sabato, agosto 20, 2016

Omran Daqueesh -- my little reminder

I’ve saved the front page of The New York Times from yesterday where there’s a photo of a Syrian boy whose silent, dust-covered face has captivated the world (the photo that accompanies this video above in the online version of the story). He captivated the world -- including me. But for how long? He was recovered from the rubble of his apartment building, which was struck by missiles during the endless civil war in his country. And I guess he was in shock so his quiet patience might be quite understandable, but the photo and the short video the entire world has seen are capable of stopping your heart. Quite literally – no hyperbole. 

I’ve saved it – just as I saved the photo of the poor Syrian boy who drowned during a crossing with other refugees and washed up on a Turkish beach, lifeless – in the hopes it can inspire me on at least two different levels. First: this is happening, people are suffering and what are you doing about it, Jeanne? You’re not even reporting on it – the very least you could do, that is your skill, if so much can be said of what you know of journalism. That's the first level. 

Second level: I don’t know how to put it, it seems to jar me awake from my daily parenting slumber – something along the lines of thinking that no matter what Leo does, he is an absolute GIFT from GOD that I must cherish every day every day every day. Because to imagine that he could ever have to experience something like this – and to know we are lucky enough that he probably won’t – well, it’s a reminder that we never have hard times. He never does anything that we can’t fix. A day in which he refuses to eat spinach and won’t touch regular milk and doesn’t want to have “quiet time,” well, a day like that, to use the cliché again, is a gift from God. 

The mother of this little Syrian boy would quite literally give her right arm to have a day like that.

Funny thing, I’ve taped the front page of the Times up on the bedroom wall to the right of this bookshelf I use as a desk/computer stand. I think it’s fairly hidden, you wouldn’t really see the folded paper taped up unless you were standing at the computer – something Mike never does. And that’s an important detail because I'd taped up the photo of the lifeless boy’s body lying on the beach in Turkey and he asked me to take it down. I taped it up for the same reason – WAKE UP JEANNE this is happening, you are so lucky, so lucky to have this boy, your little Leo – all very noble, I suppose, but the image was too much for Mike. 

I don’t blame him; I cherish his reaction in some ways. He cannot countenance all the bad that’s sewn into everyday life on Earth. We humans. For shame. And yet my God I, *I*, need a reminder. Because we will all go on, we will all go about our business and this little boy will be forgotten. But his little face (he looks to be about 4 years old – you-know-who’s-age) – and the unspoken sadness written upon it, his little plaintive stare, are so stunningly sad, the tragedy so stunningly unnecessary, that I need to remember. Give me the strength and the resolve, someone, to remember and to do something about it.


sabato, agosto 13, 2016

"My other question is: do polar bears fly?"

I've been publishing excerpts here on the blog of my "Bits" journal, to appropriate the expression, again, from poet and FSU writing professor David Kirby. Here's another excerpt below. It's just a collection of notebooks and computer files where I record everyday thoughts, inspirations, ideas for stories, etc. This one draws heavily from a 'sub-journal' -- the Leo Diary.
April 30, 2016
6:33 a.m.
I have to think Atlanta is some kind of bird sanctuary. I’ve never heard so much birdsong or such loud tweets anywhere else. My God! Lots of red-feathered cardinals – the only bird I know to recognize.
It gets light so early these days. Which means SOMEONE wakes up early. Cutting severely into Mommy’s writing time. I put these words down to give a sense of my life, not really to complain. It’s the change of the seasons wrought into a specific detail: Here’s what early spring means to me…abbreviated writing sessions, and also one of the few times of the year when the morning darkness dissipates quickly here. 

Atlanta, city of darkness. Lately I’ve been tweeting that it’s a city of murals. And it really is. It’s one of the few distinguishing characteristics. I guess thanks in part to Living Walls. And maybe also the specific geography of Atlanta: lots of train tunnels. The Living Walls in Cabbagetown, after all, are along the train wall that leads to Krog Street Tunnel.
I hear a voice outside – which turns out to be cat – and I look over my shoulder to see the pinkening sky through the transom window. This image = my life in Atlanta. My early morning writing life in Atlanta. The pinkening sky, glimpsed briefly through the transom window.

April 27, 2016
The lyrics and the music to the song “Graceland” replay in my mind. ‘My traveling companion is 9 years old. She’s the child of my first marriage…. I have reason to believe we’ll both be received in Graceland….Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee…we’re going to Graceland.”

Songs of redemption.

