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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fairy and Folk Tales of The Irish Peasantry by William Butler Yeats-March 23 to March 29-

March 23 to March 29
Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasants
The Best of Stories as Selected by
William Butler Yeats

Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week Year Two, March 12 to March 22.   All you need do is post on one short story by an Irish author and send me a comment on and e mail and I will include it in the master post at the end of the challenge.  

Irish Short Story Week Year Two is scheduled for March 12 to March 22.  I have begun to write my posts for this period and I an finding such a richness of material that I have decided to add on a kind of bonus week focused on short stories that deal directly with the folk and fairy tales of old Ireland.   This decision was prompted by my reading of some of the works in Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasants by William Butler Yeats.   There are stories about changelings, ghosts, witches, giants, the devil, legendary Kings and Queens from the very old days, and lots of fairy stories.   There is also, of course, a wonderful story about a leprechaun that makes shoes for fairies.   There are stories by William Carleton, Oscar Wilde's mother, and lots  of  authors I have never heard of but whom Yeats says are great writers.   I will be posting on a story or two a day from this collection.   You can download it as I did from Manybooks.

I hope you will join us.  All you have to do if you want to participate is to do a post on a Short Story by an Irish  author and either leave me a comment with a link to it or send me the post data by e mail.  I will announce the posts and will also do, as I did last year, a master post spotlighting the participating blogs.   Last year posts were done by book bloggers from all over the world on a total of sixty short stories.

My Schedule for Irish Short Story Week-Year Two

This is my tentative schedule (there is no suggestion at all that anyone else needs to follow this.  Post on whatever you want, please.)

Day 1.   The Irish Diaspora-Stories by George Moore, Liam O'Flattery, and James Joyce

Day 2.  Oscar Wilde Day-don't be surprise if his mother stops by!

Day 3.  The Irish Roots of the Gothic/Paranormal Story-Lord Dunsany and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Day 4.  Historic Old Stories-Maria Edgeworth, Edith Somerville with Martin Ross,  and William Carleton

Day 5.  Elizabeth Bowen Day (she and Lord Dunsany will be hosting anyone who needs a place to stay)

Day 6.  The 21th Century-

Day 7 -a great romance story by Sean O'Faolain and one by is daughter Julia

Day 8. Stories about priests by William Trevor and Daniel Corkery

Day 9.  Australian Irish Women Day  Stories-in honor of my great Australian Readers-anybody  with an Irish Grandparent counts

Day 10.    open

If  you have any suggestions or questions related to Irish Story Story Week Year Two please let feel free to leave what ever comments you wish, including suggestions for refreshments and snacks.

Mel u

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008, 318 pages)

Aravind Adiga (Madras, India, 1974) won the 2008 Man Booker Prize (awarded for a book written by a citizen of  the British Commonwealth, in English) for his debut novel, The White Tiger.    His family all emigrated to Australia.   He studied English Literature at Columbia University in New York City and at Oxford.   He began his career as an author as a journalist.   He was for three years employed by Time as a South Asia correspondent.   During this period he wrote The White Tiger.

The White Tiger is told from the point of view of a man from poverty stricken rural India who learns how to drive after he finds out how much wealthy families pay their drivers.    He goes door to door all over the wealthy neighborhoods of New Delhi knocking on door looking for work as a driver.   He lucks out and gets hired to be a driver for a family, a father, his son and his daughter in law, newly returned from America and from another caste than her husband, a taboo.

The novel is told through a series of letters to the prime minister of China about seven days in the life of the driver.    When he begins his job Balram is very grateful to have work and wants no more than to be a good servant to the family.  He very much looks up to them but "no man is a hero to his footman".    Soon he is driving the son and his wife to fancy malls and five star restaurants, places he is not even allowed to go inside.  He sees how corrupt Indian society seems to be and is more and more jealous of the wealth of a small minority of people in India.

I think this novel does a very good job of bringing to life for those without direct experience the great contrast between the worldly  Mansions, glittering malls, internet millionaires, American back office headquarters and the real world of the average Indian, as seen by the driver.   More and more he sees the poor as sheep and fools and the rich as venal and corrupt.    The novel also does a good job of bringing out the role of castes in Indian society today.   In the law caste discrimination maybe illegal but if the world depicted in The White Tiger is at all accurate, it is very much alive.

The White Tiger shows us how the rich and their servants live.

The lead character escapes his poverty. He is not a real sympathetic character but I admit I was in some perverse way happy for him.

I  am glad I read this book and will soon read his second novel and his collection of short stories.

If you have read the work of Adiga please share your thoughts with us.

Mel u

Friday, February 24, 2012

Father and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Fathers and Son by Ivan Turgenev (1862, 204 pages, translated by Richard Hare)

Prior to today I have posted on two short stories by Ivan Turgenev (1818 to 1883, Russia) and his novella, Diary of a Superfluous Man.   (There is some additional background information on Turgenev in my prior posts on him.)\

Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week Year Two, March 12 to March 22.   All you need do is post on one short story by an Irish author and send me a comment or and e mail and I will include it in the master post at the end of the challenge.  

