Thursday, January 28, 2010

Brief Review: "Pen, Sword, Camisole" by Jorge Amado

Pen, Sword, Camisole: A Fable to Kindle a Hope by Jorge Amado, originally published in Brazil in 1980, translation from the Portuguese by Helen R. Lane in 1985.

Like other of Amado's novels, Pen, Sword, Camisole combines comic farce, biting satire, and life-affirming joy in one work that is a delight to read. The novel is set in Brazil in late 1940 and early 1941, a time when the country was under the control of a rigid dictatorship with clear totalitarian leanings as well as close connections to Nazi Germany. The Chief of National Security is one Colonel Sampaio Pereira who delights in the nickname bestowed upon him by his enemies, the "Brazilian Goebbels," and whose greatest ambition -- aside from participating in the worldwide triumph of Nazism -- is to be chosen a member of the illustrious Brazilian Academy of Letters. The death in occupied Paris of the great Brazilian poet Antonio Bruno creates a vacancy among the 40 members, and the Colonel, through his sycophantic ally Lisandro Leite (already a member of the Academy), begins his campaign to be elected. However, a number of Academy members can't stand the thought of the liberal, peace-loving Bruno being replaced by a self-proclaimed Nazi; two of them in particular, Afranio Portela and Evandro Nunes dos Santos, take it upon themselves to prevent his election and found a committee to launch a counteroffensive.They find a higher-ranking army officer with literary accomplishments to run against Sampaio Pereira, one General Waldomiro Moreira, and persuade him to run for the vacant position; they employ several different tactics, including convincing several of the deceased Bruno's former mistresses to help "persuade" some of the undecided Academicians to vote against the Nazi (the pen may be mightier than the sword, but the camisole quite possibly is mightier than both). Plot and counterplot on both sides swirl, tangle, and intertwine in farcical profusion, and the outcome hangs uncertainly in the balance, right up until a totally unexpected occurrence radically alters the entire situation, and the Afranio - Evandro committee suddenly finds itself having to drastically change course in midstream with little time left in which to do so.

The novel is a excellent satire of academic and social pretension as well as of Brazil's "New State" (as it was called during the late 1930s and 40s) and a thoroughly enjoyable comic romp. But, as always with Amado, there is also joy; here, it takes the form of several accounts by Bruno's former lovers of their relationships with him and how, through him, they came to recognize and embrace the joy that is the essence of being alive, as Bruno himself believed. It is this combination of comedy, satire, and joyous recognition that marks Amado's best works, and Pen, Sword, Camisole belongs solidly among them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Not That It Matters Really, But

the site counter just hit:


Brief Review: "Everything Flows" by Vasily Grossman

Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman, written during the early 1960s but suppressed by the Soviet government; finally published in Russia in 1989; translation by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Anna Astanyan 2009.

The last novel of Vasily Grossman, completed as he was dying of stomach cancer in 1964, Everything Flows is a scathing indictment of Soviet Russia and its leadership, especially under Lenin and Stalin. The novel is rather loosely structured and follows the central character Ivan Grigoryevitch once he is released after 30 years in prison and the Siberian workcamps for crimes against the state of which he was in fact falsely accused. Lost in a world he knows virtually nothing about, he briefly encounters a few individuals, particularly his cousin, a successful Soviet scientist, as well as Pinegin, the man who had falsely accused him; in each case, we are given insight into each of those individuals and what each has done (and has sacrificed) in order to survive and prosper in Stalin's Russia. He finally finds a home with Anna Sergeyevna, a war widow, and a job as a metalworker in a small machine shop. Becoming lovers for a brief period before she dies of cancer, she reveals to him her experiences as a Soviet official in the Ukraine during the Terror, the period during 1932 - 1933 when Stalin caused the starvation of millions of Ukrainians and what the consequences were to the Ukraine as well as to herself. He spends much of his time thinking about what he learned from his experiences in the camps, and it's these meditations that form the central focus of the novel. His speculations take a number of forms in the work: a short mental drama in which a series of informers reveal why they became informers; a number of brief narratives seen from the point of view of various individuals suffering under Soviet rule (including a wife and mother arrested for failing to inform on her husband and a middle-aged farmer who with his wife and infant son starve during the Ukraine Terror); and a series of journal entries, essentially essays, in which he evaluates the characters of Lenin, Stalin, and Russia itself, and, after reviewing Russian history, comes to understand something of how his homeland has fallen into the state in which it exists under Stalin and his successors. Eventually, he comes to believe:

"The evolution of the West was fertilized by the growth of freedom; Russia's evolution was fertilized by the growth of slavery. This is the abyss that divides Russia and the West" (p. 179).

