Tag Archives: Fall 2020

The Marquis de Sade and the Avant-Garde

Alyce Mahon
Princeton University Press ($45)

by Penelope Rosemont

The Marquis de Sade is “one of history’s most reviled men, branded a pervert, a pornographer, a corruptor of virtue, and a madman,” as sex expert L.T. Woodward, M.D., puts it in his 1964 introduction to the first U.S. publication of Sade’s 1791 novel Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue. In truth, Woodward is the pseudonym used by prize-winning science fiction writer Robert Silverberg, who is not an M.D. but has written extensively on sex. Woodward/Silverberg goes on, with serious implications, to suggest that Justine “becomes part of the reader’s experience . . . once he has read it he has a keener understanding of the forces of terror that exist in the world.”

More than 50 years later, Alyce Mahon has created The Marquis de Sade and the Avant-Garde, a book that is a treasure house of information and inspiration, at the same time scholarly and completely engaging. In discussing Sade, Mahon reminds us of the importance of sexual freedom, of the long battle for openness concerning sexuality, and of the relationship of sexuality to interpersonal problems, personal consciousness, and political power. This is writing that reveals the hidden depths and concerns of human experience—what it means to be part of a social system with its privileges and prejudices. Sometimes called the “Gospel of Evil” by its detractors, the story of Sade’s writings also prompts modern readers to consider the importance and courage of independent publishers, reviewers, and bookstores at a time when they are facing an almost insurmountable struggle for survival.

Mahon, who has also written other excellent essays and books relating to the subject of sexuality (including the superb volume Surrealism and the Politics of Eros 1938-1968), gives us a short history of Sade’s life and relationship to women—one which was rather typical of the time, though some say he was given to excess. Charges were brought against him, and he was imprisoned by a letter de cache and kept in prison largely though the machinations of his father-in-law; the true reason is unclear. It is clear that he was quite anti-religious, a criminal stance at the time.

Regardless of why he was placed there, he became one of the world’s most famous prisoners. From his prison cell, Sade is said to have provoked the storming of the Bastille by tossing notes from his window demanding that the people rescue him. He even supposedly assembled a megaphone from a funnel and pipe and shouted out, “They are killing us!”

When liberated from prison, the Marquis de Sade reinvented himself as Citizen Sade and represented his district in the Assembly, where he opposed the death penalty during the terror. He was imprisoned again under Napoleon. During his more than twenty-eight-year imprisonment, sometimes in isolation and later in asylums with companions, he wrote thousands of pages, cataloging all he knew or could imagine about human sexuality as well as his critiques and philosophical insights. This perpetual prisoner’s writings are those of a free spirit and his philosophy that of pleasure—including, notably, equal pleasure for women.

Mahon writes not only about Sade but about the intellectuals who championed him. In 1909 Apollinaire, who invented the word Surrealism, wrote the introduction to the first Sade collection since the French Revolution, claiming the Sadean heroine as the “New Woman.” Reacting against the “Victorian homebody ideal,” these “new women” aspired to go out into the world, to make a difference. They demanded for themselves a public presence, even a vote!

André Breton, Robert Desnos, Maurice Heine, Gilbert Lely, and Georges Bataille were all part of the surrealist milieux in Paris. They realized the importance of Sade’s work and promoted it. A surrealist favorite is Sade’s A Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man. In his 1927 novel Le liberte ou l’amour!, Desnos called on the ideas of Sade and discussed French revolutionary Theroigne de Mericourt as one of the “first Amazons of Liberty.” Surrealists Bunuel and Dali produced a film based on Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, L’Age d’Or, in 1930. It was attacked by the right-wing Ligue des Patriots who smashed the screen and assaulted movie goers.

Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue, written in 1787 and published in 1791, is the story of a naive and innocent young woman who is forced out into the world. A savage denunciation of religion that attacks Rousseau’s idea of man’s innate goodness, this satirical work could be considered a female version of Voltaire’s Candide, itself a wonderfully savage attack of the philosophy of optimism promoted by Leibnitz. Candide had been published in 1759, and was familiar to Sade. Mahon explains that Justine “allows Sade to present a universe in which the death of God is reinforced by the cruel torture of those who call on him.” With insight, she goes on to state, “Sade not only staged a subversive assault on the eighteenth century’s long obsession with virtue and vice and its attendant gender norms: he offered a radically alternative role for woman as a harbinger of change.”

Indeed, Sade was one of the few male advocates for the rights of women at the time, but plenty of women were speaking for themselves nonetheless, and Mahon’s book excellently represents women writers and the women’s point of view. In 1791 Olympe de Gouze, in her “Declaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne,” argued for a “national assembly of women” and free education for all, noting that if women have the right to be executed, they should also have the right to give a public speech. Following developments in the French Revolution, Mary Wollstonecraft published her Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792.

Women intellectuals’ works Mahon discusses also include Simone de Beauvoir’s “Must We Burn Sade”; Dominique Aury’s The Story of O; Anne LeBrun’s Sade Collection; and Angela Carter’s Sadean Woman. Not covered in Mahon’s book but worth mentioning are U.S. writers Rikki Ducornet, especially her novel The Fan-Makers Inquisition; Nancy Joyce Peters, the City Lights mainstay whose writings on surrealism and women are included in Ron Sakolsky’s Surrealist Subversions and my own book Surrealist Women: An International Anthology; and Diane di Prima and Jayne Cortez, whose poetry was important in the development of surrealist ideas and passions.

An important chapter in Mahon’s book discusses the publication history of Sade’s works. What was publishable in 1791, and somewhat publishable by subscription in 1909, was forbidden in France and the United States in 1945 by censorship laws. Sade’s books, and any other literature dealing boldly with sexuality, could only be published in English in France, and even then only by small presses in small editions or by subscription.

As thoughtful persons and intellectuals of the postwar period puzzled over how the atrocities of World War II could have occurred in a so-called civilized place like Europe, the first post-war publication dealing with Sade was Pierre Klossowski’s Sade My Neighbor in 1947. This same year also saw the first publication of the complete Sade by J. J. Pauvert, until a 1956 trial and ruling seized all copies and closed the publisher, forcing Breton, Bataille, Paulhan, and Cocteau into the political fight against censorship.

