Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Post In the Honor of the Royal Wedding-Three Very English Short Stories-

"Quality" by John Galsworthy (1912, 7 pages)
"Leaf by Niggle" by J. R. R. Tolkien (written 1938-published 1945-12 pages)
"The Innocence of Father Brown" by C. K. Chesterson (1911, 22 pages)

Three Classic English Short Stories
in Honor of the Royal Wedding

Today in honor of the Royal Wedding I am going to post on short stories by three very English writers.   Two of them are new to me authors and one I have not read in many years.   

John Galsworthy 

"Quality" by John Galsworthy (1867 to 1933-Surrey England) is a wonderful story about the relationship of an English gentleman of wealth and leisure and  his German boot maker.   
Galsworthy is most famous for his Forsythe Trilogy set among the English gentility.   It has become quite famous through movies and TV shows based on it.    Galsworthy was born into a wealthy family and educated as a barrister (he never practiced) .   He worked as  hospital orderly in France during WWI (he attempted to serve in the military but was considered to old-47).    He received the Nobel Prize in 1932.    I really loved "Quality".   As it begins we are in a boot makers shop.    The shop is run by two elderly German  brothers.   To them making boots is not just a job or a craft, it is an art.   Their boots are made from the finest Russian leather (remember in 1912 there is no one more royal than a Russian nobleman!).   The first thing the brothers do is bring out a piece of leather they feel will be right for you.    One of the problems of the  brothers  is that they make their boots so well they last years longer than the boots of their competitors so their customers do not have to come back to buy new ones very often.   They are the boot makers  to the Royal family but they do not have a plaque in their shop window announcing this as any other shop would.   All they have in their window is a sign giving their family name and a pair of their boots.   There is a definite really well done story line in "Quality" which I will let you discover if you wish.   It is beautifully written.    The character of the narrator is very well done and I felt I knew the German brothers a little.   The ending is a bit sad as something will be lost that cannot be replaced.   I will for sure read more of his stories (I will post a link where you can read or download this -and much more from the author-at the end of my post).   "Quality" is old fashioned story that for sure lives up to its name.   I can see why Galsworthy is so loved.

J. R. R. Tolkien
"Leaves by Niggle" by J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 to 1973-born in the Orange Free State to British parents) is another story of a man dedicated to his art and little concerned with the profit he can make from it.    Like most people I have read and really enjoyed his Lord of the Rings.  It has been a long time since I read this trilogy but I still recall a lot of it.   (There is a good article on him in Wikipedia if you want to read about the basics of his life and work.    He might have been born in Africa but he was as English as he could be!   He served as  junior officer in WWI with the British Army in France.)    Niggle is an older man, never married, living way out in the country in a  small cottage.   He has only one  real neighbor.   His life work and his passion is painting.   He has never really been much of a success and never made more than just enough to live on.   For a very long time he has been working on a painting of a tree.   

    The story is a bit slow getting going but it is really well done.   ( I  will include a link to it at the end of the post).   If you read and loved his big work, you owe it to yourself to try this short story.   

C. K. Chesterson

C. K. Chesterton (1874 to 1936-London, England) wrote 80 books, 200 short stories and 1000s of essays.  ( You can read about his very interesting life and career HERE).    Chesterson is now most remembered and loved for his fifty of so short stories about Father Brown, a parish priest in Branford, England.  

"The Innocence of Father Brown" (22 pages, 1911) begins with a famous detective in search of a master criminal.    The criminal has escaped capture for a long time by his high intelligence, his brashness and his willing to commit one crime to escape from another.   The two men are engaged in a long term battle of wits.   So far the criminal normally wins.     The story takes a while to get going and Father Brown does not show up until it more than half over.   I will not relay the plot as it is fun and clever.    I really like the theological conversation about the nature of reason that Father Brown has with the criminal (who is pretending to  be a priest).    Father Brown has learned a lot about how crime is done in England.    I think you will like his explanation of how he learned so much about the dark side of human nature.  "The Innocence of Father Brown" is very English in its understated display of  the intelligence of Father Brown and in his simple modesty.    

"Quality" by John Galsworthy can be read HERE.   A great deal of his work, including his famous trilogy, can be read online.

"The Leaf of Niggle" can be read HERE

"The Innocence of Father Brown" (and much more of Chesterton's writings) can be read HERE

What are your favorite pre-WWII English short stories?

