“Maidenhair” is not light reading

Interesting review of Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin, published last month by Open Letter Press. This one has been in my stack for a while now. Hope to get to it before long . . .

“Maidenhair” is not light reading. The interlocking narratives fuse and fragment in this literary masterpiece, whose ambitious goal encompasses the recreation of language in order to express truths about love and death, loss and happiness. One idea that weaves its way into each of the stories is that “whoever can be happy right now, should,” that pain and joy are connected: “True enjoyment of life can only be felt if you’ve known suffering.”

Whole pages without paragraphs catalogue the minutiae of personal recollections, the details of life that mean nothing and everything. There are references to detective novels as the narrator tries to infer the truth from tiny clues. The “Maidenhair” of the title is a fern that grows wild among the Roman ruins the interpreter visits with his wife. This delicate, green weed “grew here before your Eternal city and will grow here after.”

It is one of many recurring images that come to signify so much, like the disappointingly muddy River Tiber, representing reality: “You have to love that Tiberian world!” the interpreter’s re-imagined teacher tells him towards the end. She also criticizes the novel’s key stylistic feature: “You always mixed everything up!” The ancient Greeks are one thing, the Chechens another, the teacher tells him, but in Shishkin’s tale, they become aspects of united human experience. Soldiers and lovers tell their stories: “And there will always be war for tomorrow.”

Recent Posts

Criticism Isn't Free

CR is dedicated to thoughtful, in-depth criticism without regard to what's commercially appealing. It takes tens of hours each month to provide this. Please help make this sort of writing sustainable, either with a subscription or a one-time donation. Thank you!

You could also purchase one of my acclaimed ebooks.

Got Something To Say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

Shop though these links = Support this site

Copyright © 2018. Powered by WordPress & Romangie Theme.