After enjoying The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society so much, my mind has been lingering still in the WWII era. Nothing else I am reading at the moment touches upon the subject so I thought I'd pull out Wave Me Goodbye and read a few more stories. I've been very slow working my way through the anthology, so it's time to spend some time with it and try and make a little more progress anyway. As a matter of fact I haven't been picking up any of the collections of short stories 'that I should be reading'. I seem to have fallen into my old pattern of not picking up books of short stories, but at least I manage one or two a week anyway.
Although I'd heard the name Anna Kavan before, I was not at all familiar with her or her work. Anna Kavan was actually born Helen Ferguson, but she changed her name later in life. Her early work is fairly conventional, but after a breakdown and a stint in a mental hospital her work took a turn became more experimental and "disturbing". For most of her adult life she was a heroine addict unbeknownst to most of her associates. "Face of My People", which I read, along with many of her other writings reveals a "rich, strange, visionary quality".
Not surprisingly the story is set in a big house that has been taken over and turned into a psychiatric hospital. Dr. Pope and his trustworthy nurse keep everything neat, orderly and efficient. Morale among the patients has improved with the exception of one ward. One patient in particular has been giving the staff trouble. Kling, as he's known since no one can pronounce his full name, has been getting more "depersonalized and generally inaccessible." Heaven only knows what horrific things Kling has seen. He has these horrible dreamlike (nightmarish more likely) visions concerning his father. Kling does everything he can to avoid the probing of the doctors, his neuroses getting the better of him. This story was quite different than the others in the collection I've read. Quite harrowing in its own way. "They've taken everything; let them not take my silence", he says at one point. You can't help but feel his anguish. I wonder how much of this was Anna Kavan coming through?
Olivia Manning is an author I hope to read sometime soon. Her Balkan Trilogy (followed by The Levant Trilogy) is on my TBR pile. Her husband was a British Council Lecturer and she went with him to Bucharest just before war was declared. They moved on to Greece and had to be evacuated to Egypt when the Nazis invaded. This is another case where it seems she relied heavily on her own experiences in her writings. She is quoted as saying, "My subject is simply life as I have experienced it, and I am happiest when I am writing of things I know."
"A Journey" starts out with Mary Martin traveling to Cluj in Transylvania to report on the Hungarian Occupation. The Germans demanded that Romania cede territory to the Soviet Union, Bulgaria and Hungary. Mary believed that "journalists were magically immune from danger", but she soon finds out that is anything but the case. Manning describes the hot and crushing traing journey to Cluj vividly. Even worse is the madness of Cluj when Mary arrives and everyone else is trying to get out. The old animosities between Romanians and Hungarians are ripe. And the frenzied attempts by the inhabitants to vacate the city made me wonder how people managed to survive the war in one piece.
"Suddenly, amazingly, a train came in. It was a wooden, third-class local train. The peasantsflung themselves to their feet and ran madly, from carriage to carriage. The doors were locked. They climbed in through the glassless windows, hauling one another up by arms and legs until the carriages were choked. Then they climbed on to the roof. While some were still only half in and half on, the train suddenly moved out. Bunches of people fell off like lice. Others ran along the line yelling madly. From one of the bridges came the crackle of rifle fire. The peasants panicked back to the platform and huddled against the wall."
I have to say again what a wonderful book this anthology is. It's probably better that I am taking the stories in small doses. I also appreciate the fact that the stories are all written by women. All too often I've discovered in most generic collections, the majority of stories are written by men. I try and balance out my reading, but it seems there are always more stories by men to choose from. I'm also trying to read more famous stories alongside the lesser known (though just as satisfying) stories. Here's my list of stories read so far, which famous stories by women authors am I missing? Suggestions welcome.