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.