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

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Japanese Literature Challenge 11- Hosted by Dolce Bellezza

This will be the ninth year in which I have participated in The Japanese Literature Challenge,  Hosted by Dolce Bellezza.  The event runs from July 1 to January 31, 2018.  All your are asked to do is read one work of Japanese literature and share your thoughts.  There are lots of great reading suggestions on the event home page.

The post World War II Japanese novel is a world class cultural treasure.  Every month sees new translations by contemporary writers and first translations of older works.  Very recently two novels and ten short stories by Junichiro Tanizaki were initially translated.  

This year I hope to read and post on these works for Japanese Literature 11

Slow Boat to China RMX by Hideo Furukawa

Record of a Night to Brief by Hiromi Kawakam

Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibaski

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

Beasts Head For Home by Abe Kobo

Triangle Triangle by Hisaki Matsuura

Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori

Short stories collections 

Junichiro Tanazaki- ten new translated short stories.

Men Without Women by Haruki  Murakami

Six of the writers are new to me.   

Please consider joining us for this event.  Besides learning about Japanese literature, it is a great way to discover new book blogs. 

Mel u


Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - On the Reading Life

African Reading Challenge - 2017

Half of a Yellow Sun is the second novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I have had the great pleasure of reading.  Prior to reading this I read her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus and three of her short stories, all of which I loved.  (You can read my posts if you wish at the link above.).

There are five main, and lots of minor, characters in Half of a Yellow Sun.  We have a mathematics professor, his house boy, a corrupt businessman and his twin adult daughters.  In one very telling scene the sisters talk about their father offering one of them as a kind of sexual bribe in order to get a government contract.  There is also an Englishmen, writing a book.  All the characters are very well developed.  I loved how Adiche brought in the mothers of the professor and that of his house boy.  The professor is having a long term affair with one of the twins and mother does not approve at all!  She wants to find him a good girl from back home, not a big city westernized "witch".  The house boy's mother also plays an interesting part.  I was touched to see the professor took the house boy's mother to the doctor.  The houseboy is totally devoted to his employer, who he calls "master". The Englishmen is writing a book.  He is having an affair with the other twin and  is researching Igbo art for his book.  The sister having an affair with a white man is an issue to many, suggesting she thinks whites are superior.

Half a Yellow Sun (named for the flag of Biafra) is set in the period of the Biafran War, 1967 to 1970, for Independence from Nigeria.  The Igbo people from southern Nigeria wanted to escape the domination of the Nigerian Federal government, dominated by northern Nigerians.   We learn from the conversations of the professor that many intellectual citizens of Nigeria view the currently existing national entities as totally remnants of colonialism, the boundaries set by European countries.  Many advocate a return to tribal identities.  The novel brilliantly depicts the very complex set of factors in play.  You have a tiny, depicted as very corrupt elite, their educated westernized children and a great mass of the poor, tribal people.  This is very much a story of cultural clashes.

Adiche vividly depicts the terrible violence and suffering caused by the war.  We see the terrible atmosphere of fear, the drafting of young boys in their early teens as soldiers, the changes as the war closes.  The sex scenes are very well done, we sadly see the mass rapes as part of war and the inferior position of women.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a wonderful book.  The characters, even the minor ones, I admit I loved it when the professor's mother showed up unexpectedly, took over the house and went off on her son because she feels his girl friend is not right for him.  This is a very deep as well as exciting book.

I read this as part of my participation in The African Reading Challenge 2017.  Next year for the 2018 event I hope to read her third novel, Americanah.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope. She is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year; and the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. Her latest novel Americanah, was published around the world in 2013, and has received numerous accolades, including winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction; and being named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year.
A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, she divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.  -from the author's website

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"One Day Less" - A Short Story by Clarice Lispector (1970?)

"What matters is the magnetic love she inspires in those susceptible to her. For them, reading Clarice Lispector is one of the great emotional experiences of their lives. But her glamour is dangerous. “Be careful with Clarice,” a friend told a reader decades ago, using the single name by which she is universally known. “It’s not literature. It’s witchcraft."  Benjamin Moser


"I doubt that death will come. Death? Could it be that the days so long will end? That’s how I daydream, calm, still. Could it be that death is a ruse? A trick of life? Is it persecution? And that’s how it is."  From "One Day Less"

"One Day Less" is one of Clarice's final stories (I do not call her by her first name out of a foolish familiarity but because that name is enough to invoke a universe for those of us under her spell.)   This is a very sad story.  In approaching her short stories, I think one should first read all eight five.  Lots of reviewers have said taken this way we meet our narrator first as a young girl in Recife and later Rio de Janeiro, then we see her married, then her final days.  I suspect Print reviewers who have said this have not read the full collection.

As "One Day Less" opens our unmarried thirty year old female narrator is pondering the boredom and emptiness of her life.  Her deceased parents left her enough money to get buy in the apartment in which she had lived all her life.  She thinks about what she would do if a man invited her out for a drink. She seems much older than thirty.  Her self esteem has been badly hurt by her weight gain.

