The Social Network and Me

October 27th, 2010

In late 2008, when I was preparing for the publication of my second book, Secret Son, I received from my publisher what seemed like a longer-than-usual author questionnaire. (For those of you who don’t know: the author questionnaire is a form that invites you to list magazine editors, book reviewers, booksellers, and pretty much anyone you think will have the slightest interest in your book.) Dutifully, I began to fill it out. Then I noticed a section on social media, which hadn’t been part of the questionnaire when I published my first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.

I had never had any interest in Facebook, but in the face of questionnaires I am nothing if not thorough. I joined the damn site. Within days, I realized that everyone I knew—family, friends, writers, acquaintances, neighbors—were on it. It really felt as if I were the last person in North America to give in to it. I was delighted to find so many familiar names, and happily accepted any and all friend requests. Before long, however, my friend list ballooned to several thousand. And I loved it. I loved seeing my family’s baby announcements or travel pictures; I loved reconnecting with people I had gone to college with; I loved finding out what my friends were reading and recommending; I loved reading articles my colleagues posted.

But the way Facebook works, everyone on your list has the same claim on your attention. So if I made a joke that had a ten-year-history in my family, someone whom I had never met, and who could arguably be the friend of an old acquaintance of a neighbor of a cousin, made a comment about not getting it. It became necessary to explain the joke, which took away some of its humor. Or if I posted a link to an article, along with a line that I thought was clearly sarcastic, someone took it literally. I had to temper the sarcasm, which took away its bite. If I was busy and did not get a chance to respond to an incendiary comment, someone was bound to take it as an endorsement. When someone sent me fifteen invitations to one event in the space of a week, I was forced to politely decline fifteen times. And when someone sent me a marriage proposal, I said, “Enough.”

I decided to remove anyone from my page whom I didn’t personally know. Sounds pretty sensible, right? Boy, was I wrong. It turns out that if you massively remove people from your list, these people don’t necessarily like it. And that you acquire a reputation as an anti-social person. (Which, okay, fair enough, maybe I am. That’s why I took such a perverse interest in David Fincher’s film. It was amusing to see a socially inept person create a site like that.) The truth is, I like people. But, call me crazy, I just want to know them, too. So now I have two personalities on Facebook: Private-me and Public-me. Public-me will tell you about her upcoming book, or about this cool article she just read, or even about this post, while Private-me sits in the corner, watching quietly, the way she always does.

Photo: Columbia Tristar Marketing

Quand La Bise Fut Venue

October 18th, 2010

This is what my windshield looked like when I left yoga class yesterday morning. We’ve had a very cool summer in Santa Monica—temperatures rarely rose above 70 degrees—and now it looks like winter is here in earnest. I don’t mind the cold weather, though. It provides fewer distractions from my book. Exactly what I need at the moment. The title of this post is from one of La Fontaine’s fables, which I, like every other child in the Francophone world, had to memorize: “La Cigale et la Fourmi” or “The Cricket and the Ant.” (In Aesop’s version, it’s called “The Ant and the Cricket.) For a few weeks now, I’ve been worrying that perhaps I had misspent my summer, that I hadn’t written enough. But I’m happy to say that I was wrong, that I needn’t have worried. I turned out to be the Ant, not the Cricket.

I Am Fodail Aberkane

October 5th, 2010

Fodail Aberkane is a name you will not have read much about in the press. He was a Moroccan construction worker, a man of very modest means, who spent the last week of his life fighting for the return of his motorcycle. It seems like such a trivial thing to lose your life over, a motorcycle, but when you have nothing, even an old moped, little more than a bicycle with a low-speed motor, can make a difference.

One reason you haven’t heard about Fodail Aberkane is that the facts about him are few and slim, and come mostly from an account given by his brother to newspapers in Morocco. Aged thirty-seven, Fodail Aberkane lived in Hay Inbi’at, a working-class neighborhood in Salé, the town that sits across the river from the capital, famed for its fortress walls, its medina, and its pirates. On September 9, which was the eve of Eid in Morocco, Aberkane was riding his moped when he was stopped by police, on suspicion of being under the influence of cannabis. The officers took him to the Hay Salam station, where he was held for two days, before being released on judge’s orders.

