Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Twelve Decades, Twelve Languages – Twelve Books!

Earlier this month I read a review of Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell on Stephanie Jane’s Literary Flits and it brought to my attention that the Bookcrossers’ group on GOODREADS has called another Decade Challenge starting on 1 September 2016. To make it clear from the start: I’m not into bookcrossing. I must not read (not even have anywhere near me) books that went through too many hands unless I’m ready to put up with burning eyes, a sour throat and a running nose – I’m allergic. It goes without saying that feeling unwell isn’t exactly what I wish to get out of literature! However, I like the idea of the GOODREADS Bookcrossers Decade Challenge and decided to sign up for its 2016/17 edition. And it goes without saying that I set out right away to make a list of my projected reads, one book for each decade from 1900 to now, each originally written in a different language to make it more difficult. As I advance, I'll add the links to my reviews.

Here's my list:

Monday, 29 August 2016

Poetry Revisited: A Voyage in the Rocking Chair by Frances Wynne

A Voyage in the Rocking Chair

(from Whisper!: 1893)

Rocking Chair
(courtesy of Waylin/pixabay)
A quaint, old room, full of firelight glow:
     Warm glint and gleam, a shadowy wall,
     Showers of vivid red sparks that fall—
                    The rocking-chair swings low.

A long, gold, billowy sweep of sky:
     Between that wondrous glory and me,
     Flickering leaves on a poplar tree—
                    The rocking-chair swings high.

Now seems the world of the work-a-day
     A dim coast-line, that lessens and dies.
     Dreamily blissful, I sink and rise
                    With quiet rhythmic sway.

My pilot, Peace, brings me safe to far
     Ideal Land. I drift with the tide,
     Up the still waters that lie inside
                    The shining harbour bar.

Frances Wynne (1863-1893)
Irish poet

Friday, 26 August 2016

Book Review: The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson

2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

We all know – if not from own experience, then from what we see, hear and read every day – that the years of adolescence are an enormously formative period of life. Moreover, they can be a terribly confusing and difficult time for the youths. They are even harder for a boy who grows up surrounded mostly by women, moreover Jewish ones in 1950s England, and who happens to be so shy that he is blushing virtually for no reason and that he prefers to hide on the toilet for hours on end. As a woman in my mid-forties I can relate only to some of it, but this is the life that the scarcely teenage protagonist of the award-winning comic novel The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson has until an unexpected talent for table tennis opens a whole new world to him and eventually even allows him to study in Cambridge.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Poetry Revisited: On Summer by George Moses Horton

On Summer

(from The Hope of Liberty.
Containing a Number of Poetical Pieces
: 1829)

Esteville fire begins to burn;
The auburn fields of harvest rise;
The torrid flames again return,
And thunders roll along the skies.

Perspiring Cancer lifts his head,
And roars terrific from on high;
Whose voice the timid creatures dread;
From which they strive with awe to fly.

The night-hawk ventures from his cell,
And starts his note in evening air;
He feels the heat his bosom swell,
Which drives away the gloom of fear.

Thou noisy insect, start thy drum;
Rise lamp-like bugs to light the train;
And bid sweet Philomela come,
And sound in front the nightly strain.

The bee begins her ceaseless hum,
And doth with sweet exertions rise;
And with delight she stores her comb,
And well her rising stock supplies.

Let sportive children well beware,
While sprightly frisking o’er the green;
And carefully avoid the snare,
Which lurks beneath the smiling scene.

The mistress bird assumes her nest,
And broods in silence on the tree,
Her note to cease, her wings at rest,
She patient waits her young to see.

The farmer hastens from the heat;
The weary plough-horse droops his head;
The cattle all at noon retreat,
And ruminate beneath the shade.

The burdened ox with dauntless rage,
Flies heedless to the liquid flood,
From which he quaffs, devoid of guage,
Regardless of his driver's rod.

Pomacious orchards now expand
Their laden branches o’er the lea;
And with their bounty fill the land,
While plenty smiles on every tree.

On fertile borders, near the stream,
Now gaze with pleasure and delight;
See loaded vines with melons teem –
'Tis paradise to human sight.

With rapture view the smiling fields,
Adorn the mountain and the plain,
Each, on the eve of Autumn, yields
A large supply of golden grain.

George Moses Horton (1798–1883)
African-American poet

Friday, 19 August 2016

Book Review: The Conductor by Sarah Quigley
2016 review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

Undeniably, every war affects the civilian population in many ways and to varying degrees. It’s inevitable. And the closer people live to the front lines, the greater is the danger that they will find themselves run over by the enemy or even by their own troops. If there is time they will flee as far away from the fighting as they can, but if it’s a big city and if they live under a rigid regime like Stalin’s Soviet Union this option may be refused them. If they are lucky, it’s all soon over. If they aren’t, they have to struggle for survival under siege as was the case in Leningrad (today again: Saint Petersburg) during the winter of 1941/42. In The Conductor by Sarah Quigley the musicians of the Leningrad Radio Orchestra who are caught in the city by advancing German troops strive for some kind of normality despite hunger and cold.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Back Reviews Reel: August 2013

On my literary summer tour of three years ago (»»» see the summary of My Mediterranean Reading Summer 2013), my August reads – three classics and two contemporary novels – took me not just to five different countries at the Mediterranean Sea but also back in time.

