This Father’s Day, get your dad books he’ll love

Other Press has a trio of books that will cover everything your father is looking for: At the Existentialist Café so he can immerse himself in the world of ides; The Butcher’s Trail, to stay engaged with current affairs; and The Dig, so he can retreat into a perfectly, wholly imagined fictional world.

Other Press Father's Day Books

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May 26, 1857

My dear Brother

            You will be surprized, I dare say, but I hope not sorry, to learn that I have changed my name, and have someone to take care of me in the world. The event is not at all a sudden one, though it may appear sudden in its announcement to you. My husband has been known to me for several years, and I am well acquainted with his mind and character… Your affectionate Sister, Marian Lewes … ”

 

Chapter 1

            One late afternoon in June of 1880, a rather famous woman sat in a railroad carriage traveling towards Venice with her new husband, a handsome young man twenty years her junior. The journey from Padua had taken just over an hour, across the flat plain, through vineyards and olive groves, and now the train was approaching the iron bridge that led across the lagoon to the city. As the woman glimpsed the shimmering waters ahead, and in the distance, the misty domes and campaniles of the celestial place, the light in the sky over it just beginning to turn pink, she discovered she was unable to give herself over to the surge of excitement she’d experienced sixteen years earlier – to the day – when she caught sight of the place with her “first” husband, George Lewes, by her side.  

The woman’s face was partly hidden by a lace mantilla, as had been her custom for several years, white, not black now, (she was no longer in mourning), and she wore a grey silk moiré dress that she’d bought for her trousseau. The mantilla served to prevent her from being recognized by people, and set upon by tourists who begged for autographs. Though not completely hiding her face, it distracted from it, from her large nose and broad jaw, and she welcomed this because she believed that she was homely. She was sixty years old and her auburn hair was speckled with grey and hung in thick, heavy curves on either side of her face. Her skin was lined. Her grey-blue eyes were heavy and watchful. But her figure was still lovely, slender, almost serpentine – she’d never borne a child.

Now, as she watched her new young husband, it was as if he were drifting away from her, going further and further into his own world, and she didn’t know why.

He was staring out the window of the compartment, his brow furrowed in the light. He was a tall, athletic looking man with dark red curly hair that peeked out from under the brim of his straw hat, vivid blue eyes that shone in the heat, and a small, neat beard. As always, he was wearing an elegantly-cut suit, white linen, which had somehow preserved its freshness from the journey – Johnnie loved good clothes.

Yet he was still his same kind self, the way he had always been, tending to her every need. Ever since April, when she’d accepted his proposal, he’d been frantically rushing around, arranging the wedding and securing the new house, anxious to attend to her every comfort – that she have her shawl with her in case it was cool at night, and the best room in the hotel, that she not get tired, or have to stand waiting too long for their trains. He hadn’t been sleeping, he’d hardly been eating. There were shadows under his eyes, his cheeks had hollowed out. “Darling,” she would say, “slow down. You’ll make yourself ill.”

And he’d try to calm himself, like a child forced to sit still for a moment, but then he was up again, springing into action.

Perhaps Venice would make him better, restore him to his old self, and the romance of the city, its sensuality and foreignness and hidden ways, the strangeness of it, would free him and bring him back to her.

The train had reached the bridge. A cinder from the track flew in through the open window and caught her in the eye. “Oh dear,” she cried, and tried to get it out.   Johnnie, awakened from his reverie, jumped up. “Here, let me,” he said, and bent over her and gently managed to ease it out with his pocket handkerchief. “There you go,” he said, and then he sat down again, and resumed looking out the window.

After a few minutes, they had crossed the bridge. The train pulled into the Santa Lucia station and they disembarked.

When they emerged out onto the fondamenta, they were met by a scene of chaos, crowds of tourists and piles of baggage, porters and boatmen yelling and bustling about.

