Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

Monday, May 1, 2017

The April Reading Life Review

I will remember April 2017 as the month I first encountered Leonora Carrington

April Blog Stats

There was a surprising change in the top blog visiting home countries, for the first time since I began to track this over seven years ago, India was in second place.

The Philippines

I have had 4,573,305 page views since inception

There was also a change in the most viewed post category

The most  viewed post was

"The Assignment" by Sadaat Manto Hasan, a classic Partition short story, in second place was Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford.  Rounding out the top five were three stories by writers from the Philippines.

The latest new country was Mali.  I also received my first visit, since I began tracking this in February of 2016, from American Samoa.

There are now 3035 posts.

Works Read on Which I did not Post

A Serious History of Jewish Comedy by Jeremy Dauber.  A very good book with some Hilarious jokes:

"An iconic joke of the period depicts two Jews before a Russian firing squad, both offered blindfolds. One accepts, the other scornfully refuses. His friend urges him: “Shh . . . don’t make trouble.”

Hadrian the Seventh by Baron Corvo.  A very strange book!

"A Birthday" by Katherine Mansfield

"The Semplica-Girl Diary" by George Saunders

"Kohl Do" by Sadaat Manto Hasan.  Another Partition short story, some say his most famous work

Literary Biographies

Last month I read two works named by Richard Holmes as among the very best of the form

Lytton Strachey The New Biography by Michael Holyrod

The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography by A. J. A. Symons


Way Station by Clifford Simak. - A Hugo Award Winner

The House of Dreams by Colm Toibin

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Bloodlines by Octavia Butler - A Hugo and Nebula Prize Winning Novella.  A powerful work

Swing Time by Zadie Smith.  Loved it and will try to read all her other novels soon.  I have read several of her short stories

The Dream by Ivan Turgenev, a novella, a rare venture into the supernatural

Additionally I read and posted on four Yiddish Short Stories and three by authors from the Indian Subcontinent

Review Policies

I have no defined policy.  I look at every book I am sent.  I am very interested in posting on new works of literary biography.

Leonora Carrington

I read three of her Surrealist short stories.  I will be reading as much of her work as well as secondary works on her as I can.  I admit I was spooked out a bit when I saw her with a cat that looked just like our Mr. C, passed away in 2012 after 19 years.

I offer my great thanks to all who leave comments.  They are very appreciated and help keep me going.

Mel u

Sunday, April 30, 2017

"The Crocodile's Lady" by Manjo Das (1975)

"Is there something special about the Indian short story? I think there is. It sticks to the traditional rules of the craft. It is in fact short and not a novella or an abridged novel. It revolves round one or at the most two or three characters and does not have a long list of dramatis personae as in novels. It is limited in time and space and does not span decades or spread out in different locales. It also has a well-formulated central theme and does not touch upon several topics or clashes of personalities. It has a distinct beginning, a build-up and usually a dramatic end, frequently an unexpected one which sums up the story. Western short stories tend to be prolix, leaving the reader to guess what it is all about"   Khushwant Singh

"Crocodile's Lady" by Manto Das (1975, first published in The Illustrated Weekly of India, edited by Khushwant Singh, 1969 to 1979, a premier source for the publication of quality short stories and poems) is a story in the tradition of magic realism.  It is a delightful story which can fairly be called a work of magic realism.  Some say magic realism was born in South America, in truth this tradition in India goes back at least to before Homer.

As the story opens a Western professor visiting India wants to see a real village.  He is taken deep country to a village where there are no other cars in eight miles, few residents have ever seen a movie and the village youngsters come just to look at him.

He tells the man who accompanied him, he was born in the village but moved to the big city long ago,  that he wants to bath in the river as long as the crocodiles are not dangerous.  He is told a wonderful story of "The Crocodile's Lady" who lives in the village, ninety-four years old, widowed at age four.

