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, August 17, 2017

"COVERT JOY (“ FELICIDADE CLANDESTINA”) - A Short Story by Clarice Lispector (1971, translated from Portuguese)



The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lispector, translated from Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (2015) is one of the great translation projects of the 21th century.  I was kindly given a review copy of this work a few months prior to publication. As I read through it in amazement I knew this book would capture the hearts of all lovers of the short story.  Benjamin Moser in his very well done introduction warns us that the work of Clarice Lispector can be like witchcraft craft to those vulnerable to her spell.  I admit to being captivated.  I proudly put her image on my blog sidebar long ago.  Anyone interested in her will surely do a Google search.  They will learn her family, she was very young, left her native Ukraine to move to north eastern Brazil, where many Jews had relocated, to escape vicious anti-Semitic pograms.  They spoke no Portuguese on but Clarice became the greatest of all Brazilian writers.  Sadly as I read this I thought few countries today, including America, would welcome a poor family of five from the Ukraine as new citizens.  



I could not let Women in Translation Month pass without including a post upon a short story by Clarice.  I have read all of her stories at least twice, and am slowly reading them  again and hopefully will eventually post on all 85 stories.  I found a short story perfect for the primary theme of my blog, literary works about people who lead reading centered lives.  


"Covert Joy" centers on a young girl living in Recife, where Clarice grew up.  She loves books totally.  There is a rich girl, a cruel bully girl, who lords it over her poorer but much better looking fellow students.  The narrator can afford to buy books so the bully girl keeps telling her to come to her house and she will loan her a book.  For days on end she makes the girl come back, always with an excuse why there is no book for her today.   Finally the bully's mother intervenes and give the girl a book.  The girl is overwhelmed with joy.  You have to love the close of the story:

"Hours later I opened it, read a few wondrous lines, closed it again, wandered around the house, stalled even more by eating some bread and butter, pretended not to know where I had put the book, found it, opened it for a few seconds. I kept inventing the most contrived obstacles for that covert thing that was joy. Joy would always be covert for me. I must have already sensed it. Oh how I took my time! I was living in the clouds . . . There was pride and shame inside me. I was a delicate queen. Sometimes I’d sit in the hammock, swinging with the book open on my lap, not touching it, in the purest ecstasy. I was no longer a girl with a book: I was a woman with her lover."


I highly recommend Why This World:A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser.

Mel u


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"Slight a Rebellion of Madison" - A Short Story by J. D. Salinger (first published, December 21, 1946 in The New Yorker)


Born- New York City - January 1, 1919

Catcher in the Rye Published - 1951 - estimated sales 65,000,000

Died- Concord, New Hampshire- January 27, 2010

"Slight Rebellion of Madison" became the basis for Catcher in the Rye.  A modified version of the story appears as chapter 17.  The central character is, of course, Holden Caulfield, he is out of the prep school he hates and back in New York City, trying to hook up with Sally.  I read Catcher in the Rye about fifty years ago.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I could recall, especially the unique style of Salinger.

I read this in an anthology I was kindly given by The New Yorker, Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker.

Mel u





Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1812)





Pride and Prejudice (1812) by Jane Austen is one of the most popular novels ever written.  It is on every list of best 100 novels of all time.  I last read it about forty years ago.  I am not sure what motivated me to read it again now.  Maybe I was a desire to have the greatest writers in the world represented on The Reading Life.  

I will just keep my post short.  The plot line focuses on Elizabeth Bennet, one of five daughters of Mr and Mrs Bennet.  All are of marriageable age without when we meet them suitors.  The Bennet's family income is derived from his property but they have a big legal problem.  The estate is entailed, meaning it can be inherited only by a male descendent.  As of now a distant male cousin is inline to inherit the estate, he can turn everyone out if he wishes.  So the plot turns around a search for a husband rich enough to provide for the family for at least one of the girls.  

I throughly enjoyed rereading Pride and Prejudice.  I like the ironic tone of Austen, her subtle observations and her acute character developments.

