What We Are Reading Today: El Norte

Updated 10 March 2019

What We Are Reading Today: El Norte

Author: Carrie Gibson

This is a comprehensive exploration of the “Spanish” experience in North America, from the days of Columbus to US President Donald Trump. 
El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America “is the book that Americans, Anglo and Hispanic, should read as an education on their own American place or role,” said Julio Ortega in a review published in The New York Times.
The author of Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean From Columbus to the Present Day, Carrie Gibson “takes on the task of accounting for the relevant and telling cases of our modern process of national formation and regional negotiations,” said Ortega.
“This is a serious book of history but also an engaging project of reading the future in the past,” the review added.
“What is particularly fascinating about this book is that its encyclopedic project is not a rewriting of history but a recitation of readings. Almost each historical event is retold through memory, recording, evaluation and discussion,” Ortega said.

Mazen Maarouf brings magical realism to the darkness of war

‘Jokes for the Gunmen,’ on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize, has been translated into English. (Supplied)
Updated 23 October 2019

Mazen Maarouf brings magical realism to the darkness of war

  • ‘Jokes for the Gunmen,’ on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize, has been translated into English by Jonathan Wright and published by Granta Books.
  • It was published in Arabic by Beirut’s Riad El-Rayyes Books in 2015.

CHICAGO: From award-winning Palestinian-Icelandic writer, poet and journalist Mazen Maarouf comes a collection of short stories, “Jokes for the Gunmen,” now translated into English.

Unraveling sometimes fantastical and other times traumatic realities, the stories are mostly from the perspective of a child in a war zone in which life is about survival and how one’s perception of the world can be narrowed through limited circumstances.

Maarouf introduces his readers to narrators who mostly stay nameless, whose stories pick up in the middle of their lives, long after the bombs began to fall and life became about survival rather than living.

He unapologetically explores the depths of a child’s thinking as painful incidents occur and instability ensues in his characters’ lives.

He is unafraid to create uncomfortable situations, and often the accidental outcomes are the ones that seem to help life move forward.

Misunderstandings and misinterpretations often lead characters to their destinies, and in Maarouf’s collection, the only way to take the unforgiving realities of life is to turn them into a joke.

He explores elements of magical realism in his stories, such as when one character’s uncle, a self-proclaimed matador, dies three times in the same week, and one in which a son tells his mother fantastical stories about biscuits.

Dark humor encapsulates each unique story. Maarouf explores dreams, life, jokes, war, relationships, and the contrast between light and dark.

Each of his stories is embedded in a deep reality that cannot be shaken when it comes to war and its aftermath.

There is a harshness that overlays each incident, but one that pushes forward the notion that life must be lived through war.