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





Friday, September 30, 2016

On Light and Carbon by Noel Duffy. (2013)







"A poem, as a manifestation of language and thus essentially dialogue, can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the—not always greatly hopeful—belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps. Poems in this sense, too, are under way: they are making toward something."  Paul Celan

"At a critical moment, a seafarer tosses a sealed bottle into the ocean waves, containing his name and a message detailing his fate. Wandering along the dunes many years later, I happen upon it in the sand. I read the message, note the date, the last will and testament of one who has passed on. I have the right to do so. I have not opened someone else’s mail. The message in the bottle was addressed to its finder. I found it. That means, I have become its secret addressee. Thus it is for all of us who read poems, who become the secret addressees of literary texts. I am at home in the middle of the night and suddenly hear myself being called, as if by name. I go over and take down the book—the message in the bottle—because tonight I am its recipient, its posterity, its heartland. To the Reader Setting Out The reader of poetry is a kind of pilgrim setting out, setting forth. The reader is what Wallace Stevens calls “the scholar of one candle.” Reading poetry is an adventure in renewal, a creative act, a perpetual beginning, a rebirth of wonder. “Beginning is not only a kind of action,” Edward Said writes in Beginnings, “it is also a frame of mind, a kind of work,  an attitude, a consciousness.” I love the frame of mind, the playful work and working playfulness, the form of consciousness—the dreamy attentiveness—that come with the reading of poetry." From How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch


Posting on a collection of poems is the most challenging blogging task I assume.  I recently read a magnificent book How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch.  I wanted very much to read a collection of poetry in a fashion inspired by this book.  On Light and Carbon by Noel Duffy provided me the perfect vehicle for my efforts.  Wearing a deep knowledge very subtly Duffy has produced a collection of poems that can be read over and over with increasing pleasure.  I am not technically educated in the mechanics of poetry.  I do not feel this as a lack but others might see it as such.  My approach here will be to post on what strikes me as I read.  I will as I go on try to find what one might call the overriding themes of the poems but above all I will try to enjoy them and read them with the respect they deserve.  One lesson I learned from Edward Hirsch was to see a poem as a message in a bottle, sent out by an unknown writer to an unknown reader but not truly complete until the bottle is found by the right person. In reading poetry I attempt to be the unknown reader to whom the message in the bottle was sent.  This does mean I will try to reconstruct the world of the unknown bottle messenger, not to guess the real writer's intentions. 


Footprints on Lava






The opening poem, "Footprints on Lava" starts us with a mystery.  Are these walkers from forty thousand years ago our messenger is it they who are to receive the message of the progression of civilization.  Are we to see within this our buried deeply in the sea from which the message came ancestors.  On our first reading of the collection we can only ponder this beautiful starting poem.

Earthrise

The second poem in the collection, "Earthrise" is as far in time from the first.  It is told in the person of an astronaut who was it seems the first to orbit the earth in a space capsule.  The profundity of this poem lies in the speaker's ability to produce thoughts that could have been understood thousands of years ago



As I read this I knew few of the technicians who made this flight possible would understand the source and meaning of the reference to the music of the spheres.  I almost felt our walkers across the lava were just as much exploring an unknown world.  Maybe we have lost our ability to hear the music of the spheres.   I think Duffy is trying to help us retrain our senses to allow us to hear what Plato wrote about.  There is a greater music in the silence than in Bach or Mozart.  We need the silence of deep space or the lava walker's world to hear it. 

On Light and Carbon

The title poem can be seen as in the voice of the poet.  We learn from Hirsch the concept of the poet involves our construction of the unknown author of the message in the bottle.  In it we meet a young man open to the marvels of the world, pondering where a tree originates and pondering the tension between a priest's account of the origin of the world and a scientist.  Already he knows it is not logic that decides what we believe.  

Our poet went to Trinity College in Dublin.  The next two poems are reflective of this experience. 

Celestial Mechanics.

