Senya Malina Tells It Like It Was by Stepan Pisakhov (1879-1960) are stories of the oral tradition as told by Senya Malina himself, a proud and playfu...more Senya Malina Tells It Like It Was by Stepan Pisakhov (1879-1960) are stories of the oral tradition as told by Senya Malina himself, a proud and playfully devilish peasant living in Russia’s far north: “That’s my village of Weema, on the Dvina River, by the city of Archangel.” But Weema as seen through Senya’s eyes is not the way a normal person would see it; rather, it’s a place where daily life is implausible, nonsensical, zany and full of half-truths and tall tales. Being the consummate story-teller that he is, Senya in each piece sets his imagination loose, and though he keeps a straight face, nothing he says could ever be taken literally. Even his wife complains, “Husband haven’t we had enough of your never ending genius ideas?”
Magic realism plays into most of the stories and is used to transport the reader even further into Senya’s peculiar world. For example, in one story a paddlewheeler “... wasn’t the type of boat to sit around and twiddle its thumbs. It set off crawling through the woods, heading for a small lake that was visible through the trees,” or in another, “Somebody make those geese turn around! They’ve stolen my house and my wife. Shout out to them in your village way!” And in such a manner Senya Malina amuses both himself and his audience, and the levity comes pouring out on every page.
However, in keeping with satirical writing in Russian literature, Senya’s aim is not just to entertain – it is to target culture and politics. Like Gogol and Zoshchenko Pisakhov is a master at exposing truth and hypocrisy. The byurokraty want to know, “Why is ... humour being wasted on the peasants and not provided to us? It’s not right! Get this Senya Malina here immediately!” And so Senya Malina appears before the byurokraty and ultimately gets them "laughing themselves right out of town.”
Translated from the Russian and faithfully embellished by Blackwell Boyce, the Senya Malina stories not only retain the feel of original storytelling but pick up nuances of the spoken word. There is humor everywhere, even in the footnotes, and it’s as if Senya is walking through the pages as comfortably in the English version as in his own Russian. Colorful, comical illustrations by Dmitry Trubin only add to the book’s authenticity. Creating a world too strange to believe, there is something for everyone in this never before translated magical collection. More than highly recommended. (less)
Chekhov wrote these stories in his twenties. They are full of crime and suspense and with his tradmark dark humor. My favorite is "The Man Who Wanted...moreChekhov wrote these stories in his twenties. They are full of crime and suspense and with his tradmark dark humor. My favorite is "The Man Who Wanted Revenge" about a man who sets out to buy a gun to murder his cheating wife and her lover but then has second thoughts. The end result is brilliant and unexpected. Published in 2008, this collection (with an excellent translation by Peter Sekirin)is a must read for all Chekhov fans.(less)
Shadows of Combat is a book of poetry dealing with one of America’s most turbulent times in modern history – the Vietnam era. Richard Geschke and Robe...moreShadows of Combat is a book of poetry dealing with one of America’s most turbulent times in modern history – the Vietnam era. Richard Geschke and Robert Toto, two citizen soldiers, are poets and writers, who used their talents to write about all that they went through in the U.S. military in the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s. Through their powerful and moving verse, the reader gets a heartbreaking and meaningful glimpse into a bygone era. Everything is put into historical context, with the two men first coming to train at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, then going on to jungle warfare school in Panama, then to “The Zone” in West Berlin, and ultimately to Vietnam. In his preface Toto writes how poetry helped him uncover suppressed emotions from his time in the military: “Some of it was soul searching, some of it was surreal, some of it was therapy.” Clearly Geschke and Toto derived inspiration from this great time of unrest and intolerance.
Very aptly, the first poem is “Follow Me!” – the motto of the infantry school in Fort Benning, where it all began and where the two authors met and became “joined at the hip”. Geschke writes:
“…home of the infantry where in front of the infantry school stands the statue of a leader who raises his arm forward urging his men to “follow me!”
And that’s precisely what Geschke and Toto did, they followed the “leader” and all the way to Vietnam. The poems of Da Nang are very vivid and leave you with a gut-wrenching impact: “My God, every night there were rocket attacks!... Such was life in Da Nang.”
But the book is not just about the horrors of war, it is also about honor, camaraderie, pride in one’s country, loneliness. It is very easy for the reader to connect with all the events, which not only move the imagination but stir up all kinds of emotions.
In the end, however, the authors, like so many others, find themselves questioning the war’s purpose and the politics behind it. The war that changed a generation also left that generation wondering what it was all about:
“Most of them never served, but had no problem sending millions to serve in a long and senseless war.”
The Vietnam War was a very unpopular war. Perhaps the most difficult thing for the soldiers, even more difficult than serving in Vietnam, was coming home. The psychic aftermath was profound and the words in “Tattoo” are chilling:
“There were millions of us, who went there, but coming home it was only one man facing the indifference of people back home. Each of us facing it alone, total isolation!”
Shadows of Combat is a poetic reaction to war and Geschke and Toto lived their poems. They are not only very moving and accessible but leave the reader with a better understanding of the human experiences of the Vietnam era. The voices of Geschke and Toto are real, sometimes grim, sometimes haunting, and sometimes even hopeful. The impact they leave is a deep and enduring one.
Shadows of Combat would make an excellent text for classroom use. (less)
The premise of this book is the sinking of the German ship ‘Wilhelm Gustoloff’, carrying German evacuees from occupied Poland as the Soviets advanced...more The premise of this book is the sinking of the German ship ‘Wilhelm Gustoloff’, carrying German evacuees from occupied Poland as the Soviets advanced in 1945. Traveling in the Baltic on its way to Germany, it was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine (under Captain Alexander Marinesko, who posthumously in 1990 received Hero of the Soviet Union), and over 9,000 people, mostly women and children, died. It was one of the most horrific maritime disasters ever.
The story begins when a woman gives birth to a boy, Paul Pokriefke, on a rescue boat. It is through Paul that the story unfolds, bringing to light that the ‘Wilhelm Gustoloff’ was a ship with a tainted history, used originally as a cruise ship for the Nazi movement, but later refitted to be a vessel for rescue. The novel operates on many levels and goes back and forth in time, addressing Germany’s past and looking into its future (hence the title, Crabwalk).
But it’s the horrific events of the day that stay with you, and for the longest time. Grass is brilliant in his description. Here’s an example: “…from everywhere the cry rose into the air, escalating to a gruesome duet with the ship’s siren, which suddenly began to wail, and just as suddenly was choked off.” (less)
Renee Miller is an excellent story-teller and not a line goes by without having you sitting on the edge of your seat with always something unexpected...moreRenee Miller is an excellent story-teller and not a line goes by without having you sitting on the edge of your seat with always something unexpected around the corner. It’s fast-paced and gripping from beginning to end. In detail Miller researches the life of her protagonist, Jackson Murphy, and his motives and the events surrounding him. She carefully develops her secondary characters and skillfully weaves them into her storyline.
The book starts off with Jackson Murphy’s marriage coming to an end, and when his wife demands half the money, Jackson decides murder is his only option. Soon things become complicated, more problems arise, and more murders.
Though at first it appears Jackson is a cold, calculating murderer, it is not long before he takes on the characteristics of a traditional outlaw, who operates by the code of the Wild West, though he lives in modern times. He is constantly on the offensive, and by the end of the book he becomes the most wanted man: the mob is after him and so is the police, led by “tenacious” Detective Newman. Always elusive, Jackson Murphy becomes a legend in his own time. With a trail of blood behind him, the novel builds but Jackson forever plays the game of ‘catch me if you can’.
Just like for the past 100 years there have been legends surrounding Jesse James (was he really the romanticized Robin Hood hero he was made out to be or was he in fact merely a cold-hearted killer and criminal?), where Jackson is concerned, in the end, the reader doesn’t know which route to take – is he a thug and nothing more or a loveable villain to root for? Whatever side one takes, Jackson unwittingly becomes a legend of the modern frontier.
Jackson Murphy is daring and the book is full of betrayals, lies, revenge and narrow escapes. But there is one final escape and it comes with the following words, “Jack glanced at the sea and the waves below…” Though the readers learn the truth of his demise (but only because the author hands down the story to them), the cast of characters can’t stop wondering, whatever happened to Jackson Murphy? (less)
This is a book of love letters sent by Franz Kafka to Felice Bauer between 1912-1917, the woman he was engaged to marry several times. A prolific lett...moreThis is a book of love letters sent by Franz Kafka to Felice Bauer between 1912-1917, the woman he was engaged to marry several times. A prolific letter writer, sometimes Kafka would write her twice a day. The following is a line from one of his more famous letters to her and it’s quite intense:
“…I answer one of your letters, then lie in bed in apparent calm, but my heart beats through my entire body and is conscious only of you.”
The letters offer an insight into Kafka’s genius and are reflective of his works, often filled with paranoia, nervousness, and feelings of isolation. There is a lot of emotion there as well – passion, a need to be loved, jealousy. Here’s an example, “I am jealous of all the people in your letter, those named and those unnamed, men and girls, business people and writers…”
Kafka wrote more than 500 letters to Felice but he destroyed all her correspondences to him. Sadly their relationship ended in 1917 when Kafka was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He died in 1924. (less)
The premise of this book is quite funny and unique. Maria Garcia, a smart, talented but unpublished author is given the task by a publisher to transla...more The premise of this book is quite funny and unique. Maria Garcia, a smart, talented but unpublished author is given the task by a publisher to translate a book from English into Spanish. But the book, a detective story from a series, is crude and poorly written and Maria just “can’t understand how someone like him (the author) can get his book published and (she) can’t.” She feels compelled to become “creative” in her translation and starts to make changes. She begins with changing the main protagonist, the detective himself, from a man to a woman, and from there she says “everything else was easy.” Her loosely translated version becomes a hit in Spain. When the author, Mike Grey, travels to Madrid for the book launching, that’s when the love story between Mike and Maria begins to unfold, though it’s not always a smooth ride, especially when he finds out he’s been “loosely” translated.
