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Q: I'm looking for some sad, hopeless short stories, preferably written by a woman. I love Carson McCullers, Joan Didion, and, though not a woman, James Joyce ("A Painful Case" is a good example of what I like). Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth was the perfect depressing collection for me recently. Any recommendations? –Lexi
A: You might try Jamaica Kincaid. She is an American author of Caribbean origins and is magnificent and lyrical. She has a number of novels and a collection of short stories. The stories are contained in At the Bottom of the River, but I think you'd also like her novels. You might try Autobiography of My Mother or Lucy for starters. –Tom
Q: I am currently a grad student at NYU, dying to put the serious books aside and read for fun in my spare time (usually this is around 35 minutes before bed). I am originally from Oregon, so the change has really made me nostalgic for home and trying to keep myself busy. I am looking for fiction books that understand the idea of memory (survivors of genocide, people under dictatorships, etc.). I have a major in Spanish, so I have read Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat, Isabel Allende, Diamela Eltit, Julia Alvarez, and Gabriel García Márquez, among others. I also have read about the idea of memory in immigration through the writings of Esmeralda Santiago, Junot Díaz, and Sandra Cisneros. I guess what I am looking for is something new, different, and challenging that explores memory through novels or memoirs.
Additionally, I am exploring light fiction writing: I have read Girls in White Dresses, The Happiness Project, and fun books that are making me enjoy my 20s. So I am all for that. Currently I am reading Gone Girl, and I'm on the edge of my seat.
Do you have suggestions for other books I should be reading? –Vania
A: One of my favorite recent novels to deal with memory and atrocity is The People's Act of Love by James Meek, which explores revolutionary violence in a small village in Siberia circa 1919.
Another beautiful novel is Fugitive Pieces by the Canadian poet Anne Michaels, which uses Holocaust survival as a jumping off point for a meditation on atrocity and the artist. I read this book 12 years ago and I still can't get the opening images out of my mind.
If you'd like a light but infuriatingly thoughtful exploration of the relationship between fiction and memoir, read Philip Roth's The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography. –Rhianna
There are a wealth of titles incorporating memory as a theme, especially throughout Latin American literature (given the rather tumultuous, violence-soaked history of the region). Some notables include Chilean expatriate Ariel Dorfman: author of the very powerful play Death and the Maiden; the novel Mascara; and an unforgettable memoir, Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile.
The many works of Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano — all nonfiction — deal mostly with the theme of memory and forgetting (especially as it pertains to South American and world history). All of his books are remarkable, but a few good places to start may be: Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, Days and Nights of Love and War, or the incomparable Memory of Fire trilogy (Genesis, Faces and Masks, and Century of the Wind).
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