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

Friday, November 29, 2019

Candide by Voltaire - January, 1759 - translated from French by Philip Littrel

"All that is very well," answered Candide, "but let us cultivate our garden."

An Autodidactic Corner Work

November 11, 1694 - Paris

May 30, 1778 - Paris

Candide played a very important part in my development as a reader.  In 1960, I was thirteen, I acquired a copy of a book that still shapes my reading life, The Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman.  I don’t recall how this came into my hands but it was like a revelation to me of something no one had ever told me before.  I had been an avid reader since about six.  I had no internet to guide me, no adults to lead me.  I just read at random mostly from the school library.  Now I was told by Fadiman that some literary works are immortal classics to nourish you for a lifetime,some books are great, that reading can enrich your life.

I began to read one of his selections, Candide, guided by his short note.  A lot of the items on the list were very long and sounded scary when Fadiman said I might have to read seriously for a long time before I could appreciate them. 

I saw somehow there was a wisdom in this book way beyond my years and the things I was told by adults.  Fadiman explained to me that Voltaire was “the uncrowned king of intellectual Europe,the most destructive of the sappers of the foundations of the old Regime destroyed by the French Revolution.”  I knew nothing about what this meant but I hoped  one day I would.  I am sure I had never before read a work not originally written in English and for sure not one written in the 18th century.  Something amazing and terrible happened in every short chapter.  Lots of sex followed by the pox (what was that Pangloss, Candide’s teacher was doing in the bushes with a servant girl).

Adults are horrible monsters, only Candide and his lady love are innocent.  He travels all over the world, everywhere weird things happen, people thought murdered reappear. There is a cool chapter I bet Voltaire loved writing trashing literary critics.  Who can argue with this council Candide was given.

“A million regimented assassins, from one extremity of Europe to the other, get their bread by disciplined depredation and murder, for want of more honest employment. Even in those cities which seem to enjoy peace, and where the arts flourish, the inhabitants are devoured by more envy, care, and uneasiness than are experienced by a besieged town. Secret griefs are more cruel than public calamities. In a word I have seen so much, and experienced so much that I am a Manichean."

Of course I must have wondered in 1960 what in the world a Manichaean was and why they were despised by the church.  Speaking of which the Catholic Church from the Pope on down comes in for some serious trashing as do Muslim clerics.

Candide has thousands of spin offs, maybe Don Quixote is lurking.

There are references to current events such as an Earthquake in Lisbon.

All this in a work I could read in under three hours. I have read it several more times but not since I began my blog July 7, 2009. 
I was pleased it all came back to me. I wanted Voltaire on The Reading Life.

I knew after encountering Voltaire all works are not equal.  A vast world opened up to me, one I am still journeying as I can.

  My thanks to Monsieur Voltaire and Mr. Clifton Fadiman.  

Mel u

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and The Birth of America by Stacy Schiff, 2005,528 pages.

Benjamin Franklin

January 17, 1796 Boston

American Ambassador to Paris 1776 to 1785

1776 to 1783 - American Revolution

October 17, 1781.  The British Army Surrenders at Yorkstown, effectively ending British efforts to surpass the revolution

The Treaty of Paris formalized the end of British rule in Americs.  Negotiations began in the spring of 1782 and concluded on September 3, 1782.  Franklin was the lead representative for the United States, along with John Adams and was a signatory to the treaty.  The United States received very favorable  terms, much to Franklin's diplomatic skills.

April 17, 1790 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Not long ago I read Ron Chernow's magnificent biographies of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington.  From this I developed an interest in learning more about the era of the American Revolution.  I am partial to biographies.  Upon checking on Amazon I discovered Stacy Schiff has a work on Benjamin Franklin focusing on his time as the minister plenipotentiary from the United States to France.  I previously greatly enjoyed her  biography Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), which won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in biography, as well as her biography of Saint-Exupéry.  Given this I felt comfortable acquiring her A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and The Birth of America.  On a personal note, Franklin was seventy when he crossed the Atlantic, "In December 1776, a small boat delivered an old man to France. Typically after an ocean crossing his eyes brimmed with tears at the sight of land; he had just withstood the most brutal voyage of his life. For thirty days he had pitched about violently on the wintry Atlantic, in a cramped cabin and under unremittingly dark skies. He had barely the strength to stand, but was to cause a sensation.... America was six months old, Franklin seventy years her senior. And the fate of that infant republic was, to a significant extent, in his hands.". I am two years older than Franklin was when he landed and need a bit of encouragement now and then.  I certainly got it from Schiff's book.

As the work opens we are on a coach with Franklin and his grandson bound from the port to Paris.  The road is rough, Sciff made me feel like I was along for the ride.  We see the striking contrast between the much cleaner Philadelphia and Paris where a stroll is hazardous to your safety and your wardrobe.  Franklin gets a super star reception as "the man who tamed lighting".  His mission was to get French to help the United States in the revolution.  The American army was short on everything.  Franklin had great charm and was perfect for this job.  He was a great success.

