marți, 21 martie 2017

Vers 13, Judith Ortiz Cofer

Orar: To Pray

After the hissed pleas, denunciations -
the children just tucked in -
perhaps her hand on his dress-shirt sleeve,
brushed off, leaving a trace of cologne,
impossible, it seemed, to wash off
with plain soap, he'd go, his feet light
on the gravel. In their room, she'd fall
on her knees to say prayers composed
to sound like praise; following
her mother's warning never to make demands
outright from God nor a man.

On the other side of the thin wall,
I lay listening to the sounds I recognised
from an early age: knees on wood, shifting
the pain so the floor creaked, and a woman's
conversation with the wind - that carried
her sad voice out of the open window
to me. And her words - if they did not rise
to heaven, fell on my chest, where they are
embedded like splinters of a cross

I also carried.

Women Who Love Angels

They are thin
and rarely marry, living out
their long lives
in spacious rooms, French doors
giving view to formal gardens
where aromatic flowers
grow in profusion.
They play their pianos
in the late afternoon
tilting their heads
at a gracious angle
as if listening
to notes pitched above
the human range.
Age makes them translucent;
each palpitation of their hearts
visible at temple or neck.
When they die, it's in their sleep,
their spirits shaking gently loose
from a hostess too well bred
to protest.


They poured it into his veins
until he became someone else, a drunken man as he tries
to rise from the hospital bed, where the stained sheets
are a testament of shame to the anonymous nights
spent with the stranger his body has become.

He slides down feet first
like a child, hoping his legs will not betray him.
But he gets dizzy looking down at the reflective tiles.

Hanging onto the rails,
he sees himself flat on the ground, until the nurse
leads him by the elbow into sunlight.
Outside, he is hurt by a world where every surface
is a mirror of steel or plastic.

No place
for an old man avoiding his own face like a good friend
he has offended.

marți, 21 februarie 2017


  My first experience with Elif Shafak took the form of Three Daughters of Eve (2016) and left me somewhat disappointed. It is a well written book and I could easily recognise the author's talent and  her intelligent use of various narrative techniques, yet it could have been a splendid book had it not been for the few supernatural appearances, unrealistic experiences and some elements of the plot.
  It could have been a great book dealing with modern day problems like terrorism, religion and its place in the 21st century, feminism, Eastern and Western societies, democracy and so forth. Unfortunately, Shafak turned all these stringent problems into some sort of a classic professor-student love story.
  I could have happily written pages on feminism and motherhood; on how Peri evolved from a curious little girl who swore not to repeat her mother's mistakes into a brave, powerful and independent woman, who raised her three children in the spirit of feminism and globalization. I would have eagerly mentioned  Peri's promise to herself "not [to] live the life of her mother. She would not be inhibited, limited and reduced to something she was not". I would have bragged about a woman's power to overcome her condition, to surpass everyone's expectations, including hers, to succeed in a foreign land afraid of (Turkish) immigrants, to fight oppression and chauvinism. I would have proudly made Peri a spokesperson for Third World feminism.
  Sadly, Peri failed to become the woman of my imaginary essay on feminism. As her daughter comments, she chose to "drop out of Oxford, return to Istanbul, get married, give up your education, have three kids in a row and become a housewife. How original, bravo!" Through these choices, Peri proved her depressed and overly pious mother was right: "For Selma, Peri's education was less and intellectual awakening or the precursor to a promising career than a briefly interlude before her wedding."
  I loved Peri in the beginning of the novel. I loved her as she was chasing and fighting the thief that stole her purse. I loved her force and determination, as heedless as they were. But I ended up feeling disappointed. She lost all her dreams of being the only one in her family to graduate from college and of becoming a powerful woman with an important career. All because of her love for professor Azur. But, after all, isn't this what feminism is about?! Isn't feminism a woman's freedom to choose for herself?
  In short, the novel is an enjoyable book to read, yet it could have been better had it focused more on feminism, religion and Turkish society.

P.S. Alas, the open ending was so predictable!

* I received an advanced reading e-book copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

luni, 20 februarie 2017


Or the woman at the checkout stand who had to tell me it was a shame I was having kids at such a young age. My two-year-old brother was with me in line holding on the colored coupons after I'd counted them. I was fourteen and not yet bleeding. (Ednie Kaeh Garrison, "Sitting in the Waiting Room of Adult and Family Services at SE 122nd in Portland, Oregon, with My Sister and My Mother Two Hours Before I Return to School" in This Bridge We Call Home, Anzaldua and Keating, eds.)

luni, 6 februarie 2017


bun, am fost în piață, mi-am strigat nemulțumirile alături de oamenii de acolo (mai ales în primele zile, cînd magazinele încă aveau vuvuzele în stoc), m-am certat cu părinții, am înjurat foarte mult, mai între dinți, mai direct, m-am simțit abuzată de o mînă de ticăloși, iar m-am certat cu părinții, am simțit cum mi se năruie întregul sistem de valori, ba chiar m-am gîndit să mă mut din țară, să caut un loc mai civilizat și mai onest. pesimistă din fire, nu am crezut nicio clipă din cele în care-am înghețat în piața unirii că dragnea o să dea înapoi.

în teorie (și în discursurile agramate ale politicienilor noștri drăguți) am cîștigat, dar nu mă simt deloc învingătoare. știm cu toții că e o chestiune de timp pînă cînd prevederile din OUG 13 vor intra în parlament, sub o formă sau alta. simt doar că mi s-a dat o șansă să-mi mai hodinesc nițel picioarele. astăzi stau acasă, dar mîine știu unde mă duc!

ce mă mîhnește profund e protestul pro-guvern. sînt perfect de acord ca oricine să protesteze de fiecare dată cînd simte că îi sînt încălcate drepturile, însă felul în care se manifestă protestatarii de la cotroceni mă supără teribil. oamenii aceștia sînt părinții și bunicii noștri. nu înțeleg de unde atîta ură pentru copiii lor. noi nu am cerut niciodată ca votul să nu fie recunoscut. cerem acum demisia guvernului pentru că cineva trebuie să fie tras la răspundere pentru criza socială care a înghițit România. sorinel puștiu și florin ciordache trebuie să plece. hai, liviule, caută bine, sigur mai găsești vreun iepuroi în pălărie.

ce am cîștigat însă e un puternic sentiment de mîndrie. or asta nu e puțin lucru! vă mulțumesc, dragi români, pentru că mi-ați redat speranța în noi. dar lupta nu e gata. hai în stradă!  

vineri, 27 ianuarie 2017

Make America Great [Britain] Again!

One American Dream by Bernard Beck is yet another book (on its way to becoming a bestseller) about the [futile] pursuit of living the American dream. This time the protagonists are neither African-Americans nor Latin Americans, but second and third generations of Jews coming from Poland and struggling to find success and happiness. 
Jacob Rubinowitz, in particular, seems to be obsessed with becoming a real American. He was only a child when his mother took him to the States and, as soon as the law allowed him to, he changed his name and became John Rubin. Still, each time he got a bit closer to finally becoming a true American, he felt he lacked authenticity: "Throughout my life I have invented, reinvented, burnished, refurbished, constructed, and reconstructed myself as often as necessary in order to achieve my ultimate goal: to be a real American". Thus this became John's obsession and it marked his entire existence and even his relationships with his close family, his wife, Rose, and his daughter, Ruthie. Only in the end of the novel did he realize what it meant to be a real American: 
"I discovered that being an American isn't about what you wear, or how you speak, or where you live. Anyone can do that. It's what's in your head and in your heart that makes you an American. We Americans argue about everything, but in the end we always do the right thing. [...] In Europe, and in the rest of the world, there is history and privilege. But in America, everything was new and equal right [ha!] from the start." 
Overall, this is a book to be read only for its story, which, unfortunately, is not an original one. And what bothers me the most about it is the style. It is so poorly written! There are multiple voices in the novel, each chapter being told from the perspective of a different character, but in fact there is no real difference between the perspectives. Hence, what the readers perceive is not the story being told from multiple perspectives, but one narrator struggling to create the impression of multiplicity. There even are at some point a few lines that instead of deepening this sense of multiplicity, they portray the author's clumsiness in terms of narrative technique: "(You might notice that this is somewhat different from the way my husband remembers it. Men always seem to picture themselves as more macho than they actually are.)"
To sum up, this book is an unsuccessful struggle to portray the American dream and it reminded me of another struggle, a little more mundane and actual: Make America great again! or, better yet, make America Great Britain again!

* I received an advanced reading e-book copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

joi, 5 ianuarie 2017

A humorous discovery

A humorous discovery or how I came to like Judith Ortiz Cofer's writing after reading two of her autobiographic works that didn't impress me much. A less good writer of memoirs than a storyteller, Judith Ortiz Cofer surprised me in The Line of the Sun as having a great sense of humour and a gift for storytelling:
Small towns are vindictive, and when it became known that El Padrecito Cesar had been sent away to a mountain retreat for his health, a rumor began to circulate that the young priest had been caught "in flagrante" by the housekeeper, Leonarda, who had then aroused Don Gonzalo from a deep sleep. For days Leonarda was sought after by the townswomen for afternoon coffee, and even invited into the wealthier homes in town, where the old woman had never crossed the threshold except to wash floors. They interrogated her endlessly about the scandal up at the rectory, but she played the coy maiden and would only say that the little priest had too many wild friends visiting him in his room; that he would stay up till all hours reading poetry with one of them in particular; that it didn't seem natural to her for young men to spend so much time together, reading love poems to each other. And who was his special friends? They all wanted to know. One or two names would be sufficient. No names, no names, insisted Leonarda holding a porcelain coffee cup, little finger extended up to her toothless mouth. Some of her hostesses would later mark the same cup with an X and use it only when beggars are pilgrims asked for a drink at their back doors. Leonarda was soon forgotten but it wasn't long before another name was brought up for speculation.

It was just dawn, and in El Polvorín the houses were coming alive with the sounds of women setting pots of water to boil for coffee and getting their brooms and sprinkling cans ready. While their children were getting ready for school and their husbands for work, they would sweep clean their dirty yards, taming the pervasive dust with water so that it would not get into their houses and on the laundry they would be hanging on the lines strung from tree to tree.  

 Life was lived at a high pitch in El Building. The adults conducted their lives in two worlds in blithe acceptance of cultural schizophrenia, going to work or on errands in the English-speaking segment, which they endured either with the bravura of the Roman gladiator or with the down-cast-eyed humility that passed for weakness on the streets – a timidity that mothers inculcated into their children but that earned us not a few insults and even beatings from the black kids, who knew better.