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April 29th, 2016

What Can Poetry Do?



City of the Dead and Song of the Night

What Can Poetry Do?

Our celebration of world literature would not be complete without a post to celebrate world poetry, especially during National Poetry Month.

The International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong is a biennial gala celebrating poetry that brings together poets from all over the world and unites them under a single theme. Each festival yields a box set of chapbooks written in connection with the festival’s theme and an anthology, which collects selections of the participating poets work, both are published by The Chinese University Press. The theme for the 2015 festival was: Poetry and Conflict.

In his foreword to the Poetry and Conflict anthology co-editor Bei Dao writes:

Since antiquity, poetry has been sourced in humanity’s suffering, a driving force for the overcoming of darkness toward the light. Now, amid proposed conflicts between civilizations, histories, religions, and languages, what can poetry do? In the bedlam of the morbid fantasies of our world, what can poetry do? In this moment of mystery when land and air are collapsing, what can poetry do? In retracing the source and course of our spiritual knocking at language’s door, what can poetry do?

In the work contained in this collection the poets answer. Over and over again they show us what poetry can do. Here are a few highlights:

From Najwan Darwish, a Palestinian poet, who is one of the foremost Arabic language poets of his generation:

Even in War

I considered looking at my lower half
where I could feel the pain
but held back for the moment, fearing
not to find some part of me
I kept on down the stairs, my missing part
still with me, and here I am
climbing into bed with my wanting body
(still not looking), and it no longer matters
where the damage is, and it will do no good
to remember how I was wounded

Even in war, I was just a passer-by

(Translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid) Read the rest of this entry »

April 29th, 2016

The Plays of Gao Xingjian



City of the Dead and Song of the Night

The Plays of Gao Xingjian

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a brief look at the plays of Gao Xingjian, a writer who has worked in multiple genres—short stories, essays, novels—but is best known as a playwright. Sixteen years ago Gao became the first writer in Chinese to win the Nobel prize for literature, since then The Chinese University Press has been steadily publishing translations of his work into English.

City of the Dead and Song of the Night is his most recent collection of plays. In City of the Dead Gao updates the ancient morality tale “Zhuangzi Tests His Wife,” a cautionary tale against infidelity, to confront the traditional patriarchal system. Song of the Night, considered one of his most ambitious plays, theatrically portrays the female psyche. MCLC has called the book “intriguing and thought-provoking.” For a more detailed explanation of these two plays, you can read “Gao Xingjian: Autobiography and the Portrayal of the Female Psyche,” the volume’s introduction by Mabel Lee, one of his translators and an expert on his work.

Of Mountains and Seas is based on the ancient text The Classic of Mountains and Seas. This play reenacts the classical world of Chinese mythology, traversing the creation of humans to the beginning of Chinese dynastic history. Read the rest of this entry »

April 28th, 2016

An Overview of the Inaugural Russian Library Titles



Between Dog and Wolf

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on our exciting new Russian Library series. In this post, series editor Christine Dunbar introduces the first three titles in the series.

An Overview of the Inaugural Russian Library Titles
By Christine Dunbar

One of the defining features of the Russian Library is its generic diversity. This is particularly significant for an Anglophone audience, because we tend to think of the Russian literary tradition as one that derives its greatness from novels, primarily the 19th century masterpieces of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Others think first of Chekhov’s fin-de-siècle plays, which have become part of the Western canon in large part because of their connection to Stanislavsky and eventually to method acting. Russians, and for that matter, scholars of Russian, are more likely to consider poetry the best and most powerful iteration of Russian letters.

The first three books in the Russian Library will publish in December, and while the three have much in common—linguistic virtuosity being the most obvious example—they amply demonstrate the profusion of genres that make up Russian literature. Before going any farther, let me digress momentarily to admit that I am and will be referring to genre in a fairly unsophisticated manner. I believe that it is generally more productive to think of a work as exhibiting certain generic characteristics, rather than belonging to a genre. However, obeying the generic conventions of the blog post, I’m not going to get too hung up on it here.

