Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling

4ac656cc6cd94f862d478f7a03748991-w204@1xby Carole Satyamurti
W. W. Norton & Company, 2015

British poet Satyamurti works from scholarly versions—such as K.M. Ganguli’s unabridged 5,000-page English prose translation—to condense all 18 books of the Mahabharata into this single volume of blank verse. The task is formidable and many would say impossible, yet Satyamurti moves smoothly between episodes with a consistent, understated rhythm. Inevitably, many of the core episodes and events are overly simplified; moreover, the bloody, cataclysmic battle at the end of cosmic time and the struggle for virtue—both human and divine—are unfortunately made to seem far more tame than in the original.  

Carol Satyamurti is a poet, sociologist, and translator. The author of many books of poetry, she has taught regularly for the Arvon Foundation and for the Poetry Society (UK). She lives in London.

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Need I Say More?

by Stephen Kessler71wB8sn0eEL
El Leon Literary Arts, 2015

Stephen Kessler’s third collection of essays gathers fifty-four pieces ranging over thirty-three years and several genres of personal and critical prose: family memoir, travel journal, social satire, political analysis, cultural commentary, literary criticism, anecdote, confession, spiritual and philosophical reflection. Whether addressing his own baldness, the pursuit of sexual satisfaction, the art of photographer Vivian Maier, the self-mythification of Gertrude Stein, the mysteries of literary translation, the creativity in criticism, or personalities like Steve Jobs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kessler’s essays invitingly readable. His eclectic interests and nimble intelligence infuse these writings with unique insights into our lives and times. (Publisher’s description)

Stephen Kessler is a poet, translator, essayist and editor whose writings have appeared in books, anthologies, magazines and newspapers across the United States since the late 1960s. Born in Los Angeles in 1947, he has degrees in literature from Bard College and the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of eight books.

Landfalls

fsg-cover-croppedby Naomi J. Williams
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015

Williams makes an entertainingly erudite debut with a prismatic reimagining of the doomed French attempt to circumnavigate the globe in the 1780s. With their “scientific mission paramount, no reasonable expense to be spared,” captains Jean-Francois de Galaup de Lapérouse and Paul-Antoine-Marie Fleuriot, Viscount de Langle, set sail in 1785 aboard the Boussole and the Astrolabe. As the “savants” onboard—geologists, physicists, botanists—prepare to study the exotic, Williams’ narrative focuses on the human. Especially poignant is her illustration of how native cultures are poorly interpreted by European explorers celebrating the virtues of Enlightenment. From overweening functionaries and pretentious colonialists, captains and savants are soon forced to decipher personalities and politics. Amid the seesawing boredom and terror of days at sea, William crafts an elegant and entrancing narrative to match her dissection of the landfalls. Literary art of the first order, intelligent and evocative in the way of the best of historical fiction. — Kirkus Reviews

Born in Japan, Naomi J. Williams holds an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis. In 2009, she received a Pushcart Prize and a Best American Honorable Mention. She lives in Northern California and is working on her second novel.

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

www.randomhouseby Jane Hirshfield
Knopf, 2015

Hirshfield, a poet and Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, ponders the value and function of poetry in 10 insightful essays. Following up on her earlier nonfiction book Nine Gates, Hirshfield delves into various works written across multiple styles and centuries. She begins with a perceptive lesson about the way a poet—and a poem—sees the world, later exploring the theme of “the hidden,” referring to both subterranean layers of meaning in a piece of writing and the protective concealments common in nature, in which, according to a biologist, “hiddenness is the default.” Elsewhere, Hirshfield shows how asking questions about poems, from Basho’s haiku to Walt Whitman’s American epics, can lead to answers about ourselves. In this vein, she tackles “American-ness” as it’s manifested in modern American poetry, concluding that our “culture [is] created by immigration, by mobility of psyche and of body.” Hirshfield writes with a poet’s voice and imparts wisdom on nearly every page. In a particularly lucid selection, “Poetry and the Constellation of Surprise,” she explains how important it is that poetry transcend reason, because reason “cannot and does not encompass the whole of life.” Hirshfield’s in-depth tour of poetry and art leaves a lasting impression. — Publisher’s Weekly

Jane Hirshfield is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Beauty; Come, Thief; After; and Given Sugar, Given Salt. Hirshfield has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets. A resident of Northern California since 1974, she is a current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

The Beauty

c40acdf870759a9677a188530c89a478-w2041xby Jane Hirshfield
Knopf, 2015

Hirshfield opens her eighth book of poems describing the copper bowls of a scale in perfect balance: on one end of the scales a woman in a wheelchair sings a traditional Portuguese fado, on the other end everyone else present hangs in attention. This moment, one that expresses the internal vastness of the individual, bleeds into the rest of the collection as Hirshfield seeks the idea of balance. In a collection where “an hour can be dropped like a glass,” the pieces are seen by the reader as a new whole. “The ideas of poets turn into only themselves,” she notes, and those ideas are both the most important and the least. She uses the quotidian to peer into the life cycle. When she writes, “Now I too am sixty. / There was no other life,” it is as if the whole world had reached that milestone before her and she is somehow the last to see it through. The book pleads with itself to remember the past; the moments where days drifted by and doors could open or close. It pleads not to be forgotten. — Publisher’s Weekly

Jane Hirshfield is the author of seven previous collections of poetry, two books of essays, and four books collecting and co-translating the work of poets from the past. A current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Hirshfield has received many prizes and awards including fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora

2Q==edited by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud, Lan Duong, Mariam B. Lam, and Kathy L. Nguyen
University of Washington Press, 2014

Pairing image and text, Troubling Borders showcases creative writing and visual artworks by sixty-one women of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, Thai, and Filipino ancestry. The collection features compelling storytelling that troubles the borders of categorization and reflects the multilayered experience of Southeast Asian women.

The diverse voices featured here have been shaped by colonization, wars, globalization, and militarization. For some of these women on the margins of the margin, crafting and showing their work is a bold act in itself. Their provocative and accessible creations tell unique stories, provide a sharp contrast to familiar stereotypes – Southeast Asian women as exotic sex symbols, dragon ladies, prostitutes, and “bar girls”-and serve as entry points for broader discussions on questions of history, memory, and identity. (Publisher’s website)

Isabelle Thuy Pelaud is associate professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University; Lan Duong is associate professor of media and cultural studies at the University of California, Riverside; Mariam B. Lam is associate professor of comparative literature, media and cultural studies, and director of Southeast Asian studies, at the University of California, Riverside; and Kathy L. Nguyen is a writer and editor in San Francisco.

 

 

The Descartes Highlands

9k=by Eric Gamalinda
Akashic Books, 2014

A mesmerizing story full of mystery, Gamalinda’s American debut tracks the lives of two brothers, Jordan and Mathieu, separated at birth, and their quest to discover their past. Given away by their father, Andrew Brezsky, in exchange for money, they are taken from their birthplace in the Philippines, adopted by different parents, and begin their lives under vastly different circumstances. Jordan ends up in New York, while Mathieu is adopted by French filmmakers who are mourning the recent death of their two-year-old son, and eventually follows in their footsteps and becomes a documentary filmmaker. The novel weaves together three stories, those of the brothers, Jordan and Mathieu, and their biological father, an American who is caught in the Philippines during the political unrest of the ’70s and inexplicably thrown into prison. Although the situations of the three men are completely diverse, their lives unfold in similar ways, especially when it comes to romance. Mathieu and Jordan both fall in love with complicated but empathetic women who want to help them come to terms with their murky past. Mathieu’s girlfriend, Janya, travels the world with him in a search for details on the death of his adopted parents’ first child, and his birth parents. Jordan’s lover, Yuki, looks for someone who can answer his questions about Andrew Brezsky and suggests methods to ease his adoptive mother’s pain. Gamalinda’s tale is intricate, but the full picture never comes into focus. Still, this novel benefits from its philosophical bent and beautiful writing. — Publisher’s Weekly

Eric Gamalinda is the author of two story collections, three books of poetry, and five novels. His novel My Sad Republic won the Philippines’s Centennial Literary Prize. Gamalinda was born and raised in Manila, where he worked as a journalist. He currently lives in New York City and teaches at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University.