Friday 30 June 2017

Book Review: Indigo by Clemens J. Setz we often – usually when we feel misunderstood or hurt – complain about the lack of empathy in people today, it isn’t a quality that our technology-based and highly competitive modern society particularly favours. Much rather egotism and a thick skin seem to be characteristics that someone wishing for success in this world vitally needs to cultivate. Most of us learn early that it’s better to reduce sensitiveness and to avoid getting emotionally involved in the fates of others, especially when what they go through is none of our business. Thus we allow abuse and exclusion. The Helianau Institute from Indigo by Clemens J. Setz is a boarding school for children who were born with a strange disorder: they make every human being near them sick. The overly sensitive new Maths teacher Clemens Setz feels for the children who are condemned to grow up always staying at a big physical distance to others.

Monday 26 June 2017

Poetry Revisited: Les Chats – The Cats by Charles Baudelaire

Les Chats

(de Les Fleurs du mal: 1857)

Les amoureux fervents et les savants austères
Aiment également, dans leur mûre saison,
Les chats puissants et doux, orgueil de la maison,
Qui comme eux sont frileux et comme eux sédentaires.

Amis de la science et de la volupté
Ils cherchent le silence et l'horreur des ténèbres;
L'Erèbe les eût pris pour ses coursiers funèbres,
S'ils pouvaient au servage incliner leur fierté.

Ils prennent en songeant les nobles attitudes
Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
Qui semblent s'endormir dans un rêve sans fin;

Leurs reins féconds sont pleins d'étincelles magiques,
Et des parcelles d'or, ainsi qu'un sable fin,
Etoilent vaguement leurs prunelles mystiques.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
poète français

The Cats

(from The Flowers of Evil: 1857)

The lover and the stern philosopher
Both love, in their ripe time, the confident
Soft cats, the house's chiefest ornament,
Who like themselves are cold and seldom stir.

Of knowledge and of pleasure amorous,
Silence they seek and Darkness' fell domain;
Had not their proud souls scorned to brook his rein,
They would have made grim steeds for Erebus.

Pensive they rest in noble attitudes
Like great stretched sphinxes in vast solitudes
Which seem to sleep wrapt in an endless dream;

Their fruitful loins are full of sparks divine,
And gleams of gold within their pupils shine
As 'twere within the shadow of a stream.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
French poet
translation: Jack Collings Squire in Poems and Baudelaire Flowers (1909)

Friday 23 June 2017

Book Review: A Love Letter From a Stray Moon by Jay Griffiths soul is amazing. Ever again it happens that instead of being crushed by a terrible experience a person draws great force from it and even succeeds in transcending it into a powerful incentive to stop just dreaming the impossible dream and to actually reach for the stars at last. Often only the closest family gets a chance to witness such personal growth born from suffering because seen from outside nothing has changed, but sometimes it’s the birth of a completely altered person who decides to make a fresh start into a new direction. It was a horrible bus accident at the age of eighteen that upset Frida Kahlo’s life and made her turn her attention to painting as a way of expressing herself. In A Love Letter from a Stray Moon by Jay Griffiths the celebrated Mexican painter writes a poetical review of her turbulent and painful life from beyond her grave.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Back Reviews Reel: June 2014

In June 2014 I went a little astray reading-wise. The two contempory works as well as the two classics that I reviewed belong to genres that I don’t usually read. I started with a comic novel from the U.K. that is largely set in Germany, namely Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith. Then I crossed the Channel to France and plunged into chick-lit for a change, but The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol turned out a little less shallow (and boring) than I had feared. From Paris I moved on to South America and some classical horror fiction from the pen of a writer admired by Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez made available for English-language readers as The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories by Horacio Quiroga. And finally I returned to my own country Austria for the dystopian classic The Wall by Marlen Haushofer.

Monday 19 June 2017

Poetry Revisited: An Australian Rose by Harriet Anne Martin

An Australian Rose

(from Lala Fisher [ed.], By Creek and Gully. Stories and Sketches Mostly of Bush Life:
Told in Prose and Rhyme by Australian Writers in England
: 1899)

Patchett Martin

To R. M. P.

To her of gracious gifts, whose graceful pen
Becomes a fairy wand in her frail hand
Flashing the sunlight of her Austral land
   On the slim maidens and brown-bearded men
   Who live their lives for us at her command
   I said — “I always think of you as when,
   Like one entranced in an enchanted glen,
You stood one night amidst a madcap band.

With red lips parted, and a roseleaf flush
   Painting the pearly pallor of your face,
   Mute, motionless, in an expectant hush,
   Your dreamy eyes like stars shone into space.”
   Softly she answer’d with a shadowy blush—
“My soul first stirred to life in that fair place.”

Harriet Anne Martin (c. 1837-1908)
Australian poet and writer

Friday 16 June 2017

Book Review: I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki upon from an outsider’s point of view much of human behaviour must seem rather strange, if not ridiculous and without purpose. And if this is true of what we do, how much more absurd must appear what we say! On certain occasions we even become aware of it ourselves. Who hasn’t ever been to a party feeling obliged to make small talk with even the dullest people? Boredom can drive us to embark on all kinds of more or less suiting pastimes. The arts, for instance, have always been very fashionable among the well-educated and better-off, while the world of academia may prefer highbrow debates on nothing at all to get a chance to show off. In the satirical classic I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki a highly sophisticated Tōkyo cat living in the household of a self-centred English teacher follows his master’s and his friends’ awkward artistic attempts and grotesque discussions.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: The Famished Road by Ben Okri

A Child’s View of Africa in the 1960s:
The Famished Road by Ben Okri 

It was in autumn 2016 when one of those e-mails offering the free copy of a book for review that I regularly receive unasked for and that I use to delete without even reading attracted my attention. The last hardly ever happens, but for some reason that I can’t remember I had a closer look at the message concerning The Famished Road by Ben Okri. The story sounded interesting and just right for me, especially because it was the new edition of a novel first published twenty-five years ago in 1991, thus not an entirely new work. Without giving it a second thought, I signed on to Netgalley and downloaded the book. Now, months later, I finally found the time to read this award-winning novel from the pen of an African writer now living in London, U.K., that deals with the political turmoil and confusion following the independence of an African country, probably Nigeria, from a boy’s magical-realistic point of view. 

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

Monday 12 June 2017

Poetry Revisited: The Literary Lady by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

The Literary Lady

(from W. H. Wills [ed.]: Poets' Wit and Humour: 1860)

What motley cares Corilla's mind perplex,
Whom maids and metaphors conspire to vex!
In studious dishabille behold her sit,
A lettered gossip and a household wit;
At once invoking, though for different views,
Her gods, her cook, her milliner and muse.
Round her strewed room a frippery chaos lies,
A checkered wreck of notable and wise,
Bills, books, caps, couplets, combs, a varied mass,
Oppress the toilet and obscure the glass;
Unfinished here an epigram is laid,
And there a mantua-maker's bill unpaid.
There new-born plays foretaste the town's applause,
There dormant patterns pine for future gauze.
A moral essay now is all her care,
A satire next, and then a bill of fare.
A scene she now projects, and now a dish;
Here Act the First, and here, Remove with Fish.
Now, while this eye in a fine frenzy rolls,
That soberly casts up a bill for coals;
Black pins and daggers in one leaf she sticks,
And tears, and threads, and bowls, and thimbles mix.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816)
Irish satirist, a playwright and poet

Friday 9 June 2017

Book Review: The Greater Hope by Ilse Aichinger are heaps of fiction works dealing with World War Two and the holocaust, but most of them have been written long after the unspeakable horrors and by authors who could look at the period from a safe distance, be it geographically or historically. It’s little wonder that only few eye witnesses, notably survivors felt up to letting their own dreadful experience flow into their fiction. It would have been too painful and in addition it was unlikely to make a living of such books. The Greater Hope by Austrian writer Ilse Aichinger is one of a small number of postwar novels evoking the sufferings of the war years. The protagonist is an eleven-year-old Viennese girl whose Jewish mother emigrates to the USA to escape from the Nazi regime. Her Aryan father, an army officer, rejects her and so she has to face all the incomprehensible prohibitions and dangers of the time in the care of her persecuted grandmother.

Monday 5 June 2017

Poetry Revisited: The Lotus by Toru Dutt

The Lotus

(from Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan: 1882)

Love came to Flora asking for a flower
          That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
          The lily and the rose, long, long had been
Rivals for that high honor. Bards of power
Had sung their claims. “The rose can never tower
          Like the pale lily with her Juno mien“—
          “But is the lily lovelier?“ Thus between
Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche's bower.
“Give me a flower delicious as the rose
          And stately as the lily in her pride“—
“But of what color?“—„Rose-red,“ Love first chose,
          Then prayed—“No, lily-white—or, both provide;“
          And Flora gave the lotus, “rose-red“ dyed,
And “lily-white“—the queenliest flower that blows.

Toru Dutt (1856-1877)
Indian poet in English and French

Friday 2 June 2017

Book Review: The Walnut Mansion by Miljenko Jergović
Every end comprises everything that was before. This is especially true for us human beings because not just own experiences make us the people who we are but through socialisation we also carry on our shoulders the material and psychological burden of our ancestors, i.e. of entire history. Time heals the wounds or makes them fester beneath the surface. In The Walnut Mansion by Miljenko Jergović the turbulent history of the Balkan countries that once formed Yugoslavia materialises in 97-year-old Regina Delavale who has seen it all and who finds her accidental end knocked out by tranquilisers in a hospital in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2002 after senile dementia has irrevocably turned her into a violent, abusive and wicked monster. Going backwards in time her daughter Dijana evokes the forming, if not traumatising events of her own and her mother’s life until her birth in 1905 and even a little beyond.