“Even though the novel is mostly presented in English, I kept returning to the question: what’s the linguistic background of this book? I’m thinking of your original question here—if this book is a translation, what would the original language of this book have been?” –an interview in Fiction Writers Review
I’m very pleased to have my book on shelves in an IRL, in-person bookstore! Thank you to BookMark Shoppe of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn!
My colleagues and good friends gave their takes on the novel. It was so good to hear that what I hope to do with this work has come true to an extent. Thank you, Seth and Evan!
I am very pleased to be reading from Two Big Differences at Baruch College, where I teach First-Year Writing. Please join me on November 3rd at 7PM on Zoom. My colleagues in English Seth Graves and Evan Smith will be joining me.
As an adjunct, I don’t take this institutional validation lightly. I know many adjuncts who are artists in addition to their teaching. I want to dedicate this reading to adjuncts who work so hard for, well, what I think of as low wages. Some of us are even Guggenheim fellows. Please don’t ignore the adjuncts.
Please register for this Zoom reading.
My novel Two Big Differences has been published by Издательство MGraphics. You can get it here. Please take a moment to hear me when I say that this dream has been a long time coming.
I started it in 2012. It’s older than both my children.
Many of those I thank in the Acknowledgments are gone now.
It has taken a long time.
The website linked above is a supplement to the book, a space connected to the book. If you would like to say something about the book, I can publish it in that space. I’m eager to hear your thoughts. Or you can let somebody else know about it.
“Ever tried? Ever failed? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Every writer knows the quote. Every writer knows failure. If you are a writer and you disagree, good for you. I have known failure.
I did an MFA. My final project was a collection of short stories, now called Grow Me Up and Other Oaths. Two years after I graduated from the MFA program, I was awarded a contract to publish Grow Me Up with a small publisher from the South. It made sense. Most of the stories took place in the South and took influence from my experience living in the Deep South from age five until almost eighteen, seminal years during which I read Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty in my English classes. The publisher sent a contract. I signed it. And we were on our way. At the end of the summer of 2012, I decided that I could put aside that project, since it would be published, and begin a new one. This new project was inspired by my visit to my partner’s birthplace: Odessa, Ukraine.
I wrote a post on Facebook much less detailed than this one, received several likes, and felt very validated. The publisher was small, but I felt like I was “making it.” When I asked about a publication date, I was dismayed to hear that it would be a couple of years before the book was published. I mentioned the long wait to Tobias Wolff, and he told me to look for another publisher.
In 2014, two years after I signed the contract, a month before the birth of my first daughter, I received an email from the publisher announcing that they were closing and that upcoming publications, including my own, were canceled. Having a baby on the way, I didn’t take the time one should to grieve the death of that project. Meanwhile, I was still working on this monster of a novel that I had begun when I had thought that I was “making it.”
So that’s what I mean when I say failure. Maybe I could rethink, rewrite the narrative to mean something else. I could resent the publisher for closing. I could blame a number of people and other factors for what happened. I continued along my path.
Since I was awarded that contract in 2012, I have become the father of two women. I have been first-hand witness to more than one person’s death. I have learned of horrible things that have happened in the past to those closest to me. These secrets cause me suffering. There has been joy. There has been pain. There has been a pandemic. I have failed and failed and failed. I can think that the failure has become better.
The project I began in 2012, a novel about Odessa, Ukraine, a woman from there, an Odessitka, and an American who learns Russian and travels there, this project is older than my oldest child. Are our works our children? They certainly demand and receive a lot of our attention.
The project, titled Two Big Differences, will be published by MGraphics in Fall 2021. It is slightly older than nine years, almost a quarter of my life.
At this point, I don’t believe in perfection. I also still have trouble believing it’s going to happen this time. I keep waiting for that email…I like to think that, if I’m still failing, at least I’m failing better, that right now what’s happening is the best of my failure, that I’ll keep trying. If you would like to read my novel, please reach out. It should be available this coming season.
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.”
“The Near Transitive Properties of the Political and the Poetical: Erasure” / Solmaz Sharif
I witnessed a reading by this poet in a cool living room. She went from a slam-style speed, common these days, to an incantatory slowness, one that transfixed. I hope this is something she or anybody can duplicate on the page. We talked about that… I can hear her voice in this poem. But there are no line breaks here, as I can tell. Some indentation… It brings up, for me, the question of politics and music. Often, “political” music has a religious sound to it. I’m thinking of Godspeed You, Black Emperor… Is it a leftover of the good old days when texts and art were only to be worshipped?
“Anatolia” / Anis Shivani
I feel very American saying this, but there were too many Turkish and Islamic law terms here. I have thought a lot about this in my own writing, and I think there could be more context and they would work. The title for the main character comes over. I think he is some kind of a low-level judge. But often sentences would have three such terms, each juxtaposed to the others, and leave me baffled as to what they meant. I know a little, since I’ve seen Islamic law terms in books I’ve cataloged in my day job. But I couldn’t go on here. Perhaps this is my own failure, but it was an extension–one that pushed me too far away this time–of the problem in “Gypsy.” There is a lot of exposition, a lot of big blocks of explanation, rather than a varied approach between scenes and narration. I and my reading partner put this aside, and I accept responsibility for having done so.
“The Swimmer” / John Cheever
I read this old classic to my reading partner, my better half (a better reader), who had never read it. Cheever shows you how well a sentence can run, like water in his case, and how far that can get the vehicle of a story. By the way, doesn’t water come up a lot in his work? If I were writing a paper…
“First Love and Other Sorrows” / Harold Brodkey
We loved reading this. It’s so gentle, which makes the sorrow move so much more easily over the story, and makes it easier to hear.
“Один язык” Михаила Шолохова
А, если было так понятно.
“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” / Walt Whitman
I remembered that I used Whitman as a basis for my vows. The world of Whitman feels older, I think because it feels innocent, even though it’s not. It’s naive, but not in a bad way. Hope against hope maybe…
“Directions” / Fyodor Svarovsky (Alex Cigale translated on Facebook)
This was a good way to start the workday.
Катакомбы Валентина Катаева
Ещё читаю. Наивность у писателей может быть не самое плохое, если это не зашишает ужас, как в эссей об Uncle Tom’s Cabin Джеймса Балдвина. Дело в том, узнает ли читатель, что наивность и сентиментальность оправдан или нет, и если они сушествуют (и делает его слепым) в читатели самом.
Gramophone, Film, Typewriter / Friedrich Kittler
I’m more interested in this “desexualization of writing” than the disagreement between Kittler and McLuhan.
“Some Other, Better Otto” / Deborah Eisenberg
I enjoy the richness of this story, its many characters and ideas very cleanly woven.
“Love” / Grace Paley
This reminded me, despite some cognitive resistance to the idea, of Carver…
“Borges on Translation” / Suzanne Jill Levine
“Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” / Jorge Luis Borges
Back to the classic…how silly this is, a revival of Cervantes’ humor, so rarely matched. “Fame is a form–perhaps the worst form–of incomprehension.” And there you go!
“The Hitchhiking Game” / Milan Kundera
Oh, what a great, vampy little story. I loved it. I haven’t read him in such a long time, and now I remember The Joke and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. About his perceived misogyny I have nothing to say.
“Love in Their Time” / William Trevor
A sad English story that made my reading partner cry. It seems to gather momentum and then releases right in that last scene. I love stories that end in the subway.
“The Life You Save May Be Your Own” / Flannery O’Connor
An old classic, something that came up from the bottom of my memory because of a line I myself wrote, taking place in the South and having to do with conservative religious values.
“The Moon in Its Flight” / Gilbert Sorrentino
At first tedious, this story then becomes a story of a minor mistake that leads to a couple not coming together. Was she just a ghost at the end or not? Did it actually happen? Does that really matter?
Dancing in Odessa / Ilya Kaminsky
What a pleasure to return to this, our signed copy. What a kind poet. I remember his reading, and I remember trying to speak to him in Russian and failing to understand. This, of course, has happened multiple times. But he was very gentle with me, which has happened much more rarely.
The “Author’s Prayer” has been especially inspirational.
“Yours” / Mary Robison
This story, short but with long, sweeping, devastating sentences, snatches you by the wrist and claims your attention, for a little bit.
“A Bad Thing” / David Gates
“First Love” / Isaak Babel
Reading Babel in English is always strange. I think that the Russian versions I’ve read were censored. There’s more of a voice here, not that I didn’t like what I read in Russian. But why censor such lines as those about being a boy throwing a tantrum? Was this unmanly?
“У батьки нашего Махно” Исаака Бабеля
Этот рассказ хорошо показывает что-то не только не хорошо, а плохо, а ужасно. Есть в Украине когда-нибудь хорошее народное движение? И как этот мальчик и невинный, и темно настоящий…
“Учение о тачанке” Исаака Бабеля
Ух, хороший, тёмненкий писатель, который так сосредоточиться на странных местах в жизни. Особенно понравилось сравнение южних и штетелских евреев. Опять, тёмный портрет Махна. Кстати, я читал оба рассказа по-русски в самом последном издание его работы, которое только что вышло. В Мэкдафном переводе, переводчик говорит, что исключения были из-за цензуры, а в русском говорят что некоторые были его постоянно редактирования, и не так как Мэкдаф говорит. Бог его знает, но я рад улучениям.
The Book of Daniel / E.L. Doctorow
I’m still hoping the violent scene in the car will be explained somehow. It’s hard to read somebody like that. But I like the style, so I keep going.
“A Gentleman Friend” / Anton Chekhov
This was recommended, I think I remember, in order to see how Chekhov’s more torturous stories are the ones that would seem to end happily, as does this one, unlike “The Kiss” which we read in my Russian Literature class. And it is torturous, like those writhing in tortuous, torturous pleasure in Gustave Doré prints of the Divine Comedy.
“The Salmon Spirit: an Ulchi Tale from Siberia” / Nadyezhda Duvan
Reminds me of the Russian children’s tales I read these days.
Inferno / Dante Alighieri
This is good inspiration…
Конармия Исаака Бабеля
Здесь меньше характеризации чем в одесских рассказах, по-моему. Но конец первой истории страшно для отцов дочерей.
“What Goes Around” / Olga Zilberbourg (B O D Y)
The Wonderful Writing Machine / Bruce Bliven, Jr.
Dedicated “To Naomi” (Horowitz, his wife). This guy was funny. Kittler (above) said he is the most entertaining and quirky writer about the typewriter.
“Fisherman of the Glass Battalion” / Ilya Ilf (translated by Steven Volynets)
Great little story here, which kind of reminds me of Конармия. I’m looking forward to more of these.
“In der Strafkolonie” / Franz Kafka
I read this in German, but I’d like to write in English. It was in a book which discusses the legal aspects of Kafka’s story. Right now I’m thinking, why doesn’t he know his sentence? What part does this ignorance of one’s judgment have? This is probably the worst manifestation of punishment, since the Verurteilte doesn’t even know why and, in this case, how, until he can feel his wounds. In the end, der Reisende threatens with the old rope. He doesn’t need a fancy machine.
“Tonka” / Robert Musil
This story aches with the tension of an intellectual, who nonetheless is fascinated by a woman, inscrutable to him. It could never go to her perspective, in this way, and I’ve heard the comparison with Lolita made. Women’s inscrutability could be code for misogyny.
“In the Shadow of Dante” / Joseph Brodsky
The discussion of rhyme here would have been especially interesting about a year ago when I was writing about the translated poetry of Aleksandr Kushner, a friend of Brodsky’s from Peter. I came to this by way of Ilya Kaminsky’s dedication “To Montale” in Dancing in Odessa.
Зависть Юрия Олеши
Как модно! Может быть из-за настоящего времени голоса рассказчика. Можно подумать о месте, как будто оно Одесса? Настоящее время нормально тогда? Мне кажется, даже сейчас оно странно. Это историческое настоящее?
Трава забвения Валентина Катаева
Хороший советский писатель, который справедлив, по-моему, о других, как Бунине, с которым не был согласен насчет политики. О Бунине нельзя было говорить при Маяковском, и о Маяковском при Бунине.
“Less than One” / Joseph Brodsky
I read this long ago, but it was good to return, since you always find something new. A challenge: how Russian experience bounces off the English language, no matter how will composed.
Twilight of the Superheroes / Deborah Eisenberg
There is something refreshing about how Eisenberg always makes one guess at context. It defamiliarizes with the very straightforward American realist style.
“We Are All Already Gone” / LaTanya McQueen (New South)
I wonder where the “we” went in this haunting story, rough on a parent.
The Home Place / Wright Morris
There is something very strange about Wright Morris, to which I think Charles Baxter is the best heir. What is it? How does this character’s father not know he was raised on a farm? Or is it old age in a Midwestern middle-class grandpa, who hasn’t taken time to reflect much on things and doesn’t remember his own son’s upbringing? If I’m right, this is very sad…to me.