The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 28 June 2012

The Appointment

Hello Gentle Reader

“From here to there it’s all just the farty sputter of a lantern. And they call that having lived. It’s not worth the bother of putting on your shoes.”

Herta Müller had said in the Nobel Documentary “Writing against Terror,” that “writing is kind of a taming. Writing tames what you have lived.” Born August third in nineteen-fifty three the future Nobel Laureate in Literature of two thousand and nine, has witnessed the horrors of history; which has left its mark on her. Through the continual vicious cycle of words, Herta Müller is able to tame what she has lived and experienced. Herta Müller’s writing style is incredibly poetic, structured on short sentences that become episodic, that add up to a painted landscape of deprivation and misplaced people who happen to be born at the wrong place at the wrong time; or in some cases they had picked the wrong side in a grand war of horror and inhumane actions, and they themselves were left at the mercy of something just as horrific that lasted for so many years.

Herta Müller lived under the regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Her mother was sent to a Soviet Forced Labour camp also known as a gulag when she was younger. Her father was part of the waffen-ss. The linage of the author is much like that, of her novels – grey. There is no moral high ground. No pompous or pretentious state where the author says there is justice in the world – or that a utopia was created after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the former Soviet Union. The perpetrators were not always punished and the victims at times were less innocent then they appear. The work itself is political. Yet the work is not political in a superficial sense, as that of a political thriller. The works themselves, bare witness to history; and in a poetic style, document the history and what had happened with an unflinching eye.

I think many will find Herta Müller’s work very difficult to read. The subject matter is difficult. It does not portray the west as some great land of utopia, or that the west had actively sought out to better the quality of life of those that suffered so needlessly. It’s presented as just the better option than the one that has been dealt with. While others suffer, we are too busy enjoy the luxuries of our comfort.

The work itself does not allow anyone to forget what had happened. Many suffered continuously after World War II, while others thrived, or were given atonement for the crimes that they themselves had to endure. The crimes that had befallen Herta Müller were never atoned for. There was no apology, there was nothing. The author herself was able to flee. Escape the situation that had been brought upon her, by Nicolae Ceaușescu and his feared secret police the Securitate, who to do this day refuse to admit that they harassed and assaulted the author. In fact in a recent article that I myself had found, from two thousand and nine, shows a former agent of the Securitate, has claimed that Herta Müller has psychosis. In many ways the former agent, and major, says that she was not interrogated as much as she has claimed. He’s pushed the heat off of himself, and placed it back on to Herta Müller in a mediocre style, by claiming that yes her house was bugged, but that was a one-time incident and entry into her home (in the Romanian city of Timisoara) and denied that Herta Müller was fired from her job, because she refused to cooperate with the police but rather because she smoked in the classroom. All of this is unconvincing to many who can put two and two together – at least when all ‘known,’ facts are placed together. For one the file that the Securitate had created for her, is nine hundred and fourteen pages long – one time incident and a few interrogations do not lead to the conclusion that the information collected amounts to that.

The criticism of Herta Müller usually comes from her native land of Romania, where the inhabitants of her once native land criticise her for trying to drag the country through the mud. A journalist of Romania, Cristian Tudor Popescu had said that, her reputation and books succeed only by criticizing the former regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Yet the same could be said for a fellow Nobel Laureate in Literature Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose reputation is in the fact that he was able to criticize the former Soviet Union.

Yet the criticisms themselves have come under attack from others, saying that they are nothing more than just attacks based around envy. Beatrice Ungar editor of the Hermannstadter Zeitung (a weekly Siblu newspaper) made it quite clear that no one but the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena Ceaușescu were the only ones to profit from the regime and the terror. Mircea Cărtărescu a fellow Romanian author has also been very pleased with the celebration of Herta Müller’s win.

“The Appointment,” itself is a common novel, by Herta Müller detailing through the vicious cycle of words, and poetic quick breath prose, which comprises her work; the novel deals with a tram ride, that takes forever (as it would when you have been summoned by the secret police) details the life of the main character. Her first marriage, which failed. To where she is in the present living with a man whose alcoholic who can only drink because that’s all there is left for him to do:

“He was always afraid we might grow used to happiness.”

Because even happiness could be taken away from a person. The novel is also full of absurd situations. When Albu the interrogator squeezes the main characters hand and kisses her hand, with a wet saliva filled kiss, before the start of interrogations; to the unprecedented discovery of a finger wrapped like a piece of hard candy found in the bag.

Yet there is also quick moments of dark humour. Like the main characters observation of the pencil stub on Albu’s desk:

“So maybe Albu’s own prick is like that and the pencil stub serves as a measure of the world.”

To the crude painted graffiti on the outhouse wall, when Paul and the main character are at the flea market:

“Life is really full of shit, There’s no choice but to piss on it.”

“The Appointment,” is not as great as the densely poetic “Land of Green Plums,” but nonetheless it was a great book. Harrowing and relentless in its depiction of Communist Romania, but shows the undying spirit of human dignity – and most importantly the individuals constant struggle to main freedom, and individuality against the state and dictatorships themselves.

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 21 June 2012

The Short Story Review No. XIII

“Rooms,” by Antonio Tabucchi – From “Little Misunderstandings of No Importance,”

When Antonio Tabucchi died earlier this year, there was an empty feeling in the very pit of my stomach. Antonio Tabucchi couldn’t die, was my immediate thinking. Selfishly the concept of one of my favourite authors dying made me, resort to being selfish and childish in my inability to comprehend or want to at least accept that his death had come. However the shock and reaction has since warn off, and I realize – or rather force myself to accept the fact that there would be no more future works by Antonio Tabucchi. There are plenty works that still (need) to be translated into English by the author, but his future output itself, of a new novel has since been dashed by his untimely death.

Antonio Tabucchi has a quality of writing, that in a personal opinion, a writer either has or they don’t have. Tabucchi provides a lucid, distinct and luminous prose, however to call Tabucchi’s work unambiguous would be too far from the truth. Tabucchi’s prose, maybe lucid but it is also like a poetic hallucination, this along with his ‘normal,’ people characters – journalists, resistance, scholars, wanders, poets, widows as well as children; allow for him to write elegant and clever stories, and short novels, that explore both politics as well as the humanity of his characters, to which both author and character are able to share empathy. His ability to write about the lingering smells and tastes of a meal (such as in Pereira Declares, whose fondness of omelette’s and lemonade) as well as his ability to write about the philosophical and political, via dialogue can be brought into contrast of his culinary descriptions.

“She thought how bogus all writing really was – the implacable tyranny of circumscribing words, of verbs and adjectives that imprison things, hardening them into a glass fixity, like a dragonfly caught for centuries in a rock, which keeps the appearance of a dragonfly but is one no longer. Such is writing, with its capacity to pin down the present and the recent past and distance them, by centuries, from us.”

“Rooms,” by Antonio Tabucchi deals with the relationship between brothers and sister. If memory serves me correct the brother was one a scholar. A man of great importance; which leads to traces of “Waiting for Winter,” where the dead husband who was a writer, was also held to great esteem in the community and the elite of society, whose mourning for one of their own is described by the widow of the writer. That same could be said for “Rooms,” where the brother is a scholar, and whose importance and rising through the ranks, has led to him becoming acquainted with higher members of society. It would not be a surprise if the brother and his sister had attended the funeral and wake of the writer themselves.

Now the brother has fallen into ill health, and appears to suffer great pains. The sister herself takes care of her brother, in his suffering and long drawn out process of death itself. But what makes this story work is the prose itself. Highly defined literary metaphors, where the past and the present becomes descriptive, but also encased in amber like a prehistoric bug – or the fossil of some long since dead dinosaur, but the beauty of the prose itself carries the weight behind this short story, as it does most of the short stories in this collection, allow for a more show approach rather than a “storytelling,” approach where the action is described via oral and verbal ordeals. The work itself encases moments like memories or photographs. These moments, full of touching moments, and emotions. They remind one of their own feelings and emotions. Scenes, and moments that have long since faded away, and yet remain in the not so distant past, and with a mixture of nostalgia becomes moments of enjoyment. Like the time my father showed me, what lies inside of a cat tales (the plant) the cotton like fluff, that popped out of the brown felt casing of the plant, at the time was what clouds were made up of. To a degree that is what Tabucchi’s prose is like. It captures and encases the moments, and “hardening them into a glass fixity,” creating little jewels, gems, and crystals of literature itself, just waiting to be unearthed.


“Feather in the Hair,” by Ersi Sotiropoulos – From: “Landscape with Dog: and Other Stories,”

In the autumn of two-thousand and eleven, Ersi Sotiropoulos, lamented on the current state (and what was just the beginning of a very long drawn out process that will most likely continue) of Greece and its debt crisis. She uses her signature style to remark on Greece’s past image, its complicate relationship with Europe (much like the UK), and the incompetence of the Greek politicians who have done nothing but to continue to add fuel to an already blazing out of control fire – not to mention her accusation remarks against Germany, and ability to open up old wounds, while maintain a strong Green nationalist stance, with plenty of spice and garlic to boot.

Here are a few remarks that the author said during her interview with BBC Radio 4 “The View from Greece by Ersi Sotiropoulos,”

“Autumn this year in Greece is darker than in other years – a season of insecurity and distress. The signs of recession are everywhere: in the centre of Athens shops are closing one after another. Immigrants squat in dilapidated buildings, the trash piles up in the streets.

The decline has been swift – meanwhile immigrants continue to arrive in a country where there is no work and no social security. What will happen to all these people who are coming here already hungry and exhausted? Hunger brings violence, we know that. The party’s over, I say to myself, and and Greece will be (only) the first to fall.”

