Sunday Staff Picks: February 21st

The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen “Down in the bottom of my childhood my father stands laughing.” So begins the second chapter of Childhood, the first volume of Danish author Tove Divletsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy, which recently arrived as a single volume for the first time in the United States from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The characters in Ditlevsen’s memoirs loom larger than life. Sputtering, coughing, sooty, they recall the boarding house of Balzac’s Père Goriot and the London of Charles Dickens. Ditlevsen imbues the world of her Copenhagen neighborhood, of which her childhood street Istedgade is the center, with a…

Sunday Staff Picks: January 31st

Three Brothers by Yan Lianke Yan Lianke’s work Three Brothers, translated by Carlos Rojas, is a tour-de-force of language and reflection. Ostensibly a memoir, Three Brothers is an interwoven tale of his parents’ generation, covering the unique paths each of them took and their actions within the mundane bleakness of life in the common-folk. From each perspective, spanning his three closest elders, Yan finds messages within life, resistance against fate, and acceptance of their existence. The story’s language, much like the day-to-day life of his family, is suffering specked with joy and laughter, progressing from the Cultural Revolution onward; similar…

Sunday Staff Picks: January 24th

Memorial by Bryan Washington Bryan Washington exploded onto the literary scene in 2019. His debut short story collection Lot garnered both critical and popular attention, and counts former President Barack Obama as one of its many admirers. The follow-up, Memorial, converts Washington’s remarkable powers of empathy and perception into the novel form. Memorial follows Benson and Mike, a young gay couple whose relationship is not collapsing so much as it is petering into dysfunction. They fight, then fuck, then fight again. When Mike hears that his father is dying, he leaves town for Japan – stranding Benson in Houston without…

Sunday Staff Picks: November 29th

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher The Hollow Places opens with a life in turmoil. T. Kingfisher introduces us to her protagonist, Kara (also known as Carrot), as she moves into her uncle’s museum of oddities following a disruptive divorce. The nostalgic setting and friendly faces help put her at ease, but a disturbing discovery shows her that terror is right around the corner or, more precisely, through a strange hole that appears in a wall of her uncle’s beloved museum. Inside of this opening, Kara discovers a passage to another world.  The Hollow Places follows Kara and Simon, an…

Sunday Staff Picks: November 22nd

Must I Go by Yiyun Li Lilia, an 81-year-old mother of five, grandmother of seventeen, and widow of three, is the anchor of Yiyun Li’s new novel “Must I Go.” Jaded and apathetic, Lilia is described first at the beginning of the novel in third-person narration; we later come to know her more personally through her annotations in the posthumous diary of Roland Bouley, an ex-lover. Her brief notes, assumed to be scribbled on the margins of the diary’s pages, recount the short affair they had when she was a teenager, which resulted in her pregnancy with his daughter, Lucy,…

Sunday Staff Picks: November 15th

Pricks in the Tapestry by Jameson Fitzpatrick The thread that ties together Jameson Fitzpatrick’s writings in Pricks in the Tapestry is not linear; there is neither chronology nor anachronism, development nor necessary trajectory. Stanza to stanza, page to page, poem to poem, speaker to speaker: the speakers don’t strive to be unified or explained. Forming a carefully tangled web, the the collection constitutes various selves submerged in a confusing world of sex, gender, race, class, family, and history. The force that moves the reader across the web from locus to locus, allowing disparate ideas and feelings to connect to one…

Sunday Staff Picks: November 1st

Obit by Victoria Chang Grief scatters us. In Obit, Victoria Chang attempts to put us back together.  Chang writes to document her mother’s 2015 death and her father’s 2009 frontal lobe damage, but her poems truly rest in the innumerable micro-deaths in between. The death of the mother is simultaneously the death of the mother’s teeth; of appetite; of language; of hindsight; of Victoria Chang.  The book largely consists of 70-odd obits: vertical, dense, tombstone-like poems, each dedicated to a specific loss. Through this rigid form, she entertains, and ultimately rejects, the objectivity and finality of newspaper obituaries. Instead, Chang…

Sunday Staff Picks: October 25th

White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia by Kiki Petrosino Kiki Petrosino’s White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia starts with a stunning prelude, in which the reader, absorbed into the second person speaker, is taken on a chase sequence through a moving train.  Engaging – in pursuit? combat? collaboration? – with the speaker’s ancestors, the poem ends with a ghostly image and then an utterance “O- / you begin.” So the book begins. Petrosino orbits topics of ancestry, and history, all while constructing one of the strongest arguments in favor of form in recent years. The text is interspersed with erasures (similar to the Petrosino…

Sunday Staff Picks: October 18th

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s The Discomfort of Evening, winner of this year’s International Booker Prize, begins with loss: the elder son of the Mulder family, Matthies, drowns in a tragic skating accident, leaving his family to contend with his death and attempt to distribute the loss between themselves. The novel is narrated by his ten-year old sister, Jas, who takes on the role of translator for her family’s grief. Through her stark observations, we witness the slow unraveling of a family unit set against the bleak landscape of their farm in the conservative…

Sunday Staff Picks: October 11th

Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country by Cristina Rivera Garza Earlier this week, Mexican author Cristina Rivera Garza was awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Grant. A writer of enormous talent and erudition, Garza is also the author of the most fascinating book I read this year. Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country is a collection of short forms that circle issues of state violence in contemporary Mexico. Garza’s project investigates the fault lines between the political and the personal, the body of the collective and the body of the individual. In attempting to write on, or through, this subject, Garza takes…