Her maid, the same one that has worked for her parents and then her for thirty years is off for a month.  She has to cook her own food.  Boredom hangs heavy in this story.  She received a distraction from a wrong number call from a woman who ends up inviting her over to play bridge.

The ending is very sad.  There is much to thing about in this story.

Please share your experience with Clarice with us

Monday, June 26, 2017

Weimar Culture The Outsider as Insider by Peter Gay (1968)

Weimar Culture The Insider as Outsider (1968) by Peter Gay should be the first book anyone interested in Germany history and culture from 1919 when a new constitution was drawn up Weimar, Germany instituting democracy and civil rights to 1933.   The Weimar period is considered to have ended in 1933 with the full ascension of Hitler to power bringing the end of constitutional government and individual rights.

Weimar Culture can be seen as a reaction to the terrible crushing humiliation brought on by Germany's defeat in World War One.  Germans had never had much individual liberty and the liberties of the period produced a great outburst of creativity in the arts, various forms of literature, in theater and in personal life styles.  This was the Berlin of Christopher Isherwood's Good Bye to Berlin, vividly dramatized in the movie Cabaret.  Gay lets us see how the relaxing of  a centuries old Prussian culture of obedience radically changed Germany radically.

I was very interested in learning from Gay about literature during the Weimar Period, I was pleased to see I have posted upon the major novelists he mentions, Alfred Doblin, Erich Marie Remarque whose All Quiet on The Western Front is surely one of the very best war novels ever written, down to the Nobel Prize Winning Thomas Mann.  Gay goes into detail about Weimar movies. Most were thematically dark probing the corruption in Berlin.  The first famous film, a silent, was The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, still disturbing today. (You can watch it and other Weimar movies on YouTube and they are still striking and weird!).  Vampire movies were popular, the most famous was Nosferatu.  Futuristic movies were very popular, such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis.  Gay talks about the theater also, focusing on The Three Penny Opera written by Bertolucci Brecht as well as the work of Kurt Weil.

The most important philosopher of the period was Martin Heidiger, a founding father of existentialism.  Gay treat him with contempt, which I enjoyed, for his boot licking attitude toward Hitler.

I have placed a few images of Weimar art in my collage.  Gay talks a lot about this.

Gay's style is elegant.  He goes into some detail on the failure of Weimar Culture to stand up to Nazis.

Weimar Culture is a nearly fifty year old book.  Much of the information in Gay's book can now be found online.  I was motivated to finally read this book, which had been on my To Be Read List for a very long time.  I was motivated to read it  when I was notified it was in  for sale for $1.95 in a Kindle edition.  I just checked and is back to $9.95.  For sure it is a value at $1.95, $9.95 I will let you decide.

This is a first rate popular history.  It helped me draw together my knowledge of the period.

From Goodreads.

Peter Gay

in Berlin, Germany
June 20, 1923

May 12, 2015

History, Biography

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The son of a glassware maker, Peter Joachim Fröhlich grew up in Germany as the Nazis rose to power. Escaping in 1938 with the rest of his family on the last boat of refugees admitted to Cuba, he gained entry with them to the United States two years later, whereupon he changed his name to Gay. He graduated from the University of Denver in 1946 and earned a master's and doctorate in history from Columbia University.

Gay taught at Columbia from 1947 until 1969. In 1969 he joined the faculty at Yale University, where he taught until he retired as Sterling Professor of History in 1993. He was a former director of the New York Public Library's Center for Scholars and Writers from 1997 until 2003. Gay was the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Book Award and the received the American Historical Association's (AHA) Award for Scholarly Distinction. He died in 2015

Mel u

Sunday, June 25, 2017

"The Royal Summons" - A Short Story by Leonora Carrington (1937)


Bottom Right, Leonora Carrington and her brothers 
Left, one up from bottom, Max Ernest and Leonora Carrington 

"As the representative of the queen, I sat in the seat at the end. The Prime Minister rose and struck the table with a gavel. The table broke in two. Some servants came in with another table. The Prime Minister swapped the first gavel for another, made of rubber. He struck the table again and began to speak. "Madame Deputy of the Queen, ministers, friends. Our dearly beloved sovereign went mad yesterday, and so we need another. But first we must assassinate the old queen."  - from "The Royal Summons" by Leonora Carrington 

"The Royal Summons" is another Surrealistic gem by Leonora Carrington.  Told in the first person, our narrator has just received a royal summons to visit the monarchs of her country at their palace.  She summons her chauffeur who informs her that he has just buried her car, in order to grow mushrooms.  Of course she calls him an idiot and she orders a carriage.  Upon arrival at the palace a servant tells her the queen went mad yesterday.  If she wishes she may visit the queen in her bath.  She finds the queen bathing in goat's milk, with live sponges swimming in the milk, real sponges anchor themselves.

The queen asks her attend a meeting of the government ministers in her place.  They announce the queen must be killed.  A table tennis tournament will be conducted with the winner to take the queen to the zoo and push her in a cage with unfed recently lions.

This is a quite short work, reading time under five minutes so I will leave the end unspoiled.

In most of Carrington's stories someone seems to be killed.  

