World Literature Today, Sept-Oct 2016

sept16_220pxThe current issue of World Literature Today features an essay by Dubravka Ugrešić, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać, about misogyny and identity that I found meaningful as a reflection on my own writing and identity as a writer. She says,

For years I have been trying to dodge the label “Croatian writer” or “Croatian writer who lives in Amsterdam,” though my life experience has confirmed that this sort of tattoo is almost impossible to remove. Why? Because most people use ethnic coordinates when remembering, classifying, defining, and judging others.

… in Croatia (like, indeed, so many other places), male writers represent their homeland, state, nation, and national literature; their works harmoniously build the national literary canon. Female writers may either profit by or be victimized by such constellations. Mostly they are victimized.

Other highlights from this issue include a feature on Gulf Literature, here represented by several authors from Mexico, the US South, and Cuba. A powerful excerpt from LeAnne Howe’s “Savage Conversations” tells the story of Mary Todd Lincoln being judged insane because she was haunted by an Indian. “And I believe her,” Howe begins. A powerful way to contextualize her work as feminist and post-colonial. The rest of the piece is crazy and brilliant.

The interview with Alain Mabanckou does a great job of introducing this writer by his reading list. I love his project of actively trying to read–and to be influenced by–lit from around the world. He wants to cover all continents, it seems. This is worth skimming for his reading list alone. Some of the African writers he names are Aimé Césaire, Édouard Glissant, René Maran, Mongo Beti, Camara Laye.

In the marvelous World Literature in Review section, a brief mention of a recently translated Natalia Gromova’s Moscow in the 1930 (Trans. Christopher Culver). Go ahead and buy this book. For all interested in twentieth century Russian lit, this is required reading.

Kirstin Valdez Quade’s essay in the New York Times

Kirstin Valdez Quade has had a very unique childhood, and it’s a credit to her art that when she writes about it, I’m instantly there with her, uncomfortable as hell, and reaching, reaching.

When I was 11 and my sister 6, my parents pulled us out of our new Australian school for a six-week-long research trip across the belly of the continent. A year earlier, we had moved from the United States to Canberra, where my dad was doing post-doctorate work in geochemistry at the Australian National University, and now we were setting out to explore this vast new country.

Our four-wheel drive — on loan from the university — was a troop carrier that could, in a pinch, be used to transport prisoners.

Read The Season of the Skulls in the New York Times.

Two Lines: Fall Issue

Two Lines Press has come out with a new anthology of world writing in translation, their Fall 2016 Issue. My favorite piece in this book is the first, “Sea Swell” by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. This is how it opens,

I had a friend once. Indeed, at the time, I only had one friend. His name was Andrés and he lived in Paris and, much to his delight, I traveled to that city to see him. The very evening of my arrival, he introduced me to Marguerite Duras, who was a friend of his. Unfortunately, that evening, I had taken two or three amphetamines.

The voice is humorously self-depreciating, yet confident in telling an important story.  The line notes tell me that Vila-Matas specializes in “stories and novels that plays with the interrelation between fiction and reality,” so I’m reading this as roman à clef. Whether or not the author has actually ever met Marguerite Duras really doesn’t matter as much as the question whether this piece is a stand-alone story or a part of a larger narrative. The ending, though not abrupt, leaves me wanting a lot more.

An accompanying story appears on the Press’s website, “Vampire in Love.”  I haven’t yet had a chance to read it, and I’m a little put off by the title, but I hope to get to it soon.

In the printed anthology, another piece that stood out to me, is “Eni Furtado Has Never Stopped Running” by Alicia Kozameh, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger. A woman has come to the cemetery to clean her father’s remains. The narrator gives us nearly every bone of this man’s body, together with the smell and, ehrm, taste. Contemporary literature seems, at times, peaked on finding limit experiences, taboos to break, and this piece is that. I’m not sure whether I liked it because or in spite of this.