Schiff introduces us to lots of characters, some honourable some not quite but all very interesting. Franklin stayed at the estate of a nobel, enjoying a good life.  He became involved in the social life around him Franklin, two years a widower, liked French women, he only encountered aristocrats, and many were more than curious about him.  He had relationships but we really don't know how far they went.

French politics was very complicated.  Franklin also had eventually to deal with other Americans, prominent among them John Adams. Lafayette played a very important role in France's role in the war and we learn a lot about him.

I really enjoyed this book.  I recommend it to anyone interested in the founding of America.

About Stacy Schiff
Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, winner of the George Washington Book Prize and the Ambassador Book Award. Schiff has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. The recipient of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in New York City. .from Amazon

For guidance in selection of books on the American Revolution my first resource is the webpage of the Journal of the American Revolution's list of 100 best books.

Mel u

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Theatre: A Sketch by Mariam Karpilove -1937 - translated from Yiddish by Jessica Kirzane - 2019

Mariam Karpilove

“Theater: A Sketch” this story, previously existing only in hand written form in Yiddish has been translated by Jessica Kirzane.

1888 - Minsk, Belarus

1905 -Moves to New York City, later moves to Bridgeport, Connecticut

1956 - Bridgeport, Connecticut

This story, one of hundreds she wrote ,is the first to be translated from Yiddish into English.  Set in the world of Yiddish Theater in New York City, around 1939.  Hitler was in power in Germany but America had not yet entered the war. German anti-Semitic atrocities were beginning to be reported in The Forward and elsewhere but the full horrors were not yet a matter of public consciousness.

As we begin, we are at the office of a director of Yiddish plays. A woman is there to offer her play for production.  The producer and musical director, , both men,have a markedly patronizing attitude toward the playwright, suggesting it is scenery and costume that are most important.  I want to share with you enough to give a feel for the encounter and see what a joy Kizane has given us:

“The director impatiently glanced from his clock to the door of his office. He had an appointment with a young lady who had written a play. The musical director was also there to hear the lady read her play to see how much music he could insert into it and where it would go. 
The two theatre men had big plans for how they would make the play happen. They both agreed that the most important elements of any production were the scenery and the music. It was nice if the writing went well with it. And this play would attract more interest because it was written by a woman.
“A Lady with a Play,” muttered the director, who was also the star, with a nasal twang. “That’s what I have here! What a fine name for a play—A Lady with a Play! That sounds like a hit!”
The musical director demurred, saying there would be plenty of time to give the “child” a name. He seemed to recall that the lady had already named the play herself…
“Who cares what she called it? I can change it to whatever I like. I can write the whole thing over if I want to. She won’t object, so long as I agree to put on her play. It’s her first ‘baby’ isn’t it?”

She begins to read them the play.  The men only half pay attention.  The producer says a play by a woman will market well.

“She had a captivating voice, calm and gentle, that stroked and rock them to sleep. Seeing the effect her voice was having on them, she raised it higher and louder. She played the role of the heroine. The partisans in the forest were asleep and didn’t see the danger, the murderous Nazis were approaching. The heroine, the heroic partisan, cried out, “Wake up! Wake up! You have to get up! They’re coming! Shoot! Shoot!” She was so absorbed in the role that she seemed to have frightened herself with her screams.
Even more than she, the men who were listening to her were startled. They leapt to their feet and their eyes darted around the room. “Huh? What? Where’s the fire? What happened?”
“The whole world is on fire,” the playwright lamented in a tragic voice. “The whole world is on fire, and we’re asleep…”
Hearing her answer, they calmed down. They exchanged glances and then asked her to keep reading.
She read on. In order to prove to her that they weren’t asleep, they interrupted her with questions that only served to demonstrate that they had no idea what her “skit” was about.
“What happens next?” asked the star director. “What happens after he forces her against a wall? What happens with the courtesan?”

The confusion between “partisan” and “courtesan” in the passage below is a brilliant touch, so sad but still darkly hilarious.  A Play about a courtesan sounds like a much better draw then one about partisans.

The men want woman in the play to have a baby with the resitance leader, for add pathos  and “liven up the play”.  I laughed out loud when the musical director suggested adding a group dance number in the forest.

The playwright loses control:

“This isn’t an operetta or a burlesque!” the playwright cried. “It’s a tragedy, a memorial to the victims, to the martyrs, to all those who were killed…” She was overcome with emotion and couldn’t say anymore. She placed the manuscript back in its folder and made a move to return it to the briefcase, but the star director stopped her, telling her to calm down. He told her to read the play to the end and then they would talk business. They wouldn’t add anything to the play or take anything away without her permission. Of course some changes would be necessary to make the play appropriate for the stage. Writing is one thing and acting is another. But together, these two things… She has rich material, but it could be improved”

I do not want to relay to much more about this work, just imagine Grace Paley and Roger De Bris collaborting.

This story is tremendous fun and takes us into a nearly lost world,that of Yiddish theater. This is a delightful work.

From The Encyclopedia of The Jewish Women. 

Miriam Karpilove was one of the most prolific and widely published women writers of Yiddish prose. Her short stories and novels explore issues important in the lives of Jewish women of her generation. Frequent themes are the upbringing of girls and women in Eastern Europe, the barriers they encounter when they seek secular education, and the conflicts they experience upon immigration to North America. For instance, one of Karpilove’s best-known works, Dos Tagebukh fun an Elender Meydl, oder der Kamf Gegn Fraye Libe [The diary of a lonely girl, or the battle against free love] addresses the central anxiety of the young immigrant woman: how to negotiate emotionally satisfying relationships in a new, sexually liberated culture.
Born in a small town near Minsk in 1888, to Elijah and Hannah Karpilov, Miriam Karpilove and her nine siblings were raised in an observant home. Her father was a lumber merchant and builder. Karpilove was given a traditional Jewish and secular education, and was trained as a photographer and retoucher. After immigrating to the United States in 1905, she became active in the Labor Zionist movement and spent the latter part of the 1920s in Palestine. She resided in New York City and in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where several of her brothers had settled.
One of a handful of women who made their living as Yiddish writers, Karpilove debuted in 1906, publishing dramas, feuilletons, criticism, sketches, short stories, and novellas in a variety of important Yiddish periodicals during her fifty-year career. Her work appeared in Fraye Arbeter Shtime, Tog, Groyser Kundes, Tsukunft, Forverts, Haynt, Yidisher Kemfer, and Yidishes Tageblat, among others. She is best known, however, as a writer of serialized novels. More than twenty of these appeared in leading American Yiddish daily newspapers such as Forverts, Morgen-Zhurnal, and Tog. During the 1930s, Karpilove was a member of the Forverts staff, publishing seven novels and numerous works of short fiction in that paper between 1929 and 1937. Only five of Karpilove’s works were published in book form.

Jessica Kirzane.

Jessica Kirzane teaches Yiddish language as well as courses in Yiddish literature and culture.  She received her PhD in Yiddish Studies from Columbia University in 2017. Kirzane is the Editor-in-Chief of  In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies. In addition, she has held several positions at the Yiddish Book Center:  Translation Fellow in 2017-18, Pedagogy Fellow in 2018-19, and as an editor and contributor to the Teach Great Jewish Books site of the Yiddish Book Center.  Her research interests include race, sex, gender, and regionalism in American Jewish and Yiddish literature.

I hope to soon read her translation of Diary of a Lonely Girl, or The Battle against Free Love forthcoming January 2020.

I hope she is working on a 
collection of short stories by Miriam Karpilove.

Mel u

Friday, November 22, 2019

When We Were Nearly Young - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - first published October 7, 1960 in The New Yorker

Buried in Print’s Mavis Gallant Project

When We Were Nearly Young - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - first published October 7, 1960 in The New Yorker .  Included in the collection, In Transit as well as The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant.

Mavis Gallant

April 11, 1922 - Montreal

1950 - moves to Paris

September 1, 1951- publishes, in The New Yorker, her first short story.  She would publish 116 stories in The New Yorker. 

February 18, 2014 - passes away in her beloved Paris

I am reading along as best I can, having access to only about half of her stories, with Buried in Print on their read through of the Short Stories of Mavis Gallant.

Here is how the story begins

“IN MADRID, NINE years ago, we lived on the thought of money. Our friendships were nourished with talk of money we expected to have, and what we intended to do when it came. There were four of us–two men and two girls. The men, Pablo and Carlos, were cousins. Pilar was a relation of theirs. I was not Spanish and not a relation, and a friend almost by mistake. The thing we had in common was that we were all waiting for money.”

A number of Gallant’s stories are about persons out of their home enviorment but still loosely tied to where they came from.  The narrator of the story spends three days a week going to places people might employ to send her money, such as the offices of American Express, Cook’s travel or the post office.  We dont learn who is sending her money.  The two men are also waiting for money, one gets an allowance and one works at a bank.  The two men seem to anticipate one day getting a decent amount. They live in an unregistered pension (ths owner is evading taxes).  As Buried in Print said in her post, stories set in Pensions bring to mind Katherine  Mansfield.

Nine years in future narrator has lost touch with her friends. All dreaded passing thirty.

There is a sad feel to this story, of people with but shallow attachments.  The narrator says she hates reading. They were poor, but in the way of poor college students from rich families playing at poverty.

The project will continue until September 2020, please feel free to join in

Ambrosia Bousweau
Mel u

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Urgent and Important - A Short Story by Brian Kirk - 2019

Gateway to Brian Kirk on The Reading Life

I first began reading short stories by Brian Kirk in March of 2013.  This will be the ninth time he has been featured on The Reading Life.  Only writers for whom I have great regard, from any era, are given such treatment. (In the link to the Q and A session you can find links to his stories.) I urge anyone interested in the short story to read his Q and A session.

Like others of his stories "Urgent and Important" is set in a contemporary office. The narrator is a middle aged mid level civil service employee.  Here is how he introduces us to his professional circumstances.

"I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I will never be rich, never be what people call a successful man like my manager, Andrew Farrington. It doesn’t really bother me. There are other compensations, and one of those is to take a certain amount of pride in the work I do. Certain people think Civil Servants are lazy and over paid – and to be honest I have known some who have spent their days watching the clock – but in the main we are a diligent bunch who do important work under difficult circumstances without much thanks.  
     The department in which I work is constantly in the news and never for good reasons. Some of my more senior colleagues have developed the harried expressions of hunted animals in recent years. We started out young with ideas of career progressions that would see us end our days heading up departments or running divisions, retiring into a golden age of respectable ease. Perhaps an appointment to the board of one or more state bodies might be the only interruption to our leisure after a lifetime of service.
     But the reality has been quite different. Here I sit, mid-career, at a tiny desk loaded with files in the middle of an anonymous open plan office in an ugly building in the centre of town. But I don’t complain. My role is clear. I have found my level and it is very much in the middle of things; I possess little power and therefore have little responsibility. Others carry that burden, those with more ability, more ambition, those who are not afraid to lead. People like my boss, Andrew."

I do not wish to tell the intriguing story line but anyone into office politics will relate.  The story is funny, poignant, and very accurate in its depictions of interoffice relationships.

I look forward to following Brian Kirk for many years, to follow him and watch to see what paths he will take.

Mel u

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Little Berliner - A Short Story by Robert Walser - 1914 - translated from German by Helen Watts

German Literature Month, November, 2019

Works so far read for German Literature Month, 2019

1. Allmen and The Pink Diamond by Martin Suter, 2011
2. The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1808
3. Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada - 2014
4. Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada - 1947
5. "The Little Berliner" by Robert Walser, 1914

"Walser’s virtues are those of the most mature, most civilized art. He is a truly wonderful, heartbreaking writer"'. Susan Sontag

"Since then I have slowly learned to grasp how everything is connected across space and time, the life of the Prussian writer Kleist with that of a Swiss author who claims to have worked as a clerk in a brewery in Thun, the echo of a pistol shot across the Wannsee with the view from a window of the Herisau asylum, Walser’s long walks with my own travels, dates of birth with dates of death, happiness with misfortune, natural history and the history of our industries, that of Heimat with that of exile. On all these paths Walser has been my constant companion. I only need to look up for a moment in my daily work to see him standing somewhere a little apart, the unmistakable figure of the solitary walker just pausing to take in the surroundings."  William Sebald

Mel first encountered the work of Robert Walser during German Literature Month in 2013, he followed up with posts on short stories in  2014 and in 2015 on his novel The Tanners.  We are returning to him this year through a very Walserian story, "The Little Berliner".

1878 to 1956 - Switzerland

"The Little Berliner" is narrated by a 12 year old girl from an affuent Berlin family.  The story really is enchanting, magic.  We see how the girl totally has the views of her class.  She knows her main destiny is to marry and have children.  

One very good way to get into Walser is through the Selected Stories collection pictured above.

Oleander Bousweau

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs - 2016

A Revolutionary War Read

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs is a first rate historical novel, bringing to life Alexander Hamilton, his wife, and his era.

But before you read this work, assuming you have not done so, you will enjoy The Hamilton Affair much more if you first read Alexander Hamilton, A Biography by Ron Chernow.

The plot alternates between episodes in the life of Hamilton and his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler.  Things begin in Christiansted, St. Croix, where Hamilton was born and lived until his early teens, in January 1768.  Hamilton's parents were not married, his father deserted the family.  His mother struggled to feed Hamilton and his brother.  There were unsavory rumors about her relationships with men.  Alexander, I feel we can call him that, was about thirteen, working as a clerk for a shipping company.  St Croix was dominated by the sugar industry.  The sugar industry was totally dependent on slaves.  To be a sugar industry slave was a horribly cruel life.  From seeing this Alexander develops a life time aborance to slavery.  Hamilton is so smart and so reliable he received sponsorship to go to work in New York.  Cobbs does a wonderful job creating the insular world of St. Croix.

We the move on to Saratoga New York, June 1770 to meet the future Mrs Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler at the home of her patrician  and wealthy family, lots of siblings, servants and slaves.  The ambience has a kind of Jane Austen feel.  Elizabeth and her sisters are approaching the age to marry and finding a proper husband is of paramount importance.  A lot of the plot in the first third or do of the book shows us how a penniless, illegitimate foreigner wound up marrying and being totally accepted in one of New York's wealthiest families.

Cobbs takes us through the years of the American Revolution, to his close relationship with Geirge Washington, his friendship with Lafayette, his becoming a general. Seeing his importance as a field commander at Yorktown was very exciting.

We are their at the wedding.  There are explicit sex scenes between the Hamilton's.  Of course this is a product of the imagination of Cobb but we know from correspondence that they were very close. 

With alternating chapters as Alexander's work for the government takes him away from home, we get a look at some of the conflicts in the New Republic.  The Hamilton's have lots of children, miscarriages were common as were early deaths.  The Hamiltons are presented as a close couple.  Then Alexander commits a totally out of character blunder, he has an affair.

