Discover more from learning to interrupt.
say it back to me.
solitude, urban loneliness, and authors who translate themselves.
A few book updates:
A review of my new novel, Foundations, is out at Valorie Clark’s substack, Collected Rejections: read it here.
I wrote a brief “If My Book” post for MonkeyBicycle, a series where authors compare their books to weird things: read that one here.
And you can still order signed copies of Foundations, which will ship right around March 7th, from Whiskey Tit’s website: pre-order it here.
I keep trying to write something about February, but, frankly, she’s been a terrible month and I am glad to see her go.
My grandma passed last week and then I tested positive for Covid the morning I was meant to fly to Texas for her funeral. Crushing. Brad has consistently tested negative, so I have been quarantined for five days in our bedroom. We’ve never had to do a separation like this during the pandemic, and it’s been particularly lonely with my missing the funeral and the chance to feel a sense of closure and say goodbye. Brad has been great though, he set up a system to co-stream bad reality TV together while we eat soup.
Reading this month was also going very badly — I DNF-ed a couple of books that I just couldn’t get into (a case of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’) and a couple other hyped books turned out to be letdowns.
So, perhaps the only silver lining to this month is that, confined to my bedroom, I’ve had the opportunity to catch up on some reading.
I am always interested in books as structural projects, as an author’s own experiment, and Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri is one such book. Lahiri originally wrote it in Italian with the title Dove mi trovo, then translated it into English herself, which just makes the whole book feel so intentional.
The story follows a middle-aged female narrator as she navigates her daily life in an unnamed Italian city.
“Solitude: it's become my trade. As it requires a certain discipline, it's a condition I try to perfect. And yet it plagues me, it weighs on me in spite of my knowing it so well.”
In languid, dreamlike vignettes, Lahiri explores the confluence of family, community, professional goals, loneliness, and one’s own understanding of oneself. Each section tangibly connects to a setting and mood, like the way you may remember the early morning sunrise at your grandmother’s house as you sip a cup of tea or the way a book you read on vacation always feels imbued with the experience itself. The fountain pens in Lahiri’s story become objects d’art, the suitcases tinged with a certain melancholy.
I can’t resist a book about urban solitude, Lahiri scratched every itch in what I want out of such a book. Admittedly, I haven’t read any of her other work, but people argue this book is nothing like her others and I enjoyed it so much I am hesitant to work backwards.
I didn’t realize, when I chose Whereabouts as a quarantine companion, that one of the other four books I haphazardly grabbed off my TBR pile was also written by a polyglot author who translated her book from Finnish to English.
The Union of Synchronized Swimmers by Cristina Sandu is another interesting experiment of a book. In it are six seemingly disparate stories about women strewn across the globe living mostly ordinary, somewhat unimpressive, or even unhappy, lives — these stories are tightened in between by the ongoing narrative of a group of synchronized swimmers from a ‘non-country’ behind the Iron Curtain.
“The swimming suits hung from the branches like crows—like fateful omens, people would say, but only afterwards.”
The girls of a Soviet cigarette factory become swimmers to escape the hardships of the Soviet bloc through reaching the Olympics and defecting upon arrival. Ultimately, they discover they are only trading one hardship for another as immigrants in various ports of the world. There’s an interplay of past and present and future loss throughout Sandu’s story — and, though they escape, do they ever really find happiness, can they ever return to their girlhood near the river?
Similar to Whereabouts, the writing is poetic and sparse, blending setting and a sense of place with memory.
I am always moved by the ability of an author to create a brilliant narrative in the space of a novella-length book, particularly when they are translating their own words back to themselves. So, if you are looking for novella recommendations to add to your list, take note!
In the meantime, we have a hail warning tonight in California and I have moved the space heater into my burrow in hopes of staying warm.