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Faces in the Crowd Paperback – May 13, 2014
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The release of Luiselli’s first novel coincides with her essay collection, Sidewalks (2014). Luiselli’s Mexican heritage and current residence in New York inform the setting of this lyrical tale, told from different perspectives. A woman recounts her efforts to publish an unknown Mexican poet who lived in Harlem in the 1920s; a poet in poor health counts down the days in 1950s Philadelphia. The story lines twist and shift, as they are delivered in flashbacks and fragments, including snippets of poetry, cryptic notes from the unknown poet to various confidantes, and amusing asides when the woman’s husband discovers her manuscript for the very novel readers have in hand. If Luiselli’s essays tend toward offhand, highbrow references to critics and culture, her fiction is shaped by sophisticated plotting, playful characterization, and mesmerizing momentum. Reminiscent of Roberto Bolaño and André Gide, Luiselli navigates a dynamic, ghostly world between worlds, crisscrossing fact and fiction. Few books are as sure to baffle, surprise, and reward readers as the strange, shifty experiment that is Luiselli’s fiction debut. --Diego Báez
“Luiselli’s haunting debut novel . . . erodes the concrete borders of everyday life with a beautiful, melancholy contemplation of dissappearance. [T]his elegant novel speaks to the transience of reality. The elusive strands of the young woman and Owen’s narratives intertwine and blur together as Luiselli plays with the idea of time and identity with grace and intuition.”―Publishers Weekly, Boxed Review
“[A] lovely and mysterious first novel...the multilayered bok she has devised brings freshness and excitement to such complex inquiries”.―Wall Street Journal
“Throughout Faces in the CrowdSidewalks are a wonderful contribution to the long tradition by which authors re-imagine their cities as dream-like spaces created for them to wander around, daydream and discover.”―Los Angeles Times
“A masterwork of fractured identities and shifting realities, Faces in the Crowd is a lyric meditation on love, mortality, ghosts, and the desire to transform our human wreckage into art, to be saved by creation. Valeria Luiselli is a stunning and singular voice. Her work burns with an urgency that demands our attention. Read her. Right now.”―Laura Van Den Berg, The Isle of Youth
“If every word, for her, has the shadow of two others behind it, and if every city in which she lives carries the ghostly afterimage of all the other cities she has known―as well as the voices of the writers she has researched upon her arrival―then her books become all the more enthralling for the multiplicity they champion . . . the great beauty of her art is seeing all her contrasting stories collapse or blend or combine into an unexpected whole.”―Los Angeles Review of Books
“Valeria Luiselli draws readers assuredly into a meditation on time, place and identity as if she were expertly kneading dough.”―Kathe Connair, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd is like nothing I’ve read in a while . . . its musings on obsession and ambition are haunting, and its sense of place is fantastic.”―Electric Literature
“Today, she’s one of the hottest authors around. Her first work, Faces in the Crowd, and its companion essay collection, Sidewalks, are both hits with critics.”―Ozy
“A mother in Mexico City starts writing a novel, and then the novel sort of becomes her life. (Pair with strong coffee.)”―Bustle
"Luisselli delivers a telling image of modern time."―Literature and Arts of the Americas
“Faces in the Crowd is a scaffolding that bounds the empty spaces into which the writer and the reader of the novel can insert their imagination . . . It is empty attention, if not the amazement, of the read and the writer.”―Electric Literature
"Valeria Luiselli’s swirling, layered novel, Faces in the Crowd, shares this 'tell what it was like' quality."―Missouri Review
“Well-crafted, playful even as it touches on the very serious....[Faces in the Crowd is] an impressively substantial work, in every sense.”―Complete Review
“Faces in the Crowd is one of those rare books that manages to upend one’s idea of what might be possible in fiction.”―Electric Literature
“[Faces in the Crowd] paints a truly believable and empathetic and insightful portrait of life. It grabs hold of and dissects and analyzes life in all of its multifaceted glory and misery and whatever falls in between.”―Three Percent
“‘Valeria Luiselli’s extraordinary debut novel Faces in the Crowd signals the arrival of major talent,’ said Jeremy Ellis of Houston’s Brazos Bookstore. ‘Written in Spanish and exquisitely translated by Christina MacSweeney, Faces in the Crowd is a fresh and essential voice for the new Latin-American canon.’"―American Booksellers Association
