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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Thomas Hardy: Three Short Stories

"The Three Strangers" (1883, 25 pages)
"The Grave by the Handpost" (1897, 13 pages)
"The Fiddler of the Reels"  (1893, 19 pages)

Since I began my blog in July 2009 I have read and posted on three short stories by Thomas Hardy and his very highly regarded novel, The Return of the Native.   I really liked the short stories a lot so yesterday when I was looking around for something on my shelves to read I was happy to find Thomas Hardy:  Selected Stories selected and edited by John Wain.

All of the stories I read recently by Hardy are set among country people in rural England.   The stories are about the lives of these people and they do involve some rural dialect that requires one slow down a bit but I think Hardy is best read slow anyway.

In my brief sample,  Hardy short stories center on death, betrayal and isolation and read like they were very  old stories told for years.  

I  will try to post just enough on each story to convey the flavor of the work but not to spoil the plot.   All of the stories are told in a very traditional fashion and none are hard to follow.   I would say don't read these stories when you are looking for a light pick me up kind of read.    

"Three Strangers" is set during an annual party at the house of a farmer and his wife.   There is a bounty of the honey based drink mead being served.   I think we have to see the idea of three strangers calling at the farm house as an echo of the three wise men.   The strangers arrive one at a time and it is the custom of the region to offer them hospitality even though the wife is not keen on having strangers drink the mead.   Strangers are also a bit sinister seeming in the countryside where most rural people never go twenty miles from where they were born.    The question everyone wants to ask is who is the stranger.   There is a deep connection between the strangers.   "Three Strangers" also lets us see how people felt about some of the terribly harsh laws of the time such as hanging a man for stealing a sheep.    

"The Grave by the Handpost" is a very grim story of a dual suicide  by a father and then his son.   It also shows how England's  wars affected the people of the countryside that provided the soldiers for these wars.    Anyone can write an anti-war story but only a master like Hardy can make us see the real human cost of war on the rural people of England.   I really do not want to relay any of the plot of this very deep perfectly plotted story.

"The Fiddler of the Reels" is another very powerful story.   It is about a very good man, the woman who rejected his marriage proposal four years ago, the handsome fiddler she preferred over him and her three year old illegitimate daughter by the fiddler.    This is a very sad story with a hauntingly sad ending.

One interesting thing in the stories of Hardy is the things that happen in the background.   The several references to people basically disappearing forever through immigration to America were very powerful.   To those left behind, it was almost like a form of death.   

Please share with us your experience with Hardy.   I have three  stories in the collection still to read and post on and I also have on hand The Mayor of Casterbridge.   I will read and post on three more short stories very soon and the novel, hopefully, by the end of 2012.

Please share with us your experience with Hardy

Mel u

"Swaddling Clothes" by Yukio Mishima

"Swaddling Clothes" by Yukio Mishima (1953, 4 pages)

"Swaddling Clothes" by Yukio Mishima (1925 to 1970-Japan) is a very strange story that compresses a really lot into just a few pages.   It is really must reading for devotees  of Yukio Mishima as it contains in just four pages much of the basic themes of the work of Mishima.   I am not inclined as of now to make a list of "best Japanese authors" but I will say if one wanted to read the full translated oeuvre of a Japanese writer with the objective of learning as much as you could about all aspects of Japanese culture I would say read Mishima (no small task with nearly fifty works available in translation) over all other authors.   (There is some additional background information on him in my prior posts.)

"Swaddling Clothes" begins with a woman from a good family recalling with great embarrassment the story her actor husband told a number of their friends.  A lot of the themes of Mishima can be dug from these remarkable lines:

Earlier that evening, when she had joined her husband at a night club, she had been shocked to find him entertaining friends with an account of “the incident.” Sitting there in his American-style suit, puffing at a cigarette, he had seemed to her almost a stranger.        “It’s a fantastic story,” he was saying, gesturing flamboyantly as if in an attempt to outweigh the attractions of the dance band. “Here this new nurse for our baby arrives from the employment agency, and the very first thing I notice about her is her stomach. It’s enormous—as if she had a pillow stuck under her kimono! No wonder, I thought, for I soon saw that she could eat more than the rest of us put together. She polished off the contents of our rice bin like that....” He snapped his fingers. “ ‘Gastric dilation’—that’s how she explained her girth and her appetite. Well, the day before yesterday we heard groans and moans coming from the nursery. We rushed in and found her squatting on the floor, holding her stomach in her two hands, and moaning like a cow. Next to her our baby lay in his cot, scared out of his wits and crying at the top of his lungs. A pretty scene, I can tell you!” 

The husband and the doctor he calls have complete contempt for the poor to them totally ignorant servant woman.   They wrap her baby in newspapers just to show their contempt for the baby.    The woman begins to think about how the baby will never have a chance to grow into a successful person of any kind.   She sees him as doomed to a life of poverty and crime by the degrading way he was brought into the world.   She begins to imagine he will one day grow up twenty years hence and will in a random senseless act stab her own son to death.  You can also see the very common theme of Mishima relating to the corruption of Japanese culture by the intrusion of Americans (something very strongly felt in still occupied Japan at the time of the writing of this story).

Now the story in its extreme artistry relies on the reader's help to determine what happens next.   Was the woman murdered that very night in a knifing or has twenty years gone by and has the mother intentionally been guided by paranormal elements to stand in for her son at the time of his murder by at the hands of the maid's baby?

You can read this story online HERE

Mel u

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862, 1376 pages)

There are lots of things one could say about Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1808-1885-France).   One of them is that it is a  huge novel, up there with War and Peace and Clarrisa.  ( I read it through in the older translation by Isabel Hopgood.   There is a quite new translation by Julia Rose that some say is wonderful and others say tries to make the book too contemporary).   I am kind of at a loss what to write about it in a reasonable space.   

I am so glad that I have at last read Les Miserables (I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame not long ago and there is some additional background information on Victor Hugo in my post on that novel).   I really loved this book.   I found the plot exciting.   Some of the characters I hated, some I admired and some I did find a bit much.

The story of Jean Valjean is pure  heart break.   There are many terribly sad scenes in this book.   There are long meditations on the events of European history.    Much of it is a savage indictment of the incredible corruption in 19th century France.   It is all about Paris from the halls of justice to the sewers.    The section on the sewers is really quite amazing.   A lot of time is spent on action during the 1832 revolution.   There are lots of just brilliant asides.   There is a very long account of Napoleon era battles.   

The plot line does turn a lot on coincidences.   The character of Cosette the adopted daughter of Jean Valjean and her relationship to Marius may seem almost too romantic.   I admit I did not like Marius all that much once we saw how he reacted when he found out about the background of Jean Valjean.   

Why is this book so great?   Good question.   It captures French society perfectly and through it nearly all of the human experience.   The characterizations are incredibly deep.   The action part of the book is very exciting (as shown by the various highly successful movies and even a Broadway musical based on the Jean Valjean and his pursuit by police inspector Javert ).   There are enough meditations on history, religion, justice, the nature of society to keep you thinking for a very long time.   

The treatment of the lives of the poor in Paris is at least the equal of anything in Dickens treatment of the poor in any of his works.  

If I were doing a life time reading plan, I would for sure now put Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Norte Dame on the list.   

Les Miserables is one of the great works of all literature.   Maybe it is romantic and perhaps sentimental but it also a towering work by a genius.   

Mel u

Friday, October 28, 2011

"To Build a Fire" by Jack London

"To Build a Fire" by Jack London (1908, 15 pages)
Jack London (1876 to 1916-San Francisco, California, USA) is best know as the author of Call of the Wild and White Fang.   London is firmly in the tradition of journalist and travel adventurer turned author.   Many of his books and stories are set in the frozen wastes of upper North America.   His style is simple straightforward prose.

"To Build a Fire"  has been recommended to me several times as a short story I should read.   It is according to my limited research the most famous of London's numerous short stories.   (There is a good background article on London's interesting life and career here.)

"To Build a Fire" takes place in the Yukon, in far northern Canada.   It is a very cold day, -75F and -60C, cold enough to kill a person in just a few minutes if they are not prepared.    There are really only two characters in the story.   The first is a man relatively new to the Yukon who went out on the trail alone, contrary to the advise of the more experienced.   The other character is a husky dog (a wolf like looking working dog bred for very cold conditions).

The plot is pretty simple.    I will not say too much on it so as not to spoil it.   It is about the troubles the man has when his camp fire goes out and he cannot relight it.   Here is a sample of his prose:

"The man flung a look back along the way he had come. The Yukon lay a mile wide and hidden under three feet of ice. On top of this ice were as many feet of snow. It was all pure white, rolling in gentle, undulations where the ice jams of the freeze-up had formed." 

"To Build a Fire" is worth reading and I am glad I have now done so.   It is kind of a "macho man" type of story one often finds in American journalists turned literary.

You can read it online HERE.

Mel u

The Book Blogger Hop 10/28 to 10/31

Welcome to The Reading Life
Follow Me and I will Follow you Back

I have been an on and off participant in The Book Blogger Hop hosted by Jennifer of Crazy for books for a long time.   I have found it to be a great place to discover new to me blogs and meet some great book bloggers.    

My blog and my reading focus on  ever evolving genres of literature but for now I am very into South Asian Short Stories, Japanese fiction, classics, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen and Virginia Woolf.   I also read a wide variety of short stories and an occasional carefully selected new work.

My blog is the home of Irish Short Story Week centered around St Patrick's Day as well as Indonesian Short Story Week.   I am open to book blog events.  

Every week Jennifer poses an interesting question for us-here is the one for this week which is timed to for Halloween:

“What is your favorite Halloween costume?
Even if you don’t celebrate, what kinds of costumes do you like?”

I do not personally celebrate Halloween but it is a big day here in the Philippines for kids.    In our local community we always have a big kid centered  Halloween party with several costume contests for different age brackets.   

Jenifer has said this will be the last Book Blog Hop in a while so she can ponder the future of the event.   I wish to thank her for her hard work and salute her great community building event.   

If you hop by, please leave a comment so I can return the visit and as always I try hard to follow back all who are kind enough to follow me.

Mel u

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guide to the Ports of the Baltic Sea by Ruffington Bousweau

 Guide to the Ports of  the Baltic Sea by Ruffington Bousweau (1915)

(might not be real)

Ruffy's Guide to the Manly Mediterranean:   Any Port in a Storm is Ruffington Bousweau's most famous work but he also wrote 24 other travel related books.    

 Many traveler writers can tell you about the museums, restaurants, historical places of the port cities of the world only Ruffington Boussweau (1881 to 1974-UK) has the courage to tell the manly man what he  really wants to know.   E.  M. Forster said the chapter on Alexandria taught him more than he learned in a year of living there.  Paul Bowles advised his friends not to come to Tangiers without reading what Ruffy said  first.   Hart Crane met Ruffy in a Parisian Apache bar and  said "Ruffy knows all the best places and gave me some great tips on having fun on a cruise ship".  Ruffy helped with the expenses involved with the publication of The Bridge, though he admits he was never able to get beyond the third page.    Jean Rhys said he was the most handsome man she had ever seen.  She was shocked to learn he had been to Dominica and cruised the Sargasso Sea.  Ruffy was touched but had to decline when she said "no charge for you".   Marcel Proust always made sure he had Ruffy's favorite macaroons on stock whenever he heard he was in Paris.     

Ruffington (or as he loved to say "Oh, Please call me Ruffy, even my houseboys do")  first came to the attention of society when he was the  personal cruise director for Prince Nicholas (to be Czar Nicholas) and Prince Felix Youssovpov  in 1903 when they cruised the major ports of the Mediterranean with the Russian navy.   Ruffy and Felix  met in Naples when Youssovpov was doing his grand tour of Western European  transsexual brothels and they were very close the rest of their lives.    

Ruffy was born in London in 1881.      He attended the most manly of universities, Cambridge, receiving a double fifth  in Greek classics and French studies.   His family wealth, acquired in the slave trade-we can all be proud of the fact that Ruffy always forthrightly acknowledged that this was perhaps not a  morally good business- freed him to travel and enjoy the  sybaritic life style that got him banned from the best places in Europe and sought after in the worst or was it the other way around?   He did his best to make up for his family past business with a very diversified collection of houseboys.   When asked about his shocking to many allegedly passionate romance with a Russian  ballerina reputed to be the mistress of a Grand Duke, he said,  and added a phrase to the English Language, "Any Port  in a storm".    

Guide to the Ports of the Baltic Sea is Ruffy's most politically astute 
work because of the extensive amount of time he spent in St Petersburg and his access to the very top echelons of society through his intimate acquittance with Prince Felix Youssovpov and through him the Royal family.    He explains in depth in a completely convincing fashion why the Romanovs will rule Russia for at least 200 more years.    (He is later to say he still does not understand what the social unrest in Russia was about.   In the whole six months he spent at one of Felix's 200 palaces he never experienced hunger or any type of hardship at all.)

It is very exciting to hear of his encounters and fast developing relationship with one Gregory Rasputin who Ruffy said was the perfect party host and a complete gentlemen, though he acknowledged he needed some help with his wardrobe.     When asked about the secret police Ruffy said, "it is no secret to me, I have lots of policemen friends back in London"  and gave one of the wonderful laughs everyone who was privileged to know him still misses.   

In his chapter on the cultural heritage of Russia he simply says with his characteristic brevity that he hopes to take it in on another trip.    

When asked about the food he said he does not see the fuss over the lack of food in the country (he explains this is simply subversive propaganda started by those jealous of the style sense of Alexandria).   In fact Ruffy wrote what would one day be a famous song about the Czarina's  relationship to the Czar, "Stand by your Man".   

Ruffy also has a brief chapter on Finland, he rates it a skip, too depressing.   In his chapter on Poland he says he has a fond memory of some quite large Polish lancers and closes the chapter with a long account of the operas and slaughter houses of Warsaw.

Ruffy to his great credit never gave up hope on his Czarist bonds.

Ruffy wrote 25 travel guides.    I am very overwhelmed that a patron of my blog from Bangladesh, who has devoted her life to translating the work of Ruffy into Bengali, has sent me all 25 books.   When I asked her why she was spending her life and  tiny part of her immense family fortune on this enterprise she said she wants to give something back to the people of Bangladesh to enjoy for the ages.    One can only marvel at this dedication.    I will be interview her soon on my blog.

Please let me know if you have read any of his other travel books.

Ruffy also spent some time in Japan with Felix and the soon to be Czar.   He talks of this in his very hard to find but still treasured among cognoscenti of the very best of travel writing, Tokyo:  A Manly Man's Guide.   Sections of this book were blocked by censors in most countries on publication for its extensive treatment  of the water world of Tokyo and its veiled suggestions that Czar Nicholas might have been along on these water world ventures.    I will post on this book in November, I hope.

"Terrible Vengeance" by Nikolai Gogol

"Terrible Vengeance" by Nikolai Gogol (1832, 40 pages)

Gogol Goes Gothic

"Terrible Vengeance" (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and included in their The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol) is a story about very evil spirits culminating with the Anti-Christ.   When I first saw that there was going to be a classic circuit event centering on early Gothic literary works I was not sure what I wanted to post about.   My reading and other schedule is too full now to fit in a large scale work so I was happy to see that the very hard working hosts for The Classics Circuit had provided a very good list of suggestions, among them two short stories by Nikolai Gogol (1804 to 1850).

The story opens at a Cossack wedding.   Cossacks had a special place in the Russian psyche.    They were often used as "shock troops" by the Czarist interests and in return for this they were given a large measure of cultural freedom to retain very old folk believes.   They were mostly Christians but they maintained many older views about evil spirits, sorcerers, and curses.  

Two holy icons are brought into the wedding festival.   At the sight of it, one of the guests who had been dancing wildly, turned into a very scary looking creature still in the form of a man but with a sharp chin, green eyes, a beak, and claws.   He then just vanishes from sight.   Of course the guests at the wedding and the wedding family members all see this as a terrible omen.   The action in the story is pretty fast and a little confusing.   Corpses start to come out of the ground.   

The plot line is really strange.   Before it is over people make the mistake off looking in the window of a strange castle only to see the father of one of the groom's best friends preforming strange rituals in which he is commanding his own daughter to marry him.    The plot gets weirder from here but I have told enough to give you the feel for it without spoiling the ending.

I have read the excellent posts from others in the circuit.   No other work reviewed so far seems as strange as this one.

Mel u

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Washington Square by Henry James

Washington Square by Henry James (1880, 178 pages)

Henry James at 16
Washington Square is the forth work by Henry James-(1843-to 1916) I have read since I began my blog in July of 2009.    Prior to today I have posted on one major novels. Portrait of a Lady.   I have also posted on two shorter works, his very widely blogged about work, The Turn of the Screw, and a shorter novel I am very fond of, The Aspern Papers.   Henry James is very high up in the literary canon.  He is universally seen as one of the, if not the greatest, American authors.

Washington Square completely took me by surprise by just how suspenseful it was.   It was originally published in serial fashion and if   I had  been reading this back in 1880 I would have been at the store waiting for each new chapter.    I know some readers will not associate this feeling with Henry James but I was so interested in finding out how the story would end that I was very tempted to skip to the last chapter!

