by Elsa Morante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
We live in a golden age of reissues. Every publishing season seems to bring fresh editions from a vital but ignored past: say, Clarice Lispector, who had one book come out last year, or Lucia Berlin, who had two. For readers, republication offers something rare: the possibility of reclaiming history simply by opening a book. The proper response to this is surely celebration. But I can’t help feeling a bit depressed that so many of the cool new writers are dead.
Few books have been as poorly served by their authors as the novels of Jean Rhys. The drinking (two bottles of wine a day, so drunk that she got violent, so drunk that she got stuck in the toilet), the poverty and the helplessness, the tangled affairs and the excruciating …
“It seemed that Lessing was a writer to discover in your thirties; a writer who wrote about the lives of grown-up women with an honesty and fullness I had not found in any novelist before or since,” Lara Feigel writes in the opening pages of her memoir Free Woman: Life, Liberation, and Doris Lessing. Feigel returns to The Golden Notebook during summer wedding season. After “white weddings, gold weddings; weddings in village churches, on beaches, at woolen mills,” she finds herself wondering: Is this it? Why do her friends seem so eager to throw their selves away for a man or a family? “They began by identifying as part of a couple and then once a child arrived they identified themselves primarily as mothers.” She is happily married and trying for a second child. Yet she begins to resent “the apparent assumption that this remained the only way to live.”
Rachel Kushner’s novels are the product of enormous research, but she rarely shows her work; history and creation knot together like threads in a tapestry. Her voice is always authoritative, direct, and knowledgeable, so that even the fictions she creates have the certainty of fact. This talent for verisimilitude shapes The Mars Room. Kushner has described how she worked on the novel by spending time in prisons meeting inmates and “covertly” following criminology students as they toured the facilities. The amount of detail she presents here, some amassed and some imagined, is astonishing.
Migration, always a specter in German politics, has been front and center in the news. Horst Seehofer, the new minister for the interior and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), announced an immigration plan that proposed Germany’s turning away refugees at the country’s southern border with Austria. Which migrants is Seehofer afraid of? The number of people trying to get to Europe has dropped drastically. For her part, Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back against Seehofer’s plan.
Pundits often marvel at how quickly Germany’s far-right AfD has acquired power. But if the party has gained prominence, in some polls even surpassing the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), it is because the anti-immigrant sentiment it represents has, in fact, been present as an undercurrent in German politics for years. Even if the AfD, constantly beset by internal conflicts and scandal, implodes, he says, “there will be another right-wing populist party” to take its place.
At the core of the anti-abortion movement is the tenet that a fetus is a person whose rights need to be protected. The Trump administration is taking this argument to an absurd and cruel extreme. A fetus in the United States requires the full protection and support of American law. As for its undocumented, adolescent mother—well, if she wants her rights, she should leave the country.
The apparent calm of the election belied the real concerns of the German public, concerns evident in the election results. Chancellor Angela Merkel barely campaigned. To the eyes of the public, the two major parties seemed nearly identical. This provided the far-right party with an opening to be the opposition. If people turned to a party that said the unspeakable, it was partly because very speakable things weren’t being said at all.
Puccini’s last opera finds new life in the hands of Robert Wilson in a new production in Madrid. Wilson uses almost no sets, relying on light for effect. This spare setting highlights the eerie beauty of Puccini’s fairy tale.
Simon Rattle’s last year as the head of the Berlin Philharmonic—he has been conducting the orchestra to great acclaim since 2002—is the last chance to see his energetic conducting style at work in the orchestra’s acoustically superb concert hall.