Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Caravan's Fiction and Poetry for March

Here are my selections of fiction and poetry for The Caravan's March issue, with little notes on each piece:

The Virgins by Irene Némirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith

ABOUT THE STORY The French filmmaker Jacques Becker once said: “In my work I don’t want to prove anything except that life is stronger than everything else.” He might have taken this thought from the French novelist Irène Némirovsky (1903-1942). Némirovsky’s great theme is the continuous oscillation of human beings between passion and peace. Her protagonists, alive to all the pleasures this world can offer, are memorably marked by what Nemirovsky calls “fire in the blood”.

this many-sided story, whose ambiguities begin with its very title, a group of women are seen interpreting selfhood, and its relationship to love, marriage and motherhood, through the prisms of their own lives and each other’s. The virgins of the story have much wisdom to offer. In their judgments of the protagonist, there is no hint of jealousy. Even so, might it be that they are trumped finally by “the inimitable prestige of experience”? Might it be that we are most fully human through the intelligence of hindsight, not foresight? The values attached to the word “life” in Nemirovsky—freedom, experience, passion, connection, a particular kind of strength rooted in vulnerability—suddenly surface alongside other competing and persuasive visions of the good life, the whole structure so delicately constructed and balanced it could only be found in the work of a great storyteller.

was Jewish. Her own life was tragically snuffed out in a concentration camp in Auschwitz in 1942, while she was halfway through her masterwork, Suite Française. The manuscript was discovered in a suitcase many decades later and became a worldwide bestseller when first published in 2004. Sandra Smith, the translator of this story, is also the translator of all of Némirovsky’s novels currently available in English.

Four Poems by Salma: "A Midnight Tale", "Perspective", "Evil" and "Home"
ABOUT THE POEMS In the poems of the acclaimed Tamil poet Salma, there appears the same layered and thoughtful attention to the power and pitfalls of female subjectivity that animates this month’s fiction selection. But they are relayed in a voice that is heavier, more burdened, speaking under the weight of the entrenched structures of patriarchy. Repeatedly in these poems, we sense a speaker having to argue with the world before she can be allowed to argue with herself. Yet the modern Indian writer is much more frank than the older European writer about the particulars of the female body—a contrast that shows how much feminism has opened up the language of female self-witnessing, to be sure, but one that also reveals the extent of Salma’s directness and daring. We find that even if the speaker of the poems decides never to leave “the courtyard of my own house”, her unforgettable voice locks us up, too, into that courtyard.

Salma is also the author of one of the great modern Indian novels, The Hour Past Midnight (Zubaan, 2009, translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom).

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