Monday, 23 July 2018

Poetry Revisited: Treet – The Tree by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson


(av Digte og sange: 1879)

Treet stod ferdig med blad og med knopp.
“Skal jeg ta dem?” sa frosten og pustede opp.
Nei, kjære, la dem stå         
til blomster sitter på!-         
ba treet, og skalv i fra rot og til topp.

Treet fikk blomster, så fuglene sang.
“Skal jeg ta dem?” sa vinden og viftet og svang.
Nei, kjære, la dem stå         
til bæret sitter på!-         
ba treet, i vinden det dirrende hang.

Og treet fikk bær under soløyets glød.
“Skal jeg ta dem?” sa jentungen så ung og så rød.
“Ja, kjære, du kan ta         
så mange du vil ha!”         
sa treet, og grenen det bugnende bød.

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910)
norsk dikter, samfunnsdebattant, redaktør
og nobelprisvinner i ltteratur 1903

The Tree

(from Poems and Songs: 1870)

Ready with leaves and with buds stood the tree;
“Shall I take them ?” the frost said, now puffing with glee.
          “Oh my, no, let them stand,
          Till flowers are at hand!”
All trembling from tree-top to root came the plea.

Flowers unfolding the birds gladly sung.
“Shall I take them?” the wind said and merrily swung.
          “Oh my, no, let them stand,
          Till cherries are at hand !”
Protested the tree, while it quivering hung.

The cherries came forth ‘neath the sun’s glowing eye.
“Shall I take them?” a rosy young girl’s eager cry.
          “Oh my, yes, you can take,
         I’ve kept them for your sake!”
Low bending its branches, the tree brought them nigh.

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910)
Norwegian poet, social activist, editor,
and Nobel Prize laureate in Literature 1903

Translation by Arthur Hubbel Palmer 
as published in Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: 
Poems and Songs.
The American-Scandinavian Foundation. 
New York 1915

Friday, 20 July 2018

Book Review: Jalna by Mazo de la Roche
To the outsider, the life of a gentleman farmer on a country estate somewhere not too far from town may look pretty agreeable, if not splendid, and yet, it doesn’t warrant prosperity and happiness. Gentleman farmers aren’t spared the usual sorrows and worries of human existence. They too need to make a living which may be quite a challenge with prices for agricultural products constantly falling on the world market while costs keep rising and regulations getting stricter. They too have families and maybe some of its members give them a hard time. In the classical Canadian novel Jalna by Mazo de la Roche three generations of Whiteoaks live together in the old family mansion of a country estate. The spirited grandmother does her best to live to celebrate her one hundredth birthday, while two of her grandsons bring into the house young wives along with the imponderables of love.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Back Reviews Reel: July 2015

For My Reading Summer of Nordic White Nights I read in July 2015 five more books set in countries with Arctic territories. The contemporary German novel The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny allowed me to accompany a fictionalised version of nineteenth-century explorer Sir John Franklin, before meeting the impoverished working-class family from the French-Canadian classic The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy in Montréal in February 1940. Then I time-travelled to the year 1700 to join a poor farmer sentenced to be beheaded in the classical novel Iceland’s Bell by Halldór K. Laxness, the Nobel laureate in literature of 1955. At my next destination, modern-day Greenland, a series of suicides serves as backbone of the Anatomy of a Night by Austro-Korean writer Anna Kim first released in 2012. From there I half rounded the planet for A Wild Sheep Chase in Northern Japan in the late 1970s with Haruki Murakami.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Wild White Rose by Ellen H. Willis

The Wild White Rose

(from I Left It All With Jesus and Other Poems: 1875)

Oh, that I might have my request, and that God would grant me the thing that I long for.—Job 6:8.

It was peeping through the brambles, that little wild white rose,
Where the hawthorn hedge was planted, my garden to enclose.
All beyond was fern and heather, on the breezy, open moor;
All within was sun and shelter, and the wealth of beauty's store.
But I did not heed the fragrance of flow'ret or of tree,
For my eyes were on that rosebud, and it grew too high for me.
In vain I strove to reach it through the tangled mass of green,
It only smiled and nodded behind its thorny screen.
Yet through that summer morning I lingered near the spot:
Oh, why do things seem sweeter if we possess them not?
My garden buds were blooming, but all that I could see
Was that little mocking wild rose, hanging just too high for me.

