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A Universal New Zealander…..

I just finished reading Katherine Mansfield’s The Collected Stories and I am sitting in awe….there is no other word except awe! Actually I take that back, I am in awe and at the same time kicking myself for being stupid – why the hell did it take me soooooooooo long to get around reading her work????? I remember trying to read her works, way back as a teenager, and then I do not know what happened!! Where the hell did I pick up the idea that she was of the Kate Chopin (The Awakening makes me want to never ever awake!!) Or my bigger reading albatross Virginia Wool (Shudder! Shudder!! One day I will bravely tread those choppy waters, but not now!) While it is true that Katherine Mansfield did interact with Virginia Woolf and was for a time a believer of Fauvism, her writings are her own – original, poignant and completely realistic.

The Complete Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield is an all-embracing assemblage of her short stories, including – Bliss and Other Stories, The Garden Party and Other Stories, The Dove’s Nest, Something Childish and Other stories and In a German Pension. This collection also contains her unfinished stories. How do I describe out nearly 100 short stories, which are my favorite? I just love them all – I love Bliss for its heart wrenching end, the broken pieces of illusion; I love The Garden Party for it generosity and sensitivity and I felt such sadness for the The Daughters of the Late Colonel, for their servitude, for their devotion and lack of independence. I love all the stories of the German Pension and though Katherine Mansfield called those stories “immature’, I loved the irony and the subtle mockery of mankind and its pretensions. Stories like Je ne parle pas français and The Dolls House made me cry, especially the latter for its brutal portrayal of weakness of men and women and the pain they inflict on innocents because of their own failures! I absolutely admire the way she speaks of children and their loneliness or attachments or fears, whether it’s the Prelude, or How Pearl Button was Kidnapped or The Little Girl! I cannot decide, I like all her works!

How do I define her work? I can only use adjectives …ok maybe some verbs! Her language is sheer poetry, whether describing a new house or the sea. It evokes such wonderful imagery in the reader’s mind and some of my favorite passages are of her nature descriptions, especially of New Zealand. Her stories are however anything but colloquial or restricted in New Zealand; though they are based in as far flung locales as New Zealand, France, England and Germany, her stories are universal. Her portrayal of marriage, both good and bad kind is real and hard-hitting. Despite being a “bluestocking” , she gives a very rational portrait of men and women, though being a woman, she does bring out the various nuances of a woman’s character far more adeptly than her presentation of her men. Her women are all kinds – brilliant, loving, sparkling, lonely, independent, deprived, unkind, courageous and humorous. They are extremely humane. Long back I had read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex where she said that only three female authors have explored ‘the given’ – the disproportionate struggle for women to seek what is given for men – education, economic power, political platform; the three woman who have managed to question this were Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. I now understand what Simone Beauvoir meant; Mansfield through her stories constantly challenged and questioned the unequal struggle that women had to go through for those basic things in life, which men so easily took for granted – independence, economy and security. But to call all Mansfield writing as feminist is a narrow and unidimesional categorization that is absolutely inaccurate; while she wrote a lot about women, she also wrote about things like love, relationships and some marvelously succinct and astute insight into the lives of children. It’s a tragedy that she died so young, for even her unfinished short stories had such promise of richness.

In the end, all I can say is that one cannot truly describe Mansfield and do justice to it. One has to read her work, sit back and savor it and only then does her brilliance completely sink in!

A humongous Thank You to Dr. Joan Bouza Koster, for reintroducing me to Ms Mansfield in the best way possible!!

Awesome Mom’s Some….

I know this might be a bit clichéd but I cannot think of a more proper way to celebrate Mother’s Day that to list some of the most amazing and coolest moms of fiction. Like all our awesome mom’s these moms embody the qualities that makes the them so wonderful – courage, wisdom and patience. So here’s a list of some of greatest mother’s in fiction, dedicated to all the real mothers, in a testimony of art imitating life.

In random order –

  • Mrs. March – I know I have written about her in the past, but she is such a wonderful mother that I have to evoke her example again and again. Left alone to rear 4 daughters with limited funds, while her husband fought for the Union, during the American Civil War, she is tested in every possible way. Strained financial conditions through which she tries to give her daughters a good life and gentle lessons of truth when they turn wayward, she is brave, wise and generous; leading by example and never loosing hope or her faith in the ultimate triumph of good!
  • Molly Weasly – She is perhaps the most unconventional of the great mom’s literature. She yells at her children when they step out of line; she is generous in her love when she adopts an orphaned Harry in her family, caring for him like her own sons and a roaring tigress when anyone harms her brood! (Remember her battle with Bellatrix Lestrange,in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.) She is one fierce woman demonstrating the best of motherhood – pride, kindness and protectiveness.
  • Mrs. Joad – I feel she is one of the most overlooked characters in John Steinbeck’s books, but The Grapes of Wrath stands tall not only because she is the matriarch, but she holds the family together when there is no land left, no job, her favorite son has become a fugitive again and her son-in-law has left her pregnant daughter alone! She practical, strong and brave who faces all the odds, leaving aside her own grief and loss for the greater good of others, even when they are not part of her family, but just people in need!
  • Pelagea Nilovna Vlassovna aka Mother– How can any list be complete without “Mother”. In Pelagea, Maxim Gorky creates a character who from being a scared forever petrified of her husband’s beatings transforms into a brave and independent person because of her love for her son. She becomes part of the revolutionary movement to be useful to her and in the process becomes a strong courageous woman who loses her life for her and her son’s beliefs.
  • Rosa Huberman – She must be the most loud and foul-mouthed mother in the history, but in Rosa, Mark Zusak in The Book Thief created a believable chartecter of a mother trying to do her best in extremely difficult circumstances, who cares for her foster daughter Liesel as her own and is generous even when there is little if anything left to be generous about!

Well….that’s my list!! Happy Mother’s Day to all the great Mommys out there!!

Time To Go Spinning Again….

I missed the last couple of Classic Club Spins due to ill-health, over work, blah, blah blah! But like I mentioned in one of previous blogs, I back anew. Therefore it’s only natural that I undertake to be part of the Classic Club Spin again, even if I get to read books I never like (Remember Madame Bovary!!!) But then to counterbalance the whole thing, I did absolutely fall in love again with Dickens and re-read the entire Dickens collection! Anyway, as part of starting anew, I present my list! What’s if any is different this time you ask? Well starting anew is also charting untested waters, so all the books I have listed, I have never read before and I am slightly dubious about. But fortune favors the brave, therefore without any further ado, I plunge in –

  1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  3. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  4. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  5. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  6. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  7. Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
  8. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  9. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
  10. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  11. The Wings of Dove by Henry James
  12. Washington Square by Henry James
  13. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  14. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
  15. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  16. The Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield by Katherine Mansfield
  17. The Good Solider by Ford Maddox Ford
  18. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  19. Dubliners by James Joyce
  20. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope

There is THE list – books I have never read and some I never really want to (Kate Chopin and Ms Woolf top that list!) but onwards new journey!

Now waiting for Monday May 12th!

At The Very Source…..

The Source” by James Michener is one of my all-time favorites; it’s a book I go back to after years and years and it embraces me like an old friend who still has more tales to tell, despite my having visited it many times previously! It’s one of my personal bibles and stands up there with my absolute devotion for the likes of Pride and Prejudice, East of Eden and To Kill a Mockingbird. While one can debate whether its literary significance is as profound as the other titles that I listed, there can be no denying that the book does come back again and again with some hard-hitting questions, asking us to question what do we mean when we refer to our “God”, the right and wrongs and the journey of two races born of the same land, caught in a quest of independence over 2000 years.

The Source begins with John Cullinane arriving at Makor, an archeological site in Israel to begin digging ostensibly for a Crusader’s castle but actually to find the very foundation of Makor which in old Hebrew means Source. He is joined here by Dr. Vered Bar-EL, Dr. Ilan Eliav and Jamail Tabari. As the excavations get underway, John tries to better understand the history of Jews and Israel and how both could not be taken as synonymous. With the archeologists finding artifacts after artifacts, the novel reverts through the earliest mankind when the cavemen walked on Makor and the family of Ur began a more settled existence with farms and house of mud replacing hunting and caves. As the family of Ur begins to gain more and more success in their endeavors whether its improvement of crops or weapons, the beginning of the concept of “God” and forces that are beyond man’s control start to take root in the family of Ur, thus beginning not only the way of live that would later evolve to modern world but also the concept of religion and fate, that is to grip mankind’s consciousness forever. The novel, in true Michener style, then moves forward by a couple of centuries and each chapter touches upon some of the greatest event in the history of the region, involving the Hebrews, the Cannans and later the Jews, Christians and Arabs – whether it’s the cult of El Shaddai, in the Bronze age or, the deportation of Jews to Babylon, the rule of King David and Herod, the Muslim conquest and the Crusade and finally the in twilight of the Ottoman Empire. All through the ages, the events are intertwined into the story of family of Ur and his descendants and interplay with the present day and the artifacts that are discovered at the site. The novel takes a sweeping look at the rise and fall of fortunes of the family of Ur as they struggled, converted, dispersed and again came together in land of Makor.

To begin with it is a powerful story – in just over 1100 pages, Michener tries to tell the history of the torn land of Palestine/Israel from the point of view of the common man who lived through various ages of cathartic and tumultuous change. The book tries to explain Jewish history and at the same time clearly enunciate that to see Israel through the Jewish prism alone is a mistake, since this land has always been shared by the “Other” – Canaanites, Romans, Christians and Muslims. It is the blending of the two cultures that make the land so special and that is one of main thrusts of the tale. Besides being a sweeping historical saga, it also a very good yarn; each chapter is a complete capsule in itself that tell a gripping tale of not only religion but of everyday men and women, of their courage which may be overt or concealed and the choices they have to make, even the harshest ones for the greater good. The book shows men and women in all their glory, strength, and caprice and constantly touches upon the infinite ability of men to survive even when all hope is gone. What is perhaps an absolute marvel and a characteristic that goes to show the kind of caliber Michener had as a writer is the lack of judgment despite all the follies and failures of all the religions and cultures and the men and women, the book is written with great empathy and understanding – never pointing finger and always showing the white, black and the grey shades of lives as is, without any embellishments. Written in simple language, it is a massive read with several references to Jewish philosophy and a wholly new perspective on the Arab history during the crusades. Despite its volume, it is an easy read, because the tale just grips you right at the start and never lets you go.

If I sound like lunatic ranting on, read the book and you will know what I mean!

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