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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

  

Blue Has No South

by
Alex Epstein


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Blue Has No South



Title: Blue Has No South
Author: Alex Epstein
Genre: Stories
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 131 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: Blue Has No South - US
Blue Has No South - UK
Blue Has No South - Canada
Blue Has No South - India
  • Hebrew title: לכחול אין דרום
  • Translated by Becka Mara McKay

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Our Assessment:

B : strange, fanciful short pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 31/5/2010 .
Words without Borders . 6/2010 Jonathan Blitzer


  From the Reviews:
  • "With more than 100 short-short stories (many no longer than a few lines), there's a frenetic buzz of activity, with recurring themes including chess, mythology, rain, angels, suicide, animals, muses, time machines, tragic love, aging, and painting, all sewn together in a Borges-meets-Kafka style." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Epstein, an Israeli novelist and short-story writer, remarked in a recent conversation with Words Without Borders that he delights in contrasts: contrasts between the real and unreal, between the ordinary and fantastical, earthly and celestial. That much is on display in the eclecticism of this volume. But the overriding preoccupation of the work seems, ultimately, to be formal. (...) Blue Has No South is, at least in part, an exercise in putting poetic tools to work in prose." - Jonathan Blitzer, Words without Borders

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Blue Has No South collects well over a hundred stories in the space of a mere 131 pages, with several pieces only a line or two long. (The titles, on the other hand, tend to be longer than usual: 'The Almost Complete Guide to Writing and Reading the Very Shortest Love Stories', 'A Miniature Novel (of a Story That is Again Unwritten)', etc.; the references to brevity in these overlong titles is also typical of Epstein's playful presentation.)
       Despite being so brief, Epstein's narratives are often digressive, promising one thing, then jumping to another. There is a sense of 'story' to many of them, even as they are often little more than an observation or quick sequence of action or events; there is also a thought-experiment feel to many of them, the brief pictures or scenes on offer prodding the reader to further conjecture.
       Several themes recur, including suicide notes, angels, chess, routines, and time-travel. A few historical figures that obviously inspire the texts also figure in some of them: Kafka, Brod, Jung, Walter Benjamin, Jorge Luis Borges ('Borges's Last Dream'), even Andy Warhol. The titles, too, are parts of the story, whether in their precise description ('A Short Improvisation about My Great-Grandmother, Vassily Vasilevich Kandinsky, etc.'), puzzling formulations (the title piece, 'Blue Has No South') or the expectations they raise ('More Names for Rain', 'The Angel Who Photographed God').
       Epstein has some beautiful and original ideas, such as a person who collects solved crossword puzzles (she has seven hundred, in various languages), though only a few of the stories are almost conventional in their use of their unusual premises, such as the weather-predicting protagonist of 'The Weather in Theresienstadt', one of Epstein's more elaborate fictions.
       Among the most successful pieces are the short and precise ones that don't present exactly what one might have anticipated -- perhaps best summed up with (and in):

The Bookmark as Murder Weapon

Except for the title, any connection between this story and reality is the product of the imagination of the author and the reader.
       Occasionally, he seems to be trying too hard, as with:
More Proof of Existence

In the inside pocket of the dead angel's raincoat was found a document stating that his organs should be donated to art.
       More typical -- and intriguing -- is:
Logic

The British psychoanalyst D.W.Winnicott once wrote a brief prayer: "Oh Lord, at the hour of my death let me live." He died in 1971. Might it be impossible to compose a story about this ? The neighbor in the apartment upstairs, on the other hand, wrote no prayer, but did once order a taxi. When it arrived and had already honked for him from downstairs, he killed himself.
       A fairly appealing collection, Blue Has No South is more hit than miss -- but with few real knock-/stand-outs. Agreeably thought-provoking (if occasionally also irritating in their fast and loose games), most of the stories (and provoked thoughts) nevertheless fall just slightly short of true resonance.
       (Note: One minor additional irritant is a few careless misspellings that seem to have come across in transliteration -- references to 'Karl Jung' and 'Edgar Allen Poe'.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 February 2011

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Links:

Blue Has No South: Reviews: Alex Epstein: Other books by Alex Epstein under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Alex Epstein (אלכס אפשטיין) was born in Leningrad, and emigrated to Israel in 1980.

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© 2011 the complete review

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