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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Unholy Living and Half Dying" by Sean O'Faoláin. (1952)

 Sean O'Faolain is one of Ireland's highest regarded short story writers.  In 2013 I posted on his superb story about an unfaithful woman,  "The Faithless Wife", his very classic story, "The Trout" and "The Sinners".  

Sean O'Faolain (1900 to 1991-Cork City, Ireland) was the son of a policeman.   He fought in the Irish War for Independence,  1919 to 1921.    He received M.A. degrees from the National University of Ireland and Harvard.   He  was the director of a very prestigious Irish literary journal, The Bell.  His daughter Julia O'Faolain is a Booker Prize nominated author.   

This will be my last post for Irish Short Story Month Year Five.  I kept it a simple low key event this year, I just read a few wonderful stories.  

"Unholy Living and Half Dying" centers on a single man, working in a bank and living in a rooming house.   (Rooming houses, land ladies, neighbors and such played a big part in literary works up until at least the 1950s or so.) I really loved these opening lines:

"J A C K Y C A R D E W is one of those club bachelors who are so well groomed, well preserved, pomaded, medicated, cated, and self-cosseted that they seem ageless-the sort of fixture about whom his pals will say when he comes unstuck around the age of eighty, `Well, well! Didn't poor old Jacky Cardew go off very fast in the end?' For thirty years or so he has lived in what are called Private Hotels".

The story revolves around the relationship of Jacky, his land lady, his pub friends and the local priest.

I read this story in Classic Irish Short Stories edited by Frank O'Connor.

Mel u

Monday, March 30, 2015

"Gambara" by Honore de Balzac (1837, A Short Story, A Component of The Human Comedy)


"Balzac’s most remarkable characteristic is a sort of exultant reveling in every kind of human passion, in every species of desire or greed or ambition or obsession which gives a dignity and a tragic grandeur to otherwise prosaic lives. There is a kind of subterranean torrent of blind primeval energy running through his books which focusses itself in a thick smouldering fuliginous eruption when the moment or the occasion arises. The “will to power,” or whatever else you may call it, has never been more terrifically exposed."  From "Balzac" by John Powys

"Gambara", sometimes published as "Gambar", is, along with "The Unknown Masterpiece", pretty close to Balzac's artistic manifesto.  The story begins, as do other of Balzac's works, with a well dressed man on a nocturnal stroll through a part of Paris known for prostituition.   I guess this probably would attract more readers than a story starting with a stroll the a part of town known for milinary.  From here we end up spending most of the story in the company of an aspiring opera writer.  Balzac clearly feels very strongly about his ideas on creativity, I think a a deep level they are, in his mind, tied in with male sexuality.  

Mel u

"The Fairy Goose" by Liam O'Flaherty (1927)

"For some reason, it was made manifest to them that the goose was an evil spirit and not the good fairy which they had supposed her to be. Terrified of the priest's stole and breviary and of his scowling countenance, they were only too eager to attribute the goose's strange hissing and her still stranger cackle to supernatural natural forces of an evil nature. Some present even caught a faint rumble of thunder in the east and although though it was not noticed at the time, an old woman later asserted that she heard a great cackle of strange geese afar off, raised in answer to the little fairy goose's cackle."

Liam O'Flaherty (1896 to 1984) was born in Inishmore on one of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland.  His cousin was the famous Hollywood movie director  John Ford.    Like Frank O'Conner and Sean O'Faolain he was involved in the Irish War for independence against the British (largely a guerrilla war)1919 to 1921.    It was a bloody war of brother against brother in many cases.   It ended in Southern Ireland becoming an independent country with largely Protestant Northern Ireland staying under British rule.    

O'Flaherty worked for a time as a teacher until he became successful with novels like The Informer (which his cousin made into a movie) .     O'Flaherty moved the USA around 1923 to live in Hollywood so he could work with his cousin, among other reasons.   He was for a time a communist but returned to his Roman Catholic roots in latter years.  He was deeply into the reading life with a passion for French and Russian literature.    Even though much of his adult life was lived in the USA, his  writings nearly all deal with Ireland.    I first read his work during what was then Irish Short Story Week in 2011.  

"The Fairy Goose", set in rural Ireland, is just a wonderful story, I cannot imagine anyone into the form not loving it.  Compressing a bit, the story begins when an older village woman's sitting hen died and she hatches a goose egg by the firre.  The Goose is strange, never gets more than half normal size, never loses its yellow down for the white coat of an adult goose, and does not hiss at strangers.  Soon many people in the village begin to regard the goose as a fairy.  The old woman charges others to have the fairy goose cure sick cows and such and gains the reputation as a wise woman.  I want to quote a bit from the story as the prose is just so beautiful.

