SassyLassy Goes back to the Past
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It's January 1st, so time to join Club Read 2016; something in me won't allow it before the year is actually reached.
This year I would like to concentrate on older books, predominantly from the nineteenth century, where I feel most comfortable. I'm not quite sure how to organize the reading yet. Alphabetical might only see me get half way through B, chronological might see me get to 1803, so I will have to work out something else. One thought is to read a book from each decade and then start again, so that I would at least cover the full century. As these tend to be longer books, I know the number of books read will inevitably decrease, but that will be made up by the pleasure in the reading.
I would also like to read more literary criticism and historical background along with these books, but that may not last too long.
This year I am also involved in the Reading Globally group, and with the four great quarterly themes and the enticing work done by the theme leaders there, I know my reading will be well rounded: http://www.librarything.com/groups/readinggloballyficti
Last year my goal was to read my way through an alphabet of authors in translation. I managed to do this and was rewarded with some excellent reading. I also hoped to read more from my TBR piles, and made far more inroads than expected, for example, 24 of my 26 "alphabet" books were already in the house on January 1, 2015. One area where I fell down was not reading enough nonfiction.
Books Read: 66
Books Read from TBR: 60, or 90.9%
Fiction: 56 or 84.8%
Nonfiction: 10 or 15.2%
Books in Translation: 50% each for both fiction and nonfiction, something I am really pleased with
Languages in Translation: Spanish, Russian, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Romanian, Hungarian, Swedish, Albanian, Icelandic, Afrikaans, Hebrew, German, Norwegian, Polish and Japanese
New Authors: 30 or 45%, which was also quite encouraging
Favourite Fiction from 2015 in order read
Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison
The Concert by Ismail Kadare
The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
Favourite Nonfiction from 2015 in order read
Four Hedges by Clare Leighton
Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary by Gao Wenqian
Tove Jansson: Work and Love by Tuula Karjalainen
I thought of you the other day when I saw on Charing Cross Road a clothing store called A Child Of The Jago.
>2 SassyLassy: I'm itching to get to some of these 19th century authors myself. I'm curious to see how it works out and look forward to following.
elegant antique in post 1.
Hi Sassy, I like your reading plans for this year, and shall enjoy seeing where they take you.
As well as not running a reading thread myself recently, I've been a bit rubbish at keeping up with other people's, which I hope to improve.
>4 Oandthegang: What kind of clothes did they have? I have been trying to puzzle that out without much success.
>5 dchaikin: I find her very calming, although I'm not sure I could live with her in the house!
>5 dchaikin: and >6 Caroline_McElwee: I hope it will be interesting. I think I should just jump in until I have worked out a cogent structure for myself.
It was inevitable. I have already received 2016 book bullets from others. Last year I fell down on recording books that interested me, but I will do better this year. I feel I can actually acquire more books this year to reward myself for my TBR efforts last year. Of course, I can't allow myself to go back to my former buying patterns, but here is my list for consideration whenever I "need" it:
Remembering Babylon by David Malouf wandering_star
The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers The Guardian, a fictional account of the murder that inspired Nancy's murder in Oliver Twist
The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed and Depravity in an Age of Beauty by Alexander Lee bas
Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Sceptic by Michael Scammell bookmountain
Factory Lives: Four Nineteenth Century Working Class Autobiographies by James R Simmons journal article
Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood by George MacDonald chocolatemuse
An Autobiography by Edwin Muir Tony H
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson japaul, rebecca, dchaikin
The Bonniest Companie by Kathleen Jamie Tony H
Well Sassy, I'm going to steel your idea for listing book bullets in your thread (err well my thread for the bullets I receive!)
Looking forward to following your reading again this year Sassy!
There you are!
Obviously a star dropped off, with a declared reading plan like that! :)
New Year's Day always sees a lighter start to the reading year as getting that first book done yields positive reenforcement and an incentive to get the year going.
I had seen the film adaptation of this book on Christmas, so when I saw the actual book the next day, I had to buy it. It seemed like a suitable start to my reading year.
1. The Revenant by Michael Punke
first published 2002
finished reading January 2, 2016
In 2014 I read the excellent Butcher's Crossing, a fictional account of buffalo hunters in the American northwest and their struggle to stay alive in a mountain valley through the winter. In 2015, T C Boyle's The Harder They Come introduced me to the real life scout John Colter, who travelled thousands of miles in the American west, and among other feats, escaped a party of Blackfoot Indians, covering two hundred or so miles through wilderness to safety with only a blanket. Now we have a fictionalized account of the real life Hugh Glass, the Revenant.
Glass was a noted hunter and guide. In the late summer of 1823 he joined a party of trappers going up the Missouri River in search of more hides. Glass was brutally mauled and unbelievably maimed by a mother bear, however, she didn't manage to kill him. The area was full of hostile Indians and most of the party was reluctant to stay with Glass waiting for his inevitable death. Two did stay behind, but soon abandoned him to his fate. All this happens quite quickly in the first fifty pages or so.
The remainder is Glass's struggle to survive; first of all to heal his wounds, to find food, and to avoid any Arikara Indians who would kill him. As winter came on, there was also the struggle to find warmth and shelter. Glass had been left without weapons or supplies of any kind, not even a knife. Incredibly he made it the 350 miles down the Grand River, then down the Missouri to Fort Brazeau/Kiowa.
Punke has an academic background in history and he writes convincingly of the hurdles and encounters Glass faced on his journey downstream. What drove Glass and kept him alive? It was one of the most basic human instincts --- the need for revenge for being robbed on his supposed deathbed and then deserted by very people entrusted with his care. Part II is his search for the man and boy who abandoned him, a search that would take him back up the Missouri and into unknown territory, ultimately travelling thousands of miles.
The great landscape between the Missouri and the Rockies that remained unspoiled for only a few years after the arrival of the Europeans is re imagined here in all its natural glory. Cottonwood trees along the rivers, great roaring chasms of water, the buffalo and the wolves, the promise of spring and the threat of winter, Punke brings it all to life. For Glass, it was more alive and immediate than those remembered figures whom he pursued.
He had followed the Yellowstone for five days when he crested a high bench above the river. He stopped, awestruck.
Revealing the outcome of his quest would be a spoiler, so instead, a bit about the film.
One of the shots from the film from www.mlive.com/movies credited to 20th Century Fox
The Revenant dir Alejandro Iñárritu, 2015
In the film, Iñárritu uses natural light to capture the landscapes and reveal both their beauty and their peril. Filmed in Alberta, then in Argentina when the Alberta snow disappeared, the landscapes are spectacular. Like Punke, Iñárritu holds nothing back of the savagery of the fight for survival in the wilderness, be it against animals or humans. It is not for the squeamish, but the cinematography is brilliant.
There is one major difference between the film and the book. A new subplot is introduced allowing flashbacks and an additional reason for the revenge motive, as if being left alone in the wilderness to die wasn't reason enough. Perhaps it was felt that more dialogue was needed, that one man against the elements wasn't enough to sustain audience interest. After reading the book, the additional subplot seems like a needless distraction, although anyone not reading the book would probably not be aware that it was an addition. Punke does not seem to have been involved in the screenplay, receiving only a "Based on the novel by..." credit.
The book and the film have different endings. Either is believable and acceptable; the film's is naturally more dramatic.
Very dramatic landscapes and descriptions of it. I mean to get to Butcher's Crossing this year.
What an excellent review of both book and film. Now I'm interested in both, and sense that it's worth it to read the book first.
That sounds an amazing book - hadn't heard of it before. And had a little chuckle at the earlier comments about Butcher's Crossing, as I've also skirted around it in case it doesn't it doesn't match up to Stoner which I loved.
>17 SassyLassy: That sounds like a great book and the film looks like it would be beautiful but oh, this gal is much too squeamish. My son is chomping at the bit to see it though!
The UK film release is not until 15 January, although there is apparently a single screening on tomorrow. I saw the trailer this week and it certainly looked violent. I will now be watching it wondering what the other ending is.
Excellent review of The Revenant - both book and film. I went to the book page to thumb your review but it wasn't posted. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie, filmed in Alberta, my old stomping grounds. Alberta is always good for cold movie scenes.
I was wondering what the movie was about. I've seen the trailer a few times. It won some awards this weekend.
>18 rebeccanyc: >19 Caroline_McElwee: >20 RidgewayGirl: >22 AlisonY: I read Butcher's Crossing before Stoner. Of the two, I think I prefer Butcher's Crossing. The month before I read Stoner, I had read The Professor's House which I loved and I suspect Stoner suffered unjustly in comparison. Rebecca, I see you are reading Butcher's Crossing now. Looking forward to your review.
>19 Caroline_McElwee: >21 theaelizabet: >23 avidmom: >24 Oandthegang: >25 VivienneR: As a somewhat historical account, it is difficult not to have brutal encounters between various parties, but these are limited. I think what may disturb viewers today even more is the resourcefulness required to survive, the grasping at anything the natural world might offer in order to stay alive. We are so removed from these needs and skills that to see them portrayed on a giant screen is quite shocking. Then there is the cold.
Vivienne, I suspect you may recognize certain vistas, among them a beautiful aerial shot of the Bow.
>26 dchaikin: The director award was certainly deserved. As for Leonardo, in my completely absorbed state, I didn't even realize who the actor was until almost the end of the film, thinking only that he looked somewhat familiar. I suppose that's a tribute to how well he immersed himself in the role.
Usually at the beginning of each year's first thread, I have Pantone's colour of the year, for a bit of well, colour. This year, I forgot, possibly because the colours were so low key after the last few years. After all, it's hard to put pink and baby blue against such standouts as Marsala, Radiant Orchid and Emerald. So just in case you were wondering, here are the official 2016 colours, the first year two have been selected. Does it mean they couldn't make up their minds, or is it just a ploy to develop more tied in product lines?
Here they are:
The official names are Rose Quartz and Serenity.
So, sorry, but no vibrant images this year for these colours. Maybe if your decorating tends to this they might be useful:
Architectural Digest had to go to its archives to find this room.
>17 SassyLassy: It may be because I live under a rock - sorry, in the basement of a library - but I didn't know the film was based on a book. This is a great review, and I'm adding the book to my TBR (and maybe the film to my TB..W?)
I'm going to take a pass with those colours, unless I want to decorate a gender-coded nursery for my twin babies Andy and Annie.
Individually I also prefer the Pantone colors from the past years but I have to admit that Architectural Digest managed to make those two colors look so rich and lux in that room even if the furnishings are not quite of my taste. Quite beautiful.
>34 lilisin: I agree. The minute I saw those colours I felt depressed, they are so redolent of cheap synthetic clothing utterly lacking in style, but then the Architectural Digest saved the day though I doubt I could spend much time in that room. What period is the decor? 50s? I'd almost be tempted to guess earlier - 30s or 40s, but of course there are national variations and I don't know where this room is. I wait to be devastated by learning it's only the 1990s, or even last year!
Are the couches throwing you off cause that's what they are doing to me. Very American family living room couches that contrast with those columns. At least get rid of the dust ruffle to show some wooden legs.
Sassy, I had planned to see the movie, but now you have me convinced that I have to also read The Revenant and then Butcher's Crossing! I can see already that this is going to be a dangerous year for buying books.
I like the Pantone color combination and also would have no trouble living in that room. Just imagine what the library (I'm sure there must be one) looks like.
I love the way everyone above has had such a strong reaction, one way or another to colour; it shows just how important it really is.
Linda has hinted at the first thing that hit me about the room, after the ceiling that is. No matter the personal opinions on colour, here is a room with wonderful natural light, substantial seating, tables and lamps everywhere, even a desk, and only three books! As Linda says, there must be a library somewhere, but still.
>35 Oandthegang: AD says the room is in England, which was my first guess. As to the era, the use of so many different patterned fabrics, the treatment of the floor, and the hybrid pouf/table make me think it is probably sometime in the last 20-25 years. The curves make me think longer ago in that range than more recent. That means it may not even exist any more... it will have been redone!
