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, January 30, 2018

“Olivia’s Table” - A Short Story by Alyssa Wong - A Nébula and World Fantasy Award Winning Author - 2018

Recently i was kindly given a review copy of a forthcoming very interesting sounding anthlogy, A Thousand Beginings and Endings: 15 Retellings of Asian Myths and Legends, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Champan.  I was delighted to find a short story by the very creative Alyssa Wong, a Multi Award winning fantasy writer.  I loved two Short Stories of Wong upon which I have previously posted, “God Product” and especially “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers”,  a Nebula and a World Fantasy Winning Short Story.  

Each of the stories in the anthology is a reimagining of a classic Asia myth, legend, or folk belief.

“Olivia’s Table” by Alyssa Wong is a retelling of the Chinese legend of an annual feast for Ghosts.

As the story opens Olivia is heading for what was once a prosperous town in the American West which went into decline once the silver mines were worked out.  Now the town survives on tourists who come to see Wild West Shows.  The big day of the year is the annual ghost feast.  As Olivia comes into the town she sees the ghosts, most have marks of the violent deaths of the old west.  Her mother for many years cooked all the food for the ghost feast and was an exorcist.  We learn why ghosts do not move on.  Wong gives a wonderful description of the ghost feast.  From her descriptions of the ghosts we can see the dark dangerous history of the old west.  We get to know Olivia and her family history, her troubled same sex relationships.

This is a very good story.  It can, as far as I know, be read only in the anthology but on her webpage you will find links to several of her stories and her essays.  I look forward to reading more of her work and watching her career develop.  

Alyssa Wong lives in Chapel Hill, NC, and really, really likes crows. Her stories have won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story, the World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction, and the Locus Award for Best Novelette. She was a finalist for the 2016 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her fiction has been shortlisted for the Hugo Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award. Her work has been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Nightmare Magazine, Black Static, and, among others. Alyssa can be found on Twitter as @crashwong..  from her webpage. 

I hope to read more stories in the anthology.

Mel u

Sunday, January 28, 2018

“This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” - A Short Story by Tadeusz Borowski- translated from Polish - 1967 - by Barbara Vedder

International Holocaust Remembrance Day
January 27

Tadeusz Borowski (Born 1922 in Zhytonyr, Ukraine, died 1951 in Warsaw, Poland.  He was arrested by the Gestapo in February of 1943, he was not Jewish, as a political prisoner.  His girl friend had recently been arrested and when he went to find her, he was arrested also.  His recently published collection of poetry was labeled as subversive.  He was ultimately sent to Auschwitz as a slave labourer.  Non-Jewish prisoners were often treated better than Jews and Borowski was made a “Kapo”, an inmate with authority over others.  He was assigned to work the rail road receiving docks when a train of new inmates arrived.

“This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” is the title story of the collection of his stories based on his time in Auschwitz, he was there for two years. As of now I do not have a clear understanding of the pre-translation publication history of the stories.  It was first translated into English in 1959 and the very dark humour in his stories is said to have had a large influence on Central European Literature.

Just the title to the story has kind of a ghoulish feel as we imagine a demented evil resort flunky telling that to new arrivals to Auschwitz.  The story is narrated by a Kapo, working train arrivals.  One of the rules was that arrivals were not told they were being sent directly to the gas chamber, if they were sent right.  The narrator sees terrible things as the trains unload. It is a lot of work just to pile up the bodies of those who died on the train, to be burned on the spot.  In one seen relayed as if commonplace a three year old child with only one leg is burned with the dead, to save the work of carrying her to the gas chamber.  

Working the arriving trains was a plumb assignment.  The S S was there to supervise and take the gold and jewels from the suitcases.  The inmate workers got to keep any food found in the luggage which is why they liked the assignments.  They judge each arriving train based on how much food they score.

The arriving prisoners are in a state of extreme panic.  The job of the Kapos is to keep them under control.  There is no empathy, the worker inmates focus on their own survival.  They have no hesitation to beat arrivals to keep order.  Over it all young Germans stand guard with machine guns, ready almost eager to shoot arrivals.  

Everyone’s humanity is destroyed.  

This story and the full collection is considered a classic of Polish and Holocaust Literature.  

When I learned that at age 28 Borowski committed suicide by breathing in the fumes from a gas oven, it chilled me.

You can read this story and a few other Holocaust short stories at the link above.

