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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

"The Intoxicated" by Shirley Jackson 1949

Shirley Jackson was an influential American author. A popular writer in her time, her work has received increasing attention from literary critics in recent years. She has influenced such writers as Stephen King, Nigel Kneale, and Richard Matheson.

She is best known for her dystopian short story, "The Lottery" (1948), which suggests there is a deeply unsettling underside to bucolic, smalltown America. In her critical biography of Shirley Jackson, Lenemaja Friedman notes that when Shirley Jackson's story "The Lottery" was published in the June 28, 1948, issue of The New Yorker, it received a response that "no New Yorker story had ever received." Hundreds of letters poured in that were characterized by, as Jackson put it, "bewilderment, speculation and old-fashioned abuse." -Goodreads 

Most people, including me up until today, have never read more of Shirley Jackson's work than her ultra-famous short story, "The Lottery".   (I admit I love the old pulp art covers for classic books, before they became classics, the one for the  collection where "The Intoxicated" first appears is a great one).  Anyway,  I have now read a second story by Jackson, "The Intoxicated" and it was very delightful.  It is set an a party, a man knows he is a bit drunk so he leaves the party and goes into the kitchen.  The party is pure American post War suburbia.  He meets the daughter of the family, seventeen, in the kitchen.  They start a conversation which takes a startling turn.  The girl begins to give a vivid account of the destruction of civilization, we wonder from what dark recesses of American society this comes from.  

The style is almost like a parable in its prose style. I will read more of her stories, I hope.

If you Google it you can find this story online or read it in the sample edition of the Kindle edition of  The Lottery and Other Stories.  

October 2013 Reading Life Month End Review

The last time I did a month end review was in January of 2012.  I did not do one in February 2012 because our beloved cat Mr. C, my companion of nearly twenty years passed away that month.  I think I will try to start doing them again.  

I ended October with 103,423 hits for the month, 2897 twitter followers and 790 Google Followers.  Since Google reader closed down I do not anticipate much growth in that number.  I miss Google reader and have not yet found a satisfactory substitute.  I am very grateful for my readership, especially those who leave comments.   Book blogging has enriched my life in ways I never dreamed it would when I started my blog on July 7, 2009.   The top countries for readership residence in October were USA, Philippines, India, England, and Canada.  The top five  most viewed posts out of now 1902 were all on short storied by authors from the Philippines.  I added what I think will be an important to me reading area this month, Yiddish Literature, motivated by a very generous gift from Yale University Press.  To authors whose books I have committed to read, I will but I don't promise when.  

Short Stories I read but did not post on
1.  "The Cafeteria" by Issac Singer, translated from Yiddish.
2.  "A Married Man's Story" by Katherine Mansfield. Reread
3.  "The Canary" by Katherine Mansfield, reread
4.  "1944" by Ellen Gilchrist
5.   "The Lover" by Alice Walker.  
6.  "The Snobs" by Muriel Spark

I discovered several new to me short story writers I want to read further, including Elspeth Davie, I. M. Homes, Mavis Gallant and Anne Kavan.  I revisited a writer I last read decades ago Muriel Spark and was so glad I did.  

Here are the books I read in October that meant the most to me.
1.  Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pyncihon -any month there is a new Pynchon is a good month.
2.  The Decay of the Angel by Yukio Mishima- the last book in the Sea of Fertility Series.
3.  Signatures in Stone by Linda Lappin - a great read by one of my favorite writers
4.  The Dream Life of Bruno Snell by Nathanael West
5.  A Cool Million by Nathanael West 
6.  Caught by Henry Green - A Very addictive writer.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

"New Yorkish" by Lamed Shapiro -1931 The Reading Life Yale Yiddish Literature Project. -What is Yiddish?

In order to help myself and anyone else understand Yiddish literture to any degree we need to know certain simple things.  One is what is the history of the language.  For one example about 250,000 Americans can speak,it, most are in New York City.  Here is a good summery I found online-

The Yiddish Language 

Yiddish was at one time the international language of Ashkenazic Jews (the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe and their descendants). A hybrid of Hebrew and medieval German, Yiddish takes about three-quarters of its vocabulary from German, but borrows words liberally from Hebrew and many other languages from the many lands where Ashkenazic Jews have lived. It has a grammatical structure all its own, and is written in an alphabet based onHebrew characters. Scholars and universities classify Yiddish as a Germanic language, though some have questioned that classification.

