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

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Antiquities by Cynthia Ozick - forthcoming April 2021- 192 Pages

Antiquities  by Cynthia Ozick - forthcoming April 2021 - 192 Pages

Antiquities is the fifth work by Cynthia Ozick upon which I have had The distinct pleasure of reading and posting upon. I have read one novel, Heir to The Glimmering World, three novellas, and one Short Story.  All of her works can be characterized as related to Jewish themes.  I have also read some of her literary Essays.

Antiquities, forthcoming from Knopf Publishing, will delight all lovers of her work.  The setting is around 1949, a rather elderly man, Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, is preparing to write a memoir of his days at The Temple Academy for Boys.  He is now one of seven surviving trustees, all of which are being asked to write memoirs.  

The narration, filtered through his faltering at times memory is entrrlaced with curtent events in his Life.  Much detail is devoted to his memories of his, a collector and merchant of real and fake Egyptian antiquities.  We also learn about a cousin who was a famous archaeologist.  The narrator goes into detail about his parents marriage.  

The atmosphere at the School was subtly anti-semetic.  Lloyd was fascinated by a Jewish student, Ben-Zion Elefantin, a mystifying older pupil who claims descent from Egypt’s Elephantine Island.

From here Ozick spins out a fascinsting tale in which we have to find reality through the ancient narrator’s story line.

Like all her work, Antiquities,  manifests a very high intelligence and deep culture.  

Mel u

The Reading Life 


Saturday, March 6, 2021

Dwelling Place- A Plantation Epic by Erskine Clark - 2007 - 653 pages


Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic by Erskine Clarke- 2007 - 627 Pages

Winner of The 2006 Bancroft Prize for American History

An Autoditactic Corner Selection 

Essential Reading for all interested in slavery in America..

All teachers of American history should read this wonderful book

Dwelling Place:  A Plantation Epic is a magnifcient work of narrative nonfiction, depicting the lives of plantation owners as well as lives of their slaves, from 1805 to 1864 on the coastal Islands of Georgia.

Most of The slaves in this area, in Liberty County, had been taken in or had direct ancestory in what is now Sierra Leone. They spoke a language known as Gullah.  The slave population way out numbered that of White plantation owners.  This in itself allowed the slaves to bond and maintain much of their language and culture.  Rice was a dominating crop in Sierra Leone and the swampy rain heavy  area of the coastal Islands 

was perfect for growing Rice.  Rice made the planters rich and made slaves with Rice growing knowledge valuable.

It was fascintating to learn that slaves taught each other how to appear totally subservient and non-threatening to whites.  At any moment a slave could be sold away from their family, parceled out when owners died.  Women were subject to rape at will.  Mixed children were considered black and were property.  Many a plantation owner’s wife had to deal with what were obviously her husband’s children with a slave mistress.

Religion played a very big part in the lives of the planters.  A common rationale for slavery was that it allowed pagan Africans to become Christians.  There is extensive coverage on the development of the black church.  Some planters knew slavery was contrary to the gospel of Jesus but they felt slaves, Africans, were just too primitive to rule themselves plus they did not want to relinquish their wealth.  Black preachers had a lot of influence.  

I learned a lot about the practices on the plantations, how they were managed.  Slaves as time went on had a degree of freedom to work some land for themselves as well as to hunt and fish in the swamps.  

I was fascinated especially by a chapter devoted to cuisine.  My partarnal grandmother  used to fix what she called “how cakes”, now I know where the name comes from. Anyone with roots in the South will  be fascinated by rich details on food.

Clarke provides us lots of details on the Up-Stairs downstairs lives.  

The start of The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865) totally destroyed the world  of the plantations. Many White residences were burned after being ransacked by Northern troops.  Clarke lets us see how this impacted slaves who knew little of life other than as a slave.  Some felt loyalty to their old Masters, some killed them and burned The plantation houses. In one very powerful section i learned of How slaves gave themselves last names.

This is a beautiful book.  The people come totally to life.  The landscape is vividly articulated.  We are there for a terrible hurricane.  We are there when Sherman marches through Georgia.  

I am so glad I read this book.  

