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, August 22, 2016

"The Other Kingdom" - A Short Story by E. M. Forster (1911, included in The Celestial Omnibus and other stories)

"For life is practically a battle. To all intents and purposes a battle. Except for a few lucky fellows who can read books, and so avoid the realities." From "The Other Kingdom" 

Author of Passage to India, Howard's End, Notes on the Novel and numerous other works

I recently reread one of my favorite short stories, "The Celestial Omnibus".  I think it contains deep wisdom about the rewards and pains of a reading life and I hope to keep periodically returning to it until I feel I am ready to take my own celestial omnibus, return tickets are available but not required.  

There are lots of blog posts about Forster's novels, I have posted on several of them, but few seem to read his short stories.  Of course this is in part due to the sad fact that few read short stories and fewer read 150 year old ones.

I decided to read "The Other Kingdom" today because it comes right after "A Celestial Omnibus" in the collection. I started it then and decided to come back to it.  As "The Other Kingdom" opens the young Irish bride of an upperclass Englishman is receiving  tutoring in Latin.  Her husband wants to educate her.  I was pondering the meaning of the title, I did a Google search, perhaps it has a meaning in classical Roman literature I do no get or maybe it refers to Ireland.  The woman is esthetic when her husband gives her a wood of her very own.  The story takes a treacherous turn and I will not spoil it.  I think what I liked best about the story were the conversations about the value of studying the classics.

I will be, I hope, reading more of his short stories.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Wilfred Owen Complete Works (published by Delphi Classics)

"the war poets were the true poetic heirs to this epic grief. I think of a grief so terrible it will always need voicing, so terrifying it will always seek expression, so primitive it will always throw itself back to an original source. And the language of this grief is formalized as poetry." Edmund Hirsch from How to Read A Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry

Wilfred Owen was born at Oswestry on 18th March
1893. He was educated at the Birkenhead Institute, and matriculated at London University in 1910. . . In 1915, in spite of delicate health, he joined the Artists’ Rifles O.T.C., was gazetted to the Manchester Regiment, and served with their 2nd Battalion in France from December 1916 to June 1917, when he was invalided home. Fourteen months later he returned to the Western Front and served with the same Battalion, ultimately commanding a Company. He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry while taking part in some heavy fighting on 1st October. He was killed on 4th November 1918, while endeavouring to get his men across the Sambre Canal..  From Siegfried Sassoon 


War broke: and now the Winter of the world
With perishing great darkness closes in.
The foul tornado, centred at Berlin,
Is over all the width of Europe whirled,
Rending the sails of progress. Rent or furled
Are all Art's ensigns. Verse wails. Now begin
Famines of thought and feeling. Love's wine's thin.
The grain of human Autumn rots, down-hurled.

For after Spring had bloomed in early Greece,
And Summer blazed her glory out with Rome,
An Autumn softly fell, a harvest home,
A slow grand age, and rich with all increase.
But now, for us, wild Winter, and the need
Of sowings for new Spring, and blood for seed  - Wilfred Owen

Recently I read what might be the best book on the art of reading I have yet read,  How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry by Edward Hirsch.  (What he says can be largely applied to fiction also).  One of the poets he speaks most reverentially about is the English World War One poet, Wilfred Owen.  He sees Owen as a poet in the Homeric tradition.  As I read his poems on life and death in the trenches in France I could not help but imagine Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, and Paris listening to a bard recite Owen in silent awe.  I was very happy to see Delphi Classics has an E Books of his complete works, including an extensive correspondence, available for $0.99.

As I said in my post on Elizabeth Bishop I do not have the technical tools to generalize about poetry collections.  His poems about the war, the senseless slaughter of millions of men I felt an oceanic feeling, a sense this is what poetry is about.  His more conventional poems are lovely, he was killed at age twenty five, blocked from developing his full powers. 

There is great beauty in this image

Where his poetry was inspired

His birth place

Wilfred Owen was classically educated, a lover of poetry.  You can see that and his love for the common "Tommie" fighting for his king in a completely absurd incredibly wasteful war.

Mel u

"In Another Country" by David Constantine (2013 Frank O'Connor Prize Winner) - A Note on My Short Story Reading Goals

"Surely to God it wasn’t much to ask, that you get through to the end and looking back you don’t fill with horror and disappointment and hopeless wishful thinking?" - from "In Another Country" 

I just read yesterday a 1996 Paris Review interview with the fabulous Mavis Gallant in which she said collections of short stories by one author should not be read straight through as a novel but savored slowly.  I know she is right but I find it hard to resist the urge to read through a collection when it is by an author as wonderful as Gallant or David Constantine. 

"In Another Country", the title story in the very generous collection of his works, is the fourth story by Constantine which I have read and now posted upon.  This story centers on a couple mRried fifty years. The husband, eighty, is suffering from cognitive decline and we see how this distresses his wife. As the story opens they are talking about the discovery of the body of a young woman, frozen in the glaziers of Switzerland. We slowly learn the man and discovered woman had a romance when he was twenty.  They fled then Nazi Germany hoping to settle in Switzerland.  She dies on the way.  With the discovery of her body old long dormant wounds are opened.  The man, even though he clearly has no ability to do so, feels compelled to claim her body as next of kin.  She was pregnant when she died.  The couple had no children.

This is a beautiful if heartbreaking story about growing old, about a very long marriage.  I will remember it I hope for a long time. 

Future short story reading plans

As of today I have 163 short story books on my E reader, thousands of stories.  Most of these books I have been given.  Right now I am reading more or less straight through, contrary to Mavis Gallant's advise, a collection of her stories and one of forty stories by Anne Beattie.  I will mostly journalize my reading experience.  Other than posts on Indian and Filipino short stories, short story posts draw little readership.


David Constantine

Born in Salford in 1944, David Constantine worked for thirty years as a university teacher of German language and literature. He has published several volumes of poetry, most recently, Nine Fathom Deep (2009). He is a translator of Hölderlin, Brecht, Goethe, Kleist, Michaux and Jaccottet. In 2003 his translation of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s Lighter than Air won the Corneliu M Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation. His translation of Goethe’s Faust, Part I was published by Penguin in 2005; Part II in April 2009. 

David's four short story collections are Back at the Spike, the highly acclaimed Under the Dam (Comma, 2005), The Shieling (Comma, 2009), which was shortlisted for the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and Tea at the Midland (Comma 2012). Constantine’s story ‘Tea at the Midland’ won the BBC National Short Story Award 2010, and the collection as a whole won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award in 2013. 

He lives in Oxford where, for ten years, he edited Modern Poetry in Translation with his wife Helen (until 2011). David's short story 'In Another Country' has been adapted into '45 Years' - a major film, directed by Andrew Haigh and starring Tom Courtenay & Charlotte Rampling. This film won two silver bear awards at the Berlin Film Festival, the Michael Powell Best British Film at Edinburgh, and the WFTV award for Best Performance (for Rampling)... It has also been nominated for nine international others....   (From Comma Publishing)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Poems by Elizabeth Bishop (2011)

I recently read one of the most inspirational books about the art of reading I have ever encountered, How to Read A Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch.  He devoted a lot of space and greatly admired the work of an American poet, Elizabeth Bishop.  Based on the poems he quotes and talks about I decided to read a complete edition of her work, Poems.  It includes work from 1934 up until her final year, 1979.  I felt a kinship with Bishop through our mutual admiration of the great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.  Bishop also loved Brazil and I knew a number of poems centering on Brazil were in the collection.  

I do not possess the tools to write a post on a poetry collection.  I loved many of the poems but not all. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

The School Days of Jesus by J. M. Coetzee (forthcoming 2016)

Long Listed for the 2016 Booker Prize

The Schooldays of Jesus by J. M. Coetzee is a sequel to The Childhood of Jesus, which I have not yet read.  The Schooldays of Jesus is set in a Spanish speaking country, probably in the 1930s.  The only book mentioned is Don Quixote and there is political unrest similar to that of the period of the Spanish Civil War.  My reading of the book was very much influenced by the title, I wondered if we were seeing in the life of the young man David an allegory of the missing years of the historical Jesus.

David is maybe seven  when the story begins, he is being taken care of by a couple, not his bilogical parents who are on the reasons we never quite understand running from the authorities.  The couple ends up working as farm laborers on an establishment owned by three sisters.  David enjoys the freedom of the field, often in the company of his dog Bolivar. (I just now wondered if this could be an allusion to the great liberator, putting another twist on the allegory.). The three sisters agree to sponser the schooling of David at an academy that primarily teaches dance but also deals in numerological matters.

The boy gradually learns things about life, the adult world.  The couple, whose bond never seemed strong, drift apart.  The woman starts working at a shop, the man begins to deliver advertising leaflets.

There are several interesting plot developments.  There is much to think about.  

I was kindly given a review copy of this book.  I found it fascinating and am very glad I had the opportunity to read The School Days of Jesus.

J.M. Coetzee's work includes Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Foe, and Slow Man, among others. He has been awarded many prizes, including the Booker Prize (twice). In 2003, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Mel u

Monday, August 8, 2016

"Waters of the World" by Clarice Lispector. ( From The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lispector. (2015)

"Waters of the World" can be read in translation here

Most of the press reviews of The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson, edited-and introduced by Benjamin Moser, 2015) say the stories can be seen as an account of the life of a woman, from her early twenties down to her ending years.  Much is made of the once stunning beauty of Clarice.  If someone speaks only this in talking of the stories collectively it tells me they no doubt only read a few of the 85 stories.  My main purpose in posting on "The Waters of the World" is to let my readers know the great translator Katrina Dodson has kindly placed this story online.

This is as good a short story as I have yet read about the primal power of the sea.  One of the deeper themes in Lispector is the ability of the strength of raw nature to bring us a sense of near cosmic connection with our atavistic nature. 

"And now she steps onto the sand. She knows she is glistening with water, and salt and sun. Even if she forgets a few minutes from now, she can never lose all this. And she knows in some obscure way that her streaming hair is from a castaway. Because she knows—she knows she has created a danger. A danger as ancient as the human being."

Mel u

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh (2001. 598 pages)

My thanks to Max u for the provision of an Amazon Gift Card which allowed me to acquire this book. 

A few years ago I read, really liked and posted upon  the first two installments of Amitav Ghosh's Ibis Trilogy, The Sea of Poppies and The River of Smoke.  The final book in the trilogy Flood of Fire  came out earlier this year.  I want to read it for sure but I will wait until the price drops from $14.95, which is too high for an E Book of a novel.

I did not really have any plans concerning reading more of the works of Ghosh until I received notice that his set in Burma historical novel, The Glass Palace,  covering the period around 1890 to 1990 was temporarily marked down from $11.95 to $1.95.  I like historical fiction set in South and South East Asia and I felt this would be a good book so I acquired it.  I was right.  It certainly was.

The book reminded me of the just published masterwork by Anne Proux, Barkskin in that it is very much about the logging industry, in this case Burmese teak, and is a multi-generational family saga.  As the story opens, our lead character is a deck hand on a riverboat.  The boat is badly damaged and the young man, maybe fiveteen, is told to go ashore and find work for the thirty days it takes to repair the boat.  He is an Indian, looked down upon by many Burmese and is directed to a food shop of an Indian lady who hires him and gives him a place to live.  He decides to stay on and he meets a man who will change his life and play a big role in his future.  He will become the father he never had. 

There is a lot of very interesting material in The Glass Palace about the teak logging industry.  In one fascinating and quite gruesome section we learn how anthrax impacts and ultimately kills elephants. Moving the huge logs down river is hard dangerous work.  

We learn a good bit about the Burmese royal family, displaced by the British and sent into exhile in India when the British take over.  

India soldiers serving in the British army play a big role in the story.  Indians see this as a mark of family honor but the Burmese see them as contemible slaves set to be kill for the English.

There are a lot of personal entanglements and romances in the novel, sometimes they worked, sometimes they did not.

The segments involving war against the Japanese were very exciting.  

If you like first rate historical fiction, especially set in the Indian Subcontinent, then I 
 endorse this book.especially if you can get it for $1.95.  

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He studied in Delhi, Oxford and Alexandria and is the author of The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique LandDancing in CambodiaThe Calcutta ChromosomeThe Glass PalaceThe Hungry Tide, and the first two volumes of The Ibis TrilogySea of Poppies, and River of Smoke.

The Circle of Reason was awarded France’s Prix Médicis in 1990, and The Shadow Lines won two prestigious Indian prizes the same year, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar. The Calcutta Chromosome won the Arthur C. Clarke award for 1997 and The Glass Palace won the International e-Book Award at the Frankfurt book fair in 2001. In January 2005 The Hungry Tide was awarded the Crossword Book Prize, a major Indian award. His novel, Sea of Poppies (2008) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, 2008 and was awarded the Crossword Book Prize and the India Plaza Golden Quill Award. 

Amitav Ghosh’s work has been translated into more than twenty languages and he has served on the Jury of the Locarno Film Festival (Switzerland) and the Venice Film Festival (2001). Amitav Ghosh’s essays have been published in The New YorkerThe New Republic and The New York Times. His essays have been published by Penguin India (The Imam and the Indian) and Houghton Mifflin USA (Incendiary Circumstances). He has taught in many universities in India and the USA, including Delhi University, Columbia, Queens College and Harvard.  In January 2007 he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest honours, by the President of India. In 2010, Amitav Ghosh was awarded honorary doctorates by Queens College, New York, and the Sorbonne, Paris. Along with Margaret Atwood, he was also a joint winner of a Dan David Award for 2010. In 2011 he was awarded the International Grand Prix of the Blue Metropolis Festival in Montreal.   From 

Mel u