“You stay here, Marian,” Johnnie said. “I’ll go and find the boat. ”

She waited under her parasol.   The air was filled with an anxious cacophony of French, Italian, English, German as the tourists searched for the boatmen from the hotels who were supposed to meet them. A gypsy girl was sitting on the pavement with an infant, begging, holding it out to the tourists and whining, “Il bambino ha fame. Il bambino ha fame …” wearing a look of exaggerated suffering on her face.

At last, Johnnie came towards her. He’d found their boat, and he led her across the fondamenta to where it was tied. The gondolier was standing on the shore waiting. When he saw them coming, he threw his cigarette into the canal with a decisive gesture, and began loading their luggage.

“This is Corradini,” Johnnie said. “Madame Cross.” The man was older, she noticed, in his fifties, weathered and thin and muscular, with close-cropped grey hair, very pale blue eyes – probably Dalmatian, a lot of the gondoliers were, or a remnant of the Crusaders that you saw sometimes in Venetians. He had a browned, seamed face and he wore a gold ring in one ear. The gondolier nodded at her cursorily, then extended a rough hand to help her into the boat. No bowing or scraping, no kissing of the hand, no false effusion.   As she passed close to him to get into the boat, she smelled an unwashed odor, old tobacco and sweat, and something else, cologne meant to cover it.

He’d probably done this job for many years. The gondoliers held the tourists captive. They were their first contact with the city. Only the gondoliers knew how to navigate its labyrinthine ways.

All around them now, on the canal, the boats, full of people who’d gotten off the train from Padua, were crowded together and banging up against one another. The gondoliers were trying to separate them. “Premi! Premi!” they cried. “Stali! Stali!”

At last, the gondolas were untangled and they spread out across the water. The journey to the hotels was underway.

It was suddenly quiet, as if everyone was too exhausted and stunned by the sights, and too busy absorbing the strangeness of the place, to speak. In the boat, Johnnie sat perpendicular to her, his long legs drawn up awkwardly in the small space, silent, absorbed in looking out across at the shore.

To their right was San Simeone Piccolo– Ruskin called it a huge “gasometer,” with its great, dark dome, like a Greek temple oddly attached to a plain redbrick building.           They passed silently among the columned palaces with their Moorish arches and red and white striped mooring poles, their facades of marble and Istrian stone; their inlay of jasper and alabaster and porphyry, faded by sun and water; their foundations darkened and stained green with algae from the flux and retreat of the tides over the centuries. As always, she was surprised at their small scale, given the expectation of what Venice would be.

The gondolier stood erect in the stern, feathering the water with his oar, moving from one side to the other, swerving his hips. His skin looked as if it had been oiled. His striped shirt and black trousers fit tightly to his body, but there was a softness around his waist that betrayed his age.

Ahead of them, loomed the hump-backed Rialto, its archways and shops packed with tourists. They passed under it, and, in the confined space the smell of putrid effluence rose up and engulfed them. She could see brownish things bobbing in the water. She held her handkerchief to her nose to block the smell.

As they emerged again into the pink light, she breathed in the salty, brackish air with relief. When the real heat came, the smell would be insufferable. Well, she thought, along with everything glorious and holy, there had to exist its opposite: decay and death. For there to be light, there must be darkness, mystery.

The canal curved southwest, then bent again eastward. She glimpsed on the shore the white marble Hôtel de la Ville where once she and George had stayed. As they passed it, she glanced back, but said nothing to Johnnie.

At last, they came to the sign for the Hotel Europa. It was in the old Palazzo Giustinian, an umber-colored brick building with white gothic arches and balconies overlooking the canal. Just beyond it was the Piazza San Marco.

“There!” Johnnie told the gondolier. They stopped, and a grizzled old ganser reached down from the riva with his pole and pulled them over to the steps.

The gondolier threw up his rope and the man tied it. Johnnie gripped her tightly under the arms and raised her up from her seat. She was dizzy from standing up too quickly, and tired from the journey. Johnnie held onto her a moment, then leapt to the shore, reached down and lifted her up onto ground. “We’ve made it!” he cried.

He handed the gondolier a coin. But the man didn’t move. He stood there with his palm   open, looking down ostentatiously at the coin, then up at Johnnie again. Flustered, Johnnie dug down again into his pocket and offered him more coins. At this, the gondolier clamped his hand shut , and got back into his boat.

“Greedy swine!” Johnnie muttered, clenching his teeth, as they made their way to the portego.

Inside the hotel, they climbed the stairs into an immense, marble-columned lobby with a high, coffered ceiling, gilded and blue, and glass chandeliers and potted palms. At one end, was a reception desk with a sign, Telegrafo. There were other tourists scattered about on chairs and settees and they stared at them as they entered.

Johnnie led her to a settee and went to register. Was she imagining it, or did he welcome this bodily distance from her, being away from her for these few minutes?

After a brief period, he came back across the lobby followed by a man in a black morning coat. “This is Monsieur Marseille, the manager. He wanted to meet you. Madame Cross,” Johnnie said.

“Madame … George Eliot!” said the manager, hesitating a moment as if puzzled by the man’s name for a woman. He bowed. He was wearing a wig of flat, black hair, and he had a handlebar moustache, waxed and pointed at the tips.

“Of course, you know we have had many famous writers staying with us,” he said. “Chateaubriand, Mr. Ruskin. Many famous people, Mr. Turner, and Wagner, also Verdi. You are in excellent company.”

“How did you know who I was? she asked.

“The English lady over there.” He indicated a woman sitting across the lobby on one of the settees,   watching them. “She inform us of who you were. She say she recognize you. She tell us we have a great English authoress in our midst – ”

Johnnie interrupted, “Mrs. Cross doesn’t want to be bothered. She’s on a private holiday. We’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone else she’s here.”

“Of course, Monsieur.”

This had happened many times. George used to sign their hotel registers with false names to prevent them from being bothered. But people knew her, even though, after she became famous, she almost always refused to be painted or photographed. Still, when they went to the Pop Concerts at St. James’ Hall, people sketched her. George would glare, but it didn’t stop them. None other than Princess Louise once drew her likeness on the back of her program at a benefit concert for the Music School of the Blind. Truthfully, there were times when she didn’t mind the attention. Sometimes the fame, being recognized, was like a match being struck, a temporary light, a moment of pleasure, forgetting all her doubts, the lack of confidence, the headaches and kidney pains. But now she dreaded it. At this very moment in London she imagined there was a new scandal unfolding.

As people read the wedding announcement in The Times, they were laughing and twittering over their morning coffee about the besotted old woman marrying the handsome man, young enough to be her son.

To alleviate the manager’s chagrin, she asked politely, “You are French?”

“My grandfather, Monsieur Arnold Marseille, bought this palazzo in 1817. This year, we install private baths. Very grand, very convenient.”

A footman was hovering behind him. “The footman will show you to your room. We have here today six English families. There is the table d’hôte at five o’clock. Perhaps you and your son would care to join us?”

Her chest plunged. Johnnie’s face reddened.

“Please!” Johnnie cried. “The Signora is my wife!”

“Oh!” the manager said. “Vous devez me pardonner!” But his mortification only magnified the insult. He was mirroring back to them the truth. She did look like Johnnie’s mother.

As they ascended the stairs to the piano nobile and their rooms, she said, “We knew this would happen sooner or later. Imagine what they’re saying in London.”

“We don’t mind what they’re saying,” he said firmly, his jaw set, gripping her arm.

They came to the landing, and the footman threw open the gleaming mahogany doors to their appartement. It was hung with chandeliers, and gilded mirrors and oil paintings, and furnished with silk fauteuils. There were great, mullioned windows which looked out directly over the canal and crimson velvet drapes fastened with braided silk ties and tassels.

On either side of the sala, was a bedroom. Johnnie went to the door of each one and peaked inside. He pointed to the one on the right. “This is the best room, ” he told the footman. “The lady’s trunk goes in there. The other trunks’s mine. In there, please,” he said, indicating the second bedroom across the way.

It was their usual ritual.

While the footman put their luggage away, Johnnie stepped out onto the balcony. She followed him. To their left was the landing of St. Marco, the black gondolas parked in front of it swaying in the water. To their right was the view down the Grand Canal.

He began enumerating the sights, as if learning them himself. “There’s the Dogana,” he said, indicating the Customs House across the canal, its gold weathervane, the figure of the goddess Fortuna, moving faintly in the late afternoon sun. “The Salute,” he said, sweeping his arm across to the imposing dome behind it. “And San Giorgio,” he said,   across the Bacino, the little island on their left.

He stopped and looked down at the canal, suddenly silent.

She touched his shoulder.   “Please,” she said, “don’t mind the stupid manager. I’m perfectly all right. You shouldn’t feel sad for me. We expected this. We knew it would happen. I’m so happy to be here. Everything’s going to be all right now, you’ll see.”

He continued staring down into the water as if he hadn’t heard her.

“Johnnie, did you hear me?”

He nodded, still not looking at her.

“Please, Johnnie, smile for me,” she begged. “Let me see you smile?”

He looked around at her and forced his mouth into a thin smile.

“Shouldn’t I be the one who’s angry ?” she asked. “Not you. It’s not your fault is it? It’s I who looks old!”

He didn’t respond. He seemed to be looking right through her. She reached up and touched his red curls – she was allowed to do that wasn’t she? He was so tall. She loved the moments when she could touch him with impunity. His hair was so soft and silky, like a boy’s.

Behind them there was a knock on the door. “Chi è?” he called out, irritably.

Sono la cameriera,” a woman’s voice said.

Entra!” he commanded. He sighed. “They’re always bothering you.”

A maid entered. She was a girl of about sixteen, in a black dress, white cap, collar and pinafore. She had a mass of dark blonde curls tied behind her neck, and green, heavy-lidded eyes, a prominent aquiline nose. A Northern face.

“I unpack for Madame?” she said, in English.

“Yes, please. Thank you,” Marian said. “That one.” She pointed to her bedroom.

On the balcony, Johnnie said, “You can smell it from here. That smell of putrefaction underneath everything. ”

“You forget about it,” she said. “You get used to it   When the wind shifts, we won’t notice it at all. And when the tide comes in, the water’s really clear.”

The sky was darkening, burnished with gold.   “Look at the light,” she exclaimed. “The sun’s going down. This is the glory of the place.”

He put his arm around her waist and drew her to him, a protective gesture, warm and kind. She was acutely conscious of his touch. She looked up at his face. It was the familiar posture of a woman looking up at the man she loves, she thought, her life’s companion, his face in profile, the face she possesses as her own, but the face of someone separate, unknowable. All men were mysterious to her,   except George. She and George had been like one person. Johnnie’s was a handsomer face than George’s of course, an ideal of masculine beauty. Before she and George had come together, she’d heard people call him “the ugliest man in London” – not true!   But Johnnie’s face was troubled.   His forehead was drawn in a frown.

By now George would have been animated with excitement. “Look, Polly!” he’d cry, calling her by her girlhood nickname. Always full of enthusiasm, rousing her from tiredness and worry and depression. “Can’t wait till morning!” he’d say. And he’d awaken her into his own joy. He was irresistible. When he pulled her close to him, her body melded completely into his. No distance between them, the line of his wiry thigh against hers, he, who relished her body continually, her slenderness, always, with each new day and night as if he’d never known it before and it was a constant surprise to him,   whatever it was he saw in it, distorted by blind love.

Now, behind them in the hotel room, there were sudden, soft bursts of light. The chambermaid was lighting the oil lamps, leaving the edges of the room in shadow.

“Let’s have supper brought up,” he said. “Someone else might recognize you and that would be a bother.”

“Yes,” she said. “Do let’s. I can’t bear to see anyone else tonight.”

 

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1

ORLY AIRPORT

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.

2

A DAKOTA IN CASABLANCA

 

“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.

Best,
Judith Gurewich
Publisher

 


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.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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14

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.

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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?

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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.”
Kirkus Reviews STARRED REVIEW

 

“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.”
Booklist STARRED REVIEW

 

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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.
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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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