The book of the living and the dead

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the book of the living and the dead

The Living and the Dead by Patrick White

They stop at a crude mailbox nailed to a tree. The mailbox belongs to an old woman who has elected to live alone, deep in the forest. Though the circumstances of her early life were grim — a mother who mistreated her and a father so traumatized by his time in Vietnam that he could not adequately function — the hurt Verzemnieks refers to is not directly her own; rather it is something she has imbibed and inherited from the paternal grandparents who raised her, ethnic Latvians who settled in America after World War II. Verzemnieks grew up surrounded by people like her grandparents in the small Latvian expatriate community of Tacoma, Wash. When the Soviet Union collapsed, her grandparents succeeded in returning once. Ausma shared this fate. In , she, her mother and her invalid brother were stripped of their beloved farm and sent into the taiga.
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Published 11.01.2019

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The Living and the Dead

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T he map of Europe was shaped in the 20th century by complicity and disappearance. Mass murders. Countries vanished; whole peoples exterminated and displaced. For Europeans, this is the story of our continent, although rarely the version of the story we choose to say out loud. Among the Living and the Dead is her effort to recover that family history — splintered as it is by war, migration, shame and loss — and put the unspeakable into words. It is, like all attempted redemptions, both partial and painful. Renowned for her journalism in the Oregonian newspaper, she begins as any reporter should: by going to the scene, in this case the family farm in Latvia.

Doppelgangers, family, friends, and a semi-oracular figure named Charlene move between worlds, shifting forms in an overlapping arrangement of time and memory, as each organ, atom, and word casts its traveling shadow across the screen. A California native, longtime New Yorker, and world traveler, she now lives in Boulder with her husband, the novelist Laird Hunt, and their daughter, Eva Grace. They prove her to be one of our most free-thinking and innovative poets, whose evolving work continually challenges the boundaries of her art while retaining an essential lyricism. In her extraordinary new collection she conjures a sympathetic magic for the quick and the dead. This mid-territory where language and disappearance are forever turning and returning is explored and surveyed in loving detail. And I do find grace here, along with a tender ear for the lush equivocation of all the naming we do. The feeling is sanguine and open.

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