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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Reading Life Review - July 2019

July Authors

Column One

  1. Sarah Blackwell - UK - At the Existentialist Cafe:Freedom, Being and Apricot  Cocktails by Sarah Blackwell.  (Good background on French Existentialism)
  2. Liza Wieland- USA- Paris 7 A. M. (Centering on Elizabeth Bishop in Paris)
  3. Paula Mclain - USA - The Paris Wife (a fictional recreation of Hemingway's first marriage from the wife's point of view)
  4. Suzzane Rodriguez - USA - Wild Heart Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris by Suzanne Rodriguez (a very informative biography of a fascinating person)

Column Two

  1. Julie Orringer - USA - The Invisible Bridge and The Flight Portfolio -(two set in France during WW II masterpieces)
  2. Anne Nelson - USA - A Daring Rescue in Nazi Paris (an important addition to French Holocaust literature)
  3. Mavis Gallant - Canada to France
  4. Monique Truong - Vietnam to USA - The Book of Salt - (an imaginative novel told from the point of view of Gertrude Stein's Vietnamese cook)

Column Three

  1. Jonah Rosenfeld - Ukraine to New York City (multi genre Yiddish writer)
  2. Andre de Mandiargues - France (from surreal short stories to Best selling novels)
  3. Jean-Paul Clebert - France - Paris Vagabond - (an account of his time withspent in the poorest parts of Paris after WW Two)

Column Four

  1. Chava Rosenfarb - Poland to Montreal - among the very best post Holocaust Yiddish writers
  2. Anothony Hope - UK - The Prisonor of Zenda (an adventure classic, four movies have been made based on this novel
  3. Lafcadio Hearn - Greece to Japan - (a childhood favorite of mine-in August   I will post on Monigue Truong's forthcoming novel, The Sweetesf Fruit centering on him)

Column Five

  1. Colette - France
  2. Goli Taraghi - Iran, lived for years in Paris, (I posted on two readable online short stories drawing on her experiences as an emigrant in Paris)
  3. Jean-Paul Celine (France, practicing doctor, author Journey to the Edge of the Night - 1932- and Death on the Installment Plan by Louis-Ferdinand Celine- 1936 - both translated from the French by Ralph Manheim - classics of the dark side of Paris)

Of the seventeen writers featured, 11 are women, six men.  Eight are living.

Ten writers were featured for the first time.

Home Countries of July Authors

  1. USA 5
  2. France 4
  3. UK 2
  4. Canada 1
  5. Ukraine 1
  6. Poland 1
  7. Vietnam 1
  8. Greece 1
  9. Iran 1

Ten Years Facelift

The Reading Life turned ten on July 9th.  Motivated by this I decided to give the blog a bit of a Facelift.  I put in place a new header image, made the blog search option very easy to find and my e mail very easy to locate.  I changed the Malguidi  Days sidebar picture, added an image for Paris in July and one for  The autodidactic corner. 

Notes on July Reading

I read two books in July I did not post upon

On the Plain of Snakes by Paul Theroux, his travels on the Mexican border, for fans only.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante.  

Most of my reading in July was in participating in Paris in July 2019, hosted by Thyme for Tea.  I will soon do a concluding post.

Blog Stats

There are currently 3529 posts online.

We have received 5,737,666 pages views

The three most read posts for the month are all on short stories by authors from The Philippines.

The top home countries for readers were the USA, the Philippines, India, Russia, the UK, Ukraine, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, and Canada.

Future Plans

August is Women in Translation Month.  I hope in August to post on seven stories in Translation from Urdu, a few from Yiddish and Farasi.

I will continue reading along with Buried in Print through the short stories of Mavis Gallant.

All my projects continue.

Expression of Gratitude

I offer my thanks to Max u for the Amazon gift cards.

To those who leave comments, you help keep us going.

Mel u, Editor
Ambrosia Bousweau, European Director
Oleander Bousweau, of The Bousweau Foundation

Monday, July 29, 2019

Paris 7 A. M. by Liza Wieland - 2019 - 353 pages

Elizabeth Bishop

1911 Worchester Massachusetts

1929 Enrolls in Vassar College

1938 Buys a house in Key West, Florida

1956 Receives the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

1951 to 1965 - lives in Petropolis, Brazil (not too far from Rio de Janeiro, where Stefan Zweig moved with his wife to escape the same forces that motivated Bishop to return to the USA and where Zweig and his wife committed suicide.  I spent some time there about 15 years ago.  It is now a get away for affluent Cariocas and rich Europeans.  I am glad Elizabeth Bjshop was able to live in such a beautiful place for 15 years, with her longest love, Lola de Macado Soares, an acomplished landscape designer.

