The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 27 September 2012


Hello Gentle Reader

Jean Marie Gustav Le Clezio, it did not start out writing in his now more renowned and refined mature style. On the falling trail of the literary French literary movement nouveau roman whose prominent authors like Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras, Michel Butor, and even fellow Nobel Laureate (though he highly denied his connection to the nouveau roman) Claude Simon of nineteen-eighty five, where the writers of the transitioning phases of high literary modernism declining into the more reactionary postmodernism that follows. These earlier years are quite the contradiction to their later counterparts, and their more subdued stylist elements, and focus on almost describing and transporting the reader into the anthropological elements of the natural world that has come and gone, passed on and barely a distant dream – a historical record. J.M.G Le Clezio’s work spans time and it spans cultural landscapes. It spans continents, and can move across the world. This theme of migration and immigration and of foreign way of looking at the ordinary may come from his own background of a heritage that is rooted in French ancestry, but he himself grew up on an English colony – Mauritius. Though ironically J.M.G. Le Clezio was born in France. Allowing for him to have a dual citizenship of both France and Mauritius which Le Clezio regards as “his little fatherland.” His father during World War II was serving in the British Army of Nigeria. Later in nineteen-forty eight J.M.G Le Clezio as well as his Mother and brother boarded a ship and joined his father in Nigeria. The author’s restless legs did not end though there. J.M.G Le Clezio went on to study in France – finishing his undergraduate degree at Nice’s (his mother’s hometown) Institut d’études littéraires his education continued when in nineteen-sixty four had earned his Master’s Degree from the University of Provence. J.M.G Le Clezio went to the United States of America, to become a teacher. Yet his restless legs, found him once again and he served with the French military in nineteen-sixty seven, in Thailand. However he made morally protested against child prostitution, this lead to him to being transferred to Mexico to finish his military service. In the early to mid-seventies J.M.G Le Clezio found himself living with the aboriginal peoples of the Darién Gap with the Embera-Wounaan – when of course the lawless land was not as corrupted as it is now. Since nineteen-seventy five he has been married to a Moroccan woman. Since the early nineties, the author has divided his time between Nice France, Mauritius, and New Mexico. It becomes to no surprise that eventually J.M.G Le Clezio dropped the themes and concepts of his earlier novels of insanity, language, and alienation; instead focusing on the immigration/migration of people, childhood, and exile instead. These later novels themselves focus more on the authors own experiences of traveling and wandering. The uprooted nature of people, the immigration and migration, the foreign cultures and their experiences and almost a desire for oral story telling become components to the authors work, in general.

“Desert,” written in the nineteen eighties, could be called J.M.G Le Clezio’s breakthrough novel or rather his ground breaking novel that established the authors future output and eventually his Nobel Prize win.

“This work contains magnificent images of a lost culture in the North African desert, contrasted with a depiction of Europe seen through the eyes of unwanted immigrants. The main character is a utopian antithesis to the ugliness and brutality of European society.” -- From the Nobel Prize citation by the Swedish Academy.

At first while reading this novel, and its descriptive passage, lacking narrative, with its simple documented events; was resented and held with great scrutiny. Many times it occurred to me that if I had wanted to read a documentary novel, I’d go find one that would be a little more pleasing. However in time, eventually the beat of the novel and the words, and the first awkward steps of the novel were pushed aside as the rhythm of the novel became more like the repetitive and grounded steps of the nomadic people who are central to this novel; and eventually it became more and more easier to read – and more enjoyable.

The novel itself centers around the colonization and suppression during the French protectorate of Morocco, and the decimation it actively sought out to assimilate and culturally extinguish the Tuareg People or the “Blue Men,” as they are noted for in this novel. Between the years of nineteen-ten and nineteen-twelve, a young boy Nour who travels with the great sheik Ma al-Ainine along with other nomadic tribes is fighting against the colonization of their ancestral home. This is the shortest story of the two, intertwined parts of this novel. Sprinkled ever so lightly across the book. Allowing for both a change in scenery and time period. The second intertwined story is the more contemporary tale of Lalla, an exotic copper skinned child and then woman, whose childhood life is spent in a shanty town of, pallets for bed frames, tar paper roofs, open fire flames, and almost barbaric living existence. Yet it is all diluted for the most part by Lalla’s adventurous and wandering spirit, whose childhood naivety, obviously sees the brutality of her own living conditions, yet rather than stay and mope around like some street urchin, as one would expect, Lalla becomes a spirit of freedom. A wanderlust adventurer, who goes off and enjoys the surrounding areas, were her experiences of life, become the smallest magical wonders. Such as seeing a seagull or seabird flying in the sky. Lalla calls out different names in order to figure out the name of the sailor who once died at sea, and was reincarnated in the form of a sea bird, to forever enjoy the salty spray, and blue waters that were both loved, and tragically took his life.

Lalla is the best part of this novel. For the simple reason that she is the one that Le Clezio allows the reader to become more intimate with. Her characterization is deep and contemporary which allows for more relation between reader and character. A far more empathetic bond is allowed to form. Were as in Nour’s case, such empathic bonds are unable to grow. Such a relationship is left, shifting in the pages, and the torrent abstract historical events that are barely described or left to be acknowledged. That being said, their long felt consequences resonate in the story of Lalla whose own life is an ever consistency of the end results of colonization. Her own life in a shanty town, the failed efforts to re-establish a culture that had once prevailed. What is left is nothing more than a backwater of nostalgic memories, and stories that survive only through oral storytelling, a rebellious air against the once prevalent colonizer; and now nothing more than broken spirits reduced to beggars, and scratching livings off rocks in their tar paper shanty towns, and pallet made beds. Those that have prevailed to live in this new society of colonized northern Africa, making a more European style living – most likely betrayed their ways and eventually saw the inevitable in the colonization of their land.

Yet Lalla’s childhood however dilutes these harsh realities, as nothing more than the hand that she has been dealt with in life. It is nothing more than a reality. It’s not perfect or utopian but it is a home. A roof over her head. A place that she can come back to; however it is the freedom of the surrounding desert and ‘country-side,’ that shows her own roots, and nomadic nature. It is in this wild wilderness that Lalla experiences true happiness and life.

However the real main character is the title of the novel itself. The very desert is more than just the stage in which the novel unfolds – even when it’s removed physically removed, it plays its role.

Lalla’s childhood however comes to an abrupt end. This is when life changes for her. People look at the once, copper skinned shadow, now as something to possess. A rich man wishes to marry her – and her aunt (her mother died when Lalla was young) wishes to marry her off, for the money and service that could be provided by such an arrangement. Lalla the independent the free, the expansive and wide eyed child refuses such an offer. It is then she begins to experience more, and more trials and tribulations of the complex and at times the vicious adult world – such as the carpet weaver’s cruelty, and Lalla’s own sense of justice and moral standing, and once again takes a step. Finally however Lalla realizes her own home has become strange and unwelcoming. Her own spontaneous flight into the desert to be with the Hartani -- a mute shepherd and only companion to Lalla; but even he abandons Lalla. It is then that J.M.G Le Clezio turns to the most evident case of post-colonialism: immigration.

