Tag Archives: poetry

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All Birthday to Armenian poet Daniel Varoujan.

Varoujan was born Daniel Tchboukkiarian in what is now Sivas, Turkey, on April 20, 1884.  He was educated in Turkey, and later in Venice.  In 1905, he enrolled at the University of Ghent, in Belgium, where he studied literature, sociology and economics.  He returned home in 1909 and worked as a teacher, and married Araksi Varoujan in 1912.

In 1914, Varoujan and several friends established the Mehean, a literary magazine and social group dedicated to Armenian literature and language.  At the time, Armenia was not a country, but a group of people bound together by a common culture, language, and religion, most of whom lived together within the bounds of the Ottoman Empire.  There was also a sizable population of Armenians in the Russian Empire (see the map below this paragraph for a visual).   As a group, Armenians became a target of political and personal violence when the Young Turks came to power in 1907.  The Ottoman Empire (to put it very simply) had been a site of religious and cultural tolerance for most of its history, however, the Young Turks imagined an empire led by those who identified as Turkish, who spoke Turkish, and who practiced the Muslim religion.  As outsiders in this vision, Armenians found themselves in danger of persecution.

Via Wikipedia, By YerevanciOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

With the outbreak of the First World War, and especially with the Ottoman entrance into the war in 1915, Armenians came under even more intense persecution.  As Christians who lived in both the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire (two empires on different sides of the conflict), Armenians were demonized as enemies of the Ottoman state.  On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman government authorized the arrest of Armenian intellectuals, religious and community leaders.  This event is recognized as the beginning of the Armenian Genocide.  Varoujan was among those arrested and later deported.  While on route, eyewitness testimony states that Varoujan and four other Armenian men were robbed, stripped, and tortured by Turkish police officers until they died.  Though his work was confiscated during the genocide, his unfinished work, The Song of the Bread ( in Armenian: Հացին երգը) was rescued by allegedly bribing Turkish officials.  Today, we bring you one of Varoujan’s poems as a tribute to the man, and in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, which is commemorated this coming week:

ANDASTAN *

At the Eastern part of the earth
Let there be peace…
Let sweat, not blood, flow
In the broad vein of the furrow,
And at the toll of each hamlet’s bell
Let there rise hymns of exaltation.

At the Western part of the earth
Let there be fecundity …
Let each star sparkle with dew,
And each husk be cast in gold
And as the sheep graze on the hills
Let bud and blossom bloom.

At the Northern part of the earth
Let there be abundance …
In the golden sea of the wheat field
Let the scythe swim incessantly
And as gates of granaries open wide
Jubilation let there be.

At the Southern part of the earth
Let all things bear fruit…
Let the honey thrive in the beehive
And may the wine run over the cups
And when brides bake the blessed bread
Let the sound of song rise and spread.

Daniel Varoujan 1914

Translated by Tatul Sonentz (via armenian-poetry.blogspot.com)

*Name of the ritual of the Ceremonial Blessing of the 4 corners of the earth — a Sacrement of the Armenian Apostolic Church

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives: Pulitzer Prize–winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen called on 17 fellow refugee writers from across the globe to shed light on their experiences.  This book brings together stories of writers from Mexico, Bosnia, Iran, Afghanistan, Soviet Ukraine, Hungary, Chile, Ethiopia, to name just a few.  Together, they are a formidable intellectual force: MacArthur Genius grant recipients, National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalists, filmmakers, speakers, lawyers, professors, and New Yorker contributors—and they are all refugees, many as children arriving in London and Toronto, Oklahoma and Minnesota, South Africa and Germany.  These essays reveal moments of uncertainty, resilience in the face of trauma, and a reimagining of identity, forming a compelling look at what it means to be forced to leave home and find a place of refuge.  The Economist wrote a glowing review of this book, noting, in part, that “…[Viet Thanh Nguyen] gives ordinary Westerners a heart-wrenching insight into the uprooted lives led in their midst…the collection succeeds in demonstrating that this dispersed community in some ways resembles other nations. It has its founding myths, but its citizens all have their own tragedies, victories and pain—and each has a story to tell.”

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and RecoveryIn January 2015, Barbara Lipska—a leading expert on the neuroscience of mental illness—was diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to her brain. Within months, her frontal lobe, the seat of cognition, began shutting down, and she began exhibiting dementia- and schizophrenia-like symptoms that terrified her family and coworkers. But just as her doctors figured out what was happening, the immunotherapy they had prescribed began to work, and repair the damage that had been done to Lipska’s brain and mind.  Just eight weeks after her nightmare began, Lipska returned to her version of normal–with one difference: she remembered her brush with madness clearly and nearly completely.  In this book, Lipska describes her extraordinary ordeal, explaining how mental illness, brain injury, and age can change our behavior, personality, cognition, and memory. She also shares what it is like to experience these changes firsthand, while contemplating what parts of us remain, even when so much else is gone.  This is a remarkable book that looks at illness from the view of both a physician and a patient, told by a scientist and writer of impressive talent.  Science Magazine hailed this book, writing that “Lipska’s evolution as scientist, patient, and person explores the physiological basis of mental illness, while uplifting the importance of personal identity…. Lipska’s prose soars when narrating her experiences… her story is evidence that rich personal narratives offer value to an empirical pursuit of neuroscientific investigation.”

Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age of CalamityJames Conaway has spent decades covering the Napa region, and in this eye-opening work, he compares the origins of this utopia of wine, started by family vintners and dedicated farmers, and the present-day reality, marked by multinational corporations and their allies who have stealthily subsumed the old family landmarks and abandoned the once glorious conviction that agriculture is the highest and best use of the land.  Inherent in that conviction is the sanctity of the place, threatened now by a relentless drive for profits at the expense of land, water, and even life.  A story about power, money, land, and, most of all, wine, Conaway’s book is an engaging, honest, sometimes unsettling account of an industry and a place undergoing fundamental change–and the people who are caught in the middle.  Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, declaring, “This is a stunning and sad look at how an idyllic community became a victim of its own success…fascinating and well-researched.”

Lawn Boy: Jonathan Evison manages to balance a moving, small-scale coming-of-age story with a large-scale discussion of class and success that is successful in everything it does.  For Mike Muñoz, a young Chicano living in Washington State, life has been a whole lot of waiting for something to happen. Not too many years out of high school and still doing menial work—and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew—he knows that he’s got to be the one to shake things up if he’s ever going to change his life. But how?  Though he tries time and again to get his foot on the first rung of that ladder to success, he can’t seem to get a break. But then things start to change for Mike, and after a raucous, jarring, and challenging trip, he finds he can finally see the future and his place in it. And it’s looking really good.  This is a book that has been added to a number of “Best Of” lists for its frank look at the persistence and pernicious nature of the ‘American Dream’, and also earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who cheered, “Evison convincingly evokes the small disasters and humiliations that beset America’s working poor. Mike’s gradual growth into self-awareness is punctuated by moments of human kindness and grace that transpire in and among broken-down trucks, trailer parks, and strip malls. Focusing on the workers who will only ever be welcome in gated communities as hired help, Evison’s quiet novel beautifully considers the deterioration of the American Dream.”

CirceWe readers have been spoiled by a resurgence and re-imaging of ancient classics of late, and Madeline Miller continues this trend in fine fashion with the tale of Circe, a supporting character in The Odyssey, but the heroine of this fascinating and insightful tale.  The daughter of the all-powerful Titans, Circe is an outsider–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft.  Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology.  But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.  Fans of Greek mythology, epic adventures, and deeply emotional tales will delight in this tale that has been receiving glowing reviews from around the country.  One such review came from The Washington Post, which reads in part, “”One of the most amazing qualities of this novel [is]: We know how everything here turns out – we’ve known it for thousands of years – and yet in Miller’s lush reimagining, the story feels harrowing and unexpected. The feminist light she shines on these events never distorts their original shape; it only illuminates details we hadn’t noticed before.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons: Happy Reading!

“Wee folk, good folk, Trooping all together…” A Birthday Post for William Allingham

Today, the Free for All is celebrating the birthday of Irish poet and diarist William Allingham!

