• print • June/July/Aug/Sept 2006

    DEAD CALM

    Roberto Bolaño died (of liver failure) in 2003 at the age of fifty; he died in Spain, exiled from his birthplace, Chile. Much remains mysterious about his life. He had bad teeth. As a child he was diagnosed with dyslexia. He was arrested by Pinochet’s police. He wrote two impossibly long novels——his last, called 2666, is over one thousand pages long——and many poems; neither of the novels, and none of the poems, as far as I know, has yet appeared in English translation. He remains, for readers marooned in English, an unfolding discovery: New Directions, our savior, has published his two aria-like

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  • print • June/July/Aug/Sept 2006

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2007

    Unhappy Returns

    In Nuruddin Farah’s first novel, From a Crooked Rib, a young woman’s rebellion against traditional Somali society subtly mirrors the modern nation’s struggle for autonomy. That 1970 debut, written when Farah was a twenty-three-year-old philosophy student (and recently reissued by Penguin), exposed the brutalities of infibulation—a pre-Islamic custom—and forced marriage through the eyes of its nomadic heroine, Ebla, spurring recognition of its male author’s uncompromising feminism.

    Forceful women characters, and an anatomy of family relationships from the viewpoint of those who have the least

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2007

    Then We Came to the End

    “We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise. At least those of us who smoked had something to look forward to at ten-fifteen. . . . We thought moving to India might be better, or going back to nursing school. Doing something with the handicapped or working with our hands.” So begins Joshua Ferris’s much-anticipated debut novel, Then We Came to the End, an amusing satire about a collection of artists and writers working at a downsizing ad agency. As the first Internet boom wanes, they fumble to devise a series of pro bono advertisements for a breast-cancer organization (which

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2007

    Native Seeker

    Somewhere between Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa and Alex Garland’s The Beach lies Mischa Berlinski’s debut novel, Fieldwork. With its exotic backdrop (the hill country of northern Thailand), dogged quest for meaning (the facts behind the mysterious murder of an American missionary), and meticulous detailing of tribal customs and anthropological facts, this unlikely marriage of page-turner and dissertation results in some clever and highly entertaining fiction.

    First, the premise: A young American freelance writer accompanies his girlfriend to Chiang Mai, Thailand, after the Internet

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2007

    Vain Art of the Fugue

    If a man in a hurry, carrying flowers, buys a ticket on a slow-moving streetcar bound for the train station, and the woman he’s meeting is on a fast-moving train that will arrive a few minutes late, who will get to the station first? This unanswerable word problem serves as the premise of Dumitru Tsepeneag’s Vain Art of the Fugue. Yet the aporia of this proposition is further complicated by the repeated references to Zeno’s Paradox—the notion that to get from point A to point Z, one must pass through an infinite number of halfway points. As Tsepeneag’s ticket collector says, “Any distance,

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2007

    Death Becomes Him

    A mash-up of political farce and avant-garde bombast, the International Necronautical Society (INS), founded in London in 1999, put forth a parodic manifesto about death, announcing that it “is a type of space, which we intend to map, enter, colonise and, eventually, inhabit.” One of the instrumental “agents” behind this group is roguish general secretary Tom McCarthy, a thirty-seven-year-old English conceptual artist whose nimble and obsessive intellect has now refashioned many of the INS’s themes into a novel, Remainder.

    The manifesto promises to find death’s place in literature, art, and

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2007

    Naming Youths

    André Aciman is our consummate Proustian. Even more than Roger Shattuck, who’s championed Proust in scholarly works, or Alain de Botton, who’s promoted Proustian self-help, Aciman has taken to heart the author’s injunction to use In Search of Lost Time as a personal darkroom—to dip the negatives of one’s own memories into the magic solution Proust provides. In his remarkable collection of essays, False Papers (2000), Aciman tells how his father first bought him Swann’s Way when he was fifteen (“I already knew I had just received, perhaps without my father’s knowing it, his dearest, most enduring

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2007

    The bloody era of sectarian violence between nationalists and Unionists known as the Troubles that marked Northern Ireland from 1969 until the late ’90s comes boldly to life in Louise Dean’s astonishing second novel, This Human Season. From her scrupulously fashioned prose emerges a sprawling saga, structured in alternating chapters, of two Belfast families—the Catholic Morans and the Protestant Dunns—torn from without by their warring loyalties and from within by their own demons during the two months leading up to Christmas 1979.

    The English-born Dean—her first novel, Becoming Strangers,

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2007

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