Articles by Geoff Wisner

J.M.G. Le Clézio Shows Us How It’s Done

December 12, 2013

Image of J.M.G. Le Clézio Shows Us How It’s Done
Read The African, the newly translated memoir by Nobel laureate J.M.G. Le Clézio, to learn more about the author’s childhood, personality, and relationship with his father. Read it for the sometimes elegant beauty of the prose. Just don’t read it for its insights into Africa and its…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

This novel is smoking

October 9, 2013

Image of This novel is smoking
The Museum of Innocence, translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely, was the first novel published by Orhan Pamuk after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. A memory novel of more than 500 pages, it takes the reader back to the Istanbul of Pamuk’s youth, and belies the common belief…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

PEN World Voices Festival Dispatch: Haiti in Two Acts

May 5, 2013

Image of PEN World Voices Festival Dispatch: Haiti in Two Acts
When an earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, among the 300,000 killed were Georges Anglade, the president of PEN Haiti, and his wife Mireille Neptune. Today novelist Jean-Euphèle Milcé and poet and novelist Emmélie Prophète, his wife, serve as president and vice president.…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Sebald and the Old Masters

February 13, 2013

Image of Sebald and the Old Masters
Until last year, I had never read a word of W.G. Sebald. So far I have read only Vertigo, his first work, and The Rings of Saturn, but I have greatly enjoyed not only the beauty, grace, and dry humor of Sebald’s language but the echoes of Proust, Kafka, Poe,and Bruno Schulz that it contains. Both…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Messages from Mexico

February 7, 2013

Image of Messages from Mexico
Published in January by Small Beer Press, Three Messages and a Warning brings together thirty-four of what the editors call “contemporary Mexican short stories of the fantastic.” Each of them is freshly translated, and many of the authors have never appeared before in English. The collection,…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

The Restoration of “Solar Throat Slashed”

January 22, 2013

Image of The Restoration of “Solar Throat Slashed”
Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, the best-known work of the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, appeared in book form in 1947. A year later Césaire published Soleil cou coupé, an extraordinary collection of seventy-two poems. In this book, writes A. James Arnold in the introduction…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

The Neighborhood Gangster

January 15, 2013

Image of The Neighborhood Gangster
Christian Dumoux was born around 1950 and grew up as a mixed-race child in Madagascar. He went on to live in Benin, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Chad before moving to Paris. Dumoux’s memoir Une enfance malgache, published in French in 2005, is one of the few available from that island country. He…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

“Friendship is a religion”

November 6, 2012

Image of “Friendship is a religion”
Tahar Ben Jelloun was born in the city of Fès in 1944. He attended an Arabic-French elementary school, studied French in Tangier until the age of eighteen, then studied philosophy and wrote his first poems at Mohammed V University in Rabat. He is best known for his novels The Sand Child and The…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

First day at military school

October 23, 2012

Image of First day at military school
Yasmina Khadra is the pen name of Mohammed Moulessehoul, who was born in 1955 in the Algerian desert town of Kenadsa. His novels The Swallows of Kabul (2006) and The Attack (2008) were each shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. As an officer in the Algerian army, Moulessehoul…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

The Marco Polo of Morocco

April 16, 2012

Image of The Marco Polo of Morocco
Born in Morocco in 1304, Ibn Battuta was the greatest world traveler of his time. He began his journeys in 1325, a year after Marco Polo died in Venice, but traveled five times as far before he was done. In his journeys through lands including Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, India, and China he covered…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

“To read a text with the eyes of the world”

April 11, 2012

Image of “To read a text with the eyes of the world”
The book I most look forward to from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is the next volume of his excellent memoirs. But in the meantime we have Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing, based on a series of lectures delivered in May 2010. A fine novelist is not necessarily a fine literary critic.…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Poetry from the Horn of Africa

April 11, 2012

Image of Poetry from the Horn of Africa
Launched in November 2011, Warscapes magazine has taken on an unusual niche: the art and literature of war zones around the world. On March 6, Warscapes hosted An Evening of Poetry from the Horn of Africa in the headquarters of Alwan for the Arts near the tip of Manhattan on Beaver Street. The event…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

A Memoir Disguised as a Novel

April 6, 2012

Image of A Memoir Disguised as a Novel
Harper Perennial, which reissued A Life Full of Holes in 2008, describes it on the cover as “the first novel ever written in the Arabic dialect Moghrebi.” Yet there is more than a little doubt as to whether it is a novel at all. A Life Full of Holes was told to Paul Bowles in Moghrebi by…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Günter does India

February 14, 2012

Image of Günter does India
The prolific Günter Grass has produced poems, plays, novels, novellas, memoirs, essays, and speeches, but Show Your Tongue is (at least so far) his only work that could be described as a travel book. Published in 1988 as Ein Tagebuch in Zeichnungen (A Diary in Drawings) and translated into English…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

The Narrator Never Dies: An Interview with Dany Laferrière

November 1, 2011

On October 28, the Haitian-born author Dany Laferrière appeared on a panel presented by NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge and UnionDocs, with the support of the Villa Gillet and France’s Conseil de la Création Artistique. The subject was Featuring Disaster: How We Picture…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

How to write about Africa, revisited

July 11, 2011

Image of How to write about Africa, revisited
I am currently editing an anthology of memoirs from the continent of Africa, so I was excited to see that the long-awaited memoir by the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina is scheduled to appear this summer. One Day I Will Write About This Place grew from the essay “Discovering Home,” Wainaina's…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

“Mr. Pamuk, did all this really happen to you?”

June 6, 2011

Image of “Mr. Pamuk, did all this really happen to you?”
The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist, translated from the Turkish by Nazim Dikba, is based on a series of lectures delivered at Harvard by Orhan Pamuk as part of the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton lecture series. Pamuk seems to have had a good time writing this book: In 2009, after air flights in…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

A tale from the Ebony Coast

May 10, 2011

Image of A tale from the Ebony Coast
Fama is a handsome prince of the Malinké people, but he spends his days in the capital city, far from his people, wandering from one funeral to the next as an uninvited, sometimes unwanted orator. Salimata, his beautiful wife, supports her angry and frustrated husband by selling porridge and cooked…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Fragments of Sappho

March 30, 2011

Image of Fragments of Sappho
The Greek poet Sappho, who lived on the island of Lesbos from around 630 BC, was a singer and songwriter who wrote nine volumes of verse lyrics. Of all this work, only one poem has survived intact. Yet she is remembered more than two millennia later. If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sapphois a handsomely…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

The Romance of Diva

March 14, 2011

Image of The Romance of Diva
The first time I saw Diva, I was about the same age as Jules, the French mailman, opera enthusiast, and thief who is its hero. Most likely I saw it at the intimate and old-fashioned Brattle Theater in Harvard Square, one of the places I miss most about Cambridge. Diva is a highly romantic movie, steeped…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Adrift on the Nile by Naguib Mahfouz

March 4, 2011

Image of Adrift on the Nile by Naguib Mahfouz
The fiction of Naguib Mahfouz is marked by a clear, harsh view of modern Egyptian life, and his characters are frequently unsympathetic. Adrift on the Nile, one of the brief novels Mahfouz wrote in the ’60s after completing his massive Cairo Trilogy, is an exception to the rule and a good introduction…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

A Congolese creation myth

February 14, 2011

Image of A Congolese creation myth
In The Fire of Origins, translated from the French by Lillian Corti and published in 2001, the Congolese writer Emmanuel Dongala has produced not so much a novel as a national creation myth. His hero, Mandala Mankunku (who has several other names in the course of the story) is an outsize figure whose…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

A gift suggestion for the Günter Grass fan on your list

December 13, 2010

Image of A gift suggestion for the Günter Grass fan on your list
If there’s a Günter Grass reader on your Christmas list, you’ve probably already thought about giving him or her a copy of The Box: Tales from the Darkroom, the quasi-novel quasi-memoir that came out last month from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in a translation by Krishna Winston. The Boxis…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Transition 103 goes to Cape Verde

December 2, 2010

Image of Transition 103 goes to Cape Verde
Most of the latest issue of the magazine Transitionis devoted to the art and literature of Cape Verde, the drought-stricken archipelago, once a colony of Portugal, that lies some 350 miles off the west coast of Africa. The hundred-odd pages in the Cabo Verde section of the issue were assembled by Carla…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

War and politics in Angola

November 19, 2010

Image of War and politics in Angola
In some ways the novel Mayombe resembles an old World War II movie. A rugged military officer and his closest friend are fighting for a better life, but their passion for the same woman tests their friendship and their commitment to the struggle. But this time the two men aren’t GIs in Normandy…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Max Frisch as a nature writer

October 22, 2010

Image of Max Frisch as a nature writer
In 1986, when the Swiss novelist and playwright Max Frisch won the Neustadt Prize, the New York Times described him as a “perennial Nobel Prize candidate.” Frisch died five years later, still without the Nobel, and these days he seems largely forgotten. I first read Max Frisch — a novel…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Chekhov’s mongoose

September 29, 2010

Image of Chekhov’s mongoose
You don’t always realize the art that goes into a good memoir until you read one that isn’t so good. I came to Anton Chekhov: A Brother’s Memoir with high hopes, but had to admit after the first fifty pages or so that the book (through no fault of the translator) is a bit of a mess.…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

The Scorpion by Albert Memmi

September 10, 2010

Image of The Scorpion by Albert Memmi
A scorpion, it is said, when surrounded by a ring of embers and unable to escape, will sting itself to death out of rage and frustration. Or will it? Perhaps this is an old wives’ tale. Perhaps the scorpion stings itself, but accidentally. Perhaps it stings itself and appears to be dead, but recovers…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Around the Day in Eighty Worlds

September 1, 2010

Image of Around the Day in Eighty Worlds
Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, by the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, appeared in its first version in Spanish in 1967. This “collage book” was followed two years later by another, entitled Last Round. Eleven years later, in 1980, the author chose 62 selections from the two volumes…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

The Savage Night by Mohammed Dib

August 20, 2010

Image of The Savage Night by Mohammed Dib
Mohammed Dib was born in Algeria in 1920 and was deported for his nationalist views in 1959, during the country's long and bloody war for independence. Though he was a prolific and honored writer in France, where he died in 2003, his work has been almost unavailable in English. In 2001, the University…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo

July 6, 2010

Image of The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo
It’s a discouraging sign of the state of translated literature in this country that The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújoby Germano Almeida arrived here only after appearing in Spanish, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, and Swedish translations. The English translation…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

A Border Passage by Leila Ahmed

June 16, 2010

Image of A Border Passage by Leila Ahmed
I nearly gave up on Leila Ahmed’s memoir A Border Passage. After a lovely, quiet opening that describes the wind in the trees at the house on the edge of Cairo where the author grew up, the narrative shifted gears into several pages of rather dry political history. This is going to be too academic,…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Treasure Island, Genesis, and The Blue Lagoon: on Le Clézio’s The Prospector

May 28, 2010

Image of Treasure Island, Genesis, and The Blue Lagoon: on Le Clézio’s The Prospector
Alfred Kazin once said of Hemingway that he “brought a major art to a minor vision of life.” To judge from the novel The Prospector, the same could be said of its author, the 2008 Nobel laureate J.M.G Le Clézio. The beauty of Le Clézio’s language is undeniable. His novel,…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Forest of a Thousand Daemons

May 21, 2010

Image of Forest of a Thousand Daemons
Forest of a Thousand Daemons was written in 1938 in response to a literary contest sponsored by the Nigerian ministry of education. It is considered the first novel to be written in Yoruba and one of the first to be written in any of Africa's indigenous languages. The book begins with a simple frame…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

The Apex Book of World SF

May 13, 2010

Image of The Apex Book of World SF
The December issue of Words Without Borders was devoted to International Science Fiction. One sign of the vitality of the genre is The Apex Book of World SF, a new anthology edited by Lavie Tidhar, the author of a collection of linked stories called HebrewPunk. The Apex Book includes stories from twelve…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Ben Okri and Anderson Tepper at the PEN World Voices Festival

May 5, 2010

Image of Ben Okri and Anderson Tepper at the PEN World Voices Festival
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you missed Ben Okri’s appearance on Sunday, you may have a long wait before another one comes along. Okri doesn’t like to fly — “I go by train, by boat, or I swim” — and he has not been in New York for many years. Worse yet,…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Toni Morrison and Marlene van Niekerk at the PEN World Voices Festival

May 4, 2010

Image of Toni Morrison and Marlene van Niekerk at the PEN World Voices Festival
Marlene van Niekerk is one of the most prominent Afrikaans-language writers, the author of (among other books) two big and ambitious novels: Triomf and Agaat. Toni Morrison’s enthusiasm for Agaat appeared to be the reason for this event, in which the Nobel Prize winner did her best to keep the…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Patti Smith and Jonathan Lethem at the PEN World Voices Festival

May 3, 2010

Image of Patti Smith and Jonathan Lethem at the PEN World Voices Festival
I was lucky enough to be in the middle of reading Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids when I went to hear her in conversation with Jonathan Lethem. The book centers around her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she met almost as soon as she arrived in New York City at the age of twenty, and it…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Shohreh Aghdashloo reads from The Ecco Anthology of Int’l Poetry