The ever present effects of colonization and its downfall and the loss of cultures, but also the flooding of unwanted immigrants into the streets of other countries. Now day’s people are taught to respect these other peoples. These cultures and the attitudes are less xenophobic or less racially intense. However such cultures are not beyond butting heads. When Lalla travels abroad in France, she at first does not fit in her. Her coppery skin shines and sparkles, like a radiant sun. However in due time, she is formed into a foreigner, in her new land. She fits in more, and becomes less noticeable. She is able to blend in with her new surroundings. She hides in doorways, hides in subways amongst people, and amongst parked cars. It is here in France that Lalla continues to grow – and where home becomes even less of a wasteland, and more of a utopian land of freedom and expansive space. Never ending, with the sky that stretches as far as the seemingly never ending desert.

When I first started reading this novel, I thought of it like a documentary movie that was discussing the nature of globalization, the effects of globalization, and the loss of small cultures. However, J.M.G Le Clezio eventually started to turn it around to become an interesting coherent narrative, which became relevant after patience and dedication in getting it done. It is no wonder, that “Desert,” became J.M.G Le Clezio’s breakthrough 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.*

M. Mary

Monday 24 September 2012

The Sounds of Autumn (A Short Story)

Awakened by the leaves; scurrying aimlessly on the cobblestone streets. I pull myself out of bed. There are children in the streets; running about, laughing. They wear light coats, because the air has grown cold, and nip’s at their soft tender flesh. Already their cheeks are bright pink with freshness. While it only sinks in through my skin now; chilling the bones, with its gnawing numbing teeth. How envious one such as myself can get over children.

Those bright shining faces. Their eyes squinted up in upside down crescent moons, as their jaws are open in large smiles, grins, and bellowing out laughs. No matter what, the children laugh. They laugh through the cold months of winter. They laugh as they dance and run in the snow. They laugh as they play with snowballs, and throw them at each other with playful malice. They laugh as throw themselves into snow banks, leaving a bodily mark. They giggle over hot chocolate, that they drink from mugs, as they sit by a fire, with blankets covering their shoulders, warming their frost touched faces, pink cheeks, and red noses. As winter begins to thaw, they hurry outside again, in less thicker jackets, and look for the birds, watch the flowers, and grass sprout up. Little girls go out making mud pies. Their grandmothers give them shaved coconut, as they decorate their little brown sloppy pies. One busily makes an outline of a heart. Another makes a smiley face. While another sprinkles hers randomly, and says that her mud pie is the earth and the coconut is the snow from the clouds. The other girls laugh. Once the finishing touches are placed on their mud pies the girls quickly wash their hands. Then out they go searching to find the boys.

The boys are on the banks of the creek. They are throwing mud at each other like dirty pigs or monkeys. They laugh their high shrill laughs, as they get splatted with mud, and dare to toss the mud back. They laugh splashing in the mud. The sinking and the sucking of the liquid like earth rising around their rubber boots brings them great thrills. Then the girls came, marching like mothers or grandmothers or better yet wives. They did their best to swing their young little hips, with their hands on them. A sense of wife like arrogance that they had seen from their mothers, was evident on their face. All the boys dropped all the clumps of mud in their hands. They knew full well that it was improper conduct to throw mud at the girls. Fathers punished a lot harder when a boy hurts a girl. The girls all demanded that the boys come try some of their mud pies. It was the least they could do since they had worked so hard on the pies. The boys all got out of the mud in banks at the creek, and followed the girls back to where there mud pies were.

Their rubber boots squishing on the frozen dried out grass, as the mud clung to every step they made. The girls all walked a head of the boys giggling to each other. Giddy that the boys would try their mud pies, after they had worked so hard on them. They reached the mud pies, as they had left them. Each of the boys picked up one of the “utensils,” that the girl’s had left them – which were really twigs from the budding tree’s and branches, that they had saved through the winter. Each boy picked one of the twigs up and scooped up some mud. All the girls quickly turned around giggling to each other. While the boys, quickly tossed the mud over their shoulders, and made sounds of enjoyment as they pretended to act like they had eaten the mud pies. Each of the girls turned around giggling and ran towards one of the boys, planting a kiss on his muddy cheek. All the boys roared in disgust and ran away. The girls sat back laughing and giggling as they waved in the delight of watching the boys run away.

Summer would finally come. The school bell would no longer toll until later summer early autumn. The children felt a sense of freedom. Though they barely knew what the word freedom meant at being, able to run free in the green grass, listen to the bugs humming, birds chirping, and play from the morning until the evening. No jackets were required now, as the boys and girls all ran outside. The boys in short sleeve shirts and shorts, while the girls wore the summer dresses that their mothers informed that they had to wear. Some accepted this humiliation of being a girl, while others, fought tooth and nail, before their mothers gave up and let them wear their trousers or shorts. There boys and girls run free and play. They play war. The men being the soldiers, some of the girls their wives, and some the nurses; while some demanded to be soldiers as well. They would catch bugs. Butterflies were the most frequent. Each one would catch a butterfly and place in it, a jar. They would then take them home. Their mothers would pride them on such amazing catching skills. Then as the children slept, the butterflies would die. The mothers then would quickly dispose the corpse. When the children awoke, they would ask where the butterfly went. The mother would tell them, that the butterfly is no longer there anymore, because it has left and is once again dancing in the air. The children accepted this as the butterfly’s fates. On fortunate days, the children would blow bubbles from water and dish soap. They would watch the colourful orbs flat in the air, and then pop, each time they would giggle and blow another just to watch. Each child though lives each day to the extreme, using every second and minute; they fail to realize the time that is escaping them. Before they know it autumn has reared its head.

Yet autumn doesn’t damper their spirits. They still run and play. They throw in the leaves in the air, to watch them fall once again. They laugh they run and they play. They enjoy the company of each other. They enjoy the friendships that they have. Oblivious and ignorant to everything around them even life itself.

The children’s laughter and play is soon drowned out by a new sound – or rather an older sound to my ears. The long dull thuds of the logs of wood being hit with axe. One by one the axe man takes the axe in both hands. Lifts it high above his head, and then unleashes his entire amount of fury on the log in large powerful swings. Some logs break in half with one swing, others take two, some three, and others take more than four.

Who is chopping I wonder. I look at the man, a tall large, burly man. Must be Jack’s grandson I tell myself. For it is too young to be his son. I watch as the grandson of Jack places another stump of a log on the chopping block. Grabs the axe with his hand, and then picks it up and takes a swing once more. The metal of the axe, the weighted down blade, go deep into the core of the log, but does not cut it in half. He rises the log up once more to strike it again, to make that dull thud of a sound on the wood.

All I can do is turn away and, think about the oncoming winter. It’s beauty of the purity of the snow, and the gentleness of the snowflakes. And the peaceful sleep it brings.

(This story is Copyrighted and the sole property and ownership of "The Bird Cage," and M. Mary)

Thursday 20 September 2012

Aliss at the Fire

Hello Gentle Reader

Autumn is here again. Take a deep breath through your nose. The air rushes in and at the very end there is a sting at the tip of the nostrils. The sensitive rings of flesh. Look outside and one can see leaves changing. Last night the window was open while I slept. The air was cool and humid. The moistness in the air though was not warm or inviting. It was chilled and nipped at my exposed flesh like frost. The dampness seeped even into the blankets. Early this morning when I was awoken by the sensation of cold moisture in the house, I thought I saw the slight ghostly remnants of my breath. It was then decided in a groggy state of mind, still heavy with sleep that I should shut the window. After that I crawled back into my warm bed, which had slightly cooled off; but still resembled coal embers.

The autumnal period of the year; is the best time of the year. It’s cold off quite a bit now; the summer heat has turned to cool mists, and yellowed leaves. The grass is stunted in shock; no longer growing. I’ve noticed the cat’s coat, which was once a silvery grey pelt has now turned dull and dark charcoal gray. As if he rolled around in soot or ash. He’s put on a few pounds as well. When pointed out to him, he got offended, and gave me a well-earned swat. Even though I love autumn, it still stirs anxiety in my stomach. Like butterflies releasing from their chrysalis. After while a though the fluttering dies down. A feeling best equated with that of a nut. As if my intestines have become a string of hallow nuts; which when they collide reverberate throughout my whole body with nauseated happiness.

Jon Fosse has been called one of the greatest living playwrights alive and working today. He has been given the honorary honour of a stipend from the Norwegian government as well as a royal honour of having the Grotten as his residence. This honour that he received as of two-thousand and eleven, was bestowed upon him by the Norwegian King; which is given to a person who has contributed to Norwegian arts and culture. He is also a recipient of the Swedish Academy Nordic Prize. This Swedish Academy Nordic Prize, is awarded by the Swedish Academy (the same academy that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature) to an author from one of the Nordic Countries. The recipient is chosen because of their significant contribute to an area of interest of the Academy. The inaugural of the award was in nineteen-eighty six, first given to the Danish author and philosopher Villy Sørensen. He was the most famous and influential Danish philosopher since Søren Kierkegaard. Since then it has been awarded to such authors such as Inger Christensen, Tomas Tranströmer, Henrik Nordbrandt, and Einar Már Guðmundsson. This award should not be confused with its senior the Nordic Council’s Prize for Literature; which is awarded to a Nordic author.

Jon Fosse’s short poignant novella “Aliss at the Fire,” takes place in autumn, and with his prose that borders on dramatic piece of work and prose, it goes back and forth in time, with ease – though, it is more like a hallucination of a dying person’s life slowly flickering before their eyes. Dreamlike and reflective on time and memories to the point where the rules of time becomes less direct and circular. Time flickers and bleeds into itself; from one point in time to another. But it is also sporadic ending abruptly and firing off again, almost without warning.

It is a simple story – at least that’s what it sounded like at first. Signe is the main character of the present. She is sitting in the kitchen in two-thousand and two; she is contemplating the disappearance of her husband Asle. Who had disappeared in nineteen-seventy nine while out in his boat, in the fjord. However it doesn’t stop there. The novella than goes in many different directions; much like a prism that refracts lights; the story is refracted into different time periods all the way back to Asle’s great-great grandmother Aliss, who tends a fire.

“[. . .] and hasn’t he changed recently, he is so rarely happy now, almost never, and he is shy, he really is, he doesn’t want to see people and he turns away if anyone does come and if it ever happens that he does have to talk to someone the he stand there and doesn’t know what to say, he stands there and feels sick with embarrassment everybody can, see it, she thinks, and what is the matter with him? She thinks, he was always a little like that, a little withdrawn, a little as if he thought o himself, as always being a lot of trouble for other people, upsetting other people just by being there, as a nuisance, an absolute to what this or that other person wanted, as if he didn’t understand and it’s getting worse and worse, before he could at least be round other people but now anymore, now he off to be by himself the second anyone other than her appears.”

Written in a long expressive paragraph, one could almost feel like that Jon Fosse just sat down and began to write the story that had formed in his head. It is like a black widow spider’s web. It is connected; but disjointed. As are the thoughts of Signe and Asle; as the memories and fiction blend and bleed together. Despite the complexity of the narrative and as the quote above shows, there is no pyrotechnics to Jon Fosse’s narrative. His dialogue is sparse and straight. It shows how the characters are unable to communicate with one another – much like the tradition of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. Repetition of phrases and words are also common, which allows for the annoying feeling of déjà vu; that something was already read.

“What are you thinking about, Signe says
No nothing special, Asle says
No, Signe says
I guess I, Asle says
Yes I, he says
and he stands there and looks at her
I, he says
I, I, yes well. I’ll just, he says
You, Signe says
Yes, Asle says
You’ll, Signe says
I, Asle says
I guess I’ll go out onto the fjord for a while, he says
Today too, Signe says
I think so, Asle says”

Some would say that the inability of the characters to talk or communicate properly is humorous. But one must always remember at (at least in my case) that to present humour in a written format it is next to impossible (against at least in my case). Humour has a lot of physical components; something witty that is done by natural conversation not by written or wooden formats. It is something that is done on the stop. It is fast paced and runs almost on a methamphetamine pace. Whereas literature runs on a different pace, but the comedy of it will always be lost somewhere down the line. At least for the comedic ignorant such as myself. However it gives one the idea of how the dialogue works.

“he thinks and he looks up and he sees that the fire is back on the show below the boat house again, back down on the bay, and then the fire gets smaller, turns into a just a flame, flickering weekly in the wind and in the darkness and then he can see it in one place or another in the heavy darkness, and the darkness is dense and think, now it is one single darkness, a play of blackness, and then he can see a flicker of flame out there and then not anymore, because then he it’s black, but then the flame gets bigger, it become a small fire again, out there, down in the bay, down below, below the boathouse a fire is burning now, he thinks, and he stops and he stands and looks at the fire. And now the fire is big. Down on the shore a fire burning. And then the first is near him again. And it must be the darkness, and the fact that he’s so cold, that makes him unable to tell exactly where the fire is burning, he thinks, but he sees it, he does see it, and there in the darkness, those yellow and red flames.”

In the end “Aliss at the Fire,” presents something of a bizarre novella. It is haunting in its melancholic subject matter, which is delivered in dream life prose of a dying person’s last glimpses of their lives, in a projected or dreamlike manner. It does become rather interesting, that Jon Fosse uses “she thinks,” as a way to ground the narrative in its cerebral home base of Singe’s mind and her memories. With that in mind though its sparse repetitive prose, and almost alienating narrative allows for one to see the autumnal feeling of loneliness and sadness in this work. Unanswered questions and tragedies are abound. It is a wonderful narrative though full of existential crisis and of memory, love, and death. Spanning through a disjointed time period, and I don’t think Asle is the only one lost on his boat in the fjord. Singe is lost in her memories, and Aliss lost in her grief. It is a wonderful novella though. My only wish though is that it was more descriptive even a bit more lyrical. The choice of words at times (and this could be translation – though Dalkey Archive Press is a wonderful publisher!) felt minimal and chosen based on convenience and sometimes worked against the complexity of the narration of the novella. In the end however it was a delightful piece of work. Truly I am glad to have become acquainted with Jon Fosse.

