Category Archives: Hooray Fiction!

A Stranger in My Own Country by Hans Fallada

A Stranger in My Own Country

Is there an ethical voice in German literature in the 1930s?

Among the Oscar nominees this year (which included no shortage of Nazi tales, including Fury and The Imitation Game) Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel serves as Hollywood’s sweeping take on “fascism, Nazism, prison, uplift.” His whimsical anti-fascist flick is solemnly dedicated to the work of novelist Stefan Zweig, who fled the rise of the Nazis and, despairing at the rise of Nazism, killed himself in exile. Anderson tries to sum up the age at the end of the film, in an elegy to the fair and uptight concierge of the hotel: “To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it—but, I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace!”

Anderson has no obligation to realism, and yet speaking in epochs prevents his characters from feeling like regular people grounded in time and space. The concierge and his lobby boy are like mythological figures that illustrate history from a vantage point in the present. Real people don’t see themselves through such grand narratives.

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Gender in Cold Worlds

The Left Hand of Darkness

I first read Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness in eighth grade, and though for the years following I called it one of my favorite books, I couldn’t have given a very solid account of the story or its meaning.

I learned the word “envoy,” and the next few stories I would write, in pencil on lined notebook paper, featured alien envoys navigating a stubborn planet. I didn’t know enough about sex to recognize the power of omitting it from daily life, as LeGuin’s androgynous inhabitants of the planet Gethen do, but I wrote about big-headed green aliens who reproduced through a sort of meditative mind-meld, which I suspected to be more evolutionarily sophisticated than the mess of feelings and fluids that my own species engaged in. I didn’t know enough about the cold to recognize how it creates a bond among those who endure it together, as it does between the novel’s two central characters as they traverse the planet’s desolately beautiful ice fields, or its power to remove sex from the equation. What I recognized, and kept with me, were these words from the book’s introduction: “I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.”

And that, for an adolescent trying on artistry and atheism, was enough to make the book a favorite—story, metaphor, and meaning be damned.

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A Cartography of Carcasses

Given that Google co-founder Sergey Brin has the name of someone you would run into in Braavos, it’s a wonder that it took so long for someone to do this: A Google map of the Seven Kingdoms.

Click below to explore the large version, or buy your own high quality print on Etsy.

FA WGM

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The Oldest Bookstore in the World

photo 1

A few days ago I visited the oldest bookstore in the world. It’s called Bertrand. It’s in Lisbon, on Rua Garrett in the Chiado neighborhood. It opened in 1732.

At the oldest bookstore in the world, I bought a UK paperback edition of Mrs. Dalloway, because the book I was planning to read while in Portugal–Jerusalem by Gonçalo M. Tavares, which is translated from Portuguese–turned out to be too depressing for a vacation. I’ll read it when I get home. Mrs. Dalloway, on the other hand, is one of those classics I had never gotten around to. In case you’re wondering, it’s magnificent.

But I want to tell you about the oldest bookstore in the world. In order to do that, first I need to tell you about Lisbon’s soccer team. One of Lisbon’s soccer teams, anyway; the city has two. After visiting the oldest bookstore in the world I went to a soccer match between the Lisbon team Benfica and a smaller Portuguese team. Continue reading

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When Movie Critics Attack

After the Tall Timber

Is it wrong to remember Renata Adler primarily for her bitter, public fights with Pauline Kael?

When Adler’s two brilliant works of semi-fiction—Speedboat at Pitch Dark—were re-released to great acclaim a couple of years ago, she seemed poised to go down in history as a master stylist in her own right. So I’m kind of afraid that the publication of this new collection of Adler’s nonfiction—After the Tall Timber—will set Adler’s legacy back. In all of its 528 pages, Adler’s pugnacious film criticism and her feud with Pauline Kael are clearly the most interesting parts—simply because everything else she reported on feels so… dated?

Adler brought her considerable intellect to bear on the pressing issues of her time, but the pressing issues of her time are pretty snooze-inducing, in retrospect. Robert Bork. Biafra. Jayson Blair. The Kenneth Starr report. There is plenty to say about these issues, and for the most part it has all been said, and we have all moved on. Apparently the 1970s to 1990s, when Adler wrote these pieces, were a great time to be a film critic, and an awfully dull time to extrapolate on American headline news.

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Quanta of Aging

The Physics of Sorrow

I’m not talking about old age. I’m talking about the first signs. Not about night, but about dusk. About its irresistible incursions and the first fallen fortresses.

*

Once, when Aya was three, she came home from kindergarten in tears, because a boy had told her that fathers get old. Fathers get old, she said, sobbing. She glanced at me for a second, fully expecting to hear me disavow this and since I couldn’t think of anything—I’m terribly slow-witted when I have to lie—she burst into tears again, even more hopelessly.

*

There is some sort of grammar of aging.

Childhood and youth are full of verbs. You can’t sit still. Everything in you is growing, gushing forth, developing. Later the verbs are gradually replaced by the nouns of middle age. Kids, cars, work, family—the substantial things of the substantives.

Growing old is an adjective. We enter into the adjectives of old age—slow, boundless, hazy, cold, or transparent like glass.

*

There is also a mathematics of aging, a simple set theory.

We change the world’s proportions over the years. Those younger than we are grow ever more numerous, while the number of those older than we are declines menacingly.

Aging requires a certain audacity. It may not be audacity, but resignation.

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Hitler’s Mustache

hitler-moustache

Denise hadn’t even been at Maize High three months when the rumors began. I was in a mandatory physical education class, second period, the first time I saw her. She was in the class right after mine and we brushed shoulders in the hallway a few times. She was pretty enough, I’d say, with long wood-burnt hair down her back in waves and an olive complexion like a Greek. She was in the middle ground on fashion which told me all I needed to know about her life at home. I was in the same boat myself. My parents never could afford to make me a popular walkabout with their conservative clothing purchases. It’s like my dad used to say, You take what you can get. Then later, when you’re all grown-up, you’ll thank god you didn’t have enough.

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Dana Schwartz: Girl in Your Twitter Feed

GuyInYourMFA

If the brilliance of @GuyinyourMFA was immediately apparent, its longevity was hardly certain. When I first discovered it last Fall, my assumption was that—like erstwhile Tumblr Life in Publishing or the awkward romance between the Twitter feeds of Harper Perennial and Melville House—it was the creation of bored publicists in one of the New York publishing houses and that, like those, it would gain some quick attention before slowly fading from view. @GuyinyourMFA manages to skewer every aspect of literary culture, from its constant hand-wringing over the line between high and low art to its obsession with New York, but @GuyinyourMFA isn’t an insular concern.

“Of course I’ve read The Corrections,” writes Guy. “Let’s just say I would have made a few corrections.”

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the human behind @GuyinyourMFA isn’t a guy, but nor is she a bored publishing assistant or even an MFA candidate. She is, in point of fact, a senior at Brown named Dana Schwartz.

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