Blue Has No South
Alex Epstein; translated by Becka Mara McKay
published 2010 • 5 1/2" x 7 3/4" • 131 pages
ISBN 9781566568067 • paperback • $15.00 •
"The title gives a strong indication of what to expect from this flash fiction collection from Israeli author Epstein. With more than 100 short-short stories (many no longer than a few lines), there's a frenetic buzz of activity, with recurring themes including chess, mythology, rain, angels, suicide, animals, muses, time machines, tragic love, aging, and painting, all sewn together in a Borges-meets-Kafka style. Some pieces slip into metanarrative, as with "Gibraltar, a Love Story," a brief bit in which the author comments on the flaws in his tale about an elephant escaped from a zoo. Other pieces don't tell stories at all, such as "The Flawed Symmetry of Romeo and Juliet," which offers a critique of "the only lovers who see each other dead." Often it isn't the scraps of story that make the pieces work as much as the poetic language, as in a story involving the murder of a chess-playing writer. These deceptively simple snapshots certainly can deliver on a fast reading, but slow, close attention reveals layers of thought and complexity."
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"Their love story ended many years ago. He still writes her name as a solution to crossword puzzle clues of suitable length."
Alex Epstein’s miniature stories are indeed love stories, puzzles, stray clues to puzzles he never finishes, the beginnings or ends of philosophical treatises, parables, jokes, modernized legends, or perhaps a vivid handful of images thrown together, then allowed to disperse. This is a form of which he has been hailed as a master, a form as singular and intricate as a collection of fingerprints. His stories are populated by angels, chess players, mythical figures, Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka, lovers young and old, writers of disappearing languages; they are set in airports, trains, the sites of legends, hotels, bookstores in countries that no longer exist, dreams. In each of them, Epstein draws precisely the smallest possible world, and revels in the great possibilities of a single sentence. In each of them, we are invited to celebrate everything that can happen before “the tip of the pencil breaks against the bright paper.”
Alex Epstein is the author of three short-story collections and three novels; in 2003 he received Israel’s Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature. He teaches in Tel Aviv.
Becka Mara McKay is a poet and translator, most recently of Suzane Adam’s Laundry.
"Epstein’s collection is something of a spatial triumph—microscopic stories (some are only single sentences long) with manifold compartments and a capaciousness belied by their slight appearance.
These stories range widely, drawing from mythology and history to the arts and the quotidian. Epstein...remarked...that he delights in contrasts: contrasts between the real and unreal, between the ordinary and fantastical, earthly and celestial. That much is on display in the eclecticism of this volume. 'Blue Has No South' is, at least in part, an exercise in putting poetic tools to work in prose.
Translating from the Hebrew, Becka Mara McKay has captured the essential poetic qualities of these stories, in particular their subtle but insistent evocations of hidden depths and expanding spaces...Within the bounds of these microscopic, paragraph-long vignettes are traces of other spaces, suggestions of a before and after and of unplumbed depths... mesmerizing"
—Words Without Borders
"Alex Epstein's concise, intriguing book...subtle but engaging, often humorous...it is a testament to the book’s translator, Becka Mara McKay, that brevity, depth and wit are all retained. ... Epstein...folds and unfolds reminiscences of his characters like a magician’s handkerchief that appear to vanish like they were never in his hand at all.
'Blue Has No South'...is itself a collection of immigrants. An exquisitely described gathering who, though unknown to each other, share a common place here. Some are funny, some are smart, some are surreal but all are moving towards a collective meaning in their own way. Not all arrive at their final destination. Nevertheless, they shuffle together and in doing so mark something astonishing."
—Near East Quarterly
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