In 1959 the Surrealists, following up on their opinion of Sade censorship, mounted a daring and scandalous EROS Exhibition. As part of this exhibition Jean Benoît enacted a performance piece called the “Execution of the Testament of the Marquis de Sade,” in which he fell into a kind of trance and got out a red hot iron to brand himself with the letters S-A-D-E. In 1976, eleven “domains” were created for the World Surrealist Exhibition in Chicago, one of which was devoted to the heroine of Sade’s novel Juliette, elaborated by Jean-Jacques Jack Dauben and Jocelyn Koslofsky. They were inspired by a this passage from the novel: “There is no power divine or human which dares oppose my desires, the past encourages me, the present electrifies me, and I have no fear of the future. . . . nature only created man to conceive as much pleasure and enjoyment as the earth can offer.”

It is important to note how often women, as publishers, editors, and even printers, were involved in the publication and distribution of controversial literature of a sexual nature. Among these were the American-born Caresse Crosby, who with her husband Harry established Black Sun Press in Paris in 1927, and the British writer Nancy Cunard, who established Hours Press in France a year later and published avant-garde literature by Beckett, Pound, and Henry Crowder, a Jazz musician from New York. Cunard edited, among other things, an anthology entitled Negro, comprising essays, pictures, commentary, and other expressions of the beauty, creativity, and contributions of Africans and African Americans. She struggled to find a publisher due to both racism and sexism; Negro finally reached publication in 1934, and has since been recognized as a rare literary achievement.

In the United States it was not until 1964 that a Civil Rights attorney living in Chicago, Elmer Gertz, took the case of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and literary censorship laws were overturned. But the long history of Sade’s publication and suppression begs many questions: Why does society place such rigid control over sexuality and so little control over violence, killing, and war? Why is it considered so awful to watch the interesting and hauntingly beautiful configurations of sex when watching gruesome murders is ok? Why is the sexuality of women degraded while the sexuality of men is extolled?

The times we live in cannot be ignored: It is an era of easy access to viewing sex on the internet, graphic ultra-violence and murder everywhere, and political figures who redefine truth as whatever suits moneymaking. The question is, will the viewer/victims be able to sort it out? Will their confusion create a divisiveness leading to ever more violent confrontations? Will censorship be revived?

Mahon’s book suggests that it is desire—unfettered, sexual, and physical in its multiplicity of expressions and sublimations—that will lead us to find pleasure and peace, to realize the marvelous freedom of our dreams. If you are interested in such possibilities, then The Marquis de Sade and the Avant-Garde is an important work to add to your bookshelf; it will fascinate you, it will inspire you, and it will delight you.


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A Little History of Poetry

John Carey
Yale University Press ($25)

by James P. Lenfestey

John Carey, a retired Oxford don, tells this “Little History of Poetry” like your pipe-smoking uncle in an easy chair by the fire, with a wink of delighted eros. Or like a benevolent naturalist walking you through the woods pointing out all the plants and animals he knows, many of which he loves, and explaining how they live and reproduce. The voice is deeply knowledgeable, softly opinionated—it’s that of a storyteller, not a critic. The book is a helpful guide, as Carey’s historical survey includes a valuable ear for poetry’s unique reach into the ripeness of life, the inevitability of death, the tortures and pleasures of love, the bitterness of injustice and conflict, and the well-told tale ending in mayhem, redemption, surprise, or even laughter. If, as Blake wrote, “Prayer is the Study of Art,” then this book is a fine ear’s open-hearted museum.

Carey has a remarkably unpretentious and encyclopedic knowledge of names, places, poems, poets, and poetic moments and movements, while offering a subtle critique of modernist obscurity. Still, one wishes he had offered a modest disclaimer. The “little history” here is of mostly European-American Poetry; significant swaths of global history are missing, even though Carey finds ways to mention Hafez, Tagore, and the great Japanese and Chinese poets through the window opened by Arthur Waley’s pioneering translations in the early 20th Century.

Carey opens by deftly summarizing the 4000-year-old epic of Gilgamesh (and its homage to homosexual love), the heartbreak of war in The Iliad, and the murder of Penelope’s unfaithful maidservants in The Odyssey, which he notes is “the first depiction of a hanging in world literature.” Sappho’s reaction observing her lover, he similarly points out, is “the first description of . . . passionate love by a woman in Western literature.” He also discusses the Roman propaganda embedded in Virgil’s Aeneid, the alleged pornophilia of Horace, and the “lustful but horribly vindictive and vain” gods and goddesses of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, reminding us how pervasive those mythic stories were in the Euro-American world until Emerson cast them out.

The Beowulf story, Carey finds, is driven by “Anglo-Saxon metre is as relentless as a drum-beat.” He is comprehensive in his review of Anglo-Saxon poetry, including riddle poems—some bawdy, others unsolved for 1000 years. He notes without surprise the odd British tendency to commemorate lost battles, and comes alive condemning Dante’s joy in inventing hellish punishments. Dante’s vicious ”unsexing,” Carey notes, was a deliberate riposte to the joyful eroticism of the Troubadours such as Arnaut Daniel (1110-1200), whom Dante burns in his invented Purgatory.

As the book progresses, Carey warms up with numerous sage asides. His chapter on Chaucer is a delight, noting him “genial and tolerant”—which could apply to Carey himself, who recommends the bawdy, hilarious Miller’s Tale, a “dirty joke turned into a great work of art,” above all the other Canterbury Tales, pointing out the contrast between the Christian moralism in Gawain and the Green Knight and the earthy enthusiasms of Chaucer.

A joyful surprise in this Euro-centric work is to see the marvelous Persian poet Hafez surface next to the discussion of Chaucer, his contemporary. Hafez’s “treatment of bodily joy, not as a temptation but as a mystical equivalent of the divine, is an achievement . . . inconceivable in Western poetry of the Middle Ages.”

Carey notes how the alliterative meter of William Langland’s Piers Plowman—“in a summer season, when soft was the sun”—remains beautiful still, a reminder to all poets how well that form fits the English tongue. Likewise he celebrates the poem’s dominant theme, “the contrast between rich and poor,” containing a list of 14th-century English miscreants that reads like it could come from a Carl Hiassen novel; ”Go where money is, and you will find crooks,” is the poem’s message, he writes. Written after the ravages of the Plague, Piers Plowman seems especially relevant in our pandemic Gilded Age.