There are four main characters in the novel.   Dr. Sloper, a very successful quite brilliant New York City physician,  his daughter Catherine who is about twenty when we first encounter her, Morris Townsend, her suitor, and her widowed aunt, the sister of the Doctor, who lives with the Doctor and his daughter.   The doctor is a widower and had another child that died at an early age.    His daughter has been left $10,000 a year by her mother (a lot of money in 1880) and her father has told her he will leave her another $20,000.  

The doctor dearly loves his daughter but as a man who prides himself on knowing the truth about people, he sees her as quite plain looking, dull in her personality and perhaps not as intelligent as he would have hoped.    When Morris Townsend begins to call on her and in time professes his love he at once assumes he is a fortune hunter and tells his daughter that no man as handsome as her suitor would be interested in her if it were not for her money.    The doctor investigates the suitor a bit when his daughter insists they will be married and he finds the man lives with and from his sister.     Her near conniving aunt is very taken with Morris and encourages the relationship and does what she can to keep the couple in communication even though her brother forbids this.   The relationship of the aunt (herself a widow) and Morris is just brilliantly depicted and is a masterpiece of character development.

The ending is really heartbreaking.  Washington Square is not a difficult book at all.   There are no 60 word sentences or anything like that.  I really enjoyed this book so much.    I read the very well done Barnes and Noble edition but you can easily download it or read it online.

Mel u

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano

Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano (1996, 227 pages)

Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano (translated 2008 by Chris Andrews) is the forth novel by Bolano (1953 to 2003-Chile) I have read.    I first read his Savage Detectives, then 2066, and most recently By Night in Chile.      To me the English translations of his work is among the very few really important literary developments of the first decade of the 21st  century.  (I read these three books prior to the starting of my blog in July 2009.  I have posted on two of his short stories that were published in The New Yorker.)

Nazi Literature in the Americas is a collection of biographies of purely imaginary literary figures.   All of the authors were sympathizers with various forms of fascism, including the Nazis.   The authors nearly all are quite dysfunctional.   They  go from those born into extreme wealth in the Argentine to those from the slums of the big Latin American cities down to members of prison gangs in the USA.   

The style is kind of "dead pan" with Bolano giving us a series of outrageous biographies each one crazier than the one before it.   There is also an hilarious section at the end of the book describing various periodicals in which the authors works were published.   These imaginary publications range from the legendary The Fourth Reich in Argentina, The Charismatic Church of California Christians,  and a publication of the Aryan Brotherhood, The Fabulous Adventures of the White Nation.

I loved this book.   I thought some of the biographies were just too funny and flat out brilliant (but I grew up reading Mad Magazine and loved Borat so my tastes expand outside the bounds of normal "adult good taste".)    This book kind of reminded me of Spike Lee's wonderful movie C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America in which he presents an account of what the USA would have been like had the south won the civil war and slavery  never outlawed.   I can imagine Voltaire thinking it was a work of genius and I can see Samuel Johnson finding it a waste of talent.

I can see how some might get a bit bored by the book and see it as a joke that goes on too long.   I also think there are probably a lot of topical references to Latin American writers that I probably missed but I think that does not really matter too much.

If you were offended by the  scene in the Mel Brooks move (1968) The Producers during which "Spring Time for Hitler" was preformed, you might not like this book.  

There are a number of excellent blog posts on Nazi Literature in the Americas.   Here are links to three of them

Ready When You are C.B.

Parrish Lantern

Winstondad's Blog

On in lieu of a field guide you will find a lot of valuable and insightful material on Bolano

There is also a group reading of Savage Detectives that is set to begin in January. I really urge anyone interested in Bolano to join with us for this event.

Mel u

Friday, October 21, 2011

Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai 津島修治

Schoolgirl by Osamu  Dazai (1939, translated 2011 by Allison Powell)

The Reading Life Japanese Literature Project

Schoolgirl is the second work by Osamu Dazai-(1909 to 1948-Japan) that I have read. My previous read was No Longer Human.    Both of these titles are among the highest regarded, most read post WWII Japanese novels.  (There is some background information on him in my prior posts.)

I first heard of Schoolgirls in a posting on Nihon Distractions:   Readings in Translated Japanese Literature.   (I urge anyone into Japanese literature and culture to follow that blog.)    The book is a first person narrative of a teenage female whose father  has recently died.   Schoolgirl is the first book that brought Dazai nationwide attention.   It gives us a good look at how life looked to a teenager in Japan just as WWII was getting started.

I think this book should be read after you have read his major works.   The writing level in the translated prose is very high and it does feel like the thoughts of a teenage girl with  a heavy preoccupations with her looks and clothes.

