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.”
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .