Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests





Friday, July 28, 2017

"Clara" by Roberto Bolano (August 4, 2008, in The New Yorker, translated by Chris Andrews)



Roberto Bolano on The Reading Life


Roberto Bolano (1953 to 2003, born in Chile) is a very powerful greatly influential writer.  Shortly before I began The Reading Life in July, 2009 I read his two major, and large, novels, 2666 centering around murders in Mexico and The Savage Detectives focusing on young poets mostly from Mexico City.  Both these works were translated after his death from liver cancer.  I hope to one day read them through slowly and post upon my experiences.  Some books you post about the work, others you post about your experiences reading them.

Since beginning my blog I posted on two shorter novels.  By Night in Chile is a monologue by a priest during the worst political times in Chile.  I really liked Nazi Literature in the Americas, his delightful pseudo encyclopedia of extreme right wing writers.  I read this twice.  Occasionally The New Yorker will make available for public reading one of the several of the short stories they have published posthumously.  I have posted on a few of these, mostly as largely reading journal entries and to let my interested readers know of the availability of these works.

Death and decay hang over Bolano's work.  As "Clara" begins, the narrator tells us he fell in love with her when she was 18 and had a sexually exquisite body.  The narrator described her as kind of a confused, not terribly bright young woman, she pursues a series of interests.  She goes back to her home city, in Spain.  In a while the man goes to spend a month with her.  They have sex everyday and go to the movies.  Life requires he go back to his home town.  He invites her to move in with him but she declines.  They lose touch with each other as the years go by.   Both marry.  We learn of Clara's decline in appearance, gaining weight.  She against her real wishes to have a baby because her husband wants one.  Bolano takes us nearly twenty years into Clara's life.  The story ends with her
imminent death from cancer.

Bolano fans will enjoy this story for sure.



You can read the story here

Mel u


















Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Occupation Trilogy by Patrick Modiano


Paris in July Year - Year Ten - Hosted by Thyme for Tea







So far as my participation in Paris In July Year Ten I have read


1.  Colette- Two Early Short Stories
2. The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano
3. "A Duel" by Guy de Maupassant ( A Franco-Prussian War Story)
4. Life, Death, and Betrayal at The Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar Mazzeo (non fiction)
5. How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yolem (literary history)
6. "The Lost Child" by Francois Coppée
7. "The Juggler of Norte Dame" by Anatole France- no post
8. A Very French Christmas- A Collection of the Greatest Holiday Stories of France
9. "The Illustrious Gaudissart" by Honore de Balzac
10. After the Circus by Patrick Modiano
11. "Gaudissart II" by Honore de Balzac
12. 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Phillipe Blondel
13. "Noel" by Irene Nemirovsky
14. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin


15. The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux
16. Nais Micoulin by Emile Zola
17. The Occupation Trilogy by Patrick Modiano

La Place de l'Ėtiole 1968

The Night Watch 1969

Ring Roads 1972

I have now read five novels by Patrick Modiano (born Boulangne-Billancourt, France, 1945).  He is a prolific writer and I hope to read more of his work.  His The Black Notebook and After the Circus are very good novels focusing on the search for hidden history and for identity.  The Occupation Trilogy is a work of a much higher order, a sublimely brilliant almost surreal recreation of what it was like to be a French Jew during the occupation of Paris by the Nazis.  I am currently reading a very well done history, Paris at War-1939 to 1944 by Donald Drake, which helps me understand what it was like in Paris during the war years.  Many Parisians were convinced the Germans would win, there was a strong element of anti-Jewish feeling, underlying this was a growing resistance as the war went on and the German Occupation began harsher and the prevailing mood was shifting to the idea that the allies could win.

Modiano was 22 when La Place de l'Ėtiole was published.  I found it an incredibly powerful work, deeply evocative of French literature, Proust is clearly a great influence on this work and he is attacked by the Germans and French collaborators as the epitome of "degenerate literature".  This work has a strongly hallucinatory quality.  Paris became a kind of play pen for the worst of German officers.  The French were drawn between self preservation and patriotism.  There is strong sexual content in La Place de l'Ėtiole.  I read this work last year intending to post on it for Paris in July in 2016 but I was too overwhelmed by the power of this book.

The Night Watch focuses on a young man working for the French Gestapo and simultaneously informing on the French police to the resistance.  We see him torn apart by the forces working on him

Ring Road focuses on a young man looking in war time Paris for his father, a French Jew missing for ten years.  He finds him amidst spies, anti-Semites, and prostitutes.

Prostitutes play a big part in the Occupation Trilogy, a metaphor for how Paris survived.  There are lots of wonderful literary references.

The Occupation Trilogy is, to me, must Reading.  Modiano carries on the great tradition of French literature.

Mel u



Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Poached Eggs" - A Short Story by Farah Ahamed (short listed for the London Short Story Prize, 2016, Winner Gerald Karak Award)






"Poached Egg" is included in the 2016 London Short Story Prize, purchasable here

Farah Ahamed on The Reading Life - Includes Links to Four of Her Stories





The London Short Story Prize 2016 Highly Commended stories includes
Poached Eggs  by Farah Ahamed


AL Kennedy says:  “Poached Eggs by Farah Ahamed is a gently funny, delicately disturbing and utterly subversive piece which deftly links the domestic, the personal and the political.”


Irenosen Okojie says: “Poached Eggs is an absorbing, nuanced piece. A sneaky, humorous examination on the battle of the sexes. Sharp, intimate… This is well orchestrated storytelling that’s delightful and evocative.”

"Poached Eggs" is the fifth wonderful acutely knowing short story by Farah Ahamed I have so far had the pleasure of reading and posting upon.  Her stories concern, either directly or obliquely, the lives of women in a society which values female submissiveness, which treats wives as servants and for the affluent trophies.  Richer older men are expected to have mistresses as we saw in her delightful set in Nairobi "Dr Patel", her only included story without a central onstage female character.

"Poached Eggs" is contained in a just published anthology of works Short listed for the London Short Story Prize, it cannot as of today be read online.  (Happily her other four stories are available online.)
it focuses on a young recently married woman who met her husband while working as support staff in a government office in Nairobi.  They marry a few months after meeting.  Gradually her husband begins to subject her to more and more rigid rules on running the household.  When she tells him her old boss wants her back at work, he tells her if she returns to work, as she wishes, it will make it look like he cannot afford to take care of her.  She has two full time live in helpers.  Her husband gives her a list of duties, including strict rules about how he likes his eggs Poached.  He provides her with a calendar on which he has the days she will have her period marked.  He tells her he does not wish to sleep with her when she is "unclean".  Soon he gives her another calendar on which he marks the days he will "do his duty" with her in order to produce a child.  He tells her to contact his mother to find out how he likes his meals fixed.

Things keep getting worse and worse but Naru never rebels.  She even writes a hilarious guide for wives for the main newspaper.

I want to leave most of this story unspoiled.  I loved the very subtle ending.

"Poached Eggs" is a really lot of fun as well as a biting satire of life in contemporary Kenya, dissecting sexual roles imposed by society.  It will make you laugh and think and as a married man I pondered how long I would survive if I attempted to impose such rules on my wife!

Hopefully I will post upon another of Ahamed's stories in August.


Farah Ahamed is a short fiction writer. Her stories have been published in The Massachusetts Review, Thresholds, Kwani?, The Missing Slate and Out of Print among others. She was highly commended in the 2016 London Short Story Prize and has been nominated for The Caine and The Pushcart prizes. She was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, DNA/Out of Print Award, Sunderland Waterstones Award, Asian Writer Short Story Prize, Gerald Kraak Award and Strands International Short Story.

Mel u

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Nais Micoulin - A Novella by Emile Zola (1884)





Paris in July - Year Ten - hosted by Thyme for Tea


So far as my participation in Paris In July Year Ten I have read 


1.  Colette- Two Early Short Stories
2. The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano 
3. "A Duel" by Guy de Maupassant ( A Franco-Prussian War Story)
4. Life, Death, and Betrayal at The Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar Mazzeo (non fiction)
5. How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yolem (literary history)
6. "The Lost Child" by Francois Coppée 
7. "The Juggler of Norte Dame" by Anatole France- no post
8. A Very French Christmas- A Collection of the Greatest Holiday Stories of France
9. "The Illustrious Gaudissart" by Honore de Balzac
10. After the Circus by Patrick Modiano
11. "Gaudissart II" by Honore de Balzac
12. 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Phillipe Blondel
13. "Noel" by Irene Nemirovsky 
14. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
15. The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux
16. Nais Micoulin by Emile Zola

Along with Honore de Balzac, Emile Zola (1840 to 1904) is one of the two greatest chroniclers of French life.  His cycle of twenty novels, Les Rougan-Macquarie chronicles the lives of two fictional interrelated families during The Second Empire (1852 to 1870).  The works take us into brothels, drinking dens of the very poor of Paris, high end brothels, coal mines, a department store, the city food market and lets us see the intricacies of the financial dealings at the top of Paris Life.  We meet washerwomen and countesses, rouges, virgins (though not for too long), ministers of finance and farmers.  Reading through this cycle was a great reading life experience for me.  I read this in The Delphi Edition of the works of Zola.  It would be difficult to read this other than in a digital collection.

I wanted to include Zola in my readings for Paris in July Year Ten.  Looking through the collection there is a novel called Paris but it is part three of a trilogy, the other segments are London and Lourdes.  I see this as a hopefully July in Paris 2018 Project.  There are a number of short stories in the collection, last year I posted for the event upon "The Boot Licking Virgin", as salacious a story as Zola probably felt comfortable with in 1880.

This year's Zola work, Nais Micoulin, a novella, also has a strong for the time sexual theme.  There are seven characters in this story of rich Parisians at their country home on the Atlantic coast in Provence.  We have an attorney, his wife, their only child Ferderic,  a caretaker of their estate, who also fishes, and his daughter Nais, his wife and a mentally challenged hunchback with a dog like devotion to Nais.  The two children, meeting at age 12, become very close even though the boy's doting mother does not approve the relationship.  Time goes by and Fredefic grows into a spoiled playboy.  Then as then one year he notices Nais has developed into a beautiful woman.  They begin a secret affair, love under the moonlight.  Nais is deeply in love with Frederic.  I don't want to give away to much plot but the father discovers them asleep together and determines to murder Frederic.  He knows he has to be careful as he will automatically be considered in the wrong. His attempt to shot him from ambush is thwarted by Nais.  To complicate the plot, he often beats her to establish his status as father, as was accepted.  The story takes an intriguing turn I did not see coming.  If the story has a theme it is that money wins out over Love and birth is destiny.

I'm glad I read this work.  It is a very good mini-Zola.



Mel u












Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Whenever I Sit at a Bar Drinking Like This, I Always Think What a Sacred Profession Bartending Is". - A Short Story by Ryu Murakami (Ausust, 2004)


You Can Read the Story here

The Japanese Literature Challenge - Year 11 - Hosted by Dolce Bellezza




Works I have So Far Read for Japanese Literature Challenge 11

1. "The Children" by Junichiro Tanizaki
2. Beasts on the Way Home by Kobe Abe

"Quitting my job to become a writer brought about three big changes in my life. I got famous. I got rich. And I got fat." Ryu Murakami

For  The July Literature Challenge in 2010 I read my first work by Ryu Murakami, Coin Locker Babies.  Here are my opening thoughts on this very entertaining novel. (If made into a movie, it would be near X-rated.)

Ryu Murakami (1952-not related to Haruki Murakami) has played in a rock band and had his own talk show on Japanese TV.    He is best known for several novels that depict alienated people in their teens and twenties from the darker side of life in Tokyo.    He is a tremendous commercial success.  

Many have the image of the Japanese novel as depicting a world of extreme refinement and high culture in which hours are spent talking about the color patterns in a favorite kimono, the old days before WWII, the nuances of puppet theater and family ties that go back a thousand years.   There are a lot of beautiful wonderful novels that do just that in a masterful way.    If a man in one of these books has an extra-marital encounter it is with a geisha of the highest standing.   In Coin Locker Babies it is with an unknown woman, man, or ? in an alley with no names exchanged while they are observed by the denizens of Toxic Town who yell out their comments on the looks of the woman.   A lot of people have read some of the novels of Natsuo Kirino such as Real World, Out or Grotesque that depict live among those left out by the prosperity of contemporary Japan.   Many say they find the world depicted in her novels almost too hard to take at times.   Well, life in her works is High Tea at the Peninsula Hotel Tokyo in comparison to life in the world of Coin Locker Babies.     Coin Locker Babies is a 21th Century continuation of the tradition of literature devoted to the Japanese water world of tea shops, geishas, and brothels.  (Prostitution is illegal in Japan but it is defined only as banning the preforming of intercourse for money, either as seller or customer.  This has left open a huge market for other forms of sex for sale.). Ryu Murakami is a chronicler of sex among alienated youth, of stories of school girls searching for uncles to pay for gadgets.  In a way, this world can be seen as part of the consequence of Japan's defeat in WWII.

I was very happy to find his 2004 short story, "When I Sit in a Bar Drinking Like This, I Always Think What a Sacred Profession Bartending Is" online.  As the story opens we are in a bar at a nicer hotel, one that includes foreigners among the clients.  The story is being narrated by a man who often frequents this bar, looking for female sex partners, free if available otherwise business women.  He sizes up the nine people in the bar, it is late, he says they are all "looking for sin". Professionally the man is a producer of TV documentaries, focusing on the slums of the world's mega cities. He uses his experiences to talk to women in bars. The man has a legal problem, a former mistress is suing him for damages, claiming he lead her to believe he would provide permanent support only to drop her.  The man's attorney has told him if he can establish he has rendezvous with other women in the hotel he could claim his relationship was just casual sex.  He asks a another woman, now in the bar, also a former mistress, to testify he had sex with her in the hotel and this will get him out of trouble.  The woman agrees but she wants something in exchange, after castigating him for his philandering, his refusal to leave his wife and marry her.  She wants him to use his TV contacts to introduce her to a very famous Japanese baseball player.  Now a daisy chain begins when his TV contact says OK we can do that but he wants a cartoon of super expensive cigarettes.  The cigarette contact in turn wants something and so on.  This is pretty much a PG rated story, fun to read.


Mel u








Friday, July 21, 2017

The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux (2017, translated by Alison Anderson, published by New Vessal Press)





Paris in July - Year Ten. - Hosted by Thyme for Tea


So far as my participation in Paris In July Year Ten I have read 


1.  Colette- Two Early Short Stories
2. The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano 
3. "A Duel" by Guy de Maupassant ( A Franco-Prussian War Story)
4. Life, Death, and Betrayal at The Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar Mazzeo (non fiction)
5. How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yolem (literary history)
6. "The Lost Child" by Francois Coppée 
7. "The Juggler of Norte Dame" by Anatole France- no post
8. A Very French Christmas- A Collection of the Greatest Holiday Stories of France
9. "The Illustrious Gaudissart" by Honore de Balzac
10. After the Circus by Patrick Modiano
11. "Gaudissart II" by Honore de Balzac
12. 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Phillipe Blondel
13. "Noel" by Irene Nemirovsky 
14. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
15. The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux

I am starting to get behind in my posting for Paris in July.  The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux is a perfect pick for Paris in July, translated by Alison Anderson, to be published September, 2017 by New Vessal Press).  Given that I will make use of The publisher's description and just conclude with a thought or two of my own.


"A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung twentieth-century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age, a true story that encapsulates one woman's attempt to live a life of love and meaning together with a contemporary quest to prevent that existence from slipping into oblivion. Through it all, The Madeleine Project movingly chronicles, and allows us to reconstruct, intimate memories of a bygone era."

As I read this book it took a little while but I soon became captivated by Madeline as we gradually began to find her life unravel in a series of Twitter posts.  I wondered if she had a lover, did he survive WW Two.  We learned what she liked to read.  I saw the narrator become closer to Madeline as her uncovering of the items she left behind unraveled.  This is a different kind of work than all the others I have read for Paris in July.  I enjoyed it and think most would.

Alison Anderson spent many years in California; she now lives in a Swiss village and works as a literary translator. Her translations include Europa Editions’ The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, and works by Nobel laureate J. M. G. Le Clézio. She has also written two previous novels and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Translation Fellowship. She has lived in Greece and Croatia, and speaks several European languages, including Russian.

Quick personal note, Anderson's translation of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery was the very first book I posted upon eight years ago.  I love that bookand thank Anderson for her lovely translation 

Mel u




Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (1956)


Paris in July - Year Ten. -- Hosted by Thyme for Tea











So far as my participation in Paris In July Year Ten I have read


1.  Colette- Two Early Short Stories
2. The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano
3. "A Duel" by Guy de Maupassant ( A Franco-Prussian War Story)
4. Life, Death, and Betrayal at The Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar Mazzeo (non fiction)
5. How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yolem (literary history)
6. "The Lost Child" by Francois Coppée
7. "The Juggler of Norte Dame" by Anatole France- no post
8. A Very French Christmas- A Collection of the Greatest Holiday Stories of France
9. "The Illustrious Gaudissart" by Honore de Balzac
10. After the Circus by Patrick Modiano
11. "Gaudissart Ii" by Honore de Balzac
12. 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Phillipe Blondel
13. "Noel" by Irene Nemirovsky
14. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

James Baldwin was

Born August 2, 1924 in New York City

Died December 1, 1987 in Saint Paul - Vence, France.

He moved to Paris, age 24, in 1948 to escape the pervasive prejudice against African Americans and Gays in America.  It was a time of racial hatred and homophobia. He would return to American occasionally, active in the Civil Rights Movement, but he would always consider Paris his home.  (Wikipedia has a decent article on him.). Baldwin emerged himself in the cultural Life of Paris, finally feeling free to be and express himself.

The last time I read a novel by James Baldwin he was still alive to receive the small royalties from my purchase of his paperbacks.  I read several of his books but missed his now highest regarded novel, the set in Paris Giovanni's Room.  I am very glad Paris in July motivated me to at last read this wonderful work.

Back in 1956 books dealing openly about Gay life were controversial and I suspect those by an African American much more so.  His publisher advised him his African American readers might be turned off to him by this book.

David is a young American man living in Paris.  He had a Gay encounter back in Brooklyn and has moved to Paris to find himself and get away from the domination of his wealthy father, who feared he was homosexual, I think the term "gay" was not in currency then.  His girlfriend has gone to Spain for a while to decide if she wants to marry David or not.  Through an older gay man he knows David ends up at the bar where Giovanni works as a bartender. They end the evening having sex in Giovanni's room, David moves into the room three days later.  We learn about
Parisian Gay bars.  Life in this world was much different pre-aids.

The narration is structured as David recalling his experiences with David and his fiancé, on the night before Giovanni is to be guillotined for murdering the owner of the bar in which he had worked, having been fired.

There is a lot more in this work.  David has sex with his fiancé but it as almost as if his gay identity is spectating on himself.  It is also very much about class, about being an American in Paris.

Giovanni's Room is a GLBT classic.  I am so glad I at last have read this book.  I should note Baldwin was brought at an early age to love reading to escape from an oppressive step-father.

I really like the image above of Baldwin at the tomb of Honore de Balzac.  Balzac wrote brilliantly about gay characters and the homosexual subculture of Paris in the 1830s.

Mel u
The Reading Life