Front Table - 10/1/21

October 1st, 2021

On our Front Table this week, find new literature and poetry selections, from masters of characterization and explorations of displacement, to a poetics of radical compassion. Find the following titles and more at semcoop.com
 

The Annotated Mrs. Dalloway (Liveright Publishing Company)

Merve Emre

Mrs. Dalloway famously takes place over the course of a single day in late June, its plot centering on the upper-class Londoner Clarissa Dalloway, who is preparing to throw a party that evening for the nation’s elite. But the novel is complicated by Woolf’s satire of the English social system, and by her groundbreaking representation of consciousness. Emre’s extensive introduction and annotations follow the evolution of Clarissa Dalloway—based on an apparently conventional but actually quite complex acquaintance of Woolf’s—and Septimus Smith from earlier short stories and drafts of Mrs. Dalloway to their emergence into the distinctive forms devoted readers of the novel know so well. As Emre writes, Woolf’s “approach to representing character involved burrowing deep into the processes of consciousness, and, so submerged, illuminating the infinite variety of sensation and perception concealed therein. From these depths, she extracted an unlimited capacity for life.” It is in Woolf’s characters, fundamentally unknowable but fundamentally alive, that the enduring achievement of her art is most apparent.

The Death of Vivek Oji (Riverhead Books)
Akwaeke Emezi

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom. Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations—a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader.


Inseparable (Ecco Press)
Simone de Beauvoir, tr. Sandra Smith

From the moment Sylvie and Andrée meet in their Parisian day school, they see in each other an accomplice with whom to confront the mysteries of girlhood. For the next ten years, the two are the closest of friends and confidantes as they explore life in a post-World War One France, and as Andrée becomes increasingly reckless and rebellious, edging closer to peril. Sylvie, insightful and observant, sees a France of clashing ideals and religious hypocrisy—and at an early age is determined to form her own opinions. Andrée, a tempestuous dreamer, is inclined to melodrama and romance. Despite their different natures they rely on each other to safeguard their secrets while entering adulthood in a world that did not pay much attention to the wills and desires of young women. Deemed too intimate to publish during Simone de Beauvoir’s life, Inseparable offers fresh insight into the groundbreaking feminist’s own coming-of-age; her transformative, tragic friendship with her childhood friend Zaza Lacoin; and how her youthful relationships shaped her philosophy. Sandra Smith’s vibrant translation of the novel will be long cherished by de Beauvoir devotees and first-time readers alike.


Moshkeleh the Thief: A Rediscovered Novel  (Jewish Publication Society)
Sholom Aleichem, tr. Carl Leviant

This first English translation of Sholom Aleichem’s rediscovered novel, Moshkeleh the Thief, has a riveting plot, an unusual love story, and a keenly observed portrayal of an underclass Jew replete with characters never before been seen in Yiddish literature. The eponymous hero, Moshkeleh, is a robust chap and horse thief. When Tsireleh, daughter of a tavern keeper, flees to a monastery with the man she loves—a non-Jew she met at the tavern—the humiliated tavern keeper’s family turns to Moshkeleh for help, not knowing he too is in love with her. For some unknown reason, this innovative novel does not appear in the standard twenty-eight-volume edition of Sholom Aleichem’s collected works, published after his death. Strikingly, Moshkeleh the Thief shows Jews interacting with non-Jews in the Russian Pale of Settlement—a groundbreaking theme in modern Yiddish literature. This novel is also important for Sholom Aleichem’s approach to his material. Yiddish literature had long maintained a tradition of edelkeyt, refinement. Authors eschewed violence, the darker side of life, and people on the fringe of respectability. Moshkeleh thus enters a Jewish arena not hitherto explored in a novel.


The Nick of Time (New Directions Publlishing Corporation)
Rosmarie Waldrop

“If memory serves, it was five years ago that yours began to refuse,” Rosmarie Waldrop writes to her husband in The Nick of Time. “Does it feel like crossing from an open field into the woods, the sunlight suddenly switched off? Or like a roof without edge or frame, pushed sideways in time?” Ten years in the making, Waldrop’s phenomenally beautiful new collection explores the felt nature of existence as well as gravity and velocity, the second hemisphere of time, mortality and aging, language and immigration, a Chinese primer, the artist Hannah Höch, and dwarf stars. Of one sequence, “White Is a Color,” first published as a chapbook, the Irish poet Billy Mills wrote, “In what must be less than 1000 words, Waldrop says more about the human condition and how we explore it through words than most of us would manage in a thousand pages.” Love blooms in the cut, in the gap, in the nick between memory and thought, sentence and experience. Like the late work of Cézanne, Waldrop’s art has found a new way of seeing and thinking that “vibrates on multiple registers through endless, restless exploration” (citation for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize).


