Friday, 29 July 2016

Book Review: If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

Without doubt the holocaust is the darkest chapter of German history and it is inseparably linked to the horrors of World War II. Millions of Jews from all over Europe lost their lives not just in concentration camps, industrial plants and ghettos, but huge numbers of them were killed right away by members of the Waffen-SS and sometimes the Wehrmacht ploughing through the lands of the traditional Jewish shtetl on their way eastward. When Nazi troops crossed the Soviet borders on 22 June 1941, the fighting on the Eastern front began. Little noted at the time and hardly remembered today, both in the lines of Stalin’s Red Army and of the partisan bands that had formed on German-occupied territory fought Jews. The novel If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi tells the fictitious story of a dispersed Jewish artilleryman of the Red Army who joins the partisans because he has nothing left to lose except his life.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Soviet Citizens in World War II

Soviet partisans on the road in Belarus,
1944 counter-offensive
via Wikimedia Commons

Without doubt, World War II is one of the big recurring themes of modern literature and since I started book blogging, I’ve already reviewed several novels set against its backdrop. However, if you read my summaries of The Christmas Carp by Vicki Baum, The Blood of Others by Simone de Beauvoir, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, The Wedding in Auschwitz by Erich Hackl, The Night in Lisbon by Erich Maria Remarque, The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman by Andrzej Szczypiorski, and The Angry Hills by Leon Uris or A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute and even The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka, you’ll find that they all show events from a more or less western and/or Jewish perspective. 

But as from 22 June 1941 the Soviet Union too was at war with Nazi Germany – despite the deal that Stalin had made with Hitler in 1939. Fierce battles raged on her territory and apart from millions of soldiers also civilians, among them a considerable number of Russian Jews, lost their lives and suffered under German atrocities as well as partisan activities. And yet, we know little about how Soviet people experienced World War II although there are war novels written from this perspective, most of them less famous than their western counterparts, though. Starting on Friday I’m going to present three of them here on Edith’s Miscellany

The first will be If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi bringing attention to partisan life under German occupation with a Russian Jew who is also a dispersed Red Army man as protagonist. Then follows a little known though Stalin Prize-winning classic of Russian literature, The Train by Vera Panova, that will take us to the rear of the Red Army to a very mixed group of Soviet patriots travelling on a hospital train to take care of the wounded. And after a dystopian digression to Central Asia with an Austrian novel from the fin de siècle, we’ll go through the siege of Leningrad with the music of Dmitri Shostakovich and The Conductor by Sarah Quigley.

I hope that you’ll enjoy this change of perspective!

Monday, 25 July 2016

Poetry Revisited: Warm Summer Sun by Mark Twain

Warm Summer Sun

(eulogy to the author's daughter Olivia Susan Clemens
adapted from the poem entitled Annette by Robert Richardson
and engraved on her headstone: 1896)

Warm summer sun,
Shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind,
Blow softly here.
Green sod above,
Lie light, lie light.
Good night, dear heart,
Good night, good night.

Mark Twain (1835–1910)
pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens
American author and humorist

Friday, 22 July 2016

Book Review: The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ogawa Ito review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

Maybe with the exception of those who consider preparing meals a rather annoying necessity that should be done with as quickly as possible, everybody will agree with me that cooking is an art. And like every true artist a cook needs not just talent and technique but also love and devotion to create something noteworthy. At the same time, cooking – like every activity that we enjoy – can be a consolation, if not an escape when life gets difficult or even overwhelms us. After her Indian boyfriend walked out on her and cleaned out their apartment, the protagonist of The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ogawa Ito (the second book from my list for Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge X) finds herself forced to return to her unloved mother in a remote mountain village. Without a penny and without voice she arrives, but nonetheless sets out to make the dream of her own little restaurant come true.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Back Reviews Reel: July 2013

July was the second month of My Mediterranean Reading Summer 2013 and my first as a participant of Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge 2013. For me it had in store the pleasure of discovering The Remains of Love by Zeruya Shalev, the work of a best-selling Israeli writer of whom I had never heard before, and the novel of a little known Sardinian writer, namely Accabadora by Michela Murgia. My bookish journey through the twenty-one countries of the Mediterranean plus Palestine and Gibraltar also gave me the welcome chance to re-read the French classic Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan that is set on the Côte d’Azur. And there was time for a little detour to Central Europe, more precisely to Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s, with The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Poetry Revisited: Lyckokatt – Luck Cat by Edith Södergran


(från Dikter: 1916)

Jag har en lyckokatt i famnen,
den spinner lyckotråd.
Lyckokatt, lyckokatt,
skaffa mig tre ting:
skaffa mig en gyllne ring,
som säger mig att jag är lycklig;
skaffa mig en spegel,
som säger mig att jag är skön;
skaffa mig en solfjäder,
som fläktar bort mina påhängsna tankar.
Lyckokatt, lyckokatt,
spinn mig ännu litet om min framtid!

Edith Södergran (1892-1923)
finlandssvensk poet

Luck Cat

(from Poems: 1916)

I have a luck cat in my arms,
it spins threads of luck.
Luck cat, luck cat,
make for me three things:
make for me a golden ring,
to tell me that I am lucky;
make for me a mirror
to tell me that I am beautiful;
make for me a fan
to waft away my cumbersome thoughts.
Luck cat, luck cat,
spin for me some news of my future!

Swedish-speaking Finnish poet
translated by Edith LaGraziana
with the help of Google translate

Friday, 15 July 2016

Book Review: Royal Highness by Thomas Mann review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

In our times monarchies are all but in fashion. Much rather they are under criticism from many sides because hereditary heads of state seem a costly anachronism at odds with democratic values. Of course, the Kings and Queens that most of us have in mind are the absolute, often unjust or even cruel ones from fairy-tales and history books. In today’s reality, however, their never being elected by their people hardly matters given that in a modern parliamentary monarchy they no longer rule in fact. Instead, they are mostly limited to formalities and representation as shows the little known novel Royal Highness by Thomas Mann. Since the new Grand Duke is fragile and neurasthenic, his younger brother Prince Klaus Heinrich is called upon to take over all public performances. He accepts his duty, but it’s tiring and makes him feel empty. Then a wealthy American and his daughter settle down in the small, almost bankrupt country.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: Bombay Anna by Susan Morgan Nobody will deny that Anna Harriette Leonowens (1831-1915) was an impressive woman who led an extraordinary life for a woman in the Victorian Age. Nonetheless, nobody would still remember her, hadn’t her memoirs gotten into the hands of a Presbyterian missionary called Margaret Landon who wrote the biography of the English governess at the Royal Court of Siam in the 1860s. Anna and the King of Siam (»»» read my review on Edith’s Miscellany) quickly became a best-seller in 1944 and has been adapted for the stage as well as for the screen many times since. But how much of this story is true? In her biography Bombay Anna released in 2008 American scholar Susan Morgan ventures at telling The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of The King and I Governess.

Read more (external link) »

Monday, 11 July 2016

Poetry Revisited: Annette by Robert Richardson


(from Willow and Wattle: 1893)

And they say, Annette, that you
Broke a foolish heart or two;
Can, I wonder, this be true?
Yet I will admit, Annette,
That you were a sad coquette;
Fain of praise and fain of kisses,
Fond of all the farthing blisses
That for fallen man unmeet are,
So they tell us, yet so sweet are
Fond of your glad world, and this is
All the blame I can recall
That on your young head should fall –
And I knew you best of all.

Save thought and little care
Than to braid your rippled hair,
Ribbon blue or crimson wear
Who in all this giddy fair
Who so bright and debonnaire?
Yet me thought, Annette, you were
Just a little tired sometimes
Hearing of the midnight chimes
Weary of the passing show,
Tired of rout, and Park, and Row;
Longing for the night's retreat,–
Weary little heart and feet.
Dancing days are quickly run –
Dead, and only twenty-one!

Ne’er so glad as when you had
Twenty lovers, man and lad,
Round you waiting for a glance
From your radiant beaux yeux
(Certes, they were very blue).
Twenty lovers in a row
Callow gallants, faded beaux,
I have seen them come and go,
Waiting patient for the chance
Of a single fleeting dance;
Mayfair's youth and chivalry
Bent to you their courtly knee.

Never more shall feet of yours
Lightly lead the laughing hours,
Lead the waltz's dreamy dance
To the “fair old tunes of France.”
Dancing days are fleetly run –
Dead, and only twenty-one!

If that ancient ethic view
Of Pythagoras be true,
Your light soul is surely now
In that bird upon the bough,
Singing, with soft-swelling throat,
To the wind that heeds it not;
Or in that blue butterfly,
Flitting like a jewel by,
Flashing golden to the sun.
Soon, like yours, its day is run –
Dead, and only twenty-one!

Dead a week, and not already
Quite forgotten – nay, what right have
I to doubt it; sure, we might have
Easier missed a wiser lady.
Over you the grass will blow,
Springs will come and autumns go.
Will you, Annette, ever know
There remain here one or two
Who will still remember you? –
O'er whose memory, now and then,
With a thought of sad, sweet pain,
There will cross your fair flower face,
And the bright coquettish grace,
With the memory of old days.

Somewhere there beyond the blue,
In the mansions that so many
Are, they say, is there not any
One of all, Annette, for you?
You, whose only trespass this is
That you loved the farthing blisses,
Broke a foolish heart in twain
That would lightly mend again.

Warm summer sun, shine friendly here
Warm western wind, blow kindly here;
Green sod above, rest light, rest light,
Good-night, Annette!
Sweetheart, good-night!

Robert Richardson (1850–1901)
Australian poet and writer for children

Friday, 8 July 2016

Book Review: Five Women on a Galley by Suzanne Normand

Click on the index card to enlarge it!
2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

The years following the Great War of 1914-18 were a difficult time, not least for women who were forced or wished to earn their own living. During the war many of them worked because most men were away on the battlefields of Europe and somebody had to do their jobs. After the war those men who had survived returned and reclaimed their jobs pushing women back into the roles of wives and mothers. But above all among the young generation there were women who refused to be confined to kitchen, children and church as before. Society made them pay dearly for their freedom as shows the semi-autobiographical novel Five Women on a Galley by Suzanne Normand that is almost completely forgotten today. Set in Paris in the first half of the 1920s – which qualifies it for Paris in July hosted by Thyme for Tea – it surrounds five friends striving for independence and happiness.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Already Checked Your Spam Comments Today?

You haven’t? Not good because it means that you might have missed some interesting comments that your spam filter mistakingly put there. What makes me think so? Personal experience as a matter of fact. For the past couple of weeks, whenever I tried to post a comment on a wordpress blog using my wordpress ID, I just jumped to the top of the page and nothing else happened. None of my comments ever appeared on the page, neither at once, nor any time later.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Poetry Revisited: Street Music by Elizabeth Akers Allen

Street Music

(from Forest Buds, From the Woods of Maine: 1855)

Methought a sweet sound from the street uprose, –
And as I pause, and strive again to hear,
‘St Patrick’s Day’ draws softly to its close,
And ‘Jordan’s’ waves flow sweetly to my ear,
What though from humble source the chorus floats?
Music is music, and I listen still;
I have ‘an ear’, – ay, two! – Even jews-harp notes
Pass current with me, hear them where I will,
A slight Italian boy, with jetty hair
Shading dark eyes, grinds out the melody,
Pulverized music! – In his garb and air
I read of sunnier lands beyond the sea,
And, dreaming, wander to a fairer clime,
Recalled, too suddenly, by – ‘If you please, a dime!’

Elizabeth Akers Allen (1832-1911)
American author, journalist and poet

Friday, 1 July 2016

Book Review: The Thief by Nakamura Fuminori
2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

Today is the first day of July and I decided to begin this new month with my first contribution to Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge X for which I signed up about two weeks ago. Despite me I picked a crime novel for review, but not a usual one surrounding murder and the more or less ingenious enquiry of a police officer, private investigator or nosy amateur who will without fail unmask the killer at the end. The Thief by Nakamura Fuminori rather belongs to noir fiction since it’s basically social critique as well as the character study of a young man without notable past… and without future. He has just returned to Tōkyo where he leads a solitary and frugal life going about his business as a pickpocket, when a dangerous gangster boss intimidates him into using his deft fingers to do three delicate stealing jobs for him.