Fathers and Sons is a very important European novel, listed on most best 100 novels of all time lists.  It is included by Clifton Fadiman in his The Life Time Reading Plan.   Turgenev was a close friend of Gustave  Flaubert.

Fathers and Sons was the first Russian work to be widely read out side of the country.   As the novel opens two young men fresh from the university go for a visit to the modest country estate of the father of  Arkady.   His father feels a bit uncomfortable as he has recently had a child with one of the servant women and has kept this from his son.    The son's friend is an advocate of nihilism, a new philosophy that repudiates all ideas that cannot be scientifically proved.    The friend, Bazarov, strongly condemns everything about life in Russia from the Czar to the peasants.

I do not see a need or wish to give a plot summery (there is one here if you are doing your homework).

The power in this book is in several things.   One of them, as the title suggests, is its its brilliant portrayal of the relationship between the two young men and their fathers.   Another is in its portrayal of the coming changes in Russia, the Russian Revolution was still over fifty years in the future.   We can see the radical Bazarov is not really ready to turn everything over to the peasants.  There are also beautiful descriptions of the natural wonders of rural Russia.   Bazarov gets in a duel over a petty point of honor, he is still enough of a traditionalist to hold to old codes of honor.    One of the most moving parts of the book is when Bazarov goes to visit his own parents, very traditional people who love their son with all their heart but have no comprehension of what is behind his strange and radical to them views.

I really enjoyed reading Fathers and Sons.   It is not hard to read or follow at all.

I plan to begin to read the stories in his Sportsman's Sketches soon.   Please share your experience with  Turgenev with us.

Mel u

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac

Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac (1846, 441 pages, some times translated as Cousin Betty)

"Money changes everything
Money, money changes everything
We think we know what we're doin'
That don't mean a thing
It's all in the past now
Money changes everything"  Tom Gray

Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week Year Two, March 12 to March 22.   All you need do is post on one short story by an Irish author and send me a comment or and e mail and I will include it in the master post at the end of the challenge

Honore de Balzac (1799 to 1850, France) was a veritable writing factory.    He is one of the highest regarded of French writers of the 19th century, perhaps second to Victor Hugo.   In A Life Time Reading Plan Clifton Fadiman lists two works by Balzac, Pere Goriot and Eugene Grandet.  He says he thinks one of the reasons Balzac is not read more than he is (written in 1960) is that it is very hard to know where to start among the literally hundreds of novels that might be by Balzac (he hired helpers to write for him) and also he no works that are considered dominant masterworks.   

Cousin Bettiie is set in Paris in the 1840s.   The plot centers on the attempt of one of the female members of an extended family to destroy everyone else.   It is really about money.   I did not count the references to Francs but it seems at least every other page had a reference to the cost of something or how much money someone had as their annual income.   

Bette (Betty in some translations) use her more attractive female friend to seduce and ruin several member of her family.   The female characters in the novel are either very virtious or very nasty and vindictive.   

The men in the novels are mostly slaves to their own sexual desires and to their easily preyed upon vanity.   

Cousin Bette paints a vivid very detailed and realistic portrait of Parisian society.   Bette is often described using animal imagery and my post read research indicates her name is French slang for "Breast"    Marriage is pretty close to a form of prostitution in the world of this novel.   There maybe some elements of sexual attraction between the women in the novel.

There are also political themes in the novel.   Balzac  favored the return of the Bourbons to the throne and greatly admired Napoleon.   The moral decay portrayed the novel is partially to be seen as the result of what Balzac sees as the decay of old values and a falling away from strict Catholicism.

Cousin Bette is a an important work for anyone into the 19th century novel.   The plot kept my attention.   I would not judge it to be a light or casual read but it is a must for those with a serious interest in French culture and stands up in comparison, in my opinion, to the second rank of the works of the major 19th century English novelists writing about society, class, men and women, and money.

I downloaded this work from Manybooks.   

Please share your experiences with Balzac.   If one were going to read only one or two of his works, what would you suggest?

Words and Peace does a very interesting meme every Thursday, I Love France, where we are asked to leave notes of our posts on anything related to France and this will be my contribution for this week

Mel u

Monday, February 20, 2012

Irish Short Story Week March 12 to March 22-my tentative reading plans

Irish Short Story Week Year II
March 12 to March 22
My Tentative Reading Plans.

Resources and Ideas for Irish Short Story Week

Long List of Female Irish Authors with lots of Links

The home of Irish women writers on the web

All of the Irish Women Authors listed on Wikipedia

Please consider joining us for Irish Short Story Week Year Two, March 12 to March 22.   All you need do is post on one short story by an Irish author and send me a comment or and e mail and I will include it in the master post at the end of the challenge.  

Irish Short Story Week, always set around St. Patrick's Day (March 17 this year) will be from March 12 to March 22.   Last year a total of about 60 different stories were posted on by people from all over the world.   

Writers of Irish short stories pretty much have set the tone for much of the cultural and literary trends of the last 100 years.   Bram Stroker and Joseph Sheridan La Fanu basically started the vampire craze that is still going strong all over the movies and TV now as well as in books.   Oscar Wilde helped create a new sensibility, that of camp, that has opened up an entire new way of looking at the world.    Among Irish short story writers are James Joyce, most important 20th century and beyond novelist, Samuel Beckett the most important 20th century playwright, and William Butler Yeats, for sure the greatest poet of the Twentieth century and for me one of the very greatest of all times.    Stepping down from Mount Parnasssus, we have wonderful writers like my literary love, Elizabeth Bowen to represent the Anglo-Irish.   Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu is considered among the very best writers of Ghost and Fairy stories.   Not bad for a country just a little bit bigger than the American state of West Virginia and less than one percent the size of Australia.

Here are my tentative plans for the ten day week

Day One-stories related to the Irish Diaspora by George Moore, Liam O' Flaherty, and James Joyce

Day Two   Oscar Wilde

Day Three Irish Gothic-Lord Dunsany and Joseph Sheridan la Fanu

Day Four-historic roots-maybe James Stephens

Day Five-Elizabeth Bowen Day

Day Six-More from two Irish Authors whose works I have reviewed

Day Seven-Fairy Tales

Day 8-Frank O'Connor Day

Day 9-Open

Day 10-Open-may expand this to American and Australian writers from the second generation.

Mel u

Saturday, February 18, 2012

"The Wedding Dance" by Amador T. Daguio-Short Stories of the Philippines -Post # 3

"The Wedding Dance" by Amador Daguio (1953, 5 pages)

Nothing Can Destroy the Faith and Strength of the Philippines- Mel u, November 10, 2013, comments welcome

Pliant is the bamboo; 
I am man of earth; 
They say that from the bamboo 
We had our first birth. 

Am I of the body, 
Or of the green leaf? 
Do I have to whisper 
My every sin and grief? 

If the wind passes by, 
Must I stoop and try 
To measure fully 
My flexibility? 

I might have been the bamboo, 
But I will be a man. 
Bend me then, O Lord, 
Bend me if you can.

1932, "Man of Earth" by Amador Daguio

I highly recommend any one interested in learning more about Amador Daguio
visit the definitive web page maintained by his son Danny Daguio. I offer my great thanks to Danny for allowing me to post this copy written image of his father.  I hope he may soon honor us with a guest post sharing some of his first hand precious insights with us.

My Prior Posts on the Literature of the Philippines

Prior Two Posts for the Short Stories of the Philippines Project

1. Dead Stars and A Night in the Hills by Paz Marquez Benitez

2. Servant Girl and Magnificence by Estrella Alfon

Today is the third post for  what I hope will be a long term project featuring  short story writers from the Philippines.   In a joint venture with Nancy Cudis of Simple Clockwork we will be spotlighting once or twice a  month the work of a short story writer from the Philippines.   Nancy is based in Cebu City and focuses according to her profile on  PHILIPPINE LITERATURE, CLASSICS, CHILDREN'S and MIDDLE-GRADE BOOKS, CHRISTIAN FICTION, and clean ROMANCE.    Her blog is just getting started and I can already tell she has a great passion for what she does and I hope a lot of my readers will also follow her blog.    

Be sure and read the post on Simpleclock Work for an insight into the literature  and culture of Cebu  that you will find no where else. 

Last week in the company of a large group of friends and neighbors my wife and I with our youngest daughter went on a road trip from Manila to Vigan in the Ilocos province in the northern part of Luzon.   Vigan is a UNESCO world heritage site as it is the best preserved European colonial city in Asia.   Vigan through some lucky circumstances was spared the destructive effects of WWII and is a virtual living museum with old houses, museums and churches everywhere.   Cars are not allowed on the main street of the town so as to preserve the ambiance.    The trip up from Manila via charted bus was not a short one and the roads are under construction but the slow pace of the drive lets you see the beautiful countryside and much of the trip is along the Sea of China so there are lots of great photo opportunities.   Ilocos has its own language, culture and food heritage so it is a great place to visit for a day or a month or more.

Our third posting  on a short story by an author from the Philippines will be on a writer from the Ilocos province, Amador Daguio.    Dagui was born in 1912 in the Ilocos province.   His father was an officer in the national police of the Philippines.   He lived with his uncle in Manila while attending high school as there were no high schools in his home area.   During this period he became very lonely and was driven to write poetry to express his feelings, one of which was published in a national publication while he was still in high school.   In 1932 he graduated with honors from the University of the Philippines.   He returned to the area where he grew up and worked as  a teacher and married a local woman.  During WWII he joined the resistance and would eventually publish a well regarded collection of poems about his experiences during the war years.   He is primarily known as a poet but also wrote some wonderful short stories.

In 1953 he received a Fulbright grant to study at Stanford University in California where he studied the short story.   For Twenty Six years after returning from the USA he taught at the University of the East and the University of the Philippines.   He passed away in 1966 and in 1973 he was awarded the National Cultural Award.  

"The Wedding Dance" was first published in 1953 by Stanford University in an annual publication of works by participants in their literary programs.    It is a very moving and beautifully written story that lets us see a way of life most know little about and is set in  a nearly forgotten culture, that of the  tribal people of northern Luzon.   Marriage in this culture was seen as more or less a contract between a man and a woman  for the purposes of producing children.   If after seven harvests, there is no child, either party is free to break the bond and seek another spouse.   A childless couple was seen as a very sad matter and often the masculinity of the husband was considered suspect.   

