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I read Naja Marie Aidt's When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back (Carl's Book) in what felt like a single breath. The topic, the accidental death of Aidt's young son, is devastating, brutal--deeply, piercingly terrifying to me personally. Before picking up the book late the other night, I hesitated a moment, wondered if it would be too painful for me, as a mother, to read, especially before bed. I'm so grateful that I did open this book. Aidt's words are like ancient prayers--they howl, they sing, and they whisper, devastated, "like a poet, who lies there like a wounded animal listening to the distant hollow whistling" (105). Valeria Luiselli describes Aidt's work as a Sequoia or a thunderstorm--truly, it's elemental, the power, beauty, rage, and loss that sears Aidt's pages. There's also a delicacy in these pages when Aidt seeks companionship with the words of Anne Carson, scraps of emails from her Carl, her son, the poetry she wrote when Carl was a baby, the interpretation of her own dreams in which Carl returns to her. Aidt also describes a community of people who loved Carl who assemble as a grieving group after his death, and she offers her heart to them here. How else do we survive the shock of death? We must make our love for the lost beloved live forever. Especially gorgeous to me is the way that Aidt addresses Carl, and writes of him, in the presence tense. She quotes Roubard: "whenever I see or think your name, you exist." Carl is here! This book is the most generous gift, a monumental book of darkness, but also of light and joy. A book for Carl, who as a baby had golden eyes and golden hair, like a tiger, who was joyful and observant and wise, and whose mother carries him.
I absolutely savored this title: Rojas Contreras's prose is natural, funny, and believable, and the world of 1990s Bogotá is meticulously crafted. Vivid, unforgettable characters, the lineage of a ferociously powerful "kingdom of women," populate these pages, and their interior mysteries are as compelling and tumultuous as the escalating atmosphere of violence and political strife in Colombia. What a fantastic debut novel--I'm so eager to read what this author writes next.
Transparency and brilliance are the words that came to mind again and again as I read this incredible novel. I've adored everything Luiselli has written--from Sidewalks to Faces in the Crowd to The Story of My Teeth to Tell Me How It Ends (which is a fitting complement to Lost Children Archive), but this latest novel feels to me the perfect distillation of the preoccupations of her past works: motherhood, art-making and its value, sexuality, migration, and the long history of human atrocity, with a foothold in Trump's America. Our protagonist, a writer and documentarian, embarks on a roadtrip from New York City through the Southwest with her sound artist husband and their two children. She's archiving echoes for a piece about children refugees from Central America, he's collecting sounds to tell the story of the genocide of the First Peoples, the marriage is strained to near-collapse, and, unbeknownst to the adults, who do their best to hold some stories apart from their children, the two kids don't miss a beat. Luiselli's novel is more than a roadtrip story; it's a reckoning. Beyond the power of storytelling is Luiselli's constant, compassionate reminder of the danger and the death that is silence. Polite silence where there might be outrage shapes a history of complicit horror. It must be said that right now, in our country, Central American children are being kept indefinitely in cages, separated from their parents, after legally seeking asylum. In a "loose note" written to herself after studying a photo of Geronimo and his fellow prisoners before their expulsion to Florida in 1886, the protaganist writes: "Euphemisms lead us to tolerate the unacceptable. And eventually, to forget." And what works against euphemism? Luiselli offers the word "remembrance," in a continuation of her notes, hinting at the character's archive of echos and sounds collected on this trip, and the author offers us, against the hazy non-responsibility of euphemism, the powerful words of this book.
"After the birthing of bombs of forks & fear / the frantic automatic weapons unleashed / the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands / that brute sky opening in a slate-metal maw / that swallows only the unsayable in each of us / WHAT'S LEFT?" ---- What's left? Gardening. Trying, trying, trying for a baby (create new life? In this hellscape?), chronic pain, aging, death, infertility, and climage change. ok, ok. Let's observe dandelions then, tend to our roots and animals, carry our passports in case of racists. Let's do our best.
Precise, shining, haunting, and epic, these stories are told from bones buried deep in the ground and ancient starlight: a make-up artist prepares her murdered cousin's battered face for an open casket funeral, a violent settler blinds a brilliant woman who refuses his advances, children try to rescue their dying mother. Indigenous Latinx are heroines--insisting upon their history and dignity, honoring their dead with marigolds that grow in the purple mountainsides of Colorado and New Mexico, mothering the abandoned. My favorite story collection in many years.
Five women in one family -- among them a poet, an art historian, and a madwoman -- tell the story of a young girl's disappearance in 1970s Mexico City. No gimmicks, no familiar tropes, just brilliant, lyrical voices that explore family sadnesses, the porous boundaries between sisters, and the making of art.
The Brazilian goddess writes: " I am a heart beating in the world / you who read me please help me to be born." The shape of this one is entirely non-narrative, more like fractal and crystalline in texture - urgent prayers & chants about sunflowers turning their heads as the universe explodes into birth, the pulse of a watch buried in the ground, beating endlessly. Dang, Clarice gets my blood pumping.
Daaang. This novel, described by the author as an "immigrant California Gothic," is spooky as all get-out, haunted by ghostly inheritances and demonic brain sparks, and written in divine prose. Wang is a UM MFA grad & 2017 Granta Best Young American Novelist prize recipient.
I've never read a historical novel so wildly imaginative. Gray's invention of Duncan is spiritual-possession-level spooky, and the grief, power, delusion, and artistic genius in the mind and body of this character is mesmerizing. A friend described this novel as a "fever dream," and it's a fantastic vision I seek again and again with reverence.
Of Winterson's very juicy oeuvre, WOTB is about as juicy as can be. In a room that Winterson creates, even the walls are groovin': "The walls, bumpy and distempered, were breathing. I could feel them moving under my touch. They were damp, slightly. The light, channelled by the thin air, heated by the panels of glass too hot to open. We were magnified in this high wild room. You and I could reach the ceiling."
During a green card glitch, Luiselli decides to volunteer as a translator for undocumented children, refugees from Central America's Northen Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras). With wisdom, curiosity, and compassion, Luiselli guides us through the cruel absurdities of the 40 question intake interview, only an introduction to "the vast legacy of chingaderas" perpetuated by the US and Luiselli's native Mexico, in both countries' responses to the Central American refugee crisis. "Partir es morir un poco/ llegar nunca es llegar." Read it to better understand our current chingadera--I promise it contains hopeful glimmers too.
Roxane Gay's novel is as dramatic as it is literary, maybe because this story of a woman's kidnapping in Haiti recalls some of our most terrifying ancient tales, (Lot's sacrifice of his daughters, Grimm's traumatized fairy stories) while told in vivid, contemporary psychological realism. A thrilling and important novel from an exciting writer.
Absolutely stunning. Yuri Herrera writes about the US/Mexico border like no one else I've read. Here is a place where the wind cuts like a knife, where flags wave, where a snake lies in wait, and here is Makina, who trangresses the boundaries of this world, translating all through a brilliant, strange consciousness. And speaking of translation, Dillman deserves a prize for preserving the verve, vigor, and startling images of Herrera's prose.
What Luiselli does in her 2nd novel to be translated into English seems beyond the scope of writing. Following a commission by the Jumex Gallery (yes, an art gallery adjacent to the enormous Mexico City juice factory), Luiselli wrote the novel in collaboration with Jumex factory employees. So, we have "Highway," a notorious auctioneer and purveyor of celebrity teeth, Cervantes, Borges, clowns, fortune cookies, and even contemporary Latin American writers like Guadalupe Nettel and Francisco Goldman. Woo-eee! xo, Gina
Proust's all about light, color, and texture, characterized by a lush, slow pace. The mind moves more quickly with images than it moves through the original text, but the long rhythms of Proust's sentences are retained alongside beautifully rendered images here, compelling the reader to savor each panel with care and attention. I'm reading this alongside the Moncreiff translation; my buddy's reading Lydia Davis's translation, and we are comparing notes as we go: not a bad way to spend the close of summer.
Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector's been as much a personal goddess to me as a favorite amongst favorite prose writers since I discovered her slender novels. To read her stories is to examine a body, unavel a consciousness, study a luminescent mind. (Her notion of plot is weird, elegant, and inspired.)
My favorite book that I read in 2015. Set in Mexico City and Manhattan, this book is a jewel. A DF writer remembers an earlier life in NYC, when she worked as a translator of Latin American literature and did freewheelin' things like paint her entire apartment cobalt blue, in her chonis. Now, she's a mother of a baby and a prescient, omen-spouting little boy, married to a man who may be on the verge of leaving her, and in her scant free time she's writing a novel in which her pantheon of alter-selves inevitably appear, as well as little-known Mexican poet Gilberto Owen. It's rare to find a slim novel (experimental in structure, about "writing," no less) with characters as rich and compelling as Luiselli's, and her prose has the lightness and transparency to to display gorgeous motifs like the subway and the titular Pound image, a potted plant stolen from a roofop, a false manuscript, and darn near perfect sentences.
O. Holy Book. Map love's golden ratio with one of our greatest contemporary artists and thinkers. Learn from Sappho's sweet, irresistable apples: "the reach of desire is defined in action: beautiful (in its object), foiled (in its attempt), endless (in time)." Dude.
"I'm as tired as you ae of genius. Hey,/do you know where we put the sky?" Carrie Fountain askes in her poem "Surprise." These poems come from a place where no one's being awarded cash prizes over the phone or making New Year's resolutions, but time rinses tiny lovely moments anyway.
In Lydia Davis's foreword to this excellent collection of stories, she praises Berlin's sensitivity to "the perfec coincidence of sound and sense"--which often arrives in a dazzling, horrifying image that shocks the reader into a cackle.
Erasmus is a Salvadoran journalist living in exile in Mexico City during the Salvadoran Civil War. His marriage is breaking up, his bowels are unwell, and his doctor, Don Chente, another displaced Guanaco, is hypnotizing him into madness. In Moya's world, and in Salvador, then and now, paranoia is inevitable and somewhat practical. Despite ongoing violence, Erasmus decides to return to his country. Why leave DF for a country that has put family members in body dumps? Because of what all Salvys know:"it was as though my umbilical cord was attached to the place"--or perhaps, Erasmus considers, "because I'm an ass." In anothe writer's hands, the material might skew towards sentimental tropes. But in Moya's telling, anxiety, guilt, and historical trauma culminate in a delicate set of neuroses--in some places the novel reads like a Seinfeld episode, but with more screaming.
“So the ghost children marched down into the valley and fell into the abyss.” A duende-soaked love song to Latin America told by a bizarre toothless Uruguayan woman named Auxilio. I think this is Bolaño’s best.
Idra Novey's vocation as a poet is evident in every line of this well-plotted literary thriller. In Brazil, an American translator hunts for her missing author, a mystical writer of bizarre, beloved fiction, who reminded me of the great Clarice Lispector (who Novey has translated). Novey's certainly written a swift and mysterious romp, but she's also concerned with the act of translating another's art and the beautiful questions that arise when the translator seeks permission to create on her own.
Nettel's protagonist is preternaturally wise and aware of her self--mind, body, and soul--as "being different." She navigates bizarre parental hemispheres, all the while developing her powers of observation into artistry. A wonderful novel from the author of the short story collection NATURAL HISTORIES. She writes: "the origin of this tale lies in the need to understand certain events and certain dynamics that formed this complex amalgam--this mosaic of images, memories, emotions--that breathes within me, remembers with me, entwines others, and takes refuge in a pencil the way others take refuge in drinking or gambling."
