This guest post is by Kevin Prufer, whose newest books are National Anthem (Four Way Books, 2008) and Little Paper Sacrifice (Four Way Books, forthcoming). He’s also Editor of New European Poets (Graywolf Press, 2008) and Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing. We’ll have another post by Kevin tomorrow . . .
Who exactly is K.B. the suspect? Is he a sort of Post-Soviet everyman, wandering the streets of Vilnius, bewildered by the rapidly changing city? Or is he something more sinister, a character who, according Marcelijus Martinaitis, was not a member of the KGB, but could have been, had he been asked? Is he a symbol for all Lithuania, or merely an alter-ego of the poet who created him?
He is, of course, all of these things. In Martinaitis’ brilliant poetic sequence, K.B. emerges as both a distinct personality and a slate on which recent Lithuanian history might be written, interpreted, or erased. “The reader does not know for certain what K.B.’s background is and never finds out,” translator Laima Vince writes. “Similarly, in Lithuania today people do not know about their neighbors’ or colleagues’ pasts, and even if they did, there’s nothing they can do about it.”
But for all these poems’ historical and political ambitiousness, K.B. comes across memorably and vividly, quick to make keenly insightful (and sometimes absurd) observations, a loner perpetually cut off from others, commenting on their actions both nervously and analytically. Often, he addresses the beautiful Margarita, who suggests for him both perfect aesthetic beauty and our human inability to achieve transcendence. (Once, he observes her taking out the trash, making “little noble aristocratic steps” among the dumpsters.) Or he comments on the creeping Western influences of commodification and commercialization, at one point interjecting into his narrative an advertisement for Colgate Toothpaste:
the safest thing of all
is the toothpaste Colgate.
I’d also like to remind you
that by using this toothpaste daily
your teeth will remain healthy
a hundred years after you are gone.
All around him, he senses a sort of amorphous danger—perhaps it is Lithuania’s recent past waiting to re-emerge, perhaps it is only nerves—so K.B. keeps to the shadows, observing, fantasizing, and writing it all down. “My documents,” he tells us,
are in order. I haven’t been tried.
I’m without my gun and almost without any thoughts.
Only parasites, all manner of insects,
flies and worms creep across my face,
crawling into my mouth, my nose,
they suck my blood.
Any direction I turn someone is hiding, fleeing,
staring suspiciously, cowering, collaborating, keeping silent:
I could catch them all, crush them under my feet, end it.
Finally, these complex, paranoid poems create for us a sort of shadow-world of the Post-Soviet Eastern European consciousness, a world brought harrowingly to life through Marcelijus Martinaitis’ startling sense of character and Laima Vince’s fluid, witty, and deeply engaging translation.
Mahasweta Devi is not only one of the most prolific Bengali authors, but she’s also an important activist. In fact, for Devi, the two seem to go together. As you can probably tell from the titles, she writes about women. . .
The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband.. . .
Pedro Zarraluki’s The History of Silence (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza García) begins with the narrator and his wife, Irene, setting out to write a book about silence, itself called The History of Silence: “This is the story of how. . .
There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .
In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .
I would like to pose the argument that it is rare for one to ever come across a truly passive protagonist in a novel. The protagonist (perhaps) of Three Light-Years, Claudio Viberti, is just that—a shy internist who lives in. . .
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
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. . .