Monday, 31 December 2018

Poetry Revisited: New Year's Eve by Mathilde Blind

New Year's Eve

(from Songs and Sonnets: 1893)

Another full-orbed year hath waned to-day,
And set in the irrevocable past,
And headlong whirled long Time's winged blast
My fluttering rose of youth is borne away:
Ah rose once crimson with the blood of May,
A honeyed haunt where bees would break their fast,
I watch thy scattering petals flee aghast,
And all the flickering rose-lights turning grey.

Poor fool of life! plagued ever with thy vain
Regrets and futile longings! were the years
Not cups o'erbrimming still with gall and tears?
Let go thy puny personal joy and pain!
If youth with all its brief hope disappears,
To deathless hope we must be born again.

Mathilde Blind (1841-1896)
German-born English poet, fiction writer,
biographer, essayist and literary critic

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

2018 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge

The Summary

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

There are only few days left until we start yet again into a new year which means that it’s time for me to take stock of the books presented here on Edith’s Miscellany during the past twelve months. This time I made the reviews my biweekly contribution to the 2018 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge to which I signed up on Dollycas’s blog Escape With A Good Book in January, but in fact, I read four books more than the twenty-six required for My Alphabet of Book Titles. I must admit that choosing my reads for the challenge was a bit tricky with regard to certain letters like J, O, and above all X although I was lucky enough to be able to fit in quite some novels from my virtually infinite wish list, too. Almost by accident, I made the thirty books on my review list deal with recurrent themes.

As a matter of fact, I opened as well as closed the year 2018 on a somewhat artistic note although the books that I picked could hardly have been more different. The first read of this year was the Catalan novel The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Ángels Anglada that made me pass time with an as zealous as gifted fictional Jewish luthier in one of the cruellest concentration camps of Hitler’s Third Reich. In contrast, the last book on my review schedule was Clara and Mr. Tiffany by the late American writer Susan Vreeland who shed (partly fictional) light on the life of designer Clara Driscoll and the women in her team producing between 1892 and 1908 the famous leaded lampshades along with other artwork for Tiffany’s in New York and never getting the definitely deserved public recognition for it just because as women they weren’t accepted in the trade.

In 2018, I also reviewed other novels related to arts, notably Open City by Teju Cole in which a psychiatry fellow every so often ruminates expertly on a whole range of them starting with literature. Many of my reads included writers, all fictional ones except in Youth by J.M. Coetzee that is the author’s memoir. In The Door by Szabó Magda and Quicksand by Tanizaki Jun’ichiro successful fictional authors tell each the story of a woman they knew. Journalists in disconcerting times are the protagonists of Cyclops by Ranko Marinković, Train to Budapest by Dacia Maraini and The Earth and the Fullness Thereof by Peter Rosegger. And in Jalna by Mazo de la Roche, Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Atherton and in Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz an ambitious poet, a journalist and a future chronicler of Tahitian family history respectively appear as more or less central characters.

Music-related like The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Ángels Anglada were the holocaust memoir The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman, a true story of survival in German-occupied Warsaw, Islands of the Dying Light by Rolf Lappert about a guitarist searching for his sister and Monique by Luísa Coelho as the late reply to a homosexual pianist who jilted his wife in the letter that was Marguerite Yourcenar’s debut novel. Apart from Clara and Mr. Tiffany, I reviewed two novels related to the visual arts. The Naked Lady by Vicente Blanco Ibáñez portrays a fictional Spanish painter of the late nineteenth century who dreams of producing a celebrated nude picture like Goya. The other is The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay surrounding a teenage girl who paints the bomb ruins of post-war London because after years in the French Resistance she feels more at home there than in her father’s pristine mansion.

Quite obviously, war was another recurring theme of my reads this year. The protagonist of X Out of Wonderland by David Allan Cates fights in various fictional wars that bear clear resemblance to the bloodiest carnages of the twentieth century. As for real wars, there are World War I reaching the Isonzo valley and Trieste in the final chapter of Zeno's Conscience by Italo Svevo and World War II sweeping over Croatia towards the end of Cyclops by Ranko Marinković as feared. The horrors of World War II come cruelly alive in The Kappillan of Malta by Nicholas Monsarrat as well as, to some degree, in The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay and in Train to Budapest by Dacia Maraini. The latter also deals with the holocaust even though not in the same evocative way as The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Ángels Anglada and The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman.

Not at all at the centre of the novels, but nonetheless important for plot and character development are the civil wars appearing in The Letters Which Never Reached Him by Elisabeth von Heyking, My Lady of the Chinese Courtyard by Elizabeth Cooper, The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore, and Frog by Mo Yan. World War I plays a certain role in the past of the protagonists in Jalna by Mazo de la Roche and Vipers’ Tangle by François Mauriac as does World War II in The Door by Szabó Magda, in Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck and in Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz. In the latter the Cold War, too, has noticeable impact on Tahiti’s history. As for The Road to Gandolfo by Robert Ludlum, it’s about a disgraced Vietnam War hero planning to kidnap the Pope to secure his living in peace times.

This leaves three novels that don’t quite fit in because they seem to be completely unrelated to both arts and wars. There is The Convent School by Barbara Fischmuth, an Austrian novel depicting a girl’s coming-of-age in the extremely conservative 1950s when World War II and the holocaust were a preferably repressed memory and not talked about as a result. Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler, on the other hand, is an Austrian novel about a woman born on a farm in the Anatolian mountains whose blindly jealous and always short-tempered husband beats her half to death more than once even after the family has long immigrated to Austria. In a way The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch, too, is a story of domestic violence given that her husband forced the protagonist to live in seclusion on her estate, but it’s rather the appropriate background for the Gothic novel than its theme.

Sticking to my resolution to Read the Nobels and to make regular contributions to the pretty dormant perpetual challenge of Aloi aka the Guiltless Reader, I reviewed this year four novels by laureates of the Nobel Prize in Literature, all of them male because I’ve run out of female ones who wrote prose fiction. I picked the classics The Home and the World by Indian author Rabindranath Tagore (winner of 1913) and Vipers’ Tangle by French writer François Mauriac (winner of 1952) along with the contemporary works Youth by South African-Australian author J.M. Coetzee (winner of 2003) and Frog by Chinese writer Mo Yan (winner of 2012). In addition, I presented the epistolary novel The Earth and the Fullness Thereof from the pen of Peter Rosegger, a triple Nobel nominee from Austria (1911, 1913 and 1918) whose copious literary and journalistic production is quite forgotten today in Austria and abroad.

Apart from Peter Rosegger’s just mentioned classic that was first released in 1900 and that illustrates somewhat realistically how backbreaking and worrisome the lives of most Austrian mountain farmers were at the time, I could link five more reviews to the 100 books on My Long Longlist of Epistolary Fiction. Only two of them – Monique by Luísa Coelho and Frog by Mo Yan – were contemporary works, while the others were all written and published long before, i.e. between 1903 and 1932. There were the novels The Letters Which Never Reached Him by Elisabeth von Heyking and My Lady of the Chinese Courtyard by Elizabeth Cooper that both combine fictional letters written around 1900 and evoke China in a time of unrest. The letters from the early 1930s in Vipers’ Tangle by François Mauriac are the legacy of a French bourgeois who always felt misunderstood and ignored by his greedy family.

And which of these thirty novels did I like best? It wouldn’t be like me at all to declare the lightest and most amusing reads on this list my favourites! In fact, for the first place I waver between a history of the siege of Malta during World War II from the point of view of a priest and the colonial history of Tahiti by example of three generations of a family, i.e. between The Kappillan of Malta by Nicholas Monsarrat and Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz. My close runner-up to these two is the holocaust novel The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Àngels Anglada. Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck and Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler were very much to my taste, too, not to forget the memoirs The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman and Youth by J.M. Coetzee. Very serious, if not sad reads all of them.

And here’s now the list of my 26+4 books reviewed in 2018 in alphabetical order by their titles including dates of first release and original titles if they aren’t English:

Monday, 24 December 2018

Poetry Revisited: The True Christmas by Henry Vaughan

The True Christmas

(from Thalia Rediviva: 1678)

So stick up ivy and the bays,
And then restore the heathen ways.
Green will remind you of the spring,
Though this great day denies the thing.
And mortifies the earth and all
But your wild revels, and loose hall.
Could you wear flowers, and roses strow
Blushing upon your breasts' warm snow,
That very dress your lightness will
Rebuke, and wither at the ill.
The brightness of this day we owe
Not unto music, masque, nor show:
Nor gallant furniture, nor plate;
But to the manger's mean estate.
His life while here, as well as birth,
Was but a check to pomp and mirth;
And all man's greatness you may see
Condemned by His humility.

     Then leave your open house and noise,
To welcome Him with holy joys,
And the poor shepherd's watchfulness:
Whom light and hymns from heaven did bless.
What you abound with, cast abroad
To those that want, and ease your load.
Who empties thus, will bring more in;
But riot is both loss and sin.
Dress finely what comes not in sight,
And then you keep your Christmas right.

Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)
Welsh metaphysical poet, author, translator and physician

Friday, 21 December 2018

Book Review: Zeno's Conscience by Italo Svevo

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1407803.Zeno_s_ConscienceSometimes it can be just as difficult to understand own behaviour and thoughts as it can be to figure out a complete stranger, not least because we all have traits in us that we like to overlook because we disapprove of them. Human nature wants it that these shadows of our characters terribly annoy us when we recognise them in others, and yet, we seldom become aware that they are actually ours, too. Sigmund Freud was one of the first to explore the unknown, repressed sides of the soul, but his work wasn’t really taken seriously at first. In Trieste of the mid-1910s, the wealthy protagonist of Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo consults a Freudian psychiatrist only because he is curious about this absurd new method and ready to try out anything to rid himself of his (imagined) ailments. Upon the psychiatrist’s request he wrote his memoirs until losing interest.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Back Reviews Reel: December 2015

My blogging year 2015 closed with reviews of four rather un-Christmassy books. In the classical spy novel The Angry Hills by Leon Uris set in World War II, a writer from San Francisco gets stuck in Greece with a sealed envelope to take to London, but German GESTAPO is after its contents. The theme of the contemporary novel Lake of Heaven by Ishimure Michiko are the long-term environmental and social effects of a hydroelectric power plant that relocated an entire Japanese village. Questions and material about a forgotten acquaintance force the writer protagonist of the contemporary novel So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood by Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, to face long-repressed memories of his childhood in France of the early 1950s. And the classic The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand centres on an American architect whose work is too innovative for his time.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Poetry Revisited: Tęsknota – Longing by Narcyza Żmichowska

Tęsknota

(z książki Wybór poezyi: 1909)

Tęsknię, ach! tęsknię w zimie za kwiateczkiem,
A gdy mam z wiosną kwiatków łąkę całą,
To jeszcze tęsknię za konwalią białą,
A przy konwalii za śniegu płateczkiem.

Tęsknię, ach! tęsknię do mojego brata,
A kiedym z bratem, to tęsknię do ciebie,
A kiedym z. tobą, to do Boga w niebie,
A kiedym z Bogiem, znów tęsknię do świata.

I złe i dobre, i grzech mój i cnota,
I czego pragnę i czego się boj ę,
I myśli moje i modlitwy moje,
I życie całe – to tylko tęsknota.

Narcyza Żmichowska (1819-1876)
Polska powieściopisarka i poetka

Longing

(from Selected Poetry: 1909)

I yearn in winter for the flowers to blow,
And when they give me greeting in spring,
I long for the while bind-weeds blossoming,
And with its blossoming a flake of snow.

For brotherly companionship I yearn,
When with my brother – then for you I long.
With you the yearning for my God grows strong
With him my longings for the world return.

The good and evil that constrains my soul
hate’er I long for – whatsoe’er I fear,
My thoughts and impulses from year to year,
As my own life, are but a longing whole!

Narcissa Zmichowska (1819-1876)
Polish novelist and poet

Translation from Paul Soboleski:
Poets and Poetry of Poland. A Collection of
Polish Verse. Knight & Leonard, Printers,
Chicago 1881

Friday, 14 December 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com/2016/12/flauberts-parrot-by-julian-barnes.html

Books of truly great writers sometimes feel as if they were written just for the person who is reading them. They deeply touch our souls and drag us straight into the stories told, while the author remains in the background, virtually invisible although every word, every phrase, even every punctuation carries the unique imprint of her or his personality. Some writers even manage to make us feel close to them as if they were our soul mates. Reading their books may make us long to know them in person and to make friends with them beyond the realm of literature. Most of us content ourselves with reading biographical trivia about our favourite writers, probably their memoirs and biographies, too, but the retired protagonist of Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes, another one of my bookish déjà vu, sets out to fathom the character of the late Gustave Flaubert whom he adores.

Read my review»

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Share-a-Tea 2018 Reading Challenge

The Summary

click on the image to go to the
challenge post on Becky's Book Reviews
1 January – 31 December 2018

My Teatime Reads of the Year

December has arrived and there isn’t much left of 2018. Since these happen to be the busiest days of the year, I reckon that I won’t be able to add any more books to this list for Becky’s Share-a-Tea 2018 Reading Challenge before we start the new cycle of months. It’s true that every day I’m having tea – kukicha from Japan, Longjing from China, occasionally infusions of rooibos, of fruit blends, or of medicinal herbs to treat some ailment –, but now I prefer to experience it with all my senses much in the zen way. A book would only be a distraction, however much I use to enjoy reading in general.

In the end, I compiled the following list of twelve books that I read for the greater part with a pot of hot tea or infusion on the table by my side. I discussed most of them here on Edith’s Miscellany during the course of the year, but I also put on my list a novel by my Italian writer friend Marina Di Domenico, an Austrian classic that I’d like to present one day, and the French classic by Voltaire that served David Allan Cates as model for X Out of Wonderland that I reviewed.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Poetry Revisited: I Heard a Bird Sing by Oliver Herford

I Heard a Bird Sing

(from B.J. Thompson (ed): More Silver Pennies: 1938)

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

Oliver Herford (1860-1935)
British-born American writer, artist, and illustrator

Friday, 7 December 2018

Book Review: Monique by Luísa Coelho

https://amzn.to/2PhIbu5
It can be a big shock to realise that it’s absolutely impossible to know any person inside out, not even closest relations like a spouse, children or parents, sometimes not even ourselves. Some people have learnt well to hide their nature because they fear – often rightly – to risk their status and dignity showing the world who they really are. The more shattering it is when they finally muster up the courage to come out. After fifty years the protagonist of Monique by Luísa Coelho answers to the letter that her husband wrote when he abandoned her and their son. Because the homosexual pianist could no longer bear living a lie and thus chose to defy social conventions, he turned her well-ordered and idealistic world completely upside down overnight. The French noblewoman looks back on her sheltered youth that didn’t prepare her for suddenly being on her own.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Wind Frost by Susanna Moodie

The Wind Frost

(from Enthusiasm and Other Poems: 1831)

I come o'er the hills of the frozen North,
To call to the battle thy armies forth:
I have swept the shores of the Baltic sea,
And the billows have felt my mastery;
They resisted my power, but strove in vain—
I have curbed their might with my crystal chain.
I roused the northwind in his stormy cave,
Together we passed over land and wave;
I sharpened his breath and gave him power
To crush and destroy every herb and flower;
He obeyed my voice, and is rending now
The sallow leaves from the groaning bough;
And he shouts aloud in his wild disdain,
As he whirls them down to the frozen plain:
Those beautiful leaves to which Spring gave birth
Are scattered abroad on the face of the earth.
I have visited many a creek and bay,
And curdled the streams in my stormy way;
I have chilled into hail the genial shower:—
All this I have done to increase thy power.

Susanna Moodie (1803-1885)
English-born Canadian poet and writer

Friday, 30 November 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Nada by Carmen Laforet

http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com/2013/08/nada-by-carmen-laforet.html

When a young person sets out to conquer the adult world, it’s usually with great expectations and high-flying dreams because everything seems possible to someone no longer subject to childhood limitations. Alas, the yearned for unlimited freedom inevitably proves an illusion given that “no man is an island”. Unless we withdraw to the back of beyond where no human creature ever shows up, we aren’t spared dealing with our fellow beings in daily life and to make compromises in order to live in peace. In Nada by Carmen Laforet, which I picked as bookish déjà vu, eighteen-year-old Andrea comes to Barcelona to enjoy the liberties of student life, but only roaming the big city and in the company of her well-to-do friends she escapes the stifling atmosphere of her late mother’s once important bourgeois family with whom she lives sharing the all-pervading penury and hunger after the Spanish Civil War.
Read my review »

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

GOODREADS Bookcrossers *New* Decade Challenge 2018

The Summary

click on the image to go to the
challenge post on GOODREADS

1 January – 31 December 2018
(Nearly) A Century in Ten Books

When 2018 still was fairly new, I signed up for the *New* Decade Challenge that a member of the GOODREADS Bookcrossers Group initiated. Meanwhile, the year has grown visibly old and I’m through with a book for each of the past ten decades – five written by women, five by men, five originally written in English, five in other languages. As usual, my list of completed reads is consciously diverse regarding genres and styles. It includes a holocaust memoir – The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman – and a semi(auto)biographical portrait of French-Polynesian life since the arrival of European discoverers – Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz – as well as epistolary fiction from the pens of two en-NOBEL-ed writers, namely the French classic Vipers’ Tangle by François Mauriac and modern Chinese Frog by Mo Yan. The novels The World My Wilderness by Rose Macauley, The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch, The Door by Szabó Magda, and Open City by Teju Cole in very different ways and to varying degrees satisfied my need (not just longing) for intellectual challenge, but with Jalna by Mazo de la Roche and The Road to Gandolfo by Robert Ludlum there are two considerably lighter reads on my list, too.

And here’s my chronological list of books reviewed for this challenge:

1920-29: Mazo de la Roche: Jalna (1927)
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 Macaulay: The World My Wilderness (1950)
1960-69: Iris Murdoch: The Unicorn (1963
1970-79: Robert Ludlum: The Road to Gandolfo (1975)
1980-80: Szabó Magda: The Door (1986), 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: Teju Cole: Open City (2011)

Monday, 26 November 2018

Poetry Revisited: First Winter Song by Alfred Perceval Graves

First Winter Song

(from The Irish Poems of Alfred Perceval Graves
Volume I: Songs of the Gael. A Gaelic story-telling: 1908)

Take my tidings!
Stags contend;
Snows descend—
Summer’s end!

A chill wind raging;
The sun low keeping,
Swift to set
O’er seas high sweeping.

Dull red the fern;
Shapes are shadows:
Wild geese mourn
O’er misty meadows.

Keen cold limes each weaker wing.
Icy times—
Such I sing!
Take my tidings!

Alfred Perceval Graves (1846-1931)
Anglo-Irish poet, songwriter, folklorist and school inspector

Friday, 23 November 2018

Book Review: Open City by Teju Cole

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13139098-open-cityFor certain people, especially for those who stand out of the masses for one reason or another, be it in reality or just in their subjective experience, it seems to be harder than for others to find their proper place in the world. Even those who appear to have succeeded in life and to have a rich social life may feel isolated from the rest of the world without showing it on the outside. The protagonist of Open City by Teju Cole is one of these outsiders because having a white German mother and a black Nigerian father he feels that he doesn’t fit in anywhere. Moreover, Julius is a psychiatry fellow at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and a highly educated man with highbrow interests. When his girlfriend leaves him, he takes to walking through the streets whenever he can to clear his mind and to contemplate.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Back Reviews Reel: November 2015

Three years ago I reviewed four very different books. November being a month of commemoration, I started with the classical novella The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh that is love story as well as satire on the funeral business in California of the late 1940s. Moving from the radiant American west coast to a poor Afro-American community in Ohio some years earlier, The Bluest Eye by en-Nobel-ed Toni Morrison drew me into the dire life of a teenager from a dysfunctional family who despises herself for being ugly. The scene of The Guest Cat by Hiraide Takashi is an old Tōkyō neighbourhood about forty years later where a childless married couple grows attached to a furry visitor belonging to their neighbours. And finally, I followed the true story of the rise of a French silk merchant’s daughter to the Queen of Sweden fictionalised in Désirée by Austro-Danish author Annemarie Selinko.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Poetry Revisited: Autumn in England by Emily Mary Barton

Autumn in England

(from Straws on the Stream: 1907)

1st November, 1837

Another bright summer for ever has fled.
And the song of the warblers is silent and dead;
The heavens are weeping, the breezes are sighing
O’er the cold earth where Beauty’s frail children are lying;
The leaves that fall round them are wither’d and sear,
And the white shroud of mourning shall cover their bier—
The breezes may sigh, for they’re passing away,
The heavens may weep, for they, too, must decay;
But why should I mourn for the joys that are gone,
While I feel that new blessings are hastening on?
Though the tokens of Beauty, lie dead on the ground,
The Spirit of loveliness hovers around;
Though the music of Nature no longer we hear,
New harmonies ever shall sound in my ear.
My sails are full set, and my barque is at sea,
Each wave that I pass has a glory for me;
To the breezes of Heaven my pennant I raise.
Faith is my pilot, my watchword is Praise;
Onward I drive through the glitt’ring spray
Of Eternity’s Ocean, away and away!
Nought can arrest my unfolding career,
On my heart is no cloud, in my bosom no fear;
By all Power created, all Goodness expressed,
By all Mercy redeemed, I am Heaven’s own guest,
And a spark from Divinity glows in my breast.
Go then, bright summer, depart lovely flowers,
Proceed sun of nature, roll on happy hours,
There is Beauty around me that will not decay,
And Life brings in Life as the hours roll away,
The Land of Infinitude opens before me.
The Eye of Omniscience only is o’er me:
Time is my courser, he bears me along,
O’er plains of existence, for ever and ever,
And blent with the whispers of Hope is the song
Of flowers that perish, and friends that must sever,
Forward I bound with unwearying pace,
My portion is Life, my inheritance Space;
The tomb that awaits me throws open its portal,
My Guide is Almighty, my spirit immortal;
The passage is dark, but I slack not my speed,
The gateway is low, yet I bow not my head;
The brow that was made to aspire to the skies,
Smiles calmly on death, and its power defies,
For a season, in sin and disgrace it bent low,
It has risen again, and shall never more bow,
Except to the Mercy that washed off its stain,
And the Might that restored it to Glory again.

Emily Mary Barton (1817-1909)
English-born Australian poet

Friday, 16 November 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Siddharta by Hermann Hesse

http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com/2013/04/siddhartha-by-hermann-hesse.html

When we are children, we know little of life and around every corner we expect a big new adventure to be discovered and fathomed. Growing up uses to be somewhat sobering in this respect because the more we know the more predictable life seems to become with its tiring routines and annoying necessities. Moreover, we are constantly driven on by real or imagined needs – and many of them! – that we long to satisfy and that easily make us suffer when we fail to. Many of us are lucky enough to be able to climb ever higher in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs until we reach for the transcendental beyond the level of self-actualisation. The protagonist of my bookish déjà-vu, Siddharta by Hermann Hesse, has everything that he can only wish for, and yet, he too sets out on a quest for deeper meaning and his proper place in the universe.
Read my review»

Monday, 12 November 2018

Poetry Revisited: Gold Leaves by G. K. Chesterton

Gold Leaves

(from The Wild Knight and Other Poems: 1900)

Lo! I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold;
Grey hairs and golden leaves cry out
The year and I are old.

In youth I sought the prince of men,
Captain in cosmic wars,
Our Titan, even the weeds would show
Defiant, to the stars.

But now a great thing in the street
Seems any human nod,
Where shift in strange democracy
The million masks of God.

In youth I sought the golden flower
Hidden in wood or wold,
But I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold.

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
English writer,poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist,
orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic

Friday, 9 November 2018

Book Review: The Convent School by Barbara Frischmuth

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1848576.The_Convent_School
To bring up children means to prepare them best possible for adulthood, but standards and methods of education have undergone constant change in the course of human history. While children today enjoy a lot of freedom because we believe that they should be allowed to explore their nature, notably their talents and tastes, with as little guidance as reasonable, they were often subject to brutal suppression, even violence until not so long ago. Set in the 1950s in the austere surroundings of a Roman-Catholic boarding school tucked away in the mountains of Austria, The Convent School by renowned Austrian writer Barbara Frischmuth shows teenage girls, notably the unnamed narrator, who gradually pass from childhood into a confusing adult world. Strict discipline and the teachers’ tries to instil a very conservative female role model in their charges can’t prevent the narrator from turning into a young woman with an independent mind.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Poetry Revisited: November by Elizabeth Stoddard

November

(from Poems: 1895)

Much have I spoken of the faded leaf;
Long have I listened to the wailing wind,
And watched it ploughing through the heavy clouds;
For autumn charms my melancholy mind.

When autumn comes, the poets sing a dirge:
The year must perish; all the flowers are dead;
The sheaves are gathered; and the mottled quail
Runs in the stubble, but the lark has fled!

Still, autumn ushers in the Christmas cheer,
The holly-berries and the ivy-tree:
They weave a chaplet for the Old Year’s heir;
These waiting mourners do not sing for me!

I find sweet peace in depths of autumn woods,
Where grow the ragged ferns and roughened moss;
The naked, silent trees have taught me this,—
The loss of beauty is not always loss!

Elizabeth Stoddard (1823-1902)
American poet

Friday, 2 November 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com/2016/01/cats-eye-by-margaret-atwood.html

In school children learn more than just book knowledge. Apart from the family it’s the most important environment for their socialisation, a place where they have to struggle more or less on their own with the puzzling dynamics of peer groups and with the complex maze of unwritten, often odd rules governing relations with others, be they friends or foes. Quite naturally, school mirrors society at large with all its positive and negative aspects which prevents it from being a paradise where everybody is always good and happy. In fact, children can be mean, even cruel toward each other as the protagonist of Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, which I decided to feature as a bookish déjà-vu this week, experienced herself in primary school after World War II. Neither the passage of forty years, nor success as a painter could make her forget having been bullied by her “best friends”.
Read my review»

Monday, 29 October 2018

Poetry Revisited: Genius des Herbstes – Genius of Autumn by Anton Wildgans

Genius des Herbstes

(aus Buch der Gedichte: 1929)

Jetzt ist er leise wieder eingetreten,
Der stille Mann mit seinem müden Segnen,
Und alle Wesen, die ihm ernst begegnen,
Verneigen sich im letzten, stummen Beten.

Wie liegt der Fluß in diesen Erntetagen
Blank, eine Sichel, die ihr Werk verrichtet,
Und Garben über Garben, goldgeschlichtet,
Lasten wie Glanz auf hochgetürmten Wagen.

Jetzt spenden alle Kelche ihre Neige
Zu letzter Lust, denn dunkel ist das Morgen,
Und stille Gräber, sommers blattgeborgen,
Erschimmern jetzt durch schwarze, kahle Zweige.

Der Meister doch in regloser Gebärde
Blickt wie ein Arzt am Bette eines Weibes,
Das sterbend liegt in Wehen seines Leibes,
Und fühlt den Puls der erntemüden Erde.

Dann wendet er sich ab von all dem Sterben
Und weiht dem jungen Leben sein Erbarmen,
Und aus der Mutter toderstarrten Armen
Hebt er das Kind, den Frühling, ihren Erben!

Anton Wildgans (1881-1932)
österreichischer Dichter und Dramatiker

Genius of Autumn

(from Book of Poems: 1929)

Now he has quietly reentered
The silent man with his tired blessing,
And all beings who meet him sternly,
Bow in the final, silent praying.

How is the river in these harvest days
shining, a sickle that does its work,
And sheaves over sheaves, gold-plated,
weigh like lustre on piled cars.

Now all goblets are giving their dregs
To last lust, because dark is the tomorrow,
And quiet tombs, leaf-fed in the summer,
Now glint through black, bare branches.

The master, however, in still gesture
Looks like a doctor at the bed of a woman,
Aho lies dying in labour-pains of her body,
And feels the pulse of the harvest-tired earth.

Then he turns away from all the dying
And devotes to the young life his mercy,
And from the mother’s death-stiff arms
He raises the child, the spring, her heir!

Anton Wildgans (1881-1932)
Austrian poet and playwright
Literal translation: Edith Lagraziana 2018

Friday, 26 October 2018

Book Review: Vipers’ Tangle by François Mauriac

Exclusion happens every day and even in the family as the most intimate social group. Often it results from misunderstandings that nobody cared to clear up out of pride, shame or simply lack of concern and that were thus allowed to grow without measure. As time passes, the excluded may try to compensate the estrangement from the group or/and develop bitter feelings towards the others. It’s how the protagonist of Vipers’ Tangle by François Mauriac, who was awarded the 1952 Nobel Prize in Literature, became a rancorous miser expecting the worst from his surrounding. Feeling death approach, he decides to put into writing all the exasperation at his family’s indifference and selfishness that he bottled up for decades. He sets out to write a pungent letter to his wife, but as he advances he gradually understands that he added his own to getting estranged from his family and everybody else.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Poetry Revisited: Autumn Song by Edith Nesbit

Autumn Song

(from Songs of Love and Empire: 1898)

“Will you not walk the woods with me?
The shafts of sunlight burn
On many a golden-crested tree
And many a russet fern.
The Summer’s robe is dyed anew,
And Autumn’s veil of mist
Is gemmed with little pearls of dew
Where first we met and kissed.”

“I will not walk the woodlands brown
Where ghosts and mists are blown,
But I will walk the lonely down
And I will walk alone.
Where Night spreads out her mighty wing
And dead days keep their tryst,
There will I weep the woods of Spring
Where first we met and kissed.”

Edith Nesbit (1858-1924)
English author and poet

Friday, 19 October 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher

http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com/2013/08/sunset-oasis-by-bahaa-taher.html

Society doesn’t like intruders and if they come to stay despite all they risk to be treated like lepers if not worse. It seldom matters if they arrive as aggressive conquerors, as powerful representatives of the government (be it accepted or not) or as peaceful immigrants looking for refuge or for a decent livelihood. There’s no way round it. They are outsiders and it’s almost inevitable that they’ll have a hard time to overcome the mistrust, maybe even hatred keeping them at bay. When the new commisioner in my Egyptian bookish déjà-vu Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher takes charge of his post in the Siwa Oasis in North-Western Egypt about 50 km from the Libyan border in the 1890s, he knows all too well that he isn’t welcome and that he shouldn’t have given in to his Irish wife’s unreasonable wish to accompany him for the sake of archaeological research. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Back Reviews Reel: October 2015

Three years ago I read two classics illustrating the aftermaths of World War I and three very different novels about love. While the forgotten English classic The Happy Foreigner by Enid Bagnold shows new life sprouting from battlefields, the classical Austrian novel Little Apple by Leo Perutz portrays a man seeking revenge for atrocities suffered in a Russian prisoners-of-war camp. Set in modern-day Tōkyo, the contemporary Japanese novel The Briefcase by Kawakami Hiromi follows the budding love between a woman and her former teacher. In contrast, Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez, the 1982 Nobel laureate in Literature, is a contemporary novel set in eighteenth-century South America that surrounds a doomed teenager who awakens passionate love in her exorcist. The Japanese historical classic A Tale of False Fortunes by Enchi Fumiko evokes the love of Emperor Ichijō and his first Consort Empress just before the year 1000.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Autumnal Walk by George Crabbe

The Autumnal Walk

(from Tales of the Hall: 1819)

It was a fair and mild autumnal sky,
And earth’s ripe treasures met the admiring eye,
‘As a rich beauty, when her bloom is lost,
Appears with more magnificence and cost;
T3ie wet and heavy grass, where feet had stray’d,
Not yet erect, the wanderer’s way beiray’d;
Showers of the night had swell’d the deepening rill,
The morning breeze had urged the quickening mill;
Assembled roots had wing’d their seaward flight,
By the same passage to return at night,
While proudly o’er them hung the steady Idle,
Then turn’d them back, and left the noisy throng.
Nor deign’d to know them as he sail’d along.
Long yellow leaves, from osiers, strew’d around,
Choked the dull stream, and husb’d its feeble sound,
While the dead foliage dropt from loftier trees,
Our squire beheld not with his wonted ease;
But to his own reflections made reply,
And said aloud, “Yes; doubtless we must die.”

“We must” said Richard; “and we would not live
To feel what dotage and decay will give;
But we yet taste whatever we behold;
The morn is lovely, though the air is cold:
There is delicious quiet in this scene,
At once so rich, so varied, so serene;
Sounds, too, delight us—each discordant tone
Thus mingled, please, that Ml to please alone;
This hollow wind, this rustling of the brook.
The farmyard noise, the woodman at yon oak—
See! the axe falls! —now listen to the stroke;
That gun itself, that murders all this peace,
Adds to the charm, because it soon must cease.”

“No. doubt,” said George, “the country has its charms!”
My farm behold! the model for all farms!
Look at that land — you find not there a weed,
We grub the roots, and suffer none to seed.
To land like this no botanist will come.
To seek the precious ware he hides at home;
Pressing the leaves and flowers with effort nice.
As if they came from herbs in Paradise;
Let them their favourites with my neighbours sec,
They have no — what?— no habitat with me.
Now see my flock, and hear its glory; — none
Have that vast body and that slender hone;
They are the village’s boast, the dealer’s theme,
Fleece of such staple! flesh in such esteem!”

“Brother,” said Richard, “do I hear aright?
Does the land truly give so much delight?”

“So says my bailiff: sometimes I have tried
To catch the joy, but nature has denied;
It will not be — the mind has had a store
Laid up for life, and will admit no more:
Worn out in trials, and about to die,
In vain to these we for amusement fly;
We farm, we garden, we our poor employ,
And much command, though little we enjoy;
Or, if ambitious, we employ our pen.
We plant a desert, or we drain a fen;
And— here, behold my medal! — this will show
What men may merit when they nothing know.”

“Yet reason here,” said Richard, “joins with pride: — ”
“I did not ask th’ alliance,” George replied —
“I grant it true, such trifle may induce
A dull, proud man to wake and be of use;
And there are purer pleasures, that a mind
Calm and uninjured may in villas find;
But where th’ affections have been deeply tried.
With other food that mind must be supplied:
‘Tis not in trees or medals to impart
The powerful medicine for an aching heart;
The agitation dies, but there is still
The backward spirit, the resisting will.
Man takes his body to a country seat,
But minds, dear Richard, have their own retreat;
Oft when the feet are pacing o’er the green
The mind is gone where never grass was seen.
And never thinks of hill, or vale, or plain,
Till want of rest creates a sense of pain.
That calls that wandering mind, and brings it home again.
No more of farms: but here I boast of minds
That make a friend the richer when he finds;
These shalt thou see; — but, Richard, be it known.
Who thinks to see must in his turn be shown: —
But now farewell! to thee will I resign
Woods, walks, and valleys! take them till we dine.”

George Crabbe (1754 -1832)
English poet, surgeon and clergyman

Friday, 12 October 2018

Book Review: Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37765158-go-went-goneUndeniably, it’s an innate impulse to go in search of a better place to live in when for some reason things turn tough where we are and it’s thanks to it that, in the course of tens of thousands of years, human race colonised virtually the entire planet. However, as soon as our ancestors began settling down, migration became a problem because it’s in our nature, too, to protect kith and kin as well as resources from rapacious outsiders. Huge migration waves as in ancient times no longer happen, but a stream of refugees like in the summer of 2015 suffices to put us into a state of alarm. In Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck a recently retired classics professor gets involved in the lives of a group of asylum seekers who camp on a central square in Berlin to become visible as human beings in need.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Poetry Revisited: Sonnet On the Approach of Autumn by Amelia Opie

Sonnet On the Approach of Autumn

(from The Warrior’s Return and Other Poems: 1808)

Farewell gay Summer! now the changing wind
That Autumn brings commands thee to retreat;
It fades the roses which thy temples bind,
And the green sandals which adorn thy feet.

Now flies with thee the walk at eventide,
That favouring hour to rapt enthusiasts dear;
When most they love to seek the mountain side,
And mark the pomp of twilight hastening near.

Then fairy forms around the poet throng,
On every cloud a glowing charm he sees....
Sweet Evening, these delights to thee belong:....

But now, alas! comes Autumn's chilling breeze,
And early Night, attendant on its sway,
Bears in her envious veil sweet Fancy's hour away.

Amelia Opie (1769-1853)
English author of the Romantic Period

Friday, 5 October 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com/2014/05/good-morning-midnight-by-Jean-Rhys.html

No matter where, the lot of an immigrant can be terribly hard, especially when all hopes are crushed and things still continue to turn from bad to worse barring even the way back into the bosom of the family. It needs a strong character and an unbending will to go on struggling under such adverse circumstances instead of giving way to such deep desperation that drifting through life seems just as well because nothing that could happen really matters anymore. Sometimes they even watch their own fall in amusement like the protagonist of Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys, which I chose as a bookish déjà-vu. By the late 1930s, the Englishwoman who rather stranded in Paris than she settled down there has gone so far downhill that she has no strength left to even try to get back on her feet and to take life into her own hands… 

Monday, 1 October 2018

Poetry Revisited: In October by Bliss Carman

In October

(from Later Poems: 1921)

Now come the rosy dogwoods,
The golden tulip-tree,
And the scarlet yellow maple,
To make a day for me.
The ash-trees on the ridges,
The alders in the swamp,
Put on their red and purple
To join the autumn pomp.
The woodbine hangs her crimson
Along the pasture wall,
And all the bannered sumacs
Have heard the frosty call.
Who then so dead to valor
As not to raise a cheer,
When all the woods are marching
In triumph of the year?

Bliss Carman (1861-1929)
Canadian poet

Friday, 28 September 2018

Book Review: X Out of Wonderland by David Allan Cates

To everybody the world may occasionally seem unreal like the scenario of a fairy-tale or a dream because something unusual and improbable is happening. The situation may even be so dumbfounding that those living it behave like sleepwalkers or automatons for a while. Unshakable optimism and absolute trust in a person, a system or even an idea can produce a similar effect because they often distort the view of things to allow seeing them as desired instead of as they are. The novel X Out of Wonderland by David Allan Cates surrounds a protagonist who was taught to believe firmly and unquestioningly in the forces of the global free market and in its power to provide the best for all. Even when misfortune strikes him hard all of a sudden leaving him jobless, homeless and without the most intriguing woman that he just met, he endures everything without losing faith.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Poetry Revisited: Knights and the Dragon by Robin Hyde

Knights and the Dragon

(from The Desolate Star and Other Poems: 1929)

I found no dragon, and the maid,
His prey, was dead these many years
And slumbered in a little glade
Of purple flowers, bright with tears.
They said all mortal swords must fail
Against the necromancer-thing
That dimmed her beauty as a veil,
And hid her tresses’ glimmering.
The pluméd (sic) knights would come and go
About her gates; but none was bold
To seek the icy, mocking foe
That stole away her white and gold,
Her purple flowers filled with dew.
There in the dusk, I knew the truth—
This dragon was the locust, who
Had eaten all her leaves of youth.

Robin Hyde (1906-1939)
New Zealand poet

Friday, 21 September 2018

Book Review: Cyclops by Ranko Marinković

Most legendary creatures are archetypical manifestations of certain aspects of human nature, good or evil, and the myths surrounding them represent a general idea of the world, i.e. of how it came into being and of how it works. Classical education made many of them household names and so, they found their way quite naturally into literature as allegorical figures or less easily explainable symbols. With World War II threatening to spread to Yugoslavia, the protagonist of Cyclops by Ranko Marinković sees himself doomed to end as helpless prey of the man-eating one-eyed giant Polyphemus from Greek mythology. Like other young men he must expect being called up any time, but although patriotic, the intellectual hopes to avoid national service systematically reducing his body to bones and skin. He wanders through Zagreb daydreaming and yearning for the woman he loves without hope or drinks heavily with friends.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Back Reviews Reel: September 2015

In my reviews of three years past, I evoked classical love as well as a modern dystopia starting my tour in Japan and returning there via New York and Germany. Confessions of Love by Uno Chiyo centres on a doomed love in Tōkyō of the 1920s. About 30 years later and thousands of miles east, the famous protagonist of Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote frequents well-to-do circles to find a husband to give her the happiness and glamour that she yearns for. In futuristic Germany of The Method by Juli Zeh, on the other hand, a woman who lost her brother finds herself prosecuted by a relentless State for letting herself go. The protagonist of The Changeling by Ōe Kenzaburō, the recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature, takes to imaginary conversations with his late youth friend and brother-in-law on the other side with the help of tapes.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Poetry Revisited: That Bright Chimeric Beast by Countee Cullen

That Bright Chimeric Beast

(from Black Christ and Other Poems: 1929)

That bright chimeric beast
Conceived yet never born,
Save in the poet's breast,
The white-flanked unicorn,
Never may be shaken
From his solitude;
Never may be taken
In any earthly wood.

That bird forever feathered,
Of its new self the sire,
After aeons weathered,
Reincarnate by fire,
Falcon may not nor eagle
Swerve from his eyrie,
Nor any crumb inveigle
Down to an earthly tree.

That fish of the dread regime
Invented to become
The fable and the dream
Of the Lord's aquarium,
Leviathan, the jointed
Harpoon was never wrought
By which the Lord's anointed
Will suffer to be caught.

Bird of the deathless breast,
Fish of the frantic fin,
That bright chimeric beast
Flashing the argent skin,—
If beasts like these you'd harry,
Plumb then the poet's dream;
Make it your aviary,
Make it your wood and stream.

There only shall the swish
Be heard of the regal fish;
There like a golden knife
Dart the feet of the unicorn,
And there, death brought to life,
The dead bird be reborn.

Countee Cullen (1903- 1946)
American poet, novelist, children's writer,
and playwright of the Harlem Renaissance

Friday, 14 September 2018

Book Review: The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21855499-the-unicornFairy-tales, legends and myths have always been key sources of inspiration for writers. Among the most striking examples of this doubtlessly count the plays credited to William Shakespeare, but there must be countless others who during their careers borrowed more or less generously and palpably to varying degrees from them. In the 1960s, it seems to have been fashionable to write novels with titles referring to a mythological creature that symbolises the protagonist. The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch is one of these. At its centre is a young woman resigned to living like a prisoner on her estate in a remote part of Ireland. Her almost complete passivity pains the newly arrived governess (or rather lady companion) who finds out about the tragic events that made her husband shut her up and who is determined to give her amiable mistress back freedom as well as the joys of real life.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Splithead by Julya Rabinowich

https://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com/2017/12/splithead-by-julya-rabinowich.html

All kinds of bizarre, often magical creatures from fairy-tales and ancient legends inhabit the minds of people young and old everywhere on the planet. There are figures of light that use to enjoy great popularity because they are associated with the good and said to bring happiness along with luck. The nightmarish ones, on the other hand, seem to have krept directly from hell to spread evil and misfortune. Consequently, people fear and avoid them as best they can. A thought-eating and soul-sucking head without body from the rich treasure of Russian myths that is hardly known outside its cultural context is the title-giving creature in Splithead by Julya Rabinowich that I picked as a bookish déjà vu. As a seven-year-old the narrator leaves Leningrad of the 1970s with her parents and finds herself newly planted in Vienna where she and her family are having a hard time striking roots.
Read my review »

Monday, 3 September 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Sphynx by Alfred Douglas

The Sphynx

(from The City of the Soul: 1899)

I gaze across the Nile; flamelike and red
The sun goes down, and all the western sky
Is drowned in sombre crimson; wearily
A great bird flaps along with wings of lead,
Black on the rose-red river. Over my head
The sky is hard green bronze, beneath me lie
The sleeping ships; there is no sound, or sigh
Of the wind's breath, — a stillness of the dead.

Over a palm tree’s top I see the peaks
Of the tall pyramids; and though my eyes
Are barred from it, I know that on the sand
Crouches a thing of stone that in some wise
Broods on my heart; and from the darkening land
Creeps Fear and to my soul in whisper speaks.

Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), full name Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas
British author, poet, translator, and political commentator

Friday, 31 August 2018

Book Review: The Naked Lady by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41035839-the-naked-ladyTo be an artist usually implies many struggles, some of them useless not to say quixotic. Part of the problem are people who feel called upon to decide what true art should or should not be and thus influence public opinion including potential buyers. Notably religious leaders along with other rich and powerful personalities have inspired and supported, but also limited artists in their work during most of human history. In Spain, the Holy Inquisition left its mark in art as well as in the minds of people as the painting protagonist of the classical novel The Naked Lady by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez is painfully aware. His convent-educated, bourgeois wife gets into a tantrum over models taking off their clothes before him in his workshop. He abides by her wishes and becomes a celebrated painter of “decent” pictures dreaming all the while of producing a nude like Francisco de Goya.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Poetry Revisited: Summer Hours by Helen Gray Cone

Summer Hours

(from The Ride to the Lady: 1893)

Hours aimless-drifting as the milkweed’s down
In seeming, still a seed of joy ye bear
That steals into the soul when unaware,
And springs up Memory in the stony town.

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

Friday, 24 August 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Betty Blue by Philippe Djian

http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com/2014/08/betty-blue-by-philippe-djian.html

To write a book doesn’t necessarily mean that its writer is ready to show it to another person or even to see it published. Convinced that nobody could possibly be interested or even like their literary output, many prefer to hide it ashamedly on the bottom of a seldom opened drawer or in a password-protected computer file in a folder created just for this purpose as is more in line with modern times. The protagonist of Betty Blue by Philippe Djian that I chose as a bookish déjà vu hoards his notebooks in a storing box and only when his raging girlfriend throws it out of the window with everything else that he owns, it comes out that he actually is a writer and according to the girl who doesn’t lose time reading all his notebooks he is even one destined for great success and fame. Alas, publishers think differently.
Read my review »

Monday, 20 August 2018

Poetry Revisited: Sunshine by Allen Upward

Sunshine

(from Songs in Ziklag: 1888)

Bathed in balmy odours
     Sitting upon flow’rs,
By the rippling waters,
     Thus we pass the hours.
In the trees above us
     Gaily sing the birds,
Making pleasant music
     To our whisper’d words.
Yonder in the open
     Pours the sunshine down
On the stooping reapers,
     And the harvest brown.
In the stream the fisher
     Lightly drops his cast.
All around is happy;
     Would that it might last!

Allen Upward (1863-1926)
British poet, lawyer, politician and teacher

Friday, 17 August 2018

Book Review: The Door by Szabó Magda

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22357838-the-doorIt’s one of the greatest possible achievements of a writer – at least in my opinion – to be able to write fiction that leaves the reader wondering from beginning to end whether the story told is true or just invented and whether the protagonist is reasonably faithful portrait of a live model or most succeeded fruit of a vivid imagination. This was the effect that the novel The Door by Szabó Magda had on me. In it a narrator, who obviously bears striking resemblance with the Hungarian author herself, patches together bits and pieces of information that her much adored, but always-furtive domestic help granted her in over twenty years about the life before she worked for her. The result is a rough biography of an amiable stranger who went through all the crucial periods of twentieth-century Hungarian history and learnt to literally keep locked the door to her private life.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Back Reviews Reel: August 2015

The travel destinations of My Reading Summer of Nordic White Nights in August 2015 were Scotland, the USSR, the USA, and Sweden. Two of my reads were classics, though very different ones. While the historical English novel The Galliard by Margaret Irwin retells the legendary love story between Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Soviet recipient of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature, powerfully evokes the daily fight for survival in Stalin’s GULAGs in Siberia. The contemporary reads on my tour brought me closer to the Arctic Circle. The American novel And She Was by Cindy Dyson reveals the cruel history of the Native Aleut population on the islands off the Alaskan coast after their discovery in 1741 and in Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell a retired surgeon is forced to face his past.