On September 13, Aberkane returned to the police station to collect his moped and his mobile phone. The police told him they could not release the vehicle without proof of insurance, which he did not have in his possession. Instead, he showed them a document attesting that he had declared the loss of his insurance papers to the relevant authorities. The police refused to accept the document. On September 15, Aberkane returned to the station yet again, this time bringing with him a new insurance contract, but the officers still refused to release his moped.

Here an argument broke out, which resulted in his arrest for insulting police officers. When his brother Mustapha visited him at the Hay Salam station, he says, he saw agents beating Fodail in full view of everyone. The police then threw Mustapha out of the station and warned him, “Don’t ever come back.” Two days later, on September 17, Fodail Aberkane was turned over to Ibn Sina Hospital in Rabat, where he was pronounced dead. The district attorney has opened an investigation, and everyone connected with the case is waiting to see whether charges will indeed be brought against the agents responsible for his murder. Until then, it’s the usual Wait and See.

The other reason you will not have heard about Fodail Aberkane is that he is the kind of victim who does not attract the attention of the English-language press. He is not a famous journalist, he does not run a political party, he has not run afoul of the Islamists, and he does not have any connection to terrorism. This particular victim is an easy one to ignore and to forget. When stories about Morocco are written, who will remember his name? Who, aside from his family, will mourn him? Who will hold his alleged murderers to account? Who will make sure that no other man or woman is beaten to death?

In 2004, Morocco established an Equity and Reconciliation Commission to document cases of torture during the Years of Lead. Since then, however, the country has once again started down the old, familiar road. Fodail Aberkane is not an exception. Over the last few years, allegations of torture have been made against the police in Morocco on many occasions. Two years ago, Zahra Boudkour, a 21-year-old university student from Marrakech, was arrested for taking part in a student demonstration. She was stripped naked and beaten, but no one was brought to account for the violence that was visited upon her. In his encounter with the Marrakech police, another university student, Abdelkebir El Bahi, found himself thrown from the 3rd floor window of a dorm. He is now in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Boudkour and El Bahi were abused and tortured because of their ideas and their ideals. Fodail Aberkane was trying to get his moped back.

Torture has become one of Morocco’s most popular exports. According to the New York Times, the kingdom has provided its services to CIA investigators in the case of Binyam Mohammed, the Ethiopian citizen who was detained for five years at Guantánamo Bay, and later released after all charges against him were dropped. Morocco was also the site where Ramzi bin al Shibh, one of the 9/11 conspirators, was allegedly questioned. Videotapes of the interrogations were discovered under a desk at the CIA last year, the Associated Press recently revealed.

At a plenary meeting of the United Nations last week, Morocco’s king Muhammad VI spoke about the National Initiative for Human Development he has committed himself to for the last five years: education, job creation, poverty alleviation, environmental protection. These are all wonderful goals. But even an educated, employed, middle-class citizen with a low-carbon footprint cannot enjoy her full rights if her human life, that most precious of gifts, is not itself respected. Morocco cannot—indeed, it will not—progress as a nation, if the rule of law is not obeyed. Until then, the names may change, but the story will remain the same.

The Nine Year Itch

September 20th, 2010

I realized the other day that it had been nine years since I started blogging.  At the time, I was working for a software company in Los Angeles and spent lots of time experimenting with shiny new things online.  Although I had been reading blogs for a few months by then, I didn’t really take the plunge until after the terrorist attacks of September 11.  Starting a blog seemed like a necessary outlet for all the rage I felt.  I often commented on politics, culture, and literature, and eventually started to post several times a day.  I met a lot of people online, some great, some not so great.  I received many sweet notes of encouragement and the occasional hate mail.  I discovered a lot of books and writers I would not have otherwise heard about—and that is something for which I remain grateful.

After a while, the literary debates online seemed to me somewhat cyclical.  There were always stories about how independent bookstores were closing, how few newspapers still ran reviews, how Amazon was manipulating the market, which book was shortlisted for this or that prize, which book was picked to be on Oprah, which writers were feuding, which writer had dissed another one in a review, how few books by women were reviewed in major newspapers, how differently books by writers of color were marketed to the reading public, and so on.  In 2001, when I had started blogging, Jonathan Franzen, having just published The Corrections, said he was uncomfortable about having an Oprah sticker on his book because it might drive away male readers.  Now it is 2010, and Jonathan Franzen has a new novel out, Freedom, and again it has an Oprah sticker on it, but this time he is fine with it.  You might see this is a sign of change, but it looks to me more like a sign of continuity.

After enduring eight years of Bush, it seemed like the era of Obama was going to finally usher in some change.  But nine years after the attacks, American troops are still stationed in Afghanistan, with no end in sight; Guantanamo Bay is still open; and the country is still on high alert for terrorists.  In 2001, the country was awash in anti-Muslim comments.  Remember Franklin Graham’s comments that Islam is a “very wicked and evil religion”? Well, it’s 2010, and the anti-Muslim comments are at an all-time high. Marty Peretz says that “Muslim life is cheap” and that “I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse” and there isn’t really any serious fallout for him or his magazine.  I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.  Maybe because I want to explain to you why I haven’t been blogging as much. Having to face the same inane “controversies” has made me weary.

Quotable: Agha Shahid Ali

August 26th, 2010

The waning days of August have brought with them another bout of nostalgia–I keep thinking of childhood summers in Rabat. And in honor of those, I thought I’d share this poem by Agha Shahid Ali, “I Dream It Is Afternoon When I Return to Delhi”

At Purana Qila I am alone, waiting
for the bus to Daryanganj. I see it coming,
but my hands are empty.
“Jump on, jump on,” someone shouts,
“I’ve saved this change for you
for years. Look!”
A hand opens, full of silver rupees.
“Jump on, jump on.” The voice doesn’t stop.
There’s no one I know. A policeman,
handcuffs silver in his hands,
asks for my ticket.

I jump off the running bus,
sweat pouring from my hair.
I run past the Doll Museum, past
headlines on the Times of India
Panting, I stop in Daryaganj,
outside Golcha Cinema.

Sunil is there, lighting
a cigarette, smiling. I say,
“It must be ten years, you haven’t changed,
it was your voice on the bus!”
He says, “The film is about to begin,
I’ve bought an extra ticket for you,”
and we rush inside:

Anarkali is being led away,
her earrings lying on the marble floor.
Any moment she’ll be buried alive.
“But this is the end,” I turn
toward Sunil. He is nowhere.
The usher taps my shoulder, says
my ticket is ten years old.

Once again my hands are empty.
I am waiting, alone, at Purana Qila.
Bus after empty bus is not stopping.
Suddenly, beggar women with children
are everywhere, offering
me money, weeping for me.

The poem appears in his collection The Half-Inch Himalayas. You can find out more about Agha Shahid Ali here.

The Pakistan Floods

August 17th, 2010

I feel I have yet to fully apprehend the devastation in Pakistan. The papers say there are 1,600 dead, 2 million homeless, and as many as 14 million affected by the floods. But the numbers, as always, don’t tell the whole story. The monsoon season is not over yet, it’s exceedingly difficult to get help to all those who need it, and the country has received little foreign relief. (The British charity Oxfam, for instance, says that donations to flood relief represent about $3 a person, compared to $495 per person after the Haiti earthquake.)

If you have not already done so, please donate to the relief effort in Pakistan. Here is a list of charities that work there.

(Photo credit: Reuters)

The Half-Known World

August 11th, 2010

So far this year, I’ve read thirty-four books—novels, memoirs, biographies, academic stuff—but only one book on the craft of writing. I don’t really like how-to books on fiction, because too many of them come equipped with check lists of things you should do in order to write. But this particular book was great: The Half-Known World, by Robert Boswell. It’s a collection of essays that address different aspects of writing and, for me at least, offer a few new ways of looking at literary fiction. The title essay, for instance, makes an excellent argument against knowing everything about a particular character or world.

It should be no surprise that the fully known worlds presented on television and in commercial movies are populated by stereotypes. To call a character a type is to say that he’s so true to a group of characters that he is indistinguishable from all the others in that group. Here’s another definition of stereotype: any character that is fully known.

I met Boz in 2006, at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, where I was a fellow and he was my faculty mentor. (He was smart, funny, and generous, and I will forever be grateful to him.) The lecture he delivered at the conference that year was called “Process and Paradigm.” It’s included in this collection. So if you’re looking for a good book on craft, try this one. It’s good.

Park51 and the Silenced Majority

August 9th, 2010

I want to know: what would the GOP do if it didn’t have Muslims to gripe about ahead of the November elections?

In the last three weeks, Glenn Beck mounted a campaign against “Muslim Family Day” at a Three Flags theme park in New Jersey, because that day fell on September 12th, which, of course, can only mean that Muslim evil-doers are plotting to offend the American people. (Never mind that Muslim Family Day started in 2000, that its chief organizer died in the World Trade Center attacks, and that the only reason it fell on September 12 this year is because it is the date of Eid.) In Temecula, California, a group of Tea Partiers called for a rally against a planned mosque and suggested to its participants that they bring dogs, because dogs are considered by some Orthodox Muslims to be unclean. And in Florida, a pastor wants to set up an International Burn a Quran Day on September 11, because he believes, and I quote, that “Islam is of the devil.”

This weekend, the New York Times ran an article that recaps the recent spate of anti-Muslim demonstrations and focuses more specifically on the opposition to the Park51 project, which, in case you have been hiding under a rock, is otherwise (and incorrectly) known as the “Ground Zero mosque.” The article quotes both proponents and opponents of the project, which gives the reader the appearance of balance. But in fact it silences the vast majority of Muslims. Here is an excerpt (emphasis mine):

Feeding the resistance is a growing cottage industry of authors and bloggers — some of them former Muslims — who are invited to speak at rallies, sell their books and testify in churches. Their message is that Islam is inherently violent and incompatible with America.

But they have not gone unanswered. In each community, interfaith groups led by Protestant ministers, Catholic priests, rabbis and clergy members of other faiths have defended the mosques. Often, they have been slower to organize than the mosque opponents, but their numbers have usually been larger.

Notice that, in setting up the two groups of proponents and opponents of Park51, the Muslims who get mentioned are “former Muslims”, while the people who bravely stand up for religious freedom include ministers of every faith, except Islam. Are we to believe that no Muslims, whether ministers or not, are taking part in these interfaith groups, even though the matter at hand is an Islamic community center?

I see this kind of silencing everywhere in our media. Politicians constantly talk about the need for “moderate Muslims” to step up, and when they do, as Imam Feisal Abdel Rauf did when he tried to set up this community center, it is the extremists among Muslims—both the religious and the secular—who are given ample room to voice their opinions. Enough.

Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters/New York Times

Quotable: Ralph Ellison

July 26th, 2010

Every few months, an editor will say in an interview that he or she can tell, after reading only two or three pages of a submitted manuscript, whether the writer can write. These pronouncements are usually met with a good deal of skepticism and even some anger. After all, applying this rule provides the quickest way to go through the submission pile. But it’s probably true that, for some writers, you can tell. Take the opening few paragraphs of Invisible Man, for instance.

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.

Nor is my invisibility exactly a matter of biochemical accident to my epidermis. That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality. I am not complaining, nor am I protesting either. It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves. Then, too, you’re constantly being bumped against by those with poor vision. Or again, you often doubt if you really exist. You wonder whether you aren’t simply a phantom in other people’s minds. Say, a figure in a nightmare which the sleeper tries with all his strength to destroy. It’s when you feel like this that, out of resentment, you begin to bump people back. And, let me confess, you feel that way most of the time. You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world, that you’re a part of all the sound and anguish, and you strike out with your fists, you curse and you swear to make them recognize you. And, alas, it’s seldom successful.

I think you’ll agree that the voice of the narrator is so powerful it compels you to read what follows. I remember when I read Invisible Man the first time, I felt almost overwhelmed by its artistry–how deeply layered the writing was and how character, voice, setting, time and plot all worked together completely seamlessly. I couldn’t stop reading. And I suspect that that’s what these editors have in mind when they say you can tell.

Photo credit: Library of Congress.

Summer Holidays

July 15th, 2010

I am back from a short holiday in beautiful New Mexico. The skies, the vistas, the pueblos, the museums in Santa Fe–everything was just perfect. My husband loved it so much he started to make plans to retire there, even though he still has a good twenty-five years to go before he can consider such a thing. I did some reading before and while on travel, some of it academic (a history book that is somewhat relevant to my novel in progress), some of it genre (Stieg Larsson), and some of it literary (Mongo Beti.) It was good to be away from the computer and the phone for a while. Now I am back at my desk, catching up on mountains of email and other correspondence, and finally, finally, having my special cup of Cuban coffee.

The Beautiful Game

July 5th, 2010

Between working on my new book and keeping up with the World Cup, my days have been very busy lately. What better soap opera than the implosion of the French team? What better opportunity to compare bad haircuts than the one provided by the Algerian team? What more devastating exit than that of Brazil, who scored against themselves? Was there ever a more exciting football game than the Uruguay-Ghana match this week? I had hoped that Ghana would make it past the quarter-finals and was crushed when they didn’t, especially because the game would not have been decided on penalties if Gyan hadn’t missed his kick against Uruguay. And don’t get me started on Suarez’s left hand! So you see there is plenty of character and drama, which is all I need to keep me happy, whether in or out of books.

Photo credit: Getty images

The Last Station

June 28th, 2010

I didn’t know what to expect from The Last Station, the film adaptation of Jay Parini’s novel about the last year of Tolstoy’s life, but I have to say I enjoyed it tremendously.  As I’m sure you’ve heard, the acting is great: Helen Mirren plays Sophia Tolstaya; Christopher Plummer is the great man;  James McAvoy plays Tolstoy’s secretary Valentin Bulgakov; and poor Paul Giamatti gets to be Chertkov.  But really what sets this adaptation apart is that the screenplay is so good. It’s multi-layered, well-paced, and handles its deeply flawed characters with great care.  Which, of course, it owes to Parini’s novel. This movie made me glad I reinstated my Netflix subscription.

On a somewhat related note, it was reported this week that Sergei Tolstoy, the novelist’s 87 year old great-grandson, now lives in a low-income assisted living facility in DC. He wants to write a book about his service as an undercover officer in the U.S. Army.

Photo credit: Sony Picture Classics

Enfants de la Balle and The Secret Miracle

June 14th, 2010

Just in time for the World Cup, Les Editions Jean-Claude Lattès have released a new anthology called Enfants de la Balle. Edited by Abdourahman Waberi, the volume features short stories on football by writers from across Africa, including Anouar Benmalek, Alain Mabanckou, Wilfried N’Sonde, Jamal Mahjoub, Ananda Devi—and me. You can read some early reviews in L’Express, Slate, and France Culture.

If the World Cup isn’t really your thing, perhaps you might be interested in The Secret Miracle, a handbook of tips and guidelines edited by Daniel Alarcón. I suspect that Daniel got the title for the book from the famed short story by Jorge-Luis Borges, but I’m not sure. I do remember, though, that when he asked me to contribute something, he explained that he didn’t want to do a “how-to” book. Instead, this anthology collects various answers given by a diverse group of writers about their writing habits. Here’s a review in the SF Chronicle.


June 9th, 2010

The letter came in the mail a few weeks ago, though I completely forgot to mention it on the blog: I am now officially tenured at the University of California.

The amount of paperwork that was required for this was greater than what was asked of me by the INS, and, trust me, that’s saying something. So the overwhelming emotion I felt when I heard the news was relief. I was starting to feel like a character in a campus novel.

Photo credit: Screen capture from the film adaptation of Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys.

In Praise of Khaled Mattawa

June 7th, 2010

I returned from Ann Arbor full of awe and admiration for my friend Khaled Mattawa. Over the three days of the Rawi conference, he managed to take part in two panels, one on translating Arabic poetry and one on style, welcome each participant, handle numerous logistical details, and contribute to several discussions of literature, culture, and politics. And he still had energy left to dance with us on Saturday night! He has done so much for the community and for that I am thankful. I also want to thank Deema Shehabi, Lutfi Hussein, Sahar Mustafa, Debbie Najor, Steven Salaita, Evelyn Alsultany, Kate Middleton, and David Ward, for all their work in putting the meeting together. You are all amazing.

