Sunday, October 21, 2012

Joan Wickersham

Joan Wickersham was born in New York City. Her books include The Suicide Index, a National Book Award finalist. Her fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. Her op-ed column appears regularly in The Boston Globe; she has published essays and reviews in the Los Angeles Times and the International Herald Tribune; and she has contributed on-air essays to National Public Radio. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, and Yaddo.

Her latest book is The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story.

Recently I asked Wickersham what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now I’m reading a big Hungarian novel: The Book of Fathers, by Miklos Vamos. It’s a family chronicle – it begins around 1700, and each chapter is the story of the firstborn son of that generation – but “family chronicle” is too docile a description for a book that has this particular mixed flavor of character study, folktale, magical realism, humor, and sobering (sometimes terrible) glimpses of what is going on in Hungary during the character’s lifetime.

This book is wonderful. But for me, reading it is also an attempt to satisfy a wistful Hungarian-fiction craving that began after a friend recommended Miklos Banffy’s great Transylvanian trilogy, first published in Hungary in the late 1930s but only recently translated into English. Banffy’s novels – They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting, They Were Divided – take place in the decade leading up to World War I, in an aristocratic world whose characters go to balls and hunts, engage in doomed love affairs, drink, gamble, gossip, try to improve the lot of the peasants living on their land, and generally fail to read the political handwriting on the wall. I was mesmerized by the delicacy, subtlety, sophistication, and emotional frankness of these novels – could not bear to finish them. Since then I’ve been restlessly searching for more Banffy – a hopeless quest, since he wrote no other fiction, but a fruitful one, too, as it has led me to Vamos, and Dezso Kosztolanyi’s Skylark, and Tibor Dery’s Niki: The Story of a Dog, and the happy realization that there is a whole world of Hungarian novels waiting to be read.
Visit Joan Wickersham's website.

Writers Read: Joan Wickersham (January 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue