Elytron Frass - a hypnotic flow of morbid visions of violence and sexuality that sometimes read like Comte De Lautreamont, sometimes like 80s horror cult classics, and, most curiously, often like beautiful lyrical poems, in which the poet is not ‘man speaking to men’ but a conjurer of ghosts”

Elytron Frass. Liber Exuvia, gnOme, 2018.

An interactive grimoire devoted to the sundry incarnations of a self-beheading mantis, Liber Exuvia provides a shadow of insight into its author by way of past-life regressions and encrypted charms. What was once crudely printed and mass-mailed to random households all across the globe—Elytron Frass’s confrontational novella is now bound, barcoded, and available to any daring reader.

Liber Exuvia presents a hypnotic flow of morbid visions of violence and sexuality that sometimes read like Comte De Lautreamont, sometimes like 80s horror cult classics, and, most curiously, often like beautiful lyrical poems, in which the poet is not ‘man speaking to men’ but a conjurer of ghosts.” — Johannes Göransson

“Reading Frass’s work is the taking-in of a great breath and holding it, stretching it to every seam, hallucinating as you beg for air, and falling into a gentle death-lull of captivation. You will travel to another world, many of them. You will leave your body with this book in your hands. You will weep for history, weep for bodies, weep for your planet in the grand scheme of existence. What beauty and terror is conjured here with such absolute innovation of language and form! Frass tells stories, but does so from the inside out, from a dream within a dream, planting you right in the center so you can walk your way out. It is what writing should do.” — Lisa Marie Basile

The Necropastoral is a non-rational zone, anachronistic, it often looks backwards and does not subscribe to Cartesian coordinates or Enlightenment notions of rationality and linearity, cause and effect.  It does not subscribe to humanism but is interested in non-human modalities, like those of bugs, viruses, weeds and mold.
– Joyelle McSweeney, What is the Necropastoral?
Against the humanist world-for-us, a human-centric world made in our image, there is this notion of the world as occulted, not in a relative but in an absolute sense.
– Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of This Planet
The future might well be as nonhuman as the distant past, but said in a different register. Instead of spectres and physics, and instead of otherworldly voices, neural pathways and synapses. The current neoliberal brand of humanism – of the atomised “I” that pretends to be author to itself – might fade and be replaced by an experience of the world that is both older and newer. The more we learn about neurology, the less human we seem (if by “human” we mean free will and a centralised self-identity), and the more we know about space-time, the less crystalised “reality” becomes. Slowly, the human will be displaced from the centre. And the centre itself will be nothingness, emptiness. In the video to David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’, the far future rhymes with the ancient past – the astronaut’s jeweled skull turns into an object of occult ritual. Time becomes a loop and not a line: a process torques within itself to become what it always was to begin with.
The recent interest in the occult among certain writers shouldn’t be seen as nostalgia for a magical realm during a time – our time – in which magic has vanished. Rather, the new occult writing is interested in non-humanist modes of expression. It’s avant-garde. Like adherents of the cult of Cthulhu, writers of this new occultism are evoking an aesthetic that is simultaneously cosmic, ancient and uncannily new. In their hands, the human voice becomes what is always really was: alien, impersonal.
Liber Exuvia by Elytron Frass from gnOme Books is an intense channeling of these correlations (ancient/post human, occult/science). Frass, a writer and visual artist whose work has appeared in venues such as Tarpaulin Sky Magazine, has written a book that may be approached in a variety of ways: a mystic manual for past life regression, a fragmented narrative that blends the sensibilities of Lovecraft and Kenneth Anger, a series of dark meditations on evolution and its myriad pathways, both real and imagined. The title, like so much of the book, is associative and free ranging. “Liber” was the god of wine and festival in ancient Roman religion – a god that came to be associated with Dionysius. It also means “book” in Latin. “Exuvia” is the name of the exoskeleton left over after an insect or arachnid molts. In this way, the book stresses its own materiality – it is the spiritual exoskeleton of the creative process. The husk. The remnant. Presence marked by absence.
The first section of the book is a series of questionnaires entitled, ‘Synopsis of Statements Indicative of a Shared Past Life Regression’. Counter to the neoliberal emphasis on privatised notions of experience, Frass creates a list of questions describing possible past lives: lives lived across the globe, and at different points in history. Some of the past lives are female, and others male; some are singular, and other plural (“Long ago, I bifurcated into simultaneous lives”); some are human, and others are not (“Born from one of one hundred and eight eggs”). At the end of each line (for example, “Long ago, I was someone else”) there is Frass’ answer to the implied question Do you remember this? (in this case, “Y”). But there is also a space for you, the reader, to answer. This creates an odd doubling effect. Do the reader and Frass share past lives/experiences? Do the reader and Frass at times inhabit the same person, the same insect? This dynamic has occult elements beyond the “past life” aspect. The writer is not an “I” addressing an audience (the “you”). Rather, the writer reveals multiple fragmented lives, and asks the reader if they too have experienced these lives. There’s a whorl of voices and selves.
That so many of the lives presented break off into other lives – for instance, the relatively everyday Tim Peters, while under hypnosis, remembers a previous life in the ancient world dwelling among “herdsman and mercenaries”, and from there recollects his time in early twentieth century Portugal – lends the book an almost psychedelic aura, though a psychedelia with a folk horror edge to it. As the book progress, it becomes clearer that all of the lives and manifestations presented relate to the mantis – and specifically to the female praying mantis’ ability to devour the male while mating. Humans take on the attributes of the mantis, and vice versa, to the point where something elemental about this insect/human dynamic takes shape. The earth turns into a vast machine of perpetual, visceral becoming. The female praying mantis morphs into a divine figure, a phantasmal Sister Midnight. As Frass writes near the end of the book, “FREE ME FROM METEMPSYCHOSIS AND DUALITY / EAT ME WITH YOUR MANDIBLES / DEVOUR MY GENETIC AND LEARNED MEMORIES / FOR YOU ARE THE HOLY PREDATOR OF TIME/SPACE/CONTINUITY.”
In the following sections, the book becomes even more of a fantasia. Images of mantises overlaid and inlaid within human (and sometimes humanoid) figures, neo-pagan prayers, taxonomic names – all begin to appear, as if by filling out the questionnaires, by cycling through these various embodiments and experiences, we have reached a post-narrative plateau. The effect is half zine, half grimoire. The writer – or rather “Elytron Frass” – also makes a brief appearance in this section, in a down-the-rabbit-hole/House of Leaves/This House Has People In It style. We’re given a medical record from a Dr. “Cercus Comb” regarding the author’s fascination with (and belief in) previous lives. The doctor writes, “Today he expressed longing for whom he refers to as his ‘bifurcated self,’ or someone, somewhere, on this planet who mirrors his exact emotions, memories, and experiences.” Yet, I don’t think this “document” should be regarded as the key to this book, any more than one narrative thread in House of Leaves becomes the true route for the novel; the self-referential quality of the document, starting with the insect-like suggestiveness of the doctor’s name, highlights the artifice. Psychology isn’t being used to dispel metaphysics. Instead, the implication here is that psychology cannot be extricated from metaphysics. Our intuitions about reality relate intimately to our intuitions about the self.
There’s something implicitly subversive of this artifice, and of Frass’ project as a whole. Neoliberalism insists there is nothing outside the reality-principle  – “experience” looks more and more indistinguishable from commodity, and there is a growing match-up between our conception of the “self” and our resumes. The atomised self is the marketable self. This might change, as science and technology increasingly undermines our human-centric assumptions about self and world, free will and culture. For now, books like Libra Exuvia suggest ways of thought and experience outside of what the late Mark Fisher called “capitalist realism”. These books allow us to catch glimmers of an alien light behind the human face. - James Pate


“Erotic in the most organic and tangible ways, Frass manages to elicit such vicious imagery in so few words.” — Tina Lugo

Carlos Busqued - Equal parts stoner pulp thriller and psycho-physiological horror story, a pervasive sense of dread mixes with a cloud of weed smoke to seep into every line of the disturbing, complex Under This Terrible Sun

Image result for Carlos Busqued, Under This Terrible Sun,

Carlos Busqued, Under This Terrible Sun, Trans. by Megan McDowell, Frisch and Co. 2013.

read it at Google Books

A stoner travels to remote Argentina to identify the bodies of his murdered mother and brother. What could possibly go wrong?

Cetarti spends his days in a cloud of pot smoke, watching nature documentaries on television. He is torn from his lethargy by a call informing him that his mother and brother have been murdered, and that he must identify the bodies.
After making sure he has enough weed for the trip, he sets out to the remote Argentinian village of Lapachito, an ominous place where the houses are sinking deeper and deeper into the mud and a lurid, horrific sun is driving everyone crazy. When Duarte, a former military man turned dedicated criminal, ropes Cetarti into a scheme to cash in on his mother’s life insurance, events quickly spiral out of control…

A riveting, thrilling, and shocking read, Under This Terrible Sun paints the portrait of a civilizational in terminal decline, where the border between reality and nightmare has become increasingly blurred.
"Like a hallucinogenic nightmare on a hot night. . . Definitely not an ordinary reading experience."—kulturnews.de

‘There is a latent primal energy that courses just beneath the surface, but never actually breaks through… it's a harrowing journey’ - The Indiscriminate Critic

‘Aside from the train wreck like inescapability of it all, the rubber necking that you take part in as a reader, the realization that as much as you want to you can’t look away, you can’t put down the book, you must keep turning the pages to see what happens next, even though you know it’s going to ruin you emotionally, as if you need more, a big part of what makes Under This Terrible Sun work so effectively is that Busqued refuses to let you escape the grasp of his chosen subjects for even a single second.’ - Typographical Era

Equal parts stoner pulp thriller and psycho-physiological horror story, a pervasive sense of dread mixes with a cloud of weed smoke to seep into every line of the disturbing, complex Under This Terrible Sun. Originally published by illustrious Spanish publishers Editorial Anagrama, Under This Terrible Sun is Argentine journalist-cum-novelist Carlos Busqued’s debut novel in both Spanish and now English.
I don’t read many gruesome novels, so I don’t know exactly which other books to compare this novel to, but the vibe of Under This Terrible Sun reminds me of the creeping evil that saturates the movie Se7en, and not in the least because most of the deadly sins crop up throughout Busqued’s novel in various guises. The plot of Under This Terrible Sun is comprised of a convoluted series of events, with only a few central characters around whom the action takes place, and most of the action itself is moved forward by a true old-fashioned villain, who, in the end, receives his comeuppance through a deus ex machina event that wraps up this fucked-up story of greed, sloth, and murder a little too nicely. But boy, let me tell you, the story that leads to the ending is worth reading. The first time I read it, I was disconcerted by how easily I was flying through the book, how easily my eyes and mind were gliding over the events taking place on the page, which were pretty gruesome. But then I went back through the novel a second time to prepare for this review and realized that this story had more going on than I realized at first—and that was the most stomach-churning part: our society has become so dehumanized that we’ve become immune to horrific images and reports of violence. Nothing shocks us anymore. This book didn’t shock me, and that’s the disturbing part. It should have.
The novel opens with Javier Cetarti, a shiftless loser who was fired from his job six months earlier and who was just about to run out of money and, more importantly, marijuana, when he receives a phone call from a guy named Duarte in a tiny village called Lapachito, far to the north of Cordoba, where Cetarti lives. Duarte has some bad news: Cetarti’s mother and brother had been killed by his mother’s live-in boyfriend, who also killed himself as the coup de grace of the grisly bloodbath. Cetarti hardly reacts to the news, but gets in the car and makes the 600+ kilometer drive up north when Duarte tells him there is some sort of life insurance policy involved, and Cetarti has the chance to cash in:
Of all the news Duarte had given him the night before, Cetarti had been most motivated to drive to Lapachito by the news that there was a life insurance policy to collect. He had been booted out of his job six months before (lack of initiative, discouraging behavior), and he had eaten through almost all of his compensation without lifting a finger.
For a dude who sits around smoking pot all day, refusing to work, this is a pretty sweet chance, and it also forms the introduction, within the first five pages, to Cetarti’s questionable moral impulse. This lack of morality becomes one of the main themes that dominates Cetarti’s universe vividly portrayed by Busqued in Under This Terrible Sun.
Cetarti arrives in his mother’s village, a wasteland that seems like the set of a horror story come to life: the houses are sinking into the mud caused by an industrial accident, the city is literally collapsing in on itself, poisonous beetles are taking over (although Cetarti is pretty sure there are no poisonous beetles, everyone tells him the beetles he sees everywhere are poisonous), and the residents can’t be bothered to leave because they just get used to it, as Duarte tells Cetarti. Welcome to Lapachito; it may be its own layer of hell.
Duarte lets Cetarti in on the life insurance scheme he’s concocted. Turns out, Cetarti’s mom’s live-in boyfriend, Molina, took out a life insurance policy before the massacre, and Cetarti could technically lay claim to the loot. It involves some questionable dealings, greasing the palms of government officials, and it doesn’t take long before you realize Duarte is hardly an ally, he’s as shady as it gets and completely incapable of doing Good. But he’s still promising Cetarti a sizeable payday, and he supplies Cetarti with tons of good weed, so Cetarti can’t complain.
Cetarti joins Duarte to visit his mother’s house, where the killing took place, and when they open the door they meet Molina’s ex-wife, who is there cleaning everything up. Cetarti goes through his mother’s and brother’s belongings without emotion, takes a few items, including what turns out to be keys to his brother’s apartment in Cordoba. The next day, he visits Duarte at home and gets a little creeped out, but rather laconically, as is Cetarti’s style, by some of the pornography that Duarte keeps laying around his house. Along with building a fleet of intricately-detailed model airplanes that are referenced throughout the novel, and paralleled by the characters watching a series of military documentaries on TV, Duarte is in the process of digitizing a fleet of brutal VHS porno tapes he’d collected, with titles too vile to mention here. He explains his choice of this particularly violent and nasty pornography to Cetarti:
“There’s some pornography you don’t watch to jerk off, you watch it more out of curiosity about how far the human species will go . . . This is what I was telling you is interesting, to see the limits of what a person is capable of doing or letting others do to them. That old woman, I picture her getting dressed with her ass all destroyed, taking the subway, buying chocolates for her grandchildren with the money she just earned by letting them do that to her . . .”
Duarte is obsessed with seeing how far the human species will go—and not just on video. A man of action, Duarte is a vibrant character: completely evil, completely amoral, completely unsympathetic, and for all of these reasons, a fascinating character. Although he commits all sorts of extortion schemes for money, he seems far more driven by the thought of pushing human bodies to their breaking point than in receiving money for anything. Which is terrifying.
Around this time we meet his henchman, a fat, shiftless pothead named Danielito, who is the son of the deceased Molina and Molina’s ex-wife. Duarte uses Danielito’s basement to hold hostages, seeking a ransom from the victim’s family at the same time as he abuses and violates the victims. Danielito is an all-too-willing accomplice to the torture, feeding the victims, but otherwise staying out of the way and letting Duarte enact his most revolting fantasies on his victims (fortunately, only alluded to).
The point of view at this point in the novel begins to alternate between Cetarti and Danielito, Duarte is never the focal point, the narrative proceeds through Cetarti and Danielito’s THC-reddened eyes, but he is the connection between the two characters (who don’t meet until much later in the novel), and only through Duarte do the parallels between their weed-soaked lives become evident: they sit around, smoke weed, eat sometimes, and watch nature and war documentaries on TV constantly. The subjects of these documentaries (elephants in southeast Asia, giant squids, WWII) recur over and over again in both characters’ lives.
The interplay between inhuman humans and mysterious deadly creatures of land and sea forms one of the most interesting themes of the novel, which shouldn’t be surprising given the novel’s epigraph, taken from Alfred Tennyson’s “The Kraken”: “ . . . Then once by man and angels to be seen, / In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.”
In one particularly creepy scene from which the novel’s title is lifted, Danielito’s mother asks him to accompany her to another shitty village far from Lapachito in order to steal the bones of her firstborn son, who died before he was a year old and who, much to Danielito’s chagrin, is also named Daniel, and leads Danielito to fantasize about elephants he’d heard from Duarte were man-killers in southeast Asia, a theme that is first raised in conversation between Cetarti and Duarte much earlier in the novel. This particular scene is also an excellent example of Busqued’s narrative technique, and illustrates the overall vibe of the novel:
bq. He couldn’t avoid a shudder when he read, painted on the tin heart: DANIEL MOLINA 2-12-1972/10-4-1973. He looked at his mother. She was staring at the sunken earth. bq. “Poor thing, all these years under this terrible sun.” bq. He dug apprehensively. The earth was soft, but he felt no urge to speed up. He was soaked in sweat. Around the cemetery there was an island of empty land, and after a hundred meters the bush-covered mountain. He remembered the documentary about the elephants of Mal Bazaar. He imagined one of those elephants emerging from the forest. He imagined it coming towards them. A complex and powerful body that shook the earth at each step. But the elephant wouldn’t attack them, he thought. It would approach them calmly and with a certain curiosity. It would stop beside them, touching them gently with its trunk. And then it would fall to the ground. Or disappear into thin air. Or something, anything else. But it wouldn’t hurt them. “Almost every mahout is an alcoholic,” he remembered. How nice to be an alcoholic, he though, how nice to be murdered by an elephant. Something, anything else.
Cetarti eventually goes home to Cordoba and moves out of his apartment into the place where his brother had been living, accumulating massive amounts of junk (bug collections, Readers Digest, orange peels) in a strange part of town called Hugo Wast, a mysterious neighborhood where nobody owns their houses, but rather squats in them, located near the municipal slaughterhouse, which gives the area a particular smell when the wind blows in the right way. Cetarti eventually gets the money from Duarte and—to make a long story short and to glaze over Duarte doing some dastardly deeds and Danielito’s mother morphing into a very interesting and strong secondary character on whom many words could be written alone—Cetarti eventually gets wrapped up in another one of Duarte’s schemes, which leads to the rather abrupt ending (which comes about a bit too neatly for me).
As I said, I’m not one for gruesome novels, so I can assure you that this novel, despite being disturbing, is worth reading. It’s shocking and interesting in ways that literary novels rarely achieve. I mentioned Se7en above: it’s actually a pretty good comparison, the same creeping dread and inhuman elements are at play, which is actually refreshing to read in Busqued’s telling, capturing some of the more interesting morally-questionable elements of humanity that are usually only portrayed in Scandinavian (or other styles of) detective thrillers. Busqued is a good writer, sparse at times, maintaining a narrative distance from the characters’ impulses while simultaneously opening the door into some of their thoughts. His sentences are seemingly simplistic in construction, but all the while gather elements and build up to a pulse-quickening crescendo, all told via the quality work of translator, Megan McDowell (a UT-Dallas translation program alumna!).
As one of new ebook-only publisher Frisch & Co.‘s first titles, they have done an admirable job of bringing Busqued’s novel into English as part of their unique partnership with Editorial Anagrama, in which they will publish two books a year from the Spanish-language publishers in digital formats. It remains to be seen if Frisch & Co. will partner with anybody to do physical copies of these books, but either way, in any format, Under This Terrible Sun is a damn good read. - Will Evans