Amazingly altogether three of the books were set in the decades around 1900, namely firstly, the novel Jenny by Sigrid Undset (the winner of the 1928 Nobel Prize in literature) that traces the life of a young free-spirited woman during a stay in Rome, Italy, for studies and later back home in Christiania (today: Oslo), Norway, secondly, the novel Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher dealing with the effects that isolation and danger in a small community in the Egyptian desert have on an (unwanted) Egyptian police officer and his Irish wife, and finally, the Austrian novella Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman by Stefan Zweig in which a distinguished Englishwoman tells the author her unusual adventure with a gambler in Monte Carlo, Monaco. The coming-of-age novel Nada by Carmen Laforet, on the other hand, is set in Barcelona, Spain, in 1939 and its protagonist is a young woman from the province arriving in the city to study at university. And last but not least, Small Wars by Sadie Jones evokes the fight for independence from the British Empire on Cyprus in the 1950s.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Poetry Revisited: To A Lady Who Said It Was Sinful to Read Novels by Christian Milne

To A Lady Who Said It Was Sinful to Read Novels

(from Simple Poems on Simple Subjects: 1805)

To love these books, and harmless tea,
Has always been my foible,
Yet will I ne’er forgetful be
To read my Psalms and Bible.

Travels I like, and history too,
Or entertaining fiction;
Novels and plays I’d have a few,
If sense and proper diction.

I love a natural harmless song,
But I cannot sing like Handel;
Deprived of such resource, the tongue
Is sure employed — in scandal.

Christian Milne (1773-1816)
Scottish poet

Friday, 12 August 2016

Book Review: The Other Side by Alfred Kubin review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

Not only wars and other disasters that come over us unasked for and unforeseen, can turn our lives into an all too real nightmare if not hell on earth, also unfortunate choices have the potential. Dreamers with a taste for great adventure seem to be running a particularly great risk in this respect because – as we all know – things seldom turn out as splendid as imagined. When the protagonist of The Other Side by Alfred Kubin follows an invitation to take up residence in the secret Dream Kingdom that his school mate of twenty years past built in the mountains of Central Asia, he expects to find a glamorous utopia full of interesting and inspiring people. He counts on a model society that has left behind the annoyances of modernity, notably worries concerning work and money, and he hopes for a healthy climate where his ailing wife will get well. Alas, reality is quite different.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

New On LaGraziana's Kalliopeion: By the Open Sea by August Strindberg and restless as he was, August Strindberg (1849-1912) never limited himself to only one trade. In his life he was active as painter, photographer, natural scientist, and sinologist, but his lasting worldwide fame is based on his writing that was too controversial in his own country – Sweden – to earn him one of the early Nobel Prizes in Literature as many expected abroad at the time. Today the author is best known for his more than 60 plays of which a considerable number keeps being performed regularly on stages around the globe. And yet, they are only part of a much larger and more versatile œuvre. August Strindberg also wrote poems, essays, autobiographical works, narrations… and last but not least, ten novels that were mostly acclaimed by critics outside Sweden. One of these novels is By the Open Sea that first appeared in print in 1890.

Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

Monday, 8 August 2016

Poetry Revisited: Sonnet VI. by William Lisle Bowles

Sonnet VI.

(from Fourteen Sonnets: 1789)

Evening! as slow thy placid shades descend,
          Veiling with gentlest hush the landscape still,
          The lonely battlement, the farthest hill
And wood, I think of those who have no friend;
Who now, perhaps, by melancholy led,
          From the broad blaze of day, where pleasure flaunts,
          Retiring, wander to the ring-dove’s haunts
Unseen; and watch the tints that o’er thy bed
Hang lovely; oft to musing Fancy’s eye
          Presenting fairy vales, where the tir’d mind
          Might rest beyond the murmurs of mankind,
Nor hear the hourly moans of misery!
          Alas for man! that Hope’s fair views the while
          Should smile like you, and perish as they smile!

William Lisle Bowles (1762–1850)
English priest, poet and critic

Friday, 5 August 2016

Book Review: The Train by Vera Panova

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

It’s a matter of fact that wars aren’t only fought by soldiers on the battlefields, but that many others are involved in it, be they members of the army working at the rear, be they civilians assuring that there is no shortage of supply at the front nor at home (as there has been in every great war, though). Among the essential services that any army needs to provide is qualified medical care in field hospitals, sometimes rolling ones like in the rather forgotten World War II novel The Train by Vera Panova that won the renowned Stalin Prize 1947 and that appeared in English translation in 1948. The men and women packed together on the hospital train to take care of the wounded come from different backgrounds. Nonetheless, they have something very important in common: they are fervent patriots with a strong desire to help their heroic soldiers and their country to win against Nazi-Germany.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Poetry Revisited: Peace by Ada Cambridge


(from The Hand In The Dark: 1913)

(July 28, 1887)

The red-rose flush fades slowly in the west.
The golden water, basking in the light,
Pales to clear amber and to silver white.
The velvet shadow of a flame-crowned crest
Lies dark and darker on its shining breast,
Till lonely mere and isle and mountain-height
Grow dim as dreams in tender mist of night,
And all is tranquil as a babe at rest.

So still! So calm! Will our life's eve come thus?
No sound of strife, of labour or of pain,
No ring of woodman's axe, no dip of oar.
Will work be done, and night's rest earned, for us?
And shall we wake to see sunrise again?
Or shall we sleep, to see and know no more?

Ada Cambridge (1844-1926)
English-born Australian writer