What We Are Reading Today: Brooklyn by Thomas J. Campanella

Updated 04 October 2019

What We Are Reading Today: Brooklyn by Thomas J. Campanella

America’s most storied urban underdog, Brooklyn has become an internationally recognized brand in recent decades—celebrated and scorned as one of the hippest destinations in the world. 

In Brooklyn: The Once and Future City, Thomas J. Campanella unearths long-lost threads of the urban past, telling the rich history of the rise, fall, and reinvention of one of the world’s most resurgent cities, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

Spanning centuries and neighborhoods, Brooklyn-born Campanella recounts the creation of places familiar and long forgotten, both built and never realized, bringing to life the individuals whose dreams, visions, rackets, and schemes forged the city we know today. 

He takes us through Brooklyn’s history as homeland of the Leni Lenape and its transformation by Dutch colonists into a dense slaveholding region. We learn about English émigré Deborah Moody, whose town of Gravesend was the first founded by a woman in America.


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.