Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Back Reviews Reel: July 2016

On the five Fridays of July 2016, I presented three contemporary works, two of them genre fiction from Japan and a holocaust novel from Italy, along with two classics from 1920s France and Wilhelmian Germany respectively. I started with the Japanese noir The Thief by Nakamura Fuminori about a pickpocket who gets mixed up in a murder. Then I moved back in time to Paris in the early 1920s to follow the daily activities of Five Women on a Galley by Suzanne Normand and on to a small German Duchy on the verge of bankruptcy at the fin-de-siècle to accompany the Royal Highness by Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann. In the remote Japanese mountain village of The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ogawa Ito an exceptional young cook serves almost magical dishes. And If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi evokes the hardships of Jews fighting in the Polish resistance.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Click of the Garden Gate by May Hill

The Click of the Garden Gate

(from The Casualties Were Small. Wartime Poetry and Diaries
of a Lincolnshire Seaside Villager: 2009)

I hear the click of the garden gate
But it is not he
He comes no more either early or late
To his dinner or tea
He is far away in an Air Force Camp
Learning to fight
(I wonder if his blankets are damp
And if he sleeps well at night)

Not twenty years when went away
Just a boy
He may never again come back to stay
To delight and annoy
Will what he has gained balance what he has lost?
He will change
Will his growth to manhood improve him most?
Or make him change?

I open the casement into his room
So tidy and neat
And the sun shines in and chases the gloom
And the wind blows sweet
Ready for him when, early or late
He comes back home to the sea
I hear the click of the garden gate
But it is not he.
(Perhaps it is Rene coming to tea!)

December 1940

May Hill (1891-1944)
English diarist and poet

Friday, 12 July 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay

There can be no doubt that living in times of war is a traumatic experience. Even those who never see any fighting, nor suffer bodily harm of any kind are inevitably marked by its manifold horrors for the rest of their lives. War changes people and often for the worse as proves history. Moreover, it can be difficult to return to peaceful normality with the ghosts of the past looming around every corner and apprehension, even suspicion become second nature. Especially children grown up under such hostile circumstances will at first feel out of place in peace because nothing prepared them for it. Thus the teenage protagonist of my bookish déjà-vu The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay finds it hard to adapt to her new life with her father’s family in post-war England after wild years between French Resistance and Nazi rulers in Southern France…
Read my review »

Monday, 8 July 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Unborn by Edward Dyson

The Unborn

(from Hello, Soldier! Khaki Verse: 1919)

I see grim War, a bestial thing,
with swinish tusks to tear;
Upon his back the vampires cling,
Thin vipers twine among his hair,
The tiger's greed is in his jowl,
His eye is red with bloody tears,
And every obscene beast and fowl
From out his leprous visage leers.
In glowing pride fell fiends arise,
And, trampled, God the Father lies.

Not God alone the Demon slays;
The hills that swell to Heaven drip
With ooze of murdered men; for days
The dead drift with the drifting ship,
And far as eye may see the plain
Is cumbered deep with slaughtered ones,
Contorted to the shape of pain,
Dissolving 'neath the callous suns,
And driven in his foetid breath
Still ply the harvesters of Death.

He sits astride an engine dread,
And at his touch the awful ball
Across the quaking world is sped,
I see a million creatures fall.
Beyond the soldiers on the hill,
The mother by her bassinet.
The bolt its mission must fulfill,
And in the years that are not yet
Creation by the blow is shorn
Of dimpled hosts of babes unborn!

Edward Dyson (1865-1931)
Australian journalist, poet, playwright and short story writer

Monday, 1 July 2019

Poetry Revisited: Die Abendglocke auf dem Berge – The Evening Bell on the Mountain by Caroline Pichler

Die Abendglocke
auf dem Berge

(aus Sämtliche Werke. Band 16.
Neue verbesserte Auflage: 1822)

Zu der Musik des Freyherrn von Krufft
auf den Text: Glöckchen tönt
von luft’gen Höhen u.s.w.

Abend ist’s, mit leisen Düften
Sinkt die Dämm’rung in das Thal,
In den stillen, dunklen Lüften
Tönet nur vom Felsenwall
Feyerlich der Glocken Hall.

Wie von steilen Bergeshöhen
Dort der Thurm herunterblickt!
Und mit dieser Töne Wehen
Alles eitle Sorgen sinkt,
Tiefe Ruh ins Herz mir bringt!

Süße Klänge, mildes Tönen,
In dir löset sich mein Herz!
Und ein unbezwinglich Sehnen
Zieht die Seele himmelwärts,
Über Erdenlust und Schmerz.

Caroline Pichler (1769-1843)
österreichische Schriftstellerin,
Lyrikerin, Kritikerin und Salonnière

The Evening Bell
on the Mountain

(from Complete Works. Volume 16.
New corrected edition: 1822)

To the music of Freyherr of Krufft
on the text: Glöckchen tönt
von luft’gen Höhen and so on.

It's evening, with soft perfumes
The dusk sinks into the valley,
In the quiet, dark airs
Resounds only from the rock wall
The solemn echo of the bells.

Like from steep mountain heights
There the tower looks down!
And with these sounds’ drifting
All vain worry sinks,
Deep rest it brings into my heart!

Sweet sounds, mild tones,
My heart dissolves in you!
And an indomitable yearning
Draws the soul skyward,
Above earthly desire and pain.

Caroline Pichler (1769-1843)
Austrian writer,
poet, critic and salonnière

Friday, 28 June 2019

Book Review: Hell Has No Limits by José Donoso
Ever since scientists first expounded their theory of evolution, those in power gladly have been taking recourse to the concept of the survival of the fittest to justify even their most selfish actions before themselves. Unquestionably, the urge to exercise power over others belongs to human nature, but often it brings forth the worst in a person. Less settled characters even seem to think that it were their inborn right to bully those who are weaker than themselves and defenceless. In the 1960s Chilean classic Hell Has No Limits by José Donoso the homosexual transvestite living in a small rural brothel is regularly teased and beaten up by the clients because her mere presence provokes them. For nearly twenty years she has been co-owner together with the girl whom he fathered in the night when she agreed to help the Madame win a wager pretending to have sex with her.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Poetry Revisited: June by William Morris


(from Earthly Paradise: 1868-70)

     O June, O June, that we desired so,
Wilt thout not make us happy on this day?
Across the river thy soft breezes blos
Sweet with the scent of beanfields far away,
Above our heads rustle the aspens grey,
Calm is the sky with harmless clouds beset,
No thought of storm the morning vexes yet.
     See, we have left our hopes and fears behind
To give our very hearts up unto thee;
What better place than this then could we find
By this sweet stream that knows not of the sea,
That guesses not the city’s misery,
This little stream whose hamlets scarce have names,
This far-off lonely mother of the Thames?
     Here then, O June, thy kindness will we take;
And if indeed but pensive men we seem,
What should we do? thou wouldst not have us wake
From out the arms of this rare happy dream
And wish to leave the murmur of the stream,
The rustling boughs, the twitter of the birds,
And all thy thousand peaceful happy words.

     Now in the early June they deemed it good
That they should go unto a house that stood
On their chief river, so upon a day
With favouring wind and tide they took their way
Up the fair stream; most lovely was the time
Even amidst the days of that fair clime,
And still the wanderers thought about their lives,
And that desire that rippling water gives
To youthful hearts to wander anywhere.
     So midst sweet sights and sounds a house most fair
They came to, set upon the river side
Where kindly folk their coming did abide;
There they took land, and in the lime-trees’ shade
Beneath the trees they found the fair feast laid,
And sat, well pleased; but when the water-hen
Had got at last to think them harmless men,
And they with rest, and pleasure, and old wine,
Began to feel immortal and divine,
An elder spoke, “O gentle friends, the day
Amid such calm delight now slips away,
And ye yourselves are grown so bright and glad
I care not if I tell you something sad;
Sad, though the life I tell you of passed by,
Unstained by sordid strife or misery;
Sad, because though a glorious end it tells
Yet on the end of glorious life it dwells,
And striving through all things to reach the best
Upon no midway happiness will rest.”

William Morris (1834-1896)
British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist