In Herta Müller’s short novel The Passport we move through a series of vignettes filled with thickets of opaque and mystifying images. A story begins to emerge. A man is trying to get a passport which will allow his family to return home to West Germany. He is a member of an isolated and oppressed community of East German Romanians living under a stifling communist dictatorship. Living behind the Berlin Wall they are stranded and mostly unseen by the Western world, victims of Stalin’s takeover after Germany fell to the Soviet Union in 1945.
The Girl with the Golden Parasol follows Rahul, a non-Brahmin, who finagles his way as a student into the department of Hindi: one of the most corrupt in the university, and a “den of Brahminism.” He does so after falling utterly for Anjali, a Brahmin girl, who, through simple bad luck, could find a home in no other department. The narrative chronicles exactly how the powers-that-still-be in India have harnessed globalization to further consolidate power over language and culture at the most local of levels. It’s also a love story, and a tale of students protesting the corruption of the Indian university system.
Petterson, whose work calls to mind the reserved nature of such “masculine” writers as Knut Hamson and Richard Yates, makes a more difficult target than present-day male writers exploring the masculine question through worlds of hyper-violence and hyper-reality. They are the men at the bar talking a good fight, while Petterson is the guy in the corner.
To call Carmen Boullosa a “woman writer”—and one of Mexico’s best known—seems like a fair description. Off the page, Boullosa is a committed activist for women’s issues, particularly reproductive rights. As a writer, she is committed to depicting what she calls the “universe of the feminine.” Her books are patently female, although not topically speaking—romantic plotlines, if included, are always injected with irony. Boullosa writes with thick, lurid prose about women’s bodies. Her books include scenes of mass menstruation and lesbian orgies, written with an unabashed attention to detail. Her prose—which has been well preserved by her translators, Leland Chambers and Geoff Hargreaves—is swollen with sensuality.
Shelley Jackson has had a multifaceted career that has taken her along the intersections of print and electronic literature, the avant-garde, and into new experimental forms of publishing. She’s influenced an entire generation of electronic writers who continue to dissect and reinvent previous assumptions about the Web, print, and beyond.
If Falling Man is about the 9/11 attacks themselves, Point Omega is about the military and—more important—deep existential responses, and those responses are nothing if not unremittingly bleak for the individual and the species.
Jonke’s writing isn’t difficult, though his sentences can stretch on into multi-page masterpieces, and he’s a fan of word games and surreal imagery. But beneath these formal surfaces and experimental style (some have called Jonke a “text composer”), these stories are frequently tender and funny; for all the book’s curiosities and through-the-looking-glass moments, System proves Jonke was that rare thing: a huge, rebellious talent with tremendous heart.
Rex‘s narrative structure—consisting of twelve “commentaries” written some time after the events have occurred, and addressed to J.’s former student Petya—offers an initial clue that it is not a straightforward novel. As becomes evident, J. is not really concerned with relating what has happened. Rather, he seizes upon the events as a series of “teaching moments,” ostensibly to instruct Petya, but, one suspects, really intended as a way for J. to come to terms with the trajectory his life has taken.
In his now posthumously released (and presumably final) novel, The Abyss of Human Illusion, Sorrentino again offers a relatively brief work (150 pages) built out of narrative fragments. As Christopher Sorrentino points out in his introductory note, the most obvious features of the novel’s formal structure are its division into fifty numbered sections.
William Gaddis, “The Last of Something”: Critical Essays is an enjoyable and essential book for Gaddis scholars, and those interested in subjects Gaddis and other writers share. It’s good to see such diverse spirits jostling with each other, and the editors deserve credit for allowing disputations to be put in the open.
Evenson’s story collection has characters who try to dissociate themselves from their beginnings (or who have their beginnings redefined by others), who consciously neglect previous happenings and logical prognostications to believe what they want to believe to make the best of their situation at hand. They look at their past as a constellation, trying to fit the events in order so that it makes the now more palatable. It’s an unrealistic notion, but it’s one that is aptly accentuated by the gothic and grotesque nature of these stories.
In grappling with Peter Bush’s recent re-translation of Juan Goytisolo’s 1974 novel Juan the Landless, I kept wondering why we read at all. Goytisolo’s book is notoriously challenging: there’s no real punctuation save frequent colons, and the book is full of shifting protagonists and pronouns and constant pressure on the language, as though Goytisolo aims to make the text itself implode. So why do we read, and what can be said about a book seemingly created to subvert the entire act of reading?
What if your country was in a midst of a purge of all private wealth, yet all you longed to do was to get your hands on a million rubles and run off to Rio de Janeiro? Well, if you were affable and clever Ostap Bender, the hero of The Golden Calf, you would scheme your way into a fortune.
When it comes to the elusive concept of authorship, there’s no shortage of reference points. From Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence to Jonathan Lethem’s “The Ecstasy of Influence,” the definition of authorship is both a polarizing and fascinating topic. In his debut novel The Lost Books of the Odyssey, Zachary Mason takes this debate a step further by conjuring a set of interpretations to a story whose authorship has sparked many academic studies: Homer’s Odyssey.
In The Man in the Wooden Hat, Hong Kong is a sleepy city in the process of coming into its own. Grand new towers rise above streets packed with peasants pulling handcarts, and “street music play[s] against the racket of the mahjong players on every open balcony.” As in Wong Kar Wai’s film In the Mood for Love, Gardam’s Hong Kong attains a sensual, slightly seamy elegance, and it is rife with both repressed erotic tension and opportunities for adventurous indulgence.
The novel began in just such a way as the “epistolary novel,” and Joey Comeau’s newest novel—if we dare call it that—returns us to that form, except here the letters are cover letters, the kind you send when applying for a job.
The Cry of the Sloth Sam Savage. Coffee House Press. $14.95, 224 pp. “He paced to and fro, sometimes wringing his hands in agony, and often making his own woe a theme of scornful merriment.” Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Christmas Banquet In Sam Savage’s The Cry of the Sloth we are stuck with Andrew Whittaker, literary [...]
It was only on my second reading of Zachary Schomburg’s wonderfully strange Scary, No Scary that I realized that the distinct voice of his poems, whose provenance had been eluding me even as it felt deeply familiar, was that childhood storytelling voice. It’s more the voice of a grade-schooler than a three-year-old, but it carries that same sense of urgency, married to a simultaneous awe of and flexibility with language, natural for a child, that adults have to struggle to attain.
The elusiveness of it (along with the hovering-ness of balconies, the kinesis of molecules in general and hockey in specific, and the missing of letters, of interpretation, of other human beings that one is in love with) is the subject of Sawako Nakayasu’s latest collection, Hurry Home Honey: Love Poems 1994–2004. It, for the author, is ungraspable, and so she writes from the slant of time, some past or future she anchors to in order to slip close enough to the elusive moment of which she is always having “been given.”
“Seeing is merciful,” writes Jared Stanley in the second poem in Book Made of Forest. But Stanley often seems at the mercy of his own vision; his eyes are restless, and it is this constant re-shifting of focus, bordering on ecstatic anxiety, that gives the book the inertia that keeps it in motion .”I only run,” Stanley writes, “to look back over my shoulder.”
Jamie Iredell’s first full book of poems, Prose. Poems. a novel., dares its reader to consider the book as a simple drug-and-alcohol-fueled rampage while moving towards manhood. Although drinking and taking drugs form an inextricable thread through the poems, the narrative thrust of the poems as a group—the “novel” part of the title—take the poems far beyond.
I looked up—there was Jonke at the bus stop. And he got on the bus. And I thought, “OK, he’s going to sit next to me.” I know it. And he did. He sat right next to me. And it wasn’t a very crowded bus. And I thought, “OK, you’re never supposed to talk to strangers in Europe—I’m doing it.” So I just said, “You’re Herr Jonke, I believe?” And he said, “Yes, why?” And I said, “Well, I’m writing a scholarly article on you.” He said, “You have to be from Great Britain because nobody from the United States knows who I am.”
The game’s not worth a candle in 99.9% of all novels. Part of it me is like I’m lacking this crucial DNA called “The Plot Gene.” When we cavemen sit around and listen to how caveman number two killed the wild boar . . . I’m bored. I don’t have a narrative gene. I want story to be completely wedded to idea.
“No U.S. publishing house has brought out a single living Hindi novelist in translation in more than a generation.” Hindi translator Jason Grunebaum discusses the state of Hindi writing, language, and publishing—and what American readers are missing out on.
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