After a look at Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen, an imagined national epic for England in troubled times, Carey provides a helpful guide to Shakespeare’s sonnets: Start with the fifteen most famous. His refreshingly pragmatic scholarship reminds us that the stories in these love poems are almost certainly not autobiographical but derive from the skilled imagination of the playwright. John Donne, on the other hand, was called by contemporaries “Copernicus in poetry” because he absorbed and articulated new realities, the continent of America and the Copernican cosmology. He did this so well that it is often forgotten how good a poet of love he is, “like gold to airy thinness beat.”

After the sonneteers, many of whom sound much alike, we get a burst of individuality in English poetry, prompted possibly by Protestantism and random encounters created by city life in booming London, where Ben Johnson was branded with an F (for felon) on his thumb. Today the singsong metrics and woebegone loves of three centuries of English poems can be deadening, so among the old English poets, it’s a thrill to come upon this extraordinary triplet of Robert Herrick’s:

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks how sweetly flows
The liquefaction of her clothes.

Many English poets were or became clergy, the educated class—Herrick, Donne, Johnson, Hopkins. The religion that dominated European poetry to the middle of the 19th century is marginal in our era, so it is often hard to sympathize with the violent spiritual struggles of a George Herbert, although powerfully rendered.

Even to readers who have already made ecstatic discoveries in the works if writers such as Wordsworth, Shelly, Blake, Dickinson, Whitman, Yeats, and Akhmatova, Carey brings some fine surprises. Henry Vaughan (1621-1695), a Welsh metaphysical poet, bears rediscovery—“I saw eternity the other night: / Like a great ring of pure and endless light”—as does Thomas Traherne (1636-1674), whose work was only truly uncovered in 1903: “All life and sense, / A naked, simple, pure intelligence.” The chapter on Milton is well worth reading; that towering figure lived a harsh mortal life, and yet angels dictated great poems to him.

It is a bit of relief to get away from the lockstep iambic tetrameter and pentameter, though brilliantly executed by so many, if only to the heroic couplets of Dryden and Pope. Though in the end that rhythm too deadens the ear these days, still it’s worth remembering Dryden became the first British poet laureate; his straightforwardly political subjects make him unreadable now, but his achievement should give succor to political poets today.

Carey presents women poets, often omitted from such histories, as “vital” to the Romantic movement. Anna Laetitia Barbald (1743-1782) wrote a poem that correctly predicted the demise of the monarchy in Britain and the rise of democratic America, a work savagely denounced at the time. Carey also invokes Phyllis Wheatley’s (1753-1784) extraordinary trek from slavery to poetry. It is heartening to read that many poets, then as now, denounced slavery and blood sports, exalted nature over industrialism, and preferred serenity over “the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,” as Thomas Gray (1716-1771) put it in his still famous Elegy.

The pace quickens with chapters on Wordsworth and Coleridge. Carey claims “Kubla Khan” by Coleridge “would be selected by many as the greatest English poem.” As one who determinedly memorized it for its bursting images and amazing first-person conclusion, I agree. Another hero of mine, Shelley, earns several pages acknowledging the great sonnet “Ozymandias” and his profound belief in women’s rights, the corruption of Jesus’s life by Church pomposities, and passive resistance to tyranny—ideals that influenced Tolstoy and Gandhi.

Carey adds a useful chapter on what he calls “communal poetry”: the tradition of folk songs and hymns, many with authors unknown, yet with a blessed persistence in our culture to this day. Blake is rightly praised, too, for his ecstatic ferocity against the depredations of “Reason” versus sensual joy. Byron does not weather well, either his poetry or the inept idealism which left him to die in a malarial swamp during the Greek Civil War. (Readers, don’t miss Edna O’Brien’s delicious 2009 takedown, Byron in Love.)

Carey switches to 19th-century Germany for Goethe, an astonishing force in world poetry who rose to become “virtual prime minister of the young nation,” his first novel inspiring a rash of copycat suicides. Rilke continues to inspire many today, his short-lived genius described dreams for all of us who “still don’t know if I am a falcon, a storm, or a great song” (Robert Bly translation). From Russia, it is valuable to learn more about Pushkin (1799-1837), who single-handedly tried (and failed) to pull his country out of its bitter feudal medievalism; he’s another great poet who died in a duel.

Among the Victorian poets, Tennyson’s astounding musicality still stands, though the biographical details make him seem petty. Carey usefully reminds us the real action at this time was with English geologists and evolutionists, who created the modern understanding of the world, undermining nearly two thousand years of Biblical certainties—a divide still clear in American evangelical politics. Matthew Arnold captured this change in the still powerful “Dover Beach.”

Today it is the Victorian women poets who resonate, like Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s resolute anti-slavery and anti-child labor campaigns in spite of her family’s dependence on Jamaican sugar. Her love poems are all the more moving and passionate for the lack of stilted conventional mythology and read today like real love; a shining star, she anticipates 20th-century ecological concerns in her final poem, ”A Musical Instrument,” in which a careless god Pan spreads poetry and ruination at once. Another poem Carey includes in its entirety is Christina Rosetti’s remarkable valedictory, “Song.”

Carey devotes a long chapter to American poets Whitman and Dickinson, who changed everything in their singularity; they remain icons for our age, if not their own. His reading of Dickinson is slightly reductive, but what can any scholar do with that impish genius?

Back in England, Carey brings us lesbian poets such as Charlotte Mew (1869-1928)—admired by Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Pound, and Hardy—and discusses the stunning rhythmic inventions of Gerard Manley Hopkins, which stir still. (p.190-91) Carey clearly reveres the poetry of Edward Thomas, known in the U.S. mostly as an influential friend of Robert Frost; killed in World War I, “he is the father of us all,” said Ted Hughes three generations later. And D. H. Lawrence’s poems still stand up, as in “The Snake,” in which Lawrence realizes he has been on the wrong side of nature, fearing it—“a pettiness.”

Yeats merits a long chapter, whimsically titled “The Great Escapist.” Carey rightly sees that Yeats’s belief in magic, séances, and the rest, although ludicrous, “gave his imagination this boundless, surreal freedom,” yet regrets his later drift toward the order of fascism. The following chapter on T. S. Eliot also depresses; Carey sees his poems as “difficult” but appreciates the music of his lines as transformative: “The ‘meaning’ of his poems matters less.”

Arthur Waley’s eminent contribution translating Asian poets is celebrated in a terrific, fast moving chapter demonstrating how Waley, and later Pound, introduced the West to ancient Chinese and Japanese poetry and forms, especially the Japanese tanka and haiku, also creating the movement called Imagism.

After suitable exposition on influential American poets Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams, Carey adds the strong counterpoint of Harlem Renaissance poets and writers. “The modish side of modernism cut no ice with the Harlem poets. Unlike Wallace Stevens, they did not regard the world as imaginary, but knew it to be real and unjust. Nor did they pursue obscurity, but wrote to be understood.”

Readers will be inspired by his chapter on the eccentric Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who despite her small output had a “wider range of tone and feeling than any other modernist, even Eliot.” A chapter on Auden and other poets who flirted with Marxism in the ’30s, then sensed the doom of coming war and tyranny, is valuable too. Many British poets were killed during the war; among American soldiers, Richard Wilbur preserved only two of his war poems.

Carey sneaks in a subtle takedown of Robert Lowell, though is tolerant of the many other unstable poets of his generation. But in post-War England, the so-called Movement poets had another idea: to be understood. Philip Larkin is “Britain’s best-loved poet” according to a 2003 survey, though he wouldn’t stand a chance today against the recent—and first woman—Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Larkin loved Hardy’s plainness more than the mysticism of Yeats, and it shows, sadly; though everyone likes “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” his unhappy longing for “oblivion” is a hard road for contemporary readers.

Carey concludes A Little History of Poetry with the pas de deux of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, their intensity of passions and first-rate talents. Hughes aimed to “reinvigorate language,” Plath to survive her living and psychic demons. And a terrific chapter on political poets states baldly, “the twentieth century was the most politicized in world history.” Discussing the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the devolution of empires, Carey invokes the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, her life decimated by Stalin, though he leaves out the many great Polish poets, including Wisława Szymborska, Nobel Prize winner in 1995 and the greatest poet ever of uncertainty.

Carey ends with a masterful chapter on tough, dear poets of our time: Heaney, Walcott, Angelou, Oliver (whose anthem “A Summer’s Day” merits full inclusion), and the brilliant Australian barefoot farm boy Les Murray, who grapples with the problem of language and meaning. Discussing Murray’s “The Meaning of Existence,” Carey, our tender learned don, leaves us with the question that perplexed Murray, and continues to vex us all: Does language shape reality? Or “does the poem’s ending show poetry’s power to unsettle beliefs and question certainties, even its own?”


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Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

Robert Kolker
Doubleday ($25.95)

by Grace Utomo

Nine-year-old Mary Galvin wants to kill Donald so he’ll stop praying to her. It would be easy enough, especially since he thinks she’s the “sacred Virgin.” All she has to do is tie him to a tree and set him on fire. But she doesn’t. She knows if she does anything to her twenty-eight-year-old brother she’ll only prove that she’s crazy, just like him. Five decades and one name change later, Lindsay still hasn’t escaped Donald, but now something is different. Now she stays close to him by choice.

Robert Kolker's Hidden Valley Road envelops us in one of psychiatry’s least understood disorders: schizophrenia. The award-winning journalist centers his narrative on the Galvins, a family whose bizarrely high incidence of the disorder baffled scientists for decades. He begins by introducing us to Don and Mimi Galvin, optimistic newlyweds obsessed with creating the all-American family. Twelve children—ten sons followed by two daughters—seems a bit excessive by contemporary standards, but Mimi lived for motherhood and birth control was unthinkable for a Catholic couple in the 1950s.

The Galvins’ burgeoning household certainly appeared ideal to their friends in Colorado Springs. Don flourished as an instructor at the United States Air Force Academy, while Mimi excelled in local arts organizations and at home, even landing a headline in the Rocky Mountain News: SHE SERVES EXOTIC FOODS TO FAMILY OF NINE BOYS (complete with her recipe for lamb curry).

Of course, Kolker doesn’t just give us Don and Mimi’s version of their life on Hidden Valley Road; Mary/Lindsay (who changed her name to distance herself from her traumatic past) is his primary source for much of the book, and she tells a different story. Donald, the oldest Galvin, began beating up his younger brothers when he was a teenager. His perfectionist parents—intent on maintaining their public image—chalked it up to teenage angst since Donald behaved relatively well at school. As it became harder to disguise their family dysfunction when the next three boys grew violent, first at home and then in public, Mimi was determined to hide the truth about life on Hidden Valley Road, even when that precluded asking for help.

Her children were suffering from more than teenage angst. Donald experienced his first obvious psychotic break at CU Boulder, an episode that forecast his lifelong battle with schizophrenia. Kolker aptly describes the disorder as “walling oneself off from consciousness, first slowly and then all at once, until you are no longer accessing anything that others accept as real.” Five more brothers succumbed to alternative realities in the coming years: one was sexually aggressive; most were violent; all were delusional. Even the Galvins’ “healthy” children didn’t escape unscathed. Margaret and Mary/Lindsay were traumatized, not just by their brothers’ schizophrenic aggression but also by Mimi’s obsession with her sick sons.

Many journalists would pen a sensational tale of a stigmatized family and be satisfied with their work. Not Kolker. He understands that a real contribution to the schizophrenia narrative must extend beyond the shocking. First, it must humanize those society has called inhuman. Second, it must stimulate us to further dialogue.

Humanizing such an extraordinary story is a delicate business, especially when it comes to mental illness. It would be easy for the author to appear insincere—even with the best intentions—if they don’t have a prior personal connection to their topic. But Kolker circumnavigates this dilemma by letting the Galvins portray themselves. Mary/Lindsay is his primary speaker since she’s the Galvin brothers’ legal representative, but Margaret contributes diary entries, and Mimi gives an intriguing interview before her death in 2017. Lindsay’s analysis near the end of the book might startle readers the most, however:

So many people—including many of her well brothers—had stopped seeing Donald, Peter, and Matt as human beings a long time ago. . . . From her family, Lindsay could see how we all have an amazing ability to shape our own reality, regardless of the facts.

Even if we admit that many “normal” people stigmatize the mentally ill, we might not realize some of their loved ones do the same.

