Review: The Chalk Circle by Tara L. Masih, Ed.

13561800This polished collection of prize-winning essays is a result of a call the editor Tara L. Masih placed in 2007 for intercultural essays dealing with subjects of culture, race and sense of place.  Masih is a dedicated writer and editor whose work (herself a Native Indian American raised in New York) is deeply concerned with intercultural relations.  The Chalk Circle collection reflects many complex issues of this seemingly shrinking world and its many cultures.  Through arranging the particular essays into comprehensible chapters – each dealing with a different issue, Masih shows keen insight in intercultural relations and what it means to be “the other”.

The mere fact that the authors are people of different backgrounds inevitably supports the mosaic design of the collection, but is by far not the only element of diversity.  Topics vary from sense of place, self-identity, war and race, to encountering “the other”, being “the other” and spirituality, all while being neatly arranged into seven easily manageable topical “bites”.  This collection is an extensive what-if game that authors play with both the reader and themselves: what if things had been different?  What if circumstances changed?  What if roles were reversed?  What if identity is more complex than we think? Read More

Review: Karate Chop by Dorothe Nors

41otnj0t5kl-_sx326_bo1204203200_The short stories in Dorothe Nors’ collection Karate Chop speak to the depths we lock away inside ourselves.  Together they form a brief but profound exploration of our interior lives under modernity; a sweeping survey of our own unspoken inner landscapes.

As I read this book I could not help but imagine a stone well.  I felt something a little cold, and endlessly deep.  I pictured someone boring a hole through solid bedrock.  I thought of water rushing where no one could see it.

Dorothe Nors writes beautiful prose.  Maybe that is where we should start. Her text feels cultivated, honed.  Pruned to perfection.  Nors is a writer that knows how to craft a sentence.  No part of it seems out of place.  Every word adds to the overall effect of its respective narrative, and the fact that the arc of these narratives feel largely unstructured, almost improvised—Nors actually drafted the entire collection over the course of two weeks—makes their obvious precision on a sentence-by-sentence level all the more impressive.  There is abundance here, but no mess. Read More

Reflection: Guillaume Apollinaire and Cubism in Literature

Courtesy of poets.org
Courtesy of poets.org

Italian by birth, Polish by name (Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki), and Parisian by choice, Apollinaire was an important figure in art and literature in the early 20th century.  A leading name in poetry, he was in the artistic community at the time with famous names like Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Gertrude SteinMax Jacob, André Salmon, André Breton, André Derain, Faik Konica, Blaise Cendrars, Pierre Reverdy, Alexandra Exter, Jean CocteauErik Satie, Ossip Zadkine, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp and Jean Metzinger.  He first coined the terms orphism in 1912, and then surrealism in 1917.

Apollinaire’s art reflected his colorful life.  He had worked in libraries in the beginning of his writing career; he had worked as a teacher (in which period he met Annie Pleyden and fell in love with her, writing his work ‘Alcools’ inspired by this love); he compiled the works of Marquis de Sade; and he even got arrested and jailed on suspicion of stealing Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum in Paris, but he was released after five days.  At the last years of his life, he fought in World War I and got seriously injured on his head.  In 1918, he died from the Spanish Flu. Read More

Different Language, Different Story?

© Bruce Guenter via flickr.comDoes the language in which you write influence the content of your story?  That was the question I was left with after reading a magazine article about bilingualism.  They interviewed Mohsen Edrisi, a clinical psychologist from Iranian descend, living in the Netherlands.  He has done research into the relation between language and personality traits.

In his experience and research, there are differences in one’s sense of self, self-in-relation-to-other, and level of pathology.  He suggests that people tell their story differently when speaking in the mother tongue versus an acquired language.

In the magazine interview Edrisi says that it is easier for people to distance themselves when reflecting on themselves in an acquired language.  They feel emotions as shame and guilt less strongly, and that talking about taboo issues such as sex and violence is also easier.

It got me wondering what this would mean for fiction writing?  Of course writing in an acquired language is more difficult on a linguistic level — limited semantics and challenges with syntax — but could the essence of a story improve because one can be more honest?  Would it work out to write the outline of a story in an acquired language, and then to write it out in one’s mother tongue.

Just a thought.  Perhaps it is worth a try.  Perhaps it is why some authors do not write in their mother tongue.

Vanessa Deij

[Editor at Cecile’s Writers Magazine]

Writing Prompts: Characters and Momentum

photo-1473147654241-a26ffc2146bbI find it hard to care about most characters in the books I read.  I think it’s got something to do with me being a writer as well as a reader, with my background in poetry just making it worse.  I’m always mulling over word choice, weighing the significance of sound and rhythm, why the author made the decisions they did.  My attention skews to the micro rather than the macro, and the broader sweep of character arc and narrative structure holds less of my interest than the smaller choices an author made in arranging their words.  Over time it has become difficult for me to turn this analytical side of my brain off, and simply enjoy a text for what it is: a story.  My reading brain is always scavenging sentences for new techniques, tricks that may one day prove useful in my own writing; strip mining each row of words for images, influence, and inspiration.  So characters become hard for me to care about, because my default mode is to regard them as illusion, a ghost an author built from a long sequence of decisions. Read More

Opinion: On Slovak Literature

flag_of_slovakia-svgWhen I first moved to the Netherlands I would be cross-examined by my new acquaintances regarding this mysterious, unheard-of and potentially lethal country called Slovakia.  On one of the occasions, after having established the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia and explaining that yes, we do have internet over there, and no, we don’t usually torture and/or slaughter tourists as seen in the movie Hostel, I got pinned by another inquiry from my friend Edmond: “Are there any famous Slovak writers?  Is it possible I have read some of them?”  Oh, my.  I don’t even know why I took a second to think about it, since the answers were obviously: “No;” and “hell no;” respectively.

I always feel uneasy when discussing my national literature with foreigners.  We don’t have a Tolstoy, Faulkner or Austen.  We don’t even have an E. L. James.  There are no writers, no artists among the big names of Slovak literature.  Mostly, they were just people of various professions who merely happened to write something from time to time about a cause they cared about; like national liberation, women rights, or how socialism might not be the greatest idea ever.  But aside from that, they were… peasants, I guess.  And I mean it in the best possible salt-of-the-earth, more-than-meets-the-eye way.  Didn’t care for art, fame or money.  Just said what they had to say, when they had something to say.  However, in the past twenty-five years or so, there’s been a shift on the Slovak literary scene. Read More

Review: Empty Streets by Michal Ajvaz

Empty_Streets_AI_cover
Courtesy of Dalkeyarchive.com

Michal Ajvaz’s Empty Streets is less a novel than it is a 500 page torrent of ideas, a wild outpouring of pure imagination.  This is a love letter to the strange and unexpected; part-detective story, part-excavation of a city’s long buried dream life.  Like the mysterious symbol that lies in the center of its multiple branching narratives, it seems to spill in all different directions at once.  This is an aggressively bizarre work of fiction, one that seems unconcerned with traditional modes of storytelling.  It runs the gamut in terms of narrative form and style, sending the reader spinning from one story to the next.

It’s a wild, often unwieldy book, and all the better for it.  I can think of few dreamscapes in which I’d rather spend my time.

The novel begins with what is effectively a frame narrative.  Our narrator is a nameless author struggling his way through an ungovernable case of writer’s block.  One day, in an attempt to avoid the writing that torments him so, he goes for a long walk that takes him through a local rubbish dump.  He accidentally steps on a wooden object half-buried beneath the mess, some kind of carving in the shape of a double trident.  Immediately the object stirs something in our narrator. He is beset with questions he can’t answer.  What’s this strange artifact?  Could it be a tool?  Some kind of abstract artwork?  Where did this double trident come from, and what, if anything, does it mean? Read More

Art: Roni Horn, Discovering the Identity in Multiplicity and Dichotomy

Courtesy of wmagazine.com
Courtesy of wmagazine.com

I love the idea that no matter how obvious something could be, or transparent, there is still room for doubt. It is really interesting that transparency is not as transparent as you think.

These words of Roni Horn rang in my ears like a discovery of a hidden cabala.  Within the walls of this contemporary art museum in Tilburg, the Netherlands, I experienced a journey of identity, ambiguity, and singularity through recurrent colours, words and photographs.

There is a harmony between Horn and her minimalist art.  Born in 1955, New York, where she still lives and works, she combines photography, sculpture and language.  She creates a vivid glance to her life whereby I also get a glimpse of mine.  Her questioning about the concept of identity leads me to explore along with her my own identity.  Her androgynous look, with sharp blue eyes is in perfect accordance with this exploration.  “When you see your reflection in water, do you recognize the water in you?” (2010) she asks in ‘one of the destinations of your journey’ through shapes, colours and words.

Courtesy of depont.nl
Courtesy of depont.nl

The journey begins in a long, time-warping corridor, with a 70 meters long wall on one side, on which her famous work of photographic series A.K.A (2008-2009) takes place; while small rooms resembling minimalistic caves accompany on the other side.  This highly successful installation creates a sense of a wormhole, where step by step, Roni Horn’s “selfless” self-portraits of various ages are paired on the wall, and they guide me while I go in and out the small rooms.  All the artworks are in a concordance, part of a whole, like chapters of a certain story.  In these rooms, the installation consciously helps to create the unity with all of her artworks.

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