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, May 26, 2023

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman- 2005 - 224 Pages

 The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman - 2005- 224 Pages

Alice Hoffman works I have so far read

The Marriage of Opposites- 2015
"Everything My Mother Taught Me" - 2016
"The Book Store Sisters" -2022
The Foretelling - 2006
"Conjure" - 2014
Aquamarine- 2001
The Ice Queen - 2006

The Ice Queen focuses on a woman we first meet in her early teens. She lives with her mother, her father deserted the family, and her older brother Ned. The mother, 32 is out for a very rare evening of socialising with two friends. The girl, whose name we never learn, wishes her mother will die and never come home. She does. The girl, who narrates the story and her brother go to live with an aunt. The girl retreats into a world of dark fairy tales and tries to avoid an emotional attachment to anyone. As she ages she while in high school has sex with the boyfriends of girls at her school she knows. She becomes a reference librarian. She starts an affair with a police officer, having frequent sex in his car. 

She is struck my lightning.

“It was the oddest thing. It was as though I were a cloud instead of a human being. I could feel the charged atoms in the air…While I was getting into bed there was a lightning strike nearly five miles away. The strike split a pine tree in two and started a fire that burned several houses down to ash. It was summer lightning, the kind that appears without thunder, without a sign. But I didn’t need anyone to tell me about it. It was the one thing I could feel deep inside.”

She moves to Florida to be near her brother, now a university mathematics professor and his wife, also a professor.

She becomes part of a group of lighting strike victims being studied at the University.She meets other people who have been struck by lightning and discovers an entire community of misfits just like her who have been impacted by something entirely out of their control which has forever changed their lives

I found this a very thought provoking work. It made me reflect on how a sudden never anticipated event can have a powerful influence. I have had a terrible unexpected event in my life remove much of my anticipated hopes for a happy future. I dwell much of the time on this, trying to find a way forward.

There is deep pain at the end but the narrator finds meaning.
There are elements of the occult
and magic in The Ice Queen. 

Alice Hoffman is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty works of fiction, including Practical Magic, The Dovekeepers, Magic Lessons, and most recently, The Book of Magic. Her works have been translated into more than twenty languages, she has been 

Nominated for multiple awards, and adapted for the screen. She lives in Boston. Visit her website at

My next Alice Hoffman novel will be Property Of.
Mel Ulm

Thursday, May 25, 2023

 Clap Back" - by Nalo Hopkinson - A Short Story- 2021- 21 Pages (included in the Kindle Unlimited Program)

I first encountered the work of Nalo Hopkinson in September of 2021. Here are a portion of my post on her Salt Roads

The Salt Roads should be required reading for the next century. An electrifying bravura performance by one of our most important writers.” —Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
“How do I know anything? How is it that my arms stretched out in front of me are so pale? How to I even know that they should be brown like riverbank mud, as they were when I was many goddesses with many worshippers, ruling in lands on the other side of a great, salty ocean? I used to be many, but now we are one, all squeezed together, many necks in one coffle. ” From 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 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"
(I have also posted on two other of her novels, Midnight Robber and Brown Girls in the Ring)

The central character of the story,Burri, is a iconic fashion designer with an advanced degree in biochemistry Her latest pieces are African inspired and crafted to touch the heart. They enable wearers to absorb nanorobotic memories and recount the stories of Black lives and forgiveness.

 "Wenda doesn’t buy it. A protest performance artist, Wenda knows exploitation when she sees it. What she’s going to do with Burri’s breakthrough technology could, in the right hands, change race relations" from the publisher 

"Clap Back" is a very intense thought provoking story about how submerged history impacts.

Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born Canadian whose taproots extend to Trinidad and Guyana. She has published numerous novels and short stories, and has edited and co-edited anthologies, including Whispers From the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction, andMojo: Conjure Stories. Her writing has received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Locus Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, and the Andre Norton Award. Hopkinson is a professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. She has taught at both the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. Hopkinson’s short story collection Falling in Love With Hominids was published in 2015 by Tachyon Books. Learn more at

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Aquamarine- by Alice Hoffman- 2001- 106 Pages

 Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman -2001- 106 Pages

A New York Times Best Seller- produced as a Major Movie in 2006 

Aquamarine, published by Scholastic Press, is a middle school book for grades 4 to 7. 

The more I read of the work of Alice Hoffman the happier I am to realize I still have not yet read 30 or so of her novels.

Aquamarine is about two 12-year-old girls, Hailey and Claire, who have been neighbors and best friends forever. Sadly as the summer draws to a close, Claire has to move to Florida, and the bulldozers are closing in on the girls' beloved hangout near the ocean. Then they find a beautiful mermaid, Aquamarine, huddled in the beach pool. They send her home to her ocean sisters, but first they help her find love and adventure with the handsome guy who works in the snack bar. Of course, in helping the stranger, the girls transform themselves and face the changes in their lives. Aquamarine, the mermaid is no romantic forsaken damsel: she's a rude, rebellious teenager, as needy as those who help her, spoiled by her six older sisters who want her back in the ocean. Aquamarine cannot survive out of the water too long. 

I found this brief work a lot of fun. (Our three daughters were for a couple of years all simultaneously teenagers so I can relate!)

I am currently reading Ice Queen.

Mel Ulm 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Victory City: A Novel by Salmam Rushdie- 2023 -336 Pages

 Victory City: A Novel by Salmam Rushdie- 2023 -336 Pages

A New York Times Best Seller

I have been an avid reader of Salman Rushdie for 12 years. Victory City lived up to my very high expectations 

Brilliantly structured as a translation of an ancient epic, Victory City is a saga of love, adventure, and myth that is in itself a testament to the power of storytelling. It is steeped in reimagined Indian History and classic epics.

