Salt Houses, Hala Alyan’s multigenerational first novel about a Palestinian family, is a richly layered story of devastation, rebuilding, and making your way home, when you’re not even sure where that is anymore. As a Jew who believes strongly in the importance of a Jewish homeland, I wanted to read Salt Houses for a different perspective—to hear the stories I might not have heard otherwise. I asked Alyan some questions about the book and our current sociopolitical climate.
Q: You’re Palestinian-American. How much of this story is drawn from your family history and how much is part of the larger cultural story?
A: I borrowed structural elements from my familial history, in terms of the countries that appear in the book and the way the family in Salt Houses is displaced more than once. I wanted to keep the focus on this one particular family’s story, while also nodding to the larger sociopolitical context that housed it. I was inspired by the tradition of storytelling in Arab communities, and how that is a way of reclaiming history and identity. More generally, I was inspired by the resilience of refugees and immigrants I’ve come across in my personal and professional life, and I wanted to honor the story of displacement by unpacking it as honestly as I could. Continue reading
Scaachi Koul is a senior writer for Buzzfeed News. In addition to Buzzfeed, Koul’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Hairpin, and Jezebel, among others. Her debut collection of essays, One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter, was published by Doubleday Canada and Picador USA in May 2017. You can follow her on Twitter at @scaachi. Koul is based in Toronto.
EB: How did you start writing in general and nonfiction in particular?
SK: I don’t have any other transferable skills. The only thing I can do is write. If there was another option I would have picked something that required less self-loathing. I’m also a really bad liar—I’m not great at inventing narratives that feel honest. I’ve never been able to see a way to do that. My existence has been rife with its own pains—I don’t need to make stuff up right now. I started writing around twelve, thirteen, fourteen. I had a lot of journals and a lot of feelings. And that created this perfect storm that I have yet to escape. Continue reading
Lisa Dillman has translated numerous books, including Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World, which won the 2016 Best Translated Book Award, and several books by Andrés Barba. Barba’s novella Such Small Hands tells the haunting story of a young girl who loses her parents in a car accident and is sent to an orphanage for girls.
Andrea Gregovich: I was so touched by Such Small Hands because the young girls’ voices felt so authentic. Your translator’s note touched on the same thought I had as I was reading: how did this male author capture the painful internal world of orphaned girls so exquisitely? Do you get a sense of this from meeting him? Continue reading
A man wakes up and doesn’t remember the night before. Then he sees photos that show him assaulting a woman. Add the fact that he’s a new father, his job involves experimental surgeries, and his own father has dementia—oh, and he can read minds—and you’ve got Fiona Maazel’s new novel, A Little More Human. Memory, autonomy, and conspiracy theories abound in this complicated, well-crafted book. Maazel has won the Bard Prize for Fiction and was a National Book Award Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree. She was recently awarded a Guggenheim.
Jaime Herndon: One thing I loved about A Little More Human was the intersecting storylines, especially Dr. Snyder’s memory loss, juxtaposed with his son’s mindreading ability and blackout. How did you come up with the structure/form of the novel?
Fiona Maazel: Thematically, I knew I wanted to be writing about memory, and memory as a way of constructing identity, juxtaposed against how incredibly hard it is to establish an identity when we know so little of what transpires in our own inner lives. I wanted to get at all that, but there was no way to do it from one perspective. I needed a few characters to allow me to approach the topic from multiple angles. Continue reading
Sarah Dickenson Snyder is poet based in Massachusetts and Vermont. She is the author of The Human Contract (Kelsay Books, 2017) and the chapbook Notes from a Nomad (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Snyder’s poetry and prose have appeared in Bloodroot Literary Magazine, Teachers & Writers Magazine, Comstock Review, Damfino Press, Chautauqua, West Trade Review, The Main Street Rag, and Passager, among other magazines and anthologies. In May of 2016, she was a 30/30 Poet for Tupelo Press, and she has been selected to be part of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. In addition to writing poetry, Snyder worked as an English teacher for thirty-seven years.
EB: First off, congratulations on your two books of poetry coming out this year! Do you primarily identify as a poet?
SDS: I write some prose—I had a piece recently in in Teachers & Writers Magazine about teaching writing, which is the first chapter of a book I’m playing around with. The book is tentatively called Teacher Land and it’s about the things I’ve learned from my years of teaching—something a beginning teacher might read. I’ve really enjoyed writing it, and I do like writing prose, but, really, I feel more like a poet. Continue reading
The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews French translator Jeffrey Zuckerman. Jeffrey received the PEN/Heim Translation fund grant in 2016 for his translation of The Complete Stories of Hervé Guibert and has two recent novels in translation, Ananda Devi’s Eve Out of Her Ruins (Deep Vellum, 2016) and Antoine Volodine’s Radiant Terminus (Open Letter, 2017). Radiant Terminus is a notorious pseudonymic author’s sci-fi tale about life in a future Siberia after a widespread nuclear disaster.
Andrea Gregovich: As a Russian translator, I was sucked into this book far more than I’d expected: it takes place in a future, post-apocalyptic Siberia but is written by Antoine Volodine, a French author. The details of life in the taiga, the vibe of the collective farms, and the institutions and overall culture felt authentically Siberian and Soviet to me, even in this dystopian take. What is Volodine’s background with Siberia and the Soviet Union—how is it that he’s so skilled at writing about it?
Jeffrey Zuckerman: It’s lovely to hear from you, Andrea, and I’m so glad this book has captured a world you probably know well. The (former) Soviet Union is a space that Volodine often returns to in his writing, and while he doesn’t seem to be on the record as having lived there for extensive stretches of time, it’s true that he has Slavic heritage—“Volodine,” after all, is the French transliteration of Володин.