Latest Posts from the Blog

Love (and Lives) on the Balance: ‘Lucky Boy’ by Shanthi Sekaran

9781101982242In her new novel, Lucky Boy (472 pages, Putnam), Shanthi Sekaran plunges readers into the drastically different yet irrevocably intertwined lives of two women, and in doing so explores facets of motherhood, immigration, and the American experience. Solimar Castro Valdez is eighteen when she leaves the impoverished cornfields of Santa Clara Popocalco in Oaxaca for “the promise of forward motion” in California. Her journey north is nightmarish; she is nearly forced into drug smuggling, she survives a rape, witnesses the horrific death of a boy, and for days rides in the bed of a truck, gagging on the stench of onions. In the middle of this tribulation, she falls for another traveller, a young man named Checo, who rides with her through Mexico atop the infamous train nicknamed La Bestia. As they near the U.S. border, they are separated, but the sense of determination Checo instills in Soli remains with her for the rest of the story. By her own volition and ingenuity, Soli finds her cousin’s house in Berkeley. By the time she arrives, her hair shorn, Soli is pregnant. Despite the journey, and despite the uncertainty of what her life will be like in America as an undocumented woman—and a mother—she remains eager to start her new life.

Sekaran seamlessly alternates between Soli’s story and that of Kavya Reddy’s. Kavya lives with her husband, Rishi, in a bungalow in Berkeley. The children of Indian immigrants, Kavya, who is in her 30s, is the chef at a Cal sorority house, and Rishi is a “ventilation engineer” at a Silicon Valley tech company. They bike to work, spend lazy Sunday mornings naked in bed, and take trips to the farmer’s market. Kavya’s privileged day-to-day existence initially stands in stark contrast with Soli’s. “Her grown-up life was fat with pleasure, but after three years, then four and five, the pleasure grew thin. She’d come to Berkeley to find herself, but found that her self was not enough. She wanted a self of her self,” Sekaran writes. “She wanted a child.”

Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘I Used to Be Much Much Darker’ by Francisco X. Alarcón

On the occasion of Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, we would like to share with you three poems from our early volumes—poems we believe speak to values that will be very much challenged by the incoming administration.

“I Used to Be Much Much Darker” by Francisco X. Alarcón (who died last January) appeared in ZYZZVA No. 3 (Fall 1985). A playful even jovial poem, it tells, in English and in Spanish, of the speaker’s love of self, of reveling in his “darkness”—something others would deem unworthy of celebration. Indeed, as the speaker plangently notes: “but anyway/ up here ‘dark’/ is only for/ the ashes:/ the stuff lonely nights/ are made of.” Yet it’s the poem’s indefatigable cheerfulness—could we even call it optimism?—that remains with the reader.

Continue reading

Posted in Archive | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘Snake’ by Sherman Alexie

On the occasion of Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, we would like to share with you three poems from our early volumes—poems we believe speak to values that will be very much challenged by the incoming administration.

“Snake” by Sherman Alexie appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 77 (Fall 2006). In the poem, a driver recounts the accidental running over of a bull snake. But what is really being recounted is how the speaker takes responsibility for the creature’s body, and how respecting the dignity of others, and holding oneself to account for actions that affect them, is akin to holiness.

Continue reading

Posted in Archive | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Three Poems for Inauguration Day: ‘Justice Without Passion’ by Jane Hirshfield

On the occasion of Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, we would like to share with you three poems from our early volumes—poems we believe speak to values that will be very much challenged by the incoming administration.

“Justice Without Passion” by Jane Hirshfield appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 12 (Winter 1987). In the poem, the speaker observes a friend’s son practicing the piano, noting “he is like a soldier or a saint: blank-faced, and given wholly/ to an obedience he does not need to understand.” Perhaps, the poem suggests, justice rests in understanding when obedience is merited, that justice requires us to be aware if we are only playing “for playing’s sake.”

Continue reading

Posted in Archive | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Political Awakening in Haiti: ‘Dance on the Volcano’ by Marie Vieux-Chauvet

Dance on the VolcanoDance on the Volcano, by Haitian author Marie Vieux-Chauvet (1916-1973), was originally published as La Danse sur le Volcan in 1957. Previously translated into English by Salvator Attanasio in 1959, Archipelago Books has published a delightful new translation by Kaiama L. Glover. Glover, a scholar of Caribbean fiction, translation, and Francophone literature, seems like the natural candidate for translating Vieux-Chauvet’s stunning novel. She has already translated two other works of Haitian fiction, and her scholarly knowledge and apparent pleasure in making the sights and sounds of colonial Haiti accessible to an Anglophone audience are palpable.

Dance on the Volcano tells the story of Minette, a young black woman who passes for white in 18th century Haiti (then called Saint Domingue). Minette, blessed with a beautiful singing voice, becomes the first free woman of color to perform at the opera performance house in Port-au-Prince. The novel, which alternately radiates joy and terrible pain, traces Minette’s rapid radicalization and political awakening, while also depicting the build-up to the Haitian Revolution, as well as delineating race, class, and gender in the country at the time.

Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Landscape as Character, Characters at a Distance: ‘Ema, the Captive’ by César Aira

Ema, the CaptiveCésar Aira’s books often shrug off the shackles of genre, tradition, structure, or sense. They’re also often short. Usually around 100 pages, these novellas are complete in and of themselves. However, readers will most likely leave an Aira text in a completely different mental state than from the one they entered with—such is the challenge and the pleasure of reading him.

Aira’s latest book, Ema, the Captive (128 pages; New Directions; translated by Chris Andrews), is fairly straightforward in substance and story. A 19th-century Western set in Argentina is probably the most succinct way to describe it but to box this book into neatness would be dishonest to its intent. Aira goes to great lengths to paint a living portrait of a time and place replete with war, struggle, brutality, community, and hope. Yet that portrait questions the veracity of the history it presumes to be a part of. (In an author’s note included as a postscript, Aira refers to the book as a “historiola,” and claims to have been struck with the inspiration for it when translating long gothic novels while on vacation.) Irony aside, the novel has been steeped in a kind of mythic dye.

Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Three Wishes’ by Rolf Yngve, ZYZZYVA No. 108, Winter Issue

 Rolf Yngve’s short fiction has recently appeared in Kenyon Review, Fifth Wednesday, Glimmer Train, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Coronado, California. His somewhat holiday-themed story—a lone traveller driving along snowy roads—”Three Wishes” appears in the new issue of ZYZZYVA.

In “Three Wishes,” the aforementioned traveller stops to pick up a stranded motorist and her dog. As they drive along, the protagonists’s cell phone may or may not be guiding the trio in ways beyond simply giving directions. The following is an excerpt, but you can read the story in its entirety by getting a copy here.

Continue reading

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

‘The Urban Forest’ by Ella Martinsen Gorham, ZYZZYVA No. 108, Winter Issue

Ella Martinsen Gorham is writer in Los Angeles and is at work on a collection of stories. “The Urban Forest,” which appears in the new issue of ZYZZYVA, is her first work in print.

Dan, the protagonist, is a young single man who tries to keep his life as orderly as possible. His efforts to stay in control are challenged when he buys a house and realizes the tree that comes with it constantly splatters his property with “rank-smelling berries.” The huge tree is also home to the neighborhood’s feral parrots. The following in an excerpt of “The Urban Forest.” You can read it in its entirety in Issue No. 108, which you can get here. (Ella Martinsen Gorham will also be reading with Matthew Zapruder, Kathleen Alcott, and Scott O’Connor at ZYZZYVA’s Winter Issue Celebration at Diesel in Oakland on Thursday, January 26.)

Continue reading

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Otherwise Known as Love: ‘Pretend I’m Your Friend’ by MB Caschetta

Pretend I'm Your FriendMB Caschetta’s recent story collection, Pretend I’m Your Friend (Engine Books; 200 pages), explores what one of its characters calls “terrible love.” In eleven entwined stories, Caschetta examines confusing and often painful friendships, romances, and familial bonds: a set of parents who share a sexual desire for their kids’ babysitter, a dying mother who wishes cancer on her daughters instead of herself, a clairvoyant whose visions the end of her marriage. Just when you think you have wrapped your head around the root of a character’s issues, Caschetta will offer a different perspective in a later story. One problem bleeds into several others. A name mentioned in passing in one tale will attain its emotional weight in a much later piece.

The heart of the collection is the three stories in which Caschetta focuses on the rats’ nest of pain that is the Wojak family. In “Hands of God,” we zoom in on one moment of Alice-James (A.J.) Wojak’s life, as she takes a trip to Florence with her high school friend Helena Frankel, “the most beautiful girl in all of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, place of their birth, and exactly nowhere.” It is 1973, and the girls have saved up for two years for the trip. Two days before their departure, Helena discovers her boyfriend having a threesome with another couple.

Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Flood Control’ by Rebecca Thomas, ZYZZYVA No. 108, Winter Issue

winter2016coverRebecca Thomas, who is currently working on a novel, has had her work appear in Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, Gulf Stream and other publications. Her essay, “Flood Control,” appears in the new issue of ZYZZYVA.

An English instructor at West Virginia University, Thomas grew up in Orange County. Though known as a region afflicted by drought, Southern California has long had to contended with deluge, too. “Flood Control” is Thomas’s examination—personal and historical—of a place’s fraught relationship with water. The following in an excerpt but you can read the essay in its entirety by getting a copy here.

Continue reading

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Poem for Noguchi’ by Matthew Zapruder, ZYZZYVA No. 108, Winter Issue

matthew-zapruderMatthew Zapruder is editor-at-large for Wave Books, the poetry editor for The New York Times Magazine, and an associate professor in the MFA program at Saint Mary’s College. Next August, his book Why Poetry? will be published by Ecco. Two of his poems—”Poem for Noguchi” and “Stari Trg”—appear in the new issue of ZYZZYVA, which you can get here.

The following is “Poem for Noguchi” in its entirety. You can hear Zapruder read from his work, along with ZYZZYVA contributors Kathleen Alcott, Scott O’Connor, and Ella Martinsen Gorham, at the Winter Issue Celebration at Diesel in Oakland on Thursday, January 26.

Continue reading

Posted in Archive, Back Issue Excerpts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Revision’ by Mar Colón-Margolies, ZYZZYVA No. 108, Winter Issue

openroadintexasMar Colón-Margolies is a former editor at Nation Books. Her reporting has appeared in The Nation, the Columbia Journalism Review online, and on Rhode Island Public Radio. Her story “Revision” appears in the new issue of ZYZZYVA.

Set in Texas, “Revision” is the tale of a journalist on assignment writing about that state’s draconian abortion laws. In the course of his work he faces questions of professional and even personal ethics as he re-connects with a past love. The following is an excerpt, but you can read the story in its entirety by getting a copy here. (Also, Mar Colón-Margolies will be reading from her work at ZYZZYVA’s Winter Issue Launch at Greenlight Bookstore on January 12.)

Continue reading

Posted in Archive, Back Issue Excerpts | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment