Literature

Shorts

Songs for Night and Steps Through the Mist
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SONG FOR NIGHT

By Chris Abani

Akashic Books

164 pages

$12.95

In the secret sign language of Song for Night's mine diffusers — the child vanguard of an unnamed war somewhere in West Africa — silence is a steady hand, palm flat. Narrated in such a silence — of signed phrases and internal monologue — by a mute boy soldier named My Luck, Chris Abani's new novella is both deceptively understated and harrowing. Read more »

The afterworld

>A second posthumous novel by Suite Française author Irène Némirovsky argues for literature's enduring life
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lit@sfbg.com

REVIEW "Stress eternal life." Irène Némirovsky inscribed these words in her diary on July 1, 1942, less than two weeks before she was arrested under Vichy race laws, a month and a half before her death at Auschwitz. She wrote concerning a cycle of novels conceived to reflect the everyday qualities of life during wartime — a portrait emphasizing pettiness and pity, fear and loathing. Read more »

True crime

Documenting an assassination, novelist Francisco Goldman moves from fiction to political fictions
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lit@sfbg.com

REVIEW In a July 31, 2007, editorial, the New York Times decried the "more than 5,000 murders ... reported each year" in Guatemala, noting that "many are committed by the same groups — both left and right — that terrorized the country" during its 36-year civil war. Read more »

On the bright side

Bjørn Lomborg tells climate-change worrywarts to chillax in Cool It
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amanda@sfbg.com

The most masterful crafters of fiction depend on the deliberate omission of details. Ernest Hemingway, in a 1958 interview with the Paris Review, called it the iceberg of a story, an eighth of which pierces the surface, known and visible, while an untold reality remains submerged beneath the narrative. This art of absentia served Hemingway well, layering his stories with nuance and mystery. Read more »

Something worth fighting for

Matt Bai canvasses the Democratic reformers in search of a coherent vision in The Argument
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tredmond@sfbg.com

REVIEW If you want a guide to the players who are trying to refashion the Democratic Party in America, Matt Bai's The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics is a nice handbook. It's easy to read, brings the characters to life, and reveals how big chunks of money from a few very rich liberals are going to a handful of organizations and think tanks most people have never heard of. Read more »

A theocratic democracy?

Reese Erlich discusses moronic policy, complicated politics, and hopes for the future in Iran
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lit@sfbg.com
My old friend Reese Erlich is remarkably optimistic about Iran, which is a pleasant perspective. I’m glad somebody is.
In his insightful, if sometimes choppy, new book, The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis, he offers an alternative view of a nation and a culture that has been either ignored or demonized by the mainstream press for more than 30 years. His basic thesis -- that US policy toward Tehran is moronic, driven by foolish politics, bad information, and greedy geopolitical aims -- is hard to dispute. Read more »

Joining the party

In his memoir Black Radical, Nelson Peery surveys his tenure in the CP
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lit@sfbg.com
In 1946, after three and a half years spent fighting in the segregated US Army on the Pacific front of World War II, Nelson Peery returned to a home front marked by joblessness, mob violence, lynchings, police tyranny, and red-baiting hysteria. Read more »

Black-and-white beatitude

Beat captures the spirit of an era in frank and fabulous photographs
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Given all the media hype and hand-wringing that’s attended the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and the upcoming posthumous appearance of Allen Ginsberg in Todd Haynes’s Bob Dylan bio-fantasia I’m Not Here -- in which the goaty poet, played by David Cross, pays awkward tribute to a limo-driven Dylan (Cate Blanchett) from a speeding golf cart - you’d think the rainbow spectrum of Beats had finally been winnowed down to the twin poles of James Dean-ish sexpotism and portly Zen-molestation.

Sure, there’s Grandpappy William Burroughs in there somewhere, and Neal Cassady, popp Read more »

Pinkos, painters, and pansies

Daniel Hurewitz connects the identity dots among young LA's artist, activist, and fairy communities
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marke@sfbg.com

REVIEW Los Angeles has lately become quite a hot spot for queer studies scholars, their investigations slipping out of the Hollywood Babylon mode of starstruck speculation and into the lives of everyday Angelenos. Read more »