History is a matter of point of view. Despite dates and facts serving as cornerstones to reconstruct past events, our knowledge of times gone by is inevitably biased since it is always filtered by the historians who write it down according to their own backgrounds and interests. We never get a complete picture, we never know all sides to what happened. Thus especially the female dimension of history has been widely neglected, not to say passed over in silence for many centuries although there are traces of it to be found if thoroughly looked for. Historical fiction of merit and quality can help to bring back to light forgotten or misjudged women of the past. One such work is A Tale of False Fortunes by Enchi Fumiko that evokes the tragic events surrounding Fujiwara Teishi, the first consort of Emperor Ichijō, who lived in Japan in the late tenth century.
Friday, 30 October 2015
Thursday, 29 October 2015
Undeniably, the year 1848 was one of unrest in Europe. Starting in France – once more – the spirit of revolution spread like a blaze over virtually the entire continent. The then famous and today largely forgotten German writer Fanny Lewald (1811-1889) witnessed...
Monday, 26 October 2015
October(from The Cornflower and Other Poems: 1906)
Who is it says May is the crown of the year?
Who is it says June is the gladdest?
Who is it says Autumn is withered and sere,
The gloomiest season and saddest?
You shut to your doors as I come with my train,
And heed not the challenge I'm flinging,
The ruddy leaf washed by the fresh falling rain,
The scarlet vine creeping and clinging!
Come out where I'm holding my court like a queen,
With canopy rare stretching over;
Come out where I revel in amber and green,
And soon I may call you my lover!
Come out to the hillside, come out to the vale,
Come out ere your mood turns to blaming,
Come out where my gold is, my red gold and pale,
Come out where my banners are flaming!
Come out where the bare furrows stretch in the glow,
Come out where the stubble fields glisten,
Where the wind it blows high, and the wind it blows low,
And the lean grasses dance as they listen!
Friday, 23 October 2015
Love is a very powerful emotion that can overwhelm even the strongest and most disciplined character, especially when it comes by surprise and for the first time. Love always feels like magic, but sometimes it appears to the outsider as if a potent spell has been cast on the lovers or only one of them. When the passion is so strong that it becomes harmful and destructive to the people concerned, it isn’t a long way to think that a demon must be at work. This is what happens in the historical novel Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez set in a time when and a place where superstition was common. It tells a story of first love under particularly unfavourable circumstances and between a most unlikely couple, namely between a scarcely adolescent girl alleged of being possessed by demons and her already middle-aged exorcist in an eighteenth-century sea town somewhere in South America.
Monday, 19 October 2015
An Autumn Landscape(from Lyrics of Earth: 1895)
No wind there is that either pipes or moans;
The fields are cold and still; the sky
Is covered with a blue-gray sheet
Of motionless cloud; and at my feet
The river, curling softly by,
Whispers and dimples round its quiet gray stones.
Along the chill green slope that dips and heaves
The road runs rough and silent, lined
With plum-trees, misty and blue-gray,
And poplars pallid as the day,
In masses spectral, undefined,
Pale greenish stems half hid in dry gray leaves.
And on beside the river's sober edge
A long fresh field lies black. Beyond,
Low thickets gray and reddish stand,
Stroked white with birch; and near at hand,
Over a little steel-smooth pond,
Hang multitudes of thin and withering sedge.
Across a waste and solitary rise
A ploughman urges his dull team,
A stooped gray figure with prone brow
That plunges bending to the plough
With strong, uneven steps. The stream
Rings and re-echoes with his furious cries.
Sometimes the lowing of a cow, long-drawn,
Comes from far off; and crows in strings
Pass on the upper silences.
A flock of small gray goldfinches,
Flown down with silvery twitterings,
Rustle among the birch-cones and are gone.
This day the season seems like one that heeds,
With fixèd ear and lifted hand,
All moods that yet are known on earth,
All motions that have faintest birth,
If haply she may understand
The utmost inward sense of all her deeds.
