Tag Archive | Short story

The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq – Hassan Blasim

The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq

 

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”
― Sue Monk Kidd

 

The crack of dawn is just half an hour away. I’m neither interested in the passing night nor the approaching new day. Two fried eggs on a rye toast for breakfast. That is what I’m thinking. That is what I shall eat among the stench of blood, the sordid gore and a curious child fishing for a frog in a puddle of blood. The images don’t seem to leave me. The voices crowded my auditory senses. The book clutching in my palms as the heaviness akin to a corpse that now takes over my sensibilities ,words engulf me, maybe it’s the heavy silence of the passing night or my mental claustrophobia that has become the mythical Hydra. I knew it right then that this book will frequent my sanity for weeks to come.

 

Because every child born in this world is simply a possibility, either to be good or evil, according to the classification set by schools of religious education in this stupid world. But it’s a completely different matter to us. Every child that’s born is just an extra burden on the ship that is about to sink.

 

Are human corpses the wartime metric scale upon which a country’s heroics are measured? As the world unified in blindness revelling in the creativity of death, a trained assassin learned his first tutorial, the infliction of banal humanity beheaded on the pillar of cowardice. The bloody knife glistened to the tune of a sombre child’s lullaby inaugurating the corpse exhibition, taking a deep bow was the mortician, a truly great war-time artist working overtime with utmost gratitude and kindness, elegantly restoring mutilated corpses. Watch for fear in people’s eyes, he said. A lesson on ‘how to be a lion’ imparted from the palms of a delinquent. In the quest of being one’s own God, the killers and the compass stamped into the memory of physical and sexual brutalities. Is it really worth having trust in humans when the sanctity of human conscience is in exile? Why are graveyards the only real estate bought during the war? In absurdities of assassinations and power grabbing egotistical vanities where betrayal is as common as stepping into a bloody puddle, the green zone rabbit awaits to lay an egg. The web of psychological wiles nestled in a silenced revolver; a pensive youth embarks on an unspecified terrorist operation puzzled over the validity of an egg laying rabbit.

 

Life and death was a game of running, climbing and jumping, of watching, of secret dirty words of sleep and nightmares.

 

To the dead of the war writes an army newspaper, the words of poetry and prose shall honour the martyrs with sublime tales woven with love and destiny, honesty and valour, memoirs of humanity. Personal vanity and desperation hastily layers with the madness of the war. Greed, lies and deceit ravaged the spirit of an literary editor, the built-in incinerator a silent witness to coloured workbooks and inhumane folly. Horror and paranoia stumbled in the sea of coffins. War and peace became permanent riddles, down and across imprinted in a sinister crossword. The shrieks of a trapped soul deafening the darkness of a tormented life try to solve the life and death enigma.

 

Aren’t we humans, killing and looting mankind to ruination similar to devils and ‘jinni’, residing in our own holes of idiocies and hallucinating in our cannibalistic overtures? The language of mankind challenges the language of God in the depths of an underground hole. The purging of earth from devils is detailed in the bizarre rituals of a cannibalistic jinni. The war of religion and politics gets wrapped around the lives of the innocent; terror paralyzing the silence of peace. History and heritage of a land lost among the missile noises and military coup. Tales of Western agents and exotic blondes with guns misplaced among the disregarded words of the madman of Freedom Square. The baptized soul waited to view the fated empty chair, a prayer for his beloved mother led into a journey to the next world. The Iraqi Christ overwhelmed by a mysterious desire for salvation.

 

Spilled blood and superstition are the basis of the world. Man is not the only creature who kills for bread or love or power, because animals in the jungle do that in the various ways, but he is the only creature who kills because of faith.

 

A magical tale of a thousand and one knives portrays violence in the extremities of pain and torment. The mysteries of the magical knives remain unsolved as do the mystery of humans taking comfort and pleasure in crucifying their brethren. The bleating of goats recounted a grim memory of a septic tank, a pulsating cry in the murkiness of a prosaic tale. The chorus of the song of the goats blaring from the loudspeakers infiltrated the competitive troubled narratives, a prize in offing. The sanctimonious virtue of religion is marred by selfish desires, murderers and thieves thriving under religious cloaks. The emergence of false gods examining moral compasses of human obligation to schizophrenic religious dogmas. Is then life a burden or a blessing? The songs of a composer paying the price of patriotism muddled with militant insurgency. The pillars of religion, humanity and patriotism; in the chaos of flesh and fire which one outweighs the rest and which one crumbles? The fate of an inauspicious smile dangling between the curses of agony and joy, vaguely chants “the body must be protected, not the thoughts”.

