Review: You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat (Catapult Press 2020)

Reviewed by Isabella Scala-Natoli

In Zaina Arafat’s debut novel, You Exist Too Much—what some have called a bildungsroman, and a character study—an unnamed D.C. raised Palestinian-American narrator gets dumped by her girlfriend for her chronic infidelity and goes to rehab, then an MFA program. Across America, Europe, and The Middle East, she learns how to shape her life story into a love-story both shattering in impact and fractured in shape. Each place the narrator takes us to is tied to a person, and another manifestation of the same quest. That is, to find a mother—and in effect—a homeland. On this quest, as readers, we experience with the narrator what I can only describe as growing pains. What I got from reading YETM was the chance to bond with a character who by working out her own flaws, made me consequently realize my own. This sounds negative but it isn’t. It was a pleasant awakening. Like suddenly remembering where you know that person from, the one you saw on the bus earlier. You went to college together. Of course! Your dislike of others stems from your own insecurities. Of course!

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Review: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (Counterpoint 2019) 

Reviewed by Yollotl Lopez 

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot is like balloons filled with paint exploding against a white canvas — c. Heart Berries is Mailhot’s debut memoir told in a cyclical narrative touching upon her experience as a writer, mother, mental health patient, and partner all informed by her identity as a First Nations Canadian living in the U.S. It is the story of love, and loss, but most of all it is a story about storytelling. Mailhot writes:

“Things were created by story. The words were conjurers, and ideas were our mothers” (105). 

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Review: A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Tramp Press, 2020)

Reviewed by Allison McCausland

If “cat got your tongue” is the euphemism for not finding your words, then “a ghost in the throat” is its opposite. Author Doireann Ni Ghiofa defines it best in her titular combo of auto-fiction and essay as she explores her need to write about Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill, the eighteenth-century noblewoman and poet of Ireland’s classical keen, Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire. Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, or The Lament for Art O’Laoghaire, is Chonaill’s account of the romance and death of her husband, and is taught in Ireland’s literature curriculum as one of the greatest poems written in the country’s history. However, Ghiofa points out that this is one of the few texts written by Chonaill herself. How can someone so famous have little to no other accounts written about them? Ghiofa’s book chronicles her search for the story surrounding Chonaill’s life while intertwining her own experience of hardship and motherhood during her years of research. Her prose does its best to put into words the yearning need to give voice to the silenced artists of the past.

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Review: The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala

The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2020)

Reviewed by Megan Foster

A good man is hard to find, as they say. This is certainly the case in Cuban author Marcial Gala’s The Black Cathedral, a darkly comic novel that buzzes around the Stewart family’s fated arrival to Cienfuegos. Arturo Stewart moves with his wife Carmen and their three children – David King, Samuel Prince, and Johannes – with the express purpose of constructing a titular cathedral to outshine any temple in Cuba and make Cienfuegos the new Jerusalem. It doesn’t take long for the neighborhood to suspect that the Stewarts are not what they seem.  Readers must determine whom to trust as the novel rapidly flits through everyone’s point of view but the Stewarts: town gossips, classmates, a school principal, an architect, a drag queen, ghosts, a serial killer. In a town spurred by greed and violence, no one is holier than thou. 

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Review: The Dragons, The Giant, The Women: A Memoir by Wayetu Moore

The Dragons, The Giant, The Women: A Memoir By Wayetu Moore (Graywolf Press 2020)

Reviewed by Allison McCausland

There is a quote by G.K. Chesterton that goes, “Fairy tales are not told to tell children that dragons exist. Children already know the dragons exist. Fairy tales are told to tell that dragons can be killed.” But what happens when the dragons follow a child throughout their life? Such is the case with author Wayetu Moore in her memoir The Dragons, The Giant, The Women.

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Review: The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan

The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life by Janice Kaplan (Dutton Books 2016)

Reviewed by Patricia Steckler

Daily expressions of gratitude can change your life. Even during this global pandemic. Even now, as our country roils with outrage and sorrow over the ceaseless violence perpetrated on black Americans and people of color. Learning to practice gratitude elevates all of us. Even now. Especially now.

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Review: handiwork by Sara Baume

handiwork by Sara Baume (Tramp Press, 2020)

Reviewed by Allison McCausland

There is an artist inside all of us. The art we create can be subjective, but that does not diminish the time, care, and functionality someone puts into the act of creating. That is just one of the lessons gleamed from Irish author Sara Baume’s nonfiction debut, handiwork. In this short narrative, Baume combines her mediums of sculpting, carving, writing, and photography to illustrate the trials and joys of being an artist. handiwork chronicles her thoughts on the universality of art and its struggles while working on a woodworking series about her fascination with birds. She even treats her readers with the fruits of her carving labors with interspersed photographs of her avian subjects.

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Review of Shahr-e-Jaanaan: The City of the Beloved by Adeeba Shahid Talukder

Shahr-e-Jaanaan: The City of the Beloved by Adeeba Shahid Talukder (Tupelo Press 2020)

Reviewed by Leonora Simonovis

Winner of the Kundiman Prize Honoring Exceptional Work by Asian American Poets, this collection is a multilayered imaginary where the author converses with Urdu poetic tradition and poets such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mirza Ghalib, and Ibn-e-Insha, among others. Talukder is also a translator, which, as she explains in the preface, allows for transcreation “Based on the way the particular verses converse with the themes of my poems.” The interplay is not only between two languages, but also between two –or more– different ways of perception and experience.

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