There are two Russias in Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry’s passionate and accomplished debut short-story collection, What Isn’t Remembered, winner of the 2021 Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize. The geographical country, where many of the stories take place, and the mental state of Russianness, which characters carry with them in the diaspora. There is also America, an alluring, often disappointing exile—and there are Americans, mostly well-meaning, who struggle to live with their mercurial Russian lovers, spouses, friends, or children, whose Russianness comprises the psychic ramifications of political and historical traumas going back multiple generations—World War II, Soviet rule, the chaotic break-up of the USSR, or the Armenian genocide, to name a few.
Review: What Isn’t Remembered by Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry
In Amalia Ulman’s debut feature, El Planeta, which she wrote and directed, Ulman and her real-life mother (Ale Ulman) play a mother and a daughter awaiting eviction. Ulman’s character, Leo (short for Leonor), has returned home after the death of her father, whose sporadic alimony payments barely supported her mother when he was alive. Leo is jobless and so is her mother, María. The two women spend most of the film in their narrow galley kitchen where the sunlight is abundant, and they aren’t tempted to waste money on electric lighting. Their refrigerator is empty, save for the tiny slips of paper María places in the freezer, each one bearing the handwritten name of an enemy. Atop the refrigerator are multiple glasses of water, which have something to do with María’s witchcraft—a practice that seems more like a distracting hobby than a coherent belief system. Leo sews bizarre yet fashionable clothing by hand, having sold her sewing machine for cash. They drink coffee, cook pasta, and, when they are really hungry, dress up in designer clothing and run up large bills in restaurants and stores, promising to pay later or claiming that Leo’s boyfriend is a local politician who will pick up the tab. They live in Gijón, a small city on Spain’s northern coast, a place hit hard by the global recession, with shuttered shops and empty tourist districts. It’s no wonder these two women are more at home in their delusions of grandeur.
This month’s round of Friday Reads features recommendations that span place and time: from interwar Greece to eighteenth-century London to a small-holding in present day Ireland. Read on to see what our Issue 22 contributors have been enjoying.
Recommendations: The Third Wedding by Costas Taktsis, The Question of Bruno by Aleksandar Hemon, Please by Christopher Meredith, Trivia: Or the Art of Walking the Streets of London by John Gay, and Savage Gods by Paul Kingsnorth
There are books of poems that in their creation seem, for the poet, to rise out of a sheaf like an oasis, something unknown, unmapped, to be discovered in all its vivifying magic. Then there are books of poems that the poet always seemed to know the map to, where a central insight or trope allowed the book to unscroll itself in the poet’s tongue and brain and heart.
For this October round of Friday Reads, we spoke with two members of our volunteer reading team. Their recommendations feature two portrayals of California that dig beneath the sunshine and glamor often associated with the state.
Recommendations: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain and Sex and Rage by Eve Babitz
I didn’t have much awareness of overnight childcare centers until I watched Through the Night, a documentary about a married couple, Deloris and Patrick Hogan, who run Dee’s Tots, a 24-hour daycare in New Rochelle, New York. Sadly, I don’t think my ignorance is unusual, and is likely shared by the many members of Congress who have consistently declined to fund public childcare, even after the pandemic revealed how necessary it is to working parents. Although not overtly political, Through the Night is quietly radical as it shines a light on the work of caregiving. It’s highly skilled labor that is essential to the health of children and families, yet childcare workers are often overworked and underpaid. To the extent that the government has childcare policies, they are designed to fit a model of a nuclear family with one stay-at-home parent. Director Loira Limbal shows the reality: many parents (usually mothers) are raising children on their own, and their jobs do not offer the pay, benefits, or flexibility to accommodate child-rearing.
Insomnia, the latest of the many volumes of poetry John Kinsella has published, is one of his strongest collections of the past decade. Kinsella is an Australian poet, now in his late fifties, who is at once one of the most widely recognized figures in contemporary poetry yet still too little known in some literary quarters. He is abundantly and buoyantly prolific, both on his own and with collaborators of many backgrounds and affiliations. He is at once committed to experimental, avant-garde styles and to a decolonizing, anti-racist, in his words ‘vegan anarchist’ politics. There is a third commitment that nestles aside these two, although less trumpeted: a participation in a lyric tradition and a lyric kind of ‘truth,’ the manifold, irreducible, unformalizable sort of truth Goethe (who would have enjoyed the poems in Insomnia placed in Tübingen) imagined when he spoke of Dichtung und Wahrheit (poetry and truth).
For our September round of Friday Reads, we spoke to two recent online contributors: Kaori Fujimoto, author of the dispatch “Shinjuku Golden Gai and the Midnight Diner,” and Sophie Crocker, author of the story “Lyuba Boys.” Their recommendations both speak to the power of language; an American author journeys toward writing in Italian, and a new collection of poems challenges English as a weapon of colonialism.
Recommendations: In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri and Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar
For our August round of Friday Reads, we spoke to three alums of The Common’s Literary Publishing Internship. Their recommendations delve into trauma, failure, and purposelessness, but all include notes of hope.