“So you were telling your story. Your death story? The story of how you died.”
It’s the week of the fifteenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, if you mark the history of American violence in Iraq as starting in March 2003. After the sanctions of the 1990s, after the war in ’91, after the IranIraq War and the US arming both sides, after the CIA’s involvement in Saddam’s rise to power.
Eugène Sue owed his immense popularity to the series of sensational novels of Parisian low life, which he began in 1842 with Les Mystères de Paris (The Mysteries of Paris). The book appeared as a serial novel, or feuilleton, in the conservative newspaper Le Journal des Débats. The Mysteries of Paris provided its readers with an examination of working-class and criminal Paris that no novel had until then portrayed. Sues book, with its portraits of prostitutes, criminals, and villains of all stripes, who speak in their own language and move about in their own milieu, caused a scandal upon its release. Unlike his contemporaries, in The Mysteries of Paris Sue abandoned the drawing rooms of the beau monde for the dive bars and cabarets of central Paris, Ile de la Cité, where the story is set.
Keith Gessen’s A Terrible Country is a remarkably plotted novel. It proceeds in little twists and bends, gradually gaining scope, like a line that becomes a plane. Gessen’s second work of fiction, it reminds me of how—if I remember right—Tolstoy described War and Peace: not a novel but something else.
T. Motley is serializing Highlights from the Life of Raymond Roussel in the Brooklyn Rail, helped by a grant from the Spillway Fund, spillwayfund.org. Text translated from the French by Harry Mathews, Trevor Winkfield, Mark Ford, John Harmon, John Ashbery, Mark Polizzotti, and Rupert Copeland Cuningham.
Nathan Place is a carbon-based organism who works by day as a video editor for the Daily Mail and by night as the peculiar cartoonist behind Golthar, Terror of the Deep. He grew up in New York City, but is just as tormented by living here as most people. He publishes a new Golthar every Tuesday on Instagram at @GoltharTerrorOfTheDeep.