April 21, 2010

Image of Shohreh Aghdashloo reads from The Ecco Anthology of Int’l Poetry
On April 19, supporters of Words Without Borders had the rare opportunity to hear the Iranian actor Shohreh Aghdashloo read a selection of poems from the new Ecco Anthology of International Poetry. The event was held in the book-lined Reading Room of the Center for Fiction on 47th Street. Aghdashloo,…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Ben Okri at PEN World Voices

April 6, 2010

Image of Ben Okri at PEN World Voices
African authors are few and far between at this year's PEN World Voices Festival —but the festival does offer a rare opportunity to hear Ben Okri, the Nigerian-born author of The Famished Road, which won the Booker Prize in 1991. Years ago I had the chance to hear Okri at MIT. He was a captivating…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

The Rising of the Ashes

March 31, 2010

Image of The Rising of the Ashes
Better known as the author of novels such as The Sand Child and Leaving Tangier, and of nonfiction such as Islam Explained, the Moroccan-born author Tahar Ben Jelloun is also a poet. The Rising of the Ashes, published this month by City Lights Books, was written in French and appeared in 1991 in a bilingual…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

A poem from a very small place

March 25, 2010

São Tomé and Príncipe is the smallest country in Africa. It consists of two islands off the coast of Gabon, with an area of 371 square miles and a total population of about 150,000. Like Cape Verde, São Tomé had no permanent inhabitants before it was colonized by the…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

For Bread Alone

March 3, 2010

Image of For Bread Alone
I first read Mohamed Choukri’s memoir For Bread Alone when I was working on A Basket of Leaves. I considered using it as one of the books I discussed for Morocco, but before I had read very far I stopped considering it. Recently I thought I would take another look at For Bread Alone and think about…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

God’s Bits of Wood

February 23, 2010

Image of God’s Bits of Wood
Though better known in his later years as a film director, Sembène Ousmane (1923-2007) staked an early claim as one of Africa’s finest novelists. God’s Bits of Wood, first published in 1960 and translated from the French by Francis Price, is not only one of the best novels to have…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

A poem from Madagascar

February 11, 2010

Around Valentine's Day, the go-to book for romantic African literature in translation has to be Bending the Bow: An Anthology of African Love Poetry. One of its many gems is this poem by Flavien Ranaivo of Madagascar, first published in The Negritude Poets: An Anthology of Translations from the French…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Algerian White

February 4, 2010

Image of Algerian White
Assia Djebar is a fiction writer, filmmaker, professor—currently at NYU—and a regular contender for the Nobel Prize in literature. She is known in the US for her novel So Vast the Prison and the story collection Women of Algiers in Their Apartment. Another collection, published in French…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Reading “Life A User’s Manual”

January 21, 2010

Image of Reading “Life A User’s Manual”
In The Pattern in the Carpet, her recent memoir cum history of the jigsaw puzzle, Margaret Drabble pays tribute to Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec, an enormous experimental novel also concerned with jigsaw puzzles. Long experimental French novels don’t usually attract me, and Drabble…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Smara: The Forbidden City

January 15, 2010

Image of Smara: The Forbidden City
Listening to NPR over breakfast last month, I was surprised to hear a story from Western Sahara, a country that doesn’t make the news very often. Formerly a colony of Spain and occupied since 1976 by Morocco, Western Sahara doesn’t take up much space on the bookshelf. Yet it is the focus…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Translate This Book!

January 7, 2010

Perhaps it’s unnecessary to draw attention to Translate This Book! at The Quarterly Conversation — after all, The New Yorker has already done so — but I wanted to point out two African volumes in the list: Aynfelale or “Let Us Not Separate,” written by Alemseged Tesfai and…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Fault Lines by Meena Alexander

December 11, 2009

I covered a few events at this year's PEN World Voices festival, and when I arrived at a storytelling event sponsored by The Moth I was lucky enough to be seated next to the poet and author Meena Alexander. She was among those blogging about the event for PEN itself. We talked about an extensive…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Mission to Kala by Mongo Beti

December 4, 2009

I wrote about Mission to Kala by Mongo Beti for my book A Basket of Leaves. I've been surprised to see that that review has become one of the most visited pages on my site. The novel, translated from French by Peter Green and published by Heinemann in 1957, is not exactly well-known. But I can understand…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Shadows of Your Black Memory

November 27, 2009

Shadows of Your Black Memory is a rarity—a novel from the tiny West African nation of Equatorial Guinea. Of Africa’s three Guineas—Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Equatorial Guinea—Equatorial Guinea is the smallest at 28,000 square kilometers, about the size of Massachusetts. It is…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Breyten Breytenbach

November 20, 2009

The South African poet Breyten Breytenbach has been a regular participant in PEN World Voices events, but although I had seen him on panels I had never had the chance to hear him read and discuss his work on his own. Earlier this month Idlewild Books invited Breytenbach to read and discuss his work,…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Under the Volcano

November 12, 2009

November 2, the Day of the Dead in Mexico, marked the 70th anniversary of the day on which Malcolm Lowry’s masterpiece Under the Volcano begins. In honor of that anniversary I began rereading it, but first I reread the letter that Lowry wrote to Jonathan Cape, his publisher, after hearing that…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

South Africa: A Traveler’s Literary Companion

November 6, 2009

Based in Berkeley, California, Whereabouts Press publishes an intriguing series of Traveler's Literary Companions. "Unlike guidebooks written by professional travel writers," they explain, "our books feature stories written by literary writers—all of whom who have lived in the…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Three Kilos of Coffee

October 29, 2009

Manu Dibango is a jazz saxophonist with an international reputation. His song “Soul Makossa” is sometimes credited with being the first disco tune. Dibango was born in Cameroon in 1933. At the age of fifteen he left the country for a boarding school in France. His father gave him a small…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Brown Turtle Press

October 23, 2009

Recently I blogged about Bending the Bow, a surprising and engaging new anthology of African love poetry edited by Malawian poet and professor Frank Chipasula. Since then I’ve learned that Chipasula is also the founder of Brown Turtle Press, whose motto is “Slow But Determined” and…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Chain of Voices

October 15, 2009

Although André Brink is one of South Africa’s leading Afrikaans-language writers, and although his work has appeared in English, at least one article has questioned whether we can categorize those works as African literature in translation. By his own admission Brink remains, in essence,…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: African Memoirs

October 9, 2009

Dear reader: I need your help. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of African memoirs: books like Echoes of an Autobiography by Naguib Mahfouz, An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie, Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar by Emily Ruete, and Return to Childhood by Leila Abouzeid.…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: An African in Greenland

September 24, 2009

With its bookshelves organized by country, New York’s Idlewild Books is a great resource for anyone who wants to delve into a particular corner of the world. For instance, fiction from the Cape Verde islands is very tough to find, and when I was there the other day I was surprised and impressed…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Bending the Bow: An Anthology of African Love Poetry

September 17, 2009

Bending the Bow: An Anthology of African Love Poetry was released in July 2009 by Southern Illinois University Press. Edited by Frank M. Chipasula, himself an African poet, it is a generous and attractively produced collection of a type of poetry that many people apparently haven’t even noticed…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Return to Childhood by Leila Abouzeid

July 9, 2009

Return to Childhood is a memoir by the Moroccan writer Leila Abouzeid, who is better known for her story collection Year of the Elephant. Translated from the Arabic by the author and Heather Logan Taylor, Return to Childhood is interesting not only for its account of Abouzeid’s own feelings and…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar

June 18, 2009

In its no-frills way, Dover Publications has been performing a valuable service: returning to print 19th-century books that few other presses would take a chance on, and doing it affordably. Without Dover, I would have had a tougher time finding some of the classics of African exploration, like Henry…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: The Seventh Heaven by Naguib Mahfouz
by Geoff Wisner

June 11, 2009

In August 2006, just a few hours after I finished reading The Seventh Heaven, the final work by the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, I heard that he had died at the age of 94—a spooky coincidence perfectly in keeping with a book concerned with the afterlife and the supernatural. Mahfouz was the…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Echoes of an Autobiography by Naguib Mahfouz

May 28, 2009

My reaction to the work of Naguib Mahfouz has been exceptionally mixed. I have enjoyed the light touch and raffish characters of short novels like Adrift on the Nile (my review) yet I could make no headway on the first volume of the Cairo Trilogy, which seemed almost a parody of the ponderous family…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Leaving Tangier by Tahar ben Jelloun

May 21, 2009

Most readers, I think, know the Moroccan writer Tahar ben Jelloun from his novels The Sand Child (my review) and its sequel The Sacred Night. Those books are marked by a prose style that is rich yet never overdone, and a slightly old-fashioned voice. They are the very illustration of control and authority…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Machete Season by Jean Hatzfeld

May 14, 2009

In the New Yorker recently, Philip Gourevitch published a follow-up article to his book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families (my review). In it, he explored what is sometimes seen as a nearly miraculous exercise in Christian forgiveness: the fact that in villages across…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

PEN WORLD VOICES FESTIVAL: Nawal El Saadawi and Kwame Anthony Appiah

May 7, 2009

On the last night of this year’s PEN festival, the Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi appeared at Cooper Union to deliver the fourth annual Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture and to talk with Kwame Anthony Appiah. To someone who knows her only through her sharp, uncompromising writings, El Saadawi…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

PEN World Voices Festival: Is Nonfiction Literature?

May 4, 2009

íIs nonfiction literature?ë That was the provocative question that Philip Gourevitch, Colum McCann, and Norbert Gstrein addressed at a panel discussion in the auditorium of the Museum of Jewish Heritage. íOf course it is!ë most right-thinking readers would say. Yet if so, why…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

PEN World Voices Festival: Mark Z. Danielewski and Rick Moody

May 4, 2009

I haven’t yet read House of Leaves, the ambitious experimental novel that Mark Z. Danielewski published in 2000. I am unlikely to read Only Revolutions, the even quirkier second novel that Danielewski published in 2006. In his interview with Rick Moody, Danielewski said that Only Revolutions is…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: The Moth Revolution: Stories of Change

May 1, 2009

Great writers are not necessarily great storytellers. They are, after all, people who spend a great deal of time alone. But some of them are, and The Moth exists to showcase this rare breed. The Moth’s events bring together famous and the not-so-famous authors in combinations you won’t likely…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Updike on Africa, Part II

April 23, 2009

My book A Basket of Leaves covers the 54 countries in Africa by way of 99 books, which is barely enough. I had originally planned to include some books that deal with more than one country, like Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth or Water Music by T. Coraghessan Boyle (a wonderful reimagining of Mungo Park’s…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Camus in Oran

April 10, 2009

What makes you an African writer? That is a subject for another day, and one that’s not likely to be resolved anytime soon. One consideration, though, must surely be the ability to convey a sense of place when writing about Africa. Albert Camus was born in Algeria, spent most of his life there,…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: In the Name of God by Yasmina Khadra

April 3, 2009

The Algerian writer whose pen name is Yasmina Khadra was one of the most intriguing characters at the 2007 PEN World Voices festival. Each time he appeared he would undermine the premise of his own panel, make some barbed comment about a country or its language, or drop a casually sexist remark. But…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Season of Migration to the North

March 12, 2009

In a recent post I wrote about the passing of Tayeb Salih, author of Season of Migration to the North. Here’s what I wrote about that book in A Basket of Leaves: Season of Migration to the North is a brief, graceful, and powerful novel about the collision of cultures, and the destructive potential…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: On the 100th Issue of Transition magazine

March 2, 2009

The 100th issue of Transition magazine just arrived in my mailbox: a milestone I wasn’t sure it would reach. From the time of its revival in 1991 until now, Transition has been an essential resource for readers interested in the culture of Africa and the African diaspora. If you can read and support…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: Aya by Marguerite Abouet

February 27, 2009

Aya, written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by the French artist Clément Oubrerie, is a lively and colorful glimpse of life in Ivory Coast in the late 1970s, a time when the country was enjoying unprecedented prosperity and the capital Abidjan was earning its title as the Paris of Africa.…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Tayeb Salih 1929–2009

February 23, 2009

Tayeb Salih was the most eminent writer from the largest country in Africa, yet as Leonard Lopate pointed out last year on a radio program called Underappreciated, his work was barely known in the U.S. He died in London around dawn on February 18, after suffering from a kidney ailment. He was said to…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Ambiguous Adventure by Cheikh Hamidou Kane

February 12, 2009

Not long ago my partner Jenn and I were visited by a couple we first met in Brooklyn, but who later moved to Paris. John is a jazz trombonist from Montana. Ana is a Parisian actress and translator from a Portuguese family. Before they said goodbye, Ana looked over my bookcases, picked out a small, seemingly…...read more »

Articles by Geoff Wisner

Dispatches: African Literature in Translation

January 30, 2009

In the course of writing my book A Basket of Leaves, I looked for books that told the best stories I could find about each of the fifty-four countries in Africa. They included novels, short story collections, memoirs, travel and adventure tales, and even some poetry. About half of the books I chose were…...read more »