William Allingham

Allingham was born on 19 March 1824 in Ballyshannon, County Donegal.  His father was a bank manager, and though he made his career in Irish, and later, English customs-houses, he published several books of poetry over the course of his lifetime, as well.  After retiring from customs service in April 1870, Allingham  became sub-editor of well well-known Fraser’s Magazine.  On 22 August 1874 he married the illustrator, Helen Paterson, a well-known illustrator who was twenty-four years his junior.  Though Helen gave up her job as an illustrator upon her marriage, she became a well-respected watercolor painter under her married name–you can see an example of her work below this paragraph.  The couple settled in London to be near their friend Thomas Carlyle.  Though they relocated to Surrey after Carlyle’s death in 1881, they returned to London in 1888 due to William’s declining health.  He died on November 18, 1889.

A Surrey Cottage by Helen Allingham, via Fine Art America

Allingham’s work may not have been as profound as some of his contemporaries, but his lyrical verses were deeply rooted in Irish folklore and tradition, and as such, served as powerful inspiration to poets like W.B. Yeats and John Hewitt.  Perhaps his most well-known, and oft-quoted poem is “The Fairies”.  Anyone who has seen the 1973 film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory will no doubt remember the genuinely odd exchange between Charlie and the ‘tinker’, who recites this poem.  It’s also provided inspiration for works as diverse as Hell Boy and Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men.  We provide it here as a way to keep your St. Patrick’s Day cheer flowing, and in honor of Allingham’s 194th birthday!

The Fairies
by William Allingham

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!

Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain lake,
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
All night awake.

High on the hill-top
The old King sits;
He is now so old and gray
He’s nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist
Columbkill he crosses,
On his stately journeys
From Slieveleague to Rosses;
Or going up with music
On cold starry nights
To sup with the Queen
Of the gay Northern Lights.

They stole little Bridget
For seven years long;
When she came down again
Her friends were all gone.
They took her lightly back,
Between the night and morrow,
They thought that she was fast asleep,
But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since
Deep within the lake,
On a bed of flag-leaves,
Watching till she wake.

By the craggy hill-side,
Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn-trees
For pleasure here and there.
If any man so daring
As dig them up in spite,
He shall find their sharpest thorns
In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!

Blessing for the Longest Night by Jan Richardson

Blessing for the Longest Night

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow

© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

Happy Birthday, Fanny Kemble!

Frances Anne “Fanny” Kemble was born on this day in London in 1809.  Her parents were both prominent stage actors, and Fanny’s early career on the stage met with acclaim, as well.   She earned acclaim for her 1829 performance as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, performed at the Covent Garden Theatre (which was owned by her father Charles).

She embarked on a tour of the United States, and, in the course of her travels, Fanny met and married Pierce Mease Butler, one of the largest slaveholders in the country.  Butler kept Fanny and their children in Philadelphia, making occasional visits to his Georgia plantation.  In 1838, Fanny managed to convince him to bring her with him on his trip.   Fanny kept a diary throughout her visit, and was not at all shy about writing and speaking about her abolitionist beliefs.  Her husband forbid her to speak her opinions, or to publish her diaries as she wished.  The relationship grew ever more abusive from here, and Fanny took her daughters and fled to England.  In 1847, Butler filed for, and was granted, a divorce, after citing abandonment and “misdeed” by Kemble.

Because she was held at fault in the legal proceedings, Fanny was not allowed to maintain custody of their daughters.  Out of fear for their safety, she waited to publish her Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 until 1863 (she had published her earlier journals right after her marriage, as well as several plays).  The work was no less powerful for the delay, and while it is marked by a number of contemporary prejudices,  it still cited by historians today as a powerful and brutally honest account of slavery, and, especially remarkable for the focus Fanny had on enslaved Black women.

Fanny later returned to the stage, giving dramatic readings of Shakespeare, and lived for much of her later life in Lenox, Massachusetts, before returning to London in 1877.   She died in 1893.

Fanny Kemble, via Wikipedia

In honor of this remarkable woman, we hope you enjoy this poem, published in Fanny Kemble’s 1844 collection of poetry

A WISH

Let me not die for ever, when I’m gone
To the cold earth! but let my memory
Live like the gorgeous western light that shone
Over the clouds where sank day’s majesty.
Let me not be forgotten! though the grave
Has clasped its hideous arms around my brow.
Let me not be forgotten! though the wave
Of time’s dark current rolls above me now.
Yet not in tears remembered be my name;
Weep over those ye loved; for me, for me,
Give me the wreath of glory, and let fame
Over my tomb spread immortality!

Five Book Friday!