This is a poem so beautiful I wish I could just quote all three pages.  It is very deeply moving.  A professor is teaching a class in celestial mechanics to a class room full of mostly first year engineering students.  He is old enough to have fought the Germans.  To most of the young students he is a subject to be mocked.  The poet and a few others walk back to the office with him, ashamed of their fellow students.  I see the professor as attempting to show his young charges how to hear in the celestial mechanics the music of the spheres.  His forgiveness of his mockers makes one think of f his great depth compassion.  He has a wisdom born of pain. 



Trinity College has a special meaning for the Irish, for some it is the school of Samuel Beckett, for voters it is where their family has gone for generations, for some it is an entry to a privileged world which upon entry will open up new worlds to them. In "Trinity Ball" our poet discovers passion with a female student of the privileged classes.  

Cadmus

Cadmus was the first king of Thrales, slaying beasts in the days before Hercules, most notably giant snakes as depicted on this ancient vase.  In reading a poetry collection we can be illuminated by recurring images, the deeper buried, the more significant.  In a poet which occurs prior to "Cadmus", "Carbon, there is a reference to the professor who first provided as an explanatory the notion that the carbon atom, the foundation for life, could be seen as a great snake.  Snake metaphors as figures of creation predate Christisnity, especially in India and South East Asis.  

"Cadmus" is another set on Trinity poem.  Cadmus is what the students call an eccentric older professor of the classics.



Like others in the poems, Cadmus has entered another world, understanding too much has deprived 

him of his ability to seem sane.  Cadmus made me think of the writings of W. G. Sebald on Holocaust survivors.

For a bit I just want to take a quick look at some things that struck me in the next the next few poems.

In a poem of memoir about an old love, "Keepsake", there is a reference to the sea I found very illuminating.

"‘Do you remember the sea, the waves lapping at our feet".  The poet has made sure we know these are Irish poems.  The sea has a deep meaning for Ireland.  It protects the country and also was a highway for old invaders.  Look far enough and maybe you will see the Vikings or the hated Cromwell, maybe even the coming of the Travellers.  

The invention of the mass produced clock might have destroyed some of the mystery of life.  It also made a work day in which people were slaves to the clock on the factory floor a reality.  We see this in "On Time".  One of the message of these poems is the lose of mystery, or the ways in which what seems to be scientific knowledge is just old metaphors from our atavistic roots.

"Photograph" seemingly steps back being about the wedding of the poets parents.  But in reality it invokes childhood myths or thoughts about things the most sophisticated among us cannot really fathom, the time before we were born.  

Corridor of Stone

"Corridor of Stone" is a poem I found beautiful and deeply moving, able to touch deep levels within this reader.   Here are the opening lines



We see glimpses of the poet's relationship with his father, a maker and repairer of fine watches and clocks.  I think the occupation of the father is significant as it somehow combines the elements of an artist, a craftsmen in the figure of a person to be often seen just as a laborer by those of limited understanding, just as the makers of Romanov eggs, often bound serfs, were once viewed.  I recall in previous poems of Duffy a sense of how the education his father had sacrificed to give him had somehow created a distance between he and his father.  Both are saddened by this but neither spoke of it directly.  


In "Corridor of Stone" PJ and the father, they met during a labor strike, bond from an interest in Irish antiquities, especially the runes on stone monoliths.  One can see this as aligned with trying to decipher another message, to communicate with the descendants of those who left their footprints in the love.  The rune writers I see as ancient ancestors of the Poet's father. 

Leather Shoe

In this wonderful poem a story is told of the poet's father and his friend PJ doing evacuation work on a place that is discovered to be an ancient Viking seltlement.  During lunch breaks they shift through the tons of earth looking for Viking artifacts.  The father brings home the shoe of a child.  As I said earlier, the mind of the poet goes back in a time before there is real history. 


Longships, spaceships, the opening of physics,love and classics at Trinity, walkers in the lava, Cadmus slashing the great snake of carbon.

Encounter

"Encounters" is one of several poems in the collection that draw on ancient history.  The roots of our poet are in the chambers of the priests of religions really now barely known, the so called "mystery cults".  

"‘What is surmised but not expressed is more frightening. What is clear and manifest is easily despised... The mysteries too take the form of allegory, just as they are performed at night in darkness.’ –  Demetrius, 6th Century BCE". 

We are there when he enters a shaman's chamber.  Was he truly on a path to a not taught at Trinity truth or was he just another seeker after an easy way, bambozzled by a perhaps self deluded holy person.  

Twenty five hundred years of "science" is either ignored or transcended in this magnificent poem.

Faith Healer

The next poem in the collection, "Faith Healer" flashed me to my recent reading of a very detailed biography of Madame Blatsky, the famous occultist.  In this poem in part we are along when the poet's father takes him to visit a faith healer. Occultism and spiritualism were revived in Europe in response to the early death of millions after the World Wars.  Years later he travels by train back to the faith healer.  His soul is troubled.  Our poet hopes the faith healer can lead to him peace but he feels contempt for him.

Bezalel

A very moving poem about the years the Jews wandered in exhilarating. Of course this is much founding myth as possible history.

The Actor

"The Actor" is a chilling work about the fears of the creative.  The poet sees a Shakespearan actor in a rooming house,talking on the phone ranting at his mother and begging for money.  The poet retreats to his room and  begins to write, hoping his words will protect him from such a fate.  This poem is a memory of maybe twenty years ago in the life of the poet.

Night watch

"Night Watch", proceeded by a very poignant poems about recollections of old relationships, focuses on a man who stood in his back yard staring at the night sky for thirty years. He was looking for "unfixed stars".  He in the end found more than anyone else.  We are made to ponder what drove him to this, what was he seeking? Did he long for a ride on a unfixed star?  I was brought to mind Rembrandt's most regarded painting by this poem.

Culture

""Culture" well might be my favorite poem in the collection.  There are deep veins in On Carbon and Light about how knowledge is built, how communities arise, how mysteries impact. We see these beautifully in "Culture"


The Insturment of Speech


"The Insturment of Speech" exemplifies the compressing power of the best poetry.  It for sure challenged my ability to understand the references.  I will go through it a stanza at a time.

"The cave of meanings, its weathered horde, its haunted echoes and brimming core. The soil, the clay, the basin, the ground of being, the foundation-works and river of need."  

My first guess is this is drawn from the Viking roots of Irish mythology.  For me from my own culture it echoes the cave of Plato.  It echoes pre-Christians metaphysics. The ancient meanings echo in our collective unconsciousness.  Jung was not fully correct but he was far from fully wrong.  

"The serpent’s kiss, the coupling chromosomes, the foetal appetites and clinging forms. Land hunger, mound, earth-dwelling, home, the blood in the veins and first sound."


The open words echo back to the garden of eve and in the collection to the poems about the carbon atom. Life comes from the bonding of the carbon atom.  We then go back to the impact of the first invasion of the Vikings. From this we return to the origin of sounds.

"the body of the world and all we’ve known. The dust of longing and force of change, the hands, the skin, the heart and brain. The Presence, the prayer, the pit of desire; heart’s return and unquenchable fires. Yggdrasil, well-spring, starlight and stones. The long journey out and our stolen songs."

In the last two stanzas we have lines of great beauty.  If asked to say what is the message here.  My first response is I do not know.  Then I begin to see a view of the world and the human connected.  Yggdrasil is from Norse creation stories.  Whose songs were stolen?  Is it the pre- Norse Irish?  The people who first saw the Travellers?  There is great depth here.  


Seeing


"Seeing" is about the poet's visit to the observatory of the great Irish scientist,astronomer, versifier in his on right and friend of Wordsworth.  I sort of see this as about the last days science and poetry could be held in one voice.  We also see the poet once again remembering the past while he increase his own depth of culture 

The Pattern

My maternal grandmother made her living with a sewing needle.  She did embroidery work that could be in the Victoris and Albert Museum.  I grew up with dress patterns a common place in the household.  As this poem opens the poet remembers his mother and a neighbor finishing up a dress, made with patterns.  As he works on another kind of machine he hopes somehow the patterns in words he makes will bond him with his mother.  A very moving poem.

Fish Ascending

"Fish Ascending" is the coda of On Carbon and Light.  In the final lines may be the message in the bottle from our poet.

Long ago the poet was given a fossilized fish, much like the secret symbol Christians once used as a secret symbol of their faith.  I saw it long ago in the Catacombs.  In the very last lines we can see much of the poems.  Two worlds, science and art, Trinity and the world of his upbringing, Ancient history and modern life.  Love and the moenory of love. 

"it had risen again in light instead of water, an icon of two world systems reconciled and comprehended in a time when both are at odds, each biting and tearing at the other."

I have read all the poems five times, some ten.  I know some poems were not probably originally written with the thought of being unified with others.  To me I found these poems together.  These are my poems now.

I give my highest endorsement to On Carbon and Light.  These are works that can stand up to many readings. 

From the Publisher- Ward Wood Publishing

Following on from his award-nominated debut collection, On Light & Carbonfurther develops and deepens Duffy’s exploration of the relationship between poetry and science with work that strives to make unexpected connections between the intimate human dramas of everyday life and the grand backdrop and insights that science provides. Yet the title of this collection holds a double-resonance, examining not just the physics of light and life, but also the metaphysical meanings that such ideas hold in poems that engage, excite as well as move.

About the Author



Noel Duffy was born in Dublin in 1971 and studied Experimental Physics at Trinity College, Dublin. He was the winner of the START Chapbook Prize for Poetry for his collection, The Silence Afterin 2003 and his debut poetry collection In the Library of Lost Objects (Ward Wood) was shortlisted for the 2012 Strong Award for best first collection by an Irish poet. He has also been a recipient of an Arts Council of Ireland Bursary for Literature in 2003 and 2012 and has taught creative writing at the National University of Ireland, Galway, the Irish Writers’ Centre, and Dublin Business School, Film and Media Department.


Mel u

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Public Library and other Stories by Ali Smith (2015)




Ali Smith is a onsistently highly interesting writer. Over the last few years I have read and 
posted on several of her short stories as well as her masterful lecture series Artful  I was happy when the publisher of her latest collection offered me a review copy of Public Library and other Stories. 

The collection was assembled in part in response to the recent closing in the U.K of many public libraries, done by the government in an effort to save money.  Interspersed with the stories are accounts of British authors about what free public libraries have meant to them.  As I reside in city of ten million or so with the world's biggest malls but with no public libraries I found these memoirs very  moving.  

One of the reasons I enjoyed this collection was in almost every story the reading lives of the characters is a central aspect of the story.  One character talks about the great World War One Poet Winfred Owen with her late father. Katherine Mansfield comes into play several times.  

This is a very  good worthwhile collection of short stories. The stories about libraries are very moving.



ALI SMITH is the author of ten previous works of fiction. Three of her novels—Hotel WorldThe Accidental, and How to be both—have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. How to be both won the Costa Novel Award, the Baileys Women’s Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize, and the Saltire Literary Book of the Year Award. Her story collections include Free Love, which won a Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award and a Scottish Arts Council Award, and The Whole Story and Other Stories.


Mel u

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littlell (2006, 972 pages, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell, 2009)


I "The novel’s gushing fans…seem to have mistaken perversity for daring, pretension for ambition, an odious stunt for contrarian cleverness.”  Michiko Kakutani.  New York Times Book Review

A brilliant Holocaust novel…A world-class masterpiece of astonishing brutality, originality, and force…I read it without pausing for breath, so powerful and terrifying was its portrayal of Nazi Germany, and of the Holocaust.” Michael Korda, The Daily Beast




 Amazon reviews of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan  Littell range from glowing accounts of the genius of Littell to one star reviews in which the work is described as pornographic disgraceful trash.  In the two quotes above the book image you will see the division of opinion among professional critics.  With some slight reservations I am in camp that sees this as a great work of art in the grand European tradition of the literature of cruelty. 

The Kindly Ones was first published in English in 2009, shortly before I began The Reading Life.  After reading several glowing reviews from other book bloggers I badly wanted to read Littell's account 
of the day to day experiences, mental life,  of a German SS officer assigned initially to the mass executions of Jews by gunshot in occupied Eastern Europe.  Somehow I had so much to read I never got to The Kindly Ones.  I as very glad to receive a promotional email a very recently offering the Kindle edition for only $1.95, temporarily reduced from $10.95.  I acquired the book and emerged myself into a very dark world.  

The story is told from the point of view of Maximilien Aue.  When he begins to tell his story he is a silk merchant living in France.  The war is over and like many others he feels compelled to tell his story, which he begins with these words:

"Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened. I am not your brother, you’ll retort, and I don’t want to know. And it certainly is true that this is a bleak story, but an edifying one too, a real morality play, I assure you."

Max, we will call him that as we end up knowing him better than we will wish to, is a very cultured man, fluent in French.  His favorite authors are Flsubert and above all Stendhal.  He is comfortable quoting Plato and loves the music of Bach.  He becomes an officer in a unit initially scheduled in the Ukraine, charged with shooting as many Jews as possible.  Max goes into great detail about the procedural matters involved.  He does not seem to personally hate individual Jews but he totally supports the goal of eliminating all Jews.  He is gay and their are lots of depictions of sex acts.  Homosexuality was a crime carrying a possible death sentence in Nazi Germany but in Max's world everyone he encounters seems open to anal sex.  War time writers often talk of the heightened sexuality the near possibility of violent death produces and this is exemplified throughout The Kindly Ones.  Max will later play various roles in the treatment of Jews.  There was a tension in the SS between those who were primarily interested in killing Jews and those charged with producing labor for slave labor camps.  Much space is devoted to this quandary.  How much food must a Jew have to work in a factor is debated at length.

Max has as a sexual fixation on his sister, stemming from apparent childhood incest.  He is obsessed with shit.  (If seeing this term offends you, The Kindly Ones is not for you.). He goes on an on about how victims of shootings, hangings, and slave laborers are filthy from their own waste.  He also has a sexual obsession with his mother.  In following Max's rise through the ranks in the SS, I learned a lot about how things worked in Nazi Germany.  As the war dragged on defeat of Germany became inevitable, though to even suggest the possibility could get you executed.  Max's descriptions of the Allied Bombing of Berlin were brilliant, for sure he brought this to life.  

There are many side plots, minor characters, even Hitler makes an appearance, and  top Gestapo leaders play an important part in the story.  

Max as a narrator seems bent on disgusting, horrifying his readers.  I admit in one long dream sequence involving his sister which violated all rules of taste, decorum, etc I actually laughed thinking this was a bit much.  Littell very subtly shows how the long war and his terrible experiences change Max.  He has a kind of romance with a German war widow and there  is a subplot involving him as a suspect in murderring his mother and step-father which got tedious for me.

Reading this book is a powerful experience.  Many on Amazon said they could not finish it.  Some see it just as an endless obsession with shit.  I found it near compulsive reading.  I do see it as overall a magnificent work of art.  I think the length of the book is meant to mirror the length of the lived experience of the war.  As the Russians approach Berlin, Max and some of his colleagues begin to plan their own escape and cover stories.  Many horrible things are depicted.  

I am very glad I have now read The Kindly Ones.  It is an international bestseller, a literary prize winner. It is a brilliant work, perhaps it will become a classic.  

Is Max a monster or is he just another person? 



JONATHAN LITTELL was born in 1967 in New York of American parents but was raised and educated mostly in France. Previously he worked for the humanitarian agency Action contre la Faim, mainly in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He now lives in Spain.

Mel u









Thursday, September 22, 2016

Anti-Judaism The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg (2013, 464 pages)



"Anti-Judaism should not be understood as some archaic or irrational closet in the vast edifices of Western thought. It was rather one of the basic tools with which that edifice was  constructed" from Anti-Judaism The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg 



Anti-Judaism The Western Tradition by David Nirenberg is a brilliant, highly learned work that anyone interested In understanding world history, not just Jewish history,  should read.  I predict it will replace The Origins of Totalitarianism and Anti-Semitism by Hannah Arendt as the most read scholary work in the field.  

Of course anti-Judaism became a dominant force in Western culture because of the rise of Christianity as the dominant religion.  Nirenberg begins his account of the rise of anti--Judaism further back, to Egypt around 350 BCE with an alternative account of the departure of the Jews from Egypt. He cites a text from the Greek historian Heraclitus which suggests the Egyptian authorities expelled the Jews as a socially undesirable group.   He does a very detailed story of the portrayal of Jews and Jewish culture as seen in the Gospels of the New Testament.  The commonplace view on the biblical roots of antiSemiticsm arise from the attempt to place the blame for the cruxifiction of Jesus on the Jews.Nirenberg goes deeply into the ways in which Christianity defined itself as a repudiation of Jewish cultural identity.  There is very interesting chapter on the Koran.  There are very detailed chapters on medieval anti-Jewish texts,including those of Augustine.

One of the most informative  s cations of the book was on the role of the rise of the theories of Martin Luther in making anti-Jewish ideology one of the foundations of Western culture.  Luther was vehemently anti-Jewish and the spread of Lutheraism in Germania gave Kings backing for extensive special legislations restricting the economic and cultural lives of Jews.i was fascinated by his account of the relationship of Jewish money lenders to the royal authorities throughout Europe. Jews were allowed to loan money at interest, considered a sin.  The authorities then would force the Jewish money lenders to sell them the debts at big discounts.  Kings considered Jews in their fiefdoms to be their property.  

Nirenberg shows us how the historical explanations of blaming the Jews for all the troubles in the world has very ancient roots.  


Nirenberg’s thesis is that this idea of Judaism, which bears only a passing resemblance to Judaism as practiced and lived by Jews, has been at the very center of Western civilization since the beginning. From Ptolemaic Egypt to early Christianity, from the Catholic Middle Ages to the Protestant Reformation, from the Enlightenment to fascism, whenever the West has wanted to define everything it is not—when it wants to put a name to its deepest fears and aversions—Judaism has been the name that came most easily to hand. “Anti-Judaism"- from the Tablet's review of the book. 

Nirenberg intentionally does not use the commonplace expression "AntiSemiticsm".  

I was very pleased when in the closing chapters of the book Nirenberg referred to the work of Edward Said and Eric Aurerbach.  He also rebukes the central themes of Arendt who placed part of the blame for Anti-Semticism on her theory that Eastern European and Russian Jews choose to keep themselves culturally separated from Christians. 

Nirenberg's closing thesis is that Anti-Judaism has been used for two thousand years as an intellectual and historical,framework in which people could explain both what they are not and find a source for the evils of the world that exculpates themselves.  We learn from his book that any such overarching theory is really the result of a shallowly based understanding of history, a search for an easy theory to explain everything.

David Nirenberg -University of Chicago Department of History

Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor of Social Thought, Medieval History, Fundamentals, Middle East Studies, and the College; Member of the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge; Dean of the Social Sciences Division,
PhD 1992 Princeton University


I give my highest endorsement to Anti-Judaism The Western Tradition.  It is aserious academic work which  general history readers will find it fascinating.  There is much more in this book than I have mentioned.  For example I learned how even Nazi Ideology used as foundation for their warped the understanding by their alleged scholars of ancient Egyptian texts as a justification for their hatred of Jews.

Mel u





 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ernest Hemingway A Biography by Mary Dearborn (forthcoming May, 2017, 752 pages)



1899 to 1961 (USA)
Nobel Prize, 1954


Opening note- this gets my vote for worst cover image for a literary biography so far this century!

Ernest Hemingway pretty much created the prototypical American literary image of the super-macho, hard drinking, womanizing, big game hunting, bull fighting, living at the edge war correspondent writer. He did love cats! The problem for an author of a long comprehensive biographer of Hemingway is that most potential readers of such a book already know the basics of his life.  Others can get by with Wikipedia. Everything seems a build up to his death by a self inflicted shot gun blast. 

Mary Dearborn's biography is a very detailed chronology of Hemingway's life.  She spends a good bit of time explaining who the different figures in his books and stories might have been inspired by in his real life.  We learn a lot about his various marriages.  Clearly Hemingway needed the support of a woman to function.  

Hemingway is a very influential literary figure.  I personally prefer his short stories to his longer works.  Hemingway was, in my mind, a very American figure.  He liked to be surrounded by a group 
of sycophants and reacted very badly to criticism of his work.   

I am glad I read this book.  I was given a review copy.

I endorse it to well endowed libraries.  I find the price of $35.00 makes me unable to suggest others purchase this book.

Mel u


Friday, September 16, 2016

"The Story of my Dovecote" by Isaac Babel, 1925, (Translated from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk Pushkin Press)

Odessa Stories by Isaac Babel, translated and introduced by Boris Dralyuk 


I first became aware of the importance of the Russian writer Isaac Babel (1895 to 1940, Odessa) in reading the only book worth reading on the short story The Lonely Voice: A study of the Short Story by Frank O'Connor.  Now years later I do not think O'Connor was culturally equipped to place Babel in the context of Russian Jewish, especially Yiddish culture.  Sometime ago I was given a great gift by Yale University Press, their comolete set of works of Yiddish literature in translation.  In his illuminating introduction Boris Dralyuk explains the relationship between Russian as employed by the very large Jewish community in Odessa and Yiddish.   In Odessa Stories Dralyuk has assembled all of Babel's set in Odessa short stories.  Most focus on the struggles of Jews to survive in a society in which their rights were few and in which they were deeply, constantly in danger from anti-Jewish pograms. 

I decided to begin my complete reading of Odessa Stories with "The Story of My Dovecote" because Dralyuk said it very poignantly depicts the impact of anti-Jewish feelings on the life of a young Jewish man.  The father of the young man desperately wanted him to get in the top secondary school in Odessa.  The quota for Jewish students was five percent.  When he got in the whole family, but for the cautious mother, went wild celebrating.  Then his dreams are seemingly crushed when a rich merchant bribes the school so his son can be admitted and he loses his place.  I do not want to give away more of the rich plot.  Babel brings the family and the community to life.  The story does close in a crescendo of anti-Jewish violence.  

For sure I will read all of Odessa Stories, about 260 pages.   


Dralyuk has done a wonderful job editing, translating, and introducing Odessa Stories.  I offer him the thanks of the reading life world.

Be sure and look at Dralyuk's very well done webpage 



‘The Story of My Dovecote’was First published in the journal Krasnaia nov’, No. 4 (May 1925). Reprinted in the Odessa journal Shkval (Squall), No. 17 (May 1925), and in three issues of the daily Krasnaia gazeta (Red Newspaper), 18–20 May 1925.

       From Pushkin Press

Mel u

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New Ways to Kill Your Mother Writers and their Families by Colm Toibin (2012)




Colm Toibin (1953, Ireland) is one of my favorite writers of fiction.  I especially liked his novel based on the London years of Henry James, The Master and Brooklyn.  Additionally I learned a good bit from his non fiction work, Lady Gregory's Tooth Brush.  I have posted on these works and several of his short stories.  Additionally I have read several of his short pieces on Henry James. When I was notified a collection of his literary essays, Nine Ways to Kill Your Mother Writers and Their Familes was on sale as a kindle for $3.95 happily made the purchase. 

Among the Irish writers covered are Yeats, Synge, Joyce, Beckett, Sebastian Barry, Roddy Doyle and Hugo Hamilton.  There is very interesting chapters on Jane Austin and Henry James on the importance of aunts.  Conflicts brought on by the difficulties their families had accepting their sexuality feature Hart Crane,Tennessee Williams and Thomas Mann.  There are two chapters devoted to James Baldwin.  Borges and John Cheever are also featured.

I learned something from each of the essays.  The chapter on Synge and Yeats will reshape my vision of Irish literature.

I  much enjoyed this book and endorse it too all interested  in the subject matter.  The families of writers have many of the same issues non literary families have which gives the book greater interest.

Mel u