Reviewed by Olivia Heal
“Our first breast-feeding friendly piece,” tweeted an editor of The White Review when “Appendix F,” one of the eleven appendices gathered in Kate Zambreno’s Appendix Project, was published online. Printed as a thin column, it is easy to scroll and read one-handed, while breastfeeding. The acknowledgement of the mother-child dyad is a theme that underlies Zambreno’s recent work: “Appendix F” positions the nursing mother and child “on a bench in front of the El Greco ‘Holy Family’ at the Met,” “outside the bubblegum phallic Franz West sculpture at MASS MoCA” and “in front of a Harry Dodge video at the New Museum’s gender show.” While never the explicit focus of Appendix Project, the talks and essays gathered here are shot through with references to the practice of raising a young child. There’s a sense of gentle provocation here—inserting a screen into the mother-child dyad, juxtaposing the maternal function, or, say, the breastfeeding toddler, with a variety of artworks—one that figures the maternal subject as a central concern in an area where she has long been beside, or outside, the point. And, a suggestion that the “pram in the hall” is no longer an impediment to the creative act but potentially responsible for creating the conditions for writing. . .
Reviewed by Tomoé Hill
In Julio Cortázar’s eighth guest class on literature at Berkeley in 1980, he draws a distinction between eroticism and pornography in literature: in essence, the former encapsulates the personal, while the latter reflects the impersonal, or as he puts it, commercial. While the nuances and sometimes necessary integration of the two in successful writing may be argued, generally speaking what can be applied to the writing of sex can also be said to apply to the writing of death. In its most unsuccessful iterations, death on the page translates either to indifference or else to a spectacle in the Debordian sense: as numbing as it is violent, or saturated with misjudged emotive overflow, neither making any point beyond the act itself—regardless of any degree of passivity or activity. Even though there is no such thing as a predictable response to death in everyday life, on the page such imbalances end up showing what could be called the “ultimate authentic experience” as one stripped of its humanity. And so attempts at writing the end of life become fraught with the paradoxical problem of imbuing it with too much. . .
Reviewed by Jessie Ferguson
A throwaway line I read once compared Bachmann’s literary stature in the German-speaking world to that of Virginia Woolf in English. The two writers are wildly different; but in thinking of Woolf’s great Künstlerinroman together with Bachmann’s, I considered Lily Briscoe’s vision in To the Lighthouse, concluded and conclusive. Even after all her own triumphs, it was impossible for Bachmann to grant her narrator a corresponding note of unequivocal triumph. Bachmann’s final poem and famous farewell to poetry, translated as “No Delicacies,” ends with the line “Mein Teil, es soll verloren gehen”: my part, let it be lost, or, in another translation: my share, let it be dispersed. In an earlier poem, “Songs in Flight,” she ends with an image of “the song above the dust [that] will one day rise above us.” Malina is the dark side of those visions of transcendence and succession; its focus is sharply trained on loss. Malina would like to be a gift, but it can’t forget the thefts that placed it in the giver’s hands (and the receivers’, one and all). Its song may endure, but not before it finally, briefly, resolves itself into the human shape of its absent singer.
Reviewed by Sarah Gerard
Just forty-three pages in total, Morelia feels expansive. The telescoping structure of the narrative is one reason. In its early pages, the story regularly slips into and opens the parallel realm of the narrator’s dream, which may be real. Renee Gladman expertly pivots on a word or phrase, such that the dream and the reality of the story, as well as a book the narrator reads, are contiguous. The dream and the book are fictional worlds rendering the world in which the narrator moves factual by comparison. Or perhaps this pivoting simply calls attention to the way in which we regularly, as readers, regard fiction as fact; how the line between fact and fiction is arbitrary…
Reviewed by Hilah Kohen
Yes, this is the work of a practicing doctor with his tongue in his cheek and his home in the Russian countryside. No, as reviewers of this book have been quick to point out, this is not Chekhov. There may be a love triangle and a duel involved, but here, death is anticlimactic: the loser’s remains are accidentally destroyed in a precision missile test. Other stories forgo romance plots gone wrong for premises that seem to come straight from today’s news reels—only to turn those narratives inside-out as well. For example, a young woman kills her would-be rapist in an act of self-defense and lands in jail—where she manages to convince a regional legislator that what the country really needs is an Islamic rebirth. . .
Reviewed by Aaron Peck
Her poems are shards that pierce us. A cluster is a collection of things, often of fruits or flowers. It can describe the proximity of celestial bodies, such as a star or galaxy cluster, or gatherings of eggs or cells. It is also a kind of bomb, which looks something like a handball. Upon detonation, a cluster bomb sprays metal pellets over a wide blast range. Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped more than two million tons of them over Laos; cluster bombs have killed or maimed around 50,000 people in southeast Asia during a war that Richard Nixon never acknowledged. A cluster is also an excruciating kind of headache. Souvankham Thammavongsa’s poetics rest on these kinds of polyvalences. In her work, things that appear simple require close attention. When we give it to them, they have an emotional blast-range. . .
Reviewed by Ray Davis
The Warm South begins where a dozen biographies end and a hundred poems linger, in 1821 at the Roman deathbed of twenty-five year old John Keats, the definitive dead poet, an orphaned unrecognized genius cruelly cut down through no fault of his own. The fellow who said, “Beauty is truth; truth beauty.”
Not a promising subject for fiction, then, outside of dewy-eyed bio-pics and other vehicles in need of a tragic young death. Whereas by page four of The Warm South, we find a “John Keats” whose fatal tuberculosis is in complete remission, miraculously so far we’re concerned but well within the bizarre range of prognoses imagined by his doctor. . .
Reviewed by Jeffrey Zuckerman
The strange charm of Robert Menasse’s polyphonic The Capital is in how it suggests that such an European Union is inextricably bound to its diversity of member countries, and yet utterly dependent on their continued collaboration. An endeavor made possible only by understanding the particular whims and fancies driving each character in this drama...
Reviewed by Daniel Fraser
Whilst The Besieged City is a novel about things, it is also one about language and the act of literary creation. After all, the thing may be a material object but, as the fictional Angela in A Breath of Life reminds us in her remarks about her own nonexistent novel called The Besieged City, “a word is also a thing.” The act of production, the creation of a text, a character, a work, becomes radically altered in the face of the vast accumulation of material objects predicated by the acceleration of capitalist modernity. The possibility of creating meaning, purpose, is always under the threat of destruction….
Review by Melissa Beck
German author Christine Wunnicke’s latest novel to appear in English, The Fox and Dr. Shimamura, is a mythical, mystical, and at times bizarre tale of a late nineteenth-century Japanese doctor who is sent to remote areas of the Shimane prefecture to cure women of fox possession. The book begins at the end, as Dr. Shimamura’s career as a renowned neurologist has passed, and his memories of curing fox possession and other forms of female hysteria are told in a feverish state from his sick bed. His hazy memories also bring us through his time in Europe, where he meets and studies with other famous doctors, Charcot and Breuer, who have an interest in ailments that particularly affect females. . .
Review by Nick Oxford
Could we call Nocilla Trilogy a revolution? As radical as the term seems, it’s hard to deny that Agustín Fernández Mallo’s text represents a radical shift within Spanish-language fiction that has yet to fully surface in the English-speaking world…
Review by Matt Turner
Most American readers of Chinese poetry come to it through classic translations by Ezra Pound, Gary Snyder, Burton Watson, and a few others. With some notable exceptions, those translations have tended to focus on the poetic triumvirate of the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE): Li Bai (Li Po), Du Fu (Tu Fu), and Wang Wei. The literary context in which those three Tang poets are placed—in China as well as the US—is part of a long, ascendant tradition in Chinese letters, beginning to certain degree with the early anthology that Confucius legendarily put together: The Shijing, better known in English as the Book of Odes or the Book of Songs (Pound translated it as Shih-Ching: The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius). The poems of the Shijing, which often seem little more than folk ditties, span seven centuries during the fabled Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BCE)—the time, according to Confucius in his Analects, when politics and society were ordered as they should be. In China, the Zhou and Tang periods are acknowledged as two golden ages, exemplars of what is best in the Chinese tradition. A trajectory of one to the other is easily assumed.
Review by Eddie Baker
David Wojnarowicz’s recent Whitney retrospective—aptly titled History Keeps Me Awake at Night—bespeaks the lapses and pitfalls that come with digging into the past. Wojnarowicz, catapulting gloriously between the mediums of collage, sculpture, photography, painting, writing, and No Wave music, called into question the cultural mythologies that shape the writing of history. Inhabiting the very periphery of American life, Wojnarowicz operated from the privileged yet precarious position of the outsider. “I have always felt alienated in this country,” he writes in his memoir Close To the Knives, “and thus have lived with the sensation of being an observer of my own life as it occurs.” Living with HIV at a time when widespread misinformation and government neglect forced AIDS patients to the margins of society, Wojnarowicz struggled to voice his personal account of AIDS with volume, urgency, and accuracy. His work demands an uncompromising history of the AIDS crisis. And so it is crucial to ask: How did the Whitney and the exhibition’s framing of Wojnarowicz’s work engage with this history?
