Posts Tagged Other Press

book review: Happy are the Happy

happy are the happy

Happy are the Happy By Yasmina Reza.
Other Press| January 2015.|148 pages |$20.00| ISBN: 978-1-59051-692-8

Rating: 3.5/5*

Beautiful cover art. Superb concept. 20 short chapters focused on different characters. Some characters resurface in each other’s stories. Darkness. The reality of relationships. Complications of life, of work, of love, of contentment. In this short-story collection few characters feel blissful. Most feel displeasure, discomfort and remain in dysfunctional relationships. I’m not sure that I think of the French as being overly ebullient. There’s lovely art, architecture and scenery in Paris and throughout France but Europeans are a serious and deliberate bunch. I once read and liked that Germans only smile when they mean it. Not like some dumb happy Americans. Even so reading these stories makes me a bit jubilant not to be involved in a marriage or partnership.

These are short stories to be read slowly, savored like a glass of wine. It’s about the pacing. Yasmina Reza–Tony Award-winning playwright for Art and God of Carnage [I really liked the Roman Polanski film Carnage with Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly]—has a knack for brevity and astute, quick, sharp observation. Statements such as: “A man’s a man. There are no married men, no men who are off limits.” And this quip: “To me, ballet shoes are a synonym for boredom and the absence of sex.” Intricate descriptions allow you a glimpse into the lives and thoughts of diverse people. Even for a moment. Secrets, dreams, disappointments. Affairs, heartache, destruction.

In a market, Odile argues with her husband Robert over cheese. Reza writes: “As soon as you run out of arguments, you say I’m out of here, you immediately resort to this grotesque threat.” And “That’s the secret, Ernest said, the child understood it: reduce your requirements for happiness to a minimum.” A few stories later more about the couple’s discord from Odile’s point-of-view: “I wonder if the word tired in Robert’s mouth hasn’t contributed more than anything else to our drifting apart. I refuse to give the word any existential significance. If a literary hero withdraws to the region of shadows, you accept it, but the same doesn’t go for a husband with whom you share a domestic life.”

Paola realizes the end of an affair. Her lover will never leave his wife. Reza writes: “He was so used to coming to my apartment that he couldn’t conceive an alternate idea. Men are totally immobile creatures. We women are the ones who create movement. We wear ourselves out invigorating love.” Magnificent phrasing. Then there’s Philip, a successful doctor who suffered abuse as a child and now seeks random anonymous hook-ups. “. . . the thing I’m really seeking is the smell of sadness. It’s an impalpable thing, deeper than we can gauge, and it has nothing to do with reality. My life is beautiful. I do what I like to do.” In another story a woman runs into a nearly unrecognizable former lover. She admits: “I’m a woman who doesn’t like photographs (I never take any), who doesn’t like any image, whether cheerful or sad, that’s capable of rousing the emotions. Emotions are frightening.” Exactly.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

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book review: Diary of the Fall


Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub. Publisher: Other Press. Fiction. Hardcover. 225 240 pages.

RATING: ****/5

“For reasons that seem obvious to me, I don’t believe in happy endings or even in endings at all, but I am as susceptible to moments of indulgent fantasy as anybody else.”

Author info: Michel Laub currently lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He’s a journalist and the author of five novels. Diary of the Fall is the his first novel translated into English.

Summary: Written in diary and notated form, this is the story of a man who regrets a cruel act toward a schoolmate decades ago. As he reconciles his behavior he reflects on the life of his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and his grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor. The narrator’s an alcoholic on his third marriage. It’s simultaneously written with gravity and levity. A short read, it’s effectual and tender in relaying how the Holocaust affects several generations in varied ways.

On his grandfather: “In the final years of his life, my grandfather spent the whole day in his study. Only after he died did we find out what he had been doing there, notebooks and more notebooks filled with tiny writing, and only when I read what he had written did I finally understand what he had been through. It was then that his experience stopped being merely historical, merely collective, merely attached to some abstract moral, in the sense that Auschwitz became a kind of landmark in which you believe with all the force of your education, your reading, all the debates you’ve heard on the subject, the positions you’ve solemnly defended, the vehemently condemnatory statements you’ve made without for a second feeling as if any of that experience were truly yours.”

