Friday, 28 June 2019

Book Review: Hell Has No Limits by José Donoso
Ever since scientists first expounded their theory of evolution, those in power gladly have been taking recourse to the concept of the survival of the fittest to justify even their most selfish actions before themselves. Unquestionably, the urge to exercise power over others belongs to human nature, but often it brings forth the worst in a person. Less settled characters even seem to think that it were their inborn right to bully those who are weaker than themselves and defenceless. In the 1960s Chilean classic Hell Has No Limits by José Donoso the homosexual transvestite living in a small rural brothel is regularly teased and beaten up by the clients because her mere presence provokes them. For nearly twenty years she has been co-owner together with the girl whom he fathered in the night when she agreed to help the Madame win a wager pretending to have sex with her.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Poetry Revisited: June by William Morris


(from Earthly Paradise: 1868-70)

     O June, O June, that we desired so,
Wilt thout not make us happy on this day?
Across the river thy soft breezes blos
Sweet with the scent of beanfields far away,
Above our heads rustle the aspens grey,
Calm is the sky with harmless clouds beset,
No thought of storm the morning vexes yet.
     See, we have left our hopes and fears behind
To give our very hearts up unto thee;
What better place than this then could we find
By this sweet stream that knows not of the sea,
That guesses not the city’s misery,
This little stream whose hamlets scarce have names,
This far-off lonely mother of the Thames?
     Here then, O June, thy kindness will we take;
And if indeed but pensive men we seem,
What should we do? thou wouldst not have us wake
From out the arms of this rare happy dream
And wish to leave the murmur of the stream,
The rustling boughs, the twitter of the birds,
And all thy thousand peaceful happy words.

     Now in the early June they deemed it good
That they should go unto a house that stood
On their chief river, so upon a day
With favouring wind and tide they took their way
Up the fair stream; most lovely was the time
Even amidst the days of that fair clime,
And still the wanderers thought about their lives,
And that desire that rippling water gives
To youthful hearts to wander anywhere.
     So midst sweet sights and sounds a house most fair
They came to, set upon the river side
Where kindly folk their coming did abide;
There they took land, and in the lime-trees’ shade
Beneath the trees they found the fair feast laid,
And sat, well pleased; but when the water-hen
Had got at last to think them harmless men,
And they with rest, and pleasure, and old wine,
Began to feel immortal and divine,
An elder spoke, “O gentle friends, the day
Amid such calm delight now slips away,
And ye yourselves are grown so bright and glad
I care not if I tell you something sad;
Sad, though the life I tell you of passed by,
Unstained by sordid strife or misery;
Sad, because though a glorious end it tells
Yet on the end of glorious life it dwells,
And striving through all things to reach the best
Upon no midway happiness will rest.”

William Morris (1834-1896)
British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist

Friday, 21 June 2019

Book Review: Portrait of a Man Unknown by Nathalie Sarraute

Not only political power can bring the despotic vein of a person to the surface. In fact, most of us will be a lot more familiar with it from a family setting where it shows more or less markedly in relations with children or less self-assured relatives, notably a weak spouse. This wish to rule over others, to impose our will on them seems to be deeply rooted in our nature. In addition, living it we often pass it on to the next generations. The father in Portrait of a Man Unknown by Nathalie Sarraute is tough to his grown-up daughter whose penchant for a carefree and extravagant life he disapproves because he had to work very hard to live in moderate wealth. He even threw her out of his flat to teach her a lesson, but she always comes back to him for money that he grudgingly gives her…

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Back Reviews Reel: June 2016

With my first summer reads of three years ago, I travelled from India to three countries of South-East Asia. With my opening review I went a little astray because The Monkey Grammarian by Octavio Paz, the Mexican Nobel recipient of 1990, is contemporary poetry in prose with a notable philosophical dimension. My two classics of the month, Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon and Burmese Days by George Orwell, evoke life at the Royal Court of Siam, now Thailand, in the late nineteenth century and British Colonial history in Burma, now Myanmar, in the period between the World Wars respectively. The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka, on the other hand, is the story of a dutiful teenage girl from Ceylon who is married off in 1929 to a Tamil man presumed wealthy living in Malaya and becomes a clever matriarch guiding her descendants safely through difficult times.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Poetry Revisited: Happiness by Anna Peyre Dinnies


(from The Floral Year: 1847)

There is a spell in every flower—
A sweetness in each spray,
And every simple bird has power
To please me with its lay!

And there is music on each breeze
That sports along the glade;
The crystal dew-drops on the trees
Are gems, by Fancy made.

There's gladness too in every thing,
And beauty over all,
For everywhere comes on, with Spring,
A charm which cannot pall!

And I! — my heart is full of joy,
And gratitude is there,
That He, who might my life destroy,
Has yet vouchsafed to spare.

The friends I once condemn'd are now
Affectionate and true;
I wept a pledged one's broken vow—
But he proves faithful too.

And now there is a happiness
In every thing I see,
Which bids my soul rise up and bless
The God who blesses me.

Anna Peyre Dinnies (1816-1886)
American poet and prose-writer

Friday, 14 June 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

No notable ruler of a country ever made his or her fame out of the blue, but they were all strong-minded men and women who had to prove their skill in war and politics to rise to power and then to keep, if not increase it. Some of them certainly had a privileged start as heirs to a throne, while others really had to fight hard to conquer their place in history, often together with new territories. The young German Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst was one of the latter. When she arrived in Moscow in February 1744 to marry the Russian Crown Prince, nobody would have thought that the palace girls and spy who is the narrating protagonist of The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak, which I chose to present as another bookish déjà-vu, would witness her rise to power as ill-famed and much feared Tsarina Catherine II the Great.
Read my review »

Monday, 10 June 2019

Poetry Revisited: A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

A Red, Red Rose

(from James Johnson (ed.), The Scottish Musical Museum: 1794)

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

Robert Burns (1759-1796)
Scottish poet and lyricist

Friday, 7 June 2019

Book Review: The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder
The people who rule a country, be it a republic or a monarchy, a democracy or a dictatorship, even a tyranny, quite naturally provoke controversy. They carry the burden of responsibility, but often everybody else seems to know better than they. Sometimes this may even be true, especially when looks, charisma and populist catchphrases – in other words a good performance – make the public blind to their incompetence and to their lack of ideals. At the same time, power can corrupt even the most able ruler because it easily produces a growing hunger for more. This is a dangerous game as Caius Julius Cæsar knew well, and yet, he continued to undermine the Roman republic. In The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder the Dictator’s writings and those of friends and foes, men and women, citizens and slaves bring to life the atmosphere in Rome in the months before his assassination.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Poetry Revisited: Thoughts in a Library by Anne C. Lynch

Thoughts in a Library

 (from Poems: 1848)

Speak low — tread softly through these halls;
     Here genius lives enshrined,—
Here reign, in silent majesty,
     The monarchs of the mind.

A mighty spirit-host they come,
     From every age and clime;
Above the buried wrecks of years,
     They breast the tide of Time.

And in their presence-chamber here,
     They hold their regal state,
And round them throng a noble train,
     The gifted and the great.

Oh, child of Earth! when round thy path
     The storms of life arise,
And when thy brothers pass thee by,
     With stern, unloving eyes,—

Here shall the Poets chant for thee
     Their sweetest, loftiest lays;
And Prophets wait to guide thy steps
     In wisdom’s pleasant ways.

Come, with these God-anointed kings,
     Be thou companion here;
And in thy mighty realm of mind,
     Thou shalt go forth a peer!

Anne C. Lynch (1815-1891)
American poet, writer, teacher and socialite