The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 24 December 2015

A Merry Christmas!

Hello Gentle Reader

Outside, fat snowflakes fall. By definition it will be a White Christmas. The meteorologist on the news claims; with added enthusiasm that tomorrow maybe, by definition: a Perfect Christmas. The tree is up. The presents are wrapped. Tea is brewing in the pot. And for now, family is together. The guests, that were set to join me (us) this evening, have cancelled; but no matter, their joy in the air; a joy that will rebound to the world tonight and tomorrow! NORAD is busy, watching tracking Santa in the sky; a year’s worth of preparations are in tow in his sleigh, and his list has been complied and checked twice. But a Saint with a warm and open heart, is sure to keep it open to all, naughty or nice – and coal is just not environmentally friendly anymore; and Krampus should surely be spared his tiresome (if albeit sadistic) duties for another year; and joy passed to all children; as being nice is difficult, and hiccups of all sorts are to be forgiven.

To you my Dear Gentle Reader, I wish you a Merry Christmas, and a well deserved New Year! May the slate be wiped clean, and we begin the new year off with fresh snow, and a renewed vigor! This year I am hell bent determined on purchasing Marvin Gardens – as I am every year; but this year I will be successful!

A Merry Christmas, Gentle Reader!
A Merry, Merry Christmas!

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Reade

M. Mary 

Thursday 17 December 2015

So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood

Hello Gentle Reader

Patrick Modiano is a psychogeographic writer. Past and present often meld themselves on the streets, now long since changed, demolished, and or renovated. Modiano’s work often traces his narrators as they walk the streets of Paris. The streets that were, no longer are the streets that are. Though the same old streets have become something new; and the notes of long past that trace a map stating: “So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood,” become obsolete, as we quickly become lost in once was familiar. Even in the small city in which I reside, when I leave my own circular daily walking routines and venture further out, the city becomes monstrous, mysterious, bewildering, and strange. The more I engage with it, the more I see the city change through time. I know what winter brings everything closer; how spring softens it; how summer rejuvenates it, how autumn brightens it. For Patrick Modiano this is all true. The seasons change the lighting of each city street, back to the past. A past that is not coloured; but covered in sepia tones and shadows of once was. All of this is the hypnotic charm of Patrick Modiano.

Modiano is a rarity in French Literature. He explores the French Occupation, and the river of oblivion sloshing through the sewers of Paris, wiping away the remnants of that dark period of French history; and it’s unfortunate war time errors. Yet that has all been forgotten. It has been recorded, filed, and left where many believe it should be: in the past. Why discuss the grievous and grief stricken errors of the past, our forefathers? Those were desperate days in desolate times. Now they are now dearly departed. It’s best to leave sleeping dogs where they lay. Yet for Modiano, the discussion of this era is not a discussion of the guilty past; nor is it a requirement of moving forward and forgiveness. Rather the discussion of the French Occupation itself is a personal one. In his Nobel Lecture Modiano states:

“Like everyone else born in 1945, I was a child of the war and more precisely, because I was born in Paris, a child who owed his birth to the Paris of the occupation. Those who lived in that Paris wanted to forget it very quickly or at least only remember the day-to-day details, the ones which presented the illusion that everyday life was after all not so very different from the life they led in normal times. It was all a bad dream, with vague remorse for having been in some sense survivors. Later on, when their children asked them questions about that period and that Paris, their answers were evasive. Or else they remained silent as if they wanted to rub out those dark years from their memory and keep something hidden from us. But faced with the silence of our parents we worked it all out as if we had lived it ourselves.”

“It’s full of ghosts here,” is what Annie Astrand states to our narrator Jean Daragane, in his novel “So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood.” She states this in a deserted mansion by the Bois de Boulogne; and immediately one can think of the entire career and bibliography of Modiano himself. Each novel becomes a new room in an ever expanding, and depleted mansion:  from the Honeymoon suite, down the nursery; all the way into the garden, where gatherings were once held. Ghosts surely do move through the halls of Modian’s literary mansion. Ghosts that were once seen a few books ago, quickly come back, and make their subtle appearances. Recognizing a particular character or name, one is quickly hunts through the books to find prior novels and volumes already read, to sift through the chapters, the words; the streets, and the names to find the prior appearance of this particular character once again.

“So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood,” depicts Jean Daragane, a writer removed and unplugged from the world, who is disturbed by a couple, who express interest in a name in his address book, which he had lost, and they wished to return. This couple immediately reminded me of the young Jacqueline and Gerard from: “Out of the Dark,” because they survive off of gambling. Yet Gilles Ottolini is far more sinister that Gerard; and Chantal Grippay (Josephine) is far less cold and distant then Jacqueline. Yet their lives seemed to intertwine, if only by lifestyle and career choice. But other than that, the two couples are separated. Yet the interest in the name Torstel sends Jean Daragane back to his childhood – a place of murky inconsistencies, that has been enveloped by the present and tossed into the future, and what remained has been covered up, renovated, and discarded into the past, living on in photographs and memories of those, who lived in those times. Of course “So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood,” had me running not just back to “Out of The Dark,” but to “Suspended Sentences,” with the mention of Annie, and a certain Roger Vincent and his American convertible. But while sifting through “Suspended Sentences,” there was of course another peculiar mention of a certain Jean. D as well – and I could only wonder if this was Jean Daragane himself? Of course with Patrick Modiano, you never get any real concise answers to your own questions.

Yet I did my best to theorize. The Jean D. from “Suspended Sentences,” seemed older or at least older the then then Jean Dargane, who appears in Annie’s care in “So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood.” Then of course there was Annie – she herself appeared younger in “Suspended Sentences,” and in now making an appearance in “So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood,” she has aged dramatically. The only individual, who remains consistent with himself, is Roger Vincent; who is only mentioned in “So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood,” but the appearance of his trademark American Convertible. Then of course there is the fact that an ‘acrobat,’ nightclub is also mentioned – something Annie participated in, before “Suspended Sentences.” Yet one can only wonder about the ambiguous questions raised in these slight connections by Modiano in his novel “So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood,” and wonder if the Jean D and Jean Dargane are both one in the same and are connected to the Rue Lauriston gang; in which case of course, is this what Gilles Ottolini wishes to know?

Modiano is not a writer of answers though. He is not a writer of mysteries. Mysteries are developed as puzzles: they must have a logical and conclusive answer at the end. Rather Modiano is a writer who takes the guise of a mystery writer, to explore the misty memories of the past, with all the black, white, and varying shades of grey. He is an atmospheric writer; and this strongly plays to his talents, the ability to build up tension and alienation through the stifling uncertain atmosphere; which is all thwarted in the end, by the lack of anything else acted upon this atmosphere.

Jean D. in “So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood,” is a rather weary character. He quickly loses interest or falls into apathy in regards to situations that surround him:

“In the end, he decided to take advantage of the silence of the night to reread all the pages of the ‘dossier’ for one last time. But no sooner had he started his reading than he experienced an unpleasant sensation: the sentences became muddled and other sentences suddenly appeared that overlaid previous ones and disappeared without giving him time to decipher them.

[ . . . ]

“He put this down to weariness, and he closed his eyes.”

Often this was the case with “So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighbourhood.” As a reader of the novel myself, I found myself overcome with weariness and exhausted by Jean Dargane’s communicable sense of weariness and existential apathy. Of all of Modiano’s novels that I have read yet, this one in particular struck me as being lack luster, and not up to par with his other novels from the past. Or perhaps its reading too much of one writer in one go. Nonetheless Modiano has so far been the most successful Nobel Laureate to be translated into the English language since he has won the award. I am still waiting for many more Le Clezio novels and short stories to reach me in English, and Herta Müller only comes around once in a while; like a distant relative who finally has the chance to come and visit now and then, but always leaves prematurely. Modiano has become a great success, and it is relieving to see his novels become more widely translated, for a new chapter in his great tapestry of his book to be penciled in.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Thursday 10 December 2015

“When We Don’t Speak We Become Unbearable . . . “

Hello Gentle Reader

“And When We Do, We Make Fools Of Ourselves.”

One again Gentle Reader, there is Thursday on the calendar, and there is once again the urge to speak – or in this case write; if only to fill the silent void and in the process make a fool of myself. Nonetheless stating nothing, becomes unbearable and the oppression of silence looms overhead, and becomes a noise in itself; a scream that pounds within the confines of the skull, but unable to see fruition in some unintelligible audible sound, because the tongue is twisted. So scream; if only silently.

Well Gentle Reader, it is done. Nobel Week finds itself wrapping up in Stockholm. Praise has been given; lectures delivered. The medals are doled out; diploma’s received. Once again faith is restored in humanity. The individuals awarded, were awarded for their achievements, their life time of work: that being innovative or creative; all for the betterment of mankind. And yet what dire straits mankind find itself, in now. Terrorism, bombing, invasions – talks of war! Joy is fleeting; but anger and hatred? They are ruthless, relentless and unending in a cycle that breeds itself in numerous incarnates.

This year’s Nobel Laureate in Literature Svetlana Alexievich has made a career of exploring these deplorable and dark situations, and chronicles the plight and survival of the human soul within these situations: war, mass murder, disaster/catastrophe, economic scarcity. Alexievich has recorded the Soviet individual and the post-soviet individual. The reality: grim. The results: grim. The potential: great – with hesitation. As Alexievich has stated in her Nobel Lecture titled: “On the Battle Lost,”

[ In reference to Russia, and the current state of Eastern Europe; and in a larger scale the world ]

“The question was posed: what kind of country should we have? A strong country, or a worthy one where people can live decently? We chose the former – a strong country. Once again we are living in an era of power.”

There were some slight reservations, when it was announced that Svetlana Alexievich became this year’s Nobel Laureate in Literature. Journalism is considered more of a profession, then a literary endeavour. The form itself requires complete objectivity; and yet Alexievich has done away with the cool chronicling, and instead has become a recorder of human hardship, as well as a cartographer of the human soul in its darkest nights, its bleakest presents, and its dire futures. Her heart has always been placed in her subject matter. Often mapping the Soviet individual’s attempts at coming to terms with its past, and now its present, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the results as she lied out in the above quote, are profoundly disappointing. Alexievich has stated herself, it is not the difficulties in which we endure that make her sad, it is our inability to learn from this suffering, and our advertent or inadvertent desire to repeat it, over and over again.

Though her work may not be defined as being strictly literary, by all literature definitions (prose, poetry, or drama) Svetlana Alexievich does fit the will when it states, that the award should go to a writer who: “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Though Alexievich is not a writer of ideology, she certainly gets to the point when discussing ideals, and their effects on societies and civilisations, as she listens to the stories of many witnesses of history, and attempts to understand why we continue to make the same mistakes, over and over again.

 Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Congratulations again to you Svetlana Alexievich. 

Thursday 3 December 2015

Reading & Keeping up Appearances

Hello Gentle Reader


It’s been a while since I lasted posted. The past two months, I’ve worked two jobs, seven days a week, plus doing university courses online. Needless to say, I have not found time as of late to read; let alone write. Yet as of late I have dropped one of the two jobs, and will most certainly and ideally make time to read, and review the growing piles of books on my bedside table. My current to read list is as follows, starting with the book currently being read:

“June,” by Gerbrand Bakker
“Tristiano Dies: A Life,” by Antonio Tabucchi
“Sarajevo Marlboro,” by Miljenko Jergović
“Ruta Tannenbaum,” by Miljenko Jergović
“Missing Person,” by Patrick Modiano

In the New Year, I should expect Herta Müller’s newest translated novel “The Fox Was Ever The Hunter,” in May; though originally it was pre-ordered back in April, the release date was set for “December 1st,” of this year, which was pushed back to April 1st, and now May 10th. Nonetheless I look forward to reading this book.

Now when I am not studying, working, and lamenting the depleted state of my refrigerator (why are grocery stores not open until 2:00am?), I can be found watching the youtube series: “Gayle,” and making phone calls that refer to at least one person as either Bonnie or Daaviid. Other than that, my time (or what has been reserved) is put towards sleep.

For the long run then Gentle Reader, I do sincerely apologize for not posting, or keeping up on reading; but what I can say is so far I have found “June,” to be a rather enjoyable book, and look forward to finishing it, and reviewing it as well.


Some good news, is it looks like the wonderful independent and masterful craftsmen publisher: Archipelago Books will be publishing one of Magdalena Tulli’s personal novels: “Szum,” or “Noise,” though the date currently is not set; Archipelago will also publish Antonio Tabucchi’s last novel “For Isabel: A Mandala,” though date of publication is currently unknown. Along with future translations, I am looking forward to someday seeing Olga Tokarczuk’s novel “Runners,” published, as well as her most recent and epic novel “The Book of Jacob.” Though after receiving the Nike Award for her recent novel “The Book of Jacob,” Tokarczuk sparked online outrage which included death threats, for her comments about Poland’s contemporary and historical perspective of itself not being a tolerant and open country. Yet, Tokarczuk should take consolation in the fact that this minor controversy will pass.  


On the “World Literature Forum,” there is a thread discussion titled: “The Next Generation: Future Nobel Prize Winners.” On the thread two female Chinese writers came up: Wang Anyi and Chi Zijian. Both these writes came up in discussion in contrast of Can Xue. I began to wonder particularly about these two new writers. Wang Anyi is a familiar name after he nomination for the Man Booker International Prize back in two-thousand and eleven; but Chi Zijian was a new writer entirely. Whenever a writer that reigns from a country, whose government exhibits authoritarian qualities in its governance, there is always slight unease. When the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, was awarded to Mo Yan, I may no qualm about expressing my spleen about the decision (as did many other writers). Now with the mention of these two writers, I am showcasing a bit of distance and uncertainty.

Wang Anyi has been compared to one of the last great writers of China: Eileen Chang; for the grounds that both writers share a love of the city Shanghai. Anyi grew up during the Cultural Revolution, and was a daughter of persecuted “Rightists,” which subsequently ended her formal education, and she was sent to be a farm hand. During these lost years, Anyi survived by being a cellist in a local arts troupe. After this time period, Wang Anyi was permitted to return to Shanghai in nineteen-seventy eight; and the city along with music has infused much of her work. Her work depicts love both in the city and the village of her choice. Her novel “The Song of Everlasting Sorrow,” has been heralded as a modern Chinese classic. The novel itself traces the life of a woman from her birth in 1945, through the Cultural Revolution, and after the revolution with the formation of the now modern Chinese state.  Anyi is called a subtle critic of the Communist state of China.

Chi Zijian is a state writer. She is paid by the state to write. She has published forty some novels, and lives in a Northern province of China, along the border with Russia. Beyond this there is no mention of Chi Zijian being critical of the state; or any real biographical notes of mention.

What is concerning of these two writers – more Chi Zijian; is a lack of political involvement or rather dissidence. A co-worker and I had this fierce debate the other day at work, when he once again desired to hear my miraculous talent of reciting the Nobel Laureate from 2015-1979; after which had asked why I show such disdain for Mo Yan. When I had my opinion known, that I found Mo Yan’s lack of opinions and perspective that were critical towards the ruling authoritarian government in his country deplorable, my co-worker stated that writers should not be political. I of course agreed with him; writers by nature should not be political, or support any political party of any sort. However I said, when you come from a country that is authoritarian you no longer have the choice to be apolitical; you now are either with the ruling regime or you are a dissident against them. My co-worker of course disagreed, stating that writers should be able to write; which I said is true, but when you are a writer, you are first and foremost a guardian of written word, and the freedom of expression that comes from it; which means you are therefore a guardian of freedom of speech, and intellectual thought, which may go against the ruling party or regimes own ideology. When you are supported by the government and therefore its ruling ideology, and therefore are propagated and promoted by the government, you are no longer able to be a politically neutral writer; you are subsequently a supporter of the government (which in this case is authoritarian). On the flip side if you do not write or support the ruling ideology or party approved perception you are therefore a dissident. In these cases there is no centre or middle ground; one cannot strictly be just a writer. Writers in these circumstances are pushed into an ideological infused societal culture where they are either: party approved or not. In the case of Gao Xingjian and Mo Yan: one was a dissident (Xingjian) and the other was party approved (Yan). So could I see Wang Anyi or Chi Zijian becoming a Nobel Laureate? One cannot rule out the possibility of either one; but preferably in my opinion I would sooner see Wang Anyi receive the accolade over Chi Zijian.


Writing is known as being a solitary and often introverted job. Times have changed though Gentle Reader. Reading is no longer considered the only form of entertainment or a luxury form of entertainment. It’s become marginalized as well as, antiqued and archaic. It has yet to fall into the realm of irrelevance like poetry; but the extinction of the written craft appears to be an apocalyptic shadow that lurks over the literary world. “The Guardian,” posts that this year (2015) struggling authors (in the UK) have applied for emergency financial assistance then they did in years prior. In fact in the last five years the number of authors applying for help has doubled.

It appears that the book industry has become as polarised as all other industries. The book industry is interested in franchises – movie deals, television series; or brand name authors, who have created wonderful books or a series, and plan on capitalising on it. So long to the literary; bon voyage to the avant-garde; and from the trash to the storefront: the rubbish.

Yet there is hope. Literary journals, publications, quarterly’s, et cetera are now ‘crowdfunding.’ It were to seem that despite the financial hardships at the moment, one maybe surprised by the innovation of the independent people in the business to find innovative ways to bring the literary to the people.

Perhaps there is hope Gentle Reader that each of us will cease being passive consumers, and will begin to finance or engage with new and exciting ways to engage or dictate what we ourselves would prefer to read. It’s not a lot Gentle Reader; but it is hope, and hope is better than the fatalistic outlook of nothing.


That’s it for today Gentle Reader. In the coming weeks, I’ll post something in regards to Christmas, in between studying for a Final Exam, and perhaps before the New Year or after I will post my most recent book review: “So You Don’t Get Lost In the Neighborhood,” by Patrick Modiano.

For now though Gentle Reader:

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

P.S. Thank-you to all of you Gentle Readers, who read this blog, and those who also leave comments (both positive and negative) your thoughts are always welcome!