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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri or: How to Find a Good Book at the Airport

Warning: This review contains no spoilers. Viewer discretion advised.

[I’ve got that summertime, summertime sadness…]

It’s 8:54 AM on a Thursday in July and I’m standing in a Hudson Book Sellers at Chicago Midway Airport.

In 25 minutes I’ll be departing for Las Vegas.

In 25 minutes it will be me and Lana Del Rey cruising Southwest Airlines, eating hard shitty pretzels, and wondering why this Bachelors Party had to be in Vegas.

But for now it’s me and Cindy. Cindy, who is working the morning shift at this Hudson Book Sellers.

Midway Airport is like the Mos Eisley of Airports. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. One must be cautious when flying.

But here I am, with a bag of McDonald’s Hash Browns, looking for a book to read before I lose myself to Sin City.

I should have known better.

Why I would find a book worthy of a 4 hour flight? What good can possibly come from a Hudson’s Book Sellers?

The usual players are displayed neatly in the window:

Now Boarding:

James Patterson: Row 1, Seat A.
Elizabeth Gilbert: Row 1, Seat B.
Nicholas Sparks: Row 1, Seat C.
John Green: Row 1, Seat D.

Paul Asta Row 26, Seat E.*

*In reality I am B46, because Southwest does that weird non-assigned seats thing.

I am taking coach to a whole new level of sadness, and we’ve been sad for a long time.

The Fault in Our Stars is flying off the shelves at a record pace. It’s the paperback of the summer, and I’ve seen at least 6 copies as I walk to my terminal.

But then, in the darkest corner, behind a cardboard standup display for Trident Gum, I see it:


Friends, I tell you, even in darkness, there is hope: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

In truth, I have never read anything by Jhumpa Lahiri before, so I cannot speak to how the Lowland compares to her other work.

But I will say I find her prose engaging, face paced, and lively. And it is perhaps for this reason I am willing to overlook certain points where things don’t add up.

I am a sucker for coming of age stories and stories that concern brothers.

I am a sucker for character driven narratives as opposed to plot driven ones.

I appreciate characters that can show emotional complexity over a span of time and represent a full spectrum of feelings as opposed to having singular drives.

In this way, I believe Lahiri is successful.

If you’re looking for an emotional, character driven novel, The Lowland is for you.

Also, possibly The Fault in Our Stars, but I don’t know.

All I can say is If you’re looking for book at Hudson’s, look in the corners of the bookshelves. There’s something for everyone.

The fault is you not looking hard enough.

The Next Big Thing: Corey Van Landingham


From all of us at IR, congratulations to past contributor Corey Van Landingham for winning The Ohio State University Press / The Journal award for her book, Antidote! Van Landingham won our 1/2 K Prize for her piece “When You Look Away, the World,” which appears in issue 34.1. (Speaking of contests, our annual poetry contest, judged by Nikky Finney, is open until April 1st!) Following is her installment of The Next Big Thing interview series.


First of all, thanks so much to Michael and all the other wonderful folks at Indiana Review who have been so kind to me over the past couple years, and for adopting us internet orphans sans website for this interview!

What is the working title of the book?



Where did the idea come from for the book?

I suppose there are a couple tiers for this answer. There are Events and there are Ideas, and while I will attempt to recall them, I fear it may be like retracing an episode of Lost, where some kind of logic is being imposed on utter chaos just to make you keep watching.

I. Events

The death of my father. Breaking up with my fiancé.

II. Ideas

That there is no antidote one can take for grief or heartbreak. That there are various forms of valediction and one may never get better at saying goodbye. That guilt can feel like a disease. That love can, at times, feel like violence. That love can be cruel. That I can be cruel. That there are multitudinous selves. That sometimes these selves may confront each other. That this may be in a dark forest. That one self may be burying or choking another self. That the moon sees this, and is a jerk. That no matter how many different combinations of words one puts together, it will never make anything whole.


What genre does your book fall under?



What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

All I can think of is that it would be one of those movies I’d feel like I’d have to watch for reasons artsy or hip but would have to pause every ten minutes to get another beer if I was going to finish the damn thing.

No, but really, I say this because of the lack of characters. Yes, there are various people being addressed, and yes, there are various speakers, but they all feel like they stem from a similar emotional space.

