26 May 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Just in time for BookExpo, the summer fiction issue of Bookforum is now available in print and online.

This year’s special fiction issue is all about fiction forward:

We invited dozens of publishers to submit excerpts from books that will be published in the fall and winter, and we selected six of the very best. But “Fiction Forward” doesn’t refer just to this peek at forthcoming work. Indeed, the stories we tell ourselves are constantly moving forward, taking in the world apace and recalibrating to accommodate fresh news. Forward is also the direction in which good fiction takes its readers. In thrall to a gifted storyteller, we can discover—often with an astonishing degree of specificity—just who we, individually, collectively, are becoming. Even when addressing distant events and people, fiction speaks to us directly about what it means to be alive today and tomorrow.

The six featured authors—Ryan Boudinot, Michelle Huneven, Terrence Holt, Xiaoda Xiao, Michiel Heyns, and Holly Goddard Jones—all look pretty interesting, and each piece is paired with a graphic artist, and introduced by another writer. (I like Junot Diaz’s super-enthusiastic bit about Terrence Holt: “There is no one in the wide sea of English who writes like him (as far as I know); no one who is so profound and mysterious, so searingly human and so implacably apocalyptic. I always describe Holt as Melville + Poe + Borges but with a heart far more capacious than any of them were capable of mustering.”)

In addition to these six excerpts and the usual collection of great fiction and nonfiction reviews by very talented reviewers, there’s also a nice long piece on recent publications by African authors. Looking at four recent publications — Gods and Soldiers, edited by Rob Spillman, The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Secret Son by Laila Lalami, and the NYRB reprint of Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih — James Gibbons’s piece is both informative and interesting:

Are we in the midst of an “African literary renaissance,” as Spillman contends, an el boom from the other side of the Atlantic? Perhaps, but the surge of African writing is tellingly different from the Latin American explosion of the ’60s. Besides being identified with magic realism (though not all its writers practiced it), the literature of the Latin American boom was already formed within the region’s own institutions and coteries before being packaged in translation and exported. The new African writing is emphatically not homegrown. Forged in the crucible of globalization, it is a literature largely of displacement and exile. Most striking in scanning the biographical notes in Gods and Soldiers is how few of its contributors, especially the younger ones, live in the countries in which they were born. Nearly all the Francophone writers have settled in France, and the typical English-language writer has an American MFA and professorship.

13 February 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Laila Lalami reviews Alain Mabanckou’s Broken Glass in The National

“In Africa, when an old person dies, a library burns.”

When the Malian writer and ethnologist Amadou Hampâté Bâ uttered these words at a Unesco assembly in 1960, he was attempting to draw attention to Africa’s tradition of oral storytelling. Little did he know that his aphorism would turn into one of the most persistent clichés about the continent, one that unfortunately reinforced the erroneous idea that there was no tradition of written literature in Africa prior to European colonialism. Early on in Alain Mabanckou’s new novel Broken Glass (to be published this month in translation from French to English), the proprietor of a seedy bar in Brazzaville, who is referred to only as Stubborn Snail, hears the slogan and derisively responds that it “depends which old person, don’t talk crap, I only trust what’s written down.”

15 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

One of our favorite presses, Archipelago’s been getting a lot of good attention for a couple of their recent titles: Yalo by Elias Khoury and Autonauts of the Cosmoroute by Julio Cortazar.

Specifically, the Khoury book received a great review by Laila Lalami in this weekend’s L.A. Times:

bq, With Yalo, Khoury returns to Beirut in the 1980s with a book that is a series of jagged narratives shifting in time, location and point of view. The novel gives us, like pieces of a puzzle, the story of Daniel Jal’u, nicknamed Yalo. He is a soldier who, after 10 years spent on one of the many sides of Lebanon’s sectarian civil war, gradually becomes a deserter, a thief, a vagabond in Paris, a night watchman in Beirut, a traitor to his benefactor, an arms smuggler, a voyeur and eventually a rapist. Then Yalo falls in love with the young Shirin, and that single act of affection ends in his capture; she turns him in to the police and accuses him of rape. [. . .]

And yet, Khoury’s writing style departs from the typically realist modes of his peers and more closely resembles the stream of consciousness of a writer like William Faulkner. He favors repetition as a stylistic device, and the endings of his stories often circle back to their beginnings. Point of view in his novels doesn’t so much change as dart from one character to another. His experimentation with narrative style can be a bit challenging, but it certainly makes for a unique perspective in Arab letters.

I’m a sucker for anything Faulknerian, but besides that this sounds like a really interesting book. (One that we will be reviewing in the very near future.)

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