Category Archives: Literature

Unlocking Arabic: the Art and Poetry of Etel Adnan

By Mona Kareem

If you type Etel Adnan’s name into Google — in Arabic or English or French — you won’t find a single picture of the poet in her youth. Even if you type “Etel Adnan young,” you will only see results from her later years. Among these is a black and white picture of an elder Etel, her face partially covered with a flower, like an Ottoman girl preparing to transcend time. Continue reading

Looking and Acting: On Ali Smith’s Autumn

By Milo Hicks

Reading a new Ali Smith novel always feels like returning to a familiar place. There is the usual smattering of quotes that mark the opening of each work, laid out like a welcome mat at the door. She always uses a single word — “past,” “beginning,” “I,” “there,” “one,” “1” — to open the first section of every one of her novels, a gentle reminder that every story is the bringing together of disparate parts. And then there is her undeniable voice that agitates and soothes in the same stroke, unbearably light and effortlessly heavy. Autumn, her most recent novel, is no exception, and it’s homier than ever. Underneath the new window coverings and re-arranged furniture are the same authorial concerns: time, art, and storytelling. Yet the familiar places of her novels never come across as worn or tired because they welcome such a diversity of characters. Smith knows that “whoever makes up the story makes up the world,” and advises us to “always try to welcome people into the home of your story.” This advice, which is one of Autumn’s foremost concerns, is lived out in every home she builds. Continue reading

I Cut and Cut and Cut Away: An Interview with Kate Zambreno

By Meghan Lamb

Kate Zambreno’s first book, O Fallen Angel, was released in 2009 by Chiasmus Press as the winner of its aptly titled “Undoing the Novel” contest. This was also the year I moved to Chicago, the city where Kate then lived. There, O Fallen Angel was insinuatingly suggested to me by a bookseller at Quimby’s, offered as a kind of (anti)social talisman: “Have you heard of Kate Zambreno?” Continue reading

Haruki Murakami Has More Books Out in Korean than He Ever Will in English

By Colin Marshall

Whenever someone has made progress studying a foreign language and asks which author they should try reading in that language, I always recommend the same one: Haruki Murakami. Though perhaps an obvious choice for students of Japanese, his mother tongue and the language in which he writes, his work has now made it into about fifty different languages in total. His stories’ globally appealing style, their abundance of non-Japanese cultural references, and their translation-ready prose style (legend has it he overcame an early bout of writer’s block by writing his first novel in what English he knew, then converting it back to Japanese) make them work just about as well in French, Polish, Turkish, Hebrew, or Mandarin as they do in the original. Continue reading

The Fourth Estate Needs a Superhero

By Benjamin Reeves

On January 20th, America inaugurated a new president. He is a plutocrat who made a mint plastering his name on buildings and shellacking everything in gold like some sort of cut-rate Midas. He is a creature of the media — a whore for attention and a brazen liar. It was theoretically amusing, in years past, when he was simply taking turns on reality TV and pretending to gossip columnists that he was his own PR agent. During the early days of the campaign, the nation was all too content to suffer this particular fool so long as he kept the campaign interesting. Never forget CBS chairman Les Moonves’ words that Trump’s campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” When we all started living in his personal reality TV show — when he won — he became terrifying. Continue reading

For The Future of the Truth: An Excerpt from Nothing Ever Dies

By Viet Thanh Nguyen (author of Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Sympathizer) for the Provocations series, in conjunction with UCI’s “The Future of Truth” conference

As a Gook, in the eyes of some, I can testify that being remembered as the other is a dismembering experience, what we can call a disremembering. Disremembering is not simply the failure to remember. Disremembering is the unethical and paradoxical mode of forgetting at the same time as remembering, or, from the perspective of the other who is disremembered, of being simultaneously seen and not seen. Disremembering allows someone to see right through the other, an experience rendered so memorably by Ralph Ellison in the opening pages of Invisible Man. Continue reading

Where to Start Reading Translated Korean Literature

By Charles Montgomery

Because I write a website on Korean literature in translation, people often email me with questions (often questions I am completely unqualified to answer!), far and away most often asking, “I’m interested in Korean literature. What book should I read?” This that would have been hard enough to answer 20 years ago, when the broad outline of Korean fiction was much simpler, and has become nearly impossible question to answer today. Continue reading

Our Monsters Are Like Us: An Interview with Abdellah Taïa

By Sam Metz

Abdellah Taïa was born in a public library and grew up in Salé, the poorer, twin city that sits across the Bou Regreg River from Rabat. Though he now resides in France and hasn’t lived in Morocco for almost 20 years, it still figures largely in his fiction, which is often about “that specific time at the beginning of adolescence when […] you see what they want you to be, and how you are going to escape it.” Continue reading

Dumplings, Dictators, and Daoists — Six Book Recommendations

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

I wrote the first draft of this post on the final day of 2016, and then revised it on the first day of 2017, so it is fitting that it will be divided between backward looking and forward looking halves.  In the opening half, I will provide micro-reviews of two worthy but dissimilar 2016 books.  They explore, respectively the cuisine of the Jiangnan Region of China that includes the cities of Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou, and the puzzle of how China’s Communist Party keeps outliving predictions of its imminent demise.  I thought at various points that I would work extended discussions of these 2016 publications into piece I was writing, but that never happened.  I am glad to at least be able to give them short shout outs here.  Continue reading