Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Towards Forgiveness

By DAPHNE LEE
In his second novel following a critically acclaimed debut, a Malaysian author tells a story about World War II’s Japanese Occupation of Malaya, ‘one of the most traumatic events to have occurred in our past’.

“ON A MOUNTAIN above the clouds once lived a man who had been a gardener of the Emperor of Japan.”

The first sentence of Tan Twan Eng’s second novel, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books, 2012), has a fairytale-like resonance, a magical quality that intrigues and beguiles. Who was this man and why did he journey so far from his home? Where was this mountain above the clouds and what did the Emperor’s gardener do there?

Almost immediately, this sense of picturesque tranquillity is disrupted by vague yet unmistakable references to violence, pain and sorrow in the subsequent sentences.

What was the exact nature of the relationship between the novel’s narrator and the Japanese gardener? From the book’s second paragraph, I found myself utterly absorbed by Tan’s characters, captivated by their histories and, especially by how the paths of their separate lives intersected and finally converged at Yugiri—the garden of evening mists.

The novel’s narrator is Teoh Yun Ling, a judge who has retired from the bench two years early. She journeys up to Cameron Highlands to stay at Yugiri, which we learn was bequeathed to her by Aritomo, the Japanese gardener. More than 35 years ago, Yun Ling had asked him to design a Japanese garden for her older sister, Yun Hong, who died in an internment camp. Although Aritomo turned down her request, he took Yun Ling on as his apprentice.

Now in her 60s, Yun Ling has been diagnosed with a condition that will, in time, rob her of the ability to understand all written and spoken language. Fear of losing her memory and, with it, her link with Yugiri, Aritomo and the past, Yun Ling decides to write about her life. Through this device, we are taken into the past, to the time of the Malayan Emergency, when Yun Ling first meets the gardener and becomes his apprentice.

Although pre-independence Malaya has never interested me much as a novel setting, I was interested in how a Japanese gardener would fit into this portion of Malayan history. It is an unusual feature, to say the least, but Tan has made Aritomo’s presence in Malaya and his work at Yugiri a plausible and fitting part of the storyline.

Over several meetings in Malaysia recently (the author now lives in Cape Town, South Africa), Tan explains: “The seed of the story was planted by a meeting I had with a Japanese man who was actually one of the gardeners of the Japanese emperor. Just the description of the man’s position—‘the Emperor’s gardener’—had such resonance that I wondered what I could do with a character like that. I already had other elements of the book floating around, and I decided to put an emperor’s gardener into the mix—to see what would result.”

Happily, Aritomo’s garden and the art of Japanese gardening prove to be powerful metaphors for several of the novel’s themes, most significantly that of death and rebirth, and reality and illusion.

It is also movingly ironic that Aritomo should not only be an instrument of healing for Yun Ling, but the very balm that heals her psychic wounds.

Both Aritomo and Yun Ling are strong, extremely complex characters that I found difficult to understand and like until the very end. However, this made them very interesting and real to me. There was always a sense of something hidden and unspoken about the pair of them that I needed to get to the bottom of. In the case of Yun Ling, I often felt impatient and angry with her coldness, but in the end, when she reveals the whole truth about her past, I could no longer feel anything but compassion for her.

According to Tan, The Garden of Evening Mists was a difficult novel to write and one reason was “because Yun Ling very much wanted to keep her secrets to herself. Because of what she had gone through, and what she had become, no one was allowed into her head. And yet at the same time she wanted to – she had to—reveal those secrets. It was a constant battle for me to crack her open.”

The gradual revealing of Yun Ling’s character kept me turning the pages of the book. In fact, although the setting of the novel was of historical interest, and Tan’s description’s, through Yun Ling’s eyes, brought to life an era that I am largely ignorant about, it was Tan’s characters that drew me fully into the story. The main cast comprises richly drawn individuals whom I readily believed in and engaged with, but even the minor characters are vivid and distinctive.

Tan, 39, says that he’s the sort of writer who gives his characters “freedom to grow” but reins them in “when they become unruly” and move “in a direction that wouldn’t help the story at all.”

