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

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Magic Lessons-:The Prequel to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman -2020- 420 Pages

Magic lessons - The Prequel to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. 2020 -406 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

Property Of -1977

Skylight- 2007

This is the tenth work by Alice Hoffman I have read. (Magic Lessons is one of four books in a series on a family, the Owens.)

This work impacted me more than the previous ten works by Alice Hoffman I have so far read. I felt a deep kingship with the lead characters.

Magic Lessons traces an old curse to its starting point. Hoffman unveils the story of Maria Owens, accused of witchcraft in Salem, and matriarch of a line of Owens women and men featured in Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic.

The story begins in England, then Maria is transported as an indentured servant to Curago then onto Massachusetts. Each location is marvelously realized. Maria hides her powers.

I have begun to notice recurring items in Hoffmann, Women with red hair, strong bonds between women and animals, young girls retreating from the world in books,and journeys into the wild. Love is dangerous.

Included is a book club discussion primer and a Q and A with Alice Hoffman.

Monday, June 26, 2023

The Manuscripts Club: The People Behind a Thousand Years of Medieval Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel - 2023 - 624 Pages

The Manuscripts Club: The People Behind a Thousand Years of Medieval Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel - 2023 - 624 Pages

The illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages are among the greatest works of European art and literature. I was dazzled by The Book of Krell I was fortunate to see on a visit to Dublin. De Hame details their crucial role in the transmission of knowledge.

 The Manuscripts Club provides details about men and women who made, collected and preserved them through the centuries, and to whom they owe This entrancing book describes some of the extraordinary people who have spent their lives among illuminated manuscripts over the last thousand years: a monk in Normandy, a prince of France, a Florentine bookseller, an English antiquary, a rabbi from central Europe, a French priest, a Keeper at the British Museum, a Greek forger, a German polymath, a British connoisseur and the woman who created the most spectacular library in America—all of them members of what Christopher de Hamel calls the Manuscripts Club.

This exhilarating fraternity, and the fellow enthusiasts who come with it, throw new light on how manuscripts have survived and been used by very different kinds of people in many different circumstances. Christopher de Hamel’s unexpected connections and discoveries reveal a passion that crosses the boundaries of time. We understand the manuscripts themselves better by knowing who their keepers and companions have been.

In 1850 (or thereabouts) John Ruskin bought his first manuscript “at a bookseller’s in a back alley.” This was his reaction: “The new worlds which every leaf of this book opened to me, and the joy I had in counting their letters and unravelling their arabesques as if they had all been of beaten gold—as many of them were—cannot be told.” The members of de Hamel’s club share many such wonders, which he brings to us with scholarship, style and a lifetime’s experience. There are numerous beautiful illustrations.

This book is written out of a deep knowledge and passion.

"In he course of a long career at Sotheby's and at Cambridge University, Christopher de Hamel has probably seen and catalogued more medieval manuscripts than anyone alive, and his delight and enthusiasm run through all he writes. He is the author of many books, translated into numerous languages, including A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, The Book in the Cathedral, and Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, which won both the Duff Cooper Prize and the Wolfson History Prize. He is a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge" From the publisher 


Thursday, June 22, 2023

Travellers Through Time- A Gypsy History by Jeremy Harte -2022- 320 Pages

Travellers Through Time- A Gypsy History by Jeremy Harte -2022- 320 Pages - published by Reaktion Books.

Reaktion Books is a great source for books on history, biography and more.

I have been interested in Romi history for over 20 years. Travellers Through Time- A Gypsy History by Jeremy Harte is the only work that focuses on the history of the Gypsies in England. It is a very valuable addition to Romi literature.

Harte begins with an account of how he was motivated to write a history of the Romi in England. He details his research methods and personal contacts. The Romi first arrived on British shores about 1525. Initially men came as traders, then as they developed contacts with earlier residents.

"Romany Gypsies have been variously portrayed as exotic strangers or as crude, violent delinquents; this book is the first real history of the Romany people, from the inside. Jeremy Harte vividly portrays the hardships of the travelling life, the skills of woodland crafts, the colourful artistic traditions, the mysteries of a lost language and the flamboyant displays of weddings and funerals, which are all still present in this secretive culture.
Travellers through Time tells the dramatic story of life on the margin of society from Tudor times to today, offering vivid insights into the hidden world of England’s large Gypsy population. It will appeal to those who are curious about other cultures, as well as those who want to understand the reality behind the facade" - From the Publisher 

Harte tracks the movements of Romi people from India to the Persian Empire, Eastern Europe to France and then England through linguistics and older histories and government records.

Upon arrival in England many distrusted and feared the darker skinned differently dressed Romi. Harte's account details their involvement in English history up to the current day.

