Almost nothing can excite me more on the cover of a magazine than these five words “a novella by Andrea Barrett.” Barrett is a terrific storyteller and a master of the form. Novellas are hard to find (so few journals publish them). And Salmagundi is always great, so finding the combination Barrett/novella/Salmagundi signals good reading ahead. And both Barrett and the journal deliver.
Barrett’s novella, “The Island,” is typical, happily, of her work – a good, solid, straightforward, expertly researched story; a likeable character of some depth; a focus on science and the relationship between science and character; a historical setting; a larger social/cultural/political question contextualizing the action at hand; and a conclusion worthy of the story’s ambitions and intentions. A satisfying and memorable read.
This issue also features intelligent writing by regular columnists Martin Jay, Charles Molesworth, and Peter Schneider, writing about Polish philosophy, Medieval Roman art, and European politics. Poems and essays by “big names” include Charles Simic, Carl Dennis, James Longenbach, Colette Inez, Nicholas Delbanco, and Allan Gurganus.
I was taken with Adrie Kuserow’s poems, “Border,” “Lord’s Resistance Army (Northern Uganda,” and “New Sudan Secondary School for Girls”; and an essay by Romanian writer Norman Manea, translated by John Anzalone, “Through Romanian Eyes: A Half Century of NRF in Bucharest,” which considers the relationship between culture (as artistic production) and politics (as political parties and governments).
The most unusual feature in the issue is an email correspondence between clinical psychologist Arabella Kurtz and Nobel Prize winning author JM Coetzee. Kurtz wishes to explore with the writer what psychological insights might be gained from reading his work. He is reluctant to participate in this project (first proposed as a public talk), but eventually gives in (after writing to Arabella as “Amanda,” and insisting he has nothing of value on this subject to say). Freud, Kant, and the subject of parenting all make appearances in the conversation, as do many enticingly quirky turns of phrase (Coetzee refers to a melancholy mood as a “watery mood.”).
In his essay on the young (and already highly acclaimed and popular) writer Wells Tower, Allan Gurganus says, “Many books today exist despite sentences, not because of them.” Thank you, Salmagundi, for…sentences.