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








Monday, June 20, 2022

Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeletons and the Origins of Humankind by Kermit Pattison. - 2020 - 534 pages- Narrative Nonfiction



Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeletons and the Origins of Humankind by Kermit Pattison. - 2020- 534 pages- Narrative Nonfiction 


Fossil Men tells the story of the discovery of the fossil remains of human ancestors over a million years older than Lucy, dating back 4.4 million years.


In 1994 a team lead by a maverick genius among fossil hunters Tom White, lead a team in the Afar region of Ethiopia, a dangerous harsh region full of tribes that hated outsiders.


Radiometric dating of nearby rocks indicated the resulting skeleton, classified as Ardipithecus ramidus—nicknamed “Ardi”—was an astounding 4.4 million years old, more than a million years older than the world-famous “Lucy.


White and is team spent 15 years in secrecy researching the finds. His team found many more discoveries. Teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, White was embroiled in bitter disputes with other paleontologists, including the Leakys.


When White at last went public with his findings, they strongly challenged fifty years of orthodox academic doctrine about the origins of humanity. Orthodox paleontologist fought back.  We learn a lot about academic squabbling.


Ethiopian officials made fossil hunting difficult with regulations designed to keep all fossils in Ethiopia.  


Pattinson goes into how we came to walk upright, how we developed nimble fingers and who our ancient ancestors were descended from.  In the process we learn about the evolution of Gorillas and Chimpanzees, their ties to humans.


Pattison brings on stage lots of interesting paleontologists.


Anyone interested in the ancestry of humans will find this book fascinating, as I did.


“Kermit Pattison is the author of Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind. He has written for the New York Times, GQ, Inc. and Fast Company. Fossil Men is his first book. He lives with his family in Minnesota.”   https://kermitpattison.com/


This is my first time participating in the Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by The Intrepid Reader.  The rules of the challenge are here


http://www.theintrepidreader.com/2021/12/historical-fiction-reading-challeng.html







Mel Ulm


 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

THE STEEL FLEA The Tale of the Cross-Eyed, Left-Handed Gunsmith from Tula and the Steel Flea by Nikolai Leskov - A Short Story - 1881- included in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and other Stories by Nikolai Leskov - 2020- with an Introduction by Donald Rayfield - translated by William Edgerton

 





THE STEEL FLEA The Tale of the Cross-Eyed, Left-Handed Gunsmith from Tula and the Steel Flea by Nikolai Leskov - A Short Story - 1881-  included in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and other Stories by Nikolai Leskov - 2020- with an Introduction by Donald Rayfield - translated by William Edgerton 


Nikolai Leskov




Born February 4, 1831 in Oryol Oblast, located in Western Russia 


Died March 5, 1895 in St. Petersburg, Russia 


He lived for eight years in Kiev where he began to write for Ukrainian and Russian publications.  His wife was born in Kiev.


The collection also includes The Enchanted Wanderer and today’s story  as well as three other works besides Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.


Last month I read Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, a work of great depth about meaningless murders  caused by sexual jelousy. Leskov’s The Steel Flea could not be more different, an amazingly creative story that amazed and delighted me as I think it will many others.


Set in the early 19th century, as the story begins we are on a tour of England with Emperor Alexander the First and his Entourage.  The English want to convince him that they have the best of everything.  His assistant Pavlov wants to go back to Russia, missing his family and his farm.  He tells the Emperor everything is better back in Russia.


The English show Alexander a nearly microscopic steel flea. It is an operational miracle, the product of incredible English craftsmenship.  From this Lekhov takes us back to Russia, with the steal flea where Russian craftsmen try to duplicate the flea.


The  creation of the steel  flea is just so original.


This story is just a pure delight.


If you wish to expand your reading of 19th century Russian literature beyond the best known writers this collection of Leskov’s works would be good start.


Mel ulm



Thursday, June 16, 2022

Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce by Nuala O’Connor - 2021 - A Novel - The One Dublin One Book Winner for 2022


 

Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce by Nuala O’Connor - 2021 - A Novel - The One Dublin One Book Winner for 2022


Narrated by Nora Barnacle Joyce, set from 1904 to 1951, this is historical fiction at its finest.


