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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Reading Life Review - October, 2017 .

I found an unexpected balance when I did my collage of authors for October, nine women, nine men, nine living, nine dead.  I posted upon works by one Russian, two Irish writers, four Americans and four Canadians, six from England and one Hungarian.  Five are among the great poets of the world, all my poets for October are dead.  

Column One, far left

  1. Micha Berdyczewski - from Russia.  Yiddish Short Stories 
  2. Billy O’Callaghan - Irish, The House of Dead
  3. W. B. Yeats - Irish
  4. Robert Browning - English

Column Two

  1. Zoe Greenberg- Canadian
  2. Allan Ginsberg- USA, Howl and other Poems
  3. Paiya Satia - USA, historian specialising in the industrial revolution 

Column Three

  1. George Saunders -  USA, Lincoln in the Bardo, 2017 Book Prize Winner
  2. Amy Balog -  Hungary, Sleeping Village
  3. Christina Rossetti- England, The Goblin’s Market

Column Four

  1. Lord George Byron. -  England
  2. Keisha Jaranczyk - Canada
  3. Anna Milduchawsk - Canada
  4. Percy Shelley - England 

Column Five

  1. Jenny Zhang - USA, Sour Heart, great debut Short Story Collection
  2. Anna Miduchoeska - Canada
  3. Zadie Smith - England, Swing Time, NW, On Beauty
  4. Malcolm Lowry - England,  Under the Volcano, masterpiece 

Blog Stats

The top countries for visitors were

  1. The Philippines (4th month in this place)
  2. USA
  3. Canada
  4. UK
  5. France

The greater Manila area is the home city of the most visitors, followed by Mumbai.

The five most viewed posts included four by Filipino writers and one by an Indian author.

Since inception the blog has had 4,890,303 page views.  

Avant Bousweau has graciously agreed to act as senior consultant upon the fantasy genre, 

In the family tradition, she attended Oxford then the Sorbonne, where she focused on fairy tales. 

I offer my great thanks to all those who leave comments.  You help keep me going. 

In November I will be focusing on German Literature.  

Mel u

Monday, October 30, 2017

From Ritual to Romance by Jessie L. Weston (1920)

Please ponder and comment on my question below.

“Is it possible to establish chain of descent connecting early Aryan and Babylonian Ritual with Classic, Medieval and Modern forms of Nature.”

“In the process of our investigation we must retrace our steps and turn back to the early traditions of our Aryan forefathers, and see whether we cannot, even in that remote antiquity, lay our hand upon a clue, which, like the fabled thread of Ariadne, shall serve as guide through the mazes of a varying, yet curiously persistent, tradition.”

“the root of such belief and custom is imbedded in a deeper stratum of Folk-tradition than we had hitherto realized, that it is, in fact, a heritage from the far-off past of the Aryan peoples”

“When we turn from the early Aryan to the classic Greek period we find in the Kouretes, and in a minor degree in the Korybantes, a parallel so extraordinarily complete, alike in action and significance, that an essential identity of origin appears to be beyond doubt.”

In a book published in 1920 about the myth of the grail and the Fisher King do references to “our Aryan ancestors”, set off red flags of racism or worse? There are twenty eight references Aryans,  “our ancestors”, predating The Greeks and Near Eastern civilizations in From Ritual to  Romance by Jessie Laidley Weston. I Read this because in Lawrence Rainey in his very illuminating The Annotated Wasteland said:

“Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston's book on the Grail legend: From Ritual to Romance (Cambridge). Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston's book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble.”

Weston’s book was published just two years before The Waste Land.  Maybe The social malaise of The 1920s lead to a need to believe you are descendents of a lost to history super civilization.  Of course The comfort of The belief comes from excluding others.  We know who seized on Aryan ancestors and maybe this is causing my reaction.  

I am quite sure the research into the myth of the Grail and the Fisher King in the last near 100 years has rendered her conclusions mute, of course she did not have the scientific tools modern workers do.  

I do recommend this book for sure to those want to more fully understand The Wasteland, she does say interesting things and has a seeming level of erudition     high enough to intimidate most.

