Monday, 29 February 2016

Poetry Revisited: Spring Snow and Tui by Ursula Bethell

Spring Snow and Tui

(from Collected Poems: 1950)

We said: there will surely be hawthorn out
down in the sun-holding folds of the hills by the sea;
but suddenly snow had forestalled the thorns there
death-white and cold on their boughs hung the festival wreaths.

It is all one. The same hand scatters the blossoms
of winter and spring-time. The black-robed psalmodist,
traversing swiftly the silent landscape like Azrael,
echoed in clear repetition his well-tuned antiphon,
a waking bugle it might be, a passing bell,
of life, death, life, life telling: it is all one.

Ursula Bethell (1874-1945)
New Zealand poet

Friday, 26 February 2016

Book Review: The Tree of Man by Patrick White
2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

Everyday life with its inevitable, often annoying routine is what most of us gladly pass over in silence because it doesn’t seem worthwhile to lose a word about it or just a thought. Nonetheless, the greatest part of human existence is made up of it and at least sometimes we wonder whether there isn’t some unexpected meaning or purpose behind it all – like a secret plan of God or Destiny or whatever other seminal power. The Tree of Man by Patrick White, the Australian Nobel Prize-laureate in Literature of 1973, tells the story of a man who leads just the ordinary life of a hard-working farmer with wife, son and daughter in a changing world. He does what needs to be done and accepts all vicissitudes – joys as well as trials – with apparent stoicism although inwardly he wrestles all his life to reach a deeper understanding and find God.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Writers En-NOBEL-ed... and Quite Forgotten you may be aware – or not –, I’m a more or less regular contributor to Aloi’s blog Read the Nobels and in January I also joined her annual event Read the Nobels 2016 (which is still open for sign-up, by the way!). Both challenge readers and bloggers like me to explore the vast variety of works written by recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature and I ever again seize the opportunity to dig deep into the treasure trove of their books. It’s one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world, and yet, many writer names must be called insider tips rather than household names. Why? Is it a matter of changed tastes? Is it their sheer number? Is it their assumed literary profundity that discourages readers?

Monday, 22 February 2016

Poetry Revisited: Tedio invernale – Winter Weariness by Giosuè Carducci

Tedio invernale

(da Rime nuove: 1887)

Ma ci fu dunque un giorno
Su questa terra il sole?
Ci fur rose e viole,
Luce, sorriso, ardor?

Ma ci fu dunque un giorno
La dolce giovinezza,
La gloria e la bellezza,
Fede, virtude, amor?

Ciò forse avvenne a i tempi
D'Omero e di Valmichi:
Ma quei son tempi antichi,
Il sole or non è piú.

E questa ov'io m'avvolgo
Nebbia di verno immondo
È il cenere d'un mondo
Che forse un giorno fu. 

Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907)
poeta e scrittore italiano;
Premio Nobel per la letteratura 1906

Winter Weariness

(from New Rhymes: 1887)

Were there then roses once
On earth and violets bright?
Did the sun give warmth and light
From a smiling Heaven above?

Was there a golden Time
When all the world was young,
When youth and maiden sung
Of Valour, Faith, and Love?

Perchance such times there were,
Old poets have it so;
But that was long ago,
And no sun shines to-day.

And these unlovely fogs
By winter round me curled
Are the ashes of a world
That hath long since passed away.

Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907)
Italian poet and writer; Nobel Prize in Literature 1906

Translated by Geoffrey Langdale Bickersteth, M. A.
in CARDUCCI: A Selection of his Poems, with
Verse Translations, Notes, and Three Introductory Essays
Longmans, Green and Co., London 1913

Friday, 19 February 2016

Book Review: The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier
2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

We all know that love in all its forms is not just a strong emotion but also a very important driving force in life. And it can outlast death so we like to call it eternal. The mere idea of it makes us dream and not least because of this quality, love has always been a favourite topic of authors and readers alike. Bestselling lists prove that the romance genre keeps being enormously popular – and also very diverse since it comprises works considered as shallow chick lit as well as highbrow literature. The classical novel The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier first published in 1931 is a sentimental family saga in the tradition of Emily Brontë. It recounts the lives of Janet Coombie and her descendants that through a hundred years remain connected and characterised just as much by a wandering as by a loving spirit passed on from generation to generation.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Back Reviews Reel: February 2013

If you have a look into my blog archive of February 2013, you’ll find there four reviews. Two are of classics from the pen of Austrian writers or to be precise of very renowned Austrians since Viktor E. Frankl was really a psychiatrist telling his own – true – survival story from the holocaust, not an innovator of literature like Arthur Schnitzler. The remaining two reviews are of contemporary novels, one by the established Italian writer Erri de Luca and the other by a new American author called Michelle Cohen Corasanti.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Poetry Revisited: No Coward Soul is Mine by Emily Brontë

No Coward Soul is Mine

(from Selections from the Literary Remains of Ellis and Acton Bell: 1850)

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven's glories shine,
And Faith shines equal, arming me from Fear.

O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life, that in me has rest,
As I, undying Life, have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men's hearts : unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thy infinity,
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and moon were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou -- THOU art Being and Breath,
And what THOU art may never be destroyed.

Emily Brontë (1818-1848)
English novelist and poet

Friday, 12 February 2016

Book Review: Bells Above Greens by David Xavier review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

In general, I don’t review any self-published works, even less when they are coming-of-age or young adult fiction, but the letter X in my alphabet of writers was quite a hard nut to crack – above all because I wanted to read something by a non-Chinese author for a change. So despite me, I seized the opportunity to get myself a free copy of Bells Above Greens by David Xavier, a novel set in the early 1950s surrounding a confused young man who just returned from the Korean War where he lost his older brother as well as much admired role model and only family. Although he has not the slightest idea what to make of his life, he resumes his studies at the University of Notre Dame du Lac in Indiana and soon finds himself torn between two women, namely rebellious as well as shallow Liv and his late brother’s ambitious girlfriend Elle.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: Letter from an Unknown Woman by Stefan Zweig,12326555In his time Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was one of the most famous and most successful German-language writers, but when – despairing at the political situation in his country of origin (he was Austrian of Jewish descent) – he took his own life in Brazilian exile, he knew that he was a relic of The World of Yesterday as he had perpetuated it in his autobiography. The works of the prolific author are classics of literature today and many of them have never gone out of print here in the German-speaking world, but their English translations seem to have fallen into oblivion to be rediscovered only recently. The novella that I’m reviewing today counts among Stefan Zweig’s most important and superb ones. It’s Letter from an Unknown Woman (Brief einer Unbekannten) first published in 1922 and adapted for the screen several times, e.g. one from 1948 directed by Max Ophüls.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Poetry Revisited: Be Not Sad Because All Men by James Joyce

Poem XIX
Be Not Sad Because All Men

(from Chamber Music: 1907)

Be not sad because all men
Prefer a lying clamour before you:
Sweetheart, be at peace again,
Can they dishonour you?

They are sadder than all tears;
Their lives ascend as a continual sigh.
Proudly answer to their tears:
As they deny, deny.

James Joyce (1882-1941)
Irish novelist and poet

Friday, 5 February 2016

Book Review: The Encyclopaedia of Good Reasons by Monica Cantieni
2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

For many children the world is a thrilling place full of mystery and adventure that they are allowed to discover step by step, while for others it has in store mainly misery, pain and reproaches. Not every child is blessed with a carefree and happy existence! The six-year-old protagonist of The Encyclopaedia of Good Reasons by Monica Cantieni had a poor start into life although she was born in Switzerland. She passed her early years in a typical orphanage of the 1970s until a childless Swiss couple “buys” her for 365,-- francs and takes her home with them. All of a sudden she finds herself in a confusing new world filled with words that nobody ever bothered to teach her and with good reasons that she doesn’t know. In ancient and senile grand-father Tat the girl finds an invaluable ally who helps her to find her way.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

29 Book Suggestions for the Month of Letters

Image: courtesy of Andrys at pixabay

Or: Tribute to the Epistolary Novel

Thanks to the book blog A Work in Progress I learnt that February is the month of Letters.

Obviously, it’s not the letters of the alphabet that are meant, but the old-fashioned means to let people who aren’t around know things first-hand (and secretly if need be) instead of from hear-say. With the technological progress of telecommunications, notably the invention of the Internet, letters have almost disappeared from our daily lives although there are still enthusiasts like me who keep alive the ancient art of writing snail mail. For the rest, I reckon that many digital natives will know (private) letters only from books.

As it happens, many authors exchanged letters with friends, colleagues or the great men and women of their time. Often their more or less private correspondence was later published in books, be it still during their life-time or posthumously, and there’s no need to draw extra attention to these collections since they are recognisable at first sight for what they are. In fact, I’m more interested in fictional letters that have been an important, almost indispensable ingredient of novels for centuries. Just think of the many letters that Jane Austen makes write Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice to name but one example. Moreover, there’s an entire literary form based on letters: the epistolary novel.

The origins of the epistolary novel date back until the late seventeenth century at least. Because together with the diary novel it was the first literary form that allowed a more personal, even intimate perspective, it can with due right be called a precursor of the modern psychological novel. Many authors used the format to tell their stories. Many of these epistolary novels are forgotten today because they lost relevance as time progressed, while others have become timeless classics that are not only famous but also widely-read until the present day. Among contemporary authors the epistolary novel isn’t very popular although every once and again one of them takes up the thread using the format in its traditional or a modernised form.

On the occasion of this Month of Letters I put together the following – chronological – list of 29 epistolary novels, one for each day of February (2016 is a leap-year, in case you haven’t yet noticed!), although I doubt that anybody can read them all within only one month. Some of the books on my list, notably the English translations, seem to be out of print or difficult to get like the three by recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature (Heinrich Böll, Saul Bellow and Camilo José Cela) that would be perfect contributions to Read the Nobels 2016. Nonetheless, I hope that you'll find something to your taste. Enjoy!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Poetry Revisited: In the Gloaming by Meta Orred

In the Gloaming
Listen to a musical version
of Meta Orred's poem
on The Public Domain Review

(from Poems: 1874)

In the gloaming, oh, my darling,
When the lights are dim and low,
And the quiet shadows falling,
Softly come, and softly go;

When the winds are sobbing faintly,
With a gentle, unknown woe;
Will you think of me and love me?
As you did once long ago?

In the gloaming, oh, my darling,
Think not bitterly of me.
Tho’ I passed away in silence,
Left you lonely, set you free;

For my heart was crushed with longing,
What has been could never be;
It was best to leave you thus, dear,
Best for you and best for me.

It was best to leave you thus,
Best for you and best for me.

Meta Orred (1846-1925)
Scottish author and poet