larb blog harold fry

The Unlikely Success of Harold Fry’s Pilgrimage

By Paul French

A boring Englishman leaves home one morning to post a letter while his wife runs the vacuum cleaner over the upstairs carpets. He doesn’t come back. Instead he walks from one end of England to the other. Not, one would think, an immediately attractive scenario for a novel that has been read by millions of Chinese readers in the PRC and Taiwan and topped the book charts in both countries. Yet it has. Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, got rave reviews in the UK when it was first published in 2012, became a bestseller, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker. Fine, but what’s got Chinese readers so captivated about boring English everyman Harold Fry? Continue reading

larb blog kammen

“Of the making of many books there is no end”: Remembering Michael Kammen, the Professor of Paradox

By Douglas Greenberg

The following is a feature article from the new LARB Quarterly Journal: Fall 2014 edition. To pick up your copy of the Journal, become a member of the Los Angeles Review of Books at the $15 monthly level. 

All photographs courtesy of Carol K. Kammen. All rights reserved. 

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MY MENTOR AND FRIEND Michael Kammen died last November. A widely published and Pulitzer Prize–winning author, his passing was duly noted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other newspapers. The newsletters of various historical organizations also printed warm and admiring obituaries.

Individually some of these death notices contained factual errors or interpretive eccentricities that Michael would have found amusing, although he was too meticulous a scholar to have committed such mistakes himself. Collectively, however, they described a scholar and university professor who was literally prodigious. Continue reading

larb blog 1940s china

Remembering the 1930s and 1940s, or Reliving Them?

By Austin Dean

The writer Xiao Hong is everywhere in China these days. Her face recently graced the covers of a score of newspapers and magazines; the publication Sanlian Weekly devoted over thirty pages to her; billboards advertised the recently released film about her career. In fact, the new film The Golden Era is the second Xiao Hong biopic to come out in the space of just two years—the first one, Fallen Flowers, hit theaters in March 2013. A remarkable accomplishment, particularly since Xiao published most of her work in the 1920s and 1930s and passed away in 1942. Continue reading

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Tom’s Book Club: Sunday Newsletter

David Grand’s latest novel, Mount Terminus, was 10 years in the making.

This is and isn’t unusual. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist was 13 years from start to publication, Ulysses six years, Finnegans Wake took 17 — three novels and a collection of short stories over 33 years.

William Dean Howells, on the other hand, published 53 books in a 50-year career. Henry James, too, a bit over a book a year. Stephen King is right around two books a year. Flaubert, though, famously tried to get a good sentence a day.

Fast books and slow books. There is no necessary relation to quality, but I feel one can sense the slow construction of Grand’s Mount Terminus. Like a French sauce, it has deep flavors, the thought and story and emotion reduced to their essences, and a complex, multileveled world results. Continue reading

larb blog pera palace

Istanbul and Shanghai Between the Wars – Two Sides of the Same Coin

By Paul French

We generally think of Shanghai between the world wars as unique, a one-off city forming a crossroads between East and West. It was, according to this line of thinking, unique in being a place representing the modern in a country largely composed of the ancient. This vision of it is compelling, but one can’t help reading Charles King’s excellent new biography of inter-war Istanbul – Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul  – without drawing comparisons between the city on the Bosphorus and the city on the Huangpoo. The similarities are legion: in general, both were forward-looking cities in countries that had suffered long-term decline in economic and political power; both were cities that, although not capitals, became the fulcrums of their national politics; and both were cities that sought modernity with a humongous appetite for the novel and the cosmopolitan. Continue reading

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Man Booker Prize Winner Announced

Congratulations to Richard Flanagan, announced today as the 2014 winner of the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. This was the first year American writers were allowed to be nominated for the prize: Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler were the only Americans to make the shortlist (consisting of six finalists). LARB is proud to have reviewed two of the novels on the shortlist (those by Ferris and Joy Fowler) earlier this year, and also to have recently reviewed another book by a shortlisted author, Ali Smith. Check out the reviews below:

larb blog malala

Malala Yousafzai Awarded Nobel Peace Prize

Today it was announced that Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, and Kailash Satyarthi of India have been awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. 

We published a review of Yousafzai’s book, I Am Malala, a little less than a year ago, in November 2013. We read it again after we heard she had been awarded the peace prize, and we hope you will too!

From the review: “As for the answer to the question, Malala is more than ‘the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban,’ as the book’s subhead pronounces. The voice that beams, ‘I am Malala,’ is the voice that continues to meet the assassin’s challenge. It is the voice of a courageous campaigner who still fights for girls’ education. The voice of an icon who may one day be able to return to her country, but who even from afar symbolizes its noblest cause. When she laughs, she covers the side of her face that becomes slightly distorted because of the bullet’s damage. A year after she was almost killed, it’s the most beautiful laughter we can hear.”

larb blog derrida

Remembering Derrida: A Forum

Ten years ago, on October 9, 2004, the philosopher Jacques Derrida passed away. To mark this occasion and inquire into the legacy of Derrida’s thought today, LARB’s philosophy/critical theory genre section is featuring five short texts by Peggy Kamuf, Gil Anidjar, Elisabeth Weber, Michael Marder, and Luce Irigaray that cover aspects of Derrida’s thought ranging from biodegradability to the Holocaust, the death penalty and drone attacks, plant-life and being human, and back.

Also featured in LARB today is Jeremy Butman’s interview with Simon Critchley about Critchley’s book The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, which proposed the notion of an ethical turn in Derrida’s thought when it was first published in the early 1990s and was recently re-released in a third, revised edition.

Arne De Boever, LARB philosophy/critical theory section editor

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Peggy Kamuf, “Remains to Be Seen”

Gil Anidjar, “Everything Burns: Derrida’s Holocaust”

Elisabeth Weber, “Jacques Derrida’s Urgency, Today”

Michael Marder and Luce Irigaray, “There Is No Thought Without Remembrance”

HKstrikepieceLaskai

Connecting and Comparing the Taipei and Hong Kong Struggles

By Lorand Laskai

October 3: While the world is watching Occupy Central, one group has gone beyond mere spectating. Six nights ago when students in Hong Kong braved waves of tear gas, after days of trying unsuccessfully to occupy the park in front of the government headquarters, another site of the Hong Kong government came under occupation: the Hong Kong Economic and Cooperation Exchange office in Taipei. The occupiers—Taiwanese students. Continue reading