Mel  u

Friday, April 29, 2011

Horacio Quiroga-"The Feather Pillow"-a story by the Edgar Allan Poe of the Amazon Jungle

"The Feather Pillow"  by Horacio Quiroga (1907, 5 pages)

The First South American Master of the Short Story

Horacio Quiroga (1878 to 1937-Salto Uruguay) is considered the first modern South American short story writer.    He called Edgar Allen Poe his greatest teacher (and he lead a life at least as tragic as Poe's).    He has been called "The Edgar Allen Poe of the Amazon" as he is most famous for his horror stories set in the jungles of the Amazon.   His stories are about people at the end of their rope, people driven mad by the isolation of the jungle,  the borders between hallucinations and reality and above all, death.   

Quiroga's father accidentally shot himself  before he was three months old.   Quiroga accidentally killed his best friend while cleaning a gun.    His best friend, also an author, shot himself after a bad review.   He had several very doomed from the start love affairs and marriages    When he was 22 his step father shot himself.   

At about twenty two Quiroga  discovered Edgar Allen Poe and knew he must become  a short story writer.   He also wrote several novels but his 200 or so short stories are his legacy to the world.   At about this same time he went along as official photographer on a trip with the famous Argentine poet, Leopoldo  Lugones, to  visit Jesuit missions in the Amazon region.    Quiroga fell in love with the jungle areas of the Amazon.   He was enthralled by the lush danger, the feeling of unlimited fecundity, the strangeness to him of the native people, and one must admit the cheapness with which land could then be bought there.   He set up a farm there and did many experimental things no one else had tried before.   Most of them were failures (I sense he was best at starting things!) but they show he had a great practical intelligence not just literary.   (There is a very interesting article on him HERE that details his numerous romances.   What is important to know for understanding the background of "The Feather Pillow" is that he took his greatest love (who he married-several of women died on him), a city girl , to live on his jungle farm totally against her parents wishes who thought it far to dangerous.   His in laws ended up moving to the same jungle area to keep and eye on their daughter.)

"The Feather Pillow" (translator unknown) does sound a bit like  Edgar Allan Poe set in the jungles of the Amazon.   There are only two characters in the story, a man and his new bride.   I wanted to quote from the story to give you the feel of his work but when I attempted to make a selection I found I could not really leave anything out.   I will relay the outlines of the first half of the plot.   

The bride, for whom the honeymoon was "three months of hot and cold shivers" begins to become ill.   She is left alone all day in an old semi-mansion in the jungle while her husband works.   She loves him but he is "rough".   He loves her deeply but it is not in his nature to express it.     She begins to become ill.   The doctors say it is influenza.   Her health never really returns after this.   She gets weaker and paler every day.   She begins to hallucinate and scream in fear of creatures no one else can see.   Her most persistent fear was of "an anthropoid poised on his finger on the carpet next to her bed staring at her".   The illness gets worse only at night.   When ever she awoke she always had the sensation of a million pound weight on top of her.   When she would drag herself out of the bed in morning now she refused to allow the bed to be made or disturbed in anyway.  She now spoke of monsters that dragged themselves into her bed at night.   She gets worse and worse.   The doctors say they do not understand at all.   Her husband paces the floor for the last two days of her life as she screams out.    After she is dead a servant comes to her husband and tells him there is blood on the pillow.  That is all I will say as I really hope some will read this story.

The ending is not inferior to any horror type story I have read.    There are all sorts of ways to look at the meaning of the ending.   I think it might be a great class room story as for sure the ending will get people talking about the story

Quiroga is said to have had a large influence on the South American short story.     There are collections of his short stories in English and Spanish on (I wondered what he would make of that name?)    "The Feather Pillow" is his most famous story.   As far as I can find (please correct me if I am wrong) it is his only work in English you can read online.   

You can read it HERE.

"The Feather Pillow" seems a near must read to me.  It is super atmospheric (you can feel the jungle), it has a deep insight into something or other ( please don't laugh here  until you have   read it an can explain the meaning -if there is one-of the ending), it is fun and scary and I bet you have never, I know I had not, read any thing by an author from Uruguay.     He helped begin the tradition of magic realism in South America.   It is also fun to read.   

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009,  461 pages)

I wanted to read The Help before the movie comes out in August.    I have read or scanned a lot of blog posts on the book.   Everyone loves it.    It is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the southern part of the USA in the 1960s.    The land of Eudora Welty (I was very happy to see her mentioned several times in the novel),  William Faulkner  and  segregated schools, hospitals and bathrooms.    Much of  the white populace had a viciously racist attitude toward black people.  They felt they were diseased, dangerous, and inherently inferior.   The times were also in the process of changing but it did not come easy.

Most people know the plot of The Help so I wont spend much time on it.   A white
woman in her early 20s decides she wants to do a book of interviews telling the life stories of black maids working in the house of white families.   It is told from the point of view of three maids and the white woman.   Stockett made each of the characters come to life for me.   All of the main characters are multi-dimensional.
The Help captured and held my attention from start to finish.  

Stockett took a big risk in attempting to make the speech patterns of the maids authentic.   By and large it rings true but not 100 percent.   I thought the weakest part of the book was with the romance between the white would be writer Skitter and the son of a well known local politician.    The depiction of the family of her boyfriend seemed the only part of the book that really was not well done.   They did not seem as real as the other characters.

As I came to the close of this book I wondered if it will one day be listed among the classics novels of Southern USA  like To Kill a Mocking Bird  or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.    There are references to To Kill a Mocking Bird in The Help.
The characters in The Help do not seem to me to have the depth of those in that work.

I endorse this book as a good read.   It has been the book club choice of the year since it came out and I can for sure see why.  

Mel u

"Three Men" by Sunil Gangopadhyay -সুনীল গঙ্গোপাধ্যায় -

"Three Men" by Sunil Gangopadhyay -সুনীল গঙ্গোপাধ্যায় - (2000, 4  pages)

Cries in the mud by the thatch'd house sand drain
Sleeps in huge pipes in the wet shit-field rain
waits by the pump well, Woe to the world!
whose children still starve in their mother's arms curled.
Is this what I did to myself in the past?
What shall I do Sunil Poet I asked?
Move on and leave them without any coins?
What should I care for the love of my loins?
(By  Allen Ginsburg upon the occasion of his visit to Bangladesh in 1971 in the company of the great poet, Sunil Gangopandhyay-you can read the full text of "September On Jessore Road"  HERE-it is deeply felt work and a powerful expression of the anguish felt by Ginsburg on seeing the human cost of the 1971 war for the Independence of Bangladesh.)

Sumil Gangopandhyay (1934) was born in Faridpur in what is now Bangladesh.   He currently lives in Kolkata (Calcutta) in India.    He is considered a leading novelist, travel writer, children's book author and is best known as a poet.   He writes in Bengali and English.   He was educated at the University of Calcutta.   He has had a long a very distinguished literary and professional career.   In 2008 he became director of the National Academy of Letters in India.   This is a government funded but administratively independent organization whose purpose is to promote literature and the maintenance of the diverse languages of  India.

"Three Men" is set in a big corporation.   (As social context, Bangladesh is often, fairly or not I do not know, listed as among the most corrupt countries in the world.)   The three men in the story are an ordinary worker, his manager, and the general manager.    Tapan, the worker, has begun to feel more and more self-contempt for his role in the corruption of  the company.   The company was recently involved in a press scandal in which it was documented they withheld baby food supplies in Bangladesh for two weeks in order to make consumers pay much more. This in a country where millions are on the edge of starvation and low value diets in infants cause terrible future problems.    Tapan, not in fact a perfect employee himself-he often misses work with no call in for example-is going into his bosses office to follow up on a denouncing letter he has written in which he gives his resignation.    As you might guess the conversation does not go well.  Tapan then demands as seems to be his right, to speak with the general manager.    As he waits outside the general manger's office he is advised by someone who does not know why he is there that he will from now on be getting a clothing allowance.    Tapan starts to think about his wife (he just got married a year ago and supports his aged father) who wants a house of their own soon.

As he enters the office the general manager tells him he can come in next week to pick up his final paycheck but if he continues ranting in the office he will have him thrown out by security.    As the story ends Tapan begs for a second change.   Before leaving for the day, he stops in the company comfort room.   He spits in his own image in the mirror.

"Three Men"  (written originally in English) is a moving story about a man with a consciousness of right or wrong trapped in a web of corruption.

You can read it HERE

The South Asian Short story is a tremendously rich reading area.    It is very accessible online.    You can easily find brand new stories by well known authors as well as older classic stories works.    The cultural roots of the South Asian Short Story go back beyond the days of Homer and the Old Testament.

I will be sort of focusing on stories about the lives of women and children, the effects of the 1947 partition,  and post colonialism.   The history involved here is delightfully complicated.    I will take this where it leads me with one writer or story leading to another.   Like the Irish to a large extent, writers in this area define themselves by their relationship to the English.    Like the Japanese (I will soon also begin a project on Taisho era short stories) there is much concern about preserving old traditions in the face of the intense attraction of consumer goods and the pervasive power of western culture.  

I am very open to suggestions and joint projects in this.  

Mel u-

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Gogol" by Jhumpa Lahiri

"Gogol"  by Jhumpa Lahiri (June 16, 2003, 12 pages in The New Yorker)

"Gogol" is the fourth short story by  Jhumpa Lahiri  (all can be found on the web page of The New Yorker) I have read so far.   (There is background information on her in my other posts).   I liked all three of her prior stories a lot    I liked  "Gogol" a good bit more than her other three stories.   Like her other stories, it is set among Indian immigrants to Boston.    The men in the stories are often engineers and the women are either stay at home mothers or professional women.