And just a reminder, beloved patrons, we’ll be closed tomorrow in observance of Veteran’s Day.

As we’ve discussed, Americans have remembered those who served our country in uniform on November 11, first as Armistice Day, and then, since 1954 as Veterans Day.  The day itself commemorates the Armistice which ended hostilities on the Western Front of the First World War.

In honor of this day, here is a poem by American journalist and poet Carl Sandburg.  Though he did not serve in the First World War, Sandburg was nevertheless deeply affected by the violence, and anger, and the lasting trauma of the war on veterans and civilians alike.

A.E.F.

There will be a rusty gun on the wall, sweetheart,
The rifle grooves curling with flakes of rust.
A spider will make a silver string nest in the
darkest, warmest corner of it.
The trigger and the range-finder, they too will be rusty.
And no hands will polish the gun, and it will hang on the wall.
Forefingers and thumbs will point casually toward it.
It will be spoken among half-forgotten, wished-to-be-forgotten things.
They will tell the spider: Go on, you’re doing good work.
(From Smoke and Steel, 1922)

We will be open on Sunday, so be sure to drop by and check out some of the new books that have scurried onto our shelves this week!  Here are just a sample:

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf: We are huge fans of Book Buddies here at the Library, as well as devotees of the authors listed in this book’s subtitle, so this was something of a natural choice for us.  We so often talk about the friendship and collaboration between male authors, but the world’s best-loved female authors are usually mythologized as solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses. Co-authors and real-life friends Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney prove this wrong, highlighting centuries of literary friendship, collaborations, and inspirations between women, from  the friendship between Jane Austen and one of her family servants, playwright Anne Sharp, to the daring feminist author Mary Taylor, who shaped the work of Charlotte Brontë; to Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, whose complex relationship has gone understudied for generations.  Using letters and diaries, some never before published, this book emphasizes the need–and the incredible results–of female friendships, in a book that Publisher’s Weekly called an ” evocative and well-researched ode to female solidarity…The authors…astutely explain that the friendships they depict became lost to cultural memory due to prevailing stereotypes of female authors as “solitary eccentrics or isolated geniuses.” It is a delight to learn about them here, as related by two talented authors.”

Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror: Just in time for the centennial of the Russian Revolution comes Victor Sebestyen’s fascinating new biography (and the first in English in over two decades) of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party. Brought up in comfort and with a passion for hunting and fishing, chess, and the English classics, Lenin was radicalized after the execution of his brother in 1887. Sebestyen traces the story from Lenin’s early years to his long exile in Europe and return to Petrograd in 1917 to lead the first Communist revolution in history.  With Lenin’s personal papers and those of other leading political figures now available, Sebestyen gives is new details that bring to life the dramatic and gripping story of how Lenin seized power in a coup and ran his revolutionary state. The product of a violent, tyrannical, and corrupt Russia, he chillingly authorized the deaths of thousands of people and created a system based on the idea that political terror against opponents was justified for a greater ideal.  Sebestyen also emphasizes Lenin’s relationships with women, bringing his sister, his mother, his wife, and him mistress into the historical picture in a way never before attempted.  The result is a book that earned a starred review from Kirkus, who called it, “An illuminating new biography of the cold, calculating ruler on whom the subsequent Soviet state modeled itself . . . Sebestyen ably captures the man, “the kind of demagogue familiar to us in Western democracies.” A compelling, clear-eyed portrait of a dictator whose politics have unfortunate relevance for today.”

The End We Start From: From a language-and-use perspective, Megan Hunter’s debut work of fiction inhabits a magical land somewhere between poetry and prose.  In terms of plot, this is an apocalyptic novel of hope.  It is a hauntingly beautiful look at the ugliness of a drowned world.  It is utterly bizarre, and it’s a marvel.  As London is submerged below floodwaters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place. The story traces fear and wonder as the baby grows, thriving and content against all the odds. This book has earned glowing reviews, and both it and Hunter have secured spots on a number of best of lists, with The Guardian noting, “If motherhood now has its own literary subgenre, the same is true of climate-change catastrophe…Hunter sees both subjects afresh, through a sharp eye for detail that is both undeceived and faintly amused, and through the extreme spareness of her narration: the story proceeds in snatches, like a series of stepping stones across the blank expanse of an unknown future.”

