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








Thursday, April 29, 2021

Mrs Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson - 1938


Mrs Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson - 1938


Persephone Books Edition  - 2000

With a Preface by Henrietta Twycross

Illustrations by Mary Thomson 


Born October 20, 1906 - Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Died August 5, 2002 - Newcastle upon Tyne, UK


 This a wonderful book if you feel your spirits diminished by The Pandemic Blues.



Mrs Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a delightful story of an amazing day in the Life of a quite ordinary seeming woman that ends   in a that manner you cannot help but love.   Guinevere Pettigrew, 40, childless, never married or been even kissed has just lost her job as a governess.  Behind in her rent, her landlord tells her to find a job today or move out. She knows she is not really a decent governess, being not overly fond of children but it is all she knows. She finds an opening at an agency by accident and goes to apply.  This leads to the most exciting day of her life.  The story is set over one day in 1938.



Upon arrival at the address for her interview, Mrs Pettigrew meets Delysia Lafosse,  a singer in a nightclub and a stage actress..  Mrs Pettigrew’s well timed entrance helps cause The exit of a boyfriend, one of three we Will encounter. She covers up for Delysia. Mrs Pettigrew tries to ask about The job but Delysia draws her into other topics.  We learn the woman is part of the theatrical demimonde set in London, with her work arranged by men who she has some sort of relationship with.


In one quite shocking scene, Mrs Pettigrew sees  Delysia naked as she is getting dressed to Go out.  For England in 1938 it was a surprising scene and I did enjoy visualizing it.


Mrs Pettigrew has several new to her expereiences.  I liked Delsia’s friend who owns London’s best, she says, fashion and Beauty salon.  It was so open to hear her account of how she got a rich old man to marry her and then get the business when he died.


I liked this book so much, all the characters are well done, especially the women.


The movie version, 2008, looks interesting.  It is rentable on Amazon Prime for $3.95








 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The People in The Trees: A Novel by Hanya Yanagihara - 2013 - 512 Pages


The People in The Trees:  A Novel by Hanya Yanagihara - 2013 - 512 Pages 


In September of last year i read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Like almost all readers, I was struck by power of this work that many were proclaiming to be “ The Great American Gay Novel”.  


Here is part of my initial reaction to A Little Life



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


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


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


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


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


I recently learned the author Will be Publishing her third novel in January.  I am glad i decided now was a good time to read her highly regarded debut novel The People in The Trees.  The People in The Trees is a fascinating work from a very powerful and original   writer.  


I am not going to summerize the intriguing plot.  (If you need this Wikepedia has a decent summery). It is structured as if it was the written in prison  memoirs of a ground breaking Nobel Prize winning  scientist presented in an edited version  with extensive footnoted fashion by a former colleague.  


Much of fhe plot action takes place on a nearly unknown tropical island in the pacific inhabited by a unique tribe with very little contact with the modern world.  The lead character was fresh out of medical School and somehow was selected to Go along as a Research assistant.  We learn a lot about the culture and lives of the people on the island.  They have very open sexual practices including ritual sodomizing of young Boys as they hit puberity by the tribal Elders.  Slowly it seems some of them live hundreds of years.  The consequences of this discovery Will destroy their culture and totally degrade The island’s ecology. 


Gradually we learn more about lead character.  His Life takes a very strange twist.  Disturbing to say The least.


Like A Little Life, there is an extensive treatment of child molestation.


People in The Trees was a great read.  



Hanya K Yanagihara (born September 20, 1974) is an American novelist, editor, and travel writer. She grew up in Hawaii.


Nationality: American


Notable works: A Little Life (2015); The People in The Trees (2013)


Born: Hanya K Yanagihara; September 20, 1974 (age 46); Los Angeles, California, ...


Alma mater: Smith College from Wikepedia 








 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay - 2014 - 368 Pages


 


An Untamed State by Roxane Gay - 2014 - 368 pages


An Untamed State, the debut novel of Roxane Gay, centers on the kidnapping of a young Haitian woman from one of wealthiest families in the country.  Once you start reading An Untamed State you may find it hard to stop.  


Mirelle is visiting her super rich parents with her husband, from Nebraska.  They live in Miami where she is an immigration attorney and he very successful in construction.  Gay powerfully contrasts the life of her family to the common people of Port-au-Prince.  Her kidnappers demand a million dollars for her release. Her father refuses to pay, saying he will not deal with kidnappers as it is playing into corruption.  The kidnappers begin to torture her with multiple gang rapes, cigarette burns, knife cuts, starvation and confinement in a cage. The lead 

kidnappers says this is caused by the huge income disparities supported by men like her father. Thirteen miserable days go by before the ransom is paid and she is released.


Upon return home she is horribly stressed, diagnosed with a form of post traumatic stress which renders her husband’s embrace horrifying.  We follow her through months of the impact of being tortured.  


As the story unfolds we learn of her once very loving relationship to her husband, a blue eyed blond.  She can never bring herself to forgive her father for taking so long to pay the ransom.


The closing is very powerful.   


Prospective readers should know this is a very explicit work with numerous scenes of sexual abuse.  I found this a very powerful work but I would not give it to my young adult daughters to read.


Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects. She also has a newsletter, The Audacity From Roxanegay.com


I also read this month two of her short stories from Difficult Women.






Thursday, April 22, 2021

Human Zoo by Sabina Murray - forthcoming August 2021 from Grove Atlantic Press


Human Zoo by Sabina Murray - forthcoming August 2021 from Grove Atlantic Press


This is a marvelous depiction of the Phillipines, quite possibly the best fictional evocation of The Modern Natiinal Capital region yet done.  Set in a period very much like today, minus The Pandemic.


The  country is governed by an elected president obsessed  with eliminating all drug use and traffic in The country.  Thousands of suspects  are shot by The National Police.  Income disparity is way beyond that in America.  People are very Family oriented, large networks of connections are needed to get anything done. Everything depends on a psrsonal connection.  Divorce is not part of the legal system. 


Filipino-American Christina “Ting” Klein has just travelled from New York to Manila, both to escape her imminent divorce, and to begin research for a biography of Timicheg.  Timicheg as an indeginous Phillipino brought to USA early in the 20th century to be part of a “Human Zoo”.  We learn a good bit about his history.



It has been a year since she has been in the Phillippines, a new president has been elected. She shows up unexpected at a rich older tita’s  (aunt) house. The tita lives in a huge walled in house with shredded glass embedded into the top of the wall, very common in the Philippines.


She is soon included in upper class family and social gatherings.  She spends time with her best friend, a gay socialist philosophy professor, reconnects with an old boyfriend Chet a wealthy businessman with some dubious connections to the current regime. A cousin’s fiancĂ© Laird has returned trying to rediscover his roots. Somehow Ting becomes responsible for him.  Everybody wants to know why she is getting divorced.  Slowly she becomes drawn into dangerous relationships.


Murray does a great job making Manila, and also Baguio, come to life.  

Jollibes are everywhere.  The traffic is horrendous.  The heat is near steam bath level.  The rich, even the middle class have full time helpers. The food references are all perfect.  She has lots of small details like the McDonald’s near the Baguio bus station right. A gay relationship is beautifully developed.


I would have liked to know more about the male characters.


I highly recommend this book to  anyone enjoying an exciting fast moving story.


Sabina Murray grew up in Australia and the Philippines and is currently a member of the MFA faculty at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of Tales of the New World, A Carnivore’s Inquiry, Forgery, Valiant Gentlemen, and The Caprices, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction..from the publisher 
















 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire by Adam D. Mendelsohn


 


The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire by Adam D. Mendelsohn - 2015


PART OF THE GOLDSTEIN-GOREN SERIES IN

AMERICAN JEWISH HISTORY General editor: Hasia R. Diner


2015 - Best Book Prize from The Southern Jewish Historical Society


2014 - National Book Award from The Jewish Book Council


Earlier this month I read another work in The Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History, Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition by  Marni Davis - 2012. If possible I suggest you read that book first if you are interested in American Jewish History.


