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

Monday, September 28, 2020

Sunita - A Short Story by Chibundu Onuzo - from New Daughters of Africa- 2019

 Sunita - A Short Story by Chibundu Onuzo - from New Daughters of Africa- 2019

Among the insidious lingering aspects of colonialism are the scars left in the descendents of people once ruled by those who denigrated the normal skin tone, hair texture and traditional modes of dress of their ancestors.  Here in the Phillippines there are frequent TV commercials aimed at young women advertising products claiming  to “whiten your skin”.  All of The female media personalities and women in TV commercials have skin tones significantly lighter than typical.

“Sunita” by Chibundu Onuzo in just a few pages shows us a young woman struggling to overcome this colonizing of the mind.  In the process we learn about women of color from Africa are viewed in posh London.  Her family is from Nigeria and rich.  They sent her to London in the care of an aunt.  She attented an almost all white girls schools.  She bought a weave for her hair.  She  tried out an Afro.

As she approaches graduation she is assigned a mentor, another woman of color, to prepare her for job interviews.  Her mentor works for a company that helps businesses fill their diversity  quotas.  Dolapo wants to get a job in investment banking,

“Dọlapọ loved the afro now hidden under her weave, loved its untameable, uncombable sprawl, loved the extra inches it added to her height, loved the mushroom silhouette of her head in photos, loved hair that grew up instead of down, gravity-defying, extra-terrestrial hair. “That’s fine if you want to work in advertising or publishing, or media, or fashion, or maybe even engineering, but certainly not banking,” Daisy said. “My friends like it.” “White friends or black?” “Does it really matter?” “White or black?” “Mostly white.” “They think its funky, edgy and cool, don’t

they?” “What’s wrong with that.” “Never elegant, chic, glamorous; these are the adjectives we use for women in banking. These are the adjectives for success. As a black woman, let me be honest, when you walked into this room, what I saw was unprofessional, unkempt and unserious.” She had been paired with Daisy by Diversity Unlimited, a recruitment firm that helped companies fill up their ethnic minority quota. Daisy had worked for seven years in an investment bank. Daisy carried a red leather bag with slim, curved handles, discreet, silver, letters spelling out PRADA under the zip. Daisy wore structured dresses, thin black heels, milky pearls, minimal lipstick.”

We see Dolopo is at first torn.  She wants the job that would plesse her parents and insure her future but she wants to be herself, to be proud of her heritage.

I loved these lines so much:

“Dọlapọ’s more modest purchase came in a black cardboard box, edged with gold curlicue. The hair lay lustrous on a bed of crepe, folded into itself like a small, sleek creature, a sable or a mink. Her aunt had gone with her to the salon, leafing through magazines as they wove Dọlapọ’s afro into lines and then stitched the human hair to hers, tight-running stitches that made her eyes water. She skyped her parents in Nigeria once she got home. “Ọpẹ o,” her mother sang, her face large and happy on the screen. “Thank God you’ve finally gotten rid of that bush. Darling, come and see your eldest daughter.” The tablet was passed to Dọlapọ’s father.”

Of course she story takes a turn to a more independent Dolapo.  

This is a wonderful story 

Chibundu Onuzo

Born in Nigeria, she moved to England when she was 14. She began writing her first novel, The Spider King’s Daughter (2012), at the age of 17 and it was published by Faber and Faber when she was 21. The novel won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize. 

It was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and for the Etisalat Prize for Literature. In 2014 she was selected for the Hay Festival’s Africa39 list of 39 Sub-Saharan African writers under 40 with the potential to define future trends in African literature. In 2018 she was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in its 40 Under 40 initiative. Reviewing her second novel, Welcome to Lagos (2016), Helon Habila wrote in The Guardian: “. . . her ability to bring her characters to life, including the city of Lagos, perhaps the best-painted character of all, is impressive.”  - from New Daughters of Africa.

I liked this story so much I acquired yesterday her novel Welcome to Lagos.  

Mel u

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Living and the Dead - A Short Story by Namwali Serpe - from New Daughters of Africa - 2019


The Living and the Dead - A Short Story by Namwali Serpe - from New Daughters of Africa - 2019

“I dream of Victoria, said J. The English name was steely in his mouth. My black hand in her white hand. The Queen’s smile, true and full. Her crown like the sun, with jewels and gold. I ask: Will you honor us, Your Majesty? She nods. It will come to you when you accept it. Christianity, Commerce, Civilization”

A few days ago among my Google Card Announcements there was a story about Namwali Serpe 

the 2020 Winner of the Arthur C. Clark award for best science fiction book of the year for her debut set in Zambia novel The Old Drift.   I was pleased to see she has a story, “The Living and the Dead”, included in New Daughters of Africa, so I decided to start my reading of Namwali Serpe there.

The story begins in Gabon, not far from Lambaréné.  A powerful man has just died.  He is tended by slaves he has freed.  It takes a while to understand that it Albert Schweitzer.  It seems his medicine box was missing, some of those in his entourage think the box was stolen in order to cause his death.  We learn that Schweitzer is called “Bawana”, a Swahili term for “master”.  We learn Schweitzer tried to force Victorian era values on those he freed, not being above striking someone in the face with a whip.  

We see how the body of Schweitzer is treated according to the traditional ways of his followers.  There is at first a dispute over what to do with his body but the group leader, Abdullah, decides the body should be taken to England for burial.  Numerous of his followers accompany the body to England.  They are taken around and shown off in fancy affairs.  They don’t like the food and miss their homeland.

The story is a very thought provoking work on colonial rule, not just of territory but of minds.  I liked this story so much I ordered her debut novel, The Old Drift.

Namwali Serpell was born in Lusaka and lives in New York. Her first novel, The Old Drift (Hogarth, 2019), won the  Anisfield-Wolf Book prize for fiction “that confronts racism and explores diversity,” the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction, and the L.A. Times’ Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction in 2020. It was short listed for the L.A. Times’  Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Speculative Fiction and long listed for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown in 2019. It was named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2019 by the New York Times Book Review, one of Time Magazine’s 100 Must-Read Books of the Year, and a book of the year by New York Times Critics, The Atlantic, NPR, and BuzzFeed.

She is a recipient of a 2020 Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction. In 2014, she was chosen as one of the Africa 39, a Hay Festival project to identify the most promising African writers under 40. In 2011, she received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Her first published story, “Muzungu,” was selected for The Best American Short Stories 2009 and short listed for the 2010 Caine Prize; she went on to win the 2015 Caine Prize for “The Sack.” 

