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

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Three Early Soviet Satrical Short Stories by Panteleymon Romanov - translated by Mirra Ginsburg - 2007


Three Early Soviet Satrical Short Stories by 

Panteleymon Romanov - translated by Mirra Ginsburg - 2007

From The Fatal Eggs and other Soviet Satire - edited, introduced and translated by Mirra Ginsburg.  This collection has stories by 18 writers with very good introductions.  Most all are new to me writers.

About Cows - 1918

Inventory - 1919

A Gift of God - 1920

Born: July 24, 1884, Tula Oblast, Russia

Died: April 8, 1938, Moscow

Panteleymon Romanov is best remembered for his Short Stories satarizing Life in The Soviet Union in the 1920s.  Mirra Ginsburg said censorship was not yet rigid and making fun of low level bureaucrats was acceptable.  The reactions  of the peasants to new regulations was also an acceptable topic.  The peasant class was not highly regarded by intellectuals who supported the Revolution.  Romanov was a devoted communist.  Ginsburg says he is now hardly read at all in Russia.

“About Cows” is very funny.  It starts out at a meeting where Soviet officials are telling a group of peasants they must get a stamp for their cows.  Somehow this is construed as meaning all pre-Soviet marriages are invalid as there are no stamps of ownership on the wives.  They are shocked to learn a wife can divorce her husband because he beats her.

““Well, let’s say, if you thrash her.” “How’s that? You mean a man can’t give his own wife a beating any more?” “No, you haven’t even got the right to swear at her.” “My own wife?” cried several voices. “God-given?” cried Prokhor Stepanych, who served in church in place of a deacon. “Nuts to your God,” the soldier, Andryushka, said irritably. He had come to get some information from the member of the Soviet. “You mean, if I want to divorce my woman, I can give the reason that I beat her?” he asked.”

Somehow a big question is who owns the family cow in the case of a divorce.   

“Inventory”, set in a small village, is about the chaos that occurs when Soviet officials show up to inventory all children in the village under seven.  The villagers have advance warning of this so they fear the children will be taken and they hide them.  Try as they might the inspectors cannot find one child under seven.  

“A Gift of God” is set in a railroad car. Three older women are returning to the market with sacks of flour. One has a lot, one s medium amount and one barely any.  The two with less insist under Soviet rule they all must have equal amounts.  When the one who has the most falls from the train and is brutally killed, an argument ensues about who should get her flour.  According to regulations they should turn her flour in.  But they know the officials would just keep it.  

There are two other equally funny short stories in the collection.

Friday, June 25, 2021

“Rasputin” by Teffi - 1932 - A feuilleton- translated by Anne Maria Jackson - 2014

 “Rasputin” by Teffi - 1932 - A feuilleton- translated by Anne Maria Jackson - 2014

Teffi was The Pen name of Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya

May 21, 1872 - Born St Petersburg, Russia

1920- initially a supporter of The Revolution, she soon turned against The Bolsheviks.  She came to live in Paris and never returned. She was an important part of The Russian Émigre community.  She published extensively in Russian language publications, including 100s of Short stories and feuilletons. 

October 6, 1952 - Dies Paris, France

The best book on Rasputin is probably Grigory Rasputin Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs by Douglas Smith (2016, 850 pages)

“Rasputin” is an account of Teffi’s impressions  derived from her two encounters with Rasputin, at the height

 of his influence.

Teffi met first met Rasputin at a social gathering hosted by an aristocratic lady. Teffi knew from gossip some Ladies in The inner circles of St. Petersburg high Society were rumoured to have had sex with Rasputin.  She says he had high echelon women  wash his feet to “teach them humility.”.  She was brought to The party by journalists who felt Rasputin would open up to her. She also knew that Rasputin was being watched by the Secret Police.  Rasputin told her he knew some hated  his influrence on the Czar and wanted him killed.  Teffi says she felt a kind of sinister power in Rasputin, he attempted  to force her to meet him again  through messermizing her,  which did involve physical contact at times.  As she saw it, he only did this with women. She describes in detail his appearance and mode of dress.  Her attitude toward him seemed amused at times.  I am not sure she knew exactly why he had sway over the royal family.  She for sure had little respect for those trying to use his power to advance their ambitions.

Rasputin gained an emotional hold on the Empress Alexandra through his seeming ability to stop the potentially deadly hemophiliac episodes of her son, heir to the throne.  He first met the imperial family in November 1905. 

Rasputin had large sexual appetites.  He mingled with street women as well as women of high rank.  He had large parties, often described as orgies in the press.  Rasputin knew aristocratic Russian women would be fascinated by his roughness and his wild often filthy dress and outrageous manners and Rasputin, a master psychologist, played the holy mad man role for all it was worth. False rumors spread about he and Alexandra.  

Rasputin 1869 to 1917

Royal Family Executed July 17, 1918

I found this first hand account very interesting.  

I read this work in TEFFI SUBTLY WORDED AND OTHER STORIES - Translated from the Russian by Anne Marie Jackson with Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, and others. From Pushkin Press

There are 23 works in the collection.  The New York Review of Books has published two collections of her work.  In is my hope to do a full read through of these collections.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Falik and his House by Jacob Dinezon - 1904 - translated from the Yiddish by Mindy Liberman - 2021

Falik and his House by Jacob Dinezon - 1904 - translated from the Yiddish by Mindy Liberman - 2021

“The greatest Yiddish writer you never heard off” - The Forward 

My Prior Posts on Jacob Dinezon

Website of The Jacob Dinezon Project - includes detailed biographical data and infomation on available works in translation

I first began reading Yiddish literature in translation in December of 2012, prompted by The Yale University Press  giving me a collection of essential works.  The alleged theme of my blog is literary works about people who lead reading centered lives and I quickly came to see how central reading was to Yiddish culture.  

I think my favorite work of Yiddish literature is the deeply hilarious profoundly revealing The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl by Sholem Aleichem, on whose work the movie The Fiddler on the Roof is based.  In the stories of pogroms by I. L. Peretz a terrible history was brought to life with incredible depth.  Of course the issue in any literary culture of whose work endures is only partially based on merit, writers come in an out of fashion.  I think in the case of a literature like Yiddish from a partially destroyed culture dependent on translations for works to be read this is very much true.  Of course most publishers are shy to produce the works of relatively unknown writers in translation for fair to them business reasons,  

Thanks to the selfless dedication and strongly focused work of Scott Davis, Jacob Dinezon (1851 to 1919-Warsaw - I urge all to read the very informative webpage on Dinezon I link to at the start of this post for background information on Dinezon and his relationships with other now much better known writers) Dinezon will soon become a canon status Yiddish writer.

The three previous novels by Jacob Dinezon I have had the great pleasure of reading focused on young men, struggling to make their way in Poland while dealing with romances and often judgemental older people.  In Falik and his House the central character is a man at least well into his sixties.  His two sons have moved to America and want him and their mother to move and live with them.  Stopping Falik is his very strong emotional attachment to the House he has owned for forty years. His children were born there, he often thinks of the early days of his marriage. Sadly the House is very much in need of a new Roof, among numerous other issues.  Falik works as a tailor, money is not so good now.  He asks his sons to send him money but nothing but letters arrive.  A neighbor tries to get him to sell, offering a fair price.  His wife wants to Go to America.  The marriage dynamics are very well done. His tenants complain when a big rain floods their rooms.  In all this, Falik is feeling the impact of his age, in a way the survival of the House is a metaphor for his own survival.  He sees the decline of old traditions. He wonders if his sons in America, with his never seen grandchildren, keep any traditions.  To make it worse, his daughter, son in Law and their children are going to America soon.  

There are great letters from the sons and to them from Falik.  We see the community is changing Under his feet. The characters are perfectly realized.  Foodies will  find things to enjoy. 

In these times I needed a positive ending to this story.  The closing of the plot was a pure joy.  I must admit this is my personal favourite of his works.  

Mel u



Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Gentleman from San Francisco- A Short Story by Ivan Bunin - First published in 1916 Translated by S. S. Koteliansky, D. H. Lawrence and Leonard Woolf from Russian

 The Gentleman from San Francisco- A Short Story by Ivan Bunin - First published in 1916 Translated by S. S. Koteliansky, D. H. Lawrence and Leonard Woolf from Russian 

I read this story in a marvelous anthology, Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida - edited and introduced by Robert Chandler

“What the Russian Revolution turned into very soon, none will comprehend who has not seen it. This spectacle was utterably unbearable to any one who had not ceased to be a man in the image and likeness of God, and all who had a chance to flee, fled from Russia.”

Ivan Bunin

October 22, 1870 - Born Voronezh, Russia

March 28, 1920 - moves to Paris where he Will spend The rest of his Life, with countryside interludes.  He will be forever anti-Soviet and later Anti Nazi

1933 - first Russian to win the Nobel Prize

November 8, 1953 - dies in Paris 

“The Gentleman from San Francisco” is considered among the finest works of Ivan Bunin. I consider the reading of this wonderful story to justify the acquisition of this collection.  

A wealthy man from San Francisco has embarked on a two year pleasure tour of Europe.  In his fifties, the is accompanied by his wife and their unmarried daughter in her 20s.  They are on a luxury boat in the 

Mederteranian Sea, catering to the Idol rich with luxurious rooms, wonderfully described meals and lots of serving staff.  Bunin makes sure we see this opulence is paid for by workers living in very harsh conditions.

The fellow travelers, the Captain, the dining room wait staff, the room staff are perfectly realized.  We feel the trubulence of the sea in a storm.  We check in a hotel in Capri with the Gentleman from San Francisco and his Family. His daughter is infatuated with “An Asiatic Prince”,   The room staff totally suck up to them, hoping for good tips.  There Will be a painful truth revealed revealed to us behind the sycophantic behaviour.

The ending is really powerful, Under cutting all the luxury and money as transient glories.  

I will soon read his 1910 novel, The Village showing the harsh lives of Russisn peasants and next Month his story “In Paris”..


Thursday, June 17, 2021

A Hero for Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov - 1840 - translated from the Russian by Phillip Foote - 2001

 A Hero for Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov - 1840 - translated from the Russian by Phillip Foote - 2001

Born: October 15, 1814, Moscow, Russia

Died: July 27, 1841, Pyatigorsk, Russia

A Hero for Our Times is considered one of the founding works of Russian fiction in prose, in a period of transitioning from poetic epics to novels.  A Hero for Our Times is structured as five related stories about a Young army Officer with what was then seen as a Byronic personality, rash and cynical but romantic, very self-reflecting. The work is full of psychological observations.  There is an extensive prolonged romance straining credibility at times.  His attitude toward women veers from predatory to enthallment.  Looks are all that matter to him.

The stories are set in the Caucasus region. There are long lushess descriptions of the country side.  Horses Play a very big part in the stories, o beautiful woman is traded for a horse.  There are numerous references to tribal customs.  Violence is always just around the Corner.

I enjoyed this historically important novel. 


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

My Plans and Hopes for Paris in July 2021


My Plans and Hopes for Paris in July 2021

Home Page for Paris in July 2021

This Will be my tenth year as a participant in Paris in July, hosted by Thyme for Tea.  You may join in by posting about your trip to Paris, your favorite set in Paris movie (mine is Ninotchka starring Greta Garbo and I also like a lot the more recent Midnight in Paris starring Owen Wilson), your recipes, any thing that strikes your fancy. 

Ths year I will be starting with two very good Americans in Paris books, one a novel and one a memoir about setting up an American Style Breakfast restaurant in Paris.

