Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reunion by John Cheever Review


The story "Reunion" written by an American author John Cheever is really short. Despite this format, the author managed to present the process of changing the point of view, the attitude towards the life of the main character.

It is a recollection of one meeting which the young man (the boy) had with his father. His parent divorced a few years ago, the boy had the transitway through New York where his father lived. The rhythm and the positive mood of the narrator had been kept by the author from the beginning to the end of the story but the attitude of the boy towards that meeting changed dramatically.

In the beginning of the story, the boy anticipated the coming meeting: "I felt that he was my father, my flesh and blood, my future and my doom". When they met, the anticipation changed into admiration: "I hoped that someone would see us together. I wished that we could be photographed. I wanted some record of our having been together."

The father suggested going for lunch to the nearest restaurant and where he started to conduct himself very rudely. "... he shouted. “Chop-chop.” Then he clapped his hands.... I have a whistle that is audible only to the ears of old waiters. Now, take out your little pad and your little pencil and see if you can get this straight: two Beefeater Gibsons. Repeat after me: two Beefeater Gibsons." The waiter asked (in fact insisted) the father and his son to leave the restaurant. The same happened in the next restaurant and next ...

All tragedy of the story was described in the last line:
"Goodbye, Daddy," I said, and I went down the stairs and got my train, and that was the last time I saw my father. "

Was it a tragedy of the young man who was disappointed by the behavior of his father? I think - no. The story conveyed to readers the sorrow of misunderstanding, the loneliness of two people who lost the relationships and even part of themselves ...



This is a link to the text:


Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Love Potion by Herman Charles Bosman Review


The short story "The Love Potion" by Herman Charles Bosman related with the old legend about the magical effect of the berry. This tale was beautifully written by the author in the beginning of the story, here is the text:

"... they say you must pick off one of its little red berries at midnight, under the full moon. Then, if you are a young man, and you are anxious for a girl to fall in love with you, all you have to do is squeeze the juice of the juba-berry into her coffee. They say that after the girl has drunk the juba-juice, she begins to forget all sorts of things. She forgets that your forehead is rather low, and that your ears stick out, and that your mouth is too big. She even forgets having told you, the week before last, that she wouldn't marry you if you were the only man in the Transvaal. All she knows is that the man she gazes at, over her empty coffee cup, has grown remarkably handsome."

The story was written from the first sight, from the man called Schalk. The narrator described the hunting for the bucks which was quite a popular deal in South Africa. The local authority made it illegal but people continued hunting at night using the lamps fastened to the caps. For that reason, the locals needed to hide in the bushes and start shooting in the middle of the night.

In that moment before the midnight, the narrator saw the young policeman, named Gideon. The narrator knew Gideon and he "had found him very likable". Gideon asked Schalk to lend him the lamp. The narrator said: "You can have my lamp ... but you must be very careful. It's worse for a policeman to get caught breaking the law than for an ordinary man.'".

The policeman replied:
No, I don't want to go shooting with the lamp, he said, ‘I want to …'.
And then he paused.
He laughed nervously.
‘It seems silly to say it, Oom Schalk,' he said, ‘but perhaps you'll understand. I've come to look for a juba-plant. I need it for my studies. For my third-class sergeant's exam. And it'll soon be midnight, and I can't find one of those plants anywhere.'

The narrator felt sorry for the policeman: if he was not able to find the plant, how could he find and catch a criminal?

Next day, the narrator visited the farm. While he was talking with the owner, he mentioned the name Gideon and looked to the farmer's daughter, Lettie. "The colour that crept into her cheeks. The light that came in her eyes."

When the narrator saw Gideon next day, he asked:
"So the juba-plant worked?'
The answer was:
You'd be surprised how quickly it acted,' he said. ‘Lettie just took one sip at the coffee, and then jumped straight onto my lap.'

Herman Charles Bosman finished the story by a witty remark which the main character made:
"But then Gideon van der Merwe winked in a way that made me believe that he was not so very simple, after all."