Andrei Platonov (1899-1951) was a supporter of the 1917 revolution, and in both his best-known novel The Foundation Pit and the plays in the Russian Library volume Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays one can see his sympathy for the dream of communism, even as he absolutely eviscerates the policies and realities of the contemporary Soviet Union. Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays contains two plays written in the early 1930s as direct reactions to the travails of collectivization and the resulting famine. (Estimates vary, but most place the death toll of the famine at between 5.5 and 8 million.) Read the rest of this entry »

April 28th, 2016

Minae Mizumura and Rebecca Walkowitz on World Literature and the Dominance of English



Minae Mizumura, The Fall of Language in the Age of English

“For a long time, we’ve assumed that all books begin in one language, often called a ‘native language,’ and then travel out to other languages. This is how we’ve expected ‘world literature’ to work. But today, many books begin in several languages—they start as world literature…”—Rebecca Walkowitz

This week we’ve been featuring works of world literature that we’ve recently published. World literature and translation have also emerged as topics of critical and scholarly interest as is evident in two books we’ve published over the last couple of years. The first is The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura and translated by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter. In the book, the novelist and critic Mizumura examines what it lost for humanity when one language begins to dominate. For more on the book you can read an excerpt from the introduction, “Under the Blue Sky of Iowa”. We were also lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Mizumura, in which she discusses, among other things, translations of her own work, the controversial reception her book received in Japan, and her experiences in the United States. The interview concludes with her advice to authors, who write in languages besides English:

I’m inclined to give two totally opposite pieces of advice. Let us say that you are a young Japanese writer. On the one hand, if your ultimate goal is to be translated into English and be known outside Japan, it might be best to read contemporary American novels in translation (or in the original, if you can) and model your work on them. Throwing in some discernible Japanese exotica would be helpful: cherry blossoms, ramen, or robots, for example. On the other hand, if your ultimate goal is to work with all the potential the Japanese language offers, and to give a fresh understanding of the world in which you live through that language, I would first recommend reading and rereading invaluable works written in Japanese.

The question of translation is also taken up by Rebecca Walkowitz in her book Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature. Like Mizumura, Walkowitz acknowledges the ubiquity of English and and examines how major contemporary writers, including J. M. Coetzee, Junot Díaz, Jonathan Safran Foer, Mohsin Hamid, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Jamaica Kincaid, challenge this dominance. She also examines the ways in which the creation and reception of literature changes in an age where works are almost instantaneously published in translation.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction, Theory of World Literature Now. In our interview with Rebecca Walkowitz, she defines the concept of “born-translated”:

For a long time, we’ve assumed that all books begin in one language, often called a ‘native language,’ and then travel out to other languages. This is how we’ve expected ‘world literature’ to work. But today, many books begin in several languages—they start as world literature…”

April 27th, 2016

When the Incident Occurred



The Lost Garden

“When the incident occurred, Zhu Yinghong was startled out of a deep sleep by a commotion somewhere in the house. The moment she opened her eyes she had a feeling that neither of her parents was in bed. As usual, she reached out to touch the thin blanket covering the plank bed, and felt nothing but a cold chill. Years later, she would piece together what little she remembered of that night with what she’d heard here and there, and concluded that it had happened sometime in April or May.” — Li Ang

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on an inventive collection of short fiction from Ng Kim Chew: The Lost Garden: A Novel, translated by Sylvia Li-chun Lin with Howard Goldblatt. We are happy to present the video of a recent panel on The Lost Garden, featuring Li Ang herself, along with her translators and Columbia University Press Director and editor Jennifer Crewe, followed by an excerpt from the second chapter of Part 1 of the novel.

Li Ang and her “Lost Garden”

When the Incident Occurred

April 27th, 2016

The Disappearance of M



Slow Boat to China and Other Stories

“When I (uh, it’s not me) . . . when he discussed that essay, he had an uncanny feeling that he had written it himself, while at the same time it was obviously mocking his writing. How could there be another author like this, who was able to penetrate into his thoughts and preemptively write his future, thereby forcibly removing him from this position of the ‘author’?” — Ng Kim Chew

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on an inventive collection of short fiction from Ng Kim Chew: Slow Boat to China and Other Stories, translated and edited by Carlos Rojas. “The Disappearance of M,” excerpted below, is the first story in the collection:

April 26th, 2016

The Problem with History



Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure

“Think of official history as a book. A book comes into view; it seems to suggest that it has no blank spaces, no margins. But it does, it contains blank spaces. In those spaces I cram my own notes, copious notes that are not yet articulated thoughts, and in the end weave a new book solely from the notes in the margins.” — Hideo Furukawa

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on Zhu Wen’s Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale That Begins with Fukushima, translated by Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka.

Hideo Furukawa is in New York this week with Monkey Business for the PEN World Voices Festival (along with other fantastic writers, editors, and translators), and will be participating in a number of events: April 27 (Wed.), New York University, 6:30pm; April 28 (Thur.), Kinokuniya Bookstore, 6pm; April 29 (Fri.), BookCourt, 7pm; and April 30 (Sat.), Asia Society, 2pm (Ticket purchase required)! And now, on to the post:

Five years ago, on March 11, 2011, the town of Fukushima, Japan, was struck by a devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. Over 20,000 people died.

The reconstruction has been swift. ‘The incident is about to be forgotten, or they pretend nothing has happened,’ Japanese writer Hideo Furukawa said about his hometown. For Furukawa, careful examination is the only route to healing. One must investigate one’s nation and its past and present. His new book, Horses, Horses, In the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale that Begins with Fukushima, is a mix of fiction, history, and memoir, as one can see in this short excerpt.

The Problem with History
Hideo Furukawa

Our history, the history of the Japanese, is nothing more than a history of killing people.

I am not sure of the best way to phrase things, given that rather inflammatory start. I will explain things as simply as I can. We live within the echoes of the Warring States period. For example, bushō, the term for military leaders, circulates as a commodity in contemporary society, and, thus, it continues to echo in everyday Japan. By the “Warring States period” I include the Azuchi Momoyama period right up to the beginning of the Edo period (1573–1603). I am not sure if the Azuchi Momoyama period is still taught as a single historical period in schools (elementary, middle, and up through high school). But I am quite sure that everyone learns that there was a period when Oda Nobunaga and then Toyotomi Hideyoshi ruled supreme. For example, we consume these two men as commodities all the time. When I say we “consume” them as commodities, I mean how we see them as “heroic” and think of them positively. Why would that be? Read the rest of this entry »

April 26th, 2016

The Complexity and Individuality of Contemporary Chinese Experiences and Perspectives



The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on Zhu Wen’s The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, translated by Julia Lovell, and newly released in paperback. We are happy to present part of an interview with Julia Lovell from the Los Angeles Review of Books, as well as the short story “The Apprentice,” excerpted in full from the book:

On Zhu Wen’s Stories and Other Works of Chinese Fiction: A Q & A with Julia Lovell

Jeffrey Wasserstrom: In an endorsement of the new collection, Jonathan Spence, who praised I Love Dollars in the London Review of Books, says that this “second volume of short stories” is “both darker and denser than the first.” Does that fit with your feeling about the new book or would you characterize the contrast differently?

Julia Lovell: I think that’s a perceptive comment by Jonathan Spence. There was plenty that was shocking and dark about the first collection – in particular, the kind of careless amorality that some of the stories diagnosed in 1990s China. But there was also, I think, a strand of humor, a strong appreciation of the farcical, running through some of the pieces. That’s less dominant in the new collection. Two of the stories that take a more conversational, absurdist take on life in the People’s Republic – “Da Ma’s Way of Talking” and “The Apprentice” – are also overtly tinged with sadness. The relaxed, humorous narration of the first story contrasts with its ending; in the second piece, the lightly sardonic tone blurs into the narrator’s sense of despairing melancholy as he feels increasingly trapped by his future in the socialist economy. At the same time though, I think that the new volume offers more thoughtful insights into human relationships, and into the impact of political pressures on day-to-day life.

But I’m still very drawn to work that showcases the more relaxed side of Chinese culture. At the moment, I’m working on a new abridgement of Journey to the West, a book from the imperial Chinese canon that fizzes with humorous irreverence. Stodgy Neo-Confucians, covetous Buddhists and libidinous Taoists – all are mocked in the novel; at one point, the book’s hero, the Monkey King, even urinates on the hand of the Buddha. Read the rest of this entry »

April 26th, 2016

New Book Tuesday: The Sierra Club, Plots, The Red Guard, and More!



The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower
Robert Wyss

Plots
Robert L. Belknap

The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China
Guobin Yang

Studies on the Iranian World: Before Islam
Edited by Anna Krasnowolska and Renata Rusek-Kowalska
(Jagiellonian University Press)

April 25th, 2016

An Interview with M. A. Orthofer, author of The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction



The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction

“There does seem to have been a definite move from larger publishers dominating publishing translations into English to smaller, more nimble independents and non-profits taking the lead in the field, and I think the future success of fiction in translation depends on their continued viability.”—M. A. Orthofer

The following is an interview with Michael Orthofer, author of The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction:

Question: Your site has become legendary in its ability to stay on top and find the most exciting new works in global fiction. How do you do it?

M. A. Orthofer: It all starts with reading as much as possible—though ironically, working on the site cuts into my reading-time (though I think I would complain about finding too little time to read, even if that’s all I did all day). I’ve also always read very widely—fiction in every category, from every corner of the world, from any language—and have always been eager to seek out new and different voices, approaches, stories. Many readers seem to find specific areas or periods or styles or genres they’re most comfortable with and concentrate much of their reading on these, but I’ll read pretty much anything, and I think that has made a big difference, as the site (and now the book) reflect that and offer something for everyone.

And while I’ve always tried to look beyond the merely local and familiar, the internet, with its easy access to information and writing from everywhere in the world, has obviously helped expand my own horizons tremendously.

Q: What are you seeing as some of the most noteworthy trends in global fiction?

MAO: One of the great things about international literature is that there is such incredible variety, and so not even hot trends like magical realism, “Da Vinci Code”-type thrillers, “Harry Potter”-like fantasy, or Nordic crime fiction can completely crowd out everything else. Success does breed a lot of imitation, locally and internationally, and there are certainly still too many instances of foreign writers trying to follow the formula of the biggest American and British best sellers, but I think there has been a distinct move back towards relying on local strengths—be that language, history, mythology, tradition—in foreign writing too. Crime fiction is probably where this is most visible, with other countries and cultures putting more of a local spin on stories again—which has certainly worked for writers from the Scandinavian countries.

A curious trend as far as books in translation in America (and the UK) goes does seem to be the rise of the short work of fiction, as I can’t remember ever seeing as many translated novels and even story-collections in the hundred-page range. There are still lots of big works being published—not least the multi-volume epics by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante—but the small, slim volume of fiction in translation has become much more common. I don’t think this is a real global trend—it seems limited to the US and Britain—and I assume one reason for it is simply that publishers are more willing to take on short works because they are considerably cheaper to translate.

Q: What is your sense of what and how much of international fiction is the English-speaking world missing? Are there many authors and books that English-language readers don’t have access to because of lack of translations

The number of books published in English translation is still so low—less than five hundred new works of fiction in 2015, according to the Three Percent database—that it’s impossible not to conclude that we are missing a tremendous amount. It looks to me very much like a tip-of-the-iceberg situation—compounded by an uneven distribution of what gets translated. BecauseAmerican publishers are so reliant on outside financial support for the additional cost of translating works, those countries that are able and willing to subsidize the translation of their literature are far-better represented in translation. As a result, fiction from many European countries, or South Korea and Japan, is much better-represented than that from countries and languages that haven’t invested in subsidizing translation—or aren’t able to.

Read the rest of this entry »

April 25th, 2016

Weekly Feature and Book Giveaway: World Literature Week



World Literature Week

This week, in conjunction with the PEN World Voices Festival, we will be highlighting our wide range of books of and about world literature here on the Columbia University Press blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Here’s a quick summary of books we’ll have posts for this week (we’ll add the posts, as well, as they arrive!):

Monday

  • An interview with M. A. Orthofer, highlighting his thorough and fascinating new guide to contemporary fiction around the world, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction
  • Tuesday

  • An interview with translator Julia Lovell and “The Apprentice,” an excerpted short story from The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, a collection of short stories about everyday life in China in the late 1980s by Zhu Wen (following up his previous collection, I Love Dollars)
  • An excerpt on writing a book composed from notes in the margins of history, from Hideo Furukawa’s novel/history/memoir of the 3/11 disaster at Fukushima, Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, translated by Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka. Hideo Furukawa will be in New York for the PEN World Voices festival! For more details, click here.
  • Wednesday

