This month’s round of Friday Reads features two unforgettable collections of short fiction recommended by the TC team. Read on for a sparkling exploration of sapphic love, and dark tales where Japanese folklore is given new life.
Recommendations: Amora by Natalia Borges Polesso, translated by Julia Sanches and Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone by Sequoia Nagamatsu
(Amherst, MA—February 21, 2022)—The Common, Amherst College’s award-winning literary
magazine, announces the addition of three new members to its Board of Directors: Kate Nintzel,
Lee Oglesby and Tara Safronoff. Willie Perdomo, The Common’s former Interviews Editor, will
join the magazine’s Editorial Board.
The Common Adds Editors and Educator to Board of Directors
It had been fifteen years since my family left for the US, but my grandparents’ room in Gomel had not changed. I sat on the same Soviet-era sofa, holding the same replica of Cheburashka, my childhood-favorite TV character. The occasion of my visit had prompted Dedushka, my Belarusian grandpa, to take me to the village where he was born, now dilapidated, to generations of ancestors’ graves, through documents that told something of our fragmented history. One evening Dedushka donned his army uniform, and presented me with a newspaper clip detailing my father’s death. My grandmother was quiet, resigned to the shadows of old books and toys.
Malta is a country caught in the crosscurrents: between North Africa and continental Europe; between insularity and a constructive role on the world stage; between prehistoric ruins and the blockchain. Mifsud is the voice of Malta, reflecting the archipelago in its richness, complexity, and contradictions. His is the voice through which the margins question the center; myths of progress are challenged; and the ancient interrogates the present, as in “Ġgantija II.”
The Ġgantija (“Giantess”) temples of Gozo were built during the Neolithic and are thought to be more than 5,500 years old, older than the pyramids of Egypt. They were erected by a people who worshipped a mother figure, a goddess. Awareness of intergenerationality and the unbroken cycles of life takes on a peculiar intensity when all that you have ever been surrounds all that you are in the present — and all you might aspire to become. It is comforting; it is confining. “Ġgantija II” was commissioned for an interdisciplinary event and an excerpt from it, in the Maltese, has been incorporated into a public sculpture on the island of Gozo.
My neighborhood is called Afrikanisches Viertel, and my flat is on Guinea Street. There’s Kongostraße, Togostraße, Kamerunerstraße, Transvaalstraße, Sansibarstraße, Otawistraße—I could go on, but you could also just Google Germany’s colonial conquest of Africa.
When Elvira Hernández began publishing poetry in the 1980s, the few pictures that appeared of her in literary supplements never revealed her entire face. A hand, an arm, a post, a leaf, a slightly out-of-focus photograph would interrupt the frame to conceal her identity. Whereas some of Chile’s most renowned poets—Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Pablo de Rokha—chose unique pseudonyms difficult to forget, Hernández, whose birth name is María Teresa Adriasola, adopted a pen name that could easily get lost among the crowd. Far from an artistic pose or esoteric performance to gain attention, Hernández’s decision to remain unrecognizable speaks of the very real political persecution that swept through Chile and the Southern Cone during the 1970s and 80s. To write or make art in the asphyxiating environment of Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship, in the midst of disappearances and exile, media complicity and a cultural blackout, implied an act of resistance, a conscious decision, despite the risks involved, to create dangerously, as Albert Camus and, later, Edwidge Danticat would say.
R is for raw sewage, riverine wetland, rubbish, rookery of herons and egrets, rusting barrels of toxic waste. I try to imagine all of this at Pig’s Eye Lake. Surrounding it, marsh, cottonwoods, floodplain, bluffs above the great river. It’s a place the Dakota consider sacred, James Rock says. Čhokáŋ Taŋka, the Dakota call it: the big middle. I try to imagine the burial mounds that were blown up with dynamite, and railyards, locks and dams, dredging, and all the household trash that was dumped in the marsh, the industrial debris: lead-acid batteries, solvents, electrical transformers, burnt sludge. Eight million cubic yards, some of it fluorosurfectants—the so-called forever chemicals needed to make non-stick frying pans, stain-repellent for couches and rugs—the PFOS that have spread everywhere, now taint my blood, and yours, and every creature’s.
Esther Ramón, born in 1970, lives in Madrid and taught one of my very first writing workshops at various café tables in Lavapiés more than a decade ago, where she skillfully introduced me and fellow students to what it could mean to truly collaborate, to be interdisciplinary, to do more than look at a painting while writing a poem and instead to enter into the methods and mindsets of different mediums, seeing the world not only in a different language (in my case) but with a more creative intention. She continues to be a collaborator with other artists and it feels meaningful to translate her work, in a sense collaborate too, and become involved in her poetic world so many years later.