Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Crime of Dispassion: ‘The Sympathizer’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen

In schools throughout the country, American children and teenagers tend to learn about the Vietman War—and by extension, the country of Vietnam—through the prism of U.S. culture. This is not merely to reaffirm that entrenched ideas and predilections form our understanding of historical events, but also that early conversations about the war often gravitate away from Vietnam-as-place-and-people, and toward what Vietnam-as-idea sparked in the American consciousness. Student-led protests, the creation of the most talked-about countercultural movement in our history, the unthinkable fallibility of the American military—even Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles are all likely to be mentioned before Ho Chi …Continue reading

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A Vision Stretching Over Centuries: ‘The Memory Painter’ by Gwendolyn Womack

Gwendolyn Womack’s first novel, The Memory Painter (320 pages; Picador), is a historical and scientific thriller fueled by themes of reincarnation and identity. World-famous painter Bryan Pierce is at the mercy of sudden trance-like states wherein he is able to paint moments of beauty and pain from his past lives. His art acts as a distress call, and it’s answered by Linz Jacobs, a neuroscience researcher. When Linz visits an art gallery and recognizes in one of Bryan’s paintings an image from a recurring childhood nightmare, an immediate connection to the artist soon becomes an exploration of shared history and …Continue reading

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The Potential of Formless Beings: A Translation of Anne Garréta’s ‘Sphinx’

Beyond the elegant, geometric design of its cover, Sphinx (Deep Vellum; 120 pages; translated by Emma Ramadan) is an ambiguous, multifaceted beast. With its third publication, Deep Vellum, an eclectic Dallas press, brings the work of French writer Anne Garréta to English readers for the first time. Nearly thirty years after its original publication, Sphinx also marks the first English translation of a female member of Oulipo (short for ouvrir de littérature potentielle, or “workshop for potential literature”), the exclusive, prestigious writer’s workshop that included George Perec and Italo Calvino among its members. (Garréta is the first member of Oulipo …Continue reading

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Finding the Logic Cloaked in the Mist: ‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishiguro

Critics and readers will find it difficult to say exactly what Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel is. His first novel in ten years, The Buried Giant (Knopf; 317 pages) marks a daring departure from the tortured and unreliable first person accounts his readers have come to expect. Some will exaggerate this departure, and yet Ishiguro’s prose remains undisputedly his: lyrical, patient, almost simple, but with lingering notes of deception and the unsaid. It may be that his subject matter refuses categorization. Despite the appearance of ogres and pixies among its pages, The Buried Giant is not a fantasy novel. Although it …Continue reading

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Drugged Daydreams Down on the Farm: ‘Delicious Foods’ by James Hannaham

James Hannaham’s striking new novel, Delicious Foods (Little, Brown; 384 pages), digs deep into a son’s loyalty to his mother and deeper into his mother’s dependence and addiction to crack cocaine. When Eddie’s mother, Darlene, fails to return home, he begins a search that leads him to Delicious Foods—a farm where addicts, lured with false stories and promises, are forced to work for next to nothing and are unable to leave. The prologue of the novel begins with the end. Eddie escapes Delicious Foods, but freedom comes with a price. Hannaham introduces us to the horror of this world, when …Continue reading

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In the Spring/Summer Issue

Issue No. 103 kicks off our 30th anniversary year with a wealth of new works by the country’s finest contemporary authors. Lydia Millet’s “The Island in the Porthole”: What plagues this stranded cruise ship: navigation gone awry or existential crisis? Héctor Tobar’s “Secret Streams” (a Best American Short Stories 2016 selection): In Los Angeles, a winding path of water brings two loners together. Julie Chinitz’s “Shiftiness: The Border in Eight Cases”: A meditation on mercurial notions of territory and place in U.S. history. Christian Kiefer’s “Muzzleloader”: A bevy of unexpected visitors intrude on a widow’s refuge in the Colorado forest. …Continue reading

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The Delight of Treachery and Lies: ‘Tartuffe’ at the Berkeley Rep

Tartuffe, Molière’s timeless tragicomedy about religion, hypocrisy, and relationship distortion, was censored after a single performance in 1664. When the archbishop of Paris condemned Molière’s portrayal of religion, King Louis XIV acquiesced to the Roman Catholic Church and publicly banned Tartuffe. The seductive muddle of the title character’s benevolent deception led a second version to also be banned in 1667, and it wasn’t until 1669 that a third version of Tartuffe was finally published and openly performed to great success. Happily, 350 years later at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the audience is free to experience Tartuffe’s subjective truth in all …Continue reading

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