As of January 2022, we're back to holding live, in-person book club meetings here at Riffraff. For the near future we'll be focusing on translated literature and literary non-fiction. There is no need to reserve a spot or even buy the book from us, simply show up prepared to discuss the book on the night of the meeting.
Current meeting schedule:
Wednesday, June 22, 7pm
We Want Everything, by Nanni Balestrini
It was 1969, and temperatures were rising across the factories of the north as workers demanded better pay and conditions. Soon, discontent would erupt in what became known as Italy’s “Hot Autumn.”
A young worker from the impoverished south arrives at Fiat’s Mirafiori factory in Turin, where his darker complexion begins to fade from the fourteen-hour workdays in sweltering industrial heat. He is frequently late for work, and sells his blood when money runs low. He fakes a crushed finger to win sick leave. His bosses try to withhold his wages. Our cynical, dry-witted narrator will not bend to their will. “I want everything, everything that’s owed to me,” he tells them. “Nothing more and nothing less, because you don’t mess with me.”
Around him, students are holding secret meetings and union workers begin halting work on the assembly lines, crippling the Mirafiori factory with months of continuous strikes. Before long, barricades line the roads, tear gas wafts into private homes, and the slogan “We Want Everything” is ringing through the streets. Wrought in spare and measured prose, Balestrini’s novel depicts an explosive uprising. Introduced by Rachel Kushner, the author of the best-selling The Flamethrowers, We Want Everything is the incendiary fictional account of events that led to a decade of revolt.
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Voices in the Evening, by Natalia Ginzburg
Over the course of their secret meetings, Elsa begins to imagine a future with Tommasino, free from the constraints of expectations and burdensome history. But this is all threatened by exposure. An elegant and beautifully restrained novel that scratches at the fragility of postwar consciousness, Voices in the Evening is an unforgettable story about first love and lost chances.
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We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
In a glass-enclosed city of perfectly straight lines, ruled over by an all-powerful "Benefactor," the citizens of the totalitarian society of OneState are regulated by spies and secret police; wear identical clothing; and are distinguished only by a number assigned to them at birth. That is, until D-503, a mathematician who dreams in numbers, makes a discovery: he has an individual soul. He can feel things. He can fall in love. And, in doing so, he begins to dangerously veer from the norms of his society, becoming embroiled in a plot to destroy OneState and liberate the city.
Set in the twenty-sixth century AD, We was the forerunner of canonical works from George Orwell and Alduous Huxley, among others. It was suppressed for more than sixty years in Russia and remains a resounding cry for individual freedom, as well as a powerful, exciting, and vivid work of science fiction that still feels relevant today. Bela Shayevich's bold new translation breathes new life into Yevgeny Zamyatin's seminal work and refreshes it for our current era.
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Byobu, by Ida Vitale
Byobu's every interaction trembles with possibility and faint menace. A crack in the walls of his house, marring it forever, means he must burn it down. A stoplight asks what the value of obedience is, what hopefulness it contains, and what insensible anarchy it defies. In brief episodes, aphorisms, and moments of spiritual turbulence and gentle scrutiny, reside a wealth of habits, worries, curiosities, pleasures, peculiarities, and efforts to understand.
Representative of the modesty and complexity of Ida Vitale's poetic universe, Byobu flushes the world with meaning and playfully offers another way of inhabiting the every day.
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An I-Novel, Minae Mizumura
Minae Mizumura's An I-Novel is a semi-autobiographical work that takes place over the course of a single day in the 1980s. Minae is a Japanese expatriate graduate student who has lived in the United States for two decades but turned her back on the English language and American culture. After a phone call from her older sister reminds her that it is the twentieth anniversary of their family's arrival in New York, she spends the day reflecting in solitude and over the phone with her sister about their life in the United States, trying to break the news that she has decided to go back to Japan and become a writer in her mother tongue.
Published in 1995, this formally daring novel radically broke with Japanese literary tradition. It liberally incorporated English words and phrases, and the entire text was printed horizontally, to be read from left to right, rather than vertically and from right to left. In a luminous meditation on how a person becomes a writer, Mizumura transforms the "I-novel," a Japanese confessional genre that toys with fictionalization. An I-Novel tells the story of two sisters while taking up urgent questions of identity, race, and language. Above all, it considers what it means to write in the era of the hegemony of English--and what it means to be a writer of Japanese in particular. Juliet Winters Carpenter masterfully renders a novel that once appeared untranslatable into English.