A masterpiece of midcentury modernist literature triumphantly translated into our times.

FORGOTTEN JOURNEY

The first English translation of Argentinian surrealist Ocampo's debut book.

By any account, Ocampo is an underrecognized literary innovator. Born in Buenos Aires in 1903, she trained as a visual artist under the tutelage of Giorgio de Chirico in Italy but returned home to launch a career as the lucid chronicler of Argentina's characters, colors, and drifting seasons. Her legacy is often overshadowed by her association with her sister, the well-known editor Victoria Ocampo, her marriage to acclaimed novelist Adolfo Bioy Casares, and her friendship with Jorge Luis Borges, but Ocampo's short vignettes—determinedly dreamlike, constitutionally opposed to traditional structures, quietly feminist in their focus on domestic menace and the underrecorded lives of women, children, and the laboring class—hold their own as masterworks of midcentury modernism. In her debut collection, originally published in 1937, Ocampo introduces the reader to singular characters like Miss Hilton, the world-traveling tutor undone by her apparent lack of modesty, who "blushed easily, and had translucent skin like wax paper, like those packages you can see through to all that's wrapped inside"; or Mademoiselle Dargere, the caregiver to a "colony of sickly children," who is haunted by the vision of a man's head wreathed in flames; or Eladio Rada, the caretaker of a stately country home who measures the seasons of his life by the house's relative emptiness. Ocampo's landscapes are just as central to the stories' thematic development as her unforgettable characters. Set on the streets of Buenos Aires itself, in the decaying summer homes of the country's interior or the fishing villages along its coast, Ocampo's stories lovingly detail the landscape that nurtures, haunts, or condemns her characters within the spiral cycles of their lives. Often these stories culminate in dreams or dreamlike violence—as in "The Lost Passport," in which 14-year-old Claude dreams of the fire that sinks her trans-Atlantic ship, or "The Two Houses of Olivos," in which two young girls take advantage of their guardian angels' siestas to escape to heaven, "a big blue room with fields of raspberries and other fruits," riding on the back of a white horse. Sometimes Ocampo's play with surrealism and metaphysical symbolism is more overt, as in "Sarandí Street," in which the speaker's entrapment in her family's house is blamed on her sisters, "dying of strange diseases," who emerge from their rooms with "their bodies withered away and covered in deep blue bruises, as if they had endured long journeys through thorny forests." Indeed, it is Ocampo's skill with the blurred line between dream and memory that marks her oeuvre and distinguishes her from contemporaneous masters of the modernist vantage like Virginia Woolf or Katherine Mansfield. Yet regardless of the author's historical importance, it is for the precise and terrible beauty of her sentences that this book should be read.

A masterpiece of midcentury modernist literature triumphantly translated into our times.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-87286-772-7

Page Count: 134

Publisher: City Lights

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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