Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Friday, January 19, 2018

“I Wish”. - A Short Story by Riham Adlay - November, 2015

This is the second  of a series of posts I’m planning on the wonderful short stories of Riham Adly

Riham Adly known as Rose among friends is a published author  and a creative writing instructor from Gizah, Egypt. Several of her short stories were published in international online literary journals and websites.

 Riham is also first reader/ marketing coordinator in "Vestal Review" literary magazine.

 Riham moderates "Roses's Cairo Book Club" in the American University in Cairo Tahrir Campus each month for those few yet growing avid bibliophiles.

Riham has also started her own writing group on FB "Rose's Fiction Writing Club" to motivate her students to keep on writing and sharing their work with emerging and aspiring writers from around the world. . Data from Author

This is the second story by Riham Adly upon which I have posted.  Previously I talked about her wonderful MAKAN award winning story about conflicts of loyalty “The Darker Side of the Moon”.

Today I will be posting on another of her stories, “I Wish”, very different from “The Darker Side of the Moon”.  “I Wish” begins when the narrator, a young woman, wishes upon a seeing star.  As she does so the world around her seems to dissolve into a new reality, she wonders why the end of her world has to be in darkness.  Suddenly a light spreads.  She then casually wishes, not meaning it to come true, that she had some water.  A cup of cool water appears in her hand.  Intrigued, she tests her powers by wishing for and then getting a big juicy hamburger.  Her mind wanders and soon she is on a beach, an unreal from her old world scene filled with all sorts of luscious gastronomic delights.  Now she is convinced she has been given special powers.  Her wishes expand, including even a man to satisfy all her sexual fantasies.

Now the story takes a fascinating turn.  She says all these things are not real and wishes for the return of her old reality.  

I will not talk about the very creative close of the story only to say their are numerous ways to understand the close.  You will not, I for sure didn’t, see the ending coming.

Her prose is beautiful, drawing you deeply into the story.

You may read this story and other works of Dr. Adly at the link above.  I will be featuring several more of her works soon.

Mel u

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Daniel Deronda - The Final Novel of Gerorge Eliot - 1876 - 752 pages

George Eliot

1819 to 1880, England

Since beginning my blog I have read and posted on these four of her seven novels:


Silas Marner-1861

The Mill on the Floss-1860

And her final novel, Daniel Deronda, 1876.

Middlemarch is seen by many as the greatest novel written by an author from England.  For sure it is among the greatest novels of all time.  

Daniel Deronda is not quite up to the level of Middlemarch, but then what is?  It is the only one of her novels set in contemporary to writing time.

It is a very serious challenging book.  As in the greatest literature, you will learn somethings about yourself from this book. It might take a while to get the characters straight in your mind but they will all fall in place.

The title character Daniel Deronda is the ward of a wealthy bachelor.  Everyone, including Daniel, assumes he is Sir Hugo’s child from a clandestine affair.  The other central character is a young woman, Gwendolyn who Daniel first meets at a casino in Germany.  Gwendolyn has just lost a lot of money at roulette, to which she seems abducted.  Their stories structure much of the novel.  

About a third way into the novel Daniel saves a young Jewish woman who is trying to drown herself in the Thames.  He takes her to the house of a wonderful family who shelter her.  In one of the very best segments of the novel we learn her terrible life story. 

Much of the novel is taken up with the question of the place of Jews in English society.  Daniel adopts as his teacher in Jewish culture a man dying of consumption. This man thinks Daniel, his heritage is at this point unknown, is Jewish but Daniel does not believe this.

There are some very interesting plot turns I will leave untold.  Exciting things happen, big revelations are made.

To those new to Eliot, by all means first read Middlemarch.  

I would like to read her other three novels, maybe I will read Adam Bead next.

Please share your experience with George Eliot with us

Mel u

“Rosh Hashanah” and “Two Heads” - Short stories by Yente Serdatzky - translated from Yiddish- 1949

Both of the stories I am posting upon this morning first appeared, in English translation in 2003, in a very interesting and culturally valuable book,
Beautiful as the Moon, Radiant as the Stars: Jewish Women in Yiddish Stories, An Anthology, edited by Sandra Bark and introduced by Francine Prose.  This book will correct, as it did mine, the common impression Yiddish literature means only male authors writing in Poland, Lithuania, or Russia about life in the shtetl, small Jewish towns. Now I know there are wonderful written in Yiddish stories by women, and I know Yiddish Literature thrived in New York City and Montreal.  These stories are often about the immigrant experience. 

