In Ch. 2 of “The Martian Invasion,” Brian Fawcett, a coming-of-age young Canadian, is on the Grand Tour of Europe in 1963. The “Rover Boys” (Brian and a pal) are driving a 1953 Opel through a blizzard in the Alps, eventually ending up behind the Iron Curtain in Belgrade, Serbia. The adventures of “travel morons.”
Mikhail Iossel is in Kenya, being interviewed by a Young Writer for a Nairobi-based publication, who, upon being shown some photos of Iossel in his youthful 20s, asks, “But… but… what happened?” SENTENCE: LIFE HAPPENED is the latest in Iossel’s series of stories-in-one-sentence.
Vian Andrews’ journals from Italy’s Umbrian countryside include woodpiles, competent workers, words that hurt, bureaucratic permits, Sunday theme-parks, and lots of olives, harvested and pressed, and olive oil drizzled on hot grilled bread.
Brian Fawcett relates an incident in an alley in Brighton, England in 1963 that involves dope, Rockers, switchblades, and books. But how to tell a story that doesn’t violate the principles of the Creative Writing Department Manual or the fact that there is no fiction in the real world? “The Martians are always coming,” as one writer once said.
The Sussex Variations, or Two Boars: (Ch. 15) Nightingales, and a Short Journey Through the Darkness
In the concluding chapter of Brian Fawcett’s “The Sussex Variations, or Two Boars,” the young Canadian acquiring an “education” on an English pig farm in 1962 is still learning about the birds and the boars. “Nightingales, and a Short Journey Through the Darkness” features robins, starlings, nightingales and a deadly dangerous boar.
Scribbles from Italy: The Garden of Innocence, Bird Song, Fate of the Chicken, Going Cold, Doing Stuff, Winds That Blow.
Passages from Vian Andrews’ journals about life in the Umbrian countryside. Taking the kids to the park, the Thanksgiving lunch, a bird song of pain, farmers ploughing their fields, cold houses, and the wind in the olive groves — the settings in which a little wisdom might be found.
Gloriah Amondi’s narrator arrives back in Nairobi. A friend has died, her ex-lover has moved in with the Love of their Life, there’s a memorial mass to attend, and she has dreams of the dead friend. She writes on stickers and puts them up on the walls: “Death has a lot of time. It will wait, it will wait.”
Brian Fawcett learns the rules and wisdom of life and war, at least according to Ronald Surry, on a pig farm in England in 1962. Yes, a coming-of-age story but, more important, a story of coming-into-intelligence, which belongs to the world, not to the individual. Ch. 14 of “The Sussex Variations, or Two Boars.”
He lives in the basement. His ex-wife lives upstairs. He has a new girlfriend. She has a young child. He has a psychiatrist. He has kids. John Harris’ “Making Light of Love in the Moon.”
Brian Fawcett, coming of age on a Sussex pig farm in 1962, is trying to secure the facts in a world that seems doomed by nuclear weapons and a population explosion. Ch. 13: Doom, of “The Sussex Variations, or Two Boars.”
Scribbles from Italy: The Clang of the Past, Shouts and Hollers, The Slaughter of the Politicians, Entanglements
Passages from Vian Andrews’ journals about living in Italy’s Umbrian countryside. He’s thinking about church bells clanging, children’s playgrounds, medieval donkey races, the brutal games of politics, and the bloody chore of pruning brambles and thorn bushes.
What We're Reading:
Serhii Plokhy, The Russo-Ukrainian War: The Return of History (2023)
One of the world's leading experts on Ukrainian history is Harvard professor Serhii Plokhy. He's the author of almost 20 books on the subject, including The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union (2014) and The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (2015). When Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale war on Ukraine in 2022, Plokhy was in Vienna, doing historical research. He immediately turned to Russia's aggression, and the resultant book is a cogent report on both the recent history of Russo-Ukrainian relations and reflections on the-war-so-far. Most of Russia's "talking points" justifying the war -- NATO encirclement, denial of Ukraine's existence, claims that Ukraine's government is fascist and seized power by a U.S.-backed coup -- are all deftly explored in this knowledgeable tour of both the frontlines and the "backlines." Plokhy's sub-title, "The Return of History," argues that history's oft-proclaimed "end" hasn't happened yet.
Benjamin Abelow, How the West Brought War to Ukraine (2022)
Even if you're appalled by Vlaimir Putin's war against Ukraine, but you want to know the other side's argument that allegedly justifies it and who should be held accountable for causing the war, Ben Abelow's pamphlet-sized How the West Brought War to Ukraine is exactly what you're looking for. It's practically the "official" explanation of the thesis that U.S.-NATO imperialism forced Putin to launch his war-crimes-level invasion, given that it comes with endorsements from Noam Chomsky; "realist" political scientist John Mearsheimer; and Reagan-era U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock. The apologia's undeniable virtue is its brevity, but that's also a fatal flaw. Coming in at under 80 pages, it's limited to citing a small circle of scholars and analysts who share Abelow's views. Thus, this is one of those reading adventures where the most important thing is not so much what's written, but what's not written or discussed, namely, the counterviews that attempt to debunk Russian talking-points for creating the most consequential and bloody European conflict in more than three-quarters of a century.
Jenny Erpenbeck, Kairos (2021, tr. Michael Hoffman, 2023)
The title of Jenny Erpenbeck's latest novel, Kairos, refers to the ancient Greek personification of the "opportune moment," which in this case is the seemingly "fortuitous" encounter in 1986 on an East Berlin bus between a 19-year-old theatre student, Katharina, and a 50-something, married-with-child, novelist and radio personality named Hans, who embark on a mutually consensual, clandestine, "age-inappropriate" (as some North Americans like to say), love affair, one that seems as doomed as the impending fate of East Germany itself, three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Erpenbeck, the 56-year old, East German-born author of a half-dozen praised and prize-winning previous fictions is arguably the premier contemporary novelist in Germany. Kairos won the prestigious Uwe Johnson award last year. The book's reception among English-language readers and critics has been, if anything, more rapturous than in Europe. The National Public Radio (NPR) reviewer said that Erpenbeck was the writer "whom I fully expect to win the Nobel Prize sometime in the next five years." The Guardian's reviewer settled for the less grandiose pronouncement that "Kairos is one of the bleakest and most beautiful novels I have ever read." As they say in TV trigger-warnings, some of the images you're about to see are "disturbing."