Interesting that the only consistent shape in the entire room is lampshades, which all seem to have approximately the same angle.
>29 reva8: >31 rebeccanyc: >38 Linda92007: I think Punke's book just sort of disappeared after publication until now. The film option was concluded before it was even published, so maybe they were holding on for the film to be made. It seems to have taken much longer than first anticipated. Wikipedia says there were two other directors in line before Inárritu took over. Their choices for Glass were Samuel L Jackson and Christian Bale.
Butcher's Crossing is certainly a more literary book, but that doesn't take anything away from the immediacy felt reading The Revenant.
My reading journal tells me that by this time last year I had read five books, including The White Guard. This year I am only at two and a half, so time to get on with it.
Back in 2012 - 2013, inspired by rebecca'a "Zolathon", I ordered several books in this series to complement the ones I already had. Unfortunately I didn't get around to any of them, although I had read some of his books in the past. However, her reviews kept that intention alive, and so here is the first in my year of nineteenth century reading.
2. The Fortune of the Rougons by Emile Zola translated from the French by Brian Nelson
first published in serial form in La Siècle as La Fortune des Rougon from June to August 1870 and in March 1871
finished reading January 11, 2016
The Fortune of the Rougons is the first book in Emile Zola's chronicle of the Rougon and Macquart families. While Zola planned at the outset to write more than one book, "several episodes", he probably didn't anticipate that he would write twenty of them over the next twenty-two years. His aim was ... to explain how a family, a small group of human beings, behaves in a given society... He wanted to solve "the dual problem of temperament and environment". In his preface to this first volume, he says that he had already been working for three years on the background material for his books.
Zola wanted to tie together two of the great studies of the nineteenth century: that of heredity as a determinant of character, and that of the rise through the class system, "... the essentially modern impulse that sets the lower classes marching through the social system." As if these two huge areas of interest weren't enough, he also wanted what he called "the dramas of their individual lives" to be a social, military and economic history of the Second Empire.
Zola tells us at the outset
The great characteristic of the Rougon - Macquarts, the group or family I propose to study, is their ravenous appetites, the great upsurge of our age as it rushes to satisfy those appetites.
Who then were these people? They were the descendants of Adélaide Fouque, a respectable enough girl, the last in a line of prosperous market gardeners. However, Adélaide's father died insane and when she began to exhibit odd behaviour, the neighbours started to talk. When she married the hired peasant Rougon, the neighbours were shocked. Zola spends a lot of time writing about the small minds of many, the craving for gossip, the inevitable exaggerations and misrepresentations of any situation.
Deprived of an excuse for gossip when more than a year went by before the Rougons' son Pierre was born, the neighbours were ecstatic when Rougon died suddenly and Adélaide took as a lover "that beggar Macquart". The two never married, but had two children, Ursule and Antoine, whom Macquart acknowledged and gave his name.
It is the story of these three children and some of their offspring that constitutes the first novel. Necessarily, a lot of time is spent building up their individual backgrounds, for they will be the foundation of the books and characters to come. At times this exercise of outlining three generations of the family makes it difficult to realize that most of the actual action of this particular novel takes place in one month, December 1851. This action is the republican struggle against Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who had dissolved the National Assembly on the second of the month in as effort to restore the Empire with himself as Emperor, a feat he would accomplish the next year.
We see the townspeople of Plassans (Aix), terrified of choosing the wrong side in this struggle, of losing their possessions and livelihoods, and what status they have. There are lies and double crosses, bribery and manipulation, as the town is forced to choose a course. Zola's depictions of veniality and self preservation are superb. His science seems dated today, but his descriptions still hold. Pierre's son Pascal, a physician with no interest in politics whatsoever, spent a few evenings in his parents' sitting room, observing those who were plotting for gain, financial and social:
On his first visit he was stupefied at the degree of imbecility to which sane men can sink.... He looked, with the fascination of a naturalist, at their grimacing faces, in which he discerned traces of their occupations and appetites; and he listened to their inane chatter as he might have tried to divine the meaning of a cat's miaow or a dog's bark. At his time he was greatly preoccupied with comparative natural history... He noted the similarities between the grotesque creatures he saw and the animals he knew.
There were idealists in Plassans too. Even here though, Zola sets them under his microscope. The young apprentice Silvère, Pierre's nephew, who was caught up in the peasant resistance to Bonaparte's forces, is portrayed as having a nervous disturbance, "Hysteria or excitement, shameful madness or sublime madness. Always those terrible nerves", when he became inspired by Rousseau's writings and dreamt of a Republic. Silvère and his girlfriend Miette are innocents and their love story is sympathetically detailed, but their naiveté is in itself a shameful taint.
It may have taken some time to get going, but by the end of this first volume, Zola has given us a solid ground for the novels to come, drawn us in with a love story, and left us wondering what the next move will be. A skilled writer indeed.
A note on translation: Oddly there were not any translations made of this book into English in the twentieth century. Then in 2011 Robert Smith translated it and in 2012 Brian Nelson, the translator of this edition, completed his translation. The previous translation had been made anonymously in 1886, and revised in 1898.
Enjoyed this review Sassy. One day I really hope to read some Zola - and this initial book might be essential.
28-reminds me of walking through the infant section in any clothing store.
I followed Rebecca's readings of the Rougon -Macquart series a couple of years ago, and I look forward to reading your reviews assuming now you have started you might read some more.
Great review. I'm sorry that I missed the Zolathon. Zola is another one of those big gaping holes in my reading.
I read The Fortune of the Rougons after I read several other Zolas and was glad I did because I didn't like it as much as many of the others. But i did try to read them in order after the few that started me off, I did think, like you, it laid the groundwork for his later novels.
Fabulous review of The Fortune of the Rougons, Sassy. Your comments about this book and Rebecca's about the series have convinced me to give it a try, probably in 2017.
>28 SassyLassy: came across this picture of the Saloon at Clandon Park (destroyed last year by fire) which while obviously not the same is nonetheless reminiscent of the treatment of the room in Architectural Digest image. John Fowler decorated Clandon Park for the National Trust in the late 1960s. The colours of the reproduction are not certain, as the walls look distinctly blue in internet pictures, dark green in the photos in John Fowler Prince Of Decorators(which was its original colour), yet James Lees-Milne wrote "looking round, I thought it the most hideous decoration I had seen: flesh pink (which John Fowler calls biscuit) and purple".
>48 cabegley: I read The Ladies' Paradise last year, I think it was, after discovering that a television series over here had been based on it. The book was quite different from the series, it seems even now women prevailing on older lovers to advance the careers of younger ones isn't thought good tv. Principally what I remember from the book is the description of the concentrated smell of the women in the store. I remember years ago going to a fashionable department store on Regent Street with a male friend, who noted with amazement that despite the numbers of people there the place was almost entirely devoid of men, something I'd never thought about before. Similarly, until reading The Ladies' Paradise I had never considered the smell in a nineteenth century department store. I would doubtless have got more from the book if I'd started at the beginning of the series.
>42 janeajones: Pantone apparently took a lot of criticism over just that thought. They attempt to justify the choice by saying The prevalent combination of Rose Quartz and Serenity also challenges traditional perceptions of color association. They also feel it brings "calm and relaxation", "connection and wellness".
One of my first thoughts was of a story I heard some years ago where prison cells were painted pink in an effort to reduce aggression: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/switzerland/10302627/Pink-priso...
Buffalo NY cell block in The Cairns Post
>41 dchaikin: I think if you are starting Zola, something like Germinal might be a better first impression. It is also in this series, but can be read as a standalone. The Fortune of the Rougons spends a lot of time setting out the family structure, and might not work as well if it was the only one you read. See also rebecca at >45 rebeccanyc:
>43 baswood: I am contemplating one a month in my year of the nineteenth century, so nothing like rebecca's pace, just a slow plod where I may have to sit down and rest.
>44 theaelizabet: It's funny how we all have our individual "gaping holes" in our reading. That might make a fun question in the Questions for the Avid Reader: "What are your gaping holes?"
>46 Caroline_McElwee: >47 kidzdoc: >48 cabegley: Thanks. >48 cabegley: I remember several people reading The Ladies' Paradise a few years ago and it sounded like a fascinating book. It is one I am looking forward to.
>49 Oandthegang: Hardly welcoming. Where do your guests sit, should you stoop to invite anyone over? When I hear Biscuit, or any of its variations as a colour, it depresses me immediately. Flesh pink sounds even worse.
I haven't been in a department store in a long time, but I do always notice that absence of men. They are the wiser ones in this case.
>50 SassyLassy: No one asked me, but I would have given Panatone heat too. I really can't see where they're going with "traditional perceptions of colour associations," because I thought it was the height of old school tradition. Eck. As for the jail . . . . I think I'd stroke out. Or have a mental collapse. Not only am I in prison, but I'm in Barbie prison.
I haven't been in a department store in a long time, but I do always notice that absence of men.
We have a new Nordstrom store in downtown Vancouver. I was at a conference last week and was invited to go there with a group. There is a cocktail lounge in the middle of the women's clothing floor--I think it was designed for men to use while women shopped. While I was there, it was full of women and couples. BTW, final purchases: wine - $31, anything else - $0.
This book was on one of those displays at my local library, the kind that are supposed to highlight recent acquisitions. Oddly, it wasn't a new book, having been published in 2005 and received by the library in 2006. Maybe it was a ten year display cycle, as it seemed it had never been read.
3. The Real Oliver Twist - Robert Blincoe: A Life that Illuminates an Age by John Waller
first published 2005
finished reading January 19, 2016
Readers of Oliver Twist will know that young Oliver had been abandoned to a parish workhouse, father unknown, that he barely escaped that awful Victorian children's fate of being apprenticed to a master chimney sweep, that he struggled to escape life with Fagin and his gang, and that in the end, he achieved respectability and more.
Robert Blincoe knew nothing of his origins other than the fact that he was sent to St Pancras workhouse in 1796 when he was just four years old. He did not even know his family name. Life in such an institution was governed by the Poor Laws, administered by parish overseers. The overseers' primary interest was in spending as little money as possible to care for their wards, as they had to charge poor rates to wealthier parishioners, who in turn wanted to pay as little as possible.
Blincoe and the other workhouse children worked outdoors for the parish, were fed adequate meals, and had dry albeit shared beds. This was considered benevolent treatment, and in later life Blincoe would refer to it as such. As the children got older though, they were expected to bring in money. In his first attempt at finding an apprenticeship, Blincoe was rejected at age six by the chimney sweeps. At age seven, he was indentured until the age of twenty-one to a cotton mill in Lowdham Mill, Nottinghamshire. While the parish officials paid for this apprenticeship, they gained financially by having one less child to support, along with earning a commission, so the tendency was for them to farm out their wards as early as possible.
This was a critical time for the mills. Technology was changing rapidly, demand for cotton was skyrocketing, and competition was fierce. Children were a crucial part of production. However, during the time of Blincoe's apprenticeship, reformers were hard at work trying to legislate a ten hour workday for children, as opposed to the fourteen plus hours Blincoe and others routinely worked.
This is the real content of Waller's book. He details the various bills, the opposition to them, the immense and rapid growth of Manchester, the social unrest and riots. As a framework, he uses a pamphlet written by John Brown, a journalist and social activist. The title of the pamphlet changed over time, but one variation is A Memoir of Robert Blincoe, an Orphan Boy, Sent at Seven to Endure the Horrors of a Cotton-mill. Brown had interviewed Blincoe after his apprenticeship ended, and published his pamphlet in Manchester. He recorded the beatings, starvation, injuries and deaths of mill children, their separation from their families, and their abandonment by their employers when they completed their indentures. Over the years, Blincoe would offer testimony to various reformers as they worked to prove their allegations of abuse against the powerful mill owners and those opposed to rights, including male franchise, for workers.
This material makes the title of the book misleading. I had taken it to be a study of the source for Dickens's work. However, early on Waller coyly says "There is strong textual evidence that Charles Dickens read Blincoe's Memoir shortly before writing Oliver Twist". That's about it other than "This reading is lent plausibility by the relatively short period that elapsed between the publication of Blincoe's Memoir and that of Oliver Twist" and "If Dickens read the Memoir before beginning Oliver Twist..."
