Critical Mass, The Blog of the National Book Critics Circle

Critical Notes: Octavio Solis, Zachary Leader, Abby Geni & Mary Gabriel’s ‘Ninth Street Women’

by Taylor Anhalt | Nov-12-2018

Reminder: It’s time to volunteer for the John Leonard Award committee! Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #NBCCLeonard, and visit our Facebook page to check out the list of candidates generated by the board. Want to write about a favorite? Contact us at nbcccritics@gmail.com about contributing, and learn more about volunteering for the Leonard committee on Critical Mass on our website. 

Reviews & Interviews

In this week's Critical Notes/Works in Translation series, curated by NBCC board member Lori Feathers, Rachael Nevins reviews Yannis Ritsos' Diaries of Exile

Julie Phillips reviewed “Born to be Posthumous” by Mark Dery for 4Columns.

Theodore Kinni wrote an essay on the year’s best management books for Strategy+Business Magazine.

Barbara Spindel reviewed David Blight's “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” for the Barnes & Noble Review.

Rebecca Kightlinger published three book reviews in Historical Novels Review, Issue 86 (November 2018): “Captain Swing and the Blacksmith” by Beatrice Parvin, “The Fallen Architect” by Charles Belfoure, and “The Girl They Left Behind” by Roxanne Veletzos, which was an Editor's Choice for November 2018.

NBCC VP/Online Jane Ciabattari's Lit Hub column this week featured Zachary Leader's five literary lives, coinciding with the publication of the second volume of his biography of Saul Bellow, which begins with the publication of Herzog. Her November BBC Culture column includes new novels by Helen Schulman, Indra Novey, and NBCC award winner Jonathan Lethem, plus an intimate memoir from Elaine Pagels.

Yvonne Garrett reviewed May-Lee Chai's "Useful Phrases for Immigrants" and Kim Sagway's "Mina" for The Brooklyn Rail. She also reviewed Stephen Walsh's "Debussy: A Painter in Sound" and Aeham Ahmad's "The Pianist from Syria: A Memoir" for Publishers Weekly.

For the Our Man in Boston, Robert Birnbaum interviewed photographer Abelardo Morell, with his recent publication, “Flowers for Lisa.” He also reflected on the masterpiece composition, “Lush Life,” taking notice of a haunting song and performance by Greg Porter. Lastly, Birnbaum wrote about the malignancy of Anti-semitism.

Jenny Shank reviewed Tara Westover's "Educated" for High Country News, "America is Not the Heart" for America, "The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock" and Chelsey Johnson's "Stray City" for Dallas Morning News, and also interviewed Fatima Farheen Mirza for Dallas Morning News.

K. L. Romo reviewed Brenda Novak’s romantic suspense novel “Before We Were Strangers” for BookTrib, and Jeffrey Layton’s espionage thriller “The Faithful Spy” for The Bill Thrill magazine.

Adam Carroll reviewed Octavio Solis’ “Retablos: Stories From a Life Lived Along the Border” for The Millions.

NBCC board member Laurie Hertzel interviewed Alexander McCall Smith for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where she is senior editor for books. She also reviewed Richard Beard’s memoir, “The Day That Went Missing,” and wrote her weekly column on why teenagers don’t read as much as they once did.

William O'Rourke reviewed “Flannery O'Connor and Robert Giroux: A Publishing Partnership” for the National Catholic Reporter in the October 5-18 print edition and the October 24, 2018 web edition.

Julia M. Klein reviewed Haruki Murakami's "Killing Commendatore" for the Forward. She also reviewed Jane Sherron De Hart's "Ruth Bader Ginsburg" for the Forward.

Edward Guiliano published a comprehensive review of studies from 2004 through 2017 of Lewis Carroll’s life and art in “Dickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction.”

Hamilton Cain reviewed Mary Gabriel's ”Ninth Street Women” for the Barnes & Noble Review.

Tayla Burney reviewed Liane Moriarty's new novel, "Nine Perfect Strangers," for the Washington Post.

David Cooper reviewed "The William H. Gass Reader" in New York Journal of Books.

Wendeline O. Wright reviewed Stephen King’s “Elevation” for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Denise Low, poet and critic, reviewed Hadara Bar-Nadav’s “The New Nudity”  in the online edition of Rain Taxi and Joseph Harrington’s “Of Some Sky” in New Letters.

John Domini reviewed “The Hospital,” by Ahmed Buoanani, in The Brooklyn Rail.

