The new issue of the Quarterly Conversation went live recently and is definitely worth checking out. Every issue of the QC is great, but holy crap is this issue STUFFED with interesting pieces. Here’s a list of some of the essays and reviews that worth checking out:
“Bernhard’s novels move from the present to the past. There is an action, usually a suicide, that has happened before the novel begins. In The Loser it is the suicide of Wertheimer; in The Lime Works it is Konrad’s apparent brutal murder of his wife; in Woodcutters it is the suicide of the ‘movement-teacher’ Joana; in Wittgenstein’s Nephew it is the death of Paul Wittgenstein; and in Concrete it is the continuing inability of Rudolf to write his treatise on Mendelssohn Bartholdy. By the time these novels have begun, all of these actions have already happened. What remains to Bernhard’s characters is to make some sort of sense of these actions, to provide a justification for the suicide, to explain their writers’ block, to seek out from all their relations with society, with history, with their own minds that have made this action somehow necessary or inevitable. They seek causes and try to discover in everything the logic that is dictating events. The main characters are generally both uniquely qualified and supremely unqualified to undertake these investigations.”
“Amanda Michalopoulou: There are writers who make you want to go back into writing. Karapanou makes you want to go back into living your life. She also belongs to this rare community of writers who work beyond influence; they are on their own. When I was in my twenties I tried to imitate my favorite writers, but with Karapanou it never worked. Her voice was so unique and what I wished for was just to listen to her voice. Her atmosphere influenced some of my stories but at that young age I always felt that I failed to create an atmosphere as extraordinary and magical as hers. As she doesn’t belong to a group of writers, her influence within Greek literature is difficult to be measured. I am afraid Greek literature looks always for ethnic characteristics, for more ‘Greekness’ and Karapanou goes beyond Greekness. She is not at all interested in that stuff. Her Hydra is primarily a psychological landscape.”
“Probably the most-read—and -reviewed—independently published book in 2010 has been Las teorías salvajes (‘The Wild Theories’), written by the young Pola Oloixarac, from Argentina. Oloixarac was not only the big literary discovery of the year, she also helped redefine the public image of the writer in Spanish publishing. Oloixarac arguably wrote a kind of bestseller for minorities. As an academic novel (it’s not difficult to think that writers and characters, such as David Lodge, David Lurie, David Kepesch, Kingsley Amis, Roberto Bolaño, or Elizabeth Costello might be some of the author’s references), Las teorías salvajes is about the experience of undergrads in the Argentinean university, the broken hopes of socialism, the emotional and intellectual relationships between teachers and their students, the sexual, emotional, and intellectual relationship of a couple of nerds, and the emotion that comes with the discovery of a beloved author (the same pleasure experienced by the first reviewers in Spain who made Oloixarac ‘the next big thing’).”
“Alfredo Iriarte’s Tropical Bestiary: Dictator Chronicles, a collection of biographies of nine Latin American dictators, is a text that refuses to be faithful to established institutions and ideologies. It resists and undermines mainstream historiography, and rebels against what Iriarte viewed as a whitewashing of barbarism and cruelty with glorious myths of national progress. Iriarte’s approach is both to emphasize horrific and grotesque moments in Latin American history, and to fictionalize history, abandoning strict historical accuracy and incorporating apocrypha and popular legends into the portraits, preferring literary qualities over stodgy factual precision.”
“That story begins with a geological prologue of the glacier melt, which, millennia later, would result in the Brandenburg lakes. From there it picks up at a newly unified Germany of the 1890s and the wealthy farmer who presides over the land—and who ultimately parcels off tracts to be sold during the Weimar years to an architect and to a Jewish cloth manufacturer. Russian liberating forces pillage it at the end of the Second World War. Its occupants flee to West Berlin before the Wall is built. German Bolsheviks return from their war-time exile in Russia and settle onto the property, now collectivized by municipal authorities of the GDR. The fall of the Wall gives rise to dispute over who the rightful owners are. The house falls into disrepair, and by book’s end, it is razed.”
“All which makes this book sound rather dramatic and maybe a bit boring. But it’s neither of those things. There is drama: a dog dies, Mandelkern makes a decision about fatherhood, children are born, a man tragically passes away. Pletzinger continually undercuts these with humor and the sense that these things just happened; he is less interested in the shock and sensation of the events, much more interested in the ways in which the telling of a story can define a person. As Mandelkern asks at one point, ‘How can someone really tell his own story?’”
“I was continually struck while reading Touch by the ways in which scenes and images are constructed with an exceptionally ‘painterly’ quality, focusing in elemental ways on the color, form, and perspective of the girl’s surroundings. Shibli’s prose (through the lens of Paula Haydar’s skillful translation of the original Arabic) is polished and subtle, as in this characteristic quality of description: ‘No matter how black the courtyard was, the shaded area would always be blacker.’”
“Bill Johnston’s deft translation of Myśliwski’s magnificent 1984 novel finally gives English-speaking readers access to one of Poland’s most talented and highly respected chroniclers of the twentieth century. Myśliwski, who has twice received his country’s most prestigious literary prize, the NIKE, is nowhere better than he is here: this is a glorious book, a life-affirming, world-affirming book, in which history is story, and the stories of its hero and narrator, Szymek Pietruszka, follow one upon another like stone upon stone, as in the folk song from which the title is taken. Stone upon stone, or the slow, patient work of the peasant upon the land. This slowness, and this patience, is the novel’s core.”
“Manazuru is about connection and disconnection, location and dislocation. After becoming involved with a married man whom she keeps at a distance, Kei is unable to find (for lack of a better term) ‘closure.’ And because her husband’s disappearance is still an open question she chooses to revel in it, hover over it, obsess on it. Unable to trust, unable to believe her own senses, she lives in a quiet panic, prevented from connecting to her daughter, her mother, or her lover. The only real connection she has is to ‘the woman’ who may be a ghost or may be a figment of Kei’s warped and deluded vision of herself. And it is this woman who both pulls her to Manazuru and causes her isolation.”
“But on the whole, the anthology falls short of what I had hoped for. My first real issue is the selection of the poets. I’m troubled by the fetishization of ‘women’s literature’ in a way that seems to prioritize gender over everything else, as though the mere fact of being a woman makes these poets worth reading. This is a problem, I think, with the abuse of the gender-theory discourse, one that assumes that since historically non-heteromale writing and voices have been elided or eliminated, claiming a position outside of that hegemony automatically lends significance and interest to a work. This cheapens the position for those who are truly concerned with the substance of these positions.”
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .