The Siamese Ponds Wilderness

Gazing at the East Branch of the Sacandaga River

Friday, November 21, 2014

Young Light by Ralf Rothmann & Julia Franck's West

We abruptly have been submerged into the deep freeze, though it's been colder than normal all November. We are due next week for a very brief warm-up, but it's been super-deep winter around here. I love winter, but my body's muscles go through hell in the transition from warmish fall to frigid temperatures, and hence, my inability to post frequently.

I very much appreciated reading Young Light by the German writer Ralf Rothmann, born in 1953. It's the story of Julian, age 12, whose family resides in the most prominent coal-mining region of West Germany in the 1960s. Rather than a standard novel, the book is more a fascinating, episodic collection of Julian's experiences, in which he plays a constantly ambiguous role between childhood and adolescence. His father is a miner, and is exceedingly uncommunicative with his son. His mother shows no affection for him and literally takes off with his younger sister without a backward glance for most of the summer, so that Julian is left to figure out many puzzling events and feelings for himself. His family is very poor, it seems to me, as evidenced by the constantly empty larder. Julian is very lucky, it seems, when there's a bit of sausage in the house to eat. He is clearly on his own and his father is functioning minimally. Still, there is much to delight in--Rothmann's vividly descriptive scenes bring alive this mining village and its people, unlike any other I've read about before.

The Book Depository was very, very late in sending me my copy of West by Julia Franck. I ordered on October 31st, and I didn't receive it until Tuesday, November 18th, much, much longer than they promised it. I will complain to them about the false advertising.

In any case, I'll admit I was completely shocked by the abhorrent treatment Ms. Senff receives in the first section of the book! In the 1980s the Stasi were that horrific? I'm only confessing my total ignorance here, forgive me, but the Secret Police have nothing on her and they force her to remove all her clothing after an initial interrogation after she attempts to legally leave East Berlin for West Berlin. Surrounded by men, they each fire questions at her while her young children are held in another area. I have read books about this period in East Germany, I've seen films that are set in the 1980s in East Germany, but nothing prepared me for that. Of course, Ms. Senff is Jewish... What the???  

It is my downcast mood, which I suffer from at the darkest times of the year, which makes the reading of this novel all the harder. But it is extraordinarily well done, I think. I just hope I can stay with it!





Monday, November 10, 2014

German Lit and Henning Mankell An Event in Autumn

I finished Christine Nöstlinger's children's book Fly Away Home days ago, and then I immediately started in on my second German Literature Month read, Rolf Rathmann's, Young Light, a YA novel set during the 1960s. The only problem with the Rathmann novel is that I wish I knew in which part of Germany the novel is set. Because several characters have access to music by the Beatles, I would assume that I can narrow the setting down to West Germany.

I truly enjoyed Fly Away Home and the uproariously topsy-turvy world of Vienna and environs at war's end and immediately post-war. Although many in Germany and in other parts of the former  Reich experienced extreme brutality by the invading Russians, it seems that Nöstlinger and her family were spared that. Although the Russians in their midst appeared grossly foreign to Nöstlinger and her parents, the Russians were, for all that, harmless and worked to coexist harmoniously with the vanquished Austrians.

In fact, the author, a child of eight, and her family became very fond of some of the Russians occupying their adopted abode and immediate neighborhood. The author's father, a German army deserter by the final weeks of the war, drank with the Russians each evening into the night. Christine, the author, developed a powerful bond with the Russian cook from Leningrad, a gentle, kindly man, and the two swapped whoppers day by day, by the hour. The book is full of stories that detail the harsh privations the Austrians experienced, but it is equally full of the spirit and gumption of the survivors to overcome anything that threatened their existence. An excellent book, really, and not one I'll soon forget.

Henning Mankell's An Event in Autumn is (or was) a story (some might deem it a novella) written for and published for a Dutch audience as a sort of bonus for other book purchases. In the Kurt Wallendar canon, the story takes place immediately before the final Wallendar novel, The Troubled Man, which I realize I now must read. An Event in Autumn is a spare, simple novel of what happens when Wallendar visits Martinson's family's cottage in the country with the intent to perhaps purchase it. Wallendar naturally finds skeletal remains in the garden, and off it goes. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I must warn readers that it is nowhere near as complex as other Wallendar novels, though it is an enjoyable novella nonetheless. I actually found I appreciated the lack of complexity! That's my mind these days. It's a quick, quick read, so do pick it up if you have the inclination.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

German Literature Month Blast-Off

First: My apologies to everyone who has left comments in the past 2+ weeks and has not had a response. I've replied now, but my October 30 post shows where my head's been at, and I wish it could have been with you!

