I recently awarded myself with a set of 50 little books from Penguin containing mainly modernist writers and titles and I wanted to share some interesting works I came upon with you, dear readers, in an attempt – hopefully successful- to open a dialogue about topics the contemporary world deals with, today too. The 3 little books -I say little as most of them have no more than 50 pages- are delightful and strange at the same time. They can be what I like to call `a pain in my literate rear`.
Why you may wonder? Well mostly because the perspectives of these books are so random and sometimes the ideas promoted by some of their writers are what our current prospects would call `obsolete`; this randomness may have the potential to annoy its readers or to create a space we, people of the contemporary world, try to ignore or abolish, as in some of these cases.
However unpleasant though, I consider the books I will talk about here, to be interesting and unique in their own way, and as a firm believer that ideas have to be shared, I will share them with you. Moreover, some of these books are an absolutely necessary read, especially for the current state of affairs our current world is in. They are also a great `autumn read`, as they can be digested in one sitting, maybe with some tea on a cloudy afternoon.
Three Japanese Short Stories- Akutagawa &Others
This particular anthology contains, as the title suggests, three Japanese short stories from the parents of Japanese modernism, namely Nagai Kafu, Uno Koji and the most famous amongst them, Akutagawa Ryunosuke. Although the aforementioned Kafu and Koji are less known in the European literary space, I consider them powerhouses, with writing so distinct and sometimes so peculiar, almost resembling the Surrealist spirit. For Akutagawa needs no introduction, I will only talk about Kafu and Koji. (Don’t worry, Akutagawa will have a special segment in an article to come!)
Kafu’s short story has an epistolary form, addressed to someone he calls `his Excellency` who will be Kafu’s confidant of his `Grand Tour`’s experiences and his bitterness. Not to spoil anything from this little story I will only quote my favorite part of it, which, in my opinion, says quite a lot about this piece of writing `Should I become an artist? No, this is not the West.`.
Koji’s short story could be classified as camp, in a way, definitely being a ride into the unknown and highly specific Japanese Surrealism. The little novel tells the story of a law student who ends up living in a closet and who daydreams of his lost passion, writing, while reminiscing about his failed attempts to becoming a writer.
Dark Days – James Baldwin
Baldwin needs no introduction, he is a forceful voice of the oppressed African American, talking in his writings about the dynamics of racism, sexuality, and classism in the twentieth century. This book compiled three of his essays which talk about being black in a racist America during the Depression, using a bisexual or a gay protagonist, a practice specific to Baldwin, in order to bring his existential questions and dilemmas forth and to break a wall between his consciousness and the readers.
You should definitely try this essay compilation if you want to understand more about the struggles and tribulations of minorities in modern America. My favourite quote from this book is: `It is an extraordinary achievement to be trapped in the dungeon of color and to dare to shake down its walls and to step out of it, leaving the jailhouse keeper in the rubble.`
Why Do You Wear a Cheap Watch? – Hans Fallada
Our last little book is yet again an anthology of three stories about the people of pre-war
Germany. It intricately and quite allegorically tells stories of the German middle class, Fallada’s writing having a great deal of symbolism and metaphors indicating and describing the tensioned atmosphere surrounding the people of his time, the increasing fear of enemy spies, and of the secret police.
Some stories from this book may seem strange and nerve-wracking, but this might have been Fallada’s intention, as he talks in a code-like manner about Natzi propaganda and the rise of a new and dangerous ideology. This book may not be the `cup of tea` for everyone, but I’d say to give it a try, should you want to discover Fallada, or if you are interested in the life of pre-war Germany.