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, October 31, 2022

The Reading Life Review - October 2022


The Reading Life Review - October 2022


The Reading Life is a multicultural

book blog, committed to Literary Globalism . 


  Our posts have been read over 6.8 milion times with readers ranging from scholars from The Vatican Library,MacArthur Genius Grant Winners, publishing industry professionals to teenage   book lovers.  


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 our Interests.  Narrative non-fiction also is of importance.





Column One


  1. Katherine Mansfield - New Zealand
  2. Sholem Aleichem - Russian Empire
  3. Aristophenes - Greece 


Column Two


  1. Orlando Figes - UK -author of several books on Russian History - first appearance on The Reading Life
  2. Joseph Sassoon - Iraq - author of The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and The Making of an Empire- First Appearance on The Reading Life
  3. Arkady Martine - USA - AnnaLinden Weller, better known under her pen name Arkady Martine, is an American historian, city planner, and author of science fiction literature. Her first novels A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace, which form the Teixcalaan series, each won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. From The author’s website- I loved her Two Hugo Award Winning Novels


Column Three


  1. Ron Chernow- USA - Ronald Chernow is an American writer, journalist and biographer. He has written bestselling historical non-fiction biographies. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the 2011 American History Book Prize for his 2010 book Washington: A Life. 
  2. Viv Groskup - UK - first appearance on RL- Viv Groskop is a writer, comedian, TV and radio presenter and is the host of the chart-topping podcasts How to Own the Room on women, power and performance; and We Can Rebuild Her, a series of powerful interviews on reinvention, change and resilience, specially designed for the post-pandemic era. She is the author of five books including the best-selling How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking (Transworld). In March 2020 Viv launched Lift as You Climb: Women and the Art of Ambition (Transworld), a companion volume to How to Own the Room. And in June Au Revoir, Tristesse: Lessons in Happiness from French Literature (Abrams) came out, a follow-up to The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature From the author’s website


    I have her book on French literature on my Amazon wish list.


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Sunday, October 23, 2022

Anna Karenina Fix - Life Lessons in Russian Literature by Viv Groskup - 2019- 228 Pages







Anna Karenina Fix - Life Lessons in Russian Literature by Viv Groskup - 2019- 228 Pages 


In this marvelous book Viv Groskup shows us how she used lessons she drew from a life time reading of Russian literature to cope with the trials of her life while she became a wiser, happier person using her reading of Russian classics.


The authors featured are Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment), Tolstoy (War and Peace and Anna Karenina), Anna Akhmatova, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Mikhail Bulgahov (Groskup is crazy for The Master and Margarita as am I), Turgenev (The drama Three Weeks in the Country which Groskup says helped her cope with an unrequited ill advised romance.  We learn of Turgenev’s long love for a married French Opera Singer) and Anton Chekhov (The drama Three Sisters which is a life lesson in being content with what you can have.)


Groskup makes illuminating use of Isiah Berlin’s notion of the contrast the hedgehog, who knows one very big truth, with the Fox who knows many small ones.  Chekhov is a fox, Doestoevsky a hedge hog.  Tolstoy thought he was a hedgehog but he was really way above these notions.  


Groskup provides fun and interesting bios of the writers.  Chekhov comes across as a genuinely good person, treating the medical needs of the poor for free while writing hundreds of stories  plus his great dramas.  I howled with delight when she said if you are single and love The Master and Margarita and meet someone who loves the book, you should marry them.


This is not an academic work at all.  Groskup explains how she became obsessed with the Russian language and became fluent.  She is very open about her life. This is a very funny book, wise and gentle (with everybody  but herself).


My understanding of the writers she featured was, I think, significantly expanded.  Her chapter on Anna Karenina was very illuminating.  I plan to read soon the dramas by Turgenev and Chekhov she features.  


At the end she includes a recommended reading list in which she suggests translations in some cases and a few secondary works.


“Viv Groskop is a writer, comedian, TV and radio presenter and is the host of the chart-topping podcasts How to Own the Room on women, power and performance; and We Can Rebuild Her, a series of powerful interviews on reinvention, change and resilience, specially designed for the post-pandemic era. She is the author of five books including the best-selling How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking (Transworld). In March 2020 Viv launched Lift as You Climb: Women and the Art of Ambition (Transworld), a companion volume to How to Own the Room. And in June Au Revoir, Tristesse: Lessons in Happiness from French Literature (Abrams) came out, a follow-up to The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature (Penguin). Her first book was a memoir about stand-up comedy: I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took On Stand-Up and Almost Ruined Her Life.” From the author’s website


I have her book on French literature on my Amazon wish list.