"In the wake of an unimportant battle between two long-forgotten kingdoms in fourteenth-century southern India, a nine-year-old girl has a divine encounter that will change the course of history. After witnessing the death of her mother, the grief-stricken Pampa Kampana becomes a vessel for a goddess, who begins to speak out of the girl’s mouth. Granting her powers beyond Pampa Kampana’s comprehension, the goddess tells her that she will be instrumental in the rise of a great city called Bisnaga—“victory city”—the wonder of the world.

Over the next 250 years, Pampa Kampana’s life becomes deeply interwoven with Bisnaga’s, from its literal sowing from a bag of magic seeds to its tragic ruination in the most human of ways: the hubris of those in power. Whispering Bisnaga and its citizens into existence, Pampa Kampana attempts to make good on the task that the goddess set for her: to give women equal agency in a patriarchal world. But all stories have a way of getting away from their creator, and Bisnaga is no exception. As years pass, rulers come and go, battles are won and lost, and allegiances shift, the very fabric of Bisnaga becomes an ever more complex tapestry—with Pampa Kampana at its center." From the Publisher"

There are numerous themes in Victory City, the transience of power, love and beauty. The impact of losing those we love. The various religious ideologies of the period are portrayed. Some rulers are kind but most are cruel. Millions die for their Vanity.

Victory City is a very creative highly imaginative work. 

Mel Ulm

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Insurgent Empire : Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopa - 2019 - 628 Pages

 Insurgent Empire : Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopa - 2019 - 628 Pages

I first became aware of this book on a broadcast at Democracy Now- The War and Peace Report.

"Priyamvada Gopal is an astonishing writer and thinker, one who is fearless in how she uses history to explain where we are now. Her work is essential to showing how empire and colonialism pervades every nook and cranny of the British establishment today and why we should all continue to speak truth to power, like she does every damn day.”
—Nikesh Shukla, editor of The Good Immigrant

“This impressive book challenges the assumptions that underpin many academic and journalistic understandings of the British empire; it restores the idea of resistance and dissent, placing anti-colonial struggle from the 1857 uprising in India, to Mau Mau in Kenya, at the heart of historical change. It argues convincingly that, when it did occur, British anti-colonialism in the metropole was forged through exposure to imperial insurgency. By doing so, it tackles the whole premise of British liberal imperial progress and benevolence which remains so pervasive to this day. It’s also a hopeful book, indicating ways out of mythological cul-de-sacs. Erudite, but highly readable, this book will be definitely be on my reading lists for students.”
—Yasmin Khan, Associate Professor of History at Kellogg College, Oxford

“A tremendous book that deserves the widest possible readership … one of the most important books on the British Empire of the last Decade.”
—Race & Class

Insurgent Empire covers a vast geographical range (sub-Saharan and north Africa, Afghanistan and India, the Caribbean and the Americas) It begins it history from the 1857 uprising in North India (in which she largely bebunks the as taught in school idea of it being caused by "greased bullets" and proceeds to 
through to the ‘Mau Mau’ insurgency in Kenya a century later in the 1950s.The book contributes something altogether new and exciting to the existing critical literature in its suggestion that the ‘internal’ opposition to imperial policies and polities was from the outset a dialogical exercise, premised on an active learning from the anti-colonial movements. Gopal shows that the ideas of freedom, justice and common humanity, in the name of which the metropolitan dissenters against imperialism raised their standard, had themselves taken shape in the struggle against imperialism.”

She details the work of writers and philosophers residents in the colonies of the Empire and their influence on those in England opposed to colonial rule. The main stream idea in England was that by establishing colonies " natives", not capable of ruling themselves were being prepared for the day when the benevolent Empire gives them their freedom. (In India millions died during British rule and more after independence in 1947. I highly reccomend Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis for details.)

Here is a central tenant of the book:

"Confronting Gladstone’s argument that the mode of acquisition of India mattered less now than the ‘obligations … contracted towards the nearly 200 millions of people under our rule in India’, Congreve noted that the rebellion had made one thing abundantly clear in relation to the former’s claim that the ‘the condition of trustees’ between God and the Indians: this ‘trusteeship has not hitherto been recognised’.176 Rebellion is thus a forceful reminder that the colonized share the right to recognize and be recognized – but also, crucially, to refuse recognition. Given the importance of the act of ‘recognition’ to international law, to which Congreve explicitly alludes in his questioning of the British right to hold India down by force, his insistence on the right of Indians to recognize or refuse recognition of the colonial presence is of no small import: ‘Is there in the East Indies a different international law from what exists in England?’177 Thus, rather than call for reforms, ‘solutions which to me are incoherent and immoral’, his questioning of the British right to hold India down by force, his insistence on the right of Indians to recognize or refuse recognition of the colonial presence is of no small import: ‘Is there in the East Indies a different international law from what exists in England?’177 Thus, rather than call for reforms, ‘solutions which to me are incoherent and immoral’, he preferred to pose the question that he believed the revolt itself was posing of England: ‘Shall we set to work to re-conquer India?’178 It is the basis on which he offers his resounding negative that is most significant: the ruled did not wish to be ruled."

I will give her the last words 

"My hope is that this study, along with others, will be able to contribute towards what will have to be a sustained unlearning, a monumental process but a necessary one in a heterogeneous twenty-first-century Britain. In the wake of Brexit, the imperial myth, ‘whenever it is torn apart’, shows itself to rest on deep foundations and is repeatedly mended,confusion, catastrophes and disasters.’29 As the sociologist and cultural historian Paul Gilroy puts it, despite the ‘continued citation of the anti-Nazi war’, it is in fact colonial history that provides a better explanatory context for contemporary British culture and its preoccupations – race, identity, multiculturalism, patriotism, religion, social cohesion, migration – providing ‘a store of unlikely connections’ and shaping political life.30 Yet, he points out, that story remains ‘marginal and largely unacknowledged, surfacing only in the interests of nostalgia and melancholia’ in inflated imperial myths which then further entrench ‘deluded patterns of historical reflection and self- understanding"

Priyamvada Gopal is University Reader in Anglophone and Related Literatures in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge and Fellow Churchill College. She is the author of Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence and The Indian English Novel: Nation, History and Narration

Mel Ulm

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland by Olive Schreiner- 1897 - 25 Pages

 Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland by Olive Schreiner- 1897 - 25 Pages

(This story is available at no charge as a Kindle Edition.)

