Tag Archives: Laurent Seksik

Norman Mailer’s Summer Reading List

27 May
Norman Mailer @ Grant Park Bandshell, Chicago, 1968 Democratic Convention (photo: Robert Birnbaum)

Norman Mailer @ Grant Park Bandshell, Chicago, 1968 Democratic Convention (photo: Robert Birnbaum)

I have no doubt come late to the party—the beach/ summer reading lists having been proffered by the usual experts on beach/summer reading. I am not versed in this genre (though I can recall reading Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost and Foster Wallace’s magnum opus at a beach in Rincon Puerto Rico).Late, but not empty handed. Here’s a list (scroll to the bottom of this article if the name of the list confuses you):

The Light We Can’t See -Anthony Doerr

The Light We Can’t See -Anthony Doerr

The Light We Can’t SeeAnthony Doerr (Scribner)

Excellent narrative, riveting characters and the use of WWII Europe and Nazi depredations are not cliched.

Everything I Never Told You by  Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never told You -Celeste Ng(Penguin Press)

Ng’s debut novel about a teenager’s death and its reverberations in the family and community is nimbly told (no small feat with such a weighty subject.

The Man Who  Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura

The Man Who Loved Dogs-Leonardo Padura(FSG)

Trotsky, his assassin, The Spanish Civil War, Stalin and the Moscow show trials, an aging Cuban writer, two wolfhounds— its a far flung story (times and places) written with Carribbean alacrity.Don’t believe me? Here’s Ann Louise Bardach take:

A global epic set mostly in Havana, Barcelona, Moscow and Mexico City, Padura’s novel is grounded in a trifecta of storylines: We have the grim saga of Trotsky’s 11-year flight from Stalin; the recruitment and creation of an assassin in the form of Catalonian communist Ramón Mercader; and the marginalization of Iván Cárdenas Maturell, a Cuban novelist who learns early in his career the hazards of writing in his homeland.

The Exile’s Return by Elizabeth De Waal

The Exile’s Return by Elizabeth De Waal

The Exile’s Return-Elizabeth De Waal (Picador)

Adam Kirsch’s paean to Ms De Waal should move you. Or not:

…appearing now, as a historical document, it gains an additional interest, as Elisabeth de Waal’s imaginative response to her own exile…This is not, perhaps, a new story, but in The Exiles Return it is told with sharpness and authenticity.

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Fourth of July Creek– Smith Henderson (Ecco)

I am partial to American novels set outside urban cultures and with a minimum of consumer activities. Like this one, set in the Fly over zone.

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer

The Cairo Affair- Olen Steinhauer (St Martin’s

As sure-handed as Le Carre reporting on the activities of spooks and various secret police. A world normally Byzantine in its alliances and
fluidity of loyalties, this plot set in Cairo seems especially volatile

Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women's Prisons-  edited by Robin Levi and Ayalet Waldman

Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons- edited by Robin Levi and Ayalet Waldman

Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons (Voice of Witness)by Ayelet Waldman , Robin Levi (Editor)

In case you were charmed into seeing incarceration as a vacation by the Netflix series Orange is the New Black here’s a corrective. Or Christina Rathbone’s A World Apart Women,Prison and the World Behind Bars

They Don't Kill You Because They're Hungry, They Kill You Because They're Full    by Mark Bibbins

They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full by Mark Bibbins

They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full by Mark Bibbins (Copper Canyon)

Fishermen on Sea of Galilee

A citizen said, Every action
born out of pure spontaneity
is correct. It’s possible
he said corrupt but I was
eavesdropping. Correction:
minding my business: he was
performing, saying, also,
to his fellow citizens, I know
you agree with me on this.
Look, it’s autumn in our
hairlines and some smear
on the pavement’s been run
over so many times we can’t
tell whether or not it started
out as an animal.
My heaven is populated
with conures, llamas,
and adolescent bears
but is otherwise
fairly quiet. I’m done
looking for approbation
from people for whom I have
no respect and would respect
less if I met them.
Was this the sea they parted.
Understatement, so rarely
biblical: there is no quill pen
half as sinister as the lone
piece of penne in a dish
of farfalle. Today we rock
anonymity and tomorrow find
further evidence of same
dying in the comment fields.
Wake me when you can
tell me whether every taxi
must engage in a dialogue
with all previous taxis,
when you do something
impossible, when you leave
the party, when you take
my worst advice. This is,
friends, this was the sea.