I was provided a complementary Kindle edition of this book by the publisher.

Mel u

Book Blog Hop Oct 21 to Oct 23

Welcome to The Reading Life
Follow Me and I will Follow you Back

I have been an on and off participant in The Book Blogger Hop hosted by Jennifer of Crazy for books for a long time.   I have found it to be a great place to discover new to me blogs and meet some great book bloggers.    

My blog and my reading focus on  ever evolving genres of literature but for now I am very into South Asian Short Stories, Japanese fiction, classics, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen and Virginia Woolf.   I also read a wide variety of short stories and an occasional carefully selected new work.

My blog is the home of Irish Short Story Week centered around St Patrick's Day as well as Indonesian Short Story Week.   I am open to book blog events.  

Every week Jennifer poses an interesting question for us-here is the one for this week which is timed to for Halloween:

“What is your favorite type of candy?”

I like a lot of types of candy-I like Hersey Kisses, Butterfinger Bars, M and Ms, good sour candy etc.   I no longer allow myself to indulge very much but it is fun to think about.

If you drop by leave a comment so I can return the visit-thanks

Mel u

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Silk (a collection of short stories) by Grace Dane Mazur

Silk by Grace Dane Mazur (1996, 237 pages)

My  first encounter with the work of Grace Dane Mazur came when I received her e-mail asking me if I would be interested in reading her book Hinges: Meditations on the  Portals of the Imaginations.   In reading the book I found it to be about a number of things but to me and my blog chief among them was an account of what happens to us when we fall under the spell of a great literary work.   I was so happy when I saw one of the writers she really admired was Katherine Mansfield.   She introduced me to some concepts I will use from now on in trying to understand some of the more mysterious aspects of the reading life.  (My post on this book is here.)

Silk is a collection of eleven short stories by Mazur.   Several of the stories are about the sexual development of a woman we first meet at age ten, Cass.   The stories about Cass are very bold and have the power to shock. She first gets a sense of the notion of sexuality when she watches her aunt, who is enough younger than her mother so she does not see her maternally, enjoying an erotic stimulation from bathing nude from the waist down in a fast flowing stream.    I think Mazur shows incredible narrative skill and subtly with this theme as just as ten year old Cass is confused initially by what her aunt is doing, the reader of the story is also confused as to what is happening and what is going on in the mind of Cass.   In a very shocking story, we see the long term incestuous relationship of the now young adult Cass and her older brother.   This is a very daring story that Mazur powerfully develops and once we understand how it happens we are on the edge of accepting, even though we know we cannot.   

Another reason I liked these stories is that the people in them are into interesting things and talk about them in a way that seems real.  I was simply fascinated in one of the stories when an older woman who was an expert on French cave art speculated about what the music of the painters  of the famous cave images might have been like.   Her account of the recreation of this music was fascinating and made perfect sense.   

The stories are also set in interesting places from the art quarters of Paris, to Cambridge, Ma, to Singapore.  I  really enjoyed it when one of the characters buys a durian at a Vietnamese market for her boyfriend.   Durians smell so bad that airlines in Thailand, where they are common, will not let people on the plane carrying them.   They are also so heavy, imagine a bowling ball with protruding spikes, that every year several people sitting under a durian tree (OK not a bright place to take a nap) are killed when a falling fruit hits their head.   I have had several times Durian meringue pie and I really like it but it might not be for everyone.  

The people in the stories also have interesting professions they are passionate about, not just jobs.   Some of the characters work are curators in museums and some do research work on silkworms, something the author did herself for years.   The title story, "Silk" centers on the life of a woman who has dedicated her working life to the study of silk worm eggs.  I learned a lot about silk worms from this story and one other one also.   

Silk is a wonderfully collection of short stories about interesting engaged by life people, sometimes hurt and pushed into partially destructive behavior by loneliness.   It also about competition of women for men.   

The prose in these stories is exquisite.   There is a lot to be learned from these stories but that is an incidental pleasure.   At places I gasped at the beauty of the stories.   

Mazur has an  extremely interesting and impressive background.   She has a PhD in Biology from Harvard.   For ten years she was the fiction editor of the Harvard Review.    

There is a lot more information on Mazur on her web page.

