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

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Irish Short Story Month - Year Ten - March 2020

Irish Short Story Month - Year Ten - March 2020

Writers of Irish short stories pretty much have set the tone for much of the cultural and literary trends of the last 100 years.   Bram Stroker and Joseph Sheridan La Fanu basically started the vampire craze that is still going strong all over the world.   Oscar Wilde helped create a new sensibility, that has opened up an entire new way of looking at the world.    Among Irish short story writers are James Joyce, most important 20th century and beyond novelist, Samuel Beckett the most important 20th century playwright, and William Butler Yeats, for sure the greatest poet of the Twentieth century and for me one of the very greatest of all times.    Stepping down from Mount Parnasssus, we have wonderful writers like my literary love, Elizabeth Bowen to represent the Anglo-Irish.   Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu is considered among the very best writers of Ghost stories.   Not bad for a country just a little bit bigger than the American state of West Virginia and less than one percent the size of Australia.

In March, 2011 I devoted a ten day week to Irish Short Stories.  In 2012 a ten day event turned into a Month.  In March 2013, anticipating a first time ever trip to Ireland with Max u, I focused on Irish Short Stories for four months.  Since then March, centering on St Patrick’s Day, March on The Reading Life has been Irish Short Story Month. 

During this time I did a number of Q and A sessions with Irish writers.  (If anything will endure from my Blog it is my  100 Q and A Sessions.)

This will be the tenth year in which I have observed Irish Short Story Month. The Irish are very into tradition and my own Observation of Irish Short Story Month is my way of honouring  Irish writers. In these ten years I have followed as much as I can the literary careers of a number of Irish writers.  I hope  maybe someday long in the future people will wonder who was this Mel u who was able to see the future greatest of Irish writers,  just as they entered the literary World.

Irish Short Story months serves to motivate me to read more Irish Short Stories.  If you look at The opening collage you Will see images of some of works I hope to feature.

I am hoping to feature writers new to me.  Anyone interested in being featured please contact us.  

Mel u
Oleander Bousweau
Ambrosia Bousweau 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Zadig ou la Destinée (Zadig, or The Book of Fate; 1747) By Voltaire

An Autodidactic Corner Work

November 11, 1694 - Paris

Candide. 1758

May 30, 1778 - Paris

Voltaire 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 Fadiman’s  short note.  

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.

In his article on Candide, Fadiman also included Zadig in his Life Time List.

Still being guided by Fadiman i at last have read Zadig.  

Tales of exploration of exotic places were very much in fashion in 18th century France and England.  Zadig is very much in this category.

Zadig is set in ancient Babylon.  Zadig, a philodopher, decides to embark on a journey in search of wisdom, similar to that of Candide.  All sorts of terrible things happen to him. Then through great luck he continues his journey.  He goes from esteemed philosopher, to slave, to advisor to a Sultan, to being condemned as a heretic back to a receiving counsel from an Angel.

This is a more complicated plot than that of Candide.  There are interesting philosophical debates.  I am glad I read this.  To others, all on their own quest for wisdom, should read Candide.  Zadig is harder to get into, maybe the central character is less emphatic and their is no love interest or Pangloss.  That being said, it is worth The ninety or so minutes it will require.

Wikepedia has a good article on Voltaire 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

“Florida Rednecks Love Moo Goo Gai Pan” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew from her Debut Collection The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020

“Florida Rednecks Love Moo Goo Gai Pan” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew from her Debut Collection  The Heartsick Diaspora  - 2020

Gateway To Elaine Chiew on The Reading Life

This is the tenth story of the fourteen works in Elaine Chiew’s debut collection The Heartsick Diaspora upon which I have posted.

“Chinese Almanac” was set in Morristown, New Jersey.  I made a snide comment of comparison with London and Singapore in my post on that story.  In “Florida Rednecks Love Moo Goo Gai Pan” Chiew sets the story in a even worse place, Tampa, Florida.  Tampa ranks very low on all measures, the very title of the story shows 
the  narrator’s very justified contempt for indeginous inhabinets, Florida Rednecks.

Today’s story shows the frequent  potential abuse faced by female immigrants with no money and no local relatives to help them.

Our narrator is a college age woman, Khek Lin,
 of Malay Chinese descent. We don’t learn exactly how she ended up in Tampa.  She receives a letter from her father:

“The summer of 1996, waitressing in Tampa, a Vietnamese boy tried to take me on a date to Busch Gardens, and a lecherous cook pinched my thighs and wanted to buy me a car. That summer too, my father wrote, in formal stodgy Chinese, from Malaysia, that: Crucial funds may have to be diverted from my college education towards my mother’s illness. College may have to be aborted. Translation: I may have to go home in dishonour, not finishing what I set out to do. Flat out broke, I shacked up on a friend’s couch while she and her boyfriend canoodled in a canvas tent in the living room, which was devoid of any other furniture.”

She takes a variety of low wage jobs,  trying to get by and save for college.  The cook at The Chinese All You Can Eat Restaurant where she waitresses tries to bully her into a date to go to Busch Gardens, a combination amusement Park, zoo, and beer garden that is the pride of Tampa. 

