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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sharanya Manivannan - Two Short Stories and Two Poems - 2017

It is interesting how chance connections in the great International Book Blog Community can lead you to discover new to you writers you might never have otherwise come upon.  In November I participated in German Literature Month, as I have done now for seven years.  I noticed a blogger had posted on a great novel set in Germany during World War II, Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada.  After reading the very insightful post by Deepika Ramesh of New, Fractured Light I entered a subscription to her blog.  

Thanks to this I learned now from Deepika of a fascinating new to me writer Sharanya Manivannan.  As my last post in 2017, I will talk briefly of two of her short stories and two of her amazing poems.  She is also an amazing literary performance artist, if you do nothing else today, watch the video of her reading I link to above.  

“Mother-Tongued” (a Short Story) is a delightful erotically charged work. I once spent many hours at Angkor Wat, fixated on the stone images of women.  I see Manivannan’s depiction of sexuality as arising from the women on ancient temples.  The story opens with a pun worthy of Thomas Pynchon at his best or worse.  Either way I had to laugh.  

“The first time I spent the night at the cunning linguist’s, a blood orange moon rose out of the sea. We watched it ascend from his third-floor window and later, when we both woke momentarily mid-sleep, he grabbed my chin and said ‘Yennadi?’ and kissed me rough-soft. That was the moment of my downfall. When I turned up at his doorstep the next time wearing –by sheer coincidence –a sari, he made love to me without taking it off. When I ran away to Auroville (crying all the way down on the AC bus from Koyambedu), he called within a week to say, ‘Nee Pondicherry-le irukira nerathila, Madras-ay kamathila vaadi poghuthu.’ ‘You are in Pondicherry, and all of Chennai is wilting with desire,’ I explained to friends who did not understand. Flush with superlative sex and dizzy with delusion, I told everyone I knew.”

If one wanted to you could talk now of Hindu notions of creation arising through the sexual activity of gods or you could simply enjoy a though provoking story centring on sex.  

“I Come Bearing Mangoes” (a poem, Reading time 1.5 Minutes, is in the voice of an arriving guest bringing mangoes.  I was attracted to this poem initially by my great love for mangoes.  On our family property there is a huge mango tree that produces so much in the summertime we can give boxes to our friends.  I see no point in me or anyone “explaining” this poem.  Just listen to it and maybe at least know you are in the tropics.

“Gigolo Maami” (A Short Story) deals with the sexual relationship of a woman and man she calls her “Gigolo Maami” (Mommy).  We do not learn if he is really being paid or not. She calls him that because after sex he fixes her breakfast.
She sometimes taunts him by telling him a dancing Boy she is friends with makes better coffee. A very entertaining story which left me wanting more.

“The Secret of Secrets” (a poem, performance time about six minutes) is a work of great depth.  The speaker incarnates diverse figures from ancient Tamil mythology.  I have listened to the Reading by Manivannan at least five times.  I feel transported back thousands of years to a time.  Almost to the birth of a culture.  I felt very young and very old, wanting no more than to be ravished by a demonic goddess.  She is a brilliant rhymer.

I will be revisiting the work of Sharanya Manivannan numerous times in 2018. 

I offer my great thanks to my friend Deepika Ramesh in the Reading Life, we were there when the Goddesses arrived and we will be here when they leave, for helping me discover Sharanya Manivannan 

Mel u

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers - 1942 - translated by Margot Dembo, 2017

Anna Seghers (née Netty Reiling; 1900–1983) was born in Mainz, Germany, into an upper-middle-class Jewish family. 

In November of 2013 I read and greatly enjoyed Transit by Anna Seghers.  I was very happy to be given a new translation of her novel The Seventh Cross set in Germany in the opening years of WW II.  Seghers, from an aristocratic Jewish family, made it to America.  Her financial struggles ended when Hollywood gave her $75,000 (equivalent now to $1,800,000) for the movie rights.  The book sold over 400,000 copies in the USA and has been translated into over thirty languages.  

I trying to get caught up on my posting before year end.  This novel deserves a long post but I will just be very brief.  Seven men escape from a Nazi concentration camp.  The commandant, potentially in big trouble over this, erects seven crosses to execute the escapees.  Seghers lets us see what life was like in Germany as the men try to get out of the country.

I am very glad I read this book and I know my post is too short to close to do it justice.

She was a sickly and introverted child by her own account, but became an intellectually curious student, eventually earning a doctorate in art history at the University of Heidelberg in 1924; her first story, written under the name Antje Seghers, was published in the same year. In 1925 she married a Hungarian immigrant economist and began her writing career in earnest. By 1929 Seghers had joined the Communist Party, given birth to her first child, and received the Kleist Prize for her first novel, The Revolt of the Fisherman. Having settled in France in 1933, Seghers was forced to flee again after the 1940 Nazi invasion. With the aid of Varian Fry, Seghers, her husband, and two children sailed from Marseille to Mexico on a ship that included among its passengers Victor Serge, André Breton, and Claude Lévi-Strauss. After the war she moved to East Berlin, where she became an emblematic figure of East German letters, actively championing the work of younger writers from her position as president of the Writers Union and publishing at a steady pace. Among Seghers’s internationally regarded works are The Seventh Cross (1939; adapted for film in 1944 by MGM), one of the only World War II–era depictions of Nazi concentration camps; the novella Excursion of the Dead Girls (1945); The Dead Stay Young (1949); and the story collection Benito’s Blue (1973).

Margot Bettauer Dembo has translated works by Judith Hermann, Robert Gernhardt, Joachim Fest, Ödön von Horváth, and Feridun Zaimoglu, among others. She was awarded the Goethe-Institut/Berlin Translator’s Prize in 1994 and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize in 2003. Dembo has also worked as a translator for two feature documentary films: The Restless Conscience, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and The Burning Wall. Her translation of Transit by Anna Seghers was published by NYRB Classics in 2013. From NYRB

“Elgia’s Revenge” - A Short Story by Chava Rosenfarb - 1981- translated from Yiddish

“Elgia’s Revenge” (translated from Yiddish in 1994 by Goldie Morgentaler, first published in 1981) is the most famous work by Chava Rosenfarb. (With an estimated reading time of 65 minutes, some would see it as a novella.) It is included, longest story, in Found Treasures:Stories by Yiddish Women Writers edited by Sarah Swartz, Ethel Raicus, and Maggie Wolfe.  This is the very model of a perfect anthology.  There are eighteen writers featured, each with very well done biographies.  Included also is an excellent introduction by Irene Klapfisz.  I Will be drawing on this collection throughout  2018.

The story is told by a woman, now living in Montreal, who was a Kapo at a concentration camp.  Kapos were Jewish inmates who were in charge of other Jews. They acted as police for the Nazis, often beating other Jews and even helped select those to be executed.  They did the cruelest jobs.  By doing this they received preferential treatment.  They were totally hated by all.  We first meet our narrator as her camp has been liberated.  She is riding with other ex-internees on an American trucks. One of the men on the truck is identified as an ex-kapo.  He is beaten to death.  Our narrator once preformed an act of kindness for a woman on the truck and she begs her not to tell others she was a kapo.  We learn of the horrible sexual abuse the narrator took just to stay alive.  She tells us many in the camps lost their faith in God.

Eventually both women now move  to Montreal, where many Holocaust survivors were accepted.  We follow the lives of the two women for years.  We see how the camp years impacts their close relationships.  As I learned in a nonfiction book this month, the survivors were often highly cultured people who were so happy to be able to read again.  The narrator and Elgia are part of a social group of Holocaust survivors.  Most do very well in Montreal, moving from their initial small apartments to elegant houses as they succeeded professionally.  The narrator herself becomes affluent by founding a high end women’s clothing store.  Rosenfarb does a wonderful job creating the characters, we meet their husbands, observe their affairs.  Always the narrator fears Elgia will reveal to the others she was a kapo.

“Elgia’s Revenge” was a pure delight.  It is not just a story of The impact of The Holocaust on survivors but on The Jewish Canadian Imigrant Experience.  

CHAVA ROSENFARB (1923 - 2011)Prize-winning writer of fiction, poetry and drama, Chava Rosenfarb was born February 9, 1923 in Lodz, the industrial centre of Poland before the Second World War. She completed Jewish secular school and gymnasium in this community where several hundred thousand Jews lived —nearly half the population of the area. The Holocaust put an end to one of the richest centres of Judaism in all of Europe. Like many Jews of the city, Rosenfarb was incarcerated in the infamous Lodz ghetto. She survived there from 1940 to 1944, when she and her sister Henia became inmates of the concentration camps of Auschwitz, then Sasel and Bergen-Belsen. Even in the ghetto Rosenfarb wrote, and she hasn’t stopped since. Her first collection of ghetto poems, Di balade fun nekhtikn vald [The Ballad of Yesterday’s Forest] was published in London in 1947. After the liberation Rosenfarb moved to Belgium. She remained in Belgium until 1950, when she immigrated immigrated to Montreal. In Montreal, Rosenfarb obtained a diploma at the Jewish Teachers’ Seminary in 1954. Rosenfarb has produced a prolific body of writing, all of which speaks from her experience during the Holocaust. Her work has been translated into both Hebrew and English. Rosenfarb has been widely anthologized and has had her work appear in journals in Israel, England, the United States, Canada and Australia in Yiddish and in English and Hebrew translation. Among the many prizes awarded her work, she has received the I.J. Segal Prize (Montreal, 1993), the Sholom Aleichem Prize (Tel-Aviv, 1990) and the Niger Prize (Buenos Aires, 1972). She has travelled extensively, lecturing on Yiddish literature in Australia, Europe and South America as well as in Israel and the United States..  From Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers..  from Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women.

Mel u

The Reading Life Guide to Getting Started in the Indian Short Story, Edition Two

This is a re-edited post from January, 2012.

About two years ago along with most of the book blog world I was not into short stories at all.   I felt that they did not give me enough of a world to enter and that they left you hanging.   With this prejudice in place I went decades without reading ten short stories.   Then I to my great joy discovered what a wonderful literary form the short story can be.  In the last two years I have read nearly 1000 short stories.   A good short story in just a few pages can take you into worlds very different from your own or can help you understand yourself better.     A good short story  can do more with a plot and characters than many long novels.   I cannot prove this and I know most book bloggers are just “not into short stories” but I now know I was missing out on some of the world’s greatest literature, some real wisdom and just a lot of fun.    I will never recommend a work of literature because it is something one is “supposed to read”.   If I do not think a work can be read for enjoyment as well as art I will not endorse it to others.    
A good short story does often require more work on the part of the reader than a novel in that you have less to work with and must be a more active reader.   Short stories go back further in the literary culture than novels, much further to pre-literate days.   They go back to the very start of what we like to call civilization and helped create the world’s major cultures and religions.
No literary tradition has older roots than that of India.   I will always admire Edmund Burke for telling the English Parliament that they had no right to rule India, a culture much older than their own.    Today I am going to do a post on getting started in the Indian short story.    I make no claims to expertise and  am purely self taught in literary matters and history.   
The Indian short story has opened up a marvelous new world of authors, cultures, traditions, history and languages for me.     The Indian short story is in a way many different sub genres.   Some of the short stories I will post on were written originally in English, some in Bengali, some in Urdu or Punjabi.   Some of the authors were as rich as kings and might as well have been kings in fact.   Some come from the Dalit, Untouchable caste.   Some are Muslims, some Hindus, some Sikhs, some atheists, some Buddhists  and some  Christians.   Some are deeply cultured educated by private tutors and speak and write several languages.   Some barely made a living.   Several of the stories are about the 1947 Partition of India.   Most of them deal in one way or another with the colonial experience, just like older Irish short stories do.   Most of the writers are men but there are some great women writers on my list, I think.  
Every story I will post on can be read online and I will provide a link.  I personally hate to read a post on a short story knowing I have no real way to read it.   My postings are always done as much as I can to help the millions of readers like me who live where there are no public libraries.   I will post on the stories more or less starting with the authors furthest back in time.   I will share some things about the author’s life and cultural importance and then tell enough about the story to hopefully make some people interested in reading them.
Rabindranath Tagore
“The Story of a Muslim Woman” (1941,six pages)
An Amazing Look Into the Future
The first Asian Nobel Prize winner  was Rabindranath Tagore who won in 1913 for his vast output  of poetry and short stories.    Tagore (1861 to 1941) was born in Kolkata, Indian into a family whose wealth and life style can now only be seen in movies.    His father owned an estate so huge that at one point in his life Tagore traveled through it on a luxurious barge and was met on the river bank by tenants paying token rents to him.     Tagore was educated in classical Indian literature and at age eight began to write poetry and ended up reshaping the Bengali Language.      His moral authority became so great that he was able to write the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh,.   He is considered prior to WWII and perhaps even now the most widely read Indian author both in the west and in India.   He wrote a lot of very much loved short stories, mostly in Bengali.   His stories are almost like parables and read like they could be from the wisdom books of any of the great religions.
“The Story of a Muslim Woman” is the very last short story that Tagore completed.   It was completed in 1941 but not published until 1955.   I do not know why it took so long to be published but it seems almost like a total prophecy of the events horrors caused by the 1947 partition of India and even the Bangladesh War for Independence in 1971.
The story opens in the home of an affluent of family.   The niece of the husband is in the care of their family because her parents are dead.   The wife hates her and wants her put out of the house, whatever it takes.   She feels a beautiful young girl will attract rapists and thugs to their household.   Daily life in the region had gone 
to conditions of near anarchy and their was no real leadership anywhere.
These words say much about the history and lot of women in India:
“ Kamala was very beautiful, though her parents were dead. The family would have welcomed her death too; but that did not happen. Her uncle Banshi brought her up with great affection and extreme caution till now.
      However, her aunt would often complain to her female neighbours, “Look, her parents left her to add to my burden. Nobody knows what can happen to her any moment. I’ve children of my own, and among them she’s like a burning torch of destruction. She can’t escape the evil gaze of wicked fellows. She alone will sink my boat. For this reason I can’t sleep at night”
Her aunt wants her dead but she does at last receive an offer to become the second wife of a wealthy man of the same caste as her family.   The offer is at once accepted even though women want to be first wives, not second, third or fourth.   Her aunt is just so happy to be rid of her.  
In order to get to the house of her soon to be husband she has to pass through lawless countryside.     Her caravan is attacked and she is kidnapped by bandits.   As she is quite beautiful she is taken as bounty to the home of the bandit leader.    The bandit, a Muslim, allays her fears and tells her she will be allowed to live in peace in his house.   She and everyone knows she can no longer marry a Hindu and will be considered a disgrace to her family and caste.   In the culture of the time, if a  woman was raped it was considered her fault, she was damaged property and would often end up thrown out of her own house and family.   Her family would never believe that a Muslim leader would protect her and keep her totally safe in  better fashion than her birth family ever would.
The house of  the Muslim chief has apartments for eight wives.   He allows the woman to live in peace totally unmolested.   There is even a temple dedicated to Shiva which allows the woman to practice her religion.   He never attempts to force himself on her and does not allow her to be disrespected in any fashion.   In time she falls in love with a man from the leaders family.   She repudiates her old faith and her caste saying she has found her destiny in her new home.  She is proud to become a Muslim woman and falls in love with a man of her own choosing.   (spoiler alert)-
As the story closes, years have gone by, the woman is along on a raid on a caravan.  She discovers that in the caravan is her cousin, the daughter of the aunt who hated her and wished her dead.   As a gesture of the sincerity of her face, she allows the young woman to proceed on her way to her arranged marriage to a man she has never met.
I can see this story as perhaps at one time offending the core audience of Tagore.   That he would write such a story in 1941 shows deep wisdom and an incredible insight into the future of  India.   

