Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests








Wednesday, July 28, 2021

THE LAST AND THE FIRST by Nina Berberova - 1929- Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz 2021-published by Pushkin Press


 This is part of my participation in Paris in July 2021 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea 







This year I have been focusing on Russian Émigrés in Paris 





THE LAST AND THE FIRST by Nina Berberova - 1929- Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz 2021-published by Pushkin Press



Nina Berberova 





Born July 26, 1901 - St Petersburg, Russia 


She leaves Russian 1922 for Berlin. With her husband Vladislav Khodasevich, a well known poet 



1924 - They move to Paris. He dies 1939


She became a contributor to Russian Émigré publications including many short stories 


1950 - Moves to USA and becomes a citizen in 1959


She taught Russian at Yale then Princeton .she retired in 1971

Dies September 26, 1993 - Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, USA


Dies - September 26, 1993 - Philadelphia,Pennsylvania 



“The first English translation of celebrated Russian writer Nina Berberova’s debut novel: an intense story of family conflict and the struggle over the future of émigré life

On a crisp September morning, trouble comes to the Gorbatovs’ farm. Having fled revolution and civil war in Russia, the family has worked tirelessly to establish themselves as crop farmers in Provence, their hopes of returning home a distant dream. While young Ilya Stepanovich is committed to this new way of life, his step-brother Vasya looks only to the past. With the arrival of a letter from Paris, a plot to lure Vasya back to Russia begins in earnest, and Ilya must set out for the capital to try to preserve his family’s fragile stability.

The first novel by the celebrated Russian writer Nina Berberova, The Last and the First is an elegant and devastating portrayal of the internal struggles of a generation of émigrés. Appearing for the first time in English in a stunning translation by the prize-winning Marian Schwartz, it shows Berberova in full command of her gifts as a writer of masterful poise and psychological insight.”  From Pushkin press 


I am very glad I had the opportunity to read this work. It is historically important.  One of the conflicts among Émigrés was over whether they were better off in Russia.  There is perpetual debate over the Russian character.


Monday, July 26, 2021

“Don’t Start Reading This Story” - A Short Story by Pat O’Connor - from his collection People in My Brain - 2019


 

“Don’t Start Reading This Story” - A Short Story by Pat O’Connor - from his collection People in My Brain - 2019


During Irish Short Story Month in March I resd a very entertaining Short Story by Pat O’Connor”Advise and Sandwiches” from his highly regarded debut collection People in My Brain.


My post on “Advise and Consent”



“Metafiction is a form of fiction which emphasizes its own constructedness in a way that continually reminds the audience to be aware they are reading or viewing a fictional work..” Wikipedia 


“Din’t Start Reading this Story” announces it self as a work of metafiction in the in which the purported author speaks to the reader. He tells us that it is to late for you to not staff resdiing.   The survival of a character is at stake.  If you stop Reading, they disappear.  Here stated by our slighly bellicose narrator is creed of post modern literary theory


“Now get this. This story is specifically for you. Yeah, you. If a story is properly written, everyone gets a different meaning from it, and what you’re reading here cannot be understood in the same way by anyone else.”


In a way this is saying if a story can mean anything then it means nothing.   The creed is either absurd or trivial.


The narrator then attacks The reader.  This story would be a very good choice for an advanced Class. I greatly enjoyed it.



“see you are still here. But you don’t like this involved writing, do you? You prefer that domesticated stuff – which is exactly why I have taken this action. How the hell is a writer ever to get a real live story read when people lap-up that safe crap that lies face-down on the page? It doesn’t involve real characters, let alone the reader. I mean involve, not interest.”


As the story goes on the narrator picks up his attack on the reader to personal insults.


As a work of metafiction my Reading of the story is to see it as a reductio 

ad absurdum of rhe notion literature  that art has no intrinsic meanings


My further take is to see the narrator as representing resentful writers who feel readers are not willing to put in the effort their work requires.


There are 13 more stories in People in my Brain.  I Will be returning to this marvelous collection numerous times 

.


From The author’s website. - http://patoconnorwriter.com/





Pat O’Connor lives in Limerick in the southwest of Ireland. He was a joint winner of the 2009 Best Start Short Story Competition in Glimmertrain, and in 2010  he was shortlisted for the Sean O’Faolain International Short Story Prize. In 2011, he was shortlisted for the RTE Francis MacManus Award for radio stories, and won the Sean O’Faolain Prize. In 2012 he was shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the Fish Short Story prize.  In 2013 he was longlisted for Over the Edge New Writer of the Year.


His stories have been published in Southword, Revival, Crannóg, The Penny Dreadful, the Irish Independent, the Irish Times, anthologized by the Munster Literary Centre, and broadcast on RTE.

His radio play This Time it’s Different, was broadcast on 95fm as part of the Limerick City of Culture program in 2014.

In autumn 2014, he was one of eight International Writers in Residence in Tianjin, China.

His story Advice and Sandwiches was included in the Hennessy Anthology of New Irish Writing 2005-2015, published by New Island.


Mel u

The Reading Life 























Saturday, July 24, 2021

An Unofficial Marriage : A Novel About Pauline Viadot and Ivan Turgenev by Joie Davidow - 2021 - 283 pages



 


An Unofficial Marriage : A Novel About Pauline Viadot and Ivan Turgenev by Joie Davidow - 2021 - 283 pages 


Paris in July - 2021 - Hosted by Thyme for Tea





I give this marvelous novel my complete endorsement.  The more you know and have read in Turgenev the more you will love this book.


The salient facts below of Turgenev’s life are derived from the novel 



Ivan Turgenav 


Born November 9, 1818 - Oryal, Russia - his notoriously cruel very rich mother owned 6000 serfs 

 

1843 - St.Perrsburg, Russian. Falls deeply in Love with The opera singer Pauline Viradot after seeing her in The Barber of Seville.

This encounter will shape both of their lives from then on.


In 1845 he leaves Russia to follow Paulina all over Europe.  He becomes part of the household of Paulina and her husband.  He will worship her the rest of life, putting her above everything else. He buys prpoprrties in 

Paris, Venice, Baden-Baden and Rome to be able to attend her performances.  Paris becomes his spiritual home..


1852 - publishes A Sportsman’s Sketches


1862 - Father and Sons


Much of his time was spent in Paris.  He became good friends with Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant and other Paris based writers and artists.He was an important figure in the Russian Émigré Community.  He was fluent in French as were most aristocratic Russians  He became very involved in the Paris centered European opera world.  He maintained residences in Paris while periodically traveling back to Russia to deal with business matters from property holdings and concerns over his very extensive publications.  There was unsubstantiated gossip that he was the father of two of Pauline’s four children.  A child he had with a serf woman was moved to Paris to join the Viardot household.  He never married. Davidow depicts him as having a number of casual relationships with Russian women from his social caste.  The serf mother of his daughter was paid by him for sex and to give up her daughter to be raised as a Turgenev.


His relationship with Paulina lasted forty years.



Died September 3, 1883 - Bougival, France 


Paulina Viradot



Born: 18 July 1821 - Paris - her fsther was a fsmous singer 


1840 to his death 1883 she was married to Louis Viradot.



Louis Viardot was a French writer, art historian, art critic, theatrical figure, and translator. He managed his wife’s very succesful career as an opera singer 


Died: 18 May 1910, - Paris. She had four children and acted as a mother to Turgenav’s dsughter.



