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, September 29, 2023

America Midnight- The Great War-A Violent Peace and Democracy's Forgotten Crisis by Adam Hochschild - 2022- 422 Pages

 Almost ten years ago I read Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost, about the horrible exploitation of the people of The Congo to advance the wealth of King Leopold of Belgium.

"If you are interested in Colonialism, the history of Africa, or have any romantic notions about European royalty, you need to read King  Leopold's Ghost. Queen Victoria was a cousin of Leopold

This is a great book, both for how it is written and for the forgotten story it tells.  There is also a 2005 end note in which the author talks about  reaction to the book." From my post of November 11, 2012.

As soon as I got notice that his latest book, American Midnight- The Great War- A Violent Peace and America’s Forgotten Crisis was on sale as a Kindle for $2.95 I hit "buy now".

"National Bestseller • One of the year's most acclaimed works of nonfiction

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, Chicago Tribune, Kirkus, New York Post, Fast Company

From legendary historian Adam Hochschild, a "masterly" (New York Times) reassessment of the overlooked but startlingly resonant period between World War I and the Roaring Twenties, when the foundations of American democracy were threatened by war, pandemic, and violence fueled by battles over race, immigration, and the rights of labor

The nation was on the brink. Mobs burned Black churches to the ground. Courts threw thousands of people into prison for opinions they voiced—in one notable case, only in private. Self-appointed vigilantes executed tens of thousands of citizens’ arrests. Some seventy-five newspapers and magazines were banned from the mail and forced to close. When the government stepped in, it was often to fan the flames." From the publisher 

It seems to many, including me, that America is now in a period of crisis threatening its tradition of democracy.  There is also a deep fear and paranoia toward immigrants. Anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise as is race based hatred.  Absurd Conspiracy theories abound, supported by leading politicians. Over half white Americans support a former president who plays on their fears, who threatened revenge on all who oppose him.  

In the period of the book newspapers now known as in opposition to the policies of trump and his acolytes such as The New York Times and the Washington Post supported the xenophobic policies of Wodrow Wilson. (Now there is a TV network devoted to spreading fears and racism)

They endorsed the imprisonment of all socialists and Union organisers, especially the much feared "Russian Jews" .

Hochschild goes into a lot of detail about president Wodrow Wilson, his role in WW One, the Versiles Treaty and his failed attempt to get the United States to join the League of  Nations.

This book is a warning.  Too many Americans want a return to these times.

Mel Ulm 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen -1813 - 582 Pages

"Amy's beloved Pride and Prejudice is a flawless work of genius. He's proud, she's prejudiced, it just works." Sheldon Cooper

The plot follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England. Elizabeth is the second-eldest of five daughters of a country gentleman living near the fictional town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, near London.
When two wealthy young men, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, arrive in the neighborhood, the Bennets are all aflutter. Mr. Bingley is immediately taken with Elizabeth's older sister, Jane, and Mr. Darcy is attracted to Elizabeth herself. However, Mr. Darcy's pride and Elizabeth's prejudice lead to misunderstandings and complications.

Pride and Prejudice is a classic love story, but it is also a sharp social satire. Austen wittily exposes the hypocrisy and snobbery of the landed gentry. She also explores the themes of love, marriage, and self-discovery.

Pride and Prejudice is an immensely influential work, considered universally among the greatest English novels.

Mel Ulm

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Leopard- A 1963 Movie directed by Luchino Visconti- starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale- run rime 205 Minutes


Available on YouTube with English Subtitles 

The Leopard (Italian: Il Gattopardo) is a 1963 epic historical drama film directed by Luchino Visconti. Written by Visconti, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Franciosa, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile and René Barjavel, the film is an adaptation of the 1958 novel of the same title by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

The film stars Burt Lancaster as Don Fabrizio Corbera, an aging Sicilian nobleman caught up in the sociopolitical turmoil of the Risorgimento (Italian unification) during the mid-19th century, with Alain Delon as his opportunistic nephew Tancredi, and Claudia Cardinale as his goddaughter Angelica Sedara. Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, Romolo Valli, Terence Hill and Serge Reggiani play supporting roles.

The Leopard is a sweeping and visually stunning film that chronicles the decline of the Sicilian aristocracy and the rise of the bourgeoisie in the wake of Italian unification. The film is also a meditation on mortality, love, and the passage of time.

Don Fabrizio is a complex and contradictory character. He is a man of his time, bound by the traditions and values of his class. But he is also a realist who understands that the world is changing around him. He sees the rise of the bourgeoisie and the decline of the aristocracy as inevitable, and he tries to adapt to the new social order.

Tancredi is a more idealistic and impulsive character. He is a hero of the Risorgimento, and he believes in the new Italy. But he is also seduced by the wealth and power of the bourgeoisie. He marries Angelica Sedara, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, in order to secure the future of his family

The film was a critical and commercial success in Europe, but it was less well-received in the United States. This was due in part to the fact that the American release was a heavily edited version of the film. (YouTube has the full version)

The Leopard is now considered to be one of the greatest films ever made. It is a masterpiece of cinema that is both visually stunning and emotionally resonant.

Mel Ulm

Monday, September 25, 2023

Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors - Also translated as Momotaro: Sacred Sailors is a 1945 Japanese animated propaganda film directed by Mitsuyo Seo for the Japanese Imperial Navy

Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors - Also translated as Momotaro: Sacred Sailors is a 1945 Japanese animated propaganda film directed by Mitsuyo Seo for the Japanese Imperial Navy

Anyone interested in the development of Japanese anime will find this film of great interest.