Kolker’s approach to depicting the Galvin family dovetails beautifully into portraying the scientific exploration of schizophrenia. From the moment Donald was diagnosed, Mimi faced the accusation that abusive mothers produced schizophrenic children. Once that theory was disproved and schizophrenia was suspected to be biological, scientists scrutinized the Galvins for a different reason. Who else could hold the key to the mysterious disorder, geneticists asked, but an entire family predisposed to the illness?

Sadly, all that research didn’t fast-track the Galvins to a cure. The brothers cycled through jails, mental facilities, and their home on Hidden Valley Road while psychiatrists pacified them with neuroleptic drugs—drugs whose side effects often grew worse than the disorder. Although Kolker narrates the history of general schizophrenia research as well as the brothers’ early treatments, he lets the Galvins’ avant-garde researchers speak for themselves. These personal interviews intensify their passion, their frustration, and their perspectives on what decades of testing the Galvin family actually accomplished.

What did their research accomplish? Kolker sprinkles his thoughts throughout the book but veils his final opinion until the final chapter, thus allowing us to draw our own conclusions. Like any good journalist, he supplies a plethora of angles: distraught parents, traumatized siblings, conflicted scientists, and even the central figures themselves (we get disjointed interviews with some of the brothers at the end of the book). Our opinions may be our own, but one thing is absolutely sure: People with schizophrenia are people, just like us.

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The More Extravagant Feast

Leah Naomi Green
Graywolf Press ($15.99)

by Todd Davis

How to speak of the self when the self, as Whitman proclaimed, contains multitudes? How to conceive of a self as part of another being, literally co-dependent, not able to exist without the other?

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh explains that “interbeing” is the idea that we can never “be” by ourselves; rather we are always in a state of “braidedness,” woven together in symbiosis. Science similarly tells us that we are composed, biologically, of other living things that make our lives possible. As Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, expounds in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, “Recent research has shown that the smell of humus exerts a physiological effect on humans. Breathing in the scent of Mother Earth stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin, the same chemical that promotes bonding between mother and child, between lovers.”

Held in the arms of the greater-than-human world, Leah Naomi Green is such a lover of the earth, a writer who seeks to care for creation and to raise her family in mindful connection with it. These most basic foundational tenets are at the center of her stunning and sumptuous debut collection, The More Extravagant Feast, selected by Li-Young Lee as the winner of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. The book is a deep and reverent meditation on the fact that we are never solely our own, that our lives are always cohabitating with the lives of others—both human and more than human.

Told in a language that celebrates compassion, empathy, and a path of loving kindness, the poems here offer our precarious and dire present moment possible paths forward via an ancient way of seeing that can still inform 21st-century living. As Green writes in “Week Ten: Plum,” an origin story about the child that grows inside of her:

My body, which has never died,
has two hearts again today,
and how many
inside the second?

Green demonstrates a remarkable gratitude for all life, reminding us that our existence begins within the body of another, floating on an amniotic sea, our mothers’ hearts beating for us. From our first moments, we rely on the help of others to live, to survive.

Throughout the collection, Green addresses the world around her, even the carrots she grows, urging the tubers to “take all summer, / your ember // from the sun, / its walking meditation” (“Carrot”). She is one of those rare seers, perceiving the hidden and translating it so it becomes illuminated and luminous. To this end, she uses juxtaposition as a primary poetic device, showing us the vital and intimate relationship between what might be perceived as unlike or unassociated:

The fire beetle only mates
when the chaparral is burning

and the water beetle
will only mate in the rain.

In the monastery kitchen, the nuns
don’t believe me

when I tell them how old I am,
that you were married before.

The woman you find attractive
does not believe me when I look at her kindly.

(“Field Guide to the Chaparral”)

Even her line and couplet breaks emphasize how each revelation, each statement, blends into the next in unexpected ways that turn to realization, even epiphany, about the correlation between one living being and another.

Green, along with her husband and two children, live in an intentional community in rural Virginia. They raise and hunt most of the food they use throughout the year, living close with the daily rhythms of the greater-than-human world. In this setting the poet strips away the superfluous structures erected to divert our attention from the essential relationships humans have fostered with the earth and each other for millennia. And her book recounts myriad moments of union: some quiet, others startling in the violence nature possesses.

The work can be visceral and unflinching. In “Venison,” she and her husband collect a deer hit by a passing car:

The deer is still alive
in the roadside grass.
In an hour, we’ll cut her open,
her left hip broken . . .

Later, as she watches her husband “undress” the deer with a knife, she describes the sound:

I can hear
his blade unmoor muscle, sail
through her fascia

Green takes care to name this aspect of the world, to report in detail, to make the smallest moment live again inside the borders of her poem, in order that the recognition she offers not become a simple gloss. And so the poem closes with a lived authority, acknowledging the suffering of the boy whose Camaro struck the deer, the difficulty of witnessing the end of a life, the hard work that must be endured as her husband butchers the animal so a life is not wasted:

We put her leg and buttock
on the wooden table, where we
will gather her between us
to eat all year. It is all I see:
a thing, alive, slowly becoming my own body.

In “The More Extravagant Feast,” which serves as the collection’s final poem, Green speaks of the miracle of her daughter’s lungs “that grew inside me”; “the miracle // of her dad on the hill”; “the miracle / of bodies, formed whole like fruits, // skins unruptured and / containing the world.” Her explorations provide daring correlations and important reminders of the miraculous nature of existence. What marks her work as not only a refreshing balm but as a way forward is her ability to praise and offer graceful thanks, to highlight how all living things are allied and related.

Not all poetry is as deeply connected to lived experience as Green’s. But her commitment to a way of life beyond the page informs the wisdom written on the page, demonstrating how care for one another, the human and greater than human, is a path toward a much needed wholeness and preservation.


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Pandemic Reflections on
Houseboat on the Ganges
& A Room in Kathmandu

Letters from India & Nepal, 1966-1972
Marilyn Stablein
Chin Music Press ($16.95)

by Gregory Stephenson

Many readers in quarantine mode may be yearning for books that offer armchair traveling. One such title is Marilyn Stablien’s 2019 Houseboat on the Ganges & A Room in Kathmandu: Letters from India & Nepal, 1966-1972.