Harte gives us a vivid picture of the life styles of the Romi, their caravans, customs and clan structures. Romi initially did not marry outsiders. Many Romi men were well known boxers. Horses, betting and clan gatherings are very important. Harte shows us how some English communities were accepting of Travellers and others banned them. Their children did not for a long time attend school and few adults were literate. Harte tells us how Romi men fought for England in both world wars.

Harte takes us up to the 20th century. Many Romi are in settled communities, children learn English, there are now Romis in Parliament.

The traditional dress is worn more by women then men. Social roles are defined still by gender, though with a good bit of flexibility, age and wealth.

The Romi are still subjected to prejudices based on their skin tones and heritage. 

Jeremy Harte is curator of the Bourne Hall Museum at Epsom and Ewell. He is secretary of the Romany & Traveller Family History Society and created the Surrey Gypsy Archive. His previous books include Cloven Country: The Devil in the English Landscape, also published by Reaktion Books.
I highly reccomend this beautifully rendered addition to Romi and English History. Harte has included many photographs.

Mel Ulm


Tuesday, June 20, 2023

"We Are Bone and Earth" by Esi Edugyan - 2022- 32 Pages - A Point in Time Collection Story- An Amazon Original

 "We Are Bone and Earth" by Esi Edugyan - 2022- 32 Pages - A Point in Time Collection Story- An Amazon Original 

Having previously greatly enjoyed two of Ese Edugyan historical novels, Washington Black and Half-Blood Blues, I was delighted to discover her short story "We Are Bone and Earth" available in the Kindle Unlimited Program.

Editorial Reviews

In this moving short tale of one girl’s search for her lost brother, award-winning author Esi Edugyan offers a vivid, unique perspective on a lesser-known corner of the West African slave trade.
At a fort in Cabo Vermelho in 1779, Sisi, a West African girl with a gift for languages, works as a translator for her English enslavers. She was separated from her younger brother after they were kidnapped from their village by the ahosi, fierce female warriors who serve a neighboring king—and her guilt over her failure to protect him has never left her. When unexpected news reaches the fort, Sisi must find her voice, for her brother’s sake." From Amazon 
Sisi was originally left at the slavers port as a "pawn". When a man needed to leave the fort area on a slaving expedition he could leave a child, his pawn, as a guarantee he would return within six weeks. Sisi encounters a friend from her former village. They leave the fort to look for her brother. Their journey was exciting.

I enjoyed this story very much. In an afterword the author explains what drew her to write the work.

Esi Edugyan is the author of there novels, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, Half-Blood Blues, and Washington Black and the nonfiction work Out of the Sun. She is the recipient of the Scotiabank Giller Prize (2011 and 2018), the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (2012), and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (2013).

Mel Ulm


Saturday, June 17, 2023

"Mother Swamp" by Jesmyn Ward- 2022- 16 Pages -An Amazon Original Story - from The Point in Time Collection

 "Mother Swamp" by Jesmyn Ward- 2022- 16 Pages -An Amazon Original Story - from The Point in Time Collection - available in the Kindle Unlimited Program

Any day you discover a new to yourself writer who, on first encounter, you add to your read all you can list is an excellent reading life day. "Mother Swap" has made Jesmyn Ward such a writer for me. I have added all her books to my Amazon Wish list.

"Afice is the last of nine generations of women who have survived enslavement, sickness, and hunger. Alone at age seventeen, she sets out through the Louisiana swamps to follow the trail of her ancestors and hear their songs anew. On this journey, Afice must decide how to honor her ancestors while embracing her own future." From Amazon

"Mother Swamp" is set in the slavery days somewhere along the Gulf of Mexico coast, probably Eastern Louisiana among a settlement of women who escaped from slavery and their daughters. Wards shows us the struggles they had to survive in very harsh conditions. I was personally very gratified that she included "Manilamen" in her story. In this imagined community women go to visit the camp of the Manilamen to find a man to impregnate them. They keep the the girls, returning the boys.
For a 16 page story there is just so much in "Mother Swamp".
Ward also includes an account of why she was drawn to write this story and provides illuminating historical background.

Jesmyn Ward is the author of Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Sing, Unburied, Sing. She is a twice-over recipient of the National Book Award, first in 2011 and again in 2017. In 2016 she was selected for the Strauss Living Award, and in 2018 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. Visit her website at

Mel Ulm

Friday, June 16, 2023

Skylight by Alice Hoffman - 2007- 150 Pages

 Skylight Confessions- 2007- 150 Pages

Arlyn, 17, with her shimmering red hair,is utterly alone in the world until she pulls John Moody into her orbit and refuses to let go. An architectural student at Yale, he is the lackluster son of an architect famous for building a Connecticut house known as the Glass Slipper. They have no sane reason to marry but their sexual attraction drives them to marry.
In a variation on the nursery rhyme about the woman who lived in a shoe, the mismatched couple dwell precariously in the comfortless glass mansion with their solemn son, Sam, and, later, a daughter, Blanca, who isn't even a year old when cancer claims Arlyn. But death doesn't dispel Arlyn's powers. As birds inexplicitly flock to the Glass Slipper, dishes break without being touched, and soot rains down, Sam, a promising artist, loses his way in a labyrinth of narcotics, even as help arrives in the form of a young woman also haunted by her dead.

There are lots twists and turns. The dead haunt the living. There is an adorable Bassett Hound that worships Cynthia, an adulterous who becomes John Moody's second wife. The fatherhood of Moody's daughter is a solved mystery.

Skylight Confessions is divided into three fifty page chapters. One is devoted to the early years with John and Arlyn. By the second section John's son Sam with Arlyn has become an uncontrollable teenage drug addict. Meridith, 28 an art history graduate, joins the mix as the family nanny, hired to try to save Sam, in chapter two.
Cheaper three finds 25 year old Blanca living in London. She comes back to Conneticut for John Moody's funeral and we meet Will, Sam's son.

Blanca lives very much the Reading Life, she owns a book store in London devoted to fairy tales.
"The attraction of fairy tales was how aware such tales were of these boundaries — countries were divided into kingdoms, kingdoms into castleholds, castles into towers and kitchens. Fairy tales were maps formed of blood and hair and bones; they were the knots of the subconscious unwound. Every word in every tale was real and as true as apples and stones. They all led to the story inside the story."

Everyone in Skylight Confessions has had what they hoped would be their future rendering into something to dread by a death of a loved one.

Here is why I loved Blanca:

"Blanca collected books from the Trash and at jumble sales and at church-fair bins the way other people rescued orphans. She kept a stack of books near the tub so she could read in the bath, even though the edges of the pages turned moldy. She read on trains and on buses, which often made her late as she was forever missing her stop. She could not sit at a restaurant without a book in her hands and sometimes she became so engrossed she forgot her cutlet or her pasta or her dinner companion completely. A dear friend, a devoted friend, Jessamyn Banks, who had been Blanca’s roommate during that dreadful term when Sam died, had gently suggested that perhaps Blanca was creating a buffer between the real world and the imagined world. In response Blanca had laughed, something her friends rarely heard. “Well, good for me. I can’t think of anything I’d like more.” 

Skylight Confessions has elements of the supernatural and magic realism.
The ending is emotionally satisfying after the heartbreaking events depicted, the dysfunctional family where one child escapes in drugs the other into the Reading Life.
Inspired by Blanca, I purchased the complete, 497, fairytales Collected and curated by Andrew Lang.
I have begun her Magic Lesson- A Prequel to Magic Lessons.
ALICE HOFFMAN is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including The World That We Knew, The Rules of Magic, Practical Magic, the Oprah’s Book Club selection Here on Earth, The Red Garden, The Dovekeepers, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, The Marriage of Opposites, and Faithful. She lives near Boston.

Mel Ulm

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Ivanoff - A Play by Anton Chekhov- first Preformed in 1887- translated by Constance Garnett

Ivanoff - A Play by Anton Chekhov- first Preformed in 1887- translated by Constance Garnett 

 NICHOLAS IVANOFF, perpetual member of the Council of Peasant Affairs
 ANNA, his wife.
 Nee Sarah Abramson
 MATTHEW SHABELSKI, a count, uncle of Ivanoff

MICHAEL BORKIN, a distant relative of Ivanoff, and manager of his estate
 AVDOTIA NAZAROVNA, an old woman 
GEORGE, lives with the Lebedieffs

This four-act drama was first performed in 1887, when Fiodor Korsh, the owner of the Korsh Theatre in Moscow, commissioned Chekhov to write a comedy. Chekhov responded with a four-act drama, which he completed in only ten days. 
 The play concerns Nikolai Ivanov, a man struggling to regain his former glory. For the past five years, he has been married to Anna Petrovna, a disinherited ‘jewess’, who has suffered greatly from illness.
Ivanov’s estate is run by a distant relative, Mikhail Borkin, who is frequently advising people on how he can help them make money. The doctor, Lvov, an ‘honest’ man as he likes to frequently remind the rest of the cast, informs Ivanov that his wife is dying of Tuberculosis and that she needs to recover by going to the Crimea. Unfortunately, Ivanov is unable to pay for the expensive journey, as he is heavily in debt, owing Zinaida Lebdeva 9000 roubles. Ivanov is criticised for heartlessness and for spending time with the Lebedevs instead of his seriously ill wife.

This is one of his early lesser known but still Preformed plays that in a comic fashion, deals with the issues of changing times in Russia, as do his more famous plays.

