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

Thursday, May 30, 2024

"Taking the Train" - A Short Story by Carol Shields- 7 Pages - included in The Short Stories of Carol Shields- 2004


This year, Buried in Print, a marvelous blog I have followed for over ten years,is doing a read through of the short stories of Carol Shields. I hope to participate fully in this event.

The more I read in the stories of Carol Shields the more grateful I am to Buried in Print for turning me on to her work. There are sixty some stories in the collection,it is my hope to read and post on them all in 2024.

"Taking the Train" is the 18th story by Carol Shields I have read.  I have read this amazing story four times and still do not feel I am close to the depths of this work.  Like others or her works, the lead character has devoted much of her life to serious study.

"GWENETH MCGOWAN, THE DISRAELI SCHOLAR, was awarded the Saul Appeldorf Medal at a gala reception. She carried it home and put it in a dresser drawer under a pile of underwear. Her morale was high. Recognition in the academic world seemed assured, her rent was paid up for six months and, in addition, she had a number of good friends, some deserving of her friendship, and some not. “Dear Gweneth,” came a letter from Calgary, Alberta, where one of the deserving friends lived. “So! Now you’re famous! Well, well. Why not treat yourself to a visit—come and see me.”

First thought, why does she put the medal under her underwear?

We follow Gweneth on her visit,   to see her old friend, a widow whose husband was killed by a bear ((According to a news report in an eastern paper, the attack had been “provoked” by the ham sandwich he carried in the pocket of his jacket; such an innocent act, Gweneth had thought at the time, to carry a ham sandwich.) Her friend has a 15 year old daughter. The two long time friends begin to think about their lives long ago.

“A remarkable sky,” she said to Northie, and the two of them fell into a loop of silence that only very old friends can enter easily."

"Taking the Train", and nobody rides a train in the story, the meaning of the story is just an aspect of what makes this story so beautiful.

The Carol Shields  Literary Trust  has lots of data on her life and work.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Crooked Plow : A Novel by Itamar Vieira Junior ;2019 - translated by Johnny Lorenz from the Portuguese - 2023

 Crooked Plow : a novel by Itamar Vieira Junior ;2019 - translated by Johnny Lorenz from the Portuguese - 2023 - A 2024 International Booker Prize Finalist 

Crooked Plow kept me captivated from the start.  Crooked Plow is set in a community of ancestors of once enslaved people in the Bahia State in North Eastern Brazil.

I recently read a great book focused on Slavery in Brazil, Humans in Shackles: An Atlantic History of Slavery by Ana Lucia Araujo.  She pointed out that five times as many people were transported as slaves to Brazil as to North America.  In Brazil young Portuguese men came without wives which inevitably lead to the social acceptance of sexual exploitation of enslaved women.  The Crooked Plow brilliantly depicts the consequences of this on the descendants of once enslaved persons. (Slavery was outlawed in Brazil in 1888.) It produced women who were used to very hard work and men who took out their low self esteem on the women in their lives through physical abuse and neglect.  

What the International Booker Prize 2024 judges said about The Crooked Plow

‘Bibiana and Belonisía are two sisters whose inheritance arrives in the form of a grandmother’s mysterious knife, which they discover while playing, then unwrap from its rags and taste. The mouth of one sister is cut badly and the tongue of the other is severed, injuries that bind them together like scar tissue, though they bear the traces in different ways. Set in the Bahia region of Brazil, where approximately one third of all enslaved Africans were sent during the height of the slave trade, the novel invites us into the deep-rooted relationships of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous peoples to their lands and waters – including the ways these communities demand love, gods, song, and dream – despite brutal colonial disruptions. An aching yet tender story of our origins of violence, of how we spend our lives trying to bloom love and care from them, and of the language and silence we need to fuel our tending.’  

"This powerful debut novel charts the plight of Brazil's poorest farmers scrabbling for subsistence on the land their enslaved ancestors worked. Initially centered on two sisters whose lives are changed forever by a catastrophic accident, the book explores themes of generational poverty and political strife through the lens of family bonds and the eyes of a once-revered Afro-Brazilian divinity." 
The Washington Post

Itamar Vieira Junior was born in Salvador, Bahia, in 1979. He holds a doctorate in Ethnic and African Studies. Before Crooked Plow, he published a collection of short stories entitled The Executioner's Prayer, which was nominated for Brazil's biggest literary award, the Jabuti. Crooked Plow won the prestigious 2018 LeYa Award in Portugal.

Mel Ulm 
The Reading Life 


Friday, May 24, 2024

Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry, and the Race to Save Russia's Jews on the Eve of World War I by Steven Ujifusa - 2023 - 372 Pages

 Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry, and the Race to Save Russia's Jews on the Eve of World War I by Steven Ujifusa - 2023 - 372 Pages

"Well-researched. . . . [A] meticulous investigation of turbulent days, as chronicled in The Last Ships from Hamburg, illuminates for the reader that once free of the fetters of European anti-Semitism, all things were possible.” — The Times of Israel

"Steven Ujifusa’s thoroughly researched and well-told story is a revelation. Intimate portraits of J.P. Morgan, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and several others who figured in the great transatlantic migration culminate in the startling story of its main character, Albert Ballin -- the little-known giant (though barely five feet tall) who was responsible for bringing more immigrants to the U.S. than any other person in the nation’s history." — Daniel Okrent, author of The Guarded Gate and Last Call

“Ujifusa’s metic­u­lous­ly researched and well-writ­ten work illus­trates the vast influ­ence these gen­er­a­tions of immi­grants had on Amer­i­can cul­ture and soci­ety.” — Jewish Book Council

“With impeccable research, masterful prose, and deep feeling, Steven Ujifusa tells the incredible story of one of the greatest human exoduses in history, of the 1.5 million Jews who escaped Czarist Russia, and the three people who helped make that possible. He gives readers a front-row seat along the way, to the boardrooms of German shipping companies, third-class hulls of ships crossing the Atlantic, to tenements on the Lower East Side. This is a page-turning history on a grand scale, with an intimate touch.” — Steven Pressfield, bestselling author of Gates of Fire and The Lion’s Gate

Last Ships from Hamburg: Business, Rivalry, and the Race to Save Russia's Jews on the Eve of World War I by Steven Ujifusa is a valuable addition to American, Jewish and Russian history, focusing on the immigration of Russian Jews to America, seen as the promised land. Most went in steerage class on ships that could take from 30 days to a week. Conditions were rough and for most the cost was high. Jewish aid societies played a big part and immigrants already in America helped their relatives.  They had to pass through Hamburg, in the 1870s the busiest port in the world, stopping in England then on to New York City. 

Ujifusa goes into lots of details on Russian, German, and American history, including periods of American anti- immigration attitudes.  Some wealthy Americans supported immigration as they needed workers for their factories while American workers feared immigrants would lower wages.

STEVEN UJIFUSA is the author of A Man and His Ship and Barons of the Sea. He received an AB in history from Harvard University and a master’s degree in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania and has given presentations across the country and on the high seas. He is the recipient of a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, the Washington Irving Medal for Literary Excellence from the Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York, and the Athenaeum of Philadelphia’s Literary Award. He lives with his wife, a pediatric emergency room physician, and his two sons in Philadelphia.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Miss Morgan's Book Brigade by Janet Skeslien Charles - 2024 - 324 pages

Miss Morgan's Book Brigade by Janet Skeslien Charles - 2024 - 324 pages

Miss Morgan's Book Brigade is a wonderful book.

It has two interrelated settings, rural France and Paris during the German invasion in World War One and New York City in the 1980s.

1918: As the Great War rages, Jessie Carson takes a leave of absence from the New York Public Library to work for the American Committee for Devastated France. Founded by millionaire Anne Morgan, daughter of J. P. Morgan. this group of international women help rebuild destroyed French communities just miles from the front. Upon arrival, Jessie strives to establish something that the French have never seen—children’s libraries. Jessie Carson turns ambulances into bookmobiles and trains the first French female librarians. Miss Morgan appears to have a romantic relationship with another woman in the group, known as Doctor M. Most of the group participants come from affluent families that pay their expenses. Miss Carson gets a salary. At first social standing back in America is very important, but slowly bonds are formed. The women must learn to cope with the horrible devastation of the war. Some develop relationships with soldiers, knowing any day can bring their death.

1987 - : When NYPL librarian and aspiring writer Wendy Peterson stumbles across a passing reference to Jessie Carson in the archives, she becomes consumed with learning her fate. In her obsessive research, she discovers that she and the elusive librarian have more in common than their work at New York’s famed library, but she has no idea their paths will converge in surprising ways across time. Jessie deals with library policies, loves working with books and finds a boyfriend.

There are lots of delightful literary references. The descriptions of the impact of the war were very powerful. There are a number of letters which help carry the plot.

I found the ending emotionally satisfying

"Based on the extraordinary little-known history of the women who received the Croix de Guerre medal for courage under fire, Miss Morgan’s Book Brigade is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, the power of literature, and ultimately the courage it takes to make a change." From the Publisher 

"Janet Skeslien Charles is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Paris Library. Her work has been translated into thirty-seven languages. She has spent a decade researching Jessie Carson (Miss Morgan’s Book Brigade) at The Morgan Library, the NYPL, and archives across France. Her shorter work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Sydney Morning Herald, LitHub, and the anthology Montana Noir." From Simon and Schuster

"Invitations" - A Short Story by Carol Shields- 4 pages- Included with The Short Stories of Carol Shields- 2004

 This year, Buried in Print, a marvelous blog I have followed for over ten years,is doing a read through of the short stories of Carol Shields. I hope to participate fully in this event.

The more I read in the stories of Carol Shields the more grateful I am to Buried in Print for turning me on to her work. There are sixty some stories in the collection,it is my hope to read and post on them all in 2024.

"Invitations" is the 17th story by Carol Shields I have so far posted upon.

"Invitations", told in the third person, is structured around five days in the life of the central character.  On each day the subject receives in the mail an invitation to a social event.  As the nature of the Invitations are revealed we learn she is a highly regarded author.

"There was to be a reception—a gala it was called—at the top of a large downtown hotel on Saturday evening. The guest of honor, she read, was to be herself."

I do not wish to share too much on this story.  "Invitations" is a four page marvel.

The Carol Shields Literary Trust Website has an excellent biography

Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Awakening of Miss Prim- A Novel by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera 2013 -272 Pages - translated from Spanish by Sonia Soto - 2014

 The Awakening of Miss Prim- A Novel by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera 2023 -272 Pages - translated by Sonia Soto

Long ago when I began my blog I intended for The Reading Life to focus on books about people who lead Reading centered lives. I have gotten away from this.

The Awakening of Miss Prim is a beautiful return to this idea for me.

"In this #1 international bestseller, a young woman leaves everything behind to work as a librarian in a remote French village, where she finds her outlook on life and love challenged in every way.

Prudencia Prim is a young woman of intelligence and achievement, with a deep knowledge of literature and several letters after her name. But when she accepts the post of private librarian in the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, she is unprepared for what she encounters there. Her employer, a book-loving intellectual, is dashing yet contrarian, always ready with a critique of her cherished Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. The neighbors, too, are capable of charm and eccentricity in equal measure, determined as they are to preserve their singular little community from the modern world outside.

Prudencia hoped for friendship in San Ireneo but she didn't suspect that she might find love—nor that the course of her new life would run quite so rocky or would offer challenge and heartache as well as joy, discovery, and fireside debate. Set against a backdrop of steaming cups of tea, freshly baked cakes, and lovely company, The Awakening of Miss Prim is a distinctive and delightfully entertaining tale of literature, philosophy, and the search for happiness." From the Publisher Simon and Schuster 

I totally enjoyed The Awakening of Miss Prim.

