Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke - 2004- 752 Pages

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna  Clarke - 2004- 752 Pages

Winner 2005 Hugo Award for Best Novel

Best Novel Award World Fantasy Award 2005

Last Month I read Piranesi by Susanna Clarke I loved this story and knew I wanted to read her first novel, written 12 years earlier, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  It is hundreds of Pages longer than Piranesi, taking a larger commitment.  My very high expectations were more than exceeded.

Set in England starting in August of 1806, continuing through England’s conflict with Bonaparte and ending in February 1817 this is an epic imaging 

Alternative history in which two powerful magicians bring magic, lost for centuries, back to being a powerful force.  It is presented as if it were a work of actual 19th century English history,  complete with footnotes.  Faries,often sinister force, Play a big part in plot.

Mr. Norrell is a Magician who has a vast library of books of all sorts on the theory, practice, and history of English magic. He has a vast estste, no wife but a few servants who take care of his practical affairs. He is offended by what he sees as the proliferation of fake magicians.  When we first meet him he demonstrates that almost all The members of the York Society of Magicians are not worthy of the name by preforming an amazing act of magic.

We meet Jonathan Strange at about twenty five percent.  He is also from an affluent Family.  For a few years he tries different pursuits but develops a passion only when he begjns to see himself becoming a magjcian.  He obtains independence  when his father passes.  He begins to purchase books on magic but runs into agents of Mr. Norrell at any sale of interest.  He becomes the pupil of Mr. Norrell, Marries and becomes a powerful Magician.  England is deeply involved in a war with France.  Strange offers his services to Wellington but is first rebuked. Wellington is sceptical of all claims of abiities of magic.  Then Strange begjns to create roads over night, shift geographic battle field positions to favour the English, and raises an army from dead soldiers.  A lot of time is spent with Wellington.

Much more happens as Strange and Mr. Norrell become rivals. A powerful Fairie helps Strange bring bring a woman back to life, but at a heavy cost.

This is a long book with an old fashioned feel.  There are lots of very well developed minor characters.  I really felt like I was in this alternative England. We are there when Strange tries to cure the Madness of King George, when brings 24 hour darkness to Venice.  He and Norrell have a serious magic powered fight over a book Strange wrote.

After 600 Plus days of lockdown in Metro Manila, I and The City need some magic to keep us going.  This book helped me. 

I very much enjoyed this book.  

Susanna Clarke’s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award. It won the British Book Awards Newcomer of the Year, the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award in 2005. Susanna Susanna Clarke is also the author of the short story collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu. Piranesi was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, and was awarded Audies Audiobook of the Year, shortlisted for the British Book Awards Audiobook of the Year, the Costa Novel Award, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the RSL Encore Awards, the Hugo Award, the Nebula Awards, the British Science Fiction Association’s Best Novel, the Bloggers Book Award; was a finalist for the Goodreads Fantasy Book of the Year, the Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction and the Locus Awards; and was longlisted for the 2021 Booktube Prize. Susanna Clarke lives in Derbyshire.”  


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts - A Short Story by Anthony Veasna So - first published February 10, 2020 in The New Yorker - this is the lead story in his collection Afterparties - 2021

 Died: December 8, 2020 (aged 28); San Francisco, California, U.S

Born: February 20, 1992; Stockton, California, U.S

“Anthony Veasna So was, in his own words, “a queer boy, a Khmer-American son of former refugees, a failed computer scientist, a grotesque parody of the model minority, and a graduate of Stanford University.” …

Before he passed in December of 2020, Anthony sold his debut short story collection Afterparties, which has been hailed as “a wildly energetic, heartfelt, original debut” (George Saunders) and “a stunning collection by an exciting new voice” (Brit Bennett). Like all his work, it is hilarious, exquisitely detailed, and unbelievably complex in its exploration of the lives of Khmer, queer characters.”from The Adroit Journal

The death of Anthony Veasna So at age 28 is just too sad for words.  His stories focused on Cambodian refugees and their American born children, living in California.  The stereotype is that Asian Americans are the “perfect minority”., with way lower crime and welfare than white Americans.  Americans see all S E Asians as one monolithic group. So’s stories,as illustrated by “The Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts”  let us see beyond this to real people. Cambodians suffered terribly Under The rule of The Khmer Rouge and The intense bombing of The country by America.  About a third of The people lost their lives. Even when they made it to America they and their children had to deal with The psychological consequences of this.  Trust is not easily given to others.  Women cannot count on The father’s of their children to be there for them.  Children tell themselves their father survived the Killing Fields and made it to America and they try to accept them even when they abandon the family.

The donut shop is run by a divorced Cambodian woman and her American born daughters 13 and 16.  There is no Chuck, it just seemed like an American name.  It is summer and the girls are working the night shift (24 hours).  A man who appears Khmer starts coming in late at night.  He gets an apple strudel but never touches it.  Of course the girls wonder about him.  We learn How the purchase of the shop was financed by a sinister figure back in Cambodia, an uncle of her ex-husband.   The woman has been giving money to her ex-husband to send to him but he spent it on his new family.  She fears what can happen due to this.

The girls get to know the man.  We learn his history and then something very shocking happens.

I read this story on the Kindle sample edition.  I hope so much I get to read the full collection soon

Monday, October 18, 2021

“Moses and Gaspar” - A Short Story by Amparo Dávila - first published in 1959 - translated from the Spanish by Audrey Harris and Matthew Gleason - in The Houseguest and other stories - a Collection of her stories published in 2018


“Moses and Gaspar” - A Short Story by Amparo Dávila - first published in 1959 - translated from the Spanish by Audrey Harris and Matthew Gleason - in The Houseguest and other stories - a Collection of her stories published in 2018

Amparo Dávila 

Born: 21 February 1928, Pinas, Mexico

Died: 18 April 2020, Zacagecas, Mexico

Cooking With Amparo Dávila. -from The Parisian Review- included is a link to today’s story but it can be read in full only by Parisian Review subscribers 

The story can be read in full on the Kindle sample of The Houseguest and Other Stories 

The Crying Cat- a very interesting article on The background and history behind the stories of Amparo Dávila by Matthew Gleason - one of her translators 

Amparo Dávila, a Major figure in Mexican literature, is just now becoming recognized as a Major writer of stories of dark fantasies and horror outside her homeland.

“Moses and Gaspar” is a story about two Brothers, both bachelors, whose only real emotional tie is with each other.  One works for a bank, the other an insurance company.  They spend every Sunday together until one gets transferred to a far away  city.  They stop spending their vacations together as one brother cannot leave his pets, Moses and Gaspar alone very long. When the pet owning brother dies, his brother takes them in.  

I really hope others Will read this story so I Will not say much more.  It is about deeply felt Family bonds, about a Life ruined by two very strange pets.  At first I thought they were cats but for sure they are not.  About what can happen when your only loved one dies.  The surviving brother did have a long term relationship with a woman he paid to have sex with him at his apartment but Moses and Gaspar scared her away. 

There are elegant descriptions of food in the story.  

I look Forward to Reading more of her stories

Friday, October 15, 2021

“Among Strangers” A short story By Isabella Arkadyevna (Arkadievna) Grinevskaya (född Beila Friedberg, Jiddisch ‏ביילע פֿרידבערג‏‎ - Translated from Yiddish by Anita Norich - 2021

 “Among Strangers”

A short story By   Isabella Arkadyevna (Arkadievna) Grinevskaya (född Beila FriedbergJiddisch ‏ביילע פֿרידבערג‏‎ Translated from Yiddish by Anita Norich - 2021

You may read the story on the website of The Yiddish Book Center 

1864 to 1944 

This was first published between 1888 and 1891

She was born in Russia.  Her life history seems not definitely understood. She did live in Constantinople for a while.( There is bio data on The Yiddish Center Website.) 

