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A haunting meditation on the legacy of racism, violence, and abuse, Relief by Execution: A Visit to Mauthausen by Gint Aras is a gut-kick of a memoir in which Aras contemplates the far-reaching tentacles of anger and hate from the normalized cruelty of a boy’s childhood to the genocide of World War II. After a prolonged bout of PTSD following a violent attack, Aras visits the Mauthausen concentration camp in Lithuania and reflects on its horrors, acknowledging that as a descendant of Lithuanians, there exists within himself “the energy of the victim and the perpetrator.”
While depictions of the Holocaust remind us of the enduring human capacity for dehumanization and extreme cruelty, Aras’s essay is at its strongest when recounting the socially accepted racism of his Lithuanian-American community in Chicago. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 Presidential run provides a backdrop for Aras’s father’s racist diatribes; the community’s anti-Semitism is equally virulent and ingrained in their language. Aras writes: “The Lithuanian word for Jew is žydas. My family used this word to mean snot, and for a time I knew no other word. Mother would see me picking my nose and scold me, Netrauk žydų, or Stop pulling out Jews.” Aras draws the connections between the family’s denialism and scapegoating of Lithuanian Jews as Soviet collaborators with their refusal to see the physical and emotional abuse perpetrated against him by his tyrannical father. As an adult, Aras confronts his father in a harrowing scene, yet a cathartic reckoning remains elusive.
Aras reflects on whether he is imposing “the personal on the collective,” but most readers will recognize how hate, in its various manifestations, informs the cultural assumptions we carry. Aras’s willingness to confront this legacy is a useful reminder that we all bear the responsibility to do the same.
Review by Chuck Augello
Chuck Augello is the author of The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love (Duck Lake Books - April 2020). His work has appeared in One Story, Literary Hub, The Vestal Review, The Coachella Review, and other fine journals. He's a contributor to Cease Cows and publishes The Daily Vonnegut, a website exploring the life and art of Kurt Vonnegut.
The descriptions of people, the universe, and abstract concepts are always lyrical and moving. The characters, though isolated in their narrative spheres from other characters, all relate in symbolic ways, interacting like entangled particles.
This is a tale about skydiving, the brave divers through the sky, and the diverse revelations they encounter on land and in the arms of God, up in the air, floating like angels, hovering above the ball and chain of their earth, which to some is an Eden, and to others, an egg, flush with history, pregnant with myth.
It is also about childhood and escape, tragedy, and the infinite potential of the future, told in convincing voices with heart and love and joy. I was enchanted by the realistic characters, the effortless flow of the evocative language, the precise word choice, effective dialogue, and seamless storytelling. The novel works on multiple levels at once, guiding the reader through layers of meaning. It does not engage in handholding, nor is it like wandering a labyrinth. Reading it is like falling—which is a metaphor the novel makes ample use of—into a magical realm. The picture widens as you proceed, and the sky behind you is full of Halley’s comets, decaying gods, and past memories discarded like ballast.
There are many brilliant moments of interstitial congruency, like the following quote: “With the advancement of technology, he knew the future, however distant, would reveal the reality of alchemy.”
Sea Above, Sun Below is literary alchemy. A magnificent novel.
Review by L.S. Popovich
L.S. Popovich is the author of Undertones and Echoes From Dust. They have always been a cat person (a person who like cats, not a cat human hybrid).
In this issue, find poetry by Anthony Anaxagorou, Erika Meitner, Oliver de la Paz, Alexa Winik, Nancy Lee, Kiran Bath, Moon Bo Young (trans. Hedgie Choi), Khaty Xiong, Gabriella R. Tallmadge, sam sax, Heather Sellers, Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, Casey Thayer, Jakob Maier, Eileen Huang, Sam Taylor, Leyla Çolpan, Rebecca Bedell, Emily Pittinos, and Noah Baldino; prose by Kimberly Grey, Mariya Poe, Petur HK, Ben Loory, TR Brady, and Noor Hindi; interviews with Mary Ruefle by Lisa Grgas, Rachel Zucker by Donna Vorreyer, and Heather Christle with Sanna Wani. Plus, art by Johnny Damm, Ester Petukhova, Ifada Nisa, Juliet Di Carlo, and more.
In this issue: featured artist Chris Harris; poetry by Kim Stafford, Michele Rappoport, Laurinda Lind, and Jill Bronfman; nonfiction by Mary Clearman Blew, Rebecca Lawton, Craig Rullman, and Melissa Stephenson; fiction by John Knoll, Tyrone Jaeger, and Mike Connelly, and a book review of Milla van der Have’s Ghosts of Old Virginny by Shin Yu Pai.
The November 2019 issue’s featured selection includes an interview with Richard Kenney by Amy Beeder, as well as poems by Kenney. In Essays & Comment, find Elizabeth Powell’s lyrical essay: “Summer Undid Me: Guerliain Imperiale (Bedroom), 1853.” Nathaniel Tarn reviews Joseph Donahue’s Wind Maps I-VII. This month’s poetry selections include Ron Houchin, Lynn Emanuel, Nin Andrews, Rae Armantrout, John A. Nieves, Jay Parini, Dean Kostos, David Lehman, and more.
The November 2019 issue features poetry by Sarah Maria Medina, John Spaulding, Dorothy Chan, Nathaniel Mackey, Anita Jeffries, Victoria Chang, Christine Gosnay, Sandra Simondsd, Charles Shields, Kit Fan, Marcus Wicker, Joy Manesiotis, Genevieve Kaplan, and more. In the comment section: Martin Espada and Tom Sleigh.
In this issue: J K Chukwu, Naira Kuzmich, Karina Vahitova, Mel Kassel, Garrett Biggs, Natalia Zvereva, Sasha Smith, Dennison Ty Schultz, Aldo Amparán, Phuong T. Vuong, Kailey Tedesco, Rachel Mindell, Valorie K. Ruiz, Panpan Song, Mina Hamedi, Lisa Fay Coutley, Diana Clarke, Seulmi Lee, Miles A.M., Collins-Sibley, Jenna Peng, Hisham Bustani (translated by Thoraya El-Rayyes), Jason Hart, Moon Bo Young (translated by Hedgie Choi), Angela Deane, and Kevin Phan.
Our Autumn 2019 issue features the winner of the 2019 Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction: Jason Jobin with “Triage.” An interview with Jobin is also available. In poetry: Ashley Hynd, O-Jeremiah Agbaakin, Jennifer Zilm, Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Alyda Faber, Andrea Bennett, Weyman Chan, Yusuf Saadi, James Scoles, Jun-long Lee, and more. In fiction: Yilin Wang, Morgan Cross, Rachel Lesosky, and Wafa Al-Harbi. In nonfiction: D.A. Lockhart, Anuja Varghese, and Mark Anthony Jarman. Plus, nine book reviews in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Cover art by Jeff Ladouceur.