She is a Professor of English at Harvard University. Her first book of literary criticism, Seven Modes of Uncertainty, was published in 2014 by Harvard University Press. Her second book of essays, Stranger Faces, is forthcoming with Transit Books in Fall 2020. Her nonfiction book, American Psycho Analysis, is forthcoming with Columbia University Press.  From

Friday, September 25, 2020

The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and The Artists They Inspired by Francine Prose - 2002

 The Lives of the Muses:  Nine Women and The Artists They Inspired by Francine 

Prose - 2002

After recently Reading Reading Like a Writer - A Guide for People that Love Books by Francine Prose i recalled I had snother of her books on my E reader, The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and The Artists They Inspired.

These  are the Muses and their Artists:

Hester Thrale - Samuel Johnson 

Alice Liddell - Lewis Carroll

Elizabeth Siddal - Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Lou Andreas Salomé - Rilke and Nietsche

Gala Dali - Salvador Dali

Lee Miller - Man Ray and other photographers

Charis Weston - Edward Weston (photographer)

Suzanne Farrell - George Balanchine 

Yoko Ono - John Lennon

Prose begins with an account of the place of the Muses in ancient Greek Mythology.  Each chapter on an individual Muses also begjns with a lead into her account of the relationship of the Muses and their Artists through a digression into ancient Greece.

Of  the artists covered I am most familiar with Samuel Johnson whom i first began to read about fifty years ago.  Once on a two week excursion to London I visited fhe Johnson House Museum.  While there i read his poem London” everyday.  I stopped and had lunch at the historic Old Chedder Cheese Pub where he often dined.

Of course like every one else I have read the two Alice books. In 2014 I read a biography by a leading authority, Lewis Carroll The Man and His Circle by Edward Wakeling.  Like his subject Wakeling is an Oxford Don.  Carroll’s muse was about ten when he met her. The relationship ended when she turned 13, as directed by Alice’s mother.  Prose deals with the big question here- what is up with the nude and erotic photographs of pre-adolescent girls?  

“He was very into photography for many years and now the big question about Carroll comes up.  What is behind the many, about 1500 photographers of young girls, including nude photographs.  Why did a mature Oxford Don love to socialize with young girls?” Edward Wakeling

Wakeling tries to defuse the long raging controversary concerning whether or not Carroll was sexually interested in young girls by telling us several times he also photographed young boys and socialized with them also. I found that a tremendously poor defense

The answer is still unknown.  Carroll never married and never had any sex of any kind.  He took a vow of celibacy on becoming a Don. No one suspected him of being a pedophile, just odd, though he made Alice’s mother uncomfortable.

I have been to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida and read a bit of Rossetti and have viewed jmages of pre-Raphalite art.

On the rest i have no knowledge.  I was never into post Beattles John Lennon music.

I found her thoughts on Johnson and Thrale to challenge my conception of their relationship.

One issue is of course do  the Muses sleep with their artists?  The modern answer would be “it’s complicated”.  The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and The Artists They Inspired was consistently fascinating.

I was left with a question- are there any male muses to well known female artists ?



Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon - 2007


The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon - 2007

Winner of The 2007 Hugo and Nébula Award for Best Novel

In February of last year I read Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavilier and Clay.  I got bored with it about half way through but because of the creative power of Chabon I completed the work.  

This year I decided to read his Multi-Awarded alternative history novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  I have been Reading in Yiddish literature and associated history for almost eight years now.  I was intrigued by idea of Alaska having been turned into a refuge for Jews during the early years of World War Two, the premise of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  Because of this four million mostly Yiddish speaking Jews were saved from from the Holocaust.

The Jewish state was initiated in 1941 with a sixty year mandate after which time unless the American government makes it a state ths Yiddish capital, a Yiddish speaking city with, in 2001, several million residents, will become part of Alaska.

Chabon mentions in brief allusions other changes in history.  In 1942 The Germans defeated Russia, in 1946 the war ended when Berlin was totally destroyed by nuclear bombs.  The state of Israel was wiped out in 1948.  

The plot line centers on a detective plot, a murder mystery.  The detective is a member of the Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  Chess plays a big part in the story line.  We encounter lots of sorts of individuals.  We see how the Yiddish speakers and Alaskan Indians interact.  They even marry.  There are a lot of Yiddish words employed.  There is even a glossery included.

This seems to me a book for those intrigued by the alternative history presented.

Michael Chabon (b. 1963) is an acclaimed and bestselling author whose works include the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). Chabon achieved literary fame at age twenty-four with his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), which was a major critical and commercial success. He then published Wonder Boys (1995), another bestseller, which was made into a film starring Michael Douglas. One of America’s most distinctive voices, Chabon has been called “a magical prose stylist” by the New York Times Book Review, and is known for his lively writing, nostalgia for bygone modes of storytelling, and deep empathy for the human predicament.  .from Goodreads

Friday, September 18, 2020

At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor -1945

 At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor -1945

Short listed for the Booker Prize 

July 3, 1912 Reading,  England

November 19, 1975 Penn, England 

At Mrs. Lippincote’s was Elizabeth Taylor’s debut novel.  Prior to this I first read her A View of the Harbour and then Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, my favorite so far.  I have also read and posted on four of her short stories.  

I hope to read in the next few months these additional novels:

A Wealth of Roses 1949

The Sleeping Beauty 1953

The Soul of Kindness 1964

Blaming 1976. Published posthumously

Set during World War Two in a rooming house owned by Mrs Lippincote, Julie, her husband Rodney, and their son Oliver are kind of riding out the war there, not sure who will win.  Rodney is an officer in the Royal Air Force.  The social atmosphere of the British Air Force is very rank conscious.  With her lovely understated comic sense Taylor has produced a very interesting book.  You can see everyone is trying to keep an “English Stiff Upper Lip” while hiding their fear of the future.  

Taylor’s sentences are sometimes just such a joy to read, pure happiness on a page.

I loved these lines about the son Oliver:

“OLIVER DAVENANT did not merely read books. He snuffed them up, took breaths of them into his lungs, filled his eyes with the sight of the print and his head with the sound of words. Some emanation from the book itself poured into his bones, as if he were absorbing steady sunshine. ..... If this passion is to be called reading, then the matrons with their circulating libraries and the clergymen with their detective tales are merely flirting and passing time. To discover how Oliver’s life was lived, it was necessary, as in reading The Waste Land, to have an extensive knowledge of literature”.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Reading Like a Writer - A Guide for People that Love Books by Francine Prose - 2006

Reading Like a Writer - A Guide for People that Love Books by Francine Prose - 2006

An Autodidactic Corner Selection 

This delightful book is perfectly described by the title.  Writers, aspiring and advanced will be given ideas from the great masters and everyone will get lots of reading ideas.  Prose strongly advocates very diverse reading for aspiring writers.  Included is what is designated as a list of “essential readings”. A vision of deep reading as a partnership emerges vividly in Reading Like a Writer - A Guide for People that Love Books.  What also emerges is the great love and knowledge Prose has for both novels and short stories.

