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May 2020

The Center of the World: Writing from Cabo Verde

Image: Hélder Paz Monteiro, (in)ver(tido) reflexo, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Our May 2020 issue is our very first dedicated to the literature of Cabo Verde, an archipelago nation off West Africa whose culture embodies Portuguese and African influences. The nine texts here, including our first piece from Cabo Verdean Creole, explore Cabo Verde's simultaneous occupation of the center and the margins of the world. Manuel Brito-Semedo traces the contours of Cabo Verdean literary culture; in poetry and prose, respectively, Camões Prize winners Arménio Vieira and Germano Almeida chronicle the discovery of deeper understandings of country and self, in Lisbon and on the island of Boa Vista; Fátima Bettencourt dreams the end of the world; Dina Salústio describes one town's desire to make a name for itself; Luís Romano spins a riches-to-rags tale; Filinto Elísio gives a nod to jazz legend Horace Silver's Cabo Verdean origins and ponders the line between existing and not. With translations by Anna Kushner, David Shook, Eric M. B. Becker, Jeff Hessney, Jethro Soutar, and Nina Perrotta.

Islands Running across the Globe

Right from the start, Cabo Verdean concepts of identity and individuality were defined by this mixed reality: the African and the European, in all their diverse and contrasting characteristics.

On Beginnings

Inert stone, atomic, nuclear before life.


A Form of African Identity

It was only very gradually that we came to understand that the Europeans, out of malice or simple ignorance, had instilled in us our reluctance to accept our condition as Africans.

Cabo Verde Is the Center of the World

In those days the island of Boa Vista was the whole world.


Are all of us accidents wandering through other people’s lives?

Lisbon - 1971

In point of fact, Lisbon was not waiting there [to greet us.

Caviar, Champagne, and Fantasy

The Esplanada, thick with the scent of fragrant [DDT

Song for My Father

The music played on Apollo 11, it turned out, was “Georgia On My Mind,” sung by Ray Charles.


The Last Judgment

I was overcome by the unshakeable conviction that it was the end of the world.

Old Isidoro

As soon as he came around the bend at Passo Preto, he raised his pistol and fired into the air.


Book Reviews

Ha Seong-nan’s “Bluebeard’s First Wife” Gives the Old Tale of Patriarchy a New Twist

Reviewed by Hannah Weber

A crucial voice in the burgeoning movement of feminist fiction from South Korea, Ha is a master of atmospheric suspense whose stories use shock and horror to dissect contemporary gender-based violence and its historical roots.

In Mieko Kawakami’s “Breasts and Eggs,” Oppression and Dissent Begin at Women’s Bodies

Reviewed by Saba Ahmed

This meandering narrative, distinguished with the prestigious Akutagawa Prize, keeps a steady focus on how social pressures and the passage of time come to bear on its characters’ corporeality.

Haiku and Suicidal Thoughts Haunt a Trip Across Japan in Marion Poschmann’s “The Pine Islands”

Reviewed by Max Radwin

In this unsettling novel, shortlisted for the 2019 International Man Booker Prize and just published in the US, an academic expert on the history of beards in cinema reads Bashō and tries to help a stranger find the perfect spot to kill himself.

Family Life is Just Another Name for Tragedy in María Fernanda Ampuero’s “Cockfight”

Reviewed by Lily Meyer

This collection of stories by the Ecuadorean writer and journalist depicts episodes of abuse in a way that may not be exactly enjoyable to read, but feels urgent, gripping, and smart.

In Matéi Visniec’s “Mr. K Released,” an Inmate Chooses Prison Over Freedom

Reviewed by Benjamin Woodard

Originally published in 2010, this funny, if faintly scattershot, novel relies on a Kafkaesque allegory to reconsider Romania’s late-1980s transition to democracy after decades of Communist rule.

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