Critical Essays Archive

Asian American Inscrutability in Joan is Okay

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Like Weike Wang’s vision of fiction, in grief Joan discovers that inscrutability can be possibility itself.

Either/Or’s Aesthetic Questioning

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In Elif Batuman’s new novel, Selin is trying to figure out how to narrate love, how to make it make narrative sense; on the way, she figures out what love and novels have to do with each other.

The Pleas of Green: Sighs of Our Ailing Planet

Niyi Osundare’s newest collection of poetry lets the earth speak. He shows us how the planet is ailing via the direct address and the personification of the environment, forcing us to consider how we might help protect Earth from those who are killing it.

The Remarkable Staying Power of Hisaye Yamamoto’s Seventeen Syllables

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Perhaps what is most striking about Hisaye Yamamoto’s stories is how easily they could be written by a Japanese American author today, though many of them were written over fifty years ago, so focused are they on issues of race and the gendered expectations of women that still exist.

Women and Violence in Maria Dahvana Headley’s Beowulf

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Maria Dahvana Headley’s 2020 Beowulf translation works to center the lives and voices of women—a move that dramatically changes its handling of violence and trauma.

The Unmemntioable’s Exploration of the Sublime

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In Erín Moure’s 2012 collection, she spreads the ashes of her mother, who was subject to the abject violence that took place during World War II, in a village near the Davydivka River in what is now present-day Ukraine. The word “tragedy” feels inadequate to describe these experiences.

Preparation for the Next Life’s Accumulation of Stories

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Atticus Lish’s 2014 novel is a book with many stories piled up inside it, its personalities, with their long and painful histories, bumping and crashing into each other in the present. It is a love story that rarely uses the word love.

Photography’s Eternal Returns

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Do photographs of war provide some intervention into the violence they depict? If they do not stop violence, what purpose do they serve? These two questions are at the heart of recent work by Teju Cole and older work by Susan Sontag.

Alice Hattrick’s Redefinition of Illness

Alice Hattrick’s new book redefines how we think about the body’s relationship to pain, in the process providing us with a new way to understand what it means to be chronically ill.

Generational Conflict in Jacqueline Harpman’s I Who Have Never Known Men

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Jacqueline Harpman’s 1995 novel presents a debate about what is best for a post-apocalyptic world, exploring generational conflict regarding the relevancy of norms from the old world in the new.