 

Why are the trees so green and beautiful as though they’re washed with water every day? Why can’t we be peaceful like them? We live in houses like pigsties. While their houses are warm, safe and colourful. Why do they respect dogs as much as humans? Why do we masturbate twenty-four hours a day? How can we get a decent government here?

 

War and migration, the trials and tribulations of refuges in the aftermath is filled with humiliation and dreams of a dignified life. The question of securing asylum is solved by a constant dread of wavering stories of killers and heroes. The ordeal of a wounded man recounts seeking asylum in the reality and the record of an abstract truth. Dreams that never learnt the language of a new country, survival in an adopted homeland burdened with philosophies of pride and indignity. The ghosts of the pasts wear out the fate of a vulnerable being trying to find the meaning of life. The valuable existence of Salim Abdul Husain disseminating in the recurring nightmares of Carlos Fuentes.

 

Iraq, a country besieged by the cycle of war and death and its citizens trapped in the nihilistic trenches of insanity. Hassan Blasim’s anthology of challenging stories pierces right through the heart with glimpses of a land dwelling in visceral horror and repellent irrationalities. The history of Iraq spans from the horrific eight yearlong Iraq-Iran War (1980-88), American troops occupancy, dictatorship (Saddam Hussein), militant Kurdish insurgency, mushrooming terrorist organisations and an endless loop of civil war. Dubbed as the ‘Iraqi Kafka’, Blasim pens a memorable yet haunting ugly truth of menacing savagery and failure of human conscience without a glimmer of wisdom. The meaningless world of war prevails in hopelessness, bloodlust and bloodshed. The surrealistic nature of these metaphorical tales let out an honest cry of a dystopian homeland.

 

There is nothing beautiful about war. There is no triumph in it. Victories marred with the blood of the innocent. Are the dead happy over the victories of war? Do the dead agonize over their crimes or martyrdom? Are the sufferers ever liberated from the shadows of war? The dead become mere statistics until the next battle. The fragility of life measured with the next conquest. Is annihilating civilization seen as a laudation for bravery? Do the footsteps of peace have to march on the road strewn with bloodied corpses? In a world where allegiance to dogmas of faith outweighs the respect to mankind, the lines of real and unreal are blurred by hostilities and fanaticism, the sanity of humankind rotting in an abyss of mortal horror; there will be no escape from the chaos of war.

 

4/5****

The Taste of Apples – Huang Chun-ming

The Taste of Apples

 

It has been months since I put my pen to paper. Words keep struggling against my emotions, the range of my imagination jammed up in literary reflections. As I sat with an open book in my lap, Huang Chun-ming’s characters gazing right back into my face, I pondered on the thought of how human survival becomes magnified when human condition thrives at the lowest rung of the societal ladder. Marginalised people, forgotten lives overlooked by the socioeconomic indicators, suffering at the hands of their affluent counterparts and their stories steeped in inherent universality, hesitant in finding an ardent voice to uncover the social process of basic human survival conflicted in a world of contradiction and confliction.

 

“ Ah-cang , the next time you come home, try to bring a fish back with you. It’s not easy getting a saltwater fish up here on the mountain. Bring a big one if you can.”

 

The cooked bonito wrapped in taro leaf swayed heartlessly into fragmented happy endings. The saltwater fish fairly symbolizes the temporary victories harboured by a child on a threshold of youth, only to mercilessly fade into a vague far-fetched desire bearing harsh realities of trust and resentment. Self-doubt, a sense of personal inadequacies creeps through the rickety windows of paranoia. A yearned escape from loneliness and fatigue seeks a satisfying reprieve in an infant’s smile. A loving father on a verge of a mental breakdown dons his “sandwich-man” costume for he has always been his son’s ‘big doll’ “Oh! I’m Ah-long’s big doll, his big doll!!”

 

Trepidations over birth control and poverty find a respite in the scaly outlines of ringworms patterned on infected bodies. Minor events captured in everyday subsistence become majorly momentous in these impoverished lives. The currency of luck shines in most dreadful ordeals. A looming tragedy compensating a family’s fortune, an unforeseen affluence now a commonplace in penurious existence is filled with a surge of anxiety and guilt over bewildering kismet. The sour taste of the apples devoured with a demure crunch was sweetened with every bite as the thought of a luxury unknown heightened with the chorus of noisy munching.

