Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Back Reviews Reel: August 2014

Two classics and three contemporary novels are filed away in my review archive of August 2014, three of them originally written in French and contributions to the Books on France 2014 reading challenge. My first literary exploration of August was dedicated to a very touching love story from France in the 1980s, namely to Betty Blue by Philippe Djian. After this, I stayed in modern times and in the realm of everlasting love, but I left Europe and moved on to Tibet under Chinese reign reading Sky Burial. An Epic Love Story of Tibet by Xinran. My next book was The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, an all-time highlight of Austrian literature that revived the final decades of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy through the eyes of three generations of the Trotta family. In the French-Belgian classic The Abyss by Marguerite Yourcenar two Flemish cousins are tossed about in the maelstrom of European history at the dawn of the Renaissance. And my final review was about A Palace in the Old Village by Tahar Ben Jelloun, a francophone novel surrounding a Moroccan immigrant in France and his attempt to lead his family back on the old ways.


Monday, 14 August 2017

Poetry Revisited: Traumesnähe – Dream Vicinity by Else Asenjeff

Traumesnähe

 (aus Die neue Scheherezade: 1913)

Nur unser Traum ist nah
Und fern ist uns die unserem Auge
Nahgerückte Welt.
Was nicht Gedanken,
Was Blut selbst lautlos-rauschend
Tiefdringlich uns erzählt
Ist da—
Nur was wie schmerzgesenkte Lider,
Der Dinge deutliche Aufdringlichkeit
Uns ferne hält—
Ist unsre wahre Welt…

Else Asenjeff (1867-1941)
österreichische Schriftstellerin

Dream Vicinity

(from The New Scheherezade: 1913)

Only our dream is close
And far away is our eye
Close-up world.
What not thoughts,
What blood itself silently-rushing
Deeply telling us
Is there—
Just what pain-relieved eyelids,
Things are clearly pushy
Far from us—
Is our true world ...

Else Asenjeff (1867-1941)
Austrian writer
Literal translation: Edith LaGraziana 2017

Friday, 11 August 2017

Book Review: The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China by Lu Xun

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7312194-the-real-story-of-ah-q-and-other-tales-of-chinaChina is a vast country with an ancient culture, and yet, only few books from the pens (or rather brushes) of Chinese writers have made it into Western bookshops. This is little wonder considering that China has been a Communist country since 1949 and only after the death of Mao Zedong intellectual life slowly reawakened. There are some contemporary authors who have gained international attention, notably the laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2012 Mo Yan. Among modern classical writers of the twentieth century Eileen Chang may be the best remembered (»»» read my review of Red Rose, White Rose), while others like Lin Yutang or Xiao Hong are quite forgotten today. Notwithstanding that a new English translation has been brought out in 2009, also The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China by Lu Xun have remained secret gems of Chinese literature evoking the 1920s and ancient myths.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: Status Syndrome by Michael Marmot

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29387839-status-syndrome

Health and Social Gradient:
Status Syndrome by Michael Marmot


It’s a generally known fact that poverty makes sick, but in our modern Western world people usually don’t fight for mere survival every day and poverty doesn’t equal penury any longer. In Austria, for instance, the net of social security is so densely-knit that everybody can get health care – unless for one reason or another, a person prefers to go underground and therefore doesn’t appear in the system. Nonetheless, data show that those with by comparison fewer material resources, less high education and lower standing have poorer health than those who are better off in these aspects. In his book The Status Syndrome. How Your Place on the Social Gradient Directly Affects Your Health first published in 2004 epidemiologist and public health expert Michael Marmot summarises the results of over thirty years of research and draws his conclusions with regard to what is needed to close the health gap.

Read more » (external link to Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion)

Monday, 7 August 2017

Poetry Revisited: Summer Night by Alfred Tennyson

Summer Night

(from The Princess. A Medley: 1847)

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.

Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake:
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.

Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
English poet

Friday, 4 August 2017

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26852229-we-have-always-lived-in-the-castle For some people it’s hard to find their place in society or even in a family because they actually are different or either they themselves or others believe that they are. It suffices a small particularity to make them outsiders who have to deal with distrust and, in the worst case, unforgiving hatred in their surroundings. Often social exclusion is a two-sided process that builds up on mutual prejudices and misunderstandings. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson surrounds Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood and her older sister Constance who have been leading a very secluded life on a big estate with their ailing uncle ever since their closest family was poisoned six years earlier. People in the nearby village hate them and Merricat hates the villagers. When an estranged cousin arrives unexpectedly and tries to take advantage of the two women, Merricat does everything in her power to drive him away. The consequences are disastrous.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Poetry Revisited: Time and We by Zitella Cocke

Time and We

(from A Doric Read: 1895)

Improve the moments while you may.
For Time is flying, mortals say;
               But Time saith nay.
‘T is we, alas! who come and go,
               And Time doth stay;
For Time doth like a river flow.
Yet in its secret depths below,
               Sweet fountains play,
And youth perpetual bestow,
               While swift away
Our frail barks drift to weal or woe.

Zitella Cocke (1840-1929)
American poet, translator and educator

Friday, 28 July 2017

Book Review: An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15929364-an-artist-of-the-floating-world Very popular subjects of the famous Japanese colour woodblock prints from the seventeenth century on are scenes from ephemeral life in the pleasure districts which accounts for their being called ukiyo-e (浮世絵), i.e. “pictures of the floating world”. But life is in constant flow elsewhere too: πάντα ῥεῖ. In turbulent times, the flow even seems to accelerate and turn into a maelstrom that threatens to crush whatever or whoever gets caught in the strong current. In 1948, once famous painter Masuji Ono from An Artist of the Floating World by Japanese-English writer Kazuo Ishiguro finds himself stranded in a world where his art work has become an unwanted reminder of totalitarian ideals that led the Japanese Empire into disaster and where his daughter is no suitable match for any decent man because of his shameful part in the terror before and during the war. As he looks back, time passes, wounds heal and bitterness fades.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Poetry Revisited: Summer Wind by William Cullen Bryant

Summer Wind

(from Poems: 1840)

It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk
The dew that lay upon the morning grass;
There is no rustling in the lofty elm
That canopies my dwelling, and its shade
Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint
And interrupted murmur of the bee,
Settling on the sick flowers, and then again
Instantly on the wing. The plants around
Feel the too potent fervours: the tall maize
Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops
Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms.
But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills,
With all their growth of woods, silent and stern,
As if the scorching heat and dazzling light
Were but an element they loved. Bright clouds,
Motionless pillars of the brazen heaven,
Their bases on the mountains, their white tops
Shining in the far ether, fire the air
With a reflected radiance, and make turn
The gazer's eye away. For me, I lie
Languidly in the shade, where the thick turf,
Yet virgin from the kisses of the sun,
Retains some freshness, and I woo the wind
That still delays its coming. Why so slow,
Gentle and voluble spirit of the air?
Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth
Coolness and life. Is it that in his caves
He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge,
The pine is bending his proud top, and now
Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak
Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes!
Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves!
The deep distressful silence of the scene
Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds
And universal motion. He is come,
Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs,
And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings
Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs,
And sound of swaying branches, and the voice
Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs
Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers,
By the road-side and the borders of the brook,
Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves
Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew
Were on them yet, and silver waters break
Into small waves and sparkle as he comes.

