All posts by LARB Blog

Writing Reptiles: Qiu Miaojin’s Notes of a Crocodile

By Rhian Sasseen

The crocodile of Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin’s recently translated first novel Notes of a Crocodile is and is not a metaphor, is and is not a character, is and is not really a crocodile at all. The crocodile — the subject of a half-dozen surreal and witty vignettes sprinkled throughout the novel’s overarching coming-of-age story — exists halfway, appearing here and there in fragments, snippets, prose that functions somewhere between fiction and theory. It’s that halfway feeling that’s so essential to and so refreshing about the book, the ambiguity of sex, gender, queerness, desire, and the question of identity itself, all the more sobering to read in today’s political climate. The crocodile’s favorite treat, the unnamed narrator slyly notes, is cream puffs. Pass the cream puffs, please. Continue reading

Asking for a Friend: I Can See the Stress from Here

Dear Olive,

My 12-year-old niece is SO stressed about school. She puts tons of pressure on herself, studies incredibly hard, and is upset when her grades are anything less than perfect. (She’ll say things like “If I don’t get A’s in 6th grade then I’m definitely not going to get A’s in high school and then I’m not going to get into a good college and then I’m not going to get a good job…” Mind you, she DOES get A’s in 6th grade.) I’m worried that she’s putting WAY too much emphasis on grades. She’s just a kid! Is there anything I can do about it? Continue reading

Art Inside: Field Notes #3

By Annie Buckley, for the “Art Inside” series

“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious.”

—Swami Satchitananda

When I entered the bright classroom, women of all ages were gathered around four rectangular tables. Most were dressed in requisite blue uniforms and some wore the optional muumuu, or as my grandmother used to call a similar garment, housedress. The energy was buzzing but each was focused on a bright square of paper in front of her, intently arranging petals in patterns. Strewn down the center of each table was a rainbow of flower petals, leaves, and seeds, both real and artificial. The women were collecting them to layer in colorful patterns on the sheets. They practiced creating their own designs while getting used to the new materials. Two teaching artists, dressed all in black to avoid any of the range of disallowed clothing — from jeans to all red or pink to khaki, anything that might resemble the garb of either inmates or guards from afar — moved around the tables like hummingbirds, shifting from one participant to another then hovering in place to assist or discuss. The atmosphere was more garden party or craft fair than prison. The women and the Community-based Art team collaborated to transform the space. Continue reading

A Writer Living in a Strange Land: An Interview with Xue Yiwei

By Amy Hawkins

With an eye toward providing readers interested in both China and James Joyce with a fitting reading for the week in which Bloomsday falls, we are happy to have a chance to run an interview with Xue Yiwei, provided to by Amy Hawkins, a Beijing-based writer who happens to be that author’s niece.  The interview’s relevance to Bloomsday will quickly become clear below —Jeff Wasserstrom

For a writer who focuses exclusively on China, Xue Yiwei has become something of an alien in his home country. For the past decade, he has lived in Montreal, penning over 20 of novels set in China, which have only recently started to be translated into English. He has been described as a “maverick in contemporary Chinese literature” by fellow novelist Ha Jin, and as “Montreal’s Chinese literary secret” in the Canadian press. Earlier this year he was awarded the Diversity Prize at the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival. His first work to be fully translated and distributed in English is Shenzheners, a collection of short stories set in Shenzhen, exploring the loneliness and “inner life” of different people lost in the urban environs. Inspired by James Joyce’s Dubliners, the book, fluidly rendered into English by translator Darryl Sterk, follows a recent spate of Joycean popularity in China. I spoke to Xue, who is also my uncle, about the influence of Joyce on Chinese literature and what the similarities are between the Shenzhen of today and the Dublin of a century ago. Continue reading

Proof

By Jan Edwards Hemming

It is my first Pride, and I’m nervous. I pull my hair back and wear a paisley-patterned sundress, the closest thing to rainbow that I own. I hope it will hide sweat; it is late June, and I’ve learned that summer in New York City feels just as much like hell as it does in my Louisiana hometown. I still don’t understand parades where beads aren’t thrown, but in the midday sun I clap and cheer and tear up watching all these people who feel comfortable in their skin. I am jealous of them. Continue reading

Orphan Black Season Five, “The Few Who Dare”: Penetration, Selection, Sacrifice, Monsters

By Everett Hamner

As promised in my earlier LARB article, this is the first in a series of episode-by-episode reflections on Orphan Black season five. These will not recap plots, nor will they rely on theoretical jargon or track how many times Alison calls people “fudgy fudgers.” There will be regular spoilers, and there will often be references to moments in earlier seasons. With that said, enjoy — and please don’t hesitate to extend the conversation. Continue reading

Soju, Beer Pong, and the Romance of Cultural Exchange (or the Cultural Exchange of Romance)

By Stefano Young

Stefano Young didn’t know the difference between Korea, China, and Japan until he was 23 — but then he met a Korean woman, learned to say “사랑해요,” and has studied Korean language and culture ever since. In this occasional series, the Los Angeles Review of Books Korea Blog presents his essays on his ever-deepening experiences with Korean life, culture, and family. Links to previous installments appear at the bottom of the post. Continue reading