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

Sunday 16 September 2012

The German Book Prize Short List

Hello Gentle Reader

Autumn is the start of the Literary Season, for me. It’s the time of the harvest, bonfires and pumpkin pie and turkey dinner; ghoulish children and ghastly ghosts – it’s almost a time of reflection in many aspects. It is the beginning of a long farewell. Here in Canada it is a homecoming of winter. The ominous; yet fragile, omen of winter can be seen. Farmers have swathed and combined their fields. The leaves have already started the gradual change. The streets where I live are becoming a continual destination for the fallen poplar leaves. The Literary Season started with the Booker Prize Longlist, then Ladbrokes Nobel Prize for Literature Speculation. Later the Booker Prize Shortlist had been announced. Now the German Book Prize has announced its own Shortlist for their prestigious award. This comes as quite an enjoyment away from the all the continual whining and grumbling from some countries who should remain unnamed – India and China(!) – who have continued their raging campaign about how the Swedish Academy has once again snubbed them for another year. This year a man from India has started a national campaign for India to have the Nobel Prize for Literature in two-thousand and thirteen, on the grounds that Indian writers from India (naturally) have not been given proper recognition. This nationalist campaign for Literature has used the example of the Bengal Poet Rabindranath Tagore who ironically won the Nobel a century before; as a pure and honest example of how the Nobel Committee has continued to push India aside. Though this Literary Activist has offered recognition that such great writers have been recognized by the Prize and benefited form it; he argues that there have been many ‘competent,’ Indian authors who deserve the prize. Competence is not relevant in such a prize (at least not in my opinion). Competence in Literature is saying that a writer has the ability or at least the understanding of comma’s and semi-colons and use of producing and writing a proper sentence. It does not mean that the author has talent or literary merit; or a wide ranging of concepts and idea’s that can traverse borders and boundaries, and sail on continents. Another problem with this entire campaign is that many people forget (I included) is that the Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to the individual author. It is not awarded to a country. The Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to the Author not to the Government or to a Country. One must remember that. Many of the recent authors have lived extraordinary lives of country traveling and immigration. Doris Lessing was born in Persia (now Iran) and then lived in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before living in England. Jean-Mari-Gustav Le Clezio is a citizen of France and Mauritius, by definition. He lived in Nigeria as a child. He studied at the University of Bristol in England. Then leaving to the United States to be a teacher. He served with the French military in Thailand and was quickly expelled for his criticism of child prostitution; from there he finished his military duties in Mexico. J.M.G. Le Clezio continues spend time in France and in Mexico. Herta Müller is a Romanian born German author. It is these kinds of authors that lead to the concept that the prize transcends borders and boundaries and awards itself to the individual not the country.

The German Book Prize is the equivalent of the Booker Prize. It is a prize that is awarded to the best German Language book, and author. In two thousand and ten the Swiss author Melinda Nadj Abonji had won the Prize for her novel “Falcons without Falconers.” Other shortlisted authors include Austrian authors as well like Clements J Setz who was shortlisted in 2009 for his novel “The Frequencies.”
This year two of the two-thousand and nine, shortlisted authors are back for another try at the prize again. One of them is Clements J Setz the “wunderkind,” of contemporary Austrian literature. For his novel “indigo,” a young math teacher begins his search to discover the origins and cause of a mysterious disease called “Indigo Disease,” which is plaguing the boarding school the teacher works at. Students go missing, and when he starts searching for answers; he is promptly fired. The author plays with identities; and is not limited to those of characters; even his own.

Ernst Augustin is this year’s oldest shortlisted author, at the age of eighty two. His novel “Robinson’s House Blues,” and is interestingly enough considered a fantasy genre author. The psychiatrist and author, writs about a character who travels through time and space; who also happens to be a crafty banker; whose experiences in risky transactions have got him in some hot water. He therefore has set up tiny rooms all over, where he can disappear into the virtual world. This also leaves the reader to get lost in the world as well.

Wolfgang Herrndorf’s novel “Sand,” has already won the Leipzig Book Prize this year; but that does not mean the German Book Prize is out of the question. It reads like a nineteen-sixties, portrait done in the romanticism style; but with dashes of espionage and murder. Played against the back drop of an expansive desert the author has captured something unique.

Ursula Krechel is interesting for two reasons: one she is primarily a poet, and two she is the only woman on the shortlist. Her novel “District Court,” recounts Germany’s recent past. Taken place after World War II the main character is a Jewish-German Judge who returns to a homeland that he can no longer identify or recognize. Pasting and placing his life on the page and the aspects that make it up like his lonely wife he left behind when he left for Cuba, a man who can no longer deal with day to day life; and Foster Children in Great Britain – it appears to be a sorrowful and melancholic piece of work.

Many will recognize the name Stephan Thome from two thousand and nine when he was shortlisted for the author “Border Walk,” and now the author and philosopher (trained in sinology) is back on the list for his new novel “Centrifugal Forces.” In this latest book which is said to be a pastiche of a travel book, Stephan Thome, traces the mid-life crisis of a philosophy professor, whose stresses of daily life and family problems have brought on this terrible catastrophe of the main protagonist; who travels to Portugal to find himself.

“Nothing White,” is the last novel to be shortlisted by Ulf Erdmann Ziegler. This is a novel about letters and typography. It is about words, and the letters that fill the white empty void of a blank white page. It traces the time of West Germany in the eighties. A place of liberal child development, new housing projects, all to the sound of new wave music. The author traces his generations development and the end of the printed age and the beginning of the digital age.

There you have it Gentle Reader, the German Book Prize shortlist. I love when deutschewelleenglish on youtube, will post the vide of the authors and their books, detailing them. But patience was thin this year, and it was time to announce the books and the authors. Let’s see who wins. It’ll be an interesting from the choices.

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

Friday 14 September 2012

On Not Finishing Books

Hello Gentle Reader

There are always books in our lives that we do not finish. There is nothing there. No momentum, no character with who we can emotionally engage with, a poor writing style – or awfully too complex writing style; perhaps at times just the fact that there is a pretentious drilling of a message. Whatever the reason, it caused for a great decree of being fed and placing the book down and not looking at it again. Some authors can write complicated novels, and get away with leaving a lot out or not completely following through with the some hinted at aspects of the story. One such example would be Haruki Murakami’s “Kafka on the Shore,” which is completely obscure and oblique; however it manages to get away with it, by telling an interesting story but also because of Haruki Murakami’s ease and simple style allowed him to disarm the reader, and get away with it. Questions remain but it wasn’t a complete let down, it was more of open ended ending that allowed for readers to interpret or fill in the plot holes themselves, allowing for at least on some degree more participation from the reader.

Some novels have some rather contrived and rather one dimensional character at best. The most recent character would be Isao Iinuma from Yukio Mishima’s “Runaway Horses,” whose complete obsession with honor and suicide lead me to hold quite annoyance, especially with his emotional immaturity which was always hidden behind his placid façade of discipline. Even his predecessor Kiyoaki Matsugae appears a spoiled overtly introverted person whose inability make action leads him to sit and move with the tide and philosophise about the nature of the tides themselves. Yukio Mishima may have regarded these characters as sensitive and disciplined and holding the sensualities of romanticism. In my opinion they were two characters that needed a good, smack with reality. However with endurance I got over the flaws of these two characters with such great joy happily pointed them out to me, with every scene and chapter they were in. Yet with pushing aside my judgement and opinions of the characters, and was able to appreciate the full mature style of Yukio Mishima in his later works, before his own untimely death by his own hands.

Other books through the years just never were able to do it for me. One of them being “The Savage Detectives,” by the late (and I don’t doubt talented writer) Roberto Bolano. After eighty some pages, and no real character development, a lack of descriptions and the feeling that the prose itself was wandering like its own drifting characters, who like dead logs or branches in a tranquil canal. Two attempts were given to the narrator and his drifting halcyon (with some serrated edges) journey, but both times left with nothing but a failure on both the author and my part, to be engaged and to be have a reason to be engaged. This did teach me something as a reader. Some authors get away with little action in their introductory phases. However on the contrary others cannot pull this off. For those authors, make sure you have engaging characters. Young voices who are arrogant or cocky, or feel that they the world owes them something is not going to do it. Neither will an apathetic narrator. Makes sure there is at least someone with a shred of personality. This comes back to Yukio Mishima and his characters, especially Isao Iinuma and Kiyoaki Matsugae, who’s only defining traits, appears to be the most horrible traits possible. Thankfully there is Honda. However with perseverance, and Mishima’s own literary talents, and getting so far through the novel already, there was no turning back.

