Anastasia Ivanovna Medvedkina, Machine Gunner

You’re a writer. Think up something yourself. Something beautiful. Without lice and filth, without vomit . . . Without the smell of vodka and blood . . . Not so frightening as life.

— from The Unwomanly Face of War, by Svetlana Alexievich

Taissia Petrovna Rudenko-Sheveleva, WWII Company Commander, the Moscow Fleet

A woman in the navy . . . that was something forbidden, even unnatural. People thought it would be bad luck for a ship . . .  In our village the women teased my mother to death: what did you give birth to — a girl or a boy? I wrote a letter to Voroshilov himself, asking to be accepted in the Leningrad Artillery School. They accepted me only on his personal order. The only girl.

When I finished the school, they still wanted me to stay on dry land. Then I stopped telling them I was a woman . . . on one occasion, I gave myself away. I was scrubbing the deck, suddenly heard a noise, and turned around: a sailor was chasing a cat that had ended up on the ship, no one knew how. There was a belief, probably from the earliest times, that cats and women bring bad luck at sea. The cat didn’t want to quit the ship, and its dodges would have been the envy of a world-class football player. The whole ship was laughing. But when the cat nearly fell into water, I got frightened and screamed. And it was evidently such a girlish treble that the men’s laughter stopped at once. Silence fell.

I heard the commander’s voice: “Watchman, is there a woman on board?”

“No, sir, Comrade Commander.”

Panic again. There was a woman on board.

. . .  I was the first woman to be a commissioned officer in the navy. During the war I was in charge of arming the ships and the naval infantry.

  • — from an oral interview in Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War (Penguin Books), translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Svetlana Alexievich: Women, War

“I observed more than once how in their conversations the small overrode the great, even history.” — Svetlana Alexievich

“It’s a pity that I was beautiful only during the war . . .  My best years were spent there. Burned up. Afterward I aged quickly . . . ” — Anna Galai, submachine gunner

Antonina Mironovna Lenkova, Car Mechanic

Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War is such powerful oral history (It’s taking self forever to get through; she can’t help poring over each interview).

Antonina Mironovna Lenkova:

My passion was books. I sobbed over the novels of Lidia Charskaya, read and re-read Turgenev.

Note by the author:

  • Lidia Charskaya (1875 – 1938) was an actress at the prestigious Alexandrinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and a prolific writer of popular fiction. Her work was officially banned in 1920.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Reading Svetlana Alexievich, After Returning from the British Library

Self saw the exhibit Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms at the British Library this morning. Despite the fact that she got there practically at opening, the exhibit was very crowded. And she is short. And all the people between her and the display cases seemed very tall. Nevertheless, she is glad she went. On one wall is a quote, dating from the late 11th century. Which is to say, after the Norman Conquest. She forgot to note the identity of the writer, but guesses it must have been a monk:

Nothing has gone well for a long time now. There has been harrying and hunger, burning and bloodshed.

She returned to her rooms and resumed reading Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history of Russian women soldiers: The Unwomanly Face of War. From the essay that begins the book (A Human Being Is Greater Than War):

‘Women’s’ war has its own colors, its own smells, its own lighting, and its own range of feelings. Its own words . . . And it is not only they (people) who suffer, but the earth, the birds, the trees.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR, by Svetlana Alexievich

Ditched Mirror, Shoulder, Signal last night. Ugh. In the end, it was impossible for self to read about the driving lessons with a married instructor that the narrator tries to imbue with romantic significance.

Self is doing much better with the stoicism of Svetlana Alexievich’s women soldiers.

Alexievich: A Human Being Is Greater Than War:

  • Remembering is not a passionate or dispassionate retelling of a reality that is no more, but a new birth of the past, when time goes in reverse. Above all, it is creativity. As they narrate, people create, they “write” their life.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Work-in-Progress: “Residents of the Deep”

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Map of Oceania

Self began this story on her very first visit to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig and has added to it, bit by bit, over the years. She was in Unit # 4 and there was an old maritime book in one of the cupboards.

She doesn’t worry about finishing this story. It will always be “in progress” — it will always exist in middle time, like her visits to this part of Ireland and beautiful Annaghmakerrig.

Here are the opening sentences:

There is something singularly impressive and affecting to the imagination when, in a perfectly calm tropical sea, under a vertical sun, one is able to look down through a depth of thousands of fathoms of clear water and see on the ocean bottom glimpses of the City and all its strange and wonderful objects. The discovery of a populous City existing under fathoms of ocean is an occurrence with no precedent in the annals of exploration, one that overshadows even the discovery of the Americas by Columbus.

Self’s stories are always birthed this way: with the opening sentences. No matter how many drafts her stories go through, the opening sentences never change. If the sentence is strong, it is like a fine, big engine that can power her through — even 20 or 25 pages later — all the way to the end. See the interview she gave to Bellingham Review, the Contributor Spotlight that accompanied their publication of self’s story, Ice. (The first four or five paragraphs of Ice were unchanged from first draft)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

New for the Reading List: The Economist Books, 12 May 2018

  1. The latest from Rachel Cusk: Kudos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series is mentioned in the review: self has been wanting to read Knausgaard. Hopefully, someday.
  2. Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything, by Helen Scales (Bloomsbury Sigma). Scales’s earlier book, about seashells, is Spirals in Time.
  3. Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo, by Zora Neale Hurston: written in 1927, finally out in print!!! (Amistad)

In Honor of Independent Bookstore Day, 28 April 2018: Novelist Lillian Howan Lists Her Favorite Books

Lillian Howan is the author of the recently published novel, The Charm Buyers. (University of Hawai’i Press, 2017).  She spent her early childhood in Tahiti and later graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. She is the editor of Wakako Yamauchi’s collection, Rosebud and Other Stories (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011). Her writings have been published in the Asian American Literary Review, Café Irreal, Calyx, New England Review, Vice Versa, and the anthologies Ms Aligned 2 and Under Western Eyes. Lillian will be reading as part of the Ms. Aligned 2 panel at the Hawai’i Book and Music Festival on Sunday, May 6, at 11 am.Da22aPwU0AEXI99About her list, Lillian says:

  • This list of my recommended books is incomplete in the interest of space – I apologize for any omissions! I’d gladly send a list of 500 recommended books by women authors and poets.
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Lillian Howan, Author of The Charm Buyers

FICTION

Green Island, Shawna Yang Ryan
Home, Marilynne Robinson
Island of Shattered Dreams, Chantal Spitz
Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich

Steelies and Other Endangered Species, Rebecca Lawton
Swimming in Hong Kong, Stephanie Han
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, Lydia Davis
The Complete Stories, Clarice Lispector
The Country of the Pointed Firs,
Sarah Orne Jewett
The Lost Language, Marianne Villanueva
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys (the 2016 edition features an excellent introduction by Edwidge Danticat)
Women Without Men,
Shahrnush Parsipur

GRAPHIC NOVEL

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir, Thi Bui

POETRY

Conjugated Visits, Diane Kirsten Martin
Dream City, Karen Carissimo
Invisible Gifts, Maw Shein Win
Power Made Us Swoon, Brynn Saito
She Had Some Horses, Joy Harjo
The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, Lucille Clifton
The Complete Poems, Anne Sexton
The Darkened Temple, Mari L’Esperance
This House, My Bones, Elmaz Abinader

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

In Honor of Independent Bookstore Day 28 April 2018: Poet Anne-Adele Wight Lists Her Favorites

What a universe of riches is contained in a writer’s list of recommended books. This is the second article self has posted in honor of Independent Bookstore Day 2018. Everyone who wants to do something special for the day, take a look at Anne-Adele’s books below, then go to your nearest independent bookstore and inquire if they have a copy in-store. If they don’t, ask them to order. It only takes a few days!

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T-Shirt Features a Quote from Shakespeare: “These violent delights have violent ends.”

Anne-Adele Wight is the author of the poetry collections The Age of Greenhouses, Sidestep Catapult and Opera House Arterial, which she describes as “a surreal trickster mythology.” An interview of her can be found on her publisher’s website: BlazeVOX. Her background includes literature, archaeology, and technical communication. She performs widely and has sponsored many events in her home city of Philadelphia.

Here is how she explains the genesis of Opera House Arterial:

In 1983 a friend showed me a postcard she’d received from Quito, Ecuador, the home of a well-known nineteenth-century opera house, El Teatro Nacional. The postcard showed the opera house as something etheral, not quite connected to the ground, because a row of buildings hid the lowest part. Behind it the Andes rose high into the air, looking unearthly. I felt something strike into my brain and know I had to write a poem, but where to begin? I put the opera house aside for many years; it finally surfaced when it was ready. I realized I had not one poem, but many, and started writing. Before long I had a book, Opera House Arterial, and a mythical character, my trickster opera house.

Without further ado, Anne-Adele’s list of recommended books:

 POETRY
  • Sandra Beasley, Count the Waves
  • Sarah Blake, Let’s Not Live on Earth
  • Travis Cebula and Sarah Suzor, After the Fox
  • CAConrad, While Standing in Line for Death
  • Lucas de Lima, Wetland
  • Ryan Eckes, Valu-Plus
  • Lisa A. Flowers, diatomhero: religious poems
  • Geoffrey Gatza, A Dog Lost in the Brick City of Outlawed Trees
  • Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Solar Maximum
  • Lynn Levin,  Miss Plastique
  • Jane Lewty, In One Form to Find Another
  • Jenn McCreary, Ab Ovo
  • MaryAnn L. Miller, Cures for Hysteria
  • Debrah Morkun, Projection Machine
  • Eileen Myles, I Must Be Living Twice
  • Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué, Jazzercise is a Language
  • Raquel Salas Rivera, lo tercario / tertiary
  • Amy Small-McKinney, Walking toward Cranes
  • Nicole Steinberg, Glass Actress
  • Brian Teare, The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven
  • Divya Victor, Things to Do with Your Mouth
  • Anne Waldman, Manatee / Humanity

FICTION

  • Isabel Allende, Daughter of Fortune
  • Ann Arensberg, Incubus
  • Margaret Atwood, Moral Disorder
  • Margaret Atwood, Stone Mattress
  • Robertson Davies, The Deptford Trilogy
  • Margaret Drabble, The Red Queen
  • Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Doris Lessing, The Grandmothers
  • Eileen Myles, Chelsea Girls
  • Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
  • Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Manor
  • Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
  • Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

NONFICTION & GENRE-DEFYING

  • Atul Gawande, Mortal
  • David Harrison, The Last Speakers: A Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages
  • Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs
  • Gina Kolata, Flu
  • Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven
  • Kelcey Parker Ervick, The Bitter Life of Božena Němcova
  • Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  • Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Now, get on over to your local independent bookstore!

Stay tuned.

 

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