“Erskine Clarke is Professor Emeritus of American Religious History at Columbia Theological Seminary, where he taught from 1973 to 2008. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1963, received a Master of Divinity from Columbia Theological Seminary in 1966, and a PhD from Union Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1970. Erskine is the author of several books on southern religious history, including Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic (Yale University Press, 2005), which won the prestigious Bancroft Prize from Columbia University, as well as GHS’s Bell Award for the best book in Georgia history; By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey (Basic Books, 2013), and To Count Our Days: A History of Columbia Theological Seminary (University of South Carolina Press, 2019).”  From The Georgia Historical Society

Mel u

Friday, March 5, 2021

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi - 2009


White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi - 2009.  

White is for Witching combines various standard elements of the supernatural novel, vampires, haunted house, ghost stories and more to produce an interesting enough account of the life of a family in England.  It combines elements drawn from the occult traditions of Nigeria and Haiti to draw a contrast to English treatment of refugees.

I was not over all entranced by this novel. (Wikipedia has a decent plot and character summary.). I liked parts of it a lot but was often bored.

From the authors website

About Helen Oyeyemi

Oyeyemi has an eye for the gently perverse, the odd detail that turns the ordinary marvelously, frighteningly strange

The Boston Globe

Helen Oyeyemi wrote her first novel, The Icarus Girl, while still at school studying for her A levels at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School.

While studying social and political sciences at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, two of her plays, Juniper’s Whitening and Victimese, were performed by fellow students to critical acclaim and subsequently published by Methuen.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Love Stories for Hectic People - by Catherine McNamara- 2020 - Including in full is her mesmerizing story “In Venice”

World wide Pandemic issues have halted most global travel plans.  In the marvelous stories of Catherine McNamara we can continue our journeys, in great company.  

Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris to write, and ended up in Ghana co-running a bar. On the way she lived in Milan, Mogadishu and Brussels, working as a translator, graphic designer, teacher, art gallery director, shoe model, mother. The Cartography of Others was a finalist in the People’s Book Prize (UK) and won the Eyelands International Fiction Award (Greece). Pelt and Other Stories was a semi- finalist in the Hudson Prize (USA) and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award (Ireland). Her short fiction has been Pushcart-nominated and published widely. Catherine lives in a farmhouse in northern Italy.

I have been an avid reader of the Short Stories of Catherine McNamara since I read her debut collection Pelt and Other Stories.  Here were my observations on this marvelous collection-

“Pelt and Other Stories by Catherine McNamara, her debut collection, is a very powerful, thoroughly captivating collection of stories most of which center on the post colonial world of central coastal West Africa. The  subtlies and levels of irony in these stories show a very great insight into how cross cultural encounters impact all parties.  The people in the stories range from European hotel owners in Ghana, famous art photographers, mistresses of Europeans, drivers, and village people.   The stories are mostly but not all set in West Africa.  One is set in the very worldly city of Sydney, some in Italy.   .   The stories are miniature marvels in showing us the manifestation of orientalizing of the African not just by Europeans and Americans but by returned citizens.  The stories show us how hard it is to return home unchanged.   These stories are not about ignorant hateful prejudice.   McNamara is too knowing and intelligent for that.  They are about the very great difficulties of escaping from our deep conditioning, our unseen frames of reference.   The stories are also fun to read.  Lots of interesting things happen, there is some sex, women eyeballing each other, and a strong sense of humor.”

Next I posted on her second collection of short stories,The Cartography of Others.

I highly recommend this collection to all lovers of short stories.

I defer here to the elegant judgement of Hilary Mantel, twice winner of The Booker Prize 

““McNamara’s work has a fierce, vital beat, her stories robust yet finelyworked, her voice striking in its confidence and originality. She writes with sensuous precision and a craft that is equally precise. This is fiction that can stand up in any company.” –Hilary Mantel

Gateway to Catherine McNamara on The Reading Life - including a wide ranging Q and A session. Also included Is one of her short stories.

Website of Catherine McNamara 

“In Venice” A story from Catherine McNamarra new collection Love Stories for Hectic People. (This story is protected under international copyright law and is the exclusive property of the author and cannot be published in any format without her permission, which I have been kindly given.)