To My Trans SistersDedicated to trans women everywhere, Charlie Craggs’ anthology represents an inspirational collection of letters written by successful trans women shares the lessons they learnt on their journeys to womanhood, celebrating their achievements and empowering the next generation to become who they truly are. Written by politicians, scientists, models, athletes, authors, actors, and activists from around the world, these letters capture the diversity of the trans experience and offer advice from make-up and dating through to fighting dysphoria and transphobia. By turns honest and heartfelt, funny and furious or beautiful and brave, these letters send a clear message of hope to their sisters, and also offer a world of insight to all readers on the nature of identity, the power of empathy, and the need to recognize all our fellow humans as people worthy of respect and love.  Library Journal gave this book a starred review, pronouncing it “A triumph in topics of gender and women’s studies, this anthology is unlike anything available today and is a must-have for those seeking to understand the trans community on a myriad of levels.”

The Big Book of Rogues and Villains: Anyone who enjoys themselves a richly nuances baddie is going to delight in this new collection from Otto Penzler, that brings together the iconic traitors, thieves, con men, sociopaths, and killers who have crept through the mystery canon over the past 150 years, captivating and horrifying readers in equal measure. The 72 handpicked stories in this collection introduce us to the most depraved of psyches, from iconic antiheroes like Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin and Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu to contemporary delinquents like Lawrence Block’s Ehrengraf and Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder.  With stories from Bram Stoker, R.L. Stevenson, Earl Stanley Gardener, as well as  less well-remembered writers like May Edginton, and George Randolph Chester, this is a delightful romp through some of the darker personas in fiction that is a blast for mystery readers and fans of character studies.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, noting that “The fruits of Penzler’s decades of diligent study of the genre pay off handsomely in this fat volume.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons, Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All birthday wish to one of my favorite poets, Siegfried Sassoon.

Sassoon was born in 1886 to a wealthy Jewish family who had made their fortune as traders within the British Empire.  He enlisted in the British Army in advance of European War, and was serving with the Sussex Yeomanry when Great Britain declared war against Germany on August 4, 1914.  For three years, Sassoon threw himself into soldiering.  He earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his willingness to accept and carry out acts that seemed near-suicidal.  Not only did Sassoon enjoy the excitement, but it also prevented any of the men under his command, or around him, from taking on such a task themselves.  According to his friend Robert Graves, “He went over with bombs in daylight, under covering fire from a couple of rifles, and scared away the occupant…instead of signalling for reinforcements, he sat down in the German trench and began reading a book of poems which he had brought with him.”  On July 27, 1916, he was awarded the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. He remained for 1½ hours under rifle and bomb fire collecting and bringing in our wounded”.

But Sassoon’s unswerving loyalty to the men with whom he served almost brought him into an infamous confrontation with military authorities.  Following the death of a dear friend in battle, Sassoon published a letter (an image of which appears at left) he had already sent to his commanding officer entitled Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration, which read, in part “I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it”, stating that he refused to fight.  Thanks to the intervention of several friends (including Graves) and the unwillingness of the war office to condemn a decorated soldiers as a traitor, Sassoon was declared to be suffering shell-shock, and was sent to Criaglockhart, a mental hospital for officers run by Dr. William Rivers.  In the interest of brevity, let us say that the friendship that emerged from Rivers’ treatment of Sassoon changed both their lives.  While at Craiglockhart, Sassoon also met and worked with Wilfred Owen, who is perhaps the most celebrated of the so-called “War Poets”.

Sassoon survived the war, and his poems and memoirs of his service remain among the most well-known and cited to come out of the postwar period.  He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1951  continued writing until his death from stomach cancer one week before his 81st birthday.

Sassoon’s poems appear consistently in anthologies of First World War literature–you can hear a recording of him reading one here.  But those poems represent only a very small percentage of his incredible output, so today, I wanted to share with you one of his lesser-known war poems, written in 1919 while he was waiting to embark for Egypt:

Memory

When I was young my heart and head were light,
And I was gay and feckless as a colt
Out in the fields, with morning in the may,
Wind on the grass, wings in the orchard bloom.
O thrilling sweet, my joy, when life was free
And all the paths led on from hawthorn-time
Across the carolling meadows into June.