Ivan Grigoryevitch doesn't know if Russia can ever escape from the cycle that has trapped it from its earliest history. However, despite doubts as to that possibility, he does believe absolutely in what he comes to call the "sacred law of life": "There is no end in the world for the sake of which it is permissible to sacrifice human freedom" (p. 164).

As a novel, Everything Flows is episodic in nature with little narrative progression; however, many of the episodes which take place in the central character's memory or imagination are powerful, painful embodiments of the experiences of those who were arrested, imprisoned, interrogated, and sentenced to serve in the Siberian workcamps. In this respect, I'd say it's easily as powerful as Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. And its damning first-hand analysis of the Soviet State is the final legacy of of a writer who loved his country and hated what it had become in the hands of those he viewed as the most despicable of warlords and powermongers. Everything Flows is not an easy book to read; it is a book I recommend without reservation.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

For Those Attracted To The Word "The"

Twelve Poems Beginning With The Word The now over in The Jackdaw's Nest.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Brief Review: "A River Sutra" by Gita Mehta

A River Sutra by Gita Mehta, 1993.

I found this work to be a fascinating and enthralling novel that presents a cross-section of Indian society, both traditional and contemporary. The unnamed narrator is a highly placed civil servant in later middle age, a widower without children, who has tired of the constant activity required by his position and who, wishing to live a simpler and more contemplative life, requests reassignment as a manager of a government-operated rest house located in a rural area along the Narmada River, often regarded as the most sacred of all India's sacred rivers. Having a great deal of free time in this position, he takes long walks in the countryside and along the river and encounters many different individuals with whom he strikes up conversations and who tell him their stories. In the course of the work, we meet people of many different religions -- Hindu, Muslim, Jain -- and a broad spectrum of social and class backgrounds, from the most learned and wealthy to the least educated and poor, and gain at least a glimpse into the complex society that makes up India. In some way or another, all are connected to the river and the beliefs and traditions which surround it, a fact which helps to provide insight into the nature of the sacred and its role in Indian culture. At the same time, the narrator himself is coming to learn more about himself than he has ever realized previously.

I have recently begun to read work by Indian writers, something I really had not done previously. I found that this novel has given me a better understanding of India and its fantastically complex culture than anything I've read previously. I also found it to be a rather breathtaking work that drew me in and along with it from the very beginning. I enjoyed it immensely and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Charity Navigator's List of Vetted Charities for Haiti Relief

can be found here.

The Clinton Foundation. is another.

Yoga: Day 1


Sunday, January 10, 2010

First Jackdaw's Nest of 2010 Is Up

Monday, January 04, 2010

Reading Log 2010

I have decided to attempt to keep a reading log of all the books I complete in 2010, just as an experiment. I will list by title, author, type of work, writer's country of origin, original date of publication with date of translation if not originally in English, and date read. An entry preceded by an (R) is a book that I am rereading, usually after many years. An asterisk indicates a book I particularly enjoyed. I will also from time to time post short reviews of some of the works listed here; the titles of those works will be linked to the reviews.)


(R)1. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (novel, U. S., 1826; Jan. 1 - 4)
2. Euclid's Window: The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace by Leonard Mlodinow (nonfiction -- mathematics/physics, U. S., 2001; Jan. 4 - 6)
3. The Red Carpet: Bangalore Stories by Lavanya Sankaran (short stories, India, 2005; Jan. 7-8)
*4. The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri (novel -- Inspector Montalbano mystery series #11, Italy, 2006 in Sicily, translation 2009; Jan. 8)
5. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin (novel, U. S., 2006; Jan. 9 - 10)
6. Slip by Sina Queyras (poetry, Canada, 2001; Jan. 10)
7. Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Design by Henry Petroski (nonfiction -- engineering/design, U. S., 2003; Jan. 11 - 12)
8. A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe (novel, Japan, 1964 in Japan, translation 1969; Jan. 13)
(R)9. Dilvish, The Damned by Roger Zelazny (short stories -- Dilvish #1, U. S., 1982; Jan. 14)
(R)10. The Changing Land by Roger Zelazny (novel -- Dilvish #2, U. S., 1981; Jan. 15)
*11. A River Sutra by Gita Mehta (novel, India, 1993; Jan. 16)
12. Benjamin Franklin by Edmund S. Morgan (nonfiction -- biography, U. S., 2002; Jan. 17 - 19)
*13. Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman (novel, Russia, 1989 in Russia, translation 2009; Jan. 20 - 21)
14. School for Love by Olivia Manning (novel, England, 1951; Jan. 21 - 22)
(R)15. Bad Blood at Black Range by John Callahan (novel, U. S., 1956; Jan. 23)
16. The Great Chain of Life by Joseph Wood Krutch (nonfiction -- biology/nature, U. S., 1956; Jan. 23 - 24)
17. Dew in the Morning by Shimmer Chinodya (novel, Zimbabwe, 1982; Jan. 24 - 25)
18. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (novel, Finland, 1972 in Finland, translation 1974; Jan. 25 - 26)
*19. Pen, Sword, Camisole: A Fable to Kindle a Hope by Jorge Amado (novel, Brazil, 1980 in Brazil, translation 1985; Jan. 26 - 27)
20. The Zero Stone by Andre Norton (novel -- Murdoc Jern #1, U. S., 1968; Jan. 28 - 29)
*21. Karma Cola: Marketing The Mystic East by Gita Mehta (nonfiction -- travel/cultural studies, India, 1979; Jan. 29)
*22. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (novel, India/England, 1901; Jan. 30 - 31)


