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Showing posts from 2022
  "Stay In Your Own Lane” Storytelling Will Be The Death of Literature Reposted by Gail Vida Hamburg The controversy over Jeanine Cummins’   American Dirt— about who has the right to tell a story, the “White Gaze” of writers, and about the self-referential, exclusionary arbiters of mainstream publishing who dictate what is written and promote what America reads—has divided the writers I know into partisans.  In one camp, those who defend their right to create any story and character that captures their imagination. In the other, those who view the writing of stories by those who haven’t directly lived the experience of the characters and the fiction they create as cultural appropriation and cultural misappropriation. As a writer of two novels populated by multicultural characters—immigrants, exiles, itinerants, Americans rooted here or living peripatetically as foreigners abroad — I stand in the middle, not without opinion or judgement, b

Literature of Ideas - Zadie Smith's White Teeth and J.M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello

  Zadie Smith’s   White Teeth   & J.M Coetzee’s   Elizabeth Costello Reviewed by Gail Vida Hamburg Author of   The Edge of the World   (Mirare Press) White Teeth   and   Elizabeth Costello   are serious books, both of them hyper-intellectual literature of ideas. However, White Teeth is more accessible to the general reader, while Coetzee’s book is for a rarefied audience. White Teeth   is most of all, about consequences and responsibility. Smith opens the book with a quote from E.M Forster’s   Where Angels Fear to Tread : “Every little trifle, for some reason, does seem incalculably important today, and when you say of a thing that “nothing hangs on it” it sounds like blasphemy.” In   White Teeth , Smith uses three families to spin her large ideas into an interesting saga. The privileged, fully actualized Chalfens represent old England, while the Iqbals, a failed immigrant family, haunted and crippled by its past, embody the dispossession and alienation of new immigrants. The Jones

Rohinton Mistry's Family Matters

  Rohinton Mistry’s   Family Matters Reviewed by Gail Vida Hamburg Author of   The Edge of the World   (Mirare Press) The double entendre in the title of Rohinton Mistry’s novel is no mere Hallmark sentiment. The Indian not yet inspired by Western notions of personal freedom, still lives his life in the context of family—its rules authored by the caste and enforced by the clan and family. What profession he pursues and who he marries, fall within the jurisdiction of “family matters.” Personal space – “spatial matters” if you will -- is also a compelling issue on a subcontinent populated by one billion people. Rohinton Mistry’s quintessentially Indian novel is a discursive tale about family and spatial politics, and disintegration of the self and the home. Nariman Vakeel is an aging widower suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. He lives in a large, crumbling Bombay apartment -- the Chateau Felicity -- with his unmarried adult stepchildren, Coomy and Jal. Coomy is a hectoring mass of spins

Alberto Moravio's Contempt Narrates the Complexity of Marriage

  Contempt   by Alberto Moravio Reviewed by Gail Vida Hamburg Author of   The Edge of the World   (Mirare Press) Contempt   is a disturbing work by Italian author, Alberto Moravia that casts a penetrating gaze at two people flailing about in the sticky molasses of a decaying marriage. With deep psychological insight, Moravia tells the story of Moltari, a failed public intellectual turned screenwriter and his beautiful wife, Emilia. Moltari is one of the most appallingly selfish and self-destructive protagonists to be encountered in literature. He installs his trophy wife in a rented hovel that she furnishes and cares for, with all the attention due to a love nest. “Her love of home,” Moltari [the narrator] explains “was an unconscious means of expression for the frustrated aspirations of generations of disinherited people who were chronically incapable of setting up an abode of their own. The actual power of that dream was for her, more a reason for living than just a dream.” Neverthel

Spare But Not Sparing - Minimalism In Fiction

  Amy Hempel’s   Reasons To Live Reviewed by Gail Vida Hamburg Author of   The Edge of the World   (Mirare Press) To draw parallels between Amy Hempel’s   Reasons To Live   , a cycle of “cut to the bone” stories set in contemporary Los Angeles, and India’s opulent Mughal miniature paintings, is not as crazy a notion as one might think. Mughal miniature art bloomed and flourished under the reign of Emperor Akbar [1556-1605], and are awesome images of artistic structure and excellence. Often smaller than the palm of one’s hand, the pictures are filled with many figures and stories, all of them happening simultaneously and bound only by shape and color. According to Bharati Mukerjee [ Jasmine, Holder of the World   ] who is an avid collector of the art form, Mughal miniatures are crowded with “narrative, sub-narratives, sometimes meta-narratives, so taut with passion and at the same time so crisp with irony.” In an essay on Mughal Art’s narrative esthetics, she writes: “Every separate sto

Oh What A Book - Yann Martel's Life of Pi

  Yann Martel’s   Life of Pi Reviewed by Gail Vida Hamburg Author of   The Edge of the World   (Mirare Press) Life of Pi   begins earnestly with a fetchingly loquacious Author’s Note. In the italicized prelude, Yann Martel explains the perfunctory response to his previous novel in his native Canada: “Reviewers were puzzled, or damned it with faint praise. Then readers ignored it.” Martel explains his flight to India to finish his work in progress, a tale set in Portugal in 1939. “Unfortunately,” he writes “the novel sputtered, coughed and died … an element is missing, that spark that brings to life a real story. The discovery is something soul-destroying.” The disillusioned writer mentions his wanderings through South India, on no particular mission apparently, other than to lose himself. In Pondicherry--a former French colonial outpost south of Madras--he meets an elderly man, Francis Adirubasamy, who tells him ominously, ‘I have a story that will make you believe in God.’ After heari