I have already  read these first two books

  1. Lost in Paris by Elizabeth Thompson - a fascinating novel combining a narrative about Paris between the wars and a Florida woman and her mother who inherit a Parisian apartment sealed since 1940
  2. Pancakes in Paris - by Craig Carlson - a memoir about his often harrowing experiences open an American Style Breakfast Place in Paris.

I have on my Reading list for the Month

  1. The Architect of Paris by Charles Belfoure - a novel set during The German occupation.
  2. Rilke in Paris by Maurice Betz
  3. Prousf’s Duchesses by Caroline Weber -    A look at the glittering world of turn-of-the-century Paris through the first in-depth study of the three women Proust used to create his supreme fictional character, the Duchesse de Guermantes
  4. Flâneuse: women walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London by Lauren Elkin.- there are three set in Paris chapters and I Will Focus on these chapters
  6. Blue Postcards by Douglas Bruton - A DCR from Fairlight Book - set in Paris

I also plan to read several set in Paris Short Stories by Teffi set about post Czarist Russian Emigres in Paris, which she was herself.

The Gone Dead-A Novel by Chanelle Benz - 2019

The Gone Dead-A Novel by Chanelle Benz - 2019

Website of Chanelle Benz

An electrifying first novel from "a riveting new voice in American fiction" -  (George Saunders)

It was this quote from Gerorge Saunders that got me initially interested in The Gone Dead.  I lesrned Benz studied with Saunders in the very elite University of Syracuse Creative Writing Program.  The Amazon description sounded interesting and the Kindle edition was only $1.95 so I acquired it. I ended up so drawn into her vision of the Mississippi Delta region.

The Delta is home to The Blues.  By every demographic measure it is one of The lowest ranking areas in the country in terms of poverty and education.  The population is about a fifty fifty mixture of descendants of slaves and white people.

Racial dramas dating way back still Play out.  Black men are still at risk of being killed for acting “uppity”

Billie James, the narrator and key character, has just returned to the Delta prompted by inheritance of a broken down house and $5000.00 from her paternal grandmother.  Her father was an African American poet highly admired for his work on life in the Delta.  He died under mysterious circumstances  four years after she was born. Her white mother was an accomplished medieval scholar.  She lives in Philadelphia worlds away from the Delta.  Mixed relationships only grudgingly accepted even now in  the Delta. She has passed also. She raised Billie alone.

Billie wants to find out did her father die in a fall while drunk, kill himself or was he murdered by the police for stirring up the African Americans.  

Benz for sure creates a poverty ridden area, with a few rich.  Billie contacts her father’s brother, who is his literary executor, an old girl friend, and a white man who was his childhood friend. Everyone including Billie carries a gun. She has an old dog named “Rufus”.  She asks a lot of questions about her father’s death. She is attacked by white thugs who tell her go back to Philadelphia.  She starts a relationship with a white evangelical Christian.

The violent confronation that solved The mystery was very exciting.

Thanks to Gerorge Saunders I have another marvelous writer to follow 


Monday, June 14, 2021

A Replacement Life-A Novel by Boris Fishman - 2014


A Replacement Life-A Novel by Boris Fishman - 2014

Website of Boris Fishman

Six weeks ago i first heard of Boris Fishman through Reading his illuminating essay on The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

Two weeks ago I then read his introduction to a new collection of Short Stories by Anton Chekhov.  I checked Amazon and acquired his debut novel, A Reolacement Life. It is   set among Russian emigrates in New York

In the greater New York City area there are about 600,000 people of Russian descent with about 200,000 Russia Jews, living in areas like Brighton Beach, a part of Brooklyn.  Many Holocaust survivors moved there after World War Two as well as Russians impacted by war.  Flash Forward to 2013.  The German government is paying reperations to concentration camp and slave labor survivors.  There are strict guidelines and you have to make an application.  Just being Jewish and hurt by Germans is not enough.  Being hurt as a side effect of the war does not qualify you.  Depending on what you experienced you can get enough for a down payment on a nice House or to Help your kids.  

Salva is a young journalist, struggling to get recognized.  His grandfather is a Jewish Survivor of The war but he does not qualify for restitution.  So Salva creates a replacement life for him as a Survivor of a concentration camp.  The grandfather gets a nice check.  Soon he is writing replacement lives for others.  The more you suffered The more you get,  The stories have to have enough details to convince the Germans. The replacement lives are to me the best part of the novel.

There is a lot of drama among the immigrant community.  The conversations are very well done.  There is a romance and some sex.

I enjoyed this book a lot.  

The author’s website has a detailed bio.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

“Wilde” - A Short Story by Ethel Rohan from her collection, In the Event of Contact - 2021


Wilde” - A Short Story by Ethel Rohan from her collection, In the Event of Contact - 2021

 To those wanting The Reading Life bottom line on this collection,buy it.

The Gateway to Ethel Rohan on The Reading Life 

Website of Ethel Rohan - includes a detailed list of her publications

I first began following the work of Ethel Rohan March 13, 2012.  Since then I have posted eleven times on her works.  She also kindly contributed a guest post and participated in a Q and A session.  Obviously I hold her in great esteem.  You can see my feelings in this selection from an old post.

My thoughts on first reading Ethel Rohan, from March 2013

“Last year I read a story, "Beast and the Bear" by Ethel Rohan, a totally new to me at the time  writer.    I read it during Emerging Irish Women Writers Week.   I never expected to read a story during this week that I would end up regarding as belonging with the greatest short stories of all time.  I read it four times in a row I was so amazed.   Since I read that story for the first time, I have read, I estimate, at least 1000 other short stories including most of the consensus best short stories in the world.  After reading "Beast and the Bear"  again yesterday and this morning I am completely convinced it should already be counted among the world's greatest short stories.  I was in fact so shocked by the power of this story that I wanted to be sure I was not overreacting.  I sent a fellow book blogger whose taste I know to be exquisite and educated through decades of reading short stories and she said only the very best short stories she had ever read, she is noted authority on Virginia Woolf, could compare to it.   I know this sounds hyperbolic but it is how I feel.  I do not lightly say a short story written by an author I had never heard of the day before I read it belongs with the work of the greatest of short story writers but that is my opinion.  In a way I felt a sense of satisfaction in that I am open enough in my perceptions and judgments to be able to make such an assertion.”

There are thirteen stories included with In the Event of Contact 

I decided my initial post would be on a story entitled “Wilde”.  Oscar Wilde fascinated me at age 13 and still does.  Also The statue of Oscar Wilde in his museum in Dublin plays a big part in The story.  I am fondly reminded  of a literary tourism visit I made a few years ago to Dublin with Max u to The Oscar Wilde Museum.

This story is narrated by a late Middle aged woman. A long time ago she moved to Chicago.  Now she is divorced and back alone on her annual visit to Dublin.  Rohan has written other stories sbout adult children coping with dysfunctional parents and the lingering impact and involuntary memories this produces. The narrator recalls her father had a long lasting relationship with Mary, who existed only to him.  As the narrotor explores Dublin, she finds her self in front of a statue of Oscar Wilde.  The spot is swarming with tourists.  Somehow Wilde then accompanies her on her walk, has coffee with her and converses using his famous sayings. He ends up next to her in her posh hotel, gone Without a word of goodbye when she awakes..  She recalls her  doctor told her not to drink while on anti-depressents and she wonders is she going the way of her father.

This is a marvelous story sbout coming home, fear ing   Madness and the power of Iconic literary figures to haunt those under their spell.

In Inventing Ireland:  The Literature of the Modern Nation by Declan Kiberd says a dominant theme of modern Irish literature is the weak or missing father.  For sure this story deeply explores this matter.

I Will be posting on more stories included with In Case of Contact soon.

Her website has a detailed bio.

Mel u