Minae Mizumura’s second novel to be translated in English, Inheritance from Mother, comes out May 2, and today we’re pleased to share the gorgeous cover with you. We spoke to Kathleen DiGrado, the talent behind the cover, who had this to say:

“The design process was intuitive for me, so it’s difficult to describe. I have had trouble several times in the past when the AIGA, GRAPHIS, or another of the design organizations asked me to do the same when winning an award; once I just wrote a haiku.

To be quite honest, I was sad when I designed this cover. My mother is Japanese, and she was recently diagnosed with dementia/early Alzheimer’s, so there are many parallels between my present situation and Mitsuki’s.

I wanted to hint at the design for Minae Mizumura’s previous work, A True Novel, so I was delighted to once again use the traditional Japanese crest frames from a wonderful book I have. I wanted it to look elegant but somewhat somber. It’s quite easy for cherry blossoms to come off as a cliché, but they really are an important part of Japanese culture, and certainly for the older generation. I thought if we could somehow simulate the blossoms and frames as if they were printed on rice paper, in an imperfect way, this would convey the inner complexities faced by the dutiful Japanese daughter. The gold foil stamp adds another layer of the glimmer of hope fading. Love, beauty, contempt, and longing…I hope the cover conveys at least some of those themes.”

read full text


Read an excerpt from George Prochnik’s Stranger in a Strange Land in the New Yorker

A Guide to Religious Anarchy: Gershom Scholem’s Kabbalah

 

When I was growing up, I saw my father letting the flame of his Jewish identity burn down as low as it could go without extinguishing altogether. He viewed all formal aspects of Judaism with bemused indifference, alternating with sarcastic hostility; practicing Jews, he said, were perfect examples of people who, however smart they might be, “don’t have enough sense to step inside when it’s raining.” But my own experience of the American suburbs, where our family ended up at a moment when the remaining tracts of nature in the area were being steadily bulldozed and converted into new highways, malls, and subdivisions, left me with a lingering sense of spiritual absence. Almost all the history of my father’s family had been lost in the upheaval of their flight from Europe: I could not countenance the idea that our family would just step forever outside the nimbus or noose of Jewish identity as casually as it might step out of the car in a supermarket parking lot. I owed a debt to the dead, and I meant to pay. There was something intoxicating in the notion that I, the son of a non-Jewish mother and a non-observant father, might choose to blow on the flame of our Judaism through the actions of my own life, and so magnify its blaze no end.

I had a sense that this should be accomplished through an identification greater than mere cultural reference points—bageloxy—could supply. This made my actual encounters with observance all the more dispiriting. I hated praying. Orthodox synagogues were endlessly problematic in their intolerances. Reform services were intolerably denuded of authenticity. Either way, the services bored me silly. When I set out to study the canonical texts of Jewish belief, I discovered potent flashes of ideas and imagery, but there seemed, at last, just too much dross to plow through before getting to the sparkly bits. The books of the Bible were one thing, at least minus Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Numbers. But the ritualized law seemed for the most part an object lesson in how to nurture obsessive-compulsive disorder.

This is where the writing of Gershom Scholem came in. Scholem, the German-born radical-humanist thinker who moved to Palestine after the First World War as an idealistic, if idiosyncratic, Zionist, is best known as the founder of the modern study of Kabbalah—a category of Jewish thought, prayer, and ritual practice that pursues ultimate truths about God’s nature, good, evil, and humanity’s role in the cosmos. As Scholem himself pointed out in the opening of one of his books, the Hebrew word “kabbalah” literally means “tradition,” and, in the sense that it composed “the tradition of things divine,” Kabbalah fed people’s hunger for a new and deeper understanding of conventional religious forms. Certain Kabbalists indeed extended their speculations so far that they were accused of redefining Judaism’s purpose. With their work, Scholem wrote, “the Torah is transformed into a Corpus mysticum.” At times, he appears to suggest that the intense study of this covert history might function as its own form of worship. For a bookish soul who balks at prayer and loves philosophical-historical reflection, this prospect can be awfully seductive.

Read more

read full text


Read an excerpt from Gideon Rachman’s Easternization in The New York Review of Books

 

The arrival of Donald Trump in the White House threatens a significant acceleration in the rivalry between the US and China. The deliberate but careful attempts of the Obama administration to push back against Chinese ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region are likely to be replaced by a new Trump approach that is much more openly confrontational, and more impulsive in style. Even before taking office, the new US president demonstrated his willingness to antagonize Beijing—by speaking directly to the president of Taiwan, something that all US presidents have refused to do since the normalization of relations between the United States and China in the 1970s.

If a direct military conflict between China and the United States does break out during the Trump years, the likeliest arena for a clash is the South China Sea. In his confirmation hearings before the US Senate, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s new secretary of state, signaled a significant hardening in the American attitude to the artificial islands that China has been building in the South China Sea. Tillerson likened the island building to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and said that the Trump administration intended to let Beijing know that “your access to those islands is not going to be allowed.”

Taken at face value, that sounded like a threat to blockade the islands, on which China has been constructing military installations. China would almost certainly attempt to break such a blockade by sea or air. The stage would be set for a modern version of the Cuba missile crisis. The Chinese government’s official reaction to the Tillerson statement was restrained. But China’s state-controlled media was ferocious. The Global Times, a nationalist paper, warned of the possibility of a “large-scale war” between the United States and China, while the China Daily spoke of a “devastating confrontation between China and the U.S.” Independent observers had come to similar conclusions. Speaking to me in Davos a couple of days after Tillerson’s statement, Vivian Balakrishnan, the foreign minister of Singapore, warned that any effort at a US blockade in the South China Sea would lead to a war between the United States and China. The Singaporeans, who maintain close ties to both Washington and Beijing and whose natural style is cautious and technocratic, are not given to hysteria.

Read more

 

 

read full text


author of Quicksand

 

Other Press: How did you come up with the idea for Quicksand, and for the character of Maja? Did you have any difficulty getting into her head or creating her voice?

Malin Persson Giolito: I have known for a long time, in that strange mysterious way writers “know” things, that I wanted to write about a school shooting. A tragedy, so tragic that it was like something out of the Old Testament, or one of those eight-hour Shakespeare plays that I liked to watch when I was a teenager. I wanted that. Pitch black. However, when I sat down to start writing, I realized that it was impossible. Who would want to read such a thing? Until Maja came. Cynical, funny, desperate, unhappy, lovely, obnoxious Maja… And how she came to me? I have no idea. But it is her story, so much hers, she is much more important to this story than any crime, and I realized along the way that it was her and her friends I wanted to write about.

I want to say that Maja was the easiest part, but it took a very long time to make her mine. I worked for four years with this novel and I really worked. “How many words do you actually need in your book, Mummy? More than a billion?” was one of many skeptical questions from my youngest. I approached Maja through her friends, her parents, her sister, and the tragedy of course. But when I started hearing her voice, I couldn’t turn it off. She accompanied me everywhere, and watched me and my life, my double standards, my friends… Maja’s voice worked in many ways as a comic relief for me as a writer, but it was also quite an annoying companion.

OP: You’ve said before that Quicksand is “Maja’s book.” Why did you choose to have her be the only narrator? Was there a point during your writing process when you had another or additional narrators?

MPG: It was a huge technical challenge for me as a writer. That motivated me and it frightened me, which triggered me even more. It is hard to write suspense without changing perspectives when pushing the story forward. I wanted to see if I was capable. But for a long time I had my doubts. So I wrote long sections, I think a couple of hundred pages from the lawyer’s perspective, and I also tried a few chapters with the other main characters, like Maja’s mom, and the other two lawyers. Once I had gotten that out of my system, I could go back to Maja. To keep it with Maja makes it so much more intense, to let her be the master of her story. Everything that interfered with that just made the story weaker. And not only from a literary perspective. She is a good narrator. Honest, unsure, unhappy and, yes, I keep repeating myself: funny.

OP: This past year Quicksand won the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Award for Best Swedish Crime Novel, and it’s the first of your novels to be translated into English, as well as several other languages. How has Quicksand changed your life as a writer?

MPG: I think that the first thing everyone—not only my husband—thinks is that it has changed my life economically, and it has. I actually stopped working as a lawyer before the success—with some hesitation, because I like economic security, pension rights, and all that. Now I don’t have to worry for a few years. But to be honest, the big difference is something else. The massive support from my agent and my publisher, the critics’ praise, the prizes, and all that have given me a higher status as a writer. To be taken seriously is very nice. I hope, and I think, it will give me more courage as a writer. Everyone keeps asking if I will be blocked by the success and have a hard time writing the next. I think (and I really hope I am right) that I have been freed to do what I have always wanted to do: write my own stories the way I want to write them.

OP: How did being a lawyer help you write this novel?

MPG: Well, to be passionate about the court, about the process of law, that helps if you want to transmit the sense that it is not too boring to follow a court procedure from beginning to end. And it helps to dig where you stand… Is that a Swedish saying? If so, I am sure you have something similar. But it can also be a disadvantage if you write too close to home. I have a different view on the law than non-lawyers; it is like my religion, I don’t question my ten commandments. But Maja does. Maja has kept this from becoming a lawyer’s story and she has made it into something bigger.

OP: The story you craft in Quicksand profoundly resonates with contemporary American audiences. It explores subjects one normally doesn’t associate with Sweden, such as race, gender relations, and immigration. Were you aware of how universal Maja’s story would be when you were writing it? Do you think with your novel you’re bringing a fresh understanding of contemporary Sweden?

MPG: It is not a surprise to me that we—Americans and Europeans— share more problems than either one of us likes to admit, one of them being that we like to blame immigration for injustices that have other causes. But still, that so many people can relate to the story is one of the things that has surprised me the most. Maja lives in the rich suburb were I grew up, and I wanted to put that in a larger context in order to put light on injustices that have bothered me since I was a kid and that have become far worse in recent years. But it could have been seen as just a story about the young, rich, and fabulous. I am so happy that it isn’t. We need to talk about structural injustices. But do I want to bring a fresh understanding of contemporary Sweden? Quicksand is not a political book unless the readers make it political. And if the readers do, I hope it makes them look at themselves more than at Sweden.

OP: Is there anything you’d like your readers to take away from Quicksand?

MPG: That is such a difficult question. I could say that I want readers to think about equality, or what justice means in reality, but at the same time I don’t think that good books make you realize things that fit on a Hallmark card. Really good books can make you question yourself but without you being aware of it. I want my readers to think about my book after having finished it. They can think what they want, but if they think, that proves the story worked.

OP: Many authors have quirks to help them write. Do you have any? Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

MPG: Lawyers often overcharge for advice that is absolutely useless. Are you really sure you want to ask me that?

read full text


The New York Times Book Review raves that Rachel Aspden’s Generation Revolution is “an excellent social history of Egypt’s persistent pathologies, as well as a universal story about the difficulties of changing deeply ingrained societal attitudes.”

In his review Thanassis Cambanis considers the role youth plays in starting and sustaining a revolution:

In Aspden’s telling, the young, not yet ground into submission, have posed the greatest challenge to Egypt’s intolerable yet adaptive state. But the young can sustain resistance for only so long. The Tahrir Generation of 2011, she writes, may already be over the hill, though a new crop of restive Egyptians are reaching a boiling point, and they may not submit in the same way their grandparents did when the first military strongman took power in 1952. Nonetheless, Aspden notes, an empowered populace armed with education, modern communication tools and high expectations can repeatedly be dominated by an equally modern coercive state. Her conclusion is dispiriting, but she backs it with evidence. Youth alone, it seems, does not suffice to change tradition.

You can read the full review in the New York Times Book Review 

read full text


Malin Persson Giolito, author of Quicksand, sat down with Shelf Awareness to speak about translation, creating the voice of a teenage girl, what drew her to write her novel, and more.

Shelf Awareness: Was it the crime that sparked this novel for you, or Maja herself, or something else?

Malin Persson Giolito: I couldn’t stop thinking about the crime. But it’s quite a difficult subject to write about, especially if you want to write a book people actually enjoy reading. I didn’t get anywhere until Maja came along. And I think the reason I wanted to write about a school shooting was not particularly the crime itself but the environment, that is, the school. It’s a very closed kind of environment. I think the book is about situations that you can’t control, and closed rooms. Maja was the key to the story. The first idea was the school shooting, but I didn’t know what to do with it until Maja came along.

It’s quite funny: as a writer, you’re probably the least capable of talking about your novel. You don’t really know what you’re doing. For the longest time you’re doing this puzzle upside down, so to speak, and then when the book is done hopefully you will see what the puzzle looks like, or perhaps one of the readers will tell you. There is something about this closed room that must have intrigued me, because we have not only the school but also the courtroom and the neighborhood where she grows up, which is an upper-class, very closed neighborhood–they’re very isolated from other parts of the Swedish society. Also, being a teenager is being isolated. You live in your own world of black and white, right and wrong, love and hate… teenagers are lovely. I have two. But they’re also quite isolated in their own minds, in their own day-to-day world.

SA: You write the voice of this teenager so convincingly.

MPG: I have a tendency to say this was the easy part, but that’s not really true. It took me a lot of time to get to her. But once I had her, that was the best part, just living inside her head, with her rage and her judgments. She’s an enraged teenager. She’s a very privileged teenager that has gone through this tragedy, and now she’s put in a place where she has absolutely no control over her situation anymore. And we learn that during the year that led up to these events, this tragedy, she also lost control of her life. So how does she react? Well, one of the reactions is this rage. She hates everyone. And funnily enough, that was when I liked her. I think there must be an enraged teenager within me.

I think we all can relate to this loss of empowerment when we look at the world around us right now. One of the things I really liked was that I didn’t have to be this thoughtful adult who sees the good in people–I could just let go of everything and just be her. Which is not the same as saying that I agree with her. Her way of judging people around her is not something that I necessarily share. But it was still surprisingly easy, once I was there, to just do that. Once in a while you just want to let it go, to quote a famous Disney princess. I really liked that with Maja.

One of the tricks, when you write suspense novels, is to use the unreliable narrator. And when I started writing I knew from the beginning I didn’t want that. I didn’t want her to turn out to be someone else, didn’t want her to wake up after having had an alcohol-related dementia, or whatever. I wanted her to be reliable narrator, in the purest sense of the term. But I didn’t think of the fact that she’s a teenager, and if you look up “unreliable narrator,” I think you’ll see a picture of a teenager. But she’s just her, and that was very important. That’s what made me really love her. She just wants to get through this. She’s a survivor, in more ways than one.

You can read more from the interview in Shelf Awareness

read full text


Inheritance from Mother author Minae Mizumura for the New York Times

When her novel, Inheritance from Mother, was first being serialized in Japan’s largest newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, Minae Mizumura was inundated with letters from readers who identified with the frustration and exasperation she described feeling in taking care of her aging, ill mother. Mizumura recounts the experience for the New York Times:

TOKYO — It was the mad, busy time just before New Year’s, the most auspicious holiday of the year, when the hospital called to tell me that my mother had just been brought in by ambulance. She had slipped on the sidewalk and broken her shoulder and hip.

“Not again!” was all I could think as I rushed to the emergency room. I did not at first realize that the call marked the beginning of the end of what little independence my mother had left.

Despite five hours of surgery and two months of rehabilitation, she became wheelchair-bound and had to enter a nursing home. There, she slid rapidly into dementia, and became more difficult and demanding even as she grew frailer.

A year and a half later, she was back in the hospital with aspiration pneumonia. Day after day, I sat by her bedside, exhausted, while I struggled to finish work on a book for which the deadline was long past.

Read More

read full text


Stephen Snyder recently wrote about translation of contemporary Japanese literature for the New England Review. In his article he examines the careers of Haruki Murakami and Minae Mizumura (A True Novel, Inheritance from Mother). Of Mizumura he writes:

Each of her works, for different reasons, is, in effect, untranslatable on one or more levels—not overtly or explicitly but philosophically and contextually.

Which brings us to Mizumura’s acclaimed 2002 novel entitled Honkaku shōsetsu, which is a reworking of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, set in postwar Japan, but encased in a complex set of narrative frames, including an outermost one in which a writer named Minae, whose biography maps Mizumura’s own, introduces the reader to the main narrative. At first glance, this work, which is more plot-driven and compulsively readable than Mizumura’s earlier fiction, is also more readily translatable; and, in fact, as I’ve mentioned, in 2013 it did appear in English to considerable acclaim. Still, a closer look reveals a number of ways that the text presents challenges or puzzles to the translator and insists on its immersion in a Japanese cultural context that cannot be readily brought over into a target language or culture. The title, for example, was rendered as True Novel in the English translation, no doubt for the ambiguous and possibly oxymoronic contention that a fiction or novel could also be “true.” But honkaku has a wide range of meanings in Japanese, and the book could plausibly be called A Genuine Novel or An Orthodox Novel (as the phrase has generally been rendered, meaning, to Japanese readers and critics, a fully realized novel with an ambitious, complex plot). Other possible titles with different nuances would include A Real Novel, A Serious Novel, or even A Standard Novel or A Full-Fledged Novel. The original title itself, then, for a writer such as Mizumura, who is fully conscious of the differences between Japanese and English, is a kind of intentional difficulty for, or challenge to, the translator. (A fact that is especially interesting, perhaps, since Mizumura initially wanted to translate the novel herself.)

The text, too, repeats this challenge. On the level of plot, Mizumura provides a richly and finely wrought story—a genuine novel—that comes across successfully in English, but on the sentence level—particularly in the dialogue—the text is a study in nuances that remain largely lost in translation. The story, like Brontë’s, investigates class relations between a poor young man who falls in love with a wealthy girl and seeks to woo her after he has made his fortune. But the social milieu Mizumura creates—replete with a cast of peers and magnates, maids and parvenus worthy of Jane Austen—engenders a text proliferating with finely graded linguistic markers of privilege and subservience—in which Japanese as a language is particularly rich. And by necessity these nuances go largely untranslated or receive only vague approximations in English, a language much poorer in explicit markers of class.

On Mizumura’s website, she labels herself, tellingly I think, as “A Novelist Writing Modern Japanese Literature in the Japanese Language,” implying, no doubt, that other writers—and perhaps explicitly the most notable of all contemporary Japanese writers—are writing in something other than Japanese—at least not in the nuanced, literary Japanese in which Mizumura casts her own work.

You can read more at Literary Hub

read full text


Joan Acocella of the New Yorker calls Gregor Hens’s Nicotine “an extraordinary act of literary finesse” and a “dark, lovely, funny book.” Enter below for your chance to win a copy!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Nicotine by Gregor Hens

Nicotine

by Gregor Hens

Giveaway ends January 24, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

read full text


Click on the picture below to download a Peter Stamm poster!

read full text


author of Among the Living

Other Press: Among the Living is absolutely fascinating. It has a specificity of time and place and perfectly captures the tensions between so many different communities—the Jewish and black communities in late 1940s Savannah, the Conservative and Reform Jewish communities, European Jews who have experienced the Holocaust and American Jews who have observed it from a distance. Why write this novel? How did you first come up with the idea for it? Was it difficult to render all the different moving parts into one cohesive narrative?

Jonathan Rabb: I’m not sure there’s ever a satisfying answer to “Why write this novel?” At a certain point it becomes: how can I not write it? You get so involved with the characters—you’re grappling with questions that have more to do with you as the writer than with them—and you have no choice but to dig yourself deeper into that hole. For this book, the first idea came when I was living in New York. I had a cousin who had survived a concentration camp when he was only nine years old, and I began to spend a bit of time with him. We’d meet for breakfast, where we’d invariably talk about the book he was writing (about the head of the Gestapo in Paris during the war). I never saw a page of it—I can’t even be sure that he was writing it —but I realized that he had never really moved beyond those moments in his life. How could he have? At the same time, he wasn’t lost or delusional. He was a fully functioning man, with a wonderfully dry sense of humor. But a part of him was always back there. I suppose there was a part of me that wanted to find a way to free him of that. I couldn’t, of course, but maybe I could create a character who would be given that choice for himself.

And then my cousin died. To me—to my entire family—he had always been known as Edi (Ai-dee). At his memorial service, an American friend of his got up and said, “Let me tell you about my friend Ed Goldah.”

Ed.

I’ll be honest, for a moment I had no idea who he was talking about. This was Edi’s memorial. But it suddenly dawned on me how crucial a name could be, especially in the Jewish experience, questions of identity and belonging and alienation. To his friends he was Ed. To me he would always be Edi. And I knew that I had found an inroad to the character I’d been imagining.

The trouble was, New York seemed too obvious a place to start his story. So I waited. When I moved to Savannah—and discovered a Jewish life I had never imagined—it suddenly dawned on me that here was the place I could bring my character. It was so foreign to me, even if the Jewish experience dated back to the founding of the colony. I suppose I thought that, as I discovered what it was to be a Jew in the South, so too would he. So I set him in 1947—why not make the choices even harder?—and called him Yitzhak Goldah, a gentle nod to my cousin. (I dedicate the book to him and his parents, also survivors.)

Setting the story during the height of the Jim Crow era made perfect sense to me. If this was all going to be about identity and alienation—all those different moving parts—then I needed Yitzhak to hear echoes of his own recent past in the way the black community was being treated. Of course, he couldn’t know what it was to be a black man living in the South, but he could feel a certain affinity. And he could ask the hard questions.

That many of those same questions remain with us today made it even more important to situate them at the center of the book.

As to the other moving parts, those are what define the rich complexity of Savannah itself. It’s the key to the story. Where else were all those tensions bubbling just beneath the surface? And how else could Yitzhak find his way back into the world of the living without having to confront them?

OP: Did you do a lot of research before or while you were writing the novel? Can you share a particular piece of history or anecdote you found to be interesting?

I always take about six months to research a book and, with this one—for the first time—I was able to interview people who had lived during the period. (My most recent books took place in 1919, 1927 and 1936, which made that virtually impossible). That said, I waited until I had worked my way through a lot of the archival material (the Savannah Jewish Archive and the Georgia Historical Society have put out some really wonderful books and oral histories). I also spent a lot of time reading Primo Levi, to my mind the clearest and most shattering voice to come out of the Holocaust. That he’s able to describe what he lived through without a hint of judgment or vengeance or self-pity is truly remarkable, and I tried to give that sensibility to my Yitzhak.

When it comes to the Savannah Jewish community, there are too many anecdotes that come to mind—some of which I happily sprinkled into the narrative—but my favorites all arrived on a single afternoon, when a friend of mine in town, the late Larry Wagger, invited me to a lunch with a few people he thought might be of help in my research. There were five of them, including Larry (the only male), and when I stepped into the dining room, I think I took the average age down to about eighty-nine. I had brought along a legal pad, filled with questions. I asked the first and then didn’t speak for the next three hours. I heard about the train out to Tybee and the late-night dancing at the Sapphire Room and the basketball games at the JEA—but the one tidbit that struck me most was the name of the housekeeper that one of the women had grown up with. Her name had been Mary Royal. That the black community, in no small measure, was going to serve as the moral compass in the novel made the name “Royal” so perfect. So I took it and made it my own.

OP: Savannah is almost a character in itself in Among the Living. What are your personal ties to the city?

We moved to Savannah in 2008, thinking we’d stay for a year, and we never left. One of the reasons is that everyone has always been so inviting. Truly inviting. If you’ve ever lived in New York City for a long period of time, you begin to feel that life doesn’t exist beyond the Hudson. But it does. It might be a little slower here but it’s also a little more gracious, and a wonderful place to raise kids. Not that I won’t always think of myself as a displaced New Yorker (my unwavering dedication to the Knicks is only one symptom), but there is something completely other when it comes to Savannah—something I thought I could find only in European settings—and yet here it is. That the city could inspire me to write about its past speaks to my connection. Add to that the fact that Savannah is home to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where both my wife and I teach, and you have this wonderful artistic community situated in a city steeped in history. What could be better?

OP: Goldah is such a great character to place in the center of this story. He’s an outsider, which allows him to see things in Savannah in a way that characters like Jesler and Pearl and even Eva cannot. Do you think you could have told the same story if it were someone else at the center, for example Malke?

It was absolutely crucial that I bring an outsider. As I said above, I needed to learn about the city and its past as I wrote about it: how better to do that than to have a character who’s also trying to figure things out? And I steal from my own distant past: Moravian, Czech Jews, whose lives were uprooted by the Second World War. Yitzhak was the perfect choice. Could I have managed to tell the same story through Malke’s eyes? I don’t think so. And it’s not just that her experience in the camps is so different from Yitzhak’s. She was a very different kind of person before the war—harder yet fragile, in a way that would have made her entry into the American south far more difficult, given the issues I wanted to play with. I needed to have someone who could see that there was a choice to step beyond the experience of the camps—never completely, of course—and to find the relative youth of American life somehow invigorating. In the very first pages, Yitzhak is able to see how, in America, “the past here was young and untried, and how the world made sense only in the grasp of such promise and abundance.” That’s not something Malke would ever have understood.

OP: Among the Living is your sixth novel. How did you begin writing? When do you write? Do you have any special conditions or rituals you abide by? And finally, why do you write?

I began writing fiction as an escape from my academic work (in a previous life, I was a political theorist at Columbia). I bought a laptop and stole moments away on it to play with fiction, while my desktop remained solely for “more serious” work. Sooner than I care to admit, I was spending all my time on the laptop (to this day, I can’t write on a desktop). Before my wife and children came along (and the Internet and e-mail), I would write from about 10 PM to 3 AM, and sleep until noon. It was quiet, no one called, and the city was as uninteresting as it was ever going to get (at least for me). But then I decided I wanted to spend time with the people in my life, so I trained myself to write from about 8:30 in the morning until 1 (my wife always calls to remind me to eat), and then until about 3, when I pick up the kids from school (except for the two days a week when I teach). I imagine I have some rituals but I don’t think I’m conscious of them. All I know is that I have to be at my desk and ready to go. I usually read the last few paragraphs that I wrote the day before—although on the best days, that’s unnecessary—and I dive in.

I’m not a big outline follower. I have these astounding flashes when I get an idea for a book. For about a nanosecond, every moment in the book—every line of dialogue, every instant of tension, every description of place—comes to me, then disappears, leaving little pockets of information that form a nice arc. And then, for the next few years, I try to remember everything from that nanosecond. I’m a big believer in the subconscious mind. I think everything is there, and it’s just a matter of getting lost in the book so that I feel comfortable enough to tap into what’s waiting in mine. You’ve no doubt heard writers talk about those moments when characters do something we’re not expecting (or don’t want them to do). For me, that’s simply my subconscious saying, “Okay, I gave you enough time to figure this out, but since you’re being a complete idiot, this is what the character needs to do.” And I have to have enough faith in myself simply to let go and follow.

