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, November 21, 2017

“Compulsion” by Stefan Zweig - 1929



“All his fatherland meant to him now was prison and compulsion. His home in the world was outside his country, Europe was humanity.”  Stefan Zweig

Works I Have So Far Read for German Literature Month, November, 2017

  1. “You’d Have Larvae Too” by Nora Wagener, 2016
  2. Vertigo by W. G. Sebald, 1990
  3. The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter, 2006
  4. “An Earthquake in Chile” by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1809
  5. Who is Martha? by Marjana Gaponenko, 2012
  6. “The Legal Haziness of Marriage” by Olga Grjasnowa, 2015
  7. “Aladdin, COB” by Isabelle Lehn, 2015
  8. “The Last Bell” by Johannes Urzidil, 1968
  9. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald, 1995
  10. Late Fame by Arthur Schnitzler, written 1892, published 2016
  11. Blood Brothers by Ernst Haffner, 1933
  12. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin, 1929
  13. Confessions of a Murderer by Joseph Roth, 1936
  14.   “Compulsion” by Stefan Zweig,  1929

German Literature Month in November 2013 lead me to the discovery of twelve great writers entirely new to me, among them some of my now most treasured authors, Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Hans Klein,  W. G. Sebald, Robert Walser and Arthur Schnitzler.  

Stefan Zweig was at one time the most popular European writer.  Today’s story, “Compulsion”, is set in Zurich Switzerland, just as the narrator’s home country, Germany has entered World War One.  He, with his beloved wife, has moved to Switzerland to live on the shores of Lake Zurich, where he can pursue his painting in peace.  He, and especially his wife, see the power of a few rich men in Germany and other countries to compel millions of men with no stake in the conflict or hate for each other to fight in absurd wars as a great evil. 

He thought he had medical clearance to avoid being drafted until he got a letter ordering him to appear at the German consular office for reexamination. This sets of an intensely emotional conflict between the man, who feels he must obey, and his wife who says she will leave him if he does.  

The events that follow are very exciting, the ending is gratifying.  It feels like when the man and his wife are condemning German war policy that it is Zweig himself speaking.

Please share your experience with Zweig with us 

Mel ü





Monday, November 20, 2017

“A Breath of Lucifer” - A Short Story by R. K. Narayan -1986- first published in Under The Banyan Tree and other Stories

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R. K. Narayan on The Reading Life




R. K. Narayan (1906 to 2001) should have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.   I have read and posted on all his novels and several of his short stories.  Most of his work is set in Malgudi, India, a South East Indian city born in the literary works of Narayan.  My favourite novel, though I love them all, is A Tiger for Malgudi.  Short story lovers should start with the collection edited and introduced by J. K. Lumpari, Malgudi Days.  Lumpari calls him one of the greatest short story writers of the 20th Century.  I read this story in another collection Grandmother’s Tale and other Stories.  Buy Malgudi Days first.  

“A Breath of Lucifer” is set in The Malgudi Eye Clinic.  The narrator has just had eye surgery and his eyes are bandaged.  His family has hired a man to stay full time in the patient’s room, looking out for him.  The fun in the story is in the changing stories told by the caregiver and the thoughts the patient has, not being able to see.  The caregiver, he claims anyway, began his medical work in the army, in Burma.  He likes to talk a lot about his military days.  A woman comes in everyday to give the patient a sponge bath and the man impugns her character.  Something completely crazy happens at the end.

I still have at least twenty Narayan stories to read.  

You can watch episodes from  the very well done TV series, Malgudi Days on YouTube.  The stories are in Hindi, some have captions.  It is fun to read a story then watch the TV show based upon it.  

