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

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.

 

 

Books for 2019 (After the 2018 Cambridge Literary Festival)

During the 2018 Cambridge Literary Festival, writers spoke and gave readings and fired up self’s imagination. Though the list below is heavy on British authors, their books are no doubt available here (in the U.S.)

  • Flights and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk
  • Holding and A Keeper, by Graham Norton
  • Building and Dwelling, by Richard Sennett
  • In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin, by Lindsey Hilsum
  • The Stopping Places, by Damian LeBas
  • What a Carve Up! and The Rotters Club, by Jonathan Coe
  • Hello World: How To Be Human in the Age of the Machine, by Hannah Fry
  • The Merchant of Syria, by Diana Darke
  • Seven Types of Atheism, by John Gray
  • The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak
  • We That Are Young, by Preti Taneja
  • Let Us Sing Anyway, by Leone Ross
  • Take Nothing With You, by Patrick Gale
  • On This Day in History, by Dan Snow
  • All Along the Barley, by Melissa Harrison
  • The Light in the Dark, by Horatio Clare
  • The Essex Serpent and Melmoth, by Sarah Perry
  • Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss

Narrative is Made Narrative By ‘The End’

  • It’s already clear to you that without the thought of death it is impossible to make out anything in a human being. — Svetlana Alexievich, A Human Being Is Greater Than War

Perhaps self has a Russian soul. She is satisfied with the above quote, even though “to make out anything” is really vague. Perhaps something got lost in the translation from the Russian?

It sounds so perfect and mysterious, though.

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.

 

Quote of the Day: THE ART OF THE AFFAIR (Bloomsbury, 2017)

From the January/February 2017 issue of Poets & Writers:

“Creative people are drawn to each other, as notorious for falling in love as they are for driving each other insane . . .  Seen a certain way, the history of art and literature is a history of all this love.”

— Catherine Lacey in The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence

New Books for the Reading List

Stanford professors, the editors of Stanford University Press and Bing Overseas Study Program staff were asked to recommend books for summer reading and they came up with some interesting titles:

Books To Shift Your Perspective

  • An Act of Terror, by André Brink
  • Sometimes a Great Notion, by Ken Kesey
  • The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
  • Hadji Murad, by Leo Tolstoy
  • Stoner, by John Williams
  • The Removes, by Tatjana Soli
  • Teacher: Two Years in the Mississippi Delta, by Michael Copperman
  • Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult, by Bruce Handy

Books on Globality and Migration

  • Brother, I’m Dying, by Edwidge Danticat
  • Signs Preceding the End of the World, by Yuri Herrera

Books for Travelers to:

Australia

  • In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson and Ellen Titlebaum

China

  • Age of Ambitions: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, by Evan Osnos

Germany

  • Memories of a Nation, by Neil MacGregor
  • The Reluctant Meister: How Germany’s Past is Shaping Its European Future, by Stephen Green

Italy

  • The Italians, by John Hooper

Japan

  • A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Animé, Zen and the Tea Ceremony, by Hector Garcia

Cape Town, South Africa

  • Keeper of the Kumm, by Sylvia Vollenhoven

Spain

  • The New Spaniards, by John Hooper

Traffic: St. Paul/Minneapolis

The more melancholy John Steinbeck becomes in Travels with Charley — the more he realizes that he is missing certain sights, and perhaps that means missing them forever — the more captivated self becomes with his narrative. (Self has been there! There meaning: emotionally)

He hates traffic. Self completely understands his reluctance to enter cities. Like Steinbeck, self tends to panic and get lost. She feels every beat of the following section, p. 100:

Like a weakening swimmer I edged to the right into a pleasant street only to be stopped by a policeman, who informed me that trucks and such vermin were not permitted there. He thrust me back into the ravening stream.

I drove for hours, never able to take my eyes from the surrounding mammoths. I must have crossed the river but I couldn’t see it. I never saw St. Paul or Minneapolis. All I saw was a river of trucks; all I heard was a roar of motors. The air saturated with Diesel fumes burned in my lungs.

Steinbeck flees. He heads for US 10 and ends up in — of all places — “a German restaurant complete with sausages, sauerkraut, and beer steins hanging in rows over the bar, shining but unused.”

The ensuing scene is A+

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Steinbeck on Traveling (Travels with Charley, p. 84)

I’ll tell you what it was like. Go to the Ufizzi in Florence, the Louvre in Paris, and you are so crushed with the numbers, once the might of greatness, that you go away distressed, with a feeling like constipation.

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