Saturday, December 18, 2010

Interviews in the Spartanburg Herald and elsewhere

I was interviewed by writers Rachel Beasley for the Spartanburg Herald and Kim Henson in a three part interview for her terrific blog, Well-Written Days.

Click the links above for the Herald piece and Part 1 of Kim Henson's interview, and here and here for Parts 2 and 3.

Monday, December 6, 2010


In anticipation of my December 11th reading at Spartanburg's Hub City Bookshop, I was interviewed for several local newspapers, including the Greenville and Spartanburg Journals and the Herald Journal. Here's the first of these.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Open Letter to a Private Fox

Consider this a love letter. As such, it requires patience.

Settle in. Fold under your legs. Curl your tail around the bean of your body, keep the ashy tip poised over your nose. But be quick about it. It is cold tonight, and my voice will carry.

There are many places to begin. One day I saw a hollow under a rock. I had a hunch. Another time I spotted a rotten tree, the pulp soft and pungent. I could see you there, waiting out the night. You could be there now. No one would wait for you but me.

I used to think you were always hiding, but now I know better. We simply are not worthy of your presence.

Forgive my warm cheeks, this terrible sequence of halting gestures. I don’t know how to tell you this story. Should I leave a screed in branches, a chit in stones at your door? My affections are spelled out in river water and berry juice, in layers of soil. The soft bone-glow of the moon.

If I could I would yap at you, wowwowwow, crack open my face in some approximation of love. But I am not vulpine. I would make a mistake, my teeth would clack out the wrong song. I’m used to the grayer ones, understand. The Western ones, thick bodied and substantial. They could pass as coyotes. You could pass as a cat. You keep all your secrets around you.

I know your stealth – once, the cupreous flicker of your tail at mid-morning, my clumsy presence sending you over the hill – but you aren’t so clever at hiding evidence. Those hastily concealed digs in the leaves, the hind end of a mouse, that bird wing in your scat. The tracks by the lake where your thin legs punched through the dry mud. I don’t mean to be presumptuous. You will, I hope, correct me if I’m wrong. I admire your work. You speak a different language from the wild hysteria of the whitetails, the hang-dog pessimism of the possums.

It’s not as if I understand you. For instance, there is the matter of the turkeys. Three, fat and searching. They come in the yard jerking their heads like diplomats, high stepping with raw feet. I watch them peck the ground, and I call them miracles; I chew my dinner and wonder how it is you haven’t chewed them for dinner. Easy prey for you, no doubt. Surely some nights you pray for such prey. Why have you spared them? Is it your humanity? I’m sorry. See, another stupid mistake. There is no word for what I’m trying to say. Altruism, perhaps, but that has a sheen I don’t intend. Your animality?

Your choices do fascinate. Vulpine. I marvel over your aptitude, over the unpredictable, unswallowable desires that crawl up into your mouth like bile.

I never imagined you’d want that pumpkin, discarded in the street, slammed into pieces by a 14 year old’s baseball bat. Not you. The pregnant, waddling raccoons, maybe, hiding their shame behind dumpsters. The ambitious squirrels, who plan but never consider the big picture. I waited for their teeth marks, a dental x-ray of late night hunger.

But you came instead, boldly standing under the street light, orange strings of pumpkin meat hanging between your teeth. You turned your ears toward me, the threat of me, and listened to my blood, to digestive juices, to the thumping and beating of life. Oh, you. You put your head back down, drooped the tail. A meal in front of you.

You marvelous beast. You sexy, beautiful thing. If they saw you, they’d start a fan club, goddammit. They’d build a religion around the jewel of your heart.

You ate, unafraid of me. You swallowed down that orange flesh, vulnerable under the yellow lights, a mouthful occluding your breath.

I could have killed you then. You could have been seen by others, struck down by machinery, snared and put in a loud block of a truck. There is, always, the threat of death. Do you know what they’d do to you? Rubber and asphalt. Latex gloves, a syringe. Do you run from these things? Do you even know, in all your cleverness, from what you’re running? You just run.

That night, you stayed and ate. A gamble. Warm air from your wet mouth, between bites. Your stomach, I knew, would be full of pumpkin. White seeds. You’d sleep dense bellied. In the morning, I’d find your scat heavy with vegetable instead of bone.

My god, you can’t lie.

I should not be saying this. I am married, and you are a fox. I can’t give you my ring finger to chew on, but I can give you my gratitude. A humble meal to soften your pangs.

Thank you for not running away that night. For running away every other time, for making yourself invisible long enough to exist.

Thank you living in this place we have carved into and ruined, making a life in a crumpled shoebox of wilderness. Thank you for moving each night, stone to stone. There is not room enough for a mate or kin. There is only space enough for you, this day, and perhaps another.

In the winter, I will look for your tracks. Tiny feet on the snow. If you make it that long, I will cry for your endurance. If you do not make it, I will cry for your absence.

How long you have made it, already, all alone in the empty ribs of these woods.

