Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests





Thursday, November 30, 2017

“The Ghetto Dog” - A Short Story Set in The Lodz Ghetto by Isaiah Spiegel - 1945- translated from Yiddish by Bernard Gurney


7
“The Ghetto Dog”
Wonderfully read by Laureen Bacall

My Holocaust Related Posts




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"


Most of this month I have been reading and loving doing so German Language Literature.   There is, for me at least, a huge elephant in the room when one talks of the very real glories of German Culture, from Goethe, the great novels and music and Ulm Cathedral.  That elephant is the Holocaust.  Some will say, perhaps rightly, every culture has a dark side and try to rationalise things.  Others, as does Joseph Roth and I, see it as more than that.  There are strange connections in history.  Not long ago I read a very scholarly biography of the German Emperor Frederick the Great, worshiped by the Nazis for his military bravado.   The main thesis of the book was that Frederick became a warrior king to prove his father, who rightly saw that Frederick was  a homosexual, was wrong.  From this the Prussian ethic developed and the Nazis state was derivative from Frederick’s trying to show his father  he was wrong.  Jews were treated as sexual deviants and homosexuality was criminal, though of course many Nazis were homosexuals.  Hitler raved about the decadence of the Weimar Republic.  

Yiddish literature derives from a thousand year old culture based in Eastern Europe and Russia.    No culture that I’m familiar with cherished the Reading Life more.  The Holocaust was in part a war on those who loved books, knowledge and Reading.  Germans tried very hard to destroy this culture, it was not an aberation.  Joseph Roth is right.  

Today’s story, “The Ghetto Dog” by Isaiah Spegel, written when he was confined in The Lodz Ghetto in Poland, takes us inside the Ghetto.  He was there from 1941 to 1944, when he was shipped out to Auschwitz.  He survived and wrote wonderful stories focusing on the small details of life in Łódź under the Germans.

Laureen Bacall reads this story at the link above.  She does  a wonderful job.


I must warn you that this is very much a story of deep pain, heart breaking in the cruelty and subhuman behavior of the Germans.  Some will be disturbed by this but that is ok, you should be disturbed. I listened to it once last night and again this morning.  It is The most powerful literary work I have read this month for sheer depth of feeling and insight.  

As “The Ghetto Dog” opens an elderly Jewish woman, living with her beloved old dog Nicki, is ordered out of her home of decades, one she shared with her late husband, by a uniformed armed German.  When her normally completely placid dog prepares to go for the throat of the German she restrains him, begging the German not to shoot him.  She is moved into the part of Łódź, 
Poland, where Jews are allowed to live.  The Germans place her and Nicki in a room with a prostitute, called Big Bertha.  This alone is a shock to the widow. At first Bertha is very upset over having to share her quarters, she says Nicki is scaring her clients and tells the widow to go out on the balcony while she services a visitor.  

In a very moving perfectly done scene, something happens that bonds the two women, Bertha comes to love Nicki.   They sleep on the couch together.  Then the Germans issue a cruel vicious degree, all animals owned by Jews must be turned over to the Germans.  Many in the ghetto survive with the help of the animals.  Spegel,shows us whole families leading “Jewish Cows, Jewish Horses and Jewish Dogs” to be turned over.  They weep, kiss the animals as they part.  The horses and cows are taken away by German farmers.  The dogs are shot.

Bertha goes with the widow to turn Nicki over, there is no hiding him.  The close of the story is so moving, with almost a supernatural beauty and wisdom. It is perfect, so visual.

It takes thirty minutes to listen to “The Ghetto Dog”, Leonard Nimoy, deeply into Yiddish literature introduces the story and gives background information.  I listened to it twice.  


Last year during GLM I posted on a very good novel set in the Łódź Ghetto, second in size to Warsaw, Jacob the Liar by Jurek Becker.

This is a great story, I know I sound hyperbolic, but that is how I feel.  

From Northwest University Press 

Ghetto Kingdom
Tales of the Lodz Ghetto
ISAIAH SPIEGEL

Isaiah Spiegel was an inmate of the Lodz Ghetto from its inception in 1940 until its liquidation in 1944. While there, he wrote short stories depicting Jewish life in the ghetto and managed to hide them before he was deported to Auschwitz. After being freed, he returned to Lodz to retrieve and publish his stories.


The stories examine the relationship between inmates and their families, their friends, their Christian former neighbors, the German soldiers, and, ultimately, the world of hopelessness and desperation that surrounded them. In using his creative powers to transform the suffering and death of his people into stories that preserve their memory, Spiegel succeeds in affirming the humanity and dignity the Germans were so intent on destroying.

About the Author

Isaiah Spiegel was born in the industrial city of Lódz in 1906. After surviving Auschwitz, he immigrated to Israel, where he continued to write stories, novels, poems, and essays. He died in Israel in 1990.

End from publisher.

I wish I knew much more  about his post WW Two Life, he survived forty five years.  I hope he was happy, had a great wife and family.  I have researched him but could not find much more than the above. If you know something please leave a comment.

YouTube has thirteen, at least dramatic readings of stories by Eastern European Jews, commonly called Yiddish stories though some were originally in  Russia or Hebrew.

Mel u







































Wednesday, November 29, 2017

“Investigations of a Dog” - A Short Story by Franz Kafka - 1922 - translated by Michael Hoffman - 2016




German Literature Month, November, 2017 on The Reading Life







  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
  15. “Borderlands”by Johannes Urzidil, 1956 (no post)
  16. “A School Boy’s Diary” by Robert Walser, 1910 (no post
  17. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, 2001, Second Reading 
  18. “The Duchess of Albanera” by Johannes Urzidil, 1965




  1. Gigli by Irmgard Keun, 1931
  2. Gay Berlin -Birth of a Modern Identity by Robert Beachy, 2014 *
  3. “Ernst in Civilian Clothes” by Mavis Gallant, 1963 *
  4. “Germans at Meat” by Katherine Mansfield, 1908 *
  5. Casanova’s Homecoming by Arthur Schnitzler, 1918
  6. “Investigations of a Dog” by Franz Kafka, 1922

Items with an * are my English language supplements to German Literature Month



This will be our last post for this year’s German Literature Month, other than the closing post.  I first read Kafka about fifty years ago.  I read his short story “The Hunger Artist”, I can partially recall the plot.  This was, I am pretty sure, the first piece of translated into English German fiction I had yet read.  I have since I began The Reading Life read or reread most of his major works.  I was delighted to be recently given a collection of  Kafka short stories, new translated by the multi-award winning Michael Hoffmsn containing lots of new to me works.  

“Investigations of a Dog”, the title story of the collection was a lot of fun.  I do think many people almost take Kafka’s work  too much as an obscure to all but a tiny elite master text.  People allow themselves to be intimidated.  Much of his work is funny and can be enjoyed by anyone with an open mind.  In this story, a long interior monologue by a middle aged smaller than average dog, we are treated to interesting observations on science, religion, government, relationships and much more as the Dog tries to figure out the meaning of life.  Of course food is at the  center  of his life. Everything is very convincingly done from the dog’s point of view.  There are deep levels of meaning in the  story, I think, a commentary on Society but it can be read just for the fun of accepting a dog’s thinking.

Euphemia B. Rodsengraz
The Reading Life 













Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Casanova’s Homecoming by Arthur Schnitzler-1918




German Literature Month, November, 2017 on The Reading Life

  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
  15. “Borderlands”by Johannes Urzidil, 1956 (no post)
  16. “A School Boy’s Diary” by Robert Walser, 1910 (no post
  17. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, 2001, Second Reading 
  18. “The Duchess of Albanera” by Johannes Urzidil, 1965
  19. Gigli by Irmgard Keun, 1931
  20. Gay Berlin -Birth of a Modern Identity by Robert Beachy, 2014 *
  21. “Ernst in Civilian Clothes” by Mavis Gallant, 1963 *
  22. “Germans at Meat” by Katherine Mansfield, 1908 *
  23. Casanova’s Homecoming by Arthur Schnitzler, 1918

Items with an * are my English language supplements to German Literature Month

Casanova’s Homecoming is a sad work, in more ways than one.  When we meet Casanova the man once considered Europe’s greatest lover, seducer of duchesses and their dishwashers, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the brothels of the continent, who considered it ok to seduce, near rape young girls (sounds like an American senator) and justify it by paying them afterwards is long past his physical prime at fifty three, much of his money gone.  He still has a voracious sexual appetite and uses every trick he knows to get women in bed.  Sometimes he pays as little as he can, sometimes he pays way more than required.  Sometimes he charms them, seems all the same to him.

His big goal in life is to go back to his old home Venice.  He needs official help as he was once in prison there.  By sheer luck he meets an old friend of his who owes him a great debt.  When Casanova has money he is generous. The man helps him, Casanova years ago seduced and paid both the man’s now wife and his mother.   The man has contacts that can help Casanova be allowed back in Venice and a cute thirteen year old daughter....

