Royal Highness by Thomas Mann
Originally reviewed by LaGraziana
on Edith's Miscellany

In our times monarchies are all but in fashion. Much rather they are under criticism from many sides because hereditary heads of state seem a costly anachronism at odds with democratic values. Of course, the Kings and Queens that most of us have in mind are the absolute, often unjust or even cruel ones from fairy-tales and history books. In today’s reality, however, their never being elected by their people hardly matters given that in a modern parliamentary monarchy they no longer rule in fact. Instead, they are mostly limited to formalities and representation as shows the little known novel Royal Highness by Thomas Mann. Since the new Grand Duke is fragile and neurasthenic, his younger brother Prince Klaus Heinrich is called upon to take over all public performances. He accepts his duty, but it’s tiring and makes him feel empty. Then a wealthy American and his daughter settle down in the small, almost bankrupt country.

Thomas Mann was born Paul Thomas Mann in Lübeck, Germany, in June 1875. A poor student in high school, he already saw himself as a writer and published first works in a school magazine that he co-edited. In 1894 he left school without graduating and made his literary debut with a novella titled Gefallen, but only two years later he could dedicate himself to writing full-time – thanks to a monthly allowance from his late father’s trust. After several novellas, he brought out his fist novel Buddenbrooks (1901) that established his fame and earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929. Among his most notable works written between these two milestones of his career are the novels Royal Highness (Königliche Hoheit: 1909) and The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg: 1924) along with the novellas Tonio Kröger (1903), Tristan (1903), Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig: 1911), and Mario and the Magician (Mario und der Zauberer: 1930). Although his open critique of Nazi ideology forced Thomas Mann to leave Germany in 1933 immigrating first to Switzerland, then to the USA (1938) and eventually back to Switzerland (1952), he continued to write and publish prolifically. Apart from several essays he produced the novel tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers (Joseph und seine Brüder: 1933-1943), Lotte in Weimar (1939), Doctor Faustus (Doktor Faustus: 1947), The Holy Sinner (Der Erwählte: 1951), and unfinished Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years (Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull: 1954). Thomas Mann died in Zurich, Switzerland, in August 1955.
When Klaus Heinrich is born to the Grand Duke and his wife, he isn’t yet a Royal Highness because as their second son he isn’t the hereditary prince of the small German grand duchy. The joy over his birth is dampened by a physical defect: the left hand of the baby is underdeveloped (shorter and smaller than his right hand). To keep up appearances the deformed hand is hidden from view from the very first day. For the rest, the boy receives all care and education befitting his station, i.e. together with his younger sister Ditlinde he grows up cut off the real world in the rundown grand ducal residence in the capital. Already as a boy he often regrets that in his presence everybody takes care to behave correctly so he never gets a chance to know the true lives or thoughts of people. Even his teachers and noble mates at the boarding school put up expressly for the teenage boy to mix with peers never forget to treat him as the grand ducal highness that he is. Only the young assistant teacher Raoul Überbein takes some liberties with the prince and for relieving his isolation gains his friendship. Klaus Heinrich comes of age, formally joins his ranks in the army and attends university. While he is on a study trip around Europe, the Grand Duke dies leaving the throne to his eldest son called Albrecht II from then on. But Albrecht is fragile and hates showing himself to the public, so after a few years he asks Klaus Heinrich to take over this part of his duties. Promoted to Royal Highness, Klaus Heinrich attends all kinds of public events that ever more often leave him feeling exhausted and empty. Then Imma, daughter of immensely rich Samuel Spoelmann recently emigrated from America, arrives and challenges him questioning his role in life…