One more note, great cover art, in this case you can judge a book by its cover.


Mel Ulm


 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

SASSOONS THE GREAT GLOBAL MERCHANTS AND THE MAKING OF AN EMPIRE - 2022 by Joseph Sassoon


 


SASSOONS THE GREAT GLOBAL MERCHANTS AND THE MAKING OF AN EMPIRE - forthcoming October 25, 2022 by Joseph Sassoon


David Sasson -1792 to 1864 - settled in Syria 


Joseph Sasson - 1795 to 1872- settled in Bombay in 1832 where he built family’s trade in Opium with China and in Indian Cotton to England.


Siegfried Sasson (1886 to 1967) - leading poet of World War One.




“A spectacular story—the making of a dynasty—one of the great untold sagas of a gilded Jewish Baghdadi family: the merchant princes of the “Orient” who built a vast empire through finance and trade—opium, cotton, oil, shipping, banking—that reached across three continents and ultimately changed the destinies of nations. 

For more than two centuries, from the eighteenth to the twentieth, they were one of the richest families in the world, known as “the Rothschilds of the East,” and for four decades were the chief treasurers to the pashas of Baghdad and Iraq.” From The Publisher


I have previously posted upon other books about incredibly  rich family dynasties.  These include works on two other Jewish families, The Rothchilds and The Warburgs.  Unlike Sassons, they were excusively based in Europe.  In August I read Ron Chernow’s book on the dynasty founded by J. P. Morgan.  Last month I featured Nazi Billionaire’s The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties by David de Jong.


For two hundred years Sassons were one of the wealthiest families in the world. During this period they made signifigant cheritable donations to Muslims, Christian as well as Jewish organizations.



This is a Multi-generation   saga of the making (and undoing) of a family dynasty: the riveting untold story of the gilded Jewish Bagdadi Sassoons, who built a vast empire through global finance and trade—cotton, opium, shipping, banking—that reached across three continents and ultimately changed the destinies of nations. 


They were one of the richest families in the world for two hundred years, from the 19th century to the 20th, and were known as ‘the Rothschilds of the East.’


Originating in Mesopotamian in origin,  for more than forty years the chief treasurers to the pashas of Baghdad and Basra, they were forced to flee to Bushir on the Persian Gulf. There David Sassoon and sons starting over with nothing, began trading in India in cotton and opium. They were the dominant force in selling opium grown in India to China.


The Sassons were soon building textile mills and factories, and setting up branches in shipping in China, and expanding beyond, to Japan, and further west, to Paris and London. They became members of British parliament; were knighted; and owned and edited Britain’s leading newspapers, including The Sunday Times and The Observer. Joseph Sasson, with access to Archives, shows the intricacy and complexity of their trading Empire.  As time went on, they Began to use English first names.


1887, the dynasty of Sassoon joined forces with the banking empire of Rothschild and were soon joined by marriage, fusing together two of the biggest Jewish commerce and banking families in the world.


“Against the monumental canvas of two centuries of the Ottoman Empire and the changing face of  the Far East, across Europe and Great Britain during the time of its farthest reach, Joseph Sassoon gives us a riveting generational saga of the making of this magnificent family dynasty.” From Amazon


Joseph Sasson details the causes for the decline of their power. Many  later day family members had no active interest in the business other than enjoying their riches.  There were serious competition between different branches of the family.


I found this book fascinating. I highly reccomend it to anyone interested in World wide financial history.



    SEATED (LEFT TO RIGHT): RACHEL, WIFE OF SHALOM HAYYIM DAVID BEN MOSES; SARAH, WIFE OF ISAAC NISSIM; MOZELLE, DAUGHTER OF ALBERT DAVID SASSOON; AMAM, DAUGHTER OF DAVID SASSOON; JOSEPH, SON OF MEYER SASSOON NISSIM, IN HIS MOTHER’S LAP; EDWARD, SON OF ALBERT DAVID SASSOON; AZIZA, WIFE OF EZEKIEL GUBBAY; FLORA, WIFE OF SASSOON DAVID SASSOON; FLORA, DAUGHTER OF EZEKIEL GUBBAY. STANDING (LEFT TO RIGHT): AARON DAVID SASSOON; SASSOON DAVID SASSOON; JOSEPH HAI, SON OF ALBERT DAVID SASSOON

    

“Joseph Sassoon is currently an Associate Professor at Georgetown University and holds the al-Sabah Chair in Politics and Political Economy of the Arab World. He is also a Senior Associate Member at St Antony’s College, Oxford. During this academic year, 2014-2015, he was chosen as a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC. In 2013, his book on Iraq and the Ba‘th Party won the prestigious British-Kuwait Prize for the best book on the Middle East.

Born in Baghdad, Sassoon completed his Ph.D at St Antony’s College, Oxford. He has published extensively on Iraq and its economy and on the Middle East.”  From Saint Anthony’s College, Oxford.


Mel Ulm


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Lysistrata by Aristophenes - first preformed 411 BCE - translated by Aaron Poochigian - 2021


 




Lysistrata by Aristophenes - first preformed 411 BCE - translated by and with an Introduction by Aaron Poochigian - 2021


Born: 445 BC, Athens 

Died: 386 BC, Delphi


Lysistrata is by far the most famous ancient comedy.  The central theme is that the women of Greece ban together refuse to have sex with their husbands or lovers unless the men restrain from all forms of warfare.  There is very explicit sexual language.  Some of the women complain that they cannot go without sex and talk about dildos.  The husbands are very upset, they walk around with huge erections protruding from their tunics.


Lysistrata is the organizer of this sexual strike.  When asked what to do if your husband forces himself on you she says “just lay totally stiff, don’t grind back”.  Female actresses lift up each others tunics for inspection purposes, commenting on what they see.


The men are very upset insisting the women have no reason to complain about wars as they do not participate.  Lysistrata  explains that they lose sons and husbands in war.  All of the women involved are aristocratic though they live in a society where slaves out number the free.  A slave woman plays a minor role, and is  treated with no respect by her owner, Lysistrata.


From the play as the women take an oath to withhold sex:


“Hey there, Lampito, everyone, lay your hands upon the wine cup.One of you will repeat, for all, the terms of our agreement after me, and then the rest will swear to keep them once we’re done. No man, be he a lover or a husband . . . CALONICE: (stepping up as the representative for all the women) No man, be he a lover or a husband . . . LYSISTRATA: No man, be he a lover or a husband . . . LYSISTRATA: . . . shall come up to me with a boner. Say it! CALONICE: . . . shall come up to me with a boner. ​Ah! My knees are going to buckle, Lysistrata! LYSISTRATA: And I shall pass the time in celibacy”.




In what Aaron Poochigian says is very unusual in Ancient Greek Drama, there are two choruses, one of old men, one of old women. The old women play a big part in the action, seizing the treasury Athens needs to wage war.  The two choruses converse with each other about the sex strike as well as making comments to the audience.


There are three videos on YouTube of staged performances.  The actors are college students and to me they seemed overacting and the choruses did not seem very well done.  


A blog I have followed for many years, Wuthering Expectations, is doing a read through of all the surviving Greek Plays, a marvelous endeavor I wish I could have emulated.


There are three other comedies in the collection,  Birds, Women of the Assembly and Clouds.  I am hopeful I can read and post on them by the end of 2022.


ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR Aaron Poochigian earned a PhD in classics from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in poetry from Columbia University. He is the translator of, among other classical works, Sappho’s poetry (published under the title Stung with Love), Apollonius’s Jason and the Argonauts, and Euripides’s Bacchae, and has published two books of poetry—The Cosmic Purr and Manhattanite—and a novel-in-verse, Mr. Either/Or. His poems have appeared in such publications as Best American Poetry, the Paris Review, and Poetry. He lives in New York.


Mel Ulm

Monday, October 17, 2022

The Crimean War: A History by Orlando Figes - 2010 -834 pages


 


The Crimean War was a military conflict fought from October 1853 to February 1856 in which Russia lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, the United Kingdom, Turkey 

and Piedmont-Sardinia.


Russia, under the leadership of Tsar Nicholas The First, believing the Ottoman Empire was in decline, invaded the Crimean Peninsula in the hopes of expanding its influence in the Middle East.  France and England felt this would negatively impact their interests in the region and entered into war against them in support of the Ottoman Empire. (As copiously detailed in The Crimean War by Orlando Figes.) Russian needed a secure Black Sea port to make greater use of its Navy.


Figes says the war was about more than just trade.  English Protestants and French Catholics thought the Russian Orthodox faith was not an acceptable version of Christianity.  Many English political leaders saw Russia as a near slave state and opposed it on philosophical grounds.  Figes throughly explains the role of the British Press in supporting a war which does seem only of benifit to wealthy British involved in international trade.  The drafted Russian soldiers and millions of peasants derived nothing from a potential victory.


In France, England and Russia positions as officers went to non-inheriting sons.  The conflict was sparked by conflict over access to Jerusleum and other places under Turkish rule that were considered sacred by both Christian sects. After violence in Bethlehem in which Orthodox monks were killed, Nicholas sent an emissary to the Turkish sultan and demanded not only equal access to religious sites but that the sultan recognize Nicholas as protector of Orthodox Christians.  


After the sultan refused The Tsar’s request he decided to occupy the Turkish controlled  principalities of Maldovia and Walachia (now part of Romania. In response, in October 1853, Turkey declared War on Russia and counterattack Russian forces.


This was completely unacceptable to The French and English who put aside their issues lingering from wars with Naploean, though they kept seperate commands.


There is much to be learned about mid-19th century European history in this book. Figes details the roles  advisors to Nicholas as well as French and English Politicians played. Nicholas evidently thought that Queen Victoria was an absolute monarch.  Prior to Nicholas becoming Tsar he paid visits to the Queen, who found him very charming, and he bonded with her oldest son.


Russia’s aggressiveness also made the British nervous about maintaining their trade with Turkey and access to India. The French, who still remembered Napolean’s defeat by the Russians, saw a chance to take revenge. The two countries entered the war on Turkey’s side in late March 1854.  


Figes explains very well that The Crimean War in some ways was the first modern technological conflict.For the first time, soldiers used rifles that were mass-produced in factories, and landed on coastlines in armored assault vessels. British and French forces communicated between the Crimea and headquarters in Paris via telegraph lines, and built railroad lines to transport supplies and ammunition.


If you desire to understand this era in European history The Crimean War by Orlando Figes is The best source.


The Charge of the Light Brigade

BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON



.

IV

Flashed all their sabres bare,

Flashed as they turned in air

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging an army, while

   All the world wondered.

Plunged in the battery-smoke

Right through the line they broke;

Cossack and Russian

Reeled from the sabre stroke

   Shattered and sundered.

Then they rode back, but not

   Not the six hundred.


VI

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

   All the world wondered.

Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

   Noble six hundred!


There is bio data and information on his other books at


http://www.orlandofiges.com/


Mel Ulm

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Moshkeleh the Thief - A Novela by Sholom Aleichem - 1913- translated from the Yiddish with an Introduction by Curt Leviant- 2021 - 61 pages



Moshkeleh the Thief - A Novel by Sholom Aleichem - 1913- translated from the Yiddish  with an Introduction by Curt Leviant- 2021 - 61 pages 


“This almost-forgotten novel by one of the greatest Jewish writers of all time is revelatory, vividly depicting an all-too-rarely-seen side of Yiddish literature and Jewish life; its rendering here, by one of Jewish literature’s greatest translators, provides a crackling energy befitting its material. Don’t start it too late in the evening; you won’t be able to put it down.” —Jeremy Dauber, Columbia University professor and author of The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem 


a very informative conversation with Curt Leviant on Moshkeleh The Thief


This was The first work of Yiddish literature focused on criminals.


Sholem Aleichem


1859 Born in The Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire


1916 Dies in New York City.  His funeral is attended by 250,000


To most people, certainly me a few years ago, Yiddish writers were divided into two categories, Sholom Aleichem and a bunch of authors I have never heard about whom I would never have read were it not for Yale University Press giving me a full set of The Yale Yiddish Library.  These nine volumes, introduced by top authorities in Yiddish Studies, include some of the great classics.


Among the works were two totally marvelous novels  by Sholom Aleichem.  All of the works were pre-Holocaust, written in Eastern Europe and Russia.  All were by men.  As Yiddish speakers left Europe, mostly to NYC then Toronto and MontrĂ©al women writers like Blume Lempel and Chava Rosenfarb began publishing in Yiddish.  I have talked a bit about the history of Yiddish Literature (running from around 1875 to maybe 2004 with the passing of the last of the emigrated writers) in prior posts.  My perception is most seriously into Yiddish Literature, a huge treasure trove of Short Stories, are “heritage readers” seeking ties with the world of their ancestors in Eastern Europe.  Behind it is also a powerful message to those who would destroy Jewish Culture, you lose, we win.  I read in this area because it is an incredibly wonderful literature.  The stories range from heart breaking to funnier than a Mel Brooks movie.  Yiddish scholarship has very strong support and thanks to the internet, and maybe especially The Yiddish Book Center, interest is  growing.  YouTube has lots of good videos and readings of stories.


Sholom Aleichem is by far now most known Yiddish writer.  He is most famous from the movie Fiddler on the Roof based on his Tevye Cycle, centering on a Russian dairyman and his relationship with his daughters. 


Moshkeleh the Thief, set in a small mixed community, centers on a famous horse thief.  Moshkeleh came from a respectable Jewish family.  He was sent to traditional schools to study the Torah but instead he met accomplished thieves.. We learn about the various kind of thieves. There were pick pockets, House burglers, strong arm robbers, kidnappers, informers for hire, experts at bribing officials and horse thieves.  Thieves have their own argot. 


The work was first published as a serial in a popular journal, Moshkeleh Ganev, Warsaw. so there are lots of exciting events to draw readers to buy the next issue. Moshkeleh wanted to get married.  Marriages were mostly arranged and no decent Family wanted him for a son in law.  He became  

 enamored with a teenage girl, following her around until he realized it was futile.


In an interesting subplot, a Young Jewish woman runs away from her home to marry a Gentile.  Her parents hire Moshkeleh to kidnap her.


The introduction by Curt Leviant

details the publication history of the work.


Curt Leviant is the prize-winning author or translator of more than twenty-five books. Besides Sholom Aleichem, other Yiddish writers he has translated include Chaim Grade, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Avraham Reisen.


Moshkeleh the Thief is a very valuable edition to translated Yiddish.


Mel Ulm





 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan Book 2) by Arkady Martine - 496 Pages - Sequel to A Memory Called Empire.


 


A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan Book 2) by Arkady Martine - 496 Pages - Seauel to A Memory Called Empire.


WINNER OF THE 2022 HUGO AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL
Now a USA Today bestseller! 
Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2021
Amazon's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2021
Bookpage's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2021 
Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for Best Science Fiction Book of 2021



A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine completely fascinated me.  Martine has created an amazing world, a gripping space opera, full of lush images.  Martine even includes a glossery.


The central figure is an ambassador, from an independent Space station of maybe 30,000 people, to  the huge sprawling Teixcalaanli Empire. 


The Teixcalaanli empire governs most of human space, and is about to absorb Lsel, an independent mining Lsel. Ambassador  Mahit Dzmare was sent to the imperial capital to prevent this, and quickly finds herself embroiled in the empire's complex intrigues.



Mahit has been implanted with an imago of the previous ambassador,a man who died under mysterious circumstances. (From the glossery- “imago—An ancestral live memory.”  Mahit finds it challenging blending her identity with a man.  She was selected for her position after extensive schooling in Teixcalaanli history, language, and literary culture going backs 1000s of years. 


A Desolation Called Peace is the space opera sequel to Arkady Martine's, Hugo Award-winning debut, A Memory Called Empire.  In these two Hugo Award Winning works, Martine creates a fascinating world empire set in the vast Teixcalaan Empire.


As A Desolation Called Peace opens an armada of alien warships is approaching the borders of the empire.  There seems no way to destroy them or communicate with the aliens.  The commander of the Teixcalaan fleet charged by the Emperor with defeating the advancing aliens is fast running out of options.


The fleet captain sends for Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass.  Mahit, a central character in A Memory Called Empire, is an ambassador from a small space station.  She is a very skilled linguist and it is hoped she can facilitate negotiations with the aliens.  Three Seagrass is her liaison and lover.  Excitement builds as we see the struggles to communicate with the aliens, there is even an autopsy.


One of my favorite aspects of both works is that  almost every chapter begjns with a quote from a famous Teixcalaanli poem, work of history or official Manual. I loved these marvelously creative items which helped make the vast Teixcalaanli Empire come to  reality for me. (“Expansion History, The—A history of Teixcalaanli expansion, attributed to Thirteen River, attribution debunked; current literary scholars of Teixcalaan refer to The Expansion History as being composed by “Pseudo-Thirteen River,” an unknown person”.)


Women are in positions of power throughout the Empire.  There is a very erotic encounter scene involving Mahit and Three Grass.


Martine acknowledged that she was inspired by Aztec culture (amalitzli—A Teixcalaanli sport, played on a clay court with a rubber ball which opposing teams attempt to throw, bounce, or ricochet into a small goal. Versions of amalitzli specialized for low- or zero-gravity environments are also popular”)as well as Byzantium and Roman history.


Arkady Martine is the author of the teixcalaan series, a multitude of short stories, and various other science fiction, fantasy, & horror. she is also dr. annalinden weller, who is a byzantinist, a climate & energy policy analyst, and a city planner. she is not bored, but she is often tired.” From The author’s website.


Mel Ulm