The set up must always appear simple. That’s how noir works. What you first took to be the simplicity of characters and plot has to slowly reveal itself to be, not just hard-boiled and tough for its own sake, but a way of expressing mysteriously profound moral ambiguities. In other words, the detective isn’t terse because he has all the answers — he’s terse because he’s in over his head and he knows it. Under This Terrible Sun, the debut novel of the Argentine writer Carlos Busqued, is a noir thriller. As such, the set up appears simple: Cetarti, a young Argentinian stoner, is given word that both his mother and brother have been murdered by his mom’s lover — who then killed himself. Cetarti is asked by a man named Duarte, the executor of the deceased murderer, to journey to a small country town in order to tie up the financial and legal loose ends. Cetarti seems unphased by all of this.
As befits a good noir novel, the imbibing of substances makes it possible for the narrator to distance himself from the violence of the plot. Traditionally that substance has been alcohol, but Cetarti, along with a number of other characters, prefer to smoke their crutch rather than drink it. Stoner Noir is almost a subsubgenre — occupying a space somewhere in the “crime fiction” galaxy, and hot boxing a cop car under an overpass somewhere in the seedy side of the city of “Noir”. Regardless, people have been exposed to it. Think of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, or, more in the pop culture vein, the movie The Big Lebowski or the HBO show Bored To Death.
Maybe we should come to expect more noir in translation to have a stoner bent. Stoner culture is an international culture, after all. The symbols and rituals of getting high, the bongs and papers and clips and pipes, are similar enough from country to country to create a sort of Universal Catholic Church of marijuana — the local dioceses might cater a bit to native proclivities, but the basic tenets hold and everyone is roughly on the same page. That alone of course wouldn’t be enough of a reason to choose weed over whisky when publishing noir for an international audience, but there’s another reason weed makes more sense than alcohol as the drug of choice in noir: stoner culture and noir, when both are at their best, are experiments in mood and atmospherics — they insinuate that you’ve stumbled into a secret world running parallel to ours. A shadow world. Alcohol isn’t about noticing things, about making strange connections — it’s about lowering inhibitions. In this sense, marijuana is a substance more in tune with mystery.
And so Cetarti goes to the tiny town of Lapachito in order to take care of his family’s business. As strange and morbid as that business is, there’s an interesting paradox to it all: the murder/suicide seems in the same instant both more grizzly than the facts of the crime, pouring over the borders of its own localized tragedy to hint at something almost cosmic, while also being subsumed in the atmosphere of general decay that haunts the text. The pretense, of course, is that because the crime is described so matter of factly, so simply, that its meaning must be manifestly obvious and self-contained. But what actually happens, how the story actually works, is that something essential about the crime projects itself in ghostly emanations to radiate a paranoid meaning. The three bodies remind us of our own deaths. The weird familial intimacy of the crime reminds us of the deaths of everyone we know. The simple finality of the action seems somehow connected to all violence ever committed, of the mass extinction of mankind, and possibly even of the final and ultimate end of what we understand to be physical reality. Only a Stoner Noir novel could so deftly create such a paranoid sense of doom — and like stoners, we project hidden meanings in the silences of the text.
So one half of this Stoner Noir paradox is that the deaths hint at significance beyond their literal meaning. But the other half is that they’re not necessarily the mystery to be solved. The mystery isn’t the murder, the suicide, or even the enigmatic evil that seems to motivate many of the characters — rather the mystery is one of qualitative abundance: in this place, where everything seems suffused with meaning, what actually matters? What’s actually important? In a place where things radiate cryptic messages, calling to you in spectral whispers, how do you focus on a single thread of meaning without being subsumed by the entire fabric? A few examples in the text of exhaustive lists of things that may or may not be significant:
There were several low buzzing sounds, and Duarte took his cell phone from a pocket. He pushed a button and greeted someone at the other end. He mentioned for Cetarti to wait a moment, and he disappeared into the inner part of the house. Cetarti killed time looking through the titles of videos piled up next to the TV: Monsters of She Male Cock, Asses Wide Open 11, Anal Cum Swappers #14, Squirtin’ Vixens #3, Enema Nurses, Anal Grannies 25, Blowjob Ninjas, Transsexual Babysitters 02, Large Pussy Bonanaza, Anal Slavery Cumpilation, Some Bitches Drink It All Up, Fetish Island #37, Extreme German Tortures 5.
In the bathroom, next to the bidet and up against the wall, hundreds of copies of Reader’s Digest, very old but in good condition, were piled up. He flipped through one from 1962: the dangers of communism in Southeast Asia, the drama of a man trying to make it out of a forest after accidentally severing his aorta with a chainsaw, the eternal enchantment of Naples.
The characters in this book like getting high and watching nature documentaries. Understandable. That’s classic stoner fare, for sure. But these folks appear to sense the same qualities in the exotic animals on their televisions as in the oddly harsh environment and people around them, a profound sense of otherness that both repulses and fascinates them. Meanwhile, the plot of the novel progresses, of course, to complications beyond just the death of family members. Like all good noir, there are crimes within crimes here. But what really makes the novel work, and what makes it worthy of our attention, is this central question of figuring out what is meaningful to us in such an amoral and capricious world. Weather, cars, fish, toy planes, elephants, pornography, weed, coffins, beetles, dreams, crosses — all threaten to weigh in with equally heavy importance, projecting a repetitive monotony of doom — a weird mandala of despair slowly rotating on the page. -         

To say that Carlos Busqued’s debut novel Under This Terrible Sun presents a bleak landscape is as misleading as it is true. It’s misleading because though the book contains its share of literal wastelands – desert highways, seemingly empty towns and isolated, rundown gas stations – they are just the thin outward layer of desolation that pervades the entire world the book portrays. Take what you see on face value and you’re liable to miss the novel’s chilling unity.
The story begins with the entirely unheroic hero, Cetarti, needing to travel to the dingy northern Argentine town of Lapachito following the brutal murder of his mother and brother. The appearance of this forsaken place, whose streets are “neglected and covered with a thin layer of mud”, perfectly mirrors the inner and outer lives of all the characters that pass through it:
“Look at the houses: they’re all cracked. The ground is all mud now, they’re sinking. The cesspits are overflowing—a lot of this mud on the street is shit and piss. That’s why the trees have died, they all rotted the first year.”
Action is scarce, with practically just a single explosive exception of the blackest humor in the whole novel. There are plot lines, but those lines fade into obscurity and insignificance, with their origins generally left unclear. Cetarti agrees to participate in an insurance scam revolving around his mother’s death, there are kidnappings going on, an old family skeleton is dug up – literally. For the most part though, the characters drift through a fog of aimlessness, one made more dense by clouds of marijuana smoke. The bleakness and apathy of their lives remain unrelieved.
Yet Busqued’s most remarkable achievement is expressing all this desolation without the novel itself being bleak. You read about characters watching TV, smoking pot, wandering around, witnessing random disturbing incidents as if from behind a pane of glass or another world, yet there isn’t a single boring moment in the whole book. It’s a pleasure to enter into this warped universe and the stoned, passive amorality that runs through it blends seamlessly with its laconic narrative voice.
The bleak landscapes of Under This Terrible Sun aren’t a matter of setting. In this world it makes no sense to distinguish them from other kinds of landscapes, because there are no other kinds of landscapes here, and can’t be. When Duarte, the kidnapper, tells his sidekick Danielito that he should take some of the ransom money he’s saved up and go on a long vacation, the idea is beyond the young stoner’s comprehension:
“…Get yourself to Brazil. Set yourself up for a month in some swanky hotel, eating pineapple on the beach, girls sucking on your cock…”
Danielito liked the idea of eating pineapple; he imagined the fresh sweet juice flowing over his teeth as he bit into the yellow pulp. The rest of the things, it was like Duarte was reading him the headlines of a newspaper from another planet.
Pleasure, happiness, love, friendship, trust – none of these attributes exist in the Hell on earth this novel depicts, with its desert-like barrenness and earthly hopelessness making it a stand-in for the underworld. The only characteristic that occasionally shows flashes of itself through the wall of apathy and indifference is evil, most completely in the character of Duarte. Yet even this is typically only hinted at: in a kidnap victim’s screams when the former military man enters the room, and in the bruises and dripping bodily fluids on their bodies after he leaves them.
Busqued also very subtly links this simultaneously real and unreal moral vacuum to a very real and dark chapter in Argentina’s history by providing a brief glimpse of some of Duarte’s old photos from his days as a soldier:
They looked like photos for a record of facilities and equipment: jail cells, trucks, a meeting room. They were photos of rural operations, with most of the military men dressed as civilians. In the background of one, you could see a truck riddled with bullet holes. Between the mud flaps and the start of the bed, which was the portion he could see, Danielito counted nine large holes. His father was kneeling down with his right arm resting on his knee, holding his pistol (the same gun with which Danielito had recently killed the dogs) in his hand. There were three people lying down beside him, but their faces had been obscured with white correction fluid.
Under This Terrible Sun manages to deal with dark subject matter with a light, humorous touch at the same time that it casts a somber look at the trivial refuse of modern life, taking the reader on a literary joyride through Hell. Michael Stein