April 26, 2016
Leo: “My head is so full of questions.”

He asks a fairly mundane question, and then says, “My other question is: do polar bears fly?”

No, but nice try (click on 'continua a leggere' below to read the rest of this post).

giovedì, agosto 11, 2016

A review of Mingarelli's "A Meal in Winter"

I've begun reviewing books and of course I have a special desire to review fiction in translation. In this case, the book in question was originally written in French, not Italian, but no matter. It 's stunning.

Here's an excerpt of the review for Cleaver magazine. To read the rest, click the link below.

by Hubert Mingarelli
translated by Sam Taylor
The New Press, 138 pages
reviewed by Jeanne Bonner
A Meal in Winter by French author Hubert Mingarelli is a subtle book that quietly but methodically stalks the reader’s sympathies. It does so through a beautiful, spare prose style that begins with the first line: “They had rung the iron gong outside, and it was still echoing, at first for real in the courtyard, and then, for a longer time, inside our heads.” This is lovely writing (deftly rendered from the French by translator Sam Taylor, himself a novelist)—yet a bit ominous, like something that can’t be escaped. Later, setting the scene for the winter’s walk that takes up much of the first part of the narrative, he writes: “A pale sun hung in the sky, as distant and useless, it seemed to us, as a coin trapped under thick ice.” Trapped. What is trapped? Or who?
Read the rest of the review here. Then please read the book!

sabato, luglio 23, 2016

Women in Translation? Here's your book list!

August is Women in Translation Month; a month when, if you felt so inclined, you could curl up with a wonderful book by a foreign authoress translated into English by a wonderful translator and have yourself a time.

And in honor of the designation, some translation-loving folks, including Katy Derbyshire and Susan Bernofsky, have compiled a list of books written by women from around the world (the non-native English-speaking world) and translated into English. For my part, I contributed the absolutely unneeded suggestion of adding Elena Ferrante to the pile (as if).

The list only goes so far as works published since 2010 but whoa! Look at this smorgasbord! You could curl up for two or three years with this list.

Books written by women and translated into English, published since 2010

In alphabetical order by author

HIGH TIDE, Inga Ābele (Open Letter Books)
THE NUN, Simonella Agnello Hornby (Europa Editions)
FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON, Milena Agus (Europa Editions)
SECOND-HAND TIME, Svetlana Alexievich (Fitzcarraldo)
ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, Naja Marie Aidt (Open Letter Books)
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS, Miral al-Tahawy (American University in Cairo Press)
CHERNOBYL PRAYER, Svetlana Alexievich (Penguin Modern Classics)
WILLFUL DISREGARD, Lena Andersson (Other Press)
WOMAN OF TANTOURA, Radwa Ashour (American University in Cairo Press)
SPECTRES, Radwa Ashour (Arabia Books)
ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-ONE DAYS, Michèle Audin (Deep Vellum)
THE QUEUE, Basma Abdel Aziz (Melville House)
PANTY, Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (Tilted Axis Press)
OH, SALAAM! Najwa Barakat (Interlink Books)
THE LIFE OF ELVES, Muriel Barbery (Gallic Books)
THE COUNTRY UNDER MY SKIN, Gioconda Belli (Bloomsbury)
SWALLOW SUMMER, Larissa Boehning (Comma Press)
THE OTHER WOMAN, Therese Bohman (Other Press)
BEFORE, Carmen Boullosa (Deep Vellum)
TEXAS: THE GREAT THEFT, Carmen Boullosa (Deep Vellum)
BABA DUNJA’S LAST LOVE, Alina Bronsky (Europa Editions)
THE SECRET WAYS OF PERFUME, Cristina Caboni (Transworld)
THE LAST LOVER, Can Xue (Yale University Press)
MR DARWIN’S GARDENER, Kristina Carlson (Peirene Press)
THE FIRST WIFE, Paulina Chiziane (out August 9, Archipelago Press)
ALWAYS COCO-COLA, Alexandra Chrietieh (Interlink Books)
HOME, Leila S. Chudori (Deep Vellum)
THE ISLAND OF LOST TRUTH, Flavia Company (Europa Editions)

mercoledì, luglio 20, 2016

Review -- "Only in Naples"

I don't think I have ever reviewed a book on my blog. But I've done quite a few things in the last four years that I have never done before so let's get right to it!

There are lots of books written about Italy. Lots of books. You could even say tanti.

But this book by Katherine Wilson, which was published by Random House earlier this year, stands out for several reasons.

First of all, it's about Naples. Not over-exposed Tuscany or well-documented Rome (though Rome does appear in the book) or even Milan, which Americans have begun to visit more frequently in recent years.

Nope. It's about Naples.

(And she began doing her research long before Elena Ferrante's books spawned literary tours of the Southern Italian city.)

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this woman, Katherine (or 'Ketrin', as her Neapolitan in-laws call her) knows Italy.

She knows a very specific part of Italy but that doesn't change the fact that she's one of the few American authors of memoirs to truly penetrate Italian society and learn its every molecule.

She also has a unique story on her hands: she loves her mother-in-law. Her Italian mother-in-law.

And what's not to love?

Click 'continua a leggere' to read the rest....

mercoledì, luglio 06, 2016

My Montreal Journal

As I'm about to publish this excerpt of my Montreal journal, I realize I've included almost nothing about where we walked or what we saw (the McCord Museum of Canadian History, for example, the Parc Jean Drapeau, which overlooks the city, the Marche Jean Talon where we stocked up on lunch supplies for a picnic). It's all about me and language. Not even sure what to say about that.

I left out the lovely park on Rue Beaubien Est across from the cinema, I left out the birreria where Mike lounged two nights of our stay after Leo went to bed. I left out the Basilica of Notre Dame and the view of the city we glimpsed from the island park where we had our picnic (and visited a science museum that was not the science museum we thought we were visiting).

I also said very little (in the entries below) about the market, which is such a key part of any vacation we take. The Marche Jean Talon (see the picture above -- we had the most delightful Quebecois tomatoes there).

And Little Italy! Just a quick mention. Three days, as you will see from my gush of emotion, are not enough to explore Montreal. Not by a long shot. Just enough to give you heartache.
June 30, 2016
9:03 a.m.

This is a city that inspires -- probably everyone -- but definitely me. A city I’d like to call my own (in the way, as a traveler, I collect cities around the world).

1 p.m.

Visits today to the Marche Jean Talon and Petite Italie

We are skimming the surface. A relatively quick, disorganized, disjointed shopping excursion followed by the pedestrian equivalent of a driveby to Little Italy. A cultural fusion that even just briefly left me sbalordita. An American Italophile in an Italian bastion within a French-speaking city of a largely Anglophone country. Whoa! Anyway you sliced it – Bonjour madame or buongiorno, I was good!

All of these glancing encounters temporarily fire up my brain and lead to brief intellectual explorations that must be aborted. To wit:

*What’s Quebecois culture all about?
*How to understand the fight for instilling the French language as the dominant form of communication in Montreal
*How does Quebecois Italian culture fit in?
*What can the U.S. learn about relations with indigenous people?

*Click on continua a leggere below to

venerdì, giugno 24, 2016

Bennington journal - June 2016 - #2

Back in big sky country (Vermont edition).

Walking in the wild-flower filled fields this morning, I think about the lessons I’ve learned and those I can impart, perhaps, to students of my own some day. And it’s this: seek out hard work and start doing so now. Pursuing hard work entails a monumental shift – a conversion, occasioned by the process of learning something new, something vital while aiming at an objective (a goal). You may quickly abandon your original goal or add new ones. You may have to adjust the measurements of your project – instead of one year, it may take two to reach your goal, for example. It matters not – in setting a goal and striving to reach it through hard work you are transformed. I was. And that’s hard work’s gift to each of us.
I’m sitting in Tishman casually analyzing my lecture, given yesterday morning, through the prism of today’s lectures. Comparing delivery and topic, etc. Then I see it in my mind – the moment Leo (and Mike) entered the lecture hall. The moment during my lecture when my heart leapt, and I was moved to murmur, “My son is here,” (or something to that effect – in the preciousness of the moment the words have been erased, the singular, stunning emotion of being a mother remains). There was a catch in my voice, a momentary loss of control. The vision of him holding Mike’s hand, his smile as he watches me, then looking down at the stairs so he can watch his steps – it’s fixed in my head, like a favorite movie scene, something I’ll cherish and relive for a long time. Like breathing in his scent, instead I’m searing forever in my memory his gorgeous face and the joy it has given me.

That’s it right there – the boy whose sheer presence, whose birth (deemed by me miraculous) set this journey in motion was there to see its fruition. The lecture is now part of our shared life together.

On the mother-child bond, writer Vivian Gornick tells us during a lecture, “This is how we become human.”
Other indelible moments: David Gates reading from "Banishment": “Reader, she dumped me.” His shout-out to Jane Austen? Possibly. He's named-checked her in interviews.

