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For Your Imagination

Cultural Pairings 2

To kick-off the summer, I brought you my first cultural pairing: a cultural proposal for adults (a local exhibit or book) paired with a related proposal for the youngsters we often have in tow. I liked it. I’m doing it again.

For the adults in the room, we propose you find yourself sitting in a chair at Literaturhaus, on the banks of the Limmat, on 28 November 2019, 19h30 to listen to the formidable Valeria Luiselli as she discusses her latest book, Lost Children Archives. (You can get your tickets here and hear an excerpt read by the author here.)

For your children, we recommend you pick-up a copy of Francesca Sanna’s The Journey at your local Pestalozzi Library or bookstore.  

Zurich is a great city to live in if you love books, not because you can make good purchases on the cheap (you cannot), but because some of the city’s cultural institutions are very generous about extending invitations to noted contemporary writers. One such institution is Literaturhaus and one such writer is Valeria Luiselli.

Luiselli, who now lives in New York, claims writing as her place of rebellion and transgression. She describes herself as Mexican, but lived all over the world and says the feeling of foreignness is the place from which she writes her novels. Her work is unusually double-faceted: it is both fiercely intelligent and intensely playful. The end result is stories that are innovative and almost irritatingly brilliant.

Luiselli volunteered to be a court translator in deportation cases for Latin American children seeking asylum in the U.S. Initially, she channeled what she calls her “political rage” from this experience into a poignant non-fiction essay called Tell Me How It Ends. Then, calmer, she was ready for a fictional approach and Lost Children Archive was born. This modern-day road novel talks both about political crisis and family crisis, about breaking apart and the narratives children tell themselves to understand a complex world. Like so much of Luiselli’s work, it is spell-binding and illuminating.

These are the thoughts of the unnamed character of the mother in Lost Children Archive:

“We should treat our own children not as lesser recipients to whom we, adults, had to impart our higher knowledge of the world, always in small, sugar-coated doses, but as our intellectual equals. Even if we also needed to be the guardians of our children’s imaginations and protect their right to travel slowly from innocence toward more and more difficult acknowledgements, they were our life partners in conversation, fellow travelers in the storm with whom we strove constantly to find still waters.”

I suspect the Zurich-based children’s illustrator and author Francesca Sanna would agree. I interviewed Sanna back when I did my mini-interviews on silence and am a big fan of her work. Her books do not shy away from a tough conversation and proof of that is The Journey, a book that tells the story of a family that slips from their happy, stable life into refugee-status. We follow the mother and her two children as they make the treacherous journey from a war-torn country to a place where they can feel safe (and which incidentally looks a lot like Switzerland in the story’s illustrations).

It is a book that enables adults and children to discuss the difficult topic of war and refugees in a way that can resound with their experiences of everyday play and safety and family. Although heart-breaking, the story is told with great sensitivity. Emotions are intelligently conveyed through the illustrations and the little animals that discretely litter the pages are a sign of hope, culminating in a last poetic gesture.

 

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