pulitizer prize

Here in the UK it is Holocaust Memorial Day. A reminder of how easily unreasoning hatred of the Other (”not like us, are they?”) leads to horror on a scale that Hell itself would turn from. All the more pertinent now as the “alt-right” (what most of us would call Nazis, let’s be honest) are openly marching, giving Hitler salutes at rallies and advancing the same old rhetoric of hatred against groups they despise.


Art from Spiegelman’s Puliter-prize winning Maus.

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I read Swamplandia! by Karen Russell in a fit of post-finals anxiety and worry about the future. What would I do with my break, besides hopefully achieve some sort of relaxation? What would I do with my life- since everyone seems to want to know, and all either laugh to themselves or launch into worldly advice when I say that I don’t know but have a bunch of ‘mights,’ as if they own an adult secret I don’t or can’t yet? And so I sank into Swamplandia!, its swamp magic, its magical realist dreamworld, and I let myself sink until I was regretting that the book was over.

“Some things you know right away to be final–when you lose your last baby tooth, or when you go to sleep for the ultimate time as a twelve-year-old on the night before your thirteenth birthday. Other times, you have to work out the milestone later via substraction, a math you do to assign significance, like when I figured out that I’d just blown through my last-ever Wednesday with Mom on the day after she died.”

Swamplandia! is simply beautiful. It is as dark as it seems to be innocent, as real as it seems to be fantastic. There is a slow feeling of dread at the appearance of the Birdman, a recognition the narrator has, a wondering of each and every situation–which part will this be, the magical or the realism? That’s what magical realism is all about, that’s what the genre is meant to be. The allowance of not being able to know in this world what is the real and what is the extra–or whether either really, in this world, are extra–lends Swamplandia! a suspense, a tone, a swampy dark bird cry and gator snap that can’t be replicated. A well-written masterpiece. 

“Heaven would be a comfy armchair, Kiwi decided, rubbing at expletives with his elbow. Beige and golden upholstery, beige and golden wallpaper (what he was actually picturing here, he realized, was the pattern of his mother’s brown rosettes on their curtains). You’d get a great, private phonograph, and all of eternity to listen to your life’s melody. You could isolate your one life out of the cacophonous galaxy–the a capella version–or you could play it back with its accompaniment, embedded in the brass and strings of mothers, fathers, sisters, windfalls and failures, percussive cities of strangers. You could play it forward or backward, back and back, and listen to the future of your past. You could lift the needle at whim, defeating Time.”