SEVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

Original Book Reviews, Recommendations and Discussions

Reviews of Short Stories and Anthologies

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Reviews of Short Stories and Anthologies

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Stick out your tongueStick Out Your Tongue, by Ma Jian

I have read the controversial and very much banned Stick Out Your Tongue, by Ma Jian, quite a few times and each time I didn’t know what to make of it. It is a collection of short stories or long short stories on the same theme – Tibet and Tibetan sky burials – making it a novella. On the cover is praise from Nobel laureate, author and artist Gao Xingjian: “One of the most important and courageous voices in Chinese literature.” My copy was published by Chatto & Windus, London, in 2006, and translated by Flora Drew, and it contains an Afterword by the author. The book originally came out in 1987, in the Chinese literary journal, People’s Literature. Result: a government crackdown; the novella was denounced…(Continue reading…)


Oulap Se Blou, by Chris Barnard

Oulap Se Blou (Penny’s Worth of Blue), by Chris Barnard

Chris Barnard (born 15 July 1939) was a multi-award-winning South African and Afrikaans author and playwright who was one of the “Sestigers”. The Sestigers (Sixtiers), also known as the Beweging van Sestig (the Movement of Sixty), was a group of influential Afrikaans-language writers in the 1960s, started by André Brink and Breyten Breytenbach. They introduced new, radical subjects like atheism, sex, art for the sake of revolution, and anti-Apartheid ideas to South African literature, and their declared aim was “to broaden the rather too parochial limits of Afrikaner fiction.” (Continue reading…)


 

A Blink of the Screen - Collected Short Fiction (Publisher: Corgi, Aug. 5 2014)

A Blink of the Screen – Collected Short Fiction, by Terry Pratchett

There are two worthwhile things about this book: Firstly, the introduction by author A.S. Byatt, which is superb and really, for once, properly analyses Pratchett’s style, approach to writing, and what makes him unique. From this I learned about the concept of “secondary worlds” in fiction. Secondly, there are Pratchett’s collected short stories and other writings, some with Discworld-like characters, others like Discworld precursors, and others yet completely different. (Continue reading…)


Die hartseerwals'n Baksel in die moreReview of the œuvre of Afrikaans Author Hennie Aucamp

South African author, poet, lyricist and playwright Hennie Aucamp died on 20 March 2014, aged 80 years, from a heart attack. Like a loved family member and familiar name on the tongue, he is mourned by the entire literary community in South Africa, and by generations of South African readers. Hennie, as his friends called him, died quietly, in his sleep, reportedly without a struggle – a good death for a man who had lived a civilised life, who had been kind and intelligent and a wonderfully talented writer. (Continue reading…)


Dear LifeDear Life, by Alice Munro

The significant moments in Alice Munro’s latest collection of short stories tend to creep up behind you and hit you in the back of the head with a brick. You read one – you get to the final lines – you think, “I don’t get it” or “oh good grief, is that what I think it is? – you go back and reread it. Then you find the pivotal moment, the line where there storyline changed, where she started the build-up to the climax, or put in the key to the puzzle. It takes patience and skill to construct stories that way, and Munro manages to combine this almost architectural precision with a psychologist’s insight into relationships, emotions and people’s reaction to major life events. (Continue reading…)


Dear Life by HE BatesDear Life, by HE Bates

The other day, I was rereading one of my favourite short story compilations, My Uncle Silas, by H.E. Bates (Penguin Books, 1939), and noticed that he had, like Alice Munro, published a book under the title of Dear Life. Like Munro’s work, it was in the short story or novella format. It was published by Little, Brown and Company, London, UK, in 1949, a couple of years after the end of WWII. Bates had made his name with his ripping war novels and stories set in India and Burma, and the jolly tales of the Larkin family, especially the televised The Darling Buds of May. However, Bates’ Dear Life was an experiment and a departure from his usual bucolic, sentimental visions of a vanished past. As social criticism it was not well received and was generally panned by reviewers. Perhaps the very dark novella deserves reevaluation…(Continue reading…)


SQUiRREL SEEKS CHIPMUNKSquirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modern Bestiary, by David Sedaris

Very plainly in the genre of folklore, this collection of cautionary tales contains modern versions of the medieval bestiary. A bestiary is a compendium of stories about animals, birds and sometimes plants. Originating in the ancient world, bestiaries were made popular in the Middle Ages in illustrated volumes containing each animal’s natural history, an illustration of it and an accompanying moral lesson (like The Tortoise and The Hare – slow and steady progress will win, or The Ant and The Grasshopper – hard work is better than idleness). (Continue reading…)


 

Stories from the Vinyl CafeVinyl Cafe Unpluggedextreme vinyl cafeRevenge of the vinyl cafeReviews of The Vinyl Cafe short story collections, by Stuart McLean

Sometimes I chance upon the most amazing things – perhaps it is a Canadian phenomenon – unexpectedly good bands, artists and authors, and now, radio shows. I’m partial to CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for those who don’t know) Radio 2, which broadcasts a range of interesting modern music in the mornings, and classical in the afternoons. One day on the road  I was delighted to hear a talkshow on the subject of “Shirts” of all things – music and short stories about shirts. The show was “The Vinyl Cafe” with Stuart McLean – who has a superb voice, deep-toned and with clear pronunciation. (Unlike some people whose faces are only good for radio, Mr McLean also happens to be rather dashing looking.) (Continue reading…)


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