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

Saturday, February 15, 2020

April Fish - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - 1968

April Fish - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - 1968

Buried in Print's Mavis Gallant Reading Schedule 

Mavis Gallant on The Reading Life

August 11, 1922 born in Montréal, in 1950 she moves to France to pursue her dream of being a writer 

February 18, 2014, dies in Paris, a place she dearly loved

"In her preface to the present collection, Gallant advises her readers: “Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.” Such advice may be superfluous. When you finish each of Gallant’s stories, it’s instinctive to stop and regroup. As much as you might wish to resume and prolong the pleasure of reading, you feel that your brain and heart cannot, at least for the moment, process or absorb one word, one detail more." Francine Prose in her introduction to The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant

This story is included in The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant and in another collection, In Transit.

April Fish has an estimated reading time of three minutes, far briefer than is typical of her work.  

The story is narrated by April, a fifty five year old single woman living in Switzerland.  She says she only there to avoid high income tax in her home country, to which she wishes she could return. We do not learn where she is from.  We do learn she is affluent, seems to live of Family money as her affairs are managed by a solicitor.  In Switzerland they call her Avril.

She has three adopted sons, now all young adults but still dependent on her.  

There is a mystery of character at the center of this story.  Is April a kind caring person or is she an adult spoiled brat who has a fit when she is denied her way, or a bit of both? She seems now bored with her sons and is outraged when her request to adopt a Vietnamese Baby in Switzerland for burn treatments  (1968 was height of The Vietnam War) is denied.

The reason the story is called April Fish in related to Venice.  Where i hope to be this summer.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi - 2016 - translated from French by Tina Kover - 2018

Disoriental by Négra Djavadi - 2016 - Translated from French by Tina Kover - 2018

Lambda Prize - Best Bisexual Fiction - 2019

Albertine Prize Winner - 2019 - Reader’s Choice for best novel translated from French to English

National Book Award Finalist - 2019

These are just a few of the awards won by Négra Djavadi’s debut novel Disoriental.

The narrator, Kimiâ Sadr, emigrated at age ten, along with her family, from Iran to Paris.  Now age twenty-five, she sits in the waiting room of a fertility clinic in Paris. She is flooded with memories of her families long tangled  history.  Her great grandfather had 52 wives, her parents were strongly opposed both to The Shaw and the clerics who followed him. She has a huge family. She just identifies her six uncles by number.

In a series of flashback like episodes The narrator tells in relays 
The chaos of post World War Two Iran.  The educated elite of Iran, her Family was once quite rich, had Cultural and emotional ties to France, especially Paris where  lots of Iranian expats had homes, fled to Paris to escape extreme clerical rule.  

As history of Iran is unsettlling told, we slowly see the narrator come to accept she is sexually attracted to women not men. Homosexual behaviour, mostly this happened to men, sometimes lead to death sentences. 

The story line skips around a lot in time to contemporary Paris and Tehran to pre-revolutionary days in Iran and her families early days in France.

Technically Didoreintal is a stunning novel.  The characters are very well developed.  

I felt The chaos and sometimes terror of life in Tehran coupled with the strains of adjusting to life in Paris.  To anyone willing to read carefully, I recommend this work.

Négar Djavadi was born in Iran in 1969 to a family of intellectuals opposed to the regimes of both the Shah and Khomeini. She arrived in France at the age of eleven, having crossed the mountains of Kurdistan on horseback with her mother and sister. She is a screenwriter and lives in Paris. Disoriental is her first novel..from Europa Editions.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

“With the Beetles” - A Short Story by Haruki Murakami - Translated, from the Japanese, by Philip Gabriel - from The New Yorker February 14 and 21, 2020

Home Page For Japanese Literature 13 - JLC13

Link to Today’s Story

On August 9, 2009, I completed my first book for The Japanese Challenge “After Dark” by Haruki Murakami. This novel was also in fact my first venture into Japanese literature.

