‘The Disaster Tourist’ by Yun Ko-Eun: Craving Catastrophe

by CJ Green

Halfway through Yun Ko-Eun’s The Disaster Tourist (197 pages; Counterpoint Press; translated by Lizzie Buehler), the protagonist, Yona Ko, crumples up an itinerary. “I’ll decide where we go,” she says, and climbs onto a motorcycle and speeds away. It’s a representative moment for the overall novel, which is about power, who has it, and at what cost. When we first meet Yona, she possesses an equable composure. At work, she scans headlines, searching emotionlessly for the latest catastrophe: tsunamis, massacres, earthquakes, wars. To these scarred landscapes, Yona designs travel packages for morbidly curious tourists clamoring for a firsthand look at […]

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ZYZZYVA Staff Recommends August 2020: What to Read, Watch, & Listen to

by ZYZZYVA Staff

As this particularly unusual summer winds to a close, much of California is grappling with dangerous wildfires (here’s a good resource if you’re looking to help out). We hope our readers are continuing to stay safe. As we find ourselves largely confined indoors due to the pandemic and bad air quality, we’re back with another round of Staff Picks to offer some recommended listening, reading, and more: Cade Johnson, Intern: In light of more than 100,000 people across California evacuating this month due to wildfires, and hazardous weather conditions making fires more frequent and more widespread, an important podcast series […]

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‘No Presents Please: Mumbai Stories’ by Jayant Kaikini: Seeping into the Surreal

by Cade Johnson

Jayant Kaikini’s No Presents Please: Mumbai Stories (274 pages; Catapult; translated by Tejaswini Niranjana), originally published in 2017 and translated into English this year, strikes the balance between dense and utterly readable,  bending reality into the surreal until the unfamiliar becomes familiar again. In his introductory note, prolific translator Niranjana indicates her primary challenge was “to maintain the ordinariness of the narrative until it could be maintained no longer,” and then articulate the shift when the “surreal began to seep into the story.” The first story in the book’s collection, “Interval,” speaks to this quality: it’s a romance between Nandu, […]

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‘The Book of Lost Names’ by Kristin Harmel: Remembering as Resistance

by Jesse Bedayn

Kristin Harmel’s fifth novel, The Book of Lost Names (400 pages; Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster), is a tour de force––a stirring testament to stoicism and courage in the face of “nightmares of monsters dressed as men.” Harmel’s story takes readers back to Nazi-occupied France, where the protagonist, a young, willful Jewish woman named Eva Traube, forges documents for the hundreds of Jewish children to be smuggled from France to Switzerland. If caught, she’ll hang. The heartrending story grapples with the contortion of morality, of faith and hope under duress, and the inimitable power of love. The book jumps between Eva’s years […]

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‘A Candle for San Simón’ by Kelly Daniels: Accidental Comedians, Road Warriors, & Rough Magic

by Paul Wilner

Inside (almost) every “serious’’ novel, there’s some pulp fiction struggling to get out. Kelly Daniels navigates the path between the two, mostly successfully, in A Candle for San Simón (Owl Canyon Press; 276 pages). Mirroring some of the themes of Daniels’ 2013 memoir, Cloudbreak, California, an account of shaking off the legacy of his drug-dealing, surfer-bum father, the new novel is a picaresque narrative of gun-running and gang violence in Guatemala written in a deadpan noir style that sometimes recalls Charles Willeford (and Malcolm Lowry). But the repressed always returns, and a father-son conflict is once again central to this […]

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Cathedrals of Hope

by Lauren Markham

In 2004, when I was first old enough to cast a ballot in a presidential election, I lived in a small Vermont town, population 1,136. It was home to farmland, a cemetery, a snowmobile shop, a church, an elementary school, and a town hall that most days sat empty and unused. The leaky clapboard house my three roommates and I rented was shared with mice that ate through our cupboards and a badger who lodged in an unfinished back room. My roommate Margaret used to sunbathe on our lawn to the occasional honk of a passing car; we all enjoyed […]

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‘Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19’: Searching for Connection Amidst the Pandemic

by Cade Johnson

Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19 (288 pages; Central Avenue Publishing; edited by Jennifer Haupt) is a collection of essays, interviews, and poems meant to serve as a resource for connection, hope, and grief in our pandemic world. (All proceeds from the book will be donated to The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit that organizes programs to strengthen the bookselling community, which has been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn brought about by COVID-19.)  In the essay “Books on Pause,” Kevin Sampsell writes about his work at Powell’s Books, the world largest independent […]

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Q&A with James Richardson: ‘For Now’ and the Small Things

by Troy Jollimore

There is no such thing, any longer, as a “mainstream” of American poetry—if there ever was. So each of us is forced, or encouraged, or provoked, to make up our own. In my personal conception of the American mainstream, James Richardson dwells near the center and looms large. His books are, in my view, some of the most beautiful produced by any American writer of the past few decades; they contain echoes of many poets distributed throughout many countries and centuries, yet they always sound contemporary, as if they were written last night—or ten years from now. Also, his work […]

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‘Albatross’

by Paul Wilner

(For Peter Greenbaum, 1946-2020) The British rocker died for our sins, of course, right on time. No ancient mariner, he ate some acid  from that smug asshole Owsley Stanley, who always had the good stuff, but  didn’t know what to do  with it, or himself. Of  course, he was a legend, like Liberty Valance, or Sportin’ Life. Lonely kid In his basement practicing  his ax. The ax fell, a long  time ago, the shock of  recognition administered  by all-too-ready mental health “professionals.” Clapton is God, the poster  said, as another child fell out a window. He was  fleet of foot, […]

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‘The City We Became’ by N.K. Jemisin: The Battle Against Confirmation Bias

by Jesse Bedayn

In the first pages of N.K. Jemisin’s  fantasy novel The City We Became, (437 pages; Orbit), the reader is thrown into the vertiginous action: New York City contorts as it literally comes alive, fighting off an interdimensional Enemy—at times a tentacled incarnation of Lovecraftian racism. Without a moment’s lull, Jemisen’s protagonists—cities and boroughs in the form of human avatars—grapple with an adversary wielding xenophobia and bent on destruction.  In this, the first book in Jemisen’s Great Cities trilogy, metropolises are born after developing enough cultural complexity and overlay to form their own three-dimensional personalities. But as they enter the world, “They […]

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ZYZZYVA Staff Recommends July 2020: What to Read, Watch, & Listen to

by ZYZZYVA Staff

We think you’ll agree summer hasn’t quite felt like summer this year, but if you’re staying inside, that means you’re staying safe, and we’ve got you covered with plenty of Staff Picks to keep you entertained while you while away the hours: Jesse Bedayn, Intern: Derek Black was the godson of the David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the KKK—at least, that’s where Eli Saslow’s utterly riveting book, Rising Out of Hatred, begins. The son of Don Black, founder of the largest white nationalist website, Stormfront.org, Derek was inculcated in white nationalism, becoming heir to the movement. After starting […]

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‘A Burning’ by Megha Majumdar: At the Whim of the Powers That Be

by Cade Johnson

Megha Majumdar’s first novel, A Burning (304 pages; Knopf), is one of the most invigorating debuts in recent memory. The Kolkata-born Majumdar weaves the story of three individuals living in contemporary India whose fates are at the whim of the powers that be. Jivan, a young, driven Muslim girl who grew up in the Kolabagan slum, aspires to join the middle class. After she witnesses a terrorist attack at a train station that kills more than a hundred people, she posts a Facebook comment critical of the local police response. “If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and […]

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