The author is very right with that comment. Last I had heard, violence in Greece had gone up a whole 90% -- or more. Suicide had raisen 30% - 40%. The outlook continues to look grim, even with the prospect of another Greek election coming up in a few weeks; and all the past referendums, have done nothing so far to help improve the situation, or inspired any hope or caused or determined a solution for a continuous long term problem.

“I walk through a collapsing city, a city paralysed by the strikes, where rubbish from the past several weeks still sits uncollected in the streets and wonder – is this place really a part of Europe?”

There is a definitely a sense of alienation, and more importantly a real sense of betrayal, as Greece now starts to wonder about its own membership in the “Eurozone,” seeing as in a blink of an eye the ruling people and government of Greece, was forced into taking some: “austerity measures demanded by the IMF and the European Central Bank.” From the sounds of it, this lead to steep cuts in social programs, large cuts in public sectors, cuts in pension plans, outrageous tax increases – that even the minimal wage would have to pay (even though they wouldn’t be able to afford), the Greek state assets were to be privatized and sold to investors and banks, at a very shrunken down discounted price. From here people took to the streets, the outrage, the anger, the protests, the betrayal was shown in the faces and at times outrageous gestures and actions of the people of Greece. But the message was clear – There was a big problem.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada also continues this demand for a solution. However, it doesn’t appear that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has come up with any solution himself; as Canadian resources themselves are sold off and given away to other countries for manufacturing, without concern for the future and the fact that will cause many to worry for Canada’s economy: “What happens when Alberta’s Oil Sands run out,” what about Saskatchewan’s pot ash ceases to be Saskatchewan’s let alone Canadian? What will we do when the Northern Diamond mines, become nothing more than holes in the ground. The British Columbian lumber trade and market has since come into major problems. The fishing industries of the Atlantic Provinces are no longer a, abundant resource – since over fished for the over consumption for the rest of the world. Quebec has no resources and the protests of a tuition increase in the province further shows a decline, in economic stability in an otherwise economically stable country in a sea of sinking ships – and further shows the ever increasing divide between the lower privileged and the very highly privileged. Yet many in the rest of Canada (well at least from where I am from) view the Quebec student protests as immature, and spoiled – seeing as Quebec pays the lowest tuition!

The reason why this is written is because the more, I hear about the Greece debt crisis and its problems that continue to surround it, and what Greece is turning into, the more the stories of this collection change. Greece starts turning into a wasteland; a place that resembles more of a penal colony or Alcatraz then a place of once cultural beauty, and splendor – which has given birth to the first documented account and idea, of democracy, and the Olympics; which this year might be more political than at first thought possible – if that’s possible for the Olympics.

“Feather in the Hair,” itself (I think) took place, in Italy, another country hit hard by the recession, and also a cultural epicenter. The short story appears to concern the relationship between mother and daughter and the changing landscape of the city. Relationships themselves, are at the focal point of these stories, and the relationship between Greece and Continental Europe (especially Germany) makes for an interesting premise, while reading these short stories.


“In the Outer Suburbs,” by Peter Stamm – From “In Strange Gardens: and Other Stories,”

Peter Stamm’s stories at times can come across as flat. The prose which is austere, somber and grave, leads to the one to see the characters as well smoothed down flat rocks. Their entire beings have been washed continuously over, and over again by circumstances, making them smooth, but no more resilient than anyone else to life’s melancholic actions, and they’ve only taken on the appearance of grey weathered weary statues, in a garden of brambles, spots of over grown grass, areas of dead grass, and misplaced rocks. However if one can get past the sombre prose. The weary grey eyed emotionless eyes of the statues that become the players in these stories; one can see a very interesting world. If anyone reads, a Peter Stamm story or a novel of his, they will most certainly say “this is definitely German.” There is no real dexterity to these stories. No poetic prose (though Herta Müller’s prose is poetic) or firework display of literary showmanship that almost self mockingly says “look at how beautiful I am.” Instead the prose is written as if the words were carved out of stone, or chipped out of wood. They are concrete. They do not float like balloons, or rise and fall like the tides. Each has a specific duty, and purpose. Each word knows its own place in the sentence. Each letter is aware of its purpose in syllable and its addition to the sound and execution of the word itself. Every sentence realizes its place in the larger picture of the story. Everything is precise, and makes the story work and run like clockwork. The narrative may come off as very down to earth, minimalist and even clinical its diagnosis of the characters situations; the narrative itself does leave well enough alone to leave a lot of room for the readers to move through the story, and try to understand the connections between characters, and how what is left unsaid and unexplained fits into the story, and finding, at the very least a theory or a very vague explanation for what had happened.

In an interview with “The New Yorker,” Peter Stamm describes two kinds of couples, and the uncertainties that both face, and how they go around facing them, and solving them. The ‘old couple,’ must face the uncertainty of death, its finality, its ambiguous way of working. Whereas ‘young couples,’ deal with the uncertainties of life itself. The future is broad, unknown, and has an absence of colour and brightness to it. It’s just there, like a stark white wall which just sits there, in a menacing looming way. It’ll need to be dealt with one way or another. Peter Stamm mentions how younger people are more serious than people his age are, because they are more worried about life planning (marriage, children, a house, with a mortgage, schooling for the kids, financial responsibilities et cetera), as they are more focused on problem solving. They themselves have already found the tune to their life. They have worked it, they continue to iron out the problems, and fix the problems accordingly. The people in the stories (so far) are all alienated, or alone in one way or another. They meet circumstances that do not fit into their needs. They commit acts seemingly on a whim, with no real emotional procedure beyond that. They do not show any extreme or outrageous outburst. When something happens they do not run away in a furry of emotions or tears. It is almost as if they are assessing the damage. When in “Ice Lake,” Urs finds out that the narrator and Stefanie have cuddled and most likely have unresolved feelings of affection for each other, he accepts it. He falls back and plunges into his own despair and suicide without much of an emotion shown. But underneath there was a current, of emotions that never made it to the surface and in his moment of quiet serene despair committed the act that killed him.

In the same interview with “The New Yorker,” Peter Stamm makes a very important remark with regard to his stories, and his prose – therefore the fiction in general, that he writes:

“It has always been my goal to make literature out of ordinary people’s lives. I don’t like the extremes; I don’t think that they teach us much about ourselves. And very often extreme or willfully original stories are just trying to make up for a lack of empathy on the part of the author.”

Which explains Peter Stamm’s minimalist prose, and his very human characters, that appear like stone statues, in an overgrown garden that has been unattended, by anyone else. Though the concept of, writing about the mundane and the ordinary person is nothing new. Virginia Woolf did just that while writing “Mrs. Dalloway,” however, she pumped it more of a poetic prose, and used more modernist techniques in order to survey the subconsciousness of the characters, and their rich emotional lives. Arguably Charles Dickens did just that – as did Emile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, and contemporary Alice Munro. What separates Peter Stamm, from them, is simply execution of the work itself. whereas Virigina Woolf pumped it full of modernist techniques, and rich evocative and poetic language, Stamm chisels out the words in a precise manner showing the beauty in a far more down to earth style, rather than pumping it full of anything unnecessary – though both obtain the same goal in the end; just by different means.

With “Outer Suburbs,” by Peter Stamm, is able to show the alienation of the narrator. When his parents call from Switzerland it shows perfectly his out place nature in New York and even in the world:

“In the morning I was awakened by the phone. It was my parents calling from Switzerland, to wish me a merry Christmas. It wasn’t a long conversation, we didn’t’ know what else to say to each other.”

It perfectly exemplifies his down to earth, and straightforward and minimalist prose. There is nothing unnecessary out of place. No extra fat. Everything is surface detail, and take it at face value. However the story itself, shows the strange connection people can make. Even with strangers.


“(Spring) The Good Air,” by Italo Calvino – From “Marcovaldo or The Seasons in The City,”

Italo Calvino’s father was an agrologist and botanist who also taught floriculture. His mother was also a botanist and a university professor. Italo Calvino’s younger brother became a geologist. The culture of plants, flowers, agriculture and the earth itself, and the natural beauty of the untamed wild, all showed great influence on Italo Calvino’s early fiction. “The Baron in the Trees,” for example Italo Calvino said himself, was written in that same legacy. However Italo Calvino also considered himself a black sheep in the family. His enjoyment of literature, and stories, were put to a far greater esteem to him, then just simple entertainment. This placed him at odds with the rest of his family who had a more scientific view of life. Yet some of Calvino’s work is more than just whimsy fabulist magical realist stories or novels. There is more, structure to them, then just meets their swirling enjoyment. Calvino himself proves that literary works can also be very entertaining and still rewarding.

In his later years Italo Calvino became involved (with the invitation of Raymond Queneau) to join the literary group Oulipo which housed such literary experimental writers as Georges Perec, Roland Barthes, Oskar Pastior, Harry Mathews, and Claude Lévi-Strauss. His short story “The Burning of the Abominable House,” is heavily influenced by the workings of Oulipo – and the “[the complete] Cosmicomics,” could also be a fitted into the category; but much like “If on a winter’s night a traveler,” and “Mr. Palomar,” may fit more into the postmodern thought of Italo Calvino. However the structure remains interesting and certainly at times could be seen as ‘mathematical,’ and does play around with form, therefore the postmodern tendencies and the later influence of Oulipo can become evident.

With “Marcovaldo or The Seasons in the City,” Italo Calvino shows his ability to play with the structure of the short stories in this collection, as well as the influence of his parents love for the natural world, and Italo Calvino’s later involvement and political awakening while he was a young man. I don’t think that Marcovaldo is a man of poverty simply by chance. Part of me thinks that Marcovaldo was a character with social and economic lower class, to show his appreciation for the natural world, and his often attentive eye to the details around him that often change, showing some natural wonders, such as the mushrooms that grew in the cracks of the streets; or the migrating woodcock flying through the air.

With “(Spring) The Good Air,” Marcovaldo sees the natural world, while comparing it to the city that lies below. The city which at one point in time had left him the feeling, of wonder and awe, and showed mankind’s resilience towards nature, now leaves him dissatisfied.

With doctors’ orders, Marcovaldo is forced to take his children up into the nearby countryside for them, to improve their breathing as the Doctor pointed out the children needed fresh clean air. Something they were not getting in the cramped basement suite, in which they live in, cramped with each other: two parents, and six children. Their enjoyment in the countryside, leads Marcovaldo to reflect on the city:

“In the city a few lights came on, in a confused sparkle. Marcovaldo felt again a rush of the feeling he had as a young man, arrive in the city, when those streets, those lights attracted him as if he expected something unknown from them. The swallows plunged head long through the air onto the city.

The he was seized by the sadness of having to go back down there, and in the clotted landscape he figured out the shadow of his neighbourhood: it seemed to him a leaden wasteland, stagnant, carved by the thick scales of the roofs and the shreds of smoke flapping on the stick-like chimney-pots.”

I share the same feelings with Marcovaldo. When I was younger to drive through the dazzlingly lights of the city, compared to the oblivion of shadow and darkness – besides the twinkling lights of far off farms and feed lots, around the small town that I grew up in, I thought the city was some form of utopia. However once one gets to know the idealized version of the place they held to such high esteem, it eventually becomes polluted and corrupted, by reality. However Italo Calvino allows for a use of humour, and often surreal or odd situations to provide an interesting view of nature and the urban conflict.


“The Homecoming Stranger,” Bei Dao – From “The Waves: and Other Stories,”
Any writer that comes from China will undoubtedly be called a political writer in some form or another. Duo Duo a fellow Misty Poet along with Bei Dao was awarded the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature in two thousand and ten. In doing so he has become the only Chinese writer to have been awarded the prize. In fact Duo Duo’s earlier poems were barbed with political references, and most likely were aimed at the Communist Elite ruling the country at that time. It should come to no shock that Bei Dao, a now dissident and exiled writer, who has lived his life away from his former country who had tried to ‘reform,’ him has become less then optimistic, in his views of ideology and contemporary China. However his magazine “Today,” and the works of the Misty Poets, in general helped form the pro-democracy movement in China. In the Tiananmen Square Protests of nineteen-eighty nine, his poem “The Answer,” was a slogan throughout posters during the protests. However during the shootings and subsequent massacres that had followed, Bei Dao who was in Berlin visiting a literary conference, he became exiled from the country. Fellow poets and writers Gu Cheng, Yang Lian, and Duo Duo, were all exiled away from China. As the Nobel Laureate in Literature in two thousand and nine, had commented on her, that she had not chosen what she had written. It was her life. For the longest time the dictatorship behind the Iron Curtain was all that she knew. Therefore the logical conclusion had happened. She wrote about surviving under a dictatorship. Her experiences had shaped her life. Not the other way around. The same goes with Bei Dao, what he had seen in his life, has allowed for him to comment on the horrible acts of governments in general, has forced him to write the bleak and melancholic work, that describes what he has observed.

In “The Homecoming Stranger,” Bei Dao, more openly deals with political prisoners and reform camps, forced labour, and re-education in a more open way. However the effect comes off in some ways more personal that it does as a more overtly political sniping attack. It deals with the suffering of the individual. How all suffered under the Cultural Revolution – except the dictator and his guards. Even children were not immune to the suffering. “The Homecoming Stranger,” the father’s daughter is full of resentment. Her own life ruined. For twenty years he had been missing. Twenty years sent away. Hidden in a labour camp, facing re-education – to become a proper citizen of the People’s Republic of China – an irony that is never lost on me. In this time his daughter paid, for professing his innocence constantly. Her knees and legs turned to red ribbons, as she was forced to kneel on shards of glass for her impudence.

It is obvious she resents the government for these very reasons. Yet one does feel a sense that the resentment was pushed towards her father. His absence, and her longing for him, added with his abduction and reformation and reshaping of him as an individual; had placed all the woes and problems on her father. For his own individual actions had brought the wraith of the officials down on them. His own arrest and her own punishment from defending him and proclaiming his innocence.

“For all of us life begins with those pale blue copy books, with those words, sentences, and punctuation marks smudged by erasers; or, to put it more precisely, it begins with a certain degree of deception. The teachers delineated life with the halos, but which of them does not into a smoke ring or an iron hoop.”

Such poetic langue and imagery is to be expected throughout his stories. His training is first and foremost in the wordsmithing of poetry. This allows for a greater and more obscure concept of his work. But it does present the message across quiet well. Personally I find it rather enjoyable.

Bei Dao shows the difficult of adjusting to the life and dumb beat of normal life, away from the camps for such a prolong period of time. As it can be seen how the father picks through the garbage looking for a tossed cigarette case. Fear in his voice that he may have written something that he should not have written. But also the picking and scrumming for food, I also had a feeling.

However the ending to which the father presents his own resentful daughter with a bracelet of old discarded tooth brush ends, to which he had crafted through the years; though verging on the sentimental; does the job done right, showing the bonds that connect all us all through the years, and in times of political turmoil.


“The Saint,” by Gabriel García Márquez the Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-eighty two – From “Strange Pilgrims: and Other Stories,”

I didn’t enjoy “Bon Voyage, Mr. President,” and I won’t lie about it either. I felt it was more of a political message. It lacked Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s usual feel to it. A feeling of bland and listless prose, left bored and wondered what was the point of finishing the story – and when it did, there was a feeling of “well . . .” in the end it was finished. Though it was a poor start to the book itself in my opinion.

“The Saint,” however quickly changed that perception. Written about a man Margarito Duarte who’s from a small Andean town in Colombia, who has traveled to Rome to seek the canonization and recognize the miracle and saint hood of his deceased daughter. His deceased daughter died just after the age of seven. Whose miracle was soon found out when the village had to relocate the village’s dead from where it had, for the construction of a new damn. It is there that the weightless corpse of his daughter is discovered. Intact and preserved as if she were buried just that day.

What is quite lovely I found personally is the discussion of Italy. The description of time passing.

“After lunch Rome would succumb to its August stupor. The afternoon sun remained immobile, in the middle of the sky, and in the two-o ‘clock silence one heard nothing but water, which is the natural voice of Rome. But at about Seven, the windows were thrown open to summon the cool air that began to circulate, and a jubilant crowed took to the streets with no other purpose that to live, in the midst of the midst of the back firing motorcycles, the shouts of melon vendors, and the love songs among the flowers on the terraces.”

Such vibrant nostalgia descried left a sense of Rome in my own mind of traveling. Being described by an outsider was wonderful and beautiful. A real sense of place and time was established. The use of metaphors and detailed points allowed for the photographic snapshot of the city’s idiosyncrasies to be revealed. Wide armed with exaggerated and wonderful expressions of the vendors, trying to out sell their compatriots and competitors. The deserted streets, in the high afternoon. The sound of the fountains, made from ancient artists and sculptors. The masters of their crafts, displayed in wide and full beauty – singing in the real voice of Roman, came straight to tickle the mind’s eye. The quiet cobblestone streets. The clacking and the tapping of the shoes; cafes lay deserted. Even the pigeons stop their cooing to stake out shade and sleep.

This exotic and ancient and almost mystical city with its art depicting myths, it becomes a great place for a preserved dead little girl who looks pristinely human, and the miracle that presents her into the category of sainthood. This Christian mysticism is a perfect blend to show how magical realism works. Myths of saints, who talked with animals, made gardens from the seeds of the Garden of Eden, communicated with angels, healed miraculous people. Spoke and indoctrinated the word of God. Their actions themselves had led to their sainthood. Their very actions were next to the epiphany of what Christianity was – not to what it has become.

This story however is amazing for its magical realism. A man’s constant attempt to get his daughter brought to the attention of Pope for her remarkable death. A miracle that defies nature itself. However countless times the bureaucratic process itself was always a challenge. No one believed him that his daughter was dead and perfectly preserved. Each time he lobbied and focused on her canonization it was nothing more then turned to the door and told to take his fake miracle with him. A nice cheap knock off. Thanks for trying go home. Better luck next time.

The nostalgia is quickly ended however in this story. The once pristine Rome becomes a place of modern ruin. Yet the miracle remains – something that unwillingly refuses to change.

“Among all the extinct fauna, the only survivor was the old lion, who suffered from mange and a cold on his island surrounded by dried waters. No one sang or died of love in the plastic trattorias on the Plazza di Spagna. For the Rome of our memory was by another ancient Rome, with the Ancient Rome of the Caesars.”

What is foreign is a question. What makes something foreign. Yet in the end Gabriel García Márquez expresses that the divine is never foreign. The miracle of Margarito Duarte’s daughter continues to be profound and wonderful. The mysticism of the banal. The wonders of the unexplained. The magical. They are not foreign but are the common place. They go unseen. Yet never unfelt.

The Short Story Review No. XIII Introduction

Hello Gentle Reader

Alice Walker the author of the novel “The Colour Purple,” which had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in nineteen-eighty three, has refused a Israeli edition of her award winning novel on political grounds. The author herself is part of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement, which takes a political stance against the Israeli government, and is in favour of a two state solution between what is known as the Gaza Bank and Modern Israel. Alice Walker has written a letter to Yediot Books the hopefully publisher of her translated novel, on her stance of the matter. In a latter posted on the website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Alice Walker went on to say:

“As you may know, last Fall in South Africa the Russell Tribunal on Palestine met and determined that Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories. The testimony we heard, both from Israelis and Palestinians (I was a jurist) was devastating. I grew up under American apartheid and this was far worse. Indeed, many South Africans who attended, including Desmond Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than what they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated South Africa for so long.”

It is with this political stance, that Alice Walker believes that by withholding the novel, that she will ensure that the people of both Israel and the Occupied Territories to come to a reasonable solution that will benefit both states.

While some have praised Alice Walker’s integrity, others have been less warm in their reception of her choice. Claiming her desire of collective punishment, of all of Israel is uncalled for – based on the historical problems that the Jewish population themselves, have had to face.

On my own personal note, I think it’s difficult to judge this particular stance from either perspective. The conflict between Israel and the Palestine people is a complicated issue in which I know little of. First and foremost, I have never been to Israel. Second, what I receive about information between the conflict between Israel and the Occupied Territories, is by media alone, and therefore certainly biased, and shaded in with its own political affiliations. However to boycott something in which I know little about, is ridiculous to me. The conflict and dispute itself is long and complicated and goes back many years and if one wants to get right down to it, down to the very beginning of Israel’s formation in ancient times. Alice Walker herself uses and names the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and the verdict that Israel is guilt of apartheid, much worst then even South Africa’s supremacy, for me looked more like an ideological naïve attempt that a bunch of human rights activists would stand up and say such a thing. In the end the tribunal will/has done nothing. Alice Walker’s boycott will do nothing either. It may even further seal the concrete views of Israel towards toward Occupied Territories, as right, and may have to prove the Jewish residence against pressure, on their own stands.

However to call Alice Walker, self-absorbed is not entirely right. To call her ideologically naïve is perhaps a better way of stating the matter.
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 14 June 2012

IMPAC Literary Dublin Award Winner

Hello Gentle Reader

To continue with last weeks, discussion of the literary news, and the brief discussion of the IMPAC Literary Dublin Award's shortlist, and now the revealing of the winner was announced yesterday. Jon McGregor a British author (in a previous post I had misidentified the novelist as a Scottish writer) has won the IMPAC Literary Dublin Award, for his third novel “Even the Dogs,” about an alcoholic and the various drug addicts that surround him. The judges of this year’s award praised the novels fierce experimentation with narrative technique that engages the readers with the book itself, and grapples into the situations of the characters themselves. They go on to praise is ability to craft a complex and compelling story in such a shorter frame of a novel. Personally after reading about the shortlisted authors, I would not have guessed that any of the authors would have won, on the simple descriptions of their own. The description of “Even the Dogs,” didn’t sound all that interesting to me at first glance. A novel about an alcoholic, who dies and the addicts that surround him – for me sounded like a moral novel, which was to leave readers with the impression of “don’t do drugs kids.” However Jon McGregor’s novel doesn’t sound so moralistic as it does sound like a novel of face value, and allows for the readers and characters to speak for themselves. Jon McGregor himself had stated that having any agenda in a story destroys the openness with the characters, and lose sight of where the story is going. Jon McGregor continues with his interview to go on and explain to his choice to write about the subject matter of the less extraordinary people of the world, rather than the extraordinary people who in their success now face moral dilemmas, of money, office politics, and addictions; rather Jon McGregor goes on to point out that it has all been said and done. Everyone has done the same old song and dance, throughout literature history and even in today’s world. As he points out the story or novel with a twenty page passage of a brain surgeon whose playing racket ball. This is where Jon McGregor and I can agree completely on. A (fictional) neurosurgeon or doctor or political ambassador or wealthy lawyer and I have little in common. Their situations or their problems maybe universal, and yet. A doctor whose marriage is fallen apart, whose children despise him or her, who copes with alcohol, makes poor decision on the job, et cetera is a human and universal themes of suffering, but the success of the character in his career or (earlier life) leads to some alienation between character and reader.

The same resonates with political novels that deal with the narrator being a revolutionary or rebel, it is difficult to feel a sense of mutual understanding when the experience is different, leaving the novel to become a political message or a political piece of work rather than one brought on by its own individual merit. Jon McGregor’s novel also risks the possibility of doing this, dealing with an area that most people would rather avoid all together. But with it Jon McGregor is able to go beyond the superficial elements of the novel, and is able to discuss universal human suffering as a whole, and the modern worlds reality of disposed souls.

In all an interesting win, and most likely a deserving win as well.

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 7 June 2012

Some Literary News

Hello Gentle Reader

Paul Sussman a thriller writer whose work was often called an ‘intelligent readers answers to Dan Browns ‘Da Vinci Code.’’ According to the author’s wife, who had shared the terrible news with fans, Paul Sussman suffered a raptured aneurysm and died suddenly. Paul Sussman’s life has been extraordinary in its relatively short forty five years. According to “The Guardian,” who Paul Sussman was also a former freelance contributor too, Paul Sussman had odd jobs, such as a gravedigger in France, a cigar seller in Harrods, and had toured all of Europe with the production of ‘James and the Giant Peach.’ Paul Sussman also contributed to ‘The Independent,’ ‘The Daily Standard,’ and ‘CNN,’s website – all of that before he started working for ‘The Big Issue,’ for seven years; and in nineteen-ninety eight Paul Sussman’s deep love of archeology landed him an invitation to travel and participate in a dig at the Valley of the Kings. Paul Sussman leaves behind four books of fiction – one due to come out shortly (in Canada November six).

Ray Bradbury also at the age of ninety one has also passed away recently. Known for his forays into the deep genre fiction of science fiction, fantasy and horror, Ray Bradbury was a staunch supporter of genre’s merits of entertainment, and a man renown in the world of books, in and outside of the genre(s) that he wrote in. His most popular and well known book “Fahrenheit-451,” discusses a futurist world were books are obsolete ignorance is encouraged, and censorship widespread. With it Ray Bradbury, had solidified the Cold War, and the paranoia surrounding it. Ray Bradbury however wrote for the television as well. Including “The Twilight Zone,” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Now dead, Ray Bradbury will be mourned by his fans and the genre community and the literary world, for which he had been a part of for so long. However I doubt personally that Ray Bradbury will be forgotten.

On lighter yet bittersweet note, the Orange Prize for two-thousand and twelve has been awarded, but with the excitement, there is also a sense of a bitter bite to this as well. Orange telecommunications is withdrawing its sponsorship to focus on film in the United Kingdom. However this may not be an end to the prize itself; however its future is still uncertain. Madeline Miller, a teacher of Latin and Greek, with her debut novel “The Song of Achilles,” has won the prize this year. Many have said that the novel itself has come out and been a product of circumstances, with Greek myths always a place of inspiration for writers, and recently Homer’s “Iliad,” was back on the market, in a edition, and advertised, as if it was a new release. In many ways the winning of this award can be likened or compared to Hilary Mantel’s novel “Wolf Hall,” winning The Booker prize in two thousand and nine, as her novel about Thomas Cromwell is a part of the trend and rejuvenation into the history of King Henry the VIII with such shows as “The Tudors.” A judge for the Orange Prize, has stood by the choice, saying that Miller brings a new freshness to an age old story, and allows for younger generations to become acquainted with the story itself. This win comes to quite a surprise to many as Madeline Miller was up against former Booker winner Anne Enright with her novel “The Forgotten Waltz,” as well as the favoured writer this year Cynthia Ozick and her Henry James inspired novel “Foreign Bodies,” and former Orange Prize winner Ann Patchett with her novel “Bel Canto.” In many ways congratulations are in order to Ms. Madeline Miller, and her debut novel that breathes fresh air into an ancient story.

Continuing with the coverage of literary awards, the IMPAC Literary Dublin Award has also announced (quite some time ago) its own shortlist for two thousand and twelve. Such authors like Herta Müller and Orhan Pamuk as well as the cantankerous French man of letters Michel Houellebecq, have received the award. This year’s shortlisted authors include Jennifer Egan and her award winning novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” Two translated novels have also made the cut. The first being from a Israeli author Yishai Sarid and his novel “Limassoi,” about a secret service agent who is assigned an undercover mission as a novelist to spy on a Palestine poets terrorist son. Brazil’s Cristovão Tezza and his novel “The Eternal Son,” about a father and his down syndrome child (reminds me a lot about something Kenzaburo Oe may have written). David Bergen’s novel “The Matter with Morris,” about a columnist who searches for meaning in his life, and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize. Aminatta Forna who won the commonwealth prize with her novel “The Memory of Love.” A Scottish writer who follows in the same vein of Irvine Welsh has written a novel about the death of an alcoholic and the junkies that surround him in “Even the Dogs.” Next comes another American author with his very American novel “Lean on Pete,” written by Willy Vlautin recounts the story of a boy and his horse (hi-ho Silver!). Tim Pears novel “Landed,” is about a man returning to the Welsh borders of his childhood. The last novel “Rocks in the Belly,” recounts a child’s neglect and perceived neglect as his mother fosters other boys and the jealousy that builds up like a rotting fungi in his stomach, and poisons his life.

It’ll be interesting to see who wins the Prize, and furthers the career of already established authors or a debut novelist. On June Thirteenth the prize winner will be announced.

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

Saturday 2 June 2012

A Sudden Passing

Hello Gentle Reader

It would appear that I coincidentally find news of sudden passing’s of some of the world’s greatest authors, by simple chance. One of Mexico’s greatest and world renowned authors has passed away on May fifteenth, at the age of eight three, from a sudden illness. Carlos Fuentes a prolific author of novels, plays, essays, and political commentary. A constant contender and name usually thrown into the pot along with other such writers as Adonis, Antonio Tabucchi, and Peter Nadas. However after an internal hemorrhage Carlos Fuentes career and Nobel Prize odds were dashed, and many readers home and abroad, are now devastated at the loss of talent that the world will now suffer. I have yet to be acquainted with the author, though I have known about him for quite a while. I look forward to myself in the near future to read his works, and have a, deep appreciation for them, as readers before me have had as well.

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