Khushwant Singh
“Karma”  (1957, 5 pages)
 Colonialism of the Mind
Khushwant Singh (1915-Hadali, Khushab, British India-now Pakinstan) is one of the best known Anglo-Indian writers.   At ninety six years old (I think he still has a weekly newspaper column) he is one of the  premier Anglo-Indian authors.   He was born into a Sikh family and initially pursued a career as an attorney.    He was driven to begin writing in a reflective often acerbic way about life in the Indian subcontinent by his experiences of the 1947 Partition of India.   He was very traumatized when just prior to the Partition of India he encountered a platoon of soldiers of his faith who boasted to him that they had just completely massacred a  peaceful village of Muslims, men, women and children. 
“Karma” is very acid, almost cruelly funny story about Sir Mohan Lal, a man who is portrayed as being in love with the British and every thing about their culture. He can be said to be an Indian version of “Uncle Tom”.       He sees anything from India as stupid, dirty and inefficient compared to an English counterpart.   This contempt extends to the people of India and his own wife.   You can almost feel the bloated way he insists to himself that he is “Sir Lal” and he is sure the English see him as their equal.     He and his wife are going on a train trip.   His wife does not feel comfortable in the first class cabin that Sir Lal insists he must ride in so she rides in the back in second class.    Two English soldiers board the train in the first class section.   They are very annoyed when they see Lal in the compartment.   He tries to speak to them but they cannot figure out what he is saying (the English soldiers are from the bottom rank of society based on their dialect).   The soldiers look upon him almost as if he were a monkey trying to speak English.  Then one of them says “throw the  nigger off the train”.   The next thing “Sir Lal” is seen face down on the train platform as his astonished wife looks out on him from second class as the train pulls away.  

Amrita Pritram
“The Stench of Kerosene” (1960, 5 pages)
Stories of the Real Lives of Women in the Punjab Region of India and Pakistan
Amrita Pritram (1919-2005-She was born in Pakistan) is considered the first prominent Punjabi woman  writer.   She wrote poems, essays, novels and short stories.   Her work is highly regarded in both India and Pakistan.    Punjab before the partition of  India was in Northwestern India.    There is now a Punjab state in both Pakistan and India.   The Punjab region is home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations.    There are around 100 million speakers of Punjabi today.    Some of the worst impact of the partition of India was felt by the Punjabi people whose homeland was divided up by two countries.    When India was partitioned Pritram moved from Lahore in what is now Pakistan to India. She was of the Sikh faith and this is why she moved to India.    She won many literary awards and is known as the voice for Punjabi women.    She married and divorced.   She worked for several years for All India Radio (AIR)  and edited for 33 years a literary magazine.   She was also fluent and wrote in Hindi.    Toward the end of her life she became a follower of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, an internationally known spiritual teacher.
“The Smell of Kerosene” is set in the rural area of Punjab.    The central characters are a happily married couple and the man’s mother.    All of  them lived together, as was the normal practice.   The couple met by chance and the man at once felt love for his future wife.   She told him to go to her father and arrange a marriage which he does.    Seven years go by and the couple have no children.   They are very happy and accept this.   The mother- in- law does not.   In the eight year of marriage the mother- in- law finds a second bride for her son in the hope she will have a grandchild.    The man feels nothing in his heart for the new wife but she does become pregnant.   (spoilers ahead)   His first wife is heartbroken even though the husband tells her he is married in his soul only to her.    Every year the first wife went on a trip to see her old girl friends from before her marriage.   This year her husband has a very bad feeling about this and begs her not to go.    She does not return when expected.    A friend comes to the house and advises them that the wife dosed herself and her clothes in kerosene and set herself on fire.    Shortly after this  the second wife has her baby.   The baby is presented to the husband.   He screams that the baby has the stench of kerosene about him and clearly will never accept the child.    
“Stench of Kerosene” can be read HERE