Friday, October 8, 2010

New essay at TNB

I've got a new piece up at The Nervous Breakdown on why we should stop writing obituaries. Check out Everything That Scares Us Is Dead.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Interview for A Tutta Cultura

In July, Bone Worship was released in Italy as Il Mio Matrimonio Combinato. Journalist Emanuela Frate just interviewed me about the novel and modern arranged marriage for the Italian website A Tutta Cultura. (Q&A is in English.) Check out the interview here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Of Writers and Recluses

In some distant corners, the border bushlands of Botswana, for example, there are writers so unaccustomed to human contact that they journey into London for their book tours only to jump at sidewalk cracks, thinking puff adders are underfoot. Authors living in remote Rocky Mountain cabins built into shale, tethered to the publishing industry via the last bar payphone in the world. People who are reticent to move among the thought-scattering, thing-gathering townies below. These storytellers have forgotten their social skills, misplaced them under a pile of words, leaves, and snow. It’s the writer-as-madman, the old coot (or tangle-headed banshee) who comes down the mountain or treks out of the desert just once a year or so, when injured. Or when his truck is.

Everyone sees him in his glorious leonine dishevelment and marvels.

I wonder sometimes if it’s really possible to write about people without being among them. If there’s a way to store up human truths, the ones that don’t expire, anyway, and then disappear into the land of bear grass. Perhaps reclusive writers have found some way to keep themselves undiluted by our herky-jerky business down below. Or, less generously, it’s possible they are doing themselves and their writing a disservice by drawing a line and building their cabins on one side of it. Who defines the world, and why would you want to play cartographer? I suppose it’s merely a choice, and as such, it is meaningless. As long as they keep writing. There are still those brief moments when civilization must pull them in, at least for a new fan belt. Time enough for a draught of humanity.

After all, one can’t draw a steadfast line in rock.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how important having a “place” is. Whether you can move away and take that place with you. And whether “placeness” is even real. If you ask me where my place is, without hesitation I will tell you it is Montana. My husband jokes that when someone meets me for the first time, within five minutes they will know how much of my life was, and is, centered on our four years living there. When I’m feeling especially romantic about it, I am certain I will be writing about Montana for the rest of my life, even though my Montana is not necessarily the same as a hunter’s Montana, or a developer’s Montana, or an equestrian’s Montana. Of course, the bitterroot doesn’t care about such trivial distinctions.

Can there be one place for a person, or many? I want to go to Iran, and Morocco, and I want to return to South Africa and find my way back into the mess of people and puff adders, so maybe those are my places too. How will I know?

Even here, on the other, more metropolitan side of the country, I want to be no less than a zealot in my quest for placeness. I want to see everything. There is the easy beauty of the spider living in the hollow of a lopsided oak, but there is also the extraordinary beauty of a subway rat in New York City, persistently making its way along the smooth, steel tracks, searching for food under shards of glass and soot and cigarette butts, eyes evolving to a life of darkness and the sporadic, subterranean earthquakes of human passage. Say what you will, but not a one of us has the toughness in the last segment of a rat’s tail.

Right about now, I feel like a subway rat plucked from its shadowy life under the city, left to squinny around. The first weekend we drove out to a park on Long Island Sound, looking to get away. We got honked at twice on our way there, found a sandy beach covered with shiny, tattooed bodies, chicken bones, tailgate barbecues. I had to fight my old urge, my Montana urge, to disappear into the periphery, find some mountain to climb. It was chaos, or life. Basketball. Loud music. Puerto Rican women in cut-out bathing suits taking glamour shots of each other with their cell phones. I looked for animals. Twice a gull flew by, having adapted a new city camouflage, some smart slate gray color mixed into the feathers.

Each morning I walk in the woods here, what constitutes woods, tracts of precious land purchased by cities and rich benefactors whom I’ve never bumped into once. They are eerily empty. A handful of turkeys and doves, a dozen or so squirrels. I trip over the rocks, my footing still awkward after a month. I routinely hear sirens and people’s conversations in the suburbs around these acres, creating the impression that I’m inside a movie set. Trees marked for cutting are bound by plastic, yellow tape. This is not the wilderness.

I can’t get lost. I’ve tried.

This is a start. I am good at this, this moving, this adapting to new places, new accents, new habits, but in the beginning, there is blindness. Temporary, but acute. Sometimes all day it’s a single question in my mind, on a loop: “Okay, okay! Turn where?” Perhaps it’s a different kind of lost. What they say is true. It’s faster here, crowded. One keeps looking for mountains, but comes up empty. But it’s not all bad, just different. And I can’t yet see it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sour Milk Published in 52 Stories

My short story, "Sour Milk," has just been published in 52 Stories! Have a look here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bone Worship Reviewed

Two wonderful writers and colleagues, Persis Karim and Chris Clarke, recently reviewed Bone Worship, in the Women's Review of Books and the acclaimed blog Coyote Crossing respectively.

Here are a couple excerpts:

Making Sense of an Iranian Past

Bone Worship
By Elizabeth Eslami
New York: Pegasus Books, 2010,
368 pp., $15.95, paperback

Reviewed by Persis Karim

The late 1990s and the first decade of the twenty-first century saw the publication of a large number of memoirs by Iranian-American women (among the most notable: Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi [2003]; Lipstick Jihad, by Azadeh Moaveni [2005]; and Funny in Farsi, by Firoozeh Dumas [2003]). Many of these memoirists were narrating the traumas and losses associated with the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq war, and their relocation to the West.

