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David Eagleman, Sum, Forty Tales from the Afterlives, Vintage Books, 2009. 

Horia Dulvac, Effect Doppler, Editura Scrisul Romanesc, Craiova, Romania 2009.The dead are in in fiction now, not that they were ever out, but they are in differently. In Horia Dulvac’s spectacularly and beautifully written short novel, the narrative voices who turn out to belong to dead or nearly dead people, are hypnotic. What makes them great is that the effects death has had on these characters are dire and minimal, though poetic and concentrated. This book, written in Romanian, is too good to be translated, but it will be, and I pity the poor translator. For instance, the narrator declares at one point that, “Once I rose to the sky during a prayer, and looking outside as if through a lens, I saw my face on the other side. I was about to be terrified of my face, and was about to fall. ‘Why in hell do I look like that,” I was asking myself.” Dulvac plays with tenses and creates unforgettable images of utter otherworldliness. For instance, “You have to run away on time. I remembered when I was going to have my first heart-attack, the dilating aorta, the body flying up...” Remembering the future is just one in Dulvac’s seemingly bottomless bag of necro-fic-tricks. It took me two years to get to this slim tomette, but it was worth detaching from top of Tower 12 of Unread Books.Incidentally, David Eagleman’s book followed Dulvac’s like the next pancake in the 30 ft stack. A series of brief essays on possible afterlives, this book is smart, true, and often surprising. The writer is a neuroscoentist, which has something to do with his metaphysics, but the prose owes the beauty to the fragmentary philosophical literature of Calvino and Borges. The afterlives he describes are plausible and purportedly informed by brain research and information techne, but they are actually updated medieval speculations in "scientific" masks. Each one is worth reading twice, though I myself, who am familiar with some of these scenarios, caught on pretty quick to the thinking mode and the essay technique –which didn’t prevent me from enjoying and taking seriously Eagleman’s fancies. I met the author in his role as moderator at a 2011 Diva artistic salon in Houston -- he was a ball of young energy, optimistically invested in the brain. Such faith is hard to come by, so take it second-hand from me. I think Eagleman knows his stuff. And if you die while reading the book, be sure to be on a page where things sort of turn out OK, because mostly they don’t. (8.3.2011) 

(rereading) Isabella Eberhardt, The Oblivion Seekers, translated by Paul Bowles. City Lights, first published in 1972, fourth printing 1982. Laura read this for the first time and I reread it. Fabulous character, this Isabella Eberhardt who disguised herself as a man and joined the Sufi sect at the Qadriya monastery in North Africa, had an affair (as a man) with the chief moqaddem, and wrote cryptic reports of her adventures for the Algiers newspaper Les Nouvelles. She wrote numerous letters and published a now-mostly-lost book, Dans l'Ombre Chaude de l'Islam, about her many adventures in love and war writings. She died at the age of 27, swept away by a flash flood at Ein Sefra. If Paul Bowles didn't invent her, and the evidence says that she didn't, Isabella Eberhardt is one of the great figures of the feminist modern feminist pantheon wherein dwells Amelia Earheart, George Sand, Sarah Bernhardt, Emma Goldman, and Boxcar Bertha. I wish that City Lights would issue all her extant writings, not just these excerpts translated and chosen by Paul Bowles. She did write in eminently translatable French, after all.



Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky, New York: New Directions. This is a contemporary German novel, a field we haven’t kept up with since Gunther Grass. We trust New Directions, however, so go Erpenbeck!
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