23. Uncharted Stars by Andre Norton (novel -- Murdoc Jern #2, U. S., 1969; Feb. 1)
24. The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell (novel, U. S., 1945; Feb. 2)
*(R)25. As You Like It by William Shakespeare (drama -- comedy, England, 1599 or 1600; Feb. 3)
*26. Bombay Time by Thrity Umrigar (novel, India, 2001; Feb. 3 - 5)
27. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (novel, U. S., 1988; Feb. 5 - 6)
*28. Maps by Nuruddin Farah (novel -- Blood in the Sun trilogy, Vol. I, Somalia, 1986; Feb. 7 - 9)
*(R)29. The Faerie Queene: Book VI by Sir Edmund Spenser (Epic poem, England, 1596; Feb. 10)
30. Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening by Stephen Batchelor (nonfiction -- religion/meditation, Scotland, 1997; Feb. 11)
31. Desolation Road by Ian McDonald (novel, England, 1988; Feb. 12 - 13)
32. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (novel, Czechoslovakia, 1984 in English translation, first publication in Czech 1985 in Canada; Feb. 14 - 15)
33. The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany (novel, Egypt, 2002 in Egypt, 2004 in English translation; Feb. 16)
*34. Auntie Mame ( An Irreverent Escapade) by Patrick Dennis (novel, U. S., 1955; Feb. 17 - 18)
35. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin (short stories, Pakistan, 2009; Feb. 19 - 20)
*36. Sonnets by Camille Martin (poetry, Canada, 2010; Feb. 21)
37. Rosemary And Rue by Seanan McGuire (novel -- October Daye #1, U. S., 2009; Feb. 21 - 23)
38. A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire (novel -- October Daye #2, U. S. , 2010; Feb. 23)
*39. The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry (novel, U. S., 2009; Feb. 24 - 26)
40. The Foundation Pit by Andrey Platonov (novel, Soviet Union, 2000 in Russia, translation 2009; Feb. 27 - 28)


41. Diving into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (novel, U. S. , 2009; March 1 - 2)
*42. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (novel, U. S., 1937; March 3)
43. Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes by Christopher Hibbert (nonfiction -- U. S. history, Great Britain, 1990; March 4 - 7)
44. One Day on Mars by Travis S. Taylor (novel, U. S., 2007; March 8 - 10)
*45. Esther's Inheritance by Sandor Marai (novel, Hungary, 1939 in Hungary, translation 2008; March 10)
46. Wedding Song by Naguib Mahfouz (novel, Egypt, 1981 in Egypt, translation 1984; March 11)
47. The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham (novel -- Albert Campion #1, England, 1929; March 12 - 13)
*48. Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio (nonfiction -- creativity/poetrywriting, U. S., 2009; March 13 - 14)
49. The Implacable Order of Things by Jose Luis Peixoto (novel, Portugal, 2000 in Portugal, translation 2007 in England, 2008 in the U. S.; March 15)
*50. As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires by Bruce Weber (nonfiction -- baseball, U. S., 2009; March 16 - 19)
51. Mutineers' Moon by David Weber (novel -- Dahak #1, U. S. , 1991; March 20 - 21)
*52. The Infinities by John Banville (novel, Ireland, 2009; March 21 - 22)
*(R)53. The High Crusade by Poul Anderson (novel, U. S., 1960; March 23)
*54. Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith (novel -- Precious Ramotswe #10, Zimbabwe, 2009; March 23 - 24)
55. Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham (novel -- Albert Campion #2, England, 1930; March 24 - 26)
56. So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba (novel, Senegal, 1980 in Senegal, 1981 in English translation; March 26)
57. Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron (nonfiction -- travel/cultural studies, Scotland, 2006; March 27 - 29)
58. The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino (fiction, Italy, 1957 in Italy, English translation 1959; March 30)
*59. What We Carry by Dorianne Laux (poetry, U. S., 1994; March 30)
*60. Smoke by Dorianne Laux (poetry, U. S., 2000; March 31)
*61. Facts About The Moon by Dorianne Laux (poetry, U. S., 2006; March 31)


62. Look for the Lady by Margery Allingham (novel -- Albert Campion #3, England, 1931; April 1 - 2)
*63. The Matisse Stories by A. S. Byatt (short stories, England, 1993; April 3)
64. Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore (novel, U. S., 1997; April 4 - 5)
(R)65. Siege of the Unseen by A. E. van Vogt (novel, Canada, 1959; April 6)
66. But Didn't We Have Fun? An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era, 1843 -1870 by Peter Morris (nonfiction -- baseball history, U. S., 2008; April 6 - 8)
*67. Slowness by Milan Kundera (novel, Czechoslovakia, 1995 in France, English translation 1996; April 9)
68. Darker Than Amber by John D. MacDonald (novel -- Travis McGee #7, U. S., 1966; April 10 - 11)
69. Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds (novel -- Revelation Space trilogy Vol. 2, England, 2002; April 12 - 18)
*70. For Love of the Game by Michael Shaara (novel, U. S., 1991; April 19)
71, Police at the Funeral by Margery Allingham (novel -- Albert Campion #4, England, 1931; April 20 - 22)
*72. The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (novel -- Vish Puri #1, England, 2009; April 23 - 24)
73. Monster by A. Lee Martinez (novel, U. S., 2009; April 24 - 25)
*74. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (novel, Antigua, 1990; April 26)
*75. All-Night Lingo Tango by Barbara Hamby (poetry, U. S., 2009; April 26)
76. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (novel, U. S., 1968; April 27)
77. From Doon With Death by Ruth Rendell (novel -- Inspector Wexford #1, England, 1964: April 28)
*78. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (novel -- Easy Rawlins #1, U. S., 1990; April 29)
(R)79. Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny (novel, U. S., 1971; April 30)


*80. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe (novel, England, 1958; May 1 - 2)
*81. American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph J. Ellis (nonfiction -- U. S. history, U. S., 2007; May 3 - 9)
82. Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham (novel -- Albert Campion #5, England, 1933; May 10 - 12)
*83. Ignorance by Milan Kundera (novel, Czechoslovakia, 2000 in France, English translation 2002; May 12 - 13)
*84. Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa (novel, Japan, 1996 in Japan, English translation 2010; May 13 - 14)
*85. Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton (novel, South Africa, 1948; May 14 - 15)
86. The Armageddon Inheritance by David Weber (novel -- Dahak #2, U. S., 1994; May 16 - 17)
(R)87. Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny ( novel, U. S., 1969; May 17)
88. Revolutionary Characters: What Made The Founders Different by Gordon S. Wood (nonfiction -- history/biography, U. S., 2006; May 18 - 25)
89. The Battle of Forever by A. E. van Vogt (novel, Canada, 1971; May 26)
90. The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (novel, Finland, 1972 in Finland, translation 2009; May 27 - 28)
91. Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon (novel -- Commissario Brunetti #1, U. S., 1992; May 29 - 30)
92. Identity by Milan Kundera (novel, Czechoslovakia, 1997 in France, English translation 1998; May 30)
(R)93. The Nemesis from Terra by Leigh Brackett (novel, U. S., 1961; May 31)


94. Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker (novel -- Bruno #1, England, 2008; June 1 - 3)
95. Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance by Richard Powers (novel, U. S., 1985; June 3 - 6)
*96. The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill (novel -- Dr. Siri Paiboun #1, England/U. S., 2004; June 6 - 7)
*97. Thirty - Three Teeth by Colin Cotterill (novel -- Dr. Siri Paiboun #2, England/U. S., 2005; June 7 - 8)
98. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal (nonfiction -- history, Cuba, 2002; June 9 - 11)
*(R)99. The Tragedy of Coriolanus by William Shakespeare (drama -- tragedy, England, between 1607 and 1609; June 12)

Friday, January 01, 2010

My Favorite 15 Novels Read in 2009

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (2003 in Japan, translation 2009)
A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka (2005)
A Lesson Before Dying by Earnest Gaines (1993)
Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (1979)
A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr (1980)
As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem (1997)
Death With Interruptions by Jose Saramago (2005 in Portugal, translation 2008)
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (2003 in Norway, translation 2005)
The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tillburg Clark (1940)
A Woman in Jerusalem by A. B. Yehoshua (2004 in Israel, translation 2006)
Dance Night by Dawn Powell (1930)
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai (1998)
My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918)
Dreamland by Kevin Baker (1999)
The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar (2006)