The Invisibility Cloak
Short novel set in contemporary China, ostensibly about love and high-end audio equipment. Really about a country grappling with mass hyper-urbanization, corruption, and huge wealth disparities. It plays out at first as a sort of surreal comedy, but quickly (the whole book is less than 200 pages) into a dark spiral of betrayal and loss.
I’m not much for the sardonic novel, but this one quickly takes its tongue out of its cheek and plunges into the tragically comedic, and then just the tragic. I know little about modern China, and can’t really say whether this is an accurate portrayal of the country or not, but I can say its captivating, and creates a surreal, yet resonate sense of place. Glad I took the risk.
I’m going to start by giving you a little hint: if you’re wandering through a used bookstore and you see a book published by the New York Review of Books, buy it. Don’t worry if it isn’t something you’ve heard of, or is about a subject matter you’re not particularly interested in. It doesn’t matter literally everything I have read from this publisher, everything from horror to experimental fiction has been absolutely top notch.
No surprise then that this book is remarkable. It collect two essays ostensibly on the Illiad by Simone Weil the other by Rachel Bespaloff, two Jewish women, caught in the snare of Nazi era Europe. These are essays about the Illiad, for sure, by writers who have read the text closely, but they are much more than that. They are meditations on the attraction and repulsiveness of war and the nature of narrative.
I’m in the midst of a long term engagement with Homer, and I found these essays illuminating not only for the insights they give to the poem itself, but also in how they show how Homer speaks to us across the ages, giving context and (perhaps) solace to two women fleeing the Nazis, or a father in Brooklyn terrified of what the next four years will bring.