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Editors’ Picks: Rum and Longing

July 17, 2014

Summer reads to savor.

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Image: Flickr user clauderobillard

Guernica’s staff present the books we’re relishing this summer. There’s something for everyone: Arundhati Roy setting her unflinching gaze on the condition of India’s farmers, Thierry Cruvellier on an infamous Khmer Rouge war criminal, romantic cynicism in New York, and magical realism in the Caribbean. Taking these books to the beach means forgetting all that sand you’ll never get out of your backpack and toasting to poems that are “more like beach stones than gems.” We think each one is worth slowing down for.

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Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy’s Capitalism: A Ghost Story tells the tale of how the 100 richest individuals in an India of 1.2 billion have come to possess ¼ of its wealth and of the hundreds of millions on which this capital was accumulated: the 250,000+ farmers who have committed suicide since 1995; the incredibly poor adivasi and dalit communities of central India displaced to clear the way for mining and dam projects; the resistance movements deemed “Maoist” by the Indian state’s repressive counterinsurgency campaign, Operation Green Hunt; and other vulnerable groups. These dispossessed spirits expose the human horror underlying the country’s so-called economic “miracle” of recent years. Roy portrays the present moment—not only in India but also worldwide—as one in which the radical imagination has been strangled by corporate globalization’s enormous toll on human lives and ecologies, but this accrual of ghosts also begets an occasion for resistance. “[The] dead will begin to speak,” Roy writes. “And it will not just be dead humans, it will be the dead land, dead rivers, dead mountains, and dead creatures in dead forests that will insist on a hearing.” In the meantime, Roy poses an important question: will those marked for death reclaim the earth or will the earth continue grotesquely to inherit the dead?

—Micheal Rumore, Fiction Editorial Assistant

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For Tamara by Sarah Lang

Describing this collection as advice to a daughter doesn’t quite convey the intensity of these poems. They aren’t tips on getting grass stains out of jeans, but rather do-or-die instructions for surviving in a society devastated by war. The mother in Sarah Lang’s poems runs a makeshift hospital and explains to nine-year-old Tamara why she needs to know (among other necessities) how to make drugs and decide which patients get treated. There’s beauty conveyed, too, even in the bleakest circumstances: “Dead ppl look like normal people / But like a waterfall you keep expecting to move.” Complete with drawings of constellations, North America, and bottles for blood transfusions, this is the most satisfyingly original poetry book that I’ve read this year.

—Erica Wright, Poetry Editor

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In Love by Alfred Hayes

The brilliant literary crate-diggers at NYRB Classics have done it once again and unearthed this little miracle of a book. Alfred Hayes’s In Love is one of the most deliciously cynical novels on relationships and love lost that I’ve yet to read, and is gorgeously written to boot. Set in 1950s New York, In Love tells the story of a man who is just a little too old to find himself sitting on a barstool boozily and brokenheartedly chatting up a younger woman by telling her an epic tale of the one that got away (by way of his own romantic negligence, naturally). Sentence by sentence, Hayes nails the complexities, contradictions and general insanity of two humans trying (or not really trying, actually) to make it work when it isn’t working. Bonus points for one of the most dead-on sentences about how NYC summer heat will make you crazy: “Summer had boiled all day in the public thermometers, and there was an intolerable glitter from the chromework of parked cars… you could almost hear the stretched human nerve snap. The city had, once more, become impossible.”

—Lisa Lucas, Publisher

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Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

With lush imagery, a dash of magical realism, and vivid female characters at its center, Tiphanie Yanique’s debut novel Land of Love and Drowning intrigues and delights. Against the backdrop of the Caribbean in the early 1900s, the book focuses on sisters Eeona and Anette. These sisters are as cursed as they are blessed: They are orphaned at a young age and possess mystical powers that they strive to control, just as they struggle to forge their identities in a region caught in upheaval. Land of Love and Drowning is a family saga told with sensual prose. Pair it with rum—and longing.

—Grace Bello, Interviews Editor

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Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

Nobody Is Ever Missing has the rare quality of being totally riveting but also very quiet. I read this book as fast as I would any thriller, but instead of high-speed chases there is a woman, mostly alone, sifting through her own thoughts and memories. The narrator, a young woman who has run away from her husband and family, is traveling through New Zealand for most of the book, but this isn’t a traditional quest narrative—or maybe it is, but the quest is dark and personal and indirect and circuitous. Catherine Lacey’s voice is something truly special; there is a wildebeest at the heart of this novel and you need to meet it.

—Rachel Riederer, Daily editor

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The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicles by Francisco Goldman

In this wonderful book Goldman mixes memoir and reportage in providing a bright, nuanced portrait of the Distrito Federal and the two years he spent living there following the loss of his wife. He is excellent at illuminating everyday moments, and anything I can say about his writing would be better spent quoting from it: “Eventually I stopped exoticizing the city… I no longer wanted or needed to frame the city in that way, by distinguishing certain moments or images from all other moments and images as being uniquely characteristic of the city, which they’re not, no more than what I saw while walking down Alvaro Obregón the other day is: two lovely-looking long-haired teenagers, a boy and a girl, standing in the doorway of an apartment building, each lifting a handful of the other’s hair to his or her nose. They kissed, and the girl went inside … I remember the lonely, insecure kid I was and share his desperate daydreams…”

—Jonathan Lee, Contributing Editor

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The Ground by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

More like beach stones than gems, these poems are elegant, elegiac, and perfectly formed. In them, the moon can bruise, a man can stand on sound, and even beginnings need cures. Phillips can seal the promise of a story into a single sentence (“For once, I slept and you watched.”) and compress sentences into images (“Talking picture. Silent poem.”) I’m amused by the evident lack of middle ground between the cosmic and the New York-centric, but the lines are sonically slick enough to render setting a nonissue. The poems chafe when they identify themselves as poetry (“synopsis as curt as / Enjambment” is passable… “We are early in the life of the poet,” less so). But paradoxically, the self-referential pieces are redeemed by the quality of the work being referenced: The Ground is poetry at its most potent, itself a celebration of the genre. You can read a sample here.

—Liv Lansdale, Editorial Intern

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The Master of Confessions: The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer by Thierry Cruvellier

Thierry Cruvellier remains the only journalist to have attended every post Cold War war-crime tribunal. This is something that can leave one, in Cruvellier’s words, somewhat inured to the litany of atrocities being recounted. (One gets the sense that Cruvellier already knows how long it takes for a man’s toenails to be ripped out, even as he narrates the question.) Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that many of Master of Confessions most haunting moments don’t unfold in the courtroom, but when Cruvellier, deftly gripping the absurd, leads us away on an exploration of modern-day Cambodia’s exploding thanatourism trade. And it’s through Cruvellier that we come to view Duch—aka Kaing Gueck Eav, aka Hang Pin; the former math teacher turned Khmer Rouge prison boss turned born-again Christian and teacher once more—with a modicum of sympathy. Vulnerable, self-aware, and contrite in court, Duch isn’t the villain that we’ve come to expect from war criminals. But maybe that’s the point.

—Alexis Zanghi, Editorial Intern

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