The sky was red and all my life was in it.

Dear Jean, In your novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), you seem to be holding up a distorting mirror to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847): if we look at this mirror for too long, illusion and reality will gradually lose their once sharp outlines; madness will be less a departure than a never-ending journey back home,…

Look at the colour of it

Dear Ali, It takes us only a few paragraphs of Autumn (2016) to recognize your characteristic marks: experimental writing; a collage of literary references; a narrative propelled through voice and voice alone; a narrative that mingles past and present, as if they were one thing, happening at once; and, finally, the creative reframing of contemporary…

The girl is a peasant warrior

Dear Xiaolu, Your book Nine Continents (2017, also published in the UK with the title Once Upon A Time in the East: A Story of Growing up) is less a memoir than a collection of your personal myths. And it is a book about the transformative nature of art; about art as a means to escape,…

From now on I shall only wear white,

Dear Nuala, Sometimes I feel that your novel Miss Emily (2015) is haunted by the ghost of something – a bird? – it distractedly let slip out of its realm of possibilities. It centers around the relationship between the 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson and a fictional Irish housemaid named Ada Concannon. The story is set…

Everyone was fleeing and everything was temporary

Dear Anna, Do you know this feeling we have when something terrible happens in a dream and we must scream or run, but we find ourselves suddenly unable to do it? We have no voice, or our legs are suddenly unbearably heavy. This feeling of being trapped: that’s the stuff your novel Transit (tr. Margot…

They didn’t dare before; now they do, that’s all

Dear Anna, I was halfway through Manja (tr. Kate Phillips, 2003. Manja: Ein Roman um 5 Kinder, 1938) this past week, when your book acquired a new poignancy for me. Do you know that eerie feeling, when we overhear a stranger on the bus or out passing by us in the street, and, by accident,…

There you go again, narrating through a prism of pain

Dear Tatiana, Your novel The House in Smyrna (tr. Alison Entrekin, 2015; originally published in Portuguese in 2007) was a puzzling read for me. And not a confortable one – which, I may add, I generally take as a good reading experience, like a cup of strong coffee, served without sugar and very hot, and drunk…

wade/ through black jade/of the crow-blue mussel-shells

Dear Adriana, As in your previous books, Crow Blue (2013, tr. Alison Entrekin, originally published in Portuguese in 2010) also depicts  a journey, through which the protagonists – unable to move beyond painful events in the past – are led to undertake some kind of personal rite of passage. After losing her mother at the age…

Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition

Dear Anne, I was unsure whether I should read Vinegar Girl (2016), the latest book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series. “The Taming of the Shrew” is a challenging play, and retelling it in the 21st century could either be an invigorating endeavor or, most probably, a pitiful trap. In Shakespeare’s play, a wealthy Italian man,  Baptista…

The line of light marking the bottom of the locked door

Dear Lori, Your short-story collection The Bigness of the World (2009, 2016) followed me throughout a very pleasant trip by bike I made last May.  I confess it was somewhat strange to be reading about your wandering characters, while I was myself wandering through some small towns in Germany. There is a pervasive melancholy in each…

Questions of displacement

Dear Elizabeth, This is just a quick note to let you know that I read a posthumous collection of your poems (The Complete Poems, 1927-1979) earlier this year. I had sparsely read some of your poems and prose, here and there, during college. At that time, I used to browse the University Library stacks, in…

summer rains / trace of a poem card/ torn off the wall

Dear Adriana, Your novel Hut of Fallen Persimmons (2011, tr. Sarah Green. Original title Rakushisha, 2007) caught my attention from its title and its starting point. Mukai Kioray (1651 – 1704), a Japanese haikai poet who was a close disciple of Matsuo Bashō (1644 – 1694), lived in the “Hut of Fallen Persimmons” (or “Rakushisha”) on the outskirts of Kyoto. Because he had…