For fans (and soon to be fans…) of Blue Has No South: three new short-short stories by Alex Epstein, translated by Becka McKay, up at Electric Literature‘s blog, the Outlet. And with this note I’m very happy to announce that Clockroot will be releasing another collection of Alex’s in 2011—details to come!
Archive for July, 2010
In her third book, Aslam gives us a female paleontologist, charged writing about the erotic, and a profound inquiry into the often-vexing relationship between faith and reason. Add to these riches the voice of a blind child “taste-testing” words, and The Geometry of God becomes that rare creature, a novel where the urgency of the message is matched by the verve of the narrative.
Read the rest here! (And I appreciate their comment about the cover—someone ought to write a little feature sometime on novel covers and Orientalism, all those swirling fabrics & dark eyeliner.)
And another new review of Geometry at Salient magazine, a student magazine of Victoria University at Wellington.
Stories about the past often mislead: in order to create a satisfying whole, most writers carefully arrange history and memory, inventing links and causal connections. Sometimes, this results in good storytelling. But sometimes the task of an author—particularly one who writes about a hyper-symbolized terrain—is to un-narrativize, to pull things back apart.
Adania Shibli is up to this task. Touch brings us the fragmented worldview of a narrator at the cusp of understanding her world. The 72-page novella could be described as five interconnected prose poems, a historical fiction about the Palestinian territories set in 1982, or a coming-of-age tale in which maturation is marked not by a loss of innocence, but by an ever-growing loneliness and alienation.
Keep reading here—
A review of Love, Anger, Madness (Modern Library, 2009) by Clockroot intern A’Dora Phillips.
Of the many reasons that a worthy work of literature may not be translated for decades, one of the most common is its suppression in the original time and place in which it was written. Such is the case of Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s Love, Anger Madness, a trilogy of novellas, often referred to as a “triptych,” evoking and condemning the violence and tyranny of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s Reign of Terror in Haiti. The book dates to 1967, when for six months Vieux-Chauvet sequestered herself in a room in Haiti, writing the entire text in what must have been, one imagines, a fever-pitch of anxiety and artistic necessity against a backdrop of state-sanctioned violence. Though Vieux-Chauvet set her stories in the generation(s) before Duvalier ascended to power, it is obvious that she was evoking and speaking out against Duvalier’s brutal regime, and she does so in a voice so unable to equivocate the outrage she feels that we are reminded of the words Osip Mandelstam conjured in ‘homage’ to Stalin: “the thick worms his fingers… the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip, the glitter of his boot-rims…” (Translated by W.S. Merwin)
She sent the trilogy off as a single unified manuscript to Paris, and Gallimard agreed to publish it. Shortly thereafter, in 1968, an advance copy was read by Haiti’s ambassador to France, and he warned Vieux-Chauvet that its existence placed her and her family in danger. Three Vieux-Chauvet family members had already been executed by the regime, and so she took his warning seriously. She persuaded Gallimard to halt distribution and went on a trip to New York, from which she never returned to Haiti. Making an emergency visit to Haiti, her husband acquired stray copies of the book and destroyed them. Five years later, in 1973, Chauvet died in exile at the age of fifty-seven (of brain cancer). She had three children, and although they possessed a cache of remaining copies, which they sold “discreetly” over the years, Vieux-Chauvet’s trilogy was essentially “lost” until the French publisher Zellige republished it in 2005. And only with the 2009 publication of the English translation, rendered by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokur, is Vieux-Chauvet’s seminal work finally available in English. More than four decades have passed, yes, but the delay in publication does nothing to diminish the book’s relevance and air of urgency. In a way this might be seen as unfortunate, given the terrible nature of her subject matter.
The first novella, Love, is also the longest and most realistically rendered. It is told from the point-of-view of Claire Clamont, at thirty-nine the oldest and darkest of three mulatto sisters whose parents are dead. She is unmarried, a frustrated virgin who records her bitterness and longing in a journal she keeps. The Clamont sisters inhabit their ancestral house, which they cannot afford to maintain; their inheritance, largely squandered; and their unnamed hometown, seething with fear under the despotic eyes of Calédu (a commandant assigned to keep order in their region); with mounting anxiety and disaffection. Yet in the midst of this troubled social, cultural, and political environment, the sisters focus hopeful eyes on Jean Luze, a white Frenchman who marries the middle sister (who is also the whitest) after traveling to Haiti to build a career in the export business. While she is pregnant with their second child, he has an affair with her younger sister and serves as the object of the older one’s unconsummated sexual and emotional cravings. As personal and political tensions rise within the many spaces circumscribed by the narrative, we feel the certainty of violent rupture. But in testament to Vieux-Chauvet’s artistry, the final act of violence is a surprising one and her story thus evades simplistic formulations.
The overarching impression evoked by Love is one of suffocating confinement and stagnation, but with the second of the three stories the confinement tightens in Kafkaesque helplessness when a Haitian family wakes one morning to find that “men in black” are staking out, and cordoning off, their property. The men carry guns and laugh in the face of the family’s misfortune, and it is obvious both to the family and to the reader that to protest the unexpected confiscation would be to perish. Days pass, and a wall is erected separating the family from their orchards and the tomb of its patriarch. As in Love, the family is watched, shunned, and judged by neighbors, witnesses behind curtains that imperceptibly shift to afford a glance out. The family suffers a loss of standing in the community and is pulled asunder as its members react in their individual ways to the fate that has befallen them. The reader knows that nothing can be done, that tragedy is foregone, that nothing can take back what has been set in motion. The mother in Anger, too, knows this and succumbs to alcoholism. But the father, somewhat unconsciously, offers his daughter up as a sexual sacrifice to a local commandant in the hope that their land and status will be restored, while the grandfather plots with the younger son, an invalid, to retaliate against the men who have intruded upon them. While in Love there is an explosion in the culminating scene, in Anger there is collapse.
From the rubbles of the collapse, the rubble of what Haiti has become by 1967, emerges Madness, the final novella of Vieux-Chauvet’s trilogy. The beggars from Love who are put to work as soldiers in the service of the regime – a reference to one of Duvalier’s literal practices – become slightly more abstracted in Anger as “men in black”, and even more so in Madness as “devils” seen by a poet, René, from where he remains barricaded in a shack, muttering soliloquies and visited by terrified friends searching for a refuge from the dark of night and its henchmen. By this third novella, the anchor of reality – albeit fictional reality – slips for the reader. We see the world through the eyes of a poet who may or may not be mad, may or may not be imagining that which he sees, including a corpse outside his door rapidly decaying in the heat.
Vieux-Chauvet’s writing is sometimes painfully raw. A woman detained by Calédu and gang-raped is upon her release seen on the street stumbling and unable to walk properly; the poor are manipulated into clear-cutting the trees on their land, a huge profit made by the businessman who pays them pennies, while the peasants are forced to abandon “their bleached, bled-dry land to watch the cars arriving from Port-au-Prince”; a handicapped man is shot in the head during a religious procession, and all are afraid to go to him. With these images and others, we are left feeling the corrupt systems, ravaged environment, racism, class hatred, and misogyny of an unjust regime, and in a sense Vieux-Chauvet’s work thus stands as a memorial to the raped and murdered, the disenfranchised and abused of any nation under such a rule. But her novellas have us looking not just to the past. They leave us too with the question: what must we say, now? The United States. 2010.
—A’Dora Phillips, Clockroot intern
At PRI’s “The World” an engaging take on cruelty & fiction, considering Karapanou’s Rien ne va plus and Veronique Olmi’s Beside the Sea:
In Véronique Olmi’s French bestseller, Beside the Sea, a mother brings her two children to a beachside hotel, then smothers them to death with a pillow. In Margarita Karapanou’s Rien Ne Va Plus, a married couple torture each other while the author punishes the reader with a series of contradictory plot lines. … Olmi is cruel to no conceivable end, but Karapanou uses pain to make a point.
For those of you who are local (or even those who aren’t), a friend & recent grad of the UMass MFA program is launching a nonprofit in Turners Falls, MA, called the Thrive Project. The Thrive Project will aim to help 18- to 30-year-olds get a new start, in a different job and/or further training and education; Turners Falls has one of the highest high-school dropout rates and is in the poorest county in Mass. The project will open its doors at the end of 2010, and needs your donations. More info and below, and check out their website to read more or donate:
The Thrive Project is a a not-for-profit adult learning, career, and community/cultural center based in Turners Falls, a former mill town in Franklin County, Massachusetts. Thrive focuses on able young adults, ages 18 to 30, who, after struggling in high school, find themselves stuck in dead-end jobs with no apparent way to change course. These people deserve a chance to live better and participate more; to thrive instead of just survive.
Through free services that include tutoring training, and standardized-test preparation; apprenticeships with local artisans, tradespeople, businesses; grants and scholarships; and art making, Thrive provides young people with experiences, inspiration, support, and role models. Thrive also offers clients a place to use computers, get and give advice, research careers, and engage with others in their community in a variety of productive and inspiring ways.
The Thrive Project’s ultimate goals are twofold: to serve clients in Turners Falls and throughout Franklin County, and to create a replicable model for non-urban communities nationwide.
In The National, a lengthy, highly laudatory review of Touch and discussion of Adania Shibli:
… Touch purrs along like an extended prose poem – all words and sounds and images – as Shibli picks up the glinting fragments of the girl’s experience, then turns them over in her hand to see how they refract the light of a world so radically constricted and reduced. …
[T]he translation of Touch feels fresh, signalling the arrival of a young stylist who writes like no one else.
Read in full here—