The quote below, from the webpage of Sacred Texts, gives a generous overview of the importance of the book:

“At the advanced age of 70, Jessie Weston, who had spent decades immersed in the Arthurian canon, wrote this relatively short book to attempt to explain the roots of the legend of the Holy Grail. She enumerates the seemingly inexplicable elements of the quest--The Fisher King, The Wasteland, the Chapel Perilous, and the Grail Cup itself--and ties them to the symbols and initiatory rites of the ancient mystery religions. She also attempts to identify the author and locality of the tale. Her thesis still inspires heated controversy among academics. It is also claimed that T.S. Elliot's The Wasteland was based on this book, although this has been questioned.

One thing is certain; although this book is one of the bullet-points of 20th century culture, probably very few have read and understood it in its entirety. Written in a formal academic style, with extensive passages in a dozen different languages, From Ritual to Romance is frankly a tough, but ultimately very rewarding read.”

You can read the book for free at the above webpage.  I paid $1.95 for a kindle edition, which seem fair.

Her Obituary (she died in 1928)

THE death is announced of Miss Jessie Laidlay Weston, D.Litt., which took place in London on Sept. 29 at the age of seventy-seven. Miss Weston was born on Dec. 29, 1850, and educated at Brighton, Paris, and Hildesheim, and studied art at the Crystal Palace School. In 1890, at the suggestion of the late Alfred Nutt, and with the view of making the stories of the Wagner dramas more widely known in England, she took up the study of the Arthurian Legend. Her first work was a translation of “Parzival,” by Wolfram von Eschen-bach, and this was followed by a series of studies of the origins and development of the Arthurian Cycle. She dealt in succession with Sir Gawain, Sir Lancelot du Lac, Sir Perceval, and “The Three Days' Tournament,” her studies being published in the Grimm Library. Then followed “Seven Arthurian Romances Unrepresented in Malory,” “Romance, Vision, and Satire,” and “Chief Middle English Poets.

To add to my questioning, the Germanic myths of Wagner, particularly that of Parzival, were part of the Jungian roots of Nazism.  

I am glad I read this book.  Serious literary autodidacts should add this to their list.  

Mel u

Sunday, October 29, 2017

“Tainted” - A Short Story by Micha Josef Berdyczewsi (1899, translated by James Redfield)

Very good biographical article- from The Yivo Encyclopaedia of Eastern European Jews

You may read this story and two others by the author at The Yiddish Book Center Website

Very good lecture on the history of the Yiddish Language and literature

Micha Berdyczewski (born in the Ukraine in 1865, died in Berlin in 1921) was a journalist, a scholar, a political writer but is now best remembered for his Yiddish language stories about life in Jewish shtetls in the Pale in the Ukraine (“shtetl” means “town” but has become in the parlance to refer to 
a small Eastern European largely Jewish community)

He was born into a very scholarly family, he was destined to be a rabbi but an ideological conflict with his father in law lead to divorce and his moving to Berlin, with studies at Bern also, where he obtained a PhD, focusing on German philosophy.  

There are three stories on the link to the Yiddish Book Center, “Tainted” about a Very highly regarded Kosher butcher is my favourite.  The kosher butcher is a very important personage, it takes serious study to master the rituals.  A lot of butchers take short cuts to maximise profit but not our butcher

“Yonosn was the deeply learned one, the God-fearing one, and above all, he was skilled at his craft. He would remove the worst adhesion from an animal’s lungs like plucking off a hair, and never once did he happen to make an ox unkosher or, heaven forbid, not to fully slaughter a cow, large or small. Other butchers in Drazhne would have cut off their own fingers for him, yet he never took a thing from them. Not one of them could say that he ever accepted a pound of free meat or a foot for Shabbat like most kosher butchers do. When he was called upon to slaughter he didn’t hesitate; he didn’t waste his time or keep anyone else waiting or make a poor lady stand there holding a chicken while he slaughtered a goose that some fancy customer’s servant had brought over—to him, rich and poor were no different. He didn’t fight with the other butchers or slander them or argue with the cantor about the donation from this or that Torah reading.” 

He has a very high standing in the community.  Some terrible, an uncontrolled moment, send him into disgrace.  He wanders homeless and alone for 13 years then dies.  If you want to know why, you should read the story.  

All these stories are a delight to read.  

Mel u 


Saturday, October 28, 2017

N W by Zadie Smith (304 Pages, 2012)

A Wonderful Conversation with Zadie Smith. From The New York Public Library

N W is third novel by Zadie Smith which I have read.  First I read her Swing Time then  On Beauty. I have also posted on four of her delightful shorts stories.  I also have listened to and greatly enjoyed some of her various literary conversations  (on Youtube). I plan to read as much of her work as I can, including her essay collections.  