So in life's wider garden there are buds of promise, too,
Beyond our reach to gather, but not beyond our view;
And like the little charmer that tempted me astray,
They steal out half the brightness of many a summer's day.
Oh, hearts that fail with longing for some forbidden tree,
Look up and learn a lesson from my white rose and me.
'Tis wiser far to number the blessings at my feet,
Than ever to be sighing for just one bud more sweet.
My sunbeams and my shadows fall from a pierced Hand,
I can surely trust His wisdom since His heart I understand;
And maybe in the morning, when His blessed face I see,
He will tell me why my white rose grew just too high for me.

Ellen H. Willis (dates of birth and death unknown)
Victorian poet and hymn writer

Friday, 13 July 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Tea Lords by Hella S. Haasse

Up to this day it means a lot of hard work to run a farm and without doubt it’s even harder to start one from scratch proving right the ancient wisdom from the Holy Bible that reads: “Thou shalt earn thy bread in the sweat of thy brow!” Certainly, the achievements of technology facilitate the lives of modern farmers, but agriculture has become an industry with the same negative aspects as any other. Much of today’s “sweat” will therefore come from worries rather than physical strain. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the protagonist of the documentary-historical novel The Tea Lords by Hella S. Haasse, which I chose as a bookish déjà vu, had to work hard with his own hands to turn an almost virgin plot of land on the Dutch East Indian island of Java into a thriving tea plantation that can support a growing family.
Read my review »

Monday, 9 July 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Wonderful World by William Brighty Rands

The Wonderful World

(from Lilliput Lectures: 1871)

Great, wide, beautiful, wonderful World,
With the wonderful water round you curled,
And the wonderful grass upon your breast,
World, you are beautifully drest.

The wonderful air is over me.
And the wonderful wind is shaking the tree—
It walks on the water, and whirls the mills,
And talks to itself on the top of the hills.

You friendly Earth, how far do you go,
With the wheat-fields that nod and the rivers that flow,
With cities and gardens, and cliffs and isles,
And people upon you for thousands of miles?

Ah! you are so great, and I am so small,
I hardly can think of you, World, at all;
And yet, when I said my prayers today,
A whisper within me seemed to say:

“You are more than the Earth, though you are such a dot!
You can love and think, and the Earth can not.”

William Brighty Rands (1823-1882)
British writer

Friday, 6 July 2018

Book Review: The Earth and the Fullness Thereof by Peter Rosegger
From the perspective of someone like me who has always lived in a bustling, though not too big city, country life seems enviably quiet, simple and stress-free. But put to the test of reality, the rural idyll like any other soon turns out to be just a utopia, a creation of the (ignorant) mind longing for the perfect life. The novel The Earth and the Fullness Thereof by Peter Rosegger, a much lauded, but today rather forgotten Austrian master of rural fiction and three-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, evokes daily life on a remote mountain farm through the Sunday letters of a journalist from the city turned farmhand for the entire year of 1897 to win a bet. Sharing the joys and sorrows of the mountain farmers, he comes to love not just the family, notably the daughter, but also the old magic of cultivating the land.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Poetry Revisited: Ode to the Poppy by Henrietta O’Neill

Ode to the Poppy

(first published in Charlotte Smith’s novel Desmond: 1792)

Not for the promise of the labor’d field,
Not for the good the yellow harvests yield,
I bend at Ceres’ shrine;
For dull, to humid eyes appear,
The golden glories of the year;
Alas!—a melancholy worship’s mine!

I hail the Goddess for her scarlet flower!
Thou brilliant weed,
That dost so far exceed,
The richest gifts gay Flora can bestow;
Heedless I pass’d thee, in life’s morning hour,
(Thou comforter of woe,)
’Till sorrow taught me to confess thy power.

In early days, when Fancy cheats,
A various wreath I wove;
Of laughing springs luxuriant sweets,
To deck ungrateful love:
The rose, or thorn, my numbers crown’d.
As Venus smil’d, or Venus frown’d;
But Love, and Joy, and all their train, are flown;
E’en languid Hope no more is mine,
And I will sing of thee alone;
Unless, perchance, the attributes of grief,
The cypress bud, and willow leaf,
Their pale, funereal, blend with thine.

Hail, lovely blossom!—thou can’st ease,
The wretched victims of disease;
Can’st close those weary eyes, in a gentle sleep.
Which never open but to weep;
For, oh! thy potent charm,
Can agonizing pain disarm;
Expel imperious memory from her seat,
And bid the throbbing heart forget to beat.

