Essays

Thirty-One Things About the Lime of Control

By KRITIKA PANDEY

 

Three weeks ago, my 11-year-old Indian American cousin woke me up with a series of heartbreaking text messages. Didi you up? Mom dad and everyone else can’t stop watching the news. Theyre thrilled. Kashmir sounds like kishmish. Whats the lime of control btw? Why do hindus dislike muslims? I had not yet gotten out of bed in my small, sleepy university town in Western Massachusetts. But my aunt and uncle were up early in the morning as friends and neighbors, fellow upper-caste pajama-clad Indian Americans with unbrushed teeth and undemocratic hearts, had gathered in their New Jersey apartment to watch the Home Minister of India officially and unilaterally revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, live from the parliament.

Part of what makes Jammu and Kashmir special is what makes India special. As a kid, I used to mug up from my school textbooks that India is the land of festivals, colors, dances, languages, religions, so on and so forth, but I was unable to appreciate the water in which I was a fish. Now when I go for months without hearing words that I don’t understand, as every cashier in every store asks me to ‘have a good one’ in the exact same tone and pitch, I have to listen to a Rajasthani or a Tamil song just to reorient myself. I need to know that there will always be so much that I don’t know. Therefore, I must constantly remember India, much of which is sort of me but not quite me, because it makes me feel bigger than myself.

Isabel MeyersThirty-One Things About the Lime of Control
Read more...

How to Cure Your Fear of Flying

By SARAH VAN BONN

Start small. Your brain created this mess; it can get you out. Right?

The key must be to think the right thoughts. Your elaborate rituals have so far kept the airplane from nose-dive and tailspin, but they don’t prevent that boulder of fear from implanting itself cozily in your gut weeks ahead of any flight. You first notice its presence the year your annual life tally reaches nineteen, the year the solid base of your adolescent invincibility begins to erode under waves of ontological dread—like this whole time it was just made out of stale bread, not stone at all, and now it’s sogging apart.

Sofia BelimovaHow to Cure Your Fear of Flying
Read more...

Translation as Art: Against Flattening

Essay by HISHAM BUSTANI

English translation by ROBIN MOGER

Essay appears in the original Arabic here.

An introductory essay to Stories from Syria, a portfolio published in English by The Common and in Arabic by Akhbar Al Adab (Egypt).

 

Today, in the second installment of a transatlantic literary collaboration which I hope will last for many years to come, Akhbar Al Adab publishes the original Arabic texts of stories by Syrian writers whose English translations appear in a special portfolio in Issue 17 of The Common, a literary magazine based at Amherst College. The first portfolio in the series contained stories by Jordanian writers and was published in Issue 15 of The Common, which followed the collaboration’s inaugural project: an issue of the magazine (Issue 11, Spring 2016) entirely dedicated to contemporary Arabic literature in translation entitled Tajdeed (Renewal), in which editor-in-chief Jennifer Acker and I selected stories and artworks by twenty-six writers and five artists from fifteen Arabic-speaking countries, with eighteen translators bringing the work into English.

Griffin LessellTranslation as Art: Against Flattening
Read more...

The Mapmaker

By KAREN KAO

The Bund, Shanghai

The first time I went to China was in 1984. I didn’t need a map. You could only travel in groups back then with a government handler to navigate the way and guide thoughts. We travelled from Beijing to Xi’an in a decommissioned military airplane reserved for the exclusive use of Party leaders and foreign tourists. From Xi’An to Luoyang we took a train that required eight hours to cover a distance that now needs just half that.

Elly HongThe Mapmaker
Read more...

The Art of Grief: ‘Windows and Mirrors’

By ROBERT F. SOMMER

“Con mortuis in lingua mortua.”

—Modeste Mussorgsky

Blood seeps through the gauze on Salima’s foot. It’s what we notice first: the dark, rusty seepage a sharp contrast to the pastels of her pajamas and room. She’s thirteen, we learn, but the distant look in her eyes belongs to someone much older. She sits squat on the bed, chin resting on her knee. She seems mindless of her burns. Her mother and sister also survived, but three others in her family were killed when the American helicopter opened fire on their tent in Kandahar.

Julia PikeThe Art of Grief: ‘Windows and Mirrors’
Read more...

My Life as a Sardine

By BENIGNO TRIGO 

My grandfather, Luis A. Ferré (1904-2003), was the third governor of Puerto Rico and the founder of the Pro-Statehood Party. When I was little, he used to say it is better to be a big fish in a little pond than a sardine in the big blue sea. It was a reminder of how good we had it on our little island, and a warning against leaving it in pursuit of a bigger and impossible dream.

Julia PikeMy Life as a Sardine
Read more...

Travels With Bill

By MARIETTA PRITCHARD 

 

Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.  

Elizabeth Bennett Pride and Prejudice 

 

Nobody wants to hear about your trip. 

—Amherst College Professor of English Theodore Baird 

 

We don’t travel as a couple anymore, Bill and I, except for the shortest jaunts to Boston maybe once a year, in the summer to the Adirondacks to visit Bill’s brother and family, and to the Berkshires, where friends sometimes take us to indoor concerts at Tanglewood (Bill doesn’t listen to music outdoors). So I travel on my own, but more and more rarely: day trips with a friend, twice-yearly visits to Oregon to keep in touch with son Will and family, once a year or so to the Washington, D.C., area to see my sister, rare overnights to New York. I also dig in more closely here at home—not as closely as Bill does with his piles of books and constant reviewing and teaching at Amherst College, but still, closely. 

Isabel MeyersTravels With Bill
Read more...

The Spirit of the Place

By ANTONIO ROMANI

 

Urbino, a Renaissance jewel in central Italy. My first visit there in many years. I knew no one there, nor was I in touch with anyone from my grandmother Antonia’s family—assuming any were left.

One evening, as I was ascending a cobblestone street towards the city’s outer walls, I noticed a group of people gathered around an uncovered manhole. Intrigued, I moved closer. A group of amateur speleologists was about to begin a nocturnal exploration of underground Urbino; to my surprise they asked me if I wanted to join them. Squeezing down the manhole’s narrow, vertical, metal stairs, I found myself in a long tunnel. The guides began talking, but I wasn’t listening, mesmerized by the scattering flashes of their helmets’ lights. I felt I was physically penetrating the past—an imagined past. My father’s city’s past, unknown to him and to me.

Debbie WenThe Spirit of the Place
Read more...

We Shall Be a Country with No History

By AATISH TASEER

Zack was slim and handsome, of mixed race, and from the Midwest. He had spoken early on to me of his protestant work ethic, and already in those first weeks, when everybody was drinking beer from plastic cups and enjoying the good weather, I would see him putting his words into action. 

Avery FarmerWe Shall Be a Country with No History
Read more...

Ends of the Earth & Edges of Dream

By PIBULSAK LAKONPOL

Translated by NOH ANOTHAI

from By the Bank of Brokenhearted River

 

I’m thinking of a classic geography text that explains how humans use rivers and mountains to mark their borders. The difference is that rivers help humans come and go from each other while mountains keep them apart.
But from the textbook of my own travels, I know this isn’t true. The only real borders are those humans make themselves, in their own minds.

—Suddan Wisudthilak, Thai scholar

 

1.

Two years ago, I stood aghast at the sight of a little island in the Moei River, the border between Thailand’s northwestern Mae Sot district and Burma, on which refugees from the latter had made their home.

“This is it—this is what they call a no-man’s-land,” said my friend, a local provincial administrator, who’d taken me there. “It’s not only that they lack a military force. For me, it also means there’s no humanity. Just look.”

Griffin LessellEnds of the Earth & Edges of Dream
Read more...