The owner of the restuarant where she is a Korean woman married to an Hispanic:

“She  tells her to smile more while the male patrons try to look down her blouse. Male immigrants see an unprotected immigrant woman as fair gams. Tok-Cha took me aside, and I watched her over-painted red lips move. You must treat customers nice, Cake (my name is Khek Lin, damn it), you must treat them nice or they complain. Put on some makeup, your face too much like moon, Cake. When Señor Martinez called her to take her out Friday night, I would watch Tok-Cha paint her lips, carefully outlining the contours with a pencil, filling in the fleshier folds with crimson. The Florida rednecks kept sneaking glances down my blouse. They’d whistle between their teeth, call me Girlie..”

Now of course Khek Lin may have her own prejudices and bias, issuing blanket judgements, suggesting all Florida caucasisns are the same with no real knowledge to back up her feelings.  The term “redneck” is on a par with calling those of Chinese descent “chinks”.

It is fun and sad  to follow Khek Lin’s efforts to get by and dodge unwanted suitors.

This story gives us a very insightful look into an immigrant woman whose life is the polar opposite of the Ultra Rich Asian women living in Belgravia, a very expensive part of London, in “Rap of the Tiger Mom”.  

Each of the stories in The Heartsick Diaspora is  unique, taken together a sense of the multifarious diasporas of Singapore begins to emerge.

I look forward to the remaining stories and suggest this collection to all lovers of the form.

Elaine Chiew  
Elaine is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.

Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.

Elaine lives in Singapore and her book, The Heartsick Diaspora, and other stories, was published by Myriad in 2020 as well as in a Penquin Books.

Mel u

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

“Chinese Almanac” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew - from her Debut Collection The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020

“Chinese Almanac” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew - from her Debut Collection  The Heartsick Diaspora  - 2020

Gateway to Elaine Chiew on The Reading Life.

This is the ninth story from Elaine Chiew’s Collection, The Heartsick Diaspora I have so far featured on The Reading Life.  In prior stories we have seen Singapore citizens living in London and New York City. Today we find ourselves in a slightly less glamorous locale, Morristown, New Jersey.  Our narrator is a young man, his parents were from Mainland China.  He is a doctor, living out the immigrant parent’s dream.  He is gay, a secret kept from his parents.

His parents are in a close knit social circle with three other couples.  All are from Mainland China but for one woman a Singapore Chinese. His father looks to The Chinese Almanac to give him guidance.

Here is an interior monologue from the narrator:

“My father Lives by the Chinese Almanac ( 通勝 ) – it tells fortunes. Like when might be a good day to marry your lover or move house or landscape a garden. Me, I have no truck with that kind of hocus-pocus. Keep it simple. Two rules: you don’t turn down food; you stay the fuck out of your parents’ love life.”

They have been in the USA a long time but they cling to Chinese ways.  As is often the case, their ABC children are very American.

There is entertaining drama in the story centering on the matrimonial issues of his parents and his closeted sexual orientation.  

The story can be viewed as an account of how immigrants try to keep their identity while accepting the trappings of American culture.  The story takes place during the very American holiday of Thanksgiving.  There is a delightful sequence regarding eating a turkey with chopsticks.  We also go along at the young man’s job and get an insight into the filial duties of a Chinese son when his parents have a bad falling out.  We get to meet his sister Tina.

Chinese Almanac” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew - from her Debut Collection  The Heartsick Diaspora  - 2020 gives us a look at another aspect of a Diaspora.

I look forward to posting on the remaining five stories.

I give this collection my highest endorsement.

Elaine Chiew

Elaine is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.

Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.

Elaine lives in Singapore and her book, The Heartsick Diaspora, and other stories, was published by Myriad in 2020 as well as in a Penquin Books Edition.

Mel u


Saturday, February 22, 2020

“The Heartsick Diaspora” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew - from her collection of that name

Olivia, a Young Persian, with her 
Favourite Book

Even Our Cats Arise from Ancient Diasporas

“The Heartsick Diaspora”. - The Title Story from The Debut Collection by Elaine Chiew - 2020

As of now I have over 200 collections of Short Stories on my E Reader. Many have been kindly given to me to possibly feature on my blog, easily six thousand potential stories to read.  My now posting for 8th  time on a Short Story from The Heartsick Diaspora by Elaine Chiew is as clear a demonstration i can give of my admiration of her work.

Like several of the other stories, “The Heartsick Diaspora” focuses on women from Singapore now living in London.  In the stories we see Singapore was built upon Diasporas from India, Malaysia and China.  The Malaysians from Singapore often see themselves as a mixture of Malay and Chinese heritage.  

There are four women in a writers group, each from Singapore, each wanting to clearly establish their background.  The male moderator takes them into various places in London to write.  Some of the stories sound like early versions of stories in the collection. I sensed Chiew was having fun in this story.  

The dynamics of the group change when a handsome man joins the meetings.  Chiew relays part of the story as if were a play.

I am reading the collection as an E book.  I prefer E Reading for several reasons. The Penquin Books Print Editions is beautiful, a book anyone would be proud to have in their library. I have been reading Penquin books since way back and I enjoyed seeing the Penquin on this wonderful collection.

I look foward to posting on remaining works in The Heartsick Diaspora.  With hysteria abounding in the World now about immigrants these stories should help us see how much Diasporas have shaped history.

Elaine Chiew
Elaine is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.

Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Painted Bird by Jerzy N. Kosinski - 1967 - with preface by the author added in 1977

The Painted Bird by Jerzy N. Kosinski - 1967 - with preface by author added in 1977

This is my second reading of The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski.   I first read it about forty years ago. I am pretty sure it was the first book I had yet read related to the Holocaust.  I remembered the book as one horrible incident of cruelty experienced by a young boy on his own somewhere in Eastern Europe during World War Two.  I recalled the incident from which the book’s title was derived.  Since then I have read a number of works of fiction and nonfiction related to the Holocaust.  I currently have a trial three month subscription to the Kindle Unlimited Program, The Painted Bird, as well as Kosinski’s Being There, can be read for free for subscribers so I decided to reread the novel.  I am glad I had this opportunity.

The narrator is about ten when we meet him.  He has been separated from his parents. We go with him wandering through Eastern European territory occupied by the Germans, just trying to survive.  Everyone he encounters is very brutal, steeped in superstition, and cruelty.  He is taken in by a series of adults who exploit and torture him.  As he gets a bit older, he is used sexually by peasant women.  He has a dark complexion and dark hair.  The peasants think he is either a Gypsy or a Jew.  Harboring him could get them in trouble with the Germans.  A fear of that along with their own prejudices compound his misery.  He begins to seek revenge on those who torment him.  He becomes aware of trains full of people being sent to be burned. 

There are many fascinating incidents in The Painted Bird.  We see how his experiences have destroyed any vestige of humanity he might have once had.  He lives now to seek revenge.  

After the book was first published a controversy arose about how much of this book might have come from Kosinski’s experiences. His motives in writing were impugned.  It was also suggested he was pro-Russian. In a preface added in 1977 he addresses these issues.

There were also claims he fabricated his account of his experiences during the war and suggestions that uncredited assistants helped him write the book.

I think The Painted Bird should be read by all into Holocaust literature.  It is a harsh read with very few decent characters.  There are numerous scenes of rape and sexual torture. 

From Goodreads.

in Łódź, Poland
June 14, 1933

May 3, 1991

Kosiński was born Josef Lewinkopf to Jewish parents in Łódź, Poland. As a child during World War II, he lived in central Poland under a false identity his father gave him to use, Jerzy Kosiński. A Roman Catholic priest issued him a forged baptismal certificate. The Kosiński family survived the Holocaust thanks to local villagers, who offered assistance to Jewish Poles often at great personal risk (the penalty for assisting Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland was death).

After World War II, Kosiński remained with his parents in Poland, moved to Jelenia Góra, and earned degrees in history and political science at the University of Łódź. He worked as an assistant in Institute of History and Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences. In 1957, he emigrated to the United States, creating a fake foundation which supposedly sponsored him; he later claimed that the letters from eminent Polish communist authorities guaranteeing his loyal return, which were needed for anyone leaving the communist country at that time, had all been forged by him.

After taking odd jobs to get by, such as driving a truck, Kosiński graduated from Columbia University. In 1965, he became an American citizen. He received grants from Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967, Ford Foundation in 1968, and the American Academy in 1970, which allowed him to write a political non-fiction book, opening new doors of opportunity. In the States he became a lecturer at Yale, Princeton, Davenport University, and Wesleyan.

In 1962 Kosiński married Mary Hayward Weir who was 10 years his senior. They were divorced in 1966. Weir died in 1968 from brain cancer. Kosiński was left nothing in her will. He later fictionalized this marriage in his novel Blind Date speaking of Weir under pseudonym Mary-Jane Kirkland. Kosiński went on to marry Katherina "Kiki" von Fraunhofer, a marketing consultant and descendant of Bavarian aristocracy. They met in 1968.


Kosiński suffered from multiple illnesses towards the end of his life, and was under attack from journalists who alleged he was a plagiarist. By the time he reached his late 50s, Kosiński was suffering from an irregular heartbeat as well as severe physical and nervous exhaustion. Kosiński committed suicide on May 3, 1991, by taking a fatal dose of barbiturates. His parting suicide note read: "I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual.”

Monday, February 17, 2020

Confessions of an Irresolute Ethnic Writer - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew from her debut collection The Heartsick Diaspora- 2020

Confessions of an Irresolute Ethnic Writer - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew from her debut collection, The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020

Gateway to Elaine Chiew on The Reading Life 

“The mendicant smiled into the wind. ‘Child, is the diaspora not within you? Do you not contain multitudes? Trust in the ineffable, the invisible. The voice will find you.’”

In “A Thoroughly Modern Ghost of Other Origin" we saw how even 
the Ghosts of Singapore arose from an other worldly diaspora. In “Confessions of an Irresolute Writer” we get a glimpse of the Diaspora that helped create Hinduism and Buddism.  The story is a delightful work of magic realism, displaying the marvelous creativity and talent of Elaine Chiew.

