In her “ferociously beautiful and courageous” 2014 memoir The Other Side, Lacy M. Johnson recounted how she was kidnapped, held hostage, raped, and nearly killed by—as she describes him—a man she once loved: a man who also got away, avoiding prosecution, and is now raising a family in Venezuela.
In the title essay of her new collection, The Reckonings, Johnson writes that when giving readings from that memoir, she was frequently asked, “What do you want to have happen to him, to the man who did this to you?” Her audience assumes that she wants him dead; some even offer to kill him for her because, as Johnson writes, “they want suffering for him. They want blood, guts, gore. Now that would be justice, they think.” But this brand of justice is not what she wants at all. What Johnson wants is “a long line of reckonings … the truth told back to us … the lies laid bare.” And in this collection, Johnson goes on to do just that, exposing our broken power structures; elucidating misogyny’s repercussions in “Girlhood in a Semibarbarous Age,” examining her own privilege in “Against Whiteness,” and calling out the environmental destruction of which we are ignorantly and knowingly a part in “What We Pay” and “The Fallout.” But to suggest that each of these essays tackles a single topic is misleading, because The Reckonings is a collection that converses with itself and the reader, asking us to question our beliefs and our roles in a system that perpetuates violence.
Lacy answered my questions about her process, political art, the curation of the Houston Flood Museum, and her advice to fellow assault survivors.
The Millions: The epigraph to these essays is a quote from Djuna Barnes’s novel Nightwood: “The Unendurable is the beginning of the curve of joy.” How and when, in the aftermath of trauma, did you find yourself no longer wanting—if you ever did—a vengeful justice? And when did you sense your capability to curve toward joy?
Lacy M. Johnson: I don’t remember any point in the past when I wanted to take revenge on the man who kidnapped and raped me. Maybe there were times when I thought I might have to kill him, but that came from a fear he might show up and try to kill me first, not out of some thirst for revenge. I do remember, in the first several months after the kidnapping, being really upset that two people I was close to at that time had hired a bounty hunter to try to kidnap him from Venezuela and bring him back to the United States—or maybe the point was for that person to kill him all along. That wasn’t what I wanted. It still isn’t. Even now with all we know about the political and social upheaval in the country where he is living, it doesn’t make me feel happy or satisfied to imagine that he is in peril, that he is trapped in a situation from which he can’t escape. Justice, for me, is not a zero sum game. I don’t need to make him lose in order for me to win. I don’t need him to suffer in order for my joy to become a possibility again. That has come somewhat recently—from almost two decades of heart work I’ve done on my own.
TM: In an interview with Publishers Weekly you said that when you sat down to write The Other Side, you did so with the intent of changing how you felt about the past. What was your intent in assembling this collection?
LMJ: You’re right, I did write The Other Side to change how I feel about the past. Specifically, I wanted to change my relationship to the particular memory of being kidnapped and raped by a man I had loved. I had spent 13 years of my life feeling trapped inside that story, and writing The Other Side made me realize that all I needed to do to escape it was to believe that it was over and write an ending to it. It seems so simplistic to say it out loud, but it really did work. I wrote The Reckonings to change how I understand the present; in particular I wanted to know why it is that we continue to define justice according to 5,000-year-old laws. What is it about vengeance and retribution that allows them to continue to masquerade as justice? And what is it about our present moment that is relevant to ancient law? These were the questions I considered as I began this book. Perhaps next I’ll write a book to change how I feel about the future.
TM: Regarding our present moment: Given the momentum of the #MeToo movement and in the wake of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, with so many survivors of sexual assault feeling called to speak their truth, I wondered, as someone who found solace in articulating her story, if you have any advice for those speaking up or for those who don’t feel compelled or safe enough to speak.
LMJ: I write in The Reckonings about how I tend to dislike the term recovery, which implies a return to the way things were before, or a redemption, or a retrieval of everything someone has lost. Through the process of writing about what happened to me all those years ago—and, more recently, through the process of writing myself into a new understanding of what justice might mean—one thing has become clear to me: There’s no going back for me, and no re-becoming the person I once was. I will never again be a woman who has not been kidnapped and raped by a man I once loved. That woman is gone. Finding language for the story I had kept silent for so long has helped me to grieve that loss, maybe, because it not only forced me to fully acknowledge the ways that recovery is not possible, but to understand that discovery is possible. Telling our stories, difficult as they are to articulate, helps to move our focus from the impossible task of returning to the past toward all the possibilities we can encounter in the future.
