The Birdcage Archives

Saturday 31 December 2011

The Last Blog of 2011

Hello Gentle Reader

There is a sad melancholic dearly departed whisper to the end of two-thousand and eleven. It has been an interesting year of literature and personal struggles and gains – though every year is a year of good literature, interesting awards, and personal triumphs and struggles.

Let’s look at some of the great books of two-thousand and eleven.

A personal favourite of mine was “The Strangers Child,” by Alan Hollinghurst – it will most likely be the only novel on this list that I had actually read, may I add. The reason for me choosing this novel, is because it was just a honing and showing of his skill, and flexibility, as an author. It was a wonderful novel to watch the passage of time, to see the characters age, and mature. At times horribly sad, to watch how much they had aged, and to see how the passage of time, and to just notice a character had died – be it suicide, heart attack, cancer, or whatever else, may have killed them. It’s a novel of a love triangle, but also a novel about the decline of the British Empire.

“There But For The,” by Ali Smith, is also one of the many novels, that has been named one of the best books of two thousand and eleven. Ali Smith’s novel caused a bit of stir, when this year The Booker Prize, did not even mention it on the long list. It was a bad year for the Booker Prize, for its controversy, over readability over quality. Whether she wanted to or not, Ali Smith and her novel, became one of the novels focused, on the outrage that was not included on the Booker Prize Long List. But with an intriguing plot and some sly and witting humour, Ali Smith’s satirical novel, has been named one of the best books of the year.

Whether anyone enjoys it or not Julian Barnes “The Sense of an Ending,” the winner of this year’s Booker Prize, had guaranteed a spot on the Best Books of 2011. Unfortunately this not much I can say on this book, because there was no real controversy surrounding this book, and I haven’t read it either.

“In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts,” or “In Times of Fading Light,” by Eugen Ruge, is a debut and a award winner (winning the German Book Prize for two-thousand and eleven). It is a family chronicle, which watches the separation of Germany and its unification. A novel that certainly maybe of interest to western readers, and might soon be in translation for Western Countries.

“1Q84,” by Haruki Murkami had caused quite hype in its publication in Japan, and its hype seen in the west had also been seen. However here in Canada the cover itself, was a sad site. With a tissue paper, cover it could only cause one to shake their head, and that silliness. I would love to buy the book, but I won’t because of the horrible, cover, of tissue paper, cover, which will easily rip and become a mess. However it still remained on the bestseller list for weeks.

An American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides new novel “The Marriage Plot,” his third novel since his first novel “The Virgin Suicides,” published back in nineteen-ninety three, has been called a best book of two-thousand and eleven, did not meet up to its predecessor “Middlesex,” however it still has been called a good novel, though not his best.

The last book that I will name personally from two thousand and eleven, that I had enjoyed, will be from the Canongate Myth Series, from Dame A.S. Byatt’s novel “Ragnarok: The End of the Gods,” is a new novel of the Canongate Myth Series, and a new novel from Dame A.S. Byatt. Dealing with the end of the Norse God’s and World War II, and the relation the two had to each other, in the child’s eye. Full of beautiful imagery and carefully painted landscapes and scenes, this novel was a delight.

The list could go on, to include many novels. But these ones will have to do.

A Happy New Year to All.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday 29 December 2011

Summertime

Hello Gentle Reader

John Maxwell Coetzee. A native South African writer (who speaks Afrikaans) and now is an Australian citizen. Noted for being reclusive – though others have described him more elusive. Emotionally he is best described as a cold fish. His discipline rivals that of a monk. He does not drink, smoke, or eat meat. He cycles for long distances to keep fit. With his assistance Oak Tree Press, was established to help raise money for the African HIV/AID’s crisis – specifically to assist the children displaced because of the disease. He is not noted for being a public speaker. He is noted as a writer, and academic. He is the first author ever to win the Booker Prize two times – along with Australian novelist Peter Carey. J.M. Coetzee, is the second South African writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature after Nadine Gordimer. Though as most who win the Nobel Prize for Literature, J.M. Coetzee’s awardance was met with some disdain, and criticism. The most evident was his lack of political activism, or not being political enough as a writer. Others simply stated that he was too much of an easy Nobel win. For one he won the Booker Prize twice, and is internationally renowned author. It was more of a shrug by some, that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In fact the former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Horace Engdahl had stated that J.M. Coetzee, was an easy choice for Swedish Academy. Recently in two thousand and ten, Martin Amis – the son of Kingsley Amis (another Booker Prize winner) and son of a wealthy mother, whose lineage was in the shoe business. Martin Amis had recently, written a novel titled “The Pregnant Widow,” which spoke of the sexual revolution and the sixties, and discusses his sister, was met with poor reviews from my research. He has yet to win the Booker Prize. The reason why Martin Amis is mentioned is because he had recently attacked J.M. Coetzee the Nobel Laureate in Literature of two thousand and three, as not having any talent – and because of his gloomy writings and lack of pleasure in his books, is somehow seen as seem great writer. The Swedish Academy disagree though. He was awarded because his novels are never the same. They each have their own formula. Each one of them does their own, literary value, and never truly tries to measure up to any previous success. Each one is just on their own and is to be read on its own. None of the novels or any of the works are to be seen as anything more, and certainly each one has its own unique gift and perspective to the world.

Also in recent news, the Nobel Laureate of two-thousand and three, had given away all his records and personal files – business, and correspondence; as well as photo albums, have all been acquired by the Harry Ransom Center, in Austin Texas. Nobel Laureate in Literature, Doris Lessing has also given some of her own archives to the Harry Ransom Center as well.

“Summertime,” by J.M. Coetzee is an interesting novel. I came into knowing about it, back in two thousand and nine, when it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize of that year. Yet it lost out to “Wolf Hall,” by Hilary Mantel. I remember though quite frankly the trailer on youtube, for this novel. That yellowish haze that summer has – even here in Canada; the world teaming with life. Of course I didn’t have the slightest clue what this book was about. Nor did I know that this was in what some consider a trilogy of work, about the Nobel Laureates life, often called a “fictionalised autobiography,” which includes “Boyhood,” and “Youth.”

With this part of his fictionalized autobiography, John Maxwell Coetzee, distances himself from himself even more, then his first two accounts of his life had did. While his first two books of his “fictionalized memoir,” were detached, even though quite frankly about himself, they were written in the third person. Yet now with “Summertime,” Nobel Laureate in Literature has decided to detach himself even further, then before. In this memoir, J.M. Coetzee is dead, and a biographer is conducting various interviews with people close to the deceased fictional puppet, of the author. These people each have different concepts and idea’s of whom the deceased grand author was. Though one calls him a “small man,” in fact, if the portrait (though it is hinted at, as unreliable) is true, J.M. Coetzee is the most (un)human human being there ever could have been. He’s a cold fish, unemotional to the extreme, dethatched, always defensive and cautious of the world. A man always testing the waters before even contemplating sliding in. It is certainly a strange novel, but also very self-mocking and humorous.

In a way, the author himself is mocking himself. Throwing mud on his face, and yet smiling about it. Though the irony or the paradox, of this entire concept is the people interviewed by the biographer Mister Vincent, show a completely different person. He is unable to experience humour; his sexual presence is not even in existent, his social appetite is very small, and his relationship with his father, on the surface looks very strained. Even those that love him don’t quite understand him, those that don’t even like him and claim to have him figured out, as nothing more than a small pathetic man. But as the raw form of these fictional transcripts presents, there is no real understanding between who J.M. Coetzee is and who his fictional puppet counterpart was. He himself is simply a large enigma.

“I really was the main character. John really was a minor character.”

One character states quite firmly. It speaks loud and clear as well. The fictional puppet John really is only a minor character throughout this novel, even though this novel surely does focus upon him. Each character however, reveals their own fictional memoir, which just happens to deal with John. Julia discusses her love affair with John, and her own cheating husband’s love affair with another woman. Throughout it all, Julia explains the complicated relationship between herself and John, how they too could never really love each other, and the subsequent break down of her marriage. She offers insight into the complicated relationship and distant relationship between father and son. The horrible state of the house, somewhat of a filthy place to be honest. The fictional puppets, father is a cold and distant man – much like his son. In fact because of this as his nature, he is given no real meaning or deep characterization, based upon the fact that the entire novel is based on the interviews of five different people. In fact even John the factious counterpart, is more of a shape shifter if anything. A fish out of water, to say the least when it comes to sexual relationships – relationships at all for that matter; and can clearly be seen in many aspects. It’s hard to see John as anything more than just what is depicted by the less than rose coloured lens of the characters that have surrounded his life. In fact, if anything at all, it’s hard to see John as a child – though he and his cousin Margot often spoke of how they would marry, it would have been difficult to see it happen – not because they were cousins, but because of Johns nature, resembling that more of a hermetic celibate monk then that of anything else. It is hard to see, him as a child at all. But Julia’s depiction of John show nothing more than just a weird reclusive and eccentric man. A man who wouldn’t be able to have a relationship with a woman, if he tried – for that matter a man unable to have any real decent human relationship at all. For the most part Julia herself only recounts the parts of that part of her life, which John was merely a shadow in. She is far more interested in stating the fact that because of their “relationship,” her marriage failed – but then again one can perhaps even see that it was doomed to failure from the beginning.

Next for the interviewing is cousin Margot. She is not so detached from John, as Julia was. In fact she has more pity for him. Defending him against her sister, who often speaks low of him. How she suspects he is homosexual, and writes poetry. Perhaps Margot see’s a rather pathetic man. A man bashful and shy to the point of reclusiveness, and a man whose enjoyment of manual labour – something that the family believes is native work – or black work. In fact if anything, Margot has the best understanding of the outsider of John, an outsider to his family, an outcast in his home country, and an outcast in relationships and society at large. For whatever reason. She discusses their drive in the Karoo, and how the truck breaks down. They spend the night in the truck, at this point Margot shows her frustration with John, but his anger is more of a cold retreat, then that of a typical person. In the end however, she shows more pity and the kindness that comes from that pity, for her cousin, and does not really understand him, but understands him far more than the rest of the family does. Though she does take quite the concern, when John expresses interest in buying a cottage, and having his father shake up there. Even John realizes it is not all that much of a grand idea. Though perhaps they both have different reasons why the luxury of the thought is less the luxurious. Rather than that cold detached tone Julia had, who looks at John more as a patient in one of her therapy sessions, Margot looks at him in a much more intimate and loving way. She sees him as still that little boy that she had said she was going to marry.