But now my heart is heavy-laden. I sit
Burning my dreams away beside the fire:
For death has made me wise and bitter and strong;
And I am rich in all that I have lost.
O starshine on the fields of long-ago,
Bring me the darkness and the nightingale;
Dim wealds of vanished summer, peace of home,
And silence; and the faces of my friends.

And now…on to the books!

Letters to his Neighbor: Marcel Proust wrote some of the most profound philosophical works of the 20th century.  He also wrote a number of letters to his noisy neighbor, Dr. Williams, who plagued his existence with his noise, which Proust could hear in detail thanks to the cork walls that divided their rooms.   Things only got worse when Williams married and had children.  Recently discovered among Proust’s correspondence, these ever-polite letters, written mainly to Mrs. Williams, which were often accompanied by flowers, compliments, books, even pheasants are frequently hilarious, especially when Proust couches his fury in a gracious tone.  But they are also genuinely engaging–for Proust found an odd affinity with Mrs. Williams, and while we are lacking her responses, making this correspondence incomplete, there is still an enormous amount to enjoy here.  Additionally, Lydia Davis’ translation is delightful, making Proust’s life accessible to those of us who are not devotees, and penning a wonderful afterward that helps put these letters into context of his life and his writings.  The Village Voice loved this little volume, noting that it is “brilliantly translated by Lydia Davis, is inadvertently hilarious in hyper-genteel poise; we see Proust at his most desperate, charming to the extreme, an effect no doubt amplified by Davis’s elegant prose.”

The Ways of WolfeJames Carlos Blake’s Wolfe series brings readers right into the dusty, dangerous, morally dubious, and ruthlessly compelling world of the Wolfe clan, whose roots run deep on both sides of the United States-Mexico border, and whose prevailing interests straddle both sides of the law.  Twenty years ago, college student Axel Prince Wolfe―heir apparent to his Texas family’s esteemed law firm and its “shade trade” criminal enterprises―teamed up with his best friend, Billy, and a Mexican stranger in a high-end robbery that went wrong, and where Axel was left along to shoulder the blame and the fall-out among his family.  Now, Axel has exhausted thoughts of revenge.  His own goal is to survive his remaining sentence and find the daughter who continues to ignore him.  When the chance comes to escape in the company of Cacho, a young Mexican inmate with ties to a major cartel, Axel takes it, provoking a massive manhunt along the Rio Grande, and sending Axel on an unintended journey of discovery and reckoning many, many years overdue.  This award-winning series has been hailed by critics across the country for its brutal, fast-paced noir style and his insightful character development that elevate these books into something unique.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this series installment a starred review, saying “Blood loyalty, forgiveness, and the consequences of violence all figure in Blake’s outstanding fourth Border Noir featuring the Wolfes . . . Tough, muscular prose complements Blake’s powerful storytelling.”

Black Rock White CityThe winner of the 2016 Miles Franklin Literary Award (Australia’s most prestigious literary award), A.S. Patric’s debut novel is one of those stories that brilliantly shifts focus, telling a huge, epic tale of dispossession and displacement among a whole people, and yet, a beautifully wrought tale of one family’s struggles in an unfamiliar suburbia.  Jovan and Suzana have fled war-torn Sarajevo, having lost their children, their standing as public intellectuals, and their connection to each other. Now working as cleaners in a suburb of Melbourne, they struggle to rebuild their lives under the painful hardships of immigrant life.  During a hot Melbourne summer Jovan’s janitorial work at a hospital is disrupted by mysterious acts of vandalism. But as the attacks become more violent and racially charged, he feels increasingly targeted, and taunted to interpret their meaning. Under tremendous pressure the couple struggle to keep their marriage together, but fear that they may never find peace from the ravages of war.   Dark and devastating at times, this book is also the story of those who continually chose to carry on, and find ways to endure, making it also a story of resilience–and one that is wholly unforgettable.  The Miles Franklin Literary Award Citation reads:  “A fresh and powerful exploration of the immigrant experience and Australian life, Black Rock White City explores the damages of war, the constraints of choice, the possibility of redemptive love and social isolation amid suburbia.”

