Sofia Belimova

Friday Reads: October 2022

Curated by SOFIA BELIMOVA


As the weather gets cooler and rainier, you may find yourself looking to spend time indoors with a good book and a steaming cup of tea. In this installment of Fridays Reads, we bring you exciting book recommendations from two of our volunteer readers, which dwell on dark, absurd, and solitary experiences. 

Image of Caren Beilin's book cover: an expressionist painting of a girl and a cat wearing green.

Caren Beilin’s Revenge of the Scapegoat, recommended by Grace Ezra (reader)

“The sun develops as it ends. The color gets so stabby.”

Hard and luminous, Revenge of the Scapegoat scowls as the reader delights. Beilin has set out to examine the expression, cultivation, and inheritance of the scapegoat’s situation, not shying away from the unyielding responsibility of the role. Not only is this novel undoubtedly accomplished, Revenge of the Scapegoat had me laughing myself feral.

Beilin’s narrator, Iris, is working as an adjunct at an arts college while toiling with her husband, Joe (an alcoholic who insists that the road to sobriety has been paved by microdosing heroin) and a recent diagnosis of autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis at only thirty-six years old. Her two feet seem to be most affected by the pain, affectionately named Bouvard and Pécuchet after the title characters of Flaubert’s posthumous novel (“the only one lit majors and bookstore owners read”). Iris’s chummy feet quickly become major characters in the story; they exercise dignity and concern as well as good humor. The two fall into asides about history and literature, compelling the reader to group the pair with the other eccentric artists that make Revenge of the Scapegoat such a gratifying indulgence in the absurd.

I haven’t even gotten to the part of the book that thrills and sets the story to motion. Iris receives a collection of letters written to her by her father in which he ascribes heaps of cyclical family trauma to her. The first time that she received these letters was when she was a teenager, though Beilin makes it clear that the inauguration of the family scapegoat happens in childhood. Iris (as alter ego “Vivitrix”) clears off to the Pennsylvania countryside, where she’s employed by a stirring gallerist and apathetic widow, Caroline, and her “Heathcliffish” son, Matthew. There are also heart-stepping cows, but I’ll save all of that magic for the actual read.

Revenge of the Scapegoat was a transference for me: not an escape, but that rare book that takes you somewhere completely new, strange, and fantastic. It would normally be a big ask for a book to take me “in that fetid twilight marinade refusing suicide barking at peaches in a pact with the unrevealed,” but for Beilin, she can serve it up with potency and pleasure.

 

Image of the cover of Vladimir Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading, writing on plain, beige background with the words, "a novel by the author of Lolita" at the bottom.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, recommended by Tyler Hayes (reader)

“I have no desires, save the desire to express myself—in defiance of all the world’s muteness.” 

Invitation by Vladimir Nabokov follows the surreal—but not unfamiliar—events following the trial and indictment of one Cincinnatus C., an intelligent but quiet man. While imprisoned with him, we meet laconic guards, pernicious spies, and even butterflies. We learn that he has been charged with nothing more than “gnostical turpitude,” and that the punishment is death by decapitation. 

In the end, Nabokov’s achievement here is in dispelling the notion that we can transcend absurd performance—let alone find joy—in the presence of those who don’t understand us. His deployment of incisive, subtle duplicity, which manifests as both humor and pathos, is virtually unmatched at this word count. Read it as both cause and cure for solitude.

Friday Reads: October 2022
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September 2022 Poetry Feature: Ama Codjoe—from BLUEST NUDE

This month we welcome back TC contributor AMA CODJOE, with poems from her new collection, Bluest Nude, from Milkweed Editions.
 

Image of a statue of a woman wearing a dress in white against a beige background, cover of Ama Codjoe's poetry collection.

Ama Codjoe is the author of Bluest Nude (Milkweed Editions, 2022) and Blood of the Air (Northwestern University Press, 2020), winner of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. Her recent poems have appeared in The Nation, The Atlantic, The Best American Poetry series, and elsewhere. Among other honors, she has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship, and a Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship. She lives in New York City.

Table of Contents:

  • Of Being in Motion
  • On Seeing and Being Seen
  • Bluest Nude
September 2022 Poetry Feature: Ama Codjoe—from BLUEST NUDE
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Read Excerpts by the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing 2022 Finalists

The ethos of the modern world is defined by immigrants. Their stories have always been an essential component of our cultural consciousness, from Isaac Bashevis Singer to Isabel Allende, from Milan Kundera to Yiyun Li. In novels, short stories, memoirs, and works of journalism, immigrants have shown us what resilience and dedication we’re capable of, and have expanded our sense of what it means to be global citizens. In these times of intense xenophobia, it is more important than ever that these boundary-crossing stories reach the broadest possible audience.

Now in its seventh year, the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing supports the voices of immigrant writers whose works straddle cultural divides, embrace the multicultural makeup of our society, and interrogate questions of identity in a global society. This prize awards $10,000 and publication with Restless Books to a debut writer. This year’s judges, Tiphanie Yanique, Deepak Unnikrishnan, and Ilan Stavans, have selected the below four finalists. Click on the links in each section to read excerpts from their books.
 
 

Nobody Here Plays Little Kid Games by Geimy Colón

Image of Geimy Colon's headshot.

A dark and fascinating take on the intersectionality of gender, age, and migration, Geimy Colón’s short story collection, Nobody Here Plays Little Kid Games, is a coming-of-age tale written in lush and graceful prose. Set in an unnamed Latin American country, each story begins with children innocently climbing trees, playing marbles with their friends, and experiencing their first kisses. Colón then reveals a more sinister reality as we observe the children replicate the violence of colorism, colonialism, and oppression that surrounds them. Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Colón writes stories that oscillate between the realms of innocence and the loss of innocence, refusing to shy away from the darker aspects of immigrant childhood. Nobody Here Plays Little Kid Games illustrates what occurs in the absence of adults—and what occurs because, and in spite, of them.

Read the excerpt.

 

Between This World and the Next by Praveen Herat

Image pof Praveen Herat's headshot.

Set in 1998, Between This World and the Next tells the story of Fearless, a burnt-out British photojournalist hardened by a long career in war-torn countries, and Song, a Cambodian woman who has been physically and psychologically beset by the violence in her country. When Song disappears, leaving only a mysterious videotape behind, Fearless must navigate a dangerous network of shady power brokers, transnational kingpins, sex traffickers, and arms dealers, uncovering a sprawling network of criminality and corruption in a newly post-Soviet world. A passionate exploration of power, poverty, and greed, Between This World and the Next challenges our own complicity as passive observers when exposed to a constant stream of media depicting suffering across the world. Born in London to Sri Lankan parents, Praveen Herat brings a sharp new perspective to the global ramifications of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the hidden criminal networks that impact our lives in ways beyond our reckoning.

Read the excerpt.

 

Craft by Ananda Lima

Image of Ananda Lima's headshot.

A wild and surrealistic story collection that pays homage to Kafka and Cortázar, Ananda Lima’s Craft seeks to disrupt reductive understandings of both the immigrant experience and the art and craft of writing. Blending autofiction and magical realism, Lima creates characters as enigmatic as they are endearing. From stories of women who devour miniature Americans from vending machines and are haunted by ghosts, to the writer’s recreation of her own battles with know-it-all editors, Craft boasts a cast of characters that won’t easily be forgotten. A first-generation immigrant from Brasilia, Brazil, Lima crafts innovative work that challenges traditional North American ideas about how stories should operate, what makes an immigrant narrative, how the intellectual is placed in opposition to the emotional, and whom these ideals ultimately serve.

Read the excerpt. 

 

A Bag Full of Stones by A. Molotkov

Image of A. Molotkov's headshot.

This savvy, intelligent, and delightful detective story follows pair of investigators in Portland, Oregon—a Russian immigrant man and a Black woman—as they try to solve a series of hate-crime murders. Told in the alternating perspectives of the investigators and the ghosts of the murdered immigrant victims, this wild whodunnit set in an America tranquilized by sectarian politics brings (back) to life the voices of those who are often overlooked or dismissed. With a focus on characters struggling to reconcile their distorted worldviews with reality, A Bag Full of Stones encapsulates how confused the notion of justice has become in a nation more divided than ever. Skillfully blending different lexicons, points of view, and narrative structures, A. Molotkov, a writer born in the former USSR, showcases the multifarious, inventive possibilities of immigrant writing in the United States.

Read the excerpt.

Read Excerpts by the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing 2022 Finalists
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Antropófaga

By ANANDA LIMA

Excerpt from Craft.

 

She devoured tiny Americans that slid out of a vending machine. Their thin metallic plastic packages almost opened themselves when punctured. Emerging with their tiny hands on either side of the rip, they declared their nutritional value (calcium, sugar, fat, 350 mg of synthetic protein). So many times she decided to diet and promised: no more Americans. But she always walked by, with an eye on the spot between the Ruffles and the Doritos, salivating. And before thinking, there she was again, inserting the coins, hot and sweaty from her palms, into the machine’s mouth.

Antropófaga
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In the Rain, Sugar Runs in Tears

By GEIMY COLÓN

Except from Nobody Here Plays Little Kid Games.

 

The blackout falls over the neighborhood like thick ink, darkening everything, forcing things into slow motion. It is like night on night—a doubly deep darkness. There are no stars lighting the block in the rainstorm.

Heavy rain hitting the roof runs off the metal awning over the terrace. The rain insulates the house in a liquid static that blocks out all other sounds. The musicality of this static brings peace to the house. Inside the house, the refrigerator ceases its loud humming. Fans stop whirring. The buzzing of the overhead lights grows silent.

In the Rain, Sugar Runs in Tears
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Excerpt from BETWEEN THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT

By PRAVEEN HERAT

 

“Mr. Federenko come soon,” the driver said, lugging Fearless’s duffel up the stairs.

Above, on the landing, he saw a blur of pattering feet and what looked like a cowled figure disappearing through a door—but it must have been his mind playing tricks, he told himself. And the rain was disorienting; it hammered on the stairwell’s skylight like a hundred hundredweight of masonry nails tossed from above. Fearless’s work as a war photographer had taken him everywhere save Asia, so the sheer speed and volume of the monsoon surprised him. When the driver led him through the open door of a whitewashed apartment, he was stunned to see the water reaching pedestrians’ knees from its balcony, the thoroughfares now canals traversed by cars and tuk-tuks that left parabolae of foam rippling in their wake. Clothes stuck to people’s skin. Ropes of water twisted from awnings.

Excerpt from BETWEEN THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT
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Brenda Smith

By A. MOLOTKOV

Excerpt from A Bag Full of Stones.

 

The dry spot on the pavement vaguely resembled a human shape. “Where’s the body?” Detective Brenda Smith asked.

The residential street was lit with soft yellow lights floating over a long hedge. The moon sat on top of a building on their left. The air smelled of water: rain, rot, autumn. It was 6:17 a.m. Brenda was cold, her skin tight from the sense of dread and responsibility.

Brenda Smith
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Friday Reads: September 2022

Curated by SOFIA BELIMOVA

For our September round of Friday Reads, we spoke to two TC contributors, who recommended vibrant prose that leaps off the page and compelling poetry that transcends linguistic barriers while echoing with the sound of home.

Cover of Per Petterson’s Men in My Situation, depicting a car covered in snow, a street light, and a dark sky.

Friday Reads: September 2022
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Coast of Ilia 

By LISA ROSENBERG

Image of a beach with chairs and umbrellas made out of twine.

Photo by Lisa Rosenberg

Gulf of Kyparissia, Ilia, Greece

1. This is the story 

of cigarette butts and discarded straws.
Of beach, and sea, and all that mythology 
rolled into one bright ball where my child plays 

Coast of Ilia 
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Unwarranted Reticence: A Review of Eleanor Wilner’s GONE TO EARTH

Reviewed by TERESE SVOBODA

Image of the cover of Gone to Earth: a woman sitting on a stool with mountains in the background.

Eleanor Wilner, a recipient of the 2019 Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry and MacArthur-winner, had to be coaxed to publish her first collection at age 42. Arthur Vogelsang, her co-editor at the American Poetry Review, “threatened various forms of physical harm if I failed to follow through.” Her reluctance, she says, was “probably a universal fear of rejection but intensified by a woman’s trained reluctance to put her own work forward.” The skid marks in resisting publication, even in Gone to Earth: Early and Uncollected Poems 1963-1975, Wilner’s ninth book of poetry, are further evidence of such modesty. On the acknowledgments page, Wilner includes an excerpt from a poem by her then-young daughter, begging her mother to publish. This is followed by “To the Reader,” a note which assures readers that the poems “belonged to the realm of imagination and not to the world of opinion,” then an italicized eight-line epigraph ending with “she much preferred / what she could not afford: / the luxury of words and light,” and a prelude poem, “Ritual,” set in prehistoric Africa, mourning the muse, “the blackened stone / that once poured fire from its heart.” Only then, a page later, does the book begin, all poems fully fledged.

Unwarranted Reticence: A Review of Eleanor Wilner’s GONE TO EARTH
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