Idra Novey's characters are hilariously impulsive, terribly misguided, hopelessly lost, relentlessly determined, and immediately sympathetic. An incisive meditation on the relationship between literature and life

Idra Novey, Ways to Disappear, Little, Brown and Company, 2016.

A debut novel about the disappearance of a famous Brazilian novelist and the young translator who turns her life upside down to follow her author's trail.
Deep in gambling debt, the celebrated Brazilian writer Beatriz Yagoda is last seen holding a suitcase and a cigar and climbing into an almond tree. She abruptly vanishes.
In snowy Pittsburgh, her American translator Emma hears the news and, against the wishes of her boyfriend and Beatriz's two grown children, flies immediately to Brazil. There, in the sticky, sugary heat of Rio, Emma and her author's children conspire to solve the mystery of Yagoda's curious disappearance and staunch the colorful demands of her various outstanding affairs: the rapacious loan shark with a zeal for severing body parts, and the washed-up and disillusioned editor who launched Yagoda's career years earlier.

"Ways to Disappear is unlike any novel you've ever read. It's a lush page-turner, a journey into the unique madness of modern Brazil, and a joyful ride into the crazed passion of literary creation itself. Idra Novey is a wonder of a writer. She's supremely erudite and funny, and in this amazing first novel she takes on subjects as diverse as sex, publishing and butterflies with equal brio and wit." ―Hector Tobar

"I fell immediately under the spell of this short, strange, glorious novel. When Beatriz Yagoda, famous writer, international treasure, and mother of two, disappears into a tree in Copacabana and takes an arboreal leave of absence from the world, her worried translator, Emma, takes it upon herself to track Beatriz down. In addition to being a sui generis detective story, Emma's quest to find her author is also a metaphysical journey along the fluid coastlines of life and art. Novey gives us a kaleidoscopic vision of a full universe and of her character's devious hearts."―Karen Russell

"If this novel were two hundred times longer, I'd happily read nothing else for the next year. But in this reading, I so dreaded the end I doled out its last pages nearly one sentence at a time for days... With all its shimmering brilliance and insight, vividly drawn, beguiling characters, a knowing, unexoticized Brazil, and unabashed storytelling, Ways to Disappear is the most sublime novel I've read in a long time."―Francisco Goldman

"Lit by luminous moments and humming with snatches of fever dream, Idra Novey's Ways to Disappear offers an acute and surprising exploration of the ways in which we do appear to one another: the strange tributaries that lead us toward intimacy alongside the sacrifices that this intimacy compels. It's a novel that questions what will constitute us: Is it what we do or what we imagine doing? The things we have or the things we long for? In its treatment of translation as a necessary deformation and an act of unexpected love, it translates these abstract questions into a narrative at once playful and chilling. It's impossible to put this book down, or to shake its residue once you've finished it."―Leslie Jamison

"With tremendous intelligence and wit, Ways to Disappear up-ends all the misleading memes about magical realism and in the process makes its own very real and unprecedented magic; this is a fantastic book."―Rivka Galchen

"It's not often you encounter a novel that's unlike anything you've read, but Idra Novey's spare, funny, and moving Ways to Disappear is just that. I loved this novel and would have gulped it down in a single afternoon if I hadn't also wanted to stop and savor each sentence. Equal parts detective story, madcap comedy, and exploration of art and identity, it drew me in, charmed me, made me laugh and made me think. While under its spell, I just kept wondering how something so elegant and blazingly smart could be so much fun."―Ted Thompson

"Ways to Disappear centers on the complicated and mysterious relationship between author and text and reader and writer. Idra Novey has given us a first rate novel of ideas, a book that is also funny, poignant, and profound."―Darcey Steinke

"A fast-paced, supremely engaging story of characters with good intentions who quickly get in over their heads . . . Novey's characters are hilariously impulsive, terribly misguided, hopelessly lost, relentlessly determined, and immediately sympathetic. An incisive meditation on the relationship between literature and life, a reflection on the cumulative result of everyday decisions, and a dazzling, truly memorable work of humor and heart."―Booklist

A famous novelist’s disappearance upends the life of her American translator.
Novey's surreal debut begins as a mystery: legendary Brazilian writer Beatriz Yagoda has inexplicably climbed into an almond tree with a cigar and a suitcase and has not been seen since. Upon receiving the news—is she aware, an unfamiliar emailer wants to know, that her author has been missing for five days?—translator Emma Neufeld puts her life in Pittsburgh on hold and hops a flight to Rio de Janeiro to join the search, much to the chagrin of her sweetly dull boyfriend. On the ground in Rio, the situation quickly begins to clarify: Beatriz Yagoda is not only a serious literary novelist, but also a serious online poker player who now owes an angry loan shark half a million dollars, or else. And so, together with Yagoda’s adult children, Raquel (practical) and Marcus (overwhelmingly handsome), Emma embarks on a madcap chase to track down the missing author while fending off the increasingly impatient shark. Meanwhile, Yagoda’s publisher, Roberto Rocha, burned out by a sea of lesser manuscripts and desperate for another one of hers, finds himself equally entangled: he doesn’t know any more about her whereabouts than Emma and the rest, but he’s been the one responding to her secret requests for cash, and—more importantly—he’s the one with the means to pay off her debts. Stylish, absurd, sometimes romantic, and often very funny, the novel is as much about the writing process as it is about the high-stakes plot. And if it doesn’t always add up to more than the sum of its parts—like a dream, the book is almost overwhelmingly vivid when you’re in it, and the details dissipate quickly when you’re not—taken piece by piece, it’s a tour de force.
Delightful and original. ―Kirkus

Poet and translator Novey’s briskly paced first novel is a clever literary mystery and a playful portrait of the artist as a young translator. Novey depicts her heroine, Emma, becoming embroiled in the life of an enigmatic Brazilian author, Beatriz Yagoda, whose books she has translated for years. When Beatriz, last seen puffing on a cigar and perched on a tree branch with a suitcase, goes missing, Emma leaves Pittsburgh, Pa., and her stick-in-the-mud fiancé behind to fly to Rio and find Beatriz, the author of works “so strange and spare that it felt like a whispered, secret history of the world.” Emma is convinced that these works, along with a cryptic, unfinished manuscript left behind, could elucidate the mystery of Beatriz’s whereabouts. The search is conducted alongside Beatriz’s two adult children, one who resents the “gangly tourist” and the other who seduces her, and it has its share of violence and romance—it reads like an Ali Smith novel with a fun Brazilian noir vibe. But underlying these comic noir elements is an eloquent meditation on the art and anxiety of translation, as well as a story about literature as a means of revelation and concealment: who ultimately knows more about the secretive missing woman, the translator intimately familiar with her writing or the children who have never finished any of her books? Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. - Publishers Weekly

Ways to Disappear is a beckoning mix of comedy and noir, romance and violence. Perhaps above all else, it is a love letter to the art of translation. That most particular, intimate act is threaded throughout, and the question arises again and again: how do you know a person? Through words, or through blood? And aren’t relationships between people translations themselves, in a sense? The epigraph to the novel is a quote from Edmond Jabès, “For a time we became the same word. It could not last.” That singular moment.
Idra Novey has translated, among other authors, Clarice Lispector, widely considered to be Brazil’s greatest modern writer and the recipient of much attention over the last few years, with new translations of her work published by New Directions and the 2009 critically acclaimed biography by Ben Moser, Why this World. When asked about the relationship of Lispector to the missing author at the heart of her debut novel, Novey said Beatriz Yagoda “is definitely not Clarice Lispector but was inspired by my relationship in my head with this author I had made for myself,” the version of Lispector Novey has imagined communicating with, in the absence of the author’s live presence.
Beatriz Yagoda is a preeminent Brazilion novelist who climbs up a tree in Rio, suitcase in hand, cigar in mouth, and disappears. Her American translator, Emma, hears the news in snowy Pittsburgh, where she is very much not interested in planning a marriage to her fiancé Miles, and jumps on a plane. She doesn’t question that the news arrives in an email from a man she has never heard mention of before, Flamenguinho. Miles protests her decision, citing practicalities like needing to save money for the wedding. But Emma “knew Beatriz too intimately not to go and help now. What if no one else thought of the scene in one of Beatriz’s earliest stories with the warden who disappears into a tree?”
The humor is sharp and tender in this line, and throughout the entire book. The form of the novel is itself playful and clever. Brief chapters spliced with emails, and definitions of words according to Emma’s use of them (“Permission” is partly defined as: “Formal consent, as in: A translator must acquire permission to publish a story consisting of words that are not her own but that also incidentally are.”) There is the occasional wink to Lispector, but it’s just that. Novey’s debut has a warmth and humor all her own.
Emma is often slightly ridiculous and seemingly clueless, but Novey doesn’t hang her out to dry. In a recent interview with Francisco Goldman, Novey says her intention was “to write a particular kind of North American naiveté with a sense of humor, and without condemning it. To just understand it for what it is.” Emma’s wits are about her and she needs them, for from the first it’s clear that neither this trip to Rio nor the search for her author are at all what she had in mind. Flamenguinho is a loan shark, after $600,000 he claims Beatriz owes him in gambling debt. As he threatens Emma with violence if she doesn’t come up with the money from the sales of Beatriz’s work, she doesn’t feel it’s “the time to explain that Elsewhere Press was just a woman named Judie in upstate New York and various interns from a small university nearby.” And that Emma and Beatriz each only make $500 per work. Not quite ransom money.
Of the various scenarios in which she’d imagined herself in Rio, receiving a threat of this nature was not one of them. She’d also never imagined her author as someone who would conceal an addiction, and certainly not to gambling. She’d translated every emotion Beatriz had ever written. They’d discussed hundreds of words and why Beatriz had chosen them over others . . . If she couldn’t find Beatriz, she couldn’t find anyone.
Only much later in the novel does Emma question her knowledge of Beatriz: “In the nearly ten years that Emma had spent translating Beatriz, it had never occurred to her to consider whether her author’s body possessed as many complicated secrets as her fiction did. But why wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it have to?”
The action of the novel is presented in a fluid series of moments; things proceed at a brisk pace, but we still soak in the languor of the heat, of the unraveling of stories, of intimacies. That languorous heat is its own character, its presence pronounced from Emma’s first steps off the plane. She can already “feel her dress adhering to her arms and lower back. After so much winter, the sticky sensation, the rising odors were glorious. To arrive in Rio was to remember that one had a body and brought it everywhere.”
After her meeting with Flamenguinho, Emma proceeds to Beatriz’s apartment to see her children, steely Raquel and beautiful Marcus. The former is skeptical of this gambling story, but a search on their mother’s computer reveals that the torrid tale is true, and far worse than they could have anticipated.
Raquel scoffs at Emma’s belief that she can help because she knows Beatriz’s words, and has her own take:
When people asked what it was like to be the daughter of someone who came up with such peculiar stories, Raquel told them the truth. She’d never read her mother’s books. She had no patience for the illusion that you could know someone because you know her novels. What about knowing what a writer had never written down—wasn’t that the real knowledge of who she was?
Emma may have translated every emotion her author had ever written, but Raquel has had to find a means of understanding her mother’s silences and indirect communications her whole life. Marcus himself, we learn later, has never really read her work either. “I’ve never finished any one of my mother’s books…I knew her books were all in the apartment, but so was she. It never felt right to read her when I could hear her in the next room. Or maybe I wasn’t ready to know what she said in them. He shrugged. Or it was just laziness.”
Yet Raquel shows the particularly intimate way she knows and, even if she doesn’t see it as such, understands her mother:
Every six or seven years her mother produced a book. Of all the unreliable things about her mother, this pattern had remained unchanged. It was as true to her mother’s mysterious nature as it was of a palm to produce coconuts.
Even if she never read them, Raquel had appreciated her mother’s books for the sureness of their arrival, for proving that her mother was a functioning person, and despite the reputed darkness people found so alarming in her work, in person her mother was reassuring.