This book was probably shocking in 1918.  It can be read in under two hours and I feel it is worth that.  You can download an E book for free.  Schnitzler’s Late Fame is a better work and Casanova in Bolzano by Sandor Marai (1940) is a much better literary treatment of Casanova.



ARTHUR SCHNITZLER (1862-1931) was so central a figure in Viennese literary life in the first decades of the 20th century that the great cultural historian Peter Gay titled his book on the development of bourgeois culture between the Battle of Waterloo and World War I, Schnitzler’s Century.
A Jewish doctor born to a Jewish doctor in the largely Jewish Leopoldstadt quarter of Vienna (a plaque marking his birthplace, a short walk from the Prater, can be seen if you crane your neck on Praterstrasse), his true love was writing. Schnitzler was hugely successful as a playwright by his thirties; his most famous work, Reigen (La Ronde), was first performed in 1897.
His writings, biting portraits of Hapsburg society that were frank in their sexuality, made him both a star and a scandal. - from Jewishcurrents.org

We hope to post on about ten more works by Arthur Schnitzler by the end of 2018.   

Avant Bousweau
The Reading Life


Monday, November 27, 2017

“Ernst in Civilian Clothes” - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - 1963










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
  15. “Borderlands”by Johannes Urzidil, 1956 (no post)
  16. “A School Boy’s Diary” by Robert Walser, 1910 (no post
  17. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, 2001, Second Reading 
  18. “The Duchess of Albanera” by Johannes Urzidil, 1965
  19. Gigli by Irmgard Keun, 1931
  20. Gay Berlin -Birth of a Modern Identity by Robert Beachy, 2014 *
  21. “Ernst in Civilian Clothes” by Mavis Gallant, 1963 *
  22. “Germans at Meat” by Katherine Mansfield, 1908 *

Items with an * are my English language supplements to German Literature Month

I have been largely focusing on German Language Literature this month.  I have decided to supplement that by looking at a few works by favourite authors of mine that deal with Germany.  In “Germans at Meat” by Katherine Mansfield we sit in on conversations between a young English woman staying at a German guest house and the Germans there and we get a glimpse into how they saw each other.  

Today’s short story “Ernst in Civilian Clothes” focuses on two former German soldiers, members of the Hitler youth until they were old enough to join the army.  Ernst as a young man seems to have been placed in the Hitler Youth by his mother and step-father, who was in the SS, largely for the free uniforms and meals.  In a deeply ironic for the depths of ignorance behind it his friend Willie says of the Hitler Youth, ““What was wrong with the Hitler Youth? What was wrong with being told about Goethe Rilke Wagner Schiller Beethoven?”  The work of Rilke and Schiller were burned by the Nazis but this seems lost on Willie.  Willie and Ernst were taken as prisoners of war by the Americans in April of 1945, they met in the camp.  It is now 1963, they are in Paris where the Americans released them after the war, eighteen years ago.


Willie makes a living by translating, guiding Germans around Paris and playing SS officers in French movies.  Ernst doesn’t really work, he lives with and upon Willie.  He did fight for France in Vietnam as part of The French Foreign Legion, being on the losing side in two wars half forgotten now that nearly twenty years have passed.   Ernst has vague ideas about a pension due him but makes no real effort to file.  His fighting for the legion gives him the right to stay in France, other ex-legionaries have made a life for themselves but Ernst has not really adjusted to his Civilian status.  


Willie and Ernst were taken prisoners of war by the Americans in April 1945 and shipped to France where they stayed upon release after the war.  Ernst has no sense of identity that does not come from a uniform.  He talks fondly of his days as a “werewolf”, a Nazi elite boys group.  

This is a very beautifully done story.  We gradually learn in just ten pages what it felt like to be a former German soldier living in Paris, not really fitting in there and having no home left in Germany.  

There is bio data on Gallant in my prior posts upon her stories.

Buried in Print, see link above, is doing a read through of all two hundred or so of Gallant’s story, a great project.  I am following along.  

Mel u




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“Siegelmann’s Journey”. - A Short Story by Johannes Urzidil- 1962-translated from German by David Burnett-2016-Included in the Last Bell


















“Johannes Urzidil is the Last great troubadour of a long lost Prague” - Max Brod

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
  15. “Borderlands”by Johannes Urzidil, 1956 (no post)
  16. “A School Boy’s Diary” by Robert Walser, 1910 (no post
  17. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, 2001, Second Reading 
  18. “The Duchess of Albanera” by Johannes Urzidil, 1965
  19. Gigli by Irmgard Keun, 1931
  20. Gay Berlin -Birth of a Modern Identity by Robert Beachy, 2014
  21. “Siegelmann’s Journey” by Johannes Urzidil, 1962

Mel has posted on three short stories by Johannes Urzidil.  He has asked me, I have also read all the stories in the collection The Last Bell, assembled, translated and introduced by David Burnett to comment briefly upon his story,”Siegelmann’s Journey”.

Richard Siegelmann, living in Prague, is a travel agent, a real job requiring significant expertise and knowledge in the days before the internet.  He is an expert at putting together trips for his clients.  He knows where to get the best wood carvings in Bali, the most sarap seafood in New Orleans, The Paris train schedules and much more.  He has read hundreds of Guide books and histories.  Everyone assumes he is a world traveler but in fact he has never been more than fifty miles from Prague.  He is a confirmed bachelor with a settled routine he is comfortable with.  One day he has a change encounter with a woman while out walking.  Overtime they get to know each other and begin spending time together.  She assumed he has been many places, he can talk with great fluency about traveling, and he leads her to believe she is correct.  One day, out of the blue, she asks him “Where will we go on our honeymoon?”   At first her assumption of what he sees as  her taking for granted what he never had in mind miffs him but they marry.  From here as his deception unravels a terrible disaster ends the story.  The closing is interestingly similar to that of his “Borderlands”


This is a good story, well developed though Mel and I agree that the title story in the collection, “The Last Bell” about a maid adjusting to life in Nazi occupied Prague is the best story.  

We endorse the purchase of this collection.


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


Avant Bousweau 











Sunday, November 26, 2017

Gilgi by Irmgard Keun - 1931 - Translated from German by Geoff Wilkes -2016










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
  15. “Borderlands”by Johannes Urzidil, 1956 (no post)
  16. “A School Boy’s Diary” by Robert Walser, 1910 (no post
  17. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, 2001, Second Reading 
  18. “The Duchess of Albanera” by Johannes Urzidil, 1965
  19. Gigli by Irmgard Keun, 1931
  20. Gay Berlin -Birth of a Modern Identity by Robert Beachy, 2014

Gilgi is the third novel by Irmgard Keun I have read.  During previous German Literature Months I read her Artificial Silk Girl and then After Midnight.  A cynic might sum up her work as Sex in the City on Alexanderplatz in late Weimar, early Nazi Germany.  All of her central characters in the three novels I have read are young single women trying to survive in Berlin while maintaining some self respect in the face of the pressure of male bosses to have sex with them.  (Sound like the headlines on CNN this morning.)

Gigli works as a secretary in a hosiery factory.  Her boss, thirty years older and of course with daughters older than Gigli and a wife, is pressuring Gilgi to have dinner with him.  She knows a flat out refusal could lead to unemployment and she badly needs her salary.  She agrees to go but has her very alluring friend Olga, not above semi-professional servicing an affluent older gentleman, accidentally stop at their table at dinner and the boss soon forgets all about Gigli.

Gilgi is ambitious, she is learning English and French in classes and trying to safe money to leave Germany.   However, she falls in love with a big talking man  very short on marks.  She winds up pregnant.  Gilgi’s visit to a doctor to get an abortion, criminal offence at the time but common is brilliantly done.

The strength and the pleasure of this novel is watch Gilgi try to survive, the weakness is in the romance.  

I enjoyed this novel with the caveat that I am very into the literature and culture of Weimar Germany.  It is Keun’s portrayal of young women in this period that draws me to her work.

To those new to her work I would suggest you start with After Midnight.

I still have one of her novels to read, Child of All Nations, and I hope to read that next year.

Mel u



























IRMGARD KEUN (1905–1982) was born in Berlin and raised in Cologne, where she studied to be an actress. However, reputedly inspired by a meeting with Alfred Döblin, the author of Berlin Alexanderplatz, she turned to writing, and became an instant sensation with her first novel, Gilgi, One of Us, published in 1931 when she   was just twenty-six. A year later, her second novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, was an even bigger bestseller. The rising Nazi party censured Keun, however, and her books were included in the infamous “burning of the books”
in 1933. After being arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo, Keun left her husband and escaped Germany. While wandering in exile, Keun conducted an eighteen-month affair with the writer Joseph Roth and wrote the novels After Midnight and Child of All Nations. In 1940, Keun staged her suicide and, under a false identity, reentered Germany, where she lived in hiding until the end of the war. Her work was rediscovered in the late seventies, reviving her reputation in Germany..