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, September 16, 2021

The Yom Kipper Light Went Out - A Short Story by Rosa Palatnik - 1957 - translated from the by Jessica Kirzane

 The Yom Kippur Light Went Out - A Short Story by Rosa Palatnik - 1957 - translated from the  Yiddish by Jessica Kirzane

A Short Story for Yom Kippur

You may read today’s story here 

On Yom Kippur on September 16, 2018 I posted on a short story “Ne’ilah” by Rosa Palitik related to observations of the High Holiday.  Today I am posting on another of her Yom 

Kipper themed stories.

What is Yom Kippur? When is it held?

Yom Kippur roughly translates to "Day of Atonement", and is a period where Jews abstain from certain things and pray, seeking forgiveness for their sins.

It's considered the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and comes 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. From Wikipedia 

The story centers on the deep feelings stirred up in 

Mirel, who left her ancestral home to move to Paris with her two year old daughter.  She was never a close observer of Jewish traditions but even in Paris she felt the power of Yom Kipper. She had found work as a seamstress she could do at home for a non-Jewish factory owner.  On Yom Kipper she lights the traditional Yom Kipper light and sets her work aside. Then there is a knock on her door. It is a factory representative giving her work that needs to be done today.

“All day long, Mirel prepared to take part in the passionate prayers. She recognized again the sad clouds, like family, that she remembered from Yom Kippurs past. She decorated her poor room with white curtains, spread a white tablecloth over her little table, and put on a white dress. She prepared Yom Kippur food, and in the evening, when a Yom Kippur mood covered everything, Mirel brought out a large Yom Kippur candle and set it on a box of sand on top of the covered table, remembering how her mother would bless the children before the Yom Kippur wine. She went to her sleeping child’s bed and wordlessly held her warm little hands to her breast. Burying her head in the child’s little pillow, she quietly sobbed as she fulfilled her mitzvah.

Just as she was praying for a better fate for her little girl, a knock on the door tore apart the quiet Yom Kippur scene. A tall non-Jewish man stood by the half-open door with his blond hair tossed to the side, holding a package of women’s scarves under his arm. He ordered her with a gruff voice, “Here’s your work . . . these have to be ready by morning.”

Mirel stammered fearfully, “I wanted to go, I must go, I can’t do it . . .”

Her boss’s tall messenger winked at the Yom Kippur candle and spoke ironically, “If you are a worker in Paris and you don’t want to go to the factory, then you have to work when your boss asks you to, and not whenever you feel like it. Au revoir!”

To see what happens next read the story.  I found this   very moving.

Rosa Palatnik (1904-1981) was born near Lublin. In 1927 she emigrated to Paris, where she contributed to Yiddish newspapers Di handls-tsaytung and Der parizer paynt. In 1936 she settled in Rio de Janeiro, where she published widely in international Yiddish organs, including Di yidishe prese of Rio, Der nayer moment of São Paolo, Der shpigl of Buenos Aires, Der kontinent and Der veg of Mexico City, Di fraye arbeter-shtime and Morgn-zhurnal of New York and Di goldene keyt of Tel Aviv, composing roughly two hundred short stories.  Some of these stories were later published in her four short-story collections, three of which are available in the Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library. She was awarded the Fishl Bimko Prize in 1954.

The translator, Jessica Kirzane, is a 2017 Yiddish Book Center Translation Fellow.  

from Yiddish Book Center 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller - A Novel - 2012 - 416 pages.

 The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller - A Novel - 2012 - 416 pages. 

Winner 2012 Orange Prize

“The Song of Achilles is at once a scholar’s homage to the Iliad and a startlingly original work of art by an incredibly talented new novelist. Madeline Miller has given us her own fresh take on the Trojan war and its heroes. The result is a book I could not put down.”

Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto, The Dutch House and State of Wonder

The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the story line drawn from the Iliad,from the point of view of Patroclus.  Patroclus and Achilles meet when they are in their early teens.  Patroclus had been sent as a punishment for an accidental killing to the Kingdom of the father of Achilles. Achilles is the son of King 

Peleus and a sea nymph, Thetis. When his mother sees Achilles developing  feelings  for a mere mortal boy she with out success tries to end the relationship.  In a very interesting segment both boys spend two years being trained by the Chiron, a centaur.  Achilles is prophesied to be the greatest warrior of the Greeks, remembered forever.

Patroclus accompanies Achilles to Troy.  Their  trip is delayed as Thetis does not want Achilles to go.  Miller makes wonderful use of detail from Homer and Greek myth.

The battle for Troy lasts nine years.  The famous Homeric figures are on stage.  The love story is very well done.  The 

battle scenes are very exciting.  Achilles is a merciless killer, driven by his ego and humanized by his love for 


I enjoyed this book very much. It is exciting and brings in non- Homeric in origins details that add to The fun.

“Madeline Miller grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. She has taught and tutored Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare to high school students for over fifteen years.

She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms.

The Song of Achilles, her first novel, was awarded the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times Bestseller. Miller was also shortlisted for the 2012 Stonewall Writer of the Year. Her second novel, Circe, was an instant number 1 New York Times bestseller, and won the Indies Choice Best Adult Fiction of the Year Award and the Indies Choice Best Audiobook of the Year Award, as well as being shortlisted for the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction. Circe also won The Red Tentacle Award, an American Library Association Alex Award (adult books of special interest to teen readers), and the 2018 Elle Big Book Award.  It is currently being adapted for a series with HBO Max. Miller's novels have been translated into over twenty-five languages including Dutch, Mandarin, Japanese, Turkish, Arabic and Greek, and her essays have appeared in a number of publications including the Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Telegraph, Lapham's Quarterly and She currently lives outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” From

Her second novel Circe is near The top of my read soon list.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Everything is Illuminated by Johnathan Safran Foer - A Novel - 2002


Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer - A Novel - 2002

Everything is Illuminated tells two stories.  One is author’s trip to The Ukraine to search for a woman who saved his grandfather from The Nazis.  The other aspect is a fictionalized historical account of Trachimbrod, a Jewish shtetl in The Ukraine.  During August and September 1942 the Germans, with the willing help of the Ukrainian authorities, killed almost all three thousand residents.  

Foer, as a character in The narrative, travels from Americs to 

the Ukraine to look for Augustine, the woman who saved his grandfather. He has a number of photographs of them together. Arriving with Maps of the area where Trachimbrod was, it no longer exists and some cigsrettes for gifts and bribes.  Foer has hired a Ukrainian native, Alexander to help him look for Augustine.  Alexander loves American pop culture and studied English at university. His pop culture knowledge is dated.  His “blind” grandfather goes along as the driver.  Additionally his dog, named “Sammy Davis, Jr. Jr” is an important part of the group.

To me, the book was written way before Borat became famous, Alexander sounds like a character of the movie.  I admit this might have caused me to not take the book all that seriously.  This is no doubt just my reaction.

The details of the history, going back to the 18th century, of 

Trachimbrod, is rendered through stock characters.  There are terrible scenes from The Holocaust.  Foer meets a woman of the right age, at least mid seventies, who might be Augustine.

I am glad I read this book but I would endorse it only for those with a strong interest in the period and the history of Jewish people in the Ukraine. 

Everything is Illuminated won numerous awards

Per Wikepedia 

“Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of the bestseller Everything Is Illuminated, named Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and the winner of numerous awards, including the Guardian First Book Prize, the National Jewish Book Award, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Prize. Foer was one of Rolling Stone's "People of the Year" and Esquire's "Best and Brightest." Foreign rights to his new novel have already been sold in ten countries. The film of Everything Is Illuminated, directed by Liev Schreiber and starring Elijah Wood, will be released in August 2005. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been optioned for film by Scott Rudin Productions in conjunction with Warner Brothers and Paramount Pictures. Foer lives in Brooklyn, New York.” .from Amazon.COM

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson - A Novel - 2003 - 410 pages


The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson - A Novel - 2003 - 410 Pages 

“The Salt Roads should be required reading for the next century. An electrifying bravura performance by one of our most important writers.” —Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

“How do I know anything? How is it that my arms stretched out in front of me are so pale? How to I even know that they should be brown like riverbank mud, as they were when I was many goddesses with many worshippers, ruling in lands on the other side of a great, salty ocean? I used to be many, but now we are one, all squeezed together, many necks in one coffle. ” 

 Nalo Hopkinson, The Salt Roads

So far this year I have been stunned by the depth and Beauty of two novels by writers hithertonow unread by me.  The first was The Master and Margarita by Michail Bulgakov  The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson is just amazing beyond my powers to describe how I feel about it.

The Salt Roads focus on the lives of three women of color, living out the consequences of enslavement by Europeans.

We begin on a sugar plantation on  Saint-Domingue (now Haiti and The Domican Republic) in the opening years of the 

18th century.  Mer is a slave on a sugar plantations.  (Saint-Domingue was a French colony from 1659 to 1804).  She is respected as a healer, using knowledge she brought with her from Africa.  Sugar plantations were run in a terrible brutal fashion.  Slaves were worked to death in a few years then replaced either with new imports or slave born children.  When we first encounter her she is with her companion Tipinge, they have accompanied Gerorgina to the River to bury her still born child.  Georgina is her early teens and works in the House of the plantation Master.  The father is white man. It is now we learn the meaning of the title, The Salt Roads and are introduced to Lasirén, an African Goddess whose rebirth is enduced by their cries. The Goddess tells Mer she born from song and prayer.

Later on the river bank Lasirén asks Mer to find out why the salt roads are drying up.  Mer now narrating, 

"The sea roads, they're drying up." 

"The sea is drying up?"

"Not this sea, Stupid child!" Her tail slapped, sent up a fountain, exploding and drenching me. "The sea in the minds of my Ginen. The sea roads, the salt roads. And the sweet ones, too; the rivers. Can't follow them to their sources any more. You must fix it, Mer"

I did a word count on “salt”, it occurs 83 times.  Some times it is sea salt, on food or licked from the body of a lover.

Terrible things happen on the plantation. Slaves are whipped for working too slow and can be burned to death if they are viewed as a threat by the whites.  Slave women are at the sexual mercy of white men. In turn some slaves working as cooks in big houses begin to introduce slow poison into food and water.  Some houses are burned. We attend meetings of slaves plotting revolt.  Some of the slaves, who greatly out number the whites, are very eager for this and others fear the consequences.  Some slaves inform to the masters to gain status or seek revenge for offenses.  

The next two women are drawn from history.  Jean DuVal is remembered as the mistress of the French poet Charles Baudelaire. She  was born 1820 in Haiti and died in Paris about 1870. With her mother  she moved to 

Paris in 1842.  When we first encounter her she has a day off at the brothel she works at and is having an intense sexual encounter with another woman of African descent. There are long very x-rated descriptions of oral sex which contribute another kind meaning to salt.

To Baudelaire creole women like Duval were exotic and sensual, and not a proper.  Their relationship lasted on and off for twenty years.  He does support her and her mother until for a while his own mother cuts way back on his allowance, not approving of his Life Style.  DuVal is for a time visited by Laserin who is one of The four narrators.

We meet our third central human character.  Thais, also known as Meritet, Mary, and Pretty Pearl, is the third main human character. She is a Nubian slave and prostitute living in Alexandria, Egypt.  She will become Saint Mary of Egypt.

She and a fellow slave prostitute Judah decide to run away from their Masters to visit Jerusalem,then known as Aelia Capitolina.  She is inhabited by Lasirén who influenced her decision to visit a famous church.  As she enters the church she has a miscarriage.  Her blood is considered a desecration of the church by all but one who guides her toward her destiny.

There is so much of interest here.  In the midst of a section on Jean Duval Mer May appear.  The narrative structure is very imaginatively rendered in a mix of long and short sections. Many intriguing minor characters come and go.  

I was deeply drawn into The Salt Roads.  In all three segments we see the intertwining of sexuality and prostitution  over long periods of history. Sex is also an escape and a way to reconnect with the ancient Salt Roads.

“Nola Hopkinson’s first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, was published as the winner of the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest in 1998 and won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. She has published five additional novels, including the Andre Norton Award–winning Sister Mine, and three collections of her short fiction.

Hopkinson has also proven herself an adept editor, guest-editing an issue of Lightspeed Magazine and editing five anthologies, including Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction and So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy. Hopkinson has also won the British Fantasy Award, the Aurora Award, the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, and the Sunburst Award. She has taught at Clarion East, Clarion West, and Clarion South and is a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.

SFWA President Mary Robinette Kowal adds:

“I have loved Nalo Hopkinson’s work since 1999 when I discovered her through the short story “Precious” in a Datlow/Windling anthology Silver Birch, Blood Moon. Each new piece continues to delight me and stretch me as a reader and makes me bolder as a writer.

“Naming Nalo as Grand Master recognizes not only her phenomenal writing but also her work as an educator who has shaped so many of the rising stars of modern SFF.” From

I hope to read through her body of work 

Mel u

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Normal People by Sally Rooney - A Novel - 2020 - 279 pages

Normal People- By Sally Rooney- A Novel - 2018 - 279 pages

From The Irish Times - A Very interesting interview with background information 

Normal People takes us deeply into the relationship of Connell and Marianne.  Set in Dublin from 2011 to 2015, they both attend a secondary school in County Sligo before going to Trinity College in Dublin, an elite institution.  

Connell is handsome, popular and very intelligent.  Marianne is not at all popular, considered by most other students as not quite normal.  She is also quite intelligent. To complicate matters, in very class conscious Dublin Connell’s mother works two days a week as a cleaner for Marianne’s wealthy mother.  

At first Connell keeps their affair a secret out of concern his friends will mock him.  Both are at the age where the opinions of their peer group are very important to them.  Much of the novel is taking up with details of their sex life.  Marianne is very possessive as well as insecure, demanding to know about other women he may have slept with.  

At Temple Marianne begins to blossom, becoming popular 

and attractive while Connell struggles to fit in with his peers, most from richer families who talk a lot about how rich their fathers are.  Connell’s father deserted his mother when he was an infant.  She refuses to talk about this with Connell.

Marianne’s father died a few years before their relationship began.

Their relationship becomes a  struggles as each have other partners.  It develops Marianne is very masochistic, she wants to be hurt during sex.  Connell will not do this.

As they work to understand themselves, to judge their lives against “normal people” their relationship continues even as they have new partners.

I found myself very interested in Marianne and Connell. There are numerous surprising developments.

As I read this I was reminded of Declan Kiberd’s essential book Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation in which he asserts and documents the assertion that the dominant theme of modern Irish literature is that of the weak or missing Irish father.  For sure I see this in Normal People.

Her third novel is just out Beautiful World, Where Are You? was published today.  I for sure hope to read it soon. It is already a best seller on Amazon.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett - 2019 - 352 pages - Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Fiction - 2021

 The Dutch House by Ann Patchett - 2019 - 352 pages - Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Fiction - 2021

This is my first venture into the work of Ann Patchett.  The Dutch House, built in 1922 just outside Philadelphia, by a couple that got rich selling cigarettes. In 1946 a real estate mogul bought the House and the full contents at a bank sale.  It was meant to be a surprise for his wife. She hates the House and everything it stands for so much she deserts the Family, supposedly to go to India to help the poor..  Their children Maeve ten and Danny three beoome very close.The children begin to 

“Suffer as if they had all become characters in the worst part of a fairy tale”.

Andrea, 18 years younger than the father, falls in love with the house but not her stepchildren.   She is a widow with two children. As expected in a few years when their father dies, he left almost everything to her, she kicks them out of The House. Danny narrates the story.

There are lots of twists and turns. Danny goes to medical School but never practices.  Following his father he begins to buy properties at foreclosure sales,Marries, has kids, becomes rich, divorced and more.Maeve does the books for his business and a big fruit and vegtable company. She never Marries or has any relationships.

Lots of quite surprising things happened.

I enjoyed this novel a lot.

“ANN PATCHETT is the author of seven novels, The Patron Saint of LiarsTaftThe Magician’s AssistantBel CantoRunState of Wonder, and Commonwealth. She was the editor of Best American Short Stories, 2006, and has written three books of nonfiction–Truth & Beauty, about her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy, What Now? an expansion of her graduation address at Sarah Lawrence College, and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a collection of essays examining the theme of commitment. In 2019, she published her first children’s book, Lambslide, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser.

A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Patchett has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including England’s Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Book Sense Book of the Year, a Guggenheim Fellowship, The Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize, The Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the American Bookseller’s Association’s Most Engaging Author Award, and the Women’s National Book Association’s Award. Her books have been both New York Times Notable Books and New York Times bestsellers. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages.

In November, 2011, she opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, with her business partner Karen Hayes.  She has since become a spokesperson for independent booksellers, championing books and bookstores on NPR, 

Ann Patchett lives in Nashville with her husband, Karl VanDevender, and their dog, Sparky.”  From

I look for war to reading more of her work.

Friday, September 3, 2021

The Night Watchman- A Novel- by Louise Erdrich - 2020- 397 pages- 2021 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction

 The Night Watchman- A Novel- by Louise Erdrich - 2020- 397 pages- 

2021 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction

Buried in Print on Louise Erdrich

Birchbark Books- owned by Louise Erdrich. 

Best Bio of Author I could find. On The Poetry Foundation 

Back in July of 2014 I read “Nero” by Louise Erdrich.  It won the O. Henry Award for best short story that year.  Seven years it took me to read another of her works, The  Night Watchman, the 2021 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction.

It is gratifying to start September with such a powerful novel.

The Night Watchman is based on the author’s grandfather who worked as a night watchman while working to prevent Native Americans Chippewas from being dispossed from land they long lived on.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs, a Federal agency, was in charge of whether or not a linked group of Native Americans should be designated a tribe.  Losing that designation meant loss of reservations rights and government help.

It is 1953, powerful men  in the American Congress want abolished the  treaty given rights of the Chippewas and other groups, a potential disaster.

The novel focuses on Pixie Paranteau, a high School Valedictorian, granddaughter of Thomas, thd night watchman.  Most of her female fellow graduates quickly marry and have children. Pixie, she prefers to be called Patrice, does not want to be tied down.  She has a job at a bearing plant.  She supports her mother and younger brother.  Her alcoholic  father periodically returns home to terrorize his wife and try to bully Patrice out of money.

There is a large cast of characters.  Vera, Patrice’s sister, moved to Minneapolis several months ago and has not been heard from in a long time.  Minneapolis is pictured as a potentially dangerous big city.  Vera takes a week leave to look for her.  She gets involved in a strange job playing an ox in a bar where she is exploited and at risk for being forced into prostitution.

Thomas and Patrice live in this impoverished reservation community along with young Chippewa boxer Wood Mountain and his mother Juggie Blue, her niece and Patrice’s best friend Valentine, and Stack Barnes, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who is hopelessly in love with Patrice.

Watching Thomas testify in Congress was a wonderfully rendered very important part of the novel.

“In the Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated with memorable characters who are forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature. Illuminating the loves and lives, the desires and ambitions of these characters with compassion, wit, and intelligence, The Night Watchman is a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure”. From Harper and Row

I am so glad I read The Night Watchman.