It is available on YouTube

Mitsuyo Seo

When Seo (1911-2010) decided to become an animator he was turned away by the largely family-run companies. He joined Prokino, the leftist proletarian film group that was brutally suppressed in the early 1930s, with Seo suffering at least one arrest. He later worked with Masaoka Kenzo until he started his own company in 1935, where he made Norakuro and other cartoons until his firm was absorbed by Geijutsu Eigasha. After making what was billed as Japan’s first feature-length animation, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles (1942), he joined Masaoka at Shochiku to make Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors (1945), which was released only four months before the end of the war, but influenced many artists, including the manga master Osamu Tezuka. Seo attempted to continue in animation after the war, but with Japanese animation depending a lot on wartime government support, peace drove him and many others like Masaoka out of the business." From Zanka Films

This is the first Japanese feature-length animated film. The film is a sequel to Seo's 1943 film Momotaro no Umiwashi (Momotaro's Sea Eagle).

The film follows the adventures of Momotaro, a Japanese folktale hero who is born from a giant peach. Momotaro and his animal companions, a monkey, a dog, and a pheasant, set out on a journey to defeat the evil British demons who have invaded a Pacific island.

The film was produced during the Second World War and is heavily propagandistic. It portrays the Japanese as benevolent conquerors who are bringing civilization to the primitive islanders. The British demons are depicted as cruel and savage, and their defeat is seen as a victory for Japanese imperialism.

Momotaro: Sacred Sailors was a critical and commercial success when it was released in 1945. However, after the Japanese surrender in August of that year, all copies of the film were ordered to be destroyed. It was not until 1983 that a single copy of the film was rediscovered in a warehouse. The film has since been restored and released on DVD and Blu-ra

Momotaro: Sacred Sailors is a controversial film, but it is also an important historical document. It provides a unique perspective on Japanese propaganda during World War Two

In recent years, Momotaro: Sacred Sailors has been reinterpreted by some scholars and filmmakers as a critique of Japanese imperialism. The film's dark and violent imagery, as well as its portrayal of the islanders as passive victims, has led some to suggest that it is a subversive work that undermines its own propagandistic message.

 Momotaro: Sacred Sailors was a groundbreaking film in terms of its animation, and it is still considered to be one of the most visually impressive Japanese animated films of all time. The film's use of aircraft and other modern weapons also reflects the Japanese military's obsession with technology during the war.

Overall, Momotaro: Sacred Sailors is a complex and fascinating film that can be interpreted in many different ways. It is a valuable historical document, but it is also a work of art that can be enjoyed on its own terms.

Mel Ulm

Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Counterfeit Countess:' The Jewish Woman Who Rescued Thousands of Poles During the Holocaust by Elizabeth B. White and Joanna Silwa -2023-

"The astonishing story of Dr. Josephine Janina Mehlberg—a Jewish mathematician who saved thousands of lives in Nazi-occupied Poland by masquerading as a Polish aristocrat—drawing on Mehlberg’s own unpublished memoir.World War II and the Holocaust have given rise to many stories of resistance and rescue, but The Counterfeit Countess is unique. It tells the remarkable, unknown story of “Countess Janina Suchodolska,” a Jewish woman who rescued more than 10,000 Poles imprisoned by Poland’s Nazi occupiers. Mehlberg operated in Lublin, Poland, headquarters of Aktion Reinhard, the SS operation that murdered 1.7 million Jews in occupied Poland. Using the identity papers of a Polish aristocrat, she worked as a welfare official while also serving in the Polish resistance. With guile, cajolery, and steely persistence, the “Countess” persuaded SS officials to release thousands of Poles from the Majdanek concentration camp. She won permission to deliver food and medicine—even decorated Christmas trees—for thousands more of the camp’s prisoners. At the same time, she personally smuggled supplies and messages to resistance fighters imprisoned at Majdanek, where 63,000 Jews were murdered in gas chambers and shooting pits. Incredibly, she eluded detection, and ultimately survived the war and emigrated to the US. Drawing on the manuscript of Mehlberg’s own unpublished memoir, supplemented with prodigious research, Elizabeth White and Joanna Sliwa, professional historians and Holocaust experts, have uncovered the full story of this remarkable woman. They interweave Mehlberg’s sometimes harrowing personal testimony with broader historical narrative. Like The Light of DaysSchindler’s List, and Irena’s ChildrenThe Counterfeit Countess is an unforgettable account of inspiring courage in the face of unspeakable cruelty." From the publisher 

This is a very valuable addition to Holocaust History, especially as it relates to Poland.  Sometimes in thinking on the Holocaust one loses sight of the many people who Risked or lost their lives to help others.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this period.

What Did the Lady Forget?- A 1937 Movie Directed by Yasujiro Ozu- Run Time 1 Hour 15 minutes

 Available on YouTube with English Subtitles

Prior Films by Yasujiro Ozu I have posted upon

Tokyo Story - 1953

There Was A Father - 1952

The film tells the story of Komiya (Chishu Ryu), a middle-class professor who lives a comfortable but somewhat uneventful life with his strict and traditional wife, Tokiko (Yoshiko Kuga). One day, Komiya's niece, Setsuko (Sumiko Kurishima), comes to visit from Osaka. Setsuko is a liberated young woman who smokes in public and has a modern outlook on life. Tokiko is initially disapproving of Setsuko's behavior, but she eventually begins to soften towards her.

Meanwhile, Komiya is feeling restless and bored in his marriage. He tells Setsuko that he has to go on a weekend golfing trip to Izu, but he actually plans to spend the time with a geisha. However, he changes his mind at the last minute and decides to go home instead.

When Komiya arrives home, he finds that Tokiko has left. She has left a note saying that she is going to visit her parents in the countryside. Komiya is confused and upset. He doesn't know why Tokiko left, or when she will be back.

Komiya spends the next few days trying to figure out what happened to Tokiko. He talks to her friends and family, but no one seems to know where she is. He eventually realizes that Tokiko left because she was unhappy in their marriage. She felt that he was taking her for granted, and that he didn't appreciate her.

Komiya finally realizes that he needs to make some changes in his life. He needs to be more attentive to Tokiko and show her how much he loves her. He also needs to start living his own life and not just the life that she wants him to live.

In the end, Tokiko returns home and they reconcile. However, the film ends with a question mark, suggesting that their relationship is still in flux.

What Did the Lady Forget? is a complex and nuanced film that explores a variety of themes, including marital relations, gender roles, and social change. It is a beautifully made film with a timeless message.

I very much enjoyed the depiction of the visit of the husband and his niece to a geisha house and the visit of the wife and her friends to a Kubiki Theater.  The conversations of the wife with her friends gives us a look into how upper-class Japanese women looked upon marriage in the 1950s. Plus it was fun to seem them banter with each other. The niece represents perhaps the emerging post war Japanese woman.

Mel Ulm

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Heaven Can Wait- A 1943 Movie Directed by Ernst Lubitsch - Starring Gene Tierney and Don Aoache- Run Time 1 hour and 47 Minutes

 This is the six movie directed by Ernst Lubitsch upon which I have posted.

Available on YouTube

Ernst Lubitsch

Born: January 29, 1892, Berlin, Germany

Died: November 30, 1947, Los Angeles, California, United States

My favourites so far are Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be

The screenplay was by Samson Raphaelson based on the play Birthday by Ladislaus Bus-Fekete. The music score was by Alfred Newman and the cinematography by Edward Cronjager.

The film tells the story of a playboy named Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) who dies and arrives at the entrance to Hell. The Devil (Laird Cregar) is not so sure that Henry deserves to go to Hell, so Henry recounts his life story, both good and bad.

Henry's story begins with his childhood as the spoiled only child of wealthy parents. He grows up to be a playboy, living a life of luxury and indulgence. However, he also has a good heart, and he is able to find love and happiness with his wife, Martha (Gene Tierney)
Henry's life is not without its flaws, however. He has a number of affairs, and he can be reckless and irresponsible. But even in his darkest moments, he always tries to do the right thing

Heaven Can Wait was a critical and commercial success upon its release. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography

Mel Ulm

Friday, September 22, 2023

Late Spring- A 1949 Movie Directed by Akira Kurosawa- Run Time 1 hour and 48 minutes

 Available on YouTube with English Subtitles

The film tells the story of Noriko Somiya (Setsuko Hara), a 27-year-old woman who lives with her widowed father, Shukichi (Chishû Ryû). Noriko is perfectly happy with her life as it is, but her father and other people in her life are concerned that she should get married. Shukichi eventually agrees to allow his aunt Masa (Haruko Sugimura) to arrange a marriage for Noriko, but Noriko is reluctant to go through with it.

The film is a sensitive and moving exploration of the relationship between a father and daughter, and the sacrifices that each makes for the other. It is also a meditation on the themes of love, duty, and tradition.

Late Spring is a moving and poignant film about the relationship between a father and daughter. It is also a meditation on the nature of love, sacrifice, and duty. The film is considered to be one of Ozu's masterpieces and is widely regarded as one of the greatest Japanese films ever made.

Late Spring is notable for its minimalist style and its focus on character development. Ozu uses long takes, static camera shots, and low-key lighting to create a sense of calm and contemplation. He also pays close attention to the details of everyday life, such as the way Noriko and her father interact with each other.

The film has been praised for its realistic portrayal of Japanese society in the postwar era. It also explores universal themes such as the conflict between love and duty, and the importance of family.

Late Spring is a timeless film that continues to resonate with audiences today. It is a deeply moving and thought-provoking film that will stay with you long after you have seen it.

Mel Ulm

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Jamaica Inn - A 1939 Movie Directed by Alfred Hitchcock - Run Time 1 hour 34 minutes- Starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara

 Available on YouTube 

Jamaica Inn was adapted from Daphne du Maurier's 1936 novel of the same name. It is the first of three of du Maurier's works that Hitchcock adapted (the others were her novel Rebecca and short story "The Birds"). It stars Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara in her first major screen role. It is the last film Hitchcock made in the United Kingdom before he moved to the United States.

The film is set in 1820 in Cornwall, England, and tells the story of Mary Yellan (O'Hara), a young woman who goes to live with her aunt and uncle at the Jamaica Inn, a remote hostelry on Bodmin Moor. She soon discovers that her uncle, Joss Merlyn (Laughton), is the leader of a gang of wreckers who lure ships to their doom on the Cornish coast in order to steal their cargo.

Jamaica Inn is a classic Hitchcock film, with all the hallmarks of his style: suspenseful plot, atmospheric setting, and memorable characters. The film is also notable for its stunning cinematography, which captures the beauty and wildness of the Cornish landscape.

The film was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and it is now considered to be one of Hitchcock's best films. It is a must-see for fans of classic cinema, suspense, and adventure.

Mel Ulm

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Seven Samurai- A 1954 Movie Directed by Akira Kurosawa - Run Time 3 Hours 30 minutes

A very illuminating commentary 

"The movie is long (207 minutes), with an intermission, and yet it moves quickly because the storytelling is so clear, there are so many sharply defined characters, and the action scenes have a thrilling sweep. Nobody could photograph men in action better than Kurosawa. One of his particular trademarks is the use of human tides, sweeping down from higher places to lower ones, and he loves to devise shots in which the camera follows the rush and flow of an action, instead of cutting it up into separate shots. His use of closeups in some of the late battle scenes perhaps was noticed Orson Welles, who in "Falstaff” conceals a shortage of extras by burying the camera in a Kurosawian tangle of horses, legs, and swords." Roger Ebert 

Seven Samurai (七人の侍, Shichinin no Samurai) is a 1954 Japanese epic samurai film co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. Taking place in 1586 in the Sengoku period of Japanese history, it follows the story of a village of desperate farmers who seek to hire rōnin (masterless samurai) to combat bandits who will return after the harvest to steal their crops.

The film stars Toshirō Mifune as Kikuchiyo, a wild and unruly samurai who is initially rejected by the farmers but eventually proves to be one of their most valuable allies. The other samurai are played by Takashi Shimura, Yukiko Shimazaki, Yoshio Inaba, Keisuke Hama, Daisuke Katō, and Seiji Miyaguchi.

Seven Samurai was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and it has since gone on to be considered one of the greatest films ever made. It has been praised for its epic scope, its complex and well-developed characters, its stunning visuals, and its timeless themes of good versus evil, courage, and sacrifice.

The film has also been highly influential, inspiring countless other films and television shows, including the Hollywood Western The Magnificent Seven (1960). Seven Samurai is a truly essential film for any fan of cinema.

Here are some of the things that make Seven Samurai so special:

Its epic scope and scale. The film is over three hours long and features a cast of dozens of characters, but Kurosawa never loses control of the story. He masterfully weaves together the different storylines and character arcs to create a film that is both both intimate and epic.

Its complex and well-developed characters. Each of the seven samurai is a unique and memorable character, with their own strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. Kurosawa also takes the time to develop the characters of the farmers, and the relationship between the samurai and the villagers is one of the most compelling aspects of the film.

Its stunning visuals. Seven Samurai is one of the most visually stunning films ever made. Kurosawa and cinematographer Asakazu Nakai use a variety of techniques, such as deep focus, low-angle shots, and sweeping camera movements, to create a truly immersive and cinematic experience

Mel Ulm .

Monday, September 18, 2023

Sabatoge -A 1936 Movie Directed by Alfred Hitchcock - Run Time 1 hour and 16 minutes - starring Sylvia Sidney, John Lodger and Oskar Homolka

Available on YouTube 

 Sabatoge is loosely based on Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel The Secret Agent, about a woman who discovers that her husband, a London shopkeeper, is a terrorist agent.

In the film, Karl Verloc (Homolka) is a mild-mannered owner of a London movie theater, but he is secretly a terrorist agent working for a foreign power. His wife, Sylvia (Sidney), is unaware of his activities, and he uses her young brother, Stevie (Desmond Tester), to deliver bombs to various targets.

When Scotland Yard detective Ted Spencer (Loder) goes undercover investigate you husband she becomes suspicious and initiates her own investigation.

Sabotage is one of Hitchcock's lesser-known films, but it is still considered to be a classic example of his filmmaking style. It features many of the elements that Hitchcock is known for, such as suspenseful sequences, complex characters, and dark humor.

The film was also notable for its realistic depiction of terrorism, which was a relatively new topic at the time. It was released in the years leading up to World War II, and it is thought that Hitchcock was inspired by the rise of fascism in Europe.

I found the closing of the film very exciting with tragic and gratifying elements woven together 

Mel Ulm

Sunday, September 17, 2023

That Uncertain Feeling - A 1941 Film Directed by Ernst Lubitsch - Run Tims 1 hour and 41 Minutes

 That Uncertain Feeling - A 1941 Film Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

Ernst lubitsch 
Born: January 29, 1892, Berlin, Germany
Died: November 30, 1947, Los Angeles, California, United States

So far my two favourite films from Ernst Lubitsch are Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be.

Today's film is about the bored wife of an insurance salesman who meets an eccentric pianist and seeks a divorce.

Jill Baker (Oberon) is a socialite who is married to Larry (Douglas), a successful insurance executive. Jill's life seems perfect, but she is secretly unhappy in her marriage. Larry is so focused on his work that he neglects Jill, and she feels like she is losing herself.

One day, Jill goes to see a psychoanalyst, Dr. Vengard (Alan Mowbray), for help with her hiccups. During her first visit, Jill realizes that her hiccups may be related to her unhappiness in her marriage. Upon her second visit, Jill meets a famous pianist, Alexander Sebastian (Meredith), and her doubts about her marriage are intensified when he starts courting her. There are complex emotional developments I will leave for first time viewers to enjoy as I did.

The film was a critical and commercial success upon its release. It was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Actress for Oberon and Best Original Screenplay for Walter Reisch and Donald Ogden Stewart.

Mel Ulm

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Uncls Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe - 185

 Harriet Beecher Stowe
Born: June 14, 1811, Litchfield, Connecticut,
Died: July 1, 1896, Hartford, Connecticut

I was motivated to read Uncle Tom's Cabin, the best selling American novel of the 19th century,  by Jane Smiley's comments in her 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel:

"Uncle Tom's Cabin is essential reading both as a novel and as a social document.It is compelling and dramatic, full of vividly wrought characters, wonderful and intelligent dialogue, and ideas that were sophisticated in their time and remain so today"

Uncle Tom's Cabin is one of the best-selling novels of all time and is credited with helping to fuel the abolitionist movement in the United States.

The novel tells the story of Uncle Tom, a long-suffering black slave who is sold away from his family and forced to endure a series of hardships. Tom is eventually beaten to death by his cruel master, Simon Legree. However, Tom's Christian faith and his willingness to forgive his oppressors ultimately inspire others to fight for freedom.

The novel also follows the stories of other characters, including Eliza, a slave who escapes to freedom with her son; George Harris, a free black man who is forced to flee to Canada to escape capture; and Little Eva, a white girl who befriends Tom and teaches him about the power of love.

Uncle Tom's Cabin was a controversial novel when it was first published. Some people accused Stowe of being inaccurate in her depiction of slavery, while others praised her for exposing the evils of the institution. The novel was also criticized for its sentimentality and its portrayal of black characters as being childlike and docile. The term "Uncle Tom" has entered American vernacular as a highly pejorative label.

Despite the controversy, Uncle Tom's Cabin had a profound impact on American society. The novel helped to change public opinion about slavery and contributed to the growing movement to abolish it. The novel was also translated into many languages and became a bestseller around the world.

Mel Ulm

Friday, September 15, 2023

The Jews of Ottoman Izmir: A Modern History by Dina Danon

 The Jews of Ottoman Izmir by By Dina Danon is a very valuable edition to the scholarship on modern Ottoman Jewish and Sephardic history. She offers a locally focused account of social and political change in one of the most important, yet also understudied, Ladino-speaking communities in the Ottoman She also shifts the narrative about Ottoman Jewish history in a new direction by emphasizing social class as a central framework for her analysis, and by looking, in particular, at the city's Jewish working class, at poverty, and at class conflict. 

Judaeo-Spanish or Judeo-Spanish, also known as Ladino, is a Romance language derived from Old Spanish. Originally spoken by Jews living in Spain it spread to the Ottoman Empire when the Spanish monarchs ordered all Jews to leave the country in 1492

"Through the lens of two crucial elements of Jewish self-government, namely its financial and leadership structures, I explore how “progress” demanded the reordering of social hierarchies along modern lines. This book traces ongoing efforts to rid the community of its most critical yet increasingly controversial source of revenue, the regressive gabela sales tax on kosher meat, which disproportionately burdened the poor. It tracks the elaboration of rationalized statutes and representative assemblies that would better address the needs of the poor and working classes and reconstructs the reversal of the longstanding rabbinic alliance with the wealthy. Undergirding all of these initiatives, as the book demonstrates, is the evolution of a vibrant and robust Ladino public sphere where the needs of el puevlo or “the people” were constantly debated with recourse to an expanding modern vocabulary of “rights.” From The Introduction 

A primary focus is on the reactions the community to poverty, particularly to beggers. Danon begins about 1898.

Izmir was an important port city. Danon details the role of Jews in the economy of the city.

This is a work of serious scholarship. I strongly recommend it to those who already possess a good bit of knowledge about European Jewish history.

Dina Danon is an assistant professor of Judaic studies at Binghamton University. While her teaching interests span the full range of Jewish history, she focuses on the Sephardi and Mizrahi communities of the Mediterranean world. Currently, she is researching the nature, function, and historical significance of the marriage marketplace in the Sephardi world during the late Ottoman period.
Danon received her PhD from Stanford University and was recently selected as one of six emerging scholars to participate in the Paula E. Hyman Mentorship Program of the Association for Jewish Studies.
Mel Ulm

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Black Narcissus- A 1947 Film Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger 101 Minutes

Available on YouTube

Black Narcissus is based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Rumer Godden. The film stars Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh, a headstrong Irish nun who is sent to a remote Himalayan mountaintop to establish a convent. The film also stars Kathleen Byron, Sabu, David Farrar, and Flora Robson.

Black Narcissus is a visually stunning film that explores the themes of colonialism, religion, and sexuality. The film was a critical and commercial success, and it is considered a classic of British cinema

The film begins with Sister Clodagh and her fellow nuns arriving at the palace, which is located in a remote Himalayan valley. The palace is a beautiful and secluded place, but it is also a place of danger and mystery. The nuns soon begin to experience strange and disturbing events, and they start to question their faith.

Sister Clodagh is particularly affected by the events at the palace. She is drawn to the palace's beauty and its sense of isolation, but she is also troubled by its dark history. As the film progresses, Sister Clodagh's faith is shaken

The use of color is beyond marvelous. The background paintings used to create a monastery in the Himalayas are works of great art.

Mel Ulm

Monday, September 11, 2023

The Birth of a Nation - A 1915 Film Directed by D. W. Griffith- run time 3 hours and seven minutes- A Silent Film

Certainly "The Birth of a Nation" (1915) presents a challenge for modern audiences. Unaccustomed to silent films and uninterested in film history, they find it quaint and not to their taste. Those evolved enough to understand what they are looking at find the early and wartime scenes brilliant, but cringe during the postwar and Reconstruction scenes, which are racist in the ham-handed way of an old minstrel show or a vile comic pamphlet." - Roger Ebert

"He achieved what no other known man has achieved. To watch his work is like being witness to the beginning of melody, or the first conscious use of the lever or the wheel; the emergence, coordination and first eloquence of language; the birth of an art: and to realize that this is all the work of one man." James Agee 

 The Birth of a Nation is an amazing movie, a work of art that embodies horrible values.  It supports  completely racist stereotypes of formerly enslaved persons and portrays the Klu Kluz Clan as devoted to returning the post civil war American South back to the control of white people. White actors in blackface portrayed ex- slaves.


The film is a highly racist and pro-Ku Klux Klan depiction of the Reconstruction Era in the United States. It was a critical and commercial success, and is considered one of the most influential films ever made.
The film is set during the Reconstruction Era in the United States, following the Civil War.

The film tells the story of two families, the Camerons (who are white) and the Stonemans (who are white and Northern).

The film portrays the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic organization that protects white people from black violence.  The south is depicted as ruled by northern carpetbaggers using freed slaves as front men. The greatest horror to southern whites was intermarriage.

The film was a critical and commercial success, and is considered one of the most influential films ever made.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

A Shadow of a Doubt - A 1943 Movie Directed by Alfred Hitchcock - Starring Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotton


I highly reccomend the above presentation from The M I T film lectures

The film tells the story of Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (Wright), a young woman who lives in a small town in California. Her life is turned upside down when her charming and sophisticated uncle, Charles Oakley (Cotten), comes to visit. Charlie soon begins to suspect that her uncle is the "Merry Widow" killer, a serial murderer who has been terrorizing the country.

The film is a classic example of Hitchcock's suspenseful style. It is also notable for its exploration of the themes of family, innocence, and evil. Shadow of a Doubt is considered one of Hitchcock's best films, and it has been praised by critics and audiences alike. 

Here are some of the things that make Shadow of a Doubt a great movie:

The performances are excellent, especially from Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten

The script is well-written and suspenseful.

The direction is masterful, with Hitchcock using his trademark techniques to create a sense of unease and dread.

The film is visually stunning, with beautiful cinematography and set design. It was filmed largely in Santa Rosa, California.

The themes of family, innocence, and evil are explored in a complex and thought-provoking way.

Mel Ulm 

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Notorious- A 1946 Movie Directed by Alfred Hitchcock- Starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman - run tims 1 Hour and 41 Minutes

 The film is set in the aftermath of World War II. Alicia Huberman (Bergman), the American daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, is recruited by government agent T. R. Devlin (Grant) to infiltrate an organization of Nazis who have escaped to Brazil. Devlin convinces Alicia to marry Alexander Sebastian (Rains), a wealthy Nazi sympathizer, in order to gain access to his inner circle.

Notorious is a classic example of a Hitchcockian thriller, with its suspenseful plot, complex characters, and visually striking cinematography. The film's most famous scene is the "vinegar glass" scene, in which Alicia is forced to drink poisoned wine. The scene is notable for its use of shadows and suspenseful music, and it has been praised by critics as one of the most iconic scenes in film history.

Notorious was a critical and commercial success, and it won three Academy Awards: Best Cinematography, Best Black-and-White Art Direction, and Best Original Screenplay. The film is considered one of Hitchcock's best works, and it has been ranked on many lists of the greatest films ever made.

Here are some of the things that make Notorious a great movie:

The acting is superb, with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains all giving tour-de-force performances.

The story is suspenseful and engaging, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the audience guessing.

The cinematography is stunning, with Gregg Toland's use of shadows and light creating a truly memorable visual experience.

The music is haunting and evocative, perfectly capturing the film's mood and atmosphere.

I especially enjoyed the shots from the plane as it lands in Rio de Jeniro, having had this experience several times.

Notorious is available on YouTube 

Mel Ulm 

Friday, September 8, 2023

Hitler's Rockets: The Story of the V2s by Norman Longmate - 2009 - 569 Pages

" A SCREAMING COMES ACROSS THE SKY. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now. It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it’s all theatre." Gravity's Rainbow 

Gravity's Rainbow, the Greatest novel by an American, begins with a V2 rocket landing in London.  Much of the opening plot line follows Tyrone Slothrop as he maps the locations of rocket hits.  

As soon as I got a promotional Email on Hitler’s Rockets: The Story of the V2 I at once hit "buy now".  I strongly recommend this book to all lovers of Gravity's Rainbow and endorse it for all those into World War Two history.

There was a lot of infighting initially among the German authorities over the viability of using a rocket launched from the continent to attack London.  Of course everything turned on Hitler’s enthusiasm for the project. He came to see the Rockets as having the potential to force England to surrender.  Longmate details the construction of launch sites and facilities for production of the Rockets. Thousands of slave laborers were worked to death to build 1000s of Rockers. Some  in the German intelligence service felt the Rockets would never work but more perceptive individuals saw the great harm they could do London. 

Longmate tells us a lot about English and American bombing raids on rocket sites. We see the great importance of Warner von Bruan to the Germans.  We learn of the infighting among both English and German command structures.

Several chapters of the book are devoted to detailed descriptions of individual rocket strikes.  I felt Tyrone Slothrop was alongside.

A detailed biography of Norman Longmate's life and prolific work can be found in the obituary in Guardian by his son.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley - 2005 - 569 Pages

 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley is a marvelous account of the history of the novel as an art form and a very instructive account of how novelists make the form work.  She includes at the conclusion detailed comments on 100 novels.  I have read about half of them and have now added several to my Amazon Wish List,

"From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres comes an essential guide for writers and readers alike: an exhilarating tour through one hundred novels that "inspires wicked delight.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

From classics such as the thousand-year-old Tale of Genji to fiction by Zadie Smith and Alice Munro, Jane Smiley explores the power of the form, looking at its history and variety, its cultural impact, and just how it works its magic. She invites us behind the scenes of novel-writing, sharing her own habits and spilling the secrets of her craft, and offering priceless advice to aspiring authors. Every page infects us anew with the passion for reading that is the governing spirit of this gift to book lovers everywhere." From the publisher 

Smiley employs wide ranging literary history, insightful criticism and autobiographical details of her own career in a book anyone who reads novels with more than just passing time in mind will be very glad they read.

Jane Smiley is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of more than ten novels as well as four works of nonfiction, including a critically acclaimed biography of Charles Dickens. She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Thousand Acres, and in 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in northern California.

Mel Ulm

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

To Be or Not to Be -A 1942 Movie Directed by Ernst Lubitsch- Produced By Alexander Korda Starring Carole Lombard and Jack Benny - Run Time 1 hour and 38 Minutes

 Available on YouTube 

Ernst Lubitsch 

Born: January 29, 1892, Berlin, Germany

Died: November 30, 1947, Los Angeles, California, United States

So far this movie and  Ninotchka are my fa favourite works directed by Ernst Lubitsch 

The plot concerns a troupe of actors in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who use their abilities at disguise and acting to fool the occupying troops.

It was released one month after actress Carole Lombard was killed in an airplane crash.

The film was a critical and commercial success, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music (Original Score). It is considered one of the greatest comedies of all time, and has been praised for its wit, satire, and Lubitsch's masterful direction. Mel Brooks remade the movie

The film opens with a scene of a mustachioed man walking alone in the streets of Warsaw. The man is a close resemblance to German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. This scene sets the tone for the film, which is a dark comedy about the Nazi occupation of Poland.

The main characters are Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) and Maria Tura (Carole Lombard), a husband-and-wife acting team. When the Nazis invade Poland, the Turas' theater is closed down. Joseph and Maria decide to use their acting skills to help the Polish resistance. They impersonate Nazi officers and spies, and they even stage a play about the Nazi occupation.

Here are some of the things that make To Be or Not to Be a great film:

  • The wit and satire: The film is full of witty dialogue and satire that skewers the Nazis and their ideology.
  • The performances: The cast is excellent, with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard giving two of their best performances.
  • The direction: Ernst Lubitsch is a master director, and he brings his unique style to To Be or Not to Be. The film is beautifully shot and directed, and it is full of memorable scenes
Mel Ulm

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Rear Window - A 1954 Film Directed by Alfred Hitchcock- Starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly

 Available on 

Alfred Hitchcock had a very long career in movies.
(Born: August 13, 1899, Leytonstone, London, United Kingdom
Died: April 29, 1980, Bel Air, Los Angeles, California, United States)

In his six decades in the movie business he made over fifty films. 

My research suggests Rear Window is considered one of his greatest works.

The film follows L.B. Jeffries (Stewart), a professional photographer who is confined to his apartment with a broken leg. He spends his time spying on his neighbors through his rear window, and becomes convinced that one of them has committed murder.  The lives of the neighbours provide a motiff for the concerns of Hitchcock.

Rear Window was a critical and commercial success, and is considered one of Hitchcock's best films. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Here are some of the things that make Rear Window a classic film:

The suspenseful atmosphere: The film creates a sense of unease and suspense by trapping the viewer in Jefferies' point of view. We see what he sees, and we feel the same sense of isolation and claustrophobia that he does.

Hitchcock's masterful use of camerawork: Hitchcock uses a variety of techniques to create suspense and tension, including long takes, tracking shots, and point-of-view shots. He also makes use of shadows and reflections to create a sense of mystery and unease.

The performances: The cast gives excellent performances, particularly James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Stewart is believable as the injuredv photographer who becomes obsessed with his neighbors, and Kelly is charming and intelligent as his girlfriend.

The inaction in the photographers life seems mirrored by his relationship with his girlfriend, the transcendentally gorgeous Grace Kelly.  She wants more than he is willing to offer and likewise he does not fit into her life as a high fashion model and dress designer.

Mel Ulm

Sunday, September 3, 2023

The Newspaper Axis: Six Bress Barons Who Enabled Hitler by Kathryn J. Olmstead - 2022 - 401 Pages

The Newspaper Axis: Six Bress Barons Who Enabled Hitler by Kathryn J. Olmstead is a very valuable highly interesting account of how powerful English and American Newspaper Publishers did all they could to keep England and America from entering what they saw as "continental entanglements" involving the ambitious of Adolf Hitler.

The Press Barons published articles praising Hitler for revitalising Germany, advocating appeasement and trivialising his Anti-Semitic rants. They insisted Hitler did not want a war even as Germany began to rearm in violation of the Versailes Treaty.  Some personally admired Hitler and were thrilled to meet him.

As World War II approached, the six most powerful media moguls in America and Britain tried to pressure their countries to ignore the fascist threat. The media empires of Robert McCormick, Joseph and Eleanor Patterson, and William Randolph Hearst spanned the United States, reaching tens of millions of Americans in print and over the airwaves with their isolationist views. Meanwhile in England, Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail extolled Hitler’s leadership and Lord Beaverbrook’s Daily Express insisted that Britain had no interest in defending Hitler’s victims on the continent.


Kathryn S. Olmsted shows how these media titans worked in concert—including sharing editorial pieces and coordinating their responses to events—to influence public opinion in a right-wing populist direction, how they echoed fascist and anti-Semitic propaganda, and how they weakened and delayed both Britain’s and America’s response to Nazi aggression.

She does also feature how the press Barons began to alter their views once the war started.  They were from the start strong believers in white supremacy, hated Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. However Lord Beaverbrook went to work for Churchill to build up England's airforce and was highly dedicated and successful.  Even as America entered the war the American publishers tried to convince their readers, about 30 percent of Adults that Roosevelt was under the control of a world Jewish cabal and wanted to  become a dictator.

Olmstead tells us as authoritarian style leaders seek power there

 is a warning in her book. Press figures, TV News Networks seek above all profits and will pander to these leaders.

For bio data on Kathryn J. Olmstead check the website of the history department of the University of California at Davis

Mel Ulm

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Ninotchka- A 1939 Film directed by Ernst Lubitsch- Starring Greta Garbo and Melvin Douglas- run time one hour and fifty minutes


I love this movie so much.  My second favourite movie by Ernst Lubitsch is To Be or Not to Be.  

Ernst lubitsch 

Born: January 29, 1892, Berlin, Germany

Died: November 30, 1947, Los Angeles, California, United States

It was written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch, based on a screen story by Melchior Lengyel. Ninotchka is Greta Garbo's first full comedy, and her penultimate film; she received her third and final Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

The film tells the story of Ninotchka Yakushova (Garbo), a stern Soviet commissar who is sent to Paris to supervise the sale of jewels seized from Russian nobles. There, she meets the dashing Count Leon d'Algout (Douglas), a playboy who tries to seduce her. Despite her initial resistance, Ninotchka eventually succumbs to Leon's charms and begins to see the world in a new way.

Here are some of the things that make Ninotchka a special film:

The witty dialogue: Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch wrote some of the most memorable lines in film history for Ninotchka. For example, when Ninotchka first arrives in Paris, she is asked if she likes the city. She replies, "I find it quite tolerable."

The stylish direction: Ernst Lubitsch was a master of romantic comedy, and he brought his full talents to bear on Ninotchka. The film is full of visual gags and moments of pure delight.

Greta Garbo's performance: Garbo was not known for her comedic skills, but she gives a charming and nuanced performance in Ninotchka. She perfectly captures the transformation of Ninotchka from a cold-hearted ideologue to a woman who is open to love and new experiences.

The scenes back in the Soviet Union, the meet up at the train station, the conversations of Ninotchka with the Russian  Countess are just marvelous.

Mel Ulm

Tonight and Every Night - A 1945 Musical -directed by Victor Saville and starring Rita Hayworth, Lee Bowman and Janet Blair. - Set in London During the Blitz - From Columbia Pictures

Tonight and Every Night - A 1945 Musical -directed by Victor Saville and starring Rita Hayworth, Lee Bowman and Janet Blair. - Set in London During the Blitz - From Columbia Pictures

Available on YouTube

Tonight and Every Night is set in a London Theater during the Blitz. The theater manager is determined to keep things going even when they have to preform some nights in the subways as bombs crash above them.

Rita Hayworth was the number one "pin up girl" for American troops in World War Two.  In Gilda we saw her in black-and-white, it was glorious to see her in Technicolor.

The film portrays wartime romance and tragedy in a London musical show, loosely modelled on the Windmill Theatre in Soho, that determined not to miss a single performance during the Blitz. Hayworth plays an American showgirl from Saint Louis who falls in love with an RAF pilot played by Bowman.

The film opens with the bombing of London during the Blitz. The Music Box Theatre, a London musical show, is determined to keep performing, even as bombs fall around them. Rosalind Bruce (Hayworth), an American showgirl, is new to the theater and is initially reluctant to perform under such dangerous conditions. However, she soon falls in love with RAF pilot Paul Lundy (Bowman), and her resolve to keep performing strengthens.

The film follows the couple's romance as they navigate the challenges of wartime London. Paul is often away on missions, and Rosalind is left to worry about his safety. The theater is also not immune to the war, and it is damaged in a bombing raid. However, the performers continue to put on shows, determined to bring some joy to the people of London.

Tonight and Every Night was a critical and commercial success. It was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Music, Original Song (for "Anywhere") and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture. The film is considered a classic of the wartime musical genre, and it features some of Hayworth's most iconic performances.

Here are some of the things that make Tonight and Every Night a special film:

The film's setting during the Blitz is both realistic and suspenseful. The bombing scenes are particularly well-done, and they help to create a sense of urgency and danger.

The performances by Hayworth and Bowman are both excellent. Hayworth is particularly radiant in the musical numbers, and she brings a lot of emotional depth to the role of Rosalind.

The film's score is by George Duning and Marlin Skiles, and it is one of the best of any wartime musical. The songs are catchy and memorable, and they help to create a sense of hope and optimism in the face of adversity

Mel Ulm

Friday, September 1, 2023

The Reading Life Review - August 2023. Blog Stats and plans for the future

August Authors 

 Row One

1. Jerry White. - UK - author of works on the history of London - 1st Appearance on The Reading Life.

2, Alice Hoffman- USA- featured 10 Times. I am attempting a read through
 of her works.

3. Irene Némirovsky- France. - one of my favourite authors 

Row 2

1. Julia Flynn Siler-USA- first appearance- Julia Flynn Siler is a New York Times best-selling author and journalist. Her latest book, The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown, was a New York Times Book Review “Editors’ Choice” and a finalist for a California Book Award. She is also the author of the bestselling nonfiction books, Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure and the The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty.

As a veteran correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek magazine, Ms. Siler spent more than two decades in Europe and the United States, reporting from a dozen countries. She has covered fields as varied as biotechnology, cult wines, puppy breeding, and a princess’s quest to restore a Hawaiian palace’s lost treasures.

A graduate in American Studies at Brown University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Ms. Siler began her career as a staff correspondent for BusinessWeek, working in the magazine’s Los Angeles and Chicago bureaus. She wrote stories on everything from White Castle “sliders” to the roiling futures markets for the New York Times. By taking classes at night during that time, she earned an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. - from her website

2. Shubha Sunder- USA- first appearance- I Hope to read more of her work-SHUBHA SUNDER’s prose has appeared or is forthcoming in New Letters, Catapult, SLICE, Crazyhorse, Narrative Magazine, and elsewhere. Two of her stories were named as notable in The Best American Short Stories 2016. She was a City of Boston Artist Fellow for the year 2020. Other distinctions include a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship, the Crazyhorse Prize in Fiction, a Narrative “30 Below” prize, and awards from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences and from The Corporation of Yaddo.- From her website

3. Ginny Takemori- Japan Sayaka Murata (in Japanese, 村田 沙耶香) is one of the most exciting up-and-coming writers in Japan today.

She herself still works part time in a convenience store, which gave her the inspiration to write Convenience Store Woman (Konbini Ningen). She debuted in 2003 with Junyu (Breastfeeding), which won the Gunzo Prize for new writers. In 2009 she won the Noma Prize for New Writers with Gin iro no uta (Silver Song), and in 2013 the Mishima Yukio Prize for Shiro-oro no machi no, sono hone no taion no (Of Bones, of Body Heat, of Whitening City). Convenience Store Woman won the 2016 Akutagawa Award. Murata has two short stories published in English (both translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori): "Lover on the Breeze" (Ruptured Fiction(s) of the Earthquake, Waseda Bungaku, 2011) and "A Clean Marriage" (Granta 127: Japan, 2014) - from her publisher 

I also read a work by an writer for which I could find no image

A Wilderness of Destruction Confederate Guerrillas in East and South Florida by Zack C. Waters - May 2023 - Mercer University Press - 326 Pages

Author Stats

home countries, four from USA, one each from Japan, France, UK 

Two writers have been previously featured, all but Irene Némirovsky (murdered by Germans at Auschwitz) are still living.

I posted on one short story, three novels and three works of history

Blog Stats

As of this morning our posts have been viewed 7,273,941 times

There are currently 4294 posts online

The top countries of origin for visitors are USA, Russia, Singapore, India, UK, Canada, France, The Philippines and Germany 

The  most viewed posts are on short stories

Future Plans

With the passing of my beloved wife on January 19, 2022 most of my hopes and plans for the future were destroyed.  My blog and our daughters help keep me going.  Working on The Reading Life is a kind of escape for me.

Last month I got heavily into posting about films.

At some point I hope to try to develop my "master plan" for this

Mel Ulm
With the assistance of Ambrosia Bousweau and Oleander Bousweau 

I am hoping to add consultants for A I and films soon.