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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).
You may also consider checking out Horacio Castellanos Moya's haunting novel, Senselessness, as well as the fiction and poetry of Mario Benedetti. –Jeremy