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Posts Tagged ‘Adam Shatz’

What We’re Loving: The New York Review, Baghdad, Fire

October 18, 2013 | by

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The funny thing about the New York Review’s fiftieth anniversary issue is that it’s basically just a slightly fatter version of the normal product. Here’s Zadie Smith on girl-watching with her father. Here’s Frederick Seidel with a poem I badly wish we’d published ourselves. Here’s Chabon on Pynchon, Mendelsohn on Game of Thrones, and Timothy Garton-Ash writing (unenviably and with aplomb) on the ethos of the Review itself. Here’s Justice Stephen Breyer discussing Proust with a French journalist (Breyer turns out to be the only person about whom one is actually glad to know how Proust changed his life), plus Richard Holmes on Keats, Diane Johnson on MFA programs, Adam Shatz on Charlie Parker, Coetzee on Patrick White—and this is just the beginning. (As usual, I’m saving the politics for last.) There is one discovery I have to single out. In 1949 the German novelist Hans Keilson published one of the stranger World War II novels ever written, a novel later translated into English under the enigmatic title The Death of the Adversary. Thanks to Claire Messud’s beautiful essay on Camus, I think I may know where Keilson’s translator got the phrase. Camus, 1945: “I am not made for politics, because I am incapable of wanting or accepting the death of the adversary.” Thank you, Ms. Messud. Thank you, New York Review. —Lorin Stein

Has any city been so cursed by history and so blessed in its poets as Baghdad? Reuven Snir, a scholar with family roots in Baghdad’s Jewish community, has edited and translated Baghdad: The City in Verse, an anthology of poems from the eighth century to the present, which has been my bedside reading for the last week. There are poems of debauchery (“Baghdad is not an abode for hermits,” an early poet warns his readers), nostalgia, and lament. The mournful note is especially strong in the later poems. But it is already there in Ishaq al-Khuraymi’s “Elegy for Baghdad,” a lament written in the aftermath of a civil war, which remembers a city “surrounded by vineyards, palm trees, and basil,” but now sees a wasteland of widows and dry wells, with “the city split into groups, / the connections between them cut off.” The Mongol invasion of 1258, when tradition says the Tigris ran black with the ink of books and red with the blood of scholars, was still four hundred years away. —Robyn Creswell Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Smells, Films, and Flames

April 5, 2013 | by

9781439142004It is wrong to kvell, but according to both Adam Shatz and Yasmine El Rashidi, our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, has knocked it out of the park with his translation of Sonallah Ibrahim’s modern Egyptian classic That Smell and Notes from Prison. Unlike writers better known in the West, says El Rashidi, Ibrahim “has continuously reinvented the form and language he uses in his work, while probing deeply into the underlying tensions running through Egyptian society. Creswell’s new translation of the novel finally allows English language readers to appreciate these qualities … Despite the differences of syntax between Arabic and English, the translation retains the tone, the vocabulary, and the pared down and staccato rhythm of the original.” We take her word for it. —Lorin Stein

On paper, Sarah Polley’s documentary Stories We Tell and Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color could not be more different, but they made for a nice double feature this past weekend at New Directors/New Films. Both films raise questions about identity and the ownership of memory. Both throw conventional narratives out the window. And when I walked out of each, not all my questions were answered, but maybe that’s the point: life’s complex, and some things unanswerable are still worth exploring. —Justin Alvarez

In Lars Iyer’s Exodus, the friendship between two minor academics, Lars and W., is founded not on shared interest but on a shared sense of failure, self-laceration, and gin. Together Lars and W. bemoan the state of the academy and the seeming impossibility of philosophy, but I laugh loudest when W. bemoans the state of Lars: “‘The true and only virtue is to hate ourselves,’ W. says, reading from his notebook. To hate ourselves: what a task! He’ll begin with me, W. says. With hating me. Then he’ll move on to hating what I’ve made him become. What I’ve been responsible for. Then—the last step—he will have to hate himself without reference to me at all.” For even more Lars and W., also read Spurious, the first book in Iyer’s trilogy. —Brenna Scheving Read More »

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What We’re Loving: High Fashion, Arabian Nights, and Field Mice

July 20, 2012 | by

Image via Synchrodogs

The genre of the 1,002nd night is one few storytellers can resist. Poe wrote one, so did R. L. Stevenson, Jospeh Roth, and Naghuib Mahfouz. Some of these sequels are orientalist camp; the better ones concentrate on The Nights’ true drama: that of a woman talking to save her life. I’ve been reading an advanced copy of Tales of a Severed Head, a collection of poems by the Moroccan poet Rachida Madani. Her Scheherazade, a voice that Madina breaks into many different voices, angrily laments the history of modern Morocco and particularly the fate of its leftist intellectuals. It is as much a critique of the legend as a continuation of it. Madina’s poet is even willing, at times, to stop talking:

She is silent so she can breathe
in the empty cannons
lift and weigh the sacks of gunpowder
and take aim.

Marilyn Hacker’s translation from French is scrupulous and lively. —Robyn Creswell

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