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    Wednesday
    May072014

    FRIDAY WAS THE BOMB: AN INTERVIEW WITH ESSAYIST, JOURNALIST AND DEBUT NONFICTION WRITER NATHAN DEUEL

    THE WRITER'S JOB - 7 MAY 2014

    The product of several years’ worth of hard living in the Middle East, Nathan Deuel’s debut collection of essays, Friday Was the Bomb, was just published this week from Disquiet, a division of indie powerhouse Dzanc. Deuel’s essays have been appearing all over the web and in print media for years (New York Times Magazine, Harper's, GQ, The New York TimesThe New Republic, Financial Times, The Paris Review). I spoke to him about the circumstances in which he wrote and lived the stories in this book, and the collection’s charmed (but deserved!) path to publication.

    Jake Zucker: I think the most ominous single line in the collection is from the first chapter/essay: “In the beginning, Iraq had seemed like the center of the universe.” Was it always the center of your writing universe? You write about your experience editing content about the War in Iraq, but was it inevitable that you’d personally write about it too, in some way?

    Nathan Deuel: 9/11 completely defined my life as an adult. Prior to that, there was this ambient hunger for the kind of urgency and import that a previous generation had because of Vietnam, and World War II before that, and the Depression before that, etc. (The Civil Rights Movement is and was also very worthy but was more of a domestic cause to rally around.) With 9/11, my generation very quickly was handed an organizing principle, whether we liked it or not.

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    Tuesday
    May062014

    THE RUMPUS INTERVIEW WITH NATHAN DEUEL

    THE RUMPUS - 6 MAY 2014

    Nathan Deuel isn’t breaking big stories in Friday Was the Bomb, his debut essay collection about the five years he spent in the Middle East. He’s not investigating global problems or charting the aftermath of conflict. Instead, he writes about access and everyday life, and how we make lives for ourselves when we must rationalize our roles in places we don’t fully understand or belong.

    Deuel moved to Saudi Arabia in 2008 with his wife, Kelly McEvers, a National Public Radio foreign correspondent. Their daughter was born in Riyadh a year later, and as McEvers began spending long stretches of time in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq, Deuel found himself grappling with his new role as father in Riyadh, and later in Beirut.

    We spoke recently about the complications of work and family far from home, literature’s contemporary representations of the Middle East, and how essays function in singular and collective forms.

    ***

    The Rumpus: In the essay “Homeland in My Homeland,” you write about the popular Showtime program Homeland and its rendering of Beirut, where you were living at the time. Can you talk more about popular culture representations of conflicts in the Middle East? Do you think they’re being represented fairly, by news and entertainment outlets?

    Nathan Deuel: Gosh, who does a good job representing the far away? Living in Jakarta back in the day, with my wife Kelly, we lived in the slums in the master bedroom of a house owned by an Islamic scholar, which he maintained for his second wife. It was a weird scene. We cooked over a stove in an alley, sharing a communal thing of rice with the wife and her sister, stored in a glass jar in which mice cavorted. The second wife, displaced by us when we began renting that room, would emerge early each morning from her slightly smaller bedroom, and she’d begin these long mournful karaoke covers of Air Supply. We’d hardly slept, because a train ran at all hours a few feet from our bedroom and beside the tracks was an open-air brothel. To get around the city, I mostly walked, sticking to footpaths along the muddy rivers—a city where you either had $300 million or $300. We had the latter. It was always so bittersweet, when I’d arrived at the luxury mall, spending dollars we didn’t really have on cheese and beer, and it was hard to square all I’d seen and was living with and where I had come from and what I hoped one day to accomplish against that outdoor brothel, the forest of trees beside the river where prostitutes would tack up hand mirrors to the bark, which served as their little make-up stations, tiny combs and brushes stuffed into the crooks of trees.

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    Monday
    May052014

    Bombs Over Sad Dad: IMing with Nathan Deuel

    AMAZON.COM/OMNIVORACIOUS - 5 MAY 2014

    If parenting is the hardest job in the world, imagine doing it in a place of civil unrest. Nathan Deuel's book, Friday Was the Bomb, spans the five years he and his daughter Loretta spent in Turkey and Lebanon as Deuel's wife, an NPR foreign correspondent, reported from Baghdad and Syria. As much asFriday is about living in the Middle East, it's also a moving autobiographical tale of isolation and fatherhood. Here, Deuel has penned a book about fragility with the robustness of an empathetic essayist and the careful eye of a seasoned journalist.

    I spoke with Deuel over Gchat about his time abroad, raising his daughter Loretta, the wonders of the internet, and the show Homeland.


    Kevin Nguyen: Nathan, what's your book about? Can you describe it in IMs?

    Nathan Deuel: It's about moving to the Middle East in 2008 with my wife, who was a stringer for NPR. We scored visas to Saudi Arabia, one of the least understood and most mysterious countries in the world. We struggled to make a life there and to understand it and to make friends, and then we had a baby there, too.

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    Thursday
    May012014

    6 Books That Helped Nathan Deuel Make Sense of War and Exile 

    FLAVORWIRE - 15 MAY 2014

    BY JASON DIAMOND

    Since he does a much better job explaining it than we would, we’ll just preface his piece by saying that Nathan Deuel’s Friday Was the Bomb is one of the most fascinating accounts we’ve read of an American in the Middle East during the last tumultuous decade. During his time abroad, Deuel not only wrote about his experiences, but also did a lot of reading. Below, the author tells us, in his own words, about the books that helped him make meaning out of his years of exile.

    In December 2011, I moved to Beirut with my wife — a foreign correspondent — and our two year-old daughter. We were coming off a few hard years, first in Riyadh, the fearsome capital of Saudi Arabia, where we’d dodged the religious police and had a little girl. Then Kelly got a job in Iraq, so I moved with our diaper-clad daughter to Istanbul. Spend a few days in Turkey’s capital and I admit, it will blow your mind. Move there in the wake of your dad’s abrupt death from cancer, with your daughter — while your wife dodges mortars in Baghdad — and you might find yourself, as I did, smothered as much by the demands of fatherhood as by an impenetrable language, a society trending toward the darker sides of nationalism, and a flood of new money.

    So after three years, when we got the go-ahead to move to beautiful, broken Beirut — with its beaches and wine and convivial crew of fellow correspondents, many of whom had children — it felt like everything was coming together. We rented an airy, light-filled apartment, bought a bunch of plants, and thought about hosting a party. But the uprising in neighboring Syria was turning into all-out war.

    Kelly worked long hours and we did our best but as friends or colleagues died and a car bomb exploded and then a seven-hour shoot-out rocked and rolled right outside our bedroom windows, I began to lose focus. What was the point? How to be a parent beside this? A husband? What about the fact we were Americans?

    Seeking guidance, or at least the half-shine of potential answers, I turned to books. From Graham Greene to Shiva Naipaul, from Leigh Newman to Nick Flynn, I found various blueprints for how to think about the horror around me and how to turn a time of often indescribable cruelty into something meaningful — or at least semi-comprehensible.

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    Wednesday
    Apr232014

    In Defense of National Airlines

    ROADS & KINGDOMS - 23 APRIL 2014

    Malaysian Airlines Flight 370: How can 239 people just disappear? I fantasize about the plane itself: What it looked like, the color of the seats, the food. Will I ever fly on Malaysian Airlines? Will anyone ever want to again?

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    Saturday
    Mar222014

    A Life in Our Hands: Community, Crime, and Punishment - On Jesse Ball's 'Silence Once Begun'

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 22 MARCH 2014

    IN AND AROUND the Japanese fishing village of Sakai, in Osaka prefecture, a community’s elderly citizens are disappearing without a trace. Years later, after the community has tried and jailed (and worse) a man who confessed to the apparent crimes, a journalist named Jesse Ball sets out to write a book about what actually happened.

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    Saturday
    Mar012014

    Let’s Go Ride a Bike

    THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE - 28 FEBRUARY 2014

    Last fall, I moved from Beirut to Los Angeles with my wife, Kelly, a journalist, and our 4-year-old daughter, Loretta, who one evening was ready to get back on her bike.

    The sidewalk stretched out before us. We could hear the steady pulse of traffic on Lincoln and Venice Boulevards. The timing seemed perfect: just before dinner, no chill in the air — a moment to show Loretta how to enjoy her new life in America. Look, honey, you’re safe now!

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    Wednesday
    Feb122014

    Ye Who Enter, Abandon Hope: Hell Is a Hospital in Lore Segal's "Half the Kingdom"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 12 FEBRUARY 2014

    WE’LL ALL SOME DAY be crooked and shrunken, bent before the mercy of the medical system. Into a hospital, each of us will bring our own pains, weaknesses, history, and fate. The ER doesn't care how we measure beauty. We get a chart. There are certain hours we can be visited, and certain things we can expect from the people who are supposed to care.

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    Sunday
    Jan192014

    Anthony Is Dead

    GAWKER - 18 JANUARY 2014

    It was one of the first warm evenings of spring when my new neighbor Steve—leaning over his balcony and through the bougainvillea—suggested we should take the kids to Faraya, a ski town a few hours from what was starting to look like a war in Syria.

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    Thursday
    Dec192013

    Even More Recent History

    AMERICAN CIRCUS - 18 DECEMBER 2013

    1.

    Choire Sicha was one of the first editors at spit-balling rabble-rouser Gawker, and he later logged time at the genteel but influential New York Observer when that pink broadsheet was an incubator for talent now found across publishing's various august mastheads. In more recent years, he's made a new name as founder of The Awl, a curious but widely admired online magazine. Such is his and The Awl's influence, however, that when the editor of The New York Times Magazine stepped down one morning this November, it was Sicha who by 9 a.m. had assembled a list of suggested replacements, including novelist Renata Adler and Times India correspondent Ellen Barry. Unspoken but acknowledged, as media watchers admiringly linked to Sicha's list: some day, perhaps if a smart move was made by leadership, the new editor could be Sicha himself.

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    Thursday
    Dec192013

    LA Story

    THE PARIS REVIEW - 18 DECEMBER 2013

    I have just moved to Los Angeles from the Middle East, and everyone keeps asking me if the city is too quiet—Am I bored? Is it safe?—and the answer is, No, I am not bored; yes, it seems safe, and yes, that’s fine by me. Mostly I am in a state of awe, blown away by a grocery store, the knock of the mailman at the door, the speed of the Internet; the easy friends you can make on the sidewalk or on the bus or while watching your kids play soccer or walking down Venice Boulevard, waiting for a light to change, en route to the University of Southern California, where I found myself the other day, seeking out the next thing I might do with my life, right before things went wrong again.

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    Thursday
    Dec122013

    Reality Strikes: Mark Haskell Smith's "Raw"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 11 DECEMBER 2013

    SEPP GREGORY HAS GREAT ABS. He was a beach volleyball player, then a player on a reality TV show, and then has his heart was broken by a bronzed co-star named Roxy, whose diet required lots of tequila and sex. During a follow-up TV series, shown around the country, Sepp recovered and fell for a doctor, but she, too, broke his heart. Now he's on tour for his autobiography,Total Reality. Adoring fans, mostly women, form lines at bookstores in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. They want to see rippling stomach muscles. Some offer sex. But he can't get it up. And there's another problem. Sepp didn't write the book. (And someone's going to die.)

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    Thursday
    Nov282013

    A Former Soviet Union: Elliott Holt's "You Are One of Them"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 7 OCTOBER 2013

    IT'S THE SEASON of the expatriate. Caleb Crain's Necessary Errors concerns the city of Prague, and Elliot Holt's fast, electrifying debut, You Are One of Them, takes us to Russia. Her book is as convincing and absorbing a portrait of post-Soviet Russia as you'll read. But at its heart, it's also about America.