Adam D.Mendelsohn’s book focuses on the history of Jewish involvement in what is called “The Rag Trade”.  The rag trade is the merchandising 

and manufacturing of cheap clothes, often made from recycled used clothes, rags. In both London and New York City Jewish immigrants, often arriving speaking no English upon arrival, came to be very important, nearly dominant in this field, both as workers, peddlers and business owners.


The book propses a question.  Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe arrived, about 2 million up to 1914, in total poverty, speaking no English often wearing their only clothes.  How did it come sbout that in 2021 their descendents are over all richest ethnic group in the country?


Mendelshon sees the answer in the complex circumstances that lead immigrants in New York City to become part of the rag trade, starting out working for very low wages in the clothing industry.


Immigrant Jews were often from families of peddlers.  Mendelshon explains the circumstances that produced this.  Peddlers developed sales and supply networks in remote parts of pre-Civil war America.  These  networks would lead the way to vast fortunes with immigrants and their children dominating the  clothing industry World wide.


The rag trade came to encompass everything from clothes made for enslaved Americans (made from cheapest material) to outfits in which a clerk could pass as rich.  The rag trade World wide changed  over to cotton from wool with the rise of big southern plantations, impacting international Politics.  To many this partially lead to negative attitude toward Jews by post Civil War ex enslaved people.


Much space is devoted to The Conversion of old no longer wanted garmets into new items. Collecting and reselling used clothing required few skills and only a little capital.


There is a lot of information and fascinating details including a lot on the rag trade in London not mentioned  in my post.


I am very glad I read The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire by Adam D. Mendelsohn


From The Website of The University of Capetown


Associate Professor Adam Mendelsohn’s research and teaching focuses on how ethnic minorities have grappled with modernity, with a particular emphasis on the experience of Jews.

Adam is co-editor of the journal American Jewish History. He curated the exhibitions The First Jewish Americans at the New-York Historical Society and By Dawn’s Early Light at the Princeton University Museum of Art.  He directs the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies.

Current research projects:

Adam is working on a two-volume history that explores the experience of Jewish soldiers in the Union and Confederate armies in the










Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Boat - A Short Story by Alistair MacLeod - 1968

The Boat - A Short Story by Alistair MacLeod - 1968


Join in with Buried in Print for A read along through The Short Stories of Alistair MacLeod. 


Schedule for the Alistair MacLeod Read Along 


Audio book of The Boat



Buried in Print’s Post on The Boat



For almost four years i read along with Buried in Print through The Short Stories of Mavis Gallant. I was able to read and post on about half of her two hundred or so stories.  It was a great Reading Life experience which also gave me a sense of accomplishment.  Plus it was a lot of fun to folllow along with Buried in Print. Now we begin a new read along on a writer new to me, Alistair MacLeod.


Alastair MacLeod


July 26, 1936 - North Battleford, Canada


April 20, 2014 - Windsor, Canada


Like much of his work “The Boat” is set in the rugged Cape Breton area.



  It is a very sad story, close to pain.  It centers on a family of nine.  They are Six daughters, a son the narrator and at fifteen youngest child, the wife and mother, and her husband.  He supports the family through fishing from his boat.  He likes reading everything from detective stories to Dickens and Hardy.  His wife says reading is a waste of time. He has his own room and it looks like intimate relations ended years ago.


The story is very much about how the family’s life is shaped by tradition.  The wife has contempt for tourists, anyone not “our people”.  Their  six daughters have no interest in becoming the wives of fishermen,

 

They read In the large book collection of their father.  When they marry men from New York City, Toronto or Boston they send him books.  The mother has contempt for her son in laws as not our kind.  


Only the son stays loyal.  The ending is tragic.


Something deep is being said about the love of reading in this story.

And also the hatred of reading.




Mel u











 

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 Julian  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.