Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 2)

TCR Talks With Michele Filgate

By: Felicity Landa

Shortly after Michele Filgate’s deeply personal essay about her relationship with her mother was published on Longreads, it went viral. “Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them,” she begins in her poignant and moving piece. In her essay, Filgate breaks her silence to tell the story of why her relationship with her mother is so painful.

“I wrote this essay because I felt like we couldn’t have this conversation in real life,” she tells me during our interview. In doing so, Filgate unearthed a community of people who also had stories about all the things they couldn’t talk about with their mothers. “Knowing that something can speak to a stranger and make them feel less alone, and really resonate with them—that’s the power of words,” she says. The overwhelming response to Filgate’s words gave her the idea to compile an anthology named for her original essay: What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About.

What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About is a composition of real motherhood, from the hilarious moments to the painful. It is an exploration into the imperfect women who make up this unique part of humanity. André Aciman writes of his relationship with his deaf mother in “Are You Listening.” Lynn Steger Strong reflects on the impossible expectations we put on our mothers, the ones they can never live up to, in “The Same Story About My Mother.” Alexander Chee attempts to shield his mother from the sexual abuse he suffered as a child in “Xanadu.”

The essays in this collection are compiled from a star-studded group of writers. They weave together a story of what it means to be a mother and to have a mother. Every essay resonates, giving life to the idea that breaking our silence brings us closer. “There’s something so deeply lonely about confessing your truth,” Filgate says in her introduction. “The thing was, I wasn’t truly alone. For even a brief instant of time, every single human being has a mother.”

THE COACHELLA REVIEW: How long after your essay went viral did you make the decision to go from individual personal essay to an anthology that further explored the mother-child relationship?

MICHELE FILGATE: My essay came out in October of 2017, and I sold the book as a proposal in February. I immediately had the idea for the anthology as soon as so many people started responding—not just to the essay, but to the title—and saying they had a story about their mom,hat they can’t, or never could talk about with their mother. So the wheels were already turning that first week that the article came out.

TCR: You have such a beautifully diverse group of writers contributing to the book, and a lot of big names. I’m curious about the logistics of that. How did you gather people to be a part of the project?

MF: I was in California the week my essay came out for the LitQuake Festival and I ended up on a panel with Nayomi Munaweera. We were talking about the topic of my essay and she had something to share. Right away, I knew I wanted her in the book. So I started gathering writers almost immediately. I think it also comes from years of experience as an events coordinator at bookstores, and a former board member of the National Book Critics Circle where I do interviews with authors. I also run a series called Red Ink that is Brooklyn based. I host it at Books Are Magic: it’s a quarterly series where I pair together five different women of all different genres, backgrounds, experience, and age range, and put together a salon-type atmosphere where we have a discussion surrounding a certain topic. So already for my work I’ve done a lot of thinking about pairing different voices together, and putting this book together seemed like a natural extension of that.

TCR: Did you know which writers you wanted, or did you put feelers out?

MF: You have to reach out to a bunch of people, especially for a topic as sensitive as this one, because a lot of writers are busy, or they think they’re ready to write about their mother but they’re not. Some want to do it, but they end up backing out for whatever reason. I reached out to a bunch of people at first. The goal was to find pieces that were different enough, and could really stand on their own as part of the anthology.

TCR: Most of the essays are original, but some, like Brandon Taylor’s “All About My Mother,” were previously published. Why did you pick those particular pieces to include?

MF: I remember when Brandon’s piece was published on Lit Hub, and I was just blown away by that essay. I wanted most of the pieces in the book to be original, but we did have room for a few pieces that had been previously published. I knew I definitely wanted that particular piece in there. Brandon is extraordinary—I feel really fortunate that I got to put his words into this book. The way he writes about his mother, despite the fact that she was abusive toward him, is filled with such tenderness and generosity. I found that essay to be so incredibly moving.

TCR: In Melissa Febos’s essay, she discusses the idea that memoir writing is very therapeutic. She says, “When I sent my second book to my mother, we had an hours-long conversation. I explained how my writing created a place where I could look at and talk to parts of myself that I otherwise couldn’t. She explained to me that this was exactly what her mode of therapy allowed her patients to do.” You do touch on this in your introduction, that it’s freeing because you can take control of your own story. I’m curious about how that process was for you. Did you find it to be therapeutic to write your story about your relationship with your mother?

MF: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve done a few events with my friend T Kira Madden. She wrote an incredible piece for Lit Hub called “Against Catharsis.” She argues that writing can be therapeutic for people, but the point of the essay goes beyond that. For me, yes, there’s a therapeutic component in writing about your trauma, but at the same time, I need more therapy than ever. I’ve written and published my experience, and now I have to talk about and relive it over and over again.

It’s actually more therapeutic for other people to read my work. I’ve heard from others who have been in similar situations that my essay was something they felt they needed to read. For myself, there’s power in putting your story down on the page, but at the same time it’s been incredibly difficult. You do choose what you’re going to say from your own story when you’re writing it. So there’s stuff that’s left off the page that you think about all the time, but the casual reader doesn’t see. There’s a duality in it—it’s painful, but also rewarding. The subtitle of the book is  “Fifteen Writers Break the Silence,” and I do think it’s really important to break silences. There’s power in that. But therapy is a separate thing from writing. I thank my therapist in the back of the book—she’s been instrumental to this process. So therapy paired with writing is therapeutic in my opinion. You need both. Writing can’t be a substitute for therapy.

TCR: I love that hearing your readers’ responses to your story is therapeutic in its own way. Now that you’re settling into the idea that your words are even further reaching than when your essay was originally published, how are you feeling after having so much contact with so many people who were affected and touched by your words and your story?

MF: That’s one of the best parts of writing a book: knowing that a stranger can pick it up and get something out of it, and in this case, not just from my own words, but from any of the authors in the book. There’s something that can speak to so many different people. It’s one of the most rewarding things about an anthology, the many different voices you can compile. I’ve been hearing from strangers not just about my own essay, but about all of them. It’s the power of personal essay writing—reading the stories that come from other people’s lives, and seeing how they resonate in strangers’ lives. I’ve had several mother-and-daughter pairs come to my events who’ve bought copies of the book, and plan on having a book club to work through their own difficult conversations. I wanted the book to be published to allow for healing and communication between people.

TCR: We recently had a review of the book on our blog, by Nathania Seales Oh, and she talks about the overwhelming presence of men in every essay, and how men affect and change women’s relationships. I thought that was such an interesting perspective.

MF: That’s just one way that these essays speak to each other. It wasn’t necessarily intentional, but when you pair them all together you see the threads that run through, and I think that thread is very apparent—whether it’s Cathi Hanauer’s essay about having a domineering but loveable father who never lets her mother have a one-on-one conversation with her, or my piece where my stepfather is the dominating one in the household, while my mother was in denial and allowing his behavior to continue. Leslie Jamison as well. She writes about trying to understand who her mother was before she was born by reading the unpublished manuscript from her mother’s first husband. There are many ways that men are important in this book, not just the mothers. I think it’s hard to write about moms without writing about their partners, because parenting, traditionally speaking, is considered a thing that you do with your partner, although obviously that’s not always what happens. The men are going to be a part of these essays because sometimes the issue stems from the male presence in the household.

TCR: As a mother myself, I love that you say in your introduction how mothers are set up to fail. I don’t think I realized that myself until I became a mom. I’m curious about your own realization of that, and how that affected the way you relate to your own mother.

MF: One of my favorite reviews of this book is Ilana Masad’s in the L.A. Times. She writes about how the book celebrates imperfect mothers, and I like that description. As I say in my introduction, we want our mothers to check all of these boxes and be everything. Mothers are humans, and we have to get rid of the mythologies that we attach to them and remember that. Thinking about that as I put this collection together gave me a lot more empathy toward my mom, what she’s been through, and the choices she’s made. It didn’t make things right between us, but it helped me understand who she is a little bit more. I also think that women in general are set up to fail. You can’t please everyone in society. For instance, childfree women are asked constantly why they don’t want kids.

TCR: No matter what we choose to do as women, someone is asking us why we aren’t doing the opposite.

MF: Right. If you have one child, people ask when you’re going to have your second child. Or they’re judging a choice you make in parenting that child. On and on, no matter what you do. But especially for mothers, who are already making the ultimate sacrifice in devoting their time to this other human being, nothing they do can please everyone. We, as a society, put impossible expectations on moms, and one of the things I really wanted this book to explore is how we can look at mothers as human beings, because that’s what they are.

TCR: In her essay, “Mother Tongue,” Carmen Maria Machado talks about how she didn’t realize her feelings about having her own kids until she explored her relationship with her mother. How has this whole process changed your own perspective on motherhood?

MF: It’s given me a newfound appreciation for all the moms I know in my life. Good friends, and my sister who’s an amazing mom. It’s made me appreciate the moms who communicate and listen to their children. I’ve known since I was little that I don’t want to have kids, so I don’t think that editing this book has changed that for me, but it has deepened my understanding of my own mother.

There’s a line in my essay: “I say nothing. Nothing until I say everything. But articulating what happened isn’t enough. She’s still married to him. The gap widens.” That’s the whole point of my piece. Sometimes you can break silences and it doesn’t matter, because there’s so much denial you can’t break through and listen. This essay is for my mother to hear me, although I don’t think it worked, sadly. This piece was written out of a longing to have a mother in my life, because I haven’t had her in my life in a real way for a long time. Our relationship had been strained for many years, and when she read this essay, it made things even more painful and complicated. It was written from a daughter longing to have her mom in her life more.

TCR: What comes next for you in this whole process of understanding motherhood, and healing though writing?

MF: I’ve been working on an essay about learning how to mother myself. I’ve been thinking about it while editing this book. You need to be good to yourself, to nurture yourself, if you can’t get that from your own mom. Even if you can, you can’t put all those pressures on one person. So I’ve really been learning how important it is to be your own mother in a lot of ways.

 


Felicity Landa is an MFA candidate at UC Riverside Palm Desert. She serves as fiction editor for the online literary magazine Literary Mama and nonfiction editor for The Coachella Review. She lives on the Central Coast with her family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are All Karolina

by Cynthia Bruckman

“EXCUSE ME, MISS! ARE YOU JEWISH?”

I had just moved from San Francisco to New York City. I was walking down Park Avenue, heading to the 6 train after a particularly grueling day of work, when I was approached by two young men from the Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement, waving what looked like willow branches at me as they shouted and ran in my direction. I had that dark-haired “Jewish look,” I suppose, that they were eagerly scouting for in rush-hour Manhattan during Sukkot. They were very excited.

“It depends on how you define ‘Jewish,’” I answered. It appeared as if I were about to be blessed by their branches, and as a newly arrived New Yorker, I needed to be blessed.

“Is your mother Jewish?” they fired back.

“N-no, but my father’s father was Jewish,” I hesitated.

“Then you’re not a Jew!” they said, hugely disappointed. They started to run away from me, frantically in search of a “real” Jew.

“Wait!” I shouted after them. “My great-grandfather was murdered in a concentration camp! Does that count?”

“No! Sorry!”

“Wait! Come back! I want to be blessed!”

But they were gone.

In November 2016, archaeologists found a girl’s pendant, almost identical to one that Anne Frank had owned, in the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland. Not long after this news broke in January 2017, I received a message from a cousin: “Short story is, we are related to the girl who owned the pendant!” Her name: Karolina Cohn.

Yad Vashem and the Israel Antiquities Authority had asked the public’s help to locate Karolina’s family. A talented part-time genealogist quickly found relatives all over the world.

Karolina is my first cousin “twice removed.” My father was born to an Italian Catholic mother and a German Jewish father. My grandfather was her first cousin on her father’s side.

The possible connection to Anne Frank (whom we now know is not a relative), was intriguing, but Karolina’s story alone was compelling. Archaeologists located the wooden plank, known as “the stairway to heaven,” that girls and women had to walk across, stripped and shaven, on their way to the gas chamber. Under these floorboards, they found Karolina’s pendant, which, they believed, she had purposefully dropped.

I received an invitation to come to Frankfurt. The Claims Conference, representing the interests of Holocaust survivors in Germany, would be honoring Karolina and her family in an art project commemorating “the victims of national socialism.”