At its height less than a century ago, Yiddish was understood by an estimated 11 million of the world's 18 million Jews, and many of them spoke Yiddish as their primary language. Yiddish has fallen on hard times, a victim of both assimilation and murder. Today, less than a quarter of a million people in the United States speak Yiddish, about half of them in New York. Most Jews know only a smattering of Yiddish words, and most of those words are unsuitable for polite company. But in recent years, Yiddish has experienced a resurgence and is now being taught at many universities. There are even Yiddish Studies departments at Columbia and Oxford, among others, and many Jewish communities provide classes to learn Yiddish. Many Jews today want to regain touch with their heritage through this nearly-lost language.

Yiddish is referred to as "mame loshn" ("loshn" rhymes with "caution"), which means "mother tongue," although it is not entirely clear whether this is a term of affection or derision. Mame loshn was the language of women and children, to be contrasted with loshn koydesh, the holy tongue of Hebrew that was studied only by men. (And before the feminists start grinding their axes, let me point out that most gentile women and many gentile men in that time and place could not read or write at all, while most Jewish women could at least read and write Yiddish).

The word "Yiddish" is the Yiddish word for "Jewish," so it is technically correct to refer to the Yiddish language as "Jewish" (though it is never correct to refer to Hebrew as "Jewish"). At the turn of the century, American Jews routinely referred to the Yiddish language as "Jewish," and one of my elderly aunts continues to do so. However, that usage has become unfashionable in recent years and people are likely to think you are either ignorant or bigoted if you refer to any language as "Jewish." Likewise, the Yiddish word "Yid" simply means "Jew" and is not offensive if used while speaking Yiddish or in a conversation liberally sprinkled with Yiddish terms, but I wouldn't recommend using the word in English because it has been used as an offensive term for far too long.

From the web page Judism 101

I hope to advance my understanding of this culture as I read the wonderful works in The Yale Digital Yiddish Library.  

In her editing of the collection The Cross and Other Jewish Stories of Lamed Shapiro Leah Garrett divides the stories into three groups, one of the sections is devoted to stories set in America.  Lamed Shapiro was very much a "stranger in a strange land" as he tried to figure out a way to live in America.  Many speakers of Yiddish ("Yiddish" means "Jewish" in the Yiddish language) settled in New York City upon immigration.  "New Yorkish" does a marvelous job of letting us see how it might have felt for Shapiro, an unmarried man, to walk the streets of NYC.  There is an old line from a song by Jim Morrison,  "Women are wicked when you are alone".   We see how the truth of this shapes the narrator's perceptions as he meets, goes out with, and sleeps with a waitress in a diner, all in one day. As he enters the diner, the narrator wonders about the ethnic and cultural background of all the customers and his waitress.  He does not understand the many nuances of his new home.  Of course like any single male immigrant, he wants to meet local women.  He begins to chat with the waitress, this conversation is just brilliant.  He cannot decide if she is Spanish or a daughter of the American confederacy, which to him means a fallen aristocrat.  He tries to find boxes in which to put people, things from his old home.  As the woman gets ready to leave in the morning, we never really learn how she saw the man, he gives her money.  She refuses but she takes when he insists.  Seemingly he needs or wants to see her as a prostitute.  In this he degrades the woman and himself.  

I am adding Yiddish literature as one of my core interests.  I ask advice from those learned in the field. 

Lou Reed (author of "Heroin", founder of The Velvet Underground)

Deeply saddened by the passing of Lou Reed.

"Crossing the Atlantic" by Jeanette Winterson -2000 A Short Story by the Author of Oranges Are the Only Fruit

Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester, England in 1959. She was adopted and brought up in Accrington, Lancashire, in the north of England. Her strict Pentecostal Evangelist upbringing provides the background to her acclaimed first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, published in 1985. She graduated from St Catherine's College, Oxford, and moved to London where she worked as an assistant editor at Pandora Press.

One of the most original voices in British fiction to emerge during the 1980s, Jeanette Winterson was named as one of the 20 'Best of Young British Writers' in a promotion run jointly between the literary magazine Granta and the Book Marketing Council.  From Goodreads.  

I have read and posted on three novels by Jeanette Winterson, Passion, Power Book, and her by far most famous work Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.  I also read and liked a lot her short story, "All I know about Gertrude Stein".  

"Crossing the Atlantic" was a pure delight to read.   I felt sad this morning to learn of the passing of Lou Reed and this story helped lift from me the malaise of this.  It is told by a man in his fifties or so, unmarried, setting out for a voyage from St Lucia to London.  The trip takes eight days and he has booked a room to share.  Of course he expects to be assigned a male roommate and is shocked when a beautiful twenty year old black woman named Gabriel shows up.  It seems the shipping company had assumed Gabriel was a man.  What happens next is beautifully relayed.  I loved this story.  It is about loneliness, racial attitudes, gender assumptions and much more but above all it was a lot of fun to read.

I will and should read more of Winterson's work.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Cool Million by Nathanael West 1934 -- The Order in Which you Should read his novels

1903 to 1940

Born Nathanael von Wallenstein Weinstein to prosperous Jewish parents; from the first West set about creating his own legend, and anglicising his name was part of that process. At Brown University in New York, he befriended writer and humourist S. J. Perelman (who later married his sister), and started writing and drawing cartoons. As his cousin Nathan Wallenstein also attended Brown, West took to borrowing his work and presenting it as his own. He almost didn't graduate at all, on account of failing a crucial course in modern drama. West indulged in a little dramatics of his own and, in tearful contrition, convinced a gullible professor to upgrade his marks.

After spending a couple of years in Paris, where he wrote his first novel, The Dream Life of Balso Snell, he returned to New York, where he managed (badly by all accounts) a small hotel, the Sutton, owned by his family. As well as providing free board for struggling friends like Dashiell Hammett, the job also gave West ample opportunity to observe the strange collection of misfits and drifters who congregated in the hotel's drugstore. Some of these would appear in West's novel Miss Lonelyhearts.

West spent the rest of his days in Hollywood, writing B-movie screenplays for small studios and immersing himself in the unglamorous underworld of Tinseltown, with its dope dealers, extras, gangsters, whores and has-beens. All would end up in West's final masterpiece, The Day of the Locust.

West's life ultimately ended as tragically as his fictions. Recently married, and with better-paid script work coming in, West was happy and successful. Then, returning from a trip to Mexico with his wife Eileen, he crashed his car after ignoring a stop sign and killed them both. This was just one day after the death of his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald.  From Goodreads

Imagine Candide set in America in 1933, the economy is in ruins (far worse than now), millions are near starving, unemployment is at 25%, banks are failing, the roads are full of the homeless.  The worse kind of political charlatans emerge to profit from this (worse than the Tea Party), telling people it is the fault of either the capitalists, the socialists, the Jews or the Catholics.  A Cool Million is kind of a mix of the one disaster after another style of Voltaire, the grotesque characters of southern gothic writers and the black humor of the great Yiddish writers with a dose of the All American writer Horatio Alger.  Our lead character leaves home to make money to help his mother.  He loses all his teeth, is falsely imprisoned, loses a leg and what money he has before he is shot when he is duped into participating in  Fascist type rally in the American South.  When The Red Shirts end up ruling the country,he is made a national hero.  Lem, the hero has his Cunogodne, his love. Just like in Candide she is repeatedly raped and placed in a brothel.    It has been years since I read Candide and I suspect there are other similarities.   I concede this may not be as good as The Day of The Locust or Miss Lonelyheart but you are missing out if you skip this book.  

I read a number of articles and posts on the work of West.  Most give the very bad advise to skip A Cool Million and The Dream Life of Bruno Snell.  Taken together these two works are under 300 pages.  Here is my suggested West Reading Order.

Start with A Cool Million, which I concede is the weakest one.  It is under 100 pages, hilarious in spots, very perceptive about American society in the 1930s, surprisingly sexual at times.  It helps a lot if you know Candide a bit.

Then read, The Dream Life of Bruno Snell.  How can you pass on a story set in the gastro-intestinal  track of a horse? It is very surreal.  You have never read anything quite like this before.

Ok now we are on to the works the academy endorses as master pieces. 

I would say next read The Day of the Locust, a quintessential dark side of Hollywood in the 1930s book.  Full of very weird people.  Just a wonderful book.  There is debate over which of these two works is more powerful, right now I would lean to Miss Lonelyheart but I am not rigid on this.

Now you come to the great reward of your journey, Miss Lonelyheart. This a great account of the preterite of New York City.  Parts of it are simply beyond praise.  

Please share your experience with West with us.  

The Decay of the Angel by Yukio Mishima 1970 Book Four of The Sea of Fertility Tetrology

Yukio Mishima is one of the acknowledged by all masters of post WWII Japanese literature. I have read all the others novels in The Sea of Fertility Tetrology, several of his plays and short stories as well as other novels.  Post WWII Japanese literature is one of my core interests.  (There is background data on Mishima in my other posts on him.)   He and Kenzaburo Oe, who I do put above him, are my highest regarded Japanese authors, so far of the 100 or so I have read.  

The Decay of the Angel probably will only be read by hard core devotees of his work who have read the first three books in The Sea of Fertility Tetrology.  It is a book only for those really into his work. It is the most "philosophical" of his books I have yet read.  At times it did seem he was cudgeling me with his views on beauty, death, cultural decay and the decadence of society.  

I have said before that the dominant theme of the post World War Two Japanese novel is the impact of Japan's defeat in the war.  Japan did not just lose a war, the fundamental belief structure of their society was destroyed and nothing has emerged to take its place.  This is what is behind Mishima.  Mishima is an artist, not a rigorous logician and if pushed his ideas may emerge as incoherent but it is the incoherence of the Sea of Fertility in 6000 year old near atavistic faiths.  

"Goodbye, Honda" by Lixian Ng (an original short story)

Today I am very pleased and proud to publish the first short story of a very promising young writer, Lixian Ng. I looked carefully at her newly started book blog and found her tastes impeccable.  I look forward to following her blog and her writings.  I hope you will enjoy this story as much as I did. 

Author Bio

Lixian Ng is a  college student who loves to read and write stories in her spare time, preferably on weekends. She has been not published but she hopes that someone will read her words and feel warmed by them.  She is originally from Brooklyn but now lives in New Jersey.  She is majoring in Enviormental Science.  

                                                         Goodbye, Honda


I thought she would never leave was the first thing that crossed my mind as I closed my bedroom door. I wanted to be alone, but no one understood that, especially Honda or Mom. So I left my room and hung out in the backyard. At that time Honda was gone, and mother was always checking up on me, Honda wasn't around to annoy me anymore or make me feel like a real human. Honda was a freak and I was anti-social, a perfect combination. Jaime Honda preferred to be called by his surname; he had nervous twitches such as constant drumming on tables and rapid eye blinking. Jaime was born in Hawaii and came to Florida when he was five, he met me and we became the freak pair. The guy looked like a surfer but he would never go near water, he had long hair tied in a ponytail and occasionally wore an aloha shirt, he even had a ukulele but one day he spazzed out and broke it, smashing it against a TV screen. Since he was Japanese, he would spend half of his summer over at his grandma's house in Japan and he would visit his cousins in Hawaii.

I was originally from Mexico, and I remembered hating it there, my family was from a poor part of Mexico and we were constantly searching for food and kicking gangsters in the faces. Don't worry, not all parts of Mexico are like that, I just came from a fracked up part. I hated bachata, hated social events that required loud music, tequila, and erratic dancing that usually resulted from the liquor, Amadeo Marquez, which was me, was an anti-social, freak according to my mom. She also hated the way I looked, she claimed that I was too skinny, and my wild curly hair drove her insane, but I would rather look like a 80s rock star than a rapper. My mom used to say that I looked like an alpaca.

       Nobody in my family liked me, because I was boring and queer, so I locked myself in my room, playing video games, writing lame poetry, and reading depressing novels. My favorite novel of all time was A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, because I believed that people who tormented the weak will get their medicine, and they will be tormented by this cure and they will learn their lesson. They will probably go back to their evil ways and then realize, ‘Wow, I’m truly a vile, prick and I should stop participating in these wicked, little activities and do some good.”. I digress though, my mother always said that I was devoid of emotion, which was true, I had a monotone speaking voice, and made no expressions on my face. One of my cousins claimed that I was a Mexican boy version of Wednesday Adams. My mother claimed I had no empathy, which was also true, I’d said hurtful things to my family members and other people, and felt no remorse. Such as that time when I called my mom a lame horse when she dropped my old laptop down the stairs and the screen broke off. So my psychologist diagnosed me as an Aspie or someone with Aspergers syndrome, due to my high IQ and inability to understand others. I often had to force myself to look people in the eyes. My mom was hoping that my diagnosis was “anti-social, psychotic weirdo, Mexican Charles Manson”. Enough about me though.

       Honda was my only friend, he will always be my best friend, I hate to say it because he drove me crazy with fear, because of his tics. He was the only one that understood me though;he tolerated my crazy brain, because he had a crazy brain too. I would choose him over my family any day., I remembered the day he came over to my house one afternoon and burst through my room door to find me huddled in a corner with my laptop. He knew that I was having a bad day, he always knew, that was his best skill. I was reading information about Franz Kafka on Wikipedia.

Amadeo, what’s up?” He greeted me in his usual high pitched, happy-go-lucky voice. His rapid, blinking tic started up as he looked me in the eyes.

“Nothing,” I told him. A smile formed across his face as I stared back at him, as if he knew that my mood was spoiled rotten.

“Are you sure there’s nothing? There’s probably a whole list. You want me to write it?”

“Go right ahead.”

I was too busy reading my laptop screen to care. He took a pen out of the breast pocket of his aloha shirt and ripped out a piece of loose leaf, out of a stray binder on top of my dresser. Before he could write, he continued to blink rapidly and started tapping the pen on my floor; he then shook his head like a dog shaking off the excess water and started writing.

“Okay, 1. You hate school, especially high school. 2. You hate your gym teacher. 3. Your mom made fun of your hair and forced you to eat a whole platter of rice and fried chicken to fatten you. 4. You wish bloody hell on Jennifer Vargas and Chad Muller,” He announced out loud as he wrote out every annoyance on the paper.

“Everything is correct,” I told him.

He crumpled up the paper and threw it in the garbage; it bounced off the rim and rolled into the hallway. He crawled into the corner with me, with his wide grin and his blinky eyes.

Amadeo, you can’t let everything put you down. You gotta keep walking and keep your head up. Let the sun smile on you; don’t let those things bury you into the ground.”


“Jennifer and Chad torment me on a daily basis and I don’t let it get to me.”

Honda was obviously insane, he was able to deal with Jennifer’s shallow, degrading comments and he also dealt with Chad’s daily stomach punch. Jennifer and Chad were the most powerful people in Florida high school, and Jen’s father was the principal and he believed his daughter was an angel sent from heaven.

“Honda, you’re a crazy son of a Christmas tree.”

“You came up with another word to replace a curse word? Technically, you’re still cursing because you’re making a reference to it.”

“Says the one who refuses to eat fish because he thinks fishies are his best friends.”

Honda was obsessed with sea creatures, he owned a tank of Koi fish, had stuffed dolls of dolphins, and a keychain of a toy Koi fish. He never ate fish despite being Japanese, that meant sushi, sashimi, and fish cakes are friends of the devil.

       I was getting bored and Honda poked me in the ribs multiple times and drummed on my night table with a pencil. Then he started poking me in the face and I decided it was time to go outside and keep him busy.

“Honda, can you please mow the lawn?”

He paused his activity, left my room like an obedient dog and I heard my father yelp in fear as Honda raced across the garden to retrieve the lawnmower in the shed. My poor Dad was watering the plants, a past time that he enjoyed during the warm months, I later found out that Honda almost ran him over with the lawn mower. Luckily, my friend remembered to open the backyard door instead of ripping through the delicate screen that kept the bugs away. That washow Honda and I hung out, we stayed indoors and talked, and then we would go outside, and help Dad tend the garden, then we would play basketball with each other. Now those days were over, instead I would just sit in the lawn chair and watch the sun go down in the late afternoon, painting the sky pink and orange.

       Honda and I were seniors; we were single and didn’t really care. I never had interest in the opposite sex or the same sex as me, honestly though, I probably would be attracted to anyone, but nobody had a heart or a mind. So Honda and I went to prom together, as a best friend couple. I remember the day before prom; Honda and I were sitting together playing cards, a game of Go Fish. After repeating the words, Go Fish, for 10 minutes, he finally started a conversation.

“Jen and Chad are prom couple, what should we do?” Honda asked.

“Nothing, we should just sit and laugh.”

“Are you excited for prom?”

“Of course not.”

“I’m not either; I have a bad feeling about it.”

Honda always had a bad feeling about something; he even had bad feelings that his cat was going to die. That never happened though.

“We should do a prank. We could leave high school feeling good that we ruined the prom couple’s party,” I tell him.

“Maybe we should.”

       The next day, it was prom, at 5:00PM, and everyone was already drunk on their fake fun. I wore a black tuxedo and slicked back my curls with the most powerful pomade I could find. Honda had his hair tied neatly in a sleek ponytail and wore a yellow tuxedo with a blue tie, don’t ask why, he said that his father wore it when he got married. While everyone was dancing to the horrible Top 40, we sat at a table munching on Doritos; we claimed the bowl for ourselves. Since Jennifer’s favorite color was pink and purple, the whole entire school gym was pink and purple, including the tables and the decorations. Before the prom even started, she walked on stage and grabbed the microphone and claimed she was the best dressed and the most beautiful, everyone else was apparently ugly and unlovable.

“So what’s going to be our prom prank, Honda?”

“Hijack the DJ,” Honda said in between bites of Doritos.

“Sounds like a decent plan.”

We waited it out a little bit. The music was starting to get faster and everyone was dancing more idiotically and some of the girls looked drunk and the boys looked like they were high on the music. I’m not sure where the alcohol came from, but I assumed Chad provided it. Jennifer was a green-eyed model with black hair, so her looks gave her the privilege for everything. She could even blow up the gym and everyone would cheer for her. She wore a short, puffy, pink dress with a golden crown on her head. Chad looked like every other guy and he wore a pink tuxedo for her. He was the DJ and he was playing Katy Perry’s “Firework”, an abomination to my ears.