Soul-soothing plant!—that can such blessings give,
By thee the mourner bears to live!
By thee the hopeless die!
Oh! ever “friendly to despair,”
Might sorrow’s pallid votary dare,
Without a crime, that remedy implore,
Which bids the spirit from its bondage fly,
I’d court they palliative aid no more;
No more I’d sue, that thou shouldst spread,
Thy spell around my aching head,
But would conjure thee to impart,
The balsam for a broken heart;
And by thy soft Lethean power,
(Inestimable flower)
Burst these terrestrial bonds, and other regions try.

Henrietta O’Neill (1758-1793)
Irish poet

Friday, 29 June 2018

Book Review: The Kappillan of Malta by Nicholas Monsarrat

However pleasant island life can be, it can also have serious disadvantages when it comes to assuring supply with all those things that nature can’t offer at all or not in sufficient quantities. In war times, for instance, the watery enclosure can turn into an almost unsolvable, even life-threatening problem, notably when the island is located in a strategically important place and becomes target of military action. In history, the latter has been more than once the fate of the small island of Malta in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and North Africa as shows the historical novel The Kappillan of Malta by Nicholas Monsarrat. During World War II Father Salvatore takes it upon him to look after the bombed-out sheltering in catacombs and to improve their morale speaking to them about the many challenges that their forefathers faced and survived in more than two millennia.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: Midsummer Noon by Robert Laurence Binyon

Midsummer Noon

(from London Visions:1908)

At her window gazes over the elms
A girl; she looks on the branching green;
But her eyes possess unfathomed realms,
Her young hand holds her dreaming chin.

Drifted, the dazzling clouds ascend
In indolent order, vast and slow,
The great blue; softly their shadows send
A clearness up from the wall below.

An old man houseless, leaning alone
By the tree—girt fountain, only heeds
The fall of the spray in the shine of the sun,
And nothing possessing, nothing needs.

The square is heavy with silent bloom;
The tardy wheels uncertain creep.
Above in a narrow sunlit room,
The widower watches his child asleep.

Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
English poet, dramatist and art scholar

Friday, 22 June 2018

Book Review: Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz beauty and wealth especially of tropical islands always attracted adventurers, fortune-hunters and eventually colonists from other parts of the world, ancient cultures thriving there were – are? – quite routinely written off as savage and worthless. Thus many non-European civilisations have disappeared since the great age of discoveries. Colonial powers imposed their own culture and language on people thus imbibing the autochthones with a feeling of inferiority that made them loathe the assumedly primitive traditions of their ancestors and look down on those who refused to adapt to the new ways stubbornly holding on to their old ones. Tahiti in French Polynesia was no exception there as shows the novel Island of Shattered Dreams by Polynesian writer Chantal T. Spitz. It’s the story of a Tahitian family in the twentieth century that within only three generations loses its identity and even its ancestral lands to be swallowed by Western civilisation.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Back Reviews Reel: June 2015

In the month of June of three years ago I started My Reading Summer of Nordic White Nights that led me around the Arctic Circle making a literary stop in each country with territory that far north. The contemporary novel Eight White Nights by André Aciman brought me to the USA, though to a Christmassy New York City instead of Alaska during a Midsummer’s night simply because the title caught my attention. In the following, I crossed the Atlantic Ocean to land in Scandinavia with two twentieth-century classics, first Norwegian Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel and then Finnish People in the Summer Night by Frans Eemil Sillanpää, laureate of the 1939 Nobel Prize in Literature. For my final stop I returned to the American continent, more precisely to Canada with the modern short-story collection Dear Life by Alice Munro who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: Rose of Love by Isabel Ecclestone Mackay

Rose of Love

(from Between the Lights: 1904)

               Many a rose
               In the hot-house grows,
Holding its charm for the wealthiest buyer;
               Out in the air,
               In the garden there,
Blossoms the rose of my only desire.

               Languid are these,
               Shut from the breeze,
Blowing all sweet from the meadows of clover;
               Out where she grows,
               My little rose
Lifts up a face with the dew sprinkled over.

               Roses are dear,
               In the hot-house here;
I would not buy were their beauty perfection.
               Roses as rare,
               Sweet and as fair.
Blossom and bloom, asking only affection.

               Oh, for one day
               To cast all away,
Just to be free for a few golden hours;
               To lose all regret,
               To enjoy, to forget,
Near to my rose in a garden of flowers.

Isabel Ecclestone Mackay (1875-1928)
Canadian writer

Friday, 15 June 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante

A small island can be a very quiet and private place to live in provided that it’s sparsely populated and outside the usual shipping routes. In our ever closer connected world – really and digitally – there may be only few such islands left, but until not too long ago even the people living on the islands in the Gulf of Naples were quite on their own although the big city on the mainland is all but far-off. A boy who grew up on one of these islands, on Procida to be precise, in the 1920s and 1930s is the protagonist of the Italian classical novel Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante that I picked as another bookish déjà-vu. With his mother died in childbirth and his father away most of the time, Arturo enjoys a carefree and unrestricted childhood until his father takes a new wife hardly older than the adolescent boy.
Read my review »

Monday, 11 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: O, Gather Me the Rose by William Ernest Henley

O, Gather Me the Rose

(from A Book of Verses: 1888)

O, gather me the rose, the rose,
     While yet in flower we find it,
For summer smiles, but summer goes,
     And winter waits behind it!

For with the dream foregone, foregone,
     The deed forborne for ever,
The worm, regret, will canker on,
     And time will turn him never.

So well it were to love, my love,
     And cheat of any laughter
The death beneath us and above,
     The dark before and after.

The myrtle and the rose, the rose,
     The sunshine and the swallow,
The dream that comes, the wish that goes,
     The memories that follow!

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)
English poet, critic and editor

Friday, 8 June 2018

Book Review: Islands of the Dying Light by Rolf Lappert
Islands, especially small ones that aren’t to be found on any map, often have an aura of the secret and the mysterious. And not without reason. The water surrounding them protects them from curious eyes and makes it almost impossible to enter them unnoticed. In other words, they are good hideaways for people who don’t wish to be seen because they are a little paranoid or – which is more likely – because they are engaged in activities that are morally questionable, if not illegal. The latter happens on the Islands of the Dying Light that Swiss author Rolf Lappert evokes in his novel about a brother and a sister who have come all the way from Ireland to the Philippines, the one to find out what happened to his sister, the other a while earlier to work with primates. Neither is welcome and both are drawn into a life-threatening sham.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: Ein Jahr – A Year by Maria Janitschek

Ein Jahr

(aus Im Sommerwind: 1895)

Träumende Blumen, nickendes Gras,
Von Käfern ein gülden Gewimmel,
Ein Rauschen wie rieselnder Blätter Fall
Und drüber der blaue Himmel.

Am Boden flimmerndes Silber verstreut,
Die Sträuche in weißen Schleiern,
Kein Windhauch, kein wachsender Vogellaut,
Nicht enden wollendes Feiern.

Es klopft wie mit Kinderfingern
Ans sonnenlaue Eis,
Und in den nassen Zweigen,
Da regt sich’s fragend leis.

Um Rosen braune Falter,
Ein Neigen von Ast zu Ast,
Die Blüten voller Honig,
Die Nester voll junger Last.

Und wieder träumende Blumen,
Der Käfer gülden Gewimmel,
Der müden Blätter Rieseln,
Und drüber der blaue Himmel.

Maria Janitschek (1859-1927)
Österreichische Schriftstellerin und Journalistin

A Year

(from In the Summer Wind: 1895)

Dreaming flowers, nodding grass,
Of beetles a golden swarming,
A rustling like the fall of rippling leaves
And above it the blue sky.

Spattered on the ground glittereing silver,
The shrubs in white veils,
No breath of wind, no growing bird sound,
Unending celebrating.

It knocks with children’s fingers
At the sunny warm ice,
And in the wet branches
There it moves inquiringly low.

Around rose brown butterflies,
A bowing from bough to bough,
The flowers full of honey,
The nests full of young load.

And again dreaming flowers,
The beetles’ golden swarming,
The tired leaves’ rippling,
And above it the blue sky.

Maria Janitschek (1859-1927)
Austrian writer and journalist

Literal translation: Edith LaGraziana 2018

Friday, 1 June 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Iceland’s Bell by Halldór K. Laxness

Every island is a world of its own with people formed by the sea that surrounds them and cuts them off other civilisations to a bigger or lesser degree depending on distances and state of tecnology. With the ongoing globalisation many peculiarities of islanders risk to get lost, notably ancient traditions and even languages. But this isn’t a phenomenon of modern times. It’s a process that has been going on for centuries, even millennia. As a bookish déjà-vu dealing with island life from a historical point of view, I picked Iceland’s Bell by Halldór K. Laxness, the so far only en-NOBEL-ed writer of the country located in the North of the Atlantic Ocean. The novel’s protagonist is a poor uncultured man living in the early 1700s when Iceland still was part of Denmark. He is sentenced to death for murder, escapes his fate to the mainland and seeks justice.
Read my review»

Monday, 28 May 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Time of Roses by Laurence James Nicolson

The Time of Roses

(from Songs of Thule: 1894)

It was the time of roses,
We met, my love and I;
And Beauty’s hand had crown’d the land,
And music filled the sky.
Our souls were thrilled with rapture,
I know not how or why,
We wandered on by wood and stream,
And love was life, and life a dream.
Whate’er the spell,
I know full well
It was the time of roses
We met, my love, and I.