Mel Ulm

Saturday, June 10, 2023

THE World Is Blue:How Our Fates and the Ocean's Are One by Sylvia Earle - 2009- 320 Pages

 The World Is Blue:How Our Fates and the Ocean's Are One by Sylvia Earle - 2010- 320

This post is in honour of my Nephew Alan Ulm. Alan just graduated from High School in South West Florida. He received numerous awards for academic achievements as well as for citizenship. He lives very near the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricanes are a seasonal threat. Living so close to the Gulf of Mexico he early on developed a concern for the environment. Like many young people he is rightly very concerned about the disastrous impact of global warming which we are already facing. He was given a special award for his focus on oceanography. Included with his award he was given several books, including a copy of The World Is Blue:How Our Fates and the Ocean's Are One by Sylvia Earle.

Earle shows with great force the dangerous impacts of climate change on the Oceans of the world and the impact of this on humanity. Here are a few of the matters she develops:

"Earth’s life-support system—the ocean—is failing. But who is paying attention? Throughout our history, the mostly blue natural world has been regarded as something to be vanquished, tamed, or otherwise used for purposes that seemed to make sense at the time. Deeply rooted in human culture is the attitude that the ocean is so vast, so resilient, it shouldn’t much we take out of—or put into—it. But two things changed in the 20th century that may jolt us into a new way of thinking. First, more was discovered about the nature of the ocean and its relevance to the way the world works than during all preceding history. Second, during the same narrow slice of time, human actions caused more destruction to ocean systems than during all preceding history. And the pace is picking up.. it is now clear that well before the start of the 20th century, humans had drastically, altered the fundamental nature ofthe sea by decimating the populations of fish, mammals, birds, turtles, lobsters, oysters, and other ocean wildlife. Further changes were initiated by noxious substances lofted into the atmosphere that eventually made their way into the sea...Ninety percent of many once common fish have been extracted since the 1950s; 95 percent of some species, including bluefin tuna, Atlantic cod, American eel, and certain sharks have been killed. ..

But most of all, it matters that the world is blue because our lives depend on the living ocean—not just the rocks and water, but stable, resilient, diverse living systems that hold the world on a steady course favorable to humankind. The big question is, what can we do to take care of the blue world that takes care of us?"

Earle begins with an account of how she got interested in studying the ocean. She, like Alan, has strong personal connections to Florida. Already in the 12 years since her book was published Hurricanes have increased. South West Florida is listed as among the most vulnerable parts of America to rising sea levels. Red tides are increasing, home owners insurance costs have sky rocketed.

Earle talks a lot about possible solutions. Educating a public that will demand corporations and that politicians make climate change a top priority is, as evidenced by Earle, a top priority.

One beautiful solution Earle thrilling talks about is the World wide expansion of marine sanctuaries.
"marine protected areas were expected to be large enough to accomplish the following objectives: Maintain essential ecological processes and life-support system functions. Preserve genetic diversity. Ensure the sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems..The international version of The Science of Marine Reserves, published by PISCO, the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, defines marine reserves as “ocean areas that are fully protected from activities that remove animals and plants or alter habitats, except as needed for scientific monitoring.” Prohibited activities include fishing, aquaculture, dredging, and mining, while nondestructive swimming, diving, and boating are allowed. In studies of more than 124 marine reserves in temperate and tropical areas, increases were documented in biomass, density—the number in a given area—body size, and species diversity. Even small fully protected areas can make a measurable difference, but the benefits of larger reserves include coverage of more habitat types, greater diversity, and greater insurance against catastrophes, from storms to diseases."

Called Her Deepness by the New Yorker and the New York Times and a Living Legend by the Library of Congress, and named by Time magazine as the first Hero for the Planet, Sylvia Earle is an oceanographer, explorer, author, lecturer, Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, leader of the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, council chair for the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, founder and chairman of the Deep Search Foundation, and chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean in Google Earth.She is a graduate of St. Petersburg College and Florida State University, with an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Duke University, and has received 17 honorary doctorates.She has received more than 100 national and international honors, including the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Netherlands’ Order of the Golden Ark, Australia’s Banksia Award, Italy’s Premio Artiglio Award, and medals from the Explorers Club and the Society of Women Geographers. In 2009 she received the TED Prize, the Audubon Society’s Rachel Carson Award, the BLUE Ocean Film Lifetime Achievement Award, and was inducted into the International Women’s Forum.

Everyday we are seeing on news programs the increasing impact of climate change. In the last few days, wild fires in Canada, made much worse by global warming,have given New York City the worst air quality in the world. Earle explains how global warming starts in the oceans.

In America politicians financed by petroleum and coal interests try to suggest climate change is a hoax of some sort, just as cigarette companies once claimed that their products did not cause cancer.

Mel Ulm

Friday, June 9, 2023

Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze - 2008- 829 Pages

Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze - 2008- 829 Pages

One of my core interests is the Holocaust. Of course this needs to be understood in terms of the places and the era in which it occurred, Germany and the territories it conquered during WW Two.

The Holocaust (1933–1945) was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews by the Nazi German regime and its allies and collaborators.The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum defines the years of the Holocaust as 1933–1945. The Holocaust era began in January 1933 when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany. It ended in May 1945, when the Allied Powers defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. The Holocaust is also sometimes referred to as “the Shoah,” the Hebrew word for “catastrophe.” From The Website of The US Holocaust Museum 

Tooze's book goes into copious detail about how the economy in Nazi Germany was shaped by the goals and beliefs of Adolph Hitler and his supporters.

One of the platform ideas that helped make the Nazi party popular was their harsh criticism of the post WW One Versiles Treaty. The Treaty, among other things,prohibited Germany from rebuilding its military, imposed reparations and confiscated territory. The Nazis blamed the extreme decline in the German economy on the Treaty. They saw it as engineered by an international Jewish conspiracy. 

Tooze shows us how, with the full cooperation of wealthy German industrial concerns like I.G. Farben, BMW, Siemens, Damiler-Benz and others began a massive built up of the German Army and the airforce.

"The cultural crises of early twentieth-century Europe, the vacuum left by the secularizing tendencies of the late nineteenth century, the radicalizing horror of World War I, all demand attention from anyone seriously interested in plumbing the deeper motives of National Socialism. How else can we understand a regime that took as its central objective the destruction of European Jewry, an objective apparently devoid of all economic rationale, a project that, if it can be understood at all, seems to be intelligible only in terms of a violent theology of redemptive purifica tion?" From the book

Hitler wanted to expand Germany territory way into the east, basically killing the Jews and starving millions. The plan was to use this space to produce food for Germans.  

Tooze details the internal political developments within Germany. A top priority was to insure adequate food supply at home. Nazi leaders realised unless Germans had good diets they would not support the party.

In Hitler's mind the complete extermination of the Jews of Europe was always a top priority. At first he did not talk a lot about it but as Tooze illustrstes it was by early 1940 a dominant factor.

Tooze shows how concentration camps figured into the German economy as a cheap source of labor. The Holocaust was also explicitly viewed as eliminating people viewed as nonproductive, the old, ill, young children.

Russian prisoners of war up to 600,000 died from over work and starvation, as did millions in the Ukraine and Russia.

At first Jews were allowed to emigrate if they could pay huge fees. Jewish owned businesses were turned over to Germans.

Ultimately the German leadership knew they would probably be Defeated once America with its huge economic capability entered the war.

"This book is the first in sixty years to offer a truly critical account of the performance of the German war economy both under Speer and his predecessors and it casts stark new light on his role in sustaining the Third Reich to its bloody end. For it is only by re-examining the economic underpinnings of the Third Reich, by focusing on questions of land, food and labour that we can fully get to grips with the breathtaking process of cumulative radicalization that found its most extraordinary manifestation in the Holocaust. The first aim of this book, therefore, is to reposition economics at the centre of our understanding of Hitler’s regime, by providing an economic narrative that helps to make sense of and underpin the political histories produced over the last generation." From the book

 Tooze has produced a brilliant highly illuminating history.

Adam Tooze holds the Shelby Cullom Davis chair of History at Columbia University and serves as Director of the European Institute. In 2019, Foreign Policy Magazine named him one of the top Global Thinkers of the decade.

Mel Ulm


Thursday, June 8, 2023

Thec Ruling Familiies of Rus: Clan, Family and Kingdom by Christian Raffensperger and Donald Ostrowski - 2023- 300 Pages

 The Ruling Families of Rus- Clan, Family and Kingdom by Christian Raffensperger and Donald Ostrowski - 2023- 300 Pages

Kyivan Rus’ was a state in northeastern Europe from the late ninth to the mid-sixteenth century that encompassed a variety of peoples, including Lithuanians, Polish, and Ottomans. The Ruling Families of Rus explores the areas history through local families, revealing how the concept of family rule developed over the centuries into what we understand as now as dynasties. The authors spend a good bit of time talking about, using a term from David Fisher, what are called "historical fallacies". One such fallacy is to start from a point in history after the era you are studying and portray the past only as it leads to the future. In the case of Russian studies it would often taken history as an inevitable march to the Romonovs.
"In other words, as Fischer states it, this represents ‘a complex anachronism , in which the antecedent in a narrative series is falsified by being defined or interpreted in terms of the consequent’. The historians’ fallacy here, in what may be a classic example, judges the relevance of events in early Rus in terms of their leading to the creation of the Russian dynastic state, from the end of the fifteenth until the beginning of the sixteenth century. However, there is another chronological dimension that will lead eventually to the present-day state of Russia. In this respect, according to Fischer, what has been created is ‘the mistaken idea that the proper way to do history is to prune away the dead branches of the past and to preserve the green buds and twigs which have grown into the dark forest of our contemporary world’. 30 The various branches of the history tree that do not lead to the present are chopped off as irrelevant.What we have tried to do in this book is to study early Rus until the sixteenth century from the point of view of the people who lived it, what they knew and what they didn’t know at the time. Our evidence tells us that, among other things, they did not know that they were part of a dynasty. They did, however, know that they were part of a family." From the text.

Ascension to the throne in the period was not strictly through the oldest son. First it would pass through the ruler's brothers. Rulers saw themselves as part of a family, not a dynasty.

Each of the 12 chapters focuses on the family of a different ruler. Marriages were arranged to increase power, develop trade and promote peace.

Some rulers paid tribute to the Mungals, church architecture was adapted from the Byzantine Empire.

Here is how the authors tell us Rus began

" the locals proved to be unable to rule themselves and, thus, the ‘Varangian Rus’ were invited back to rule over them: ‘Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it . Come to rule and reign over us.’ Thus, the author of the much later pvl account, writing at the behest of the descendants of these same Rus, or at least for people claiming descent from them, had now created a proper origin story – not one of conquest and bloodshed, but one where their ancestors were invited in as saviours and peacekeepers by a local population who were unable to take care The explorations of these Scandinavian travellers seemed eventually to turn to conquest or, at least, tribute-taking, as recorded by the pvl. However, only a few years later, the pvlsays that: ‘The tributaries of the Varangians drove them back beyond the sea and, refusing them further tribute, set out to govern themselves.’ This expulsion of the tribute-taking Scandinavians is the real beginning of the creation story of Rus"

This book took my knowledge of Russian History much further back than the Romanovs. I highly reccomend it to all into Russian or Medieval European history.

Christian Raffensperger is the Kenneth E. Wray Chair in the Humanities at Wittenberg University.

Donald Ostrowski is a lecturer at the Harvard Extension School and an associate of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.

Mel Ulm

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Helen - by Euripides-First Preformed 412 B.C.E. Translated by Emily Wilson -This play is included in The Greek Plays: Sixteen Plays by Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides-Preface, general introduction, play introductions, and compilation - 2016 by Mary Lefkowitz and James Romm

 Helen - by Euripides-First Preformed 412 B.C.E. Translated by Emily Wilson -This play is included in The Greek Plays: Sixteen Plays by Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides-Preface, general introduction, play introductions, and compilation - 2016 by Mary Lefkowitz and James Romm

An Ancient Reads Work

Euripides-480 to 406 B.C.E 

Plays by Euripides Previously posted upon


Trojan Women




Cast of Characters in Helen in Order of Appearance 

HELEN, wife of Menelaus 

TEUCER, a Greek hero from Salamis

 CHORUS of Greek maidens 

MENELAUS, king of Sparta 

THEONOË, priestess and sister of Theoclymenos 

THEOCLYMENUS, ruler of Egypt


CASTOR and POLLUX, semidivine brothers of Helen (also known as the Dioscuri)SERVANT

 THEONOË, priestess and sister of THEOCLYMENUS

Setting: Helen takes place in front of the palace of Theoclymenos, ruler of Egypt.

"Helen by Euripides presents a very different account of the person of Helen depicted in the Iliad. Homer presented a faithless wife who abandons her much older husband because of an infatuation with a handsome young Trojan prince, Paris, visiting the court of her Macedonian husband, Menelaus, on a diplomatic mission. Her lack of decent morals and unfaithfulness ended up destroying Troy and costing 1000s of Greek lives.

Ever since Homer’s Iliad, Helen had been associated in the Greek mind with beauty, sexual allure, and a faithlessness and cunning born of these two qualities. To build a tragedy around such a woman—the polar opposite, in terms of stature, of Antigone or Medea— as Euripides did in 412 B.C. was a daring move, almost certain to produce a play that was not, in fact, tragic." From the introduction 

Euripides presents a totally different story. His Helen never went to Troy, never was unfaithful. Instead the Goddess Hera, jealous because she lost a beauty contest, created a spirit figure in Helen's and sent this to Troy.

The real Helen made it to Egypt. As I did not already know what was going to happen I found the plotting quite exciting.

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.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Property Of by Alice Hoffman - 1977 -280 Pages- Her Debut Novel

 Property Of by Alice Hoffman - 1977 -280 Pages- Her Debut Novel 

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
Property Of -1977

 "On the Avenue in the bleak area where New York City blends into suburbia, the Orphans, their fast Fords and their Chevys 'coated by ice and leather and white dust', prepare to engage in deadly, intricately structured games of combat. It is a world of grotesque, horrifying violence, fear, bravado and drugs, redeemed in the minds of its inhabitants by codes of honour, by chivalrous intentions and by the purity of their struggle for power, dominance, territory. This is the setting of Alice Hoffman's unsparing and unsentimental novel. Her heroine, 17 years old, quick witted yet vulnerable, falls helplessly in love with McKay, the Orphan's 22 year old president and their doomed love story is told in desperate counterpoint to the punk lyrical flippancies of throbbing car radios and jukes." From Penguin Press

I have read several highly laudatory reviews for Property Of, Alice Hoffman's debut novel. I found some of the narrator's descriptions of life on the streets, of the impact of drugs, very elegant. Personally I found the subject matter of little interest and the characters the same. I finished Property Of because I am attempting a read through of her work. It became a Slough through for me. 

