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These two novellas, The Pain of Wearing Our Faces and Grace, are published by Leaky Boot Press. They are about women artists and an art world that betrays and oppresses them.
Why are our children taught about Ramses but not Hatshepsut, Egypt's first woman pharoah and one of its most successful? Why are they taught about Hadrian but not Boudica, the Celtic queen who fought the Romans? Why are they taught about Manet but not Suzanne Valadon?
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In The Story of Zahra, Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh presents betrayal as the very essence of narrative and narrativity. It becomes a postmodernist syndrome with various symptoms and multiple manifestations, predicated, as it is, on all manner of deception in the negotiation of female identification and self-defining modes. It starts from the enunciation of the title itself: the third person referent implies a certain detachment; a voice promising to unveil Zahra’s secrets and hence breach her interiority. This detached voice is the one behind the scenes, Zahra’s double and the marker of her schizoid self.
We broke up over six kids—that’s how I always told the story. But of course that was no story. I don’t mean that it wasn’t fiction (although it wasn’t ), just that it wasn’t narrative. It was only the prelude to a punch line. Six kids? the person to whom I had said this would ask. What kids?
Kids we didn’t have.
Then the laugh. And we’d move on.
“Oh, my God, I don’t believe it! I never thought I would see you here in America!” Mlada Dvořáková cried, throwing her arms around me and kissing me on both cheeks and then the lips.
I hadn’t seen her for fifteen years, since 1976, when I finished my year of teaching at Charles University in Prague. Mlada was then twenty-three, a fifth-year student taking a combined German and English concentration, and I was thirty-three, an assistant professor on a Fulbright, giving my version of American literature to Czech English majors.
We were standing at the top of the stairs under the departures board in Penn Station in the midst of the noontime crush as Mlada’s fellow passengers on the Amtrak train from Washington swept around us. Despite the passage of a decade and a half and the swirl of traffic in the stairwell, we had instantly spotted each other’s face as I waited at the top of the stairs and she climbed them.