Tag: Christina MacSweeney

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

Posted July 21, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria LuiselliTitle: Faces in the Crowd (Goodreads)
Author: Valeria Luiselli
Translator: Christina MacSweeney
Published: Coffee House Press, 2011
Pages: 146
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Faces in the Crowd is the story of a young mother living in contemporary Mexico City who is trying to write a novel. She recounts her time living in New York as a translator. Her novel is based on the bohemian life of Mexican poet Gilberto Owen, mainly focusing on his time in Harlem. Valeria Luiselli’s first novel to be published into English, Faces in the Crowd is a spectacular novel dealing with multiple perspectives and a shifting reality.

I have already recorded and released a podcast about this novel, with Lia from Hyde and Seek but I felt that I needed to put in a short review as well. If you are interested, most of my thoughts about this book are better discussed on that episode. Needless to say, I loved this book. Faces in the Crowd is the second Luiselli novel I have read. Having read The Story of My Teeth last year but this one stood out more. This is the novel that turned me into a fan and made me determined to read everything she has written, assuming it has been translated into English.

“…a horizontal novel told vertically”

The different perspectives made for a unique reading experience, one that made me slow down and take my time trying to understand what was going on. This really is a horizontal novel told vertically in the sense that you read down the page but there are so many layers of which you need to keep track. First you have her life as a married woman with a child in modern Mexico. Then you have her time as a translator in New York. The third thread is around Gilberto Owen’s life. However the narrative fractures and reality shifts, and the narrative threads get complicated, leaving the reader to try and decide between reality and fiction, the fiction that this unnamed woman is writing.

I knew I loved this novel from the start because it felt like a real approach to translated literature. “I worked as a reader and translator in a small publishing house dedicated to rescuing ‘foreign gems.’ Nobody bought them, though, because in such an insular culture translation is treated as suspicion. But I liked my work and I believed that for a time I did it well.” This statement happened on page one, and I felt like Valeria Luiselli had captured something real. I often feel that people treat translations as suspicious or something inaccessible.

I treated this novel as a peek into the world of translations and I felt like it captured it well. I think there was so much more going on that helped me fall in love with Faces in the Crowd and I hope that more people pick it up. Like I said earlier, check out the Lost in Translations episode on this book. I do not want to put too many details into my review because I legit want people to listen to the podcast. I have Sidewalks on my shelf, which is also translated by Christina MacSweeney, so I will probably pick that up soon.


Distracted by Other Books

Posted June 5, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 6 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in May 2018

When I first came to reading I was not sure what I liked and I turned to the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list to help me. I saw myself as a literary explorer (hence my previous blog name) and I was willing to try anything and everything. With this in mind I joined a real life book club as a way to explore and practice talking about literature. Fast forward to now, and I have found my niche and I know what I like, so now sometimes book club feels like a chore more than a joy. Having to read The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland for May and The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman for June have been challenging. It feels like they are picking pretty covers but the content has not been that desirable, for me anyway. I want more from my literature than what is provided in these novels. I feel like The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart was too similar to so many other stories, like The Choke, Nest and Deep Water; all three were novels read because of the book club. I do love being the one that dislikes the books but at what point does it stop being worth attending? I do not plan to quit, but I have been thinking about this since I have not enjoyed a pick in a very long time.

Besides my contemplations on book clubs, I have been thinking about the Man Booker International prize as well. I am very pleased to see Flights win; I thought it was an amazing book. I was able to complete the entire longlist except two books which I might read later but I feel a little burnt out by the experience. While I loved being part of a community reading these books and it really sparked my passion for blogging again I felt very restricted by the task. I am very much a mood reader and to have assigned books can put me in a reading slump. This is not to say I would not attempt to read the longlist again in the future. I just hope to have read some of the books on the list next time. Out of all the books on the list Die, My Love was the one I still think about but I also loved The 7th Function of Language and Frankenstein in Baghdad.

Mexican literature seems to be the flavour of the month having read both Like Water for Chocolate and Faces in the Crowd. There is something about Latin American magical realism that seems to work for me, something that I have not found in other forms of magical realism. I have not been able to put my finger on why I enjoy it more but I will keep exploring. I absolutely adored Faces in the Crowd, which is a book you might hear me talk about in the near future. I think Valeria Luiselli might be one of those authors I will be watching closely in the future. I did read The Story of My Teeth but it was not until I read Faces in the Crowd that I realised just how brilliant she is.

Also this month I read Cop Hater, an old school police procedural and Lullaby, a novel that felt like the author was letting her own fears play out on the page. The final book I want to talk about is Packing My Library. I loved The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel and I expected that Packing My Library would bring me the same amount of joy. Though one book was able to blend his personal narrative eloquently with the history of the library, the other just felt more like digressions from his topic. To be fair the subtitle to Packing My Library is An Elegy and Ten Digressions, so maybe I should have expected this. I love reading books about books but I tend to enjoy the ones that are able to blend the personal with something more which is normal literary criticism.

I went a little overboard with my book buying this month and I told myself it was mainly for my podcast. I do not know how this works but I will defend myself by saying that yes, some are for my podcast and most of them have been read now as well. I do not think I was distracted by other books this month. This might be because I am currently housesitting and only have a handful of books to choose from. I thought it was a rather slow reading month for me as well, but this turned out to be untrue. I was sure I spent too much time watching Netflix instead of reading but the statistics prove otherwise.

Read More


Distracted by Other Books

Posted May 1, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 2 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in April 2018

Earlier in the month my wife was suffering from a major headache, so lying in the dark I decided to pick up my kindle to avoid disturbing her. I had The White Book on my Paperwhite and I knew it would not take me that long to read. Reading in the dark I was transfixed by the light of my Kindle. There is a line in the book that really stayed with me, “Certain objects appear white in the darkness. When darkness is imbued with even the faintest light…” There is something to be said about reading a book at the right time, because the experience alone made this book enjoyable. I love sitting in the dark but normally hate reading on my Kindle, the combination of darkness and talking about white just meshed well.

However that experience pales in comparison to reading The 7th Function of Language. Have you ever read a novel that you think has been tailor made for you? This was my experience with The 7th Function of Language. Everything about this book ticked my boxes, from the mystery element, to the literary criticism. I loved every minute reading this one and I cannot wait to re-reading it in the future. This reminds me of my favourite Umberto Eco book, Foucault’s Pendulum. I had to laugh at the fact so many people were calling this novel ‘too pretentious’ but others were comparing it to Dan Brown.

I often wonder if my literary tastes are the direct opposite to the norm, because I tend to love so many books others are regularly dismissed. Not that I mind at all. It helps with my pretentious literary credibility. Although I think The 7th Function of Language is not pretentious and would make for an exciting audiobook. I have not read hhHh but after reading this one, I am keen to find a copy. Although that novel is more war based, I am still very curious. It did get a lot of hype and attention, which might mean I will be disappointed by the novel.

This month marked the start of my very own podcast, Lost in Translations. My wife and I have been planning this for a very long time and by planning I mean procrastinating. But this we finally released the first episode which is an introduction episode. I was very nervous but beyond thrilled with just how well it turned out. I am surprised how much support I got on a project that has just launched. I am looking forward to releasing the first official episode where we discuss a book I loved last year (no spoilers into what it will be). My wife will be my first guest and while we have not recorded the episode yet, I hope to have it release in the middle of May.

I have loved reading the Man Booker International prize longlist and I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially after finishing Like a Fading Shadow and Vernon Subutex 1. It has been a bit of a letdown for me. There are so many books on the list that I thought were so-so but not much I loved, besides The 7th Function of Language, Frankenstein in Baghdad and Die, My Love. I will read the next Vernon Subutex book, and I did have a lot of fun reading it but it was not a standout. I am starting to be distracted by other books and itching to read other things. I am not married to the idea of completing the entire longlist but I thought it was a great opportunity to be part of the community. I am yet to read Go, Went, Gone and Flights, which are on my TBR, so they will get read. I am in the middle of The Imposters and have not brought a copy of The Flying Mountain. So that is four books from the longlist that I would love to complete but the only one I am positive I will read soon is Flights.

The BTBA longlist is looking very tempting.

I re-read Frankenstein again, I received a beautiful edition of the 1818 text and thought it was time to read again. I did use this as an excuse to write a piece on how Frankenstein has impacted my life. Surprisingly I think I learnt a little about myself writing that piece and I am always astounded by what I discover about myself while writing. I think there is something therapeutic about writing and it often unlocks connections I have not thought were there. Writing about Frankenstein helped me understand a little more about my past. That piece will be in the next issue of The Literati which is released very soon.

Finally I picked up The Diving Pool to read, which is the pick for a bookclub I am apart of on Goodreads. I love being a part of a Goodreads group reading books in translation, but not many people are interested in communicating. I love a good forum but I think maybe they have run their course. People join but quickly lose interest. I love the idea of talking about books, especially translations but maybe Goodreads groups are not the right spot. What is the future for the forum format? Is it Discord? Or maybe it is a Facebook group.

I feel like this month has been less productive than other months. Only six books read and hardly any writing getting done. I am happy to see my podcast become a reality so I should not complain. I have The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart on the go, which I need to read for my IRL bookclub but I have not planned what else I will be reading. I like to read on a whim and maybe the Man Booker International prize longlist messed with that and has put me into a little of a slump. Although I hope to break out in May and get back to all the books that keep distracting me throughout the month. We are housesitting so I do not have access to all my books, which might mean a little control but I hope it does not keep my slump going any further.

Read More