"That was done, and then the gosling became sacred in the village. No boy dare throw a stone at it, or pull a feather from its wing, as they were in the habit of doing with geese, in order to get masts for the pieces of cork they floated in the pond as ships. When it began to move about every house gave it dainty things. All the human beings in the village paid more respect to it than they did to one another. The little gosling had contracted a great affection for Mary Wiggins and followed her around everywhere, so that Mary Wiggins also came to have the reputation of being a woman of wisdom. Dreams were brought to her for unravelling."

Of course the local priest hears of this, a wise woman in a nearby village informed him, and he comes to denounce the Goose Fairy.  The ending is really exciting and I will leave it unspoiled.  I for sure felt I was back in Ireland in 1927, far beyond the Pale.

Mel u

Sunday, March 29, 2015

"Paddy's Feast Day" by John Duffy - An Original Short Story

My Posts on John Duffy and his prior short story

The first time I read a story by John Duffy it was during my read through of Abandoned Darlings, a collection of writings by the 2011 and 2012 MA in Creative Writing classes at the National University of Ireland at Galway. His story was about a very dangerous bus trip through the Andes in Bolivia.  You can read my post on the story here.  These words sum up how I felt about Duffy's really well done story.

You might have seen a National Geographic Channel program about the terribly dangerous road through the Andes in Bolivia that the narrator in this story crosses in a bus ride sure to scare anyone out of their wits who is not from there.   The first person speaker in this story is an Irishman out for an adventure in the wilds of South America and he happens to hook up with a beautiful and delightful sounding "French girl of Lebanese extraction".   Some cynics say the reason the English conquered India was because they could do things and have adventures there that they could never do at home.   I think that is part of the deeper theme of this very interesting marvelously cinematic story.    

Today John has very kindly, in the spirit of Irish Short Story Month, given me permission to share one of his short stories with my readers.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

My Q and A Session With John Duffy (this includes a link to my post on his story "Death Road" and his prior short story, "A Day in London" which I had the pleasure of first publishing.  

John Duffy is a short story author from Ballina, County Mayo. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and History from NUI Galway and an MA in Writing. He has contributed to Abandoned Darlings, an anthology of fiction and poetry, The Georgia Straight and also to The Reading Life. You can visit him at 


                                                          "PaddyFeast Day"

                                                                By John Duffy



I finished my dinner before anyone else at the table and slipped out the back door. I had arranged to meet Paddy for a drink up the canal and afterward we planned to watch the parade from the bridge. I had a good feeling about the day and looked well on my way when a Massey Ferguson tractor and trailer turned in off the road and came up the drive. My father called to me from an open window,

‘Bring that turf in before you go anywhere.’


Bring the turf in before it rains. I’ll send Martin out to help you.

Turf, such a day to land with a load. The drivera hardy old buck with a round red face and big hands wore battered old clothes, a tweed hat and Wellingtons. He took a claw hammer from the cab and struck two pins at the back of the trailer. The gate opened and some sods fell on the tarmacadam. The bog man went into the house and I forked the fuel as quick as I could onto the driveway. My brother Martin filled thick plastic fertilizer bags with sods and dragged them into the shed. emptied the trailer and we brought the rest of the bags inside and cleaned up. By the time I got up town the parade was underway.

The brass band wore maroon uniforms and played their instruments to the beat. They marched inunison along Garden Street and led the parade along its routeThe weather was overcast and chilly with grey-black clouds hanging over townA troupe of Irish dancing girls in colourful Celtic dress danced along, their hard shoes tap tapping the street. An articulated lorry with an open trailer carried traditional Irish musicians. I walked past wood turners, Travellers and beekeepers then stopped at a gap in the crowd beside a man holding a child on his shoulders. A shiny new fire engine flanked by firemen in brown coats and yellow hard hats passed. They were followed by members of The Order of Malta walking beside an ambulance. A squalling shower of rain swept down and some people opened umbrellas.

I moved through the crowd and followed the parade downtown. A man on stilts dressed in a striped suit and top hat came down Tolan Street. He bent down and offered lollypops to peopleon the footpath and I wondered how he didn’t fall over altogether. At Marcello’s I opened the door and two kids pushed their way in behind me. The restaurant was busy and staff called orders back and forth. A waitress carried a tray laden with plates of food; hamburgerscurry chips and sausages. There were children at tables in green party hatgorging on food and ice-cream. A girl child kneeled at a booth gulping back Fanta orange to beat the band, she kept goinguntil it spilled out the side of the glass and down her dress. A group of young lads ran about throwing food at each other. Paddy sat in a booth at the back. His face was pale. I slipped in across from him.