“After Dark” starts in a Denny’s, a comfortable familiar place in the night world of Tokyo. The characters in the story are at once beautifully individuated with just a few brush strokes.
“She reads with great concentration. Her eyes rarely move from the pages of her book….She just keeps reading her book, lighting an occasional cigarette, mechanically tipping back her coffee cup, and hoping the time moves faster”.

As the book proceeds we are drawn further into the Tokyo night world. We meet a number of interesting people along the way. Like Dickens and Balzac before him Marukami brings to light aspects of the city that fall below the radar of those safely out of the margins.

“The garbage trucks have not yet collected all of the garbage. This a giant city, after all, and it produces a prodigious amount of garbage”.

From this start 11 years ago I went on to read all his translated novels published as Kindles and a number of his Short Stories.  I hope to one day join in the Celebration of his Nobel Prize.

I was delighted to find a new story,”With the Beetles” just published   in The New Yorker, readable online at the link above.  My main purpose today is to let my readers know about the availablity
of this story and to keep a record of my reading.

American and English pop music references abound in the work of Murakami.  “With The Beetles” follows a man living in Tokyo from his final teenage years to his late thirties.  It is 1965 and The Beetles are huge in Japan dominating airwaves and record sales.
His girl friend, the first, loves the Beetles though he is more into American Jazz.

One day he goes to pick her up but only her brother is home.  He invites him in to wait.  The longest segment of the story is devoted to their conversation.  The brother has a rare problem with his memory.  The conversation revolves around that, Mozart and brother’s questions about the man’s relationship to his sister.

We flash twenty years forward as we then catch up with events.

Mel u

Saturday, February 8, 2020

A Thoroughly Modern Ghost of Other Origin - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew - from her Debut Collection - The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020

"A Thoroughly Modern Ghost of Other Origin" by Elaine Chiew, story six in The Heartsick Diaspora

"But a pontianak has more currency somehow, I say. You can be a marker of Singaporean diversity."

In Singapore even the ghosts, spirits of the dead, arise from sundry Diasporas.

During seventh month in the Chinese Calender, demons of various forms are released from Hell, to reap havoc on the living.  Like the citizens of Singapore, the demons have roots in China and Malaysia.  Unlike the last four stories from The Heartsick Diaspora I have posted upon, this story is set in Singapore.  The narrator is a late teenage boy living with his large family and an Indonesian helper.  They are a middle class family. 

Of course he is obsessed with girls.  He also has a unique ability, he can see ghosts. His mother gets upset when discovers him talking to ghosts.  She doesn't want them attracted to her home.  I learned a lot about the ghosts of Singapore in this story.  I admit I used Google to learn about the multicultural demons of Singapore.  Now days the Festival of Hungry Ghosts is an event to celebrate the heritage of Singapore.  

The narrator is in his room when suddenly he sees a Pontianak in his room.  She tells him she is very hungry, she wants blood. Being very freighted, and ok maybe a bit excited by a female in his room who he is not related to, a first, he gets some congealed pig blood from the refrigerator for her.  She returns and demands his blood or his life.

"Here are some facts about the pontianak, a female Malay vampire: • As a human, died during childbirth, and as a result, wants to prey on the blood of men and other helpless folk."

The Hungry Ghosts  of Singapore seem to be mostly female, maybe they are drawn to his burgeoning sex drive, seeking revenge on males.

"A Thoroughly Modern Ghost of Other Origin shows us a different side of life in Singapore, not focused on the rich but on an ordinary family working for a living.  We see the dynamics of the family with the mother very much charge.

This is a very entertaining story, taking us below the glittering affluence of Singapore to ancient beliefs brought in with the various diasporas that built Singapore.

Elaine Chiew

Elaine is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.

Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.

Elaine lives in Singapore and her book, The Heartsick Diaspora, and other stories, will be published by Myriad in 2020..from

Last month I posted upon a Japanese  authored short story  focusing on a related Japanese tradition.  This made me wonder how ancient this tradition might be,  what way back diaspora left this belief about returning ghosts all over East Asia.  Maybe we are being taken into pre-history.

"Waymarkers" by Natsuko Koroda, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda, from Words Without Borders, November, 2015 

I look forward to posting on the remaining eight stories in The Heartsick Diaspora.

Mel u

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Winter Rain - A Short Story by Alice Adams - 1959

“Winter Rain” - 1959 in The New Yorker, included in The Short Stories of Alice Adams, 2002

Alice Adams

Born - August 14, 1926

Died - May 27, 1999

“Whenever in the final unendurable weeks of winter, I am stricken, as now, to the bone with cold—it is raining, the furnace has somehow failed—I remember that winter of 1947–1948 in Paris, when I was colder than ever in my life, when it always headlines. And everyone struck: Métro, garbage, water, electricity, mail—all these daily necessities were at one time or another with difficulty forgone. Also, that was the first winter of American students—boys on the G.I. bill and girls with money from home, Bennington meeting Princeton in the Montana Bar. There were cellar clubs to which French friends guided one mysteriously: on the Rue Dauphine the Tabu, with a band; the Mephisto, just off the Boulevard Saint-Germain; and further out on Rue Blomet the wicked Bal Nègre, where one danced all night to West Indian music, danced with everyone and drank Pernod. It was a crowded, wild, excited year. “

Up until a few days ago I had never heard of Alice Adams, now i am close to starting a read through of The Short Stories of Alice Adams, 800 pages with fifty one stories, most first published in The New Yorker.

After graduating from Ratcliff College at 19, Adams and her husband spent some time in Post War Paris.  Perhaps drawing a bit on that experience, “Winter Rain” is narrated from Paris by a young American woman studying at the Sorbonne.

The story is told after narrator has returned to the United States, it appears years have gone by, she has not kept up with anyone she knew in Paris.  Her most interesting relationship was with Mme. Frenaye, an older woman, from whom she rented a room.  Mme. Frenaye overcharges her while somehow representing French sophtication to an American ingenue.  I found this a charming and elegant story.

This story is included in sample of the Kindle edition of The  Short Stories of Alice Adams, along with two other stories  and a Forward  by  Victoria Wilson her long time editor at The New Yorker.

Upon posting on the other two stories, i see a read through coming.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Brothers At Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It by Larrie D. Ferreiro. 2016

Brothers At Arms: American Independence  
 and the Men  of France and Spain Who Saved It by Larrie D. Ferreiro.  2016

Journal of The American Revolution Book of The Year for 2016

A Revolutionary Reading and Autoditactic Corner Selection

If you are interested in learning more about The American Revolution than just the standard Hagiography taught in American schools study  the webpage of The Journal of The American Revolution.  They have a list of the hundred best books on The Revolution, broken into sections so you can follow your interests.  About half of the books are available in Kindle Editions, my preferred mode, and long term I hope to read a number of them. 

Since 2014 they have given an annual Award for best book,  with honourable mentions.  It is here i learned of  today’s book.

Ferriero’s book showed me that very likely without the help of France The Revolution would have failed. The assistance went way beyond officers like  Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette serving in The American Army.  Thousands of French soldiers  and sailors fought for the Americans.  The French government supplied rifles,canons, uniforms ships worth in today’s dollar over Thirty   Billion dollars.  The objective of the French government was to undermine the power of England by dragging it into a long war.  With the aid of The Spanish Navy, eventually the British were no longer able to move their troops around.  The French and Spanish had their eyes on the Sugar  Islands and on harrsssing British ships with priveteers. They also stirred up up trouble in India.  All this helped thin out Englsnd’s ability to fighf a revolt  thousands of miles from London. 

Ferriero brings lots of interesting characters on stage.  On returning home many French officers, mostly from the aristocracy, ended up being executed during the French Revolution.  Lafayette spent five years in prison and if not for pleas of George Washington might have died there.  

I give this book my total endorsement.  All into American history, especially teachers should read it.

It was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize in History in 2016.

