Reading Colorfully: Traveling through the World’s Literature

 

 

By Nichole L. Reber

 

confession_2.inddIt’d be hard to deny Mia Couto’s sparse detail and simple (though stunningly gorgeous) prose echo that of Papa Hemingway’s. But the fissure between hunter and writer in Couto’s novel, Confessions of the Lioness, makes me wish the two authors could have a public discussion over tea or, more likely, beers. Here’s a line that gets me wondering what Hemingway would have thought:

“There’s a time to love and there’s a time to hunt. The two never mix. If I were to give in, I would be betraying an age-old tradition: when one is hunting, one cannot have sex.” Continue reading

Reading Colorfully: Traveling through the World’s Literature

 

–by Nichole Reber

 

Ask for names like Basharat Peer or Tashi Dawa at your local or chain bookstore and the clerks look at you like you’ve got seven heads. I was the one confused, though, by the lack of easy access to international authors upon repatriating back to the States. Sure, I no longer had daily access to ramshackle book vendors beside Mumbai train stations, Peruvian favorites in Lima’s bookstores, or expat bar bookshelves in China, but need that put an end to my colorful reading? So join me in this journey between crisp white pages of new literary titles and soft yellowed pages of older books.

Acts of Worship cover

Kodansha International, Publisher Date of Publication: 1965

Literary Acts of Worship Terrifies

Yukio Mishima’s Temple of Dawn gave me nightmares. It’s not a frightening novel, not a thriller or suspense, a crime drama or any other form of genre fiction, though it does contain some magical realism elements that prove the literary technique does not lie solely in the hands of Latin American writers. What stole my sleep for two nights, what has me in a terrified yet excited fix to watch The Criterion Collection’s two-disc account of the Japanese author, is his ethereal darkness.

Just a couple of days after opening my first of his books, I put down the novel and started on something else entirely. The next time he came around I stuck with him, opening the pages of Acts of Worship with excited terror like seeing the Blair Witch Project for the first time in a 1999 theatre. This collection of short stories made a better entrée into the troubled writer’s oeuvre. Continue reading

Reading Colorfully: Traveling through the World’s Literature

–by Nichole Reber

Ask for names like Basharat Peer or Tashi Dawa at your local or chain bookstore and the clerks look at you like you’ve got seven heads. I was the one confused, though, by the lack of easy access to international authors upon repatriating back to the States. Sure, I no longer had daily access to ramshackle book vendors beside Mumbai train stations, Peruvian favorites in Lima’s bookstores, or expat bar bookshelves in China, but need that put an end to my colorful reading? So join me in this journey between crisp white pages of new literary titles and soft yellowed pages of older books.

“Heartbreaker on a Quest”

Writer Pham Thi Hoai knows how to tick off the Vietnamese powers that be. Her homeland’s government accuses her of disregarding social taboos, disrespecting traditions, having a pessimistic view of their country, and worse— abusing the “sacred mission of a writer.”

DCF 1.0

Pham Thi Hoai

In the book that introduced me to her work, Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam, edited by Linh Dinh and published by Seven Stories in 1996, Dinh describes that “sacred mission.” Writers throughout East Asian history were considered public servants, he explains. Their task “was to steer the masses toward righteousness. Writing that is irreverent, playful or morally ambivalent,” he writes, “was seen by the ruling class as either frivolous or subversive.” By 1978, Dinh writes, more than 160 South Vietnamese writers were detained in re-education camps (which my experience living in China taught me to interpret as brainwashing camps, a newfangled Cultural Revolution practice). About a decade later Vietnam’s political climate appeared to have changed. Secretary General Nguyen Van Linh encouraged writers to “’Speak the truth… No matter what happens, Comrades, don’t curb your pen.’” That was, however, not entirely true.

Hoai is just one author whose work, such as her first novel The Crystal Messenger, was banned. She now lives in Berlin where she founded and writes in an apparently incendiary online journal in Vietnamese, which has also been banned in Vietnam. Her work, fortunately for us on this side of the planet, has been translated into English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Finnish. Continue reading