As the story opens the man is telling his beloved wife he is sorry this has to happen, he is sorry he must take another wife as she has proved barren (leaving aside medical fact it might be him).   He offers her part of their land but she refuses.   He tells her she should go to the wedding dance for his new marriage to show she is accepting of what is happening.   She refuses all but some beads he gave her.    She is still the most attractive woman in the community, the best homemaker and the best at growing crops.    It is really a heartbreaking story as I could sense the man did not want to do this but community pressures and cultural norms were driving him to divorce a woman he truly loved for one he cares little about.  

The ending is beautifully done and leaves opens what will happen to the wife.   She really seems like a "perfect wife" and one cannot help but feel the man is foolish and to make it worse, he knows it.  

You can read this story online here.   I really strongly recommend the reading of this story both for its very high intrinsic artistic value and for its cultural import.

I have recently found a large number of older short stories by authors from the Philippines online so the project can go on for a very long time.   This is not a closed project.   Any and all are very welcome to join in.   We sort of prefer that all post on the same writer each time but we are not rigid on this.   If you have never read anything by an author from the Philippines this is a good opportunity and if you are a life time reader then please share your knowledge with us.

Carried on long enough, I hope our project can become a resource for anyone interested in learning about the literature of the Philippines.  

Our next post will be March 1.

Mel u

Friday, February 17, 2012

"The Crocodile" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"The Crocodile"  by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1865, 34 pages, translated by Constance Garnett)

"The Crocodile"  by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 to 1881-Russia) is flat out strange!    If I had read this work not  knowing who wrote it and been asked to guess the author I would have first guessed Franz Kafka, then Nikolai Gogol, then I would have been wide open who might be but I think I would not have guessed the author's name for a long time.

The story is told in the first person about what happens after the narrator's friend, Ivan Matveich, is swallowed alive by a crocodile that was being shown in a sort of traveling zoo run by a German and his wife.    Ivan begins to tease the crocodile and he ends up inside the stomach of the crocodile which he finds quite comfortable.   Ivan's wife insists that the crocodile be cut open to release her husband but the German refuses permission for this unless he is paid a huge price for him as he feels the crocodile will attract a lot more customers now that he has a a life person inside him.   It turns out Ivan is quite comfortable in side the beast and has no urgent wish to leave.   He feels he will attract a lot of attention as the man inside the crocodile and he can give his views on politics and economics to the world.

There are a lot of social references in the story as well as satirically intended conversations about economic theory.   It is really a funny work and know I have not conveyed this.   My post read research indicated that "The Crocodile" was sort of a satire on the writings of Russian socialists.

You can easily find it online.   It is not "heavy reading" or anything like that.   It really is a "fun" read by an author we normally do not describe in that way!

Mel u

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"The Pupil" by Henry James

"The Pupil" by Henry James (1891, 32 pages)

Mr. C-1992 to 2012-
Cherished Always-
"The Pupil" by Henry James is one of the seven short stories I read on the day that we buried our beloved Cat,  Mr C.    In a world that sometimes seems senseless, Henry James is a source of great order and wisdom.   I have previously posted on four of his novels and two of his most famous short stories.

By   coincidence this story, like his wonderful easy to read short novel, The Aspern Papers, "The Pupil" is partially set in Venice, so I will include it as part of my participation in February in Venice hosted by  Ally from Snow Feathers and Dolce Bellezza.

"The Pupil" is a rather strange story.    Like several of the major works of James (1843 to 1916 USA), one of the central characters is a child, in this case a teenage boy who we first meet at age 11.   "The Pupil" has four main characters the young Pupil, his dishonest parents, and his tutor, the young recent Oxford graduate, Mr. Pemberton.    Pemberton is promised, of course, a salary but when he tries to ask what he will be paid, he is not given a straight answer.   In fact over the course of nearly two years with the family as they move from one hotel to another in Europe, skipping out on the bills, he is never paid anything.

The mother in the family, a truly nasty woman, uses emotional blackmail on the tutor employing his growing fondness for the boy as leverage when he does demand wages.   The boy knows the tutor is not being paid and he knows his parents are using the tutor for free lessons.   The tutor knows it also but he is so fond of the boy he does not want to quit his job.   He also has no money so he is kind of stuck as they do feed and house him.   One day a good friend finds the tutor a very well paying job with a decent affluent family and he takes it.    What happens next is really powerfully tragic.

As the story closes, the family moves to Venice and there are numerous references to places in Venice in the story.

"The Pupil" can easily be found online.

Mel u

Notes on the passing of Mr C, blog co-editor of The Reading Life

"The Jew" by Ivan Turgenev (1846, 35 pages, translated by Constant Garnett)
Mr C , A Truer Friend there Never Was
1992 to 2012
Yesterday was a very sad one for my family.   On Valentine's Day our beloved cat, Mr C (also known as Charles or Charlie) passed away at 19.5 years, nearly 100 for us.    He was strong up until the last few months of his life and he did have a great life.   We took him yesterday to the ancestral home of my wife where we buried him next to his beloved brother Yoda who passed away three years ago at 16.5.   Charles has been by my side for so long it is hard to imagine him not sitting next to me as I type.   He was older than my oldest daughter and strongly helped me get through the worse part of my own life when my mother passed away.     He will always be missed by us all.   Not many cats live to 19.5 and he fought off several illnesses in the last couple of years.    He had a very powerful personality and demanded constant affection and attention and he did have us trained to cater to his every need and  whim.