 

“Principles I’ve held on to tenaciously for many years and that have formed my unique personality and temperament – are they to be cast aside now? Then why have them in the first place? It wouldn’t seem like the real me without them. “

 

Caught up in an ambivalent world of mangled moralities, a mask of pleasantries worn to handle two onerous affairs makes a young office employee question the value of adhered ideologies and the inevitability of primary survival. The wounds of a tragic Japanese-Chinese history (1930s) conflicted with the provisional role of a “pimp” to entertain visiting Japanese businessmen , a quest to move from the bitter past resulting in artful linguistic diplomacy and friendly sayonora/zaijian greetings in a rapidly changing societal mores.

 

“Memories of the past are always fond ones and this was especially true for these men in their twilight years; only their past instilled a sense of pride.”

 

With the advent of modernisation and Pedi cabs, the aging men of a rural village, the gong-beaters of a quaint town, migrant workers and the unaltered rural landscapes, all caught between the old and new are propelled into a state of hopelessness, a feeling of invisibility blending into the inability to adapt to change. The present seem to be crumbling into prospects of an innovative future overshadowing humble heritages and traditionalistic customs. Amid the peals of laughter, the drowning of an old cat demarcated the irreversible modernisation and a tale of stubbornness of a man and his rebellion. A world of absurdities and turmoil is formed when two-sign painters get entangled in the web of technology and media in metropolitan culture. The beats of Han Qinzai’s gong succumbing to the monopoly of pedicabs, a desperate man holding onto the last crumbs of his fading fortune seeks salvage in ghost stories and a group of vagrants for a momentary boost of a dignified life. For, when fortune goes missing from one’s life, all a man has left are the remains of his reputation, a final refuge to belong somewhere in this societal structure. The concept of losses and gains and a lackadaisical attitude spun chronicles of two pressure cooker salesmen in a little coastal town. The thin line between faith and deception quivering between courage and cowardice hurls unforeseen folds of events wrecking illusions of perfection. The disfigurement of harsh reality lay bare underneath Xiaoqi’s cap signalling underlying societal metaphors.

 

..………. I figure that the hardest compromise to strike would be with myself, for if I put a side my principles, what would I have left?

 

Huang Chun-ming’s short stories penned in circa 1960-70s, exclusively focuses on the intricacies of the then thriving Taiwanese society; its rural folk being the crucial element. The so-called “ordinary folk”( a term I detest to use, for these very people exhibit extraordinary grit of survival), societal rejects who are witnesses to a hostile socio-economic milieu, coping with effects of illiteracy , debilitating poverty , migration to urban cities, adherence to conformist dogmas , muddled self-worth , modernisation and callousness of urban life. Human existence at its most detrimental stage. Nevertheless, what is remarkable about these engaging stories is the array of characters that come alive through the subtle yet sincere prose narrating their unique tales, their robust presence felt throughout numerous incidents spanning across their lives from the countryside to the metropolitan cities. Huang neither pities his characters nor want his readers to do the same. In the despair of an obsolete existence what is desperately searched is wisdom and dignity, a need to be acknowledged and cherished in a world where remorse overpowers elation, where the reservations of the past are carried in a shaky present, dreaming of an uncertain future and all a basic survival needs is a true sense of humanity.

 

 

4/5 ****

Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers – Kang Sok-Kyong, Kim Chi-won, Oh Jung-hee

Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers

Women writers. Women penning the trials and tribulations of being a woman. The pen and ink bidding farewell to the prevailing apprehensions. The spoken language of an individual narrowed by gender hierarchy labouring in relative anonymity, women write, knocking down the heavily guarded patriarchal gates of a traditional society , the defining emergence diminishing the glaring divide of public from domestic life, where men reigned the former and women the latter. How does one designate the essence of being a woman? How does one quote a chapter and verse from the consequential book of womanhood? Women who have conventionally been beheld as someone’s daughter, someone’s wife and someone’s mother; their own individual identity lapsing into being a mere legal signature on few sheets of paper. How does one then define the constitution of Korean women? Or can you? Women who are as diverse as the land itself spanning through generations, cultural edifications and numerous personal and societal evolutions seeking an autonomy to their existence in an overwhelming patriarchal world. How does one ever answer the unwelcomed question of signifying the autonomy of womanhood? The patriarchal advocacy of literature, the very notion of belles- lettres being the prime avocation of cultural gentlemen, the adversities of gender discrepancies shadowing the laboured efforts of women writers derides the valid declaration of talent having no gender whatsoever. The contemporary Korean women writers (three of whom being mentioned in this book) bring forth an notable insight to the strenuous effort of their emergence from a society profoundly influenced by the Confucian precepts, finally breaking out from their obscurities. The undying spirit of their penned narrative, the meticulous characterization, accomplish a sophisticated sensory faculty of symbolism sketching the evolution of Korean women in a rapidly modernized world


