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Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi

16 Aug

Snapseed 2I adored the film Persepolis, based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir of growing up during the Iranian Revolution. So when I stumbled upon Chicken with Plums (trans. Anjali Singh) in a Little Free Library, I knew I hit Little Free Library gold. The title, too, is tantalizing. (Some of you may be familiar with my obsession with plums.)

Set in November 1955, Chicken with Plums is the story of Satrapi’s great-uncle Nasser Ali Kahn, a pre-eminent tar player. (The tar is a string instrument from the Caucus region.) It’s a heartbreaking story—I nearly burst into tears by page 36—about love, loss, and longing. (Apropos of love, loss, and longing, what would a tango played on a tar sound like? Is that possible? Please comment with links or research leads!) Nasser’s beloved tar breaks, no replacement will do, and he loses the will to live. I read this book just after Anthony Bourdain committed suicide, so this may be why I found it particularly affecting. But Nasser finds some comfort in his brother and a beloved childhood dish, chicken with plums. (Here’s a recipe. The author of the recipe calls saffron “the world’s most expensive Prozac.”)

In addition to being heartbreaking, Chicken with Plums highlighted so many things about the history of Iran that I just didn’t know much about, such as the nationalization of the oil industry, which led to the U.K.- and-U.S.-backed coup in 1953. To paraphrase my high school English teacher Mr. Faciano: if you read literature, you get everything—in this case history, politics, music, gastronomy—plus a compelling story, gorgeously told.

“Sneaking into Dr. Zhivago” in Confrontation

22 Jun

I’m excited to have a new short story, “Sneaking Into Dr. Zhivago,” in the spring issue of Confrontation. It’s an honor to be in a journal that’s published the likes of Cynthia Ozick and Joseph Brodsky! Here’s how the story begins:

If not Paris, Vienna. That’s where I should have landed. My father sent my brother to medical school in Vienna, and I, I was being groomed for the Sorbonne. I would have studied history. And literature. Between the wars, many of my cousins moved to Vienna, London, New York. Children of my seven uncles.

Below you’ll find a photo of the first page of the story so you can get more a taste of it. If you’re intrigued, you can order a copy for just $12!

DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR Reviewed in The Seattle Times and Included in Seattle Review of Books’ “Seattle Novels That Made My Year”

4 Jan

The term “dumpster fire” has been used in reference to 2017 at least several million times. At one point in October, I considered taking some classes on how to cope with anxiety and insomnia that were organized specifically in response to our collective ongoing sense of doom. I didn’t though—because I was overwhelmed! Ha.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND, illustrated by Yayoi Kusama.

From my New Year’s Day reading, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, illustrated by Yayoi Kusama.

Despite everything, I need to celebrate 2017 on a personal level. Daughters of the Air, which I’d toiled over for years, finally came out, and people are reading it and telling me they are enjoying it! Michael and I celebrated the holiday season with candles and latkes and lights and dim sum and snow (!) and The Shape of Water (a beautiful love story!) and chocolate peanut butter pie and New Year’s Eve back at the Hotel Sorrento’s Fireside Lounge for reading (me, Teffi’s Subtly Worded, him Hanna Krall’s Chasing the King of Hearts, which I’m happily adding to my Women in Translation Month queue), writing, live jazz, people watching, and bubbles. What more could I ask for?

Dark chocolate with candied roses

Dark chocolate with candied roses, a holiday treat. Resolution: eat more flowers.

The day after Shelf Awareness called Daughters “a striking debut from a writer to watch,” The Seattle Review of Books included it among five Seattle novels that made Paul Constant’s year:

Anca Szilágyi’s Daughters of the Air is a fantastic debut — a magical realist fairy tale set in gritty New York City. It’s the kind of book that leaves you utterly confounded at the end, as you try to remember all the twists and turns that you took along the way. It feels like an impossible book, somehow — a product of alchemy, a creation of unearthly talents.

Wow! The book hasn’t been panned yet, but when it does, I’ll hang on to these two reviews for dear life. I was also super happy to see Tara Atkinson’s novella Boyfriends included in the end-of-year list; I gobbled it one sitting and highly recommend it.

Yesterday afternoon, I was thrilled to see The Seattle Times reviewed Daughters too—my first review in a major American newspaper!

Anca L. Szilágyi’s intense debut novel, “Daughters of the Air,” locates a deeply personal story against the surreal backdrop of [Argentina’s Dirty War].

 

 

I’ll be moseying up to a newsstand later today so I can rustle up the paper and feel the newsprint on my fingers.

In other news…

  • Every year, I strive to collect 100 rejections. (Why? See this wonderful Lit Hub article by Kim Liao.) In 2016, I made it to 106, plus eight acceptances. In 2017, I garnered 93 rejections and 16 acceptances. This is actually bad in terms of my other annual goal, which is to be rejected 90% of the time. I need to aim higher.
  • There are just four spots left in my online Fiction II class at Hugo House, which begins on January 14. You can sign up here.

Thank you for reading all the way to the end of this longer-than-usual blog post! As a gift, here is a Goodreads giveaway for you. Already read Daughters? Leaving a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or Powell’s would help spread the word! You can do this regardless of how you obtained the book (other bookstores, my publisher, the library, and all that fun stuff).

Onward!

Review of DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR in Shelf Awareness

26 Dec
Snapseed (1)

On Saturday, this tree was full of robins eating berries. Awww.

I had a glorious long weekend with Michael: actual snow in Seattle, dim sum, The Shape of Water (a beautiful love story!), chocolate peanut butter pie…and it’s been a happy Tuesday morning too, with this glowing review of Daughters of the Air by Dave Wheeler in Shelf Awareness:

“A striking debut from a writer to watch, Daughters of the Air is gritty yet gorgeous, severe yet convivial, as it navigates uncertain times in a treacherous world.”

You can read the whole review here.

“Art After Auschwitz” in Jewish in Seattle’s April / May issue

8 Apr

“I wish people would just stop writing about the Holocaust,” a woman said to me at a national writing conference. Thus begins “Art After Auschwitz,” my feature article for Jewish in Seattle‘s history issue.

It’s such a big topic. I’d love to explore it further. I learned about so many artists, such as Israeli Maya Zack, who’s working on a film about Paul Celan, and Seattleite Leah Warshawski, whose documentary Big Sonia follows a larger-than-life survivor running a tailor shop in a dying mall outside Kansas City. I came across Ann Lipscombe, a young artist whose surreal drawing “What We Talk About When We Talk About My Jewish Nose,” stopped me in my tracks at the Jewish Art Salon’s “The Jew as Other” show in New York last December, and miniaturist Tine Kindermann, whose “Hummel Midrash” project explores the danger of kitsch and who curated “The Jew as Other” with Yona Verwer.

Video and photos from Pay Dirt, a literary evening on art, money, and desire

17 Dec

Many thanks to Samudre Media for documenting Pay Dirt, the event culminating a year + of work on my novel PARALEGAL, thanks to an Art Project grant from 4Culture and a Jack Straw Fellowship. The Samudres do beautiful work in the Seattle arts community.

 

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu

30 Sep

It wasn’t exactly the best way to ring in the New Year, but last night I dragged M to Northwest Film Forum to see the three-hour documentary The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu. Absent of narration, the film is a collage of propaganda from 1965-1989, book-ended with clips from the show trial that preceded his and his wife Elena’s execution on Christmas Day, 1989. Throughout the film, pompous news reel music, chants, and clapping alternate with eerie moments of crackly silence. One of the most memorable clips, for me, showed Ceausecu beside Mao Zedong, not quite knowing what do with himself. There is also a technicolor dazzler of a tribute in Pyongyang, at which Ceausecu and Kim Il-sung gaped gleefully.  It was certainly an interesting experience gleaning what I could from the juxtapositions of images, such as the gradual but palpable shift in the filmed crowds from fanatical support to grim and nervous half-smiles.

The Last King of Scotland

15 Oct

I saw The Last King of Scotland this weekend. What can I say? It made me faint (literally!). I’m not sure it was just the gruesome scenes at the end, though those images did seem to be at the front of my mind at the time. Some reviews have criticized the fictional Dr. Garrigan that becomes Idi Amin’s personal physician for being overly naive and blind to the atrocities going on around him for a longer stretch of time than is believable (though honestly time was not clearly marked in the story– how long had he been in Amin’s service before things went bad?). In any case, the film is definitely worth watching (weak of stomach forewarned). Forest Whitaker did a phenomenal job as a charming, paranoid, and horrifying monster. I also appreciated the clips of the real Amin at the end of the film; they seemed to add an important sense of truth, whether or not the viewer was already aware of who Amin was. That those atrocities were real, that atrocities are being committed right now in other parts of the world.

Little Miss Sunshine

3 Sep

Yesterday, between bouts of wind and sprays of rain, I saw Little Miss Sunshine. I must say it was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while, and it really cancels out the funk The Ascent put me in last month(though also an excellent film). Some critic in Entertainment Weekly gave Little Miss Sunshine a C or some such mark because it was neither realistic nor completely off the wall, but some mix of the two. What a dualistic simpleton. It was just the right mix of realism with something askew. Perhaps the little girl Olive was just a wee bit too cute but I could live with that; she was hardly the star (indeed, no one was). A feel good movie with suicide, Nietzsche, Proust, creepy 5-year-old beauty queens, and a druggie grampa with a heart of gold. Highly recommended.

Further Updates

28 Jul

I went to Celebrate Brooklyn last night, to see the Kronos Quartet play the score for Dracula (and watch Dracula). A heavy mist rolled over the crowd and turned greenish under the lights by the trees. Less than a third into the film, thunder started grumbling and the sky started blinking and flashing. The crowd kept applauding the sky’s thunder claps (though they also showed Bela Lugosi some love) and gave the musicians a standing ovation when the concert was cut short due to torrential rain. It was a very enjoyable 20 minutes.

I’ve finally updated the writing links section of my website (see “me, elsewhere” link in the sidebar).

Twelve 55 word stories are up on the 55 words site. Read them, love them.

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