Friday, 17 November 2017

Book Review: The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind small events that must seem utterly trivial to everyone unconcerned can fundamentally shatter our peace of mind, above all when they break our routine and evoke without warning unpleasant associations that unleash imagination. Who has never been haunted for no good reason at all by horror scenarios of the future emerging from the depths of our souls in most vivid colours and in most frightening detail? In retrospect, we often laugh at ourselves for having allowed them to put us into a state of alarm, occasionally even panic. The protagonist of The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind almost goes crazy when he finds a solitary bird cooing in the corridor in front of the door to his bedsit on an ordinary Friday morning. The bird seems to him the portent of evil and he can’t help seeing through his mind’s eye how the fundaments of his pleasantly eventless and solitary existence crumble and give way to chaos.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Back Reviews Reel: November 2014

There were four Fridays in November 2014 and consequently the archive of the month is filled with four book reviews. For the Books on France 2014 reading challenge and The Great War in Literature special I picked Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline that became a famous classic although it’s a rather bitter satire. My next read was a collection containing The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield first published in 1922. Then I presented an Austrian historical novel Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider that was much acclaimed in the early 1990s. And my last review was of a contemporary novel from South Africa penned by one of the few female Nobel Prize laureates in Literature, namely None to Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Poetry Revisited: Gypsy Songs by Ben Jonson

Gypsy Songs

(from The Gypsies Metamorphosed: 1640)

The faery beam upon you,
The stars to glister on you;
A moon of light
In the noon of night,
Till the fire-drake hath o’ergone you!
The wheel of fortune guide you,
The boy with the bow beside you;
Run ay in the way
Till the bird of day,
And the luckier lot betide you!

To the old, long life and treasure!
To the young all health and pleasure!
To the fair, their face
With eternal grace
And the soul to be loved at leisure!
To the witty, all clear mirrors;
To the foolish, their dark errors;
To the loving sprite,
A secure delight;
To the jealous, his own false terrors!

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
English playwright, poet, actor, and literary critic

Friday, 10 November 2017

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel our modern western culture we – women and men alike – claim for ourselves the right to be the architects of our individual future… and happiness, but it’s a rather recent achievement even for us. During the greater part of history here too the lives of people were by and large determined by others, notably by fathers, feudal lords, priests, Kings or Queens, and by seldom questioned unwritten rules. Individual happiness mattered very little, romantic love was of no importance in marriage matters. In Mexico of the early twentieth century the protagonist of Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel is supposed to willingly uphold tradition that demands of her as the youngest daughter to put last her own longing for happiness in marriage and to take care of her mother until she dies. Love is stronger than tradition, though, and the girl’s passion for cooking accompanies her on her painful and long way to empowerment.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Poetry Revisited: The Dream by Lola Ridge

The Dream

(from Sun-Up and Other Poems: 1920)

I have a dream
to fill the golden sheath
of a remembered day…
(Air heavy and massed and blue
as the vapor of opium…
fired in sulphurous mist…
quiescent as a gray seal…
and the emerging sun
spurting up gold
over Sydney, smoke-pale, rising out of the bay…)
But the day is an up-turned cup
and its sun a junk of red iron
guttering in sluggish-green water–
where shall I pour my dream?

Lola Ridge (1873-1941)
Irish-American anarchist poet and
editor of avant-garde, feminist, and Marxist publications

Friday, 3 November 2017

Book Review: The Artamonov Business by Maxim Gorky
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It‘s only natural (or it should be) that parents want the best for their children and that they try at least to open up for them as many opportunities for a better future as they can. Depending on the social and economic background, starting a business to provide for generations to come may seem a good idea, but a parent’s dream can all too easily turn into the child’s or grandchild’s nightmare if the nature, interests and ambitions of the founder don’t really correspond with those of the descendants or the business environment changes considerably. Set in Russia during the five decades before the Bolshevik revolution of November 1917, the classical family saga The Artamonov Business by Maxim Gorky shows three generations of factory owners as they rise to wealth producing linen and move step by step towards doom because the younger generation lacks entrepreneurial spirit and flexibility to adapt to the requirements of rapidly changing times.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Poetry Revisited: Change by F. J. Ochse


(from Alexander Wilmot (ed.), South African Poetry: 1887)

Yes, all things change in this poor world of ours,—
The ocean’s waves, the sand upon its shores,
The rocks which bound it even slowly change.
Summer’s warm breath makes place for Winter’s cold.
Spring’s youthful freshness, beautiful and gay,
Is doomed to Autumn’s sadness, age, decay.
Life’s phases change: now happiness and joy;
Then misery and sorrow take their turn.
Now health and plenty, shared with loved ones near;
Then pain and sickness, poverty, despair,
For the poor, exiled, friendless wanderer.
Now in this field, with friends and blessings rich,
The labourer works content; then parting comes,
And to a new and unknown sphere he turns
His wandering steps, and hopes and prays and works.
Friends also sometimes change: the tender flower
Of friendship often withers in the blast
Of cruel, sinful scandal, cursed of God.
Others indifferent grow: pleased by new friends,
The old ones are neglected and forgot.
Yes, all things change in this poor world of ours—
God’s love alone remains unchangeable.
His love alone can keep us constant, true.
No blast can wither friendship’s tender flower
That blooms beneath His atmosphere of love.
Then let all things in this poor world of ours
Change and decay;—no matter, we have God.
His promises are sure, His blessings great;
His faithful guidance will be ever ours.
A place awaits us in His glorious Home,
Where we shall also be unchangeable.

Rev. Francis James Ochse (1856-1898)
South African minister