Jamie Fisher


Jamie Fisher is a freelance writer, Chinese-English translator, and budding manuscript conservationist working out of Philadelphia.  She graduated recently from the University of Pennsylvania, where her majors were Linguistics and East Asian Languages & Civilizations. Read her New York Times review of Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy by Phyllis Birnbaum here.

She can be reached at jamiefisher26@gmail.com.

PREPARATION FOR THE NEXT LIFE by Atticus Lish reviewed by Jamie Fisher

by Atticus Lish
Tyrant, 417 pages

reviewed by Jamie Fisher

If civilization ended tomorrow and had to be reconstructed based on Preparation for the Next Life, our descendants could get reasonably far with Atticus Lish’s instruction manual. They could learn, for instance, how correctional officers respond to an incident in the yard. Or how to eat a hot dog:

The guy whose house it was’s woman brought out a tray of hotdogs and set it on the coffee table, which was behind them. The plumber turned around and said thank you, hon. There’s relish, she said. She sat down on the couch, which was behind the coffee table, and spooned relish on a hotdog and bit into it with her hand cupped under it and chewed.
In Preparation for the Next Life, Lish fixates on certain details. Notice how insistent he is on the geography of the living room, seemingly at the expense of almost everything else besides the hot dog. No one says much in this well-appointed room and not much happens—here or anywhere. The nearest metaphor for the novel may be a heavily upholstered room in which no one talks, really, about anything. The plot, such that it is, feels light. The structure is non-existent. Still, Lish wants to make the room look busy. So we have lazy boys, kitchenettes, sofa-beds; bodegas, E-Verify, the military-penal complex. At the end, gripped by the anxiety of moving, he decides the best way to leave the room would be to set it on fire.

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The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion
by Meghan Daum
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 244 pages

reviewed by Jamie Fisher

Authenticity is Her Bag

So here’s the problem with coma stories: not everyone gets a coma story. Life-threatening medical emergencies chased closely by miraculous recoveries are, for most of us, in short supply. People who do find themselves with a coma story shouldn’t be surprised when friends, relatives, and neighbors want a piece of it. They want your Ninety Minutes in Heaven, absent the ignominious retraction. They want to know how your near-death experience has changed you, brought you closer to God. They want your spiritual lesson, and they will be insistent.

Meghan Daum’s coma story caps off what you might call a tough year. First her grandmother died, then her mother. Then she began to feel woozy with grief or flu, except that it turned out to be flea-transmitted typhus that knocked her prone on a hospital bed, hovering for days in a medically induced coma. Her total recovery is so unanticipated that her neurologist is prompted to call it miraculous. (Not the word you want to hear from the man with his tools inside your skull, Daum observes.) Because she is a writer, her friends request a “coma story”. But it seems unfair to expect anything beyond a convalescence. Daum is satisfied with coming out of the crisis with her personality, and basic motor skills, intact. “And in this story, I am not a better person. I am the same person. This is a story with a happy ending. Or at least something close enough.”

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THE USE OF MAN by Aleksandar Tišma reviewed by Jamie Fisher

by Aleksandar Tišma
Trans. by Bernard Johnson
New York Review of Books, 368 pages

reviewed by Jamie Fisher

One of the major themes in The Use of Man is the use of women by men. Most of Tišma’s men are womanizers, none more confirmed than the central character Sredoje. As a boy, he dreams of lording over “sweet-smelling” slave girls as a pirate brigand; as an adult, he uses his policeman status to coerce frightened women into sleeping with him. The other main character, Vera, attempts to save herself as war approaches by separating from her family, escaping with a local official to Budapest. She attracts him by tanning in the sun, relying only on “her own healthy, supple body, in which she had full confidence.” In the long, dismal postwar economy, she will eventually prostitute herself in exchange for gifts and favors. For preoccupations like these, the author has been accused, on occasion, of “eroticizing the Holocaust.”

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ORPHANS by Hadrien Laroche reviewed by Jamie Fisher

by Hadrien Laroche
translated by Jan Steyn and Caite Dolan-Leach
Dalkey Archive Press, 130 pages

reviewed by Jamie Fisher

Orphans starts with an advisory warning from the translators. Orphan, they explain, has a slightly different meaning in French: orphelin describes not only a child who has lost her parents, but a child who has lost only one parent.

The explanation is necessary, but also somewhat inadequate. Looking back along our linguistic family tree, orphan shrinks and dilates to cover so much more. In Latin an orbus is “bereft”; in Old English ierfa, an “heir,” with close ties to “suffering” and “trouble”; in Old Church Slavonic, a rabu (think robot) is a “slave” or “servant.” When we work our way back to Proto-Indo-European, orbho means “bereft of father,” but also “deprived of free status.” Orphan begins to sound simultaneously like someone who has lost his parents and someone who is inescapably tied to them…

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THE WOMAN WHO BORROWED MEMORIES by Tove Jansson reviewed by Jamie Fisher

by Tove Jansson
Trans. Tomas Teal, Silvester Mazzarella
NYRB Classics, 283 pages

reviewed by Jamie Fisher

Early on in a story in the new collection of Tove Jansson’s work, The Woman Who Borrowed Memories, a man named Stein takes over a celebrated newspaper strip. “Tell me something,” an older cartoonist asks him. “Are you one of those people who are prevented from doing Great Art because they draw comic strips?”

“Not at all,” Stein assures him.

“Good for you,” the man replies. “They’re insufferable. They’re neither fish nor fowl and they can’t stop talking about it.”

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MY LIFE AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY: A MEMOIR by Brian Turner reviewed by Jamie Fisher

MY LIFE AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY: A MEMOIR by Brian Turner W.W. Norton & Company, 240 pages reviewed by Jamie Fisher Just a few years into the Iraq invasion, I remember a certain amount of critical hand-wringing over the absence of War Literature, or the absence of an audience willing to receive it. We had the relentless daily body counts, the Iraqi countryside reduced to numbers and the names of cities. We had news. What we were waiting for was a sense of perspective: writers who could walk into the news cycle and persuasively inhabit the numbers. Preferably we wanted soldier-poets, in the Wilfred Owen tradition, who could combine the insiders’ perspective and personalization with a capacity for irony. In a decade characterized by the deterioration of public institutions and increased privatization, we wanted, oddly enough, more privatization.  Ten years later, we have a crop of fine veteran-writers and a … chop! chop! read more!

THE SEARCH FOR HEINRICH SCHLÖGEL by Martha Baillie reviewed by Jamie Fisher

THE SEARCH FOR HEINRICH SCHLÖGEL by Martha Baillie Tin House Books, 352 pages reviewed by Jamie Fisher “ERRATICA” Think fast! ____’s fourth novel navigates the tension between fact and fiction, readership and voyeurism, the impersonality of the archive, and the personal voice of the archivist. If you guessed W.G. Sebald, you’re not far off. He was known for writing in luminous ellipses around historical catastrophe, particularly the Holocaust, with an intellectual restlessness mirrored by his travels. But the author in question is Martha Baillie, and the book not Rings of Saturn but The Search for Heinrich Schlögel. Baillie likes to lay her influences plain; she has named Sebald as one of the patron gods of “elegance and lucidity” guiding her previous novels. In The Shape I Gave You, a novel studded thickly with “archival” photographs, she obsessed over authenticity and travel. Her Incident Report was narrated entirely through (admittedly unorthodox) … chop! chop! read more!