“In Venice” by Catherine McNamara

Donna Carmichael felt the full weight of her name when she and Greg were in Italy. Every time she handed over their pass- ports to a hotel receptionist, the sleek man or abundant woman would show teeth and say ‘Donnna! You are a woo- man, Signora Carmichael!’ Several hotels into their trip an American explained that donna meant ‘woman’, meaning that Donna’s Melbournian parents had christened her with a name that merely flagged her gender.

An amused Greg started calling her Woo-man when they were lying undressed on hotel beds. Greg was a man who almost always invited sex into the room, in ways that were ex- ploratory and tender. But when he called her Woo-man, he encouraged Donna to perform lavish and servile acts.

One glum morning in Venice they climbed back to their room after breakfast, having decided to spend the day in bed. Donna felt tingles of anticipation along the bridge between her legs. They reached the door to their room and Greg in- serted the brass key dangling from a burnished ball of wood. They stood looking through the doorway at the rumpled bed- sheets they had left an hour ago, the day now reframed.

Greg closed the door. Donna undid her jeans. They stood fondling each other, clothes flying off, until they dropped to the floor and crawled to the centre of the gritty room. 

Greg breathed the word Woo-man in Donna’s eager ear. Something in the muted marine air or beyond the peaked Gothic win- dows made the game edgier and soon Greg – this was a first – found himself fiercely slapping Donna’s rump.

When it was over, Donna rolled on the carpet, her bottom still burning as she returned to the raft of her body. Greg lifted away and went to the bathroom, where he stared at a creeping smile on his face. A boat sloshed past below and Donna looked at Greg’s Casanova translation, fallen to the floor.

Donna walked out of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum holding Greg’s hand. They were not particularly satisfied; it was an arid, motionless place. What had really stayed with them was something they had seen yesterday in a costume museum. It was a pair of platformed chopines for tiny feet. The wood- work was a chipped sage-green, painted with flowers, and the clogs were impossibly teetering, designed for the high tides that slew through the lagoon town. They were so tall a courte-

san would require two maidens to help her walk.

Over drinks Greg and Donna talked about Greg’s fierce slapping that morning, and whether they wanted to continue in this vein (or should even), and where it might lead them next. Excited and frank, they looked at the arousing city sur- rounding them, immersed in the sultry lagoon. Both agreed their urges belonged to a wider carnal history they were keen to plumb


Below you can see the titles of half the stories, who could fail to be intrigued by the first one.

I give this collection my highest endorsement.  In it is the perfect lockdown read.  

Mel u

The Reading Life



Monday, March 1, 2021

The Reading Life Review - February 2021

 By Rows, left to right 

  1. Sonia Shah - USA - author of The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move. An essential book .  I hope to read all her books.
  2. Ivy Ngeow - Malaysia to UK - was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. A graduate of the Middlesex University Writing MA programme, She won the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Prize out of almost 1500 entrants worldwide. She has written non-fiction for Marie Claire, The Star, The New Straits Times, South London Society of Architects’ Newsletter and Wimbledon magazine. Her fiction has appeared in Silverfish New Writing anthologies twice, The New Writer and on the BBC World Service. Author of Overboard - on my read everything list 
  3. Yu Yu - Myanmar- Yu Ya (1987) is the youngest scion of one of Myanmar’s most famous literary families.  The only woman in Myanmar to hold both a BA and MA in creative writing, she has won awards in interstate poetry competitions at township and state level.  She has published over 40 short stories, poems and essays for several of the leading literary journals in Myanmar including Shwe Amyutae, Thouk Kyar, Yati and Padouk Pwint Thit.  She currently works for BBC Media Action contributing to radio dramas on social and community issues.
  4. Amor Towles - USA - Author of A Gentleman in Moscow - a marvelous novel. Perfect lockdown book
  5. Joseph Opaloshu - Poland to New York City. - very prolific multi-genre Yiddish language writer