Mulk Raj Anand
A Pioneer Anglo – Indian Author
“The Tractor and the Corn Goddess” (1938, 6 pages)
Mulk Raj Anand was a founding father of the Indian novel in English.    He along with R. K. Narayan  Ahmed Ali and Rajo Rao was one of the first writers from India to gain an international readership in English.    Anand (1905 to 2004-99 years-Peshanar, India) after graduating from college in India went to England to receive his PhD.     While at Cambridge (the university of choice for Bloomsbury) he became friends with people like E. M. Forester  and George Orwell.   He was a passionate admirer of Gandhi and a strong supporter of the movement for Indian independence.   His first novel, Untouchable (1935) brought him world- wide acclaim as the Charles Dickens of India.   He was a friend of Pablo Picasso.    His literary output was very large including several novels, lots of poetry and numerous highly regarded short stories.   He was a strong force for good in the world. 
“The Tractor and the Corn Goddess” is a fascinating story that tells us a lot about how the ordinary Indian felt about his English rulers and the coming of western technology to rural India.   I really liked the treatment of the conflict of Indian religious traditions and the British Raj.    It also shows the very conservative attitudes of many that in effect worked to keep the British in power.    I will tell a bit of the background setting and the plot but I really hope this story will be widely read.    As the story opens, the leading landlord in the area has died.    His oldest son, who has been in Europe studying (in theory!) and falling into what the residents of the area see as decadent ways is now the major land owner.    He proposes something very radical.   That he will give most of the land to a collective owned by the people who work the land.    The richer people in the area are all totally opposed to this idea and horrified by the suggestion of large scale social change.   The people in the area really get upset when the son buys a tractor.     Everyone is at first horrified by it and sees its plowing as a blasphemy toward the Corn God.    Also they are concerned with the long- term implications for the livelihood of the people in the area when they learn it can do the same amount of plowing in one day that it would take 100 men using the traditional methods.     There is a lot in this story I have not relayed.
You can read this story at Google Books.   Just do a search for Mulk Raj Anand
Caste Discrimination in Elementary Schools
A Story by a Leading Dalit Author
“Scorn” by Bama Faustina (2004, 3 pages, in translation from Tamil)
Bama Faustina is one of the first Dalit Tamil writers to achieve international attention for her work.   I confess I did not know what the word “Dalit” means when I first encountered it.   A Dalit person is one whose ancestors were members of discriminated-against castes.    The Indian government has classified about ten percent of the populace of India as being of Dalit descent.   (The common western parlance for this   is “untouchable”.)    Caste discrimination is illegal in Indian but it is still very widely practiced, especially in rural areas.   Members of Dalit castes by practice and custom live among themselves and face great prejudice.    There are 3000 plus recognized castes, 49 of them are considered Dalit castes.   
Seventy five percent of Christians in India are of Dalit caste background.  When Christian missionaries first entered India, they had their best success among the poorest of people, the untouchables.   I know this is a very complicated and sensitive issue which many prefer to sweep under the rug, but writers like Bama Faustina are bringing international focus on the problems of Dalits.    Oxford University Press has published translations of her novels and she has also published a successful collection of short stories.   She is a teacher in Uthiramerur. She is a Roman Catholic.
“Scorn” opens with a child and his mother arguing.   The boy, he seems about 10, does not want to go to school today.   He wants to go into the forest with his mother who works as a charcoal maker (once a very common occupation for members of Dalit castes in a country where most people still cook on charcoal).      His mother tells him that she and her father are working very hard and sacrificing to send him to school so he will not have to be a street sweeper, a charcoal maker,  or house boy.   She wants to know why he does not want to go and he will not give her a straight clear answer.   She finds out from her neighbors (everybody on her street are Dalits) that he was beaten by higher caste children at school because he forgot his lunch box and ate food  (with permission) from the lunch  box of a higher caste child.   When he went to complain to the teacher, the teacher beat him and said he is  was just an ignorant Dalit that does not even know the customs of his country.   
The next day the mother and the boy’s father go to the school.   The father was terribly upset by what happened.    He accepts that he has always been treated as the lowest type of person by accident of his birth but he will not accept this as the fate of his son.
The next day the parents go to the head master of the school to complain.   They are told that what happened to their son is their fault.   If they had only taught him his place in life this would never have happened.     The parents begin to talk to other parents on their street.   They find out that one time money was missing and they searched only the Dalit children.     The headmaster even tells them that the Dalit children at school are always assigned clean up duties as cleaning up after their betters is part of their heritage.   The headmaster tries to be nice about this and says, meaning it as a compliment, “Well the children from your street are just naturally made for clean up work”.      Here is how one teacher explained it all to the  head master:
“Kattari ran and hugged his father and started crying. Meanwhile, a teacher came to the headmaster and said something to him. At once the headmaster told the headman of his street, “Let them be. Why should you beat a dog and earn the burden of sin? Why do you want to deal with them at all? Just touch these people and they’ll make trouble. These people are not like they used to be. Let them be.”
One of the very saddest aspects of discrimination is that children of discriminated groups begin to believe it is true.   There are even terrible TV commercials run here in the Philippines (by big international companies) selling skin whiting cream for early teenage girls.   
“Scorn” is a simple story that puts a whole world in a few pages.   It was translated from Tamil by Sarsa Rajagopal).     I suspect it took real courage to write it.   For sure it is worth the minute or two it will take you to read it.
You can read it online at The Little Magazine.

