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

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. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

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

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

Saturday, January 6, 2018

“The Darker Side of the Moon” - A Short Story by Riham Adly - first published in The Alexandrian - 2014

This is the first 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

“The Darker Side of the Moon” is a very moving story about the power of Love to transform lives, generational and Cultural conflict, and the fate of innocent millions of Syrians who through no fault of their own are going to be bombed by the American military.  It is a deep story about the powerful good in truly experienced art, in this case the music of Beethoven and about the rulers of   The World who care only for wealth and power, hiding behind ideology for their gain.

As the story opens a young American man is nervously anticipating performing with his fiance at a grand musical concert, a benefit for Syria regugees, displaced by American Bombing raids.  His father is a high ranking American military Officer, his mother an American senator. He knows his father is about to order a massive bombing raid.  Part of him wants to reveal the coming raid but he fears his father’s reaction, he would be labeled a traitor.His father is very angry with his son, telling him leave Egypt and come home “Or else”.  He wonders how his father will react when he learns he has converted in religion and will marry a Syrian woman..        

The couple will be preforming The Moonlight Sonata by Ludwig Beethoven.  In an exchange of E mail, Riham Adly told me why she picked this work:

“When I wrote "The Darker Side of The Moon" I was also trying to try the musical fiction genre where protagonists are musicians and music or music theory is used to highlight the mood and atmosphere of the story and also show inner conflict of the main character and tension throughout the piece. I picked the Moonlight Sonata specifically not just because its movements mirror the rising conflict the character goes through, but because of its history, as Beethoven was also going through a failed or challenging love affair.”

There is much to ponder in the story.  Is the young man just infatuated or has he undergone a deep conversion of values?  How will he live, will his in laws accept him?  We can wonder why some loyalties outweigh others.  

I felt the excitement as the concert begins, struggled to decide how we are to understand the young men’s life chancing decision.  

This is a very good story I endorse to all lovers of the form. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Mel u

Friday, January 5, 2018

“Back from the Draft” - A Short Story by Sholom Aleichman- 1904

Sholeim Aleicham - Born Ukraine 1859,died New York City, 1916, by far best known Yiddish writer.  His stories are the basis for Fiddler on the Roof.

Nicholas II, the Last Russian Czar (reigned 1894 to 1917) issued an order requiring all Jewish boys (some were drafted at age six) to report to the Draft Board to determine if they are fit for service.  It meant twenty five years in the Russian Army.  Nicholas II, not the brightest guy, thought this would deprive the Jews of any identity but that of Russian and help unify the country.  It had the exact opposite impact and caused wide spread Jewish hatred for the Romanovs.  If a boy was the only surviving son of a family he was exempted and if he was medically unsound he received an exemption.

Our narrator, wonderfully played by Jerry Stiller, Is outraged.  His only son has a “first class exemption” so why does he get a letter saying report to the Draft board.  He and his wife had another son but long ago he was killed in an accident at age one.  The narrator finds out the government Rabbi, who kept records, never bothered to report this death so it looks like the exemption is invalid.  He gets this, he thinks, fixed but one crazy thing after another keeps happening.  

“Back from the Draft” is a very funny story.  Anyone who was ever subject to a very unwanted military Draft will totally relate to this story.

Mel u

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand - 1935- Second Reading. My First Reading was November, 2011

There is no literary tradition with roots older than that of India.   I will always admire Edmund Burke (Anglo-Irish-1729 to 1797) for telling the English Parliament that England had no right to rule a country with a culture much older than their own.    

Mulk Raj Anand was a founding father of the Indian novel in English.    He was one of the first writers from India to gain an international readership in English.    Anand (1905 to 2004--Peshawar, India) after graduating from college in India went to England to receive his PhD.     While at Cambridge (the university of choice for Bloomsbury) he became friends with people like E. M. Forester  and George Orwell.   He was a passionate admirer of Gandhi and a strong supporter of the movement for Indian independence.    He was a friend of Pablo Picasso.    His literary output was very large including several novels, lots of poetry and numerous highly regarded short stories.   He was a strong force for good in the world.

I have already posted on four of Anand's wonderful short stories.   E. F. Forester helped him get his first novel, Untouchable, published in England.     The standard cliche, it is on the back of the paper-back edition I saw in a local bookstore, is that in the Untouchable Anand took on the role of the Charles Dickens of India in his amazing depiction of the life of a member of the very lowest class of all, the Untouchables.   Among Untouchables or Dalits, it it my understanding that there are 49 different sub-castes.  In 1935 and for thousands of years prior to then those of the very lowest class were cleaners of solid bodily waste, street sweepers, and those who removed the bodies of dead animals.   A person was born into this caste and nothing could be done to escape it aside from rebirth in a higher caste.

Untouchable is about one day in the life of an Untouchable,  a young man seemingly in his late teens or early twenties named Bakha.  It is a great book that belongs on any list of 100 best novels.  Anyone interested in colonial studies or the history of India who has not yet read this book really needs to do so as soon as they can.  It is also so wonderfully written that reading it is a pure joy.  The central character totally admires to the point of hero worship the occupying British troops.   Anand is simply brilliant in his depiction of the attitude of the central character to the British.   Bakha so wishes he could one day have a pair of long pants like the English sometimes wear and he dreams of somehow getting the wonderful job of being a "sweeper" for a British regiment.    

There are many very powerful moments in this story.   Bakha is treated very roughly by his father.  He admires very much his sister who has now taken over as the woman of the family since their mother died.   When the sister goes to the well to get water, she is not allowed to draw it directly for fear she will pollute the well.   She has to ask a higher caste person to draw it for her.  When Bakha walks down the street he is supposed to shout "sweeper, sweeper coming" so no one will have the horror of accidentally touching him.   His sister is at the marriageable age, which I am going to say 14 or so, and as she is attractive so  the father hopes she will fetch a good dowry.  

It was, according to my sources, common at the time for Untouchable women to clean the homes of Brahman priests and they would often seduce them into prostitution or simply rape the women with impunity.   Sometimes a "lucky" Untouchable woman might become the mistress of a higher class person and there are vague suggestions Bakha's mother was either a mistress or semi-prostitute also.  Bakha's sister is molested in a small way by a Brahman priest.

There is so much in this short novel.   I found it a near compulsive read.   There is a very interesting scene when a Christian missionary tries to convert  him and a very good seen when he and thousands of others go to hear Gandhi explain why idea of Untouchability is intrinsically evil.   I could feel how moved Bakha was when he heard Gandhi say that if he were to be reborn he would wish to return as an Untouchable.  

All of the action of the story takes place in one day.   The characters are all perfect.    
All literary autodidacts need to put this on their life time list.     It is not a hard  book at all.   It is beautifully written and the action is easy to follow.   

Untouchable is a deeply moving, profoundly wise book.   It may change how you view the world.

E. M. Forester wrote a preface to the book that is interesting if no longer politically correct.

Please share your experience with Anand with us.