       We waited for the crowd to slow down a bit. We wanted to play some wacky music that will scare everyone. We just had to distract Chad. So we left the table and squeezed through the crowd, the dancing became less upbeat when Chad started playing Christina Perri’s “Jar ofHearts”. The DJ was on top of a stage that was decorated with pink flowers and hearts, there was a staircase leading to the stage, so we snuck up onto the stage. Everybody was too busy gazing into each other’s eyes, we were so unpopular that if somebody shot us, nobody would notice. Honda had the bowl of Doritos with him and he was still shoving chips into his mouth. I crept up behind Chad and tapped him on his shoulder. He flinched and turned around; he took off his DJ headphones and asked:

“The hell are you doing?” he yelled.

“Oh, sorry dude, I feel bad that you’re working here.”

“What are you talking about freak? This is my job, I do this all the time, I get paid 10 gram,” Chad bragged.

“Oh sure,” I mumbled.

“What did you say!?”


Honda walked up to him and offered him Doritos.

“Oh thanks weirdo. That suit’s ugly by the way,” Chad told Honda, who didn’t seem to be offended.

I snuck onto Chad’s laptop and scrolled through the playlists. I took out my Ipod from my suit jacket pocket and selected Dirge, an album by a Singaporean, grindcore band named Wormrot. I found a USB cord for the Ipod connected to the laptop and plugged it in. I started off with the first track and pushed the volume up to 100. A heavy, sound wave of grindy, metallically, metalmusic that gave you the sense of doom, thanks to the guitarist, filled the room and the vocalist angrily yelled and growled a sentence or two of all the anger that was bottled up inside of him. The drummer slammed away with a catchy rhythm despite the singer’s growls and barks of malevolence. They actually sounded like they were having fun or I imagined that they were.

“Dude, what the hell are you doing!?” Chad screamed in my ear. Some guys were head banging, some girls were cupping their ears and running, some guys were trying to comfort their girlfriends. It only took a few minutes for this silly prank to spiral out of control when I turned around to find Honda with a bloody nose.

       rushed over to Honda and grabbed him by the hand so we could escape to the bathroom. My friend was wounded and we ran as fast as possible, it was miracle we didn’t fall on the way. As we squeezed through the crowd of confused seniors, I heard Jennifer calling for Chad in her ear-grating, nasal voice. I was probably the only guy in my school who never found Jennifer hot or sexy, I saw here as an underling, trash. We ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind us, and a loud thud followed after, meaning Chad the nimrod ran into it. Honda was crying as I wiped the blood off his face with a paper towel. I had never seen him so upset before in my life, and it made my stomach queasy.

“We were just talking about chips and cartoons,” He said in between sobs. H was rocking back and forth in such a rhythmic motion that he reminded me of a metronome.

“I know, and I did the prank and instead of punching me, he punches you.”

“This is so bad. My head hurts, I see stars, I feel like I got hit by a brick.”

“What do you mean? He hit you more than once?”

“Yeah, punch me right on the temples, then my nose. It hurts so much, my head is too sensitive.”

“You’ll be ok.”

That wasn’t the best thing to say, those words are never true.

      song by Rihanna was playing and we hoped that Chad didn’t see us as we left. I could hear Jennifer talking to her boyfriend, saying that Honda was ‘retarded’ and I was alowlife, and that Chad shouldn’t worry because we were nothing. In the parking lot, we searched for our car and when I pulled out my keys, I heard a guy yell out a gay slur or some sort of slang insult, I don’t remember. That thing that I hated about my high school, everyone was a carbon copy of an antagonist in a high school drama TV show. I heard Honda yell out my name and turned around to find him wrestling with some guy in the middle of the parking lot. I ran awayfrom the car, jumped and managed to do some weird, air kick like in the kung fu movies. The guy was in the middle of slamming Honda’s head into the ground, but I kicked him in the face and he ran away to his mommy or Chad.  

“Get in the car Honda,” I calmly whisper to him.

He responded with a grunt, whine, or a sob I wasn’t sure.

       When we got home, my mom screeched as we came through the door and the light of the kitchen revealed Honda’s blood stained yellow suit. We ate a dinner, rice, beans, and pork chops. We showered and sat together in my bedroom. Honda called his mom on his cell phone and told her he was sleeping over at my house. Since we couldn’t keep our eyes open while we talked, I pulled out the air mattress from the attic and quitted the day. All through the night I twisted and turned in bed and finally fell asleep at 1: 00 AM to have a nightmare of the prom, Honda getting beaten, and later finding him unconscious in the bathroom, in a pool of blood.

