Published in the May 2010 issue of this.
BEATRICE & VIRGIL
By Yann Martel
Alfred A. Knopf
(April 2010, CAN $29.95, 197 pages)
Yann Martel’s new novel, Beatrice & Virgil, is noticeably less reliant on Martel’s masterful lore-ridden prose exemplified in his Man Booker Prize winning novel Life Of Pi. Beatrice is obsessed with two popularly tackled, yet uniquely portrayed literary themes: a bard with artistic challenges, and the Holocaust. Main character Henry, a world famous author living off the success of his last novel, is working on a half essay/half novel flip-book aimed at providing a fresh account of the Holocaust. Henry’s inspiration is historical realism’s domination of the theme in art, in response to which he thrives for an aspect of wonder: “A work of art works because it is true, not because it is real. Was there not a danger to representing the Holocaust in a way always beholden to factuality?” But after twenty pages of Beatrice, Henry’s unique post-modern stab at Holocaust representation is shot down by his publishers, who see hollowness in is his idea.
Upon the negative feedback, Henry takes a break from writing, and he and his newly pregnant wife Sarah move to an unnamed city. Henry attains a job in a cafe and volunteers in the local theatre company; Sarah works in an addictions clinic. Beatrice drops its budding rhetorical discourse of differently representing the Holocaust to more closely follow the theme of life as a writer: Henry begins regularly coaching a lowly, old taxidermist, also named Henry, on a play he has been working on all his life. Now, Beatrice mainly becomes an examination of the taxidermist’s play.
The play centres around two fervently symbolic, Dante-esque characters: a donkey named Beatrice, and a howler monkey, Virgil. The play becomes infused in the story, at times lengthily, with multiple page excerpts that follow the two animals as they lapse in and out of comi-tragic scenes. The first snippet of dramatic dialogue is six pages of Virgil describing to Beatrice what a pear looks like. It takes a while to decipher why Martel focuses on discussions of arbitrary things, at times difficult to link to any real symbolism. However, Beatrice eventually reconnects with Martel’s Holocaust motif, offering depressing, empathetic scenes where Virgil is sought out by an elusive secret police squad, and the taxidermist lividly pieces together parts of dead animals (“the mouth was a tongueless, toothless gaping hole revealing the yellow fibreglass jaw of the mannequin. [. . .] It looked grotesquely unnatural, a cervine version of Frankenstein”). Martel spells out numerous Holocaust metaphors, but it somehow takes the genius-like Henry until Beatrice’s final pages to understand the taxidermist’s theme, and realize there is a real-life Nazi nearby.
Martel, like Henry wants to do, cleverly creates an original viewpoint for Holocaust representation in art, which drives Beatrice’s self-reflexive capability home. By Martel leading us through the taxidermist’s play, reader and writer, fiction and reality become synonymous. Suddenly, Beatrice’s function is just what Henry’s art is, an imaginative story shedding new light on the Holocaust. Martel is begging us to look at his work as a reflection of real events and to pull fruitful reality out of fiction. This said, an entertainment reader seeking a Life of Pi adventure will be drawn away by Beatrice and Martel’s attempt to paint a new picture not so in your face as most would like it.
~ John Coleman
Usually the fall is the time for terrific new releases in the world of publishing while Hollywood cools down from hot summer blockbusters and ramps up with tear-jerk films in time for the holidays.
Set to come out in October is a film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, both Academy Award nominees. Mulligan’s break-out role in a Nick Hornby screenplay was based on a long essay by Lynne Barber called An Education.
Ishiguro’s Booker Prize winning novel The Remains of the Day was made into a critically-acclaimed film in 1993. View the trailer for Never Let Me Go and get ready to cuddle with someone special.
Yet another fabulous contest! The Mississippi Review’s annual contest awards prizes of $1,000 in fiction and in poetry. Deadline is October 1, 2010 and the all the necessary details can be found here.
VALLEY OF THE DEAD
(THE TRUTH BEHIND DANTE’S INFERNO)
by Kim Paffenroth
(April 2010, $14.95, 258 pages)
Most people in the literary community are familiar with Dante’s Inferno in some way. If you haven’t read this volume of The Divine Comedy, you may have seen the commercial for the video game Dante’s Inferno Divine Edition, which is based on the epic poem by Dante Alighieri. It is a story that describes the nine circles of Hell (limbo, lust, gluttony, avarice & prodigality, wrath & sullenness, heresy, violence, fraud, and betrayal), as conceived by the medieval age, beginning with the day before Good Friday in 1300 A.D.
Dante wrote The Divine Comedy during his exile from Florence. Until recently, no one knew for certain where he had been or what he had done during those years away from his home. However, author Kim Paffenroth (who also happens to be a professor of religious studies), wrote a book titled Valley of the Dead (The Truth Behind Dante’s Inferno) which tells the tale that inspired Dante to write his poem of horrors. In a captivating prologue, Paffenroth presents us with the story of how Dante survived a zombie plague, illuminating the lessons that the poet learned.
Don’t let the mention of zombies fool you into thinking this is just a gore novel with a twist. Unlike the spliced-together novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Paffenroth has written an original narrative with a style comparable to classical literature, bringing together historical fiction, drama and horror to chronicle Dante’s personal account of the pestilence and human suffering that inspired Inferno. Don’t expect the same zombies or character types that can be found in Paffenroth’s Dying to Live: Life Sentence, the second in his zombie series based on a group of people surviving an apocalypse in a museum.
In Valley of the Dead, Dante stumbles upon a village in the midst of an epidemic that is unknown to him. There he meets a pregnant woman named Bogdana, and together they travel west into a valley, attempting to escape an army that believes destroying all of the towns it finds is the only way to stop the spread of infection. Along the way, they are joined by an army deserter and a monk, and the four of them soon form the opinion that the survivors are the ones that are cursed, not the undead. Some of the most frightening and disheartening moments of the book are the exploits of the living, and not the zombies as one might think.
This novel digs deep into the human soul, and exposes all the nobility and ugliness that people are capable of. It goes beyond the bloodshed of most zombie literature, and provides some insight into the theology of Dante, one of the greatest literary icons of the Western world. Paffenroth is certain to grab the attention of the academic crowd with Valley of the Dead.
~Ursula K. Raphael
BY LACEY N. DUNHAM
The submissions are rolling in non-stop for our July/August issue (forthcoming) but don’t worry, there’s still time to get yours in before our July 1 deadline. Just be sure to read our submission guidelines first.
Our forthcoming issue will feature a book review of Chuck Palahniuk’s Tell-All by resident Canadian literature contributor, John Coleman and music reviews by our head music contributor, Jordon Chiarelli, as well as fiction, poetry, visual poetry, and photography.
If you can’t make our July deadline, I encourage you to submit your work for our September/October issue or our November/December issue. Our team is always looking for talented writers whose work is fresh, creative, polished, and astounding. For new writers, those who have never published before, and emerging writers who have published but are looking to expand their readership to ever wider audiences, I look forward to reading your work.
Get jazzed for July/August ’cause it’s gonna blow yer mind.
The Black Lawrence Press is currently accepting submissions for their 2010 St. Lawrence Book Award. The award is given annually for an unpublished collection of short stories or poems and is open to any writer who has not yet published a full-length collection. The winner receives book publication, a $1,000 cash award, and ten copies of the book. The entry fee is $25 with a deadline of August 31, 2010.
The ever-awesome New Pages blog notes an entry fee discount of up to $16 if you submit before June 30. Read about how to take advantage of the early bird discount here.
José Saramago, 87, the only Portuguese-language writer to have won the Nobel Prize, died Friday morning at his home in Spain. Saramago’s surreal and occasionally controversial books frequently placed ordinary people in radical situations and confrontations. According to The Washington Post, literary critic Harold Bloom denounced Saramago’s political views as those of “a Portuguese Stalinist” but honored him as the second-best writer in the world.
The Catholic Church greatly disapproved of his novel The Gospel of Jesus Christ, in which Jesus Christ is portrayed as a teenager with a strong libido. Following the church’s censorship of the book, Saramago entered self-exile in Spain for the remainder of his life.
Saramago’s novel Blindness was made into a 2008 film starring Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo.
In time for Bloomsday, Apple reversed its decision to reject panels of Robert Berry’s graphic novel adaption of James Joyce’s Ulysess , titled Ulysess Seen, that contained nude drawings. Both the author and the publisher noted the irony that Joyce’s novel was the source of controversy 75 years ago in the U.S., after the U.S. appeals court overturned an obscenity ban on the novel but thanked Apple for reconsidering their case. In an article for The Washington Post , Berry poses a question about content, created by artists, and sellers of that content who must make decisions about what is acceptable to offer to a range of customers: “Who decides the way we see new content on these very exciting new devices: The artist reinterpreting them for a new and exciting venue, or the grocer or newstand seller who knows nothing about the content but talks incessantly about the kind of product they have to offer?”
Apple’s conservative taste in graphic novels also extended to a graphic novel adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by Tom Bouden, which featured several panels of men kissing. Apple allowed the graphic novel for it’s iPad after resubmission. Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller noted that “we made a mistake.”
Apple’s initial decisions in both cases begs the question as to how much the visual element was the reason for the ban. The iPad carries hundreds of novels where nudity and same-sex relationships are discussed but, because the onus is on the reader to visualize these scenes, Apple can more easily justify offering these novels to their customers.
Read selections from Robert Berry’s adaptation of Joyce’s novel here.
Today, June 16, is Bloomsday. Celebrated around the world, Bloomsday hails from James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, which follows the life of Leopold Bloom during a single day (June 16) in Dublin. Bloomsday activities typically include staged readings of Joyce’s novel, celebrations at (where else?) pubs and, in Dublin, a reenactment of Ulysses performed city-wide. Celebrations get creative, too. The New York Times reports Tablet, an online magazine of Jewish news and culture, is holding “The Bloom in Bloomsday,” a celebration of “James Joyce’s favorite Jew” while The New Yiddish Repertory Theatre will perform some bits of Joyce’s novel in Yiddish.
BY JOHN COLEMAN
Environmentalist, activist, scientist, and super-Canadian David Suzuki has teamed up with best-selling author/environmentalist Holly Dressel for a new novel, More Good News: Real Solutions to the Global Eco-Crisis, released last month on Greystone Books. More Good News is the follow up to the writing team’s 2003 Good News For A Change: How Everyday People Are Helping The Planet.
As the two titles suggest, the books provide an optimistic vantage point on current world environmental issues. Instead of focusing on where environmental tactics go wrong, Suzuki and Dressel acknowledge the many people and organisations that promote and enact real green change everyday. Good News For A Change, which sold 35,000 copies, insists global sustainability and the technology needed to provide it is within reach. More Good News updates readers on new issues not covered in the 2003 book. For example, More Good News discusses how declining global economies have since halted governments from seeking major environmental solutions and how renewable energy sources have been thrust into the foreground of environmental debates. With these additions, Suzuki and Dressel keep with the overall theme that sustainability solutions are real and need to be accessed in the near future.
Suzuki and Dressel provide refreshing optimism for a change, proving that with a little promotion and hard work, future environmental crises can be successfully treated, or even avoided. But, the buck doesn’t stop with the book. Readers, voters, and the average citizens must lobby governments to take sustainability issues seriously before any widespread change takes effect.
Awards! Awards! Awards! It sounds a bit like Monday night at the monster truck rally.
Barbara Kingsolver won The Orange Prize for Fiction last week for her novel The Lacuna, an expansive story set primarily in Mexico that entwines the Mexican Revolution, McCarthyism, Freida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The novel took Kingsolver a decade to write and for the honor, Kingsolver beat out perpetual award winner Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and Lorrie Moore’s Gate At the Stairs. According to The Independent, the decision over who should win the award agonized the judges. The Orange Prize is annually awarded to a woman of any nationality for a novel written in English.
The Orange Award for New Writers went to Irene Sabatini, a Zimbabwean writer, for her novel The Boy Next Door, a novel about a relationship between a black woman and the son of her white neighbor, who is suspected of murder. Set during Zimbabwe’s break with British colonial rule, The Boy Next Door examines racial prejudice and post-colonial rule in the context of an interracial couple’s secrets. The award for new writers is given annually to the first published work of fiction by a woman of any nationality.
The New Yorker released its list (which, coming from the pages of The New Yorker is basically an award) of the 20 best writers under the age of 40 to watch, a list that, when last compiled a decade ago, included then-unknown writers Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Jonathan Franzen (whose novel Freedom is due in late August). While the list certainly sent many young, hopeful writers to extra therapy sessions, the UK’s The Guardian noted that the list was an “interesting and diverse line-up.” The New Yorker editor David Remnick said the list is “meant to shine a light on writers and get people to pay attention.” Presumably he means to great literature and not to his own publication.
(Aw shucks, we are taking the piss out of the magazine a bit but who can resist? Don’t worry, this editor Lacey N. Dunham has a secret subscription to the magazine, proving that it’s okay to make fun of friends.)
So here, complete with books to recommend and their age, the top 20 list:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32, is probably best known for her 2007 novel Half of a Yellow Sun. She has written other novels and, most recently, a short story collection.
Chris Adrian, 39, author of three novels (a forth is due later this year), including the McSweeney’s published The Children’s Hospital.
Daniel Alarcón, 33, a novelist, most recently edited The Secret Miracle: A Novelist’s Handbook.
David Bezmozgis, 37, has published a collection of short stories called Natasha: and other stories.
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38, most recently published The Ms. Hempel Chronicles.
Joshua Ferris, 35, has published And Then We Came To The End and, most recently The Unnamed.
Jonathan Safran Foer, 33, is probably best known for Everything is Illuminated, a meta-novel whose American protagonist, Jonathan Safran Foer, travels to the Ukraine to uncover information about his Jewish grandfather.
Nell Freudenberger, 35, has published a novel, The Dissidents, and a short story collection, Lucky Girls.
Rivka Galchen, 34, published her first novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, in 2008.
Nicole Krauss, 35, is most known for her novel The History of Love. She has a new novel, Great House due out this fall.
Dinaw Mengestu, 31, is best known for The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and has a forthcoming novel How To Read the Air due in October.
Philipp Meyer, 36, published his novel American Rust last year.
C .E. Morgan, 33, recently published her first novel, All the Living.
Téa Obreht, 24, is the youngest writer on the list. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker and The Atlantic, among others. Her novel The Tiger’s Wife is currently scheduled for publication in 2011.
Yiyun Li, 37, has published two collections of short stories and most recently the novel The Vagrants.ZZ Packer, 37, published a short story collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere in 2004.
Karen Russell, 28, has published the collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and has a novel, Swamplandia!, due in 2011.
Salvatore Scibona, 35, is the author of the novel The End.
Gary Shteyngart, 37, has published two novels, most notably Absurdistan. His latest novel, Super Sad True Love Story, will be published in July.
Wells Tower, 37, has published a collection of short stories, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.
1. The Elegance of the Wharthog
2. Elizabeth Strout by Olive Kitteridge
3. The Girl Who Played with Dragons by That Dead Swedish Guy
4. Sandra Bullock’s thing about the football player
5. Fox Hall
6. That book I heard about on NPR, the one about politics, you know, by that politician, the one with the scandal, you know the guy
7. The book my book club is reading
8. The Missing Symbol by Dan Brown
9. The Republican by Plato
10. Zimbabwe by Dave Eggers
Stieg Larsson may have died in late 2004 but his enormously popular Millennium Trilogy – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo , The Girl Who Played with Fire , and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest , – seem to have a life all their own, with each installment of the trilogy having sold millions of copies in Larsson’s native Sweden and abroad. The New York Times documents the ensuing battle over Larsson’s estate between his brother and father and his lifelong partner who, according to the Swedish government, has no claim on his earnings because the two were not legally married.
Larsson is also an enigma to his many fans, though an article in The Telegraph gives small insight into Larsson’s personal life and the influences on his novels, which include Pipi Longstocking.
The Washington Post reported online today (the article will run in the paper’s print edition tomorrow) that the literary and cultural landmark of the nation’s capital, Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeeshop, is for sale. The bookstore, which opened in 1984 in the leafy, suburban-like Forest Hills neighborhood of Washington, DC, has operated continually for the past 26 years, expanding over time to a larger space that created room for a children’s department and coffee shop (which is run independent from the bookstore).Politics & Prose manages several unique programs, including a membership program that boasts members in forty-five states (including far flung states like Hawai’i) and, of course, the District; a book-a-month program; several public book groups; and an enormously popular events calendar of author readings, which include former appearances by President Bill Clinton, Man Book Prize-winning author Yann Martel, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, and Pulitzer Prize winners Alice Walker, Richard Russo, and Junot Diaz, among others.
According to the Post , at 74, the store’s owners, Barbara Meade and Carla Cohen, are ready to release the reins of the store they founded, and that remains intact, through a lot of community support. They emphasized that they are not seeking to sell the store due to financial reasons. Meade is quoted in the article as saying, “There are no financial problems here. We make a good profit.”An independent bookstore that has survived the birth and death of other independent and corporate bookstores in DC, the future of Politics & Prose reflects the uncertain future of brick and mortar bookstores everywhere. As folks reach for their iPads and Kindles instead of traditional books, the book publishing industry’s fears that books will go the way of music and movies by moving digital and online, usually for less or free, has expanded into a concern about the future of reading in general.
Meade and Cohen expressly stated that whoever buys their bookstore should expect to continue their legacy which is closely tied to their role in the community of DC literati.
IF I LOVED YOU, I WOULD TELL YOU THIS
by Robin Black
(March 2010, $24, 274 pages)
After reading the first story in Robin Black’s collection If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This , I thought, “not bad.” Despite the occasional clumsy pieces of dialogue (“It’s a… Dammit, I think we’re lost. No, wait, this must be right,” is too thick and verbally thoughtful for a story whose main character is quiet and self-reflective) and seemingly superfluous details (knowing all the characters’ last names, without really knowing why we know), I finished “The Guide” ready to dive into the nine remaining stories.
In the next story, “If I Loved You,” a woman tells her neighbor, without really telling him, all the reasons why building a fence at his property line will impact her life: the fence impacts her view of the trees and makes it impossible for her to exit the passenger side of the car when it’s pulled into the driveway. These are seemingly small things until we learn that, with the car parked at the curb, she will have to climb into a wheelchair and wait for her husband to push her to their house because she is dying of cancer and can no longer walk the length of the drive. The neighbor’s fence eventually becomes the one tangible thing she can fight, something she can possibly control. The story is pieced together in small chunks, a few paragraphs at a time, and is a good reminder of our willingness to judge one another’s actions and intentions without access to the whole truth. “If I Loved You” scored a mark in my mental notebook of “great short stories” and with eagerness I turned to the next in the collection, expecting Black to land a few more in that mental notebook and maybe even score one in my “phenomenal short stories” list.
In “Immortalizing John Parker,” an near-octogenarian former homemaker turned painter muses on the passing of time and the inevitability of death while dispensing trite advice such as, “Time makes fools of us all. Every single one of us.” The story “Gaining Ground” ends with a limerick about the narrator’s mentally ill, suicidal father. In the final story, “The History of the World,” a woman who survives a car accident that kills her twin brother is relieved of her survivor’s guilt by—who else? —Eve, one-half the genesis of self-knowledge that banned humankind from Eden, the one with whom (if you believe in the Christian Bible or grew up in Kansas) the history of the world begins.
Black’s characters cycle through the same two or three voices, regardless of their backgrounds, with most eventually sounding like a 40-something women who have come to some personal revelation about their lives, even when the characters are 40-something men estranged from their daughters or children with murderous aspirations. Without the drive of individual voices, each story looses its distinguishing characteristics and the patterns Black repeats in each story are obvious—1. hook the reader in with a unique anecdote (Anne Boleyn, wooden legs, whatever); 2. move to the real action of the story (broken domestic scenes); 3. dangle the moment of revelation in a quick, three paragraph ending where the character, and by extension the reader, comes closer to the truth of human existence. The mechanics of a story laid bare erases the magic of reading stories. It’s like watching a play from backstage. Sure you know how it’s done, but wouldn’t you rather suspend that disbelief? Black tries too hard to pack a moment of truth—excuse me, Truth—into each story. The result is hollow.
~Lacey N. Dunham
BY JORDON CHIARELLI
Two Friday nights ago was a bit of a homecoming for Toronto’s Fucked Up who played a high energy, hour long set at the landmark, Toronto Reference Library in the heart of downtown. The five story building, home to approximately two million books, was filled with kids and members of the media who stood anxiously atop the library’s blood red carpet during the nights opening act, $100.
Fucked Up threw the crowd a curveball, opening with “Two Snakes,” instead of their go-to opener, “Son the Father.” The acoustics rang loud and clear within the library’s open concept. The band played in the main foyer which is five stories high – each level circles around the walls all the way up – giving the show an almost outside concert feel.
The band then took some time to introduce a new song, which they have been playing live for some time, and the B-side to a recent single entitled, “Heir Apparent” (AKA “Holden”), after lead singer, Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham’s son. Soon after, the singer characteristically took off his shirt stating to the crowd, “I have to be the first person in the library to not be thrown out right away for not having a shirt on.”
As the crowd enthusiastically embraced new material and classics such as, “David Comes to Life,” and “Crusades,” from their first LP, Hidden World, the band brought up a string section and placed a podium center stage in order to play the band’s new single, “Year of the Ox.” The song spanned 12 minutes and Abraham had trouble reading the French lyrics, which are sung by a duet partner on the recording. Musically, the song was tight and it kept the audience enthralled enough to stop moshing for a few minutes and just listen.
To inject the energy back into the room, the band played their most rambunctious tune, the fan favourite, “Baiting the Public,” which needed library security and friends of the band to help hold up the stage lighting and monitors. Being that the show was in a library, there were no barricades and as fans rushed the band, they began filling onto the stage and either jumping back or circling the 6-piece into a pocket of chaotic energy.
The show wound down with a staple from the band’s back catalogue, “Police.” Abraham asked the crowd which would they rather hear, the aforementioned or “Black Albino Bones,” from their Polaris Music Prize winning, Chemistry of Common Life. But to cater to new fans, Fucked Up played the albums thunderous opener, “Son the Father,” before wishing everyone happy trails and reminding us all to, “support your public library.”
this is currently accepting submissions for our upcoming issues. We’re looking for excellent poetry, non-fiction, fiction, comics, graphic novels, video, audio, and artwork/photography from new and emerging writers and artists. Interested? Read our current issue and then check out our submission guidelines. If you’re not certain about a submission, feel free to query first.
July/August issue (#4) – July 1
September/October issue (#5) – September 1
We look forward to lots of good reading!