Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Back Reviews Reel: July 2015

For My Reading Summer of Nordic White Nights I read in July 2015 five more books set in countries with Arctic territories. The contemporary German novel The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny allowed me to accompany a fictionalised version of nineteenth-century explorer Sir John Franklin, before meeting the impoverished working-class family from the French-Canadian classic The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy in Montréal in February 1940. Then I time-travelled to the year 1700 to join a poor farmer sentenced to be beheaded in the classical novel Iceland’s Bell by Halldór K. Laxness, the Nobel laureate in literature of 1955. At my next destination, modern-day Greenland, a series of suicides serves as backbone of the Anatomy of a Night by Austro-Korean writer Anna Kim first released in 2012. From there I half rounded the planet for A Wild Sheep Chase in Northern Japan in the late 1970s with Haruki Murakami.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Wild White Rose by Ellen H. Willis

The Wild White Rose

(from I Left It All With Jesus and Other Poems: 1875)

Oh, that I might have my request, and that God would grant me the thing that I long for.—Job 6:8.

It was peeping through the brambles, that little wild white rose,
Where the hawthorn hedge was planted, my garden to enclose.
All beyond was fern and heather, on the breezy, open moor;
All within was sun and shelter, and the wealth of beauty's store.
But I did not heed the fragrance of flow'ret or of tree,
For my eyes were on that rosebud, and it grew too high for me.
In vain I strove to reach it through the tangled mass of green,
It only smiled and nodded behind its thorny screen.
Yet through that summer morning I lingered near the spot:
Oh, why do things seem sweeter if we possess them not?
My garden buds were blooming, but all that I could see
Was that little mocking wild rose, hanging just too high for me.

So in life's wider garden there are buds of promise, too,
Beyond our reach to gather, but not beyond our view;
And like the little charmer that tempted me astray,
They steal out half the brightness of many a summer's day.
Oh, hearts that fail with longing for some forbidden tree,
Look up and learn a lesson from my white rose and me.
'Tis wiser far to number the blessings at my feet,
Than ever to be sighing for just one bud more sweet.
My sunbeams and my shadows fall from a pierced Hand,
I can surely trust His wisdom since His heart I understand;
And maybe in the morning, when His blessed face I see,
He will tell me why my white rose grew just too high for me.

Ellen H. Willis (dates of birth and death unknown)
Victorian poet and hymn writer

Friday, 13 July 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Tea Lords by Hella S. Haasse

Up to this day it means a lot of hard work to run a farm and without doubt it’s even harder to start one from scratch proving right the ancient wisdom from the Holy Bible that reads: “Thou shalt earn thy bread in the sweat of thy brow!” Certainly, the achievements of technology facilitate the lives of modern farmers, but agriculture has become an industry with the same negative aspects as any other. Much of today’s “sweat” will therefore come from worries rather than physical strain. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the protagonist of the documentary-historical novel The Tea Lords by Hella S. Haasse, which I chose as a bookish déjà vu, had to work hard with his own hands to turn an almost virgin plot of land on the Dutch East Indian island of Java into a thriving tea plantation that can support a growing family.
Read my review »

Monday, 9 July 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Wonderful World by William Brighty Rands

The Wonderful World

(from Lilliput Lectures: 1871)

Great, wide, beautiful, wonderful World,
With the wonderful water round you curled,
And the wonderful grass upon your breast,
World, you are beautifully drest.

The wonderful air is over me.
And the wonderful wind is shaking the tree—
It walks on the water, and whirls the mills,
And talks to itself on the top of the hills.

You friendly Earth, how far do you go,
With the wheat-fields that nod and the rivers that flow,
With cities and gardens, and cliffs and isles,
And people upon you for thousands of miles?

Ah! you are so great, and I am so small,
I hardly can think of you, World, at all;
And yet, when I said my prayers today,
A whisper within me seemed to say:

“You are more than the Earth, though you are such a dot!
You can love and think, and the Earth can not.”

William Brighty Rands (1823-1882)
British writer

Friday, 6 July 2018

Book Review: The Earth and the Fullness Thereof by Peter Rosegger
From the perspective of someone like me who has always lived in a bustling, though not too big city, country life seems enviably quiet, simple and stress-free. But put to the test of reality, the rural idyll like any other soon turns out to be just a utopia, a creation of the (ignorant) mind longing for the perfect life. The novel The Earth and the Fullness Thereof by Peter Rosegger, a much lauded, but today rather forgotten Austrian master of rural fiction and three-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, evokes daily life on a remote mountain farm through the Sunday letters of a journalist from the city turned farmhand for the entire year of 1897 to win a bet. Sharing the joys and sorrows of the mountain farmers, he comes to love not just the family, notably the daughter, but also the old magic of cultivating the land.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Poetry Revisited: Ode to the Poppy by Henrietta O’Neill

Ode to the Poppy

(first published in Charlotte Smith’s novel Desmond: 1792)

Not for the promise of the labor’d field,
Not for the good the yellow harvests yield,
I bend at Ceres’ shrine;
For dull, to humid eyes appear,
The golden glories of the year;
Alas!—a melancholy worship’s mine!

I hail the Goddess for her scarlet flower!
Thou brilliant weed,
That dost so far exceed,
The richest gifts gay Flora can bestow;
Heedless I pass’d thee, in life’s morning hour,
(Thou comforter of woe,)
’Till sorrow taught me to confess thy power.

In early days, when Fancy cheats,
A various wreath I wove;
Of laughing springs luxuriant sweets,
To deck ungrateful love:
The rose, or thorn, my numbers crown’d.
As Venus smil’d, or Venus frown’d;
But Love, and Joy, and all their train, are flown;
E’en languid Hope no more is mine,
And I will sing of thee alone;
Unless, perchance, the attributes of grief,
The cypress bud, and willow leaf,
Their pale, funereal, blend with thine.

Hail, lovely blossom!—thou can’st ease,
The wretched victims of disease;
Can’st close those weary eyes, in a gentle sleep.
Which never open but to weep;
For, oh! thy potent charm,
Can agonizing pain disarm;
Expel imperious memory from her seat,
And bid the throbbing heart forget to beat.

Soul-soothing plant!—that can such blessings give,
By thee the mourner bears to live!
By thee the hopeless die!
Oh! ever “friendly to despair,”
Might sorrow’s pallid votary dare,
Without a crime, that remedy implore,
Which bids the spirit from its bondage fly,
I’d court they palliative aid no more;
No more I’d sue, that thou shouldst spread,
Thy spell around my aching head,
But would conjure thee to impart,
The balsam for a broken heart;
And by thy soft Lethean power,
(Inestimable flower)
Burst these terrestrial bonds, and other regions try.

Henrietta O’Neill (1758-1793)
Irish poet

Friday, 29 June 2018

Book Review: The Kappillan of Malta by Nicholas Monsarrat

However pleasant island life can be, it can also have serious disadvantages when it comes to assuring supply with all those things that nature can’t offer at all or not in sufficient quantities. In war times, for instance, the watery enclosure can turn into an almost unsolvable, even life-threatening problem, notably when the island is located in a strategically important place and becomes target of military action. In history, the latter has been more than once the fate of the small island of Malta in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and North Africa as shows the historical novel The Kappillan of Malta by Nicholas Monsarrat. During World War II Father Salvatore takes it upon him to look after the bombed-out sheltering in catacombs and to improve their morale speaking to them about the many challenges that their forefathers faced and survived in more than two millennia.