Monday, 24 April 2017

Poetry Revisited: Moonset by Emily Pauline Johnson


(from Flint and Feather: 1912)

Idles the night wind through the dreaming firs,
That waking murmur low,
As some lost melody returning stirs
The love of long ago;
And through the far, cool distance, zephyr fanned.
The moon is sinking into shadow-land.

The troubled night-bird, calling plaintively,
Wanders on restless wing;
The cedars, chanting vespers to the sea,
Await its answering,
That comes in wash of waves along the strand,
The while the moon slips into shadow-land.

O! soft responsive voices of the night
I join your minstrelsy,
And call across the fading silver light
As something calls to me;
I may not all your meaning understand,
But I have touched your soul in shadow-land.

Emily Pauline Johnson (1861-1913)
Canadian writer and performer

Friday, 21 April 2017

Book Review: They Were Counted by Bánffy Miklós

The twentieth century before World War One is widely known as the belle époque although already at the time those willing to see could make out the signs of looming disaster. Then just like today, the vast majority preferred to block out forebodings of a ghastly future and went on with their lives as if what was to come were none of their business. The once celebrated and then long forgotten Hungarian classic They Were Counted by Bánffy Miklós shows Hungaro-Transylvanian nobility indulging in balls, hunting parties, horse races, gambling, political discussions, amorous adventures, duels, and voyages abroad. While young Count Bálint Abády represents his district in Hungarian Parliament in Budapest and runs after his married youth friend Adrienne, his sensitive cousin and gifted musician László Gyerőffy falls a victim to unhappy love and to the temptations of Bohemian life, most importantly gambling for high stakes.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Back Reviews Reel: April 2014

My reads of three years ago were quite diverse as regards the genre, while they were set in Europe – Albania and France – and the Americas – Brazil and the USA – respectively. I started into April 2014 with the coming-of-age classic The Three Marias by Brazilian author Rachel de Queiroz that was so daring when it came out in 1939 that it caused quite a scandal although by today’s standards it’s more than decent. The next book on my review list was the historical novel Broken April by contemporary Albanian writer Ismail Kadaré that brought me to the remote highlands of the Western Balkans in the 1920s where ancient rules still determined the lives of people and called for bloody family vendettas. To follow the awakening to true life of a fifty-year-old concierge in modern-day Paris who is the protagonist of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by French novelist Muriel Barbery was certainly more peaceful and philosophical. It’s one of my all-time favourites. Finally, I also read a satire that felt very topical although it first appeared in 1922, namely Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis who was the first US-American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Poetry Revisited: An Easter Rhyme by Barcroft Boake

An Easter Rhyme

(from The Bulletin: 7 May 1892)

Easter Monday in the city—
          Rattle, rattle, rumble, rush;
Tom and Jerry, Nell and Kitty,
          All the down-the-harbour “push,”
Little thought have they, or pity,
          For a wanderer from the bush.

Shuffle, feet, a merry measure,
          Hurry, Jack and find your Jill,
Let her—if it give her pleasure—
          Flaunt her furbelow and frill,
Kiss her while you have the leisure,
          For tomorrow brings the mill.

Go ye down the harbour, winding
          ‘Mid the eucalypts and fern,
Respite from your troubles finding,
          Kiss her, till her pale cheeks burn,
For to-morrow will the grinding
          Mill-stones of the city turn.

Stunted figures, sallow faces,
          Sad girls striving to be gay
In their cheap sateens and laces.
          Ah! how different ‘tis to-day
Where they’re going to the races—
          Yonder—up Monaro way!

Light mist flecks the Murrumbidgee’s
          Bosom with a silver stain,
On the trembling wire bridge is
          Perched a single long legged crane,
While the yellow, slaty ridges
          Sweep up proudly from the plain.

Somebody is after horses—
          Donald, Charlie or young Mac—
Suddenly his arm he tosses,
          Presently you’ll hear the crack,
As the symbol of the cross is
          Made on ‘Possum’s steaming back.

Stirling first! the Masher follows,
          Ly-ee-moon and old Trump Card,
Helter skelter through the shallows
          Of the willow-shaded ford,
Up the lane and past the “gallows,”
          Driven panting to the yard.

In the homestead, what a clatter;
          Habits black and habits blue,
Full a dozen red lips patter:
          “Who is going to ride with who?”
Mixing sandwiches and chatter,
          Gloves to button, hair to “do,”

Horses stamp and stirrups jingle,
          “Dash the filly! won’t she wait?”
Voices, bass and treble, mingle,
          “Look sharp, May, or we’ll be late;”
How the pulses leap and tingle
          As you lift her featherweight!

At the thought the heart beats quicker
          Than an old Bohemian’s should,
Beating like my battered ticker
          (Pawned this time, I fear, for good).
Bah! I’ll go and have a liquor
          With the genial “Jimmy Wood.”

Barcroft Boake (1866-1892)
Australian bush poet

Friday, 14 April 2017

Book Review: Celebration in the Northwest by Ana María Matute give way to feelings of inferiority and fear, to envy and ill will, to hatred and malice is never a good idea because it leads straight into a life of ever growing misery. Once caught in the vicious circle of such harmful emotions, it’s difficult to break out and to see the good in life or other people. Often the seed for a negative view of the world – and lifelong unhappiness – is planted in the soul already in earliest childhood like in the case of the main protagonist of Celebration in the Northwest by Catalan author Ana María Matute. As a man in his mid-forties, Juan looks back on his childhood and youth, notably on the mixture of hatred and love that he felt for his half-brother Pablo who was his complete opposite in looks as well as character and whom he chased away in an attempt to make him share his misery.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: Bruges-la-morte by Georges Rodenbach Widower’s Grief:
Bruges-la-morte by Georges Rodenbach

Women or men who need to come to terms with the loss of a loved one are popular figures in literature. Since readers like happy endings, the grieving often find new joy, maybe even new love by the end of the story and at first this also seems to be the case in the late nineteenth-century novel Bruges-la-morte by almost forgotten Belgian journalist, poet and novelist Georges Rodenbach (1855-1898). But he was obsessed with death and so it’s little wonder that his symbolist chef-d'œuvre first published in 1892 is a thoroughly gloomy piece of prose poetry, a short Gothic novel in the vein of his contemporary Oscar Wilde. The book focuses on the melancholy scene of dead or moribund Bruges in Belgium at least as much as on the woebegone protagonist who has chosen the city to indulge in his infinite sorrow after the death of his adored wife and in keeping her memory alive.

Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

Monday, 10 April 2017

Poetry Revisited: The Weaver of Bruges by M. M. P. Dinsmoor

The Weaver of Bruges

(from The Highland Weekly News of March 19, 1884)

The strange old streets of Bruges town
Lay white with dust and summer sun,
The tinkling goat bells slowly passed
At milking-time, ere day was done.

An ancient weaver, at his loom,
With trembling hands his shuttle plied,
While roses grew beneath his touch,
And lovely hues were multiplied.

The slant sun, through the open door,
Fell bright, and reddened warp and woof,
When with a cry of pain a little bird,
A nestling stork, from off the roof,

Sore wounded, fluttered in and sat
Upon the old man’s outstretched hand;
“Dear Lord,” he murmured, under breath,
“Hast thou sent me this little friend?”

And to his lonely heart he pressed
The little one, and vowed no harm
Should reach it there; so, day by day,
Caressed and sheltered by his arm,

The young stork grew apace, and from
The loom’s high beams looked down with eyes
Of silent love upon his ancient friend,
As two lone ones might sympathize.

At last the loom was hushed: no more
The deftly handled shuttle flew;
No more the westering sunlight fell
Where blushing silken roses grew.

And through the streets of Bruges town
By strange hands cared for, to his last
And lonely rest, ‘neath darkening skies,
The ancient weaver slowly passed;

Then strange sight met the gaze of all:
A great white stork, with wing-beats slow,
Too sad to leave the friend he loved,
With drooping head, flew circling low,

And ere the trampling feet had left
The new-made mound, dropt slowly down,
And clasped the grave in his white wings
His pure breast on the earth so brown.

Nor food, nor drink, could lure him thence,
Sunrise nor fading sunsets red;
When little children came to see,
The great white stork—was dead.

M. M. P. Dinsmoor
no information about the poet available,
maybe Mrs. Margaret Dinsmoor who wrote a poem for the
150th anniversary of Windham, New Hamphire, in 1892

Friday, 7 April 2017

Book Review: Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard
Some experiences and decisions can cast a lifelong shadow on our souls making us overly suspicious and critical of everything and everyone. Such general contempt is likely to make us unhappy and unpopular on the long run… although not necessarily. Some people who like to rant meet admiration from their surroundings, especially the cultured ones. In the Austrian novel Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard a bitter old man contemplates his bitter old friend who sits on a settee in the Viennese Kunsthistorisches Museum to contemplate a Tintoretto portrait of a white-bearded man. For over thirty years the man on the settee has been looking for a flaw in the Renaissance painting because unable to bear with the illusion of perfection he early made it his habit to find fault at everything and everyone. No great creative mind escapes his criticism and he gladly rants about them thus filling his friend with admiration.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Poetry Revisited: On Leaving Bruges by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Bruegge huidenvettersplein.jpg
Huidenvettersplein in Bruges via Wikimedia Commons

On Leaving Bruges

(from Ballads and Sonnets: 1881)

The city's steeple-towers remove away,
Each singly; as each vain infatuate Faith
Leaves God in heaven, and passes. A mere breath
Each soon appears, so far. Yet that which lay
The first is now scarce further or more grey
Than the last is. Now all are wholly gone.
The sunless sky has not once had the sun
Since the first weak beginning of the day.
The air falls back as the wind finishes,
And the clouds stagnate. On the water's face
The current breathes along, but is not stirred.
There is no branch that thrills with any bird.
Winter is to possess the earth a space,
And have its will upon the extreme seas.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
English poet, illustrator, painter and translator

Friday, 31 March 2017

Book Review: Água Viva by Clarice Lispector to scientists specialised in the workings of the brain, the present lasts no longer than three seconds. Certainly, when we say “now”, we seldom think of it as such a short period of time, but language is necessarily imprecise and in addition meaning changes with context as well as with people concerned. Nonetheless, we may agree on it that the present is nothing but a fleeting moment that separates past and future… and it’s all that we actually have. Everything else only exists as an idea in the mind, as a memory of what has been or as a notion of what will be. In daily life, most of us don’t pay particular attention to the here and now with all that it implies. To capture the present, to live it and to be it is the goal of the painter who dives into the stream of thoughts forming the novel Água Viva by Clarice Lispector.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Poetry Revisited: Tender Mercies by Anna Laetitia Waring

Tender Mercies

(from Hymns and Meditations: 1850)

Tender mercies, on my way
Falling softly like the dew,
Sent me freshly every day,
I will bless the Lord for you.

Though I have not all I would,
Though to greater bliss I go,
Every present gift of good
To Eternal Love I owe.

Source of all that comforts me,
Well of joy for which I long,
Let the song I sing to Thee
Be an everlasting song.

Anna Laetitia Waring (1823-1910)
Welsh poet and hymn-writer

Friday, 24 March 2017

Book Review: The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary

In many parts of the world eco-activists are sniggered at or much worse because people feel that they have more pressing problems than protecting their environment – worries about potable water, enough food or a decent home for instance. Others carelessly exploit, pollute and destroy our only natural habitat not out of necessity, but out of greed for money or even out of sheer human arrogance that they willingly justify quoting religious, philosophical or scientific sources in their favour. Machiavelli sends his compliments! In the end, it’s only a tiny step from disrespect for nature to disregard for our fellow human beings and their fundamental needs or rights. On the surface the winner novel of the French Prix Goncourt 1956, The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary, seems to deal only with the stubborn fight of one man for the protection of elephants in Africa while in reality it addresses central human ideals, above all freedom.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Poetry Revisited: Frühlingsgruß – Spring Greeting by Johann Nepomuk Vogl


(aus Lyrische Blätter: 1835)

Frühling, Frühling, sei willkommen,
Sei willkommen uns aufs neu’,
Nun du wieder heimgekommen
Mit der alten Lieb’ und Treu’.

Schwing’ jetzt deine grünen Fahnen
Freudig wieder durch die Luft,
Dass dich die Getreuen ahnen,
Die noch schlummern in der Gruft.

Sende jetzt nach allen Winden
Deine muntern Sänger aus,
Heiß es Allen jetzt verkünden:
Dass du wieder sei’st zu Haus.

Gib die Botschaft allen Wellen,
Heiß’ es flüstern Strom und Fluss,
Und den Wolken gib, den hellen
An die Ferne deinen Gruß.

Dass sich jedes, dir zum Ruhme
Jetzt erfreu’, in Lust und Scherz,
Nenn’ es Baum sich oder Blume,
Vogel oder Menschenherz.

Johann Nepomuk Vogl (1802-1866)
österreichischer Schriftsteller,
Lyriker und Publizist

Spring Greeting

(from Lyric Leaves: 1835)

Spring, spring, be welcome,
Be welcome to us again,
Now you have come home again
With the old love and faithfulness.

Now swing your green flags
Joyfully again through the air,
That the faithful may divine you,
Who are still slumbering in the crypt.

Now send to all winds
Your gay singers,
Let it be announced to all now:
That you're home again.

Give the message to all waves,
Let it whisper stream and river,
And give the clouds, the bright
Your greeting to the distance.

That each, to your glory
Now rejoices , in pleasure and jest,
May you call it tree or flower,
Bird or human heart.

Johann Nepomuk Vogl (1802-1866)
Austrian writer,
lyricist and publicist

Literal translation: Edith Lagraziana 2017

Friday, 17 March 2017

Book Review: The Country Road by Regina Ullmann few people life is a bed of roses and even if it appears to be just that in one moment, in the very next moment it can turn to be the complete opposite. It depends on our attitude if we accept the challenge and keep our eyes open for the good and the beautiful surrounding us or if we give way to despair and drown in depression when we realise that nothing in our existence is permanent except change. Set against the backdrop of rural Switzerland and in one case Styria (a province of Austria) in the early twentieth century, the almost forgotten Swiss writer Regina Ullmann shows in her volume of short stories titled The Country Road people who have got to know the ugly side of life all too well and who despite all haven’t lost their ability to see the beauty of the world that makes their being not just bearable but even worthwhile.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Back Reviews Reel: March 2014

Looking back, I realise that among my four reviews of March 2014 three were quite on the Nobel side. I started into the month with a socialist classic from 1920 that is said to be the finest work of the writer Concha Espina from Northern Spain, namely her novel titled The Metal of the Dead. In fact, she never received the Nobel Prize in Literature, but she was nominated several times and she was a runner-up for it at least twice. Contrary to her, the contemporary French author of Desert, i.e. Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, actually won the prestigious prize in 2008 which was a late success considering that the impressive novel that I presented here had established him as a writer already decades earlier. In 2004 the Swedish Academy also awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to my compatriot, Austrian writer and above all playwright Elfriede Jelinek, earning unexpected polemics for the decision. In her career she published a few novels too and I picked an early one, Women as Lovers, for review. Only the last novel that I featured in March 2014, A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, is from the pen of an author who was never even considered for the Nobel Prize.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Poetry Revisited: White Sunshine by Lesbia Harford

White Sunshine

(from The Poems of Lesbia Harford: 1941)

The sun’s my fire
Golden, from a magnificence of blue
Should be its hue.

But woolly clouds
Like boarding-house old ladies, come and sit
In front of it.

White sunshine, then,
That has the frosty glimmer of white hair,
Freezes the air.

They must forget,
So self-absorbed are they, so very old
That I'll be cold.

Lesbia Harford (1891-1927)
Australian poet, novelist and political activist

Friday, 10 March 2017

Book Review: The Pope’s Daughter by Dario Fo’s a known fact that places of power are and have always been hotbeds of gossip, intrigue and crime. As capital of the Papal State and seat of her glamorous Court, the Holy See in Renaissance Rome wasn’t an exception as Martin Luther learnt during his visit there in 1510/11. The idealistic German monk must still have heard people gossipping about the Borgia family and its unscrupulous head Pope Alexander VI. who had died less than a decade earlier. Instead of a paragon of virtue Alexander VI. was a family man with great plans for himself as well as for his children. And his ambitions knew no limits. The historical novel The Pope’s Daughter by Dario Fo, the famous Italian playwright and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1997, traces the life of highly intelligent, well-educated and beautiful Lucrezia Borgia who served her father and brother as pawn in their endless game of power.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: The Novels of Ōe Kenzaburō by Yasuko Claremont

An Author’s Fictionalised Experiences:
The Novels of Ōe Kenzaburō by Yasuko Claremont

All his life Gustave Flaubert claimed that only the story counted and that its author should disappear without trace behind it, but however passionately a writer may assure that her or his work has nothing whatsoever to do with her or his life, such complete objectivity is an illusion. It’s impossible to achieve because nobody’s soul is an empty slate. Every word that a person jots down, be it on the spur of the moment or after long thought, be it in fiction or non-fiction, inevitably mirrors past experiences, education and views. To truly understand a literary work it can therefore be helpful to know the biography of its author, notably when the writings are complex or full of symbolism. In her critical study The Novels of Ōe Kenzaburō Yasuko Claremont from the University of Sydney analyses the literary oeuvre that the recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize in literature produced between 1957 through 2006 and links it with important events in the Japanese author’s private life beginning in his childhood. 

Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

Monday, 6 March 2017

Poetry Revisited: When Early March Seems Middle May by James Whitcomb Riley

When Early March Seems Middle May

(from Riley Farm-Rhymes: 1883)

When country roads begin to thaw
In mottled spots of damp and dust,
And fences by the margin draw
Along the frosty crust
Their graphic silhouettes, I say,
The Spring is coming round this way.

When morning-time is bright with sun
And keen with wind, and both confuse
The dancing, glancing eyes of one
With tears that ooze and ooze —
And nose-tips weep as well as they,
The Spring is coming round this way.

When suddenly some shadow-bird
Goes wavering beneath the gaze,
And through the hedge the moan is heard
Of kine that fain would graze
In grasses new, I smile and say,
The Spring is coming round this way.

When knotted horse-tails are untied,
And teamsters whistle here and there.
And clumsy mitts are laid aside
And choppers' hands are bare,
And chips are thick where children play,
The Spring is coming round this way.

When through the twigs the farmer tramps,
And troughs are chunked beneath the trees,
And fragrant hints of sugar-camps
Astray in every breeze, —
When early March seems middle May,
The Spring is coming round this way.

When coughs are changed to laughs, and when
Our frowns melt into smiles of glee,
And all our blood thaws out again
In streams of ecstasy,
And poets wreak their roundelay,
The Spring is coming round this way.

James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)
American writer, poet, and best-selling author

Friday, 3 March 2017

Book Review: The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey time I read a book set in Vienna around 1900, I’m amazed at the huge number of important people who lived there at the time and to find that many of them have known each other. It's a fact that most of these celebrities were men, but some were women who either militantly or more discreetly tried to break the limits that the strongly patriarchal society set them… and whose names have far too often fallen into oblivion since. Alma Mahler-Werfel, née Schindler, is one of the few who is still remembered today thanks not only to her famous husbands and lovers but also to her own achievements. The successful businesswoman and fashion designer Emilie Flöge should be another one of these women, but as shows The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey she and her career were always overshadowed by her outstanding life companion Gustav Klimt.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Poetry Revisited: With a Bunch of Spring Flowers by Kate Seymour MacLean

With a Bunch of Spring Flowers

(from The Coming of the Princess and Other Poems: 1881)

In the spring-time, out of the dew,
     From my garden, sweet friend, I gather,
     A garland of verses, or rather
A poem of blossoms for you.

There are pansies, purple and white,
     That hold in their velvet splendour,
     Sweet thoughts as fragrant and tender,
And rarer than poets can write.

The Iris her pennon unfurls,
     My unspoken message to carry,
     A flower-poem writ by a fairy,
And Buttercups rounder than pearls.

And Snowdrops starry and sweet,
     Turn toward thee their pale pure faces
     And Crocus, and Cowslips, and Daisies
The song of the spring-time repeat.

So merry and full of cheer,
     With the warble of birds overflowing,
     The wind through the fresh grass blowing
And the blackbirds whistle so dear.

These songs without words are true,
     All sung in the April weather—
     Music and blossoms together—
I gather and weave them for you.

Kate Seymour MacLean (1829-1916)
Canadian poet and teacher

Friday, 24 February 2017

Book Review: A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood isn’t always easy to understand and even less to wholeheartedly accept and support the choices of others. Of course, we all want family, friends, everybody in the whole world to be happy and contented, but our definition of what is good and right is largely determined by personal as well as society’s standards. It’s true that in our modern western world social conventions are no longer as narrow as they used to be, and yet, there are still limits that we sometimes protect fiercely as if the future of men depended on it. In Christopher Isherwood’s novel from 1967 titled A Meeting by the River, the Englishman Patrick visits his younger brother Oliver in a monastery near Calcutta to dissuade him from becoming a Hindu monk because he thinks that it’s only a whim and ends up confessing a side of himself to which he doesn’t dare to stand publicly.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

What's In A Name 2017: My List of Twice Six Books
click on the image to go to the
challenge on The Worm Hole

A List of Twice Six Books

- completed and forthcoming reviews -
+ suggested Nobel reads that didn’t fit into my 2017 planning

  • A number in numbers:
    Paul Auster: 4 3 2 1 (2017)
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1938 – Pearl S. Buck: 14 Stories (1961) in the Pocket Books edition of 1963, but if you have a better suggestion...
  • A building:
    Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1949 – William Faulkner: The Mansion (1959)
  • A title which has an ‘X’ somewhere in it:
    Alfred Döblin: Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929), original German title: Berlin Alexanderplatz
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1991 – Nadine Gordimer: Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black (2007)
  • A compass direction:
    Ana María Matute: Celebration in the Northwest (1952), original Spanish title: Fiesta al noroeste
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1962 – John Steinbeck: East of Eden (1952)
  • An item/items of cutlery:
    Katie Flynn: No Silver Spoon (1999)
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1932 – John Galsworthy: The Silver Spoon (1926), second book of A Modern Comedy, the sequel of The Forsyte Saga
  • A title in which at least two words share the same first letter – alliteration!
    Amos Oz: Black Box (1986), original Hebrew title: קופסה שחורה
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1993 – Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon (1977)

Monday, 20 February 2017

Poetry Revisited: Venice. The Carnival by Lord Byron

The Carnival

(from Beppo: A Venetian Story: 1818)

Of all the places where the Carnival
   Was most facetious in the days of yore,
For dance, and song, and serenade, and ball,
   And masque, and mime, and mystery, and more
Than I have time to tell now, or at all,
   Venice the bell from every city bore;
And at the moment when I fix my story
That sea-born city was in all her glory.

They ’ve pretty faces yet, those same Venetians,
   Black eyes, arched brows, and sweet expressions still;
Such as of old were copied from the Grecians,
   In ancient arts by moderns mimicked ill;
And like so many Venuses of Titian’s
   (The best ’s at Florence,—see it, if ye will),
They look when leaning over the balcony,
Or stepped from out a picture by Giorgione,

Whose tints are truth and beauty at their best;
   And when you to Manfrini’s palace go,
That picture (howsoever fine the rest)
   Is loveliest to my mind of all the show:
It may perhaps be also to your zest,
   And that ’s the cause I rhyme upon it so:
’T is but a portrait of his son, and wife,
And self; but such a woman! love in life!

Lord Byron (1788-1824)
British poet, politician, and a leading figure in the Romantic movement

Friday, 17 February 2017

Book Review: Letters to Felician by Ingeborg Bachmann is a reason why love letters have never entirely gone out of fashion. For some they are the epitome of romance because unlike the spoken word they are lasting and can be re-read at any time. Moreover, it’s often easier to express feelings in a letter. Everybody knows that to write one takes more time than to burst out some clumsy words, time to think about the right expression and tone. And then it has the advantage that the recipient doesn’t need to be at hand. The lyrical Letters to Felician by the late Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann show a passionate young woman in love who is full of longing for her absent beloved. But she also strives to find her way in life without knowing where it can lead her and if she will ever be able to achieve anything with the ghosts of the Nazi past haunting her.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Back Reviews Reel: February 2014

Three years ago my bookish travels took me to four most enchanting and enjoyable reading destinations in Europe, East Asia and the Carribean. My first stop was in Paris, France, where I visited The Cat whom the famous writer Colette made part of an unexpected love triangle and the wedge between a young couple. Then I moved on to Lisbon, Portugal, with the en-NOBEL-ed author José Saramago to see what the proofreader Raimundo Benvindo Silva makes of The History of the Siege of Lisbon and the entry of the supervisor Maria Sara into his life. Right from Lisbon I embarked for Tōkyo, Japan, to plunge into the fascinating world of numbers that The Housekeeper and the Professor and her little son discover under the deft guidance of author Ogawa Yōko. And finally I made my way from Japan across the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal to pre-Castro Havana, Cuba, to meet Our Man in Havana and to be drawn into Graham Greene’s satirical representation of spying in the early years of the Cold War.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Poetry Revisited: Valentines by Virna Sheard


(from Candle Flame: 1926)

Now little maid—with a Valentine;
     Most blythesome be and gay;
For Valentines come not—come not—
     On every working day;
And though they may, perchance on some
     Like cherry-blossoms fall.
Believe me, Sweet—there oft are those
     Who don't get one at all!

So if you got a lacy one
     With a swinging paper door,
And a precious verse behind it—
     (That's what Valentines are for),
If a darling little cupid
     With roses on his head,
Was aiming at a lonely heart,
     Most violently red—

Burn joss sticks! Oh, burn joss sticks—
     To the god of Happy Fate,
For the postman does not enter
     At everybody's gate;
And though on some, the Valentines
     Like cherry-blossoms fall—
Believe me, there are often those
     Who don't get one at all!

Virna Sheard (1865-1943)
Canadian poet and novelist

Friday, 10 February 2017

Book Review: Black Box by Amos Oz
How often does it happen that the love that united a man and a woman turns into hatred as time advances and they drift apart. Some couples still manage to part in a civilised manner if not in peace, but often the end of a relationship is a violent and spiteful mess that leaves everybody concerned hurt, angry and bitter. Even worse if a child is involved who is too young to understand the reasons for the fighting as is the case in Black Box by Amos Oz, an epistolary novel about a couple whose marriage ended in a vicious divorce and left not only themselves but also their son filled with hatred and resentment for years on end. Only when the woman in her despair about the son who has grown into an uncontrollable teenager writes a letter to her ex-husband to ask for help, they finally get a chance to sort things out and make peace.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: Vita Brevis by Jostein Gaarder Augustine and His Abandoned Concubine:
Vita Brevis by Jostein Gaarder

During much of European history men shaped the world of things and thought as they believed right and passed over women in silence, if they didn’t hold them in contempt. Highly revered Fathers of the Christian Church like Saint Augustine of Hippo Regius further institutionalised this contempt of women… and of earthly pleasures altogether as shows his autobiography titled Confessiones. In this theological key text he admits that before his conversion to Christianity in 385 he was a man who tasted life to the full. For over ten years he lived with a concubine (probably law forbade a formal marriage) and had a son with her, but in retrospect he regrets this sinful and immoral relationship because it kept him from true love of God. In Vita Brevis. A Letter to Saint Augustine (also translated into English as The Same Flower) the Norwegian writer, philosopher and theologian Jostein Gaarder gave this abandoned woman a voice.

Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

Monday, 6 February 2017

Poeetry Revisited: Cui Bono by Thomas Carlyle

Cui Bono

(from Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, Volume I: 1838)

What is Hope? A smiling rainbow
Children follow through the wet;
’Tis not here, still yonder, yonder:
Never urchin found it yet.

What is Life? A thawing iceboard
On a sea with sunny shore;—
Gay we sail; it melts beneath us;
We are sunk, and seen no more.

What is Man? A foolish baby,
Vainly strives, and fights, and frets;
Demanding all, deserving nothing;—
One small grave is what he gets.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher

Friday, 3 February 2017

Book Review: So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ can be no doubt that relations between men and women are a favourite topic of writers. Literature offers everything from the vicissitudes of romantic love over the turmoils of an unstable marriage to the wars ending an unfortunate relationship. Love triangles are a rather common ingredient in many novels, but since we all tend to prefer books from our own culture – which is clearly Judeo-Christian in Europe – we seldom read about polygamous marriages except maybe in a historical novel set somewhere in the Orient. So we know little about how a woman feels who is one wife among others. The epistolary novel So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ from Senegal surrounds a Muslim widow mourning her husband to whom she has been happily married for twenty-five years until desire had the better of him and he took a teenage second wife. In a letter to a friend abroad she tells her story.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

100 Novels In Letters
Click on the image to go to the
challenge on Whatever I Think Of

My Long Longlist of Epistolary Fiction

As I found out a year ago, February is the Month of Letters and I gladly seize the opportunity to present four epistolary novels here on Edith’s Miscellany on the coming four Fridays plus another letter-based book on Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion. Of course, these five reviews won’t remain my only ones this year with a focus on this old literary genre because I signed up for Jamie Ghione’s Epistolary Reading Challenge 2017 on Whatever I Think Of (»»» see my common sign-up post for all this year's reading challenges) and I’m determined to treat myself to a few more fictional or fictionalised correspondences for it.