The ancestral property is about 250 Kilometers from Manila and about 50 years back in time.   It is a lovely place on a lake and right across the street from the Sea of China.   There are huge mango trees, wild and cultivated orchids and it is located on the main north-south highway.   The air there is so clean and fresh it is a pleasure just to breath.   My wife and her sister had some business to do so I stayed behind and sat on the front porch enjoying the wonderful view and peace.   I took my Ipad along, no wifi up there, and decided to help me get into a better frame of mind I would read short stories by writers of the highest quality.    I ended up over seven hours or so reading two stories by Ivan Turgenev, one by Henry James, one by Anton Chekhov, a very weird story by  Dostoevsky,  a marvelous story by Tolstoy and an Irish fairy tale by James Stephens that anybody who reads will love (Stephens will be a featured writer during Irish Short Story Week Year Two March 12 to March 22).   I will post on all of these stories as a tribute to Charlie.  

In the very opening pages of his magisterially study, The March of Literature, Ford Madox Ford lists the short stories of Ivan Turgenev (1818 to 1883-Russia) as among the supreme artistic achievements of all time.   Frank O'Connor in the only book worth reading on the short story, The Lonely Voice, names two of Turgenev's short stories as the absolute best in the world.  (There is some background information on him in my prior posts on two of his works).

"The Jew"  (not the most politically correct title for a short story) is a story told by a colonel in the Russia army in which he is reminiscing for his men about his younger days in the army.    He does talk about the Jewish character in the story, a man of forty or so who hangs on the margins of the army camp looking to find ways to make money off of the soldiers and officers of the Russian army, in a grossly antisemitic fashion.    This does not, of course, mean that Turgenev is antisemitic.   (There is also nothing in the story to clear him from this claim.)  

The colonel tells his men of how bored he was during a long siege of a town.    He says he was so bored that when the Jew offered to provide him with a woman (in exchange for a fee to himself and  the woman)  he agreed.   Of course the Colonel wants to tells his men a story that will make him "one of the boys" and a story about an encounter with a prostitute will do the trick.

The woman shows up, young with dark hair and beautiful white skin and so lovely.   She either does not know why she is there or is a great actress but she does nothing with the Colonel and leaves with a Gold coin.   The Colonel is outraged when the Jew comes the next day to ask him if he was satisfied with the woman.   The Colonel demands his money back but instead the Jew says he will bring the woman tonight and he will explain to her what she is supposed to do so there is no possibility of misunderstanding.

I do not want to spoil the plot of this pure gem of a story so I will tell no more of what happens.   It does give us a good look at life in the Russian army between wars and at attitudes toward Jews in the 1840s.  This is just a great short story.    Of the stories I read, it is a toss up if this or "Crocodile" by Dostoevsky is the most interesting story.

You can download it from Manybooks along with a lot of other works by Turgenev.   My quick research indicates he wrote 57 works that are considered short stories (many are longer stories).  I for sure have it in my plans to read all of them.    I will be read his masterwork Fathers and Sons, very soon.

I will post on all the stories I mentioned over the course of the next few days.  

I do not mean to make anyone sad in my account of the passing of Mr C but the book blog world has a lot of cat lovers among its members who I feel will understand.

Mel u

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Death In Venice by Thomas Mann

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (1912, sixty pages)

Last year I read and was totally overwhelmed by the power and depth behind Thomas Mann's (1875 to 1955-Germany) The Magic Mountain.   It as if all of European culture were almost summed up in one work.    When I saw Ally from Snow Feathers and Dolce Bellezza were jointly hosting an event this month, February in Venice,  in which participants are asked to read books about or set in Venice I knew at once I wanted to read Death in Venice this month.  

The story is about a writer of highly regarded literary works who feels his creativity needs the stimulation that a trip to Venice has often brought him in the past so he books sea passage from Germany to Venice.   Shortly after his arrival in Venice, the author sees a stunningly beautiful young man of fourteen and develops and obsessive interest in him that may in fact be the results of the central character's latent homosexuality producing an erotic fixation on an idealized never to be realized love object.

Gustav von Aschenbach is a man of extreme refinement totally dedicated to his art.    He is held in the highest esteem in German cultural circles.   On the boat trip to Venice the author is somehow repulsed by a man about his age with a party of much younger man who is trying to act as if he were young.   I got the feeling this was an allusion to the other man being gay and this revolted Aschenbach.    Of course those most revolted by a life style other than their own are often acting out of fear of their own hidden impulses.

The author begins to follow the young man and his family all over Venice so he can see the boy.   He finds it necessary to speak of his fixation on the boy through the filter of the views on beauty expressed in Plato's Phaderus.   There are some very interesting comments on theories in the dialogue and I think I will have to reread this dialogue soon (it has been decades since I read any Plato).

I do not wish to tell more of the plot.    There are big themes, as one would expect, in this work.   The question as to whether or not Aschebach is a latent homosexual pedophile is central to the book.

I would endorse this book to anyone who likes a novel of ideas.   If you do not like works in which characters reflect in a fairly high level fashion on abstruse philosophical issues then Death in Venice might not work for you.    I really enjoyed this work a lot.   I must say I thought the ending was really brilliant and deeply ironic.   I think this book would repay well repeated readings.   Venice is beautifully described in many passages of Death in Venice.

Please share your experience with a Thomas Mann with us.

Mel u

Monday, February 13, 2012

Silas Marner by George Eliiot

Silas Marner by George Eliot (1861, 210 pages)

Silas Marner is the first work of George Eliot (1819 to 1880-UK) I have ever read.   I picked it as my first Eliot because it is the shortest of her eight novels.   Her great masterwork is, of course, Middlemarch.  Based on my great liking for Silas Marner, I will be over the next few months be reading all of her novels in publication order.   (There is a good article on her life and career here.)

Silas Marner is a weaver.   He is wrongly accused of a crime and he leaves the town he grew up in.   He is a very hard working man, bothering no one.   He lives simply and frugally and manages to save a good bit of money for a working man.   He is robbed.   He then loses most of his interest in life but he goes on until he finds a dead woman in the snow who has left her baby daughter at Silas's door.

Lots going on here in terms of subplots involving two brothers but the girl who he raises sort of  humanizes the rough bachelor and turns into the greatest joy in his life.    I really liked it when the novel flashed ahead in part two sixteen years ahead in time so we could see how things will work out.

There are deep powerfully developed themes here.    Faith, hope, loyalty, faith in God, are among them.   Eliot is a very serious writer and this is a serious book.   It is not hard to read or ponderous, or at least it did not seem so to me.   I liked it so much that I will be reading all of her novels soon, I hope.

I know I have not spoken on other than to mention themes but maybe I will in subsequent posts on Eliot.   Her prose is majestic and her insights are brilliant and may shock a bit with their acuity.   Some might see her as heavy handed in pushing for the moral themes in her fiction and I can see that.   The plot of the two brother is not as strong as it might be but this is a gem of a novel by a a writer from the very center of the Canon of the English novel.

Please share your experience with Eliot with us.

Mel u

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"The Night of the Ugly Ones" by Benedetti Mario-A Podcast by Miette's Bedtime Story podcast

"The Night of the Ugly Ones" by Mario Benedetti- (A podcast-10:36)

I was very happy to get notified that Miette of Miette's bedtime story podcast has posted two more stories on her marvelous  web page.   I said it before and I will say it again, Miette's bedtime podcast is the only source of literary podcasts (the reading aloud of a literary work) endorsed by The Reading Life.   I find her voice and sometimes wonderfully eccentric style mesmerising and her taste is impeccable.   She has been doing this for seven years and I think you will be amazed by her collection of podcasts.

One of her new selections was "The Night of the Ugly Ones" by Mario Benedetti  (1920 to 2009-Uruguay)    I admit freely I have never heard of Benedetti , and unless you are from Uruguay you may not have either, so I, of course, Googled him.   It turns out he is is a well known Uruguayan poet, journalist, and writer of fiction.   He is evidently famous in Latin American literary circles but is little translated out of Spanish.   The only other author from Uruguay I have read is Horacio Quiroga, often called the Edgar Allan Poe of the Amazon.  (Miete also has a podcast of one of his stories on her web page.)  I loved the five short stories I read by Quiroga and they are all in fact rather scary.    Of course there is no reason to assume that Mario's story would be in a similar mode just because he is also from Uruguay but it is also a story about a dark side of life that most people would not even want to think about.   If anything it is darker in its way than either Poe or Quiroga!

Have you ever been out late at night in a big city, big enough so nobody knows anybody else?  No questions asked about what you were doing that night.    You  see the people in "The Night of the Ugly Ones" but you turn away, or at least I did, I admit,  people so ugly and misshapen either by birth or horrible accident that it hurts to see the common humanity in them.  This story is about very touching, real, and passionate romance between a man and a woman from among "The  Ugly Ones".

One of the "uses" of literature is it lets us or if well done and we open ourselves to it, forces us, to see the humanity in people very other from ourselves.   If this story has a moral, it is an old one, "There but for the Grace of God, go I".

This story is for sure worth the ten minutes it takes to listen to.   While you are on Miette's bedtime podcasts, do yourself a favor and look around!  

Mel u

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Queen Hortense" by Guy de Maupassant

"Queen Hortese" by Guy de Maupassant (1885, 12 pages)

Words and Peace does a very interesting meme every Thursday, I Love France, where we are asked to leave notes of our posts on anything related to France.     I am currently reading The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant through a Kindle edition.   He published nearly 200 or so short stories in his life so this may seem, like a lot but the volume is no longer than three Trollope novels.   The quality of the stories vary a lot.   Some justify his claim to be the second best short story writer in world history and some clearly were written by formula in a hurry.   I am a bit past the 50 percent point in the collection.

