Sunday, October 29, 2017

Review: By Gaslight

This was an interesting read for me - and lost a star due to the one thing that irked me throughout - the lack of punctuation, especially for dialogue.  Moving past that, "By Gaslight" by Steven Price is the story of one man's quest to track down "the one that got away" is worth pursuing to the end (and its a long book).

London 1885: Billy Pinkerton - ".. a man without weakness, a man without pity .." - US Civil War veteran and son of the founder of Pinkerton's Detective Agency, is on the trail of a woman who is the accomplice of notorious criminal, Edward Shade. Pinkerton hopes to use this woman to lead him to Edward Shade, who has alluded his grasp, and that of his father's for some time.  The woman's ex-lover, one Adam Foole, also uses Pinkerton for his own dark purpose which is as shady as the shadow Pinkerton is chasing.

The narrative alternates between the present, London 1885, and the past, told in flashback and in no sequential order.  Not all is as it initially seems and we trudge the gas-lit streets of Victorian London in search of clarity to a secret that has a past betrayal at its very heart.

As mentioned, the lack of punctuation at times rendered that very good storytelling a little hard to follow, especially with a book of this length.  The flashbacks and flash-forwards, some of which seem irrelevant and unnecessary at the time, eventually coalesce and slowly a tale is spun that links them together, and reveals a secret that has its roots firmly planted in events of the US Civil War.

Could this be labelled noir fiction ...?  I was often reminded of the hero / nemesis catch and mouse game of Holmes and Moriarty, and where the lines of good and evil are often blurred.   I wonder how the story would have panned out in two tomes rather than the one .....

Review: A Short Life of Pushkin

"A short yet fascinating account of Russia's most celebrated writer. "   And that's it in a nut-shell.  

I was initially drawn to this work by Robert Chamdler as I have been reading many "Pushkin Press" titles and was intrigued - was this publishing company named after or in honour of the man, Pushkin?  And if so, why was he so deserving of such an honour?

Apart from being one of Russia's great historians and poets who left a lasting literary legacy, Alexander Pushkin's own story was larger than life.

Here was a man whose family was from the old Russian nobility, who were loyal to Peter III, fell under Catherine the Great; whose maternal great-grandfather was referred to as the "Blackamoor" of Peter the Great.  Pushkin himself lived on the edge - from an early age, his life was dedicated to writing, poetry, women, gambling, did I mention women, drinking, politics, theatre, frivolity - a dissolute life by all standards which led to duelling, imprisonment, exile, then repeat again and again - ".... only the intervention of friends and the dowager empress forestalled a worse fate and not for the first time ..."  A man who lived a charmed life, though towards the end, this lavish lifestyle led to his latter years spent in debt and ended in a fatal duel (1837).

I doubt very much any writer of fiction could have created such an extraordinary life for any character.  I very much want to track down and read not only is poetry but more in-depth biographies.

Review: Gambrelli and the Prosecutor

This is a well-written police procedural set in 1930s France, told over a period of a week. The storytelling of Laurence Giliotti is such that you actually felt part of the investigation and involved in the police-station politics of pre-WWII France. 

A senior prosecutor, Jean Michel Bertrand, is charged with the murder of his mistress, Annette Cuomo on the island of Q.  Bertrand realises quickly he will need help and calls upon his court-room rival, Chief Inspector Gambrelli of the Metro Police to investigate. The local police commander Henri Ormond wants a quick resolution but Gambrelli is not so sure ..... things don't quite add up. What is the mystery surrounding the two sisters, Annette & Lisa; why has the prosecutor's wife, Madame Bertrand, undergone such a noticeable change? Just when it seems that the case is solved, Gambrelli has some nagging afterthoughts. Despite a successful conclusion there are still a few loose ends - nothings is as clear cut as anticipated.

I, like many other readers, will be looking forward to the next installment.

Other Reviews:
Kirkus Review "The spirit of Georges Simenon is alive and well in this novel."
Portland Book Review "The book reads as if it is a series that has been ongoing for some time, but readers will find a delightful surprise to discover Gambrelli and the Prosecutor is only the beginning."
San Francisco Book Review "While the main mystery is solved two-thirds of the way through, the true mastermind is only unveiled near the end."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

450-Year-Old Book Reveals What to Name a Baby Samurai

From Live Science

What should you name a baby samurai? What food should a samurai bring to a battle? What is a samurai's most treasured possession? 
A newly translated 450-year-old book supposedly written by a renowned samurai provides answers to these and many other questions about the Japanese swordsmen. Called "The Hundred Rules of War," the book is a series of songs that could be sung by samurai, who had never gone into battle. It was supposedly written in Japanese in 1571 by a famous samurai named Tsukahara Bokuden, who lived from 1489 to 1571, during a war-ridden time in Japan. 
Stories told about Bokuden claim that he fought in over 100 battles and slew hundreds of swordsmen. The book was recently translated into English by Eric Shahan, who specializes in translating Japanese martial-arts texts. The book was first printed in Japanese in 1840, and has been republished in Japanese several times since then, Shahan told Live Science. 

read more here @ Live Science

Saturday, October 14, 2017

York author Lucy Adlington reveals the secret sewing rooms at Auschwitz in her new novel

York Press features a review of Lucy Adlington's novel, The Red Ribbon, set in a fictional concentration camp during World War Two.

It was during her research into historical fashion that Lucy uncovered a footnote that lead to a remarkable story – and became the focus of The Red Ribbon.
She discovered that Hedwig Hoss, the wife of the commander at Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, loved fashion so much that she demanded a tailoring workshop be established, to be staffed by female prisoners. These prisoners were tasked with making beautiful clothes for Frau Hoss, as well as the wives of other male officers and female guards.
For a historian with a passion for clothes and fashion, The Red Ribbon was a novel she just had to write. Lucy was struck that in the midst of the horror of a concentration camp the frivolities of fashion could flourish. Hedwig Hoss is recast as Madame H in the novel. In real life, she employed prisoners to make her clothes, first at a room in her house (a villa near the camp), but by 1943 this was moved into a workshop at Auschwitz. She had 23 staff, making beautiful clothes for herself and other Nazi women.

read more here @ York Press and at Lucy's website

The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex and Jewelry

From The Daily Star, a review of Wendy Doniger's book, The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex & Jewelry:

The first seven chapters are about rings throughout history; in particular, they are all recognition stories in which a ring is a vital clue. They deal with sexual rings (chapter 1), rings found in fish and found (with children) in the ocean (chapter 2), rings of forgetful husbands (chapters 3, 4, and 5) and of clever wives (chapters 6 and 7). Chapters 1 and 2 are broadly cross-cultural (though largely Anglophone) and deal with a number of relatively short texts; the next three chapters concentrate on fewer stories discussed in greater depths, taken from individual cultures: India (chapter 3), medieval Europe (chapter 4), and the Germanic world (chapter 5). Chapters 6 and 7 deal with a single theme – the “clever wife” – in cross-cultural distribution. Chapters 8 and 9 veer ever so slightly into stories about necklaces in particular cultures and particular historical periods: a treacherous royal necklace in eighteenth-century France (chapter 8) and true-and-false necklaces in nineteenth century English novels and twentieth century American films (chapter 9). The final two chapters return to rings, to the invention of the myth of diamond engagement rings in twentieth century America (chapter 10) and a concluding consideration of the cash value of rings and the clash between reason and convention in myths about rings of recognition throughout the world (chapter 11).

read more here @ The Daily Star

The Day Will Pass Away: The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard 1935-1936

Read a review of "The Day Will Pass Away: The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard 1935-1936" by Ivan Christyakov at the StarTribune:

Police states spread complicity by forcing citizens into immoral roles. With “The Day Will Pass Away,” readers get a remarkable opportunity to peek into the 1930s diary of one such citizen — Ivan Chistyakov, a guard in the Soviet gulag.
Under Communist rule during the 20th century, Russia herded millions of residents into labor camps without trial. Many were sent thousands of miles to vast infrastructure projects in an attempt to shock-industrialize the nation. As purges under Stalin began and executions swept the country, Chistyakov found himself in command of an armed platoon on the Baikal-Amur Mainline railway, an eastern outpost of the camp system.

read more here at Star Tribune

Sunday, October 8, 2017

'The Good People' by Hannah Kent

Foreboding builds from the get-go of “The Good People,” Hannah Kent’s haunting historical novel about a rural Irish community gripped by sudden death and suspicion.

Kent’s suspenseful storytelling plunges readers into early 19th-century Ireland. She brings vivid life to the hardscrabble scenes: dingy cabins and backbreaking work and the grim hiring fairs where poor children sell their labor to less poor people such as Nóra. When Nóra and Nance head off to confront the fairies, you can feel the mud sliding beneath their bare feet.

Although “The Good People” is fiction, it faithfully represents the hold of ancient Celtic myths on generations of Irish. It also lays bare some hard truths about human nature and leaves you thinking about belief, suspicion and what happens to a community when fear takes hold.

read entire review here @ Star Tribune

Survival guide for women immigrants to 19thcentury Canada

In a new edition – Catharine Parr Traill’s The Female Emigrant’s Guide: Cooking with a Canadian Classic (McGill-Queen’s University Press) – Cooke and co-editor culinary historian Fiona Lucas present what they refer to as a “historical toolkit.” Their study of Traill’s world provides the context and resources necessary to unlock the Guide and other historical cookbooks.

The Guide was first published 162 years ago, in 1855. Cooke says that the timing is ideal for reframing the work. Food studies and food history emerged as a discipline in the 20th century, she adds – it wasn’t until the 1980s and ’90s that historians began to consider cookbooks as a source of valuable information.

'In the Woods of Memory': Okinawan novelist makes history visceral

From an article in The Japan Times:

It is almost impossible to find a serious novel that does not touch on the subject of death. “In the Woods of Memory,” taking for its theme the death of the soul, is no exception.
The rape of a 17-year-old girl by four U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa forms the animating horror at the core of this story, based on a number of similar cases related to the author [Shun Medoruma] by his relatives.
In writing this novel, Medoruma creates a sound chamber of voices, time shifts and associations, moving back and forth from 1945 to 2005. He filters experiences through eye witnesses, a wartime Okinawan-American interpreter, an obsequious village ward chief, an American attacker now tormented in his old age by his collusion in an act of barbarity, and his grandson, who is given the harpoon head used by Seiji in the attack on his grandfather.

read more here @ The Japan Times

read reviews here @ Foreword Reviews, @ Asia-Pacific Journal, @ Stone Bridge Press

Imaging Reveals Medieval Manuscript Hidden in Book Binding

In the mid-16th century, a bookbinder picked up a piece of parchment — one that was already centuries old — and used it to bind a book of poetry. This parchment's text remained unreadable for nearly 500 years, but now, thanks to state-of-the-art imaging techniques, people can read its words once more, according to a new study.

An analysis of the sixth-century text revealed that it was part of the Roman law code. Whoever made the poetry book likely considered the text to be outdated, as at that point, society was using the church's code, rather than Roman laws, the researchers said.

read more here @ Live Science

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Brilliant Defense of Christendom

In medieval times, we are told that tyranny ruled, and the Church and the nascent State were constant rivals in the pursuit of dominance. So many modern historians have cynically reduced this period when Christianity prevailed to a time of cultural darkness and violent power struggles.
Our historian’s central thesis is simply stated: “I argue that thirteenth century France was not a world of the secular and religious vying for position and power, but a world in which the material and the spiritual were totally dependent on each other and penetrated one another at every level.”
He claims medieval society offered “a coherent vision of the whole in which mankind moved through grace from the lesser to the greater, from the fallen to the redeemed. It was an integral vision which included all of social reality and it was removed from our own.”

read more here 

'Flowering of the Bamboo': Revisiting the mass poisoning of 1948

The acronym GUBU (grotesque, unusual, bizarre and unprecedented) fits the mass murder at the Teihoku Bank in Tokyo on Jan. 26, 1948. Sixteen people were deliberately poisoned, including an 8-year-old boy. More money was left behind than stolen.
While the incident has long been pored over in Japan, Triplett’s book was one of the first to explore the explosive case in English when it was published in 1985. Triplett, a journalist and playwright, stumbled on the case upon hearing about Sadamichi Hirasawa, a painter who was convicted of the murders and sentenced, but never executed. He lived out his life on death row. Hirasawa’s conviction was widely disputed.
Triplett examines the case from two perspectives: Hirasawa’s and that of Unit 731, the Imperial Army’s secretive Biological Warfare outfit, which had been operational during World War II and had ties to the case.
Besides the forensics of the crime Triplett’s book portrays just how much Japan was in flux in the immediate aftermath of the war: The Americans were trying to pull Japan’s institutions out of a deeply ingrained feudalistic culture, the police wanted to get someone on the hook quickly, and the press didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory while trying to convict Hirasawa in the court of public opinion. A compelling read, even if it unearths more questions than it answers.
read more here 
@ wikipedia - Sadamichi Hirasawa

See also:
  • Unit 731: Testimony by Hal Gold
  • Occupied City by David Peace
  • Justice in Japan: The Notorious Teijin Scandal by Richard H Mitchell
  • The Super Sleuths by Bruce Henderson & Sam Summerlin

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Draft Copy - The King James Bible

A fragment of the earliest known draft of the King James Bible has been discovered in Cambridge. 

However, new controversies seem to arise from this discovery. After examination and investigation of the manuscript, it was reported that the King James Bible had discarded big chunks of the original text of the Bible. Several notable people and events were completely erased from this new version. According to Dr Miller, this might have happened either because of some politics of the age or simply because of the laziness of the translators.

This discovery helps us to see the degree to which human intervention at a particular period of time has affected the Bible. Though the King James Bible is considered, as mentioned above, the “Word of God”, the unearthing of this manuscript may indicate towards the fact that this version of the Bible was actually a product of ideas and notions of the translators.

read more here @ The New York News Day

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: Ten Dead Comedians

The title caught my attention.  Then I read the premise:
A darkly clever take on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and other classics of the genre,Ten Dead Comedians is a marvel of literary ventriloquism, with hilarious comic monologues in the voice of every suspect. It’s also an ingeniously plotted puzzler with a twist you’ll never see coming!
So I knew what I was in for - a comedic take on a classic elimination murder mystery. And I wasn't disappointed.  The story was simple - a series of text messages are sent out to various comedians, inviting them to a small Jamaican island to take part in the next big thing.  No-one is about to greet them, and in each of their rooms is a memento of the past or the future.  A video by their host, the great Dustin Walker, accuses them all of crimes against comedy - all are to be judged and no-one is leaving - alive.
" ... a room full of comics turns into a shark tank with one sniff of blood in the water ..."
The story then builds up with each chapter.  There are plot twists upon plot twists, the characters are suitable odorous, and you found that you didn't really know which character you should be rooting for to survive the obligatory gruesome end.

I knew what I was in for and found myself engaged, having some preconception of the proposed plot-line as I am a dedicated Agatha Christie fan.  Fred van Lente's homage to this classic crime genre, style of story-telling, and sardonic humour will not be to everyone's taste ... but it is what is is.


For movie-buffs, see also:
Ten Little Indians (1965 film)
Ten Little Indians (1987 film)
Ten Little Indians (1985 film)
Clue (1985 film)
And Then There Were None ( 2015 miniseries)

The Library of William O'Brien

William O'Brien (1832-1899)
About four months ago The Guardian newspaper online ran an article about the forthcoming sale of the personal library of William O'Brien, an Irish judge and bibliophile. A large collection of books held in the Jesuit Library near Dublin for over a century, including many items of incunabula (books published prior to 1501), will go up for sale. The value of those being put up for sale is estimated at £1,500,000 (or about $1.9 million).

According to the Irish Times, Sotheby's described the collection as "one of the most important of its kind to come to the market." It is said to contain rare printed books from the 15th century, early Shakespeare editions, literature, and medieval manuscripts. A catalogue puiblished in 1932 by the Milltown Park Library (Jesuits) listed 117 items bequeathed to it by William O'Brien in 1899. An indication of the size of the collection is that the University of Cambridge had one of the largest libraries at the beginning of the 14th century, which consisted of 122 books.

read more here:
@ The Guardian

@ Sotherby's Blog - Introduction: William O'Brien
Sotherby's- auction results

The Treasures of Timbuktu

From an article in The New York Times, comes a tale straight from the pages of an Indianna Jones script - a fascinating tale of a group of librarians who saved the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu from jihadists. Or did they????
On Jan. 28, 2013, news broke of an epic cultural catastrophe. That morning, the mayor of Timbuktu, Halle Ousmane Cissé, told journalists that the jihadist occupiers of the town had destroyed its famous literary heritage. Experts declared it to be a disaster of incalculable proportions, the greatest loss of the written word in Africa since the destruction of the library of Alexandria.

Journalist and author, Charlie English was determined to find out more, and uncovered a story as fantastical as it was incredulous. He concludes that:
At its core, the story of the rescue of Timbuktu’s manuscripts is significantly true. But if it is more complex than it first appears, and vastly embellished, we should expect no less. The most fascinating part of the Timbuktu tale is that the doubts and distortions surrounding the 21st-century “Indiana Jones moment” mirror the myths that have arisen about the city throughout its history. Timbuktu has always traded on legend. The misreadings of this city have been the making of this place; they are what draws the world to it.
This event was further reported by various news organisation who beguiled readers with the epic adventures of the "bad-ass librarians" who with near military precision manged to remove over 370,000 manuscripts from a city in the grips of being overrun by military insurgents to safety - all without being caught.

read entire article here @ The New York Times
read more here @ NPR and  @ The Weekend Australian

A number of books have been written on the subject:

  • The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer
  • The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past by Charlie English
  • The Book Smugglers Of Timbuktu: The Race To Reach The Fabled City And The Fantastic Effort To Save Its Past by Charlie English

read reviews here 

The Battle of Clontarf - Ireland’s Troy?

New research suggests that the standard account of the Battle of Clontarf - Cogadh Gáedhel re Gallaibh (“The War Of The Irish Against The Foreigners”) – was partly a literary history borrowed from a classic tale of the Trojan Wars.

In Classical Literature and Learning in Medieval Irish Narrative edited by Ralph O'Connor, a chapter by Maire Ni Mhaonaigh - The metaphorical Hector': the literary portrayal of Murchad mac Bríain - relooks at the historical accounts of the Battle of Contarf, the legendary battle between the Irish and the Vikings in 1014.
Through a close study of the text, Dr Ní Mhaonaigh found that the imagery, terminology and ideas draw inspiration from a range of earlier sources – in particular Togail Troí (The Destruction of Troy), an eleventh-century translation of a fifth-century account of the battle for Troy.
In popular history, the battle has been characterised as an epic and violent clash between the army of the Christian Irish High King, Brian Boru, and a combined force led by the rebel king of the territory of Leinster, Máel Mórda, and Sitric, leader of the Dublin-based Vikings. The disputed outcome saw the Vikings beaten off, but at huge cost. Brian himself was killed, and became an iconic figure and Irish martyr.
“Academics have long accepted that Cogadh couldn’t be taken as reliable evidence but that hasn’t stopped some of them from continuing to draw on it to portray the encounter. What this research shows is that its account of the battle was crafted, at least in part, to create a version of events that was the equivalent of Troy. This was more than a literary flourish, it was a work of a superb, sophisticated and learned author.”
read more here @ University of Cambridge

From the tenth century onwards, Irish scholars adapted Latin epics and legendary histories into the Irish language, including the Imtheachta Aeniasa, the earliest known adaptation of Virgil's Aeneid into any European vernacular; Togail Troí, a grand epic reworking of the decidedly prosaic history of the fall of Troy attributed to Dares Phrygius; and, at the other extreme, the remarkable Merugud Uilixis meic Leirtis, a fable-like retelling of Ulysses's homecoming boiled down to a few hundred lines of lapidary prose.