Tag Archives: novels

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada

21 May

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear, translated by Susan Bernofsky, is a delightful triptych of a novel, exploring the lives and perspectives of three polar bears in captivity: a Soviet circus performer, her daughter Tosca in an East German circus, and Tosca’s son Knut in the Berlin Zoo.

A desire for connection—with humans, other animals, and ancestors—weaves in and out of the story. Of course, food always captures my attention, so here is the matriarch connecting with her soup:

In the mirror I saw my red-smeared lips, a masterpiece of the beets. I’d never eaten root vegetables voluntarily, but when a beet came swimming in my bowl of borscht, I immediately wanted to kiss it. Bobbing amid the lovely dots of fat floating on top—which at once awoke my appetite for meat–the beet was irresistible.

The unnamed matriarch pens her memoirs, struggles with an unscrupulous publisher, travels to East Germany and then Canada, where she gives birth to Tosca. The second section of the novel, which appeared at first to be from the perspective of a human performer in an East German circus, seemed a bit slow to me, and I wasn’t sure if it was because the stress of the pandemic had shortened my attention span or because Tawada’s fun imagining of a polar bear’s mind was so refreshing that I was eager to return to it. But her use of perspective is slippery; it’s thrilling to learn the human was trying to write Tosca’s story, but, as befits a human, was making the story about herself. For this problem, Tosca offers writing advice that is at once practical and surreal:

“First you should translate your own story into written characters. Then your soul will be tidy enough to make room for a bear.”

“Are you planning to come inside me?”

“Yes.”

“I’m scared.”

We laughed with one voice.

Tosca’s son Knut rounds out the story. We meet him as an adorable tiny cub nurtured by the zookeeper Mattias:

Knut would feel the trembling of these delicate human fingers, hear the oceanic sounds emanating from Mattias’s entrails–and Knut’s abdomen would take up the tune, trembling in harmony.

The zoo, the media, and politicians hold up Knut as earth’s savior from climate catastrophe. That is, until he is no longer cute. While Knut’s section feels a bit didactic at times, hammering in the point that society doesn’t care about things that aren’t cute, it is unfortunately warranted given how much work there is left to do to prevent catastrophe.

In any case, there is much more to Knut’s story than the issue of cuteness, which I won’t spoil. The novel’s gorgeous ending brings together Tawada’s playfulness with perspective throughout the book in a manner both uplifting and astounding. Read this book, and do something for our planet, please. Compost, start your own vegetable garden, green your roof, plant a tree or five million.

Bookshop.org

3 Apr

Occasionally I fantasize about opening bookshop. It would be on a corner, with big windows, and the curated tables and shelves would feature literature from as many corners of the world as I could muster, and there would be lots of calming blue colors and it would be real cute. Who knows if I’ll ever dive into such an endeavor? In the meantime, it was remarkably easy and fun to curate a Bookshop.org affiliate page. If you’ve not heard about Bookshop, it’s a new way of buying books online while supporting local, independent bookstores. Most profits are split among the 400 or so participating brick-and-mortar stores. I expect my curated lists will grow and change over time. (And, why, yes, Daughters of the Air is on there too.) Take a look! Hope you find something good to read.

DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR Compared to Le Guin in Locus Magazine

15 Jan

Locus-Jan18

The January issue of Locus Magazine includes a lovely review of Daughters of the Air.  Here is an excerpt:

Only Le Guin bothers to write coming-of-age stories with such attention to each word… Daughters of the Air is well worth reading. Beyond its singular blend of myth and magic, its potent and poetic language announces a worthy new voice in, if I can call it this, the literature of the melting pot. Szilágyi is writing from the center of multiple cultural Venn diagrams, about historical and emotional topics more readers need to explore.

-Katherine Coldiron

You can buy the issue here.

Monkeybicyle’s If My Book

12 Dec

I’ve written an If My Book column for Monkeybicycle, wherein I compare Daughters of the Air to weird things. Here’s how it begins:

If Daughters of the Air were fruit it would be blood orange and pupunha.

If Daughters of the Air were cheese it would be Roquefort. Also: Kraft saved from a dumpster.

Continue reading

DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR Publication Day!

5 Dec

dota-coverToday is the big day! Daughters of the Air is out in the world. I’m excited that after so many years this is really, really real. Really. It is out of my hands and readers are reading. Whoa. I am especially excited to share that Tin House has published an excerpt on their blog today, which you can read right here.

If you’d like to help me get the word out, there are a few things you can do:

Join me at the launch party tonight at 7:30 pm at the Hotel Sorrento. Elliott Bay Book Company will be selling books there. Or join me at one of my upcoming events around the country. Bring friends! Buying the book at bookstores show booksellers there’s enthusiasm for it. And it supports all the good work booksellers do. And, um, in general buying the book helps me pay the bills and write my next book.

Review the book on Amazon, Barnes & NobleGoodreads, Powell’s, your personal blog…Let people know your thoughts.

Let your friends know if you think they might like a novel that is dark, fabulist, lyrical, political. Or if they’re into cities like New York, Buenos Aires, Manaus, or Rome. Or if they’re into myth and fairy tale. Or if you really like my sentences and think they’d really like my sentences too!

Request your local library carry it. Have I told you lately how much I love libraries? Here is a very old blog post about one of my favorite toys.

If you’re part of a book club, suggest it to the group. I’m happy to meet with groups in person in the Seattle area, or while on book tour, or by Skype.

Let me know if you’d like me to read at your reading series or come talk to your students or would like to adopt the book for a course. I love to give readings and talks. Daughters of the Air will be taught in a human rights class in the fall and would be a great fit with other classes too, such as contemporary fairy tales, Jewish studies, Latin American studies, and small press publishing.

Send me photos of you with the book and I will post it on Instagram! Or tag me, and I will happily repost.

Of course, these are all good things to do for any and all books out in the world that you wish to support. Thank you so much for championing literature!

“Building Artifacts from Artifacts”: An Interview with Thea Prieto at Propeller Magazine

4 Dec

I had a lovely time discussing the craft of writing with Thea Prieto of Propeller Magazine last week! We touched on research, breaking workshop “rules,” and a handful of the books that enriched the “broth” that was the manuscript of Daughters of the Air.  You can read the interview right here.

DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR one of Bustle’s 11 Best Fiction Books Releasing in December 2017

1 Dec

This morning, I was super excited to see Daughters of the Air included in Bustle’s round up of best new fiction releasing in December. Huzzah!

Reviews are coming in as well. Leena Soman of Cleaver Magazine calls Daughters of the Air “a clear-eyed meditation on the experience of being haunted by the unknown and what we are perhaps too scared to imagine.” In A Geography of Reading, Isla McKetta writes:

“…I want to read a book that pushes me so far beyond my own experience as a human and a writer that I’m already off the cliff and halfway to a crushing death before I realize what’s happening. Daughters of the Air took me there.”

And, Elizabeth’s Editions says “[Szilágyi] is a smart writer, dropping you straight into the white hot truth of life.” Yow!

The novel releases in just four days. I hope to see you at the launch party this Tuesday at 7:30 at the Hotel Sorrento, or at one my events around the country in 2018!

DAUGHTERS OF THE AIR Goodreads Giveaway

22 Nov

dota-coverFun news: Lanternfish Press is running a giveaway for Daughters of the Air on Goodreads. You can enter here. If you’ve already pre-ordered the book, perhaps you might add it to your to-read list and recommend the giveaway to a friend or two?

November News

17 Nov

Discovery Park

Discovery Park

Well, gosh, November snuck up on me! I try not to let a whole month go by without popping in over here, so here’s what’s been cooking.  Daughters of the Air will be out in 18 days (you might add it to your Goodreads list to be notified of giveaways); the last several weeks featured early mornings hunched over my laptop pitching book critics and events to bookstores and a handful of book clubs. Anxiety-fueled self-googling is at peak levels, which, yes, I know I should not be doing. But every now and again someone says something lovely about the book, which, as I’ve said on Instagram, has me rolling around like a happy puppy. (Also: I am increasingly on Instagram, where I overuse creepy filters, such in the photo above.)

Suzzallo

The University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library, where I recently managed to claw my way back into Novel #2.

I just finished teaching for the first time a fiction thesis writing class in the online MA program I work for. It’s an interesting class that coaches students through the first 30-50 pages of a novel or story collection, and I am embarking upon it once again very soon, just as my own novel will be hitting shelves. Our final week’s discussion on paths to publication (traditional vs. hybrid vs. self-publishing) will be rather timely.  In related news, as I head out on book tour next year, I’ll be teaching online for Hugo House as well: an eight-week intermediate fiction class touching on point of view, dialogue, and scene construction. Watch for one-day classes at Chicago’s StoryStudio and Port Townsend’s Writers’ Workshoppe!

 

teaAmidst all this activity, I’m looking forward to some holiday downtime, if that is even possible. Lately I’ve been starting my day with Anne Carson’s Plainwater and ending it with Mavis Gallant’s A Fairly Good Time: a superb literary sandwich. Before the year is over, I hope to get to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Gothic novel The House of the Seven Gables. I picked it up from a used bookstore in Montreal, The Word, just before graduating from college…in 2004. Yes, I guess it’s about time I get to that one.

Stay tuned for stories forthcoming from Lilith Magazine, the New Zealand-based Geometry, and the new Pacific Northwest-based Cascadia Magazine. If you’d like monthly news in your in-box, which will include information for upcoming events across the country, you can sign up here. Until launch day!

Interview in Ordinary Madness #76

9 Mar

Yesterday I had the pleasure of chatting with Steve Barker for the 76th edition of Ordinary Madness, his Arts & Entertainment podcast. We talked about novel writing, rejection, The Furnace, the effects of winning awards, and a bit about my time at McGill University in Montreal. I also read two short-short stories, one of which is quite new. Fun!

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