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NewPages Book Reviews

Posted August 1, 2013

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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Laura Elrick
  • Date Published December 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9846475-8-3
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 103pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Patrick James Dunagan
Practicing a vagabond bit of poetic loitering, the haunting use of a well-steadied repetition lingers round Laura Elrick’s Propagation, sounding off with jarring consistency throughout:
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  • Book Type Anthology edited
  • by Leanne Hinton
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-59714-200-7
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 256pp
  • Price $20.00
  • Review by Alyse Bensel
Promoting a grassroots approach to language revitalization, Leanne Hinton has edited over a dozen retellings from families who have brought their native languages back into the home. All of the essays in Bringing Our Languages Home possess a clear congruency in five different categories on how to approach language learning. Most essays focus on learning and reintroducing American tribal languages, such as Miami, Yuchi, Mohawk, and Karuk. This anthology certainly has a very focused audience, but those with an already established interest in linguistics and grassroots movements may also wish to follow along with these varied essays.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Robert Perisic
  • Date Published April 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1936787050
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 208pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by David Breithaupt
What can a novel show us that a textbook might not? Perhaps it can demonstrate how people truly live and breathe in any historical point in time. When I was young, novels like Robert Olen Butler’s Alleys of Eden presented an experience of what the American debacle in Vietnam was like. Richard Wright’s Black Boy revealed a world so alien to me, a Midwestern white boy, that I could hardly believe it was real. The Orphan Master’s Son took me to North Korea. Of course I studied history books in school and on my own, but it was the novels that left an imprint as if they were true memories. They took me to real places.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Mariah K. Young
  • Date Published November 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-1-59714-203-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 216pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Trena Machado
Masha’allah and Other Stories by Mariah K. Young, recipient of the James D. Houston Award, is a book of nine short stories that take place in the Bay Area of California. Young, enlivened by the energy and spirit of the streets, uses an empathic voice to imagine the lives of those around her living in financial insecurity as they cobble together a living with various gigs, pot drop-offs, random parties to bartend, limo drivers with pick-ups, men meeting in clusters to be day laborers. She writes about those trapped and pushing against economic restraints: people induced to come to America under false promises by their own countrymen, minorities finding ways to use their talents to catch the rung up out of what they were born into, immigrants constructing a forged identity to become citizens, a teenage girl who escapes the life of her parents’ illegal operation to breed dogs for dog fighting. Young’s empathic voice lets us feel the humanity of the characters beyond class and ethnicity . . . “they are us.” Even though it may not be their voice and the way they would express their experiences, or even their ethos, we are given a path to cross over to them.
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Alma Gottlieb, Philip Graham
  • Date Published September 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-226-30528-8
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 184pp
  • Price $20.00
  • Review by Lydia Pyne
A braid is a fantastic narrative metaphor for complex collections of worldviews. Through the plaited entity, we can see independent strands woven together, each contributing to the creation of something that is more than its single self. We can see complex knotting and intricate interlacing that highlight the skill of the weaver (or storyteller, in our metaphor). A single-strand narrative is a ponytail—simple, standard, and fairly unimaginative. A braided narrative, however, is a building block—one that leads to unending possibilities of elaborate designs and coiffures. In Braided Worlds, their ethnography-reflection-travel memoir, Alma Gottlieb and Philip Graham work extremely well with the metaphor of a braided narrative. Their collections of stories from their time with the Beng in Côte d’Ivoire clearly reflect their commitment to “re-create the immediacy of the present-moment external drama of our lives among the Beng people, as well as the drama of our internal states.”
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
  • Translated From Russian
  • by Anna Summers
  • Date Published January 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-14-312152-7
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 171pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Olive Mullet
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s title tells us we should expect wry humor and irony in these 17 short stories. They are set in ironically coveted post-Revolution Moscow apartment buildings, divided and subdivided into tiny units, shared by hardly affluent citizens. Yet these people carry on in unexpected and convoluted love relationships. Translator Anna Summers tells us that the four sections of this latest collection, which encompasses Petrushevskaya’s earliest and latest stories, include:
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Valerie Fioravanti
  • Date Published December 2012
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 188pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Elizabeth O'Brien
Garbage Night at the Opera is writer Valerie Fioravanti’s debut short story collection. Set in Brooklyn, New York, the book follows the trajectory of two successive generations of a large family of Italian descent. At the heart of the family are several sisters who, as they enter adulthood, live on and raise their own families in the building where they grew up. The sisters appear and reappear throughout the stories in the many roles their lives demand of them: as sisters, wives, mothers, aunts, and so on. Tracking the family tree through the book’s jumble of characters and relationships can be difficult at times, but this is fortunately not necessary to the understanding of the story lines.
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Stacey D'Erasmo
  • Date Published July 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-55597-647-7
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 144pp
  • Price $12.00
  • Review by Wendy Breuer
The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between by Stacey D’Erasmo is an addition to the Graywolf Art of series, edited by Charles Baxter. Discussions focus on examples from literary works: what effect is achieved? How? Was this the writer’s intent? The writer becomes alive within the work, making choices in a conversation that includes the reader.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by B.H. James
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-59709-790-1
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 264pp
  • Price $16.95
  • Review by Courtney McDermott
B.H. James, a high school English teacher from California, wrangles his knowledge of teenagers into the inventive coming-of-age novel Parnucklian for Chocolate. In stark, self-conscious language, the author navigates parenting, psychiatric facilities, and what it means to not quite belong in your family—a feeling not alien to most teenagers.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by William Tod Seabrook
  • Date Published September 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-09828957-6-4
  • Format Chapbook
  • Pages 36pp
  • Price $12.00
  • Review by Patricia Contino
Few American lives are as well documented as J. Robert Oppenheimer’s (1904-1967). The FBI kept files on “The Father of the Atomic Bomb” from 1941 (when he joined The Manhattan Project) up until the year before his death. Far more insight into the theoretical physicist’s controversial life and work is found in biographies by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin (their American Prometheus won the Pulitzer Prize) and scientist/historian Abraham Pais (J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life). Politicians, military leaders, activists, and religious fanatics have exploited Oppenheimer’s legacy, but few can explain its ramifications better than Richard Rhodes did in his Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb.
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  • Book Type Fiction
  • by Carissa Halston
  • Date Published June 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0984739950
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 122pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by Karen Seehaus Papson
Carissa Halston was born in the wrong time. Her careful, precise use of language and acute awareness of the nuances in each painstakingly chosen word seem like attributes more suited to a woman from Emily Dickinson’s era. Yet, Halston’s novella The Mere Weight of Words, first and foremost a tale of language, is rooted in today’s world through her examination of how casually words can be used. Indeed, words are tossed, sometimes thrown, by those closest to Meredith, the book’s protagonist. In response, Meredith is something of a solitary person. In fact, she works to maintain this self-imposed isolation as she regularly uses her own deep knowledge of language to expand the chasm between herself and the people in her life. Readers will spend much of their time alone with Meredith as she grapples with her numerous demons.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Mario Santiago Papasquiaro
  • Translated From Spanish
  • by Cole Heinowitz, Alexis Graman
  • Date Published June 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-933517-68-1
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 29pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Patrick James Dunagan
Mario Santiago Papasquiaro’s book-length poem defiantly insists: “Poetry: we’re still alive.” Insolent, ecstatic, perverse, enthusiastic; Santiago’s poem is a beacon for the pursuit of life via poetry. Santiago yields the poem to nothing short of life itself, which comes pouring into it from all quarters. He believes “a poem is occurring every moment” and it is the force of this constant presence which he unfurls upon the page. Santiago encourages that “life is still your poetry workshop” where there’s opportunity to be immersed within “the fucking awesome vermilion of the twilight.” His turbulent, clustered lines scatter across the page in an onrush of joyous declaration:
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by Scott Nadelson
  • Date Published February 2013
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 264pp
  • Price $16.95
  • Review by Girija Sankar
“You’re the next fucking Philip Roth,” an adoring fan tells Scott Nadelson after a book reading. But, “No one would ever come up to a young Jewish writer from New Jersey and say, You’re the next fucking Scott Nadelson,” writes Nadelson in his memoir, The Next Scott Nadelson: A Life in Progress. The writer’s angst stems from flattering yet annoying comparisons to Philip Roth: “It was inevitable, I suppose, for a young, male, Jewish writer from New Jersey, especially one who wrote about family and generational conflict.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Dore Kiesselbach
  • Date Published November 2012
  • ISBN-13 9780822962175
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Theresé Samson Wenham
It is much easier to read mediocre prose than mediocre poetry. It’s too easy to believe that writing poetry is simply a matter of connecting with raw emotions and that whatever “truths” arrive are, in and of themselves, enough. This is perhaps why poorly written poetry is so uncomfortable to read; it forgets that poetry is about writing in a heightened language, not just about what is being said. An excellent poem cannot be paraphrased; it cannot be translated into prose. Yet, when we come across a poet who masters the measure of language, it appears almost transparent, effortless. Reading through Dore Kiesselbach’s Salt Pier for the first time was like that for me.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Hadara Bar-Nadav
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9833686-6-3
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $15.00
  • Review by Emily May Anderson
Lullaby (with Exit Sign), Hadara Bar-Nadav’s third book, creates not a soothing lullaby but an elegy, one wide-ranging, searing, aching elegy for many different lost loved ones. The title poem says:
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  • Book Type Anthology edited
  • by Lorin Stein, Sadie Stein
  • Date Published October 2012
  • ISBN-13 9781250005984
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 368pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Michael Caylo-Baradi
A book can be judged by its cover, partially. This book is perfect example. The words Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story and the image of a typewriter below them compressed into a singular message for me: MFA in fiction. Even before opening the book, the cover tells me its target audience is creative writers, or more so, creative writers who are in a writing program, aspiring to be in one, used to be in one, are teaching in one, are about to teach in one, or believe you can’t teach creative writing, and thus look down on writing programs. But whether you stand by that idea or not, there’s a growing trend in that these programs, academies, or institutes are sprouting around the globe. To name three, out of many: the City University of Hong Kong’s MFA in Creative Writing in English was launched in 2010, and considers itself “The only MFA with an Asian Focus.” In the UK, the Faber and Faber publishing house started Faber Academy in 2008, and promotes the idea that “publishers know what writers need.” And in City University of New York’s The Writers’ Institute at the Graduate Center, its director—novelist André Aciman—has brought in editors from publications and publishers such as Granta; Harper’s; Knopf; The New Yorker; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; and, yes, The Paris Review to facilitate its writing workshops, in fiction and nonfiction.
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  • Book Type Nonfiction
  • by J.C. Hallman
  • Date Published March 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-1-60938-151-6
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 156pp
  • Price $21.00
  • Review by Reiser Perkins
Nothing will make you hate email like Wm & H’ry, the handsome little book by J.C. Hallman that distills the 800-plus letters exchanged between William and Henry James. Hallman points out that most readers will probably be more familiar with one of the brothers, but makes a convincing case that there is no fully understanding the one without comprehending the other.
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