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Category: LitStack Recs

Category: LitStack Recs

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LitStack Rec: Bridge & The Ballad of Black Tom

Bridge, by Robert Thomas “Welcome to the prayer-strewn pews of my brain,” Alice, the narrator of Bridge tells us, and quickly, we understand that this intellectually gifted young woman sees the world, and herself, in unconventional and often dangerous ways. Robert Thomas’s powerful debut novel, published last year by BOA Edition, takes place in fifty-six […]

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LitStack Recs: The Pink Suit & On Memoirs of Place

The Pink Suit, by Nicole Mary Kelby Few garments have come to define a moment in history as the pink Chanel suit that Jackie Kennedy wore on that fateful November day in 1963.  That bright suit and its accompanying pillbox hat immediately conjures up tragedy – and strength. Author Nicole Mary Kelby takes this iconic […]

The Places In-Between, by Rory Stewart

In 2002, Rory Stewart made a walk across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul. A scholar of Afghan history and language, he was wellgrounded the country’s ancient history, and in the grave first years after 9/11, sought to learn “what [Afghanistan] was like now.”  Part memoir, part political and cultural history, Stewart (currently a MP in Britain’s House of Commons—and famously the youngest elected to date), was fluent in the language, and shape shifting enough in his appearance, to pass as Afghani, or as The Guardian phrased it, “travelling in disguise through places famous for killing infidels.”

Stewart’s journey retraced an ancient trek made at the start of the sixteenth century by Barbur, First Emperor of Mughal India. As Stewart writes, Herat was one of the most civilized cities in the Islamic World, and at age twenty-two, Barbur was the prince of a poor kingdom in Uzbekistan. He set out to conquer Kabul, and subsequently “pressed on east to conquer Delhi and found the Mughal Dynasty.” Though in the process of going by foot over passes buried under ten feet of snow, Barbur nearly dies, an eerily resonant detail for Stewart’s contemporary retracing.

Stewart’s walk took place soon after the Taliban takeover of the country—and the American military invasion. Beyond the obvious personal risk is the uncertainty of travel by foot—weather, sufficient food, water, shelter. In the course of the journey, Stewart is put up in huts, palaces and abandoned castles, fed sumptuous meals and some that are questionable. He’s given aid by warlords and village headmen, though his only constant protection is a walking staff with a metal tip. Early on, he comes into possession of giant Mastiff, and names him Barbur. The dog proves to be protection, but mostly a comfort and a complication—given the animal’s changeable attitude about long-distance walks.

Stewart’s account is part rumination and reflection, as here, as the recent war puts him in mind of a more familiar landscape, as he says defined by acts of violence and death: “Places in the Scottish Highlands are also remembered for acts of violence: the spot where Stewart of Ardvorlich shot a MacDonald raider, or where the MacGregors decapitated Ardvorlich’s brother-in-law. Around my house in Scotland the Gaelic place-names record death: ‘Place of Mourning’ or ‘Field of Weeping.’ But here the events recorded were only months old.

In the end, The Places In-Between is a personal story, a chronicle of a worldly exploration whose effect, in the end, is powerfully intimate.

—Lauren Alwan

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LitStack Rec: Out of Place & Dead Lands

Out of Place: A Memoir, by Edward Said Edward Said, the prolific author, political activist, pianist, and critic rose to academic stardom in 1978 with the publication of the seminal Orientalism, a critique of the cultural bias that founded Western study of the East. Said, who died in 2003 after battling a rare form of […]

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LitStaff Recs: This Boy’s Life & Kiss & Tell

This Boy’s Life: A Memoir, by Tobias Wolff  First published in 1989, Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life has since become a classic of the contemporary memoir, the kind of book you can finish, like I did, in nearly one sitting. Wolff, the author of numerous works of fiction, including short stories, novels, and a second memoir, […]

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Litstaff Rec: These Charming People & LaRose

These Charming People, stories by Michael Arlen In the period just after World War One, some British writers were fascinated by the fast set. These were the Bright Young Things of the nineteen twenties—the decadent young people whose disillusionment with the Great War caused old ideas about society and customs to fall away, and paving […]

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Litstaff Recs: How Fiction Works & Love Is Love

How Fiction Works,  by James Wood. When it comes to books on the craft of writing, I tend to gravitate to titles that teach through close readings of literature. Maybe it has to do with the grad program I attended, or that when I’m caught up in a book, I’m both figuring out my response […]