When Maria takes Mike on a tour of her hometown, Cordoba, here the author provides his audience with glimpses of the town’s history and culture, which makes for interesting reading. Maria explains, “…Cordoba used to be one of the centres of the Muslim world in the Middle Ages.” And later she shows him a monument in “homage to Saint Rafael who supposedly saved the city from an earthquake in the eighteen century.” It is here in Cordoba that the two grow closer.
As the novel draws to an end, the author has fun with it and turns it into a very untypical ending. Although he writes “The End”, the next line reads, “Or is it …?” and that’s when Maria and Mike embark on writing their own ending. When they’re done, the reader finally comes to “The Real End.” The Real End is then cleverly followed by a series of epilogues, where loose ends are tied up and where we learn the fate of the characters.
Loosely Translated is a really fun, fast-paced romantic comedy, which makes for easy and pleasurable reading. It’s because of Maria’s loose translation of Mike’s book that Maria and Mike not only fall in love, but develop into better people and better writers.
(Loosely Translated was written by Simon Hugh Wheeler, a translator himself, and he got the idea when he was handed some business letters that were appallingly written and he was asked to translate them. He admits, “… the thought crossed my mind on a number of occasions to make some improvements.” This brings to question – is it possible for a translation to be better than the original? Could it be possible that Maria’s version really was better than Mike’s? Garcia Marques, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, was known to say that he much preferred the English translation to his own original; and some of Oe Kenzaburo’s books are said to be more popular in their English version than in the original Japanese. So, in answer to my own question, it looks like the answer is yes.) (less)
This is a great little book (only 116 pages) by Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock (1869-1944). It deals with various events in and around Mariposa, a...moreThis is a great little book (only 116 pages) by Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock (1869-1944). It deals with various events in and around Mariposa, a semi-fictional small town in Ontario at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s really a satire about life in the boondocks, and though not much happens there, the citizens, who think they’re more important than they are, really spring to life and are very relatable. Though at times the book felt dated (which was okay by me), it was fun to be taken back in time.(less)
Loved this little book (about 100 pages) with its three connected stories each about love and each providing a vivid backdrop of the Russian countrysi...moreLoved this little book (about 100 pages) with its three connected stories each about love and each providing a vivid backdrop of the Russian countryside. "... a river shone and the view opened out on a wide pool with a mill and a white bathhouse. This was Sophina, where Alyokhin lived. The translation (David Helwig) reads really well and the drawings and design by Seth only ad to the magic of the book.(less)
In the Bones is a fast-paced, suspense-filled novel that takes place in Albertsville, a small town in Canada. It’s a spectacular read from new author...moreIn the Bones is a fast-paced, suspense-filled novel that takes place in Albertsville, a small town in Canada. It’s a spectacular read from new author Renee Miller, and it’s riveting and full of tension from start to finish. Ryan Cassidy is left a house in Albertsville by his deceased grandparents but there’s a catch: in order to take possession of the property, he is required to live there for a full year. That’s when all the trouble starts because little does Ryan know, the town, run by psychopath Carroll Albert, who controls the townspeople as if with an iron fist, holds a dark secret.
Ryan’s late grandfather leaves him a letter and in it there is a hint: “Hidden beneath the layers of small-town hospitality … is a dark and ugly monster. A single crime has made us all guilty.” He goes on to explain, “At the helm controlling this monster is a man who holds more power over these people than I can ever describe. You have a chance to stop him.”
To set him on the right track, Ryan’s grandfather, in his letter, then provides him with an additional few clues. And in such a way, Ryan, a writer by profession and a man of high moral character, embarks upon a most dangerous journey, where he begins to unravel the town’s deep mysteries. By the novel’s end there is a dramatic stand-off only to have the chilling answer found “in the bones”, which all along and shockingly have been on display and in full view for all to see at the Albertsville town hall.
Renee Miller’s writing style is unadorned and straightforward; she has a story to tell and she’s really good at it, leaving her readers guessing and wanting more. Almost effortlessly she draws us close to each of her characters and to the events surrounding them. Her characters come well-developed and it is through them that the book easily sees its development. The reader feels like he/she is right there in Albertsville, and some wonderful descriptions of the town make it all that much more real: “The blue sky and late afternoon light created the illusion of warmth …” or “The setting sun dusted the empty fields beyond the house in an eerie glow.”