Alright P, What’s going on?’ 


He took a deep breath and sighed. 

Sorry I’m late Paddy. I got held up at home.’

His shoulders twitched and he let out a gurgled belch. The vomit flowed freely and spread across the table in a pool, small pieces of carrot in the mix. I moved out quickly as his head dropped on the table.

Alright, let’s go.’

He followed me with encouragement, wobbling around tables like a bowling pin about to fall over. I opened an exit door at the back and it set off an alarm. A waitress in a white uniform peered at the table we just left.

‘I’m never touching that rotten Linden Village again.’ 

We walked through the car park and out by Harness lane. The parade had passed and people filled the space left behind on pedestrianized streets. There was litter scattered about; empty bottles, half-eaten ice-cream and balloons. Paddy looked even paler in daylight, his gaze fixed on the ground. The freckles on his face looked like tattoos and his pointy ear was wet with rain and vomit

‘Let’s go to The Hillside and see if she’ll serve us.’ 

Alright, but I’m only having the one.’                                             

The Hillside was a dark, old smoky bar on Hill StreetA few locals and a middle-aged barmaid with mousey blonde hair made up the placeNirvana, Smells like Teen Spirit played from the radio. I ordered cider and lager

‘How old are you?’  

‘Eighteen,’ I lied.  

‘I doubt it.’

I handed her a fake ID I bought from an articulate gent in Gun Town a fortnight before. It helped me past the bouncers at Thrillers at the weekend and I was optimistic about getting a drink in this kip. A blonde girl with a petite figure in a black miniskirt came to mind, blue eyes and a lace dogcollarI shifted her for half an hour at the club, strawberry lip gloss I’d never tasted before. Iwould have swallowed her whole if shed let me.

Come on to fuck Theresa, I haven’t got all day. It only comes around once a year. The glasses slipped down her nose as she studied the card. 

‘Ill serve you today but that’s it. Don’t come back tomorrow.’ 

She left the drinks on the counter and I handed her a crumpled five pound note. Paddy sat at a table by a window with faded brown curtains drawn across. I poured the cider over ice to acrackle of splitting cubes. An applause of sorts.

‘Happy Saint Patrick’s Day Paddy. It is your feast day after all.’

Sláinte Ian.’

‘No more food for the rest of the day. Do you hear me? You’ll only make yourself sick.’ 

He offered a cheeky smile and took a drinkThe colour came back to his face and he looked a little more like himself. 


This story is protected under international copyright law and cannot be republished in any format without the author's approval.

I give my great thanks to John Duffy and hope very much to one of these days post on a collection of stories or a debut novel by from him.

Mel u









Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Fever Dreams" by Clarice Lispector (1941, from The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson, forthcoming August 2015)

"Lavender colors hover in space like butterflies. Slender flutes extend toward the heavens and fragile melodies burst in the air like bubbles. The rosy shapes keep sprouting from the wounded earth. All of a sudden, thundering anew. Is the Earth bearing children? The shapes dissolve in midair, scared away. Corollas wilt and colors darken. And the Earth, arms contracted in pain, splits open into fresh black fissures. A strong smell of wounded earth wafts in dense plumes of smoke. A century of Silence" from "Fever Dreams" by Clarice Lispector 

"Fever Dreams" by Clarice Lispector is a very powerful evocation of a fever driven  dream.  The dreamer is a mature man who has left his family home in northern Brazil to go to the south to write, he lived in a rooming house.  In Brazilian culture the further south you go, the deeper into the tropics, tropics of the mind not just on a map.  The dream sequence is beautifully done, we see the man perhaps conflating sexual images of a "dark" girl who took care of him with the earth herself giving birth to amazing entities. We are not sure if the man had sex with her or not, nor is he. I have not read enough Lispector yet to comment much on this but to Brazilian upper class men, as the dreamer is, darker women are seen as somehow more appropriate and willing  targets for sexual urges than lighter skinned women.   This springs back, in part, to Brazill's days as a slave culture in which the only women available to Europeans were basically slaves. 

Look for many more posts on Clarice Lispector. 

(My publication date of 1941 is a guess, if you know the date, please let me know.

From New Directions Webpage

Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) was Brazilian journalist, translator and author of fiction. Born in Western Ukraine into a Jewish family who suffered greatly during the pogroms of the Russian Civil War, she was still an infant when her family fled the disastrous post-World War I situation for Rio de Janiero. At twenty-three, she became famous for her novel, Near to the Wild Heart, and married a Brazilian diplomat. She spent much of the forties and fifties in Europe and the United States, helping soldiers in a military hospital in Naples during World War II and writing, before leaving her husband and returning to Rio in 1959. Back home, she completed several novels including The Passion According to G.H. and The Hour of the Star before her death in 1977 from ovarian cancer.

Mel u

Friday, March 27, 2015

"The Unknown Masterpiece" by Honore de Balzac (1831, A Short Story Component of The Human Comedy)

53 of 91

"An Unknown Masterpiece" centers on a neophyte painter visiting the studio of a master artist.  In it are the deepest reflections I have yet found in Balzac about the nature of art.  Balzac clearly thought very deeply on theoretical questions about the nature of art.  The narrator of the story may have meant only the visual arts but I had to apply what was said to Balzac's fiction.  As I read more of and about Balzac I see a man driven at times to write as fast as he could, not just for the money he badly needed but by his inner demons.  I also see an artist of supreme talent who shaped the direction of the novel throughout the world.  

The conversations in "An Unknown Masterpiece" of the master painter show the intermingling of artistic creativity with sexuality. In Balzac's pre-camera era, painters of portraits could become super stars.  The master painter sees the portrait of a partially clad beautiful woman as seemingly almost sexually magnetic.  Pushed it seems there is a sexual element to creativity in Balzac's mind.  "The Unknown Masterpiece" very much depicts a male dominated theory of creativity.  The idea of a woman painter reacting to her work as the male painter does simply would not work.  We also have the deep rooted conflation of beautiful women with goodness.  I have talked about issues related to beauty in women as perceived by Balzac before and maybe I will again.

According to my post read research, this story influenced Picasso, Cezzane and new wave film directors in the 1930s.  

I have not yet included a mini bio of Balzac so here one is:

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), one of the greatest and most influential of novelists, was born in Tours and educated at the Collège de Vendôme and the Sorbonne. He began his career as a pseudonymous writer of sensational potboilers before achieving success with a historical novel, The Chouans. Balzac then conceived his great work, La Comédie humaine, an ongoing series of novels in which he set out to offer a complete picture of contemporary society and manners. Always working under an extraordinary burden of debt, Balzac wrote some eighty-five novels in the course of his last twenty years, including such masterpieces as Père GoriotEugénie GrandetLost Illusions, and Cousin Bette. In 1850, he married Eveline Hanska, a rich Polish woman with whom he had long conducted an intimate correspondence. Three months later he died. In addition to the present collection, NYRB Classics publishes a translation of Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece and Gambara. -from the webpage of The New York Review of Books

Mel u

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Melmouth Reconciled" by Honore de Balzac (1835, A Short Story, A Component of The Human Comedy)

52 of 91

Melmouth the Wanderer, published in 1820 by Charles Maturin (Dublin, 1782 to 1824) was a once very influential Gothic novel centering on a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for 150 extra  years of life.  He wandered the earth in search of someone willing to take over this pact.  Balzac considered Melmouth the Wanderer the equal of Goethe's Faust or Don Juan by Lord Byron.

"Melmouth Reconciled" is an odd kind of story with mixed elements.  Parts of it are suberb, parts formula Balzac.  Part of the story centers on a retired French army colonel.  He is an habitué of Paris street prostitues.  He is not at all a bad man.  One of the strengths of Balzac is his ability to create sympathetic and interesting  imperfect people.  My guess is that Balzac was probably well acquainted with Prostituion in Paris, and not just an observer.  One day the colonel gets tired of the risk and the crapshoot side of picking up girls on the street and sees a young girl he wishes to save from the life.

"But on the brink of the gulf of prostitution in Paris, the young girl of sixteen, beautiful and pure as the Madonna, had met with Castanier. The old dragoon was too rough and homely to make his way in society, and he was tired of tramping the boulevard at night and of the kind of conquests made there by gold. For some time past he had desired to bring a certain regularity into an irregular life. He was struck by the beauty of the poor child who had drifted by chance into his arms, and his determination to rescue her from the life of the streets was half benevolent, half selfish, as some of the thoughts of the best of men are apt to be."

He soon takes up housekeeping with the girl.  She becomes used to a comfortable life style and begins to put a serious overload on Castanier's pension.  Things get worse when she finds out he is married.  Now the storyline connects to Melmouth, who in this story is English.  He gets himself in terrible financial shape speculating on stocks and such and he meets a sinister man who offers to solve all his problems, for a slight price, of course.  He is facing prison for embezzlement so he is desperate.  I thought Balzac did a great job portraying the sinister Melmouth.

"Melmouth the Wanderer" is worth reading as a stand alone work.  It is "pure Balzac".

Mel u

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"The Women" by William Trevor (2013 in The New Yorker, republished in The O Henry Stories 2014)

William Trevor (1928, County Cork, Ireland) is for sure one of the two, along with Alice Munro, greatest living short story writers.  I have read and posted on way to few stories by these writers, maybe because their stories need time to seep down into the depths of your consciousness.  

"The Women", first published in The New Yorker and included in The O Henry Prize Stories 2014 is an amazing story that shows the slow unraveling of an old family secret.  There are two central characters in the story, an affluent refined businessman and his daughter.  His wife left him for another man when his daughter was two and he raised her alone, with hired help.  Everything in the girl's life stays the same, she is comfortable and happy though lonely with no real companions but her father, a very good man, the household help and the tutor who home schools her.  Her father periodically takes her on nice weekends to Oxford or Csmbridge and on vacation to Paris, Venice, and Rome.  The father decides she needs regular contact with other girls so he sends her to a fine boarding school.  She hates it at first and wants to go home but in time she makes friends, settling in.  I don't want to spoil the main plot development for potential readers but it does involve a pair of very close rather odd fifty something year old women who start to come to the ice hockey games.  

The ending really makes you think about the collisions of worlds, the coincidences that can define personal histories.  The contrasting worlds of the life of the father and his daughter and the two strange women is really brilliant.

"The Women" is a simply wonderful story which I am so glad to have read.

Do you have a favorite Trevor story?

Mel u

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"A Pinch of Salt" by Adam Szymánsky (1904, trans. by Else C. M. Benecke and Marie Busch)

"But no! those deserts, equal in extent to the half of Europe, are only the purgatory, not yet the real Siberian hell. You still find woods there, poor, thin, dwarfed woods, it is true, but where there is wood there is fire and vitality. The true hell of human torture begins beyond the line of the woods; then there is nothing but ice and snow; ice that does not even melt in the plains in summer—and in the midst of that icy desert, miserable human beings thrown upon this shore by an alien fate."

Adam Szymánsky is one of the great chroniclers of Polish life under the last years of the Russian Czars.  He was born and educated in Warsaw, studied law and classical literature.  He became active in Socialist groups and for this in 1882 he was sent to Siberia, returning to Warsaw in 1885. He is most now read for his collection of stories about his experiences while in Siberia, Siberian Sketches, in which "A Pinch of Salt" first appeared.  

There were degrees of punishment by Exile to Siberia.  Some were just taken to a town there and not allowed to leave for a proscribed period.  Some were sent to labor camps, places of terrible suffering.
The narrator of the story was just made to live in a town there.  (Part of the idea was that many exiles would end up settling in the sparsely populated region.). He and a group of fellow exiles hear a close student days friend of one of the exiles has been released from a  camp in the worst part of Siberia and is passing through their town on the way back to Warsaw. The fact that he survived exalted them and gives them hope.

"A passionate desire seized us to look upon that life out there in its unveiled nakedness, its horrible cruelty. This curiosity meant more than narrow selfishness; it had a special reason. The fact that a human being had been able to survive in that far-distant world, bore witness to the strength and resistance of the human spirit; the iron will and energy of the one doubled and steeled the strength of all the others."

 They plan a great feast in his honor, much labor and expense goes into the event with a magnificent sturgeon as the center piece of the meal.  On the big day, the man can eat none of the food.  I will leave the end untold.  "A Pinch of Salt" can be read in just a few minutes but many could probably be found in Warsaw who read it decades ago who still remember the story well.  I will seek out more work by Adam Szymánsky.

You can read this story and several other late Czarist Era Polish works by going to and search on the term "Polish".  Two now in the public domain collections of translations originally published by Basil Blackwell can be downloaded for free.  This is the third work I have read from this source.

Mel u

The Outpost by Boleslaw Prus (1886)

Earlier this month I read an excellant short story "The Recurring Wave" by Boleslaw Prus, one of Poland's highest regarded writers.  Set in rural Poland, it depicts a time of coming social change and different social classes in rural society. 

The Outpost is one of four major novels by Prus.  It is also set in rural Poland in a time where the people are unsettled by changes they see coming and fear.  There are basically four sorts of people in the world of The Outpost.  There are the peasants, almost all illiterate and just a generation or so from being bound serfs, the gentry, the Jews who control much of the trade, and the newly arriving Germans.  I tried to decide how I should take the treatment of Jews in the novel, there is no rampant hatred but they are consistently dealt with in a negative way.  I really could not come to any conclusions concerning this.  The Germans arrive in droves, trying to buy up land at higher prices than the old market, financed by Bismark who has his hidden motives.  Poland was under the Russian Czar at this time and I enjoyed it when the lead character talked about how much a better man the Czar was than the Kaiser. Of course the irony is the Czar could care less about Polish peasants.   The peasant whom the novel centers on will not sell his land no matter what.  Everything is further unsettled as there are land reformations coming that are said to place more land in the hand of the peasants.

