In The Emperor of Ice-Cream, we are introduced to Lucia. Now in her eighties, this daughter of Italian immigrants looks back on her youth spent in Scotland during the 1920s and 30s. She remembers her three brothers, Dario, Giulio and Emilio, and the very different ways they lived through these decades: the eldest establishes the Edinburgh Fascist club, the second sets up a luxurious ice-cream parlor, the youngest hones his verbal skills for a future as a poet. Lucia learns what it is to be an immigrant and to wonder where ‘home’ is; she encounters religious sectarianism, idealism, and disillusionment. She experiences passion, hope, and disappointment.
When she falls in love in Rome, it appears that happiness is Lucia’s for the asking, until unstoppable forces intervene—in both of her countries. With mounting tension, her tale leads through the rise of Fascism to the terrible moment in June 1940 when Mussolini declares war, and British Italians are interned. When hundreds are herded as ‘enemy aliens’ onto a ship bound for exile, among their number are two of her brothers. Determined to tell their story before it is too late, Lucia gives an account of one of the most shameful episodes in Britain’s Second World War.
Through his portrayal of Lucia’s singular vision and voice, Dan Gunn has created an unforgettable character who, while registering the buffets of history, is—just possibly—writing herself toward some overdue inner peace.
When a bomb explodes in a university cafe, nineteen students are killed. The Empty Space begins with the identification of these slain students. Slowly, each individual is claimed and taken away for a proper burial by their mourning family members. The final mother to enter the cafe identifies the nineteenth body as her eighteen-year-old son and brings him home in a casket. She not only brings home her dead son, though, but also the sole survivor of the blast, a three-year-old boy. By a strange quirk of fate, after the explosion he is found lying in a small empty space, alive and breathing. The Empty Space chronicles the memories of the boy dead, the story of the boy brought home, and the cataclysmic crossing of life and death.
End of Equality
Beatrix Campbell Seagull Books, 2013 Library of Congress HQ1155+
Among liberal thinkers, there is an optimistic belief that men and women are on a cultural journey toward equality—in the workplace, on the street, and in the home. But observation and evidence both tell us that in many ways this progress has stopped and in some cases, even reversed.
In TheEnd of Equality, renowned feminist Beatrix Campbell argues that even as the patriarchy has lost some of its legitimacy, new inequalities are emerging in our culture. We are living, Campbell writes, in an era of neo-patriarchy in which violence has proliferated; body anxiety and self-hatred have flourished; rape is committed with impunity; sex trafficking thrives, and the struggle for equal pay is at an end. After four decades observing society, Campbell still speaks of the long-sought goal of gender equality. But now she calls for a new revolution.
In 2010, Robert Menasse journeyed to Brussels to begin work on a novel centered on the European Union. His extended stay resulted in a completely different book—Enraged Citizens, European Peace and Democratic Deficits, a work of nonfiction examining the history of the European project and the evolving politics of nation-states.
Spanning from the beginning of the transnational idea with 1951’s Montanunion—the European Coal and Steel Community—to the current financial crisis, Menasse focuses on the institutional structures and forces both advancing and obstructing the European project. Given the internal tensions among the European Commission, Parliament, and Council, Menasse argues that current problems that are frequently misunderstood as resulting from the financial crisis are, in fact, political. Along the way, he makes the bold claim that either the Europe of nation-states will perish—or the project of transcending the nation-states will.
A provocative book, Enraged Citizens, European Peace and Democratic Deficits deftly analyzes the financial and bureaucratic structures of the European Union and sheds much-needed light on the state of the debt crisis. Menasse brings his considerable literary expertise to the unraveling of the real state of the Union, along the way weaving an intriguing tale of one continent’s efforts to become a truly postnational democracy.
As speaking animals, we continuously make use of an unassuming grammatical particle, without suspecting that what is at work in its inconspicuousness is a powerful apparatus, which orchestrates language, signification, and the world at large. What particle might this be? The word not.
In Essay on Negation, Paolo Virno argues that the importance of the not is perhaps comparable only to that of money—that is, the universality of exchange. Negation is what separates verbal thought from silent cognitive operations, such as feelings and mental images. Speaking about what is not happening here and now, or about properties that are not referable to a given object, the human animal deactivates its original neuronal empathy, which is prelinguistic; it distances itself from the prescriptions of its own instinctual endowment and accesses a higher sociality, negotiated and unstable, which establishes the public sphere. In fact, the speaking animal soon learns that the negative statement does not amount to the linguistic double of unpleasant realities or destructive emotions: while it rejects them, negation also names them and thus includes them in social life. Virno sees negation as a crucial effect of civilization, one that is, however, also always exposed to further regressions. Taking his cue from a humble word, the author is capable of unfolding the unexpected phenomenology of the negating consciousness.
Exploring longing, lust for life, ageing, mortality, grief, and flowers in her inimitable late style, études is a diary-like sequence of poems by one of the greatest living Austrian poets. Friederike Mayröcker’s almost daily entries give us a unique view into the interplay between desire and her motivation for writing. In Mayröcker’s case, she writes both to keep a vanished world present and to exploit the possibilities of being present for constant experimentation.
The poems in this volume are not only studies of how the mind works, moving from fragment to fragment, but also experiments with techniques of repetition, typography, collage, and quotation. Mayröcker transform the humble page into spaces of radical openness. After all, she says, a poem is that which “opens everything up.” Each poem is date-stamped, and each date acts as a kind of permission for Mayröcker to pour in everything from notes on doctor’s visits to gorgeously structured elegies to obsessively repeating fragments of memory that act upon the whole like bits of recurring melody.
Rarely before has the intimate process of writing been so exquisitely laid bare than in études. Traversing the boundaries of literary forms with Mayröcker’s distinctive style, this important volume strikes an admirable balance between playfulness and serious inquiry.
Christa Wolf tried for years to find a way to write about her childhood in Nazi Germany. In her 1976 book Patterns of Childhood, she explained why it was so difficult: “Gradually, over a period of months, the dilemma has emerged: to remain speechless or to live in the third person, these seem to be the options. One is impossible, the other sinister.” During 1971 and 1972 she made thirty-three attempts to start the novel, abandoning each manuscript only pages in.
Eulogy for the Living, written over the course of four weeks, is the longest of those fragments. In its pages, Wolf recalls with crystalline precision the everyday details of her life as a middle-class grocer’s daughter, and the struggles within the family—struggles common to most families, but exacerbated by the rise of Nazism. And as Nazism fell, the Wolfs fled west, trying to stay ahead of the rampaging Red Army. Though Wolf abandoned this account, it stands, in fragmentary form, as a testament to her skill as a thinker, storyteller, and memorializer of humanity’s greatest struggles.