       After running out of my school with Honda’s body in my arms, I woke up and the morning sun rays blinded me. A great wave of dread filled me and something in the back of my mind was telling me that something absolutely horrible had happened. The only thing that could calm me was the voice of Honda.

“Hey, good morning bud,” I said out loud as I rubbed the sleepiness out of my eyes.

No response.

“How are you feeling? Does your head hurt? The prank was so stupid.”

Silence was the response.

I leapt out of my bed and patted Honda’s belly. He didn’t even budge. I paused and listened to my surroundings, I heard my mom and dad snoring in the bedroom next door. I noticed that Honda’s mouth wasn’t open; he usually snored and slept with his mouth agape. There was no sound of breathing coming through his nostrils. I placed my head on his chest, there was no beating and I held his hand, it was cold and it sent shivers down my spine.

       I still remember that exact moment, when I laid there, with my head on his chest, holding his hand, tears welled up in my eyes and I sobbed quietly, not wanting to wake my parents, to spend time with him alone before they took his body away. I heard the toilet flush and my father walking out, he passed my room and noticed me crying. They joined, and cried together for a good hour or so and I was wailing the loudest, and if Honda was alive, he would be trying to comfort me by telling me a joke about fish or giving me one of his lectures about happiness, while his eyelids were constantly blinking away. When his parents found out, they were devastated and his father broke a vase, his mother prayed while she mourned. We found out later that he died from head trauma, and that Honda had a lot of health problems he never told me about, like how he was born with brain damage and had seizures when he was small. Honda was cremated in Japan and every summer I would visit and talk to his grave, and leave a bowl of apples, because he loved fruit.

       I’m sorry for this depressing story, but it was the only way I could cope. Even now, I still sit in my backyard on the lawn chair and stare at the sun going down, thinking about Honda. My father would be mowing the lawn and he mentioned that Honda was excellent at it and wished he was still here. I nodded at him in response and watched the sun with a cup of lemonade in my hand, I sipped it. The only thing that went through my mind was the image of my friend’s face when he told me not to let things bury me in the ground. All I could say to myself on that day on the lawn chair was, I miss you and you will always be my ray of the sun, smiling at me. Sweet dreams and goodbye, Honda.

The End


Saturday, October 26, 2013

"The First Year of My Life" by Muriel Spark A short story by the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark (1918–2006) was a prolific Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet whose darkly comedic voice made her one of the most distinctive writers of the twentieth century. Spark grew up in Edinburgh and worked as a department store secretary, writer for trade magazines, and literary editor before publishing her first novel in 1957. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), considered her masterpiece, was made into a stage play, a TV series, and a film. Spark became a Dame of the British Empire in 1993.

It has been over four decades since in read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  I have the plot pretty well still but maybe that comes from the movie.  Four decades is too long between reading the wonderful work of Ms. Spark.  This is a very interesting kind of one idea story.  It is the story, told from long ago memories, of what a baby experienced in the first year of their life.  The narrator says there is a theory, which she believes, that babies for the first year of their lives understand everything that is going on in the world they inhabit but once they get older they lose this ability.  This story is about the world the baby was born into in the year World War One began.  Spark does a brilliant job of letting us see the horrors of this year.  Just as expected I would, I really enjoyed this story.  I have access to one of her ghost stories and hope to read it soon. 

"Go Talk to a Goy" by A. Ansky. 1912- The Reading Life Yale Yiddish Library Project

Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport, known by his pseudonym S. Ansky, was a Russian Jewish author, playwright, researcher of Jewish folklore, polemicist, and cultural and political activist. 

In The Dybbuk, a drama of mystical passion and demonic possession, S. Ansky (1863–1920) brings together the saga of his own youthful rebellion against religious authority, his abiding faith in the power of the simple folk, his utopian struggle for equality, and his newfound commitment to the Jewish people. Ansky had just returned from an epoch-making ethnographic expedition through the Yiddish heartland of Eastern Europe, and what he found in the towns and townlets of the Ukraine was a religious civilization that mediated the living and the dead, the strong and the weak, the natural and the supernatural. In his introduction to this volume, David G. Roskies reveals that Ansky’s return to Mother Russia was accompanied by a profound renegotiation with his hasidic heritage, the Yiddish language, and the Jewish historical imagination. The book also includes little-known works of autobiographical and fantastical prose fiction, as well as an excerpt from The Destruction of Galacia, Ansky’s four-volume chronicle of the Eastern Front in the First World War.  -from Yale University 

"What is Yiddish literature? where was it written?  Where did the writers live. As I advance into Yiddish literature, something I know little about and I know many of my readers are not yet acquainted with this reading area, I will try to delve a bit into the culture.   All the writers were Ashkenazi Jews, it seems all men, mostly living in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Germany and the Near East or in America as immigrants. Einstein and Kafka spoke Yiddish.  Their history is complex and not fully agreed on by Scholars. The subject is very political to some. The migration patterns of people of of Jewish faith began in ancient times but DNA testing shows largely European DNA in modern Yiddish speakers. Here is what seems to be emerging as a consensus opinion.

The Ashkenazi Jews from Khazar empire

The Ashkenazi Jews actually originate from the now defunct Khazar empire.
"The Khazars were derived from a mixture of Finns, Turks and Mongols. As early as the third century AD, they were identifiable in constant warfare in the areas of Persia and Armenia. Later, in the 5th century, the Khazars were among the devastating hordes of Attila, the Hun. Around 550 AD, the nomadic Khazars began settling themselves in the area around the northern Caucasus between the Black and Caspian Seas. The Khazar capital of Itil was established at the mouth of the Volga River, where it emptied into the Caspian, in order to control the river traffic. The Khazars then extracted a toll of 10% on any and all cargo which passed Itil on the River. Ah yes, taxways all the way to the 5th century. Anyone who refused to pay the tax (toll) was immediately attacked and slaughtered - not greatly different from today.

Map showing Khazarian empire 

Converts to Jewish religion

"Then a stunning event took place in the mid-700's AD. The Khazars had been under continual pressure from their Byzantine and Moslem neighbors to adopt either Christianity or Islam; but the Khazar ruler, called the Khakan, had heard of a third religion called Judaism. Apparently for political reasons of independence, the Khakan announced that the Khazars were adopting Judaism as their authorized religion.

"Overnight an entirely new group of people, the warlike Khazars, suddenly proclaimed themselves to be Jews - adoptive Jews - and formed their tribe straight away. The Khazar Kingdom began to be described as the "Kingdom of the Jews" by historians of the day. Succeeding Khazar rulers took Jewish names, and during the late ninth century the Khazar Kingdom became a haven for Jews from other lands. "

The big controversy historically seems to related to whether or not Eastern European Jews have ancestral roots in the holy land from migrations long ago or are they descended from converts. 

"Go Tell it to a Goy" is set among supporters of communism in the days just before the Russian Revolution.  The narrator identifies himself as Jewish.  He talks about how many Jews converted to Christianity to escape prosecution which included death.  People converted in name only.  You had to learn the Russian Orthodox Catechism and go through a ceremony with a priest.  The narrator understands people did what they had to but he does not hold the practice in much respect.  He tells a great story of a man who made a living by acting as a stand in at converting ceremonies, pretending overtime to be hundreds of other men.  It was just a way to make a living.  He gets involved with a Christian woman, a goy, who is a fervent supporter of the communists.  They need to travel together to another city and this required a passport.  The Jewish narrator is given a passport saying he is Christian, the Christian woman's passport labels her a Jew.  This causes her all sorts of problems so the man suggests she convert to Christianity.  She says she already is a Christian and won't convert.  The reality behind the story is that a cataclysm is coming for the Jews of Russia and all of the society.  The story really is a lot of fun to read and the character of the narrator is brilliantly realized and I learned some history from it.  I will be reading much more of the author's work including, The Dybbuk. 

Please share your knowledge of Yiddish Literature with us.

Yale University Press, in partnership with Open Road Media, has just announced an important new project.   Here is the release on the project:

Open Road Integrated Media Partners with Yale University Press and The New Yiddish Library To Release 9 Yiddish Classics as Ebooks


Open Road Integrated Media, a digital publisher and multimedia content company, Yale University Press, and New Yiddish Library have partnered to release several English translations of Yiddish literature classics in digital form.


The new-to-ebook collection includes:


·      The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl and Motl, the Cantor's Son by Sholem Aleichem

·      The Dybbuk and Other Writings by S. Ansky

·      The End of Everything by David Bergelson

·      The Glatstein Chronicles by Jacob Glatstein

·      The Zelmenyaners: A Family Saga by Moyshe Kulbak

·      The World According to Itzik: Selected Poetry and Prose by Itzik Manger

·      The I. L. Peretz Reader by I. L. Peretz

·      Everyday Jews: Scenes from a Vanished Life by Yehoshue Perle

        The Cross and other Jewish Stories by Lamad Shapiro