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, March 31, 2019

The Reading Life Review - March 2019 - hopes for next few months

March Authors

Row 1. Left to Right

  1. David Mitchel - UK - read three of his novels in March
  2. Hersh Norberg - Poland - Yiddish writer
  3. Jacob Dinezon - Lithuania - very prolific Yiddish writer
  4. Roberta Newman - USA - co-author of Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America 
  5. S. A. Ansky - Belarus - author of most important Yiddish drama, Tbe Dybbuk, The Pioneers, and many other works
  6. Danielle McLaughlin - Ireland - short stories - I have been following her since 2012

Row 2

  1. Arundhati Roy - India - Booker Prize Winner for The God of Small Things
  2. Akiyuki Nosaka - Japan. I have featured four of his WW Two Short Stories
  3. Orla McAlinden - Ireland - author of The Fkight of the Wren
  4. Colm Toibin - Ireland - highly regarded multi genre writer, featured many times
  5. Shakti Bhatt - India - short stories

Row 3

  1. Leonora Carrington - UK  to Mexico- renown surrealist writer and artist
  2. Mavis Gallant - Canada to France - featured many times
  3. Amanthi Harris - Sri Lanka - multi genre writer and artist, I hope to follow her work for many years
  4. Chaya Bhuvaneswer - USA - her debut short story collection White Dancing  Elephants is an amazing work.  I hope to follow her for years

Row 4

  1. Selma Carvalho - UK - historian of the Goan Disporsa, short story writer
  2. Alice Nakhimovsky USA - co-author of Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America
  3. Louise Nealon - Ireland - short stories
  4. A. S. Byatt- UK -Booker Prize Winner

In March I posted on the work of 13 women and six men, six deceased authors and 13 living. Six writers were featured for the first time and 13 are old friends of The Reading Life.

Blog Stats

My posts have been viewed 5,631,760 times

Of the five most viewed posts in March, four are on short stories by writers from     The Philippines.  One was on “A Piece of Bread” by Francois Coppee.  I featured this story for Paris in July 2015.

Top visitor countries

  1. USA
  2. The Philippines
  3. India
  4. Russia - world spam head quarters
  5. Ukraine
  6. UK
  7. Germany
  8. Canada
  9. Indonesia

Plans for next few months

I will continue reading along on The Mavis Gallant Project of Buried Print

Feel free to join in on this long term project

I started a new permanent Reading Life Project, Short Stories by South Asian Women.  

I hope to finally finish my read through of The Comedie Humane by Honore de Balzac.

I will continue my readings in Yiddish literature and culture.  

I will keep on with Holocaust related works.

I hope to complete my reread of 2666 by Roberto Bolano.

I am always looking for new to me writers

Oleander Bousweau has agreed to lend her expertise to The Reading Life, on loan from the Bousweau Foundation.  Ambrosia Bousweau remains as European Director.  

To my fellow book bloggers, keep blogging.  The world needs you. 

My great thanks to those who leave comments

Oleander Bousweau
Ambrosia Bousweau
Mel u

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America by Alice Nakhimovsky and Roberta Newman, 2014, 248 pages, Indiana University Press

Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America by Alice Nakhimovsky and Roberta Newman, 2014, 248 pages, Indiana University Press 

Late 19th century and early 20th century  Eastern European Jewish society was  in flux.  People were leaving their ancestral homes in Russia and Poland for America, mostly New York City or Montreal and Toronto.  Rarely did they speak English.  They often lacked formal literacy in any language.  All sorts of matters had to be handled via correspondence.  The authors show us the great importance letter manuals, called brivnshtelers, became very popular.  

There were letters for all sorts of needs.  Marriages were still often at least semi-arranged.  There are numerous sample letters for this as well as letters declaring love.  All sorts of issues between parents and children show up in the sample letters as well as business letters.  The authors explain very well the way the manuals were employed.  There are separate treatments of letters for people in Russia and America.  There are lots of letters in Yiddish literature and the authors do talk about the classic writers.  One of my favorite work of Yiddish literature is the deeply hilarious profoundly revealing The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl by Sholem Aleichem.  