But when the first pale snowdrop
Was opening into flower.
My own! my own! was stricken down:
But saved from wind and shower
To keep my heart from breaking,
One little bud for dower.
One little bud a tender care
From my dead flower that was so fair,
So I will trace
A vanished face,
When my own little snowdrop
Is opening into flower.

Laurence James Nicolson (1844-1901)
Scottish poet from the Shetland Isles

Friday, 25 May 2018

Book Review: The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay change of scenery is a good idea sometimes, but it has hardly the power to do wonders, at least not promptly. The world that each one of us lives in is more than the environment that we perceive with our senses. Memories and experiences give everything a unique tint no matter where we are or go, i.e. we can’t run away from them – nor from ourselves. The novel The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay is about Barbary, a tomboy whom her mother sends away from Provence to live with her father in London and to drop her savage habits adopted in the French Resistance. Emotionally scarred by the experience of occupation and war as well as by the separation from her mother, she feels completely out of place in her father’s new family and roams the ruins left by air raids seeking the company of outcasts like herself.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Poetry Revisited: Crows by Mary Eliza Fullerton


(from The Breaking Furrow: 1921)

At an old water-hole,
Bones lay in the hide
And teeth gibbered up
Of things that had died.

Tortured of thirst,
There came to the mud
A son of the plain,
Who sank where he stood.

Then the crows from afar,
Where the water was good,
Came nearer, for heaven
Had given them food.

Mary Eliza Fullerton (1868-1946)
Australian feminist poet, short story writer,
journalist and novelist

Friday, 18 May 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: A World of Love by Elizabeth Bowen

The world of emotions is so powerful that it can easily confuse, even overwhelm us making us blind for the physical world as it really is. Undeniably, emotions can give strength, but they can just as well drain it and bring people on the verge of desperation or madness. Sometimes they drive people to do things – good or evil – that seem completely out of their line and that they themselves might have thought impossible before. And memories can revive them in an instant as the young protagonist of the 1955 novel A World of Love by Elizabeth Bowen, which I picked as a bookish déjà-vu this week, learns when she finds a packet of old love letters in a trunk in the attic and unintentionally sets in motion a maelstrom of long suppressed emotions in the people whom she has known all her life mentioning her find at table.
Read my review»

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Back Reviews Reel: May 2015

My reads of this month three years ago were an intriguing time travel into the past, notably the 1920s and 1930s. The Swiss classic Lyric Novella by Annemarie Schwarzenbach took me to Berlin in the 1930s with a young man in love with a cabaret singer who takes advantage of him. The suffocating atmosphere of Lisbon in 1938 when Salazar’s fascist terror regime was in power filled the contemporary Italian novel Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi. The passionate dancers of the contemporary Spanish novel Heart of Tango by Elia Barceló stumbled across a crime committed in Buenos Aires during the 1920s. The French satirical classic Penguin Island by Nobel laureate Anatole France unfolded the history of a fictitious country from legendary times through the future. And finally the classical Austrian novel in five scenes Yellow Street by Veza Canetti brought to life a whole neighbourhood in Vienna of the 1930s.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Poetry Revisited: Early One Morning by Edward Thomas

Early One Morning

(from Poems: 1917)

Early one morning in May I set out,
And nobody I knew was about.
               I’m bound away for ever.
               Away somewhere, away for ever.

There was no wind to trouble the weathercocks.
I had burnt my letters and darned my socks.

No one knew I was going away,
I thought myself I should come back some day.

I heard the brook through the town gardens run.
O sweet was the mud turned to dust by the sun.

A gate banged in a fence and banged in my head.
“A fine morning, sir,” a shepherd said.

I could not return from my liberty,
To my youth and my love and my misery.

The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet,
The only sweet thing that is not also fleet.
               I’m bound away for ever,
               Away somewhere, away for ever.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)
British poet, essayist, and novelist

Friday, 11 May 2018

Book Review: The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore crammed on the same fragile planet, we all live our daily lives in quite different worlds. According to temperament, possibility and situation it may be a small, more or less secluded world in one moment and a wide one with few limitations in another. Passing between these worlds can be a rather confusing, sometimes even unwanted experience. In the classical Indian novel The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1913, the Maharajah’s wife Bimala falls under the spell of charismatic political leader Sandip Babu who seems to be the complete opposite of her always poised husband Nikhil. For the first time in her life she feels passion, both for the man as well as for his uncompromisingly nationalist ideas, but book knowledge and the sheltered life in the purdah left her quite unprepared for the challenges of the outside world.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Poetry Revisited: Past and Future by Sarojini Naidu

Past and Future

(from The Golden Threshold: 1905)

The new hath come and now the old retires:
And so the past becomes a mountain-cell,
Where lone, apart, old hermit-memories dwell
In consecrated calm, forgotten yet
Of the keen heart that hastens to forget
Old longings in fulfilling new desires.

And now the Soul stands in a vague, intense
Expectancy and anguish of suspense,
On the dim chamber-threshold… lo! he sees,
Like a strange, fated bride as yet unknown,
His timid future shrinking there alone,
Beneath her marriage-veil of mysteries.

Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)
Indian poet and freedom fighter

Friday, 4 May 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann

Considering that we are living at a time firmly based on human reason, natural sciences and technological progress, the physical world around us can still be awfully mysterious and confusing at times. How much more puzzling, even terrifying must it have been for our forefathers who didn’t have the means or the courage to look into the secrets of God’s creation! Only in the Age of Enlightenment natural sciences began to take over from religion (and superstition) the task to explain the world… and to fathom its various aspects. Two eminent and very different paragons of natural sciences in Germany around 1800 were explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauß (1777-1855) who are the protagonists of Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, the bestselling novel from 2005 that I picked as another bookish déjà-vu this week. One travelled the world. The other never left his country.  

Monday, 30 April 2018

Poetry Revisited: Corinna’s Going a-Maying by Robert Herrick

Corinna’s Going a-Maying

(from Hesperides: 1648)

Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
See how Aurora throws her fair
Fresh-quilted colours through the air:
Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
The dew bespangling herb and tree.
Each flower has wept and bow’d toward the east
Above an hour since: yet you not dress’d;
Nay! not so much as out of bed?
When all the birds have matins said
And sung their thankful hymns, ’tis sin,
Nay, profanation to keep in,
Whereas a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green,
And sweet as Flora. Take no care
For jewels for your gown or hair:
Fear not; the leaves will strew
Gems in abundance upon you:
Besides, the childhood of the day has kept,
Against you come, some orient pearls unwept;
Come and receive them while the light
Hangs on the dew-locks of the night:
And Titan on the eastern hill
Retires himself, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dress, be brief in praying:
Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come; and, coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park
Made green and trimm’d with trees: see how
Devotion gives each house a bough
Or branch: each porch, each door ere this
An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
Can such delights be in the street
And open fields and we not see’t?
Come, we’ll abroad; and let’s obey
The proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

There’s not a budding boy or girl this day
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
A deal of youth, ere this, is come
Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
Some have despatch’d their cakes and cream
Before that we have left to dream:
And some have wept, and woo’d, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
Many a green-gown has been given;
Many a kiss, both odd and even:
Many a glance too has been sent
From out the eye, love’s firmament;
Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks pick’d, yet we’re not a-Maying.

Come, let us go while we are in our prime;
And take the harmless folly of the time.
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty.
Our life is short, and our days run
As fast away as does the sun;
And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne’er be found again,
So when or you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
English lyric poet and cleric

Friday, 27 April 2018

Book Review: Train to Budapest by Dacia Maraini the fall of communism, cities like Krakow, Prague and Budapest have regained their status as popular tourist destinations. During the Cold War, on the other hand, not many Westerners will have dreamt of visiting them one day, probably above all those who yearned for meeting family still there or who were homesick for the places of a memorable youth before World War II. Even fewer will actually have ventured at getting a visa. Set in 1956, Train to Budapest by Dacia Maraini evokes a Europe divided into East and West by the Iron Curtain. Hoping to find out the fate of her childhood friend Emanuele, whose last letters scribbled into an exercise-book in the ghetto of Lodz date from 1943, a young Florentine journalist visits Auschwitz, Vienna and eventually Budapest. In the Hungarian capital she becomes eye-witness of one of the most dramatic periods in the country’s recent history.

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