center for fiction

an evening with Wallace Shawn & Deborah Eisenberg

Last night, the Center for Fiction hosted a reading of Gregor von Rezzori’s An Ermine in CzernopolThe evening was in honor of the recent release of the new English translation. Rezzori’s widow, Beatrice Monte della Corte, gave the opening remarks. She was such a riot with a quick wit. She commented that she thought the new translation was fantastic. Debbie and Wally (as they so casually referred to each other) read excerpts from this hilarious novel.

Some people from the New York Review of Books were also there. They have been doing a wonderful job publishing quality translations of international books. The physical aesthetics of the books are quite lovely, too.

I snapped a few photos of the two reading, but most of them were obstructed by the back of Edmund White’s head. I resisted the temptation to whisper I loved Forgetting Elena into his ear.

After the reading, my friend and I moved to the back where we chatted and sipped free literary wine (meaning, out of plastic cups). Wallace Shawn was charming and silly. Deborah Eisenberg came over to us and chatted till the end of the evening. We asked her how she got to know Rezzori. Apparently, he was a fan of My Dinner with Andre and wanted to meet her boyfriend, Wallace Shawn. All is in the past but Deborah couldn’t stop singing the praise of the late Rezzori.

Crime Scene : The Festival of New Literature from Europe

Very few things can drag me to the godforsaken diamond district (and in the rain for that matter!) but I made my way to the Center for Fiction last night; also, the promise of free wine and pirogi at the reception was an added bonus. The event was entitled “The Shifting Scene” and there were two panels scheduled: Unconventional Police Protagonists and  The Nature of Evil. This evening was part of a larger literary fest called Crime Scene: New Literature from Europe. Both panels were moderated by B.J. Rahn.

The First Panel: Caryl Ferey (France), Jan Costin Wagner (Germany), Stefan Slupetzky (Austria), Dan Fesperman (USA–but fiction takes place abroad). The first panel was interesting and seemed helpful with the craft and technique of writing a really compelling sleuth. However different their novels and characters were, the panelists also agreed that their “police protagonists” were often unheroic or clumsy, were independent and shattered the ‘tough guy’ image, and used unorthodox methods.

The Second Panel: Zygmunt Miłoszewski (Poland), Anna Maria Sandu (Romania), José Carlos Somoza (Spain). Okay, so here is where everything gets far more interesting and heated. The second panel began speaking about the title, “The Nature of Evil.” Miłoszewski believes that humans are not evil by nature (maybe evil comes from circumstances?). Somoza countered with how evil is not generalized but specific to culture or the world of the book and that evil is connected to childlike instincts and losing one’s civilized veneer. Thus, began a back and forth between the two authors that probably lasted for half of the panel. But it was incredibly intriguing! One of Miłoszewski’s rebuttals was that evil comes from a shared human code and is not a specified interpretation. Finally, the moderator changed her attention to Sandu who spoke through an interpreter. She was the only author of the whole evening who’s protagonist was a woman. Although the moderator tried to get her to speak more about why she chose the female gender for her character, she seemed to always skirt around this question.

While shoving the last of a macaron into my mouth, I asked the woman standing next to me at the reception whether she liked the panels. Of course she did and like me, she particularly liked the second panel (The Nature of Evil). Again, we were on the same page and admitted to each other that we were naive to the panelists and their novels. We both thought that the one that sounded the most interesting and could be a wise choice for first book to read is Anna Maria Sandu’s Kill Me!. Our duo was turned into a trio when B.J. Rahn joined us. She was very intelligent and was a wealth of information. She thought Sandu’s novel was a good choice to start with.

All-in-all, I was glad I braved the rain and once I get a millisecond of free time, I have a new book to check out.