There are lots of examples of letters in Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl - Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America.  From them you can increase your understanding of family dynamics, emotional attitudes and much more among Eastern European Jews.

This book will interest anyone into Yiddish literature.  Heritage readers wil be equally fascinated.  This is what most refer to as an academic work.  I am so glad I read this book.

In conjunction with this book I recommend  two works on the immigration experiences of Eastern European Jews.  Dealing with Canada, The Montreal Shtetl: Making Home After the Holocaust by Zelda Abramson and John Lynch.  For New York City, there is World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made by Irving Howe.

Alice Nakhimovsky is a professor of Russian and Jewish Studies at Colgate University, where she directs the Program in Russian and Eurasian Studies. She has written extensively on Russian-Jewish literature and everyday life, and served on the editorial board of The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Roberta Newman is an independent scholar living in New York City. She is the Director of Digital Initiatives at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and was the Illustrations Editor and Director of Archival Research for The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Mel u

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Richard the English - A Short Story by Selma Carvalho - 2018

“Richard the English” by Selma Carvalho 

Franz Fanon in his groundbreaking works on post colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks helped me see how writers from once colonial societies often define their characters against  the culture of their former masters.  I first learned to see this through the work of Edward Said and saw how to use this point of view in deeping  my reading in Inventing Ireland by Declan Kiberd.  For sure we can see this at work in Selma Carvalho’s delightful story, “Richard the English”.

We never learn the narrator’s nationality, age, name or even for sure that the narrator is a woman, though it seems so.  All we know for sure is she lives in England and is not English. She moved to England ten years ago.  She has never been inside the home of an English person.  She personifies it with the term “English home”.  

She decides to completely remodel her house, to convert the insides to her vision of an English house.  We know she seems to live on Mulberry Parade Street, located in the heart of central London.  As we can see in the quote below she has a vision of the English home based on literary and historical remembrances.

“I’ve never been inside an English home. Ten years I’ve lived here but I’ve never been invited to an English home. Of course, I’ve had glimpses of it, like today, whenever doors have opened in my presence. Left ajar so that I can have a quick look inside whilst walking down Mulberry Parade Street. Sometimes at night, light pours out from these half-open doors, onto the street, drawing me in. I’ve seen narrow hallways leading to stairwells, with boots lined against walls and brollies stuck in stands, but beyond that I have no idea what exists in an English home. I imagine the smell of scented baths and packet potpourri, of roasting lamb and wood fires. I imagine Tudor beams holding up history, the anguish of two World Wars staring from tables stacked with photographs, Dickens’s ghost wandering in the study, Constable’s pigmented browns gracing bedrooms, and William Morris’s return to innocence plastered over walls. But that’s just my imagination, isn’t it? I’ve got no evidence. Ah to be English. Jolly good.”

She hires Richard, to her the very embodiment of an English man, strong, reliable, capable.  He says he and his crew of three men can completely redo the inside of her house in three months.  They totally rip out the inside of the house.  As the job approaches completion, Richard stays late to get things done.  She is moved back in and begins to suffer anxiety over him leaving.  We don’t sense a romance or sexual feeling just a kind of longing to shore up her alliance to the English by keeping Richard around. He seems to make her feel secure.

The ending is interesting, puzzling, thought provoking and in a strange way funny.   

On a personal observation, I live in the Philippines, an American colony up until 1946.  There are appalling to me advertisements on TV aimed at young women (we have three daughters 20, 23, and 25) which claim their products will make your skin lighter.  The obvious suggestion is lighter is better, more desirable.  This is a sad legacy of colonialism.  All of the media stars have much lighter than typical complexions.

"Richard the English" can be read in just a few minutes.  I highly recommend this story.

I hope to read more of Selma Carvalho going forward, especially her works on the Goan immigration to British East Africa.  

Selma Carvalho is a British-Asian writer, columnist and author of three books documenting the Goan presence in British East Africa. Between 2011-2014, she led the Oral Histories of British-Goans Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund UK. Her short fiction and poetry have been published by Litro,  Lighthouse and online Mechanics’ Institute Review (Birkbeck) among others. Her work appears in several print anthologies including the London Short Story Prize 2017 Anthology (Kingston University Press, 2018) for which she was a shortlist finalist. Her short stories have been placed in numerous competitions, most recently highly commended for the University of Winchester Writers Festival SS Prize 2018. She is the winner of the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2018.

From Amazon

Selma Carvalho grew up in Dubai when the place was just an arid patch of land with a few houses huddled around the Creek to attest to the presence of life. After marriage, she lived for seven years in Minnesota, USA, which she describes as a natural berth for the liberal that she has always been. Although she has lived in the Diaspora for most part of her life, she feels she has never been anything other than a Goan.

Mel u

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Thief - A Short Story by Shakti Bhatt - 2006

My post on Necropolis by Jeet Thayil - Short Listed for the 2012 Booker Prize - Husband of Shakti Bhatt

“The Thief” - A Short Story by Shakti Bhatt - 2006

Born 1981 Delhi

Passes 2007 - Delhi

Shaki Bhatt was a writer and editor.  Her early death was a shock to the Indian literary world.  A foundation set up in her memory has since 2008 presented an annual best debut work award for writers of the subcontinent.  

“Bloggers in India have been mourning the untimely death of Shakti Bhatt, who passed away in Delhi last Saturday night after a sudden and unexpected illness. Shakti – who was in her mid-twenties – was the editor of Indian publishing house IBD’s newly launched Bracket Books and the wife of well-known Indian poet Jeet Thayil.” From Global Voices - April 5, 2007

I found several website memorializing her but I could find nothing by her for sale or online.

In 2012 I posted on Necropolis by Jeet Thayil, short listed for the Booker Price.  He was the husband of Shakti Bhatt.  His book is a brilliantly dark account of the underside of Mumbai.  I reread my old blog post and the book came vividly back to me.  

“The Thief” is set in an affluent multi generation family home in Delhi.  The household is run by the grandmother. As we meet her she is negotiating with an applicant for a job as a maid as to what she will and will not do. The maid agrees to cook, wash dishes, answer the phones, do personal errands but not clean.  We learn this is a matter of caste.  The grandmother tells the young narrator that Maids often hire lower caste maids to clean their own rooms.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of the many tradespeople who call on the house.  Reading the food descriptions was a lot of fun.  Bhatt brings the family environment to life.  This is a very good short story.  There is a dramatic turn when a valuable ring of the grandfather shows up missing.

I read this in a worthwhile anthology Kasha: Short Stories by Indian Women

If anyone knows of more works by Shakti Bhatt, please let me know.

I would love to read more of her work.

This is part of our Short Stories by South Asian Women project.  

Oleander Bousweau 
Mel u

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Pioneers: A Tale of Russian Jewish Life in the 1880s - by S. A. An-sky - 1909 - translated from Yiddish by Michael Katz - 2014

Gateway to S, A. Ansky (a k a An-sky) on The Reading Life

Pioneers: A Tale of Russian Jewish Life in the 1880s - by S. A. An-sky - 1909   - translated from Yiddish by Michael Katz - 2014

October 27, 1863 - Chashniki, Belarus

1909 -publishes Pioneers: A Tale of Russian-Jewish Life in the 1880s

1914- The Dybbuk premiers, now indisputably considered the most influential and powerful Yiddish Language dramatic work (see my post for details)

His name is sometimes rendered as Ansky or An-Ski.  His real name was 
Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport

He was a very prolific writer in multiple genres and an accomplished authority on Russian-Jewish folklore, especially music.  He wrote a four volume work based on the diary of his World War One experiences.  He traveled widely and offended many by his late life conversion to Christianity. He described himself as a man on the border between Russian and Jewish Culture, traditional ways and revolution, Paris and Warsaw.  Pioneers focuses on a week in the life of a group of young men who have left home to make their way in the big city.  They are all intellectuals, readers of classic Jewish works as well as Russian authors.  It was fun to listen to them debate the merits of Dostoevsky and Turgenev versus Jewish writers nobody outside of academic specialist any longer reads. In his very learned footnoted Katz explains all these references.  The boys are in rebellion, making a big thing out of eating pick and drinking on holy days.  Lots of complaining about their parents. 