They had a daughter who had been married at the age of three and had become a widow at four. She lived with her parents and, people say, grew up to be a beautiful damsel. ‘One day while bathing in the river with the other women, she was dragged away by a crocodile. She was given up for dead. But a decade later she suddenly reappeared in the village. Her father had died and her mother was dying. Their little hut on the river was in shreds. ‘One morning, two days later, a crocodile was found crawling on the embankment behind her hut. The earth, loose at one place, gave way under its weight. It slipped down on the village side of the embankment and the people thrashed it to death."

I don't want to tell more of the story, but I really enjoyed this work.  It does an excellent job combining folk stories with magic realism techniques.

I read it in Best Indian Short Stories, Vol. 1, edited and introduced by Khushwant Singh.

Mel u

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Lytton Strachey The New Biography by Michael Holroyd (856 pages, 1994 revision of 1968 original)

"‘What he released was a generation of brilliant experimenters in biographical narrative, who at last began to ask how lives can be genuinely reconstructed …’ Richard Holmes

Lytton Strachey-1880 to 1932

Eminent Victorians 1918

Queen Victoria 1930

When I saw Richard Holmes placed Lytton Strachey The New Biography by Michael Holroyd in his list of Canon status biographies (only six twentieth century Works made the list, including Strachey's Eminent Victorians) I decided I must read this book.  I have a great fondness for literary biographies and I found many saw this book as the best of the century.

I don't wish to give a brief synopsis of Strachey's life but just to make a few reading journal comments.  All who ever hope to write a literary biography should read this book.  Anyone at all interested in the Bloomsbury group will find it a great treasure.

Holyrod brought Cambridge vividly to reality. Strachey is a Gay icon and we learn a lot about his and his circles sex lives and romantic entanglements.  Famous and infamous writers and artists come and go, among them Virginia Woolf, Rosamund Lehmann and Katherine Mansfield.  We are there when Lytton begins to first publish and rejoice over his commercial success.  Lytton never had anything as prosaic as a job for very long.  In his younger days he had modest subsidies from his family but he did become quite affluent through book sales.  Lytton did have long term relationships with women, which might have had sexual elements.  (The movie Carrington was based on his life.). He lived, and thrived, in a high drama atmosphere.  He avoided service in WW One.  He was very influenced by G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica, knew Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell.  The great economist John Maynard Keynes and E. F. Forster were close to him.  Bunny Garnett, son of Constance Garnett who made the Russian literary pantheon available to highly influence Lytton and others, was part of Bloomsbury.

There is just a huge amount in this book I have not touched upon.  The prose is beautiful, highly learned without being tediously pedagogical.

Lytton was a good man, loyal to his friends and devoted to his family.  He inspired love in men and women.  He was a devotee to the Reading Life.  He loved Proust and was overwhelmed by Dostoevsky.

This book is not a casual read.  It is biography elevated to high art.  I am very glad I read this book and I think all serious literary autodidacts would be so also.

Mel u

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"Hamid's Baby" by Saadat Hadas Manto (1953)

"Hamid's Baby"

"Whorehouses and shrines—I feel at peace nowhere else. I’ll quit going to whorehouses soon enough because my money’s about to run out. But India has thousands of saints. I’ll go find one when my time comes.’ ‘Why do you like whorehouses and shrines?’ I asked. He thought for a moment and then answered, ‘Because there, from top to bottom, it’s all about deception. What better place could there be for a person who wants to deceive himself?’ ‘If you like listening".

Saadat Hasan Manto (often called "The Sage of Pakistan") was born in 1912 in Sampala, in then British India, he died in Lahore Pakistan in 1955.  He published twenty two collections of short stories.  He wrote about the impact of the Partition, the lives of those involved with Bollywood, but his best work seems to often involve prostitutes, pimps, and their clients.  Just like Guy de Maupassant.  The extreme poverty and the rigid caste system funneled millions of women into prostitution, the rigid moral code which stipulated a woman should remain a virgin until marriage produced a massive demand.  The workers range from super expensive actresses to young girls following the family tradition.  Many Dalit women became prostitutes.

"Hamid's Baby", I decided to post on this particular story as it can be read online, is a very well done work.

A wealthy older friend of Hamid's late father has arrived from Lahore for a ten day
visit.  He expects Hamid to be at his beg and call as he tours the brothels of Bombay.
The friend's wallet is crammed with 100 Rupee notes.  We soon learn a fresh young girl just in from her village is 100 rupees for 24 hours.  Of course women can be had for much less.  We also learn gangsters charge 1000 Rupees to kill someone.

They hook up, after renting a nice private taxi, with a well known pimp.  He takes the pair to several brothel apartments but nothing suits the guest.  Finally the pimp says ok I know of a Maratha girl, 17, just starting working recently, very innocent and lovely.  They go there and Hamid is struck by how lovely she is and almost offended when he finds out you can have her for 100 rupees.  His friend doesn't want her, saying he doesn't really fancy her.  He recognizes Hamid does and insists on treating him, Hamid is married with kids and feels a bit ashamed of himself, but he goes to a hotel and has sex with the girl while his rich friend goes off with the pimp to explore the decadence and depravity of Bombay.

Hamid becomes infatuated with the girl and sees her twenty days in a row.  Realizing this is a dangerous course of action for a married man, he stops going to the brothel apartment to get her.  But then four months later he feels the urge to go back.  To his dismay she is visibly pregnant.  Fearing he is the father he buys her drugs supposed to cause a miscarriage but they don't work.  He knows his marriage will be ruined if his wife discovers his indiscretion. Her pimp when the man returns to see if she is still pregnant tells Hamid he sent her back to her village to have her baby.   About six months later, shortly after the baby would have been born, Hamid goes to her village.  Once he gets there he hires a gangster to kill the baby but the gangster has a heart and he just turns the baby over to Hamid and tells him to kill the baby, a boy.  Hamid is just ready to smash the baby with a huge grinding stone when he decides to see what his baby looks like.  I will leave the ending for new readers.

The best way I'm aware to sample Manto's work is in the collection Bombay Stories.

His work belongs in the canon of short stories.

Mel u

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"The Beloved" by Leonora Carrington (1975)

The Reading Life Leonora Carrington Project

I will remember April, 2017 as the month I "discovered" Leonora Carrington.  I know most of us living a reading life have had the experience of being amazed by a new to us writer, someone you had never even heard about before the day you first read their work.  You do a bit of Googling only to learn you are seemingly among the very few who have not long ago read their work.  This is a humbling experience but also one of the great pleasures of the reading life world has to offer.  This is how I feel now about Leonora Carrington.  (Be sure and look at her art work also.)

As "My Beloved" opens, it is structured as the narrator repeating the story of another, a man tells a very strange story

"Without letting me go, he took me to the inside of the store, among fruits and vegetables. We shut a door at the far end, and we reached a room where there was a bed on which an immovable and probably dead woman lay. It appeared to me that she had been there for a long time since the bed was covered with weeds. “I water her every day,” said the fruitman with a pensive air. “In 40 years I have not succeeded in knowing whether she is dead or not. She has never moved, nor spoken, nor eaten during that time. But the curious thing is that she remains warm. If you don’t believe me, look.”

My main purpose in posting on her very brief and very weird short story, "The Beloved", reading time under five minutes) is to keep a record of my path through her work and to let my others interested know it can be read online.  (It is included in The Oval Lady Six Stories by Leonora Carrington, published in 1975.  I do not yet know if that was where it first published, if you know, please tell me.)

One of the surrealistic markers of the short stories of Carrington is the telling of very strange totally absurd defying all logic events in a completely straightforward fashion, as if the talking head of an old woman  on a rope in "The Beloved" who says she is not the landlord, rather the fox is is perfectly normal and requires no explanation.

You can see the charm of the story here

"There was no other remedy than to direct ourselves to the fox. ‘Have you beds?’ I asked several times. Nobody responded: he didn’t know how to speak. And again the head, older than the other, but which now descended slowly through the window tied to the end of a little cord. ‘Direct yourself to the wolves; I am not the landlord here. Let me sleep! please!’ I understood that that head was crazy and I did not have the heart to continue. Agnes kept crying. I walked around the house a few times and finally, I was able to open a window, through which we entered. Then we found ourselves in a kitchen with a high ceiling; over a large oven made hot by fire were some vegetables that were cooking and they jumped in the boiling water, a thing that much amused us. We ate well and then we laid ourselves down on the floor. I had Agnes in my arms. We did not sleep. That terrible kitchen contained all kinds of things. Many rats had stuck their heads out of their holes"

I don't doubt this has echoes of mythological and religious references I am not yet getting but really the story is just so much fun.

In observation of the 100th birth anniversary (April 6, 1917) of Leonora Carrington two collections of her short stories and a fascinating sounding biography by Joanna Moorhead, The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington are being published. Carrington was very closely associated with the Surrealist movement, both personally and artistically.  (In the long ago I visited the Museum of the Museo Nationale de Anthropologia in Mexico City where I must have seen one of her works.  Her art is on display in major museums throughout the world.) There are several good articles giving an overview of the life and work of Carrington online, the one from the BBC I linked above is a very good first resource as is our old standby, Wikipedia.

Mel u

Leonora Carrington- Britain's Last Surrealist Tate Shots. A wonderful beautifully done video -  (By the author of The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington, Joanna Moorhead, includes a conversation with  Carrington as well as images of her art)

Leonora Carrington A Surrealist Trip from Lancashire to Mexico. From the BBC

You can read "The Beloved" here

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"The Death of Shaikh Burhanuddin" by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (1963?)

Also known as Khama Ahmed Abbas, one of the greatest 20th century Punjabi authors

The Reading Life Guide to Getting Started in the Indian Short Story

"The Death of Shaikh Burhanuddin" by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (translated from Urdu by Khushwant Singh, my date of publication information is a guess) is told from the point of view of a Muslim man living in New Delhi at the times of the horrible post partition religious based riots in which thousands were killed, massive amounts of property was stolen or destroyed.  The three primary opposed factions were Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.  The narrator has a viscous hatred for Sikhs, partially coming from their support of the British during the period of the Raj.  He also feels contempt for what he sees as the filthy unkept beards and long hair of the men.  (He does admire the beauty of the women.)

"My name is Shaikh Burhanuddin. When violence and murder became the order of the day in Delhi and the blood of Muslims flowed in the streets, I cursed my fate for having a Sikh for a neighbour. Far from expecting him to come to my rescue in times of trouble, as a good neighbour should, I could not tell when he would thrust his kirpan into my belly. The truth is that till then I used to find the Sikhs somewhat laughable. But I also disliked them and was somewhat scared of them."

Abbas in just a few pages brings the sheer madness and terror of the riots very much to life.  Like any racist, he finds the cultural customs of the groups he hates ridiculous .  He is fixated on what he sees as the unkept long hair and beards of the men.  As a legacy of colonialism, he has a grudging admiration for the British.

Toward the close of the story, a Sikh mob has approached the narrators house.  They are bent mostly on stealing everything they can from his house, if he gets in the way or if he is unlucky, he and his family will be killed.  His Sikh neighbor comes out of his house and tells the Sikh mob that he is entitled to first picks of the items in the house as he has had to endure the man's abuse for years.  As the mob moves on (I will tell more of the plot than I normally would as most will not be able to read this story as it is not online, as far as I know), the narrator is shocked when the Sikh and his family return all the items they had taken from his house, their intention all along was to protect the narrator.

This is a very exciting story, violent, full of vivid descriptions and scenes of religious hatred magnified by post colonial attitudes redeemed by a very courageous act. I see it as a classic post partition short story.

This story is included in an anthology I highly recommend, My Favorite Short Stories, edited by Khushwant Singh and Neelam Kumar.  Their are a generous  selection of stories from the major language groups and a decent introduction with good mini- bios of the authors.  This would be a decent pick as your started Indian Short Story Collection.  My only fault with it is that they do not provide first publication data on the stories.

Khwaja Ahmed Abbas (1914-1989) was a journalist, novelist and film producer-director of international repute. A writer with leftist leanings, Abbas published over 40 books in Urdu including Diya Jale Sari Raat (novel), Main Kaun Hun, Ek Ladki and Zafran Ke Phul —all collections of short stories. His other important works include When Night Falls, Face to Face with Khrushchev, a 2-part biography of Mrs Indira Gandhi —Indira Gandhi: Return of the Red Rose and its sequel That Woman.

Mel u

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Two Short Stories by Chanelle Benz,from The Man Who Shot Out my Eyes, her debut collection

The Diplomat's Daughter

James III

Website of Chanelle

Based on the advance press on The Man Who Shot Out my Eyes, the debut short story collection of Chanelle Benz, my expectations were very high for the two of her short stories that I was happily able to find online. Both are included in the collection which I hope to read and post further upon in May.  I loved both stories and do not at all hesitate to endorse purchase of her collection.  It is good to see such great stories by a new writer.  Interestingly both of these very different stories comply with Frank O'Connors famous dictum that the deepest Short Stories deal with loneliness, given voice to the marginalized, speak for the mute.  In both these stories Benz dramatically  presents the consequences of loneliness and marginalization.

I will just talk a bit about each story as I do not wish to spoil anyone's first read.  I read each story twice and will hopefully reread them in May along with the full collection.

"The Diplomat's Daughter" focuses on a young woman, once kidnapped away from the home of her American diplomat father.  It is a fast moving story, beginning in a terrorist cell in the Kalahiri Desert, Beirut in the time period 2001 to 2011.  The woman is under the sway of a man who uses her for sex and to commit terrorist acts.  It is evidently the Stockholm syndrome impacting her.  Then we flash back  to Lynchburg, Virginia in 1997 where we see her as an adolescent, insecure about her weight and being a typical difficult at times teenager.  There are segments in Mexico City, back in Beirut, and in Washington, D.C.  As I read the story, told mostly in very skillfully rendered dialogue, it reads almost like a play, I tried to ponder what terrible emotional lacuna could I discover from the conversations of the young woman with her siblings and her Columbian stepmother.  In a away I'm inclined to see her as somehow suggesting the father of the terrorist own repudiation of America but maybe this is pushing things.  This is a beautiful story that will more than repay repeated readings.

"James III" is set in the rough poverty ridden inner city of Philadelphia.  It is narrated by a twelve year old boy, he has just been mugged, his shoes have been stolen and it
a very cold winter.  The boy's father is in prison, his mother has a boyfriend.  He decided to take the train to his aunt.  We subtly are shown he is not just your ordinary inner city boy when he makes a reference to Mr. Brown low, Oliver Twist's benefactor.  He goes to a Quaker school, tuition paid by his aunt.  He reads the sonnets of Petrach.

Much of the plot action is carried by dialogue.  The boy lives in a rough world where showing any weakness is a mistake.  We go along when his cousin takes him to visit his father.  We learn how he came to be James III.

"“And I’m named after my father, your granddaddy. Now that man? That man was born evil and done stayed that way. But because he was named James, I got named James, and your grandmomma said you got to be named James, that way at the end of the day you got his hard and my heart. You James the third.”

"James III" presents a very intelligent young msn, he was in the state spelling be finals, forced to be wise beyond his years.  We get a sense we are in The Philadelphia inner city.  We hope for the best for James.

These are two first rate stories.  As mentioned, I hope to read the full collection in May.

Chanelle Benz has published short stories in Guernica,, Electric Literature'sRecommended Reading, The American Reader, Fence and The Cupboard, and is the recipient of an O. Henry Prize. She received her MFA at Syracuse University as well as a BFA in Acting from Boston University. She is of British-Antiguan descent and currently lives in Houston.  From

Mel u