"Gogol" starts out in India.    We learn about a father that anybody in the reading life would love to have had or maybe in some cases try to emmulate.  The father got his love of reading from his own father.   He read all of Dickens as a child, contemporary writers to him like Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham  (both coming soon on my blog) but his real love was for the Russians.        His favorite writer was Nickolai Gogol.

I think a lot of people will read this story so I will not tell any of the plot (other than to say structurally it is a perfect circle).     It is a very powerful story of the immigrant experience, of the power of naming and memory.    It is about how what we read (or do not) gives depth to our lives and perceptions.    It is about family binds and tradition.    It is about generational gaps.    It is about America and India.

I just loved this passage and from it you can judge from it if you like the prose of Lahiri:

"As a teen-ager he had gone through all of Dickens. He read newer authors as well, Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham, .. But most of all he loved the Russians. His paternal grandfather, a former professor of European literature at Calcutta University, had read from them aloud in English translation when Ashoke was a boy. Each day at teatime, as his brothers and sisters played kabadi and cricket outside, Ashoke would go to his grandfather’s room, and for an hour his grandfather would read supine on the bed, his ankles crossed and the book propped open on his chest, Ashoke curled at his side. For that hour Ashoke was deaf and blind to the world around him. He did not hear his brothers and sisters laughing on the rooftop, or see the tiny, dusty, cluttered room in which his grandfather read. “Read all the Russians, and then reread them,” his grandfather had said. “They will never fail you.” When Ashoke’s English was good enough, he began to read the books himself. It was while walking on some of the world’s noisiest, busiest streets, on Chowringhee and Gariahat Road, that he had read pages of “The Brothers Karamazov,” and “Anna Karenina,” and “Fathers and Sons.” Ashoke’s mother was always convinced that her eldest son would be hit by a bus or a tram, his nose deep into “War and Peace”—that he would be reading a book the moment he died."
I have read comments on Lahiri that say her focus as a writer is to narrow to achieve true greatness one day.   I could not disagree more.    I think there is one more story in the open to the public portion of the web page of  The New Yorker (some of these stories are in her collections) which I hope to read soon. 

You can read this story Here

"Bitch" by Mrinal Pande

"Bitch" by Mrinal Pande (2004, 3 pages)

A Wonderful Story by a Leading Hindi Advocate of the Rights of Women

"Bitch" by Mrinal Pande is another great short story from the pages of The Little Magazine,  the  premier online and print literary and cultural magazine of South Asia.  

Mrinal Pande (1946, Madhya Pradas, India) has had a very distinguished career as a print journalist.    She is currently the editor of a major newspaper and has her own TV show.    She has served on numerous commissions on the rights of women and children.   She has taught at several major universities.    She is the daughter of the very famous writer, Shivani (on whom I will, I hope, eventually post).   She is married and has children.    She published her first short story when she was 21 and basically has been writing ever since then.   She writes in both Hindi and English.    

"Bitch" (written in English) at once caught my eye as I was looking through the many short stories online at The Little Magazine.   It is about a conversation a between a woman who hosts a TV show (as the author does) and her maid about an article they saw in the newspaper about a four year old girl whose parents married her to a dog in order to ward off the evil eye from their family.  You can read it in just a minute or two.    It told me a lot about how ordinary Indian women seem to feel about marriage.   The maid can speak a bit boldly as she is herself a grandmother.   (The maid likes her employer because she does not follower her around as she cleans or inspect her bag when she leaves.   I just finished The Help last night and this story could be out of an Indian version.)

The TV commentator is trying to tell her maid what a shameful even illegal thing the parents have done in marrying a four year old girl to a dog.   The maid thinks it is perfectly OK and feels a dog is a step up from most men.   I really liked this exchange:

"“But don’t you see it is illegal? The police —”
“What police?”
“The local police.”
“No, no, why should the police bother?”
“Because you can’t marry off a girl before she’s eighteen. It’s the law.”
“So? She’s not married to a man.”
“Gauri, don’t you see? Her parents could still go to jail for this.”
“Who will speak against them? The dog?” Gauri collapses in laughter.
“It is no laughing matter,” I say. But I, too, am laughing.
“Oh Ma, at least he won’t come home drunk and beat her. Or arm-twist her family for a wrist-watch or a bicycle, or get her pregnant as soon as he can, and then run off with another woman. A son of a bitch is better any day, Ma, any day, than the son of man.”
“But the girl...”
“What about the girl? She looks happy. She must have eaten her fill of sweets, been dressed in new clothes. What more can a girl want?”
“But why should she be married to a dog before she knows what marriage is all about?”

The maid then begins an  account of  the terrible events of her marriage.   

