I am the colossal drill
Boring into the startled husk of the night.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, The Papal Monoplane


On this night of October 27, 1949 on the apron at Orly, Air France’s F-BAZN is waiting to receive thirty-seven passengers departing for the United States. A year earlier, Marcel Cerdan stepped off the plane as the newly crowned middleweight boxing champion of the world, a title he had clobbered Tony Zale for. And on that October 7, 1948, the crowd lifted him on their shoulders in triumph. A year later, inside the airport, Cerdan is setting off with his manager Jo Longman and his friend Paul Genser to regain his title, now in the hands of Jake LaMotta, the Bronx Bull. There is no question that in December, on another Constellation, he will bring the title back with him. In the departure hall at Orly, he blusters to the journalists: “That title’s coming home with me. I’m going to fight like a lion.” Lion against Bull, a matter of signs and constellations. The Lion of Nemea vs. the Minotaur, fabulous poster for December 2, 1949 at Madison Square Garden.

Jo Longman is wearing his bad-day face. They’d had to do everything in a hurry, cancel the passage on the ocean liner, claim priority seating on the Paris-New York flight, the whole can of worms, just to meet with Edith Piaf early the next morning. “Bring that title back with you!” says an Air France employee. “That’s the whole idea of going!” says Marcel. “Ye-es,” mutters Jo, who can’t help adding, “If you’d listened to me, we’d have waited a few days. Jesus! We’re sneaking off like thieves, almost. On Tuesday we learned the match was set for December 2, yesterday we were still in the provinces, and today we barely had time to pack our bags. I said we should stay on for a week, attend the meet at the Palais des Sports. But no, that was too simple, and tomorrow you’ll be rampaging around because, no surprise, in the rush to leave you’ll have forgotten half your stuff.” His anger is mock anger, they are used to playing at mutual recrimination, Marcel the amused free spirit and Jo the unheeded professional. In a few minutes, their elbows resting on the Air France bar, they’ll laugh about it. Since the trainer Lucien Roup quit, Jo has climbed in rank. Always in sunglasses, his hair pomaded, Jo Longman—who founded the Club des Cinq, the cabaret-restaurant where Edith and Marcel met—is the image of the louche character. The boxer likes his gift of gab, his love of partying and head for business, finds him the perfect companion on long trips between Paris, New York, and Casablanca.


The “Airplane of the Stars” is living up to its name today. Besides the “Casablanca Clouter,” the violin virtuoso Ginette Neveu is also setting off to conquer America. The tabloid France-Soir organizes an impromptu photo session in the departure lounge. In the first snapshot, Jean Neveu stands in the center smiling at his sister, while Marcel holds the Stradivarius and Ginette grins across at him. Next, Jo takes Jean Neveu’s place and, with his expert’s eye, compares the violinist’s small hands to the boxer’s powerful paws.

Then on the tarmac, at the foot of the gangway, the two celebrities continue their conversation. Ginette gives the details of her tour: Saint Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York. Marcel offers her front row seats for his rematch at Madison Square Garden and promises to attend the concert at Carnegie Hall on November 30. Maybe they can have dinner together at the Versailles, the cabaret where the Little Sparrow has been packing the house for months.

The four enormous Wright engines of Lockheed Constellation F-BAZN are droning. The propellers and blades have been inspected, and the eleven crew members line up in front of the plane. The big, beautiful four-engine aircraft, its aluminum fuselage perched on its outsized undercarriage, looks like a wading bird. In the boarding queue are thirty-two other passengers: John and Hanna Abbot, Mustapha Abdouni, Eghline Askhan, Joseph Aharony, Jean-Pierre Aduritz, Jean-Louis Arambel, Françoise and Jenny Brandière, Bernard Boutet de Monvel, Guillaume Charront, Thérèse Etchepare, Edouard Gehring, Remigio Hernandores, Simone Hennessy, René Hauth, Guy and Rachel Jasmin, Kay and Ketty Kamen, Emery Komios, Ernest Lowenstein, Amélie Ringler, Yaccob Raffo, Maud Ryan, Philippe and Margarida Sales, Raoul Sibernagel, Irene Sivanich, Jean-Pierre Suquilbide, Edward Supine, and James Zebiner. Left behind are two newlyweds, Edith and Philip Newton, returning home from their honeymoon, and Mrs. Erdmann. The three were bumped when the champion received priority seating.




“Modern life allows for travel but delivers no adventure.”

Jean Mermoz, Mes vols [My Flights]


With bad weather reported over the Channel and the North Atlantic, the pilot, Jean de la Noüe, decides to alter the flight plan. In place of a stopover in Shannon, Ireland, the plane will refuel on the small island of Santa Maria in the Azores archipelago. The flight crew initiates the departure sequence, head high, the big bird taxis from the embarkation area toward the runway. The Curtiss propellers rumble in rhythm.

Pilot to control tower: “F-BAZN requests clearance for takeoff.”

Tower to pilot: “Clearance granted, F-BAZN.”

At 20:06 hours, the Constellation takes flight.

Soon the Atlantic, in six hours the airfield at Santa Maria, then Newfoundland, and tomorrow morning New York.


Almost six years after he joined the Free French Forces in London, Jean de La Noüe still thrills at the memory of his truant years flying rust buckets, at first British, then American.

He never could stomach the Phoney War and its aftermath. Still, he had taken his wife’s advice and resumed work during the Occupation as an airline pilot for Air France, but the pill had grown progressively harder to swallow. He knew that it was all happening in London, and he wasn’t there. In Pléneuf-Val-André, his village on the Brittany coast, the English cliffs in the distance, Free France and Radio London. To take service again over the Channel, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, anywhere, as long as he was in the skies and on the right side. He had been only five years old when the armistice of the Great War was signed in a railway carriage in a forest clearing in Rethondes, and it was after discovering the exploits of the Dunkirk fighter squadron that he caught the aviation bug. His hero: Charles Nungesser, who disappeared over the Atlantic with François Coli attempting a nonstop crossing in L’Oiseau blanc the year Jean turned fifteen. A pirate of the skies, Nungesser had painted his pilot’s insignia on the fuselage of his two-seater, a Nieuport 17: a black heart encircling a skull and crossbones and a coffin set between two candles. Jean didn’t have the makings of a hero, but he was no deserter. Demobilized in 1940, he had been sorry to exchange the enemy lines for a commercial airline. In 1943, on an umpteenth flight, Jean bolted and joined the Free French Forces. After the Allied landing in North Africa, he had been assigned to transport soldiers from Casablanca to the Italian front. His aircraft was a Dakota, which the British pilots called the “Gooney Bird,” or albatross, for its ungainliness on the ground and majesty in the skies.


Those flights over the Mediterranean were a long time ago, the best years of his life, he often said. The capture of Pantelleria Island on June 10, 1943, then Linosa, Lampedusa, and the celebrated invasion of Sicily. Thirty-eight days of ferrying forces from the advanced base on Pantelleria, twenty-eight men to a Dakota. And leaving in his wake, as he shuttled back and forth, traceries of parachute canopies in the sky. Operation Avalanche against Salerno, and Slapstick to take the port of Taranto. The great battle, Monte Cassino, would come on May 11, 1944. Then parachute drops over Provence. In Casablanca, the Allied rear base, Jean would return to life. History was in the making, and he was part of it, an extra in the great theater of operations organized by Churchill and Roosevelt at the Casablanca Conference. De Gaulle, Giraud, a few demobilized veterans from the French naval airforce, and the French army, which was now the second blade of the Allied operation—all these men, tenacious and battle-hardened, hungered for revenge and reconquest. In the postwar years, he brought his wife to the Max Linder Theater to see Casablanca with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. He took exception to the casbah, so much at variance with his own recollections, and laughed out loud at the Marseillaise as orchestrated by the resistance fighter, Laszlo. Total joke. Walking back up the boulevard Poissonnière, he described his Casablanca to Aurore. The hotel in the Anfa district and the restaurant with the panoramic view. The palm groves around Camp-Cazes airfield and the barracks where the pilots were packed together. The runway, which features as the final set of the film, where Rick Blaine and Captain Renault celebrate the beginning of a beautiful friendship. He also told her about the history of the Moroccan airmail service, about the exploits of Mermoz and Saint-Exupéry, flying over the desert, over sand dunes, where you see nothing, hear nothing, and beauty is hidden in immensity.


