Xmas Loot 2016.

An enjoyable but long and tiring day, so just a brief mention of a few items of LH interest:

Matthew P. Romaniello, The Elusive Empire: Kazan and the Creation of Russia, 1552–1671

Michael Emmerich, The Tale of Genji (see this LH post)

Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem (this will be my first Chinese sf novel)

Doctor Zhivago, directed by Aleksandr Proshkin

I wish everyone a merry/happy Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, or just a good late-December day, depending on how you roll. And so to bed!

Update. And jamessal gave me The Adventures of Augie March; he calls it “from what I can tell thus far, the best novel written by the best American English prose stylist.” Thanks, Jim!


  1. A slightly delayed Merry Christmas!

  2. Merry Christmas and Happy Challah-days to you, from an American, Chicago-born! Thanks for posting so many interesting things.

  3. from an American, Chicago-born!

    Heh. Jim will enjoy that!

  4. Why does nobody call Bellow a great Canadian novelist?

  5. from an American, Chicago-born!

    Heh. Jim will enjoy that!


    Why does nobody call Bellow a great Canadian novelist?

    Because, unlike Alice Munro, his Godly aggressive yet euphonious prose is prototypically American, hell, Übermenschian American, in that it affected the American idiom as much as that idiom affected him; from nine years old, when his family immigrated, he absorbed that idiom so thoroughly that, come Augie, he transcended it. Roth, who may have written more successful (or at least satisfying) novels, never wrote American prose as magnificent. Nobody has.

    Also, Irish and American English literature are more distinctive than their Canadian and British counterparts. I think pretty much all the best novelists working today are on the other side of the pond — and on the other side of the other pond, i.e., in Australia — but Hilary Mantel and Alan Hollinghurst, to take two of the very best Brits (Mantel’s last two novels, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, being the best of the decade, at least of those I’ve read) . . . well, great as these novelists are, neither writes in a style bound to spark a national literary tradition, like America’s or Ireland’s. Or maybe their unruffled reaction to modernism, and all similar subsequent -isms, is slowly doing just that (Martin Amis sure wasn’t getting the job done); but that approach is so subtle it could be read as simply inevitable, or rather (if you will) un-Übermenschian.

    Yes, that’s why nobody calls Bellow a great Canadian novelist, in addition to his immigrating before puberty. Now, does anyone know the meaning of the word maunder?

  6. John, all that and because most people don’t know that Bellow was born in Canada, of course. But really Bellow’s birthplace is about as relevant to his writing as James Caan’s heritage was to his performance in The Godfather. Speaking of which, if you want to see a great movie with a performance both highly reminiscent of — and simply surpassing in every way — Pacino’s in The GodFather, check out A Most Violent Year. In a golden age of acting, Oscar Isaac may be the most promising, if not already the most impressive, actor out there. He slips from character actor to movie star — the latter: what presence! — with greater ease and grace than it takes me to change sweaters. And he’s only 37!

  7. Well, this article might explain it…

  8. This is the place to put in a word for that great and still badly underrated Canadian writer Wyndham Lewis, one of whose novels actually is set in Canada.

  9. To be carefully distinguished from D. B. Wyndham Lewis, humorist and biographer; I had reached a fairly advanced age before I learned the necessity for such disentanglement.

  10. Is Wyndham Lewis (the artist to whom Ian referred, to take Hat’s advice and be clear about it) truly “rated” more poorly than he deserves, or does his own work just not get the attention it deserves? He is often lumped in with his more famous modernist friends, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. I’ll admit I haven’t read anything of his but snatches of correspondence, and your comment has piqued my interest in his own work. But I’d hardly call him a Canadian writer. It’s not like citizenship, a political rather than artistic status. And aside from being born in Nova Scotia — not raised there (he emigrated at an even younger age than Bellow, as a toddler with his mother, I believe) — Lewis has always been associated with international artistic modernism, his one novel set in Canada notwithstanding.

    I’d go so far as to say that calling him a Canadian writer foremost would be as misleading as calling Nabokov a Russian novelist and Beckett a French one and leaving it at that. Beckett is an Irish novelist, who lived in France much of his life and as part of his writing process initially composed his novels in French before translating them into English as richly Irish as Joyce’s cracked mirror and sharp razor. Nabokov was an American novelist, even though he was born in Russia and English wasn’t his native tongue — even though he wrote nine Russian novels before fleeing the country.

    I adore one of those novel’s, The Luzhin Defense (often called his first major work), or rather its English version, translated first not by Nabokov himself but rather by Michael Scammell, thirty years after its original inditement. Nabokov’s initial forbearance (once Scammell finished, Nabokov went to town) was intended to make the new English version the definitive one: the version that would later be translated into other languages. As he told Scammell, before later admitting that he’d underestimated his own talent in his youth, he assumed that he couldn’t have helped himself from making major changes to the original Russian version — which, without Scammell’s intermediary anglicizing, would have then remained the same novel (to a greater degree somehow, in its author’s mind anyway), with the original Russian then ultimately having more of a claim to being the definitive edition, the one translators would work with, from Russian to French, Spanish, Mandarin, etc., instead of starting from the English. At least that’s how Nabokov envisioned it, and though he lamented his loss of his mother-tongue — Chicago born, he might have been the best American stylist, as well as arguably the best American novelist, of the 20th century (with Bellow’s feel for American English I doubt there would be any argument) — he apparently took great care for that not to happen. He wanted his Russian novels to become American ones.

    Nabokov was an American artist. Beckett was an Irish one. Wyndham Lewis . . . it’s less clear, to me anyway, perhaps because I know less about him. I’d love to be corrected, but he seems far less a Canadian artist than an international modernist one.

  11. Jamessal: it was a (feeble) joke, meant to buttress your point that Bellow isn’t a Canadian writer – of course Lewis is even less a Canadian writer than Bellow, who would at least have kept early childhood memories of Montreal. Lewis “returned” to Canada during WWII (and later back in Britain set a pitilessly autobiographical novel in Toronto), but that was almost random – with a different roll of the dice he might have spent his exile from Britain in New York or St Louis.

    If Lewis was an “international modernist” it was in his own contrarian “The Enemy” way, i.e. he despised the Little Englander bookmen of the non-modernist establishment but at the same time was far more selective about what he took from continental European culture than the Big Name Modernists (as a polyglot he wasn’t in the league of Joyce, Pound & Co, but that may have been a matter of priorities). It could be argued that he tended to shoehorn European politics and philosophy into his own London-based battles – hence his notorious misjudgement about Hitler, one of the reasons he exiled himself to North America. He was a good hater, better than Pound (and far more sane than Pound). He was one of those people who are convinced they’re doing something wrong if they have more than five admirers – something to do with compensating for shyness, perhaps. I suspect these are among the reasons he still doesn’t get the attention he deserves; but he gets attention, so I should concede that he’s not underrated. But “international modernist” I’m not sure about, maybe the term should be restricted to the circles at a couple of dinner tables in 1914 London and a couple of cafés in 1920 Paris, plus an English language class in Trieste.

  12. Ian, I haven’t been in this forum — my old home away from home — for some time, so I think I jumped on what now seems obviously a joke as an excuse to pontificate in my old haunts. Apologies. And thank you for the mini lesson on Lewis! I knew about his crazy politics (not that artists’ politics make me approach them any differently, of course,) though your comparison of Lewis’s to Pound’s was fun and edifying. If “international modernist” seems wrong to you, im sure you’re right.

  13. Looks like my posting got lost somehow. In summary, nobody is sure where Percy was born exactly, whether in the U.S., in international waters off Canada, or in Canadian waters. In the third case, he would be a British subject of Canadian origin by jus soli (the term Canadian citizen was not yet in use), and both a British subject and an American citizen by jus sanguinis.

  14. Jamessal: absolutely no need for apologies! – I should apologize for my own pontificating.

    John Cowan: did your lost comment refer to the Paul O’Keeffe biography (2000) of Lewis? O’Keeffe goes on at great length about the documentation he’s dug up, which at least clarifies that Lewis was very probably born on shore in Amherst, Nova Scotia.

  15. Well, that would also be consistent with a birth in territorial waters as far as birth registration is concerned. Furthermore, records can be and are routinely falsified to keep things simple in one way or another. My daughter’s birth certificate claims that she was born in the U.S. at a time when her mother was not in the U.S. at all. The reason, of course, is that her current birth certificate is a copy of the truthful original, but with the names of her birth parents replaced by the names of her adoptive parents, and the original has been officially buried beneath this legal forgery.

    That said, I haven’t read the book you mention, and perhaps it contains references to other more plausible sources.

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