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

Friday, January 28, 2022

Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins - 2005 - 701 Pages

 Imperial Reckoning:  The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins - 2005 - 701 Pages

2006 Pulitzer Prize Winner

From the Pulitzer Award Statement 

“Imperial Reckoning is history of the highest order: meticulously researched, brilliantly written, and powerfully dramatic. An unforgettable act of historical re-creation, it is also a disturbing reminder of the brutal imperial precedents that continue to inform Western nations in their drive to democratize the world.”

Imperial Reckoning:  The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins deals with Britain’s response to an uprising by Native Kenyans, primarily of members of the largest ethnic group in the country, the Kikuyu, against British colonial rule. This savage response took the form of eight years of systematic murder, starvation,rape, slave labor, torture and confinement in barbaric camps which Elkins justifiably equates to the Germans in the Holocaust and the Gulags in Stalinist Russia.

To the British the Kenyans who fought for independence, the Mau Maus,  were not freedom fighters but savages, cannibal, rapers of white women.  The English employed Kenyans loyal to them as the foot soldiers in their fight against the Mau Maus.  They bribed them with extra food and gave them the land owned by insurgents. They had license to rape women considered anti English. The English were signers to post World War Two documents on basic human rights but there was no consideration to this at all.  The loyalist troops were lead by British officers, many of whom made sport of killing people with no proofs of any crimes.  Loyalist troops had free rein to rape the women of insurgents, as did many officers.  Often after a woman was gang raped she was murdered so she could no accuse anyone.  

Elkins reveals what England under Churchill and conservative politicians wanted to conceal.  For eight years about 1.5 million Kikuyu, nearly the entire population were kept in detention camps behind barbed wire, guarded by Loyalist non-Kikuyu Kenyans seeking advantage and just delighting in their power.  Estimates of deaths are about 500,000.  Most of the survivors lost everything and had their health destroyed for their remaining life.  Women could often not give birth.

After around 1958 when progressive elements in English society became aware of this the authorities did their best to burn all documents related to their actions.

Elkins details the post English rule of Kenya.

Caroline Elkins is an assistant professor of history at Harvard University. Conversant in Swahili and some Kikuyu, she has spent nearly a decade traveling and working in rural Africa. She and her research were the subjects of a 2002 BBC documentary entitled "Kenya: White Terror." This is her first book.

She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

She has a second book coming out on March 29, 1196;pages. 

The Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire which traces 200 years of race based violence by England against their colonial subjects.

Mel Ulm

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris - 2021- 357 Pages - A Novel

 The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris - 2021- 357 Pages - A Novel

A New York Times Best Seller

Nella Rogers is the only African American woman, in her mid-twenties, working at Warner Publishing as an editorial assistant.  Warner Publishing, located in Manhattan, is an old very prestigious, elitist, clique ridden  place. Most of the editors seem to come from old New York money.    A “great man” is at the helm, below him are several editors each with their assistant, all seem to be women.  Joining them are various other functionaries.  Nella wished there could be “another black girl” at Warner Books.

Nella has a white boyfriend and a best friend she talks about her job with. Nella comes from a comfortable middle class background.

Then one days she smells a hair product very popular among African American women:

“in the air near her cubicle. This meant one of two things: One of her white colleagues had started using Brown Buttah. Or — more likely, since she was pretty sure none of them had accidentally stumbled into the natural hair care aisle — there was another Black girl on the thirteenth floor.”

Hazel May-McCall is now The Other Black Girl at Warner Publishing. Hazel comes from a much wealthier family.  At first she wants to be friends with Nella, to learn all office infomation you don’t get during your human resources orientation.  The dream of every editorial assistant is to become an editor.  Soon Hazel begjns to undermine Nella while pretending  a growing friendship.  They seem to bond over a mutual preoccupation with hair care.

Numerous micro aggressions play out.  Nella’s editor wants her opinion on a famous writer’s , a white man, soon to be published book. Warner Books sees the book as a potential best seller.  The book centers on an African American woman, a crack head.  Nella has been asked to give her opinion.  In a meeting she comes close to calling the author a racist.  This causes a great uproar and the author stomps out of a meeting.

In the mean time, Hazel’s hidden agenda comes out in the open.  

There are lots of sparkling moments, conversations and an ever deeping insight into what it is like being a “Black Girl”, with  the use of “girl” as a patronizing “Know your place”reminder. The characters are well developed and interesting.

I greatly enjoyed The Other Black  Girl.

ZAKIYA DALILA HARRIS spent nearly three years in the editorial department at Knopf Doubleday before leaving to write her debut novel, The Other Black Girl. Prior to working in publishing, Harris received her MFA in creative writing from the New School. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in Guernica and the Rumpus. She lives in Brooklyn.

