Call for Submissions: Michigan Quarterly Review Special Issue on Iran

The issue to be guest-edited by Kathryn Babyan, Associate Professor of Iranian History and Culture at the University of Michigan, “seeks to present a collective of voices and reflections born in the shadow of revolution. We especially encourage translations from Persian, Kurdish, Armenian, and Azeri languages spoken in Iran.”

Here’s the link to the journal’s submissions page. Work will be accepted through 30 June 2018.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Writer’s Kitchen: How To Let Yourself Fall From the Frying Pan Into the Fire, by Rosario Ferré

Translated by Diana L. Velez

Feminist Studies 12, no. 2 (Summer 1986)

Throughout time, women narrators have written for many reasons: Emily Bronte wrote to confirm the revolutionary nature of passion; Virginia Woolf wrote to exorcise her terror of madness and death; Joan Didion writes to discover what and how she thinks; Clarice Lispector discovered in her writing a reason to love and be loved. In my case, writing is simultaneously a constructive and a destructive urge, a possibility for growth  and change. I write to build myself word by word, to banish my terror of silence; I write as a speaking, human mask. With respect to words, I have much for which to be grateful. Words have allowed me to forge for myself a unique identity, one which owes its existence only to my own efforts. For this reason, I place more trust in the words I use than perhaps I ever did in my natural mother. When all else fails, when life becomes an absurd theater, I know the words are there, ready to return my confidence to me.

The Father in THE SUMMER BOOK

Self finds the utter lack of drama in everything the father in The Summer Book does so compelling. He reminds her a little of Will Parry in His Dark Materials: that combination of stoicism and steadfastness.

On p. 144, the little girl, Sophia, prays:

  • Dear God, let something happen. God, if you love me. I’m bored to death. Amen.

In answer to her prayers, a whopper of a storm hits the island.

  • “Wonderful,” the Grandmother said. “But the nets are out.”

Alone, the Father takes out his boat and heads to the point in high wind, to try and salvage their nets.

  • He did it to save his family.

He is literally the only person that his daughter and his mother have to depend on. And never once in this entire book (she’s almost to the end) does he utter a single line of dialogue. It is his stoic immovability, the sense of permanence he radiates, that adds yet another layer to this wonderful book!

This is the storm:

  • The seas breaking against the sheer outer side of the island had grown. One after the other, the waves rose up in their white immensity, to a tremendous height, and foam hissed against the rocks like the blows of a whip. Tall curtains of water flew across the island and sailed on west.

Self remembers how, a few pages ago, a boat came to the island. The father had gone off in a great hurry to meet it and never returned, even though the daughter waited up for him until the wee hours. When he does finally show up, he goes straight to bed. The whole next day, he has a headache and is unable to work. Self finds it so amusing that the girl calms only when her grandmother invents a story about how the father was kidnapped and given a sleeping potion (Does this story ring any bells? It sort of reminds self of Circe in The Odyssey)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

The Third Character in THE SUMMER BOOK

The third character on the island, who mostly doesn’t make an appearance, not for many pages, is the little girl’s father. He represents a powerful mystery. Why doesn’t he accompany the little girl on her island explorations? Where is his wife?

This mysterious man gradually assumes shape and definition, first from the mention of his worn bathrobe. His relatives try to throw it away but it comes floating back to the island, smelling strongly of seaweed, and then he wears it everyday the rest of that summer.

There’s another section, when he leaves the island to get supplies, and there’s a storm. He is delayed, and the grandmother has to talk the little girl into believing that he’s in no danger, while her eyes constantly scan the horizon. The moment the grandmother catches sight of a rim of white surf on the horizon (which is the father in his boat, powering through the storm, and drenched through), there is such a powerful relief in the grandmother, and in self.

It was blowing hard, and the sun was setting. She was far-sighted and saw the boat half an hour before it reached the island — a moustache of white foam that would appear at irregular intervals and sometimes vanish entirely.

A few sections later, a mysterious boat pulls up and beaches on the island. The father “puts on his pants” and runs to the shore to greet the visitors. He never comes back that night. The girl hears music coming from the boat and wants to go check it out, but her grandmother says they have to wait for the father to come and get them. They wait and wait, but of course he never does come, and the little girl is furious.

Who is this man? This mysterious figure who is always stuck in the house (unless he is putting on his pants to run towards visiting boats) and does not roam the island as his daughter and mother do?

p. 134:

The guest room was cool and quiet, and Papa sat working at his desk on the other side of the wall.

“I like it when he’s working,” Sophia said. “I always know he’s there.”

Self is enjoying this book so much; she regrets that she’s gotten close to the end.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

When Home Is an Island: THE SUMMER BOOK, pp. 104 – 105

Every day, Grandmother would walk around the island in order to keep track of what was coming up. If she found a piece of uprooted moss, she would poke it back where it belonged. Since she had a hard time getting on her feet again whenever she sat down, Grandmother had become very skillful with her stick. She looked like an immense sandpiper as she walked slowly along on her stiff legs, stopping often to turn her head this way and that to have a look at everything before she moved on.

