I Remember – #1018

I remember Ashley messaging me while she was drunk and celebrating EOFY with various work people to complain about poor treatment from a jealous old nag.  At the time I was sitting in a hotel room in Kyoto while Anna slept, bored and watching, I think, Jurassic Park.

-5 July 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.

I Remember – #1015

I remember endless yakitori skewers in Osaka, with my favourites being chicken thigh, neck, heart, liver, skin – all of the good bits which were never served back in Brisbane, Australia (2021 Update – Bird’s Nest in Fortitude Valley and West End serve these skewers.  There may be other places).  And the endless beers with their enormous heads, drunk by Anna and I from tiny izekayas scattered around the Dōtonbori area.

-2 July 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.

I Remember – #1014

I remember a Western-style cafe in Dotonbori which had an enormous map of the World up on the wall, huge really, with the prime coffee growing regions of the world identified and little text boxes jutting from each space, and instead of information about the geographic area or coffee type grown, instead there was lorem ipsum…

-1 July 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.

Short Story Review – Paul Bowles – The Hyena

 

A stork flies through the air.  At Khang el Ghar there is a pool of water at the bottom of the ravine.  The stork descends, drinks.  Nearby, a hyena watches.

The stork isn’t foolish – it knows that the hyena is an animal of death, not mercy.  They discuss their respective natures; the hyena assures the stork that it is not interested in feeding.

“You are very lucky [the hyena tells the stork] Men never try to kill you, because they think you are holy.  They call you a saint and a sage.  And yet you seem like neither saint nor sage.”

When the stork asks the hyena why, the hyena admonishes it and suggests he look for Allah.

And so it goes – they discuss religion and the true nature of themselves as beasts.  Eventually, the stork comes to trust the hyena, and soon alights on the ground to discuss matters of great import (magic, Allah, man).  After a while the stork flies away, but hurts itself and is encouraged by the hyena to go to a nearby cave where they hyena lunges at the stork, ravages its neck, and leaves it for ten days, the better to eat as putrid carrion.

The story is told like a fable – it is a fable.  But fables are not always so connected to religion and the gifts that Allah has bestowed upon his creatures.  In this, both the stork and the hyena are cognisant of their natures while thankful to Allah for creating them so.  The stork is thoughtful but naive, whereas the hyena is presented as living entirely in the moment, aware that going to sleep and waking up alive is a luxury not always afforded to those hunted and hated by men.

The hyena is detatched and calm – not quite cold, and certainly not angry.  It exists because it was born and lived.  The hyena believes, it seems truly, in Allah, and praises him multiple times for what he has been given.  There is no anger in the death of the stork, though the hyena is satisfied with his ability to use his intellect to beat his opponent.  In this, he is more subtle and sophisticated than his prey, for all it may be worshipped by men.

A saint and a sage?  Perhaps.  Synonyms for food?  Perhaps.  

The Hyena is a short story by American writer Paul Bowles

Author Paul Bowles
Title The Hyena (from Pages From Cold Point)
Nationality American
Publisher Zenith

See Also

United States of America

Greek literature – contemporary recommendations, and a confession

A day or so ago it became clear to me that I am woefully under-read when it comes to Greek literature, and particularly contemporary Greek literature. It’s an almost complete unknown to me, and I assume (or assumed) that Greek literature was reasonably minor on the world stage.

Appreciation goes to Damon Young (Twitter: @damonayoung) for helping me recognise this

I don’t really know where this idea came from. Unpacking it a little, it could perhaps relate to the idea that the Ancient Greeks were so influential and important that the language and its literature must be in a decline/decadent phase now. But I have no evidence to support this. Contemplating other languages around the world, and I don’t really share this feeling with any other – though perhaps slightly with Italian (for the same reason??). That said, I have read and own a lot more Italian literature, so this prejudice is vague and fading.

This is clearly an issue and something I need to resolve within myself and address. I was surprised to discover I felt this way because, before now, I haven’t really even though about Greek literature at all. Yet my initial reaction was negative. There’s a problem here, and it’s entirely with me.

I spent an hour or so looking through my books, and outside of a couple of novels by Nikos Kazantzakis, I don’t own anything by any Greek writers other than the pre-AD writers.

None!

So, I sent out a query to Twitter – who among contemporary Greek writers are worth looking into?

Happily, the response was significant, and now I have lots of names to slowly address. This is very fine, and the details of the recommendations are below.

I decided also to review a Greek short story writer or two, with the first being Sophia Nikolaidou. You can see the list below (I’ll update as I add more):

  • Nikolaidou, Sophia – Houses Without Windows

Something that jumped out to me was the lack of Greek writers among the journals and publications I own. I am not naming and shaming as such, but these include – Dalkey Archive, Absinthe, Two Lines, Overland, Granta, The Black Herald. Weighty names. Granted, I don’t own everything published under those umbrellas, so it’s entirely possible I am missing many fine Greek writeres, but they weren’t there when I went looking.

At any rate, the below represent recommendations from various Twitter folk. I haven’t read a single word by any of these writers (well, excluding today’s read and review of Houses Without Windows), but I certainly respect the individuals mentioned below. Follow them! And perhaps buy and read some of these authors and their books –

  • Susan Pigman (@1SusyQ) – George Seferis, Constantine Cavafy, Yannis Ritsos
  • Tom (@TomWsf) – The Parthenon Bomber by Christos Chrysopoulos
  • @vivastory38 – Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki
  • Michael Holtmann (@michaelholtmann) – anything translated by Karen Emmerich
  • Ryan Ruby (@_ryanruby_) – Before Lyricism by Eleni Vakalo; What’s Left of the Night by Ersi Sotiropoulos; Amanda Michalopoulou; Christos Ikonomou
  • Marina Sofia (@marinaSofia8) – Ersi Sotiropoulos; Petros Markaris; Nikos Kazantsakis; Christos Ikonomou; Theodor Kallifatides; Ioanna Karystiani
  • Charles Lee (@charlesbrownesq) – Alexandros Papadiamantis; Sophia Nikolaidou; Vassilis Vassilikos
  • Tom (@AmateurReader) – George Seferis; Angelos Sikelianos; Odysseas Elytis
  • Jamie Richards (@JRichWords) – Margarita Karapanou; Vassilis Vassilikos; Giannis Ritsos

Short Story Review – Sophia Nikolaidou – Houses Without Windows (trans. Yannis Goumas)

They were wedded inside of a fortnight

A short, strange story.  Katerina is a spinster at twenty-seven (perish the thought!).  She is attending a dance, and for each person she dances with she makes a note.  Captain Nikolaos Topouzis met her father recently and learned of her; in Budapest, where they meet, they dance a cotillion.

Marriage comes.  Then, children.  Once a year for five years.  Each time the Captain returns from his long and dangerous voyages he stays long enought to ‘put her in the family way’ and then pushes off again.

Time passes.  The children grow.  Katarina engages in lacework – never crochet, which is for housemaids and nannies – and later, embroidery.  The house has no windows, which lets in the sea air.  Katerina doesn’t necessarily brood, but it’s unclear whether she is happy, and unclear still whether this is a requirement for her.  Not everyone needs happiness.

Later, she drips sea water into her eyes, stinging them.  Far away, on a ship in the Black Sea, her husband’s eyes sting.  Later still, his eyesight deteriates and doctors are unable to diagnose a cause.

The story is strange.  There is no indication prior to the ending that there might be some kind of supernatural bond between the two of them, or that sea water can cause later blindness.  None.  It’s the kind of ending that encourages a re-read, more carefully this time, to see what the reader may have missed.  But nothing.  It is, except for that, a reasonably ordinary (and quite short!) short story. 

Is Katarina unhappy?  Does it matter.  She clearly comes into her own after having children.  The clothes she created for herself bulge ‘with the fullness of her flesh’.  She is fertile, we know, but also, it seems, hungry.  And with a husband away for most of the year there is little to be done to sate this hunger.

Nikolaidou’s story raises more questions than it answers.  It in fact answers very little.  Both the Captain and his wife are basically unknowns to us – we learn more about her preference for clothing than we do anything else, and of him we learn nothing beyond his occupation, and that he wanted his wife to live in a house without windows. 

And there it is, perhaps.  The key to the story.  Strangeness begets strangeness, and when a person is forced to live on the cusp of the world, with the elements coming in, or not, as they please, then perhaps an unseemly connection with the sea can be made, and in that space a force of malice is created. 

Houses Without Windows is a short story by Greek writer Sophia Nikolaidou

Author Sophia Nikolaidou
Title Houses Without Windows
Translator Yannis Goumas
Nationality Greek
Publisher Absinthe

Abandoning Books – August 2021

Ah, August.  The month in which I attempt to recalibrate my reading to meet the goals I have set for the year.  I trim, top and tail, in an effort to remove those books I know I will not be finishing this year.  Often it’s on me, sometimes it’s on the book.

Let’s take a look at which books I have determined will not be continuing with me for the remainder of 2021.

Josiah Bancroft – Senlin Ascends

I first read this book in 2019.  It was immediately appealing – a natty, well-dressed, demure, soft-spoken young man takes his wife to the Tower of Babel, a strange and wondrous place where magic and mystery intertwine.  Within a couple of pages she has vanished and he has to begin his trek up the Tower from its lowest floor.  No honeymoon, no pleasure.

The book is fine.  I am reminded, in its early areas, of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun.  I am reminded less of it as the book and series progressed, which is something of a positive and more of a negative.  It’s a fine book.  The series is well written and interesting, and the creativity on display is engaging.  The Tower is very strange place with its own remarkable and odd hierarchies and rules.  But the main rub for me, both last time and this time, when I have abandoned it, is that I can’t myself hold on to the central conceit of the series.  Thomas Senlin’s wife vanished so quickly that we hardly learn a thing about her.  We don’t love her the way Senlin does, and thus the motivating factor fades and fades.

Arkady & Boris Strugatsky – Hard to Be a God

An SF Masterworks series novel.  A slog, a slog, a slog.  I spent far too long pushing myself through bad prose, unclear characterisation, and vague motivation.  Nothing more to say.

Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time – Swann’s Way

I have read Proust in its entirety twice through, and deeply, deeply loved it both times.  This time, my head wasn’t in the game.  I have perhaps read 20 pages each month since the year began, which basically means I haven’t given this book the time or attention it deserves.  I’d like for 2022 to solidly read it all once more, but if I am realistic I just don’t have the attention at the moment to attend to Proust and his sentences.

This one is on me.  If you’ve never read Proust, please take the time to do so – but prepared to swallow up six months of your life.  It’s worth it.  It really is.  Even just writing about it now makes me want to devote some time, but – no!  2022, friends.

Philip Roth – Sabbath’s Theatre

Every year or so I return to Roth.  For me, he was a formative writer of my 20s and I was, for a long time, more than obsessed.  I have read most of his published novels five or more times, with some (The Human Stain, American Pastoral, The Humbling, The Ghost Writer) pushing ten times.  I love his anger, his outrage, his, to borrow so many critics’ phrase – muscular writing.  But I am not as angry as I was when I was in my twenties, and I am not, yet, at an age where so much of my life is looking back at what I have done.

Sabbath’s Theatre straddles both of these major themes which means, for me, right now, in my late 30s, that I don’t really have the patience for his writing.  I’ll return to him, I’ll come back, but just as his own 30s as a writer wasn’t particularly great, my 30s as a reader of Roth is lacking.

Wiesław Myśliwski – Stone Upon Stone

Sometimes, I just can’t bring myself to read books about agrarian lifestyles.  Extremely, unfairly reductive, but 70 pages in to the novel and that’s all I can see.  I’ll set it aside for another day as I trust both the published (Archipelago Books), and the many folks on Twitter who recommended I read it.

Eric Hazan – A People’s History of the French Revolution

Simon Schama or bust.

William H. Gass – The Tunnel

I started this book around the same time as Stone Upon Stone and Proust.  Too many big books at once.  Too much ambition, too many masterpieces pulling for my attention.  I didn’t and haven’t given the novel its due.  One day, one day.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the books I am abandoning are a reflection of me as a reader right now, right here.   With two small children, I have less time to devote to enormous masterpieces, because it’s possible I will put a book down and not pick it up for weeks or months.  And who can do that with The Tunnel or Proust?  Nobody.  Those books deserve better.

At the moment, I am a man of novellas and sporty books.  And fantasy (!).  I need something I can finish quickly and well.

I continue to plug away at a few big books.  Bolaño’s 2666, Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.  I just can’t read all of the big books at once.  It’s not fair to them, and it certainly isn’t doing me any good.