The novel flashes  on from the tragic senseless death of Alexander in 1804 to the passing of his wife fifty years later.

"Award-winning historian Elizabeth Cobbs brings fresh, unexpected perspectives to our understanding of the past and present. Building upon worldwide research and extraordinary life experiences, Elizabeth writes best selling  fiction and non-fiction that is both scholarly and witty. Her path-breaking books and articles reveal a world that is as intriguing and surprising as it is real.

Elizabeth earned her Ph.D. in American history at Stanford University. She now holds the Melbern Glasscock Chair at Texas A&M University and a Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Her books have won four literary prizes, two for American history and two for fiction. Elizabeth has been a Fulbright scholar in Ireland and a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. She has served on the Historical Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department and on the jury for the Pulitzer Prize in History.". From

Mel u

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The River Capture by Mary Costello - 2019

Canongate - Publisher of The River Capture

My Q and A Session with Mary Costello 

In March of 2013 I read and posted upon Mary Costello's debut collection, The China Factory.  I am delighted to be today featuring her second novel, River Capture. Set mostly in Waterford, Ireland, the river is the Sullane.

The theoretical model behind my blog calls for me to focus on literary works about people who lead reading centered lives. River Crossing is a brilliant example of such a work. The central character Luke O'Brien is obsessed with Leopold Bloom from Ulysses.  He has just returned from Dublin where he was teaching Joyce.  He often reacts to passing events by wondering what Leopold Bloom would do under the same circumstances.  He seems to have both Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man so well internalized that segments enter his consciousness through out his day as involuntary memories.  He sees himself in terms of his relationship to Joyce and his work.  He has vague plans to write a book on Joyce now that he is back on the family farm.  There are lots of quotes from Joyce and even references to Richard Ellman's biography.

Luke is kind of at odds as what to do with his days.  Much of his time is spent visiting his Aunt Ellen, his only living relative besides a sister in Australia.  He seems slightly unhappy.

Luke has had a gay relationship as well as one with a woman, both way in the past but he thinks about them a lot.  He is lonely but he is used to that.  

One day a woman comes to his farm and asks him to adopt her uncle's dog. They gradually develop a relationship. Ruth brings a much needed element of chaos into Luke's life.

As the plot reaches about midpoint Luke's mind takes on an almost Joycean synsesis of human culture.  The language is exquisite.  

Irish romantic relationships are stereotypically portrayed as restrained, we see into and beyond that in the evolving relationship of Luke and Ruth.

This is very much a set in place story, deeply rooted in Ireland.

From the publisher

"Mary Costello lives in Galway. Her short story collection, The China Factory (2012), was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award and shortlisted for an Irish Book Award. Her first novel, Academy Street (2014), won the Irish Novel of the Year Award at the Irish Book Awards and was named overall Irish Book of the Year. It was serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime and was shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award, the Costa First Novel Prize, the EU Prize for Literature and the Prix Littéraire des Ambassadeurs de la Francophonie en Irlande, and has been translated into several languages. The River Capture is her second novel."

Mel u

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada - 1947 - translated from German by Allan Blunden 2016

German Literature Month November 2019

During German Literature Month in 2015 i read two novels by Hans Falada, Wolf Among Wolves and Every Man Dies Alone.  Promo Levi said Every Man Dies Alone was the greatest work on life in Nazi Germany.  In 2016 I read his A Small Circus, in 2018 Once a Jail Bird (Fallada spent several years in jail).

Nightmare in Berlin was his final novel, set in Berlin starting with the arrival of Russian troops in Berlin.  From this point it follows lives of a married couple as they try to restore their pre-war life.

Nightmare in Berlin is closely based on his life with his wife in the closing days of the war and a year or so on.  Like the lead character, Doll (ok the name irritated me), Fallada was made mayor of a small town by Russians and his wife was a heroin user.
Doll encounters lots of ex-Nazi party members but nobody will admit they liked Hitler.  Doll and his wife return to Berlin but there old apartment is occupied by others.  They seek medical help in a broken down system.  Everyone in the book desperately wants American cigarettes. Everybody drinks heavily and seeks drugs to dull the pain.

Berlin truly is a nightmare City.  Everyone is constantly hungry, everyone is crooked.  

The Review in The Guardian said this was a very poorly translated book. The reviewer laughs at the work of the translator.

Start Fallada with Everyman Dies Alone then decide if you want to read more.

Bio Data from Melville House

“Before WWII, German writer Hans Fallada's novels were international bestsellers, on a par with those of his countrymen Thoman Mann and Herman Hesse. In America, Hollywood even turned his first big novel, Little Man, What Now? into a major motion picture

Learning the movie was made by a Jewish producer, however, the Nazis blocked Fallada's work from foreign rights sales, and began to pay him closer attention. When he refused to join the Nazi party he was arrested by the Gestapo--who eventually released him, but thereafter regularly summoned him for "discussions" of his work.

However, unlike Mann, Hesse, and others, Fallada refused to flee to safety, even when his British publisher, George Putnam, sent a private boat to rescue him. The pressure took its toll on Fallada, and he resorted increasingly to drugs and alcohol for relief. Not long after Goebbels ordered him to write an anti-Semitic novel he snapped and found himself imprisoned in an asylum for the "criminally insane"--considered a death sentence under Nazi rule. To forestall the inevitable, he pretended to write the assignment for Goebbels, while actually composing three encrypted books--including his tour de force novel The Drinker--in such dense code that they were not deciphered until long after his death.

Fallada outlasted the Reich and was freed at war's end. But he was a shattered man. To help him recover by putting him to work, Fallada's publisher gave him the Gestapo file of a simple, working-class couple who had resisted the Nazis. Inspired, Fallada completed Every Man Dies Alone in just twenty-four days.”

Mel u
Ambrosia Bousweau 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Hersh Dovid Nomberg: ‘The Golden Fantasy’ Translated by Daniel Kennedy from Yiddish

Hersh Dovid Nomberg: ‘The Golden Fantasy’ - 1906- Translated by Daniel Kennedy from Yiddish -2019

April 14, 1876. - Mszczonow (near Warsaw) Poland

November 21, 1927. -Ofwock, Poland

(For biographical data see the link below from The YIVO Encyclopedia of Eastern European Jews.)

“The Golden Fantasy” is my first encounter with the work of Hersh David Nomberg.  Thanks to Daniel Kennedy there will soon be available a collection of Homberg’s set in Warsaw short stories.

My main purpose today is let those interested know that a new translation of a pre-World War One   Yiddish  short story is now online.

This fascinating story is structured as if we were sitting in on a conversation between friends.  The time is 1906, the 1905 Russian revolution began to change everything for the Jews of Warsaw. 

I will share with you the opening of the story, I found it drew me deeply into the social world of the young doctor, his ability to keep hope in a grim world.

“You claim that there are people in this world without fantasies, who live without hope or illusions? In my opinion you’re quite wrong. It’s as hard for me to conceive of a human life without oxygen, as one without hope.”
The young, newly qualified doctor stroked his black goatee and continued.
“If you wish, I’ll tell you the story of a man who currently finds himself with us in the psychiatric ward. I knew him before he came to us; five years ago, he was an acquaintance of mine. I had been kicked out of the university and found myself in a circle of very interesting young people: lost, rejected and adrift. We stuck together, living as friends, bound by the vagaries of life despite having quite different characters and persuasions.
Not much is left of our little group now: some took their own lives, one is in Siberia, one died in prison, some have moved on to other careers and so on. But forgive me, I wanted to tell you about the man without illusions who is now in the madhouse. I knew him and I think I understood him well enough, though for the longest time he was something of a puzzle to me. Not just to me in fact; everyone who knew him­—Gurshteyn is his name—was taken aback by the extent of his serenity and apathy. Nothing, it seemed, could stir his heart or have any effect on his blank, nonchalantly satisfied face, nor could anything wipe away the smile in those lifeless eyes of his. No event, either in the world at large or in his own circle of acquaintances, ever took him by surprise.”

He is part of a circle of friends trying to scrap together a living.  
Times are hard, we see the consequences of anti-Czarist activity, we learn of more suicides, we are given a deeper look into the man without fantasies or illusions. The men seem without wives or any sort of women in their lives and no hopes to do much more than survive.

I will leave the plot line for you to explore.

“Nomberg's stories explore modern Jewish life in the growing cosmopolitan city of Warsaw: young intellectuals in pursuit of truth, beauty, and love; working class fathers tempted by schemes for easy money; teenagers divided between their traditional religious upbringings and the world of secular culture and political revolution. By turns comic, satiric, and earnest, Nomberg's stories take the pulse of Warsaw's Jewish society at the dawn of the twentieth century”.  from the website of the translator.

Mel u

Saturday, November 9, 2019

“Can't Go Out" - A Short Story by Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano - 2019 - translated from Cebuano by John Bengan

My Posts on the Literature and History of the Philippines

"Can't Go Out" - A Short Story by Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano - 2019 - translated from Cebuano by John Bengan

From Words Without Borders - November 2019

I was delighted to discover that for the first time ever Words Without Borders in The November 2019 edition is featuring Short Stories, Poems and Essays featuring writers from the Philippines. For a writer to make use of one of the 156 indeginous languages is a political as well as a literary statement, an affirmation old ways can endure in a Society increasingly dominated by mega malls and Facebook.

In years past I have posted on  pre-World War Two short stories and stories by National Authors of the Philippines as well as non-fiction. Readership on these posts is very high, showing there are lots of people interested in older Filipino literature.  These stories are a great resource for those into the history of the Philippines, a cultural treasure.  Soon all with a living memory of this era will be gone.

Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano’s story “Can’t Go Out” is set in the southern Phillipines, among indeginous people of Davao Del Sur
(Davao del Sur (Cebuano: Habagatang Dabaw) is a province in the Philippines located in the Davao Region in Mindanao. Its capital and largest city is Digos.) 