Olive Schreiner

Born: March 24, 1855 South Africa

Died: December 11, 1920 (aged 65) Cape Town South Africa

Although Schreiner had no formal education, she read widely and was taught by her formidable mother. From early childhood she had an active fantasy life. From 1874 until 1881 (when she went to England, hoping to study medicine) she earned her living as a governess; during this time she wrote two semiautobiographical novels, Undine (published 1928) and The Story of an African Farm (1883), and began From Man to Man (1926), at which she worked intermittently for 40 years but never finished.

Her brother William Philip Schreiner was prime minister of Cape Colony from 1899 to 1902.

I am currently reading an amazing book, Insurgent Empire : Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopa

In wbich she mentions today's story Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland by Olive Schreiner as an example of a literary work dealing with the horrors of British colonialism in South Africa (Mashonaland was given its name by Europeans in the mid-19th century. In 1890 the British South Africa Company, a mercantile company based in London, established a fort at the spot where the Company’s Pioneer Column halted its march northward into Mashonaland. The fort 

 was named for Lord Salisbury, then British prime minister, and used as a foothold for further British occupation of the territory. Later in the 1890s, what is now Zimbabwe was divided by the British South Africa Company into two provinces, Mashonaland in the east and Matabeleland (the lands inhabited by the Ndebele people) in the west. Mashonaland, part of self-governing Southern Rhodesia after 1923, became part of independent Zimbabwe in 1980.- from The Enclopedia Britanica)

This is a very powerful story, I was amazed by the vivid portrait it presents of the rapicious cruelty, Greed, and hypocrisy behind British rule.

Peter Halket is 20 years old, the son of a widow who did washing for others and a common laborer. He enlisted to go to South Africa, entertaining a fantasy that he would return as rich as Cecil Rhodes. He has no problem burning villages, keeping indigenous women in near slavery, repeatedly raping them. He is very offended when the women escape, including a 15 year old girl he had impregnated.He subscribes to the prevailing view that the residents are incapable of ruling themselves and lack proper gratitude to the English.

One day he is separated from his troop, with barely enough food to survive. He is in fear of wild animals and natives. Schreiner does a marvellous job letting us into his mind.

Then one day he is joined by a mysterious stranger. Peter knows he is not quite white, definitely not black. The man reveals he is from Palestine. This is just such a beautiful story that I do not want to detail the miraculous transformation the stranger brings onto Peter. The thoughts of the stranger are deeply disturbing to Peter at first.

Yesterday I had never heard of Olivia Schreiner, now I see "Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland" as among the greatest of all short stories.

I offer my thanks to Priyamvada Gopa for bringing this story to my attention.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Lost Daughters of Ukraine by Erin Litteken- 2023- 410 Pages

 The Lost Daughters of Ukraine by Erin Litteken- 2023- 410 Pages

This is the second marvelously done work of historical fictuon, set in Ukraine, by Erin Litteken I have had the pleasure of reading.

The Lost Daughters of Ukraine takes us into the World War Two and after years in the Ukraine. It tells a story of the barbaric treatment of people who just wanted to live in peace. The Ukraine was a battle ground for the Germans and the Russians.

The Germans begin to select Ukrainians, ultimately any healthy person over ten, for shipping to work camps. We see their anguish knowing the weapons they make will be used to kill other Ukrainians.
A person's ethnic background was of prime importance.

As the two sisters are driven from their home they are separated from their loved ones, trying to keep hope alive.
There are many exciting events. (The depiction of the bombing of Dresden, where they were living, reminded me of Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut)

This is the best treatment of life in a displaced person's camp I have ever read.

The ending is very gratifying. The characters are perfectly done.  

The Lost Daughters of Ukraine is included in The Kindle Unlimited Program.

note from the author

"It’s been one year since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In that time, countless war crimes have been committed. Throughout it all, the world has witnessed the strength and tenacity of Ukrainians battling for their right to exist. But Ukraine’s earth is soaked in the blood of generations of its brave defenders.

The Lost Daughters of Ukraine — combines history, fiction, and my own family’s experiences in Ukraine and as refugees to create the story of a family ripped apart by World War II. I’m honored to share this deeply personal novel with you, but I am, sadly, once again releasing a book about a past attack on Ukraine during the current invasion.

Keep Ukraine in your hearts. Listen to and elevate the voices of people living through this horror. Learn about their culture and the tragic and beautiful parts of their history to understand why they fight so valiantly for their country. And please continue to support Ukraine in every way you can.
Slava Ukrayini!

The Lost Daughters of Ukraine is a great edition to World War Two literature. Litteken provides a list of non-fiction works on the war in Ukraine for which I am grateful.

Mel Ulm

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

"Conjure" - A Short Story by Alice Hoffman 2014 - 15 Pages - available in the Kindle Unlimited Program

 "Conjure" - A Short Story by Alice Hoffman 2014 - 15 Pages - available in the Kindle Unlimited Program

"Abbey began reading on the way home from the library, acting out all the parts. She concentrated so deeply on the words on the page that she stumbled over shifts in the concrete sidewalk. “You live in books.” Cate grinned. “I would if I could,” Abbey admitted. “What’s the good of that?” Cate sighed, for she yearned for real life. She wanted adventure, one-of-a-kind experiences. She was suddenly beautiful and there were teenage boys who followed her around town, just as suddenly in love with her, though they were still too young to say so. She confided that her plan was to leave town after high school graduation, find her way to California, see every bit of the coast." From "Conjure"
Like the prior short stories by Alice Hoffman I have read "Conjure" was a marvellous work, capturing the futures of two young women, both once best friends, whose paths radically divert.
There is a rumour in their small hometown that an angel has descended from above.
The girls encounter what seems to be an angel,perhaps with very evil intentions.
I really enjoyed the long time frame flash at the close.

Mel Ulm

Monday, May 15, 2023

The Foretelling by Alice Hoffmann- 2006- 198 Pages

The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman - 2006 - 198 Pages

Prior to today I have posted on two wonderful short stories by Alice Hoffman.
Thanks to some bargain pricing on her novels in Kindle format, I now have eight of her 30 plus works on my E reader.

The Foretelling is designated on Amazon as a book for 12 and up readers.

It is set somewhere on the steppes near the Black Sea, somewhere in an ancient era. It focuses on a community of women warriors. They are deeply bonded with their horses and in perpetual conflict with proximate male dominated societies. Killing at least three men is a requirement to receive the tattoos of a warrior. 

The narrator is the daughter of the current queen. She and her mother are not close.

I found the plot captivating and I felt an empathy with the characters, especially with their love of horses and the narrator's bonding with a bear. There are elegant descriptions of the steppes and forests.
I really liked the closing.

I am still seeking suggestions as to further reads in Alice Hoffman

 Alice Hoffman is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty works of fiction, including Practical Magic, The Dovekeepers, Magic Lessons, and most recently, The Book of Magic. Her works have been translated into more than twenty languages, she has been 
Nominated for multiple awards, and adapted for the screen. She lives in Boston. Visit her website at


Sunday, May 14, 2023

In the Forest of No Joy : The Congo-Océan Railroad and the Tragedy of French Colonialism THE Congo -Ocean Railroad and the Tragedy of French Colonialism by J. P. Daughton. -2021- 368 Pages

 "From 1921 to 1934, men from “the Batignolles” lived near the coast in Middle Congo, often referred to by the French as simply “the Congo,” a region in the southern part of French EquatorialFrom 1921 to 1934, men from “the Batignolles” lived near the coast in Middle Congo, often referred to by the French as simply “the Congo,” a region in the southern part of French Equatorial Africa. They worked on building the Congo-Océan railroad, a massive construction project that the colonial government undertook in the years just after the First World War. Long heralded by Frenchmen as essential to the economic development of the region, the railroad would connect the city of Brazzaville, the colony’s largest settlement

on the upper Congo River, to Pointe-Noire, on the Atlantic coast, where the French planned to build a deepwater port. Covering only some 512 kilometers, fewer than 320 miles, the railroad was not terribly long. But it crossed difficult terrain, especially the dreaded Mayombe, where the rails wound atop unstable, sandy soil, through a region of thick forests, mountains, and gorges." From In The Forest of No Joy

Prior to today's work I have read two very good accounts of the exploitation of the people of the Congo area of Africa by Western countries in order to enrich themselves on the incredible natural resources of the Congo.

Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives By Siddharth Kara details the extreme cruelty with which modern Congo residents are treated while mining cobalt. Cobalt is essential in batteries for vehicles, tablets and smart phones. Workers are paid around $2.00 a day.
In King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild  I learned of the millions of residents of the Congo who died collecting rubber for tires.
To me there is a deep sadness in the exploitation of incredibly impoverished Congolese used to produce essential supplies for cars, knowing the having of such a vehicle would be an impossible dream for them.
An unwavering belief in white supremacy was an article of faith to Europeans working on the construction of the railway.
The story of the Congo-Océan certainly
 demonstrates all too clearly the devastating potency of assumptions of racial superiority. But the faith that France could accomplish the impossible, that it could transform the Cinderella of the empire, was also an essential theme in the tragedy. The chief administration of the project were educated French men, many of the front line supervisors were from other parts of Europe. The French brought in African soldiers from other regions to supervise railroad workers. Whopping and worse was commonly employed. The Congo workers were seen as lazy, stupid, and without a work ethic.

The narratives of empire that were spun in defense of the railroad were worrisomely effective at burying prolonged human misery, the deaths of thousands of people, and the disappearance ofcommunities. They even helped Europeans claim credit for building a railroad across an unforgiving forest while simultaneously erasing the sacrifices of the tens thousands of men and women who made it possible. For the French who oversaw the Congo-Océan, white triumph would always discount African trauma. The narratives and ideals thatanimated liberal empires have not been entirely dismantled in the wake of decolonization. The voices and experiences of the men and women who worked on projects offer one line of defense against future hubris. In their stories is the wisdom needed to see the potential duplicity of those who confidently inspire with promises of transformation, wealth, and humanity.

The were reports made to French authorities about the atrocities. Andre Gide spend time there. He was shown totally perfect conditions in camps, well fed healthy workers.
In a kind of cosmic revenge many medical scholars think Aids orginated in the area of the project about 1930, eventually killing millions.
In the Forest of Joy is very illuminating. (It is a trifle repetious.) 

J. P. Daughton is an award-winning historian of modern Europe and European colonialism and has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University. He has provided media commentary for the Atlantic, Newsweek, Time, and CNN. He lives in San Francisco, California. From the publisher 

Mel Ulm

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Apollo’s Angels : A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans- 2010- 1103 Pages

Apollo’s Angels : A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans- 2010- 1103 Pages

Last month I read Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century by Jennifer Homans. Here are a portion of my thoughts-

This book is a masterpiece. If you have been into ballet all your life you will treasure it, if like me, you have never seen a ballet you will be overwhelmed by the extreme cultural depth of the world Jennifer Homans has presented. The cast of characters is immense, fascinating. The story begins in pre-revoluntunary Russia,suffers through the fall of the Tsar,with young George eating rats, lingers for a while then proceeds to Paris, travels in Weimer Germany, spends a bit of time in London then settles in New York City with some interludes in Hollywood.
If I had know what a great historian Jennifer Homans was I would have first read her 2010 work, Appolo's Angels: A History of Ballet.

