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, October 22, 2020

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle - 2016 - 154 pages


The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle - 2016 - 154 pages

Winner of the 2016 Shirley Jackson Prize

Runner up for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and Bram Stoker Award 

Set in Harlem in the 1920s the 1920s (Harlem at that time was the section of New York City where most African Americans lived).  Prejudice against African Americans, then called “negroes”, was open, socially acceptable and pervasive among white New Yorkers.  The central character in the story is a Charles Thomas Tester, 21.  He and his father have an apartment in Harlem.  Charles supports his disabled father by playing his guitar and singing (both of which he stinks at) and whatever hustles he can come up with.

As the plot opens he has a very well paying job lined up, delivering a book of occult spells to an elderly white woman with a reputation as a sorceress.   He has to travel on the subway far from Harlem into all white areas.  He has learned to look down, carry a guitar so as not to scare white people.  The Ballad of Black Tom is very much in the tradition of the American horror master H. P. Lovecraft.  Lovecraft was a racist and xenophobic giving an extra irony to the mood of the book.

Charles meets a very rich strange elderly eccentric with whom he becomes heavily involved.  Reality changes before his eyes.  In a police killing right out of today’s news from America, the police enter his house, see his father with a guitar and open fire, assuming it is a machine gun.

Charles begins to gain occult powers, learning deep secrets.  There are lots of interesting things in the novel.  A picture of what it might have been like to be a young African American man in New York City in the 1920s, H. P. Lovecraft style, emerges.

The Ballad of Black Tom was a fun fast read I greatly enjoyed.

I added Lavalle’s other books to my Amazon wish list.  This book is on sale for $0.99 as a kindle.

See for data on the author 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Riverrun by Danton Remoto - 2020


Riverrun by Danton Remoto - 2020

Elaine Chiew’s very interesting interview with Danton Remoto

#globalpridelitmonth: an interview with Danton Remoto

Website of Danton Remoto

I love this book.  I give my great thanks to Elaine Chiew, I have featured her work numerous times, for turning me on to this novel. To my 

 surprise I discovered we are almost neighbors, living in the same part of Quezon City.

Riverrun is set in the era of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines (1965 to 1986).  Marcos was 

not driven by ideology  or ethnic  hatred but by a desire to enrich himself and his wife Imelda.  He would, however, use deadly force on anyone brave enough to speak out against him.  Remoto wonderfully shows how this climate of fear impacted  upbringing.  Children were taught to never talk about the government.  ( My wife lived through the era also and she and her siblings were trained not to ever mention anything about  Marcos.)

It is structured as a memoir about growing up in a very Conservative mostly Catholic country in a period when same sex relationships were very much frowned upon while slowly coming to the realization you are gay.  (Even now it takes a prescription to buy a condom.)

The story starts in the south on the

biggest island Luzon, near the Mayon Volcano.  The narrator’s family is relatively affluent, above the abject poverty of millions struggling just to feed their families.   There are several regional recipes scattered through the narrative, something most readers will enjoy even if they probably cannot get all the needed ingrediants. The depiction of the narrator’s early years was just marvelous.  We hear  stories from Filipino mythology told by his grandmother and his yaya.  We are there when he moves to Metro Manila, a tropical mega-City of over twenty million.  As you can imagine this was very much a shock and a sensory overload.  He enters a private military where “new boys” are subject to  initiation rituals in which they are expected to preform homosexual actions on each other to gain acceptance.

Slowly he begins to discover feelings for other young men.  After his time in the military school ends he gets a grant to study in London.  I have spent a bit of time there and really enjoyed the account of the narrator’s time in London.  He ends up back in the Phillippines.

The rhetorical methodology of Riverrun is very creative.

Riverrun is a celebration of the people of the Phillippines, their ability to endure with a smile twenty typoons a year, dangerous volcanoes,corrupt governments and for better or worse the all powerful Catholic Church.

