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, June 30, 2019

The Reading Life Review June 2019. -. Future Plans

June Authors

Column One

  1. Jacob Dinezon - Poland - Major Yiddish Writer
  2. James Joyce - Ireland
  3. Jane Austin - England

Column Two

  1. Sushmita Bhattacharya- India - Award Winning Short Stories
  2. Anne-Marie O'Connor - USA - suthor of The Lady in Gold-The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece

Column Three

  1. Christina Thompson - USA - suthor of Sea People - The Puzzle of Polynesia
  2. Sholem Aleichem - Russia - most widely read Yiddish Writer
  3. Edith Nisbet - England - wrote as E. Nisbet - highly prolific and much loved Writer of young adult works

Column Four

  1. Paul Bowles - USA
  2. Julie Orringer - USA - author of The Flighf Portfolio and The Invisible Bridge - added to my read all work list
  3. Saul Bellow - USA (born in Canada) - Nobel Laureate

In June four men were featured, seven women.  Four June authors are living, seven deceased, five appeared for the first time, six are recurring writers.

Home Countries of June Authors

  1. USA - Five
  2. UK - two
  3. Ireland - One
  4. India - One
  5. Russia - One
  6. Poland - One

June Blog Stats

There are currently 3563 active posts on The Reading Life.  Since inception there has been 5,708,191 page views

The top visitor's home countries are the USA, India, the Philippines, Russia, the UK, Germany, the Ukraine, the UAE, Canada, and France.

I at last read Pride and Prejudice, universally considered as of best novels of all times.  I read Mr. Smaller's Planet by Saul Bellow but did not post upon it.  

I once again observed on June 14 Bloom's Day.  

In July I will continue reading short stories by Mavis Gallant, hopefully four set in Paris Stories.  I will continue reading along with Buried in Prints Mavis Gallant Short Stories Project, scheduled to run until September of 2020

I will once again participate in Paris in July, a great event hosted by Thyme for Tea.

All of my old projects still continue, some may go into hibernation for a while.

I thank Ambrosia Bousweau as will as Oleander Bousweau for their valuable contributions.  I anticipate Rafalesca Bousweau joining us soon.

My thanks to Max u for his very kind provision of Amazon Gift Cards.

I offer my gratitude to all who take the time to leave a comment.

My blog will turn ten in July.  I will start a new occasional feature, ten years ago on The Reading Life.  


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin - 1812

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin is on every list of 100 greatest novels, often considered in the top ten best.  I have seen posts by book bloggers talking about having read it fifty times.  I am so glad to have at last had my first encounter with this master work of the English novel.  Better late than never.

I will keep my observations mercifully brief.  Set in small town England in 1810, Austin gifts us with the Bennett family, mother, father, and five daughters.  The parents call each other Mr or Mrs Bennett.  All but the youngest daughter is at or close to age where the search for a husband is of paramount import.  Austin's world may be small but she illuminating depicts it.

I love the tone of Austin's prose.  Her observations on characters can be very illuminating.  As a father of three unmarried daughters 21, 23 and 25 my wife and I often semi-joke about good matches for them.  Our youngest is friends with a boy in college with her whose family owns a big luxury resort. I told her tell the boy to "call me daddy".  

The relationships are very interesting.  I will next read her Sense and Sensibility.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Pastor Dowe at Tacaté - A Short Story by Paul Bowles -1949

Paul Bowles (1910 to 1999), pictured above with his wife Jane Bowles, might be a writer of a forgotten era to most people, writing about  hash loving expats and exotic natives  living in Tangiers from some mysterious source of money while entertaining the elite of the stoned literary world.  I have read several of his stories and liked them all.  A while ago I got for only $1.95 an e book of his collected stories (sixty five of them) and I am slowly reading through them.   Imagine the film Casablanca, then think not of the semi respectable Rick's Cafe American but of the more noir  Blue Parrot and you can picture the world of a Bowles story.  If hanging out in the Blue Parrot leaves you cold, then probably you are not meant to be a Bowles reader.  

"Mexican Tecate, hugging the fence, is a large agricultural town of nearly eighty thousand people. It is also the setting for one of my favorite short stories, “Pastor Dowe at Tecate,” by Paul Bowles. He has great difficulty in his attempts to convert the locals to Christianity, and he finds their attention constantly flagging when he preaches. He discovers that they brighten when he winds up his old phonograph and plays the 1928 show tune “Crazy Rhythm.” And so he plays it over and over as he delivers his sermons. Hoping to please Pastor Dowe, some men in his congregation try to tempt him with a thirteen-year-old girl, who shows up with a live baby alligator she hugs as a doll.” From On the Plain of Snakesby Paul Theroux -2019

I have been reading the travel writings of Paul Theroux on and off for years.  I as very happy to be given an advance revised copy of his forthcoming On The Plain of Snakes which is about his trip by car all along the Mexican-USA border.  Theroux is, as he tells us, 76 years old.  We sense he sees this as his last work.  Of course he talks about current political blather about the Mexican border towns.  I will probably post on this book soon but I do predict it will do very well.

He highly recommended a short story by Paul Bowles, "Pastor Dowe at Tecate", set in the Mexican town of Tecate.  The story seems set in the early 1930s.  Pastor Dowe's mission is to convert his Indian congregation to Christianity.  Then one day he is told people will like his services more if there is music.  Pastor Dowe, a recent widower, has and old phonograph his wife owned. He only has a few records.  He begins to play records and church attendance increases.

The story show the pastor and the church goers trying to marry Christianity to indigenous religion.  I admit I laughed when an Indian leader gave him a thirteen year old girl.  Clearly she is meant to serve his sexual needs and keep house.  He runs back across the border.

As far as I know, this story can not be read online.  I was happy to find it included in collection of his short stories I have.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor - 2012 - 370 pages

Website of Anne-Maria O’Connor

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor - 2012 - 370 pages 

Gustav Klimt (1862 to 1918- Austro Hungarian Empire)

Adele Bloch-Bauer (1881 to 1925 - Vienna)

1907 - Lady in Gold completed and first exhibited 

March 12, 1938 - Austria comes under German Control

In 1941 Lady in Gold was Stolen by the Nazis and classified as degenerate  Jewish Art

September 2, 1945 - Germany surrenders

After the war, The painting remained in the  custody of an Austrian Museum.

In 2004 Lady in Gold was returned by court order to a descendent of The Blochs living in Los Angeles 

In 2006 it was sold for $135 Million at Auction in London by Christie’s.  This was at The time a World Record price for a painting.

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch  should be read by anyone interested in Belle-epoque Vienna (normally considered to be from 1900 and ending in 1914), in the art of the period, especially that of Gustav Klimt, upper class Jewish society, and the politics of the closing days of the Austria-Hungarian Empire.  Vienna's  climate of acceptance resulted in a great flourishing of Jewish society in Vienna.  O’Connor elegantly describes this society while flourishing and under fatal attack.

This was a period where the painting of portraits was a lucrative profession.  Every affluent Viennese wanted flattering portraits of his family, men of their mistresses.  Klimt painted some of the women from the richest Jewish families in Vienna.  Much of the opening narrative of the book turns on Klimt’s reputation as a glamorous womanizer, never married but with numerous high society affairs attributed to him.  A portrait could take years of work, The Lady in Gold took three years, and long hours of posing privately with the artist. O'Oconor loved this era and made it come to life for me.

Of course we know the terrible changes coming to the Jewish community in Vienna. O'Connor skillfully contrasts the artistic career of another young Austrian, an aspiring artist, Adolph Hitler.  There is speculation that his rejection by a Viennese art school was part of the cause of his hatred of Jews.  As one must, O'Connor goes into life in Nazi Vienna, mentioning figures such as Sigmund Freud, Billy Wilder, Heddy Lamar, and Stefan Zweig. The Nazis considered work by Gustav Klimt and other Jewish artists of the period as "degenerate". So called German art experts began stealing these works.  Klimt's paintings were considered very decadent, antithetical to "Aryan values".  O'Connor explains the fate of Klimt's work.  

The narrative opens in Los Angeles, California in 2002 or so.  An elderly descendent of the Bloch-Bauer family has engaged an attorney to try to recover the Klimt paintings stolen from her family.  In 1998 Austrian laws were passed requiring the return of Art stolen by the Germans to their rightful owner. In 2004, with the assistance of the US Supreme Court, the Klimt portraits were turned over to family members.

Being there at the sale of the Klimt works at Christie's was a lot of vicarious fun.

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor is a fascinating look at how the Holocaust impacted the art world.

This fine book motivated me to look at images of the work of Gustav Klimt, works of stunning beauty. For that alone I am grateful to Anne-Marie O'Connor

There is just so much to learn from this book.  I admit I knew nothing about Mark Twain's visit to Vienna, the involvement, including a possible romance of women from the family of Joseph Pulitzer with Klimt, he painted numerous women from the family, and much more.  

I loved this copiously illustrated documentary on the life and work of Klimt linked below.  

From the author's website. 

The website has images of numerous paintings, pictures of various portrait subjects.  

Anne-Marie O’Connor is a veteran foreign correspondent and culture writer who has covered everything from post-Soviet Cuba to American artists and intellectuals. O’Connor attended Vassar and the San Francisco Art Institute and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, where she and fellow students co-created an award-winning documentary on the repression of mural artists after the 1973 military coup in Chile. She covered the wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala as a Reuters bureau chief in Central America; the Shining Path guerrillas in Peru, coups in Haiti and U.S. interventions in Haiti and Panama; and covered Cuba and Haiti for a newspaper chain. At the Los Angeles Times she chronicled the violence of Mexico’s Arellano-Felix drug cartel, U.S. political convention; and profiled such figures as Nelson Mandela, George Soros, Joan Didion, John McCain, and Maya Lin. Her story on Maria Altmann’s effort to recover the family Klimt collection appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine in 2001. She has written for Esquire, The Nation, and The Christian Science Monitor. She currently contributes to The Washington Post from Jerusalem. 

 give a complete endorsement to The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor.  

Mel u

Friday, June 21, 2019

Wandering Stars by Sholem Aleichman - 1909 - translated from Yiddish. by Aliza Shevrin -2006 -with a preface by Tony Kushner

"Wandering Stars is a great novel about theater, an invaluable account of the Jewish theater of the diaspora, but it’s equally a brilliant exploration of liberation’s outrageous, Wandering Stars is a great novel about theater, an invaluable account of the Jewish theater of the diaspora, but it’s equally a brilliant exploration of liberation’s outrageous, tumultuous motion through human society and the human soul. Epic and intimate, wide open and claustrophobic, Aleichem’s perfectly imperfect novel tears, mends, and re-tears its narrative voice along with its characters’ lives, as it tumbles us all, characters and readers and narrative, toward the future, toward, should we be so lucky (we should be so lucky!), something we can call home." 

TONY KUSHNER in the preface

Anthony Robert Kushner is an American playwright and screenwriter. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993 for his play Angels in America and then adapted it for HBO in 2003. He co-authored the screenplay for the 2005 film Munich, and he wrote the screenplay for the 2012 film Lincoln. Wikipedia

Sholom Aleichem

1859 Born in The Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire

1916 Dies in New York City.  His funeral is attended by 250,000

To most people, certainly me a few years ago, Yiddish writers were divided into two categories, Sholom Aleichem and a bunch of authors I have never heard about who I would never have read were it not for Yale University Press giving me a full set of The Yale Yiddish Library.  These ten volumes, introduced by top authorities in Yiddish Studies, include some of the great classics.
Among the works were two totally marvelous novels  by Sholom Aleichem.  All of the works were pre-Holocaust, written in Eastern Europe and Russia.  All were by men.  As Yiddish speakers left Europe, mostly to NYC then Toronto and Montréal women writers like Blume Lempel and Chava Rosenfarb began publishing in Yiddish.  I have talked a bit about the history of Yiddish Literature (running from around 1875 to maybe 2004 with the passing of the last of the emigrated writers) in prior posts.) My perception is most seriously into Yiddish Literature, a huge treasure trove of Short Stories, are “heritage readers” seeking ties with the world of their ancestors in Eastern Europe.  Behind it is also a powerful message to those who would destroy Jewish Culture, you lose, we win.  I read in this area because it is an incredibly wonderful literature.  The stories range from heart breaking to funnier than a Mel Brooks movie.  Yiddish scholarship has very strong support and thanks to the internet, and maybe especially The Yiddish Book Center, interest is increasing.

I think my favorite work of Yiddish literature is the deeply hilarious profoundly revealing The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl by Sholem Aleichem, on whose work the movie The Fiddler on the Roof is based.  Sholem Aleichman is an artist of the highest order.  He is a world class cultural treasure.

Wandering Stars revolves around two Yiddish theater preformers.  They are young, maybe 16 when we first meet them. The boy is from a rich family, the girl  is the daughter of the shtetl cantor.  A Yiddish theater company is in town.  Both are fascinsted by the theater.  They fall in love, join the theater and run away from home.  We learn a lot about life in the small town.  As I expected, a great job is done depicting life in the shtetl, with all sorts of fun details and minor characters.  Once the boy's father realizes he is gone he contacts the Russian police commissioner for the area and offers him what ever he wants to find his son.  Everyone suspects he and the girl left with the theater company.

We meet a number of people in the theater, from the manager to preformers and more.  I really enjoyed the scenes in Bucharest, then London and finally in New York City, which had a thriving Yiddish theater scene.  We see the theater members getting used to life in New York City.  Both, especially the girl, become super stars, courted by Gentile theatrical producers.

There are romances, intrigues, happy days and sadness.

The novel has lots of letters.  It can get confusing but that is Ok.

I enjoyed Wandering Stars. I suggest you first read some of his short stories and The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl Your best way into Yiddish literature is the ten volume Yale University Press Yiddish library.

For those interested in theatrical history I suggest Yiddish Empire: The Vilna Troupe,Jewish Theater and The Art of Itinerancy by Debra Caplan, followed up by Wandering Stars.

Mel u

Thursday, June 20, 2019

“Table Manners" - A Short Story by Susmita Bhattacharya from her collection Table Manners and Other Stories - 2018

Gateway to Susmita Bhattacharya on The Reading Life

“When my missus died, I just ate and ate, and and grew larger and larger until I could barely fit into my armchair. What would she think, seeing this mountain who used to be her husband? I couldn’t move without getting breathless and needing to sit down. The doctor says it’s bad for my heart. So be it. I’m just fine sitting by the window, watching the world go by. And one day, I see a new face at the window opposite.” From Table Manners

Some short stories impact us for personal reasons, making us face possibilities we would sooner hide from, push way out of mind.  I won’t forget the narrator of “Table Manners”.  

As I read the lines above, from the title story “Table Manners” from Susmita Bhattacharya’s award winning debut collection, Table Manners and Other Stories I had a 

grim vision of the inevitable fate that awaits me if I survived my wife.  The geographic setting of the story is not spelled out but given toad in hole is on the menu, it must be England.

The man spends most of his day eating, cooking bland food and looking out the window.  He is pretty much in a waiting to die mode.

The man smells food cooking in the Chinese family across from him.  He notices a new person, a very old woman.  Suddenly she is at his door, gestilating for him to come with her.  He gets his walking stick and goes with her.  He helps rescue her cat from a tree, exhausting himself in the process. She insists he eat.  It is the first true home cooked meal he has had since his wife died.

Susmita Bhattacharya goes on to show how this chance encounter, with an older lady with whom he shares no language, seems to pull him out of his trough of dispair.  Maybe he can slowly start again.

“Table Manners” Is a very perceptive story, deeply impacting me.

I look forward to reading more stories by Susmita Bhattacharya.

From The Author’s Website

I was born in Mumbai and graduated in applied art from B.D.Somani Sophia Polytechnic. I was apprentice to photographer, Farrokh Chothia, for a year before moving on to web and graphic design at Tata Interactive. After my marriage in 2000, I sailed around the world with my husband on oil tankers. We moved to Cardiff, Wales in 2004 where I did my Masters in The Practice and Teaching of Creative Writing at Cardiff University.

My novel was published by Parthian in 2015 and by Bee Books in India in 2017. I won a mentoring bursary from Literature Wales to work on my novel. It is long listed for the Words to Screen Prize by the Mumbai Association of Moving Images (MAMI).
My short stories have been published in literary journals in the UK and internationally, nominated for the Pushcart Prize,  broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and shortlisted for prizes. 
My collection of short stories, Table Manners, was published in September 2018 by Dahlia Publishing.

I teach contemporary fiction on the Masters programme at Winchester University. I also am the lead facilitator for the SO:Write project in collaboration with the Mayflower theatre in Southampton- the Mayflower Young Writers Project, which is funded by the Arts Council England. I have led workshops at the Winchester Writers’ Festival, at Plymouth University, the Asian Writers’ Festival among others.
I won the Winchester Writers’ Festival Memoir Prize in 2016.

My hobbies include photography, art, Bollywood films and travelling. And trying out new cuisines. And if I love a dish, I have to cook it!

Mel u