It has been six years since the fire in Odesa, Ukraine, on May 2nd. On this day in 2014, I was working on what would become Two Big Differences. When I talked to Ukrainians I knew about what happened, I heard conflicting narratives. My late mother-in-law blamed the pro-Ukrainians. My sister-in-law blamed the pro-Russians. I found videos of girls making Molotov cocktails with a smile. I heard a pro-Russian Ukrainian who was inside the building tell about how he was saved by somebody whom he never met but who said, “A person who supports Ukraine saved you.” I don’t think the pro-Russian remained pro-Russian that much longer.
I don’t think there are many who remain pro-Russian at this point. People who lived in Ukraine died in Ukraine that day. Odesa is Ukraine.
Here’s the beginning of Chapter Twenty of Two Big Differences:
“The Second of May, 2014, it was a little cloudy in Odessa. Zina always loved clouds, how their light made visible the ongoing tremble of the world. After she left her papa, Zina wanted only to move. There had always been a need within her to leave the place where she was and return to hear it for the first time.
She boarded one of Odessa’s many microbus routes. She didn’t know which one. She picked randomly and found herself on a marshrutka that took her away from the city center, away from American tourists, further, even from other post-Soviet people touring Odessa, further, into parts of the city where haggling is demanded by people’s budgets. She picked her nose, discreetly. Hope had crested, spritzed her face. Immediately, she knew it was the kind of hope that is a rabid lie, feverish, evaporating along with sweat. All the same, it healed her somewhat, touched her forehead, her chin, lifted it like the fingers of a mother. All the same motherless, maybe she could still love him. Even though she was sitting, she felt as light as the butterfly, throwing herself — since butterflies are feminine in her language — against the window. She flew out of the open sunroof, opened her wings and was free above Odessa. The smell of cotton candy rose from Park Shevchenko. There, not far below her, was that turning devil’s wheel. There was the Opera Theater. The Black Sea was as flat as a pane laid on the floor. For a moment, this butterfly forgot she wasn’t a bird. She kept going, her torso as black as that vastness, which did not swallow her, only lightly kissed her with puckered waves before she herself plunged in.”
Rockets have even hit Tairovsky Cemetery in the Odesa Oblast, the third largest cemetery in Ukraine, where my grandmother-in-law is buried and the mother of my friend. He has been looking after the flowers at their graves. I have been there twice in my life, and I wrote about it in my novel, never thinking that Russians or anybody would have any reason to attack a place where the dead rest.
From Chapter 12 of Two Big Differences :
“Here is some penny tray advice. Get it? Take or leave?” Valinka had no Odessan response. She continued, “Take what you get in life. Everybody gets scammed. They rip off each in their own way.”
As she led Valinka further into the cemetery, the women who had ripped him off began singing in high, nasal voices, more like keens than entertaining song. The singing voices carried the repetition of a melody. The women chanted, cut themselves off, began again. This wail demanded only silence. It was the same way the trees, branches, and leaves demanded silence. It was the same way the stone did. These natural objects, these women, they demanded very little from people. Silence was the least one could do.
The late morning sunlight ushered Zina and Valinka further. The grass and weeds growing out of her dead ancestors — and Valinka’s, as far as he knew — appeared to shrink from the brightness. The air hummed, fated with rain. They moved on foot over the dusty crush toward the sea of graves. The ground sounded
wrong to her. The keening of the women sounded as if it were becoming louder, coming closer. Valinka could not see her face as she plunged forward, sweat pouring down her cheeks. Her sobs could be written off as panting. They passed a grave with a metal picnic table. Valinka stepped over to it and flattened his body across the metal, which clanged underneath him. On his belly, he put his arms out as if he were a parachutist. He must have been trying to impress her, show that he could be as wild and irreverent as she.
I’m very proud to post about my partner’s interview with Joanna Chen of the Los Angeles Review of Books.
My favorite part is the idea of “quiet noise” discussed in the interview. “Quiet noise” or the noise of the quiet is certainly something we deal with in our little family. Поздравляю!
“Innuendo, when it’s understood, fosters a connection, a partnership between a joker and their audience.”
Here’s my review of Pavel Lembersky’s work @lareviewofbooks.
The Translator’s Invisibility Lawrence Venuti
“The translator’s invisibility is thus a weird self-annihilation, a way of conceiving and practicing translation that undoubtedly reinforces its marginal status in Anglo-American culture.”
A History of Sexuality / Michel Foucault
An application of the principle just to describe rather than prescribe. It’s refreshing, but it also reminds me of the constantly paradoxical and hyper-(which also could be hypo- at times)critical behavior of some intellectuals I know.
In Marx’s Shadow
I read the essay on Havel, Fidelius and Orwell in this volume. The overall project is interesting. I was especially happy to have met Fidelius.
“1/3, 1/3, 1/3” / Richard Brautigan
I never realized how much Denis Johnson has inherited from Brautigan until I reread this. Like it’s era, it seems a little more innocent than Jesus’ Son though. There’s a kind of litany effect at the start of his sentences sometimes.
Зависть Юрия Олеши
Всё про зеркала…и долгие монологи Ивана Бабичева. С завистью делают такую атмосферу, целый спектакль.
The Home Place / Wright Morris
It’s where you hang your childhood. I identify with the narrator here, who’s kind of from there, kind of not. But he has chosen where to hang his childhood. So have I.
Doesn’t this seem so egotistical?
1 Corinthians / Paul
Agape was once “charity.” Then it became “love.”
Трава забвения Валентина Катаева
Так интеллигентно…интересная, типо, апология для Бунина, “страха” при Революции.
Что сказать о смерти его папы. Как я мучу своего папу? Да, увидел слезу недавно. Но только на секундочку. Катаев напомнил. Я благодарен.
The Window Over the Way / Georges Simenon
What an interesting character for a detective novel, a goaded Turk.
The Book of the Grotesque / Sherwood Anderson
Anderson always loved the grotesque of the Midwest, which is always what I loved about it (and the South’s grotesque) too.
My People’s Waltz / Dale Ray Phillips
Phillips’ prose defies all the stereotypes of Southern Gothic, at least the ones I know. It’s smart, thick and dense as kudzu. It demands several readings. It makes sure you don’t take his people for granted.
“Odessa” / Isaak Babel (translated by Val Vinokur in The Odessa Review)
“Одесса” Исаака Бабеля
This is such a great little brochure for Odessa (at first). It becomes very serious, discussing the sun and the need to describe it in Russian literature, ending with a literary messiah figure rising from the Black Sea. Is пряный spicy? It seems more like “nutty” or “piquant,” sharp, like Odessan wit, still sweet, the smell of the acacia.
Пятеро Владимира Жаботинского
У меня были ингибирования о чтение этого. Ревизионистский Сионизм мне очень отвратителен. Я обычно читаю писателя, несмотря на его политику. А это…ну, нахожу меньше такого одесского голоса как у Ильфа и Петрова, как у Катаева, Олеши. Где же такая острота как мессия одесской литературы, Баб-Эль (читайте на вверху). Ну, может быть позже, когда я думаю больше о Палестине, чем об Одессе.
The All-American Anarchist: Joseph A. Labadie and the Labor Movement / Carlotta R. Anderson
I feel a certain kinship with this Detroiter, part-Ojibway, and the namesake of the library of radical literature where I spent many working hours during my undergraduate days. This also introduced me to the Society of Russian Anarchists and helped me find their journals, Пробуждение and Дело труда. Anderson, Labadie’s granddaughter, is gentle, echoing Labadie’s somewhat sentimental description of his childhood among Potawatomi people in Michigan. But she takes us out for a wider view and lets us know the difficult truth about how those Potawatomi with whom Labadie lived in lean-tos and “played Indian” were probably the last to be doing so at the time.
Золотой теленок Ильфа и Петрова
Нда…стыдно, что только что читаю. А на русском, мне только 10 лет. Тебе сколько лет, когда читал?
“Ethics as First Philosophy” / Emmanuel Levinas
“…War and politics, which pass themselves off as the relation of the Same to the Other (l’Autre).”
“It is in the laying down by the ego of its sovereignty that we find ethics and also probably the very spirituality of the soul, but most certainly the question of the meaning of being, that is, its appeal for justification.”
Gareth Jones / Ray Gamache
Чёрный монах Антона Чехова
“В доме опять запели, и издали скрипка производила впечатление человеческого голоса.”
“Дело красивое, милое, здоровое, но и тут страсти и война – подумал он. Должно быть, везде и на всех поприщах идейные люди нервны и отличаются повышенной чувствительностью. Вероятно, это так нужно.”
“Он никогда бы уж не мог полюбить здоровую, крепкую, краснощекую женщину, но бледная, слабая, несчастная Таня ему нравилась.”
Damned to Fame / James Knowlson
“The Novelist” / W.H. Auden
Open City / Teju Cole
“How easy it would be, I thought, to slip gently into the water here, and go down to the depths. I knelt, and trailed my hand in the Hudson. It was frigid. Here we all were, ignoring that water, paying as little attention as possible to the pair of black eternities between which our little light intervened. Our debt, though, to that light: what of it? We owe ourselves our lives. This, about which we physicians say so much to our patients, about which so little can reasonably be said, folds back and also asks us questions.”
“But atrocities is nothing new, not to humans, not to animals. The difference is that in our time it is uniquely well-organized and carried out with pens, train carriages, ledgers, barbed wire, work camps, gas. And this late contribution, the absence of bodies. No bodies were visible, except the falling ones, on the day America’s ticker stopped. Marketable stories of all kinds had thickened around the injured coast of our city, but the depiction of the dead bodies was forbidden. It would have been upsetting to have it otherwise.”