Events in Michigan

June 1st, 2010

This picture was taken last summer in the Qasbah of Chaouen, in northern Morocco. It makes me smile because it looks like a postcard, which is I think what my husband was going for here. This summer, however, will not be leisurely at all. I’m working on my new book and hoping to make enough progress on it before classes resume. But I wanted to pop back in here to let you all know that Rawi, the association of Arab American writers, will hold its third annual conference later this week. I will be participating in a panel with Nouri Gana, Carol Bardenstein, Carol Fadda-Conrey, and Pauline Homsi-Vinson on Friday morning, on the theme of “The Transnational in Contemporary Arab-American Literature.” Then, on Friday evening, I will be doing a reading with Hisham Matar and Marilyn Nelson. (Details on my Events page.) The full list of participants can be found on Rawi’s website. I hope to see some of you there. And, for those of you who have succumbed to the latest Satanic invention, I’ll also post some updates on Twitter.

BP Oil Spill: Day 37

May 27th, 2010

Earlier this morning, BP said that it was “cautiously optimistic” that the 37-day oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been plugged. As for me, I feel a bit like this dragonfly: helpless against what has happened, helpless against BP’s might, helpless against our useless government.

Photo: AP/Gerald Herbert. From the Boston Globe‘s The Big Picture series.

Woman At Work

May 17th, 2010

Hello, dear readers. I am back from a long and lovely stay in Seattle, where I spoke to so many different groups that I nearly lost my voice. I didn’t take my laptop with me, and instead spent my free time resting and reading. I enjoyed Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s debut novel, Wench, which is set in a resort that catered to Southern gentlemen and their slave mistresses in 1850s Ohio. It’s beautifully written and it kept me up at night. I also loved Toni Morrison’s A Mercy; I don’t know why it took me so long to get to this one, but I’m glad I did. It’s a fascinating little book, challenging at times, and it has the curious effect of making you want to immediately start reading it again the minute you reach the end. Since getting back, I’ve been working around the clock on my new novel and so I haven’t had any time at all to read blogs or to write on mine. My silence here is, I hope, the good kind of silence, the silence of work, designed to prevent the more dangerous kind of silence(s) that Tillie Olsen once wrote about.

Seattle Reads Secret Son

May 3rd, 2010

As I may have mentioned, my novel, Secret Son, was selected for a “One City, One Book” program in Seattle. I’ll be in town for a week, from May 6th to May 10th, to give readings and Q&A events. Here are all the details:

May 6, 2010
11:00 AM
Q & A
Seattle Reads Event
Northgate Community Center
10510 5th Ave NE
Seattle, Washington

May 6, 2010
7:00 PM
Q & A
Seattle Reads Event
Seattle Public Library – Douglass-Truth Branch
2300 E. Yesler Way
Seattle, Washington

May 7, 2010
7:00 PM
An evening with Laila Lalami
Seattle Reads Event
Seattle Public Library – Central Library
1000 Fourth Ave.
Seattle, Washington

May 8, 2010
11:00 AM
Q & A
Seattle Reads Event
Seattle Public Library – North East Branch
6801 35th Ave. N.E.
Seattle, Washington

May 8, 2010
4:00 PM
Q & A
Seattle Reads Event
Seattle Public Library – Beacon Hill Branch
2821 Beacon Ave. S.
Seattle, Washington

I will also be delivering a lecture as part of the Seattle Arts & Lecture series at Benaroya Hall. This is a ticketed event and you can purchase tickets here:

May 10, 2010
7:30 PM
Seattle Arts & Lectures
Benaroya Hall
Seattle, Washington

That’s about it. I hope to see you there!

Quotable: Cormac McCarthy

April 28th, 2010

Here is a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian—it’s a sentence, actually, a long, wonderfully crafted sentence, whose beauty highlights the very ugliness of what is about to happen when a group of Indians catches up with a band of American scalp hunters:

A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or saber done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.

I heard recently that a film adaptation of the novel is in the works. I’ve always thought this book was unfilmable, but perhaps Todd Field (who has directed good adaptations of In the Bedroom and Little Children) is up to the task.

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