A War Between Cousins in 1500BC 
A Story Inspired by the Mahabharata Epic

“Before the Stars Could Foretell”  (1998, 5  pages)
Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay (1899-1970, Jaunpurin, Uttar Pradesh, India) is best known for his creation of what some would call the Sherlock Holmes or Father Brown of India, Byomkesh Bakshi.   After graduating from college, he obtained a 
law degree.   He began to publish literary works while in law school.   In 1938 he moved to Calcutta to be a screen writer for the film industry.   By 1958 his works were such best sellers that he became a full time writer.    He is famous for his historical tales set in the Bronze and Iron Age in Northern India.   He drew
on the great epics of Indian literature and gave them a human face.
“Before the Stars Could Foretell” is set in Northern India, around 1500 BC at the time of the Kurukshetra War.    The precise details of this war
are lost to us but Bandyopadhyay does a good job of making it come back to life for us.    As the story opens we meet two very good friends who led an army against their neighbors and defeated them.    They are such good friends that each one wants the other to have the honor of being king of the area the conquered.   They came up with a very interesting way to divide up the ruling of the kingdom.   One friend would start out as king and pass the title to his friend on the next lunar eclipse.  The friend who is not king will act as head of the army.   All goes well in the kingdom for a while until there is a revolt in the southern territories.  The general takes the army to fight  the rebels.  
One of the friends returns with a captured princess.    This infuriates the rebels and they renew their fight.   The general leaves the princess in the care of the king and asks him to instruct her in their language (as of now they cannot speak to each other) as he intends to marry her.   The princess is very intelligent and quickly learns the language.   She argues that it is against their mutual traditions and law to abduct women.   She is told, in a remark that is a commentary on some of the still prevailing customs of the area, that there is nothing wrong with abducting a woman if you intend to marry her!
There is an interesting and fun twist at the end I will not spoil  it for potential readers.
This is a well told story.    It is hard to do a short story as historical fiction as you do not have a lot of space and time to set the background but Bandyopathyay does a good job of making the past come to life for us.   
You can read the story HERE

Sumil Gangopandhyay 
“Three Men” (2000, 4  pages)
Corrupt Corruption
Sumil Gangopandhyay (1934) was born in Faridpur in what is now Bangladesh.   He currently lives in Kolkata (Calcutta) in India.    He is considered a leading novelist, travel writer, children’s book author and is best known as a poet.   He writes in Bengali and English.   He was educated at the University of Calcutta.   He has had a long a very distinguished literary and professional career.   In 2008 he became director of the National Academy of Letters in India.   This is a government funded but administratively independent organization whose purpose is to promote literature and the maintenance of the diverse languages of  India.   He is known partially through his being mentioned in a famous poem by Allen Ginsburg.
“Bangladesh is often, fairly or not I do not know, listed as among the most corrupt countries in the world.)   The three men in the story are an ordinary worker, his manager, and the general manager.    Tapan, the worker, has begun to feel more and more self-contempt for his role in the corruption of  the company.   The company was recently involved in a press scandal in which it was documented they withheld baby food supplies in Bangladesh for two weeks in order to make consumers pay much more. This in a country where millions are on the edge of starvation and low value diets in infants cause terrible future problems.    Tapan, not in fact a perfect employee himself-he often misses work with no call in for example-is going into his boss’s office to follow up on a denouncing letter he has written in which he gives his resignation.    As you might guess the conversation does not go well.  Tapan then demands as seems to be his right, to speak with the general manager.    As he waits outside the general manger’s office he is advised by someone who does not know why he is there that he will from now on be getting a clothing allowance.    Tapan starts to think about his wife (he just got married a year ago and supports his aged father) who wants a house of their own soon.
As he enters the office the general manager tells him he can come in next week to pick up his final paycheck but if he continues ranting in the office he will have him thrown out by security.    As the story ends Tapan begs for a second change.   Before leaving for the day, he stops in the company comfort room.   He spits in his own image in the mirror.
“Three Men”  (written originally in English) is a moving story about a man with a consciousness of right or wrong trapped in a web of corruption.
You can read it HERE

R. K. Narayan

“An Astrologer’s Day”  (1947, 6 pages)
A Story by a Genius of the Form.
R. K. Narayan (1906 to 2001-Chennai, India) was an immensely prolific highly influential author. He was one of the very first authors from India who wrote primarily in English and was one of the very first Indian writers to be read widely outside of India. In addition to fifteen novels, he published in his life- time five collections of short stories. Many of his short stories were set in a small town he created. 

“An Astrologer’s Day” takes place in a small town in India in 1947. In 1947 India gained its independence from the British Empire and was a time of immense change and turmoil. In the world of “An Astrologer’s Day” it might as well be 947 or even 47 for that matter. Our central character left his home village many years ago, under a cloud of trouble we at first do not understand. He has the ability to convince others he can see into the future through reading a client’s astrological chart. He marries and sets up a shop in the market by a highway in which he tells fortunes and gives advice. He has learned to listen very carefully to his clients and ask a few opened questions that give him enough data to seem to have a mysterious knowledge of the lives and future of his clients. He knows he is a fake but he has learned to give his customers what they want and he has a family to support. Here is a great sample of Narayan’s prose style and description of the method of the fortune teller:
He had a working analysis of mankind’s troubles: marriage, money, and the tangles of human ties. Long practice had sharpened his perception. Within five minutes he understood what was wrong. He charged three paise per question, never opened his mouth till the other had spoken for at least ten minutes, which provided him enough stuff for a dozen answers and advices.
One day a stranger challenges the astrologer to look into his past and future. He gets everything right without even asking the man any questions. How he does this provides a wonderful ending to the story that really surprised me and for that matter shocked his wife when he explained to her how her was able for once to really know the truth without being told it.
“An Astrologer’s Day” is a really good example of why I like short stories. In just a few pages Narayan brings to life for me a world very remote from my own experience while allowing me to project myself into the world of the story. I liked the way the astrologer is honestly a fake! The story only takes us back 64 years but it gives us a look at a a very old culture.
“An Astrologer’s Day” can be read Here. It is a very good story well worth the few minutes it will take you to read it. 

“The Quilt” (aka “Lihaf” 10 pages, 1944, translated from Urdu by M. Asaduddin) by Ismat Chughtai عصمت چغتائی
A Ground- Breaking Story by the Greatest Female Urdu Short Story Writer
Ismat Chughtai (1915 to 1991-Pardesh, India) was born into a very traditional and conservative Muslim family.   Chughtai earned two  
degrees in spite of her own parent’s opposition to education for women.
Most of the female, and nearly all of the male authors of the time of the writing of “The Quilt”-1944-advocated only the very slowest changes to the social order as it regarded the rights of women.  Chughtai was seen at the time as a radical advocate of women’s rights.  For example, she opposed the requirement of the veil for Muslim women and advocated equal educational rights for women.   Her writings have been banned as too radical in some countries.
“The Quilt” is an amazing and shocking story for the time and place it was written.   It is about a lesbian relationship set in a time when this could result in stoning to death.  It is told in the first person by a young woman who was given in married by arrangement while she was at most fifteen or so (normal practice at the time)  to a  much older wealthy man.    Her family expects her to get pregnant soon and fatten up while living a life of forced leisure in the female section of the house.  The young woman soon finds out her husband prefers the company of beautiful young men. 
The shocking conclusion in the story is slowly and artfully built up to.   I do not want to give away any more of the plot of the story.  (There is a link to read it online at the end of the post.)
Chughtai was tried for obscenity for this story and found innocent.   Even though no words are used in the story that could not be in a children’s story, “The Quilt” does have a lot of erotic power.   It is a story about the 
effects of long time neglect and loneliness.
You can read “The Quilt” online HERE

“Bitch” by Mrinal Pande (2004, 3 pages)
A Wonderful Story by a Leading Hindi Advocate of the Rights of Women
“Bitch” by Mrinal Pande is another great short story from the pages of The Little Magazine.
Mrinal Pande (1946, Madhya Pradas, India) has had a very distinguished career as a print journalist.    She is currently the editor of a major newspaper and has her own TV show.    She has served on numerous commissions on the rights of women and children.   She has taught at several major universities.    She is the daughter of the very famous writer, Shivani (on whom I will, I hope, eventually post).   She is married and has children.    She published her first short story when she was 21 and basically has been writing ever since then.   She writes in both Hindi and English.    
“Bitch” (written in English) at once caught my eye as I was looking through the many short stories online at The Little Magazine.   It is about a conversation a between a woman who hosts a TV show (as the author does) and her maid about an article they saw in the newspaper about a four year old girl whose parents married her to a dog in order to ward off the evil eye from their family.  You can read it in just a minute or two.    It told me a lot about how ordinary Indian women seem to feel about marriage.   The maid can speak a bit boldly as she is herself a grandmother.   (The maid likes her employer because she does not follow her around as she cleans or inspect her bag when she leaves.   I just finished The Help last night and this story could be out of an Indian version.)
The TV commentator is trying to tell her maid what a shameful even illegal thing the parents have done in marrying a four year old girl to a dog.   The maid thinks it is perfectly OK and feels a dog is a step up from most men.   I really liked this exchange:
““But don’t you see it is illegal? The police —”
“What police?”
“The local police.”
“No, no, why should the police bother?”
“Because you can’t marry off a girl before she’s eighteen. It’s the law.”
“So? She’s not married to a man.”
“Gauri, don’t you see? Her parents could still go to jail for this.”
“Who will speak against them? The dog?” Gauri collapses in laughter.
“It is no laughing matter,” I say. But I, too, am laughing.
“Oh Ma, at least he won’t come home drunk and beat her. Or arm-twist her family for a wrist-watch or a bicycle, or get her pregnant as soon as he can, and then run off with another woman. A son of a bitch is better any day, Ma, any day, than the son of man.”
“But the girl…”
“What about the girl? She looks happy. She must have eaten her fill of sweets, been dressed in new clothes. What more can a girl want?”
“But why should she be married to a dog before she knows what marriage is all about?”
The maid then begins an  account of  the terrible events of her marriage.   
“Bitch” is a really fun, beautifully written story that packs a lot in its few pages.   I liked the spirit and admired the strength of character of the maid and her ability to keep laughing.   
You can read it online HERE
The Indian  Short story has opened many new worlds of learning and sheer delight for me.    It is an inexhaustible reading area that can take us as deep as we want to go.   For some of us the stories are about lives very different from our own, others will see their lives and ancestors in these stories.   In these stories you can profit from the profound wisdom of Tagore( Yeats was in awe of him and Einstein discussed metaphysics with him) or laugh at the cynical stories of Khushwant Singh.   You can learn a lot about the lives of women from  the hilarious story of  Mrinal Pande about a four year old girl whose parents married her to a dog.  If “Kerosene” by Amrita Pritram does not shake you up a bit, have yourself checked over.  Then there is R. K. Narayan.   He really is a genius at the short story.   You can enter for a little while in the lives of Dalits, it won’t be easy, or if you would rather, you can imagine you are a 15th century Maharajah.   

Thursday, December 28, 2017

“Even the Heavens Tell Lies” - A Short Story by Blume Lempel - 1981 - translated from Yiddish 2016, included in Oedipus In Brooklyn and other Stories edited and translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Taub,

“It was the devastating news from across the Atlantic that brought her writing to a standstill. Her father’s wife and their young son, she learned, had been killed by the Nazis; her father then set fire to the family home and hanged himself. Her brother, who had joined the French resistance, was arrested and shot in Lyon. Increasingly despondent, she felt “paralyzed within a self-imposed prison,” she wrote later. “The years went by, many desolate, fruitless years.” A turning point came when a friend suggested she try writing about the catastrophic events that were consuming her. Taking up her pen once more, she discovered a new literary calling: to “speak for those who could no longer speak, feel for those who could no longer feel, immerse myself in their unlived lives, their sorrows, their joys, their struggle and their death.” Having left Europe on the eve of World War II, Lempel did not directly experience the roundups, mass executions, and concentration camps of the Holocaust. She offers glimpses of these, while powerfully exploring the experience of displacement, flight, and adaptation, as well as the special burden of remembrance and retribution, grief and guilt, carried by the living.” - from The Introduction Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories

Yiddish did not die In The Holocaust.  There are few languages so much cherished, especially a language spoken as a first language only by small groups.  There is intense scholarly study of Yiddish literature. The attack on The Yiddish speakers of Europe by The Nazis failed.  It was an attack on a people who cherished Reading, Books,  Knowledge as intrinsic goods.  

Blume Lempel was born in the Ukraine in 1907.  In 1929 she moved to Paris to be with her brother.  She loved Paris, married there, and in 1939 she and her husband moved to Long Island, New York.  She stayed there until her death in 1999.  She had three children and began to write short stories in Yiddish, was widely published and won many awards.  She was fluent in English, French, and had a working knowledge of Russian.  She choice to write in Yiddish to speak for those lost in the Holocaust and to defy those who wanted the language wiped out. I am so glad I have found this collection and I thank the translators for this labor of love.  

“Even the Heavens Tell Lies”, the lead story in the collection, assembled by the editors, is presented through the consciousness of a young woman who witnessed her parents being shot in a mass execution of Jews.  She hid in the forests until the Russians army found her, after the Nazis were defeated. This terrible experience took from her the capacity to speak.  
As far as I know, this very powerful story can be read only in the collection.  I will let the narrator tell us her story, even if in her life she cannot.

“After the last roundup, when my parents were killed, I left Temke’s barn and went into the woods. The darkness that had once frightened me became my protector, sheltering and concealing me. The wind mingled my scent with the smells of the forest. The rain washed away my footprints. I followed the animals and kept away from people. The wind brought me the smell of berries, a dead bird, the rotten carcass of a half-devoured creature. Under cover of night, propelled by hunger, I pursued these scents. The forest took me in without tears, without words, receiving me with indifference, a naked, frank, and savage truth —one single truth for the worm in the grass, the rabbit in the thicket, tree, star, nuts, and me. In such profound connection, I would close my eyes without fear or sorrow. As I merged with the impersonal ways of nature, my body would forsake me —until the wind stirred and I descended once again to my hiding place. When I was discovered and returned to life among people, I was unable to utter a word. I thought I’d become deaf to human speech. But that was wishful thinking. In fact, I didn’t want to hear about the enormity of the disaster. Instead, I looked for answers with my eyes. I scrabbled in the garbage with my fingernails. I tasted the dust, pawed at the stones.”

Treated by a Russian Jewish doctor, nothing could return her speech.

There are 23 stories in  collection.  I hope to read and post on them in 2018.  Her stories are more “modern” in method and content than older Yiddish stories.  

Mel u