On the night of October 27, 1949, Jean de La Noüe, captain of the F-BAZN, has 60,000 flight hours and eighty-eight transatlantic crossings to his credit. Next to him are Charles Wolfer and Camille Fidency, two former combat pilots. Since hostilities ended there has been no front to receive these soldiers. Like Jean, they chose not to pursue a career in naval aviation, adapting instead to this new line of commercial work. Assigned to the same flights, the two have become friends. And born the same hour on December 4, 1920, they are known in the company as the “astrological twins.” Soon, between stopovers, they will celebrate their twenty-ninth birthday. The radio is manned by Roger Pierre and Paul Giraud, the navigator is Jean Salvatori. And André Villet and Marcel Sarrazin, mechanics, complete the flight crew.

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Chris Cander’s “Whisper Hollow is wonderful. It’s carefully written, unpredictable, [and] sexy.” —The Houston Chronicle

Enter for a chance to win one of 15 copies!

Winners will receive an author-signed copy of the novel, as well as a limited-edition bookplate featuring an exclusive, exquisitely rendered illustration for the book.

Set in a small coal-mining town, yet reflective of the vagaries of all American life, WHISPER HOLLOW is a breathtaking debut novel that details in captivating prose the lives three courageous women who make choices that will challenge the moral convictions of their peers, as well as their own .

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Whisper Hollow by Chris Cander

Whisper Hollow

by Chris Cander

Giveaway ends June 12, 2016.

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Dear Friends,

Over the course of my tenure as publisher of Other Press, I have observed that we have many works of literature that tackle issues that are not yet fully acknowledged in our culture, notably this: Intelligent women who fall in love seem to be confronted with very different challenges than in the past (not that their lives were any easier in the past, let’s be clear on that).

Girls creator and star Lena Dunham on her love for WILLFUL DISREGARD

And others have noticed this as well—Girls creator and star Lena Dunham agrees that Willful Disregard (published February 2016) is “perfect,” and Prep author Curtis Sittenfeld gifted it to a friend, calling it “[a novel] about how love makes fools of even the smartest people.”

These literary works expose how the contemporary woman’s notion of romantic love undermines her ability to accept that men have undergone a transformation: men today are more disarmed and clueless than women are prepared to accept. Our society has an outdated vision of romantic love that doesn’t quite fit the broadening landscape of intellectual and professional equality between the sexes. Women are ready to reinvent love and marriage to fit these new circumstances. Men seem to find this scary.

Writers from around the world are exploring these intricacies, offering new insights that promise to be very satisfactory for readers—women and men alike. Whether it be crisis in marriage, anxiety over starting relationships, or radical discrepancies between what a woman imagines and the reality of the situation, the stories they tell make for riveting reading.

Judith Gurewich


Get a 20% Discount on the Following Titles!


Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson

Couple Mechanics by Nelly Alard

The Other Woman by Therese Bohman

Drowned by Therese Bohman

Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest

The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay byAndrea Gillies

Climates by André Maurois

Conjugal Love  by Alberto Moravia

Happy Are the Happy by Yasmina Reza

All Days Are Night by Peter Stamm

Unformed Landscape by Peter Stamm

A Week in October by Elizabeth Subercaseaux

The Cold Song  by Linn Ullmann

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author of The Honeymoon

Other Press: The Honeymoon is a fictionalized biography of George Eliot. What role has George Eliot played in your life? Why did you choose to write a novel about her life instead of a biography?

Dinitia Smith: George Eliot is a female novelist who went before me, who became the most famous writer of her time. I looked to her to understand my own life, her effort to succeed in a man’s world. In the novel I describe how she was snatched out of school to care for her ailing mother and at a time when a high-level education was not easily available to women, and taught herself Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, French and Italian! Then she became the editor of the prominent literary journal The Westminster Review, but it couldn’t be known that she was a woman. Investors—and male readers—wouldn’t have stood for it. Despite all this, she triumphed, and, despite her fame and fortune, she was kind and generous to a fault. I looked to her too, to understand what it means to cope with aging, and to lose one’s beloved life-partner, and finally, to find redemption.

Why did I write a novel rather than a biography? Because, despite the many letters and archives Eliot left behind, she was a woman of her time, and consequently, she rarely confided her intimate feelings on paper, for instance about what must have been her anger at the obstacles she faced as a woman in the male world of 19th-century England. We know little about her feelings for the men in her life, men who were crucial for her development as a woman and as an intellectual. She fell in love with George Henry Lewes, a married man, and we know almost nothing about her inner struggles as she took the momentous decision to live with him out of wedlock, or what she went through when her young husband, Johnnie Cross, tried to commit suicide on their honeymoon. I wanted to understand her, so, without violating the known truth, I went back to her writings, including her poetry, searching for clues to what she was thinking, and I tried to imagine her inner life in a literary way.

OP: Your understanding of George Eliot’s life and environment is remarkable, and so clearly rendered. You make her human. What kind of research into her life and work did you do before you started writing your novel?

DS: I did an extraordinary amount of research—and it was great fun. I read her letters, the great biographies of her, her journals and essays—and of course, the novels. But I also searched the archives for her personal reminiscences. I studied the floor plans of her houses, read travel diaries, studied 19th-century railway timetables, old photographs, the flora and fauna that she would have encountered on her estate, and European resort life in the 19th century. I was fortunate to find in the Princeton University Library archives notes she made for a new novel she was probably working on at the time that she died.

OP: George Eliot is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the English language. In the course of writing your novel, did you learn anything from her about the craft of writing, and about being a woman author? Were you nervous about writing a novel about such a well-known and beloved author?

DS: Of course I was nervous! But she inspired me. She had no self-confidence, and yet found within herself a kind of stubborn strength in the face of defeat. I think readers will be surprised to find how hard it was for her to write. As for her writing style, which was exquisite, I didn’t want to imitate it, so I tried to write in what I hope is a clean, clear style that is respectful of her own.

OP: One of the most surprising things in your novel is the depiction of George Eliot and her relationship to other women and the burgeoning feminist movement in 1800s England. Could you tell us a little more about Eliot’s thoughts on women and their place in society?

DS: Her relationship to the feminist movement is just fascinating. Her best friend was the charismatic 19th-century feminist Barbara Bodichon. Eliot supported Bodichon to some extent. She gave money towards the founding of Girton College, Cambridge, the UK’s first residential college for women offering an education at the degree level. She signed the petition to Parliament asking for married women’s property rights. But she held back. She was innately conservative, partly, perhaps, due to her upbringing and the influence of her father, who was conservative. She’d seen the violence surrounding the Reform Act of 1832, which granted a broader franchise to workingmen. At the same time, she was afraid that education for women would devalue their roles as nurturers of children and keepers of the house. This may have stemmed from her relationship with her own mother, who was sickly and irritable, and who seemed to have little time for George Eliot as a little girl. Eliot spent her life looking for love, and that quest may be partly an effort to fulfill the void she felt in relation to her own mother’s affection. Don’t forget too that she was living in a scandalous relationship with George Henry Lewes, who couldn’t get a divorce from his wife, and I think she was afraid of public scrutiny and calling attention to it.

OP: George and Johnnie both occupy such large places in Marian’s (George Eliot’s) life. What kind of influence, if any, did they each have on her work?

DS: George Lewes was the single most important influence on her writing. I believe that without him, she would never have become the writer she did. He held her hand, he nurtured her, urged her on through the most agonizing self-doubt. He read her work and made suggestions. He praised her prose style, and sometimes urged her to make her writing more dramatic. At times, Eliot, a fanatical researcher, became bogged down in it, and George warned her that a novel was not an encyclopedia!

I doubt that Johnnie Cross had much influence on Eliot’s writing. By the time they were married, she had published her last book, Impressions of Theophrastus Such. More importantly, Johnnie certainly lacked George Lewes’s extraordinary intellect.

OP: The Honeymoon is your fourth novel. Have you picked up any writing quirks to help you in your work, like a routine or a special writing place?

DS: I do have a schedule, which I’ve had in place for some time. When I was working at the New York Times, I would get up very early, at 5:30 a.m., or 6 a.m., and write for about two hours, then go to the paper, which at that time was not on the same 24-hour news cycle as it is now, and the workday tended to begin late, at 10 a.m. Needless to say, this was difficult. After I left the paper, I developed a routine of writing in the morning in my study, and trying to do some exercise and attend to household chores in the afternoons. I do need quiet and seclusion to write. At the beginning of a novel, I find it hard to write for more than two or three hours at a time. As the novel gets going, I find I can work for a longer time.

OP: Anyone who reads The Honeymoon will be itching to start in on (or revisit) George Eliot’s oeuvre once they’re done. Do you have any suggestions about which of her works they should begin with?

