Thinner than Skin could be a story about love and the search for identity. But it could as easily be a story about the impact of militancy on nomadic communities in northern Pakistan. How did you bring all this together? Nadir and Farhana travel to Kaghan but then it all unravels and there’s a moment at the end when the conflict becomes unimportant.
I’ve never mapped out a novel. I don’t really trust maps, because the lines change as soon you find them. As if the form of a novel itself demands that you stay open to change, open to surprises. All my novels have begun either with an image and/or a voice. With Thinner than Skin, the spark was an Ansel Adams photograph of a waterfall. The force of the torrent inspired a line that has stayed in the book. All the threads of a novel, at least for me, come together through sensory cues, through acts of faith. There is no plan except to feel my way through it.
You write about glacier mating. There’s an ice-bride and ice-groom which to me sounds magical but in some ways is reflective of Nadir and Farhana’s relationship, blowing hot and cold. How did you come up with this strange use of a metaphor that you play with throughout the book?
My first encounter with a glacier was on a visit to northern Pakistan years ago, and it was the same glacier that the characters in my book trek across to get to Lake Saiful Maluk. At the time, what struck me was the sheer physicality of it — the size, the slipperiness, the muddiness of footprints and jeep tracks, the crevices and knuckles and slopes. Things can live inside us a long time before we know they’re even there. It wasn’t till another visit that I learned the glaciers are named, and even given a personality, a gender and a wedding. The ceremony is mysterious and sacred. Naturally, this fascinated me. But even then I never thought to include it in a book. That process — from learning something amazing to finding it a home in my own small way — is also mysterious. I never know how one becomes the other.
Posts Tagged ‘reviews’
Writing in the Electronic Intifada, Sarah Irving offers a wonderful new review of We Are All Equally Far from Love:
“If her first novel, Touch, wasn’t evidence enough, Adania Shibli’s second book We Are All Equally Far From Love confirms her as a rare, challenging talent. It is neither an easy nor always a pleasant read, but it is an extraordinary piece of writing which weaves together melancholia, beauty, violence and brutish physicality in an extended meditation on love and loneliness.”
Read the rest here!
Seamlessly balancing juxtapositions is Shibli’s great gift. We Are All Equally Far From Love is hypnotically visceral in its accrual of mundane details—the color of the sky, the fluttering of flags in the breeze, the endless routines of cooking, eating, breathing, sleeping, sweating—and grippingly cerebral in its meditations on despair, the emotional dimensions of which are shifted, echoed and mirrored through each section. In the hands of a lesser writer, the discontinuous structure, where we spend only a short time immersed in an individual’s internal world before another voice takes over, might lead to a disjointed, unengaging reading experience. But the discipline of Shibli’s aesthetic vision and her tight thematic focus produces, against the odds, a work of stunning coherence that feels cinematic, as though colored by Jim Jarmusch or Wong Kar-wai.
A thoughtful review of Adania Shibli’s We Are All Equally Far from Love, translated by Paul Starkey, appears in today’s Daily Star:
Eight years ago, when the Palestinian novelist Adania Shibli was still living in Ramallah and hadn’t yet moved to London, she told the Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif that life under occupation, even with an Israeli passport, pushes a writer to retreat into “a kind of autism.
Reality now is too frightening, impossible to grasp,” she said. “You could say that fiction becomes a kind of perversion.” Everything about the occupation “affects my writing,” she explained. “I can’t work for very long. It’s as though concentration becomes claustrophobic. The situation controls you. It affects you like a fever.”
Perhaps it makes sense, then, that so many of the characters in Shibli’s fiction – particularly in her second novel, “We Are All Equally Far From Love,” translated by Paul Starkey and published this month by Clockroot Books – are so often fevered and perverse, driven not to deviancy but to bottomless and self-destructive hatred.
The New York Journal of Books has just reviewed Adania Shibli’s We Are All Equally Far from Love (translated from the Arabic by Paul Starkey). According to reviewer Viv Young, this is “not a book to be picked up and put down” and “quite riveting”; “If there is a consistency running through every one of these stories, it is the intensity Ms. Shibli brings to each human emotion she examines.” Read in full here.
This week brought the lovely news that Margarita Karapanou’s The Sleepwalker is currently featured on the readers’ blog of Pages & Pages, an independent bookstore in… Mosman, Australia. “The Sleepwalker would make a terrific Book Club read,” the review notes, “I thoroughly enjoyed this highly imaginative novel with its blend of farce and tragedy and I highly recommend it to you.” Read the review in full here. And here’s to good distribution!
And The Sleepwalker also appeared on Scott Esposito’s list of “Favorite Reads of 2011“: “[A]n amazing little book, certainly one of the leanest, most interesting pieces of writing you will have the pleasure of reading.”