The chronology of the book was erratic and there were too many "could haves"and "might haves" with regard to Dickens, but it does give a comprehensive picture of the mills in their social, political and economic context. It also has an extensive bibliography of primary and contemporary sources, which doesn't include Oliver Twist, but does include Felix Holt and Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong, Factory Boy. So, a book for those with an interest in industrial history, but not as a reference for Oliver Twist. Perhaps the subtitle, which only appears on the cover, not the title page, was the intended title and the publisher added the main title.
I haven't been in a department store in a long time, but I do always notice that absence of men.
On Christmas Eve I had to run downtown because I'd lost one of the presents I'd purchased and had to buy a replacement. I was struck by how it was me and a bunch of men shopping. Apparently, they only go into department stores on Christmas Eve.
>53 RidgewayGirl: That's fumy -- my husband and brother-in-law always joke about it. The last place I'd be then is in a store, so I didn't know it was true.
Aw, c'mon: the reason you don't see men in department stores is that they get their wife / girlfriend to do their dirty work for them; and the reason you DO see them on Christmas Eve is because they've realised (i) they can't put off buying their wife / girlfriend a present any longer, and (ii) this time they can't ask their wife / girlfriend to do their shopping for them! :D
From the pictures it looks like it might have been a blue/gold combination but green/pink can also be very pretty. Unfortunate it got destroyed in a fire.
Ladies' Paradise was my first Zola ever and I enjoyed it but I just recently read Pot-Bouille which is the book right before Ladies and I liked that one even better and thought it would have been nice to have read it before Ladies' since both books are about the same topic: the birth of the department store Ladies's Paradise. My favorite Zola so far, however, has been Le ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris. Think Ladies' Paradise but instead of fine lace and silks you get cheeses and charcuterie. I want to read more Zola but I don't have anymore with me here in Tokyo.
Re: Pink jail
I think that pink jail would induce rage, not calm it down.
Re: Department stores
Department stores have always overwhelmed me. Even if I were surrounded by beautiful clothes I wouldn't be able to see them because there would be too many options and everything would start to melt together into one big conglomeration of fabric.
Last time I went back to the United States from Japan, the first time I stepped into a grocery store I actually cried because I couldn't handle how big the store was. I rushed straight to the cereal aisle and then left again. My neighborhood market is so small here in Tokyo that even when I go to a larger one in another neighborhood I feel overwhelmed again by all the choices so I can't imagine what will happen next I go back to the US.
>57 lilisin: Your description of grocery shopping sounds like a scene I remember from Moscow on the Hudson, which was made during Soviet times. Robin Williams plays a Russian who defected to NYC and became overwhelmed on his first trip to a grocery store. Good, but now forgotten, movie.
>50 SassyLassy: Holy cow, that prison! It'd be like being incarcerated inside a bottle of Pepto-Bismol!
>50 SassyLassy: I'm afraid that much pink might turn me violent!
>57 lilisin: I share that same shock every time I return to the US. I wonder, "do we really need this much choice?" as I walk down a seemingly endless aisle of chips.
>57 lilisin: Ladies' Paradise is certainly on my list and in the house. I hope to read the books in Zola's suggested order.
To all who commented on the pink prison, the idea that it might turn people violent certainly makes sense when you see the aptly described Pepto-Bismol or Barbie colours. I am trying to imagine orange jumpsuits against that background.
There were others however of a more delicate pink, which may indeed be somewhat enervating and so reduce levels of violence.
4. The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart translated from the French by Barbara Bray
first published in 1972 as Pluie et vent sur Telumée miracle
finished reading January 23rd, 2016
It's difficult to write about this book without sounding trite. At times it is delightful, at other times it is devastating. My fear of just about any adjective to describe it though is based in a terror of making it sound like those dreadful blurbs on the backs of the novels so loved by certain book clubs. That would be to make it what it definitely is not. I can see some careless blurber using "inspiring" or "multi generational" or even worse, "heartwarming". That would be an injustice.
The novel starts as the personal narrative of an old woman, looking back at her childhood. However, it quickly becomes clear that it is also a narrative of country, and beyond that, of slavery, a condition that has many forms.
At age ten, Telumée Lougandoor was sent from her village of L'Abandonée to live with her grandmother for the best and worst of reasons. Her grandmother, Queen Without a Name, took her far from the world, over the Bridge of Beyond.
Queen Without a Name's cabin was the last in the village; it marked the end of the world of human beings and looked as if it were leaning against the mountain. Queen Without a Name opened the door and ushered me into the one little room. As soon as I crossed the threshold I felt as if I were in a fortress, safe from everything known and unknown, under the protection of my grandmother's great full skirt.
This sounds like the entry to a magical world, but Queen Without a Name was one of the most realistic women ever. Her life was now to teach Telumée how to live so that she would always be the one in charge, spiritually and materially, but to accomplish this in a way that wouldn't scare the child. Thursdays were story night in the hut:
Above our heads the land wind made the rusty corrugated iron roof creak and groan. But the voice of Queen Without a Name was glowing, distant, and her eyes crinkled in a faint smile as she opened before us a world in which trees cry out, fishes fly, birds catch the fowler, and the Negro is the child of God.
The knowledge of what it is to be a people apart, scorned and abused, the descendants of slaves, permeates the writing. The cane fields were still out there, waiting for those who couldn't make it on their own. Abolition had done little to change things.
The Bridge of Beyond may have led to a world beyond the slavery of the fields, but there was still the slavery of entrapment, of loving unwisely. This was a lesson Queen Without a Name worked hard to impart. However it is a lesson every generation has to learn for itself; one Telumée pondered from different angles throughout her life.
Simone Schwarz-Bart grew up in Guadeloupe and moved to Paris in her teens. She married André Schwarz-Bart, author of The Last of the Just. The two felt compelled to tell the stories of their respective peoples, those they felt were the most oppressed: the Jews and the Africans, each in their own diaspora. Although they collaborated on several books, they wrote their peoples' stories separately. Queen Without a Name's message applies equally well to both:
Behind one pain there is another. Sorrow is a wave without end. But the horse mustn't ride you, you must ride it.
Fabulous review of The Bridge of Beyond, Sassy! I own it, and I'll probably read it in March.
I'm not familiar with the works of Simone Schwarz-Bart, but I'm sure I'll get to her one day. I'm a big fan, though, of André Schwarz-Bart. He didn't just write about Jews, but he also wrote a powerful novel about African slavery, A Woman Named Solitude (although it has been suggested that the novel was a husband-wife collaboration).
>67 deebee1: I suspect you are right about the collaboration on A Woman Named Solitude. Some of the other work where the two have both been given credit though seems to be under question. That would be a book I should look out for.
>64 janeajones: >65 cabegley: >66 kidzdoc: Thanks. It's a great book, one of those ones that defies categorization.
If you grew up as I did with Beatrix Potter, there is a "new" one in the works,
although illustrations will be by Quentin Blake, a wonderful illustrator in his own right
>69 SassyLassy: I hard that on the news this morning. Not sure how Blake's illustrations will suit the story. We're so used to the very delicate watercolour style for her stories I have slight reservations about the match. But it will be interesting to see it when it comes out.
>79 Although each excel at illustration, I had the same concerns about the match of Blake and Potter. Nevertheless, I know this is a book I will be reading.
>71 rebeccanyc: I'm looking forward to getting to Germinal again sometime in the distant future at this rate. It was your review of The Bridge of Beyond that put it on my radar.
>72 baswood: Time to take a trip. I love the idea of Caribbean jazz.
>73 AlisonY: In my experience, that might also happen with Lowly Worm. I am also a big fan of Mr Magnolia and can still recite it.
LT constantly brings books and authors to my attention I would otherwise never have heard of (see post directly above). This one is thanks to lyzard and the Virago Group's Chronological Read programme.
5. Marriage by Susan Edmonstone Ferrier
first published in 3 volumes in 1818
finished reading January 30, 2016
At the time Susan Ferrier was writing this book, marriage was still the path to wealth and power. Children who could set you off on that path were domestic capital. The mountain of novels, good and bad, that dealt with the vagaries of courtship and marriage in Regency times is testament to its importance for the monied classes, and to its disastrous consequences if not done properly.
Lady Juliana, the seventeen year old daughter of the Earl of Courtland, could not have read the right novels, or else when her father told her she was to marry the Duke of L---, she would have been more compliant. The Earl contended it was
No such mighty sacrifice, when repaid with a ducal coronet, the most splendid jewels, the finest equipages, the most magnificent house, the most princely establishment, and the largest jointure, of any woman in England.Juliana acquiesced, what else could she do, her empty head tempted by notions of becoming a duchess, with all the attendant dresses, balls and jewels.
Capriciousness was a defining characteristic of Lady Juliana however, and just before her wedding day, she eloped with "... the blue eyes, curling hair and fine-formed person of a certain captivating Scotsman". Unfortunately, her Henry Douglas was virtually penniless and in a few short months reality set in on both sides. Disowned by her father, they turned to his, and set off for a winter in Scotland.
Here the novel starts to deviate from the standard fare of its day. Its author, Susan Ferrier, was a Scot. The huge cultural differences between the English and the Scots, both real and perceived, were important to Ferrier. Had she been English, she probably wouldn't have sent her characters off to Scotland, and if she had, the story would have been quite different.
In the event, Lady Juliana and her husband were as useless and helpless as babes in the woods, completely unable to cope with life on an agricultural estate, even if it was called a castle. Juliana in particular was unable to discover any common ground with Henry's three aunts and four sisters, nor did she wish to. Ferrier has fun with their mutual incomprehension, aided by use of dialect. She was one of the first to use this tool, and she does it skilfully.
Ferrier had said "The only good purpose of a book is to inculcate morality , and convey some lesson of instruction as well as delight." She does well with the delighting part, but sudden shifts in tone steer her back towards the moral instruction, as if it was suddenly called to mind.
Lady Juliana was delivered of twin girls during her stay in Scotland. Shortly thereafter, she and Henry fled the wilds of Scotland for the dangers of society London, leaving one of the girls behind with Henry's elder brother and his wife. It is the reunion of the girls, now of marriageable age and living together with their mother, that allows Ferrier to explore further the emerging question of marrying for love. The old Earl had said "... it was very well for ploughmen and dairy-maids, and such canaille, to marry for love; but for a young woman of rank to think of such a thing, was plebeian in the extreme!". However, such thoughts had never stopped young girls from entertaining romantic notions of love. Ferrier now introduces the idea of a sort of responsible romantic love; two sensible people of the same rank and background falling in love and marrying, an idea that was creeping into untitled society.
She sets the two sisters up on each side of the marriage question; Adelaide, who has led the London life and learned from her mother's wretched example, and Mary, brought up as a sober and industrious child in Scotland. Here Ferrier goes back to the question of what constitutes a proper education for girls, one first hotly debated by the aunts back in Scotland as they dissect Lady Juliana's shortcomings. The presence of Lady Emily, the girls' cousin, serves to relieve the contrast and provide some real humour, for Lady Emily is an independent young woman who knows her own mind and is not afraid to speak it. The milieux of London and Bath allow Ferrier an opportunity to return to the social satire at which she excels.
Walter Scott considered Ferrier to be a writer on the level of her contemporaries Maria Edgeworth and Jane Austen. He supported he writing, singling her out for praise as one capable of continuing in the Scottish tradition. Marriage is a first novel, written in 1810 and published anonymously in 1818. Originally Ferrier had planned a co-authorship with Charlotte Clavering, niece of the all powerful Duke of Argyll. Charlotte's tastes, however, ran heavily to the Gothic, which had too much of sensational and too little of sensibility for Ferrier. The two eventually agreed that Ferrier would continue on her own, after Clavering contributed an early section. The novel was very successful, possibly due to the fact that some of the thinly disguised characters were recognizable to contemporary readers. Ferrier went on to write two more successful novels: The Inheritance and Destiny. Of planning Marriage, she wrote tongue in cheek to Charlotte,
... the moral to be deduced from that is to warn all young ladies against runaway matches... I expect it will be the first book every wise matron will put into the hand of her daughter, and even the reviewers will relax of their severity in favour of the morality of this little work. Enchanting sight! already do I behold myself arrayed in an old mouldy covering, thumbed and creased, and filled with dog's ears.
