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





Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Whenever I Sit at a Bar Drinking Like This, I Always Think What a Sacred Profession Bartending Is". - A Short Story by Ryu Murakami (Ausust, 2004)


You Can Read the Story here

The Japanese Literature Challenge - Year 11 - Hosted by Dolce Bellezza




Works I have So Far Read for Japanese Literature Challenge 11

1. "The Children" by Junichiro Tanizaki
2. Beasts on the Way Home by Kobe Abe

"Quitting my job to become a writer brought about three big changes in my life. I got famous. I got rich. And I got fat." Ryu Murakami

For  The July Literature Challenge in 2010 I read my first work by Ryu Murakami, Coin Locker Babies.  Here are my opening thoughts on this very entertaining novel. (If made into a movie, it would be near X-rated.)

Ryu Murakami (1952-not related to Haruki Murakami) has played in a rock band and had his own talk show on Japanese TV.    He is best known for several novels that depict alienated people in their teens and twenties from the darker side of life in Tokyo.    He is a tremendous commercial success.  

Many have the image of the Japanese novel as depicting a world of extreme refinement and high culture in which hours are spent talking about the color patterns in a favorite kimono, the old days before WWII, the nuances of puppet theater and family ties that go back a thousand years.   There are a lot of beautiful wonderful novels that do just that in a masterful way.    If a man in one of these books has an extra-marital encounter it is with a geisha of the highest standing.   In Coin Locker Babies it is with an unknown woman, man, or ? in an alley with no names exchanged while they are observed by the denizens of Toxic Town who yell out their comments on the looks of the woman.   A lot of people have read some of the novels of Natsuo Kirino such as Real World, Out or Grotesque that depict live among those left out by the prosperity of contemporary Japan.   Many say they find the world depicted in her novels almost too hard to take at times.   Well, life in her works is High Tea at the Peninsula Hotel Tokyo in comparison to life in the world of Coin Locker Babies.     Coin Locker Babies is a 21th Century continuation of the tradition of literature devoted to the Japanese water world of tea shops, geishas, and brothels.  (Prostitution is illegal in Japan but it is defined only as banning the preforming of intercourse for money, either as seller or customer.  This has left open a huge market for other forms of sex for sale.). Ryu Murakami is a chronicler of sex among alienated youth, of stories of school girls searching for uncles to pay for gadgets.  In a way, this world can be seen as part of the consequence of Japan's defeat in WWII.

I was very happy to find his 2004 short story, "When I Sit in a Bar Drinking Like This, I Always Think What a Sacred Profession Bartending Is" online.  As the story opens we are in a bar at a nicer hotel, one that includes foreigners among the clients.  The story is being narrated by a man who often frequents this bar, looking for female sex partners, free if available otherwise business women.  He sizes up the nine people in the bar, it is late, he says they are all "looking for sin". Professionally the man is a producer of TV documentaries, focusing on the slums of the world's mega cities. He uses his experiences to talk to women in bars. The man has a legal problem, a former mistress is suing him for damages, claiming he lead her to believe he would provide permanent support only to drop her.  The man's attorney has told him if he can establish he has rendezvous with other women in the hotel he could claim his relationship was just casual sex.  He asks a another woman, now in the bar, also a former mistress, to testify he had sex with her in the hotel and this will get him out of trouble.  The woman agrees but she wants something in exchange, after castigating him for his philandering, his refusal to leave his wife and marry her.  She wants him to use his TV contacts to introduce her to a very famous Japanese baseball player.  Now a daisy chain begins when his TV contact says OK we can do that but he wants a cartoon of super expensive cigarettes.  The cigarette contact in turn wants something and so on.  This is pretty much a PG rated story, fun to read.