Meg Waite Clayton's monthly “Listen In” for the San Francisco Chronicle reviewed Barbara Kingsolver's “Unsheltered,” Brené Brown's “Dare to Lead,” and Rebecca Traister's “Good and Mad.”

Ian P. Beacock reviewed Deborah Coen’s “Climate in Motion: Science, Empire, and the Problem of Scale” for The Atlantic.

Tara Cheesman reviewed Anne Serre’s “The Governesses” for Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

 

Other News

Pam Munter’s memoir, “As Alone As I Want To Be,” was just published by Adelaide Books and is available at Amazon—and soon at a bookstore near you.

Denise Low’s book “Shadow Light” (2018) won the Red Mountain Press Editor's Choice Award.

NBCC members note: Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including news about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. With reviews, please include title of book and author, as well as name of publication. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.​ We love dedicated URLs. We do not love hyperlinks.

NBCC Reads: Rachael Nevins on Yannis Ritsos’ ‘Diaries of Exile’

by Rachael Nevins | Nov-07-2018

What are your favorite works in translation? That's the question that launched this summer's NBCC Reads series, which draws upon the bookish passions of NBCC members and honorees. We're posting the last batch this month. (Previous NBCC Reads series dating back to 2007 here.)

Beginning in the fall of 1948 and toward the end of a five-year civil war, Greek poet Yannis Ritsos was arrested and sent to a detention center for political prisoners on the island of Lemnos. So began four years in prison camps, during which time Ritsos found (as he recommended decades later to a friend) “therapy or salvation” in his work. Along with other poems and many letters, Ritsos wrote the three Diaries of Exile while on Lemnos and in the much larger, harsher re-education camp on Makronisos to which he was moved in 1949. The diaries were published in Greece in 1975, after Ritsos endured another period of banishment and house arrest, and have been translated into English by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley (Archipelago Books, 2013).

The poems in the diaries are brief and have no titles other than the date of their composition. Recurring images—thorns and barbed wire, sunset and night, the sun and the moon, cats and mice, cigarettes, windows, the wind and bitter cold, overcoats and blankets—attest to the narrowness of experience in prison. Ritsos’s speaker witnesses his own and others’ grief, anguish, sense of tedium, and alienation, but never complains or indulges in self-pity. Rather, the speaker accepts things as they are, including the longing and desolation with which he infuses things, as in the first stanza of the first poem:

There are so many thorns here—

brown thorns, yellow thorns

all along the length of the day, even into sleep.

I love how quickly the actual thorns in the first two lines become metaphorical thorns in the third. “I want to give objects a meaning / they don’t have,” confesses the speaker toward the beginning of the second diary; yet I trust the meanings he gives things. Though the meanings may not reside in the things themselves, they reveal his care for them, as well as his own continuing emotional engagement with the stuff of life, however limited it may be, and however much suffering it may comprehend.

The stool has its patience.

The rain comes

washes the birds’ tiles

assumes the weight of the unspeaking.

The toothbrush is sad like all things.

The poems in the third diary, written on Makronisos, are bleaker—full of warnings, dread, and death, such as

Your mistake is that you don’t want to die.

But maybe the dead feel hunger too.

and

Manolis used to say:

everything’s going to be fine.

His heart said so.

 

Manolis

down in the deep water

with the blind seaweed.

Unlike Manolis, the poems in Diaries of Exile make no hopeful claims. Nevertheless, their very existence testifies to the possibility of spiritual survival in extremity.

Become a Member of the NBCC

NBCC Awards

Finalists for 2017

See all award winners

Find out how to submit

Read how we select

Frequently Asked Questions







Videos and Podcasts

NBCC 2017 Awards Ceremony

NBCC 2017 Finalists Reading

All videos and podcasts.





From the Critical Mass blog

Critical Notes: Octavio Solis, Zachary Leader, Abby Geni & Mary Gabriel’s ‘Ninth Street Women’

Reminder: It’s time to volunteer for the John Leonard Award committee! Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #NBCCLeonard, and visit our

NBCC Reads: Rachael Nevins on Yannis Ritsos’ ‘Diaries of Exile’

What are your favorite works in translation? That's the question that launched this summer's NBCC Reads series, which draws upon the bookish

Critical Notes: #NBCCLeonard Award, Member Reviews, and More

Reminder: It’s time to volunteer for the John Leonard Award committee! Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #NBCCLeonard, and visit our

NBCC Reads: Soniah Kamal on ‘Angaaray’

What are your favorite works in translation? That's the question that launched this summer's NBCC Reads series, which draws upon the bookish