William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)
American romantic poet, journalist,
and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Book Review: The Giraffe's Neck by Judith Schalansky

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25525321-the-giraffe-s-neckAlready the ancient Greeks knew that everything is in flow or as Heraclitus of Ephesus put it: πάντα ῥεῖ. In bad times this may be a great consolation, in good times it’s more often a terrible threat. Consequently, only few people unreservedly welcome even big change as a challenge that makes life interesting. Most people are less favourable, some downright adverse to all kinds of alteration because in general it goes hand in hand with uncertainty and it requires an effort to adapt to new circumstances. Not everybody is up to such challenge. For more than half a century the East German biology teacher in The Giraffe’s Neck by Judith Schalansky did her best to lead a dutiful and inconspicuous life, i.e. to survive in the Darwinian sense, but after the German reunification this is no longer enough. Her ways are called antiquated and she is criticised for her lack of sympathy for her students.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Poetry Revisited: Life’s Gifts by Olive Schreiner

Life’s Gifts

(from Dreams: 1890)

I saw a woman sleeping. In her sleep she dreamt Life stood before her, and held in each hand a gift—in the one Love, in the other Freedom. And she said to the woman, “Choose!”

And the woman waited long: and she said, “Freedom!”

And Life said, “Thou hast well chosen. If thou hadst said, ‘Love,’ I would have given thee that thou didst ask for; and I would have gone from thee, and returned to thee no more. Now, the day will come when I shall return. In that day I shall bear both gifts in one hand.”

I heard the woman laugh in her sleep.

London.

Olive Schreiner (1855-1920)
South African author, poet and political campaigner

Friday, 14 July 2017

The Green Pope by Miguel Ángel Asturias

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/145717.The_Green_PopeIt’s not a particularly secret wisdom that those who have wealth are likely to have power too. After all, it’s money that makes the world go round… at least a materialistic world like ours. Little wonder that our society produces considerable numbers of men and women whose primary goal in life is to gain money and ever more money. In The Green Pope by Miguel Ángel Asturias, Guatemalan winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1967 “for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin-America”, a young American who cares for nothing but wealth and power starts a banana plantation in Guatemala mercilessly ruining, driving out or even killing small local farmers and opponents on his rise. Neither the suicide of his fiancé, the death of his wife in childbirth or the pregnancy of his unmarried daughter make him reconsider his priorities.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24796161-death-in-springA Suffocating Village:
Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda

Less than a year ago I reviewed a novel by Catalan author Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983) who is much celebrated in her country but virtually unknown elsewhere. I was so impressed by the book that I felt like reading also others of her works and from the two novels published posthumously, both of them unfinished, I eventually picked the one available in English translation, namely Death in Spring or in the original Catalan La mort i la primavera, i.e. Death and Spring. At first the title seems a bit strange, if not contradictory because it links death with nature’s rebirth after winter, but given that the novel flows over with powerful as well as poetical symbols and metaphors of life and death it’s quite appropriate. It’s a complex and well-constructed story about society that reminds me a lot of the works of Franz Kafka although it’s different in style.

Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

related reviews on Edith's Miscellany:
»»» In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda

Monday, 10 July 2017

Poetry Revisited: Quite by Chance by Frederick Langbridge

Quite by Chance

(from Poets at Play. A Hand-Book of Humorous Recitations: 1888)

She flung the parlour window wide
          One eve of mid-July,
     And he, as fate would have it tide,
          That moment sauntered by.
     His eyes were blue and hers were brown,
          With drooping fringe of jet;
     And he looked up as she looked down,
          And so their glances met.
               Things as strange, I dare to say,
               Happen somewhere every day.


A mile beyond the straggling street,
          A quiet pathway goes;
     And lovers here are wont to meet,
          As all the country knows.
     Now she one night at half-past eight
          Had sought that lonely lane,
     When he came up, by will of fate,
          And so they met again.
               Things as strange, I dare to say,
               Happen somewhere every day.


The parish church, so old and gray,
          Is quite a sight to see;
     And he was there at ten one day,
          And so, it chanced, was she.
     And while they stood, with cheeks aflame,
          And neighbours liked the fun,
     In stole and hood the parson came,
          And made the couple one.
               Things as strange, I dare to say,
               Happen somewhere every day.


Frederick Langbridge (1849-1922)
English clergyman and author

Friday, 7 July 2017

Book Review: To Arms! by Marcelle Tinayre

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35541905-to-arms-la-veill-e-des-armes-an-impression-of-the-spirit-of-franceWar is a terrible curse, but a man-made one that its advocates and profiteers always tried to sell as necessary to protect or restore the country’s safety, strength, honour, identity, or whatever else society sees at risk. More than once wars spread to other countries because of alliances made in times of peace. World War One is only one of the most notorious examples. When Emperor Francis Joseph I. of Austria-Hungary declared war to Serbia on 28 July 1914 it was the beginning of a chain reaction turning huge parts of Europe (and the world) into ghastly battlefields for over four years. As early as in summer 1915, the novel To Arms! by Marcelle Tinayre thematised the anxiety that a dissimilar group of Parisians lived in the last hours before France was drawn into the war and first soldiers left their families to move into their barracks.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Poetry Revisited: A Summer’s Day by Dora Sigerson

A Summer’s Day

(from Verses: 1893)

Well, love, so be it as you say,
Just the hours of a summer's day,
And no sighing for what comes after,
Whether it be tears or laughter.

Take my hand, and we go together
Into love's land of golden weather.
You to be king and I for queen;
Right royally to reign, I ween.

Cool amber wine in cups of gold
Bring maids, in rosy fingers' hold,
Lip-pledged, but, you'll say ere your drinking,
My kiss were sweeter to your thinking.

And youths shall rob the spring for me
Of all the perfumed flowers that be;
I'll seek your eyes, and they refusing,
I'll answer only at your choosing.