Prose starts out pondering a question:  can creative writing be really taught.  

“Can creative writing be taught?

Which may be why the question is so often asked in a skeptical tone implying that, unlike the multiplication tables or the principles of auto mechanics, creativity can’t be transmitted from teacher to student. Imagine Milton enrolling in a graduate program for help with Paradise Lost, or Kafka enduring the seminar in which his classmates inform him that, frankly, they just don’t believe the part about the guy waking up one morning to find he’s a giant bug.”

Prose having taught this very subject in universities and workshop does have an answer.

Study the works of the great writers and apply them to your own efforts.

Prose structures her book around different aspects of literary creation.  From the table of contents you can see her strategy:

ONE: Close Reading TWO:Words THREE: Sentences FOUR: Paragraphs FIVE: Narration SIX: Character SEVEN: Dialogue EIGHT: Details NINE: Gesture TEN: Learning from Chekhov ELEVEN: Reading for Courage.

Among the writers she studies, Chekhov taking pride of place, are short story masters such as Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever,  Donald Barthelme, Raymond Carver, Paul Bowles, Deborah Eisenberg and Dennis Johnson.  In each chapter she illustrates her thoughts with quotations which she carefully analyzes for us.  In the chapter on Dialogue she makes use of Henry Green, a perfect choice.  In the chapter on sentences she uses one from Samuel Johnson, a more than perfect choice.

She devotes a single chapter to Chekhov, telling us how in her younger days as a teacher she read his stories while waiting for a bus in a very grim station.  I love these lines

“As soon as I was settled and had finished my soda and cookie and magazine, I began reading the short stories of Anton Chekhov. It was my ritual, and my reward. I began where I’d left off the week before, through volume after volume of the Constance Garnett translations. And I never had to read more than a page or two before I began to think that maybe things weren’t so bad. The stories were not only profound and beautiful, but also involving, so that I would finish one and find myself, miraculously, a half hour or so closer to home. And yet there was more than the distraction, the time so painlessly and pleasantly spent. A sense of comfort came over me, as if in those thirty minutes I myself had been taken up in a spaceship and shown the whole world, a world full of sorrows, both different and very much like my own, and also a world full of promise. It was as if I had been permitted to share an intelligence large enough to embrace bus drivers and bus station junkies, a vision so piercing it would have kept seeing those astronauts long after that fiery plume disappeared from the screen. I began to think that maybe nothing was wasted, that someday I could do something with what was happening to me, to use even the New Rochelle bus station in some way in my work.”

I strongly endorse this book.  I left with two immediate additions to my read soon list, First Love by Ivan Turgenev and a short story by Anton Chekhov “A Woman’s Kingdom”, about a rich lonely woman.

Prose has exquisite literary taste.  

Francine Prose is the author of 20 works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her most recent book is What to Read and Why. She lives in New York City. From The Literary Hub.

I hope to read her essay collection, What to Read and Why from 2018 soon.  A few years ago I read her intriguing novel, Lovers at the Chameleon Club. I have a copy of her 2002 book, The Lives of the Muses: Nine Artists and the Women Who Inspired Them and plan to post on it next month.

Mel u


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Mo Laethanta Saoire: Up In Smoke - A Short Story by Billy O'Callaghan - 2020


Mo Laethanta Saoire: Up In Smoke - A Short Story by Billy O'Callaghan - 2020

Published in The Irish Examiner - September 6, 2020

You may read today’s story here 

Gateway to Billy O’Callaghan on The Reading Life, including two Short stories by Billie O’Callaghan

Billy O’Callaghan loves and is deeply read in the genre.

I am pleased to be able to present his Q and A session to the Reading Life World.

I have been following the literary career of Billie O’Callaghan since March 10, 2013. My main purpose today is to let people know they can have the pleasure of reading a new short story of his recently published on in The Irish Examiner.

Today’s story is set in Cork in 1984 on Bonfire Night.  Bonfire Night has very old roots in Cork, Ireland going back to pre-Christian times, as I learned from Wikipedia:

“On the city of Cork and many rural parts of the Republic of Ireland "Bonfire Night" refers to 23 June, St John's Eve night. It has its origins in a religious celebration and originally featured prayers for bountiful crops. The night is linked to the summer solstice or Midsummer's Eve. Originally fires were lit to honour the goddess Áine as part of a Celtic celebration; the Catholic Church took over the pagan festival and linked it to the birth of St John.In the city of Limerick, "Bonfire Night" is held on May Eve, 30 April, on the eve of the Celtic festival of Bealtaine.”

In 1984 in Cork Bonfire Night is now just a reason to set a huge fire.

Young men spend weeks collecting material for the fire.  The story is narrated by a young man very into preparing for the fire.  Part of the tradition includes a burning man figure.

I love how this story shows us how very old ways still inform contemporary Irish life.  I don’t want to relay much of the plot action but in order to set the stage and give you a feel for the elegant prose of O’Callaghan I will share the opening of the story

“By the time I was nine years old my grandfather's suit, a chocolate-brown pinstripe with big shoulders and baggy legs, had already gone a lifetime past its prime, the elbows and knees turned paper-thin, the cuffs frayed, the seams beginning to split. 

For all its many and obvious flaws, though, it remained his most treasured possession – ripe, he liked to claim, with the flavours of every significant moment he'd ever known, the gloriously sunlit days as well as the most tearful ones.

My mother hated the sight of the suit, and was forever at him about getting rid of it.

“We're the talk of the place,” she used to say, shaking her head in exasperation. “Tramps don't look as far gone as you do. There can't be anything more than dirt holding it together.” 

But such arguments were lost on him. 

He'd worn it to a dozen weddings over the years and to a hundred dances; had it on him the first time he stole a kiss from the woman who'd become his wife, and when each one of his six children (my mother being the last) were dragged into the world, and he'd stood broken-hearted in it at gravesides for the burials of his parents, siblings and friends.”

Billy O’Callaghan was born in Cork in 1974, and is the author of three short story collections: In Exile (2008, Mercier Press), In Too Deep (2009, Mercier Press), and The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind (2013, New Island Books, winner of a 2013 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award and selected as Cork’s One City, One Book for 2017), as well as the bestselling novel The Dead House (2017, Brandon/O’Brien Press and 2018, Arcade/Skyhorse (USA)).

His latest novel, My Coney Island Baby, was published by Jonathan Cape (and Harper in the U.S.) in January 2019 to much acclaim.

Billy’s latest short story collection, The Boatman and Other Stories was released in January 2020.

