The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 28 September 2017

Nobel Prize for Literature 2017: Closing Thoughts

Hello Gentle Reader

[ I: Introduction ]

Autumn is in full blaze: the leaves have changed, the air is clear, the nights are cool, and the stars are more present. For me, autumn and spring are interchangeable seasons. Spring is budding and leafing into being and existence, as the icy claws of winter retreat, the world looks dead and wasted, until closer inspection at the details, revel the rejuvenation. Autumn on the contrary, is not budding into existence; rather it’s mature and ripe, leaving with a flick of the branch and the tumble of a leaf. The two seasons are transitory in nature. Spring heralds the summer: a time of sun and fun; blooming flowers, and shady trees; everything is enveloped in the thin cellophane of joy, with all the added hustle and bustle that inevitably goes along with it. Autumn, by comparison, only trumpets for winter: a time when the world slinks into darkness and the ground freezes into hibernation. One of the most endearing events of autumn, is the Nobel announcements; those glittering gold medals, which signify the achievement of mankind’s greatest endeavors in the fields of: Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, and Peace (as well as Economics, though this award was created after Alfred Nobel’s death, and was not originally signified in his will). The awards themselves are considered the high point and at the forefront of the advancement of the human race in their respective fields, be it the advocacy of peace, medical breakthroughs,  new understandings and ways in which to look at the world and life; as well as the enduring spirit of literature, creativity, and ingenuity of mankind’s ability to codify, represent, understand, and present the world through the use of language, while transcending linguistic and cultural barriers, in describing the human experience, in its tumultuous wonders.

This year’s Speculation for the Nobel Prize for Literature, has been muted. This being said, what has been discovered has been as lively, as those in years past. The enjoyment renews the prizes interests. This being said, many have noted there is a lot hesitation with where the award stands now; and by that, they mean with regards to Pandora’s Box being thrust open, as the Swedish Academy, has sought and desired to broaden the perspective of: what literature is; what it encompasses; what it incorporates; and what it envelopes. As we have seen in the past two years, the Swedish Academy, made unique decisions, by awarding a writer, who has been described as a journalist (though slightly different), as well as a musician. The box is open, Gentle Reader, and it’s a free for all now.

A Swedish magazine (or online publication) Bon has released its satirical list of possible contenders for the Nobel Prize for Literature, over the next couple of years; considering the Swedish Academy’s desire to broaden the definition of literature. Their list (and speculated citations) is as follows: [ please be aware the list is originally Swedish, and the following is a rough translation. ]

Aaron Sorkin – 2017 – ‘Because he renewed the TV dialogue.”

Alan Moore – 2018 – “For His elevation of the graphic novel/comic book to important culture.”

Jenny Holzer – 2019 – “ Because she shows that art can be literature and not the other way around.”

Dan Savage – 2020 – “Because he made great literature out of sex counselling.”

Miuccia Prada – 2021 – “Because she shows that fashion is literature that does not need words.”

RuPaul – 2022 – “For her reading of other queens.”

Kim Kardashian West – 2023 – “For her body language.”

The Awl – 2024 – “The newsletter is literary nowadays.”

TBWA \ Chiat \ Day – 2025 – “For Apple's Advertising Logo, Think Different."

Shigetaka Kurita – 2026 – [the creator of emoji’s] citation [emoji’s]

Imagine that, Gentle Reader, RuPaul sashaying down the blue carpet at the Nobel Ceremony to collect the Nobel medal and diploma.

Humour and jokes aside; the above list, does present the uncertainty of where the Nobel Prize for Literature stands right now, as a high literary award. In years past, the award was hit and miss, the consolation was of course: at least the winner was a writer. Now one can only have cautious expectations, with hesitant excitement, as one wonders who the laureate will be.

Yet, despite the hesitant and cautious air surrounding this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, the discussion has been riddled with vigor, with high spirited discussions, heated debates, and of course the heartwarming resilience in the face of uncertainty. Personally, formulating and drafting, my personal speculative list this year, was an enjoyable task; with the entire discovery, research, and writing involved. It only proved that there is great writers out there, still producing the highest pedigree of literature; showcasing, that literature is neither dead nor dying. Perhaps underappreciated and overlooked, but it’s still there, thriving and relevant as ever, to those who choose to hunt it down, scavenge for it, and devour it.