Midnight  in Europe by Alan Furst

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (Random House)

Since I discovered Furst I have continued to read his regularly published and dependably entertaining and instructive war time “thrillers” I confess that was a brief period when I wasn’t entertained or instructed but the probability is high that was a shift in my attention or something even more subjective. But his latest opus, I can report is up to (my) snuff. Paris,1938 and the Spanish Civil War goings-on make for a great setting. And that infamous place where the Bulgarian waiter is shot is per Furst’s practice, cleverly insinuated into the plot.

Natchez Burning- Greg Iiles

Natchez Burning- Greg Iiles

Natchez Burning– Greg Iiles (William Morrow)

A densely plotted post racial novel set in Natchez—that’s in Mississippi for all you Yankees that is thick on Civil Rights Movement era history as well lots of things you didn’t know about Natchez. Frankly I thought it was about 200 pages too long (800 pages). Reportedly, this is the first volume of a trilogy

Death of The Black Haired Girl by Robert Stone

Death of The Black Haired Girl by Robert Stone

Death of The Black Haired Girl– Robert Stone (houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Robert Stone is the gold standard of American fiction. That’s it.

The Last Date by Laurent Seksik

The Last Date by Laurent Seksik

The Last Date by Laurent Seksik (Pushkin Press)

Writer Stefan Zweig has garnered lots of attention recently not the least because of Wes Anderson’s film Grand Hotel which in turn reportedly owes something to The Impossible Exile by George Prochnick (Other Press). I like this novel about Zweig’s last few months of life very much

A Permanent Member of The  Family by Russell Banks

A Permanent Member of The Family by Russell Banks

A Permanent Member go there Family by Russell Banks (Ecco)

Russell Banks is also the gold standard of American Fiction.

Kill Anything that Moves- Nick Turse

Kill Anything that Moves- Nick Turse

Kill Anything that Moves– Nick Turse (Picador)

Sorry to saddle this book under the rubric of Important book but if you are in doubt about whether the perpetrators of the Indochinese Debacle were/are war criminals a few chapters of Turse’s exhaustively researched
account should shake up your belief in American moral superiority.

The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams  by Ben Bradlee JR

The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee JR

The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee JR (Little Brown)

See my chat with Ben Bradlee

Euphoria   by  Lily King

Euphoria by Lily King

Euphoria by Lily King (Grove Atlantic)

Author Alice Greenway expiates

Euphoria is a love story set against the scramble by anthropologists in 1930s New Guinea to record or map the traditions and beliefs of societies coming apart under the brutal onslaught of miners, traders, missionaries and colonialists. Lily King writes with astonishing insight and authority about a number of New Guinea tribes and particularly about their distinct gender relations. At the same time, she delves into the intellectual flights and passions of three anthropologists – as complex, rivalrous and brutal as any of the cultures they study. Euphoria is a brilliantly written book and entirely fascinating from start to finish. The character of Nell Stone, slight, wracked with fever and insect bites, with a slight limp from a fall in the jungle and large cuscus-like eyes, capable of joy and huge intellect, is extraordinary.

 American Romantic by Ward Just

American Romantic by Ward Just

American Romantic by Ward Just (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Ward Just is a dependable novelist who chronicles both remote and familiar pockets of American Life, in this case the life of an American foreign service officer who’s brief tryst with a German nurse in Vietnam seems to haunt him through his years of world wide diplomatic postings to his pleasant but solitary retirement in France

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything  by Barbara Ehrenreich

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich

Living With A Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything by Barbara Ehrenreich (Twelve)

Who doesn’t love Barbara Ehrenreich‘s smart and compassionate views on the world? This,Living with a Wild God, would be her most personal book and reaches into an area that many people who spend time thinking, think many hours about. To quote one review

The questions in the world may be infinite, but perhaps the answers are few. And however we define that mystery, there’s no escaping our essential obligation to it, for it may, as Ehrenreich writes, “be seeking us out.”

“When I am asked what’s on my summer reading list… I read the all year long” Norman Mailer

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The Gaunt Spectre of Modernism*

5 Mar

I first became acquainted with the Pushkin Press when I received a newly published compendium of short fiction by Stefan Zweig and as it turns out, they also publish a number of other titles by Zweig including a recent biography and a also a haunting novel by Laurent Seksik about the last months of Zweig’s life (and death) in Brazil.

As these things happen, I found a copy of The Specter of Alexander Wolf by Gaito Gazdanov amongst the omenous accumulations of books that festoon the flat surfaces of my apartment. I don’t think I read about it because only the daily newspaper from that wonderful metropolis, Minneapolis chose to review it. On the other, hand the ever alert and fastidious Michael Ortofer at the Complete Review provided his commendable customary due diligence

The Last Days by Laurent Seksik

The Last Days by Laurent Seksik

Nicholas Lezard echoes my sentiments,

Another masterpiece from someone I’d never heard of before published by Pushkin Press; how many more do they have up their sleeve? This time it is by Gaito Gazdanov, a Russian émigré novelist whose work was not published in his native country until the collapse of the communist regime.

Suffice it to say that there is a lot going in this nearly 200 page novel detective story, a sly take on the life of a free lance writer, a existential rumination and even a love story.

It should not go unsaid that Pushkin Press exhibits a commendable respect for the paper and ink book by using good paper, crisp design and typography to produce handsome tomes. No small gesture in a tenuous, modern book world.

Currently reading Havana Black by Leonardo Padura (Bitter Lemon Press)

* I found this phrase in Rebecca Schuman’s rumination on Kafka, Susan Bernofsky and Jay Cantor’s new opus, Forgiving the Angel (Knopf) and like it so much that I expropriated it for the title of this piece that luckily has something to do with modernism ( whatever that is).

Yesterday’s World: A Stefan Zweig Festshrift (Nov 28)

29 Nov
Stefan Zweig caricature

Stefan Zweig caricature

The titanic edifice of information (not to confused with the Tower of Babel)constructed over the millennia of human history is now instantaneously available to those privileged to have access to current technology. One consequence of this is an overflowing dustbin of history—it seems that the more there is to remember the more there is to ignore or forget. But for two small (but mighty)publishers,Pushkin Press and New York Review Books, Viennese writer Stefan Zweig, who was born amidst the splendor of late 19th century high culture and died as the horrors of mid 20th century enveloped the world, might be consigned to dusty book stacks occasionally accessed by a dwindling population of scholars.Leo Carey in the New Yorker</em comments:

Zweig’s death arguably marked the high point of his literary standing: to most English-speaking readers, he is now little more than a name.

The Kraus Project by Jonathan Franzen

The Kraus Project by Jonathan Franzen

Upon seeing Jonathan Franzen’s recent The Kraus Project(Farrar Giroux Straus)it occurred to me that perhaps the wrong fin-de siecle Viennese Jewish intellectual was being rescued from the aforementioned dustbin of history. Now it is the case that for a time in my impressionable youth I was a fan of Karl Kraus whose iconoclastic aphorismswere nourishment to hungry, young dissidents (“How is the world ruled and led to war? Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print.” Or “A writer is someone who can make a riddle out of an answer.” Or, “Psychoanalysis is that mental illness for which it regards itself as therapy). Michael Hoffman, poet, scholar, translator< writes authoritatively on Kraus and the middle European culture and in the process puts Franzen and his co-conspirators in their places:

It is rare for Kraus to be called anything less than brilliant, even though it’s sometimes said with a there-now-go-away-please undertone. I find his writing too artificial, too conniving, and above all too squalid to rate brilliant. Surely nothing brilliant would accommodate as much opacity (or shameless triviality…

Another commentator, Jacob Mikanowski,also has fun with Franzen:

.

..the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid of cultural criticism drawn together across the gulf of a century to take on all comers. It doesn’t quite work out that way though. Reading Kraus’s sinuous, hectoring, almost impenetrable prose alongside Franzen’s peevish, ill-spirited footnotes is a strange and rather discordant experience, like receiving a deep tissue massage while being spat on from a great height.