Adriana the immigrant or refugee, dancer, is less then kind in her depiction of John. She seems as a nuisance, as a fly. A disgusting fly in certain need of being swatted down. She has a grand hatred for John. In fact she states, that he cannot be a great writer, because he is not a great man. In fact Adriana’s entire depiction of John is harsh, cruel, and full of a salsa like arrogance, which the author himself (J.M. Coetzee) grasps right away. Though the fictional John was in love with her, she herself saw him as nothing more than a pest. A stalker. A man unqualified to teach her daughter. It is hard to find any pity for the experiences that Adriana herself had experienced, because of her own ability to see anything other than her own view.

There are others as well, but the main three – Julia, Margot, and Adriana provide the most captivating accounts of the fictional John, and how the perception of one differs from the opinions of others.

J.M. Coetzee the outsider and Nobel Laureate in Literature of two-thousand and three, still remains an enigma, and a shifting shadow. His autobiography leaves on with an uneasy feeling of what the lines the two dance, between being a documentary and being a fictional account of a real man.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday 22 December 2011

The Strangers Child

Hello Gentle Reader

Have you ever thought about that kind of sickening though about someone writing about your own life? The thought itself, makes my skin prickle with goose flesh – resembling a naked turkey on Christmas day being prepared to be tossed into the oven. The mere thought of someone conducting interviews about me, with close friends, family and others who have worked either with me or have come to know something about me through the years. Just picturing someone who feels it is their god given right interview those people, who knew me, and find out all they can about me, is a sickening thought. No one has the right to know anything about anyone. Though we often feel that we are entitled to know something’s about everyone – and often at times we do know things, it does not mean that we are entitled to know everything about an individual. Sure we all know certain things about friends, and coworkers, and family members – though family members are the worst to know about. We know that a co-worker has x amount of children, varying from the ages y to z – the co-worker has been married x amount of years, to their husband or wife. It may also be known that they have so many siblings. Their parents may or may not be dead, and one may even know their age, and even when they were born, when their anniversary is. These though are only just shallow details. Nothing more. Certainly nothing more. All anyone knows about each other, except for those rare occasions, where one knows a bit more. One knows more shallow details before they discover some more interesting parts of the entire person. They learn of past traumatic experiences, love moments, old habit’s, something that is both embarrassing or something vulnerable. A piece of information that could shatter their entire character – or at least the very foundations of it.

Surely teachers in the elementary level will surely be able to discuss their own thoughts and observations, as they had witnessed the development of the character. As can parents and other relatives who had witnessed the developing character. They can discuss such matters like: “[such and such] was such a sensitive child. They were also a little bit on the shy side. Quiet, with a melancholic expression, as if always slightly preoccupied with the time, and when he would be able to see his mother again. It really is perplexing to think how he came to be what he turned out to be.” Or something along those lines. Everyone can reveal just the smallest of information about oneself. However that information is not, something that needs to be expressed out loud. Or for the most part something that does not inherit the concept or being something that needs to be the general knowledge of the public.

Allan Hollinghurt’s new novel “The Strangers Child,” one that has been grappled onto the stage, demanded to be recognized as more than just a foot note of a great book of the year two thousand and eleven. Alan Hollinghurst himself had won the Galaxy Notational Book Awards, winning the Author of the Year Award. “The Strangers Child,” was long listed for the Booker Prize of two thousand and eleven and was controversially omitted from the shortlist. An outcry came from the literary establishment, and the public – or at least the public that cared. Sir Michael Holroyd, an English biographer, had even mentioned “The Strangers Child,” as one of his favourite – and one of the best books; of two thousand and eleven. Despite the book prize snub of “The Strangers Child,” Alan Hollinghurst with his perfectly honed poetic sentences, and the subtle, and stealthy show what real beautiful prose looks like. No “weak blond prose,” as Nabokov would have put it, can be seen throughout this book by Alan Hollinghurst. Everything works in unison, and like a symphony there is a general sense of harmony, to the way everything moves together, in a perfect waltz.

The novel opens up like most novels. But right away one can see certain hints. Just those slight wisps of gestures. The slip ups, and tiny twists, that one can see in the time frame are not by any means considered normal. The novel opens up, in the Golden Afternoon of the Edwardian Era of the United Kingdom. Reading this first part was something felt just like Saki’s stories. There was the grasping and gesture of the entire era. The garden parties, the dinner parties, the eccentric guests, the late Victorian manners still being observed. So on and so forth. Yet what I enjoyed most about this part of the novel was Alan Hollinghursts ability to capture the leisurely feeling of the world. A sense, of great peace, and nothing will take that away. The Great British Empire, was at the top of its game. Nothing was going to topple such a mighty empire. It was a feeling of peace, and leisure – at least for those who could afford it or where born in such a class of luxuries.

Yet even in this class boundaries themselves, there is something strikingly same throughout all of the characters. That same characteristic is that of what it means to be human. Disappointment, infatuation, mortality, envy – it is all that makes these characters human, and keeps them so close together, even past the class boundaries of the English society and this English novel.

The novel opens up with the introduction of the two major important characters of this novel – but also the infatuation and the love story that would follow along after this part of the book is done. The secrets in this first part of this story – the sense of betrayal in some moments and the absolute decadence of the very subject of this novel.

Then time takes its toll after the first part of this novel. The Great War happened, and the nymphomaniac subject – Cecil Valance, has died in the Great War. His famous poem that he wrote for one of the main characters becomes something of an English classic. Quoted by Churchill, and his mother, made a cult about this mediocre poet. Even though Cecil Valance is dead, he is the one who continues to be the main focus of this novel. But what comes from hereafter this point is something both extremely amazing to read, but also sad to watch the passage of time makes its point.

I myself consider the first part of this book foreshadowing, what will come of the rest of the book in certain ways. The clandestine affair of Daphne and Cecil – bit also the inappropriate (based on time period) love and admiration that Cecil and George Sawle – Daphne’s older brother, studying at Cambridge, where he met Cecil, and who acquaints both Cecil and Daphne together. This begins a long affair of time, and disappointment, and how two families had begun to merge in and out of each other like two streams, or rivers overlapping each other, later down the line; only to fall out once again, and go their own directions. However they remain close to each other, whether or not they care for the company or not.

With Cecil’s death, both Daphne and George Sawle had moved on. George married a woman – though it would be appropriate to see the marriage as dull, listless, and more of a business partnership in their academic careers; while Daphne married Dudley Cecil’s brother, who was also in the war, and afterwards is noted for his eccentric parties, redecorating and refurnishing Corley Court, to his own mothers dismay, but he also noted for his fits of rage and uncontrollable anger.

From this marriage Daphne had two children and only two children, Corinna and Wilfred, both suffer their father’s uncontrollable rage, and his odd and sudden mood swings – just like their mother. It is in this time frame, that a admirer (and a man who had a secret loving eye for Cecil) decides to write a biography about the mediocre narcissistic poet, whose selfishness, and decadence has all been pushed aside, as the young poet is now placed up as an English War Poet, and a classic of that dark and troublesome time. All over his poem “Two Acres,” written for Daphne has become engrained in the English society. Cecil and Dudley’s mother can only use this to her dead son’s advantage, by getting a biographer in, she can then further push her son’s fame further. Immortalize him. However, she will of course censor anything that may damage her martyr of a son. Including any notion of his overtly sexual affairs – male or female.

Moving along then, one comes to meet the shady, somewhat of a cretin really in his later literary pursuits, among other things. But as we first meet, the young man, Paul, who works in a bank. He has a huge infatuation on a fellow co-worker. He works under Corinna (now an adult, also a strict and unsympathetic pianist) is married to Paul’s boss. This is the first time, which Paul comes into contact with Daphne as well as his one time lover Peter. So begins the latter half of the book, and what would slowly and surely be the disappointment and demise of all the characters in one way or another. Family secrets – old and new; come into light. It all ends miserably.

The passage of time however shows itself with each new part of the novel. Each new scene, each new act – the passage becomes clearer, in the deaths and the ageing of the character. What becomes clearer than anything else, throughout the novel, is it is more than just about the decline of the characters; it shows the decline of The Great British Empire.

However, at times, the novel would feel more, genuine at times, if it wasn’t for all the gay characters, from Cecil Valance (who though seems more interested in having sex more or less all the time with either gender) to Hubert Sawle, a minor character – and by minor very minor; to everyone in between. It is a realization that Alan Hollinghurst, is a homosexual, and often classified, as a “gay writer,” however with “The Strangers Child,” Alan Hollinghurst has proven himself to be something of a bit more than just a “gay writer,” – he has shown his real talents, at being a novelist tracing the multi-generational tale of two families, and their complicated histories. However part of Alan Hollinghurst cannot break that tie, or break that entire identity of being just a “gay writer,” be he has shown himself to be something greater, with this novel, and hopefully in a few more years – he is not known for his productivity; that he will once again give another book, that will further show his talents as a writer.

Another peculiar moment of this book is just the ending, when Hubert’s letters to his friend and lover Harry, are discovered, and are read, and then are just ended there, as if nonchalantly then it becomes somewhat, of an odd note to leave off on.

Yet to leave with just that end would also be an odd place to just leave a blog. In retrospect Alan Hollinghurst may have started off, as just a “gay writer,” and in fact, homosexuality as a whole is a large part of his book. However, with this novel Alan Hollinghurst has moved past that, and is continuing to show his maturation, as a writer.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

Thursday 15 December 2011

In Literary News

Hello Gentle Reader

Part I

It shall (and should not) come to anyone’s surprise that literature now days is no longer what it used to be. There are those that do take up the mantel and hold up the flame, and do not wish to let what good literature die, but even their attempts at maintaining the pristine mantel at times appears worthless, and they themselves should let the mantel drop. However as long as there are people that read their work, and people to appreciate the work, then those people themselves can maintain the fact of keeping a strong hold on that mantel, and keeping literature firmly in this world. Maintain the fact that good literature can and always will succeed even in the harshest of conditions of the publishing world. Authors like Roberto Bolaño, David Mitchell, and Haruki Murakami have kept the torch alive; yet even before them Dame A.S. Byatt, Margaret Atwood, Umberto Eco, Paul Auster, Allain Robbe-Grillet, Jack Kerouac and others had taken the mantle from their predecessors of the earlier modernist period; authors such as Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Joseph Conrad, Knut Hamsun, and the last modernist and first postmodernist Samuel Beckett. Yet in today’s day and age, with a rising amount of people flocking to “young adult,” literature – including middle-aged adults, it’s becoming apparent that people do not want literary merit, and literature. They want fluff. Something that’ll make them feel good. Watching it on a day to day basis causes great ill in my stomach. The fact of the matter is I work at a bookstore and must help this people. I must show them where their beloved “young adult,” fiction is – which is more or less, soft-core porn in their sexual explorations, mildly violent in any action at all, and horribly written. No sense of literary merit could be sifted through that junk. My opinion is, if you are going to put down a sexual scene, or you are going to put down that eroticism guessing game, you have to do a better job than stating – “When his (or her) skin touched mine, it was like a grass fire dancing all over my body.” Surely there is something a bit more poetic, and sensual then that? Surely something could be changed, reworded, even added, to have changed something of childish giddiness in the sense of sexual discussion, to being something better. If one is not going to do it at least half ass right, then they should not even attempt to or bother to do it at all. Now days the lament of literature falling down the drain in favour of novels more plot driven, and more action paced, and plot oriented has left literature to be something of a secret treasure to be more or less held in the hands of those that go out seeking it.

The Guardian a United Kingdom news paper had brought this problem to the attention many of the reading public’s attention with their article: “Has plot driven out other kinds of story?” Which brings the question to many people’s attention. Yet could this be also another reaction against the Booker Prize this year with its exclamation that readability is more important then experimentation – or whatever it was; has got many people in the literary world, feathers ruffled. When the world today is more interested in books, to books to film, and long winded book stories – usually in the young adult fiction; literature has become well almost obsolete. Yet there is hope, as it had already been stated. Though it is still somewhat of a small sliver of hope. The golden age of authors, who had shown the human condition to its extreme, have since died away, or become disillusioned in their attempts to awaken the masses, and try to help them see the truth in their works. Their complete understanding of the human condition. Yet the general reading public looks down upon such things, as difficult, or not entertaining and too hard. They do not see the true nature though in it all. The true nature of it all is this fact, which throughout its complications and difficult reading, just shows how dumb downed people have become through the ages, and years that have passed by. No longer up for a challenge, but rather feeling entitled to have everything shown to them, and given to them as they please. People have become so self-absorbed and lazy in such their nature that any concept of a challenge is just ridiculous. So that’s what they wish for. Fluff, books that have no more weight than balls of dust, or the lint from the dryer. Not even two dimensional characters – just cliché cardboard cut outs, trendy plot lines (zombie apocalypse, vampire love story, or near future barbaric landscape, where people show their underbelly and secret desires for carnage). It is all just hideous. Quite frankly a change in style of writing, being a being difficult, it never hurts anyone; and some people just need to learn to accept a challenge now and then. Look into the human condition; see the different perspectives of the human mind, look past the ham and tomatoes, and be courageous and open up for a new experience. But of course people just want to read fluff.

Speaking highly of Virginia Woolf, has its definite positives and negatives. For one, Virginia Woolf had excellent use of the English language – her diction was impeccable. Her style and bold new ventures into the consciousness of the characters was an incredible and bold journey. However it appears that for the life of her, Virginia Woolf never was a good story teller. Her scholarly and literary talent, of experimental venturing had driven out any aspect of telling a story. Yet she still remains a great author, and though she pushed fiction to its breaking point, and for that as a reader I am truly grateful for it. Though part of me cannot help but wonder if Virginia Woolf’s talent could have been put to better use with non-fiction before her death. But it is there, that we will never know.

Though the world today is far more interested in plot driven novels, there are still novels out there, which focus on the human mind, and the human condition itself. Those novels, become treasures in their own right, which can entertain and yet still provide insight. The world may be heading into the direction of plot driven over serious fiction, but as long as those few treasures remain, then the literary world is yet to be doomed to fall into its own self-indulgence, and to become a mediocre parody of its once former glory.

Part II

Stieg Larsson is a man known for his set of novels called the “Millennium Series.” Who could forget now with an English adaption of the film coming out “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” with Daniel Craig. However it shall be curious to see how much of it will have been changed, of the film in all, and to see if the original version will match with the original novels, rather than some twisted western perspective of what it should be, rather then what the author had it become. Yet the author’s life itself is what interests me here today. Stieg Larsson was known as a revolutionary socialist – specifically the Communist Worker League (Kommunistiska Arbetareförbundet.) In the year nineteen-seventy seven (or at least part of it) Stieg Larsson interestingly enough, spent some time in Eritrea, training a group of female Eritrean People's Liberation Front guerrillas in the use of how to use grenade launchers. After his return to Sweden, he worked for one of the largest news organizers in Sweden as a graphic designer. Stieg Larsson’s political convictions in this time however did not die in this time period or cease not become something of a main part of his life. His journalistic experience and political stand point led him to create the Swedish Expo Foundation, which is similar as the British Searchlight Foundation, a organization that had been established to: “counteract the growth of the extreme right and the white power-culture in schools and among young people.” In that same time period he became editor of the magazine that went had in hand with the Swedish Expo Foundation titled “Expo.” Yet even though Stieg Larsson had a day job, at night he became much like his main character in the Millennium Series “Lisbeth Salander,” and would head out at night doing investigations on far right extremism, and fascist activities. This lead too many death threats.

Stieg Larsson’s novels “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” and “The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,” were all published posthumously. However before the three novels that made him famous Stieg Larsson published a book of his research in to the far right titled “Extreme Right,” which led to many death threats. The Sweden Democrats was the party of most interest to Stieg Larsson, with their nationalism, social conservatism, and right wing populism. However Stieg Larsson died in two thousand and four from a heart attack, which many stated as suspicious. However those suspicious have been seen as ungrounded.

Stieg Larsson was a journalist. An investigative journalist, a man of action and an individual who danced to the beat of his own drum. He trained guerillas and investigated into fascist underworld, of the modern world. He turned his experience into a set of novels – though only three had been published so far – and may only remain as such. Yet Stieg Larson died, before seeing his novels published, and yet in his death had become somewhat of a literary icon in the crime world, selling millions of copies of books worldwide. Yet hopefully the author will be reminded of the acts and deeds he done, not just for his crime novels.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

The links for the articles are as follows:

For the article on Plot Driven novels over more Literary or Serious fiction see:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jul/14/plot-driven-out-other-kinds-story

For the article of Stieg Larsson’s time in Africa see:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/oct/15/stieg-girls-with-grenade-launchers

Saturday 10 December 2011

Its Unforunate But True

Hello Gentle Reader

It is unfortunate but true – due to unforeseen circumstances, and a nasty busy schedule with work, for the Christmas season, there will be no “Short Story Review,” this go around. Hopefully though in the New Year, we can have the month of Decembers “Short Story Review,” and continue from there. With unforeseen circumstances, and a busy schedule, and Christmas shopping demanding to be done – while fitting into work, it has become rather difficult to fit the “Short Story Review,” in such a small and limited amount of time, with so much on the go there is just no time though for “The Short Story Review,” this time of year. It is unfortunate but true. Though January should see it back and from there on out, and hopefully from there on out, it will precede as normal. I do apologize my Dear Gentle Reader, if this causes any inconvenience to you at all – it is most certainly not my intention I assure you that. Please with the Christmas season coming, enjoy a hot cup of coco or eggnog, watch some Christmas specials, and relax by the fire, and think of the enjoyment you will get on Christmas day when everyone opens up gifts and is happy to see it. Feel that warmth grow in your heart. Or if you are like me, and find the Christmas season to be rather divisive, then hold on to your chair and get ready for a bumpy ride. It’ll be over soon enough. But when Christmas does come, the chaos that is surrounding us now will pass, and there one can enjoy the company of family and friends alike.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

Thursday 8 December 2011

My Name Is Red

Hello Gentle Reader

One moment a philosophical puzzle, and a debate about art. In another it is a murder mystery and love story. Another time it is smaller stories orbiting larger stories. Much like the Nobel Laureates in Literature earlier novel “The Black Book,” – “My Name Is Red,” is written in a varied style. Layered upon narration and narration, different perspectives and in a sense become style – which is ironic at times (but that’ll be explained later). Many consider “My Name Is Red,” to be the Nobel Laureate in Literature of two thousand and six his best book. It is by all accounts a great and wonderful book. Its character, flexibilities and extreme faults, not to mention emotional responses, and their fitting fears and subtle uncertainty in the time period all give way to a splendid story.

“My Name Is Read,” won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in two thousand and three – three years before Orhan Pamuk was to be bestowed with the honour of being a Nobel Laureate in Literature; in which case his work would then become on par with authors like Naguib Mahfouz, Yasunari Kawabata, J.M. Coetzee, Camilo Jose Cela, Albert Camus, and so many others.

Here are some interesting tid bits of information, that one should know about this book, and the author who wrote this book. One Orhan and Shevket – are the names of Orhan Pamuk and his brother Shevket. Orhan Pamuk from the ages of seven to twenty two, wanted to be a painter – this desire was never filled; however his shift from wanting to be an artist to a writer, has be met with some very positive reinforcement, and his talent is wonderful and has been praised. His experimentation in his plot and narration is both a breath of fresh air, but also quite frankly comprehendible and traversable. With “My Name Is Red,” Orhan Pamuk in many ways has been able to combined his to passions of the literary and art world together here, with his story of murder and the power of art, and the philosophical puzzle of the Islamic religion; but Orhan Pamuk has also been able to use the folk tales and countless stories of the Islamic world, to his advantage in this book. Each story becomes more of a parable. Each story bleeds into each other. Which then creates repetitious metaphors for the book – where Shirin falls in love with Husrev upon looking at his picture – I cannot say how many times I read that same passage throughout this book. Each of those folktales or stories, add something more to the text of the book. Just like the history and stories of Istanbul in “The Black Book.”

These stories, within stories. Fables, and parables, which become mirror like metaphors to the current situation befalling the characters. The complexities of the prose. The dexterity characters, shifting to the events, made this a wonderful book. However secretly I confess that I enjoyed “The Black Book,” a bit more.

“My Name Is Red,” is the postmodern influence on Orhan Pamuk showing at its most extreme. Narrations from different characters – a corpse, a ghost – a dog, a gold coin, a tree, death and even Satan comes to make an appearance (though it becomes apparent after a while that these are not what they first appear). Though for a person just looking at the book, at a bookstore, this would all be slightly unpleasing even a bit worrisome.
However with patience and time, the novel unfolds to reveal itself, like an origami paper sculptor to reveal that even though it at one point was a crane, is not nothing more than a piece of a paper. Which is the same with Orhan Pamuk’s novel “My Name Is Red,” though a complex novel, of love, religion, art, history, and writing – not to mention countless tales told and retold, the political atmosphere – the constant superstitions racing throughout the crowded streets, Jinn’s surely smiling in the flames of oil lamps. Demons crouched in snow banks, willing to tempt the weak hearted and those of no faith. Tortures, who delicately take great care of their instruments, and yet do not yield to the suffering of their victims – in the end, every scene, every puzzle, every bit of narration, it all unfolds like the paper statue to reveal itself to be nothing more than a book – and most important a story.

With so many narrators – and therefore characters; Esther would most likely be my favourite. The cunning little Jewess, with her battles with the little blind beggar and her desire for happiness for all her little marriageable maidens; made for an interesting character. She never took sides – though there was always more than just two sides, in this novel, and therefore, Esther could have very well had her own side, that she herself chose, and even have been the only one to have sided on that side. Which can adequately be seen, how she plays both Hasan and Black with the feelings of Shekure – though Shekure herself; though a little bit emotionally unstable if one asks me, her emotional well being is never truly figured out. When she loves Black she desires Hasan. When she fears Hasan she seeks protection warmth and safety from Black. Truly a complex character, but emotionally as stable as a volcano going through menopause.

Then there is Black. A clerk, who’s traveled throughout Persia, who at the age of twenty four fell in love with the twelve year old Shekure. Quite frankly the story relayed throughout the novel about the story of Shirin, who sets eyes on the picture of Hursev and fell in love with it, often can be said to be the kind of love struck story that both Shekure and Black find themselves in. But Shekure is married to a soldier who is lost at war, and is bound never to return. The younger brother of her husband, loves Shekure – but his love can only be showed by admitting his dominance over her, in everywhere shape or form. By his standard and ideals, it could easily be stated, that Hasan can only love something that fears him, and desire something that willingly obeys him by that fear not because it loves him.

Enishte Effendi and the four miniaturists – Stork (Mustafa), Olive (Velijan), Butterfly (Hasan Chelebi), and Elegant Effendi, are also part of this tale. Elegant Effendi is in fact the first character that anyone who picks up this book will be introduced to. He is the murdered. The pathetic, and cowardly little miniaturist, who first had the feeling that he was doing was going to damn him for all eternity. Stork is the most talented of the miniaturists, but also for the most part, but also the most arrogant. Olive is the one most heavily influenced by the old masters. Butterfly is the one who uses colour expectedly. Enishte Effendi is the one who first has decided to use the infidel (the words of the characters) Frank style of ‘perception,’ over how the paintings were originally done as if to look at the world as the way “Allah,” or God does; however Enishte Effendi wishes to show case the individual characteristics of the world; and is in charge of the secret book which is tearing apart the foundations of the literary and art world of sixteenth century Istanbul. Master Osman is Enishte Effendi complete opposite. Rather than fall into the desire to paint like the Franks, Master Osman believes in sticking strictly with the old ways of the Chinese, and the other great masters – especially the masters like Bihzad. There is also Nusret Hoja the Islamic puritan, and extreme preacher, who is against coffee, painting, coffeehouses, stories and anything that one could maybe find pleasurable.

There are however still some parts of the novel, that I have failed to connect the dots on. Who is Alaf, Ba, Djim – or what are they. The other part is how many does or years do the course of these events take place? At first, it appeared logical thought it must have taken place through one year. But it becomes more apparent that it happened solely in the winter months. Not to mention that it took three days for Master Osman and Black to discover the murder. Among other moments. Though they all add up to a degree, there is still a sense that there is no set time period, beyond the fact that it is taken place during the reign of Sultan Murad III, of the Ottoman Empire, in the sixteenth century. That being said the rule of Murad III was from fifteen-seventy four until fifteen-ninety five, so the action takes place somewhere in the regaining period of the Sultan’s life, probably near the end of his life and reign. It is also noted that Mehmed III the successor of Murad III, was less generous in his patronage of the arts, and therefore the time of the miniaturists that was witnessed in the novel “My Name Is Red,” comes to somewhat of an end, under the conservative rule of Mehmed III – it can be theorized that depicting or painting living things, was an immoral rivalry towards God – which is often a fierce debate by the miniaturists themselves.

The judges of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award had said the following about the two thousand and three book winner:
“Intelligent, witty and stylish this novel transports the reader to a world both rich and strange. Like the miniature paintings which are at the heart of the book, “My Name Is Red,” is intricate and complex.
A murder mystery in which nature and art mirror one another, it is clear once the reader reaches the last page that red is the colour of ambiguity. Timeless and timely, this byzantine mystery explores an earlier world that remains deeply influential even today. Pamuk's writing is as elegant and multi-faceted as the story he narrates.”
The Swedish Academy had also praised Orhan Pamuk in their reason for him to get the Nobel Prize for Literature. They praised his work for “[who] in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.” This can be seen in this novel with the traditions of miniaturists and their work, being jeopardized by the new forms of painting of the Franks.

Modern day Turkey, is the center between the great divide of the West and the East. It is difficult to find a common ground, which this book surely discusses, at various moments. While some embrace the news, others shun it as blasphemy. Some worry about the creation, competing with the great creator of God, which is by all means a great sin. It is a strange novel. A complex, philosophical piece of speculation, but also it is a romping good time, of entertainment and complexities.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

Friday 2 December 2011

The New Look

Hello Gentle Reader,

Not sure what to say about this new look. Its more of an aesthetic change, more the anything else. It appears to work on many leaves to be honest with you, and at other times the aesthetic choice of the entire concept, does not always pull through entirely. In fact it almost at times feels more complicated then the last, template, which was being used for the past few years. However, in all it'll stay for now. It allows for some interesting aesthetic choice, and looks more updated and less simplistic. The header however doesn't really have the same effect as it did. The title and underlying blurb stay to one side rather than being centered, as it is most preferred by me. There is also a drawing/sketch of a bird skull as well on the blog, it doesn't fit entirely into the box as it was most often or not, hoped for. However though for now, it’s aesthetically pleasing -- though at times, ridiculously complicated to manoeuvre about, not to mention finicky in its editing. However in all, it'll stay. I also hope though Gentle Reader that you as well, enjoy the new look.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M.Mary

Thursday 1 December 2011

The War of the End of the World

Hello Gentle Reader

Eschatology is a new word for me. Never before have I read it, or heard of it. Then again, to discuss to the entire philosophical and theological debates about the entire concept of “Eschatology,” in a rather casual situation is not the most realistic idea – that is figuratively. In today’s world the entire concept of eschatology – though that word is not once used; is spoken of and used like other simple parts of a conversation: “how was your day?” “what happened at work today?” “how are the kids?” – Now it is socially acceptable and common to simply mention the world is going to end. Just the other day someone had mentioned to me, that the world was going to end on November Eleventh of two thousand and eleven. When it also commonly believed or accepted – dare I say, hoped upon; that December twenty first of two thousand and eleven the world is going to end. Does that mean I have to do my Christmas shopping still or should I just forget all about it? Then of course May twenty first of two thousand and eleven was also publicly stated to be the end of all times! It was the rapture! Judgement would befall all those deserving of it! The world was going to be engulfed in shadows; lava would engulf the ocean’s and sea’s in a storm of steam; fire and brimstone would rain down upon the world; angels would fly over the heavens with swords of fire; the sky and the clouds would turn blood run; and the souls of the righteous and pure would be engulfed and accepted into heaven. Well the rest of us rift raft would be sent to hell. This is the human races final destiny – or so it is commonly believed. The fatalists of the world – once again dare I say it; eagerly await the end of the world. The terrible times of the apocalypse. Yet each time they eagerly fall into a trap of trying to fulfill their own prophecies they fail. Jones town for one. The years of: 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994 (you get the picture) have been predicted to be the end of the world by the Jehovah Witnesses. Hailey’s comment of nineteen ten anyone? How about the year nineteen-nineteen, when a meteorologist, predicted the end of the world by planetary conjunction and magnetic force of the planets, would upset the sun, and the flames from the gas of the sun would engulf the earth. Then there was the Jupiter Effect, that came out in nineteen-seventy four, and predicted that some major problems may happen in nineteen eighty two. Who could forget the Heavens Gate Cult? Then of course there was the Y2K scare. There one has it. The end of the world, predictions, and there will be more coming. The earthquakes of Hati, Japan (followed by the tsunami) the 7.2 earthquake that hit Turkey on October twenty third followed by the 6.0 aftershock; on September ninth a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit the Campbell river; in July of two thousand and eleven a 7.6 earthquake hit New Zealand.

Do those natural occurrences help shape the belief that the final destination of the human race, is upon us all? For some they do. But earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, snowstorms, and hurricanes – these are natural occurring matters. No one can say that there are divine powers above any one person, or all of the human race, making these horrible occurrences happen. But for the devote; and those that believe that it is just a fundamental and absolute belief that it must be obeyed, and adorned that the entire concept of the event of the end of the world, must be worshipped and separate of the holiness of god him or herself or itself.

