Friday, 29 May 2015

Book Review: Yellow Street by Veza Canetti

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7635971-yellow-streetThe interwar period appears to have been a particularly creative time considering how many important artists it brought forth despite the poverty and misery that a great part of humanity had to face during those turbulent years. Also writers have been very productive in the 1920s and 1930s, especially in the German-speaking world and not least in Austria. And as can be expected many of them wrote about the vicissitudes of life that they saw every day in their neighbourhoods. Yellow Street by Veza Canetti is such a novel. Set in Vienna in the early 1930s it tells the stories of five ordinary women or girls living in a street where people know each other and where a great number of small (Jewish) shops provides the perfect environment for gossip.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Poetry Revisited: Whitsuntide by Juliana Horatia Ewing

Whitsuntide

(1864)

(church hymn first published in Horatia Katharine Frances Gatty,
Juliana Horatia Ewing and Her Books [1885] page 17)

Come down! come down! O Holy Ghost!
As once of old Thou didst come down
In fiery tongues at Pentecost,
The Apostolic heads to crown.

Come down! though now no flame divine,
Nor heaven-sent Dove, our sight amaze;
Our Church still shows the outward sign,
Thou truly givest inward grace.

Come down! come down! on infancy,
The babes whom Jesus deign'd to love;
God give us grace by faith to see,
Above the Font, the mystic Dove.

Come down! come down! on kneeling bands
Of those who fain would strength receive;
And in the laying on of hands
Bless us beyond what we believe.

Come down! not only on the saint,
Oh! struggle with the hard of heart,
With wilful sin and inborn taint,
Till lust, and wrath, and pride depart.

Come down! come down! sweet Comforter!
It was the promise of the Lord.
Come down! although we grieve Thee sore,
Not for our merits--but His Word.

Come down! come down! not what we would,
But what we need, O bring with Thee.
Turn life's sore riddle to our good;
A little while and we shall see. Amen.

Juliana Horatia Ewing
(1841-1885)

Friday, 22 May 2015

Book Review: Penguin Island by Anatole France

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2430793.Penguin_Island
We humans are a strange lot. We are proud of our history although it tells of so many wars that there probably are only very few places in Europe that can boast with NOT having been a battlefield at one time or another. We highly appreciate virtue and cast it into elaborate forms like social conventions and religion, and yet, we seem to have inherited a rather vicious vein which strikes through ever again and results in incredible atrocities. The history of Penguin Island by Anatole France holds the mirror up to us showing plainly and in a rather cynical tone how our modern society was to became what it is and where it might lead us in the future.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Book Review: Heart of Tango by Elia Barceló

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12249899-heart-of-tangoTango is not just a very passionate Latin-American dance that fascinates aficionados all around the world, but in a way it represents life itself with all its ups and downs, above all love and pain. For this week’s review I chose a novel in which tango serves to magically link the fates of two sets of people living at different times and in different places. Heart of Tango by Elia Barceló is at the same time the unusual story of the modern-day tango lovers Rodrigo and Milena who seize any opportunity to dance tango in their scarce free time and who are unknowingly involved into the tragic events which the tango passion of Natalia and Diego brought about through the hands of Natalia’s husband Rojo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1920.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Author's Portrait: Laure Conan

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Laure_Conan.png#
Laure Conan, ca. 1870
In a time when writing was still widely considered a male profession, the courage and stamina of women who despite all obstacles and polemics aspired to become authors can only be called admirable. What made them go public with their stories, essays etc. wasn’t always the strong yearning to share them with less biased readers than family and friends, nor the overpowering desire to show to the world that they were just as able writers as their male contemporaries, but in many cases necessity and desperation drove them to try a literary way out of misery. One of these women was the French-Canadian novelist, biographer and journalist Laure Conan who was the first in her country who actually managed to live from the pen.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Poetry Revisited: The Unseen Miracle by Theodosia Garrison

The Unseen Miracle

(from The Dreamers and Other Poems: 1917)

The Angel of the night when night was gone
High upon Heaven's ramparts, cried, "The Dawn!"

And wheeling worlds grew radiant with the one
And undiminished glory of the sun.

And Angel, Seraph, Saint and Cherubim
Raised to the morning their exultant hymn.

All Heaven thrilled anew to look upon
The great recurring miracle of dawn.

And in the little worlds beneath them--men
Rose, yawned and ate and turned to toil again.

Theodosia Garrison
(1874-1944)

Friday, 8 May 2015

Book Review: Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12070697-pereira-maintainsIt is often said that centuries-old literature is too remote from modern life to have any regard to current affairs. In fact, real classics are universal and timeless which allows every new generation to gain new insights from them. Moreover it’s a big mistake to believe that they are inconspicuous from a political point of view. As one of my teachers at university used to say, everything is politics – not one of us can live without making political statements all the time, be it through the choice of a read. The literature-loving protagonist of Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi learns it the hard way. The literary editor of a newspaper in fascist Portugal doesn’t expect that publishing the translations of French nineteenth-century classics will get him into trouble with the terror regime of António de Oliveira Salazar just like his young trainee Francesco Monteiro Rossi and his friend Marta who are active in the resistance.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Poetry Revisited: The Surprise by William Barnes

The Surprise

(from Poems of Rural Life in Common English: 1868)

As there I left the road in May,
And took my way along a ground,
I found a glade with girls at play,
By leafy boughs close-hemmed around,
And there, with stores of harmless joys,
They plied their tongues, in merry noise:
Though little did they seem to fear
So queer a stranger might be near;
Teeh-hee! Look here! Hah! ha! Look there!
And oh! so playsome, oh! so fair.

And one would dance as one would spring,
Or bob or bow with leering smiles,
And one would swing, or sit and sing,
Or sew a stitch or two at whiles,
And one skipped on with downcast face,
All heedless, to my very place,
And there, in fright, with one foot out,
Made one dead step and turned about.
Heeh, hee, oh! oh! ooh! oo! Look there!
And oh! so playsome, oh! so fair.

Away they scampered all, full speed,
By boughs that swung along their track,
As rabbits out of wood at feed,
At sight of men all scamper back.
And one pulled on behind her heel,
A thread of cotton, off her reel,
And oh! to follow that white clue,
I felt I fain could scamper too.
Teeh, hee, run here. Eeh! ee! Look there!
And oh! so playsome, oh! so fair.

William Barnes
(1801-1886)

Friday, 1 May 2015

Book Review: Lyric Novella by Annemarie Schwarzenbach

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12703703-lyric-novella
Thinking of Switzerland literature certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind because in this context language is more important than nationality and therefore the country’s bigger neighbours France, Italy… and Germany reap many of the laurels. Nonetheless there is a thriving community of German-language writers in Switzerland and probably there always was although among Swiss authors published before 1939 I could name only four until recently: Johanna Spyri, C. F. Meyer, Carl Spitteler, and Hermann Hesse. With today’s review I’m putting the spotlight on the work of a fifth, of a woman writer. Lyric Novella by Annemarie Schwarzenbach is the sentimental story of a nameless narrator’s obsession for the cabaret singer Sibylle set in the thriving theatre scene of 1930s Berlin as it is known from the musical Cabaret.