Chess – Stefan Zweig

Chess - ZweigChess

Chess or Chess Story is a novella by Stefan Zweig, a German-speaking Austrian author. It’s been published by a few of my favorite publishers, as pictured above, i.e. NYRB Classics, Pushkin Press, though I read the more humble edition published by Penguin:


The book is tiny. With 80 pages long, I wondered how it managed to be published on its own, and not with a collection of some sort. It’s borderline long short-story.

Stefan Zweig was someone that I’d been meaning to read for a while. He’s the kind of author that I may have missed had I not read blogs — so loved he is by the book blogging community. Though The Grand Budapest Hotel has probably helped to raise his profile more. I already have a few of his books ready, but as we’re nearing the end of 2016, with still quite a few book commitments at hand, I decided to choose his shortest book: Chess.

And what a compelling read it was. What story telling! The book is set in a large passenger steamer going from New York to Buenos Aires. Words go around that there’s a world chess champion on board. Thus the scene is set quickly. The setting is laid, the gun is out on the table.

We’re then told the fascinating background story of this champion, who you may think at this point is the main character of the story. But hold on, he’s not. There’s more to come.

I absolutely enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read more of Stefan Zweig’s work. Should I read Beware of Pity next, or The Post-Office Girl? I also have The Society of Crossed Keys – a compilation of Zweig’s writings by Wes Anderson.

Mee’s rating: 5/5 – a satisfying read from a new-to-me author


Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) — Zweig studied in Austria, France, and Germany before settling in Salzburg in 1913. In 1934, driven into exile by the Nazis, he emigrated to England and then, in 1940, to Brazil by way of New York. Finding only growing loneliness and disillusionment in their new surroundings, he and his second wife committed suicide. (Yes, the good one always committed suicide.)

Chess is my first entry for Austria for my Reading the World project, and German Literature Month V (my first time participating!). The book is also included in 1001 books you must read before you die list.

The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling

I read the free Kindle version, but I'm using this cover for this post because it's one of my favorite Jungle Book covers :)

I read the free Kindle version, but I’m using this cover because I like it. Also Harper Collins version comprises only the first Jungle Book, while the Oxford World Classics for example, while it has a nice cover, comprises both the first and second Jungle Book.

The Jungle Book is a collection of short stories by Nobel Prize in Literature winner Rudyard Kipling. A lot of us probably know The Jungle Book from the Disney cartoon — I did. I remember my dad telling me that The Jungle Book is his favorite Disney movie. And talking about movie, there’s a good reason why I read this now. You may be aware that Disney is remaking a lot of his old cartoons, and that includes The Jungle Book. But in fact, there is not one upcoming Jungle Book movie, but TWO. One will be out in 2016 (the Disney remake), and one in 2017. (I know this very well because yours truly is currently working on one of them :).

The book is now on public domain (Is that the reason why there are 2 movies coming out around the same time?) so you can get it on Kindle or Project Gutenberg for free. There are 7 short stories in total, each story is followed by a poem.

Surprisingly to me, only the first three stories are about Mowgli and his jungle friends (and frenemies). All the familiar characters appear in the 3 stories: Bagheera the black panther, Baloo the bear, Shere Khan the tiger, Kaa the snake, and the monkey people.

I’m well aware that Disney takes much liberty in its adaptations, and how the movies are always quite different compared to their original stories, so I was well prepared and wasn’t easily surprised. There are a couple of characters that didn’t make the cut into the Disney movie: the wolf that takes Mowgli as a baby – Akela, and the annoying figure Tabaqui the indian jackal (for some reason he always appears in my mind as hyena). Shere Khan is a limp tiger, and he’s not exactly brave or honorable.

And if I haven’t been clear enough, the stories are nothing Disney-ish. They’re pretty harsh by today’s standard of children stories, and Mowgli in particular is a lot stronger and more assertive than the Mowgli I remember from my childhood.

The other 4 stories also feature animal characters and occasional humans. The White Seal features a white furred seal who sort of plays Moses role as he searches and finds a “promised” safe land and takes all his seal people there. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi features a mongoose who defends the human family he lives with from a couple of cobras. Toomai of the Elephants is about a boy who’s on his way to become a respectable elephant handler (or mahout). In Her Majesty’s Servants we get a glimpse of a late night conversation among a bunch of camp animals right before an important parade the next day.

I quite enjoyed all the stories — the Mowgli stories in particular, perhaps because of the familiarity and the continuity of characters. I did have a slight reservation when I reached the fourth story and realized that Mowgli stories have passed, and in fact I was taken out of the jungle altogether despite the Jungle Book title for the collection. But overall I found them refreshing and quite charming.

Mee’s rating: 4/5


There are more Mowgli stories in The Second Jungle Book and I might go read it at some point, but for now I’m happy to have a taste of Kipling. Fun facts: Rudyard Kipling was the first English-language writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, and he’s also the youngest recipient to date, who was 42 years old when he received the prize in 1907.

Way back when I was a kid I never realized that The Jungle Book was set in India. I guess I instinctively associated animals with Africa. Kipling’s background of having born in India and spent some time there really interests me, so I look forward to reading more of his work, in particular Kim, as I heard good things about it.


Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island is Bill Bryson’s chronicle of journey around Britain in the 90s “for the last time”, right before he and his family moved back to the US. It’s a coincidence that I read this a few months ago, before I knew that his new book was coming, called The Road to Little Dribbling (subtitled More Notes From a Small Island), which is about his journey around Britain in recent years, 20 years after the trip of Notes from a Small Island.

In the same fashion as Neither Here Nor There, which is about Bryson’s journey around Europe in the 90s, it is funny and immensely entertaining. Much the same with Bryson, I wasn’t an Anglophile before I came to London, and turned to one almost immediately right when I stepped on this small island. He did not know when he came here that he’d marry an English woman and call this place home for the next couple of decades (like I didn’t know I’d be here for this long – 4.5 years and counting).

In fact now we know from his sequel to Notes from a Small Island that he and his family did come back to Britain after a few years stint in the US. So clearly their hearts are still here, and that fondness shows in Notes. It might take me a while to read the second book but I hope the warm sentiments were not lost — it doesn’t seem so from a couple of brief reviews that I read.

I probably don’t need to mention it, but you do need to have a great interest in Britain to fully appreciate this book (you don’t need to have lived here). Some quotes really resonate with me, so I was posting them on my instagram as I read:

(If you’re reading this on a feed reader you may not be able to see the pictures below, so please jump to my page :)

“And it has more congenial small things – incidental civilities, you might call them – than any other city I know: cheery red mailboxes, drivers who actually stop for you at pedestrian crossings, lovely forgotten churches with wonderful names like St. Andrew by the Wardrobe and St. Giles Cripplegate, sudden pockets of quiet like Lincoln’s Inn and Red Lion Square, interesting statues of obscure Victorians in togas, pubs, black cabs, double-decker buses, helpful policemen, polite notices, people who will stop to help you when you fall down or drop your shopping, benches everywhere. What other great city would trouble to put blue plaques on houses to let you know what famous person once lived there, or warn you to look left or right before stepping off the curb? I’ll tell you. None.” – Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island #currentlyreading #LoveLetterToLondon #dreamhouse A photo posted by Dioni | Wandering Mee (@meexia) on

“And the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why so many of their treats – tea cakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsbury- are so cautiously flavorful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake.” – Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island #currentlyreading. I seem to have caught this piece of culture because afternoon tea and its treats are always the highlight of my day 😊. And how pretty is this nursery/cafe? ❤️ How did I live in London for over 4 years and never heard of it before? It’s not even that far from my home! #afternoontea #London @petershamnurseries

A photo posted by Dioni | Wandering Mee (@meexia) on

I may be biased, especially on the London bits, but I loved this book :)

Mee’s rating: 5/5

The Lottery and Other Stories – Shirley Jackson


I read The Lottery short story a few years ago and found it to be one of the most memorable short story I’ve ever read. If you have not, go read it NOW. You only get the greatest impact however if you go in without knowing anything about it, as I did. So if you’ve been spoilt, it probably wouldn’t be as impressive. Unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of reviews that give the story away in a line or two =/

The Lottery and Other Stories is a collection of 25 short stories, the only collection of stories to appear during her lifetime. It’s divided into 4 parts with an epilogue. The Lottery story is placed almost at the end.

For me it’s nearly impossible to formulate story-by-story thoughts of a collection of 25 stories. I could do it for 10 but anything more than 10 is tough. The stories have jumbled up a bit in my mind, and it’s hard to remember specific stories. But I honestly enjoyed reading this collection. I found the stories to be very readable. Some are more impressive than others, but overall they’re all of high quality.

The introduction by A. M. Homes is a really nice piece, and the back cover summarizes the stories as “equally unusual” (to The Lottery). “Together they demonstrate Jackson’s remarkable range — encompassing the hilarious and the horrible, the unsettling and the ominous — as well as her power as a storyteller.” I don’t think I can say it better.

A few stories are clearly set in New York, which is a nice coincidence again for me, as I mentioned before that I kept bumping into books set in New York after I went to New York for some reason. She also reminded me a bit of Muriel Spark — both female authors writing a good dose of weirdness and all things sinister. Love. I look forward to reading her novels in the future.

Mee’s rating: 4/5

Initially I meant to read this book for Shirley Jackson’s week in July, organized by Reading the End, Things Mean a Lot, and Stuck in a Book. But as it often happens I only got to it in October, and so it’s also a perfect reading for the R.I.P. X! If I could fit it into another event I would :)




How sad is it that October is ending? I grew to love October and its spookiness and falling, yellowing leaves. The days are getting shorter, darker, and colder, but they’re not yet too cold, and not yet too short. I must say I would pick October over the holiday season anytime =/



Lust, Caution – Eileen Chang

lustcautionI watched Lust, Caution the movie at the end of 2013. It was so good that shortly afterwards I was rushing to buy and read the short story it is based on.

The story is more compact than the movie — Ang Lee took the liberation to add a few details, but the story is clearly Eileen Chang’s, following her recurring themes of emotional loyalty, vanity, and betrayal with the backdrop of turbulent China.

I was very impressed at both the author and director, of how much the author managed to convey in the number of pages (only 30+ pages), and how much the director was able to read so acutely between the lines and regurgitated such a great film. It was hands down my favorite movie from Ang Lee, and possibly the best Chinese movie I have ever seen. I loved it that much.

After reading the main short story in this collection though, I left the book for a while, and only picked it up again to finish the rest of the collection a couple of months ago.

Having read Eileen Chang’s other short story collection Love in a Fallen City, in a way I knew what to expect. I liked her stories then, and I liked them now.

My edition is the Penguin Modern Classics (as pictured above), and I was curious whether the NYRB Classics version had the same stories in the collection. It seems that it doesn’t — weirdly the majority of the stories in the NYRB Classics are in the Love in a Fallen City Penguin Modern Classics version. Just something to keep in mind, if you’re wondering which version to get.

The stories in Penguin version are: Lust, Caution; In the Waiting Room; Great Felicity; Steamed Osmanthus Flower: Ah Xiao’s Unhappy Autumn, and Traces of Love.

In the Waiting Room gives us a peek into social dynamics in a simple setting of a doctor’s waiting room. Great Felicity explores family dynamics of a soon to be married woman with her two future in-law sisters. Steamed Osmanthus Flower: Ah Xiao’s Unhappy Autumn (curiously a mouthful of a title — wonder how well the original title works) took us into the home of a foreigner living in China from the maid’s point of view. Traces of Love follows an old couple, both married other people in the past, who are now married to each other, each for their own reasons.

Chang’s themes felt familiar, in my opinion especially in her seemingly cynical views of love and marriage, and of the binds of society. I can see myself reading more of her books in the future.

Mee’s rating: 4/5


She looks so cool. I wish I could look that cool.

Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima

I had a very long break of Japanese literature. I used to read tons of it when I was in Singapore, but then I moved to Sydney, and London, and Japanese lit took a back seat. I don’t even remember what’s the last Japanese lit book I read. So with a happy heart I finally got to finish Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima — my first voyage into this master’s catalogue. Reading this with a nudge from Bellezza‘s Japanese Literature Challenge 9.


Even before I read his book, I was already fascinated by Mishima’s life story, including, especially, his death by committing seppuku (ritual suicide). I know, it seems all the great authors are either gay or suicidal.

Spring Snow is the first book in the Sea of Fertility tetralogy – a final body of work from Mishima. I’m imagining a dramatic scene at the end of his writing session in which Mishima exclaimed “I wrote my masterpiece! I can now die happy!” SEPPUKU! ;)

In Spring Snow we follow a son of a rising nouveau-riche family Kiyoaki Matsuage, and his childhood friend turned lover Satoko Ayakura, who comes from a declining aristocrat family. (The way I described the Kiyoaki to hubby is “imagine the son of Japanese Gatsby”) The story is set in early 1900s Japan, 1912 to 1914 to be exact, so I found the society dynamics and the underlying historical setting very interesting. I’m sure I missed a lot of the historical subtleties, but by reading this book you get to understand a lot more, about the rigid customs and relationships between the Imperial family, aristocrats, and upper class society in early 20th century Japan. The Western influences have entered Japan too, giving it an extra layer of color.

A semi-important character is Kiyoaki’s friend Honda – a son of an intellect, sort of the Nick of Gatsby, mostly hovering on the side of the main love story, and occassionally giving hand at crucial moments. Honda will be a very important character in the subsequent books in the series, but I shall say no more.

I have to admit, the beginning and the middle were a bit of a slog for me, and I really didn’t like Kiyoaki’s character as he was exhibiting an array of teenage angst (the early 20th century Japanese version of it). I found that I had little patience for childishness and youth pride. Mishima took his time in building his characters and setting. He was being very careful, and it’s great in a way, but you need to push through the initial hump. (The book is almost 400 pages thick)

But once I hit the half point, I raced through the book in no time at all. I finished it in my week long trip around Central/Eastern Europe just last week, mostly between city to city in a train. The end just hit me like a ton of bricks. The last sentence left me dumbstruck. It probably shouldn’t have if I knew what the tetralogy was about, but I never quite knew what to get from quick browsing around goodreads and wiki. In other words, just go and read it, no need to find too much what the book is about :).

Spring Snow has turned me into a Mishima fan. I have yet to see anyone not liking his work no matter which book they start with, and I used to wonder about this. Now that I’ve crossed to the other side, I can say, yes yes it’s true, he’s amazing, come join us!

I plan to read the rest of the tetralogy. I have the first one on Kindle, but now I wonder whether I should collect the paperbacks. There’s the Vintage UK version and the Vintage International (US) version. Which do you think has better cover? I tend to lean towards the US version (only if it’s matte though, not glossy) but it seems harder / much more pricey for us to get the US version here.

spring snow

UK version

spring snow (US)

US version

Hoping to read another Japanese lit book by the end of the challenge in January 2016! I’m thinking The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi, but we’ll see. Let me know if you’re interested in it too, perhaps we can buddy read :)
ETA: This book also fits in nicely for Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe event on October 4-17, 2015, yay!

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Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller (Play)

Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play written by American playwright Arthur Miller. It was the recipient of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play.

I read this play script right before I watched the stage play in London at The Noël Coward Theatre. It’s only about 100 pages long and quick to read like dialogue always is compared to prose.

It was probably the first time that I attempted to read the script before watching the play – and it was great to know every single thing that happened on stage. (Because normally I do miss stuff said on the stage.) So I might do it again in the future. I love stage plays, have loved it since high school. And now that I’m in London it is the perfect place to go see them. I try to go at least a couple of times a year.

The story is very bleak, as you can tell from the title. It’s about the death of a salesman in every single aspects, literally and metaphorically. It is about the decaying of dreams and finally realizing that you haven’t made it, and not even your sons have made it. But it wasn’t just about watching a train wreck of a man and his family. I’m generally not one to like any kind of misery books and the likes, but the play goes deeper. The dynamics and the relationships of the characters are quite complex and handled tactfully.

As a side note, before I went to New York I seemed to not able to recall any books set in New York, but after I came back I keep bumping into them. This play is set in outer New York and Boston.

Mee’s rating: 4/5Some people may not like this play because it’s so crushingly sad, but I can see why it’s become one of the classics – it has the whole package of drama, complex characters, purposeful dialogues, and believable turns of events.

Death of a Salesman, London 2015

Poster of the limited run of the classic play in London 2015

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