Hand-painted paper fans and paper lanterns, exotic knick-knacks and tabi footwear, Parcheesi, Bonsai plants, and statues of Buddha: already from girlhood, Marilyn Stablein was enchanted by the cultures of Asia. During her teenage years, this fascination broadened and deepened to become a serious engagement with Asian and Southeast Asian poetry, art, philosophy and religion. In 1966, at the age of 19, Stablein hitchhiked from Istanbul to India with her boyfriend before remaining in India and Nepal for the next six and a half years. Houseboat on the Ganges & A Room in Kathmandu is a collection of letters sent home to her American parents in California, aerograms carefully preserved through the years by her mother. Written between 1966 and 1972, the letters (originally set down without any thought of publication) constitute an epistolary travelogue, a loose but highly readable assemblage of descriptions of incidents, landscapes, and people, as well as detailed observations on arts and crafts, architecture, food, and customs. A less obvious underlying theme of the letters is that of self-exploration and subtle, spiritual transformation.

Eager, observant, and plucky, Stablein makes an exemplary traveller, appreciative of local music, dance, art, culinary feats, and spiritual practices. “My enthusiasm never wanes,” she remarks to her parents. From teeming cities to remote villages, she travels over large areas of India, attending festivals, getting caught up in a riot, visiting temples, monasteries, and hallowed caves; she lives frugally, studying sacred texts, learning to speak and write Tibetan, and ever refining her talents as an artist and calligraphist. She encounters swamis, llamas, and a Maharajah, as well as scholars, wanderers, and pilgrims. Once, in an outlying village, she is surrounded by excited, curious women and girls who have never before seen blue eyes and have never heard of America. Stablein even has an audience with the Dalai Lama and meets both Maharishi Mahesh, of Transcendental Meditation fame, and A.C. Bhaktivedanta, founder of the Hari Krishna movement, though she is rather dubious concerning the teachings of both men. She also encounters Dr. Richard Alpert (later to become internationally famous as Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now) and Tenzing Norgay (the sherpa who climbed Mount Everest with Edmund Hillary).

In the course of her long sojourn in India and Nepal, Stablein drifts apart from her English boyfriend, then in Katmandu falls in love with an American scholar, marries, and gives birth to a child. In her last letter home to her parents, she writes: “I’m not the single woman, teenage traveller I was when I left.” And, indeed, she is not. From her long, heroic journey, she returns as a wife and mother, an accomplished student of Tibetan language, art and spiritual traditions, and a skilled artist. A dedicated, disciplined interest in Buddhism has imparted to her an inward poise and clarity of mind. An “Epilogue” appended to the letters recounts something of her life following her return to the United States in 1972.

From the Transcendentalists to the Theosophists to the Beats and beyond, undertaking a “passage to India”—whether in spirit only or as an actual geographical destination—has formed a significant strand of American thought and spirituality. Marilyn Stablein’s book makes a modest but worthy contribution to that tradition but may, perhaps, most profitably be read simply as the unselfconscious record of a sincere, serious, and very independent young woman pursuing a personal fascination with Asian art and philosophy.

Houseboat on the Ganges & A Room in Kathmandu is a well-designed, handsomely produced book bound in colourful covers with illustrated endpapers, the text enriched by drawings, vignettes, photographs and a map; it ultimately presents a charming and engaging, a slender but substantial, volume.


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All The Useless Things Are Mine:
A Book of Seventeens

Thomas Walton
Sagging Meniscus Press ($17)

by Eric Vasquéz

All the Useless Things are Mine is an odd little book by poet/prose writer Thomas Walton. It is a book of seventeen-word sentences that lean at times toward aphorism, and at others toward stand-up comedy. The book is sometimes strictly aphoristic: “The whole world, really, is a pearl, and we like hordes of spoiled swine move through it.” At other times it reads like haiku (or “Landscape Paintings,” which is one of the section headings): “Along the neighbor’s stairs, the morning light has married the clematis vine twining its black iron rail.”

Separated into sections that seem to range the span of a lifetime, the books starts “At the Crack of Up” and ends in the “The Afterlife.” The sections are sometimes literally titled—“Politics,” “Love and Sex,” “Art Criticism”—and sometimes figuratively titled: “The Surest Way to Die” is about parenthood, “All Poets Are Lunatics” is about poetics, “This, They Say, Will Happen” is about death and dying.

Walton doesn’t seem afraid to go “too far.” There is an odd, and oddly sexual thread, that weaves its way through the book. The name Jordan appears in numerous “seventeens” and seems to be a kind of fantastic lover of the author. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Jordan is a character any more than robins and garbage trucks, two oft-repeated themes in the book, are. Jordan is more like a phantom that floats through the book. They are never specifically gendered, and have, at differing times, differing genitalia by turns.

Some of the “seventeens” are dark and macabre: “The one who so desperately tries to blend in may as well be desolated in a blender.” Others flirt dangerously with platitude and cliché: “Since you left every cloud resembles you, so I just lie in the field all day, staring.” All the Useless Things Are Mine does indeed seem, at times anyway, to be a catalogue of “useless things.” Joggers get an entire section, with twenty-one “seventeens” devoted to them. But then there is also a section headed “Dear God” that leans toward the spiritual and contemplative: “What is it really, that is so difficult? To wander here awhile, to die just once forever.”

The book is illustrated by artist Douglas Miller, whose etchings are, like the text, deceptively simple. The elegant black and white images may also be seen as “useless things”: a house fly, a crow’s shadow, part of a cat’s head. In addition, the images are often unfinished, or parts of a whole (as the image of an owl that seems almost to unravel); this mimics the constrained or fragmented nature of the series of seventeen-word sentences.

An Afterword by Elizabeth Cooperman seeks to situate the book within the aphoristic tradition, or beside it. The reader, ultimately, will have to make up their own mind as to whether this book belongs with aphorisms, haiku, comedy, social commentary, koans, or something else entirely.


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Tree Story: The History of the World Written in Rings

Valerie Trouet
Johns Hopkins University Press ($27)

by John Toren

Many of us were introduced to the science of dendrochronology at a young age, during a family camping trip or a field trip to a park. "If you count the rings on this log, Junior, you can tell how old the tree was. One ring per year." While a hundred-year-old tree can be a source of passing awe, that's about as far as things usually went.

