I do not remember the first time I tried on a pair of glasses. I know that it was the summer of third grade, and in pictures, the glasses are small and delicate. My bad eyesight was due to a penchant for reading books all the time, in bad lighting, usually because I should have been in bed. When I put on my glasses, there was no sudden burst of clarity. Maybe the words on the chalkboard became easier to read, but I certainly didn’t have any epiphanies. I did not, like Dr. Hahn on Grey’s Anatomy, go through the joy of finding out that the blotches of color on the trees were leaves. The glasses were simply slipped on and life continued as normal.
Classical Persian poetry has held an important place in English-language literature: Khayyam is a central figure of the Victorian era; Rumi remains a best-selling poet in America; and Hafez has been one of the most frequently translated poets. But modern Persian poetry is absent from contemporary surveys. No modern Persian writer appears in the “Norton Anthology of World Literature” or in the “Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English.”
Hilary Mantel, when she writes fiction, prefers to grab on a fact. A handhold, if you will. “I aim to make fiction flexible enough so that it bends itself around the facts as we have them,” she said in her Paris Review interview last week. If someone were to claim that the pursuit of the factual runs counter to the aims of fiction, she’d reply that most of human history remains unknown to us, anyway – we have only fragments of Sappho and stumps of buildings and broken statues and fields and fields of unmarked graves all over the world. So if you are lucky enough to build a human universe around any kind of factual handhold, why wouldn’t you use all you could get? To extend the climbing metaphor: just because you can, improbably, hoist yourself along a sheer cliff face doesn’t make the risk of falling any less, or the vista behind you any less stunning.
At the age of thirty-two, I have done the impossible and returned home—not for a holiday or a funeral, but to set up residency in a region of the Florida Panhandle so remote that even Comcast Cable has declined the opportunity to overcharge us for Internet service. I say “impossible” because that’s how the saying goes, doesn’t it, that a person “can’t go home again”—or at least Thomas Wolfe and Joan Didion made compelling cases.
Adventures in Immediate Irreality: No, not a shorthand for my recent trip to Las Vegas—though that is where I read Romanian writer Max Blecher’s 1936 novel, recently reissued by New Directions.