Issue 16 Summer 2009


From the Editors: On the Proliferation of Posthumous Publication

The dead, we fear, will never have the last word on their unpublished works. So we turn our editorial energies to a bigger question: should they?

Cormac McCarthy’s Paradox of Choice: One Writer, Ten Novels, and a Career-Long Obsession

From the very beginning, McCarthy has been an author fascinated by the give-and-take between modern-day humans and the multiple systems they are exposed to in day-to-day life. These systems react potently with McCarthy’s other great novelistic concern: the alienated individual and his ultimate recognition (with McCarthy it is invariable a he) that no one can stand outside of human society, and that our codes and bureaucracies decide for us far more often than we actually decide for ourselves. McCarthy’s novels are built around the rare moments of genuine decision-making when the swell and swirl of the world pulls back to relinquish agency to the individual.

Reaching One’s Promise: What Writers Need to Do to Last Ten Years

In 1938, Cyril Connolly wrote a book about what writers needed to do to see their work last for 10 years. Jeremy Hatch determines if his predictions were accurate, and how contemporary writers might see their work continue to be read.

Notes on Juan Villoro’s El Testigo

Bolaño said he is “opening up the path of the new Spanish novel of the millennium.” Alvaro Enrigue called his book the great Mexican novel. Mauro Javier Cardenas investigates Juan Villoro’s untranslated novel El Testigo.

From El Testigo by Juan Villoro

El Testigo, currently unavailable in English, has been lauded as the “great Mexican novel.” Here chapter three of this book is translated by Chris Andrews.

Janet Frame Reframed

What is the difference between fiction and autobiography? Elizabeth Wadell looks at author Janet Frame’s new posthumous novel, too personal to publish in her lifetime, and considers how it compares to the source material as found in her celebrated autobiography.

Mario Vargas Llosa’s Carnival: Caricature in The War of the End of the World

Though the word caricature is often used to disparage poor writing, caricature also has its uses. Travis Godsoe shows how Mario Vargas Llosa uses caricatured characters to create a rich portrait of a unique rebel colony in his novel The War of the End of the World.

From The Museum of Eterna’s Novel

Long hailed as an avant-garde classic and precursor to Borges, The Museum of Eterna’s Novel will finally be available in English next January from Open Letter Books. We offer a preview of what’s to come.

Beyond Neruda: Linking Three of Latin America’s Best Poets

John Herbert Cunningham charts the links between the careers and writings of three of Latin America’s best poets.


I’d Like by Amanda Michalopoulou

Wonderfully polymorphous—is it novel, fictional biography, short story collection, or other?—and incredibly promiscuous in its tones and registers—vacillating with ease between melancholy and joy while yoking together the profoundly metaphysical and the commonly mundane—Amanda Michalopoulou’s I’d Like cannot help but inspire in its readers a vertiginous delight (one furthered by Karen Emmerich’s felicitous and fluent translation from the Greek).

Secret Son by Laila Lalami

One modest silver lining in the War on Terror has been the increased Western interest in literature from and about the Islamic, Hindi, and greater Eastern worlds. Book club selections and award citations have piled up for The Namesake, Brick Lane, The Inheritance of Loss, The White Tiger, The Septembers of Shiraz, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Kite Runner, et al., and while they may all have the stiff wind of corporate marketing at their backs, it’s hard to complain about any readership at all these days, let alone a small movement led mostly by female authors and concerning the lives and cultures of foreigners.

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih

Originally published in 1969, Season was famously selected by a 2001 literary panel as the greatest Arabic-language novel of the 20th century, and it is often listed as one of the classic postcolonial works in any language. Independent of any academic qualifiers, however, this short novel deserves to be read for its gorgeous prose (translated by Denys-Johnson Davies, with help from Salih), its narrative intensity, and the economy with which Salih renders all sides of the 20th-century relationships between colonial powers and their Third World victims.

The Foundation Pit by Andrey Platonov

The Foundation Pit, Andrey Platonov (trans. Robert & Elizabeth Chandler and Olga Meerson). NYRB Classics. 208pp, $14.95. A good Sovietologist has shelves packed with books like Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism 1917-1923, Science and Industrialization in the USSR, and Soviet Economic Structure and Performance. However, Andrey Platonov’s The Foundation Pit confronts us [...]

Tokyo Fiancée by Amélie Nothomb

Tokyo Fiancée is best-selling Belgian author Amélie Nothomb’s brief, detailed novel about two years she spent in Tokyo while in her early twenties. Ostensibly a story of unrequited love, it is also a love letter to Japanese culture, and a revealing—nearly confessional—self-portrait of the author as an ambitious young woman.

Gods and Soldiers by Rob Spillman (editor)

African literature has been enjoying a boom, or at least a boomlet, in recent years. In his new anthology, Gods and Soldiers, Rob Spillman seeks to capture that phenomenon between two covers.

Brothers by Yu Hua

Writing about this period is not new, despite many Western critics who look at books like Yu Hua’s Brothers and find something novel in its subject matter. People have been writing about this bitter and painful chapter of modern Chinese history for a generation. In earlier novels Yu Hua himself has focused on this period, to varying degrees of success. His most famous book, To Live (made into a movie by famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou in 1994), chronicles the history of a family as the forces of the twentieth century change their fortunes, mirroring China’s own fortunes. The highly naturalistic Chronicle of a Blood Merchant tells the story of a family’s struggle on the brink of starvation.

English by Wang Gang

Books covered in this dual review: • Brothers, Yu Hua (Eileen Chen-yin Chow and Carlos Rojas, trans.). Pantheon Press. 656pp, $29.95. • English, Wang Gang (Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan, trans.). Viking. 320pp, $24.95. (continued from page 1) Like Brothers, Wang Gang’s novel, English, also tells the story of a child growing up during [...]

And Let the Earth Tremble at Its Centers by Gonzalo Celorio

A walking tour of Mexico City’s historic center provides the scaffolding for And Let the Earth Tremble at its Centers, an impressive first novel from Mexican writer Gonzalo Celorio. We begin with a hangover. Dr. Juan Manuel Barrientos, a supercilious architecture professor, struggles through the morning. Recovering from a retirement party the night before, he faces the day with a flagging spirit and an aching skull, and when Juan Manuel manages to make it into the world, the metropolis’s occluded sky—”composed of toxic ingredients, haze, and desolation”—seems the physical embodiment of his state.

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

The Vagrants concerns itself with the small people, those found in the local market, the alleys, the deserted places, the places where dogs wander, where baby girls are left out in the elements, where so-called counterrevolutionaries are shot and forgotten. They live and work in the provincial town of Muddy River, whose name is a misnomer, for “in summer boys swimming in the river could look up from underwater at the wavering sunshine through the transparent bodies of busy minnows, while their sisters, pounding laundry on the boulders along the bank, sometimes sang revolutionary songs in chorus, their voices as clear and playful as the water.” The close alliance of children and the Revolution is a theme that is visited again when one of the children, the most powerless of them all, informs on his fellow townspeople in order to become “the youngest counterrevolutionary in this political storm,” a “hero.”

The Spare Room by Helen Garner

Helen Garner’s The Spare Room opens with the narrator, also named Helen, preparing a room for an impending guest. She puts fresh sheets on the bed, fluffs the pillows, fans out an array of books on a table, clips some greenery to put in a vase, opens a window to let in some fresh air. There is an assurance to her ministrations, a kind of pleased, self-aware graciousness in the way she plumps the pillows and rolls out a new rug. Even though there is clearly something amiss with the visitor—Helen chooses a pink sheet because it is “flattering even to skin that has turned yellowish,” and debates whether or not to put a mirror in the room—there is no sense of fear or dread in the preparations.

The Withdrawal Method by Pasha Malla

Pasha Malla is fond of the deke, and the promise of many head-fakes is implicit in the title of his short story collection, The Withdrawal Method. The title both showcases Malla’s odd sense of humor (contraception never actually appears in the text) and gives readers a hint as to Malla’s central theme: how in these thirteen stories Malla often feints toward the ridiculous so as to better describe a sobering world. These are humorous but often sad stories about how people withdraw from their lives: a daughter and her widowed father celebrate Easter in death’s shadow, a pharmaceutical representative fails to understand his diabetic brother’s disgust, a bicyclist is struck by a car and falls into a coma, a souvenir shop owner struggles to save his business after Niagara Falls runs dry.

The Bridge of the Golden Horn by Emine Sevgi Ozdamar

Consider Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s The Bridge of the Golden Horn a kind of bildungsroman, a portrait of the artist as a young migrant worker as it were. The plot threads are familiar: discontented young woman leaves home to seek her fortune; she encounters resistance; she overcomes obstacles; she is transformed. In this case, the unnamed narrator, with dreams of becoming an actor, lies about her age to get a job so she can pay for drama school. At sixteen she leaves Turkey for Germany where she works on an assembly line installing radio valves. The novel goes on to detail four topsy-turvy years of the young woman’s ping-ponging back and forth between Berlin and Istanbul. In Berlin, she and her coworkers “lived in a single picture: fingers, the neon light, the tweezers, the little radio valves and their spider legs.

Tinkers by Paul Harding

Published in Issue 16 Tinkers, Paul Harding. Bellevue Literary Press. 192pp, $14.95. Paul Harding’s Tinkers meticulously examines life and death, its precision often mirroring that of the protagonist as he performs his vocation of repairing clocks. The novel, although slim, packs much detail into its tightly wound prose: three generations of a hard-scrabbled New England [...]

A Mind at Peace by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar

A Mind at Peace, published in 1949 and set in 1938 and 1939, has long been a cornerstone of Turkish literature, a symbol of the nation’s conflict between the modernizing forces of the West and the traditional Ottoman and Turkish cultures. Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s novel is a readily confessed major influence on Orhan Pamuk, the 2004 Nobel Laureate, and it was also in the news recently, as the Turkish government bestowed an English copy upon President Barack Obama during an official visit.

My Floating Mother, City by Kazuko Shiraishi

Shannon: A Poem of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by Campbell McGrath

This Nest, Swift Passerine by Dan Beachy-Quick

King of a Hundred Horsemen by Marie Étienne

Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud by Robert Pinsky (editor)

Kenneth Koch: Selected Poems by Ron Padgett (editor)

The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest by Hadley Haden Guest (editor)


The Amanda Michalopoulou Interview

Amanda Michalopoulou: Well, I always felt that my life, and everyone’s lives nowadays, is not linear, and that whenever we do something this something is broken up by another activity or event; there isn’t such a thing as a linear life anymore, and fiction always imitates life, and it is interesting to do the same in fiction, for me anyway. And the way I narrate stories is in a very Greek way, a very southern-Mediterranean pattern.

Cormac McCarthy Full Coverage

Cormac McCarthy Full Coverage

The Lydia Davis Symposium

The Lydia Davis Symposium

Who Was David Foster Wallace?

Read Who Was David Foster Wallace?

Full Coverage: Roberto Bolano

Full Coverage: Roberto Bolano

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