You are stuck in traffic in downtown Cairo. Zahma—a blockage. The cars are packed in impossibly thick and there is only the slightest of forward movement. Pedestrians squeeze their way through hairline fractures between the metal, which adds to the congestion. A ride that could have taken fifteen minutes takes two hours. Time loses its sense of forward momentum; one becomes philosophical. This is a common occurrence.Continue reading
Focus: Saadat Hasan Manto
by Saadat Hasan Manto
We met exactly two years ago today at Apollo Harbor. It was in the evening when the last rays of the sun had disappeared behind the ocean’s distant waves, which look like folds of thick cloth from the benches along the beach. On this side of the Gateway of India, I walked past the first bench where a man was getting his head massaged and sat down on the second. I looked out as far as I could see over the broad water. Far out where the sea and the sky dissolved into each other, big waves were slowly rising and looked like an enormous muddy carpet being rolled to shore.
Light shone from the streetlamps along the beach, and its glimmering reflection raked here and there in thick lines across the water. Beneath the stone wall in front of me, the masts of sailboats were swaying lightly with their sails lashed to them. The sounds of the waves and the voices of the beach crowd merged into a humming sound that disappeared into the evening air. Once in a while the horn of a passing car would sound loudly, as though someone in the midst of listening to a very interesting story had said, “Hmm.”
I enjoy smoking at times like these. I put my hand into my pocket and took out my pack of cigarettes, but I couldn’t find any matches—who knew where I had lost them. I was just about to put the pack back into my pocket when someone nearby said, “Please, here’s a match.”Continue reading
An Interview with Bill Manhire
New Zealand’s official involvement in Antarctica began in 1923, when the British government took possession of the territory now known as the Ross Dependency and entrusted its administration to New Zealand. Scott Base was constructed in the territory in 1957 and has been the permanent base of operations for New Zealand ever since. Over the years, thousands of international explorers and scientists have passed through New Zealand on their way to and from Antarctica, inspiring a widespread fascination with the frozen expanse.
In 1996, after an official review concluded that Antarctica is “strategically important to New Zealand as a Southern Hemisphere nation,” the government established Antarctica New Zealand. One year later the Artists to Antarctica program was introduced. It awards annual fellowships to writers and artists of all disciplines to visit the continent and explore it in their work. Poet Bill Manhire was one of the inaugural fellows. He later compiled and edited The Wide White Page, an anthology of imaginative writing about Antarctica.
How did you become interested in Antarctica?
Well, I was born in Invercargill—called by Rudyard Kipling “the last lamppost in the world”—so I grew up knowing that if I got in a small boat and rowed south for a very long time, I would eventually bump into an iceberg. But my sense of Antarctica was probably shaped by the heroic explorers. I saw the John Mills movie Scott of the Antarctic when I was about ten. And Scott and Shackleton both passed through New Zealand; Port Chalmers was Scott’s final landfall before he headed down towards the pole. So the explorers were part of the local mythology. I also remember when I was at high school in Dunedin that the streets were full of American sailors who were all part of Operation Deep Freeze—all coming and going from the ice. If you’re from the south of New Zealand, you probably have the same relationship to Antarctica as many Australians have to the desert interior: you may never go there, but it’s part of your psychic geography.Continue reading
In 1980, there were many reasons to be optimistic about the future of Peru, most significantly, the restoration of democracy after twelve years of military dictatorship. The same man who’d been deposed in 1968 was returned to the presidency, and the elections had gone off with relatively few disruptions. Some ballots were burned in a town called Chuschi, in the province of Ayacucho, but this was anecdotal really, and nothing worth paying attention to. It was the year my family left for the United States, and very few people had any idea what was coming. We certainly didn’t.
We left and made our lives in the southern United States, and Peru existed, in those days before CNN and the internet and cheap international phone calls, as a rumor, more or less. We exchanged letters and audio cassettes with family back home. News was always hard to come by, and if a daily paper or a weekly magazine from Lima arrived, these were devoured. By the mid 1980s, the news had taken on a grim tone. Chuschi turned out to be not so insignificant after all—that act of armed civil disobedience had been the opening salvo in a war that would last over a decade. Ayacucho and a handful of other provinces were declared emergency zones. It was all still faraway, but one had the sense that trouble was coming. The city of Lima, naturally, ignored the war as long as it could.Continue reading
To Burn the City
by Julio Durán
On shelves and in drawers, in trunks and boxes, my grandmother hid the artifacts of her old house: decorative ceramics and saints, tea sets she never used, frames and photos, old books of stories (many from the Muscovite Progress publishing house), linens, clothes, and tins that had arrived in Iquitos along the Amazon from Brazil and Colombia, sweets, snacks, tools, newspapers. I wondered about the tea cups, felt their rough texture in my hands, was captivated by the flowers and landscapes, and asked myself who had ever used them, where, and when my grandmother had acquired them; I recreated the house my aunts had so often described to me and imagined them using these tea cups. When I saw the framed pictures, I wondered where in the house they’d hung, I imagined them new, adorning my aunt’s bedrooms, or the den. I imagined the city lights glancing off the sepia-tone photos, the air and breezes of those afternoons, and I did much the same with the jungle decorations that recalled the roanmulas, chullachakis, and tunches with which my aunts frightened me. My grandmother had dedicated herself to sewing in the old days and the antique, shut-in aroma of those fabrics, the designs, and the colors of that era intrigued me, the way the materials had been transformed by my grandmother’s handiwork and by time. When I saw these old garments, I found it hard to believe that my aunts had ever worn clothes my size. It would all morph and disappear one day, and what I had before me, this storage room, was the portal to a universe in which I could navigate freely without moving in space. And so when I discovered the empty jars of Brazilian unguents, the empty bottles of Bully vinegar, Leite de Rosas, and Agua Florida, and noticed that the odors had remained, I felt that objects remained in the world through sheer persistence, and their refusal to disappear colored my wandering. Everything became a beautiful chaos, source of all imagination.Continue reading
Many Peruvian authors, critics, and readers are of the opinion that there is no common literary project uniting young Peruvian writers. According to this theory, the writers who began publishing in the 1990s were by nature so individualistic that they never formed any kind of group, movement, or tendency, nor could they be said to comprise a generation, in the traditional literary sense of that term. This position surprises me, because among young authors of the decade, there was indeed a common theme, much clearer and sharper in the Peruvian case, than in any other moment or country that I’m aware of: cocaine.Continue reading
The Macedonian Officer
by Andrey Platonov
In the second installment of our Focus series, we turn our attention to Russia. The nine writers collected in the portfolio break away from humdrum realism and represent an alternative canon to the last century of Russian literature. Natasha Randall talks with poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko about the etymologies of Russian words and how those histories inform contemporary Russian writing. Plus new work by Sergey Zavyalov, Elena Fanailova, Dmitry Kuzmin, Alexander Vvedensky, Sergey Gandlevsky, Daniil Kharms, Olga Zondberg, and Vladimir Arkhipov’s gallery of homemade inventions.
What follows is an excerpt from the second chapter of this unfinished novel. In the first chapter, Platonov introduces two central figures: a Persian slave girl called Ofriya and Firs, the Macedonian officer. Firs has been sent by Alexander the Great to spy out Kutemaliya, a Central Asian kingdom that Alexander intends to invade. Captured while trying to cross the frontier, Firs has been forced to work as an engineer for Ozny, the country’s insane and dictatorial ruler. After a night of passion with Firs, Ofriya has set off on her own, trying to escape across the mountains and take a message to Alexander the Great. Firs, meanwhile, has been summoned to the capital…
When Firs was a short distance from the palace, he heard the noise of madness; the Macedonian officer had known that noise for a long time—he had heard it four years before, when the Tsar had first summoned him.
Beside the palace itself, a platform had been cleared on a stony place and over a hundred people were torturing themselves in the enthusiasm of ecstasy. Firs kept his distance and began looking at these people with sorrow. One man was rolling about on the ground, struggling to rip away the hairy skin on his chest so he could take out the still living heart from in there and show how devoted it was to the Tsar, how brimming over it was with the blood of joy. Another was positioned with his legs up in the air and was continually spinning round on the top of his head, wanting to be blown apart by centrifugal force into insignificant dust. Five people were walking in an unchanging circle, without a stop, their heads bowed in possession of deep thoughtfulness; they were in mental search of the most glorious praise of the Tsar and, on finding it, they would cry out:
“O one and only fruit of gods whose blossoms are spent!”
“O sorrow of the world, assuaged forever!”
“Grandson of all times and father of eternity!”
“Messenger of a blessed creation!”
“Architect of dawn and cool rivers!”
“Ever brilliant and blinding!”
“In your presence all reason is foolishness!”Continue reading
In the first installment of our Focus series, we turn our attention to Japan. Roland Kelts talks with Haruki Murakami and Motoyuki Shibata—Japan’s preeminent translators of American fiction—and the journalist Riyo Niimoto about the novels that introduced them to America. How do the Japanese see Americans through their literature? Does The Catcher in the Rye read the same in Osaka as it does in Omaha? Plus, we include a survey of new Japanese fiction, with short stories from Yoko Ogawa, Masaya Nakahara and more.
Here’s an excerpt from Roland Kelts’ interview with Haruki Murakami:
Roland Kelts Are the Japanese reading a lot of American fiction these days?
Haruki Murakami Oh, it’s popular now. It’s strange. I think American writers have been very good over the past twenty years or so. When I was in my twenties, we had two camps—Barthelme and other postmodern writers; and the realists, like Updike. But starting in the eighties, we had a third stream—writers like John Irving, Raymond Carver, Tim O’Brien. When I read Carver’s stories, I was stunned.Continue reading