Tag Archives: Winter 2016

Native Believer

Ali Eteraz
Akashic Books ($15.95)

by Julia Stein

Since 2000, writers from central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa have published some brilliant, award-winning novels in English. Pakistani-British Nadeem Aslam’s wonderful Maps for Lost Lovers and Bangladeshi-British Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (both 2004) explore the lives of first generation immigrants in Britain. In the United States, Khaled Hosseini’s best seller The Kite Runner (2003) describes an Afghan boyhood friendship against the backdrop of war, Rabih Almeddine’s An Unnecessary Woman (2014) focuses on a bookseller in war-torn Lebanon, and Laila Lalami’s Secret Son (2009) looks at a poor boy’s foiled attempt to escape the slums in Morocco.

Like these five novelists, Ali Eteraz, author of the debut novel Native Believer, is an immigrant; he came from the Dominican Republic and Pakistan to New York, where he yearned to “produce stories that would be deemed quintessentially American.” As an adult he read Richard Wright on American disenfranchisement, and then found his own way to write a sad, funny, and haunting novel that debates what America is. The novel captures post-9/11 U.S. in a brilliant satire.

Born of Asian immigrant parents, M has married a Southern belle from a wealthy family and works in a PR firm in Philadelphia. M’s parents never taught him their religion, Islam, but they did teach him to believe in all-American upward mobility. After 9/11, M decided to become a “new kind of man,” one who wanted to surrender, and wanted to distance himself as much as possible from people with names likes his who crashed planes into buildings. In the gender reversal of his marriage, his wife is the sports hero, the aggressor working for a national security firm making America safe through drones, but she has battled a bad disease for some time. M is the gentle man who writes poems for his wife to help her get well and wants to become 100% American.

Eteraz often displays a knack for black comedy. At a party at M’s house, while he fusses over wine like a dandy, his new boss finds a Koran that M’s mother had given him, and subsequently fires M. His Jewish lawyer friend wants him to sue for discrimination, but both M and his wife Marie-Anne say he can’t, because he’s not actually a Muslim. The novel is not about “identity” but rather about how identities shift. M leaves his middle class neighborhood to wander North Philadelphia where he sees in the impoverishment and desolation a replica of his own life. There he befriends a Muslim pornographer named Ali and hangs out during an orgy with the rock band the Gay Commie Muzzies (yes, there is now Muslim punk rock). M thinks he’s living a kind of 21st-century incarceration, where all around is freedom “but it was not something accessible to us.” The “us” is now Muslims.

The satire and debate continues as M squirms back into the middle class when he gets a job working for the State Department as a “Moderate Muslim,” going to other countries to tell other Muslims the good about the United States. M realizes he still believes “there was no deity but America” but since he doesn’t control how others define him, he has “to enter the prison that someone else has constructed for you, and you have to live there with all the patient forbearance.” With the groundwork laid for an ending that will surprise readers, Native Believer offers no pat answers about being Muslim in America, but it does pose a lot of good questions.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Winter 2016/2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador

Horacio Castellanos Moya
Translated by Lee Klein
New Directions ($13.95)

by Erik Noonan

Readers who appreciate literature that ridicules intolerance and brutality will celebrate the appearance of Lee Klein’s translation of Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador—an essential text in the oeuvre of Honduran-born Salvadoran author Horacio Castellanos Moya—nineteen years after its first publication.

Having repatriated to Canada and changed his name to Thomas Bernhard (after the Austrian novelist) the Head of McGill University’s Art History Department, Edgardo Vega, returns to his hometown of San Salvador and stays with his brother, the proprietor of a successful chain of locksmith shops, so that he can execute their mother's last will and testament. Two weeks into his three-week visit, Vega has moved into a hotel to get away from his relatives, and spends a couple of hours with an acquaintance, a writer of “famished little stories” named Moya, at an establishment whose bartender plays Tchaikovsky and serves him two whiskeys daily, followed by glass after glass of mineral water—none of which brings on an attack of his colitis, unlike Salvadoran pilsner, cover bands, soccer players, and pretty much every other Salvadoran institution, custom, product, or norm he can think of.

The story—or rather, since Revulsion doesn't relate any incidents, the premise—of the book follows the plot of Bernhard’s 1986 novel Extinction, in which a man returns to Austria to tend to his family's affairs after receiving a telegram informing him of their deaths in a car crash. Meanwhile, Moya’s Vega disgorges his torrent of bile in the manner of the whole gamut of Bernhard protagonists: “It is a miserable culture, Moya, for which the written word doesn't have the least importance, it jumped from the most atrocious illiteracy to fascinate itself with the stupidity of television, a fatal jump, Moya, this culture, jumping over the written word, cleanly and simply sailing above the centuries in which humanity developed thanks to the written word, said Vega.” Paratactic phrases and clauses offset by commas are the speech units of this eighty-three-page series of discursive circles and tangents. It's as if the needle of one author got stuck in the grooves of the other. This text is a parodic homage, a neoclassical imitatio, a diverting throwback to High Modernism, serious fun.

Revulsion is Moya’s fifth book to be translated into English, and it's the second of those five in the original Spanish, which means that the Anglophone reader who is familiar with the work of this extraordinary writer can now go back and look ahead to his subsequent development, in prospective hindsight, and see how transformative this text proved to be in the years following its publication. In an afterword, Moya relates what happened when Revulsion came out: an unidentified man telephoned his mother twice and threatened his life—an occurrence of which there would be scant coverage in the press, “although it didn't lack a columnist who claimed that I had invented the threats to promote the book,” he recalls, “and that I wanted to imitate Salman Rushdie.”

Moya’s afterword directs our attention to the change his work underwent: while it's true that in Revulsion (1997) Vega left El Salvador wincing and sneering, he still went by choice, whereas Erasmo Aragón in The Dream of my Return (2013) and the anonymous narrator of Senselessness (2004) both flee for their lives, the former because he was employed at a news agency backed by guerillas, the latter because he wrote an article stating that El Salvador was the first Latin American country to have an African president. In She-Devil in the Mirror (2000) the photographer José Carlos and the reporter-turned-private-investigator Pepe Pindonga leave El Salvador for fear of retaliation for their work, and the journalist Rita Mena endures intimidation and assault at the hands of a politician’s bodyguards. In Tyrant Memory (2008) gossip has it that the pro-Nazi theosophist dictator Maximiliano Hernández Martínez has not charged the columnist and radio news editor Pericles with violating an anti-defamation law, imprisoning him for articles alleging that the tyrant engaged in unconstitutional activity to get reelected, but instead—much to the journalist’s chagrin—because of his falsely rumored membership in a group of coffee growers and bankers who oppose the regime. Judging from the available English translations, it seems that after Revulsion, the profession of journalism has ceased to be a cog in the state propaganda machine, as it had been in the preceding novel Dance with Snakes (1996), and instead becomes a perilous job that places writers in immediate danger because of their labor. Indeed, it’s difficult to avoid the inference that Moya doesn't attribute the death threats against him to the initiative of an isolated bloodthirsty coward, but to a coordinated abuse of power by the government of the Republic of El Salvador.

In large measure, the history of literature written in English is the history of its contact with other literatures, and within the mainstream of that tradition—much in the same way that Horacio Castellanos Moya has altered Hispanophone prose by imagining Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador writing in Spanish—Lee Klein has altered our prose by writing Revulsion the way Moya might have written it, if he had done so here and in English.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Winter 2016/2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

Winter 2016


Multiplicity: An Interview with Ian Hatcher
A digital and print explorer of poetic subjects, Ian Hatcher here discusses the challenges of expressing the complexities of human existence.
Interviewed by Steven Wingate

The Problem with the Future: An Interview with Alexander Weinstein
Award-winning author Alexander Weinstein talks about his new collection of short stories and the challenges of viewing humanity through the prism of an increasingly digitized world.
Interviewed by Garry Craig Powell


Self Interview in the form of Passages
from Islands of the Mad and A Monster's Notes

In this polyvocal piece, author Laurie Sheck explores the porous, unstable, partly mute, and multiple selves that combine to create a perceived reality to others via the characters of her books.
by Laurie Sheck

Backlist Feature:

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race
Thomas Ligotti
Author and horror auteur Thomas Ligotti’s only non-fiction book is an amalgamation of philosophy, literature, and scientific research relating to pessimism. Reviewed by Matthew McGuire

Video Feature:

Snakes and Such: the Work of a Naturalist
Assigned to review Ted Levin’s America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake, our intrepid reviewer Michael Swingen instead made a 30-minute film about the book, the author, and the process of reviewing.
Written/Reviewed by Michael Swingen, Directed by Paul Hoplin


3 Arabi Song
Zeina Hashem Beck
Beck, winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, writes complex poetry about her Arab culture—verse rich in detail and metaphor. Reviewed by George Longenecker


Shingle Street
Blake Morrison
From our first step on Shingle Street we feel the shifting terrain in Blake Morrison’s potent collection. Reviewed by Jane Baston

Proensa: An Anthology of Troubadour Poetry
Selected and Translated by Paul Blackburn
Edited by George Economou

Begun as a Master’s thesis, Paul Blackburn’s Proensa blossomed to represent thirty poets of the troubadour tradition. Reviewed by Erik Noonan

Magpiety: New and Selected Poems
Melissa Green
The poems in Magpiety disclose Green’s communion with the changing seasons, the flora and fauna of the Massachusetts woods, and the swift current of rivers there. Reviewed by M. Lock Swingen

Only More So
Millicent Borges Accardi
In this challenging and rewarding book, the poet births grotesque monsters to awaken her audience, and then coaxes them to sleep with remnants of a song.
Reviewed by Rachel Slotnick

100 Chinese Silences
Timothy Yu
Yu takes on the poetry elite with his parodic poems, prompting a debate about cultural appropriation. Reviewed by John Bradley


Jorge Armenteros
Craving escape from a stifling relationship, a perfumery student stumbles into lodging at a “fourth class hotel” run by a man who hasn’t changed his shirt—or left the site—in years. Reviewed by Lacy Arnett Mayberry

Marketa Lazarová
Vladislav Vančura
Novelist and filmmaker Vančura’s cinematic story of strong men jostling for supremacy is a revealing portrait of post-WWI 1930s Czechoslovakia. Reviewed by Jeff Bursey

Whiskey, Etc.
Sherrie Flick
Flick’s recent collection of short stories focuses on the pulse of waiting for something, of having that slight weight in your chest and helium in your head. Reviewed by Erin Lewenauer

Native Believer
Ali Eteraz
Pakistani-Dominican immigrant author Eteraz debates what America is in this brilliant and haunting post-9/11 satire. Reviewed by Julia Stein

Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador
Horacio Castellanos Moya
Translated into English nineteen years after its first publication, Salvadoran author Castellanos Moya’s novel ridicules intolerance and brutality. Reviewed by Erik Noonan


Why Love Leads to Justice: Love Across Boundaries
David A. J. Richards
In a book both erudite and heartfelt, law professor David A. J. Richards focuses on the poisonous idea of patriarchy as told through the lives of great artists. Reviewed by Brian Gilmore

Lost Profiles: Memoirs of Cubism, Dada, and Surrealism
Philippe Soupault
This brief memoir of artistic creativity and incendiary intellectual revolt appeared in France in 1963, but it has only now been translated into English. Reviewed by John Toren

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing of America
Patrick Phillips
This book is as much a memoir as it is a history of one particularly horrific and neglected case study of America's racist past. Reviewed by Spencer Dew

Play All: A Bingewatcher’s Notebook
Clive James
Cultural critic Clive James writes perceptively on some of the most influential and popular television series of the last twenty years. Reviewed by Mark Dunbar

Augustine: Conversions to Confessions
Robin Lane Fox
This informative, highly scholarly, and voluminous study of the great Christian thinker of the third century AD is also a history of Augustine’s times. Reviewed by Douglas Messerli

Rain Taxi Online Edition Winter 2016 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2016/2017