TM: In “Art in the Age of Apocalypses,” you write about your students at Rice University returning to class after the 2016 presidential election, how the last thing in the world they wanted to do was workshop. How have your students responded since? Do you have to get beneath a new cynicism or do they feel a call to activism?
LMJ: I currently teach at an elite private university and, to my great dismay, most of my students appear to feel no particular call to activism. They are called to take challenging courses and to conduct ambitious research, and they also feel called to professions where they can make a lot of money. I don’t think it’s apathy they suffer from—not exactly—but rather that they’ve been trained all their lives to believe that one wrong choice will ruin all they hope to achieve. There’s a lot riding on their success, they tell me, and they’re under a lot of pressure from their families and communities back home. They don’t want to stick their necks out. They’re reluctant to speak out of turn or step out of line. I consider it at least part of my job to help them also feel the pressure of social responsibility that their immense privilege would make it very easy for them to dodge or ignore, and I can show them from the example of my own life that you can actually get into plenty of trouble—and, more importantly, you can make trouble—and do just fine.
TM: So many the systemic injustices you touch on are rooted in a fear of “the other” and our subsequent need for control. If you would, tell us why you prefer “the stranger?”
LMJ: I don’t like “the other” as a term because I think it confers on the dominant culture a primary status. It places all the burden of difference on the person who embodies it and fails to challenge that primacy of homogeneity in any kind of productive way. I prefer Georg Simmel’s theory of “the stranger” because I think it flips the critical gaze back to the dynamics at work in a group the stranger seeks to join. “The stranger,” as a theory, helps us to see how the group is created and maintained by its failure to incorporate people who arrive from outside the group and remain; in fact, the group will pretend the stranger’s “strangeness” is the only kind of difference that matters, and this creates cohesion in a group by allowing all the differences within the group to seem to fall away. The theory allows people in any group to challenge these assumptions by making ourselves unfamiliar with what we believe we know, and to insist on our own strangeness by becoming strangers again in all the places we are assumed to belong.
TM: You were trained in poetry and that background feels evident in the structuring of your nonfiction. In your first book, Trespasses, as well as The Other Side, you utilize vignettes and play with chronological time until the whole has an orchestral resonance. The Reckonings is equally resonant, yet it is a different kind of book in that each essay stands on its own—still, you’ve managed to make them speak with one another. Tell me about your process in assembling this collection and how it differed from your previous work.
LMJ: Everything I know about making essays I learned first from making poems, and really I don’t think poems and essays are such different things. ”A poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words,” says William Carlos Williams. Essays are also machines made of words. Machines work for us, and on us. A poem has turns, like essays. Some poems rhyme and essays also do this, except we call it a “recurring motif.“ (My essays often rhyme-rhyme because I like the bell it rings in my brain.) What is the logic of a poem? Often association, same as in essays. What is the form of a poem? Anything, same as essays. A poem can be a list, a lesson, a meditation, a takedown, an ode, a critique. Essays can also be these things. When I called these things I write “poems” they functioned like tiny tesseracted versions of the things I now call “essays,” and my “essays” are more roomy and sprawling versions of what I used to call “poems.” But in truth, I’ve only ever written one kind of thing, and that thing tries to make the world more visible (to myself and others), because only when we can see a thing can it be changed.
TM: In “Art in the Age of Apocalypse” you write about the politically motivated art that has informed your trajectory as an artist. Many of the works mentioned are performance or installation based. In what ways have these works helped you to find your voice?
LMJ: I don’t know that these works helped me to find my voice so much as they have clarified my thinking. One of my areas of specialization is in interdisciplinary art, specifically in art that is socially engaged. People might have heard of an art form called “social sculpture,” a term that comes to us from Joseph Beuys, who coined it in the 1970s to suggest the idea that anything can be approached creatively, and that the artist’s life can be the form of her art. Social sculpture has evolved in all kinds of ways in the 21st century, most of which don’t interest me at all, but I feel very compelled by the particular branch of social sculpture that combines these ideas of art-as-anything with social justice. There are specific artists whose practice involves organizing their communities around an issue and working to solve it in ways that create a more just and sustainable future. I’m thinking in particular of Rick Lowe here in Houston working on Project Row Houses; Theaster Gates working in the south side of Chicago on the Dorcester Projects, and the work Mark Bradford does in Los Angeles with Art + Practice. Encountering the work of these artists has inspired me more than any particular writer has, and has completely changed the way I think about my role in this world as an artist, and the ways that I can carry the work I do on the page into my own community.