From The Publisher

“The remarkable untold story of how the American Revolution’s success depended on substantial military assistance provided by France and Spain, and places the Revolution in the context of the global strategic interests of those nations in their fight against England. 
In this groundbreaking, revisionist history, Larrie Ferreiro shows that at the time the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord the colonists had little chance, if any, of militarily defeating the British. The nascent American nation had no navy, little in the way of artillery, and a militia bereft even of gunpowder. In his detailed accounts Ferreiro shows that without the extensive military and financial support of the French and Spanish, the American cause would never have succeeded. France and Spain provided close to the equivalent of $30 billion and 90 percent of all guns used by the Americans, and they sent soldiers and sailors by the thousands to fight and die alongside the Americans, as well as around the world” 

Larrie D. Ferreiro is a naval architect and historian who served for more than thirty-five years in the US Navy, the US Coast Guard, and the Department of Defense. An Adjunct Professor of Engineering and History at George Mason University, he is the author of the award-winning Ships and Science (MIT Press) and Brothers in Arms, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in History.

Mel u


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

"Lay My Head" - A Short Story by L. Annette Binder - 2012 - from her award winning collection Rise

Lay My Head - A Short Story by L. Annette Binder - 2012

"Her mother patted the headstone the way she used to brush his jacket.  She was smoothing down his 
shoulders and whispering in his ears".

As I read these beautiful deeply moving and disturbing lines I cannot help but see my wife one day doing exactly this one day my headstone.

Yesterday, with a reread this morning, I read a very moving and beautifully sad story by L. Annette Binder, "Lay My Head" included in The O. Henry Prize Stories, 2013 (first published in The Fairy Tale Review).  Inclusion in the long standing series of anthologies of The O. Henry Prize Stories is a great honor.  In order to be elegible a story must first have been published in an American or Canadian literary journal. It is included in her award winning debut collection, Rise.

My earliest reading memories are of being read fairy tales.  Long ago our youngest daughter saw an edition of The Complete Fairy 
Tales of the Brothers Grimm on  my book shelves years ago and asked if she could keep on the shelves in her room. She  still has it booked marked so I know she is reading it.

One of the associations in literature worldwide is that of beautiful people with goodness and unattractive, ugly people with evil.  You see this every where from the latest popular novel to the great works of literature.  I increasingly think this, as it is mostly women who are described as beautiful, represents the deeply pervasive image of women as commodities for men to consume.  This prejuduce runs so far down into our consciousness that most repudiate my idea.  Illness as it changes appearances away from standard notions of beauty is seen as a manifestation of evil within the person, either an ancient curse or inherent malignancy coming out for the "beautiful" people and their admirers to fear.  These  are part of what I see as themes of "Lay My Head".

As the story opens Angela, her appearance badly impacted by illness, is on a plane from Los Angeles to her mother's house, where she grew up.  A small child on the plane is fascinated by her appearance, not yet having learned to fear the different.  I do not wish to spoil this story for potential readers but here are some of the other things it is about- living with a disease, waiting for death, existence in a world gone narcorpoliptic, memories of the dead shading over, loving those gone, maybe loving death.  It depicts a dark world where those with the wisdom to see beyond the prepackaged world cannot escape sadness and loneliness.  

From the authors webpage

I was born in Germany and grew up in Colorado. Like many
immigrant kids, I learned my English from primetime TV and the Saturday morning cartoons. My parents spoke to me in German, and -- to their dismay -- I started answering in English before the boxes were even unpacked. I have degrees from Harvard, Berkeley, and the Programs in Writing at the University of California, Irvine.
My debut collection of stories, Rise (Sarabande Books), received the 2011 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction (selected by Laura Kasischke).
My fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Pushcart Prize XXXVI, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, One Story, American Short Fiction, The Southern Review, Third Coast, Fairy Tale Review, Bellingham Review, Beloit Fiction Journal and others. One of my stories was performed as part of NPR's Selected Shorts. I am currently at work on a novel based on my story "Dead Languages," which appeared in The Southern Review.

I hope to read her debut novel The Vanishing Sky soon.  It is set in Germany during the closing days of World War Two.  For readers of Warlight and The Invisible Bridge, it is an 
intimate, harrowing story about a family of German citizens during World War II.

Mel u