The Paris Review, Summer 2005
Posted February 27, 2007on:
This issue was put out in the first year of Gourevitch’s tenure as editor. I saw small differences, even so, from the most recent issues. Advertisements are scattered among the contents rather than kept at the front and the back, an arrangement I much prefer. It’s very refreshing to read through a publication and not be jarred by promotional pages. The photographs in the photojournalism feature are each printed on a single page, length-wise, rather than across the width of both pages; I like it this way because the spine doesn’t interrupt the photograph: I’m not pressing down the pages so as not to miss anything hidden in the shadows of the crevice. Still, I can see why they do it the other way as well. I can’t imagine the interiors of Kibera’s slum houses, or the flooded New Orleans streets shrunk to fit a single page.
One of the best things in this printing was the series of Liao Yiwu interviews. Liao is a Chinese poet whose work tackles the darker issues of China that the government wants no one to acknowledge. His tape recording of “Massacre”, an “epic account” of Tiananmen Square, and the the move of its sequel “Requiem” caused the government to sentence him in jail for four years. Since his release he has kept at his work, writing poetry and recreating interviews from the people he had conversations with during the low points of his life in and after jail, working odd jobs at restaurants and tea houses. I say recreate because the interviews were not taken from transcripts but from his memory. The book in which they appeared was Interviews with People from the Bottom Rung of Society. The pieces used in The Paris Review, interviews with a professional mourner, a public toilet manager, and a human trafficker, were adapted and translated by Wen Huang into English for the first time.
The presentation of the interviews was also thoughtful. We get the first interview at the front of the issue, with no translator’s note on either Liao Yiwu or his subject. You take it in as is, and are not given any political or social context, beyond what Liao and his interviewee discuss, until the next interview in the series.
After the first Liao Yiwu piece we’re awed again by a brilliant fiction written by Damon Galgut, a South African writer. His minimalist style–no punctuation besides commas and periods–left in stark relief the struggle of power and human need for knowledge, for intimacy between Damon, a young gay South African recovering from a break-up and Reiner, a calculatingly mysterious and driven German. Does it get tiring to read me express my amazement at how consistently high the quality of fiction published by PR is? I just can’t get over it. Granted it’s no discovery on its part, as one of Galgut’s novels was short listed for the Booker, but I’d never heard of him before; I’d never paid attention to any book prizes at all really, until I started to read litblogs.
Lisa Halliday’s story titled “Stump Louie” was interesting enough, the titled character most of all, but Galgut’s novella eclipsed it, sorry.
The Salman Rushdie interview was excellent, primarily because I could feel Rushdie’s energy and enthusiasm right off the pages. I never became bothered by the exploration into his personal background, it all linked to his work in a very organic way. The interview alone is worth the whole issue for me.
I’ve not much to say about the poetry. I like a few of Jesse Ball’s but damned if I really get what the hell he’s writing about. Luckily enough I’m in the middle of the “Formalist Approach” chapter in my Handbook–the book in my sidebar that receives the most clicks by far, followed by the various Paris Review editions–and am finding it extremely useful, for poetry in particular. (More on that another time.) I intend to return the poems (have been, over and over) but I’ll post my favourites in a minute to see what others think. (I have vague ideas, sure, but they’re vague.)
I’ll leave you with a shot or two from Elizabeth Bishop’s notebooks. It doesn’t say so in the introduction but I’m assuming that these and others were taken from Edgar Allen Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts and Fragments. The paperback will be released next Tuesday, March 6th.
“I introduce Penelope Gwin…”