THE ORPHAN OF SALT WINDS

The-Orphan-of-Salt-Winds-RGB-800x1236.jpg

THE ORPHAN OF SALT WINDS BY ELIZABETH BROOKS

Elizabeth Brooks’ novel, The Orphan of Salt Winds, interweaves flashbacks and present-day reflections of the troubled soul, Virginia Wrathmell. In 1939 England, 10-year-old Virginia is adopted by Clem and Lorna, a couple who believes their marriage can be saved by a child. Clem instantly presents Virginia with a sense of belonging but Lorna, though alluring, remains emotionally distant and has a curious relationship with the overly involved neighbor and widower, Max Deering. When a German airplane crashes at the spark of World War II, Clem disappears in the isolated marshes on a search for the pilot. Virginia and Lorna’s lives take an unexpected turn, leading to a decision that Virginia will regret for the rest of her life.

The Orphan of Salt Winds simultaneously functions as a gothic, historical, psychological mystery and bildungsroman. Brooks vivid comparison of the beautiful and tumultuous landscape and Virginia’s life is artfully rendered: “The winds and tides remember, as do the birds, and the cockles, and the shrimps, and the sand worms, and the whispering reeds, and the grasses, and the lichens, and every single stone in the old seawall. I know they remember, because they passed the story on to me—a stranger—just as I passed it on to you.”

Tin House.

—Review by Jenee Skinner

LANGUAGE IS A REVOLVER FOR TWO

Senal07_Revolver_203.jpg

LANGUAGE IS A REVOLVER FOR TWO BY MARIO MONTALBETTI, TRANSLATED BY CLARE SULLIVAN

The bilingual chapbook Language is a Revolver for Two by Peruvian poet Mario Montalbetti, translated from the Spanish by Clare Sullivan, explores the systems of language as an economy—how language behaves through supply and demand. What exists within language’s economic bounds and what exists outside? A sardine, the need for love, the dawn coming down “orange as a ripe papaya” shattering on the pavement? Here, the study is of the ways language moves collective and the violence thereof: “my words are a knife / chilling when it enters your heart / laughing when it enters mine.” As these lines and the title suggest, the violence is throughout but it is thematic, controlled, and shared. In one poem, Montalbetti’s speaker burns nocturnal, kept awake by an anonymous no, and in another, is a pilot, smashing the poem-plane to bits while claiming: “all your poems end, / trying to express a private sentiment / in public language.” Though small, this brief collection observes the every day and leaves us with grand questions—how does the market of language affect the quotidian, the supreme, and what escapes the system?

Ugly Duckling Presse.

—Review by Madeline Vardell

NIGHT SCHOOL: A READER FOR GROWNUPS

Night_School_cvr-20_copy_large.jpeg

NIGHT SCHOOL: A READER FOR GROWNUPS BY ZSÓFIA BÁN, TRANSLATED BY JIM TUCKER

Jim Tucker’s translation of Zsófia Bán’s 2007 story collection, Night School: A Reader for Grownups, doesn’t read like a translation at all. Nor does it read like anything you’ve ever perused—unless you’ve read Night School in another language. A frenetic homage to the textbooks Bán once encountered in German class that “skipped from transportation to the Holocaust to Gummy Bears—in that order,” Night School takes readers on a wild romp through a kaleidoscope of postmodern fairy tales. We learn the just-so story behind Kahlo’s The Two Fridas, encounter the 19th-century naturalist Henri Mouhot trekking through the Laotian jungle, and find ourselves privy to an email exchange between the characters of the 18th-century epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. All flaunt their meta-awareness: Mouhot’s wife quotes Heart of Darkness, which had not yet been written, and predicts his impending death, as Victorine Meurent predicts Manet’s, and Laika the Dog stoically predicts her own.

Night School might not seem to lend itself to translation, so bursting with slang, neologisms, tongue-in-cheek zingers, and off-the-cuff historical and literary references, yet one cannot deny the sheer Dadaist power and Seussian flare of lines like this one from “Motherwhere”: “They searched for her […] in the cold turkey clinic, in the Wild Turkey still […] in the market square, in the market research center […] in the ash cans and trash cans, under the bumps and in the sumps.” Assignments and images litter the collection and frequently, we are instructed to argue pro or con. Bán’s humor transcends language barriers, and Tucker’s translation never leaves us wondering what we’ve missed out on by not speaking Hungarian. A must-read for anyone who needs a break from the grim currents of contemporary literature, yet still craves the heady thrill of a really smart book.

Open Letter.

—Review by Mekiya Walters

WE BEGIN IN GLADNESS: HOW POETS PROGRESS

9781555978211.jpg

WE BEGIN IN GLADNESS: HOW POETS PROGRESS BY CRAIG MORGAN TEICHER

We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress, a new book of essays by Craig Morgan Teicher, takes readers on a poetic journey through the development of voice by examining how the works of several poets changed over the course of their careers. In this insightful and delightful collection, Teicher looks at his own poetic development alongside others to show how our voices develop together: “Poetry is a conversation, an extended one, occupying, perhaps the span of an entire life.” His collection moves through these three sections—Beginnings and Breakthroughs, Middles and Mirrors, and Ending and Enduring—highlighting the poets Sylvia Plath, W. S. Merwin, francine j. harris, and Louise Glück, and referencing many more. Between these chapters, a constellation of connections weaves together their histories to show how poets both influence and are influenced by one another—how some poetic voices keep growing even after death, as others continue the conversations they started. Teicher’s essays present many things that change the ways that poets write over the course of their lifetimes; other writers, new knowledge, new perspectives, the desire to stay relevant: “Seeking to extend their conversations, to home in more precisely on what they believe and feel to be true about language, poets change their poems.” Not all poets change for the better, Teicher points out, some reach their peak and then stay within the same style, and some become over-confident after reaching success and then decline. The remedy for this is to keep exploring: “A poet’s voice must indeed be found; each poet must venture out to find it.”