One of the more recent ones was, Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning novel of two thousand and nine “Wolf Hall.” It has received rave reviews from critics and readers a like. Personally I felt that the novel itself felt into a period dictated by the circumstances around it that made it so successful. At the time the television show “The Tudors,” were running, documenting the life of King Henry VIII. “Wolf Hall,” by Hilary Mantel follows the life of statesmen Thomas Cormwell, who was part of the court of King Henry VIII. This is set in the early fifteen hundreds. It utilizes a lot of real historical characters – the primary one being Thomas Cromwell. All of the fictional characters meant nothing to me – except the brief instances where names like Henry or Anne Boleyn are mentioned (at least in what I read). The problem for me came down to no real characterization. Yes it’s a historical novel, which utilizes real historical characters, which in itself is a risqué act itself, because someone will always say that the personality or actions themselves are not up to snuff with ‘historical,’ records. Hilary Mantel played it safe. The characters themselves already have engrained personalities, and the mentioning of their names should already allow for them to be spoken by themselves. Then why do I ask myself was this book six hundred pages long? I felt it was overwritten, from what I had read, and also the prose itself was rather bland. There was no life to it, based on the characters lack of personalities for me. One does need to face it. I am Canadian, and I am rather ignorant to all things that are English and medieval English history. Therefore I need more than just the basics and livelier characters, rather than historical predetermined puppets. Also no I have never watched the television show “The Tudors.”

To use Yukio Mishima’s novel(s) “Runaway Horses,” as well as “Spring Snow,” they are both set in the past, and are great examples of historical fiction. They recount Japanese society in the early twentieth century. “Spring Snow,” is set in the Taishō period, and the lingering effects of the Meiji Period had ended. “Runaway Horses,” is set after the Taishō period, and uses many historical references of political uncertainty and the militarization of the country of Japan of the time, such as the May fifteenth incident in which the prime minister was assassinated. However the characters themselves are completely fictional. They have their own personalities, as well as the historical periods are both backdrops but also part of the story, and are not well described, but it does not feel necessary. What is known is what is essential. The ex-samurai’s disenfranchisement in the late eighteen hundreds, the May fifteenth incident, all of which reflect Isao’s own disciplinary action and military devotion.

This is by far the most recent by days. Jonathan Lethem is a writer who is often remarked as a slipstream writer. Whose own background or early reading experiences are rooted in genre fiction, pulp novels, and the golden age of comic books. Yet Jonathan Lethem himself is a writer who has obtained mainstream success and has gone past the lowbrow culture that some people are quickly willing to defend, and even accept as something more than what it is on the surface. However at some point in time we all somewhat fall down into those low brow culture traps. As Jonathan Lethem however explains in an interview, that it all comes down to taste. He watched “The Brady Bunch,” and “The Twilight Zone,” and when he began to figure out which one was not worth it anymore he stopped watching it. He was a voracious reader, reading everything, which has led to his own seamless writing abilities to incorporate different elements of very misplaced elements of genre into the mainstream. Such as a sentient and anthropomorphic kangaroo who works for the mafia from “Gun, With the Occasional Music.” His most recent novel is “Chronic City,” and I should have known from the title that it wasn’t going to be a novel that I was going to like. However it was on sale, and it sounded interesting. However through my reading of this book, it has become nothing more than a bunch of people with rather similar personalities, a drift in a world, who only drink, hold dinner parties, and smoke pot – and try to rekindle long dead flames of careers long since passed, or try to suck all there is out of what is left over of their careers. The novel itself is a saturated McDonald’s burger at a whopping five hundred pages – which wouldn’t be so bad if there was an interesting character in the book, or at least something interesting to say. Instead al l there is, is a bunch of pot smoking red eyed super high people who discuss philosophical matters, and cultural matters. It’s a world of low brow pop culture, Tourette Syndrome with names dropping left and right. Films I’ve never heard of placed alongside names like Marlon Brando , Gretta Garbo, and Alfred Hitchcock. The supposed merits were lost on me, and the sense of being alienated from a book irritated me, so in the end I gave up. The insular characters trapped in their own marijuana filled world had no interest to me, and with my own discriminations against pot, and the entire industry of drugs – from the drug lord to the jackasses that carry them left me with nothing more than annoyance.

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

Cloud Atlas . . . Film

Hello Gentle Reader

When I had first heard that the complex and thoroughly original novel by David Mitchell (one of my favourite authors of today’s world) was to become a film, there were certain doubts that the complexity of the novel could be impossible to transcribe to the theatre. There still remain these doubts, which have no sprouted and taken root, anchored deep into my expectations. However after seeing the trailer for the film adaptation of “Cloud Atlas,” there appears to be an understanding that the director and the staff of the film have captured, something; they have captured the fleeting moments of pleasure of reading the book. They understand the complexity of the book, and they realize the postmodern and almost challenging style of the book allows for it to be one of the greatest books, in the last few years that really can compare to some of the great works of the twentieth century in its innovative understanding of literature and of the art of storytelling. Written in the same style of Italo Calvino’s “If on a winter’s night a traveler,” with sole exception that the book is written with a mirror in the middle of the six novella’s and reflects their beginnings and endings. David Mitchell remembered being amazed by the book when he had first read it as an undergraduate. However upon re-reading the book, he found its wonder and amazement had all disappeared. Much like touching a butterfly’s wings – the dust is removed. The same could be said with David Mitchell’s experience with Italo Calvino’s book. The firs time he had, read the wonderful postmodern puzzle he was shocked by its inventiveness. The second time, when he touched the gold of the book, it crumbled to dirt. However, David Mitchell realizes that a book can only be breathtaking and inventive once; but at least it was better once then never.

When I had first read “Cloud Atlas,” I was amused, and enjoyed it. It challenged me as a reader, and also challenged my ability to read. It demanded concentration (“Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After,”) and rewarded (“An Orison of Somni-451,”) it made one laugh (“The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish,”) it became ambiguous (“Letters from Zedelghem,”) each time it had asked us why continue as both individuals and as a society to make the same mistake (“The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,”) but it gave us a riot of action but allowed for great depth (“Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery.”).

The film asks these same questions:

“Why do we keep making the same mistake over and over?”

It shows the beauty of life; as the fictional “Cloud Atlas Sextet,” is a (fictional) music composition that has six soloists that overlap. They are not interludes, or preludes, or postludes. They are not cogs in the musical orchestra. They are not individual musicians playing an instrument in perfect time with others. They are half finished love affairs on their own. Incomplete in their own individual moments. Yet they overlap each other. They become layers. Like tectonic plates that shift under and over top of each other. Each one is a ghost or a shadow of the other – and together they become less a fragmented individual and a cosmic creation that transcends it all.

It never answers the question of why we as human beings make the same mistake. But it allows us to know that we do:

“We cross and re-cross our old tracks like figure skaters [. . .],”

As individuals we are bound by the routines and the nature of being creatures of habit. That is why our lives are bound to each other. The crimes we commit; the acts of kindness we present as gifts to each other; these actions touch others; and like little webs or strings we become connected.

My favourite quote though from the trailer is the following:

“Yesterday my life was heading in one direction. Today it is heading in another.”

