An engrossing, lushly written, sometimes bleak, but often exuberant meditation on human connectedness.

JACOBO THE TURKO

A NOVEL IN VERSES

A restless migrant gets ensnared in the war on terror in this labyrinthine poem cycle.

Bannowsky’s poems follow the misadventures of Jacobo Males Bitar, the illegitimate son of an immigrant Lebanese spa owner in Ecuador and his Native Ecuadorian accountant. Born in 1985, Jacobo becomes steeped in his mother’s Inca folk traditions and the lore of his father’s far-flung Maronite Catholic clan. True to his immigrant heritage, Jacobo embarks on his own international picaresque when, entranced by the idea of America, he goes to Delaware on a work visa in 2005 and gets a series of cruddy jobs. After he loses his passport, he’s arrested in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid and deported to Lebanon, a country he has never seen. There, he’s taken in by Muhammad Abu Barghouti Hamoudi, a Palestinian whose family lives in a refugee camp. Using money earned by smuggling hashish, Jacobo and Hamoudi get forged Turkish passports and leave Beirut during the Israel-Hezbollah War of 2006. Jacobo winds up in Istanbul, where he is kidnapped, handed over to United States intelligence officials, falsely charged with being a terrorist, and flown to Guantánamo Bay. Intertwined with his travails are poetic sketches of other characters, including his father, Elías; Olga Fisch, a Hungarian Jewish woman who left Europe in the 1930s and opened an Indigenous arts-and-crafts shop in Quito; Lawrence Wells, a U.S. special forces officer whose path repeatedly crosses Jacobo’s; and Leila, a Black American woman who shares a brief romance with the protagonist. Other poems digress into deep history. One explores an effort by the seventh-century Byzantine Emperor Constans II to stamp out theological controversies.

Bannowsky makes Jacobo a modern, global Everyman, adrift with other migrant strivers in a world that seems bent on either exploiting or scapegoating him. Yet Jacobo isn’t isolated. He and other wanderers stay tethered to a remembered past while they search for uncertain opportunities and new relationships—the very essence of the human condition from its ancient beginnings, the author suggests. (“Every Maronite shows haplotype J2, / the gene that presents in all Phoenicia’s costal colonies,” Elías boasts. “Thus, from a hundred streams, / we bear the traits of our great ancestors.”) Bannowsky’s characters explore these themes in a profusion of distinctive voices, from the stolid bureaucratese of Jacobo’s Guantánamo interrogators—“History of anxiety and depression: bi-polar symptoms including delusions of being a U.S. Citizen, an American Indian, or an ‘Otavalo from Ecuador’—to Leila’s wary rap soliloquy. (“Whatchu know about my people; / watchu know about the street? / You see a pusher for a preacher / and a hustler for a teacher / in every brother that you meet?”) The author’s poetry mixes quirky erudition with perfectly pitched demotic speech that jumbles street slang with pop genetics and doughnut recipes. His verse captures even a poultry plant with an evocative lyricism (“Like a lone star in the manurey firmament that was / the warehouse, a single light bulb shown / on thousands of white chickens across a sea of dark dirt; they / roiled softly like expiring foam, / clucking mild reproaches at our approach”). The result is an entertaining, soulful verse tale of people trying to find their places in the world.

An engrossing, lushly written, sometimes bleak, but often exuberant meditation on human connectedness.

Pub Date: June 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9788451-5-5

Page Count: 132

Publisher: Broken Turtle Books LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2021

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

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TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW

The adventures of a trio of genius kids united by their love of gaming and each other.

When Sam Masur recognizes Sadie Green in a crowded Boston subway station, midway through their college careers at Harvard and MIT, he shouts, “SADIE MIRANDA GREEN. YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY!” This is a reference to the hundreds of hours—609 to be exact—the two spent playing “Oregon Trail” and other games when they met in the children’s ward of a hospital where Sam was slowly and incompletely recovering from a traumatic injury and where Sadie was secretly racking up community service hours by spending time with him, a fact which caused the rift that has separated them until now. They determine that they both still game, and before long they’re spending the summer writing a soon-to-be-famous game together in the apartment that belongs to Sam's roommate, the gorgeous, wealthy acting student Marx Watanabe. Marx becomes the third corner of their triangle, and decades of action ensue, much of it set in Los Angeles, some in the virtual realm, all of it riveting. A lifelong gamer herself, Zevin has written the book she was born to write, a love letter to every aspect of gaming. For example, here’s the passage introducing the professor Sadie is sleeping with and his graphic engine, both of which play a continuing role in the story: “The seminar was led by twenty-eight-year-old Dov Mizrah....It was said of Dov that he was like the two Johns (Carmack, Romero), the American boy geniuses who'd programmed and designed Commander Keen and Doom, rolled into one. Dov was famous for his mane of dark, curly hair, wearing tight leather pants to gaming conventions, and yes, a game called Dead Sea, an underwater zombie adventure, originally for PC, for which he had invented a groundbreaking graphics engine, Ulysses, to render photorealistic light and shadow in water.” Readers who recognize the references will enjoy them, and those who don't can look them up and/or simply absorb them. Zevin’s delight in her characters, their qualities, and their projects sprinkles a layer of fairy dust over the whole enterprise.

Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32120-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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