The title of the novel comes from the setting, The NW of London.  This section of London is home to a diverse working class population. with lots of immigrants and people of color.  Some stay there forever, others work hard to get out.  The two lead female characters have been friends since childhood.  One is now a sucessful barrister living in an expensive part of London.  She still keeps in touch with her friend but they have difficulties really relating as they once did.

Smith takes us deeply into the minds and hearts of her characters.  She shifts from first to third party, employs at times stream of consciousness, and other very creative techniques.  Smith lets us see, smell, hear even taste The NW.  The conversations are wonderful.  

The Review in The Telegraph (linked to above) goes into detail about the greatness of this novel, so I am keeping my post short.  

Please share your experience with Zadie Smith with us.  

Mel u

Friday, October 27, 2017

Sleeping Village by Amy Balog (2017)

Sleeping Village by Amy Balog is a very imaginative and creative novel, more than a bit challenging to classify.  I see it as a dystopian story nestled inside of a conflicting dystopia.  It is as if you awake from a dream only to wonder if one has dreamed they have awoken.

The story is set in an isolated community, the residents have been programmed to think there are no people outside the confines of the community.  Your place in the society is pretty much determined by your birth.  

The central character, Klara , is a young woman working in a factory when we meet her.  She is a bit of a nonconformist, her parents were social reprobates, she was taken from 

them at an early age.  She is in a relationship with a young man, the rules require they marry and she breed.  She wants out of the dreary factory and has no wish to marry.  Through luck and perseverance she gets a job as a journalist for the community newspaper.  She begins to see 
things are not quite the way everyone is conditioned to believe as she seeks out interesting stories. 

The rulers of the society are treated as gods by the citizens, slowly Klara sees behind the curtain.  The problem is that she has been so deeply conditioned she does not know for sure if she can trust her perceptions.  

There are two dystopian worlds, One is a vision of western society, the other a parody.  Each one comments on and 

illuminates the other.  I don’t want to spoil this delightfully entertaining story so I am leaving out a lot.

I really enjoyed Sleeping Village and look forward to following the literary career of Amy Belog.  

I recommend Sleeping Village to all into dystopian fiction.  

                                         From the Author’s Website
Amy Balog is a Hungarian-born author of fiction, music journalist and poet based in London. Writing has been her greatest passion since the age of 12, and she has also experimented with other forms of art, including music and painting. 

Amy holds a Bachelor's degree in Biological Sciences from University of Westminster and
a Master's in Science, Technology and Society (with an emphasis on science communication) from University College London. She has previously worked as
a science journalist and later as a medical editor, before deciding to pursue music journalism. Her music website 60s Today is dedicated to the old legends, those who keep the spirit of the 60s alive and today's innovators.

She has always been drawn to the dark and incomprehensible. Her main inspiration for writing comes from surrealist art and cinema, eastern and western philosophy, and rock and alternative music. She also has a strong interest in psychology, mental illnesses and dreams. Her favourite authors include Comte du LautrĂ©amont, Friedrich Nietzsche, Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire.

She wrote her first novella, Black, White and Red, when she was 18 years old. It could be best classified as horror erotica, and it explores the darkest side of human nature. It also raises many questions about the relationship between dreams and reality. 

 She wrote her second novella, The Mirror that Lied, while studying for her undergraduate degree. It's a gothic prose poem, and its subject matter revolves around the treatment of outsiders by the masses, human evolution, madness, and the role of art and artists... 


Mel u

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Annotated Wasteland with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose, edited, with annotations and introduction by Lawrence Rainey (2006)

I offer my great thanks to Max u for The Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to acquire this book.

T. S. Eliot, was Born 1888 in Saint Louis, died in London in 1965 and is buried in Westminister Abbey.  

The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot (1922) is by far the most influential poem of the 20th century.  After a hiatus of way too long, I reread it last month.  I read it several times and listened to five different readings of the poem, including Eliot’s (on YouTube).  You cannot begin to understand modern literature, not just English language poetry, without this poem.  First time readers may feel intimidated or feel the poem is beyond their comprehension.  Forgot this. Once I got into I loved how strange it was, how dramatic and I knew many if not most of the allusions were lost on me.  Lawrence Rainey’s book was exactly what I needed, it is a literary autodidacts perfect book.  

Rainey begins with a very well done introduction taking Eliot from St. Louis to Studies at Harvard, Oxford and the Sorbonne.  Rainey talks about the seven years he worked in London at Lloyd’s Bank, in the foreign accounts department, his marriage, and his very important relationship with Ezra Pound.  Rainey’s annotations were fascinating and detailed.  We see the works that influenced Eliot, his descriptions of the city of London, meaning the financial district, we follow the Eliot’s as they move around.  I was gratified to learn that Bertrand Russell helped Eliot with financial aid and provided he and Vivian with a very nice place to live, giving Eliot the peace of mind to write.  Rainey talks a good bit about the business side of publishing poetry in the early 1920s.  

I very highly recommend this book to all with a serious interest in modern 
Poetry, which probably began with The Wasteland.  I Will return to it often.  

                                              From Yale University 

“One of the twentieth century’s most powerful—and controversial—works, The Waste Land was published in the desolate wake of the First World War. This definitive edition of T. S. Eliot’s masterpiece presents a new and authoritative version of the poem, along with all the essays Eliot wrote as he was composing The Waste Land, seven of them never before published in book form. The volume is enriched with period photographs and a London map of locations mentioned in the poem.
Featured in the book are Lawrence Rainey’s groundbreaking account of how The Waste Land came to be composed; a history of the reactions of admirers and critics; and full annotations to the poem and Eliot’s essays. The edition transforms our understanding of one of the greatest modernist writers and the magnificent poem that became a landmark in literary history.

Lawrence Rainey is professor and chair in modernist literature, Department of English, University of York. He is the author of Institutions of Modernism: Literary Elites and Pub. From the website of Yale University Press

Mel u

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sour Heart - A Collection of Short Stories by Jenny Zhang (2017)

Website of Jenny Zhang.

My post upon “Why Are They Throwing Bricks” by Jenny Zhang

Very Insightful Review by Jia Tolentino from The New Yorker 

I offer my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that enabled my reading of Sour Heart .

I love short Stories.  To me reading them well is more of a challenge than reading a novel, many practitioners says writing them is harder.  

My first and near last word on Jenny Zhang’s collection of short stories Sour Heart is that this is an amazing, beautiful, deeply intelligent and sublime work of art, her first and just published.  The review by Jia Tolentino, linked to above, surpasses anything I could produce here so I shall keep my post brief.

There are eight stories in the collection, all are about the experiences of young Chinese girls, immigrated to America.  The longest story in the collection, reading times range from 30 to sixty minutes, is set during the cultural revolution in China.  The description of the horrible cruelty directed at members of the varying narrator’s families is beyond painful in detail.  (I recently did an editorial post in which I said terrorists, dictators, demagogues,  throughout history, for sure now in America, have waged a war on those of us in the reading life, Zhang let me see how directly this was true of Maoist China in her partially set in China story.  I thank her for this.)   

The opening story, “We Love You, Chrispina” is narrated by a young girl.  With her parents, she lives in a place in New York City so filthy that they wake each morning covered in roaches.  In a very long sentence whose scatology  might make Swift blush, we are given a very vivid account of the difficulty of elimination in this environment.  The final story is also narrated by Chrispina.

The families are intensely close in these stories.  The parents , though far from perfect, are totally devoted to their daughter and her brother.  They begin in grinding poverty.  In one harrowing scene the father eats what his daughter vomits as they can waste nothing.  It is also something that will, we can only predict, be thrown in her face one day.  The parents have terrible fights, fathers may work three jobs while going to Night school to take care of his family but he also savagely beats his wife and flaunts his girlfriend.  There are some delightfully fun, if you have a twisted sense of humour, stories about the very multicultural school experiences of the girl.  Every ethnic group is represented, something to offend everyone.  There is an incredibly cruel amazing beautiful 12 year old Korean girl that is destined to ruin many lives.  We see adolescent curiosity about sex, trying to figure it out.  The girls are just beginning to get their periods and develop breasts.  

In some of the stories the families have moved up in the world, in another they are in North Carolina.  The Chinese immigrants community is mutually supportive, though there is intense drama and rivalry. The family dynamics are just brilliant.  There is much more in the collection than I have mentioned.  The sentences are just so marvellous.

I truly loved Sour Heart.  

In a podcast  Zhang expresses her great admiration for Zadie Smith, Clarice Lispector (yes) and Marguerite Duras.

Mel u