Gunnhild Øyehaug’s Knots, Review

I recommend Gunnhild Øyehaug’s short story collection Knots, out from FSG this summer.

It felt foreordained to open this short story collection by the Norwegian writer Gunnhild Øyehaug and find IKEA on the first page, as in: “…park the car outside IKEA.” IKEA, now based in the Netherlands, originated in Sweden, but to many foreigners, it personifies Scandinavia—pleasant and unthreatening. “Blah, how boring,” was my first thought. Then, trying to stave off disappointment at being welcomed by the all-too-familiar global brand, I told myself, “Well, I guess IKEA did start somewhere nearby. Perhaps, Scandinavians have a particular attachment to clean lines.” (Nervous laughter.) I know that stereotyping is a form of blindness; in practice, my desire for novelty trips me up and leads to overly broad generalizations. Like a tourist, I had to remind myself to check my expectations at the airport.

Gunnhild Øyehaug’s Norway begins, indeed, with the comfortably familiar. . . .

Read the rest of my review on The Common.

Strange Weather in Tokyo

From Hiromi Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo, translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell,

He was my Japanese teacher at secondary school. He wasn’t my form teacher, and Japanese didn’t interest me much, so I didn’t really remember him. Since I finished school, I hadn’t seen him for quite a while.

Several years ago, we sat beside each other at a crowded bar near the train station, and after that, our paths would cross every now and then. that night, he was sitting at the counter, his back so straight it was almost concave.

Taking my seat at the counter, I ordered “Tuna with fermented soybeans, fried lotus root, and salted shallots,” while the old man next to me requested “Salted shallots, lotus root fries, and tuna with fermented soybeans” almost simultaneously. when I glanced over, I saw he was staring straight back at me.

This delightful book can be found through the publisher’s website.

On the infinite wisdom of Ursula Le Guin

I’m rereading A Wizard of Earthsea. It’s marvelously wise, and to think that it was one of the earliest of Le Guin’s published novels! I’ve read interviews with Le Guin, where she credits her discovery of feminism with uplifting her career. “A Wizard of Earthsea” predates her feminist work, but there are fun ways of reading it as a proto-feminist narrative, I believe.

Here’s a passage that comes at the end of Ged’s schooling; he’s graduated and became a full-staffed wizard. Now he needs to leave the school, and for that he needs to guess the name of The Master Doorkeeper.

Ged knew a thousand ways and crafts and means for finding out names of things and of men, of course; such craft was a part of everything he had learned at school, for without it there could be little useful magic done. But to find out the name of a Mage and Master was another matter. A mage’s name is better hidden than a herring in the sea, better guarded than a dragon’s den. A prying charm will be met with a stronger charm, subtle devices will fail, devious inquiries will be deviously thwarted, and force will be turned ruinously back upon itself. . . . .

 

After the sun was up Ged went, still fasting, to the door of the House and knocked. The Doorkeeper opened.

“Master,” said Ged, “I cannot take your name from you, not being strong enough, and I cannot trick your name from you, not being wise enough. So I am content to stay here, and learn or serve, whatever you will: unless by chance you will answer a question I have.”

“Ask it.”

“What is your name?”

Buy and read the rest of the book.

Show Her a Flower, a Bird, a Shadow

Peg Alford Pursell is one of the writers whose work I’ve been following for some years, having met her when she moved to the Bay Area and became a regular, for a time, at the San Francisco Writers Workshop. It’s a particular pleasure to hold in my hands a book that I feel I already know intimately, from having seen some of the stories in drafts, from knowing the author’s aesthetic and using that as a jumping off point into the reading. my-book-cover-in-this-size-2_2_0

But what if the book proves to be too familiar, too well-known, its movements too predictable? Will the writer still surprise, like a partner after many years of marriage? The risk is high, and the reward — oh the reward. Being allowed into the inner world of another human being, being encouraged to examine the corridors of her heart, laid out in all of their complexity, the dizzying sensation of falling into the words as into a looking glass.

Show Her a Flower, a Bird, a Shadow delivers all that. I’m about halfway through. Looking at its cover, I thought of describing it as baroque for a kind of exuberance in the detail of the bird and the petals. Such a perfect cover to this book, where the sparseness of language coexists with sudden proliferation, of streamlined sentences opening unexpectedly into luxurious, and soaring, flourishes.

The Catography of Others

Catherine McNamara is a uniquely gifted writer, able to translate her amazing travel and life experiences into thought-provoking fiction. I’ve read some of Catherine’s work, and I’m delighted to welcome her upcoming book, The Cartography of Others. It’s being crowdfunded by a UK-based press, Unbound. This promises to be a super cool campaign with some awesome pledges — how about an opera date in Verona?

The Cartography of Others is a collection of twenty stories that take place from fumy Accra to the Italian Dolomites, from suburban Sydney to high-rise Hong Kong. Lives are mapped, unpicked, crafted, overturned. Each story inhabits a location that becomes as vital as the characters themselves, men and women who are often far from home, immersed in unfamiliar cultures, estranged from those they hold dear. Love is panicked, worn, tested.

There’s a cool book video, too.

https://unbound.com/books/the-cartography-of-others