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

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

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