Friday 31 August 2018

Book Review: The Naked Lady by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez be an artist usually implies many struggles, some of them useless not to say quixotic. Part of the problem are people who feel called upon to decide what true art should or should not be and thus influence public opinion including potential buyers. Notably religious leaders along with other rich and powerful personalities have inspired and supported, but also limited artists in their work during most of human history. In Spain, the Holy Inquisition left its mark in art as well as in the minds of people as the painting protagonist of the classical novel The Naked Lady by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez is painfully aware. His convent-educated, bourgeois wife gets into a tantrum over models taking off their clothes before him in his workshop. He abides by her wishes and becomes a celebrated painter of “decent” pictures dreaming all the while of producing a nude like Francisco de Goya.

Monday 27 August 2018

Poetry Revisited: Summer Hours by Helen Gray Cone

Summer Hours

(from The Ride to the Lady: 1893)

Hours aimless-drifting as the milkweed’s down
In seeming, still a seed of joy ye bear
That steals into the soul when unaware,
And springs up Memory in the stony town.

Helen Gray Cone (1859-1934)
American poet and professor of English literature

Friday 24 August 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Betty Blue by Philippe Djian

To write a book doesn’t necessarily mean that its writer is ready to show it to another person or even to see it published. Convinced that nobody could possibly be interested or even like their literary output, many prefer to hide it ashamedly on the bottom of a seldom opened drawer or in a password-protected computer file in a folder created just for this purpose as is more in line with modern times. The protagonist of Betty Blue by Philippe Djian that I chose as a bookish déjà vu hoards his notebooks in a storing box and only when his raging girlfriend throws it out of the window with everything else that he owns, it comes out that he actually is a writer and according to the girl who doesn’t lose time reading all his notebooks he is even one destined for great success and fame. Alas, publishers think differently.
Read my review »

Monday 20 August 2018

Poetry Revisited: Sunshine by Allen Upward


(from Songs in Ziklag: 1888)

Bathed in balmy odours
     Sitting upon flow’rs,
By the rippling waters,
     Thus we pass the hours.
In the trees above us
     Gaily sing the birds,
Making pleasant music
     To our whisper’d words.
Yonder in the open
     Pours the sunshine down
On the stooping reapers,
     And the harvest brown.
In the stream the fisher
     Lightly drops his cast.
All around is happy;
     Would that it might last!

Allen Upward (1863-1926)
British poet, lawyer, politician and teacher

Friday 17 August 2018

Book Review: The Door by Szabó Magda’s one of the greatest possible achievements of a writer – at least in my opinion – to be able to write fiction that leaves the reader wondering from beginning to end whether the story told is true or just invented and whether the protagonist is reasonably faithful portrait of a live model or most succeeded fruit of a vivid imagination. This was the effect that the novel The Door by Szabó Magda had on me. In it a narrator, who obviously bears striking resemblance with the Hungarian author herself, patches together bits and pieces of information that her much adored, but always-furtive domestic help granted her in over twenty years about the life before she worked for her. The result is a rough biography of an amiable stranger who went through all the crucial periods of twentieth-century Hungarian history and learnt to literally keep locked the door to her private life.

Wednesday 15 August 2018

Back Reviews Reel: August 2015

The travel destinations of My Reading Summer of Nordic White Nights in August 2015 were Scotland, the USSR, the USA, and Sweden. Two of my reads were classics, though very different ones. While the historical English novel The Galliard by Margaret Irwin retells the legendary love story between Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Soviet recipient of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature, powerfully evokes the daily fight for survival in Stalin’s GULAGs in Siberia. The contemporary reads on my tour brought me closer to the Arctic Circle. The American novel And She Was by Cindy Dyson reveals the cruel history of the Native Aleut population on the islands off the Alaskan coast after their discovery in 1741 and in Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell a retired surgeon is forced to face his past.

Monday 13 August 2018

Poetry Revisited: The City Tree by Isabella Valancy Crawford

The City Tree

(from Old Spookses’ Pass, Malcolm’s Katie, and Other Poems: 1884)

I stand within the stony, arid town,
    I gaze for ever on the narrow street;
I hear for ever passing up and down,
    The ceaseless tramp of feet.

I know no brotherhood with far-lock'd woods,
    Where branches bourgeon from a kindred sap;
Where o'er moss'd roots, in cool, green solitudes,
    Small silver brooklets lap.

No em'rald vines creep wistfully to me,
    And lay their tender fingers on my bark;
High may I toss my boughs, yet never see
    Dawn's first most glorious spark.

When to and fro my branches wave and sway,
    Answ'ring the feeble wind that faintly calls,
They kiss no kindred boughs but touch alway
    The stones of climbing walls.

My heart is never pierc'd with song of bird;
    My leaves know nothing of that glad unrest,
Which makes a flutter in the still woods heard,
    When wild birds build a nest.

There never glance the eyes of violets up,
    Blue into the deep splendour of my green:
Nor falls the sunlight to the primrose cup,
    My quivering leaves between.

Not mine, not mine to turn from soft delight
    Of wood-bine breathings, honey sweet, and warm;
With kin embattl'd rear my glorious height
    To greet the coming storm!

Not mine to watch across the free, broad plains
    The whirl of stormy cohorts sweeping fast;
The level, silver lances of great rains,
    Blown onward by the blast.

Not mine the clamouring tempest to defy,
    Tossing the proud crest of my dusky leaves:
Defender of small flowers that trembling lie
    Against my barky greaves.

Not mine to watch the wild swan drift above,
Balanced on wings that could not choose between
The wooing sky, blue as the eye of love,
    And my own tender green.

And yet my branches spread, a kingly sight,
    In the close prison of the drooping air:
When sun-vex'd noons are at their fiery height,
    My shade is broad, and there

Come city toilers, who their hour of ease
    Weave out to precious seconds as they lie
Pillow'd on horny hands, to hear the breeze
    Through my great branches die.

I see no flowers, but as the children race
    With noise and clamour through the dusty street,
I see the bud of many an angel face—
    I hear their merry feet.

No violets look up, but shy and grave,
    The children pause and lift their chrystal eyes
To where my emerald branches call and wave—
    As to the mystic skies.

Isabella Valancy Crawford (1846-1887)
Irish-born Canadian writer and poet

Friday 10 August 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: My Heart by Else Lasker-Schüler

There is no way round it, that an author’s inspiration is fuelled by all kinds of experience, be it personal, from hearsay or from books. When setting out to tell a story, every writer has to decide whether to turn this input into the most imaginative fiction or to just put it into words staying as true to individual reality as possible. Usually, the result is something between the two. The epistolary novel My Heart by Else Lasker-Schüler that I picked as a bookish déjà vu is firmly anchored in the now lost world of Bohemian circles frequenting the Café des Westens in Berlin only a few years before World War I, but ever again the eccentric author prefers to hide her grief over another failed marriage, her constant struggles to make ends meet and her trivial love affairs in expressionist, if not fairy-tale-like imagery that adds humour to melancholy.
Read my review »

Monday 6 August 2018

Poetry Revisited: A Sight from the Shore by H. H. Dugmore

A Sight from the Shore

(from A. Wilmot: The Poetry of South Africa: 1887)

I look upon the ocean. Far away,
A fleet of thunder-clouds is sailing by.
High in mid heaven the aërial canvas swells,
And proudly scorns the breeze’s proffered aid;
Instinct with its own spirit’s breath of life,
That bears it onward in its majesty:
While ever and anon the signal flash
From van, and rear, and centre, tells of might
Resistless. Stern, and slow, and dark, and grand,
Its shadows sweep o’er ocean’s heaving billows;
While avant couriers, on the lightning’s wing,
Herald its coming to the distant realms
Beyond the horizon’s verge.

Henry Hare Dugmore (1810-1896)
English missionary in South Africa, writer and translator

Friday 3 August 2018

Book Review: Youth by J. M. Coetzee one point or another in life many people feel the urge to write the memoirs of their young years and to share them with others, be it only the family, be it the whole world if they can find a publisher. Writers seem even more inclined to reminisce and portray themselves. In the autobiographical novel Youth by J. M. Coetzee, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature of 2003 takes on the role of his own biographer. Almost like a stranger he looks back on the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he was just a young man aspiring to be a writer one day. He knows that in the initial stage he won’t be able to earn his livelihood writing and so after graduation from university in Cape Town he becomes a computer programmer in London. His first job depresses him, but the second one stimulates him.