The time of the story is not explicitly stated. Probably it is sometime in the 1950s.  The central character Is a young woman.  She has heard of televisions but not yet seen one, she has seen cars but never ridden in one.  

I think the beautiful opening will be enough to illustrate the author’s ability to bring rural Philippines perfectly to life 

“Darkness falls in the afternoon. It’s going to rain again. The carabao and the goats have been herded off to shelter. The newly harvested corn has been covered. The house smells of fuel because our tiny lamp has been lit. Smoke rises from the hearth, a signal that Mama is cooking something. The five of us can’t go out. I want to go out so I can wait for Papa. I want to look out for what he brings, but I can’t go out.
The other week, Papa brought meat from hunting. Mama prepared it in a delicious broth. Rod and I fought over a large piece of wild boar meat. Mama got upset because we shouldn’t fight at the table. 
But last night, she and Papa were arguing. The five of us slept on empty stomachs. I couldn’t find my malong cloth. I fell asleep in our cold corner of the forest in Datal Fitak, a mountain in Matanao.
My teacher asks if we have ever seen a TV. I’ve seen one in a picture but I don’t know what it’s for. I haven’t been to Digos or to Davao, but I’ve heard about those places. So many people, they say, so many vehicles. Sometimes I don’t feel so bad because so many people and so many vehicles might run me over.  “

The story displsys the intense closeness of Filipino Family.  We see tbe role of the mother as care giver, Family rule giver and nourisher. Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano makes marvelous use of food.  

I will leave the action of the story for you, it is very intense.

I have a theory sbout the history of the Philippines not in full accord with what is taught in schools.  We are taught that the Philippines was founded by traders from Malaysia and China.  The problem with this idea is they came without women.  The contribution of aboriginal proples is way underestimated.  Historical linguistics suggested a region with many languages has a very ancient culture.  Probably about 500,000 years ago archipelago began to be settled by people from Siberia.  

I mention this as I greatly respect the efforts of Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano to keep alive history.

Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano received a BA in Mass Communication from Holy Cross of Davao College, where she developed her dedication to journalism and passion for creative writing. She works as a college instructor, teaching Development Communication at Southern Philippines Agribusiness and Marine and Aquatic School of Technology (SPAMAST)–Malita, Davao Occidental. She is proud of her Igorot, Kapampangan, and Blaan roots. Her writing is also her advocacy for the indigenous people of Davao del Sur. It focuses on indigenous people, motherhood, and children, as she is also a mother and a wife.

John Bengan teaches at the Department of Humanities in the University of the Philippines Mindanao. His work has appeared in Likhaan 6, Kritika Kultura, BooksActually’s Gold Standard, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, among others. He holds an MFA in creative writing from The New School. A recipient of a Ford Foundation International Fellowship, he has won prizes from the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards and the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for his short fiction. He lives in Davao City

Mel u

Friday, November 8, 2019

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada - 2014 - translated from German by Susan Bernofsky - 2016

Works read so far for German Literature Month, 2019

1. Allmen and The Pink Diamond by Martin Suter, 2011
2. The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1808
3. Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada - 2014

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada  - 2014 - translated from German by Susan Bernofsky - 2016

During another magnificent book blog event, The 12th Year of the Japanese Literature Challenge I read a wonderfully creative darkly humorous dystopian novel, The Emissary.  By Yoko Tawada, it was originally written in Japanese.  Here my summation of this work

"The Emissary by Yōko Tawada, translated from The Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani, won The 2018 National Book Award for Best Translated Literature.  It potrays a Japan after some sort of tremendous ecological decay which causes children to be born weak, deformed with little capacity for positive development.  The older citizens, sixty plus or so, keep getting stronger as they age.  People are triving at 120.  Japan has become completely isolationist.  Using foreign words is illegal. Every thing is just totally weird."

Tawada is one of the very few authors, to my knowledge the only one, to have obtained commercial success and literary aclaim in both Japanese and German.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear is a very strange, challenging and preplexing book.  It is also tremendously entertaining, politically acute and satrical of much more than I probably grasp about Germany.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear consists of three novelas about the members of a family of Polar Bears, a grandmother, her daughter and her grandson.  They become well known writers, circus performers, enter into intra-species relationships with humans all the while convincingly depicted as bears.  Of course this is a work in the tradition of magic realism.

The first section is devoted to the grandmother, a circus performer living in the Soviet Union.  She writes a successful autobiography.
Section two centers on her daughter, who has moved to the German Democratic Republic, she also works in the circus.  The last section is devoted to the grandson.

There is a lot to ponder in this book.  I think you can see it partially as a commentary on colonialism, an attack on venal publishers, a trashing of the treatment of animals in the circus and much more.

 Those new to Tawada are in for a true multicultural treat.

"Called “magnificently strange” by The New Yorker and frequently compared to Kafka, Pynchon, and Murakami, Yoko Tawada (b. 1960) is one of the most creative, theoretically provocative, and unflinchingly original writers in the world. Her work often deals with the ways that nationhood, languages, gender, and other types of identities affect people in contemporary society, especially in our postmodern world of shifting, fluid boundaries.  She is one of the rare writers who has achieved critical success writing in two languages, both in her native Japanese and in German, the language of the country where she has lived since 1982. Five volumes of her work in English translation have been published by New Directions and Kodansha, and her work has been translated into many other languages. Her numerous literary prizes in both Japan and Europe include the Gunzo Prize for New Writers for "Missing Heels,” the Akutagawa Prize (Japan's most important prize for young writers) for "The Bridegroom Was a Dog," the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize for her contributions to German-language literature, the Izumi Kyōka Prize, and the Goethe Medal."

From Words Without Borders

Susan Bernofsky


Susan Bernofsky’s literary translations include seven works of fiction by the great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser, as well as novels and poetry by Jenny Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada, Gregor von Rezzori, Uljana Wolf and others. She chairs the PEN Translation Committee and is co-editor (with Esther Allen) of the 2013 Columbia University Press anthology In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What It Means. She received the 2006 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize and the 2012 Calw Hermann Hesse Translation Prize as well as awards and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the PEN Translation Fund, the NEA, the NEH, the Leon Levy Center for Biography and the Lannan Foundation

Mel u
Ambrosia Bouseweau

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Marquise of O - A Short Story by Heinrich Von Kleist - 1808 - translated from German 1978 by David Luke

German Literature Month, 2019

Works read so far for German Literature Month, 2019

1. Allmen and The Pink Diamond by Martin Suter, 2011
2. The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1808

The Marquise of O - A Short Story by Heinrich Von Kliest - 1808 - translated from German 1978 by David Luke

October 18, 1777 - Frankfort, Germany

November 21, 1811 - Berlin,Germany

This is The third time I have posted on a work 
by Heinrich Von Kleist during German Literature Month.  In November 2012 I posted on The Begger Woman of Locorno, during 2017 on The Earth Quake in Chile.  I liked both these stories a lot.Today i am posting on his perhaps most now read work, The Marquise of O.

The opening paragraph sets the stage for the intriguing plot

“IN M—, an important town in northern Italy, the widowed Marquise of O—, a lady of unblemished reputation and the mother of several well-brought-up children, inserted the following announcement in the newspapers: that she had, without knowledge of the cause, come to find herself in a certain situation; that she would like the father of the child she was expecting to disclose his identity to her; and that she was resolved, out of consideration consideration for her family, to marry him. The lady who, under the constraint of unalterable circumstances, had with such boldness taken so strange a step and thus exposed herself to the derision of society, was the daughter of Colonel G—, the Commandant of the citadel at M—. About three years earlier her husband, the Marquis of O—, to whom she was most deeply and tenderly attached, had lost his life in the course of a journey to Paris on family business. At the request of her excellent mother she had, after his death, left the country estate at V—where she had lived hitherto, and had returned with her two children to the house of her father the Commandant. Here she had for the next few years lived a very secluded life, devoted to art and reading, the education of her children.”

As her family estate is being taken over by Russian soldiers, the Russian count in charge of the soldiers stops them from raping the Marquise.  He does continue on to seize the family property as was his military duty.  He soon returns the estate to the father. 

The father is outraged at his daughter, he thinks she is lying and had sex most likely with the Russian count or an unknown person.  He at  first wants her out of the house so she moves to the estate of her late husband.

The Russian count proposes marriage but denies having had sex with her, out of consideration for her family and her honor, to marry him. If they marry, the social code of her time forgets about the outside of marriage sex. first turns this down, saying the barely know him.  He must depart on military matters but the family agrees she will marry no one until he returns and stays with them to allow a mutual love to develop.

The wife places an advertisement in the local newspaper asking the father of her child to come forth. (There is a funny side plot in which a groom claims to be the father.). A response is received saying the father will present himself at family estate at 300 pm  the next day.  The mother of the Marquise makes her father apologize in a very touching scene.  Everyone awaits the arrival,both her father and brother a ready to fight a duel.

The ending is fascinating, showing a lot of psychological depth.

We are left to wonder if the Russian count, of course he is wealthy, is the father and if so did he rape her.

This work, some classify it as a novella, reminded me a lot of shorter set in Italy works by Stendhal. It was fun to read and might have been shocking in 1808.

I read this story in The Marquise of O—AND OTHER STORIES Translated with an Introduction by DAVID LUKE AND NIGEL REEVES, a lovely collection with ten stories.  

Heinrich Von Kleist (1777 to 1811) was a famous poet, perhaps the leading dramatist of German Romanticism, a novelist but is now, I think, most still read outside of academia, for his short stories.  This will be the third year in which I post on one of his stories during German Literature Month.  (I recommend a collection of his short stories, The Marquise of O and other Stories
edited and translated by David Luke and Nigel Reeves.  It includes eight stories, as well as a very informative introduction. Kleist lived a life worthy of a Romantic poet, ending in a suicide pact with a Lady.

If possible i would like to read his novella, The Betrothal in Santo Domingo, set during period of The Hatai slave revolt.