Friday, 23 February 2018

Book Review: My Lady of the Chinese Courtyard by Elizabeth Cooper patriarchal societies women seldom play an important public role. Instead they are more or less confined to home and family, so little information about them “leaks out”. Diaries and letters sometimes shed light on their daily lives, but otherwise historical sources use to be scarce. Literature mirrors this situation. Where women live in the shadow of men, they aren’t likely to get leading parts in books, either. Set in China in the late 1880s and the early 1910s respectively, the forgotten classic My Lady of the Chinese Courtyard by Elizabeth Cooper evokes the life of a Chinese upper-class woman through two series of letters. The first she writes a few months after their wedding while her husband is abroad with a Chinese delegation, the other twenty-five years later after having moved to Shanghai where her husband was appointed governor and they have to lead a more Western life.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Poetry Revisited: Greetings by Joseph Furtado


(from Songs in Exile: 1938)

At sunrise o’er the hills
As I go a-whistling gay,
The birds from many a tree,
“Good-morning, poet!” they say
It thrills me so, that I
Can hardly make reply,
But in my heart I bless them

At sunset I return
A-thinking all the way,
And, to the birds about,
“Good-night, dear birds!” I say
If none of them replies
Because of heavy eyes,
Sure in their hearts they bless me

Joseph Furtado (1872-1947)
South Asian poet and novelist

Friday, 16 February 2018

Book Review: Frog by Mo Yan history of twentieth-century China is one of many violent changes that made the masses suffer a lot, but because of the geographical, cultural and political distance Westerners like me know very little about it. Above all the daily lives of the average people under the strict guidance of the Communist Party lie widely in the dark. The letters forming the epistolary novel Frog by Mo Yan, the controversial Chinese recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2012, evoke the life of a woman born in 1937 who was an obstetrician in Northeast Gaomi Township for over fifty years. She started her career delivering babies in the prosperous first decades under the reign of Chairman Mao and as a loyal Party Member she eventually hunted women pregnant for a repeated time to implement the one-child policy and abort the foetus however late. Her nephew’s wife dies in such a procedure.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Back Reviews Reel: February 2015

Three years ago the books that I chose to close the literary cold season, i.e. my WINTER Books Special, were either fantastic or historical fiction, sometimes both in a way. I started my seasonal reads in Denmark’s past with classical Winter’s Tales by several times Nobel Prize nominee Isak Dinesen who is better known today as Karen Blixen and continued them in New York City jumping between beginning and end of the twentieth century with contemporary American writer Mark Helprin and his magical-realistic Winter’s Tale. Then I switched to the time of Tsarina Katherine II the Great and joined her in her Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg as contemporary Canadian writer Eva Stachniak saw it through the eyes of a woman working there. And finally, I accompanied a Don Juan in nineteen-century Spain on his adventures recalled in the classical Autumn and Winter Sonatas by Spanish author Ramón del Valle-Inclán.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Poetry Revisited: Thoughts by Marion Bernstein


(from David Hershell Edwards (ed):
One Hundred Modern Scottish Poets: 1880)

Day by day Life's scroll unfoldeth
Slowly is our fate revealed;
Every eye the Past beholdeth,
But the future is concealed.

Moments mournful, moments pleasant,
Come and go, and none can last,
What was Future now is Present,
What was present now is Past.

It, perhaps, may soothe our sorrow
Thus to think ‘twill pass away:
Life must change. Perhaps to-morrow
May be brighter than to-day.

And sweet scenes of bygone gladness
Are not altogether fled;
Mem‘ry, lighting up our sadness,
Half restores the lost and dead.

When Life's joys seem lost for ever,
We can dream them o‘er again;
All Time's changes cannot sever
One bright link in Mem’ry‘s chain.

And the Future none can know it
Until Time the truth reveal.
Fancy may pretend to show it;
Time still proves her scenes unreal.

Radiant Hope, for ever smiling,
Speaks of happier days in store,
Many simple hearts beguiling,
Though they‘ve found her false before.

Hope and Fancy oft deceive us,
But they make our days more bright:
May they never, never leave us,
Or withdraw their cheering light.

Marion Bernstein (1846-1906)
Scottish feminist poet

Friday, 9 February 2018

Bookish Déjà Vu: A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood
Peace and love were the motto of the 1960s. Many young westerners all around set out on a spiritual search for a meaning of life beyond their ancestors’ constant strife for material wealth. Along their way they discovered not only sex, drugs and – if they were lucky – themselves, but also the works of Hermann Hesse as well as ancient Asian philosophies and religions. For most of them the latter may have been no more than passing interests, while a few became determined to continue on the path of enlightenment. The protagonist of A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood that I picked as a bookish déjà vu is such a one. The young Englishman is about to become a full-fletched monk in a Hindu monastery near Calcutta, when he writes a letter to his much adored elder brother who doesn’t understand and rushes to dissuade him from his decision. 
Read my review »

Monday, 5 February 2018

Poetry Revisited: From Above the Fog by Walter Wingate

From Above The Fog

(from Poems: 1919)

A world of stainless white below,
A dome of cloudless blue above,
Around me here accept the snow
As kindly winter’s gift of love.

But under yonder bank of grey
A city buried from my sight
Looks eastward vainly for the day,
Huddled in self-created night.

So simple hearts that dwell content
Upon the heights of peace will know
That winter frosts are only sent
To give the stars a clearer glow.

But in the restless valleys they
Whose all to worldliness is given
Are weaving for their winter day
A darkness ‘twixt themselves and Heaven.

Walter Wingate (1865-1918)
Scottish poet and teacher