While Emma thinks she has a clue as to where Beatriz is hiding from one of her stories and heads to a nearby island with Marcus in tow, Raquel remains home, positive her mother wouldn’t be anywhere near Rio. “If her mother was hiding on an island, Raquel was certain it would be one much farther away. Ilha Grande was too close to Rio and full of bourgeois bohemians. Her mother wouldn’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of bobos in flip-flops smoking pot while they texted on their iPhones.” (Would anyone?)
Raquel’s hunch is confirmed by a letter Beatriz sends to a man named Roberto Rocha, her first publisher and forever dedicated editor. He comes from a wealthy family, and it is to him that Beatriz writes, under the names of her characters, asking him for money to pay for her hotel in Bahia.
The action unfolds seamlessly in a series of episodes that jump between the principal characters, though we don’t enter Beatriz’s own mind until almost the end; we only see her through others’ impressions and snippets of her writing. Novey not only thus builds her portraits, but gets at an element of relationships and time, ways of knowing a person, a writer, through her own language and that of others’. Meanwhile, Emma and Marcus turn up no clues on the island, but the heat and the attractiveness of Marcus overwhelm Emma’s fidelity to her fiancé. They begin an affair, making fodder for the Brazilian tabloids that are closely covering the disappearance of their beloved author, whom they refer to as South African even though, as Raquel remarks to herself, Beatriz came to Brazil when she was two. (Alluding to biographers’ noting that Lispector, no matter that she considered herself fully Brazilian, migrated from Ukraine, though for years there was a haziness as to exactly how old she was at the time.) Raquel isn’t surprised about the development between Marcus and Emma, just further annoyed by her presence. The antagonism continues, even as they are forced to work together not only on Beatriz’s trail, but also to rescue Marcus when he is kidnapped by Flamenguinho and held for ransom.
All is far from lost, as Emma proves her steadfastness, while Raquel is devastated and for the first time seems to lose some control. And yet Raquel also found the key to her brother’s rescue: while digging thought Beatriz’s computer, she discovered the final manuscript her mother was working on, which is not only the first thing she’s read by her mother, but it also seems to hold an answer to a lingering question about who her father really is. However, while Raquel discovers the manuscript, it is Emma who has the bold savvy to bargain with Rocha for the ransom money in exchange for it. She knows its worth and understands his desire for Beatriz’s words, because she shares it.
Rocha is also Novey’s means of getting at another side of publishing – the struggle of a small independent publishing house in an age of corporatized publishers, as well as the struggle of the true (and perhaps idealized) editor who has, in a sense, lived and toiled for his one great author. Rocha is a wealthy snob, but he is an editor through and through. The women ask for a lot of money to pay for Marcus’s freedom, and while Rocha imagines the complaints of his lover, he thinks to himself, “but what was money for if not to halt the mutilation of some boy’s face and his possible death? What was the point of being an editor if he didn’t have a manuscript like this one in front of him, if his days contained nothing but enervating sentences that risked nothing, asked nothing, did nothing but require ink in a book that generated no real emotion, no genuine unease, not even from the editor who published it?” (A passage that will likely resonate with many members of a certain branch of publishing.)
As we follow the characters through mounting threats, ever-higher stakes, the realization of threatened violence and the mystery of Beatriz, each of them has his and her role in the fate of the novel – ultimately in the way each person knows Beatriz is how they find her, but also how they find themselves, and each other.
There’s a joy in discovering a richness to what at first seems perhaps to be just a lighthearted caper. Embroidered into the theme of translation and the plot itself are questions of the role of the translator—Emma constantly is both at the center of the action and yet understands when she must be silently present, yet never disappear. During the scene where she and Raquel bargain with Rocha for the ransom money, her role as intermediary plays out: “With both chairs occupied, Emma was left hovering slightly to the side of the conversation. It was not an unfamiliar position or one without benefits. Present but unacknowledged, she was under no pressure to speak. This didn’t mean she couldn’t, however. Or that, timed right, her influence couldn’t prove significant, even pivotal.”
There is also a twist to her usual role, for as all of this is unfolding, in moments of great panic and anxiety, without a book to read, Emma begins to write her own story, of a translator on trial, who can only be saved by a defense mounted by the author herself. Emma’s writing isn’t just a meditation on her role as translator, but also serves to “steady herself with a little fantasy, to disappear for just a moment into the relief of make-believe – into the plea hidden in every fiction for immortality.” Until now Portuguese was her escape from her life in Pittsburgh with Miles; in Brazil, her escape is her own words.
For all this celebration and investigation of language, however, Novey also shows there are moments where language breaks down, when words cannot be found, and blood cannot fill the gap. Emma’s communication with Miles has broken down completely by the time he shows up in her hotel room and their relationship is effectively over. When Emma and Raquel rescue Marcus, the form of prose is literally broken up, in a scene of chaotic poetry and violence. When Beatriz finally sends word via Rocha for Raquel to visit her on an island that is indeed far from Rio, the mother-daughter reunion is at once both intimate and distant–the words that might bring them together aren’t spoken, only read by the reader.
And yet, there is hope—the end of the novel witnesses that “singular moment.” Ultimately, it is Beatriz’s words that finally bring Emma and Raquel together, spoken aloud, which reveals another aspect of Novey’s love letter – not only to translation, but also to the rhythms of language itself. Translation is a written activity but there is also the translation of communication—when language on the page literally has life breathed into it, and exists with varieties of cadence.
In the denouement of the novel’s final chapters, Emma is alone in her hotel room, thinking about how she worked through the translations of Beatriz’s novels—
With her translations, she’d learned to type for long stretches without ever looking at the screen. She’d keep her face turned to Beatriz’s book, propped open beside her on the desk, or she’d stare out the window and trust her fingers to key in the words as they occurred to her. When she looked back over what she’d typed, there was a kind of magic in seeing that her hands had indeed accurately translated what had come into her mind into sentences on the screen. There was no reason to believe that her fingers wouldn’t comply with a similar kind of magic if the words she was typing up happened to be her own.
Translation is not always such magical work of course; Novey says so when describing her experience of translating Lispector, who passed away well before she translated her novel The Passion According to G.H.: “You can ask a question but you don’t get an answer. The author just stares at you and says nothing and you wonder if the best thing to do would be to get up and run out of the room.”
Still, Novey has beautifully evoked a sense of what it’s like to exist, for better or worse, as Emma herself puts it, “in the vapor between languages,” and while Emma questions the worth of her own writing, it’s clear there’s no question as to the worth of Novey’s, whose fingers have produced a novel that will leave you in a glow, and perhaps yearning for that intimate and singular moment. - Lauren Goldenberg

What's the last novel you read that revolved around a translator? I couldn't think of any, though a Google search reminded me that Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov sometimes worked as a translator, and the narrator chasing his elusive muse in Mario Vargas Llosa's The Bad Girl was an interpreter at UNESCO.
Idra Novey, an acclaimed poet and translator of Spanish and Portuguese literature, has written a debut novel that's a fast-paced, beguilingly playful, noirish literary mystery with a translator at its center. Ways to Disappear explores the meaning behind a writer's words — the way they can both hide and reveal deep truths. It begins with a famously unpredictable, cigar-smoking, 60-something Brazilian writer, Beatriz Yagoda, who goes missing — and the devoted young American translator who drops everything in snowy Pittsburgh, including her loyal but crushingly boring longtime boyfriend, to fly down to Rio to join in the search.
The missing writer's daughter, Raquel, isn't exactly thrilled to have Emma Neufeld show up, claiming superior knowledge just because she's intimately familiar with every line of Beatriz Yagoda's books. Raquel has never read them, but she has "no patience for the illusion that you could know someone because you knew her novels. What about knowing what a writer had never written down—wasn't that the real knowledge of who she was?" This is one of many intriguing questions Novey's novel pursues in its quest for the missing author.
It doesn't take long for Emma, Raquel, and Raquel's dashing, sexy younger brother Marcus to discover the reason for Beatriz's disappearance; that's part of the setup for an ensuing game of cat and mouse which puts them all in danger (and which I'll leave for readers to discover for themselves).
Novey doesn't let any moss grow under her fugitive writer or her narrative. Ways to Disappear proceeds briskly in short, punchy chapters interspersed with gossipy news bulletins from Radio Globo, increasingly desperate emails from Emma's bewildered boyfriend back in Pittsburgh, and the word-obsessed translator's arch parsing of key terms, presented in dictionary form. Among these: "Promise ... 2. A verb used to assure a certain outcome, as in, With time, a translator gets used to promising the impossible the way a loan shark gets used to promising carnage."
Novey's novel delivers on its promises in so many ways. Yes, there's carnage, but there's also exuberant love, revelations of long-buried, unhappy secrets, ruminations about what makes a satisfying life, a publisher's regrets about moral compromises in both his work and his use of his family wealth and connections, and an alternately heartfelt and wry portrait of the satisfactions and anxieties of the generally underappreciated art of translation. Debating whether to clean up her hotel room to hide some incriminating evidence, Emma muses, "In translation, this kind of dilemma was known as domestication. A translator could justify moving around the objects in a sentence if it made it easier for her audience to grasp what was going on ... The problem with domesticating things this way, however, was the possible misplacement of truth."
Ways to Disappear is concerned not just with truth and the risks of its misplacement and misinterpretation, but with the importance of close reading. It's a delightful, inventive paean to writing that generates "real emotion" and "genuine unease." At one point Beatriz's publisher likens literature to steaks on a grill, testing both "for density" as well as "for something tender in the middle yet still heavy enough to blacken the air." This book is seared to perfection, medium rare.
- Heller McAlpin

A novel starring a novelist can often seem a little pleased with itself, as if the author is looking over her shoulder, eager to make a great drama from a greatly uneventful thing. So it was with some trepidation that I picked up “Ways to Disappear,” the first novel by the poet and translator Idra Novey. The protagonist, Emma Neufeld, is a Portuguese-to-English translator devoted to the work of a cult-classic Brazilian writer. Novey herself translates from Portuguese to English, most recently the work of Clarice Lispector, the cult-classic Brazilian writer.

But Novey has wholly eluded the hazards of writing about writers. Instead, this lush and tightly woven novel manages to be a meditation on all forms of translation while still charging forward with the momentum of a bullet.
The novel opens with Beatriz Yagoda, a Brazilian novelist to whom Emma has devoted her career, climbing into an almond tree with a suitcase and a cigar. It’s the last time she’s seen.
When news of her disappearance ­reaches Emma in Pittsburgh, she takes one look at her boyfriend, whose most pressing concern is “when they might get married, and whether they had to invite everyone from their Road Runners group,” and books a flight to Rio de Janeiro to find her beloved writer. “To leave a person capable of such meticulous devotion was difficult.” Yet Emma, as withdrawn as she is headstrong, manages to do just that.
Emma begins racking her intimate knowledge of Beatriz’s entire oeuvre for clues about where she might have gone. Luckily, a friend of Beatriz’s, Flamenguinho, has gotten in touch, and they arrange to have drinks at her hotel. He turns out to be a loan shark who knows Beatriz is broke but assumes that the publication of her next book in America will solve her $600,000 debt to him.
Flamenguinho, who keeps “posing his questions to her breasts” and has a tattoo of a trash can on his neck, is grossly misinformed about the profit margins on translated fiction in America. “Whatever you get for it in your country,” he says, “half a million is mine, and then I won’t have to kill her.” Though Beatriz is a writer of enough acclaim in Brazil to be tabloid fodder, her tiny American publisher, the perfectly named Elsewhere Press, pays $500 a book.
Novey writes with cool precision and breakneck pacing — all of this transpires in only 14 pages of text, with some chapters almost lean enough to fit on a Post-it.
We next meet Beatriz’s children: a territorial and suspicious daughter, Raquel, and Marcus, a bartending charmer with a “sensual and sleepy” gaze. Raquel resents Emma’s infatuation with her mother, lacking any “patience for the illusion that you could know someone because you knew her novels. What about knowing what a writer had never written down — wasn’t that the real knowledge of who she was?” Unfortunately for Raquel, she gets an answer to this question.
As Emma, Raquel and Beatriz’s longtime publisher and editor, Roberto Rocha, search for the vanished writer, it becomes clear they are each looking for their own version of the same woman, just as a translator sees her own version of a text. Emma seeks her idol; Raquel, her unreliable mother; and Rocha, a writer he’s had more of a role in shaping than either the daughter or translator realizes. Marcus alone seems to seek nothing.
Being defined is being controlled; even deification is a manipulation. And just as Raquel and Emma must see Beatriz’s complete and fallible humanity, Emma has to shed her dopey boyfriend and his narrow definitions of who she is. “What you’re doing down there is not your life,” he says in an email.
These brief, dire emails come in their own little chapters, as do fiction-infused dictionary entries. After the consummation of Marcus and Emma’s affair is the entry for “Between,” with the story folded into the usage examples: “between the two of them,” “between an author and her son,” “between a brief tunnel in Rio and the distant Pittsburgh of one’s cats.” Another series of chapters are excerpts from Radio Globo’s coverage of Beatriz Yagoda’s disappearance, showing yet another version of her story.
While most of these formal experiments enriched the novel’s investigation of definitions dispensed and lived under, one lost me. In a pivotal scene Novey shifted abruptly into a poem that felt overdramatic and muddled crucial action. I reread it in confusion instead of with the pleasure I felt through the rest of this elegant ­page-turner.
And though it begins as a farce, complete with a comic interruption of midcoital lovers, it gradually takes a serious turn — guns go off, fires burn, a human ear is delivered in a shoe box. Beatriz flees to escape this violence, but in a deeper sense she is trying to slough off the varied definitions placed on her and her work, vanishing to be seen again. - Catherine Lacey