Just as a history of American literature must include an account of the society so a history of Ballet requires the incorporating of European history since the birth of Ballet in 16th century France up to the social conditions that Homans convincingly specifies that what she sees as the causes of the precipitous decline in contemporary ballet.

From the Enlightenment and the story-ballet, she takes us to the late-1700s and the French Revolution.At the Paris Opéra, was born the first modern corps de ballet, a group of maidens in white, the colour of revolutionary purity and virtue.

 "When king Henri II wedded the Florentine Catherine de Medici in 1533, French and Italian culture came into close and formal alliance, and it is here that the history of ballet begins. The French court had long reveled in tournaments, jousting, and masquerades, masquerades, but even these impressive and lavish entertainments fell short of those traditionally mounted by the princes and nobility of Milan, Venice, and Florence: flaming torch dances, elaborate horse ballets with hundreds of mounted cavaliers arranged in symbolic formations, and masked interludes with heroic, allegorical, and exotic themes." From Apollo’s Angels

Just as in the French Court, everyone had a rigidly defined place, ballet very much mirrored this. Elaborate dance Preformances were for the enjoyment of the elite. There were no Ballets in the Australia Bush or in the American frontier days.

Homans shows us how The French Revolution impacted ballet-
"Was was a perfect artifact of seventeenth-century French aristocratic culture: an amalgam of the rules and regulations of court life, of chivalry and etiquette, codes of noblesse, le merveilleux, and baroque spectacle. All of these things were written into its steps and practices. Moreover, if ballet seemed—as the Ancients claimed—to cleave to baroque flattery, decepdeception, and bombast, or to be locked in the straitjacket of court ritual and artifice, we should remember that it also articulated high ideals and formal principles. Because the etiquette elaborated at Louis’s court strove for symmetry and order, and drew from deep currents of Renaissance and Classical thinking, ballet was imbued with an anatomical geometry and clear physical logic that also had transcendent implications. As an art, it was pulled between the strong poles of classical and baroque style. It was a vision and defense of nobility—not as a social class but as an aesthetic and way of life." - Appolo's Angels

In one of the most fascinating to me aspects of the book she goes into marvellous detail about the history of ballet in Russia. (She also covers the History of Ballet in Denmark, England, and elsewhere in Europe.) She begins with Peter the Greats efforts to throw off old Russian ways.

 Before Peter the Great there was no ballet at all in Russia. Indeed, it is worth recalling just how isolatedand culturally impoverished the country was before Peter came to power in 1689. For centuries, church and state had been inseparable: the Russian tsar was an Orthodox prince and Moscow was cast as a “third Rome.” Western Europe went through the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the scientific revolution, but Russia remained cut off and bound up in the timeless liturgies of the Orthodox faith. It had no universities and no secular literary tradition; its art and its music were almost exclusively confined to icons and sacred songs. Musical instruments were considered sinful, and dance was something peasants did. Court ballet did not exist." - Appolo's Angels
Homans takes us from the Bolshoi Ballets, where ballerinas often were mistresses of Granddukes, where the Tsar had a private box (think Anna Karenina) up through the revolution to Nakita Krushev bragging that Russian Ballet was far superior to American to George Balanchine’s immigration. (I smiled when I learned he used to cook his own meals in kitchen of The Russian Tea Room in New York City.)
Homans details the history of Ballet in America. American ballet was dominated by Russian emigrants.

There is a delightful collection of photographs and an extensive bibliography.

"When I first began work on this book, I imagined it would end on a positive note. But in recent years I have found going to the ballet increasingly dispiriting. With depressingly few exceptions, performances are dull and lack vitality; theaters feel haunted and audiences seem blasé. After years of trying to convince myself otherwise, I now feel sure that ballet is dying. The occasional glimmer of a good performance or a fine dancer is not a ray of future hope but the last glow of a dying ember...Honor and decorum, civility and taste would have to make a comeback. We would have to admire ballet again, not only as an impressive athletic display but as a set of ethical principles. Our contemporary infatuation with instability and fragmentation, with false pomp and sentiment, would have to give way to more confident beliefs ..But Beauty is not only about sleep and awakening, the court and classical ballet; it also tells of fragility and breaks in tradition—of sleep that may not wake. Over the past two decades ballet has come to resemble a dying language: Apollo and his angels are understood and appreciated by a shrinking circle of old believers"- Appolo's Angels

Written 12 years ago, in the current state of American culture I am completely convinced of this. In a very affluent American community where I have family ties Ballets are sponsored by the extremely rich, with expensive tickets.  

JENNIFER HOMANS was a professional dancer. She was trained at the North Carolina School for the Arts and The School of American Ballet and performed with the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Currently the dance critic for The New Republic, she has written for The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Review of Books, and The Australian. She earned her B.A. at Columbia University and her Ph.D. in modern European history at New York University. She is currently a distinguished scholar in residence at New York University.