"In just one sentence, how would you describe The Awakening of Miss Prim to someone who hasn’t yet read it?

I’d say it’s the story of Prudencia Prim, a young librarian, covered in academic qualifications, who arrives in San Ireneo de Arnois, a village that has declared war on the modern world.

I am in love with the village of San Ireneo de Arnois and its ideals. Where did you find your inspiration for it?

Thank you very much, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Many people ask me about the whereabouts of San Ireneo. The village doesn’t exist, it’s an imaginary place, but it’s inspired by the European tradition. Europe was built on small communities near abbeys like the one in the book, with an economy based on craftsmanship, solid families, ancient traditions and a very ordered life, in which each thing was done in its own time. That was the model I drew inspiration from to write the book. And that’s how San Ireneo was born, a place where people’s lives have a human scale and where tradition and culture are understood as treasures. In a world that’s so fast and so noisy, I think that’s what makes many readers ask me whether such a place exists, and wonder where it is." An author interview in The New Zealand Booklovers blog

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Alice Munro - July 10, 1931 to May 13, 2024

 July 10, 1931

Nobel Prize 2013

May 13, 2024

"The Irish novelist Edna O’Brien ranked Ms. Munro with William Faulkner and James Joyce as writers who had influenced her work. Joyce Carol Oates said Munro stories “have the density — moral, emotional, sometimes historical — of other writers’ novels.” And the novelist Richard Ford once made it clear that questioning Ms. Munro’s mastery over the short story would be akin to doubting the hardness of a diamond or the bouquet of a ripened peach.

“With Alice it’s like a shorthand,” Mr. Ford said. “You’ll just mention her, and everybody just kind of generally nods that she’s just sort of as good as it gets" - from The New York Times

"Trying simultaneously to establish herself as a writer (she had her first story published in an undergraduate magazine in 1950 and sold a piece to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1951), she had no time for novel-writing. The short story it had to be.

Routinely likened to Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant, Munro was more radical than the comparison implies. AS Byatt, a longstanding admirer, described how reading Munro made her want to try short fiction herself. Munro stretched and challenged the genre. Not only does she consistently wrongfoot the reader, overturning our expectations of characters and their actions, but she melds several narrative strands together, bringing into one tale several plots." From The Guardian 

Mel Ulm

Sunday, May 12, 2024

"Dolls, Dolls, Dolls, Dolls" - A Short Story by Carol Shields - 14 Pages - Included in The Short Stories of Carol Shields- 2004

"Dolls, Dolls, Dolls, Dolls" - A Short Story by Carol Shields - 14 Pages - Included in The Short Stories of Carol Shields- 2004 is the 16th short story by Carol Shields I have so far posted upon.

 This year, Buried in Print, a marvelous blog I have followed for over ten years,is doing a read through of the short stories of Carol Shields. I hope to participate fully in this event.

The more I read in the stories of Carol Shields the more grateful I am to Buried in Print for turning me on to her work. There are sixty some stories in the collection,it is my hope to read and post on them all in 2024.

"Dolls, Dolls, Dolls, Dolls" is, surprisingly enough, about dolls.

In the opening segment of the story a woman, middle-aged, reads to her barely interested husband a letter she has received from a friend of her childhood days. It concerns her visit  to a town which is the center of the manufacturing of traditional dolls.

""They were taken by air-conditioned bus to a village where ninety percent—the guide vigorously repeated this statistic—where ninety percent of all the dolls in Japan were made. “It’s a major industry here,” Roberta writes, and some of the dolls still were manufactured almost entirely by hand in a kind of cottage-industry system. One house in the village, for example, made nothing but arms and legs, another the bodies; another dressed the naked doll bodies in stiff kimonos of real silk and attached such objects as fans and birds to the tiny lacquered female fingers. Roberta’s party was brought to a small house in the middle of the village where the heads of geisha dolls were made. Just the heads and nothing else. After leaving their shoes in a small darkened foyer, they were led into a surprisingly wide, matted workroom that was cooled by slow-moving overhead fans. The air was musty from the mingled straw and dust, but the light from a row of latticed windows was softly opalescent, a distinctly mild, non-industry quality of light, clean-focused and just touched with the egg yellow of sunlight. Here in the workroom nine or ten Japanese women knelt in a circle on the floor. They nodded quickly and repeatedly in the direction of the tourists, and smiled in a half-shy, half-neighborly manner; they never stopped working for a second. The head-making operation was explained by the guide, who was a short and peppy Japanese with soft cheeks and a sharp “arfing” way of speaking English. First, he informed them, the very finest sawdust of a rare Japanese tree was taken and mixed with an equal solution of the purest rice paste. (Roberta writes that he rose up on his toes when he reached the words finest and purest as though paying tribute to the god of superlatives.) This dough-like material then was pressed into wooden molds of great antiquity (another toe-rising here) and allowed to dry very slowly over a period of days. Then it was removed and painted; ten separate and exquisitely thin coats of enamel were applied, so that the resulting form, with only an elegant nose breaking the white egg surface, arrived at the weight and feel and coolness of porcelain. The tourists—hulking, Western, flat-footed in their bare feet—watched as the tiny white doll heads were passed around".

In the second segment of the story the woman begins to think back on the importance of dolls to her childhood.

The Carol Shields Literary Trust Website has an excellent biography

Friday, May 10, 2024

Humans in Shackles: An Atlantic History of Slavery by Ana Lucia Araujo- forthcoming October 2024- 620 Pages

 Humans in Shackles: An Atlantic History of Slavery by Ana Lucia Araujo- forthcoming October 2024- 620 Pages is an extraordinarly valuable addition to the history of Trans-Atlantic Slavery.

Most works on the enslavement of people from Africa totally concentrate on Slavery in what is now the United States.  However as Professor Araujo details over ten times as many enslaved persons were transported to Brazil as to America.  

We are provided a detailed explanation as to how inter-African politics and warfare impacted the slave trade as well as how Early Europeans demand for slaves in turn caused conflicts between kingdoms.

Slave trade in sub- Sahara Africa can be traced back to at least 1000 years ago, as Araujo documents.  War captives or persons guilty of crimes were shipped via Arabic traders to the Ottoman Empire and India.  The first European slave merchants were from Portugal.  They both collaborated with African leaders who wanted European goods and captured people on their own.  Araujo detailed the horrible cruelty and extreme violence involved. Women and young girls were raped with impunity 

Araujo spends a lot of time on the lives of enslaved women in Brazil and on the sugar islands. Working on a sugar plantation was especially dangerous.  The population of Rio de Janeiro was over half black in 1850.  Araujo presented a marvelous account of the lives of enslaved women in Rio.

In South America European men arrived without families, seeking to get rich. Enslaved women could be raped, some bonds were formed but they were always unequal.  Children born to an enslaved woman were themselves slaves.

There is much more in this marvelous book.

"Humans in Shackles is a sweeping narrative history of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the Americas.
During the era of the Atlantic slave trade, more than twelve million enslaved Africans were forcibly transported to the Americas in cramped, inhuman conditions. Many of them died on the way, and those who survived had to endure further suffering in the violent conditions that met them on shore. Covering more than three hundred years, Humans in Shackles grapples with this history by emphasizing the lived experience of enslaved people in tracing the long, complex history of slavery in the Americas.
Based on twenty years of research, this book not only serves as a comprehensive history; it also expands that history by providing a truly transnational account that emphasizes the central role of Brazil in the Atlantic slave trade. It is also deeply informed by African history, and it shows how African practices and traditions survived and persisted in the Americas among communities of enslaved people. Drawing on primary sources including travel accounts, pamphlets, newspaper articles, slave narratives, and visual sources including both artworks and artefacts, Araujo illuminates the social, cultural, and religious lives of enslaved people working in plantations and urban areas; building families and cultivating affective ties; congregating and recreating their cultures; and organizing rebellions.
Humans in Shackles puts the lived experiences of enslaved peoples at the center of the story and investigates the heavy impact these atrocities had on the current wealth disparity of the Americas and rampant anti-Black racism." From the Publisher- The University of Chicago Press

"I am a social and cultural historian writing transnational and comparative history. Currently, I am a Full Professor of History at the historically black Howard University in Washington DC, United States. I was trained in Brazil, Canada, and France with a PhD in History and Social and Historical Anthropology (2007), a PhD in Art History (2004), an MA in History (1998), and a BA in Visual Arts (1995).

My work explores the history of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade and their present-day legacies, including the long history of calls for reparations for slavery and colonialism. My books and articles explore the memory, heritage, and visual culture of slavery. I write, speak, and publish in English, Portuguese, French, and Spanish and my work has been translated into German and Dutch. My scholarship has been internationally recognized through fellowships, awards, and professional offices.

In 2023, Carnegie Corporation New York named me “Great Immigrant, Great American,” an annual list honoring the contribution of US naturalized citizens to democracy and America. I also received a Getty Residential Senior Scholar Grant, and therefore spent the first semester of 2023 at the Getty Research Institute, in Los Angeles, CA.

In 2024, I was one of the eight scholars in the United States to receive the inaugural ACLS HBCU fellowship. In Spring 2022, I was a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute of Advanced Study (funding provided by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation), Princeton, NJ. I was also awarded the Franklin Research Grant of the American Philosophical Society (2021/22).

I just published the book The Gift: How Objects of Prestige Shaped the Atlantic Slave Trade and Colonialism  with Cambridge University Press. The book explores how European-made luxurious artifacts, including objects that incorporate formal and symbolic elements found in West African and West Central African artifacts, shaped the interactions between Africans and Europeans during the era of the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. The book follows the trajectory of a ceremonial sword given by a French ship captain to a local agent of the Kingdom of Ngoyo on the Loango coast, which later was found in Dahomey, from where it was looted by the French troops at the end of the nineteenth century. Research for this book was supported by the grants of Getty Research Institute and the American Philosophical Society, and the fellowship of the Institute for Advanced Study.

My book Humans in Shackles: An Atlantic History of Slavery in the Americas (University of Chicago Press) will be published in October 2024. The book is a hemispheric and narrative history of slavery in the Americas. A trade academic book intended for general readers, Humans in Shackles places Brazil (the country that imported the largest number of enslaved Africans in the Americas), the African continent, slave resistance, and enslaved women at the center of this painful history.

Also, a new revised and expanded edition of my book Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History was published with Bloomsbury in November 2023.

Since 2017,  I have been a member of the International Scientific Committee of the UNESCO “Routes of Enslaved Peoples” Project (former Slave Route Project). I am also a member of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Scholarly Advisory Board and an elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, London, UK.  In 2019, I was a Visiting Professor at the University of Paris VIII, France, and was a visiting fellow at the Museum of World Cultures (former Tropenmuseum) in Amsterdam in 2023. I am also a member of the Editorial Board of the British journal Slavery and Abolition and of the advisory board of the Memory Studies Association. Previously, I served on the Board of Editors of the American Historical Review, the flagship journal of the American Historical Association(2019-2023), on the Executive Committee of the Brazilian Studies Association (2016-2020), and on the Executive Board of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (2019-2022).

I have lectured about the history of Atlantic slavery and the slave trade in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, France, England, Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands, and South Africa. I authored or edited over fifteen books.  My other recent books include Slavery in the Age of Memory: Engaging the Past (Bloomsbury, 2020), named one of the “Best Black History Books” of 2020 by Black Perspectives, the award-winning blog of the African American Intellectual History Society and Museums and Atlantic Slavery (part of the Museums in Focus series) published by Routledge in April 2021. My book Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History (2017) examines from a transnational perspective the long history of the demands of reparations for slavery and the slave trade in the Americas, Europe, and Africa. 

Currently, I have three book projects in progress: The Power of Art: The World Black Artists Made in the Americas (under contract with Cambridge University Press), Global Slavery: A Visual History (under contract with Bloomsbury), and Oceans of Tears: The French Trade in Enslaved Africans (under contract with Cambridge University Press).

Engaging with the public is an important dimension of my work. My opinion articles and reviews in English and Portuguese appeared in Slate, the Washington Post, Newsweek, History News Network, African Arguments, Intercept Brasil, Setenta e Quatro, and the Brazilian magazine Ciência Hoje. My work has been featured in several media outlets in the United States, Britain, Portugal, Canada, Brazil, Spain, France, and the Netherlands. 

In 2023, I created and launched the #Slaveryarchive Digital Initiative. Based on its own social media accounts on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, the initiative now gives a permanent space to the #slaveryarchive posts. The #Slaveryarchive Digital Initiative is intended to educate the public about the history of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade and will also promote scholarship in this field via book talks on video, a podcast, book reviews, syllabi, and the #Slaveryarchive Book "

I give my greatest thanks to Professor Araujo for this profound  book.

Mel Ulm
The Reading Life 

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

The Wide Wide Sea : Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook by Hampton Sides - 2024 - 411 Pages

 The Wide Wide Sea : Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook by  Hampton Sides - 2024 - 411 Pages -is  a magnificent historical narrative.

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A “thrilling and superbly crafted” (The Wall Street Journal) account of the most momentous voyage of the Age of Exploration, which culminated in Captain James Cook’s death in Hawaii, and left a complex and controversial legacy still debated to this day."

“Hampton Sides, an acclaimed master of the nonfiction narrative, has taken on Cook’s story and retells it for the 21st century.”—Los Angeles Times

The Wide Wide Sea : Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook by Hampton Sides focuses on Cook’s last voyage. The purpose of the voyage, sponsored by King George the Third and championed by numerous other high ranking figures was to find the fabled North West Passage.  The hope was this would cut a huge amount of time from a voyage across North America while greatly extending the scope of the British Empire. 

"OJuly 12th, 1776, Captain James Cook, already lionized as the greatest explorer in British history, set off on his third voyage in his ship the HMS Resolution. Two-and-a-half years later, on a beach on the island of Hawaii, Cook was killed in a conflict with native Hawaiians. How did Cook, who was unique among captains for his respect for Indigenous peoples and cultures, come to that fatal moment?

Hampton Sides’ bravura account of Cook’s last journey both wrestles with Cook’s legacy and provides a thrilling narrative of the titanic efforts and continual danger that characterized exploration in the 1700s. Cook was renowned for his peerless seamanship, his humane leadership, and his dedication to science-–the famed naturalist Joseph Banks accompanied him on his first voyage, and Cook has been called one of the most important figures of the Age of Enlightenment. He was also deeply interested in the native people he encountered.  Cook mapped huge swaths of the Pacific, including the east coast of Australia, and initiated first European contact with numerous peoples. He treated his crew well, and endeavored to learn about the societies he encountered with curiosity and without judgment.

Yet something was different on this last voyage. Cook became mercurial, resorting to the lash to enforce discipline, and led his two vessels into danger time and again. Uncharacteristically, he ordered violent retaliation for perceived theft on the part of native peoples. This may have had something to do with his secret orders, which were to chart and claim lands before Britain’s imperial rivals could, and to discover the fabled Northwest Passage. Whatever Cook’s intentions, his scientific efforts were the sharp edge of the colonial sword, and the ultimate effects of first contact were catastrophic for Indigenous people around the world. The tensions between Cook’s overt and covert missions came to a head on the shores of Hawaii. His first landing there was harmonious, but when Cook returned after mapping the coast of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, his exploitative treatment of the Hawaiians led to the fatal encounter." From penquin press  - The Publisher 

Here are a few things that particularly struck me. Cook and his medical staff some how kept his crew from getting scurvy.   While his crew did have sex with Polynesian women Cook, which planted Gonorrhea on the islands,, a married Quaker, did not.  He was not a rigid Christian ideologue, he did his best to understand the faiths and social structure of the societies he encountered.  In Hawaii he was taken initially as a returning God by some.  Sides vividly brings to life the extreme hardships and dangers of the voyage.  Cook was very much cut off from news of England, he did not know of the outbreak of the American revolution. With 21st century sensibilities I was turned off by the wanton killing of so many animals.  The final battle scenes on Hawaii were very exciting and to me more than a little disturbing.

HAMPTON SIDES is best-known for his gripping non-fiction adventure stories set in war or depicting epic expeditions of discovery and exploration. He is an acclaimed journalist and the author of the bestselling histories Ghost Soldiers, Blood and Thunder, Hellhound On His Trail, In the Kingdom of Ice, On Desperate Ground and, most recently, The Wide Wide Sea. - from the author’s website 

Friday, May 3, 2024

The House of Haunting Hill by Shirley Jackson- 1959 - 208 Pages

 The House of Haunting Hill by Shirley Jackson- 1959 - 208 

The House of Haunting Hill, a gothic horror novel is considered a masterpiece of thiscgenre. It tells the story of Dr. Montague, an occult scholar, who brings a group of people to investigate Hill House, a notoriously haunted mansion. The house itself is described as being almost sentient, and it begins to prey on the vulnerabilities of each visitor.

The novel is known for its ambiguous ending and its exploration of psychological horror. It is not entirely clear whether the house is truly haunted or if the events are all happening in the mind of Eleanor Vance, one of the guests. This ambiguity is part of what makes the novel so unsettling.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

The Reading Life Review - April 2024 - Future Plans

 April Nonfiction 

1. Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle - 2009 - by Dan Senor and Saul Singer

2. Nazis, Islamists, and the making of the modern Middle East / Barry Rubin, Wolfgang G. Schwanitz. - no post

3. Stolen Words The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books by Mark Glickman - 2016 - 344 Pages 

4. Plentiful Country: The Great Potato Famine and the Making of Irish New York by Tyler Anbinder- 2024 - 430 Pages

5. Some People Need Killing: a Memoir of Murder in My Country - by Patricia Evangelista.- 2023 - 429 Pages

6. Sacred trash : the lost and found world of the Cairo Geniza by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole. 2011- no post

7. The Genius of Israel: The Surprising Resilence of a Divided Nation in a Turbulent World by Dan Senor and Saul Singer- 2023 - 532 Pages 

8. Time’s echo : the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the music of remembrance by Jeremy Eichler. 2023. - no post

April  Novels

1. The Fraud by Zadie Smith

2. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman 

3. Until August  by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

4. The Covenent of Water  by Abraham Verghese 

April Short Stories 

I posted on four short stories by Carol Shields and four from Cork Stories 

Blog Stats 

Home Countries of April Authors 

1. USA - 7

2. Ireland- 4

3. Canada 1

4. UK - 1

5. Columbia- 1

Origin Countries of Visitors 

1. Hong Kong 

2. USA 

3. China

4. Philippines 

5. India 

6. France

7. UK 

8. Germany 

9. Singapore 

10. Indonesia 

Blog Views since inception 


Blog Views in April 


Of the top ten most viewed posts in April, 8 were on short stories, one 

 on a novel by Joseph Conrad aand one on a novel by Alice Hoffman 

Future plans and Hopes

I am currently reading these works historical Nonfiction 

1. The lost library: the legacy of Vilna’s Strashun library in the aftermath of the Holocaust by Dan Rabinowitz.

2. The wide wide sea : imperial ambition, first contact and the fateful final voyage of Captain James Cook by Hampton Sides.

3. THE STORY OF THE JEWS. Copyright 2013 by Simon Schama.

4. Humans in Shackles An Atlantic History of Slavery Ana Lucia ArAujo review book from The University of Chicago 

5, Chaim Weizmann A Biography by Jehuda Reinharz & Motti Golani - review book from Brandeis University Press on first president of Israel 

Novels in process

1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson 

2. Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman

3. Palmares by Gayl Jones

May Short Story plans

I will continue reading stories by Carol Shields and works in the anthology Cork Stories