Steven G. Kellman

  • Lost Allusions

    It is unlikely that Aaliya Saleh, the narrator of Rabih Alameddine’s 2014 novel, An Unnecessary Woman, and Jacob, the protagonist of his latest, The Angel of History, would pass each other in the street, but if they did they would probably not speak. Aaliya is a misanthropic seventy-two-year-old recluse who, despite the violence raging outside her Beirut apartment during the decades, has devoted herself to the useless task of translating notable novels into Arabic. What makes her work useless (or “unnecessary”) is that these are secondary translations, based on prior renditions. Her version of

  • Catching Cold

    In a cartoon that earned him a Pulitzer Prize, Bill Mauldin shows two men at hard labor in a Soviet gulag. “I won the Nobel Prize for literature,” one tells the other. “What was your crime?” In 1958, when the cartoon was published, it was obvious that the hapless Nobel laureate was supposed to be Boris Pasternak, whose literary achievements earned him expulsion from the Union of Soviet Writers and harassment so unnerving it pushed him to the verge of suicide. “It is not seemly to be famous,” a poem by Pasternak begins. “Celebrity does not exalt.” Yet after the 1957 publication of his only novel,

  • Insistence of Memory

    The sixty-year interval between Henry Roth’s first novel, Call It Sleep (1934), and his second, A Star Shines over Mt. Morris Park (1994), constitutes the longest intermission in any significant American literary career. In the final decade of his life, Roth overcame severe depression and agonizing rheumatoid arthritis to produce a veritable Niagara of prose—about five thousand manuscript pages. Roth’s assistant, Felicia Steele, and editor, Robert Weil, sculpted three thousand of those into the tetralogy Mercy of a Rude Stream, which was published sequentially starting in 1994. Roth died in

  • Eating Animals

    In Everything Is Illuminated (2002), a character named Jonathan Safran Foer flabbergasts his Ukrainian guide, Alex Perchov. "I’m a vegetarian,” the visiting American declares. "I do not understand,” Alex replies. A dialogue of mutual incomprehension ensues: “'I don’t eat meat.’ 'Why not?’ 'I just don’t.’ 'How can you not eat meat?’ . . . 'I just don’t. No meat.’ 'Pork?’ 'No.’ 'Meat?’ 'No meat.’ 'Steak?’ 'Nope.’ 'Chickens?’ 'No.’ 'Do you eat veal?’ 'Oh, God. Absolutely no veal.’ 'What about sausage?’ 'No sausage either.’” The starving traveler is forced to feast on two potatoes.

    Eating Animals

  • Screen Test Pilot

    If history repeats itself, the second time around, pace Marx, is less likely to be farce than film. Consider the superannuated outlaws and Indian chiefs who showed up as extras in early westerns, placed on the studio payroll to impersonate themselves. Or Josef von Sternberg’s 1928 silent gem The Last Command, in which Emil Jannings plays Grand Duke Sergius Alexander Dolgorucki, the commander of all Russian armies, who is forced by the revolution into exile and indigence. The deposed grandee makes his way to Hollywood, where he ends up in front of a camera, playing a czarist general and earning