Category Archives: Reviews

In the Last Days of Old Shanghai

By Susan Blumberg-Kason

For well over half-a-century, novelists have been setting tales in 1930s Shanghai, an unusually cosmopolitan city that was divided into foreign-run and Chinese-run districts and known for its bustling port and decadent nightlife. Talented Chinese authors, such as Zhang Ailing (1920-1995) who published in English as Eileen Chang, set stories in the metropolis while the era of the Japanese invasion of China (1932-1945) and eight-year occupation of Shanghai that began in 1937 were underway.  A writer now probably best known in the West for writing the stories that inspired the film “Lust, Caution,” Chang was the author of novels such as Half a Lifelong Romance and The Fall of the Pagoda, both set in Shanghai, as well as the translator of Han Bangqing’s The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, an older volume that chronicled the city’s red-light district in the late 19th century. Continue reading

Divergent Streams: The Poetry of Roberto Echavarren

By Anthony Seidman

The notion of a singular “Latin American poetry” perturbs the reader who discerns the radiant gathering of traditions, ruptures, and voices among the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking peoples of the Americas. For example, the Poesía Negra of the Puerto Rican Luis Palés Matos (1898-1959) looks simply decorative when compared to the politically charged poetry of the Cuban Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989), another voice from the Negrismo movement. The controlled sonnets of Borges bear little resemblance to the overflowing cadences of Nicaraguan poet Joaquín Pasos. The Whitman who supposedly informs Neruda proves to be a different and more tangible presence in the poetry of the Dominican Pedro Mir (1913-2000). The Mexican José Gorostiza (1901-1973) is “difficult” in a way wholly different from that of the Peruvian César Vallejo (1892-1938). And yet many poets fresh from MFA programs gush about the singular burning coal of “Latin American poetry,” which was pressed against their lips so they could sing. Roberto Echavarren’s The Espresso Between Sleep and Wakefulness may be a disappointment for these readers, who only expect the love lyrics or elemental odes of Neruda. Then again, he may be revelation. Continue reading

Travels Across Uncomfortable Terrain: Nora Gold’s The Dead Man

By Maria Bloshteyn

If you believe in the value of travelling beyond one’s comfort zones, you’ll find much to support your belief in Nora Gold’s most recent novel, The Dead Man (2016). Gold is a Toronto-based writer who has a history of venturing into fraught terrain. Her first novel, Fields of Exile (2014) — she debuted with a short story collection that won praise from Alice Munro — dealt with anti-Israel sentiment on university campuses, which marries all too well with outright Judeophobia. The Dead Man, Gold’s second novel, examines the erotic longings of elderly men, obsessions of women deep into their middle age, and creative impotence. Throw in widowhood, manipulative stepmothers, needy wives, and therapy (music therapy, but still…), and you have a cringe-worthy melange that pushes almost every reader’s buttons. Yet it is precisely by adventuring in such difficult emotional terrain that Gold achieves something beautiful, transformative, and life-affirming. Continue reading

S-Town: When a Podcast Becomes a Book

By Nic Dobija-Nootens

Near the end of the first episode of the new crime podcast S-Town, from the makers of This American Life and Serial, host Brian Reed asks himself, “What am I still doing here?” Reed is in the small town of Woodstock, Alabama, watching S-Town’s subject, an eccentric clockmaker named John B. Mclemore, tinker around his shop. Reed came to Woodstock to investigate a murder Mclemore emailed him about, but at this point in the show, the basic facts of the murder, and the issue of whether it even happened, are in question. Reed thinks he might be facing a dead end, but Mclemore, a 50-year-old southerner with chest tattoos, nipple piercings, and an expert knowledge of antique clocks, intrigues him to stay. Eventually, Mclemore pays off. Continue reading

What Some Men Want

By Chris Fink

It’s easy to mock Tucker Max’s What Women Want by opening to a page at random and reading a line or two, but I took it all in, deep. Unlike the hundreds of women who have apparently slept with the author, I hope I’m one of the only people who has read his whole book, because mocking is too gentle, like a teasing kiss, compared to the venereal bonfire this thing deserves. Continue reading

The Zoo, Revisited

By Ian MacAllister-McDonald

The second act of Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo was originally a self-contained one-act called The Zoo Story, written in 1958. In it, a laconic textbook editor named Peter is approached in Central Park by Jerry, a disheveled hustler who’s spent his life on the fringes and is desperate for a meaningful human connection. If you have had a homeless person approach you and start talking in a way that doesn’t make perfect sense, then you can imagine Peter’s unease. Likewise, if you’ve ever been surrounded by people, but still somehow managed to find yourself deeply, suffocatingly lonely, then you can imagine Jerry’s desperation. The play is about these two men: one who wants to mind his own business and the other who needs someone to talk to, and how they reach the worst kind of compromise. Laugh-out-loud funny at times and heart-wrenchingly sad at others, The Zoo Story is an almost-perfect short play. Continue reading

The Incendiary Impact of Elif Batuman’s The Idiot

By Louise McCune

A factory sorts its oil drums. Behind door number one is a room of full barrels, and behind door two sits a stash of empty ones. Workers at the factory are wary around the full ones, taking precaution to avoid combustion, when in fact it is the other set that deserve their heightened vigilance. Those empty drums are in fact not empty at all. Once their liquid is used up, they become full of flammable vapors and are therefore even more volatile than their unused counterparts. Their menace is obscured by their moniker — “empty” — with disastrous consequence; deeming the empty drums empty of threat, workers are disarmed in their presence. They take breaks. They light cigarettes. They start a fire. Continue reading

The (Un)Draped Woman: Contemporary Iranian Art and New Self-Portraits

By Austin Park

The (Un)Draped Woman is the third in a series of pop-up shows organized by Roshi Rahnama and Advocartsy, a “collaborative visual arts platform” examining an exciting and highly active Iranian contemporary art scene in Los Angeles and beyond. This particular iteration seeks to challenge and interrogate the established or conventional image of the woman in Iranian culture, a central visual aspect of which is the image of women in various states of cover. Virtually all the works in this show engage primarily with questions about the image of self or the self-portrait. In this sense, the show as a whole attempts to visualize a contemporary Iranian and Iranian-American image of feminine self, ones that might possess qualities and inspirations from both Western and Eastern culture. Continue reading