It’s common for authors to casually employ metaphors of motherhood when discussing their books. A book is an author’s “baby.” On Twitter, writers wish each other “happy book birthday” on their books’ publication dates. But what’s more complicated than an author’s relationship to her book is the paradoxical relationship between a translator and her translated text, something that she’s both written and not written. Idra Novey’s elegant, comic debut novel, “Ways to Disappear,” considers intertwined questions of translation, authorial identity and the relationship between mothers and daughters.
The novel opens as celebrated Brazilian writer Beatriz Yagoda climbs into an almond tree with her suitcase and cigar, and disappears. Far away in Pittsburgh, Emma Neufield, a translator of Beatriz’s books, receives an e-mail from a mysterious sender informing her of the disappearance. When she arrives in Rio to help search for Beatriz, she is threatened by the sender: Flamenguinho, a loan shark to whom Beatriz owes $600,000, borrowed to support her secret online gambling addiction.
Neither Beatriz’s intense daughter, Raquel, nor Raquel’s brother, Marcus, an Adonis, has ever read their mother’s magic realist, experimental books. For her part, Raquel “had no patience for the illusion that you could know someone because you knew her novels. What about knowing what a writer had never written down — wasn’t that the real knowledge of who she was?” She finds Emma’s claim that her mother was an online gambler preposterous. But Marcus checks Beatriz’s computer browser history — the claim is true.
Following a hunch based on one of Beatriz’s early stories, Emma and Marcus ferry to the island of Ilha Grande, winding up in the gossip pages as an item. Meanwhile, Beatriz’s idealistic first publisher, Roberto Rocha, receives a pseudonymous letter from the author requesting money to hide out in a hotel.
“Ways to Disappear” gallops forward, gracefully bending genres of mystery, romance and noir, while considering philosophical ideas and telling a fun, entertaining story besides. A poet with two collections under her belt, Novey uses a light, sensitive touch and a giddy sense of play to explore weighty concepts. Witty dictionary entries, news clippings and the plots of Yagoda’s stories punctuate the narrative, and two crucial plot points are rendered as poetry.
The clues that Emma, Marcus and Raquel follow in trying to locate Beatriz seem to be smart, metafictive allusions to the life of famous Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. Like Beatriz, Lispector was mythically beautiful, Jewish and born elsewhere before coming to Brazil at age 2. Cockroaches appear at the novel’s climax. Novey translated Lispector’s unforgettable experimental novel “The Passion According to G.H.” — also featuring a cockroach — for New Directions.
At one point, Beatriz’s first publisher, Rocha, disillusioned after years in the business, considers what he seeks in fiction. It is the same mix of dark gravity and suppleness that he looks for in steaks: “He tested for density as well, for something tender in the middle yet still heavy enough to blacken the air.” He could very well be describing the heady, lush pleasure found in “Ways to Disappear,” a novel whose powers of enchantment rival those of its fictional author.- Anita Felicelli

Idra Novey, Clarice: The Visitor, Sylph Editions, 2014.

In this cahier, American poet Idra Novey explores several notions of translation, through two sequences of poems. In the first sequence, "Letters to C", she addresses the figure and the words of a writer she has recently translated, Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector. In the second, "Regarding Marmalade, Cognates, and Visitors", Novey looks at the connections between language, translation, and the hosting of visitors, including her new-born son. Idra Novey's texts are in conversation with works by the artist Erica Baum - images of books that seem both to invite and resist attempts to read them.

"Novey engages in another kind of call-and-response, that of her own poetic letters to Clarice Lispector, echoing Lispector's letters to the novelist Fernando Sabino. Of her experience translating Lispector, Novey asks, 'What was I failing at / before this—and why is it / failure makes a person feel / so irremediably alive?' Indeed, why is the silence between places, between texts, between bodies, always a silence we want to fill? But silence matters as much as voice; and the why doesn't matter." - Sarah Gerard

from Clarice: The Visitor                    

Visitor, Mid-August

O looks totaled,
older but more wholly
himself as we kiss in the tradition
of his country, where he kissed
a man recently and told
his wife, and things ended,
this man who bends now
to kiss my infant son
then we have nothing
to say—so good and startled
we are after altering
the particles of our lives,
until finally he asks
about my sadness
in his country, how it lasted
on and on and I tell him
it was the brown-yellow of
dead grass on a hill
until the hill was gone.

On Distance as Former Roommate

I serve J a plate she doesn't take,
offer her a softer chair. We were close
as cognates once, nearly holy
to one another—which comes down now
to coming down
to what?
                    To having been cognates once.
Swappable as the agua my son says
for the sky in his tiny find-the-world books.
And we find it—the same blue

 Exit Civilian
Idra Novey, Exit, Civilian, University of Georgia Press, 2012.

“The prisons, courthouses, and hideaways featured in Novey’s National Poetry Series winner are very real, but we don’t encounter so much bars, barbs, and barbed wire as metaphysical shrinkage and change: “Whisper at the door/ of the little prison/ and your voice will become a coin.” Startling.”
-Library Journal
“[T]he book reveals superb acts of attention, by a writer whose reliable moral sense matches her first-rate ear.”
-Publishers Weekly
“Like early French practitioners Bertrand, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud, Novey uses the (prose poem) to disrupt bourgeois sensibilities by drawing attention to the unseemly…imperative and timely.”
-Marcela Sulak, Los Angeles Review of Books
“In Exit, Civilian, the thing is the prison, intractably present – and freedom, more than simply a life outside jail, comprises an infinite speculation on the meaning of itself.”
-Ron Slate, On The Seawall
“Novey’s work has always had a subversive quality, exploring unsanctioned facets of identity, and her discoveries here are just as fresh as in her first collection, if more openly dangerous and political. . . . [Her] images and scenes are meticulously constructed, crystalline, inviting us into a parallel world that reflects back the darker parts of our own.”
Michael Simon, Denver Quarterly
“Novey stretches beyond depictions of inmates’ lives to explore the relationship of the prison, as edifice and as idea, to the wider community, the ‘electoral world’ beyond its walls…”
Rowyda Amin, Sidekick Books
“This is a smart and immaculately crafted book that deserves and rewards you.”
Mathias Slavina, The Volta
“In the face of imprisonment, Novey’s poems contain soothing imagery and encourage attention to small details, the  “buttercups and mittens,” small points of hope in a world of “little prisons.”
- Melinda Wilson, Coldfront Magazine
 ”Inspired by her time teaching in the Bard Prison Initiative, this book is full of poems situated in real circumstances, oriented by the concrete details and haunting questions of interacting on a daily basis with the world of prisons. It’s a striking collection.”–Jacob Muncy
“The words ‘spare’ and ‘stark’ repeat often in conversations about this book, and they are apt, but enough emphasis cannot be given to the quiet but vibrant resonance of these poems.”Ryan Sanford Smith
Exit, Civilian stretches the overarching metaphor of prisons in so many unexpected and mind-expanding directions.”Vincent Toro
“We only imagine ourselves free. Idra Novey’s stark, inventive poems hurtle forth with brash lyricism, forcing us to reflect on our roles as captives, alternate swinging open and slamming shut the prison doors. There is no work like this, no tales so beautiful and hurtful, no stanzas that bite this hard and linger this long.-PATRICIA SMITH
In “Exit Civilian,” Idra Novey takes Vasko Popa’s “little box” and morphs it into a “little prison.” The sweetness of the name “little prison” draws us in, and Novey tracks her discomfort with the justice system with surprising and illuminating tenderness. Novey has taught for the Bard Prison Initiative— one poem zooms in on the poignant detail of the crumpling of a wedding dress as it moves into and out of the prison, another imagines a mother named “Trial” giving birth to a child, “Verdict.” I finished this book with these words still in my head: “Do you want to hear more / About the little prison / Have you noticed / It is everywhere.” These poems truly change what and how we see.-MATTHEA HARVEY
“Enter an apple / And come out the teeth marks / In its yellowed core,” writes Idra Novey. In this spare, remarkable collection, she harnesses and transforms prison experience into a visionary exploration where boundaries dissolve, and we find ourselves transformed.-ARTHUR SZE

Idra Novey, The Next Country, Alice James Books, 2008.

“Novey strikes a fine balance between hints and allusions to political history and generalized or allegorical locales, not proper nouns or place names but ‘leaping wells to the underworld’. . .”
Publishers Weekly 
“[Novey’s] spare poems are enticing…luring the reader in with just a few compelling, carefully chosen details…leaving the reader to marvel and wonder and want more.-Matthew Thorburn
“Novey’s collection deftly navigates complex ideas about politics, history and memory by creating timeless allegories…The Next Country is a quiet beauty of a book.”-Erica Meitner
“Each poem is a country and as we read we move from country to country, between regions of human experience, through the territory of the imagination… Novey’s appeal to our natural (irresistible) curiosity about where we are, where we are going, and what’s over the next hill, will win every time.”—Joshua Neely
Novey’s observations are genuine, artful, and inhabited. She is mindful of geographic realms; shifts in natural terrain, plants, and animals. She is keenly aware of culture and customs. She is equally mindful of her own center of gravity, i.e., the English language and a slightly shy North American point of vantage. It serves Novey’s poems well.-Scott Hightower
“We could have had different parents, could have been “disappeared” by the dictator, could have returned to the scene just a moment too late.  This is the real mysterious heart of  The Next Country, a dreamlike quality that creates, from concrete experience, a shifting and untethered self.”
-Rachel Richardson

Idra Novey is the author most recently of Clarice: The Visitor, a collection of poems and images in collaboration with the artist Erica Baum. Her debut novel, Ways to Disappear, is forthcoming in 2016. Novey’s earlier poetry collections are Exit, Civilian, selected by Patricia Smith for the 2011 National Poetry Series, and The Next Country, a finalist for the 2008 Foreword Book of the Year Award in poetry. She’s received awards from the Poetry Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, the National Endowment for the Arts, Poets & Writers, and the PEN Translation Fund.
Writing about Exit, Civilian, Ron Slate observed, “Novey’s pieces seem to condense many reactions into small spaces – cool playfulness, outrage, disorientation, discomfiture, wonderment. At the core, one encounters both curiosity and repulsion, and a query of all motives including her own.” Although Novey packs much into the small spaces of her poems, there is an openness to Novey’s work. In poems like ‘On Returning to My Hometown in 2035’ Novey balances her projection into the future with images tethered to a familiar rural America:
Even the gun shows are gone now, even
the scrapyards, the darkest, farthest barns.
The strip mall half empty since
my elementary years abides only
chemicals now, the lot sequestered
behind fences, its metal tanks checked
each September for leaks in the seals.
 The poem is slyly political beneath its simplicity:
                                            I flew over where
we used to sled, old hills oranged now
for warning, only the edges still brown.
 Novey, in an interview for Commitment Now, said, “I read the news constantly.  I can’t imagine writing without taking into account the world around me.” And while her work is marked by the world we live in, it is not contained by it. Novey’s work is surprisingly imaginative – the curiosity and wonderment that Slate points out is present here, especially at the end of the poem, as Novey flies by in her “Honda pedi-plane.” But what’s really remarkable is the subtle unveiling of perspective in the ending image:
I saw a denier sitting outside
in a lawn chair, her hair so long
it met the ground. There’s no idling in
the skyways now, which is why
I can’t tell you if she was dying.
The poem is filled with images of a desolate, chemical-stained town, but the speaker’s lack of emotionality at the outset keeps the poem from reading overly dark. Even at the end, there’s a matter-of-fact quality to the speaker, who states simply that she can’t tell if the woman is dying but registers no emotional reaction. Perhaps the most telling word in the whole poem is “denier.” Novey seems to imply that the woman sitting outside amid the chemicals is denying the reality of this place in 2035. And while she may or may not be dying, her long hair is a sign of life. There’s a beauty here, in both the image and the speaker’s telling of it. The “denier” begs us, and the speaker, to question the reality of the world: Is it so chemical stained we can’t sit outside anymore, or can we? And while the question is there, the speaker can’t wait for an answer in a place where: “there’s no idling.”
Place is important in much of Novey’s work, from the poems influenced by Central and South America in her first book, The Next County, to those in Exit, Civilian, that are marked by her time spent teaching in the Bard College Prison Initiative. In an interview for Guernica, Novey talks about the importance of place:Place is poetry for me. Understanding where I am, and where I’m not, is what compels me to write, and by “where” I mean both my relationship to a place and also my relationship to how others have experienced it, the different meanings that place may have depending on whether you are a child or an adult, if you are at a point in your life when you are aware of others or not.

Novey began translating while living in Chile and teaching creative writing at a shelter for abused women. She has translated several books of Brazilian poetry and, most recently, Clarice Lispector’s novel The Passion According to G.H. Novey teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. -

On Returning to My Hometown in 2035

Even the gun shows are gone now, even
the scrapyards, the darkest, farthest barns.
The strip mall half empty since
my elementary years abides only
chemicals now, the lot sequestered
behind fences, its metal tanks checked
each September for leaks in the seals.
I lost my virginity in a basement here, lost
my balance on a backhoe, had to pick
the gravel out of my knees. For the prom,
my date was the tank man just vaporized
in the heat storm, his data screen open
to augmented porn. This morning
in my Honda pedi-plane, I flew over where
we used to sled, old hills oranged now
for warning, only the edges still brown.
I saw a denier sitting outside
in a lawn chair, her hair so long
it met the ground. There’s no idling in
the skyways now, which is why

I can’t tell you if she was dying.

The Spe­cial­ist Sto­ryQuar­terly
Selected Interviews
Recent Poems
The Visitor Poetry Foundation
La Prima Victoria Poetry Foundation
Essays + Other Online Writing
Proximate Fires Lincoln Center Theater Review
Most Beautiful Word in English The Huffington Post 
Our Nearing Epic of World Literature Brooklyn Quarterly Review
On Proximity to Violence Poetry Foundation
On the Amy Award Poets & Writers Magazine