These are links to the story:
text:
audio:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Exchange by Jon Langford Review



The story "The Exchange" by Jon Langford is a short story and it consists of only a dialog. The customer comes to the shop and asks the shop-assistant to replace a broken alarm clock.

It looks as his request is being refused by the clerk. All possible options for the exchange are dismissed because of different reasons (the customer doesn't remember when he bought the item, he didn't keep the original plastic packing and prove of payment. The seller concluded, "I wouldn't be able to do anything to help." The dialog further transmits the feeling of being desperate: "Nothing?" "No." "So now I just have a faulty alarm clock forever?"
The story turned to another, optimistic direction in the ending. Here the last part of the conversation between shop assistant and customer:
"Would you like to open a store card? It's completely free and you get five percent off every purchase.
No thank you.
If you open one today you get a free gift.
What's the free gift?
An alarm clock."

This story was on the top of reader's choice on the site for self published writers. I think that It deserved to be on the top, because the author was able to present the whole idea in a very short text, and even the mood and emotions of two characters.


This is the link to the story:

 

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Taipan by W. Somerset Maugham Review


The short story "The Taipan" by W. Somerset Maugham would refer to the genre of the ghost stories. It is not a typical literary style for Maugham. It is likely that the main idea which Maugham meant was the theme of superiority and personal self-estimation of being better than others.

These lines were put by the author at the beginning of the story:  
"No one knew better than he that he was an important person. He was number one in not the least important branch of the most important English firm in China. He had worked his way up through solid ability and he looked back with a faint smile at the callow clerk who had come out to China thirty years before. When he remembered the modest home he had come from ... and compared it with the magnificent stone mansion, with its wide verandas and spacious rooms, which was at once the office of the company and his own residence, he chuckled with satisfaction. He had come a long way since then."

The Taipan is a foreigner who is head of a business in China or Hong Kong. In other words, he is a boss whose behavior and lifestyle is very different from local Chinese everyday routine. The main character, taipan, came from England, where he lived maybe not so poor but at least modest life. He had everything in China, he could argue with counsel who was a quite important person and "The taipan thrust out his jaw pugnaciously as he thought of the incident."

He was invited to the restaurant where he could drink wine and liquor without payments because it was paid by the firm which was interested in having business with his company. He gained a lot of weight to the point that riding a horse wasn't possible for him.

Once when he came back home from the restaurant, the cemetery was on his way. He saw the graves of people he had known: somebodies were killed in a massacre which occurred in China in the past, others, his predecessors, found his death due to overuse of alcohol. This is how the author described his thoughts:
"They were dead and he was alive, and by George he'd scored them off. His eyes collected in one picture all those crowded graves and he smiled scornfully. He very nearly rubbed his hands."

After that, he saw two coolies who were digging the fresh grave quite big, probably for a large body. He wandered for whom that grave was prepared. He knew only English, for the years of being in China, he didn't think of studying local language at all. He asked coolies and they said something in Chinese.

When he returned home the thoughts about this grave didn't leave his mind. He sent the servant to the cemetery to know about the grave and servant said that there were no fresh graves in the cemetery. "The best thing he could do was to go the club", he tried to relieve himself from the cemetery obsession but he gave up as the grave stuck in his mind. "Suddenly he felt he could not bear to stay in the club any longer."

He came home. "He had dreamed of that open grave and the coolies digging leisurely." He thought about the future death, if it comes in this place, we would be buried with this people, in this hateful country. He took a list of papers and wrote a letter to the headquarter of his company with a request for retirement. He was found dead the next day, with the letter laid on the table near him.

The main idea of the story is about arrogance. We had a proverb in the Russian language which could literally translate to English as the sentence: He came through fire, water, and copper pipe. Copper pipe means a trumpet. The proverb present the idea of difficulties to endure three trials: danger of fire and water and saving personality under a press of praise and homage. Maugham described this idea precisely, in details including the circumstances, behavior, and thoughts of the main character in this well written and easily understandable short story.


The link to the text of the book:
Page 568

Monday, November 6, 2017

Virtual Tour To Jamaica


This virtual trip took place during the 25 minute class in online school engoo.com with the teacher David. We used the screen-sharing feature of Skype. The version of Skype which David used allowed him to convey not only the image of the desktop of his computer but also the sound. It made it possible to watch video from Youtube together just as if we were sitting in a physical classroom with the TV on the screen.


The most well-known tool for exploring places is Google Map, we used it also. The journey started from the airport in Kingston- the capital city of Jamaica. It is located on the Palisadoes which is a tombolo or spit of the world's seventh largest natural harbor (the spit is a geographical term which means a small point of land running into the sea). The runway stretches into the inner side of the harbor.

There is another remarkable place near the airport - Port Royal. It was destroyed by earthquake twice in 1692, when it was a pirate's city and in 1969. Most of the town went under the water. Now it is a place for diving, the views of the buildings under and above the surface of the water has become another tourist attraction there.

As in all capital cities, Kingston includes the downtown stores, business areas, and parks. We went (by watching video on Youtube) through a park named Emancipation Park in New Kingston. The statues (Redemption Song) of a nude man and woman in the park were the subject of controversies among inhabitants of Kingston when they were erected. We saw in the video the people who were working in the park and playing table tennis.

In the last part of the class, we came to the area where the University of the West Indies is located. The buildings for students look quite comfortable. We stopped in front of the lecture auditorium with an unusual shape. It was built by a Chinese company. David mentioned that the cost of renting it for the educational or business event is approximately $700 US for an hour. The cost of studying in the university there is about $2000 US/year.


Going through the university's campus we came across the tree the Blue Mahoe which is the national tree of Jamaica. Jamaica has a lot of natural tourist attractions and it would be an interesting subject for the new session: future 25 minutes English class on engoo.com.











Thursday, October 26, 2017

Charles by Shirley Jackson Review


The short story "Charles" by Shirley Jackson is about childish imagination, adults stereotypes and many other plot lines and ideas. That's the way Shirley Jackson sees the world, it is complicated, it has multiple dimensions.


The son of the narrator started to go to school (started kindergarten). Just a day ago his whole world was home and family. This change is how his mother estimates the new stage in their life:
"I watched him go off the first  morning with the older girl next door, seeing clearly that an era of my life was ended, my sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a long-trousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave good-bye to me."


Shirley Jackson wrote this passage using an ironical style. She described a quite recognizable situation, the parents, whose children passed through this line, would remember this milestone: their child becomes a part of society. The author told the readers how the son brought home the new impressions every day, how indifferent the parents were: they perceived the actions displaying curiosity as if they were watching the TV-news.


I'm not going to revile the end of the story: let's keep intrigue. This is the link for the text of this story; it is a good subject for discussion:





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Sunday, October 22, 2017

At Hiruharama by Penelope Fitzgerald Analysis


The short story "At Hiruharama" was written by British writer Penelope Fitzgerald. Some interesting facts about her as a writer:
- she started publishing her works at the age of 60;
- she was one of the most awarded English writers.


The style of this story is rather specific: it focuses more on describing life in general rather than revealing the plot of the story. The narrator, who was the grandson of the main character and had the same name, used a pretext for describing the life of the first migrants in New Zealand from England. This is the first paragraph:
"Mr. Tanner was anxious to explain how it was that he had a lawyer in the family, so that when they all decided to sell up and quit New Zealand there had been someone they could absolutely trust with the legal business."


The plotline of the first paragraph has very little in common with the main plot line. It is quite a usual situation when somebody had suddenly seen something and it aroused the memories in somebody's mind and we could hear a vivid, detailed story about the past. The author used the short introduction "That meant that he had to say something about his grandfather" and started telling the story about the life of the new settlers in New Zealand.


This is a story about the first settlers in New Zealand from England. Mr. Tanner worked for a well-to-do family in Auckland. He met a 16-year-old girl, Kitty, who worked for another family. They married and started their life in quite a remote place, named Hiruharama which means Jerusalem.


There were no people in that place. When Kitty said that she was expecting a baby, Mr.Tanner rode to Auckland city, where he found a doctor. On his way back to Hiruharama he was given a few post pigeons which he wanted to use to call the doctor when his wife would be about to give birth. The language which the author used, drew out the vivid picture a simple life. A lack of convenience, the absence of civilization and strong character of people - it is what Penelope Fitzgerald presented to the readers.





At Hiruharama by Penelope Fitzgerald
Text:


Audio


Saturday, October 21, 2017

"Do You Speak English?" by Simon Collings Review


The short story "Do You Speak English?" was written by Simon Collings and was first published on the free web-resource www.short-stories.co.uk


The plot includes only one scene. The main character Manuel watched mechanically (it didn't bother him so much) the process of catching fish by a ten-year-old boy. One fish leaped out of something like a bucket and was gasping in convulsions. Manuel thoughts were mostly about some issues from his everyday life (about paying rent etc). Manuel saw two tourists, a woman and a man, who must have got lost because that poor district was of no interest to visitors.


The author described the scenery in a very rich style, he drew an ugly picture of personalities and an everyday life:
  • for fish "The gill flaps opened like two gash wounds on the sides of its head as it thrashed helplessly in the gutter.";
  • for the boy who was "barefoot and grubby, and his skin was marked with insect bites"
  • for the woman who "had shoulder-length reddish hair and pale freckled skin".  
  • for the man who "was tall and flabby, his stomach protruding from under his T-shirt."


People used to be composed seeing caught fish. "Fish is what we eat" - this is a usual attitude of people towards caught fish. This was another case. "Look at the   poor   thing,' said the woman, stopping beside the fish, which lay where the boy had kicked   it, probably now gasping its last breaths." Her partner tried to persuade her to avoid being involved in any actions here, but without any results.


She asked the boy about this fish but he didn't understand her. And then she saw Manuel and asked him if he spoke English. She said: "Can you ask this boy what he means to do with the fish? It seems so cruel, it ought to be thrown back". Manuel thought that she wasn't able to understand the boy who lived in the squalid shacks as if she was from another planet. He translated that the boy intended to sell the fish. Persisting in her strange wish, she asked how much the boy wanted for that fish. Even the overrated price didn't stop her. She paid, the fish was thrown back into the water and as it had been already dead, it was grabbed again by the boy after the couple had gone.


This story conveyed the idea of the remoteness of people from each other. The contrast between people was in the focus of the writer's attention in this story. Not only the language separate people, but most important is the fact that they belong to different social groups.

The author drew a very clear picture of the place where this story occurred. He used a lot of adjectives with a mostly negative connotation. Surfing the Internet I’ve seen that this story has been chosen a lot of times as a class material for English lessons. Probably one of the reasons is a very rich vocabulary which the author used. In a brief manner this story raises very actual questions, they give good food for thoughts.

I found out that the author had published this story on his blog https://simoncollings.wordpress.com/do-you-speak-english/
This resource for blogging is similar to the platform which I use for my blog (blogspot.com). Maybe someday I will write my own short story and will publish it on my blog ...


Simon Collings Do You Speak English?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Life As I've Seen It by Laya Bajpai Analysis


Reading the book "Life as I've seen it" by Laya Bajpai allows readers to download in the atmosphere of modern India. The book includes several short stories each is with an independent plot. Each of them looks as a glimpse into the life of person, group of people or society. The reading would be compared with watching documentary but reading gives a better feeling of being there.   


The first story was named "The Guilt". It tells the story of a person who betrayed his first love in a dangerous situation, he ran away when the couple met the gang in the Indian town. We don't know what happened with his girl, the author focused on the life of the main character. After his life changed and he moved from India to the USA, the story erased in his memory when he saw the TV program about riots in India. It seems that Laya Bajpai avoided judging him, the author left this to readers. The current life of the protagonist seems unclouded but the guilt of his treachery will stay with him for all his life.


My favorite story from the book was the second one with the title "A strange Occurrence". This story was written from the first face of the narrator. It was her reminiscences of the girl 9 years old who lived in a small town in the state of Maharashtra, in India. The author described the society pointing out the belonging to definite religious group (Parsi, Catholics) and according to their occupations and origins (staying in Sanatoriums, arriving from Bombay). The girl usually came back home from the school with her father on his scooter. Once she said that she was going to stay in school longer and she would come back home alone, by herself, even it was a long way and her father agreed with it. While she was walking home the heavy rain started. This is how it was described by the author:
"Suddenly it started raining heavily and as I had no raincoat or umbrella, I started getting drenched. The distance was long and in-between there was a nullah that had started overflowing and water was coming on to the road. I was terribly scared and also had no money in my pocket to catch a bus, nor did I know anything about the bus routes, so, I started crying."


This passage gives readers a vivid picture of the girl who appeared in the situation where she was not familiar with. Unknown three ladies were sitting on their verandah watching the rain, they asked the girl what happened and invited her to stay for a while with them. They suggested to sit on the veranda and to wait while they prepared something to eat and left her. The girl thought:  "I had heard stories of people who steal children by giving them good food to eat. I was suspicious. So, when nobody came out of the house for quite some time, I quietly slipped out and as it had stopped raining, I walked home.".


The childish imagination often draws in the mind the mixture of fantasy and reality. This feeling is very recognizable and it is what attracts me in this story. This style of writing reminds me the advice given by one very famous author. He advised to write about what you feel and do it sincerely. It is what readers eager to read and this was implemented perfectly in the book "Life as I've seen it".






I had a chance to discuss this story with the author- Laya Bajpai, with whom I had a lesson about English literature.


This book is available for buying on Amazon:

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Happy Failure by Herman Melville Analysis

"The Happy Failure" by Herman Melville is a short story not about success or failure. It is more likely that it is a story about man's attitude to life.


Herman Melville is an American writer of the eighteenth century, well known for his novel "Moby-Dick".  When I read this story and especially when I listened to the audio (both links for these resources put here after the essay) I had a feeling of that epoch. That was a time of great inventions, when the terms of New World (referring to America) and Old World (Europe) were commonly used. But nevertheless, I keep repeating that this story was not about inventions. Let's look to the plot of this story.


The narrator (he was called youngster in the story), a very young man, was called to help his uncle. After the short riding on the boat, the narrator saw his uncle and the servant of the uncle, Yorpy, who carried a heavy, big box.  Yorpy put the box in the boat under many instructions given by the uncle such as "Put it in, you grizzled-headed cherub--put it in carefully, carefully! If that box bursts, my everlasting fortune collapses."


The uncle said that this a deal of lifetime -device for draining swamps-  and he is going to test it on the island located about ten miles up the river. Youngster expressed some doubts about the necessity of such a long trip under a scorching sun and the uncle demanded that he would put him ashore. The major turn of the story happened when the narrator realizes his mistake, expressed support of the uncle's intentions and continued to help his uncle.


When they came to the island, the uncle seemed to notice somebody in the bush, but he was mistaken. The narrator and Yorpy cooperated with the old man and made a deal about searching for strangers on the island. Afterwards, they started an experiment with the new invented device. They continued their actions in that time even though the uncle understood that this experiment was going to fail. The uncle gave for youngster one advice "Boy, take my advice, and never try to invent anything but--happiness." and he said "Boy, I'm glad I've failed. I say, boy, failure has made a good old man of me. It was horrible at first, but I'm glad I've failed."


The last statement was said by the narrator after the death of his uncle with a great respect:
"I seemed to hear again his deep, fervent cry--"Praise be to God for the failure!"


My interpretation of the moral of this story, that action, aspiration is more important than results. The energy of an elderly uncle, this is what moves the progress. We see this energy from the beginning when he exclaimed "Come, hurrah” when the uncle refused the skeptical mood of his nephew when the old man passed his failure and concluded that it is not the end of the world and so on.


It often happens when the elderly people who worked with a great enthusiasm, begin to be ill as soon as they retire. But if they have hobbies, everything changes - they continue living active and happy life.


The importance of being involved in something interesting was illustrated through the statement which the old man said: "Boy, take my advice, and never try to invent anything but - happiness."



These are the links to the text and audio of the story: