Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Thursday, March 22, 2018

“The Secret of the Growing Gold”. - By Bram Stoker, 1897- A Short Story by the author of Dracula

Born 1847 Dublin

Dracula published 1897

Died 1912 London

In addition to publishing  Dracula and starting a vampire craze the world still is gripped by in the same year he published an entertaining ghost story about the revenge of a woman scorned,  “The Secret of the Growing Gold”.

As the story opens we learn of the history of two families, both with long histories in the same area of rural England.  One family has an aristocratic linage, the other yeoman roots.  The families have both  seen better times.  Stoker liked to write about declining aristocracy and we see that in the higher society family.  A romance has developed between a woman from the common family and an aristocratic man.  One day they are out for a carriage ride together.  The man gets out briefly and during this time the carriage falls of a cliff, destroying it and killing one of the horses. The body of the woman and one of the horses is never found.  An investigation finds nothing and in time people forget the incident.  After a time the man, who went to Italy, sends word he is coming back with his bride, an Italian lady.  He has the house renovated to look like the mansion of her father back in Italy.  Now things get scary!  The missing woman seems to return one night, horribly scarred from the wreck.  He has no idea how she got in past the servants.  Stoker has created a very powerful atmosphere befitting his many years in the theatre.  A terrible revenge is taken on the man and his innocent pregnant bride.

Probably very few would still read this story if Stoker had not blessed or cursed the world with Dracula but in any case it was fun to read and if you accept things scary.

I read this story in a book I acquired on sale as a Kindle for $1.95, Irish Ghost Stories edited by David Davies.  Ten classic writers are included, half of the 520 pages is devoted to Sheridan la Fanu and the Introduction is good.  You can read the story at the link above.  I hope to read a few more Irish Ghost Stories this month.  Ireland has lots of ghosts.

Mel u

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“The Springs of Affection” - A Short Story by Maeven Brennan, from The New Yorker, March 18, 1973

I first encountered  the work of Maeve Brennan during Irish Short Story Month I in 2011 when I listened to a wonderful podcast of of the story on the webpage of The New Yorker in which Roddy Doyle reads the story.   During Irish Short Story Month Year II in 2012 I posted on a truly great cat story, set in her adopted home town of New York City, "Bianca, I Can See You".

Born Dublin, 1917, died New York City, 1993

Maeve Brennan's life should have been a perfect fairy tale of happiness.   There is a fey beauty in her face but I also sense fear and a dark hunger.   

Brennan's father was the first Irish Ambassador to the United States.   Her father fought for freedom from British rule in  the Irish War for Independence.     The British imprisoned him for a while.    Brennan and her family lived in Washington DC until 1944 when her father returned to Ireland.   She stayed on in the US and moved to New York City where she got a job writing copy for Harper's Bazaar.   She also wrote a society column for an Irish publication.     She began to write occasional articles for The New Yorker.    In 1949 she was offered a job on the staff of the magazine.   She was incredibly beautiful, very intelligent, witty, petite, always perfectly dressed and made up.   She moved about frequently and had extravagant tastes.    Some people feel she was the inspiration for Holly Golightly, the lead character in Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958).   In the 1960s people began to observe that she was now beginning to appear unkempt.    In the 1970s Brennan became paranoid and was an alcoholic.    She began to drift in and out of reality and was hospitalized   several times.    She ended up living either in transit hotels or in the ladies room at the offices of The New Yorker.   (I also read William Maxwell's introduction to one of her collections of short stories published posthumously and learned that to its great credit the magazine had secured for her a place where she could stay and be fed but she rarely went there.)    In  the 1980s she all but disappears.   She died in 1993 in the Lawrence hospital, a  ward of the state.    As I read this I could not help but be reminded of Jean Rhys but I think the story of Brennan is more tragic in that Rhys partially recovered from her years of darkness and was seen as a great writer while still alive. 