Billy is the winner of a Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award for the short story, and twice a recipient of the Arts Council of Ireland’s Bursary Award for Literature. Among numerous other honours, his story, The Boatman, was a finalist for the 2016 Costa Short Story Award, and more than a hundred of his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in literary journals and magazines around the world, including: Absinthe: New European Writing, Agni, the Bellevue Literary Review, the Chattahoochee Review, Confrontation, the Fiddlehead, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Kenyon Review, the Kyoto Journal, the London Magazine, the Los Angeles Review, Narrative, Ploughshares, Salamander, and the Saturday Evening Post.

I look forward to following the work Billy O’Callaghan for many years.  I predict one day people in Dublin, London, NYC and beyond 

may wonder who was this book blogger who predicted great success for him long ago.  

Mel u

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Extraordinary Life of A. A. Milne by Nadia Cohen - 2018

The Extraordinary Life of A. A. Milne by Nadia Cohen - 2017

Alan Alexander Milne

January 18, 1882. - Hampstead, London, England

Winnie the Pooh - 1926

The House at Pooh Corner - 1928

January 31, 1956 Hartfield, Sussex, England 

The characters created by A. A. Milne in his two Winnie the Pooh books, Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin, Piglet, Eeyore (my favourite), Kanga, Roo, Tigger, Oslo  and Rabbit have obtained the status World Wide of folk characters.

  Millions have these characters as their first remberances of stories.  Many a senior Oxford Don still smiles when she thinks of The Hundred Acre Woods just like ten year olds all over the world do when they watch the Disney Cartoons.  Six year olds scream when they get a stuffed Winnie The Pooh character at Christmas.  Some sixty Plus year olds still have theirs on display.  As Cohen tells us, the books made Milne very rich.  Long after Milne’s passing huge revenue is still generated from merchandise, book sales (now translated into a growing multitude of languages), film rights.  Disney hit the Jack Pot when they bought the rights to the books.

“The rights to the characters were sold to Disney in 1961 and boosted profits for the US conglomerate more than anyone could have predicted. Alan knew Pooh was popular but he had no idea the vast scale of what imagination had created. Disney merchandise sales still continue to rake in an astonishing $3 billion a year today and rising – second only to Mickey Mouse. In 1966, Disney artists animated a Pooh story for the first time, called Winnie The Pooh And The Honey Tree. It smashed box office records, and scores of films and television adaptations have followed.” From the book

The characters are kind, gentle, and loving.

Milne based the stories on the stuffed animals of his son Christopher Robin.  Cohen explains the extreme popularity of the books bothered his son throughout his life, he never accepted everyone being curious about him.  This created a lingering rift between  Christopher  and his father.  Milne was a very prolific multi-genre writer and a highly succesful playwright.  He fought for England during World War One, seeing intense battlefield action in France.  From this experience he wrote works condemming war.  Cohen shows us how his growing awareness of the atrocities of Hitler changed his mind.  It was very interesting to learn that he never forgave his one time close friend P. G. Woodhouse for doing prooganda broadcasts from France for the Nazis.

Cohen goes into problems in Milne’s marriage.  He and his wife both had long term affairs, Milne with an actress in several of his plays.  There was big money from plays and Milne made more money than he knew what to do with.  They stayed married partially out of internia but they lost any sense of intimacy.

Milne half way resented the success of the Winnie the Books, no one paid any attention to his many other works.

If you loved the stories then The Extraordinary Life of A. A. Milne then this is a biography for you.  I am glad I read this book.

“Nadia Cohen is an author who has written more than a dozen historical and contemporary biographies. 

The Real Beatrix Potter will be the latest in a series of fascinating in-depth biographies about apparently whimsical children’s story tellers who actually hid a darker side behind the public facade. Others already published include The Extraordinary Life of AA Milne, The Real Roald Dahl and The Real Enid Blyton. 

In a previous incarnation as an entertainment reporter she worked at various newspapers and magazines in London including Grazia, The Daily Mail and The Sun, covering showbiz news, film festivals, premieres and award ceremonies around the world. She was headhunted to join the launch of US magazine In Touch Weekly and spent several years working in New York and Los Angeles before returning to London to produce a series of documentaries for ITV.

Nadia lectures in Journalism at University of Winchester and is the editor of digital lifestyle magazine Box Ibiza”. -

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Graceful Burdens - A Short Story by Roxane Gay - 2020

Graceful Burdens - A Short Story by Roxane Gay - 2020

This story is include in the Kindle Unlimited Program or can be purchased for $1.95.

This is the third short story by Roxane Gay I have had the pleasure of reading.

In this story women are tested  at age 16 to see if they are genetically suited to bear children.  Only those who past the test are allowed to have children.  In this world women still have an urge to have children.  That is why public libraries have babies, up to three years old, that women can check out for two weeks.  It is never made clear where the babies come from.   After age three the babies are either sent to the Center for Disease Control or, for a purpose you are better off not knowing, turned over to the government.

In a way women  declared unfit to give birth have more freedom that the elected.  They are free  to have sex with men declared unfit fathers.  No one really cares what they do.

We follow Hadley during her two weeks with a baby.  We learn of her frustrations.  Her temporary borrowed life launches her on a journey of self-discovery.

Graceful Burdens is a lot of fun and made me think.

Monday, September 7, 2020

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara - 2016 - 832 Pages


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara - 2016 - 720 Pages

“A Little Life: The Great Gay Novel Might Be Here- 

Hanya Yanagihara’s novel is an astonishing and ambitious chronicle of queer life in America.” From The Atlantic 

A Little Life is a very powerful work, a work to stay with you for a long time.  

The novel focuses on four men who met while attending a college in  Massachusetts.  They move to New York City to seek their future. In The group are Malcolm, an architectural student from a very wealthy biracial family.  JB is a painter of Hatian descent hoping to establish himself in the art world, and Willem, an aspiring actor.  The central figure in A Little Life is Jude, who grows to become one of highest regarded attorneys in the City.  Like Willem, he is an orphan. Jude and Willem share an apartment after graduation.   Jude’s early life history and ethnic background are at first veiled in shadows.  Jude  has serious health issues.  In the gradually evolving account of the life of Jude before he reached college a horribly painful long drawn out we learn of sixteen  years of sexual abuse at the hands of the Christian Brothers who run the orphanage.  

Jude does very well in his law practice.  His friends obtain  great success also.  

At age thirty a Professor who was his mentor, Harold, in law school, along with his wife, adopts Jude.  As close as he is to his three friends, June cannot begin to tell his friends sbout his years of abuse.  

The novel goes into great depth treating the evolving relationships of the four friends. Jude’s health gets worse, he has been cutting himself, mostly on his legs, for years.  We see how Jude struggles to cope with the impact of years of abuse on his life.