Being a great enthusiast of the old-fashioned (snail mail) letter, I confine myself to books written entirely or at least substantially in this form rather than modern emails, instant messages, memos, blogs, or diaries although it’s not always easy to draw a sharp line or even to find out before reading. Luckily, writers have been penning heaps of fictional letters to produce full-length novels since the late seventeenth century, many of them forgotten today or considered antiquated, and to my great joy they continue to do so adapting the genre to the realities of modern life.

There is an interesting and detailed list of contemporary epistolary novels on Wikipedia, but I preferred to make my own list largely based on my 29 Book Suggestions for the Month of Letters 2016. Admittedly, my selection of 100 is a bit arbitrary and includes several books about which I know nothing except that they are epistolary. Moreover, one fifth of the novels dates from before 1900 and isn’t eligible for review on Edith’s Miscellany according to my own rules. I include them nonetheless for the sake of “completeness” along with the novels in letters that I already wrote about in the past. My reviews for the Epistolary Reading Challenge 2017 will be from the remaining.

And here’s my chronological Longlist of 100 Novels in Letters
(to be completed with links to my reviews):

Monday, 30 January 2017

Poetry Revisited: Luz e Sombra – Light and Shadow by Auta de Sousa

Luz e Sombra

(de Poemas: 1932)

Vamos seguindo pela mesma estrada,
Em busca das paragens da ilusão;
A alma tranqüila para o Céu voltada,
Suspensa a lira sobre o coração.

Ris e eu soluço... (Loucas peregrinas!)
E em toda parte, enfim, onde passamos,
Deixo chorando os olhos das meninas,
Deixas cantando os pássaros nos ramos.

Porque elas amam tua voz canora,
Ó delicado sabiá da mata!
E eu lembro triste a juriti que chora
E a voz dorida em lágrimas desata.

Gostam de ver-te o rosto de criança
Limpo das névoas de um martírio vago,
O lábio em riso, desmanchada a trança,
No olhar sereno a candidez do lago.

Até perguntam quando sobre a areia
Em que tu pisas vão nascendo rosas:
“Bela criança, tímida sereia,
Irmã dos sonhos das manhãs radiosas.

Por que trilhando a terra dos caminhos,
Onde o teu passo faz brotar mil flores,
Esta velhinha vai deixando espinhos
E um longo rastro de saudade e dores?”

Não lhes respondas... Pela mesma estrada
Sigamos sempre em busca da Ilusão;
A alma tranqüila para o céu voltada,
Suspensa a lira sobre o coração.

Vamos; desprende a doce voz canora,
Que ela afugenta da tristeza o açoite;
E, enquanto elevas o teu hino à aurora,
Eu vou rezando as orações da noite...

Auta de Sousa (1876-1901)
poetisa brasileira

Light and Shadow

(from Poems: 1932)

We are walking along the same road,
In search of the stops of illusion;
The quiet soul to Heaven turned,
Suspended the lyre over the heart.

You laugh and I sob ... (Crazy pilgrims!)
And in the end, everywhere we pass,
I leave crying the girls’ eyes,
You leave singing the birds on the branches.

Because they love your harmonious voice,
Oh delicate thrush of the woods!
And I remember sad the dove singing
And the pained voice breaks out in tears.

They like to see your child's face
Clean of the mists of vague martyrdom,
The lips laughing, unraveled the braid,
In the serene look the candor of the lake.

Until they ask when on the sand
Where you tread will be born roses:
“Beautiful child, shy Siren,
Sister of dreams of radiant mornings.

Why treading the earth of the roads,
Where your step makes bud a thousand flowers,
This old lady is leaving thorns
And a long trail of longing and pain?”

Do not answer them... Along the same road
We keep walking in search of illusion;
The quiet soul to Heaven turned,
Suspended the lyre over the heart.

Let's go; loosen the sweet harmonious voice,
May it chase from the sadness the scourge;
And, while you raise your hymn to dawn,
I'm saying the prayers of the night...

Auta de Sousa (1876-1901)
Brazilian poet

Literal translation: Edith LaGraziana 2017

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Back to the Classics 2017 – My List
click on the image to go to the
challenge on Books and Chocolate

 My Dozen of Classics

- completed and forthcoming reviews -
(subject to change)
    1. 19th-century classic:
      Jens Peter Jacobsen: Marie Grubbe. A Lady of the Seventeenth Century (1876), original Danish title: Fru Marie Grubbe
      »»» on Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion
    2. 20th-century classic:
      Ana María Matute: Celebration in the Northwest (1952), original Spanish title: Fiesta al noroeste
    3. Classic by a woman author:
      Ilse Aichinger: Herod’s Children (1948), original German title: Die größere Hoffnung
    4. Classic in translation:
      Bánffy Miklós: They Were Counted (1934), original Hungarian title: Megszámláltattál
    5. Classic published before 1800:
      Aphra Behn: The Adventure of the Black Lady (1697) »»» on Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion
    6. Romance classic:
      Mary McNeil Fenollosa: The Dragon Painter (1906)
    7. Gothic or horror classic:
      Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
    8. Classic with a number in the title:
      Heinrich Böll: Billiards at Half Past Nine (1959), original German title: Billard um halb zehn
    9. Classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title:
      Sōseki: I am a Cat (1905), original Japanese title: 吾輩は猫である
    10. Classic set in a place you'd like to visit:
      Anna Banti: Artemisia (1947), original Italian title: Artemisia
    11. Award-winning classic:
      Romain Gary: The Roots of Heaven (1956), original French title: Les racines du ciel
      – Prix Goncourt 1956
    12. Russian Classic:
      Alexey Novikov-Priboy: Tsushima (1932-35), original Russian title: Цусима

      Friday, 27 January 2017

      Book Review: Billiards at Half Past Nine by Heinrich Böll
      Without any doubt, the first half of the twentieth century counts among the most unstable and most violent times in European history. For survivors and Spätgeborene (“late-born”, i.e. the post-war generation) it was difficult to come to terms with the horrors of holocaust and war and to build a pluralistic and truly democratic society on the rubbles that the totalitarian Nazi regime left behind. As shows the much-acclaimed novel Billiards at Half Past Nine by Heinrich Böll, the German recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature of 1972, in the years or even decades immediately following World War II, most Germans preferred to push the memory of the Third Reich and their role in it into the background. With survival being the first priority, it was rather natural after all to focus on the present. But to forget the lessons of the past means to give those charismatic populists who wish to turn back time a chance to rise.

