Pandemic literature has been around for centuries, with one of the most popular being Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron. At Electric Literature, Elyse Martin examines how this collection of “medieval Italian sex stories” shows that storytelling is integral to our survival. “The rigid structure of the work—ten characters tell ten stories for ten days—seems at odds both with the chaotic setting of the plague and with the content of the tales,” Martin writes, “where characters tumble from fortune to misfortune to fortune again, with each spin of Fortune’s wheel. But this strict structure is intentional. Just as Boccaccio most likely wrote these tales as a way to understand and also escape the plague, so do his ten storytellers embrace this structure as an escape from the now ordinary chaos of their lives.”
“When I heard Afro-Brazilian people speak Portuguese, first in films like City of God and Bus 174, and then live and direct in Bahia, I fell hard for the ease, lyricism, and lilt in their voices which reminded me of the Anglophone Caribbean family and community I grew up in.” Over at Words Without Borders, Naomi Jackson reflects on blackness in Brazil.
“So much has been written about New York City as a city of histories—rich and public, deep and private. Commerce and bodies ebb and flow. For every New Yorker, there is a ghost city under the tangible one; this second, invisible layer contains the tangled web of memory and geography. I certainly have my fair share of associative ghosts; we all do. But New York City is also a city of forgetting, for better and for worse, and often against our best wishes.” Anna Wiener on the coping strategies of New Yorkers.
Open Letter Books director Chad Post teamed up with Green Apple Books buyer Stephen Sparks to make a list of their twenty favorite books in translation. Among their selections is László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango, which Adam Levy reviewed for us last year, and which Post and Sparks describe as “a diabolical, haunting deconstruction of apocalyptic messianism.”
Out this week: The Last Kid Left by Rosecrans Baldwin; The Answers by Catherine Lacey; Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim; Perennials by Mandy Berman; Everybody’s Son by Thrity Umrigar; and The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro. For more on these and other new titles, go read our most recent book preview.