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

Friday, June 30, 2017

All Our Yesterdays by Natalia Ginzburg (1952)

All my Yesterdays by Natalia Ginzburg is set in a small Italian village during World War Two.  It focuses on two families, brought together by passions, intrigue and the shared hardships of the war years.  It focuses on the small details of the characters lives.  At first they are proud of the success of Germany, their ally, in the war but as the war drags on and as they see the horrible impact of the war, they grow weary.

This is a short post, just mood I am in.  I bought a kindle of this novel on sale for $1.95, it is now back up to $9.95.  I enjoyed it but not enough to suggest to those I do not know that it is worth the full price.  

Natalia Ginzburg was born in Palermo, Italy in 1916. She was an Italian author whose work explored family relationships, politics during and after the Fascist years and World War II, and philosophy. She wrote novels, short stories, and essays, for which she received the Strega Prize and Bagutta Prize. Modest and intensely reserved, Ginzburg never shied away from the traumas of history, whether writing about the Turin of her childhood, the Abruzzi countryside, or contemporary Rome—all the while approaching those traumas only indirectly, through the mundane details and catastrophes of personal life. Most of her works were also translated into English and published in the United Kingdom and United States. She wrote acclaimed translations of both Proust and Flaubert into Italian. She died in Rome in 1991.. from goodreads 

Paris in July - A Wonderful Event Hosted by Thyme for Ten - Year Ten

Paris in July, hosted by Thyme, is in Year Ten.  I am in my seventh year of participation, first joining in July, 2011.  This wonderful event is your opportunity to explore and share your experiences on all things Parisian.  I focus on literature but you can tell us about your vacation in Paris, favorite classic recipe, art, museums, music or nonfiction.  Or even post on a movie!  It was in July in Paris 2014 that I first read my beloved Irene Nemirovsky, whose image is on my sidebar permanently.  The posts by the many participants are like a class in French culture at the Sorbonne. The full details are on Thyme for Tea at the link above.

I recently was given a copy of an anthology of Parisian Christmas stories that looks like a good resource.  I will read more of Colette, high priestesses of the City of Love. I will continue my read

through of Balzac's The Comedie Humaine, maybe read a bit of Zola.  I have two books on Paris during WW Two I hope to read.

Paris in July is a great event.  I have found through it new to me writers, read stories about Paris trips, food, and art.  I have found new bloggers to follow.  The international book blog community is a great place, needed more in these dark times than ever before.  

Just sit back,imagine you are on a luxury house boat on the Seine, spending the day in a cafe on the left bank, dining in a four star restaurant or in a corner bistro.  Paris has darker sides, and maybe we will venture there.  

Mel de Ú 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Japanese Literature Challenge 11- Hosted by Dolce Bellezza

This will be the ninth year in which I have participated in The Japanese Literature Challenge,  Hosted by Dolce Bellezza.  The event runs from July 1 to January 31, 2018.  All your are asked to do is read one work of Japanese literature and share your thoughts.  There are lots of great reading suggestions on the event home page.

The post World War II Japanese novel is a world class cultural treasure.  Every month sees new translations by contemporary writers and first translations of older works.  Very recently two novels and ten short stories by Junichiro Tanizaki were initially translated.  

This year I hope to read and post on these works for Japanese Literature 11

Slow Boat to China RMX by Hideo Furukawa

Record of a Night to Brief by Hiromi Kawakam

Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibaski

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

Beasts Head For Home by Abe Kobo

Triangle Triangle by Hisaki Matsuura

Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori

Short stories collections 

Junichiro Tanazaki- ten new translated short stories.

Men Without Women by Haruki  Murakami

Six of the writers are new to me.   

Please consider joining us for this event.  Besides learning about Japanese literature, it is a great way to discover new book blogs. 

Mel u


Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - On the Reading Life

African Reading Challenge - 2017

Half of a Yellow Sun is the second novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I have had the great pleasure of reading.  Prior to reading this I read her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus and three of her short stories, all of which I loved.  (You can read my posts if you wish at the link above.).

There are five main, and lots of minor, characters in Half of a Yellow Sun.  We have a mathematics professor, his house boy, a corrupt businessman and his twin adult daughters.  In one very telling scene the sisters talk about their father offering one of them as a kind of sexual bribe in order to get a government contract.  There is also an Englishmen, writing a book.  All the characters are very well developed.  I loved how Adiche brought in the mothers of the professor and that of his house boy.  The professor is having a long term affair with one of the twins and mother does not approve at all!  She wants to find him a good girl from back home, not a big city westernized "witch".  The house boy's mother also plays an interesting part.  I was touched to see the professor took the house boy's mother to the doctor.  The houseboy is totally devoted to his employer, who he calls "master". The Englishmen is writing a book.  He is having an affair with the other twin and  is researching Igbo art for his book.  The sister having an affair with a white man is an issue to many, suggesting she thinks whites are superior.

Half a Yellow Sun (named for the flag of Biafra) is set in the period of the Biafran War, 1967 to 1970, for Independence from Nigeria.  The Igbo people from southern Nigeria wanted to escape the domination of the Nigerian Federal government, dominated by northern Nigerians.   We learn from the conversations of the professor that many intellectual citizens of Nigeria view the currently existing national entities as totally remnants of colonialism, the boundaries set by European countries.  Many advocate a return to tribal identities.  The novel brilliantly depicts the very complex set of factors in play.  You have a tiny, depicted as very corrupt elite, their educated westernized children and a great mass of the poor, tribal people.  This is very much a story of cultural clashes.

Adiche vividly depicts the terrible violence and suffering caused by the war.  We see the terrible atmosphere of fear, the drafting of young boys in their early teens as soldiers, the changes as the war closes.  The sex scenes are very well done, we sadly see the mass rapes as part of war and the inferior position of women.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a wonderful book.  The characters, even the minor ones, I admit I loved it when the professor's mother showed up unexpectedly, took over the house and went off on her son because she feels his girl friend is not right for him.  This is a very deep as well as exciting book.

I read this as part of my participation in The African Reading Challenge 2017.  Next year for the 2018 event I hope to read her third novel, Americanah.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope. She is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year; and the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. Her latest novel Americanah, was published around the world in 2013, and has received numerous accolades, including winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction; and being named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year.
A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, she divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.  -from the author's website

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"One Day Less" - A Short Story by Clarice Lispector (1970?)