So, love, your hand, and we away,
Just the hours of a summer's day,
And no weeping for what comes after—
If it be tears, we've had our laughter.

Dora Sigerson, later Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866-1918)
Irish poet and sculptor

Friday, 30 June 2017

Book Review: Indigo by Clemens J. Setz

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23219061-indigoAlthough we often – usually when we feel misunderstood or hurt – complain about the lack of empathy in people today, it isn’t a quality that our technology-based and highly competitive modern society particularly favours. Much rather egotism and a thick skin seem to be characteristics that someone wishing for success in this world vitally needs to cultivate. Most of us learn early that it’s better to reduce sensitiveness and to avoid getting emotionally involved in the fates of others, especially when what they go through is none of our business. Thus we allow abuse and exclusion. The Helianau Institute from Indigo by Clemens J. Setz is a boarding school for children who were born with a strange disorder: they make every human being near them sick. The overly sensitive new Maths teacher Clemens Setz feels for the children who are condemned to grow up always staying at a big physical distance to others.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Poetry Revisited: Les Chats – The Cats by Charles Baudelaire

Les Chats

(de Les Fleurs du mal: 1857)

Les amoureux fervents et les savants austères
Aiment également, dans leur mûre saison,
Les chats puissants et doux, orgueil de la maison,
Qui comme eux sont frileux et comme eux sédentaires.

Amis de la science et de la volupté
Ils cherchent le silence et l'horreur des ténèbres;
L'Erèbe les eût pris pour ses coursiers funèbres,
S'ils pouvaient au servage incliner leur fierté.

Ils prennent en songeant les nobles attitudes
Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
Qui semblent s'endormir dans un rêve sans fin;

Leurs reins féconds sont pleins d'étincelles magiques,
Et des parcelles d'or, ainsi qu'un sable fin,
Etoilent vaguement leurs prunelles mystiques.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
poète français

The Cats

(from The Flowers of Evil: 1857)

The lover and the stern philosopher
Both love, in their ripe time, the confident
Soft cats, the house's chiefest ornament,
Who like themselves are cold and seldom stir.

Of knowledge and of pleasure amorous,
Silence they seek and Darkness' fell domain;
Had not their proud souls scorned to brook his rein,
They would have made grim steeds for Erebus.

Pensive they rest in noble attitudes
Like great stretched sphinxes in vast solitudes
Which seem to sleep wrapt in an endless dream;

Their fruitful loins are full of sparks divine,
And gleams of gold within their pupils shine
As 'twere within the shadow of a stream.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
French poet
translation: Jack Collings Squire in Poems and Baudelaire Flowers (1909)

Friday, 23 June 2017

Book Review: A Love Letter From a Stray Moon by Jay Griffiths

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31291492-a-love-letter-from-a-stray-moonHuman soul is amazing. Ever again it happens that instead of being crushed by a terrible experience a person draws great force from it and even succeeds in transcending it into a powerful incentive to stop just dreaming the impossible dream and to actually reach for the stars at last. Often only the closest family gets a chance to witness such personal growth born from suffering because seen from outside nothing has changed, but sometimes it’s the birth of a completely altered person who decides to make a fresh start into a new direction. It was a horrible bus accident at the age of eighteen that upset Frida Kahlo’s life and made her turn her attention to painting as a way of expressing herself. In A Love Letter from a Stray Moon by Jay Griffiths the celebrated Mexican painter writes a poetical review of her turbulent and painful life from beyond her grave.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Back Reviews Reel: June 2014

In June 2014 I went a little astray reading-wise. The two contempory works as well as the two classics that I reviewed belong to genres that I don’t usually read. I started with a comic novel from the U.K. that is largely set in Germany, namely Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith. Then I crossed the Channel to France and plunged into chick-lit for a change, but The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol turned out a little less shallow (and boring) than I had feared. From Paris I moved on to South America and some classical horror fiction from the pen of a writer admired by Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez made available for English-language readers as The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories by Horacio Quiroga. And finally I returned to my own country Austria for the dystopian classic The Wall by Marlen Haushofer.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Poetry Revisited: An Australian Rose by Harriet Anne Martin

An Australian Rose

(from Lala Fisher [ed.], By Creek and Gully. Stories and Sketches Mostly of Bush Life:
Told in Prose and Rhyme by Australian Writers in England
: 1899)

Patchett Martin

To R. M. P.

To her of gracious gifts, whose graceful pen
Becomes a fairy wand in her frail hand
Flashing the sunlight of her Austral land
   On the slim maidens and brown-bearded men
   Who live their lives for us at her command
   I said — “I always think of you as when,
   Like one entranced in an enchanted glen,
You stood one night amidst a madcap band.

With red lips parted, and a roseleaf flush
   Painting the pearly pallor of your face,
   Mute, motionless, in an expectant hush,
   Your dreamy eyes like stars shone into space.”
   Softly she answer’d with a shadowy blush—
“My soul first stirred to life in that fair place.”

Harriet Anne Martin (c. 1837-1908)
Australian poet and writer

Friday, 16 June 2017

Book Review: I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/62772.I_Am_a_CatLooked upon from an outsider’s point of view much of human behaviour must seem rather strange, if not ridiculous and without purpose. And if this is true of what we do, how much more absurd must appear what we say! On certain occasions we even become aware of it ourselves. Who hasn’t ever been to a party feeling obliged to make small talk with even the dullest people? Boredom can drive us to embark on all kinds of more or less suiting pastimes. The arts, for instance, have always been very fashionable among the well-educated and better-off, while the world of academia may prefer highbrow debates on nothing at all to get a chance to show off. In the satirical classic I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki a highly sophisticated Tōkyo cat living in the household of a self-centred English teacher follows his master’s and his friends’ awkward artistic attempts and grotesque discussions.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: The Famished Road by Ben Okri

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17334045-the-famished-road

A Child’s View of Africa in the 1960s:
The Famished Road by Ben Okri 

It was in autumn 2016 when one of those e-mails offering the free copy of a book for review that I regularly receive unasked for and that I use to delete without even reading attracted my attention. The last hardly ever happens, but for some reason that I can’t remember I had a closer look at the message concerning The Famished Road by Ben Okri. The story sounded interesting and just right for me, especially because it was the new edition of a novel first published twenty-five years ago in 1991, thus not an entirely new work. Without giving it a second thought, I signed on to Netgalley and downloaded the book. Now, months later, I finally found the time to read this award-winning novel from the pen of an African writer now living in London, U.K., that deals with the political turmoil and confusion following the independence of an African country, probably Nigeria, from a boy’s magical-realistic point of view. 

Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

Monday, 12 June 2017

Poetry Revisited: The Literary Lady by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

The Literary Lady

(from W. H. Wills [ed.]: Poets' Wit and Humour: 1860)

What motley cares Corilla's mind perplex,
Whom maids and metaphors conspire to vex!
In studious dishabille behold her sit,
A lettered gossip and a household wit;
At once invoking, though for different views,
Her gods, her cook, her milliner and muse.
Round her strewed room a frippery chaos lies,
A checkered wreck of notable and wise,
Bills, books, caps, couplets, combs, a varied mass,
Oppress the toilet and obscure the glass;
Unfinished here an epigram is laid,
And there a mantua-maker's bill unpaid.
There new-born plays foretaste the town's applause,
There dormant patterns pine for future gauze.
A moral essay now is all her care,
A satire next, and then a bill of fare.
A scene she now projects, and now a dish;
Here Act the First, and here, Remove with Fish.
Now, while this eye in a fine frenzy rolls,
That soberly casts up a bill for coals;
Black pins and daggers in one leaf she sticks,
And tears, and threads, and bowls, and thimbles mix.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816)
Irish satirist, a playwright and poet

Friday, 9 June 2017

Book Review: The Greater Hope by Ilse Aichinger

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35383772-the-greater-hopeThere are heaps of fiction works dealing with World War Two and the holocaust, but most of them have been written long after the unspeakable horrors and by authors who could look at the period from a safe distance, be it geographically or historically. It’s little wonder that only few eye witnesses, notably survivors felt up to letting their own dreadful experience flow into their fiction. It would have been too painful and in addition it was unlikely to make a living of such books. The Greater Hope by Austrian writer Ilse Aichinger is one of a small number of postwar novels evoking the sufferings of the war years. The protagonist is an eleven-year-old Viennese girl whose Jewish mother emigrates to the USA to escape from the Nazi regime. Her Aryan father, an army officer, rejects her and so she has to face all the incomprehensible prohibitions and dangers of the time in the care of her persecuted grandmother.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Poetry Revisited: The Lotus by Toru Dutt

The Lotus

(from Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan: 1882)

Love came to Flora asking for a flower
          That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
          The lily and the rose, long, long had been
Rivals for that high honor. Bards of power
Had sung their claims. “The rose can never tower
          Like the pale lily with her Juno mien“—
          “But is the lily lovelier?“ Thus between
Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche's bower.
“Give me a flower delicious as the rose
          And stately as the lily in her pride“—
“But of what color?“—„Rose-red,“ Love first chose,
          Then prayed—“No, lily-white—or, both provide;“
          And Flora gave the lotus, “rose-red“ dyed,
And “lily-white“—the queenliest flower that blows.

Toru Dutt (1856-1877)
Indian poet in English and French

Friday, 2 June 2017

Book Review: The Walnut Mansion by Miljenko Jergović

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25246902-the-walnut-mansion
Every end comprises everything that was before. This is especially true for us human beings because not just own experiences make us the people who we are but through socialisation we also carry on our shoulders the material and psychological burden of our ancestors, i.e. of entire history. Time heals the wounds or makes them fester beneath the surface. In The Walnut Mansion by Miljenko Jergović the turbulent history of the Balkan countries that once formed Yugoslavia materialises in 97-year-old Regina Delavale who has seen it all and who finds her accidental end knocked out by tranquilisers in a hospital in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2002 after senile dementia has irrevocably turned her into a violent, abusive and wicked monster. Going backwards in time her daughter Dijana evokes the forming, if not traumatising events of her own and her mother’s life until her birth in 1905 and even a little beyond.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Poetry Revisited: A May Night On The Mountains by Henry Lawson

A May Night On The Mountains

(from Australian Town and Country Journal: 29 June 1889)

’Tis a wonderful time when these hours begin,
These long ‘small hours’ of night,
When grass is crisp, and the air is thin,
And the stars come close and bright.
The moon hangs caught in a silvery veil,
From clouds of a steely grey,
And the hard, cold blue of the sky grows pale
In the wonderful Milky Way.

There is something wrong with this star of ours,
A mortal plank unsound,
That cannot be charged to the mighty powers
Who guide the stars around.
Though man is higher than bird or beast,
Though wisdom is still his boast,
He surely resembles Nature least,
And the things that vex her most.

Oh, say, some muse of a larger star,
Some muse of the Universe,
If they who people those planets far
Are better than we, or worse?
Are they exempted from deaths and births,
And have they greater powers,
And greater heavens, and greater earths,
And greater Gods than ours?

Are our lies theirs, and our truth their truth,
Are they cursed for pleasure’s sake,
Do they make their hells in their reckless youth
Ere they know what hells they make?
And do they toil through each weary hour
Till the tedious day is o’er,
For food that gives but the fleeting power
To toil and strive for more?

Henry Lawson (1867-1922)
Australian writer and bush poet

Friday, 26 May 2017

Book Review: No Silver Spoon by Katie Flynn

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2329301.No_Silver_SpoonMuch in life comes as a surprise, be it an agreeable or an unpleasant one. Biographies without more or less significant swerves, detours or even sharp turns are rare although we tend to believe that the rich and successful have to overcome less obstacles and can head straight towards their goals. And yet, the way we cope with the vicissitudes of life is just as important as the right focus. As children neither the Irish girl Dympna nor the Liverpudlian boy Jimmy in No Silver Spoon by Katie Flynn could expect to go into the direction that events made them choose, but they both accept the challenge and are determined to make the best of whatever may come. Their paths have crossed and separated already twice before love finally joins them and fate tears them apart again in Liverpool of the 1930s. But what is meant to be, will be.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Poetry Revisited: The Music of the Stream by Janet Hamilton

The Music of the Stream

(from Poems and Ballads: 1868)

Is it a spirit voice—an angel’s song—
That pours its liquid melody among
The mossy stones that break the rippling sheen,
Lone Calder! gliding thy fair banks between?

No! ’tis the voice—the music of the stream,
That chimes harmonious with the poet’s dream:
A dream of beauty, radiant and divine,
A halo floating round the muses’ shrine.

Oft in sweet summer prime I singing strayed
Down yon deep dell and through the woodland glade,
To woo fair Nature in soft Doric rhymes
And hear the tinkling of thy silver chimes.

And, ah, what glorious wealth of wilding flowers!
What wealth of fragrant blossoms on thy bowers!
What odorous breathings of the summer breeze!
What chorus of sweet singers in the trees!