Mel u

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Khushwant Singh ਖ਼ੁਸ਼ਵੰਤ ਸਿੰਘ Two Short Stories About Indian Life under the British Raj

"Karma" (5 pages, 1957)
"Portrait of a Lady" (6 pages, 1969)

Indian Literature on The Reading Life

A Darkly Humorous Look at Life Under the British Raj

Khushwant Singh (1915-Hadali, Khushab, British India-now Pakinstan) is one of the best known Anglo-Indian writers.   At ninety six years old (I think he still has a weekly newspaper column) he is one of the  premier Anglo-Indian authors.   He was born into a Sikh family and initially pursued a career as an attorney.    He was driven to begin writing in a reflective often acerbic way about life in the Indian subcontinent by his experiences of the 1947 Partition of India.   He was very traumatized when just prior to the Partition of India he encountered a platoon of soldiers of his faith who boasted to him that they had just completely massacred a  peaceful village of Muslims, men, women and children.   I am glad I found a collection of his short stories online at Google Books.   I enjoyed the works I read, all were very intelligent, highly perceptive and in some cases, wickedly funny, perfectly written stories that I think most potential readers would really enjoy.   He has published over twenty five books so this is just a very small sample of Singh's work.  (There is more information on him here.)

"Karma" is very acid, almost cruelly funny story about Sir Mohan Lal, a man who is portrayed as being in love with the British and every thing about their culture. He can be said to be an Indian version of "Uncle Tom".    He regards anything Indian as inferior.   He sees anything from India as stupid, dirty and inefficient compared to an English counter part.   This contempt extends to the people of India and his own wife.   You can almost feel the bloated way he insists to himself that he is "Sir Lal" and he is sure the English see him as their equal.     He and his wife are going on a train trip.   His wife does not feel comfortable in the first class cabin that Sir Lal insists he must ride in so she rides in the back in second class.    Two English soldiers board the train in the first class section.   They are very annoyed when they see Lal in the compartment.   He tries to speak to them but they cannot figure out what he is saying (the English soldiers are from the bottom rank of society based on their dialect).   The soldiers look upon him almost as if he were a monkey trying to speak English.  Then one of them says "throw the  nigger off the train".   The next thing "Sir Lal" is seen face down on the train platform as his astonished wife looks out on him from second class as the train pulls away.  

 "Portrait of a Lady" is a much gentler story.   It looks at the very long term relationship of a young man to his grandmother.   It is beautifully done and gives us a good look at family life and the falling away of cultural traditions.   There are deep layers of irony in the title's echo of Henry James.

I will post on  more of his stories in November, I hope.

If you do a search you can find these stories at Google Books.

Please share with us your experience with South Asian short stories.

Mel u

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto よしもと ばなな

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto (1989, 176 pages, translated by Michael Emmerich)

"No small art is it to sleep: it is necessary for that purpose to keep awake all day" - Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Japanese Literature on The Reading Life

Banana Yoshimoto (1964, Tokyo) is one of my favorite contemporary writers.    I have her on my read everything that has been translated list.   I think either her Kitchen (her most popular work among book bloggers) or Goodbye Tsugumi (my personal favorite) would be a good first Japanese novel.  

Asleep consists of three long short stories about young women in love with sleeping and confused about their lives.

Like many of her works, death is at the center of these pieces.    All are unconventional love stories.    One story involves the central character's relationship with a now dead woman with whom she once lived.    The deceased woman had an unconventional job that she admits is kind of like being a prostitute.   She sleeps with people for money but she does not have sex with them and they do not want it from her.    All the people want is not to be alone and have the illusion that someone cares about them.  

All the stories are very interesting and emotionally involving.   Sometimes a good nights sleep can solve a lot of problems.  

Please share with us your experience with Banana Yoshimoto.

Mel u

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Runaway by Alice Munro

Runaway by Alice Munro (2004, 335 pages)

Runaway by Alice Munro (1930-Ontario, Canada) is a collection of eight short stories.    All the stories are set in Canada, mostly in Ontario, and all have as their central characters women more or less trying to runaway from the circumstances  that trap them.    Most of the stories are about thirty five pages long, with the final story being twice as long as the others.    (I have previously posted on the title story from the collection, "Runaway".)

Most of the women in the stories come from small towns in Ontario.   I was pleased to see that several of them are very literate.   The stories are about the accidents that shape our lives, in fact in two  of the stories this is literally true as car accidents play a big part in some of the plots.   Some of the characters do seem a bit lost and some of them or their daughters ended up married to doctors.    Munro packs a lot of life into thirty pages and make the years fly by for us.  