Mel u








Friday, July 21, 2017

The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux (2017, translated by Alison Anderson, published by New Vessal Press)





Paris in July - Year Ten. - Hosted by Thyme for Tea


So far as my participation in Paris In July Year Ten I have read 


1.  Colette- Two Early Short Stories
2. The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano 
3. "A Duel" by Guy de Maupassant ( A Franco-Prussian War Story)
4. Life, Death, and Betrayal at The Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar Mazzeo (non fiction)
5. How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yolem (literary history)
6. "The Lost Child" by Francois Coppée 
7. "The Juggler of Norte Dame" by Anatole France- no post
8. A Very French Christmas- A Collection of the Greatest Holiday Stories of France
9. "The Illustrious Gaudissart" by Honore de Balzac
10. After the Circus by Patrick Modiano
11. "Gaudissart II" by Honore de Balzac
12. 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Phillipe Blondel
13. "Noel" by Irene Nemirovsky 
14. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
15. The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux

I am starting to get behind in my posting for Paris in July.  The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux is a perfect pick for Paris in July, translated by Alison Anderson, to be published September, 2017 by New Vessal Press).  Given that I will make use of The publisher's description and just conclude with a thought or two of my own.


"A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung twentieth-century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age, a true story that encapsulates one woman's attempt to live a life of love and meaning together with a contemporary quest to prevent that existence from slipping into oblivion. Through it all, The Madeleine Project movingly chronicles, and allows us to reconstruct, intimate memories of a bygone era."

As I read this book it took a little while but I soon became captivated by Madeline as we gradually began to find her life unravel in a series of Twitter posts.  I wondered if she had a lover, did he survive WW Two.  We learned what she liked to read.  I saw the narrator become closer to Madeline as her uncovering of the items she left behind unraveled.  This is a different kind of work than all the others I have read for Paris in July.  I enjoyed it and think most would.

Alison Anderson spent many years in California; she now lives in a Swiss village and works as a literary translator. Her translations include Europa Editions’ The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, and works by Nobel laureate J. M. G. Le Clézio. She has also written two previous novels and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Translation Fellowship. She has lived in Greece and Croatia, and speaks several European languages, including Russian.

Quick personal note, Anderson's translation of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery was the very first book I posted upon eight years ago.  I love that bookand thank Anderson for her lovely translation 

Mel u




Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (1956)


Paris in July - Year Ten. -- Hosted by Thyme for Tea











So far as my participation in Paris In July Year Ten I have read


1.  Colette- Two Early Short Stories
2. The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano
3. "A Duel" by Guy de Maupassant ( A Franco-Prussian War Story)
4. Life, Death, and Betrayal at The Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar Mazzeo (non fiction)
5. How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yolem (literary history)
6. "The Lost Child" by Francois Coppée
7. "The Juggler of Norte Dame" by Anatole France- no post
8. A Very French Christmas- A Collection of the Greatest Holiday Stories of France
9. "The Illustrious Gaudissart" by Honore de Balzac
10. After the Circus by Patrick Modiano
11. "Gaudissart Ii" by Honore de Balzac
12. 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Phillipe Blondel
13. "Noel" by Irene Nemirovsky
14. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

James Baldwin was

Born August 2, 1924 in New York City

Died December 1, 1987 in Saint Paul - Vence, France.

He moved to Paris, age 24, in 1948 to escape the pervasive prejudice against African Americans and Gays in America.  It was a time of racial hatred and homophobia. He would return to American occasionally, active in the Civil Rights Movement, but he would always consider Paris his home.  (Wikipedia has a decent article on him.). Baldwin emerged himself in the cultural Life of Paris, finally feeling free to be and express himself.

The last time I read a novel by James Baldwin he was still alive to receive the small royalties from my purchase of his paperbacks.  I read several of his books but missed his now highest regarded novel, the set in Paris Giovanni's Room.  I am very glad Paris in July motivated me to at last read this wonderful work.

Back in 1956 books dealing openly about Gay life were controversial and I suspect those by an African American much more so.  His publisher advised him his African American readers might be turned off to him by this book.

David is a young American man living in Paris.  He had a Gay encounter back in Brooklyn and has moved to Paris to find himself and get away from the domination of his wealthy father, who feared he was homosexual, I think the term "gay" was not in currency then.  His girlfriend has gone to Spain for a while to decide if she wants to marry David or not.  Through an older gay man he knows David ends up at the bar where Giovanni works as a bartender. They end the evening having sex in Giovanni's room, David moves into the room three days later.  We learn about
Parisian Gay bars.  Life in this world was much different pre-aids.

The narration is structured as David recalling his experiences with David and his fiancé, on the night before Giovanni is to be guillotined for murdering the owner of the bar in which he had worked, having been fired.

There is a lot more in this work.  David has sex with his fiancé but it as almost as if his gay identity is spectating on himself.  It is also very much about class, about being an American in Paris.

Giovanni's Room is a GLBT classic.  I am so glad I at last have read this book.  I should note Baldwin was brought at an early age to love reading to escape from an oppressive step-father.

I really like the image above of Baldwin at the tomb of Honore de Balzac.  Balzac wrote brilliantly about gay characters and the homosexual subculture of Paris in the 1830s.

Mel u
The Reading Life

















Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Frederick the Great: King of Prussia by Tim Blanning (2015, 688 pages, biography)







Born 1712, died 1786
King of Prussia 1740 to 1786

Frederick the Great: King of Prussia by Tim Blanning is a comprehensive biography of the king  who transformed Prussia from one of many small German minor states into a dominant power of Europe.  Frederick created the notion of The all powerful German state that would bring misery on the world long after he was gone.  Frederick came to dominate Europe not just politically and militarily but culturally as well through his extensive patronage of the arts.

If this book has a central aim, it seems to be to establish that Frederick was a life time closeted homosexual who adopted an extreme aggressive military stance, spending much of his time in wars, to prove his father was wrong in thinking him to effeminate to effectively rule.  There is no conclusive proof concerning his sexuality but there is such a wealth of supporting circumstances as to make this credible.  Frederick did of course marry but he was never really interested in his wife beyond that required. We see how Frederick really came into his own when his father died.

Much of the book is devoted to detailing his military campaigns.  There is a very chapter interesting on his devotion to promoting music and the arts, activities his father scorned as unmanly.

Those interested in German history will really enjoy this book.

In a way there is a cruel irony in this narrative.  Frederick the Great's father abused him for being effeminate so he created a model of military domination by a strong leader as the proper role for German leaders that culminates in Nazi Germany, where Frederick was worshiped in a state culture stressing hyperbolic masculinity.

I was given a review copy of this book.


Tim Blanning is the author of a number of major works on eighteenth century Europe, including The Pursuit of Glory : Europe 1648-1815, The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture and Joseph II. He is Emeritus Professor of Modern European History at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and a Fellow of the British Academy. His latest book, Frederick the Great, won the British Academy Medal 2016-  from Random House 

Mel u
The Reading Life





Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Noel" by Irene Nemirovsky (1932, newly translated 2017 by Sandra Smith)










Paris in July - Year Ten -- Hosted by Thyme for Tea


So far as my participation in Paris In July Year Ten I have read


1.  Colette- Two Early Short Stories
2. The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano
3. "A Duel" by Guy de Maupassant ( A Franco-Prussian War Story)
4. Life, Death, and Betrayal at The Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar Mazzeo (non fiction)
5. How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yolem (literary history)
6. "The Lost Child" by Francois Coppée
7. "The Juggler of Norte Dame" by Anatole France- no post
8. A Very French Christmas- A Collection of the Greatest Holiday Stories of France
9. "The Illustrious Gaudissart" by Honore de Balzac
10. After the Circus by Patrick Modiano
11. "Gaudissart Ii" by Honore de Balzac
12. 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Phillipe Blondel
13. "Noel" by Irene Nemirovsky

Irene Nemirovsky was born in the Ukraine in 1903, with her family, after a stop,in Finland, she immigrated to France to avoid anti-Semitic pograms.  On July 26, 1942 she was deported to Auschwitz where she died August 17, 1942.  She was a fast writer, producing about a novel a year so as I see it the Germans deprived the world of maybe 30 masterworks. It is very hard for me to read her work without a feeling of sadness, even bitterness.  As I saw the recent boorish behavior of trump

in Paris I wished for world leaders who can appreciate the work of the great writers of Paris.