“Among Strangers” is a deeply moving story about what happens to a family living in a small eastern Russia

shtetl when the employer of the father goes bankrupt putting him out of work. The father had been making enough as a bookkeeper to comfortably support his large family.  Sadly there is no other business in the shtetl that can pay him near the eighty rubles he was accustomed to receiving. 

His wife starts a herring shop.  Her husband tries to help out at home but as his wife comes home covered in herring brine and his are children forced to quit school he begins to feel a feel despair.  When he tries to help out at the shop his wife tells him he is worth less to her than a one ruble a month helper.

He determines to go to a bigger city to find work, armed with letters of reference.  He finds all the bookkeeping jobs filled by younger men.  He even begs for work as a servant but can find nothing.  He feels so sad and lonely, miserable without his family.  He accepts the offer of a train ticket home given him by a rich man he applied for work with, given to him out of pity.

His train trips to and from home are very moving.  For sure I would welcome the opportunity to read more of her work.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Lost Salt Gift of Blood - A Short Story by Alistair MacLeod - 1974

J The Lost Salt Gift of Blood - A Short Story by Alistair MacLeod - 1974

Buried in Print’s Alistair MacLeod Project

Alistair  MacLeod

July 26, 1936 - North Battleford, Canada

April 20, 2014 - Windsor, Canada

Like much of his work “The Lost Salt  Gift of Blood” is set in the rugged Cape Breton area of Novia Scotia

Living is not easy for those in Cape Breton.  Many of the men fish for a living.  Large families are the norm.  There are some tourists who come from brief visits to experience the natural Beauty.  The story opens with an elegant tribute  to this.

The narrator, we never learn his name or his tie the area but he clearly once lived there. Like many  people, he has moved to a big city, wanting a better life.  He now lives somewhere in America’s midwest.  He drove a rented Volkswagon 2500 miles to visit Cape Breton. He seems to have no close Family left there. 

When we meet him he is  watching some boys fishing on the coast.  I imagined he might be thinking of his own days as a boy, fishing  to Help his family.  

One of the boys, John, lives with an older couple.  The narrator is invited to their home.  He knows them from before.

  He learns their four daughters have all married and moved away.  Only the boy lives with them now.  One of their daughters and her husband were killed in a car crash.  The Boy who he saw fishing lives with them.  

There is a deep sadness in this story.  The man knows he has lost all real connections with the area.  


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff - 2016 - A Novel - 400 Pages

 Lovecraft Country - A Novel by Matt Ruff - 2016 - 400 pages 

Lovecraft Country is an intriguing dark fantasy work which combines the potential horrors experienced by African-Americans travelers in the southern American states in 1951, in the Jim Crow Era, with creatures drawn from the work of the American master of horror H. P. Lovecraft (1890 to 1937). Lovecraft was deeply racist. He was horrified by any notion of “mixing of races”. His stories are full of weird creatures.  

  • Atticus Turner, a veteran of the Korean War, an avid reader of science fiction, is on  drive from Jacksonville, Florida to Chicago when we first encounter him.  His father, Montrose Turner, has sent him a letter asking him to come. The father Is in Ardham, Massachusetts where he says he may have found information on the family of Atticus’s mother, previously unknown 

Atticus, his uncle George, and his childhood friend Letitia come along on the drive to Ardham to find Montrose. They are chased, accosted, and later nearly murdered by racists on the way.  George edits The Safe Negro Travel Guide which lists safe places.  When the get to Ardham they find Montrose a prisoner of Samuel Braithwhite, a white man, lodgemaster at Ardham sorcerers' cove.  It is part of a national consortium of racist lodges.  

The lodge is dedicated to white supremacy and deeply into the occult.  It will turn out Atticus is a descendant of the lodge founder from slavery days who raped the great grandmother of Atticus.  Caleb Braithwaite, son of Samuel, will play a big part once his father dies.

There eight intertwined plot lines.  Just as Atticus and his family is about to be shot by a racist sheriff weird monsters descend on him and his deputies.

I found this an interesting work.  It turns out there was really something like The Negro Safe Travel Guide.  The characters are well realized and it real fun to see all the references to science fiction read by Atticus.

“I m the author of the novels Fool on The Hill (1988),  Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (1997), Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls (2003),  Bad Monkeys (2007), The Mirage (2012), and Lovecraft Country (2016).

My lastest novel, 88 Names, was published in March 2020. You can learn more about it here. And check out the 88 Names podcast!

Lovecraft Country is now New York Times bestsellerThe HBO series based on the novel premiered on August 16, 2020.” From

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson- 1998- 256 pages

 Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson- 1998- 256 pages

Last month I read The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson.  I was very much shocked by the depth of this work dealing deeply with the consequences of slavery through several centuries.  

From my post on The Salt Roads

“So far this year I have been stunned by the depth and Beauty of two novels by writers hithertonow unread by me.  The first was The Master and Margarita by Michail Bulgakov. The Salt Roads is my second such work. By Nalo Hopkinson is just amazing beyond my powers to describe how I feel about it.

The Salt Roads focus on the lives of three women of color, living out the consequences of enslavement by Europeans.”

Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson’s first novel, lived up to my very high expectations.  Set in a dystopian future Toronto where the central city has been largely abandoned by white residents escaping to the outer fringes of the huge city.  Inner City Toronto is a place of hopelessness, extreme 

poverty and a constant threat of violence. The central characters In Brown Girl in The Ring are the descendants of African slaves of Caribbean background.  All social services have broken down.  There is a big demand for human organs.  Rudy Sheldon with a gang of brutal thugs rules the streets. 

As the plot begins, we are twelve years past the riots that transformed the inner City,  Rudy has been given a Commission to find a human heart for the premier of Ontario.

At this point we are introduced to Ti-Jeanne, grandmother is traditional Caribbean healer. Ti-Jeanne, a single mother in her struggle to stay of streets has moved in with her grandmother.  The baby’s father, her one time boyfriend, is a drug addict who survived by working for Rudy.  He has been assigned to find a healthy Young person with a matching blood type and take out their heart.  He has been told if he fails in this Mission he Will be eaten by a weird creature controlled by Rudy.  He finds a Young man but cannot bring himself to commit cold blooded murder. He goes Ti-Jeanne’s grandmother for a protective spell.  At first the grandmother wants nothing to do with him. Then she gives in and decides to help him.

The plot gets complicated now, deeply involved with Caribbean folklore and black magic.  There are scenes of disturbing graphic cruelty.  One scene where a woman Rudy turned into a zombie is skinned alive was very vivid.  

The dialogue is in a version of Afro-Carib English.  There are heavy elements of magic realism.  Horrible things happen to innocent and not so innocent people.

I greatly enjoyed this book.  To those new to Nalo Hopkinson as I was until last month, start with The Salt Reads.

There is bio data on her on my prior posts.  I hope to read all of her novels.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Magician: A Novel by Colm Toibin - 2021

The Magician:A Novel  by Colm Toibin - 2021 - 510 pages

I first read and posted on Colm Toibin in March of 2012.  Since then I have featured his work 15 times including novels, short stories and literary histories.  I loved his novel  on the London years, The Master, of Henry James and was very eager to read his latest novel, The Magician, based on the life of Thomas Mann.  The Magician brought Mann totally to life for me, as it has done for almost all readers.  It will help  if you have read Mann’s major works, or at least Death in Venice.  Not so much to follow The Magician but to appreciate the great challenge in basing a novel on his work. Toibin helped me understand how Mann created his great literature, the tremendous work and cultural depth behind them.

Thomas Mann

Born - June 6, 1875 - in the free city of Lubeck

1905 - marries Katia Pringsheim. From a very wealthy non- practicing Jewish family.  They have six children. Their lives are meticulously covered  in The Magician 

Buddenbrooks - 1901

Death in Venice - 1912

The Magic Mountain- 1924

1929 - wins Nobel Prize

1933- in response to the rise in power of Adolph Hitler the family moves to Switzerland 

1939 - moves to USA - teaching at Princeton University 

In 1942 the family relocates to Los Angeles, where there is a substantial German Émigrés community. He has a leadership role , helping many in need.

1947 - Doctor Faustus 

August 12, 1955 - dies in the Netherlands while on vacation 

The Magician begins in 1898 at the Mann household in Lubeck.  We meet his parents.  His mother is Brazilian, his father a wealthy German businessman.  We are pushed to wonder how a Brazilian mother impacted Mann.  One of the major themes of this book is the treatment of Mann’s homosexuality which very much not acceptable.  We wonder if a non-Germanic mother of dark beauty somehow impacted his sexual development.  Toibin depicts several same sex encounters of Mann’s.  Mann liked “beautiful boys”.  His gay sexual relationships were not enduring and were strictly physical.

His first novel, an amazing work for a 25 year old, Buddenbrooks, was considered by many readers as based on his family.  His father was miffed by it. As portrayed by Toibin, Mann wanted to marry Katia to become a part of her family.  He does develop a very close relationship with her.  A close friend had feared he would not be able to father children but he obviously did.

As Hitler became increasingly popular in Germany the international community and Germans who feared his doctrines wanted Mann to speak out against him.  Mann at first could not believe someone as atrocious as Hitler could win over Germany.  Mann could not accept initially that the country of Goethe and so many great philosophers and musicians could want to be ruled by Nazis.  He also at first did not want sales of his books blocked in Germany.

His brother Heinrich was very vocal in opposing the Nazis.  His wife’s family had to flea Germany for Switzerland once the Nazis began rounding up Jews.  They lost a lot of their money.  

The Mann family had numerous tragedies including multiple suicides.  The Mann children did not have easy lives even though their parents supported them throughout their life.

The book follows Mann over fifty plus years.  He was deeply into music and German literature.  

His time in America was fascinating.  At Princeton he socialized with Einstein.  He was always wealthy.  He built a wonderful home in Los Angeles.

There is just so much in this book.  This is a masterful account of how great art originates.

I will give Colm Toibin a final word 

“Colm Tóibín: He, in ways, was a ghost in his own life. He was silent in his study and he would come into the house and someone else would always be making the noise. And he had six noisy children. Thomas Mann was never someone out late at night. That never interested him. He lived a very sedate life. He was deeply domestic. He did not have close friends. He did not have a peer group. Once he married, he stayed home. So that the excitement in the book is all happening around him. He’s watching it. He’s resisting it. He’s nourished by it. But it’s not as though he himself is making the noise.”

I offer my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon gift card that allowed me to acquire The Magician.


Monday, October 4, 2021

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo + The 2019 Booker Prize Winner

 Girl,Woman,Other by Bernardine Evaristo - 2019 Booker Prize Winner

Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives of 12 British women of color over several decades. The women struggle to establish themselves in families, relationships and careers.  


Each woman has a dedicated chapter in which we learn details of their histories.  Several of the lives are intertwined as mother and daughter, sisters, lovers, business associates.

We have Anna, a lesbian playwright.  Her play’s production draws the plot together.  There is a teacher not quite at home in lesbian communities and unhappy bride from The Barbados.

I enjoyed this book a lot, the characters are interesting.  Of course their relationships to men are central to their lives.

From The author’s website 

British writer Bernardine Evaristo is the author of eight books and numerous other works that span the genres of verse fiction, short fiction, poetry, essays, literary criticism, journalism, and radio and theatre drama. Her writing and projects are based around her interest in the African diaspora. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London. In October 2021, her first non-fiction book, Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, will be published by Penguin UK & by Grove Atlantic USA 2022).

Bernardine’s novel Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize 2019, the first black woman and black Briitsh person to win it in its fifty year history.  The novel also won many other prizes including the British Book Award’s Fiction Book of the Year & Author of the Year, and the Indie Book Award for Fiction. It was a #1 Sunday Times bestseller for five weeks, the first woman of colour to achieve this position in the paperback fiction chart, spending 44 weeks in the Top 10. There are now over 50 translations of Bernardine’s books either published or in progress. She has received many awards, nominations