Pages

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Edge of the World- A Short Story by Souvankham Thammavongsa - 2020 - from her debut collection How to Pronounce Knife



Souvankham Thammavongsa  


Edge of the World

A short story

SOUVANKHAM THAMMAVONGSA

MARCH 13, 2020 - in The Atlantic 


You may read today’s story on the website of The Atlantic


The Website of Souvankham Thammavongsa has links to several stories and essays 


“ I think now of what my mother knew then. She knew about war, what it felt like to be shot at in the dark, what death looked like up close in your arms, what a bomb could destroy. Those were things I didn’t know about, and it was all right not to know them, living where we did now, in a country where nothing like that happened. There was a lot I did not know.”


Souvankham Thammavongsa’s debut collection, How to Pronounce Knife, centers on stories about Laotian refuges adjusting to starting over in new to them countries.  “The Edge of the World”, narrated by a forty five year old woman who immigrated with her parents, by way of a refugee camp from Lao when she was about five years old.  We do not know her age until the story nearly concludes.  


As the story open we are watching American TV with the narrator and her mother.  The mother is 23.  She is learning English from Soap Operas.  She stays at home while her husband works.  She excuses him of having affairs.  He works, we do not know what he does, and does struggle a bit to keep up because of his not yet strong English.


We go along to a party of refugees.  Much of the conversation is about conditions back home, news of those left behind is sought, they wonder who got out.  We see the father has a much more outgoing personality than the mother.  Another person tells the woman not to speak to her daughter in Laotian as she will not fit in at school.


“My parents didn’t spend much time alone, and when they did, there were no Lao bars or cafés or restaurants for them to go to. Occasionally, we were invited to get-togethers at the homes of other Lao refugees. Some had been here a long time, like us, and some had just arrived. These parties were where everyone went to dance and listen to music, play cards and eat, reminisce and talk about old times. They would laugh all night—sad, faint bursts of air—and shake their heads in disbelief at what they had made of themselves in this new country.


My parents went to these parties to hear the news from back home or to ask what had happened to those they had left behind. Who was still there? Was their house still standing? And if they’d made it out of Laos, which refugee camp had they ended up in? How long were they there? Where did they land?”


There just is so much of high insight and interest in this story.  The mother has seen  and lived through great misery.



Souvankham Thammavongsa is the author of four acclaimed poetry books, and the short story collection HOW TO PRONOUNCE KNIFE, winner of the 2020 Scotiabank Giller prize, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and PEN/American Open Book Award, a New York Times Editors' Choice, a TIME 100 Must-Read Books of 2020, out now with McClelland & Stewart (Canada), Little, Brown (U.S.), and Bloomsbury (U.K.). Her stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's MagazineThe Paris ReviewThe AtlanticGranta, and NOON. Thammavongsa is a judge for the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize. She was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand and was raised and educated in Toronto.”  From the author’s website 


I will be reading more of the stories of Souvankham Thammavongsa soon.


Mel u


 

Friday, February 26, 2021

The Secret Lives of Babi Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin - 2011


The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by LOLA SHONEYIN - 2011




The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives gives us an inside look at a poylagmy in modern Nigeria.  Baba Segi has four wives, all living in one household.  For a long time there were three wives, each with multiple children.  The oldest manages the household.  The husband shares his affections evenly with the women on a schedule.  He can only be described as a brutal lover.  He prides himself on siring children with each of the wives.  Then one day he decides to marry a much younger woman, unlike the others she is a college graduate.  The other women are outraged.  They conspire to make the Life of the new wife miserable in the hope she will leave.



The chapters rotate in point of view from each of the four women.  We learn about their background prior to marriage and the dyamics of the Family group.  Slowly secrets are revealed.  Two years go by and the new wife does not get pregnant.  Baba Segi is very upset, saying a barren wife is like a rotten piece of fruit.  Of course as all the other wives easily got pregnant, he blames her.  The other women are privately happy over this but offer her advise based on old notions.


An incredible secret eventually comes out about the husband and the children.  One that thretens the entire family.


The characters are well developed, each wife has her own personality.  They are bonded only by their dependence on the keeping of a dangerous secret and their hatred of the new wife.


I enjoyed this book.  It is a fast read.  There is explicit sexual content.  It is a cinematic look at life in contemporary Nigeria.



This is LOLA SHONEYIN’s first novel.  I look Forward to following her work.


Netflix is set to produce a series based on the book and for sure I will binge watch.


About Lola Shoneyin - from her publisher 

Lola Shoneyin's work includes three books of poems, So All the Time I Was Sitting on an Egg (1997), Song of a Riverbird (2002), For the Love of Flight (2010), and two children's books: Mayowa and the Masquerade and Iyaji, the Housegirl. 


Her debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2011 and went on to win the PEN Oakland 2011 Josephine Miles Literary Award and the 2011 ANA/NDDC Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose Prize. Her children's book, Mayowa and the Masquerades won the 2011 ANA/ Atiku Abubakar Prize for Children's literature. 


Shoneyin is the founder of the Book Buzz Foundation, Nigeria. She is also the director of Ake Arts & Book Festival which takes place in the third week of November in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria.


She lives in Lagos, Nigeria with four children, four dogs and one husband.


 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Dream Pictures - A Short Story by Kenzaburo Ôe -


 



Dream Pictures - A Short Story by Kenzaburo  Oe - from July 13, 1998 in The New Yorker


Translated, from the Japanese, by John Nathan.)

Published in the print edition of the July 13, 1998, issue.


The Japanese Literature Challenge 14 - Hosted by Dolce Bellezza 

January 1 to March 31. Japanese Literature Challenge 14


My  readings  for JL14 2021 so far


  1. “Peony Lanterns” a Short Story by Aoko Matsuda - translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton -2020 - a delightful story you can read online. Linked to traditional stories of Ghosts
  2. Before The Coffee Gets Cold by TOSHIKAZU KAWAGUCHI -2020- an international bestseller
  3. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa - 1998
  4. The Lady Killer by Masako Togawa - 1968
  5. The Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata - 2016 - cult favorite
  6. UNDER RECONSTRUCTION - A short story by Ōgai Mori - first published 1910 - translated from the Japanese by Ivan  Morris 1968


You may read today’s story on the website of The New Yorker.




My Prior Posts on Kenzaburo Ôe


I first encountered the work of Kenzaburo Oe in 2009 during JL2.  I knew right away I wanted to read everything by him I could.  Here were my thoughts from long ago on his stunningly powerful story “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears”:


“I cannot really begin to convey the strange and wonderful qualities of this work.   Imagine if Rabelais (Oe was a student of French literature and philosophy at the University of Tokyo), Jean Paul Sarte and William Burroughs collaborated on a work right after eating some very bad blow fish and you have an idea of what 

 The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears   feels like as you read it.   


This work  is about a lot of things and it is about itself.   It is about loss of faith, feelings of profound loss,

survivor's guilt,   and the destruction of old values.   We feel the effects of the war everywhere.

The Japanese culture provided  no role models or cultural archetypes to help them cope with what could not happen, total defeat.   



There is a long established literary tradition of using the insane to say what cannot be accepted by those in fully sunlit worlds.    The narrator of  The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears has very deep roots in western culture.    His ancestors were in the plays of Euripides, his great grandfather was Dostoevsky's  underground man,   he speaks through Crazy Jane.   Oe has stated that he has come to understand the meaning of his own works through reading the poetry of William Butler Yeats.   



I do not mean to convey  that The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears is a closed work that cannot be enjoyed or even followed without great effort.   It can be enjoyed just as a narrative of a crazy person.  As such we will pick up a lot about the aftereffects of the war on Japan.    We will see how the Japanese people felt when they heard the Emperor speak on the radio, and we will learn something about the home front in rural Japan.   The book is also funny-imagine the very straight laced executor of the narrator's estate being threatened with the loss of his work as administrator of the narrator's estate (who appears to have nothing to pass along anyway and probably is not going to die soon either) by a man in underwater goggles.    


My first judgment is that Oe is as deep as the Russians and as careful as Proust and Flaubert and knows as much about people as Dickens.” 



From this start I went on to read on all his works available in translation, including his essays on Hiroshima.  I was so happy to see a new to me short story by Oe on The New Yorker Website.


My primary purpose here is to keep a record of my reading and to let interested parties know of this story.


The New Yorker’s introduction is very articulate:




“The acclaimed Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe has an uncanny talent for melding the real with the imagined and illuminating the inner lives of his subjects. Since 1998, Oe has written for The New Yorker on topics ranging from the historical antecedents of the Fukushima nuclear disaster to an essay contest in which he participated as a youth. The winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1994, Oe has published more than a dozen books, including “A Personal Matter” and “Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!” Oe has also written at length about the tragic legacy of Hiroshima, and has spent decades as a pacifist and anti-nuclear activist. One of my favorite pieces by Oe is “Dream Pictures,” a masterly short story about a father’s poignant relationship with his disabled son, nicknamed Eeyore. (Oe’s own son, Hikari, was born with a severe brain hernia, and the writer has published a series of novels and other fictionalized accounts about their family. Hikari is now one of the most prominent composers in Japan.) In “Dream Pictures,” the protagonist, a writer, is haunted by feelings of parental remorse and mystified by his son’s impediments, including an apparent inability to dream or recollect his dreams. “As I repeatedly tried to discuss dreams with him, he began to protest adamantly: ‘That’s enough. I want to stop now!’ To my wife, who listened in silence, his resoluteness was terrifying. I suppose she was afraid that the day would come when Eeyore would close his mind to all things in the world, our family foremost among them, with a final, ‘That’s enough. I want to stop now!’ ” Oe writes. The artistry of the story lies partly in its structure. As the narrator struggles to navigate his son’s afflictions, he finds himself exploring the allegorical resonance of dreams and his own heartrending distress in the face of his child’s opaque inner life”

 

Erin Overbey, archive editor



I thank Dolce Bellezza to adding  Kenzaburo Oe to my reading life.


Mel I




Wednesday, February 24, 2021

In Polish Woods by Joseph Opaloshu - translated from the Yiddish by Issac Goldberg- 1938


In Polish Woods by JOSEPH OPATOSHU -1938- translated from the Yiddish by Issac Goldberg 







In Polish Woods is a historical novel set largely in Jewish society in Poland describing the breakdown  of the Kotzker dynasty between the age of Napoleon and the Polish Revolt of 1863.  There is a great deal of debates about different elements in Jewish society in the period.  There are interesting accounts of ancient Polish beliefs about wood spirits.  There is a forbidden romance and a very lengthy section devoted to youthful instruction of Torah Scholars.  


My assessment is that In Polish Woods is best left to those who have been reading Yiddish literature for years and those into the heritage of Polish Jews.


I found completing a bit of a chore but having done so for me it was worthwhile.


This is not a “starter” Yiddish work.  I do not issue even a mild general recommendation on this book 


“OPATOSHU, JOSEPH (originally Opatovsky; 1886–1954), Yiddish novelist and short-story writer. Born near Mlave (Poland), Opatoshu immigrated to the U.S. in 1907, where he studied engineering at Cooper Union at night, while supporting himself by working in a shoe factory, selling newspapers, and teaching in Hebrew schools. In 1914 he graduated as a civil engineer, but soon found literature a more congenial profession. From 1910 he contributed stories to periodicals and anthologies, and in 1914 edited an anthology of his own, Di Naye Heym ("The New Home"), which included his story of American Jewish life, "Fun Nyu Yorker Geto." 


When the New York daily Der Tog was founded (1914), he joined its staff and for 40 years contributed stories, sketches, and serials, most of which were later reprinted in book format.


From https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/joseph-opatoshu


 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move by Sonia Shah - 2020


 



The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move by Sonia Shah - 2020


An Autodidactic Corner Selection 


“The militarized borders that bar human movement  today are not sacrosanct. They’re not fundamental to our cultures or histories. People in Europe started drawing borders around their countries only a few centuries ago. The British lawyer who established the borders around India and Pakistan marked them out over the course of just a few weeks. Even the highly contested border between the United States and Mexico was mostly permeable until just a few decades ago. Throughout much of our history, kingdoms and empires rose and fell with blurry edges, each culture and people shading gradually from one to the next. It’s not that borders were open or closed. They didn’t exist at all. If we were to accept migration as integral to life on a dynamic planet with shifting and unevenly distributed resources, there are any number of ways we could proceed. The migration ratio will continue its inexorable approach, regardless. People like Sophia and Jean-Pierre and Ghulam will continue to move. We can continue to think of this as a catastrophe. Or we can reclaim our history of migration and our place in nature as migrants like the butterflies and the birds. We can turn migration from a crisis into its opposite: the solution.” - from The Coca of The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move by Sonia Shah 


After Reading this amazing, profound and beautiful l work I was completely convinced this was the truth.  Shah’s book proves it.




This book should be required reading for all government officials who set Immigration policy.  Sonia Shah’s book demonstrates beyond any doubt that anti-immigrant policies espoused by leaders are based on long ago refuted science and completely false Ideas about the impact of mass Immigrations of people from so called third world countries into Europe and America.  It exposes total the ignorance and cruelty of much of American and European Immigration policy.


She begins her narrative with an account of her parents, both medical doctors, moving from Mumbai to New York City in a time when America needed more physicians.  She talks about her feelings growing up.  From this in chapter two, Panic, she talks about how a fear of immigrations became an important part of American foreign policy, first popularized  when national security expert Robert D. Kaplan wrote about in a 1994 Atlantic magazine article called “The Coming Anarchy”, in 

which he suggests events brought on by climate change  and the end of the cold war will  cause massive inflows of immigrants, with darker skins, to lighter skinned countries, taking jobs, causing disease, increasing crime and a mixing of the races.  This article became required reading in the American state Department.  Shah totally reduces Kaplan’s Ideas to intellectually clothed racism with no factual support.  Here was Kaplan’s thesis


“The magnetic poles of the United States and the Soviet Union, he explained, had held a number of destabilizing forces in suspension. Nobody had noticed, because we’d been so preoccupied with the stockpiles of missiles and the creepy binational taunting. Now, with those two poles deactivated, suppressed elements would be unleashed. Instead of improving the prospects for peace and security, the end of the Cold War would do just the opposite. The problem: people would start to move. As deserts spread and forests were felled, Kaplan wrote, masses of desperate, impoverished people would be forced to migrate into overburdened cities. With no great power regimes to prop up weak states, the tumult caused by migrants would result in social breakdown and “criminal anarchy.” There’d be bloody conflicts. Deadly diseases would rage. Already, across West Africa, he said, young men moved in “hordes,” like “loose molecules in a very unstable social fluid” on the verge of ignition. Others would soon follow. A new era of migration, he wrote, would create “the core foreign-policy challenge from which most others will ultimately emanate.... There’d likely be 50 million on the move by 2020, experts at the United Nations University projected. Two hundred million by 2050, the environmental security analyst Norman Myers announced. One billion the NGO Christian Aid projected. People moving around, in their telling, was an exceptional and future threat, “one of the foremost human crises5 of our times,” as Myers put it. In fact, as any migration expert could have shown, migration was just the opposite: an unexceptional ongoing reality. And while environmental changes shaped its dynamics, they didn’t do so in a predictably simple way.”  


Americans  saw the impact of these theories in the political rhetoric of trump screaming about a wall along the southern border to keep out dark hordes of rapists, murders, future welfare mothers.  Americans, 70,000,000 of them believed this nonsense.  Shah details what does happen when a large number of immigrants entered an American City.  The immigrants have less crime than natives, get and keep jobs, start businesses, rely less on Public Assistance after a brief transition and educate their children.  




In a fascinsting chapter “LINNAEUS’S LOATHSOME HARLOTRY” we see how The idea that animals, plants and people belong where they are was dervived from his religious idelogy.  A bias against migration became part of the  idelogy of western thinking.  One of the most fascinsting aspects of Shah’s book is the  numerous examples she gives of birds, butterflys and mammals moving in mass due to climate change. Linnseus’s theories, for a very long time excepted as gospel are completely destroyed.  Sadly long after scientists saw this Linnseus’s s Ideas were used by politicians to suggest people should stay where they belong. 


She employs a two pronged attack on anti-mass inmigrations.  Going back into the scientific theories she refutes them step by step.  She also looks at  immigrants to see if they destroyed their new countiries and finds just opposite.  


In a very powerful chapter, “MALTHUS’S HIDEOUS BLASPHEMY” she shows How his viewes on the horrors of population growth in non-western societies are still being used by demogogues preying on fears of immigrant hordes.  Historically she shows us idea of national borders  is itself a relatively recent construct.


She gives us numerous examples  of migrants, explaining why they are motivated to leave their birth  countries. We see the hardships immigrants take for their children, risking death. She talks about her own experiences as a volunteer helping recent immigrant mothers.  


This is an elegant briiliant  book I am very glad I read.  




Sonia Shah is a science journalist and prize-winning author of critically acclaimed books on science, politics and human rights. Her latest book, The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move, explores our centuries-long assumptions about migration through science, history, and reporting, predicting its lifesaving power in the face of climate change. A finalist for the 2021 PEN/E.O Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, it was selected as a best nonfiction book of 2020 by Publishers Weekly, a best science book of 2020 by Amazon, and a best science and technology book of 2020 by Library Journal. Author and activist Naomi Klein calls it a “dazzlingly original picture,” “rich with eclectic research and on-the-ground reporting,” and a “story threaded with joy and inspiration.” From https://soniashah.com/


Her website has numerous valuable links. 


I have added her prior books to my Amazon wish list.


Sonia Shah, Thank you for this wonderful book.


Mel u









Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander- 2003


The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of The Last Tsar by Robert Alexander - 2003


The Kitchen Boy is the second work fiction I read this month dealing with the collapse of the Romanov dynasty.  Earlier I read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, which I loved.  The late Romanov period has been an interest of mine for a long time.  


The Kitchen Boy is structured as if it were a tape recording of a man, now 98 and living in Chicago who at age 14 was in Yekaterinburg (romanized as “Ekaterinburg” serving as a kitchen boy to Tsar Nicholas and his family while they were held captive by the communists.


( The Russian Imperial Romanov family (Emperor Nicholas II, his wife Empress Alexandra and their five children: OlgaTatianaMariaAnastasia, and Alexei) were shot and bayoneted to death by Communist revolutionaries under Yakov Yurovsky in Yekaterinburg on the night of 16–17 July 1918. Also killed that night were retainers who had accompanied them: notably Eugene BotkinAnna DemidovaAlexei Trupp and Ivan Kharitonov

 The bodies were taken to the Koptyaki forest, where they were stripped and mutilated.  Wikipedia.)


The man’s wife recently died, their only child, a son, was killed in an automobile wreck.  He is intent on producing a full account of what he experienced in Yekaterinburg to share with his 35 year old granddaughter.   He has lived for over 85 years under a false name in Chicago, much of it in a grand mansion.


The narrator speaks in great reverence for The Tsar, his wife and four daughters.  The hemophiliac heir Alexi, the same age as the Kitchen Boy, is the central concern of the family.  The family is lead to believe by a series of smuggled in letters that a group of 300 White Russian Officers was on their way to rescue them and pave the way for Nicholas to return as ruler.  They have other loyal retainers, a English doctor, a tutor, and a cook.  Orthodox Russian priests and Sisters also try to help them.  Some of the guards are respectful, some hate the royal family and degrade them.  Nicholas is now addressed as “Citizen Romanov”.  The Kitchen boy conveys notes back and forth concerning the rescue of the Romanovs.  We are given a very graphic wonderfully developed view of the family life, the coming tragedy the weakness of Nicholas as a ruler, the daughters and of course Alexi.  Food was a constant issues.  The Kitchen Boy tells us the Romanovs never complained, but for the Tasrina. She was hated for her German ancestry and the false rumors about her relationship with Rasputin.  


His description of the murder of the family is truly horrifying.  After the  killings the guards molested the persons of the women.  


There is a mystery in his narrative.  How did he become fabulously rich as part of Chicago’s high society?  


In the Epilogue of the novel, focusing on the Granddaughter’s trip to St. Petersburg in 2001 in which she will be donating a billion dollars worth of Romanov treasure to the Russian people as her grandfather wanted.  She was left one hundred million dollars.  Shocking revelations come out at the end about  the true identities of Kitchen Boy and her mother.  I did not at all see the ending coming.  I will say I found the epilogue spell binding.


I greatly enjoyed this book.  It is very different from A Gentleman in Moscow.  Lovers of quality historical fiction about the end of the Romanov dynasty will enjoy both.


“For over forty years Robert Alexander has been traveling to Russia, where he has attended Leningrad State University, worked for the U.S. Government, and traveled extensively. For nearly twenty years he was a partner in a very successful St. Petersburg company that operated a warehouse and customs clearance center, dental clinic, and Barabu, chain of espresso-wine bars with locations at The Hermitage and the Fortress of Peter and Paul.

Alexander was inspired to write his first book when he was followed by the KGB. Since then he has penned some twenty-four books, including mysteries, thrillers, children’s fiction, and historical novels. He has also authored popular mystery games, written for television, and created mysteries that appeared on the back of 15 million boxes of Total Cereal.  His first historical novel of revolutionary Russia, The Kitchen Boy, was a New York Times bestseller, and is being produced for film. Mr. Alexander speaks frequently to book clubs and can often be heard on the radio.  Born and raised in Chicago, Alexander currently makes his home in Minneapolis.” - from the Author’s website 


http://robertalexanderbooks.com/






I hope to the other two books in his Romanov trilogy soon.










 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Welcome to Lagos: A Novel by Chibundu Onuzo - 2016 - 298 Pages



Welcome to Lagos: A Novel by Chibundu Onuzo - 2018 - 298 pages


As Welcome to Lagos opens Chike Ameobi, a Nigerian Army officer, is ordered to have his platoon kill civilians.  He knows he cannot carry out this order so he deserts.  He knows he will be a hunted fugitive so, with his second officer Yemi, he feels he can escape discovery in the teeming capital Lagos.  Other young people looking for a new way of life form a new platoon under the leadership of Chike.  Among them are Fineboy, a former member of a rebel army who hopes to become a DJ in Lagos. There are two women in group.  One’s father is presumed killed by rebels.  Ona is escaping a wealthy abusive husband.


The plot turns on their complex involvement with a minister of education now on run for stealing ten million dollars.


The star of the novel is Lagos.  Lagos is presented as a place of extreme coruption, where no one can be trusted.  We see people living in extreme luxury with millions in squalor, living as squaters.


This is very much a novel about lingering impact of colonial rules combined with the corrupting influence of oil riches.  The rich send their children to London for education. We do spend a lot of time among Nigerians in London.  


There is an exciting plot and we are given a very real feel for the poor side of Lagos.


I am glad I read Welcome to Lagos.  I acquired this as a Kindle of $1.95.  It is now back up to $11.95.


I am not comfortable suggesting a purchase of this book for $11.95 to those who I don’t know. If it goes back on sale, I see it as worth the risk.




“Chibundu Onuzo was born in Nigeria in 1991, the youngest of four children of parents who are doctors, and grew up there in Lagos.She moved to England when she was 14 to study at an all-girls' school in WinchesterHampshire, for her GCSEs and at the age of 17 began writing her first novel, which was signed two years later by Faber and Faber and was published when she was 21.She was the youngest female writer ever taken on by the publisher.[Reviewing her second book, Welcome to Lagos (2016)

Onuzo received a first-class bachelor's degree in history from King's College London (2012)and went on to earn a master's degree in public policy from University College London.As of 2017, she is studying for a PhD at King's College London.” Wikepedia 


 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

“ Sliced Night” a Short Story by Yu Ya - translated from the Burmese by Khin Hait Thit Oo - 2017 - included in Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds - Short Stories of Contemporary Myanmar- edited by Lucas Stewart and Alfred Birnbaum

 

“Sliced Night” a Short Story by Yu Ya - translated from the Burmese by Khin Hait Thit Oo - 2017 - included in Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds - Short Stories of Contemporary Myanmar- edited by Lucas Stewart and Alfred Birnbaum


A post in honor of the people of Myanmar- 


You can download this anthology from the website of The British Council Library of Myanmar.


There is a very good overview of the collection on the website of The Asian Review of Books


My first post from this collection was Overheated Heart - A Short Story by San Lin Tun- translated from Burmese by  the Author


With the  current state of the World, it seems unlikely we can travel to Myanmar soon.  Thanks to Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar we can at least vicariously experience this ancient, ethnically diverse and complex culture.  Of the fourteen stories in the anthology, several are in regional of tribal languages other than the dominant Burmese.  One of the characteristics of national literatures in South East Asia and on the Subcontinent is that often non-dominant languages are forgotten.  In the introduction to this collection I learned there are over 135 active languages spoken in Myanmar besides Burmese.  If you want to initiate your erudition in the literature of Myanmar Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds should be your starting point.


“Sliced Night” in just a few beautiful pages gives us a vivid portrayal of life on the turbulent streets of a Myanmar city.  The focus is on a very lovable male street cat adapted by an affluent family.  The family calls him Lanky.  He is very gentle, calmly allowing the family children to spin him around.  He even wins over the father, not initially a fan of cats.  Yu Ya gives us a very interesting account of his dietary preferences, he prefers human food to cat food.  At night he goes out at midnight and comes back in the morning.  The ending is very poignant and I will leave it unspoiled.





Yu Ya (1987) is the youngest scion of one of Myanmar’s most famous literary families.  The only woman in Myanmar to hold both a BA and MA in creative writing, she has won awards in interstate poetry competitions at township and state level.  She has published over 40 short stories, poems and essays for several of the leading literary journals in Myanmar including Shwe Amyutae, Thouk Kyar, Yati and Padouk Pwint Thit.  She currently works for BBC Media Action contributing to radio dramas on social and community issues.


I will return to this collection soon, initially posting on stories in tribal languages.


Mel u

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel by Amor Towles - 2016 - 463 Pages

 



A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel by Amor Towles - 2016 - 463 Pages 


A New York Times Best Seller 


““Who will save Rostov from the intrusions of the state if not the seamstresses, chefs, bartenders, and doormen? In the end, Towles’s greatest narrative effect is not the moments of wonder and synchronicity but the generous transformation of these peripheral workers, over the course of decades, into confidants, equals, and, finally, friends. With them around, a life sentence in these gilded halls might make Rostov the luckiest man in Russia.” —The New York Times Book Review


“This is an old-fashioned sort of romance, filled with delicious detail. Save this precious book for times you really, really want to escape reality.” —Louise Erdrich


A Gentleman in Moscow might be the perfect lock 

down novel.  I loved this book and was sad when it ended, feeling I was parting company with people I had come to care about.  


The central character is Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, born in St Petersburg on October 24, 1889 into a very aristocratic wealthy family. His parents died of Cholera when he was 11 a Grand Duke became his guardian.  Rostov had every reason to think he would live in comfort and luxury rhe rest of his life as an entitlement of his aristocratic birth.  Rostov was very close to his sister Helena.  When her heart was broken by another aristocrat, Rostov wounded him with a pistol.  His grandmother sent him to Paris.  He returned to Moscow in 1917, after the Revolution and was staying in his suite in The Grand Metropolitine Hotel when he was arrested.  The charge was that he was a social parasite. He was brought  before a Bolshevik tribunal and expected to receive the death penalty.  He escapes this penalty as he is wrongly thought to be author of a famous poem.  Instead he is sentenced to House Arrest for life in the hotel.


Escorted back to the hotel by the police, his first shock is the loss of his big suite.  He must move into a very small room. He can take only some of his furniture and large collection of books. (There are lots of references to Russian literature, the count has read Anna Karenina at least ten times,that added a lot to my pleasure in reading).  In the legs of his uncle’s desk he finds a  hoard of gold coins big enough to sustain him for a long time.  The Count is not arrogant but he grew up with expectations that are dashed now.  Some people still call him by the now improper term of Count.  Others try to denigrate him as an enemy of the people. He has the freedom of the hotel but will be executed if caught outside.  The plot does turn on relationships he forms.  We learn about his past.  He becomes a father to a young girl left by her mother when she follows her husband to a labor camp.  The girl becomes a musical prodigy. He is a very good father, totally devoted. He has a romantic relationship, though an odd one, with a Russian movie actress.  




The hotel is the setting of big government meetings.  We meet numerous big names of the period.  When the count’s money gets low he eventually becomes head waiter at the high end hotel restaurant.  There are lots of sumptuous descriptions of food.


We follow the Count for 32 years.  The ending is very exciting.  We see how his reading helped him get through difficult transitions.  He became an avid reader of an edition of the essays of Michel de Montaigne he inherited from his uncle.  ( Note to self, maybe the time has come for me to follow his example.)



There is just so much to like in this book.  It also gives us much insight into life in post Czarist Russia from the activities in the hotel. Count Rostov is designated as a “former person”..  There are numerous interesting minor characters.  Even Soviet bureaucrats have a human side.


“Amor Towles is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow. The two novels have collectively sold more than three million copies and have been translated into more than thirty languages. Having worked as an investment professional for more than twenty years, Towles now devotes himself fulltime to writing in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children.” From Penguin Random House


There is a very interesting interview with the author set in the luxurious Russian Tea Room in New York City here 


https://youtu.be/mUXlagGIH18


I look forward very much to reading his first novel Rules of Civility soon.


Mel u