years in Minnesota, USA, which she describes as a natural berth for the liberal that she has always been. Although she has lived in the Diaspora for most part of her life, she feels she has never been anything other than a Goan.



Mel u

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Thief - A Short Story by Shakti Bhatt - 2006






My post on Necropolis by Jeet Thayil - Short Listed for the 2012 Booker Prize - Husband of Shakti Bhatt


“The Thief” - A Short Story by Shakti Bhatt - 2006

Born 1981 Delhi

Passes 2007 - Delhi

Shaki Bhatt was a writer and editor.  Her early death was a shock to the Indian literary world.  A foundation set up in her memory has since 2008 presented an annual best debut work award for writers of the subcontinent.  

“Bloggers in India have been mourning the untimely death of Shakti Bhatt, who passed away in Delhi last Saturday night after a sudden and unexpected illness. Shakti – who was in her mid-twenties – was the editor of Indian publishing house IBD’s newly launched Bracket Books and the wife of well-known Indian poet Jeet Thayil.” From Global Voices - April 5, 2007

I found several website memorializing her but I could find nothing by her for sale or online.

In 2012 I posted on Necropolis by Jeet Thayil, short listed for the Booker Price.  He was the husband of Shakti Bhatt.  His book is a brilliantly dark account of the underside of Mumbai.  I reread my old blog post and the book came vividly back to me.  

“The Thief” is set in an affluent multi generation family home in Delhi.  The household is run by the grandmother. As we meet her she is negotiating with an applicant for a job as a maid as to what she will and will not do. The maid agrees to cook, wash dishes, answer the phones, do personal errands but not clean.  We learn this is a matter of caste.  The grandmother tells the young narrator that Maids often hire lower caste maids to clean their own rooms.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of the many tradespeople who call on the house.  Reading the food descriptions was a lot of fun.  Bhatt brings the family environment to life.  This is a very good short story.  There is a dramatic turn when a valuable ring of the grandfather shows up missing.

I read this in a worthwhile anthology Kasha: Short Stories by Indian Women

If anyone knows of more works by Shakti Bhatt, please let me know.

I would love to read more of her work.



This is part of our Short Stories by South Asian Women project.  

Oleander Bousweau 
Mel u

























Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Pioneers: A Tale of Russian Jewish Life in the 1880s - by S. A. An-sky - 1909 - translated from Yiddish by Michael Katz - 2014





Gateway to S, A. Ansky (a k a An-sky) on The Reading Life



Pioneers: A Tale of Russian Jewish Life in the 1880s - by S. A. An-sky - 1909   - translated from Yiddish by Michael Katz - 2014

October 27, 1863 - Chashniki, Belarus

1909 -publishes Pioneers: A Tale of Russian-Jewish Life in the 1880s

1914- The Dybbuk premiers, now indisputably considered the most influential and powerful Yiddish Language dramatic work (see my post for details)

His name is sometimes rendered as Ansky or An-Ski.  His real name was 
Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport

He was a very prolific writer in multiple genres and an accomplished authority on Russian-Jewish folklore, especially music.  He wrote a four volume work based on the diary of his World War One experiences.  He traveled widely and offended many by his late life conversion to Christianity. He described himself as a man on the border between Russian and Jewish Culture, traditional ways and revolution, Paris and Warsaw.  Pioneers focuses on a week in the life of a group of young men who have left home to make their way in the big city.  They are all intellectuals, readers of classic Jewish works as well as Russian authors.  It was fun to listen to them debate the merits of Dostoevsky and Turgenev versus Jewish writers nobody outside of academic specialist any longer reads. In his very learned footnoted Katz explains all these references.  The boys are in rebellion, making a big thing out of eating pick and drinking on holy days.  Lots of complaining about their parents. 

The big drama in the plot comes when they learn a young woman they know is set to be forced into a marriage to a man she cannot stand.  The men begin to develop ways to prevent the marriage.  

There is lots of drama and interesting things in this book.  For those just getting into Yiddish literature, I would suggest you first start with  The Dybbuk and Other Writings S. Ansky Edited and with an Introduction by David G. Roskies With translations by Golda Werman,  Yale University Press New Haven and London

As you advance in your readings, for sure add Pioneers: A Tale of Russian Jewish Life in the 1880s to your list.

Oleander Bousweau