Graywolf Press.

—Review by Gwen Mauroner

TEETH NEVER SLEEP

garcia-1mq5biz.png

TEETH NEVER SLEEP BY ÁNGEL GARCIA

The poems in Ángel García’s Teeth Never Sleep often action from bodies deeply troubled by their own masculinity but do not meditate on violence. They commit it. “This is the poem I’ve always wanted to write about a dog, a puppy really,” begins the seemingly innocuous “A Dog Poem.” By the poem’s midpoint, the puppy is struck by a van, dying viscerally while readers watch through the eyes of a small boy, who, horrified and guilt-ridden, returns home and says “nothing about the dog I got killed.” Of course, readers understand that the boy carries no blame for the puppy’s death, but this logic—that to love something is to lead it to a painful end—permeates the entire book, forcing us examine the distance between male tenderness and male violence.

Through the ruptured torsos of animals, the bleeding mouths of speakers, and the chewed-up throats of lovers, García’s poems struggle with gender and intimacy. They take a hard look at complicity: “my fingerprints etched purple into her thin wrists; her cheek bruised in blues,” he writes in “Giving It.” García does not ask the reader to excuse the behavior on the page, nor, despite the leveled discipline of his voice, does he completely dissociate self from speaker. Teeth Never Sleep imitates the speaker in “Exuviae” here: it “hangs [itself] from a door hook,” opening itself to scrutiny, no matter how raw and ragged the exposed parts may be. This book is not easy—not on its subjects, not on its readers, and least of all on itself—but it doesn’t give up. Despite the pain, Garcia “[returns] to do the work that must/be done,” and by making so naked the violence proximal to and perpetuated by the men in (and outside) his book, García models a critique of toxic masculinity that demands more than confession and forgiveness.

University of Arkansas Press.

—Review by J. Bailey Hutchinson

BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE

51B++2uFteL.jpg

BLAME THIS ON THE BOOGIE BY RINA AYUYANG

Rina Ayuyang’s graphic memoir, Blame This on the Boogie, reads like a sequence of freestyle dance numbers of her life, chronicling her childhood, motherhood, and career, as well as the ways in which music has propelled her through each. Music and dance rule the world of Rina’s imagination—help her through school boredom and bullying, and live in her adult mind as a place of escapism, obsession, and artistic appreciation. Boogie is a love letter to the style and art of golden age musicals, to football, dance, and family, and an exploration of the ways in which we cope with juggling the thrills and responsibilities of daily life.

Ayuyang’s stunning, bold style leaps off the page and draws you in close, pulling you into the images where you find tiny captions, thoughts, and text hidden on road signs and football jerseys. The bright colored pencil drawings slide from realistic to otherworldly with the grace of a broadway musical changing scenes—at times combining memory with song or football practice with dance number. Reminiscent of concept art for animation, these images thrum with movement and life. Blame This on the Boogie manages to create its own beat, a visual rhythm that sweeps you through to the last page.

Drawn & Quarterly.

—Review by Claire Pincumbe

ÖRÆFI: THE WASTELAND

51ZxDrXgWZL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

ÖRÆFI: THE WASTELAND BY ÓFEIGUR SIGURÐSSON, TRANSLATED BY LYTTON SMITH

Öræfi: The Wasteland, Ófeigur Sigurðsson’s stunning novel, translated by Lytton Smith, opens on an injured Austrian toponymist—naive, curious, passionate to a fault—ostensibly arriving at Skaftafell National Park Visitor’s Center after dragging himself down a glacier. There, he is treated by a vacationing veterinarian, the brilliant, frenzied Dr. Lassi, and the two swap tales of how they, and the wasteland, have come to be there. What follows is a collection of Icelandic stories, realist and mythic, historical and fictional, nestled inside an epic adventure. It is at once a history of place, and a man’s intensely personal journey through the elements of the land, and of his own mind. A delightfully complex play on the epistolary novel, the narration of Öræfi is layered, at times coming to us through five or six levels of character interpretation.

On translating Öræfi, Lytton Smith says: “The fiction of translation is physical: a translation is a creation in which one geography gets moved to another.” Read Öræfi to be transported to a world of beauty, horror, treasure, and ghosts. Full of tall tales, mighty storms, mysterious sheep, and impossibly large traveling trunks, Öræfi: The Wasteland draws you in to its baffling web, asks you to linger in this brutal, exquisite place

Deep Vellum.

—Review by Claire Pincumbe

REVOLUTION SUNDAY

81UWI04D-bL.jpg

REVOLUTION SUNDAY BY WENDY GUERRA, TRANSLATED BY ACHY OBEJAS

In Wendy Guerra’s debut in the English language, Revolution Sunday, translated from the Spanish by Achy Obejas, her protagonist Cleo is a writer; indeed, she is an award winning writer, but only outside of her home country, Cuba, where her work has been denied publication. In the face of this severe censorship and increasing surveillance, Cleo doubts everything. When her parents pass away in a mysterious accident, she confines herself to her house, turning inward, working only on her writing. After continual raids and surprise visits from government agents, the only person she can trust is her housekeeper, Márgara. And when Gerónimo, a Hollywood actor, appears at her doorstep, he claims to be working on a documentary about Cleo’s father—only, the man he describes is not the man Cleo has long believed to be her father, but a political revolutionary.

Guerra’s Revolution Sunday is a story about the nature of art in the face of censorship and surveillance, and shows how the survival of art mirrors the survival of the soul.

Melville House.

—Review by Rome Morgan