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German Book Office picks New Vessel's Who Is Martha?

John Mesjak

From Shelf Awareness today:


The German Book Office New York has chosen Who Is Martha? by Marjana Gaponenko, translated by Arabella Spencer (New Vessel Press, $16.99, 9781939931139) as its October Book of the Month.

The GBO described the book this way: "In this rollicking novel, 96-year-old ornithologist Luka Levadski forgoes treatment for lung cancer and moves from Ukraine to Vienna to make a grand exit in a luxury suite at the Hotel Imperial. He reflects on his past while indulging in Viennese cakes and savoring music in a gilded concert hall. Levadski was born in 1914, the same year that Martha--the last of the now-extinct passenger pigeons--died. Levadski himself has an acute sense of being the last of a species. He may have devoted much of his existence to studying birds, but now he befriends a hotel butler and another elderly guest, who also doesn't have much time left, to share in the lively escapades of his final days. This gloriously written tale, in which Levadski feels 'his heart pounding at the portals of his brain,' mixes piquant wit with lofty musings about life, friendship, aging and death."

Marjana Gaponenko was born in 1981 in Odessa, Ukraine. She fell in love with the German language as a young girl, and began writing in German when she was 16. She has a degree in German studies from Odessa University. Who Is Martha? is her second novel and was awarded the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize in 2013. She has also published volumes of poetry.

Arabella Spencer studied German and philosophy at King's College London and literary translation at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

New Yorker review by James Wood: Rediscovering Elizabeth Harrower ↬

John Mesjak

A fascinating article from the current issue of the New Yorker by James Wood about 86-year-old Australian novelist Elizabeth Harrower and her “new” novel, In Certain Circles (out now here in the US from Text / Consortium). It was originally set to be published back in 1971, but she withdrew it months before it was to come out.

Harrower deposited the manuscript of “In Certain Circles” in the National Library of Australia and essentially terminated her literary career. She has said that she thinks of her fiction as something abandoned long ago, buried in a cellar. She can’t now be bothered with writing. “I don’t know anybody who knows I’m a writer,” she said in 2012.
Her work might still be out of print if Michael Heyward and Penny Hueston, a married couple who run the Australian publishing house Text, hadn’t decided to start republishing it in 2012. They began with Harrower’s greatest novel, “The Watch Tower” (1966), the bitter story of two sisters, Laura and Clare, who lose their parents and fall under the sway of Felix Shaw, an abusive and controlling drunk. Over the next two years, Text published the rest of Harrower’s earlier work: “Down in the City” (1957), her first novel, and “The Long Prospect” (1958), her second, both of which she wrote in London; and “The Catherine Wheel” (1960), her third book. “In Certain Circles,” the withdrawn novel, was clearly the publisher’s most precious quarry. Heyward cajoled Harrower into letting him read the manuscript. She had not read any of her own work in forty years, and suspected that she might have to die before it was read again. Heyward thought the novel “extraordinary,” and Harrower agreed to its publication, perhaps figuring that death was a steep penalty for a comprehensive backlist.
— James Wood, The New Yorker

In Certain Circles | Elizabeth Harrower | Consortium | Text Publishing | 9781922182296 | $24.95 | Sept 2014


NOTED: Amazon Must Be Stopped ↬

John Mesjak

The lead article from the New Republic today, by Franklin Foer, is getting a lot of traction online today, and no wonder:

Growing profit margins depend, therefore, on continually getting a better deal from suppliers. At Walmart, this tactic is enshrined in policy. The company has insisted that suppliers of basic consumer goods annually reduce their prices by about 5 percent, according to Charles Fishman’s book, The Walmart Effect.

It’s hard to overstate how badly these price demands injure the possibility for robust competition. But when Amazon engages in the same behavior, it acquires a darker tint. Where Walmart is essentially a large-scale, cut-rate version of the old department store and grocer, Amazon doesn’t confine its ambitions to any existing template. Without the constraints of brick and mortar, it considers nothing too remote from its core business, so it has grown to sell server space to the CIA, produce original televisions shows about bumbling congressmen, and engineer its own line of mobile phones.

And as it amasses economic power, it also acquires greater influence in the cultural and intellectual life of the nation.
— Franklin Foer, "Amazon Must Be Stopped, The New Republic

Mortician & author Caitlin Doughty talks about her new book with Terry Gross on Fresh Air ↬

John Mesjak

Talking about death isn’t easy, but mortician Caitlin Doughty is trying to reform how we think about the deaths of loved ones — and prepare for our own.

”My philosophy is honesty,” Doughty tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I think that we’ve been so hidden from death in this culture for such a long time that it’s very refreshing and liberating to talk about death in an open, honest manner.

Doughty is the founder of The Order of the Good Death, a group of funeral industry professionals, academics and artists who focus on the rituals families perform with their dead and how the industry disposes of dead bodies. She is also starting her own funeral service in Los Angeles, called Undertaking L.A., that will help families with planning after they lose a family member.

Doughty’s new memoir, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory, serves as, among other things, a way for her to cope with working with dead bodies.
— Fresh Air interview page

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
by Caitlin Doughty
W. W. Norton | 9780393240238 | $24.95 | Cloth

A Fall 2014 INDIES INTRODUCE pick!