Yesterday I tucked in to my first German Literature Month novel. (Yes, a day early, but I was desperate to begin.) Christine Nöstlinger is a highly acclaimed Austrian children's novelist, winner of many prizes, and the author of a multitude of books for children. Many, many of her most beloved works have not been translated into English, but Fly Away Home, the novelized version of her experiences as a child at the end of World War II in the city of Vienna, and later, in the Vienna suburbs, was published in an English translation in 1975, in Britain and the U.S.

Although I'm only 40 pages into the novel, I'm so taken with her honesty and lack of self-censorship--she portrays children as they really, truly are, complete with the full scope of their tumultuous feelings, intense curiosities, passions, and inexplicable (to adults) idiosyncrasies. I prize her writing for that! And the novel has made me realize how valuable to history are the memories and recollections of children in any given period. Their observations are so acute as to what is happening around them, even when they don't have the knowledge to decipher what their observations mean. I will write much more about this book when I finish.

Next: I am eager to read Julia Franck's latest novel, West. Lizzy has written about it on her blog, and I must order it immediately from The Book Depository or it will not arrive in time for GLM IV because the English translation is a UK title. By the way, the English translation was released on October 30, 2014.

Because of Thomas at Mytwostostinki.com (see my blogroll), I have in my hands a YA novel by Ralf Rothmann, Young Light. Since I ordered it, I discovered that Rothmann has written many other novels that also sound like must-reads. As soon as I finish Fly Away Home, I'll be devouring Young Light.

At the end of the month, I am participating in Caroline's GLM IV Joseph Roth readalong. I have in my hands Flight without End, a novel of post-World War I Germany. Because it's only 135 pages, I may very well have time to squeeze in another German novel this month. I do hope so, and will let you know.

I wish every GLM IV participant an enlightening and inspiring month of reading! Best wishes!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Catching Up & Reading Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

To skip the personal info, drop down to paragraph 4.

Last evening I returned home from a ten-day trip to Boston. My mother was diagnosed with cancer two weeks ago, and my brother and I zoomed in to visit lots of doctors, hear lots of opinions, do some of our own research, and, finally, with my mother's input, come up with a plan. A "big surgery" was a possibility, but all of our research and my mom's wishes ran counter to surgery as an option.

On December 7, Mom will be 91. She has had an extraordinarily healthy and productive life, and we all wish for that to continue, without interruption, for as long as it's possible. As she herself said, "A huge surgery? What would be the point of that?"

The miracle in all of this is that my brother and I, who have always been at thunderous loggerheads, found ourselves having not a moment of controversy or ill will between us. We were in immediate, mutual agreement about what we wished for our mother. We spent time together and healed some wounds, and the miracle is, we didn't have to work at it. It all seemed to drop down on us out of nowhere, perhaps because deep down we both knew we needed it to move forward. And in our togetherness, we were able to fully support our mother. It seemed like magic to me and I'm grateful.

I was not able to read at all for a number of days, but when I latched onto Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë several days ago, I've been reading and enjoying it ever since. I'm two-thirds of the way through as of this evening. I'm reading it on the Kindle, and I must admit I was originally drawn to it because it's a relatively short novel.

I heartily agree with critics who say that Agnes Grey is reminiscent of Austen's novels in its depiction of English village society and romance among the gentry. I find Anne Bronte's acute and sometimes satirical characterizations highly entertaining. And, as a governess herself of some years, Anne knew fully the strait-jacketed role she had to play between the offspring she was supposed to instruct and the parents in the homes where she was employed.  Highly recommended!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Books for German Literature Month

Actually, two of my books have arrived. I'm still planning the rest of my reading for November, the dullest month of the year in the Adirondacks. Rain, constantly gray skies, cold, and waiting for snow!

I'm glad to say I have Flight without End by Joseph Roth for Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat's Joseph Roth Week, November 24-30. It's a short novel, first published in Germany in 1927, and first published in the U.S. in 2003. It's a post-World War I novel set in Germany in the early 1920s. I'm looking forward to it!

The other novel I bought is a YA novel recommended by Thomas of Mytwostostinki.com. (Lazy after work tonight. See my blogroll, please.) It's Young Light by Ralf Rothmann. Eager to read and review it!

I need to study Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life's (see my Blogroll) most recent German novel recommendations for more ideas. I'd like at least two more novels.

Please forgive the abbreviated post!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Must Post but Pardon! Way Behind

I've fallen terribly behind with my blog writing as sometimes happens in the autumn months. Our prime foliage has passed, leading to a slump in my mood, something that only a bright snowfall can lift! And for that we need to wait for weeks. Just give me some light! Time for candles and the gas fire, and books.