James Joyce


Born Rathgar, Ireland - February 2, 1882


The Dubliners - 1914


Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man - 1916


Ulysses - 1920


Finnegan’s Wake - 1939


Married to Nora Barnacle Joyce - 1931 to 1941


Died - January 13,1941 - Zurich, Switzerland 


Nora Barnacle Joyce - 1884 to 1951




Nora Barnacle, from Galway, at age 20 while working as a maid Finn’s Hotel in Dublin, fell in love with James Joyce at first sight.  They developed a deeply passionate affair.  Never did she dream of the relationship she would have with an incredible literary genius, taking her to Austria, Italy, and Paris.  They started out with him teaching at a Berlitz School in Ternitz, Austria barely being able to pay rent and lucky to have food.  When Joyce got paid, far too  often he spent the money on drinking with friends.  In this marvelous novel their early years are brought vividly to life. Joyce ends up moving to Rome to keep teaching.


Nora knows Joyce is a unique person even though she cannot read his work.  I could not help but smile when I learned she never made it past page 11 in Ulysses.  


One of the numerous factors that made Nora so exciting was looking forward to the results of publications of Joyce’s great works.  O’Connor shows us the difficulties Joyce had with prospective publishers, through the eyes of Nora. 


With the publication of Ulysses, with Joyce and Nora and their two children, Georgie and Lucia, living in Paris, their financial fortunes totally change.  Joyce receives  a very large grant plus royalties.  Of course if he gets 100,O00 pounds he spends it all.  We meet Slvia Beach, Ezra Pound, Peggy Guggenheim and other wealthy  socialites. Nora, a maid from Galeay, is mixing in high Society.  Finally after years they get married.  Everybody, including Joyce, is convinced of his genius.


One of the worst aspects of the life of Nora and Joyce was the terrible mental problems of his daughter.  Joyce’s vision 

problems became increasingly serious.


I have read several biographies of James Joyce.  I felt Nora gave a very strong feel for what living with James Joyce was like.  


I highly endorse this book to everyone interested in James Joyce.  There is much more in Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce by Nuala O’Connor than I have mentioned.


Nuala O’Connor was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1970, and lives between Counties Galway and Leitrim.

Her fifth novel NORA (Harper Perennial/New Island, 2021), about Nora Barnacle, wife and muse to James Joyce, was recently published to critical acclaim in the USA, Ireland, the UK, and Germany, and is forthcoming in other languages.

NORA was named as a Top 10 2021 historical novel by the New York Times and was the One Dublin One Book choice for 2022. Nuala curated the Love, Says Bloom exhibition at MoLI, on the Joyce family, for #Ulysses100.

She is editor at flash fiction e-zine Splonk.”  From https://nualaoconnor.com/


Included is a list of books on Joyce and Nora, an interview and a note for book clubs.



Mel Ulm





















 





Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Primer of Love by Ivan Bunin - A Short Story - 1915. - translated by David Richards - 1984 - included The Gentleman from San Francisco and other Stories by Ivan Bunin



The Primer of Love by Ivan Bunin - A Short Story - 1915. - translated by David Richards - 1984 - included The Gentleman from San Francisco and other Stories by Ivan Bunin 



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


1933 - first Russian to win the Nobel Prize


November 8, 1953 - dies in Paris 


The Primer of Love” is considered one of Bunin’s three greatest works, along with “The Gentleman from San Francisco” and “Chang’s Dreams”.


Today’s story begins with a journey through the Russian country side.   The story begins with a trip


“Ivlev was travelling once at the beginning of June over to the far side of his province…Ivlev gave himself over to that calm and aimless watching the world pass by which goes so well with the rhythm of hooves and the tinkling of halter-bells.”


He was staying at his brother-in-laws estate.  He loaned Ivlev a three horse cart with a driver.  The driver is concerned about not tiring the horses out too much.  They make a stop at the home of a countessa.  The driver waits out in the rain, Ivlev enjoys tea with the countess.  


“The countess was wearing a flowing pink tea-gown, which revealed her powdered neck. She was smoking, inhaling deeply, and constantly adjusted her hair, baring her firm round arms to the shoulder. Inhaling and laughing, she kept bringing the conversation round to love and amongst other things spoke about her near neighbour Khvoshchinsky, who, as Ivlev had known since he was a child, had all his life been unhinged by love for his maidservant Lushka who’d died very young.”


His destination is the home of now deceased Lushka, he has been thinking about her since childhood.  When they arrive Ivlev meets her only child,a man in his late teens.  He tours her house, stopping at the library which he says he might buy.


He finds a hundred year old book, The Primer of Love, full of advise on all aspects of a man’s love for a woman.  Ivlev reads much of the advise.  It ends up being the only book he buys.


This story deals with the power of love to control lives, with the simple pleasures of existence as well as a celebration of late Czarist Russia.


There are 17 works in collection, including a novella.  I will, i hope read them all.  


Mel Ulm

Friday, June 10, 2022

The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovida Yu - 2017- A Novel

7



The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovida Yu - 2017- A Novel


Historical Fiction set in Singapore in 1936 with the English Still in Control but trouble coming soon.


Shu Li has just graduated from a Mission School. She is her late teens, her parents are deceased , she was raised by her grandmother and uncle.   Her uncle wants to marry her to one of his business associates, she wants no part of that. Her dream is to become a journalist. They get her a job with the Singapore Police Inspector as Housekeeper.  


 The Police Inspector gets her a job working for the acting Governor.  He has a 17 year old daughter with the mentality of a seven year old.  His son, his sister and his second wife, the first passed, also live in the Governor’s Mansion.  Charity, the daughter’s helper just died in a fall from an upper story window.  The Inspector General has been called in to investigate.  She has a cut in her side that arouses his suspicion.  From this a complex web evolves.


The novel deals directly with the attitudes  of native Singaporians of Chinese descent and the British to each other.  A good feel for colony life is devloped.


The ending is very exciting with Sin Li barely escaping being murdered.


The mystery drew me in.  My guesses about who the killer was were wrong.   




“OVIDIA YU

Ovidia Yu is one of Singapore's best-known and most acclaimed writers. As well as award winning short stories and a children's book, she has had over thirty plays performed and is author of the Aunty Lee books, featuring a crime solving Tai Tai, and the Colonial Crime series set in Colonial Singapore” from Goodreads 


Mel Ulm



 

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

“Troll Bridge” by Neil Gaiman - A Short Story - included in Snow White, Blood Red- A Fairy Tale Anthology - edited and introduced by Terli Windling and Ellen Datlow - 1993


 





“Troll Bridge” by Neil Gaiman - A Short Story - included in

Snow White, Blood Red- A Fairy Tale Anthology - edited and introduced by Terli Windling and Ellen Datlow - 1993


I have known for a long time I would probably enjoy reading a Fairy Tale by Neil Gaiman.  A few days ago I was streaming my favorite TV series, The Big Bang Theory, and he appears as himself in an episode in the comic book store.  So now I really wanted to add him to the writers featured on The Reading Life.  


The stories in Snow White, Red Blood are inspired by old fairy stories.  Trolls, of course, were lurking under many a bridge in the Fey Landscape.


As story begins a boy of seven is on a stroll.  He encounters a traditional looking very large scary troll under a bridge. The troll tells him he wants to eat his life.  The boy tells the troll he has just begun to live, let him go and he promises to come back in a few years.  At age forty, married with children he has his final encounter with the troll.





“Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, including Norse Mythology, Neverwhere, and The Graveyard Book. Among his numerous literary awards are the Newbery and Carnegie medals, and the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and Will Eisner awards. He is a Professor in the Arts at Bard College.” From Amazon


Mel Ulm 

Monday, June 6, 2022

“The History of the Village of Goriukhino” by Alexander Pushkin - A Short Story - 1830- - - from Peter The Great’s African - Experiments in Prose - published by The NYRB, forthcoming 2022- translations by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler



“The History of the Village of Goriukhino” by Alexander Pushkin - A Short Story - 1830- translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler - 2022 - from Peter The Great’s African - Experiments in Prose - published by The NYRB, forthcoming 2022- translations by Robert and Elizabeth  Chandler


Alexander Pushkin





Born: May 26, 1799, Moscow, Russia

Died: January 29, 1837, Saint Petersburg, Russia


The History of the Village of Goriukhino is narrated by Belkin, an imaginary figure.  Like Pushkin,he was from a minor Noble Family.  In the Afterword Robert Chandler says it can be seen as Pushkin parodying Russian historians of early 19th century.


In twenty pages Belkin traces the history of a rural community.  The residents are mostly surfs, as time goes on they go from being fairly free and prosperous to tighly ruled and heavily taxed as an outsider buys the village. Any one who objects finds himself drafted into the Russian army.  Much of Belkin’s alleged data comes from records he accidently acquires.


I found “The History of the Village of Goriukhino” a very entertaining story.


The collection also contains an uncompleted novel, Peter the Great’s African, as well as two fairly long Short Stories.  The Afterword is highly informative.


This work is a very valuable edition to English translations of Pushkin.


Mel Ulm








 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

“The Regular” by Ken. Liu - A Short Story - 2014 - included in The Long List Anthology More Stories from the Hugo Award Nomination List



“The Regular” by Ken. Liu - A Short Story - 2014 - included in The Long List Anthology More Stories from the Hugo Award Nomination List - 2015




“The Regular” opens in the apartment of an expensive prostitute, she is awaiting the arrival of a new client she hopes will become a regular customer. Her parents are divorced, her mother is Chinese.  She goes by “Jasmine”. 


When the client arrives, Jasmine likes his looks, he looks safe, like a married man looking for no complications, well dressed like he is on a date. She hopes he will become a “regular”.  He ends up shooting her twice through the heart, cutting out and keeping one of her eyes. Before he goes he searches her apartment and finds $60,000.  He has done this numerous prior times.


Her mother hires a private detective, Ruth Davis, to find her killer when the police fail. The killer left a burner phone in a dumpster nearby with ties to Chinese gangsters to make it seem they killed her to eliminate competition for the massage parlors they operate.


In this world people have regulators installed in them to control their  emotions.  Legs and arms can be made much stronger by implementing bionic augmentations.  Ruth Davis has these, making her quite strong for a 49 year old woman.


We learn more the killer, he calls himself “The Watcher”.  We learn why he takes one eye from his victims.  He travels around after making a few kills in a city.


The close of the story is very scary. The way the killer is found is just so brilliant.


This is a marvelous work, taking us deeply into a city no too much different from a big American city.  There is a lot of details about different sorts of prostitutes and clients.


“Ken Liu (http://kenliu.name) is an American author of speculative fiction. He has won the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, as well as top genre honors in Japan, Spain, and France, among other countries.

Liu’s debut novel, The Grace of Kings, is the first volume in a silkpunk epic fantasy series, the Dandelion Dynasty, in which engineers play the role of wizards. His debut collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, has been published in more than a dozen languages. A second collection, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, followed. He also penned the Star Wars novel The Legends of Luke Skywalker.

Many of his stories have been adapted for the screen. Recent projects include “The Hidden Girl,” under development by FilmNation Entertainment as a TV series; “The Message,” under development by 21 Laps and FilmNation Entertainment; “Good Hunting,” adapted as an episode in season one of Netflix’s breakout adult animated series Love, Death + Robots; and AMC’s Pantheon, with Craig Silverstein as executive producer, adapted from an interconnected series of short stories by Liu.

Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Liu worked as a software engineer, corporate lawyer, and litigation consultant. He frequently speaks at conferences and universities on a variety of topics, including futurism, cryptocurrency, history of technology, bookmaking, narrative futures, and the mathematics of origami.

Liu is also the translator for Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing” and Vagabonds, Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide, as well as the editor of Invisible Planets and Broken Stars, anthologies of contemporary Chinese science fiction.

Liu lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.”


From https://kenliu.name/


For sure I want to read more by Ken Liu


Mel Ulm




 

Friday, June 3, 2022

“Another Word For World” by Ann Leckie - A Short Story - included in The Long List Anthology Volume 2 More Stories from the Hugo Award Nomination List -2016



“Another Word For World” by Ann Leckie - A Short Story

  • included in The Long List Anthology Volume 2 More Stories from the Hugo Award Nomination List -2016


Website of Ann Leckie


Sometime ago I acquired Ancilary Justice, a highly regarded alternate world work novel by Ann Leckie. However, I have never gotten around to reading it.  Having now read her fascinating Short Story “Another Word for World” I have pushed it up on my TBR list.

 

The story begins when an aircraft carrying the young Sovereign of Iss, hereditary high priestess of the Gidanta,

crash lands in a waste land on a planet and her interpreter.  The planet is inhabited by two groups, the Gidanta and the Raksamat.  The Gidanta have always been on the planet, the Raksamat arrived about two hundred years ago.  We do not get any physical descriptions but they are humanoids.  The planet seems small.  Many  of the  Gidanta want a war against the Raksamat to destroy them.


The story is narrated by the interpreter, a Raksamat, she and the Soverign converse through a hand held translator.  The pair begins a journey through the wasteland, food consists of raw grubs. As they travel we learn about their histories and life on the planet.  


I enjoyed this story very much.  It challenged and made me use my imagination to fill in the missing information.





“Ann Leckie is the author of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Award winning novel Ancillary Justice. She has also published short stories inSubterranean MagazineStrange Horizons, and Realms of Fantasy. Her story “Hesperia and Glory” was reprinted in Science Fiction: The Best of the Year, 2007 Edition edited by Rich Horton.

Ann has worked as a waitress, a receptionist, a rodman on a land-surveying crew, and a recording engineer. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.” From annleckie.com


Mel Ulm