Sunday, 31 December 2017

Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks 2017: The Summary
         click on the image to go to the
         challenge on Read 52 Books in 52 Week

In the past twelve months I’ve participated once more in the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge that Robin of My Two Blessings hosts every year on an extra blog. This time I didn’t follow any specific plan choosing my reads except that some of the books had to be eligible for the rather too big number of other reading challenges for which I signed up (»»» see the January post listing all my 2017 Reading Challenges & Specials and linking to the respective lists). One of the challenges is a perpetual one that still continues, two started already in 2016 and therefore ended the last days of January and August respectively, and the remaining five finish today, on 31 December 2017, although I completed my reviews for most of them weeks ago and I already posted the summaries.

On Twelfth Night 2017 I started out on a long literary journey with the Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap that ended in Boredom by Alberto Moravia just two days before New Year 2018. As a matter of fact, this year’s turned out to be an unusually “wet” and artistic tour of the world.

I travelled on The River with No Bridge by Sué Sumii, assisted A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood, stayed at A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul, floated down The River Ki by Ariyoshi Sawako, and found the Woman on the Other Shore by Kakuta Mitsuyo. And as if this weren’t already enough water, there were also Água Viva by Clarice Lispector and Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. I read several novels surrounding important places and buildings, most obviously Vienna by Eva Menasse, Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin, The Walnut Mansion by Miljenko Jergović, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

Along the way I met a couple of painters. There were famous ones among them: Gustav Klimt in The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey, the Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard, Artemisia by Anna Banti, Frieda Kahlo in A Love Letter from a Stray Moon by Jay Griffiths, Francisco de Goya in This is the Hour by Lion Feuchtwanger and Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life by Irving Stone. And some fictitious painters crossed my way. One did The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte and An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro could have known The Dragon Painter by Mary McNeil Fenollosa. My final read of this year intimately acquainted me with a painter who suffered from terrible Boredom by Alberto Moravia.

Two high-ranking travel companions were The Green Pope by Miguel Ángel Asturias and The Pope's Daughter by Dario Fo. And then there is the feline narrator of I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki. The animals in the titles of The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind and The Giraffe's Neck by Judith Schalansky only serve as starting points for stories surrounding a bank security guard and a biology teacher respectively. The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary, on the other hand, is one of the first novels dealing with environmental and wild life protection criticising large-scale elephant hunt in Africa.

Seven of my reads were from the pen of recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature or actually only six because I reviewed An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro in July, i.e. three months before the author was announced the laureate of 2017. The other six were: The Green Pope by Miguel Ángel Asturias (1967), Billiards at Half Past Nine by Heinrich Böll (1972), Darkness Visible by William Golding (1983), The Trolley by Claude Simon (1985), The Pope's Daughter by Dario Fo (1997), and A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul (2001).

Mere coincidence has it that during the past 52 weeks I also reviewed seven epistolary novels here on Edith’s Miscellany, namely So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ, Black Box by Amos Oz, Letters to Felician by Ingeborg Bachmann, A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood, A Love Letter from a Stray Moon by Jay Griffiths, Kinshu. Autumn Brocade by Miyamoto Teru, and The Heart by Else Lasker-Schüler.

Only one book is eligible for my personal reading special about The Great War in Literature (»»» see The Great War post with the book list), namely To Arms! by Marcelle Tinayre.

And which were my favourite reads this year? Billiards at Half Past Nine by Heinrich Böll, The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary, and A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul… in alphabetical order by the authors’ family names.

And here’s the summary list of 52 Books – 52 Writers n alphabetical order by authors’ family names including dates of release and original titles if they aren’t English: 
  1. Ilse Aichinger: The Greater Hope (1948; previously translated into English as Herod's Children), original German title: Die größere Hoffnung
  2. Ariyoshi Sawako: The River Ki (1959), original Japanese title: 紀ノ川
  3. Miguel Ángel Asturias: The Green Pope (1954), original Spanish title: El papa verde
  4. Paul Auster: 4 3 2 1 (2017)
  5. Mariama : So Long a Letter (1980), original French title: Une si longue lettre
  6. Ingeborg Bachmann: Letters to Felician (1946/1991), original German title: Briefe an Felician
  7. Bánffy Miklós: They Were Counted (1934), original Hungarian title: Megszámláltattál
  8. Anna Banti: Artemisia (1947), original Italian title: Artemisia
  9. Thomas Bernhard: Old Masters (1985), original German title: Alte Meister
  10. Heinrich Böll: Billiards at Half Past Nine (1959), original German title: Billiard um halb zehn
  11. Agatha Christie Mallowan: Star Over Bethlehem (1965)
  12. Alfred Döblin: Berlin Alexanderplatz (1925), original German title: Berlin Alexanderplatz
  13. Laura Esquivel: Like Water for Chocolate (1989), original Spanish title: Como agua para chocolate
  14. Mary McNeil Fenollosa: The Dragon Painter (1906)
  15. Lion Feuchtwanger: This is the Hour (1951), original German title: Goya oder Der arge Weg der Erkenntnis
  16. Katie Flynn: No Silver Spoon (1999)
  17. Dario Fo: The Pope's Daughter (2014), original Italian title: La figlia del papa 
  18. Romain Gary: The Roots of Heaven (1956), original French title: Les racines du ciel
  19. William Golding: Darkness Visible (1979)
  20. Maxim Gorky: The Artamonov Business (1925), original Russian title: Дело Артамоновых
  21. Jay Griffiths: A Love Letter from a Stray Moon (2011) 
  22. Paula Grogger: The Door in the Grimming (1926), original German title: Das Grimmingtor
  23. Sabine Gruber: Roman Elegy (2011), original German title Stillbach oder Die Sehnsucht
  24. Maja Haderlap: Angel of Oblvion (2011), original German title: Engel des Vergessens
  25. Elisabeth Hickey: The Painted Kiss (2005)
  26. Christopher Isherwood: A Meeting by the River (1967) 
  27. Kazuo Ishiguro: The Artist of the Floating World (1986) 
  28. Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
  29. Miljenko Jergović: The Walnut Mansion (2003), original Croatian title: Dvori od oraha
  30. Kakuta Mitsuyo: Woman on the Other Shore (2004), original Japanese title: 対岸の彼女
  31. Else Lasker-Schüler: My Heart (1912), original German title: Mein Herz
  32. Clarice Lispector: Água Viva (1973; also translated into English as The Stream of Life), original Brazilian Portuguese title: Água viva
  33. Lu Xun: The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China (1923-1935), original Chinese titles of the combined collections: 吶喊 (1923), 彷徨 (1925) and 故事新編 (1935)
  34. Ana María Matute: Celebration in the Northwest (1952), original Spanish title: Fiesta al noroeste
  35. Margaret Mazzantini: Twice Born (2008), original Italian title: Venuto al mondo
  36. Eva Menasse: Vienna (2005), original German title: Vienna
  37. Miyamoto Teru: Kinshu. Autumn Brocade (1982), original Japanese title: 錦繍
  38. Alberto Moravia: Boredom (1960), original Italian title: La noia
  39. V. S. Naipaul: A Bend in the River (1979)
  40. Natsume Sōseki: I Am a Cat (1905), original Japanese title: 吾輩は猫である
  41. Amos Oz: Black Box (1986), original Hebrew title: קופסה שחורה
  42. Arturo Pérez-Reverte: The Flanders Panel (1990), original Spanish title: La tabla de Flandes
  43. Julya Rabinowich: Splithead (2008), original German title: Spaltkopf
  44. Judith Schalansky: The Giraffe's Neck (2011), original German title: Der Hals der Giraffe
  45. Clemens J. Setz: Indigo (2012), original German title: Indigo
  46. Claude Simon: The Trolley (2001), original French title: Le tramway
  47. Irving Stone: Lust for Life (1934)
  48. Patrick Süskind: The Pigeon (1987), original German title: Die Taube
  49. Sumii Sué: The River with No Bridge (Volume I: 1961), original Japanese title: 橋のない川
  50. Marcelle Tinayre: To Arms! (1915; also translated into English as Sacrifice), original French title: La Veillée des armes. Le départ; Août 1914 
  51. Miguel Torga: Grape Harvest (1945), original Portuguese title: Vindima
  52. Regina Ullmann: Country Road (1921), original German title: Die Landstraße

Friday, 29 December 2017

Book Review: Boredom by Alberto Moravia German we often say that money doesn’t make happy, and in fact, ever again scientific surveys confirm that people living in rich countries are less likely to consider themselves happy than people in economically less favoured parts of the world. To me it suffices to observe passers-by in the streets. It’s pretty rare to come across a smile among the mass of stern and cold faces. Admittedly, I may get to see only inscrutable masks destined for strangers, but still many seem to feel truly miserable for one reason or another. The Italian classical novel Boredom by Alberto Moravia portrays a young painter who could live without worries or cares because he has a rich mother, and yet, he often feels miserable because the reality of things and people sort of passes him by. Even painting no longer helps, when he meets easy-going Cecilia and stumbles into a troubling sexual relationship.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Women Challenge #5: The Summary
 click on the image to go to the
    challenge on peek-a-booK!
In 2017 I participated once more in the bilingual Women Challenge #5 that Valentina hosted again on peek-a-booK!. It was an easy task for me because like every year half of the books that I reviewed here on Edith’s Miscellany and on my BOOKLIKES blog Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion were written by women. And it goes without saying that some of the reads were an unexpected pleasure, others a bit of a deception. Nonetheless, I’m happy to say that all things considered my choices turned out to be rather good ones although this year there was no book that truly sent me into raptures.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Poetry Revisited: To an Old Fogey by Owen Seaman

To an Old Fogey

Who Contends that Christmas is Played Out

(from In Cap and Bells: 1900)

O frankly bald and obviously stout!
And so you find that Christmas as a fête
Dispassionately viewed, is getting out
Of date.

The studied festal air is overdone;
The humour of it grows a little thin;
You fail, in fact, to gather where the fun
Comes in.

Visions of very heavy meals arise
That tend to make your organism shiver;
Roast beef that irks, and pies that agonise
The liver;

Those pies at which you annually wince,
Hearing the tale how happy months will follow
Proportioned to the total mass of mince
You swallow.

Visions of youth whose reverence is scant,
Who with the brutal verve of boyhood's prime
Insist on being taken to the pant-

Of infants, sitting up extremely late,
Who run you on toboggans down the stair;
Or make you fetch a rug and simulate
A bear.

This takes your faultless trousers at the knees,
The other hurts them rather more behind;
And both effect a fracture in your ease
Of mind.

My good dyspeptic, this will never do;
Your weary withers must be sadly wrung!
Yet once I well believe that even you
Were young.

Time was when you devoured, like other boys,
Plum-pudding sequent on a turkey-hen;
With cracker-mottos hinting of the joys
Of men.

Time was when 'mid the maidens you would pull
The fiery raisin with profound delight;
When sprigs of mistletoe seemed beautiful
And right.

Old Christmas changes not! Long, long ago
He won the treasure of eternal youth;
Yours is the dotage—if you want to know
The truth.

Come, now, I'll cure your case, and ask no fee:—
Make others' happiness this once your own;
All else may pass: that joy can never be

Owen Seaman (1861-1936)
British writer, journalist and poet

Friday, 22 December 2017

Book Review: Star Over Bethlehem by Agatha Christie Mallowan

Christmas is a time of many stories and not least thanks to the Holy Bible, but it seems to be part of the season’s magic to inspire writers to ever new ones. Sometimes the creative process is guided by strong religious belief or by the desire to capture the special mood that the Christian feast just after Midwinter spreads. Other reasons to write a Christmas book may be a lot more prosaic, not to say lamentably materialistic, and little wonder that more often than not the stories are worldly through and through. The all-time bestselling “Queen of Crime” too penned a few Christmassy works and some of them are quite out of her usual line. Star Over Bethlehem by Agatha Christie Mallowan is a little-known collection of poems and holiday stories about characters from the Bible (including a donkey), the fourteen auxiliary saints and ordinary English people instead of detectives and killers.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Back Reviews Reel: December 2014

In 2014 I made the last month of the year the first month of My WINTER Books Special featuring from December through the end of February 2015 only writings with the word “winter” in the title. I started with a French comedy from 1959 that may be better known today in Henri Verneuil’s adaptation for the screen starring Jean Gabin and Jean-Paul Belmondo, namely A Monkey in Winter by Antoine Blondin. For the following review I mostly stayed decidedly classic and French too because two of the three novellas combined in the 1939 edition of The Winter of Artifice by Anaïs Nin are set in Paris. Just before Christmas I finally switched to contemporary works, the first a rather unusual one from Italy in the late 1970s and the other a light Irish novel from 2012. In fact, If on a Winter Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino and A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy could have been hardly more different!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Poetry Revisited: The Christmas Holly by Eliza Cook

The Christmas Holly

(from Poems: 1859)

The Holly! the Holly! oh, twine it with bay—
          Come give the Holly a song;
For it helps to drive stern Winter away,
          With his garments so sombre and long.
It peeps through the trees with its berries of red,
          And its leaves of burnish’d green,
When the flowers and fruits have long been dead,
          And not even the daisy is seen.
Then sing to the Holly, the Christmas Holly,
          That hangs over peasant and king:
While we laugh and carouse ‘neath its glittering boughs,
          To the Christmas Holly we'll sing.

The gale may whistle, and frost may come.
          To fetter the gurgling rill;
The woods may be bare, and the warblers dumb—
          But the Holly is beautiful still.
In the revel and light of princely halls.
          The bright Holly-branch is found;
And its shadow falls on the lowliest walls,
          While the brimming horn goes round.
Then drink to the Holly, &c.

The ivy lives long, but its home must be
          Where graves and ruins are spread;
There’s beauty about the cypress tree.
          But it flourishes near the dead:
The laurel the warrior’s brow may wreath,
          But it tells of tearss and blood.
I sing the Holly, and who can breathe
          Aught of that that is not good?
Then sing to the Holly, &c.

Eliza Cook (1818-1889)
English author and poet

Friday, 15 December 2017

Book Review: The Trolley by Claude Simon me it’s ever again amazing to see how vividly some people remember their childhoods even many decades later. Of course, everybody knows forceful experiences, good and bad, that seem to be burnt inerasably into our minds, while others simply fade with time until there seems to be no trace left of them in our memories. At certain times, notably at family reunions of any kind, some of us like to evoke the past and at other times, the recollections come just over us if we like it or not. The latter is what happens in The Trolley by Claude Simon who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1985. At the age of 88 years the author and narrator finds himself in the emergency unit of the hospital and he remembers his school days in Perpignan commuting every day on the trolley connecting the city with the beach where he stayed with his fatally ill mother.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Poetry Revisited: Winter Nightfall by Robert Bridges

Winter Nightfall

(from New Poems: 1899)

The day begins to droop,—
Its course is done:
But nothing tells the place
Of the setting sun.

The hazy darkness deepens,
And up the lane
You may hear, but cannot see,
The homing wain.

An engine pants and hums
In the farm hard by:
Its lowering smoke is lost
In the lowering sky.

The soaking branches drip,
And all night through
The dropping will not cease
In the avenue.

A tall man there in the house
Must keep his chair:
He knows he will never again
Breathe the spring air:

His heart is worn with work;
He is giddy and sick
If he rise to go as far
As the nearest rick:

He thinks of his morn of life,
His hale, strong years;
And braves as he may the night
Of darkness and tears.

Robert Bridges (1844-1930)
English poet

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Bookish Déjà-Vu: An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

On the occasion of the Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies held today in Stockholm (and Oslo for the Peace Prize), I'm reblogging my review of the picturesque novel An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro. I originally posted it in July, i.e. less than three months before the British author born in Japan to Japanese parents was officially announced this year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. It's the first time not that I read a book penned by a writer whom the Swedish Academy would later honour with this prestigious and remunerative prize, but that I reviewed such a one here on Edith's Miscellany.

»»» click here to read my review

Friday, 8 December 2017

Book Review: Splithead by Julya Rabinowich certain politicians may say about migration these days, there are only very few people who leave their country to settle down for good in another without a really good reason. Many put up with all kinds of hardship including mortal danger just to get away because even death and slavery seem better than what they have or can expect if they stay. No matter what drives them from home and where they arrive, the mere fact that they are strangers dooms them to a hard life on the margin of society unless they manage somehow to fit themselves in. The struggle to adapt to a new environment can be very painful and terrifying because it means to break with their past. This is the experience that the narrating protagonist of Splithead by Julya Rabinowich still haunts three decades after her parents moved with her seven-year-old self from Leningrad to Vienna in the late 1970s.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Back to the Classics 2017: The Summary
click on the image to go to the   
challenge on Books and Chocolate   

Like every year half of the books that I read and reviewed here on Edith’s Miscellany were twentieth-century classics. With ten of these plus two older books that I reviewed on my Booklikes blog called Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion I participated in the Back to the Classics 2017 reading challenge that Karen K. hosted on Books and Chocolate. When I joined in January, I didn’t think that I would read something from all twelve categories because there were at least four of them that weren’t really my cup of tea, but eventually I made the full dozen.

Since literature published before 1900 seldom tempts me, few pre-1800 and 19th-century classics ever make it on my reading list. Still, I found two. Jens Peter Jacobsen’s 1876 historical novel Marie Grubbe about a wilful noblewoman in sixteenth-century Denmark was even more engaging than I had expected. And my imitation leather-bound German edition gave the read the right flair, too. Aphra Behn’s very short “novel” The Adventure of the Black Lady from around 1697, on the other hand, wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. Although it was interesting and I didn’t regret my choice, the book didn’t actually send me into raptures.

The romance and Gothic or horror classics were out of my usual line, too, and it cost me some thought as well as research to find suitable novels that I was likely to enjoy enough to finish them. I believe that I made a good choice in the end although I must admit that neither Mary McNeil Fenollosa’s The Dragon Painter nor Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle succeeded in turning me into a fan of the genres. Despite all, I’m glad that I read their books because if nothing else they entertained me a little and widened my literary horizon. Besides, they were sufficiently well-written to keep me reading.

If forced to name my favourite read for this challenge, I’d waver between The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary and Billiards at Half Past Nine by Heinrich Böll, the first an award-winning African novel that was one of the first introducing environmental and wild life protection into literature and the latter a critical discussion of Nazi reign and World War II in a fictious family setting. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Anna Banti’s Artemisia, Ana María Matute’s Celebration in the Northwest and Natsume Sōseki’s I Am a Cat, too. As for They Were Counted by Count Bánffy Miklos and The Artamonov Business by Maxim Gorky, they are great novels set in the late nineteenth century through 1914 and 1917 respectively. Only Paula Grogger’s historical novel The Door in the Grimming evoking daily life in the Styrian mountains in the times of the Napoleonic Wars happened to be a bit of a disappointment.

And here comes the summary list of My Dozen of Classics including the categories for which I entered them, dates of release and original titles if they aren’t English:
  1. 19th-century classic:
    Jens Peter Jacobsen: Marie Grubbe. A Lady of the Seventeenth Century (1876), original Danish title: Fru Marie Grubbe, Interieurer fra det syttende Aarhundrede
    »»» on Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion
  2. 20th-century classic:
    Ana María Matute: Celebration in the Northwest (1952), original Spanish title: Fiesta al noroeste
  3. Classic by a woman author:
    Paula Grogger: The Door in the Grimming (1926), original German title: Das Grimmingtor
  4. Classic in translation:
    Bánffy Miklós: They Were Counted (1934), original Hungarian title: Megszámláltattál
  5. Classic published before 1800:
    Aphra Behn: The Adventure of the Black Lady (1684) »»» on Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion
  6. Romance classic:
    Mary McNeil Fenollosa: The Dragon Painter (1906)
  7. Gothic or horror classic:
    Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
  8. Classic with a number in the title:
    Heinrich Böll: Billiards at Half Past Nine (1959), original German title: Billard um halb zehn
  9. Classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title:
    Natsume Sōseki: I am a Cat (1905), original Japanese title: 吾輩は猫である
  10. Classic set in a place you'd like to visit: Rome - Florence - Naples - London
    Anna Banti: Artemisia (1947), original Italian title: Artemisia
  11. Award-winning classic: Prix Goncourt 1956
    Romain Gary: The Roots of Heaven (1956), original French title: Les racines du ciel 
  12. Russian Classic:
    Maxim Gorky: The Artamonov Business (1925), original Russian title: Дело Артамоновых

Monday, 4 December 2017

Poetry Revisited: Out in the Snow by Louise Chandler Moulton

Out in the Snow

(from Swallow-Flights: 1878)

The snow and the silence came down together,
Through the night so white and so still;
And young folks housed from the bitter weather,
Housed from the storm and the chill—

Heard in their dreams the sleigh-bells jingle,
Coasted the hill-sides under the moon,
Felt their cheeks with the keen air tingle,
Skimmed the ice with their steel-clad shoon.

They saw the snow when they rose in the morning,
Glittering ghosts of the vanished night,
Though the sun shone clear in the winter dawning,
And the day with a frosty pomp was bright.

Out in the clear, cold, winter weather—
Out in the winter air, like wine—
Kate with her dancing scarlet feather,
Bess with her peacock plumage fine,

Joe and Jack with their pealing laughter,
Frank and Tom with their gay hallo,
And half a score of roisterers after,
Out in the witching, wonderful snow,

Shivering graybeards shuffle and stumble,
Righting themselves with a frozen frown,
Grumbling at every snowy tumble;
But young folks know why the snow came down.

Louise Chandler Moulton (1835-1908)
American poet, story-writer and critic

Friday, 1 December 2017

Book Review: Grape Harvest by Miguel Torga first choice for this week’s review of a Portuguese classic had actually been O Delfim by bestselling author José Cardoso Pires, but after having finished this gorgeous masterpiece from 1968 I noticed with great dismay that it has never been translated into English! Because I take care to present here only books that are or have once been available in English, this meant that I had to switch hurriedly to another literary gem from Portugal. In the end, I picked Grape Harvest by Miguel Torga, a novel from 1945 set in the picturesque landscape of the wine-growing estates in the valley of the Douro River. Like every autumn, people of all ages from the poor mountain villages descend there to earn during two weeks a meagre though desperately needed extra gathering and pressing the grapes to fill the wine-casks of the owner of Cavadinha who is a tough and unsentimental businessman.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

What's In A Name 2017: The Summary
  click on the image to go to the
   challenge on The Worm Hole

In January I signed up for Charlie’s What’s In A Name 2017 reading challenge hosted on The Worm Hole. Given that I’m reviewing a book every Friday, it was rather easy to complete it although among the six categories there was at least one – an item/items of cutlery – that gave me a bit of a headache. Moreover, I couldn’t help entering three of the books in other reading challenges too, namely in Back to the Classics 2017 and the Epistolary Reading Challenge 2017.

I read and reviewed one book for every category of the challenge, but I made a list of twelve supplementing each of my actual reads with a suggestion for a book from the pen of a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature who belongs to the opposite sex. I refrained from presenting any of the latter here on Edith’s Miscellany because I already featured a book written by all but one – William Faulkner – of these laureates for the perpetual Read the Nobels challenge.

Admittedly, I wasn’t overly impressed by Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Katie Flynn’s No Silver Spoon because both are quite out of my usual line for being a Gothic and a romance novel respectively. I’m no fan of either of these genres. In addition, I like it deeper, more contemplative or controversial. Even 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster was a bit too mainstream to my taste although I found the basic idea of juxtaposing four alternative biographies of the same man to trace twentieth-century American history really compelling. In retrospect, I definitely preferred the remaining three books, namely the German classic Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin that I long wished to read, the epistolary novel Black Box by Israeli author Amos Oz and – my absolute favourite among the six – the classic Celebration in the Northwest by Ana María Matute from Catalonia.

And here’s my summary List of Twice Six Books including the categories for which I entered them, dates of release and original titles if they aren’t English:
  • A number in numbers:
    Paul Auster: 4 3 2 1 (2017)
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1938 – Pearl S. Buck: 14 Stories (1961) in the Pocket Books edition of 1963, but if you have a better suggestion...
  • A building:
    Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1949 – William Faulkner: The Mansion (1959)
  • A title which has an ‘X’ somewhere in it:
    Alfred Döblin: Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929), original German title: Berlin Alexanderplatz
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1991 – Nadine Gordimer: Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black (2007)
  • A compass direction:
    Ana María Matute: Celebration in the Northwest (1952), original Spanish title: Fiesta al noroeste
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1962 – John Steinbeck: East of Eden (1952)
  • An item/items of cutlery:
    Katie Flynn: No Silver Spoon (1999)
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1932 – John Galsworthy: The Silver Spoon (1926), second book of A Modern Comedy, the sequel of The Forsyte Saga
  • A title in which at least two words share the same first letter – alliteration!
    Amos Oz: Black Box (1986), original Hebrew title: קופסה שחורה
    + Nobel Prize in Literature 1993 – Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon (1977)

Monday, 27 November 2017

Poetry Revisited: Silence Sings by Thomas Sturge Moore

Silence Sings

(from The Vinedresser and Other Poems: 1899)

So faint, no ear is sure it hears,
So faint and far;
So vast that very near appears
My voice, both here and in each star
Unmeasured leagues do bridge between;
Like that which on a face is seen
Where secrets are;
Sweeping, like veils of lofty balm,
Tresses unbound
O'er desert sand, o'er ocean calm,
I am wherever is not sound;
And, goddess of the truthful face,
My beauty doth instil its grace
That joy abound.

Thomas Sturge Moore (1870-1944)
English poet, author and artist

Friday, 24 November 2017

Book Review: The Dragon Painter by Mary McNeil Fenollosa a strictly patriarchal society it can be bad luck bordering on disaster for a man to grow old without a male heir to continue the family tradition, especially when it’s a glorious one. The cultural pressure can be so strong that a man resorts to steps that by modern western standards are rather drastic and strange, if not downright loathsome. Divorce or even murder and following remarriage to father a son with another, younger and presumably more fertile woman like English King Henry VIII is one way, marrying off a daughter and adopting the son-in-law is another. The latter is what the ageing protagonist of The Dragon Painter by Mary McNeil Fenollosa does in Tōkyo of the early twentieth century, when a friend of the family sends a young man from the mountains to him whose exceptional talent and commitment make him worthy to carry on the name of the famous family of painters.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Poetry Revisited: Nebbie – Mist by Ada Negri


(da Fatalità: 1892)

Soffro. – Lontan lontano
Le nebbie sonnolete
Salgono dal tacente

Alto gracciando, i corvi,
Fidati all’ali nere,
Traversan le brughiere

Dell’aere ai morsi crudi
Gli addolorati tronchi
Offron, pregando, i bronchi

Come ho freddo!... Son sola;
Pel grigio ciel sospinto
Un gemito d’estinto

E mi ripete: Vieni,
È buia la vallata.
O triste, o disamata,

Ada Negri (1870-1945)
poetessa e scrittrice italiana


(from Fate: 1892)

I suffer. – Far away
The mists in dreamy train
Rise from the silent plain
                       All gray.

The ravens black and high
The air with croakings fill,
Across the moorland still
                       They fly.

The trees their branches bare
Towards the clouds that drift
Imploringly uplift
                       In prayer.

I shiver! – I’m alone! –
Weighed down by the gray sky,
Floats in the twilight by
                       A moan,

Repeating to me: Come
And leave this gloomy vale,
Unloved one, sad and pale,
                       Oh come!

Ada Negri (1870-1945)
Italian poetess and writer

Authorized Traslation from the Italian
by A. M. von Blomberg.
Small, Maynard & Company, Boston 1904

Friday, 17 November 2017

Book Review: The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind small events that must seem utterly trivial to everyone unconcerned can fundamentally shatter our peace of mind, above all when they break our routine and evoke without warning unpleasant associations that unleash imagination. Who has never been haunted for no good reason at all by horror scenarios of the future emerging from the depths of our souls in most vivid colours and in most frightening detail? In retrospect, we often laugh at ourselves for having allowed them to put us into a state of alarm, occasionally even panic. The protagonist of The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind almost goes crazy when he finds a solitary bird cooing in the corridor in front of the door to his bedsit on an ordinary Friday morning. The bird seems to him the portent of evil and he can’t help seeing through his mind’s eye how the fundaments of his pleasantly eventless and solitary existence crumble and give way to chaos.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Back Reviews Reel: November 2014

There were four Fridays in November 2014 and consequently the archive of the month is filled with four book reviews. For the Books on France 2014 reading challenge and The Great War in Literature special I picked Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline that became a famous classic although it’s a rather bitter satire. My next read was a collection containing The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield first published in 1922. Then I presented an Austrian historical novel Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider that was much acclaimed in the early 1990s. And my last review was of a contemporary novel from South Africa penned by one of the few female Nobel Prize laureates in Literature, namely None to Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Poetry Revisited: Gypsy Songs by Ben Jonson

Gypsy Songs

(from The Gypsies Metamorphosed: 1640)

The faery beam upon you,
The stars to glister on you;
A moon of light
In the noon of night,
Till the fire-drake hath o’ergone you!
The wheel of fortune guide you,
The boy with the bow beside you;
Run ay in the way
Till the bird of day,
And the luckier lot betide you!

To the old, long life and treasure!
To the young all health and pleasure!
To the fair, their face
With eternal grace
And the soul to be loved at leisure!
To the witty, all clear mirrors;
To the foolish, their dark errors;
To the loving sprite,
A secure delight;
To the jealous, his own false terrors!

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
English playwright, poet, actor, and literary critic

Friday, 10 November 2017

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel our modern western culture we – women and men alike – claim for ourselves the right to be the architects of our individual future… and happiness, but it’s a rather recent achievement even for us. During the greater part of history here too the lives of people were by and large determined by others, notably by fathers, feudal lords, priests, Kings or Queens, and by seldom questioned unwritten rules. Individual happiness mattered very little, romantic love was of no importance in marriage matters. In Mexico of the early twentieth century the protagonist of Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel is supposed to willingly uphold tradition that demands of her as the youngest daughter to put last her own longing for happiness in marriage and to take care of her mother until she dies. Love is stronger than tradition, though, and the girl’s passion for cooking accompanies her on her painful and long way to empowerment.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Poetry Revisited: The Dream by Lola Ridge

The Dream

(from Sun-Up and Other Poems: 1920)

I have a dream
to fill the golden sheath
of a remembered day…
(Air heavy and massed and blue
as the vapor of opium…
fired in sulphurous mist…
quiescent as a gray seal…
and the emerging sun
spurting up gold
over Sydney, smoke-pale, rising out of the bay…)
But the day is an up-turned cup
and its sun a junk of red iron
guttering in sluggish-green water–
where shall I pour my dream?

Lola Ridge (1873-1941)
Irish-American anarchist poet and
editor of avant-garde, feminist, and Marxist publications

Friday, 3 November 2017

Book Review: The Artamonov Business by Maxim Gorky
Click on the index cards
to enlarge them!
It‘s only natural (or it should be) that parents want the best for their children and that they try at least to open up for them as many opportunities for a better future as they can. Depending on the social and economic background, starting a business to provide for generations to come may seem a good idea, but a parent’s dream can all too easily turn into the child’s or grandchild’s nightmare if the nature, interests and ambitions of the founder don’t really correspond with those of the descendants or the business environment changes considerably. Set in Russia during the five decades before the Bolshevik revolution of November 1917, the classical family saga The Artamonov Business by Maxim Gorky shows three generations of factory owners as they rise to wealth producing linen and move step by step towards doom because the younger generation lacks entrepreneurial spirit and flexibility to adapt to the requirements of rapidly changing times.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Epistolary Reading Challenge 2017: The Summary
     Click on the image to go to the
     challenge on Whatever I Think Of

In February I signed up for the Epistolary Reading Challenge 2017 that Jamie Ghione hosted on Whatever I Think Of because it was the month of letters. I made a Longlist of 100 Novels in Letters, but of course, I couldn’t read all of them, nor did I plan to. Nevertheless, in 2017 I read and reviewed here on Edith’s Miscellany and on my BOOKLIKES blog Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion more epistolary fiction than I used to before, namely altogether eight of the 100.

My favourite epistolary novel of the year is Vita Brevis. A Letter to Saint Augustine by Jostein Gaarder, closely followed by So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ and Black Box by Amos Oz.

And here’s my summary List of Epistolary Reads 2017 in alphabetical order by authors’ family names including dates of release and original titles if they aren’t English:

Monday, 30 October 2017

Poetry Revisited: Change by F. J. Ochse


(from Alexander Wilmot (ed.), South African Poetry: 1887)

Yes, all things change in this poor world of ours,—
The ocean’s waves, the sand upon its shores,
The rocks which bound it even slowly change.
Summer’s warm breath makes place for Winter’s cold.
Spring’s youthful freshness, beautiful and gay,
Is doomed to Autumn’s sadness, age, decay.
Life’s phases change: now happiness and joy;
Then misery and sorrow take their turn.
Now health and plenty, shared with loved ones near;
Then pain and sickness, poverty, despair,
For the poor, exiled, friendless wanderer.
Now in this field, with friends and blessings rich,
The labourer works content; then parting comes,
And to a new and unknown sphere he turns
His wandering steps, and hopes and prays and works.
Friends also sometimes change: the tender flower
Of friendship often withers in the blast
Of cruel, sinful scandal, cursed of God.
Others indifferent grow: pleased by new friends,
The old ones are neglected and forgot.
Yes, all things change in this poor world of ours—
God’s love alone remains unchangeable.
His love alone can keep us constant, true.
No blast can wither friendship’s tender flower
That blooms beneath His atmosphere of love.
Then let all things in this poor world of ours
Change and decay;—no matter, we have God.
His promises are sure, His blessings great;
His faithful guidance will be ever ours.
A place awaits us in His glorious Home,
Where we shall also be unchangeable.

