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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (1911, 100 pages)

A little more than a year ago I read and posted on Edith Wharton's (1862 to 1937-New York City) Age of Innocence.    I was completely charmed  by this wonderful book.     I have had Ethan Frome on my  TBR list ever since I bought it about a year ago at an 80% off sale at Power Books in Trinoma Mall here in Manila.   The edition I have is by Barnes and Nobles and includes an introduction (read it after you read the story, if you read it at all), a chronology of the life and literary times of Wharton and four of her best short stories.    I am currently reading slowly through Ford Madox Ford's The March of Literature.   I checked for a reference to Edith Wharton in the book and found that Ford says Ethan Frome is the first work in which Wharton begins to step out of the shadow of "The Master" (Ford's expression for Henry James).   

There have been a lot of blog posts recently on this work.    Almost everyone likes it a lot.   I think also a lot of of people like the idea of a 100 page classic!    I will just write very briefly on this book.    I liked it.    I enjoyed seeing Wharton move outside her comfort zone,  the affluent society people that Age of Innocence is about to write about the working class people of New England.    She pulls it off well without a hint of condescension at all.    I found the story exciting and it kept my interest.    The characters were very well developed.    If asked I would say first read her master work, Age of Innocence, then House of Mirth.    Then if you like the first two works read Ethan Frome

Mel u

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Hungry in Guangzhou" by Kow Shih Li- A Malaysian Short Story

"Hungry In Guangzhou" by Kow Shih Li-, 2009, 5 pages Malayasian Short Story  1 of 5 in a Series of Posts
About three week ago Jovenus of Biblio Junkie and I decided we would do a joint posting in honor of Malaysian Independence Day which is observed on August 31.     I more or less got the idea for this project from Novroz' posting  in honor of Indonesian Independence day on her blog , observed on August 17.   I ended up doing a series of five posts on short stories by Indonesian women, all written in the 21th century.   I really enjoyed doing this project and wanted to see if I could expand the idea to other countries.   At the time I did a Google search on independence days world wide to see how many South and South East Asian countries observe an independence day.  I noticed Malaysian Indepedence Day is observed August 31.   I was very interested in posting on Malaysian literature in part because Malaysia is less than two hours away from my home in Manila.    Also most historians see Malay culture as having a large influence on pre-colonial Filipino history.  

Jovenus has done a great overall post on Malaysia (for which she has a special knowledge and affinity) which explains the history of Malaysia and its struggle for Independence.   She also talks about some of the best know Malaysian writers of today.   I decided as my contribution to our project to post on five short stories by contemporary Malaysian writers.    This will be done in a series of five posts.

"Hungry in Guangzhou" by Kow Shih Li  (some times her name is listed as Shih Li Kow) begins in the city of Guangzhou, (formerly known as Canton) a very large city in southern China.   Kow Shih Li was born in 1968 and has a degree in chemistry.    She is a well known author of short stories and has just been Long Listed for the very prestigious and lucrative (35,000 British pounds) Frank O' Conner prize for best collection of short stories for her book, Ripple.     The ancestoral home of the female narrator of "Hungry in Guangzhou" is Guangzhou.   She is there on a business trip from her home in Kuala Lampur.   She cannot find a feeling for comfort there try though she will.
Guangzhou has intimidated me from the moment I arrived. I feel out of place buying a common lunch of soupy noodles although the food and restaurant setting are familiar. Cantopop alternating with Mandarin chart-toppers on the radio cuts through the hustle bustle sounds. A press of hungry office workers crowds the counter. The people wend their way between plastic chairs and tables. The smell, the heat, the bodies, the noise and the oily floor don't faze me. I'm smooth, I'm cool, I tell myself.
"Hungry in Guangzhou" is about being out of place in what should be your home but for a few accidents of history.

On the three-hour flight back to Kuala Lumpur, I work some more, crunching numbers on the laptop. I'm dead tired but I've earned my right to feel good about a very successful working trip. It is night when I touch down and I'm dying for a hot drink. I find an all-nighter, an Indian Muslim restaurant, and I pile a plate full of rice, tandoori chicken and pappadoms. How much, I ask the dark-skinned man standing at the end of the steel buffet counter. Six-fifty, he says. Drink, he asks?

"Hungry in Guangzhou" is a simple story.    No real plot, no surprise ending etc.     I found the description of the market restaurant very well done. .    I would happily read more of her stories and wish her the best of luck in the Frank O'Conner Short story competition.     Look for four more post on Malaysian short stories soon.  

The story can be read online here.

My next post will be on "The Stalker Within" by Sabarina Abu Bakar.

Mel u

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Maybe Not Yem" by Ethics Juwita -An Indonesian Short Story

"Maybe Not Yem" by Ethics Juwita (2009, 7 pages, translated from Indonesian by Andy Fuller)

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on one the the blogs I admire, Novroz' Favorite Things indicating that Novroz was going to do a series of special posts on her blog honoring Indonesia's day of independence from colonial domination, celebrated on August 17.   I then somehow decided to Google "independence day world wide" and found a whole list of days and countries.    I noticed also that the independence day of  Malaysia will be observed at the end of August.    I wanted to honor these two South East Asia countries-both just a few hours from my home in Manila by posting on some short stories by Indonesia writers and then Malaysian.    I think I will do a total of five posts on Indonesian short stories.   I have decided to do separate posts on each writer so as to give a bit more time to spotlight the writers and also to allow a Google search  on some of these not yet well know writers to find at least my post.

Ethics Juwita is from Blitar in East Java.    She works as a housemaid in Hong Kong.    She has published a number of short stories about her experiences working as a maid in Hong Kong and is part of the immigrant worker writing community in Hong Kong.     Immigrant workers (they are called Offshore Foreign Workers here in the Philippines) often support large families back home by accepting two year contracts to work outside their country doing the work people in richer countries do not want to do.   The quality of life of the workers is to a large extent determined by the character of their employers which ranges from totally brutal  to completely wonderful  and kind.   

"Maybe Not Yem" is set in a van carrying six returning female workers just back from their two year contracts as house maid from the airport in Jakarta to their remote home towns.    All of the women are asleep but for Yem and the narrator.    The narrator does not really want to converse with Yem whose first words to here are:

"Can you believe it? One of my friends threw her boss's baby into a washing machine, just before going back to her village," the woman beside me said in a flat voice. I turned my gaze to the darkness outside the car window. The woman was terrorizing me.
The Narrator dos not really want to sleep even though all the other women in the can sleep but for Yem who seems intent on harassing her.

She placed her lips so close to my ear that I was able to smell her breath. After having her mouth closed for such a long time, her breath smelled of a blocked drain. I could feel her warm breath on my left cheek. "I put rat poison in the milk for my boss's kid," she said.
The narrator had frequently heard stories from her fellow housemaids about adding urine to the food in the belief it would keep their employers from being so bossy.   Many gave their female bosses private nicknames like The witch, the dog, the pig, etc.    

Then we learn a very sad secret from Yem.    As the women travel toward their home they are stopped several times  by various vendors.    Some want to sell them travel insurance and advise them of the women who did not purchase the insurance and then through no fault of anyone of course somehow get robbed and raped.   At one stop a money changer tries to get the women to exchange their wages from Hong Kong dollars to local currency knowing in many cases the workers will not know the exchange rate and they can rob them.   Luckily the women have been advised of this scam.   It seems the custom is to pay a large portion of the contract to the worker when the two years is up to insure they do not leave early (their employers have paid their airfare and a fee to an agency).    When the other workers tell Yem not to have any money exchanged she tells them that her boss has told her she will mail a check for any funds due her.   The other workers are horrified knowing Yem will never be paid the bulk of her contract and has no recourse at all.     Her employer had told her that if she will not go along with the idea of getting her final wages in a check in the mail then the employer will not buy her a ticket to go home and simply put her out in the streets as a then homeless and illegal immigrant.    I will let the story have the final words here:

"That story, Yem, about the rat poison in the baby's milk…Is it true?"
"I'm not Yem!" she told me with a smile. "I'm free!"
I've never been able to understand the meaning of that final smile she gave me—even after I decided to tell you about it. Maybe she was saying that she too had the power to make another person suffer. Could you ever imagine poisoning your own child with rat poison? Maybe someone—but maybe not Yem—could do it to an oil magnate who has three wives and ten children.
And Yem, or maybe not Yem, had never admitted to it. It was unclear. Everything was unclear.

This is my final post in my series of five posts on short stories by Indonesian women.    All the stories have been written in the last few years.  

Here is a link to all five of my Indonesian Short Story posts.

I really enjoyed reading and posting on these stories.    Of the five stories if I had to pick two I would said I like best "Maybe Not Yem" and "Her".     All of the stories are very well done.   I really can imagine Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf reading  these stories and admiring the craftsmanship of the works while being stunned by transportation into a world so different from theirs and in fact so different from my own world and the world of many of my blog readers.    

I really thank Novroz for giving me the inspiration to venture into Indonesian Literature.   I can see even in translation it is a rich and culturally deep area.    

I will soon be doing a series of post on Malaysian Short Stories in honor of their Independence Day, observed on August 31.     I will be doing this in association with JoV of Bibilojunkie.    Any and all are invited to join in this event.      All you have to do is just post on something related to Malaysian Literature and let me or JoV know about your post.

Mel u

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Rooms Out Back" by Nenden Lillis Aisyah.-An Indonesian Short Story

"Rooms Out Back" by Nenden Lillis Aisyah. (2009, 6 pages translated from Indonesian by John McGlynn)

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on one the the blogs I admire, Novroz' Favorite Things indicating that Novroz was going to do a series of special posts on her blog honoring Indonesia's day of independence from colonial domination, celebrated on August 17.   I then somehow decided to Google "independence day world wide" and found a whole list of days and countries.    I noticed also that the independence day of  Malaysia will be observed at the end of August.    I wanted to honor these two South East Asia countries-both just a few hours from my home in Manila by posting on some short stories by Indonesia writers and then Malaysian.    I think I will do a total of five posts on Indonesian short stories.   I have decided to do separate posts on each writer so as to give a bit more change to spotlight the writers and also to allow a Google search  on some of these not yet well know writers to find at least my post.

So far I have read and posted on three short stories by Indonesian women writers in honor of Indonesian Independence Day, observed August 17th.    (This link will take you to my first three articles.)

Nenden Lillis Aisyah is from Malangbong-Garut in East Java.   She is a lecturer in eduction and literature at the Indonesian Education University.   She is a well known poet and short story writer whose works have been widely anthologized.   She is a frequent speaker at literary events both in Indonesia and Europe.   

The narrator and central character of "Rooms Out Back" is a young married woman working on  a thesis she must complete for an advanced degree she needs to advance herself in teaching.    Her husband is a free lance journalist.   They are both children of at least the middle class.    They have chosen in the way young people sometimes do to live among people poorer than they grew up around in order to save rent.    The narrator is a keen observer of what goes on around her.    The apartments provide little privacy and she begins to observe the martial abuse the women around her accept as normal with the attitude "all men are the same".  

Teh Nining's husband often beats her, even for the tiniest of reasons, a habit that apparently worsened considerably after he was let go from the hotel where he worked.
What's the connection, I thought.
"Then why did you get divorced?" I was becoming curious.
Umi took the pestle that I was holding and began to grind the spices that I had prepared in a mortar. I pushed an ashtray toward her and she set her cigarette down.
"Well, you know… Men everywhere are all the same!" She stopped grinding momentarily to take another drag from her cigarette.
At one point the narrator begins to fear that one of the neighboring women is after her husband, a woman who she rationally admits has more surface appeal than she does.    The woman is also a near exotic figure to the narrator given the differences in the social levels of their raising.   "Rooms Out Back" has found a very clever way to let us look at life among the relative poor.     The story has an almost voyeuristic  feel to it.    We also know, or think we do, the narrator and her husband will be gone from the neighborhood soon enough and nothing will change there.   In this story as in the other women appear near powerless to stop abuse.   I enjoyed this well done story and endorse it fully.

I will post on another story by an Indonesian woman writer soon, thus  concluding a series of five posts.

"Rooms Out Back can be read online HERE

Mel u

"The Little Girl" by Katherine Mansfield-Changes to The Katherine Mansfield Reading Life Project

"The Little Girl" by Katherine Mansfield (1912, 8 pages)

Changes to the Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Program-When I first read Mansfield  (1988 to 1923-New Zealand) a few months ago I did not realize how involved I would become with her work and how interested in her life and times and person I would become.    So far I have posted on about 25 of her stories.   In most cases I have posted on several stories in a single posting.      There are about forty or so stories in the four collections edited by her husband John Middleton Murry that I have yet to read.    Thanks to the wonderful New Zealand Electronic Text center the full text of these works are online for all to read for free.    I have also now read Claire Tomalin's very insightful biography of Mansfield, Katherine Mansfield:   A Secret Life as part of the project.    I will soon be reading Katherine's Wish by Linda Lappin ,  a novel very closely based on the facts of the last five years of Mansfield's life.    Lappin has studied Mansfield's life, work and era for 20 years and is considered a world class authority on Mansfield.      I am excited to announce that during Book Blogger Appreciation week she will be giving a copy of this book away to one of the followers of my blog.   (The contest rules, assuming it is not just at random for followers, will be announced latter).   I could not help but already read the first few pages and she made the characters really come to life.    The book is also physically beautiful.

I will be doing single posts on all the remaining stories I have not yet read.    This also has the potential to help students of Mansfield and others who just might wish to read a post on a single story.   As I advance on in my project I will says what I think her best five stories are and try to explain why I like her so much and explore a bit the depths of her artistry.   Incidentally I saw yesterday I list of the world's ten best 20th century short stories taken from a well known Spanish literary web page and I was gratified to see that two of Mansfield's stories were on the list.    

"The Little Girl"  reads sadly like it is based on the childhood of Mansfield.   Mansfield's father was a very successful businessman (Chairmen of the Bank of New Zealand and  into many other ventures).    Here are the opening lines of the story

TO the little girl he was a figure to be feared and avoided. Every morning before going to business he came into the nursery and gave her a perfunctory kiss, to which she responded with “Good-bye, father.” And oh, the glad sense of relief when she heard the noise of the buggy growing fainter and fainter down the long road!

When the father got home from work the job of the little girl was to help him remove his boots.    Her mother told her that this was her reward for being a "good girl".   The little girl, her name is Kezie, has a stutter but only when she speaks to her father.  Then one afternoon a crisis occurs in the family.    The father was set to give a speech to the local port authority board (just the sort of thing Mansfield's father did all the time) and the speech was not to be found anywhere in the house.   It turns out that, for a surprise, Kezie had taken the papers and torn them to shreds!!    Here is the dreadful set of events this set in motion:

Kezia, I suppose you didn't see some papers on a table in our room?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “I tore them up for my s'prise.”
“What!” screamed mother. “Come straight down to the dining-room this instant.”
And she was dragged down to where father was pacing to and fro, hands behind his back.
“Well? “he said sharply.
Then father came into the room with a ruler in his hands.
“I am going to whip you for this,” he said.
“Oh, no, no!” she screamed, cowering down under the bedclothes.
He pulled them aside.

Next door to the house of Kezie there lived the McDonald family.   Kezie marvels to see the gentle loving father play with his children and sees they have no fear of their father.   She now realizes not all fathers are the same.    There is some interesting action latter on in the story that make you wonder a bit about her mother.

I think this is a very good story in that it shows us how children begin to become aware of their parents as persons with their own personalities, weaknesses and powers.   I know some reject autobiographical readings of literary works but as I have 40 or so stories still to work with I will highlight from each one whatever seems most illuminating. The writing style is classic Mansfield.

  To readers of my blog, all of my other projects etc will continue.    I will soon be posting on a wonderful work by Kenzaburo Oe, for example.    I thank those who asked me where I was during the three weeks or so I did not post.

As always please leave any comments suggestions etc.

Mel u

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"The Century Carver" by Oka Rusmini-An Indonesian Short Story

"The Century Carver" by Oka Rusmini (2009, 6 pages, translated  by Pam Allen from Indonesian)

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on one the the blogs I admire, Novroz' Favorite Things indicating that Novroz was going to do a series of special posts on her blog honoring Indonesia's day of independence from colonial domination, celebrated on August 17.   I then somehow decided to Google "independence day world wide" and found a whole list of days and countries.    I noticed also that the independence day of  Malaysia will be observed at the end of August.    I wanted to honor these two South East Asia countries-both just a few hours from my home in Manila by posting on some short stories by Indonesia writers and then Malaysian.    I think I will do a total of five posts on Indonesian short stories.   I have decided to do separate posts on each writer so as to give a bit more change to spotlight the writers and also to allow a Google search  on some of these not yet well know writers to find at least my post.

This is the third in a series of five posts I plan to do in honor of Indonesian Independence Day.    So far I have posted on "Road to Heaven" by Abidah El Khaliegy a very moving story about the love between a mother and daughter that is also a poignant account of long term martial abuse.    I also read and was very impressed by "Her" by Titus Basino about a shameful martial betrayal that cuts deeper that mere adultery ever good.    Both of these stories are from the 21th century and  are very worth reading.

"Century Carver" by Oka Rusmini is a very new story that feels like it could have been written 1000 years ago.       Rusmini (1967) is from Bali.    She is a well known poet, short story writer and novelist.    She is a frequent speaker at literary festivals in Indonesia as well as abroad.   Her most famous novel, Earth Dance has already been translated into German and an English translation is in the works.   

Bali is famous, other than for its overwhelming natural beauty of course, for the beauty of the wood carvings by artists working in this medium.    The central character in this story is a blind from birth wood carver with an international following.    As the story begins I am not sure if this is to be taken as the recreation of an ancient myth or if some of the narrative remarks are to be seen as the emotional response of the characters.    In the interesting and intriguing opening remarks of the story we get a good feel for the tone of "Century Carver":

"I am the one who will serve all your needs—from this moment on, till the end of time." The voice sounded nervous.
"What did you say your name was?" Kopag began to calm down a little.
"Srenggi," the voice quivered. It was the voice of a woman. What was happening to him? Kopag cursed himself. He had the strange sensation of suddenly being submerged in the ocean. The voice seemed to be full of honesty, compassion and sincerity. Kopag was sure his judgment was right: this was the one, the woman he'd been seeking for centuries. And now God had sent her for him. A woman, was that really the voice of a woman?

 Kopag (I did a Google check on this term to see if it refers to an ancient figure but it seems not to) has been blind from birth.     His wealthy father was a man of extreme promiscuity who delighted in having relations with the most corrupt sort of women even though he had a lovely wife at home.    He was often away for months on business.   The father returns home very sick, pale and thin.   He then rapes his wife and from this union Kopag is born blind.  His mother died given birth to him.   He receives no love or affection of any kind as a child.    The father sees he has a gift for carving wood into magic works of art so he has him trained in this field in the hope he will be useful one day.  

Kopag feels an overwhelming love for the woman he feels God has sent him.    Everyone in the village can see she is very ugly and in fact is deformed.    Everyone in the village ays Kopag's brother is married to a woman of great beauty.    Whenever Kopag hears his sister- in- law speak he smells rancid blood where those who see only with their eyes see beautiful full red lips.     

The ending to this story is very moving.   The whole story can be read in a few moments so I will not give away no more of the plot.    The story feels like it could be part of an ancient wisdom text.     I endorse this, and the other two stories I mention in this post, without reservation at all.   I am really enjoying discovering these new to me Indonesian writers.     

"The Century Carver" can be read online 

I plan to post on another short story by an Indonesian writer tomorrow.    Now that all three of the stories I have posted on are by female authors I will continue on with this.

Mel u

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"The Fox" by D. H. Lawrence

"The Fox" by  D. H. Lawrence (1923, 25 pages)

As well depicted in Katherine Mansfield:   A Secret Life by Claire Tomalin there was an intimate and complicated relationship between Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda.   Not  long ago I read and posted on one of Lawrence's most famous short stories, "The Rocking Horse Winner", which I enjoyed.   Tomalin indicated that in "The Fox" by D. H. Lawrence (1885 to 1930-England) there is a character whose appearance and to some extent personality is loosely based on Mansfield.    This was enough for me to take the trouble to read the story and I am glad I did.

Some readers find that Lawrence is somehow heavy handed with his symbolism and telegraphs his plot lines too much.    Others says the import of his work is in his insightful depictions of relationships and his evocation of natural beauty and some are given over to his philosophical views on the relationship between the sexes.   Some see him as having tapped into the life force and stripped away the pretentious of society. 

"The Fox" takes place on a farm in England during WWI-around 1918 from some details.   The farm is run by two women, Banford and March who  have a non-sexual union that seems like a marriage.   (March is supposed to be physically like Mansfield.   Lawrence and Mansfield had lots of ups and downs in their relationship so one cannot at once tell if this is meant well or not but to the story it does not matter.)    Just to pause and look at the two names.   "Banford" can be easily worked into meaning "Ban Forward Movement in Society" and "March" on the other had means go forward but in a way directed by external authority over which you have little control.   

The women on the farm raise chickens and their chickens are constantly being killed by the same fox.   They try to kill the fox for years with no luck.   The fox is described beautifully and is meant to depict a force in nature.    Foxes have a long deep history in English literature and lore and of course Lawrence is playing to this.     

One day a handsome young man shows up looking for his grandfather who used to live in the house Banford and March do now.    I am sorry but I could not help but laugh when I thought to myself   "The Fox is in the hen house now!".   The man makes himself indispensable to the women and of course he disrupts their relationship.     I found the plot line predictable and that is sort of OK but there was for me little suspense in this story and I think that this was not meant to be. 

As "The Fox" ends D. H. Lawrence treats us to some of his guru like  thoughts on the nature of life.    The thoughts more or less come out of nowhere and they nearly made me laugh and somehow I do not think that was Lawrence's intention.     Mansfield has a fondness for guru like figures and Lawrence fit this mold.

Poor March, in her good-will and her responsibility, she had strained herself till it seemed to her that the whole of life and everything was only a horrible abyss of nothingness. The more you reached after the fatal flower of happiness, which trembles so blue and lovely in a crevice just beyond your grasp, the more fearfully you became aware of the ghastly and awful gulf of the precipice below you, into which you will inevitably plunge, as into the bottomless pit, if you reach any farther. You pluck flower after flower — it is never THE flower. The flower itself — its calyx is a horrible gulf, it is the bottomless pit.   That is the whole history of the search for happiness, whether it be your own or somebody else’s that you want to win. It ends, and it always ends, in the ghastly sense of the bottomless nothingness into which you will inevitably fall if you strain any more.
 There are beautiful descriptions of the English country side here.   The relationship the two women is interesting.   I am glad I read this story and I do not mean to turn others away from it.    Long ago I read all the major works of Lawrence.     Lawrence is not just a writer, he was a guru of sorts (as distinguished from a thinker who deduces his views) and is  an important figure historically.      To me he is worth reading if  you can accept that he is heavy handed and has no seeming sense of humor about himself.    
"The Fox" can be read online here.

Mel u


"Road to Heaven" by Abidah El Khaliegy-A Wonderful Indonesian Short Story

"Road to Heaven" by Abidah El Khaliegy (translated from Indonesian by John McGlynn-2009-8 pages)

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on one the the blogs I admire, Novroz' Favorite Things indicating that Novroz was going to do a series of special posts on her blog honoring Indonesia's day of independence from colonial domination, celebrated on August 17.   I then somehow decided to Google "independence day world wide" and found a whole list of days and countries.    I noticed also that the independence day of  Malaysia will be observed at the end of August.    I wanted to honor these two South East Asia countries-both just a few hours from my home in Manila by posting on some short stories by Indonesia writers and then Malaysian.    I think I will do a total of five posts on Indonesian short stories.   I have decided to do separate posts on each writer so as to give a bit more change to spotlight the writers and also to allow a Google search  on some of these not yet well know writers to find at least my post.
This is my second post on an Indonesian writer.    Yesterday I posted on "Her" by Titus Basino.   "Her" is a deeply moving story about a woman who adjusts in a near  saintly fashion to her husband's decision to take a second wife after she had been a very good wife for a long time, giving birth to ten children.    The story will stretch a bit the cultural zones of most of those in countries where a man may have only one wife.   It is a story about an adultery that is not really an adultery but something way more sinister and hurtful to the woman.    It also depicts that this option is open only to men.   A wife in the society cannot decide to take a second husband.

"Road to Heaven" by Abidah El Khaliegy is also a story of marital cruelty and abuse but most of all it is about the purity of a mother's love.    Abidah El Khaliegy is from Yogyakarta in the Central Java region of Indonesia.    She is very successful professional writer having so far to her credit five novels (one made into a movie that did well in Asian markets),  one collection of short stories and is also a widely anthologized poet.   

"Road to Heaven" opens at the funeral of the mother of a large family.    Everyone is shocked by how much younger the mother looks now than she did while alive.     As people view the body her daughter watches the faces of the mourners to see their feelings.   There is real love in all of the faces but one that shows an angry near jealous disdain, shamefully it is the woman's husband.    We begin to learn why as the daughter has a moment of final clarity and begins either to in fact converse with her deceased mother or to imagine she does.   Here is her mother's account of why the husband was upset to see she looked twenty years younger dead than when living.   It is relief to be away from the husband, pure and simple.

A telephone rang in my heart. "He's jealous, extremely jealous," a disconnected voice said. With the smile of an angel on her lips, my mother looked very young, as if she had returned in time to her age as a young woman, on the day she got married twenty years ago.
"This is my true face," Mother whispered softly, "that of a new bride on her wedding night." She spoke firmly and with determination: ". . . a night that began with a dazzling party at our new home that faced the silent mosque, yet ended with body blows and painful memories."
She continued without hesitation, recalling the point in time when pain became part of her life: "It is this look on my face that made him kick me, that stirred undying jealousy in him, that caused him to curse me, and to take me by force on our wedding night—just because I performed tahajud, the midnight prayer, at the mosque in front of the house."

This night and the mother's observation of the midnight prayer enraged the husband as he felt he was the only one entitled to special relationship with God.

As if experiencing a case of stage fright, I found my body began to shake, a condition I always experience when my emotions are running high. I felt a rush of heat, a gush of pain, a pounding inside my chest, as I shed my first tears for Mother.

This is a story about women as property.   It is not a story of the poor but of the rich.   It a story of a male belief that men have more a right to access to God than women.   

There is much more in this wonderful story.   It is not that long and it can be read online Here.   I really urge all who have time or an interest in women's issues to read it.    

I hope to post on three more Indonesian short stories in honor of Indonesian Independence Day.

Mel U

Monday, August 23, 2010

"Her" by Titus Basino-An Indonesian Short Story

"Her" by Titis Basino (2001, 5 pages, translated from Indonesian by Florence Lamoureux)

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on one the the blogs I admire, Novroz' Favorite Things indicating that Novroz was going to do a series of special posts on her blog honoring Indonesia's day of independence from colonial domination, celebrated on August 17.   I then somehow decided to Google "independence day world wide" and found a whole list of days and countries.    I noticed also that the independence day of  Malaysia will be observed at the end of August.    I wanted to honor these two South East Asia countries-both just a few hours from my home in Manila by posting on some short stories by Indonesia writers and then Malaysian.    I think I will do a total of five posts on Indonesian short stories.   I have decided to do separate posts on each writer so as to give a bit more change to spotlight the writers and also to allow a Google search  on some of these not yet well know writers to find at least my post.

Titis Basino was born in 1939 in Magalang Indonesia.    She graduated from the University of Indonesia in 1962.     She began to publish short stories in 1963 but family and other obligations limited her writing time up until 1997 since which time she has been very prolific.   She is a Professor at the University of Indonesia according to the latest information I have.    She has won several international awards for her stories.    She writes on a diverse range of topics but is best known for her writings concerning the role of women in modern Indonesia.

We have all read many books, seen movies heard stories about adultery, betrayal in marriage and the shame it can bring.    The central character of "Her" is a distinguished woman, widely respected in her community and a leader in civic organizations.    She and her husband have ten children.    She tries very hard to be a good wife in all ways and everything in the story says she was.    Then one day her husband begins to come home less frequently.

Just like that I let him leave. I listened to the steadily fading sound of his car as he drove away. The motor grew fainter and fainter until it was finally drowned out by the children’s voices. At moments like that I felt that he accepted the freedom I had given him with too obvious relief.
For a while now he could live without demands from his fussy children and his immature wife. I knew his routine so well. As he came to the bend in the road past our house he would look back at the ten children lined up in front of the door. He would wave at them, but no one would wave back. They well knew that their father was not going to his office, but rather to another home, one where someone else would welcome him with that special warmth a wife reserves for greeting her husband.
The car disappeared into the distance and still the children continued to stare up the road. They seemed mesmerized, waiting there on the chance that he might turn back. I wished there were some way to make them forget these scenes more quickly.
Anyone can see he is having an affair.   However I was shocked when I realized he was courting a second wife as is permitted by law and to which little if any social stigma attaches to the man.   This does not lessen the pain of his wife and in fact to me it seems to make it worse.   The wife does not understand why her husband  must do this.   Her husband remarries and her pride is shattered but for the sake of her children she cannot break down.   She does tell them their father will be home less and have less money for them.   Only to herself does she express her pain.

Each time he left I felt a terrible loneliness. It was almost as though I had a wound that left no scar. I tried not let my health deteriorate, however. There was no question about what would become of the children if I were to die. They would be taken to their father’s other wife. It was for this reason that I was careful to disguise my emotions and maintain the harmony in our home—a home without my husband. Whether or not the children understood this sacrifice I’ll never know; they were too young to express such thoughts. I simply went about life swallowing my pride with my rice.

I feel a need to share the woman's final pleadings with her husband not to remarry:

The evening of my husband’s second marriage I tried to reason with him. His voice sounded so strange that I could hardly recognize it. It was as though he were a child again.
"So you married her?"
"Yes, why not?"
"Couldn’t you have stopped short of marriage? You already have one wife. I can deal with all your needs, can’t I?"
"Are you sure of that?"
"Aren’t I enough to make you happy? I’ve already given you children, an organized household, home-cooked meals, immaculate clothes, a warm and ready welcome for you and all your friends. All you’ve ever wanted I’ve given you before you’ve had to ask twice. Think about it." I droned on in my maternal tone while he remained silent, giving no response at all. "Aren’t you embarrassed in front of the children?"
"Of course, you’re right, but do I have to thank you for all these things? I don’t expect you to understand because you can’t look beyond the tremendous effort you’ve put into this marriage, which nevertheless has failed. I’m not satisfied with this life any longer. I’m tired of waiting for you to take an interest in something, like a club or anything outside of this family. Surely you must be aware that I’ve been encouraging you to do this for some time. I used to ask you to join me in some activity away from home, but you always laughed at my attempts. You seem to forget that when I fell in love with you, you were an involved and interesting woman."
"Is that the only reason you’ve taken another wife?"
"No, there are other reasons, but I don’t feel that I must itemize them for you. They would be much too painful for you to hear." 

One day the wife is scheduled to go to an event where she will become chairperson over a large public service organization.   She finds to her horror that the current chairmen is the second wife and that she will be calling her to to podium.   They have never met or seen each other before.  

Please Madame, come to the rostrum." I heard a gentle voice and looked up into a lovely young face.
"Do you mean me?" I asked.
"Yes," was all she answered.
Somewhat reluctantly I made my way to the speaker’s platform to the accompaniment of applause. "Why do they applaud me?" I wondered. Possibly this rather impressive reception was a joke or possibly it was praise for her graciousness in handing over the chairpersonship of the meeting to me.
Nevertheless, the applause had a special meaning for me. It was like a rousing chorus in recognition of all the agony and sacrifice I had suffered in the name of respectability. It seemed to say that my rejection deserved to be acknowledged and now I was being vindicated by the very one who had been the cause of my misery. I appreciated her where I had once feared her. Had I met her earlier I would have been impressed with her cunning at capturing a husband; now I was impressed with the graceful manner in which she protected her rival’s feelings.
Everything had turned out for the best. I was now much more content when he went to her, because I was convinced that she was no less dedicated to making him happy than I was. She also had a right to a husband, even though fate had decreed that he also be mine.

Please at least read the last paragraph above and ponder if you could be this wise and forgiving.  This is a powerful story that I think Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield would have discussed for hours.   I will read more of  Titis Basino's  work in the future

I invite others to join in here if they can-just leave a comment

"Her" can be read  online HERE

Mel u

"Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life" by Claire Tomalin

Katherine Mansfield:  A  Secret Life by Claire Tomalin (1989, 292 pages)

This book is a very good I would say near must read by anyone with more than a passing interest in the life and art of Katherine Mansfield.   It is the only work on Mansfield referred to by Hermione Lee in the chapter she devotes to Katherine Mansfield in Virginia Woolf .    In years past I have read and learned from Tomalin's  (1933, England) biography of the  purported mistress of Charles Dickens, The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Teman and Charles Dickens though I admit I found the book too unsympathetic to Dickens and I somehow felt she was using too much the sensibilities of the 1990s to imagine how Teman and Dickens felt about each other.    I also read her Samuel Pepys:   The Unequalled Self.    One of the great reading experiences of my life so far has been the Diaries of Pepys and her book helped fill in the missing years and a lot of the politics.   

Katherine Mansfield:  A  Secret Life is not a homily to a great person.    Mansfield has what anyone can see are some issues but to me I forgive them all and that Tomalin can do the same meant a lot to me.    I just want now to make a few observations on things in this book I liked a lot.    The issues she had helped make her a great artist, they did not hinder her.   Anyone can see the pain in her work.

I could not help but be fascinated by the account of the relationship of Virginia Woolf to Mansfield.   Woolf was seven years older that Mansfield.   Woolf was culturally and in a conventional sense intellectually superior to Mansfield (of course you can put almost any name in here and this will still be true).    Woolf grew up around the literary giants of her day.    Mansfield came from a well off family in Wellington New Zeland.   There is no indication of ever any physical intimacy between the two of them even though they were very close.    I think, this is just me, that Woolf may have been a little worried just how far Mansfield could see into her mind  and what she might know about her that she did not know about herself.  All you have to do is look into the eyes of Mansfield and you can see why Woolf with her fear of madness might be made nervous by her.     Woolf needed a large support group.    There is nothing of the artistic loner about her.    Mansfield seemed somehow to always be alone no matter who she was with.   There is a lonely quality to her.   Mansfield was also a user of people, especially Ida Baker.    In my mind the jury is still out on Mansfield's husband, John Middleton Murry but I think he was the kind of man she really needed.    I do not think many could have taken true intimacy with Mansfield and Murry was always somehow a bit removed but personally I think he tried to help his wife and if he exploited her work after she was gone I see no harm in this.    

As to her parents,   I admit being annoyed at her wealthy father (Chairmen of the Bank of New Zealand).   He was not, it seems a bad man he just expected his daughters to stay home in Wellington and marry conventional men who could support them.   His other two daughters did that.   He gave her an allowance of 100 British Pounds a year.    This was enough to live on but he could have given her 500 pounds and not even known the difference and made her life a lot better.   Somehow I resented this. Maybe we see a bit of her father in the seemingly kind old men in her stories who turn on the young female lead character in the end.   Maybe her mother is in part the older women who scorn women who do not  fall into purely conventional life styles we see in the stories.   We do not get as much insight in this book as to the early childhood of Mansfield as I would have liked and perhaps the inner dynamics of her childhood cannot be reconstructed from the data we have.   

I would have also liked to know more about Ida Davis.     I think I may be in the minority in accepting Murray as not a bad husband.     We meet a lot of famous people in this work.   We see her affair, for example, with Bertrand Russell and learn of her relationship with several semi-sinister men that we come to greatly dislike.   There is also a lot of real good material on her relationship with D. H. and Frieda Lawrence.

I like Katherine Mansfield.    Of course I admire her work but I somehow like her personally.   She was a user, she could be nasty in conversation, she lied when it suited her  and there is the issue of her plagiarizing a story (which she almost certainly did it now appears).    

I am altering the Katherine Mansfield Reading Life Project a bit.   There are, I think, about 35 or so stories that I still have not read.   I have decided rather than posting on them in groups I will post on each one individually.   I want to know her work and I want a Google search of any of her works to at least find my post.    To my blog readers, I will continue on with all my other projects and interests, God willing.   

As I come closer to the end of the reading of her stories,  I will say more on why I think she is a great artist.   (Some of her stories are silly and she knew that and told Murray not to publish them but he did anyway).   I will also draw up a list of her, in my mind, five best works so one can sample.   One great thing is most of her work can be read free online.    

Katherine Mansfield:  A  Secret Life  is out of print but I bought a nice used copy at for about $5.00 plus shipping.    

As always I give my thanks to my quite brilliant Texas cousin for her editing suggestions.    I have not always followed her advice so any oddities in the style come from me!

Mel u


Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Masks" by Fumiko Enchi

Masks by Fumiko Enchi (1958, translated 1983 by Juliet Carpenter, 141 pages)

Last month I read and posted on The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi.   This work, eight years in the writing was a very insightful look at the state of marriage in Japan in the second half of the 19th century among upper class families.    We saw how women seemed on the surface powerless and we witness the many changes and transformations in an arranged marriage while the wife waits for her husband to die.    Enchi is an acute observer of very small details.    We see a woman internalize her anger and shame as social requirements dictate her increasingly successful husband take a series of concubines.

Fumiko Enchi (1905 to 1986-Tokyo) was the daughter of a famous scholar of classical Japanese literature.   She acknowledged as one of her strongest literary influence the work of Junichiro Tanizaki  which I did  see.    During a bombing raid in WWII the house of her and her husband was destroyed along with all their possessions.    She was educated at home by tutors and at 13 was reading Oscar Wilde, Edgar Alan Poe,  and classical Japanese literature.    She was very much into the reading life.

Masks is  about cruelty between an older very cultured woman in her 50s and her widowed daughter-in- law.    The daughter- in- law, who seems to be portrayed as what we would now see as a mildly learning impaired person, is a virtual slave to her mother- in- law.    The daughter- in-law is very attractive and has two suitors.   The mother in law manipulates these relationships for her own amusement.  She basically causes the daughter to become pregnant by a brutish man who cares nothing for her and by so doing insures she can never marry again.    Some of the great charm of this book is the combining of the story line with the older woman's interest in and great knowledge of No masks.    We see what is under the seemingly inert older woman just as we begin to understand the masks a bit.    There are also woven within the work many references to classical Japanese literature.    Looking deeper into this I think Masks and The Waiting Years are about the aspects of Japanese culture that were, I mean no offense here, a slave society.    There is no freedom in these books other than perhaps the freedom to be casually cruel.   Of course this is just one aspect of the work of Enchi but to me it seems part of her deeper focus.    Much of Japanese literature is about various forms of enslavement.     There is deep wisdom in this short book.    I endorse it without reservation.

Mel u