Row 2

  1. Robert Alexander - USA - author of three best selling late Romanov era novels.  I hope to read them all
  2. Ogai Mori. Japan. Highly regarded for novels and Short Stories
  3. Jenny Bhatt - India to USA - author debut Short story collection Each of Us Killers. I hope to post on much more of
  4. Lola Shoneyin - Nigeria - Author of The Four Wives of Baba Segi- forthcoming Netflix Series 
  5. Chiabundo Owuzo.  Nigeria - Author Welcome to Lagos - i Will read all her future work if able 

Row 3

  1. Julia Flynn Siler - USA - historian. Author The Lost Kingdom - on Hawaii
  2. Kenzaburo Óe - Japan. Nobel Laureatte - one of my favourite writers 
  3. Souvankham Thammavinasa - Laos to Canada. Author of widely acclaimed debut collection focusing on Laotian Refugees.  How to Pronounce Knife- i intend to post on numerous more of her works
  4. Leonora Sansay - USA - author of The Horrows of Dominica - from 1802
  5. Sayaka Murata - Japan. Author of The Convenience Store Woman. A cult classic . I have added her to my read all I can list.

Birthlands of February Authors

  1. USA - 5
  2. Japan - 3
  3. Nigeria - 2
  4. Myanmar - 1
  5. Poland - 1
  6. Laos -  1
  7. Malaysia - 1
  8. India - 1

In February works by ten women and five men were featured.  Twelfe writers are living now. 

Eleven are featured for first time, four are old friends 

In February we posted on six   novels, two were set in late Romanov Russia, two in contemporary Lagos, one in 19th century Poland and one in the early 19th century years of slave revolts in Haiti.

Two wonderful works of narrative nonfiction were featured as were six short stories.

I read the but did not feel able to post  on Chava Rosenfarb’s Diary of her time in Bergen-Belsen.  A good correction for anyone who feels upset because they are under lockdown in comfortable conditions with no material hardships.  

 The Reading Life- is A Multi-cultural book blog dedicated to the goals of literary globalism 

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 our Interests

Blog Stats 

Our posts have been viewed times 


There are 3881 posts currently online

Top Ten Home Countries of Visitors for February 

  1. Sweden - first time ever in Top Ten
  2. USA
  3. The Phillippines 
  4. India
  5. Germany
  6. UK
  7. Indonesia 
  8. UAE
  9. Canada 
  10. Brazil

For reasons unknown to me, a very large number of visitors have been coming from Sweden.  

The most viewed post in February was on Short Story by Gabriel Cruz, “Eva is inside Her Cat”.  Included among The five most viewed posts were three Short Stories by authors from India and one from The Phillippines.

Future Plans

The Japanese Literature Challenge continues until March 31.  

For 11 years March has been Irish Short Story Month on The Reading Life.  This Will continue this year.

From The books and authors pictured in my side bar you can gain a good idea of my near term Reading plans and hopes.

I offer my great thanks to all who leave comments.  You Help keep me going.  

To my fellow book bloggers, The World’s greatest readers, please keep blogging.

As Always I depend on the help and vast erudition of Ambrosia and Oleander Boussweau as well as support from the foundation 

Mel u

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Edge of the World- A Short Story by Souvankham Thammavongsa - 2020 - from her debut collection How to Pronounce Knife

Souvankham Thammavongsa  

Edge of the World

A short story


MARCH 13, 2020 - in The Atlantic 

You may read today’s story on the website of The Atlantic

The Website of Souvankham Thammavongsa has links to several stories and essays 

“ I think now of what my mother knew then. She knew about war, what it felt like to be shot at in the dark, what death looked like up close in your arms, what a bomb could destroy. Those were things I didn’t know about, and it was all right not to know them, living where we did now, in a country where nothing like that happened. There was a lot I did not know.”

Souvankham Thammavongsa’s debut collection, How to Pronounce Knife, centers on stories about Laotian refuges adjusting to starting over in new to them countries.  “The Edge of the World”, narrated by a forty five year old woman who immigrated with her parents, by way of a refugee camp from Lao when she was about five years old.  We do not know her age until the story nearly concludes.  

As the story open we are watching American TV with the narrator and her mother.  The mother is 23.  She is learning English from Soap Operas.  She stays at home while her husband works.  She excuses him of having affairs.  He works, we do not know what he does, and does struggle a bit to keep up because of his not yet strong English.

We go along to a party of refugees.  Much of the conversation is about conditions back home, news of those left behind is sought, they wonder who got out.  We see the father has a much more outgoing personality than the mother.  Another person tells the woman not to speak to her daughter in Laotian as she will not fit in at school.

“My parents didn’t spend much time alone, and when they did, there were no Lao bars or cafés or restaurants for them to go to. Occasionally, we were invited to get-togethers at the homes of other Lao refugees. Some had been here a long time, like us, and some had just arrived. These parties were where everyone went to dance and listen to music, play cards and eat, reminisce and talk about old times. They would laugh all night—sad, faint bursts of air—and shake their heads in disbelief at what they had made of themselves in this new country.

My parents went to these parties to hear the news from back home or to ask what had happened to those they had left behind. Who was still there? Was their house still standing? And if they’d made it out of Laos, which refugee camp had they ended up in? How long were they there? Where did they land?”

There just is so much of high insight and interest in this story.  The mother has seen  and lived through great misery.

Souvankham Thammavongsa is the author of four acclaimed poetry books, and the short story collection HOW TO PRONOUNCE KNIFE, winner of the 2020 Scotiabank Giller prize, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and PEN/American Open Book Award, a New York Times Editors' Choice, a TIME 100 Must-Read Books of 2020, out now with McClelland & Stewart (Canada), Little, Brown (U.S.), and Bloomsbury (U.K.). Her stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's MagazineThe Paris ReviewThe AtlanticGranta, and NOON. Thammavongsa is a judge for the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize. She was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand and was raised and educated in Toronto.”  From the author’s website 

I will be reading more of the stories of Souvankham Thammavongsa soon.

Mel u


Friday, February 26, 2021

The Secret Lives of Babi Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin - 2011

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by LOLA SHONEYIN - 2011

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives gives us an inside look at a poylagmy in modern Nigeria.  Baba Segi has four wives, all living in one household.  For a long time there were three wives, each with multiple children.  The oldest manages the household.  The husband shares his affections evenly with the women on a schedule.  He can only be described as a brutal lover.  He prides himself on siring children with each of the wives.  Then one day he decides to marry a much younger woman, unlike the others she is a college graduate.  The other women are outraged.  They conspire to make the Life of the new wife miserable in the hope she will leave.

The chapters rotate in point of view from each of the four women.  We learn about their background prior to marriage and the dyamics of the Family group.  Slowly secrets are revealed.  Two years go by and the new wife does not get pregnant.  Baba Segi is very upset, saying a barren wife is like a rotten piece of fruit.  Of course as all the other wives easily got pregnant, he blames her.  The other women are privately happy over this but offer her advise based on old notions.

An incredible secret eventually comes out about the husband and the children.  One that thretens the entire family.

The characters are well developed, each wife has her own personality.  They are bonded only by their dependence on the keeping of a dangerous secret and their hatred of the new wife.

I enjoyed this book.  It is a fast read.  There is explicit sexual content.  It is a cinematic look at life in contemporary Nigeria.

This is LOLA SHONEYIN’s first novel.  I look Forward to following her work.

Netflix is set to produce a series based on the book and for sure I will binge watch.

About Lola Shoneyin - from her publisher 

Lola Shoneyin's work includes three books of poems, So All the Time I Was Sitting on an Egg (1997), Song of a Riverbird (2002), For the Love of Flight (2010), and two children's books: Mayowa and the Masquerade and Iyaji, the Housegirl. 

Her debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2011 and went on to win the PEN Oakland 2011 Josephine Miles Literary Award and the 2011 ANA/NDDC Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose Prize. Her children's book, Mayowa and the Masquerades won the 2011 ANA/ Atiku Abubakar Prize for Children's literature. 

Shoneyin is the founder of the Book Buzz Foundation, Nigeria. She is also the director of Ake Arts & Book Festival which takes place in the third week of November in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria.

She lives in Lagos, Nigeria with four children, four dogs and one husband.