Bishop loved women, poetry, travel, and alcohol.  As she got older her drinking got worse.  Liza Weiland in Paris 7 A. M. helped me see the personal and social forces that lead to her impairment by alcohol.  Bishop had an inherited income from her father that rendered her  free to travel and write.  She was secure but not truly rich in the style of Natalie Clifford Barney.

I totally loved Paris 7 A. M.  This is a work of shimmering beauty, deeply insightful.  It is the sort of book you will feel like kissing upon completion, or maybe well before.  Paris 7 A M is a work to keep on the nightstand to have something that makes you happy to see in the morning.  Few authors can capture the inner life of a great artist as well as Wieland has done for Bishop.

Wieland takes us deeply into the events of the opening years of Bishop's life.

Tragedy soon found Bishop, her father died when she was eight months old, shortly afterwards her mother was committed to a mental asylum which she never left.  Bishop did not again see her mother. She was sent to her maternal grandparents in Novia Scotia. After a few years she moved to the home of her wealthy paternal grandparents.  Bishop was not happy with them so she was transferred to the home of her mother's sister. Her aunt, paid by the grandparents for her care, instilled in her a love of poetry, this came to provide her direction in life.  Her father's estate set up a trust for Bishop which sustained her for life.  Having numerous health issues Bishop struggled with her schooling but did graduate from the very prestigious Vassar in 1934.  Wieland does not directly narrate this but we come to a comprehension of this through her conversations with her friends.  She met the poet Marianne Moore at Vassar who was an early mentor. Vassar was considered a sister school to Harvard, educating the wives of America's elite. 

Most of Paris 7 A. M takes place during a trip Bishop made with college friends. We see the emotional strains on Bishop brought on by her mother, confined to a mental hospital.  We sense a guilt on her part as she prepares for Europe. At that time Vassar was a place for girls from wealthy families to attend college before marrying.  There were serious classes in literature and the arts.  She did have a college boyfriend, it is not clear if they ever slept together.

It is June 1937, Bishop and her college roommates are on a Paris trip.  They are seeking inspiration from the world's most romantic city.  Bishop's mother had just died.  They love the history, the centuries old buildings, the sense of walking where the giants of French literature once walked.  They meet interesting people, Bishop develops a romantic interest in a woman she meets.  We see her world opening up.  Paris was full of expats seeking something America did not offer them.

Recently I read a very well done account of the life of Natalie Clifford Barney, an American expat, fabulously wealthy, hostess to one of the premier salons of Paris, Wild Heart Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris by Suzanne Rodriguez.  Natalie was very openly gay.  I loved it when I read these lines:

"They receive a handwritten invitation: Miss Barney will be at home two Fridays hence. Perhaps Miss Bishop would do us the honor . . . She likes the poem about Paris and the clocks, Louise says. She told me that. Too many clocks, Elizabeth says. Why do so many of my poems begin with some assertion about what time it is? Time is of the essence? I wonder if Clara will be there. It’s odd that we haven’t seen her. She seems to have disappeared."

Natalie was about fifty and very much an imperial figure.  Bishop did not have the exquisite beauty Natalie prefered in her women and probably Bishop was probably still too inhibited by New England vslues to have accepted an advance.  Elizabeth read her poem Paris 7 A. M.

Bishop arrived in Paris with two college friends, a shockingly violent event befalls one of them..  On arrival they rented space from a middle aged woman mourning the loss of her daughter.  She became a kind of mother figure for Bishop.  It is through her that the women fight back against the coming assult on the Jewish population of France.

We see Bishop, partially through a French woman she met becoming increasingly concerned about the rise of Fascism:

""They are cruel, Sigrid says, the führer and Mussolini. In all the photographs, they hold a stick or a riding crop. To beat someone. This gives them pleasure. I think sometimes what they want is not about the country, really. They want to violate. It is like sex. They want to shove everyone up against a wall in a dark room. They want this very badly, no matter the consequences. And certain sorts of people make them very nervous. People who have unusual magic. Who? says Elizabeth, fascinated by the idea. Who has unusual magic? You do, Sigrid says. I do. Gisèle does. Gypsies. The insane. Hitler would have killed your mother right away. Don’t, Elizabeth says."

I really liked the way Wieland closed the book, with segments on Bishop's life in Key West, Brazil and elsewhere.

The prose is exquisite.  I felt, and for sure, wished I was in Paris.

Those into the work of Bishop will be in their glory as they read Paris 7 A. M.  For me, I was thrilled when she met Nafalie Clifford Barney. That alone made the book for me.

Liza Wieland  is the author of seven works of fiction and a volume of poems.  She  has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, and the North Carolina Arts Council. She is the 2017 winner of the Robert Penn Warren Prize from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Her novel, A Watch of Nightingales, won the 2008 Michigan Literary Fiction Award, and her most recent novel, Land of Enchantment, was a longlist finalist for the 2016 Chautauqua Prize. She teaches at East Carolina University.  From the author's website.

YouTube has recordings of Bishop reading Paris 7 A. M.  and other poems.

While in Paris Bjshop's landlord, she refused to accept rent was Clara Longworth de Chambrun, a very important and fascinating person.  In her apartment Bishop wrote Paris 7 A M.

You can learn more about her here

Her life would be the basis for a great novel or biography.

On her website Wieland has posted two interesting articles on Bishop.

I can see this book becoming a classic.  For sure I will return to Paris 7 A M

Mel u
with the assistance of Ambrosia Bousssesu

Saturday, July 27, 2019

First Day - A Short Story by Goli Taraghi - 2003 - translated from Farsi By the Author

The First Day is tbe second  short story by Goli Taraghi i have posted upon for Paris in July 2019.  Like The Neighbor it draws on the challenges Taraghi faced after emigrating from Tehran to Paris with her children.

(The Neighbor- A Short Story by Goli Taraghi - 2006. - translated from Farsi by Azizeh Axadi - A Marvelous story about a Family from Tehran adjusting to Life in Paris)

In her preface to this story Taraghi explains her reasons for taking a giant step and her very real issues.

“Author's note: I left Iran in 1979, the year of the Islamic Revolution, and settled in Paris with my two small children. I was naïve enough to think that the chaotic upheaval of the beginning eventually would settle into normal life, and I could return. The increased hostility of the government toward the intellectuals and the war with Iraq, which lasted eight years, forced me to stay longer than I had imagined. I was educated in America and did not speak French. I had to start from zero. Fear of an uncertain future, financial worries, being lost and homesick, and many other problems, conscious and unconscious, all contributed to my nervous breakdown. I believed I could fight back personally. I underestimated the destructive force of the enemy. After a year of suffering, I was finally hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic. Taking the right medication restored my mental stability and helped me to overcome my dreadful anxieties, but what came to my rescue and pulled me out of the dark well of depression was the magical force of literature.”

Many deeply into a reading life as well as the writers among us will see the truth in the final lines.

I really urge you to take the few minutes to read this powerful story so I will not go into much detail.

A Story set Psychiatric Clinic of Ville d'Avray. Outskirts of Paris

Imagine the trauma an immigrant to a country whose language you do not speak and finding yourself strapped to a bed in a mental hospital.  The narrator of the story came to Paris from Tehran with her two children,there is no mention of a husband but she is brought to the hospital by a man deeply concerned for her well being.  Her children are in the care of another woman who immigrated from Tehran. At first she sees it as like a prison, gradually she comes to trust the woman doctor in charge of helping her.  

The stories of Goli Taraghi remind me of those of Mavis Gallant and Jhumpa Lahari.

There are two presentations by Goli Taraghi on YouTube.  

Mel u

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Greenhorn - A Short Story by Chava Rosenfarb. - translated from Yiddish by Goldie Morgentaler 2004

Yesterday my wife invited me to go with her to the SM Mall in EDSA, in Quezon City. There was a big sale and she said I could relax for a few hours at The French Baker Cafe, a very nice place with free Wi-Fi.  I took my Ipad and a collection of short stories about concentration camp survivors living in Montreal by Chava Rosenfarb. Chava Rosenfarb along with her friend Blume Lempel, featured three times during Paris in July 2018, are two of the greatest post Holocaust Yiddish language writers.  Lempel lived in the New York City area, Rosenfarb settled in Montreal. They corresponded extensively.  Both were fluent in French but wrote only in Yiddish. Paris was a first stop for many Jews from Eastern Europe and Russia.  

Chava Rosenfarb

February 3, 1923 - Born in Lodz, Poland

1941 - along with her parents and sister she was incarcerated in the Lodz Ghetto.  Her trilogy, The Tree of Life portrays this period and is considered one of the greatest of Holocaust novels

September, 1944- with her sister and mother she is transported to Auschwitz, their father unknown to them until after the war, died shortly after arrival.  Rosenfarb,her mother and sister were sent to Sasal, a labour camp, to build houses for Germans.

From there they were transferred to Bergen Belsen where they remained in until the camp was liberated by the British Army April 15, 1945.

After spending some time in a displaced persons camp in Belgium, having married another camp survivor, she moved to Montreal.

(For additional details on her life after immigrating and her writings, see the link above.)

The lead story in the collection, "The Greenhorn" centers on a concentration camp survivor in Montreal, Barukh. His wife and children all died in the Holocaust, he spent time in a displaced person camp in Paris waiting to move to Montreal. In the argot of the time such places were just called "dp" camps.  He is on his first day on a job in a garment factory.  The foreman is Jewish as are half the workers.  The other half are young French Canadian women.  We see him trying to adjust, learning the ropes.  A young French Canadian woman strikes up a conversation.  When she finds out he has lived in Paris, she is convinced he must have had a fabulous experience in the world's most, in her dreams, wonderful city.  Barukh has not been around young attractive women in a good while.  We see him struggling to converse with the woman.

"The Greenhorn" was fun to read.  There are seven stories in the collection, at least two more have ties to Paris.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Wild Heart Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris by Suzanne Rodriguez - 2002

Paris in July - 2019 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea

"My queerness is not a vice, is not deliberate, and harms no one.” 
Natalie Clifford Barney

Natalie Clifford Barney

Born - October 31, 1876 Dayton, Ohio, USA

1884 - first lives in Paris, with her sister Laura to attend boarding school.  An 83   year love affair with Paris has begun.  At age twelve she first realizes she is a lesbian.

1893 - has her first romance - she met her last girl friend while sitting on a bench in Paris, age 80.  She never lost her passion for beautiful women.  Some were elite Parisian courtesans, and, if the gossip is true, many were one time no name encounters began all over Paris. Natalie loved being gay and was said to be very skilled with her mouth and hands. She liked bringing women to orgasms.

1896 - Paris becomes her permanent home.  She realized Paris, not homophobic uncultured Dayton, Ohio was where she belonged.  She does travel back to NYC and Washington DC for family business a few times but was always eager to get back to Paris.

She had a large literary output but I am not sure it is much more read.  She is famous as the Emperess of French lesbian society (to suggest she was a mere queen would be an insult.)

Died February 2, 1972 - age 95, Patis was her home for eighty years.

Wild Heart Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris by Suzanne Rodriguez way exceeded my expectations.  This book would serve well as a first introduction to the Belle Epoch era in Paris (from 1871 with the end of the Franco-Prussian War to the start of World War One in 1914 through the 1920s and 1930s.  Rodriguez is very deeply knowledgeable of this period.  She also covers the World War Two era and events us until Natalie's death in 1972.  There are just so many interesting sidelines.  There is   section devoted the role of courtesans in French society that was very informative.  Courtesans were sort of the descendents of pre-revolution Royal mistresses.  Rodriguez tells us there were about forty top courtesans.  There were several periodicals devoted to them.  Many were bisexual, saying men for money but women for love and fun.  

Natalie had affairs with several elite courtesans.  She did not pay them directly but her wealth and luxurious life style were magnets.  I lost count but it looked like Natalie had about thirty serious nonshort term relationships.  She was not monogamous and this was sometimes an issue.  

She ran a literary salon for many years.  Among the famous writers who were frequent guests were Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, Collete, T. S. Eliot, Proust, Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, and Dolly Wilde, Oscar's niece.  Rodriguez days for sure she slept with Barnes (and supported her financially during hard times and probably Collete.  She had a longer relationship with Dolly Wilde which very well treated by Rodriguez.

Natalie was born into a rich family and when her parents passed she became very wealthy.  She never worked.  Not a great money manager, her sister Laura helped her.

She did have long term non sexual relationships with men.  

In a time when people back in Dayton had no idea what a lesbian was and could see no reason for a woman to want sex other than to get pregnant, Natalie was openly and proudly gay, if she were here today she would glad to be Queer and probably the Empress of Paris pride events.

Rodriguez goes into fascinating detail about her relationships to her parents.  Her mother was a well known painter.  Going back to her grandfather, the family fortune orgininated when he started a business making railroad cars.  Her father did not approve of her life style.

There is much much more in this book.  Rodriguez talks in detail about Natalie's literary work.  

Wild Heart Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris by Suzanne Rodriguez should be on the syllabus of any Queer studies enterprises.

There was a negative aspect to Natalie.  She was anti-Semitic and made shameful comments in print during the period the Nazis occupied Paris. Rodriguez loves Natalie, and I came to also,but she doesn't shrug this off.

She shows us Natalie slowing down as she got older

This is a truly wonderful biography and much more.

Suzanne Rodriguez is a journalist and the author of three non-fiction books and hundreds of national magazine and newspaper articles. Suzanne’s writing covers numerous topics, including travel, food, wine, history, art, people, business, and technology. She lives in the town of Sonoma, California. When not at her desk, Suzanne can be found on steep hiking trails, traveling, enjoying great meals in wonderful dives or Michelin-starred restaurants, and pursuing research. She is currently completing a novel about a fascinating but little-known aspect of early California history. .. from Goodreads

If we decide to have a post Paris in July 2019 party, here is hoping Natalie agrees to host and underwrite it.

Oleander Bousweau
Mel u