“Rosh Hashanah”, translated by Ellen Cassidy, set in New York City, probably written between 1949 to 1954, is narrated by a young woman.  As the story opens she is recollecting her families observations of The High Holidays.  By then she had already lost her believe in the teaching of her heritage faith.  She senses this hurts her mother terribly.  She moves to a bigger city and becomes involved in what are preceived as anti-government activities.

“We scheduled meetings for both days: every free moment had to be used for agitation. On the first day of the New Year, we went to a remote corner of the city and crammed ourselves into one tiny room. The air was thick with tobacco smoke, yet we emerged with shining faces. We were living in the future. The next day we were arrested. For three months we sat in prison. After that, some of us were exiled to the cold villages of Siberia. Others they set free, including me, on the condition that we leave Russia for good. We had comrades who had fled to America, so we crossed the ocean and came here.”

The narrative picks up in New York City, sometimes she thinks of her family but she has lost almost all sense of being a Jew.  She is intensely lonely.  I noticed something of much interest in this story, to me.  In pre-Holocaust Europe many Jewish people felt if they kept quiet, did not agitate and acted “European” they would be spared the pograms.  You can see this in the work of many writers including Stefan Zweig and Irene Némirovsky.  This feeling is brilliant illustrated below.  

“Across the street, two young women were sitting on the stoop. Both had little babies, which was why they couldn’t go to the synagogue. One of them I knew a little—we often ran into each other. Once as I passed by I’d heard her aim a curse in my direction. She’d run away from home because of the pogroms, I figured, and now that things were going well for her here, she thought that if only people like us would stop stirring things up, there’d be no more troubles for the Jews. Now as she talked to her friend she flicked her eyes at me like daggers, her lips moved, and I had the feeling she was cursing me again.”

The story ends on Rosh Hashanah, the narrator is flooded with memories. Her friend Helenka is with her as she enters a deep state of dispair

“Why am I living here? I asked myself. What do I have in my life? Not the holy, poetic stillness of the shtetl and not the exhilaration of the struggle. Not my dear family members from home and not my beloved comrades. Here is only loneliness, loneliness, smoke, noise, sweat, rudeness—and the reward for it all? Nothing but a crust of bread. From the kitchen, Helenka’s pacing grew more restless still. I felt sorry for her, my only friend in the world, and although I felt like throwing myself on her and pouring out all my thoughts in a flood of tears, I didn’t want to make things harder for her. And so, standing before the mirror in the dimness, I forced myself to begin combing my hair. But suddenly my body began to tremble: at that moment, my face bore an uncanny resemblance to my grandfather’s. There was a roaring in my ears and the blood rushed to my face. A rainbow-colored mist shimmered before the mirror and a wavering column of pale figures began to emerge from afar. Volodya, Sonya, Solomon . . . all at once I could plainly see the tall, refined figure of my grandfather, the velvet skullcap skullcap perched high on his head and the deep wrinkles creasing his pure white forehead. Raising his silver brows, he looked at me, his eyes so sad. He tottered toward me, and now I could feel him. I wanted to turn to him but could not. In the mirror I saw him lift his trembling hands over my head. His tender voice whispered in my ear: “May the Lord bless you and keep you in good health, may He cause His countenance to shine upon you, and may He give you peace.” I felt a violent pain in my breast. My legs buckled under me and my head grew heavy. “Grandfather!” I wanted to call out, but the words stuck in my throat. I leaned my head backward—I wanted to rest against his chest and weep. But he was too far away, and my head fell back, back, back. . . . I feel a commotion around me and a sharp pain in the temples. They’re sticking me with pins. They’ve resuscitated me. You may ask-why?”

A marvellous story, about loss of faith, memories, loneliness and under that the role of Reading in her life.

“Two Heads”, translated by Sheva Zucker, joins my favourite stories about people who lead reading cantered lives.  ( I like it so much I have placed a quote from the story in my introductory top right sidebar.). It is narrated by a very lonely woman, living by herself in a rooming house.  She reads much of the time, it makes her feel less alone.  One day she hears noises from the room next to hers, vacant for a long time.  She begins to imagine a man living there, as lonely as she who loves reading.

“How does he live? His room is certainly as gray and sad as hers . . . there must also be a lot of books there . . . also unbound! And he reads . . . day and night he reads. And he reads with passion . . . with excitement . . . as if he were searching for lost treasures, forfeited riches, and holy things impossible to recover; the wrinkles deepen on his high brow . . . his blue eyes become more doleful . . . more pensive”.

The ending is a twist, funny sad and poignant.

YENTE SERDATZKY was born outside Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1877. In 1905, she left her husband and children and went to Warsaw to pursue a literary career, in which she was encouraged by I. L. Peretz. In 1907, she came to the United States. She ran soup kitchens in Chicago and New York while publishing stories and oneact plays in many Yiddish periodicals. Her only book, Geklibene shriftn [Selected Works], was published in 1913. She worked for the New York Yiddish newspaper Forverts until 1922, when she was dismissed in a quarrel with the editor. She withdrew from the literary world until 1949, when she began writing again and was published in the Nyu yorker vokhenblat. She died in 1962.

After reading these two wonderful stories I did find one of her stories online and will post on it soon.

Mel u

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

“Mother Catherine” by Zora Neal Hurston - A folk lore study by a master of the short story- 1929

1891 Born in Alabama

1960 Dies Fort Pierce, Florida

1937 - Published Their Eyes Were Watching God 

Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, a master of the short story, an anthropologist, focusing mostly on the culture of African Americans in central Florida and on the influence of Voodoo on the religious and spiritual views of those in this area.  Her short stories are world class cultural treasures. She studied anthropology with Franz Boaz, mentor to Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. She was extremely well read and highly educated.  Tragically she died in poverty and obscurity.  Her work is vital to students of Florida history.

I began  reading her work years ago, quite by a happy accident.  Only a few of her short stories are online and her Collected Short Stories is not available in a kindle edition.  I was very happy to recently come upon one of her stories, “Mother Catherine” readable online.

“Mother Catherine” is kind of a mixture of a folklore study written with the literary craftsmanship of a master of the short story. Set in New Orleans along the Industrial Canal, maybe 1929 or so, Mother Catherine is a combination street preacher, healer and spiritual advisor to the African American community, her ideology is a mishmash of her knowledge of West African teachings , Voodoo and Christianity.  You can read this in just a few minutes.  It really is a pure delight.

Mother Catherine was a real person, you can read more about her at this link

I will share a bit of the work with you so you can get a feel for the prose style of Hurston:

“Catherine of Russia could not have been more impressive upon her throne than was this black Catherine sitting upon an ordinary chair at the edge of the platform within the entrance to the tent. Her face and manner are impressive. There is nothing cheap and theatrical about her. She does things and arranges her dwelling as no occidental would. But it is not for effect. It is for feeling. She might have been the matriarchal ruler of some nomadic tribe as she sat there with the blue band about her head like a coronet; a white robe and a gorgeous red cape falling away from her broad shoulders, and the box of shaker salt in her hand like a rod of office. I know this reads incongruous, but it did not look so. It seemed perfectly natural for me to go to my knees upon the gravel floor, and when she signaled to me to extend my right hand, palm up for the dab of blessed salt, I hurried to obey because she made me feel that way.”

Mel u

Monday, January 15, 2018

Swamplandia by Karen Russell - 2011- Plus my List of the Three Greatest Florida Novels

I give my great thanks to Max u for the provision of an Amazon Gift Card with which I acquired this book.

There are three great set in Florida Novels, all written by authors with deep ties to Florida, one was born there, two died  in the state.  All are by women.  

The first was Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston, 1937, set in rural south Florida, in the Lake Okechobee region, focusing on African-Americans.

The second is The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1938, focusing on poor white rural people in North Florida, called at the time “Florida Crackers”.

Seventy three years will pass, a World War will be fought, millions will move to Florida, Disney World will open, the great influx of Cubans and others from Latin America will make it a nearly bilingual state until the next Great Florida novel is published, Swamplandia by Karen Russell, in 2011.  Like the first two great Florida novels, Swamplandia is set among marginalised people on the fringes of mainstream Florida, among people living in the Everglades, in the Ten Thousand Island Area In Collier County Florida. Collier County is one of the most affluent counties in America.

I really like Swamplandia.  I was expecting a lot based on the short stories in Vampires in the Lemon Grove and it exceeded my expectations.  Swamplandia is a once prosperous tourist attraction, an alligator farm and wrestling show.  Pure tack to the rich in Naples.  It is a brilliant celebration of a lost to most segment of Florida’s past.  I learned a good bit about the development of the Everglades, (it is set maybe in 1950), the ecological balance of the swamps.  The main characters are all part of the Bigtree family.  The father is an Indian, the mother white. Russell makes wonderful use of Florida Indian history explaining how the original Aboriginal occupants of Florida were nearly 100 percent wiped out by European diseases.  We learn of the origins of the non -Florida origins of the Seminoles.  

Swamplandia is very much a novel about a family struggling to keep going after the mother, who was the star of the wrestling show, dies.  It is also a voyage into the underworld.  

““Hopes were wallflowers. Hopes hugged the perimeter of a dance floor in your brain, tugging at their party lace, all perfume and hems and doomed expectation. They fanned their dance cards, these guests that pressed against the walls of your heart.” 
Karen Russell, Swamplandia!

There is so much to love in Swamplandia, much more than I have touched upon.

Karen Russell (born July 10, 1981) is an American novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, Swamplandia!, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She was also the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" in 2013.  From publisher. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

”The Lazy River”. - A Short Story by Zadie Smith - December 18 and 25, in The New Yorker

“The Lazy River” by Zadie Smith

Anytime I’m presented with the opportunity to read a new short story by Zadie Smith, I avail myself of it.  So far I have read and posted on three of her five novels and several of her short stories. I have also read a number of her essays without posting upon them.  

“The Lazy River” can be read in several levels.  It is a very clever way a gentle satire on literary analysis.  I think it can also be seen as mocking the insular propensity of the English, going on vacation to a resort in Spain but staying strictly in the confines of English culture.  Maybe on it can be seen as making light of the kinds of British voters who voted in favour of leaving the European Union, people with a sense of cultural inferiority.

The opening paragraph gives a perfect feel for the story:

The Lazy River is a metaphor and at the same time a real body of artificial water, in an all-inclusive hotel, in Almería, somewhere in southern Spain. We do not leave the hotel (except to buy flotation devices). The plan is to beat our hotel at its own game. What you do is you do this: you drink so much alcohol that your accommodation is effectively free. (Only the most vulgar among us speak this plan aloud but we are all on board.) For in this hotel we are all British, we are en masse, we are unashamed. We enjoy one another’s company. There is nobody French or German here to see us at the buffet, rejecting paella and swordfish in favor of sausages and chips, nor anyone to judge us as we lie on our loungers, turning from the concept of literature toward the reality of sudoku. One of our tribe, an older gentleman, has a portrait of Amy Winehouse on each shin, and we do not judge him, not at all, how could we? “

At the link above you can read the story and enjoy Smith’s Podcast of the story.

The New Yorker often takes stories of the free webpage after a while.

Mel u

Monday, January 8, 2018

“The Cat Within” - A Short Story by R. K. Narayan. With a Link to The Malgudi Days TV Episode Based on the Story

R. K. Narayan (born 1906 in Chennai, India, died 2001) is one of my favourite writers.  I have read and posted on all his novels and several of his short stories.  Most of his work is set in the community of his creation, Malgudi. India.

Jhumpa Lahari in her introduction to the collection of his short stories she edited, Malgudi Days includes him among the best short story writers of the last century.  I love his prose style.  Lately I have been reading a number of short stories by Sholom Aleicham set in small towns in Eastern Europe.  If you like Sholom Aleichman you will like Narayan, and vice versa.  Both create universality in their small towns.  

My main purpose in this post is to make sure my readers know that 54 episodes of the TV series based on Narayan’s short stories can be viewed on YouTube.  First initiated in 1986 and restarted in 2004, there are 54 episodes, each about 25 minutes.  It looks like about 20 are in English, the rest in Hindi.  On YouTube just search “Malgudi Days, English” to find those episodes.  “The Cat Within” is in English.  It does a great job of bringing the story to life.

As the story opens a landlord hears a terrible sound in his storage building.  One of his tenants is a well known exorcist so he calls him for help.  The portrayal of the story is really perfect.  The clothes and the set design are really well done.  

If you can I suggest you first read the story then watch the video.  If you do not have access to the story, the TV program is a lot of fun.  It follows the storyline very closely.

Please share your experience with Narayan with us.  

Mel u