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Posts Tagged ‘20 Under 40’

Chris Adrian on ‘The Great Night’

May 17, 2011 | by

Photograph by Gus Elliott.

In The Great Night, Chris Adrian recasts A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Gone are the Rude Mechanicals, replaced instead by a homeless troop staging a musicalized Soylent Green; the duped lovers are more heartbroken than confused, though they’re all lost in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park on the way to a party. The faeries remain, but they’re heartbroken too (the faerie queen, Titania, mourns the death of her human child and the departure of her king, Oberon), or malevolent and vengeful (the now scary Puck). In all his work, Adrian takes stabs at figuring out what to do in a world brimming with sin, dead brothers, and broken hearts. I recently spoke with him; he called from San Francisco, where he’s a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology.

This new book is a modern retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What’s your relationship to the play? How does the book stand against it?

My relationship is one of abject admiration. I had it in the back of my head to do a story or a novel that’s a retelling of a Shakespeare, and I thought I’d probably like to retell A Midsummer’s Night Dream but could never figure out what the actual story would be. What could I possibly come up with that would add anything to something that was already perfect, or at least make the retold story urgent and compelling? So it took a while. I figured it out in part from walking back and forth to work through Buena Vista Park at dawn and dusk, when it’s a fairly creepy and magical place, and in part from having a relationship fall apart in just the right way to generate an obsessive need to tell a story about love.

You’ve called this a less ambitious novel compared to your other work. How so? Is that even something you should be admitting?

In some ways it felt less ambitious, though it didn’t turn out to be any less work. The story, at least when it started out, was about love, something of a lark as a topic compared to untimely death or the end of the world. Untimely death and the end of the world crept into the novel anyway, so it became just as ambitious as any of the others.

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David Bezmozgis on ‘The Free World’

April 5, 2011 | by

Photograph by David Franco.

Set in Rome in 1978, David Bezmozgis’s first novel, The Free World, tells the story of the Krasnansky family, three generations of Latvian Jews, who leave their lives in Riga, and, like many Soviet immigrants bound for the West in the late seventies, must spend six months in the Italian metropolis to secure their visas. Contrary to the book’s title, the Krasnanskys find themselves confined to this Roman waiting room, weighed down by the rubble of their communist past, the uncertainty of their future, and their allegiances to one another. Born in Riga in 1973, Bezmozgis immigrated to Canada with his family in 1980 and told the immigrant assimilation story with his tender, restrained collection of short fiction, Natasha and Other Stories (2004). The Free World is a sort of prologue to Natasha, the taxing journey his resilient characters—Jews in Transit, as the émigré newspaper offered in Rome is called—made before settling in the North American suburb. I recently spoke with Bezmozgis at a café not far from the New York Public Library, where he is currently a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center.

The Krasnanskys’ story begins on a train platform in Vienna and concludes before they ever reach the North American free world. Had you always intended to contain the narrative in this strange way station?

Yes, one thing I knew very clearly is that the book begins when they get to Italy and it ends when they’re about to leave. That in-between period, that purgatory, is the balancing point between the past, the unknowable future, and the present, which is intriguing and exotic. It’s full of dramatic possibility. It was always fascinating to me that these people had given up their lives without really knowing where they were going. I feel like I leave my apartment in Brooklyn to go to the Bronx with more information than my parents had leaving the Soviet Union to go to Canada.

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Staff Picks: Wikileaks Crudity, Jay-Z, Infinite DFW

December 10, 2010 | by

This has been a week of emotionally taxing reading. First, Shirley Jackson's deliciously creepy tales (“The Lottery” has nothing on “The Summer People,” by the way), then Joyce Carol Oates’s New Yorker article on her husband’s sudden death and the advent of unexpected widowhood, and finally, a smattering of Marina Tsvetaeva’s vulnerable, heartfelt poems. Next week: Maybe I’ll lighten things up with a little Don Marquistoujours gai! —Nicole Rudick

A copy of The New Yorker’s newly minted 20 Under 40 book, edited by Deborah Treisman, landed on my desk. The colors on the spine are festively appropriate for the holidays (just like our fresh-off-the-press winter issue). Some of my favorites (and there are many): Daniel Alarcón’s “Second Lives,” (check out what he wrote for us this week); Salvatore Scibona’s “The Kid”; and C. E. Morgan’s “Twins.” —Thessaly La Force

Jed Perl’s pox-on-both-your-houses treatment of l'affair Wojnarowicz and its “Wikileaks crudity.” —David Wallace-Wells

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Dinaw Mengestu

October 28, 2010 | by

Photograph by David Burnett.

How to Read the Air is the second novel by Dinaw Mengestu. It’s narrated by a young American Ethiopian named Jonas Woldemariam. Jonas’s disintegrating marriage to his wife, Angela, forces him to retrace the steps his parents, Yosef and Miriam, took when they first emigrated from Ethiopia to the United States. Their abusive and loveless marriage stands in stark contrast to the hopes of the American dream. But in distinguishing their past from his life, Jonas may be closer to understanding his own failures. I recently spoke to Mengestu in the Penguin offices before the start of his book tour.

Why did you set part of your novel in Peoria, Illinois, the same town where you grew up?

I always wanted to write about the Midwest. I’m also very aware of the idea of “immigrant literature” and how it is excluded from the traditional category of the American literary novel; there’s the American literary novel and then there’s the immigrant novel, which is seen as a derivation, and not a natural extension of what someone like Saul Bellow and other American immigrants traditionally have been doing. Beginning my novel in the Midwest was deliberate; I was staking its claim in America. I wanted Jonas, the narrator, not to be an immigrant but to be someone who was undeniably born in America.

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The New Yorker 20

June 4, 2010 | by

Young-Writers-Paris-Review

Meeting of young writers who write for children newspaper Yamde liy.

Chapeau! to the Parisians among the newly announced New Yorker 20. Chris Adrian, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nell Freudenberger, Nicole Krauss, Yiyun Li, and Wells Tower—we salute you!

Further chapeaux to our colleagues at The New Yorker for assembling the thing. We can hardly imagine a more thankless task. Here on White Street each of us can name writers we think should be on there, and aren’t, and others who leave us scratching our heads. (And yet, weirdly, no two of us name the same people.) Multiply that by a million subscribers, or whatever no-doubt-large fraction reads the stories … that’s a lot of Monday-evening quarterbacks.

Even on a normal week, it’s got to be tough finding stories that could conceivably interest a million different readers. In this case, there’s no falling back on household names, since with the exception of Mr. Foer, our micro generation hasn’t produced one. For reasons that may have something to do with writing programs, or Microsoft Word, or Grand Theft Auto, or just three generations of TV, we thirty-something Americans tend to languish in a protracted adolescence on the fiction-producing front. The pool of really bankable youngsters gets smaller with each passing decade, even as book and magazine publishers get more and more desperate for a bona-fide literary star. (No wonder Team Eustace has drafted a ringer from north of the border. Congratulations, Bezmozgis! The flag pin’s in the mail!)

Most of the New Yorker 20 are at work on their second or third book. It is, as David Remnick told The New York Times, “a group of promise.” May their greatest achievements lie before them, may the Muses light their way, and may the winds of fortune remain at their backs!

 

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