Carlos Busqued’s Under This Terrible Sun is a dark and at times disturbing book that in its tight and economical prose wastes little time in showing men at their worst. The cruelty is elusive at first. The novel opens with a description from a Discovery Channel show of the cannibalistic tendencies of squid. It is the first of many such descriptions of elusive giant squids. While they seem extraneous to the story, just so much TV background noise, they set the tone for the novel, as the mystery and the ruthless violence have their parallel within the novel.
It is a violence that Cetarti, an Argentine stoner, who has lost his job and spends his time watching the Discovery Channel and smoking marijuana is oblivious to. Even when he is told that his mother and brother had been murdered by her new husband, he is emotionless, the violence of it, just something that happened, nothing more. If the killing wasn’t enough, when he arrives in the small town to meet with the lawyer who is going to settle the estate, he finds that the streets are filled with excrement that has bubbled up from the sewers. He has entered into a place that could be hardly anymore disgusting. It sets the tone for meeting with the lawyer, Duarte, whose only interest is getting a little money out of the death benefits that are due him. While Cetarti and Durate settle business, Durate also spends his time transferring porn from video to digital, and the titles are quite hard core. Cetarti, though, as he does when faced with any new situation, doesn’t seem to care one way or another. He is disgusted by the very graphic scene and Durate delights in showing him, but ultimately getting the money from the estate is all he cares about. Once he gets that he can go back to smoking and watching the Discovery Channel.
Running parallel to Cetarti’s story is that of Durate and Danielito. The two men are scheming to do something and Danielito always seems to be taking care of someone behind a locked door. It is not clear at first who that person is or what they are doing, but as the novel goes on and a woman is kept in the room Durate and Danielito’s intentions become darker and darker, showing that the hardcore porn is only the beginning of Durate’s depravity. Danielito, much like Cetarti, is emotionless and follows Durate’s orders without question. It is never quite clear what the two men are doing, but it is both horrific and yet pedestrian, as if the normal state of men is that of passionless brutes who only follow biological instincts.
The two men and the one who you might think would have something good in him, Cetarti, is too numb to do anything. He has surrendered to marijuana and television. Even when he moves into his brother’s house and begins to clean it, getting rid of all of the junk he had collected as a hoarder, he does it less as catharsis, but as a mechanical event. The contrast couldn’t be stronger between that of a hoarder who sees in everything a rational and Cetarti who can live in the most spartan setting just watching the world go by. It is how Cetarti can join Durate and Danielito as they perform some sort of crime with the woman they’ve been keeping in the room. Cetarti is so uninterested in what is going on other than getting a little extra money he doesn’t even bother thinking about what is happening. He’s there, they’re all there, they do what they are going to do and that is it. Even the writing underscores this passionless view, avoiding any kind of descriptions of emotions or morality, just sticking to a description of the physical events.
It is an approach that when mixed with the nature documentaries is a nihilistic view of men as little more than the predators they are. While it is certainly not the first novel to tackle the subject, Busqued has no interest in explaining why this is. Explanations are not going to help soften the violence. It is an approach that can make for some tough passages, but in general keeps the horrible at a distance, always threatening, but never certain. After reading it, the reader should not be surprised if they want more, but since they are only observers, the whys, those often novelistic easy answers, are never going to come in the form of easy answers. The lack of answers is what makes the book work and Busqued has avoided some of the cliches that afflict crime fiction. Assuming one can get past the descriptions of some of the porn, you’ll see a darker side of Argentina than I have in the recent past.
- bythefirelight

Well I decide to review some of the wonderful books from Frisch and co over the next few weeks .Frisch and co are an e-book only piublisher of translated fiction and now just before christmas seemed a great time with Tablets and eReaders being this years top gift for most people ,everyone will be waking up on Christmas day turning there eReader or tablets on and wanting to place some great books on so I will point you in Frisch and co way .This book by the Argentina writer Carlos Busqued ,is a Buenos Aires based writer this book was his debut novel and was listed for the Prix Herralde ,it won praise for its use of direct language that may be vile but takes you to the heart of the expression .
The phone rang. The caller ID said “unknown,” which meant a call from a public telephone. Or from a person who was deliberately hiding their number. He didn’t answer.
Who is the call from ?
Under this terrible sun although quite unique in the books from Argentina I have read can be said to be in a vein of books from there ,the Lit thriller / crime novel .The pacing of the writing is very much like a thriller and the style is more akin to a lit novel .The book centres on a son whose mother has died this son Cetarti ,is a bit of a loser , well he remind me of a character that had maybe be cut from the Coen brother film The big lebowski or a side figure in Pynchon inherent vice ,this guy lives in a world of weed and documentary tv ,especially programmes about Giant squid for some reason .So Cetarti heads north to the part of Argentina his mother whom he had lost real touch with  when she lived .So he heads to the north of Argentina where he is  meet by the Lawyer Durate that is dealing with his mother’s estate .This leads to a side story of this Lawyers sideline and the man that helps him with this sideline Daniello (Now I viewed this guy as rather like the northern Argentina version of Cetarti a laid back dud that tends to follow what he is told to do just for an easy life ) Well the sideline happens to be transferring porn from old videos to digital content .Well that is the story it develops as we see the vile nature of the porn the men deal in and the waiting for the estate to be settled and how ever  there may be fraud involved.
He missed his car. At that moment, he would have liked to get on the highway with no specific plan. Cruise along the national highway system smoking the marijuana he had left, only stopping in service stations to fill up on gas, shower, and eat. He had a pleasant memory of the insects smashing against the windshield seconds after being illuminated by the car’s headlights. Sleep on the side of the road. Go with the flow. Smash into something on the road, in the final hours of an afternoon.
I choose this quote as it was highlighted by E J the publisher on the copy I read on Readermill .
Well this book owes as much to American lit as it does Argentinian lit .I was reminded of the later Pynchon book like  inherent vice  involves figures like this at the edge of life  ,stoners ,chancers  all feature in this book  .I also felt the porn section remind me of films like 8mm, where we open the door on the extremes of human nature ,very hard to read and eye-opening but this world exists and we are shown how vile it can be by this book .It also had a lot of similar tones to other recent Argentinian books I ve read that I would say fit into this Lit crime/thriller genre from Argentina they would be My father ghost climbing in the rain by Patricio Pron a son returns and uncovers his fathers past ,rather like this a man arrives and finds out more than he expected ,then there is also Carlos Gamerro’s books both on this lit crime feel and both follow men discovering more than want .This book is about discovering the underbelly of Argentina post the dictators that have often fuel the lit of the region what happens when they are gone how do some people go on ?
- https://winstonsdad.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/under-this-terrible-sun-by-carlos-busqued/

Carlos Busqued's Under this Terrible Sun (translated by Megan McDowell, e-copy courtesy of the publisher) is a short, laconic and occasionally disturbing book.  The story begins when Javier Cetarti, a man approaching middle age with little to show for it, gets a phone call from someone he's never met - unsurprisingly, the news the call brings is not great:
"Daniel Molina", retired petty officer of the air force and represented here by Mr. Duarte," had killed his lover and a son of hers at noon the previous day.  That is, Cetarti's mother and brother"
(Frisch & Co., 2013)

Cetarti manages to get his act together and drives all day to get to the provincial town of Lapachito, where he meets the aforementioned Duarte, has his mother and brother cremated and goes along with Duarte's ruse to scam some insurance money.
On his return to Córdoba, Cetarti decides to quit his apartment and move into his brother's old place, a ramshackle house full of rubbish - and an axolotl salamander.  As he settles into a life of smoking weed, eating pizza and watching the Discovery Channel, he slowly makes plans for heading off into the sunset.  Little does he know though that Duarte is not who he seems - and that their fleeting meeting in Lapachito is to have far-reaching consequences...
Under this Terrible Sun is a book which starts off incredibly slowly (despite the dramatic phone call), and after a few of the many, fairly brief, chapters, I was starting to wonder if anything was going to happen.  All of a sudden though, we get to see beneath the dull veneer, and it's fairly disturbing.  The fact of the matter is that the air-force veteran Duarte is a nasty piece of work.  Whatever you do, don't go down to the basement...

"Without untying him, he adjusted the boy until he was in a stable seated position"
This sentence appeared just as randomly and disturbingly in the book as it did in my post.  It comes out of nowhere, and the reader suddenly suspects that the book is about to take a new direction.
Let's be blunt - Under this Terible Sun soon becomes a dark twisted story about some sad, nasty people.  The initially affable Duarte is a criminal, sick and unforgiving, one with a penchant for model planes and vile pornography:

"There's some pornography you don't watch to jerk off, you watch it more out of curiosity about how far the human species will go."
Let's just say that he's not a very nice man...  He is ably supported by Danielito, a big man addicted to junk food, marijuana and the Discovery Channel, one who is a side-kick to both Duarte and his own (rather strange) mother...
However, the central character of the novel, Cetarti, isn't much better.  He's listless and drifting, spending his days smoking joints and avoiding anything which might lead to action.  He's a man who really doesn't like to get involved - in anything:

"But getting out of the car, talking, making himself understood, paying etc., it all seemed like an unworkable task that broke down into an almost endless series of muscular contractions, small positional decisions, mental operations of word choice and response analysis that exhausted him in advance."
Danielito's father provides a connection with Cetarti, but the two men have more in common than their messy family ties.  They're both losers with little going for them apart from a messy apartment, a bag of weed and an interest in TV documentaries.  Sad men, with wasted lives.
A symbol for this sense of inertia is the pet Cetarti finds at his brother's house, an axolotl - a salamander which doesn't need to evolve or grow up.  It lives at the bottom of its tank, stagnant, unmoving.  It's a rather apt pet for the unevolved Cetarti...
Under this Terrible Sun is a short read, and interesting in parts, but it's not a book I loved.  For me, it never really got going, and I was rarely sure where it was going (or why).  Also, as alluded to above, it's another of those Latin American books with some very graphic scenes, which reminded me (in passing) of certain sections of Carlos Gamerro's The Islands.  If you didn't like those (and those who have read Gamerro's book will know exactly what I mean), you may not like this...
While the book wasn't really one for me, I'm definitely still interested in the publisher.  An all-electronic press, which is a fairly new concept, has the advantage of allowing Frisch & Co. to deal with other publishers and get books out quickly.  With contacts to various big European presses, they should be able to bring out a few exciting books.  I'll definitely be trying another one - hopefully, I'll enjoy the next one a little more ;)

- http://tonysreadinglist.blogspot.hr/2013/09/under-this-terrible-sun-by-carlos.html

Sharon Dodua Otoo - The protagonist Cee is suddenly confronted with fundamental changes in her (experience of) life: one by one each colour disappears from her daily routine. As she tries to find a way to deal with this, she is forced to question her deepest held convictions

Sharon Dodua Otoo,  Synchronicity, Edition Assemblage, 2015.

