Excerpts

Isadora by Amelia Gray

Isadora is a shocking and visceral portrait of a woman and artist drawn to the brink of destruction by the cruelty of life. In her breakout novel, described by the Los Angeles Times as “a heavenly celebration of women in charge of their bodies,” Amelia Gray offers a relentless portrayal of a legendary artist churning through prewar Europe. Isadora seeks to obliterate the mannered portrait of a dancer and to introduce the reader to a woman who lived and loved without limits, even in the darkest days of her life.

The End of Eddy

The End of Eddy captures the violence and desperation of life in a French factory town. It is also a sensitive, universal portrait of boyhood and sexual awakening. Like Karl Ove Knausgaard or Edmund White, Édouard Louis writes from his own undisguised experience, but he writes with an openness and a compassionate intelligence that are all his own. The result has made him the most celebrated French writer of his generation.

Elif Batuman’s new novel The Idiot, published by Penguin Press, has been lauded as “a hefty, gorgeous, digressive slab of a book.” It tells the story of Selin, the introverted, tall daughter of Turkish immigrants in her first year at Harvard. The book, and it’s protagonist, share many commonalities with Batuman and her earlier book of essays, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Novels and the People Who Read Them. Read an excerpt from The Possessed here and reenter the charming, hilarious world of Elif Batuman.

American Originality

We are, famously, a nation of escaped convicts, younger sons, persecuted minorities, and opportunists. This fame is local and racial: white America’s myth of itself. It does not, obviously, describe Native Americans and African Americans: though they are theoretically free to participate in mythic America’s notions of vigor and self-creation, to do so involves sustained acts of betrayal or disloyalty toward origins they conceivably had no communal wish to escape.

I have to begin by saying that as far as I know, and even listening to all the people talking earlier, I have to say that war is man-made. It’s made by men. It’s their thing, it’s their world, and they’re terribly injured in it. They suffer terribly in it, but it’s made by men. How do they come to live this way? It took me years to understand this. Because when I was a little girl, I was a boy—like a lot of little girls who like to get into things and want to be where the action is, which is up at the corner someplace, where the boys are. And I understood this very well, because that was what really interested me. I could hardly wait to continue being a boy so that I could go to war and do all the other exciting boys’ things. And it took my own life, really, for me to begin to change my mind somehow— after a number of years of actually living during the Second World War. I lived a lot in Army camps. And I liked living in those Army camps; I liked them because it was very exciting, and it seemed to be where it was all at, and there were a lot of boys there, one of which, one of the boys, was my husband. The other boys were just gravy, so to speak.

On March 26, “Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture,” a traveling exhibition of the great architect’s papers, sketches, and models, arrives at one of his most celebrated buildings, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. Wendy Lesser, author of the new Kahn biography, You Say to Brick, will participate in a public symposium on Kahn’s life and work at the Kimbell on March 25. To celebrate the exhibit, the symposium, and You Say to Brick’s publication, here is a virtual tour of the Kimbell Museum, excerpted from Lesser’s acclaimed new biography.

Swimmer Among the Stars

The pharaoh Necko was not content to rule the Upper and the Lower. He wanted knowledge of the whole. So he plopped a crew of Phoenicians down in the Red Sea and told them to go home the long way. Off they went south, pulling on oars and cursing with lemon breath their bad luck for being alive in the time of the Egyptians.

Savage violence has erupted in recent years across a broad swathe of territory: wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, suicide bombings in Belgium, Xinjiang, Nigeria and Turkey, insurgencies from Yemen to Thailand, massacres in Paris, Tunisia, Florida, Dhaka and Nice. Conventional wars between states are dwarfed by those between terrorists and counter-terrorists, insurgents and counter-insurgents; and there are also economic, financial and cyber wars, wars over and through information, wars for the control of the drug trade and migration, and wars among urban militias and mafia groups. Future historians may well see such uncoordinated mayhem as commencing the third—and the longest and strangest—of all world wars: one that approximates, in its ubiquity, a global civil war.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of John McPhee’s Coming Into the Country, a work of longform non-fiction charting the tensions between the perception of a wild Alaska and the reality of increasingly inaccessible wilderness. The book is a beloved classic in Alaska, and its anniversary has been met with a variety of articles in Alaskan media, and a reevaluation of where the state is, 40 years later. This year also marks the publication of McPhee’s latest book, Draft No. 4, which will come out later this year.

Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin

Paris has always had a ‘taste for tumult’, as Théophile Lavallée noted in 1845,with its ‘hurried, seething, tumultuous’ population, but today it presents a serene face to the world, in spite of all this revolting and murdering. To take a stroll through the lower levels of the Gare du Nord, or to watch the cop show Spiral, is to quickly locate the discord simmering in today’s city.

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Read an excerpt from Japanese writer Hideo Yokoyama’s international bestseller, Six Four.

Universal Harvester

On the living room carpet in Crescent, Irene was trying to teach Lisa to play Parcheesi. Lisa couldn’t follow the action, but she loved the dice, the way they rattled in the little blue cup. Was three too young for board games? Her mother thought probably so, but Lisa’d arrived at every milestone early: weaned early, crawled early, and surprised everybody with her first word before she could walk (“bear!” while having The Little Engine That Could read aloud to her; the bear in question was scratching at a tree on the same hillside where the train stalled). As soon as she could say two simple sentences she began putting them together to tell stories about her dolls: “They stopped playing. They need a rest,” she explained to her mother once, sequestering a Raggedy Ann in one corner of the living room and a nameless blinking-eyed vinyl doll in the one opposite.

Bill Knott

I met Bill Knott in late 1968, or in early 1969, at William Corbett’s house, a gathering place for poets in Boston’s South End. I’d read Knott’s highly acclaimed first book, The Naomi Poems, from Big Table, in the spring of 1968. It was published under the pen name Saint Geraud (1940–1966). I was immediately struck, poleaxed, by the emotional power of the poems. Mostly short, intense lyrics, they were unlike anything I’d ever read and moved me to the bone. I felt, before I’d read Emily Dickinson’s famous comment, as if the top of my head was taken off. Many were love poems. Most were written in his early and mid twenties. There was urgency, a longing, a wild and plaintive high-note sound that was maybe particularly attractive to a twenty-two-year-old man. Forty-seven years later, as I stand on the terrible threshold of senescence, Knott’s poems still lift the hairs on the back of my neck. His anguished poems about the war in Vietnam were among the first I’d read on that subject, and I still believe them to be among the strongest. It is the war that my generation either can’t forget or refuses to remember (sometimes both).

I was planning a novel that involved a breakout from a Chinese labor camp and had just reread The Count of Monte Cristo, looking for ideas. At Hong Kong’s Central Library, I typed the word laogai, “labor reform,” into the computer catalog. Among the books listed, to my surprise and excitement, was the title Chongchu laogaiying, “Escape from the laogai.”

On a spring morning in 2009, Matthew Lawrence dropped the anchor of his small boat at a random spot in the middle of a blue ocean bay on the east coast of Australia, and jumped over the side. He swam down on scuba to where the anchor lay, picked it up, and waited. The breeze on the surface nudged the boat, which started to drift, and Matt, holding the anchor, followed.

A couple of years ago I joined one of those clubs where they teach you how to knock the shit out of other people. The first lesson is how to get the shit knocked out of yourself. The first lesson is all there is. It lasts between eighty and a hundred years, depending on your initial shit content.

Home and Away

Glemmingebro, 6 July

Dear Fredrik,

Today it is sunny and warm, and there is no football on TV, so we plan to go to the beach, for the first time this summer. The problem is that the children don’t want to go. Once they are there, they think it is wonderful, and then I say, now remember for next time, so that it won’t all be so difficult. Yes, yes, they say. Now it is the next time, and they don’t want to go.

Shirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard, who died on December 12 at the age of 85, wrote two collections of short stories, four novels, and three works of nonfiction. FSG published her last two works: in 2000, a memoir about Graham Greene, Greene on Capri, and, in 2003, her National Book Award-winning novel, The Great Fire.

The Moravian Night

Powerfully alive, honest, and at times deliciously satirical, The Moravian Night explores the mind and memory of an aging writer, tracking the anxieties, angers, fears, and pleasures of a life inseparable from the recent history of Central Europe. In crystalline prose, Peter Handke traces and interrogates his own thoughts and perceptions while endowing the world with a mythic dimension. As Jeffrey Eugenides writes, “Handke’s sharp eye is always finding a strange beauty amid this colorless world.” The Moravian Night is at once an elegy for the lost and forgotten and a novel of self-examination and uneasy discovery, from one of world literature’s great voices.

He was just tight enough and just familiar enough with the house to be able to go out into the kitchen alone, apparently to get ice, but actually to sober up a little; he was not quite enough a friend of the family to pass out on the living-room couch. He left the party behind without reluctance, the group by the piano singing “Stardust,” his hostess talking earnestly to a young man with thin clean glasses and a sullen mouth; he walked guardedly through the dining-room where a little group of four or five people sat on the stiff chairs reasoning something out carefully among themselves; the kitchen doors swung abruptly to his touch, and he sat down beside a white enamel table, clean and cold under his hand. He put his glass on a good spot in the green pattern and looked up to find that a young girl was regarding him speculatively from across the table.