From the author’s website

“An Instant New York Times Bestseller

A Good Morning America, Esquire, and Read with Marie Claire Book Club Pick and a People Best Book of Summer

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2021 by TIME • The Washington Post • Harper’s Bazaar • Entertainment Weekly • Marie Claire • Bustle • BuzzFeed • Parade • Goodreads • Fortune • BBC

Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing”

Mel Ulm

Monday, January 17, 2022

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson - 2020- 477 pages

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson - 2020- 477 pages

An autodidactic corner work 

Website of Isabel Wilkerson (including a detailed biography)

I offer my great thanks to Alan u for the provision of an Amazon Gift Card that made it possible for me to read this wonderful book.

In August I read The Warmth of Other Suns- The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson which told the story of the migration of millions of African Americans from the southern states to the big cities of the north and California.  I loved this book and knew I needed  to read her Pulitzer Prize winning Caste:  The Origins of Our Discontent soon.  

Wilkerson focuses on those at the bottom and those in dominant castes in three societies, America, Nazi Germany and India.  In Nazi Germany Jews were in the bottom caste, those of so called Aryan roots, at the top.  The whole of German society came to revolve around an attempt to totally destroy those in the lower caste. Six million were killed.  In India, the caste system was very ancient, complex with thousands of caste and was sanctified by religion.  At the bottom were the “Untouchables”.  They were allowed only to do the lowest kind of jobs.  If even their shadow touched a higher class member, they polluted them.  In America Wilkerson breaks down a society with two classes, black and white.  After the end of slavery and the Reconstruction period in the Confederate States, “Jim Crow” laws were passed designed to keep formerly enslaved persons and their descendants “in their place”.  In this system a white man with no job and a long prison record living on public assistance could see himself as by caste  superior to a black Harvard scholar serving as President of the United States.  Wilkerson elaborates on the many lynchings of black men for “being uppity”.  Countless black men died from false accusations of rape by white women.  Just speaking to a white woman got many black men brutally murdered in unlawful public executions.

I was I admit shocked to learn that Nazi Germany modeled the laws designed to oppress Jews on American laws meant to keep African Americans from, this was their worst fear, from having children with white women.   Wilkerson goes deeply into how the belief in the American Caste system brought about the election in 2016 of Donald Trump.  In the poorest states like West Virginia and Kentucky white voters wanted in office a man who cared only about other super rich Americans.  She sees this as a backlash from much of white American’s  horror toward President Obama. They voted against a woman whose policies would have significantly helped them and their children because their only source of self pride was in being white.

Wilkerson, an African American, details her own experiences.  When she was working as a  reporter a powerful business man she was sent to interview refused to believe she was really Isabel Wilkerson of The New York Times.  In India people of Dalit ancestry told her she was an “American Dalit”.  Martin Luther King was told the same thing.  

Wilkerson makes use of details about the lives of African Americans, Dalits and Jews in Nazi Germany as well as a great depth of scholarship to make her case.  She shows how the concept of “race” originated to Justify European exploitation and enslavement of people from Africa.

Wilkerson closes the book with an epilogue on steps to a caste free America.

This might well be the best work of narrative non-fiction so far written in this century.

All teachers of American history should read this book.  I wish all American politicians should be required to read.

This is narrative non-fiction as high art.

Mel Ulm


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Less Than Angels - A Novel by Barbara Pym - 1955


Less Than Angels- A Novel by Barbara Pym - 1955

“What would this Man? Now upward will he soar,

And little less than Angel, would be more;

Now looking downwards, just as griev'd appears

To want the strength of bulls, the fur of bears.

Made for his use all creatures if he call,

Say what their use, had he the pow'rs of all?

Nature to these, without profusion kind,

The proper organs, proper pow'rs assign'd;

Each seeming want compensated of course,

Here with degrees of swiftness, there of force;

All in exact proportion to the state;

Nothing to add, and nothing to abate.”  From Essay on Man by Alexander Pope - 1733

Works by Barbara Pym I have previously read 

Some Tame Gazelle - 1950

Excellent Women - 1952

Jane and Prudence - 1953

A Glass of Blessing  - 1958

Earlier in the month I acquired four more of her novels, in Kindle Editions, for $1.95 each.  Besides Jane and Prudence, A Glass of Blessings, Less Than Angels and No Fond Return of Love.

Barbara Pym 

Born - June 13, 1913 - Oswestry, England

Died - January 11, 1980 - Oxford, England 

Barbara Pym is among the best chroniclers of a now lost, maybe lost when she was writing, world of curates, vicars and women whose lives are bound up the social world of post World War Two England, with rationing, the return of service men and endless meeting for tea. No one has children out of wedlock, of course. Many have small “private incomes”.

The more I read of the work of Barbara Pym, the deeper my appreciation becomes.  I know of no other writer who makes such brilliant usage of adverbs in describing the manner in which a characters says something, revealing much about their feelings.  The people in her novels read classic English fiction and poetry.  

In a bit of a departure from my previous reads of her works,the male characters in Less Than Angels are anthropologists   rather than clerics and vicars.  As potrayed all of the  anthropologists  work in sub-Sahara Africa.  Interstingly  anthroplogists by job requirements leave their English homes while clerics stay.  Both are involved in education, neither produce anything concrete.  The anthropologists  do seem a bit patronizing in their reports of their findings.

There are a few romances, no extreme emotions among characters as it would be “un-English”.

As I pass my 22nd Month on lock down in Metro Manila, going out only to see a doctor about a broken arm, I wondered the people in Pym’s books would deal with the pandemic, my guess is with great strength and a “stiff upper lip”

I will next read No Fond Return of Love.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee- An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown - 1971 - with a preface by The author in 2000- with additional illustrations and bibliograohical data


Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee- An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown - 1971 - with a preface by The author in 2000-  with additional illustrations and bibliograohical data

This book is credited with first bringing to wide public knowledge in America the devasting impact of the expansion of White Americans into states beyond the Mississipi River on the indegenous population. (Brown uses the terms “Indians” and “whites” as will  I)He also deals in less detail, as covered by other historians,  on the earlier Spanish Invasion.  His period of focus is 1860 to 1890.

In the 1950s I watched a lot of “Western” TV shows.  Indians were frequently portrayed as mercilessly killing by torture white women and children or enslaving them.  The most feared Indians were Apaches and above all Comanches.  There were occasional “Good Indians” like Tonto on The Long Ranger.  Never was there any suggestion of venality, deceit, and wanton slaughter by Calvary Units of women and children, including infants.

As Brown thoroughly showed me, in every case where the American government made promises by treaties  to Indians in exchange for giving up historic tribal lands these promises were broken.  Some few white Army leaders tried to keep promises but higher ups overruled them.

As the Civil War ended and the Gold Rush began the development of the railway system brought many more whites into land that Indians considered theirs.  Many Indian leaders realized they had little chance of beating the Americans but some did prefer to die fighting.  Indian leaders brought their people into forts to avoid starvation. In some cases they were imprisoned or slaughtered.

Brown details how diverse tribes did unite to field sizable armies but against the repeating rifles and heavy cannons of the Army they had little chance.  Once the Civil War ended the full American military power was turned on the Indians.

Brown includes lots of details on Indian leaders and tribal history.  

This book, even from fifty years ago, is absolutely essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in American history.

Dee Brown’s obituary in The New York Times

“Dee Brown, whose Homeric vision of the American West, meticulous research and masterly storytelling produced the 1970 best seller ''Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West,'' died at his home in Little Rock, Ark., on Thursday. He was 94. (December 12, 2002)

Mr. Brown was a librarian who was writing books after his children had gone to bed when ''Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee'' was published by Holt. The book, which sold more than five million copies, told a grim, revisionist tale of the ruthless mistreatment and eventual displacement of the Indian by white conquerors from 1860 to 1890.”

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

My Narrative Non- Fiction for 2021 - Part Three of The Reading Life Review of 2021


My Narrative Non-Fiction for 2021


  1. Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin - 2009 - a fascinating work
  2. The Gulf: The Making of an America Sea by Jack E. Davis - 2017 - Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History - 562 Pages
  3. The American Eden - David Husaack, Botany, and Medicine in The Garden of Early America by Victoria Johnson


  1. The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move by Sonia Shah - 2020
  2. Lost Kingdom: Hawaii's Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America's First Imperial Adventure by Julia Flynn Siler - 2012


  1. The Boston Massacre : A Family History by Serena Zabin - 2020
  2. Dwelling Place- A Plantation Epic by Erskine Clark - 2007 - 653 pages. Winner of The Bancroft Prize for American History.


  1. 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 IAMERICAN JEWISH HISTORY General editor: Hasia R. Dine2015 - Best Book Prize from The Southern Jewish Historical, Society2014 - National Book Award from The Jewish Book Council
  2. 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


  1. Red Famine -Stalin’s War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum - 2017
  2. A Swim in the Pond in the Rain -In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class in Writing, Reading and Life - by George Saunders - 2021 - 416 pages This is a truly wonderful book.  Anyone who wants to become a better reader, short story writer or maybe even a better person will profit from A Swim in the Pond in the Rain.
  3. The Widow Clicquot The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It by Tilar J. Mazzeo - 2008 - 265 Pages A New York Times Best Selling Business Biography
  4. The Invention of Nature - Alexander von Humboldt’s New World - by Andrea Wulf.—2015 - 562 pages