Reviewed by Sam Carter
True and false selves, and the complex interrelationships between the two, are everywhere to be found in Julián Fuks’ Resistance, a reflective and reflexive work in which Winnicott’s name crops up repeatedly, a cryptic influence for readers to decipher. As he depicts the frustrating and frequently frustrated process of writing a book, Sebastián, the lightly fictionalized version of Fuks serving as the narrator, examines the life of his older, adopted brother, whose name is never revealed. Even as he resists the lure of a purely psychoanalytical perspective, Sebastián does analyze the ways his brother confronts inescapable issues of truths and fictions, of true selves and false selves, as he grows up in a family that both is and is not his…
Reviewed by Amanda DeMarco
The Weimar era may be more renowned for German artistic production, but the Wilhelmine era—1890 to 1918—was perhaps a time of even more wildly prolific, path-breaking artistic creation. The Berlin-based publishing house Rixdorf Editions publishes translations only from that era, and its most recent release is Death, a bold work of prose by Anna-Croissant Rust, translated with skill and sensitivity by James Conway.
Reviewed by Rachel Veroff
May 13, 2017: This is the date that Olivia Laing’s new novel Crudo opens. The heroine, Kathy, has just gotten off a plane from New York, and she is “crazy as a bedbug.” She is getting married. Kathy has written several books—including Great Expectations and Blood and Guts in High School—and she expects you to have heard of them. (They are, in fact, titles by the real-life Kathy Acker, who died in 1997, and whose writings and letters are liberally quoted in the pages of Crudo.) Fans of Acker will recognize the punk poet’s voice immediately: youthful, irreverent, manic, hilarious. Fans of Olivia Laing’s distinctive style, on the other hand, will need to pause after the first page, take a deep breath, and marvel at how ambitious this endeavor is. In so expertly channeling Acker, Laing has not only demonstrated her amazing versatility as a writer, but also offered a surprising guide for our times.
Reviewed by Joseph Schrieber
A mood, an atmosphere, rises up from the opening pages of Esther Kinsky’s River—a melancholy that unfolds so softly, so insistently that I repeatedly had to remind myself that I was reading words that originally existed in German. I found myself wondering: What would the German feel like in my hands? How would its texture taste, guttural tones against the back of my throat? These are questions that, in their asking, underscore how River is a text to linger in, to touch, to absorb, and recognize one’s self in…
Reviewed by Jonathan Wlodarski
“Whenever I set off on any sort of journey I fall off the radar. I think there are a lot of people like me. Who aren’t around, who’ve disappeared. They show up all of a sudden in the arrivals terminal and start to exist when the immigrations officers stamp their passport, or when the polite receptionist at whatever hotel hands over their key.” The woman speaking, perpetually traveling, is one of many voices animating the one hundred sixteen parts of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights. These pieces build to something off the radar, a far cry from novels or short story collections in the conventional sense. If anything, they’re like people in transit, abstractions shot through with alarmingly distinctive features, demanding to be recognized in order to exist: the woman walking through the airport in rainboots, the child clutching a stuffed iguana on the bus. Like these people, the accumulation of fragments in Flights invites new perspectives and startling revelations…
Reviewed by Margaret Grabar Sage
A small figure strolls across the page at the start of each section of QWERTY Invectives, accompanied by its shadow. Each drawing has a different physique, different clothing, and sometimes a prop (a stroller, a cane, a dog), but their shadows hang dark and large, distorting their bodies into funny and sinister new shapes. These little drawings may be the least significant detail in the whole cahier, but they are also exquisite reflections of the text that surrounds them. Besides, Éric Chevillard is not one to dismiss insignificant details. QWERTY’s sections are defined and organized by topic, yet what we get each time is an entertaining and revealing distortion. Chevillard, as commanding and hilarious as always, is constantly shifting his grip on reality—not losing his mind, but finding it in the most unexpected places.
Reviewed by Hannah LeClair
In the opening pages of Norah Lange’s People in the Room, a flash of lightning blanches all the corners of a young girl’s bedroom on Calle Juramento, and illuminates the mask-like faces of three women sitting in the living room of the house next door. In that instant, recounts Lange’s unnamed narrator, “I saw them for the first time, began to watch them, and as I watched them, slowly examining their three faces in a row, one barely more elevated than the others, it seemed to me that I held—like the suit of clubs in a game of cards—the pale clover of their faces fanned out in my hand.” Lange’s darkly surreal novel crystallizes around this single moment of transfixion. For Lange’s teenaged narrator, the glimpse of these three women’s mysterious faces is like an “indelible first portrait” or “the beginning of an accidental life story” and her longing to uncover their story becomes an obsession that positions her as the protagonist of a strange narrative. Lange’s narrator enthralls—as she is herself enthralled by the women she watches from her window . . .