Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Back Reviews Reel: October 2015

Three years ago I read two classics illustrating the aftermaths of World War I and three very different novels about love. While the forgotten English classic The Happy Foreigner by Enid Bagnold shows new life sprouting from battlefields, the classical Austrian novel Little Apple by Leo Perutz portrays a man seeking revenge for atrocities suffered in a Russian prisoners-of-war camp. Set in modern-day Tōkyo, the contemporary Japanese novel The Briefcase by Kawakami Hiromi follows the budding love between a woman and her former teacher. In contrast, Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez, the 1982 Nobel laureate in Literature, is a contemporary novel set in eighteenth-century South America that surrounds a doomed teenager who awakens passionate love in her exorcist. The Japanese historical classic A Tale of False Fortunes by Enchi Fumiko evokes the love of Emperor Ichijō and his first Consort Empress just before the year 1000.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Autumnal Walk by George Crabbe

The Autumnal Walk

(from Tales of the Hall: 1819)

It was a fair and mild autumnal sky,
And earth’s ripe treasures met the admiring eye,
‘As a rich beauty, when her bloom is lost,
Appears with more magnificence and cost;
T3ie wet and heavy grass, where feet had stray’d,
Not yet erect, the wanderer’s way beiray’d;
Showers of the night had swell’d the deepening rill,
The morning breeze had urged the quickening mill;
Assembled roots had wing’d their seaward flight,
By the same passage to return at night,
While proudly o’er them hung the steady Idle,
Then turn’d them back, and left the noisy throng.
Nor deign’d to know them as he sail’d along.
Long yellow leaves, from osiers, strew’d around,
Choked the dull stream, and husb’d its feeble sound,
While the dead foliage dropt from loftier trees,
Our squire beheld not with his wonted ease;
But to his own reflections made reply,
And said aloud, “Yes; doubtless we must die.”

“We must” said Richard; “and we would not live
To feel what dotage and decay will give;
But we yet taste whatever we behold;
The morn is lovely, though the air is cold:
There is delicious quiet in this scene,
At once so rich, so varied, so serene;
Sounds, too, delight us—each discordant tone
Thus mingled, please, that Ml to please alone;
This hollow wind, this rustling of the brook.
The farmyard noise, the woodman at yon oak—
See! the axe falls! —now listen to the stroke;
That gun itself, that murders all this peace,
Adds to the charm, because it soon must cease.”

“No. doubt,” said George, “the country has its charms!”
My farm behold! the model for all farms!
Look at that land — you find not there a weed,
We grub the roots, and suffer none to seed.
To land like this no botanist will come.
To seek the precious ware he hides at home;
Pressing the leaves and flowers with effort nice.
As if they came from herbs in Paradise;
Let them their favourites with my neighbours sec,
They have no — what?— no habitat with me.
Now see my flock, and hear its glory; — none
Have that vast body and that slender hone;
They are the village’s boast, the dealer’s theme,
Fleece of such staple! flesh in such esteem!”

“Brother,” said Richard, “do I hear aright?
Does the land truly give so much delight?”

“So says my bailiff: sometimes I have tried
To catch the joy, but nature has denied;
It will not be — the mind has had a store
Laid up for life, and will admit no more:
Worn out in trials, and about to die,
In vain to these we for amusement fly;
We farm, we garden, we our poor employ,
And much command, though little we enjoy;
Or, if ambitious, we employ our pen.
We plant a desert, or we drain a fen;
And— here, behold my medal! — this will show
What men may merit when they nothing know.”

“Yet reason here,” said Richard, “joins with pride: — ”
“I did not ask th’ alliance,” George replied —
“I grant it true, such trifle may induce
A dull, proud man to wake and be of use;
And there are purer pleasures, that a mind
Calm and uninjured may in villas find;
But where th’ affections have been deeply tried.
With other food that mind must be supplied:
‘Tis not in trees or medals to impart
The powerful medicine for an aching heart;
The agitation dies, but there is still
The backward spirit, the resisting will.
Man takes his body to a country seat,
But minds, dear Richard, have their own retreat;
Oft when the feet are pacing o’er the green
The mind is gone where never grass was seen.
And never thinks of hill, or vale, or plain,
Till want of rest creates a sense of pain.
That calls that wandering mind, and brings it home again.
No more of farms: but here I boast of minds
That make a friend the richer when he finds;
These shalt thou see; — but, Richard, be it known.
Who thinks to see must in his turn be shown: —
But now farewell! to thee will I resign
Woods, walks, and valleys! take them till we dine.”

George Crabbe (1754 -1832)
English poet, surgeon and clergyman

Friday, 12 October 2018

Book Review: Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, it’s an innate impulse to go in search of a better place to live in when for some reason things turn tough where we are and it’s thanks to it that, in the course of tens of thousands of years, human race colonised virtually the entire planet. However, as soon as our ancestors began settling down, migration became a problem because it’s in our nature, too, to protect kith and kin as well as resources from rapacious outsiders. Huge migration waves as in ancient times no longer happen, but a stream of refugees like in the summer of 2015 suffices to put us into a state of alarm. In Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck a recently retired classics professor gets involved in the lives of a group of asylum seekers who camp on a central square in Berlin to become visible as human beings in need.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Poetry Revisited: Sonnet On the Approach of Autumn by Amelia Opie

Sonnet On the Approach of Autumn

(from The Warrior’s Return and Other Poems: 1808)

Farewell gay Summer! now the changing wind
That Autumn brings commands thee to retreat;
It fades the roses which thy temples bind,
And the green sandals which adorn thy feet.

Now flies with thee the walk at eventide,
That favouring hour to rapt enthusiasts dear;
When most they love to seek the mountain side,
And mark the pomp of twilight hastening near.

Then fairy forms around the poet throng,
On every cloud a glowing charm he sees....
Sweet Evening, these delights to thee belong:....

But now, alas! comes Autumn's chilling breeze,
And early Night, attendant on its sway,
Bears in her envious veil sweet Fancy's hour away.

Amelia Opie (1769-1853)
English author of the Romantic Period

Friday, 5 October 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

No matter where, the lot of an immigrant can be terribly hard, especially when all hopes are crushed and things still continue to turn from bad to worse barring even the way back into the bosom of the family. It needs a strong character and an unbending will to go on struggling under such adverse circumstances instead of giving way to such deep desperation that drifting through life seems just as well because nothing that could happen really matters anymore. Sometimes they even watch their own fall in amusement like the protagonist of Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys, which I chose as a bookish déjà-vu. By the late 1930s, the Englishwoman who rather stranded in Paris than she settled down there has gone so far downhill that she has no strength left to even try to get back on her feet and to take life into her own hands… 

Monday, 1 October 2018

Poetry Revisited: In October by Bliss Carman

In October

(from Later Poems: 1921)

Now come the rosy dogwoods,
The golden tulip-tree,
And the scarlet yellow maple,
To make a day for me.
The ash-trees on the ridges,
The alders in the swamp,
Put on their red and purple
To join the autumn pomp.
The woodbine hangs her crimson
Along the pasture wall,
And all the bannered sumacs
Have heard the frosty call.
Who then so dead to valor
As not to raise a cheer,
When all the woods are marching
In triumph of the year?

Bliss Carman (1861-1929)
Canadian poet

Friday, 28 September 2018

Book Review: X Out of Wonderland by David Allan Cates

To everybody the world may occasionally seem unreal like the scenario of a fairy-tale or a dream because something unusual and improbable is happening. The situation may even be so dumbfounding that those living it behave like sleepwalkers or automatons for a while. Unshakable optimism and absolute trust in a person, a system or even an idea can produce a similar effect because they often distort the view of things to allow seeing them as desired instead of as they are. The novel X Out of Wonderland by David Allan Cates surrounds a protagonist who was taught to believe firmly and unquestioningly in the forces of the global free market and in its power to provide the best for all. Even when misfortune strikes him hard all of a sudden leaving him jobless, homeless and without the most intriguing woman that he just met, he endures everything without losing faith.