Although I’ve been living in Canada as a dual citizen for the last six years, I continue to participate actively in the American political system. I absentee vote and make as much noise as I can to resist the authoritarianism tearing apart America’s hemorrhaging democracy. So when I received this invitation to honor my relative in a ceremony that would be commemorating “the victims of national socialism”? I knew I had to be there. The events in Charlottesville, Virginia were the tipping point. Neo-Nazis weren’t hiding anymore in America; they were murdering people in broad daylight. And our president was proclaiming that “there are good people on both sides.” Before I left, I asked people on social media for German expressions that might be useful during my trip. A cousin suggested that I tell people, in German, “I’m sorry about Trump. I’m from Canada.”

On a trip to Europe in 1989, I had the uber-creepy experience of staying at a bed and breakfast in Amsterdam where the hostess was a Holocaust denier. When my friend and I told her that we were going to the Anne Frank Museum, she snapped at us that it was “a hoax,” that the Holocaust had never happened. Fake news! On that same trip, I was also in Berlin, just after the wall came down. I now found this ironic, given the trash-talking about building a wall to keep out those “murderers and rapists.”

To prepare for what I knew would be an emotional trip, I started watching Holocaust testimonials, which served as a sort of masochistic homeopathy; treating like with like, I figured that to bolster myself, I needed to put myself there—particularly in Sobibor, where people were immediately herded to the gas chambers when they arrived. One bright spot was that the prisoners there staged a revolt, successfully taking out their Nazi guards with hatchets and anything else they could get their hands on.

I was watching these videos in my kitchen one morning with my mother, when I learned that the Cohns had first been transported to the Minsk ghetto in Belarus. Nearly everyone there had either died under the harsh conditions, been transported to Sobibor and other camps, or had been shot. This meant that Gitta, Karolina’s little sister, who also deserves to be remembered, likely died in Minsk, as very young children were not sent to the camps.

What was becoming clear to me was that my cousin Karolina was shrouded in absolute mystery, her voice, like millions of others, silenced. There was no diary left behind to attest to her precious singularity, but instead only a vague idea of what kind of spirit she may have had. Like Anne Frank, she longed to be remembered. Subversively leaving behind evidence of her murder spoke of a defiant girl on the verge of young womanhood. She was a rebel in the face of unadulterated evil.

My Lufthansa flight involved free cocktails and watching Wonder Woman kick some Nazi butt, which was hugely gratifying. Emboldened by cognac and Gal Gadot, navigating through German customs was a breeze:

Agent: Why are you here?

Me: Family flying in from all over the world for a big ceremony for Karolina Cohn, possibly related to Anne Frank.

Agent: Thank you. Go ahead.

It was raining in Frankfurt, early morning. My cab driver was a long-haired, artsy-looking guy named Yoschua, curious about me after noticing the Canadian flag on my luggage tag. In the course of our conversation, he told me that he was German, born in Iran, and seemed pleased that I mistook him for a South American. “A lot of people think I’m Peruvian,” he said. He immediately differentiated himself from some of the newly arrived immigrants, many of whom, he said, “are not assimilating. Now there is backlash—not so bad in Frankfurt, but worse in other places. German women are being called ‘whores’ by these fundamentalists when they walk down the street. This is not so good.”

Given the anti-Muslim scapegoating coming from the White House, I wondered how this was affecting everyone else in the world. I didn’t bother to tell Yoschua why I was here. When he asked, I said only, “A family event.” I was tired from the long journey, so I made things convenient for myself: I kept quiet both about my Jewish ancestry and my American citizenship.

Years ago, for a performance piece that I was writing, I had asked my nonna to sit down and record her World War II experiences for me. She talked about hiding my grandfather from the Italian fascists. I was raised with her stories and her culture. But I knew very little about my grandfather who had died before I was born.

The rainy cab ride set a tone. As Yoschua weaved in and out of mounting traffic, he repeated “scheise” under his breath. I thought about what it must be like for him to be here in Germany, feeling the need to say, essentially, that there were people who were not assimilating as they should, but that he had. I imagined my grandfather, hiding out in Italy during World War II, fearful of being discovered, but secretly holding close, just under his skin, the person who he really was.

The experts who study trauma and its impact have found that it courses its cold blood through families for generations. I started experiencing a jittery kind of PTSD when I arrived at the hotel. I viewed everything through Karolina’s ghostly, yet palpable lens: the grey façade had the feel of a bunker; the elevator up to the third floor was claustrophobic with its metal gate; the room was dimly lit with old lighting fixtures; a gas heater barely threw its heat; everything was dark, and quiet.

One night, I accidentally locked myself in my hotel bathroom. My sister, standing just outside the door, couldn’t open it, and I couldn’t open it from the inside, so I panicked. I shouted, and I pounded on the door. My sister ended up prying open the door with a can opener, of all things. Afterward, we laughed at the ridiculousness of it, but she later told me that she too was terrified when she thought she wouldn’t be able to help me.

On a cold and rainy morning, we boarded a train to Weinheim to visit the stolpersteine, or the “tripping stone,” which marked the last freely chosen residence of our great-grandparents. A black swastika was spray-painted on the seat across from us—a sobering message that Nazi hatred was alive and well. On that train ride to Weinheim, where all Jewish businesses, including our great-grandfather’s furniture upholstery store, had been liquidated, we realized that these were the very same train tracks that had carried our relatives to their deaths.

That night, we attended a dinner held on the anniversary of the Cohn family’s deportation, and for the first time we met other family members. We were joined by the genealogist and the archaeologists, who surprised us with an exact replica of the pendant that we had all seen in newspaper photos.

The next morning, a lone clarinet delicately looped its stark melody around the ethereal, flapping wings of shooting cameras while artist Gunter Demnig scraped at mortar and placed the four stolpersteine for Karolina, her sister Gitta, her father, Richard, and her mother, Else, in front of their last freely chosen residence.

We listened to speeches and presentations from journalists, politicians, and students from the Anne-Frank-Schule. In one speech, the large audience, huddled together on the narrow street, was asked to imagine everything that Karolina might have been: perhaps a doctor, a dancer, an artist, or a mother. There I stood, a grown woman whose years on Earth had been meted out in equal parts joy and grief. Nevertheless, I had been gifted a life, while Karolina’s had been brutally snuffed out just as she was beginning to plan her stretched out future.

I took a shallow breath, clutching at my pink rose, feeling completely inadequate. Not accomplished enough. Not brave enough. Not Jewish enough. I felt that old pang that had wounded me all those years ago, when I stood there on Park Avenue, abandoned by the young men in black suits waving their willow branches.

Later that day, after attending presentations at the Frankfurter Philantropin, believed to have been Karolina’s school, we took a train to Darmstadt, where we visited our great-great grandparents’ graves. We asked the rabbi who gave us a tour of the cemetery why the Nazis hadn’t destroyed it. The family names on the gravestones, he told us, were used to identify those who tried to deny any Jewish ancestry, to implicate those who were simply trying to stay alive.

The world now knows one more murdered girl’s name, a defiant and heroic feat that Karolina miraculously pulled off when, over seventy years later, the hands of an archaeologist dug deep into the dirt and found her pendant as proof that she existed, despite the Nazis’ desperate attempts to erase all evidence that she had. “I was here! Remember me!”

A cousin commented on one of my social media posts: “Wir sind alles Karolina.” We are all Karolina. His inclusive prayer holds all of us together in one hand, doing our best to love our imperfect, unfinished selves, so that we might have a measure of love left to give to this damaged world.

 

Author’s Note: July 3rd would have been Karolina’s 90th birthday. The German Claims Conference will mark this day by asking people in Frankfurt to lay a flower on the memorial in Thomasiusstrasse 10 and share their thoughts on social media. Their postings for this event will be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at the handle @JewishClaimsCon.