I still fully intend to blog about my enjoyment and enthralled appreciation of The Haunting of Hill House, the 1959 classic by Shirley Jackson. I was supposed to do this on October 1st, and what day is it now? Please don't remind me.

I still haven't written about why A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger is one of my favorite books of 2014. This post is long overdue! If you are leaning toward reading this book, you will not make a mistake by moving forward to read it.

And books in my house as of today: I went to Crandall Library and The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher was on hold for me. Wunderbar! I feel so lucky to have the short story and others in the collection to read this weekend.

Another read for my R.I.P. IX: I'm devouring Tana French's The Secret Place. Very, very worthwhile so far. French has a firm, masterful touch on dialogue and exquisite pacing--and her characterizations show the mark of a dedicated stylist. It's a long book, but I don't mind a bit, yet it might be a while before I complete it as it is a true chunkster.

One very lucky book arrived at my door today! For two years, I have waited for the moment to acquire a copy of The Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, published in 2012 by New York University Press. I received this massive, colorful tome at a major discount from a used book sale at the New England Historical Genealogical Society. I paid $40 for a $70 book and it is "Like New." Lucky. I have browsed all through it while cooking dinner tonight and I'm very excited.

So I hope to post more substantial stuff very, very soon!



Friday, September 26, 2014

A Mini-Post of What's to Come

Late September is peak foliage and we're having unbelievably beautiful Indian Summer weather at the same time. That means no work gets done anywhere and everyone gets out to enjoy the show.

So this is just a post to say that I'm planning on blogging about the incomparable medieval historical/thriller A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger. The novel is set in 1385, in Chaucer's day. I want to emphasize that Holsinger is not only an incredible storyteller but also an academic who has spent his career specializing in medieval studies. Actually, he is an expert on the history of vellum--the animal skins (parchment) that was used as paper in the 14th Century. I loved this novel so--Holsinger knows the medieval streets of London, Southwark, and Westminster inside out. I personally loved A Burnable Book more than Wolf Hall, though I would never claim that Holsinger's is the better book. Mantel's work is impeccable, of course, and, as I've stated previously, I do suffer from Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII fatigue! So, readers, do take this into account.

I am looking forward to giving more information about the Russian Literature Month in January. But gosh, that might have to wait for foul weather, which is sure to arrive sometime next week.

And I need to say that I'm participating in Caroline's and Lizzy's German Literary Month in November. Won't you join us? I have found my participation to be extremely rewarding.

More to come...


Friday, September 19, 2014

Announcing a Russian Literature Month in January 2015

To start the New Year off with a whazoo, I'd like to announce that I'm hosting a Russian Literature Month in January 2015.

This year, the event is open to books originally written and published in Russian no matter what region the authors hail from. In other words, if a writer's ethnic group is Uzbekistani but he or she writes novels in Russian, these works may be included in the Russian Literature Month Readalong.

Contemporary Russian literature and classic works are both included. Even medieval Russian sagas may be included.

I hope to read a number of novels for January, but for now, do you think you might be interested?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Russian Haul and Where to Put Them

What a dizzying week in books! The college library has purged quite a number of Russian novels from its stacks, most likely because Russian language and literature is no longer taught at the college and shelf space is at a premium as well.

Now my haul is such that I'm contemplating a bookcase devoted to Russian literature and history, a bookcase I don't own at the moment. I'm also trying to remedy the neglect of my time-worn Russian novels and poetry as well, which are stacked in a rather dusty area. So I guess I hope to breathe new life into this Russian haul, though I'll admit, none are pristine copies.

I've taken possession of the published Notebooks for two of Dostoyevsky's novels, including The Possessed, a Dostoyevsky novel I've never read, though I inhaled Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Kamarazov as an 18-year-old, and I still own those books. I found a beautiful volume of Yevtushenko's poetry, and a well-worn copy of Solzhenitsyn's First Circle. I like that the purged college library is so worn--so many people read it, that I'd like to join them. I've got Stendahl's And Quiet Flows the Don (French, not Russian, I know, but still illuminating about a period in Russian history.) A volume of Pushkin's prose,  a history of Soviet fiction, a history of 19th-century Russian literature, and Dostoyevsky's Notebooks for A Raw Youth. All of this to add to my recent translation of Dr. Zhivago and Pasternak's poetry, and Oblomov and on and on! 

Do you by any chance share a passion for Russian literature? Do you read contemporary Russian writers? Please comment if you are willing!