One day, Cee realises that she is in the process of losing her colours – which is definitely bad enough. But actually – it‘s just the beginning…
Cee slowly realises that she is losing her colours day by day. Of course, this worries her at first – although she already knows that her foremothers also went through it and survived. Still. Now she has to once again learn how to deal with loss – and just like last time, it‘s happening just before Christmas…

Reading this work by Otoo is at once swift and gentle: as if you were holding a butterfly cupped between your hands. This describes exactly how I felt as I held the main character of “Synchronicity“, with all her experiences, in my hands. It was as if she wanted to break out, to escape from everything which she was in danger of sliding and disappearing into. Or was it actually the others who make and made her increasingly colourless or even completely invisible? In a world in which the loss of colour was becoming a simple fact of life. - Gülseher S.

Ralph Ellison‘s „Invisible Man“ seems mundane compared to this latest story of Sharon Dodua Otoo. In a wonderful collaboration with the illustrations of Sita Ngoumou, “Synchronicity“ is hilarious, brilliant and multilayered. “Synchronicity“ is written in a vivid and humourous way, with profound messages that only reveal themselves gradually. An absolute and „well portioned“ pleasure to read!
- Nouria N. Asfaha

The protagonist Cee is suddenly confronted with fundamental changes in her (experience of) life: one by one each colour disappears from her daily routine. As she tries to find a way to deal with this, she is forced to question her deepest held convictions. In a sensitive, honest and (self-) depreciating way, “Synchronicity“ tells the story of the power of human relationships when our perception threatens to disappear into various shades of grey. Each of the 24 anecdotes is literally a sensuous experience: challenging the reader to confront their own fears while also sparking a desire for change.- Nadine Lantzsch

Sharon Dodua Otoo, The Things I am Thinking While Smiling Politely, Edition Assemblage, 2012.

“the things i am thinking while smiling politely” is the story of the decline and break-up of a marriage as well as the consequences for close family and friends. Ama loses her sista, Kareem learns to mistrust a good friend, the siblings Ash and Beth have to fight for their mother’s affection, Till and his wife drift away from each other… Sensitively, honestly and with a special sense of humour, the woman with all these roles describes how she rediscovers herself – and not only in the positive sense.
Following years of activist work in the Black German community, Sharon Dodua Otoo continues to pursue empowerment as a theme, this time in the field of literature. Sharon weaves her observations on everyday racism and privilege into the story of a Black British woman whose marriage breaks down.

“An intense and penetrating account of the emotional fallout, secrets and
lies that shadow the death of a relationship.” - Neil Ansell

“Reading this brings flashes of recognition: how it is to be loved and
overlooked, to be thought exotic and scorned, to be adored and ignored- all
at the same time. Sharon Otoo strings us along, spellbound, with fragments
of language that fill us with the thought: this is how the heart breaks.” - Fawzia Kane

…Otoo’s writing is efficient and brutal with a journal-like quality. This writing style effortlessly explores complex issues like white supremacy in intimate relationships, cultural colonialism, immigration, the mine-field of divorce and universal human failure. None of these issues are at the center of the story, yet are weaved through everything that happens. Her narrative gives us a sneak peek into the unsaid and often felt universe of a black woman in Berlin… - Denise Van der Cruze

Is this German literature? Sharon Otoo is not a German writer. She is, according to her page and the book cover, “a Black British mother, activist, author and editor;” and both books under review are written in English. There is a German version of both, published more or less simultaneously by the same publisher, who is headquartered in Münster, in North-Rhine Westphalia in West Germany, but they have both been translated by a person other than the author (Mirjam Nuenning). Otoo lives and works in Germany and is involved in German debates on racism and refugees. She moved to Germany in 2006 and immediately became involved in activism involving blackness in Germany. I recommend reading this interview. This year, she won the Bachmannpreis for a brilliant story, written in German, which was clearly, to pretty much any competent observer, the best text in the competition, despite some excellent work by the other competitors. The two novellas under review are a cultural hybrid, written in English by a writer with English education and sensibilities, but set in Germany and informed by the sharp observations and brilliant details of a critically observant person living in this country. German literature written by Germans of German descent is pretty dull these days, with a few notable exceptions. Too much of it has been nurtured in the two big MFA mills, too much of it is blind, privileged pap with nothing at stake. Otoo’s books are brilliantly aware of traditions and contexts, of how assumptions and narratives intersect. Synchronicity is a near-allegorical tale of migration, community and adulthood and extends the promise of Otoo’s debut. The Things I am Thinking While Smiling Politely, a book about heartbreak, racism and migration. Both books are written with a sharp stylistic economy that never lapses into flatness, a skill that is as rare as it is commendable. If German literature is to have an interesting future, then it is not young writers writing clever postmodern 1000 page books with nothing at stake or MFA mill products with their self-congratulatory emptiness. It is writers with a migratory background who inject fresh energy and purpose into a literature that has grown rather tired. Otoo does not identify as a German writer but it is German literature that most stands to profit from her growing body of work.
Synchronicity is a multi-layered, but straight-forward story of community and family. Everything else, all the magical realism, all the bells and whistles, are woven around this core. Blackness and migration is a tale of fighting to belong. In the much more knotty and fragmented Things I am Thinking…, the protagonist explains that, being “the only black girl in a London suburb” she “quickly leaned that trouble could be avoided if [she] acted white.” This thinking is continued and expanded upon in Synchronicity – while the first novella used the personal as a mirror and medium to reflect (and reflect upon) political aspects, combining heartbreak with thoughts of alienation, this second novella is more deliberate and careful in discussing migration by offering us a set of metaphors on the one hand, and tableau of characters who all relate to the protagonist along an axis of power and nationality. The more streamlined nature of the second book derives to a great part from the genesis of the book as a Christmas tale written in 24 daily installments and sent to friends and family. The idea of turning it into a book came later, which explains why the two novellas are so different in construction. Things I am Thinking… is written in fragments, with a narrator who keeps going back and forth in time, to reveal some things and hint at others. The chapters all start mid-sentence and each chapter is preceded by a “shrapnel,” an emotionally charged quote. The book only makes sense as a complete construction, there’s no way to write that kind of book by coming up with daily installments. And yet the linear nature of Synchronicity is also not a sign of Otoo’s development, because her Bachmannpreis-winning story is exceptionally well constructed, with cultural, historical and theoretical allusions coming together to create a story that is deceptively simple, a story that needed to be mapped out in advance. I suspect when we look at Otoo’s work in a few years, after she has written the novel that she’s writing now (and won the Chamisso-award that she’s practically a shoo-in for at this point) and edited some more books, that Synchronicity will stand out as a unique part of her oeuvre. An unusual work by a writer of uncommon talent.
It is important to note what an incredible progress the author has made since her first novella, despite that book’s high quality. Things I am Thinking… is a dense realist book that is fairly low on allusion and high on clarity of observation. The prose is lean but effective throughout, sometimes leaning a bit towards the journalistic. The real achievement of the book, however, is not the writing or the observations, per se, it is the author’s skill of connecting various elements of her narrator’s life in meaningful but subtle ways. I am sure the author is aware of various aspects of political philosophy, from Foucault to Critical Race Studies, but she wears that knowledge lightly. This is the philosophical version of “show not tell.” The book’s story is about a Black woman who lives in Germany. She has broken up with her husband Till, who is also the father of her child. She has friends of various ethnicities and origins, among them refugees. She has increasingly become disillusioned with the reality of Germany, which is expressed particularly well in the narrator’s attitude towards her husband’s name
So it was a matter of great inspiration to me, meeting Till on my year abroad in Germany. Someone with a surname so unambiguously of the country he was born, raised and lived in that I thought: how sexy is that? And I knew I had to make it my own. This however didn’t stop other officially suited white ladies in cold offices from saying “Wie bitte?” and asking me to repeat myself – like they were disappointed because they had been expecting me to be called something resembling Umdibondingo or whatever. Several months after we were married, I discovered that “Peters” was also the surname of a German colonial aggressor and although I didn’t begin to hate it then, I stopped adorning myself with it.
Otoo pulls off a rare trick – her book is dense and cerebral, but it has a story to tell, as well as a narrative and political urgency. Everything in the book has a purpose and is connected to everything else, but it never feels like Otoo is simply having a postmodern game on. This is not the place to unravel all the book’s plotlines and trajectories, but suffice to say that she manages to see how the different ways power shapes and controls us intersect and collaborate. And her protagonist, who has learned to accommodate various demands of power, is now crashing against the walls of the well-built house of German racism and economics because her personal life implodes. The word “shrapnel” is well chosen for the quotes preceding the chapters because the impression I got reading the book was that heartbreak, a fundamental personal emotion, functions like a bomb that explodes in the middle of a lifetime of accomodation and struggle. The book itself, while not framed explicitly as a text written by the protagonist, feels like an attempt to assemble the shards of a life, where one betrayal has damaged personal, professional and social relationships.
The aspect of migration is not central to Things I am Thinking…. We learn that the protagonist is British, but migration is experienced more through the eyes of the refugees we encounter in the book like Kareem, of whom the author remarks that he “has this matter of fact, nothing-to-lose air about his person. Years of being an illegal immigrant in an unwelcoming country will do that to you, I guess.” Much of the alienation that we learn about is the kind that happens when you look foreign and live in a racist country:
Berlin is a place where anything goes, and you can wear whatever you like, but if you are a Black woman in the underground, be prepared to be looked up and down very very slowly. I cannot tell you how many times I have glanced down at myself in horror during such moments to check if my jeans were unzipped or if my dress was caught up in my underwear. White people look at me sometimes like I am their own private Völkerschau. Staring back doesn’t help. It counts as part of the entertainment. Entertainment.
We get hints sometimes as to how a hybrid identity can develop with migration, such as when the protagonist recounts the criticism her “auntie” leveled at her: “she was truly shocked when she first realized that I had not raised Beth to hand wash her own underwear every night.” The reason for “auntie”’s outrage is the question of identity: “just because she has a whitey father, doesn’t mean she’s not Ghanaian!” The protagonist is not so sanguine about these matters, more interested in negotiating a Black identity in Germany, dealing with the shifting fortunes of being married to someone named Peters, and with the difficulties of establishing trust and loyalties in this country when you’re viewed as foreign.
Synchronicity, on the other hand, is primarily dedicated to these questions of heritage and migration. There are basically two stories, layered one above the other, in the book. One, the surface-level story, is the one of Charlie Mensah, known as “Cee,” who is a graphic designer who, one day, starts to “lose” her colors. This is meant quite literally. For a couple of days, she stops being able to see certain colors, with one color absconding per day. Blue, red, green, etc., until just gray remains. The beautiful illustrations by Sita Ngoumou provide a lovely background to this contrast. This is challenging to Cee, who is a freelance designer, with a big and well-paid project coming up, and who has suddenly lost the use of one of her most important faculties. Eventually, however, the colors return, one by one, albeit in a different form. This, so far, is the story as a realist narrative would describe it. There are smaller plotlines woven into it, such as Cee falling in love, and her conflicts with her client, but basically, this is it. The other story is the one concerning heritage and identity. This loss of colors is not some disability, not some virus or sickness, it is a process of maturation that happens to all the women in her family. The “different form” that colors are regained in is what the author calls “polysense,” a special form of synesthesia. And this is not all that is different about the women in Cee’s family. They are also all women who don’t reproduce sexually. They are parthogenic, which, as Cee explains, “means we have children alone – that our bodies are designed to become pregnant completely by themselves.” This is not some science fictional theory, although it echoes such science fictional worlds as the planet Whileaway in Joanna Russ’ feminist classic The Female Man. Otoo, beyond the term, never goes into details, because this strange genetic heritage serves primarily as a metaphor for migration and alienation. The people in Cee’s family live alone. They raise their daughters to be independent and then, once they are adult, they push them out of the house and then let them fend for themselves. The maturation process to polysense, and the insistence on independence makes it hard for these women to establish personal bonds; thus, Otoo found a metaphor to reify something that has been part of immigrant experience for a long time.
A better way, I suppose to frame it, is Axel Honneth’s innovative take on the subject of reification, where the process of recognizing the other is fundamental to the way our subjectivity is constructed and yet that recognition, which, as Butler writes, “is something achieved” that “emerge[s] first only after we wake from a more primary forgetfulness,” can be abandoned. The forgetting of recognition is, in Honneth’s reading, what. In classic terminology, we called reification. What does migration to to emotional recognition? How do we react when we migrate into places that see us as a constituting alterity, that use us to create their national and personal narratives. In Otoo’s slender and careful book, the answer, given for many generations of immigrants, is to retreat to a specific kind of subjectivity that rejects recognition. The parthogenetic reproduction is a perfect metaphor for that. But the tone of the book isn’t dark. Otoo, who works as an activist, imbues her novella with confidence in the future. Her migrants break free of this mold. Cee’s daughter refuses to accept the ways of her family and Cee herself sees changes in her and the world around her. She falls in love with a policeman who isn’t white, representing a fusion of her horizons with that of the country she migrated to. The most powerful description of the policeman is not the first time she sees him, it is a moment of recognition, which, for Honneth, is something that is part of maturation:
That policeman. I recognized him straight away this time because he had a particular kind of walk. Like he was happy to be walking at all. In fact, if I had to choose one word to describe his body language it would be: gratitude. That really fascinated me. I stared at him for quite some time as I walked towards him – he was in deep conversation with his white colleague. I could tell the colleague was white because his walk was altogether more sturdy and authoritarian. He placed his feet firmly onto the ground, each step conferring a heritage of legitimacy and ownership unto him.
The book is a Christmas story, which explains its optimism and lightness, but it also offers a literary third way between assimilation and rejection. Critical optimism, if you will. It is a unique quality that appears to be emerging in Otoo’s work. Things I am Thinking… is a much darker work, but the story that Otoo read at the Bachmannpreis walks the same line as Synchronicity does. I don’t think I’ve ever read quite the same kind of story in this country and I don’t think I have ever read a writer quite like Otoo.
At the Bachmannpreis (I had a short post on it last year here) the jury discussions of Otoo’s text and the one of Tomer Gardi, another exciting text read at the competition, as well as the contrast to the bland terrible awfulness of the texts read by Jan Snela, Julia Wolf, Isabelle Lehn or Astrid Sozio (who, slotted directly behind Otoo, read a spectacularly racist text) maybe shows where literature written and published in this country needs to turn. The comfortable and unnecessary tales of migrancy from a MFA-educated German mind do not add to the conversation and they do not produce good literature. That is a dead end, and nothing demonstrated that dead end as well as the comparison of the field with Sharon Otoo’s excellent text, and Otoo’s work in general. - https://shigekuni.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/sharon-dodua-otoo-synchronicity/

Witnessed: An Interview With Editor Sharon Dodua Otoo

Sharon Dodua Otoo is a Black British mother, activist, author and editor of the English language book series “Witnessed“. Her first novella “the things i am thinking while smiling politely“ was published in English in 2012 and appeared in German as “die dinge, die ich denke, während ich höflich lächele“ in 2013 (both also in edition assemblage). “Synchronicity“ is her second novella. Sharon lives, laughs and works in Berlin.


Patricia Eakins - A stunning mixture of mythology, surrealism, anthropology and nature. These stories are a modern bestiary which rework the stuff of mythologies, spanning the cultures of the planet, reclaiming for the Imagination its territories from Science

Patricia Eakins, Hungry Girls and Other Stories, Cadmus Editions, 1989.            

The title story won a Charles Angoff award in 1987 and this collection of thirteen connected stories, Eakins' first book, announces a new talent on the scene. As Paul Violi observes, “Eakins' work has the multifarious appeal of genius, and she may have written a major book. Certainly she has written a magical one.” These stories are a modern bestiary which rework the stuff of mythologies, spanning the cultures of the planet, reclaiming for the Imagination its territories from Science. They are counterfables in which the usual fabulous project is reversed: animal characteristics are attributed to humans, and humans and animals are seen as codeterminants of the moral and cultural landscape.

Eakins writes of terrifying pullulation [rapid breeding, swarming, teeming] with enormous charm; nature in her stories is gargantuan and omnivorous . . . life is a constant turmoil of metamorphoses, Heraclitian but marvelous strife. So many of her creatures, in their very genesis, even in their pre-natal state are already causing havoc, seething beneath the soil of edenic landscapes, bursting forth to reduce human affairs to defenseless absurdity. . . . Yet in virtually all of Eakins' stories, the beauty of life is redeeming; in this she reverses Rilke, as if to say, that beauty is not the beginning of terror, but survives it. For all their careful observation, the stories have the furious motion of myths . . . applied to familiar genres: the western, the feral child, the nuke mutant, the courtly Japanese tale, the Persian parable . . . their spiritual range is that of an encompassing vision.

A stunning mixture of mythology, surrealism, anthropology and nature, the thirteen stories in this collection are a tour-de-force of originality, imagination and style. From story to story, Eakins invents a fantastic bestiary which resembles at times the gentle and wise creation myths of primitive tribes and at others the dark sociological satire of Swift and Rabelais. These stories . . . exhibit a finely-honed, carefully constructed anti-realism; . . . a kind of attack on the highly conscious, rational, dualistic, scientific thought processes common to Western thinking in the modern age. The author seems to argue, with justification, that imagination and the unconscious are doors to understanding that have rusted shut on their hinges as a result of our over-reliance on reason. Borrowing from any number of conventions both sacred and profane, from contes fantastiques to creation myths to traditional Japanese courtier tales, these stories seek to provide, like the myths and fables they often emulate, explanations for mysteries beyond the kinds of knowing fostered by scientific thought. The Hungry Girls is quite simply one of the most intriguing and entertaining new collections of short fiction I have read in recent years. — Greg Boyd

One of the characters in Patricia Eakins' first collection, The Hungry Girls and Other Stories, talks of stepping into books, “there to enjoy a universe that is our own in all its perfection.” That universe is her own book, actually a bestiary . . . The territory may be akin to the work of Harold Jaffe or tangentially even to that of Kathy Acker or William Burroughs, but it is yet very much Eakins' own, imbued with an ecological “fitness” that is one of the many strengths of the collection. . . . Eakins' skill lies in writing a fairty tale full of childlike wondrousness, capable of allaying the “grown-up's” skepticism, yet still preserving the cynicism and defeat that is our adult lot. . . . In many of these stories, Eakins is willing to cover vast tracts of time to show us the human capacity for absurdity or decadence on a panoramic scale . . . and we laugh at . . . fallibility . . . which is really our own. We laugh a lot in this book [at] digressions . . . luscious and revealing and thus not digressions at all. Much of the imaginative richness of the collection comes from what might be called an anthropological plausibility . . . but it is more: the weaving of ritual into the lives of fictional characters. . . . I give testament to Eakins' ability to bring . . . impossible beings to life. There's a totality to these creatures and their habits that makes them arresting beyond their inherent freakishness. What the sophisticated reader culls from these tales of mythological animals . . . is twofold: as is said of a man in the title story: “he had been long enough among the animals to have forgotten the ways of people.” The readers of this collection are in essence reminded that the reverse is also true. Eakins' bestiary is territory that I doubt can be approached again without repetition, but showing the imaginative capacity that she does, whatever direction she chooses to take the next must be awaited with anticipation. Here she shows the beast and beauty in ourselves, not only how ordinary our humanity but also how mundane our beastliness. — Peter Bricklebank

Like some of the best poetry, these tales dazzle and amuse us with their inventiveness, love of paradox, and skill with language. - Enid Dame

What we have here in this collection is the birth of a North American Borges — mental, clever, all puzzles and riddles, lit as chess, mind-trek, with this difference . . . whereas Borges is centered in dream, myth, the occult, the focus of Eakins is a fantasy-biology in its widest sense. The whole book is visioned through the naturalists' eye “ only (like Borges) this naturalist is just a little surrealistically off center. Delicious writing, a kind of fantastic bestiary. It has the bronze solidity and permanence of major work . . . Romping through all-history, all-geography, turning her fantastic animals into sociological paradigms (Cf. Gulliver's Travels or Melville's Mardi), working out absurd sociological models with utter tongue-in-cheek sobriety . . . Eakins has thrown a puzzler at us more than anything else announces the beginnings of the major phase of a major artist among us. — Hugh Fox

Patricia Eakins must have grown up on bestiaries because every story in her new collection is about some sort of made-up animal, and like the medieval writers, she is very moral about her creatures, except in her case the morals tend to be a little disturbing. — Stuart Klawans

The Hungry Girls is an astonishingly ambitious and accomplished book, especially considering the risks Patricia Eakins takes. Writing in the genre of the fabulous tale, she stakes a claim in territory pioneered by . . . Rabelais, yet her work reveals a distinctive and often startling sensibility. The strength and resonance of many of Eakins' stories come from her deft use of the shocking. . . . At times the fantastical is no more than we might see on the evening news . . . Eakins sometimes casts a devastatingly cold eye on what human culture accepts as normal . . . Eakins apparently believes in our need for story to make the world come alive again. Even her most fantastical stories are tales of the human condition. — Kathleen Norris

The Hungry Girls should be just a bestiary. . . . Instead it is a gift of unconstrained storytelling, a vigorous imagination striding . . . through the awful, brutal necessities of biology which has this terrifying effect: Eakins makes us cringe at the rebellious nature of our own flesh, caught between our puny wishes and the needs of the species . . . The Hungry Girls is among the most original and unsettling books I have ever read. . . . The tales are constructed with surprising, even astonishing turns. There is nothing floating or disconnected about her voice. She is deeply engaged, passionately observing the worlds that her imagination has about the real world. This book is the Smithsonian of the imagination, only better. . . . Eakins is so deft, she ranges across forms, using each to exactly fit her tale . . . And yet these stories are never quite a form . . . but remain images evoked . . . so the reader walks away with a powerful image, his nightmare still intact . . . These stories . . . are dark, even malevolent in their power to evoke horror, but Eakins achieves these effects with a brilliant mixture of humor, sometimes so outrageous you laugh out loud, and poetic turns that make the language sing with rhythmns and resonances that are comforting, calming and enthralling, in the same moment she makes you gasp. Eakins' passion does not derive from a description of what she sees . . . but from a furious, at times ecstatic attempt to comprehend an awesome universe... — John Richards

. . . Patricia Eakins tells us thirteen tales of primal, disturbing beauty in an authoritative voice that is both scientific and lush. Under the guidance of this storyteller, we suspend our old ways of seeing and enter a mythic landscape where the perverse becomes redemtive and the macabre becomes natural. Eakins' tales . . . strip away sentimentality to reconnect us with old truths and to reveal the world as it is: graced, mysterious, and brutal . . . Eakins' book yields an astounding menagerie of life. Parable, epic, folklore, fairy tale, saga — the teller houses her vision in each of these forms to pass on a collection of wisdom that is rare in this age of information. — Mary Lynn Skutley

Patricia Eakins' The Hungry Girls is as rare a creature as those that populate its pages, a genuinely original, beautiful, and disturbing work of art. It is a kind of imaginative bestiary for our times, but a bestiary in the same sense that Borges' Ficciones is a collection of myths or that Calvino's Cosmicomics is a scientific treatise. And it shares with these works a lightness of touch, comic wit, and astonishing inventiveness. — Robert Coover

An awesomely inventive tale-teller, Patricia Eakins has created a world that is a mirror of our own (only minus such human impediments as morality and memory). Its animals are tantalizing in their trompe l'oeil reality, rendered with disarming aplomb, and she sets them in fierce and unstoppable motion without a blink to give away her game. That deadpan poise is what gives these stories their rare menacing wit: Aren't these things possible? These species sound so plausible, their behavior so—nearly—familiar . . . Patricia Eakins writes beautifully: a fine ear and a sense of shape make uncommon music of her direct imaginings. If you've had enough fiction-as-usual — name brands, minor ephiphanies, timid time-bound gestures — The Hungry Girls has some astounding things to tell. — Roselyn Brown

What most distinguishes her work is a thickness I'll call Geertzian, a packed quality — the excitement and immediacy of lyric poetry . . . The test is the sentence. Power is the word that comes to mind. The actual, physical presence of energic mass, I mean energy/mass. It's the relentless electric charge of the fiction. . . . The test is the sentence . . . In Eakins, there is an integrity, an authority, everywhere at all times present and accounting. — George Chambers

Patricia Eakins' fables are a garden of earthly delights. Some of them (literally) made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. The Hungry Girls is rare, startling and brilliant. Her tales transported me to the land behind the looking glass where Franz Kafka dwells among the houris. — Donald McCaig

These stories are more than imagination; they are witty, playful, soberly detailed glimses into realities totally believable. These stories are wicked in their conjoinment of what the eye sees and the heart and mind know. The settings are convincingly detailed, the language of each story richly native to it, and the animals are so living in their acts and behaviours and relationships one knows they are real.
Faye Kicknosway

The Hungry Girls is a continuously startling work, an elegant violation of the rules of contemporary fiction. Like gamelan music or like creation myths and tribal histories, these stories have no real beginning or end. Each seems a piece of some larger record—of a life, a people, a village, a culture. In part their genius resides in the authenticity of each story's tone and point of view and in part with the music and imagery of the language itself, which is poetic and sensuous. One savors the flow of words, sometimes rollicking, often disturbing, ever mysterious and evocative. That we cannot quite say what these stories mean speaks of the purity of their connection to the well-spring of human creativity. The characters (whether men, women, beasts, or something between) arise like dream figures, inexplicable, unless we make them safe by reducing them to less than what they are. These are stories that echo from so many regions of the psyche they confound analysis, and finally we must take them of a piece both vivid and bewildering. Finally it is their aesthetic to which we are drawn, the intricate compilation of detail, evincing a rare and humbling artistry. — Elizabeth Herr

More than stories in a collection, Eakins' tales are palimpsests of cultures, the details of each slightly effaced portrait glancing through the layers of cultural imagination. With their faintly bizarre sexuality and their good humor, they belong to the world of fable, not to the dusty archives of academic anthropology—they are, in that sense, fabulous. — Mariana Rexroth

In The Hungry Girls Patricia Eakins often displays a very personal brand of post-Surrealist anthropology or zoology which allows her to describe in great detail and most convincingly the complex customs or mythical beliefs of purely imaginary peoples or else the equally fanciful lifecycles of creatures as unreal as the Snark or the Boojum in the far more whimsical writings of Lewis Carroll. . . . In some of her stories Patricia Eakins displays an imagination similar to that of Yacov Lind in offering us a modern and psychologically more sophisticated form of the “gothic tales” of such writer of the early nineteenth-century as Charles Brockden Brown, Robert Maturin or Sheridan Lefanu. — Edouard Roditi

In this first collection of fiction, Patricia Eakins's territory is in that tangled thicket of the imagination somewhere between Borges and Burroughs, between the fairy tales of Grimm and the magic realism of the South Americans, a kind of ''Invisible Cities'' as animal sanctuary, yet her oeuvre is in no way derivative. Each of Ms. Eakins's stories posits a separate, self-contained world with its own set of exemplary monsters. The hungry girls of the title story, who emerge almost literally from the soil - the eating of dirt seems to germinate them - have gargantuan indiscriminate appetites. With each successive generation of girls, they grow more grotesquely large until they become virtually as big as houses.
''The priest saw that each of the girls sitting on the ground had at least one young man living inside her. He saw the young men lean ladders against the hungry girls' sides so they could climb up on their shoulders and comb their hair and whisper in their ears. . . . One fellow drove a stage coach right into a girl's body, six horses and a sizeable carriage with a great deal of baggage on top and behind!''
This passage has a Marquesian wit. That the girls represent some kind of rampant nature, voracious and amoral, hardly explains the story's mystery. Ms. Eakins's stories refuse explication, remain exotically opaque.
''The Hungry Girls'' is about the primordial universe unmediated by the civilized and the rational, but it is also implicitly about the imagining of self-sustaining worlds, the making of convincing artifice. Patricia Eakins's language is in every way equal to her inventions. For example, the story ''Forrago'' starts: ''Now in the darkest and narrowest alleys of Porto Affraia, alleys too dark and narrow even for stand-up whores and small-time thieves, there thrive some small ratty creatures with greasy, ashen coats and greedy big eyes. The teeth of these fragaos, or forragos, are sharper than scimitars.'' Where the hunger of the hungry girls is a kind of fecundity run amok, the ratlike forragos are unmitigatedly vicious. Ms. Eakins's imaginary creatures have a visceral reality as powerful and convincing as the human characters in most of our realistic fictions.
Creatures like the banda, who are benign, tend to be more or less ineffectual. The banda's role is to warn children to avoid the path to the witch's house. But the banda ''has no vocal cords in his throat and his tongue is velvet. No wonder the child thought the banda's whisper was leaves, restless in wind. Still. The banda did the best he could.''
If the child follows the banda's advice, which he is only dimly aware of having heard, he can escape the witch. ''But it will not happen. It never does.'' The sentimental banda gives the witch an occasional minor comeuppance, but mostly leads a life mired in well-intentioned failure and the dim solace of regret.
Nature in Patricia Eakins's densely rendered universe is both evenhanded and arbitrary. ''The Hungry Girls'' gives us a dimly familiar version of our world, as perceived through a transforming imagination. It is a work of imaginative brilliance, a considerable achievement in modest disguise. In time, ''The Hungry Girls'' will no doubt find its audience. Meanwhile, readers interested in the pleasure of surprising fictions will go out of their way - it may be the only way - to find the Cadmus edition of Patricia Eakins's triumphantly quirky first book. - JONATHAN BAUMBACH

Image result for Patricia Eakins, The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste:

Patricia Eakins, The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste: Father and Mother, First and Last, NYU Press, 1999.
read it at Google Books
borrow it

The first-person narrative of a savant slave, Patricia Eakins's The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste is one of the most imaginative novels in many years. From the opening pages, the reader is swept up by the linguistic fireworks of Eakins's autodidactic protagonist as he recounts "the tribulations of bondage in the sugar isles," his escape and how he was marooned, and his subsequent trials and adventures. Making expert use of historical convention and with an ear for rhetorical authenticity, Eakins has given us a compelling novel that bridges not only human cultures but the chasm between human and animal.
Here then is the account of the life and times of an African man of letters "whose ambitions were realized in strange and unexpected ways, yet who made peace with several gods and established a realm of equality & freedom & bounty in which no creature lives from another's labor." Pierre Baptiste emerges as an embodiment of all that is lost in a racist culture

First-novelist Eakins (The Hungry Girls & Other Stories—not reviewed) received the NYU Press Prize for this account of an 18th- century slave who becomes an autodidact, a philosopher, a castaway, and a mother and father both. Try, if you might, to imagine Robinson Crusoe’s Friday with Tristram Shandy’s education—and without Robinson Crusoe—and you—ll get some notion of what to expect in Eakins’s rather audacious tale. It’s narrated by one Pierre Baptiste de Buffon, an African slave who has spent most of his life in the Caribbean islands during the years leading up to the French Revolution. Pierre was purchased by an erudite and forward-thinking landowner who—in defiance of both law and custom—taught him how to read and write and eventually made him the manager of one of his estates. About as privileged as a slave could be, Pierre studied philosophy, science, and literature, and was able to converse with his master’s peers as an intellectual (if not a social) equal. He learned from them that a Revolution proclaiming the equality of all was convulsing France and threatening to spread across Europe. Determined to see at firsthand what was happening, Pierre ran away and tried to float across the Atlantic in a rum cask—only to run aground on an uninhabited island. Here the story turns into a veritable bestiary of the weird and unexpected. The impractical Pierre is hard-pressed to survive in the wild until he catches a wounded mermaid and nurses her back to health. She repays his charity by coming ashore each day and vomiting fish into his mouth. Eventually, Pierre discovers himself pregnant, and in due course he delivers four new “creatures” into the world. Presiding over this odd family, Pierre tames his island wilderness and tries to complete his “CYCLOPEDISH HISTOIRE OF GUINEE AND BEYOND” (i.e., the story of his life), which will probably go on for quite some time—if it’s ever finished at all. Bizarre, marvelous, and horrifying at once: a refreshing escape from the mundane. - Kirkus Reviews

The trials of a genius trapped in bondage supplies the framework for Eakins's first novel (after the short story collection The Hungry Girls), which purports to be the adventure-filled autobiography of an 18th-century black youth born into slavery on a sugar plantation. The plantation master, an amateur naturalist named Dufay, recalls 10-year-old Pierre from labor in the cane fields to help him classify flora and fauna on the Caribbean island. Impressed by young Pierre's acumen, and by his good humorAhe nicknames him GoodyADufay allows the boy to learn to read and write. Pierre often sneaks into the master's library to pore over volumes of Plato, Descartes, Newton and Diderot. After encountering a noted philosopher's condescending description of "Negroes," Pierre sets out to create the definitive encyclopedia of African culture: "In so doing, I would open for inspection THE GENIUS OF MY PEOPLE, proving we who had been stolen from Guine? THE EQUALS IN EVERY RESPECT OF OUR MASTERS and DESERVING OF LIBERTY." Later, when Pierre (now married to the hideously ugly but loving plantation cook) refuses to sleep with Madame Dufay, she accuses him of rape; Pierre sets out to sea in a barrel addressed to France. After an arduous experience, he is washed ashore on an uninhabited island. Here the novel's brilliance begins to tarnish. Pierre's commentaries on his Caribbean life are often scathing, humorous and brutally heartbreaking, but alone on his island, Pierre waxes tediously philosophical, and his adventures become weird, indeed: he is impregnated by a mermaidlike creature, carries the results to term in his mouth and gives birth to four "philosofish," whom he proceeds to educate. Such over-the-top, magic-realist bizarreness detracts from, and almost capsizes, what is for the most part startlingly creative, memorable work. (May) FYI: This novel won the NYU Press Prize for Fiction; excerpts have appeared in the Paris Review and other literary journals. - Publishers Weekly

Eakins' skill at spinning a tale and her love of language are obvious in this story of an eighteenth-century black slave who repeatedly defies convention and ultimately creates his own universe. Torn from his mother as an infant, Pierre is selected at age 10 to be his master's porter, thus gaining access to a library and becoming a self-educated man on the sugar plantation. He even successfully resists his master's attempt to breed him by selecting for his wife a woman known to be barren, as the result of horrific treatment at the hands of her previous owner. But when he deflects his mistress' advances, she threatens tortures worse than death, and he escapes from his island home by taking to sea in a barrel, thus embarking on fantastic adventures. The story is told in the style and language of the time and is studded with tales seemingly grounded in legend and myth. Eakins succeeds in her desire "to create stories that read as if they come from the body of lost history." - Michele Leber

Patricia Eakins's first novel is a fictional slave narrative that doesn't have a great deal to do with slavery. Eakins's hero, Pierre Baptiste, is a slave on the island of St.-Michel who, while recounting his ''marvelous adventures,'' is most concerned with presenting himself as a philosophe and an auteur. Eakins is clearly enamored of the trappings of the slave narrative; she supplies the broadside title page, the ampersands, the all-caps phrasing and the appeals to Kind Reader. While she puts Pierre through the obligatory genre paces (he educates himself, marries, escapes to freedom and commits his trials to paper), these incidents are handled perfunctorily, with no apparent regard for history or the human drama of enslavement. Betraying a faddish preoccupation with narrative and texts, Eakins has Pierre dream of writing a ''cyclopedish histoire of Guinee and beyond.'' Built to be deconstructed, the pretentious histoire veers from folk tale to science fiction/fantasy without rhyme, reason or a fraction of the humor and vitality of Charles Johnson's brilliant fictional slave narrative, ''Oxherding Tale.'' Here's one of Pierre's typical eruptions: ''Lost the Gods immortal, brothers and sisters, all far, far away. But for birds & ghosts & insects, I was alone. Oh, the insectae!'' The progression of events is equally incomprehensible -- it's ''Medea'' (a woman roasts her own infant, serving it to the baby's father); it's the Bible (Pierre is swallowed by a giant fish); it's ''Robinson Crusoe'' (Pierre is marooned on a desert isle); it's possibly even ''Charlotte's Web'' (Pierre befriends a female spider). It's a mess. - ELIZABETH JUDD

Everybody knows the yarn of the shipwrecked sailor, cast away on a tropical island. We’ve all also heard the tale of the noble slave who frees himself through his intellect and ability. Patricia Eakins builds her Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste from these time-honored strains — Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Aphra Behn’s Oronooko and such — to create a story with the worn-smooth feeling of driftwood.
Eakins, though, does more than just retell. Aswim with references to Caribbean colonial life and the French 18th century, the book shows painstaking research. Nor does she just transpose plots; she appropriates colonizers’ stories, retelling them from the colonized perspective.
Eakins’ novel follows a sugarcane slave’s progress from his eavesdropped and stolen education, through his marriage to a voodoo witch to his flight from the plantation, eventually landing on a deserted island. Pierre’s negotiation between his ancestry and his adopted culture, during the plantation half of the book fascinates. With the journey, though, the ground falls away under him — Pierre falls into wild hallucinations, replacing his people’s stories with crazed visions. Eakins’ writing follows, trading balance for lurid incoherence, ending in the thin-veiled theorizing of the Tempest-cribbed end.
The ideas driving the book are politically laudable. But good politics hardly ensures good art. Her recombination of other fictions works like an intellectual’s shell game, but by the end of the novel it is abundantly clear that the shells are all empty. —Justin Bauer

Oleg Woolf - Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz, a vivid, surreal evocation of a liminal world. The characters follow the trajectories of elementary particles, disappearing in one dimension only to reappear in another.”

Oleg Woolf, Bessarabian Stamps: Stories , Trans. by Boris Dralyuk, Phoneme Media, 2015. Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocod...