The Birdcage Archives

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!

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