Peter Terzian

  • Sound and Vision

    Maybe for you it was the old man with the bundle of sticks on his back, or the monkey with the halo and the floating numbers, or the two businessmen, one on fire, shaking hands. For me it was the woman on the frozen pond.

    I looked at the cover of Joni Mitchell’s Hejira a lot when I was sixteen years old—this was in the mid-1980s, a decade after the album came out. It wasn’t the portrait of the singer on the front that so fascinated me, although her broad, triangular silhouette is what now comes to mind when I think of the album—has, in fact, become shorthand in my memory for all the music I

  • English Patience

    If artists can be divvied up into prodigies and late bloomers, the British writer Francis Wyndham has been both. His melancholy publishing history suggests this split career has been more a curse than a blessing. He composed his first stories between the ages of seventeen and twenty, during World War II, “while I was hanging about waiting to be called up and while I was convalescing after I had been invalided out of the army,” he once wrote. A collection was rejected by publishers—paper was in short supply, so it was difficult to get published, he told a recent interviewer. Still, his confidence


    It’s best not to struggle too much while reading Nothing to Be Frightened Of, Julian Barnes’s chew on death, religion, family, writing, and memory, among other things. Ideas, arguments, quotations, and anecdotes pursue one another across the pages, dogleg, vanish, and resurface. Signposts and footholds are scarce, and there are no chapter breaks or headings. No matter: Barnes is the most companionable of tour guides, quipping and joshing, recounting family stories, citing nineteenth-century French writers, and asking would-you-rather questions like a parlor gamester.

    A sample handful of pages

  • Portraits of the Artist

    The detailed chronology of William Maxwell’s life included in the new Library of America edition of his first four novels and early stories is an uncannily precise mirror image of the circumstances that recur throughout his fiction. Maxwell was born in 1908 in Lincoln, Illinois, a town, he later wrote, “small enough and sufficiently isolated for the people who lived there to have not only a marked individuality but also a stature that still seems to me larger than life-sized. They did not know how to be dull, and nothing that had ever happened was forgotten.” The defining event of his early

  • Invisble Clan

    The Buenos Aires of Nathan Englander's harrowing and brilliant first novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, is a city of disappearances. Names are effaced from gravestones, unseemly family histories are denied, plastic surgery distorts familial resemblances. Students are imprisoned; some may become victims of the vuelos de la muerte, or "death flights"—the tortured dissidents sedated and thrown from planes into the estuary that runs past the city into the Atlantic Ocean. Pato, the sweet-natured but rebellious teenage son of Kaddish and Lillian Poznan, is taken from their home one evening by a