Set in a middle class area of London, not in ultra rich Belgravia with The Tiger Moms in “Rap of the Tiger Mother”, the lead human character is an irresolute writer, given to day dreaming and theoretically based literary musings rather than writing.  We are not directly told where he is from but there is enough to make it probable he is a Singaporian of Chinese ancestry.  He is very into American pop culture and has a knowledge of William Faulkner.
He is insecure in his cultural identity, seeming himself through old western images of “orientals”:

“He should be writing, but spent many hours thinking about consistent narrative voice and examining every zit on his countenance, or simply gazing at his own visage in the mirror and making faces. The Yellow-Peril Face. The Fu Manchu Face. The Charlie Chan Face. The Fresh-Off-The-Boat Face. The Model-Minority EagerBeaver Face. Which one was his True Face?”

Suddenly a being from at least four thousand years ago lands on the window ledge of his apartment, Garuda

(Garuda is a bird creature from Hindu mythology that has a mix of eagle and human features. He is the vehicle (vahana) of Vishnu and appears on the god's banner. Garuda represents birth and heaven, and is the enemy of all snakes. In Indian art, Garuda gradually acquired more human form over the centuries and so maintained only his wings. In Cambodia, however, he retains even today the great talons and vicious-looking beak of a bird of prey..from The Ancient History Encyclopedia)

Of course the man is shocked and frightened as Garuda enters his apartment.  Garuda says “you are from third world country, right.”
 Singapore is a first world place but who is going to contradict Garuda?

Garuda is hungry and considers eating the writer but decides to take him on a flight in search of better fare.  As he clings  to Garuda, they are soaring above England.  Soon it is just not plain old England but somehow translated into a landscape out of ancient India texts.   Garuda begins to open up to the writer sbout his issues with his parents, retelling Hindu Scripture as a family drama.

This is all an amazing transforming experience for the writer,now seemingly chatting with a diety about Family issues.

There is much to think about and enjoy  in this story.  The flight over England is a Marvel.  The writer begins to record his thoughts in a notebook, producing work far transending his old work.   

This is real.

This is a challenging story as we go further into the Multifarious Diasporas.  

This is the  seventh story in The Heartsick  Diaspora i have posted upon.  There are Seven more.  I give this collection my highest endorsement.  

Elaine Chiew

Elaine is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.

Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.

Elaine lives in Singapore and her book, The Heartsick Diaspora, and other stories, will be published by Myriad in 2020..from

Mel u

Saturday, February 15, 2020

April Fish - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - 1968

April Fish - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - 1968

Buried in Print's Mavis Gallant Reading Schedule 

Mavis Gallant on The Reading Life

August 11, 1922 born in Montréal, in 1950 she moves to France to pursue her dream of being a writer 

February 18, 2014, dies in Paris, a place she dearly loved

"In her preface to the present collection, Gallant advises her readers: “Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.” Such advice may be superfluous. When you finish each of Gallant’s stories, it’s instinctive to stop and regroup. As much as you might wish to resume and prolong the pleasure of reading, you feel that your brain and heart cannot, at least for the moment, process or absorb one word, one detail more." Francine Prose in her introduction to The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant

This story is included in The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant and in another collection, In Transit.

April Fish has an estimated reading time of three minutes, far briefer than is typical of her work.  

The story is narrated by April, a fifty five year old single woman living in Switzerland.  She says she only there to avoid high income tax in her home country, to which she wishes she could return. We do not learn where she is from.  We do learn she is affluent, seems to live of Family money as her affairs are managed by a solicitor.  In Switzerland they call her Avril.

She has three adopted sons, now all young adults but still dependent on her.  

There is a mystery of character at the center of this story.  Is April a kind caring person or is she an adult spoiled brat who has a fit when she is denied her way, or a bit of both? She seems now bored with her sons and is outraged when her request to adopt a Vietnamese Baby in Switzerland for burn treatments  (1968 was height of The Vietnam War) is denied.

The reason the story is called April Fish in related to Venice.  Where i hope to be this summer.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi - 2016 - translated from French by Tina Kover - 2018

Disoriental by Négra Djavadi - 2016 - Translated from French by Tina Kover - 2018

Lambda Prize - Best Bisexual Fiction - 2019

Albertine Prize Winner - 2019 - Reader’s Choice for best novel translated from French to English

National Book Award Finalist - 2019

These are just a few of the awards won by Négra Djavadi’s debut novel Disoriental.

The narrator, Kimiâ Sadr, emigrated at age ten, along with her family, from Iran to Paris.  Now age twenty-five, she sits in the waiting room of a fertility clinic in Paris. She is flooded with memories of her families long tangled  history.  Her great grandfather had 52 wives, her parents were strongly opposed both to The Shaw and the clerics who followed him. She has a huge family. She just identifies her six uncles by number.

In a series of flashback like episodes The narrator tells in relays 
The chaos of post World War Two Iran.  The educated elite of Iran, her Family was once quite rich, had Cultural and emotional ties to France, especially Paris where  lots of Iranian expats had homes, fled to Paris to escape extreme clerical rule.  

As history of Iran is unsettlling told, we slowly see the narrator come to accept she is sexually attracted to women not men. Homosexual behaviour, mostly this happened to men, sometimes lead to death sentences. 

The story line skips around a lot in time to contemporary Paris and Tehran to pre-revolutionary days in Iran and her families early days in France.

Technically Didoreintal is a stunning novel.  The characters are very well developed.  

I felt The chaos and sometimes terror of life in Tehran coupled with the strains of adjusting to life in Paris.  To anyone willing to read carefully, I recommend this work.

Négar Djavadi was born in Iran in 1969 to a family of intellectuals opposed to the regimes of both the Shah and Khomeini. She arrived in France at the age of eleven, having crossed the mountains of Kurdistan on horseback with her mother and sister. She is a screenwriter and lives in Paris. Disoriental is her first novel..from Europa Editions.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

“With the Beetles” - A Short Story by Haruki Murakami - Translated, from the Japanese, by Philip Gabriel - from The New Yorker February 14 and 21, 2020

Home Page For Japanese Literature 13 - JLC13

Link to Today’s Story

On August 9, 2009, I completed my first book for The Japanese Challenge “After Dark” by Haruki Murakami. This novel was also in fact my first venture into Japanese literature.

“After Dark” starts in a Denny’s, a comfortable familiar place in the night world of Tokyo. The characters in the story are at once beautifully individuated with just a few brush strokes.
“She reads with great concentration. Her eyes rarely move from the pages of her book….She just keeps reading her book, lighting an occasional cigarette, mechanically tipping back her coffee cup, and hoping the time moves faster”.

As the book proceeds we are drawn further into the Tokyo night world. We meet a number of interesting people along the way. Like Dickens and Balzac before him Marukami brings to light aspects of the city that fall below the radar of those safely out of the margins.

“The garbage trucks have not yet collected all of the garbage. This a giant city, after all, and it produces a prodigious amount of garbage”.

From this start 11 years ago I went on to read all his translated novels published as Kindles and a number of his Short Stories.  I hope to one day join in the Celebration of his Nobel Prize.

I was delighted to find a new story,”With the Beetles” just published   in The New Yorker, readable online at the link above.  My main purpose today is to let my readers know about the availablity
of this story and to keep a record of my reading.

American and English pop music references abound in the work of Murakami.  “With The Beetles” follows a man living in Tokyo from his final teenage years to his late thirties.  It is 1965 and The Beetles are huge in Japan dominating airwaves and record sales.
His girl friend, the first, loves the Beetles though he is more into American Jazz.

One day he goes to pick her up but only her brother is home.  He invites him in to wait.  The longest segment of the story is devoted to their conversation.  The brother has a rare problem with his memory.  The conversation revolves around that, Mozart and brother’s questions about the man’s relationship to his sister.

We flash twenty years forward as we then catch up with events.

Mel u

Saturday, February 8, 2020

A Thoroughly Modern Ghost of Other Origin - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew - from her Debut Collection - The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020

"A Thoroughly Modern Ghost of Other Origin" by Elaine Chiew, story six in The Heartsick Diaspora

"But a pontianak has more currency somehow, I say. You can be a marker of Singaporean diversity."

In Singapore even the ghosts, spirits of the dead, arise from sundry Diasporas.

During seventh month in the Chinese Calender, demons of various forms are released from Hell, to reap havoc on the living.  Like the citizens of Singapore, the demons have roots in China and Malaysia.  Unlike the last four stories from The Heartsick Diaspora I have posted upon, this story is set in Singapore.  The narrator is a late teenage boy living with his large family and an Indonesian helper.  They are a middle class family. 

Of course he is obsessed with girls.  He also has a unique ability, he can see ghosts. His mother gets upset when discovers him talking to ghosts.  She doesn't want them attracted to her home.  I learned a lot about the ghosts of Singapore in this story.  I admit I used Google to learn about the multicultural demons of Singapore.  Now days the Festival of Hungry Ghosts is an event to celebrate the heritage of Singapore.  

The narrator is in his room when suddenly he sees a Pontianak in his room.  She tells him she is very hungry, she wants blood. Being very freighted, and ok maybe a bit excited by a female in his room who he is not related to, a first, he gets some congealed pig blood from the refrigerator for her.  She returns and demands his blood or his life.

"Here are some facts about the pontianak, a female Malay vampire: • As a human, died during childbirth, and as a result, wants to prey on the blood of men and other helpless folk."

The Hungry Ghosts  of Singapore seem to be mostly female, maybe they are drawn to his burgeoning sex drive, seeking revenge on males.

"A Thoroughly Modern Ghost of Other Origin shows us a different side of life in Singapore, not focused on the rich but on an ordinary family working for a living.  We see the dynamics of the family with the mother very much charge.

This is a very entertaining story, taking us below the glittering affluence of Singapore to ancient beliefs brought in with the various diasporas that built Singapore.

Elaine Chiew

Elaine is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.

Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.

Elaine lives in Singapore and her book, The Heartsick Diaspora, and other stories, will be published by Myriad in 2020..from

Last month I posted upon a Japanese  authored short story  focusing on a related Japanese tradition.  This made me wonder how ancient this tradition might be,  what way back diaspora left this belief about returning ghosts all over East Asia.  Maybe we are being taken into pre-history.

"Waymarkers" by Natsuko Koroda, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda, from Words Without Borders, November, 2015 

I look forward to posting on the remaining eight stories in The Heartsick Diaspora.

Mel u

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Brothers At Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It by Larrie D. Ferreiro. 2016

Brothers At Arms: American Independence  
 and the Men  of France and Spain Who Saved It by Larrie D. Ferreiro.  2016

Journal of The American Revolution Book of The Year for 2016

A Revolutionary Reading and Autoditactic Corner Selection

If you are interested in learning more about The American Revolution than just the standard Hagiography taught in American schools study  the webpage of The Journal of The American Revolution.  They have a list of the hundred best books on The Revolution, broken into sections so you can follow your interests.  About half of the books are available in Kindle Editions, my preferred mode, and long term I hope to read a number of them. 

Since 2014 they have given an annual Award for best book,  with honourable mentions.  It is here i learned of  today’s book.

Ferriero’s book showed me that very likely without the help of France The Revolution would have failed. The assistance went way beyond officers like  Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette serving in The American Army.  Thousands of French soldiers  and sailors fought for the Americans.  The French government supplied rifles,canons, uniforms ships worth in today’s dollar over Thirty   Billion dollars.  The objective of the French government was to undermine the power of England by dragging it into a long war.  With the aid of The Spanish Navy, eventually the British were no longer able to move their troops around.  The French and Spanish had their eyes on the Sugar  Islands and on harrsssing British ships with priveteers. They also stirred up up trouble in India.  All this helped thin out Englsnd’s ability to fighf a revolt  thousands of miles from London. 

Ferriero brings lots of interesting characters on stage.  On returning home many French officers, mostly from the aristocracy, ended up being executed during the French Revolution.  Lafayette spent five years in prison and if not for pleas of George Washington might have died there.  

I give this book my total endorsement.  All into American history, especially teachers should read it.

It was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize in History in 2016.

From The Publisher

“The remarkable untold story of how the American Revolution’s success depended on substantial military assistance provided by France and Spain, and places the Revolution in the context of the global strategic interests of those nations in their fight against England. 
In this groundbreaking, revisionist history, Larrie Ferreiro shows that at the time the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord the colonists had little chance, if any, of militarily defeating the British. The nascent American nation had no navy, little in the way of artillery, and a militia bereft even of gunpowder. In his detailed accounts Ferreiro shows that without the extensive military and financial support of the French and Spanish, the American cause would never have succeeded. France and Spain provided close to the equivalent of $30 billion and 90 percent of all guns used by the Americans, and they sent soldiers and sailors by the thousands to fight and die alongside the Americans, as well as around the world” 

Larrie D. Ferreiro is a naval architect and historian who served for more than thirty-five years in the US Navy, the US Coast Guard, and the Department of Defense. An Adjunct Professor of Engineering and History at George Mason University, he is the author of the award-winning Ships and Science (MIT Press) and Brothers in Arms, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in History.

Mel u


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

"Lay My Head" - A Short Story by L. Annette Binder - 2012 - from her award winning collection Rise

Lay My Head - A Short Story by L. Annette Binder - 2012

"Her mother patted the headstone the way she used to brush his jacket.  She was smoothing down his 
shoulders and whispering in his ears".

As I read these beautiful deeply moving and disturbing lines I cannot help but see my wife one day doing exactly this one day my headstone.

Yesterday, with a reread this morning, I read a very moving and beautifully sad story by L. Annette Binder, "Lay My Head" included in The O. Henry Prize Stories, 2013 (first published in The Fairy Tale Review).  Inclusion in the long standing series of anthologies of The O. Henry Prize Stories is a great honor.  In order to be elegible a story must first have been published in an American or Canadian literary journal. It is included in her award winning debut collection, Rise.

My earliest reading memories are of being read fairy tales.  Long ago our youngest daughter saw an edition of The Complete Fairy 
Tales of the Brothers Grimm on  my book shelves years ago and asked if she could keep on the shelves in her room. She  still has it booked marked so I know she is reading it.

One of the associations in literature worldwide is that of beautiful people with goodness and unattractive, ugly people with evil.  You see this every where from the latest popular novel to the great works of literature.  I increasingly think this, as it is mostly women who are described as beautiful, represents the deeply pervasive image of women as commodities for men to consume.  This prejuduce runs so far down into our consciousness that most repudiate my idea.  Illness as it changes appearances away from standard notions of beauty is seen as a manifestation of evil within the person, either an ancient curse or inherent malignancy coming out for the "beautiful" people and their admirers to fear.  These  are part of what I see as themes of "Lay My Head".

As the story opens Angela, her appearance badly impacted by illness, is on a plane from Los Angeles to her mother's house, where she grew up.  A small child on the plane is fascinated by her appearance, not yet having learned to fear the different.  I do not wish to spoil this story for potential readers but here are some of the other things it is about- living with a disease, waiting for death, existence in a world gone narcorpoliptic, memories of the dead shading over, loving those gone, maybe loving death.  It depicts a dark world where those with the wisdom to see beyond the prepackaged world cannot escape sadness and loneliness.  

From the authors webpage

I was born in Germany and grew up in Colorado. Like many
immigrant kids, I learned my English from primetime TV and the Saturday morning cartoons. My parents spoke to me in German, and -- to their dismay -- I started answering in English before the boxes were even unpacked. I have degrees from Harvard, Berkeley, and the Programs in Writing at the University of California, Irvine.
My debut collection of stories, Rise (Sarabande Books), received the 2011 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction (selected by Laura Kasischke).
My fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Pushcart Prize XXXVI, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, One Story, American Short Fiction, The Southern Review, Third Coast, Fairy Tale Review, Bellingham Review, Beloit Fiction Journal and others. One of my stories was performed as part of NPR's Selected Shorts. I am currently at work on a novel based on my story "Dead Languages," which appeared in The Southern Review.

I hope to read her debut novel The Vanishing Sky soon.  It is set in Germany during the closing days of World War Two.  For readers of Warlight and The Invisible Bridge, it is an 
intimate, harrowing story about a family of German citizens during World War II.

Mel u

Monday, February 3, 2020

Adios Muchachas by Daniel Chavarria - 2001 - translated from Spanish by Carlos Lopez

Adios Muchachas by Daniel  Chavarria - 2001 - translated from Spanish by Carlos Lopez

Born 1933. Uruguay

Died 1918. Havana

Adios Muchachas by Daniel Chavarria has several very X - rated scenes.

If you have ever been into prostitutes or been one at some point in your life, I think you will appreciate Cbavarria's main character, Alicia.  Living in contemporary Havana, she rides a bicycle on the streets in the areas where rich tourists can be found.  

Here is her method of operation:

"When Alicia decided to become a bicycle hooker, her mother agreed to sell a ring that had been in the family for five generations. She got $350 for it, and for $280 they bought an English mountain-bike, one with wide tires and lots of speeds, on which Alicia launched her hunt for moneyed foreigners. It was not until two months later, however, that Alicia perfected her technique. She got rid of the English bike, for which she received $120 and a heavy old Chinese bike on which she developed her “lost pedal” routine. That was when her real success began. The hoax was conceived and executed in the inner courtyard of an old building on Amargura Street. The author was Pepone, a bicycle genius who specialized in “Substitutive Cyclomechanics,” according to the sheet of aluminum lettered in red lead that hung at the entrance to his tenement. For two bottles of aguardiente rum, Pepone fixed the locknut on the pedal with a linchpin that Alicia could easily remove. All she had to do was lean over a little, without stopping her pedaling, and with a slight tug bring about, whenever she felt like it, the spectacular loss of a pedal. The next step in her routine was to clamp on the brakes, which sent her flying into a face-down (ass-up) landing on the pavement. With a good pair of gloves and a lot of practice, Alicia had the fall down to a science and was ultimately able to get through it without a scratch. The accident would always take place about sixty feet in front of some expensive car whose foreign driver had already been entranced by the rhythmic gyrations of that—oh, so maximus!—gluteus churning on the seat she had purposely set much too high on the frame. It was simple. Whenever a car that should have passed her actually reduced speed and fell in behind, it was a sure sign that the fish was on the hook."

A rich foreigner will then offer to take her home, putting the bike in the trunk.  She and her mother, they live in a nice house her mother inherited from father, who worked as a diplomat for Castro, are in on a scheme to fleece the men.  Alicia plays on the vanity of the men like cheap violins, if they offer her money for sex she acts insulted.  Her trick, coordinated by her mother, is to pull an electrical fuse so it seems like her air conditioning unit has broken.  After providing the men with fantastic sex, men end up coming back the next day with a gift of a new air conditioner, which, as soon as the man leaves, she sells on the black market for often $1000.00.  

Alicia has sex down to an art.  She senses what men want, will throw herself into any sort of sex, acting like the man is a great lover, driving her to never before experienced peaks of pleasure.  

At about the midpoint in the book she meets a man with a very shady past who has a plan to start a tourism company exploring old ship wrecks in Cuban waters.  From this an elaborate criminal plot develops.

I found this a fun read.  

"About Daniel Chavarría
DANIEL CHAVARRÍA is a Uruguayan writer with two passions: classical literature and prostitutes. For years he was a professor of Latin, Greek, and classical literature, devoting much of his time and energy to researching the origins and evolution of prostitution. He has won numerous literary awards around the world, including the 1992 Dashiell Hammett Award and the 2001 Edgar Allan Poe Award. His novels include Adios Muchachos, The Eye of Cybele, and Tango for a Torturer."