Friday, 16 October 2015
True love doesn’t take account of age, nor does it always strike the couple concerned like lightning as many romantic (and other) novels make believe. Often it develops almost unnoticed and between unlikely partners brought together not by a sudden flame of love, but because fate has it that they meet regularly over a long period of time. However thrilling it may be to plunge into a tale of all-consuming passion, I find it much more interesting to follow the emotions of two people who gradually take a strong liking to each other until they realise at last that they want to be with each other always. For this week’s review I picked a Japanese novel that tells such a slow-paced love story. In The Briefcase by Kawakami Hiromi a middle-aged woman “drifts” in love with her former high school teacher who is already in his seventies.
Monday, 12 October 2015
Torre de Névoa
(de Livro de Mágoas: 1919)
Subi ao alto, à minha Torre esguia,
Feita de fumo, névoas e luar,
E pus-me, comovida, a conversar
Com os poetas mortos, todo o dia.
Contei-lhes os meus sonhos, a alegria
Dos versos que são meus, do meu sonhar,
E todos os poetas, a chorar,
Responderam-me então: “Que fantasia,
Criança doida e crente! Nós também
Tivemos ilusões, como ninguém,
E tudo nos fugiu, tudo morreu!...”
Calaram-se os poetas, tristemente...
E é desde então que eu choro amargamente
Na minha Torre esguia junto ao Céu!...
Tower of Mist
(from The Book of Sorrows: 1919)
I climbed up high, to my slender tower,
Made of smoke, mists and moonlight,
And, moved, I set about conversing
With the dead poets all day long.
I told them my dreams, the joy
Of the verses that are mine, of my dreaming,
And all poets, crying,
Answered me then, “What fantasy,
Crazy and believing child! We too
Had illusions, like nobody,
And everything fled us, everything died!...”
The poets became silent, sadly…
And it is since then that I cry bitterly
In my slender tower close to Heaven!...
Literal translation by
Edith LaGraziana 2015
Friday, 9 October 2015
According to an old and often quoted saying “Revenge is sweet”, but in reality it’s more likely that it’ll leave a rather bitter, not to say foul aftertaste. Moreover, the wish to restore justice taking revenge for endured suffering, damage or loss very easily becomes blind obsession that will inevitably end in disappointment after having caused pain or even ruin along the way. This is what the young protagonist of the short novel Little Apple by Prague-born Austrian writer Leo Perutz hasn’t yet learnt when he returns to his family in Vienna in autumn 1918. He survived the battlefields of World War I and two years in a Siberian prisoners-of-war camp, he isn’t able to close the chapter for good, though, because he vowed to take revenge for the humiliation, torment and terror that he and his comrades suffered from a sadistic camp commandant. Before long he sets out on a dangerous hunt through half of Europe.
Monday, 5 October 2015
Autumn Days(from Farm Ballads: 1873)
Yellow, mellow, ripened days,
Sheltered in a golden coating;
O'er the dreamy, listless haze,
White and dainty cloudlets floating
Winking at the blushing trees,
And the sombre, furrowed fallow;
Smiling at the airy ease
Of the southward flying swallow.
Sweet and smiling are thy ways,
Beauteous, golden, Autumn days!
Shivering, quivering, tearful days,
Fretfully and sadly weeping;
Dreading still, with anxious gaze,
Icy fetters round thee creeping;
O'er the cheerless, withered plain,
Woefully and hoarsely calling;
Pelting hail and drenching rain,
On thy scanty vestments falling.
Sad and mournful are thy ways,
Grieving, wailing, Autumn days!
Friday, 2 October 2015
A scene of war is a scaring and depressing place. Often no house remains intact, no field safely arable and it seems impossible that the old hustle and bustle of life can ever return. These days we see it in Syria and other regions less present in the media, but not so long ago great parts of Europe were in ruins. Certain areas of France and Belgium were destroyed twice within less than half a century! Today many of the battlefields – what a harmless sounding word compared to German “Schlachtfeld” that has slaughter in it! – are well-kept places of remembrance, while they were nothing but craters and rubble right after World War I and II. The English novel The Happy Foreigner by Enid Bagnold evokes the atmosphere of winter 1918/19, the first of peace after four years of carnage, through the eyes of a young woman driver in the service of the French army.