Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Absinthe Recommends: Books

We'll finish up the recommendations from Absinthe #14 with our book recommendations:

I Don’t Believe in Ghosts by Moikom Zeqo
Translated by Wayne Miller
BOA Editions, 2007, 160 pp.
This work publishes for the first time in English sixty-seven poems from Zeqo’s collection Meduza. Written between 1970 and 1974, the poems navigate archly between amusing (a line comparing the Eiffel Tower to a giraffe struck me as so true I laughed aloud) and poignant: several poems ruminate on that singular feeling of being lonely, including the thoughtful “An Explication of the word Loneliness.” There is much to appreciate here on a political scale (Meduza’s poems were written in part as a reaction to Albania’s policies of Social Realism), but what truly captivates are the poems about more quotidian acts, such as being in love and “wandering” (“Intimate”) or exploring what for Zeqo must be another everyday act: writing itself.  Over the course of the collection, Zeqo examines the way he works at metaphors, sheltering them (“Dusk”) or bringing them forth from his skin like suns (“From the Pores of My Skin”).  No matter what brings you to these pages, you will leave with the certainty that if for no one else but you Zeqo has created what he himself was searching for, “the poetry of the people.”

I’d Like by Amanda Michalopolou
Translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich
Dalkey Archive, 2008, 144 pp. 

There are countless examples of stories that focus on the theme of connection, where multiple plot lines all end in one place and where the characters are all revealed to be members of one family, etc.  The thirteen stories in Michalopolou’s collection also play with the idea of connection but in a unique way. Instead of combining neatly together, what might join them may be an object, like pointé shoes or a red beret; a relationship—sisters or a married couple; repeated names or lines. For example, the first two stories (“I’d Like” and “A Slight Uncontrolled Unease”) both begin with the exact opening phrase, but then go in widely different directions. What this technique does for Michalopolou’s stories is to create two intriguing paths that draw you ever deeper into the stories. First, an unintentional (or not) game has been created wherein you hunt each story for similarities (noting the many times you’ve read something about “yellow eyes”) and then flip through again to try and find more. Second, an atmosphere has been built over the collection of comfortable familiarity, that sense you’ve been here before—only someone has perhaps rearranged the furniture. In I’d Like Michalopolou crafts stories that are not only completely enjoyable on their own but read together offer a refreshing take on a familiar device. 

Toward the Endless Day: The Life of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel by Olga Lossky
Translated by Jerry Ryan
University of Notre Dame, 2010, 344 pp.
Orthodox Christian theologian Elisabeth Behr-Sigel embodied an ecumenical spirit—born of a protestant father and Jewish mother, part of an eastern faith yet living in Paris—and these factors contributed to a generosity and openness in her theological writings and dealings with people. She embraced the Orthodox faith at age 24, studied theology at a time when there were few women theologians, and died in 2007 at 98. This fascinating biography includes excerpts from Behr-Sigel’s journals and personal letters and anyone with an interest in ecumenism or twentieth-century European history will find much to enjoy.  

The Return of Král Majáles: Prague’s International Literary Renaissance, 1990-2010
Edited by Louis Armand
Litteraria Pragensia Books, 2010, 960 pp.
Armand collects the work of over ninety writers and translators working in Prague over the twenty years since the Velvet Revolution, including Michal Ajvaz, Hana Androniková, Sylva Fischerová, and Róbert Gál. As one might expect, the texts are diverse and demonstrate a range of influences and styles. Poetry and prose are richly supplemented with author portraits and other archival photos, along with a detailed bibliography.  The anthology takes its title from Allen Ginsberg’s election as “King of May” in a 1965 visit to the city, the poem he wrote as a result, and his return to Prague at the time of the revolution twenty-five years later.   

Thanks to Absinthe contributor Anne Marie Sumner (and an anonymous Absinthe editor) for these recommendations.

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