DS: Middlemarch, of course, is one of the greatest novels in the English language. I find it the most “modern” of Eliot’s novels, so relevant in Dorothea’s effort to find herself as a woman, to lead a useful and moral life. But, for a long time, I preferred Daniel Deronda to Middlemarch, perhaps because of the depth of Eliot’s learning about Judaism, and the fascinating unrequited love of Gwendolen Harleth for Daniel. Now Middlemarch is back on top! Eliot is brilliant, I think, at portraying bad marriages, and cold men. In Middlemarch, there is Casaubon, the prototype of a cold, self-absorbed intellectual who is unable to complete his “great work.” In Deronda, there is the horrible, cold and immoral Henleigh Grandcourt, whom Gwendolen marries in an effort to support her impoverished family. Daniel cannot return Gwendolen’s love because he’s fallen in love with the sweet and beautiful Jewish girl, Mirah, and has discovered he’s Jewish too.

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In her eponymous newsletter project, “Lenny Letter,” Girls’s  creator and star Lena Dunham raved about Lena Andersson’s Willful Disregard. In addition to naming it a “necessary novel,” she had this to say:

I never thought a book about anxious Swedish intellectuals engaged in a philosophical back and forth would grip me like an airport read, but here we are. Jenni recommended this book as “perfect, just read it”… Jenni said: “I want to give this to every person I know who is in a one sided relationship. This will snap them right out of it.”… She was right.

You can read more of Lena’s thoughts on Willful Disregard here.

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Enter for a chance to win a copy of John Preston’s The Dig.

Praise for The Dig

“A very fine, engrossing, and exquisitely original novel.” —Ian McEwan, author of Atonement and The Children Act

“As Downton Abbey sinks into the sunset, bereft Abbots might find some consolation here, and, added depth, naturally.” —Library Journal

“Shimmers with longing and regret…Preston writes with economical grace…He has written a kind of universal chamber piece, small in detail, beautifully made and liable to linger on  in the heart and the mind. It is something utterly unfamiliar, and quitewonderful.” The New York Times Book Review

“As homey at times as chamomile tea but spiked with pointed undercurrents, this is a real treat for a reader who can appreciate its quiet pleasures.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Dig by John Preston

The Dig

by John Preston

Giveaway ends April 19, 2016.

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Listen to
The Butcher’s Trail
author Julian Borger


on The Diane Rehm Show



on NPR’s The Brian Lehrer Show



on BBC Newshour


at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute 



Praise for

The Butcher’s Trail

“[A] vivid, page-turning account…A well-organized, deeply researched work that ably digests the Balkan war, the criminals, the criminal court, and its legacy.” —Kirkus Reviews STARRED REVIEW

“Well researched…timely.” The Wall Street Journal

Gripping.” The Independent

Vivid…well-researched.” Publishers Weekly

“Presented in captivating detail [and] often playing out like a true-life spy novel…fascinating.” Library Journal

The Butcher’s Trail create[s] what may ultimately become one of the defining accounts of this episode of Balkan history.” The National

“Borger’s compelling, readable prose with these stories of assault on impunity offer a rare opportunity to penetrate the ‘nationalist bromides’ and ‘sounds of slogans’ that continue to hold these countries back in ways that are tragic in all sorts of new, post-war ways…Fascinating.” —The Arts Fuse

“A simultaneously thrilling and horrifying read.” —Signature

The Butcher’s Trail reads like a cross between a John le Carre novel and the latest Bourne installment.  Except this fine book is true.  At a time when Europe’s ugly nationalisms are resurgent, Borger’s account of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and the pursuit of justice could not be more important.” —Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus accident, and the Illusion of Safety

“Julian Borger reveals in riveting new detail exactly how a daring team secretly tracked down some of the worst war criminals of our time, and in doing, he shows us what it takes for justice to win.  This book is brilliantly researched, beautifully written and important.” —Ann Curry, journalist and correspondent

“Julian Borger’s thrilling history of the hunt for the infamous Balkan war criminals and the torturous path to creating and empowering the International Criminal Tribunal is not just masterfully told, but devastating in its revelations of complacency in the face of ethnic cleansing.” —Hooman Majd, author of NY Times bestseller The Ayatollah Begs to Differ

“Julian Borger has written the definitive account of the hunt for the war criminals of the former Yugoslavia. The Butcher’s Trail is wonderfully well written and deeply reported and it raises important questions about how to bring to justice those that have committed wars against humanity.”  —Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad

“This book is a powerful page turner.” —David Scheffer, U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues (1997-2001) and law professor at Northwestern University



Polish soldiers meet Slavko Dokmanović on June 27, 1997.

Ousted president Slobodan Milošević is read his rights by Kevin Curits, a British ex-policeman, on June 28, 2001.

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author of Guapa

Other Press: In Guapa Rasa asks “Is boredom reason enough to rebel?” Do you think boredom is a good enough reason to rebel? How far do you think boredom can take a revolution?

SH: I suspect Rasa misdiagnosed his emotions here. Perhaps what he was feeling was not boredom, but a sense of hopelessness. In Arabic, the word would be ihbat, which is a feeling of being deflated and depressed. These feelings are certainly reason enough to rebel and demand something better. As to how far these feelings can take a revolution—I’m less optimistic. They are just one ingredient needed, but there are others: organizational and constituency-building tactics, a clear vision of what a better future would look like, and a clear plan of how to get there.

OP: Guapa is your first novel. What inspired you to write a novel? Why did you want to tell this story? Was it difficult to wrangle so many topics—gender identity, gay life, the life of a family, Middle East politics and American imperialism, and a very moving romance story—into one story?

SH: There are very few positive or accurate representations of the complexities of queer life in the Arab world. We are painted either as helpless victims by Western media, or as sick deviants, agents of the West, or a symptom of a decaying civilization by Arabic media. So I wanted to write something that would speak to my own experiences and the experiences of other queer Arabs around the world. And to do so I felt it was necessary to show the complexity of our experience, and how closely our struggles are linked to broader struggles of family, gender, politics, and imperialism. It was a challenge to do this and also tell a moving love story, but I knew that I owed it to myself and other queer Arabs to write the story in all its complexity.

OP: In Guapa, not only do you avoid naming the Arab country where the story takes place, you never name the event that occurs while Rasa is studying overseas. Why is this? Is there a relationship in your novel between what is named and what is unnamed?

SH: I went back and forth about whether to choose to set the story in a specific country. In the end, I liked that the ambiguity of the country mirrors Rasa’s own difficulties with labeling himself and his refusal to fit into the categories society tries to place him in. There are practical reasons as well: for the most part, queer Arabs live safely in a lively but very private social network. Revealing a country and trying to be specific about queer life in that country would expose people in a way that I felt was not ethical. So I decided that the only way to shed light on this rich subculture, but also respect the subculture’s privacy, would be to keep the setting ambiguous, and draw from different elements, both positive and negative, of the region’s queer subcultures.

OP: There’s a struggle between Rasa and his grandmother, Teta, over the legacy of their family, over what they choose to remember and how they remember it. Do you think there’s a great difference in how memory works for an individual or within the story of a family, and how it works historically, how it works for a country? As a novelist, how do you approach writing about memory?

SH: I think there are a lot of similarities between the politics of memories, myths, and storytelling in families and at the level of a country. Nation-building is very much about creating myths—embellishing certain stories and brushing under the carpet darker histories. Families operate in much the same way. In Guapa, as Rasa begins to uncover the darker elements of his country and his society, he inevitably comes across his own family’s darker secrets that he had a hand in burying.

OP: What resources would you suggest for the reader who wants to know more about gay life in the Middle East? How can one learn more without simply being complicit in an outsider’s gaze?

SH: There’s a huge diversity of queer experiences in the region, and I think anyone wanting to learn more about gay life in the Middle East needs to recognize that there is not a single gay experience. It’s also important to recognize that queer Arabs often face a dual struggle: we are not just battling homophobia and patriarchy within our own societies, but also anti-Arab and anti-Islam narratives prevalent in the Western world, which sometimes wants to use our voices to further that agenda. Recognizing this dual struggle is important for outsiders who want to better understand gay life in the region.

Some great resources (links embedded):

Joseph A. Massad, Desiring Arabs (This review by Brian Whitaker, which critiques Massad’s theory on the “Gay International,” is also worth reading.)

Meem, Bareed Mista3jal

What is Pinkwashing? (video) (For a more in-depth analysis of pinkwashing, visit the Pink Watching website, or read this.)

James Harkin, “We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive: A Gay Soldier in Assad’s Army”

A series of videos on queer politics in the Middle East from a 2015 conference at Brown University on “Sexualities and Queer Imaginaries in the Middle East/North Africa.”

Brian Whitaker, Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East

Sarah Harvard, “Stuck in the Media Spotlight, LGBT Muslims Often Feel Exploited


OP: Many writers have routines and tricks to help them with their work. Do you have any writing quirks?

SH: I write in the early morning, when I’m only half-awake. That way I’m less conscious about what I put on the page. Forcing myself to write every morning, at the same time and place, makes it a ritual and a habit.

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Michelle Alexander, author of the New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, reviewed Baz Dreisinger’s Incarceration Nations for The Washington Post this past Sunday.

In her review Alexander asks the questions, “What can America learn from systems of incarceration around the world?” and “What is justice?” In Incarceration Nations Dreisinger, she explains, “takes us on a tour of prisons around the globe in search of clues that might answer the question of what justice is or, rather, what it ought to be.” Alexander details Dreisinger’s travels across the globe, from Norway, where she marvels at the short sentences for inmates and amenities available at the prisons, to Brazil, where she discusses literature with an inmate, and back to the United States, which has “mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes laws, militarized police forces and a prison building boom unlike anything the world has ever seen.” She praises Dreisinger’s work thusly:

The great gift of Incarceration Nations is that, by introducing a wide range of approaches to crime, punishment and questions of justice in diverse countries — Rwanda, South Africa, Brazil, Jamaica, Uganda, Singapore, Australia and Norway — it forces us to face the reality that American-style punishment has been chosen. It is not normal, natural or inevitable.

In her review Alexander is most intrigued by Dreisinger’s visit to Rwanda, the nation most immediately known for the 1994 Civil War and genocide. There, she says, the country “aims to rebirth itself by facing its history honestly, unflinchingly, with open hearts and minds, yet we learn little about this reckoning and national awakening.”

You can read Michelle Alexander’s review on The Washington Post online.

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It’s Women’s History Month! Take a look at some our favorite authors to find the next woman you’ll be reading this month.


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Three irresistible, genre-bending novels from Other Press.

You won’t find any typical women’s fiction here. With Couple Mechanics, Willful Disregard, and The Other Woman what you’ll get is a truly inventive twist on the novel of the affair. Whether it be a marriage caught in crisis, a young intellectual woman unmoored by her romantic passion, or a an aspiring writer bound by her gender and her class, Other Press delivers challenging and surprising contemporary novels for today’s modern woman. Download a PDF of the poster by clicking on the image below.

3 women's books

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March is Women’s History Month, and here at Other Press we’d love to help you celebrate with a wide selection of brilliant and challenging women authors. This season we’ve published three psychologically intense novels about women and their relationships, written by women: Nelly Alard’s Couple Mechanics, Lena Andersson’s Willful Disregard, and Therese Bohman’s The Other Woman.

Women books

All three eschew the standard stale romance with reassuring narratives of revelation and self actualization; they are sharp, incisive, and honest looks into what it means to open yourself up to the vulnerability of a relationship with another person. Couple Mechanics is Nelly Alard’s answer to Simone de Beauvoir’s classic, The Woman Destroyed. In it she details one urban career woman’s fight to hold on to her husband, despite his infidelity and modern-day feminism’s maxim that pride and dignity take precedence over desire. In Willful Disregard Lena Andersson crafts an arresting portrait of one woman’s psyche as she battles through an obsession with the subject of one of her articles. Ester is young, analytical, and highly educated—not the type of person you’d expect to lose herself in another person. What you’ll find in Andersson’s award-winning novel is the dark irony that can lie at the heart of a manic pixie dream. The Other Woman is Therese Bohman’s (Drowned) twist on the novel of a marital affair. Our unnamed narrator is the other woman of the title, and through Bohman’s characteristic limpid prose and unnerving insight into modern-day gender politics, we learn exactly what that means.

Other Press has a long and proud tradition of publishing amazing women authors. Start with Alard, Andersson, and Bohman. When you’re done you can move on to some of our other favorites, like Minae Mizumura (A True Novel), Kyung-sook Shin (I’ll Be Right There), Olga Grjasnowa (All Russians Love Birch Trees), Stephanie Vaughn (Sweet Talk), Randa Jarrar (A Map of Home), and Yvette Christiansë (Unconfessed). 

If what you’re looking for is nonfiction, then look no further than Sarah Bakewell. She wrote the National Book Critics Circle Award winner How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, and we’ve just published her At the Existentialist Café, already a New York Times bestseller. In it she uses her distinctive wit and ability to distill complex ideas into accessible prose to bridge biography and history: she details the lives of the philosophers who created the movement, including Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus, while explaining the origins of existentialism and its significance in today’s world. We’re also excited to have one of the most important books coming out this season, Baz Dreisinger’s Incarceration Nations. A complex  and necessary look into America’s exportation of its prison industrial complex, Dreisinger offers what no other book on this subject does: a path toward change. James McBride (author of The Color of  Water and The Good Lord Bird) praises her work, calling Incarceration Nations a “well-written work of redemption and identity.”

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author of Incarceration Nations

Incarceration Nations is the story of my journey to prisons around the world, beginning in Africa and ending in Europe. The idea for this global journey was born behind bars in America, where I launched the Prison-to-College Pipeline program, which offers college classes and reentry planning to incarcerated students in New York State. I had started the program hoping to make some small dent in the American mass incarceration crisis. The world’s largest jailer—with some 2.3 million people incarcerated—the U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prison population. More African Americans are under criminal supervision today than were enslaved in 1850.


But I was troubled by the fact that the public conversation rarely turned from America’s incarceration calamity to the global prison problem—a system the U.S built and then foisted on the world. Between 2008 and 2011, the prison population grew in 78 percent of all countries. Some 10.3 million people worldwide are behind bars, many convicted of nothing, waiting years to be tried and lacking access to adequate legal assistance.

I began to envision a global journey, one that would offer a chance to rethink one of America’s most devastating exports. On a basic level, I felt an urge to be a witness, to expose the hidden places and forgotten people that exist in every country. Such a journey seemed, for me and for my readers, a moral imperative. After all, justice should be loud and proud, a transparent system endorsed by all citizens. Yet prisons are invisible spaces, places most people never see, yet dimly accept as real and right. How can we endorse what cannot be seen?


The final inspiration for my journey was a terrible realization: I was so routinely inside prisons, so often immersed in analyzing prison issues, that I was beginning to lose perspective. I needed a shock to the system, to ask myself anew what I used to get asked all the time: Why care so passionately about the so-called wrongdoers of the world? I would find fresh answers to this question, seeing prison anew by seeing it around the world. Nelson Mandela famously said, “No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

In recent years, there have been plenty of calls for prison reform, many of them driven by arguments about economics and public safety. But what about fundamental moral arguments about prison, as an ethical concept? I decided that it was time to go back to the theoretical drawing board. I chose nine countries—Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Jamaica, Thailand, Brazil, Australia, Singapore, and Norway—that would defamiliarize foundational concepts about justice and prison, concepts we too often take for granted. I would re-ask the big questions about punishment, redemption, forgiveness, second chances, racism, and capitalism that had made me a prison activist to begin with. And perhaps I might convince others—as voting, thinking citizens of a democracy—to become agents of change, too.

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Other Press: Lay Down Your Weary Tune is your debut novel. Could you tell us a bit about your journey in writing it? How did you discover Jack’s voice, and how did you know this was the story he would to tell? How did the novel take shape?

W.B. Belcher: “Journey” is the right word. I began sketching out this novel almost nine years ago. At the time, I was writing both plays and short stories, and I was exploring how various forms of storytelling overlap. Mask-making, reinvention, role-playing were common themes in my work, particularly in my playwriting. I began to explore these themes in the larger playground of a novel, but I discovered early on that the characters would drive the process. Eli Page, the mercurial folk music icon, sequestered in a foothills of the Adirondacks, came first. He was followed by Jack Wyeth, a wannabe music journalist and blogger in need of direction. The novel began to take shape once I realized that its root structure was a late coming-of-age/toppling of childhood idols story on one hand, and a novel about reinvention and the folk process on the other.

Jack’s a restless person, adrift, rudderless, except for his fascination with Eli Page, which seems to center him. Jack’s interests and personal history are tangled up in the myth of Eli Page. Folk music is Jack’s frame of reference—it’s how he sees and interprets the world, and since the novel is narrated from his first-person perspective, I knew that the language, the tropes, the archetypes, the imagery would all have to stem from folk songs and that folk Americana aesthetic. It was a long journey from point A to point B, but that decision to infuse Jack’s perspective with the music and symbols found throughout folk songs was the key to finding Jack’s voice.

OP: Were you nervous about alluding to such luminaries as Bob Dylan? How did you approach depicting the beloved and renowned Caffè Lena?

W. B. B.: When I first started, I didn’t know if the story had legs. It didn’t occur to me to be nervous about those references until I was well into the process. Many readers have asked if I was really writing about Dylan or Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie (a few have even mentioned Phil Ochs); I like to say that Eli Page is all of these musicians and he’s none of them. In the end, I hope I’ve created a convincing contemporary of Dylan, although Eli Page was not nearly as famous (or elusive).

Before I began writing Lay Down Your Weary Tune, I’d only been to Caffè Lena a few times, but those experiences were somehow memorable enough to inspire two scenes in the early drafts. And it was actually those draft scenes that prompted me to get more involved at the Caffè. To put it another way, writing the novel led me to Caffè Lena; not the other way around. In the context of the story, I was interested in folk music outside of the traditional hot spots (certainly outside Greenwich Village), and Caffè Lena was my real-life example. Jack believes that it’s one of the reasons Eli relocated so far upstate. As far as my approach—I wanted to make sure the listening room seemed authentic and the readers had a sense of the atmosphere. Despite the drama that happens during those scenes in the Caffè, I think I captured the Lena’s that we know and love.

OP: You take such care in illustrating Galesville, the town in your novel. It’s almost a character of its own. Was it important to you to create a concrete sense of place? Why?

W. B. B.: Galesville is an outsized character in the novel. Early on in the Intro, Jack uses “we” when he refers to his fellow Galesville residents—he includes himself as part of the town. Even though it’s rough going at times, he still considers himself part of the community. More important than concrete, I wanted to create a small town that was complex. Galesville’s not a funky little town that embraces everyone’s quirks, and it’s not a narrow-minded town that fears change—as with most towns, it’s both of those things and a thousand others. It’s a town in transition, caught between the old and the new, the past and present, the left and right, and it’s a town in the middle of reinventing itself from a farming community to an artisan community. I wanted it to feel familiar, but I had to remember that the descriptions of the town are subjective (filtered through Jack’s perspective), unreliable, tainted by Jack’s fear of being an outsider. Lastly, the details he chooses to show the reader—the river, the trestle, the hardware store, the depot, the graveyard, and so on—are bits and pieces that could’ve been lifted from the lyrics of a folk song. In many ways, he’s constructing his own myth as he writes, and Galesville is an actor in that myth.

OP: What do you think of the state of folk music today, both in terms of the music that’s made and how it’s received? Do you think it can ever occupy the same space in the American popular conscience that it once did?

W. B. B.: That’s a heavy question. Usually, I’d lean on some friends to help me answer with authority, but I think it’s fair to say that “folk” music (whether we’re referring to the traditional music or the American folk music revival) won’t ever occupy the same space that it did prior to 1970. That said, I think it’s doing just fine, and it has demonstrated an extraordinary staying power (and influence) over the years. It also dips in and out of popular culture, from Inside Llewyn Davis in 2013 to No Direction Home in 2005 and Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One in 2004. More recently, there’s been a resurgence of all things Americana. Venues like Caffè Lena, Club Passim, The Living Room, and many others have seen an uptick in interest and attendance; house concerts are alive and well; and the festival business is thriving. Folk music’s influence extends far beyond banjos and fiddles to much of the music that is popular today. That’s my take. I’ll leave the rest to folklorists and musicologists.

OP: Are there any musicians who have influenced your life as Eli influenced Jack’s life? What do you think of the relationship between fans and their idols, especially with how much closer fans seem to be able to get to their favorite artists today?

W. B. B.: I’ve been known to obsess about different bands and musicians (for short periods of time), but I can’t say that any one artist influenced my life the way that Eli Page influences Jack’s. I don’t tend to think of my favorite writers, musicians, or artists as idols, even if I love their work. I’m more of an admirer than an obsessive fan. That said, I think the relationship between fans and their idols is an interesting dynamic to observe. Beyond the marketing, promotion, branding aspect, I think there is something human in the fan/idol relationship. We’re all looking for a connection, right? We’re searching for people who “get” us, who understand us, who share our view of the world. But those idols can’t possibly live up to the fans’ expectations. It’s not just true of musicians, writers, artists, of course; it’s true of sports heroes and politicians and so on. They’re human, after all. As Jack notes in the book, they’re “flawed, hurting, grasping for answers” just like the rest of us.

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Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café is one of the most anticipated books of the year, and it has already garnered not one, not two, but four starred reviews!


“‘What is existentialism anyway?’ asks Bakewell in her tremendous new work, and you’re wrong if you find that question irrelevant to your life….
Highly recommended for anyone who thinks.
—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal STARRED REVIEW


“A fresh, invigorating look into complex minds and a unique time and place.”


“Bakewell brilliantly explains 20th-century existentialism through the extraordinary careers of the philosophers who devoted their lives and work to ‘the task of responsible alertness’ and ‘questions of human identity, purpose, and freedom.’”
Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW


“Bakewell focuses upon key individuals—Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Martin Heidegger…With coverage of friendship, travel, argument, tragedy, drugs, Paris, and, of course, lots of sex, Bakewell’s biographical approach pays off….An engaging story about a group of passionate thinkers, and a reminder of their continued relevance.”




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author of Couple Mechanics

Other Press: Couple Mechanics is your second novel, and the first to be translated into English. Was there a difference in process or approach between writing the two books? How was the experience of having your work translated? Did you work closely with the translator to maintain certain aspects you set out to establish in the French?

Nelly Alard: My first novel, Le Crieur de nuit, is a family story that takes place in Brittany and was very much inspired by my own childhood. It’s a short, intimate story, written in the first person but to me it is a modern tale, inspired by the old Celtic myths. I don’t know why it hasn’t been translated into English. I think it would appeal to all people interested in Celtic culture—besides being the (unfortunately too common if not universal) story of an abusive father.

Couple Mechanics is a more traditional work of fiction, written in the third person, and its themes are (maybe more) evidently universal: love, marriage, betrayal. Its originality lies, I think, very much in style and treatment. Which makes it tricky to translate. It mixes very casual dialog with the flows of Juliette’s inner thoughts. In those, the music of the words, repetitions, punctuation (or absence of) were very important to me. Also her dark humor and irony, which is the hardest thing to get across. So yes, I worked closely with Adriana Hunter to get it right and as fluid as in French, and we often preferred to cut off expressions or metaphors that didn’t work in English instead of keeping something that would have felt awkward. Thankfully, Adriana is a great translator and she had immediately captured my “voice,” so it was mostly adjustments.

OP: You were awarded the Prix Interallié for Couple Mechanics, the first woman to win the award in more than twenty years. Do you think there’s any significance to your winning it, when the novel presses questions about the contemporary state of feminism?

NA: Not only was I awarded the Prix Interallié—whose jury is entirely male—for Couple Mechanics, but I also had been awarded the Prix Roger Nimier, whose jury is also entirely male, for Le Crieur de nuit. So I received the two most misogynist French awards!! (I’m kidding here. But it is true that those two prizes are the only two French awards to only have men in their jury…) So I guess my way of writing appeals to men…

More seriously, it is true that many men have identified strongly with the character of Olivier—even though they were the first ones to call him a coward and condemn his lies and his weakness. The book in France was, I think, equally well received by men and women, and that made me happy, since one of my goals was to demonstrate the many contradictions in women’s demands today and how difficult it was for the most feminist, well-meaning men to satisfy them. Olivier, for sure, makes mistakes and acts inconsequently. But he’s a nice guy. And then he finds himself trapped between these two strong women, and at the end he is the real victim.

OP: The story of the woman who discovers her husband is having an affair is such a classic. Why did you want to tell this story? What did you want to bring to the literature?

NA: In short, I wanted to rewrite The Woman Destroyed, by Simone de Beauvoir, some fifty years later, after feminism has drastically changed the relationships between men and women, and see how this story would unfold in a modern couple, with new forces in balance.

OP: Couple Mechanics is remarkably detailed in its depiction of Juliette’s psyche and the decisions she makes in the face of her husband’s affair. Do you think it will be difficult for your readers to inhabit that space in Juliette’s head? Do you have any favorite novels that asked you to immerse yourself in an uncomfortable experience?

NA: Well, I would say almost all novels make you inhabit a space inside the main character’s head—and that’s what we love about literature: being taken away from our own lives and experiencing others’—and at the same time recognizing familiar situations or questions or thoughts that make you think about your own experience. Sometimes you identify with the character, sometimes you’re irritated by him/her, it’s all part of the fun!! While writing Couple Mechanics, I was reading and rereading Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, and I immersed myself completely in Patty’s very uncomfortable experience…

OP: In the novel, Juliette believes that society has a “very clear idea of how a betrayed woman should behave,” a script, in essence, perhaps similar to the rape script. Do you think Juliette’s actions are feminist? Do you think a feminist act can be considered otherwise depending on the circumstance?

NA: I am not sure I understand the question. Juliette considers herself a feminist and she lives her whole daily life as a feminist. But does she react to her rape, to her husband’s betrayal, to Victoire’s harassment as a feminist? I don’t think so. She reacts out of her sense of survival. She tries to protect what’s most important to her: her life, her love, her kids—and she doesn’t care whether her actions are “feministically correct” (I know this word doesn’t exist, I’m inventing it!) or not. She resents people telling her what she should do or have done, but more than anything else, she resents women like Victoire who claim to be feminists and at the same time play on all the old stereotypes, pretending to be victims all the time. The bottom line being that the purpose of feminism, I think, is to give women the right and freedom to make their own choices, and not be judged for it.

OP: The intensity of Olivier’s relationship with V is surprising considering that at the beginning of the novel he’s been seeing V for a mere three weeks. Do you want your readers to see Couple Mechanics as a critique of marriage as an institution or as an exploration of passion?

Absolutely not. “The intensity of Olivier’s relationship with V” is entirely Victoire’s fabrication. Olivier started this relationship almost casually, and he is at first surprised, then flattered, then more and more terrified by Victoire’s manifestations of passion—in the form of hysteria. In the French version, three chapters were written from Olivier’s point of view, and maybe it made this clearer. If Olivier had had a sexual passion for Victoire, he couldn’t have ended it so quickly. Seducing Victoire was for him more of a reassurance, at a time when he started to feel very insecure in his marriage, and that Juliette was slowly drifting away from him. Of course he is attracted to V but more than anything else he likes the adoring way she looks at him, especially as Juliette seems always so dissatisfied with him. Also, men easily mistake hysteria for passion, and he likes the intensity of the drama, somehow…until he realizes, unfortunately very late (maybe too late?), that the one who really suffers most because of him is not V, despite all her fits and threats, but the one he really loves—and that’s Juliette, his wife.

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His memoir, A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz is a finalist for the 2015 National Jewish Book Award in the category for Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir.

The National Jewish Book Awards is North America’s longest­ running awards program in the field of Jewish literature, and is now in its 65th year. We’re thrilled that this moving and prescient memoir is named alongside other such great titles.

You can view the winners and the rest of the finalists here.



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For he who refuses to read women writers
How to Live by Sarah Bakewell

He read Mrs. Dalloway once, maybe back in high school, but ever since he’s stuck to Cormac McCarthy and any book that has the word “road” in the title. He makes a face whenever he comes across the phrase “mid-century misogynist.” He’s not a misogynist, of course, but he knows what he likes and he’s sticking to it. For this reader in your life we suggest Sarah Bakewell’s modern classic How to Live, the National Book Critics Circle Award winning biography of Michel de Montaigne. Charming and serious, probing and brimming with Bakewell’s characteristic wit, this is the book he’ll keep right next to On the Road for No Men.

For she who loves crime
The Secret in Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri

This complex novel by Eduardo Sacheri, now a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, has as its backdrop the Dirty War of 1970s Argentina. It features all the hallmarks of great crime fiction–a mystery at its core, psychological insight into its characters, a thrilling plot full of twists and turns–and Sacheri’s deft prose.

For the one who’s had an unopened copy of À  la recherche du temps perdu on their bookshelf for 5 years
Monsieur Proust’s Library by Anka Muhlstein

At 160 pages Monsieur Proust’s Library is a tiny book, but its rich with a history of literature and a love and fascination with the man whose name it bears. Anka Mulhstein doesn’t just give us a list of the books Proust read, but provides us with a sort of biography of the man through what he read–and how what he read shaped his thoughts and writing. Delightful in its insight, Monsier Proust’s Library is an excellent introduction to Proust and his oeuvre.

For she who loves the Brontës
A True Novel by Minae Mizumura

Does she re-read Wuthering Heights each year? Has she watched all the adaptations, including the 2011 version directed by Andrea Arnold?  Does she own the Folio Society’s illustrated edition? Then next for her is Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel, at once an homage to and a reworking of Charlotte Brontë’s classic, set in postwar Japan. Mizumura recalls Brontë’s frame narrative as well as the passionate love affair at the center of the novel, while detailing the effects of modernization on her native country.

For the hipster with the broken shoes who only reads foreign fiction

Memory Theater by Simon Critchley

He might have even had the author as a professor–Critchley is the Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research, and his interests range from Hegel and Heidegger to Terrence Malick and David Bowie. In Memory Theater, his debut novel, he tackles another one of his obsessions, memory and how we store it, and how it’s changing in the age of the internet.

For the movie lover
Lay Down Your Weary Tune by W.B. Belcher

This debut novel about a ghostwriter who forges a relationship with a famed folk music recluse recalls everything from Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There. and the Cohen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis  to Crazy Heart and Almost Famous. At the heart of Lay Down Your Weary Tune is a true love of music, but W.B. Belcher’s kaleidoscopic, fully fleshed characters and measured prose  probe the same themes of myth-making and identity that make movies about music so great.

For the newly (or not so newly) engaged 
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann

One of the New York Times Book Review’s 100 Notable Books of 2014, The Cold Song may at first seem like a mystery about a young woman’s disappearance, but it’s really about the marriage between Siri Brodal, a chef and restaurant owner, and Jon Dreyer, a famous novelist plagued by writer’s block. Ullmann uses sympathy and sharp wit in equal measure to render the fine details of and intimate relationship grown strained.

For the history lover
The Butcher’s Trail

It’s been over two decades since the break up of the former Yugoslavia, and in this gripping account, Julian Borger, who covered the Bosnian War for the BBC and The Guardian, follows the manhunt for the perpetrators of the infamous crimes committed during the war. Borger recounts how Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić—both now on trial in The Hague—were finally tracked down, and describes the intrigue behind the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president who became the first head of state to stand before an international tribunal for crimes perpetrated in a time of war.

For the person who answers “Anything” when you ask them what they want
Blood Brothers by Ernst Haffner

This is the book everyone loves, including each person detailed above. Blood Brothers delves into the relationships forged between a group of paperless, itinerant young men during the brutal days of the Weimar republic, right before the rise of the Third Reich. It’s rich in period detail, with a publishing history that’s as fascinating as the narrative itself–it is the author’s only novel, and he was disappeared during World War II.

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The 20th century read Albert Camus’s The Stranger. The 21st century will read Albert Camus’s classic with Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation. This book has the power to transform who we are and how we think. The New York Times Book Review called it “a letter of love, rebellion, and despair for Algeria” and the Guardian declared it was “an instant classic,” and TIME Magazine picked it as one of the ten best of the year.
Now Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times has selected it as one of her top books of 2015.

She hails it as “inventive [and] artful” and explains “It not only makes us reassess Camus’s novel, but also nudges us into a contemplation of Algeria’s history and current religious politics, colonialism and postcolonialism, and the ways language and perspective can radically alter a seemingly simple story and the social and philosophical shadows it casts.”

You can read the rest of her picks of the year here.

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author of Broken Sleep

Other Press: Your first novel, And the World Was, was published in 2006, and soon after you began working on Broken Sleep. Many writers take years to finish their second novel, like Akhil Sharma with Family Life. What was it like to write a book over so long a period of time? How did your writing process change throughout the years you were writing Broken Sleep?

Bruce Bauman: Both of my books took years and years to write. Both were “started” over twenty years ago. I understood early on that I was not a book-every-two-or-three-years kind of writer. I understood and accepted my limitations. I knew that if I wanted to write the books I envisioned, I had to get smarter and become a better writer. I’ve told my shrinks for years—two or maybe three novels I’m proud of and I’m declaring victory.

Both were rewritten many times in various forms. Once I got the basics down, Word took about six years and Broken Sleep around nine. Once it got going, BS was so much fun to write. Hard and frustrating some of the time, sure—but fun is the prevailing emotion. Even when it’s depressing.

I didn’t feel pressure to finish until the last year or so because my mom was dying and I had so wanted her to SEE its publication. I couldn’t do it and I will always regret that. But a book takes as long as it takes and I had to respect the book.

My work habits only changed once really—and that was when I actually became a writer and got serious instead of just calling myself a writer. I learned a lot about discipline and dedication from my wife, Suzan Woodruff, who has been an exhibiting artist since she was in her mid-twenties and is a brilliant painter. She has her own unique vision and follows it without giving a damn about what is trendy or hot in the art world. Once that change happened in me, I became very focused and disciplined.

OP: In Broken Sleep one of the characters, Moses, navigates what it means to be Jewish, to have that as a central part of his identity. Your first novel was also concerned with faith and the role it plays in our lives. What is it about that theme that drew you back to it?

BB: Faith, belief in God or lack of belief, and my own struggles have made that question central, and I assume it will always be central thematically, sometimes right up front as in Word, sometimes as part of many themes, as in BS. I have twenty-five diaries or notebooks, and the predominant themes are my dreams and interpreting them, my complaining about pretty much everything and trying to figure out how to give meaning to a life when you no longer have faith in God. What replaces it? Art? Sex? Politics? Fame? I don’t know the answer.

Identity is tricky and extremely complex but so often we as societies and individuals try to simplify and reduce personal identities to types, including national or religious identities. We—all of us—have individual and group identities. We often see ourselves in a way no one else does.

I’m going to stop here. The question of identity and what it represents in all meanings of that word is always central to my work, and my books speak for me on this subject.

OP: Early on in your novel a character states, “Irony without empathy is empty and juvenile.” Is this something you believe? Are there any works of art that in your opinion use irony with a true sense of empathy?

BB: There’s a song in the book “Papa’s Gun,” well yes, it’s about Hemingway’s suicide. But the lyric “irony and pity / oh so witty” is kind of a rip from The Sun Also Rises where the Bill character sings “Irony and Pity…” to Jake. That is one translation of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy. All great tragedies, from the original Oedipus the King to Hamlet to The Great Gatsby have both. The last lines of The Sun Also Rises are a perfect example; a modern take on irony and pity. It’s essential to know that Lady Brett and Jake Barnes believe they are in love with each other, but because of his accident/impotence, they cannot really be together.

“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”

Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly, pressing Brett against me.

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

OP: There are a multitude of voices in Broken Sleep, with several characters narrating their own chapters. How were you able to carve such distinct and brilliant voices for so many characters? Did the voices of the characters come before you found the form your novel would take, or after?

BB: The short answer is I have no fucking clue. Hell, a few years after Word was published, I tried to write a short piece using the voice of Levi Furstenblum. Couldn’t do it. He’s in BS briefly, but not his narrative speaking voice. Levi has, so to speak, left the building and he ain’t coming back.

Mindswallow’s voice I had very early on. Steve Erickson advised me to experiment with first and third person for Moses, which I did. And Moses said loud and clear “Third is me—I am an Old Testament voice.” Salome was the longest in coming—she always had to be in first person, and when she finally came to me she didn’t shut up.

Patience is the key. And getting good advice. After I’d written a few versions, first Allen Peacock, then Terrie Akers with an assist from Anjali Singh, really helped me get the order of the chapters right, and in so doing they let me know when a voice went off, and when I, Bruce, was intruding.

OP: In Broken Sleep the world is transfixed and transformed by Alchemy and his Insatiables. Salome’s work is equally captivating. Are there any musicians or artists who have brought that kind of significance in your own life?

BB: The Beatles and to a lesser degree Bob Dylan. It’s kind of cliché, but aside from their talent, which was enormous, they changed the cultural landscape of the world. In 1969, you could take any eighteen-year-old from the US, Brazil, East Germany, South Africa and put on Sgt. Pepper’s and suddenly they had something in common. It wasn’t just the music—that was the catalyst—it was an idea, a common language. I think that was really new. Maybe Chaplin and Garbo had that kind of recognition back in the 20s, but they belonged to everyone—grandkids, Mom and Pop and Grandpa and Grandma. Elvis had the youth thing, but he was empty inside. At that perfect moment in time The Beatles, who were a group—Dylan was always an oddball loner with friends—belonged to a generation. The youthful left-wing uprisings in France, the US, Mexico, China, Prague of ’68 dwarfed the European uprisings of 1848. I could make a case that without the new methods of communication open to almost everyone, and the Beatles were the lead messengers who instinctually grasped this new world, that the 60s as we know it could not have happened without them.

The net is an enormous technological leap, but you gotta remember this: in 1967 The Beatles played “All You Need Is Love” on the first live satellite link to 400 million people. There were others on the broadcast, but the Beatles were the stars. The Beatles had 400 million linked friends about twenty years before Mark Zuckerberg was born. That is transformative power.


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Missed Kamel Daoud, Francine Prose, and Dinaw Mengestu at Albertine Books? No worries! You can watch the video below.

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I know, I know most of you wanna hear about Alchemy Savant. The facts of his scurvy-pervey sexcapades and what really happened that night he bought the big one. I’ll get to that, but I been prepping for some time and I got a story to spill that’s more than just Alchemy. I loved the bastid and I despised him. Like he said, we was honest brothers, and sometimes brothers fight. Yeah, he rescued me from a life of scrounging for dimes in the deep end of the shitpool. Did that for lots of us. That was him, then and always: a lifesaving con-trol freak. After becoming a rock ’n’ roll god, he wanted not to be prez but a left-wing king.

I also been advised by the people paying me to do this to start when we met in ’92, almost thirty years ago now. I ain’t writing a word, just dictating. Don’t worry, it’s all me. They can fix everyone’s grammar except mine. I gotta sound like I sound, not some airbrushed version of me. I ain’t gonna softsell nothing neither. Some shit will make me look like a crude, ignorant crudhead and a world-class a-hole, which I was way back then and maybe still am. Judge for yourself.

I was born Ricky McFinn. Twisted branch in a warped family tree. Part Italian, part Irish, and all lapsed Catholic.My journey to becoming Ambitious Mindswallow began late summer of ’92, I’d been doing zip for a few years since I got my butt tossed out of the highfalutin School of Performing Arts for acting like a plastic surgeon and “repairing” my piano teacher’s nose after he opined my mother should’ve aborted me. Since it was my third offense, I was fresh out of community service and no-jail-time cards, so I was awarded an allexpense- paid trip to Spofford, the juvee jail. Before I could even join a gang, this motherfucker, who had body tatts of his mama, the Mother Mary, and muscle heads, tried to stick his wang up my anal hole. I elbow him in the nuts and tell him to take his queerass Puerto Rican butt back to his cell and leave me the fuck alone. That night, in the showers, in front of his compadres he gets on me for being so skinny (I was about six feet two, 130 pounds back then). So I put this fucker down: “Yeah, so what? I’m carryin’ weight in the only place it counts.”

“What you mean? You got dope?”

“Wha-utt?” I says. “Cocksucker, you so fuckin’ stoopit.” I grab my nuts. “I seen four-year-olds carryin’ bigger logs.” I let that one sink into his big, bald skull. Then wham, I snap him, “Hell, I bet yo’ mama’s clit’s bigger than your muscle!” That did it. They gouged out my left eye, which got me out of Spofford fast and gave me my little good-luck charm. Still keep my eye in a glass marble around my neck. My family was s-o-o-o sympathetic. (My dad and some Jew shyster sued the city. They ended up getting something but I didn’t get squat.) So then I was living at home, speculating on what to do with my wonderful fucking life. One night I am sound asleep when I hear my sister Bonnie, who has the other half of the bedroom, moaning and popping chewing gum bubbles while balling some lucky future herpes dick she picked up at Paddy Quinn’s. I figure I’ll hide in the bathroom, only my older brother Lenny, who’d gotten out of the army and was a speed freak, was shivering and shaking right on the bathroom floor. He liked to use me as his punch dummy, so I take about two hundred bucks and some of his pills. He can’t do shit. I feel much better after that.

My mom was screwing her new Korean lovewad — the Asian invasion was getting heavy and Main Street looks like a mini-Peking. My dad hadn’t found some pathetic divorcée to put up with his act that night, and he’s passed out drunk on the pool table in his half of the living room, which is also the office of the two family businesses. The other half is filled with “secondhand” dresses that happened to be all new that my dad “buys” and my mom sells to the neighborhood wifies. I think, Shit, Spofford’d be better than trying to make a life with this family a ratbrains.

I toss a few things into my backpack. I open the kitchen window to the fire escape. We lived on the sixth floor. I take this chair, go out the front door, and lock it. Wedge the chair under the door handle so they can’t get out. I climb up to the roof, down the fire escape, and slip back in through the window. I dial 911. I turned on AC/DC so loud it could rattle the Chinese super’s place six floors below. They all jump up and start screaming. My mom is wailing, “Ricky, yeh bastid, I’m gonna kill ya, I swearh!”

I plead to the 911 lady, over all the cursing and commotion, to get someone over here ’cause they is dying. If only. I scoot out the window and down the fire escape with only my Strat and backpack, wearing my leather jacket, though it’s late- August shitbowl Flushin’ Bay hot. I hear the sirens as I head toward Main Street to catch the Seven, thinking, They can kiss my bony ass if they ever see it again.

I start hustling — not, as rumored, letting old queens suck me off, but I do rip off tourists and hang out on 2nd and B at the Gas Station club that is this burnt-out building with only half a roof. For free booze and crash rights, I clean up the broken bottles, crack vials, and vomit. Me being only eighteen was a misdemeanor next to the other shit going down.

One night about 3 A.M., from my seat inside I see this snazzy guy wearing a black sports coat, black porkpie hat, a purple T-shirt, and black stud earring, and puffing hard on an unfiltered smoke, high-step out of a limo. (This was a few years before that hood became a haven for the hundred-dollartorn- jean crowd.) Beside him is a six-foot blond strung-out model type with albino skin and straw-thin arms clomping onto him. He has the aura. Everyone just zooms their eyes on him as he swaggers in and downs like five beers in five minutes. I’m playing my Strat, I plug in whenever I got the urge. After he buys a packet of powder for his babe, who snorts up right there, they split. As he walks out, he says, “I like your playing.” I’m thinking, Fuck you, who cares what you think? The crazy thing is, already I do care.

To make some extra smash, I was buying junk and toot from this Super Fly knockoff who hung out on the southeast corner, we call him Duckman though he calls himself “Mr. Sam Spade,” wearing his big-brimmed hat and brown leather jacket and polished white shoes. He patrols around his corner like Chuck Berry doing the duckwalk and quacking “crack, crack.” I buy some stuff from Duckman and cut that shit down so detergent’d get you higher. I sold some shit to a coupla prepsters in the Gas Station, who is acting like they was dirty boulevard homeys. This one guy, showing off for his babe, tries to scam me by shorting me, giving me seventy bucks instead of a hundred. We engage in a minor conflagration. He tries to play tough. “Fuck you, man, that shit isn’t worth a hundred.”

“You right, it ain’t.” I says to his chick, “Why you sucking off this prick? You should try this white trash missile.” I stare real tight in his face: “G’head. Try something, yeh pisshead.” As I’m doing this, I spot the snazzy dude from the other night without his hat, sitting with my guitar on his lap. He’s sidewaysed himself into the corner and is lazy-eyeing us, and then, again, he smiles at me, while strumming the Velvets’ “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.”

I say to the prepster, “You think I won’t mess your pretty face, you are way mis-tak-en.” With my left hand, I pull off my shades. “Look close at my left eye . . . Yeah, it’s glass. Gift from my cell mates. Now gimme me the dope and the cash. All of it.” I took it. “Now go!”

The guy keeps strumming. No one really listened to the music or poetryslammin’ there. The Nuyorican was down the block if you was into that mumbo-jumbo. I grab an acoustic guitar from behind the bar and hand it to him. I take mine back and we start jamming. He drops me a dime worth of lickass. “You handled that real sweet.” “Yum, just swallowed that pussy whole.” He nods and starts playing “Police and Thieves,” achingly slow and reggae cool. Not at all like the Clash. I says I never hear it like that, and he says, “I always preferred Junior Murvin’s original.” I say nuthin’. Don’t want to show my ignorance. Then he starts messing with more music I never heard. Turns out it’s his shit and he sings his lyrics:

I do it for the chicks and money
don’t care ’bout no salvations
or gold-plated salutations
all I want is chicks and money . . .

We’re jamming when Mr. Suburbia drives up with his boys in a Mercedes with CT plates. I stop playing and step outside. He and his three buddies come at me. I pull my metal before they get close, and I grab the main sucker. I go right at his ear. “Bitch, I tolt ya. I don’t care. I’ll cut you good and we’ll be one pretty pair a misfits.”

Mr. Suavola glides out to us like he’s Mahatma Luther Kingmaker. “Let’s maintain a level of intelligence and decorum . . .” He gently takes my arm and pulls the knife away from the guy’s ear. He calls out to the Duckman, who saunters over.

“My man, Alchemy Savant, ain’t seen you since I hear your soulman’s heart and chocolate vodka voice charmin’ us at the Paradise,” Duckman declares, and quacks. “So what can I do you for?” These clowns are morgue-meat white. The neighborhood cops drive by and Duckman throws a big Howdy-deedamn- do kiss at ’em while Alchemy is explaining everything, only he adds this, “My friend and I, we need a car, and I think these gentlemen are going to lend us theirs as compensation for our troubles. What do you think?”

Duckman muses for a sec. “That be fair.”

Mr. CT starts howling, “No way. Wait. Please. No!”

Duckman says, like he’s sucking the last juice from his whore’s hot spot, “Boy,” and he’s lov-ing using that word, “boy, did you see that black-’n’-white that drive by? You don’ do what I suggest, you take your ride, and I call my associates and they stop you before you hit First Avenue. You know what the Tombs is, boy? The Tombs is the nastiest cell in America.” These tools are piss pants yellow now. “Shee-it, you’ll see it for yo’self.”

I’m just wishing, wishing this cat had been my lawyer in juvee court. “Okay, boys, past your bed-wettin’ time.” The CT guys start slinking away and Alchemy surprises me when he yells after them, “Give me your number.” They stop and do that, and the screw job, he thanks them.

I think it’s finally done ’til Duckman grabs my arm. “How much you get?”


“That and the shit be mine for services rendered.” No way I’m hosing Duckman. “And, one mo’ thing, as I am sure you remember, anything you sell to the white boys in here, I gets seventy-five percent. And them other three corners, I owns ’em.” He and Alchemy shake hands. I hand over the cash and the dope to the Duckman, and he quacks on back to his corner. Alchemy yells out to me, “You up for a ride?”

“Where to?”

“L.A. Going to start a band there.”

Never been to L.A. and I ain’t got sweet nuthin’ to lose and no future in New York. “Let’s jam.”

Alchemy drove like red lights, slow-moving cars, potholes is just hazards to be avoided. Or not. In minutes, we’re over the GW Bridge and jetting away from dumps like Bayonne, the “American Dream Developments,” and them putrid gas tanks of the “Garden State.” Yeah, a garden doused in weed kill. I’m thinking to myself, So Looong Flushin’, when he swivels his head so he’s looking backward and stares at the city, and I’m getting a tick nervous here about his driving skills, and he says, “Look at that skyline, and the acolyte cities, the lights, they’re like God’s dissonant drips merging across the sky on a Jackson Pollock canvas.” Uh, yeah, sure. I don’t know Jackson Pollock from Jack-in-the-fuckin’-Box, and if God created Hoboken in his image, then book me a ticket to Satanville.

A coupla minutes later he turns and asks, “So, besides taking advantage of foolish college kids, what do you want to do?”

“Pile up chicks and money,” I croon. We laugh and start riffing about L.A. and the music we want to play and all the movies we dig and all the shit we have in common. ’Cause I don’t know yet, but sense there’s plenty we don’t.

We drive for a coupla hours and it’s like 4 A.M. when he pulls off the 80. Even at that hour it’s not like any Jersey that I seen. No gas and garbage smells.

He announces, “I need to see my mom. There’s a motel where we can get some rest first.” In the room, in like one minute, the guy’s asleep. About two hours later, I hear him howling. I am freak-ing out, and I don’t freak easy, but I ain’t never heard such scarifying noises exiting out from no one except when Tommy Huston shot Davy Rathbone in the nuts. I’m thinking the guy is a psycho or he’s gonna die on me and that’s all the bullshit I need, stuck with a “borrowed” car and a dead body in Nofuckingwhere, New Jersey. I leap out of bed, turn on the lights, and shake his ass awake. He sits up, he’s all sweaty, and his eyes — whew! They are a kaleidoscope of light and dark browns with dots of tans and whites, gonzo wild and like he has just seen God and Satan — only his voice and body are totally cool.

“It’s part of my birthright,” he finally says. “You’ll see in the morning. Now go back to bed.”

I’m more than a bit jittery, so I put on the cable TV, watch some porn, and jack off in the shower while Alchemy is once again fast asleep.

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