A Little Life is a work of great depth.  It may become an LGTBQ classic.  It is not an easy to read feel good book.  I highly endorse this work. It deserves all the praise it has gotten.

The novel swiches points of view among the friends, Harold, and an omiscient narrator.

There is a very good essay on why A Little Life is a great work  about being a Gay man in America in The Atlantic.

A very good interview in Electric Literature

I hope to read her first book The  People in The Trees soon.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Hitler and the Hab­s­burgs: The Führer’s Vendet­ta Against the Aus­tri­an Royals by James Longo- 2018

Hitler and the Hab­s­burgs: The Führer’s Vendet­ta Against the Aus­tri­an Royals by James Longo- 2018

This book is the story of intersecting lives of people very different from each other, Adolph Hitler and the Hapsburg family. 

Like many popular works of non-academic non-  fiction, telling the story of the impact of Hitler on the ancient Hapsburg dynasty involves telling of events that the most likely readership of the book already know in order to convey some information that will be new to them.

The book begins with Hitler’s pre-World War One years in Vienna.  He was greatly traumatized when he could not get into art school.  He saw that Vienna, capital of the Empire was highly cosmopolitan, Jews were accepted more there than anywhere else in Europe. (Longo often quotes Stefan Zweig and writes about his deparature for Brazil, driven out of Austria by what he sees as the decay of European culture.). Hitler lived in abject poverty, ever outraged by wealth of others, especially the Hapsburgs.  Longo tells us the assasination of Arch-Duke Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Hapsburg throne (June 28, 1914, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina).  This event precipitated World War One.  Hitler fought in the war.  He would come to see the Jews of Austria and their puppets the Hapsburgs as to blame for Germany’s defeat, as Logno details.

One of the sons of Arch-Duke Ferdinand scandalized the royal family by marrying a German woman of insufficient nobility to be a Hapsburg Queen or royal mother.  The marriage was accepted but only as morganatic.  Somehow this made them outsiders in the very inbred Hapsburg family and gravely offended Hitler who was highly offended by what he saw as the personification of the “mongrelization” of the Aryan race.  

When Germany took control of Austria in 1938 the two sons of Ferdinand were arrested by the Gestapo and became the first Austrians sent to the Dachu Concentration Camp.  They were assigned to latrine duty and treated in a savage fashion.

The women in the family, including the Archduke’s only daughter,Princess Sophia Hohenberg, declared war on Hitler.  In the face of torture, near starvation and betrayal they sustained the family.

Longo  very movingly tells us what happened to survivors after the defeat of Hitler.

I purchased this book during a flash sale for $1.95.  It is now back up $12.95.

I think anyone interested in the Hapsburg, the end of dynastic rule in Europe, World War Two in Austria will find this book fascinating.  It deserves a place in Holocaust literature.

James Longo is a professor and chair of the Department of Education at Washington & Jefferson College. He is a former Fulbright Scholar and Distinguished Chair of the University Centre for Women's Studies and Gender Studies at Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt in Austria. He has lectured throughout Europe and America and has written eight books..from the publisher 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Non-Fiction Reads for The Next Six Months


In order to keep myself looking Forward to The future rather than being apprehensive I decided to list The non-fiction books I hope to read in the next six months.  My list Will be updated periodically and new works Will be added as listed works are completed.  

Just wondering if other members make lists ?  

There is no signifigance to position on The list.

Entangled Entertainers Jews and Popular Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna by Klaus Hödl

Hitler and The Hapsburgs by James Logon

Budapest 1900 by John Lucas

Holly Neaves - A Life by Kelly Phipps

The House of Morgan by Ron Chernow

A Nervous Splendor Vienna 1888-1889 Frederic Morton



The Sun and her Stars : Salka Viertel and Hitler’s exiles in the golden age of Hollywood by Donna Rifkind.


Lost Kingdom Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure by Julia Flynn Siler

The First American:  The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H.W. Brands

The Last Palace:  Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One House by Norman Eisen

Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple

The Peabody sisters : three women who ignited American romanticism by Megan Marshall

Hans Christian Andersen :  A New Life by Tiina Nunnally

Red Famine:  Stalin’s War on The Ukraine by Anne Applebaum

South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War by Alice Baumgartner

Jerusalem on the Amstel The Quest for Zion in the Dutch Republic by Lipika Pelham 

I Belong to Vienna: A JEWISH FAMILY’S STORY OF EXILE AND RETURN by Anna  Goldenberg

The House on Henry Street The Enduring Life of a Lower East Side Settlement by ELLEN M. SNYDER-GRENIER

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

My Hopes and Plans for Novels for The Next Six Months

 In order to motivate myself to keep looking Forward in Life I have made a list of some novels I hope to read over The next six months.i Will track my results periodically and add new works as I finish some.

I Will do seperate posts on my plans for non-fiction and possibly one on Short stories.

There is no significanance to place in The list.

Novels I hope to read in The next six months

Life in the Trees by HANYA YANAGIHARA

A Little Life:  A Novel by HANYA YANAGIHARA

Recognitions by William Gaddis

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

The House of the Seven Gables by William Hawthorne

Darkness and Day by Ivy Compton-Burnett

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil

Four novels by Marilyn Robinson

All the Beautiful Liars by Sylvia Petter

The Annotated Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Sepharad by Antonio Muñoz Molina

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

The Mancini Family by Natalie Ginsburg

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

The Dragon Riders of Pern (a trilogy) by Anne McGafffrey

Five Novels by Elizabeth Taylor

At Mrs Lippinrte’s 1945 her first
A wealth of Roses 1949
The Sleeping Beauty 1953
The Soul of Kindness 1964
Blaming 1976. Published posthumously

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Mary Ann by Daphne du Maurier

The Glassblowers by Daphne du Maurier

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Lempriere’s Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk

The Virgin in The Garden by A. S. Byatt

The Diary of a Provencial Lady by E. M. Delafield

Moby Dick by Hermann Melville

The Commissarat of Enlightenment by Kenneth Kalfus

The Human Voice by Penelope Fitzgerald

Savage Poets by Roberto Bolano

The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin

The Riders of Gor by John Norman

In Polish Woods by Joseph Opatoshu

Cain and Abel by Gregor Rezzori

The People of Godlbozhits by Leyb R. Ashkin

Motke The Thief by Sholem Asch

The Reading Life Review - August 2020


August Authors 


 Column One

1. Adrien Goetz - France - Villa of Delirium - First Blog appearsnce
2. Heather Dune Macadam - USA- holocausf Historian - first appearanceJo Walton - UK to Canada - highly awarded fantasy writer
3. Sholem Aleichem - Russia
4. Jo Walton - UK to Canada - Multi Award winning fantasy writer - first appearance. We Will return to her work

Column Two

1. Maria Ampuero Eduada - Ecuador - debut Short story Collection Cockfight - first appearance
2. Roxane Gay - USA -highly regarded Multi genre writer
3. Mavis Gallant - Canada to France
4. Sarah Hamer-Jacklyn - Poland to USA - prolific Yiddish language Short story writer - actress in The Yiddish Theater

Column Three 
 1.  Y. Y. Zevin - Belorussia to USA - best known for short stories about the lives of immigrants to New York City - first appearance 
2. Marilynne Robinson- USA - Pulitzer Prize Winner. First a
         First appearance.  A read through of her fiction is planned 
3. Elizabeth Taylor - UK - a read through of her work is planned
4. F. Scott Fitzgerald- USA - 

Column Four

1. Mosh Asch - Poland to USA - highly regarded Yiddish Language Author
2. Ivy Compton-Burnett- UK
3. David Reich- USA - author Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past - first appearance 
4. Ernest Hemingway-USA

In August six male and eight female authors were featured.  The mix of the living and the dead was 50/50.  Seven of 16 writers were initially featured in August.

Birth Countries of Authors

1. USA. 6
2. Canada 2
3. UK 2
4. Poland 2
5. Ecudor 1
6. Russia 1
7. Belorussia 1
8. France 1

Five August authors were immigrants 

Blog Stats

Page views since inception 6,097,048

Home countries of visitors for August 

1. USA
2. India 
3. Phillippines 
4. Germany
5. Russia 
6. Dominican Republic (first time on list)
7. Indonesia 
8. Canada 

Most viewed posts for August

1. The Flowering of May by Francisco Arcellan
2. The Office of Missing Persons by Akil Kumorasamy
3. A Piece of Bread by Francois Coppee
4. The Reading Life Review March 2020
5. The Indigo Terror by Satyajit Ray

The Reading Life is a multicultural book Blog dedicated to goals of Literary Globalism 

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 our Interests

I am doing a seperate posts on my Reading Life hopes and plans, covering the next six months. 

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

To those who leave comments, you Help keep Mel motivated 

To our fellow book bloggers, among the  world’s greatest readers, especially Americans, these are dark times.  Ugly truthes about America have been revealed.  Keep blogging.  Teach your children to love Reading.

Ambrosia Bousweau
Managing Director 


Sunday, August 30, 2020

In Plain Sight - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - first published October 17, 1993 in The New Yorker

In Plain Sight - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - first published October 17, 1993 in The New Yorker

Included in The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant and in Paris Stories

Buried in Print’s Mavis Gallant Project

Gateway to Mavis Gallant on The Reading Life

Peter Orner pays tribute to of one of the past century's great character builders, including his thoughts on In Plain Sight

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

Since March 2017 I have been reading through the short stories of Mavis Gallant, following the lead of Buried in Print.  I have access to about half the stories.  Buried in Print has three stories left to read, sadly “In Plain Sight” is the last of her stories included in The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant.  The project will end in September.   

The central character in this story, he has appeared before, is Henri Grippes, a novelist living in Paris.  As the story opens, an air raid siren has just sounded:

“ON THE FIRST Wednesday of every month, sharp at noon, an air-raid siren wails across Paris, startling pigeons and lending an edge to the midday news. Older Parisians say it has the tone and pitch of a newsreel sound track. They think, Before the war, and remember things in black-and-white. Some wonder how old Hitler would be today and if he really did escape to South America.”

Concerns over memory, over aging, meditations on a “lost world” permeate this story as they do much of her work.

My mind is distracted by the dark times we are in.  Buried in Print and Peter Orner have written much more elegantly on this story than I can.

Reading through these stories with Buried in Print has been a great Reading life experience.  It takes real optimism to begin long term Reading Projects.  It means for me I am not giving up.

I look Forward to joining in on Buried in Print’s next project

Mel u


Friday, August 28, 2020

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson - 1980


Housekeeping was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was awarded the PEN/Hemingway Award for best first novel.

As I finished Housekeeping I was somehow in shock by the sheer power of this work.  The Guardian in an essay in their 100 greatest novels of all time series (they place  it at 82) says 

It is “the work of an American writer, and Calvinist, intimately at home with the Bible and the great transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville”.  I did find it also very much an American book. (Robinson has been highly praised by President Barack Obama.). It is also about drifters, people who do not quite fit into the surrounding societies.  Water has a heavy presence in Housekeeping.The plot line opens with a passenger train plunging from a railroad bridge into a lake, killing everyone on the train.  American church rituals and music  are replete with trains bound for glory.  

Housekeeping is the story of two orphan girls, Ruth and Lizzie. Both their grandfather and their mother drowned in the same lake the train plunged into.  The symbolism of water is as open to interpretation as that of the White Whale. It sustains life and brings death.  The novel is set in the imaginary community of Fingerbone, Idaho.  Not date is given but references set it in the early 1950s.

Narrated by Ruthie, the girls are raised by a series of eccentric relatives until their mother’s sister, their Aunt Sylvia shows up.

  Sylvia has long been a drifter.  She commits to acting as a “housekeeper” for her neices.  At first both girls think she will soon leave but then perceptions change:  “Ruth says: “I was reassured by her sleeping on the lawn, and now and then in the car. It seemed to me that if she could remain transient here, she would not have to leave.”  Much of the depth of Housekeeping is in the drawn of a transient life.  There are several brief stories of homeless drifters encountered on trains.  

Ruth begins to ponder the dark past of her family.  She is more comfortable with the behavior of Sylvia than her more conventional sister Lucille.

Sylvie wanders by the lake while the family house goes to pieces. Ruth, our narrator, is at home with her aunt’s transient spirit, and comfortable with solitude: “Once alone,” she says, “it is impossible to believe that one could ever have been otherwise. Loneliness is an absolute discovery.”  If Loneliness is an absolute discovery is housekeeping a way of hiding, and then we ask hiding from what.?

Lucille moves away, the Fingerbone community tries to have Sylvia declared an unfit guardian.  In response Ruth and Sylvia burn down their house.  They escape across the lake.  The town’s people assume they have drowned in the lake.  I will leave the rest of this fascinating novel untold.  In a way it is a novel of the reading life with both Sylvia and Ruthie having works of classic literature deeply impressed on them.  

From the Guardian 

“In the words of an early New York Times review, this novel is “about people who have not managed to connect with a place, a purpose, a routine or another person. It’s about the immensely resourceful sadness of a certain kind of American, someone who has fallen out of history and is trying to invent a life without assistance of any kind, without even recognising that there are precedents. It is about a woman who is so far from everyone else that it would be presumptuous to put a name to her frame of mind”.

As a modern classic, Housekeeping can bear any weight of interpretation. Like Fingerbone’s lake water, it has become a mirror in which generations of new readers can find themselves, as if for the first time”

I think this is correct but shallow.  Why or is the drifting life so powerful a draw?  There are many precedents in American history and literature for this.  What does Sylvia and Ruthie see the towns people do not.  

I have a copy of Robinson’s second novel Gilead on my E Reader and hope to read it soon. Gilead did win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

From her publisher

“MARILYNNE ROBINSON is the author of Gilead, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award; Home, winner of the Orange Prize and a finalist for the National Book Award; and Lila, also a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Housekeeping won the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her nonfiction includes Absence of Mind; The Death of Adam; Mother Country, nominated for a National Book Award; and When I Was a Child I Read Books. She teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop”. 

She has so far published four novels and four essay collections.  I hope to read them all.

Mel u

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

A Father and his Fate by Ivy Compton-Burnett - 1957

A Father and his Fate by Ivy Compton-Burnett - 1957 - with an Introduction by Penelope Lively

“The purest and most original of contemporary English artists."
— Rosamond Lehmann

Opening question

From “Notes on Camp” by Susan Sontag - From Against Interpretation and other Essays - 1963

Do you agree with Sontag, are the novels of Ivy Compton-Burnett Camp?  I see Ronald Firbank but I am not so far seeing Ivy Compton-Burnett’s novels as camp.

“Random examples of items which are part of the canon of Camp: Zuleika Dobson Tiffany lamps Scopitone films LA The Enquirer, headlines and stories Aubrey Beardsley drawings Swan Lake Bellini’s operas Visconti’s direction of Salomé and ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore certain turn-of-the-century picture postcards Schoedsack’s King Kong the Cuban pop singer La Lupe Lynd Ward’s novel in woodcuts, Gods’ Man the old Flash Gordon comics women’s clothes of the twenties (feather boas, fringed and beaded dresses, etc.) the novels of Ronald Firbank and Ivy Compton-Burnett stag movies seen without lust”

Almost ten years ago I read my first Ivy-Compton-Burnett novel, Manservant and Maidservant.  At long last I have now read a second of her 19 novels, A Father and his Fate.

Ivy Compton-Burnett (1884 to 1969-London) wrote her first novel in 1911 and her last was published (after her death)  in 1971.   Her most famous and most still read work, Manservant and Maidservant was published after WWII in 1947.   To me she should be classified as  a "between the wars" British writer even though she her work extends well beyond that era  because her sensibilities are really quite Edwardian..    This puts her in the company of Katherine Mansfield , Virginia Woolf, and Ford Madox Ford.   The consensus is to see her as a writer of the second order behind the truly great writers of  the era.     She came from what seems to have been a very troubled family.    One of her brothers was killed in WWI and two of her sisters died together in a suicide pact.   Of her and her 12 siblings no one had child.

After doing a bit of post read research, reading articles by Francine Prose, Hilary Spurling and others, Father and his Fate centering around a late Edwardian Family, three unmarried living at home daughters, a wife, and ruling it as a despot the paterfamilias, Miles Mowbray is very much a prototypical  Compton-Burnett novel.The novel is almost entirely in dialogue.  Not everyone likes her work, some see her world as narrow, the same thing once being sad about Jane Austen, others say they do not find the conversations at all reflective of how real people speak. Some complain they cannot follow the plot or tell who is speaking.  Others adore her work and love the exquisite conversations.  I am in this category.

Words are weapons in A Father and his Fate, the weapons of the weak.

““I wonder if there is anyone in the world who cares for me,” said Miles, leaning back in his chair. “I often ask myself that question.” “Then you should answer it,” said Ursula. “It is less safe to put it to other people.”

 The three adult unmarried daughters live at home.  Penelope Lively in her introduction tells us

“To be young, in an Ivy Compton-Burnett world, is to be the lowest of the low: dependent, powerless, biding one’s time.”

Many a character in a 19th century novel has been largely occupied with waiting for a parent to die.

The opening lines of the novel set a stage for a dark drama

““MY DEAR, GOOD girls!” said Miles Mowbray. “My three dear daughters! To think I have ever felt dissatisfied with you and wished I had a son! I blush for the lack in me, that led me to such a feeling. I feel the blood mount to my face, as I think of it. I would not change one of you for all the sons in the world. I would not barter you for all its gold. And I am not much of a person for wealth and ease. I am happy as a countryman, husbanding the land his fathers held before him.”

We see how Miles views his place in the world, soon we will learn how the daughters and his wife feel about him and their lives.  There is a very dramatic turn of events I will leave untold.

A Father and his fate is available in the Kindle Unlimited Program.

I will soon read, I hope, her Darkness and Day.

Mel u

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich - 2018

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich - 2018

An autodidactic corner selection.

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich is as fascinating a work as I have read in a long time.  If you have any serious interest in understanding how the human species evolved and spread all over the  in diverse forms, you will be spellbound by this book.

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past was to me a challenging read.  I have very little formal training in science and none in the intricacies of DNA.  The book focuses on the results of the application of genome-wide testing of ancient DNA to human prehistory and genetics.  Doctor Reich is a leading researcher in this field.  Much of his work develops insights based on comparisons of ancient DNA from remains and modern groups.

He describes the book as intended to be both an introduction to this field for those new to the area and an overview for professionals in various impacted areas.  I left this book seeing how ancient migrations and mixing of groups produced the world today.

Using cutting edge technology Reich is able to deduce migration of human groups from many thousands of years ago.  Reich is acutely sensitive to the uses racists including the Nazis made of bogus genetic claims of race based genetics.  He talks about resistance to  Ancient DNA studies based on this.

The book is in part a memoir of his career.  He began his post doctoral research focusing on why members of some races are especially prone to certain diseases.  From this he began to study ancient DNA, how it lingers on in modern humans.

A look at the table of contents shows the broad scope of this book.

Part I The Deep History of Our Species
1 How the Genome Explains Who We Are
2 Encounters with Neanderthals
3 Ancient DNA Opens the
 Part II How We Got to Where We Are Today
4 Humanity’s Ghosts
5. The Making of Modern Europe
6 The Collision That Formed India
7 In Search of Native American Ancestors
8 The Genomic Origins of East Asians
9 Rejoining Africa to the Human Story Part III The Disruptive Genome
10 The Genomics of Inequality
11 The Genomics of Race and Identity
12 The Future of Ancient DNA

The website of Professor Reich is a great resource

Professor David Reich, of the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is a pioneer in analyzing ancient human DNA to learn about the past. In 2015, Nature magazine named him one of “10 people who matter” in all of the sciences for his contribution to transforming ancient DNA data “from niche pursuit to industrial process.” He has received numerous awards, including the 2017 Dan David Prize in the Archaeological and Natural Sciences for the computational discovery of intermixing between Neanderthals and modern humans.

