May 8, 2013 | by Christopher Higgs
Harmony Korine’s name is usually paired with the word controversial. The writer and director of the films Trash Humpers, Mister Lonely, Julien Donkey-Boy, and Gummo, most recently he helmed Spring Breakers, which was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. A Crack Up at the Race Riots, his debut novel, was originally published by Mainstreet/Doubleday in 1998, and has recently been rereleased by Drag City. As unconventional as any of his films, the book presents a multimedia assemblage of text both printed and handwritten, drawings, photographs, news clippings, suicide notes, celebrity gossip, appropriated material, lists, diagrams, ideas for books and films, as well as stories and scenes that are at times humorous and at times disturbing, but always provocative and engaging. At the time of A Crack Up at the Race Riots’s initial publication, Korine explained the book to David Letterman as “the great American choose-your-own-adventure novel.”
I recently sat down with Korine to discuss the rerelease of A Crack Up at the Race Riots.
Since you wrote the book fifteen years ago, I wonder how you feel about it now. Do you still feel close to it, or does it seem like a distant memory?
I think both. I was about twenty-three when I wrote it, but it’s still pretty close to how I think now. It sets up a lot of the themes and ideas that I would start to work on later. I definitely see some connections and through-lines to things I’ve been doing today.
What do you remember about the process of composing it?
I’m gonna be honest with you, I was doing a lot of drugs back then. So my memory is kind of spotty, but it was definitely a kind of narco-fueled micro-deconstructed jam I was trying to get out.
Were you carrying around a composition book and jotting material down as it came to you?
No. At that point in my life I had no idea how to contain my ideas. The creative process was more explosive for me. And I didn’t have a filter, and I didn’t try to filter anything, as much as just try to get stuff down. So, I would just write everywhere. I would wake up in the morning and hear a conversation on the street, like a guy on crutches—this is my own sense of humor—I’d hear a guy on crutches going down the streets and I’d hear him muttering something to himself, something observational, and then I’d write that down on a piece of paper and then I would change his name. I would think, What if Clint Eastwood said that? Or, What if Snoop said that same sentence? Or, What if it was a quote from Margaret Thatcher? I was so interested in how the humor would change or devolve into something else. So that’s how it would happen. I would write things and then I would change the authorship. I would appropriate things from certain places. Then within certain quotations, I would change words around inside it, or changes sentences, or break it down in some way, or add to it in some way. And a lot of them were ideas for other things, but in the end I just liked the titles better. Like, they would be titles for books I would want to write, but I would look at them and I would think, Wow, the titles in and of themselves are exciting. Read More »
May 2, 2013 | by Scott Esposito
Born in 1955 in Mozambique, to Portuguese immigrants, Mia Couto is widely considered one of the foremost wielders of the Portuguese language. He has written more than twenty books that have been translated into at least as many languages, and those translated into English since 1990 have garnered him a dedicated Anglophone following. Although Couto’s fiction varies widely, he frequently deals with Mozambique’s civil war, which erupted in 1977, two years after he turned twenty and his nation gained its independence from Portugal. His recurrent use in his work of surreal effects has led many critics to liken his fiction to Latin America’s magical realism, a label at which he bristles.
The Tuner of Silences, brought into English by Couto’s longtime translator David Brookshaw and published this year by Biblioasis, tells the story of Vítalico, a father who has dragged his children to an abandoned Mozambican nature preserve after the horrifying death of his wife. As Couto explores the nature of Vítalico’s regime and its eventual collapse, he delves into frequent obsessions: the construction of identity and the role that memory and language play in that process.
Recently, over e-mail, I discussed Tuner, influences, labels, and the curious provenance of Couto’s first name in our e-mail correspondence.
You’ve mentioned the Angolan writer José Luandino Vieira and the Brazilian João Guimarães Rosa as two influences on your understanding of the Portuguese language. What sorts of cultural influences from within Mozambique have you drawn from?
I usually refer to Luandino and Guimarães Rosa as those who inspired me most, but the most important influences on my writing come from those I can’t identify, persons that populated my childhood, my hometown in the Indian ocean, the neighborhood where I was born and where I started to dream about other places and other lives. So, ironically, the main source of inspiration of my writing came from the nonwriting world. Oral culture is still dominant in Mozambique, and the ability to convert reality into stories is still very alive here, even in the urban areas. Storytelling is not exclusively a skill of the griots—the common citizen shares this capacity, telling stories not just with words but with their whole body, using dance and songs and poetry as a unique language. Read More »
April 29, 2013 | by Alice Greenberg
My Skype chat with Arab Israeli author Sayed Kashua started off on a promising note when we bonded over our ineptitude for all things mathematical. Except he, in typical fashion, was being facetious, while I had tried in vain to figure out Israeli time zones. The author—who also happens to be a columnist for the newspaper Ha’aretz and the writer of the popular Israeli-aired TV show Arab Labor—has an intimate relationship with the complexity of what it means to be an enigma in Israeli society. His most recent novel, Second Person Singular, is a delicately interwoven narrative, stitched together by instances of jealously, raw relationships, and the deeply embedded dogma of identity. Sayed’s cautionary tale doesn’t presume an intimate familiarity with the intractable Gordian Knot of Israeli society in order to understand human nature, willful dignity, and self-destructive tendencies. And therein lies the point.