This novel, or anti-novel, or collection of linked tours de force, opens with a bored and adolescent God vomiting a new savior onto an unnamed Greek island. Although in due time we discover that this new Christ is a bizarrely murderous, androgynous, sexually rabid police officer, this is only after Margarita Karapanou has abandoned her strange opening to introduce us to an assortment of blocked artists, homosexuals, and numerous other island dwellers. These characters resemble protagonists, but are more like fellow observers, albeit ones caught up in an increasingly lurid pageant that draws in everyone with the fascination of catastrophe. Karapanou’s book feels like a naïve form of modernism, each of the text’s short, storylike chapters a work of bricolage built from the diverse materials circulating in her cluttered mind. Like the best art, her plots unfold without self-consciousness or apparent purpose, yet they resist simple interpretations and have an impressive structural solidity. Her extremely muscular, tight prose makes a fine medium for the book’s relentlessly surreal, breathtakingly complex happenings, reminiscent of a Latin-inflected Pynchon. Though the book thus described may sound like a mess, The Sleepwalker in fact exudes a sense of strong thematic unity in its slow, relentless progress toward apocalypse—which, when it does arrive, is just as rich, satisfying, and inevitable as everything that has led up to it. If The Sleepwalker is any indication, Karapanou was a major voice whose books demand to be read.
And thank you as well to the RCF!
I’m overdue to put up some fantastic recent reviews, including this one of Edgar Bayley’s The Life and Memoirs of Dr. Pi & Other Stories (translated by Emily Toder), which was reviewed by Dustin Michael in the most recent issue of Big Muddy. It’s only in print, but here’s an excerpt:
The Life and Memoirs of Dr. Pi and Other Stories is a fantastic translation and a rollicking good read… Bayley is a master of word economy and concision, and it is breathtaking to watch him establish scene and advance plot in so little space. … Like the best cowboys from American westerns, Pi is taciturn but not smug, a confident and unhesitating man of action… Even Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s down-on-his-luck detective, whom Bayley pulls unceremoniously from some dusty noir pantry shelf and re-bakes into Pi in equal parts homage and spoof, seems hesitant and verbose by comparison. …
To follow the adventures of Dr. Pi is to imagine a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/Jules Verne hero facing Raymond Chandler goons for quick bouts in an arena designed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Bayley’s wit is a gleaming razor; his masterful command of language betrays his career as poet and a playwright. Even as the stories parody various literary genres (noir, magical realism, classic mystery), they follow Max Beerbohm’s advice regarding caricature—that all elements “be melted down, as in a crucible, from the solution, be fashioned anew.”
And as a bonus, here are some amazing Bayley poems, just translated by Emily Toder, from the latest issue of Gulf Coast.
A wonderful new review of Alex Epstein’s Lunar Savings Time (translated by Becka McKay)—since the Review of Contemporary Fiction is only available in print, I’ll just go ahead and share the review here, with many thanks to the RCF:
As I write this, Borders is closing its doors for good, while The Onion has composed a mock obituary for the “Last Literate Person on Earth,” dead at ninety-eight. Literary writers, it seems, no longer fret over how to capture the kaleidoscopic reality of the new century, but instead wonder why they should bother trying in the first place. In his latest collection, Lunar Savings Time, Israeli author Alex Epstein has, if not answered these questions, at least illuminated a new path toward the literary amid the detritus of print and digital culture. The picture that emerges from this mosaic of narrative—many not more than a page in lengthy—is by no means bleak. Epstein’s very short fictions delineate the enormous imaginative space that is contained within the book—a virtual reality that encompasses past and present, the obscure and the viral simultaneously within its modest pages. The result is alchemy rather than entropy: “And it was winter. The Zen monk updated his Facebook status: ‘In the evening it snowed. In the night I dreamed it was snowing.’ And finally, spring: the ghost’s water broke.” Epstein doesn’t bemoan the ephemeral excess of the digital age; his poetic narratives invite the reader to be more attentive for its plentiful (and inevitable) moments of unexpected beauty, as in “On the Writer’s Conference”: “The writer from the moon has a British accent. He reads a novella set in India. Every time he pronounces the word elephant, the refined audience blushes with pleasure. After him, A Brazilian writer lectures on ‘The Nightlife of the Short Story.’ In a plaza outside the auditorium, a young woman plump from love is smoking the last cigarette of the evening. In [a] moment she will throw the butt into the sky.”
—Pedro Ponce, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Dalkey Archive Press, Fall 2011 (Vol. XXXI, No. 3)
At ForeWord Magazine, Monica Carter has written a wonderful review of Sunetra Gupta’s So Good in Black:
Although a decade has passed since Sunetra Gupta’s last novel, this lucid and mesmerizing masterpiece shows she has used every minute of that time wisely. Told in memories and fragments, it chronicles the history of a group of friends and lovers who are brought together when a member of their group, a journalist who has just opened a women’s shelter, is killed.
… Gupta uses a disjointed narrative to mimic the random recall of memory, something she accomplishes with superb skill and manifests through highly stylized, minimalist prose and distilled pieces of dialogue. As pointed as those fragments are, she also manages to employ rich and evocative details to summon the lush sensory atmosphere of Bengal.
Read the rest here!
And also have a look at Jenn Mar’s lengthy review in The Common, “The Devil and His Glass of Milk,” describing So Good in Black as “a novel that is spacious enough to host a lifetime’s worth of impressions.”
In the Washington Times, Claire Hopley says, “Sunetra Gupta writes of ambiguities brilliantly.”
For those of you in the UK, Sunetra will be speaking on October 2 at the Royal Society in London, on “how narratives emerge in science and literature”—learn more here. For those in the US, we expect an appearance next March: stay tuned!