From the Dorothy, a Publishing Project website: "Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) was a writer, painter, and a key figure in the Surrealist movement. She was born to a wealthy English family in 1917, expelled from two convents as a girl, and presented to the king's court in 1933. Four years later, she ran off with Max Ernst and became a darling of the art world in Paris: serving guests hair omelets at one party, arriving naked to another. After Ernst was taken from their home to a Nazi internment camp in 1940, Carrington fled France. Nearly mad with grief and terror, she was thrown into a lunatic asylum in Spain, and, after escaping, married a Mexican diplomat, fleeing Europe for New York City then Mexico City, where she lived for the rest of her life." 

About ten of her stories can be found online along with several good general articles.

I will from time to time read more of her work, I hope.

Mel u

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Poetry Will Save Your Life - A Memoir by Jill Bialosky (July, 2017)

"Enduring a childhood of loneliness and dislocation, he retreated into the “wonderful world of books.”  Jill Bialosky on Langston Hughes

"I’m grateful for my books, my deep infatuation with literature, and my poems, however nascent. I’ve come to see that the only thing now worth holding on to is the collection of verse accumulating on my desk and in my drawer. They don’t often amount to much, but when they do I sense it something alive and crackling, like the sound of stepping on twigs in the woods. In the absence of love, I cling to my work. Literature is the only thing that I can count on; it won’t desert me." - Jill Bialosky

Poetry Will Save Your Life by Jill Bialosky is a deeply felt memoir  told through the poems that helped the author cope with and understand the seminal events and rites of passage of her life, from adolescence to motherhood and beyond.  She talks very openly about events that caused her great pain and shows how poetry literarily saved her life.

When I first began The Reading Life nearly eight years ago I planned to focus on literary works focusing on people who lead Reading centered lives.  I have gotten happily very side tracked but I always like to return to this theme.  I wonder what forces, influences, factors lead a person to prefer reading above all activities.  I have seen in the posts of lots of book bloggers (the world's greatest

readers) references to lonely isolated childhoods in which they retreated from an environment they did not like, from feeling odd and out of place, to books.   Many of these children grew away from reading as they worked, had families, etc but some of us did not.  We resented our jobs as wasting our Reading time and some of us did become near Life time isolates, wanting to be left alone to read.

Jill Bialosky talks about being lonely and feeling out of place as a child.  She found a salvation in poetry.  There are forty three poems featured, most published in full.  Bialosky talks about events in her life and how they helped her relate to the poem and conversely how the poems helped her cope with the suicide of a beloved sister, marriage, becoming a mother, the death of her father, and the attack on the World trade centered.  Among the more famous poets featured are Robert Frost (I found her comments on his perhaps most famous work, "The Road Not Taken" helped me overcome the view I formed of Frost decades ago), Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens and Sylvia Plath.  She also talks about English language poets I have not read and  works in translation by writers who I think will be new to most readers of her book.

Poetry Will Save Your Life can be read slowly savoring the poems and relating your own life experiences to those of Bialosky or devoured in a very pleasant evening.  Either way I think you will enjoy this book.

Jill Bialosky is the author of four acclaimed collections of poetry. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Kenyon Review, and The Atlantic, among others. She is the author of three novels, most recently, The Prize, and a New York Times bestselling memoir History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life. Jill was honored by the Poetry Society of America for her distinguished contribution to the field of poetry in 2015. She is an editor at W. W. Norton & Company and lives in New York City.

"God Product" - short story by the Nebula and World Fantasy Award Winning Alyssa Wong (2017)

"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. As she stood over the god taped down to the kitchen table, Caroline knew this was the only way to win Hyeon’s attention.
“Watch me,” she said to Hyeon, who leaned against the counter on the opposite wall, her eyes glittering. “Don’t look away.”
All of Hyeon’s eyes blinked slowly, in a concentric pattern. How beautiful, thought Caroline. Hyeon was a god: sharp, lean, and bright with power, nothing like Caroline’s small god, whose restrained limbs trembled against the wooden tabletop. “You’ll regret doing this,” said Hyeon. Her voice was quiet, but it rang hard in Caroline’s ears. “The two of you are bonded.” - from "God Product" by Alyssa Wong

Not long ago I read and posted upon  Alyssa Wong's beautifully wicked multi award winning work about the dangers of online dating, among other things, "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" (you can read it on Wong's very well done website along with several of her other stories, including "God Product").

Today I want to journalize my reading of another of her stories, "God Product".  As this marvelous very thought provoking story opens Caroline stands before a small new god, still encased in his pre- emergence wooden shell.  It is Caroline's task to break the shell.  Once she does this she and the god will be bonded.  The problem is Caroline is already bonded to Hyeon, the female god who is walking her through the procedure.  We never learn how gods are created, where we are, or the nature of the society in which Caroline resides. .  For me these mysteries add more to the impact and fun of the story.

The close of the story is very exciting.  I will leave it untold.  I think this would make a very good story to stimulate class room discussion.

This story was first published on, a leading SF/F webpage on March 18, 2017, in observation of International Women's Day.

I plan to read and post upon all of Wong's works as I return to the SF/F world.

Mel u