I caught up with Kashua over the audible sounds of his young children shrieking in the background, and we spoke about the paradoxes of being an Arab Israeli columnist who lives in a prominently Jewish neighborhood, and whose daughter shares a schoolyard with the Israeli Prime Minister’s son.
I was just playing with my little boy.
How old is he?
I don’t know exactly…
I think maybe we’re both equally bad at math.
No, no, he is a year and eight months.
Just me then. You just came back from a book tour, which you’ve capped off by saying you want both sides to go to hell. So it sounds like it went well. Did you learn anything new in the interim?
Yes, that the real Jewish state is the Upper West Bank, in New York, and that Montreal can be very cold. I don’t know what I learned this time around, because it’s not my first time, but I think that this feeling that I can run away from dealing with identity, or not to feel like a persecuted minority will not go away if I move to Canada or the U.S. Because most people I met were dealing with issues of identity, language, belonging, and what does home mean. But most of the people that I met were Israeli, or Arab, or Palestinians. I think that identity doesn’t deserve so much thinking, to be honest. I think [from the tour] I have earned my confusion in a very honest way. Being a Palestinian citizen of Israel, it’s okay. We can be confused. I hear criticisms from both sides, but the majority of both sides really listen and like my work, so the tour was great.
April 25, 2013 | by Amy Benfer
I first knew of Jennifer Gilmore as the author of two ambitious, warm, hilarious novels (Golden Country, 2006, and Something Red, 2010) that, placed side by side, provide an admirably thorough and thoroughly amusing take on the some of the most interesting ideas, inventions, characters, and past-times of the twentieth century—television, immigration, two-in-one cleaning products, radical politics, Joseph McCarthy, cults, and Ian MacKaye.
I first met Jennifer Gilmore on an early spring day nearly two years ago when we both went to meet the same writer friend for a late afternoon drink at the same Brooklyn bar where another writer friend bartends every Tuesday. We soon discovered that we are around the same age, live one Brooklyn neighborhood apart, and have many more than two friends in common. That spring, Jennifer was working on her third novel, told from the perspective of a woman trying, and mostly failing, to adopt a child through the byzantine process of domestic open adoption. I was about to go back to my twentieth high school reunion, during which I planned to visit the school for pregnant teenagers run by the Salvation Army where I spent the spring of 1989 believing I would release my own daughter to another couple through domestic open adoption. Jennifer and her husband, like the fictional couple in her novel, The Mothers, released last Tuesday, had already imagined themselves into the lives of many mothers and their children, only to find that the mother had chosen another couple, or decided to parent her own child, or, in the most outrageous cases, was not even pregnant at all. In 1989, I became that kind of mother when, two days after my daughter’s birth, I told the couple I had chosen to be her parents that I planned to do it myself instead.
Jennifer had read some of the stories I had written on my own failed adoption when they had appeared in Salon (where I was once an editor, and to which both of us have contributed essays). Although we had been on opposite sides of the story, our mutual fascination with what we sometimes referred to as “The Topic” was one of the reasons we became friends. We had both read and thought and obsessed over the tangle of race, class, and politics throughout the institution’s history. We both knew about orphan trains and maternity homes and the Hague Adoption Convention. We also both knew well how sometimes the end of the story could feel like just plain dumb grief all around.
Last month, Jennifer and her husband brought home their son. Last week, Jennifer and I met for a late afternoon drink on a early spring day at Lavender Lake, the Brooklyn bar with the name that references the exotically colored Gowanus canal that connects our two neighborhoods, to discuss her new novel, first person vs. omniscient narrators, open adoption and all the intellectual, political, and emotional issues it raises that should be fascinating to anyone at all.
Your first two novels were sprawling, multi-generational social sagas: Your first novel, Golden Country, took place in your grandparents’ era and covered, among other things, the Jewish-American immigrant experience, World War II, the World’s Fair, and fortunes built on mob life, cleaning products, and the invention of television. Your second novel, Something Red, which takes place at the end of the seventies inches closer to your own childhood. That novel dealt with radical politics, the Cold War, and the D.C. straight-edge punk rock scene.
The Mothers is totally different: it is your first novel narrated in the first-person, and your narrator, Jesse, along with her spouse, is trying to adopt a child through domestic open adoption, as you have also done. You also wrote the novel while you were going through the process of trying to adopt. After so many years of writing your fictional characters from a certain distance, what like to write a character whose experiences veer so closely to your own?
If I was going to come closer to myself in this particular trilogy of history, I wouldn’t have chosen this particular book. Given the situation, I just wanted to make my life interesting to myself, as opposed to wanting to blow my head off.
April 18, 2013 | by Yevgeniya Traps
Miriam Katin’s first book, We Are On Our Own, told the story of her escape, as a child, from the Nazi invasion of Budapest. An attempt to come to terms with her past, to reconcile faith and history, and an elegantly stark tribute to her mother, that graphic memoir was also a beautifully realized work of art. The story it told, retained all the wonder and pain of a child’s impressions, tempered by experience and wisdom.
In her new book, Letting It Go, Katin grapples with her son Ilan’s decision to move to Berlin, a city she identifies with Nazis. An investigation of the price survival exacts, it is also an unabashedly personal investigation of family dynamics, a sequel of sorts to We Are On Our Own.
On a recent March afternoon, I visited Katin, who bears an uncanny resemblance to her cartoon-self, in her Washington Heights apartment, her home for the past twenty-two years and the site of her studio in what used to be her son’s room. She made tea for me and coffee for herself, set out a plate of freshly baked, sugar-dusted cookies, and, with a softly melodious Hungarian accent, recounted the process of working on her books, her feelings about contemporary Berlin, her nine-year-stint living on a kibbutz, her love of the city (“I’m an asphalt flower. Nature is okay, it’s good. But I like asphalt,” she said), and what it was like to be the oldest employee at MTV, where she worked on Beavis and Butthead and Daria.
The first book stood on its own, a story from A to Z, a start and a finish. Now this story, this new book, is so personal. And it really depends on the first one. I think it would be hard, just getting to it, to say, That’s interesting. It’s more fragmented and extremely personal. And vulgar. And dirty. I didn’t hold anything back. Read More »
April 10, 2013 | by Sarah Gerard
It is 1891. Marcel Schwob, a well-know author, meets a “girl of the streets” in the rain, in a slum of Paris. Her name is Louise, and she is sick with tuberculosis. He takes her home and cares for her. He writes her stories—fairy tales—which she loves. They grow close. Louise shows Marcel the beauty of innocence. Two years later, she dies. He is crippled by his grief. For six months, he doesn’t write.
Then, he publishes The Book of Monelle, a groundbreaking work of decadence. An assemblage of fairy tales, nihilist philosophy, and aphorisms tightly woven into a tapestry of deep emotional suffering, it becomes the unofficial bible of the French Symbolist movement. Schwob influences writers and thinkers from Alfred Jarry to André Gide to Stéphane Mallarmé to Jorge Luis Borges and Roberto Bolaño. Translated obscurely into English in 1927, The Book of Monelle all but falls into obscurity shortly thereafter.
Now, thanks to a new translation by Kit Schluter, Monelle is once again available in the States, with a biographical afterword. In addition to his translation work, otherwise focused on Pierre Alferi, Amandine André, and Danielle Collobert, Schluter is a poet and an editor at CLOCK Magazine and O’Clock Press, and will begin his graduate studies at Brown in the fall. We met to talk at a café in New York’s West Village.
Why don’t you start by telling me how you found Schwob’s work and what drew you to it?
I studied in Paris for a little bit in early 2010, and went to work in Tours, a city southwest of Paris, for about a month in the summer. I lived with my friend Sylvain Burgaud, who the translation is dedicated to, and a dear friend Bruno Chartier. Sylvain and I worked in these vineyards outside of town, trimming grapevines for about ten hours a day. Then we’d go to this bar at night called Le Serpant Volant, or the Flying Snake. The bartender, a wonderful person named Omar, when he found out that we were translating each other’s poems, offered us the second floor of the bar as a translating space in the evenings. Sylvain and I were translating almost every night, my first experience with the frenzy of translation and its conversations, obsessing over single words.
One weekend, we went out to his house in La Roche Bernard, and we were translating a poem of mine, which is called “Journals.” We got to a passage and he asked, Have you ever heard of Marcel Schwob? I said, No, definitely not. And he said, Well, you need to read him, because you write a lot like him. I said, Okay, fine. Show me the book. I was really excited, and a little flattered.
So, he went and got the book. I read one sentence, or two sentences, from “The Words of Monelle.” It was, “And Monelle said again, ‘I shall speak to you of moments,’” but in French, and something like, “Love the moment. All love that lasts is hatred.” It’s a little adolescent, isn’t it? But it really spoke to me, so I said, “Sylvain, will you loan me this book? I want to translate it into English.” But he wouldn’t lend me the book because he’d lent it out so many times before to people who didn’t return it. When he asked for it back, they had already lent it to someone else! That’s my favorite part of the whole story—that Sylvain couldn’t lend me the book because he had lost it so many times by way of lending. Read More »