This past summer I fell into the dream of reading as on a train; I was disembodied and purely receptive to Sepharad by Antonio Munoz Molina. His is a narrative “that pretend(s) to be stories told during a journey.” Against the backgrounds of the Sephardic diaspora, the Holocaust, and Stalin’s purges, “among the masses fleeing,” are Primo Levi and Kafka, real characters with stories: Willi Munzenberg’s, he with the missing wife, “she too tiny a figure among the fleeing multitudes.” This highly recursive novel “sends out ripples of concentric rings that affect succeeding discoveries.” Elements of W.G. Sebald are here. Munoz Molina’s is a gray palate; nothing is a favorite word. The writers share themes of displacement and loss. “They disappear one day,” Munoz Molina writes. “They are lost, erased forever, as if they had died, as if they had died so many years ago that they are no longer in anyone’s memory and there is no sign they were ever in this world.” The difference between the two writers — for this reader, at least — is the sensation of messy life in Munoz Molina, elements of sensuality and mystery: “One night while he is waiting for his wife... he sees a blonde woman lying on a bed in a room on the other side of the patio.” The woman, too far away for features, turns into the “the blond, barefoot foreigner on the steps of a train one early summer night long ago.” Lovely divagations next door to death. More from A Year in Reading 2012 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
Christine Schutt is the author of two short story collections, Nightwork and A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer, and two novels, Florida, a National Book Award finalist, and the recently published, All Souls. She lives and teaches in New York.Since first discovering A.L. Kennedy's novel, Paradise, in 2005, I have read the book or portions of the book every summer. The narrator, Hannah Luckraft, an alcoholic, is a great disappointment to her family but a boon drinking buddy to Robert. Both are impressively self-destructive, and their romance with drinking and the oblivion it promises is conveyed in the most inventive language. Open the book to any page and there is relief for the language depleted. Here is Kennedy making all kinds of noise: "Beyond the lintel's shade, there is the sweeetness of grain fields on the breeze, the bland dust of poor soil, baked to a yellowish crust . . . bladderwrack and rock clefts dank with scrub and gorse; that slightly human musty fug of heated gorse, the snap of its seeds, the blood drop in the yellow of each flower: which is to say, the smell and taste and everything of my being a child in summer. . ." The sly and self-aware Hannah, caught still in bed, says "there is always something horizontal in your tone that gives you away and you may occasionally wonder whether this is, in fact, what you want." More unsettled at times, Hannah slurs into italicized panic: "JesusI'mscaredandIhaven'tacluewhatmy faceisupto." Some surfaces are "sheened with misfortune," and fumes and toxins "are briling about." Oh, I could go on. Robert "dunts in against (her) shoulder" or "coories himself in behind (her)." Page after page of surprises. I don't think I will ever tire of Paradise.More from A Year in Reading 2008