“The War of the End of the World,” is the novelization of a historical event called the War of Canudos. This is probably the first time, that on a personal note, that I have ever read a historical chronicle. Especially one pertaining to Brazil. This makes for a unique and interesting but also difficult experience for me to both as person with no real concept of the landscape of Brazil, or even the history of nineteenth century Brazil, not to mention any historical figure that could have been named, or dropped so commonly would have to be dealt with in a fictitious manner. It should also be noted that the trade paperback in which I bought this book by the two thousand and ten Nobel Laureate in Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, was poor and quite frankly I do not think it closely measured up to the content that the book was written for and with. Quite frankly even though Helen Lane was (apparently) a renowned translator of: Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian, the translation of this book by the Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, was less than adequate and below mediocre. It was a horrible translation, compared to other translated works that I have read. Compared to Edward G. Seidensticker who translated “Snow Country,” by fellow Nobel Laureate in Literature Yasunari Kawabata Helen Lane, Helen Lane just is unable to really grasp how translate the work in my opinion for readers. When Edward G. Seidensticker translated “Snow Country,” any odd word or cultural difference between the original text Edward would then place a asterisk (which is a: *) by the word and then leave a footnote explaining what it is. For example:

“The geisha began to remove her *Kimono. First though she would remove her elegantly decorated and patterned *Obi.” – At the bottom of the page where those two asterisk words had taken place, the translator (in this case Edward G. Seidensticker) would explain that a Kimono is a unisex piece of clothing – resembling a robe; and are part of the traditional Japanese dress. The Obi is the sash, which is worn around the Kimono. Such grace and kindness is not offered in this novel. Words such as “capanagas,” and “jagunços,” among other words that I grew fed up with decided not to even bother to write down. More or less jagunços are a form of armed and hired body guard, which were hired in the backlands of North East Brazil. Capanagas which is the plural word of capanaga which is basically translated to this purpose as a bodyguard. Why did Helen Lane, not simply do that? Why did she not use either the English counterpart in this translation or at least enlighten and share her knowledge of what the words mean, and make for a better understanding of the text. However she herself, did not do so, which lead to great frustrations and anger with me reading this text, which lead for me to feel that the full potential of this novel, is never really shown, based in part of the laziness, or ineptitude of the translation done by this translator. Frankly when translating works into English, it is always good to remind oneself, which the translation is just as important as the text one is reading.

When Peter Englund was interviewed, on why Mario Vargas Llosa was chosen for receiving and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, he mentioned that Mario Vargas Llosa, was a man who did not just write novels, he was in search of the “total novel.” This – also a first for me personally; was an interesting tid-bit to my ears. I am still not sure exactly what the “total novel,” means but in this case it could be easy to say that: Nobel Laureate in Literature of two thousand and ten, Mario Vargas Llosa, uses literary techniques to write about a mirror image of the world around and history. At times the citation by the Swedish Academy to give the Nobel Prize for Literature, to Mario Vargas Llosa, ran through my head a couple of times while reading this novel:

“For his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat”.
At times, its look pretty clear, that this book easily summed up why he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, based on his cartography of the individual’s revolt, but also its consequent defeat.

There were a lot of characters in this book as well. But sometimes their names, bled together in my memory. Such as the case with characters like João Grande (Big João) and João Abade (Abbot João) and just to make myself sound really dumb and ignorant – but in my defense maybe it was the translation – I thought Big João was Satan João who later turned into Abbot João. Not to mention that the Counselor (or as was another reader had called him Conselheiro which basically means advisor in English) was actually Father Joaquim. Then Antônio el Fogueteiro, and Antônio Vilanova confused me as well.

This all made for a sometimes confusing and frustrating read. To the point where I got so angry and fed up with it, that I contemplated taking it back to the bookstore. It just felt like one of those books that I had read, and had failed miserably at – much like an attempt at “Summersault,” by Kenzaburō Ōe Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-ninety four; and still remain bitter and jaded over, still unsure and wary of reading a book by Kenzaburō Ōe whose books seemed more self-centered and personal, rather than a constant changing overview of his work.

Even though the characters, most of the time, bled into each other, when I recognized them there was a sense truly, that the characters in this book were varied and complex – representing the varying complex souls of the individual. Though I could only grasp this at times. When I couldn’t my eyes clouded over with a bitter anger.

Another fair point would have been a timeline – some chronology, map of the area and an index and a referral text for readers who do not have command over the language in order to better understand what has been written and wrote.

In my opinion, Mario Vargas Llosa, is a writer not of small details, but a writer of large ideas. He wrote a momentous piece of work; a historical chronicle that I am sure would pay off with some tweaking, and some better translation and in the end, would make for a much more substantial read in order for the reader to actually ‘grasp,’ what is/was happening. However it was an interesting book. Full of politics, full of war, and a description of what the back lands of Brazil was about, and the survival of human beings, the complexity of human nature, the devotion and desire for something better, repentance, and so on and so forth, all leaves a lasting impression. Truly a great novel by a Nobel Prize winning Novelists, however I would say as of right now, that take the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy’s recommendation and become initiated and involved with Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa through his work “The Feast of the Goat.” – Or find a better translation.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

Thursday 24 November 2011

The Short Story Review No. VIII

“Too Much Happiness,” by Alice Munro – From “Too Much Happiness,” by Alice Munro.

This is the last story by Alice Munro from her collection of stories “Too Much Happiness.” Those of you who have read this particular collection you will notice two stories missing. Those stories are “Face,” and “Wood.” Both of those stories were skipped because they did not have the same zest and energy that all of other Alice Munro stories had. “Too Much Happiness,” the final story of this collection with the same name, is perhaps and arguably the best story of this collection. It deals specifically with the mathematician Sophia Kovalevsky, a major female mathematician in the late nineteenth century.

In the beginning of her career, she was called one of the last great regionalists of her time. The great regionalist that come along with Alice Munro, made me think of William Faulkner, Robert Frost, Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Anton Chekhov, even James Joyce. Alice Munro was seen as the last of the great tradition. But that tradition whether one wants to admit it or recognize it, does continue, if one does wish to look around and see it.

When talking about writing and literature, with someone before – who had taken a creative writing course, many years ago; he told me that his creative writing professor had told him to write, about what he knew. “It doesn’t matter,” he said “if it’s your mother washing dishes. Write about it.” When I was told of this, this man went on to tell me that at first he was a bit confused why his professor had told him that. There is nothing exciting about writing about someone who has their hands slipped in rubber gloves because the water is so scalding hot; holding a pink sponge running it over the dishes, with a domestic bliss on their face. However after he had let it sink in long enough he realized what his professor was trying to tell him. His professor was trying to tell him, that he should write about what he knew. He understood that he wanted to write about dragons and elves and action, and all that; but he first and foremost needed to understand to write about something that he needed to know. He needed to grasp that feel of authenticity. Writing about his mother doing the dishes, or his father, smoking a pipe as he wood carved, or writing about something he knew, he would be able to experience and grasp that authenticity.

There are moments upon moments of authenticity, in much of Alice Munro’s work. There are those moments of, of an atmosphere and a mood. An emotion that has been grasped, and placed in a cage; it sings like a little song bird. The same tune of that emotion runs throughout Alice Munro’s stories. Though the emotion may be different it certainly something that one can bet on, when reading one of her stories. That there is something profoundly human to her work, and yet profoundly quite off. Something distant – I suppose the metaphor of the emotion in the cage comes to mind. It cannot be stolen, or touched. The bars are its imprisonment and its safety net from our greedy hands.

“Too Much Happiness,” is just a wonderfully interesting story by Alice Munro. Many critics and reviewers have asked themselves, if Alice Munro is just a short story writer, or if she is a writer, whose stories are equally matched to the novel. It is difficult to say. Though “Too Much Happiness,” certainly brings up the question. It is a long short story – even close to being a novella. However it is best to read as if it is a short story.

It is sometimes a dizzying read. The name dropping. The ever feeling of shifting places – and the present mixed with the past memories, always are changing. Alice Munro however had captured, Sophia Kovalevsky, like a wounded bird, and exposes her troublesome and turbulent life. The shifting political atmosphere in Russia – communism is certainly something talked about; there is Jaclard’s imprisonment, and Vladimir saving him, through bribery. Though Jaclard does not even mention thank-you to Vladimir in his retelling of the story, nor does he repay him. He is just an arrogant man, who speaks only of his own bravery. Though that same arrogance has landed him and his son in his current situation. Urey – Jaclard’s son; is the same way. Thin, poor, and arrogant; his living situation has caused him to grow bitter. There is the fall out of Vladimir and herself, and her new love Maxism, who appears to be a bit of a cold fish, but entices love in Sophia somehow. Aniuta, Sophia’s sister is far, far, far more of a tragic figure at times. Her love for her husband Jaclard was miserable failure, as was her hatred of him, because she loved him. She had a love for the medieval period, and was prone to political outburst. Though she was overshadowed by her mathematical genius of her sister. Everything of this long story appears somewhat challenging. Because she was a woman, Sophia needed permission from her parents or husband (that’s when Vladimir comes into play) to study abroad. She became the first woman, to teach at a university.

Moving through different time frames, but always focusing on the sole subject of Sophia Alice Munro had, created an interesting ode to Anton Chekhov at times – of course with her own twists. Sophia – though a real historical figure; almost becomes an Alice Munro character in her own right. She has relationship problems, is willing to stand up to authority when it, itself is being unjust, inner conflicts, and a sense of trying to find something – whatever that might be.

It is a profoundly interesting read. Taken away from that regionalist view and thrown into the European world, of the nineteenth century it is a profoundly interesting piece of work. Surely for my first stint with Alice Munro it is my favourite. She laments, and remember the tragic and yet strong headed mathematician who seemed a bit more human than what I had expected a story about a mathematician, who spends their time with numbers, and calculations and yet still retains a sense of social interest, not to mention she is both an interesting woman and a compelling character. By all means she is not a flat or dull woman at all. But a compelling human being, which Alice Munro had grasped perfectly.

With the end of the Alice Munro it is time to find a new female author. Though there are very little choices, who write in the short story form, and are from a different country then an, English speaking place. Though colonial is alright – just not Canada, at the moment. For now though the only female short story author that one can have for now will be the American Amy Hempel. The Greek writer Ersi Sotiropoulos, is certainly being considered, as is Nobel Laureate in Literature Herta Müller with her debut collection of stories “Nadirs,” if anyone has authors from around the world, whose work has been translated into English and is in short story format, and is female, please your suggestions are more than welcome.
________________________________________________

“The Saint and the Goblin,” by Saki (H.H. Munro) – From “The Complete Saki,” by Saki – Section “Reginald in Russia.”

I am currently reading “The Strangers Child,” by Alan Hollinghurst, who this year was on the long list of the Booker Prize. Hollinghurts, is also a previous winner of the Booker prize, back in two thousand and four, for his novel “The Line of Beauty.” Now of course this review is not about Alan Hollinghurst, but the first bit of this novel – at least so far; is certainly dealing with the golden afternoon that Saki goes on and explains. The novel, much like Saki’s stories (so far) have dealt, with the leisure and languor, which the residents of this time period had dealt with. Thinking of it – especially that dinner part in the novel, there was that certain sense of that same dinner party that Virginia Woolf had written about in her novel “To The Lighthouse.” In fact all three of these authors – Saki, Virginia Woolf, as well as Alan Hollinghurst, have captured the languor and leisure of the era quite well. That is the reason why I had decided to mention Alan Hollinghurst’s new novel, because he much like Saki captures that dry time. The time of dinner parties, servants, a still intact class system, but also that general apathy or enjoyment of drowning in the peace and quiet of the time, but the unsettling thought of war with the German Kaiser, which would soon be known as The Great War – or World War I.

It has been a while since we last saw Reginald. His attempts at destroying and causing chaos at a garden party, appeared to be his goal. His friend, who had gone to the garden party to find his (now celibate) cat Wumples a partner, had since failed miserably, because of dear old Reginald, and his destructive attempts at making a mockery of the party, as well as teach his friend a valuable lesson, in both making someone do what they do not want to, and also the consequences – or reaction to the action; of being selfish – or at least having an ulterior motive.

Now according to the section of this complete collection of Saki’s work (it is not just limited to his short stories – there are also plays and novels) we find Reginald in Russia. This particular story though does not actually deal with Reginald personally. In fact Reginald himself and his miscreant behaviour does not even make an appearance.

“The Saint and the Goblin,” by Saki (H.H. Munro) is like the following story by Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-sixty eight, it reads more like a fable, then it does a story of memory, or vignette focusing primarily on atmosphere. There is not one emotion, which is being exploited, and taken for granted. There is nothing like that. It reads just like a fable. A short story that has a moral lesson – or tries to teach something. But neither Saki no Yasunari Kawabata are teaching anything. Well maybe Saki is. The reason I say that is at the very last page, on the very last few lines, there is just that moment of understanding. In fact the way this story ended reminded one more of a how Italo Calvino stories – except the humour. Sometimes Saki’s humour is a lot lost on me. His first story that I had ever read, which was expertly called “Reginald,” was well done, and even humours – only because someone named their cat Wumples, made me want to roll around and laugh. Just picturing someone calling their cat Wumples, with a straight face always made me laugh.

But with this story of Saint and a Goblin, ends on a note – a sour moral note, or a note where the moral, and the reality of the situation are forced to be met, head on in a collision. The best intentions sometimes are always going against the larger scale or the design of how things are meant to be. It is almost as if Saki (with the use of the Saint and the Goblin as symbols) is mocking philanthropy and the concept that some people are just born better than others, and that some people’s duty is to be poor and to suffer. It is almost a chilling thought. Saki was born and grew up in a Imperial English Colony – Burma; one would have thought, that the culture shock of Burma and jolly ol’ England, would have been quite the shock to where Saki had come from, and that, it was the inspiration of his acidic tongue, and sour pen – but maybe even though he did grow up on a British Colony he still had some old, feudal society or be it, some old imperial thoughts ingrained in his head. Which lead to the uncertainty in to which way one should take what he is stating with this story.
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“The Hat Incident,” by Yasunari Kawabata Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-sixty eight – From “The Palm-of-The-Hand: Stores”

This is not Yasunari Kawabata’s (The Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-sixty eight) best story but it is certainly one of his most interesting stories, and shows his versatility. “The Hat Incident,” reads to a degree somewhat like an adult fairy tale or fable rather than the classic Yasunari Kawabata story.

The classic Yasunari Kawabata story does not focus on plot, story, or even characters at times. Yes there are all three, of those elements in his story but they are not necessarily the main or sole focus of the story. The main focus of the story is the atmosphere and the emotions of the characters. Memory, emotion and atmosphere come and bring the classic story of Yasunari Kawabata’s stories to life.

His gems of his work, with the poetic lines. The use of metaphor, that brings the imagery of the Japan that Yasunari Kawabata laments and the clash of western modernization with the eastern traditions of Japan in conflict, makes his work grand and beautiful. The real genius and literary significance of Yasunari Kawabata’s work, is his ability to probe the psychological mind of his characters. This allows for the real conflict of western modernization and the traditions and way of life of the East, to be all that more significance, by focusing on the individual who experiences these conflicts.

“The Hat Incident,” is a fairy tale folk tale, which Yasunari Kawabata uses to probe the Japanese culture, with the mythical little goblin of the Kappa, and how it is both at trickster. I personally can remember my first stint with finding out what a Kappa was. I can’t remember how old I and the little companion who was with me – most likely a school mate. We were on a farther section of the library, on the other side of the stairs. There were quite a few shelves back there. Some shelves of books that I can’t even remember, and other books. There was some classics for children – “Moby Dick,” by Herman Melville, “Oliver Twist,” by Charles Dickens, and other books in the same vain. I remember this because when I was younger I owned one just like them, from my grandmother only mine was “White Fang.”

This school friend or whoever it was, we went searching back there. There we found a flimsy relatively new paperback book, about all these mythical creatures. We flipped through the illustrated book, of dragons, and goblins and what not. Then we came across a photo of a little webbed foot, hollow headed, monkey faced, turtle shell creature that was called a Kappa.

This same creature is now what has crawled into Yasunari Kawabata’s “Palm-Of-The-Hand stories,” and it is here Yasunari Kawabata gives a somewhat lighter tone to the creature that the frightful creature I remember, as a child, of a little goblin with an unquenchable taste for blood and cucumbers. Even though it was, a mythical and non-existent creature, I could never forget the creature, and wonder if a Kappa was lurking in the river where I was by; or the lake we sometimes camped at in the summer; and sometimes imagined the ugly monkey faced creature with the hollow skulled head coming up from the depths of the water.
With Yasunari Kawabata’s story about the incident of a hat, and a bridge, and the river below, the Kappa is no longer a monkey faced horrifying creature, but a malevolent little trickster who did harm out for its own amusement. Not at all a malicious creature.

It is certainly a folk tale or legend that Yasunari Kawabata has come to change into his own story, about a kappa. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa the grandfather and master of the Japanese short story who died tragically at a young age, because of his fears and the fears of the mental illness, he decided to kill himself, wrote a novel (I think it’s his only novel as well) titled “Kappa,” and he also gives a satirical look at the Kappa.

The Kappa for me now, is a symbol of Japanese society. Not a horrifying monster, but a trickster and satirist, not a mean malicious beast, that had come from my childhood; but now just as a folktale little goblin who plays mean tricks, for its own entertainment.
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“Blacamán the Good, Vendor of Miracles,” by Gabriel García Márquez the Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-eighty two – From “Leaf Storm: and Other Stories.”

There is certainly something about this story, which seemed off. A darker sense of irony. A bitter use of sarcasm perhaps. In the end this short story left me disillusioned, in its simple matter of fact way of speaking. The way that the narrator’s cold observations or recollection of memories were simply what they were. The inhumanity of humanity, or the individual human, was just unsettling. It’s disturbing at times. But it becomes disturbing because of how it is told. But it is told, to be very key of how the story must go. How the narrator expressed, the events of the story is key. How it simply was written in a cold dethatched view makes the story understand that the entire writing of writing magical realism; where the fantastic and the reality and normal, simply collide to be banal and seen as a simple occurrence. Which is the tale of ““Blacamán the Good, Vendor of Miracles,” where at one moment just a simple writing of life itself, where a young child, views a vendor in his flamboyant attire, proclaiming he can cure himself of snake poison.

What ensures is a grotesque spectacle indeed. Where a man runs out into the surrounding countryside, and catches a snake in a bottle. Poisonous as it is, the vendor Blacamán, opens up the bottle, and the serpent, sensing its freedom at hand, strikes out of the bottle, and bites the vendor. As it was described, what is next is a spectacle of the mere macabre. He begins to swell, and roll about. Turning about on the ground, he begins to swell. Where his rings are on his fingers, had purple, cutting of circulation. He just kept expanding like a hot air balloon, except he wasn’t rising. But the most disgusting part was the fact that the vendor rolled around on the ground laughing manically. Everyone could only stand around and watch both intrigue and in horror. Some waiting to see him to stop moving and dye; others hoping to see if his antidote for venomous poison would work; making their own trips in the back bush a lot easier, and less dangerous if they got bit by a snake or any venomous reptile or mammal according to the vendor.

Of course just as promised, the vendor survived his snake bite, and sure enough, just as the men and woman who had stood around gawked – and the mariners had taken pictures of the dying man, he came back from his death. People applauded him, and in no time, after his little disgusting demonstration, he had sold out.

This is when Blacamán is first introduced to the main character and narrator. Soon the main character/narrator admits or confesses to his dream of wanting to be a fortune-teller just like the vendor himself. The vendor appears curious and thinks about this long and hard, and interestedly enough, takes the main character/narrator as his apprentice. But this life, and the main characters dream of what he wanted, soon turned out to be nothing more than a miserable nightmare after a while. Though once again things change, for someone – for better or for worst. This is a cruel trick of irony to some, but this is where Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez allows his magical realism show, in all its hallucination and lucid dreams, that can happen – but it’s all spoken of in that banal, and simple way. Where the cold observations, are all spoken of in the same manner; the fantastic, does not become any more special than all the other writing details. It could even be said that the most common details are the most special and are regarded as something special or fantastic rather than the fantastic elements that are portrayed in this novel.