Cynthia Bruckman is a dual U.S./Canadian citizen, currently living in Victoria, B.C. Her writing includes creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and plays. Her poetry book Endangered Species was published by Wind River Press. Her plays have been produced in New York City (American Living Room Festival at HERE/Lincoln Center Theater; Soho Rep), San Francisco (The Climate Theatre), and Seattle (New City Theater). She is the recipient of awards and grants from the Bossak/Heilbron Charitable Foundation, the Brooklyn Arts Council, and the American Conservatory Theater. She teaches English to refugees and new immigrants, and occasionally works as a theater teaching artist. In her spare time, she volunteers with at-risk youth. You can find her at cynthiabruckman.com.

She would like to thank the archaeologists, Yoram Haimi and Wojciech Mazurek, for unearthing the pendant, and genealogist Chaim Motzen for reuniting family, and Cornelia Maimon Levi from Claims Conference Germany for all her hard work. She dedicates this piece to Karolina, Gitta, Else, and Richard.

TCR Talks with Abby Geni

BY: A.e. SANTANA

Abby Geni is the award-winning author of The Lightkeepers and The Last Animal. Her latest novel, The Wildlands, explores the traumatic repercussions of a category five hurricane when it hits Mercy, Oklahoma, and demolishes the home of the McCloud family. Orphaned, the children attempt to go on with their lives but are swept into a world of dangerous, fanatical eco-terrorism that is both frightening and understandable. Through their story, Geni examines the turbulent state of our natural world and plays with the line between saving the planet and destroying ourselves.

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The Sophia Poems

By: Patrick Reichard

The Cliffhanger Dilemma

Let’s say you are holding two loved ones over the edge of a cliff, one on each arm. If you had to drop one in order to save the other one, which person do you save? Mom or Dad? Brother or sister? Spouse or kid? Kid 1 or kid 2? Do you drop both because the choice is too equal? People try to say that they would use their super-strength adrenaline to pull both up. That’s a cop-out. You have to choose. For me, the answer is easy: Mom, my brother Dan, and spouse. I have an answer to the kid question, but I’m not going to write it down. Though, if the situation arises, I know what I’m doing.

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Book Review: Lawrence Davis’ “Blunt Force Magic”

By: A.E Santana

Janzen Robinson has been trying to forget his past and move forward with a boring, mundane life as a delivery man. This intention is interrupted when he saves a young woman from a Stalker—an evil from the Abyss—and is thrown back into a life of magic, monsters, and the pain he was trying to forget. With help from old allies and new companions, Janzen does his best to save the life of an innocent while not getting everyone killed in the process.

Blunt Force Magic is the debut novel of Lawrence Davis, a U.S. Army infantryman who served three tours overseas. This novel is the first in the Monster and Men

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Summer 2017


Rachel Linn

Nonfiction | Encryption

Andrew Roe

Fiction | Not the L.A. in My Mind

Bree A. Rolfe

PoetryIn the Waiting Room of the Dell Children’s Hospital CF Clinic
at Age 40 and A Few Seconds to Answer

Roger Topp

Nonfiction | The Little Boxes Have Holes

Rachel Pollon

Fiction | Horses

Thea Goodman

Nonfiction | Hands

Stephen Massimilla

Poetry | The Thing That I Was Then and All of This and Nothing

Brian W. Robinson

Drama | Jackasses Can Carry Heavy Loads

Carolyn Divish

Fiction | Tansy’s Rapture

megan culhane galbraith

Nonfiction | Talking Points

Lance Duncan

Fiction | The Pit of the Groove

Wren Tuatha

Poetry | Go Ahead

Parker Blaney

Nonfiction | The Banyan Tree

Anna Kelley

Poetry | Joan in Skates and Seeking Muse #11

Nicole Cooley

Poetry | Garden in a Bottle, New Orleans and Marriage, Objects

Susan Taylor Chehak

Fiction | Blessed

Jennifer Lang

Nonfiction | Sealed

Melissa Febos

Interview | TCR Talks with Melissa Febos

The Coachella Review is a literary arts journal published by the University of California, Riverside–Palm Desert Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing & Writing for the Performing Arts.

TCR Talks with Helena Echlin and Malena Watrous

By: D.M. Olsen

When I found out that Helena Echlin and Malena Watrous, two instructors I’ve taken classes from at the Stanford Online Writer’s Studio, were collaborating on a YA novel, I was curious about their work. When I heard what their book was about, I was even more intrigued. A book about “mean girls with superpowers,” sounded entertaining and original. The protagonist, fifteen-year-old Laurel Goodwin, wakes up to find her older sister, Ivy, missing from their shared bedroom and is forced to team up with mean girls from Laurel’s high school to find her.

After reading the book and seeing all the amazing reviews online, I caught up with the authors, who graciously agreed to do a brief interview for The Coachella Review.

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Book Review: Laurent Binet’s “The Seventh Function of Language”

By: John Flynn-York

Laurent Binet’s first novel, HHhH (short for “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich,” which, translated, means “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”), was a fictional reconstruction of the assassination of the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. The novel’s narrative fluctuated between past and present, history and story. In the past, Heydrich rises to power in the Third Reich, committing unspeakable atrocities along the way, while two operatives—the Czech Jan Kubiš and the Slovak Jozef Gabčík—plan to kill him. In the present, the narrator grapples with this story and how best to write it, drawing on books, museums, and other references to recreate it in detail. The brilliance of the book came from the tension between these perspectives. What does it mean to recreate history? Can we understand the way historical figures understood things—that is, can we get inside their heads? Can we ever know the truth? In other words, HHhH was as concerned with what it means to tell a story about history as it was with the historical events themselves.

Binet’s new book, The Seventh Function of Language, similarly takes its inspiration from a real event: the accident that claimed the life of the semiologist Roland Barthes. Out of this incident, Binet spins a madcap tale of intellectuals run amok that is by turns wildly entertaining, mildly frustrating, and intellectually captivating—and only sometimes faithful to the historical record.

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Bienvenidos a Pilsen

By: todd Gastelum

One

I was used to rebooting my life: CTL+ALT+DEL and voilà, tabula rasa.

About to turn thirty, it was time for me to move. Once again, I was leaving a boyfriend I’d taken up with in a previous life. Once again, it was me who fucked things up. Now I needed my own place. I was hoping for the top floor of a brick three-flat, preferably with hardwood floors, a bay window, and crown molding. Somewhere near the 18th Street stop on the Blue Line with a view of buckled chimneys, waltzing antennas and the Baroque twin towers of St. Adalbert’s.

That’s not the apartment I found.

My new place was the rear unit on the top floor of an architecturally featureless building, whose ground floor taquería would eventually add another ten pounds to my frame. The apartment had been recently remodeled with a coat of white matte and cheap beige linoleum that still reeked of glue. There were just three rooms: a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen/dining/living room too cramped to qualify as open concept. All the doors were standard-issue Home Depot as were the kitchen cabinets and bathroom fixtures. The tiny window over the kitchen sink gazed into a narrow air shaft, and the double-paned windows behind my futon framed an alley with a backbone of splintered utility poles and drooping cables. If I lived a dozen floors higher, I’d have been able to see the lake, but I didn’t and I couldn’t. I had no link to the natural world—only the constant rumbling of big rigs speeding toward the Stevenson Expressway.

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Book Review: Kendra Tanacea’s “A Filament Burns in Blue Degrees”


BY: Catherine M. Darby

A Filament Burns in Blue Degrees by Kendra Tanacea is a haunting first collection of poems released this year by Lost Horse Press. Tanacea is a master of the moment—not straight-on moments, but rather, ones full of visuals and emotions that transport the reader into Tanacea’s world. In this world, the reader becomes a lover, beloved, betrayed, friend, child, and want-to-be-mother, all while ruminating about life and the fullness it can offer.

Her poems intelligently meander on corners of braided rugs and peep through keyholes to see what life is beyond that usual existence of life, her words intoning the mysteries and science of the universe.

In “Keyhole,” the narrator looks through the keyhole of a locked door, straining to see “what is out of sight.” The words deliver full sensory experiences of an ever-widening life:

There is the scent of man, of woman, of cedar.
The eye shifts, straining in its socket.
French doors open onto a veranda
overlooking an ivy-walled garden.
The round moon is rising, giant and yellow.
Star jasmine, star jasmine!
An eye can see far beyond
its scope: solar systems, galaxies,
the Milky Way’s skid of stars.
All atoms, revolving around one another.

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