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, July 31, 2021

“ The Book of Bruises” - A Short Story by Catherine McNamara from her collection The Cartography of Others - 2018


“The Book of Bruises” - A Short Story by Catherine McNamara from her collection The Cartography of Others - 2018

This is part of my participation in Paris in July 2021 - hosted by Thyme for Tea 

I have been an avid reader of Catherine McNamara for Seven years.

Today’s story is set in a Paris train station.  

Gateway to Catherine McNamara on The Reading Life - including a wide ranging Q and A session. Also included Is one of her short stories.

Website of Catherine McNamara 

World wide Pandemic issues have halted most global travel plans.  In the marvelous stories of Catherine McNamara we can continue our journeys, in great company.

have been an avid reader of the Short Stories of Catherine McNamara since I read her debut collection Pelt and Other Stories in 2014.  Here were my observations on this marvelous collection-

“Pelt and Other Stories by Catherine McNamara, her debut collection, is a very powerful, thoroughly captivating collection of stories most of which center on the post colonial world of central coastal West Africa. The  subtlies and levels of irony in these stories show a very great insight into how cross cultural encounters impact all parties.  The people in the stories range from European hotel owners in Ghana, famous art photographers, mistresses of Europeans, drivers, and village people.   The stories are mostly but not all set in West Africa.  One is set in the very worldly city of Sydney, some in Italy.   .   The stories are miniature marvels in showing us the manifestation of orientalizing of the African not just by Europeans and Americans but by returned citizens.  The stories show us how hard it is to return home unchanged.  

Today’s story open in the Gare du Nord train station in Paris.  It is one of Europe’s busiest stations.  Renzo is there to escort his sister  Monique on a train back Italy to her abusive husband, a trip he wishes she was not making.  She is there to visit their mother.

“They would take their mother to her favourite restaurant in the fourth arrondisement, where Monique would shepherd talk and locate harbours of recollection..”

He notices Gypsey women.  A woman from his past joins him at The station bar.  They think of The past.  He recalls his father’s stories of Young boys drafted to be blown apart in Defense of Paris from The Germans.  He has involutary memories his own ten years in Rome

This story gives us a strong sense of Paris as City to leave and one to which you are drawn to return.

Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris to write, and ended up in Ghana co-running a bar. On the way she lived in Milan, Mogadishu and Brussels, working as a translator, graphic designer, teacher, art gallery director, shoe model, mother. The Cartography of Others was a finalist in the People’s Book Prize (UK) and won the Eyelands International Fiction Award (Greece). Pelt and Other Stories was a semi- finalist in the Hudson Prize (USA) and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award (Ireland). Her short fiction has been Pushcart-nominated and published widely. Catherine lives in a farmhouse in northern Italy.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

"High Flyer” - A Short Story by Steve Wade from his debut collection In Fields of Butterfly Flames and other Stories - 2020 - An Irish Short Story Month Work

 “High Flyer” - A Short Story by Steve Wade from his debut collection In Fields of Butterfly Flames and other Stories - 2020

Irish Short Story Month XIII- 

March and April- 2024

I have been following the work of Steve Wade since March of 2013. I only follow an author for over a decade if I hold their work in high esteem.

This collection can stand with the masters of the Irish Short Story.

  Gateway To Steve Wade on The Reading Life 

Website of Steve Wade 

A Wide Ranging Q and A Session With Steve Wade 

This is the eighth  short story by Steve Wade that has been featured on The Reading Life.  The fourth from his debut collection.I first read his work during Irish Short Story Month Year Three in March of 2013.  I found his short story “The Land of the Ever Young” fully qualified to stand with the great occult fairy tales of Sheridan Le Fanu or Andrew Lang.

“The Land of the Ever Young" recreates and helps us understand the stories of fairies stealing human children and substituting changelings for them.  Part of the root of these stories comes from the famine years where people had to find ways to deal with the starvation of their children.  On another darker side, this story also  treats of the fact that one more hungry child could be the tipping point in a family on the edge of starvation that can  send everyone else into the grave.  