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    Sunday
    Nov102013

    Daniel Alarcón's Haunting Political Fiction

    THE NEW REPUBLIC - 9 NOVEMBER 2013

    The Peruvian-born novelist Daniel Alarcón has become one of the most important modern voices for the countries south of the border. His first major book was the ambitious novel Lost City Radio (2007), a haunting tale set in an unnamed South or Central American country, where a talk show host uses on-air time to broadcast the names of those who have mysteriously “disappeared.” But that first novel had the airless precision of an experiment. Something about the life and trials of its characters felt brittle and incomplete, the anonymity of its setting eerily cold. It was torn between being a keen sketch of political turmoil and a broad historical fable.

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    Thursday
    Oct242013

    Beached

    THE PARIS REVIEW - 24 OCTOBER 2013

    There is something brutal about Phillip Glass’s opera. The way it stops and starts, the taunting tease of a story, then the way it’s anything but narrative. Composed of nine twenty-minute scenes, the whole of Einstein on the Beach—first produced in 1976 and shown in L.A. for the first time this month—is interspersed by five so-called “knee plays,” in which two women sit or stand or writhe around on plastic platforms, or search dreamily inside gently moving glass boxes. It’s not easy to watch.

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    Wednesday
    Oct092013

    Bones

    THE PARIS REVIEW - 9 OCTOBER 2013

    You discover one day—while everyone else is doing whatever it is that makes them happy—that you can almost pop one of the bones in your hand right out of the skin. It’s awesome. First, you practice in secret, when you’re bored or exasperated by school. But one day, you are practicing out in the open when someone notices the little bit of white sticking out, and they say, Wow, how cool, and they ask you to do it again. Look at this guy, they say—when formerly you were ignored or marginalized or made to feel you were odd or would at any rate never to amount to much—and it occurs to you: maybe you’re on to something.

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    Tuesday
    Oct082013

    Total Eclipse of the Bar: Nathan Deuel on ‘Turn Around Bright Eyes’

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 7 OCTOBER 2013

    IN THE UNITED STATES, the magic happens in a bar, or — and this is the pro move — in private rooms rented by the hour: “The electric frazzle in the voices, the crackle of the microphones, the smell of sweat, mildew, vodka, and pheromones — [that’s] the full karaoke experience,” writes Rob Sheffield, in his devastatingly smart and heartfelt new book, Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke. What’s more: “There’s a buzzer on the wall you can press for more drinks.”

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    Wednesday
    Oct022013

    Once Upon a Time in the Middle East

    THE MORNING NEWS - 2 OCTOBER 2013

     There was one day near the end, when I took a taxi up a hill, to see a man. We sliced through canyons, making our way into the mountains north of Beirut, riding a black strip of asphalt upon which no lines were drawn. The span of tar was sometimes wide enough for two cars, sometimes one. We drove fast, nearly hitting someone when the road narrowed, nearly hit by another car ourselves when we bisected a second road—no stop signs, no stoplight—and then I realized: Nowhere at any point had a sign indicated a sharp curve or steep drop-off. We were on our own. When we finally stopped, four black dogs came running. 

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    Monday
    Sep302013

    Rising Temperatures: On Maggie O'Farrell's "Instructions for a Heatwave"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 30 SEPTEMBER 2013

    "THE HEAT, THE HEAT." So begins the astonishing new novel by Northern Irish writer Maggie O'Farrell. Following one sprawling family over four days of searing temperatures in 1976 London, Instructions for a Heatwave – O'Farrell's sixth novel – is perhaps a perfect book.

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    Saturday
    Sep072013

    One man's journey from the Middle East to the Midwest 

    AL JAZEERA AMERICA - 7 SEPTEMBER 2013

    Ten thousand miles from the chaos of Lebanon and Syria, I'm riding a dead man’s bike along Illinois’s Sangamon River, where, some years, floodwaters cover everything, sending black fingers searching among dirt and oaks and cottonwood trees. They say you can't really live in the flood plain, that it's unsafe. But here I am, having fled the Middle East, wondering, “What's the point of being safe if you don't feel fully alive?”

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