He says that even before he wrote a single word, he had had a clear idea of the main protagonists. He also knew how he wanted the book to begin and end. “But I had no idea how to get from the start to the conclusion,” he says. “Each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter revealed itself to me over the course of writing. I did countless rewrites, constantly moved scenes and chapters around to find the right structure, the right balance, and more than once took out entire sections and chapters.”

The result of all that work is writing that flows smoothly and seamlessly. It’s a book that I feel I shall surely revisit, and it’s interesting that, although it contains many difficult and violent scenes, I find the story an essentially comforting one. I believe this is because although this is a book about human cruelty, fear and revenge, it is also a book about love, beauty and kindness.

Tan says that one of the reasons he wrote this book was because he feels it’s important to tell stories of the Japanese occupation—“one of the most traumatic events to have occurred in our past.” In my opinion, telling these stories acknowledges the suffering that occurred, and gives those who suffered a voice. It’s to be hoped that these stories represent a step in the right direction towards forgiveness and reconciliation.

Tan’s debut novel, The Gift of Rain (Myrmidon Books, 2007) was also set in pre-independence Malaya and was longlisted for the prestigious 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and won third place in the fiction category in the 2009 Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards for Fiction.

Reproduced from The Star of February 28, 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Journey of Self-Discovery












ERIC FORBES talks with American novelist RICHARD ZIMLER about his new novel and what he learned about himself in the process of writing his novels

RICHARD ZIMLER is a New York-born novelist who lives in Porto, Portugal. A professor of journalism in Porto, he is the author of The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Unholy Ghosts, The Angelic Darkness, Hunting Midnight, Guardian of the Dawn, The Search for Sana and The Seventh Gate. His new novel, The Warsaw Anagrams, was published by Arcadia Books and The Overlook Press in 2011. Zimler is the co-editor with Raza Sekulovic of an anthology of stories, The Children’s Hours: Stories of Childhood.

Tell me something about yourself.
I’m a very lucky person: I’m doing what I want—writing—and I can make a living at it. I also get lovely emails from readers all over the world. And my partner and I are still in love after 31 years together. And I’m grateful every day for all the good things that have happened to me. The only advice I usually give to students—if they ask me—is, follow your passions. That’s pretty much my personal philosophy. Of course, it isn’t always easy trying to follow your passions. Among other things, being yourself can get you into trouble with people who’d prefer you be someone else!

You have lived in Portugal since 1990. What’s it like to live in Portugal?
The cultural shocks of living and working in Portugal were enormous, and—in hindsight—were exacerbated by my own feelings of vulnerability. I started teaching right away, since I’d gotten a job at the College of Journalism. That was a good thing, of course, since it gave me a purpose and forced me to mix right away with the locals. But I hardly spoke any Portuguese. And I quickly learned that my students didn’t understand English very well. So I learned Portuguese as quickly as I could. I gave my first year of classes in a mixture of English and Portuguese. I sometimes say that I made more grammatical mistakes in my first year of teaching than anyone in the history of the country, and I think that’s probably true!

When did you know you were going to be a writer?
My mother saved some of the poems I wrote when I was very little, maybe six or seven years old. So I know I always liked to write. But I also liked to draw and paint, and to sing and play the guitar. So, while I was growing up, I wasn’t sure which creative direction I’d go towards.

As a young adult, I lacked the confidence to believe I could be a novelist. And I lacked the maturity to write something good and important. My lack of confidence was due, in part, to my own personality, and also due to the kind of household I grew up in. My mother lived for books, particularly novels. She had a library of 3,000 or more books. She venerated her favourite novelists—Proust, Stendhal, Austen. This had a positive effect on me, in the sense that I always felt comfortable with books and had easy access to a wide variety of novels and history texts. But due to my mother’s veneration, I never thought I’d ever be able to measure up. Who was I to think I could come anywhere close to Bellow or Dickens?

So I only started writing fiction seriously—short stories at first—in 1987, when I was 31 years old. By then, I had acquired more confidence about my own abilities, in part because I’d gotten my master’s degree in journalism at Stanford and then worked for five years as a journalist in San Francisco. And I knew myself well enough to begin to turn out good work.

It was while I was writing The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, back in 1992, that I realised that being a novelist was what I wanted to do. I would start writing at around 8:30 in the morning and the next time I looked at the clock it would be 11 a.m. or noon. I felt I was right at the centre of where I needed to be.