O Nature! fairer, dearer to my heart
Than pictured scenes of highest, rarest art!
What sweeter chord can charm the spirit dream
Than the weird music of the singing stream?

Fond Memory treasures in her deepest cell
The woodland glade, the deep romantic dell,
Where oft the summer day too brief would seem,
When wandering, musing, by lone Calder’s stream.

"A change came o’er the spirit of my dream
I heard no more the music of the stream
The flowers and blooms were withered, trampled, soiled,
Nature’s fair face of every charm despoiled.

For, lo! obscuring the fair light of day,
The genii of the mines, in grim array,
With baleful wings the landscape shadowed o’er,
And beauty, bloom, and song exist no more.

Janet Hamilton (1795-1873)
Scottish poet

Friday, 19 May 2017

Book Review: Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18051009-berlin-alexanderplatzThe years of the Weimar Republic in Germany between 1919 and 1933 were a crucial period in European and world history. The political atmosphere after World War One and after the abdication of Emperor William II. was such that it prevented people both from coming to terms with the lost war and from developing trust in democracy and the parliamentary republic. Moreover, they were economically hard times that reduced many to poverty and left them in despair because life was only slowly getting better. Set in 1927/28 the German interwar classic Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin shows eighteen months in the life of Franz Biberkopf. He has just been released from prison and is determined to start a new, i.e. an honest life, but he’s a trusting kind of man and can’t understand why life puts obstacles into his way and everybody tries to drag him back into the world of petty crime.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Back Reviews Reel: May 2014

For some odd reason my reads of three years ago told without exception sad, if not depressing stories. My first read in May 2014 was Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys, a much acclaimed English classic from 1939 that surrounds a lonely Englishwoman in Paris. Also the 1974 Austrian novel Beautiful Days by Franz Innerhofer was far from a cheerful read evoking the horrors of the author’s own childhood on a mountain farm in the 1950s. Before You Sleep by Linn Ullmann, first published in 1998, is another story of the scars that even small childhood traumas leave on a soul, but at the same time it’s a family history of three generations coping with the vicissitudes of life. While Before You Sleep was only faintly surrealistic, Mood Indigo by Boris Vian turned out to be a chef-d’oeuvre of French surrealism that first appeared in 1947. The story of love and friendship takes a splendid turn from sunny and clear to overcast and gloomy. And last but not least, I read The Church of Solitude by Grazia Deledda, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1926. The protagonist of this late novel is a young Sardinian woman who had breast cancer – like the author herself who even died from it eventually.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Poetry Revisited: The Heart of Night by Bliss Carman

The Heart of Night

(from Later Poems: 1926)

When all the stars are sown
Across the night-blue space,
With the immense unknown,
In silence face to face.

We stand in speechless awe
While Beauty marches by,
And wonder at the Law
Which wears such majesty.

How small a thing is man
In all that world-sown vast,
That he should hope or plan
Or dream his dream could last!

O doubter of the light,
Confused by fear and wrong,
Lean on the heart of night
And let love make thee strong!

The Good that is the True
Is clothed with Beauty still.
Lo, in their tent of blue,
The stars above the hill!

Bliss Carman (1861-1929)
Canadian poet

Friday, 12 May 2017

Book Review: Artemisia by Anna Banti

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1111849.ArtemisiaIt isn’t easy to defy established role models or other unwritten rules of society to go your own way, to make a career that people say wasn’t meant for you because you were born this or that and to still find happiness. Only a strong personality can bear the constant fight and the isolation that a life beyond convention often implies and that may also lead into solitude, if not loneliness and resentment. But even with passion and determination to back you, there are moments of weakness and doubt. The much acclaimed Italian classic Artemisia by Anna Banti shows the struggles of the author rewriting her almost finished first draft of Artemisia Gentileschi’s biography that was destroyed in World War Two and those of the female painter from Renaissance Italy on her way from a raped fourteen-year-old unwilling to put up with her fate to an accepted artist of her own right at the courts of Naples and England.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

New on Edith's Lagraziana: Gustav Mahler by Alma Mahler-Werfel

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/437827.Gustav_Mahler

The Unpopular Genius: Gustav Mahler by Alma Mahler-Werfel

As beautiful, highly educated and endowed for the arts as Alma Mahler-Werfel (1879-1964) was, she could have achieved a lot in the world, but during most of her life she remained in the shadows of her famous husbands and lovers. She had the bad luck to have been born at a time, when women only made their first tentative steps to claim their rights and their own place in society. Although her family and the circles that they frequented were among the most liberal of the fin de siècle, young and shy Alma quite naturally obeyed the command of her much older first husband Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) to give up for good all her own musical ambitions and activities. In 1939, when the Nazi regime defamed his work because he had been a Jew converted to Protestantism and refused him his place in the world of music, she brought out her very personal tribute to him under the title Gustav Mahler. Memories and Letters.

Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

Monday, 8 May 2017

Poetry Revisited: Rozenknop – Rosebud by Alice Nahon

Rozenknop

(uit Vondelingskens: 1920)

'k Hoù niet van volbloeide roze,
Die heur hart heeft uitgezeid,
Die bij 't oop'nen
Van heur broze weelde,
D'éérste stervenstrane schreit.

'k Zie ze liever wachtend dragen,
Wat een knop niet openwoelt:
't Stil gesluimer
Van zó teêr verlangen,
Dat een and're roos het voelt...

Want, door elk geluk moet schreien,
Schemering van droefenis...
Als een liefde,
Die door bei geweten,
Nog onuitgesproken is...

Liefde, hou me lang verborgen
't Schroeien van uw pracht'ge gloed;
't Is de passie
van het zonne-zoenen,
Die een roze sterven doet…

Alice Nahon (1896-1933)
Vlaamse dichteres

Rosebud

(from Little Foundlings: 1920)

I don’t like roses in full bloom,
Which their heart have drained,
Those opening
With their brittle wealth,
Weep the first tear of death.

I prefer to see them bear in waiting,
What a blossom hides in opening:
The silent sleepiness
Of so tender a desire
That another rose can feel...

Because through every happiness sobs,
Twilight of sadness...
As a love,
That known only by the two of us,
Yet unspoken is...

Love, love long hidden from me
The scorching of your sumptuous glow;
It's the passion
Of the sun-kissing,
That make a rose die...

