Posts Tagged ‘Marco Roth’
August 7, 2014 | by Norman Rush and Marco Roth
Last month, Brooklyn’s powerHouse Books hosted Norman Rush, Marco Roth, and Christina Nichol to discuss Nichol’s debut novel, Waiting for the Electricity. Set in a post-Soviet Georgia, rife with power shortages, the book stars Slims Achmed Makashvili, a maritime lawyer navigating the perplexing, often hilarious vagaries of life in a corrupt republic. Slims yearns to visit America—he writes letters to Hillary Clinton and applies to a business program she sponsors—where he hopes to discover a land of stupefying efficiency. But when at last he arrives in the U.S., the vision of progress is not what he’d hoped.
Nichol has taught English in India, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, and, of course, Georgia; her experiences abroad inform much of Waiting for the Electricity’s observant wit. With Rush and Roth, she discussed the direction of the comic novel, fiction’s bearing on foreign policy, and a State Department official with a ukulele.
Christina, how did you end up in Georgia? How did you join the great English-teaching enterprise that is this new American century?
As a kid I went to the Soviet Union with my grandfather, who braved a hundred Americans and a hundred Russians on a boat down the Volga River. This was during the eighties, and I sort of fell in love with Russia—I continued to go back to witness the transformation of communism into capitalism, which I saw as an amazing and tragic story of the twentieth century. I’d been to Kyrgyzstan, too, and as an adult I was trying to get back. I applied through this foundation, and they said, Well, we have Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia available. I’d once seen some Georgian folk dancers, and they were really amazing, so I decided on Georgia, knowing nothing about it.
And Norman, you spent some time in the Peace Corps.
Not technically. [Elsa and I] were co-country directors in the Peace Corps in Botswana from ’78 to ’83. But the formative effect of being outside the country for a long period of time is certainly the same—having that be a catalyst to a kind of uncheckable literary impulse, looking at a different part of the great evolution that’s taken place. But Christina, you said something intriguing—that you thought the conversion or the evolution of communism to capitalism was a great tragedy. That’s certainly not the State Department opinion. Are you a Bolshevik?
I suppose I’m thinking of how it was done to hold up America as an example. In communist nations, they’d heard all these terrible things about how capitalism works—someone gets money and then doesn’t provide the service he’s been paid for—and they’d say, Well, that’s the free market economy for you! Then, under capitalism, they began to live the kind of ideology of the propaganda they’d been brought up with. It was actually an even worse form of capitalism than ours.
Yours is a glorious comic narrative, and there’s something slightly odd in talking about it in the midst of terrible political tragedy, the murder and carnage taking place around the world—a kind of carnage in which, as humans and as Americans, we’re all to some degree implicated. But it isn’t strange, actually, when you think about it. Comic narrative, especially high comic, in textual form, is very important for two reasons. One, it relaxes us and returns us. It disengages us from the essential tragedy, the base tragedy, and the unnecessary tragedy that we encounter as human beings. And it teaches a kind of distance. It has a way of recharging, of remaking our willingness to be open, to have strength in the world, and to work within it. This novel is a remarkable entry into the world of comic fiction. If you look at the history of what’s considered funny in terms of narrative fiction, it’s been pretty much a male reserve. Examining, say, English Anglophone writers—novelists, not short-story writers or nonfiction writers—there’s Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm, but suddenly now there’s Lydia Davis, Rivka Galchen, and an explosion of the comic subject. Read More »
August 30, 2013 | by The Paris Review
Here, in no particular order, are things I hate about historical novels: exposition, walk-ons by famous people, anachronistic dialogue, imaginary letters from actual figures, physical comedy, the looming shadow of war/horrors of trench warfare/Nazi menace, “heated debates,” and Cambridge dons asking after one anothers’ small children—in the nineteen-teens—as if they taught Communications at Pomona. All of these things may be found in Bruce Duffy’s The World As I Found It, a fictionalized life of Ludwig Wittgenstein first published in 1987. Why on earth did I pick it up? Because at 558 pages, it was the longest New York Review Classic for sale at the Strand, and because if the New York Review decides to reprint an historical novel, I want to know why. Within three pages, I was addicted. Within three days, I was babbling about it to my friends. Here’s Bertrand Russell with his bad breath, phlegmatic G. E. Moore, and Wittgenstein—saintly, sympathetic, an angel of intellectual destruction—a hero so well written I kept forgetting he was real. —Lorin Stein
I haven’t been to see the show yet, but the catalogue for the Whitney’s exhibition of Edward Hopper drawings is itself pretty fantastic. The studies for his best-known paintings—Nighthawks and Early Sunday Morning among them—are fascinating windows into his process, and the spare sketches of, say, a man’s suited back are strangely riveting, but my favorite works in the book are his watercolor portraits from 1906–1907 of various “characters” from the Paris streets: La Pierreuse, Le Militaire, Fille de Joie, Le Terrassier. In the figures’ heavy brows and deep shading, they strike me as a strange combination of William Pène du Bois’s drawings of bears and of Eric Powell’s The Goon. Hopper’s rather fashiony pen-and-ink sketches—pages of Figures in Hats, Man with Moustache and Women in Dresses and Hats, Diver, Sailors, Male Figure, and Arm—are also wonderfully chaotic and occasionally bizarre. —Nicole Rudick Read More »