In Tree Story, Valerie Trouet introduces us to the much wider range of information that tree rings often contain, and especially their relevance to the study of climate change. Belgian by birth, Trouet began her career as an environmental engineer, and was drawn to the study of tree-rings almost fortuitously. She took a research position at the Forest, Snow, and Landscape Lab in Zurich, and later accepted a professorship at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona, where dendrochronology was invented. During a sabbatical in 2017 she decided to set aside the seemingly endless battles she was fighting in defense of environmental awareness and, as she puts it, "write stories of the excitement of scien¬tific discovery, about our long and complex human history, and how it has been intertwined with our natural environment and ingrained in the stories of trees."

Although the subtitle, "the history of the world written in rings," is an exaggeration, most of Tree Story is devoted not to trees themselves, but to what the study of their rings can tell us about other things. In the opening chapters we learn how tree rings can validate the authenticity of a Stradivarius violin or establish which Hans Memling painting is authentic and which is a later copy. A tree ring not only marks the passing of a year, it also offers reliable clues as to what kind of a year it was: warm, cold, wet, dry? When you accumulate data from a variety of trees, years, and locations, a sophisticated chronology begins to take shape, and the picture it presents is more detailed, in many ways, than anything to be found in written records.

Consider the case of the tsunami that ravaged Japan in late January of 1700. There are numerous records in Japan, both bureaucratic and commercial, of the cataclysmic event and the shipwrecks and floods it caused, but not a single reference anywhere to the earthquake that might have caused the tsunami. Recent tree-ring studies of several "ghost forests" in the Pacific Northwest—trees buried by layers of silt and sand—have revealed that in 1700 that region was shaken by an earthquake. Presuming that it was the cause of the tsunami, it would have to have been a category nine quake—much larger and more destructive than anything in the written record. Trouet writes: "Thanks to ghost-forest dendrochronology and the discovery of the 1700 earthquake, public-safety efforts, including tsunami warnings and seismic hazard maps, are now in place that will aid in making the impact of the next event less destructive."

But such discoveries are mere window dressing compared to the broader array of climate data derived from trees that can pin-point events and also establish more extensive timelines of stability and change extending back far into prehistory. Notwithstanding the imaginative names these timelines have been given— The Hockey Stick, The Spaghetti Plate, and The Noodle—they have bolstered the claims of those who suggest that since the Industrial Revolution human activity has been raising the earth's temperature to dangerous levels.

Trouet refers to such issues more than a few times, but large sections of the book are also reserved for examining more localized, though usually long-term and often hemispheric, phenomena such as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), the Maunder Minimum, and the Terminal Classic Mayan Decline. The NAO is a well-known climatological concept that was established without the help of dendrochronology. But our understanding of it was expanded immensely when Trouet and some of her colleagues did a study combining data from tree-ring analysis of thousand-year-old cedar trees growing in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco with data from a study covering the same period of time of the rings that have developed on a stalmite growing in a cave in Northern Scotland. An inverse correlation held steady between the two databases throughout the span of time involved, though for long periods one force predominated over the other.

"What we had found,” Trouet writes,

was the driving mechanism behind medieval warmth in Europe: a predominantly positive NAO phase that kept the North Atlantic wind wheel working at full speed and sent warm Atlantic air to central Europe, resulting in the mild winters that allowed Europe’s agriculture, culture, and population to flourish. The wheel slowed down and became more erratic after 1450, at which point the cool climate and related hardships of the Little Ice Age started kicking in.

A few sections of the book are wonkish, but they're easy to recognize—and skip. It's clear that Trouet loves her field of research and wants to keep the narrative interesting so her readers can share the pleasure. To this end, she includes anecdotes about her tribulations doing field work in Tanzania as a novice dendrochronologist and, much later in her career, accompanying nine colleagues—all of them men—to study tree-rings in the wilds of Yakutsk, a region she had previous been familiar with only as a place-name in the board game Risk. Her narrative also offers us a few glimpses into the world of academic publishing, as she and colleagues repeatedly submit papers to prestigious journals such as Science and Nature, then cross their fingers.

In the course of this overview we take a look at the world's oldest trees, in the White Mountains of California, and learn about the man who cut down the oldest of them all—to count the rings. We ponder the end of Roman Climate Optimum (after which Rome itself fell), and reflect on what effect twenty years of excellent rainfall—a rare stretch, according to the dendrochronological record—likely had on the extraordinary success of Genghis Khan.

Readers of a certain age might even enjoy Trouet's scattered references to the pop music she sometimes listened to on field trips and in the lab, which include "It's the End of the World as We Know It" by R.E.M., "Wind of Change" by the Scorpions, and "Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead. In any case, such breezy stuff helps to maintain that geeky enthusiasm that makes the entire book such a pleasure to read.


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Artforum

César Aira
translated by Katherine Silver
New Directions ($13.95)

by Ethan Spangler

Artforum, the newest work by César Aira to be published in the U.S., is one of the most fascinating experiences in modern literature. A novel that synthesizes surrealism, pseudo-memoir, philosophy, and theater into the compact space of eighty-two pages, it somehow still retains the fluttery and playful tone that makes this book so enjoyable to read.

The events of Artforum take place over the course of thirty years and chronicle the experiences of an unnamed narrator who spends an unconscionable amount of time searching for copies of various art magazines—his favorite being Artforum. Structurally, the narrative is written in small, self-contained episodes, reminiscent of Borges and Sarraute. These episodes usually begin with an eccentric story, are interspersed with increasingly long philosophical asides, and culminate in a Joycean epiphany, after which follows a monologue reflecting upon the events and their deepest aesthetic meanings. The philosophical content in these stories cannot be understated, and very often Aira arrives at beautifully articulated conclusions. For instance, in one of the later episodes, he sums up: “And there was a marginal benefit that immediately attained a towering centrality: time. The time I had lost waiting would be transmuted into time gained: the time of creation.”

Artforum engages with important problems of consciousness through the lens of obsession; in so doing, Aira legitimizes the work of the artist in the modern world. This is not to say that the novel is in any way autobiographical. The narrator is supremely fictional, but assumes the role of an alter-ego to justify his voice as a beacon towards all creatives in the world today. The novel attempts to justify art as necessity, and succeeds remarkably.

Despite the common representation of Aira—perpetuated by himself, most of all—as a hyper-prolific writer, his prose is, at least in translation, extremely clear and vivacious. Where Borges gives us cold, stark, and unsympathetic voices of the infinite, Aira brings the ecstatic clarity of humanity. In this approach, there is a certain semblance to Walt Whitman, and in many ways, Aira is very comparable to the master poet, especially in their shared espousal of the self.

Artforum is an absolutely unique novel, one chracterized by the sheer beauty of its poetic voice, which needs no justification other than its own existence. Although Aira may never be fully appreciated as a literary writer due to his prolific output and his penchant for short texts, this slim novel is just as necessary as many of the other longer and more acclaimed novels by his international contemporaries.


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Norma Jeane Baker of Troy

Anne Carson
New Directions ($11.95)

by S. T. Brant

Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, the new poem-play by Anne Carson, is a formidable, defiant work. Those familiar with Carson’s work are accustomed to her accessible impenetrability—that sense that despite detecting some perfectly intelligible emotion, complete in itself, there’s always something lingering at the periphery. This is what makes Carson one of the most unique voices in contemporary poetry, with works such as Autobiography of Red, The Beauty of the Husband, her translations of Greek tragedies, and her seminal nonfiction study of love in ancient philosophy and literature, Eros the Bittersweet. There’s no other writer that can present such demands on a feather pillow for the reader, fuse erudition with insights so fluidly, and naturalize unorthodoxy in a manner preserving stylistic originality with timeless thought.

Reading Anne Carson is harvesting an abundance. Before you lies an immense field, rich with crops beyond measure, and you’re tasked with readying them; or you’re a horticulturist in Eden, cataloging creation, listing all the wilderness: this field work, this gardening, is reward past tally, but a Herculean labor nonetheless. She fulfills Shelley’s sublime standard: forsake the easy pleasures for the difficult; delay gratification for contemplation. In Norma Jeane Baker of Troy Carson gives us not an absurd theater but a negative one, and it requires that its readers rid themselves of certainty and ideology.

This is not a work with a plot that can be nailed down. The sole character is Norma Jeane, who is herself, Helen of Troy, and Truman Capote. The scenes fluctuate between Los Angeles and Troy as Norma Jeane’s identity fluctuates. In Carson’s negative theater, as one self empties itself out another fills that cask: the physical presence remains but the essence transmogrifies. As in all metamorphic works, we have a juggling of personas. Identity, to Carson, is always in a state of mixing up, combining, becoming something else through psychic osmosis or spiritual diffusion.

The dramatic design of this poem-play makes clear that Carson sees our figuring-out of our identities as an exhibition, no matter how private our conversations or internal self-algebra, staged in a frequented museum. We must wonder, Am I the only artwork in this place for the world’s flocking and observing, or is each of us a piece observed by another piece, exhibitions watching exhibitions? Desire, inner and outer, is a voice and a flashlight—we think the light is vital, but it is the voice we follow. Voice can lead in darkness. Light un-darks the dark. To Carson, the voice in the dark is preferable, because light can lead to illusion.

As the new world of Norma Jeane (AD) meets the classical world of Helen (BC), she takes on the self of Truman Capote desiring some mediation between herself and herself. Her image (her legend) is a wound; taken from her is a certainty about herself as she overhears who she is, enslaving her to the masses; Marilyn Monroe is a deception, othering Norma Jeane; when the opportunity to be someone, anyone, presents itself, her mind takes it and becomes that other, Truman Capote. The italicized words are central to the text, as many scenes are broken up by sections introducing a Greek word that gives a “lesson” about how the “History of War” has used this word as a concept. The Greek words (transliterated here; appearing in Greek script in the text) are: eidolon (“image, idol”), trauma (“wound”), Harpazein (“to take”), douleia, pallake (“slavery” and “concubine” respectively), apate (“deception, illusion, artifice”), barbarous (“other”), Kairos (“opportunity”), and tis (“someone, anyone”; this word changes grammatically based on the iota’s accent, an appropriately metamorphic word).

This newest publication by Carson, while not in the echelon of Autobiography of Red or the inspired puzzle Float, is nonetheless a worthwhile addition to her canon. The stage in your mind is the best place to let this poetic drama enact itself. The psyche and the text are so entwined in Carson’s cosmology that whatever joys her work gives in performance, her riches are best reaped from the page. You open your soul when you open an Anne Carson book, and you can feel, as you turn the page, something in you turn in conjunction.


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God’s Wife

Amanda Michalopoulou
Translated by Patricia Felisa Barbeito
Dalkey Archive Press ($16.95)

by Maria Hadjipolycarpou

Amanda Michalopoulou’s God’s Wife, originally published in Greek in 2014 and translated by Patricia Felisa Barbeito in 2019, masterfully weaves together overlapping narratives about divinity and humanity. The main character is on a journey of individuation and self-actualization, sharing her story of transformation from housewife to writer through the power of storytelling: “We are not the same person at the beginning and the end of a story.” The character awakens to the fact that she is unsatisfied with her life, gaining her sense of self from living with God, who loves her but neglects her deepest desires and existential inquiries. Her curiosity and boredom lead her into fascinating explorations of her body, human consciousness and sexuality, and connection to nature.

The religious fervor the narrator was raised in transformed, in adulthood, into devotion to her husband and desire for salvation through him. “We believe that salvation lies in directives sent to us from above, because that’s the way we are constituted: we need directives for everything,” writes Michalopoulou. Looking for answers about the nature of this bequeathed religious devotion, she reads ferociously. Reading philosophy, theology, and literature helps her shape a sense of self, escape God’s oppressive didacticism, and develop her own independent voice. The more God tries to prevent her from evolving into a new level of consciousness, to the point of hiding all pencils to prevent her from writing, the more she feels a sense of urgency to tell her story. “My biggest fear is ... that perhaps, defeated by doubt, I’ll leave these pages half-written and my story—my terrible story—untold.”

Hiding from God, she starts fulfilling her desire for adventure. As she sets out to write, the reader witnesses the transformation of the love story into a story of Creation, but there is a sense of infidelity, of undoing the conventional interpretation of the Biblical story. A steward of her own destiny instead of a sinner for eating forbidden fruit, God’s wife smoothly guides the reader through the depths of her intimate relationship with herself and the process of artistic creation—a form of soulful self-expression and truth telling in fiction. “It is on the doorstep of fiction that I lay all that went wrong between us.”


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