I hope to read through this book a second time this year.

Ancient DNA studies has really only being truly in process since 2010.  It will change as it develops and change our world view as it does.  The book is a celebration of the love of knowledge and the diversity of humanity.

Mel u

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

“Auction” - A Short Story by María Fernanda Ampuero - from her debut collection, Cockfight - 2020 - from Feminist Press - Translated from the Spanish by Francis Riddle

“Auction” - A Short Story by  María Fernanda Ampuero - from her debut collection, Cockfight - 2020 - - Translated from Spanish by Francis Riddle 

You may read today’s story here

“Auction” is part of what I call post Bolano Latin American fiction, works focusing on the consequences of terrible poverty, misogynistic cultures and machismo set within a violent society.  

The narrator of the story, a young woman, has involuntary memories of her childhood trips to cockfights with her father brought about by odors.  She is trying to figure out where she is being kept captive.

“There are roosters around here somewhere.
Kneeling, with my head down and covered by a filthy rag, I concentrate on hearing them: how many there are, if they’re in cages or inside a pen. When I was young, my dad raised gamecocks, and since there wasn’t anyone else to look after me, he’d take me along to the fights. The first few times, I cried when I saw the poor rooster ripped to shreds in the sand, and he laughed and called me a girl.
At night, giant vampire roosters devoured my insides. I would scream and he’d come running to my bed, and again he’d call me a girl.
“Come on, don’t be such a girl. They’re just roosters, dammit.””

She discovers her friendly cab driver has transferred her to an auction to be sold as a sex slave.

“I know that here, somewhere, there are roosters because I’d recognize that smell from a thousand miles away. The smell of my life, the smell of my father. It smells of blood, of man, of shit, of cheap liquor, of sour sweat and industrial grease. You don’t exactly have to be a genius to gather that this is some abandoned place, hidden away god knows where, and that I’m totally fucked.
A man speaks. He must be around forty. I imagine him fat, bald, and dirty, wearing a sleeveless white undershirt, shorts, and flip-flops; I imagine his pinkie and thumb nails are long. I can tell by the way he’s speaking that there are other people here. There’s someone else here besides me. There are other people on their knees, with their heads bent, covered by dark, disgusting sacks.
“Come on now, let’s all calm down—the first sonofabitch who makes a sound is gonna get a bullet in his head. If you all cooperate, we’ll all make it through the night in one piece.”
I feel his stomach brush against my head and then the barrel of a gun. No, he’s not joking. A girl cries a few feet to my right. I suppose she couldn’t handle the feeling of the gun to her temple. The sound of a slap.”

Young nubile women are not the most valuable items at the auction.  The biggest prize is a man from a gated community who looks like he could be ransomed.  The nightmarish auction begins with an innocent seeming woman, maybe a teacher.being stripped and raped in a kind of demonstration for the bidders.  The narrator cannot see what is going on but she can hear enough to figure it out.  After this, the rich man is auctioned.  Then it is the narrator’s turn. 

I will leave the ending untold other than say it was hilariously inventive.

María Fernanda Ampuero is a writer and journalist, born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 1976. She has published articles in newspapers and magazines around the world, as well as two nonfiction books: Lo que aprendí en la peluquería y Permiso de residencia. Cockfight is her first short story collection, and her first book to be translated into English.

Frances Riddle lives in Buenos Aires, where she works as a translator, writer, and editor. She holds an MA in translation studies from the University of Buenos Aires and a BA in Spanish literature. Her book-length publications include A Simple Story by Leila Guerriero (New Directions, 2017); Bodies of Summer by Martín Felipe Castagnet (Dalkey Archive Press, 2017); Slum Virgin by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (Charco Press, 2017); and The Life and Deaths of Ethel Jurado (Hispabooks, 2017).

I hope to read the full collection soon.  If “Auction” is a fair sample, it should be a lot of dark fun. There are thirteen stories in the collection.

Mel u


Sunday, August 16, 2020

“The Esrog” - A Short Story by Sholem Aleichem, translated by Curt Levian from The Yiddish - 1910?

“The Esrog” - A Short Story
by Sholem Aleichem, translated by Curt Levian from The Yiddish  - 1910?

You may read today’s story here.

Sholem Aleichem

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

1916 Dies in New York City, then part of The U.S.A.  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 that I would never have read were it not for Yale University Press giving me a full set of The Yale Yiddish Library.  These nine 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 rapidly growing.  YouTube has lots of good videos and readings of stories.

Anyway Sholom Aleichem is by far now most known Yiddish writer.  He is most famous from the movie Fiddler on the Roof based on his Tevye Cycle, centering on a Russian dairyman and his relationship with his daughters.

In order to appreciate this story you need to understand the import of the Esrog (sometimes translated as “Ettog” i. Ashkenazi tradition .

“Etrog (Hebrew: אֶתְרוֹג‎, plural: etrogim; Ashkenazi Hebrew: esrog, plural: esrogim) is the yellow citron or Citrus medica used by Jews during the week-long holiday of Sukkot as one of the four species. Together with the lulav, hadass, and aravah, the etrog is taken in hand and held or waved during specific portions of the holiday prayers. Special care is often given to selecting an etrog for the performance of the Sukkot holiday rituals.” - from Wikepedia

Here are opening line, showing Sholem Aleichem skill at quickly creating character through dialogue:

“ This year we’re going to buy an esrog,” my father declared, and I imagined my father coming to shul, like a respectable householder with his own esrog and lulav and not using the congregation’s as did other poor people in town.
When I heard this news, I could no longer restrain myself and told everyone in kheyder that this Sukkos we would have our very own esrog. But no one believed me.
“Look who’s getting his own esrog!” some of my pals snickered. “That pauper is going to buy himself his own esrog! He probably thinks it’s a cheap lemon!” “

You can feel the excitement in the family when the proud father shows his family the esrog:

“Well, Father did buy one and his hands quivered with joy as he held it. He called Mama and smilingly pointed to it, as though it were an expensive necklace.
Mama approached silently and slowly stretched her hand to take hold of the esrog, whose heavenly fragrance spread to every corner of the room.
“Oh, no,” he said. “Look, but don’t touch.  But if you want to sniff it, you may.”
But I wasn’t even offered that much. I wasn’t even allowed to get too close to it. Not even to have a peek at it. For it was too risky.
“Uh-oh! Look, who’s here,” said Mama. “If you let him come close he’ll bite off the stem.”
“God forbid,” said Father, wary of the evil eye.”

The father puts it in a cabinet and tells his son do not touch the sacred fruit.  Of course he cannot resist the temptation.

I will leave the rest of this marvelous story for you to discover