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, March 24, 2023

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn- 2006- 517 Pages


The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn- 2006- 530 Pages 

The Lost begins as the story of a boy who grew up in a family haunted by the disappearance of six relatives during the Holocaust. He was initially motivated by a cache of letters written by his grandfather. His lost relatives were seemingly betrayed. From this he develops a powerful drive to find out how his Jewish ancestors died in the Ukraine during the Hololocost. Mendelsohn sets out to find the remaining eyewitnesses to his relatives' fates. That quest eventually takes him to a dozen countries on four continents and forces him to confront the wrenching discrepancies between the histories we live and the stories we tell. And it leads him, finally, back to the small Ukrainian town where his family's story began, and where the solution to a decades-old mystery awaits him.

The book is part memoirs of his growing up, his education as a classics scholar fluent in Greek, Latin, as well Yiddish and some Russian and Ukrainian. Interwoven with his journey are accounts of Medieval Cabbalist thought and accounts of the history of the murder of Jews by Germans and Ukrainians. Everyone he encountered said "The Ukrainians were the worst".  

He sought out those who might have known his relatives, all now at least in their eighties. Soon he learned that some contacts had moved to New York City, some Australia, others Stockholm and Israel. He often traveled with his siblings.

Some contacts were eager to talk to him, most insisted he share large meals.  

This is a work of deep scholarship both in its account of the Holocaust in Ukraine and of Mendelsohn's fairly extensive explications of Torah commentary as it might serve to illuminate the Holocaust. It is also a deeply personal account of how Mendelsohn's upbringing shaped him.

"Daniel Mendelsohn is an internationally bestselling author, critic, essayist, and translator. Born in New York City in 1960, he received degrees in Classics from the University of Virginia and Princeton. After completing his Ph.D. he moved to New York City, where he began freelance writing full time; since 1991 he has been a prolific contributor of essays, reviews, and articles to many publications, most frequently The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. He has also been a contributing editor at Travel + Leisure and a columnist for The New York Times Book Review, Harper’s, and New York magazine, where he was the weekly book critic. In February 2019, he was named Editor-at-Large of the New York Review of Books and the Director of the Robert B. Silvers Foundation, a charitable trust that supports writers of nonfiction, essay, and criticism.

Mendelsohn’s books include An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic (2017), named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Newsday, Library Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and Kirkus; The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (2006), which won the National Books Critics Circle Award and the National Jewish Book Award in the United States and the Prix Médicis in France; a memoir, The Elusive Embrace (1999), a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year; three collections of essays; a scholarly study of Greek tragedy, Gender and the City in Euripides’ Political Plays (2002), and a two-volume translation of the poetry of C. P. Cavafy (2009), which included the first English translation of the poet’s “Unfinished Poems.” His tenth book, Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate, will be published in September 2020." From Daniel

Mel Ulm

Thursday, March 23, 2023

"Ivy Gates" -by 岡本かの子門 KANOKO OKAMOTO - 1936. - published in Japanese Short Stories:Works by 14 Modern Masters: Kawabata, Akutagawa and More Translated by Lane Dunlop Foreword by Alan Tansman TUTTLE Publishing Tokyo Rutland, Vermont Singapore “Books to Span the East and West”

"Ivy Gates" - A Short Story by 岡本かの子門 KANOKO OKAMOTO -1936

Japanese Literature Challenge 16 January through March 2023

2023 is the 15th Year in which I have participated in The Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Dolce Bellezza. In 2009 when I first participated I had yet to read any works originally written in Japanese. Now numerous Japanese writers are on my read all I can of their works list.. The post World War Two Japanese Novel is a world class cultural treasure.

Both new and experienced readers will find numerous suggestions on the website. To participate you need only post on one work and list your review on the event website (listed above). New book bloggers will find participation a good way to meet others and expand those following their blog

In January for The Japanese Literature Challenge I posted upon 

 At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano -2016- 306 pages- translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter

In February I posted on Tokyo Ueno Station- A Novel by Yu Miri -2014- translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles - 2019 - 189 Pages

Yesterday I was kindly given a review copy of a very valuable collection of Japanese authored short stories.

Japanese Short Stories:Works by 14 Modern Masters: Kawabata, Akutagawa and More Translated by Lane Dunlop Foreword by Alan Tansman TUTTLE Publishing Tokyo Rutland, Vermont Singapore “Books to Span the East and West”

There are 12 stories in the collection. All the authors are deceased, three were women. There are very informative biographies of each writer, taken together they provide an overview of the development of the short story in Japan.

Ivy Gates" - A Short Story by 岡本かの子門 KANOKO OKAMOTO is narrated by an upper class woman in a house with numerous servants. The story opens with a stunning account of the beauty of the ivy growing on the Gates of her house. The most important character is a house maid.

"It was as if the quick-tempered Maki, by being able to calculate with her eye the spread of the growth of the tips, had for the first time discovered in herself a love for nature. Although an honest person, Maki was set in her ways to the point of inflexibility.Because of this, her two marriages had ended in divorce. Obliged to work as a maidservant in the house of strangers many years, this aging woman, who somewhere in herself possessed a hard shell of ego, had at least had the gentle side of her drawn out by these ivy tips. It pleased me. Past fifty and on the outs with all her relatives, childless, Maki herself had come to feel subconsciously the hardness of her lot. Hadn’t the natural development of her emotions and the necessity to find something to love in her later years appeared to some extent even in this matter of the ivy?"

The emotional core of the story centers on how Maki bonds with a neighbourhood girl she once loved and overcame her loneliness.

Kanoko Okamoto was born on March 1, 1889, in the Akasaka district of Tokyo, now Minato-ku. Both her father, who had been a purveyor to the Tokugawa shogunate, and her mother, descended from a famous old family of Kanagawa Prefecture and skilled in the ballad drama known as tokiwazu, were persons of artistic taste. “Ivy Gates” belongs to a group of stories about ordinary Tokyo people written during the last years of Okamoto’s life. It preserves the atmosphere of the Meiji and Taisho eras that lingered on in the low-lying shita machi district east of the Sumida River and the hilly district to the west until the late thirties. Her writing was much admired by Yasunari Kawabata, and more recently has served as an inspiration for the artist Mayumi Oda. Her major work is the long novel Shojoruten (The Vicissitudes of Life). On January 31, 1939, on a trip to the Ginza with a young friend, Kanoko Okamoto was stricken by a cerebral hemorrhage as she got off the bus. She died eighteen days later.

Mel Ulm


Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Two Short Stories about Witches by Theodora Goss "You Might Be a Witch" and "The Witch" and an Essay "Why I Write Fantasy" by Theodora Goss - from her collection The Collected Enchanments" - 2023

 Two Short Stories about Witches by Theodora Goss "You Might Be a Witch" and "The Witch" and an Essay "Why I Write Fantasy" by Theodora Goss - from her collection The Collected Enchanments" - 2023

This is my first encounter with the work of Theodora Goss. I consider any day I add a new to me author to my Read All I Can List a lucky Reading Life Day so this is a good day. For sure I will be featuring much more of her work.

Why I Write Fantasy is a very deep account of why she writes works in the Fantasy genre. She tells us of her experiences growing up in the USA. Goss and her mother immigrated to New York City from Hungary when she was five. She spoke Hungarian and French. In elementary school when the other girls played sports she only wanted to read.

"That was me in elementary school. What was I reading? Probably one of the Narnia books, or The Hobbit, or something by E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Astrid Lindgren—The Brothers Lionheart was my favorite. Later I would graduate to Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, Tanith Lee’s Flat Earth novels, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, Patricia McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Madeleine L’Engel’s A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels. Some of the books I read were of higher quality than others, but I was not concerned" 

I always hated mandatory sports games so I totally was drawn into Goss's account of her early reading. (Thanks to Goss I have added two other new to me writers to my reading list, Tanith Lee and Patricia Mckillip)

A popular delusion is that Fantasy works are just escapism designed to make you feel better. Anyone who has read any Grimm's tales knows that is stupid.  

What Elizabeth Hume taught me, around the time I started writing fantasy professionally myself, was that fantasy is neither separate from the larger world of fiction, nor fundamentally different from it. Both fantasy and realism are approaches to the world we inhabit. Indeed, once enough time has passed, all realism becomes fantastical. To us, living in the twenty-first century, the characters in Jane Austen’s novels are as unreal as Tolkien’s elves, as bound by strange customs, as obsessed with rings" 

Quick note, I searched references to cats in the collection, there are well over a 100 references. I love cats. I am also very drawn to stories about Witches though i will pass on explanation as to why for now.

There are six stories with "Witch" in the title in The Collected Enchanments. Today I will feature two.

"You Might Be a Witch (2 pages) lives up to the collection title, it Enchanted me. Told in a series of epigraphical lines about how a woman knows if she is a witch:

"Because when you throw the crusts of your sandwich to sparrows in the public park, they hop close and closer, until they perch on your finger and look at you sideways.....Because a lot of people talk to cats but for you they answer....Because even the brownstones of this ancient city look at you with concern: they want to make sure you’re well. You belong to them as much as they to you. Because witches know what they are and if I asked, do you remember? You would have to confess that yes, you do."

"The Witch" (4 pages) is a third person account of a young Witch living in the Woods, Her mother has passed.. In her youth girls would come to the door asking for love spells and such then make cruel comments:

"Once, village girls had come to visit her mother for charms to attract the schoolmaster’s attention, make their rivals’ hair fall out, abortions. Afterward, they would say, Did you see her? Standing by the door? In her ragged dress, with her tangled hair, I tell you, she creeps me out. But they stopped coming after the old witch disappeared and her daughter was left alone." 

We learn of the left alone daughter's life:

"She makes no magic. Although the stories won’t tell you, witches are magic. They do not need the props of a magician, the costumes or the cards, the scarves, the rabbits. They came down from the moon originally, and it still calls to them, so they go out at night, when the moon is shining, and make no magic, but magic happens around them. Sometimes at night she would look up at the moon and call Mother? Mother? but never got an answer I.want you to imagine: her ragged dress, her hair like cobwebs, her luminescent eyes, mad as all witches are, stirring the pond like a cauldron (witches need no cauldrons, whatever the stories tell you) while above her the clouds are roiling and a storm is about to gather."

 I am a writer of novels, short stories, essays, and poems. You can read more about me on my Press page. The Novels, Stories, Essays, and Poems pages list my publications, including some that are available to read online. The Purchase page tells you where you can buy my books. The Free page links to writing of mine that is available online for free. This page is about what’s happening now. Look below to see what I have coming out, where I will be appearing this year, and where you can find more information about me. This page also tells you how to contact me.

My Blog is updated periodically, so if you would like to know what I’m working on or thinking about, you can always check there. 

Short Biography

Theodora Goss was born in Hungary and spent her childhood in various European countries before her family moved to the United States, where she completed a PhD in English literature. She is the World Fantasy, Locus, and Mythopoeic Award-winning author of the short story and poetry collections In the Forest of Forgetting (2006), Songs for Ophelia (2014), and Snow White Learns Witchcraft (2019), as well as novella The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), debut novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017), and sequels European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (2018) and The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (2019). She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and Shirley Jackson Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her work has been translated into fifteen languages. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University. Visit her at

Biographical Information

I was born in Budapest, Hungary. My family left the country when I was five, and I lived for two years in Milan, Italy and Brussels, Belgium. My family immigrated to the United States when I was seven. I grew up in Maryland and Virginia, around the Washington D.C. area. I now live and work in Boston, where I moved for graduate school.

I have a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Virginia, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University. I am also a graduate of the Odyssey and Clarion writing workshops. I sold my first published story, “The Rose in Twelve Petals,” while a student at Clarion, and have been publishing steadily since.

I currently teach writing and literature in the Boston University College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program. - from the author's website

A mark of a generous and confident author is the inclusion on their website of links to works you can read for free online. Goss has been very generous 

Later as I read more of her works I will advance some thoughts on witches in fantasy literature. Or maybe I won't.

I have added all of her works available as a Kindle to my amazon wish list.

Mel Ulm

Monday, March 20, 2023

"My Evil Mother" - A Short Story by Margaret Atwood - 2023- included in her new collection Old Babes in the Wood

"My Evil Mother" - A Short Story by Margaret Atwood- 2023- included in her new collection Old Babes in the Woods

I acquired this wonderful story as a Kindle Single for $0.99

This has been a good month for short stories so far, two classic works by Issac Singer and now a brand new story by Margaret Atwood.

As the story begins the teenage narrator is mad at her mother for telling her she must end her relationship ship with her boyfriend. The father is long gone, what happened to him is left vague. The mother has income but it seems to come from other women who employ her to cast spells. As time ago on, the story takes us to where the daughter rebellious 15 year old daughter. The mother seems increasingly convinced she is a witch of sorts. We see the parental roles reversing.

There is a lot to ponder here. Is the mother using the idea she has occult powers to give herself status? Does the delusion pass along to the daughter?

This story was a lot of fun to read has lots of info

Mel Ulm


Sunday, March 19, 2023

The 1619 Project : A New Origin Story - created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times Magazine. - 2021 - 559 Pages


The 1619 Project : A New Origin Story - created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times Magazine. - 2021 - 559 Pages

If you are a student in a public high school or college in Florida, where I grew up, very few teachers would have the courage to assign this beautifully incredibly informative work about the experiences of enslaved Americans and their descendents, fearing this might lead to their termination. It has created a near hysterical reaction among so called "Conservatives" throughout America.  

I am very grateful to Nikole Hanah-Jones for the great care and effort that made this work possible.

The book is an expansion of a special edition of an issue of The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Here is an extract from the website of the New York Times

"This book, which is called “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” arrives amid a prolonged debate over the version of the project we published two years ago. That project made a bold claim, which remains the central idea of the book: that the moment in August 1619 when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English colonies that would become the United States could, in a sense, be considered the country’s origin.

The reasoning behind this is simple: Enslavement is not marginal to the history of the United States; it is inextricable. So many of our traditions and institutions were shaped by slavery, and so many of our persistent racial inequalities stem from its enduring legacy. Identifying the start of such a vast and complex system is a somewhat symbolic act. It was not until the late 1600s that slavery became codified with new laws in various colonies that firmly established the institution’s racial basis and dehumanizing structure. But 1619 marks the earliest beginnings of what would become this system. (It also could be said to mark the earliest beginnings of what would become American democracy: In July of that year, just weeks before the White Lion arrived in Point Comfort with its human cargo, the Virginia General Assembly was called to order, the first elected legislative body in English America.)"

In her chapter "Democracy" Hannah-Jones details how the existence of slavery and the desire to perpetuate it for ever made the success of the American Revolution possible.  

"It was precisely because white colonists so well understood the degradations of actual slavery that the metaphor of slavery held so much power to consolidate their disparate interests: no matter a colonist’s politics, background, or class, by being white, he could never fall as low as the Black people who were held in bondage. As the scholar Patricia Bradley puts it in Slavery, Propaganda, and the American Revolution, “Once transposed into metaphor, slavery could serve to unite white colonists of whatever region under a banner of white exclusivity.”24 The decision to deploy slavery as a metaphor for white grievances had devastating consequences for those who were actually enslaved: it helped ensure that abolition would not become a revolutionary cause, Bradley argues. Instead, the true institution of slavery would endure for nearly a century after the Revolution."

"And yet none of this is part of our founding mythology, which conveniently omits the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. They feared that liberation would enable an abused people to seek vengeance on their oppressors. In many parts of the South, Black people far outnumbered white people. The wealth and prominence that allowed Jefferson, at just thirty-three, and the other founding fathers to believe they could successfully break off from one of the mightiest empires in the world came in part from the dizzying profits generated by chattel slavery. So they also understood that abolition would have upended the economies of both the North and the South. The truth is that we might never have revolted against Britain if some of the founders had not understood that slavery empowered them to do so; nor if they had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that the institution would continue unmolested. For this duplicity—claiming they were fighting for freedom while enslaving a fifth of the people—the Patriots faced burning criticism both at home and abroad"

If the British government had been totally pro-slavery and wealthy Americans felt secure with this there would never have been an American Revolution.

There are 18 chapters covering a wide range of topics. Accompanied in each topic are short stories and poems related to the topic. ZZ Parker has a story about a slave revolt in New Orleans and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers has a deeply moving poem on Phyllis Wheatley Peters.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine and the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard University. She is the founder of the Howard University Center for Journalism and Democracy, and the co-founder of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. She reports on racial injustice and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2017 for her work on the persistence of racial segregation in the United States, particularly in schools. Her journalism has earned two George Polk Awards, a Peabody, three National Magazine Awards, and the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. In 2021, she was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

The Hulu series is excellent, and Nikole Hannah-Jones is featured in numerous YouTube presentations.

I read the book slowly over a period of about two months.

There are bios of each contributor. I have added several new to me books on my American history reading list as a result of this.

Mel Ulm

Saturday, March 18, 2023

A Friend of Kafka" - A Short Story by Issac Bashevis Singer - Translated by the author and Elizabeth Shub from the Yiddish - originally published in The New Yorker -March 15,1968

 "A Friend of Kafka" - A Short Story by Issac Bashevis Singer - Translated by the author and Elizabeth Shub from the Yiddish - originally published in The New Yorker -March 15,1968

Issac Singer (1902-1901-born Poland) won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for the full body of his work. He is best known to the public as the author of Yentil, the basis for a very popular movie. Singer's, even though he left Poland in 1935 because of the rise of the Nazis, work is very rooted in the culture in which he was raised. He became an American citizen. Singer died and is buried in Florida. . He indicated his biggest influences as a short story writer were Anton Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant 

You can read the story in the Kindle sample of the book pictured above. It is included in The Collected Short Stories of Issac Bashevis Singer as well as the Library of America collection of his works.

A few days ago I read a wonderful story by Issac Singer, "The Gentleman from Cracow" set among farmers, merchants of Ashkanazi heritage in Cracow,Poland. Today's story, "A Friend of Kafka" is set in Warsaw amongst people involved in the Yiddish theater, highly literate men, women play a big part in the story but pretty much as the sexually attract the men in the story. There are aristocrats among the characters. The narrative is structured around the conversations of two friends. A lot is about the relationship of one of the men to Franz Kafka. One of the characters used to be big in the theater, the other is a writer. A good deal happens in the story. An old man's sexual capacity is restored in a sexual encounter with a countess hiding from a murderous lover.

The narrator always has to loan money to the old actor who loves to hear himself talk on everything from the brothel visit he took Kafka on to his chess game with the fates.

“Didn’t you once ask what makes me go on, or do I imagine that you did? What gives me the strength to bear poverty, sickness, and, worst of all, hopelessness? That’s a good question, my young friend. I asked the same question when I first read the Book of Job. Why did Job continue to live and suffer? So that in the end he would have more daughters, more donkeys, more camels? No. The answer is that it was for the game itself. We all play chess with Fate as a partner. He makes a move; we make a move. He tries to checkmate us in three moves; we try to prevent it. We know we can’t win, but we’re driven to give him a good fight"

"A Friend of Kafka" is ten minutes of delight, funny, and made me feel I was getting private gossip from old Warsaw.

There are about 40 Singer Short stories in the edition I have of his work. I hope to read all of them

Mel Ulm

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Gentleman from Cracow. By Issac Singer - Commentary; New York, N. Y. Vol. 24, (Jan 1, 1957) - A Short Story

 The Gentleman from Cracow. By Issac Singer - Commentary; New York, N. Y. Vol. 24, (Jan 1, 1957) - A Short Story


Issac Singer (1902-1901-born Poland) won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for the full body of his work. He is best known to the public as the author of Yentil, the basis for a very popular movie. Singer's, even though he left Poland in 1935 because of the rise of the Nazis, work is very rooted in the culture in which he was raised. He became an American citizen. Singer died and is buried in Florida. . He indicated his biggest influences as a short story writer were Anton Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant 

You may read the story on Commentary Website

It is included in The Collected Short Stories of Issac Singer

I have already posted on three of Singer's stories, I was motivated to read "The Gentleman from Cracowby the reference in MeMendelso's book.

The Gentleman from Cracow is one of the most famous of Singer's stories. Set in a town in Poland with a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles, it is a very exciting work going into ancient Ashkanazi beliefs.  

I really do not want to at all spoil the plot of this gripping story. A 30 year old Jewish doctor, a widower arrives in Cracow. He is obviously very rich. Every matchmaker in town approaches him with a potential bride. He purposes a grand party be held in which all unmarried of age girls come along with eligible bachelors. He provides money for beautiful clothes and offers a huge dowry for every match made. The local Rabbi warns the people to be cautious but no one listens.

Then things turn very strange, very dangerous 

The Gentleman from Cracow originally written in Yiddish, then translated under the supervision of Singer. I have no information besides this on the translation.

"Born in 1904 into a family of rabbis, Singer grew up in a devout household in Warsaw’s Jewish quarter, but he also spent time in the villages and market towns of eastern Poland, most notably Bilgoray, where he took refuge with his mother and brother during World War I. He had firsthand exposure to forms of Jewish folk culture that were destroyed by the Nazis, and many of his works testify to the richness of that annihilated world. In his stories set in Poland, Singer drew upon vernacular traditions for tales imbued with a wild, sometimes mischievous, often disturbing supernaturalism that was an outgrowth of local storytelling but containing dark undercurrents born of his own concerns and obsessions. At the same time, his skeptical but never dismissive engagement with religion and spirituality—and the opposing forces of secularism—enabled him to take part in the creative ferment of Jewish modernism but also distance himself from its politics and literary methods." From Library of America edition of his stories

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Kenzaburo Őe - January 31, 1935 to March 3, 2023

 Kenzaburő Őe - January 31,1935 to March 3, 2023

Kenzaburo Oe has departed from us. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994

I first began reading his work in April of 2009. I have posted upon 19 of his works.

His life and body of work is celebrated throughout the world.

"The image of Daio in the forest reminded me of the twokanji—淼淼 and森森—that suggest infinite expanses of water and forest, respectively, and thinking about those pictographs made the dream feel even more luminous and prophetic. In my dreamy vision, the relentless torrents of rain had saturated the leaves of the trees with such a vast amount of water that the entire forest seemed as deep and as wet as an ocean."!From Death by Water 

I first encountered the work of Kenzaburo Oe in 2009 during JL2. I knew right away I wanted to read everything by him I could. Here were my thoughts from long ago on his stunningly powerful story “The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears”:

“I cannot really begin to convey the strange and wonderful qualities of this work. Imagine if Rabelais (Oe was a student of French literature and philosophy at the University of Tokyo), Jean Paul Sarte and William Burroughs collaborated on a work right after eating some very bad blow fish and you have an idea of how

 The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears feels like as you read it.   

This work is about a lot of things and it is about itself. It is about loss of faith, feelings of profound loss,

survivor's guilt, and the destruction of old values. We feel the effects of the war everywhere.

The Japanese culture provided no role models or cultural archetypes to help them cope with what could not happen, total defeat.   

There is a long established literary tradition of using the insane to say what cannot be accepted by those in fully sunlit worlds. The narrator of The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears has very deep roots in western culture. His ancestors were in the plays of Euripides, his great grandfather was Dostoevsky's underground man, he speaks through Crazy Jane. Oe has stated that he has come to understand the meaning of his own works through reading the poetry of William Butler Yeats.   