What does it mean to be a writer?
Being a writer means dedicating myself to exploring my own relationship with words and storytelling. It means thinking poetically, and putting myself into the mind and body of other people (and seeing the world from their point of view). It means trying to write the best books I can and committing myself to contributing to the world through them. I love the process of writing—of discovering what the novel wants to be (and what each sentence wants to be!). I say that because when I start a book, I know more or less what’s going to happen in the first chapter, but after that I have very little idea of what’s going to happen. Characters can suddenly appear whom I didn’t plan on having in the book. And they can say and do things that I could never have predicted. Of course, I have to control all this to a certain extent—to put all my discoveries at the service of the story—but after writing eight novels, I feel I know how to do that pretty well.

Your novels are all set in the near or distant past except for Unholy Ghosts and The Angelic Darkness which are set in contemporary Portugal and San Francisco respectively. Which do you prefer: the past, the present, or both?
I need to feel passionate about a story and its characters in order to sit at my desk eight hours a day. So whether the novel or story is set in the past or present doesn’t matter much. All that matters is my curiosity about what the novel wants to become—my absolute need to tell the story. And the feeling that I’m being challenged and having a new and important adventure. Having said that, I do sometimes like to write about the past because I feel I can gain a perspective that is harder to achieve than when I’m writing about the present. When I write a historical novel, I am able to tell a very specific and detailed story, but also to explore big themes like slavery, as I did in Hunting Midnight, or the effect of a repressive political system on love and friendship, as I did in Guardian of the Dawn. The distance from the present time helps me achieve that wide focus.

Can you tell me a bit about your new novel, The Warsaw Anagrams?
The original idea for The Warsaw Anagrams was to write about day-to-day life in the Jewish ghettos created by the Nazis and, more specifically, to explore the life of an elderly Jewish psychiatrist who survives a labour camp and returns home to a city where he no longer has any friends or loved ones. I was—and am—very interested in how we find the courage to go on with our lives after suffering great traumas.

I’ve read a lot about the Holocaust, but I knew very little about the ghettos. The more I read about them, the more they seemed like “Jewish islands” cut off from the rest of the world. That image fascinated me. Also, my family’s European relatives were all interned in ghettos before being sent to the death camps, so researching this novel became, in part, a search for how they spent the last years of their lives.

While writing the very first page of the book, the novel changed, however. I was writing from the point of view of Erik Cohen, the elderly Jewish psychiatrist, and I wrote: I’m a dead man. I meant it metaphorically—that he’d lost his loved ones and his profession and had no more reason to go on with his life. But as soon as I wrote it, I had a revelation: Erik was indeed dead. He was what we call in Jewish tradition an ibbur—a spirit that remains in this world to fulfil a duty or obligation that he failed to fulfil in life. But what was that duty? Why was he still here, in our world? After Erik returns to Warsaw, he discovers one visionary man—Heniek Corben—who can see and hear him. So Erik tells the story of his year of life in the Warsaw ghetto to Heniek in order for them to figure out what he still needs to do.

While researching the Warsaw ghetto, I learned that it had a thriving black market, and that many children were forced into a life of smuggling. It seemed the perfect place to set a noir mystery. So the story of Erik’s last year also involves the mystery surrounding the death of his beloved grandnephew, Adam.

One of the books I read to research the novel was Emanuel Ringelblum’s Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto. In it, he uses anagrams to refer to his friends and to ghetto officials. In part, this was to avoid their getting into trouble (if his writings were ever discovered by the Nazis). But I knew from my studies of Kabbalah that the practice of creating anagrams also fit very well into an old and important Jewish tradition: that certain words and names—like the secret names of God—are so powerful that they can be dangerous. So I decided to explore that connection in the book, as well as another idea that interests me a lot—that the Holocaust has forced us into developing new ways to express the previously inexpressible. So The Warsaw Anagrams also became a book about words and language and—in between the lines—related kabbalistic traditions.

I love Erik and several other people in this book, particularly Izzy, Erik’s best friend, who has a great sense of humour. Like many people struggling against an unbearable situation, they aren’t aware of just how brave they are. So through them, the novel also becomes a story of heroism.

