Capital Murder

I got picked to go to Washington, DC.

I went with a bunch of other teachers from around the country to learn about the Supreme Court. This was supposed to make us better history teachers. We were going to get to be where judicial history was and is made. We were going to get to touch it. I didn’t want it to touch me back. I’m usually not a tactile learner.

// //

 

“I have a secret,” David said. Then, silence. No secret spilled. Not for another three months.

Next, his outbursts, explosions of anger. Throwing glass on the floor, acting up at home, punches thrown, and goes to preschool with the same attitude—rage snapping at random. But he still couldn’t say what he had to say, and even if he did, would anyone listen? Children are to be seen, not heard. Though actions, of course, speak louder than words. When a four-year-old throws his puppy across the backyard, it’s hard not to hear how he needs to speak.

Though there’s the fact of that antiquated thought, a belief born and raised in the Victorian era, one that has sustained centuries of adherence: Children should be seen, not heard.

In other words, this ageist slogan is saying that children are inherently unruly. Disruptive. Each one of them. And rude. Absolutely. They run around restaurants and twirl around stores, cartwheel down aisles breaking every social more, every code of conduct we’ve put in place to police our interactions. Kids are inconsiderate and cause breakables to crash to the floor, because they insist on seeing with their hands, not with their eyes.

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Tod Goldberg. His new novel, Gangster Nation, is available now from Counterpoint Press. 

This is Tod’s second appearance on the program. He was the guest in Episode 320, which aired on October 12, 2014.

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Can you talk about the genesis of Here in Berlin?

The idea began as an inquiry into the human fallout from Cuba’s long association with the Soviet bloc. I wanted to find the interesting stories from this globalism—the relationships and children, complications and dislocations—that always accompany political upheaval.

 

Was Berlin your only, or primary, destination?

Originally, I thought of doing a book in three or four parts with stories set in Berlin, in Chile, in Vietnam, and Angola—all places where Cubans have studied, were politically involved, or fought wars. Berlin was my second stop, after Chile, and I couldn’t get enough of the city. I knew pretty quickly that it was where the whole novel would be set.

PROLOGUE

Lilacs were blooming in Cracauerplatz. The Visitor felt disoriented and alone, an outsider, lost without a map. Her atrophied German stuck in her throat. Thirty-one years had elapsed between her last stay in Germany (for an ill-fated job in Frankfurt) and her return to Berlin in late middle age. The city struck her as post-apocalyptic—flat and featureless except for its rivers, its lakes, its legions of bicyclists. She found herself nameless: nameless in crowds, nameless alone. Another disappearance in a city with a long history of disappearance acts.

Now playing on Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Vanessa Grigoriadis , author of Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, & Consent on Campus (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). It is the official October pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Chelsea Martin. Her new essay collection, Caca Dolce, is available from Soft Skull Press.

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This is Fresh Air. I’m Terry Gross. My guest today is the acclaimed author, writing teacher and online entrepreneur whose debut novel, This Is How It Begins, is the best novel I’ve ever read in my entire life—

Stop it! That’s private.

 

… Joan Dempsey, welcome to Fresh Air.

[Groan.] Now I’ll never meet her.

 

Oh, come on. Terry Gross isn’t reading your TNB Self-Interview.

Unless she’s actually considering an interview with me.

“I’m wracking brain, Izaac. Who is Stanley Brozek? This name is ringing a bell, but I cannot place it.”

Izaac tapped the paper lightly against his thigh. “I don’t know. Come.”

He tossed the newspaper on top of her galoshes to offer Ludka his arthritic hands, which were still good enough for leverage.

“Take a breath, kochanie, and come with me into the kitchen. I’m going to have a little drink and I suggest you do, too. One drink won’t shatter our wits. Come now.”

 

Last night I had a dream that my mother and I went shopping. We were at an outdoor mall and it seemed to be wintry; I sensed the glow of holiday lights. We were having a nice time together and I said to her, “Mom, it’s really important that you remember tonight, okay?”

I don’t remember anything else about the dream. I don’t remember if she promised to remember, or if she smiled as if to promise, but I knew–even while dreaming–that she could not keep that promise. As I recalled the dream to my husband, I found myself lying–already re-shaping the dream. I told my husband that my mother said “Why would I forget tonight? I won’t forget anything anymore.” I am certain that in the dream she didn’t say anything, nothing at all. When I re-told it, I made it come out the way I wanted; I made my mother remember something, and promise to keep remembering it.

 

***

 

Lately I’ve been like a kitten pawing at a moving light. My friend Allison has a tiny spotlight that she used to whirl around the shiny floors of her apartment, so that her cat Piggy could chase it. She said it was fun for cats to chase things that are always just out of reach. How can humans know that the cat is having fun, that it isn’t driving the cat insane to be forever in pursuit of something illusory, a moving target?

My mother is my moving target. It has been a decade since her brain bleed, a decade since I charged down the halls of the ICU to confront the specter lying in the bed, comatose for two full days, a decade since the new Mom was born from the ashes of the hemorrhage –the Mom of fitful despair and half-recollection, who is plundered by dementia.

So, are you sitting comfortably?

Yes, thank you.

 

Then I’ll begin. Your novel, When It’s Over, is set in World War II. Does the world really need another WWII/Holocaust novel?

Certainly, a lot of fiction is set in that time; it’s such a rich, complex period, and I think it continues to fascinate us. There are so many stories to tell. I am always most drawn to those that show how the lives of ordinary people were impacted by momentous historical events. But I think When It’s Over offers some unique perspectives. First, it highlights the lives of refugees who fled the Nazis and managed to reach England during the war, and the prejudice and xenophobia they encountered. While the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII has become well-known over the past few decades, not many people are aware that the British interned Germans as “enemy aliens;” many were Jews and Communists who had narrowly escaped being interned by the Nazis. Another aspect is the Progressive political movement that swept Britain during the war and which led ultimately to the stunning landslide defeat of Churchill’s party in the 1945 election, right after VE day. As someone in my writing group said: how was it possible that Churchill, the great war leader, lost? That aspect of the war has been largely ignored.

Paris, January 1940

By the time Lena reached the British embassy, her feet ached, the sky was dark and overcast, and a cold wind whipped her face. She climbed the familiar stone steps and pushed through the heavy door. At least she would find a few hours of shelter inside.

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Ayobami Adebayo. Her debut novel, Stay With Me, is available now from Knopf.

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It was All Saints’ Day. A perfect time to visit our local legend, Thomas Jefferson.

People talk about Jefferson in Charlottesville, anchored by the university he founded, as if he were alive. “Jefferson would want us to build the road around the park, not through it.” “Jefferson would not let high-rises obscure the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” Instead of “What would Jesus do?” people ask, “What would Jefferson do?”

You just published a book called Playing with Dynamite: A Memoir. Why did you decide to write a book about yourself? Did you do jail time or recover from addiction or walk on the moon or something?

First of all, I never intended to write memoir. Like many writers, I started with autobiographical fiction. I wrote a novel about a teenage girl growing up in Detroit who embarks on a quest to find out who her father was and how he died. It’s remarkable how many memoirists say they started by writing their story as fiction, but it didn’t work, so they finally had to tell the whole truth. That’s what happened with me.