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Articles tagged "Nonfiction"

Brazil Beyond Rio

Any attempt to introduce Brazil in a single essay is fraught from the outset. The country is, much like the United States, a continental nation, the site of European discovery tales to rival our own, and host to a series of political upheavals. It is also home to a literary history that has at times looked outward for inspiration, and at others inward to construct, via literature, an idea of nationhood that has often seemed elusive. Perhaps a solution presents itself in an idea every bit...

Death in the Amazon

The Assassination 1. They’ve set up the ambush by a small bridge across a stream. They’ve been hiding among the trees since early morning—and they’re lying in wait. They know that José Cláudio and Maria will have to slow down here. That’s when the first shot is fired. Discharged from a hunting rifle, the bullet hits both of them at once: it goes through Maria’s hand and lodges near the left wall of José Cláudio’s...

Falling in Love with Bahia & Brazil: On Negritude, Saudade, & Surrender

I have been trying actively to stave off a case of Brazil-o-philia since the early 2000s when I lived in pre-gentrification Brooklyn. Preventive care for me looked like resisting the allure of capoeira classes, which offered the promise of instant friendship and community, endless references to obscure terminology, a pet name (as a West Indian, it’s hard for me to resist affectionate teasing and nicknames), and a warrior physique. Determined to keep my hot foot off Brazilian soil, I...

In Praise of Nonconformity: The Queer Issue

Welcome to our annual salute to international queer literature. This issue, our seventh, comes at a less than celebratory time in the US. The current presidential campaign has propelled public discourse to new lows of coarseness and blunt prejudice, and the euphoria following last June’s repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act has petered out in the face of continuing anti-gay sentiment, most recently expressed in the rancorous debate over transgender bathroom access. Behind the bigotry...

Bridging Distances: Three Hispanic Canadian Authors

There is a substantial gap in the current discourse on Latino Lit in North America. First, some context: The landscape of Canadian literature is vast and varied: It comprises works written in the original languages and in the official English and French, Quebec literature, and a small percentage of works published in nonofficial languages and in translation. The country itself is far from being a cultural or linguistic monolith, although it may often be perceived as such from the outside....

On Cuban Time

A broad promenade runs up the middle of the leafy boulevard, still known to locals by its Spanish colonial name, Prado, that divides Old Havana from Central Havana. On weekends when the weather’s fine, artists offer their work to tourists there: black and white photographs of street scenes, etchings on handmade paper of dancing stovetop coffeepots, luscious Cuban women, Charlie Chaplin, Che Guevara, and Marilyn Monroe, oil paintings of cityscapes that always feature a classic car or...

Interview with Mary Jo Porter

Images: Mary Jo Porter If paradise ends where choice begins, as Arthur Miller observed, then our digital age fantasy of paradise as a tropical island with no Internet collapses with our choice to travel to one. The permanent inhabitants of such an island, who live without Internet access or the luxury of travel, would likely have a lot to tell the world about life in paradise, if only they could get online. As of 2016, these inhabitants represent 95% of the Cuban population. In January...

Obama in Havana

December 17, 2014 The night before Raúl was to address the Cuban nation to make an important announcement I was invited to a gay party in Playa, a middle-class district of Havana. The host, who worked for the state film institute, had invited several dozen friends—mostly professional men in their twenties and thirties—to celebrate San Lázaro, patron saint of difficult causes and an important figure in Cuban culture. Some of the guests worked in culture, others in...

Women, Writing War

Since Odysseus paddled home to Ithaca, most of the world’s great war stories have belonged to men. Men have written them and men have starred in them, because, for the most part, male soldiers have occupied the frontlines from Sparta to Verdun. In addition, men’s voices have been the dominant voices elsewhere in literature, why not in war? In the landscape of contemporary conflicts, this no longer holds true. Now, more women travel to battlefields, as soldiers, aid workers, and...

From “What are the Blind Men Dreaming?”

The following is an excerpt from Jaffe's multi-generic book due out later this year from Deep Vellum publishing. Jaffe's book is composed of the individual voices of three generations of women: mother, in the diary she wrote after liberation from Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen; daughter, considering the power of memory and survival; and granddaughter, reflecting on what it means to be the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. In this excerpt, we open with a...

The True Story of “Faccetta Nera”

“I was on a TV talk show the other day, and something curious happened.” Those are the opening words of a Facebook post that Maryan Ismail, an Italo-Somali political activist, published recently. The curious thing that happened occurred in a television studio. Maryan, who is a longtime political activist working in Milan, has made up her mind to express her defiance of racism by speaking openly everywhere she can, including on TV. Of course, she doesn’t talk about...

From “Raking Light from Ashes”

Warsaw was awoken by a cold winter morning in January of 1943 that illuminated it with sad, gray light. Relli stirred in her sleep. She heard voices beyond the thick blanket that covered her up to the top of her head. Strange, she thought. It wasn’t Mommy’s voice, or Daddy’s, or even Grandpa’s . . . who could it be, so close to her? She tried to peek out without revealing herself, but saw nothing. She tried to stretch beneath the blanket and realized she...

Uyghur Modernist Poetry: Three Contemporary Writers

The Uyghur people, who live primarily in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China, have for many centuries held poetry and poets in high esteem. While many aspects of Uyghur life have been altered by social, cultural, and political change over the last century, the importance of poetry in Uyghur culture remains undiminished. Perhaps that’s why modernist poetry, which burst onto the Uyghur literary scene thirty years ago, initially inspired such vigorous debate. The modernists,...

Graphic Novels at WWB: The First Ten Years

Ten years ago Words without Borders published our first graphic novel issue, presenting seven pieces by French, German, Polish, Spanish, and Russian artists. We were so delighted with the result, and with the response, that we made it an annual event, scheduled each February to coincide with the conclusion of the Angoulême Comics Festival, the most important in the field. As our fondness for the form and our awareness of its singular narrative ability increased, we also began...

On Angoulême and Control

Illustration accompanying call for boycott. © Julie Maroh. The furor over the list of nominees for the Grand Prix of the Angoulême International Comics Festival (FIBD) should be understood as a typical example of a number of societal phenomena. I mean by this that the comics world is no more or less sexist than other communities: it’s just the same. But I also mean that this controversy was a gift for the media and for those who love to dig into such a juicy morsel since...

The Reverberations of History: Contemporary Austrian Literature

The variety and exuberance of contemporary Austrian writing is little known among English readers. Often lumped into the unwieldy category of German-language literature or overshadowed by Austria’s literary giants, many of its most interesting writers have yet to be translated into English. A country of eight million people, Austria has six official languages. A century ago, under the Hapsburg Empire, more than twice that many ethnic and linguistic groups were bound in a fruitful if...

True Stories from Faraway Places: Paweł Smoleński and Polish Literary Reportage

Paweł Smoleński’s “Painting the Occupation” is a great example of what I love about Polish literary reportage. Through the story of Suleiman Shakir, a famous Kurdish painter who was persecuted under Saddam Hussein, Smoleński addresses themes of freedom of expression, political oppression, and the recent history of the Kurds in Iraq. But he does so through Shakir’s unusual personal story, allowing the reader to form a deeper, more human connection with...

Painting the Occupation

What did Suleiman Shakir paint? An abandoned house. An old man on a donkey. Children picking daffodils. The pictures didn’t need captions. Everyone knew what he was trying to tell them about the tragedy of a Kurdistan pacified by the Iraqi military. The painting is large: two meters high by six meters wide. It stands directly behind the chair from which the Speaker of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament will soon preside, and before the chairs where the deputies will sit. The seats are...

Kyrgyzstan: Shade and Shadow

No Bukhara, no Samarkand, no meaning, just bare life in the rarefied air. That had been what I was after. A clarity of existence. To see sand sifting through the post-imperial rust. That would be enough for me, if anyone were to ask; for that it was worth traveling three or four thousand miles. I’ll go to Murghab, I thought, see the Chinese trucks on the road from Xinjiang. Each day a few of them came by, maybe a dozen or so. Along with extra wheels they each carried a few spare...

The Languages of Alta Ifland

Alta Ifland’s writing raises important questions about the legitimacy and practice of autobiography that are too often taken for granted by American writers. In an alert literary age, the fifty-three thought-provoking short prose texts of her Voice of Ice / Voix de Glace would have attracted considerable attention outside the circles of small magazines and bookshop readings, in which this book indeed attracted attention when it came out in 2007. The author, described in a...

From “Paris–Athens”

To my father I. Silence I don't know when I started to write this book. I know that today is the 9th, I'm looking in my datebook: Sunday, November 9th, 1986, St. Theodore's day—no, I'm off by a week, today is only the 2nd, All Souls Day. I would have preferred to start on the 9th—Theodore is a Greek name. Oh, well; the Day of the Dead isn't bad, either. Actually, I didn't begin this book today. A year ago, perhaps. Perhaps twenty-five years ago,...

This Animated Life: An Interview with David Polonsky

An interview with David Polonsky, the artist behind the Oscar-nominated film and graphic novel Waltz with Bashir. A few simple descriptions would suffice to understand just how rich and strange an artwork Waltz with Bashir truly is: an animated documentary film. A war movie that is primarily about the machinations of memory. A historical narrative that feels painfully relevant. Now, after winning the Golden Globe for best foreign film and receiving an Academy Award nomination in the...

An Interview with Péter Esterházy

Péter Esterházy is one of Hungary's foremost contemporary novelists, having won literary distinctions both at home and abroad. A number of his works, including Helping Verbs of the Heart, The Book of Hrabal, She Loves Me, and A Little Hungarian Pornography have all been translated into English. In this interview, we speak about some of the predominant themes in Esterházy's literature, particularly family and language. Esterházy hails from a long line...

The Silence of the Outcasts: An Interview with Dacia Maraini

(Pescasseroli, Easter 2005) To meet with Dacia Maraini and speak with her in peace means going up to the bitter and severe lands of Abruzzo where the writer, who lives in Rome, takes refuge during holidays and in summer. This March, Easter concludes a winter of polar temperatures and the snow in the National Park of Abruzzo remains plentiful. Dacia Maraini loves cross-country skiing and walking in the woods; this is her natural realm, and she settles here to write her books in solitude...

The Last Farm Novel?: An Interview with Michiel Heyns

I met Michiel Heyns—author, translator, and professor of English at Stellenbosch University from 1987 until 2003—last year when he was here in the U.S. as a visiting professor at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He's a tall, large-framed man who easily dissolves into crinkles of laughter, quickly revealing a gentle spirit beneath the somewhat imposing exterior. He's an ideal dinner companion—charming, erudite, gracious, and full of wit. And though our...

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