Three February books

Below are books released this month that have landed on my TBR table. Of these three, one is a book-length essay, one is nonfiction, and one is a novel. Two authors I’ve read their previous work, one author I’ve never read.

Nona Fernández’s Twilight Zone became a National Book Award finalist in 2021 for translated literature. I hoped it would win, even above Winter in Sokcho that I thought was a worthy contender and did win (it’s excellent). Still: Twilight Zone is a brilliantly evoked novel about the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, written with such an imaginative approach and creatively woven plot threads it’s hard to forget. The book is the reason I became curious about Fernández’s work. Her new book, Voyager: Constellations of Memory, which comes out next week, begins with the author accompanying her mother to a doctor’s appointment in an effort to understand the reason for recent falls and her mother’s inability to remember what preceded them. When she views her mother’s brain scan, it reminds Fernández of the night sky. From here, Fernández travels to a place in Chile that’s one of the best places in the world for astronomical observation. From the publisher’s description:

Weaving together the story of her mother’s illness with story of her country and of the cosmos itself, Fernández braids astronomy and astrology, neuroscience and memory, family history and national history into this brief but intensely imagined autobiographical essay.

Voyager is slim at 136 pages. The description also says that in Voyager “Fernández finds a new container for her profound and surreal reckonings with the past,” which I’m assuming refers to the Pinochet years. More fuel for my curiosity. Natasha Wimmer is the translator of this novel.

Back in January 1988, I read Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages by Phyllis Rose. I know that specific date because it’s written inside my copy. Those were the days I signed, dated, and noted the location when I finished a book. Even if I hadn’t captured that information, I’d be close in guessing it because Rose’s chronicles and insights opened new ways of thinking for me about the married life shortly after my divorce. (Read a review of Parallel Lives in The Guardian.) Author Carmela Ciuraru walks a similar path in her new book, The Lives of the Wives: Five Literary Marriages, except with a focus on five 20th century relationships. They are between British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan and American author Elaine Dundy; British novelist Roald Dahl and American movie star Patricia Neal; English novelists Sir Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard; British sculptor and translator Una Troubridge and British author Radclyffe Hall; and Italian novelists Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante. From The Wall Street Journal review:

Like Ms. Rose, Ms. Ciuraru is intensely interested in the vicissitudes of relationships over time. But although she accepts Ms. Rose’s contention that unhappy marriages feature two narrative constructs, which essentially present two conflicting versions of reality, her focus is mainly on the wife’s perspective.

I enjoyed Nom de Plume, Ciuraru’s first book (I described it as “highly entertaining, colorful, and engrossing” in my review, while praising Ciuraru’s cleverness). Not sure when I’ll get to Lives of the Wives, but I have high hopes for it.

Last August, we read the horrible news about Salman Rushdie being attacked by a knife-wielding maniac. He survived (nobody thought he would, long hours in surgery) and has lost the sight in his right eye. There’s a profile by David Remnick about Mr. Rushdie in a February New Yorker magazine. It’s the first interview he’s given since the attack.

There’s much better news now, especially for readers of Mr. Rushdie’s work: His latest novel, Victory City, is published this month. It’s the story about a woman in 14th century India inhabited by a deity. Here’s how it all begins, from the novel’s description:

In the wake of an unimportant battle between two long-forgotten kingdoms in fourteenth-century southern India, a nine-year-old girl has a divine encounter that will change the course of history. After witnessing the death of her mother, the grief-stricken Pampa Kampana becomes a vessel for her namesake, the goddess Pampa, who begins to speak out of the girl’s mouth. Granting her powers beyond Pampa Kampana’s comprehension, the goddess tells her that she will be instrumental in the rise of a great city called Bisnaga—’victory city’—the wonder of the world.

Over the next 250 years, Kampana’s life purpose is intimately entwined with Bisnaga as rulers, battles, and allegiances shift the city’s magical fabric and interfere with her mission. I’m intrigued by the concept of a protagonist inhabited by a deity. Given Mr. Rushdie’s stellar literary output, which I’ve yet to read (shamefully admitted), perhaps it’s where I could start.

2 thoughts on “Three February books

  1. I also admire Nona Fernández very much — she’s incredibly talented (haven’t read Twilight but did read Space Invaders, which also dealt with the Pinochet dictatorship). It’s nice to know that she has another work due out shortly.
    I’ve read a few reviews of The Lives of Wives, which sounds quite interesting; it struck me almost as an update on Parallel Lives (which I enjoyed).
    Thank heaven I’m not the only one who hasn’t read Rushdie . . . . I will get around to him. Some day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear from another Fernández fan. I think you’ll like “Twilight Zone,” and fingers crossed for this new one.

      The thing about Rushdie now is that he’s written so much. Where do we start? I heard Remnick’s interview with him on NPR, and that’s what made me think this new novel might be best.


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