One of the common themes in his stories is a sense of lives ruined by steps not taken, whether from reticence, fear, vanity, love or any of a hundred reasons.  "Queen Hortense" is about a older woman who never married, her two sisters did.   She is queen over the court yard at her modest house.   Her subjects are the cats, chickens, and stray dogs she feeds and holds court over.

She never had a lover of any kind or even it seems many friends. That is the way she wanted things.  Her sisters do not seek a lot of contact with her and Hortense has let her appearance and her health go for way to long.   One day the sisters are notified that Hortense is on her deathbed.   They along with their children and husbands go to see her.    As they enter her room she is giving advise to children who are not there, she is scolding a nonexistent husband and swearing her love to a man that never existed.   Her sister conclude she is fantasizing about the life she never had and always told everyone she totally did not want.   The sisters go in her room and try to talk to her while her brother in laws wait in the outer room.    As the attending doctor comes out to tell the men she has passed away, one of them says to the other "that did not take as long as we feared it might".

Not a story for the best short stories of the world list (Guy de Mauapassant has at least ten stories that could go on such a list) but it brings a woman to life for us in just a few pages and has a solid meaning.  

 Hortense Bonaparte (1783 to 1837) was the stepdaughter of Napoleon and became Queen Consort of Holland so maybe de Maupassant is making a  political point with the name of the central character in this story

Mel u

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Welcome to All Literary Book Blog Hoppers Feb 9 to Feb 12

I am always glad to see the Literary Book Blog Hop-sometimes I admit I feel out of place in a world of YA books, vampire romances and ARC reviews.   It is good to meet other people with interests beyond these.

When I started my blog nearly two and a half years ago, I planned to focus on books about people who lead at least partially reading centered lives.   This is still a core focus of my blog but in reality I post on a variety of topics including Japanese literature, post colonial Asia fiction, classics, and lately I have been very into short stories.  My  blog is the home of Irish Short Story Week II (set for March 2012).   I like to discover new to me authors and I am open to joint projects and events.

I will be glad to follow back all who follow me.   If you visit leave a comment so I can return the visit.

Every week the hop host provides us with an interesting question.   Here is this weeks question:

In the epilogue for Fargo Rock CityChuck Klosterman writes:
"It's always been my theory that criticism is really just veiled autobiography; whenever someone writes about a piece of art, they're really just writing about themselves."
Do you agree? 

My quick answer to this is "No I do not'.   I think this line of thinking comes from a confused way of going from the fact that we experience the literary work with our own perceptions as shaped by our life history to saying that this means that all literary criticism is veiled autobiography.  This is a huge leap in logic.   I think in saying this you are depriving the word "autobiography" of its meaning and rendering the statement true perhaps but trivial.   From this one could just as easily say everything you say is veiled autobiography.   This can lead to a  kind of celebration of extreme relativism and a glorification of emotion over thought which destroys any point of literary reflection.

Mel u

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (1918, 80 pages)

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (1892 to 1983 London, England) was the only book written during WWI which deals with the war as a subject matter that was written by a woman.  Rebecca West had a very diversified authorial career writing several novels, a number of political essays, and some highly regarded travel books.   She reported on the Nuremberg Trials for The New Yorker.   She was very active in political causes and was a strong advocate of the rights of women.  She grew up in a very cultured and intellectually stimulating environment.   She had a son with H. G. Wells.   (There is a detailed article on her here ).

The Return of the Soldier was West's first novel.   It tells the story of the return of a shell shocked British Captain, Chris Baldry, from the trenches of France during WWI.   It is told from the point of view of one of his female cousins, Jenny.  

As the novel opens we are at the country estate of a cousin by marriage of Jenny.   They seem in a place very remote from the hardships of war but for the fact that her cousin's husband is serving in the British Army in France.   Then they are shocked when a third woman, Margaret, comes to advise them that she has gotten a notice from the war office that Chris has been injured  and is coming home.   Of course they are wondering why Margaret and not his wife got the notice and they know Chris has a romance with her fifteen years ago.   To tell a bit of the plot, Chris has lost fifteen years worth of memories and thinks he is 21 and not 36 and that Margaret is his girlfriend and he has no idea who his wife is supposed to be.  The plot unfolds from here.

The story is not told in a straightforward fashion but as typical of a British novel of the period it jumps back and forth  in time and mirrors in its structure the fragmented memory of Chris.   Even though WWI is hardly mentioned in the novel, it is about its effect on society and the attempts of returning soldiers to fit into society.  Back by Henry Green which I posted on last month is a WWII version of the same theme and Ford Madox Ford's great work  Parade's End deals with the issues of the returning soldier  on a much larger stage.

I am very glad I read this short work and commend it to anyone interested in Modernist Fiction of the Virginia Woolf sort.   The prose style is exquisite.     This book is for sure worth the time it takes to read it and I would like to read more of her work in the future

I am participating in The War Through the Generations reading challenge which is about books on WWI this year and will be including this book as one of my selections.

Mel u

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"The Prophet's Hair" by Salman Rusdie

"The Prophet's Hair" by Salman Rushdie (1981, 21 pages)

"The Prophet's Hair" is the first short story by Salman Rushdie that I have read.  It is one of the most interesting and exciting stories I have read in a while.   I have previously read and posted on two of Rusdie's (1947, Bombay) novels Midnight's Children and The Enchantress of Florence.    Rushdie has received most of the top literary awards short of The Nobel Prize.   He has become very well known outside of the literary world because of the reaction that his Satanic Verses produced.

I love both of these books.   Here is what I said about the prose of Rushdie in The Enchantress of Florence.

As I read this work, at times I marveled at the fireworks of the language.   At times I was really quite amazed.    It is hard to find something easily comparable.   Yes at times I did find it almost too lush and rich.   Imagine a 25 layer cake made by 25 of the best Parisian pastry chefs with each layer a different flavor made with no expense spared and you get some of the idea of it.    Now imagine as you eat the cake you notice small round balls of something mixed in.   Maybe it is opium maybe it is goat waste or even a poison that will produce a spectacular disease that everybody else in the court will marvel at as it overtakes you.    Maybe even it is a magic potion that will transform you in ways beyond imagination.

The "The Prophet's Hair"  is set sometime in the last century in Srinagar, in Kashmir.   It is told sort of in the style of an Aladdin's tale.   The central characters are a wealthy money lender indifferent to the laws of his  Islamic faith, his son, his daughter who adopts modern ways to his chagrin, and his long suffering wife.   The man is totally preoccupied with business.   As the story opens his son, a pampered obviously rich young man, is venturing into the roughest part of the city, looking for a great thief.   He is led into a terrible area and mugged.   I do not want to say why as that would spoil too much of the plot.   Something happens in the father's life that causes him to become extremely devout and conservative in his observation of religious life.   He disowns his daughter for going in public without a veil.   He begins to treat the customer of his business in a terrible harsh way, as he never did before.     For the first time ever he hits his wife.    I really do not want to tell more of the plot of this story.

The fun of this story, and fun is the first word I would use to describe it, is in the contrasts of the lives of the wealthy family and those in the thieves quarter and in just the pleasure in the wondrous prose style of Rusdie.

This story first appeared in The Guardian in 1981.   I read it in The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories.

I am considering purchasing a Kindle edition of Satanic Verse and I would appreciate input from all who have read it.  

Mel u

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1999 448 pages, 706 KB)

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1956, USA) is a book I have wanted to read for sometime now.  It is a huge international best seller and has been translated into many languages. A movie based on it was also made.   It is fictional story of the life of a young girl sold by her father,  a poor fisher man, to the owner of a Geisha house in 1929 up to forty years latter.     Her and her sister are both sold but not before it is verified, in  a brutal scene, that both are virgins.   This is a story about growing up in the "water world" of Japan, a place much written about and visited by the first practitioners of western style Japanese novels.    One of the frequent or perhaps the most frequent question about Geishas is are they in effect prostitutes who also knew the intricacies of an elegant tea service.   The basic answer of Memoirs of a Geisha is yes they are prostitutes in the vast majority of cases but  they are something more also.   If a man in the water world just wants to buy sex, there are plenty of venues open to him.

When an older Geisha is speaking with her 14 year old apprentice, her little sister, she tells her why do you really think the chairman of a giant corporation or a distinguished doctor would want to talk to you.  In the world depicted in Memoirs of a Geisha, second and third level Geishas are pretty much willing to sell themselves on a onetime overnight or less basis at the end of a party.   Higher class Geishas hold out to become the well supported mistress of a wealthy patron.  

Golden spent years researching his novel and there really is a lot to be learned about the life of a Geisha and the business side of the occupation.   I found it to be a really educational book in terms of the day to day lives of the Geishas.  

One of the central events in the novel is the auctioning of the virginity of the central character at age fourteen.    Nobody in this dramatic scene comes off looking good, least of all the wealthy men bidding to take her virginity.   There is a controversy about whether or not this is based on Golden's misunderstanding of certain cultural rituals associated with a girl coming of age.   The book was based on Golden's interviews with a Geisha and she claimed he misunderstood her and this sort of thing did not happen.     I do not know  the answer to this controversy but it does make you wonder why grown men in their fifties and beyond, captains of industry, cultivate the acquaintance of 14 year old girls if there is no sexual element in their interest.  

In part Geishas existed because men, of course, want to have contact with attractive women and are subject to having their vanity played on, the stock and trade of the Geisha.     They also wanted their own daughters, sisters etc to have no contact with men  so a  professional class of women arose to fill the void.  

I thought the weakest part of the book was in the portrayal of the male characters, especially, "the Chairman" on whom the lead character has a life time fixation.     The best part was the look at the day to day life of the Geisha and seeing how the economics of the water world worked.

I endorse this book to anyone interested in Geishas.   Golden also does a very good job, maybe the best part of the book is here, in showing how WWII effect the lives of the people in the world of the Geisha.  

Memoirs of a Geisha kept my attention most of the time though it was a little predictable.   It is well written, if not great literature and it is very much worth reading for those into Japanese culture.  

Please share your thought on Memoirs of a Geisha with us.

Mel u