Monday, 23 April 2018

Poetry Revisited: When Willows Green by Helen Gray Cone

When Willows Green

(from The Ride to the Lady and Other Poems: 1893)

When goldenly the willows green,
And, mirrored in the sunset pool,
Hang wavering, wild-rose clouds between:
When robins call in twilights cool:
What is it we await?
Who lingers and is late?
What strange unrest, what yearning stirs us all
When willows green, when robins call?

When fields of flowering grass respire
A sweet that seems the breath of Peace,
And liquid-voiced the thrushes choir,
Oh, whence the sense of glad release?
What is it life uplifts?
Who entered, bearing gifts?
What floods from heaven the being overpower
When thrushes choir, when grasses flower?

Helen Gray Cone (1859-1934)
American poet and professor of English literature

Friday, 20 April 2018

Bookish Déjà Vu: The Sailor from Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras

Since times immemorial, the Strait of Gibraltar kindles the imagination of people, not least because at the same time it connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean and separates Africa from Europe. According to ancient Greek mythology adopted by Etruscans and Romans, Hercules marked the end of the world on the pillars on both sides, namely on the Rock of Gibraltar and on Monte Hacho or Jebel Musa on the North-African coast, but I doubt that this ever prevented anyone from dreaming about what might be beyond the portal. Today we know, and yet, Gibraltar keeps being a special place, a British pene-exclave on the Iberian peninsula with the only wild population of monkeys or more precisely Barbary macaques in Europe. However, The Sailor from Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras, the French novel from 1952 that I picked for this week’s bookish déjà vu, refers only indirectly to the place.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Back Reviews Reel: April 2015

The Colonial era and the tumultuous times around its end are the red thread connecting my reads of this month three years ago. I started with a wonderfully satirical novel from 1927 about a Protestant missionary on a remote Pacific island that Sylvia Townsend Warner titled Mr. Fortune’s Maggot. Then I made a detour to Lisbon to watch The Return of the Caravels from Portuguese territories in Asia and Africa after 1974 as António Lobo Antunes described it fourteen years later breaking the boundaries of time. Back to the British Empire, more precisely to India in the 1940s, I witnessed the Clear Light of Day and the country’s way to independence with two dissimilar sisters brought to life by Anita Desai in 1980. And with a 1947 classic from the pen of Naguib Mahfouz, the 1988 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, I visited the people living in Midaq Alley in Cairo in Egypt under British protectorate during World War II.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Poetry Revisited: As estrelas – The Stars by João da Cruz e Sousa

As estrelas

(de Faróis: 1900)

Lá, nas celestes regiões distantes,
No fundo melancólico da Esfera,
Nos caminhos da eterna Primavera
Do amor, eis as estrelas palpitantes.

Quantos mistérios andarão errantes,
Quantas almas em busca da Quimera,
Lá, das estrelas nessa paz austera
Soluçarão, nos altos céus radiantes.

Finas flores de pérolas e prata,
Das estrelas serenas se desata
Toda a caudal das ilusões insanas.

Quem sabe, pelos tempos esquecidos,
Se as estrelas não são os ais perdidos
Das primitivas legiões humanas?!

João da Cruz e Sousa (1861-1898)
poeta brasileiro

The Stars

(from Lighthouses: 1900)

There, in the distant heavenly regions,
In the melancholy ground of the sphere,
In the paths of eternal spring
Of love, there are the pounding stars.

How many mysteries will go wandering,
How many souls in quest of the chimera,
There, from the stars in this austere peace
They will sigh in the radiant high skies.

Delicate flowers of pearls and silver,
From the peaceful stars breaks
All the flow of crazy illusions.

Who knows, for the forgotten times,
If the stars are not the lost ohs
Of the primitive human legions?!

João da Cruz e Sousa (1861-1898)
Brazilian poet
Translation: Edith LaGraziana 2018

Friday, 13 April 2018

Book Review: The Road to Gandolfo by Robert Ludlum are many reasons why Italy is a country of longing for so many people worldwide. The mild climate allures winter-weary Northerners craving for the sun, the remains of ancient Roman civilisation stir the nostalgia of history as well as classics enthusiasts, priceless works of art from more than two millennia mesmerise art lovers and the Pope as living idol of millions of faithful Roman Catholics brings streams of pilgrims to Rome. In the 1975 satirical novel The Road to Gandolfo by Robert Ludlum highly decorated US army veteran Lieutenant General MacKenzie Hawkins makes out a fictitious Pope Francesco I as his ticket to retirement without financial worries. He blackmails army lawyer Sam Deveraux into helping him to put his audacious plan into practice with hush money squeezed out of four international crooks and with the willing support of his ex-wives. But the Pope doesn’t react as expected.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Poetry Revisited: Reality by Anna Wickham


(from The Contemplative Quarry: 1915)

Only a starveling singer seeks
The stuff of songs among the Greeks.
Juno is old,
Jove's loves are cold;
Tales over-told.
By a new risen Attic stream
A mortal singer dreamed a dream.
Fixed he not Fancy's habitation,
Nor set in bonds Imagination.
There are new waters, and a new Humanity.
For all old myths give us the dream to be.

We are outwearied with Persephone;
Rather than her, we'll sing Reality.

Anna Wickham (1883-1947), real name Edith Alice Mary Harper
English-Australian modernist poet

Friday, 6 April 2018

Bookish Déjà Vu: The Night in Lisbon by Erich Maria Remarque

There are places that fill most of us with a certain kind of nostalgia, if we have been there or not. With regard to Lisbon it’s probably more apt to talk of saudade, this special mix of longing, wistfulness and melancholia regarding something lost and irretrievable that seems to have no name in any language except Portuguese. During World War II the city attracted people from all over Europe for quite existential reasons, though. Lisbon was one of the last ports on the continent where a refugee from Germany or German-occupied territory could still hope to board a ship taking him or her to a safe and peaceful life abroad. The protagonist of today’s bookish déjà vu, i.e. of The Night in Lisbon by Erich Maria Remarque, belongs to the few lucky ones who secured visa and tickets for the USA, but then he doesn’t want to leave after all…

Read my review »

Monday, 2 April 2018

Poetry Revisited: Easter Week by Charles Kingsley

Easter Week

(from The Works of Charles Kingsley, Volume I. Poems: 1879)

(Written for music to be sung at a Parish Industrial Exhibition)

See the land, her Easter keeping,
     Rises as her Maker rose.
Seeds, so long in darkness sleeping,
     Burst at last from winter snows.
Earth with heaven above rejoices;
     Fields and gardens hail the spring;
Shaughs and woodlands ring with voices,
     While the wild birds build and sing.

You, to whom your Maker granted
     Powers to those sweet birds unknown,
Use the craft by God implanted;
     Use the reason not your own.
Here, while heaven and earth rejoices,
     Each his Easter tribute bring—
Work of fingers, chant of voices,
     Like the birds who build and sing.

Eversley, 1867

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)
English clergyman, university professor, historian, and novelist

Friday, 30 March 2018

Book Review: Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Atherton fire is a strong natural force that turns everything inflammable within its reach into ashes. Most of us see only its destructive power although clearing the ground it lays the foundations for renewal… or resurrection. Sometimes it smoulders beneath the surface unnoticed by us and sometimes it burns gently before our very eyes lulling us into a false sense of security, both literally as well as metaphorically. Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Atherton is the story of a young woman in San Francisco of the 1860s whose husband loves her as a beautiful and pleasant addition to his household, but can’t imagine her to have a mind worthwhile knowing. When a journalist from New York arrives, he brings her mental stimulation in the form of serious books and the opportunity for meaningful discussions that her husband refuses her. And almost unnoticed by themselves, they kindle the fire of forbidden love.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Poetry Revisited: March by Ella Wheeler Wilcox


(from Poems of Sentiment: 1911)

Like some reformer, who with mien austere,
          Neglected dress, and loud insistent tones,
          More rasping than the wrongs which she bemoans,
Walks through the land and wearies all who hear,
          While yet we know the need of such reform;
          So comes unlovely March, with wind and storm,
To break the spell of winter, and set free
          The poisoned brooks and crocus beds oppressed.
          Severe of face, gaunt-armed, and wildly dressed,
She is not fair nor beautiful to see.
          But merry April and sweet smiling May
          Come not till March has first prepared the way.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)
American writer and poet

Friday, 23 March 2018

Bookish Déjà Vu: Swell by Ioanna Karystiani

The water of the seven seas is never vast enough nor deep enough to hide from reality. Sooner or later the facts of life always drift to the surface and make it impossible to continue denying what is… or has been already for a while. Also the protagonist of the contemporary Greek novel Swell by Ioanna Karystiani, which I chose as another bookish déjà vu, has to learn his lesson the hard way. He is an old salt of seventy-five years and unwilling to accept that after a whole life at sea he is no longer fit to captain a ship. Already for over a decade, he has successfully hidden from his wife and family, from his long-time lover and from truth on the merchant ship that has become his home and shelter. Only a near disaster forces him back on land and back into the arms of his family.
Read my review »

Monday, 19 March 2018

Poetry Revisited: Days Too Short by William Henry Davies

Days Too Short

(from The Collected Poems of W. H. Davies: 1916)

When primroses are out in Spring,
And small, blue violets come between;
When merry birds sing on boughs green,
And rills, as soon as born, must sing;

When butterflies will make side-leaps,
As though escaped from Nature’s hand
Ere perfect quite; and bees will stand
Upon their heads in fragrant deeps;

When small clouds are so silvery white
Each seems a broken rimmed moon—
When such things are, this world too soon,
For me, doth wear the veil of Night.

William Henry Davies (1870-1940)
Welsh poet

Friday, 16 March 2018

Book Review: Quicksand by Tanizaki Jun’ichirō earth under our feet usually feels solid and safe to carry us on our way through life. Sometimes, however, events may raise quite some dust and we can no longer see clearly where we’re heading. At other times, the earth may also turn into mud that makes it difficult for us to advance at all… or if we’re particularly unlucky we don’t just get stuck, but even sink in up to the neck unable to move. The latter is how the young widow in Quicksand by Tanizaki Jun’ichirō feels about the love affair in which she gets caught in Osaka of the 1920s. Wicked gossip spreading at the Art School about her relations to another student whom they believe the real model for her picture stand at the beginning of a passionate lesbian affair with the cunning girl that soon involves also the girl’s fiancé and the woman’s husband.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Back Reviews Reel: March 2015

A tiny island in the Golf of Naples, the buzzing Chinese capital Beijing, London and a legendary mountain watching over six Anatolian villages and the Syrian coast were the scenes of the books that I reviewed here three years ago. My tour started with the Italian classic Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante containing the (fictitious) memoirs of a childhood and youth before World War II. Then I hurried after the young man from the contemporary Chinese novel Running Through Beijing by Xu Zechen who set his hopes on life in the metropolis. My trip to the British capital in the 1980s brought me into touch with The Good Terrorist by en-NOBEL-ed Doris Lessing who dreamed of changing the world. And finally, the Austrian classic The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel made me share the lives of Eastern Anatolian villagers who refused to surrender to the Ottoman army sent out to drive them away from home in 1915.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Poetry Revisited: Beauty’s a Flower by Moira O’Neill

Beauty’s a Flower

(from Songs from the Glens of Antrim: 1900)

          Youth’s for an hour, 
          Beauty’s a flower,
          But love is the jewel that wins the world.

Youth’s for an hour, an’ the taste o’ life is sweet,
Ailes was a girl that stepped on two bare feet;
In all my days I never seen the one as fair as she,
I’d have lost my life for Ailes, an’ she never cared for me.

Beauty’s a flower, an’ the days o’ life are long,
There’s little knowin’ who may live to sing another song;
For Ailes was the fairest, but another is my wife,
An’ Mary—God be good to her!—is all I love in life.

          Youth’s for an hour, 
          Beauty’s a flower,
          But love is the jewel that wins the world.

Moira O’Neill (1864–1955), real name Agnes Shakespeare Higginson
Irish-Canadian poet

Friday, 9 March 2018

Bookish Déjà Vu: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The air in the crammed and cornered rooms of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Barcelona, Spain, may be stale and dusty, but for any passionate reader like myself and the protagonist of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which I chose as a bookish déjà vu, it inevitably carries the stimulating breath of freedom, wisdom and delight. When the boy takes one of the forgotten books back home with him, he wrenches it as well as its author from the unfathomable dungeons of oblivion and brings it back to the light… or rather to life. He accepts to be the book’s guardian for the rest of his life not imagining that several years later his duty to protect the book from all harm and the mystery shrouding the author will draw him into a series of dangerous adventures. And along the way he meets his love.  

Monday, 5 March 2018

Poetry Revisited: A Town Window by John Drinkwater

A Town Window

(from Poems, 1908-14: 1918)

Beyond my window in the night
Is but a drab inglorious street,
Yet there the frost and clean starlight
As over Warwick woods are sweet.

Under the grey drift of the town
The crocus works among the mould
As eagerly as those that crown
The Warwick spring in flame and gold.

And when the tramway down the hill
Across the cobbles moans and rings,
There is about my window-sill
The tumult of a thousand wings

John Drinkwater (1882-1937)
English poet and dramatist

Friday, 2 March 2018

Book Review: Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler
In many families worldwide domestic violence is a painful reality. Where people are imbibed with respect for human rights from an early age like in major parts of Europe and Northern America, the physical or psychological abuse of any family member is considered as intolerable as harming a complete stranger. In other societies, especially less prosperous ones where children get basic education at best, people often think it normal, even necessary that a man gives his wife and children a beating. It’s a means to prove his absolute power, to keep the face in the community, and certainly to work off frustration too. To the Kurdish protagonist of Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler just as to all other women in her surroundings it seems perfectly natural that her husband Yunus beats her black and blue whenever he feels like it. Not even their emigration to Austria changes his habits.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Poetry Revisited: Kukkiva maa – Flowering Earth by Katri Vala

Kukkiva maa

(kirjasta Kaukainen puutarha: 1924)

Maa kuohuu syreenien sinipunaisia terttuja.
pihlajain valkeata kukkahärmää.
tervakkojen punaisia tähtisikermiä.
Sinisiä, keltaisia, valkeita kukkia
lainehtivat niityt mielettöminä merinä.
Ja tuoksua!
Ihanampaa kuin pyhä suitsutus!
Kuumaa ja värisevää ja hulluksijuovuttavaa,
pakanallista maan ihon tuoksua!

Elää, elää, elää!
Elää raivokkaasti elämän korkea hetki,
terälehdet äärimmilleen auenneina,
elää ihanasti kukkien.
tuoksustansa, auringosta hourien –
huumaavasti, täyteläästi elää!

Mitä siitä, että kuolema tulee!
Mitä siitä, että monivärinen ihanuus
varisee kuihtuneena maahan.
Onhan kukittu kerta!
On paistanut aurinko,
taivaan suuri ja polttava rakkaus,
suoraan kukkasydämiin,
olemusten värisevään pohjaan asti!

Katri Vala (1901-1944)
suomalainen runoilija, suomentaja ja opettaja

Flowering Earth

(from the book A Distant Garden: 1924)

The earth is foaming with purple-violet clusters.
white rowan flowers,
batches of red catchfly.
Blue, yellow, white flowers
turning the meadows into amazing seas.
And the smell!
More wonderful than sacred incense!
Hot and shaky and crazy,
the pagan earth fragrance of the skin!

To live, to live, to live!
To live frantically the high moment of life,
petals wide open in the air,
to live beautifully in the flowers.
Its scent, the sun for hours –
abominable, full of life!

What thereof that death is coming!
What thereof that a multicolored glamor
hangs faded to the ground.
After all, bloated time!
It’s the sun shining,
the great and burning love of heaven,
directly into the flower heart,
down to the dull ground of its being!

Katri Vala (1901-1944)
Finnish poet, translator and teacher

Translation: automatic online translators corrected
with the help of online dictionaries and the translation
by Herbert Lomas published on Books from Finland

Friday, 23 February 2018

Book Review: My Lady of the Chinese Courtyard by Elizabeth Cooper patriarchal societies women seldom play an important public role. Instead they are more or less confined to home and family, so little information about them “leaks out”. Diaries and letters sometimes shed light on their daily lives, but otherwise historical sources use to be scarce. Literature mirrors this situation. Where women live in the shadow of men, they aren’t likely to get leading parts in books, either. Set in China in the late 1880s and the early 1910s respectively, the forgotten classic My Lady of the Chinese Courtyard by Elizabeth Cooper evokes the life of a Chinese upper-class woman through two series of letters. The first she writes a few months after their wedding while her husband is abroad with a Chinese delegation, the other twenty-five years later after having moved to Shanghai where her husband was appointed governor and they have to lead a more Western life.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Poetry Revisited: Greetings by Joseph Furtado


(from Songs in Exile: 1938)

At sunrise o’er the hills
As I go a-whistling gay,
The birds from many a tree,
“Good-morning, poet!” they say
It thrills me so, that I
Can hardly make reply,
But in my heart I bless them

At sunset I return
A-thinking all the way,
And, to the birds about,
“Good-night, dear birds!” I say
If none of them replies
Because of heavy eyes,
Sure in their hearts they bless me

Joseph Furtado (1872-1947)
South Asian poet and novelist

Friday, 16 February 2018

Book Review: Frog by Mo Yan history of twentieth-century China is one of many violent changes that made the masses suffer a lot, but because of the geographical, cultural and political distance Westerners like me know very little about it. Above all the daily lives of the average people under the strict guidance of the Communist Party lie widely in the dark. The letters forming the epistolary novel Frog by Mo Yan, the controversial Chinese recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2012, evoke the life of a woman born in 1937 who was an obstetrician in Northeast Gaomi Township for over fifty years. She started her career delivering babies in the prosperous first decades under the reign of Chairman Mao and as a loyal Party Member she eventually hunted women pregnant for a repeated time to implement the one-child policy and abort the foetus however late. Her nephew’s wife dies in such a procedure.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Back Reviews Reel: February 2015