What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing your novels?
Most importantly, I learned what I want to do with my life: to write, write, write. I’ve also learned a great deal about what provokes my emotions—what kinds of things move me, make me enraged, and make me feel joy. And how to use that knowledge to create works that will have an emotional effect on my readers. I’ve learned that I’m pretty good at entering the minds of other people and seeing the world from their point of view. And that such a talent can be helpful for my life beyond writing—for understanding my relationships with other people, for instance. I’ve learned that I can be wrong about a great many things. I’ve discovered what my creative limitations are.

What do you look for in a good story?
I’m very interested in writing at the level of words and sentences, but the entire sweep of a story is also important to me. So I think a great novel is one which has: wonderful and surprising sentences, original metaphors, intelligent ways of expressing emotions and thoughts; a great story about complex characters; and something important to say about the world. I often read books that have one of these ingredients, but not the others. It’s particularly common these days to have writers who love to show off their technique—that have sparks flying in every sentence—but who simply can’t tell a story.

Reproduced from the January-March 2012 issue of Quill magazine

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Drifting House ... Krys Lee

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Chat with Marina Endicott

ERIC FORBES talks to Canadian novelist MARINA ENDICOTT about her new novel, The Little Shadows, a story set in the picaresque world of vaudeville in the early 1900s

MARINA ENDICOTT is a prize-winning Canadian novelist who has written three novels, Open Arms, Good to a Fault and The Little Shadows, and is working on a novel about a man who tries to create heaven on earth by fixing the lives of all his friends (Close to Hugh). Good to a Fault was shortlisted for the 2008 Giller Prize and won the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Canada and the Caribbean, while The Little Shadows is set in the world of vaudeville in the early part of the 20th century. Endicott teaches creative writing at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

Tell me something about yourself.
Something unknown? I play the harp. “I took my harp to the party,” goes the old vaudeville song, “But nobody asked me to play.”

You were born and bred in Golden, British Columbia, Canada.
Only born, not bred. We left when I was two—but I have surprisingly clear memories of Golden. My brother (who was also born there, just before my father was sent to a new Anglican parish) and I drove up into the Rockies to see the old rectory a few years ago and were slightly shocked to find that the house had become a thrift store, crammed with used clothes and household tat. But it was great to be able to walk through all the rooms and imagine ourselves there. The Rocky Mountains is a massive mountain range that cuts down the western side of Canada and the US; the landscape around Golden, near the peak of the Rogers Pass, is dry and very clean. Frightening drives careening round the sides of mountains, rock falls, waterfalls, and an alternating view of rockface or vast, wild vistas.

You started out in the theatre as an actor, playwright and director before writing novels. What prompted the change in direction?
Not so much a change of direction as a return home: I wrote before I acted, almost before I read. My acting career was littered with writing too, notebooks full of imagined previous circumstances and notes on relationships, etc. I was no great shakes as an actor, always better at readings than the longer marathon of performance runs. Directing is the best job in theatre, and I loved it; because I was already beginning to write I was commissioned to write a few plays, but don’t consider myself a good playwright. But I love the art of theatre, and the beauty of the backstage is always enchanting, especially that dual view—watching the performance from the shadows in the wings, while at the same time seeing the hidden mechanisms, the people behind the screen.

Was writing something you had always set your heart on?
Not so much set my heart on, like a shiny possession, but more like water or air, something necessary for living.

What do you enjoy most about your life as a writer?
I love the long, urgent task of creating and then solving imaginary (but as true as I can make them) problems. In all the arts I know, I haven’t found anything better than living the life-within-life of a novel.

What’s a day like in your writing life?
I write or think or fume about writing every day, most of the day. Domestic tasks intrude, and my family does demand a bit of human contact from me, but otherwise I am happy to work. I get up early in the morning, before my children have to be harried off to school (they’re nearly cooked now, one off to university next year and the other the year after), and come back to my computer until they come home and it’s time to scramble some supper together; in the evening, I work. I like to work. And I’m pretty slow.

The Little Shadows is your third novel. Was it difficult getting your first novel, Open Arms, published in 2001?
Unusually, no. I had been writing short stories for a while, and had won a couple of awards, and an editor wrote asking to see a novel when I had one finished. I finished it, sent it off, and they published it. That’s not normal, of course—my second novel, Good to a Fault, was rejected by several publishers. I couldn’t really blame them: a repressed spinster, a woman dying of cancer, and an Anglican priest doesn’t sound like a fun read.

Did you know where you were going with your novels as you were writing them?
I usually know where the novel will end, but I don’t know how it will get there.

What are some of the themes you explore in The Little Shadows?
I hope it works on a few levels: on the surface, the picaresque rags-to-riches adventures of the vaudeville company; a little deeper, examining the vicissitudes all girls go through, coming to terms with themselves, their bodies and minds; and in a larger sense, as an examination of how we become true artists—how life infests and influences the work that artists do. I wanted to write about love and death, just for a change; about money and its morality; and above all, art: what makes it good, is it worth suffering for, is trashy art worth doing—what threads run through our long lives in art? I wanted to talk about the medium-time in all the arts: not the geniuses (except Victor), but the ordinary people who make ordinary art without much fuss or hysterics, who have a workmanlike sense of their craft and a fitting modesty about their talent. And use that modest talent generously.

What drew you to this time, place and subject?
Three elements combined to make me susceptible to vaudeville: my early experience as an actor in touring theatre, and in small precarious theatre companies; working with, admiring and being depressed by comics in England, Toronto and in the west; and—this was an important factor—getting to know the audience in the prairies. Working with arts organizations in the west introduced me to the blessed company of farmers, insurance agents and teachers who spend all their free time organizing concerts to bring in musicians and performers of every variety, because in every place, and in every age, people have a deep continuing hunger for art.

Was there much research to do?
I spent a couple of years wandering in online archives, becoming enchanted with vaudeville photographs, before starting serious research in 2006. As well as straightforward archival research, I travelled the prairies to visit old vaudeville houses, including the Empress in Fort MacLeod, the Lyric in Swift Current, both of which are in the book. I drove the Death Trail, the route the Belle Auroras take through Montana and farther west. I spent years gradually immersing myself in the period and the lovely, ridiculous, expert art of vaudeville.

The research was a pleasure: discovering the hilarious, miserable, nonsensical stories of this strange culture and time. It reminds me of online gaming, which has sprung up just as quickly and become as all-pervasive, and which will be superseded by something else as technology moves along—but I can’t think of any other art which led artists to the development of such sheer physical skill. After a hundred years, all our performing arts still rest on the base laid down in vaudeville. I loved learning the technical tricks of vaudeville, many of which are still in use: the thunder sheet, the glass-crash man. I’ve put a vaudeville glossary on my website, but the reader learns about vaudeville as Aurora and Clover and Bella do, by wandering around backstage.

What was the editing process like?
It was a great honour to work with my invaluable editor at Doubleday, Lynn Henry. Although tiny, she is formidable, but we did not have to argue—I agreed with everything she said or suggested, and believed from the beginning that she had a perfect understanding of the book. You can’t help but be grateful for the enormous altruistic involvement of an editor, and for the intimacy of that long, drawn-out conversation.

As a fiction writer and an avid reader, what do you think are the essentials of good fiction?
I’m so glad you asked me that. Not that I have an easy answer. But “good” runs like a gold lode through so many genres, including what some people call the genre of literary fiction. I’ve come to believe that it depends on the quality of the imagining that goes into a book: the freshness and strength of the images, the deep reality (although many times there’s no “reality” involved) of the lives depicted, and the intelligence or emotional understanding the writer brings to the work. If language is expertly used, too, that’s extra delightful.

What distinguishes the great novels from the merely good?
A harder question. Shuffling slowly toward some understanding of this, I’m afraid I’m beginning to believe that the moral breadth of the writer comes into it. Not that it has to be a morality I’d necessarily agree with or hold, but that the great questions are seriously entertained: what is life? How should we live? And these questions can be asked, and answers attempted, in every genre. I think of children’s books like E.C. Spykman’s Terrible, Horrible Edie or Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea; of science fiction like Frank Herbert’s Dune; contemplative novels like Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead or wild west adventures like Guy Vanderhaeghe’s The Last Crossing; I think of a book like Heart of Darkness—which is essentially a sea yarn, but far transcends its original purpose.

Tell me about some of the books from your childhood that still resonates with you.
I’ve mentioned Terrible, Horrible Edie, but there are lots of others! I read like a demon, an addict, a sad case. All through our childhood travels my father would call from the front seat, “Put down the book! Look where we are!” One of my favourites, T.H. White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose, becomes a manual for living for Dolly, the abandoned child in my novel Good to a Fault.

Who are some of your favourite authors, Canadian or otherwise? What are some of your favourite Canadian books?
Of those still with us, Helen Oyeyemi, whose Mr Fox is one of the books of the year this year; among the dead, Penelope Fitzgerald always, for all her books, but my favourite is The Beginning of Spring. In Canada, Michael Ondaatje (The Collected Works of Billy the Kid remains my favourite, but The Cat’s Table is a beautiful, tender book); Guy Vanderhaeghe; Fred Stenson (particularly Lightning, his western set in Cochrane, Alberta, where he lives and I used to live); Lynn Coady (whose The Antagonist was shortlisted for the 2011 Giller Prize); Gil Adamson (her novel The Outlander but also her remarkable short stories and her recently reissued book of poetry, Ashland); and this year I loved Miriam Toews’s spare, heartfelt Irma Voth.

Do you have an all-time favourite book?
I think today I would say Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Beginning of Spring, for its skill and surprising delicacy, for the scene with the bear in the dining room, for the excruciating pain she puts her characters through and how the plot miraculously turns; but Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker is always standing close to the top, because the full-on experience of reading that book, diving down into broken thought and broken language and clutching at spars until you actually come to understand the new/old world, is like nothing else on earth.

Which writers would you say have had the greatest influence on your work and what, if any, are the books you return to time and again?
Everybody influences me. All of the above. Even if it’s not at all evident in my work! And I return to all the books mentioned above, and to every book I’ve ever loved. Rereading is a great joy. I’m very much enjoying the one consolation of getting older, that I can reread mystery novels by Michael Innes, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and others with fresh pleasure because I’ve forgotten the plots by now.

What are you reading at the moment?
After a long fall of reading all brand new Canadian novels through the literary festival season here, I’m now rereading E.C. Bentley’s The Woman in Black and John Buchan’s Huntingtower; in new-to-me books I’m reading wonderful, eerie Barbara Comyns’s The Skin Chairs and Dan Vyleta’s The Quiet Twin. I’ve just finished the elegant Patrick Gale’s new novel, A Perfectly Good Man, which I loved.

In your opinion, is creativity or imagination something that can be taught, or is it inborn?
It’s inborn—we all have it. It’s taught—we all need to learn how to use it and free it and expand our use, and to trust it.

Next to reading and writing, what is (are) your grand passion(s) in life?
My dear husband and children; my friends, who are Legion and Lovely. Having been nomadic since childhood, one of the things I love best is a long car trip with no particular destination, either alone or with my family.

For better or worse, we are now in the age of e-books. What are your thoughts on e-books and e-book readers? Have e-book readers won you over? Or are you in the “ink-and-paper forever” camp? Or somewhere in between?
I’ll read any format, any time, anywhere. I read the back of cereal boxes, I read the tiny grey-print jokes that come out of Christmas crackers: I am a full-on addict and will read any text available. But I’m still mostly reading physical books. I gave my husband a Kobo reader for Christmas, thinking he’d like it because he could make the print bigger; he thanked me but wanted a Blackberry Playbook instead, so I now have the Kobo. I like it very much for reading e-books from Project Gutenberg. Even though the screen is small, I do like reading on my iPhone with Eucalyptus, my favourite e-book software.

Do you think e-books will replace physical books one day?
Yes, for many titles. A lot of the books we read are information or junk food, to be consumed quickly and deleted from our directories. Others are treasures to be returned to, and there’s not much difficulty distinguishing between the two. We will hang on to beautiful physical books for a long time, I believe. The physical pleasure of reading a book is too good to give up, at least for those of us who learned to read before screens. But I think before e-books replace physical books there will be some changes in the technology. It’s not physiologically comfortable yet to read long passages of fiction onscreen, no matter how the screen and ink are arranged. And I’ve learned one important thing: don’t read in bed on your iPad. I fell asleep and dropped the iPad, and had a ridiculously swollen mouth for days and days. A book has never physically hurt me. Unless you count the long torture of writing one!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

February 2012 Highlights

Novels
1. Me and You (trans. from the Italian by Kylee Doust) (Black Cat/Canongate, 2012) / Niccolò Ammaniti
2. Pure (Grand Central Publishing, 2012) / Julianna Baggott
3. The Detour (trans. from the Dutch by David Colmer) (Harvill Secker, 2012) / Gerbrand Bakker
4. Bundu (trans. from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns) (Alma Books, Feb 2012) / Chris Barnard
5. The O’Briens (Pantheon, 2012) / Peter Behrens
6. Coral Glynn (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) / Peter Cameron
7. The Greatcoat (Hammer, 2012) / Helen Dunmore
8. The White Shadow (Harvill Secker, 2012) / Andrea Eames
9. This Is Paradise (Picador, 2012) / Will Eaves
10. The Little Shadows (Hutchinson/Allen & Unwin, 2012) / Marina Endicott

11. A Small Circus (trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann) (Penguin Classics, 2012) / Hans Fallada
12. All That I Am (Harper, 2012) / Anna Funder
13. The White Pearl (Sphere, 2012) / Kate Furnivall
14. Sarah Thornhill (Canongate, 2012) / Kate Grenville
15. The Prisoner of Paradise (Bloomsbury, 2012) / Romesh Gunesekara
16. Kind of Cruel (Hodder & Stoughton, 2012) / Sophie Hannah
17. Angelmaker (William Heinemann, 2012) / Nick Harkaway
18. My Policeman (Chatto & Windus, 2012) / Bethan Hughes
19. The Dark Rose (Pamela Dorman Books, 2012) / Erin Kelly
20. Pakazo (Jonathan Cape, 2012) / Roy Kesey

21. Watergate (Pantheon, 2012) / Thomas Mallon
22. The Guardians (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) / Sarah Manguso
23. History of a Pleasure Seeker (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) / Richard Mason
24. The Roundabout Man (Sceptre, 2012) / Clare Morrall
25. The Healing (Nan A. Talese/Knopf Doubleday, 2012) / Jonathan Odell
26. Restoration (Ecco, 2012) / Olaf Olafsson
27. The Technologists (Random House, 2012) / Matthew Pearl
28. The Revelations (Faber & Faber, 2012) / Alex Preston
29. The Divine Comedy (Atlantic Books, 2012) / Craig Raine
30. The Wolf Gift (Chatto & Windus, 2012) / Anne Rice

31. Before the Poison (William Morrow, 2012) / Peter Robinson
32. The Detour (Soho Press, 2012) / Andromeda Romano-Lax
33. The House I Loved (St. Martin’s Press, 2012) / Tatiana de Rosnay
34. Tom-All-Alone’s (Corsair, 2012) / Lynn Shepherd
35. Mrs. God (Pegasus, 2012) / Peter Straub
36. The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books, 2012) / Tan Twan Eng
37. Dogs at the Perimeter (Granta Books, 2012) / Madeleine Thien
38. By Blood (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) / Ellen Ullman

First Novels
1. The Darlings (Pamela Dorman Books, 2012) / Cristina Alger
2. No One Is Here Except All of Us (Riverhead, 2012) / Ramona Ausubel
3. Rocks in the Belly (Serpent’s Tail, 2012) / Jon Bauer
4. The Whores’ Asylum (Fig Tree, 2012) / Kate Darby
5. The Starboard Sea (St. Martin’s Press, 2012) / Amber Dermont
6. The Variations (Henry Holt, 2012) / John Donatich
7. Trieste (trans. from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursać) (MacLehose Press, Feb 2013) / Daša Drndić
8. The Mercury Fountain (Akashic Books, 2012) / Eliza Factor
9. The Lost Saints of Tennessee (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012) / Amy Franklin-Willis
10. The Coward’s Tale (Bloomsbury USA, 2012) / Vanessa Gebbie

11. A Good American (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2012) / Alex George
12. Threats (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) / Amelia Gray
13. Shelter (Virago, 2012) / Frances Greenslade
14. The White Lie (Short Books, 2012) / Andrea Gillies
15. Girlchild (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) / Tupelo Hassman
16. Into the Darkest Corner (Myriad, 2011) / Elizabeth Haynes
17. The Whipping Club (T.S. Poetry Press, 2012) / Deborah Henry
18. Mountains of the Moon (Jonathan Cape, 2012) / I.J. Kay
19. Alys, Always (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012) / Harriet Lane
20. Noughties (Hamish Hamilton, 2012) / Ben Masters

21. The Fall (Headline, 2012) / Claire McGowan
22. The Man from Primrose Lane (Sarah Crichton Books, 2012) / James Renner
23. The Little Russian (Counterpoint, 2012) / Susan Sherman
24. Nacropolis (Faber & Faber, 2012) / Jeet Thayil
25. Care of Wooden Floors (HarperPress, 2012) / Will Wiles
26. The Bellwether Revivals (Simon & Schuster, 2012) / Benjamin Wood
27. The Golden Hour (NAL Trade, 2012) / Margaret Wurtele

Stories
1. Stay Awake (Ballantine Books, 2012) / Dan Chaon
2. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) / Nathan Englander
3. Suddenly, a Knock on the Door (trans. from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston, Miriam Shlensinger & Nathan Englander) (Chatto & Windus, 2012) / Etgar Keret
4. Drifting House (Viking Adult, 2012) / Krys Lee
5. The White People and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Classics, 2012) / Arthur Machen
6. Light Lifting (Jonathan Cape, 2012) / Alexander MacLeod
7. This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You (Bloomsbury, 2012) / Jon McGregor
8. Furnace (Freight Books, 2012) / Wayne Price
9. Other People We Married (Riverhead, 2012) / Emma Straub
10. Sweet Talk (Other Press, 2012) / Stephanie Vaughn

11. Whirl Away (Thomas Allen, 2012) / Russell Wangersky

Poetry
1. Looking for The Gulf Motel (University of Pittsburg Press, 2012) / Richard Blanco
2. Sky Thick With Fireflies (Salmon Publishing, 2012) / Ethna McKiernan
3. The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford (Counterpoint, 2012) / Wendell Berry
4. Selected Poems (Carcanet Press, 2012) / Roy Fuller
5. Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf Press, 2012) / D.A. Powell

Nonfiction
1. Wilkie Collins (Chatto & Windus, 2012) / Peter Ackroyd
2. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House, 2012) / Katherine Boo
3. Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World (HarperPress, 2012) / Simon Callow
4. On Tagore: Reading the Poet Today (Penguin books India, 2012) / Amit Chaudhuri
5. A Card from Angela Carter (Bloomsbury, 2012) / Susannah Clapp
6. The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution (Allen Lane, 2012) / Faramerz Dabhoiwala
7. Night Thoughts: The Surreal Life of the Poet David Gascoyne (Oxford University Press, 2012) / Robert Fraser
8. Crazy River: A Plunge Into Africa (Little, Brown, 2012) / Richard Grant
9. Whatever It Is, I Don’t Like It (Bloomsbury USA, 2012) / Howard Jacobson
10. Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus: Inside the World of a Woman Born in Prison (Cell 7 Media, 2012) / Deborah Jiang Stein

11. Thinking the Twentieth Century (William Heinemann/Penguin Press, 2012) / Tony Judt (with Timothy Snyder)
12. On An Irish Island (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) / Robert Kanigel
13. The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination (Harvard University Press, 2012) / Fiona MacCarthy
14. You Are Awful (But I Like You): Travels Through Unloved Britain (Jonathan Cape, 2012) / Tim Moore
15. Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) / Eyal Press
16. Strindberg: A Life (Yale University Press, 2012) / Sue Prideaux
17. Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters (trans. from the German and ed. by Michael Hofmann) (Granta Books, 2012) / Joseph Roth
18. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) / Stephen R. Platt
19. That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (St. Martin’s Press, 2012) / Anne Sebba
20. House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) / Anthony Shadid

21. Londoners (Ecco, 2012) / Craig Taylor
22. New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families (Viking, 2012) / Colm Tóibín
23. Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life (Grove/Atlantic, 2012) / David Treuer
24. Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies (St. Martin’s Press, 2012) / Mikey Walsh