I read Satan in Goray by Isaac Bashevis Singer — and left it in Illinois for my mother when I was visiting. She suffers from serious dementia, but expressed excitement about this book and wanted to read it. It’s set in 17th-century Poland — during the aftermath of a catastrophic massacre of the Jews. Messiahs and Devils abound in this book amid the 17th century music Singer has miraculously composed. My mother was born in a similar place in this vicinity. My mother told me her mother died of fear. They were all terribly mad.
Frances de Pontes Peebles was born in Recife, Brazil and raised in Miami, FL. Her debut novel, The Seamstress, recently won the Elle Grand Prix for Fiction in 2008. Her short stories have appeared in Zoetrope: All Story, Indiana Review, The Missouri Review, and The O. Henry Prize Stories Anthology 2005. She currently lives in Chicago. Read more about her at www.francesdepontespeebles.comSome books easily slip from my mind – a few months after reading them, I can’t recall their titles or plots. This probably says more about my memory than the quality of the books. But there are stories that stay with me. Months pass and I will recall a character, or a particularly moving scene, or a vivid landscape. My favorite books always haunt me.In 2008, I read the Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker and can’t shake it from my memory. Barker’s interconnected novels – Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road – are inspired by actual accounts of WWI soldiers and their military psychiatrist, Dr. Rivers. The bulk of the trilogy takes place away from the war, where Dr. Rivers must treat severely shell-shocked soldiers in order to send them back to the trenches. He’s deeply conflicted about his work and the war, as are his patients. Barker doesn’t flinch from depicting the soldiers’ physical and emotional wounds, but her descriptions are never overwrought. The most heartbreaking scenes don’t take place on the front lines but at home, where Barker’s soldiers can’t cope with normal life. In all three books, the consequences of war are more terrifying than war itself.Another great book is The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa. It consists of three novellas translated from the Japanese. Ogawa’s characters seem gentle and conventional, but their loneliness drives them into dark places (both real and psychological). These are modern-day scary stories with eerie and surprising outcomes. Ogawa’s prose is spare and lovely, which makes the novellas even more haunting.More from A Year in Reading 2008
Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis was the most satisfying shock in my reading this year. Maybe because I’m translating Beowulf each day and working on such short lines, I loved the manic freedom of Jeet’s sentences. The world he describes, of opium dens, is fascinating, and he was electric on stage in Australia and the Netherlands reciting his poetry and rapping the lyrics from his band. A great writer and performer. And I just have to say the very best performance I’ve ever seen on stage by any writer was by Jeanette Winterson this summer at the Edinburgh Lit Festival. Even impromptu, in response to audience questions, she was able to say the most beautiful things in perfect sentences.
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