Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Just wanted to mention some of the writing and reading projects I’ve had the pleasure of seeing out in the world lately:

In August I had two reviews go up over at Necessary Fiction. The first was for the new webjournal Spolia. This is a sister publication of Bookslut and it promises really good things. Here’s just a bit of what I had to say about the first two issues:

These first two issues of Spolia establish that it is an extremely exciting new literary journal. Its dual engagement with the past and the present, its emphasis on translation, its unpretentious intellectual nature and its obvious but unstated conviction that women’s writing (as contributor or subject) is to be taken as seriously as men’s, and its sly embrace of often marginalized topics all mean that Spolia promises to become a worthy and worthwhile contributor to our 21st century literary discussions.

I make it very clear that I was really impressed with the first two issues and I’m really looking forward to see what else they come out with. You can read my full review here.


The second review was for Anne Valente’s tiny little gem of a story collection – An Elegy for Mathematics. This was a lovely read. Intense and beautiful and thoughtful. A few months have passed since I read through these stories and I am still thinking about them.

This is how I begin that review:

The fourth line of “The Water Cycle,” the ninth story in Anne Valente’s slender collection, An Elegy for Mathematics, reads:

But sometimes it made me feel strange, for reasons I can’t explain, to think that maybe you knew we had separate lives in some way, and that sometimes we did things that weren’t always the same.

The narrator and the “you” of this beautiful little story are a mother and daughter, and the question the story ultimately asks is about what the tie between them is made of, how is it formed, but this single twisting sentence works to open up a discussion about the kind of questions Valente is posing throughout the collection. How exactly are two people connected? What does that connection feel like – physically, mentally, metaphorically? And how are we different despite that fundamental association, what does our difference do to affect and alter the bonds between us?

You can read the full review here:


At the end of the summer I had a small fiction piece published over at District Lit called “the mercy and the movement.”  I’m working on a series of these, putting them together into a longer work. It was fun to see this part of the puzzle published separately. A few more pieces are forthcoming, so I’ll mention those when they are out in the world.


I had the very good luck of placing a translation with Spolia (in their 3rd issue, The Wife) – this comes from my project to excavate never-before-translated women writers. Julia Allard Daudet is the first of the women I’m working on. If you are interested in French literature, you may have heard of her husband, Alphonse Daudet. Most of his work has been translated into English.

The piece itself is called “L’Inconnue” or “The Unknown Woman” and is about a woman who suddenly appears in a small Swiss alpine village and everyone speculates about who she is and why she’s there. It’s a tragedy – as all good romantic stories published in 1905 should be. Daudet was French so her setting in Switzerland was a special surprise. And the story is very much a retelling of the famous “Inconnue de la Seine” legend.

Spolia asked me a few questions about Julia Daudet and Swiss literature, and you can read the discussion here.


Last but not least, over at Necessary Fiction I recently reviewed Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall (translated by Philip Boehm). I am an unabashed fan of the publishing program at Peirene Press – foreign language translations in novella form. Chasing the King of Hearts is about a married couple (polish Jews during WWII) and what happens to them once circumstances separate them:

Here’s just a bit of the review:

This premise—that something as intangible and fragile as the connection and love between Shayek and Izolda should trump all impossible distances and insane governmental decrees and genocidal rules—is where the novella hinges. It is not so much that Izolda believes that within the context of the war she still deserves the success of her life and love, but rather despite it. On a purely psychological level, Izolda operates as if the war simply does not touch her. While her actions and movements are all prescribed and countered by what is happening in the Polish ghetto, in various prison camps, in Vienna, even in the Guben labor camp, her mindset remains firmly beyond these prescriptions. And this is this novella’s most remarkable offering.

You can read the rest of the review here.

Aside from all that I wrote about this book in my review, this is one of those books that really connects with a historical moment. That it does this through a character who literally rejects that moment is simply brilliant. And it also, though in a much quieter and subtle way, connects with the contemporary legacy of that moment. All of Krall’s work has been translated (from Polish) into German – if I’m not mistaken this is her only work now in English translation. Here’s hoping it all makes its way at some point.

4 Responses to “here and there”

  1. MarinaSofia

    Congratulations – you have been very busy! And no, I didn’t know that Alphonse Daudet’s wife wrote as well… shame on me!

    • Michelle

      You can find some of her work at the Gallica online archive – it’s quite fun looking through her stuff. I went into an antique’s bookshop in Vevey the other day, asking about her London Journal, and the bookseller laughed and said, “good luck.”

  2. Stefanie

    I’ve been waiting for your review of the Valente book since you first mentioned how wonderful you thought it. I does sound really good. I will have to try and find a copy!

    • Michelle

      It is lovely, Stefanie, and I think you’d really enjoy it. Maybe you can find a copy through Indiebound. I don’t know what kind of print run Origami Zoo Press actually did – so I hope it’s still available.

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