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, May 25, 2017

The Passion According to G. H. by Clarice Lispector - translated by Idra Novey






"What matters is the magnetic love she inspires in those susceptible to her. For them, Clarice is one of the great emotional experiences of their lives. But her glamour is dangerous. “Be careful with Clarice,” a friend told a reader decades ago. “It’s not literature. It’s witchcraft.” Benjamin Moser, in his introduction to The Collected Short Stories of Clarice Lispector 


My Prior Posts on Clarice Lispector

I first entered the world of Clarice Lispector when I was kindly given a digital review copy of The Complete Short Stories of Ćlarice Lispector.  With a marvelous introduction by Benjamin Moser, I think many will find the reading of these stories the start of a deep fascination with Lispector's work and life.  I think the publication of this collection of short stories will be at least the most important translated work of short stories in 2015.  It is said among short story people that Kathernine Mansfield is the only writer that ever frightened Virginia Woolf, I would just say she never met Clarice Lispector.  

After I finished my first read through of the short story collection, I have posted on about ten of the stories and will be rereading and posting more as time goes on, I read Why This World:  A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser.  This is a truly excellent biography which goes deeply into her cultural roots.  By coincidence shortly before I encountered Lispector I read the complete Yale Yiddish Library and Moser helped me understand the ways in which Lispector is part of the tradition of Jewish Kabbalstic thinkers and how her early life in the Jewish shetls in the very anti-Jewish Ukraine shape her fiction.    Also in the very long ago I studied Spinoza and this helped me.  Moser lets us see the impact of Spinoza in the work of Lispector, especially in her perhaps most overtly philosophical work The Passion According to G. R.  

G.R is the female narrator of the novel.  She is an affluent well regarded  sculpturor living in Rio de Janeiro.  The novel is all about a long very widely ranging interior monologue initiated in the mind of G.R. when she enters the room of her live in maid who recently quit.  She was shocked to see a drawing of herself on the wall.  There are strong post colonial and racial matters in The Passion of G.R, the maid was black.  She then sees a roach on the floor of the maid's room.  She has a horror of roaches and she slams the door on the roach.  He is partially crushed but not killed.  

She begins to reflect on the very ancient, long before man, history of the roach.  Soon all human history unfolds before her.  She begins to reflect on the nature of divinity and of God.

This book way transcends my ability to describe it.  I knew pretty much what exoect in The Passion of G.R. as Moser talks about it a lot in his biography but it still shocked me.  


Mel u




"Señor Pinedo" by Mavis Gallant (1954)



Buried in Print's Mavis Gallant Reading Schedule 

Mavis Gallant on The Reading Life








I have been reading short stories by Mavis Gallant (born Montreal 1922, died Paris, 2014) since 2013.  I was delighted when a blogger I have happily followed for years, Buried in Print, announced they would be reading and posting on her many short stories (116 published in The New Yorker alone) on a weekly basis.   I have on my E Reader The Collected Short Short Stories of Mavis Gallant (contains per Gallant about half of her stories) so I decided to try to read along with Buried in Print's weekly schedule as much as I might.


 This week's story, "Señor Pinedo" is set in a boarding house, a pension in Madrid, sometime after the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939- often portrayed as a war between democrats seeking a free Spain, think Hemingway and such versus Spanish Fascists promising great things for the common man if they will follow the leadership of Francisco Franco now seen as Fascist element  of the Falange Party, remember Picasso's Guernica).  The story did bring to my mind the works in Katherine Mansfield's first collection, In a German Pension.




The boarding house used to be a big middle class home, but as the narrator tells us, economic hard times caused the owners of many such home to turn their houses into boarding homes.  The owner and her brother live there now, in two rooms.  The rest of the building has been subdivided into a number of small rooms.  Our narrator, is an English speaking woman, we don't learn where she is from or why she is in Madrid.  She lives right next to the Pineda family, the 23 year old wife, her civil service employed husband and their baby.  The walls are so thin the Pineda's alarm wakes them up.  She can hear the Pinedas talking about money.  In addition to tourists, there are other permanent tenants.  They include a bullfight promoter, seen as a bit of a vulgarian, a man who used to be a literature professor but now works in a drug store (he lost his job because he was neutral in the Civil War, and others.  I laughed so much when I read the narrator's description of an English woman living in the pension, the description was just so perfect

"There was also the inevitable Englishwoman, one of the queer Mad Megs who seem to have been born and bred for pension life. This one, on hearing me speak English in the dining room, looked at me with undisguised loathing, picked up knife, fork, plate, and wineglass, and removed herself to the far corner of the room; the maid followed with the Englishwoman’s own private assortment of mineral water, digestive pills, Keen’s mustard, and English chop sauce."

Señor Pinedo is very proud of the accomplishments of the government.  He brings home brochures from work describing the great strides of the government.  Gallant has such a masterful touch, in just a few lines she can bring characters to life, let us see below the surfaces of relationships.  In one really great scene he is bragging to the narrator, and his captive audience of fellow residents about the great strides being made in housing.  His wife at once interjects, asking him why then do we not have our own house.  Any married man will come close to cringing at this!

The pension residents have little privacy, a kind of instant intimacy of a transient sort prevails.  I felt in this story a sense limited futures, people clinging to hopes like Senor Pineda's idolization Falange leaders.

To me the tone and colors of this story reminded me of Goya

A tragic event occurs toward the close of the story.  It could have been avoided. We see the fatalism of the Spanish in the close, or at least I do. In a way it is a story also about being an immigrant, about the world views clashing, about anger over indifference in the mind of our narrator.

I read this story in The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant, containing about half of her stories.  As far as I know it cannot be read online.  I also could not locate the first publication data but for sure it was in The New Yorker.

I offer my great thanks to Buried in Print for hosting this one a week read through of Gallant's short stories.  I read this story twice.  I look forward to reading many more.

Mel u













Sunday, May 21, 2017

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh (2015, Part Three of The Ibis Trilogy, 624 pages)





Works in The Ibis Trilogy

Sea of Poppies - published 4/2008, read 4/2012

River of Smoke - Published 6/2012, read 2/2015

Flood of Fire - Published 3/2015, read 5/2017

Flood of Fire of Fire is the final installment in The Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh.  The Trilogy is set largely in the Bay of Bengal region of India and in the Canton region of China.  It is historical fiction on a grand scale, over 1600 pages in total.  It's center of focus is the impact of the opium trade on India and China, focusing on the period leading up to the first opium war, 1839 to 1842.

The ship The Ibis, was once used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  A former first mate, Zachary, his mother was an slave owned by his white father, serves as kind of a unifying character.

Book One of The Ibis Trilogy focuses on the impact of the opium trade on people living in the Bengali region of India, near the Bay of Bengal.

Book Two focuses more on the areas of China where opium entered the country, near Canton.  It shows the destruction the drug reaped on the Chinese.

Book Three details the economic aspects of the opium trade and very excitingly depicts naval and land battles between the English and the Chinese.  It goes into a lot of fascinating detail about The British East India Company, which had a very large army.  We learned what is was like to be an English officer, an Indian sepoy in the service of the army, the wife of a top British officer, a servant of an officer and much more.  I think anyone interested in 19th century India, English Colonial activity, the history of the drug trade, or the British East India company will love this book. As The Flood of Fire opens Zachary is in a bit of trouble.  The Ibis has stopped in Bengal and cannot sail for months.  The owner cannot or will not support him while the boat is being repaired.  He is trained as a ship carpenter and is offered a job restoring a Junk to be used as a pleasure craft by a high ranking East India Company officer.  In a weird, ok some will find this unintentionally funny, I think, segment the owner's wife observes him one day, through a telescope, polishing a brass handle.  She notices he often does this and becomes convinced he was engaging frequent masterbation, considered by the woman a great sin.  She approaches him, at first he has no idea what she is talking about, and offers him a brochure on dealing with this "vice".  Soon they become sexually involved, a horrible social offense for both.  During their sexual encounters they speak in pidgin English, I found this over done and silly almost.  Zachary becomes very involved in the opium trade and in naval battles.

Sea of Fire also focuses on an Indian servant of a British officer as well as the widow of an Indian woman, her family was rich from the opium trade, who discovers her husband had a long time mistress, a Chinese woman,  and a son in Canton.  There is a lot of drama surrounding her trip to Canton to meet her husband's son, now a young man. Characters in the previous two books, like Paulette, reappear in Book Three.

To me the best thing, and I'm enthralled by this aspect, was the historical details, the many terms I learned, the inside look at the opium trade and the British East India Company, life in Bengali, and the pervasive corruption and evil of the drug trade.  We also see how the drug trade helped make Hong Kong a great city.

Some say the characters in Book Three are not as well developed as those in the first two segments and I guess I agree.

Don't consider reading Flood of Fire  without reading the first two installments.
To read it in full is a big commitment of reading time.  I was able to recall much of the first two segments by reading my posts on them.  My reading of the work was  over a five year period as I waited for parts two and three to be published.  In the interim I read the author's very good work set in mid 19th century Burma, The Glass Palace.

I strongly endorse this Trilogy to lovers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the time and place the book covers. The work has a kind of old fashioned feel to it which I relished.

Ghosh spent over ten years working on these books, you can see tremendous research behind the details.



M


Official Site of Amitav Ghosh

 My Prior Posts on Amitav Ghosh

Friday, May 19, 2017

Down Below by Leonora Carrington







Leonora Carrington (1917 to 2011) was born in England and died in a country she much preferred, Mexico. Interest in her writings and her surrealistic art is now quite high, brought on my recent publications occasioned by the 100th anniversary of her birth, including a collection of her short stories and a biography.

The first quandary one has upon completing Down Below, I read it the minimum needed twice, is to decide if it is a memoir of her period of mental illness and her confinement to an asylum, is it a work of the imagination perhaps stimulated by these experiences or should it be read as a fictional
account of the narrator's descent into madness?  Is it a Dantesque journey into the Under World, the Down Below, of Surrealism inspired by occult theories behind that movement?  You can read it as working out "Daddy Issues" with her very rich father who regarded her interest in the arts as itself a manifestation of mental illness


A good bit of the work is taken up with her time in the asylum.  She talks about her reaction to the arrest of her lover, a leading Surrealist. The narrator hallucinates and views workers and doctors as embodied representatives of evil spirits.  She sees her father everywhere.  We also go along when she escapes to a Mexican consulate and is given shelter, as we're many artists, from the Nazis.  She moves to Mexico.

She was initially pushed into madness when her great love, the artist Max Ernst, was sent to die in a concentration camp for producing what the Germans saw as "degenerate" art.  The narration mixes simple reporting of what happened to Carrington with out of accepted reality interpretation of events.  Down Under is considered one of the great treatments of the descent into madness.  It completely fascinated me.   In the way back I was fascinated by the occult, maybe I'm coming back to this.

The just published New York Review of Books edition of Down Below contains a very informative and generously lengthy introduction by Marina Warner, who was acquainted with Carrington.

Even the publication history of Down Below requires an explanation.  Here are the textual notes from the NYRB edition.

"NOTE ON THE TEXT First written in English in 1942 in New York (text now lost). Dictated in French to Jeanne Megnen in 1943, then published in VVV, No. 4, February 1944, in a translation from the French by Victor Llona. The original French dictation was published by Editions Fontaine, Paris, 1946. Both the French dictation and the Victor Llona translation were used as the basis for the text here, which was reviewed and revised for factual accuracy by Leonora Carrington in 1987."

My prior posts on the short fiction of Carrington contain links to nine of her short stories as well as articles and videos I found interesting.


Please share your experience with Carrington, either through her art or writings, with us.

Mel u



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey (2016)










I was drawn to read Idra Novey's debut novel, Ways to Disappear, for three reasons.  Firstly, It was awarded the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize by the Jewish Book Council for best Jewish book of 2017.  (I highly recommend subscribing to their newsletter.). Secondly she translated The Passion According to G. H. by Clarice Lispector, anyone that helps make her work more accessible has my great thanks. Finally it is set in Brazil, of which I have very fond memories.

The novel is a kidnapping crime mystery work.  One of Brazil's most loved writers was last seen, in Rio, climbing up a tree.  She is now missing.  Her American translator decides to search for her.    There is romance, hey it is Brazil, the ambience of the tropics, the corruption of Brazilian law enforcement, descriptions of Kilogramma, my favorite inexpensive Rio restaurant, and ever complicating mysteries.  Kidnapping is an ever present risk for the wealthy and it looks like this is what may have happened.

The translator reflects on her craft.  The missing writer is Jewish, as was Clarice Lispector, and we see aspects of traditional Jewish family practices.  The setting is not just Rio de Janeiro but also Salvador and an off shore resort island.

Jewish migration to Brazil   goes back to the start of Portuguese rule.  In the early 20th century many Jewish families, as did that of Clarice Lispector, left Eastern Europe for Brazil, to escape vicious anti-Semitic pograms.  Recife in Salvador was the most common initial destination.

Ways to Disappear is an exciting fast read, well worth your time.  It drew extensive rave reviews in the literary press.


Idra Novey is the author of the debut novel Ways to Disappear, winner of the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize, the 2016 Brooklyn Eagles Prize, and a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction. Her poetry collections include Exit, Civilian, selected for the 2011 National Poetry Series, The Next Coun­try, a final­ist for the 2008 Fore­word Book of the Year Award, and Clarice: The Visitor, a collaboration with the artist Erica Baum. Her fiction and poetry have been translated into ten languages and she’s written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, NPR’s All Things Con­sid­ered, New York Magazine, and The Paris Review. She is the recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Poets & Writ­ers Mag­a­zine, the PEN Trans­la­tion Fund, and the Poetry Foundation. She’s also translated the work of several prominent Brazilian writers, most recently Clarice Lispector’s novel The Pas­sion Accord­ing to G.H. She’s taught at Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity, Columbia, NYU, Fordham, the Catholic University of Chile, and in the Bard Prison Initiative. This fall she is the Visiting Distinguished Writer in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at LIU Brooklyn.  From idranovey.com

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Isabel Yap - Two Fascinating Works of Speculative Fiction



Isabel Yap's Webpage. Includes Links to her Stories



Very recently I read and posted on Alyssa Wong's Nebula Prize Winning short story, "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers".   In an interview on Wong's very well done webpage, she recommended several other writers of speculative fiction, among them Isabel Yap.

Isabel Yap's webpage has links to several works of speculative fiction (some use the term "fantasy").  Yap grew up in the greater Manila area, where many of my readers as well as my family and I live, and some of her fiction is set there.  I read two of her stories (there are links to all these stories on Yap's webpage) and I liked them both a lot.




Short, third-person bio: Isabel Yap writes fiction and poetry, works in the tech industry, and drinks tea. Born and raised in Manila, she has also lived in California, Tokyo, and London. In 2013 she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop. Her work has recently appeared on Tor.com, Uncanny Magazine, Shimmer Magazine, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction volume 2. She is @visyapon Twitter and her website is https://isabelyap.com.
Photo credit: Katie Williams
Photo credit: Katie Williams
Longer bio:
I was born in Manila, Philippines in 1990, and grew up in Quezon City. In 2013 I graduated from Santa Clara University with a degree in Marketing and minors in Japanese and English. That same year, I attended the Clarion Writers Workshop in San Diego. By day I work for a San Francisco-based start-up in the mobile app industry (yes, it’s very Silicon Valley).
I once almost slid off the muddy face of Mt. Makiling and plummeted to my doom.
I like to write all kinds of things, especially short fiction and poetry. I’ve also written over a hundred fics for more than thirty fandoms. I haven’t written too many lately, but I pop up every now and then if I think a story needs telling.
Someday I hope to write longer things.
If you feed me sugar I will be rather pleased.
I like nice people, ugly dogs, observation, music, tea, hard lemonade, and ramen. From her webpage 







I will keep my comments on each story brief so as to allow those into speculative fiction to expand without having the plot of the stories overly revealed to them.

"The Orian's Song" is a very impressively written and researched work about the life of a woman being used, during World War II, as a "pleasure girl" by a troop of Japanese soldiers.  She was raised in the floating world of Tokyo in a tea shop, when such places were combinations of brothels and geisha houses.  The soldiers could not have afforded the rates of the floating world so below the surface this is a story of class distinctions.  The woman has been taught to shot and has other duties also.  We come to learn of the names of spirits of the countryside of Japan. The woman hates the soldiers, there is also a seemingly gay young man also with her.  "The Orian's" song is very interesting for the use of folk lore, the recreation of the days of World War II, and for the skill Yap shows in getting us involved with the characters.

"Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?" Is set in Manila.  It really does a wonderful job with the venue in an all girls private school and makes use of a wide range of suspicious or folk beliefs.  It is narrated via conversations among prep school girls.I admit I laughed out loud when I read these lines about one of the teachers at the school.

"Ms. Salinas was young and super skinny, which made up for her ducklike face. On the scale of teachers she was neither bad nor good. She liked to wear white pants, and a rumor had recently spread about how she liked to wear lime-green thongs and was therefore slutty. We amused ourselves during home ec. trying to look through her white pants every time she turned, crouched, or bent."

As to why wearing lime green thongs means you are a slut, who knows, but it for sure rang true as part of the conversations of the students.

The story begins with an account of the opening of the third eye of a teacher.  It quickly expands into various explanations as to how and why one of the students committed suicide.  The story does make uses of Tagalog expressions, to me they enhance the story.  Students at elite private schools all speak English, most instruction is done in English but in conversation even with each other in English they will often use Tagalog expressions.  Google translate will tell you "ate" means "older sister" but there is a deep cultural meaning to this expression and others used in the story.

The girls are all from affluent families and you can sense this in the story.  I really enjoyed this work.

I hope to follow Isabel Yap's development.

Mel u
The Reading Life











Friday, May 12, 2017

Smile by Roddy Doyle (2017)










Smile is the ninth novel by Roddy Doyle I have read and posted upon.  Obviously I greatly enjoy and admire his mostly set in Ireland novels.  I have also read a few of his short stories.

Smile focuses on a middle-aged recently divorced man, Victor Forde, on his own for the first time in years.  He has gotten in the habit of going to the same pub every night for a pint.  One evening a man his age, who he does not quite recall, comes over to speak.  It turns out they went to school together, the teachers were Christian Brothers.  The ensuing conversations bring back memories he had not wanted surfaced of sexual abuse by one of the Brothers.  The man had a sister that Victor fancied.

Flashing back to memories of childhood to those of his marriage we learn Victor was a well known radio commentator famous for his shocking remarks.  His wife is a very well known celebrity and a great beauty.

Like his other novels, Smile is very much a dialogue driven work, the conversations are sharp, funny and real.  We are given real insight into Victor.  As you read on you begin to reevaluate your assessment of Victor.

Smile was a great pleasure to read, just as I expected it would be.

I was kindly given a review copy of this book.

Mel u
The Reading Life