Friday, 30 March 2018

Book Review: Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Atherton fire is a strong natural force that turns everything inflammable within its reach into ashes. Most of us see only its destructive power although clearing the ground it lays the foundations for renewal… or resurrection. Sometimes it smoulders beneath the surface unnoticed by us and sometimes it burns gently before our very eyes lulling us into a false sense of security, both literally as well as metaphorically. Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Atherton is the story of a young woman in San Francisco of the 1860s whose husband loves her as a beautiful and pleasant addition to his household, but can’t imagine her to have a mind worthwhile knowing. When a journalist from New York arrives, he brings her mental stimulation in the form of serious books and the opportunity for meaningful discussions that her husband refuses her. And almost unnoticed by themselves, they kindle the fire of forbidden love.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Poetry Revisited: March by Ella Wheeler Wilcox


(from Poems of Sentiment: 1911)

Like some reformer, who with mien austere,
          Neglected dress, and loud insistent tones,
          More rasping than the wrongs which she bemoans,
Walks through the land and wearies all who hear,
          While yet we know the need of such reform;
          So comes unlovely March, with wind and storm,
To break the spell of winter, and set free
          The poisoned brooks and crocus beds oppressed.
          Severe of face, gaunt-armed, and wildly dressed,
She is not fair nor beautiful to see.
          But merry April and sweet smiling May
          Come not till March has first prepared the way.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)
American writer and poet

Friday, 23 March 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Swell by Ioanna Karystiani

The water of the seven seas is never vast enough nor deep enough to hide from reality. Sooner or later the facts of life always drift to the surface and make it impossible to continue denying what is… or has been already for a while. Also the protagonist of the contemporary Greek novel Swell by Ioanna Karystiani, which I chose as another bookish déjà-vu, has to learn his lesson the hard way. He is an old salt of seventy-five years and unwilling to accept that after a whole life at sea he is no longer fit to captain a ship. Already for over a decade, he has successfully hidden from his wife and family, from his long-time lover and from truth on the merchant ship that has become his home and shelter. Only a near disaster forces him back on land and back into the arms of his family.
Read my review »

Monday, 19 March 2018

Poetry Revisited: Days Too Short by William Henry Davies

Days Too Short

(from The Collected Poems of W. H. Davies: 1916)

When primroses are out in Spring,
And small, blue violets come between;
When merry birds sing on boughs green,
And rills, as soon as born, must sing;

When butterflies will make side-leaps,
As though escaped from Nature’s hand
Ere perfect quite; and bees will stand
Upon their heads in fragrant deeps;

When small clouds are so silvery white
Each seems a broken rimmed moon—
When such things are, this world too soon,
For me, doth wear the veil of Night.

William Henry Davies (1870-1940)
Welsh poet

Friday, 16 March 2018

Book Review: Quicksand by Tanizaki Jun’ichirō earth under our feet usually feels solid and safe to carry us on our way through life. Sometimes, however, events may raise quite some dust and we can no longer see clearly where we’re heading. At other times, the earth may also turn into mud that makes it difficult for us to advance at all… or if we’re particularly unlucky we don’t just get stuck, but even sink in up to the neck unable to move. The latter is how the young widow in Quicksand by Tanizaki Jun’ichirō feels about the love affair in which she gets caught in Osaka of the 1920s. Wicked gossip spreading at the Art School about her relations to another student whom they believe the real model for her picture stand at the beginning of a passionate lesbian affair with the cunning girl that soon involves also the girl’s fiancé and the woman’s husband.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Back Reviews Reel: March 2015

A tiny island in the Golf of Naples, the buzzing Chinese capital Beijing, London and a legendary mountain watching over six Anatolian villages and the Syrian coast were the scenes of the books that I reviewed here three years ago. My tour started with the Italian classic Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante containing the (fictitious) memoirs of a childhood and youth before World War II. Then I hurried after the young man from the contemporary Chinese novel Running Through Beijing by Xu Zechen who set his hopes on life in the metropolis. My trip to the British capital in the 1980s brought me into touch with The Good Terrorist by en-NOBEL-ed Doris Lessing who dreamed of changing the world. And finally, the Austrian classic The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel made me share the lives of Eastern Anatolian villagers who refused to surrender to the Ottoman army sent out to drive them away from home in 1915.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Poetry Revisited: Beauty’s a Flower by Moira O’Neill

Beauty’s a Flower

(from Songs from the Glens of Antrim: 1900)

          Youth’s for an hour, 
          Beauty’s a flower,
          But love is the jewel that wins the world.

Youth’s for an hour, an’ the taste o’ life is sweet,
Ailes was a girl that stepped on two bare feet;
In all my days I never seen the one as fair as she,
I’d have lost my life for Ailes, an’ she never cared for me.

Beauty’s a flower, an’ the days o’ life are long,
There’s little knowin’ who may live to sing another song;
For Ailes was the fairest, but another is my wife,
An’ Mary—God be good to her!—is all I love in life.

          Youth’s for an hour, 
          Beauty’s a flower,
          But love is the jewel that wins the world.

Moira O’Neill (1864–1955), real name Agnes Shakespeare Higginson
Irish-Canadian poet

Friday, 9 March 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The air in the crammed and cornered rooms of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Barcelona, Spain, may be stale and dusty, but for any passionate reader like myself and the protagonist of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which I chose as a bookish déjà-vu, it inevitably carries the stimulating breath of freedom, wisdom and delight. When the boy takes one of the forgotten books back home with him, he wrenches it as well as its author from the unfathomable dungeons of oblivion and brings it back to the light… or rather to life. He accepts to be the book’s guardian for the rest of his life not imagining that several years later his duty to protect the book from all harm and the mystery shrouding the author will draw him into a series of dangerous adventures. And along the way he meets his love.  

Monday, 5 March 2018

Poetry Revisited: A Town Window by John Drinkwater

A Town Window

(from Poems, 1908-14: 1918)

Beyond my window in the night
Is but a drab inglorious street,
Yet there the frost and clean starlight
As over Warwick woods are sweet.

Under the grey drift of the town
The crocus works among the mould
As eagerly as those that crown
The Warwick spring in flame and gold.

And when the tramway down the hill
Across the cobbles moans and rings,
There is about my window-sill
The tumult of a thousand wings

John Drinkwater (1882-1937)
English poet and dramatist

Friday, 2 March 2018

Book Review: Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler
In many families worldwide domestic violence is a painful reality. Where people are imbibed with respect for human rights from an early age like in major parts of Europe and Northern America, the physical or psychological abuse of any family member is considered as intolerable as harming a complete stranger. In other societies, especially less prosperous ones where children get basic education at best, people often think it normal, even necessary that a man gives his wife and children a beating. It’s a means to prove his absolute power, to keep the face in the community, and certainly to work off frustration too. To the Kurdish protagonist of Blue Jewellery by Katharina Winkler just as to all other women in her surroundings it seems perfectly natural that her husband Yunus beats her black and blue whenever he feels like it. Not even their emigration to Austria changes his habits.