No non-fiction


  1. Empire of Rubber- Firestone’s Struggle for Land and Power in Liberia by Gregg Mitman - 2021
  2. Pancakes in Paris - Living The American Dream in France by Craig Carlson - 2016


  1. The Warmth of Other Suns- The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson - 2010 - 622 pages
  2. Bury Me Standing The Gypsies and Their Journey by Isabel Fonseca - the best book on the Roma


  1. The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twity - 2017. The 2018 James Beard Foundation book of the year. A fascinating book for those into food history.
  2. The Barbizon - The New York Hotel That Set Women Free by Paulina Bren - 2021-
  3. Zora Neale Hurston on Florida Food- Recipes, Remedies, and Simple Pleasures by Fred Opie - 2015 - 167 Pages


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


  1. Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham - 2006


  1. Adventurism and Empire The Struggle for Mastery in the Louisiana-Florida Borderlands, 1762-1803 By David Narrett

Monday, January 3, 2022

Florida Oranges: A Colorful History by Erin Thursby - 2019

 Florida Oranges-A Colorful History by Erin Thursby - 2019 - A Post in Honor of The 105 Birth Anniversary of my  and my brother’s Mother

A post in honour of the birth anniversary of my mother, January 3, 1916- No finer Floridian ever lived.

Florida Timeline

8000 BC - First Native American settlement, near Sarasota

1000 AD - there are nine distinct tribes 

1500 - estimated population of the state was 375,000- 150,000 speak Timuca

April 2, 1513 - Ponce de Leon lands somewhere between Melbourne and Jacksonville.  In time the  indigenous population will be reduced to near zero, from disease and warfare. 

1521 - first colony, from Spain, near St. Augustine

1579 - The cultivation of oranges, introduced from Spain begins.  By 1835 millions of oranges were being shipped north and to Europe, for the next hundred years oranges, cattle and timber were the major sources of cash

1624 - First African American born, in St. Augustine

1763 to 1765- England Owns west Florida panhandle area

Based on research by others in the family and history, I conjecture my maternal ancestors first entered Florida, coming from. Georgia where they arrived around 1650, about 1815.

1808 - importation of slaves into USA is banned, a very large trade in slaves smuggled in from Cuba begins 

1821 - USA acquired Florida from Spain.  

1822 - Tallahassee is chosen as the territory capital, being half way between the then major population centers of St. Augustine and Pensacola

1835 Second Seminole War begins, by 1842 most Seminoles were shipped west but some escaped into the Everglades.  The 

make up of the Seminoles was largely not Native originally to Florida but a mixture of escaped slaves and Creeks from Georgia and South Carolina.

March 3, 1845 - Florida becomes a state, slavery legal.

1859 - by the end of the third Seminole War the around four hundred survivors retreat to the Everglades

Population of Florida 1861. - 154,494 - 92,741 Free, 61,75 enslaved

January 10, 1861 Florida suceeds from The Union.  Per capita, Florida sent The most men into war, 15000.  It was then the  least populated southern state.

In January 2019, in consultation with Max u, it was decided every January there would be a post about a book in tribute to our Mother.  Our mother was born in a very small town in northern Florida on Jan 3, 1916. We have traced our maternal ancestral lines back to 1820 when an ancestor started the first public library in the central Florida era.  A knowledge of history indicates our prior maternal ancestors came to the USA from the UK in the 1600s, probably in part as bound servants.  Somehow they wound up in South Georgia.  After the American Revolution people from that area began to enter then Spanish Florida, which the USA acquired in 1819.  

Our mother was born in High Sorings, Florida on January 3, 1916.  The population of the town then  was about 1750.  Our maternal grandfather was a Railroad Engineer for The Savannah, Florida & Western Railway. Moving oranges to Northern markets was an important aspect of the business of the railroad.

                                           High Springs, Florida in 1916

Florida Oranges-A Colorful History by Erin Thursby  is a through account of cultivation of oranges in Florida.  I learned that oranges were first planted about 1600 by the Spanish.  The objective was to prevent scurvy.  Soon oranges were widely cultivated.  We learn  why grafting was better than growing trees from seeds.  Slaves were widely used by owners of large groves.

Thursby showed me how hard freezes in the 1890s in north Florida pushed growers south. She does a very well done  chronological and regional account of the history of oranges in Florida.

Her book will be of interest to those into Florida history.

Erin Thursby

Erin is the Executive Director of GastroJax, the organization that puts on GastroFest, a freelance writer and food editor for EU Jacksonville. She's been a food and entertainment writer for over 10 years and she's thrilled to be writing for Edible Northeast Florida.

Visit Gastrojax's Website

Mel Ulm