I first encountered Irene Nemirovsky during Paris in July in 2015 when I read her acknowledged by all master work, Suite Francais.

The back story of the publication of Suite Francaise is very interesting.  Her daughters  kept the manuscript secret for 56 years.  It was published for the first time in 2004 and in translation by Sandra Smith in 2006.  The work we have is the first two parts of a planned five part work.  After the death of the author one of her daughters  found the manuscript and thought it would be diary to painful to read.  When she was preparing her mother's papers for donation, 55 years later, she looked at what is now Suite Francaise and submitted it for publication.

As the novel opens we see Paris in a state of panic brought on by the approaching German army.  The narrative is very intense.   Némirovsky lets us she how a few different households are dealing with the crisis.  Anyone who can plans to flee the city.  The author in just a few paragraphs illuminates decades of family and social history in her portraits of Parisians.  There is just so much to admire in Suite Francaise, so many moments of beauty, truth and brilliance.

As the novel progresses we are in a small town in the country.  There are hilarious biting scenes of social satire as the local aristocrats desperately want to hold on to their status even though many have Germans billeted in their homes.   The residents of the town reluctantly begin to see humanity in the Germans even though they feel they should hate them.  There are exciting dramatic events and the characters are perfectly drawn.

Suite Francaise is a brilliant panorama of French society in 1940.  It is also a world class literary treasure.

After reading Suite Francais I went on to read all of her novels available as in digital format, a few of her short stories, three books about her and numerous webpage posting.



I was really happy to see a never before published in English short story by Nemirovsky in A Very French Christmas- A Collection of the Greatest Holiday Stories of France recently published by New Vessel Press.  The translation is by the Award Winning Sandra Smith.

As "Noel" opens it is a snowy Christmas season day on the affluent streets of Paris, two young girls are being taken for a stroll by their nanny.  We over hear the conversations of passerbys, we look in the lovely shop windows.  When we arrive at the girls home their two older sisters, 20 and 22, are preparing for a ball.  Their father is a successful businessman.  Both he and his wife, mother of the girls, have lovers.  We sit in on the preparations for the party.  Ramon, a wealth young man from Argentina spending the season in Paris will be there.  The older girl is in love with him.

The party is just brilliantly depicted.  The couples are all dancing close together in a Tango, all the rage, until a parent comes in the room and then it is all innocence.

I really don't want to spoil the exciting developments in the story as it would not be fair to other first time readers.  "Noel" is very much classic Nemirovsky, down to the unpleasant mother!  It is a great work of art.


I am very grateful to New Vessal Press for including this wonderful story in their collection of French holiday stories.  New Vessel Press is an independent publisher focusing on literature in translation and quality narrative non-fiction.  (Newvesselpress.com).  Their website is very well done and the books are very interesting and fairly priced.

Mel u
The Reading Life

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Beasts Head for Home by Kobo Abe (1957, translated to English, 2017)








Works Read So Far for Japanese Literature Challenge 11

1.  "The Children" by Junichiro Tanazaki
2. Beasts on the Way Home by Kobe Abe


Most people into the Japanese novel read Kobe Abe's (1924 to 1993) towering classic, Woman of the Dunes, and never read anymore of his work. Woman of the Dunes is for sure must reading for anyone into post WWII Japanese novels.  I would say most all  list makers would put it in the top ten

The Japanese Literature Challenge - Year -- Hosted by Dolce Bellezza

Japanese novels. Kenzaburo Oe said Abe should have been given a Nobel Prize instead of him.  In addition to this I have read and greatly enjoyed in past Japanese Literature Challenges reading his

The Ark Sakura and The Face of Another.  All these novels have elements of surrealism whereas the written earlier Beasts on the Way Home is a realistic work, drawing on his childhood in Manchuria.  (There is some biographical data on Abe in my prior posts and the Wikipedia article is decent.) Abe enrolled in medical school to avoid being drafted into the Japanese Army.  He received an M.D. but never practiced.  He did say all his friends with liberal arts degrees died in the war.