"What matters is the magnetic love she inspires in those susceptible to her. For them, reading Clarice Lispector is one of the great emotional experiences of their lives. But her glamour is dangerous. “Be careful with Clarice,” a friend told a reader decades ago, using the single name by which she is universally known. “It’s not literature. It’s witchcraft."  Benjamin Moser


"I doubt that death will come. Death? Could it be that the days so long will end? That’s how I daydream, calm, still. Could it be that death is a ruse? A trick of life? Is it persecution? And that’s how it is."  From "One Day Less"

"One Day Less" is one of Clarice's final stories (I do not call her by her first name out of a foolish familiarity but because that name is enough to invoke a universe for those of us under her spell.)   This is a very sad story.  In approaching her short stories, I think one should first read all eight five.  Lots of reviewers have said taken this way we meet our narrator first as a young girl in Recife and later Rio de Janeiro, then we see her married, then her final days.  I suspect Print reviewers who have said this have not read the full collection.

As "One Day Less" opens our unmarried thirty year old female narrator is pondering the boredom and emptiness of her life.  Her deceased parents left her enough money to get buy in the apartment in which she had lived all her life.  She thinks about what she would do if a man invited her out for a drink. She seems much older than thirty.  Her self esteem has been badly hurt by her weight gain.

Her maid, the same one that has worked for her parents and then her for thirty years is off for a month.  She has to cook her own food.  Boredom hangs heavy in this story.  She received a distraction from a wrong number call from a woman who ends up inviting her over to play bridge.

The ending is very sad.  There is much to thing about in this story.

Please share your experience with Clarice with us

Monday, June 26, 2017

Weimar Culture The Outsider as Insider by Peter Gay (1968)

Weimar Culture The Insider as Outsider (1968) by Peter Gay should be the first book anyone interested in Germany history and culture from 1919 when a new constitution was drawn up Weimar, Germany instituting democracy and civil rights to 1933.   The Weimar period is considered to have ended in 1933 with the full ascension of Hitler to power bringing the end of constitutional government and individual rights.

Weimar Culture can be seen as a reaction to the terrible crushing humiliation brought on by Germany's defeat in World War One.  Germans had never had much individual liberty and the liberties of the period produced a great outburst of creativity in the arts, various forms of literature, in theater and in personal life styles.  This was the Berlin of Christopher Isherwood's Good Bye to Berlin, vividly dramatized in the movie Cabaret.  Gay lets us see how the relaxing of  a centuries old Prussian culture of obedience radically changed Germany radically.

I was very interested in learning from Gay about literature during the Weimar Period, I was pleased to see I have posted upon the major novelists he mentions, Alfred Doblin, Erich Marie Remarque whose All Quiet on The Western Front is surely one of the very best war novels ever written, down to the Nobel Prize Winning Thomas Mann.  Gay goes into detail about Weimar movies. Most were thematically dark probing the corruption in Berlin.  The first famous film, a silent, was The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, still disturbing today. (You can watch it and other Weimar movies on YouTube and they are still striking and weird!).  Vampire movies were popular, the most famous was Nosferatu.  Futuristic movies were very popular, such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis.  Gay talks about the theater also, focusing on The Three Penny Opera written by Bertolucci Brecht as well as the work of Kurt Weil.

The most important philosopher of the period was Martin Heidiger, a founding father of existentialism.  Gay treat him with contempt, which I enjoyed, for his boot licking attitude toward Hitler.

I have placed a few images of Weimar art in my collage.  Gay talks a lot about this.

Gay's style is elegant.  He goes into some detail on the failure of Weimar Culture to stand up to Nazis.

Weimar Culture is a nearly fifty year old book.  Much of the information in Gay's book can now be found online.  I was motivated to finally read this book, which had been on my To Be Read List for a very long time.  I was motivated to read it  when I was notified it was in  for sale for $1.95 in a Kindle edition.  I just checked and is back to $9.95.  For sure it is a value at $1.95, $9.95 I will let you decide.

This is a first rate popular history.  It helped me draw together my knowledge of the period.

From Goodreads.

Peter Gay

in Berlin, Germany
June 20, 1923

May 12, 2015

History, Biography

edit data

The son of a glassware maker, Peter Joachim Fröhlich grew up in Germany as the Nazis rose to power. Escaping in 1938 with the rest of his family on the last boat of refugees admitted to Cuba, he gained entry with them to the United States two years later, whereupon he changed his name to Gay. He graduated from the University of Denver in 1946 and earned a master's and doctorate in history from Columbia University.

Gay taught at Columbia from 1947 until 1969. In 1969 he joined the faculty at Yale University, where he taught until he retired as Sterling Professor of History in 1993. He was a former director of the New York Public Library's Center for Scholars and Writers from 1997 until 2003. Gay was the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Book Award and the received the American Historical Association's (AHA) Award for Scholarly Distinction. He died in 2015

Mel u

Sunday, June 25, 2017

"The Royal Summons" - A Short Story by Leonora Carrington (1937)

"As the representative of the queen, I sat in the seat at the end. The Prime Minister rose and struck the table with a gavel. The table broke in two. Some servants came in with another table. The Prime Minister swapped the first gavel for another, made of rubber. He struck the table again and began to speak. "Madame Deputy of the Queen, ministers, friends. Our dearly beloved sovereign went mad yesterday, and so we need another. But first we must assassinate the old queen."  - from "The Royal Summons" by Leonora Carrington 

"The Royal Summons" is another Surrealistic gem by Leonora Carrington.  Told in the first person, our narrator has just received a royal summons to visit the monarchs of her country at their palace.  She summons her chauffeur who informs her that he has just buried her car, in order to grow mushrooms.  Of course she calls him an idiot and she orders a carriage.  Upon arrival at the palace a servant terlls her the queen went mad yesterday.  If she wishes she may visit the queen in her bath.  She finds the queen bathing in goat's milk, with live sponges swimming in the milk, real sponges anchor themselves.

The queen asks her attend a meeting of the government ministers in her place.  They announce the queen must be killed.  A table tennis tournament will be conducted with the winner to take the queen to the zoo and push her in a cage with unfed recently lions.

This is a quite short work, reading time under five minutes so I will leave the end unspoiled.

In most of Carrington's stories someone seems to be killed.  

