Anna Aslanyan

Wallowing in misery: Tremor, by Teju Cole, reviewed

Tunde can’t explain why he grows addicted to screen depictions of ‘inexhaustible brutality’ The protagonist of Teju Cole’s latest novel is a composite of his earlier creations, which in their turn are partial self-portraits. An artist roaming around with his camera, Tunde photographs hedges and trinkets, contemplates colour and listens to Malian music. Having left

Love in the shadow of the Nazi threat

The 1930s saw Walter Benjamin write The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Marlene Dietrich rise to fame in The Blue Angel and Pablo Picasso paint ‘Guernica’. If history books mention these events, it’s usually as footnotes to the main European narrative of the pre-war decade. To shift the rise of Nazism,

The crime which inspired Crime and Punishment

‘Whether I am a trembling creature or whether I have the right…’ The much quoted words of Rodion Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment, encapsulate the novel’s main question. Fyodor Dostoevsky first pitched the idea of ‘the psychological account of a crime’ to a publisher in 1865. Three decades earlier, a real-life murderer, Pierre

Borges: the man and the brand

‘The story that Jay Parini recounts in Borges and Me is untrue,’ a recent letter in the TLS claimed, ‘and it should be understood as fiction.’ The author, Maria Kodama, Borges’s widow and literary executor, has also told the press that she ‘will have to act in some way or other’ should the book come

The brutality of the Gulag was totally dehumanising

‘It was a gray mass of people in rags, lying motionless with bloodless, pale faces, cropped hair, with a shifty, gloomy look.’ Julius Margolin’s first encounter with Soviet prisoners takes place in August 1940 on the way to a labour camp in the north of Russia. Four years later, waiting at another transit point, he

Gothic horror, German-style

Many of our favourite folk tales have lost much of their original Gothic horror in later versions. By contrast, Daniel Kehlmann’s retelling of the legend of Ulenspiegel, moved to the 17th century, is full of nightmares. Worse than imaginary fears awaiting travellers in the forest are real ones: hunger, cold, war, plague, torture ‘more refined

Reasons for remembering things: the refugee’s last resort

A family memoir is a dangerous thing to write: one has to balance between keeping one’s subjects happy and the reader engaged. The Bosnian–American author Aleksandar Hemon, now in his mid-fifties,  takes the risk the better to recollect his past. While no two generations can completely avoid the proverbial gap, he ‘never (until fairly recently)

Out of sight, out of mind | 8 August 2019

Yoko Ogawa’s new novel takes us to a Japanese island where things keep disappearing: ribbons, birds, musical instruments, fruit. People, too, are at the mercy of the Memory Police, an efficient lot hunting for those who can’t shake off their memories. Each disappearance involves not just getting rid of the physical object, but also of

Writing as exorcism

Why are people interested in their past? One possible reason is that you can interact with it, recruiting it as an agent of the present and the future. Siri Hustvedt’s novel, masked as a memoir, suggests you should rely not so much on your recollection of particular events as on your ability to interpret them,

A serious tease

Is there anything one can never laugh about? A question inevitably hanging over humour writing, it’s best answered by the masters of the genre who, rather than inventing jokes (a skill many possess), notice life’s winks and chuckles and tease them out of their surrounding matter, even if the latter happens to be of grave

Stolen youth, stolen homeland

‘No testimony from this time must ever be forgotten,’ the great Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova says in his afterword to Dalia Grinkeviciute’s memoir. The author was 14 in 1941, when the Soviets deported her with her mother and brother from their native Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city. In 1949, the women escaped from Siberia and

Close to the bone

Does J.G. Ballard’s ‘disquieting equation’, ‘sex x technology = the future’, still hold? Not in Lidia Yuknavitch’s novel, which imagines a society better described by the formula ‘the future = technology – sex’. There is no procreation in it, and any manifestation of sexuality is a crime. Its inhabitants have left Earth for a space

Putting the boot into Italy

A young woman, naked and covered in blood, totters numbly down a night road. A driver spots her in his headlights and swerves. Was he the last to see Clara alive? Did she jump to her death from a parking structure, as stated in the report? Are her rich family trying to hide more than

Travelling hopefully

Olga Tokarczuk examines questions of travel in our increasingly interconnected and fast-moving world. The award-winning Polish writer channels her wanderlust into reflections upon the places she visits, sometimes in a handful of lines, sometimes in longer chapters, telling other people’s and her own stories. Her prose, however, is anything but conventional travel writing, and she

The Baron is back

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had his Polish ancestor not been exiled to Siberia, he might have become a figure in European literature; living in Soviet Russia he was, in his own words, ‘known for being unknown’. His fiction and plays, written in the 1920s–1930s, remained mostly unpublished

Digging deep into history

The year is 1963. A girl is walking around Stepney with a pack of index cards, visiting old residents in their dilapidated houses, drinking strong tea with tinned milk, listening to their stories of happy days past and looking at cracked walls and leaking roofs. As she promises them help on behalf of her employer,