The big drama in the plot comes when they learn a young woman they know is set to be forced into a marriage to a man she cannot stand.  The men begin to develop ways to prevent the marriage.  

There is lots of drama and interesting things in this book.  For those just getting into Yiddish literature, I would suggest you first start with  The Dybbuk and Other Writings S. Ansky Edited and with an Introduction by David G. Roskies With translations by Golda Werman,  Yale University Press New Haven and London

As you advance in your readings, for sure add Pioneers: A Tale of Russian Jewish Life in the 1880s to your list.

Oleander Bousweau

Monday, March 25, 2019

Outside - A Short Story by Amanthi Harris - published in Lighthouse - A Journal of New Writing - Issue 18, Winter 2018 to 2019

Outside - A Short Story by Amanthi Harris - published in Lighthouse - A Journal of New Writing - Issue 18, Winter 2018 to 2019

I have been reading  Amanthi Harris for sometime now.  I am always happy to have the opportunity to expand my reading of her work.  Of the two short stories and a novella I have read, two are about a young woman of Sri Lankan heritage living now in London with her very traditional parents while adjusting to English life.  One story is set in Sri Lanka.  The relationships of the young women  with their parents, especially their mothers, are strained  by the English men they are involved with.  Their parents want strictly Sri Lankan grandchildren!

In today's delightful story a young college woman, Maya, has come in from the outside, back home from college.

I loved the very sensory rich opening lines:

"Outside disappeared when the door closed, as you were taking off your coat in the hallway in the warmth, with the smell of fried curry-leaves and roasting black pepper and the scent of cloves; and the steam from the kitchen misted the windows with their sagging nets of lace flowers, the petals just prickled with mildew. Outside was where Maya lived now. They had sent her - sent her where they could never go, to pry behind old stone walls, to pass through ancient oak doors into panelled halls to reap the rewards of their labours and bring back what she learned.

She had returned with nothing, only altered, full of stories of new friends, of new vistas glimpsed and opening for her. She had grown loud-voiced and giant, her shyness gone, talking on the phone with her new friends, laughing without restraint, revelling in her brazenness. Her parents listened pained to the mention of men - one in particular whose call each day she waited for. He had invited her to a party in a city far away, a party they had forbidden her to attend.
‘Let’s have a dinner party,’ she told her mother, Lila. ‘What for?’
‘It’s weird doing nothing on a Saturday night.’"

Maya has new friends now, she "sees their wealth, comfort, and rootedness,the calm of their entitlement and wanted this"

Dan, the boy Maya likes, is having a party the same night but her parents will not allow her to go.  Maya makes a radical suggestion:

"there was no reason to eat in different rooms, the men sitting down all over the house talking cricket and the women in the kitchen stirring pots, eating between serving the men. Lila didn’t reply, reading over the shopping list.
‘Wine? You drink wine now?’ she demanded. ‘You’re drinking alcohol and running around with men? Very nice. We sent you to University to study."

Maya's mother tells her men will think she is easy.

The family member guests begin to arrive, about ten people.  Chief among them is Uncle Bobby her father's brother.   Bobby had a reputation as a "Playboy" before he finally settled down and married.  A debate breaks out over  whether or not University life has been a bad influence on Maya.  Uncle Bobby tells everyone he thinks she needs and deserves to expand her world.  

I as shocked by the ending, though not as much as Maya was!  

I really liked "Outside", lots of marvelous descriptions of food.  (The very last thing an immigrant will give up willingly is their food, clothes, religion, language all go first in the acculturation process.) 

As I read this story about generational tensions  yesterday, my 76 year old mother in law, 25 year old daughter and wife were at the kitchen table enjoying very traditional foods brought back from a visit to family property in way rural northern Philippines.  The family is intensely close but far from drama free.  The conversations and relationships depicted in "Outside" rang very true for me.

Amanthi Harris was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in London. She studied Fine Art at Central St Martins and has degrees in Law and Chemistry from Bristol University.

Her novel BEAUTIFUL PLACE will be published by Salt (September 2019). LANTERN EVENING, a novella, won the Gatehouse Press New Fictions Prize 2016 and was published by Gatehouse Press (2017). Her short stories have been published by Serpent’s Tail and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as Afternoon Readings. She also runs StoryHug, an ACE funded storytelling, art and writing project.

Outside - A Short Story by Amanthi Harris - published in Lighthouse - A Journal of New Writing - Issue 18, Winter 2018 to 2019

This issue of Lighthouse- A Journal of New Writing has a very interesting mix of short stories, poetry, artwork, and commentary from a diverse group of writers.  

I am very much looking forward to her debut novel, Beautiful Place coming in September this year.  I hope to follow her work for a long time.

Be sure to check out her website to see her enchanted  art work.  

This story is included in our Stories by South Asian  Women project.

Mel u
Oleander  Bousweau

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell -2006

The Gateway to David Mitchell on The Reading Life

Black Swan Green is the forth novel by David Mitchhell I have recently read.  My first was The Bone Clocks, then Slade house followed by his set in 18th century Japan The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.  I will I hope in April read his aclaimed Cloud Atlas.

Green Swan Black (to my surprise this is the name of the small English town in which this coming of age story is set.  The plot begins around 1980, you can tell  the period by the occurrence of the Falkland Island War.  The central character is a very normal teenage boy.  His father is the district manager for a big
grocery store chain.  His mother is a house wife.  He has an older sister with whom he has the usual conflicts.  The family is close enough and well provided for.  At first I was slow to get involved in the story, I might have abandoned the book if it was an ARC. I soon realized that Mitchell has found a way to make the day to day life of an English teenager as engrossing as a haunted house story and as fascinating in details as his novel set in 18th century Japan.  We are in a pre internet no mobile phone which now does require historical knowledge to treat in a novel.

There are teenage cliques, social rankings of the Boys, rules their code of behaviour requires, the biggest fault would be ratting out another boy to a teacher.  There are interesting characters, a crazy school bus driver, a scary resident with dobermans, gypsies, and my favourite, a mysterious older French woman who, when she learns he writes poetry, begins to try educate him about literature.

Things do happen in the family.  Dad loses his job for cheating on his expense account, Mother gets a job selling fine art and does very well.  His sister has a new boyfriend and goes to college.  There is more.

I just loved this phone conversation the mother had with the daughter:

““You’re still coming home for Christmas, right?” “Day after tomorrow. Stian’s driving me down. His family owns this mansion in darkest Dorset.” “Stan?” “Stan?” “No, Stian. He’s Norwegian, Ph.D. in dolphin language? Didn’t I mention him in my last letter?” Julia knows exactly what she “mentions” in her letters. “Wow. So he speaks in dolphin with you?” “He programs computers that might, one day soon.” “What happened to Ewan?” “Ewan’s a dear, but he’s in Durham and I’m up here and … well, I knocked it on the head. In the long run, it’s for the best.” “Oh.” But Ewan had a Silver MG. “I liked Ewan.” “Cheer up. Stian’s got a Porsche.” “God, Julia. What sort? A GT?”

This is not that long a work, maybe 260 pages.  I liked it a lot once I got into it.

DAVID MITCHELL is the award-winning and bestselling author of Slade House, The Bone Clocks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, and Ghostwritten. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2007. With KA Yoshida, Mitchell translated from the Japanese the internationally bestselling memoir The Reason I Jump. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.

About the Author DAVID MITCHELL is the award-winning and bestselling author of Slade House, The Bone Clocks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, and Ghostwritten. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2007. With KA Yoshida, Mitchell translated from the Japanese the internationally bestselling memoir The Reason I Jump. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.  -from the publisher