But I’ll be good and try to answer. It would be delivered in a series of monologues given in some eerie outdoor space with unidentifiable men constantly lurking in the shadows. The actresses delivering the monologues would be Jean Seberg, Michelle Williams, Felicia Day, Janeane Garofalo, and Natalie Portman’s character in Closer.


What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

In Antidote, love equates disease, demons are inverted gods, every animal wants something sinister, valediction is a contact sport, and someone is always watching.


How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Most of these poems were completed in fits of writing furiously during my thesis year in the fall of 2011.


Who or what inspired you to write this book?

X-rays, rafting trips with my father, holding séances in the ravine by my house in Oregon as a young girl, microscopes, animal documentaries, dreams of homesteading, Paul Celan, feeding my father’s ashes to small fish in the Rogue River, diving into that water, PBS’s Art 21, claustrophobia, Sappho, playing with Petri dishes in my mother’s lab, missing the mountains, word hoards, listening to Bill Callahan, being the daughter of a microbiologist, being the daughter of a photographer, being a girl who was never as happy as the other girls, big and lusty Midwestern storms, bourbon, Amy Hempel, cadavers, hunting for owl pellets in the forest with my mother, Isadora Duncan, epoché, always having cold feet, listening to Julianna Barwick, the moment at the Portland Zoo when my father was so thin he resembled the giraffes or the long-legged birds and I thought he might fly off, and then later that summer when he did.


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interests?

I quoted Yeats three times by accident. Also, some of these poems are actually supposed to be funny in a vitriolic sort of way, so it’s not all doom and gloom!


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

 To my utter delight and astonishment and for which I am forever grateful, Antidote was chosen by Kathy Fagan as the winner of The Ohio State University Press/The Journal award in poetry, and will be published by OSU Press in October.

The Next Big Thing: Sally Wen Mao

photo by Van Nguyen

photo by Van Nguyen


All of us at Indiana Review would like to congratulate contributor Sally Wen Mao on winning the 2012 Kinereth Gensler Award from Alice James Books! Her poem, “The White-Haired Girl,” appears in issue 34.2. Here’s her installment in The Next Big Thing interview series which is currently sweeping the internet.


Thank you to Michael Mlekoday, author of the forthcoming book of poems The Dead Eat Everything, out from the Kent State University Press, for tagging me in this series called The Next Big Thing! Also a big thanks for publishing this on the Indiana Review blog, because I am an internet dummy.

What is the working title of the book?

Mad Honey Symposium.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Poetry books usually come from entire constellations of ideas. Here are some of the most pervasive ones, for me:

1. When researching names for an angry third world feminist girl band in 2007, I stumbled upon the fact that honey badgers aim for the scrotums when attacking larger animals.

Read more…

The German Word for Migratory Restlessness, or, Beads: My Favorite Book Titles

Fiction Editor Joe Hiland recently reflected on how a story’s title can build intrigue and interest from readers and editors, and I’m contractually and spiritually obligated to agree with everything he says. Personally, though, I’m more interested in book titles.

A friend of mine wanted to name his second book Migratory Restlessness. Actually, there was some fancy German word for “migratory restlessness” that he originally thought sounded cool, but he obviously couldn’t name his book after the German word for “migratory restlessness”–so one of his friends suggested he name it The German Word for Migratory Restlessness. He ultimately picked a shorter, saner title, but the whole thing got me thinking about conventions in book-titling.

Read more…

Q & A with Ryan Teitman, Author of Litany for the City

At Indiana Review, we received the fabulous chance to interview former IR poetry editor Ryan Teitman. Ryan’s poetry book Litany for the City was published in March of this year. Read on to find out what inspired Litany for the City, how it came to be published, and Ryan’s perspective on the future of literary journals.

Tell us about Litany for the City. What inspired it?

It started out as a complicated love letter to Philadelphia. I was born there and grew up just outside the city. My whole family is from Philadelphia. I worked as a newspaper reporter there. And after I moved to Indiana for graduate school, I found I was writing about Philadelphia a lot.

But as I kept working, I started writing about cities in general. About what cities mean, how they work. The first draft of the book was very Philadelphia-centric. But then I stripped away some of the layers and found something much more interesting: an exploration of the idea of the city, with Philadelphia as my starting point.

What are your favorite parts/poems of Litany for the City?

My favorites change all the time, and I think that’s a good thing. “Philadelphia, 1976” will always be special because it’s the first poem of the book and because I wrote it all at once, in a kind of fury. “Circles” originally wasn’t meant for this book; I thought of it as the beginning of something new. But after some gentle prodding by Jane Hirshfield and the editors at BOA, I was convinced that I needed a new ending poem for Litany. In the last edit, “Circles” became the new final poem, and I love the way it closes things out.

How has the book been received? Do readers understand the poems in the way you intended them to be understood?

I’ve been fortunate to have some really smart reviewers write thoughtful pieces on the book. What heartened me most wasn’t that they said nice things (though that was wonderful), but that they had obviously spent a lot of time thinking deeply and critically about the book. They approached the book on its terms, not their own, which is what good reviewers do. I never conceived of Litany as an argument; I think of it as an exploration. And people seemed to build on that.

Is there anything in the book that you wish you did differently? Why or why not?

I’d like to think I’m a better poet now than a few years ago, so when I look at the poems in Litany, there are certainly a few lines or images that I’d like to tweak. But that’s part of what I love about the book—it’s not perfect. It’s my first book, and hopefully not my last. There are things I could make better now because I know more and have more experience, but there’s also a certain audacity that comes from being a young writer and not knowing any better. Some of the poems I love most from that book, I could have only written when I was young and didn’t know any better.

How did you go about getting this poetry book published?

I sent my manuscript to first-book contests and presses with open submission periods. I think sent it out about 20 times. The A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize from BOA Editions was the first place I sent the manuscript, and it was the prize that I won—when I submitted a heavily revised version a year later.

How has your life/career changed since publishing Litany for the City?

Publishing Litany certainly helped me to get my current job as the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College. I’ve moved back to Pennsylvania (my home state) and now I get to teach classes full of smart and talented students. I loved the San Francisco Bay Area, with its year-round beautiful weather and fabulous bookstores, but it’s nice to be back home near my family. Juggling a full-time teaching load with writing has been a challenge, but I’m learning how to fit everything into the day.

In your opinion, what does a good poem do?

I think Emily Dickinson said it best: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” I’ve felt it too as a sledgehammer to the chest or a pinprick through the heart. I remember one moment very clearly from when I was poetry editor at IR: I was looking through a copy of The Missouri Review and the issue included a poem by Traci Brimhall called “American Pastoral.” I read it, then stood up and announced to the editors and interns: “Everyone stop what you’re doing and listen to this poem.” They were slightly confused, but humored me. And I read them the poem. It felt important, like something they needed to know, like breaking news. I think that’s what the best poems do.

What was one of your favorite moments from being an IR editor?

The reading for the Funk issue of IR was one of the best readings I’ve ever been to. Pat Rosal, Aracelis Girmay, Tyehimba Jess, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil blew the roof off the Waldon Center with their funky poems.

Do you remember a time when you got really excited about a poem in IR?

When I was screening for the poetry prize, I read a poem called “Brazilian Telephone” and was completely astounded by it. It was weird and beautiful and scary—a poem about a group of kids who are about to hook their friend up to a motor home battery. The poem was by Miriam Bird Greenberg and we published it in IR that year. (Poetry reprinted it, when Miriam won a Ruth Lilly Fellowship.) Miriam ended up entering the Stegner Fellowship program at the same time I did, a few years after that IR contest, and when I finally got the chance to meet her, the first thing I did was gush (maybe a bit embarrassingly) about how terrific “Brazilian Telephone” was. She and I ended up carpooling to school together.

What do you think about the future of the publishing industry? Literary journals, specifically?

Despite the continual announcement of the death of literary magazines, there are still publications out there that do fantastic work. The Southern Review continually impresses me with its vibrant mix of established and emerging writers. I love The Missouri Review’s poetry features. Sycamore Review is a slim journal but its poems, stories, and essays pack a hefty wallop. I could name a lot more.

That said, literary journals are in danger. Many have shut down. Some have had the universities that sponsor them withdraw support. Others have had to move online. I don’t know if moving print journals online is a good or bad thing yet; it’s too early to tell. Of course it eliminates printing expense. And it’s much easier to get work to a wide audience online. But I’m not ready to give up on the book as a work of art. Just look at what they do at Ninth Letter, and you’ll see the amazing things a print journal is capable of.

To find out more or to purchase Litany for the City, visit BOA by clicking this link.