Critical Essays Archive

The Refusal of Boundaries in Etel Adnan’s Surge and Time

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Adnan’s rejection of boundaries of time, geography, and standard logic echoes the very nature of two of her works: one written in English, one translated from French, one intentionally written as a collection, one pulled together from many years of disparate writing.

Acceptance in Love

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Books by Sally Rooney, Anat Levit, and Daniel Sloss show us how to triumph over tension in relationships: rather than be at war with each other’s pet peeves, lovers share the pain—and perhaps a laugh—when admitting that love is anything but simple.

Storytelling in New York, My Village

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Uwem Akpan’s story of an Annang narrator working in the “white bubble” of New York publishing is a story about storytelling—and not just the stories that make it past the gatekeepers to publication, but also the stories that are passed along in the conversations, letters, phone calls, photographs, and

Water, Stars, and Home in Things We Lost to the Water

So many refugees who are separated from their homes by seas and oceans and rivers, gravitate towards water; so many of them look up at the stars and wonder about the stories we don’t know. Reading Eric Nguyen’s novel, I think about how water can both separate you from

The Power of Love in A Little Devil in America

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Hanif Abdurraqib bases much of what he writes on the things he loves, whether that be music or literature, basketball or sneakers. It's through his love that he is able to reveal insights into artists and performers themselves, as well as the way that history links to the present—both

Hybridity and Indigenous Identity in the Work of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

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Betasamosake’s work exemplifies the brilliant possibilities of hybrid forms. Hybridity in genre allows Indigenous literature the freedom to shape-shift, to tell a story the best way it can be told, and to let that story live among its relatives, whether they be short story, memoir, or song.

The Meaning of Food in Eat Joy

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In this 2019 anthology, Natalie Eve Garrett collects short essays by 31 different writers, each with a recipe linked to it. The essays reveal how foods hold the shape of memories and people and places, nourishment intertwined with the forces that shaped it.

Simone Weil’s Practice of Attention

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Weil’s unflagging appeal is in the way she calls us to the miracle of presence in lives beset by struggle. This practice of attention need not ask of all of us the sacrifice it asked of her, but it asks of us something.

The Time and the Cure: The Moment of The Magic Mountain

Despite time being such a central concern of Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel, when I chose to read it at the beginning of the pandemic I did not have in mind that it was a novel about time. I thought of it as the pinnacle of the bildungsroman, and a

Fire Is Not a Country’s Observation of the Apocalypse

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The tension between the self and the marketplace is the kindle in Cynthia Dewi Oka’s poetry collection. The book draws much of its power from domestic scenes set against an apocalyptic background; here, social mobility is not merely an aspiration, but a search for safety through a series of