Portrait of Karl Kraus by Erich Lessing/Art Resource

Portrait of Karl Kraus by
Erich Lessing/Art Resource

But I digress.

Stefan Zweig was born in Vienna in 1881 (November 28) to wealthy Jewish parents “My mother and father were Jewish only through accident of birth”, Zweig later wrote. He studied philosophy at the University of Vienna and in 1904 earned a doctoral degree writing his thesis on “The Philosophy of Hippolyte Taine”. Though not an observant Jew, he did write repeatedly on Jews and Jewish themes and though he was an internationalist and espoused pan-europeanism, he was friendly with Zionism’s founder Theodore Herzel when Herzel was editor of the Vienna’s influential Neue Freie Presse and published some of Zweig’s early writing. For a time, in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, Zweig was the most translated writer in Europe. For example, he was able to fill Carnegie Hall and among other things spoke at Sigmund Freud’s funeral. Zweig’s pacifism saw him serving in the Archives of the Ministry of War during WWI and he maintained a commitment to pacifism his entire life. Zweig married Friderike Maria von Winternitz in 1920 and though they divorced in 1938 she remained an important figure in his life, writing a memoir Married to Stefan Zweig after his death. Helen Epstein points out:

… I find Friderike’s memoir an invaluable document. In The World of Yesterday, Stefan aimed to write a memoir of his generation; in Married to Stefan Zweig, Friderike was interested in portraying the man, filling in details in her memoir that Stefan left out of his. Her book has provided a template for subsequent biographers, including Donald Prater, who often drew verbatim from it in European of Yesterday (1972) and Oliver Matuschek in Three Lives: A Biography of Stefan Zweig (2011).

Friderike  & Stefan Zweig( Getty Images)

Friderike & Stefan Zweig( Getty Images)

Zweig fled Austria following the rise of the Nazis, living in London later moving to Bath when England entered the fray(one of the cruel absurdities of the war,Zweig was classified an enemy alien. As the Nazis conquered Western Europe, Zweig and his second wife, Lotte, traveled to New York — he briefly resided in Ossining NY, and shortly thereafter (Aug 1940) he further removed himself to Brazil, to the then backwater town of Petrópolis. On February 23, 1942, the Zweigs were found dead in their bed, holding hands. Nearly a decade of rising totalitarianism , escalating depression , overpowering feelings of hopelessness had taken its toll:

I think it better to conclude in good time and in erect bearing a life in which intellectual labour meant the purest joy and personal freedom the highest good on Earth.

News of Zweig’s death was carried on the front page of the New York Times.

Three Lives: A Biography of Stefan Zweig by Oliver Matuschek

Three Lives: A Biography of Stefan Zweig by Oliver Matuschek

Three Lives: A Biography of Stefan Zweig by Oliver Matuschek,translated by Allan Blunden(Pushkin Press)

This recent biography gets good marks for a conscientious account of the details of Zweig’s live and lesser ratings for his indifference to Zweig’s body of work.. Stoddard Martin complains,

…An archivist and documentary film-maker,[Matuschek] this youngish man musters sources and facts but has neither the maturity nor the imagination to take the kind of speculative leaps that Zweig-as-biographer rarely shied from. He gets something of the “lebenskurve” which his subject always sought in his subjects but fails to show how the “internal soul blazes and glows” . He tells us that Thomas Mann suspected a sexual kink had resurfaced in Zweig which he could not face…but its non-specificity leads the biographer only to muse on unsubstantiated rumours of Zweig being a serial exhibitionist.The most credible explanation for suicide may be a feeling of exhaustion of powers and/or sense that the best words had been written and more could only mean less – something like what drove Hemingway to a similar act at the same age nearly two decades on.

Nietszche by Stefan Zweig

Nietszche by Stefan Zweig

Nietzsche by Stefan Zweig, translated by Will Stone (Hesperus Press)

This is a new translation of Zweig’s well-regarded biographical essay on the much misunderstood philosopher. In fact, Zweig could be said to have perfected the genre which has become more popular in recent times (see Penguin Lives series and Harper’s Eminent Lives as well as Amazon’s forthcoming Icons series).

The Struggle with the Daemon: Holderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche

The Struggle with the Daemon: Holderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche

The Struggle with the Daemon: Holderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche by Stefan Zweig, translated by Eden and Cedar Paul(Pushkin Press)

Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman

Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman

Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman by Stefan Zweig,translated by Cedar Paul, Eden Paul(Pushkin Press )

Decisive Moments in History: Twelve Historical Miniatures by Stefan Zweig(Ariadne Press)

Casanova, Stendhal, Tolstoy: Master Builders of the Spirit: Adepts in Self-Portraiture by Stefan Zweig, Laurence Mintz (Introduction)(Transaction Publishers)

Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky: Master Builders of the Spirit by Stefan Zweig,Laurence Mintz (Introduction)(Transaction Publishers)

Mary Stuart by Stefan Zweig,translated by Eden Paul, Cedar Paul(Pushkin Press)

Magellan by Stefan Zweig, translated by Eden Paul, Cedar Paul(Pushkin Press)

The World of Yesterday   by Stefan Zweig

The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell (University of Nebraska Press)

Zweig’s memoir of about Austria at the beginning of the twentieth century which was seen alternately as the work of a “name dropping fake” or as one reviewer commends, “There are cameo appearances from almost all the major writers of the era (and quite a few musicians too): Gorky, Rilke, Hoffmansthal, Joyce and countless others appear, but, with typical generosity, Zweig prefers to dwell on those whom he fears posterity will overlook.”

The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig

The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig

The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweigby Stefan Zweig,translated by Anthea Bell(Pushkin Press)

While Stefan Zweig wrote numerous biographies he wrote only one novel, Beware of Pity) Collected Stories presents 22 of Zweigs short fictions and these have been well published in a handsome 700 page volume with a bright orange colored cover.

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig, translated by Joel Rotenberg , Peter Gay (Introduction)(NYRB Classics) also known as The Royal Game

Rachel Cohen who wrote on of my favorite books A Chance Meeting reviewed this famous novella by Zweig. Cohen recently published a biographical essay on Bernard Berenson andhas a novel and a book on painting in the works.

The Governess and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell(Pushkin Press)

Confusion by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell, George Prochnik (Introduction)(NYRB Classics)

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig, translated by Phyllis Blewitt and Trevor Blewitt ,Joan Acocella (Introduction)( NYRB Classics)

Journey Into the Past by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell, Andre Aciman (Introduction)( NYRB Classics)

Fear by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell(Pushkin Press)

Amok and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig,translated by Anthea Bell(Pushkin Press)

Stefan and Lotte Zweig's South American Letters New York, Argentina and Brazil, 1940-42

Stefan and Lotte Zweig’s South American Letters
New York, Argentina and Brazil, 1940-42

Stefan and Lotte Zweig’s South American Letters : New York, Argentina and Brazil, 1940-42 by Stefan Zweig, Lotte Zweig edited by Darién J. Davis & Oliver Marshall(Continuum)

Brazil: A Land of the Future by Stefan Zweig (Ariadne Press)

Did Zweig write this hagiography to lubricate the road to his exile? Who knows, but it is a departure from the main body of his work.

The Last Days by Laurent Seksik

The Last Days by Laurent Seksik

This new novel focuses on the end game of the increasingly tortured Zweig and draws heavily on the accounts of the Zweigs’s last six months in Brazil. Skillfully, he includes the young Lotte’s interior fears and insecurities a portrayal that echoes the increasing dissolution of her husband Laurent Seksick is a Parisian radiologist who continues to practice medicine. Reportedly plans are afoot to make a film based on The Last Days .

THE IMPOSSIBLE EXILE BY GEORGE PROCHNIK

THE IMPOSSIBLE EXILE BY GEORGE PROCHNIK

The Impossible Exile by George Prochnik(Other Press)

George Prochnik (In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of NoiseDoubleday) has taken it upon himself to write a biography of Zweig in which he suggests some crucial connection with Zweig’s tortured life, with a spotlight on his life in exile. This book will be published in May 2014 (if you’re anxious to read it, I will send you my copy).

Currently reading Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football by Nicholas Dawidoff (Little Brown)