On the tragedy of the Holocaust: “My grandfather lost a brother in Auschwitz, and another brother in Auschwitz, and a third brother in Auschwitz, and his father and his mother in Auschwitz and his girlfriend of the time in Auschwitz, and at least one cousin and one aunt in Auschwitz, and who knows how many friends in Auschwitz, how many neighbors, how many work colleagues, how many people he would have been quite close to had he not been the only one to survive and set off on a boat for Brazil and spend the rest of his life without ever mentioning any of their names.”

On his father: “I found out two years ago that my father had Alzheimer’s. One day, when he was driving just a few blocks away from our house, he suddenly felt lost and couldn’t think how to get home.”

On the boy: “It would be hard to say why I became Joao’s friend. These things don’t happen because you feel sorry for someone, or because you’ve spent months tormented by the idea that you almost destroyed that person, although it might help to begin with, at least as an impulse when you first decide to approach him.”

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

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art of asking

1. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer [Grand Central Publishing]

–As a feminist and a Boston-based music journalist, I love everything about this memoir. It’s absolutely engrossing. I liked Boston’s The Dresden Dolls and always appreciated Amanda Palmer for her outspoken nature, her feminism and musicianship. Now I truly admire Amanda Palmer and feel we’d be friends if we ever met. I’m wondering if we were ever at a party at the same time at Castle von Buhler—my artist friend Cynthia von Buhler’s former Boston home. The Art of Asking illustrates the importance of making lasting connections through art, love and creativity.

complete review


2. My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff [Knopf]

–Everything about this memoir appeals to me from the font to the cover to the 90s setting to the tone. It begins in winter with sections by season, then chapters with titles such as “Three Days of Snow,” “The Obscure Bookcase,” “Sentimental Education” and “Three Days of Rain.” Memoir as literary recollections. It’s lovely and immensely engrossing because we’ve all experienced periods of doubt, periods of reflection, periods of development, our twenties or the 90s (for some of us, our twenties and the nineties were all of that).

complete review


3. Working Stiff by Judy Melinek [Scribner]

–a medical examiner’s residency in New York. detailed, gory and completing engrossing.


4. Cured by Nathalia Holt [Dutton]

–Berlin patients. painstakingly researched and explained.

interview with Nathalia Holt

unspeakable things

5. Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny [Bloomsbury USA]


alice and freda forever

6. Alice + Freda Forever by Alexis Coe [Pulp]



7. The Fall by Diogo Mainardi [Other Press]

–This is a love story. A moving, clever memoir about a father’s relationship with his son Tito, born with cerebral palsy. It’s clever because Mainardi writes in 424 steps like the steps that his son has progressively taken over the years as he grows stronger and more confident in his movement. A poet and journalist, Mainardi writes lyrically as well as in a scrupulously researched manner. It’s beautiful and fascinating.



8. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay [Harper]


being mortal

9. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande [Metropolitan Books]

–so much respect for Dr. Atul Gawande and his ability delve into particular medical issues, like aging and death, that prove difficult to discuss. thoughtful text and interesting case studies.

roz chast

10. Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast [Bloomsbury USA]

–amusing and sad: appropriate in describing the aging process.

“I wish that, at the end of life, when things were truly “done,” there was something to look forward to. Something more pleasure-oriented. Perhaps opium or heroin. So you became addicted. So what? All-you-can-eat ice cream parlors for the extremely aged. Big art picture books and music. Extreme palliative care, for when you’ve had it with everything else: the x-rays, the MRIs, the boring food and the pills that don’t do anything at all. Would that be so bad?”

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book review: The Hormone Factory

hormone factory

<em> The Hormone Factory</em> by Saskia Goldschmidt. Publisher: Other Press [November 2014]. Fiction. Hardcover. 304 pages.