From the Dorothy, a Publishing Project website: "Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) was a writer, painter, and a key figure in the Surrealist movement. She was born to a wealthy English family in 1917, expelled from two convents as a girl, and presented to the king's court in 1933. Four years later, she ran off with Max Ernst and became a darling of the art world in Paris: serving guests hair omelets at one party, arriving naked to another. After Ernst was taken from their home to a Nazi internment camp in 1940, Carrington fled France. Nearly mad with grief and terror, she was thrown into a lunatic asylum in Spain, and, after escaping, married a Mexican diplomat, fleeing Europe for New York City then Mexico City, where she lived for the rest of her life." 

About ten of her stories can be found online along with several good general articles.

I will from time to time read more of her work, I hope.

Mel u

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Poetry Will Save Your Life - A Memoir by Jill Bialosky (July, 2017)

"Enduring a childhood of loneliness and dislocation, he retreated into the “wonderful world of books.”  Jill Bialosky on Langston Hughes

"I’m grateful for my books, my deep infatuation with literature, and my poems, however nascent. I’ve come to see that the only thing now worth holding on to is the collection of verse accumulating on my desk and in my drawer. They don’t often amount to much, but when they do I sense it something alive and crackling, like the sound of stepping on twigs in the woods. In the absence of love, I cling to my work. Literature is the only thing that I can count on; it won’t desert me." - Jill Bialosky

Poetry Will Save Your Life by Jill Bialosky is a deeply felt memoir  told through the poems that helped the author cope with and understand the seminal events and rites of passage of her life, from adolescence to motherhood and beyond.  She talks very openly about events that caused her great pain and shows how poetry literarily saved her life.

When I first began The Reading Life nearly eight years ago I planned to focus on literary works focusing on people who lead Reading centered lives.  I have gotten happily very side tracked but I always like to return to this theme.  I wonder what forces, influences, factors lead a person to prefer reading above all activities.  I have seen in the posts of lots of book bloggers (the world's greatest

readers) references to lonely isolated childhoods in which they retreated from an environment they did not like, from feeling odd and out of place, to books.   Many of these children grew away from reading as they worked, had families, etc but some of us did not.  We resented our jobs as wasting our Reading time and some of us did become near Life time isolates, wanting to be left alone to read.

Jill Bialosky talks about being lonely and feeling out of place as a child.  She found a salvation in poetry.  There are forty three poems featured, most published in full.  Bialosky talks about events in her life and how they helped her relate to the poem and conversely how the poems helped her cope with the suicide of a beloved sister, marriage, becoming a mother, the death of her father, and the attack on the World trade centered.  Among the more famous poets featured are Robert Frost (I found her comments on his perhaps most famous work, "The Road Not Taken" helped me overcome the view I formed of Frost decades ago), Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens and Sylvia Plath.  She also talks about English language poets I have not read and  works in translation by writers who I think will be new to most readers of her book.

Poetry Will Save Your Life can be read slowly savoring the poems and relating your own life experiences to those of Bialosky or devoured in a very pleasant evening.  Either way I think you will enjoy this book.

Jill Bialosky is the author of four acclaimed collections of poetry. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Kenyon Review, and The Atlantic, among others. She is the author of three novels, most recently, The Prize, and a New York Times bestselling memoir History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life. Jill was honored by the Poetry Society of America for her distinguished contribution to the field of poetry in 2015. She is an editor at W. W. Norton & Company and lives in New York City.

"God Product" - short story by the Nebula and World Fantasy Award Winning Alyssa Wong (2017)

"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. As she stood over the god taped down to the kitchen table, Caroline knew this was the only way to win Hyeon’s attention.
“Watch me,” she said to Hyeon, who leaned against the counter on the opposite wall, her eyes glittering. “Don’t look away.”
All of Hyeon’s eyes blinked slowly, in a concentric pattern. How beautiful, thought Caroline. Hyeon was a god: sharp, lean, and bright with power, nothing like Caroline’s small god, whose restrained limbs trembled against the wooden tabletop. “You’ll regret doing this,” said Hyeon. Her voice was quiet, but it rang hard in Caroline’s ears. “The two of you are bonded.” - from "God Product" by Alyssa Wong

Not long ago I read and posted upon  Alyssa Wong's beautifully wicked multi award winning work about the dangers of online dating, among other things, "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" (you can read it on Wong's very well done website along with several of her other stories, including "God Product").

Today I want to journalize my reading of another of her stories, "God Product".  As this marvelous very thought provoking story opens Caroline stands before a small new god, still encased in his pre- emergence wooden shell.  It is Caroline's task to break the shell.  Once she does this she and the god will be bonded.  The problem is Caroline is already bonded to Hyeon, the female god who is walking her through the procedure.  We never learn how gods are created, where we are, or the nature of the society in which Caroline resides. .  For me these mysteries add more to the impact and fun of the story.

The close of the story is very exciting.  I will leave it untold.  I think this would make a very good story to stimulate class room discussion.

This story was first published on, a leading SF/F webpage on March 18, 2017, in observation of International Women's Day.

I plan to read and post upon all of Wong's works as I return to the SF/F world.

Mel u

Friday, June 23, 2017

Possession by A. S. Byatt (1990, Winner of the Booker Prize)

Possession by A. S. Byatt (born 1936 in Sheffield, England) won the 1990 Booker Prize.  It is widely considered one of the best novels of the post World War Two era and had long been on my TBR list.  It was made into a movie I hope to see one day. About ten years ago, before the start of The Reading

Life, I read and greatly enjoyed her novel, The Biographer's Tale.

Possession sort of centers on two contemporary academics researching the previously unknown romance between two created by Byatt Victorian era poets.  They have discovered a treasure trove of letters, journals and diaries from both of the poets.  Researching and making the details of this romance known in the academic world will make their reputations and guarantee them professional success.

About half of the novel is taken up with the imaginary journals and the letters between the two poets.  We see the development of their relationship through the letters.  We see the struggles of the contemporary academics to come to terms with the material and wrestle with the ethics revealing the vast trove of material.

Possession is a very biting satire of the squabbles of academics.  The characters are all very well developed.  Byatt even included extensive poems.

I am very glad I finally read Possession. I hope to read two more of her novels soon, The Children's Book and The Virgin in the Garden.

Mel u

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"The Toy Theater" - A Short Story by Gene Wolfe, a master of the Science Fiction Fantasy Genre, 1971

I offer my Great Thanks to Mudpuddle and Fred of Fred's Place for suggesting I read Gene Wolfe

"“You will learn. You have already learned more difficult things. But you will not learn traveling with just one. If you wish to learn three, you must have three with you always, so that you can practice. But already you do the voice of a woman speaking and singing. That was the most difficult for me to learn.” He threw out his big chest and thumped it. “I am an old man now and my voice is not so deep as it was, but when I was young as you it was very deep, and I could not do the voices of women, not with all the help from the control and the speakers in the dolls pitched high. But now listen.” He made Julia, Lucinda, and Columbine, three of his girls, step forward. For a moment they simply giggled; then, after a whispered but audible conference, they burst into Rosine’s song from The Barber of Seville Julia singing coloratura soprano, Columbine mezzo-soprano, and Lucinda contralto. “Don’t record,” Stromboli admonished me. “It is easy to record and cheat; but a good audience will always know, the amateurs will want you to show them, and you can’t look at yourself and smile. You can already do one girl’s voice very good. Don’t ever record. You know how I learned to do them?”

I am greatly enjoying slowly getting back into science fiction and fantasy works, something I read avidly years ago but neglected for a long time.  I was inspired to venture back into fantasy worlds, partially through rereading Dune by Frank Herbert.  I also have recently began to read Olivia Butler and I greatly enjoyed "Green Magic" by the American master Jack Vance.  I was additionally delighted to read works by two young Filipino writers, Isabell Wong and Alyssa Yap whose development I hope to follow.

Going on the strength of recommendations from Mudpuddle and Fred of Fred's Place I decided to read a short story by another acknowledged American master, Gene Wolfe (born NYC, 1931, his best known work is the tetralogy, The Book of the New Sun).  I downloaded a sample of The Best Short Fiction of Gene Wolfe and was happy to find a story I could read, "The Toy Theater" first published in the popular  anthology series Orbit edited by Damon Knight, in 1971)

"The Toy Theater" is a really fun to read story.  A marionettist has just landed on the planet Sarg.  I like how Vance just plunges us right into an alternative universe without a lot of explanation.  Sarg was found with no life of but suitable for humans and earth plants.  It is preindustrial.  It looks like the main occupant, maybe the owner of the planet, is one Stromboli, a marionette master famous through the known universe. Our narrator has come to study with Stromboli.  Marionettes are very much in vogue everywhere.  We meet Stromboli's wife in their house, in the style of a Tuscan villa.  We sit in on the lessons, we come to respect the great artistry involved.

As he awaits in the buggy to take him back to the space port, his visit over, instead of Stromboli's butler, a doll, a woman, Lilli comes up in a buggy and says she will take him to the space port.  It appears she is a marionette, created by Stromboli to be his mistress.

I don't want to spoil the very interesting close of the story.  I found no work by Vance online.  I have two of his short stories in anthologies I have been given and will read them soon.  Maybe I will tackle The Book of the New Sun one day.

Mel u

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"One of Us" - A Short Story by Farah Ahamed (2015)

Farah Ahamed on The Reading Life- includes links to her stories

"One of Us" - On Two Serious Ladies

"“And she’s Yemoja,” Fatima said. “West African goddess of power and destruction, made from malachite. She weighs a tonne; I wouldn’t try and lift her if I were you.” She laughed. How like a miniature she was, with regular features, soft, smooth skin, a small nose and bulging eyes. Her lips looked like they’d been carved and her eyebrows as if they’d been painted on. I dropped my hand.
“They keep us busy,” she said. “You wouldn’t think it, but they need constant looking after.” She pointed to an oriental figure of a half-naked woman sitting cross legged holding a flute to her lips. “Look at her, our female Buddha. She’s hand carved from ivory. Notice the intricate calligraphy and jewelry on her skirt and headdress.”
“Where did you find them?” I asked.
“In different places,” replied Rashid. “But we know instantly when we see them if they’re one of us.” He smoothed Cleopatra’s head. “Aren’t they intriguing? Each one is exceptional.”  “With a special meaning for us,” Fatima said. Using both hands she lifted a figure from the stool. “See Pannie, our satyress made of cement.” Holding it in one hand, with her other, she rotated its head making a terrible grinding sound. She turned it upside down and blew inside the hollow cavity. A cloud of dust flew out. “Sorry, honey Pannie.” She tweaked its jagged horns, and ran her fore finger lightly over its open, sneering mouth where its tongue curled back convulsively. I looked away, but she drew me back when she said, “Rashid tells me the two of you are thinking of moving in together.”

I decided to begin my fourth post on a short story by Farah Ahamed, "One of Us" with a rather longish quote so you can see for yourself her exquisite styling.  This is a very interestingly deeply disturbing work.  We see in it  how in a few pages a skilled artist can create years of relationships.  The setting of the story is not spelled out.  There are three on stage human characters.

Simran, the narrator, is making her first visit to the home her lover shares with his sister Fatima.  The room in which Simran is received is filled with small statues.  The sister shows Simran inherited from their father statues of Cleopatra, Fatima calls her "Cleo" and Ptolemy.  Both sister and brother are deeply bonded with these and the other artifacts of antiquity, from not just Egypt, Kenya and India.  Simran is disturbed or rather disquieted by the very deep triangular bond between her lover, his sister Fatima, and the artifacts.

I want to leave the fascinating denouement untold.  I will observe that Fatima has an illness which has denuded her body of hair.  Somehow I was brought to mind of the genetic diseases caused by brother/sister inbreeding in the final pharaonic dynasties.

I read this story several times.  It is a consummate specimen of the art of the short story.  You can read it on the link above.  I think this might be my favorite of her stories.

"One of Us" was first published in 2015 on a very interesting website, Two Serious Ladies, the title is taken from a novella by Jane Bowles.  I confess I have read much more by her occasional husband Paul but the little by Jane I have read has allowed me to understand her cult like following.  There are interesting works on the webpage and intriguing visual art.  It appears to be on a hiatus from accepting new work, I hope it is not permanent.

Farah Ahamed is a short fiction writer. Her stories have been published in The Massachusetts Review, Thresholds, Kwani?, The Missing Slate and Out of Print among others. She has been nominated for The Caine and The Pushcart prizes and shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, DNA/Out of Print Award, Sunderland Waterstones Award, Asian Writer Award. She was highly commended in the London Short Story Award and joint winner of the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award.

I will post on another of her stories next week.

Mel u

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (1993)

Published in observation of the birthday anniversary of Octavia Butler, June 22, 1947
The Octavia Butler Society- Your First Resource

Octavia Butler on The Reading Life

Open Road Intergrated Media - Publisher of High Quality E Books of the works of Octavia Butler and thousands of other writers

Born 1947, Pasadena, California, died 2006

Octavia Estelle Butler was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant. - from Goodreads

“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”

― Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents
I only recently, after a decades long hiatus, have gotten back into reading Science Fiction and Fantasy works.  During my time away authors have become world famous, won all the major genre works and died without me ever hearing of them.

Bloodchild, Butler's Hugo and Nebula Prize Winning novella, was my first venture into her work.  I loved this story about humans and aliens in a symbiotic relationship.  Next I read her time travel work in which an African American woman from contemporary California involuntarily time traveled back to a slave plantation in America, circa 1840.  The conception is brilliant and Butler executed it well.  I next made a bigger venture, reading her tetralogy Lilith's Blood.  I found the overarching idea, the earth being repopulated by humans rescued long ago by aliens interesting but I had to slog my way to the end.

Parable of the Sower begins around 2024, a hopefully not prophetic date when trump could just be completing his second term.  Set in a community near a totally in ruins Los Angeles, destroyed by drugs, an extreme shortage of water brought on by Climate Change, poverty and rampant lawlessness and corruption.  Our narrator, an African American woman Lauren Otamina, lives in a small walled enclave, with her father, her step mother and her brothers.  Her father is a preacher, in the old days both of her parents were professors.  Lauren has a hyperempathy, a condition which causes her to feel the injuries of those around her.  There is a highly addictive drug rampant which turns people into pyromaniacs.  Lauren and her family are in constant fear of roaming bands of scavengers.  Butler does just a wonderful job depicting a very believable dystopian vision of America.

One day scavengers burn down her small enclave, her family  is killed.  Everyone says things are much better in the northern states of Oregon and Washington and Canada is the new promised land.  These states have border guards but if you are lucky you can get through.  Lauren and a few other survivors set out north.  Butler makes the journey very real.

Lauren has her own religion.  Ultimately she learns of a safe heaven up north, owned by an older man she meets on her journey, where she hopes to set up a community.

I don't want to tell too much of the very exciting plot.  There is a sequel to this work, Parable of the Talents that goes further into the life of Lauren after she forms her community.  I hope to read it.

I greatly enjoyed this book.

Mel u

Friday, June 16, 2017

With Ballet in My Soul Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario- a memoir by Eva Maze (2017)

More information on this memoir can be found here

With Ballet in My Soul Adventures of a Globe Trotting Impresario by Eva Maze is a fascinating very uplifting detail rich account of the author's nearly 100 year life.  We first meet her in pre-World War Two Romania, part of a Jewish family.  Eva is a teenager, her parents have the foresight in the face of Nazi threats to Jews to leave Romania.  They move to New York City and it is there Maze begins her life time love affair with Ballet.

The many photographs in the book let us see Maze was an exquisite beauty.  She fell in love with and married a man who was a combat pilot in WWII.  He obtained an important position with the then start up Pan Am airlines.  In the mean time Maze pursued lessons with Russian Emigre Ballet Masters in NYC.  She was already to old to be groomed to be a prima ballerina but she knew she would how always be involved with dancing.  We learn of her college years and I admit I was a bit shocked when she seems to admit she had an affair with an older very debonair man.  Her marriage survived this.

In 1948 her husband was transferred to the London office of Pan Am.  London was considered a "hardship post" due to food rationing.  Maze makes contact once again with famous Russian Ballet teachers and continues her education.  Every where Maze goes she jubilantly makes the best of things, her winning personality is very evident.

Next Pan Am sends her husband to New Delhi, a big cultural change.  I saw Maze loved the exposure to a new world this brought her.  She first begins her work as a professional dance impresario, organizing with partners a ballet tour of India.

I do not wish to give away to much more of Maze's career, she spends a lot of time in Germany and Paris.  She writes very openly about coping with the challenges of life over ninety.

I ended up really like this book.  It felt like Maze was almost a friend telling her life story.  Maze is an elegant highly cultured person with a charming prose style.

There are lots of wonderful photographs.

I throughly enjoyed this captivating memoir.

Mel u

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Green Magic" - a short story by Jack Vance, a master of the Science Fiction/Fantasy World (June, 1963)

I offer my great thanks to Fred of Fred!s Place, a blog I have followed for years and Mudpuddle for turning me onto Jack Vance

"Howard Fair, looking over the relics of his great-uncle Gerald McIntyre, found a large ledger entitled:


Open at Peril!
Fair read the journal with interest, although his own work went far beyond ideas treated only gingerly by Gerald McIntyre.
"The existence of disciplines concentric to the elementary magics must now be admitted without further controversy," wrote McIntyre. "Guided by a set of analogies from the white and black magics (to be detailed in due course), I have delineated the basic extension of purple magic, as well as its corollary, Dynamic Nomism."
Fair read on, remarking the careful charts, the projections and expansions, the transpolations and transformations by which Gerald McIntyre had conceived his systemology. So swiftly had the 

technical arts advanced that McIntyre's expositions, highly controversial sixty years before, now seemed pedantic and overly rigorous." From "Green Magic" by Jack Vance 

After rereading Dune by Frank Herbert, I realized there was about a fifty year gap in my knowledge of Science fiction and fantasy works.  Back in the day I liked Phillip Farmer, Isaac Asimov, and 

Robert Heinlein.  Only in the last few months have I begun to read in this area again.  I recently read and really enjoyed Clifford Simak's Hugo Award winning novel, The Way Station, several works by the powerfully imaginative Octavia Butler and two wonderful short stories by Isabell Wong and Alyssa Yap, both of Filipino ancestry.  I have also read a few short stories by writers like Karen Russell and Leonora Carrington that border on the fantasy genre.  I must not forget to mention a stunning debut novel Bald New World by Peter Tieryas.  I also reread Brave New World.  There are other genres such as steampunk that blend into fantasy and science fiction also.  Of course there is Horror Fiction.

I wanted to find out what I had missed in the last fifty years.  Who better to ask than the readers of my blog, as smart and as literate group as can be found on this planet.  

Both Fred and Mudpuddle said some of the work of an American writer, Jack Vance (born 1916, died 2013, both in San Francisco Bay Area) was perhaps superior to Dune.  I did some quick research, the literary output of Vance is huge, over sixty books and uncounted short stories, mostly published in pulp magazines.  His work is still under copyright and I could find only one short story online, "Green Magic", first published in 1943. I read this story and loved it.  It is squarely a work of fantasy, of dark magic showing us the dangers of reading the journals of deceased great uncles who made a life long study of the cycles of magic.  

The journal is read by Howard Fair, himself a student of the black, white and purple cycles of magic.  He has been known to conjure up a demon to liven up a dull party. He is shocked when he reads of his uncle's exploration of the green cycle of magic, something hitherto fore unknown to him.  He invokes a sprite from the green world, who warns him against a study of the green cycle.  Howard ends up spending hundreds of years mastering this realm.  Finally he longs for his old world and returns to his apartment only to discover he has been gone only two hours.  I will leave much of the plot unspoiled.  Readers of the great Irish fantasy writer

The very real fun in this story is Vance's creation of the theories of magic, simulating great learning in an arcane realm.  We see how Howard has been changed.

I really enjoyed this story and will venture more into his world.

At the link to "Green Magic" there are links to webpages with lots of information on Vance.

Readers of Sheridan de Le Fanu, the great Irish fantasy writer (extensively posted upon on my blog) and the early 20th century Welsh master Arthur Machen will feel at home in this story.   Maybe they are the literary Lolos of Vance.

Again my thanks to Fred and Mudpuddle.  I will hopefully this year read a few more short stories and at least his Hugo Award Winning works.

Mel u

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965, 835 pages)

Is Dune The Greatest Work of Science Fiction of all time?  What are your choices for this?

I last read Dune by Frank Herbert in 1967 (1920 to 1986). I  had no plans to reread Dune but I received notice in an E book bargains newsletter to which I subscribe that the Kindle edition was marked down temporarily to $1.95.  I remembered that I totally loved it in the long ago, I knew many consider it the greatest Science Fiction novel of all time, plus I wanted to see if I would still love Dune, so I bought the book. I saw a movie based on Dune directed by David Lynch 33 years ago.

Dune is set far in the future, the planets of the known universe are each ruled by a royal house.  Rulership is structured like European royalty.  At the head of the universe is an emperor, each of the royal houses are involved in continual power struggles with each other.  The novel centers on the rise to power of Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto head of house Atreides and his concubine Jessica, a Bene Gesserit.

I decided not to do much of a synopsis of the plot (Wikipedia has a decent one).

The emperor has decided to give house Atreides control over the planet Dune.  Dune is a desert planet, with no rain, Life revolves around water.  Dune is of great importance as only there can a spice that prolongs life and allows space to be navigated be found.

Just a handful of spice can buy a house on other worlds.  Dune was previously controlled by the house Harkoonnen, long blood enemies of the Atreides.  The duke suspects this is a trick by the emperor to destroy his house.

The plot is intricate and fascinating, Herbert goes into great detail about the religion and beliefs of those in the story.  It is a very "ecological" work, we are constantly aware of the power of water.  On Dune there are huge worms, some up to 400 meters.  They are integral to the production of spice.

I really enjoyed this reread, I was happy to see I could recall a lot of the book.

There are five sequels to Dune, some by Frank Herbert, some by others after his death.  I have not read any of these.  If you have, please leave some feedback.

Mel u

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"Raag Marwa" by Farah Ahamed (April 15, 2015)

A very good explanation of the Raag Marga in classic Hindu music

You can read "Raag Mawra" here

Farah Ahamed on The Reading Life. Here you will find links to her stories, my posts and a very interesting interview with her

"Raag, in the Sanskrit dictionary, is defined as "the act of coloring or dyeing" (the mind in this context) and "any feeling or passion especially love, affection, sympathy, vehement desire, interest, joy, or delight"? In music, these descriptions apply to the impressions of melodic sounds on both the artist(s) and listener(s). A raag consists of required and optional rules governing the melodic movements of notes within a performance. The rules of a raag can be defined by The manner in which the notes are used, ie. specific ways of ornamenting notes or emphasizing/ed-emphasizing them Manner in which the scale is ascended or descended Optional or required musical phrases, the way in which to reveal these phrases, and/or combine them The octave or frequency range to emphasize The relative pacing between the notes The time of day and/or season when the raag may be performed so as to invoke the emotions of the raag for maximum impact on the mental and emotional state of the performer and listener."  From - a very comprehensive Singapore based webpage promoting Indian Classical music

"Raag Marwa" is the third story by Famed Ahamed upon which I have posted.  I think in order to get the most from this story it helps to know a bit about the complex very classic Hindu musical work known as the Raag Marwa.  ( I placed a link to very good Singapore based webpage on classic Hindu music at the start of this post as well as a link to a performance that helped me to increase my understanding of the music teacher in the story.). The Raag Marwa is a work in which one can withdraw totally into the music, retreating or rising to a spiritual plane beyond the mundane.

There are only two on stage characters in the story, a fifty year old woman who gives lessons in classic Indian music and a man she lives with in an urban apartment, I think he is her husband.  The woman is very anxious, looking out the window at the bus stop, looking for someone.  She begins to play the Raag Marwa, also singing musical tones. Her husband yells from the bedroom, "are you teaching?"

She goes in the bedroom.  He is evidently disabled, rarely getting out of bed.  He had not eaten the food she prepared and she has to monitor his medication, sometimes he hides his pills.  We learn she is awaiting a special to her music pupil, a twenty seven year old attorney.  We sense she is in love with the pupil.

I will leave the ending of this very moving, poignant Story untold.  She does sink into existential despair, brought out of it only by withdrawing back into the Raag Mawra.

Ahamed has crested a sharp picture of two lives, a woman seemingly trapped by the illness of her husband, now largely indifferent to her but as a caregiver.  We also must question her character, seemingly planning to abandon her husband and cynically we must wonder if the twenty-seven year old attorney really returned her love or is she deceiving herself, ready to foolishly through away her past.

I really liked this story.  As in her other stories, Ahamed creates very real characters to whom we can relate.  I felt sadness for the woman and I admit I winced a bit when the wife asked her husband if he had taken his pills, this having happened to me on numerous occasions.

Take the time to listen to the music in the link above.  If one is interested you might listen to class Hindu music radio stations as background while reading.

This story first appeared in The Miss Slate, April 10, 2015.

I hope to post on another of Ahamed's short stories in a few days.

Farah Ahamed is a short fiction writer. Her stories have been published in The Massachusetts Review, Thresholds, Kwani?, The Missing Slate and Out of Print among others. She has been nominated for The Caine and The Pushcart prizes and shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, DNA/Out of Print Award, Sunderland Waterstones Award, Asian Writer Award. She was highly
Recommended in the London Short Story Award and joint winner of the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award.

Mel u

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Word Counts in The Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield- with comparisons to contemporaries

An Article I Contributed to  The Journal of The Katherine Mansfield Society, republished here with their permission, April 2013, Issue 14. - with new introduction by myself

Having recently read Gerri Kimber's wonderful new book, Katherine Mansfield The Early Years I was motivated to look at a word count spreadsheet on the short stories of Mansfield i dida few years ago.  Kimber let me see a young woman never really at home where she was born, Wellington New Zealsnd.  Her mother was a bit emotionally remote and her father did not accept her idea of being a professional writer, both were agast at her open bisexuality.  Neither really could truly relate to her.  From 1903 to 1906 she attended college in London.  She returned to Wellington in 1906 but London called her back.  In 1908 she moved back to London, never to return in London.  In London, and in her Continental travels, she was basically rootless, moving often, changing lovers, marrying
dubiously and never having a permanent home.  In London she began in her fiction to write stories inspired by her childhood, drawing on the beauty of New Zealand.  To me Kimber showed me a woman who had no real sense of home.  In her longed for new home in London she struggled to survive, provided with a begrudged small allowance by her father, entered in a one day marriage before eventually marrying John Middleton Murry.  She sought out "guru like men" and increasingly was frought with health issues.  She seemingly had few close women friends, besides a strange relationship with Ida Baker who was totally in love with KM.  KM exploited her and used her as a servant.

To me this craving for a home is strongly brought out in my word counts.  The results were more striking that I expected.

My Post on Katherine Mansfield The Early Years by Gerri Kimber- contains links to important Mansfield related webpages

Introductory Note in Orginal Article

KM chose her words very carefully, once insisting that she check the proofs of ‘The Man Without a Temperament’ for before its publication in Art & Letters: ‘Every word matters. This is not conceit—but it must be so. ... I cant afford mistakes. Another word wont do. I chose every single word’ (To JMM February 2nd 1920, Letters: III, 204). Words certainly matter in KM’s writing, as is amply suggested by the preliminary research undertaken by Mel u (editor of the blog detailed below. Mel has begun to examine the frequency with which certain words recur across a selection of short story collections, including KM’s collected stories, and we’re sure you’ll agree that it has raised some fascinating questions! - introductory note by The Editor of The Journal of the Katherine Mansfield Society, Gerri Kimber

I am the editor and founder of The Reading Life, a literary book blog I began four years ago. About three years ago I read my first Katherine Mansfield short story when it was selected as a story of the day on a webpage I follow. It was ‘Miss Brill’. At that time I had never heard of Katherine Mansfield. I went on to post all of the short stories by Mansfield I could find online. I began to get hits on my blog from all over the world reading my posts. I went on to post on Kathleen Jones’ biography of Mansfield and Linda Lappin’s novel based on her last years.

For those interested my blog gets about 100,000 hits a month. I will begin tracking where readers of my Mansfield posts live. I often see a sudden jump in readerships in a cer- tain area and I know a university there is teaching her work. Because I watch my blog stats very closely, I know that Mansfield is read in a much wider venue than most people might think, far beyond the traditional English language high-end literary world. I am going to try to track her readership. My assumption is almost anyone seriously interested in a Mansfield short story, certainly most students, will google the story and they will often be lead to my blog.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Katherine Mansfield The Early Years by Gerri Kimber (2016, Edinburgh University Press

The Katherine Mansfield Society - Your First Resource

Edinburgh University Press

Website of Linda Lappin- author of Katherine's Wish, a wonderful historical novel based on last years of Mansfield

Homepage of Kathleen Jones - author of The Story Teller A Biography of Katherine Mansfield- highly recommended

The Reading Life Guide to Getting Started in Katherine Mansfield

Born - Wellington, New Zealand, October 14, 1888

Died -  Fontainebleau, France January 9, 1923 (of Tuberculosis)

1903 - sent by wealthy parents to attend school in London1903 to 1906 -  travels Europe, especially Germany

1906 - returns to New Zealand

1908 - returns to London, never to go back to New Zealand, begins trying to live as a professional writer, partially supported by her father, chairman of the Bank of New Zealand who disapproved of her profession and life style

1911 -  first collection of short stories published, In a German Pension

1911 - meets John Middleton Murry whom she will marry in 1918

1915 - her beloved brother is killed in a training accident in France while serving in the  New Zealand Army.  Mansfield begins  to write of her childhood in New Zealand

I was deeply moved when I learned that Katherine Mansfield's Note book was the last work Irene Nemirovsky read before she was transported to Auschwitz

When I first began The Reading Life almost eight years ago, I had never heard of
Katherine Mansfield.  I had the common place prejudice against short stories, thinking I needed something I could "sink my teeth into".  Over a long year period of continuous reading, I might have read ten short stories.   In a short story of the day webpage I followed, "Miss Brill" was recommended.  I ended up reading all of the short stories in her four collections, two books about her and even ended up doing an article for The Journal of the Katherine Mansfield Society.  Every day people from all over the world log onto my blog to read my posts.

Some readers say they are not interested in learning about the lives of authors, only about their stories.  To me this is deeply misguided, why read a writer with any real effort unless you think they can add to your understanding of life? .

Why would you not want to know the well springs of  their creativity?  This is not an endorsement of biographical interpretation, nor do I reject it, as perhaps long ago I did.  Literature belongs to each reader.

Katherine Mansfield The Early Years covers her life from her birth in 1888, detailing her family history in New Zealand, up to 1908, when she left New Zealand for the second time, never to return.  Kimber lets us see how the early life experiences of Mansfield shaped her fiction.  We learn a lot about life in Wellington during the last years of the 19th century up to 1908.  The poor and the rich lived in close proximity.  There were not enough people affluent enough to send their children to private school so Katherine and her siblings mingled with children from all classes. We see a treatment of the poor kids in what many consider her best story, "The Doll House".  Kimber lets us see New Zealand was very much a country of emigrants, even the
Richest residents grandparents left England seeking better circumstances.  Kimber lets us see his this produced a more open society than England.

 Kimber goes into detail about Mansfield's early romantic and sexual involvements, with men and women.  It was fascinating to learn of her affair with a rich beautiful Maori princess.  One of her uncles was married to a Maori woman.  Learning of the relative comfortable intimacy with the Maori helped me understand the story, "The Kidnapping of Pearl Button".

Mansfield was a lonely child, not really fitting the pattern her parents wanted, graduate from school and marry a nice young man from upper crust Wellington society, have kids and run a house.  Part of Mansfield's problem was that she was simply too smart, too curious, overly rebellious to settle into such a role.

In 1903 her father sent her to live in London while going to Queen's college.  London was at first a great cultural shock.  She met lots of literary and artistic people, had some more romances.  She tried her hand at writing stories and became enamored with becoming a professional writer.

After three years in 1906 she returns to Wellington.  She realized right away she did not want to spend the rest of her life there, bohemian London called out.  Her parents tried to fix her up with nice young men but this never worked out.  Kimber ends her wonderful narrative in 1908 when Mansfield returns to London.  The rest is the stuff of legends.

Kimber has studied the work of Mansfield for many years.  I greatly enjoyed her tying in of various stories to events in Mansfield's life.  We see her early closeness with her brother Harold.

There are many images of the natural world in her stories.  In the backstreet rooming houses and hotels in which she lived in London and Europe these must have been very fond memories.  There is a great deal of spectatorship, train and ship trips.

Katherine Mansfield The Early Years is a marvelous example of a literary biography.  Kimber had access to conversations with survivors, previously unused in biographies correspondence as well as fragments of stories not included in her four official collections.  There are a good number of previously unpublished photos that alone will make this a must have for Mansfield lovers.

Mansfield was one of the founders of the modern short story, the story of her early years tells how she came to write her very influential stories.

I highly recommend this book to all interested not just in Mansfield, who really must read this book, but in the development of the modern short story.  To those who have an overview of Mansfield's remaining years, this book will help you understand her life path, her involvement with John Middleton Murry (I would love to read an account by Kimber of this relationship) and her strength to struggle with her health and financial difficulties.

The prose is elegant, the documentation impeccable without being overly academic

Gerri Kimber, Visiting Professor in the Department of English at the University of Northampton, is co-editor of the annual yearbook Katherine Mansfield Studies, and Chair of the Katherine Mansfield Society. She is the deviser and Series Editor of the four-volume Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Katherine Mansfield (2016) and the author of Katherine Mansfield: The View from France, and A Literary Modernist: Katherine Mansfield and the Art of the Short Story. - from Edinburgh University Press

Mel u


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Surprise Queenhood in the New Black Sun- The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks by Angela Jackson (2017)

Gwendolyn Brooks - Born Topeka, Kansas 1917, died Chicago 2000

1950- became first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize

1968 to 2000- Poet Laureate of the state of Illinois

1985 to 1986 Poet Laureate Consultant to The Library of Congress

A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Son- The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks by Angela Jackson is a captivating biography of one of the most famous literary chroniclers of the experiences of African Americans.  Most of her poems and fiction is set in Chicago, where she grew up in a loving and culturally nourishing home.  Her father, into the reading life as was his daughter, gave up his dreams of medical school to work as a janitor to support his family.  Her mother, portrayed as not overtly highly affectionate by Jackson, strongly encouraged Brooks to become a poet, writing of the experiences of African Americans in inner city Chicago.

Jackson tells us how the Outbreak of World War II, America joined in 1939, opened up lots of jobs in Chicago for African Americans.  Thousands came up from the south to take these jobs, hoping to build better lives.  They faced then not illegal discrimination in housing, they could only live in certain parts of Chicago, and jobs and were often made to carry within a sense of inferiority.  Brooks brilliance shown through early in her life, she may have been personally sheltered but she observed the lives of the neighbors in the building her family lived in for a long time while she was growing up.  She saw the problems of women, struggling to feed their children, often working as maids themselves while trying to cope with their often less than reliable husbands.

Jackson shows us the literary career path of Brooks, starting out writing for newspapers aimed only at African Americans, going on to have her work published by major houses to winning many awards, winning the Pulitzer Prize, which completely changed her life.  Brooks became a highly sought speaker, a mentor to many young writers, sponsoring awards with her own money.  She also became an English and Poetry teacher in a Chicago college.

Through it all she was a dedicated mother to her two children.  Her marriage was sometimes strained by the stress of financial problems before she became famous and this caused a separation for a year but over all she had a good marriage to a Man himself a first rate Poet who worked at a variety of jobs to support the family.

Jackson's depiction of the  trip of Brooks and her husband to African was very interesting.  She went to Ghana and Kenya, as the guest of the government.  Brooks was a bit surprised when the residents of these countries saw her not as a returning African but just as an American.  She made an emotionally disturbing visit to places that were used as debarkation stations for slaves bound for America.

Jackson elegantly presents Brooks as a great artist, a person with wonderful values, loved and highly respected by all.  One could only call her a genuinely good and decent person.

Jackson explicates her major works and quotes generously from her work. Jackson shows how the poetry and prose, she wrote some experimental novels also, arose from and rose above the early life experience of Brooks.

The book could easily be read by young adults.  Brooks is a frequently taught poet in America.

A lot of her work can be found online so I Hope she would not mind if I Shared the poem below with my readers.

"To Those Of My Sisters
Who Kept Their Naturals"
-- never to look a hot comb in the teeth
by Gwendolyn Brooks


I love you.
Because you love you.
Because you are erect.
Because you are also bent.
In season, stern, kind.
Crisp, soft-in season.
And you withhold.
And you extend.
And you Step out.
And you go back.
And you extend again.
Your eyes, loud-soft, with crying and with smiles,
are older than a million years,
And they are young.
You reach, in season.
And All
below the rich rouch right time of your hair.
You have not bought Blondine.
You have not hailed the hot-comb recently.
You never worshipped Marilyn Monroe.
You say: Farrah's hair is hers.
You have not wanted to be white.
Nor have you testified to adoration of that state
with the advertisement of imitation
(never successful because the hot-comb is laughing too.)
But oh the rough dark Other music!
the Real,
the Right.
The natural Respect of Self and Seal!
Your hair is Celebration in the world!  - end

In the interest of full disclosure I was kindly given a copy of this book for review purposes.

School libraries should include this book.  Teachers will find material students to which their students can relate.  Literary Biography lovers will be very glad they read this work.

Mel u