“……to accept our own lives, and without such thoughts to make us feel good, how could we live? We women were facing up to life with our bodies as our only asset. We may now have smelled like roses, but we got to learn all about life and freedom in our way…..”

The picturesque forsythias blooming on a palace walls, the beauty of scenic spring stretching on a wall calendar in a clinic testing venereal diseases befits the stark revelation of a social world where days and dreams brim with the futility of a traumatic past and the aspirations of striving for a dignified existence. Kang Sŏk-kyŏng allegorizes the social status of prostitutes surviving on the U.S. military base in Korea, to a drifting isolated island, a temporary home destined to subsist in loneliness of abandonment. The slight flicker of hope within melancholia is the hallmark of their lives which struggle to find a haven of freedom and integrity. In the endless fight for human dignity, their bodies become the sole measure of self-defence, a path to their freedom however despicable. The marginal women thriving on the societal periphery seek comfort among their ilk, the labelling of “leftovers” a crude irony, in a world where men carry the burden and the badge of brutal enforcers. The rebellion and restraints to freedom, personal choices of women shackled by archaic ethos stretches afar from the Korean peninsula into the male-dominance of the Western world, applying universality factor to the predicament of women sexuality condemned to abhorrence. “But if two women see eye to eye, there’s no law that says they can’t live together,” said Toma.” So what if they’re lesbians? People live the way they want to. And so what if we’re whore? Except for worrying about money, it’s great living around the base. No husband to treat us rough, no kids to worry us, no one interfering with us.”

The controversial subject of a woman’s body becoming the weapon for her emancipation edges on the possibility of emotional vulnerabilities and inconspicuous rebellion. Kim Chi-wŏn dwells in to unchartered territories where the society as a whole becomes the source of shame for a woman. The collective chauvinism that safeguards the sanctimonious matrimonial institution rests upon the humiliation of women. The marital sacrosanctity ruthlessly abused under the assumed patriarchate prerogative. Kim Chi-wŏn is scrupulous in rendering the dual state of relationship between a man and a woman , raising a similar yet different issue concerning the life of a Korean woman immigrant in U.S. The quest for a resourceful independence gives Yun-ja a possibility of a certain beginning, a marriage based purely on monetary and legal convenience. The probability and improbability of a ‘real marriage’ immerses in reflections of a financial arrangement, age and divorce. The disconnect of a woman and the society is evident in the final libertine declaration.


“Longing for something to sustain and steady her, the woman nevertheless tended to to doubt the permanence of everything. Do flowers last more than ten day? And floods that look like they’ll sweep the world away are gone in a couple days, aren’t they? But her relief that the world was transitory was tempered by the painful realization that society expected marriage to be the most harmonious of human relationships.”

Transience becomes the most fitting lifeline to despondency. Kim Chi-wŏn is scrupulous in rendering the dual state of relationship between a man and a woman. The nightly mellow lullaby sung a mother is marred by domestic brutality, estrangement and resentment. A clandestine corner in the house tries the patience of a battered wife, the harmony of matrimony crumbling into ashes floating on the cold ghostly waters of a pond nearby. The central themes of hopelessness and self-restraint fade away, yet the predictability of self-reliance is still muddled in impermeable monocracy.


“Like a foolish girl you’re trying to find beyond the world. If you’d only given in a little, you wouldn’t have had to go around butting up against the world; you wouldn’t have had to spill your blood. You would have found that the springtime of life isn’t a chain; it’s a pair of wings.”

The self-restraint of rebellion originating from the conventional mores once again twirls the idea of freedom although being the sweet nectar in a claustrophobic milieu; it is the dawn of justice that brings the sweetest aroma in an acrid life. The fortunate franchise of youth caught amid Marxist ideas and democratic upheaval plunges into an abyss of alienation and confusion. The structural sanctity of filial piety bruised by blatant hypocrisy and customary subordination questions the cogency of an inherited male-dominated hierarchy. The pursuit for individuality resulting in either enforced submission or absolute abandonment; agony being the sole companion of nothingness. As a daughter, is trapped between familial obligations and self-exploration, the youthfulness of a sibling risking the madness of a powerless chaotic soul, the maze of confusion unable to find a sheltered room in the woods. Kang Sŏk-kyŏng once again underlines the crucial adherence factor of meritocracy that stamps its social legitimacy of becoming a societal shrine with its ignorance, narcissistic enforcements and submissive gender protocols.

Alienation is seen as one of the strongest denominator in lives of these female characters perpetually trapped in the polarities of modern and conformist worlds. O Chŏng-hŭi in her literary explorations reveals the torments of estrangement when engulfed with the bleakness of death and impermanence. The stories spun a convoluted web of conflict and acquiescence where choices are imaginary. An evening game is vacated for a pleasurable night with a young lover. The women preoccupied by the melodies of a young mother reminiscence her harried past detached from her present apathy. The daily father-daughter card game echoes the whispers of a mother losing her sanity over the loss of her child, a father waiting for his son and a possible infanticide. O Chŏng-hŭi adroitly frames a sequential persecution in an episodic narrative. The vagueness of death seeps into the comprehensibility of life. The grave stones symbolise the quandary of two women, the former seeking a grave plots for her and her husband and the latter contemplating the rationality of her husband’s dubious absence. The words of farewell scatter the memories of physical departure and vacuousness of physical existence.

Talent has no gender. Creativity does not go picking and choosing its master appropriated on the grammatical gender system dais. Literature has no single definition. The vexing question then arises as to why women are the only ones to be bestowed by such an endearing privilege of their entirety being abbreviated through the myopic primal gender regulations? Sarcasm or anxiety of the patriarchy? These stories of Korean women penned by three remarkable women writers encompassing multifaceted thematic nitty gritty of prostitution, youth, death, generational gap, bigotry, sexuality, love and much more, travel beyond the said geographical panorama depicting the notion of universality, broadening the thematic accessibilities of the female characters chronicling their own future detached from their status as someone’s mother, wife or daughter. In the current ongoing global scenario where women’s rights are easily bargained, a coming of an age story not cracking down on the deliberations of a quintessential teen male, but, a disquieting collage of a young girl matured beyond her naïve years, life impressions swirling around the nauseating chaos of sex, death and poverty in the war ravaged Seoul district bylanes of Chinatown ,call for a response of literary stimuli to view beyond the charcoal coated faces in the classic Bildungsroman ,an empathetic astute listener to the stories of women acutely ingrained in Korean culture ; the innocence of childhood stepping on the onset of womanhood culminating in the pragmatic…“My menstrual flow had begun.”

 

4/5 ♥♥♥♥

Red Night – Duanmu Hongliang

Red Night


Their poor little hearts reached so high
After grapes, they gave peaches a try
After a dragon, the tiger was sought
Then the oriole and the vulture in the sky.

Shh-shh as they flew, their black wings soaring the stirring the winds in dominance. The ospreys oblivious of the humans below soared in the sky, the destiny of the osprey village reasserting the flight of the birds as they inspected the earth below. The mistreated soul possessed with a sense of his own destiny rebelled against the fated dogma. Was Shilong a foolish soul to challenge the birds or was the lazy, ignorant boy the only brave soul in the village? Who is more courageous, the man who swims to the harbor or the fisherman brings a sense of novelty by giving fated end a new beginning? When humans betray, spew hatred among their species, make lives too bitter, is it a sin to save an animal instead of a man? The eternal fidelity of a dog becoming the only beacon of life amid human abhorrence. Man has become a passive observer concealing his mind from his inner conflicts , the fate of thousand years unchallenged, traditions passing through generations unchallenged , orthodoxical norms endowed with shamanistic rituals, the spiritual chants slaughtering the humanity of innocent love. Human sacrifice to appease the Gods mulishly wraps a mountainous village into an inhumane tragedy on a red night. Despairs rings, no sight of salvation, bringing evil superstitions the nightly red moon fades over the sorrows of the egret lake, the sickle slashing the beanstalks steadily erasing the class barriers of human ugliness into a harmonious world enmeshed within the beauty of nature.


Life on this earth is like a wispy cloud in snowstorm. You see it clearly, but with a swipe of the hand, it vanishes into thin air. He was like a drop of froth, crystalline, round and moist and full of life one moment, and then obliterated the next.

We are the children of nature. Nature endows us with imagination; it urges us to rethink about our “self” in its bare form, to rethink our humanity. The malice of human submerged in the cruelty of the nature. Nature is the greatest equalizer, the ultimate victor, the crucial catharsis of human nature. Ask, Steward Li about the power of nature equalizing the inhumane society and class discrepancies when trapped in a severe snowstorm? Silently rebirthing the spirit of humanity on a snowy night. The Yellow river overwhelmed with Ma Laohan’s laughter swells in the torrential whirlpool of patriotism and an everlasting fighting spirit against the enemy. The legend of the Fengling ferry now floating on the nightly waters, under the hazy light of the lanterns. Patriotism seduces through the wordy supremacy of “I need you!” the simple hunger consumed by utmost passion. The people of the land encumbered by patriotic obligations , while the country forgetting the obligation towards its own people, empty stomachs pacifying the hunger through objectionable means The unassuming philanthropy at the charity bazaar creating an ardent patriot from a street hooligan. The romance of a pipe dream dissolving into harsh reality , a bombastic dream shattered as Huang Guiqui revealed her own hypocrisy through hypocrisy. The yearning to be loved bursting at the whispering of petulant lips, the lure of love preyed upon by dubious happiness. The wispy life bolstered by the ecstasy of being needed.


Just a moment before, this face had been suffused with power, solemnity and intimidation. The grand total of his feelings had been nothing less than the symbol of a monarch! But now it was as though it had all been smashed by this single act of revolt, and the magic powers had vanished from that swollen discoloured hole!

To know what is meant to breathe air of freedom. The radiance of the land lost in its invasion, the people of the land robbed by the conquerors. Homesick children yearning to return to their once lovable abode, the incessant questions of why doesn’t Yeye eat kaoliang gruel?, lingers in the eyes of his grandchildren as somewhere Qingdi’sdreams of becoming a war hero hand on the fate of a brass medal and a bayonet. A life-changing barter seizes Mr. Wei in a battle of supremacy. The power of ham shaking the core of a man’s sense of identity. The rebellion for liberation from the corrupt brutality of higher socio-political authorities, a country waiting to be saved along with its people. The hunters revolt against the local government, the hordes of fox pelts brightly shining alongside the torrential muddy river. The mask of solemnity and intimidation falling off through a single act of revolt, the peasants clearly seeing the bluff of a broken face, the magic declining in a mottled hole. The sole symbol of a monarch dissipating within the dreary prison walls; societal hierarchy collapsing into the streams of innocent blood descending from the sword. The forged metal crushing the life of poor for generations ultimately becomes the only path of escape. Zhu the knife, branding justice on the very sword that he created. The rebellion of the commoners against a ruthless society channels internal distress and emotional predicament of an imminent exile .As the hibernating snake awaits the dawn of the spring, the snake swallower explores new avenues for his survival ;both seeking to breathe the air of freedom.

Duanmu Hongliang(1912-1996) was one of the most gifted and graceful writers in the modern era of Chinese literature.. The Japanese invasion of North-eastern China (Manchuria) on Sept.8, 1931 impacted Duanmu to a great extent. Thus, the Mukden Incident became one of the crucial influences on Duanmu’s literary career. The stories penned in this volume link the oppression and melancholy of human life interconnecting dual themes of the controversial Japanese invasion and bleakness concerned with personal human relations and survival on the whole. The quality of Duanmu’s literary work is more than making fairy tales out of reality. The panoramic landscape of his stories travel from the poetic verses embellishing the vast beauty of the nature, the echoes of songs sung through the mountainous lands seeped in the visages of the written allegorical and surreal folk tales , the deep understanding of a society besieged with orthodoxy and prejudicial hierarchy circuitously mocking the realities of life, the trails of humanity lingering from the picturesque forlorn corner of rural scenery to the swarming prosperous streets of a metropolitan and in due course leading back to the wholesomeness of nature chiseled by the kaleidoscopic array of human emotions forming a congenial entity. Reading this book is akin to tracing Duanmu’s footprints enlightening a time and an era filled with patriotic passions , and nostalgia and above all comprehending the humility of a human life in a mere day.

4/5 ****

Going for a Beer – Robert Coover

Going for a Beer

I find myself gaping at the Kewpie dolls thinking about the devilish grin in those angelic eyes. Eight! Perfect circles of heaven. I count them twice before lining them like a bunch of soldiers. Was it that friendly man from the street who gave me these little drops of heaven? Does it really matter? Perry Como keeps calling those dolls like a lost child, “Kew Kew Kewpie dolls…She’s the cutest one of them all!!” Did I already put one of the soldiers in a grave between my teeth? Or were they two? Do I remember their deathly orgasm? The yellow stain transforms into a fluorescent rainbow through the green spout of the bottle thrust in between my lips. I can’t remember the mustard on my shirt. It’s proof exposed on my shirt, the howl of the wounded dog echoing the cry of a baby for a warm bottle of milk. He hates the bar food, the taste festers a stale vomit. I serve him a turkey on rye with mustard, every time he walks in that bar. Did he eventually fuck that lady who keeps the Kewpie dolls lined like soldiers in her apartment? The smell of stale urine pervade the foggy streets, I need eight more of my soldiers. I need to drown them in a tipple chasm. Those Kewpies they follow me everywhere. In the arms of the child, on the hospital beds ,in the womb of a woman as she walks down the aisle. One more drink. A punch in the face. A celebratory drink. A child is born. Life passes by. Death lurks. Perry Como sways to a bunch of dancing puppets. I stagger on the streets with a dart stuck in my neck. Did he really fuck those women? Doesn’t he remember those orgasms after the crazy carnival wins? The man at the bar. The one who remembers my mustard stain. The stench of my dried blood. The man at the bar. I don’t know, maybe he’ll have another one. <em“Well…you know…life”; I’m going for a beer. Are you?

4/5****

Collected Stories – Saul Bellow

Collected Stories

This is my first Bellow read. Over the years I never bothered reading any of his books and overlooked them at the bookstores. This being my first volume was not that ecstatic.

The presented anthology of 13 stories come with a mix bag of history, humor, irony, metaphysics, the Holocaust, nostalgia, sex, modernity, migrant life in America and identity ; accompanied by a witty narration. Most of the characters be it Samuel Braun, Rob Rexler, Harry Fonstein, Woody Selbst, Katrina Goliger or Max Zetland are not the epitome of beauty but are unique in their own imperfections. Bellow has an exceptional artistry in metamorphosing mediocrity to splendor. His several protagonists are sort of heroic who overcome life fragilities and emerge as winners in their own way. Most of them are Jewish or other immigrants trying to find their identity on the American soil; similar to what Bellow experienced during his life. These stories have a personal Bellow touch reflecting many of his own perspectives on identity (he fought the constant labeling of being a “Jewish writer”) and modernity. In ‘The Old System’, he mentions, “Mankind was in a confusing uncomfortable, disagreeable stage in the evolution of consciousness”, which shows his disheartening acceptation of modernity. These stories bring out the essence of beauty and joy from the most unconventional settings.

That said and done, there are some disheartening shortcomings too. The narration is loose and needs trimming at certain edges, making it rather difficult to focus on the plot. The stories did have a solid start but somewhere in the middle it became a carnival of unexciting surroundings making me browse pages to find comfort. Also, Bellow’s portrayal of Sorella, Aunt Rose and even Max Zetland are filled with excessive and repetitive usage of adjectives to embellish human anatomy which tends to be a bit dragging. At times, I felt like erasing the characters from the highly subjective text.

One thing I detest while reading short stories is skipping pages and this is exactly what I did here. I do not want to be unjust and form a rapid opinion about Bellow based on this writing .I don’t deny that he is one the superior writers but this book failed to create that aura. Hence, I will read some more of his works before inferring whether Bellow is my ‘cup of tea’.

3/5***

Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology – Salma Khadra Jayyusi

Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology

An admirable and didactic anthology on the journey of Arabic literature from ancient scriptures to soaring mount of novels and modern fiction. The exuberance of literary richness and excellence of the Arabic fiction is rendered amid a humongous assortment of more than 100 short stories; liberating Arabic prose from being pigeonholed to ‘Arabian Nights’ and fables.

4/5****