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

Thursday, May 30, 2024

"Taking the Train" - A Short Story by Carol Shields- 7 Pages - included in The Short Stories of Carol Shields- 2004


This year, Buried in Print, a marvelous blog I have followed for over ten years,is doing a read through of the short stories of Carol Shields. I hope to participate fully in this event.

The more I read in the stories of Carol Shields the more grateful I am to Buried in Print for turning me on to her work. There are sixty some stories in the collection,it is my hope to read and post on them all in 2024.

"Taking the Train" is the 18th story by Carol Shields I have read.  I have read this amazing story four times and still do not feel I am close to the depths of this work.  Like others or her works, the lead character has devoted much of her life to serious study.

"GWENETH MCGOWAN, THE DISRAELI SCHOLAR, was awarded the Saul Appeldorf Medal at a gala reception. She carried it home and put it in a dresser drawer under a pile of underwear. Her morale was high. Recognition in the academic world seemed assured, her rent was paid up for six months and, in addition, she had a number of good friends, some deserving of her friendship, and some not. “Dear Gweneth,” came a letter from Calgary, Alberta, where one of the deserving friends lived. “So! Now you’re famous! Well, well. Why not treat yourself to a visit—come and see me.”

First thought, why does she put the medal under her underwear?

We follow Gweneth on her visit,   to see her old friend, a widow whose husband was killed by a bear ((According to a news report in an eastern paper, the attack had been “provoked” by the ham sandwich he carried in the pocket of his jacket; such an innocent act, Gweneth had thought at the time, to carry a ham sandwich.) Her friend has a 15 year old daughter. The two long time friends begin to think about their lives long ago.

“A remarkable sky,” she said to Northie, and the two of them fell into a loop of silence that only very old friends can enter easily."

"Taking the Train", and nobody rides a train in the story, the meaning of the story is just an aspect of what makes this story so beautiful.

The Carol Shields  Literary Trust  has lots of data on her life and work.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Crooked Plow : A Novel by Itamar Vieira Junior ;2019 - translated by Johnny Lorenz from the Portuguese - 2023

 Crooked Plow : a novel by Itamar Vieira Junior ;2019 - translated by Johnny Lorenz from the Portuguese - 2023 - A 2024 International Booker Prize Finalist 

Crooked Plow kept me captivated from the start.  Crooked Plow is set in a community of ancestors of once enslaved people in the Bahia State in North Eastern Brazil.

I recently read a great book focused on Slavery in Brazil, Humans in Shackles: An Atlantic History of Slavery by Ana Lucia Araujo.  She pointed out that five times as many people were transported as slaves to Brazil as to North America.  In Brazil young Portuguese men came without wives which inevitably lead to the social acceptance of sexual exploitation of enslaved women.  The Crooked Plow brilliantly depicts the consequences of this on the descendants of once enslaved persons. (Slavery was outlawed in Brazil in 1888.) It produced women who were used to very hard work and men who took out their low self esteem on the women in their lives through physical abuse and neglect.  

What the International Booker Prize 2024 judges said about The Crooked Plow

‘Bibiana and Belonisía are two sisters whose inheritance arrives in the form of a grandmother’s mysterious knife, which they discover while playing, then unwrap from its rags and taste. The mouth of one sister is cut badly and the tongue of the other is severed, injuries that bind them together like scar tissue, though they bear the traces in different ways. Set in the Bahia region of Brazil, where approximately one third of all enslaved Africans were sent during the height of the slave trade, the novel invites us into the deep-rooted relationships of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous peoples to their lands and waters – including the ways these communities demand love, gods, song, and dream – despite brutal colonial disruptions. An aching yet tender story of our origins of violence, of how we spend our lives trying to bloom love and care from them, and of the language and silence we need to fuel our tending.’  

"This powerful debut novel charts the plight of Brazil's poorest farmers scrabbling for subsistence on the land their enslaved ancestors worked. Initially centered on two sisters whose lives are changed forever by a catastrophic accident, the book explores themes of generational poverty and political strife through the lens of family bonds and the eyes of a once-revered Afro-Brazilian divinity." 
The Washington Post

Itamar Vieira Junior was born in Salvador, Bahia, in 1979. He holds a doctorate in Ethnic and African Studies. Before Crooked Plow, he published a collection of short stories entitled The Executioner's Prayer, which was nominated for Brazil's biggest literary award, the Jabuti. Crooked Plow won the prestigious 2018 LeYa Award in Portugal.

Mel Ulm 
The Reading Life 


Friday, May 24, 2024

Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry, and the Race to Save Russia's Jews on the Eve of World War I by Steven Ujifusa - 2023 - 372 Pages

 Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry, and the Race to Save Russia's Jews on the Eve of World War I by Steven Ujifusa - 2023 - 372 Pages

"Well-researched. . . . [A] meticulous investigation of turbulent days, as chronicled in The Last Ships from Hamburg, illuminates for the reader that once free of the fetters of European anti-Semitism, all things were possible.” — The Times of Israel

"Steven Ujifusa’s thoroughly researched and well-told story is a revelation. Intimate portraits of J.P. Morgan, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and several others who figured in the great transatlantic migration culminate in the startling story of its main character, Albert Ballin -- the little-known giant (though barely five feet tall) who was responsible for bringing more immigrants to the U.S. than any other person in the nation’s history." — Daniel Okrent, author of The Guarded Gate and Last Call

“Ujifusa’s metic­u­lous­ly researched and well-writ­ten work illus­trates the vast influ­ence these gen­er­a­tions of immi­grants had on Amer­i­can cul­ture and soci­ety.” — Jewish Book Council

“With impeccable research, masterful prose, and deep feeling, Steven Ujifusa tells the incredible story of one of the greatest human exoduses in history, of the 1.5 million Jews who escaped Czarist Russia, and the three people who helped make that possible. He gives readers a front-row seat along the way, to the boardrooms of German shipping companies, third-class hulls of ships crossing the Atlantic, to tenements on the Lower East Side. This is a page-turning history on a grand scale, with an intimate touch.” — Steven Pressfield, bestselling author of Gates of Fire and The Lion’s Gate

Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry, and the Race to Save Russia's Jews on the Eve of World War I by Steven Ujifusa is a valuable addition to American, Jewish and Russian history, focusing on the immigration of Russian Jews to America, seen as the promised land. Most went in steerage class on ships that could take from 30 days to a week. Conditions were rough and for most the cost was high. Jewish aid societies played a big part and immigrants already in America helped their relatives.  They had to pass through Hamburg, in the 1870s the busiest port in the world, stopping in England then on to New York City. 

Ujifusa goes into lots of details on Russian, German, and American history, including periods of American anti- immigration attitudes.  Some wealthy Americans supported immigration as they needed workers for their factories while American workers feared immigrants would lower wages.

STEVEN UJIFUSA is the author of A Man and His Ship and Barons of the Sea. He received an AB in history from Harvard University and a master’s degree in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania and has given presentations across the country and on the high seas. He is the recipient of a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, the Washington Irving Medal for Literary Excellence from the Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York, and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia’s Literary Award. He lives with his wife, a pediatric emergency room physician, and his two sons in Philadelphia.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Miss Morgan's Book Brigade by Janet Skeslien Charles - 2024 - 324 pages

Miss Morgan's Book Brigade by Janet Skeslien Charles - 2024 - 324 pages

Miss Morgan's Book Brigade is a wonderful book.

It has two interrelated settings, rural France and Paris during the German invasion in World War One and New York City in the 1980s.

1918: As the Great War rages, Jessie Carson takes a leave of absence from the New York Public Library to work for the American Committee for Devastated France. Founded by millionaire Anne Morgan, daughter of J. P. Morgan. this group of international women help rebuild destroyed French communities just miles from the front. Upon arrival, Jessie strives to establish something that the French have never seen—children’s libraries. Jessie Carson turns ambulances into bookmobiles and trains the first French female librarians. Miss Morgan appears to have a romantic relationship with another woman in the group, known as Doctor M. Most of the group participants come from affluent families that pay their expenses. Miss Carson gets a salary. At first social standing back in America is very important, but slowly bonds are formed. The women must learn to cope with the horrible devastation of the war. Some develop relationships with soldiers, knowing any day can bring their death.

1987 - : When NYPL librarian and aspiring writer Wendy Peterson stumbles across a passing reference to Jessie Carson in the archives, she becomes consumed with learning her fate. In her obsessive research, she discovers that she and the elusive librarian have more in common than their work at New York’s famed library, but she has no idea their paths will converge in surprising ways across time. Jessie deals with library policies, loves working with books and finds a boyfriend.

There are lots of delightful literary references. The descriptions of the impact of the war were very powerful. There are a number of letters which help carry the plot.

I found the ending emotionally satisfying

"Based on the extraordinary little-known history of the women who received the Croix de Guerre medal for courage under fire, Miss Morgan’s Book Brigade is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of literature, and ultimately the courage it takes to make a change." From the Publisher 

"Janet Skeslien Charles is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Paris Library. Her work has been translated into thirty-seven languages. She has spent a decade researching Jessie Carson (Miss Morgan’s Book Brigade) at The Morgan Library, the NYPL, and archives across France. Her shorter work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Sydney Morning Herald, LitHub, and the anthology Montana Noir." From Simon and Schuster

"Invitations" - A Short Story by Carol Shields- 4 pages- Included with The Short Stories of Carol Shields- 2004

 This year, Buried in Print, a marvelous blog I have followed for over ten years,is doing a read through of the short stories of Carol Shields. I hope to participate fully in this event.

The more I read in the stories of Carol Shields the more grateful I am to Buried in Print for turning me on to her work. There are sixty some stories in the collection,it is my hope to read and post on them all in 2024.

"Invitations" is the 17th story by Carol Shields I have so far posted upon.

"Invitations", told in the third person, is structured around five days in the life of the central character.  On each day the subject receives in the mail an invitation to a social event.  As the nature of the Invitations are revealed we learn she is a highly regarded author.

"There was to be a reception—a gala it was called—at the top of a large downtown hotel on Saturday evening. The guest of honor, she read, was to be herself."

I do not wish to share too much on this story.  "Invitations" is a four page marvel.

The Carol Shields Literary Trust Website has an excellent biography

Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Awakening of Miss Prim- A Novel by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera 2013 -272 Pages - translated from Spanish by Sonia Soto - 2014

 The Awakening of Miss Prim- A Novel by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera 2023 -272 Pages - translated by Sonia Soto

Long ago when I began my blog I intended for The Reading Life to focus on books about people who lead Reading centered lives. I have gotten away from this.

The Awakening of Miss Prim is a beautiful return to this idea for me.

"In this #1 international bestseller, a young woman leaves everything behind to work as a librarian in a remote French village, where she finds her outlook on life and love challenged in every way.

Prudencia Prim is a young woman of intelligence and achievement, with a deep knowledge of literature and several letters after her name. But when she accepts the post of private librarian in the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, she is unprepared for what she encounters there. Her employer, a book-loving intellectual, is dashing yet contrarian, always ready with a critique of her cherished Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. The neighbors, too, are capable of charm and eccentricity in equal measure, determined as they are to preserve their singular little community from the modern world outside.

Prudencia hoped for friendship in San Ireneo but she didn't suspect that she might find love—nor that the course of her new life would run quite so rocky or would offer challenge and heartache as well as joy, discovery, and fireside debate. Set against a backdrop of steaming cups of tea, freshly baked cakes, and lovely company, The Awakening of Miss Prim is a distinctive and delightfully entertaining tale of literature, philosophy, and the search for happiness." From the Publisher Simon and Schuster 

I totally enjoyed The Awakening of Miss Prim.

"In just one sentence, how would you describe The Awakening of Miss Prim to someone who hasn’t yet read it?

I’d say it’s the story of Prudencia Prim, a young librarian, covered in academic qualifications, who arrives in San Ireneo de Arnois, a village that has declared war on the modern world.

I am in love with the village of San Ireneo de Arnois and its ideals. Where did you find your inspiration for it?

Thank you very much, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Many people ask me about the whereabouts of San Ireneo. The village doesn’t exist, it’s an imaginary place, but it’s inspired by the European tradition. Europe was built on small communities near abbeys like the one in the book, with an economy based on craftsmanship, solid families, ancient traditions and a very ordered life, in which each thing was done in its own time. That was the model I drew inspiration from to write the book. And that’s how San Ireneo was born, a place where people’s lives have a human scale and where tradition and culture are understood as treasures. In a world that’s so fast and so noisy, I think that’s what makes many readers ask me whether such a place exists, and wonder where it is." An author interview in The New Zealand Booklovers blog

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Alice Munro - July 10, 1931 to May 13, 2024

 July 10, 1931

Nobel Prize 2013

May 13, 2024

"The Irish novelist Edna O’Brien ranked Ms. Munro with William Faulkner and James Joyce as writers who had influenced her work. Joyce Carol Oates said Munro stories “have the density — moral, emotional, sometimes historical — of other writers’ novels.” And the novelist Richard Ford once made it clear that questioning Ms. Munro’s mastery over the short story would be akin to doubting the hardness of a diamond or the bouquet of a ripened peach.

“With Alice it’s like a shorthand,” Mr. Ford said. “You’ll just mention her, and everybody just kind of generally nods that she’s just sort of as good as it gets" - from The New York Times

"Trying simultaneously to establish herself as a writer (she had her first story published in an undergraduate magazine in 1950 and sold a piece to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1951), she had no time for novel-writing. The short story it had to be.

Routinely likened to Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant, Munro was more radical than the comparison implies. AS Byatt, a longstanding admirer, described how reading Munro made her want to try short fiction herself. Munro stretched and challenged the genre. Not only does she consistently wrongfoot the reader, overturning our expectations of characters and their actions, but she melds several narrative strands together, bringing into one tale several plots." From The Guardian 

Mel Ulm