Friday, 29 June 2018

Book Review: The Kappillan of Malta by Nicholas Monsarrat

However pleasant island life can be, it can also have serious disadvantages when it comes to assuring supply with all those things that nature can’t offer at all or not in sufficient quantities. In war times, for instance, the watery enclosure can turn into an almost unsolvable, even life-threatening problem, notably when the island is located in a strategically important place and becomes target of military action. In history, the latter has been more than once the fate of the small island of Malta in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and North Africa as shows the historical novel The Kappillan of Malta by Nicholas Monsarrat. During World War II Father Salvatore takes it upon him to look after the bombed-out sheltering in catacombs and to improve their morale speaking to them about the many challenges that their forefathers faced and survived in more than two millennia.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: Midsummer Noon by Robert Laurence Binyon

Midsummer Noon

(from London Visions:1908)

At her window gazes over the elms
A girl; she looks on the branching green;
But her eyes possess unfathomed realms,
Her young hand holds her dreaming chin.

Drifted, the dazzling clouds ascend
In indolent order, vast and slow,
The great blue; softly their shadows send
A clearness up from the wall below.

An old man houseless, leaning alone
By the tree—girt fountain, only heeds
The fall of the spray in the shine of the sun,
And nothing possessing, nothing needs.

The square is heavy with silent bloom;
The tardy wheels uncertain creep.
Above in a narrow sunlit room,
The widower watches his child asleep.

Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
English poet, dramatist and art scholar

Friday, 22 June 2018

Book Review: Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz beauty and wealth especially of tropical islands always attracted adventurers, fortune-hunters and eventually colonists from other parts of the world, ancient cultures thriving there were – are? – quite routinely written off as savage and worthless. Thus many non-European civilisations have disappeared since the great age of discoveries. Colonial powers imposed their own culture and language on people thus imbibing the autochthones with a feeling of inferiority that made them loathe the assumedly primitive traditions of their ancestors and look down on those who refused to adapt to the new ways stubbornly holding on to their old ones. Tahiti in French Polynesia was no exception there as shows the novel Island of Shattered Dreams by Polynesian writer Chantal T. Spitz. It’s the story of a Tahitian family in the twentieth century that within only three generations loses its identity and even its ancestral lands to be swallowed by Western civilisation.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Back Reviews Reel: June 2015

In the month of June of three years ago I started My Reading Summer of Nordic White Nights that led me around the Arctic Circle making a literary stop in each country with territory that far north. The contemporary novel Eight White Nights by André Aciman brought me to the USA, though to a Christmassy New York City instead of Alaska during a Midsummer’s night simply because the title caught my attention. In the following, I crossed the Atlantic Ocean to land in Scandinavia with two twentieth-century classics, first Norwegian Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel and then Finnish People in the Summer Night by Frans Eemil Sillanpää, laureate of the 1939 Nobel Prize in Literature. For my final stop I returned to the American continent, more precisely to Canada with the modern short-story collection Dear Life by Alice Munro who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: Rose of Love by Isabel Ecclestone Mackay

Rose of Love

(from Between the Lights: 1904)

               Many a rose
               In the hot-house grows,
Holding its charm for the wealthiest buyer;
               Out in the air,
               In the garden there,
Blossoms the rose of my only desire.

               Languid are these,
               Shut from the breeze,
Blowing all sweet from the meadows of clover;
               Out where she grows,
               My little rose
Lifts up a face with the dew sprinkled over.

               Roses are dear,
               In the hot-house here;
I would not buy were their beauty perfection.
               Roses as rare,
               Sweet and as fair.
Blossom and bloom, asking only affection.

               Oh, for one day
               To cast all away,
Just to be free for a few golden hours;
               To lose all regret,
               To enjoy, to forget,
Near to my rose in a garden of flowers.

Isabel Ecclestone Mackay (1875-1928)
Canadian writer

Friday, 15 June 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante

A small island can be a very quiet and private place to live in provided that it’s sparsely populated and outside the usual shipping routes. In our ever closer connected world – really and digitally – there may be only few such islands left, but until not too long ago even the people living on the islands in the Gulf of Naples were quite on their own although the big city on the mainland is all but far-off. A boy who grew up on one of these islands, on Procida to be precise, in the 1920s and 1930s is the protagonist of the Italian classical novel Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante that I picked as another bookish déjà-vu. With his mother died in childbirth and his father away most of the time, Arturo enjoys a carefree and unrestricted childhood until his father takes a new wife hardly older than the adolescent boy.
Read my review »

Monday, 11 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: O, Gather Me the Rose by William Ernest Henley

O, Gather Me the Rose

(from A Book of Verses: 1888)

O, gather me the rose, the rose,
     While yet in flower we find it,
For summer smiles, but summer goes,
     And winter waits behind it!

For with the dream foregone, foregone,
     The deed forborne for ever,
The worm, regret, will canker on,
     And time will turn him never.

So well it were to love, my love,
     And cheat of any laughter
The death beneath us and above,
     The dark before and after.

The myrtle and the rose, the rose,
     The sunshine and the swallow,
The dream that comes, the wish that goes,
     The memories that follow!

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)
English poet, critic and editor

Friday, 8 June 2018

Book Review: Islands of the Dying Light by Rolf Lappert
Islands, especially small ones that aren’t to be found on any map, often have an aura of the secret and the mysterious. And not without reason. The water surrounding them protects them from curious eyes and makes it almost impossible to enter them unnoticed. In other words, they are good hideaways for people who don’t wish to be seen because they are a little paranoid or – which is more likely – because they are engaged in activities that are morally questionable, if not illegal. The latter happens on the Islands of the Dying Light that Swiss author Rolf Lappert evokes in his novel about a brother and a sister who have come all the way from Ireland to the Philippines, the one to find out what happened to his sister, the other a while earlier to work with primates. Neither is welcome and both are drawn into a life-threatening sham.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: Ein Jahr – A Year by Maria Janitschek

Ein Jahr

(aus Im Sommerwind: 1895)

Träumende Blumen, nickendes Gras,
Von Käfern ein gülden Gewimmel,
Ein Rauschen wie rieselnder Blätter Fall
Und drüber der blaue Himmel.

Am Boden flimmerndes Silber verstreut,
Die Sträuche in weißen Schleiern,
Kein Windhauch, kein wachsender Vogellaut,
Nicht enden wollendes Feiern.

Es klopft wie mit Kinderfingern
Ans sonnenlaue Eis,
Und in den nassen Zweigen,
Da regt sich’s fragend leis.

Um Rosen braune Falter,
Ein Neigen von Ast zu Ast,
Die Blüten voller Honig,
Die Nester voll junger Last.

Und wieder träumende Blumen,
Der Käfer gülden Gewimmel,
Der müden Blätter Rieseln,
Und drüber der blaue Himmel.

Maria Janitschek (1859-1927)
Österreichische Schriftstellerin und Journalistin

A Year

(from In the Summer Wind: 1895)

Dreaming flowers, nodding grass,
Of beetles a golden swarming,
A rustling like the fall of rippling leaves
And above it the blue sky.

Spattered on the ground glittereing silver,
The shrubs in white veils,
No breath of wind, no growing bird sound,
Unending celebrating.

It knocks with children’s fingers
At the sunny warm ice,
And in the wet branches
There it moves inquiringly low.

Around rose brown butterflies,
A bowing from bough to bough,
The flowers full of honey,
The nests full of young load.

And again dreaming flowers,
The beetles’ golden swarming,
The tired leaves’ rippling,
And above it the blue sky.

Maria Janitschek (1859-1927)
Austrian writer and journalist

Literal translation: Edith LaGraziana 2018

Friday, 1 June 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Iceland’s Bell by Halldór K. Laxness

Every island is a world of its own with people formed by the sea that surrounds them and cuts them off other civilisations to a bigger or lesser degree depending on distances and state of tecnology. With the ongoing globalisation many peculiarities of islanders risk to get lost, notably ancient traditions and even languages. But this isn’t a phenomenon of modern times. It’s a process that has been going on for centuries, even millennia. As a bookish déjà-vu dealing with island life from a historical point of view, I picked Iceland’s Bell by Halldór K. Laxness, the so far only en-NOBEL-ed writer of the country located in the North of the Atlantic Ocean. The novel’s protagonist is a poor uncultured man living in the early 1700s when Iceland still was part of Denmark. He is sentenced to death for murder, escapes his fate to the mainland and seeks justice.
Read my review»