The novel Royal Highness portrays the coming-of-age of a prince who has been brought up to do his duty showing himself to the people, but never found a truly satisfying (i.e. meaningful) occupation until the impoverished little grand duchy is on the verge of ruin and he plunges into private studies to understand the desperate situation. Many characters in the novel are clearly modelled after well-known personalities of the author’s time, notably German Emperor William II who had a crippled arm like Klaus Heinrich (though a much less “happy” childhood), Empress Sisi of Austria-Hungary who lived for her beauty like Klaus Heinrich’s mother, and J. P. Morgan who lent his country a huge amount of money to save her from bankruptcy as does Mr. Spoelmann even though for other motives. The South American, more precisely Bolivian and partly indigenous grandmother of Imma Spoelmann reflects Thomas Mann’s own origins: his mother was half-Brazilian. The novel also contains typical elements of the fairy-tale and not just the wedding at the end that makes the words “and they lived happily ever after” come to mind. Language and style are typical of Thomas Mann, i.e. sentences are long with many clauses that require some attention and might not be to everybody’s taste. In addition, he often repeats characterising habits or quirks of a person, especially of Klaus Heinrich and Imma, word for word. And of course, more or less subtle irony imbues the whole novel.

Reading Royal Highness by Thomas Mann has been a pleasure although knowing Buddenbrooks, Death in Venice and some of his short works I was a bit disappointed. It definitely isn’t the best or deepest novel from the pen of this en-NOBEL-ed writer, especially because the plot takes a rather unrealistic turn which partly accounts for its fairy-tale touch. Despite all, it was worthwhile the time. It’s not just a slightly bizarre love story. It also deals with the meaning of life, with inherited roles and with economically challenging times. Thus another recommended read!

Original post on Edith's Miscellany:

The Monkey Grammarian by Octavio Paz reviewed by Edith LaGraziana
on Edith's Miscellany

When I decided to read and review The Monkey Grammarian by Octavio Paz for Guiltless Reader’s Read the Nobels 2016 challenge, I didn’t quite know what to expect. After all, my main reason to choose the book was that I liked its title and that at first sight it wasn’t poetry like most other works from the pen of this Mexican author that I saw in the bookshop. Having read that the Swedish Academy had honoured him in 1990 with the Nobel Prize in Literature “for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity”, I divined – correctly – that it would be a difficult read that required much attention as well as patience. However, for me this was rather an incentive to read it than a deterrent! As it turns out, the slim book is a highly philosophical exploration of language and grammar inspired by the memories of a visit to the Hindu temples of Galta in Rajastan.

Octavio Paz, in full Octavio Irineo Paz y Lozano, was born in Mexico City, Mexico, in March 1914. Already as a teenager he published essays and poems bringing out his first complete volume of poetry titled Wild Moon (Luna Silvestre) in 1933. After travels and studies, the writer joined the Mexican diplomatic corps and became ambassador in India in 1962, a post from which he resigned in 1968 in protest of the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico. In the following years, he taught at different renowned universities and continued to write prolifically. Although much of his work – like The Monkey Grammarian (El mono gramático: 1974) – defies clear classification, Octavio Paz is best known for his poetry that has been widely translated into English and published in different collections. He also wrote important essays like The Labyrinth of Solitude (El laberinto de la soledad: 1950), The Bow and the Lyre (El Arco y la Lira: 1956), and Alternating Current (Corriente alterna: 1967) along with biographies like Claude Lévi-Strauss. An Introduction (Claude Levi-Strauss o El nuevo festín de Esopo: 1967), Marcel Duchamp. Appearance Stripped Bare (Marcel Duchamp o El castillo de la pureza: 1968), and Sor Juana or The Traps of Faith (Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz o las trampas de la fe: 1982). In 1990 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Octavio Paz died in Mexico City, Mexico, in April 1998.

The title of The Monkey Grammarian refers to Hanumān, the monkey God and ninth grammarian from Hindu mythology, who is worshipped – among others – in the temples of Galta, i.e. the abandoned town of Galtaji near Khania-Balaji east of Jaipur in Rajasthan, India. According to the Rāmayāṇa, he and his warrior monkeys helped God Rama to rescue his wife Sita from the hands of the demon king Rāvaṇa who kidnapped her to Ceylon. Seated comfortably in his study with a view on his neighbour’s patio in Cambridge, England, in the summer of 1970, the author as first-person narrator looks back on his visit to Galta where the legend of Hanumān is ever-present on the dilapidated walls of the temples. However, the memories of the sacred place and the present experience of nightfall in Cambridge serve the author only as starting points and constants a chain of contemplations on various aspects of time and reality, of language and grammar.
 “… The critique of paradise is called language: the abolition of proper names; the critique of language is called poetry: names grow thinner and thinner, to the point of transparency, of evaporation. In the first case, the world becomes language; in the second, language is transformed into a world. Thanks to the poet, the world is left without names. Then, for the space of an instant, we can see it precisely as it is – an adorable azure. …”
At the heart of all subtle, if not pedantic discussions about the true meaning of words is the vital question about origins and ends not just of language but of everything. The entire discourse moves around and between opposites: fixity and transition, permanence and change, always and never, male and female, the God-given and the human invention. And along the way the author puts everything in question including his own role in the process of creation.
“As I began these pages I decided to follow literally the metaphor of the title of the collection that they were intended for, the Paths of Creation, and to write, to describe a text that was really a path and that could be read and followed as such. As I wrote, the path to Galta grew blurred or else I lost my bearings and went astray in the trackless wilds. Again and again I was obliged to return to the starting point. Instead of advancing, the text circled about itself. …”
Wikipedia articles on Octavio Paz list The Monkey Grammarian among poetry although in reality it’s virtually impossible to pin it down to only one literary form and genre. It’s at the same time memoir of the author’s travel to the temples of Galta, a cursory introduction into the legend of Hanumān as important part of Indian mythology, an essay on language, grammar and poetry, a philosophical discourse on time and reality… and much more. Nonetheless, its classification as poetry in prose is justified considering that topics and language are highly lyrical throughout the text. Above all the depiction of architecture and nature are simply breathtaking thanks to their beauty of language and the vivid atmosphere that they create. The great number of metaphors and similes interspersing the book speaks of the lasting influence that surrealism had on the author’s style, but it also makes it a demanding read. In fact, it isn’t always easy to follow the logic of the reasoning. Often I had to re-read passages because the sentences were so lengthy and my attention didn’t last long enough to take in their exact meaning. Precision of expression definitely is another virtue of Octavio Paz as it should be of every writer, notably a poet.

I truly enjoyed reading the original Spanish version as well as the English translation of The Monkey Grammarian by Octavio Paz. I hadn’t intended to read both, but I wasn’t sure if my Spanish was good enough to fully profit from the book. The English edition is quite good, in fact. It left me with just the same positive impression as the Spanish one, i.e. it didn’t feel as if it had lost much of its original power and atmosphere. Admittedly, as a poetic essay the book isn’t for everybody, readers who like it philosophical and don’t mind the complex will love it, though. Highly recommended!

Original post on Edith's Miscellany:

Satan in Goray by Isaac Bashevis Singer reviewed by Edith LaGraziana
on Edith's Miscellany

Today the world of the traditional Jewish shtetl in Eastern Europe only lives on in musicals like Fiddler on the Roof, films like Yentl and books like Satan in Goray. The opponents of World War II wiped it out ravaging homes and slaughtering people. Some like Isaac Bashevis Singer, the 1978 laureate of the Nobel Prize in literature, were lucky to get a chance to leave in time, but the great majority was either killed on the spot or transported to deadly concentration camps scattered all over Nazi Germany. However, the holocaust was only the broadest stroke against Jews in the region. There were other pogroms like the Khmelnytsky Massacres of 1648 that serve as starting point of the novel Satan in Goray by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Years later the survivors return to their small town and are only too willing to believe the rather unholy message of a Messiah doing miracles in the Promised Land.

Isaac Bashevis Singer (יצחק באַשעװיס זינגער) was born Icek Hersz Zynger in Leoncin near Warsaw, Congress Poland, in November 1902. In 1923, he became a proofreader for a Jiddish literary journal based in Warsaw and soon began to write for it under the pseudonym Bashevis. His first novel Satan in Goray (Der sotn in Goray) appeared in 1933 in instalments in another Yiddish literary journal in Warsaw. Already in 1935 the author followed his older brother to New York where he worked as a journalist for a Yiddish daily. The first text that made Isaac Bashevis Singer known to a wider public was the short story Gimpel the Fool (Gimpl tam: 1945) that appeared in an English translation by Saul Bellows in 1953. The most notable of his novels are The Family Moskat (Di Mischpoche Moschkat: 1950), Shadows on the Hudson (Shotns baym Hodson: 1957), The Magician of Lublin (Der Kunznmacher fun Lublin: 1960), The Slave (Der Knekht: 1962), Enemies. A Love Story (Sonim, di Geshichte fun a Liebe: 1972), Shosha (1978), and Scum (Shoym: 1991). He also wrote numerous short stories, children’s books and autobiographical works. All his life he wrote in Yiddish, but edited the English editions himself thus producing what he called the “second original”. Isaac Bashevis Singer died in Surfside, Florida, USA, in July 1991.

The horrors of the Chmelnicki Upheaval of 1648 during which Ukrainian Cossacks raged in the small Polish town Goray lying tucked away in the densely wooded hills near Biłgoraj paved the way for the rising of Satan in Goray. The town has practically disappeared from the face of the Earth when seventeen years later those of its Jewish inhabitants who survived the slaughtering and fled to other parts of the country begin to return to what remains of their old homes.
“Last of its citizens to return to Goray were the old rabbi, the renowned Rabbi Benish Ashkenazi, and Reb Eleazar Babad, formerly the richest man in the community and its leader.”
The old rabbi tries his best to restore life according to Jewish laws in town, but times have changed because egotism and fear have taken root. Moreover, rumours that the coming of the true Messiah in the person of one Sabbatai Zevi and the long yearned for redemption are near grow ever louder. Wandering preachers like the packman Reb Itche Mates further spur the hopes of people and drive them into religious frenzy. Rabbi Benish knows that nothing of it is true, but he is old and too weak to bring his people back to their senses. Even the rabbi’s son Levi and daughter-in-law join the Messianic sect and fiercely fight against unbelievers. Reb Itche Mates stays in Goray and asks Rechele, the beautiful though lame and somewhat peculiar daughter of Reb Eleazar Babad, for wife. The betrothal feast turns into an orgy that defies Jewish traditions and laws, so Rabbi Benish rushes out to put an end to it, but on his way he has an accident. When he dies, Levi follows him as rabbi. Then the charismatic ritual slaughterer Reb Gedaliya settles down in Goray and he has an eye on Rechele who begins to have visions.
“Rechele spoke in fits and starts, as though in her sleep, but so resonant was her voice that its echo could be heard throughout the town, and the people of Goray came running. … Calling by name angels and seraphim, she told of the heavenly mansions and the lords ruling in each of them; the cryptic passages in the Book of Daniel so baffling to ordinary minds were explained by her – it was clear to all that the spirit of prophecy had entered into Rechele.”
Following this event the blind frenzy of the population of Goray grows ever more and under the influence of Reb Gedaliya morals become looser and looser…

The original version of Satan in Goray was written and first published in Yiddish like all Isaac Bashevis Singer’s literary work, but since he himself was involved in its translation into English in the 1950s, I reckon that it must be somewhat authentic in style. In fact, the language feels quite archaic and at times almost fairy-tale-like although it’s well suited for a historical novel dealing with the seductive power of salvation from a hard as well as cruel lot on Earth, with religious delusions and superstitions leading to all-consuming mass folly. It’s striking how much the blind belief of the Goray people in the (false) Messiah and in the wisdom of his followers resembles the frenzy that heaved Adolf Hitler into the position of unchallenged Führer of the Third Reich and paved the way for genocide and war. Of course, the author had only seen the very beginnings of the madness because his novel came out already in 1933. Apart from this, Satan of Goray is a Jewish novel through and through. It is rich in impressive images, local colour and references to religious traditions that can occasionally be a bit confusing for a non-Jewish reader like me. For the rest, it’s a quick and pleasurable read.