But that doesn’t mean I write purely by inspiration. There’s a wonderful old story about a French novelist who was asked by a journalist, “Do you write by inspiration or do you just slog your way through it?” The writer thought for a moment and said, “Purely by inspiration.” The journalist jotted something down and said, “Really? Then why is it that, every day, you go out to that little shack behind your house and sit at your desk from 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon?” Again, the novelist thought for a moment, and said, “I write purely by inspiration. I’m just not willing to wait for it.”

I suppose that’s my ritual, too.

read full text


author of The Second Winter

 

 

OP: Most novels set during the Second World War tend to focus on Germany, England, and the United States. What made you want to write about a family in Denmark in the early 1940s?

Fredrik is based very loosely on my father’s uncle, who was a member of the Danish resistance during World War II. When I was five years old, I came across a photograph of “Fredrik” when we were visiting Denmark, and I vividly remember the impression it made upon me. This man was a literal giant. He could have wrapped a hand around my body. I asked my dad who he was, and my dad told me the story of his uncle, lifting him onto his motorcycle at the end of the war and driving him through the streets of Copenhagen, showered in confetti, for the victory motorcade. As a young kid, I couldn’t quite comprehend what it meant that Fredrik had resisted the occupation—I just had a vague sense that he carried a pistol, snuck through the dark, and, as my dad told me, spent his nights with his eyes wide open, too scared to sleep. The more I learned, the more complex Fredrik’s story became. He took amphetamines to keep himself awake. He died just after the war from leukemia, contracted no doubt because of the stresses he was under. He was everything a hero should be. But he had also been sent away by his parents when he was twelve or thirteen to live on a farm, because he apparently had some sadistic tendencies and had killed family pets. And, most confusingly, he was married and had two children. It was in the contradictions of this heroic savage as father that the idea of the story was born.

When I set out to write The Second Winter, I wasn’t attempting to write about the war or even about Fredrik. Fredrik’s story gave me the language to create a metaphor. For me, the power of the novel lies in its deeper meaning: In the eyes of a child, fathers do inexplicable things—they steal, they kill, they rape. To some extent, this innocent confusion is not lost, at least not entirely, even as we grow older and place in context the things we do as adults. For me, this was the pleasure and challenge in writing the novel, to convey this beast as a man whom we not only relate to but in some measure love.

read full text


This fall Among the Living author Jonathan Rabb will be travelling the South, visiting indie bookstores and booksellers and signing copies of his novel. Follow him at @jrrabb and see his progress with the map below.


read full text


 

JANUARY

 

The message read:

“haven’t told him yet, it’s really hard. argh. i © u.”

But the message wasn’t for me. Life changes when the love messages aren’t for you. That love message arrived like a lightning bolt, unexpected and electric, and changed my life.

I was standing at the bar, my fingertips brushing the green plastic tray on which a bustling cook would place my order as soon as it was properly embalmed in silver foil. I felt my cell phone vibrate in my pocket. I’ve never picked a sound to alert me to incoming calls or text messages. Ringtones are a nuisance, so sudden and rude. I don’t even ring doorbells. If I can, I limit myself to a few little raps with my knuckles on the wood. So when it comes to my cell phone, the vibration’s enough for me. Sometimes I’m afflicted with what’s called vibrating phone syndrome, the false impression that your phone’s vibrating in your pocket, and when you take it out you find there’s no call, there’s no message, it was all in your head. My friend Carlos says cell phones will have the same fate as cigarettes: seventy years after being popularized and diffused throughout the population, they’ll come to be persecuted as a harmful addiction. He says there will be deaths, million-dollar judgments, and detox clinics. He says mobile phones affect the vital organs, and if you keep a phone in your pocket, every time you get a call the spermatozoa in your testicles undergo something like an electric shock. That’s the reason why there are so many hyperactive children these days, he says. If my friend Carlos had been there with me at that moment, he would have said, you see? You see how much harm cell phones do? Because the vibration was real and the message came to me, even though I wasn’t the person it was intended for. Marta had sent it. So I turned and looked over to where she was sitting, at the table next to the window. The table we’d sat down at just a very short while ago, before my life changed.

Marta and I had arrived in Munich the previous day. We didn’t know the city, but a volunteer from the conference was waiting to drive us to the InterContinental hotel. She was holding a little card with my name on it, and she greeted us when we responded. I’m Helga, she said, introducing herself. We followed her to the parking area, where she gave us a little acrylic book bag with the schedule of events and our conference credentials. Lebensgärten 2015, all the logos announced. There was a friendly welcome, printed in two languages, from the organizers, and another page giving the time of our presentation on the following day, the name of the contact person, and the sector in the convention center where the presentation would take place. For anything else, you can just ask me, the woman said.   And during the drive to the InterContinental hotel, apart from a few questions about our trip, she kept quiet and let us look out the window and take in our surroundings with our own eyes. When the soccer stadium came into view, she pointed it out and said it was very famous for its architecture. I made some remark to Marta about the architects, but she didn’t seem very interested.

The name of the conference, Lebensgärten, could be translated as “Gardens of Life” or “Life and Garden,” although that last one sounded more like the name of an insect spray. We’d been invited to the conference to present a project in competition with others. My work’s hard for me to explain. For my demonstration on the following day, I’d show a series of computer-generated images that would save a good deal of explanation. The category we were competing in was “Future Prospects,” which in German – Zukunftsperspektiven – sounded less empty and more metallic, more reinforced. This was an international competition, more than twenty projects were entered, and the prize was ten thousand euros. The challenge was to depict a landscape intervention, not necessarily a feasible or reasonable one; it was to be something like a fantasy or a fiction. A story competition, but instead of telling stories, we’d tell a garden. In our line of work, you get used to dreaming up impossible prospects, sidestepping the lack of funding or interest by realizing your vision in digital simulations.

read full text


Each summer Other Press authors and staff like to come together and let each other know what we’ll be reading. So here it is, our 2016 summer reading list!

Nelly Alard, author of Couple Mechanics

Purity, the latest novel by Jonathan Franzen, has just been translated and released in French but I have been putting it aside for months and intend to read it in English, for I am a great fan of Franzen and his unique voice. I loved The Corrections, and Freedom even more, and I used to read a few pages of the latter every morning before starting my own writing when I was working on Couple Mechanics—I found him to be very inspiring for me. I can’t wait to discover his new work; I haven’t read anything about it, so I will open it completely fresh and curious!

Then I will at last try to read The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig. I’ve been told for years that it’s a masterpiece but for some reason always postponed reading it. Since part of my next novel takes place in the place and time he describes (Vienna and old Europe pre- and post-WWI), I think this is the right time for it!

And finally I am very intrigued by the work of Elena Ferrante and grabbed the first two of her Neapolitan novels last time I visited Gallimard, my publisher, who is also her publisher in France. I don’t know much about the novels but I’ve heard rave reviews, and since I fell in love with the city of Naples a few years ago, this seems to me to be perfect summer reading!

Bruce Bauman, author of Broken Sleep

I’ll be starting Stephen O’Connor’s Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings later this week. I’m a huge fan of O’Connor’s short stories, which are uniquely strange-beautiful-funny in style and substance. The fantastic review by Ron Charles in the Washington Post moved this to the top of my list.

I’ve read an early version of Steve Erickson’s upcoming novel, Shadowbahn, with a premise and imagery that just blew my fucking mind—I guarantee it will blow yours too. It’s Ericksonian in a fashion that recalls The Sea Came in at Midnight and Our Ecstatic Days, but also has the more “realistic” elements of Zeroville. Erickson’s 10 novels fuse poetry and imagination like no one else writing today—and I can’t wait to read the finished version.

William Belcher, author of Lay Down Your Weary Tune

I guess I approach my summer reading list the same way I approached ordering ice cream when I was 10. “Your eyes are too big for your stomach,” my grandmother would say, and I’d set out to prove her wrong. I couldn’t resist, and I can’t resist building a reading list that is twice the size of any Jim Dandy sundae.

This summer, I aim to read Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time, which takes its inspiration from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, one of my favorites; Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, which is set at the WTO protests in 1999; Sarah Schulman’s The Cosmopolitans, which I’ve been looking forward to for several months; Anthony Marra’s acclaimed collection The Tsar of Love of Techno (finally); and Jung Yun’s Shelter, which many friends, booksellers, and podcasters have recommended.