[ II: The Betting Lists ]

NicerOdds, Ladbrokes, and fellow company; are considered—in general terms—the barometers for the Nobel Prize for Literature speculation. Despite this, they were late (by previous standards) in putting up the odds for this years speculated writers. Though once they were up, the usual candidates were at the forefront of speculation for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. As follow are the favoured writers for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature:


Ngugi Wa Thiong'o – (highest odds) 5.50 (lowest odds) 5.00
Haruki Murakami – (highest odds) 6.00 (lowest odds) 3.50
Margaret Atwood – (highest odds) 7.50 (lowest odds) 7.00
Amos Oz – (highest odds) 11.00 (lowest odds) 7.00
Adunis – (highest odds) 13.00 (lowest odds) 11.00
Claudio Magris – (highest odds) 15.00 (lowest odds) 11.00
Yan Lianke – (highest odds) 15.00 (lowest odds) 11.00
Javiar Marias – (highest odds) 20.00 (lowest odds) 11.00
Jon Fosse – (highest odds) 25.00 (lowest odds) 18.00
Ko Un – (highest odds) 30.00 (lowest odds) 17.00
Ismail Kadare – (highest odds) 25.00 (lowest odds) 21.00
László Krasznahorkai – (highest odds) 31.00 (lowest odds) 21.00


Ngugi Wa Thiong'o – 5.00
Haruki Murakami – 6.00
Margaret Atwood – 7.00
Amos Oz – 11.00
Adunis – 13.00
Claudio Magris – 11.00
Yan Linake – 15.00
Javiar Marias – 11.00
Jon Fosse – 19.00
Ko Un – 17.00
Ismail Kadare – 21.00
László Krasznahorkai – 21.00


Ngugi Wa Thiong'o – 5.50
Haruki Murakami – 4.50
Margaret Atwood – 7.00
Amos Oz – 7.00
Adunis – 11.00
Claudio Magris – 15.00
Yan Linake – 11.00
Javiar Marias – 20.00
Jon Fosse – 25.00
Ko Un – 30.00
Ismail Kadare – 25.00
László Krasznahorkai – 30.00

[ The following writers are further down on the betting sites lists ]


Doris Kareva – (highest odds) 40.00 (lowest odds) 34.00
Dubravka Ugrešic – (highest odds) 40.00 (lowest odds) 34.00
Tahar Ben Jelloun – (highest odds) 40.00 (lowest odds) 34.00
Peter Nadas – (highest odds) 41.00 (lowest odds) 29.00
Kjell Askildsen – (highest odds) 41.00 (lowest odds) 34.00
Gerald Murnane – (highest odds) 51.00 (lowest odds) 25.00
Adam Zagajewski – (highest odds) 51.00 (lowest odds) 34.00
Mircea Cartarescu – (highest odds) 51.00 (lowest odds) 34.00
Leonard Nolens – (highest odds) 51.00 (lowest odds) 50.00
Sirkka Turkka – (highest odds) 51.00 (lowest odds) 50.00
Jaan Kaplinski – (highest odds) 67.00 (lowest odds) 51.00
Tua Forsstrom – (highest odds) 67.00 (lowest odds) 60.00


Doris Kareva – 34.00
Peter Nadas – 29.00
Kjell Askildsen – 34.00
Gerald Murnane – 51.00
Adam Zagajewski – 34.00
Mircea Cartarescu – 34.00
Leonard Nolens – 51.00
Jaan Kaplinski – 51.00


Doris Kareva – 40.00
Dubravka Ugrešic – 40.00
Tahar Ben Jelloun – 40.00
Peter Nadas – 40.00
Kjell Askildsen – 40.00
Gerald Murnane – 25.00
Adam Zagajewski – 50.00
Mircea Cartarescu – 50.00
Leonard Nolens – 50.00
Sirkka Turkka – 50.00
Jaan Kaplinski – 60.00
Tua Forsstrom – 60.00

Despite the betting sites and their lists being considered the barometers for assisting speculation of the Nobel Prizes, they should always be taken with a grain of salt, as its betters who influence and shift the odds with the lists. Who these betters are, what information, knowledge and criteria they have in order to make their bet is unknown; and therefore caution should be exercised when displaying the list, as anything beyond speculation. To prove this point, the betting sites list numerous deceased writers, such as: John Ashbery; (removed now) Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Karel Schoeman, and Juan Goytisolo. As well, they do list: Kanye West, Donald Trump, and George R. R. Martin with extremely unlikely odds.  

The lists themselves have not adjusted or changed since last year. They retain the same anemic conventional status quo of past years with: Ngugi Wa Thiong'o and Haruki Murakami topping the lists as the most likely candidate to become this year’s Nobel Laureate in Literature. Perhaps the only oddity out of the bunch is: Margaret Atwood. Two-thousand and seventeen, has seen a renewed interest in the work of Margaret Atwood, due to the television adaption of her most well-known novel: “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The television adaption and the novel were picked up by many young women and other protestors, as a symbol of feminist resistance against the misogynistic rhetoric displayed by the current President of the United States of America. The red cloaks and white blinders have been donned by protestors as they have entered legislatures, where legislation was debated, with regards to women rights, and reproductive rights. Since the adaption, Margaret Atwood has found herself once again in a position, where many solicit her opinion and prophetic pearls of wisdom, to either quell the fear of a fascist America or to strike the flint to light the kindling of revolution.

Always the social conscious writer (from feminism to environmentalism) Margaret Atwood, has always been delicate and neutral when discussing explosive issues that are social and political in nature. Atwood has always danced cautiously, expressing her work as fiction, but always foreshadowing that her warnings may seem like fantasies in the present, but the future is less than forgiving of present ignorance or apathy. Since the resurging interest in Margaret Atwood and her novels, Atwood has been on a prize parade receiving: the Franz Kafka Prize and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

Awards and television adaptions (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” and more recently “Alias Grace,”) as well as numerous awards, does not mean a writer has the guarantee of securing the Nobel Prize for Literature. Social engagement and a keen eye for political discourse, however, does not always hurt, as long as you’re on the ‘right side.’ Margaret Atwood is a unique writer, due to her prolific bibliography, where she has written in a variety of literary formats, such as: novels, short stories, poetry, libretti, non-fiction (with essays varying from Canadian literature, to economics), to Children’s literature, and recently comic books. Though her work and her writing is industrial in scale, socially conscious and politically aware in themes, Margaret Atwood’s output is often uneven in quality, reminiscent of Doris Lessing—the titanic writer who with fiery vision and cold analysis vivisected the latter half of the twentieth century, through its social upheavals and political disgraces. Personally, I find Margaret Atwood warmer in tone and more agreeable in digestive terms; yet, I enjoy the abrasive no nonsense attitude of Doris Lessing, with her schoolmarm sharpness as she suffers no fool kindly, reader or otherwise.

The general consensus and overview of this years speculated candidates for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature are the usual uninspiring suspects:  Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Haruki Murakami, and Margaret Atwood. It would of course be preferable for none of these three to win the award, and it go to some obscure writer, who has remained hidden in the wood work. Perhaps that would clear the air of the Nobel Prize for Literature and once again keep speculators, viewers, readers, and critics on their toes; and of course: the usual “[blank] Who?” is always good for a laugh; nothing screams insularity, like hooting like an owl.

[ III: The End ]

The betting lists have released their thoughts, speculation is well on its way; and now, Gentle Reader, we wait for the announcement date. As per tradition, the Swedish Academy, will set the date later; though the other Nobel Prizes have already set their dates, starting with Medicine being announced on Monday, October 2nd, followed by Physics on Tuesday, October, 3rd, then Chemistry on Wednesday, October 4th, the Peace Prize on Friday, October 6th; and the Economics award will be announced on Monday, October 9th. By tradition we do know the announcement for the Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced on a Thursday, and the Swedish Academy will make an announcement date on a Monday. In other words: either the Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced on either October 5th (next Thursday) or October 12th the following Thursday. If the announcement is delayed like last year, there can be adequate speculation that their maybe internal strife within the Swedish Academy, and an inability to come to a majority consensus with regards to the Literature Laureate for the year. Last year, the Academy started the award was delayed to due to a mathematical within the Swedish Academy bylaws. On that note: here’s hoping this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced next week, on October 5th.

On one final note Gentle Reader, it is usually proposed to me, as to who sits on my own personal shortlist for the Nobel Prize for Literature. With seventy-six writers listed, one is usually under the impression there is plenty of wiggle room; but alas there is so many writers, and it is often difficult to boil it down to a select few writers. Yet the following two lists (one for prose and one for poetry; showcase the writers, I am—at the moment—rooting for). The listed authors are not listed in any particular order.

Prose –

Ersi Sotiropoulos – Greece
Jon Fosse – Norway
Gyrðir Elíasson – Iceland
Can Xue – China
Bahaa Taher – Egypt
Ibrahim al-Koni – Libya

Poetry –

Doris Kareva – Estonia
Sirkka Turkka – Finland
Tua Forsström – Finland (language Swedish
Ý Nhi (Hoang Thi Ý Nhi) – Vietnam
Kim Hyesoon – (South) Korea
Kamau Brathwaite – Barbados

Those these are my lists today, they may change tomorrow. Fleur Jaeggy sits on my tongue, alongside Yoko Ogawa, who I see as a better substitute for Haruki Murakami (though the English language needs more translations); I ponder about Henrik Nordbrandt, with Sergio Pitol; Magdalena Tulli always rises from the banks of creation, and deep in my consciousness Olga Tokarczuk springs from Primeval. I wonder about Li Ang and Yang Mu, while the verse of Moon Chung-hee is subtle and its fragrance lingers in ones mind; I am growing more curious about Duong Thu Huong, and my thoughts circle around to Mia Couto and Pepetela who is difficult to find. So many writers Gentle Reader, it is often quite difficult to decide who takes priority and favour over another.

For now though Gentle Reader, we wait in careful anticipation. Who will be the lucky writer to receive the golden Stockholm call? Only the coming week(s) will tell.

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

M. Mary

For further reading please see the following links:

The betting sites list:

Bon magazine’s satirical list of future Nobel Laureates in Literature:

My Annoucnement for this years Nobel Prize for Literature Speculation List:

My Nobel Prize for Literature Speculation List for 2017:

Friday 22 September 2017

Kinshu: Autumn Brocade

Hello Gentle Reader

Contempt—as I was recently informed—is the most useless human emotional response or reaction, on the spectrum of emotions. Of the vast scale of the human experience, depicted through the various tints and lenses of emotional responses and reactions, it is surprising to think that contempt, is the only emotional response which has no valuable input. When presented with other emotions and their apparent lack of value; the informer of this information simply responded: hatred provides the ability to come to terms with the situation and accept it, before finally forgiveness is offered; anger is natural, it’s an instinctual reaction, which human beings are offered as a defense mechanisms; fear is primal in its makeup—and the list goes on. Contempt, however, completely lacks the ability to evolve and polish into a transcending experience or awareness. Contempt is chain and cinderblock; it’s wrapped around ones ankles and drags them down into the deepest darkest aspects of the human soul. It restricts and restrains any movement upwards or forwards. Contempt keeps one chained and stationery and in this grounded position, the individual lacks any room for growth or transcendental experience. Contempt infects an individual with apathy, the striking human ability to throw ambition to the side, enthusiasm left stranded, and a complete disregard for concern or attempt at changing the situation, which has reduced the individual to a level of malcontent. Contempt; be it: contempt for a situation; contempt for a job; contempt for a relationship; contempt for a person—the list is endless, but contempt in itself, is the most inactive and useless emotion human beings and individuals have as a emotional response or reaction, at their disposal. Contempt may be an involuntary retort to a situation, individual, job, or relationship; but it is a voluntary choice to maintain it, past realization. If one is incapable of making a appropriate decision with regards to the source of their contempt—be it they find a new job, or call off the relationship, or honestly come to terms with their contempt towards another individual, or change the situation or remove themselves from it; they then convict themselves, and sentence themselves to remain chained to the bottom, incapable and unwilling to progress or move in a positive or at least different direction. Contempt is being encased in cement; it encompasses apathy and ignorance, a willful desire to be blind and to be stationery; it leaves little to the imagination, and there is no room for hope. In the end, contempt is simply put, an emotional boa constrictor, which ensnares, constricts, strangles, and finally sinks the captive to the endless depths of pessimism, apathy, ignorance, and a wash of other byproducts of the human experience. There one is lost by their volition; their decision made their conviction concrete. It is only with time, age and wisdom that one finally decides to ascend the squander of their bloated arrogance and contemptuous perspective, and then move forward, progress farther.

The biography sketches of Teru Miyamoto are all the same: Miyamoto was born March 6, 1947; he graduated from the private Otemon Gakuin University, where he graduated with a degree in Literature (referred to as a degree in ‘letters,’) and worked a copy writer before starting his literary career. Other sources state a little further detail, stating Teru Miyamoto was born and raised in Kobe, of the Hyōgo Prefecture. His father was a businessman who dealt with automobile parts, but his business failed. Beyond that, there is little detail to offer a complete portrait of the author. Teru Miyamoto’s early career took off, when he won to Osamu Dazi Prize, for “Muddy River,” and the Akutagawa Prize, for “River of Fireflies.” Since his initial publications, many of Teru Miyamoto’s work have been turned into films, as well as translated into Korean, Russian, French, English and Chinese. Throughout Asia, Teru Miyamoto has risen in popularity amongst readers, who enjoy his masterful narratives about the everyday person, their tribulations, their romances, their heartbreak, and their redemptions and acts of forgiveness. His work prose is clear and plain, which depicts with matter of fact clarity the experiences of the characters as they go through the motions of life, seeking understanding, meaning, and purpose; while fending of mundane concerns such as bills, debts, love and loneliness.

“Kinshu: Autumn Brocade,” is the first Teru Miyamoto novel to be translated and published in English language, to my knowledge. Contemporary Japanese literature has shifted and changed from its roots, both ancient, classical, medieval (for lack of better term), all the way to its early-modern and modern periods (which includes the Meiji Period, Taisho Period, and early Showa Period). The contemporary work of Japanese literature today is often referred to as a byproduct of globalization, taking the form of literature from the globalized suburbia of Japan. Gone are the tatami mats, the Japanese style houses, the calls of samurai, nodes and nods to its long illustrious history. Few remarks are offered on traditional Japanese culture as well; such as samurai codes, or tea ceremonies, or remarks on Shinto religion or temples, or ikebana (flower arrangement), or traditional clothing (such as kimonos), or cuisine. In fact, all elements of Japanese identity beyond names, are completely bleached, starched and ironed, to the point where, what remains is nothing more than shapeless white linen flapping in the wind, with no identity or eluded heritage, even hinted at. This consensual desire to toss ones cultural heritage into the depths of oblivion, is frightening and disappointing. Ones heritage and cultural lineage, is not something to be ashamed of. Centuries of history and development should not and cannot be denied or redacted; they should be celebrated, promoted, propagated, and showcased; and not a novelty, but as a desire to showcase the maintenance of the cultural identity of the nation, and its people. The contemporary Japanese literature, translated and published today, is bleached and peroxided, to the point the scenarios and situations are commonplace; despite the fact (the reader presumes) they are taking place in Japan, they may as well take place in the United States of America, or the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, or France. The most famous target for this is of course: Haruki Murakami. His plots and stories are noted for their surreal premises; such as a woman gets sucked through a television; or leeches rain from the sky; or a man eats cat hearts; or a woman goes missing; or a woman who teaches a fitness class by day, and is an assassin at night, enters another dimeson; and so on and so forth. Fans, readers, and lovers of Murakami, would argue, my criticism is too vague and general, failing to elucidate further; but I have neither desire nor need to extrapolate further. There is no peculiar sense of Japanese about Murakami; his characters listen to jazz music, they eat spaghetti or instant ramen noodles; they drive muscle cars, sit on chairs, and sleep in beds. All of this leads one to have the landscape blends into their own surroundings; with the only hint of Japan being the names. Haruki Murakami and followers of his style (Banana Yoshimoto) are gold mines for publishers then: they carry a sense of exoticism, while writing in such a simple and plain style; it will not alienate English language readers. They will recognize instant ramen noodles, or spaghetti; the characters suffer from urban and youthful existentialism, doubt, isolation, and a need to overcome obstacles, as well as their own apathy to find some sense of self-worth. In all, reading most contemporary Japanese literature is like traveling abroad, with the familiar comforts of home, the Starbucks in the Louvre, or a franchise burger joint outside of the Uffizi. It’s foreign enough to call oneself cultured, but familiar enough to be acceptable.

Teru Miyamoto is an exception. “Kinshu: Autumn Brocade,” is contemporary as much as it is traditional. The plot could ramble on much like any novel written in English or French, concerning the same subject matter; but there is something strikingly Japanese about it; cultural motifs make their appearances, such as love hotels, lover’s suicides, traditional mountain resorts, communal bath houses, tatami mats also make an appearance, and even a slightly eluded reference to arranged marriages, as well as Japanese gangsters. What a breath of fresh air, Miyamoto turned out to be; here is a writer who appears to straddle the bridge between the great twentieth century writers of Japan like: Yasunari Kawabata, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, and Yukio Mishima; and the more popular writers being translated and published today, like: Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, and Ryu Murakami. Miyamoto writes with understated but plain prose; but his scope of introspection rivals Kawabata and the domestic dramas of Tanizaki (though he lacks Kawabata’s lyricism), and a penchant for the melancholic hero, much like Mishima (though without the exaggeration and solipsistic self-absorption).

“Kinshu: Autumn Brocade,” is a simple story line. It’s an epistolary novel (which originally, gave me great hesitation) which recounts the end of a marriage between former wife and husband: Aki Katsunuma and Yasuaki; who have divorced ten years prior, only to meet at a chance meeting on a mountain gondola, where they exchange social graces and pleasantries but nothing more. Yet, Aki Katsunuma feels compelled to write to her former husband; in order to clear the air and find closure to the events which caused their divorce. It turns out, ten years prior; Yasuaki was on the verge of death, due to a failed lover’s suicide, with a high end call girl/hostess or waitress. Inevitably the marriage was dissolved, as Aki’s father was the founder and president of a construction company and was grooming the young Yasuaki to take over upon his retirement. The future was looking forward and bright for both Aki and Yasuaki, but it fell to pieces, over the affair, and the failed suicide attempt. The correspondence initially begins with Aki writing to find closure and answers to the event which changed the course of her life. She seek to understand who the mysterious woman was, and her own importance; Aki also reveals her son, is eight years old and suffers from cerebral palsy, which she initially blamed Yasuaki, believing his actions tainted her karma, and her sons disability was due to the personal shock of the infidelity of her then husband, but also his shameful act. It should also be mentioned, Aki did remarry eventually; but the marriage is not a happy one, her husband is not featured often in her letters, as their marriage is lifeless, cold, and deprived of intimacy—it should come to no surprise he is also having an extramarital affair. Yasuaki, attempts to answer the questions of Aki’s, but also skirts the issue. The women he was seeing, was someone he had known from his childhood, who even then, had a reputation for being ‘flirtatious,’ (and I am being kind) with other boys; and their chance encounter rekindled the spark he had felt when he was a boy on the cusp of growing into adulthood. The narratives change focus from the past, to the present, to the emotional, to the unusual (such as discussion on Mozart; which was actually rather compelling).

The novel maybe epistolary format, but it reads like to monologues, circling each other in a disconnected waltz, seeking to find common ground. Neither lives of Aki or Yasuaki amounted to what the expectations were; both failed, tumbled, and fell. Yasuaki perhaps the worst for wear of the two; but rather then fall into the melancholic and nihilistic pitfalls, Teru Miyamoto brings them full circle, they find closure, acceptance, redemption, and even forgiveness. Just shy of a year, their correspondence finally sutures old wounds, closes the caskets of their shared life, and in this they are able to rejoice and their new found freedom, unburdened, and unshackled from the past, and its contempt. Autumn and winter never ended brighter; in a blazing glory of fiery red, and a burning dusk signaling the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one.

In “Kinshu: Autumn Brocade,” Teru Miyamoto discusses, life and death, as well as forgiveness, karma, love and redemption. The story was suspenseful as it was enjoyable; its introspection was not self-absorbed or forced. The characters were richly unique; though it did suffer from moments of melodramatics. It was still a change of pace of the current contemporary literature being translated and published.

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

M. Mary

Wednesday 13 September 2017

The Man Booker Prize Shortlist, 2017

Hello Gentle Reader,

Earlier today, the Booker Prize judges, chaired by Lady Lola Young (Baroness Young of Hornsey), announced this year’s six shortlisted writer for the Booker Prize. The list announcement was met with mixed praise of applause, and other mutterings of shock, but also controversial questions. Before then, the following are the six lucky shortlist writers for this year’s Man Booker Prize:

Ali Smith – United Kingdom – “Autumn,”
George Saunders – United States – “Lincoln in the Bardo,”
Paul Auster – United States – “4321,’
Emily Fridlund – United States – “History of Wolves,”
Mohsin Hamid – Pakistan – “Exit West,”
Fiona Mozley – United Kingdom – “Elmet,”

The shock started with the omission of Arundhati Roy from the shortlist with her novel “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.” The other shocking omission was Colson Whitehead and his acclaimed science-fiction novel “The Underground Railroad,” which has already won numerous literary awards such as: The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Arthur C Clarke Award, and the National Book Award for Fiction; as well as being selected as part of Oprah’s Book Club in two-thousand and sixteen. Many commented, on the omission of “The Underground Railroad,” would be considered in the near future the novel that got away. Controversy also erupted once again, when the dreaded questions was asked about the ‘Americanisation,” of the Man Booker Prize; after all, the shortlist is heavily inclined toward American writers, especially two well established writers: George Saunders (who is favoured to win the Prize) and Paul Auster. The judges immediately went on damage control, claiming none of the works shortlisted were discriminated or favoured, due to nationality, gender, age, or the writer—the books themselves had to support their claim for a sport on the shortlist, with the judges debating and discussing, which books to place their. The judges only confirmed the coincidental shortlist, favoured to American writers, simply exemplifies the award moving in a ‘transcultural,’ direction, where literature is favoured on literary merit not national identity.

Though if you ask me such statements are as hollow; the list has so far been favoured and dominated by American and United Kingdom/British writers, over other common wealth countries. It leaves one to fear that Marlon James’s win in two-thousand and fifteen, would be the last time the award moved beyond its ‘old boys,’ club rhetoric. Then again, you can’t expect much from a horse race; and the true gems (if they do in fact exist) are always left buried in the sand, waiting to be discovered.

Overall though, this year’s Shortlist has been praised for its diversity, as it honours debut writers (I wonder if that includes, George Saunders), against established writers. The list has been noted for challenging literary conventions, being immediate in themes, contemporary in style, and noted for its at times social preoccupations.  

Either way: Congratulations to the Shortlisted writers.

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

M. Mary  

Thursday 7 September 2017

A Greater Music

Hello Gentle Reader

Bae Suah has been described (in her native (South) Korea) as a writer who is: “committing violence to the Korean language.” The previous statements intention was to be critical; to present disproval and recrimination against Bae Suah, who is accused of aggressively eroding the foundations and structure of the Korean language. This brings to mind the only thought: writers thrive and live in language, words, and stories more than the real world; but the relationship is not without its complications. Every depiction of Bae Suah, presents the writer as a dark horse, an outsider, a sardonic and sarcastic contemporary commentator on the current state of (South) Korea, with its patriarchal ideas, its post-capitalist consumerist economy, and the breakdown of human relationships and function. How then did such an enfant terrible begin her career? The answer itself is acutely understated. Bae Suah has stated she began writing, when she worked as a low level government employee at the Gimpo Airport, behind the embarkation/disembarkation desk; Suah relays, she wrote one sentence, then another sentence, with many more following suit, until a story was formed and presented. From there, Bae Suah treated writing as a hobby and enjoying pastime, rather than anything serious. Over time however, Bae Suah’s work came to the attention of the literary and publishing world, where her work was immediately noted for his psychological detail and presentation. From there, Suah was able to resign from her stultifying job and begin work as a writer full time. Despite being one of the most original voices in Korean literature, Bae Suah retains the appearance of an outsider. She has no formal education or theoretical groundwork for her works, she has not be manufactured by creative writing degree programs either; nor has Bae Suah been nursed and mentored under the wings of other writers. Rather, Bae Suah has carved out her own autodidactic place in Korean literature. Her work is known for its acute psychological depiction and attention to detail; time is no longer depicted in the straight arrows path, rather its fluid, where past and present ebb and flow beneath the nib of Suah’s pen. Her novels are noted for their sardonic tone, and sarcastic temperament, depicting the frailties and dysfunction of her characters with a critical glare, and disinterested perspective. It is interesting, however, to reflect on Bae Suah being an experimental writer, despite her lack of formal training, theoretical base of knowledge, or mentorship of any kind. Perhaps it goes to show; the writers who operate outside the generally accepted conventions and spheres of literary influence are more open to pushing the envelope and playing with the format of the written word; then those who have been manufactured by writer’s workshops, and graduate creative writing programs.

Since publishing her first short stories and novels, Bae Suah has expanded her horizons beyond writing her own work. In the early two-thousands, she spent an eleven month exchange in Germany, after which and with further study, Bae Suah would become a translator of German literature into Korean. “A Greater Music,” has been described as a semi-autobiographical novel, in which the narrator is a Korean women/writer living in Germany with the intention of learning German, but is experiencing great difficulty in commanding the language, and applying it in real world contexts and conversations. The novel traces the narrators experience in Germany, as she orbits between two people—the student (engineering?) and casual welder (the book describes him as a ‘metal worker,’) Joachim, who is noted for a lack of interest in literary and cultural pursuits; instead favoring ruthless pragmatic ideas and ideals, which are more relevant to concreate realistic problems—and, the androgynous M, who is a complete foil to Joachim, due to her intellectual pursuits, love of culture (specifically music and literature), but is also sickly; her living situation is also not as desperate as Joachim’s as she is not concerned with finances and other pragmatic or practical concerns, and appears to live a life  deprived of such inconveniences, in order for her to peruse more liberal interests and cultural pleasures. Between these two, the narrator finds herself passed back and forth; but each relationship is constructed on loose sand, and neither one is either willing or capable of standing the grips of foreign pressure, and alien realities.

Time is not a natural force which moves in a linear format, marching ever forward into eternity and infinity, with no regard for what is swallowed in its sands; rather, in the hands of Bae Suah, time is subject to the subjugation of perspective and memory; and of course is unreliable considering it serves at the pleasure and mercy of memory and therefore the individual. Just like the fluidity of time, there is also the fluidity of sexuality, as Bae Suah’s narrator of “A Greater Music,” has relationships both with a male (Joachim) and a female (M); though her true feelings toward to the two is ambivalent at times, with a complete lack of romantic sentiment; instead replacing it with infatuation, endearment, and perhaps even cool detached co-dependent perspectives of tit for tat, and other transactions as such. Lesbianism is mentioned in pacing, and touched lightly, despite the relationship of the two women, being a central part of the novel. Thankfully though, the homosexual relationship is described with usual commonplace language, and avoids the pitfalls of exaggeration and over dramatization, where the entire relationship is not depicted as some social break down, and a triumph of human and social progression, but rather some carnival sideshow, fixating on the fact it is completely out of the norm or defies the social and moral conventions of time. Rather, the relationship between the narrator and M is a focal point of the novel; a chain in which the pearls of themes and discussions are to be laced through and strung on.

