I first read Victor Martinez’s novel Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida when I was eleven, just a couple years younger than Manuel Hernandez, the book’s narrator and titular perico. Parrot won the National Book Award in 1996, making it more or less required reading for anyone my age (except where it was banned). Like many of the adolescents who read it, my life was radically different from Manny’s. I didn’t have to work. My parents left books, not loaded rifles, lying around the house. I didn’t have to look after my baby sister; my parents hired people to look […]
Victor Martinez was eight years away from winning the National Book Award for his novel “Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida” when ZYZZZYVA published a poem of his in its Summer issue of 1988. (At the time, Martinez was editing Humanizarte, the publishing arm of Aztlan Cultural/Centro Chicano de Escritores in Oakland.) Alternately terrifying and comic, “National Geographic” captures a besieged state of mind, one cataloging the dangers of a sinister society and a corrupted environment. Victor Martinez died Feb. 18 in San Francisco. He was 56.
Dear Readers, In 1985 Howard Junker founded this publication, and kept a steady course all these years. In the case of a West Coast literary journal, a steady course requires a perpetual willingness to take risks—to offer, time and again, the thrill of discovery. Yet having survived these many years, it is now clear that we have the fortitude of some enduring values. As Howard once said, ZYZZYVA asserts “classical values: the possibilities of individual vision; the enduring magic of words; the delight of variety; absolute freedom from commercial constraint.” As we take up where Howard Junker left off, we […]
It’s no easy thing to make the political personal, but David Bezmozgis has done it in his first novel, which follows a band of Russian Jewish émigrés over the summer of 1978 as they wait, in Rome, to find out which country will take them. The Free World tells a compelling story, dissecting the tangled, and often tortured lives of Samuil Krasnansky, an unreconstructed Communist and Red Army veteran; his loving wife, Emma; his sons, the taciturn, fearsome Karl and the hopelessly sybaritic Alec; along with Karl’s family and Alec’s wife, Polina. All of these characters emerge as distinct beings, […]
Twenty-five years or so ago, when I first started coming to Los Angeles on a regular basis, I used to stay with a friend who had a satellite’s eye view poster of the city in his breakfast room. It was then — and remains, I think — a vivid metaphor. Not for the sprawl of Southern California, although you can certainly see it there, but rather for the odd tension of the built environment, which can only push the natural landscape so far. If sprawl is an expression of our attempts to control our surroundings, the satellite photo reveals just […]
Raymond Carver was still living in Port Angeles, Washington, and had just had published his poetry collection “Where Water Comes Together With Other Water” when ZYZZYVA ran his poem “The Pen” in its Fall 1985 issue. It’s a playful poem, and could be read as a gruff take on Pablo Neruda’s “Odes to Common Things.” Here, all inspiration flows from the pen itself, not the writer. But the pen is no more reliable than the put-upon poet.
In The Oracle of Stamboul (Harpers; 304 pages), a flock of hoopoes (the Eurasian bird known for its colorful, showy Mohawk) watches over Elenora, the story’s heroine. The birds, which coat “the town like frosting” upon Elenora’s birth, are the initial hint that something supernatural – perhaps even prophetic – is afoot in Michael David Lukas’s ultimately winning first novel. […]
If you’re visiting our site for the first time, we say, welcome! If you’ve been here before and are wondering if you’re in the right place, you are. We’ve spruced up the website, just one of the many changes at ZYZZYVA. We also have a new staff, a new blog, even a new office address. We’d like to fill you in.