Levad's glorious book of "honest love poems," in the words of the poet, "feel[s] all the ugly things that come with love and desire." Aphorisms, addresses, and anecdotes, on sex, grossness, prairie fires, magnifiecnt loneliness, and love's dirty stain. p.s. Megan Levad is an Aries.
The war is on/if love doesn't prevail,/who wants to live in this world?
Li-Young Lee is an unabashed Romantic, hungrily apprehending the divine in each fleshy moment. I've not read any poetry that so gorgeously telescopes the history of the universe, its fires and flights and violences and great loves, that so emphatically and gracefully and intimately speaks with the voice of the manifold beloved and the mortal beloved. That first poem, the title poem, made my head explode. But arise from your swoon, gentle reader, the party is only just beginning!
The sudden, inevitable cruelties of the natural world beat against improbable but glorious forgiveness as we read the storms and seasons of the lives of a lineage of incredible women of the West. Strelow's writing is most ecstatic when describing the wild: a blue-gray rabbit, the perilous cliffs of the Farollon islands, a patch of thimbleberries in an Oregon forest's understory, a harrier bird soaring overhead. O, the Golden West! Strelow had my heart on the first page's description of the Pacific Ocean's magnificence: "Beating hearts are mapped by this longing for the infinite."
"Radiant with magic, some of it dangerous." That's how Maggie Nelson describes this novel in her forward to Samantha Hunt's THE SEAS. It's a spooky little talismanic story, a mermaid fairy tale, speckled with odd, rich details of the Church of Scientology, the Iraq War, and climate change. It's also a nested story within a story, told for survival, like Scheherazade's. The narrator's tortured longing is the shape of her teenage life, and in a very cold, Northern seaside town she loves a man named Jude who is much older, subsumed by grief and alcohol. Sounds pretty bleak, but every word shimmers!
This new translation has got to be one of the most vital and lyrical of Lispector's novels. The Chandelier, her second novel, pulses with a sensual exploration of consciousness (Virginia, the young protagonist, plunges her hands into riverbed clay with such immersive conviction that I feel compelled to sign up for a pottery class). Here, Lispector's quest for "pure is" takes shape in the space of ordinary days--the heady rush of fainting, the childhood desire to create new worlds and languages, the "almost anxious...shiny, sweet swirl" of radically distilled perception and looped memory. Ever gotten an insistently clear, half-drunk notion to throw a dinner roll out of a window at a particularly boring party you've been dragged to? You know what I mean, then.
A gorgeous depiction of the Filipinx community just south of San Francisco--an extended family of fire-hearted nurses on 24 hour shifts, dj crews, and Lolos who won't ever retire. Castillo's narration is enviably, gracefully expansive; here too are a great grandmother so "white white white she was lavender," secret hideouts of the New People's Army, and the memory of candy sold by the side of a muddy road. Castillo is a hella lyrical angel on the page--I couldn't find an ungainly sentence in this novel, and hers is the sharpest and most memorable dialogue I've read in years.
Somehow, Luisa, a club-hopping teenager with soft-goth tendencies, disappears from her life in Mexico City, where she is a pretty good student and actually gets along well with her parents, and arrives in a new, feckless life on the "Beach of the Dead" in Oaxaca, amidst fire-breathers and hippie surfers. She's accompanied by an older boy, who she barely knows and isn't quite sure she really likes very much. Slowly, Aridjis explores the strange impulses that drive Luisa's actions, the games of chance, curiosity, and observant boredom, in fresh, fascinating language. Here, the ocean is "one great matriarch, vast and indifferent as a cathedral." A chapter begins: "Sunday like a closed door. Monday, a door forced open."
Gala Mukomolova's a Baltic Sea witch, and her poems are vulnerable, ferocious, sex-soaked gems, sharp-edged enough to cut. For Mukomolova, names are spells, and all the thousand shapes of love are WITHOUT PROTECTION'S fierce gravity. "Love made a clearing in the night where/a girl's will tamped down the grass." Sometimes, the speaker is a teenage girl who laughs and fights and curses into the hot eye of the storms that pursue her ("What wasn't dangerous?") Sometimes, the speaker is a woman abandoned by a lover: hungry, desirous, despairing, suspicious, hilarious. Throughout, we trace Vasilyssa's brave path through a perilous forest; "If there is a kingdom then Vasilyssa comes." "Goddess, give me money!" the old babas of Brighton Beach cry at the graves of their dead, and we all rejoice together.
Dávila's collection of stories are frightening and quiet. They read
like elemental, timeless horror: her characters are afflicted by
hauntings, possessions, and unburied secrets. She permits deft,
careful slices of ambiguity in her stories, to allow for the
possibility that perhaps, this demon is a shadow cast by the human
mind, a nightmare, or even, a cat. Psychological drama leaps the fence
of the interior and enters the world of objects, trapping its subjects
in a new reality. What could be more terrifying? Dávila doesn't play
her writing for stylistic gore or excess--her sentences are poetically
strange, but pleasingly controlled, demure, soft, and "domestic." As
an example: "The daily exercise of suffering gives the gaze of an
abandoned dog and the color of a ghost," explains an practitioner of
the art of suffering, in her story "Fragments of a Diary." As Dávila
said of her writing: "What I do in literature is come and go from
reality to fantasy, from fantasy to reality, the way life itself is."
Both the fantastic and the realistic aspects of Dávila's stories are
entirely convincing. And as Dávila writes in her own fiction, a phrase
gorgeously translated by Kleeman and Harris: "even if she is
exaggerating, these things do exist and they have destroyed her. They
exist like these flames dancing in the fireplace."
OPTIC NERVE is a stunning blend of fiction and art history, compulsively readable, and delicately connected. The narrator is not simply a woman who loves art and is knowledgable about its histories, but rather, she's a woman whose vision is entirely shaped by works of art, and for whom the lives and passions of the artists she loves are more real, more intimate, more immediate than anything else. Art and its histories provide the sharpest lenses for understanding her husband's past with his ex-wife, a shocking loss, or the fading relationship between best friends. Paintings and their stories are summoned to the page and to the mind of the narrator with the fluidity and quickness of an eyelid flutter. As her narrator ruminates on a moment just before tragedy, Gainza writes: "And I cannot tell what I should do with a death as ridiculous as hers, as pointless and hypnotic, not do I know why I mention it now, though I suppose it's always probably that way: you write one thing in order to talk about something else.
I'm so grateful for Cisneros's playful, declarative voice in this collection of essays. Cisneros's essays are borne of a lifetime of careful, joyful solitude, but she writes of her simpatico artistic community and how integral her hermanxs are to her work. Favorites include "Hydra House," a wild romp through Greece, an ode to "Guadalupe the Sex Goddess," and her "Ofrendas" for her parents. The stunning title essay moves gracefully between first and third person, through a childhood of longing for independence, the desires and frustrations of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and finally, to a house of her own, built by cultivating, listening to, honoring, her own singular voice.
Joy Williams famously has a set of rules for fiction. Three of them apply especially winsomely to her novel THE CHANGELING: 1.) Sentences that stand strikingly alone 2.) An anagogical level. 3.) An animal within to give its blessing. I've never read anything that captures so well the sheer terror of new motherhood, the fear of harm meeting one's child by outward or inner means, an evil blooming like a dark flower. (Through her protagonist Pearl, Williams cautions against drinking two quarts of gin each day in response to the terror, the effect of which splinters the kaleidoscope of Pearl's days.) Pearl's story is compelling, deliciously-written, and demonically fantastic. Part fairy-tale, part drunken nightmare, what's real, how magic works, and what's merely hallucinated in this novel blurs and refracts--yet somehow, each sentence glows correct, the work speaks with the divine, and the long deep prayer of these pages is an animal's breath, unspooling.