At a little over five hundred pages, it may daunt the wise matron's daughter, but it was good fun indeed.
>75 SassyLassy: great review. I wonder if I can get this one for Kindle. I'll have to look.
>75 SassyLassy: That does sound like fun! Oh, but my wish list is groaning under all the weight . . .
This sounds like a wonderful plan. I too have been reading books with older pub dates. I have been plucking books from the 1001 List as well as keeping up with other books that I have on my TBR and for review. I wish you the best of luck and look forward to seeing what you will be reading.
>75 SassyLassy: Just chiming in, fascinating story about Ferrier and great review.
Great review of the Ferrier, but I don't think I'm up for 500 pages of dissecting 19th c. marriages this year. ;-)
>76 Caroline_McElwee: Some of those titles have come from you.
>77 NanaCC: I don't know about Kindle, but it is available online.
>78 cabegley: The great thing about wish lists is that they are indeterminate in size, so add away!
>79 StephLaymon: The 1001 list is ambitious indeed. I hope you'll post some thoughts on how it is going.
>81 baswood: >82 dchaikin: >83 janeajones: Thanks. It was fun reading and actually read more quickly than many books half its length.
It could have been a birthday cake, but I liked this better:
Number 5, (1949) by Mark Rothko from WikiArt
Yesterday was my five year thingaversary. Lacking in the restraint of others, and overly pleased with myself for my 90.9% reading from the TBR pile last year, I have gone wild and ordered books:
The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum by Sarah Wise dealing with the Old Nichol, scene of one of my favourite books from last year: A Child of the Jago
My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead to go with my nineteenth century year
Shakespeare by Mark van Doren essays
The Antiquary by Walter Scott for the bicentennial of its publication and because I have been reading one of his books a year lately
Naked Earth by Eileen Chang a recent publication by a favourite author
Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau for the Reading Globally Caribbean literature first quarter as it has been so well reviewed by other LTers
I'm looking forward to finding out what you think of those fine books you've recently acquired.
>85 SassyLassy: love the Rothko. It's one I could live with.
I really enjoyed 'My Life in Middlemarch' (touchstones on strike). A nice haul there. Happy Thingaversary Sassy.
>86 RidgewayGirl: Some of those books have arrived already and they do look like fun. >89 AlisonY: That's a good expression, useful to remember when temptation strikes. >88 avidmom: Thanks, it's too bad they only come annually. I need to find other rationalizations for book buying binges the rest of the year.
>87 Caroline_McElwee: Besides having the number 5 in it, I really do like it. Back in 2011, the year I joined LT, I went to an exhibit titled Abstract Expressionist New York in Toronto. It was from the MoMA collection and featured Pollock, Rothko, Motherwell, Gorky, de Kooning and Krasner among others. It was wonder to see Rothko and all the others in context.
From the French - English Collins Dictionary
Curée - nf
- scramble for the pickings
also used to mean the pieces of the carcass used to reward hunting dogs after the kill
6. The Kill by Emile Zola translated from the French by Brian Nelson
first published in serial form in 1871 in the newspaper La Cloche, publication halted by the authorities, published in book form as La Curée in 1872
finished reading February 9, 2016
The Kill is a feverish novel, written at a frantic pace, full of amazing images, frenetic activity and scandalous affairs.
This exhausting pace is deliberate, for this is Zola's novel of the urban renewal of Paris, a project that still remains the largest of its kind. It was part of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte's effort to establish some legitimacy for himself after staging a coup d'état and having himself crowned as Napoleon III. To carry out the design and build of his new Paris, he appointed Georges Haussman.
In his excellent introduction, Brian Nelson gives an explanation of how Haussman accomplished this work. New expropriation legislation forced property owners to sell to the government any land that was deemed needed for the great new boulevards. This included the land bordering these new routes. The government in turn sold its newly acquired properties on either side of its new roads to speculators. The speculators and developers built the apartments that gave Paris its new look. Uniformity was achieved by regulations for things such as height and the configuration of roof lines. It was also decreed that the new buildings would be made of stone, not brick. An excise tax was introduced on all stone coming into the city, and the proceeds were used in city financing. Bonds were floated by private groups without any regulation.
In less than twenty years, 350,000 people were displaced as their homes were demolished. Rents skyrocketed despite the construction of some 80,000 new apartment buildings. The numbers of trees and streets doubled, Gas and running water were introduced, sewers were expanded. By the time of the 1867 World Exhibition, the host city Paris "was acknowledged as the capital of luxury and fashion -- the capital, indeed, of the nineteenth century." Such a frenzy was guaranteed to attract fortune seekers and opportunists. Enter three of the Rougon siblings, outsiders from Plassans in the south of France, each intent upon "arriving" in the new Paris.
Eugène had come first, before the coup, and had worked hard to get Plassans and his family to support Louis Napoléon. As a reward for his efforts, he was now a government minister. Shortly after the coup, his brother Aristide came to Paris. Eugène found him a minor job as an assistant surveying clerk in the planning department. Unsure of Aristide, he imposed two conditions. Aristide would have to change his family name and not employ the family connection, and having found himself in city hall with all its insider information, he was to rely on his wits to put it to use and not impose on Eugène any further. The third sibling was the shadowy Madame Sidonie, "... as dry as an invoice, as cold as a protest, and at bottom as brutal and indifferent as a bailiff's assistant." Madame Sidonie was a fixer par excellence, trading in dirty secrets, someone everyone in society simultaneously needed and loathed. It was she who arranged a hasty marriage for Aristide, now Saccard, to a young lady in unfortunate circumstances, in return for enough money from her father to set Aristide on his way. Politics, money and sex were the triumvirate of this city and each sibling had mastered the uses of at least one.
Zola characterized the new Paris as the bawdy house of Europe, and Aristide's new wife Renée epitomized it. She thrived in her new world as Saccard's wife, so far removed from her bourgeois roots and convent upbringing.
Meanwhile the Saccards' fortune seemed to be at its height. It blazed in the heart of Paris like a great bonfire. This was the time when the rush for spoils filled a corner of the forest with the yelping of hounds, the cracking of whips, the flaring of torches. The appetites let loose were satisfied at last, shamelessly, amid the sounds of crumbling neighbourhoods and fortunes made in less than six months. The city had become an orgy of gold and women. Vice, coming from on high, flowed through the gutters, spread out over the ornamental waters, shot up in the fountains of the public gardens, and fell on the roofs as fine rain. At night, when people crossed the bridges, it seemed as if the Seine drew along with it, through the sleeping city, all the refuse of the streets... (O)ne felt a growing sense of madness , the voluptuous nightmare of a city obsessed with gold and flesh.
Renée joined in the fray. Her pursuit was indulgence. For dedicated thrill seekers, there is no limit to the quest for diversion. Its ultimate end for Renée was the seduction of her stepson. Zola portrays Maxime as beautiful and androgynous, a youth of indeterminate gender. Renée often dominated their encounters, becoming more overtly aggressive in an inversion of the accepted gender roles. She also became more and more indiscreet and abandoned in her public behaviour. She destroyed the family, infecting this last bastion of social order with her disease, as Saccard and his ilk were destroying the diseased world around them.
Initially The Kill was published in serial form in La Cloche in 1871. Then the government halted further publication of the episodes, citing morality concerns. This may have been the case, but the government had political concerns as well. Zola wrote to the editor, "My aim, in this new Phaedra , was to show the terrible social breakdown that occurs when all moral standards are lost and family ties no longer exist." Commenting on Aristide, Renée and Maxime, he said, "I have tried, with these three social monstrosities, to give some idea of the social quagmire into which France was sinking." In his own Preface to the book, he called it "... a true portrait of social collapse."
Could such a breakdown have occurred so suddenly anywhere else, or did it need the hothouse that was Paris to create it? It is Zola's genius and observational skills that enable him not only to portray his characters and society so minutely and convincingly, but also to elevate them to a more universal plane, where the reader understands that such circumstances and creatures attend all great societal upheavals.
Edited to correct cover that amazon had dropped.
Great review of La curée! I only knew the movie by Roger Vadim with Jane Fonda and was surprised, as Renée is depicted in a totally different light in the film. She is a young woman married to an older and manipulative man (Michel Piccoli of course), who falls passionately in love with her stepson.
Your description of Zola's writing reminds me of my experience reading Au bonheur des dames a few weeks ago.
>91 SassyLassy: I do wish people would stop posting all these terribly enticing reviews of Zola. I have more than enough to distract me already, especially in French :-)
Excellent review of The Kill, Sassy. I cannot believe that I have yet to read any of his work, despite the great reviews that I read here.
I discovered Zola last year and really need to read more. That one sounds pretty good.
>91 SassyLassy: Is there a lot about the Haussman plan in this one or is it just set during that time? I haven't bought a Zola yet, despite all the wonderful reviews here on LT. But good fiction about the Paris plans might push me over the edge.
Great review of The Kill and the background to the book.
Meanwhile the Saccards' fortune seemed to be at its height. It blazed in the heart of Paris like a great bonfire. This was the time when the rush for spoils filled a corner of the forest with the yelping of hounds, the cracking of whips, the flaring of torches. The appetites let loose were satisfied at last, shamelessly, amid the sounds of crumbling neighbourhoods and fortunes made in less than six months. The city had become an orgy of gold and women. Vice, coming from on high, flowed through the gutters, spread out over the ornamental waters, shot up in the fountains of the public gardens, and fell on the roofs as fine rain. At night, when people crossed the bridges, it seemed as if the Seine drew along with it, through the sleeping city, all the refuse of the streets... (O)ne felt a growing sense of madness , the voluptuous nightmare of a city obsessed with gold and flesh.
Wow almost makes me wish I was there to enjoy it all, but of course that's not his point.
Also good to see Gustave Caillebotte's iconic image of Paris on the front cover.
>92 FlorenceArt: I saw that movie mentioned somewhere and remember thinking "Jane Fonda, what an odd choice", especially at that stage in her career, but then I saw that it was Roger Vadim directing and all was explained.
I read your review of Au Bonheur des Dames when you posted it and I'm looking forward to getting to it.
>93 rebeccanyc: I had the same feeling about it. Thank you once more for leading me down this road.
>94 thorold: You know you will like him. If it helps, apparently even contemporary French people have difficulty reading him in his French due to the amount of slang, so reading them in English relieves you of that struggle. I don't know if there is an equivalent of Eric Partridge in French.
>95 kidzdoc: >96 Linda92007: >97 Yells: Thanks. If you are looking for an introduction, this book is fairly short, can stand independently of the series, and after the first chapter, it just flies by.
>98 janemarieprice: Haussman isn't mentioned by name in the text, but there was a section on his renewal in the Introduction. I was particularly intrigued by the idea that the new straight wide boulevards with their view planes were designed partially as a reaction to the upheavals in Paris during the preceding century. The idea was that they would be difficult to barricade, that visibility would be good for various branches of law enforcement and that troops could easily get from one part of the city to another.
This is a wonderful novel about the corruption attending the renewal though.
>99 baswood: Wow almost makes me wish I was there to enjoy it all I know exactly what you mean!
Apparently Caillebotte's picture is at the Art Institute of Chicago, not in France as might be expected. This was painted in 1877 and does seem exactly right for the book. I notice that the latest incarnation of Oxford University Press books (white spines and back covers, red trim) have really well selected cover images, although I'm very fond of the orange Penguin covers too.
If it helps, apparently even contemporary French people have difficulty reading him in his French due to the amount of slang.
Really? As a French person I've never had difficulty reading Zola. I think he's one of the easier classic French authors to read and haven't noticed any slang, just long vocab lists.