TM: In “The Flood,” you describe how your family and the surrounding community weathered Hurricane Harvey, how it brought people together. You’ve since curated the Houston Flood Museum. Tell us about the motivation behind this project.
LMJ: During the storm, while my husband was rescuing neighbors out of their flooded homes, I was stuck at home with our kids and could think of nothing useful to do, so I started writing about what I was seeing, about rescue efforts and the experience of being stranded in our home—which did not flood in the end, but the water at its highest came about 15 horizontal feet from the house. I tried to write every day, and posted the essays on Facebook, where they were shared sometimes thousands of times. Those posts were a way of letting the outside world know what was happening here on the ground, and I used that platform to help connect people who wanted to help with those who needed it.
After the storm, when the flood waters had receded and the recovery had, for many, only barely begun (if at all), I was approached by the Houston Endowment (which is a local foundation committed to improving quality of life in Houston) to ask whether I might be interested in doing a Harvey story-collecting project—the aim of which would have been to preserve narratives of the storm that hadn’t really been heard and to lift up communities who had been inundated by this catastrophe. I told them I’d think about it for a minute—because I was trying to finish The Reckonings at that time—but ultimately it seemed too important to pass up. The idea I brought back to them was the Houston Flood Museum, which is a project of communal remembering about the catastrophic flooding that increasingly affects our region. The museum brings together stories of disaster in an effort to weave that traumatic event into the fabric of who we believe ourselves, as a community to be, and from that new understanding to try to imagine ways to move together into the future.
TM: In “Speak Truth to Power,” you write that we have fostered “a culture of men who hate women because they have learned to hate the feminine in themselves.” As a fellow parent, of a daughter and a son, I wondered about the smaller, daily ways that you have found to subvert this narrative. What can we all be doing?
LMJ: The narrative of violent revenge is powerful and ubiquitous, and it arrives in the lives of my children through the various media they consume—movies, television, comic books, novels—as well as through their relations with peers. As a parent, and one who is committed to nonviolence, I feel like it is my responsibility to show them other ways. Where do we look for these? Where are the stories of people who solve problems through healthy, non-violent means—through peaceful resolution, and ceremony, and mediation? Those stories are harder to find because peaceful resolution doesn’t make a blockbuster movie: There are no explosions, no fight scenes, no blasting musical montage. Violence is big business in this country, and in my house at least we try to restrict the spectacle of it. There’s no television on school nights; they don’t have tablets or phones. We eat dinner together as a family and each evening we talk about the challenges each of us faced—and I include myself in this. Whether my challenges are intellectual, or interpersonal, or physical, talking about my approach to resolving problems gives me an opportunity, each evening, to teach both of my children—my daughter and son alike—the lessons that I hope, over time, can become just as powerful as that one about violent revenge: that we should move through the world with love, that vulnerability does not mean weakness, that an open heart is sometimes wounded, but that feeling pain is never an excuse for inflicting it.
TM: If you could press The Reckonings into the hands of one particular person or group of people today, with the guarantee that it would be read and absorbed, who would that be? And what is the first discernible change you hope they would make?
LMJ: This is a really hard question to answer, because whenever I start out on a book the person I really want to change is myself. I’m a very selfish writer in this way. I started on this book because I found the fixation on an ancient definition of justice so troubling, but I was baffled about what to install in its place. The question of justice is a personal one for me—and not just because I’m a writer and need something to write books about, but also because this is something I’m working through in my real, actual life. The man who kidnapped and raped me, and tried to kill me is alive and well and a fugitive living in Venezuela with his new family. Does that mean there’s no justice for me? I refuse to center my happiness and well-being on anything that happens or does not happen to him. So what is the alternative? Of course, this is also not just a personal question. We see this questions playing out in contemporary culture in a thousand different ways—ecological injustice, racial injustice, economic injustice, sexual violence, mass violence. I think one of the reasons we see so little progress in each of these huge systemic problems is because our definition of injustice and justice are basically the same thing: they’re both based on doing harm to another person or group of people. That feels like a trap, and I wanted to write my way out it. That’s what this book is. The first discernible change—and it is a big one—would be reorienting our definition of justice away from that ancient one that requires mutual suffering and toward a new one that creates the possibility for mutual joy.
Last year my mother died. Often, my habit and love for reading felt unbearable and foreign. Other weeks it was reading alone that comforted me. It was all I wanted to do, all I was capable of doing, because all I wanted was to live inside of sentences, stanzas, stories. I didn’t and couldn’t go out there, the world was glaring in its surface of sameness, but books were ultimately part of the company that drew me out of a space that was dangerous, expanding in its withdrawal and silence.
In 2015, I also had a book of my own published. And, honestly, it was difficult to navigate a space that suddenly felt inarticulate to me. Kind friends and kind strangers alike sent me specific titles regarding grief. I also consumed books where grief, loss, rebirth, and death were implicit, distilled, expanded into unbelievable landscapes I hadn’t seen or understood as clearly before, in the surreal afterlife of my mother’s absence.
One of the best books I read last year and have returned to more than once is Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World. The book left me speechless in its love, grace, and dignity. Reading that book gave me hope that I too could survive and celebrate life itself. Alexander’s book gave me hope and I picked up Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light and Lacy M. Johnson’s The Other Side. I also returned to Toi Derricotte’s The Undertaker’s Daughter.
Being on the road on tour for my own book, I often filled my suitcase with more books than clothing. Everything I wore was mostly black so I didn’t think or care about clothes at all. But I cared about books and knew there were certain books I needed to have with me should I wake up, inconsolable, in a hotel room on the other side of the country. And so, many books crossed state lines, their spines shifting in mile-high altitudes and time zones. I wrangled slim volumes of poetry into my camera bag, which was stuffed with lenses, notebooks, and a watercolor set.
I began thinking of books and geography, literally and psychically. I considered how landscapes affected my mood and how, of course, a voracious grief devoured everything. Sometimes I’d get frustrated because I couldn’t remember names of favorites characters or the way those characters in those books had once made me feel, so I’d go back and reread them. And, in my travels, I often looked out for marvelous independent bookstores where I would then pick up more books, often shipping them back to Brooklyn when I realized I’d be charged at the airport for being over the weight restrictions.
While working on a photography project in Oxford, Miss., last summer I reread William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Eudora Welty’s On Writing. I’d also carried around Lucille Clifton’s Collected Poems, edited by Kevin Young, because I was working on photographs about black women’s bodies, identities, and the presence and interruption of landscape in terms of blackness.
This journey made me pick up a second or third copy of Roger Reeves’s King Me because I ended up driving down to Money, Miss., and further into the Delta. King Me made me go searching for Jean Toomer’s Cane and Zora Neale Hurston’s Dust Tracks on a Road. Hurston’s grace and excellence sent me back, gratefully, into the words of Henry Dumas, Langston Hughes, and Robert Hayden.
While I was in Portland, I caught up with Matthew Dickman but was so shy about meeting him I forgot to ask him to sign the hardcover of Mayakovsky’s Revolver I’d stashed in my rental car. And when I traveled down to Santa Fe to teach at IAIA (Institute of American Indian Arts), I dove again into Sherwin Bitsui’s Flood Song and read Jessica Jacobs’s Pelvis with Distance because I was in Georgia O’Keeffe country. I’m still working through O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz’s letters, My Faraway One, and made some serious dents in it this year.
I’ve opened up Vladimir Nabokov’s Letters to Véra and placed those two near each other, like constellations, in my reading stack. Speaking of women artists, I reread the Diary of Frida Kahlo and Hayden Herrera’s biography of Frida Kahlo because I curated the Poetry Society of America’s Poetry Walk for the New York Botanical Garden’s astonishing exhibition “Frida Kahlo: Art Garden Life.” Lucky for me, I got to spend lots and lots of time with the poetry of Octavio Paz, one of my favorites!
A dear friend just sent me a copy of Larry Levis’s The Darkening Trapeze. Literally, I’ve been hiding out in my house to devour it in one sitting, which obviously led to a second sitting so I could read the entire book aloud. But I had to leave my house eventually, so Levis has been riding the subways with me. We’re great company for each other.
Reading Levis, of course, made me pick up Philip Levine’s What Work Is again and that somehow made me pull out W.S. Merwin, Mark Strand, and Jack Gilbert. When I journeyed to Vermont for the Brattleboro Festival, I cried at a moving tribute for Galway Kinnell and that made me buy another copy of The Book of Nightmares, which made me stay up all night in my hotel room reading aloud, remembering once how I’d been fortunate enough to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge with Kinnell and so many other poets like Cornelius Eady and Marilyn Nelson and Martín Espada. And I think it was over 90 degrees out and Bill Murray walked across that day with us too. Anyway, Kinnell pushed me toward Seamus Heaney and Czesław Miłosz. Throw in Tomas Tranströmer and Amiri Baraka’s SOS: 1961 – 2013, and somehow eventually I’m holding Federico García Lorca, who is always near, and whose words also travel with me on trains, planes, and dreams.
When I read poetry I’ll sometimes take down several poets who may or may not be speaking clearly to one another in some tone or mood or style. It helps me hear each of them even more clearly.
Finally, I think, if there’s time, the last two things I hope to read (again) before 2016 arrives will be Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and the letters of Vincent Van Gogh.
As I sit here looking at the bookshelves crammed with new books, I simply sigh in joy and think, too, of the stacks of books at my visual art studio nearby. This year I’m a reader for something for PEN, which means in the last months I’ve read over 50 books by writers of color, including poetry, fiction, and non fiction. Thinking just of that list alone, there are far too many books this year for me to include here. How wonderful! We’re all better for it!
So, here, quickly, are some more titles, both old and new, that changed me, whether by their grief, their beauty, their joy, their violence, their ambition, their desire, their imagination, their history, or future, but always, by their truth and courage:
Ross Gay, Unabashed Catalogues of Gratitude
Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn; Lighthead
Patrick Phillips, Elegy for a Broken Machine
Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things
Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus
Jack Gilbert, Collected
Carl Phillips, Reconnaissance
Nicholas Wong, Crevasse
Vievee Francis, Forest Primeval
Kyle Dargan, Honest Engine
Nick Flynn, My Feelings
Tonya M. Foster, A Swarm of Bees in High Court
Rickey Laurentiis, Boy with Thorn
Jonathan Moody, Olympic Butter Gold
Margo Jefferson, Negroland
Chris Abani, Song for Night
Rick Barot, Chord
Major Jackson, Roll Deep
Yesenia Montilla, The Pink Box
Randall Horton, Hook
Parneshia Jones, Vessel
Ellen Hagan, Hemisphere
Yusef Komunyakaa, The Emperor of Water Clocks
Audrey Niffenegger, Raven Girl
Michael Klein, When I Was a Twin
Patti Smith, M Train
Marie Cardinal, The Words to Say It
Dawn Lundy Martin, Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life
Michel Archimbaud, Francis Bacon: In Conversation with Michel Archimbaud
Paul Beatty, The Sellout
Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping; Lila
Chinelo Okparanta, Under the Udala Trees
Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite, War of the Encyclopaedists
Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer
Marie Mockett, Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye
Herta Müller, The Hunger Angel
Naomi Jackson, The Star Side of Bird Hill
Helen Macdonald, H Is for Hawk
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
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I’m a promiscuous reader, always reading multiple books at a time, switching back and forth. I’m not a poet, but every year, I find myself reading more and more poetry collections. My biggest poetry crushes this year? Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, and (though they weren’t published this year) Stacey Waite’s Butch Geography, and Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, which (I guess) qualifies as poetry, but I would call it fiction. My poet friends and I keep having the same argument about whether Maggie Nelson’s work is poetry or nonfiction. They keep trying to claim her, of course, but we all know the truth. After reading Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, an examination of love and suffering and her personal obsession with the color blue, I immediately went out and got The Argonauts, which is a hybrid of sorts, although I’d call it lyric essay. It’s a love story, but it’s also an exploration of motherhood and gender and family and queerness and sexuality, and so many other things. Bonus: the sections discussing women’s anal eroticism, in which Nelson writes, “I am not interested in a hermeneutics, or an erotics, or a metaphorics, of my anus. I am interested in ass-fucking.” Yes!
Most of the novels and story collections I enjoyed most this year were fabulist, or had some kind of supernatural element — apparitions or hallucinations or ghosts or the unexplained — and required some suspension of disbelief. Kelly Link’s stories in Get in Trouble, funny and imaginative, were rife with ghosts, super heroes, vampires, and pocket universes. César Aira’s allegorical novel Ghosts, in which a family squatting in an unfinished apartment building in Buenos Aires can see ghosts, is strange and witty and sometimes a little disturbing but surprisingly lighthearted. John Henry Fleming’s stories in Songs for the Deaf were inventive in the best way, sometimes satiric, sometimes dreamy and lyrical, sometimes dysfunctional, and often hilarious. This year I also revisited Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle — one of my all-time favorites — a gothic novel, about two sisters who still live (with their elderly uncle) in a house where most of their family was murdered. It’s dark and funny and surprising, part murder mystery, part psychological thriller. Bonus: Merricat, the young narrator, is creepy and sadistic as hell.
Diane Cook’s Man V. Nature was probably my favorite story collection in the last two or three years. I finished it and then texted a bunch of friends to tell them about it and then immediately re-read it because DAMN it was just that good. Cook’s stories are hilarious, even when they’re tragic. Executives are hunted by a monster in an office building, babies are stolen from their mothers, unwanted (or “not needed”) boys are sent off to be incinerated, a giant baby can bench press more than his father. Cook’s stories remind me of Karen Russell, whose stories always knock me out. (By the way, Karen Russell’s novella, Sleep Donation, was one of my favorite reads last year.)
My two favorite memoirs this year, Lacy M. Johnson’s The Other Side and M.J. Fievre’s A Sky the Color of Chaos were both as harrowing as they were beautiful. The Other Side opens with Johnson’s escape from a soundproof room, where she was imprisoned by her former boyfriend — he’d intended to kill her, but she managed to escape. Johnson’s memoir, rather than just a story of the trauma and violence inflicted on her, is about how one deals with the aftermath and effects of trauma, written mostly in short, lyrical sections, often laced with metaphor. M.J. Fievre’s A Sky the Color of Chaos is a memoir about growing up in Haiti after the fall of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the country’s violent dictator, when Jean-Bertrand Aristide became president. During this time, the Haitian people were taking violent revenge on the Tonton Macoutes, who were responsible for thousands upon thousands of rapes and murders, and several massacres. As much as it explores Haiti’s difficult history, A Sky the Color of Chaos is a coming of age story, and a story about Fievre’s complicated relationship with her father.
I started reading Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House while planning a move to Detroit. I was looking for what I thought would be “a Detroit novel.” What I got was so much more than that. A moving family saga full of complex characters and subtle metaphors — Cha-Cha seeing haints, the rise and fall of the city, the house itself. Everything about this novel feels balanced — the writing is controlled and elegant; Flournoy chooses two of the 13 siblings to focus on, the eldest and the youngest; the family experiences hard times but also, much like in real life, joy. The Turner House is timeless. And speaking of timeless: I was lucky enough to snag a copy of Amina Gautier’s The Loss of All Lost Things, her third story collection, which comes out next year. The stories in this collection, which is her best, are about all types of loss — parents who lose their son, a boy who comes to terms with the fact that he is lost, the loss of innocence. Gautier is definitely a prose stylist. Her sentences are lyrical, evocative, often haunting.
Like every other person I know, I’m in the middle of Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, which is brutal and irreverent and unapologetic and badass, which is why everybody in the world is talking about it. I’m also finishing Phillippe Diederich’s Sofrito, a novel about a restaurant owner who travels to Cuba, his parents’ homeland, in order to steal a secret recipe he thinks may save his restaurant. Diederich, a former photojournalist, really has an eye for details. Cuba is very vivid in this novel — you can see it, smell it, taste it. And I just started Suki Kim’s Without You, There Is No Us. Kim is a South Korean investigative journalist who secretly crossed the border into North Korea, going undercover in Pyongyang and posing as a North Korean teacher. Without You, There Is No Us is the book she wrote while immersed in the North Korean culture. What’s next? I’m excited to finally get to Tanwi Nandini Islam’s Bright Lines. Tanwi and I will be in conversation at the Betsy Hotel South Beach on December 12, talking about books, queer coming of age stories, and so much more!
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