I have begun rereading Emma, I work I read about ten years ago.  I decided to read it next as there is an entire chapter in The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne Booth devoted to the narrative method in Emma and I will reread this chapter after completing Emma.


Mel u

"It's All Up to You" - A Short Story by Sylwia Chutnik (translated from Polish by Jennifer Craft, 2012)






Short stories I have read so far for Women In Translation Month - August, 2017

  1. "Happy New Year" by Ajaat Cour - Translated from Punjabi
  2. "The Floating Forest" by Natsuo Kirino- Translated from Japanese
  3. " A Home Near the Sea" by Kamala Das - Translated from Malayalam
  4. "Maria" by Dacia Maraini- Translated from Italian
  5. "Zletka" by Maja Hrgovic - Translated from Croatian
  6. "Arshingar" by Jharna Raham - Translated from Bengali
  7. "Tsipke" by Salomea Perl - Translated from Yiddish
  8. "Mother" by Urmilaw Pawar - Translated from Marathi
  9. "My Creator, My Creation" by Tiina Raevaara - Translated from Finnish
  10. "Cast Offs" by Wajida Tabassum - Translated from Urdu
  11. It's All Up to You" by Slywia Chutnik - Translated from Polish

Imagine you are out of work, you are at an office, talking to a woman in personal about working there, an advertising agency.  The woman, the narrator calls her a girl, is just to perfect for words, disgustingly cute, double majored in college, speaks four languages, drives the men wild when she goes out on the town.  The narrator tries to fight her jealousy, her feelings of inferiority but they just keep getting worse.

These darkly hilarious lines show just how the narrator feels about everything:

"What a sweet little bear, that’s fantastic. Even her toys are awesome, and people like her never sweat, and they don’t ever have any problems with their digestive systems. And they don’t go into the pharmacy and ask for Lactovaginal in a hushed voice. “What?” “Lactovaginal.” “Vaginal discharge?” shrieks the lady at the counter. God, yes, vaginal discharge......something down on a piece of paper. She’s already taken her course on how to conduct interviews, which was connected with her Reiki II foot massage and her advanced German classes. She knows what to say. And if ever she doesn’t know, she laughs. I don’t know anything, and I’m traveling around the carpeting by chair. Weee’ll letyouknow. Great. Another job I’m not getting. I turn and look back at the babe through the glass that separates the swells from the plebs, enclosed in their plastic boxes. I feel a terrible hatred, I feel the injustice of it, I feel the shame of it. A woman in a dress suit walks past me and gives my shoulder a friendly clap. “Don’t cry, they might still take you as a cleaning lady—they’re holding the next interviews in a week.” "

As a bit of time goes by, things take a serious turn for the worse.   She is hit by a street car and one of her legs is shattered. She has to take work handing out leaflets for a cosmetic company.  Just when she feels things cannot get worse, the woman from the place that rejected her job application, trying not to look at and certainly not recalling her, takes a leaflet and contemptuously throws it in the trash.

I read this story in Best European Fiction 2013, the entire nine volume series is a goldmine of work suited for Women in Translation Month.

Mel u


Monday, August 14, 2017

"Cast Offs" - A Short Story by Wajida Tabassum (1969, translated from Urdu)




Short stories I have read so far for Women In Translation Month - August, 2017

1.  "Happy New Year" by Ajaat Cour - Translated from Punjabi
2. "The Floating Forest" by Natsuo Kirino- Translated from Japanese
3. " A Home Near the Sea" by Kamala Das - Translated from Malayalam
4. "Maria" by Dacia Maraini- Translated from Italian
5. "Zletka" by Maja Hrgovic - Translated from Croatian
6. "Arshingar" by Jharna Raham - Translated from Bengali
7. "Tsipke" by Salomea Perl - Translated from Yiddish
8. "Mother" by Urmilaw Pawar - Translated from Marathi
9. "My Creator, My Creation" by Tiina Raevaara - Translated from Finnish
10. "Cast Offs" by Wajida Tabassum - Translated from Urdu

This morning's story "Cast Offs" by Wajida Tabassum was written originally in Urdu. Urdu is spoken by about 150,000,000 million people, in eastern central India and Pakistan.  It is linguistically a form of Hindustani.

Much of Tabassum's work centers on family life in the Hyderabad area.  My quick research indicates "Cast Offs" is her most famous story.  As the story opens the very spoiled seven year old daughter of a wealthy family is being given a bath.  She orders the daughter of the servant woman in charge of her bath to disrobe and get in the tub with her.  Both are seven.  After they get out of the tub the two girls argue over what clothes the servant girl will wear, her clothes are near rags and she resents and does not really understand why she must wear only the other girl's cast off clothes. Her mother fears if her mistress hears of her daughter's attitude they will be thrown out of the house.  Here is the account from the story:

"‘Pasha, I thought … if you and I exchanged dupattas and became sisters then I too could wear your clothes.’ ‘My clothes? You mean all those clothes lying in my trunks?’ Chamki nodded hesitantly, feeling apprehensive. Shahzadi Pasha doubled up with laughter. ‘Oh, no! What a silly girl! You are a servant. You people only wear my cast-offs. All your life you will wear nothing but that.’ Then, with great care, born more out of pride than kindness, Shahzadi picked up the clothes she had taken off before her bath and tossed them at Chamki. ‘Here! Wear these. I have many others.’ Chamki flared up. ‘Why should I? Why don’t you wear my clothes?’ She pointed at the filthy pile lying in a heap. Shahzadi hissed with anger."

The mother was hired when the wealthy girl was a baby, as her wet nurse and she has stayed on since then.  She is grateful for her position and tries to get her daughter to feel the same way.  As the girls turn thirteen the mistress of the house locates a wealthy groom for her daughter and is so kind as to find one for the servant girl also.  The wealthy girl tells the other that all her cast off clothes will be her dowry.  Years of suppressed anger rise up in the servant girl.  She hatches a plot for revenge.  Just before the wedding she enters the quarters of the groom, at the family's house for the wedding.  She seduces him.  Now she laughed to herself that for the rest of her life the wealthy girl will be stuck with her cast off.

When this story was originally published in 1977 it was denounced because many felt the attitude displayed was inappropriate for Muslim women.  Since publication it has been translated into eight languages and made the basis for a popular 1988 Soap Opera.


WAJIDA TABASSUM was born and brought up in Amravati, Hyderabad. She is author of twenty-seven books of fiction and poetry. Several of her stories have been translated into other languages and some have been made into films. Wajida Tabassum writes in Urdu.  She was born in 1935, and died in 2011.  "Cast Offs" was the basis for a popular 1988 Indian soap opera.  Movies were made of her novels.  Commercial she was very successful.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Ladies' Lending Library by Janice Kulyk Keefer (2007, 355 pages)





Ladies' Lending Library by Janice Kulyk is set in 1963, amongst first and second Generation Ukrainian emigrants to Canada, at their summer homes on a beach about six hours from Toronto, where the husbands of the families in the story work.  Sometime ago an enterprising Ukrainian real estate agent bought a stretch of beach land, on Lake Huron.  He then sold lots to members of the Toronto Ukrainian community, who built summer houses where the wives and children would go for eight weeks in the summer.  Being able to afford this meant you were a success in Canada.  We see the struggles of the first generation to fit in and raise their families while their kids have little sense of being anything but Canadian.

One of the mothers lives in a mansion with servants, the other women work very hard doing laundry, cooking watching over their developing teenage daughters.  Their husbands come on week ends.  They pretty much have repair jobs on the houses every weekend.  In 1963 the movie Cleopatra starting Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had just been released.  Everybody, especially the girls, is very into the off screen Romance of the stars.  The girls are obsessed with Elizabeth Taylor's breasts.  In one hilarious scene they conspire to see nude a girl with very large breasts, when that does not quite work out, they steal her bra and take turns trying it on.  

The teenagers are pretty much totally Canadian, their parents try to hang on to their Ukrainian heritage.  In one side plot we learn the tragic story of a sister who had to be left behind in the Ukraine.  After an eight year gap, she rejoined her family in the Ukraine.  There is also the daughter of a family friend, being kept away from the big city as she is growing up way to fast, at sixteen they fear she will disrupt the community.  In a very sad scene, when she loses her virginity, she thinks she can prevent pregnancy by washing up with coke a cola.  

I really enjoyed the narrative methods of Keefer, keeping multiple interacted story lines going.  The characters are very well developed.  We get an excellent feeling for the generational gaps between first and second generation emigrants.  The title of the book comes from the books the ladies read and exchange. The prose is beautiful, the characters are interesting and well individuated.  

I very much enjoyed The Ladies' Lending Library.  This is my first venture into her work and I am certainly interested in reading more of her work

JANICE KULYK KEEFER is a bestselling Canadian author widely admired for her novels, short story collections, poetry, and nonfiction. She has been twice nominated for the Governor General’s Award and is a recipient of the Marian Engel Award, the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry, two first prizes from the CBC Radio Literary Competition, and several National Magazine Awards. The Ladies’ Lending Library is her fifth novel to date and the first to be published in the United States in more than fifteen years. She lives in Toronto.

Mel u

"My Creator, My Creation" - A Short Story by Tilna Raevaara (2012, translated from Finnish)





Short stories I have read so far for Women In Translation Month - August, 2017

1.  "Happy New Year" by Ajaat Cour - Translated from Punjabi
2. "The Floating Forest" by Natsuo Kirino- Translated from Japanese
3. " A Home Near the Sea" by Kamala Das - Translated from Malayalam
4. "Maria" by Dacia Maraini- Translated from Italian
5. "Zletka" by Maja Hrgovic - Translated from Croatian
6. "Arshingar" by Jharna Raham - Translated from Bengali
7. "Tsipke" by Salomea Perl - Translated from Yiddish
8. "Mother" by Urmilaw Pawar - Translated from Marathi
9. "My Creator, My Creation" by Tiina Raevaara - Translated from Finnish

"My Creator, My Creation" by Tiina Raevaara is a strange story belonging, I think, to the science fiction genre.  The narrator is a self conscious robotic creation, part sex doll, house hold drone.  As the story opens it is not totally clear what is happening but it looks like her male creator is having some kind of sexual contact with the narrator.  She, I will call her that, is not sure what is happening but it seems like maybe he orgasmed while caressing her.  Yes pretty creepy. He is a member of a group that creates, exhibits, trades and sells automatons of all sorts.  The man, seems your stereotype of a scientific nerd sitting around drinking some days, hanging with others into robots on other days.  He teaches her to read, telling her this will make her more valuable.  She begins to have waking dreams.  He takes her to a big exhibit of creations.  He has friends over to admire her.  It appears they also may sexually be stimulated by contact with her.  She doesn't yet understand sex so as we are seeing things through her eyes we must speculate.  Her creator is short of money so as the story closes he tells her she has been sold.

I think this story might be good for classroom discussion for older teenagers.

I read this story in best Best European Fiction, 2013.  Began in 2010, the series is now in year nine.  I have the 2012, 2013, and 2015 editions.  Judging from these three books, about 33% of the  authors translated are women.


TIINA RAEVAARA was born in 1979 in Kerava, Finland. In 2005 she received her doctorate in genetics from the University of Helsinki. Her first novel, Eräänä päivänä tyhjä taivas (One Day, an Empty Sky) was published in 2008. Her first collection of short stories, En tunne sinua vierelläni (I Don’t Feel You Beside Me, 2010) won the prestigious Runeberg prize. Her most recently work is a scientific exploration of the relationship between dogs and humans Koiraksi ihmisille (About Dogs and Humans, 2011). Her fiction, which draws on elements of science fiction, fantasy, and surrealism, stands apart from the largely realistic mainstream of contemporary Finnish literature. - From The Best of European Fiction, 2013

Mel u