I got a good feeling for what life must be like in the Canadian winter from these stories.     Many people who have only lived in tropical climates like the Philippines find it hard to relate to the closed in feeling such harsh winters can impart to lives.    Living in a climate dominated by rain cycles seems to me to shape the psyche in ways very different from one dominated by long periods of potentially killing cold.

I enjoyed reading these stories a lot and I can see why Munro is such a highly regarded short story writer.    If you were to take a poll among short story lovers as to who the best living writer in the genre was, I think most people would say "Alice Munro" unless they are from Ireland and then "William Trevor" might be the pick.

Munro has published ten collections of short stories.   I will next read her The View from Castle Rock, probably in 2012.

Please let us know of your experience with Munro.

Mel u

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Pigeons" by Coelho Netto

"Pigeons" by Coelho Netto (1895, 21 pages)

Ninetieth Century Brazilian Short Stories-Part III of IV
The Wuthering Expectations Portuguese Literature Challenge

Inspired by the The Wuthering Expectations Portuguese Literature Challenge of Amateur Reader, I have begun for the first time ever in my reading life to explore 19th century Brazilian short stories.   

Coelho Netto (Rio de Janeiro-1864 to 1934) followed a familiar path to his fiction.    After completing law school he began to write for magazines and newspapers and from there he developed the confidence and skills to write fiction.   He was also involved in politics, being at one time a member of the Brazilian congress representing part of the Rio area.   His father was of Portuguese descent, his mother of indigenous background.   Many of his stories and novels are about the lives and folk ways of the very multifarious Indian societies of Brazil.      Of course almost no one from such a back ground could have read his stories in 1895 so he is presenting a view of Indian society that conforms to Portuguese mentalities of the time.

"The Pigeons" centers on a married couple of Indian heritage who are terribly worried over a sick infant son.    They have no access to real medical care for the boy.    The biggest preoccupation  of the husband has always been his pigeons.   He maintains a roost for them and feeds them.   It is never made clear if this is in part an economic activity or not.    As the boy seems to get sicker and sicker he notices the pigeons are leaving the roost.   He and his wife both take this as an omen of the coming death of the boy.    The man takes his anxiety out on the pigeons.   He destroys the roost he has maintained for years and the pigeons flee in terror.    Two young nestlings fall to the ground.   He picks them up and in his frustration and pain, he wrings their necks and throws them to the ground.   Just as he does this he hears a scream from his wife that their beloved so much wished for son is dead.   The wife tells him that the boy died at the exact time he killed the two baby birds.   

This just a simple story that gives us a window on another time and place and lets us see the common humanity in people that may at first seem very remote to us.   

"The Pigeons" is included in Brazilian Tales, a collection of pre-1920 short stories selected, introduced and translated by Issac Goldberg.   

You can download this book from Project Gutenburg in several different formats.

I plan to post on one more 19th century Brazilian short story next week.   

Mel u

Friday, October 14, 2011

Welcome to All Book Blog Hoppers-Oct 14 to Oct 17

Welcome to The Reading Life
Follow Me and I will Follow you Back

I have been an on and off participant in The Book Blogger Hop hosted by Jennifer of Crazy for books for a long time.   I have found it to be a great place to discover new to me blogs and meet some great book bloggers.    

My blog and my reading focus on  ever evolving genres of literature but for now I am very into South Asian Short Stories, Japanese fiction, classics, Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O'Connor, Elizabeth Bowen and Virginia Woolf.   I also read a wide variety of short stories and review an occasional carefully selected new work.

My blog is the home of Irish Short Story Week centered around St Patrick's Day as well as Indonesian Short Story Week.   I am open to book blog events.  

Every week Jennifer poses an interesting question for us-here is the one for this week:

“What is your favorite spooky book (i.e. mystery/suspense, thriller, ghost story, etc.)?”

Good question as always.   I have recently been posting on a number of classic paranormal writers.   If I had to pick a favorite work  it would be Carmilla by Sheridan le Fanu.   His name might not sound Irish but he is one of Ireland's leading writer of ghost and Gothic stories and Carmilla is the first ever treatment of lesbian vampires in world literature.   

If you decide to follow my blog, please leave a comment so I can follow you back.   If you want you can also leave a link to your own hop page in a comment.

Feature and Follow Friday

I am also and on and off again follower of The Feature and Follow Book Blog Hop.   Here is the question for the week

Q: If you could Weicharacters from a book meet and form an epic storyline with characters from a TV series, which characters would you choose and why?

OK I would have some fun with this and combine the characters of the old Adams Family show with those of True Blood for a hilarious low camp show!

Mel u