First and foremost 'The Land of the Ever Young" is a tremendous lot of fun to read.  Joseph Sheridan le Fanu or Andrew L)ang have no better stories than this.  

The other  stories covered on The Reading Life show the extent and depth of Wade’s range. (Some of the stories can be read online at links found in my posts)

Today’s story way more than justifies my belief in the immense talent of Steve Wade.

I am slowly working my way through his debut collection, In Fields of Butterfly Flames.  The stories are just so powerful I think you must space them out.  This is my second from his debut collection.

Isabel’s husband of some twenty years recently told her he was ending their marriage.  She is on a train. A handsome younger man is looking at her, checking her out.  She cannot help but enjoy this.

“Isabel remembered this type of look from men. Almost. A look they pretended you weren’t supposed to notice but made quite sure you did. A look she couldn’t remember inspiring for years, not since before she and Don had yet to find each other. Long before Robert existed.”

She is being left financially secure, she gets the house and their son will get his father’s expensive German car, A BMW convertible.  Perfect to impress girls.  He decides to take it for a drive:

“A black BMW convertible. A gift from his father – what a gift. And he had just turned nineteen. The break-up between hismom and dad no longer seemed as crushing as it had been these past months. He climbed down the gears at the sight of a couple of women wheeling strollers in the distance. Always worth a look. Bingo. Yummy-mummies. That’s when the moron in the Golf whizzed past.”

In just a few moments, the gift of Robert will destroy four lives.

In this brief work Wade shows us how fragile life can be.

The closing is one of horror and heartbreak, years of hoped for happiness gone.

About the Author - Steve Wade’s award-winning short fiction has been widely published in literary magazines and anthologies. His work has been broadcast on national and regional radio. He has had stories short-listed for the Francis McManus Short Story Competitionand for the Hennessy Award. His stories have appeared in over fifty print publications, including Crannog, New Fables, and Aesthetica Creative Works Annual. His unpublished novel, On Hikers’ Hill was awarded First Prize in the competition, with Sir Tim Rice as the top judge. He has won First Prize in the Delvin Garradrimna Short Story Competition on a number of occasions. Winner of the Short Story category in the Write by the Sea writing competition 2019. His

short stories have been nominated for the PEN/O’Henry Award, and for the Pushcart Prize.

From the Author’s  introduction 

“The stories in this collection first appeared in anthologies and periodicals. Some of them have won prizes or have been placed in writing competitions. Ostracised by betrayal, isolated through indifference, gutted with guilt, or suffering from loss, the characters in these twenty-two stories are fractured and broken, some irreparably. In their struggle for acceptance, and their desperate search for meaning, they deny the past”

A very worthy edition to the reading list of all lovers of the short story.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

THE LAST AND THE FIRST by Nina Berberova - 1929- Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz 2021-published by Pushkin Press

 This is part of my participation in Paris in July 2021 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea 

This year I have been focusing on Russian Émigrés in Paris 

THE LAST AND THE FIRST by Nina Berberova - 1929- Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz 2021-published by Pushkin Press

Nina Berberova 

Born July 26, 1901 - St Petersburg, Russia 

She leaves Russian 1922 for Berlin. With her husband Vladislav Khodasevich, a well known poet 

1924 - They move to Paris. He dies 1939

She became a contributor to Russian Émigré publications including many short stories 

1950 - Moves to USA and becomes a citizen in 1959

She taught Russian at Yale then Princeton .she retired in 1971

Dies September 26, 1993 - Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, USA

Dies - September 26, 1993 - Philadelphia,Pennsylvania 

“The first English translation of celebrated Russian writer Nina Berberova’s debut novel: an intense story of family conflict and the struggle over the future of émigré life

On a crisp September morning, trouble comes to the Gorbatovs’ farm. Having fled revolution and civil war in Russia, the family has worked tirelessly to establish themselves as crop farmers in Provence, their hopes of returning home a distant dream. While young Ilya Stepanovich is committed to this new way of life, his step-brother Vasya looks only to the past. With the arrival of a letter from Paris, a plot to lure Vasya back to Russia begins in earnest, and Ilya must set out for the capital to try to preserve his family’s fragile stability.