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

Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Booker Prize Shortlist 2012

Hello Gentle Reader

Today the Booker Prize 2012 Short list was announced. I must admit that for the most part my personal predictions were right. With the added exception that “Philida,” by André Brink did not make the cut, nor did “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,” by Rachel Joyce which it would appear everyone is talking about. In their place “Swimming Home,” by Deborah Levy had made it on the shortlist as did “Narcopolis,” by Jeet Thayli. For the rest of the most part though, it would appear that my own personal predictions were spot on.

I was not surprised in the least bit to see that Hilary Mantel and her novel “Bringing up the Bodies,” had got on to the Booker Prize Shortlist this year. After winning the prize back in two thousand and nine, for “Wolf Hall,” it did not surprise in the least bit to see the sequel on this list.

I was not surprised to see the independent published novel “The Lighthouse,” by Alison Moore, on the list. When I heard about it and read the blurb and seen the reviews, there was an understanding that this piece of work could match up with the other novelists on the list. Hard to believe though it was a debut piece of work.

It was no shocker that Tan Twan Eng’s “The Garden of the Evening Mists,” that deals with Japan’s war crimes during World War II and its Imperialistic expansion, but also Asian culture and forgiveness, has made it on the short list. His first novel “The Gift of Rain,” was a success and made itself on to the Booker Prize Longlist in two thousand and seven.

“Umbrella,” by Will Self, was at first a bit of surprise when I saw the author on the Booker Prize Longlist. Now however it would appear that Will Self is actually written something that can be placed on the ranks of the Booker Prize Longlist. Not a comical novel with superficiality or absurdist themes, but rather pieces of work that can be placed on the list for its indepth look at modernism, psychiatry and encephalitis lethargica or the sleepy sickness. Though I find the authors use of polyphonic words annoying and pretentious, this time the author has gone past his potential and has come close to truly grasping his abilities as a writer.

This is this year’s Booker Prize Longlist. It looks exciting. I think Hilary Mantel’s “Bring up the Bodies,” is just a honourable mention or at least a public pleasing move, I seriously hope the author does not win the prize. It is most certainly not anything against Hilary Mantel, I think that a new author should win the prize. An author who needs it or deserves it as much if not more.

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 6 September 2012

Traveling On One Leg & Nadirs

Hello Gentle Reader

In his international best seller “Danube,” Claudio Magris had mentioned Herta Müller in his chapters discussing the city of Timisoara. In this chapter Claudio Magris had the following to say:

“If in the Vojovodina the German population is now down to four or five thousand, in Rumania – or rather, in the Banat and Siebenbürgen – their culture is still very much alive. More than a hundred works of literature were published between 1944 and 4984, and poetry in dialect has taken on a new lease of life. Nikolaus Berwanger – until recently the all-too enterprising leader of the German-Rumanian culture, and now living in West-Germany – a few years ago announced the need to write in an “esperantosamizdat”. True poetry ought to be secret and clandestine, concealed like a profited voice of dissent, while at the same time is should speak to everyone. His position as leader inevitably drew him towards the universality of esperanto. On the other hand the stories of Herta Müller, entitled “Lowlands,” are as simple and complex as the passing of the years, and possess the existential truth of the samizdat, of the poetic word that is always non-official. Herta Müller writes about the village, like so many earlier writers of the Banat, but senselessly in sentences lacking predicates, speak of the oppressive alienation of the world and also of the individual from himself.

Owing to the new, alienating “village literature,” flourishing in Austria with Bernhard, Handke or Innerhofer, Herta Müller explores its dark, sensitive roots in an original manner. When she theorizes about it occasionally falls (like her models) into a stereotyped attitude not without a dash of arrogance. As part of the tough political repression to which Germans in Rumania have been subjected, Herta Müller has been forced into silence.”

So describes Claudio Magris about the then young author, and future Nobel Laureate in Literature of two-thousand and nine. After “Nadirs,” Herta Müller’s debut work was smuggled and published in the west, Nicolae Ceaușescu’s secret police the Securitate’s intervention, intimidation, and interrogation took on a darker dimension for Herta Müller. Of course this was taken place during the eighties when the Securitate systematically created a campaign to discourage any attempt, thought, desire, need or want to immigrate to the west leaving Romania behind. They used vicious rumours. Something Herta Müller herself experienced. Machinations were common, as were frame ups, and public humiliations. They had encouraged conflicts between two groups or segments of the population; turning people against each other. A classic communism move. They toughened the censorship of the country, took the greatest delight in crushing and repressing the smallest of gestures of independent thought or free speech. They used the word and title ‘intellectual,’ as a curse, as a brand of an equivalency to the very devil himself. Forced entries into homes, to tap telephone lines; interception of mail and all international communication as well as, routine monitoring of all domestic communications placed the country into a permanent state of fear. The belief was that the ratio of informants to the Romanian population was, for every four Romanians one of them was an informer. However in reality, there was for every forty three Romanian’s there was an informant or spy. However the number itself was still high, for the Communist Eastern Bloc. Suspicious deaths were not uncommon as well, and some have even come to light. When a coal miners’ union went on strike, some leaders had died prematurely. The reason being is some of the doctors working for the secret police, had exposed the chests of the men to x-rays in an attempt to have them develop cancer. When birth rates fell agents were placed in gynecological wards, and pregnancy tests were mandatory for any woman who were at child bearing age. Severe punishments were placed on anyone who had terminated a pregnancy or attempted to. This ubiquitous shadow, that slithered into homes. Were on every grey brick wall. Was in every window reflection. Had struck fear into the population of Romania. Herta Müller had faced this shadow head on. She learned to write from the silence. From the very absence of words. The tolerant attitude out of fear had disgusted Herta Müller. However Herta Müller also admits to knowing that there was an ominous fear in the country, and being afflicted with it as well. However she knew how to fight against it. When she traveled to Timisoara to go to school, she experienced the darkness of the dictatorship more closely and here she began to shape the person who would fight against it, and continuous to write against, and support dissident writers and intellectuals from all over the world.

“Nadirs,” the short story collection by Herta Müller which was the first experiment and foray into her signature style of poetic and prose hybrid, that requires the reader to be patient but also to give full attention to the work. The back of the book describes “Nadirs,” as follows:

“Juxtaposing reality and fantasy, nightmares and dark laughter, ‘Nadirs,’ is a collection of largely autobiographical stories based on Herta Müller’s childhood in the Romanian countryside. The individual tales reveal a child’s often nightmarish impressionistic of life in her village. Seamlessly mixing reality with dreams-like images, they brilliantly convey the inner, troubled life of a child and at the same time capture the violence and corruption of life under an oppressive state.”

To understand the dual world of Herta Müller and the language(s) that contradict each other and how her writing style has become so unique one should look at the short story “My Family,” and read the following line:

“My grandmother is blind with cataracts. In one eye she has the grey cataract, and in the other a green cataract.”

Thanks to Sieglinde Lug the translator of this collection, the explanation for what the author means via the cataracts:

“The German word for cataract is “star,” meaning “starling,”; the different cataracts are then called by the bird’s colours, gray and green.”

In these short stories, Herta Müller describes life as a series of events. There is no narrative. The child in these short stories is someone unable to theorize or understand the social world around her. That is why everything is set in a series of chain events. Father is a drunk; mother slaps child for asking stupid questions; grandpa is unwell; grandma is worried; the neighbours sleep around; a stray dog eats from the trash; a stray cat basks in the sun on the road, and then begs for milk. These are the events that are placid in the world of Herta Müller, and are simply described as such. There is nothing more to them. Though fantasy and surrealism, are commonplace through this short story collection. Further characterizing a child’s view point throughout the stories in this collection.

If you would like to know the real truth about Herta Müller and the village life she had lived through, then read the following, where she openly discusses the years her family were able to return to the Banat region. After World War II the Swabian-German’s were sent to the Baragan Plains at the Steepe of the Lower Danube. It is there that the displaced farmers lived in mud huts, reminiscent of their medieval counterparts, under Stalin’s horrible oppressive regime. However in nineteen-fifty three Stalin died (the same year the author was born) and her family soon saw liberation. They were able to move to Niţchidorf. But fear and terror were still around, as one can see in from the following:

“In my family each member lived its inner private life like on an island. These were the 1950s, during Stalinism, living in this isolated village, whose main street had no tarmac to take us to the city, Yet in spite of this isolation our village was not a sort of natural reserve could not be immune from the inroads of politics . Here three or four political activists kept under control the whole village. They arrived from the city. They just graduated and were sent to this god-forsaken village to start their career as controllers, outdoing each other’s in threats, interrogations and arrests. Our village had 405 houses and 1,500 inhabitants. All of us went about our business living in fear. Nobody dared talking about it. Although I was a small child too little to understand the meaning of fear, yet the very essence of fear, the sentiment of fear took hold of my brain. All members of my family were affected.”


“Traveling on One Leg,” is the homage and the documentary of what it means to move away. To become a dissident. To live in political exile. For the past two or three decades the author herself has worked and lived in exile in Germany. Which in this short novel; is not described as the greatest homecoming as one expected. The feeling of a homeland that had betrayed the main character Irene in this novel is described as a bitter place. But the new country is described as lonely world. A country in which Irene herself is out of place. That is how she comes into the orbital movements of three men. Franz who Irene met in Romania, and is emotionally distant and aloof; refusing to reciprocate the feelings Irene feels for him. Stefan is Franz’s friend; and then Thomas a bisexual or gay bookseller.

This describes the book on superficial terms. The sexual longing of the main character; symbols abound; as well as the atmosphere of isolation, displacement, identity and the concept of homeland – one that has betrayed all of Herta Müller’s characters, with its warped concept and philosophy of Communism. If one goes beyond on the superficial elements of this book, it is a deeply and intensely poetic experience. It’s a novel written not in verse but in maddening prose with poetic elements that builds up a confusing narrative of anguish and displacement. Such moments as when Irene’s photograph is taken, and she sees the “other Irene,” a shadow of her own life. The world is absurd, such as the rooms walk through her, rather than her through the rooms. Displacement is common.

I look at “Traveling on One Leg,” as a farewell to Romania, for the author. A way of coming to terms with the communist regime and the horrors that were afflicted on her. However the author is by far not some naïve young girl. She understands that even though Romania is no longer a Communist state that it has a lot of years still to go, before it backs down. It has a lot of years, before it completely abandons that part of its past, rather than still falling into some old habits.

However the main problem with Mrs. Müller comes from the fact that both try to deal with the past in different ways. Romania today tries to bury the past. They see the time of the dictator has since perished and become obsolete with the execution of the dictator himself. However Herta Müller refuses to believe this to be the case. Rather than burry the past along with its cobbler-dictator, Herta Muller, unearths it, and exorcises it. She has written about her personal experience under a dictatorship. No other author could compare to Herta Müller in this exorcism of personal demons other than Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. But whereas Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was met back to his homeland with at least shaky open arms, Herta Müller and Romania have since decided to go their own ways. Yet the coals of the two anger, continues to burn.

Remarks like “she writes in German, therefore she is not a Romanian writer . . .” are everywhere, like personal mantras that the former communist state continues to say, as if to supress their own past and the horrors of it – and in some ways to supress their part in it. Other cultural authorities have taken to other methods. Nicolae Manolescu the president of the Romanian Writers Union (who happens to be a fan of socialist realism) was surprised that the author had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. To further get this point across he made sure to delete and censor the author by making sure her stories and work were removed from all his anthologies. Though he would never admit that he had a successful career, under communism. While the now successful author, herself is the one reaping the rewards of the turbulent first thirty-five years of her life.

Her former husband and fellow writer have also come to Herta Müller defense and defense of her fiction:

“As it happened before in the past we shall carry on talking about an East-West dialogue between useful idiots and secret services informers, about cultural exchanges as well as about trends and research methods. All of it as if nothing had happened, as if nothing mattered. Quite the contrary it does very much matter both in Germany and in Romania. One has barely started understanding the past that one falls victim to amnesia. Democracy remains helpless whilst being denied a template of real reference values.”

It is with those words that one can see that the author is not stuck in the past. Frozen in some far off place, or constantly brooding over it. Quite the opposite really. She is leading others forward. To recognize the past as a valid part of one’s existence. Admit the undoable, admit the crimes, and admit the horrors admit it all.

Mircea Cărtărescu a young Romanian author however took the news of Herta Müller Nobel win, with great pride and with a gentlemanly stride and congratulated the author with whole heartedly. For better or for worst, he is also showed admiration the author. Who knows what the Romanian literati may think of such an action.
I will not lie that Herta Müller is by far my favourite author; or at least one of them. She is unique in her voice and narrative. It’s confusing and absurd. You take it or leave it. You’ll be either frustrated with it or amazed that you are looking at the world through a warped fun house mirror as the author was forced to live in.

One of my personal favourite passages of this short novel (“Traveling on One Leg,”) is:

“If this happened on the first day, and if Irene stayed on for another couple of days, all the days were just a continuous farewell.”

Life in general is a continuous farewell. At one point in another we all say farewell. We will say farewell to the grocer. Farewell to the hairdresser or the barber. A farewell to the sales lady behind the perfume counter. A farewell to our parents; they say farewell to us their children. In the end we say farewell to everyone in one way or another. Someday or in a few hours we may greet them again with a salutation or hello. Other times it’s a final statement. The curtain draws and it’s the end. With such a sentence the author is able to entice and enact the very landscape of the disposed, and the isolation and solidarity of all human beings exist in.

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

Wednesday 5 September 2012

National Literature (does such a concept exist?)

Hello Gentle Reader

In a globalized world it must become rather difficult to understand or even comprehend or at the worst outcome it is on the verge of a dying figment of the past. National literature in a globalized age is a difficult phenomenon. People migrate, and cultures shift from once traditional nostalgia to a progressive state of abandonment of the past as well as alienation of the once traditional culture. China, Japan, and Korea can certainly testify to this. Though there are elements of traditional culture like Shinto religion, or traditional medicine, there are also now elements of political turmoil, western influence on the culture, mass media and elements of interconnected people through technology – all of these new and progressive concepts have become something that is slowly changing the world, and of cultures. A great example would be to look at four Japanese novelists, of international reputation. The first being Yasunari Kawabata, who used modernism and western influence, but also kept a very strong view on traditional Japanese culture, to impersonate probe and study the Japanese mind. He was a psychological novelist, and delved into the depths of modernism, and his impressionistic and melancholic writing almost expresses his own views on the inevitable and what would eventually (and has happened) to Japan and its culture. In today’s world the mention of Japan one thinks of crowded city streets, school girls, crowded public transportation, subways, and a techno culture that would cause any techno-geek to have premature-ejaculation. It’s a place of progress, of human ingenuity but also a society that has been over taken by the concept of consumerism and marketing advertisement. The world now either a science fiction dream of a utopia or a consumerist dystopia – of a capsule houses, eating out regularly, and traditional home life replaced with solitary single life consumed by career driven paths – and any home life that was once there or a place of family units, is now a place of study and career pressure at a young age, parental units regularly missing, and televised baby sitters in the place of any human companionship. Yukio Mishima took a more a hard lined and radical step from his mentor Yasunari Kawabata, whose refusal to actually participate in the actions to prevent the fatalist future. Mishima wrote of the twentieth century Japan or rather the early twentieth century Japan – a Japan that was at its height of its power. A place where a small little country could play with the power houses of Europe; rival their economies and military might, as well as expand its imperialist interests beyond its own solitary borders. However Mishima also writes of the longing for Japans traditional past, as well as the overtly acceptable influence of the west of the greatest country in the east. His writing probes the nihilistic wanderings of a defeated nation and the bitter demands of the victors, but also shows the resilience of the Japanese people. However it is quite clear in many of the authors pieces of work and off the top of my head personally “Runaway Horses,” which foreshadows the own authors own Coup d'état and his eventual ritual suicide. The next author is much like Yasunari Kawabata, in the fact that both hold the distinction as being the only two Japanese authors to date, to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Kenzaburō Ōe, is different from Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima in two ways. For one he does not see the beauty of traditional Japan, like Yasunari Kawabata, because it would appear from the few pieces of work that I have read by Mister Ōe is that the world is cruel and openly barbaric. A place where bad and horrible misfortunes can befall anyone and everyone. Kenzaburō Ōe had also turned his own personal tragedy into a universal theme of human suffering and the human predicament. His first novel dealt with the cosmic and primordial themes of the human spirit. Whereas in his later work where he became more denser and stylistic he focused more on societal and inferior social concerns rather than his first work of grotesque cosmic wonderings – in this later works he became far more influenced by the left leaning political and philosophical writer Jean-Paul Sartre whose political activism often over shadows his literary and philosophical achievements, which always makes me a rather reluctant reader of his. With his existential ponderings and wonderings of his education, mixed with his elemental homeland that had been scarred by war, lost its identity and then hung in a unbalanced purgatory, Kenzaburō Ōe had than picked up the task of writing about the contemporary society of Japan. This makes him far more alienated from Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata – for one, Kawabata lamented on the fall of Japanese society and its traditional culture; Yukio Mishima on the other hand and his political right wing views, pushed for a reinvention, of cultural Japan and a political unique Japan – a Japan that was, not that is. It is here that Kenzaburō Ōe had to take up his mantel piece as a postwar Japanese author to write about the reality; not lament it or politically try to change it. Just accept what has come. At times a punishment; at times a reward – but nonetheless an evolution of human society. The last and most contemporary writer of these four is Haruki Murakami, Ladbrokes little Nobel Darling this year so far. Murakami writes of the alienation of Japan and Japanese citizens, but writes of a whimsical and quirky surreal world that it is as well. For many people who hear of Murakami and have no concept of what he writes, its described as alienated characters, wondering a nameless and almost formless landscape that has become Japan. Odd and surreal, and often questionable occurrences happen, that shake the foundation of reality, and the characters themselves. Than when it’s all over and done with, we all eat instant Raman noodles – and yes I am being facetious. But this is the world Murakami inhabits; as well as his characters. A place overly postmodern and industrialized as well as mechanized, where without technology the entire civilization and culture of this contemporary Japanese society (and all societies in general) would collapse. That is why supernatural or fanatical elements are introduced into his narrative, which allows for one to see a techno-Kafkaesque world but also further reflect on the alienation of the characters and of the modern Japanese person.

(The reason why I use these four authors, their themes, writing styles, and characteristics in general as well, is because they provide a sustenance and simple – but equally complex narratives and examples; at the evolution and change of Japanese literature and also because Japanese literature is one that the change and process of its evolution can be identified.)

However in today’s world, the world has shrunken. Where once was large and vast is now small and easily connectable – at least in most places. When Gao Xingjian was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, China reacted coldly to the announcement, and had congratulated the author and also France for their Nobel win. The world is full of these cases. Herta Müller faced similar feeling when she had won the Nobel Prize; Romania had looked at it as a German author winning the award not a Romanian. In today’s world, and since the geography has changed, Nobel Prize winning author Ivo Andric a Yugoslavian author would be hard to classify in which field of literature he writes in his region. The Vietnamese novelist Linda Le, lives and works in France, is she considered a Vietnamese novelist or a French author? Doris Lessing lived for the first part of her life in the Imperial colonies of Great Britain. However there is no denying the fact that Doris Lessing has the sensibilities of an English novelist. Alice Munro could easily be identified as a Canadian writer, because of her concerns with her native homeland, and area of the southern Ontario region, but also the wilderness of British Columbia. Her omniscient narrator who makes sense of the world and of the story; as well as her work shows a more complex side of women. Her work often is mundane and banal in its dealings with the lives of the characters. However its realistic sensualities give its timeless sensualities, when it discusses the ambiguities of life itself. Does this mean that she is strictly a Canadian writer in these themes? Not necessarily though she does give it a Canadian flare. Much like Marcel Proust’s literary masterpiece “In Search of Lost Time,” with its discussion of time that has past, and time that moves forward, in a restless stampede to the infinite end; and how along the way someone’s journey comes to an end; strictly speaking its avant-garde and very fashionable and very French. No different in some ways or another then the authors who came after the death of modernism led by Alain-Robbe Grillet, and proclaimed the advancement of a ‘new novel.’ Yet there lie other ambiguities, what about Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio whose works that at first followed the almost isolationist desire for art purely for art for the sake of art, but then moved away from such a concept and started working more closely on his own interests as a person, and transported them as a writer. His visual and almost photographic style, describes the migration and uprooting of people and cultures, and the author himself, is a cosmopolitan author, who is well traveled and experienced. Then come other authors out right reject their homelands, and yet still write about them – Herta Müller for example; or Adonis from Syria. Then there are others who are grand literary figures in their country like Alice Munro or Tomas Transtromer.

This overtly international world now is good and it is also bad. It’s a globalized work, where internationalism is everywhere. One can travel to France and see the great works of art and architecture and then go and eat a McDonalds down the street. One may be able to traverse the solitary alpines or go for a skiing trip there, but they will find a vending machine with Coca-Cola written on it. There is no escaping the dark cloud of globalization and consumerism. It’s a bright neon lite cancer. A polluted disease that has wormed its way into the very fabric and nature of society, and has also become acceptable part of ‘culture.’ Does national literature in today’s world still exists. Yes it does. It exists, because each nation deals with certain elements differently. A Vietnamese novelist would deal with the Vietnam war, much differently than an American author. South Korean’s will lament the Korean war, and the loss of their families and the split of their identity from a troubled neighbour to the North. Chinese authors will always be divided. A vehement venomous spitting war of words will always come from China and its dissident authors who refuse to sit idly beside as their country and people become comfortable in a ever more stable routine government. Russia will always be dealing with the recent past of the twentieth century of the former Soviet Union, in absurd and surreal ways like that of “The Master and the Margarita.” The English novel whether one admits it or not will always deal with the class system in some way or another. It’s part of the game – though it is no longer a big problem as it once was.

National Literature Exists Gentle Reader, it just works in a large cog of spinning wheels of cogs that has become a globalized society, which is either going to implode on itself, or going to fall to fragmented pieces. But this is what makes Literature and the Literature from around the world so interesting.

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