"Bitch" is a really fun, beautifully written story that packs a lot in its few pages.   I liked the spirit and admired the strength of character of the maid and her ability to keep laughing.     If you like The Help (I for sure did and will post on it soon) you will like this story.   I read it three times I liked it so much.    

Mrinal Pande has another story in The Little Magazine that I will, I hope, eventually read and post on also.    

You can read it online HERE

As I take my first tentative footsteps into the South Asia Short Story Reading Life Project  (by which by my definition I will mean India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh for now) I am realizing it is not just three countries here but the remainder of dozens and dozens of languages, states and cultures that must be considered.      One short story or author will lead me to another.    

I will sort of be focusing on stories about the lives of women and children, the effects of the 1947 partition of India and the lingering effects of British colonialism.    My first self indulgent objective is to enjoy myself!  

I am very open to reading suggestions and corrections from those more experienced in this reading area.    

I will still continue on with all of my old interests.   So far all of the Indian authors I have written about have been highly educated and deeply into the best literature of the European tradition.    Some write their stories in English, some in one of the many languages of South Asia.    Some stories sound like they could be the plot of a modern TV show, some come from 5000 year old traditions.    I will probably like almost all of the stories I post on as I tend not to post or even finish a work I do not like.   


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Two Fairy Tales by Oscar Wilde

Our current guest is Mel U from The Reading Life. Mel has an awesome post for us today about two of Oscar Wilde's fairy tales. I hope you enjoy the reading. I know it did.


"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

Fairy tales and their cousins the fable and parable are the sources of much wisdom. They evolved in time into the novel and the short story. They have been around probably longer than the written word. They came before Homer and the great Indian Epics. I was very happy to see the announcement for Fairy Tale Fortnight and decided I would do a post on two of my favorite Oscar Wilde fairy tales.

"The Selfish Giant" by Oscar Wilde (5 pages, 1888)

Oscar Wilde (1854 to 1900-Dublin, Ireland) is the author of Portrait of Dorian Gray (1890) read and loved to this day by readers all over the world. I loved it many years ago when I read it for the first time for the many epigrams that seem to defy the conventional too adult world. Like many people, I wished I could come up with remarks like those spoken in The Portrait of Dorian Gray or even to know someone who could. It is also a great study of the corruption and hypocrisy of late Victorian English high society.

Wilde also wrote and published a number of short stories done in the style of a classic fairy tales. Among the more famous is "The Selfish Giant". As the story begins the giant is returning from a long trip and is not happy when he sees the beautiful gardens surrounding his castle have become the play ground for local children.
One day the Giant came back. He had been to visit his friend the Cornish ogre, and had stayed with him for seven years. After the seven years were over he had said all that he had to say, for his conversation was limited, and he determined to return to his own castle. When he arrived he saw the children playing in the garden.
"What are you doing here?" he cried in a very gruff voice, and the children ran away.
"My own garden is my own garden," said the Giant; "any one can understand that, and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself." So he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board.



When the spring returns next year there are flowers, and birds and happy scenes in all of the gardens but that of the selfish giant. It is still winter in his garden. Wilde's prose is simple and echoes masterfully the rhythm of simple fairy tales.
'I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,' said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; 'I hope there will be a change in the weather.'
But the Spring never came, nor the Summer. The Autumn gave golden fruit to every garden, but to the Giant's garden she gave none. 'He is too selfish,' she said. So it was always Winter there, and the North Wind, and the Hail, and the Frost, and the Snow danced about through the trees.
One day the giant looks out a castle window and sees the children have crept back into his garden. Every tree is occupied by a child. Then he sees a child who seems unable to climb into a tree. The giant helps him into the tree. The giant's heart melts and he welcomes the children into his garden. The one boy who he helped and felt such love for never returned and know one knew who he was.

Here is a simply perfect description of winter:
He did not hate the Winter now, for he knew that it was merely the Spring asleep, and that the flowers were resting.
There is a twist/surprise ending but in this case it is artistically well done and integral to the theme of the story and I will not spoil the story by commenting on it.

If you like, The Portrait of Dorian Gray I think you will like this simple story. It is also an easy way to sample Wilde's style. I read it on line here and I enjoyed seeing the original illustrations by Charles Robinson that were published with the story. It appears all of Wilde can be read on line. This story can be read in just a very few minutes and it is well worth your time, I think.

"The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde (1888, 7 pages)

As "The Happy Prince" opens we are given a description of a statue that has sort of become the symbol of the town.
High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.
The city fathers were very proud of the statue the wealth it displayed as it spoke well of the city. A Swallow on his way to Egypt with his flock delays his flight as he is in love with a reed. He sees the statue and begins to communicate with it. The description of how this happens is very moving. The prince has a Buddha like story to tell of his life and awaking:
"When I was alive and had a human heart," answered the statue, "I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans- Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot chose but weep.
The Prince is lonely and he begs the swallow to stay with him just one night. The Prince is aware of what is going on in the city. Some are rich and secure but many are in great need. He knows of a widow greatly in dispair so he tells the swallow to take the ruby from his sword hilt and give it to the widow. The swallow does this and tells him he must now go to Egypt. The statue begs him to stay just one more night. One night turns into more and soon winter has come and it is to late for the swallow to fly to Egypt. I will tell no more of the plot. There is real wisdom in this story and the ending in a pure marvel. Like a good fairy tale, I will not forget this story.

I read it on line here and I really liked the inclusion of the original pastel illustrations.
Remove starShareShare with noteKeep unreadSend to

    "Big Blonde" by Dorothy Parker

    "Big Blonde" 1929, 15 pages) by Dorothy Parker

    The Best of Dorothy Parker?

    "Big Blonde" is the third short story I have read by Dorothy Parker (1893 to 1967- USA.)    Prior to this I have read her "Arrangement in Black and White" and "A Telephone Call".      I  enjoyed both of these stories.   Both of these stories are about what seem like silly women whose lives revolve a bit to much about men.    Both are good smart stories.  When I started "Big Blond" (Wikipedia says it is her best known short story-it won the O'Henry Award in 1929 for the best short story of the year) I was expecting more of the same.     I was completely shocked and blown away by "Big Blond".    It was almost like finding out everybody's favorite partying sorority girl who could drink all the guys under the table can write a story to scare the world sober.

    Imagine Virginia Woolf showing up on a late night talk show to swap jokes with Charlie Sheen or Elizabeth Bowen with an advise column in Seventeen Magazine.

    "Big Blonde" is about Hazel Moore.  (Yes,  Dorothy Parker was a brunette.)   Here  is how she is described:

    "Hazel Morse was a large, fair woman of the type that incites some men when they use the word “blonde” to click their tongues and wag their heads roguishly... In her twenties.. she had been employed as a model in a wholesale dress establishment—it was still the day of the big woman, and she was then prettily colored and erect and high-breasted. Her job was not onerous, and she met numbers of men and spent numbers of evenings with them, laughing at their jokes and telling them she loved their neckties. Men liked her, and she took it for granted that the liking of many men was a desirable thing. Popularity seemed to her to be worth all the work that had to be put into its achievement. Men liked you because you were fun, and when they liked you they took you out, and there you were. So, and successfully, she was fun. She was a good sport. Men liked a good sport."

    Hazel meets and marries a man whose drinking and late night about town ways amused her.   It was not so funny after they got married.    He got bored with her and she with him.   He left her to move to Detroit and she did not much care.   He gave her enough money for a few months.   There was another big blond living in an apartment across the hall from her who had a lot of men friends and parties and Hazel soon had another admirer.  Then another and another and most all of them were married.   Hazel's job was to be "a good sport" and a big blond.   The story is set in a time when alcohol was illegal in America but only seemed to increase its hold on the people in Hazel's world.    

    I do not want to tell any more of the plot of this story.    I think it is a brilliant work.   (I can see how readers who fit the physical description of Hazel might not be so thrilled with it!).     I did wonder as I read it if Parker's description of one of the characters as "a Jew" was a sign of prejudice or just a sign of times.   

    If you have not yet read a Dorothy Parker story,I you might start with "A Telephone Call".   If you like that  then go on to "An Arrangement in Black and White" and then read the much better and deeper (and longer) "Big Blond".    I hope to read more of her stories soon.

    You can read "Big Blond" HERE.



    Monday, April 25, 2011

    Selina Hossain -(বাংলাদেশ)-A Leading Bangladesh Author

    "Honour" by Selina Hossain (3 pages, 1982)

    A Very Powerful Story About the Lives of 
    Ordinary Women in Bangladesh

    Selina Hossain (1947) was born in Rajshahi, Bangladesh.    She has had a very productive and distinguished literary career.   Since writing her first  novel while still in college she has written twenty one novels and edited many works dealing with the rights of women and children.   Her many short stories have been published in four collections.   She  has also published many essays on a wide variety of cultural topics.    She is considered a  leading advocate of the rights of women and children in Bangladesh.      She is  on the board of directors of UNESCO, was recently named secretary-general of Transparency International Bangladash and was the director of a very well known school.     She also has the normal responsibilities of family life.     Much of her focus is on the lingering affects of England's rule of the Indian Subcontinent and on Pakistan's treatment of Bangladesh during the 1971 war for the independence of Bangladesh.   (Estimate of deaths from this war run up to 2,000,000.)     She has received many awards and is considered a strong candidate for the Nobel Prize.    Her books have been translated into English, Russian, French, German and several Indian dialects.    She is deeply into the reading life.

    "Honour" (written originally in Bengali-translator unknown)  gets off to a stunning start.   I will let the story speak for itself:

    "Maleka was murdered by her husband Latif, who slit her throat open. Then he beheaded her corpse and threw it into the Jaliabeel river beside Bakoljora village. Her body sank like a stone, then bobbed up again. Two days later, when it began to rot, the vultures arrived. Maleka’s two brothers tried to tow the body down from Jaliabeel to Durgapur Ghat. But it was so badly decomposed that a burial was no longer possible. The brothers cut it loose, letting the current of the Shomeshwari River take it. They were quite melancholic for a while, but they returned home rather satisfied with their handiwork."
    Maleka, a Muslim girl, got neither a funeral nor a burial. As a child, she had learned to read the Holy Quran from a moulvi saheb. Every year, during the month of Ramadan, Maleka completed one reading of the entire Quran. She would fast right through the month as well. Her faith was without blemish.

    The cool waters of the river awoke the soul of Maleka.   She did not know where to go.   She is not a sinner (her husband's accusations were groundless) so she will not go to hell but her lack of a proper death ceremony will keep her out of heaven.     She begins to be seen about the village and at the house of the family of her husband.    She was a second wife and now her husband's first wife is terrified she will be murdered also.    (Everyone, including the police knew of the murder but no one comes to investigate the killing.)   Then she sees Maleska.   When she runs screaming to her husband, he knocks her to the ground and kicks her until she passes out.   We then learned the husband somehow thought his second wife had made sexual advances toward his first wife.   That fantasy is why he killed her.

    Maleka goes to her families house (of course no one can see her) she hears her sister in law say that she got what she deserved.    Her brother agrees they are best rid of her.    

    Maleka goes to the market and listens to a loud policeman telling a story:

     “You people must remember the incident at Durgapur. A man brought the head of his elder brother’s wife to the police station. He said that he had killed the whore in order to protect their family honour. Just think, gentlemen, what nobility of character!”   The policeman is then reminded that this man was tried and hanged for this.   He at once says it is because they still live under corrupt laws from the days of British rule.   He says that if they lived under honorable laws the man would be celebrated.

    There is more in this story than I have told.   In just a few pages Hossain brings a very ugly world to life for us.   

    This another story from the pages of The Little Magazine,   a very high quality literary and cultural publication based in Delhi and dealing with pan-South Asian issues.    

    I have begun a new area of reading for me, The South Asian short story.    I am very excited by this.   I would welcome suggestions and guidance from those with experience in this reading area (I would not call it a genre).      If you want to read some stories on your own, you will find about 45 of them through the web page of The Little Magazine.     There are cultural parallels to the Irish Short story in that both are set in cultures that partially define themselves through their rejection of colonial Britain.   There are other similarities that interest me also but that will wait.      

    I will to some extent focus on stories about the rights of women and children and stories that deal with the effects of the British rule of India.    I have links to 100s of stories already.   

    Mel u

    "The Fairies Dancing Place" by William Carleton

    "The Fairies' Dancing Place" by William Carleton (4 pages, 1855)

    William Carleton was a writer I first became aware of during my research for Irish Short Story Week.   (I hope Irish Short Week II will be March 11 to March 21, 2012.)   Carleton (1794 to 1869-Clogher, Ireland) received his initial education in Irish folklore from his father.   Carleton did not get a lot of formal education but he made up for this by a love of reading.    He worked at various clerical and teaching jobs.   He began to write articles and stories.    He soon was able to support himself from his writings and went on to become one of Ireland's best known novelists of the time.    He always had a deep interest in Irish Fairy lore.   I think it is for his stories of Irish fairies that he is now most read.  

    "The Fairies's Dancing Place" is a short simple feel good type of story.   Lanty M'Clusky had recently married and he decided to build a house on his six acre farm.  There was a beautiful green circle on his land and he decided to build his house there.   Everyone told him "No don't do that it is a dancing ground for fairies".   M'Clusky says he does not care he is building his house in the circle.    Once the house is built he says before he and his wife move in he will host a big party there for everyone he knows.   Everyone is having a great time when they suddenly begin to hear strange noises from the attic and roof area.   They hear what sounds like 1000s of tiny foot steps above them.   Then the hear a voice that says, "Hurry, we must tear this house down before the dance tomorrow".      Even  the very bold young M'Clusky becomes worried.     He asks the leader of the faires if his house can be let standing until the morning at which time he will tear it down himself.

    The ending is fun and I will not tell any more of the plot so as not to spoil it.  

    "The Fairies' Dancing Place" is just a simple fun story.   It is not great art.    I am glad I read it and think most readers will enjoy it.    It is another one of the 1000s and 1000s of works that make up one of the world's great bodies of literature, The Irish Short Story.

    You can read it HERE

    Mel u

    Rajinder Singh Bedi- "Lajwanti"-A Great Urdu Short Story

    NOTE ADDED AUGUST 13, 2015
    Recently there has been a huge number of page views of this post from Bangalore.  Please let me know if this story is a school assignment and please leave any comments on the story on my post you might have.  

    "Lajanti" by Rajinder Singh Bedi (6 pages, 1960-translator unknown)

    A Story About the Plight of Women Abducted During 
    the 1947 Partition of India

    Rajinder Singh Bedi is considered  the second best, Saadat Hasan Manto is the highest regarded, Urdu short story writer.   Like Manto, his best known work centers on the immense human cost of the  of the 1947 Partition of India into Pakistan and India.  Much  the worst of  this holocaust (death tolls range from 1/2 a million on up to 2 million) was felt by the women as men of diverse groups took their revenge by raping  and abducting women of other groups.    Hundreds of thousands of Hindu women were abducted by Muslin and vice-versa.   Many of the women killed themselves from shame.  (You can find some background information on this here.)

    Bedi (1915 to 1984) was born in Punjab region of Pakistan and moved to India at the time of the Partition.  
    He was educated in Urdu.   In his early working career he was a postal clerk.   Later on he got a job at All India Radio.   It was there he began his writing career.   From here he moved  to script writing for Bollywood movies and then into directing.    It will be for his 72 short stories that he is remembered.

    "Lajawanti" is about a once happily married couple.   Then in  the riots that resulted in the Partition of India (the effects were at their very worse in the Punjab region where the story is set and where Bedi grew up) the wife Lajawanto was kidnapped.    It is also a story about human cruelty.   Not just the cruelty of the abductors but of the husbands and family of the abducted women.

    As the story opens we see Lajawanti expects to be beaten.   It is part of the marriage custom and it almost seems a wife regards a husband who never beats her as "unmanly".   Then she is abducted and taken over the border.   Years go by and her husband tries to get along with his life.   In time Pakistan and India authorities begin to arrange for the swapping of abducted women.   A truck load of Hindu women would be exchanged for a truck load of Muslim women.   There were lots of problems and quarrels over this.   Sometimes men of one side managing the exchange would complain that all they are getting back is "useless old and middle aged women".   The real cruelty to the women in many cases came when they returned.

    There were some people who refused to have anything to do with the abducted women who cam back "couldn't they have killed themselves? Why didn't they take poison and preserve their virtue and their honour? Why didn't they Jump into a well? They are cowards, they clung to life...."
    Hundreds of thousands of women had in fact killed themselves rather than be could the dead know what courage it needed to face the cold, hostile world of the living in a hard-hearted world in which husbands refused to acknowledged their wives. And some of these women would think sadly of their names and the joyful meanings they had..."suhagwanti..of marital bliss" or they would turn to a younger brother and say "Oi Bihari, my own little darling brother, when you were a baby I looked after you as if you were my own son." 

    Lajawanti's husband is at first overcome with joy when one day she was among the returned women.   Lajawanti used to routinely beat his wife for the smallest matters.   He asked if the man she spent longs months with while abducted beat her.  She says no.   Then the husband begins to wonder why she looks better and healthier than before she was abducted.  Maybe she was happier with the other man.   He promises never to beat her again and he keeps his word.    He never criticizes her like he used to.     They never fight over anything.   At first she is very happy.   Then she realizes why this has happened.

    Many days passed in this way. Suspicion took the place of Joy: not because Sunder Lal had resumed ill-treating her but because he was treating her too well. Lajo never expected him to be so considerate. She wanted him to be the same old Sunder Lal with whom she quarrelled over a carrot and who appeased her with a radish. Now there was no chance of a quarrel. Sunder Lal made her feel like something fragile, like glass which would splinter at the slightest touch. Lajo took to gazing at herself in the mirror. Arid in the end she could no longer recognise the Lajo she had known. She had been rehabilitated but not accepted. Sunder Lal did not want eyes to see her tears nor ears to hear her wailing.

    "Lajwanti" depicts a world where women have totally internalized the idea that they are little more than property.   Imagine the horror of being abducted, taken to another country and being raped over and over for perhaps years.   When you at last return to your home country,  you are totd that your failure to kill yourself has brought great shame on your family and in many cases are driven from your old home.

    You can read this story HERE

    Indian short stories are a new chapter in my reading life.    I have already found links to 100s of what seem like very worth reading short stories.  

    If you have any experience with South Asian short stories, please leave a comment.  

    Mel u