Category Archives: Short Stories

Review: breach by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes

I received a review copy of this title from Peirene Press.  For more information about the release of the book and the blog tour, please scroll down to the banner at the end of this post.

My Review:
breachbreach is a series of eight short stories that all focus on the plight of the refugees in Calais and the ripple effect that their presence has on the lives of everyone with whom they come in contact.  The refugees in these short stories are from different countries and have made their way to this camp in Calais which is referred to as The Jungle.  It is a type of holding place, a purgatory, where they are caught between the horrors of their past lives and their hopes of finding a future in Britain.

The first thought I had as I was reading breach was that these poor, downtrodden refugees must have witnessed the worst kinds of conditions and horrors in their homelands to leave everything behind for the unknown.  What would make someone leave home, cross an ocean, and risk death in order to find a new place to live?  The cold, the damp, the small spaces in the tents were all vividly described in these stories.  One young refugee comments that the camp in Calais is a jungle, but his home was pure hell.

The stories also highlight the volunteer workers and locals who are trying to help the refugees.  The town, in general, does not want the camp there and the refugees are kept in their own, separate makeshift town by fences and the constant presence of police.  The story, “The Terrier” poignantly illustrates the mistrust between refugees and locals.  A woman who owns a Bed and Breakfast in Calais is asked by the town council to take in two refugees, a brother and sister.  Since she has no customers and is in need of income, this local resident agrees to give the refugees room and board for a fee.  The woman tries to have as little contact with the young man and woman as possible.  She questions and distrusts everything they tell her.  But as she interacts with them she gradually comes to have sympathy for their wretched situation.  Although this brother and sister have a much more comfortable place to stay than most, they still return to The Jungle every day to see their friends.  They are outsiders in Calais and sadly enough the only place they feel “at home” is in the camp.

It is brave and innovative for Peirene to have commissioned a series of books like breach that will bring understanding to the plight of refugees and shine a spotlight on other policial and social issues that have arisen around the world.  At times this book was difficult to read because it brought the realities of human suffering to a level I did not fully understand. It was evident from reading this book that the authors spent quite a bit of time in Calais speaking to and interacting with the refugees, the relief workers and the local residents.  It is my hope that breach will be widely read and will make us all more sensitive to the suffering of refugees.  We can learn some important lessons from what is happening right now in Calais.

For more information of the book please visit the websites listed in the tour banner below:

breach_blog_tour

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Filed under British Literature, Literary Fiction, Short Stories

Review: The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers by Fouad Laroui

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Deep Vellum via Edelweiss.  This book was published in the original French in 2012 and this English version has been translated by Emma Ramadan.

My Review:
TrousersThis book contains a series of short stories told by a group of men sitting around at café in Morocco.  It appears that they have been friends for quite some time as there is a lot of teasing, interrupting, and jocularity mixed in with their stories.  Their tales range from the funny to the rather serious and I found that the theme of being an outsider in a foreign land pervades the entire collection.

The funniest tale is the title story in which a man is sent to Belgium by the Moroccan government to make a very important deal to import grain to his starving country.  The man checks into a hotel and is very nervous that the fate of his country hangs on his ability to negotiate this most important deal.  Since he is only visiting for one day he packs lightly and brings a single pair of nice trousers.  He is awakened during his first night in his hotel room by a horrible noise and gets out of bed to find that an intruder has come through his window.  At first glance it seems that nothing valuable has been stolen from him; but further inspection by the light of day reveals that his pants, his only pair of nice pants have been taken!

The man absolutely panics and goes does to the front desk of the hotel in his pajamas to ask for help.  The clerk directs the man to a charity shop which has a single pair of pants that are just his size; but the pants are a ridiculous pair of golf pants.  The events of his meeting, while he is wearing these pants, are hilarious but everything does work out for the best for him and for the fate of Morocco.

By contrast, there are two rather serious stories that I would like to describe from the collection.  The first one, entitled “Dislocation,”  is particularly fitting for what is going on in the world as far as refugees seeking asylum and people displaying xenophobia to anyone who seems foreign.  I found his use of repeating the same lines in the story very Homeric but instead of repeating epithets he repeats the entire beginning lines of his story over and over again.  Each time he repeats his story he begins with the phrase, “What would it be like, he asked himself, a world where everything was foreign?”  Each time he repeats these lines he adds more details about his life.  We discover that the man does, in fact, feel like a foreigner because he is a Moroccan who feels more French than Moroccan and is living in The Netherlands.  He is treated as a foreigner, an outsider and his walk home becomes slower and slower as he contemplates his feeling of dislocation.  This story showcases Lauori’s talents as a writer as he uses an array of unique styles throughout this short collection of stories.

The final story I would like to mention is story about a couple who are from different countries and having a long distance relationship.  John is traveling from The Netherlands and Annie is traveling from France and they are on their way to Brussels to spend a long weekend together.  They speak different languages, grew up in different countries with different cultures but for a while they have made their relationship work.  But they have both arrived in Brussels with the intention of breaking up with one another.

The language barriers and cultural differences have taken their toll on the relationship and they both want out.  The best example of their communication issues is described by John who says that Annie never easily gets his dry sense of humor and by the time he has to explain all of his jokes to her they are no longer funny.  This story has a surprise ending which I don’t want to give away.  But I will say that this is one of the best stories in the collection.

Overall this is a unique collection of stories that I can recommend to anyone who wants to experience a wide range of literary styles in a single collection of stories.

About the Author:
LarouiFouad Laroui (born 1958) is a Moroccan economist and writer, born in Oujda, Morocco. Over the past twenty years, Laroui has been consistently building an oeuvre centered around universally contemporary themes: identity in a globalized world, dialogue/confrontation between cultures, the individual vs. the group, etc. With ten novels and five collections of short stories written in French, plus two collections of poems written in Dutch, a play, many essays and scientific papers (written in French or English), his on-going ambitious literary output has been recognized with many awards, including: Prix Albert Camus, Prix Mediterranée, Prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle, Grande médaille de la Francophonie de l’Académie française, Prix du meilleur roman francophone, Premio Francesco Alziator (Italy), Samuel-Pallache-Prijs (The Netherlands), E. du Perron Prijs (The Netherlands)

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Filed under France, Humor, Literature in Translation, Short Stories

2015: A Banner Year for Indie Presses

I have been very quiet on the blog for the last couple of weeks because decking the halls and wrapping the gifts have taken up much of my time.  But like my fellow bloggers on the web, I have been thinking about my list of favorite books for 2015.  As I was looking through my reviews and thinking about all of the fantastic books I have read throughout the year, I immediately noticed a similarity among the books: most of them are published by independent presses.  I have gravitated more and more to independent press releases and have come to the point at which I seek out books from these brave, hardworking and smart publishers.  So here is my list for 2015.

Indie Press Favorites for 2015:
I have to start out with one of the very first small press books I read in 2015 and absolutely adored and that is Guys Like Me from New Vessel Press.  When I read this book I was so moved by its simple, character driven plot that I wanted to read anything else I could get my hands on by this publisher.  And I was not Guys Like Medisappointed.  I have read many of the books in their catalogue and I would add two more of their titles to my 2015 favorites list as well:  I Called Him Necktie and Alexandrian Summer.  If you want books with interesting characters and thought-provoking, emotional themes then I highly recommend giving these titles a try.

Next up, I have on  my list two titles from Gallic BooksGeorge’s Grand Tour and Nagasaki.  Gallic Books was founded in 2007 and it’s mission is to find the best books written in French and make them available to the English-speaking world.  Both of these titles will warm your heart and restore your faith in humanity.  They are actually great books to read around the holidays.Nagasaki

The Physics of Sorrow appealed to me because of the parallels drawn between the main character in the book and the Greek mythological figure of the Minotaur.  However, I learned so much more in this book than I ever expected.  The lasting effects of communism on a country like Bulgaria are astounding.  This book made me reflect on the fact that as Americans we oftentimes take our freedom for granted and we forget what citizens of countries like Bulgaria suffered under decades of oppressive regimes.  This title is published by Open Letter and since reading this I have been very excited to explore their wide range of translated titles.

Speaking of communism and its aftermath, another favorite title of mine this year was Calligraphy Lesson, which is actually a collection of short stories.  In this Calligraphy Lessoncollection, Shishkin, one of Russia’s most famous contemporary authors, offers stories about himself and various members of his family and the devastating impact of Soviet rule had on their lives for generations.This title is brought to us by Deep Vellum , which has a catalogue rich with titles in translation from all over the world.

A list of small presses with fantastic titles published in 2015 would not be complete without a mention of a  Melville House title.  You might have heard of them because of their famous Twitter war with Penguin Random House.  If you haven’t read this little exchange, it is definitely worth a quick look for the hilarious jokes and barbs.  My first introduction to their books was through the novel The Scapegoat.  This novel is translated from the Greek and not only contains an interesting murder mystery, but it also teaches us an important lesson about what we can learn from history.  In addition,  Melville House has also published a fantastic collection of classic novellas which are definitely worth a look.  I have bought and reviewed several titles from their novella collection this year as well.

I must give a nod to Peirene Press, which I discovered by reading White Hunger.  This small British press specializes in publishing novellas translated into Looking Glass SistersEnglish.  Their books may be small, but they pack a powerful, emotional punch.  One of the best books of the year, in my humble opinion, is their novella The Looking Glass Sisters.  This book did not get as much attention as I think it should have; it is one of those reads where you think about its plot and characters long after you close the last page.

And the final independent press that I discovered late in the year thanks to Joe over at Roughghosts, is Istros Books.  I would say that their novel Dry Season is one of my favorites of the entire year.  Since finishing this book I have acquired several more of their titles which I am very excited to read and review in 2016.  Istros specializes in translating fiction from Eastern Europe.

There are two very special small publishers that I must mention from whose catalogues I own many, many books.  These two publishers deserve their own special categories as they have entire shelves on my bookcases dedicated to their titles.

Persephone Books:
Original-Greenery-Street-cover-422x600A friend of mine, who is always spot on with his recommendation for me, turned me on to Persephone Books.  Persephone is an Independent British publisher that specializes in reissuing lost classics which are mostly written by female authors.  I fell in love with the first book I read from them, Greenery Street, and even since I have read one or two of their books per month.  I just can’t get enough of them.  It was very difficult to come up with only a couple of my favorites from 2015 but I have to go with Greenery Street and Patience.  Both books are funny, sweet and so well-written.   Persephone has quite an extensive catalogue and I would eventually like to work my way through all of their books.  There will most definitely be many more Persephone reviews to come in 2016.

 

New York Review of Books Classics:
AkenfieldThe first book I read from the NYRB classics collection was Stoner and ever since then I cannot get enough of their books.  This year I once again read several titles from their catalogue.  The Door, a book translated from the Hungarian which has been on many top ten book lists of the year, was also one of my favorites.  I would also add two additional books to my favorites list which they published in 2015.  Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Blythe was on of my favorite non-fiction books of 2015.  This book gives us a glimpse into all the of aspects of an English village in the 20th Century.  This is a must read for anyone who is a fan of British Literature.  The final book on my list for 2015 from NYRB classics is  Ending Up by Kingsley Amis.  This book is absolutely hilarious as it chronicles the final days of a group of septuagenarian roommates.  I have big plans to review several more of the NYRB books in 2016!

That pretty much wraps it up for me as far as 2015 is concerned.  In the new year I have titles on my TBR piles that include books from all of these Indie Presses.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Io Saturnalia and Happy New Year!

-Melissa, The Book Binder’s Daughter

 

 

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Favorites, Literature in Translation, Literature/Fiction, New York Review of Books, Nonfiction, Novella, Opinion Posts, Persephone Books, Short Stories

Review: Henri Duchemin and His Shadows by Emmauel Bove

I received an advanced review copy of this collection of short stories from The New York Review of Books.  The stories were written in 1928 in French and this English version has been translated into English by Alyson Waters

My Review:
Henri DucheminThis collection of short stories all feature men who are unhappy and looking for someone or something with which to identify.  In the first story entitled “Night Crime,”  Henri Duchemin, a forty-year-old man,  is alone on Christmas Eve in a pub lamenting over his poverty and loneliness and the last thing he wants to do is to go back to his cold, empty flat.  He wanders around the streets in the rain until he really has no choice but to go home.  But before he goes home, a woman whome he meets on the streets notices his sadness and abrasively suggests that he kill himself.  As he drifts off to sleep, thoughts of suicide and murder haunt his restless dreams.

My favorite story in the collection is written in the epistolary style.  “What I saw” is a letter written by Jean to an unnamed friend; Jean desperately wants his friend’s opinion about something that he saw involving his girlfriend that disturbed him greatly.  Jean’s letter begins with a description of his girlfriend, Henrietta, and her devotion to Jean.  One thinks she is the model woman until, one day, Jean sees her sitting in a taxi and kissing another man.

When Jean confronts Henrietta about the liaison, Henrietta adamantly denies ever being with another man.  Henrietta and Jean’s other friends try to convince Jean that he must have been mistaken and only saw someone who resembled Henrietta.  Jean wants so much to continue his relationship with Henrietta and as he finishes his tale he begs the recipient of the letter to tell Jean his true opinion about Henrietta’s alleged indiscretion.  Jean, like the other characters in the story, has a tenuous grasp on an important relationship in his life and he is eager and even desperate not to lose it.

Another story worth mentioning is “The Story of a Madman.”  Fernand, the narrator, makes it a point at the beginning of his tale to address the reader and inform him or her that he is not, in fact, crazy or out of his mind.  He goes on for a few pages giving us some background about his activities and frame of  mind so that when he carries out his plan, the reader will think he is perfectly sane in doing so.

Fernand then proceeds to have a meeting with his father and tells his parent that he never wants to see him again.  Fernand then makes his way to his girlfriend, Monique’s apartment;  He assures us that he is deeply in love with Monique and they have a fantastic relationship, but he informs her that he never wants to see her again either.  The next stop on Fernand’s list is his best friend, with whom he also breaks off all contact.

Fernand’s final stop on his break-up tour is with his sister and brother-in-law.  After a friendly conversation, he also informs them that he never wants to see them again.  So, we are left wondering why Fernand would alienate all of the people in his life that he loves.  There are hints throughout the story that Fernand is exercising his willpower and that he is attempting to make a plan and adhere to it no matter what others may think.  But the last few sentences of the story leave us with a haunting suggestion that maybe his motives for leaving are a bit more depressing and sinister.

This is a small yet powerful collection of stories that will leave you thinking about these men and their feelings of alienation and unhappiness.  Bove’s language is sometimes curt and sometimes poetic.  He weaves these small tales in such a way that we are never sure where they will end.  I highly recommend this brilliant collection of writing brought to us by The New York Review of Books classics collection.
About The Author:
E BoveEmmanuel Bove, born in Paris as Emmanuel Bobovnikoff, died in his native city on Friday 13 July 1945, the night on which all of France prepared for the large-scale celebration of the first ‘quatorze juillet’ since World War II. He would probably have taken no part in the festivities. Bove was known as a man of few words, a shy and discreet observer. His novels and novellas were populated by awkward figures, ‘losers’ who were always penniless. In their banal environments, they were resigned to their hopeless fate. Bove’s airy style and the humorous observations made sure that his distressing tales were modernist besides being depressing: not the style, but the themes matched the post-war atmosphere precisely.

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Filed under France, Literature in Translation, New York Review of Books, Short Stories

Review: The Celestial Omnibus and Other Tales by E.M. Forster

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Dover Publications through NetGalley.

My Review:
Celestial OmnibusThis brief collection of stories show the true depth of Forster’s literary talent and his ability to infuse fantasy and imagination into his writing.  My favorite stories were two in the collection into which Forster incorporates many classical references.

In the “Celestial Omnibus”, a boy discovers a sign for an omnibus in the lane across from his house.  The alley is a very odd place for an omnibus to pass through so the boy gets up very early one morning to investigate it.  When the sun rises a carriage does appear out of the fog and the driver picks the boy up.  The boy goes on a journey of a lifetime through the clouds and he meets nymphs and great writers and heroes from famous books.  The omnibus driver is Sir Thomas Browne, the famous essayist, but the boy doesn’t recognize or understand any of the famous people he meets; he just knows that he has had a wonderful time and has seen amazing things.  The story is full of literary allusions and classical references but I won’t give any of them away here so as not to spoil them for other readers.

When the boy comes home after having disappeared all day, his father canes him for telling lies about his supposed journey to heaven.  The boy’s neighbor, Mr. Bons, which happens to cleverly be “snob” spelled backwards, decides he will bring the boy back to the allow and show him that no such omnibus could possibly exist.  But when the omnibus shows up in the alley and picks up Mr. Bons and the boy, Mr. Bons does not have the same magical experience on his journey as the boy; for Mr. Bons’ imagination is not as carefree and vast as the boy and he does not witness the same remarkable landscape as the boy does.  It is no wonder in the end that Mr. Bons meets a horrible fate.

My other favorite in the collection is a story entitled “Other Kingdom.” In this story, an upper class aristocrat named Mr. Worters has taken a fiancé from Ireland, Evelyn Beaumont, who is much below his social status.  In order to better educate his new fiancé, Mr. Worters hires a classics teacher, Mr. Inskip, to teach her Latin.  It is evident from the beginning that Miss Beaumont does not have the intellectual capacity to learn ancient languages, but she does have a whimsical imagination and a carefree spirit.

Mr. Worters decides to buy his fiancé a wood, named Old Kingdom, for a wedding present.  When Worters decides that the wood needs fences and paths and bridges, Miss Beaumont gets very upset that he is trying to organize and tame the natural wood.  Through several allusions, the reader, or at least this reader, is quickly reminded of Ovid’s story of Daphne and Apollo in the Metamorphoses in which Apollo attempts to capture and tame Daphne the wood nymph.  Similar to Apollo, Worters learns the harsh lesson that he cannot tame nature or the spirit of this woman.  Miss Beaumont has a metamorphosis of her own but it is not the type that Worters had hoped for.

This is a collection of stories that I will reach for and reread over and over again and every time I read them I will discover something new and different.  I highly recommend THE CELESTICAL OMNIBUS AND OTHER TALES from Dover Publications.

About The Author:
ForsterEdward Morgan Forster, generally published as E.M. Forster, was an novelist, essayist, and short story writer. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. His humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: “Only connect”.

He had five novels published in his lifetime, achieving his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924) which takes as its subject the relationship between East and West, seen through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj.

Forster’s views as a secular humanist are at the heart of his work, which often depicts the pursuit of personal connections in spite of the restrictions of contemporary society. He is noted for his use of symbolism as a technique in his novels, and he has been criticised for his attachment to mysticism. His other works include Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908) and Maurice (1971), his posthumously published novel which tells of the coming of age of an explicitly gay male character.

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Short Stories