Rev. Francis James Ochse (1856-1898)
South African minister

Friday, 27 October 2017

Book Review: My Heart by Else Lasker-Schüler failed marriage usually isn’t a reason to rejoice, but it can well serve as an inspiration, if not as a driving force for whatever follows… and I don’t have in mind any of these ugly wars of the roses that we read about time and again in the yellow press! Especially artists, among them writers, often find the most wonderful ways to transform disappointment and sorrow, even hatred into something great and compelling. As a matter of fact, true art lives off strong emotions. The epistolary novel My Heart by Else Lasker-Schüler began as a series of open “Letters to Norway” published in the German avant-garde journal of her husband when their marriage was over. While he travelled around Norway with a friend, she went on with her life in Berlin seeing and gossipping with (and about) their Bohemian friends as ever, having several love affairs and struggling to make ends meet.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Poetry Revisited: Autumn and Sunset by Mary Ann H. T. Bigelow

Autumn and Sunset

(from The Kings and Queens of England and Other Poems: 1853)

Hail, sober Autumn! thee I love,
Thy healthful breeze and clear blue sky;
And more than flowers of Spring admire
Thy falling leaves of richer dye.

’Twas even thus when life was young,
I welcomed Autumn with delight;
Although I knew that with it came
The shorter day and lengthened night.

Let others pass October by,
Or dreary call its hours, or chill;
Let poets always sing of Spring,
My praise shall be of Autumn still.

And I have loved the setting sun,
E’en than his rising beams more dear;
’Tis fitting time for serious thought,
It is an hour for solemn prayer.

Before the evening closes in,
Or night’s dark curtains round us fall,
See how o’er tree, and spire, and hill,
That setting sun illumines all.

So when my earthly race is run,
When called to bid this world adieu,
Like yonder cloudless orb I see,
May my sun set in glory too.

October 8, 1852.

Mary Ann Hubbard Townsend Bigelow (c. 1791-1870)
American poet

Friday, 20 October 2017

Book Review: Darkness Visible by William Golding tales like The Beauty and the Beast should have prepared us for the fact that in life appearance often deceives. And yet, we all tend to neglect this ancient wisdom judging the world and especially people by what we see or otherwise perceive instead of taking a good look under the surface. Thus we can be deeply shocked at recognising that something beautiful is fundamentally evil and stunned at finding good in the ugly. Unfortunately, it isn’t always so easy to distinguish the one from the other because there are many shades between the light of Heaven and the dark of Hell. The hell of Darkness Visible by William Golding is a very human one. Starting in the inferno of World War II the novel tells the story of disfigured Matty with a mystical vocation in life and the beautiful twins Sophy and Toni who turn to crime or terrorism respectively.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Back Reviews Reel: October 2014

My reviews of three years ago took me to very different destinations in time and space. I started my five-week tour of Asia and Europe in modern-day Japan with the novel of a young Austro-Japanese, namely I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar. On my return to Europe, I joined the narrator of One, No One, and One Hundred Thousand by Luigi Pirandello, the laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1934, in his confusing exploration of basic questions of philosophy. Then I moved on to rural France in the late nineteenth century with classical and almost forgotten Marie Claire by Marguerite Audoux, before following The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman by Andrzej Szczypiorski who (fruitlessly) plays at cat and mouse with the Nazi rascals occupying Warsaw in spring 1943. And at last, I returned to Asia, but this time to the beautiful island of Java where The Tea Lords by Hella S. Haasse strive to make their fortune.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Poetry Revisited: October by Ellis Parker Butler


(from New England Magazine: 1895)

The forest holds high carnival to-day,
And every hill-side glows with gold and fire;
Ivy and sumac dress in colors gay,
And oak and maple mask in bright attire.

The hoarded wealth of sober autumn days
In lavish mood for motley garb is spent,
And nature for the while at folly plays,
Knowing the morrow brings a snowy Lent.

Ellis Parker Butler (1869-1937)
American banker, writer, humorist, essayist and speaker

Friday, 13 October 2017

Book Review: Woman on the Other Shore by Kakuta Mitsuyo it’s pretty common to hear and read about bullying at school or at the work place, but the sad truth is that it can happen everywhere, at every time and to everybody. As human beings we are highly social creatures with the more or less urgent desire to interact with other people and to take the best possible position in group hierarchy. Despite our efforts we always run the risk to find ourselves suddenly excluded, cruelly exposed or even violently chased… and often for strange, if not trivial reasons based on real or imagined differences. One of the protagonists of Woman on the Other Shore by Kakuta Mitsuyo is a timid stay-at-home mother who resumes work because she wants to give her little daughter a chance to learn social skills and make friends with other children her age, while the other is her employer who seems to care little about what others think of her.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: Marie Grubbe by Jens Peter Jacobsen Longing for Love:
Marie Grubbe by Jens Peter Jacobsen

In the nineteenth century the discoveries of Charles Darwin not only revolutionised science and introduced the idea of evolution into human thinking, they also changed literature inspiring authors to a new approach to fiction writing. One of the first in Northern Europe to break with Romantic narrative tradition and to begin telling stories in a naturalistic style that showed man as a beast driven by instincts and urges was Danish botanist and writer Jens Peter Jacobsen (»»» read my author’s portrait). After his successful literary debut with a short story, he published in 1876 the historical novel Marie Grubbe. A Lady of the Seventeenth Century (Fru Marie Grubbe. Interieurer fra det syttende Aarhundrede). It is loosely based on the true story of a Danish noblewoman who died in 1718.
Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

Monday, 9 October 2017

Poetry Revisited: Autumn Leaves by Juliana Horatia Ewing

Autumn Leaves

(from Verses for Children and Songs for Music: 1895)

The Spring’s bright tints no more are seen,
And Summer’s ample robe of green
Is russet-gold and brown;
When flowers fall to every breeze
And, shed reluctant from the trees,
The leaves drop down.

A sadness steals about the heart,
—And is it thus from youth we part,
And life’s redundant prime?
Must friends like flowers fade away,
And life like Nature know decay,
And bow to time?

And yet such sadness meets rebuke,
From every copse in every nook
Where Autumn’s colours glow;
How bright the sky! How full the sheaves!
What mellow glories gild the leaves
Before they go.

Then let us sing the jocund praise,
In this bright air, of these bright days,
When years our friendships crown;
The love that’s loveliest when ’tis old—
When tender tints have turned to gold
And leaves drop down.

Juliana Horatia Ewing (1841-1885)
English writer of children’s literature

Friday, 6 October 2017

Book Review: Lust for Life by Irving Stone

Most artists know passion as the essential driving force of their creative work and recognise it as a precondition for their advancement and eventually success. It can grow so powerful, though, that it becomes an all-consuming, often uncontrollable obsession bordering on lunacy and even closest friends or family react with incomprehension or fear. A strong fit of working passion may bring to light a great masterpiece or result in the complete breakdown of the artist. Sometimes neither. Sometimes both. The classical “bio-history” Lust for Life by Irving Stone shows the painter Vincent Van Gogh as he changes from a not quite ordinary young man from Brabant who seeks his true vocation in life to the fanatical painter who finds his own way. Whatever he does, he does it with all his body and soul risking physical as well as mental health and not wasting a doubt on whether his efforts are worthwhile or not.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Poetry Revisited: Tankens duva – The Dove of Thought by Verner von Heidenstam

Tankens duva

(från Nya dikter: 1915)

Tankens duva ensam dröjer
långt i stormens moln och höjer
flykten över höstlig sjö.
Jorden brinner, hjärtat brinner.
Sök, min duva, ack du finner
ändå aldrig glömskans ö.

Varför skrämmer dig minuten,
stackars duva, med sin brand?
Somna, somna på min hand.
Snart du ligger tyst och skjuten.

Verner von Heidenstam (1859-1940)
Svensk poet, romanförfattare och
laureat av Nobelpriset i litteratur 1916

The Dove of Thought

from New Poems: 1915)

Lone the dove of thought goes lagging
Through the storm, with pinions dragging
O'er an autumn lake the while.
Earth’s aflame, the heart’s a-fever.
Seek, my dove, – alas! thou never
Comest to Oblivion's isle.

Hapless dove, shall one brief minute.
Flaming, fright thee to a swoon?
Sleep thou on my hand. Full soon.
Hushed and hurt, thou’lt lie within it.

Verner von Heidenstam (1859-1940)
Swedish poet, novelist and
laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1916

Translation: Charles Wharton Stork in
Sweden’s laurete: Selected Poems of
Verner on Heidenstam

Friday, 29 September 2017

Book Review: The Door in the Grimming by Paula Grogger the industrial revolution small communities in the mountains lived quite isolated from the rest of the world, but in the past two hundred years modern technology, most recently the internet, has constantly brought them closer to the big centres of civilisation. Today they have real time access to all kinds of news and services. In the early nineteenth century the inhabitants of Öblarn portrayed in The Door in the Grimming by Paula Grogger knew that Napoleon was at war with Austria, they had no way of finding out, though, where the French troops actually stood. When fate has it that they come to the remote town in the mountains, wild and rebellious Matthew, the seventeen-year-old eldest son of Constantia, wants to drive them out and gathers like-minded around him. Of course, the fighters are defeated and Matthew flees leaving behind his grieving mother, his younger brothers and fourteen-year-old Regina who has a crush on him.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Poetry Revisited: Unity by Violet Jacob


(from More Songs of Angus and Others: 1918)

I dreamed that life and time and space were one,
         And the pure trance of dawn;
         The increase drawn
From all the journeys of the travelling sun,
And the long mysteries of sound and sight,
         The whispering rains,
And far, calm waters set in lonely plains,
         And cry of birds at night.

I dreamed that these and love and death were one,
         And all eternity,
         The life to be
Therewith entwined, throughout the ages spun;
And so with Grief, my playmate; him I knew
         One with the rest, –
One with the mounting day, the east and west –
         Lord, is it true?
Lord, do I dream? Methinks a key unlocks
Some dungeon door, in thrall of blackened towers,
On ecstasies, half hid, like chill white flowers
         Blown in the secret places of the rocks.

Violet Jacob (1863-1946)
Scottish novelist and poet

Friday, 22 September 2017

Book Review: Kinshu. Autumn Brocade by Miyamoto Teru
The separation of a couple can be a painful and traumatic experience for both partners, especially when it’s the result of sudden events or discoveries that make it impossible or unbearable to stay together. In such cases emotions often explode and burn out in a war of the roses, but not always. Sometimes they just simmer below the surface for a long time because the partners avoided facing each other as well as their problems and thus never really closed this chapter of their lives. Ten years have passed since Aki and Yasuaki, the protagonists exchanging letters in Kinshu. Autumn Brocade by Miyamoto Teru, divorced. A chance encounter on a gondola going up Mount Zaō on a day in November evokes memories and two months later Aki finally musters up the courage to ask her ex-husband how it came that back then he was found half-dead beside the body of a dead geisha. 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Back Reviews Reel: September 2014

The novels that I reviewed this month three years ago cover the period from the late nineteenth century through today and took me to very diverse regions of the planet. I started my bookish explorations of time and space with the contemporary novel Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende that tells as much the history of a family as of Chile at the turn of the past century. Then I moved on to Kyoto, Japan, in the early 1960s devouring the modern classic The Old Capital by Kawabata Yasunari, the laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1968. Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf, on the other hand, evokes just a few years after the end of the Great War of 1914 to 1918 the life of a promising young man who died for his country leaving behind just a few things that tell of his existence. And finally, I made my way to France, to a small ship in the Arctic ice off the Canadian coast and back to France hunting first precious Inuit art and then a sly thief and fraudster in the contemporary French novel  I'm Off by Jean Echenoz.