Lastly, I’ll continue my summer tradition of reading James Wright’s The Branch Will Not Break. Summer and poetry go together almost as well as summer and oversized sundaes. Almost.

read full text


As read by Marian Lewes (George Eliot) in The Honeymoon

eliot home eliot home2

Titles

An Inquiry Concerning the Origin of Christianity by Charles Hennell

History of the Church of Christ by Joseph and Isaac Milner

The Two Drovers by Walter Scott

Waverley by Walter Scott

The Linnet’s Life by Ann Talyor, Isaac Taylor, and Jane Taylor

Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle

Comic History of England by Gilbert à Beckett

Illustrations of Political Economy by Harriet Martineau

Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined by David Strauss

Consuelo by George Sand

The Progress of the Intellect as Exemplified in the Religious Development of the Greeks and Hebrews by Robert William Mackay

The Lustful Turk by John Benjamin Brookes

The Mysteries of Verbena House by George Augustus Sala

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

Realities: A Tale of Modern Life by Eliza Lynn

Azeth, the Egyptian by Eliza Lynn

Creed of Christendom by W.R. Greg

Social Statics by Herbert Spencer

System of Logic by John Stuart Mill

Biographical History of Philosophy by George Henry Lewes

Rose, Blanche, and Violet by George Henry Lewes

Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau

The Arabian Nights

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Authors

Wordsworth

Emmerson

Archilocus

Sappho

Voltaire

read full text


We’re headed to Orlando for the 2016 ALA Annual Conference, and we hope to see you there! Stop by our booth (#2334) for ARC giveaways, limited-edition totebags, and more. Click the thumbnails to the left to learn more about some of the titles we’ll be featuring. And be sure to mark your calendar for Saturday morning at 11am, when author Jonathan Rabb will be signing ARCs of his new novel, Among the Living. See you in Florida!

Other Press at ALA

read full text


This Father’s Day, get your dad books he’ll love

Other Press has a trio of books that will cover everything your father is looking for: At the Existentialist Café so he can immerse himself in the world of ides; The Butcher’s Trail, to stay engaged with current affairs; and The Dig, so he can retreat into a perfectly, wholly imagined fictional world.

Other Press Father's Day Books

read full text


May 26, 1857

My dear Brother

            You will be surprized, I dare say, but I hope not sorry, to learn that I have changed my name, and have someone to take care of me in the world. The event is not at all a sudden one, though it may appear sudden in its announcement to you. My husband has been known to me for several years, and I am well acquainted with his mind and character… Your affectionate Sister, Marian Lewes … ”

 

Chapter 1

            One late afternoon in June of 1880, a rather famous woman sat in a railroad carriage traveling towards Venice with her new husband, a handsome young man twenty years her junior. The journey from Padua had taken just over an hour, across the flat plain, through vineyards and olive groves, and now the train was approaching the iron bridge that led across the lagoon to the city. As the woman glimpsed the shimmering waters ahead, and in the distance, the misty domes and campaniles of the celestial place, the light in the sky over it just beginning to turn pink, she discovered she was unable to give herself over to the surge of excitement she’d experienced sixteen years earlier – to the day – when she caught sight of the place with her “first” husband, George Lewes, by her side.  

The woman’s face was partly hidden by a lace mantilla, as had been her custom for several years, white, not black now, (she was no longer in mourning), and she wore a grey silk moiré dress that she’d bought for her trousseau. The mantilla served to prevent her from being recognized by people, and set upon by tourists who begged for autographs. Though not completely hiding her face, it distracted from it, from her large nose and broad jaw, and she welcomed this because she believed that she was homely. She was sixty years old and her auburn hair was speckled with grey and hung in thick, heavy curves on either side of her face. Her skin was lined. Her grey-blue eyes were heavy and watchful. But her figure was still lovely, slender, almost serpentine – she’d never borne a child.

Now, as she watched her new young husband, it was as if he were drifting away from her, going further and further into his own world, and she didn’t know why.

He was staring out the window of the compartment, his brow furrowed in the light. He was a tall, athletic looking man with dark red curly hair that peeked out from under the brim of his straw hat, vivid blue eyes that shone in the heat, and a small, neat beard. As always, he was wearing an elegantly-cut suit, white linen, which had somehow preserved its freshness from the journey – Johnnie loved good clothes.

Yet he was still his same kind self, the way he had always been, tending to her every need. Ever since April, when she’d accepted his proposal, he’d been frantically rushing around, arranging the wedding and securing the new house, anxious to attend to her every comfort – that she have her shawl with her in case it was cool at night, and the best room in the hotel, that she not get tired, or have to stand waiting too long for their trains. He hadn’t been sleeping, he’d hardly been eating. There were shadows under his eyes, his cheeks had hollowed out. “Darling,” she would say, “slow down. You’ll make yourself ill.”

And he’d try to calm himself, like a child forced to sit still for a moment, but then he was up again, springing into action.

Perhaps Venice would make him better, restore him to his old self, and the romance of the city, its sensuality and foreignness and hidden ways, the strangeness of it, would free him and bring him back to her.

The train had reached the bridge. A cinder from the track flew in through the open window and caught her in the eye. “Oh dear,” she cried, and tried to get it out.   Johnnie, awakened from his reverie, jumped up. “Here, let me,” he said, and bent over her and gently managed to ease it out with his pocket handkerchief. “There you go,” he said, and then he sat down again, and resumed looking out the window.

After a few minutes, they had crossed the bridge. The train pulled into the Santa Lucia station and they disembarked.

When they emerged out onto the fondamenta, they were met by a scene of chaos, crowds of tourists and piles of baggage, porters and boatmen yelling and bustling about.

“You stay here, Marian,” Johnnie said. “I’ll go and find the boat. ”

She waited under her parasol.   The air was filled with an anxious cacophony of French, Italian, English, German as the tourists searched for the boatmen from the hotels who were supposed to meet them. A gypsy girl was sitting on the pavement with an infant, begging, holding it out to the tourists and whining, “Il bambino ha fame. Il bambino ha fame …” wearing a look of exaggerated suffering on her face.

At last, Johnnie came towards her. He’d found their boat, and he led her across the fondamenta to where it was tied. The gondolier was standing on the shore waiting. When he saw them coming, he threw his cigarette into the canal with a decisive gesture, and began loading their luggage.

“This is Corradini,” Johnnie said. “Madame Cross.” The man was older, she noticed, in his fifties, weathered and thin and muscular, with close-cropped grey hair, very pale blue eyes – probably Dalmatian, a lot of the gondoliers were, or a remnant of the Crusaders that you saw sometimes in Venetians. He had a browned, seamed face and he wore a gold ring in one ear. The gondolier nodded at her cursorily, then extended a rough hand to help her into the boat. No bowing or scraping, no kissing of the hand, no false effusion.   As she passed close to him to get into the boat, she smelled an unwashed odor, old tobacco and sweat, and something else, cologne meant to cover it.

He’d probably done this job for many years. The gondoliers held the tourists captive. They were their first contact with the city. Only the gondoliers knew how to navigate its labyrinthine ways.

All around them now, on the canal, the boats, full of people who’d gotten off the train from Padua, were crowded together and banging up against one another. The gondoliers were trying to separate them. “Premi! Premi!” they cried. “Stali! Stali!”

At last, the gondolas were untangled and they spread out across the water. The journey to the hotels was underway.

It was suddenly quiet, as if everyone was too exhausted and stunned by the sights, and too busy absorbing the strangeness of the place, to speak. In the boat, Johnnie sat perpendicular to her, his long legs drawn up awkwardly in the small space, silent, absorbed in looking out across at the shore.

To their right was San Simeone Piccolo– Ruskin called it a huge “gasometer,” with its great, dark dome, like a Greek temple oddly attached to a plain redbrick building.           They passed silently among the columned palaces with their Moorish arches and red and white striped mooring poles, their facades of marble and Istrian stone; their inlay of jasper and alabaster and porphyry, faded by sun and water; their foundations darkened and stained green with algae from the flux and retreat of the tides over the centuries. As always, she was surprised at their small scale, given the expectation of what Venice would be.

The gondolier stood erect in the stern, feathering the water with his oar, moving from one side to the other, swerving his hips. His skin looked as if it had been oiled. His striped shirt and black trousers fit tightly to his body, but there was a softness around his waist that betrayed his age.

Ahead of them, loomed the hump-backed Rialto, its archways and shops packed with tourists. They passed under it, and, in the confined space the smell of putrid effluence rose up and engulfed them. She could see brownish things bobbing in the water. She held her handkerchief to her nose to block the smell.

As they emerged again into the pink light, she breathed in the salty, brackish air with relief. When the real heat came, the smell would be insufferable. Well, she thought, along with everything glorious and holy, there had to exist its opposite: decay and death. For there to be light, there must be darkness, mystery.

The canal curved southwest, then bent again eastward. She glimpsed on the shore the white marble Hôtel de la Ville where once she and George had stayed. As they passed it, she glanced back, but said nothing to Johnnie.

At last, they came to the sign for the Hotel Europa. It was in the old Palazzo Giustinian, an umber-colored brick building with white gothic arches and balconies overlooking the canal. Just beyond it was the Piazza San Marco.

“There!” Johnnie told the gondolier. They stopped, and a grizzled old ganser reached down from the riva with his pole and pulled them over to the steps.

The gondolier threw up his rope and the man tied it. Johnnie gripped her tightly under the arms and raised her up from her seat. She was dizzy from standing up too quickly, and tired from the journey. Johnnie held onto her a moment, then leapt to the shore, reached down and lifted her up onto ground. “We’ve made it!” he cried.

He handed the gondolier a coin. But the man didn’t move. He stood there with his palm   open, looking down ostentatiously at the coin, then up at Johnnie again. Flustered, Johnnie dug down again into his pocket and offered him more coins. At this, the gondolier clamped his hand shut , and got back into his boat.

“Greedy swine!” Johnnie muttered, clenching his teeth, as they made their way to the portego.

Inside the hotel, they climbed the stairs into an immense, marble-columned lobby with a high, coffered ceiling, gilded and blue, and glass chandeliers and potted palms. At one end, was a reception desk with a sign, Telegrafo. There were other tourists scattered about on chairs and settees and they stared at them as they entered.

Johnnie led her to a settee and went to register. Was she imagining it, or did he welcome this bodily distance from her, being away from her for these few minutes?

After a brief period, he came back across the lobby followed by a man in a black morning coat. “This is Monsieur Marseille, the manager. He wanted to meet you. Madame Cross,” Johnnie said.

“Madame … George Eliot!” said the manager, hesitating a moment as if puzzled by the man’s name for a woman. He bowed. He was wearing a wig of flat, black hair, and he had a handlebar moustache, waxed and pointed at the tips.

“Of course, you know we have had many famous writers staying with us,” he said. “Chateaubriand, Mr. Ruskin. Many famous people, Mr. Turner, and Wagner, also Verdi. You are in excellent company.”

“How did you know who I was? she asked.

“The English lady over there.” He indicated a woman sitting across the lobby on one of the settees,   watching them. “She inform us of who you were. She say she recognize you. She tell us we have a great English authoress in our midst – ”

Johnnie interrupted, “Mrs. Cross doesn’t want to be bothered. She’s on a private holiday. We’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone else she’s here.”

“Of course, Monsieur.”

This had happened many times. George used to sign their hotel registers with false names to prevent them from being bothered. But people knew her, even though, after she became famous, she almost always refused to be painted or photographed. Still, when they went to the Pop Concerts at St. James’ Hall, people sketched her. George would glare, but it didn’t stop them. None other than Princess Louise once drew her likeness on the back of her program at a benefit concert for the Music School of the Blind. Truthfully, there were times when she didn’t mind the attention. Sometimes the fame, being recognized, was like a match being struck, a temporary light, a moment of pleasure, forgetting all her doubts, the lack of confidence, the headaches and kidney pains. But now she dreaded it. At this very moment in London she imagined there was a new scandal unfolding.

As people read the wedding announcement in The Times, they were laughing and twittering over their morning coffee about the besotted old woman marrying the handsome man, young enough to be her son.

To alleviate the manager’s chagrin, she asked politely, “You are French?”

“My grandfather, Monsieur Arnold Marseille, bought this palazzo in 1817. This year, we install private baths. Very grand, very convenient.”

A footman was hovering behind him. “The footman will show you to your room. We have here today six English families. There is the table d’hôte at five o’clock. Perhaps you and your son would care to join us?”

Her chest plunged. Johnnie’s face reddened.

“Please!” Johnnie cried. “The Signora is my wife!”

“Oh!” the manager said. “Vous devez me pardonner!” But his mortification only magnified the insult. He was mirroring back to them the truth. She did look like Johnnie’s mother.

As they ascended the stairs to the piano nobile and their rooms, she said, “We knew this would happen sooner or later. Imagine what they’re saying in London.”

“We don’t mind what they’re saying,” he said firmly, his jaw set, gripping her arm.

They came to the landing, and the footman threw open the gleaming mahogany doors to their appartement. It was hung with chandeliers, and gilded mirrors and oil paintings, and furnished with silk fauteuils. There were great, mullioned windows which looked out directly over the canal and crimson velvet drapes fastened with braided silk ties and tassels.

On either side of the sala, was a bedroom. Johnnie went to the door of each one and peaked inside. He pointed to the one on the right. “This is the best room, ” he told the footman. “The lady’s trunk goes in there. The other trunks’s mine. In there, please,” he said, indicating the second bedroom across the way.

It was their usual ritual.

While the footman put their luggage away, Johnnie stepped out onto the balcony. She followed him. To their left was the landing of St. Marco, the black gondolas parked in front of it swaying in the water. To their right was the view down the Grand Canal.

He began enumerating the sights, as if learning them himself. “There’s the Dogana,” he said, indicating the Customs House across the canal, its gold weathervane, the figure of the goddess Fortuna, moving faintly in the late afternoon sun. “The Salute,” he said, sweeping his arm across to the imposing dome behind it. “And San Giorgio,” he said,   across the Bacino, the little island on their left.

He stopped and looked down at the canal, suddenly silent.

She touched his shoulder.   “Please,” she said, “don’t mind the stupid manager. I’m perfectly all right. You shouldn’t feel sad for me. We expected this. We knew it would happen. I’m so happy to be here. Everything’s going to be all right now, you’ll see.”

He continued staring down into the water as if he hadn’t heard her.

“Johnnie, did you hear me?”

He nodded, still not looking at her.

“Please, Johnnie, smile for me,” she begged. “Let me see you smile?”

He looked around at her and forced his mouth into a thin smile.

“Shouldn’t I be the one who’s angry ?” she asked. “Not you. It’s not your fault is it? It’s I who looks old!”

He didn’t respond. He seemed to be looking right through her. She reached up and touched his red curls – she was allowed to do that wasn’t she? He was so tall. She loved the moments when she could touch him with impunity. His hair was so soft and silky, like a boy’s.

Behind them there was a knock on the door. “Chi è?” he called out, irritably.

Sono la cameriera,” a woman’s voice said.

Entra!” he commanded. He sighed. “They’re always bothering you.”

A maid entered. She was a girl of about sixteen, in a black dress, white cap, collar and pinafore. She had a mass of dark blonde curls tied behind her neck, and green, heavy-lidded eyes, a prominent aquiline nose. A Northern face.

“I unpack for Madame?” she said, in English.

“Yes, please. Thank you,” Marian said. “That one.” She pointed to her bedroom.

On the balcony, Johnnie said, “You can smell it from here. That smell of putrefaction underneath everything. ”

“You forget about it,” she said. “You get used to it   When the wind shifts, we won’t notice it at all. And when the tide comes in, the water’s really clear.”

The sky was darkening, burnished with gold.   “Look at the light,” she exclaimed. “The sun’s going down. This is the glory of the place.”

He put his arm around her waist and drew her to him, a protective gesture, warm and kind. She was acutely conscious of his touch. She looked up at his face. It was the familiar posture of a woman looking up at the man she loves, she thought, her life’s companion, his face in profile, the face she possesses as her own, but the face of someone separate, unknowable. All men were mysterious to her,   except George. She and George had been like one person. Johnnie’s was a handsomer face than George’s of course, an ideal of masculine beauty. Before she and George had come together, she’d heard people call him “the ugliest man in London” – not true!   But Johnnie’s face was troubled.   His forehead was drawn in a frown.

By now George would have been animated with excitement. “Look, Polly!” he’d cry, calling her by her girlhood nickname. Always full of enthusiasm, rousing her from tiredness and worry and depression. “Can’t wait till morning!” he’d say. And he’d awaken her into his own joy. He was irresistible. When he pulled her close to him, her body melded completely into his. No distance between them, the line of his wiry thigh against hers, he, who relished her body continually, her slenderness, always, with each new day and night as if he’d never known it before and it was a constant surprise to him,   whatever it was he saw in it, distorted by blind love.

Now, behind them in the hotel room, there were sudden, soft bursts of light. The chambermaid was lighting the oil lamps, leaving the edges of the room in shadow.

“Let’s have supper brought up,” he said. “Someone else might recognize you and that would be a bother.”

“Yes,” she said. “Do let’s. I can’t bear to see anyone else tonight.”

 

read full text


1

ORLY AIRPORT

I am the colossal drill
Boring into the startled husk of the night.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, The Papal Monoplane

 

On this night of October 27, 1949 on the apron at Orly, Air France’s F-BAZN is waiting to receive thirty-seven passengers departing for the United States. A year earlier, Marcel Cerdan stepped off the plane as the newly crowned middleweight boxing champion of the world, a title he had clobbered Tony Zale for. And on that October 7, 1948, the crowd lifted him on their shoulders in triumph. A year later, inside the airport, Cerdan is setting off with his manager Jo Longman and his friend Paul Genser to regain his title, now in the hands of Jake LaMotta, the Bronx Bull. There is no question that in December, on another Constellation, he will bring the title back with him. In the departure hall at Orly, he blusters to the journalists: “That title’s coming home with me. I’m going to fight like a lion.” Lion against Bull, a matter of signs and constellations. The Lion of Nemea vs. the Minotaur, fabulous poster for December 2, 1949 at Madison Square Garden.

Jo Longman is wearing his bad-day face. They’d had to do everything in a hurry, cancel the passage on the ocean liner, claim priority seating on the Paris-New York flight, the whole can of worms, just to meet with Edith Piaf early the next morning. “Bring that title back with you!” says an Air France employee. “That’s the whole idea of going!” says Marcel. “Ye-es,” mutters Jo, who can’t help adding, “If you’d listened to me, we’d have waited a few days. Jesus! We’re sneaking off like thieves, almost. On Tuesday we learned the match was set for December 2, yesterday we were still in the provinces, and today we barely had time to pack our bags. I said we should stay on for a week, attend the meet at the Palais des Sports. But no, that was too simple, and tomorrow you’ll be rampaging around because, no surprise, in the rush to leave you’ll have forgotten half your stuff.” His anger is mock anger, they are used to playing at mutual recrimination, Marcel the amused free spirit and Jo the unheeded professional. In a few minutes, their elbows resting on the Air France bar, they’ll laugh about it. Since the trainer Lucien Roup quit, Jo has climbed in rank. Always in sunglasses, his hair pomaded, Jo Longman—who founded the Club des Cinq, the cabaret-restaurant where Edith and Marcel met—is the image of the louche character. The boxer likes his gift of gab, his love of partying and head for business, finds him the perfect companion on long trips between Paris, New York, and Casablanca.

#

The “Airplane of the Stars” is living up to its name today. Besides the “Casablanca Clouter,” the violin virtuoso Ginette Neveu is also setting off to conquer America. The tabloid France-Soir organizes an impromptu photo session in the departure lounge. In the first snapshot, Jean Neveu stands in the center smiling at his sister, while Marcel holds the Stradivarius and Ginette grins across at him. Next, Jo takes Jean Neveu’s place and, with his expert’s eye, compares the violinist’s small hands to the boxer’s powerful paws.

Then on the tarmac, at the foot of the gangway, the two celebrities continue their conversation. Ginette gives the details of her tour: Saint Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York. Marcel offers her front row seats for his rematch at Madison Square Garden and promises to attend the concert at Carnegie Hall on November 30. Maybe they can have dinner together at the Versailles, the cabaret where the Little Sparrow has been packing the house for months.

The four enormous Wright engines of Lockheed Constellation F-BAZN are droning. The propellers and blades have been inspected, and the eleven crew members line up in front of the plane. The big, beautiful four-engine aircraft, its aluminum fuselage perched on its outsized undercarriage, looks like a wading bird. In the boarding queue are thirty-two other passengers: John and Hanna Abbot, Mustapha Abdouni, Eghline Askhan, Joseph Aharony, Jean-Pierre Aduritz, Jean-Louis Arambel, Françoise and Jenny Brandière, Bernard Boutet de Monvel, Guillaume Charront, Thérèse Etchepare, Edouard Gehring, Remigio Hernandores, Simone Hennessy, René Hauth, Guy and Rachel Jasmin, Kay and Ketty Kamen, Emery Komios, Ernest Lowenstein, Amélie Ringler, Yaccob Raffo, Maud Ryan, Philippe and Margarida Sales, Raoul Sibernagel, Irene Sivanich, Jean-Pierre Suquilbide, Edward Supine, and James Zebiner. Left behind are two newlyweds, Edith and Philip Newton, returning home from their honeymoon, and Mrs. Erdmann. The three were bumped when the champion received priority seating.

2

A DAKOTA IN CASABLANCA

 

“Modern life allows for travel but delivers no adventure.”

Jean Mermoz, Mes vols [My Flights]

 

With bad weather reported over the Channel and the North Atlantic, the pilot, Jean de la Noüe, decides to alter the flight plan. In place of a stopover in Shannon, Ireland, the plane will refuel on the small island of Santa Maria in the Azores archipelago. The flight crew initiates the departure sequence, head high, the big bird taxis from the embarkation area toward the runway. The Curtiss propellers rumble in rhythm.

Pilot to control tower: “F-BAZN requests clearance for takeoff.”

Tower to pilot: “Clearance granted, F-BAZN.”

At 20:06 hours, the Constellation takes flight.

Soon the Atlantic, in six hours the airfield at Santa Maria, then Newfoundland, and tomorrow morning New York.

#

Almost six years after he joined the Free French Forces in London, Jean de La Noüe still thrills at the memory of his truant years flying rust buckets, at first British, then American.

He never could stomach the Phoney War and its aftermath. Still, he had taken his wife’s advice and resumed work during the Occupation as an airline pilot for Air France, but the pill had grown progressively harder to swallow. He knew that it was all happening in London, and he wasn’t there. In Pléneuf-Val-André, his village on the Brittany coast, the English cliffs in the distance, Free France and Radio London. To take service again over the Channel, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, anywhere, as long as he was in the skies and on the right side. He had been only five years old when the armistice of the Great War was signed in a railway carriage in a forest clearing in Rethondes, and it was after discovering the exploits of the Dunkirk fighter squadron that he caught the aviation bug. His hero: Charles Nungesser, who disappeared over the Atlantic with François Coli attempting a nonstop crossing in L’Oiseau blanc the year Jean turned fifteen. A pirate of the skies, Nungesser had painted his pilot’s insignia on the fuselage of his two-seater, a Nieuport 17: a black heart encircling a skull and crossbones and a coffin set between two candles. Jean didn’t have the makings of a hero, but he was no deserter. Demobilized in 1940, he had been sorry to exchange the enemy lines for a commercial airline. In 1943, on an umpteenth flight, Jean bolted and joined the Free French Forces. After the Allied landing in North Africa, he had been assigned to transport soldiers from Casablanca to the Italian front. His aircraft was a Dakota, which the British pilots called the “Gooney Bird,” or albatross, for its ungainliness on the ground and majesty in the skies.

#

Those flights over the Mediterranean were a long time ago, the best years of his life, he often said. The capture of Pantelleria Island on June 10, 1943, then Linosa, Lampedusa, and the celebrated invasion of Sicily. Thirty-eight days of ferrying forces from the advanced base on Pantelleria, twenty-eight men to a Dakota. And leaving in his wake, as he shuttled back and forth, traceries of parachute canopies in the sky. Operation Avalanche against Salerno, and Slapstick to take the port of Taranto. The great battle, Monte Cassino, would come on May 11, 1944. Then parachute drops over Provence. In Casablanca, the Allied rear base, Jean would return to life. History was in the making, and he was part of it, an extra in the great theater of operations organized by Churchill and Roosevelt at the Casablanca Conference. De Gaulle, Giraud, a few demobilized veterans from the French naval airforce, and the French army, which was now the second blade of the Allied operation—all these men, tenacious and battle-hardened, hungered for revenge and reconquest. In the postwar years, he brought his wife to the Max Linder Theater to see Casablanca with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. He took exception to the casbah, so much at variance with his own recollections, and laughed out loud at the Marseillaise as orchestrated by the resistance fighter, Laszlo. Total joke. Walking back up the boulevard Poissonnière, he described his Casablanca to Aurore. The hotel in the Anfa district and the restaurant with the panoramic view. The palm groves around Camp-Cazes airfield and the barracks where the pilots were packed together. The runway, which features as the final set of the film, where Rick Blaine and Captain Renault celebrate the beginning of a beautiful friendship. He also told her about the history of the Moroccan airmail service, about the exploits of Mermoz and Saint-Exupéry, flying over the desert, over sand dunes, where you see nothing, hear nothing, and beauty is hidden in immensity.

#

On the night of October 27, 1949, Jean de La Noüe, captain of the F-BAZN, has 60,000 flight hours and eighty-eight transatlantic crossings to his credit. Next to him are Charles Wolfer and Camille Fidency, two former combat pilots. Since hostilities ended there has been no front to receive these soldiers. Like Jean, they chose not to pursue a career in naval aviation, adapting instead to this new line of commercial work. Assigned to the same flights, the two have become friends. And born the same hour on December 4, 1920, they are known in the company as the “astrological twins.” Soon, between stopovers, they will celebrate their twenty-ninth birthday. The radio is manned by Roger Pierre and Paul Giraud, the navigator is Jean Salvatori. And André Villet and Marcel Sarrazin, mechanics, complete the flight crew.

read full text


Chris Cander’s “Whisper Hollow is wonderful. It’s carefully written, unpredictable, [and] sexy.” —The Houston Chronicle

Enter for a chance to win one of 15 copies!

Winners will receive an author-signed copy of the novel, as well as a limited-edition bookplate featuring an exclusive, exquisitely rendered illustration for the book.

Set in a small coal-mining town, yet reflective of the vagaries of all American life, WHISPER HOLLOW is a breathtaking debut novel that details in captivating prose the lives three courageous women who make choices that will challenge the moral convictions of their peers, as well as their own .

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Whisper Hollow by Chris Cander

Whisper Hollow

by Chris Cander

Giveaway ends June 12, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

read full text


Dear Friends,

Over the course of my tenure as publisher of Other Press, I have observed that we have many works of literature that tackle issues that are not yet fully acknowledged in our culture, notably this: Intelligent women who fall in love seem to be confronted with very different challenges than in the past (not that their lives were any easier in the past, let’s be clear on that).

Girls creator and star Lena Dunham on her love for WILLFUL DISREGARD

And others have noticed this as well—Girls creator and star Lena Dunham agrees that Willful Disregard (published February 2016) is “perfect,” and Prep author Curtis Sittenfeld gifted it to a friend, calling it “[a novel] about how love makes fools of even the smartest people.”

These literary works expose how the contemporary woman’s notion of romantic love undermines her ability to accept that men have undergone a transformation: men today are more disarmed and clueless than women are prepared to accept. Our society has an outdated vision of romantic love that doesn’t quite fit the broadening landscape of intellectual and professional equality between the sexes. Women are ready to reinvent love and marriage to fit these new circumstances. Men seem to find this scary.

Writers from around the world are exploring these intricacies, offering new insights that promise to be very satisfactory for readers—women and men alike. Whether it be crisis in marriage, anxiety over starting relationships, or radical discrepancies between what a woman imagines and the reality of the situation, the stories they tell make for riveting reading.

Best,
Judith Gurewich
Publisher

 


Get a 20% Discount on the Following Titles!

 

Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson

Couple Mechanics by Nelly Alard

The Other Woman by Therese Bohman

Drowned by Therese Bohman

Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest

The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay byAndrea Gillies

Climates by André Maurois

Conjugal Love  by Alberto Moravia

Happy Are the Happy by Yasmina Reza

All Days Are Night by Peter Stamm

Unformed Landscape by Peter Stamm

A Week in October by Elizabeth Subercaseaux

The Cold Song  by Linn Ullmann

read full text


author of The Honeymoon

Other Press: The Honeymoon is a fictionalized biography of George Eliot. What role has George Eliot played in your life? Why did you choose to write a novel about her life instead of a biography?

Dinitia Smith: George Eliot is a female novelist who went before me, who became the most famous writer of her time. I looked to her to understand my own life, her effort to succeed in a man’s world. In the novel I describe how she was snatched out of school to care for her ailing mother and at a time when a high-level education was not easily available to women, and taught herself Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, French and Italian! Then she became the editor of the prominent literary journal The Westminster Review, but it couldn’t be known that she was a woman. Investors—and male readers—wouldn’t have stood for it. Despite all this, she triumphed, and, despite her fame and fortune, she was kind and generous to a fault. I looked to her too, to understand what it means to cope with aging, and to lose one’s beloved life-partner, and finally, to find redemption.

Why did I write a novel rather than a biography? Because, despite the many letters and archives Eliot left behind, she was a woman of her time, and consequently, she rarely confided her intimate feelings on paper, for instance about what must have been her anger at the obstacles she faced as a woman in the male world of 19th-century England. We know little about her feelings for the men in her life, men who were crucial for her development as a woman and as an intellectual. She fell in love with George Henry Lewes, a married man, and we know almost nothing about her inner struggles as she took the momentous decision to live with him out of wedlock, or what she went through when her young husband, Johnnie Cross, tried to commit suicide on their honeymoon. I wanted to understand her, so, without violating the known truth, I went back to her writings, including her poetry, searching for clues to what she was thinking, and I tried to imagine her inner life in a literary way.

OP: Your understanding of George Eliot’s life and environment is remarkable, and so clearly rendered. You make her human. What kind of research into her life and work did you do before you started writing your novel?

DS: I did an extraordinary amount of research—and it was great fun. I read her letters, the great biographies of her, her journals and essays—and of course, the novels. But I also searched the archives for her personal reminiscences. I studied the floor plans of her houses, read travel diaries, studied 19th-century railway timetables, old photographs, the flora and fauna that she would have encountered on her estate, and European resort life in the 19th century. I was fortunate to find in the Princeton University Library archives notes she made for a new novel she was probably working on at the time that she died.

OP: George Eliot is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the English language. In the course of writing your novel, did you learn anything from her about the craft of writing, and about being a woman author? Were you nervous about writing a novel about such a well-known and beloved author?

DS: Of course I was nervous! But she inspired me. She had no self-confidence, and yet found within herself a kind of stubborn strength in the face of defeat. I think readers will be surprised to find how hard it was for her to write. As for her writing style, which was exquisite, I didn’t want to imitate it, so I tried to write in what I hope is a clean, clear style that is respectful of her own.

OP: One of the most surprising things in your novel is the depiction of George Eliot and her relationship to other women and the burgeoning feminist movement in 1800s England. Could you tell us a little more about Eliot’s thoughts on women and their place in society?

DS: Her relationship to the feminist movement is just fascinating. Her best friend was the charismatic 19th-century feminist Barbara Bodichon. Eliot supported Bodichon to some extent. She gave money towards the founding of Girton College, Cambridge, the UK’s first residential college for women offering an education at the degree level. She signed the petition to Parliament asking for married women’s property rights. But she held back. She was innately conservative, partly, perhaps, due to her upbringing and the influence of her father, who was conservative. She’d seen the violence surrounding the Reform Act of 1832, which granted a broader franchise to workingmen. At the same time, she was afraid that education for women would devalue their roles as nurturers of children and keepers of the house. This may have stemmed from her relationship with her own mother, who was sickly and irritable, and who seemed to have little time for George Eliot as a little girl. Eliot spent her life looking for love, and that quest may be partly an effort to fulfill the void she felt in relation to her own mother’s affection. Don’t forget too that she was living in a scandalous relationship with George Henry Lewes, who couldn’t get a divorce from his wife, and I think she was afraid of public scrutiny and calling attention to it.

OP: George and Johnnie both occupy such large places in Marian’s (George Eliot’s) life. What kind of influence, if any, did they each have on her work?

DS: George Lewes was the single most important influence on her writing. I believe that without him, she would never have become the writer she did. He held her hand, he nurtured her, urged her on through the most agonizing self-doubt. He read her work and made suggestions. He praised her prose style, and sometimes urged her to make her writing more dramatic. At times, Eliot, a fanatical researcher, became bogged down in it, and George warned her that a novel was not an encyclopedia!

I doubt that Johnnie Cross had much influence on Eliot’s writing. By the time they were married, she had published her last book, Impressions of Theophrastus Such. More importantly, Johnnie certainly lacked George Lewes’s extraordinary intellect.

OP: The Honeymoon is your fourth novel. Have you picked up any writing quirks to help you in your work, like a routine or a special writing place?

DS: I do have a schedule, which I’ve had in place for some time. When I was working at the New York Times, I would get up very early, at 5:30 a.m., or 6 a.m., and write for about two hours, then go to the paper, which at that time was not on the same 24-hour news cycle as it is now, and the workday tended to begin late, at 10 a.m. Needless to say, this was difficult. After I left the paper, I developed a routine of writing in the morning in my study, and trying to do some exercise and attend to household chores in the afternoons. I do need quiet and seclusion to write. At the beginning of a novel, I find it hard to write for more than two or three hours at a time. As the novel gets going, I find I can work for a longer time.

OP: Anyone who reads The Honeymoon will be itching to start in on (or revisit) George Eliot’s oeuvre once they’re done. Do you have any suggestions about which of her works they should begin with?

DS: Middlemarch, of course, is one of the greatest novels in the English language. I find it the most “modern” of Eliot’s novels, so relevant in Dorothea’s effort to find herself as a woman, to lead a useful and moral life. But, for a long time, I preferred Daniel Deronda to Middlemarch, perhaps because of the depth of Eliot’s learning about Judaism, and the fascinating unrequited love of Gwendolen Harleth for Daniel. Now Middlemarch is back on top! Eliot is brilliant, I think, at portraying bad marriages, and cold men. In Middlemarch, there is Casaubon, the prototype of a cold, self-absorbed intellectual who is unable to complete his “great work.” In Deronda, there is the horrible, cold and immoral Henleigh Grandcourt, whom Gwendolen marries in an effort to support her impoverished family. Daniel cannot return Gwendolen’s love because he’s fallen in love with the sweet and beautiful Jewish girl, Mirah, and has discovered he’s Jewish too.

read full text


In her eponymous newsletter project, “Lenny Letter,” Girls’s  creator and star Lena Dunham raved about Lena Andersson’s Willful Disregard. In addition to naming it a “necessary novel,” she had this to say:

I never thought a book about anxious Swedish intellectuals engaged in a philosophical back and forth would grip me like an airport read, but here we are. Jenni recommended this book as “perfect, just read it”… Jenni said: “I want to give this to every person I know who is in a one sided relationship. This will snap them right out of it.”… She was right.

You can read more of Lena’s thoughts on Willful Disregard here.

read full text


Enter for a chance to win a copy of John Preston’s The Dig.

Praise for The Dig

“A very fine, engrossing, and exquisitely original novel.” —Ian McEwan, author of Atonement and The Children Act

“As Downton Abbey sinks into the sunset, bereft Abbots might find some consolation here, and, added depth, naturally.” —Library Journal

“Shimmers with longing and regret…Preston writes with economical grace…He has written a kind of universal chamber piece, small in detail, beautifully made and liable to linger on  in the heart and the mind. It is something utterly unfamiliar, and quitewonderful.” The New York Times Book Review

“As homey at times as chamomile tea but spiked with pointed undercurrents, this is a real treat for a reader who can appreciate its quiet pleasures.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Dig by John Preston

The Dig

by John Preston

Giveaway ends April 19, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

read full text