Varlam Shalamov (1907-1982) was a Russian writer who was sent to the Gulags and lived to tell the tale. I read about this collection of tales on one oVarlam Shalamov (1907-1982) was a Russian writer who was sent to the Gulags and lived to tell the tale. I read about this collection of tales on one of the blogs I read, but I forgot to note which one, and it took me so long to read the book on my kindle, (because I read it only in cafés and waiting rooms and sometimes sitting beside my sleeping father until he woke up) that now all I can do is to thank my anonymous source for the recommendation.
Kolyma Tales isn’t a very cheery choice for the festive season, but it’s surprisingly uplifting. The narrator tells his stories of everyday life in the Gulags, not as Solzhenitsyn did, piling on the harrowing misery as a political act which helped to raise awareness of the Soviet use of the Gulags as a system of repression, but with wry humour and a Chekhovian awareness of the vagaries of human nature. The foreword makes these differences explicit:
Where Solzhenitsyn constructs a single vast panorama, loose and sprawling, Shalamov chooses the most concise of literary forms, the short story, and shapes it consciously and carefully, so that his overall structure is like a mosaic made of tiny pieces. Where Solzhenitsyn writes with anger, sarcasm and bitterness, Shalamov adopts a studiedly dry and neutral tone. Where Solzhenitsyn plunges into his characters’ fates, telling their story from a variety of subjective viewpoints, Shalamov takes strict control of his discourse, usually conducting his narrative from an undivided viewpoint and aiming at complete objectivity. Where Solzhenitsyn is fiercely moralistic and preaches redemption through suffering, Shalamov contents himself with cool aphorisms and asserts that real suffering, such as Kolyma imposed on its inmates, can only demoralize and break the spirit.
My readers know that I don’t read much in the way of speculative fiction, but I bought the eBook version ofAnd now for something completely different!
My readers know that I don’t read much in the way of speculative fiction, but I bought the eBook version of this one on impulse when I met the author Lyn C at the Indigenous Language Intensive workshop. I was curious… and at $4.31 AUD for the Kindle edition it was cheap enough to experiment with an unfamiliar genre. I started reading it over breakfast at QV Square before the workshop… and soon found myself totally hooked by the story.
Nil by Mouth is what I recognise as classic SciFi. It has aliens who invade earth and they have various capabilities which enable them to exert control over the humans, but they have a fundamental flaw which enables the situation to be resolved. However, what makes this an interesting and satisfying book to read is the character development so I was not surprised to learn that it was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award Best Science Fiction Book in 2014.
The portrayal of an Earth defeated in war reminded me of other occupation novels I have read. The central character comes to be known as Ale, a shorthand version of Alien-lover, and he is scorned as a collaborator because his pub on the outskirts of Melbourne is taken over as a base by the Aliens. His point-of-view narration reveals a sense of resignation and despair...
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember that I have made the acquaintance of a poet called Celestine through her comments, anIf you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember that I have made the acquaintance of a poet called Celestine through her comments, and I have made reference to the haiku that she shares on her blog, Reading Pleasure. I subscribe to this blog, and so Celestine’s haiku pop into my inbox on a regular basis.
Haiku is, because of its apparent simplicity, more often a travesty of poetry, inane, banal and derivative, but Celestine has adapted this form to create small jewels of thought. Often I find her words consoling, sometimes they lead me to pause and wonder. And I have wanted to have them, not just in ephemeral cyberspace, but mine to have and read whenever and wherever I like. Today, to my delight I have discovered that Celestine has published a collection, Haiku Rhapsodies, and although I can only have it in a Kindle edition, I bought it immediately. (I really want a print edition, to keep by my bedside, to read as I read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, much as many would read a Bible).
The poems are grouped into four themes: •Afriku •Nature •My Heart •The Divine
I can quote one from Afriku because it is part of the product description at Amazon.
empty calabash reflects the fading sun a beggar sits in gloom
Just eleven words, and yet immediately we feel it. A beggar has spent all day fruitlessly. He, or maybe she, has nothing. Nothing at all. There is no judgement, no appeal to the western pocket yet we know that this powerful image is representative of a great injustice in our world.
For my last book of #IndigLitWeek I had been planning to read The Dream Swimmer, No #2 of the Mahana Family series, by Maori author Witi Ihimaera. I tFor my last book of #IndigLitWeek I had been planning to read The Dream Swimmer, No #2 of the Mahana Family series, by Maori author Witi Ihimaera. I thought I was resigned to not having No #1, The Matriarch, but then I discovered that Bayside Library has a copy, and so I shall pursue it there. But not this week: I already have five library books that have come in from reserve all at the same time, and The Matriarch is a long book. I want to do it justice, so I’ll chase it up some other time. In the meantime, however, there is just one lonely looking review of Maori writing for #IndigLitWeek 2016 – what to do?
Well, I found an intriguing short story by Witi Ihimaera instead. It’s called I've Been Thinking About You Sister and it offers a lot to think about…
It begins in an unusual way. Written in the tone of a memoir, it explains how the narrator is feeling fraught because he’s been approached to write a short story for an anthology but the publisher wants him to write the kind of story he used to write thirty years ago. The narrator is a bit indignant about this: apart from the fact that the world has become a different place he’s become an professor of English, into post-colonial discourse, Freire, Derrida, and The Empire Writes Back. When the publisher pursues him to write something suitable for the gentle reader and no politics, thank you, the narrator is cross. He’s worked hard to become an indigenous writer of some distinction… not afraid to engage the complexities of race, identity and representation and examine the polarities that existed between majority and minority cultures.
But he gives in. He writes the story. A seemingly simple story of the narrator’s mother, still grieving the loss of her brother Rangiora who died in WW2. And how, in her seventies, she decides to take off for Tunisia to visit his grave. How his father is dubious about the whole idea, and how she is dubious about him coming too because of his dodgy hip. And how the anxious children call on friends and family around the world to keep an eye on things to make sure that the elderly couple don’t miss their plane connections. Things go wrong, and a good Samaritan helps them out. The story concludes with this mother’s poignant wish to bring her brother’s body home, only to be told by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Maori Affairs that the Maori Battalion had made a collective agreement that all the boys who died on the battlefield should stay together in the country where they had fallen.
It’s a lovely story, but *chuckle* it’s not a simple story at all.
Actually, I've only read Book 1 (Rappaport) but I'll edit this when I've read Book 2...
Morris Lurie (1938–2014) was a much-loved author of comic novelActually, I've only read Book 1 (Rappaport) but I'll edit this when I've read Book 2...
Morris Lurie (1938–2014) was a much-loved author of comic novels, short stories, essays, plays, and children’s books, and he was amazingly versatile. Many years ago I enjoyed reading The Twenty-Seventh Annual African Hippopotamus Race (1969) with The Offspring, but more recently I discovered his writing for adults: the tragic-comic novel Hergesheimer in the Present Tense (2014) focussing on the travails of a middle-aged man (see my review); and the poignant To Light Attained (2008), an autobiographical novel following his daughter’s suicide, described by Liam Davidson in his review “as a searing account of heartbreaking loss” (see my review). So I was interested to come across some of his early work, just recently re-issued by Melbourne publishers Hybrid.
This is part of the blurb from their website:
"This ebook brings together two of Lurie’s novels, the comic Rappaport,  which focuses on a day in the life of a young Melbourne antique dealer and his immature friend, Friedlander, and Rappaport’s Revenge  where the characters, transplanted to London, are further chronicled. These are followed by several short stories: “Rappaport Lays an Egg”, “The Death of Rappaport”, “Dirty Friends”, “Rappaport Dragged Over the Coals,” “Rappaport Takes Lunch”, and “Rappaport and Friedlander Meet in Heaven”.
Lurie has been compared with acclaimed American Jewish writers such as Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Woody Allen. Morris Lurie died on 8 October 2014. His unique voice will be sorely missed."
Rappaport brings us the world of St Kilda in the days before high-rise and trendy bars as it chronicles one day in the life of Rappaport, a middle-aged man who runs an ‘antique’-and-collectibles shop that’s a jumble of clutter and junk. To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2016/08/04/r......more
The Door was my choice for #WIT (Women in Translation) Month (a) because it was recently reissued by The New York Review of Books (see the interview wThe Door was my choice for #WIT (Women in Translation) Month (a) because it was recently reissued by The New York Review of Books (see the interview with editor Edwin Frank at The Paris Review) and (b) because I read the article at The New Yorker. First published in Hungary in 1987, but not in English till 1994, the French translation won France’s Prix Femina Étranger in 2003, it was nominated for the 2006 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and in 2015 it was first on the NYT's 10 Best Books List. And Magda Szabó has the distinction of being the only female Hungarian author included in Michael Orthofer's The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction (my new bible for international fiction).
But I read it all wrong. I should never have tried to read it in spurts on the Kindle. My father had a nasty infection for a while and I read it holding his hand while he drifted in and out of sleep during the worst of it at the hospital. A kindle is easy to read one-handed (something I never appreciated before!) but I should have read something less demanding...
The Queen’s Play is a book for people who love chess. I learned to play with my father, who always beat me in strategic ways so that I became a betterThe Queen’s Play is a book for people who love chess. I learned to play with my father, who always beat me in strategic ways so that I became a better player. I used to win a fair bit when I played with other people, but I never enjoyed it as much as when I played with him, and I haven’t played now for years.
There’s not much argument about who invented chess: most people think it originated in India. India’s great epic, the Ramayana, after all, mentions the game, and the Ramayana is so ancient that it’s thought to have been created in the 5th century BCE, maybe earlier. But what Aashish Kaul has done is to tuck a new myth into the fabric of the Ramayana, with the story of how chess came to be in its present form, and he has given that honour to Mandodari, queen of the demon king Ravana.
Today when we play chess, we have two sides opposing one another, and the queen is the most powerful piece. But in Kaul’s story in mythic prehistory, the game was played by four players, movements were much more restricted, and crucially, moves were determined by a roll of the dice. Not much more than a fancified game of Ludo, that seems to me, and Mandodari found it frustrating too. Together with her companion Misa, she experimented with changes to the game, discovering to her delight that something else changed once the game was determined by skill and strategy rather than by fate as expressed by the roll of the dice. Denied any role in an epic battle taking place outside the palace because of her gender, on the chess board Mandodari discovers power…
I had read about two-thirds of Part 1 of this three-part biography of Churchill, when the Nook App I was using to read it refused to open it any more.I had read about two-thirds of Part 1 of this three-part biography of Churchill, when the Nook App I was using to read it refused to open it any more. All my notes, highlights and everything else, gone. I was livid.
I knew that the Nook was sunsetting, but I had installed it on my laptop ages ago, and I didn't think that it would stop working altogether when I used it to read ePub files sent to me by the publisher.
Was it a Windows 10 update? Or Nook?
So I haven't abandoned this through any fault of the book, only the technology used to read it on. ...more
I loved this book so much, when I was reading it I wanted to share quotations from almost every page. Every page of The Book of Fame is food for thougI loved this book so much, when I was reading it I wanted to share quotations from almost every page. Every page of The Book of Fame is food for thought.
Ostensibly The Book of Fame is a book is about a rugby tour, but it’s about much more than that…
The Book of Fame is a meditation on celebrity, and how the ordinary blokes from a football team learned their strange new place in a world remote from everything they knew.
Outside Tussaud’s, we noticed that unless you were a Lord or Viscount or Admiral you worked hard to get your name in the newspaper. Something out of the ordinary pitched your name forward. For example, the woman who spent fifty-one years in bed after a mistaken diagnosis; or a much younger woman who died of apoplexy from laughter at a pantomime.
‘Shooting himself with a revolver, Baron Salomon de Gunsborg, formerly a banker, committed suicide in Paris, yesterday.’
‘Miss Morris, a teacher in high school in Chesterfield, Iowa, was lecturing on electricity when she was struck by lightning…’
‘The yacht Catarina, in which the absconding French bank clerk Galley sailed to South America, is due at Gospert in about a week’s time.’
So we were surprised when we found ourselves in the Illustrated London News, sharing the limelight with the Russian uprising, portraits of Tolstoy, the auctioning of Napoleon’s chair, and a series of illustrations demonstrating the Indian method of using elephants to crush offenders to death. (pp. 56-57)
Writing as a duo is rather unusual: prior to coming across Gert Loveday’s Writing is Easy the only other example I knew of was M. Barnard Eldershaw, wWriting as a duo is rather unusual: prior to coming across Gert Loveday’s Writing is Easy the only other example I knew of was M. Barnard Eldershaw, which was the pseudonym of Marjorie Barnard (1897–1987) and Flora Eldershaw (1897–1956), who together wrote five novels (including A House is Built which is on my TBR). Gert Loveday is the pseudonym of sisters Joan Kerr and Gabrielle Daly and you can read about their writing process in Guy’s interview at His Futile Preoccupations. (Where you’ll also see that Nicci French is a writing duo too, who knew?) Anyway, it was Guy’s review of Writing is Easy that made me buy a copy, and it is fair to say that this novel at hand on the kindle has helped keep me smiling over some very trying days recently.
Let’s just say that lately I have had to spend a lot of time waiting to be seen by assorted bureaucrats, and even more time waiting on the phone to speak to other assorted bureaucrats. Writing is Easy is, as Guy so reliably said, a very funny novel about a writers’ workshop held in a rural retreat. There are two completely incompatible and mutually hostile ‘mentors’: Lilian Bracegirdle who writes incomprehensible performance ‘poetry’ and Marcus Goddard, a hack writer of slush fiction. Neither of them could maintain their posturing without their respective amanuenses Marjorie and Lester, both of whom are fed up with being treated like dirt and are thus tempted towards using their inside knowledge as blackmail. I shall say no more about the plot!
It’s madness to do this on the basis of reading just two short novels, but if you’re looking for beaut books to read, you should keep an eye on the wiIt’s madness to do this on the basis of reading just two short novels, but if you’re looking for beaut books to read, you should keep an eye on the winners of the Seizure Viva La Novella Prize. I read Julie Proudfoot’s The Neighbour well over a year ago but it’s still memorable, (see my review) and now I find The End of Seeing is exceptionally good too. Somebody at Seizure is very good at finding very good, very interesting stories for us to read!
(BTW Seizure’s Welcome to Orphancorp by Morlee Jane Word won the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adults too, and I have Jane Rawson’s Formaldehyde on the TBR but I haven’t read those two yet).
The End of Seeing is the story of Ana, whose photojournalist partner is missing, believed drowned in a ferry crossing on the Mediterranean Sea. There has been a funeral, but she doesn’t believe he is dead. It’s been more than a year, and her kind, well-meaning friends and family are caught between supporting a fantasy that he might still be alive and the need for her to face reality. Alone, she sets off for Europe on his trail…
(As if the loss of Nick is not enough, Ana is twice bereaved, but I am not going to spoil this carefully constructed novella by saying any more than that).
It’s hard to find the right words to describe the experience of reading Sister, Sister. It’s a memoir of two sisters who survived the Holocaust, HelaIt’s hard to find the right words to describe the experience of reading Sister, Sister. It’s a memoir of two sisters who survived the Holocaust, Hela through the mercy of Oskar Schindler, and Janka just barely alive at the end of a death march from Auschwitz. Words like interesting or compelling are all wrong and yet the book held my awed interest throughout…
I’ve read a few accounts by Holocaust survivors, most notably Primo Levi’s If This is a Man and Mark Baker’s The Fiftieth Gate, and I’ve read Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s List – and seen the film too. But since most people did not survive Auschwitz, I hadn’t come across an account from someone who did, nor had I ever read anything by any of the Schindlerjuden. To look at the eloquent cover image of these two women looking unbowed by their experiences seems like a miracle after all they went through, but the cover also asserts something else that’s different: this is a Holocaust memoir not from the predominant male point-of-view.
(Thomas Keneally interviewed Hela’s husband Poldek (Leopold Rosner) for his book, but not Hela, who wasn’t ready to talk about it at that time.)
The memoir is told in the voices of three different women: Hela’s, Janka’s, and that of the author Anna who inserts her childhood memories into the narrative, especially the accounts of the post-war period in Melbourne. In this way there is a child’s perspective on a mother’s excessive anxiety about having enough food, about being warm enough, about being safe.
The female perspective makes this memoir distinctive. It reminds me that Schindler had a wife called Emilie, who at the risk of her life scrounged extra food and cooked cereal into digestible form for the 1200 Jews and disabled people who would otherwise have perished. And I suspect that only a woman could have coaxed this admission from Janka:
I’d never had a child with Salek, and I felt overcome by pain and loss. I had nothing to remember him by, just absence and emptiness. But then I remembered my father’s advice at the beginning of the war: he had told me not to get married or have children, as terrible things were going to happen. And indeed, I witnessed so many of my women friends suffering or perishing because of their children that I was determined not to have one of my own. Some didn’t want to leave their children behind, so they threw themselves into the grave with them. What was the use of loving, caring for someone? All it brought was pain. Only much later was I able to allow my maternal instincts to overcome my fears. (Kindle Loc 3075)