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Latest Review: "Faces in the Crowd" by Valeria Luiselli

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a by Valerie Miles on Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney and published by Coffee House Press.

(For those who don’t remember, Faces in the Crowd was the runner-up to the 2014 World Cup of Literature Championship Game, beat out only by Chile’s Roberto Bolaño. Obviously, Luiselli can hold her own.)

Valerie Miles is an American writer, editor and translator who lives in Barcelona. In 2003, she co-founded Granta en español, and among other things, edited and created the recently-published A Thousand Forests in One Acorn: An Anthology of Spanish-Language Fiction. She also translates from the Spanish and Catalán and is a professor in the postgraduate program for literary translation at Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

Here’s the beginning of her review:

At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map for this conceptually complex work of fiction, which comes in a petite, 144-page package. Ms. Luiselli was born in Mexico City, though her father’s diplomatic post brought them to countries like South Korea, South Africa, or India. She now lives in New York City.

Both books spend a great deal of time in subways and cemeteries asking philosophical questions, like what happens to language if you are disappearing? Why write to sustain life like Scheherazade in 1001 Nights? Why not write from death to life? Keeping in mind the Mexican rites on the Day of the Dead, when altars are built to the departed, it’s oddly appropriate that Ms. Luiselli should find in the New York subway a perfect setting for a classical “nekyia” rite, a descent into the underworld to ask ghosts about the future.

The title is taken from Ezra Pound’s fourteen-word Imagist poem titled “In a Station of the Metro”: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd / Petals on a wet, black bough.” The unnamed female character (hilariously catty, telling fibs and swiping things from friends) unreliably narrates Pound’s shock after seeing his friend, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, in a train station in Haarlem, a month after he died in a trench at Neuville St. Vaast. “The doors of the train car opened and he saw the face of his friend appear among the people.” Pound pruned the poem down to an essential image that was “as brief as his dead friend’s appearance, exactly as startling.” This image and this style inaugurate Ms. Luiselli’s novel, which breathes life into the famous Mexican poet and diplomat, Gilberto Owen, who died in Philadelphia half blind and in a delirium tremens, in 1952.

For the rest of the review, go here

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