>100 SassyLassy:, >101 lilisin:
For me he was the second "real" French author I tried to read in French, the first being Simenon. From the starting point of school-French (which was not very strong on contemporary* criminal argot), neither was too difficult, but Simenon was harder to get started with than Zola. But Zola does go in for catalogues of things, which can be off-putting.
(*) scary to think that Simenon was still contemporary in those days!
There wasn't any slang in Au bonheur des dames. Zola's vocabulary is rich and a bit dated, and as >102 thorold: said he likes lists, in this case of different kinds of fabrics or clothing items, many of which are no longer in use today. The edition I started with (and abandoned after a while) had about a gazillion notes, but most of these were unnecessary. Frankly I don't see how this could be a problem to a native speaker, but then I've never had much patience with this. I started reading books in English in my late teens or early twenties, and I started with heroic fantasy books, which meant that there were a lot of words I didn't know. That never stopped me from enjoying the books. In most cases you can guess the general meaning from context. Who cares what a tabard is exactly, it's not a word I will use myself anyway, and a vague understanding that it's some kind of medieval male protective piece of clothing is enough to just get on with the story. I did look up a few words (when they came up repeatedly, like sword), but most of them I just ignored or made up a meaning from context, and just moved on. On the other hand, for years I knew what a sword was, but not how to pronounce it.
>101 lilisin: >102 thorold: >103 FlorenceArt: Interesting and encouraging to hear about the different experiences. I do remember a couple of years ago on LT when this was the standard advice for people whose first language was not French about trying to read Zola in French. Perhaps I should not have used the word "slang" but should have been more considered in my choice of terms. However, my impression from all the various comments had been that Zola used many words that were no longer in common parlance, and many colloquial and /or swear words that may have lost their original meaning. Perhaps this usage differs from book to book, for example, the reader might expect to encounter such language in Germinal, but not in Au bonheur des dames.
Interesting about Simenon, as he featured in my grade school translations too, so that is an encouragement. Also, if Zola is one of the easier classic French authors to read , having read authors such as Balzac and Hugo in French a long time ago, perhaps I should try him.
So thanks for some encouragement and perhaps the lesson here for me is to try something for myself!
And now for something completely different: the North Atlantic Trade Triangle. When I learned it, the maps included Newfoundland and Nova Scotia on the intercoastal route to Boston, or else straight down to Jamaica, depending upon the size of the vessel. Rum was also part of the northbound homeward routes. The fish was saltfish, mostly cod.
This is from the website http://web.horacemann.org/academics/history/ which always has great maps.
I have a memory of steventx reviewing this book, which is how I heard of it. Scrolling through some of his threads, I haven't found it yet, but will keep looking. I did find some of his thoughts on Zola though.
7. Journal of a West India Proprietor: Kept during a Residence in the Island of Jamaica by Matthew Lewis
first published 1834
finished reading February 13, 2016
Like so many well off young Englishmen of his time, Matthew Lewis led a comfortable life without any real occupation on income from his father's business. True, he had been an MP and was a popular playwright, but until the time of this journal, his entire adult life had been dominated by one thing. When Lewis was nineteen, he had published The Monk, a book that was a scandalous sensation, one that earned him the sobriquet "Monk" Lewis.
However, it is one thing to live the easy life and another to see how the wealth that supports it is generated. In 1812, when Lewis was thirty-six years old, his father died. Lewis inherited a considerable fortune, much of it based on revenue from two sugar plantations in Jamaica. He decided to travel to Jamaica to visit these plantations. At that time, the British West Indies in general were crucial to the British economy, constituting one third of the North Atlantic Triangle. Despite their economic importance though, few Europeans wanted to live there, defeated as they so often were by climate and disease.
On his initial voyage, it took almost two months to sail to Jamaica. Lewis was desperately sea sick. As a way to try to distract himself, he wrote the long poem The Isle of Devils, not transcribed into his diary until the journey home. This poem starts with a quotation from The Tempest. Lewis takes the play one step further. In his poem, a beautiful young woman is shipwrecked on the isle from which none return. There she is guarded by a fiend, who manages to do what Caliban could not. Two children are born: one an abomination, the other a finely formed babe. The poem progresses from there. In her introduction to the Journal, Judith Terry suggests this poem arose from Lewis's deep seated fears of both the sea and the African origins of his slaves. Despite his often overwrought imagination, he was not an adventurous soul, and this voyage for him seemed perilous.
Like most Europeans, Lewis knew nothing of the actual operation of a slave based enterprise. Emancipation was twenty years in the future and did not seem like an entirely sure prospect. Trading in slaves had been abolished in 1811, but ownership was still legal. It is exceedingly difficult from a twenty-first century perspective to write of a slave owner in a positive way. Looked at by his contemporaries though, Lewis was considered a good slave owner, perhaps even an indulgent one.
This idea of indulgence arose from Lewis granting more days off than required by law, from his toleration of other religions than Christianity on his estates, and from his ban of corporal punishment for all but the most egregious offences. His writing however indicates a practical motivation for all this. Lewis had written "Every man of humanity must wish that slavery, even in its best and most mitigated form, had never found a legal sanction". Yet the thinking and imagination of his time seemed unable to come up with a different system and Lewis was stymied. With the trade in slaves abolished, there was no way for Lewis to augment his work force other than with children born on his estate.
Lewis writes at length of infant and childhood mortality, writing sympathetically of the mothers who saw their children die. He went so far as to establish a separate hospital on one of his estates for maternity cases, and gave nursing mothers at least a year off. Yet at the same time, in his writing about this, the reader gets the feeling that Lewis viewed his slaves more as units of production than as people. Unfortunately, increasing the number of these units was the only way to keep the estates going.
The two estates were at opposite ends of the island. Lewis visited both on each trip and writes entertainingly of the difficulties of travel. He is cautious in writing about the colonial administration and society. Instead, he writes of everyday life: folklore, the food, household administration, the production of sugar, rum and molasses. All of these details combine to make this journal into a travelogue as well. This too helps to develop Lewis's perspective, one where stories of slaves and stories of travel have equal weight.
However, the descriptions of the ocean voyages do bring home just how dangerous travel was in those times. On the first return voyage home, the course was set to avoid pirates lurking in the area. The vessel was blown off course, into the pirate routes, but although a corsair was sighted, there were no encounters with it. On the second voyage to Jamaica, it took from November 5 to December 7, 1817, just to sail from London out into the Atlantic at Plymouth, due to gales.
The journal ends on May 2, 1818, two days before Lewis left Jamaica to return home a second time. This final entry is strange reading, for the reader knows what Lewis could not; he would fall ill with yellow fever and die at sea two weeks later. The final entry shows a man at ease with himself, one who had managed to overcome his fears. The last sentence is I only wish, that in my future dealings with white persons, whether in Jamaica or out of it, I could but meet with half so such gratitude, affection, and good will."
Lewis does not write of his life between voyages, but in the Chronology, Terry says he wrote a codicil to his will, witnessed by Byron, Shelley and Polidori, which was designed to protect his slaves after his death.
edited for grammar
having read authors such as Balzac and Hugo in French a long time ago, perhaps I should try him.
Indeed you should! Muuuuch easier than Hugo and Balzac. And you'll have our full support and encouragement! :)
Really enjoyed your excellent review of the Mathew Lewis Book. Trying to understand an early nineteenth century business mans view of slavery is difficult for us readers today and so reading Lewis's account appears to be valuable.
>106 SassyLassy: very interesting review Sassy, I did not know anything about Lewis really. You've hit me with a bullet there.
So interesting! Will you post your review of the Lewis book to the book's page? There are no other reviews.
>107 lilisin: Thanks for the support and encouragement! The thing that always stops me is the idea of how much longer it will take and how much less other things I will be reading while I work through a French version. Of course, another part of my brain tells me how good it would be to do such a thing. I think I will try it in the summer when I can do it outdoors and it won't feel so homework like.
>108 baswood: It would be good to read more of his contemporaries to see how they compare, but it's probably a limited amount of work that's available. As for finding his contemporaries on the actual slave side, there seems to be very little there outside this 1789 work mentioned by Terry: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself. Equiano was an Ibo who had been transported to the West Indies as a slave.
>109 edwinbcn: It was an interesting review on many fronts. Lewis seemed to be his Monk self on the voyage out, especially when you read the poem he wrote, but then his relief seemed almost palpable when he first arrived on his estate and discovered its workings.
>110 Caroline_McElwee: Given your Gothic books, you might enjoy The Monk.
>111 rebeccanyc: I was a big fan of The Monk and remember you reading it too. Like you I had no idea how he supported himself, outside the short stint as an MP. I knew he had a private income, but had no idea from what source. Nor had I any idea that he was a popular playwright. He does tell of an incident in Kingston Jamaica when he was travelling between his estates. He went to the theatre, which coincidentally was performing one of his plays, Adelgitha; or, The Fruits of a Single Error. A Tragedy in Five Acts. His comment was "I may reckon it among my other misfortunes ... that it was my destiny to sit out the tragedy of Adelgitha, whom the author meant only to be killed in the last act, but whom the actors murdered in all five."
>112 RidgewayGirl: Done, there doesn't seem to be anyone else who has this book.
>106 SassyLassy: A toast to Steve - whether he's read this or not. I miss him and hope he's well.
Wonderful review on Lewis, fascinating stuff. Glad we have this window into that world. Enjoyed your latest Zola commentary too.
Belated happy Thingsversary wishes! Glad you took advantage of it to order some goodies!
>114 kidzdoc: Thanks. It was a book that really brought daily life back then to life, at least for those with Lewis's outlook.
>115 dchaikin: Agreed, so when I saw this in pristine condition in one of my favourite second hand book stores, I immediately thought of him and bought it.
>116 AlisonY: Good to "see" you. I love comments too.
>117 avaland: I'm wondering if we can institute 'half thingaversaries', but then who needs excuses to order. February was an over the top month for me though and March is needing some restraint too.
>118 Caroline_McElwee: I'm surprised you didn't have it either, so good to hear it's now downloaded, although there are some interesting covers out there for the paper versions. It's a book I would love to see illustrated by some of the great nineteenth century masters.
>119 rebeccanyc: While I was checking to see if you also had The Italian (didn't see it) I found some great reading. Another take on The Monk but Lewis was better. It is a treat.
This was one of the books on display at the library. I've read quite a bit about Lyndon Johnson, so thought I would give it a try.
8. Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage that Made a President by Betty Boyd Caroli
first published 2015
finished reading February 20, 2016
Betty Boyd Caroli seems to have made a career out of writing about American First Ladies (do they have them anywhere else?). Although I haven't read any of her other work, in this case at least, she might have been better off studying the President first.
Lyndon Baines Johnson was an exceptionally complex and talented man. His spouse Claudia was equal to the match and had a career in her own right. Somehow, Caroli seems to twist these strong personalities into caricatures straight out of pop psychology. Here we have an alcoholic, bullying, bipolar president, wallowing in self pity so much so that at times he was unable to function.
Enter Lady Bird, the only person in the entire world able to manage such a creature, to actually halt his mood swings, to get him out of bed and facing the day. All this she accomplished just by quiet words and her love for him. That this is far fetched seems to be a huge understatement. Caroli does credit Mrs Johnson with her enormous ability to smooth ruffled political feathers in and out of Congress and the White House, but the idea of her as a perpetual nursemaid and nanny seems a bit much. This was a woman who had had her own career, had worked very hard on Johnson's political campaigns, and who was a millionaire through her own efforts.
The one interesting chapter deals with the question of a second term. According to Caroli, Lady Bird was of two minds. Part of her felt LBJ would not survive the mental and physical demands of a second term. Part of her dreaded the idea of a man used to being at the centre of things suddenly living on the ranch with the same health concerns and only herself to direct. Either way, Lady Bird was right to be worried about her husband's health. He died of a heart attack in 1973, almost exactly four years after leaving the White House.
Lady Bird lived another thirty-four years without Lyndon. While the book's title indicates it is about the two of them together, it would have been interesting to get more than a potted outline of those years alone, for they were more than one third of her long life.
LBJ has Caro, Kearns Goodwin, Dallek and a host of others to document him. He and Mrs Johnson each deserve better than this book.
>121 SassyLassy: LBJ was certainly an interesting character, as was his wife. I'd like to read a good biography, but this definitely doesn't sound like it fits that bill.
>112 RidgewayGirl: You are definitely right on that one. You probably have a better chance of stumbling upon a good biography than I do, so when you do, let your LT gang know.
>123 Oandthegang: Although Caroli apparently read a lot of Caro, it isn't obvious from this book, so you won't find the same woman in Caro that Caroli portrayed.
A lead in to the next book, for those who may not have heard this for a while:
The Revolution is not a dinner party; it's not writing, or painting, or embroidery. It can't be so refined, so unhurried, so elegant, so gentle, polite and modest. The Revolution is an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.
Chang Li, party member, quoting Mao Zedong in Naked Earth. Most other attributions use the indefinite article, but the definite article makes sense for Chang.
9. Naked Earth by Zhang Ailing (Eileen Chang), translated from the Chinese by the author
First published as Chi di zhi lian in 1954 in Hong Kong
finished reading February 24, 2016
Readers of scar literature will immediately recognize some of its characteristics in Naked Earth. There are the youths sent down from the city as part of an enormous political campaign, suffering and despair. There is the evolution of distinct new classes. There are the struggle sessions leading to fear and eventually a self preserving sense of paranoia.
However, there is something setting Zhang's novel apart. Scar literature emerged after the death of Mao and the end of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Naked Earth was written way back in 1954. The campaign she writes about is not the Cultural Revolution, but rather two of the earliest ones following the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949: the Land Reform campaign which started in 1950, and the Three Antis Campaign of 1951, which sought to weed out corruption among the cadres.
As the novel opens, a group of university students from Beijing is being trucked across the great Central Plain of northern China. They were newly minted low level cadres, going out to the countryside to educate the peasants about land reform. Among the students were Liu Ch'uan and Su Nan. They embodied the naiveté and hope of youth. This hope wasn't restricted to the young though in that time and place. This was the beginning of a new age in a country steeped in rigid codes of social and economic behaviour. The students were not the only ones who believed in the new dawn. Others, previously oppressed, hoped to make their way.
The first step was Land Reform, designed initially to "Level both ends without touching the middle". Official designations like Landlord, Rich Farmer, Middling Farmer, Poor Farmer, and Destitute Farmer were to be used to label the villagers and reassign land and goods. The difficulty was that this particular district had no big oppressive landlords. Tenants were unwilling to speak out against those whose land they had worked. Chang Li, the party member in charge of the students and the land redistribution was having difficulty mobilizing the masses.
Zhang's work is an extraordinary study of these two campaigns, seen from both sides. As there were no big landlords, the criteria for each class were lowered, to enable the selection of victims for struggle meetings and executions. Middling Farmers, once safe, now qualified as Landlords. The Distribution of Floating Riches that followed the executions, and the gratuitous public torture and execution that followed the official ones, soon opened Liu's eyes to what was really happening.
However, immediately after these events, he received word that he was being transferred to Shanghai, along with Chang, to work for the Resist-America Aid-Korea Association in the new war. Perhaps these events in this rural province had been an aberration, he hoped. Shanghai would prove to be both a valuable education and a total disillusion.
Zhang writes with an amazing mastery of rhetoric. When Chang attempted to justify the final outrageous execution to the villagers, he quoted Mao saying
' A short reign of terror has to be created in every village in the country. Without this, the activities of anti-revolutionary forces in the country can never be suppressed, and the power of the gentry can never be overthrown.' We should remember another of Chairman Mao's sayings, "To correct a wrong we must go further than what is just; without excesses we can never correct a wrong!'Later in Shanghai, at a three day mass confessional meeting at Liu's office, , part of the Three Antis campaign, a woman confesses to "man-woman relations of the old society" However, her skill with language is such that the crowd accepts her self criticism, merely forcing her to name one of her lovers.
I accept completely the criticism brought forward to me... I have nothing to say in my own defense. I feel very much ashamed that even now -- after so many years spent in the nucleus of the struggle -- even now there still exist in my consciousness certain bad traits of the petit-bourgeois. I have this tendency toward Freedom and Looseness. ...when I fought in the guerillas I got into the Guerilla Style of behaviour. Ever since then I've found it difficult to Regularize my life. ... I'm a Party member and yet instead of setting an example before the Masses, I'm sabotaging the Party's prestige. I deserve to be penalized most severely, but I still hope that all of you will consider giving me a second chance. In that case I will happily wash off the dirt on my body and voluntarily undergo a thorough self-reform.
Zhang then adds "It was such a fine speech that there was a moment of silence after she had finished."
This use of rhetoric is deliberate. Zhang wrote this novel in Chinese for the United States Information Service. It was published in Hong Kong in 1954. It was not translated for an English speaking audience until 1965, so the target audience was definitely Chinese speakers. Zhang had grown up in Shanghai in a wealthy family. Rural China and the world of peasants was unknown to her. She was a consummate survivor though, marrying a Japanese sympathizer in occupied Shanghai, moving to Hong Kong after the People's Republic was established, and then marrying an American and moving to the US. There is still some of the lyricism of her famous works from the 1940s here, especially in interior scenes. However, writing for her new audience seems more difficult. The ending especially is strained, but at least allows Liu some degree of choice.
Even with all these caveats, Zhang is always a writer worth reading. The edition was published in 2015 and is Zhang's own 1965 translation from the Chinese.
Fascinating review of Naked Earth. I've only read some of Zhang's earlier stories and didn't realize she had gone on to write books like these.
From around 1951, designed by Jin Meisheng
I don't read Chinese, but the website tells me this says "The life of the peasants is good after Land Reform".
The website chineseposters.net has posters collected by the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam and Stefan Landsberger
I've never read anything by Zhang but you make me want to start with this book.
We own four original Chinese propaganda posters and they are always fascinating to look at.
When I was looking for something from China to read last year, I almost picked this one, then shied away from it when I read that it had been written as propaganda and chose Love in a fallen city instead. That was enough to convince me that Chang is a writer worth reading, but your review makes me think I was probably right to put Naked earth low down on my list...
Great review of Naked Earth! (Here I am reminded of another book titled the same, but on geophysics. It was my oldest daughter's favorite book in high school). I think I saw an arc of a Eileen Chang back at the store; might have to take a closer look.
>126 SassyLassy: fascinating Sassy. I have not heard of this writer, or known about Scar literature. I shall certainly add it to my long list of prospects. We've had quite a bit about China on tv recently, historical documentaries and art documentaries, and it has ticked my interest.
>130 rebeccanyc: I had not read this side of Zhang, but have certainly read a fair amount of fiction from the PRC. I was familiar with Zhang's works from before this era and would have been happy starting with either of her perspectives, but suspect that knowing her earlier works which reflect her original milieu so well, made the contrast with this book so strong. Whichever book you choose, I think you will like her.
>131 lilisin: I envy you those posters. The closest thing I have is for a performance of The White Haired Girl. The website where I got that image has a really interesting book on Chinese posters.
>132 thorold: I remember you reading her earlier this winter. Naked Earth certainly lacks the moods of Love in a Fallen City, but then, so did the times.
>133 avaland: The touchstones seemed to favour your daughter's book too. She wrote another book from this era The Rice Sprout Song.
>134 wandering_star: Going back to look at various quotations, I discovered I had forgotten how early that quote was: 1927 from Report of an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan.
>135 Caroline_McElwee: She is an excellent writer. You might enjoy Lust, Caution or the above mentioned Love in a Fallen City. Zhang also translated The SingSong Girls of Shanghai which I have been working my way through on and off for some time.
For anyone who has read War Trash (highly recommended), there is a scene there very similar to one in Naked Earth.
Fans of Ang Lee might be interested in his wonderful film of Lust, Caution with the incomparable Joan Chen and Tony Leung
Then there was Zhang herself:
in 1954, the same year Naked Earth was written. The picture gives an idea of why she moved to Hong Kong.
Lust, Caution is such a beautiful movie, isn't it. I watch that one and In the Mood for Love at least once a year.
>136 SassyLassy: I think there was a China Reading Globally theme read some years ago, and then I read a bunch of books from the PRC, but none by Zhang. I'll look forward to her.
>138 rebeccanyc: Unfortunately I missed the China theme as it was before my LT time, but I do read several Chinese novels each year. Looking forward to your thoughts on Zhang.
Enjoyed your excellent review of Naked Earth (New York Review Books Classics)
Thanks bas and dan
>142 dchaikin: Zhang was writing accurately, but I'm not sure that at the time it would have been taken to be accurate outside the PRC and other Chinese speaking places, in the same way that atrocities anywhere are initially denied in the outside world. Writing for USIS certainly gave her an agenda, but current scholarship shows she was not exaggerating. Depending on the estimates you use, 1-3 million landowners were executed between the introduction of the Agrarian Reform Law (1950) and collectivization (starting about 1953). Those of Zhang's class would have been aware of this through underground information networks. In the novel, Zhang has a landowner being held for ransom by his city relatives, a direct way of letting the urban people know what was happening.
In the introduction, Perry Link discussed the question of how Zhang in Shanghai knew about these things and says Zhang herself addressed it in her two books for USIS, saying the novels are based on true stories coming from second hand sources and public sources such as published self-criticisms. Link says "Self-criticisms" by officials and descriptions of famine had appeared, after combing for political correctness, in the state-run press. Zhang could read past the propaganda overlay and infer what had happened. As evidenced in the novel, she was a master of propaganda language.
Link also says there was a Party approved novel, The Sun Shines over the Sanggan River published in 1948 and winner of the Stalin Prize in 1951, which, quoting Chang Ch'ien-Fen, has "a broad range of 'intertextuality' " between that novel and Naked Earth.
In the end, Link feels Zhang was "too powerful a writer" to be convinced by USIS to exaggerate for propaganda purposes, saying "the beauty of Zhang's writing makes it hard to view as anyone's propaganda". I would definitely agree with that.
Probably a far longer answer than you were looking for, but something worth discussing.
Photo purports to be a struggle session against a landlord.
I may have been among the last not to have read Elena Ferrante. Somewhat tentatively I thought I would give her a try. I opted for one of her books from the time before she was "Elena Ferrante", rather than start with her famous quartet.
10. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
First published as I giorni dell' abbandono in 2002
Finished reading March 2, 2016
My brain wasn't functioning. I had spent some weeks working on a project and had just completed it. I wanted easy, I wanted distraction, I wanted an escape read. The book was titled The Days of Abandonment, the author is a literary star. It seemed like a great choice. However, in my befuddled state, abandonment equated to frolicking joyfully, driving new roads, just revelling in whatever pleasurable activity came along.
Perhaps I should have read the cover notes; something I never do until the book is finished. They tell the unsuspecting reader this is an ...unsentimental and unyielding depiction of motherhood, marriage and solitude, tells the story of one woman's headlong descent into what she calls an "absence of sense" after being abandoned by her husband." Oh, it was that kind of abandonment. I would have been warned off completely.
While this book was certainly well written, there was no place where I made a connection. Yes, it was unfortunate and humiliating that this middle class stay at home mother had her husband walk out on her and her two young children, but where did he go? Straight into the arms of a twenty year old family friend, with whom he may or may not have been having an affair since she was fifteen. Did the protagonist or her children really need such a man in their lives?
Olga obviously thought so. At first she deluded herself into thinking her husband would come back. She kept up the apartment, her appearance, the children and her husband's dog's routines. Gradually the facades slipped. Ants and lizards appeared, she became dishevelled, fearful, her language became obscene. She confronted the lovers on the street. Her friends withdrew, afraid of her and unable to help. Olga wallowed in self pity, a state that enrages me. I was beginning to sympathize with her husband, although clearly that was not the author's intent. Months passed and Olga became less and less competent, locked in her apartment because she couldn't work the keys, unable to phone for help because the line had been disconnected, terrifying her young daughter.
It was only Ferrante's writing that kept me going, her descriptions of Olga's thought processes:
... what frightened me above all was the nearly imperceptible images of the mind, the thought syllables. A thought that I couldn't fix on sufficed, a simple violet flash of meanings, a green hieroglyphic of the brain, for the bad feeling to reappear and panic to mount. Shadows too dense and damp suddenly returned to certain corners of the house, with their noises, the swift movements of their dark masses. Then I caught myself turning the television on and off mechanically, just to have company, or softly singing a lullaby in the dialect of my childhood...
Perhaps it was the wrong time to be reading this book, but I don't see myself reading another Ferrante soon. It's still the only book I've read this month.
edited for spelling
Commiserations on the Ferrante. I suppose that is not how abandoned women should behave these days.
Thanks bas. It took me three weeks to recover sufficiently from this experience to finish another book, even though that next one was excellent.
This book was discovered in thorold's post for the Reading Globally Caribbean quarter. Reading it, I had a similar experience, in that it took some time to read the first two thirds, several pages at a time, which I would not recommend, and then the last third just flew.
11. Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau translated from the French and Creole by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov
first published in 1992
finished reading March 23, 2016
Written history gives us ages, demarcation points, like the Romanov Empire or the Industrial Revolution, capitalized to enforce just how important such people and developments are. But what of all the people and events whose history never sees the light of day, is lost along with the people whose oral record it was?
Marie-Sophie Labourieux believed in stories, believed in places, believed in her people. Constantly changing, constantly evolving, their origins were in danger of being lost to memory. A people who had descended from African slaves and French colonists, and from all those who came later to their island, a people who had fled the plantations and the masters only to be swallowed by the sugar refineries and City, had little chance of an official history. Even had such a thing existed, it could never capture the sounds, the smells, the tastes and colours of her world. Marie-Sophie set out to do this.
Thirty-five years earlier, Marie-Sophie had left City (Fort de France) and gone around the harbour to the land of the Texaco company. Here she set up her solitary hut, living alone until gradually a whole community of squatters grew up around her. Such places are never left in peace though. The oil people left, City noticed the wonderful vistas and needed more space. A connecting highway, the Pénétrante, was built. Now urban renewal threatened to destroy her community, the "insalubrious" Texaco.
By now, Marie-Sophie was regarded as a matadora, a woman of knowledge, worthy of respect. She was selected to entertain the first urban planner to assay her Texaco over glasses of rum in her hut. In her words
The angel of destruction had come that morning to familiarize himself with the setting for his future exploits.
Slowly she wove for him the stories of her island and her people. More slowly, she filled notebook after notebook with them. From City, the place where she was born, there was Adélina, or was it Sophélise, one of two sisters who left this world so late that no one knew who she might be; their mother Théresa-Marie-Rose, who carried baskets of oranges and volumes of Montaigne across to the guards at the asylum where her husband, the man who had introduced Marie-Sophie to literature, but went mad and ate his library when war was declared, was incarcerated. From this family she had the books that followed her always.
Some Montaigne of course, whom I feel I can still hear murmuring in his freezing castle; Alice, Lewis Carroll's, wandering from wonder to wonder as in a true Creole tale; Monsieur de La Fontaine's fables, where writing looks easy; and, of course, some Rabelais... I like to read my Rabelais, I don't understand much, but his bizarre language reminds me of my dear Esternome's strange sentences stuck between his desire to speak good French and his hill Creole -- a singular quality that I was never able to capture in my notebooks.
From Texaco there was Nelta, the man she loved, whose goal was partir as soon as he had enough money, a goal they both tacitly acknowledged; partir, a French word to take him to France. There was Iréné the shark catcher with whom she would live out her days; Marie-Clémence, whose tongue was "televised news", "dispensing just enough bitterness to make life passionate"; Julot the Mangy, the Boss, afraid only of his dead mother's return to earth; the raids by police trying to flatten the community and the raids by foreign sailors trying to flatten the women.
Marie-Sophie told it all with the immediacy and yet also the mythic quality only an oral culture can convey. Marie-Sophie herself recognized the loss that the writing of history imposes on its material, a loss framed by the very language that seeks to preserve.
The feeling of death became even more present when I began to write about myself, and about Texaco. It was like petrifying the tatters of my flesh. I was emptying my memory into immobile notebooks without having brought back the quivering of the living life which at each moment modifies what's just happened. Texaco was dying in my notebooks though it wasn't finished. And I myself was dying there though I felt the person I was now... still elaborating. ...
If there is, Marie-Sophie and Patrick Chamoiseau have captured it.
One of the reasons Texaco made such an impression on me was that I had lived in a city where urban planners were successful in razing what they considered to be a squatter community in order to expand the city. The community was Africville, the city was Halifax. Later I lived in a province where people had been resettled from communities hundreds of years old to centralized communities far away, devoid of cultural memory.
Both instances have since been recognized as things that should never have happened.
The year is 1965
This is circa 1965.
These photos are by Bob Brooks, published in The National Post, July 28, 2011
Here is documentation on the relocation, from Dalhousie University:
Africville's story has been put to music by the wonderful musician Joe Sealy:
>149 NanaCC: and >152 rebeccanyc: I think you would both really like it.
>159 and >151 AlisonY: I discovered afterwards that the photos are in the provincial archives: https://novascotia.ca/archives/africville/results.asp?Search=
You can see why others wanted the land by looking at the bird's eye view. Some of the captions appear to be incorrect.
>150 baswood: Thanks for the link. I had heard Jackie Richardson before, but never "seen" her. I always love her voice, even in radio conversation. I see Joe Sealy whenever I can. Your link led me to a great rendition of Summertime by this pair: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_U_aF7_-uw
Lights dimmed and single malt.
In college, studying a much earlier era, I studied wrote about another major Nova Scotian relocation of people - of the Acadians.
Ah, la Grand Dérangement. Have you read Pélagie la Charette, which I recommend to everyone who will listen? Antonine Maillet won the Prix Goncourt for this. Can you recommend a decent historical account of the expulsion?
For those unfamiliar with this, starting in 1755, the British rounded up and forcibly deported the French Acadians from what is now the Maritime Provinces, in their efforts to conquer North America. They started in Grand Pré.
Here is a link to some of the history of the event: http://www.landscapeofgrandpre.ca/deportation-and-new-settlement-1755ndash1810.h... with a great map showing the dispersion. I believe that the Seven Years' War is known as the French and Indian War in the US.
Interesting stuff here, especially the materials and discussions around the books.
Fabulous review of Texaco, Sassy! I tried reading it earlier this year but struggled with the first part of it, probably because I was tired from work and couldn't give it the attention it deserved. I will give it another go, probably in July or August when I should have plenty of down time.
Thanks for posting the information about Africville and French Acadia. I'll look at this in more detail later this week.
>156 edwinbcn: and >157 kidzdoc: So glad you like the background info. I love discovering it and it may be part of the reason I read so few books in a year, as I am off following the trails on which the ones I do read lead me.
I see it has been some time since I have been present on my own thread, but April seems to have taken me away completely from my world of books and placed me squarely in the real world. It's time to try catching up on March.
March's Zola read:.
12. Money by Emile Zola, translated from the French by Valerie Minogue
first published as L'argent in serial form in Gil Blas November 1890-March 1891 and then in La Vie populaire 22 March 1891- 30 August 1891
finished reading March 28, 2016
Money continues the story of Aristide Saccard, last encountered as a speculator nonpareil in The Kill (91 above). A year after the spectacular ball at the end of The Kill, Saccard is bankrupt and a widower. Sitting alone at a window table in Champeaux, the restaurant for financial traders where he had once held court, Saccard found himself an outsider, excluded, a person whose bad fortune just might be contagious.
Contemplating the wild swings of fortune since his arrival in Paris sixteen years earlier, he realized
he had never been able to make fortune his slave... at his disposal, alive, real, and kept under lock and key. His coffers had always been full of lies and fictions, with mysterious holes that seemed to drain away their gold. And now here he was back on the street again, just as he started out long ago, ... never satisfied, and still tortured by the same need... He had tasted everything without ever satisfying his appetite... Now he felt quite wretched, a good deal worse off than a mere beginner, who would have hope and illusion to sustain him. He was seized by a frenzied desire to start all over again, to conquer once more, to rise even higher than before and at last plant his foot firmly on the conquered city. No longer with the facade of mendacious wealth but the solid edifice of fortune, the true royalty of gold, reigning over well-filled bags of wealth.
Just as he was leaving the restaurant, he had a brief encounter with Gundermann, "the banker-king, master of the Bourse and the world". Gundermann is based on the powerful Baron de Rothschild. Saccard hated Gundermann, hated his secure position. Later in the novel Saccard's strong anti-semitism and hatred of Gundermann consume him. This hatred was a sentiment Zola did not share, but he uses it here both as a reflection of what was actually happening in France, and as a character flaw reflecting Saccard's low born origins, a continuation of Zola's exploration of the effects of heredity and environment. This chance encounter did spur Saccard to follow up on his musings and create his own institution, the Universal Bank, in an effort to destroy Gundermann.
Once again, Zola sets Saccard firmly in his place and time. The Universal Exhibition brought the world to Paris in 1867. Saccard's fortunes rose along with those of Emperor Napoleon III and the city of Paris. Intoxicated with it all, to him,
...this exaltation of the Universal shares, this ascension, carrying them up as if on a divine wind, seemed to harmonize with the louder and louder music from the Tuileries and the Champs de Mars, and the continual festivities with which the Exhibition was driving Paris mad. ... there was no evening when the blazing city did not sparkle under the stars like some colossal palace, in the depths of which, debauchery went on until dawn. Joy had spread from house to house, the streets were an intoxication, a cloud of animal vapours, cooking smells from the feastings, the sweat of couplings, all rolling away to the horizon, carrying over the rooftops the nights of Sodom, Babylon, and Nineveh.
Saccard emerges as a more complex character in this novel than in The Kill, written eighteen years earlier. His restless drive and energy are linked to more complex and focussed plans than the mere acquisition of money. The building of the Suez Canal presented opportunities for expansion in banking, transport and construction that fired him. His relationships with women are more developed here too, especially with Caroline Hamelin, herself more complex than previous female characters of Zola's.
This 2014 translation by Valerie Minogue is the first unabridged translation into English and the first new translation into English since the nineteenth century. It gives the reader insights into Saccard previously unavailable due to the work of the nineteenth century American and English censors. In her Translator's Note, Minogue says the nineteenth century translators regretted the parts they had to leave out. One even invented new passages to account for the gaps created by such omissions.
In the Introduction, Minogue quotes Zola; "It's very difficult to write a novel about money. It's cold, icy, lacking in interest..." She says he wanted to avoid the conventional views of it as an evil and show instead "its generous and fecund power, its expansive force". This novel does that brilliantly, showing the reader not only the expected greed and scandals, but digging deeper, creating an excitement over supposedly mundane topics like the workings of the Bourse, credit, and money bills, so that the reader becomes as enthralled as Saccard with the minutiae behind it all. Above all, it offers an insight into the soul of a gambler and recognizes the obsession that becomes life itself.
I enjoyed L'argent (because I couldn't find the touchstone for "Money") too and thought it was one of Zola's most complex novels; thanks for your review which brought it back to me.
Enjoyed your Zola review. Haven't read any Zola yet - not really sure where to start.
>162 AlisonY: I recommend Germinal as a good place to start when reading Zola because it is one of his best and it will get you hooked. After that I tried to read them in Zola's recommended reading order, skipping ones that hadn't been recently translated because the original translations were bowdlerized. I think Sassy is reading them that way too. You can find the recommended reading order by scrolling down this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Rougon-Macquart
>160 baswood: Thanks. I am really enjoying this series.
>161 rebeccanyc: I had the same problem with the touchstone. Oddly, when I put in L'argent, it came up Money, but the title was not to be found under "Money".
>162 AlisonY: I would agree with rebecca about starting with Germinal, which is really powerful. That was one of the first novels that I read by Zola and it certainly convinced me to read more. Then when rebecca read through the Rougon-Macquart cycle, I decided that might be the way to go.
>163 rebeccanyc: You're right, that is the order I am reading them in and I am going for recent translations. This means I skipped the second book, His Excellency Eugene Rougon, as the major translation appears to have been done by Vizetelly in 1897, he of the inserted passages in L'Argent, mentioned above. It looks as if there is a 1958 translation, but it doesn't look promising and appears to be out of print. If a new translation comes out, I will read it later. Currently, OUP seems to be issuing new translations bit by bit. These are the ones I am trying to use. They are based on the Henri Mitterand editions of Zola's works, published by Gallimard
Here is a bit of a comparison between translations to get the idea of what is left out: https://swiftlytiltingplanet.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/zola-translations/
>159 SassyLassy: Fabulous review of Money, Sassy!
>161 rebeccanyc: I use a trick I learned from Zoë when I can't find a touchstone. I search for the book in the author's works, find out the book's numerical assignation by LT (in this case, 507602, which is at the end of the book's web page, http://www.librarything.com/work/507602), and place that number in square brackets, followed by two colons and the title of the book, e.g. (507602::Money), substituting square brackets for round ones.
Thanks for the tips on where to start with Zola, Sassy and Rebecca. I'll try to get to Germinal this summer.
>159 SassyLassy: another fine review Sassy. I really must read a Zola soon, I've got about four (and maybe 'the complete' on Kindle). I've been meaning to since reading Rebecca's reviews over recent years.
Wonderful review. Money was my introduction to Zola years ago (in a Bulgarian translation) - back then he reminded me of Hardy (but then a lot of things did at the time). I need to get back to Zola - had not touched anything by him for over a decade...
>167 kidzdoc: Thanks. That's a good way to work around the touchstones.
>168 Caroline_McElwee: Based on your books, I think you would enjoy Zola. Which Kindle editions do you have? I see some of the new translations are available, but a lot of older ones. Do Kindle books include all the additional materials (notes etc.)? You can see I don't have an electronic reading device.
>169 AnnieMod: Interesting to contemplate it in Bulgarian. How do Zola's concerns mesh with those that would have been current in Bulgaria at the time? I am woefully ignorant of that area and would like some suggestions for books in English translation.
I see what you mean about Hardy in the intensity level of the writing and in sharing concerns that many other mainstream authors weren't addressing at the time. I need to get back to Hardy.
>167 kidzdoc: I actually knew that but had forgotten about it. Thanks.
Going way back in time with this one:
13. The Buccaneers of America by Exquemelin translated from the Dutch by Alexis Brown
first published as De Americansche Zee-Roovers in 1678
finished reading March 31, 2016
The Buccaneers of America was an international best seller in its day, translated into German, Spanish, English and French within a decade of its initial publication. It was no wonder the book achieved such popularity, for the buccaneers had been the scourge of the Caribbean throughout the century. Now someone who had actually lived and sailed with them, who had been present when Captain Morgan sacked Panama, had written an account of their lives.
Exquemelin starts his narrative with a transatlantic crossing in May 1666. At that time he was with the French West India Company. Although heavily armed, the ship sailed in convoy with seven other company ships, twenty vessels bound for Newfoundland, and a few Dutch trading ships; a convoy whose size showed the perils the English frigates along the French coast were capable of inflicting.
His ship arrived safely in Tortuga, off the northern coast of Hispaniola, but here he and his fellow crew members were in for a shock. The French West India Company on the island was unable to pay its debts, so everything was sold, including the indentured servants, of whom Exquemelin was one. Falling into ill health due to the treatment he received from his new master, he was then sold again to a surgeon, who set him free after a year, allowing him credit to pay for his freedom after his release. The use of Europeans as indentured labour was common at the time. Exquemelin never says what his trade was, but it is believed he was a barber surgeon, and so would not have been fit for the field work his first new master demanded. Owning nothing by the time of his release, Exquemelin joined the buccaneers, with whom he stayed until 1674.
Whatever his background was, he had a keen eye for observing both the natural world and the world of men. He wrote in straightforward detail of plants and animals encountered in the Americas, comparing them to those with which his European readers would be familiar. Hunting and agricultural practises are described, along with the preparation of the food produced. Exquemelin viewed these two occupations as distinct communities and described the structure of each. He had little good to say of the large French estates and the planters who ran them, giving examples of their extreme cruelty to their workers.
The third community on Hispaniola was the buccaneers. These outcasts owed no national allegiance, sailing rather under their own captains. Their ranks were made up of former servants like Exquemelin, sailors who had jumped ship, army deserters, former prisoners, some indigenous people and some seeking adventure. According to Exquemelin, careful preparations were made in advance of each expedition. Ships and canoes were readied, locations were scouted, food was prepared and laid by. The buccaneers voted on their cruising lanes, and on the method of distribution of any spoils. This division included compensation for severe injuries and loss of limbs.
Prizes for buccaneers could be rich indeed, but the risks were extreme. The Caribbean was a free for all, with the Netherlands, France, England and Spain all competing for wealth and territories. Exquemelin cites specific examples of international manoeuvring, but it is left to Jack Beeching in his Introduction to give the background.
Spain by this time was in economic decline, with no industries to create new wealth, forced to buy goods on the international market. This hadn't been a problem given the huge amounts of gold it had been able to extract from its American colonies, but as colonies were lost, destroyed, or plundered, and as convoys returning to Spain were mercilessly robbed, this became more difficult. France, England and the Netherlands were seizing each others' vessels and territories, and issuing letters of marque to privateers to do it for them when political conditions prevented them from acting openly. The buccaneers played no small role in these assaults, with the Frenchman l'Olonnais (Jean-David Nau) and the Welshman Henry Morgan being the best known. Exquemelin sailed in Morgan's fleet and detailed these escapades, appearing to admire Morgan's organization, if not his extreme tactics.
While he doesn't recount his life after buccaneering, Exquemelin made it back to Europe and qualified as a surgeon in Amsterdam. There is evidence he later returned to the Americas as his name appears in association with the raid on Cartagena in 1697 by French privateers, but he didn't write about it.
As Exquemelin's book on the buccaneers was translated into different languages, each nationality saw fit to edit and add or subtract to suit its own particular bias. Exquemelin's original writing, the basis of this translation, is very even toned, very matter of fact, even when describing the worst outrages. It is like reading Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year, lots of terrible things happen and are narrated in the most mundane fashion. It was enough though, especially the section on Captain Morgan, to make his work the basis for centuries of pirate fiction. It is worthwhile for that alone.
Date edited... thanks AnnieMod!
Excellent review! And I'm pleased to learn that Captain Morgan was an actual pirate.
Great review of the Buccaneers of America I am definitely going to get that one to read.
They did not - or at least not in my teen mind. That was part of the charm. We are talking for the nineties - the country was plunged into an economical crisis and political upheaval. And Zola's times? He was writing in the years when Bulgaria was finally getting out from a 5 centuries of being part of the Ottoman empire (with the usual case of uprisings, wars, rebuilding and hopes) - so Zola's people and ideas have nothing to do with what was happening on the Balkans. And in those summers, the books from and about those times were the one that had to be read for school - so Zola's differences were even more prominent.
If you want to read something from Bulgaria, The Physics of Sorrow was just shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. His earlier "And Other Stories" (short stories) and Natural Novel are also worth looking for. A lot of the local prose is not easily translatable - you can translate the language but without the background, they fall flat. But some are doable - and that is one of the prime examples...
Which time are you more interested in - Zola's or the 90s (for other recommendations)?
>176 janeajones: The true Pirates of the Caribbean!
You say that like your a true PoC fan. I find it really funny that they were filming scenes for the latest PoC movie here in Vancouver earlier this month. Vancouver does not look like the Caribbean. Paul McCartney was in town for a couple of concerts and he filmed some scenes for the movie. Not sure who he's playing. Sounds sort of campy, I think.
>172 SassyLassy: Wow! That sounds fascinating. How on earth did you find it?
I am not sure if I am more impressed that you are writing back from the year 3016 or that this book is still available :)
More serious though - interesting review. And sounds like a fascinating book.
Great to discover so many fellow pirate fans here. I have a whole section devoted to the sea, including some pirates, under my 'Ahoy' tag.
>173 RidgewayGirl: Not only was he an outright villain, he was actually made the lieutenant-governor of Jamaica, a true demonstration of English colonial policy. One historian calls him "one of the most rapacious, ruthless and unprincipled villains of his age, but it still makes for great fiction.
>174 FlorenceArt: >175 baswood: Keep in mind his writing style. If you want pirates, some good fiction might do it better.
>176 janeajones: He does get a mention in the film as one of the architects of the pirates' code of conduct, along with the dreaded Bartholomew Roberts.
>177 AnnieMod: I will have a look for The Physics of Sorrow, thanks for the recommendation. I would say I am more interested in Zola's time, although the '90s would probably be of more relevance.
>178 Nickelini: Vancouver does not look like the Caribbean Spoken like a Vancouverite! To the RoC, it looks likes Canada's own paradise, although I will concede your point. Bartholomew Roberts did stage some raids in Newfoundland.
Still contemplating Paul McCartney in the upcoming film and not liking what I am imagining.
>179 rebeccanyc: I've been racking my brains over that myself. I am somewhat of a fanatic about the condition of my books, and always write the date and place where they came from inside the front cover. This book is a really beaten up Penguin from 1965, the glue that holds the cover on is coming away, and there is no notation as to how I got it. It has been well read previously, but at least no one has underlined or highlighted it. It has been on my TBR for years, since the '90s, but that is as close as I can come.
>180 AnnieMod: Tomorrow is usually a big enough problem, I can't begin to contemplate the next millennium! Thanks for picking it up though; it's good to see people reading thoroughly! I used to have a teacher who would cover up mistakes on the blackboard by saying she just wanted to know if we were paying attention.
More on Pirates:
The Capture of the Pirate Blackbeard, 1718 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1920
And now from The Pirate Republic website, the Pirate Code of Conduct of Bartholomew Roberts and others
ARTICLE I - Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
ARTICLE II - Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.
ARTICLE III - None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
ARTICLE IV - The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
ARTICLE V - Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
ARTICLE VI - No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.
ARTICLE VII - He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
ARTICLE VIII - None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man's quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to cutlasses, and he that draweth first blood shall be declared the victor.
ARTICLE IX - No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of 1,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.
ARTICLE X - The captain and the quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officer one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.
ARTICLE XI - The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only by right. On all other days by favour only.
>181 SassyLassy: Still contemplating Paul McCartney in the upcoming film and not liking what I am imagining.
I know! Me too. I can't get past the image of McCartney and Michael Jackson's video "Say, Say, Say." (Even in 1983 I thought the video was horrible)
Out of reading order, but my last entry for this quarter.
first published 1623
finished March 15, 2016
Once again, I'm not reviewing Shakespeare. This was a real change from the three plays my Shakespeare reading group has read since I joined: Othello, King Lear and Hamlet. The intensity level was certainly lower, but it was truly enjoyable. I learned a lot about masques, about the widow Dido that my school versions of The Aeneid didn't feel fit to print, and in general felt more relaxed with this play than with the earlier ones. This is not to say I didn't appreciate them, that was not the case at all, it was just a different level of experience.
We finished the reading with a showing of the film version of The Tempest by the Stratford Festival in Stratford Ontario. This starred Christopher Plummer as a superb Prospero, The supporting cast was excellent too, especially Geraint Wyn Davies as Stephano. The one disappointment was Trish Lindstrom as Miranda. Here is a link to the promo preview: http://www.google.ca/search?q=stratford+festival+the+tempest+christopher+plummer...
and one to Plummer at the play's end: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsu-2aTdKTs
There is an interesting film of The Tempest with Helen Mirren as Prospera (available in full on youtube) - not everything translates well, but some things do.
It's May already, so past time for me to start my second quarter. Here it is:
This topic was continued by SassyLassy's Nineteenth Century.
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