Synopses & Reviews
A virtuoso performance from an emerging new literary talent who crafts a vividly drawn history of an imaginary country.
In this stylistic tour de force, Stephen Marche creates the entire culture of a place called Sanjania-its national symbols, political movements, folk heroes, a group of writers dubbed fictioneers, a national airline called Sanjair, and a rich literary history.
Sanjania is an island nation whose English-speaking citizens draw upon the English, American, Australian, and Canadian literary traditions. This brilliant story is an anthology, taking the reader from the rough and tumble pamphlets of 1870s Sanjania to the burgeoning Sanjanian nationalistic awareness in the 1930s literary journal, The Real Story, to the extraordinary longing of the writings of the Sanjanian Diaspora. These works develop into a Rashomon-like story, introducing us to illustrious Sanjanian figures such as the repentant prostitute Pigeon Blackhat and the magically talented couple Caesar and Endurance.
The result is a vibrant evocation of a country from the birth pangs of its first settlers and their hardy vernacular to its revolutionary years and all the way to the present all told in Stephen Marche's innovative and accomplished writing.
"For this anthology of the literature of Sanjania, a fictitious North Atlantic island, Marche (Raymond and Hannah) creates a Sanjanian dialect and embeds it in an authentically alien atmosphere, as in the two stories that represent 19th century pamphlet literature, 'The Destruction of Marlyebone, the Pirate King' and 'Pigeon Blackhat.' The stories have commonplace plots, but their twisted diction is brilliant: 'In that time, no sailor on Sanjan Island did not know of the Beacham house and Pigeon Blackhat, I say it to my shame.' As Sanjania goes through an independence movement and postcolonial dictatorship during the 20th century, the writing styles reflect international fashion, from the Hemingway-influenced 'clean writing' movement of Blessed Shirley to the supposed magical realism of covetown life in, for instance, 'A Wedding in Restitution' (later made into a festsival-sweeping film). In keeping with the academic anthology structure, Marche provides a preface, an index of author biographies and a selection of Sanjanian criticism all straight-faced, and all perfect. Marche's concept is fascinating, but Sanjanian literature gets noticably worse the further one gets into the 20th century perhaps Marche's sly comment on declining national hopes, Sanjanian and otherwise." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Marche has found a...fitting form for his abiding concerns: diaspora and its discontents, and the efforts of far-flung people to bridge the gaps of time and space by way of the written word." New York Times
"If you love books, literature, bewitching tales well told and flights of fancy, you'll be hooked simply by reading [the] first two sentences of Stephen Marche's brilliant little jewel of a novel." Seattle Times
"[A] real tour de force, ingenious and hilarious." San Francisco Chronicle
"If your bookshelf only has room for one anthology of Sanjanian fiction, this is it." Kirkus Reviews
"The consequent kaleidoscope of details about Sanjania renders it so vividly that you can barely resist consulting an atlas just in case." Booklist
"Untrammelled, unfettered, unprecedented, unselfconscious and friggin' unbelievable, this book busts the novel open, makes literature an open question, and maps out brave new worlds for the reader to spelunk. With Raymond and Hannah I knew this guy was up to something brilliant. Shining at the Bottom of the Sea tells me I hadn't the faintest idea." Daniel Handler, author of Adverbs
"The novel's scope affords the author ample opportunity to paint with broad, bold strokes....Marche possesses a mighty knack for fashioning deliciously skewed particulars." Rod Smith, Rain Taxi
(read the entire Rain Taxi review
About the Author
Stephen Marche's first novel Raymond and Hannah was released in 2005 to critical acclaim. He is currently a Pforzheimer Fellow at City College, New York.