      Wednesday, 25 January 2017

      Japanese Literature Challenge X – The Summary

      Click on the image to go to
      Dolce Bellezza's challenge post
      with a list of all entries

      June 2016 - January 2017

      All good things come in threes! And so I participated also in the Japanese Literature Challenge X (2016/17) hosted by Dolce Bellezza - for literary and translated fiction presenting literature from Japan here on Edith’s Miscellany. Now it’s the end of January and the challenge closes which means that it’s time to take stock.

      My choice of books followed my self-imposed rule of alternating female and male writers as well as classic and contemporary works. In addition, I fitted them into the Double Alphabet of Writers that I was filling up (male) and down (female) in 2016 (»»» see my challenge summary for Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks). The latter wasn’t always easy and in fact accounts for an unusually light read – The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ogawa Ito – an three instead of two male classics in my list.

      None of the books that I picked disappointed me and there was no need to exchange any of them for another that I liked better. Admittedly, The Face of Another by Abe Kōbō turned out to be a rather difficult and confusing read, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. If urged to name my favourite Japanese reads of the past eight months, I waver between Silence by Endō Shūsaku and Black Rain by Ibuse Masuji although the school novels of Sumii Sué and Tsuboi Sakae have been rather enticing too and also Yoshimoto Banana’s and Nakamura Fuminori’s modern novels gave me great pleasure. In a nutshell: I loved what I read for this challenge!

      And here’s now my summary list of the eight books that I read with links to my reviews:
      »»» please read also my post for the Japanese Literature Challenge 9 (2015/16).
      »»» please read also my (brief) post for the Japanese Literature Challenge 8 (2014/15) for which I signed up shortly before it was over, so I could contribute no more than two books to it.

      Monday, 23 January 2017

      Poetry Revisited: After-Glow by Ivor Gurney


      (from Severn & Somme: 1917)

      (To F. W. Harvey)

      Out of the smoke and dust of the little room
      With tea-talk loud and laughter of happy boys,
      I passed into the dusk. Suddenly the noise
      Ceased with a shock, left me alone in the gloom,
      To wonder at the miracle hanging high
      Tangled in twigs, the silver crescent clear.
      Time passed from mind. Time died; and then we were
      Once more at home together, you and I.

      The elms with arms of love wrapped us in shade
      Who watched the ecstatic west with one desire,
      One soul uprapt; and still another fire
      Consumed us, and our joy yet greater made:
      That Bach should sing for us, mix us in one
      The joy of firelight and the sunken sun.

      Ivor Gurney (1890-1937)
      English poet and composer

      Friday, 20 January 2017

      Book Review: The River With No Bridge by Sumii Sué
      It seems to be deeply rooted in human nature to put the strong and powerful on a pedestal for unconditional adoration and to push the weak and helpless down into the gutter to trample on just as unreservedly. Social history is full of examples of organised discrimination like slavery, the Indian caste system or less strict class structures. Japanese society is no exception. For centuries, the country knew different classes and religion justified their inequality with karma. Only in 1871 – after Japan was forced into dealing with Western civilisation – the lowest class called eta was renamed and given equal rights as commoners, but society didn’t change overnight. More than three decades later, the boy whose school years the first volume of The River With No Bridge by Sumii Sué relates has to learn that no matter how much he excels in his studies and in virtue, for people he’ll remain the filthy eta who should be avoided.

      Wednesday, 18 January 2017

      Back Reviews Reel: January 2014

      Three years ago I started into the blogging year with the last five of altogether 32 reviews for the European Reading Challenge 2013 hosted by Rose City Reader that closed on 31 January 2014 (»»» see my summary including a complete list of books reviewed or just read for it). My final effort to pay a reading visit to at least half of Europe’s fifty countries, took me first to Switzerland on the pages of the satirical classic Once a Greek by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Then it was the turn of the en-NOBEL-ed writers of 1909 and 2006 to show me their countries: I moved northwards to Sweden in the late nineteenth century with The Emperor of Portugallia by Selma Lagerlöf, before heading south to modern-day Turkey via Germany and sinking into the slippery world of Anatolian Snow by Orhan Pamuk. Afterwards I travelled to the Netherlands in the fierce grip of The Storm by Margriet de Moor from 1953 to the present. And my final destination was in the east of the continent, more precisely in Azerbaijan between 1914 and 1920, where I accompanied the lovers Ali and Nino by Kurban Said through the maze of religious, cultural and national traditions trying to keep them apart.

      Monday, 16 January 2017

      Poetry Revisited: Snow by Adelaide Crapsey


      (from Verse: 1915)

      Look up…
      From bleakening hills
      Blows down the light, first breath
      Of wintry wind…look up, and scent
      The snow!

      Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914)
      American poet

      Friday, 13 January 2017

      Book Review: The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte believe that until the break-through of photography painters did little more than depict what they, saw in reality or in imagination. In fact, even naturalistic pictures like portraits are the product of an idea that can include mysteries. Some are obvious and easily revealed knowing the code, i.e. the meaning of symbols, colours, composition, etc. in a given period, while others are hidden or inexplicable because their codes are lost and too subtle or time-bound to be cracked. Occasionally, the restauration of a painting exposes a secret that sheds new light on time, methods and mind of the artist like in the novel The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Nearly five hundred years after its creation the art restorer Julia discovers a hidden inscription in the painting of a chess game that turns it into an encrypted testimonial of a murder... and the reason for more crimes in Julia’s immediate surroundings.