The first novel by the celebrated Russian writer Nina Berberova, The Last and the First is an elegant and devastating portrayal of the internal struggles of a generation of émigrés. Appearing for the first time in English in a stunning translation by the prize-winning Marian Schwartz, it shows Berberova in full command of her gifts as a writer of masterful poise and psychological insight.”  From Pushkin press 

I am very glad I had the opportunity to read this work. It is historically important.  One of the conflicts among Émigrés was over whether they were better off in Russia.  There is perpetual debate over the Russian character.

Monday, July 26, 2021

“Don’t Start Reading This Story” - A Short Story by Pat O’Connor - from his collection People in My Brain - 2019


“Don’t Start Reading This Story” - A Short Story by Pat O’Connor - from his collection People in My Brain - 2019

During Irish Short Story Month in March I read  a very entertaining Short Story by Pat O’Connor”Advise and Sandwiches” from his highly regarded debut collection People in My Brain.

My post on “Advise and Consent”

“Metafiction is a form of fiction which emphasizes its own constructedness in a way that continually reminds the audience to be aware they are reading or viewing a fictional work..” Wikipedia 

“Din’t Start Reading this Story” announces it self as a work of metafiction in the in which the purported author speaks to the reader. He tells us that it is to late for you to not staff resdiing.   The survival of a character is at stake.  If you stop Reading, they disappear.  Here stated by our slighly bellicose narrator is creed of post modern literary theory

“Now get this. This story is specifically for you. Yeah, you. If a story is properly written, everyone gets a different meaning from it, and what you’re reading here cannot be understood in the same way by anyone else.”

In a way this is saying if a story can mean anything then it means nothing.   The creed is either absurd or trivial.

The narrator then attacks The reader.  This story would be a very good choice for an advanced Class. I greatly enjoyed it.

“see you are still here. But you don’t like this involved writing, do you? You prefer that domesticated stuff – which is exactly why I have taken this action. How the hell is a writer ever to get a real live story read when people lap-up that safe crap that lies face-down on the page? It doesn’t involve real characters, let alone the reader. I mean involve, not interest.”

As the story goes on the narrator picks up his attack on the reader to personal insults.

As a work of metafiction my Reading of the story is to see it as a reductio 

ad absurdum of rhe notion literature  that art has no intrinsic meanings

My further take is to see the narrator as representing resentful writers who feel readers are not willing to put in the effort their work requires.

There are 13 more stories in People in my Brain.  I Will be returning to this marvelous collection numerous times 


From The author’s website. -

Pat O’Connor lives in Limerick in the southwest of Ireland. He was a joint winner of the 2009 Best Start Short Story Competition in Glimmertrain, and in 2010  he was shortlisted for the Sean O’Faolain International Short Story Prize. In 2011, he was shortlisted for the RTE Francis MacManus Award for radio stories, and won the Sean O’Faolain Prize. In 2012 he was shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the Fish Short Story prize.  In 2013 he was longlisted for Over the Edge New Writer of the Year.

His stories have been published in Southword, Revival, Crannóg, The Penny Dreadful, the Irish Independent, the Irish Times, anthologized by the Munster Literary Centre, and broadcast on RTE.

His radio play This Time it’s Different, was broadcast on 95fm as part of the Limerick City of Culture program in 2014.

In autumn 2014, he was one of eight International Writers in Residence in Tianjin, China.

His story Advice and Sandwiches was included in the Hennessy Anthology of New Irish Writing 2005-2015, published by New Island.

Mel u

The Reading Life 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

An Unofficial Marriage : A Novel About Pauline Viadot and Ivan Turgenev by Joie Davidow - 2021 - 283 pages


An Unofficial Marriage : A Novel About Pauline Viadot and Ivan Turgenev by Joie Davidow - 2021 - 283 pages 

Paris in July - 2021 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea

I give this marvelous novel my complete endorsement.  The more you know and have read in Turgenev the more you will love this book.

The salient facts below of Turgenev’s life are derived from the novel 

Ivan Turgenav 

Born November 9, 1818 - Oryal, Russia - his notoriously cruel very rich mother owned 6000 serfs 


1843 - St.Perrsburg, Russian. Falls deeply in Love with The opera singer Pauline Viradot after seeing her in The Barber of Seville.

This encounter will shape both of their lives from then on.

In 1845 he leaves Russia to follow Paulina all over Europe.  He becomes part of the household of Paulina and her husband.  He will worship her the rest of life, putting her above everything else. He buys prpoprrties in 

Paris, Venice, Baden-Baden and Rome to be able to attend her performances.  Paris becomes his spiritual home..

1852 - publishes A Sportsman’s Sketches

1862 - Father and Sons

Much of his time was spent in Paris.  He became good friends with Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant and other Paris based writers and artists.He was an important figure in the Russian Émigré Community.  He was fluent in French as were most aristocratic Russians  He became very involved in the Paris centered European opera world.  He maintained residences in Paris while periodically traveling back to Russia to deal with business matters from property holdings and concerns over his very extensive publications.  There was unsubstantiated gossip that he was the father of two of Pauline’s four children.  A child he had with a serf woman was moved to Paris to join the Viardot household.  He never married. Davidow depicts him as having a number of casual relationships with Russian women from his social caste.  The serf mother of his daughter was paid by him for sex and to give up her daughter to be raised as a Turgenev.

His relationship with Paulina lasted forty years.

Died September 3, 1883 - Bougival, France 

Paulina Viradot

Born: 18 July 1821 - Paris - her fsther was a fsmous singer 

1840 to his death 1883 she was married to Louis Viradot.

Louis Viardot was a French writer, art historian, art critic, theatrical figure, and translator. He managed his wife’s very succesful career as an opera singer 

Died: 18 May 1910, - Paris. She had four children and acted as a mother to Turgenav’s dsughter.

An Unofficial Marriage has much to offer besides just facts of the lives of a great author and famous opera singer.  Opera singers were the super stars of the 19th century.  The opening sequence in which Ivan first encounters Paulina is very lushly  done.  Paulina is not a conventional beauty, if anything a bit plain.  Why did Ivan fall so deeply Under her thrall on first encounter?  He is portrayed as mesmerized by the power of her preformance.  He arranged a meeting with her.  He knew and respected that she was married. He got along very well with her husband, almost an  older brother, they both loved hunting, they collaborated on Pushkin translations.  Ivan had his own suite in the Paris mansion.  Louis knew Ivan loved Pauline, he wondered is Ivan my wife’s lover?  As time went by he knew of the gossip.  Davidow shows us how full of gossip the Parisian opera seen appears.  At least two of the children strongly resembled Louis so they did have a passionate connection as well as practical.

Davidow’s narrative does include several very powerful sexual encounters between Paulina and Ivan. (In her epilogue she acknowledges there is no way to know if they ever had sex.). Paulina has a very strong attraction to Ivan as potrayed.  

As the forty plus years covered pass, much happens. Ivan’s daughter turns into a nearly spoiled brat.  Paulina’s children marry.  I enjoyed learning of their futures.  Louis dies, then Ivan and Paulina no longer has great drawing power but enough to live comfortably.

There is a lot to be learned about the business side of 19th century European opera here.  These are  tumultous times in French and Russian politics and Davidow takes us there. Davidow tells us How Turgenev treated Family serfs after his mother died.

I loved this book.  

It is said that Turgenev is the most French Russian writer.  Maybe we can see a bit why now.

There is a detailed bio of The author on her website

Friday, July 23, 2021

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami - - 2011- translated from Japanese by Allison Markin Powell

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami - 2011

Strange Weather in Tokyo centers on the very slowly developing relationship between a single woman in her late thirties,Tsukiko and one of her former high school teachers, Sensei,at least thirty years her senior. They run into each other in a bar by accident.  They have frequent unarranged meet ups at the bar, which serves great food along with Saki and beer. She assumes he is a widower.

As time passes a shared love of food, proximity and their history brings them into a more intimate relationship.

This is a very subtly developed story line.  Each character keeps things in reserve.

“Kawakami Hiromi (川上弘美 Kawakami Hiromi) born April 1, 1958, is a Japanese writer known for her off-beat fiction.

Born in Tokyo, Kawakami graduated from Ochanomizu Women's College in 1980. She made her debut as "Yamada Hiromi" in NW-SF No. 16, edited by Yamano Koichi and Yamada Kazuko, in 1980 with the story So-shimoku ("Diptera"), and also helped edit some early issues of NW-SF in the 1970s. She reinvented herself as a writer and wrote her first book, a collection of short stories entitled God (Kamisama) published in 1994. Her novel The Teacher's Briefcase (Sensei no kaban) is a love story between a woman in her thirties and a man in his sixties. She is also known as a literary critic and a provocative essayist.” - from Goodreads 


Thursday, July 22, 2021

City of Thieves by David Benioff - 2008, 258:pages


City of Thieves by David Benioff - 2008 - 258 pages

A New York Times Best Seller 

Set in Leningrad during 1942 during the German siege of the city, 16 year old Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown in the same cell as a 19 year old deserter from the Russian Army.  Both are at risk for quick executions.  The deserter goes by Kolya.  He is blond, handsome, a smooth talker and fancies himself a ladies man.  Of course he denies he is a deserter, claiming he is on a secret mission. Lev looks like he is Jewish.

They are taken to the office of a colonel.  Going in they spot s beautiful young woman ice skating on the Neva River.  Both the boys can see she eats meat every day, she must have a powerful father.  The colonel is her father.  She is getting married in a week and is demanding s big cake, one requiring a dozen eggs.  Eggs are nearly impossible to find.  The colonel offers the two boys a deal.  He gives them a week to roam free and return with the eggs needed,  if they do, they go free, if not he will have them captured and executed.  He feeds them,food anciety dominated almost everyone’s Life, gives them some rubles and sends them on their mission.

Lenigrad is a wasteland, a near necroplolis.  People are even resorting to canabalism.  The Germans are incredibly cruel, vicious monsters.  The Boys have several close calls. They join for a while a group of Russian partisans.  Among them is a female sniper with over 200 confirmed kills. Besides being perpetually hungry, the Boys are preoccupied with sex. The sniper is wrapped up in heavy clothes but they speculate on the size of her breasts.  Of course Koyla brags about his experience with women.

In s very powerful segment the Boys come upon a fancy dacha which turns out to be a comfort House for German officers stocked with Young Russian women.  Everywhere they ask for Eggs but with no luck.cruelty, death, and starvation are around any turn.  The Germans are depicted as worshipping a mad man who wants everyone in Leningrad killed or starved.  

Lev does return with a dozen Eggs.  I would describe the ending as partially happy, partially more meaningless death.

There are lots of close calls, the conversations of the boys are marvelous, Lev’s father was a famous poet.

The minor characters are very well done.  

The Kindle edition is currently available for $1.95

David Benioff worked as a nightclub bouncer in San Francisco, a radio DJ in Wyoming and an English teacher/wrestling coach in Brooklyn before selling his first novel, The 25th Hour, in 2000.

He later wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee’s adaptation of 25th Hour starring Edward Norton and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. In 2005, Viking Press published Benioff’s collection of short stories, When the Nines Roll Over.

“Benioff’s screenwriting credits include Troy (2004), directed by Wolfgang Petersen, and Stay (2005), directed by Marc Forster, The Kite Runner (2007). Jim Sheridan produced Benioff’s screenplay Brothers, and Hugh Jackman reprised his role as the clawed mutant in Benioff’s Wolverine. He is also screenwriter and executive producer of Game of Thrones, HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels.

Viking published his most recent novel, City of Thieves, in May 2008.

Benioff is married to actress Amanda Peet; the couple has three children.”

From Goodreads