Prus did an excellant job with the lead character, his wife, his family, and his home. We even get to know the names of his cows!  Soon we learn a railroad is coming through.  The family suffers a lot of terrible hardships.  It was very sad when Lyza, one of the cows, had to be sold to a butcher.  Peasants still very much depend on the local squires for work, income, and directions.  It creates a great social gap when the local squire sells his land to the Germans and moves to Warsaw.

The Outpost is very much worth reading, not just an item of historical interest.  It kept me interested throughout.

If you want to read this go to and search for "Polish".  Two very good collections  from 1924, originally published by Basil Blackwell, can be downloaded for free.  
The Doll, set in Warsaw in the 1880s, is considered the author's masterwork and I hope to start it soon.

Mel u

Monday, March 23, 2015

"Yellow Leaning to Gold" by Shauna Gilligan (2015). - A Short Story by the Author of Happiness Comes from Nowhere

My Q and A Session with Shauna Gilligan (includes links to more posts by and about her)

I first became acquainted with the work of Shauna Gilligan during Irish Short Story Month in March, 2012 and I have been following her work ever since then.  I loved her highly regarded debut novel Happiness Comes From Nowhere,  she kindly did a guest post on Desmond Hogan and I have posted on several of her wonderful short stories.

I was happy to see Gilligan has a short story in a just starting literary journal The Lonely Crowd:  The New Home of the Short Story.  (There is a link at the close of my post).     My main purpose here is to let my readers know of the opportunity to read "Yellow Leaning to Gold" and to journalise my continued reading of Gilligan.

The brief story centers on five years passing in the marriage of a prototypically ordinary married couple.  As the story opens the man has just proposed marriage and tried to be  proud when his wife told him she was changing her name to his, "Brennan".  You can see Gilligan's elegant charged prose in these opening lines:

"It was a name which was neither specific nor personal. Brennan could have belonged to any male in Ireland, at any time.

When Eileen married him and took his name, Brennan desperately wanted to feel flattered. He tried the angle that women were not doing this sort of thing any more. But Eileen just laughed, told him she loved him. She kissed his cheek.

‘Besides,’ she said, ‘Eileen Brennan works.

With a crackle of clarity, Brennan realised that like him, the beautiful Eileen would be condemned to a life of mediocrity."

We next meet Brennan five years later.  It is his fifth wedding anniversary and he is on his normal forty-five minute train ride home.  He has a decent job.    I loved the scene where he watched a woman put on her make up.  It is kind of a metaphor for his life.  The subdued closing brings him full circle.  We see what begins as a blessing can return as a something very different,  

You can read "Yellow Leaning to Gold" by Shauna Gilligan at

Official Author Bio 

Shauna Gilligan‘s short fiction and reviews have been published in places such as The Stinging Fly (Ireland), New Welsh Review (UK) and Cobalt (USA). She holds a PhD (Writing) from the University of South Wales and teaches writing as part of the Arts Council of Ireland Writers in Prisons Panel. Her first novel, Happiness Comes from Nowhere (London, Ward Wood: 2012), was described by the Sunday Independent in Ireland as a ‘thoroughly enjoyable and refreshingly challenging debut novel.

Mel u

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Iron Kingdom - The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600 to 1947 by Christopher Clark (2008, 800 pages)

I offer my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read this book

Normally I am reading from three to six books.  I try always to have at least one non-fiction work in the mix.  I have been reading a lot of German language fiction (in translation) of late so I wanted to learn a bit more about German history.  I have read a number of works dealing with the Holocaust in the last few months and I wanted to see if  Joseph Roth was right when he said that Prussian culture and tradition reach their culmination in Nazism.   This is the big question for me at least.

Iron Kingdom The Downfall of Prussia 1600 to 1947 by Christopher Clark is a first rate work of serious scholarship that also serves the needs of the general reader.  It focuses a lot on military affairs and the personality of the rulers rather than on the daily life of the average person.  I would have enjoyed learning more about the lives of the common people.   There is a lot of material on Prussia's relationships with other German states and with neighboring countries.  Lots of Fredericks  here!  We learn about the role of the Prussian aristocracy, the Junkers, in Prussian affairs. The most famous Junker was Chancellor Otto von Bismark who basically turned Prussian and from that Germany into a powerful military state.  Clark goes into how Prussia was a culture of obedience to the state and the social consequences of this.

