WTAW Press has just released its 2019 titles, Chimerica, the debut novel from Anita Fellicelli, and Like Water and Other Stories, the English-language debut of Olga Zilberbourg.

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In Chimerica, by Anita Felicelli (Love Songs of a Lost Continent), down-on-her-luck Tamil American trial lawyer Maya Ramesh fights to save a painted lemur come to life and becomes a champion for them both. In magic realist tradition, the novel unearths the inherent absurdities that drive systems of culture, power, and law. WTAW Press, an independent nonprofit publisher located in Northern California, says of the novel, “Fans of Marquez, Kelly Link, and Helen Oyeyemi will find CHIMERICA a spirited investigation of the ways in which art is codified and commodified. Traveling from Oakland, California, to a Malagasy rainforest, CHIMERICA is a contemporary, philosophical novel about art, originality, and American culture.”

Jonathan Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude) calls Chimerica “a coolly surrealist legal thriller—in turns sly, absurd, emotionally vivid, and satirically incisive—that shifts the reader into a world just adjacent to our own.”

And indeed, Felicelli takes us into a contemporary world that mirrors reality, and yet doesn’t. After her husband moves out and takes their two children with him, and in the midst of what she thought was a secret affair with a firm partner, Nick Evers, and a high-profile mural copyright case, Maya learns both she and Evers have been fired. Soon after, an indri (the variety of Madagascan lemur painted into the mural in question) comes to life, appearing in Maya’s backyard, and with that, the familiar takes an uncanny turn.

“I thought for a moment that the lemur had escaped from the nearby zoo, but he was much too large, not quite the size of an adult human, but over 4 feet — far larger than your average house cat . . .

‘Took you long enough to notice my existence,’ said the lemur.”

Anita Felicelli, author of Chimerica

Chimerica is an engaging, faceted novel, with explorations of art and myth (such as the origins of the lost continent of Lemuria), as well as an exploration of character, and as the publisher notes, “the inherent absurdities that drive systems of culture, power, and law.” Maya Ramesh is a protagonist who despite her accomplishments often feels the outsider. Early in the novel, we learn that Maya’s mother died of suicide, leaving her “with a workaholic father and a younger sister to raise.” And as an attorney, having to survive in a largely white-dominated profession, Maya keeps her guard up: “I’d gained admittance to a profession invented by the landed gentry of the colonial empire,” and as she tells us, her position relies on reining in her perspective and “making sure a pleasant facade covered up all my cracks.” The pain extends to both past and present:

“My father had a way of embarrassing me, reminding me just with his gruff voice that I was not who I told other people I was — that I was not a smooth, polished American, but something coarse, unfinished, less shiny — an awkward Tamil immigrant girl with spiral curls and a snub nose.”

These oppositions of agency and otherness bring a richness of character and emotional dimension to the portrayal. Of the novel, the author writes, “what does it mean to be a fighter. . .fighting not only a visible adversary in the courtroom, but also shadowboxing with the invisible adversaries of. . . implicit bias?” Chimerica is a novel that shows us both the startlingly magical and the starkly real.

Anita Felicelli is the author of the story collection Love Songs for a Lost Continent (Stillhouse Press), which won the 2016 Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Her fiction has appeared in The Normal School, Joyland, The Rumpus, and her essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Slate, SF Chronicle, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Electric Literature. She graduated from UC Berkeley and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and an alum of Voices of Our Nations. She was born in South India and grew up in the Bay Area, where she currently lives with her spouse and three children.

More on Chimerica: Read an excerpt of the novel and listen to an interview with Anita Felicelli here. The author’s “Research Notes: Chimerica,” can be found at Necessary Fiction’s series. And learn more about Chimerica here.

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With settings that range from the Cuban Missile Crisis and Soviet-era Perestroika to present-day San Francisco, Like Water and Other Stories, the first English-language collection from Leningrad-born Olga Zilberbourg, looks at family and childrearing in ways both unsettling and tender, and characters who grapple with complicated legacies—of state, parentage, displacement, and identity. Like Water is a unique portrayal of motherhood, of immigration and adaptation, and an inside account of life in the Soviet Union and its dissolution. Zilberbourg’s stories investigate how motherhood reshapes the sense of self—and in ways that are often bewildering—against an uncharted landscape of American culture.

The collection has earned high praise from Anthony Marra (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, The Tsar of Love and Techno), who says, “Like Water is a book of succinct abundance, dazzling in its particulars, expansive in its scope. . . She writes of Russia and America, parenthood and aging, history and identity. Throughout, she peels back the timelessness from the old verities and offers them newly made, freshly observed, gathered in this collection of wonders.”

Like Water collects fifty-two stories, some as brief as a single line. In “Dandelion,” a writer, Oz, wins a prize for a story, and an agent inquires if she has a novel in need of representation:

“Oz had no novel, but she did have a nineteen-month-old. ‘He’s very much like a novel,’ she told the agent. ‘Can I ship him to you? People are telling me, since he can walk, that he’s no longer a baby. Soon he’ll be ready for publication.’”

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Olga Zilberbourg, author of
Like Water and Other Stories

As in “Dandelion,” Zilberbourg has a wry, often playful take on her subjects, but there are stories of gravity here too. “Doctor Sveta” tells the story of a surgeon, trained in Leningrad, who on the occasion of the 75th birthday of a former colleague, is seated beside her colleague’s niece—a young woman (and the story’s narrator) the Doctor herself delivered, now grown and married to an American—and who, much to her family’s dismay, has put off having children. The narrator tells us the seating arrangements are presumed to afford counsel on “the necessity of children,” and “they have turned to the resident expert on the matter and asked Doctor Sveta to use her influence.” But Doctor Sveta has a particular story to tell—of Cuba, a covert mission, and what turned out to be a pivotal life experience. This personal history changes the speaker’s perceptions, and she reflects, “What makes her narrative interesting are the vividly remembered details about a way of life and the country where I too have been born and that since has ceased to exist.” That story too, she tells us, is a kind of home.

Olga Ziberbourg is the author of three Russian-language collections of stories, the latest of which was published in Moscow in 2016. Her English-language fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Narrative Magazine, World Literature Today, Confrontation, Feminist Studies, Tin House’s The Open Bar, Epiphany, Santa Monica Review, and other print and online publications. Her criticism has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Common, and Electric Literature. Born in Leningrad, USSR, she came of age during her country’s disintegration, and became one of the first in a wave of post-Soviet youth to study abroad and in the United States. Currently, she makes her home in San Francisco with her husband and two children, where she serves as a co-facilitator of the San Francisco Writers Workshop.

More on Like Water and Other Stories: Read two stories and listen to an interview with Olga Zilberbourg here. The author’s essay, “Did the Russian Wizard of Oz Subvert Soviet Propaganda?” can be found at Literary Hub. And learn more about Like Water and Other Stories here.

—Lauren Alwan

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