      Wednesday, 11 January 2017

      New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: The Professor by Charlotte Brontë read the first work of a much adored writer can be either a revelation or more likely a deception, sometimes even a big one because not many succeed in producing outstanding literature already in the very first try. Writing like any other occupation needs practice. And experience of life usually isn’t a disadvantage, either. Quite a lot of the great men and women of literature that we know today saw their first novels (poems, short stories,…) rejected by publishers, often by more than just one, as show their biographies. In the Victorian age this wasn’t any different from today. Charlotte Brontë, for instance, never saw her first novel in print. The Professor was first published under her pen name Currer Bell in 1857, i.e. only two years after her premature death, and to this date it’s less widely read than her masterpieces Jane Eyre and Villette or even Shirley.

      Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

      Monday, 9 January 2017

      Poetry Revisited: A Copse In Winter by John Clare

      A Copse In Winter

      (from The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems: 1821)

      Shades though you're leafless, save the bramble-spear
      Whose weather-beaten leaves, of purple stain,
      In hardy stubbornness cling all the year
      To their old thorns, till Spring buds new again;
      Shades, still I love you better than the plain,
      For here I find the earliest flowers that blow,
      While on the bare blea bank do yet remain
      Old winter's traces, little heaps of snow.
      Beneath your ashen roots, primroses grow
      From dead grass tufts and matted moss, once more;
      Sweet beds of violets dare again be seen
      In their deep purple pride; and, gay display'd,
      The crow-flowers, creeping from the naked green,
      Add early beauties to your sheltering shade.

      John Clare (1793-1864)
      English poet

      Sunday, 8 January 2017

      Women Challenge #5: My List
      click on the image to go to the
      challenge on peek-a-booK!

        Books Written By Women

      - completed and forthcoming reviews in alphabetical order -
      1. Mariama : So Long a Letter (1980), original French title: Une si longue lettre
      2. Ingeborg Bachmann: Letters to Felician (1946/1991), original German title: Briefe an Felician
      3. Anna Banti: Artemisia (1947), original Italian title: Artemisia
      4. Katie Flynn: No Silver Spoon (1999)
      5. Maja Haderlap: Angel of Oblvion (2011), original German title: Engel des Vergessens
      6. Elisabeth Hickey: The Painted Kiss (2005)
      7. Clarice Lispector: Água Viva (1973; also translated into English as The Stream of Life), original Brazilian Portuguese title: Água viva
      8. Ana María Matute: Celebration in the Northwest (1952), original Spanish title: Fiesta al noroeste
      9. Eva Menasse: Vienna (2005), original German title: Vienna
      10. Sumii Sué: The River with No Bridge (Volume I: 1961), original Japanese title: 橋のない川
      11. Regina Ullmann: Country Road (1921), original German title: Die Landstraße

      Saturday, 7 January 2017

      Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks: My 2017 List
      click on the image to go to the
      challenge on Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks

      52 Books – 52 Writers

      - completed and forthcoming reviews in alphabetical order -
      1. Mariama : So Long a Letter (1980), original French title: Une si longue lettre
      2. Ingeborg Bachmann: Letters to Felician (1946/1991), original German title: Briefe an Felician
      3. Bánffy Miklós: They Were Counted (1934), original Hungarian title: Megszámláltattál
      4. Anna Banti: Artemisia (1947), original Italian title: Artemisia
      5. Thomas Bernhard: Old Masters (1985), original German title: Alte Meister
      6. Heinrich Böll: Billiards at Half Past Nine (1959), original German title: Billiard um halb zehn
      7. Alfred Döblin: Berlin Alexanderplatz (1925), original German title: Berlin Alexanderplatz
      8. Katie Flynn: No Silver Spoon (1999)
      9. Dario Fo: The Pope's Daughter (2014), original Italian title: La figlia del papa 
      10. Romain Gary: The Roots of Heaven (1956), original French title: Les racines du ciel
      11. Maja Haderlap: Angel of Oblvion (2011), original German title: Engel des Vergessens
      12. Elisabeth Hickey: The Painted Kiss (2005)
      13. Christopher Isherwood: A Meeting by the River (1967) 
      14. Clarice Lispector: Água Viva (1973; also translated into English as The Stream of Life), original Brazilian Portuguese title: Água viva
      15. Ana María Matute: Celebration in the Northwest (1952), original Spanish title: Fiesta al noroeste
      16. Eva Menasse: Vienna (2005), original German title: Vienna
      17. V. S. Naipaul: A Bend in the River (1979)
      18. Amos Oz: Black Box (1986), original Hebrew title: קופסה שחורה
      19. Arturo Pérez-Reverte: The Flanders Panel (1990), original Spanish title: La tabla de Flandes
      20. Sumii Sué: The River with No Bridge (Volume I: 1961), original Japanese title: 橋のない川
      21. Regina Ullmann: Country Road (1921), original German title: Die Landstraße

      Wednesday, 4 January 2017

      2017 Reading Challenges

      Welcome in a new blogging year – my fifth already! It goes without saying that on the coming fifty-two Fridays you can look forward to many reviews of gorgeous books from the pens of famous and forgotten authors, half male and half female. During the past couple of weeks I made a long (not yet complete) list of reads to present to you and that I hope will meet your tastes too, not just mine. In addition, I picked a few new annual reading challenges to participate in that should make 2017 an even more diverse reading year than usual. Instead of making a sign-up post for each one of the five new ones, I decided to just write the following summary with links to the respective lists that will go online by and by. Moreover, I include an up-date for the ongoing reading challenges.

      Monday, 2 January 2017

      Poetry Revisited: Time by Emily Mary Barton


      (from Straws on the Stream: 1907)

      Time is not the cruel master,
      Slavish souls have sometimes thought;
      Faster driving us and faster,
      Till our work is good for nought.

      Time enjoys a day of leisure
      With the artists and the bards:
      And in summer takes his pleasure
      Musing over Christmas cards.

      A happy method we have found.
      Wisely to control his powers;
      And when he brings a Birthday round,
      Envelop it in verse and flowers.

      Emily Mary Barton (1817-1909)
      Australian poet