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, October 28, 2021

The Taste of Empire-How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World by Lizzie Collingham - 2017 - 369 pages

The Taste of Empire-How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World by Lizzie Collingham - 2017 - 369 pages 

This is one of the most interesting, informative and well written works of narrative nonfiction I have read in a good while.

The thesis, stated in the title is that the British Empire’s quest to feed the residents of England shaped much of the life of people all over the world, from North and South America, to the slave trade driven by the demand for sugar up through world war two where Collingham details the brutality of Churchhill in letting three million Indians starve rather than impose restrictions at home.  Millions died or left Ireland because of the potato crop failing in mid 19th century, an event from which English landlords profited greatly and which their policies directly caused.  

Each of the twenty chapters details a meal eaten by people from the Empire.  We learn about their lives, some are based on real people, others on conjecture.  The subjects range from West Indian slaves to very wealthy Englishmen ruling India. We see how what they ate shaped how they approached Life.  We sit in on meals with slaves in the old south, with a middle class English family in 1930, we dine with a ship captain and leave a feast of a top official in The East India company feeling very bloated.  Maybe we hope our family back home will accept our children with an Indian mistress.  In some places English settlers came as family units, some as single men.  Local women were seen as appropriate surrogates, willing or just desperate to feed their own families by submitting to colonial invaders.  This in the long term produced the mixture of populations over much of the world.

Collingham devotes a lot of Space to English settlers in Newfoundland in the late 1600s.  They began a pre-industrial processing of dried fish from their catches that were sold to West Indian sugar plantation owners to feed their slaves.  We see how the English working class became hooked on tea from India served with a great deal of sugar.  The tea and sugar gave the workers energy to spend in factories.  As their income increased the English traditions of meat and potatoes and a Sunday roast dinner developed. So on the backs of sugar from slaves England developed a fleet to control world trade.  The Barbados was for a period home to hugely rich plantation owners who imported all the luxury foods of home.

In pre-independent America, settlers ate better per Collingham than people anywhere else.  At the time of the Revolution American soldiers were 3.5 inches taller than their English counterparts.  

Collingham explains how beef from Argentina became very important in England.  I learned a good bit about the development of canning of meat.  Resulting in the famous English tins still in expensive gift baskets.

There is so much to learn from this book.  Most historians do not go into details about food and trade in food.  

This book is available now as a Kindle for $3.95

Lizzie Collingham is an associate fellow at the University of Warwick. The author of three books, including The Taste of War and Curry, Collingham lives in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Many biographies make no mention of what their subjects food preferences were.  

I give this book my total endorsement.  

Mel u

The Reading Life


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Writer’s Cats by Muriel Barberry - with Art Work by Maria Guitart - 2021- published by Europa Editions - translated from The French by Alison Anderson

 The Writer’s Cats by Muriel Barberry - with Art Work by Maria Guitart - 2021- published by Europa Editions  - translated from The French by Alison Anderson

In April 2009 I read for the first time The Elegance of The Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry.  I totally identified with the central character.  I wanted to see the reactions of others to the book.  A Google search brought me to the wonderful world of book bloggers.  I began to follow a number of blogs,getting involved in conversations.  I decided it might be fun to have my own book blog snd on July 9, 2009 I started The Reading Life.  I did not know it then but a new phase of my life had begun.

The Writer’s Cats is a charming, highly creative work narrated by one of the author’s four Chartreux cats.

“But first allow me to introduce our tribe. We are four Chartreux cats, which means we have gray fur and orange eyes. When our writer’s best friend saw us for the first time, he said, “They go nicely with the walls.”

 If you love cats you will adore this book.  We see what I take is Muriel Barberry’s daily work routine

“I’m Kirin. I’m four years old. The others are my brother Petrus, then Ocha (a male) and Mizu (a female), who are four years older than Petrus and me and are also brother and sister. We come from the same breeder; Ocha and Mizu’s father is one of our grandfathers—Petrus’s and mine, that is. We get along well, we are from the same family, after all. But we each have a distinct personality and, I might add, very individual neuroses.”