The cover, title and description pulled me in and the stirring, gossipy, colorful writing kept me in this debut novel by Dutch author Saskia Goldschmidt. This is historical fiction at its best. The ruthless and debauched Mordechai De Paauw recalls his experiences as Dutch co-founder and CEO of the first pharmaceutical company to invent and manufacture the contraceptive pill and hormone treatments. He runs a meat factory. He’s not a scientist but he realizes that animal organs which the company discards daily could be used for experiments. De Paauw would increase his wealth and gain power and prestige: “I walked outside and just stood there staring at the colossal mountain of offal in our factory yard. Who’d have thought that stinking pile contained unsuspected riches, like the copper ore trapped in rock deep in the earth’s crust, or the gold in the mud of a riverbed?”

He’s imprudent and corrupt about a lot of things. He experiments on and sexually exploits his female workers. There’s one employee that he calls “Fat Bertha” and summons to his office for sexual trysts on the regular. He also walks into the factory and selects women as if ordering from a menu. They must see the boss in his office or endure dire consequences. In the ultimate in blurred lines, De Paauw admits: “I must confess their inhibitions didn’t always hold me back. There’s something titillating in a little resistance, I find; a bit of a struggle, a head-shaking no, a hand fending me off, a tussle, until the wench accepts the inevitable and lets you have your way, limp as a lab rabbit receiving an injection.”

Disturbing on many levels. The language. The disrespect. The idea of getting [or really taking] what you want when you want no matter who gets hurt. The compulsion. You wonder how this guy can be this wicked. How can he abuse his employees, take short-cuts but be successful in numerous ways. His rather mild-mannered twin brother Aaron gets imprisoned due to De Paauw’s manipulations. His wife keeps reminding him of his “everlasting impatience” and that others might know much more than her husband. De Paauw refuses to accept these facts. Their marriage unravels after his brother’s imprisonment and a factory girl getting pregnant with his child at almost the same time his wife Rivka becomes pregnant with their first son. Thus De Paauw later admits: “I kept my distance from the factory girls; I had learned my lesson, but even in the new puritan atmosphere there were plenty of attractive, available women.”

“My need for such one-night stands began to lessen when, in the mid-nineteen-fifties, I met Diane Drabble in New York. She was one of the rare female chemists at the time and worked in tour U.S. lab. She was an intelligent, fine-looking woman and had nothing in common with the prim little misses mincing through the fifties in their coy wasp-waisted dresses, their nylons and garder belts, the immaculate white collars, the veiled little hats, the silk gloves, the clicking stiletto heels and prissy pocketbook in which, in a kind of courtship ritual, they were constantly fumbling to pull out a power compact, a lipstick, an embroidered handkerchief or a chrome cigarette case.”

What drove men to develop birth control? Not that all men are sexist and anti-feminist. Some men believe in equality and the greater good. De Paauw enjoyed the idea of having sex with as many women as possible and reducing the probability he’d impregnate them. He’s wealthy and powerful after all. That’s why he had to marry his wife. She got pregnant. Today men still make decisions and impose themselves onto women’s choices. Many men (and women) created The Pill and IUDs and hormone treatments such as Plan B but now in the United States, men want to restrict women’s access to protect themselves and maintain control over their bodies and their sexual experiences. The Hormone Factory delves into the time right before and during WWII when these advances became real possibilities. As WWII heightens and Hitler invades Holland, the future seems bleak for De Paauw, his company–many Jewish scientists for there– and his Jewish family. The family flees to England.

Goldschmidt works as a drama teacher and children’s theater director. The Hormone Factory‘s based on the real Organon. The Van Zwanenberg Slaughterhouse and Factories founded in 1887 by twin brothers. In 1923, Saal van Zwanenberg established Organon to develop medicine from meat waste products. Goldschmidt’s father survived the concentration camp Bergen Belsen. In the afterword she writes: “It took me over fifty years to find the courage to research my family’s history and to probe what kind of influence that history and my father’s concentration camp stay had on me. She published a memoir Obliged to Be Happy: A Portrait of a Family in 2011. The author’s theatrical background and meticulous research influenced the credibility and flair of this debut novel. Goldschmidt uses impeccable tone and extraordinary detail. Though covering a serious subject, it’s at times amusing with its dry wit. She paints the story in gray not black and white. Quite effective as many flawed characters might express regret or comprehension for their actions and words.

RATING: ****/5

review by Amy Steele

<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.</em>

purchase at Amazon: The Hormone Factory: A Novel

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