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, April 17, 2021

Innocence by Penelope Fitzgerald - 1986 - 324 Pages


 Innocence by Penelope Fitzgerald  - 1986 - 324 Pages


“Writers, over the long run, are judged by the truths they detect about the human condition, and the artistry with which they represent those truths.

Penelope Fitzgerald’s Innocence will last as long as mature and careful novel-readers continue to exist.”  Julian Barnes

2013


With a preface by Hermionne Lee and an Introduction by Julious Barnes


Innocence is sixth of the nine novels wriiten by Penelope Fitzgerald.  It is my fifth of her works.  She also wrote three biographies. Innocence is set in Florence about 1952, just recovering from Mussolini.  


The opening chapter is a minature masterpiece of surrealism.  It goes back to the 14 century ancestors of a lead character.  A daughter is born, a midget.  Her Family shields her from her status by hiring midget helpers,making her think it is midgets who are normal.  From here we jump to Florence in 1950s.


Innocence is a comedy of manners centering on the marriage of a doctor focusing on neurlogical problems, to a significantly younger woman in Love with him.  The doctor has only a little money so her parents her not crazy for the match.

 


Fitzgerald wonderfully develops the characters, Major and Minor. Much of The novel focuses on conformity to tradition. A thirty something single doctor is expected to have a mistress and his is a seamstress, also a tradition.  The scene with her is just perfect.  She has no innocence about her place and quickly disrobes  and offers him sex when he visits. She shocked says “you do not want it?”


He tells her he is getting married soon and Will not be able to see her anymore. She shrugs.  Something hilarious that will enrage her husband when post marriage he discovers it will occur:


“In the following year, after she had left school for good, Chiara asked her father for ten thousand lira and went to a small dressmaker, recommended (as a relation by marriage) by the barber in the courtyard. Even here she met with some opposition.”


There is a lot on the Domestic lives of everyone involved. They do eventually get married.  There is a count, an English couple who love to host visitors, Land sales, hospital politics and much more. 


PENELOPE FITZGERALD (1916–2000) was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction for The Blue Flower, the Booker Prize for Offshore, and three of her novels—The Bookshop, The Gate of Angels, and The Beginning of Spring—were short-listed for the Booker Prize. - from The publisher.


I hope to do a full read of her works.






























Friday, April 16, 2021

Independence Lost-Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution by Kathleen DuVal - 2015





Independence Lost-Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution by Kathleen DuVal - 2015



Journal of the American Revolution Book of the Year for 2015


Essential Reading for those into American history


An Autodidactic Corner Selection 


The American Revolution was not just an event in the 13 original states but part of a world wide conflict between empires.  With Spain hoping to regain what it lost to England during the Seven Years War and France fighting to keep her North American interests.  Indian societies were very involved in the struggle, either picking a side or seeing it as a “white war” and remaining neutral.   Kathleen DuVal in Independence Lost-Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution opened up my eyes to the complexities of the war in British controlled West Florida as well as New Orleans, already fought over by the French and Spanish. The cities most involved besides New Orleans were the West Florida Capital Pensacola and Mobile Alabama.  From the perspective of American leaders, any thing that spread the English forces out was to their advantage. Spanish and French support was ultimately very important in the victory of the Americans.



Spain and France, both wanted the English to lose though they did have 

concerns about colonial wars and monarchies being overturned.


DuVul structures her book around the lives of seven residents of the now Southeastern United States as their destinies collide in constant warfare in the lands adjacent to the tribal areas of Creeks, Chickasaws, Cherokees, Choctaws.  Tribal people 

 outnumbered European and enslaved residents. 


Included is an Acadian(with much reason to hate the British for driving them from their homeland) in Louisiana, a Chickasaw tribal leader, a British bureaurcrat, a Whig profiteer in New Orleans, a Creek-Scot Tory, a Spanish governor/general and an African slave. All are introduced in the 1760s when Spanish, French and British monarchies control the futures of the land and the people.


Tribal societies are very well covered.  We learn how they are organized and relate to other social groups.  Traditionally Indian expected gifts for help. 


Each tribal group has their own priorities.  They weighed what would be most to their advantage,an American victory, the continuing of the Spanish imperial control or a British victory.  There were extensive attempts to buy the loyalty of tribal groups.  The Indians were very effective in warfare in heavily wooded areas.


We also follow the business interests of a Whig living in New Orleans who hoped a British victory would make him rich. Enslaved and Free Black people played a significant part in the combat. All sides promised freedom to slaves who fought for them. We learn a lot about how the conflict impacted the life of a slave. (There is a good bit of space devoted to slave holding practices among Indian tribes.). The slave was very valuable to both sides as he had a great knowledge of the trails and woods in Alabama.  He was paid to spy for the Spanish.  Slaves knew their fates would be impacted.


A dominant theme of the book is that people had their own, tied to their material and family needs,reasons for picking a side or staying neutral.


We learn about the extensive fighting over control of Pensacola and methods of warfare.


The war was very much both an economic opportunity or a disaster, depending on which side you bet on.  


DuVal shows us after the war the steady expansion of American land areas, the taking  of Indian territorial areas.  She also very interestingly tells us how the lives of enslaved people became generally worse as small farms were replaced by cotton plantations. We learn of the doubling of the size of American territory through the Louisiana purchase made possible by Napoleon’s war costs.


There is much more in this book.  The lead characters are well developed, we learn about their marriages and business interests.


We additionally spend time in Havana, Charleston, and Savanah.  George Washington, generals on all three sides, tribal leaders and British politicians all are brought on stage.




“Kathleen DuVal is Bowman & Gordon Gray Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her field of expertise is early American history, particularly interactions among American Indians, Europeans, and Africans on the borderlands of North America. She is currently writing a book on Native dominance of North America from the eleventh to nineteenth centuries.


DuVal’s awards include the Guggenheim Fellowship in the Humanities, a National Humanities Center Fellowship, a postdoctoral fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship, the 2008 best article in the William and Mary Quarterly, the best article in southern women’s history from the Southern Association for Women Historians, and book prizes from the Journal of the American Revolution and the Frances S. Summersell Center for the Study of the South. She is an Elected Fellow of the American Antiquarian Society and the Society of American Historians.

Visit Kathleen DuVal’s official website at the History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill here.”


I highly endorse this book to anyone interested in early American history.  


Mel u






 

 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Petersburg by Andrei Bely -1913- translated from Russian in 2009 by John Ellsworth - 572 pages


 


Petersburg by Andrei Bely -1913- translated from Russian in 2009 by John Ellsworth - 572 pages 




Andrei Bely - Pen name of Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev


October 26,1800 - Moscow


January 8, 1934 - Moscow


Petersburg by Andrei Bely has been on 

 my to be read list for a long time.  


Petersburg Is for sure the last significant Romanov era literary work.  Vladimir Nabokov included it with Ulysses, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka and the first half of Remembrance of Things Past as one of the four greatest works of literature of the 20th century.


Set in now Saint Petersburg Russia just before the 1905 Revolution.  Nikolai Apollonovich, a young intellectual, has been drawn into an 

 assassination plot.  The target is an important official, his own father.  A bomb planted in a sardine can is to be the weapon.  Petersburg, the capital, is the real star of this amazing book.  


There are just so many uses of color images in Petersburg I found myself a bit swamped, and much is made of the fact that Peter the Great created the city out of a swamp. Nikolai is involved very much in the chaos of the Pre-Revolutionary capital.  He seems at times a frivolous young man raised in privilege with servants.  We see great wealth living on the backs of those not far from serfdom.  There is an abundance of literary references and Echoes of Gogol, Dostoevsky and Pushkin.


Petersburg made me feel I was there back in 1905, Russia has

just been humiliated by Japan in a war.  People feel the need for a change but no one has a sensible plan.


All sorts of non-realistic things happen, a giant statue of Peter the Great seems to walk the city.


. Petersburg is sometimes called the first work of Russian Modernism.


There is a lot of family drama,interesting historical digressions and low comedy to keep us going.


I found this a fascinating work of art. I am very glad I read Petersburg.  


John Elsworth is an English academic and translator, specialising in Russian literature. He studied Modern Languages at St John’s College, Cambridge, and also spent a year at Moscow University. He is Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at the University of Manchester, where he taught from 1987 to 2004. Wikipedia

Education: St John's College


The translation has been highly praised.  










Monday, April 12, 2021

MOM IS IN LOVE WITH RANDY TRAVIS From "How to Pronounce Knife" by Souvankham Thammavongsa, recommended by Vinh Nguyen in Electric Literature - 2020


 MOM IS IN LOVE WITH RANDY TRAVIS

From "How to Pronounce Knife" by Souvankham Thammavongsa, recommended by Vinh Nguyen in Electric Literature - 2020


You may read the story and Vinh Nguyen’s comments here 


This is the fifth story by Souvankham Thammavangsa upon which I have posted.  One was from The New Yorker, and four from her debut collection.



Souvankham Thammavongsa has won the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her short-story collection, How To Pronounce Knife, her debut work of fiction which examines the immigrant experience.

The Toronto-based author was announced as the latest winner of the award – among the biggest in Canadian literature at $100,000 – during a virtual ceremony on Monday evening, which aired on CBC and streamed online.

“Thank you to my Mom and Dad. Thirty-six years ago, I went to school and I pronounced the word ‘knife’ wrong, and I didn’t get a prize,” Thammavongsa said, after accepting the hand-crafted glass award that was delivered to her front door during the ceremony.

“But tonight, there is one. Thank you.”

How to Pronounce Knife, published by McClelland & Stewart, is a “stunning collection of stories that portray the immigrant experience in achingly beautiful prose,” the jury wrote of the winning book.

“The emotional expanse chronicled in this collection is truly remarkable. These stories are vessels of hope, of hurt, of rejection, of loss and finding one’s footing in a new and strange land.” - from  https://www.scotiabank.com/ca/en/about/perspectives.articles.impact.2020-11-giller-award-announcement.html


“Mom is in Love with Randy Travis” centers on a recently arrived family of Laotian immigrants.  The narrator is the daughter.  On arrival the family got a welcome package including a radio.  We learn the mother, as was common among other Laotian, quickly came to really like country music, even if they could just initially barely understand the lyrics. It was about love, good times and bad, just like Laotian songs.  The mother became obsessed with Randy Travis.  As soon as he can the man buys a record player for her.  Then a TV that can record. She watches all the country music shows.  The husband knows his wife loves Randy Travis over him.  She rarely cooks traditional Laotian food anymore.


Something heartbreaking happens.  The narrator comes back to visit her widowed father years later.  We reflect on the nature of her memories, why was the mother so obsessed with Randy Travis.  Was it because she lost all since of cultural connections ?  We see the father fixes Laotian style food.




Souvankham Thammavongsa - was born in a Laotian refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, and was raised and educated in Toronto. She is the award-winning author of four books of poetry, and her fiction has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, Granta, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Best American Non-Required Reading 2018, and The O. Henry Prize Stories 2019.- first appearance. I am very high on her work


Mel u








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Saturday, April 10, 2021

“Milk Blood Heat” - title story by Dantiel W.Moniz - from debut Collection Milk Blood Heat and other Stories- 2020


 

“Milk Blood Heat” - title story by Dantiel W.Moniz - from debut Collection Milk Blood Heat and other Stories- 2020




“My intention for this collection was to portray the fullness of the human emotional experience, especially when that’s uncomfortable or frightening to sit with. Even in those moments, there can be beauty.” Dantiel W. Moniz


With only ten days gone, April is already a wonderful Month for discovering  new to me Short Story writers who can stand with The best.




How do you Pronounce Knife is the Guilford Prize Winning debut 

collection of Souvankham Thammavongsa. The stories are about Laotian immigrants to Canada, their challenges and struggles.



I followed this up with an initial Reading 

in The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw. Right after my first Reading there was very exciting news.


Deesha Philyaw has won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her debut short story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies.

The collection was chosen for this year’s prize by judges Charles Finch, Bernice L. McFadden, and Alexi Zentner, and was selected from 419 eligible works of fiction by American authors published in 2020 the U.S. and submitted by 170 publishing houses.

“Deesha Philyaw speaks in the funny, tender, undeceived voices of her title characters, who have more in common perhaps even than they know, from love to loss to God,” the judges said in a statement. “In the group portrait that emerges, Philyaw gives us that rarest and most joyful fusion—a book that combines the curious agility of the best short fiction with the deep emotional coherence of a great novel.”


“Heat Blood Milk” by Dantiel W. Moniz centers on The friendship of 

Ava and Kiera:



“This is one of many differences between her and Kiera— that the truth about the two of them changed depending on which mother was telling it—and Ava often wonders if their differences are only because Kiera is white, or if there’s something more. Something beneath the skin. This year she’s become obsessed with dualities, at looking at one thing in two ways: Kiera’s eyes, strange and magic; her own sadness, both imaginary and pulsating.”


We see how they grow closer, race impacts them and their mothers.

We follow their Development for about ten years. Something tragic happens to one of them.


This story is set in Jacksonville Florida.  


DANTIEL W. MONIZ is the recipient of the Alice Hoffman Prize for Fiction, the Cecelia Joyce Johnson Emerging Writer Award by the Key West Literary Seminar, a Tin House Scholarship, and has been named a "Writer to Watch" by Publishers Weekly and Apple Books. Her debut collection, Milk Blood Heat, is an Indie Next Pick, an Amazon "Best Book of the Month" selection, a Roxane Gay Audacious Book Club pick, and has been hailed as "must-read" by TIME, Entertainment Weekly, Buzzefeed, Elle, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others. Her work has appeared in the Paris Review, Harper’s Bazaar, Tin House, One Story, American Short Fiction, Ploughshares, The Yale Review, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern and elsewhere. She lives in Northeast Florida and currently teaches fiction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


https://www.dantielwmoniz.com/about


I was given a Review copy of Milk Heat Blood.


I highly endorse all three of collections to anyone wanting to read very high quality literature.  I Will be Reading all of their work.


Mel u













Wednesday, April 7, 2021

“How to Make Love to a Physicist” - A Short Story by Deesha Philyaw - from her debut collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies


 



“How to Make Love to a Physicist” - A Short Story by Deesha Philyaw - 2020 - from her debut collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies


I’m deeply honored and thankful to receive the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction,” said Philyaw. “I wrote The Secret Lives of Church Ladies in hopes that Black women would see and hear themselves in my characters who are all, in some way, striving to get free. Winning this award during a time of unconscionable loss, grief, and injustice, I’m reminded just how tenuous our freedom is. I’m reminded of and encouraged by Toni Morrison’s words: ‘The function of freedom is to free someone else.’ On the other side of this time of reckoning and the fight ahead, may we all be free.”




You may read this story here


My Prior Post on a story by Deesha Philyaw,When Eddie Levert Comes


Since my first post on the work of Deesha Philyaw there has been some very gratifying News.



Deesha Philyaw has won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her debut short story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies.

The collection was chosen for this year’s prize by judges Charles Finch, Bernice L. McFadden, and Alexi Zentner, and was selected from 419 eligible works of fiction by American authors published in 2020 the U.S. and submitted by 170 publishing houses.

“Deesha Philyaw speaks in the funny, tender, undeceived voices of her title characters, who have more in common perhaps even than they know, from love to loss to God,” the judges said in a statement. “In the group portrait that emerges, Philyaw gives us that rarest and most joyful fusion—a book that combines the curious agility of the best short fiction with the deep emotional coherence of a great novel.”  From https://www.penfaulkner.org/2021/04/06/announcing-the-winner-of-the-2021-pen-faulkner-award-for-fiction/



My main reason for this post is to encourage all lovers of literature of The highest quality to read her work.  Anyone who ever dismissed Short Stories as not quite serious enough for deep Reading Will be challenged to hold to that opinion.


The narrator is a fortyish African American woman, who teaches art in a 

Public School. We meet her at an academic conference devoted to creating Programs for students of the arts and sciences to see the two disciplines coming together.  She likes to see How many black men are at conferences, with a slight eye to meeting someone that her mother might find acceptable.


She meets a very accomplished physicist.  She likes him but is cautious about rushing into things.  The excitement of the story line is seeing the relationship develop. On first meeting they talk for hours.  She tells him of her work, he reciprocates.  They begin to exchange texts but the man at first has no romantic interest, it seems.


I really hope you Will read this wonderful story.


Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES, won the 2020/2021 Story Prize and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction, the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and a 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church, and is being adapted for television by HBO Max with Tessa Thompson executive producing. Deesha is also a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow.   From


https://www.deeshaphilyaw.com/


Mel u








Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition by Marni Davis - 2012


 



Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition by  

Marni Davis - 2012



Finalist, 2014 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature from the Jewish Book Council


Series: Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History


In this very well documented and organized academic history we learn how their relationship to the consumption, manufacturing, sale of Alcohol in America starting about 1820 running up through the end of prohibition in the 1930s shaped the ways in which Eastern European and Russian Jewish immigrants became Americans while preserving their culture.


Much space is taken up with the demands for prohibition of all sales. The driving force behind this was largely Protestant women who felt alcohol destroyed families. Davis shows us how there are

a very old Jewish traditional ways in which the consumption of wine was nearly mandated. Jews in Europe were heavily involved in making not just Kosher Wine but whiskey.  They continued in the occupations they knew when they moved.  Many set up hotels and restaurants in which selling alcohol was a big part of the profit. We learn a lot about the business side of selling liquor in America by Jews and others.  


Anti-alcohol groups began to tie in the sale of alcohol to anti-Semetic perceptions of Jews as preying on The weakness of men.  They are seen as behind rise in brothels and saloons.  Black men were seen as being totally used by Jewish merchants while black women worked as prostitutes.  Davis goes into lots of details on Atlanta.


We see How prohibiting the sale of alcohol did not stop The trade, just changed tbings.


Millions of Jews moved to America from 1850 to about 1915 or so. From Davis we can understand a bit more of How they became Americans.


I highly enjoyed this unique book. 






Marni Davis is a historian of ethnicity and immigration in the United States. She is the author of Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition (New York University Press, 2012), which was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize in Jewish Literature. An essay by Davis appears in Chosen Capital: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism (Rutgers University Press, 2012). She received her Ph.D from Emory University, and taught there for a year before joining the faculty at Georgia State.

Davis is currently researching and writing about the immigrant experience and the immigration debate in the American South in the years between Reconstruction and the liberalization of American immigration policy in the 1960s. She is particularly interested in the role that immigrants’ ethnic enclaves, both residential and entrepreneurial, played in Atlanta’s development as an economically booming and racially segregated New South city.

Davis offers undergraduate courses on immigrants in the U.S. (HIST 4225), modern Jewish history (HIST 3680), and the history of alcohol (HIST 4990). The graduate students under her advisement have done research projects on Cuban immigrants in Atlanta, anti-Catholicism in Progressive-era Georgia, and African-American medical education in Georgia at the turn of the century. - from Georgia State University 

 






















Monday, April 5, 2021

Rasputin’s Daughter by Robert Alexander - 2006 - A National Best Seller


 Rasputin’s Daughter by Robert Alexander - 2006 - A National Best Seller


Grigori Rasputin


January 21, 1869, Pokrovskoye, Russia

Height: 6′ 4″

Assassinated: December 30, 1916, Yusupov Palace, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Spouse: Praskovia Dubrovina (m. 1890–1916)

Children: Maria RasputinVarvara RasputinaDmitri Rasputin

Grandchildren: Tatyana SolovievMaria Solovieff - Wikepedia



In February i read an exciting well researched historical fiction on last few days of The Romanovs.  The Kitchen Boy focuses on Yekaterinburg when The royal Family is captive up to their execution on 16–17 July 1918.  


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.



 Rasputin’s Daughter focuses on a late Romanov person famous through her father. There is a lot of background information in the  novel.  We see the ways Rasputin comes to be very important to The Imperial Family. He is a figure common in Russia, a “mad monk”.  His daughter Maria tries not to be stuck in his shadow.  He has a well deserved reputation for using his contacts to abuse women sexually. Alexander offers lots of scenes verifying this, some near x-rated.


Highly placed figures want to eliminate Rasputin.  Seemingly only he can cure rhe royal Heir when he seems close to dying from hemophilia.  This gives him great power over the royal Family.


We learn about this from the daughter.


I found this book interesting but suggest you start with The Kitchen Boy first.


“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/