Beasts on the Way Home is set in Manchuria, right after the defeat of Japan.  All Japanese have to leave the place they viciously ruled for over a decade.  A young   Japanese man is trying desperately to cross Manchuria to make it to a port from which he can catch a ship for Japan.  He is crossing a war ravaged territory, where the Chinese hate the Japanese.  He teams up with another Japanese youth and they begin a nightmare journey.  They face robbers, wild bands of homeless dogs, Chinese soldiers and near starvation.  The narration is very suspenseful and totally believable.

Those new to Japanese literature for sure should first read Woman of the Dunes.  Then study his other works to see if you wish to proceed on.  Those into Japanese WWII literature should add Beasts on the Way Home to their list.

I was kindly given a review copy of this book.

Mel u
The Reading Life




Friday, July 14, 2017

The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Phillipe Blondel (2013, New Vessal Press)








So far as my participation in Paris In July Year Ten I have read 


1.  Colette- Two Early Short Stories
2. The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano 
3. "A Duel" by Guy de Maupassant ( A Franco-Prussian War Story)
4. Life, Death, and Betrayal at The Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar Mazzeo (non fiction)
5. How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yolem (literary history)
6. "The Lost Child" by Francois Coppée 
7. "The Juggler of Norte Dame" by Anatole France- no post
8. A Very French Christmas- A Collection of the Greatest Holiday Stories of France
9. "The Illustrious Gaudissart" by Honore de Balzac
10. After the Circus by Patrick Modiano
11. "Gaudissart Ii" by Honore de Balzac
12. 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Phillipe Blondel


6:41 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel (translated elegantly by Alison Anderson) is entirely set in a second class compartment on the 6:21 train to Paris.  At first Cecile Duffant, a forty seven year old owner of an organic beauty supply firm, is alone in the cabinet.  Then she is joined by Phillipe Leduc, a man with whom she had a four month long affair 27 years ago.  Both recognize exact other and decide not to speak or acknowledge the past.  The woman is married with a teenage daughter.  The man, he once had great promise, for many years has sold TVs.  He is divorced.  She looks elegant, the years have made him a bit shabby.  

In alternative chapters each one begins to recollect the stormy affair.  Long ago Cecile was happy for any attention, lacking much self esteem.  Now she is a strong self-confident businesswoman in a good marriage.  By contrast Phillipe is stuck in a dull job and his own kids prefer to stay at the house of his wife's new husband.

6:41to Paris skillfully presents the alternative memories, showing us we are never free from out past and how our present shapes our understanding of our past.

I very much enjoyed this book.  

6:41 to Paris is published by New Vessel Press (newvessalpress.com), a small independent publisher.  They have recently published several books that would be perfect for Paris in July.  Here is their mission statement 

"New Vessel Press, founded in New York City in 2012, is an independent publishing house specializing in the translation of foreign literature into English. Our books are available in quality paperback and ebook formats.
By bringing readers foreign literature and narrative nonfiction, we offer captivating, thought-provoking works with beautifully-designed covers and high production values. We scour the globe looking for the best stories, knowing that only about three percent of the books published in the United States each year are translations. That leaves a lot of great literature still to be discovered.
At New Vessel Press, we believe that knowledge of foreign cultures and literatures enriches our lives by offering passageways to understand and embrace the world. We also regard literary translation as both craft and art, enabling us to traverse borders and open minds. We are committed to books that offer erudition and enjoyment, that stimulate and scintillate, that transform and transport.
And of course, what matters most is not where the authors hail from, or what language they write in. The most important thing is the quality of the work itself. And hence our name. We publish great books, just in a new vessel."

Author data

Jean-Philippe Blondel was born in 1964 in Troyes, France where he lives as an author and English teacher. His novel The 6:41 to Paris has been a bestseller in both France and Germany.

Mel u
The Reading Life







Paris in July - Year Ten. - Hosted by Thyme for Tea