A chance glimpse of a group of people grimly celebrating ‘Christmas in July’ in a pub the other day reminded me that I have three Humbooks to read. I...moreA chance glimpse of a group of people grimly celebrating ‘Christmas in July’ in a pub the other day reminded me that I have three Humbooks to read. I decided to start with The Murderess, chosen for me by Emma from Book Around the Corner and Guy from His Futile Preoccupations…
Emma, in her Christmas Humbook post explaining their choice of books for ‘copinautes’, said that the feminist side of The Murderess would suit me and the descriptions of the Greek countryside are gorgeous. She was right, it was an inspired choice. The Murderess is a more succinct version of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment set on the hard-scrabble island of Skiathos. Here the motivation for murder is entirely different: Old Hadoula sees herself liberating the women of her island from a destiny that can only be misery.
Peter Levi, the translator, makes the point in his introduction, that the author Alexandros Papadiamantis was writing as a ‘civilized observer of a retarded world’. Athens at that time was not like Paris or London, "but the island world that Papadiamantis described was provincial in a far deeper sense. Skiathos was fifty times further behind the Athens of that time than Athens was behind Paris or London." (p. x)
Far from being the exotic paradise portrayed by authors such as Charmian Clift, Skiathos is a place so poor that fruit guards patrol the cherry orchard lest the poverty-stricken people steal the fruit. There is no work but manual labour, and young men either disappear on fishing trips for months at a time or they vanish to places of greater opportunity like America, never to be heard of again.
Inevitably women bear the burden of poverty, but it is not just the endless daily grind of managing a household without running water or electricity. Old Hadoula has some agency: by means of theft and thrift she is able to cobble together enough to have her own home, but she must always work outside the house in order to bring in extra money. Money that is needed for her daughters’ dowries.
The Pride of Prahran, a History of the Prahran Library, 1860-2010 by Stella M Barber is a lovely book, and it’s not just of interest to booklovers in...moreThe Pride of Prahran, a History of the Prahran Library, 1860-2010 by Stella M Barber is a lovely book, and it’s not just of interest to booklovers in Stonnington. As it tells us in the Preface, the Prahran Library service was one of the first libraries not only in Victoria, but also in Australia …
One of the first images in the book is this charming photo from the Children’s Library in 1944. To me, the sight of these children, noses deep in the books they’re about to borrow, embodies the spirit of any great library. The detail isn’t obvious from the scanned version, but in the book you can see that these little kids aren’t looking at the pictures, because there aren’t any: they’re reading.
However, they wouldn’t have been allowed in the building back in its early days. From its inauguration in 1860 the library had operated out of the Prahran Town Hall; it was in 1877 that plans were drawn up to build a new Post Office, Police Quarters and Public Library – though there was some dismay about the library’s proximity to the disreputables at the Watch House. The Library was quite particular about who was welcome as the 1877 facsimile of the Regulations makes clear. Children under the age of 12 were not admitted. Visitors had to sign the Visitors Book. Any visitor who wrote upon, or marked, or folded down a leaf, defaced, mutilated or otherwise injured a book was banished. Visitors were not allowed to talk, or keep their hats on, partake of any food or fruit (is fruit not food??) or of course, to spit. These and any other irregularities meant prompt (and presumably eternal) exclusion of the offender, and any person who mutilated or took a book from the library was liable to prosecution (and there was a £2 reward for any dobbers).
This is a history commissioned for 150th anniversary of the library and there are some wonderful snippets from the past.
There is nothing much worse than being given a really really thick book of many, many pages that takes a looooong time to read, when the book is reall...moreThere is nothing much worse than being given a really really thick book of many, many pages that takes a looooong time to read, when the book is really, really woeful and you have to finish it because the giver is expecting you to and you don't want to hurt their feelings. (less)
This remarkable book was sent to me by K.D., a GoodReads friend from the Philippines, because I had expressed an interest in learning more about his c...moreThis remarkable book was sent to me by K.D., a GoodReads friend from the Philippines, because I had expressed an interest in learning more about his country. As K.D. had explained, it’s an American book, focussed primarily on their experiences as POWs under Nippon, but because the notorious Bataan Death March took place in the Philippines, the victims also included Filipino soldiers. The numbers are appalling: of 75,000 captives, 67,000 were Filipinos, 1,000 were Chinese Filipinos, and 11,796 were Americans. Approximately 5,000–10,000 Filipino and 600–650 American prisoners of war died en route to their destination, Camp O’Donnell, from where they were eventually shipped as slave labour.
The pen is mightier than the sword, they say, and it is not often that one has the opportunity to read a novel that has forged an independence movemen...moreThe pen is mightier than the sword, they say, and it is not often that one has the opportunity to read a novel that has forged an independence movement. Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) (1887) by José Rizal is such a book, for although its author advocated reform not independence, the novel was so instrumental in articulating a Filipino identity that it provoked resistance against the Spanish colonial regime. Ostensibly it is a love story, but one set against a backdrop of repression and violence. Rizal would be dead within ten years, executed by firing squad in Manila. But his novel has lived on…
The author’s satirical intent is evident in the very first paragraph:
Towards the end of October, Don Santiago de los Santos, who was generally known as Captain Tiago, gave a dinner party that, despite its having been announced only that afternoon, which was not his usual practice, was the topic of every conversation in Bimondo and neighboring areas, and even as far as Intramuros. In those days Captain Tiago was considered the most liberal of men, and it was known that the doors of his house, like those of his country, were closed to no one but tradesmen or perhaps a new or daring idea. (p5)
The Spanish authorities who read this book in the 1880s could be in no doubt, then, about this challenge, and Rizal had the church in his sights too. On the same page his narrator says of Captain Tiago’s house that he doesn’t think that the owner would have demolished it ‘because this sort of work is usually reserved for God or nature, which has, it appears, many projects of this type under contract with our government’. The book is a savage critique of the church, exposing brutality, venality and sexual exploitation of women. The clergy are shown to encourage ignorance, superstition and social inequity on a grand scale. And above all, the church conspires with the colonial authorities to ensure acquiescence in the status quo.