Good Reading

Dream; Isaac Babel; Coming-of-age

Dream I had recently:

I was an undercover angel in the guise of a human person. The signs of an undercover angel include hair falling out and general physical weakness (wheelchair, for example), for angels are not meant for human bodies. My angel brethren and I were in a metal room, 30 feet by 60 feet, in which stood many people conversing with one another. Our job was to survey them and judge them as they spoke. Near the end of my dream someone was beginning to realize what I was.


I am reading Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry stories. Interesting because he wrote them overtly out of autobiographical experience, yet he fictionalized much of it and the style is at times surreal (“…only the moon, clasping its round, shining, carefree head in its blue heads, loiters beneath my window”). Interesting also because of each story’s brevity. I am planning to write a series of stories based on my personal experiences in America and China/Hong Kong, out of the desire to write a “20-something coming-of-age” tale from a female perspective — which, apparently, there is a dearth of in the genre. As the style I am most comfortable — most excited to be — writing in is one that is nearer to “surreal” than “real,” it is helpful for me to see how Babel did it.

So far my favorite little story is “Pan Apolek,” the tale of an artist who paints ordinary village people as Jesus, Mary and the saints.

“And only Jesus stood to the side. His body was drenched with mortal sweat, for the bee of sorrow had stung his heart.”


I was brought to the attention of the lack of female voices in 20-something coming-of-age tales by my roommate. I suppose young men are more allowed to be lost than young women, or most such tales written by women are heavily focused on romantic relationships (as a friend pointed out).  Whatever the cause, it has given me inspiration to write one myself. I have begun writing a little and plan to focus on it once I am finished with the Devil’s Wife.

What is coming of age? It is being drenched with mortal sweat, and feeling the sting the bee of sorrow has left in your heart, and learning to bear it.


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