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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Review: Bessarabian Stamps: Stories


Bessarabian Stamps: Stories by Oleg Woolf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Available from Phoneme Media

Upon delving into Bessarabian Stamps, I immediately experienced what translator Boris Dralyuk had communicated in his preface that, "So much is born of so little." Immediately– I confirmed both the shortness and depth found in the book. Consequently it made for a challenging read while I struggled to maintain a coherent and linear reading of the 16 mini narratives due to characters with interchangeable names and seemingly ambiguous daily occurrences. However, I managed to advance in the reading and began to feel Oleg Woolf's mundane rhythm and the harmonious predicament of a community in limbo with no desire and no energy to be emancipated.

Woolf's descriptions of the town sustain each story and healthily compliment the interpersonal treatment between the characters and their town. They embellish each individual’s temperament and simultaneously, these temperaments become the crux of the book and its flow. In many instances Woolf intertwines Sănduleni into the DNA of each character, while each character weaves their own self reciprocally back into the town, thus showing that a place refuses to exist without those who inhabit it. Sănduleni has been precariously governed and manipulated by numerous regimes of rule throughout its history. It has seen it's borders morphed and moved numerous times deeming lines on a map as superfluous to its denizens that were either included or omitted by the busy boundaries. In Woolf's Sănduleni the trains sigh and the lakes need no inspiration. The town's profile is ostentatiously ordinary. Its people are mysterious and their language creates a tone and mood that is so unique that at times it seems unbearable to the reader. Yes, their language and dialogues are unconventional and may dizzy the reader, but they are the cogent themes of a people and region that have been dizzied by their own history. This consequently tends to lead the reader to believe that neither the region nor its people seem to fret over the ambiguity of their nationality or borders. But as the characters interact throughout each stamp, their ho-hum and somber tone latently screams, “that is not so!”

To be repetitive, the characters' discourse is a reflection of their setting– and Woolf pinpoints that with his wit and pithy narrative. Many stories can help a reader visualize another world. Bessarabian Stamps unleashes years and depths of a town in only a few pages. The setting and its dwellers effortlessly compete for the role of protagonist. The reader does not see another world, rather experiences and becomes familiar with the idiosyncrasies of an unusual normalcy found in the interaction of the habitants in their town. The people and the place will leave any curious reader profoundly satisfied and enlightened in a shadow of repetitive uncertainty. Does the post physically arrive to Sănduleni? Are these Stamps of any veracity? This book is a door to a plethora of other doors, each providing a glimpse into a community and its people where both refuse to reveal anything definitive about their shared predicament, leaving the reader's imagination to excavate its own depths. It must not go without mention that Boris Dralyuk has provided a vigorous translation that is certain to quench the curiosity of the English-speaking reader.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Good Air?



Air exposes its essence to what we create with it and how we apply her to life. El Negro has arrived to Buenos Aires. I heard the screams from the tarmac. They reached my 15th floor balcony 37 kilometers away. I am not certain how or even why– disconcerting. Were they screeches perhaps? Sharp like an eagle or hungry like a vulture? I could not paint sounds with colors, a gift I have had since I can remember– a peculiar way I create with the air. The block was unconscious and indecisive, possibly it was bad circulation. The shadow tarried in a moribund black as the red, white and blue cautiously arbitrated the celeste and white. I chose the sun. I chose the sun and looked directly at it with open eyes as it glazed the surface of the Río de la Plata and I, as if we were two sisters admiring ourselves in a lateral mirror. Etta James sounded on my iPod and we forgot about the screeches, or the shrieks, or the screams, setting off from the south of the urban cone. I envisaged a tepid white forearm that belonged to Etta, flipped belly-up ready to fillet- upturned over her left thigh like a dorado, furtive in a powder room of the radio station, helplessly submitting to a silver needle that would silence the internal screams– guttural from the innards and exposed in streams from the beaks of demon eagles trapped in her that would subsequently transform and morph while voyaging through her great redeemer. 15 minutes later over the broadcast to a %99 listener majority of a vibrant white, her vocal chords redeemed it all. Staring at the sun I thought of El Negro and Etta. I sucked the mate gourd to a quagmire that synthesized my overall posture as the sun veiled me and my sister. Chavez gifted El Negro Las venas abiertas de América Latina by Eduardo Galeano. What about the Open Veins of Etta James, or the Open Veins of Billie Holiday? Chavez is dead, so is Galeano, Etta, and Billie, too. Maybe the Engineer will give el Negro a book. Civility and Barbarity by Sarmiento? Or Bases by Alberdi? Operación Masacre by Rodolfo Walsh? The air is truly good today, but Etta would have belted out redemption, unleashing those internal gryphons to pluck the eyes of demagoguery, and pecking at the air to silence the misused air of the screeches and screams– belting from the tarmac.
March 23rd, 2016