THE SUMMER BOOK, p. 95

This book just keeps getting better and better. Self loves it.

p. 94: “Sophia’s father had a special bathrobe that he loved.”

Some of the relatives, arriving to give “the island a good cleaning,” decide that the bathrobe has outlived its usefulness and carry it down to the water to float away.

The robe, however, returns, borne by the waves and smelling of seaweed.

p. 95: “Papa wore virtually nothing else that whole summer. Then there was the spring when they discovered a family of mice had been living in the robe.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Rowing With Granddaughter: THE SUMMER BOOK, pp. 83 – 84

Again and again, self is lulled by the lovely prose into thinking this is a book about a gentle summer idyll. Then she realizes the grandmother is not gentle and is rather blunt. Here, she shows her granddaughter about when it is okay to trespass:

Toward the end of the week, Grandmother and Sophia took the dory out for a little row. When they came to the perch shallows, they decided to go on to Squire Skerry to look for seaweed, and once in the lagoon behind Squire Skerry, it was only a stroke of the oars to Blustergull Rock.

They see a sign: PRIVATE PROPERTY — NO TRESPASSING

“We’ll go ashore,” Grandmother said. She was very angry. Sophia looked frightened. “There’s a big difference,” her grandmother explained. “No well-bred person goes ashore on someone else’s island when there’s no one home. But if they put up a sign, then you do it anyway, because it’s a slap in the face.”

This part of The Summer Book is giving self all kinds of La Belle Sauvage feelz. It’s a real adventure.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Mood, the Sea: THE SUMMER BOOK, p. 67

  • The sea is always subject to unusual events; things drift in or run aground or shift in the night when the wind changes, and keeping track of all this takes experience, imagination, and unflagging watchfulness. It takes a good nose, to put it simply. The big events always take place far out in the skerries, and time is often of the essence. Only small things happen in among the islands, but these, too — the odd jobs that arise from the whims of the summer people — have to be dealt with. One of them wants a ship’s mast mounted on his roof, and another one needs a rock weighing half a ton, and it has to be round. A person can find anything if he takes the time, that is, if he can afford to look.

Such beautiful language. Thank you to Thomas Teal for his limpid translation.

In other news: self saw the documentary RBG today. A few things struck her:

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg has the greatest sense of style. Love her fishnet gloves. And the intricate judge’s collars.
  • She was so pretty.
  • Her foundation was a rock-solid marriage, which freed her up to focus on doing the law.
  • Her friendship with fellow Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia was the best.
  • When she was nominated for the Supreme Court, it was whispered about that she was too old (She was in her early 60s).
  • Some of her most ground-breaking dissenting opinions were written after she turned 70.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Moppy: THE SUMMER BOOK, p. 55

This book, by Finnish writer Tove Jansson, in a translation by Thomas Teal, is sheer delight. The only two characters are a six-year-old named Sophia and her grandmother (who sneaks cigarettes as much as she can). Their dialogue is so unsentimental, so unlike any other grandparent/child interaction she’s ever read. They treat each other as absolute equals. For example, when Sophia starts using the word “bloody” in her speech, her  grandmother takes it up, too.

One day, Sofia adopts a kitten, which she names Moppy:

p. 55: Moppy turned wild and rarely came into the house. He was the same color as the island — a light, yellowish-gray with striped shadings like granite, or like sunlight on a sand bottom.

Moppy turns out to be a lot more trouble than a six-year-old can handle:

Sophia: You know what? I wish Moppy had never been born. Or else that I’d never been born. That would have been better.

Grandmother:  So you’re still not speaking to each other?

Sophia: Not a word. I don’t know what to do. And if I do forgive him — what fun is that if he doesn’t even care?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

How a Friendship Can Be Ruined by Bad Hair: The Summer Book, p. 25

Self loves Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book (translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal). Loves, loves, loves. The prose is so simple, yet has such a magical quality.

A little girl (Sophie, who’s six) and her grandmother spend an entire summer on an island. They’re not the only ones on the island, of course. There are farmers, and also the girl’s father, who is always shut up in the house, working. The girl’s mother has just died. But there is no grief, just a series of snapshots of the girl, the grandmother, the island. Love it.

There’s a section called Berenice, about the first time Sophie invites a friend to the island: “a fairly new friend, a little girl whose hair she admired.”

The fragile bond is broken only a little while later:

Sophie: Well, that does it. She’s impossible. I got her to dive, but it didn’t help.

Grandmother: Did she really dive?

Sophie: Yes, really. I gave her a shove and she dived.

Grandmother: Oh. And then what?

Sophie: Her hair can’t take salt water. It looks awful. And it was her hair I liked.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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