Elias Canetti's Auto-da-Fe

  Elias Canetti’s   Auto-da-Fe Annotation by Gail Vida Hamburg Author of   The Edge of the World   (Mirare Press) “You believe in alarming people to the point of panic. Is it the writer’s function to bring more fear into the world?” Herman Broch once asked Elias Canetti. Presumably, Broch was responding to Canetti’s Auto-da-Fe, a cautionary tale about the dangers of detached intellectualism. Canetti originally planned his tragi-comic tale set in Vienna and Paris in the 1930s, as part of a series of novels about mad men and visionaries. It became instead, an absurdist romp about one man’s descent into insanity by mass provocation. The main character in the novel is Peter Kien, the world’s foremost authority on China, and evidently everything else. “No branch of human literature was unfamiliar to him … the few papers he had published were known word for word by his peers … a sentence once set down by him was decisive and binding … in controversial questions he was the ultimate appeal, th

Conquered "One Hundred Years of Solitude"

  "... Races condemned to one hundred years of solitude do not have a second opportunity on earth."      -- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez Annotation by Gail Vida Hamburg Author of   The Edge of the World   (Mirare Press) Whereas in the West, one thinks of “solitude” as a desired state, a reward for putting oneself through the daily machinations of industry and commerce; solitude as I understand it in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s epic novel,   One Hundred Years of Solitude , speaks of a different, sadder condition—not the European notion of existentialism, but a profound loneliness, a sentence of exile. Jose Arcadio Buendia and his men, and their families were wanderers who had crossed the mountains to find the sea. When two years had gone by and they had still not located it, they stopped at the bank of a river. Because they could go no further, nor return to the past, they settled on the ground beneath their feet. They called it Macondo—the city of mir

Antonio Tabucci's Trinity of Obsessions

  Requiem: A Hallucination   by Antonio Tabucci Reviewed by Gail Vida Hamburg Author of   The Edge of the World   (Mirare Press) Requiem: A Hallucination   is an offertory to its Italian author’s trinity of obsessions: poet, Fernando Pessoa; Portugal, and the Portuguese language. Better known for his translation of Pessoa’s work into Italian, Antonio Tabucci weaves here, a novella about a hallucination conjured from a reader’s reverie. The nameless narrator is stretched out on a deck chair in a friend’s garden, reading Pessoa’s,   The Book of Disquiet , when he slips into a nether world, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. In the dreamscape -- a hot July day in Lisbon from noon to midnight -- the narrator encounters a host of vivid characters real, dead, and fictional. They include a lottery ticket seller from   The Book of Disquiet , a seller of stories, and finally the great Pessoa, himself. The oppressive heat, the narrator’s limited financial resources, and his liberal spendin

Roaming tigers and panthers in Latin American fiction

  Selected readings of:   The Vintage Book of Latin American Stories , ed. Carlos Fuentes Jorge Luis Borges’s   Selected Poems   and Julio Cortazar’s   Blow-Up and Other Stories Reviewed by Gail Vida Hamburg Author of   The Edge of the World   (Mirare Press) From Jorge Luis Borges to Julio Cortazar to Luisa Valenzuela, tigers and panthers figure prominently in Latin American literature, not as predators or omens or figures in dreams, but as characters animating the fictional landscape. The Aztec, Inca, and Tiaga peoples venerated snakes and many varieties of cats, and subdued the wrath of these gods with large-scale human sacrifice. It is no surprise then, that the catalyst for Mexico’s [and eventually much of South America’s] conversion to Christianity was a pictorial of a woman clothed with the sun, standing on a globe, her foot crushing the head of the serpent: the apparition of “Our Lady of Guadeloupe.” Yet, animism’s hold on Latin America and Latin American writers never really ce

Proust Deconstructed by Alain De Botton

  How Proust Can Change Your Life , Alain De Botton Swann’s Way , Marcel Proust Annotation by Gail Vida Hamburg Author of   The Edge of the World   (Mirare Press) There is no better oil to grease the wheels of resistance to Marcel Proust’s   In Search of Lost Time   than a reading of Alain De Botton’s   How Proust Can Change Your Life . This genre-blurring literary criticism and self help manual is divided into chapters such as: “How to Love Life Today,” “How to Suffer Successfully,” “How To Be Happy In Love,” and “How to Take Your Time,” in which the author explains the gospel according to Proust. De Botton’s ironical and entertaining elucidation of Proust’s life shows a writer’s condition so extreme, it is grotesque. The underachieving son and brother of doctors, Proust was an invalid, a hypochondriac, and a perpetual child—cloistered in bed for most of his life. “Without pleasures, objectives, activities or ambitions, with the life ahead of me finished and with an awareness of the g

Magical Realism in Fiction

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    Home Articles Archives My Blog Links The Magic and the Real Stories   by South American Woman Reviewed by Gail Vida Hamburg Author of   The Edge of the World   (Mirare Press) There is no line that separates the magic from the real in many of these stories. The strange and the weird are treated in a very subdued, ordinary, real manner. Extraordinary events are not remarked upon with anything like disbelief, or injected with tension, as they are in conventional Western literature. South Americans call it   il real marvalliso —marvelous reality. Tigers and panthers roam bungalows and houses without eliciting surprise or shock, in many of these stories. They figure prominently, not as predators, or omens, or figures in dreams; but as characters animating the fictional landscape. Luisa Valenzuela’s perfectly irresistible, “Panther Eyes,” is narrated in just such an understated tone. A woman and her boss are walking down the dark corridor of an office complex after a power outage, when t

Gaza On My Mind

  Apparition in Gaza By Gail Vida Hamburg In that place between a river and a sea a woman sinks into newly shoveled earth. Cloaked in purdah embalmed in tears, Isis, Pieta pariah from Palestine, She forgets why grief for another son she must bury is only the size of this poem Disremembered while September’s dirge multiplies in girth wider than the world.   Copyright Gail Vida Hamburg