Mel u

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Pharmacist of Auschwitz by Patricia Posner and Fatelessness by Irme Kertesz- Two Books In Observation of International Holocaust Day

The United Nations has Declared January 27, The Anniversary of The liberation of The largest death camp, Auschwitz, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  

The Holocaust can be seen in many ways.  I have posted on a number of Holocaust related works as well as classic works of Yiddish literature dealing with The consequences of pograms as well as The Holocaust..  I see the Holocaust as a war on the reading life.  Never has there been a culture more dedicated to the absorption of the written word than that of Central European and Russian Jews.  First the Nazis burned their books, then their bodies.  There is no totalitarian group in the world that is not Anti-Semitic.  Being anti- Jewish and Anti-Semitic should be understood as related but separate things, both repugnant.   To me the Holocaust is made somehow personal by the death at 42 of one of my most beloved authors, Irene Nemirovsky who died a month after arriving at Auschwitz.

Not just Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, about 300,000 Roma people were killed as well as many Jehovah's Witnesses were also murdered.  Holocaust like events did not begin in the 20th century, (I highly recommend Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis)nor did they end there.  Let us hope the worst is not yet to come.

This year I’m observing International Holocaust Day by posting on two very good books, Fatelessness, a novel by the Hungarian Nobel Prize Winner Irme Kertesz who was imprisoned in Buchenwald at age fiveteen.  Adfitionally I want to let everyone know of a very informative perfectly written work of nonfiction by Patricia Posner, a well known Holocaust writer.

The Pharmacist of Auschwitz by Patricia Posner tells the story of Victor Capesius, a Romanian national with an advanced degree in pharmaceuticals.  Before the war he was very sucessful as a salesman in for the huge German chemical conglomerate, I. G. Farben.  Seeing it as an astute career move, in 1935 he joined the Nazi Party.  He became the head pharmacist at the Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp.  There were over 7000 employees and his alleged primary duty was dispersing to them.  He also dispensed in some cases medicine to inmates.  When trains came in bringing more inmates, he particpated in deciding who would be at once sent to gas chamber and who would be used as slave labor.  He also looked for twins for horrible Doctor Mengele.  He personally seems to have done know direct hands on killing.

Caspieus sensed the war would be lost.  He began to steal from the stored possessions of the inmates and very assiduously removed gold from teeth of bodies.  After war, he claimed, as did all, to just be following orders.  However, he was identified as selecting people to die and this put him in prison for 4.5 years.  Posner does a wonderful job explaining the complicated trial.  I was shocked to learn that no I. G. Farben Director was even charged.  There just were to many guilty parties to charge them all.  Technically all 7000 plus Auschwitz employees were war Criminals.  Germans just wanted to get on with rebuilding Germany and the Americans soon wanted Germany as an ally against Russia so many obvious criminals went back to their pre-War Life.  

Patricia Posner is a British-born writer who has collaborated with her husband, the author Gerald Posner, on twelve non-fiction books, including 'Mengele: The Complete Story' –a biography of Dr. Josef Mengele; 'Hitler’s Children' –a 1991 collection of interviews with the children of Nazi perpetrators; and most recently, 'God’s Bankers' –a financial history of the Roman Catholic Church. Her work has appeared, among other places, in the Miami Herald, The Daily Beast and Salon. She lives in Miami Beach.

Fatelessness by Irme Kertesz (first published 1975, translated from Hungarian by Tim Wilkerson in 2004) is considered one of the best Holocaust novels.
It tells the story of a 15 year old Jewish boy from Hungary detailing his experiences at Auschwitz.  It is a very rich in details work.  When he first gets there he is told to say he is 16 as all younger are sent at once to the gas chamber.  When a doctor asks if there are any twins in the group, people tell others to deny this.  The boy finds a way of coping.  This is a first rate work.

Imre Kertész, who was born in 1929 and imprisoned in Buchenwald as a youth, worked as a journalist and playwright before publishing Fatelessness, his first novel, in 1975. He is the author of Looking for a Clue, Detective Story, The Failure, The Union Jack, Kaddish for an Unborn Child, and Galley-Slave’s Journal. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2002. He lived in Budapest and Berlin. He died in 2016.

Mel u

Friday, January 26, 2018

“The Boundary”- A Short Story by Jhumpa Lahiri from The New Yorker - January 29, 2018

“The Boundary” by Jhumpa Lahiri -

Jhumpa Lahiri on The Reading Life

“At the same time I wonder what they know about the loneliness here. What do they know about the days, always the same, in our dilapidated cottage? The nights when the wind blows so hard the earth seems to shake, or when the sound of rain keeps me awake? The months we live alone among the hills, the horses, the insects, the birds that pass over the fields? Would they like the harsh quiet that reigns here all winter? “ from “The Boundary”

Jhumpa Lahiri is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest of contemporary authors.  So far I have read and posted upon these of her books:

Interpreter of Maladies 1999 A Collection of Short Stories, Pulitzer Prize Winner

The Name Sake 2003

Unaccustomed Earth 2008 A Collection of Short Stories 

The Lowland 2013

The Clothing of Books - a nonfiction work on book jackets 

Additionally I have read and posted on eight  of her short stories, mostly in The New Yorker besides those in her two collections.

Jhumpa Lahiri first wrote “The Boundary” in Italian, then translated it into English ( the link above includes a discussion of her involvement with Italian and her life in Rome).  There is no geographic setting given in the story so I decided it was set in the hills of Tuscany, or my version was.  The narrator is a late teenage girl.  She lives with her parents.  Her father is the caretaker at an estate.  Her mother takes care of a sick man.  The owner, a wealthy foreigner rarely visits.  (They live in a small house.: When he does he rides horses during the day and reads at night.  In the summer time, the main house is rented out.  The narrator takes care of getting the house ready and making sure the visitors have what they need.

The girl and her family are foreigners, just like the visitors.  We don’t learn where they are from but we do learn the narrator feels out of place in school as she “looks different”.  We learn something shocking and heartbreaking as the story closes. It made me rethink my experience of the story.

You can at the link I posted listen to the author read the story and read it yourself.  I did both and this is what I suggest.  It is a wonderful story very much worth your time.

Mel u

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Only Story - A Novel by Julian Barnes -February, 2018

Julian Barnes - Born, 1946, Leicester, U.K.

His novels upon which I have posted

Flaubert’s Parrot, 1984

England, England, 1988

Arthur and George, 2005

The Sense of Ending, 2011, Booker Prize Winner

The Only Story, 2018

I was very happy when I was recently given a review copy of The Only Story, a forthcoming novel by Julian Barnes.  The Only Story begins, in England, in the 1960s.  A nineteen year old man and his tennis club mixed doubles partner, a married 48 year old woman, begin after playing together for sometime, an affair.  We follow their evolving complicated relationship beyond the death of the woman to the late age of the man.  

It took me a little while to understand the subtly and power of this novel, the brilliant narrative method.  Told in the first person by the man, his parents signed him up at the tennis club hoping he will meet a nice girl his age.  They are suspicious as he spends more and more time with Mrs, McLeod, we are there when she says call her “Susan” and when they are first intimate.  Susan has been married for a long time, to a man she has not slept  with in ten years.  At first I thought story was being told as a narrative of events as they occupy, but slowly I realized the narrator was looking back from decades ahead.  

Susan, after they have set up house keeping together, slowly becomes an alcholic.  Barnes treatment of the evolving nature of their relationship in which the man becomes a caregiver is totally briiliant.  Slowly the personality of the narrator emerges.  We see him fail in other relationdhips.  We see her spiral downwards.  

There is much more in The Only Story than I have mentioned.  I endorse it highly to all who relish character driven novels.  It really is a wonderful work, it did take me reading a while to realise this.  

Julian Barnes is the author of twenty-one previous books, for which he received the Man Booker Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the David Cohen Prize for Literature, and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; in France, the Prix Medicis and the Prix Femina; in Austria, the State Prize for European Literature. In 2004 he was named Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. He lives in London.  - from The publisher.

Mel u

Sunday, January 21, 2018

“The Eye” - A Short Story by Paul Bowles - and “The Short Stories of Paul Bowles” - An Essay by Francine Prose - 2018

Paul Bowles- born 1910 in New York State, died 1999 in Tangiers, Morocco

Bowles was a very prolific writer, as well as a composer.  The Sheltering Sky, 1949, is his most famous work.  

He published lots of Short stories.

He lived in Tangiers from 1947 until his death in 1999.

He was married to Jane Bowles, author of Two Serious Ladies.

Francine Prose is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her most recent book is Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. She lives in New York City..  from The publisher 

““Ten or twelve years ago there came to live in Tangier a man who would have done better to stay away.” This wickedly portentous sentence, which begins Paul Bowles’s story “The Eye,” could just as easily serve as the opening of most of his novels and stories—especially if we expand the list of ill-advised travel destinations to include nearly all of Morocco and a virtual Baedeker of hellish jungle outposts in Latin America and Asia. For Bowles’s obsessive subject, to which he returned again and again, and which he wrote about brilliantly, was the tragic and even fatal mistakes that Westerners so commonly make in their misguided and often presumptuous encounters with a foreign culture. One can hardly imagine a more timely theme, one more perfectly suited to the poisonous and perilous world in which we find ourselves. Yet, strangely, Paul Bowles’s name never (as far as I know) appeared on those rosters of writers one saw mentioned in the aftermath of September 11, classic authors whose work appears to speak across centuries and decades, directly and helpfully addressing the crises and drastically altered realities (terrorism, violence, our dawning awareness of the hidden costs of colonialism and globalization) of the present moment. Perhaps it’s because the books that were commonly cited (War and Peace, The Possessed, The Secret Agent, and so forth) seemed, even at their darkest, to offer some hope of redemption, some persuasive evidence of human resilience and nobility, whereas Bowles’s fiction is the last place to which you would go for hope, or for even faint reassurance that the world is anything but a senseless horror show, a barbaric battlefield.” —Francine Prose

Prose in her brilliant essay talks about how different Bowles approach to the treatment of the West Meets Colonial East them is that that is the of writers like
 Conrad and Forester commonly seen as the masters in this area. In these writers the encounters seem to end in an increased understanding, a nearness in a common humanity.  In Bowles is portrayed a kind of lost European or American with no home in his own land who comes to what for him is  mysterious Morocco in search of something or to escape into a void, only to increase the misery of the residents he encounters, mostly as servant and merchants and likely to be destroyed himself.

“The Eye”, which as far as I am aware, can be read only in The Collected Short Stories of Paul Bowles, tells a dark sad story about a man given slow poison by his cook who is found dead with inexplicable ritualistic cuts all over his feet.  A fascinating work.

There are thirty three essays in How to Read and Why, including a wonderful essay about the short story as an art form.  I have just begun to read the collection but expect to get lots of new reading ideas from Prose. I was given a Review copy of her book by the publisher.

Mel u

Friday, January 19, 2018

“I Wish”. - A Short Story by Riham Adlay - November, 2015

This is the second  of a series of posts I’m planning on the wonderful short stories of Riham Adly

Riham Adly known as Rose among friends is a published author  and a creative writing instructor from Gizah, Egypt. Several of her short stories were published in international online literary journals and websites.

 Riham is also first reader/ marketing coordinator in "Vestal Review" literary magazine.

 Riham moderates "Roses's Cairo Book Club" in the American University in Cairo Tahrir Campus each month for those few yet growing avid bibliophiles.

Riham has also started her own writing group on FB "Rose's Fiction Writing Club" to motivate her students to keep on writing and sharing their work with emerging and aspiring writers from around the world. . Data from Author

This is the second story by Riham Adly upon which I have posted.  Previously I talked about her wonderful MAKAN award winning story about conflicts of loyalty “The Darker Side of the Moon”.

Today I will be posting on another of her stories, “I Wish”, very different from “The Darker Side of the Moon”.  “I Wish” begins when the narrator, a young woman, wishes upon a seeing star.  As she does so the world around her seems to dissolve into a new reality, she wonders why the end of her world has to be in darkness.  Suddenly a light spreads.  She then casually wishes, not meaning it to come true, that she had some water.  A cup of cool water appears in her hand.  Intrigued, she tests her powers by wishing for and then getting a big juicy hamburger.  Her mind wanders and soon she is on a beach, an unreal from her old world scene filled with all sorts of luscious gastronomic delights.  Now she is convinced she has been given special powers.  Her wishes expand, including even a man to satisfy all her sexual fantasies.

Now the story takes a fascinating turn.  She says all these things are not real and wishes for the return of her old reality.  

I will not talk about the very creative close of the story only to say their are numerous ways to understand the close.  You will not, I for sure didn’t, see the ending coming.

Her prose is beautiful, drawing you deeply into the story.

You may read this story and other works of Dr. Adly at the link above.  I will be featuring several more of her works soon.

Mel u

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Daniel Deronda - The Final Novel of Gerorge Eliot - 1876 - 752 pages

George Eliot

1819 to 1880, England

Since beginning my blog I have read and posted on these four of her seven novels:


Silas Marner-1861

The Mill on the Floss-1860

And her final novel, Daniel Deronda, 1876.

Middlemarch is seen by many as the greatest novel written by an author from England.  For sure it is among the greatest novels of all time.  

Daniel Deronda is not quite up to the level of Middlemarch, but then what is?  It is the only one of her novels set in contemporary to writing time.

It is a very serious challenging book.  As in the greatest literature, you will learn somethings about yourself from this book. It might take a while to get the characters straight in your mind but they will all fall in place.

The title character Daniel Deronda is the ward of a wealthy bachelor.  Everyone, including Daniel, assumes he is Sir Hugo’s child from a clandestine affair.  The other central character is a young woman, Gwendolyn who Daniel first meets at a casino in Germany.  Gwendolyn has just lost a lot of money at roulette, to which she seems abducted.  Their stories structure much of the novel.  

About a third way into the novel Daniel saves a young Jewish woman who is trying to drown herself in the Thames.  He takes her to the house of a wonderful family who shelter her.  In one of the very best segments of the novel we learn her terrible life story. 

Much of the novel is taken up with the question of the place of Jews in English society.  Daniel adopts as his teacher in Jewish culture a man dying of consumption. This man thinks Daniel, his heritage is at this point unknown, is Jewish but Daniel does not believe this.

There are some very interesting plot turns I will leave untold.  Exciting things happen, big revelations are made.

To those new to Eliot, by all means first read Middlemarch.  

I would like to read her other three novels, maybe I will read Adam Bead next.

Please share your experience with George Eliot with us

Mel u