The best part of the lucid hallucination like dreams of the fantastic accepted with the normal can best be seen here:

“...drawing the fever out of malaria victims for two pesos, visioning blind men for four-fifty, draining the water from dropsy victims for eighteen...” and continues “The only thing I don’t do is revive the dead, because as soon as they open their eyes, they are murderous with rage at the one who disturbed their state, and when it’s all done, those who don’t commit suicide die again of disillusionment.”

Which takes us all back to the beginning of this blog, during the discussion of Blacamán the good and Blacamán the bad, and their extreme differences, and the question of a con man, and the questions of a man who truly is the miracle worker, who at one point was regarded as a saint. But the twist of irony, like a cruel crooked arthritic, finger changes everything in an instant – for better or for worst; but usually for worst. Which if one wishes to admit, is usually a poetic sense of justice.

Of course, there are very disturbing scenes in this short story. Which is all written about in the most dead pan expression, and none of it is gory or disgusting or trying to be over the top horror falling down on its face in a comedic way; it’s just written in that matter of fact way of writing. It’s disturbing, but it showcases, that irony and the humanity turning inhumane. All of it allows for pity and sympathy while others allows for a lot of disgust and anger.

In all an interesting story by a master story teller.
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“(Winter) The City Lost in the Snow,” by Italo Calvino – From “Marcovaldo or The Seasons in The City.”

Just the other day it had snowed here in the city and all around the place. The entire place was covered in snow. Not a lot but a good few inches of snow. Enough for the snow to be packed down by the car tires, the sanders to take to the road. Of course this also led to some serious issues and problems. Even with the snow visibly on the ground, people still drove around like it was summer. All one needed to do, is turn on the television, find the news, and they could simply hear the raging chaos that was taken over the roads. Everyone discussed minor collisions, and full scale collisions, where people were injured and taken to the hospital. Other such news could certainly have been heard, on the radio, and any other news station on the television. It appears to be the same common case every time the first snow falls. People do not take the proper precautions while driving and easily get themselves into accidents. Hearing that on the news, looking at it outside, and then of course shovelling it; winter for me is certainly here indeed. This has certainly made it fitting, to read a “winter,” seasoned story by Italo Calvino.

“Shovelling the snow off the sidewalk in front of the building is up to us. To you, that is.”

So were the words of poor old Marcovaldo’s boss, a miserable foreman. Those were sounded so familiar. Just the other day when the snow had hit the ground, parents – mothers and fathers; had informed their children that the snow would be more than happy to wait for them to shovel it, after school. All over my travels from the walk, one could hear people being told that the snow needed to be shovelled. Parks and recreations, grunt employees went out to shovel, some of the walking paths. The snow ploughs, busy ploughing the snow, men and women going to work grumbling about the snow on the windshields, and the frost that lay hidden underneath and needed to have been scrapped off.

Yet the site of the snow and the sky overhead, a pale white colour with tid-bits of grey slithering and mixing into the clouds. On the edges of the low large and over hanging cloud, one could make out the pale yellow colour in the distance, some blue but mostly some grey and hush minute pinks. The most predominate colour close to the cloud though was yellow, mixing in at the edges as white.

So Marcovaldo is forced to shovel the sidewalk because his boss demands it of him – even though the responsibility is the companies, but his boss could possibly not be bothered with that detail. It now becomes Marcovaldo’s problem, and therefore he must do it, for threat of the termination of his job, or the wraith of his foreman. But this task does not slow down or disappoint the positive and optimistic Marcovaldo. He works hard to get it all shovelled, and to impress his foreman and other bosses, so they’ll look at him as a hard worker. However in the end he makes the job for a lowly government employee shovelling the street and the two exchange information on how to shovel the snow properly. Marcovaldo learns to pack the snow at the edge of the street, so not to make the snow shovelling for the government employee shovelling the street any harder then it must be.

Then by the government employee shovelling and poor old Marcovaldo, shovelling they both meet the less then happy surprise of snow plough zipping past them, undoing their work, and leaving them with another long large mess of snow. Then poor Marcovaldo meets yet another unfortunate accident. Time after time, he finds himself in such sardonically ironic circumstances. Once can see Italo Calvino smiling at the trials and tribulations of Marcovaldo, who only wishes to do so much for himself and his family. A man who wishes to push past his uneducated low paying job as a unskilled general labour, and moving on to his way up in the world. Unfortunately for him he just can’t seem to get right the first time, or the second, third – or any time for that matter. His schemes, his attempts at doing what he hope sand thinks is right, end miserably for him, time after time, and he then must continue try again and again.

No matter how many times Marcovaldo falls down the social ladder, he is quick to try and scale it again and again, and improve his situation – both work and living, not to mention social standing of course; and once again he falls again. It doesn’t matter if Marcovaldo found some mushrooms growing out of the sidewalk, and then almost ends up getting himself and his family killed – not to mention the finical burden that little area fell down on top of his paycheque. Then there was the case of the pigeon, who had gotten stuck in his traps, and how all his neighbours laundry – including his land ladies laundry, that had hung out to dry had all ripped and fallen bad from the glue that Marcovaldo had hoped to had caught a woodcock.

Yet despise all these attempts. All these failures. There is still something childishly familiar about Marcovaldo. A part we all can recognize and identify with. That same, wondering, and appreciation for the nature. For the wonder, of seeing something beautiful happen for the first time, or something just out routine happen. Like watching snow geese, fly in such a large flock for the south for the winter. Listening to that strange humming sound of their wings flapping in unison on their travelling trip. What about the first snow, and beautiful low clouds. The way the morning frost sticks to the branches of the trees. The first buds of spring. The first blooms of summer. The first colours of the leaves changing for autumn. No matter where we look, we all have that same appreciation for the nature world, just like Marcovaldo. We all have that same sense of wonder, and recognition of its natural beauty.
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“Under No Moon,” by Amy Hempel – From “The Collected Stories,” by Amy Hempel – Section: “At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom.”

“Under No Moon,” by Amy Hempel holds that same Amy Hempel literary technique, of her well crafted sentences. The building boxes, of the story itself. The skeletal part of the structure of the story. This is Amy Hempel’s greatest strength – something all reviewers and I, apparently exemplify in any review of her work.

Even though that “Under No Moon,” shows this trait, it also shows Amy Hempel’s strength of the short story, but also shows the short story’s weakness. The story focuses on surface detail, very little characterization, and also starts in the middle of the story working its way back and forth in order to reach the conclusion.

“Under No Moon,” focuses the narrator’s mother, and her odd little predictions she takes. How her mother would know which song would play when her children were born. How she knew when to circle the block one more time, until a free parking space would come open on a street crammed with cars.

It was this same clairvoyance, or ability to predict that made the narrators mother believe that when she saw the comet she will die. Reading that, made me think of Amy Hempel’s own mother, who had committed suicide. For that brief moment I had wondered if perhaps that this story was a lament of Amy Hempel’s mother who had died. A way of working through the grief and the confusion of being left without a mother so unexpectedly and unsure of the current circumstances of the entire situation of her mother’s departure.

In many ways it could be seen as that. But with a certain change. There was a comet heading near earth, and of course the celestial significance and beauty of the entire event. Of course such an event can cause some people to lose their heads. Some people just have it in their brains that it could be the end of times.

Did a comet or asteroid kill the dinosaurs? Will the human race meet the same end as the dinosaurs with this comet or asteroid? For people like myself, it does not really matter. Because such speculation and thoughts are as selfish and as useless as they are to be considered. Such thoughts are not warranted for much thinking or even recognition on my part. In some ways the children/narrator of this fictional mother in “Under No Moon,” feel the same way with their mothers silly prediction that she shall face her own death, when her eyes spot and see the comet or asteroid so close to the earth. As if looking forward to her death – or just seeing the celestial site itself; the narrators mother goes and books a cruise down in South America (from the looks of it by Trinidad) to see the comet more clearly. Upon the cruise the narrator’s mother and the narrators father (the husband of the narrator’s mother) were scheduled to attend lectures on all aspects and interesting parts of astronomy. A saving grace for the narrator’s mother came in an interesting and unexpected – even slightly bizarre and grotesque way. She had forgotten her pills for arthritis. Her husband also takes pills for arthritis but they are different then her own. In some way or another the narrator’s mother had a allergic reaction to the pills, and had saved her life or had stopped her predication from coming true. Perhaps fate itself does not like to be toyed with or, beat to the punch.

What Amy Hempel does talk about though in this story besides fail predictions, allergic reactions of pills, and the saving grace of unfortunate accidents – you know the gifts wrapped in barbed wire; or a blessing in a bullet case; is the beauty of celestial events. Such as November Eleventh, of the Eleventh Minute, of the year Two Thousand and Eleven. Or a comet or asteroid that passes earth, at a closer proximity then the moon itself is. Or the odd moments of lunar eclipse or a solar eclipse, among other strange and wondrous sites. The moments that in profound and unforgettable beauty and emotional let us all remember that we are only human.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

The Short Story Review No. VIII Introduction

Hello Gentle Reader

It is that time of month again. The time of the month when six stories, by six different authors makes it into “The Short Story Review,” but of course first and foremost there is the matter of an introduction. November is usually – much like all the other months; to be quiet in the literary world. Not much happens. Not much has happened, in the award arena. There are few new novels, here and there, that may strike a chord of interest in some readers. Working at a bookstore now, it’s surprising how many people actually read – hip, hip hooray for them one would say; but it is all trash to me. I cannot even begin to grasp what it is, what it could possibly mean to men, this trash. Other than some hormonal teenager, wants to know when the new book in a series comes out (“Clock Work Prince,” I believe she said it was called) or some old woman looking for the new romance book by some author or another. Then there is of course, nothing out of the new in every other part of the bookstore world. People looking at this or that. Though there does come some odd little moments, when someone makes you smile, when they ask: “where is “The Divine Comedy,” by Dante [they cannot pronounce his last name],” but you smile and show him where to go; then it is there you ask if they are looking for anything else? Of course they are not. They are simply, now going to browse. They thank you for their service. Then they happily move on, while you are left in that state of purgatory, wandering about doing nothing else. A customer shows up and you say “Hi there! How are you doing?” to which case they say fine thank-you, and when you are going to ask if they need any help, they blurt back as if on autopilot do you need any help, to which case they are not all that interested, at all in your help to find a book. When all you crave is some interesting talk about some great literature. Though of course, they don’t care. You as seen trash. A servant. A butler or a maid. Something that should be standing or lurking in the shadows of the store, only to come out when you are needed – by that when they find you, and ask for your assistance. Though they’ll ask for your assistance in the most abrupt and curtest of manners.

Though through, my eyes – these eyes behind these transparent lenses, that at times show the reflection of my eye, or the shadowing legs of my spider eyelashes. All I can see, is I am now forced to really, walk around with it, is the ninety-five percent of the reading population. The people who read laundry lint – fluff if you will. Who could care how less the predictable plot is, or how interesting it is. How it’s a formula that is followed, time after time. One can write, a romance novel, in a matter of six months. Nora Roberts, has over a hundred books, as does Danielle Steele (who does not think her work falls into the romance condition, but discusses the human condition – a laughable thought really) it would come to no surprise though that they might be using the same formula.

Now of course with my job, I have to do a “Staff Pick,” – a book that you think you can sell! Even though it’s a book store, you certainly do need to realize that it is also a retail place, a place, after your purse and wallet. Open them up and hand over all your money for the exchange of the product. Hand it all over for the fluff that you wish to read. Those that walk the floor are no different. They are the imps – the flying monkey’s that swarm you, try to sell you stuff. It is no wonder that customers get so irritated, when one (such as myself) just wishes to have a conversation (or is that a ploy to, to sell you something) just wish to ask how you are doing. Of course the staff picks needs to be in the store itself. There goes the hopes of having “The Land of Green Plums,” by Herta Müller, Nobel Laureate in Literature of two thousand and nine. Then of course their concept of what about “Palace Walk,” by the Egyptian author and Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-eighty eight, Naguib Mahfouz. Certainly they must have it in store. Though once again, they do not have it – but they have the second volume in his “Cairo Trilogy,” “Sugar Street,” not that does me much good of anything at all. Then someone suggested try picking something that everyone would like to read. Something like James Patterson, or John Grisham, what about Clive Cussler? At what cost though I ask myself – most likely the cost of my dignity.

At least here, though Gentle Reader, literature is still held in its high concept. At least here it is hoped and enjoyed – where it is something more than just simple fluff of a story.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

M. Mary

Thursday 17 November 2011

Pereira Declares

Hello Gentle Reader

Antonio Tabucchi is an author of two countries. There is native homeland of Italy, and the country of his love, Portugal. Many authors are like this. The Nobel Laureate in Literature of two thousand and nine, Herta Muller is a native Romanian writer. Born in Nitzkydorf in Romanian’s Banat region, Herta Muller identified more with the culture and language of German, rather then that of her home country of Romania – she did not learn to speak Romanian until the age of fifteen. Ivo Andric the ninteent-sixty one Nobel Laurete in Literature – at the time was a Yugoslavic writer – however his works dealt primarly with Bosnia; and has often been called a Bosnian writer; however others have said he belongs to the Serbian writing tradition, others claim him to the Croatian literary scene. Gao Xingjian the Nobel Laureate of Literature in the year two thousand, is a born Chinese-novelist, playwright, critic and painter; however he has French citizenship and has been identified with France since his self-imposed exile from China, since the late ninteen-eighties. Then there is the author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio the Nobel Laureate in Litearture of two thousand and eight, who has dual citizneship in both France and Mauritius. When J.M.G Le Clezio was young his mother and brother joined his father Nigeria. J.M.G Le Clezio studied in England, then moved to the United States of America to teach, after finishing and recieving his Masters from the University of Provence. J.M.G Le Clezio then served with the French Military in Thailand – J.M.G Le Clezio finished up his service with the French Army in Mexico. Afterwards J.M.G Le Clezio lived with some natives in Panama. However J.M.G Le Clezio is primarly a French author. The world is full of these kinds of authors. Authors living in exile, authors who have found homes in other countries. Antonio Tabucchi is no different. An author from Italy who has a great fondness and love for Portugal, and his greatest influence is the Portugesse writer Fernando Pessoa.

“Pereira Declares,” by Antonio Tabucchi takes place, in Portugal in the white city of Lisbon. It concerns itself with the obese Doctor Pereira, a journalist who writes and edits the culture page of the independent evening news paper, which has no political leanings and influences. However Doctor Pereira is awakened into political consciousness, when he meets the young man and political dissident and anti-fascist, rebellious writer Montiero Rossi. Set in the summer of nineteen-thirty eight, it is a summer of political uncertainty in both Spain and Portugal – yet Doctor Pereira is all but unaware of this entire stifling political situation. However Doctor Pereira knows all too well that the politics of Antonio Salazar has engulfed the country of Portugal much like the heat of the summer has. Celeste the caretaker of Doctor Pereira’s office where he works on the Culture page of the news paper; he suspects of being a police informant. However this does not break his apolitical languor and love and enjoyment of translating French stories, eating omelettes and drinking lemonade.

“Pereira Declares,” is more than just a simple title of this book. Much of this book itself are declarations of the fictional character which further adds to the title of the book: “Pereira Declares: A Testimony.” In some form or another he just explains or testifies, what has lead up to the events of the novella. Upon reading an article by Montiero Rossi about death, Doctor Pereira decides to contact the author of it, in order to write advanced obituaries of writers of their time who could die at any unexpected moment, and so the obituary could be on hand to publish it as necessary. The first obituary that this young writer presents to Pereira is, far too political for his times – it’s on the poet Federico García Lorca. Through this novel Pereira often contemplates his own existence, his soul, his need for repentance, confessions, and his good Catholic – or at least his semi-good Catholic faith; and why he does not sack Montiero Rossi, for not being able to produce any publishable articles for the news paper in the current political environment and atmosphere of the time. However Pereira, continues to support the young man Montiero Rossi with his own money.

Pereira’s existence really is not all that disturbed by much of what is going on. Not the constant unpublishable obituaries by Montiero Rossi, or his constant lugging of neither his obesity around; nor the political environment of Portugal, or the constant spying – or presumed spying of his office caretaker Celeste. Pereira continues to translate French stories, into Portuguese, and publish them into the news paper. Upon translating a story into the Portuguese and placing them into instalments into the culture page of the news paper. Upon heading out the spa and seeing an old friend Sylvia Pereira gets into a slight argument about the political atmosphere of the time. The argument is slightly distressing towards Pereira, and he leaves the spa. Upon a consultation with his doctor again Pereira leaves towards a spa, of natural remedies for his obese suffering. There he meets Doctor Cardoso, who proves to be an interesting confidante in those times of great political suffering – the political atmosphere as stuffy and sweltering as the heat of summer itself. Doctor Cardoso has a great conversation with Pereira about a theory of the soul, and how it is not an individual part of the body but rather a collective group of other smaller souls, and how the soul can change. Now according to Father Antonio (another confidant and friend) this is heresy to the “T,” and that it does no good to think of the soul in such ways. It is not good Catholic faith. However it proves to be an interesting conversation on the entire concept of the soul, and the concept of people changing and whether or not people can change. Doctor Cardoso is a doctor who has specialized in dietary medicine and psychology, and this is what has lead to the conversation between the literary loving and gourmet food addict, to have a conversation on the concept of the soul itself. Doctor Cardoso is one of the many people who encourage to wake the sleeping and rather lazy Pereira from his apolitical apathetic languor and lounging and to take up some arms or awaken a sense of consciousness and to realize the inhumanity and unequal and disturbing unfairness of the current political regime.

Upon publishing a story with the words “vive la France,” at the end, his editor and chief of this news paper, is placed in a bit of a unhappy situation, with is fellow members of the political atmosphere of Portugal. He is disgusted and enraged by Pereira translating such a story and is growing a bit weary of him publishing French stories – see how France is not an ally of Portugal and is very critical of Germany; who is an ally of Portugal but as Pereira points out they are not allies, to which point the editor and chief points out that they may not be allies but there are strong sympathies held, and that the stories are not doing any good for the paper, and are hurting the editor and chief in a political stance. From there Pereira is to allow the editor and chief to look at all the culture pages, before they are to be printed, and furthermore, he is to stop translating and publishing stories by French authors, and should move onto authors from Portugal, and show the papers patriotism and nationalist stance. Though Pereira declares or rather questions by stating to himself, that the paper is independent. But this only further nudges the lounging Pereira from his pool of apathy. He no longer is given the pleasure of watching the events pass him by, he now is placed into the events. He realizes the paper has its own anterior agenda, in the political game, and that his love of good literature is not good for the political position of the paper, and that his love of the food is not good enough for his health.

The final straw however is finally pulled through when Pereira’s home is intruded upon by “political police,” who rudely mock his sexuality, his obesity, and his profession. They hold a gun at his head. Inform him that it would be a great pleasure to shoot him in the wind pipe. All this over Montiero Rossi, the odd young man who had just waltzed into Pereira’s life who had changed Pereira’s life from a life of smallness and simple pleasure and political apathy to a life of realized consciousness. To a life where he was forced to make decisions and do what he had to do and do it as necessary in those times, no longer able to lounge in his usual life of literature and find food, but is forced to take up small acts of heroism, and in the end, his final act of heroism is an act of changing the soul itself.

It is a beautiful character portrait by the author Antonio Tabucchi and it was an enjoyable book. It would have been a lot lovelier to see a lot more scenic landscapes of Lisbon and Portugal, itself, and a bit more in depth of the characters, but then it kind of loses some of that lustre that is has now. It was a splendid books however, a delightful book. One that sacrificed scenic portraits and more in depth characterization for what it was able to give now. A lovely and worthy novel, of Antonio Tabucchi’s love of the country of Portugal, and his contempt for authoritarian states of government, dictatorships – but it also expresses his love and desire for everyman to do the right thing, even if they are the smallest acts of courage.


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M. Mary