An Unofficial Marriage has much to offer besides just facts of the lives of a great author and famous opera singer.  Opera singers were the super stars of the 19th century.  The opening sequence in which Ivan first encounters Paulina is very lushly  done.  Paulina is not a conventional beauty, if anything a bit plain.  Why did Ivan fall so deeply Under her thrall on first encounter?  He is portrayed as mesmerized by the power of her preformance.  He arranged a meeting with her.  He knew and respected that she was married. He got along very well with her husband, almost an  older brother, they both loved hunting, they collaborated on Pushkin translations.  Ivan had his own suite in the Paris mansion.  Louis knew Ivan loved Pauline, he wondered is Ivan my wife’s lover?  As time went by he knew of the gossip.  Davidow shows us how full of gossip the Parisian opera seen appears.  At least two of the children strongly resembled Louis so they did have a passionate connection as well as practical.


Davidow’s narrative does include several very powerful sexual encounters between Paulina and Ivan. (In her epilogue she acknowledges there is no way to know if they ever had sex.). Paulina has a very strong attraction to Ivan as potrayed.  


As the forty plus years covered pass, much happens. Ivan’s daughter turns into a nearly spoiled brat.  Paulina’s children marry.  I enjoyed learning of their futures.  Louis dies, then Ivan and Paulina no longer has great drawing power but enough to live comfortably.


There is a lot to be learned about the business side of 19th century European opera here.  These are  tumultous times in French and Russian politics and Davidow takes us there. Davidow tells us How Turgenev treated Family serfs after his mother died.


I loved this book.  


It is said that Turgenev is the most French Russian writer.  Maybe we can see a bit why now.


There is a detailed bio of The author on her website 




http://www.joiedavidow.com/index.html





















Friday, July 23, 2021

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami - - 2011- translated from Japanese by Allison Markin Powell



Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami - 2011




Strange Weather in Tokyo centers on the very slowly developing relationship between a single woman in her late thirties,Tsukiko and one of her former high school teachers, Sensei,at least thirty years her senior. They run into each other in a bar by accident.  They have frequent unarranged meet ups at the bar, which serves great food along with Saki and beer. She assumes he is a widower.


As time passes a shared love of food, proximity and their history brings them into a more intimate relationship.


This is a very subtly developed story line.  Each character keeps things in reserve.





“Kawakami Hiromi (川上弘美 Kawakami Hiromi) born April 1, 1958, is a Japanese writer known for her off-beat fiction.


Born in Tokyo, Kawakami graduated from Ochanomizu Women's College in 1980. She made her debut as "Yamada Hiromi" in NW-SF No. 16, edited by Yamano Koichi and Yamada Kazuko, in 1980 with the story So-shimoku ("Diptera"), and also helped edit some early issues of NW-SF in the 1970s. She reinvented herself as a writer and wrote her first book, a collection of short stories entitled God (Kamisama) published in 1994. Her novel The Teacher's Briefcase (Sensei no kaban) is a love story between a woman in her thirties and a man in his sixties. She is also known as a literary critic and a provocative essayist.” - from Goodreads 










 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

City of Thieves by David Benioff - 2008, 258:pages

 




City of Thieves by David Benioff - 2008 - 258 pages



A New York Times Best Seller 


Set in Leningrad during 1942 during the German siege of the city, 16 year old Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown in the same cell as a 19 year old deserter from the Russian Army.  Both are at risk for quick executions.  The deserter goes by Kolya.  He is blond, handsome, a smooth talker and fancies himself a ladies man.  Of course he denies he is a deserter, claiming he is on a secret mission. Lev looks like he is Jewish.


They are taken to the office of a colonel.  Going in they spot s beautiful young woman ice skating on the Neva River.  Both the boys can see she eats meat every day, she must have a powerful father.  The colonel is her father.  She is getting married in a week and is demanding s big cake, one requiring a dozen eggs.  Eggs are nearly impossible to find.  The colonel offers the two boys a deal.  He gives them a week to roam free and return with the eggs needed,  if they do, they go free, if not he will have them captured and executed.  He feeds them,food anciety dominated almost everyone’s Life, gives them some rubles and sends them on their mission.


Lenigrad is a wasteland, a near necroplolis.  People are even resorting to canabalism.  The Germans are incredibly cruel, vicious monsters.  The Boys have several close calls. They join for a while a group of Russian partisans.  Among them is a female sniper with over 200 confirmed kills. Besides being perpetually hungry, the Boys are preoccupied with sex. The sniper is wrapped up in heavy clothes but they speculate on the size of her breasts.  Of course Koyla brags about his experience with women.


In s very powerful segment the Boys come upon a fancy dacha which turns out to be a comfort House for German officers stocked with Young Russian women.  Everywhere they ask for Eggs but with no luck.cruelty, death, and starvation are around any turn.  The Germans are depicted as worshipping a mad man who wants everyone in Leningrad killed or starved.  


Lev does return with a dozen Eggs.  I would describe the ending as partially happy, partially more meaningless death.


There are lots of close calls, the conversations of the boys are marvelous, Lev’s father was a famous poet.


The minor characters are very well done.  


The Kindle edition is currently available for $1.95





David Benioff worked as a nightclub bouncer in San Francisco, a radio DJ in Wyoming and an English teacher/wrestling coach in Brooklyn before selling his first novel, The 25th Hour, in 2000.


He later wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee’s adaptation of 25th Hour starring Edward Norton and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. In 2005, Viking Press published Benioff’s collection of short stories, When the Nines Roll Over.


“Benioff’s screenwriting credits include Troy (2004), directed by Wolfgang Petersen, and Stay (2005), directed by Marc Forster, The Kite Runner (2007). Jim Sheridan produced Benioff’s screenplay Brothers, and Hugh Jackman reprised his role as the clawed mutant in Benioff’s Wolverine. He is also screenwriter and executive producer of Game of Thrones, HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels.

Viking published his most recent novel, City of Thieves, in May 2008.


Benioff is married to actress Amanda Peet; the couple has three children.”

From Goodreads 























Wednesday, July 21, 2021

“Maggie Meriwether’s Rich Experience “ - A Short Story by Jean Stafford - set in Paris - first published June 17, 1955 in The New Yorker


 


“Maggie Meriwether's Rich Experience” - A Short Story set in Paris 

By Jean Stafford - first published June 17, 1955 in The New Yorker


This story in included in The Library of American Edition of The Complete Stories and Other Writings of Jean Stafford 


This is part of my participation in Paris in July - 2021- hosted by Thyme for Tea


Works read so far for Paris in July 2021


  1. Lost in Paris by Elizabeth Thompson - 2021
  2. Loving Modigliani by Linda Lappin - 2020
  3. Russian Émirgé Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky - edited by Bryan Karetnky. 2018 - an overview 
  4. Pancakes in Paris - Living The American Dream in France by Craig Carlson - 2016
  5. The Paris Apartment by Kelly Bowen- 2021
  6. The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure - 2013
  7. “Requiem” - A short story by Gaito Gazdanov - 1960
  8. The Ice Swan by J’nell Ciesieski - 2021
  9. Two Short Stories from the 1920s by Teffi
  10. “Dimanche” - A Short Story by Irene Nemirovsky - 1934- translated by Bridget Patterson 2015
  11. “The Life of Madame Duclos” -1927-  A Short Story by IRINA ODOEVTSEVA 


Jean Stafford 


Born - July 1, 1915 - Covina, California 


Married 1940 to 1948 to Robert Lowell . One of three marriages.


She published three novels but most now regarded for her wonderful short stories, most of which were published in The New Yorker or The Psrtisian Review as her Glory.


1970 - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 


Died - March 26, 1979 - White Plains, New York


A few days ago i was very kindly given a copy of Library of American Edition of The Complete Stories and Other Writings of Jean Stafford.  I was delighted to discover that The lead story in her first collection, Innocents Abroad, “Maggie Meriwether’s Rich Experience” is about a young woman from Tennessee first trip to Paris.  Stafford acknowledged a literary debt to Henry James and Edith Wharton as one can see in this wonderful story.