In the closing chapters Clark talks about the role of Prussian Junkers in Nazi Germany.  Many Junkers were still in the period 1933 to 1945 old school aristocrats who looked down on Hitler and the kind of people he surrounded himself with as persons they simply would not voluntarily even socialize with.  Junkers were behind several plots to assassinate Hitler.  This was not so much because they hated his ideology but because they thought he would end up destroying the Prussian state.  On the other side, Clark tells us that many, probably most, Junkers were enthusiastic supporters of Nazism.  Many were involved in top military positions and in the management and administration of the Holocaust.  

This is the first large scale book on Prussian history which I have read.  I am glad I read it.  

Of the 800 pages of this book, 220 is devoted to footnotes, acknowledgements, bibliography and such.  I know this is part of the requirements of serious academic writing but these pages run up the price of the book.  I wonder if authors could instead create online files of at least the refrence foot notes and just include a link to them in the book for those interested.  Just a thought.

Mel u

Saturday, March 21, 2015

"A Tale of Jerusalem" by Edgar Allan Poe (1831, 4 pages)

By: Yitzchok Tendler

"It comes as no surprise that America’s writers and poets of the 19th century touched heavily on Biblical themes. They were, after all, overwhelmingly Christian. Far more surprising, and scarce, are instances of their references to Rabbinic Literature.

In this regard, a relatively obscure short story by Edgar Allen Poe, A Tale of Jerusalem, stands entirely in a league of its own. The breadth of familiarity with Rabbinic Literature and Temple protocol, the extent to which this narrative is so replete with abstruse Talmudic references, is, frankly, astounding. Poe goes far beyond mere Talmudic reference; he actually adopts its idiom and syntax, employing free use of Hebrew and Aramaic to color his characters."  From 

Since I began my blog in July 2009 I have read and posted on a few of Edgar Allan Poe's (1809 to 1849) sixty-nine short stories.   In almost every article or book I have read on the history of the modern short story Poe is treated as one of the originators of the form, especially the Gothic, horror and detective story.  This is as true not just for America but Ireland, Japan, and France. Poe defined a short story as a work that could be read in one sitting.  He lead a tumultuous way too brief life and there is much use of macabre, violent and disturbing images in his work.  

I decided to read one of his stories just on an impulse and I picked "A Tale of Jerusalem", because it was quite short and because the title kind of intrigued me, the same way it probably did readers The Philadelphia Saturday Courier where it was first published.   I was, though perhaps I should not have been, shocked by the apparent depth of Poe's knowledge of Jewish traditional literature and history exhibited in this story.  First I will briefly recapitulate the plot and then I will talk a bit about what my post read research revealed as I found it very interesting. 

The leaders of the temple have lowered down to the Romans a bucket with silver coins to pay for a sacrificial animal.  The Romans say they treat all the religions of their conquered nations the same.  As the leaders begin to pull up the basket they marvel at the weight, thinking the Romans have sent a great ram or fattened calf.  To their horrowing the animal is a hog, an animal repudiated by their religion.  There is a very big display of arcane lore in the story.  It seems Poe got his details from a very popular at the time four part novel, Tales of the Holy City by Horace Smith.

I hope to read through all the stories eventually.  

Mel u

"A Journey" by Colm Toibin (2007, from Mothers and Sons)

Colm Tóibín  (Ireland, 1955) is one of my favorite fiction writers and a master interpreter of literature. I first read his excellant novel based  on the London years of Henry James, The Master, then Brooklyn about an Irish woman who moves to the New York City area, then the unique Testament of Mary and lastly his most recent book Nora Webster.  I also read his monograph, Lady Gregory's Toothbrush as well as several of his short stories.  I have profited from his essays on Henry James.  

This year's Irish Short Story Month is a lower key event than in the past but there are still stories yet unread in his anthology, Mothers and Sons so I decided to include his "A Journey" in this year's Irish Short Story Month.

The story begins shortly after a married couple has had, after twenty years of marriage, their first child, David.  They never expected a child after twenty years but he did not upset their comfortable routine as much as they feared.  Compressing a bit, we flash twenty years forward.  The father Sheamus is very sick, probably going to die soon.  The mother has gone to pick their son up from a mental hospital where he was treated for problems we never quite understand.  He rides in the back seat of the car and tells his mother he does not want any questions.  She is bringing him home to live.  She wonders if she can summon up the unselfishness to take care of them both.

This is a very moving story anyone who ever had a wonderful self-sacrificing mother will cherish.  It depicts how women are sometimes pushed into the role of caregiver.  

Mel u

The Boxer by Jurek Becker (1976, translated by Alessandra Bastagli)

I owe my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read The Boxer

The Boxer by Jurek Becker (born 1937 in Lotz, Poland, died Thumby, Germany, 1997) is about a concentration camp survivor and his relationship to his son.  The man's wife, he was Jewish, was taken away, his two year old son put in a children's concentration camp, where survival rates were incredibly low, and he himself spent six years in a slave labor camp.  Upon his release he receives a pension and priority housing as a form of reparation, he goes to work as a bookkeeper for a big time black market operator, he has two long term affairs, he makes a close friend who kills himself and he goes to an office that helps people try to find out what happened to individuals last known to be in camps.  Miraculously he finds his son, now eight.   Not long ago I read a nonfiction book about the emotional impact their years in the camps had on survivors.  Becker's book covers this in the case of one person brilliantly.  The man, he was once a boxer, tries to relate to his son and his girlfriends and they to him. Everyone is damaged in some way by the Holocaust years. 

The Boxer is very understated but it is very moving and deeply insightful.  The story is structured as if it were a government interviewer taking down the man's story, part of the drama of the novel is the man, now in his late sixties getting to know the much younger interviewer.  It covers over twenty five years in the life of the man and his son.  The relationship of the man, he had his son trained to box when he was bullied at school, is not easy to understand and is full of sadness.

I have previously read and posted on Becker's Jacob the Lier and The Wall and other Stories.  Jacob the Lier is the best selling of his books, per Amazon, and I would suggest you start there.

The Boxer is a first rate novel focusing on an important aspect of the Holocaust, the fate of survivors.

The kindle edition of this book has numerous run together words.  It was obviously never proof read after conversion to the kindle format.  Jurek Becker deserves more respect than this and so do book buyers.  
Mel u

Friday, March 20, 2015

"The Illustrious Gaudissart" by Honore de Balzac (1833, a short story, a component of The Human Comedy)

"The Illustrious Gaudissart" centers on a traveling salesman.  You name it Gaudissart can sell it. The opening  sections of the story in which Balzac talks about the work and the life of the salesman, especially his encyclopedic knowledge of the delights of the shady side of Paris are just great, among the best of Balzac.  I can kind of tell when Balzac really puts his heart into his work and it is here in parts of this story.  The weaker aspect of the story is in his long sales call on a country gentleman, called in my translation from the 19th century by Katherine Wormerley, "an imbecile". Gaudissart tries to sell the man insurance annuities of some sort as well as subscriptions to a journal and the imbecile ends up getting the better of him.

I guess this work is mainly for those reading through The Comedie Humaine but it is a decent story.


Mel u

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabohov by Paul Russell (2011, 376 pages)

I offer my great thanks to Max u for the gift card that allowed me to read this book.

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov by Paul Russell is a very interesting book, in segments a great work of art.  It is based on the life of tne younger brother of Vladimer Nabokov.   To me the most intriguing parts of the novel were the settings and the historical personages we meet, especially the sections set in Paris in the artistic Russian emigre community.  Sergey was gay and as depicted here, so were many of the cultural and ecomonic elite of old Russia.  One of Sergey's uncles was an aggressive near pedophile with an anal fixation who used his position of power to molest Sergey and any of the servants he fancied.  We are in a time when servants are transition from household serfs to employees and the uncle feels it is his sexual privilege to bully servants boys into sodomy.  It looks like the same thing happened to Sergey.  Russell is such a good writer that the uncle almost comes across as a sympathetic character.  His family view this just as a "quirk".  The sections in old Saint Petersburg were magnificent.  I felt I was there and maybe I kind of wished I was.

The Nabokov family prior to the Russian revolution was very rich and the novel focuses a lot on the difficulties Sergey and his famous brother had adjusting to the loss of wealth.  In Paris we see some ex-aristocrats were smart enough to have moved a lot of their wealth out of Russia before the revolution.  Many had to adjust to being without mansions, servants, and elegant meals.  We meet a lot of celebrity characters in the Russian community in Paris.  The Bousweau family was very well connected in this community and I admit I was thrilled by the mention of Ruffington Boussweau's friend and traveling companion, Prince Yousapoff.  

The novel flashes back and forth in time from Russian in the 1910s, to Paris in the 20th to Berlin in 1943.  While in Germany Sergey had to live in fear of the gestapo because he was gay. There are small touches that make each era seem very real.  

If there is a weakness in this novel, it is maybe in the minor characters, the love interestes of Sergey, are not that well developed.  The sex is quick and furtive.  Homosexuality is seen by most of the era as a disease.

Most of the sex acts are fast  handjobs through clothing.  Anal sex is more for domination than pleasure, especially in the school sections in Russia.

Overall I highly enjoyed this novel.  The historical research, I Googled a lot of the names of Russians in Paris, is meticulous and marvelously deployed.  

For now  the Kindle edition of this book is for sale for $1.95, marked down from $12.95  

See for biographical data and information on Russell's other books.

Mel u