The reviews praising Property Of were all written long after she became one of America's most loved writers.

I will read at least one more work by Alice Hoffman this month, I hope.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

THE GLATSTEIN CHRONICLES By Jacob Glatstein, Part One - Homeward Bound- first published 1936 - translated from Yiddish by Maier Deshell and Norbert Guterman -2010- with an Introduction by Ruth Wisse

THE GLATSTEIN CHRONICLES By Jacob Glatstein, Part One - Homeward Bound- first published 1936 - translated from Yiddish by Maier Deshell and Norbert Guterman -2010- with an Introduction by Ruth Wisse

Jacob Glatstein 

April 20,1896 - Lublin, Poland
1914- emigrated to New York City (due to increasing antisemitism) - joining his uncle-In NYC, he found thatYiddish, the common language of several million immigrants, generated newspapers, theater companies, publishing houses, humor magazines, a music industry, and an aspiring high literary culture. He began a long very successful career as a writer in various genres.

November 19,1971- New York City

The Voyage Out is part One of a fictionalized personal account of a Yiddish writer who returns to Poland in 1934. Conceived as a trilogy, this project was begun shortly after Glatstein returned to New York. The first installment appeared in the little magazine Inzikh (In the self) in 1934, and the book Ven yash iz geforn (When Yash set out) was published three years later. In The Voyage Out the preponderance of plotting takes place on a seven day cruise from New York City to Paris. From Paris the narrator travels on to Lublin to see his mother. He has not seen her since he emigrated to New York City twenty years ago. His siblings sent him a letter saying "hurry back, your mother will die soon".

In her introduction Professor Wisse compares The Voyage Out to The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (published in 1924). 
 After departing and checking into his second class cabin, he begins to explore the ship. He evaluates everyone by their lucks, especially women. On this seagoing Magic Mountain there are numerous ethnic categories he sees. The narrator has lots of conversations with other Jews about the good and bad aspects of being Jewish. The impending disastrous shadow of Hitler ominously looms over all the Jewish passengers. Of course in 1936 no one knew how bad it would be for Polish Jews. There are groups of Russians, some born in America, believe firmly in the dream of a communist state. Others have fled from Stalin.

When the ship lands, ship board connections are quickly forgotten. 

Aboard ship people feel free to embellish there travel plans. A trip to visit a tin-smith uncle becomes a journey to inherit a huge tin mine.

Many on ship want a bit of romance. The presentation of women in The Voyage Out is very descriptive of their bodies, with a fixation on bosom and bottom sizes. A group of 15 year old girls are up for anything.

There a lots of very telling conversations. Some passengers just want a captive audience. Class lines are very clear aboard.

"Unlike his Yiddish contemporaries and predecessors who were raised mostly on Russian, Polish, and German literatures, Glatstein also read Anglo-American literature, including T. S. Eliot,Ezra Pound, and James Joyce—expatriates like himself, who rendered the disintegration of their inherited traditions as masterworks of wasteland and exile...The Glatstein chronicles stretch like a tightrope across a chasm. Book One, “Homeward Bound,” opens as the poet sets out for his native city and ends with the train conductor’s call for “Lublin!”. From Professor Wisse's introduction 

I will share a few passages- the news of the Night of the Long Knives has reached the ship:
"I realized that to the Gentiles, Hitler meant something altogether different than he did to me. My non-Jewish fellow passengers . . . regarded Hitler as merely Germany’s dictator. To me, to 600,000 German Jews, and indeed to all the 17 million Jews worldwide, Hitler was the embodiment of the dreaded historical hatemonger, latest in a long line of persecutors that stretched from Haman . . . wielding a bloody pen that was writing a dreadful new chapter of Jewish history." This is not just a novel, but a prophecy.

The fact is that a real war is being waged against us, a war of attrition . . . There’s no escaping it: all the countries have imposed a siege . . . Believe me, the Poles are much cleverer than Hitler. They don’t rant and rave, they just pass over our bodies with a steamroller and drive us right into the ground . . . Formerly you could escape by emigrating. Today our people are staring death in the eyes...

“It started with Pharaoh who bathed in the blood of Jewish children. Why, oh why, why do we deserve this, Mr. Steinman? What do they have against us, Mr. Steinman?”

“Ah, you’re raising fundamental questions,” Steinman said. He had become grave. “You want to go to the root of things. Well, I’ll tell you: they want to destroy us, nothing less. Yes, to destroy us. For instance, take me—I am a patriotic Pole. And yet they’d destroy me too. They want to exterminate us, purely and simply. Yes, exterminate us.”

Thecprecarious situation of European Jewry comes more clearly into focus. On his way through Germany en route to Warsaw, the train is boarded by a group of Hitler Youth. “My first reaction wasn’t rage but childish surprise, that what I had only read or heard about I was seeing with my own eyes,” the narrator notes. “I thought of New York, where giant rallies were being held, protesting these very salutes, and here I had spanned the magical distance and come face to face with the actuality.” Later, upon arriving at his aunt’s home in Warsaw, he observes: “My aunt had never been known to keep a neat house, but now the gloom stemmed from poverty, not sloppy housekeeping. The difference was obvious. Poverty wasn’t merely black but muddy black, the earthy color of things about to crumble.
I am very grateful to the publisher and translators for making this powerful work available in English.

I will post on part two, set in Poland soon.

Mel Ulm



Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Reading Life Review - May 2023 - Future Plans

The Reading Life Review - May 2023

Row One. Left to Right

1. Sarah Shimonovitz- Ukraine to of War Time and Holocaust memior- first appearance on R.L
2. Rebecca Donner- Canada- historian- author of All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days- National Book Award Winner for Biography and a New York Times Best Seller
3. Elyse Hoffman- USA-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 her website. First appearance on RL. I hope to read more of her work

Row Two- Alice Hoffman - U.S. A. - this is her six appearance on RL- She has written over 30 novels and numerous stories. I have eight of her works on my E- Reader waiting to be read.
2. Jennifer Homans- USA- Ballet Critic for the New Yorker- author of two essential books- Mr. G: George Balanchine’s century and Appolo's Angels: A History of Ballet- I am so thankful to her for the beautiful books.
3. Erin Litteken- USA- author of two historical novels set in the Ukraine- I highly reccomend her works.
4. Nalo Hopkinson- USA- highly awarded and influential science fiction writer. I have posted numerous times upon her works. I suggest all new to her work start with The Salt Roads
5. Salman Rushdie- India- featured several times

Row Three
1. Priyamvada Gopal- India To Uk- Cambridge Historian -author of Insurgent Empire: Anti-Colonial Resistance and British Dissent- - first appearance on RL
2. Olivia Schreiner- South Africa's first great writer- I thank Priyamvada Gopol for mentioning her- first appearance on RL- an early voice of repudiation for British Rule in South Africa-
3. J.P. Doughty - USA- Professor at Stanford most recent book, In the Forest of No Joy: The Congo-Océan Railroad and the Tragedy of French Colonialism (W. W. Norton, 2021), tells the story of one of the deadliest construction projects in history. Between 1921 and 1934, French colonial interests recruited -- most often by force -- more than 100,000 men, women, and children to work on a 500-kilometer stretch of rail between Brazzaville and the Atlantic Coast. In the end, tens of thousands of Africans were dead, killed by mistreatment, starvation, and disease. - from Stanford University - first Rl appearance
4. Alessandro Manzoni- Italy- The Betrothed is an Italian historical novel by Alessandro Manzoni, first published in 1827, in three volumes, and significantly revised and rewritten until the definitive version published between 1840 and 1842. It has been called the most famous and widely read novel in the Italian language.
5. Euripides- Greece- I have posted so far upon five of his plays

Home Countries of May Authors
1. USA-7
2. India- 2
3. Isreal-1
4. Italy - 1
5. Greece- 1
6. Canada- 1

Eight featured are women , four men. Four are deceased, seven were featured for the first time.
Four works of non-fiction were featured as were Four short stories and four novels. A drama by Euripides was also featured.

Blog Stats

We crossed the Seven Million Page Views Mark in May

Page Views to Date

There are currently 4,210 posts on The Reading Life
The post viewed posts are on Short Stories

Top Home Countries of Visitors in May
1. USA
2. Singapore
3. Philippines
4. India
5. Isreal
6. Canada
7. UK
8. Germany
9. Russia
10. Ukraine
11. France
12. Pakistan
13. Sweden
14. Indonesia
15. Ireland

Future Plans

My outlook on life and what I read was forever altered when my wife passed away on January 19, 2022.  For a while I slowed down my reading, thinking why bother. Then I began to read to seek the experiences others have had dealing with a cataclysmic death and to occupy my mind. 

Future Plans

I recently began reading the work of Alice Hoffman. She has published over 30 novels. I hope to read at least one a month. I have eight on my tablet now.

I will continue my focus upon the Holocaust, Yiddish Literature and world history.
I hope to continue my Ancient Reads Project.

Mel Ulm
With the assistance of
Ambrosia Bousweau and
Oleander Bousweau