Saturday, February 1, 2020

"The Heart of Denis Noble" - A Short Story by Alison MacLeod (2011)

"The Heart of Denis Noble" by Alison MacLeod (2011)

(Included in her collection, All the Beloved Ghosts) 
I first read it in Best British Short Stories 2012.  I believe it was was first published in Litmus: Short Stories from Modern Science

"My ability to dowse for the voice of a story or novel, to hear it and trust in it, feels like a gift. Literary craft and technique are vital. Research is often crucial. But the voice of a story is its essence or spirit. I'm its conduit. I'm both less and more myself as I write. At its most powerful, a story, like a fire, eats up all the air in the room. Its life is perhaps the thing that makes me feel alive."  Alison MacLeod

"The Heart of Denis Noble" by Alison MacLeod (UK) is a simply marvelous work of  the story teller's craft by a writer of transcendent artistry and brilliance.   By a series of skip backs in time she tells the life of Denis Noble, a Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology.   Macleod takes us from inside his mother's womb, to his days with his working class parents, through his college days and his first romances to his stream of consciousness as he goes under in preparation for heart replacement surgery.   If the story were simply told in a linear fashion it would be a great story but what makes it so powerful is the way Macleod leaps back in forth not so much in time, anybody can do that, but in Noble's  changing memory of the past as he ages.   We are following his consciousness as he travels back in forth while under the influence of the medication he is given to get him through his operation.   As the story begins, we learn of the heart that is flying on its way to him in an air ambulance.   We learn the procedures for transplanting a heart.   MacLead uses great details to make us feel we are in the operating room.   We then learn through the meandering reflections on his past of Denis what is done with a sheep's heart after it is butchered. He worked at a slaughter house in his  young days.  We learn a little bit about how he became a famous Professor but a lot is left out, a master's touch.  We reflect on the differences between the jobs of the surgeons and the 
"slaughter-men"   The scenes describing the butchery of animals, the occupation of his younger days are an amazing counter point to the operating room.   Going deep enough we know the skills to butcher a sheep and remove its heart intact are historically linked to heart transplants.   In the long ago the heart was removed from sacrificial victims by priests, now the hooded doctors are the priests.

As he begins to drift off under the anesthesiology treatment, he begins to hear the music he selected for his operation, the second movement from Schubert's Piano Trio in E-Flat Major and he thinks of his days as a student in bed with a woman, he hears her voice in his ear 

But when her fingers find him beneath the sheet, they surprise him with a catheter, and he has to shut his eyes against the tears, against the absurdity of age."

There are a lot of wonderful things in this story.   I do not wish to give the full plot as I hope my readers will one day experience this story for themselves.   We are there in 1940, he was four years old, when he returns to perhaps his real first memory, when his family house in England was hit by a German bomb.    Of course this memory is not a pure memory but one reconstructed from years of retelling, first my his parents then by himself.   This story is very much about the ways we remember and reconstruct out past and how small past moments never leave us. 

There are some very interesting remembered conversation between Denis and his girl friend while in college.  She was a literature major.   If one were to attempt to "deconstruct" this story I think in the remark made by the girlfriend to Denis (he remembers best the conversations he had with her while in bed) MacLeod has given us a strong clue - "Every part of a story contain every other part".  There are several distinct subsections of the story, in the operating room, Denis as a child, working in the slaughter house, being with his family and in college.   Each of these stories contains the basic thematic elements (not an expression I like but I will use it) and each informs the other.   

Only three and half real time hours pass in this story but we see sixty plus years of his life, we also skip over huge parts.  On a personal note I felt a shock of recognition  when as he comes back to consciousness after the operation his wife says to him "You came back to me".  Nine  years ago I went into a coma for several minutes with zero visible brain activity after three cardiac arrests caused by a horrible case of pneumonia.   The doctors told my wife to pray as there was little they could do and that almost no one ever comes back after what I have been through.   I emerged from it and the first words my wonderful wife said was "You have come back to me".    I shared this with my wife and we both felt the real power and stark verisimilitude of this.

"The Heart of Denis Noble" is a flawless story.   We travel deeply into the consciousness of the central character.   We know his core experiences in life.   We see them linked to instances of violence as in the bombing and the butchery of the animals or sexuality. 

There is much more in this story and I think anyone who reads it will be glad they did.

This is available as a Kindle Single 

"A fictional recreation of the early career of Denis Noble, a pioneering bio-mathematician who cracked a key mechanism in the working of the human heart (applying mathematical modelling to the function of the Purkinje fibres in the heart cell, a discovery that led to the first mathematical model of the heart. This story imagines the young researcher in love, discussing the ideas of anatomy with a Literature student A short story by the award-winning writer Alison Macleod, with an afterword from Professor Denis Noble himself.". From 

Official Author Biography

Alison MacLeod grew up in Montreal and Halifax. She is the author of two novels, The Changeling(1996) and The Wave Theory of Angels (2005). Her work has won Writers' Awards from both the Canada Council and Arts Council England. In 2008, she was won the U.K.'s Society of Authors' Olive Cook Award for Short Fiction, while her story collection Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction was long-listed for the International Frank O'Connor Award in that same year. In the UK, it was also named as one of the 'Top Ten Books to Talk About in 2009' in association with World Book Day. Her short stories have been widely published and broadcast in Canada and the U.K. by Prospect, the Ottawa Citizen, Virago, Bloombury, London Magazine and the BBC. Alongside her writing, she is Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester in England. She lives in Brighton and returns home to Canada twice a year.

I read this story in The Best British Short Stories 2012,edited by Nicholas Royle. 

I look forward to reading much more of Alison MacLeod's work in the near and distant future.

Mel u