  • “The Disappearance of M,” the first story in Ng Kim Chew’s collection of short fiction, Slow Boat to China and Other Stories, translated and edited by Carlos Rojas
  • Watch novelist Li Ang discuss The Lost Garden, her eloquent and beautiful exploration of contemporary Taiwan, with translators Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt, and Columbia University Press Director Jennifer Crewe, and then read “When the Incident Occurred,” an excerpt from Part 1
  • Thursday

  • A quick critical look at the dominance of English and its effect on world literature from Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature, by Rebecca L. Walkowitz, and The Fall of Language in the Age of English, by Minae Mizumura, translated by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter
  • Editor Christine Dunbar introduces our new Russian Library series, with a particular focus on its first three books: Between Dog and Wolf, by Sasha Sokolov, translated by Alexander Boguslawski; Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays, by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler, translated by Robert Chandler, Jesse Irwin, and Susan Larsen; and Strolls with Pushkin, by Andrei Sinyavsky, translated by Catherine Theimer Nepomnyashchy and Slava I. Yastremski
  • Friday

  • Take a closer look at Chinese University Press’s extensive collection of drama from Nobel Prize for Literature winner Gao Xingjian, including, among others, The Other Shore, Snow in August, and, most recently, City of the Dead and Ballade Nocturne
  • A wonderful selection of poetry from Chinese University Press’s series of International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong anthologies, particularly the most recent installment, Poetry and Conflict, Edited by Bei Dao, Shelby K. Y. Chan, Gilbert C. F. Fong, Lucas Klein, Christopher Mattison, and Chris Song
  • Book Giveaway

    We are also offering a FREE selection of titles discussed in the feature: The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction, by M. A. Orthofer; Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, by Hideo Furukawa; The Lost Garden, by Li Ang; and The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, by Zhu Wen. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, April 29th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

    April 22nd, 2016

    Remembering Slavery: Passover, Caribbean Literature and Black-Jewish Relations



    Calypso Jews

    “Like the Caribbean literature I examine, the Passover seder encourages us to make connections between different histories of oppression.”—Sarah Phillips Casteel

    The following post is by Sarah Phillips Casteel, author of Calypso Jews: Jewishness in the Caribbean Literary Imagination.

    The annual Jewish ritual of the Passover seder transports its participants back to the time of Egyptian slavery. During the seder, ancient history is reanimated through storytelling and eating symbolic foods. The Haggadah (or “telling”) instructs Jews that it is incumbent upon them to narrate their suffering in Egypt and liberation from bondage: “In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he had gone personally forth from Egypt, as it is said, ‘And thou shalt relate to thy son on that day saying, this is on account of what the Eternal did for me, when I went forth from Egypt.’” At Passover, Jews transmit this story from one generation to the next through a process in which, in the words of Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, “we not only remember that we were slaves but also re-experience ourselves as slaves.”

    As a scholar of Caribbean literature, I am interested in how contemporary writers also use narrative to engage and reactivate the past. Just as the Passover seder compels its participants to actively recall the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom in order to shape the consciousness of the next generation, contemporary Caribbean writers transport us back into the slavery past in order to help us make sense of the present. Part of the power of this act of literary imagination is that it brings forgotten histories to light. As I explore in my new book, one of the lost histories recovered by Caribbean writers is that of the resettlement of Jewish refugees in the Caribbean from the seventeenth century onward.

    Several years ago, while wandering through the Jewish cemetery in Bridgetown, Barbados, I was excited to come across a tombstone bearing the name Benjamin C. d’Azevedo. I immediately recognized this name, which is shared by the Jewish protagonist of I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, by the Guadeloupean author Maryse Condé. In Condé’s 1986 novel, which is set in Barbados and New England during the Salem Witch Trials, the Jewish merchant Benjamin Cohen d’Azevedo purchases the slavewoman Tituba and eventually frees her, securing her passage back to the Caribbean. Had Condé visited the Bridgetown cemetery and found her Jewish protagonist here, I wondered? Why was she so drawn to the Sephardic Caribbean story?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    April 21st, 2016

    Thursday Fiction Corner: Chu T’ien-wen’s Notes of a Desolate Man



    Notes of a Desolate Man

    Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! This week Russian Library editor Christine Dunbar tries to explain why Chu T’ien-wen’s Notes of a Desolate Man is so awesome.

    I have been struggling to write about Chu T’ien-Wen’s Notes of a Desolate Man, which I read in Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-Chun Lin’s translation, because by starting with one aspect of the text, I am unavoidably not starting with any number of other aspects, all equally deserving of attention. In other words, I am finding hard to write about this book because I love it so much.

    It is a book about belonging and mortality and art, which is just about the least informative thing I could say. It is also a book about a Taiwanese gay man, Xiao Shao, watching his best friend die of AIDS. The beginning of the novel foregrounds this information, as though the implied author is conspiring with the first-person narrator to show the reader that being out and proud kills you. But the narrator’s language of guilt, sin, and unnaturalness only partially obscures a life rich in love, art, and, above all, words.

    Theory and narratives—particularly from films—provide a structure with which the narrator makes sense of life, but words provide comfort. When his partner leaves on an extended business trip, Shao combats debilitating loneliness and anxiety by reading lists of colors from an article on visual imagery in Chinese poetry: “moist red, light primrose red, fingernail red, vale red, light peach red, light poppy red, apple red, cheek red, melon pulp red, molten iron red, strawberry red, distiller’s red, escargot red, cassia red, pomegranate red, mercury red, cooked-shrimp red, blush red, and crab-pincer red” (65). These reds return, in a lover’s well-kissed lips, in a sister’s first lipstick and menstrual blood, in the communism of a mainland China Shao will never see.

    Shao’s alienation from what he sees as normal family life is reinforced by the book’s non-linear chronology—and how could it not be, with a narrator whose default touchstones are arthouse cinema and French theory. But in the novel’s penultimate chapter, Shao recognizes that the China he both longs for and shuns, which he has been conflating with the space on the map occupied by the mainland, doesn’t actually exist, or if it does exist, exists only in language, only as a concept that he himself creates. I would argue that on a higher authorial level, a symmetry is being drawn between the false outsider status of the homosexual and the Taiwanese people. That is, perhaps in time Shao will recognize that his idealized notion of a heterosexual nuclear family that flawlessly insulates its members from loneliness and loss cannot be found in reality, and to the extent that a family can mitigate sorrow, his own is no less capable.

    As a Slavist, I can’t help but compare Notes of a Desolate Man to Notes from the Underground, and there are many similarities: the intimate tone; the defiant embrace of irrationality; the loneliness; the non-linearity; the centrality of thoughts about sex and power. Even the way Shao weaves together personal reflections with critiques of social theory mirrors the narration of the underground man. And the narrators, both of whom are 40, are going through something of a midlife crisis. But Dostoevsky’s narrator is an outward-facing one, ranting to an audience, seeing himself as set against all of society. Shao’s narration is quieter. He’s unreliable, but not slyly so. This is a man attempting, if not quite managing, to be honest with himself, to gain meaning through details and grand theory alike. The underground man would scoff at Shao’s naiveté, but I appreciate his attempt to use the tools at his disposal—Lévi-Strauss, Fellini, Miyazaki—to make sense of a life not governed by reproductive cycles, and that will eventually end in death.

    April 21st, 2016

    Man-O-Manischewitz — Roger Horowitz on Kosher Wine and Its Popularity among African Americans



    Sammy Davis, Kosher USA

    With Passover beginning tomorrow and with people starting to break out the Seder wine, we thought we’d share an excerpt from Roger Horowitz’s chapter “Man-O-Manischewitz,” from Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food. In this excerpt, Horowitz recounts the story behind the surprising popularity of Manischewitz and other Kosher wines among African Americans during the twentieth century. As Horowitz explains, the sweetness of Kosher wine was comparable to the homemade wines that many African Americans made. He also looks at how the wine companies began to market their products directly to African American consumers.

    In addition to the excerpt below, here is a clip of Sammy Davis Jr. pitching Manischewitz Almonetta Wine:

    April 20th, 2016

    A Post for 4/20: Peter Maguire and Mike Ritter on Pot Smuggling



    In recognition of 4/20, we are re-posting Peter Maguire and Mike Ritter’s appearance on HuffPost Live to discuss their book Thai Stick: Surfers, Scammers, and the Untold Story of the Marijuana Trade In the interview, Maguire and Ritter discuss drug smuggling in Thailand in the 1960s and 1970s. Also joining them was Jim Conklin, the DEA agent who busted Mike Ritter for smuggling.

    As the three explained, surfers began smuggling marijuana from Thailand but in relatively small quantities, driven by a spirit of adventure as much as a thirst for profit. Initially, neither Thai or U.S. officials paid much attention to the smugglers, who were generally nonviolent and “laid-back”. It was only later in the 1970s when professional criminals became involved and the amounts began to grow that the drug crackdown began.

    After discussing this fascinating history, the three consider current drug policy and the dangers of synthetic opiates:

    April 20th, 2016

    Harry Kassell: Kosher Meat Man



    Roger Horowitz, Kosher USA

    The following post from Roger Horowitz, author of Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food, was originally published on his blog. The post reveals the ways in which Kosher meat production was brought into the processes of the modern U.S. food industry.

    I came across an amazing man while looking for information on kosher meat. A Harry Kassel came up in a New York Times search, appearing in a 1973 article about meat shortages and described as the largest wholesaler of kosher meat in the New York area. Other searches turned up nothing more; so I turned to one of the historian’s great resources—the telephone book—and found him living on Long Island just past the end of the Belt Parkway. Spry and sharp at 89, he told me about his remarkable life, and in so doing gave me the backbone of chapter seven in Kosher USA, which I called “Harry Kassel’s Meat.”

    He was born in Racine, Wisconsin to a Jewish family that tried to keep kosher. He joined the military during World War II, and rather than trying to build up his military service, joked with me in his self-deprecating manner that since the US wanted to win the war, they kept him in the country. Recently demobilized in 1946, he agreed to a blind date with Zeena Levine, who was then a freshman at the University of Wisconsin. The two hit if off (even though she called him a “cheapskate” in our interview since he took her to a bar instead of a restaurant) and were soon married. Harry joked that since she wouldn’t go to work, he had to, and took the easy way out by joining his new father in law’s business.

    Zeena’s father was a butcher—on a big scale. With his partner Sam Cohen, Joe Levine owned several large kosher butcher shops in Brooklyn and a small chain of non-kosher shops. Kosher meat was a thriving business after World War II, and Levine took in his son-in-law and taught him how to evaluate recently-slaughtered meat and decide which carcasses to buy for his butcher shops.

    After a few years Kassel went into business for himself and established a meat wholesale company in the Brooklyn plant once operated by Swift & Co. His training made him acutely aware of the peculiar nature of kosher beef – that the same animal yielded kosher and non-kosher cuts. The Ashkenazi tradition was to only consume the forequarters, so even though these cattle yielded kosher briskets and rib roasts, the desirable loin cuts could not enter the kosher trade. Kassel made a name for himself by buying the hindquarters of prime, kosher-killed cattle and distributing the tenderloins and porterhouse steaks so prized in New York’s white tablecloth restaurants.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    April 19th, 2016

    Kosher Coke, Kosher Science



    Kosher USA

    In the excerpt below from Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food, Roger Horowitz travels from his family’s Seder table to early twentieth-century Atlanta when Rabbi Geffen had to weigh in on the status of Coke. The excerpt exemplifies the challenge of balancing the laws of ancient religious texts with the demands of the modern food industry and consumer desires.

    April 19th, 2016

    New Book Tuesday: Black Gods of the Asphalt, Ranciere, Stiglitz, and More New Books!



    Black Gods of the Asphalt

    Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball
    Onaje X. O. Woodbine

    Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals
    Nathan H. Lents

    Recognition or Disagreement: A Critical Encounter on the Politics of Freedom, Equality, and Identity
    Axel Honneth and Jacques Rancière

    Too Little, Too Late: The Quest to Resolve Sovereign Debt Crises
    Edited by Martin Guzman, José Antonio Ocampo, and Joseph E. Stiglitz

    Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet
    Edited by Ted Fendt
    (Austrian Film Museum)

    Ageing and Technology: Perspectives from the Social Sciences
    Edited by Emma Domínguez-Rué and Linda Nierling
    (Transcript-Verlag)

    Enterprising Migrants in Berlin
    Baris Ülker
    (Transcript-Verlag)

    Precarious Alliances: Cultures of Participation in Print and Other Media
    Edited by Martin Butler, Albrecht Hausmann, and Anton Kirchhofer
    (Transcript-Verlag)

    ReClaiming Participation: Technology – Mediation – Collectivity
    Edited by Mathias Denecke, Anne Ganzert, Isabell Otto, and Robert Stock
    (Transcript-Verlag)

    Spaces and Identities in Border Regions: Policies – Media – Subjects
    Edited by Christian Wille, Rachel Reckinger, Sonja Kmec, and Markus Hesse
    (Transcript-Verlag)

    Urban Transformations in the U.S.A.: Spaces, Communities, Representations
    Edited by Julia Sattler
    (Transcript-Verlag)

    Beckett, Lacan, and the Voice
    Llewellyn Brown. Foreword by Jean-Michel Rabaté
    (ibidem Press)

    April 18th, 2016

    Roy Harris on the Pulitzer Prize



    Pulitzer's Gold, Roy Harris

    With today’s announcement of the Pulitzer Prize winners, we are re-posting our interview with Roy Harris, author of Pulitzer’s Gold: A Century of Public Service Journalism. Recently Roy Harris previewed some of the possible winners and was interviewed by WBUR’s All Things Considered on the 100th anniversary of the awards.

    Question: 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize. In looking over the winners for public service journalism, what struck you most about what has changed in journalism during this period and what has stayed the same?

    Roy J. Harris: What’s very clear is how the quality of the Pulitzer winners—the depth of the reporting and the powerful change they brought about—increased sharply after the first few years the prizes began to be awarded. That suggests that the very creation of a system for honoring top-notch journalism encouraged more great reporting to be done around the country. But also, the variety of the top journalism projects—a diversity greater in public service than any other category—began to expand during that century: another major change. What’s stayed the same is that the predominant characteristic of the winning reporting has been tenacity on the part of the journalists to tell a story that others don’t want told.

    Q: In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about how changes in the news industry are threatening the kind of journalism that the public service journalism prize highlights. What is your sense of the future for investigative journalism of this kind?

    RJH: First the positive view: A surprising number of young journalists continue to enter the profession; they’re learning quickly, and doing great work. They also seem to value the tradition of great reporting, as I learn from the students I speak with regularly. While the digital world makes it harder to determine real news from the chaff, budding reporters also find that the Internet greatly broadens their access to valuable, verifiable resources. On the negative side, the news infrastructure to support reporters financially is seriously failing. New structures—like those created by new online sites and by privately supported programs like ProPublica and California Watch—aren’t coming online quickly enough to make up for the deterioration of traditional newspapers. New sources of financial support must be found for public service journalism, which is often the most expensive kind, if these young reporters are to be kept on the job.

    Q: Much like the justly celebrated new movie, Spotlight, your book tells the story behind the story—about how journalists do their jobs. What is the value for general readers of understanding the ways in which journalists and the news industry work?

    RJH: Before Spotlight, I argued that the behind-the-story approach of the Watergate movie All the President’s Men was a great model. Both that great movie and Spotlight are realistic, and take an inspirational look at what the media can do for our citizenry. And both concentrate on projects that won the Public Service Pulitzer—the subject of my book. I found in my research that less-well-known winners offer the same kind of excitement, though perhaps on a local level rather than a national or global level. That applies to non-journalists as much as to journalists, although the result of the journalism may be more local or regional than the ousting of a U.S. president or the exposure of a global Church scandal. From researching the stories in Pulitzer’s Gold I also found that to trace these Pulitzer winners through the years is to expose readers to the twists and turns of American history over the decades. What happened historically is important as is the role of the First Amendment, which keeps our system strong, and our citizenry informed.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    April 18th, 2016

    Book Giveaway! Kosher USA, by Roger Horowitz



    This week we are featuring Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food, by Roger Horowitz.

    In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

    We are also offering a FREE copy of Kosher USA to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 22 at 1:00 pm.

    Here’s what Andrew Smith writes:

    “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Roger Horowitz’s Kosher USA! It is three-stories in one: a family narrative within a history of kosher within the industrialization of the American food system. Well researched, insightful, and delightful–even for goyim.”

    You can also read the chapter, “My Family’s Sturgeon”: