Poet and novelist Alejandro Zambra on “Silence and Silencing,” via BombBlog (via Montana Ray):

The language of parents, the silence of our parents: sometimes we didn’t even know their position on what was happening in Chile. It was a way of protecting us. This was a very common sentence: we don’t talk politics in this house. Because it was understood that politics divided families, and because speaking was dangerous in itself. It was especially dangerous to speak about these topics with the neighbors. Television, as such, concealed reality with immense effectiveness, thoroughly compromised with the repressive apparatus. Nor did we know if our parents were the way they were owing to fear and repression or simply because that’s how adults always were. What were the differences between being an adult and being an adult under a dictatorship? I tended to think that grown-ups were boring, gray, stingy: only two or three adults seemed amusing or luminous to me. And what was the difference between silence and silencing? Or between being a child and being a child under a dictatorship?

Read the whole article here.

Besos y abrazos,


“What country are we living in and in what year, when priests bless half-drunk nationalists that pelt people with rocks while the police look on and then load us into police cars?”

Excerpt from a gorgeous interview with “Olga” and “Irina,” a gay couple in Russia, from the forthcoming Gay Propaganda, a bilingual collection of edited interviews with LGBT Russians.

For a moving post-Valentine’s day read, give the whole interview a look (published at PEN.org).



In 2012, I wrote an obituary over at The Millions for famed literary translator (and champion of literary translation) Michael Henry Heim. I just learned from Susan Bernofsky’s Translationista blog that this year marks the passing of another great translator:

Daniel Weissbort, the much loved and respected translator of Russian poetry who directed the MFA Program in Translation at the University of Iowa for over thirty years, passed away several weeks ago at the age of 78.

Her blog features a thoughtful obituary dedicated to Weissbort and written by Bill Martin. Head there to check it out.

I’ll be at Bloombars in Columbia Heights this Sunday from 3-5pm, as part of the PERFORMETRY series, doing my first reading since I moved back to DC about a year ago! I’ll be reading an excerpt from a humorous essay about Los Angeles and food.

More information below, courtesy of Elizabeth Bruce:


Join the Feast of Words & Food!













Bring family-friendly poetry, songs, short fiction to share!


FREE Homemade Soup, Bread, Fruit & Vegan Dessert!

SUNDAY, December 15, 2013

3:00-5:00 PM


Old Poems, New Poems, Your Poems @ BloomBars

3222 11th St. NW – Washington, DC 20010

BloomBars is a family-friendly environment—All Ages Welcome.

Performetry is a project of Sanctuary Theatre’s Performing Knowledge Project

Suggested Donation: $10 for adults (children free)


Made possible by support from Poets & Writers & the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities

My dear friend Yardenne Greenspan just had her translation of Israeli fiction published by New Vessel Press last week (congrats!). World Literature Today ran an interview with her, where she says some really smart things about translation:

There are so many interesting theories on translation, and many of them focus on the question of foreign-ness versus seamlessness; how natural do you want the translation to sound in English versus how much of an “exotic” feel do you want to preserve. I think a good balance is necessary. You don’t want readers to have to pause and scratch their heads at weird sentence structures or grammatical awkwardness, but on the other hand, you want to give them that little something, that curiosity that comes with reading something set in a new place, where people speak differently and joke differently and love differently.

Read the full interview here, and buy Yardenne’s translation of Some Day by Shemi Zarhin here (e-book or print).



Via The Paris Review: “Inside the Rainbow: Russian Children’s Literature 1920–35: Beautiful Books, Terrible Times is a stunning compendium of illustrations from the twenties and thirties.”

Just read a lovely experimental essay about immigrant identity and longing. It’s a piece by Anna Prushinskaya up at The Millions. An excerpt:

I set alarms to call my grandmother. I don’t call her for weeks that add up to months, and when I finally call her, I tell her that I will call again next week. I don’t call her next week. I think about calling her each time that I say I will call her. When I call her, I can hear the background noise of the street. She says regular things like that she misses me. She asks for great-grandchildren.

I read something recently that described stealing as lack of faith. We steal when we don’t have faith that the things we need will come. When I don’t call, I think I am stealing time. I do not have faith that at the end of the conversation about the weather there is something that turns out to be love.

It’s a day of reading Russian stuff. So then I read some ruminations about Russian language from a piece up at Jewcy:

I love Russian. I love how the phrases resonate with innate lyricism; how the constants punctuate speech with that distinctly Slavic bite[...]But I especially love how speaking the language makes me feel – like an edgier, snarkier me, with a stockpile of one-liners and wit that rarely makes its way into my English-language conversations. For these reasons and more, I’ve incurred countless raised eyebrows from fellow Russian-speakers when answering that obligatory question – where are you from? Because I’m not from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Baku, Tashkent, or some variation thereof—I grew up right here, between Brooklyn and Jersey.

The author, Samantha Shokin,  goes on to say:

My bilinguality was always the defining characteristic I shared about myself, and eventually kids started accusing me of sporting a foreign accent. I relished having a unique background that set me apart from the rabble, but hated the exclusion that came with it. In truth, my pseudo-immigrant pride was really a defense mechanism used to cope with a general feeling of “otherness” that I could never quite shake.

I resonate wit this a lot, though it was less a true bilingualism for me and more of a biculturalism, that I had knowledge of this other country, this other world, and place. I had a strange nostalgia growing up for a place I’d never been to, a country that no longer existed.

The author goes onto meet some newer Russian immigrants:

These friends were creative, exotic, and spoke Russian so beautifully that even expletives fizzled in my ears with charming effervescence. To them, I was a novelty; a bridge between cultures. I laughed at jokes I didn’t understand because I wanted so badly to. Soon I found myself wondering, would I be like them if I’d grown up there? If my parents had never left?

I ask myself these questions a lot. Who would I have been if I had been born in Moscow?


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