Passion (Copper Canyon Press)
June Jordan

After decades out of print, Passion―one of June Jordan’s most important collections―has returned to readers. Originally entitled, passion: new poems, 1977-1980, this volume holds key works including “Poem About My Rights,” “Poem About Police Violence,” “Free Flight,” and an essay by the poet, “For the Sake of the People’s Poetry: Walt Whitman and the Rest of Us.” June Jordan was a fierce advocate for the safety and humanity of women and Black people, and for the freedom of all people―and Barack Obama made a line from this book famous: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” With love and humor, via lyrics and rants, she calls for nothing less than radical compassion. This new edition includes a foreword by Nicole Sealey.


Prisoner of the Infidels: The Memoir of an Ottoman Muslim in Seventeenth-Century Europe  (University of California Press)
Osman of Timisoara, tr. Giancarlo Casale

A pioneering work of Ottoman Turkish literature, Prisoner of the Infidels brings the seventeenth-century memoir of Osman Agha of Timişoara—slave, adventurer, and diplomat—into English for the first time. The sweeping story of Osman’s life begins upon his capture and subsequent enslavement during the Ottoman–Habsburg Wars. Adrift in a landscape far from his home and traded from one master to another, Osman tells a tale of indignation and betrayal but also of wonder and resilience, punctuated with queer trysts, back-alley knife fights, and elaborate ruses to regain his freedom. Throughout his adventures, Osman is forced to come to terms with his personhood and sense of belonging: What does it mean to be alone in a foreign realm and treated as subhuman chattel, yet surrounded by those who see him as an object of exotic desire or even genuine affection? Through his eyes, we are treated to an intimate view of seventeenth-century Europe from the singular perspective of an insider/outsider, who by the end his account can no longer reckon the boundary between Islam and Christendom, between the land of his capture and the land of his birth, or even between slavery and redemption.


Seasons in Hippoland (University of Chicago Press)
Wanjikũ Wa Ngũgĩ

Victoriana is a country ruled by an Emperor-for-Life who is dying from an illness not officially acknowledged in a land where truth and facts are decided by the Emperor. The elite goes along with the charade. Their children are conditioned to conform. It is a land of truthful lies, where reality has uncertain meaning. Mumbi, a rebellious child from the capital of Westville, and her brother are sent to live in rural Hippoland. But what was meant to be a punishment turns out to be a glorious discovery of the magic of the land, best captured in the stories their eccentric aunt Sara tells them. Most captivating to the children is the tale of a porcelain bowl supposed to possess healing powers. Returning to Westville as an adult, Mumbi spreads the story throughout the city and to the entire country. Exhausted by years of endless bleak lies, the people are fascinated by the mystery of the porcelain bowl. When word of its healing powers reaches the Emperor himself, he commands Mumbi to find it for him—with dramatic consequences for everyone in Victoriana. 


Winter Recipes from the Collective (Straus and Giroux Farrar)
Louise Glück

Louise Glück’s thirteenth book of poems is among her most haunting. Here as in The Wild Iris there is a chorus, but the speakers are entirely human, simultaneously spectral and ancient. Winter Recipes from the Collective is chamber music, an invitation into that privileged realm small enough for the individual instrument to make itself heard , dolente, its line sustained, carried, and then taken up by the next instrument, spirited, animoso, while at the same time being large enough to contain a whole lifetime, the inconceivable gifts and losses of old age, the little princesses rattling in the back of a car, an abandoned passport, the ingredients of an invigorating winter sandwich, a sister’s death, the joyful presence of the sun, its brightness measured by the darkness it casts. “Some of you will know what I mean,” the poet says, by which she means, some of you will follow me. Hers is the sustaining presence, the voice containing all our lifetimes, “all the worlds, each more beautiful than the last.” This magnificent book couldn’t have been written by anyone else, nor could it have been written by the poet at any other time in her life.


The Wrong End of the Telescope (Grove Atlantic Press)
Rabih Alameddine

Mina Simpson, a Lebanese doctor, arrives at the infamous Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, after being urgently summoned for help by her friend who runs an NGO there. Alienated from her family except for her beloved brother, Mina has avoided being so close to her homeland for decades. But with a week off work and apart from her wife of thirty years, Mina hopes to accomplish something meaningful, among the abundance of Western volunteers who pose for selfies with beached dinghies and the camp’s children. Soon, a boat crosses bringing Sumaiya, a fiercely resolute Syrian matriarch with terminal liver cancer. Determined to protect her children and husband at all costs, Sumaiya refuses to alert her family to her diagnosis. Bonded together by Sumaiya’s secret, a deep connection sparks between the two women, and as Mina prepares a course of treatment with the limited resources on hand, she confronts the circumstances of the migrants’ displacement, as well as her own constraints in helping them. The Wrong End of the Telescope is a bedazzling tapestry of both tragic and amusing portraits of indomitable spirits facing a humanitarian crisis.

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