Category: The White Review

Inshallah

Laura Kasinof writing for Harpers magazine
AlexPotter_Harpers_Djibouti_622

Laura Kasinof travels to Djibouti to investigate the Yemeni refugee crisis in the gulf of Aden, for Harpers magazine:

We traipsed across a muddy, trash-strewn creek bed in Djibouti City. Om Sakhr had insisted we chat someplace pleasant, and this was the way to the garden. She was dressed in a wispy black abaya and hijab, her lips painted a tart red. Her strappy heels weren’t exactly suited for the walk. But after several minutes, we reached a wicker table beneath long palms, tucked away in one of the city’s residential districts, a welcome respite from the afternoon sun.

A few weeks earlier, in April, 53-year-old Om Sakhr, along with her youngest son, Sakhr, arrived in Djibouti by boat after fleeing their home in Yemen’s southern port city Aden, now the center of the country’s civil war. (Om Sakhr translates to “mother of Sakhr”; she asked me not to use her real name.) In Aden, she had been a women’s rights activist. I asked her what she does with her days in Djibouti City. “Here, I don’t have any work except flipping through CNN, Al Arabiya, BBC, and Al Jazeera,” she told me, so she could keep up with the war in Yemen, where her husband still lives. “It’s not good for your psyche, but what else will I do?”

Om Sakhr suffers a common feature of refugee life: she waits. She waits for peace so she can return to her home, or for options—a job opportunity or a visa—so she can move on and try to establish a new life. Right now, none of these are available. Some Yemenis I met in Djibouti said they didn’t like being labeled refugees because they associate the term with the thousands of Somalis who used to pour into their country, fleeing violence and famine—but now they are desperate too.

Yemen’s long-simmering conflict reached a tipping point in February, after a rebel group of Iranian-supported Houthis attacked cities throughout the country and forced out Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. In March, a Saudi Arabia–led coalition responded to the uprising by carrying out a series of airstrikes on Houthi targets. Later in the month, the coalition imposed a blockade on Yemen’s ports, cutting the country off from crucial imports such as medical supplies and fuel. The Houthis, with support from fighters aligned with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have been engaged in bloody street battles in Aden for nearly two months.1Neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble.

When Om Sakhr’s boat took off from Aden’s shores, she watched her beloved home, a beautiful coral-white city, disappear in the distance. “I never thought I’d leave Aden like that,” she said. “I was born in Aden and spent all my life in Aden, so taking me out of Aden is like breaking me down. It is not something I want to think about again.”

(…)

They Told Me the Story From the Lighthouse

Chimene Suleyman in the White Review
Cinque Ports Arms Dreamland Hall Side Margate 600 x 421

Chimene Suleyman’s fiction contribution to the White Review in April 2012:

I found Margate watching the sea and I walked the streets thinking they had left it sometime in the 70s, like an old street sign hanging pleadingly over shut cafes. It was an old stand-up comedian who had been successful; lived a rock and roll lifestyle; pissed away his money on hookers and gambling; become an alcoholic; and performed the same routine from ’79 in the backs of pubs to old men who all wished they could disappear.

 It was a wonderful place. My bag was small, not enough clothes for the time there, and a playlist of Stevie Nicks in my ears that soundtracked the walk up the seafront. Out of place Fleetwood Mac posters, too small for the cases they were in, too old to be hanging along the railings. The B&Bs shouldered each other, grey cream grey again. A pretty town – full of fish and chip shops that didn’t open, and Mayfair packets chased down the road by wind. Spring hadn’t come, which was fair enough, given that the fat woman with the red dyed hair was stood outside Dreamland in a red vest top, shrugging off the grey sky.

 The pub served whiskey and cokes that I took my time with, watched one eye on the football score on the screen across from my head. It felt like a holiday. No real worry for my things, which I left across my seat when I stood out front of the pub smoking, listening to people who knew each other, talk. When the pub shut, drunker than I wanted to be, I walked towards the seafront to the line of B&Bs that stood mostly empty. I rang the doorbell, and the Lebanese man turned the key on the other side of the glass door, opening it. Just him and his wife, and a small child that smelt of shit who turned circles in what should have been their living room. A brown desk and an old computer in the corner as their reception area.

 – You waiting for somebody? – No. I tell him. – You shouldn’t wait for anyone, he says, – no one is worth it. – No, I say, – it’s just me. – No dirty weekend? he says. – No. – That’s ok, he says, – it’s ok to be here alone, he says, – it’s ok. I paid, took my keys and followed him up to the second floor, where the clean double bed was all I wanted, and the shower pissed over the toilet.

(…)

Sarah Palin Night

Agustín Fernández Mallo
File photo of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin speaking to American Conservative Union's annual CPAC in Washington

Agustín Fernández Mallo’s story ‘Sarah Palin Night’ appeared in The White Review in 2012.  With a potential upcoming position for Palin in Trump’s new Cabinet, it seems an apt time to revisit it: 

IT WAS A SUNDAY AFTERNOON, SIESTA TIME: MY PHONE BUZZED in my pocket. ‘Is this Agustín Fernández Mallo?’ ‘Yes, who is this?’ ‘The Republican Party Department of Lotteries and Prize Draws, Washington DC, we are calling to inform you that you have won.’ ‘Won? Won what?’ ‘Isn’t this Agustín Fernández Mallo, a Spaniard residing in the city of Chicago?’

I know I should have told the truth to that female, Puerto Rican-inflected voice, I know I should have told her that that was a different Agustín, that I was not currently vacationing in Spain, that I did not work as a teller at Bank of America branch no. five in the city of Chicago, that I was not 34 years old, the fact is, I should have said many things I did not say because, following my reply in the affirmative, the Puerto Rican woman informed me that I had won a trip to accompany the vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on the campaign trail. It’s not that I have anything against accompanying a potential US Vice President, but rather that I would all of a sudden be obliged to request my one month vacation allowance. I was at that time bogged down in the writing of a blow-by-blow account of Great Britain in the seventies, focusing on sitcoms and the onset of punk, and I had set that month aside to watch the six seasons of George and Mildred back-to-back (available at EL CORTE INGLÉS, on sale right now).

Long story short: seven days later I found myself loading my suitcase into the black Citroën C5 waiting outside my front door.

2

At 8 o’clock on a Friday morning I was dropped off at the entrance to the San Francisco Hilton, a hotel I already knew from the tv show THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO (1972, Michael Douglas and Karl Malden), the weekly adventures that fueled my childhood gunslinger fantasies.

The Hilton lobby was a sort of amphitheatre, which could be accessed via the upper stands, while below, a collection of fifteen box offices served as check-in desks. The wafer-coloured doors, the copper banisters, the fake Persian rugs and precisely that odd amphitheatre shape seemed to conceal the fact that all of this had at one time been a college-sized basketball arena. But, if so, how to explain my childhood memory of the hotel in THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO? It was then that I thought that, in America, even the most ancient things always call to mind something modern, and not the other way round. For instance, to the left and right, large satin-hued posters displayed Palin’s face, half-seen from the side over the Stars and Stripes. It was quite clear that Palin was an old-fashioned woman who recalled something from the here and now: Zara outfits modeled on SEX IN THE CITY. Two black concierges led me over to desk no. 10. At all times, Jesse made sure that nothing strayed from the plan. It’s just dawned on me that I haven’t yet mentioned Jesse: dressed in a loose-fitting, foot-length coat, very dark Ray-Ban Wayfarers and leather gloves, he was the Republican Party PR Officer for Foreign Affairs, four rungs down from Sarah Palin’s personal adviser. I placed my suitcase on the almost Persian rug and Jesse, without fuss, checked me in. Passport, smoking room, 5-mega’ internet connection. From his replies to the data-gathering-girl, it did not take me long to figure out that Jesse had been on the force. The young woman’s questions set him on edge, made him awkward, accustomed as he was to asking all the questions, he was all yeses and nos; a multiple choice test. Jesse took his leave with a handshake, not without first making it clear that I should be in the lobby at 8am the following day, ready to set off. ‘It’s a long trip son. One city and five towns tomorrow. You’ve got the whole day to yourself today, twenty-four hours, rest up but get some air. I recommend you get yourself down to the bay to see the seals and eat three pistachio ice-creams.’ He took me by the shoulders and said, ‘Those are fine ice-creams, son, mark my words, real fine. If you have any problems, here’s my number.’ He scribbled a cell number on the back of his card, from which I gathered that this was his ‘plan B’, the one you give out so as not to pick up when the phone rings. His handwriting linked jagged numbers. I thought of badly-tied shoelaces.

3

I placed my card in the slot and there was light. To the left, the bed. A table at the back, next to the tinted window. In the bathroom, two identical wash basins were embedded in a single, off-white piece of marble. I washed my hands; the airline food had left them in a foul state. The faucet called to mind an abstract, metaphysical dolphin, as if sculpted by Oteiza but Made in China. I threw water on my face. Jet lag. I was filled with curiosity at the thought that the following day I would shake the hand of Sarah Palin (maybe even a kiss on the cheek, who knows?). In the days leading up to the trip I had gathered plenty of information about the candidate online, to familiarise myself; I don’t like to be caught with my pants down.

I dressed for comfort, a white Knicks tracksuit, bought specifically for the trip, and took out a handful of books from my suitcase, nothing special, miscellany on the history of America. I turned on the TV and headed over to the window. On the small, round (but almost Elizabethan) table, I found a note addressed to me, on paper bearing the Hilton letterhead. As a welcoming gesture, someone had taken the trouble to write down by hand the hotel’s telephone directory, the menus, the city’s top sights, everything, word for word, copied to the letter from the hotel’s standard, printed directory, which was placed symmetrically to the right. The one addressed to me had been signed by the hotel management in impeccable handwriting. It was headed by the phrase ‘one hundred years of solitude’; this last detail baffled me, although I found it moving.

I threw myself onto the bed, one of those royal models from which the canopy has been axed, and lay there flat out. The TV roared; a jungle of pixels and photosynthetic electrons unfurling at my feet. I lost myself awhile in the stuccoed ceiling.

(…)

Interview with Eileen Myles

In The White Review
Eileen-Myles

For Maria Dimitrova, Eileen Myles’ poetry is one of ‘appetites and human needs’. Read an excerpt from her interview with Eileen Myles for The White Review.

Q  THE WHITE REVIEW — What would have been different had we done this interview a year ago? Has your increased visibility changed the way you perceive what you are doing?

A  EILEEN MYLES — I think the challenge is always to talk from where you actually are. It’s always like being in a different culture. My joke has always been that if being an alcoholic didn’t destroy my writing, if being a lesbian didn’t destroy my writing, if being an academic didn’t destroy my writing, why would…

Q  THE WHITE REVIEW — Being canonised?

A  EILEEN MYLES — Yes. In a way it’s none of my business and it’s a matter of figuring out how to make what I’m doing be even more intimate than it has been. I started writing in the seventies and it was very quiet and nobody gave a damn that I was writing or that I was me, and there was so much freedom in that. Lately I got an award and rather than making a speech I just read my newest poem. That felt right. That’s what I mean by intimate. So there’s just a way now in which maybe I can relax, and yet you don’t want to relax too much. I want to be precise in this freedom.

 Q  THE WHITE REVIEW — John Ashbery wrote that some artists, and possibly the best ones, pass from ‘unacceptability to acceptance without an intervening period of appreciation’. Do you feel something similar can be said about the reception of your work? That in a sense, you did time?

A  EILEEN MYLES — Yes, and I mean, not until recently has the press actually gotten really smart. In terms of say, getting reviewed, what often is getting reviewed is the fact that I’ve become famous, and I was still not having the work be written about. THE NEW YORK TIMES had some guy who was a cultural critic writing about me, and he talked mostly about my work in my twenties, and that I was, like, badass and punk, and I was just like, ‘How is this relevant to the work I’m doing now?’ But there was an amazing piece in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS that was beautiful and smart. Getting my work actually written about is like being loved or something. I feel like that’s how I want to be seen. Meaning read.

Q  THE WHITE REVIEW — How is it that you would like to be seen now? What is different about your work now, and how do you feel about your older work?

A  EILEEN MYLES — I’m saying I’d enjoy being viewed and written about as a writer rather than as a cultural phenomenon. I think it’s more sexism – to see my work being read as this raw sexual thing – which only makes editors want more of that, rather than my next book. I think being a female or a queer writer is uniquely strange because you still are all those things before the word ‘writer’, when in all the years you were writing that wasn’t necessarily what was in the room with you. I was in my body writing. So is a man. So is anyone. So please tell me about the effect of the work, what’s in it, and I don’t mean content. What’s the experience of reading it? That’s how I write about books.

(…)

Interview with Han Kang

Sarah Shin for The White Review
han jang

Published by The White Review and translated by Deborah Smith, here’s an excerpt from Sarah Shin’s expansive interview with author of The Vegetarian and Human Acts, Han Kang:

Han Kang is a disquieting storyteller who leads the reader into the very heart of human experience, where the singular crosses the universal. Author of ten books of fiction and poetry in her native Korean, Han’s subversive work has been brought onto the Anglophone stage through close partnership with her award-winning translator Deborah Smith. Smith’s elegant renditions of the novels HUMAN ACTS (2016) and THE VEGETARIAN (2015) form part of a recent blossoming of international interest in Korean literature; Dalkey Archive’s Library of Korean Literature launched in 2013 and consists of 25 translations so far. Originally published as three novellas in South Korea nearly a decade ago, Han has said that THE VEGETARIAN was initially received as ‘very extreme and bizarre’ in Korea. It has since become a cult bestseller, with translation rights sold in twenty countries and its central novella ‘Mongolian Mark’ awarded the prestigious Yi Sang Literary Prize in 2005. HUMAN ACTS, her latest novel, was awarded the Korean Manhae Literary Prize last year, adding to her numerous other accolades.

‘I believe that humans should be plants.’ This line from the great modernist poet Yi Sang, written in the Korean script hangul banned under Japanese rule, reportedly obsessed Han during university and became the seed for THE VEGETARIAN. Yi’s dream-like images evoking the violence of imperialism upon the colonial subject are mirrored in Han’s surrealistic and painterly portrayal of a woman’s personal rebellion. The novel tells the story of Yeong-hye who, haunted by grotesque dreams, first gives up meat, then food altogether in a radical refusal of human cruelty and destruction. In a patriarchal society where vegetarianism is rare, Yeong-hye’s transgression eventually leads to her institutionalisation and force-feeding. Han’s life-long exploration of the themes of violence and humanity are here rooted in the anorexic body forming a provocative psychological portrait of a woman’s body politics.

HUMAN ACTS revisits these themes but pans out to the national stage, excavating the traumatic legacy of the Gwangju massacre in post-war Korean history. Opening in the Gwangju Commune, the action unfurls in the crucible of the 1980s student and worker-led democratic movement. In 1979 when military dictator Park Chung-Hee, the father of current president Park Geun-Hye, was assassinated his ‘protégé’, General Chun Doo-Hwan, succeeded him and extended martial law across the country, closing universities, restricting press freedom and banning political organising. On 18 May 1980 when students gathered in Gwangju to protest these measures, the government responded by sending in soldiers who opened fire on the crowds. A citizen army managed to eject the military presence and in the following days virtually the whole city joined together in creating an autonomous community comparable to the Paris Commune. The uprising endured for a few days until it was crushed by a US-approved military operation on 27 May that killed and injured thousands.

