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, 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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Leonora Carrington and Katherine Mansfield -- Two Fly Centered Short Stories

A link to "Mr Gregory's Fly"

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

I first began reading the short stories of Katherine Mansfield almost eight years ago, I read my first work by Leonora Carrington eight days ago.  I recently completed (post coming soon) a very illuminating and valuable work on Mansfield by Gerri Kimber, Katherine Mansfield The Early Years which has inspired me to reread her stories.  The centenary observation of the birth of Carrington has stimulated renewed interest in her stories (she is most famous for her Surrealistic art).  Two editions of her stories have just been published as well as a biography by Joanne Moorhead, The Surrealistic Life of Leonora Carrington, which I hope to post upon next month.  The NYRB has just brought back into print Carrington's memoir of her mental breakdown, Down Below with a very informative introduction by Marina Warner.  I have been able to locate eight of Carrington's stories online and will post on all of them individually just as I did with Mansfield.  My quick research indicates that several of Carrington's works are out of print but hopefully renewed interest will bring them back into print.  You can view, and I think you will be fascinated as I was, many of her paintings online.  

I don't yet know if Carrington read Mansfield's short stories or not but for sure there are significant Life similarities worth remarking upon.  Both came from wealthy families, Carrington's father was a wealthy industrialist, Mansfield's was Chairman of the Bank of New Zealand.  Both women had serious  issues dealing with dominating fathers with little sympathy for their artistic interests.

Both left their home countries at an early age, never to live there again.  Both began to seriously pursue their passions only after becoming an exile.  Both drew inspiration for their work from their adolescent angst, it shines through in the first story I posted on by Carrington, "The Debutante".  Both had an interest in the Occult, Carrington's the stronger.  Both were drawn to "Guru" type men.  

After reading  Carrington's "Mr Gregory's Fly" I decided to reread a Mansfield story I read eight years ago, "The Fly".  I was happy to see I could recall almost all the story.  The first time I read it I was doing a "read through" of Mansfield's stories, about eight core works.  I wanted to see if I would still love it after eight years of reading short stories.  I found the story deeply moving for the  portrayal of the grief of two old men, both from England, one was once the other's boss, who talk over their mutual loss of a son during WW One (Mansfield's beloved brother was killed in the war).  One of the men is now retired, he has had a stroke and his wife and daughters supervise him closely.  On Tuesdays he is allowed to go out on his own and he often goes to visit his former boss at his office.  You can see both men are normally emotionally reserved but the conversation about their lost sons causes the boss to breakdown.  When left alone he notices a fly has gotten some ink on his wings (people used fountain pins and inkwells in 1922).  He watches the fly try to dry his wings.  I don't want to impair the first time experience of new readers on this story so I will tell no more of the plot.  In the fate of the fly the man seems to see the fate of his son, on another level the man takes on the role of the cruel Gods that took his son from him, that took all meaning from his life accumulating business which he intended to pass to his son.  The close is open to numerous views and I am sure this would be a very good classroom story for advanced students. 

"Mr Gregory's Fly" is a surrealistic story, very different from "The Fly".  Gloria Orenstein in her introduction to the 1975 collection of six of Her says

"Leonora Carrington's express the system of being through occult parables whose true meaning becomes accessible to those initiated into the specific form of symbolism that a work displays. The symbols are emblems derived from a deep knowledge of alchemy, Cabala, Magic, the Tarot, witchcraft and mythology".

I have issues with the notion of short stories having "a true meaning" but this is an illuminating remark.  Long long ago I was quite into the occult, I studied various system of Magik.  I know Katherine Mansfield had some acquaintance with occult theories on the order of those expounded by The Order of the Golden Dawn but I did not recall any specific occult symbolism about flys.  I did a Google search and did not find any big revelations so I decided just to enjoy "Mr Gregory's Fly" as fun very brief surrealistic story poking fun at a pretentious business man. 

"Once there was a man with a big black moustache. His name was Mr. Gregory (the man and the moustache had the same name). Since his youth Mr. Gregory was bothered by a fly that used to enter his mouth when he spoke, and when somebody spoke to him, the fly would fly out of his ear. “This fly annoys me,” said Mr. Gregory to his wife, and she answered, “I understand, and it looks ugly. You ought to consult a doctor.” However no doctor was able to cure Mr. Gregory of his fly. Although he went to see several doctors, they always said that they had never heard of this disease. One day Mr. Gregory went to see another doctor, but he got the wrong address and by mistake went to see a midwife. She was a wise woman and she knew a lot of other things besides childbirthing."

This captures well the flavor of the prose.  The wise woman says she can get rid of the fly but the man must give her three quarters of his assets to her.  He agrees knowing he actually owns little or nothing.  He follows her suggestion, the fly is gone but there is a side effect:

"Later Mr. Gregory took the pills in the tea made of little drops of mustard in noodle water, according to the instructions of the wise woman. Next day the fly had totally disappeared, but Mr. Gregory had become navy blue with red zip fasteners over his orifices. “It’s worse than the fly,” said his wife, but Mr. Gregory didn’t say much because he knew that he had cheated the wise woman. I deserved it, he thought. If I only had that little fly again, I’d be happy. But he was still navy blue with red zip fasteners and stayed like that till the end of his days, and this was very ugly, especially when he was naked in his bath."

To me "Mr Gregory's Fly" is and was meant to be fun but I don't doubt there are deeper meanings.

Mel u

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Two Yiddish Short Stories by Joseph Opatoshu (Aka Yousef or Yosef) author of The Romance of a Horse Thief

Yousef Opatoshu, 1986, born in Miana Poland, moved to New York City, 1907, died in New York City 1954, (aka Yosef, Americanized pen  name Joseph) did not begin writing Yiddish prior to immigrating to New York City.  There are two very interesting short stories, about Eastern European Jews in America, included in the necessary anthology Jewish Literature in America.  My one small issue with this huge collection (815 works) is that no first publication dates are given for the works.  Some I can find via a Google search, some, like these two, I have guessed.

"Judaism" (1919?) is a story of a Rabbi's abuse of a young Christian woman who has come to him to be converted.  She wants to marry a rich young a Jewish man.  The Rabbi asks her how her family feels about this and she says they love her fiancé.
He subjects her to a much more lengthy and demanding course of study than normal.  He is tired of being the lackey of his rich congregation and is taking it out on her.

"The rabbi’s Sabbath had been disturbed. Why did he take such pride in following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, when in reality he was a lowly slave who did whatever the wealthy Bizhorn told him to? Abulafia took revenge. He saw to it that the lessons with Helen would be a living Hell for the girl. Right away, at the first lesson, the rabbi threw up a mountain of difficulties."

"President Smith" (1923?) is set in Chicago. Just as have other immigrant groups, people from the same area in Poland would tend to live in the same area in America, relatives and friends helping each other.  The Synagogue was the heart of the community.  This is the story a Rabbi, who when just a young man and already a Rabbi, moved to New York City where most of his congregation landed in Chicago.  Forty years has long by and he is come to visit them in Chicago.  The President of the Synagogue is Mr. Smith. He changed his name and most of his cultural trappings as he over many years has become rich.  The story is kind of about President Smith's acknowledging his cultural roots.  In just a few pages Opatoshu brings a lot of the Yiddish immigrant experience to life.

"It was the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah. The New York-to-Chicago express train raced in like a demon, whistling and gasping. Passengers started tumbling out of the cars. Some moved to the exit and others just stood there. From the last car, Reb Yosl the cantor emerged. He was a tall man with a long black beard that was turning gray at the edges, and he was wearing a rabbi’s hat. He had come to pray with his fellow townsmen, the people of Mlave, on the High Holy Days. Reb Yosl put down the valise he had been holding in his hand and started looking around, looking for the delegation from the Anshey Mlave synagogue". From "President Smith"

Joseph Opatoshu

Yiddish Literature on The Reading Life

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dawn by Olivia Butler (1987, Part One of The Lilith's Blood Trilogy)

Olivia Butler 1947 to 2006, multi-awarded American Science Fiction Writer

Dawn is part one of Olivia Butler's Lilith's  Blood Trilogy.  I have previously read her Bloodchild and Kindred.  It is my hope to read all of her fiction available as Kindles.

Dawn begins on a vast space ship, itself a living being.  Around 250 years ago America and Russia had a nuclear war which left the earth virtually uninhabitable.  The aliens aboard the ship, the Oankali, removed the survivors and have placed them in deep sleep.  They are planning to return them to earth after they are trained in survival skills.  The Oankali are very strange, to the humans, multitentacled beings.  Lilith, who is African American in origin, is being kept in a room with an alien when we meet her.

The best thing, and it is very well done, about Dawn, is the conceptual ideas, the creation of the aliens, who have been on the ship so long they do not know for sure where there home world is located.  The weakest aspect of the novel, and I found this pretty wanting, was the relationships that develop between the wakened humans as the aliens prepare to return them to the earth, in a jungle environment.

I enjoyed this book.  It falls short of greatness but the overall idea behind it was super interesting.  I have begun part two, Adulthood Rituals.  I bought the trilogy on Amazon for $2.95.