Three years ago the books that I chose to close the literary cold season, i.e. my WINTER Books Special, were either fantastic or historical fiction, sometimes both in a way. I started my seasonal reads in Denmark’s past with classical Winter’s Tales by several times Nobel Prize nominee Isak Dinesen who is better known today as Karen Blixen and continued them in New York City jumping between beginning and end of the twentieth century with contemporary American writer Mark Helprin and his magical-realistic Winter’s Tale. Then I switched to the time of Tsarina Katherine II the Great and joined her in her Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg as contemporary Canadian writer Eva Stachniak saw it through the eyes of a woman working there. And finally, I accompanied a Don Juan in nineteen-century Spain on his adventures recalled in the classical Autumn and Winter Sonatas by Spanish author Ramón del Valle-Inclán.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Poetry Revisited: Thoughts by Marion Bernstein


(from David Hershell Edwards (ed):
One Hundred Modern Scottish Poets: 1880)

Day by day Life's scroll unfoldeth
Slowly is our fate revealed;
Every eye the Past beholdeth,
But the future is concealed.

Moments mournful, moments pleasant,
Come and go, and none can last,
What was Future now is Present,
What was present now is Past.

It, perhaps, may soothe our sorrow
Thus to think ‘twill pass away:
Life must change. Perhaps to-morrow
May be brighter than to-day.

And sweet scenes of bygone gladness
Are not altogether fled;
Mem‘ry, lighting up our sadness,
Half restores the lost and dead.

When Life's joys seem lost for ever,
We can dream them o‘er again;
All Time's changes cannot sever
One bright link in Mem’ry‘s chain.

And the Future none can know it
Until Time the truth reveal.
Fancy may pretend to show it;
Time still proves her scenes unreal.

Radiant Hope, for ever smiling,
Speaks of happier days in store,
Many simple hearts beguiling,
Though they‘ve found her false before.

Hope and Fancy oft deceive us,
But they make our days more bright:
May they never, never leave us,
Or withdraw their cheering light.

Marion Bernstein (1846-1906)
Scottish feminist poet

Friday, 9 February 2018

Bookish Déjà Vu: A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood
Peace and love were the motto of the 1960s. Many young westerners all around set out on a spiritual search for a meaning of life beyond their ancestors’ constant strife for material wealth. Along their way they discovered not only sex, drugs and – if they were lucky – themselves, but also the works of Hermann Hesse as well as ancient Asian philosophies and religions. For most of them the latter may have been no more than passing interests, while a few became determined to continue on the path of enlightenment. The protagonist of A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood that I picked as a bookish déjà vu is such a one. The young Englishman is about to become a full-fletched monk in a Hindu monastery near Calcutta, when he writes a letter to his much adored elder brother who doesn’t understand and rushes to dissuade him from his decision. 
Read my review »

Monday, 5 February 2018

Poetry Revisited: From Above the Fog by Walter Wingate

From Above The Fog

(from Poems: 1919)

A world of stainless white below,
A dome of cloudless blue above,
Around me here accept the snow
As kindly winter’s gift of love.

But under yonder bank of grey
A city buried from my sight
Looks eastward vainly for the day,
Huddled in self-created night.

So simple hearts that dwell content
Upon the heights of peace will know
That winter frosts are only sent
To give the stars a clearer glow.

But in the restless valleys they
Whose all to worldliness is given
Are weaving for their winter day
A darkness ‘twixt themselves and Heaven.

Walter Wingate (1865-1918)
Scottish poet and teacher

Friday, 2 February 2018

Book Review: The Letters Which Never Reached Him by Elisabeth von Heyking

Click on the image
to go to the index card
Since 2012 A Month of Letters Challenge is running every February and although I never participated, it inspired me past year to present only epistolary fiction for a month. I’m doing the same this February and, in addition, I’ll focus on China with a sidestep to India. The book for this week’s review is from my Longlist of 100 Novels in Letters posted a year ago for an epistolary reading challenge (I refrained from signing up this year). In the rather forgotten German classic The Letters Which Never Reached Him by Elisabeth Heyking a middle-aged woman writes a series of 65 letters to a dear friend whom she got to know and appreciate in China. As rumours of unrest in China spread and the Boxer Rebellion breaks out in June 1900, she becomes increasingly worried about her friend and realises that he is more to her than just a friend.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Poetry Revisited: Truth Unveiling by Jessie Mackay

Truth Unveiling

(from Land of the Morning: 1909)

And weepest thou, discrowned man,
Who strove upon the moonless way?—
Whose torch, that led the early van,
The Sun of Truth has quenched in day?

Weep not. The world's aeonian youth
Owes yet to thee, who cleft the night.
The loftier error is a truth
To them that walked without the light.

Jessie Mackay (1864-1938)
New Zealand poet

Friday, 26 January 2018

Bookish Déjà Vu: The Conductor by Sarah Quigley

Hitler’s racial politics aimed at the extermination of the Jewish population at least in Germany as well as in her annexed and affiliated countries, but not only the holocaust cost millions of innocent lives. Also Hitler’s expansion politics towards the East permeated the continent with blood. Apart from soldiers killed in action, civilians too had to pay the price for Hitler’s megalomania. As from early winter 1941 the citizens of Leningrad were under German siege, among them the conductor of the Leningrad Radio Orchestra Karl Elias Illyyich Eliasberg and many of his musicians. Carried on by the iron will of their conductor the half-starved men and women rehearsed Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony written in Leningrad at the beginning of the siege. The Conductor by New Zealand writer Sarah Quigley, that I’m re-blogging today as a bookish déjà vu, evokes the difficult months before the concert broadcast live in summer 1942. 

Read my review »

Monday, 22 January 2018

Poetry Revisited: No Songs in Winter by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

No Songs in Winter

(from The Sisters’ Tragedy,
with Other Poems, Lyrical and Dramatic
: 1890)

The robin and the oriole,
The linnet and the wren—
When shall I see their fairyships,
And hear their songs again?

The wind among the poplar trees,
At midnight, makes its moan;
The slim red cardinal flowers are dead,
And all sweet things are flown!

A great white face looks down from heaven,
The great white face of Snow;
I cannot sing or morn or even,
The demon haunts me so!

It strikes me dumb, it freezes me,
I sing a broken strain—
Wait till the robins and the wrens
And the linnets come again!

Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907)
American writer, poet, critic, and editor

Friday, 19 January 2018

Book Review: The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman doubt, the vast majority of Eastern European Jews who died during World War II and weren’t shot or otherwise killed on the spot wretchedly lost their lives in the overcrowded ghettos or in the concentration camps spattered across the Third Reich. Today it’s common knowledge that the latter were designed as extermination camps of industrial dimensions or as forced labour camps where the younger and stronger were selected to slowly starve to death while (often pointlessly) slaving away “for the benefit of the German people”. But some escaped this horrible fate getting the unexpected chance to go underground like The Pianist Władysław Szpilman whom unknown hands dragged from his family boarding the train to Treblinka (and certain death) and who, after some more months of forced labour, managed to go into hiding in Warsaw to write down his and his family’s story after the war.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Back Reviews Reel: January 2015

The middle month of my WINTER Books Special of three years ago took me first to Long Island in the USA with The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck, the last and a bit neglected novel of the 1962 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. From there I embarked on a round-trip of Europe. My first stop was in a small English village that served as scene for the forgotten Welsh classic Winter Sonata by Dorothy Edwards. Then I visited a married couple in modern-day Finland who got carried away in The Winter War by Philip Teir. In a small Austrian town of the early 1990s I found the protagonist of Winter Quarters by Evelyn Grill at the mercy of a violent husband. And eventually I returned to the British Isles, more precisely to the borderlands and Scotland, in the mid-eighteenth century to meet Midwinter by John Buchan.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Poetry Revisited: Bright Thoughts for a Dark Day by Mrs. J. C. Yule

Bright Thoughts for a Dark Day

(from Poems of the Heart and Home: 1881)

Will the shadows be lifted to-morrow?—
     Will the sunshine come ever again?—
Will the clouds, that are weeping in sorrow,
     Their glorious beauty regain?
Will the forest stand forth in its greenness?—
     The meadows smile sweet as before?—
And the sky, in its placid sereneness,
     Bend lovingly o’er us once more?

Will the birds sing again as we heard them,
     Ere the tempest their gentle notes hushed?—
Will the breeze float again in its freedom,
     Where lately its melody gushed?
Will the beautiful angel of sunset
     Drape the heavens in crimson and gold,
As the day-king serenely retireth,
     ’Mid grandeur and glory untold?

Yea; the clouds will be lifted to-morrow,
     From valley, and hill-top, and plain;
And sunshine, and gladness, and beauty
     Will visit the landscape again;—
The forest, the field, and the river
     Will bask in the joy-giving ray;
And the angel of sunset, as ever,
     Will smile o’er the farewell of day.

For the longest day hastes to its ending,—
     The darkest night speeds to the day;—
O’er thickest clouds, ever, the sunbeam
     Shines on with unfaltering ray;—
Though thou walk amid shadows, thy Father
     Makes His word and his promises thine;
And, whatever the storms that may gather,
     At length thro’ the gloom He will shine!

Mrs. J. C. Yule, née Pamelia Sarah Vining (1826-1897)
Canadian poet

Friday, 12 January 2018

Bookish Déjà Vu: If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi

As Nazi troops advanced eastward following Hitler’s megalomaniacal order to conquer living space for Aryan or really German citizens, they virtually depopulated entire villages along their marching routes chasing men, women and children from their homes, deporting them to ghettos and concentration camps or, even worse, massacring them on the spot without pity. Above all – though not only – the Jewish population suffered under the terror of the altogether cynical regime. But German reign over Poland was far from peaceful, even less welcome! Just like the French the Poles offered resistance from the start and as Germany continued her expansion politics invading even the Soviet Union the fight became fiercer and better organised. Partisan bands formed and among the fighters were also Russian Jews like the protagonist of Primo Levi’s novel If Not Now, When? that I reviewed in July 2016 and that I’m re-blogging today as a Bookish Déjà Vu.

Read my review »

Thursday, 11 January 2018

*New* Decade Challenge 2018: The List
click on the image to go to the
challenge post on GOODREADS

1 January – 31 December 2018

(Nearly) A Century in Ten Books
– planned and reviewed –
(subject to change) 

1920-29: Rebecca West: The Judge (1922)
1930-39: François Mauriac: Vipers' Tangle (1932), original French title: Le Nœud de vipères
1940-49: Władysław Szpilman: The Pianist (1946), original Polish title: Śmierć miasta 
1950-59: Rose Macauley: The World My Wilderness (1950)
1960-69: Iris Murdoch: An Unofficial Rose (1963)
1970-79: Robert Ludlum: The Road to Gandolfo (1975)
1980-80: Szabó Magda: The Door (1987), original Hungarian title: Az ajtó
1990-99: Chantal T. Spitz: Island of Shattered Dreams (1991), original French title: L’île des rêves écrasés
2000-09: Mo Yan: Frog (2009), original Chinese title:
2010-18: Zichao Deng: Xanadu (2013)

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

2018 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge: The List
click on the image to go to the
challenge post on Escape With A Good Book
1 January – 31 December 2018

An Alphabet of Book Titles
– planned and reviewed –
(subject to change) 

  • Maria Àngels Anglada: The Auschwitz Violin (1994), original Catalan title: El violí d’Auschwitz
  • Katharina Winkler: Blue Jewellery (2016), original German title: Blauschmuck
  • Barbara Fischmuth: Convent School (1968), original German title: Die Klosterschule
  • Szabó Magda: The Door (1987), original Hungarian title: Az ajtó
  • Peter Rosegger: The Earth and the Fullness Thereof (1900), original German title: Erdsegen
  • Mo Yan: Frog (2009), original Chinese title:
  • Jenny Erpenbeck: Go, Went, Gone (2015), original German title: Gehen, ging, gegangen
  • Rabindranath Tagore: The Home and the World (1916)
  • Chantal T. Spitz: Island of Shattered Dreams (1991), original French title: L'île des rêves écrasés
  • Rebecca West: The Judge (1922)
  • André Kaminski: Kith and Kin (1986), original German title: Nächstes Jahr in Jerusalem
  • Elisabeth von Heyking: The Letters Which Never Reached Him (1903), original German title: Briefe, die ihn nicht erreichten
  • Lídia Jorge: The Migrant Painter of Birds (1998), original Portuguese title: O Vale da Paixão
  • Vicente Blanco Ibáñez: The Naked Lady (1906), original Spanish title: La maja desnuda, also published in English as Woman Triumphant
  • Kingsley Amis: The Old Devils (1986)
  • Władysław Szpilman: The Pianist (1946), original Polish title: Śmierć miasta
  • Tanizaki Jun’ichirō: Quicksand (1928-30), original Japanese title:
  • Robert Ludlum: The Road to Gandolfo (1975)
  • Gertrude Atherton: Sleeping Fires (1922)
  • Dacia Maraini: Train to Budapest (2010), original Italian title: Il treno dell’ultima notte
  • Iris Murdoch: An Unofficial Rose (1963)
  • François Mauriac: Vipers' Tangle (1932), original French title: Le Nœud de vipères
  • Flannery O'Connor: Wise Blood (1952)
  • Zichao Deng: Xanadu (2013)
  • J.M. Coetzee: Youth (2002)
  • Italo Svevo: Zeno's Conscience (1923), original Italien title: La coscienza di Zeno

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

2018 Share-a-Tea Reading Challenge: The List
click on the image to go to the
challenge post on Becky's Book Reviews
1 January – 31 December 2018

Books Read While Sipping Tea
– to be completed as the year advances –

Monday, 8 January 2018

Poetry Revisited: Das lesende Kind – The Reading Child by Friedrich Adler

Das lesende Kind

(aus Wilhelm Arendt (Hg):
Moderne Dichtercharaktere: 1885)

Auf den Schooß das Buch gebreitet,
Scheinst du nichts um dich zu missen,
Starrst hinein, indeß beflissen
Ueber's Blatt der Finger gleitet.

In das Meer der Zeichen leitet
Dich kein Können noch und Wissen,
Unbeschränkt, in schwanken Rissen
Sich dein junges Sinnen weitet.

Süßes Dämmern! Traumumwoben
Schläft das Denken noch im Neste,
Nur das Fühlen schwebt nach oben.

Ach, des Lebens trübe Reste
Bleiben, wenn der Flor gehoben—
Das Geheimniß ist das Beste.

Friedrich Adler (1857-1938)
Österreichischer Jurist, Übersetzter
und Schriftsteller böhmischer Herkunft

The Reading Child

(from Wilhelm Arendt (ed.):
Modern Poetic Characters: 1885)

The book spread on the lap,
You do not seem to miss anything,
stare into it, but anxious
Over the sheet the fingers glide.

Into the sea of characters leads
You no skill nor knowledge,
Unrestricted, in tense cracks
Your young senses are expanding.

Sweet dawn! Mystified by dream
The thinking is still sleeping in the nest,
Only feeling floats up.

Oh, life‘s cloudy remains
Stay when the veil is lifted—
The secret is the best.

Friedrich Adler (1857-1938)
Austrian jurist, translator and
writer of Bohemian origin
Literal translation: Edith Lagraziana 2018

Friday, 5 January 2018

Book Review: The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Àngels Anglada regards books, I’m starting into the year 2018 on a rather sad note. This is because I dedicate this whole month to the horrors of the holocaust and World War II in Eastern Europe as they come to life through the very different stories of four survivors, ones real, others more or less fictionalised, if not fictitious. Three of the four books on my blogging schedule of January have protagonists who devoted their lives to music. The novel that I picked for my first review of the year evokes the literally life-saving craftsmanship of a young Jewish violin maker in a small subcamp of Auschwitz. When the camp commander finds out that Daniel is a luthier, he orders him to make The Auschwitz Violin following a bet with the sadistic camp doctor. Not knowing that his life is even more at stake than usual, Daniel plunges into the work he loves.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

2018 Reading Challenges & Specials

And here we are in January again! As from now I’m slowing down my pace a little presenting new books here on Edith’s Miscellany only every other week and thus reducing my reads by half. Still, you may look forward to twenty-six reviews of – hopefully – marvellous books written by famous as well as forgotten authors, half male and half female as usual. For obvious reasons, I’m out of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks that Robin of My Two Blessings hosts on an extra blog also in 2018, but I’m going to participate in others instead… and no less interesting ones as you will see.

Like past year I’m making only this collective sign-up post instead of individual ones for each of the annual challenges running from 1 January through 31 December 2018, but as usual separate lists to follow my progress will go online by and by. And I add an update of my – actually or at least theoretically – ongoing reading challenges and book specials.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Child and the Year by Celia Thaxter

The Child and the Year

(from St. Nicolas, Volume 12 #3, January 1885)

Said the child to the youthful year:
“What hast thou in store for me,
O giver of beautiful gifts! what cheer,
What joy dost thou bring with thee?”

“My seasons four shall bring
Their treasures: the winter’s snows,
The autumn’s store, and the flowers of spring,
And the summer’s perfect rose.

“All these and more shall be thine,
Dear child—but the last and best
Thyself must earn by a strife divine,
If thou wouldst be truly blest.”

Celia Thaxter (1835-1894)
American author and poet