Mel Ulm


Thursday, May 11, 2023

The Betrothed: a Seventeenth-Century Milanese Story Discovered and Rewritten / by Alessandro Manzoni- first published in the Italian in three volumes from 1825 to 1827 - translated by Michael F. Moore- preface by Jhumpa Lahiri.- 2022- 665 Pages

The Betrothed: a Seventeenth-Century Milanese Story Discovered and Rewritten / by Alessandro Manzoni- first published in the Italian in three volumes from 1825 to 
1827 - translated by Michael F. Moore- preface by Jhumpa Lahiri.- 2022- 665 Pages

Alessandro Manzoni-1785 to 1873 - Milan

"I look forward to Manzoni’s The Betrothed reaching and conquering new readers in the English language and to teaching Manzoni to my students again. The timing is ideal. More than ever, we need the grand, reassuring architecture of a novel from the 1800s—which in its own time shed light on the early 1600s—to give us perspective on some of the most tumultuous, troubling, and pressing matters that still pertain to our twenty-first-century world: plague, those who deny scientific evidence of the plague, migration, refugee crises, hunger, foreign occupation, religious hypocrisy, tyranny, corruption, mob mentality, existential anguish, class warfare, incarceration, 1600s—to give us perspective on some of the most tumultuous, troubling, and pressing matters that still pertain to our twenty-first-century world: plague, those who deny scientific evidence of the plague, migration, refugee crises, hunger, foreign occupation, religious hypocrisy, tyranny, corruption, mob mentality, existential anguish, class warfare, incarceration, identity politics, privacy violations, the abduction and silencing of women, and the rights of two people who love each other to be married under the law. Manzoni’s novel—both emotionally gripping and coolly objective, both extremely spirited and deadly serious—will enthrall you and sober you in turns." From The Preface by Jhumpa Lahiri 

Jhumpa Lahiri, as I knew she would, has elegantly accounted for the reasons we should be grateful to Michael F. Moore for opening up Manzoni's masterwork to Anglophone readers. This should be high on serious readers of the 19th Century European novel to be read list.

The unifying theme of The Betrothed is the relationship between Renzo and Lucia, two young lovers whose desire to marry is thwarted by a rich and powerful noble man who wants Lucia as a concubine. They are unable to find a Catholic priest willing to marry them out of fear of reprisal. The clergy, especially Capuchins, play a big part. Lucia is placed in a nunnery from which she escapes.

Milan, the capital of Lombardy in 1628 , is transformed into a necropolis, the dead pile up in the streets, food is very hard to get. (The novel takes place in 1628–30. During this period, the Duchy of Milan—whichencompassed large parts of what is today the Lombardy region—was under Spanish rule, and occupied a key geopolitical position within that empire. Its neighbor, the Republic of Venice, was a sovereign state, extending as far west as Bergamo,about thirty miles from Milan The Duchy was therefore under the Spanish king, Philip IV-from the Historical Background End Notes)

Anyone who is able leaves. Renzo is a skilled silk industry worker and is able to find work. The plague brings out the best in some, the worst in others.

The Betrothed very much follows the history of the period. Moore has included very extensive footnotes as well as an appendix detailing historical figures in the novel.

Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873) is Italy’s most celebrated writer. His masterpiece, The Betrothed (I promessi sposi), created the modern Italian language and has influenced generations of the country’scountry’s writers and readers. In addition to this novel—written over a thirty-year period and in three distinct versions—he was a poet, playwright, and prolific essayist, writing on subjects ranging from history to language, literary theory, and religion. - from the book

Michael F. Moore’s published translations range from twentieth-century classics—Agostino by Alberto Moravia and The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi—to contemporary novels, most recently Live Bait by Fabio Genovesi and Lost Words by Nicola Gardini. Moore is the former chair of the Advisory Board for the PEN/Heim Translation Fund. For many years he was also an interpreter at the United Nations, and a full-time staff member of the Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN.

Mel Ulm

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

All The Frequent Troubles of Our Days-The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of German Resistance to Hitler by Rebecca Donner - 2021 - 577 Pages

 Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography 

Finalist for the Plutarch Award
A New York Times Notable Book for 2021 
Oprah Daily Best New Books of August
A New York Public Library Book of the Week
In this stunning literary achievement, Donner chronicles the extraordinary life and brutal death of her great-great-aunt Mildred Harnack, the American leader of one of the largest underground resistance groups in Germany during the Nazi Years.

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Mildred Harnack was twenty-six when she enrolled in a PhD program in Germany and witnessed the meteoric rise of the Nazi party. In 1932, she began holding secret meetings in her apartment—a small band of political activists that by 1940 had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin. She recruited working-class Germans into the resistance, helped Jews escape, plotted acts of sabotage, and collaborated in writing leaflets that denounced Hitler and called for revolution. Her coconspirators circulated through Berlin under the cover of night, slipping the leaflets into mailboxes, public restrooms, phone booths. When the first shots of the Second World War were fired, she became a spy, couriering top-secret intelligence to the Allies. On the eve of her escape to Sweden, she was ambushed by the Gestapo. At a Nazi military court, a panel of five judges sentenced her to six years at a prison camp, but Hitler overruled the decision and ordered her execution. On February 16, 1943, she was strapped to a guillotine and beheaded.

Historians identify Mildred Harnack as the only American in the leadership of the German resistance, yet her remarkable story has remained almost unknown until now.

Harnack’s great-great-niece Rebecca Donner draws on her extensive archival research in Germany, Russia, England, and the U.S. as well as newly uncovered documents in her family archive to produce this astonishing work of narrative nonfiction. Fusing elements of biography, real-life political thriller, and scholarly detective story, Donner brilliantly interweaves letters, diary entries, notes smuggled out of a Berlin prison, survivors’ testimony, and a trove of declassified intelligence documents into a powerful, epic story, reconstructing the moral courage of an enigmatic woman nearly erased history.

As I read this marvelous work, I hoped so much Mildred Harnack's romances, her marriage and her career plans would not be destroyed by the Nazis. In her work as an anti-Nazi agent it was very hard to trust anyone. A neighbor might be a gestapo agent, a collaborator might, and one in fact turned in Mildred and many others, turn you in under fear of torture.  
Some in her circle did make it out of Germany.
We get a clear view of the increasing cruelty of life in Germany.

