Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Back Reviews Reel: September 2015

In my reviews of three years past, I evoked classical love as well as a modern dystopia starting my tour in Japan and returning there via New York and Germany. Confessions of Love by Uno Chiyo centres on a doomed love in Tōkyō of the 1920s. About 30 years later and thousands of miles east, the famous protagonist of Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote frequents well-to-do circles to find a husband to give her the happiness and glamour that she yearns for. In futuristic Germany of The Method by Juli Zeh, on the other hand, a woman who lost her brother finds herself prosecuted by a relentless State for letting herself go. The protagonist of The Changeling by Ōe Kenzaburō, the recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature, takes to imaginary conversations with his late youth friend and brother-in-law on the other side with the help of tapes.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Poetry Revisited: That Bright Chimeric Beast by Countee Cullen

That Bright Chimeric Beast

(from Black Christ and Other Poems: 1929)

That bright chimeric beast
Conceived yet never born,
Save in the poet's breast,
The white-flanked unicorn,
Never may be shaken
From his solitude;
Never may be taken
In any earthly wood.

That bird forever feathered,
Of its new self the sire,
After aeons weathered,
Reincarnate by fire,
Falcon may not nor eagle
Swerve from his eyrie,
Nor any crumb inveigle
Down to an earthly tree.

That fish of the dread regime
Invented to become
The fable and the dream
Of the Lord's aquarium,
Leviathan, the jointed
Harpoon was never wrought
By which the Lord's anointed
Will suffer to be caught.

Bird of the deathless breast,
Fish of the frantic fin,
That bright chimeric beast
Flashing the argent skin,—
If beasts like these you'd harry,
Plumb then the poet's dream;
Make it your aviary,
Make it your wood and stream.

There only shall the swish
Be heard of the regal fish;
There like a golden knife
Dart the feet of the unicorn,
And there, death brought to life,
The dead bird be reborn.

Countee Cullen (1903- 1946)
American poet, novelist, children's writer,
and playwright of the Harlem Renaissance

Friday, 14 September 2018

Book Review: The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch, legends and myths have always been key sources of inspiration for writers. Among the most striking examples of this doubtlessly count the plays credited to William Shakespeare, but there must be countless others who during their careers borrowed more or less generously and palpably to varying degrees from them. In the 1960s, it seems to have been fashionable to write novels with titles referring to a mythological creature that symbolises the protagonist. The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch is one of these. At its centre is a young woman resigned to living like a prisoner on her estate in a remote part of Ireland. Her almost complete passivity pains the newly arrived governess (or rather lady companion) who finds out about the tragic events that made her husband shut her up and who is determined to give her amiable mistress back freedom as well as the joys of real life.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Splithead by Julya Rabinowich

All kinds of bizarre, often magical creatures from fairy-tales and ancient legends inhabit the minds of people young and old everywhere on the planet. There are figures of light that use to enjoy great popularity because they are associated with the good and said to bring happiness along with luck. The nightmarish ones, on the other hand, seem to have krept directly from hell to spread evil and misfortune. Consequently, people fear and avoid them as best they can. A thought-eating and soul-sucking head without body from the rich treasure of Russian myths that is hardly known outside its cultural context is the title-giving creature in Splithead by Julya Rabinowich that I picked as a bookish déjà vu. As a seven-year-old the narrator leaves Leningrad of the 1970s with her parents and finds herself newly planted in Vienna where she and her family are having a hard time striking roots.
Read my review »

Monday, 3 September 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Sphynx by Alfred Douglas

The Sphynx

(from The City of the Soul: 1899)

I gaze across the Nile; flamelike and red
The sun goes down, and all the western sky
Is drowned in sombre crimson; wearily
A great bird flaps along with wings of lead,
Black on the rose-red river. Over my head
The sky is hard green bronze, beneath me lie
The sleeping ships; there is no sound, or sigh
Of the wind's breath, — a stillness of the dead.

Over a palm tree’s top I see the peaks
Of the tall pyramids; and though my eyes
Are barred from it, I know that on the sand
Crouches a thing of stone that in some wise
Broods on my heart; and from the darkening land
Creeps Fear and to my soul in whisper speaks.

Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), full name Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas
British author, poet, translator, and political commentator

Friday, 31 August 2018

Book Review: The Naked Lady by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez be an artist usually implies many struggles, some of them useless not to say quixotic. Part of the problem are people who feel called upon to decide what true art should or should not be and thus influence public opinion including potential buyers. Notably religious leaders along with other rich and powerful personalities have inspired and supported, but also limited artists in their work during most of human history. In Spain, the Holy Inquisition left its mark in art as well as in the minds of people as the painting protagonist of the classical novel The Naked Lady by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez is painfully aware. His convent-educated, bourgeois wife gets into a tantrum over models taking off their clothes before him in his workshop. He abides by her wishes and becomes a celebrated painter of “decent” pictures dreaming all the while of producing a nude like Francisco de Goya.