Alice Nahon (1896-1933)
Flemish poet
Translation: Edith LaGraziana 2017
with the help of online dictionaries

Friday, 5 May 2017

Book Review: A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8773442-a-bend-in-the-riverFreedom, independence and self-determination are values that we hold high in esteem in our modern western-style democracies, but to gain as well as to keep them often had and sometimes still has a high price. In the name of freedom many wars have been fought and many people have been killed everywhere on this planet, notably in Africa. Unfortunately, to throw out foreign rulers and chase away home-bred tyrants has seldom been enough because what followed far too often was a ferocious and violent struggle for power between opposing political or/and social groups. In the novel A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2001, a young Indian-Muslim shopkeeper who came from the East Coast to an unspecified country at the heart of Africa to make his fortune gives testimony of the chaos after independence that made possible the rise of the “Big Man”.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Poetry Revisited: May-Day by John Clare

May-Day

(from The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems: 1821)

Now happy swains review the plains,
          And hail the first of May;
Now linnets sing to welcome spring,
          And every soul is gay.

Hob, joyful soul, high rears the pole,
          With wild-flower wreaths entwin’d;
Then tiptoe round the maidens bound,
          All sorrow lags behind.

Branches of thorn their doors adorn,
          With every flowret lin’d
That earliest spring essays to bring,
          Or searching maids can find.

All swains resort to join the sport,
          E’en age will not disdain,
But oft will throng to hear the song,
          And view the jocund train.

I often too had us’d to go,
          The rural mirth to share,
But what, alas l time brought to pass,
          Soon made me absent there.

My Colin died the village pride,
          O hapless misery!
Then sports adieu, with him they flew,
          For he was all to me.

And May no more shall e’er restore
          To me those joys again,
There’s no relief but urging grief,
          For memory wakens pain.

To think how he, so dear to me,
          Had us’d to join the play;
And O so dear such pleasures were,
          He gloried in the day.

But now, sad scene, he’s left the green,
          And Lubin here to mourn:
Then flowers may spring, and birds may sing,
          And May-day may return;

But never more can they restore
          Their rural sports to me—
No, no, adieu! with him they flew,
          For he was all to me.

John Clare (1793-1864)
English poet

Friday, 28 April 2017

Book Review: Vienna by Eva Menasse

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1215605.ViennaLooking back on the twentieth century, the family histories of most Europeans are full of tragic moments. There was World War One to begin with, but as we know the disaster far from ended there! Mutual hostility continued to smoulder between nations and then the Great Depression swept over the Atlantic to Europe making people crave for (non-existent) quick and simple solutions to recover economic prosperity and a feeling of strength, not to say worth. Power-hungry, artful and charismatic demagogues seized the opportunity. Fascism took root on the continent and under the leadership of Adolf Hitler it merged with Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria. This is where the novel Vienna by contemporary Austrian writer Eva Menasse begins. In humorous anecdotes spanning the decades from the 1930s to the present it recounts the story of the author’s father and his Jewish-Catholic family that is inextricably linked to the Austrian capital as their place of origin.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Poetry Revisited: Moonset by Emily Pauline Johnson

Moonset

(from Flint and Feather: 1912)

Idles the night wind through the dreaming firs,
That waking murmur low,
As some lost melody returning stirs
The love of long ago;
And through the far, cool distance, zephyr fanned.
The moon is sinking into shadow-land.

The troubled night-bird, calling plaintively,
Wanders on restless wing;
The cedars, chanting vespers to the sea,
Await its answering,
That comes in wash of waves along the strand,
The while the moon slips into shadow-land.

O! soft responsive voices of the night
I join your minstrelsy,
And call across the fading silver light
As something calls to me;
I may not all your meaning understand,
But I have touched your soul in shadow-land.

Emily Pauline Johnson (1861-1913)
Canadian writer and performer

Friday, 21 April 2017

Book Review: They Were Counted by Bánffy Miklós

The twentieth century before World War One is widely known as the belle époque although already at the time those willing to see could make out the signs of looming disaster. Then just like today, the vast majority preferred to block out forebodings of a ghastly future and went on with their lives as if what was to come were none of their business. The once celebrated and then long forgotten Hungarian classic They Were Counted by Bánffy Miklós shows Hungaro-Transylvanian nobility indulging in balls, hunting parties, horse races, gambling, political discussions, amorous adventures, duels, and voyages abroad. While young Count Bálint Abády represents his district in Hungarian Parliament in Budapest and runs after his married youth friend Adrienne, his sensitive cousin and gifted musician László Gyerőffy falls a victim to unhappy love and to the temptations of Bohemian life, most importantly gambling for high stakes.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Back Reviews Reel: April 2014

My reads of three years ago were quite diverse as regards the genre, while they were set in Europe – Albania and France – and the Americas – Brazil and the USA – respectively. I started into April 2014 with the coming-of-age classic The Three Marias by Brazilian author Rachel de Queiroz that was so daring when it came out in 1939 that it caused quite a scandal although by today’s standards it’s more than decent. The next book on my review list was the historical novel Broken April by contemporary Albanian writer Ismail Kadaré that brought me to the remote highlands of the Western Balkans in the 1920s where ancient rules still determined the lives of people and called for bloody family vendettas. To follow the awakening to true life of a fifty-year-old concierge in modern-day Paris who is the protagonist of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by French novelist Muriel Barbery was certainly more peaceful and philosophical. It’s one of my all-time favourites. Finally, I also read a satire that felt very topical although it first appeared in 1922, namely Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis who was the first US-American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Poetry Revisited: An Easter Rhyme by Barcroft Boake

An Easter Rhyme

(from The Bulletin: 7 May 1892)

Easter Monday in the city—
          Rattle, rattle, rumble, rush;
Tom and Jerry, Nell and Kitty,
          All the down-the-harbour “push,”
Little thought have they, or pity,
          For a wanderer from the bush.

Shuffle, feet, a merry measure,
          Hurry, Jack and find your Jill,
Let her—if it give her pleasure—
          Flaunt her furbelow and frill,
Kiss her while you have the leisure,
          For tomorrow brings the mill.

Go ye down the harbour, winding
          ‘Mid the eucalypts and fern,
Respite from your troubles finding,
          Kiss her, till her pale cheeks burn,
For to-morrow will the grinding
          Mill-stones of the city turn.

Stunted figures, sallow faces,
          Sad girls striving to be gay
In their cheap sateens and laces.
          Ah! how different ‘tis to-day
Where they’re going to the races—
          Yonder—up Monaro way!

Light mist flecks the Murrumbidgee’s
          Bosom with a silver stain,
On the trembling wire bridge is
          Perched a single long legged crane,
While the yellow, slaty ridges
          Sweep up proudly from the plain.

Somebody is after horses—
          Donald, Charlie or young Mac—
Suddenly his arm he tosses,
          Presently you’ll hear the crack,
As the symbol of the cross is
          Made on ‘Possum’s steaming back.

Stirling first! the Masher follows,
          Ly-ee-moon and old Trump Card,
Helter skelter through the shallows
          Of the willow-shaded ford,
Up the lane and past the “gallows,”
          Driven panting to the yard.

In the homestead, what a clatter;
          Habits black and habits blue,
Full a dozen red lips patter:
          “Who is going to ride with who?”
Mixing sandwiches and chatter,
          Gloves to button, hair to “do,”

Horses stamp and stirrups jingle,
          “Dash the filly! won’t she wait?”
Voices, bass and treble, mingle,
          “Look sharp, May, or we’ll be late;”
How the pulses leap and tingle
          As you lift her featherweight!

At the thought the heart beats quicker
          Than an old Bohemian’s should,
Beating like my battered ticker
          (Pawned this time, I fear, for good).
Bah! I’ll go and have a liquor
          With the genial “Jimmy Wood.”

Barcroft Boake (1866-1892)
Australian bush poet

Friday, 14 April 2017

Book Review: Celebration in the Northwest by Ana María Matute

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2863929-celebration-in-the-northwestTo give way to feelings of inferiority and fear, to envy and ill will, to hatred and malice is never a good idea because it leads straight into a life of ever growing misery. Once caught in the vicious circle of such harmful emotions, it’s difficult to break out and to see the good in life or other people. Often the seed for a negative view of the world – and lifelong unhappiness – is planted in the soul already in earliest childhood like in the case of the main protagonist of Celebration in the Northwest by Catalan author Ana María Matute. As a man in his mid-forties, Juan looks back on his childhood and youth, notably on the mixture of hatred and love that he felt for his half-brother Pablo who was his complete opposite in looks as well as character and whom he chased away in an attempt to make him share his misery.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

New on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: Bruges-la-morte by Georges Rodenbach

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7405551-bruges-la-morte-and-the-death-throes-of-townsA Widower’s Grief:
Bruges-la-morte by Georges Rodenbach


Women or men who need to come to terms with the loss of a loved one are popular figures in literature. Since readers like happy endings, the grieving often find new joy, maybe even new love by the end of the story and at first this also seems to be the case in the late nineteenth-century novel Bruges-la-morte by almost forgotten Belgian journalist, poet and novelist Georges Rodenbach (1855-1898). But he was obsessed with death and so it’s little wonder that his symbolist chef-d'œuvre first published in 1892 is a thoroughly gloomy piece of prose poetry, a short Gothic novel in the vein of his contemporary Oscar Wilde. The book focuses on the melancholy scene of dead or moribund Bruges in Belgium at least as much as on the woebegone protagonist who has chosen the city to indulge in his infinite sorrow after the death of his adored wife and in keeping her memory alive.

Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

Monday, 10 April 2017

Poetry Revisited: The Weaver of Bruges by M. M. P. Dinsmoor

The Weaver of Bruges

(from The Highland Weekly News of March 19, 1884)

The strange old streets of Bruges town
Lay white with dust and summer sun,
The tinkling goat bells slowly passed
At milking-time, ere day was done.

An ancient weaver, at his loom,
With trembling hands his shuttle plied,
While roses grew beneath his touch,
And lovely hues were multiplied.

The slant sun, through the open door,
Fell bright, and reddened warp and woof,
When with a cry of pain a little bird,
A nestling stork, from off the roof,

Sore wounded, fluttered in and sat
Upon the old man’s outstretched hand;
“Dear Lord,” he murmured, under breath,
“Hast thou sent me this little friend?”

And to his lonely heart he pressed
The little one, and vowed no harm
Should reach it there; so, day by day,
Caressed and sheltered by his arm,

The young stork grew apace, and from
The loom’s high beams looked down with eyes
Of silent love upon his ancient friend,
As two lone ones might sympathize.

At last the loom was hushed: no more
The deftly handled shuttle flew;
No more the westering sunlight fell
Where blushing silken roses grew.

And through the streets of Bruges town
By strange hands cared for, to his last
And lonely rest, ‘neath darkening skies,
The ancient weaver slowly passed;

Then strange sight met the gaze of all:
A great white stork, with wing-beats slow,
Too sad to leave the friend he loved,
With drooping head, flew circling low,

And ere the trampling feet had left
The new-made mound, dropt slowly down,
And clasped the grave in his white wings
His pure breast on the earth so brown.

Nor food, nor drink, could lure him thence,
Sunrise nor fading sunsets red;
When little children came to see,
The great white stork—was dead.

M. M. P. Dinsmoor
no information about the poet available,
maybe Mrs. Margaret Dinsmoor who wrote a poem for the
150th anniversary of Windham, New Hamphire, in 1892

Friday, 7 April 2017

Book Review: Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7575527-old-masters
Some experiences and decisions can cast a lifelong shadow on our souls making us overly suspicious and critical of everything and everyone. Such general contempt is likely to make us unhappy and unpopular on the long run… although not necessarily. Some people who like to rant meet admiration from their surroundings, especially the cultured ones. In the Austrian novel Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard a bitter old man contemplates his bitter old friend who sits on a settee in the Viennese Kunsthistorisches Museum to contemplate a Tintoretto portrait of a white-bearded man. For over thirty years the man on the settee has been looking for a flaw in the Renaissance painting because unable to bear with the illusion of perfection he early made it his habit to find fault at everything and everyone. No great creative mind escapes his criticism and he gladly rants about them thus filling his friend with admiration.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Poetry Revisited: On Leaving Bruges by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Bruegge huidenvettersplein.jpg
Huidenvettersplein in Bruges via Wikimedia Commons

On Leaving Bruges

(from Ballads and Sonnets: 1881)

The city's steeple-towers remove away,
Each singly; as each vain infatuate Faith
Leaves God in heaven, and passes. A mere breath
Each soon appears, so far. Yet that which lay
The first is now scarce further or more grey
Than the last is. Now all are wholly gone.
The sunless sky has not once had the sun
Since the first weak beginning of the day.
The air falls back as the wind finishes,
And the clouds stagnate. On the water's face
The current breathes along, but is not stirred.
There is no branch that thrills with any bird.
Winter is to possess the earth a space,
And have its will upon the extreme seas.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
English poet, illustrator, painter and translator

Friday, 31 March 2017

Book Review: Água Viva by Clarice Lispector

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17573207-gua-vivaAccording to scientists specialised in the workings of the brain, the present lasts no longer than three seconds. Certainly, when we say “now”, we seldom think of it as such a short period of time, but language is necessarily imprecise and in addition meaning changes with context as well as with people concerned. Nonetheless, we may agree on it that the present is nothing but a fleeting moment that separates past and future… and it’s all that we actually have. Everything else only exists as an idea in the mind, as a memory of what has been or as a notion of what will be. In daily life, most of us don’t pay particular attention to the here and now with all that it implies. To capture the present, to live it and to be it is the goal of the painter who dives into the stream of thoughts forming the novel Água Viva by Clarice Lispector.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Poetry Revisited: Tender Mercies by Anna Laetitia Waring

Tender Mercies

(from Hymns and Meditations: 1850)

Tender mercies, on my way
Falling softly like the dew,
Sent me freshly every day,
I will bless the Lord for you.

Though I have not all I would,
Though to greater bliss I go,
Every present gift of good
To Eternal Love I owe.

Source of all that comforts me,
Well of joy for which I long,
Let the song I sing to Thee
Be an everlasting song.

Anna Laetitia Waring (1823-1910)
Welsh poet and hymn-writer

Friday, 24 March 2017

Book Review: The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary

In many parts of the world eco-activists are sniggered at or much worse because people feel that they have more pressing problems than protecting their environment – worries about potable water, enough food or a decent home for instance. Others carelessly exploit, pollute and destroy our only natural habitat not out of necessity, but out of greed for money or even out of sheer human arrogance that they willingly justify quoting religious, philosophical or scientific sources in their favour. Machiavelli sends his compliments! In the end, it’s only a tiny step from disrespect for nature to disregard for our fellow human beings and their fundamental needs or rights. On the surface the winner novel of the French Prix Goncourt 1956, The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary, seems to deal only with the stubborn fight of one man for the protection of elephants in Africa while in reality it addresses central human ideals, above all freedom.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Poetry Revisited: Frühlingsgruß – Spring Greeting by Johann Nepomuk Vogl

Frühlingsgruß

(aus Lyrische Blätter: 1835)

Frühling, Frühling, sei willkommen,
Sei willkommen uns aufs neu’,
Nun du wieder heimgekommen
Mit der alten Lieb’ und Treu’.

Schwing’ jetzt deine grünen Fahnen
Freudig wieder durch die Luft,
Dass dich die Getreuen ahnen,
Die noch schlummern in der Gruft.

Sende jetzt nach allen Winden
Deine muntern Sänger aus,
Heiß es Allen jetzt verkünden:
Dass du wieder sei’st zu Haus.

Gib die Botschaft allen Wellen,
Heiß’ es flüstern Strom und Fluss,
Und den Wolken gib, den hellen
An die Ferne deinen Gruß.

Dass sich jedes, dir zum Ruhme
Jetzt erfreu’, in Lust und Scherz,
Nenn’ es Baum sich oder Blume,
Vogel oder Menschenherz.

Johann Nepomuk Vogl (1802-1866)
österreichischer Schriftsteller,
Lyriker und Publizist

Spring Greeting

(from Lyric Leaves: 1835)

Spring, spring, be welcome,
Be welcome to us again,
Now you have come home again
With the old love and faithfulness.

Now swing your green flags
Joyfully again through the air,
That the faithful may divine you,
Who are still slumbering in the crypt.

Now send to all winds
Your gay singers,
Let it be announced to all now:
That you're home again.

Give the message to all waves,
Let it whisper stream and river,
And give the clouds, the bright
Your greeting to the distance.

That each, to your glory
Now rejoices , in pleasure and jest,
May you call it tree or flower,
Bird or human heart.

Johann Nepomuk Vogl (1802-1866)
Austrian writer,
lyricist and publicist

Literal translation: Edith Lagraziana 2017

Friday, 17 March 2017

Book Review: The Country Road by Regina Ullmann

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22405662-the-country-roadFor few people life is a bed of roses and even if it appears to be just that in one moment, in the very next moment it can turn to be the complete opposite. It depends on our attitude if we accept the challenge and keep our eyes open for the good and the beautiful surrounding us or if we give way to despair and drown in depression when we realise that nothing in our existence is permanent except change. Set against the backdrop of rural Switzerland and in one case Styria (a province of Austria) in the early twentieth century, the almost forgotten Swiss writer Regina Ullmann shows in her volume of short stories titled The Country Road people who have got to know the ugly side of life all too well and who despite all haven’t lost their ability to see the beauty of the world that makes their being not just bearable but even worthwhile.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Back Reviews Reel: March 2014

Looking back, I realise that among my four reviews of March 2014 three were quite on the Nobel side. I started into the month with a socialist classic from 1920 that is said to be the finest work of the writer Concha Espina from Northern Spain, namely her novel titled The Metal of the Dead. In fact, she never received the Nobel Prize in Literature, but she was nominated several times and she was a runner-up for it at least twice. Contrary to her, the contemporary French author of Desert, i.e. Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, actually won the prestigious prize in 2008 which was a late success considering that the impressive novel that I presented here had established him as a writer already decades earlier. In 2004 the Swedish Academy also awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to my compatriot, Austrian writer and above all playwright Elfriede Jelinek, earning unexpected polemics for the decision. In her career she published a few novels too and I picked an early one, Women as Lovers, for review. Only the last novel that I featured in March 2014, A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, is from the pen of an author who was never even considered for the Nobel Prize.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Poetry Revisited: White Sunshine by Lesbia Harford

LXXIII
White Sunshine

(from The Poems of Lesbia Harford: 1941)

The sun’s my fire
Golden, from a magnificence of blue
Should be its hue.

But woolly clouds
Like boarding-house old ladies, come and sit
In front of it.

White sunshine, then,
That has the frosty glimmer of white hair,
Freezes the air.

They must forget,
So self-absorbed are they, so very old
That I'll be cold.

Lesbia Harford (1891-1927)
Australian poet, novelist and political activist

Friday, 10 March 2017

Book Review: The Pope’s Daughter by Dario Fo

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23399038-the-pope-s-daughterIt’s a known fact that places of power are and have always been hotbeds of gossip, intrigue and crime. As capital of the Papal State and seat of her glamorous Court, the Holy See in Renaissance Rome wasn’t an exception as Martin Luther learnt during his visit there in 1510/11. The idealistic German monk must still have heard people gossipping about the Borgia family and its unscrupulous head Pope Alexander VI. who had died less than a decade earlier. Instead of a paragon of virtue Alexander VI. was a family man with great plans for himself as well as for his children. And his ambitions knew no limits. The historical novel The Pope’s Daughter by Dario Fo, the famous Italian playwright and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1997, traces the life of highly intelligent, well-educated and beautiful Lucrezia Borgia who served her father and brother as pawn in their endless game of power.