I’m delighted to see my review of Margarita Khemlin’s powerful novel Klotsvog in Lisa C. Hayden’s translation up on The Common. Huge thanks to Nina Sudhakar for editing.
The piece is available online for free, and I urge you to spread the word, subscribe, and donate to this wonderful publication that focuses on writing of place. And they pay their writers, too!
“The year is 1950 in Kiev. A twenty-year-old college student, Maya Klotsvog, falls in love with her professor, Viktor Pavlovich. He’s eight years older and married. One day, the professor’s wife, Darina Dmitrievna, catches up with Maya at the tram stop and reveals that her husband loves Maya and has asked for a divorce. He wants to marry Maya and have children with her. But Darina Dmitrievna adds something else: “You’re Jewish and your children would be half Jewish. And you yourself know what the situation is now. You read the papers, listen to the radio. And then that shadow would fall on Viktor Pavlovich himself, too. Anything can happen. Don’t you agree? Babi Yar over there is full of half-bloods.”
It just so happens that three of my friends from writing workshops are coming out with their debuts this spring. As it turns out, this spring is a very strange time to be bringing out a book into the world — coronavirus has upended most book parties and closed many bookstores. Parties are moving online in some fun, creative solutions, yet I fear that many writers and many bookstores are going to suffer for it.
All that is an aside more than a preamble to my intro of four exciting new books. I know these projects closely, from reading multiple drafts, and I cannot wait to see how they look between the covers.
The Pelton Papers by Mari Coates, is a novel from the life of Agnes Pelton, a modernist painter who died in 1961 and is only now finally finds recognition. An exhibit of her work is currently on tour around the nation, and who knows how the coronavirus will affect people’s ability to view the art. Once you read the book, though, you are going to be looking for this art in every museum out there, my promise.
Home Baked by Alia Volz. I first heard a part of this memoir ages ago, when Alia performed it at a Litquake reading. I have the image of baby Alia in a stroller as her mother pushes her down San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, peddling pot brownies that she keeps in a duffel under the stroller. She’s known as The Brownie Lady and is selling to the local business people and street acts. Later, I’ve seen several iterations of Alia’s memoir in workshop, and I can’t wait to see how the scene I fell in love with fits in with the rest.
Kept Animals by Kate Milliken. In a typical workshop, people bring in about 15-20 pages of writing for participants to discuss. For novels, this can be deadly–the format completely breaks up the flow of a novel, and participants lose track of characters and story lines from one month to the next. Commenting is a challenge, because the participant really should hold most of her questions to herself. With this novel, I remember thinking, how is today’s chapter even a part of the same book? The pieces seemed to be so different from one another, and it took me a few months to start piecing it together in my mind. I’m so ready to just dive into this book.
BONUS: A few more exciting spring books by writers I admire. Please buy them and spread the word!
I’m delighted to have this review up on The Common. It took longer to write than I had anticipated, in part, because every time I returned to this book, there was more to say about it. So many fascinating layers!
Outstanding books often have a way of catching the reader by surprise, one insight, one unexpected narrative shift at a time. Niña Weijers, a debut novelist from the Netherlands, begins her book as a character study of her protagonist, Minnie Panis. Minnie is a conceptual artist of growing international reputation, whose career has been built on acts of public self-abnegation. With each turn of the page, Weijers extends her subject and thematic reach, keeping her protagonist in focus while exploring contemporary art, mysticism, Mayan beliefs, and early childhood development (among other themes) to enrich our understanding of Minnie’s character and the forces that govern her life.
Minnie’s story is told by an omniscient narrator who documents Minnie’s history of “disappearances”: moments of near death and of extreme out of body experiences, all of which Hester Velmans, an NEA fellowship recipient for translation, has rendered to strong effect in plain and unpretentious language. The prologue introduces us to Minnie in February, 2012 when she falls through a frozen lake in Amsterdam. This is described as a deliberate gesture—not a suicide attempt, but rather a Houdini-like disappearing act, Minnie’s third. But why such a radical performance? The ensuing narrative leads us on an investigation. . . .
A powerful little book that begins with an analysis of a single episode from the writer’s past, an incident that happened when she was twelve. This book breaks so many writerly rules — in such a satisfying, rewarding way. The translation is by Tanya Leslie.
The quote is from the end of the first section.
Naturally I shall not opt for narrative, which would mean inventing reality instead of searching for it. Neither shall I content myself with merely picking out and transcribing the images I remember; I shall process them like documents, examining them from different angles to give them meaning. In other words, I shall carry out an ethnological study of myself.
(It may not be necessary to commit such observations to paper, but I won’t be able to start writing properly until I have some idea of the shape this writing will take.)
I may have chosen to be impartial because I thought the indescribable events I witness in my twelfth year would fate away, lost in the universal context of laws and language. Or maybe I succumbed to a mad and deadly impulse suggested by the words of a missal which I now find impossible to read, a ritual which my mind associates with some Voodoo ceremony–take this, all of you, and read it, this is my body, this is the cup of my blood, it will be shed for you and for all men.
I heard this author read during Litquake and bought the book. Part heist novel, part a novel about becoming a mother, it blends the genres so effortlessly that, having finished the book, I’m convinced that motherhood is a kind of a heist. Translated from Swedish by Saskia Vogel. A beautiful edition by the Black Cat imprint of Grove Atlantic.
The baby’s named Dream. (What a cool name!)
She put one arm over the baby, who had gone back to nursing, and rested her head on the other, trying to unwind and sink into the sofa. She focused on her body, one part at a time; she noticed her teeth clenching and opened her mouth all the way. Opening and shutting it and working her jaw from side to side to relieve the tension. …
Dream downed the milk, swallowing while nuzzled into her white breast. Round as the baby’s cheeks and head, round as the areola that peeked out because Dream hadn’t gotten a proper grip on her nipple again. Round and round, rounds and rounds. The milk dribbled out of the baby’s mouth and ran down her breast, leaving a sticky trail on her skin and a wet stain on her robe.
Does the body keep producing breast milk after death? If something were to happen to her, if she choked or a blood vessel burst in her brain or if someone were to break in and take her out for good, it would probably be a while before anyone would miss her. But if she had enough milk in her breasts, then Dream might have a chance of surviving until someone showed up.