The massacre left a deep imprint in Korea’s cultural memory, in part because the truth around events was suppressed for years afterwards. Conservative accounts painted the incident as a Communist plot driven by North Korean sympathisers, and the death toll remains contested. ‘Gwangju’, Han says, has become another word ‘for all that has been mutilated beyond repair. The radioactive spread is ongoing.’ Thus HUMAN ACTS is a book with a banging door – it is fiction as a form of alternative historiography where the unresolved past pollutes the present. For Han, ‘Gwangju’ functions like a common noun denoting mankind’s capacity for acts of extreme violence in the same instance as acts of great humanity. Indeed, Korea’s tumultuous history has seen a succession of Gwangjus: there has been little closure, for example, for the Korean women forced into sexual slavery under Japanese colonial rule, or for the families separated by the Korean War that left the two Koreas divided by the Demilitarized Zone when the Cold War turned hot on the peninsular.

A language carries its culture on its back and Han deftly transports the myriad complexities of Korean history through her spare prose. Yet HUMAN ACTS, likeTHE VEGETARIAN, is often about the failure of language to adequately convey experience. In a striking scene, a survivor of torture asks, ‘Would you have been able to string together a continuous thread of words, silences, coughs and hesitations, its warp and weft somehow containing all that you wanted to say?’ Han certainly attempts to do so, both in her lyrical work and in this interview, conducted through email and translated by Deborah Smith.

Q. THE WHITE REVIEW — The history of Korea in the twentieth century is rich in trauma – why did you choose to write about the Gwangju Uprising in particular?

A. HAN KANG —  The twentieth century has left deep wounds not only on Korea but on the whole of the human race. Because I was born in 1970 I experienced neither the Japanese occupation, which lasted from 1910 to 1945, nor the Korean War, which began in 1950 and was concluded with a cease-fire in 1953. I began to publish poetry and fiction in 1993, when I was twenty-three; that was the first year since the military coup d’état in 1961 that a president who was not from the army but a civilian came to power. Thanks to that, I and writers of a similar generation felt that we had obtained the freedom to investigate the interior of the human without the guilty sense that we ought instead to be making political pronouncements through our work.

So my writing concentrated on this interior. Humans will not hesitate to lay down their own lives to rescue a child who had fallen onto the train tracks, yet are also perpetrators of appalling violence, like in Auschwitz. The broad spectrum of humanity, which runs from the sublime to the brutal, has for me been like a difficult homework problem ever since I was a child. You could say that my books are variations on this theme of human violence. Wanting to find the root cause of why embracing the human was such a painful thing for me, I groped inside my own interior, and there I encountered Gwangju, which I had experienced indirectly in 1980.

[…]

The White Review’s January Translation Issue

Edited by Daniel Medin
WhiteReview-Stack

Check it out: it features work by Enrique Vila-Matas, Herta Müller, Daniel Sada, etc.:

This issue opens with an excerpt from the only novel completed by the surrealist Romanian writer Max Blecher before his untimely death at the age of 28. His Adventures in Immediate Irreality is introduced here by the Nobel-prize winning novelist, poet and essayist Herta Müller (whose cut-ups we published as a pull-out concertina in The White Review No. 5).

We are excited to publish an excerpt from an as-yet-untranslated 2008 novel by Spain’s Enrique Vila-Matas entitled Dietario Voluble; a story by the Finnish artist and novelist Tove Jansson; Uday Prakash’s story, translated from Hindi, on Judge Sa’b’s woes in modern India; an excerpt from Han Kang’s new novel The Vegetarian, on the difficulties of going without meat South Korea; a section from the acclaimed Japanese writer Minae Mizumura’s bilingual, experimental Shisosetsu from left to right; and newly translated prose by the acclaimed Mexican author Daniel Sada, whom Roberto Bolaño considered to be without rival among Mexican writers of his generation.

Elsewhere we have poems from Alejandra Pizarnik, a friend and collaborator of Julio Cortazar and Octavio Paz whose life ended tragically at 36 in 1972; a sequence from the Brazilian Angélica Freitas; and new poetry from the Austrian writer Clemens J. Setz. The issue concludes with two extensive interviews with the Guatemalan writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa and the Polish novelist Magdalena Tulli.

This issue was edited by Daniel Medin, a contributing editor of The White Review. He helps direct the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris, and is an editor of the Cahiers Series and Music & Literature.

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