Mel u








Confessions of a Murderer by Joseph Roth - 1936 -












“Prussia, the ruler of Germany, was always an enemy of the intellect, of books, of the Book of Books—that is, the Bible—of Jews and Christians, of humanism and Europe. Hitler’s Third Reich is only so alarming to the rest of Europe because it sets itself to put into action what was always the Prussian project anyway: to burn the books, to murder the Jews, and to revise Christianity."  Joseph Roth, 1933"


Works I Have So Far Read for German Literature Month, November, 2017

  1. “You’d Have Larvae Too” by Nora Wagener, 2016
  2. Vertigo by W. G. Sebald, 1990
  3. The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter, 2006
  4. “An Earthquake in Chile” by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1809
  5. Who is Martha? by Marjana Gaponenko, 2012
  6. “The Legal Haziness of Marriage” by Olga Grjasnowa, 2015
  7. “Aladdin, COB” by Isabelle Lehn, 2015
  8. “The Last Bell” by Johannes Urzidil, 1968
  9. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald, 1995
  10. Late Fame by Arthur Schnitzler, written 1892, published 2016
  11. Blood Brothers by Ernst Haffner, 1933
  12. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin, 1929
  13. Confessions of a Murderer by Joseph Roth, 1936

During German Literature Month November 2013 I read my first work by Joseph Roth, his acknowledged by all masterwork,  Radetzky’s  March.  He is now one of my “read all I can authors”. I have posted upon eight of his novels, three novellas, three collections of essays, and two short stories.  Roth was at one time the highest paid journalist in Europe.  His essays are gems, a delight to read.  (1894 to 1939, Roth died before the Holocaust had truly begun but he saw it coming.  The Nazis burned his books..  There is bio data in my prior Posts.)

Confessions of a Murderer is set in a Paris cafe, one for serious drinkers, a venue Roth knew well.  An older Russian exile (there is a great essay on Russians in Paris in Hotel Years) is known among other Russian habitué of the cafe as “The Murder”.   A journalist, having a late night drink, asks the man why he is referred to in such a fashion.  He begins a very long tale, starting in Czarist Russia with a claim that his real father was not his forester father but a count who had an affair with his mother.  This belief, it might be true, sets off a course of events that dominated his life.  He becomes a member of The Czarist Secret Police, assigned to protect the Czar from assisination.  I found Roth’s account of the workings and corruption of the Secret Police fascinating.  

The novel is a bit of a potboiler, O.K. a lot of one, at this point in his life Roth needed income, it goes as far as it could in depicting sex and really is quite exciting.  Roth is letting us see the consequences of the decline of the old empires.  

It has been compared to Conrad’s Secret Agent and to some of the work of Dostoevsky.

I would say first read Radetsky’s March, then the sequel to this, The Emperor’s Tomb and then my sentimental favorite Hotel Savoy.  My guess is by then you will be hooked on Roth.  Roth is as smart as they come.  

Mel ü
















Sunday, November 19, 2017

“Apollo” - A Short Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - April 13, 2015 in The New Yorker






Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on The Reading Life

Click here to read “Apollo”




I have been reading the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for a few years.  I have posted on two of her three novels, Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus as well as four of her short stories.  I hope to read her latest novel Americanah by the end of next year.  (A detailed bio and links to her short stories can be found on her website.)

“Apollo” is set in Enugu, in Southeastern Nigeria.  The narrator as the story opens is just back from a visit to his parents.  They are retired professors, he was their only child, born many years into the marriage.  He notices his parents are reverting to folk beliefs they would have once scoffed at.  On this latest visit they have news about a house boy they fired fifteen years ago, Raphael. He was arrested as a leader of a gang doing house robberies.  

The narrator begins to think back about Raphael, he was only thirteen.  His parents wanted him to focus on studies and love reading as they did.  He wanted to learn Kung Fu.  Raphael begins to teach him.  We feel a possible sexual stirring.



I don’t want to spoil the second half of the story but you will see the narrator is still troubled by an incident from long ago.  Plus you can learn why the story is called “Apollo”, space travel is not involved.  

This is a very interesting story, about memory, relationships with ageing parents, class markers all subtly done.

Please share your experience with the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with us.

Mel u








Saturday, November 18, 2017

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin - 1929 - translated from German by Anne Thompson



You can learn more about German Literature Month on their link page





Berlin Alexanderplatz is one of the greatest works of 20th century German Literature, it is must reading for those into Weimar Germany, as I am.

I first read this great book for German Literature Month in 2015, I am felt well rewarded by my second reading.  In this reading I see Döblin structuring the work through the Book of Revelations, as his great acknowledged influence James Joyce structure Ulysses based on The Odyssey.  He treats Berlin in 1929 as at the end of days, Hitler, off stage but lurking, is the beast, the city is overwhelmed with much of the population of all sexes, surviving at least partially through prostitution.

I would suggest a pairing of this book with Blood Brothers by Eric Haffner, 1932,also set on the mean streets of Berlin, including the grandest of all mean streets, Alexanderplatz, for a very good look at Weimar Germany.  Blood Brothers is much shorter and an easier read so you might start there.


I have a collection of Döblin’s short stories and will read them one day, maybe for GL 2018.


Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin (1878 to 1957) is Weimer Germany's greatest literary work.  It is considered to be the first German literary work to use techniques of James Joyce, an influence acknowledged by Döblin.  Döblin was a practicing neuro-psychiatrist.  He left Germany just before his books were burned.

b. Aug. 10, 1878, Stettin
d. June 26, 1957, Emmendingen, near Freiburg im Breisgau 

German novelist and essayist, the most talented narrative writer of the German Expressionist movement.

Döblin studied medicine and became a doctor, practicing psychiatry in the workers' district of the Alexanderplatz in Berlin. His Jewish ancestry and socialist views obliged him to leave Germany for France in 1933 after the Nazi takeover, and in 1940 he escaped to the United States, where he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1941. He returned to Germany in 1945 at the war's end but resettled in Paris in the early 1950s. 
Although Döblin's technique and style vary, the urge to expose the hollowness of a civilization heading toward its own destruction and a quasi-religious urge to provide a means of salvation for suffering humanity were two of his constant preoccupations. His first successful novel, Die drei Sprünge des Wang-Lun (1915; The Three Leaps of Wang-lun), is set in China and describes a rebellion that is crushed by the tyrannical power of the state. Wallenstein (1920) is a historical novel, and Berge, Meere und Giganten (1924; "Mountains, Seas, and Giants"; republished as Giganten in 1932) is a merciless anti-utopian satire. 

Döblin's best-known and most Expressionistic novel, Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929; Alexanderplatz, Berlin), tells the story of Franz Biberkopf, a Berlin proletarian who tries to rehabilitate himself after his release from jail but undergoes a series of vicissitudes, many of them violent and squalid, before he can finally attain a normal life. The book combines interior monologue (in colloquial language and Berlin slang) with a somewhat cinematic technique to create a compelling rhythm that dramatizes the human condition in a disintegrating social
order. 
Döblin's subsequent books, which continue to focus on individuals destroyed by opposing social forces, include Babylonische Wandrung (1934; "Babylonian Wandering"), sometimes described as a late masterwork of German Surrealism; Pardon wird nicht gegeben (1935; Men Without Mercy); and two unsuccessful trilogies of historical novels. He also wrote essays on political and literary topics, and his Reise in Polen (1926; Journey to Poland) is a stimulating travel account. Döblin recounted his flight from France in 1940 and his observations of postwar Germany in the book Schicksalsrei  - from Stanford University



Works I Have So Far Read for German Literature Month, November, 2017

  1. “You’d Have Larvae Too” by Nora Wagener, 2016
  2. Vertigo by W. G. Sebald, 1990
  3. The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter, 2006
  4. “An Earthquake in Chile” by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1809
  5. Who is Martha? by Marjana Gaponenko, 2012
  6. “The Legal Haziness of Marriage” by Olga Grjasnowa, 2015
  7. “Aladdin, COB” by Isabelle Lehn, 2015
  8. “The Last Bell” by Johannes Urzidil, 1968
  9. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald, 1995
  10. Mona Lisa by Alexander Lernet Holenia, 1939


You can learn more about German Literature Month on their link page



“The mother stands there and encourages her sons. At last she says no and she dies in torment. Death twirls his mantle and sings: O yes, O yes. The woman with the seven heads tears at the beast but it cannot rise. Marching, marching, we’re marching off to war, there’s a 100 pipers marching at our side, they blow the pipes and beat the drums, rat-a-tat-tat, a smooth path for one man, rough luck for another, one man’s still standing, the next man falls over, one man keeps running, the next’s silent for ever, rat-a-tat-tat. Shouting and rejoicing, they march on in sixes and in twos and in threes, the French revolution is on the march, the Russian revolution is on the march, the Peasants’ Wars are on themarch, the Anabaptists, they all follow along behind Death, exulting, they follow behind him, the path leads to freedom, to freedom we march, the old world must perish, arise, a new day dawns, rat-a-tat-tat, in sixes, in twos, and in threes, Brothers, to light and to Freedom, brothers rise up to the light, brightly from out of past darkness, the radiant future’s in sight12, now forward march, and right and left and left and right, rat-a-tat-tat. Death twirls his cloak and laughs and beams and sings: O yes, O yes. At last the Great Whore of Babylon drags her beast to its feet, it starts trotting, it tears across the fields, it sinks into the snow. She turns round, howls back at exultant figure of Death. Amid the uproar the beast tumbles to its knees, the woman sways over the neck of the beast.”  from the final chapter of Berlin Alexanderplatz

Berlin Alexanderplatz is one of the greatest works of 20th century German Literature, it is must reading for those into Weimar Germany, as I am.

I first read this great book for German Literature Month in 2015, I am felt well rewarded by my second reading.  In this reading I see Döblin structuring the work through the Book of Revelations, as his great acknowledged influence James Joyce structure Ulysses based on The Odyssey.  He treats Berlin in 1929 as at the end of days, Hitler, off stage but lurking, is the beast, the city is overwhelmed with much of the population of all sexes, surviving at least partially through prostitution.

I would suggest a pairing of this book with Blood Brothers by Eric Haffner, 1932,also set on the mean streets of Berlin, including the grandest of all mean streets, Alexanderplatz, for a very good look at Weimar Germany.  Blood Brothers is much shorter and an easier read so you might start there.


I have a collection of Döblin’s short stories and will read them one day, maybe for GL 2018.

The novel centers on Franz Biberkoff.  When we meet Franz he has just completed a four year prison term, for beating to death a woman using an egg beater.  Franz was a pimp and the victim was one of his prostitutes. Berlin Alexanderplatz is the story of Franz's futile attempt to "go straight" when he is released from prison.  Alexanderplatz was a street on the dark side of Berlin.  Viewers of German expressionist movies and Weimer art will relate well to this great novel.  Döblin does a wonderful job giving us the feel for Berlin using a wide variety of literary techniques.  There are ongoing voyages into the Book of Revelations and a recurring use of the figure of The Whore of Babylon.  Few pages go by in the novel without references to whores, a metaphor for the terrible decline and decadence that the loss of WW I brought about in Germany.   Everybody is either hustling, starving, has joined a cult or is revolted by what Germany has become.  There are a few references to the Nazi party scattered through the novel but it is not a focus.  




really enjoyed Döblin's use of newspaper pastiches and his slaughterhouse interludes.  We get to know Franz very well through the extensive and intensive interior monologues.  There are many refrences to places and people in Weimer Berlin.  

This book is for sure a masterpiece, a serious and self-conscious work of art. In my post read research I learned the biggest challenge in translating the novel was in conversations between Franz and other "street characters" and in his interior monolugues.  They are in a slang ridden argot.  Thompson makes use of what seems sort of a mixture of the 
dialects of London's East Side and movies from the 1940s about New York City criminals.
At first I did not like it but I got used to it and I guess the idea is to use a mode of speech outside the comfort range of most potential readers of the novel, to jar their sensibilites just as middle and upper class Berliners in 1929 would have felt about the everyday language of Franz.

Friday, November 17, 2017

“Borderlands”. - A Short Story by Johannes Urzidil - 1956 - translated from German 2016 by David Burnett- included in The Last Bell









Works I Have So Far Read for German Literature Month, November, 2017

  1. “You’d Have Larvae Too” by Nora Wagener, 2016
  2. Vertigo by W. G. Sebald, 1990
  3. The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter, 2006
  4. “An Earthquake in Chile” by Heinrich Von Kleist, 1809
  5. Who is Martha? by Marjana Gaponenko, 2012
  6. “The Legal Haziness of Marriage” by Olga Grjasnowa, 2015
  7. “Aladdin, COB” by Isabelle Lehn, 2015
  8. “The Last Bell” by Johannes Urzidil, 1968
  9. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald, 1995
  10. Late Fame by Arthur Schnitzler, written 1892, published 2016
  11. Blood Brothers by Ernst Haffner, 1933
  12. “Borderlands” by Johannes Urzidil, 1956

Earlier this month I read a wonderful short story, “The Last Bell” by Johannes Urzidil set in Prague, right after the Nazis took control of the country.  The story is narrated by a maid whose Jewish employers have fled the country leaving her with their apartment and a good bit of money.  She gets involved with German soldiers in a really wonderful story.

“Borderlands” is completely different from “Last Bell”.  We never really learn where the story is set other than somewhere in a forest in Europe.  It is likewise
 very vague as to the era of the story.  I will say at once I loved this story for the 
portrayal of the magical child, at the heart story.  This story reads like a fairy tale at times.  It is narrated by a man from the city, a writer, who comes to stay with a country family.  Their daughter has strange powers, she can call fish, summon rain but she cannot learn the simplest arithmetic.  The ending is heart rendering.   

Johannes Urzidil - Biography
Johannes Urzidil (February 3, 1896 - November 2, 1970) was a Czech-German writer, poet, historian, and journalist. Born in Prague, he died in Rome.
Urzidil was educated in Prague, studying German, art history, and Slavic languages before turning to journalism and writing. His initial efforts in poetry were influenced by Expressionism, and were published under the pseudonym Hans Elmar. He also worked as a writer and editor of the monthly journal Der Mensch. Among his acquaintances during this period were Franz Werfel and Franz Kafka. From 1922 until 1933 he advised the press section of the German embassy in Prague. Czechoslovakia was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1939, causing Urzidil to take refuge in Britain; in 1941 he came to the United States, acquiring American citizenship in 1946.


Although he published poetry, Urzidil is best known for his prose which, though written in exile, reflects his Bohemian heritage. Among his more notable works are a collection of short stories, The Lost Beloved (1956; the title refers to Prague); the novel Der Trauermantel, and the story collection Prague Triptych (whose composition is derived from that of an altarpiece).
Urzidil won a number of prizes in his career, including the Charles Veillon Prize (1957) and the Großer Österreichischer Staatspreis (1964). He died in Rome in 1970.

The main-belt asteroid 70679 Urzidil is named after Urzidil.

Bio above data from


There are three more stories in The Last Bell.  I hope to read them all this month.


Mel u





Thursday, November 16, 2017

“Nathaniel Recalls the Miracle” - A Short Story by Deborah Eisenberg- from her collection Twilight of the Superheroes- 2006





“You see, if history has anything to teach us, it’s that—despite all our efforts, despite our best (or worst) intentions, despite our touchingly indestructible faith in our 
own foresight—we poor humans cannot actually think 
ahead; there are just too many variables. And so, when it comes down to it, it always turns out that no one is in charge of the things that really matter.”  - from “Nathaniel Recalls the Miracle” by Deborah Eisenberg

“Nathaniel Recalls the Miracle” is the lead story in Deborah Eisenberg’s collection of short stories, Twilight of the Superheroes.  (This story can be read in a Kindle sample along with a few others.)   

The Collected Short Stories of Deborah Eisenberg (2010) has 96 stories.  I am quite seriously contemplating a read through of this volume, at the minimum rate of two a month, posting on each.  In this I have been inspired by the 


reading and posting on each of the 200 or so short stories of Mavis Gallant of Buried in Print (link above).  This project would take me from two to four years so it is also a gesture of optimism.  Anyway more on this idea latter. 


As “Nathaniel Recalls the Miracle” opens a man is in his apartment in New York City.  He is contemplating what he will tell his not yet born grandchild about what happened to the computers of the world when the calendar turned to the first day of 2000.  There was a wide spread paranoia that the computers of the world would all crash creating anarchy.  There were visions of planes falling from the sky, money in bank accounts just vanishing, etc.  Nathaniel wonders how he will explain to his hypothetical grandchildren that it all came to nothing.  He tries to envision the world in which such a conversation will occur and cannot.

I really enjoyed this brief fiction, reading time under five minutes.  



Mel u