. We learn about the personalities of the other three cats.   We meet others in her life.  Of course being a cat, our narrator is not overwhelming impressed by his human companions.

From the publisher’s description 

“From the best-selling author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog comes this delightful, delicate tale that pays tribute to the poetry of the everyday, to Japanese philosophy, and to the ingenuity and sardonic humor of cats. A superb, funny, and touching text for writers, readers, fans of Muriel Barbery’s best-selling novels, and cat lovers”

As I said, I liked this work a lot.  I suspect it will be mostly purchased by readers of The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  It is a whimsical near fey at times narrative.  The drawings add a lot.

Muriel Barbery is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Europa, 2008), and Gourmet Rhapsody, published by Europa Editions in 2009. She has lived in Kyoto, Amsterdam, and Paris, and now lives in the French countryside.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke - 2004- 752 Pages

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna  Clarke - 2004- 752 Pages

Winner 2005 Hugo Award for Best Novel

Best Novel Award World Fantasy Award 2005

Last Month I read Piranesi by Susanna Clarke I loved this story and knew I wanted to read her first novel, written 12 years earlier, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  It is hundreds of Pages longer than Piranesi, taking a larger commitment.  My very high expectations were more than exceeded.

Set in England starting in August of 1806, continuing through England’s conflict with Bonaparte and ending in February 1817 this is an epic imaging 

Alternative history in which two powerful magicians bring magic, lost for centuries, back to being a powerful force.  It is presented as if it were a work of actual 19th century English history,  complete with footnotes.  Faries,often sinister force, Play a big part in plot.

Mr. Norrell is a Magician who has a vast library of books of all sorts on the theory, practice, and history of English magic. He has a vast estste, no wife but a few servants who take care of his practical affairs. He is offended by what he sees as the proliferation of fake magicians.  When we first meet him he demonstrates that almost all The members of the York Society of Magicians are not worthy of the name by preforming an amazing act of magic.

We meet Jonathan Strange at about twenty five percent.  He is also from an affluent Family.  For a few years he tries different pursuits but develops a passion only when he begjns to see himself becoming a magjcian.  He obtains independence  when his father passes.  He begins to purchase books on magic but runs into agents of Mr. Norrell at any sale of interest.  He becomes the pupil of Mr. Norrell, Marries and becomes a powerful Magician.  England is deeply involved in a war with France.  Strange offers his services to Wellington but is first rebuked. Wellington is sceptical of all claims of abiities of magic.  Then Strange begjns to create roads over night, shift geographic battle field positions to favour the English, and raises an army from dead soldiers.  A lot of time is spent with Wellington.

Much more happens as Strange and Mr. Norrell become rivals. A powerful Fairie helps Strange bring bring a woman back to life, but at a heavy cost.

This is a long book with an old fashioned feel.  There are lots of very well developed minor characters.  I really felt like I was in this alternative England. We are there when Strange tries to cure the Madness of King George, when brings 24 hour darkness to Venice.  He and Norrell have a serious magic powered fight over a book Strange wrote.

After 600 Plus days of lockdown in Metro Manila, I and The City need some magic to keep us going.  This book helped me. 

I very much enjoyed this book.  

Susanna Clarke’s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award. It won the British Book Awards Newcomer of the Year, the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award in 2005. Susanna Susanna Clarke is also the author of the short story collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu. Piranesi was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, and was awarded Audies Audiobook of the Year, shortlisted for the British Book Awards Audiobook of the Year, the Costa Novel Award, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the RSL Encore Awards, the Hugo Award, the Nebula Awards, the British Science Fiction Association’s Best Novel, the Bloggers Book Award; was a finalist for the Goodreads Fantasy Book of the Year, the Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction and the Locus Awards; and was longlisted for the 2021 Booktube Prize. Susanna Clarke lives in Derbyshire.”  


