The Oberlin Review

English Translation of Hungarian Classic Retains Modernist Whimsy of Original

Aaron Botwick, Staff Writer

April 15, 2011

Filed under ARTS, Literature & Poetry

Deszö Kosztolányi’s Kornél Esti is an odd, wonderful little book. Published in 1933 at the end of Kosztolányi’s career, the novel, which just received its first English translation, nonetheless has the whimsy and imagination of a young writer emerging at the peak of the Modernist movement. Esti opens with a narrator meeting up with his old alter ego, Kornél, a troublemaker who introduced him to “all sorts of bad habits” but whose influence he has never been able to shake. The two decide, after years of separation, to write a novel together. Unfortunately, their styles seem irreconcilable: Kosztolányi favors “calm, simplicity, [and] classical images,” while Esti is partial to “restless, unti...

Exciting Rookie Writer Debuts with Open City

Aaron Botwick, Staff Writer

March 4, 2011

Filed under ARTS, Literature & Poetry

“And so I began to go on evening walks last fall,” begins Teju Cole’s fantastic debut novel, Open City, with a fluidity that becomes characteristic of the book: This is not a traditionally structured narrative, but an open gate into the mind of Julius, a half-Nigerian, half-German psychiatry student in Harlem. In 1995, W.G. Sebald wrote The Rings of Saturn, a kind of walking tour of East Anglia in which the narrator tries to reconstruct his relationship to the past through a series of anecdotes related to the sites he passes. Similarly in Open City, Julius finds himself presented with the “futile task of sorting” — that is, of making sense of his place in the world through his knowledge of history. The ...

Book Review: Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!

Aaron Botwick, Staff Writer

February 18, 2011

Filed under ARTS, Literature & Poetry

Karen Russell’s debut novel, Swamplandia!, opens with a quote from Alice in Wonderland. The King exclaims to Alice, “I only wish I had such eyes. To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too! Why, it’s as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!” It seems appropriate that she would invite such a comparison. Like Lewis Carroll, Russell follows her adolescent characters as they attempt to mature into adulthood while confronting a world full of the allegorically fantastic. When the book opens, Hilola Bigtree — also known by her stage name, Swamp Centaur — has just prematurely died of cancer, leaving her family of alligator wrestlers to take over the eponymous business. Unfortunately, a ...

Mathias Énard Zone’s Out with Tall Tales, a Long Train Ride and a Failed Desire to Change History

Aaron Botwick

February 11, 2011

Filed under ARTS, Literature & Poetry

Almost 150 pages into Mathias Énard’s Zone, his protagonist, Francis Mirkovic, remembers the point in his life when he stopped reading “adventure novels” and, because of his exposure to Joseph Conrad, began reading “simply novels.” It is a slight point that is quickly dismissed for a new subject, but the comparison between Énard and Conrad is a valuable one: like Heart of Darkness or The Secret Agent, Zone is a modernist novel that occupies itself with extraordinary subjects, one that combines a low-brow genre with high-brow prose. Conrad’s technique distinguishes him from other famous modernists like Joyce or Proust, who would transform the ordinary into the epic by examining the lives of their...

Crispin Hellion Glover Shows Latest Work

Aaron Botwick

December 4, 2009

Filed under ARTS, Literature & Poetry, Theater & Film

On Saturday, Nov. 21, Crispin Hellion Glover appeared in West Lecture Hall. The room was pitch-black except for a single red-tinted spotlight on his face. Without introduction, Glover began to present his “BIG SLIDE SHOW,” a collection of books from the 1800s that he rewrote for a one-hour dramatic performance. Delivered entirely with a straight face, this hilarious show chronicles a series of phantasmagoric stories featuring narrators who sound like raving madmen out of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. By combining half-finished sentences with dissonant but eerie photographs, the books written by Glover play out as if they were fragments of dreams that David Lynch might have had long ago. One of his books, Studies...

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