*Click on continua a leggere below to

lunedì, giugno 20, 2016

Bennington journal (June 2016 edition)

My beloved classmates – those who are graduating with me – are giving their lectures as we prepare to complete our MFAs in Creative Writing at Bennington College.

And per my usual, I’m jotting down notes about anything that interests me. 

Snippets of their lectures, lines from the poems they are reciting or stories they are reading as part of the graduation requirements.

And I’m finding wisdom, I’m finding mastery, I’m finding love for this world of writing, this world we finally realized we had no choice but to occupy, to stake out as our own.

Some excerpts (including a few choice bits from professors' lectures and readings):

“The little headstones of a season we will never sip” (Lucas)

“I was paralyzed by my own desire to be good” (Liz)

“All that chatter of being good or better than someone else fell away by not looking at the page” in a drawing class (Liz)

Advice to a young poet: “Listen to how people talk….Love what’s available” (Ed Ochester, professor)


"I cried out, 'My son, my only son'" (Ochester, again)

“Hers was a past I felt I had a right to know” (Rowena)

"That was so long ago." "Not for her." (Rowena) 

Paraphrasing: “Put people somewhere…given them a passion, an obsession” (Julie quoting Amy Hempel)

“Worm girl” (the name of a belittled childhood friend from an essay – Gwen) 

"Write about what you fear is true" -- not what is true (Bret Anthony Johnston, professor)


giovedì, giugno 09, 2016


My thesis!

For Bennington!

“He” looks at the massive pile of printed pages that is my thesis and he says, “That looks like a book.”

God-willing, kid. God-willing.

Kind of amazing how you set a goal and then get so busy moving toward the goal that when you reach it, or are about to reach it, you hardly pay it attention. Yes, I guess I'm about to get that graduate degree I've always wanted. Yes, I guess I've completed a 120-page thesis containing six short stories written in a genre -- Fiction -- that until three years ago I never thought I could even attempt.

But my goodness, I still have to finish writing my graduate lecture, and I have to print out the thesis, and plan the post-graduation trip to Montreal (if I really do graduate, which is so hard to imagine) and I have a dozen other writing and translation projects I'm working on in one way or another, and I'm thinking about my next freelance journalism pitches and where I will work when my contract gig at HLN/CNN finishes up this month. 

And yet look at the picture. 

It says: Refugees and Other Stories. Jeanne Bonner. 



lunedì, giugno 06, 2016

Italian Books by Women We Want To See in Eng.

I've written a piece for the Website Literary Hub called "10 Italian Books by Women We'd like To See in English." That's the kind of story that writes itself since there are so many wonderful Italian books that for many reasons have not made it over into English (in some cases published decades ago and winning Italy's top literary prizes.

Here's the intro to the piece, subtitled, "Reading Beyond Ferrante":

As more attention is paid to literature in translation, more tools emerge to aid us in trying to bring new (and in some cases, old) foreign works to an English-speaking audience.
Sometimes, however, those tools tell us things we don’t want to know. To wit, the wonderful database of translated works maintained by Chad Post of Three Percent shows us who is being translated – and by process of elimination, who is not.
My interest, of course, is: what Italian language books are being translated? And when I scan the names in the excel spreadsheets one can so handily download from Three Percent’s Web site, I see men’s names in line after line of the entries for Italian books translated and published.
Of course there are exceptions – and I don’t only mean Elena Ferrante. Europa, for example, has also published two works by Viola Di Grado in recent years (the second of which, Hollow Heart, translated by Antony Shugaar, was shortlisted for the PEN translation prize this year).
But it’s clear that the vast majority of Italian authors breaking through to English-language audiences are still men. The usual suspects, including Andrea Camilleri (the noted suspense writer) but also Umberto Eco and Antonio Tabucchi -- usual but also deserving suspects. Indeed, in trying to compile this list, I consulted Italian lists of ‘best books of the year’, plugging in 2012, 2013, etc., and found these lists were almost inevitably dominated by men (no wonder many in Italy don’t believe Ferrante is a woman – ahem).
Here, instead, are some of the women authors we’d like to see translated. The list is a mix of recent titles along with some galling omissions of writers who won a Strega – the Italian equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize – and have yet to see their works translated into English, in some cases decades later.
To read the rest, including the specific books by Lalla Romano, Erica Barbiani and Ubah Cristina Ali Farah that need to be translated, go here.