Admittedly, I decided to review Satan in Goray by Isaac Bashevis Singer above all because I felt that it was time to feature a classic by a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. My first choice was a late novel of Henryk Sienkiewicz, but I changed my mind and I definitely have no reason to regret it. The Swedish Academy gave the award to the Yiddish author “for his impassioned narrative art which, with roots in a Polish-Jewish cultural tradition, brings universal human conditions to life”. Having read his Satan in Goray I can only confirm this statement. I enjoyed the novel and believe that it deserves more attention. Therefore I gladly recommend it here.

Original post on Edith's Miscellany:

Download #FREE @ReadNobels December Wallpaper: Patrick White's Voss

(Originally posted on Guiltless Reading)

The year is ending and with it now December, it's almost time to wrap up my Read the Nobels annual challenge and my little wallpaper project.

Over the year, my calendar wallpapers were a fun little way to drum up some interest in the Read the Nobels Reading Challenge for 2016. I've featured 12 authors who have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, featured a book cover, and a quote. Check out the full list down below.

How has your Nobel reading been going so far? It is my hope that this challenge has opened up new reading avenues for you!

If you noticed, my posts have not been as frequent but I am becoming my more focused on my reading choices in general. My Nobel reading has been slim but manageable and thoroughly enjoyable. I still have Alice Munro to round me up for the year. I will still continue on the with Read the Nobels (perpetual) Challenge so feel free to join in on the blog!

Looking for co-hosts! I'd like to continue with this annual challenge. I'm curious if anyone out there -- whether you joined this year or not -- to help me out. Sound off in the comments if you're interested in co-hosting or send me an email at readerrabbit22 at I'd love to hear from you!

Patrick White (photo from Goodreads)
Now, without further ado, here is December's wallpaper. This month features 1973 Nobel Prize for Literature laureate, Australian Patrick White. The Nobel Prize website cites his win thus: "for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature".

On the Read the Nobels blog, six reviews have been posted so far: The Tree of Man, Happy Valley, The Eye of the Storm, Twyborn Affair, Solid Affair, and Voss.

In the award speech, I thought it was especially interesting to read:
Patrick White is a social critic mainly through his depiction of human beings, as befits a true novelist. He is first and foremost a bold psychological explorer, at the same time as he readily refers to ideological views of life or mystical convictions to elicit the support and the uplifting message which they have to offer. (Source)

I think that that is what appealed to me when I picked the quote decided to feature his book Voss*.

Here's a synopsis of Voss*: Set in nineteenth-century Australia, Voss is White's best-known book, a sweeping novel about a secret passion between the explorer Voss and the young orphan Laura. As Voss is tested by hardship, mutiny, and betrayal during his crossing of the brutal Australian desert, Laura awaits his return in Sydney, where she endures their months of separation as if her life were a dream and Voss the only reality. Marrying a sensitive rendering of hidden love with a stark adventure narrative, Voss is a novel of extraordinary power and virtuosity from a twentieth-century master.

You can read more about White and his work here:

Do you like poetry? Have you read any of Neruda's work?

Download the last for year, December's Read the Nobels wallpaper!

Right click image, download, and set as your desktop wallpaper. Voila! #ReadNobels makes an appearance on your computer! (Note: Wallpaper for personal use only.)

* Affiliate links

Past wallpapers:

Read the Nobels 2016
Yes, there's still time to get one more book in
before the year ends!


© Read the NobelsMaira Gall