“The Sorings of Affection” is regarded by all as Maeve Brennan’s best work, Alice Munro loved it.  This is the sixth of her stories to be featured during an 
ISSM.  Among Brennan’s favourite works of short fiction were The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Turgenev’s The Sportsman’s Notebook, any anything by Colette (I am drawing on an essay by William Maxwell who for twenty years was her editor at The New Yorker.)  She had a photograph of Colette, from her older years, on the wall at the New Yorker office.  

This magnificent story brought to my mind an equally magnificent classic Irish poem, “The Great Hunger” by Patrick Kavanagh for its focus on the emotional emptiness at the heart of many Irish lives, a hunger for a connection to others.  In fact in both of the stories from Dubliners I featured this month as well as the very contemporary stories by Brian Kirk and Steve Wade, Dublin writers, develop this theme.  

“The Springs of Affection” is a very sad story, heartbreaking for the cruelty of the people in the story to each other.  The story is told by an eighty year old woman, for the last six years she has been living with and taking care of her twin brother.  He has just passed and she feels relieved of a duty she resented and free to return to her own home.  Growing up she lived with her brother, her two younger sisters and their parents.  She thinks back to the day her brother, in action she never forgave, ruined everyone’s future by getting married.  She sees his transferring his love from the family to his wife, an outsider as a deep betrayal.  

“My mother was never the same after Martin married, she thought, and it was then, too, that Clare and Polly became restless and hard to get along with, and stopped joining in the conversation we always had about the family fortunes and talked instead about what they were going to do with their own lives. Their lives-and what about sticking together gether as a family, as we had been brought up to do? They got very selfish all of a sudden, and the house seemed very empty, as though Martin had died.”

We go back into her life when she was growing up.  Her father cannot read or write.  His wife gives him no love or respect.  In a segment just so briiliant and sad the father acquires the money to buy some piglets.  He soon finds in these pigs more love than from his family, he loves feeding them and is so gratified when they recognize him.  One morning he walks in and slams some money on the table, telling his wife, “Here is your blood money”.  He sent the pigs to the butcher.  After that the father begins to wander.  Once the brother marries, the other two sisters marry Protestants, not Catholics.  

There is so much in this story.  

Please share your experience with Maeve Brennan with us 

Mel u

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

“The Visitor” - A Short Story by Brian Kirk, February, 2018

I first became acquainted with the work of Brian Kirk when I read his very well done short story, "The Shawl" in Long Story Short.  Brian Kirk's story "The Shawl" represents to me one of the most basic  reasons I have continued Irish Short Story Month for eight years and hope to continue it many more.   It is a great feeling to me to read a story by a new to me writer who seems just at the start of his writing career and hope I will be able to watch her or him develop into a major writer.  I have learned enough about the life and business world of Irish writers to know that it takes more than just talent.  You have to find people willing to read your work and at some point pay you for it.   This is far from easy, I know.  (My post on "The Shawl" is here-it contains a link to the story.)
From my post of March 2013

I am very pleased to include a story by Brian Kirk in Irish Short Story Month VIII. (You can read the story at the link above, reading time is a very well spent ten minutes or so).  “The Visitor” is the third story by Kirk upon which I have posted.  

The story is set on Aran, an island of the coast from Galway.  The narrator, a woman writer has come there to escape from the distractions of the city which blocked her writing, she feels.  Aran is not named but she does, in a morning amble she thinks of Antoine Artaud, a French theater of cruelty writer, who in 1937 came to Aran to find peace, six weeks later, he was deported.  I sense she  tries to understand herself almost as a daughter of Artaud, trying to find a peace he never did.

The narrator came to Aran to be alone, but she finds this too painful.  She has invited a formed college boyfriend to stay with her.  He has brought with him thr city she longer to escape from but she is not yet ready to be alone.  She cannot escape her involuntary memories, try as she might.

I find the prose of Kirk exquiste, he brings out hidden truthes

“I try to imagine living in the city again, dragging myself from fretful rooms to busy workplaces day in day out, suffering the passive cruelty of the commute and the ritual inanity of office talk. My heart sinks and my pulse races as I pause before the door and turn my face once more to the sky, feeling the early morning September sun—what little there is of it—wash over my face. I open the door at last to find him sleeping on the battered sofa in the open kitchen. For a moment I imagine he is dead, but his nasal breathing sets me straight. And then I see an opportunity. If I bludgeoned him with one of his dumbbells he might never wake at all. What would that mean for him? Would his senses have time to register the final shut down or would a sudden curtain fall on his flickering dreamscape, never to be raised.”

I can relate to a fear or hatred of the return to the city, I think many will.

She wants the man to leave but she fears being alone.  She smells whiskey in his empty battle.  Whiskey means something in west of Ireland it might not mean elsewhere.  Maybe she wants the man with her as a kind of affirmation of her sexuality, her ability to hold a man, one who has had many women.  But she hates her weakness and she knows she lacks the depth of self knowledge to rid herself of her dependency. She knows the man will leave her and is probably already unfaithful.

There is much more in “The Visitor”.  It is a very Irish story but the characters are universal.  I did feel I was back in west of Ireland.

I endorse this story to all lovers of Short Stories.  I also urge the Reading of My Q and A with Brian for his insights into a very interesting set of topics. Be sure to visit his very well done webpage.

I hope to post on another of his Short Stories in April and in May.  I hope he will be back for ISSM IX

Brian Kirk is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist from Dublin, Ireland. His work has appeared in the Sunday Tribune, Crannog, The Stony Thursday Book, Revival, Boyne Berries, Wordlegs and various anthologies.

Mel u

Monday, March 19, 2018

“The Call of the Sea” - A Short Story by Steve Wade

A Wide Ranging Q and A with Steve Wade. Including a link to his “Land of The Ever Young”. As well as my post

A Link to “Call of The Sea” by Steve Wade

I am very happy to be able to include a story by Steve Wade in this year’s Irish Short Story  Month.  I urge everyone interested in the short story, Irish Literature and culture to read his wide ranging Q and A session. I first read his work for Irish Short Story Month in March, 2013.  I return to his work with great pleasure.

“The Call of the Sea” shows us how the lead character, a financially stressed father, is influenced by his view of nature on a seaside walk and conversely how his state of mind shapes what aspects of the natural word he focuses upon.  It is also deals with the human  consequences of the fall of the Irish economy, the weak or missing Irish father (seen by Declan Kiberd, among others, as a dominant theme of Irish Literature),the impact of the closeness of the sea on the Irish psyche, and the sad growth of suicide in Ireland.  Additionally in just a few pages we feel a deep sympathy combined with an unavoidable aversion to the lead character.  We also must finally ponder was the lead character taking the weak way out or did he show great courage. Plus we are treated to an early morning sea coast walk.

As the story opens a man, married with children, wants to leave home early, before he will be stressed by his children needing food, a pain he finds hard to bear.  He looks at his car knowing it will be repossessed soon.  

“Early Sunday morning, before the trains and busses started. Not that he had the fare, but he might have chanced the Dart without a ticket. He’d got away with it before. He left their home in Ballsbridge, Dublin, before the kids awoke. Before their hungry cries clawed and slashed at the inside of his head. Before Jeannette began her wailing, her accusations and her threats.”

He begins a walk along the seashore, in the hopes watching the birds, who he knows well, will renew his spirits.  He notices a magpie, a large predatory bird, with a dove hatchling in her mouth.  She swallows it whole. He observes other species of birds struggling to feed themselves and their young.  He goes into a coffee shop and realising he cannot even afford coffee leaves.  He notices the clerk is of Asian descent, maybe he thinks is Ireland being stolen from the Irish?

He passes people but basically is sunk into a trough of despair.  I don’t want to tell the very powerful close of the story so I will just urge all lovers of the form to read this story.  At one point I falsely thought I saw the end coming but I did not. Wade’s account of the feelings of the man when he discovers the body of a young woman who has drowned herself are very powerful, almost painfully 

“Who she was, the memories she’d made, the people whose lives she had touched, and who had played a part in moulding hers, was irrelevant. Without knowing the details, he understood her plight. He respected the moment when, in despair, she chose another way – the bravest of choices.
There was something else he understood. It all made sense. As a husband to Jeanette, he had let her down. As a father to their two girls, he had failed. His impulse to get himself to where he now stood, with one step between atonement and failure, was written. The insurance payout would provide for them. Jeanette would have the means and the dignity to raise the girls into adulthood.”

Wade made me feel I was once again walking the Irish coast, his descriptions of the birds are wonderful.  He even works a drunk into the story!

I hope to post on one of Wade’s stories in April and another in May

Stephen Wade is a prize nominee for the PEN/O’Henry Award, 2011, and a prize nominee for the Pushcart Prize, 2013. Wade’s fiction has been published in over thirty-five print publications. His unpublished novel ‘On Hikers’ Hill’ was awarded First Prize in the UK abook2read Literary Competition, December 2010. Among the publications in which is work appears are: Crannog, Zenfri Publications, New Fables, Gem Street, Grey Sparrow, Fjords Arts and Literary Review, and Aesthetica Creative Works Annual, 2011 and 2015.

Mel u

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Violin of Auschwitz by Maria Angela Anglada 1983, translated by Martha Tennent, 2010

The Violin of Auschwitz by Maria Angels Anglada is a work so beautiful it will haunt many  readers for a lifetime.  The 
hour and a half it will take you to read this book might well be the best experience you will have this month.  Set in one of the ugliest places ever created, the Auschwitz death camp in Poland in 1941, Anglada shows us how remembrance of the beauty of art and of love can sustain us through very dark times.  

The story opens in 1991 at a classical music concert in Krakow, Poland.  The narrator, a musician traveling in Eastern Europe, met and was enchanted by a female violinist from the concert.  She is twenty years his senior.  He takes her out to dinner and they bond over their love of music.  He makes arrangements through his agent for her to join in his four person group on a short tour.  He notices an elegant violin she plays and she begins to tell him the story of how the violin came to be created.  

It is 1941, Daniel has just arrived, in a train with other deportees, most all Polish Jews, at Auschwitz.  Upon arrival people are divided into two groups, those felt not able to work as too old, under fourteen are sent at once to be executed 
They are lead to believe it is for a shower.  Daniel, a violin 

maker, a luthier, when asked his occupation says “Cabinet Maker”, thinking that may keep him alive.  He is assigned to make shelves and cabinets for the sadistic, cultivated camp commandant.  Four inmate classical musicians are playing at a party.  One of the violins is damaged and Daniel tells the musician, they stay in the same barracks, that he can fix it and he does.  The camp commandant hears of this and he tells David he is to make a violin for him.  Daniel knows as long as he is working on the violin he will be safe from punishment or harsh physical labor.  He finds out the commandant and his sadistic doctor friend, modelled on the horrible Josef Mengele, have made a bet involving him.  If he can produce a quality violin the doctor will give the commandant a case of wine, if he cannot, he will be sent to the lab of the doctor for experiments testing how long one can be immersed in freezing water and survive, a death sentence.  

I don’t want to reveal the close but I cannot imagine anyone not loving it.

In a very interesting touch, included in the chapter 

beginnings are actual translations of manuals and reports from Auschwitz, treating it as the very profitable enterprise it was.  The last chapter will, I think, very much move most readers.  I felt a powerful sense of joy and relief as I read the closing chapter.

This book is suitable for young adult readers but will resonate with the most cultured of readers.

I’m seeing this as excellent book for teachers to use for advanced high school readers.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR MARIA ÀNGELS ANGLADA (1930–99) is one of the most important figures of Catalan twentieth-century literature. Her success as an author was confirmed in 1978 when she was awarded the Josep Pla Prize for her first novel, Les Closes. She subsequently became one of the most respected and widely read of all Catalan authors, with works such as No em dic Laura, L’agent del Rei, and El violí d’Auschwitz.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR MARTHA TENNENT, a translator from Catalan and Spanish, was born in the United States, but has lived most of her life in Barcelona, receiving her B.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Barcelona. She recently edited Training for the New Millennium: Pedagogies for Translation and Interpreting and has translated the novels Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda and The Invisible City by Emili Rosales.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Who Will Write Our History - Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from The Warsaw Ghetto by Samuel Kassow, 2007

I offer my gratitude to Max u for The Amazon Gift Card which allowed me to read this book

An Autodiactic Corner Selection for March

November 1940 -The Occupying Germans confined 450,000 Jews in a Ghetto in Warsaw.  

April 19, 1943 - The Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto began when the Germans started to transport Ghetto residents to Treblinka for execution 

Who Will Write Our History - Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto by Samuel Kassow is one of the best done works of history I have ever had the great pleasure of reading.  It has won twelve awards and been translated into thirty languages.  

I first began reading Yiddish literature in December of 2013 when Yale University Press gave me the full Yale Yiddish Collection, nine classic works.  I perceived a culture deeply into reading, with a profound respect for knowledge and a great sense of humour.  I began to read non-Fiction relating to Yiddish speakers.  I was deeply impacted to learn that upon being liberated from the concentration camps many asked for something to read.  In the last year or so I have been reading short stories by Yiddish Language writers, gradually learning more about the culture.  I have sought out the best works on the Holocaust which I see, among ,many things, as a direct attempt to destroy the reading life.

Kassow brilliantly focuses on the efforts of a group of Jewish intellectuals confined to the Warsaw Ghetto to complete a comprehensive account of Jewish history in Eastern Europe and detail all aspects of life in the Ghetto.  Their intention, which they largely completed, was to place all these reports in 
metal containers and bury them.  The hope was that post war someone would find them.  They were discovered a few years after the war, The very real fear was that Jewish history and the Yiddish Language would be wiped from the face of the earth.  

Kassow presents very well done bios of each of the numerous archivists, sadly most did not survive the war.  We learn a great deal about life in the Ghetto.  I came to understand how much preserving their history and culture meant to those involved in the archive project.

There is very much more I should say about this book but I will simply say if you have any interest in Jewish history, the Holocaust, WWII, Polish attitudes ( a very at best mixed picture) and the way the Ghetto ran then read this book.  Really I think any one who loves history will be glad they read this great book.

Samuel D. Kassow is the Charles Northam Professor of History at Trinity College. He is author of Students, Professors, and the State in Tsarist Russia, 1884–1917 and editor (with Edith W. Clowes and James L. West) of Between Tsar and People: The Search for a Public Identity in Tsarist Russia. He has lectured on Russian and Jewish history in many countries, including Israel, Russia, and Poland.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

“Red Sari”. - A Short Story by Amanthi Harris - 2004

Website of Amanthi Harris. Included are Images of her Exquiste Art Work

I dedicate this post to the people of Sri Lanka with the hope their country can find the peace they deserve.

Last month I posted upon the award winning novella Lantern Evening by Amanthi Harris.  Today I feature one of her early Short Stories, “Red Sari”. Both works center on a young woman from Sri Lanka who now lives with her parents in London.  In both stories Harris develops very subtly the relationship between the domineering mother who wants to follow the traditions of Sri Lanka and her daughter, trying to assert her independence.

As “Red Sari” opens the daughter, getting married soon to a man not of her heritage, probably English, Mother thinly hides her disappointment, is admiring a dress in one of those glossy bridal magazines.  Her mother insists she must get married in a sari, as tradition dictates.

Soon they go wedding day shopping, in a section of London that almost recreates an Indian shopping district. Harris made me feel I was there.  They stop for a snack and cold drink in a place the mother says “has everything from back home”.  Sri Lanka is politically and culturally a very divided country.  The patrons quietly look each other over trying to decide what “side” everyone is on. 

Harris paints a wonderful picture 

“Winter arrived and I went with my mother to look at saris and jewellery for weddings, to a part of town like a town in India , but with Debenhams and Argos , and Tesco and an Iceland . Squat men walked hunched through the streets, jackets zipped to their chins, and women pushed prams, carried shopping, held umbrellas up against the December drizzle. Old women tottered in sandals and woollen socks, duffle coats tight over sari frills that splashed with rain and mud from the pavement. Among them my mother and I walked, damp clinging to us, a dark grey sky unshifting above. We were headed for a sari shop that was recommended by someone my mother knew, but we stopped first at a canteen selling bhajis, puris, samosas, jellabies and even the rose- pink faluda drink that had been her favourite once.
‘They have everything here now,’ my mother observed.
We went around the counter and chose and sat down to eat, but it seemed strange to have no air conditioning, no sun outside, no squall of horns, no roar of traffic, no coconut trees against a blue sky above the shops. The faluda frothed in her glass, bubbled pink from the red jelly sweetness at the bottom. I almost saw her then, in cafés in Colombo with her cousins and friends, and how she and I might have been able to talk together as she had with them. She sat now, looking around her at the people in the canteen, looking them over carefully, table after table. And the people looked at her”

(Many affluent people from Sri Lanka have left the country because of violence between Muslim and Buddhist factions.  In today’s Washington Post I found the government has declared a state of emergency due to recent sectarian violence.)

They first stop in at a jewellery store but they leave without  a purchase.  The mother says the groom does not even know he is supposed to buy the wedding jewellery.  

The next shop is a cloth store where they will buy material for the Sari, against the wishes of the daughter who wants to be married in the dress from the magazine.

The daughter and mother quarrel over the material but the daughter gives in. 

I really liked this scene in the cloth shop.

“I can’t wear this,’ I said.
My mother turned to the chorus and rolled her eyes.
‘It’s not me,’ I said again.
The women looked at me and seemed to be waiting, as if more was needed as explanation.
‘I don’t like it,’ I said, and a particular type of pause, of something final, settled between us all.
‘This is what happens,’ my mother sighed. She shook her head. The women watched her, listened, breathing softly, their eyes expectant.
‘Back home they would not argue, no?’ my mother said.
The women nodded. They did not look at me, only glanced away, and then at each other. I caught the eye of one who seemed to be the youngest; I caught her just as she was staring into my face as if I was something she had never seen. I glared at her and at all of them. Couldn’t they see what I looked like? I didn’t look right. How could I get married looking like that?
The pitted-cheeked woman’s red lips pursed.
‘You should try to please your mother, no?’ she said coldly”

I will leave the very enjoyable ending untold.  You can purchase on Amazon the anthology in which it it is published Kin:New Writings by Black and Asian Women, edited by Karen McCarthy.

“Red Sari” packs a lot into five pages, family dynamics, immigration issues, bridal jitters and more.  You can see her skill as a visual artist manifesting itself in her fiction.  

Next month I will post on another story by Amanthi Harris, this time one set in Sri Lanka. 

“I was born in Sri Lanka and  grew up in Colombo. Later I moved to London where I have been ever since, with an escape now and then to Paris and to Sint Truiden in Belgium, to Goa and Cornwall and currently the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain where I am on sabbatical.

“I studied Chemistry then Law at Bristol University, and far more usefully, Fine Art at Central St Martins. I’ve been a terrible trainee solicitor, a very bored editor of law books and a blissfully contented bookseller, writing and making art along the way. I’ve had short stories published, one of which, Red Sari is taught in schools in Sweden and I have also had stories commissioned for and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as Afternoon Readings. I won the Gatehouse Press New Fictions Prize 2016 with my novella Lantern Evening which is published by Gatehouse Press.

I have a Fine Art practice using drawing, painting and 3D and am with the V22 artist collective.
I also run StoryHug an Arts Council England funded project using art and stories to inspire creativity and community.” From the author

Mel u