I do not mean to convey that The Day He Himself Shall Wipe Away My Tears is a closed work that cannot be enjoyed or even followed without great effort. It can be enjoyed just as a narrative of a crazy person. As such we will pick up a lot about the aftereffects of the war on Japan. We will see how the Japanese people felt when they heard the Emperor speak on the radio, and we will learn something about the home front in rural Japan. The book is also funny-imagine the very straight laced executor of the narrator's estate being threatened with the loss of his work as administrator of the narrator's estate (who appears to have nothing to pass along anyway and probably is not going to die soon either) by a man in an underwater mask. Oe is as deep as the Russians and as careful as Proust and Flaubert and knows as much about people as Dickens.” 

"Simple. They were basically scared. They can't approach a man as terrifying as Big Papa without costumes, without painted faces...Able official turned to Dog Face and they both burst out laughing...But once they get going so that the merriment

can start percolating, they'll crack the audience up, so they will join in the laughter themselves...";From The Pinch Runner Memorandum 

My thoughts on An Echo of Heaven

An Echo of Heaven is one of the most overtly "philosophical" of Oe's works. It is the story of a woman whose two handicapped sons committed suicide. It focuses on her attempt to make sense of and cope with the impact of this event on her life. It is not what I can call an "open or easy read" compared to some of his other books. If you are into Oe you will for sure love this book.  

An Echo of Heaven is a strange book. It is partially told in long letters from the woman whose sons killed themselves, Marie Kuraki, to the narrator of the story who has agreed to write a book about her to be released in conjunction with a movie a friend of the narrator is making about her. Much of the novel is set among Japanese living in rural Mexico, some went to escape living in post WWII Japan. Marie lives there and has become a saint like figure to the Mexican agricultural workers. She has also joined a religious cult whose leader is called "big daddy" and she is described as looking like "Betty Boop", an American cartoon character. She writes very long letters(10 + pages) about her involvement with the religious cult. I think this is part of Oe's account of the nature and origin of religion. Marie seems at times to throw to her self into a lot of sexual activity, a lot of drinking and meaningless activities in an effort to cope with the death of her sons. One of them was in a wheel chair, both were mentally handicapped (as is one of Oe's children). They agreed to kill themselves. One boy pushed his brother out into the ocean in his wheel chair and then drowned himself. The reasons for this are not made super clear and there is no indication Marie is at fault.  

The more I think about it, the more I feel this is among the very deepest most amazing of Oe's work. It is near R rated in parts (I would have to say the sex scenes in Oe are often more about power than pleasure, more about using sex to drive thought out of your mind.). There is a big symbolic import to having the novel set among Japanese living in Mexico (and the USA) and the narrator and Marie both characterize Mexican men as aggressive macho types and the women as used to a harsh life. Marie went to Mexico to help rural Mexicans. Oe also taps into the religious beliefs of the pre-Colombian residents of Mexico and the effect of Catholicism on the lives of the Mexicans.

The narrator of this story is very into the work of Flannery O'Connor and I was very glad I have recently begun to read her work. In one really enjoyable scene the narrator goes into a Mexico City bookstore and buys up all of their works by O'Connor. He asks the clerk if they sell a lot of her work. She says no not really but every once and a while someone will come in and buy all her work. (Probably there have been dissertations written on the Oe/O'Connor connection.)

The narrator is also into Yeats, Blake, Balzac and a few other western Canon status writers but it is O'Connor that is most important here. I think one reason I am drawn to Oe is that he does talk deeply about authors I love in his work. To me it speaks to the depth of Oe that it is not simply that he shines a light on Yeats, Blake and O'Connor but they do so on him as well.  

Some readers of Oe who want to shy away from seeing him as an atheist try to see him as thinking along the same lines as the Romanian philosopher Marcea Eliade. I think this is a false almost wishful thinking reading of Oe and represents a shallow understanding of his work. I always think back to his Hiroshima interview with an elderly woman whose whole family were killed in the atomic bomb attack and who was suffering from radiation burns.   

 Iv see him as creating wisdom much as I see Samuel Johnson as doing. The wisdom of Oe is that of a world turned inside out on itself, that of Johnson is of a world sure of itself. The best of Oe feels not so much written as discovered.  

A Personal Matter is the most popular of the novels of Oe. The central character Bird is very hard to like, in part because it is hard not to see yourself in him. His estranged wife has given birth to a son who seems to have a severe birth defect resulting in terrible brain damage. Bird secretly wants his son to die but he must go along with the doctors who say they can possibly operate on him once he gets stronger and save him. Bird is not gratified by this as the odds are very high that the child will be severely handicapped mentally. Much of the few days in the life of Bird we see him trying to escape from thoughts pressing in on him that he knows are a violation of acceptable morality. He wants very much to go on a trip to Africa and he spends a lot of time thinking about this. He indulges in a great deal of sexual activity with an ex-girl friend that he care little about, he drinks too much, he gets fired from a job he does not like, and shows little real interest in anything. He does love the poetry of William Blake.   

A Personal Matter is saturated with animal references and metaphors. I did an informal count as I was reading the novel and there are about 150 such references.

The meagerness of her fingers recalled chameleon legs..the toad like rubber man rolling the tire down the road....Bird stared for an instant in the numerous ant holes in the ebonite receiver...the glass chatter at the bottle like an angry a titmouse pecking at millet an orangutan sampling a flavor..Bird and Himiko exchanged magnanimous smiles and drank their whiskey purposefully, like beetles sucking sap..whiskey-heated eyes dart a weasel glance...

There are numerous references to sea urchins, grasshoppers and shrimp. Some of the animal references are amazing in their cleverness and all of them made me see more deeply into the world projected by Oe. (Oe has a brain damaged son.)  

A Personal Matter is a very intense work. Once you realize the central character Bird wants his son to die it is hard to like him and also hard to admit we do not understand why he feels that way. The novel is very explicit sexually. Attitudes toward suicide are considered briefly. A Personal Matter kept me in suspense throughout. I wanted to learn what would happen to the child and how things would turn out among Bird, his wife, and his girlfriend. Oe is not afraid to look a monster in the face. His work can help us do the same and if it turns out one of those monsters is buried within ourselves and our mythic past then at least we know it. (in Hiroshima Notes-a work of nonfiction) that he never admired the courage of anyone more than when he saw she was facing this horror without religion."

Hiroshima Notes by Kenzaburo Oe (trans. from Japanese by David Swain and Toshi Yenezawa, 1965 and translation 1981, 192 pages) is a collection of essays Oe published after making several visits to Hiroshima in 1965 to attend observations for the 20th anniversary of the dropping of the Atomic Bomb August 6, 1945. It also includes a useful introduction by David Swain and two prefaces by Oe.

Hiroshima Notes is a deeply wise book by a man who has thought long and hard on topics most would prefer to move on from. It is far from a bitter work. I want to relay few of the things in the book that stood out for me.

The survivors of the atomic bomb blasts were the very first of the Japanese people to say that the bomb blasts were the fault of the Japanese military government. Oe feels that the dropping of the bomb was a war crime also. My first reaction to this was to say that it saved, among other, the lives of millions of Japanese. (I recall a few years ago I watched a movie from 1944-it was just a very minor movie and I do not recall the name. Some English school children were looking at a future globe of the world. They asked the teacher what the big empty space in the Pacific Ocean was. The teacher laughed and said that was where Japan used to be.) Oe, agree or not, is suggesting in doing this a force was turned lose on the world that could one day bring an end to human life. Never before could war do this. It might have been that the Japanese would have surrendered facing a joint American and Russian Invasion (the Japanese knew the Russians would without hesitation send millions of their troops to be killed and that they wanted very much revenge for their defeat in the Russian Japanese Naval War). Both the Japanese and the Germans were working on Nuclear weapons and clearly would have carpet bombed Australia and England with them and the USA if they could reach it with the planes of the day. It is also true that the Japanese would have been defeated by nonnuclear warfare. (I personally feel Truman did what he had to do) In Hiroshima in 1965 there were 1000s of women who were children when the bomb went exploded. They survived but were so badly scarred that they began essentially life long hermits ashamed to go out in public. No one would marry them as they were thought to be unable to give birth to a healthy child. There were also in 1965 thousands of older women living alone who were the only survivors of their families. Some of the young girls who survived did pray daily that no one else ever experience what they did. Some wanted all the world to go up in a nuclear war. The Japanese government, aided by American occupation forces, did provide medical care to survivors but they did not provide living expenses so many of the injured had to keep working to support their families so could not take treatment.

The doctors who lived in Hiroshima when the bomb exploded soon became the first authorities on the medical effects of the bomb. They also suffered the effects. Rates of leukemia went way up as did other forms of cancer. Suicides went way up throughout the lives of the survivors. Oe tells us a very moving story. A twenty six year old man, age six when the bomb exploded, is advised he has two years to live as a result of leukemia. He can live out his remaining time in a charity hospital ward. He chooses to work at hard labor (he has no skills) so he can live on his own and be with his 19 year old fiance, not yet born when bomb exploded. When he died she took an overdose of sleeping pills stating that her death was also a result of the bomb blast. There are other equally moving stories. We see the wisdom and power of the doctors. We feel a little ashamed when we see different groups fight over who should run the 20 year anniversary memorial but we are also moved by seeing good people from all over the world come together.    

Oe says the greatest gift of the bombing is the wisdom of the survivors. Oe is clearly humbled by his task of bringing their stories to life.  

The youngest survivors of the bomb are now in their middle sixties. There are ninety year old survivors that still bear the scars.

I know I do not have the ability to convey the power of this book. I know most people do not want to dwell on these matters. I am pretty sure my daughters and children throughout the world can graduate from college and never be told of them by a teacher. As I read the book, I hope this remark bothers no one, I thought that Oe was the kind of man who could have written the wisdom books of the Old Testament. At one point he has a long conversation with an elderly woman. He says her wisdom is so strong that she is able to live a life scarred since her middle years by the blast without a belief in any authoritarian creed. Oe does not say that wars are started by those who follow authoritative codes, much of his wisdom is in what he knows he cannot say.

Hiroshima Notes deeply effected me. I felt an almost Oceanic Feeling come over me as I thought about the book and what I could attempt to say about it.

To those new to Kenzaburo Őe I would suggest you read through his works in publication order.

Mel Ulm

Monday, March 13, 2023

Tokyo Ueno Station- A Novel by Yu Miri -2014- translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles - 2019 - 189 Pages


2023 is the 15th Year in which I have participated in The Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Dolce Bellezza. In 2009 when I first participated I had yet to read any works originally written in Japanese. Now numerous Japanese writers are on my read all I can of their works list.. The post World War Two Japanese Novel is a world class cultural treasure.

Both new and experienced readers will find numerous suggestions on the website. To participate you need only post on one work and list your review on the event website (listed above). New book bloggers will find participation a good way to meet others and expand those following their blog

In January for The Japanese Literature Challenge I posted upon 
 At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano -2016- 306 pages- translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter

Tokyo Ueno Station- A Novel by Yu Miri -2014- translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles - 2019 - 189 Pages

Kazu, the narrator, has recently passed away, his life was one of hard physical labor filled with great pain brought on by the passing of his parents, his son at 21 and his granddaughter at 23. His daughter and her child drowned in the 2011 tsumani

"I thought that once I was dead, I would be reunited with the dead," he reflects. "I thought something would be resolved by death ... But then I realized that I was back in the park. I was not going anywhere, I had not understood anything, I was still stunned by the same numberless doubts, only I was now outside life looking in, as someone who has lost the capacity to exist, now ceaselessly thinking, ceaselessly feeling --"

In a series of flashbacks we learn of his past. He worked on the construction of the venue for the Tokyo Olympics. Then he became homeless when his job ended. He lived in a homeless camp for a while but the government wanted them moved out before the games began.

We are given a powerful account of what it was like to be at the bottom of Tokyo society 

YU MIRI is a writer of plays, prose fiction, and essays, with over twenty books to her name. She received Japan’s most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, she began to visit the affected area, hosting a radio show to listen to survivors’ stories. She relocated to Fukushima in 2015 and has opened a bookstore and theater space to continue her cultural work in collaboration with those affected by the disaster. 

I hope to post on a few short stories by Japanese authors this month.

Mel Ulm

Friday, March 10, 2023

War Diary by Yevgenia Beloruset - 2022- translated from the German by Gregg Nissan 2023

 War Diary by Yevgenia Beloruset - 2022- translated from the German by Gregg Nissan 2023

The Publisher of The War Diary, Pushkin Press, elegantly offers an explication of this deeply moving memoir of the first 41 days of Russia's attack on The Ukraine.

"The young artist and writer Yevgenia Belorusets was in her hometown of Kyiv when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on the morning of February 24, 2022. For her and millions of Ukrainians, reality changed overnight. With urgency and clarity, she set out to document the devastation and its effects on the ordinary residents of Ukraine: the relentless presence of sirens and gunfire; moments of intense connection and solidarity with strangers; the struggle to make sense of a good mood on a spring day.

Published in the German newspaper Der Spiegel and then translated and released each day online by ISOLARII with Artforum, War Diary had an immediate impact worldwide. Issued here with a new preface and later entries by the author, it is a powerfully lucid account of the surreal reality of life in a country under siege." Pushkin Press

Over the past ten years or so I have posted upon a number of authors originally from what is now known as the Ukraine. These include Gogol, Clarice Lispector and Josepth Roth as well as Yiddish Language authors. All of them left the Ukraine as soon as they could, most to escape pervasive Anti-Semitic pograms. Of course they are long since deceased. 

Early this month I posted upon my first reading of a work by a contemporary Ukrainian writer,Sweet Darusya:A Tale of Two Villages by Maria Matios -2003- 159 pages- translated from the Ukrainian by Michael M. Naylan and Tytarenko-2016.  

Prompted by the News of Russian war crimes in the Ukraine, I have begun seeking out works by contemporary Ukrainian writers. War Diary by Yevgenia Beloruset reminded me somehow of Elizabeth Bowen's memoirs of London during the Blitz as well as Irene Némirovsky works on Paris during the war. Kyiv like London and Paris is an ancient near holy city to those who love it. I saw how through the Reflections of Yevgenia Beloruset that the deliberate destruction of buildings 100s of years old, with no military utility, was on a par with the destruction of ancient statues of the Budda by Isis, a crime against humanity.

I will just remark on some of the things that deeply reverberated with me. The author saw as her mission to photograph the destruction in the Ukraine. To do this she had to leave her apartment and walk through the streets with her camera. People talked to each other, often wondering why others were staying. Some took care of handicapped family who could not easily be moved. One Woman had six cats she refused to abandon. Others stayed to help their neighbours or just had no where to which to evacuate. Some food store owners stayed open giving away food to those without money. One wonderful lady made it her job to feed abandoned pets.

 Young Russian soldiers broke into apartments looking for liquor to steal. Children and old people were shot for sport. Everyday the death toll builds up. A numbness develops in some.

Some of the people the author encounters are highly educated, elegantly dressed others are poor pensioners. Many just refused to leave the Ukraine. Wherever she walks she begins to see bodies. She tells us what it was like living in an apartment house, with blackout curtains, wondering if you should seek shelter in a basement.  

Of course the war still persists long after War Diary ends.

"Yevgenia Belorusets is a Ukrainian artist, writer, and photographer born in Kyiv in 1980. In her works, she calls attention to the most vulnerable sections of Ukrainian society.

Yevgenia is co-founder of the journal Prostory, member of the interdisciplinary curatorial collective Hudrada, author of the photo series Victories of the Defeated and books Lucky Breaks (International Literature Award by Haus der Kulturen der Welt in 2020), Series of Lectures on the Modern Life of Animals and Anfang des Krieges (Horst Bingel Prize for Literature 2022). Twice her work was presented in the Ukrainian program at the Venice Biennale — in 2015 with Victories of the Defeated and in 2022 with A Wartime Diary. 

Her works meet at the intersection of visual art, literature, journalism, and activism making a solid connection between document and artistic language. The most recent work is a multidisciplinary exhibition Nebenan / Close by taking place in German Bundestag" from  

a very informative interview with the author

Mel Ulm

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv by Erin Litteken - 2022 - 335 Pages

 Erin Litteken is a debut novelist with a degree in history and a passion for research. At a young age, she was enthralled by stories of her family’s harrowing experiences in Ukraine before, during and after World War II. Her debut novel, The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, draws on those experiences.

During the Holodimar, or the Great Famine (1932 to 1933) millions of Ukrainians died of starvation (estimates range from as high as 12 million to at least four million) not from crop failure or climate disasters but because of the policies of Joseph Stalin (ruler of Russia from 1927 to 1953).

Several of the most featured writers on my blog left the Ukraine to
find a better life. Among them are Clarice Lispector, Irene Némirovsky, Gregor Von Rezzori and Joseph Roth. Many Yiddish writers fled the Ukraine, an area of deeply rooted virulent anti-Semetic feelings going back centuries. Arguments about the Ukraine have become a big factor in American politics. Of course those speaking know next to nothing about the history of the region.  

Basically starting with Lenin, Soviet leaders felt that they had a choice, save the Revolution in Russia by taking the massive grain production from the Ukraine to feed Russians or letting millions of Russians starve which would turn the Russians against the Bolsheviks. Lenin made a decision to sacrifice the Ukrainian people to save Communism in Russia. He made no effort to hide this as Applebaum very throughly documents in quotes from his speeches. Stalin continued this policy to horrible consequences. Stalin seems to have gone from the pure pragmatic views of Lenin to a personal hatred for everything and everyone Ukrainian.

Prior to the Russian Revolution grain was produced on farms run by their owners, called “Kulaks”. The more they produced the more they made. Stalin saw the Kulaks as the enemy of communism. He began a process know as collectivism in which many farms were combined into one unit run by officials, often with no agricultural experience, who were ordered to deliver all their products to other Russian officials (or Stalinist Ukrainians) to be sent to Russia. The peasants no longer had any incentive to work hard, to produce as much as they could. Instead they focused on finding a way to feed their families. Stealing was no longer a vice to them as their land had been stolen. (From my post on an essential book for anyone hoping to Understand the Ukraine-Red Famine -Stalin’s War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum - 2017

Litteken's powerful historical novel has two interconnected times lines, separated by several decades and thousands of miles. The plot line begins in Wisconsin in 2004, then in Chapter Two we are taken to Katya in the Ukraine in 1929.

In Wisconsin we encounter a young widow and her daughter Birdie. She and her husband had moved there for a job offer for her husband but he was killed in automobile accident. Since then Birdie, 12 or so, has not spoken. The doctors say it is the result of the trauma and hopefully in time she will recover. Her mother persuades to move in with her to help take care of her widowed grandmother. Her grandmother hordes food and sometimes has cognitive disorders in which she imagines she is back in the Ukraine in the 1930s. She has a journal from this period that her granddaughter, with the help of Nick, a Ukrainian speaking family friend, she is working her way through.

Kanya, back in the Ukraine in 1930, is 16, lives with her parents and sister. The Soviets and Ukrainian collaborators are trying to force everyone into a farming collective. It is often just an excuse for theft and sexual molestation. Just having food becomes a challenge, people live on the brink of starvation unless they cooperate with the Russians. Katya soon marries her childhood sweetheart. The horrors of the Holodimar are vividly shown.  

I do not want to go much further into the very enthralling plot. The connections between the two time lines are powerful.

Erin Litteken is a debut novelist with a degree in history and a passion for research. At a young age, she was enthralled by stories of her family’s harrowing experiences in Ukraine before, during and after World War II. Her first historical fiction title, The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, draws on those experiences. She lives in Illinois, USA with her husband and children. From the author's website:

Monday, March 6, 2023

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racism in America by Ibram X. Kendi - 2016- 582 Pages

 Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racism in America by Ibram X. Kendi - 2016- 582 

Anyone seriously into American history will find this book fascinating. All teachers of American history should be required to read this work. 

"After the revolution American declared itself the Land of Liberty, which must have come as a surprise to the millions ot slaves" - Philomena Cunk

"If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you." Lyndin Baines Johnson

Most of those who try to offer a rationale for the enslavement of people of African descent look for things people believed that lead them to conclude that white people, Europeans, were intrinsically superior and that people of African descent were unable to govern themselves and were better off as slaves. Kendi explains in copious detail that this is backwards. At first people have absurd racist views and want to have slaves so they seek reasons for believing this.

I recently read a very illuminating book A World without Jews: the Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide by Alon Confino.- 2014 in which he pursues a quite similar account of how Germans came to the ideas they used to justify the Holocaust. The traditional explanation by most scholars is that they were lead to this by ideas going way back in European history on up to claims Jews caused the Germans to lose World War One and suffer a long economic collapse destroying the lives of millions. Similar to Kendi, Confino says first Germans and many others hated Jews then they looked for bogus historical claims and remarks by authorities to justify their hatred.

First you have idiotic beliefs, then you look for ways to justify them, not the other way around.

Kendi attacks a core false belief about America. That there is a straight line history of repudiation of racism in America culminating in the election of Barack Obama as American President. Obama himself said it was often a two step forward one back progress but it was real.

Kendi exposes this myth showing for every step of reputation of racism, racists have there own corresponding progress. Obama was followed by the champion of whites who feel they are being pushed aside. Not coincidently this president was Anti-Semitic, rapidly anti- Gay and judged women by how he liked their looks.

Kendi divides attitudes of Americans toward those of Africa descent in post Revolutionary America. Racists believed they were inferior mentally, not capable of self-rule and possessed of very strong sexual appetites and were better off enslaved. Abolitionists believed slavery should be abolished and wanted freed slaves shipped out of the country. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln are in this category. Assimilationists wanted slaves freed and given the same rights as white Americans. (Kendi does talk about the attitudes toward and of Native Americans in a very illuminating way. To see the hundreds of tribal groups all thinking the same way is completely ill-informed.)

Kindi structures his narrative around five historically important Americans, Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Angela Davis, the only living subject.

"The first generation of Puritans began rationalizing the enslavement of these “Negroes” without skipping a Christian beat. Their chilling nightmares of persecution were not the only hallucinations the Puritans had carried over the Atlantic waters in their minds to America. From the first ships that landed in Virginia in 1607, to the ships that survived the Great Hurricane of 1635, to the first slave ships, some British settlers of colonial America carried across the sea Puritan,biblical, scientific, and Aristotelian rationalizations of slavery and human hierarchy. From Western Europe and the new settlements in Latin America, some Puritans carried across their judgment of the many African peoples as one inferior people. They carried across racist ideas—racist ideas that preceded American slavery, because the need to justify African slavery preceded colonial America." - From Stamped From the Beginnings 
Cotton Mather (1663 to 1728- Boston) was the most influential evangelical Christian minister in pre-revoluntunary Amsrica. His sermons proclaimed the inherent inferiority of people with dark skin, and used texts from The Old Testament, Aristotle and other texts to justify enslaving Africans. Wealthy plantation owners loved him and poorer whites derived ego gratification from his sermons. In each segment Kindi deals with the development of ideologies advocating assistlation and absolution. (I was saddened to read quotes from Voltaire and David Hume postulating racists views) and economics of the country. He talks about how Cotton in the south and sugar in the Caribbean needed slave labor for maximum profit.

"VOLTAIRE, FRANCE’S ENLIGHTENMENT GURU, used Linnaeus’s racist ladder in the book of additions that supplemented his half-million-word Essay on Universal History in 1756. He agreed there was a permanent natural order of the species. ..“The negro race is a species of men as different from ours as the breed of spaniels is from that of greyhound.… If their understanding is not of a different nature from ours it is at least greatly inferior.” The African people were like animals, he added, merely living to satisfy “bodily wants.” However, as a “warlike, hardy, and cruel people,” they were “superior” soldiers." - Voltaire, Additions to the Essay on General History, trans. T. Franklin et al., vol. 22, The Works of M. De Voltaire (London: Crowder et al., 1763), 227–228, 234

Thomas Jefferson is the second subject.

Thomas Jefferson

Born- April 13, 1743- Dies July 4, 1826 - in Virginia 

January 1, 1772 - Marries his third cousin - Martha Skelton 
September 6, 1782- She dies- he kept his promise never to remarry-2 of their daughters survived to adulthood 

Authors The Declaration of Independence-1776

American Revolution- April 19,1775 to September 8, 1783

Governor of Virginia- June 1, 1779 to June 31,1781

Ambassador to France- May 17, 1785 to September 26,1789

Secretary of State for President Washington - March 20, 1793 to December 31, 1793

President of the United States- March 4,1801 to March 4, 1809

April 30, 1803. The Louisiana Purchase doubles American territory 

Jefferson owned about 300 slaves, he had a long relationship with a woman he owned with whom he had six children. Jefferson treated their children, as they legally were, as his property though he did eventually free the children still alive as he neared death. In his Pulitzer Prize winning biography Jon Meachem, Thomas Jefferson:The Art of Power portrays Jefferson as an assimilationists of sorts. He knew the principles in The Declaration of Independence mandated the end of slavery. However he believed those enslaved were inferior in intellect and self-control to such a degree that they needed once freed shipped out of the country. This was a common belief, also held by Lincoln.

Recently I read The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry should be required reading for all teachers of American history. It shows how slavery corrupted all slavers and inflicted terrible cruelty on the victims. I cannot find a way to adequately praise this book. Those taught the after school cartoon version of the founding of America will be shocked maybe even hurt by what they learn about God - Like figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  

1810 - the importation of slaves into USA is banned. This was sponsored and pushed for by then President Thomas Jefferson. The as taught in schools myth is that this showed Jefferson, a slave owner, long term wanted to end slavery. The exposure of the venality and self-serving reasons for Jefferson's actions is presented in completely convincing details in The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry by Ned and Constance Sublette - 2015 - 752 pages

 By stopping the import of slaves those already here became much more valuable. It became very profitable to breed slaves. When a slave was too old for field work, Jefferson cut their food rations in half.  I think to call him without serious qualifications an assimilation is an error.

"Equating enslaved Blacks to three-fifths of all other (White) persons matched the ideology of racists on both sides of the aisle. Both assimilationists and segregationists argued, yet with different premises and conclusions, that Black people were simultaneously human and subhuman. Assimilationists stridently declared the capability of sub-White, sub-human Blacks to become whole, five-fifths, White, one day. For segregationists, three-fifths offered a mathematical approximation of inherent and permanent Black inferiority. They may have disagreed on the rationale and the question of permanence, but seemingly all embraced Black inferiority—and in the process enshrined the power of slaveholders and racist ideas in the nation’s founding document."

Kendi might have gone into more details as to the reasons enslaved persons were counted as 3/5ths of a free person but emotionally hid claim is completely credible.

William Lloyd Garrison (1805 to 1879- Newportbury, Massachusetts- New York City is the third subject. He completely repudiated all forms of racism and was a leading figure among anti-slavers. I admit I knew nothing of Garrison but now I hold him in high esteem. He edited a highly influential anti slavery publication for two decades. He over and over printed articles saying there were no biologically based racial differences. Kindi also addreeses the way in which notions of race were constructed in the mid-14th century to rationalise European control of Africa and the slave trade. (Wikipedia has a good article on him)

W. E. B Du Bois and Angela Davis are featured in segments four and five.

This post is rather long. I will give Kendi the next to last words.

"It is in the intelligent self-interest of Asians, Native Americans, and Latina/os to challenge anti-Black racism, knowing they will not be free of racism until Black people are free of racism. It is in the intelligent self-interest of White Americans to challenge racism, knowing they will not be free of sexism, class bias, homophobia, and ethnocentrism until Black people are free of racism. The histories of anti-Asian, anti-Native, and anti-Latina/o racist ideas; the histories of sexist, elitist, homophobic, and ethnocentric ideas: all sound eerily similar to this history of racist ideas, and feature some of the same defenders of bigotry in America. Supporting these prevailing bigotries is only in the intelligent self-interest of a tiny group of super rich, Protestant, heterosexual, non-immigrant, White, Anglo-Saxon males. Those are the only people who need to be altruistic in order to be antiracist. The rest of us merely need to do the intelligent thing for ourselves."

DR. IBRAM X. KENDI is a National Book Award-winning author of thirteen books for adults and children, including nine New York Times bestsellers—five of which were #1 New York Times bestsellers. Dr. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, and the director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. He is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News racial justice contributor. 

Dr. Kendi is the author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, making him the youngest author to win that award. He also authored the international bestseller, How to Be an Antiracist, which was described in the New York Times as “the most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind.” Dr. Kendi’s other bestsellers include How to Raise an Antiracist; Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, co-edited with Keisha Blain; How to Be a (Young) Antiracist, co-authored with Nic Stone; Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, co-authored with Jason Reynolds; and Antiracist Baby, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky. In 2020, Time magazine named Dr. Kendi one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world. He was awarded a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship, popularly known as the Genius Grant. - from

The author has numerous of his articles linked on his website and has a number of presentations on YouTube 

Mel Ulm

Friday, March 3, 2023

The Reading Life Review - February 2023 - Plans for the next four months

The Reading Life Review - February 2023- Plans and Hopes for Next Three Months

The Reading Life is a multicultural book blog, committed to Literary Globalism

Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Yiddish Culture, 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. I also read quality narrative non-fiction.

Column One

1. Jon Meachem - USA - winner of multiple Pulitzer Prizes For Presidential Biographies - first appearance on The Reading Life

2. Maria Matios- Ukrainian- highly regarded novelist- member of Ukrainian Parliament - first appearance 

Column Two

1. Euripides- Greece

2. Oskana Zabuzhko- Ukrainian- multi-awarded writer- first appearance 

3. Jhumpa Lahari- UK to USA - featured many times. On my read all I can list

In February Three writers were initially featured, I hope to read more of their works. Two are men, only Euripides has passed away.

Home Countries of Authors

1. The Ukrainine- 2

2. Greece - 1

3. USA- 1

4. UK- 1

Blog Stats

Since inception my posts have been viewed 6,926,277 times. There are currently 4,164 posts on line.

Nine of the ten most viewed posts in February were on short stories 

Home Countries of Visitors 

1. USA 

2. India 

3. Germany 

4. Phillippines 

5. Canada

6. UK

7. Pakistan 

8. Netherlands 

9. Isreal 

10. Russia 

Future Plans

My reading and blogging is slowing down, hopefully just a temporary matter.  

Gravity's Rainbow was published 50 years ago on February 28, 1973. I first read it that week and at least ten additional times. I hope to complete a slow reread in the next four months or so. I also hope to reread his Against the Day and Mason Dixon.

I have in the years posted on many classic status writers born in what is now the Ukraine. Motivated by current events, I read two works by contemporary Ukrainian writers and have two more on my E Reader. I am seeking suggestions in this area.

I want to get back into reading and posting more on short stories 

I initiated a new project last month, Ancient Readings, and hope to read some Roman dramas and historical works this month.

I will also continue my participation in The Japanese Reading Challenge 

Friday, February 24, 2023

And There Was Light:Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meachem- 2022- 1268 pages

 And There Was Light:Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meachem- 2022- 1268 pages

"In life, Lincoln’s motives were moral as well as political—a reminder that our finest presidents are those committed to bringing a flawed nation closer to the light, a mission that requires an understanding that politics divorced from conscience is fatal to the American experiment in liberty under law. In years of peril he pointed the country toward a future that was superior to the past and to the present; in years of strife he held steady. Lincoln’s life shows us that progress can be made by fallible and fallen presidents and peoples—which, in a fallible and fallen world, should give us hope." - Jon Meachem 

Born - February 12,1809 - Hodgenville, Kentucy into a poor uneducated family 

November 4,1842- Marries Mary Todd

Served Four Terms as a Representative in The Illinois House of Representatives

March 4, 1847 to March 3, 1849- serves as a congressman from Illinois- in the Republican Party

Admitted in 1836 to the Illinois Bar

March 4, 1847 to March 3, 1849 - serves as Illinois Representative in U.S. Congress 

March 1, 1861- Begins his term as president of the United States- he ran on an anti-slavery platform which alarmed slave owners in the southern states.

December 20, 1860- South Carolina succeeds from the union

 By February 1, 1861 Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Texas have all succeeced 

February 9, 1861 -Jefferson Davis elected President of the Confederacy.

On April 12, 1861 -Confederate troops fire on Fort Sumter

April 12, 1861 to May 26, 1865- The American Civil War (sometimes called The War Between the States)--The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865, generally estimated at 620,000, is approximately equal to the total of American fatalities in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, combined.

Assassinated: April 15, 1865, - Washington DC by John Wilkes Booth

This book is a masterpiece of historical biography. I wish all teachers of American history would be required to read this work.

Meachem shows us in detail the conditions of his upbringing. Lincoln had very little formal education but while in his early twenties he became an avid reader of Shakespeare, The King James Bible and then well known political treatises. American politics was divided into two camps, those who wanted the national government to abolish slavery and those who wanted the states to regulate this. Slaveholding states were made wealthy by Cotton plantations which required lots of enslaved workers to be profitable. Abolitionists cited the words of Thomas Jefferson to support their views:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"

On the other side slave holders quoted scriptures from the bible advising slaves to obey their masters.

Lincoln did strongly believe slavery should be ended. However, as Meachem documents clearly, he felt African descendants were intrinsically inferior to whites and he wanted freed slaves transported out of the country. Above all he wanted the Union to survive.

In his alternative history, The People's History of the United States Howard Zinn there is an account of the war for different from either the fantasies of Gone with the Wind or presentations of Lincoln as another Abraham.

"The participants in the American civil war on both sides fell for the drum beats of patriotism.  The wealthy could buy their way out of military service.  Southern soldiers come across as complete dupes, owning no slaves  or land but seeing it as their duty to die for those who did while wealthy slave owners set the war out.  Zinn details how after the south lost, laws were passed to keep ex-slaves in subjugation.  Poor whites were made to think they were superior to African Americans and did not understand that the elite cared nothing about them" from my post 

Meachem shows us the tribulations Lincoln went through during the war. He quotes extensively from some of his famous speeches. We learn of his at times tumultuous marriage and his wife's mental issues, his tremendous grief over the deaths of his sons.

The book is more than just a biography, it is a portrait of an era.

"Abraham Lincoln did not bring about heaven on earth. Yet he defended the possibilities of democracy and the pursuit of justice at an hour in which the means of amendment, adjustment, and reform were under assault. What if the constitutional order had failed and the Union had been permanently divided? What would have come next? A durable oligarchical white Southern slave empire, surely strengthened and possibly expanded, would have emerged from the war; and, as Lincoln saw, the viability of popular self-government would have been in ruins."

The states that formed the Confederacy all voted for trump. They have passed laws designed to make it difficult for the descendants of enslaved persons to vote. Several of the states rank at the bottom in Education, income of population and numerous other factors. Their leaders are obsessed over trans persons and idiotic anti "woke" agenda. This is a direct legacy of slavery.

I am very glad I read this wonderful biography. I have Meachem's biography of Andrew Jackson on my Amazon wish list 

Mel Ulm

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko was first published in 1996 by Zhoda in Kyiv as Pol´ovi doslidzhennia z ukraïns´koho seksu.- Translated from the Ukrainian by Halyna Hryn. First published in English in 2011

 Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko was first published in 1996 by Zhoda in Kyiv as Pol´ovi doslidzhennia z ukraïns´koho seksu.- Translated from the Ukrainian by Halyna Hryn. First published in English in 2011

Over the past ten years or so I have posted upon a number of authors originally from what is now known as the Ukraine. These include Gogol, Clarice Lispector and Josepth Roth as well as Yiddish Language authors. All of them left the Ukraine as soon as they could, most to escape pervasive Anti-Semitic pograms. Of course they are long since deceased. 

Early this month I posted upon my first reading of a work by a contemporary Ukrainian writer,Sweet Darusya:A Tale of Two Villages by Maria Matios -2003- 159 pages- translated from the Ukrainian by Michael M. Naylan and Tytarenko-2016.  

Today I am posting upon a very highly reviewed work by a second contemporary Ukrainian author, Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko, first published in 2003. I will mostly just make a few observations. I cannot help but relate the struggle of the narrator to deal with men who use her sexually to what is happening in the Ukraine now.  

I am glad to have read this famous work but also glad I am done with it. I am pretty much in agreement with these remarks I found on a review:

"Reading Oksana Zabuzhko’s Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex is like having bad sex. You’re not enjoying yourself but you don’t necessarily feel like stopping. Your mind wanders, you wonder how long until it’s over, and you may even fake a response just so it’ll stop. After all, it’s late and you need to get some sleep." 

 I was kind of reminded of a conversation in a Seinfeld Episode, The Mango-Season 5-Episode 1. Elaine earlier in the show told Jerry she facked all her orgasms with him. Talking later in her office to a female coworker she asks if she had ever "faked it" with her husband. She says sure "I mean some times enough is enough and you just want some sleep".

The narrator’s abusive love affair mirrors the historical cultural norms and imposed values in Ukraine. It symbolizes a generation’s struggle to free itself from the past, to forge its own identity, and yet hold onto the best parts of the former identity, the traditions and historical moments that made independence worth fighting for despite years of being suspended between wars, languages, identities, and hostile neighbours that would crush, assimilate or extinguish them. Thus the narrator reflects on the tenderness and love that was present in her relationship as much as the painful parts, the destructive parts, and the unbearable and everlasting scars that remain.

"…obviously her mother tongue was the most nutritious, most healing to the senses: velvety marigold, or no, cherry (juice on lips)? strawberry blond (smell of hair)? …it’s always like that, the minute you peer more closely the whole thing disintegrates into tiny pieces and there’s no putting it back together; she hungered for her language terribly, physically, like a thirsty man for water, just to hear it — living and full-bodied with that ringing intonation like a babbling brook at at the historical trauma passed down from generation to generation becomes clear and inescapable. Although the word “Gulag” is only used twice, in one of the small snippets of poetry peppered throughout the novel, the vast system of Stalinist concentration camps is present, quiet and ghost-like, throughout the narrative.

And, though the crux of the novel is Ukrainian identity, the book is not exclusively about being Ukrainian. It’s about being on your knees under the weight of any culture. The narrator wryly observes the same struggle in America. “… the Great American Depression from which it seems that about 70 percent of the population suffers, running to psychiatrists, gulping down Prozac, each nation goes crazy in its own way…”

This is a novel that digests its reader; you feel as if you are becoming fluid — dissolved into something at once more complete and yet more disjointed. 

Oksana Zabuzhko was born in Lutsk (Ukraine) in 1960. Her novel ‘‘Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex’’, translated into sixteen languages, made her well known on the international literary scene in 1996. She has published eighteen other books, including the award-winning novel ‘‘The Museum of Abandoned Secrets’’ (2009). She is also a leading public figure in Ukraine.

I hope to read her The Museum of Abandoned Secrets soon.