“‘Prose is for those with a builder’s spirt.’ What a nice line. And what good fortune that we now have Valeria Luiselli’s prose in the States.”―Propeller Magazine
"There's an urgency to this book that I found both challenging and engaging―as the reality of the narrative crumbled, and as the characters became their own ghosts, the feeling of loss that Luiselli is trying to explore began to resemble my own."―American Microreviews and Interivews
“Valeria Luiselli’s debut―translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney―is a book whose ingenious formal structure preserves this strenuous negotiation between the contrary impulses to expose and hide away.”―Make Literary Magazine
“[H]er fiction is shaped by sophisticated plotting, playful characterization, and mesmerizing momentum. Reminiscent of Roberto Bolano and Andre Gide, Luiselli navigates a dynamic, ghostly world between worlds, crisscrossing fact and fiction. Few books are as sure to baffle, surprise, and reward readers as the strange, shifty experiment that is Luiselli’s fiction debut.”―Booklist
“This is just one of three stories that weaves its way through Valeria Luiselli’s masterful Faces in the Crowd, a novel in which people die many times just to wake up right where they left off . . . .”―The Paris Review
“Fragmentary and fantastical . . . emotional density, laser-cut prose, self-conscience autobiography mixed with invention, and jigsaw-puzzle storylines that gradually assemble themselves to reveal an unpredictable whole.”―Wall Street Journal Bookshelf
“Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli is a masterfully structured meta-fictional story. . . . This is a novel about writing at its core, that’s intriguing and entertaining through all its structual complexities.”―The Review Lab
“In publishing [Faces in the Crowd, a] novel about a translator living in Mexico City, and Luiselli’s superb collection of essays, Sidewalks, Coffee House has helped push into the world a great writer who everybody should know about.”―Flavorwire
“Luiselli’s debut grabs three strands of narration and twists them into a single, psychogeographical thread. Imagine Teju Cole’s Open City or Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station; as a debut novel, it’s that good.”―Flavorwire
“Faces in the Crowd is the greatest of all things: a novel meant to be reread.”―The Rumpus
“[Luiselli’s] writing blurs the line between life and death across three narratives that overlap in content and time . . . you’ll fall into the pages and believe the connections between people-ghosts or not-to be true.”―Hazel & Wren
“A multi-angled portrait of the artist as a young woman, as a con artist, as a young mother and wife, this book immerses the reader in the most enchanting and persuasive intimacy. The fearless, half-mad imagination of youth has rarely been so freshly, charmingly and unforgettably portrayed. Valeria Luiselli is a precociously masterful and entirely original new writer.”―Francisco Goldman
“This is one of those books that I fell for after the first six pages . . . Luiselli handles this stream-of-consciousness style with charm and mastery, making the story of love, identity, art, and ghosts unforgettable.”―Book Riot
“[Faces in the Crowd was] so surprising and so exhilarating that I read it twice during the past week.”―Seeing the World Through Books
“Luiselli sketches a rich and enthralling world. . . .”―Public Books
“Luiselli’s spare and probing essays touch on a variety of subjects and are unified by a capacious imagination.”―SFGate
“Debut novel Faces [in the Crowd] has gotten a ton of praise in all the right places, and the reviews have piqued my curiosity.”―Barnes & Noble Book Blog
“Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd is one of the most mesmerizing debut novels in recent memory.”―Diesel Bookstore
“Valeria Luiselli, a young writer from Mexico City, who shows here an incredibly nuanced control over details and time.”―Green Apple on the Park Bookstore
“A shining star of 2014 . . . brilliant and beautiful.”―Brazos Bookstore
“I found myself dog-earing pages throughout to go back and make notes on…until I realized I was marking pretty much every single page.”―Brazos Bookstore
“Valeria Luiselli’s extraordinary debut novel Faces in the Crowd signals the arrival of major talent. The novel’s fragmented, poetic narrative immediately engages and slowly reveals its secrets. Is this a story about a woman discovering a forgotten Latin poet of the Harlem Renaissance? Is the woman imagined by the poet? Are they both ghosts in search of some way back to the real? Written in Spanish, and exquisitely translated by Christina MacSweeney, Faces in the Crowd is a fresh and essential voice for the new Latin-American canon.”―Jeremy Ellis, Brazos Bookstore
“This book is pretty short and fueled by cigarettes and coffee, so you’ll probably motor through it and want some more. You’re in luck because Luiselli wrote a fantastic book of essays, Sidewalks, released at the same time. Go on a bender and read them back to back. You won’t regret it.”―Brooke, Brazos Bookstore
“I’d loved every page of Valeria Luiselli’s novell . . . Faces in the Crowd highlights the question [of identity] more vividly, more urgently, than any novel I’ve read in recent years.”―Full Stop
“One of the most original new voices in translation.”―Words Without Borders
“[In Faces in the Crowd] three timelines snuggle up alongside one another in a neat, poetic fashion . . . This feels like a book which has been woven as much as written.”―Doe-eyed Critic
“[P]erhaps Luiselli’s true gift is that these essays still manage to be filled with a sense of hope . . . [and] an ability to find the beauty in destruction, acceptance in the face of crumbling cities and inadequate words.”―Publik/Private
“Valeria Luiselli’s hallucinatory novel follows a young academic drawn to the life of the early 20th-century poet Gilbert Owen. What begins as obsession takes a surreal turn, and the two narratives begin to influence and haunt each other.”―OZY
“Luiselli’s debut novel is brilliantly conceived and executed examination of the ways the past infiltrates the present and how art bleeds into life.”―Racked
“An outstanding, cerebral read that bridges the gap between poetry and prose and clearly positions the author as one of the freshest, most exciting new voices emerging from Latin American literature.”―Entropy
“Faces in the Crowd is a wonderful piece of writing, elegant, poignant and light when it needs to be.”―Tony’s Reading List
“[I]n its supremely casual and confident treatment of Self and Other, of Fact and Fiction―the way it makes non-issues out of both―Faces in the Crowd is something new, something revolutionary.”―Fiction Advocate
“Translasted from Spanish, Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli has a lyrical cadence to it. It moves in hazy, dreamlike moments rather than scenes . . . in Luiselli’s narrative experimentation, we find gravitas in her character’s confusion.”―Grantland
“Everybody should read Faces in the Crowd. Read it for Luiselli’s language. Read it for the masterly translation by MacSweeney. . . . more people need to read Faces in the Crowd and Sidewalks.”―Three Percent
“Audacious, conceptually cutting edge.”―Three Percent
“Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd is one of the year’s most striking and cleverly written novels, a debut that heralds the arrival of a promising literary voice.”―Largehearted Boy
“Luiselli’s fascinating novel is quite occupied with the hidden pauses between paragraphs . . . Faces in the Crowd is very much a cousin to Jenny Offill’s excellent novel, Dept. of Speculation, in a way that it coaxes the reader to fixate on the asterisks between the short sections.”―Reluctant Habits
“Faces in the Crowd is a subtle, sophisticated examination of identity, authenticity, and poetry. The narrator, a young married writer and mother of two, shares her struggles to write a novel about an obscure Mexican poet and the novel in progress, while remembering the time her life when she became obsessed with him. Luiselli braids the three narrative currents into a brilliant meditation on the nature of creation. Translation hoax. Ghosts on the subway. The demonstrative vocabulary of a clever toddler. The mix of fact and fiction on the page and in the mind. With her first novel, Luiselli has established herself as a brilliant explorer of voice, self, and art.”―Josh Cook, Porter Square Books
“Luiselli weaves together her own philosophy . . . with the novel’s predilection for subterranean encounters in a way that feels deft, not contrived.”―Quarterly Conversation
“Masterful. Excellent translation.”―The Wandering Bibliophile
“[Faces in the Crowd] contemplates existential angst like a 21st Century version of Nausea."―KCET
“I was delighted and surprised, and I’m recommending [Faces in the Crowd] to everyone.”―Michael Silverblatt, KCRW
“[Judges cited] the exceptional promise it demonstrates as a debut novel.”―Three Percent
“Faces in the Crowd, beyond its gorgeous writing and superb composition, is modest yet striking, measured yet salient.”―Powells.com
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"I go back to writing the novel whenever I'm not busy with the children. I know that I need to generate a structure full of holes so that I can always find a place for myself on the page, inhabit it; I have to remember never to put in more than is necessary, never overlay, never furnish or adorn. Open doors, windows. Raise walls and demolish them."
"Then I go back to the novel. A vertical novel told horizontally. A story that has to be seen from below, like Manhattan from the subway."
"Or a horizontal novel, told vertically. A horizontal vertigo."
"The narrator of the novel should be like an Emily Dickinson. A woman who remains eternally locked up in her house, or in a subway carriage, it makes no difference which, talking with her ghosts and trying to piece together a series of broken thoughts."
As you can probably see, though, Luiselli writes with a striking originality that is not lost in the translation from Spanish by Christina MacSweeny. For a long time, the collage of personal reflections, literary references, and personal confessions is addictive -- though being clear WHAT she is writing about is a different matter. The short-breathed style enables her to jump around in time and space. After a while, it seems that she is intercutting two phases of her life: her present one as a wife and mother in New York, and an earlier one as a single woman in some other city (Mexico City?). Before long, though, this distinction becomes confused, as does the line between fact and fiction. Her architect husband, for example, leaves for Philadelphia, where she is convinced he has a mistress; her marriage is apparently over. Later, however, still clearly at home, he confronts her with it:
— You said I'd gone to Philadelphia. Why?
— So something happens.
About halfway through, the book takes a specific literary turn. In one phase of her life (by this stage, I was no longer sure which), she is working for a publisher as a translator. She claims to have found a manuscript of poems by a real Mexican poet Gilberto Owen (1904–52) translated by a fictional American contemporary of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. In fact this is her own forgery, run up with the aid of a literary con-man, but her boss knows better than to ask questions. But now paragraphs of the first-person narration begin to appear in Owen's voice, strikingly similar to her own, but more than half a century before. By the time the Owen persona had taken over almost completely, I found that the dislocation of reality had gone at least one step too far, and I was no longer interested.
But those with a taste for metafictional surrealism may have a field day.
The novel opens in Mexico City with a precocious little boy awakening his mother with a question about mosquitoes. She goes on to tell the reader that she also has a baby daughter and an architect husband and that she does most of her writing at night. Gradually, she describes her earlier life in New York City when she is single and works as an editor finding books by Latin American authors worth translating or reissuing. Eventually, in the Columbia Library, the speaker finds a letter by Mexican poet Gilberto Owen in 1928 to a fellow writer, giving Owen’s address in Morningside Heights, New York, and her visit to the house changes her life: “I began that night to live as if inhabited by another possible life that wasn’t mine, but one which, simply by the use of imagination, I could give myself up to completely. I started looking inward from the outside, from someplace to nowhere.”
Ghosts and visions appear: William Carlos Williams sitting beside her in a bar, the poet Zvorsky at a table, Ezra Pound hanging in a cage at the corner counter, and Garcia Lorca tossing him peanuts. She also sees Owen’s face in the crowded subway, even as he comments to someone else that he has also seen a girl in a red coat (the speaker) riding the subway, another repeating motif. She imagines Owen seeing Duke Ellington in 1920s Harlem, and meeting with Garcia Lorca, a neighbor, and she feels no qualms about expanding on Owen’s life. Before long, the imaginary life of Owen and the life of the author overlap and eventually coalesce so that the reader is unsure what is fact and what is purely imaginative.
Most readers of this novel will thrill at the experience of participating in the creation of a novel on all levels, even though not all of the threads and details of the story leading to the conclusion are resolved. Though I am not a huge fan of a lot of post-modern writing, I loved this book for its insights into the writing process, its excitement, and for the obvious trust the author exhibits that her readers will understand and share her journey – and enjoy it as much as she obviously has done.