Eastman Was Here: Alex Gilvarry’s book is a war story set during the Vietnam War, but unlike so many war stories, this one isn’t about a combatant.  Instead, it’s about Alan Eastman, a public intellectual, critic, philanderer, whose wife has taken their children and left, and who is facing an ever-deepening existential crisis.  So when he receives a call from an old professional rival offering him the chance to go to Vietnam to write the definitive account of the end of America’s longest war, Eastman leaps on the opportunity, seeing it as his chance to earn back his wife’s love and his flagging career in one fell swoop.   But instead of the return to form as a pioneering war correspondent that he had hoped for, he finds himself in Saigon, grappling with the same problems he thought he’d left back in New York.  Gilvarry writes with enormous compassion and insight, but he is also always ready to see the humor, both the dark and the absurdly funny, in his characters and his stories, defying the conventional trappings whatever genre into which he writes, and instead presenting a character who is both repellent and fascinating, and providing a story as heartbreaking as it is funny.  The Boston Globe agrees, saying in its review “Gilvarry has given us a portrait of toxic masculinity—one that feels as if it both belongs to a certain time and is still familiar. His Eastman is a riveting, loathsome presence who demands to be loved and remembered.”

Reincarnation Blues: As soon as I read Kirkus Reviewblurb for this book, I was hooked–and plenty of readers and critics alike have been coming up with wonderful praise for Michael Poore’s second novel of life…death…and whatever comes after.  Because in this world, we get a few more tries to get it right.  10,000 more tries, to be exact.  But Milo has been having some trouble, and is now left with only 5 chances left  to earn a place in the cosmic soul. If he doesn’t make the cut, oblivion awaits. But all Milo really wants is to fall forever into the arms of Death. Or Suzie, as he calls her.  More than just Milo’s lover throughout his countless layovers in the Afterlife, Suzie is literally his reason for living—as he dives into one new existence after another, praying for the day he’ll never have to leave her side again.  Every journey from cradle to grave offers Milo more pieces of the great cosmic puzzle—if only he can piece them together in time to finally understand what it means to be part of something bigger than infinity.  Kirkus Reviews is not alone in making the comparison it did when it described this book as “Tales of gods and men akin to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman as penned by a kindred spirit of Douglas Adams”, and the more comparisons are made to those two greats, the more eager I am to dive into Poore’s work!

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And many very happy Free-For-All birthday wishes to poet, prose writer, diplomat, and translator, Czesław Miłosz!

Courtesy of Culture.pl

Miłosz was born on this day in 1911 in Szetejnie, then part of the Russian Empire, now Lithuania.  A polymath from a young age, Miłosz became fluent in Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, English, and French.  His first volume of poetry was published in 1934, the same year he received his law degree from Stefan Batory University in Vilnius.  He spent most of the Second World War in Nazi-occupied Poland,and while he didn’t joint the resistance or take part in the Warsaw Uprising, he did join the Organizacja Socjalistyczno-Niepodległościowa “Wolność” (“The ‘Freedom’ Socialist Pro-Independence Organisation”), and was responsible for helping Jews escape Poland.  Though the exact number is unknown, we know that he personally saved the Tross and Wołkomińska families, actions which earned him the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations in Yad Vashem, Israel in 1989.  In later life, he also became a supporter to gay and lesbian rights, especially in Poland.

After the war, he served as cultural attaché of the newly formed Communist People’s Republic of Poland (you can see his passport on the left, courtesy of Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library) , though he defected in 1951 and lived under political asylum in Paris until moving to the United States in 1960.  Because his works were banned by the Communist Party as a result of his defection, his work was almost never read in his home country.  It was only when Miłosz received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980 that many Poles discovered his work.  After the Iron Curtain fell, he was able to return to Poland, at first to visit, later to live part-time in Kraków, where he passed away in 2004.

You can check out Miłosz‘s poetry via PoetryHunter.com, or come into the Library and check out some of his printed works.

And speaking of books you can check out, here are some of the new books that paraded onto our shelves this week, and are eager to be a part of your Independence Day festivities!

