Review of “Perdido: Sierra San Luis” by Michael P. Berman

When the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V asked Mexico’s conqueror, Hernan Cortes, what Mexico looked like, Cortes crumpled a piece of parchment, threw it on the floor, and said, “Mexico.” Mountains, bluffs, peaks and ridges.   Five-hundred years later, Michael Berman, longtime photographer/adventurer and teller of the tale above, is trekking through the mountains of Sierra…

“How to Pronounce Knife” by Souvankham Thammavongsa

A phoneme is a single sound, the smallest unit of language. But the way a phoneme is pronounced can contain a world of information about a speaker’s race, nationality and social status. The title story of How to Pronounce Knife hinges on the pronunciation of the silent k. It’s an authorial trick that serves as…

“Kafka in a Skirt: Stories from the Wall” – by Daniel Chacón

Daniel Chacón begins his latest collection of short stories with a metafictional device. He tells us how to read the book. We can read the stories in order or skip around, following themes. The device is borrowed from Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela (translated as Hopscotch), a masterpiece in 155 chapters, the final 99 of which can…

“All the Dreams We’ve Dreamed” by Rus Bradburd

This superb and harrowing book chronicles the life of Shawn Harrington, a charismatic college basketball star who becomes a victim – albeit a survivor – of Chicago’s gun violence. Harrington was recruited in 1995 from Marshall High School, Chicago, by the author, Rus Bradburd, who at the time was coaching at NMSU. When Harrington got…

“The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections” by Eliane Brum, translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty

The philosopher Theodor Adorno once stated that the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. Brazilian journalist and novelist Eliane Brum does just that in The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections, a compassionate trek through Brazil’s peripheries, where the poor and the marginalized reside. As she mines favelas…

“When a Woman Rises” by Christine Eber

The cover of Christine Eber’s debut novel tells a tale in itself. A young woman, beautiful and strong, gazes unflinchingly at the onlooker (us). She is dressed in traditional indigenous clothes, but three strands of hair blow loose as if to tell us this woman cannot be tamed; her spirit will run free forever. Behind…

“Bestiary” – by Donika Kelly

A bestiary is a compendium of creatures – an illustrated book from the Middle Ages – with each animal symbolizing some abstract moral principle. They are there to show us foolish humans how to live by the divine code written by Nature/God. In Donika Kelly’s debut poetry collection, there are beasts large and small –…

Shakespeare in the Age of the Tyrant

Stephen Greenblatt’s new book, Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power, is a timely tome. As Greenblatt well knows, we’re living in an age of ruthless strongmen. The world’s recent and lamentable swing to the right is embodied by all-powerful authoritarians. Here’s the cast list: Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela) – presiding over an avoidable domestic catastrophe, a post-apocalyptic hellscape…

Gray Pans Pinker

In a recent review in The New Statesman, John Gray dismissed Steven Pinker’s new book Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress in one of the more colorful putdowns of recent times (excuse the pun – grey, pinker and all that). The title of the piece reads “The limits of reason: Steven…