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts - A Short Story by Anthony Veasna So - first published February 10, 2020 in The New Yorker - this is the lead story in his collection Afterparties - 2021

 Died: December 8, 2020 (aged 28); San Francisco, California, U.S

Born: February 20, 1992; Stockton, California, U.S

“Anthony Veasna So was, in his own words, “a queer boy, a Khmer-American son of former refugees, a failed computer scientist, a grotesque parody of the model minority, and a graduate of Stanford University.” …

Before he passed in December of 2020, Anthony sold his debut short story collection Afterparties, which has been hailed as “a wildly energetic, heartfelt, original debut” (George Saunders) and “a stunning collection by an exciting new voice” (Brit Bennett). Like all his work, it is hilarious, exquisitely detailed, and unbelievably complex in its exploration of the lives of Khmer, queer characters.”from The Adroit Journal

The death of Anthony Veasna So at age 28 is just too sad for words.  His stories focused on Cambodian refugees and their American born children, living in California.  The stereotype is that Asian Americans are the “perfect minority”., with way lower crime and welfare than white Americans.  Americans see all S E Asians as one monolithic group. So’s stories,as illustrated by “The Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts”  let us see beyond this to real people. Cambodians suffered terribly Under The rule of The Khmer Rouge and The intense bombing of The country by America.  About a third of The people lost their lives. Even when they made it to America they and their children had to deal with The psychological consequences of this.  Trust is not easily given to others.  Women cannot count on The father’s of their children to be there for them.  Children tell themselves their father survived the Killing Fields and made it to America and they try to accept them even when they abandon the family.

The donut shop is run by a divorced Cambodian woman and her American born daughters 13 and 16.  There is no Chuck, it just seemed like an American name.  It is summer and the girls are working the night shift (24 hours).  A man who appears Khmer starts coming in late at night.  He gets an apple strudel but never touches it.  Of course the girls wonder about him.  We learn How the purchase of the shop was financed by a sinister figure back in Cambodia, an uncle of her ex-husband.   The woman has been giving money to her ex-husband to send to him but he spent it on his new family.  She fears what can happen due to this.

The girls get to know the man.  We learn his history and then something very shocking happens.

I read this story on the Kindle sample edition.  I hope so much I get to read the full collection soon

Monday, October 18, 2021

“Moses and Gaspar” - A Short Story by Amparo Dávila - first published in 1959 - translated from the Spanish by Audrey Harris and Matthew Gleason - in The Houseguest and other stories - a Collection of her stories published in 2018


“Moses and Gaspar” - A Short Story by Amparo Dávila - first published in 1959 - translated from the Spanish by Audrey Harris and Matthew Gleason - in The Houseguest and other stories - a Collection of her stories published in 2018

Amparo Dávila 

Born: 21 February 1928, Pinas, Mexico

Died: 18 April 2020, Zacagecas, Mexico

Cooking With Amparo Dávila. -from The Parisian Review- included is a link to today’s story but it can be read in full only by Parisian Review subscribers 

The story can be read in full on the Kindle sample of The Houseguest and Other Stories 

The Crying Cat- a very interesting article on The background and history behind the stories of Amparo Dávila by Matthew Gleason - one of her translators 

Amparo Dávila, a Major figure in Mexican literature, is just now becoming recognized as a Major writer of stories of dark fantasies and horror outside her homeland.

“Moses and Gaspar” is a story about two Brothers, both bachelors, whose only real emotional tie is with each other.  One works for a bank, the other an insurance company.  They spend every Sunday together until one gets transferred to a far away  city.  They stop spending their vacations together as one brother cannot leave his pets, Moses and Gaspar alone very long. When the pet owning brother dies, his brother takes them in.  

I really hope others Will read this story so I Will not say much more.  It is about deeply felt Family bonds, about a Life ruined by two very strange pets.  At first I thought they were cats but for sure they are not.  About what can happen when your only loved one dies.  The surviving brother did have a long term relationship with a woman he paid to have sex with him at his apartment but Moses and Gaspar scared her away. 

There are elegant descriptions of food in the story.  

I look Forward to Reading more of her stories

Friday, October 15, 2021

“Among Strangers” A short story By Isabella Arkadyevna (Arkadievna) Grinevskaya (född Beila Friedberg, Jiddisch ‏ביילע פֿרידבערג‏‎ - Translated from Yiddish by Anita Norich - 2021

 “Among Strangers”

A short story By   Isabella Arkadyevna (Arkadievna) Grinevskaya (född Beila FriedbergJiddisch ‏ביילע פֿרידבערג‏‎ Translated from Yiddish by Anita Norich - 2021

You may read the story on the website of The Yiddish Book Center 

1864 to 1944 

This was first published between 1888 and 1891

She was born in Russia.  Her life history seems not definitely understood. She did live in Constantinople for a while.( There is bio data on The Yiddish Center Website.) 

“Among Strangers” is a deeply moving story about what happens to a family living in a small eastern Russia

shtetl when the employer of the father goes bankrupt putting him out of work. The father had been making enough as a bookkeeper to comfortably support his large family.  Sadly there is no other business in the shtetl that can pay him near the eighty rubles he was accustomed to receiving. 

His wife starts a herring shop.  Her husband tries to help out at home but as his wife comes home covered in herring brine and his are children forced to quit school he begins to feel a feel despair.  When he tries to help out at the shop his wife tells him he is worth less to her than a one ruble a month helper.

He determines to go to a bigger city to find work, armed with letters of reference.  He finds all the bookkeeping jobs filled by younger men.  He even begs for work as a servant but can find nothing.  He feels so sad and lonely, miserable without his family.  He accepts the offer of a train ticket home given him by a rich man he applied for work with, given to him out of pity.

His train trips to and from home are very moving.  For sure I would welcome the opportunity to read more of her work.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Lost Salt Gift of Blood - A Short Story by Alistair MacLeod - 1974

J The Lost Salt Gift of Blood - A Short Story by Alistair MacLeod - 1974

Buried in Print’s Alistair MacLeod Project

Alistair  MacLeod

July 26, 1936 - North Battleford, Canada

April 20, 2014 - Windsor, Canada

Like much of his work “The Lost Salt  Gift of Blood” is set in the rugged Cape Breton area of Novia Scotia

Living is not easy for those in Cape Breton.  Many of the men fish for a living.  Large families are the norm.  There are some tourists who come from brief visits to experience the natural Beauty.  The story opens with an elegant tribute  to this.

The narrator, we never learn his name or his tie the area but he clearly once lived there. Like many  people, he has moved to a big city, wanting a better life.  He now lives somewhere in America’s midwest.  He drove a rented Volkswagon 2500 miles to visit Cape Breton. He seems to have no close Family left there. 

When we meet him he is  watching some boys fishing on the coast.  I imagined he might be thinking of his own days as a boy, fishing  to Help his family.  

One of the boys, John, lives with an older couple.  The narrator is invited to their home.  He knows them from before.

  He learns their four daughters have all married and moved away.  Only the boy lives with them now.  One of their daughters and her husband were killed in a car crash.  The Boy who he saw fishing lives with them.  

There is a deep sadness in this story.  The man knows he has lost all real connections with the area.  


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff - 2016 - A Novel - 400 Pages

 Lovecraft Country - A Novel by Matt Ruff - 2016 - 400 pages 

Lovecraft Country is an intriguing dark fantasy work which combines the potential horrors experienced by African-Americans travelers in the southern American states in 1951, in the Jim Crow Era, with creatures drawn from the work of the American master of horror H. P. Lovecraft (1890 to 1937). Lovecraft was deeply racist. He was horrified by any notion of “mixing of races”. His stories are full of weird creatures.  

  • Atticus Turner, a veteran of the Korean War, an avid reader of science fiction, is on  drive from Jacksonville, Florida to Chicago when we first encounter him.  His father, Montrose Turner, has sent him a letter asking him to come. The father Is in Ardham, Massachusetts where he says he may have found information on the family of Atticus’s mother, previously unknown 

Atticus, his uncle George, and his childhood friend Letitia come along on the drive to Ardham to find Montrose. They are chased, accosted, and later nearly murdered by racists on the way.  George edits The Safe Negro Travel Guide which lists safe places.  When the get to Ardham they find Montrose a prisoner of Samuel Braithwhite, a white man, lodgemaster at Ardham sorcerers' cove.  It is part of a national consortium of racist lodges.  

The lodge is dedicated to white supremacy and deeply into the occult.  It will turn out Atticus is a descendant of the lodge founder from slavery days who raped the great grandmother of Atticus.  Caleb Braithwaite, son of Samuel, will play a big part once his father dies.

There eight intertwined plot lines.  Just as Atticus and his family is about to be shot by a racist sheriff weird monsters descend on him and his deputies.

I found this an interesting work.  It turns out there was really something like The Negro Safe Travel Guide.  The characters are well realized and it real fun to see all the references to science fiction read by Atticus.

“I m the author of the novels Fool on The Hill (1988),  Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (1997), Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls (2003),  Bad Monkeys (2007), The Mirage (2012), and Lovecraft Country (2016).

My lastest novel, 88 Names, was published in March 2020. You can learn more about it here. And check out the 88 Names podcast!

Lovecraft Country is now New York Times bestsellerThe HBO series based on the novel premiered on August 16, 2020.” From

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson- 1998- 256 pages

 Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson- 1998- 256 pages

Last month I read The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson.  I was very much shocked by the depth of this work dealing deeply with the consequences of slavery through several centuries.  

From my post on The Salt Roads

“So far this year I have been stunned by the depth and Beauty of two novels by writers hithertonow unread by me.  The first was The Master and Margarita by Michail Bulgakov. The Salt Roads is my second such work. By Nalo Hopkinson is just amazing beyond my powers to describe how I feel about it.

The Salt Roads focus on the lives of three women of color, living out the consequences of enslavement by Europeans.”

Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson’s first novel, lived up to my very high expectations.  Set in a dystopian future Toronto where the central city has been largely abandoned by white residents escaping to the outer fringes of the huge city.  Inner City Toronto is a place of hopelessness, extreme 

poverty and a constant threat of violence. The central characters In Brown Girl in The Ring are the descendants of African slaves of Caribbean background.  All social services have broken down.  There is a big demand for human organs.  Rudy Sheldon with a gang of brutal thugs rules the streets. 

As the plot begins, we are twelve years past the riots that transformed the inner City,  Rudy has been given a Commission to find a human heart for the premier of Ontario.

At this point we are introduced to Ti-Jeanne, grandmother is traditional Caribbean healer. Ti-Jeanne, a single mother in her struggle to stay of streets has moved in with her grandmother.  The baby’s father, her one time boyfriend, is a drug addict who survived by working for Rudy.  He has been assigned to find a healthy Young person with a matching blood type and take out their heart.  He has been told if he fails in this Mission he Will be eaten by a weird creature controlled by Rudy.  He finds a Young man but cannot bring himself to commit cold blooded murder. He goes Ti-Jeanne’s grandmother for a protective spell.  At first the grandmother wants nothing to do with him. Then she gives in and decides to help him.

The plot gets complicated now, deeply involved with Caribbean folklore and black magic.  There are scenes of disturbing graphic cruelty.  One scene where a woman Rudy turned into a zombie is skinned alive was very vivid.  

The dialogue is in a version of Afro-Carib English.  There are heavy elements of magic realism.  Horrible things happen to innocent and not so innocent people.

I greatly enjoyed this book.  To those new to Nalo Hopkinson as I was until last month, start with The Salt Reads.

There is bio data on her on my prior posts.  I hope to read all of her novels.