"Rebecca Donner is the author of the instant New York Times bestseller All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, published by Little, Brown. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days won the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, the 2022 PEN /Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award, the 2022 Chautauqua Prize, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Plutarch Award, and the Governor General’s Literary Award. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days was also selected as a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2021, a New York Times Notable Book, and a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and was named one of the Best Books of 2021 by the Wall Street Journal, TIME Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, and The Economist. 

Rebecca Donner is currently a Visiting Scholar at Oxford. In 2023-2024, she will be a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard Radcliffe Institute." From

Mel u

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

A Cat at Dachau - A Short Story by Elyse Hoffman - 2022- 47 Pages

 A Cat at Dachau - A Short Story by Elyse Hoffman - 2022- 47 Pages

Dachau, located in Upper Bavaria in Southern Germany was one of the first concentration camps established by the Nazis (March 22, 1933). Initially it housed political opponents but later it housed Jews and Roma. Prisoners were subjected to brutal treatment for minor violations of camp rules. Many of the guards were teenage boys. An estimated 40,000 died in Dachau. The camp was liberated on April 22, 1945 by forces from the American Army.

"Of course, SS training was effectively about making the cadets into loyal dogs that would bite and maul without hesitation or question. The aloof cat, ever watchful, ever independent, was anathema to the spirit of the Nazi movement. An SS man who acted like a cat, who carefully observed and escaped if things weren’t good, was a failure of an SS man."

Max, a teenage guard at Dachau,has no qualms about beating Jews, participating in mass tortures, he worships Hitler. He likes drinking after work with his buddies, misses his family and he loves cats.

One day a small, dirty starving cat wanders into Dacau. He is wearing a collar, he was once a pet. Max takes him to a veterinarian, paying for his care. 
He sees the cat has no fear or hatred of Jews. Max begins to think, what if the cat was loved by a Jew, cared for and pampered. Max wonders how could a Jew be kind and unselfish, this is against everything he has been taught.

In the story we get a feeling of what it was like to be a teenage guard. The cat wanders all over the camp, searching for someone.

This is a very moving story. I don't want to give away too much of the plot but I loved the ending.

"A Cat in Dachau" is a delightful story. Cat lovers will be enthralled by this story.

Elyse Hoffman is an award-winning author who strives to tell historical tales with new twists. She loves to meld WWII and Jewish history with fantasy, folklore, and the paranormal. She has written six works of Holocaust historical fiction: The Barracks of the Holocaust five-book series and The Book of Uriel. Elyse’s books are the way to go if you love history and want to read some unique stories." From

Mel Ulm

Friday, May 5, 2023

:Vilna, The End of the Road

Vilna, The End of the Road by Sarah Shimonovitz -2021- 158 Pages

The original manuscript of the book was written by the author in Yiddish and portions were published in newspaper in 1963. The Hebrew edition of the book was published in 1989. Edited and translated by Nathan Livneh from the Yiddish manuscript. This book is a translation of the Hebrew edition.

'Vilna, the End of the Road" is the story of the survival of a mother and daughter from a large Jewish family firmly established in Vilna, who, with the rest of the family, were also destined to be murdered and thrown into the pits at Ponar. The path of suffering began with the deportation of the Jews from their homes to the ghetto, and from there to the killing forest and the death camps. In the dead of the night, the writer boldly and with determination, jumps from the death train into the unknown, into the surrounding horror." From the Website of Jews from Vilna in Israel

From there, she started her long and tedious journey, often surrounded by deadly enemies. But she was determined to survive and reunite with her son and daughter. Time after time, she risked her life searching the forests for her beloved son, the lost partisan; thus, until the eve of the victory over Hitler, when she returns to Vilna, her city, in hope of finding her children. On her way back, alongside many armed Red Army convoys, she passed by Ponar, and remembers her loved ones, and the beloved martyrs of Vilna, sinking into melancholic reflections on the past.

This is not just the end of her personal journey. It is also the end of Jewish Vilna, the "Jerusalem of Lithuania," whose reputation had spread among the Jews the world over."

Vilna was in the years before Germany invaded called the Jerusalem of Lithuania, renowned for its high scholarship. (The military occupation of Lithuania by Nazi Germany lasted from the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 to the end of the Battle of Memel on January 28, 1945.)
One of the lessons quickly learned by even casual students of the Holocaust is that the Christian citizens of countries conquered by the Germans joined in the killing of Jews with great joy and enthusiasm. In this memoir Christian Lithuanians saw getting Jews out of Vilna would give them an opportunity to steal their property and was also a way of sucking up to the Germans, who they greatly feared. There a few good Christian Lithuanians portrayed in Vilna, the End of the Road but very few. Many just liked killing Jews to whom they felt, rightly, inferior.

"For the Jews of Vilnius, the Germans brought with them the inferno itself, in all kinds of strange and different forms. And they deluged us every day, and in increasing quantities. All at once, we became completely defenseless people, or more precisely: mice in a trap. And if the Germans weren’t enough, auxiliary forces,gangs of murderers rose up, who thoroughly enjoyed serving as the “weapon bearers” of their German masters in the murdering of Jews. First in line, in the light of day, were the Lithuanian shooters. They called themselves the Ypatingas (Ypatingasis būrys; the special squad). They wanted to be more Nazi than the Nazis, and started catching Jews and shooting them on the street. Then they began to remove the Jews from their homes. They surrounded entire neighborhoods and quarters, and removed all of the men, supposedly to work, except that they were led to Ponary. “And none ever returned"
We see the level of fear rising rapidly. The Jews of Vilna knew the ultimate goal of the Germans was to kill all the Jews in the country.  The memoir does a marvellous job of letting us feel the horror.
Soon the author, a wife and mother from a well off family, is separated from her family and put on a train on the way to the camp. We know from so many memoirs the horror of the train. The author makes a daring and dangerous leap from the train. The portrayal of her efforts to survive we very exciting. She explains that she was able to pass as Christian. She pretended to be Russian. Some of the people who helped her talked about how glad they were the Germans were getting rid of the Jews.
She was elated when the Russians began to invade Lithuania.
The memoir closes with her return to Vilna where ultimately she is reunited with her daughter and she learns her son, who fought with the Partisans against the
Germans and her husband are both dead.
Christians who she had given her property before she left lie to her in a venal fashion when she asks for her property.

"We arrived in Israel in 1949 and the moment we had pretty much settled in, my mother began writing her memories. To this day, I can still remember her sitting day and night, writing and erasing and typing again, steadfastly and devotedly. What she wrote did not get published for decades. One copy went to Yad Vashem and portions were published in a Yiddish newspaper abroad. After her death, I decided to publish my mother’s memories. In honor of her extraordinary and regal personality. Her tragedy and the tragedy of the Jewish people from a personal standpoint – as they occurred. She wrote them down for her and for her family and for the next generations. It is also in memory of the Jewish Vilna that was destroyed and will never be the same again. Zuta Averbach-Shimonovitz Written by the author’s daughter in the Hebrew edition which she published in 1989."

Vilna, The End of the Road is included in The Kindle Unlimited Program

Mel Ulm

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Bacchae by Euripides- first preformed 405B.C.E. -translated by Emily Wilson - included with The Greek plays: sixteen plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides / new translations edited by Mary Lefkowitz and James Romm. - 2016

 Bacchae by Euripides- first preformed 405B.C.E. -translated by Emily Wilson - included with The Greek plays: sixteen plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides / new translations edited by Mary Lefkowitz and James Romm. - 2016

Ancient Reads Project Work

 Euripides- 480 to 406 BCE- Athens -wrote 95 plays- 18 are extant

So far I have posted on


Trojan Women



The collection I am reading from also contains Alcestis and Helen- my long term Ancient read goal is to read all his plays

CAST OF CHARACTERS (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE) DIONYSUS, a god (son of Zeus by the mortal woman Semele), in disguise as a mortal; his alternative name is Bacchus, so his followers are known as Bacchants 

PENTHEUS, king of Thebes

 AGAVE, mother of PentheusCADMUS, father of Agave;

 previous king and founder of Thebes TIRESIAS, 

old prophet SERVANT 



CHORUS of maenads, * female worshippers of Dionysus, or Bacchus, who have accompanied him from the East; also known as Bacchants or, in Latin, Bacchae— hence the play’s title

Setting: The play takes place at Thebes, in front of the palace of Cadmus, by the river Dirce. There is an ever-smoldering tomb marking the place where Dionysus’ mother, Semele, died from Zeus’ lightning bolt.

Wikipedia has a decent summery of the plot as well as historical information so I will just make a few comments on things that struck 

 me as I read.

Men dress as women in the play. I wondered if American teachers could assign Bacchae to their students without being in fear of termination should a parent complain. Could the play be legally preformed with minors in the audience in Florida, now in the grips of anti-drag hysteria?

One of my favourite series is True Blood, in several episodes the creators drew from the this play. A maenad takes over the town. People go into a frenzy of unrestrained sex, seemingly hypnotically tranced,a giant bull come heavily into play. Conventional morality is forgotten.

"At the heart of the play stands the tense, psychologically complex duel between Dionysus and Pentheus, cousins and agemates —both around twenty years old, to the extent that gods can be said to have ages— now locked in a struggle for control of Thebes. Throughout this contest, Dionysus operates in disguise, pretending to be only a priest of the newly imported cult rather than the deity it serves. He knows, and the audience knows, that he can make a mockery of all Pentheus’ blusters, threats, and armed guards. When he is finally imprisoned in the palace strongholds, an earthquake levels the walls and an unruffled Dionysus steps into freedom." From the introduction

The cult of Dionysus comes from Asia, meaning the area of the Persian Empire.

Just like in America and much of Europe, their is a deeply rooted fear of foreigners, especially Chinese. The misogynistic attitudes of "pro-life" Americans (what an absurd moniker) is seen in the reaction to the Bacchae.

Dionysus played a far different role in Greek religious practice than did Zeus and his other children. His worship had broader social reach, including especially women and the poor, in part. But this populist appeal, together with his perceived foreignness and legendary late arrival among the Hellenes, made Dionysus anomalous , perhaps even dangerous, within the hierarchies of the Greek world.

I am currently reading Appolo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans. She uses the Appolian versus Dionysus dictomy in her account of the Origins of Ballet. Nietsche deals with this in his The Birth of Tradgedy.

The collection in which this work appears would be an excellent start in Greek Drama

EMILY WILSON is Associate Professor in Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work includes Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton; The Death of Socrates: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint; Seneca: A Life; Seneca: Six Tragedies; and a new translation of the Odyssey.

I have read some of her translations of Seneca's plays and hope to read her translation of the Odyssey soon.

Mel Ulm

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The Reading Life Review - April 2023- Future Plans

 Blog Stats for April 2023

As of today our posts have been viewed 6,977,810 times

There are currently 4196 posts online

The ten most viewed posts for the month are all upon short stories 

The most frequent home countries of blog visitors are:

1. USA


3. India

4. Israel

5. Canada

6. Singapore 

7. UK

8. Germany

9. Russia



12. Sweden

13. Iran

Works by six women and seven men were featured. Six April authors are deceased. Seven were featured for the first time in April

We posted on four works of non-fiction (I recommend all of these highly, my favourite was Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century by Jennifer Homans), four novels, five short stories, one Memoir by Vladimir Nabokov and a play by Euripides.

Future Plans

April was a very good reading life month for me.  

In May I hope to read Appolo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans, plays by Euripides and Racine, several more short stories, including works by Ivan Bunin and Teffi.

We will continue to read works focusing on the Holocaust and Yiddish Literature 

We wish all of our readers well. 

Mel Ulm

Ambrosia Bousweau

Oleander Bousweau