Throughout the novel we view the narrator as a an isolated island, alienated and lone to herself, since her school years, which were defined as tedious and a waste of time, as the narrator was incapable of learning to pay attention early on, and would begin to read novels inside of her textbook, rather than pay attention to class, though she always passed on mediocre grounds. Friendships during this time were limited or non-existent, as the narrator confesses her inability to conform and align herself with the popular tastes of her classmates; though she bought and listened to the popular music of time, like ABBA, surrendering herself to the tastes and opinions of the group, but with limited success. Her time in Germany is much the same, but made that much worst due to her inability to communicate fluently or with ease. In Korea our narrator was noted for her apathy her towards her studies, as well as the social conventions and conformities of her classmates who gobble the materialistic and fashion trends of the day. Her lack of desire for interaction and all attempts at interaction generally end in failure, with her circumstances remaining much the same and herself alone.  

In Germany her isolation continues because of her lack of control, authority, and ability to utilize the German language in any function beyond the most basic exercises in communication. It is her boyfriend Joachim, who would introduce the narrator and M, as student and tutor. The lessons with M, are unconventional at best, and lead to little to no insight, of the linguistic mechanics of the German language. Instead, M has the narrator read passages from German novels; she gives little feedback to any, while her expressions differ nothing to outright pain, at listening to the narrator read. The narrator finds herself not gaining any particular knowledge or handle of German, any better than she has already, while M, confesses she cannot reduce the German language to grammatical exercises, and topics of pronunciation and elocution. Though she admits her teaching is unorthodox and is perhaps not quite the best way for the narrator to learn to speak German, and introduces the narrator to another instructor Erich; who would succeed in helping the narrator learn the German language, but would also be successful in washing out the base of the narrator’s relationship with M.

At its basis in plot, “A Greater Music,” is the beginning and the end of a relationship, told through the labyrinth of memory and time. Beyond that, “A Greater Music,” attempts to act as a novel with essayistic elements (after all the literal Korean translation of the former novel would be: “The Essayist Desk,”). The novel tackles the discussion of language, be it learning a new language, the separation of high culture and low culture, as well as the transcending power of music.

“A Greater Music,” was a wonderful introduction into the writing of Bae Suah. It begins to show her current trajectory as a writer, where she has tossed the conventional concepts of plot and story aside in favour of essayistic discussions, poetic ruminations, and a discussion on personal themes and points of interest. She is certainly one of the most exciting and exhilarating voices to come out of South Korea; her lack of formal education or mentorship, have allowed her to carve her own space in contemporary South Korean literature, where she is dubbed a dark horse, and a writer who assaults and defiles the language. Suah’s treatment of time is unique, and her acutely displayed psychological perspectives are unique and believable, adding greater depth to her narratives. Bae Suah will certainly be an author worth looking into further, and reading more of, as her work becomes translated more and readily available.

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

M. Mary

Monday 4 September 2017

John Ashbery Dies Aged 90

Hello Gentle Reader,

When discussing contemporary American poetry there can be no denying the postmodern giant: John Ashbery. Ashbery came to the attention of the American poetry scene with his seventh collection of poems: “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” – which would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and has been hailed as a masterpiece of twentieth century American poetry. From the beginning of his career onwards, John Ashbery was noted for its avant-garde leanings, his uncompromising poetic forms, and his disjointed syntax. Despite being acclaimed and lauded as a great American poet, whose influence from the last half of the twentieth century into the early twenty-first century; criticism was also quick to be fired. His poems are noted for their flexible shifts in tone, from modernist orations and ruminations, to the mundane daily chatter of life. Yet his poems elude comprehension or understanding. Many advised to read readers to read Ashbery’s poems free of the desire to comprehend and understand, and instead treat it like music, moving with the rhythm and rhyme and sound of the words. In an interview nine years ago, Ashbery once joked, if he could define his name (Ashbery) into a verb, it would be defined: “to confuse the hell out of people.” His lack of clarity and clear mission of his poetry was the greatest bone of contention readers, poets, and critics had with Ashbery. His poetry came across as hermetic, with the lazy trope of surrealism in order to present himself as clever, without any depth lurking beneath the surface. Despite the bipolar reception which often greeted John Ashbery, he has become one of the most imitated American poets of recent memory. Many attempt to mimic his surreal cartwheeling and abstract expressionism, but none are capable of achieving the Ashbery poetic pinnacle. John Ashbery was both praised and criticized; admire or despise his poetry, there can be no denying his singular desire to be known solely for his poetry. Ashbery was a spearheaded thinker of postmodern poetry, much in the same vein as Erza Pound or T.S. Elliot, with modernism. Unlike many of his contemporaries; such as Adrian Rich or Gary Snyder, who turned their attention to social and political causes; John Ashbery, continued to focus on his own poetry, retaining his independent and individualistic poetic style, voice, and themes.

Rest in Peace, John Ashbery.

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

M. Mary