There are no explicit sex scenes in Riverrun.  In an interview  linked above Remoto says his publisher of the 2020 reissue asked him to add some vivid sex scenes but this would be out of character for narrator so he added two very mild interludes.

I give my unreseved endorsement to Riverrun.  I cannot 

imagine any literate and curious reader not loving it. 

Danton Remoto is a writer, educator, media personality, and the founder of Ladlad, the LGBTQ political party of the Philippines. His novel, Riverrun, about a gay young man’s coming of age in a military dictatorship, is one of the first gay novels — if not the first gay novel — published in the Philippines. Originally published in 2015, a newer global edition is now being printed by Penguin Random House SEA. There is more information on his website.

Mel u

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

A Post in Observation of The 132nd Birthday of Katherine Mansfield

A post in observation of the 132nd Birthday of Katherine Mansfield

Some Suggestions for Getting Started in her Stories

Best secondary works

Born: 14 October 1888, Wellington, New Zealand

Katherine Mansfield-A Getting Started Guide

As Irene Nemirovsky went to her death in a cattle car to Auschwitz, she had with her The Notebook of Katherine Mansfield.

Katherine Mansfield died January 9, 1923.   Like many another writer who died far too young (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) we wonder what she might have produced had she lived on another thirty years.    All of Mansfield's stories are now in the public domain so anyone can easily read them online.   I have read and posted on nearly all of her stories (the exceptions being a few very young age stories that I have not yet found online).     I have received number of E-mails asking me where one should start with Mansfield.    (I am a reader not a scholar.    I read a Mansfield story almost by accident ten  ago and fell in love with her work.   I also have read and posted on three great books about her as well.)

In observation of the anniversary of her death I have selected three Katherine Mansfield stories that will get a new reader into her work.   All of these stories are easy to read  and enjoyable.  

"Miss Brill"

Because I have a posting each one of Mansfield's stories, I found I can use my blogger stats to see which of her stories are being most widely read.  People from all over the world (including Bethlehem on Christmas Day!) have come  to my blog to read my post on "Miss Brill".   Most of the visitors were probably students so I can  for sure say "Miss Brill" is the most assigned in universities worldwide of her stories.     "Miss Brill" is my suggestion for your first (and if it comes to it your only) Katherine Mansfield story.   I have read it several times since my first  post and each time get more from my reading and continue to enjoy the experience.   The first time I read this wonderful story (about 5 pages) I was struck by how much Mansfield was able to put in a few pages and by the stunning undercutting of what I thought was my understanding of the plot as the story closes.     It is a very fun, sad, wise story.

from Katherine Mansfield journal

Villa Isola Bella, Menton, France
I mean something though. Its a very queer thing how craft comes into writing. I mean down to details. Par exemple. In Miss Brill I chose not only the length of every sentence, but even the sound of every sentence – I chose the rise and fall of every paragraph to fit her – and to fit her on that day at that very moment. After Id written it I read it aloud – numbers of times – just as one would play over a musical composition, trying to get it nearer and nearer to the expression of Miss Brill – until it fitted her.
Don't think I'm vain about the little sketch. Its the only method I wanted to explain. I often wonder whether other writers do the same. If a thing has really come off it seems to me there mustn't be one single word out of place or one word that could be taken out. Thats how I AIM at writing. It will take some time to get anywhere near there.

"The Doll''s House"

"The Doll's House" is set in the New Zealand of the 1890s.     Mansfield has a great passion for her native New Zealand.      "The Doll's House"  is a very closely observed account of children at play.   It showed me how the play of children reflects what they learn from their lives.    In the smallest of details Mansfield builds a world for us.  

"The Garden Party"

As "The Garden Party" opens Laura Sheridan under the supervision of her mother is planning a garden party.   Readers in the 1920s in England and New Zealand would be aware that a garden party was meant to be a prestigious near formal occasion and an affair that was found only among the upper classes.   One of the most coveted English society invitations was to the annual Garden party at Buckingham Palace.   Laura is supposed to be in charge but we can quickly see her mother is a bit overbearing.  Rather near the home of the Sheridan's there is what the Sheridan family views as a wretched squalid community.   Right before the party is set to begin they learn one of the workers for  their party who lives in that area was killed in an accident.   Laura wants to stop the party but her mother will not hear it.   After the party the mother has a jolly good charitable idea.   Why not pack up all the left over party food and take it to the family of the man that was killed?  (Of course with no thought to the fact that the cottagers had never eaten food like that all their lives.)   Laura goes into the area where the cottages are located.    Mansfield is such an artist that you can feel Laura's fear as she goes into this area.   It all seems dark and evil and ever so wretched.    Laura goes into the cottage and views the body of the deceased.   It is Laura's reaction to the body of the  man and the multiple interpretations that can be made of this that seem to give this story its power and lasting appeal.

"There lay a young man, fast asleep--sleeping so soundly, so deeply, that he was far, far away from them both. Oh, so remote, so peaceful. He was dreaming. Never wake him up again. His head was sunk in the pillow, his eyes were closed; they were blind under the closed eyelids. He was given up to his dream. What did garden-parties and baskets and lace frocks matter to him? He was far from all those things. He was wonderful, beautiful. While they were laughing and while the band was playing, this marvel had come to the lane. Happy...happy...All is well, said that sleeping face. This is just as it should be. I am content."

Mansfield does not tell us what to make of this.   Is Laura just a silly rich girl who did not know that the poor have lives too or does she experience some kind of revelation when she sees the body?   Is this a mockery of  accepted views of death or is it a celebration of  them?   There is a nuch more to the story but I hope some may want to read it so I will not tell more of the plot.

I have read this story several times now and it is a marvelous account of class structures in the 1920s, among many other things.   I quoted a bit from the text so new readers can see her beautiful prose at work.

All these stories can be read at the New Zealand Electronic Text center, a great reading web page.   If you go to you will also find a number of videos relating to Katherine Mansfield.  

Here is a link to all of my Mansfield posts-The Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Project

The best book on her life and work is Katherine Mansfield: The Story Teller by Kathleen Jones

I highly recommend Katherine's Wish by Linda Lappin, a novel based on the last year of Mansfield's Life

Morphologies Masterclass- Alison MacLeod on Katherine Mansfield 

I highly recommend this lecture - from the 2013 Manchester Literature Festival

The Katherine Mansfield Society website is a very valuable resource

Mel u

The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire by Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy - 2013 - 720 pages

 The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire by Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy - 2013 - 720 pages

An Autodidactic Corner Selection.

A few months ago, i began another permanent Reading Life Project,Revolutionary Readings devoted to works of non-fiction on the order shattering revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th century in South America, Haiti, France and the United States.  

There are hundreds, probably 1000s of books just on the American Revolution.  In school in the long ago pre-internet days I was taught the standard hagiographical account of the American Revolution.  In this  no mention was made of the British military and political leaders other than to denigrate them.  Of course no mention was ever made of slavery or the role of native Americans in the revolution.  No factual account of why slaves were to be counted as 3/5ths of a person was given or why the now ridiculous electoral College system was adapted.   Of course the teachers did not themselves have any real knowledge. 

One of, probably the best, sources of books on The American Revolution is The Journal of The American Revolutions list of 100 Best Books on The American Revolution and their annual book awards list.  About half of The books are availables as Kindle Editions, my preferred teading format.  I added these books to my Amazon Wish List and monitor them for flash sales, often at 80 percent discount.  I was glad to see The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire priced at $2.95, now back up to $10.95.

The book is structured as a series of ten interlocking biographies.  Starting with King George III the common view of him as laughably incompetent and later insane is corrected.  Before the onset of his dementia as depicted in the movie, The Madness of King George, he was very knowledgeable about public affairs.  King George was very much against American independence.

Among the other men featured are the Howe Brothers, Lord George Germain,Henry Clinton, General Burgoyne, George Rodney, Charles Earl of Cornwallis, and Jeremey Twitcher the Earl of Sandwich.  Top military positions were relegated to nobility.  Often second sons from noble families had positions  as officers purchased for them.  This was totally the case in the British Navy.  The leaders knew each other socially, often had kinship ties and even married each other’s sisters.

Enough space is devoted to each person to give us a real sense of them.  

Many in England, including some of the British leaders, felt the war could not be won.  The supply lines were way to long, England was also fighting against the French in the Caribbean and with other colonial powers in India. The English generals were used to wars fought on open battle fields, not wars of skirmish and in deep woods.  The British lost almost all loyalty in America by the brutal tactics they used in capturing towns.  Also they enlisted Indian tribes who sometimes scalped women and children to turn the scalps in for rewards.  The British did in some very bad decisions fail to follow up on early victories which might have ended the revolution.  They did not anticipate the massive help America would get from the French.  The French navy’s actions in the Caribbean and Indian Oceans nullified the naval advantage of the British.  The author lets us see how the American Revolution was really a world war fought in Europe, India, Gibraltar, Canada as well as in America.  

After the war, O'Shaughnessy follows the leaders up until their deaths.  The Generals remained active in the military, they were not shamed or condemned.  Some fought with distinction against Napoleon.

This book will fascinate anyone into the American Revolution.  All teachers of American history should read this book.  

Andrew O’Shaughnessy is Vice President of Monticello, the Saunders Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and Professor of History at the University of Virginia.  He is the author of An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).  His most recent book The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution and the Fate of the Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013) received eight national awards including the New York Historical Society American History Book Prize, the George Washington Book Prize, and the Society of Military History Book Prize.  He is a co-editor of Old World, New World. America and Europe in the Age of Jefferson (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010) and a co-editor of the Jeffersonian America series published by the University of Virginia Press.  A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, he is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of American History.  From

His  An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean is on my Amazon Waiting List

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Galvanized Gloss - A Short Story by Kavita A. Jindal - 2020


Galvanized Gloss - A Short Story by Kavita A. Jindal - 2020

Today’s Story May be read here

Somehow I missed National Lipstick Day, celebrated on July 29th.  In my first venture into the multi-award winning work of Kavita Jindal I was delighted to read a story written for the occasion about how the right brand of lipstick can change your life.

As the story opens we learn a good bit about the past of the narrator.  She after ten years with various flat mats has decided to live alone.  We know she is single.  She is on a bus in London and she spots an advertisement telling her that lipstick can change her life.  We will soon learn this has a special significance for her.  Jindal’s very visual prose made me feel I was on the bus myself.

“The real bus you’re sitting in this afternoon wheezes on as you take in the cityscape from the top deck...It’s then the slogan catches your eye. THIS LIPSTICK WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

Who allowed that? The Advertising Standards Authority let that pass? Can a lipstick change your life? Heck, can it change anything?? Can it change your summer a teeny-weeny bit??? You lean forward, press the button so the ‘Bus stopping’ sign lights up with a ting. You run into the department store and prowl the cosmetics counters until you find the brand emblazoned under the slogan. Brand L. The heat is making you crazy, 30 degrees in London, yes, it’s making you pathetic, and making the pavements sigh, but never mind. You stand by the counter and say to the girl with triple-mascaraed lashes: ‘I want to change my life.’

She’s ready to serve but slightly startled. ‘The new lipstick?’ she asks. She’s smart. She pulls out a tray of sample colours. ‘Which shade would you like to try?””

The woman seems very excited as she looks over the lipstick at the counter -we learn that two ago years ago she created names of lipstick brands.  The what seems much younger sales lady at first seems perplexed by how worked up the woman seems then goes into her pitch.

“Your finger hovers over a vivid pink. Let me guess, you think, Watermelon Squeeze? Candy Too Sweet? Profound Rose? You have form here, you know about these things.

‘This?’ The sales assistant doubtfully dabs the rosy stickiness on your lips. ‘Oh,’ her voice rises in surprise, ‘This bright colour does suit you.’ Who is she convincing?

‘I’ll take it. It will change my life. Lipstick can do that.’

She looks at you sharply; are you mocking the brand or cosmetics in general? You ask: ‘What’s the name of this colour?’

She hands you a shiny packaged tube. You peer at it. Judicious Use. You give up, your shoulders heave and rock.

‘Are you alright, darling?’ A light touch on your hand. She’s not sure if you’re crying or laughing. At this point you’re not sure either.

‘What kind of name is that?’ You give a little hiccup. ‘That’s a stupid name for a lipstick.’

She holds out her hand for the offending item.

‘Two years back I created names for lipsticks,’ you tell her as you return it. ‘It took hours, no, days, for one season’s line. For brand Y.’

‘That’s such a good brand,’ she responds.

‘Pink Bluff, Poppy Chase, Catalina Nudie, now those are names for lipsticks.  The brand founder loved the list I came up with”.

We follow the narrator a bit as she resumes her life. She seems a bit in need of something to give her life purpose.

This story was a lot of fun to read.  It takes us into the life of the narrator.  We don’t know a lot about her but she is very interesting.  There is also the contrast of her and The saleslady.  There is an age gap of at least twenty years which may bother The narrator a bit.

Kavita A. Jindal is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in anthologies and literary journals worldwide and been broadcast on BBC Radio and European radio stations. She is the author of the historical-fiction book Manual For A Decent Life, winner of the Brighthorse Prize. She has published two poetry collections to critical acclaim: Patina and Raincheck Renewed. She’s also the co-founder of ‘The Whole Kahani’ writers’ collective.

I plan to post on at least one work by Kavita A. Jindal for at least The next six months.

Her website has a more detailed bio, Links to stories and more.

I look Forward to eventually Reading her in full

Mel u

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Of doctors and doctors - A short Story by Neera Kashyap - 2020


Of doctors and doctors - A short Story by Neera Kashyap 

Published 2020 in Setu - a Bilingual monthly journal published from Pittsburgh, USA :: पिट्सबर्गअमेरिका से प्रकाशित द्वैभाषिक  

You may read today’s story here 

This is the third short story by the multi-talented Neera Kashrap I have had the very real pleasure of experiencing.

Today we feature a story dealing with a vital social issue concerning health care in Rural India.

In May of this year I made my very fortunate first venture into the work of Neera Kashyap.

I loved her “Leave, Gentle Spirit”, a fascinating story narrated by an American ethnographer living in a small village in the Himalayas. Her mission there is to develop an in-depth understanding of the culture, folkways, religious beliefs and customs of women in the village, she learned to speak Hindi, widely spoken in the area.  As much as possible she lives like the women she is researching..

“Leave, Gentle Spirit" is a wonderful work, deeply informed and wise.  It deals with cultural divisions and gives us a look at life within the Himilayan region.

Next I read her “The Silent Tree” in which we are shown how the death of a husband and father impacts those who survive.

I really liked “Of doctors and doctors” for its vivid cinematic presentation of the work day of Doctor Kamala in his clinic somewhere in rural India.  Doctor Kamath was educated at a very fine medical school but gave up his big city practice to help the poorer people in rural India.  He is appalled to discover how local doctors snd hospitals take advantage of people to way over charge them for dubious treatments. 

Kashnap made me feel like I was in the examination room. The whole family often sit in on the examination.  

I want to share enough of the exquisite prose of Kashnap to let you  see why I am so taken by her work.

“I cannot prescribe medicines till I have the test results", said Kamath ringing the buzzer for Swarup who sailed in with another patient complete with family, the one huddled next to the window lunging towards his desk. For a moment, Kamath looked at them unseeingly. His own medical fraternity, he thought. He had seen patient prescriptions where steroid injections were administered first, ending in no conclusive diagnosis, but in a list of medicines. A poor farmer with uncomplicated hypertension was being sent to a city cardiologist for regular ECGs. A private hospital nearby used ultrasound as a money-spinner, charging desperately poor people Rs 1000 for each unneeded scan.

The patient before him was a girl in her teens. She lay immobile in her father’s arms, eyes shut. The mother hung to her husband’s side, eyes wide with alarm. She held up the girl’s salwar to reveal two brown punctures on her lower leg, red swellings all around. Kamath had seen non-venomous snake bites which had mainly involved keeping the patient calm as he administered first aid. He took a closer look.

There was a discharge from one of the holes. He felt a swelling in the lymph nodes behind the girl’s knees. His sharp volley of questions revealed that she had stepped on a snake in the paddy field and got bitten; it was a snake – she had seen it, the mother urged. This happened 18 hours ago. When her swelling and dizziness increased, they took her to their local doctor.

“What doctor?” asked Kamath.

“Family doctor. In the village. He gave two injections and some tablets.” The mother emptied a small brown envelope, large multi-colored pills rolling out onto her palm.

Kamath felt the venom rise in his throat. He lowered the girl’s legs and turned her to her left. He snapped at Swarup to bring him soap solution and bandages, washed the wound and covered it loosely with sterile gauze. He gave the girl a tetanus shot in the arm; she did not flinch”

I look forward to following the work of Neera Kashrap for a long time.

The inadequacy of rural health care in India is now a significant social issue.

Neera Kashyap has worked on health, social and environmental communications. As an author, she has published a book of stories for young adults titled, ‘Daring to dream’ (Rupa & Co.,2003) and contributed to five prize-winning anthologies published by Children’s Book Trust. As a literary writer of short fiction, poetry, essays, story/book reviews and creative non-fiction, her work has appeared in two poetry anthologies published in the U.K. (Clarendon Publishing House and The Poet) and in several South Asian journals

Mel u

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor - 1949 - with an introduction by Helen Dunmore- 2010

 A Wreath of Roses  by Elizabeth Taylor - 1949 - with an introduction by Helen Dunmore - 2010

July 3, 1912 Reading,  England

November 19, 1975 Penn, England 

Question.  In Mrs Pelfrey at the Claremont there is a character named Mrs Taylor, in A Wreath of Roses, a central character is Liz.  How do you see this use of parts of her name.?

This is the fourth novel by Elizabeth Taylor I have so far had the great pleasure of reading..   Previously I have read A View of the Harbour, At Mrs. Lippincote’s and my so far favorite Mrs Pelfrey at the Claremont.

I hope to read in the next few months these additional novels:

The Sleeping Beauty 1953

The Soul of Kindness 1964

Blaming 1976. Published posthumously

Longer term it is my wish to do a full read through, including her short stories.

“A Wreath of Roses has been called Elizabeth Taylor’s darkest novel, dealing as it does with murder, loneliness, terror and suicide. The aftertaste of the Second World War is still on everyone’s tongue. Young men who have been formed by the extremes of violence must find a way of adjusting to civilian life, and out of the chaos discover a coherent story to tell themselves about their futures.” Helen Dunmore 

A Wreath of Roses is set in an English Village in the heat of summer.  The war has been over a couple of years. The story opens at a railway station.  Camille Hill, an unmarried woman into her middle years has come to visit two old friends, Liz and Francis.  Liz is struggling with the obligations and expectations of being married to a clergyman and having an infant. Francis, her other friend, is a well regarded painter.  Of late her outlook on life has darkened reflected in her work.  Camille feels her life is dull.

Camille sees a to her handsome man at the station.  Then as they wait making a bit of small talk, a man falls to his death in front of the train.  In a writer as bookish as Taylor, I see this as an invocation of the opening of Anna Karenina.  We are privy to the thoughts of the man as well.  We learn he spent years in a German prisoner of war camp.  He is going to the same town as Camille.  Their developing relationship is the driving force in the plot.

Camille’s friends see evil in him.  We slowly learn of his past.  We see how his terrible war years have impacted him.

I found the close of this book very powerful.  Listening to the truly evil revelations of the man rendered in the exquisite prose of Taylor had a quite visceral impact on me. 

Taylor is a master of character development.