This story is my first venture into the work of Jean Stafford.  It will, I hope, be far from my last.  I was stunned by the magnificent first sentence, as I am sure the editor’s of The New Yorker were:


“There  was a hole so neat that it looked tailored in the dead center of the large round beige velours mat that had been thrown on the grass in the shade of the venerable sycamore, and through it protruded a clump of mint, so chic in its air of casualness, so piquant in its fragrance in the heat of mid-July, that Mme Floquet, a brisk Greek in middle life, suggested, speaking in French with a commandingly eccentric accent, that her host, Karl von Bubnoff, M. le Baron, had contrived it all with shears and a trowel before his Sunday guests arrived at his manorial house, Magnamont, in Chantilly.”


Now that is an opening sentence!




Paris in 1955 must have been a very powerful experience for a girl from Tennessee even if her parents could afford to send her to France by herself.  She learned French so she could,she hoped.fit in.


Just when she is regretting her trip she encountered an Englishman she had met in London


“Her parents, who had had to be cajoled for a year into letting her go to Europe alone, had imagined innumerable dreadful disasters—the theft of her passport or purse, ravishment on the Orient Express, amoebic dysentery, abduction into East Berlin—but it had never occurred to them that their high-spirited, self-confident, happy daughter would be bamboozled into muteness by the language of France. Her itinerary provided for two weeks in Paris, and she had suffered through one week of it when, like an angel from heaven, an Englishman called Tippy Akenside showed up at her hotel at the day of the Baron’s party”.


Tippy offers to escort her to party, He knows the Baron and assured her everyone at the party Will speak English. Of course it turns out no one does.


“Tippy introduced them he had smiled in the friendliest possible way and had said, in English, “How nice of you to come,” but then, when rotten Tippy said, “Miss Weriwether is the American girl I told you about on the phone,” the Baron thereafter addressed her in highly idiomatic French until, encountering nothing but silence and the headshakes and cryptic groans that escaped her involuntarily, he began to pretend, as the others had done from the start, that she wasn’t there.”


The rest of The story, full of so many besutiful sentences, is kind of a satire of French post war gentility.or maybe a parody of how Americans saw the French.


Mel u

The Reading Life.


















 



Monday, July 19, 2021

A Dog’s Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov - finished 1926 but not published until 1966- translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis, 2011


 A Dog’s Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov - finished 1926 but not published until 1966- translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis, 2011





Mikhail Bulgakov


May 15, 1891 Kyiv, Ukraine


March 10, 1940 - Moscow 


In May I read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

(In the translation by Richard Pevear and Lariosa Volohonsky).  I was just mesmerized by this work.  I knew I wanted to read more of his fiction.  I decided to start my read through of his work  with his first novel White Guard.  Black Swan, my third of his novels is set largely  in The famous Moscow Art Theater.  The theater was founded in 1898 by The  highly influential Konstantia Stanislavski, whose acting philosophy greatly influenced American cinema and theater.


The Fatal Eggs was my fourth work by Bulgakov.



A Dog’s Heart (sometimes translated as “The Dog’s Heart”), a novella, is considered to be a satire of early Soviet society.  Evidently Bulgahov felt it safest not to publish it.


A well known scientist attempts to transform a dog, picked up from the streets near starvation, into a human by transplanting into him a human heart, testicles and a pituitary gland.  The dog begins to speak, to walk upright.


The point of view switches from the that of the dog to the scientist.  His combination office home occupied seven rooms.  According to the local Soviet Housing Committee he is entitled to only three rooms.  Watching him make short work of them was great fun.


The dog makes savage comments about people and society.  He is perpetually hungry.  


All sorts of crazy things happen.


I found this work a lot of fun to read.  No doubt published in 1926 it would have gotten Bulgakov in serious trouble.


I believe I have now read all his translated longer fiction.  There are three anthologies of short storied I hope to read through within a year.


Mel u