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria: In 2011, hundreds of thousands of Syrians took to the streets demanding freedom, democracy and human rights in the movement that became known as the Arab Spring. The government’s ferocious response, and the defiance of the demonstrators, spiraled into brutal civil war that has escalated to become the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.  However, in the midst of all the headlines, arguments, and racist dogma that has been unleashed by the war in Syria, the voices of individual Syrians has gone largely overlooked.  This book, based on interviews with hundreds of displaced Syrians conducted over four years across the Middle East and Europe, tells their stories.  Some are pages long, some read like a verse of poetry.  Together, though, they provide an unforgettable testament to human strength and endurance, as much as it is a counter-narrative to the prevailing tale of brutality, hatred, and disregard for that self-same humanity.  Larry Siems, author of The Torture Report, wrote a powerful review of this book, saying, in part, “To read these pages, to meet these men and women, is to cross a bridge ourselves, and to tremble: at the fragility of social order…but also at the love, anger, terror, trauma, compassion, endurance, awe, and determination a single human voice can convey.”

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter: For the record, I am physically exhausted by books that define women by their relationship to men.  However, this book puts a feminist spin on some of the best of 19th-century’s weird and science fiction, so it definitely deserves another look.  Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a significant financial reward for information leading to his capture, but Mary’s search leads her instead to Hyde’s daughter, Diana.  With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, befriending more women created through experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.  When their quest brings them face to face with the power-crazed scientists who created them, the question becomes, who is the real monster of this story?  Theodora Goss’ debut novel is full of bravery, action, sisterhood, and a whip-smart intelligence that re-imagines all these classic 19th-century narratives of ‘progress’ that earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it “A tour de force of reclaiming the narrative, executed with impressive wit and insight.”

Grief Cottage: On the surface, Gail Godwin’s newest book is a ghost story.  But it’s also a very human story about loss, grief, guilt, and the power of art that transcends typical conceptions of genre.  After his mother’s death, eleven-year-old Marcus is sent to live on a small South Carolina island with his great aunt, a reclusive painter with a haunted past. Aunt Charlotte, otherwise a woman of few words, points out a ruined cottage, telling Marcus she had visited it regularly after she’d moved there thirty years ago because it matched the ruin of her own life, and inspired her to paint as a way of capturing their mutual desolation.  The islanders call the place “Grief Cottage,” because a boy and his parents disappeared from it during a hurricane fifty years before. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has stood empty ever since.  Marcus himself begins paying visits to the cottage, eventually meeting the young ghost who haunts it, and learning about the truth behind its possession of Grief Cottage.  Booklist gave this haunting tale a starred review, noting “Godwin’s riveting and wise story of the slow coalescence of trust and love between a stoic artist and a grieving boy . . . subtly and insightfully explores different forms of haunting and vulnerability, strength and survival”.

The Black Elfstone: The Fall of Shannara: Terry Brooks is arguably one of the best-known fantasy authors at work today, and with good reason.  His Shannara series has spanned 41 works (broken up into various sub-series), and this newest work launches the first in the series’ four-part epic conclusion.  Across the Four Lands, peace has reigned for generations. But now, in the far north, an unknown enemy is massing. More troubling than the carnage is the strange and wondrous power wielded by the attackers—a breed of magic unfamiliar even to the Druid order. Fearing the worst, the High Druid dispatches a diplomatic party under the protection of the order’s sworn guardian, Dar Leah, to confront the mysterious, encroaching force and discover its purpose.  Meanwhile, onetime High Druid Drisker Arc and his protege are beginning quests of their own, quests that will eventually drawn them together with Dar Leah in a tale that will have monumental consequences for the Four Lands.  Though new readers may have a little bit of difficulty getting into this series, overall, Brooks’ works aren’t impossible to pick up mid-series, and his skills in the fantasy genre shouldn’t be missed.  Patrick Rothfuss (one of my favorite fantasy authors) wrote a blurb for this book, saying “I can’t even begin to count how many of Terry Brooks’s books I’ve read (and reread) over the years. From Shannara to Landover, his work was a huge part of my childhood.”

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions: Our planet has witnessed five mass-extinction events in its history, and scientists today are seeing some pretty strong correlations between those events and our current climate changes.  In this terrifying, fascinating, and wide-ranging book, journalist Peter Brennan delves deep into earth’s past to discuss the five previous life-changing (literally) events, while presenting the stories from the scientists on the front lines of climate change research today, whose modern technology can reveal even more to us about the catastrophes of the past, how life on Earth manages to endure, and what all these stories can mean for us and our own future.  This is far more than “those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it”.  Indeed, according to Library Journal, “If readers have time for only one book on the subject, this wonderfully written, well-balanced, and intricately researched (though not too dense) selection is the one to choose.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!