More than once I have been asked why there are so many Iranian-American women writing-and so few men. The question is partly answered by the history of literature and writing in Iran: for millennia, well into the twentieth century, Iranian letters were the jurisdiction of men. Women were undereducated and in large part limited to the private realm; public disclosure was discouraged, when it was not forbidden altogether. Although there were some female writers, their work was not taken as seriously as men’s and was often judged more harshly. Today, however, women’s long-suppressed voices and stories have been released by the floodgates of history. They can write and publish in ways that were difficult or off-limits to them before. And, just as women have emerged at the forefront of literature in Iran today, so too have they dominated the literary stage in the diaspora. Their personal stories recount the challenges of migration, their struggles to reinvent themselves in new contexts, and their hybridized experiences as hyphenated Americans.

Currently, the urgency of the first-person memoir is giving way to an emerging Iranian-American novel that does more than simply evoke the typical American immigrant story. Two novels by recent MFA graduates exemplify this trend: Laleh Khadivi’s The Age of Orphans and Elizabeth Eslami’s Bone Worship. Both, necessarily, draw from what they know, and don’t know, of their immigrant parents’ journeys to the United States and what they lost in the process. However, each provides her own complex, nuanced perspective as a writer navigating the aspects of “old world” culture in an America dominated by predictable and tired narratives of Iran and the Middle East, post-9/11. Both of these books complicate our notions and invite our curiosity.

Khadivi and Eslami share a longing to connect with and make sense of the past, in order to unravel their characters’ futures.

Bone Worship, Elizabeth Eslami’s debut novel, is also suggestive of her own experience as a first-generation Iranian-American. Eslami spins the story of her protagonist from threads of the old and the new. When the American-born Jasmine flunks out of college, she faces the prospect of an arranged marriage.

Instead of simply playing with the classic stereotypes about arranged marriages as antithetical to Western values, however, Eslami helps us to appreciate the old-world rituals, which are not devoid of meaning, even in the modern world. Jasmine’s rather shaky relationship with her enigmatic doctor-father has real resonance. He decides to involve himself in her life at the critical point when she’s defining herself as an adult, and she becomes curious about what he left behind in his native Iran. She takes the endeavor of finding a suitor as a challenge that resonates with her interest in zoology and biology, and her “research” eventually helps her to understand her father’s motivations. When he left his country, he also left parts of himself, and beneath his gruff, cool personality is a tender concern for his daughter. In the end, Jasmine finds a husband, but what she really discovers is that the culture that shadows her life has something to teach her about the different ways that people “arrange” their lives and loves.

Both these novels communicate important information about the Iranian and Iranian-American experiences (and yes, Kurdish too), in language that opens up western readers’ vision of that part of the world, rather than closing it off in a classical trope of “us” versus “them.” Fiction really is the best ambassador of us all.

From the blog Coyote Crossing, by Chris Clarke:

This review has been a while in coming, partly because life and the accompanying events have overtaken me, but partly because after finishing Bone Worship: A Novel, I wanted to let it sit for a while before I reacted.

Full disclosure: the author Elizabeth Eslami is a friend, and has blessed a book of mine with a glowing review. Situations like this can be awkward, and so over the years I’ve developed a de facto policy when I find myself faced with reviewing a work by a friend. Generally speaking, that policy is that if I find a friend’s book lacking in more respects than is acceptable, I tend not to review it.

Fortunately that’s not the case here. Eslami’s debut novel is wonderful.

The basics: Jasmine Fahroodhi is a young woman with possibly the worst case of sophomore slump on record, which endures until her parents pick her up at graduation — only a few days after she lets them know she’d flunked out of school. Her father, a Persian-born doctor, seems less rattled by his daughter’s failure in school than by her choice of a major other than pre-med. Jasmine goes home to Georgia with her parents, where her father embarks on his “Plan B” for Jasmine’s future: hastegar, an arranged marriage. Jasmine, as unenthusiastic about home life as she had been at the University of Chicago, musters only the mildest American Feminist opposition to this plan.

Dr. Fahroodhi is a classic fish out of water. Opaque even to his family, he is frequently hostile to Jasmine — “you’re stupid” being among his most frequent utterances. Her reluctantly co-dependent mother, born in the Old South, oddly supports her husband’s plans for an arranged marriage, helping him take out “Bride Available” ads in newspapers catering to Iranian-Americans. From Chapter 8:

“Listen to me. I know you think arranged marriages are a thing of the past, and maybe they are, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong.” She had stopped blinking completely, something she did when she was worked up. “You’re the one who looks at everything in black and white. If you’ll just give this a chance, you’ll see —”

“Jesus, how would you even know? You were born here! You married Dad for love. Your own choice. Or am I missing something?”

The calendar on the coffee table was still open, showing a boy bending over for a shot from a malevolently cartoonish doctor.

“I know, Jasmine. I know. And look what happened.”

Jasmine reluctantly goes along with the plan, which — true to the book’s dust-cover teaser — results in humorous and awkward meetings with potential suitors, and then the unexpected happens, though not in the saccharine way this telegraphic summary might lead you to expect. In the meantime, Jasmine stumbles through a series of suburban job-hunting moments, culminating in one of those menial jobs a lucky person finds every now and then that utterly transforms them.

That’s the plot, but this novel isn’t really as much about plot as it is character, primarily that of Jasmine’s father. Jasmine’s relationship with her difficult father is the central point of the novel. Early on, she remarks that despite having known him all her life, “if I had to stand up at his funeral one day and tell the world about his desires and hopes and who he was as a person, I’d stand there mute.” In the novel’s first few pages Jasmine lists the seven big things she knows about her father — his lifelong aversion to broccoli; his habit of calling his parents in Iran every other Sunday; the fact that he used to beat their dogs with a shovel; his having pushed a young cousin off a wall in Iran, badly injuring her, and a few others as well distributed along the spectrum from banal to vile. As the chapters unfold, Jasmine examines each of those seven known things in some detail. Eslami deftly structures the narrative around each of these channel markers.

Eslami’s portrayal of Dr. Fahroodhi is frank, and there is much to dislike in the man. His vulnerabilities, explored as the book unfolds, may make the reader cringe on his behalf, but they do little to soften our impression of him; they mainly help reveal what broke him. Jasmine’s relationship with her father is one of those that might seem inexplicable to an outsider, a bond that apparently persists out of duty alone, with neither party gaining much. At that, it’s like a lot of father-daughter relationships. There is tenderness there, but it’s deeply masked: the unrequited love of a daughter for a man who observed his children “from a safe distance like a potentially flammable lab experiment,” the arguable love of a man for his incomprehensibly un-Persian daughter that mainly manifests as frustration and anger. That anger and frustration, felt on both sides, never comes to a head. Conflict builds, tension mounts, and then just as a blowout seems inevitable something turns the narrative and submerges the tension: Mom, or the telephone, or circumstance, or even just Yusef Fahroodhi’s unwillingness to engage with his daughter as an adult worthy of respect. Maybe it’s American of me, but I did find myself wishing for a more open confrontation between the two.

All that notwithstanding, Eslami has not created a loveless father. Jasmine sees his love for her mother plainly and from a bit of a remove, as though it’s a specimen described in one of the natural history volumes she checks out of the small local library:

My parents, when they were first in love, swam out into the ocean and kissed until a lifeguard blew his whistle and yelled at them and made them come in, up to the sand. He was afraid of them drowning, their bodies tangled together in a way that made staying afloat impossible. He was afraid of what he saw from his white wood post high in the sky, the inability to tell if they were one person or two. He was afraid that if you looked up at them from deep under the green water, you would first see the light on the surface slicing down into the water, and then you would see them, and you would get their arms and legs confused with an octopus, a starfish.

One of the things I liked best in Bone Worship is exemplified in that paragraph: Eslami uses images, memories, passing conversations and other bits of detail to represent Jasmine’s exploration of her relationship with her family and herself. The lifeguard is Jasmine, afraid of what her parents’ love for each other might resemble. So is the boy in the magazine illustration, submitting to pain inflicted by a doctor who knows what’s good for him. The remembered Doberman pinscher punished with the shovel, growling at the boundaries of the family as it peered through myopic eyes, stands in for the father who beat it. The whole hastegar plot itself is a fair symbol for the involuntary relationship Jasmine has with her family — as we each have with our families. Eslami weaves these images into her prose quite deftly, and in ways that made me frankly envious of her sight. This is a hell of a fine novel, especially for a debut, and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bone Worship in Italian

The Italian translation of Bone Worship, Il Mio Matrimonio Combinato, debuts this month! To watch the trailer and read more about it, click here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Journey in Review

Though I'm still hoping to squeeze in a few stops in the Northeast, yesterday's reading at Cherokee County Public Library in South Carolina marks the end of the six month Bone Worship book tour. I'm incredibly grateful to all the writers, friends, bookstore managers, and librarians who helped make it a success!
The excerpt below is from the last reading -- June 23, 2010 Gaffney, SC

Just eleven days ago, we climbed into a silver shell of a car and started across the country.

First over the dry land of Eastern Oregon, past stiff-legged pronghorn standing in irrigated fields of spinach, of lettuce, and then through pink canyons, the steep walls rising up around us like a pre-dug grave. We stopped once to watch the river, to let our dog wolf down dry weeds, to watch a coyote watch us, his eyes baleful as he ran with a mouse between his teeth up the side of a mountain, his face half in shadow.

We were coming back South, coming back home, you could say, though it had been so long we couldn’t remember what home meant, or if we would even recognize it when we got there. Who could say if home would recognize us, two bedraggled people and a dog, a pack of three, seven years changed.

We stopped at motels planted in deserts, lights humming in the darkness, Indian immigrants who had not slept in months running everything. Their elderly snow-haired fathers stood with hoses dangling from their fingers, keeping the grass alive so tourists’ dogs could pee on it. Their beautiful daughters shyly collected dirty sheets in the morning, long after everyone had disappeared down a vein of highway, of memory.

Almost immediately on our journey, the radio broke, and we were left with only our voices, raw and dry and salty. We asked each other questions, and those questions led us places. It was a long drive through the West.

We drove into the Rockies, past the flooded rivers of Wyoming, everything still green beyond the season. We drank milkshakes in Nebraska, in restaurants half underground, tornado contingency plans taped to the walls. A corner of Iowa, a hot afternoon through Illinois. Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina. And then, finally, like a surprise, the land leveled out. South Carolina. The orange clay visible like a sub-layer of skin.

I was born here. In this place. Almost immediately on my journey, the umbilical cord broke, and I was left with only questions. I tried to find my voice, but what came out was raw and dry and salty. I looked for stories, and those stories led me places, into and out of the South. A good story, you see, from birth to life, will take you far, and you will have to see and learn much to tell it.

A childhood spent outside, the heat puckering my scalp, fire ants, copperheads, mourning doves. Every morning waking to that call – bobwhite, bobwhite. Days digging mud holes, or “swimming pools,” as we called them, building ramps to climb rusty fences into cow pastures, the promise of some vast unknown world.

But the thing is, we were right. It was unknown. It’s still unknown.

Because no matter how many times I come home, it is new and strange to me. I will forever be shocked by the Amazonian tangle of woods. Thumb-sized toads wedged into the corner of the cool, brick stairs. I’ll always sit up in the middle of the night, surprised to hear birds singing.

I started this book seven years ago in the attic of my parents’ house, bare feet on an orange carpet, typing away on a long dead computer resting atop an old black table with a crack down the center. I never thought about anyone reading it. Instead I hoped it would lead me somewhere, deep into the heart of a mystery, into the promise of a grown-up’s vast unknown. I didn’t know what I’d do when I got there. Maybe I’d be looking over a cliff. I wrote down my questions, hoping they’d lead to answers.

Six months ago, Bone Worship came out in print. Almost immediately, I broke with who I was, and I began to travel the country. Portland, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago. Fan mail, hate mail, interviews, radio programs, people weeping, people laughing, strangers becoming friends. My hand around a pen, my hand in other hands. Eighteen stops later, my voice is raw and dry and salty. But I am telling a story, and now all of you are a part of it. Now, the story has circled around to where it started, right here, in this place of woods and birds, in this place of family and friends.

Andre Gide wrote, “In order to judge properly, one must get away somewhat from what one is judging, after having loved it. This is true of countries, of persons, and of oneself.”

For seven years, I’ve been away, from you, and from who I used to be.

Thank you for still recognizing me.

Friday, June 18, 2010

From Why There Are Words: Heat

On June 10th, I had the pleasure of participating in a "Heat" themed Why There Are Words reading with writers Cara Black, Prartho Sereno, Joe Quirk, Catherine Brady, and Todd Zuniga. This series, held at the beautiful Studio 333 in Sausalito and orchestrated by Peg Alford Pursell, is an amazing opportunity for established and emerging writers, not to mention those who love attending a great literary event. If you ever get the chance, you should check it out!

To see a clip of my (cooking themed) reading from Bone Worship, click here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bone Worship is a Finalist for "The Book Pick" Contest

I'm so excited to learn that my novel is a finalist in BookBundlz's "The Book Pick" contest! If you can, please visit the link below and vote for Bone Worship. In order to vote, you must register to become a "clubie," but it's free and there are no obligations. You can vote once a day each day until June 29th!

Click here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A beautiful book about a man who loved a dog, and the dog who loved him back.

For weeks now, I’ve been carrying Walking With Zeke, by Chris Clarke, around with me. I’ve squeezed this book into my purse and taken it across the country by plane, its pages rifled through by security at LAX. It has endured my tears, my fingers pinching and dog-earing its pages in wonder, my constant, hungry scribbling in the margins. It has glared up at me from a desk in a hotel, daring me to finish it when I didn’t think I could endure its emotional punch. You should see this thing. When I bought it, it was crisp and white and beautiful. Now it looks like it has been tread upon by a monster truck. Twice.

Even now that I have read and digested this book, I find that I’m not quite finished with it. I find that it has digested a little of me in the process, scraped me down. It has left me without the words to tell you why you should read it, simply that you should, and must.

Please understand: this is not a book review. In a review, one is expected to be unbiased. To disclose a work’s shortcomings along with its highlights. So, okay. If you hate humans or relationships or animals or plant life, you should not read this book. If you hate feeling something in such a way that you can’t forget it, read another book instead. There, that fulfills that requirement.

Walking With Zeke is a story about a man who loved a dog, and the dog who loved him back. It is about love, but, as Clarke warns us, it is not hagiography. It is not sentimental. This is not the bland love of a movie dog that has eaten Jennifer Aniston’s necklace. If that’s what you’re looking for, shop someplace else. This is the fierce and abiding love of a dog that has used a rubber duck as a digestive aid, and the kind of man who could not bear to throw away the duck. It’s quit your job to be there, love. It’s love at the end of life, love. Face against the floor, love. “The problem with dogs,” Clarke writes, “is that they live long enough that one day you can no longer remember your life without them.” You know from a line so powerful and true exactly what kind of writer you’re dealing with.

Ultimately, Walking With Zeke is more about Chris Clarke than it is about his dog, Zeke. A man who can tell you everything about miner’s lettuce and cholla, who can walk you through the lifespan of a tree, Clarke comes off as the wise and fascinating friend everyone wishes they had. A guy who “listens to ravens and raves at the listless,” who prays to the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. He’s a less prickly Ed Abbey, a tougher Rick Bass, a Barry Lopez with humor. The kind of writer who observes, without a hint of pretension, that “a long life is a landscape of holes where things once grew.”

But at the heart of Clarke is Zeke. Zeke is an actual character in this story. Adventurous and occasionally misunderstood (no, he’s not part wolf), he’s the canine comic relief and the tragic figure combined, stubborn and smart and decent. “If I leak tears of grief, Zeke nudges my nose with his until I hold him. If my tears are of rage or frustration, he hides under my desk in the farthest room. He anchors our family. He lives to… shove us off the bed at night by increments, to help us eat our sandwiches. He is one damn fine dog.”

Walking With Zeke is a story of place as well, of how well we get on with our journey. It is fluid, but steered forward with a strong hand. Drawn from Clarke’s acclaimed web log Creek Running North (now Coyote Crossing at, the book is a collection of journal entries and poetry, with settings ranging from suburban Pinole to the rough streets of Oakland, all moving toward the resolution of Clarke’s life with his dog.

The writing is startling, the images haunting and profound.

I could tell you how hard I cried reading this book, how I sobbed in front of flight attendants, waiters, and loved ones, but what purpose, really, would that serve? I could tell you that I sometimes think of Zeke even though I’ve never met him, sometimes see phantom Zekes in fields or on rocky outcroppings, but what do you care what goes on in my messy head? Yes, this book will devastate you, but it will also fill you with joy. Zeke’s joy. The spirit of a crazy run.

Perhaps the most glorious moment in Walking With Zeke is when Clarke entreats us to walk our dogs in that spirit, to appreciate all the little moments we have with the animals who live with us. To do what he no longer can with Zeke.

I never felt luckier to live with a dog than when I read his words.

“Through it all I have cherished the subtle love of an elderly dog, the gentle glances and the hours of staring, his eyes bound so tightly to my heart that he can wake me at four in the morning just by watching me from across the room. I would not trade these days for anything. His sweetness is solace.” - Chris Clarke, Walking With Zeke

Monday, May 24, 2010

My new essay on book titles in The Nervous Breakdown

Ever wonder about the title Bone Worship? Apparently you're so not alone. Check out my essay "No Virginia, It's Not About Porn" in The Nervous Breakdown. ;)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Essay in The Millions, Elegy for a Stillborn Story

I have a new essay up on the wonderful literary arts/news site, The Millions. To read "Elegy for a Stillborn Story," click here.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

5 Minute Review of Bone Worship

I love this review of Bone Worship on! Have a look here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Broadway Books Reading

For those of you who missed it, here's a clip from my reading in March at Broadway Books in Portland.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

2010 Lit Fest in Dallas

In or near Dallas? Come join us April 22-24 at SMU for the 2010 Lit Fest! I'm a guest speaker this year. Read more about Lit Fest here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On Bad Reviews - "I Dreamt a Review in the New York Times"

Yay! I'm now a regular contributor at The Nervous Breakdown. Read my first post, "I Dreamt a Review in the New York Times," about bad reviews right here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bone Worship Featured in Sarah Lawrence Magazine

The current issue of Sarah Lawrence Magazine, the magazine of my alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, features an excerpt from Bone Worship. (And a lovely illustration by Grady McFerrin!)

Read it here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Birds and Other Miracles of (Western) America

This morning, they were necking in the tall, wet grass.

Two Canadian geese off to themselves. You know the ones. Noisy honkers, spook easily. Always make a big production with lots of ostentatious flapping. I admit, I’m not much of a fan. They remind me of tourists somehow. All those little, gray, squishy piles of poo in their wake.

But there they were, together. A couple. The first one thrust his narrow head into the grass, pulled something up – I could hear the roots ripping – and fed its discovery to its mate. Their mouths touched. They rubbed necks like giraffes. One goose tended to the other. It was gentle, intimate. Like parents-to-be, a husband urging his pregnant wife to take an extra portion at dinner.

I felt oafish walking so close to them. I didn’t realize I was throwing open the door to their bedroom.

In a few weeks, if I remember correctly, the goslings will be born. They’ll appear on the water, a string of fuzzy heads following the grapefruit colored legs of their mother. In a few more weeks, they’ll grow into ugly, rangy, unrecognizable teenagers, wandering, heads down to the earth. But not yet. In the beginning, in their dun-headed innocence, they’ll fight desperately to maintain closeness to their parents and each other. The skilled swimmers will do this easily, effortlessly, while the others struggle awkwardly, making a lot of unnecessary waves.

They won’t all make it. Sometimes I’ll come to the park and find a dead one washed up on the banks of the reservoir, the small body in the sand like a forgotten toy. It never has the chance to become something. A goose, or even a skeleton. In a day or two, a feral cat will take it, eating around the heart. Or an eagle or an osprey, something that has been there all along, invisible, patiently living at the top of a fir tree.

It must be a strange thing to see the damp world from such a vantage point.

When we first came to Oregon, it seemed an affront to my dry sagebrush-and-pine sensibilities. We traveled from Montana, from prairie grass and Ponderosas. A place where hound’s tongue weeds get stuck to your boot laces and the cuffs of your pants. Yucca, black widows living inside the yucca. Backyard mountains that were so bare and spiky and beautiful – but also so much an accepted part of the landscape – that only cows ever seemed to climb them. In four years of hiking, my husband and I ran into one person, and that was because we accidentally wandered over BLM land onto his property. He greeted us with a German shepherd and a gun.

Really, though, we couldn’t blame him. If all that land had been ours, maybe we would have defended it too.

But here, four years later, not far away and yet so far away, is Oregon. Green year round instead of dry sage and juniper. Portland and Eugene instead of Bozeman and Dillon. Recycling as a way of life in contrast to Montana’s tendency toward disposability, dumps along the highway with abandoned refrigerators, car batteries, and magpies keeping watch. What you throw away in Montana seems to stay forever, a new form of machine wildlife crouching in the yellow grass. In Oregon, objects are snatched up and re-imagined before they ever meet a landfill, and yet, if left alone, a year of rain could easily consume most everything but plastic. Sometimes the faithful rain almost consumes us. Newts and snails make a soggy life under leaves while everyone else takes cover under the awnings of green energy powered buildings, Dutch Bros. coffee perpetually warming their hands.

Oh yes, you’ve heard: it rains. Moss grows over everything that doesn’t move. (If we had sloths, it would grow over them too.) It took me a year and a half to find proper rain boots so I wouldn’t have to change my socks three times a day. Twice a year, our gutters pull away from the house, weary of all they have to hold.

Some things are the same. The cackling red-winged blackbirds that we came to know in Montana now grasp the tops of Oregon cattails, giving us the avian version of a verbal smackdown when we walk too close. Killdeer with animated toothpick legs turn over to play dead, their little wings flipping upside down. My favorite, the Great Blue Heron, picks through water logged Oregon ditches, through arsenic laced streams in Montana, always enduring somehow in its fragile, twig-like beauty. It doesn’t matter if a heron is in mid-flight, its legs aimed stiffly behind, or if it’s standing, drawing its neck in against the wind and rain; it feels like a lucky day when you see one. That something so beautiful and slight can endure an Oregon winter means that we have nothing, really, to worry about.

From there to here. Montana, where bald eagles perch on fence posts and signs while making a breakfast of mice, to Oregon, where an eagle once stared down at me from a tree, God-like, for four full minutes, the birds were always there, a constant. And yet. Geographically it wasn’t a long journey, but it was a world away.

Before both, there was South Carolina. Robins on my parents’ window sill, squirrels eating moss from brick. New York, with four emaciated deer in the Yonkers woods behind Sarah Lawrence, surviving, just barely. A miracle. A bush next to the train tracks housing a dozen or so crickets, humming like a cathedral. Sooty seagulls on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. New Mexico, where shiny, black cockroaches spilled out of the sewers over your feet at night. Cougars up in the Sandias, roadrunners sprinting through the sand like miniature punks with mohawks.

And now we’re setting out once again. In four months, we’ll be leaving for the Northeast. A chance to re-visit New York as an adult, to see if it fits better than it did when I was in my early twenties. When it seemed to rub blisters in me wherever I went. New York City, Boston, New Haven. I consider the cities, the museums and the schools, the people and the traffic. Snow storms and city buses. But I also know there will be things we can never imagine or prepare for, creatures with wings and multiple legs, up high and underfoot, in trees and in cracks in the sidewalks. New voices and new songs to be learned. Little miracles, all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bone Worship Featured in The Daily s-Press

The Daily s-Press, edited by Dorothee Lang, is a wonderful showcase for innovative writers and publishers, and they currently have a feature up on Bone Worship!

To see, click here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

An Essay in The Millions

I've been a big fan of The Millions for some time now, and I can't tell you how excited I am that they've just published one of my essays, Traveling by Faith: Thoughts on Being an Iranian American Writer. Have a look here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Interview in Portland Reading Local

Hi everyone!

I just had the good fortune of being interviewed by the wonderful Karen Munro for Portland Reading Local. In anticipation of my reading tomorrow evening at Broadway Books, PRL is sponsoring a contest. Enter to win a free copy of Bone Worship by leaving a comment on the PRL post, or by linking to it from your blog or site.

In the meantime, hope to see you Portlanders tomorrow night at 7pm, Broadway Books! Click here for the interview.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book Tour 2010

Here are some photos from the book tour so far -- Sunriver Books in Sunriver OR, the University of Oregon Knight Library Browsing Room, and Elliott Bay in Seattle. Not pictured are Tsunami Books in Eugene and Powell's in Portland.

This month I'll be reading at Barnes & Noble - Eugene (tomorrow!) Broadway Books in Portland on the 16th, and Alexander Book Co. in San Francisco on the 23rd. For more cities and a complete list of dates and times, check out the News link on my website.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Interview in the Bend Bulletin

Had a great time talking all things Bone Worship with reporter Julie Johnson from the Bend Bulletin. Read her interview with me here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Piece on Oregon Wolf Sanctuaries

I have a new travel piece on Western Oregon's wolf sanctuaries in Matador. It was a joy to research and write, and a highlight for me personally as well. How often do you get kissed by a wolf? Read it here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Haiti, Backlash, and the Call to Inaction

With a backlash, we’re responding to that which rides a surge of undeserved popularity. An obscenely lauded sports team we’re certain got lucky at the eleventh hour. An actor collecting one too many awards, his shoulders practiced in a false shrug of humility. The resulting backlash is our collective smackdown, a way of putting the successful entity on watch. We see the world rewarding you unjustly, and we’re going to do our best to turn the tide of your success. We’re going to spread the word that you’re overhyped and overpaid, a phony garbed in an emperor’s new clothes, until the private ill will in our hearts and minds becomes a self-generating force all its own, offering some kind of just equilibrium.

Perhaps our tendency to create a backlash is a good thing under certain circumstances. It’s a turning away from the siren’s call of popularity, a return to the safe harbor of reason, pragmatism. A no bullshit zone.

Yet whatever the merits of a backlash, however one stretches the word to accommodate their personal loyalties, it is utterly unthinkable in conjunction with the human disaster in Haiti.

What, then, explains this Facebook status update?

Shame on you America: the only country where we have homeless without shelter, children going to bed without eating, elderly going without needed meds, and mentally ill without treatment - yet we have a benefit for the people of Haiti on 12 TV stations. 99% of people won't have the guts to copy and repost this. I did.

I admit I was stunned. Of course, it wasn’t the first ignorant, erroneous, inflammatory posting I’d seen. If you’re on Facebook and you have “friends” positioned at various points along the political spectrum, you’re definitely familiar with this kind of posturing. Some people do it because the pre-packaged words of zealots strike a chord in their small, atrophied hearts. Others are pot stirrers, people who enjoy tossing in bitter remarks and watching political factions go at each other in the scalding stew.

I didn’t want anything to do with it. I knew the drill. Ignore it unless it’s on your page, and when it gets to be too much, make the friend invisible in your news feed. Worst case scenario – something I have never done – de-friend the person. But wasn’t that a sign that one lacked (dare I say?) the “guts” for debate, for dissenting opinions? If there’s no honest exchange of thoughts, however diametrically opposed, isn’t there a problem?

But I went back to the posting. It didn’t represent honest thought; instead, it displayed, for all the Facebook world to re-post, a dishonest assertion. Or, generously, an error. (Did I really need to point out that America is far from the only country to neglect its homeless, elderly, and mentally ill?) And in advocating that we ignore Haiti, isn’t that also advocating apathy?

So I took the bait. I “commented,” quoting from the U.N.’s 2009 report measuring quality of life in 182 countries. Norway scored the highest. The U.S. ranked 13th out of 182 in an index of life expectancy, literacy, shelter, hunger, and school enrollment, among other criteria. Truthfully, 13th was kind of shocking, though it was far from the lowest ranking countries. Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and Niger took those honors.

So, no. America isn’t the only country with shameful problems. And no, as one of the richest nations - our dubious honor - we don’t have the right to ignore the ongoing catastrophic conditions in Haiti. After I posted, I was relieved to notice that someone else had voiced objections to the FB status as well.

The next morning, however, a smear of comments had accumulated. First there were strident calls for inaction, the “government corruption” bogeyman. The Haitian government is corrupt, no one is getting the aid. Why donate millions when they’re not going to get it? Somewhere on the road to apathy, everyone took a mean turn into partisan politics land.

“People don’t stand a chance unless they have a strong faith in God and that’s what will get them thru...”

“It is hard to feel compassion for people who in Pat Robertson’s words ‘made a pact with the devil.’ They chose their voodoo over God and they are paying a price for it now. Notice their Christian neighbors didn’t suffer any damage..”

“Didn’t anyone notice that during Catrina [sic] the only help we received was from our own?”

*Author’s note: According to an April 2007 report in the Washington Post, $854 million in aid was offered by foreign countries in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Those countries included Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, and China, among myriad others.

After this, the debate devolved into a series of ad hominem attacks, punctuated with the stale standby, “Maybe you should read your Bible.”

I thought about jumping back in, fighting, at the very least, against inertia. Yes, there’s always government corruption and yes, inefficiency often plagues aid operations. But did they know that according to the Red Cross website, “More than 430 Red Cross and Red Crescent workers from at least 30 countries are in the country supporting thousands of local volunteers... More than 100 represent the American Red Cross, including a group of Creole interpreters on board the USNS Comfort. The relief operation in Haiti is already the largest single-country personnel deployment in global Red Cross history”? Did they care?

Perhaps they were simply disillusioned by reports of thwarted aid attempts, or of the“Haiti” text scams, or that Facebook would contribute to relief efforts in exchange for specific postings. Maybe they felt hopeless. Frustration was understandable, but still.

What about UNICEF, with this January 16th report on their website: “Another plane loaded with UNICEF emergency relief supplies arrived in Port-au-Prince this morning, carrying urgently needed water and sanitation supplies. This is the second load of water and sanitation materials to arrive in Haiti in the past 24 hours. The shipment contained additional oral rehydration salts, water purification tablets and jerry cans. Two experts in water and sanitation were also on the flight. Providing access to clean water and sanitation is essential in the immediate aftermath of disasters, to avoid a second wave of deaths…Two more UNICEF planeloads, loaded with some 70 metric tons of tents, tarpaulin, and medicines, are currently awaiting clearance to fly to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.”

Do facts matter? Can solid evidence of aid workers on the ground combat this apathy? Or is that not the problem at all? Has Haiti, God forbid, become a partisan issue?

Maybe that’s an extreme leap to take from a Facebook status update. After all, the original poster finally fired back, making it clear this wasn’t really about Haiti, poverty, or politics at all. It was about her. “People should be used to the fact that I voice my own opinion. Right or wrong.” She went on to apologize somewhat facetiously for “offending people.” As if she had merely suggested someone’s football team sucked.

Maybe I’m just letting myself get distracted here. People around the world are helping in Haiti. Miracles – not the kind generated by a vengeful God but rather those created by doctors, aid workers, and volunteers – are happening every day, and Haitians will endure.

But it still bothers me. Somewhere in a dark corner of the Facebook world, someone is writing hateful, fallacious postings. Some people will copy and re-post them. 99%, that seemingly constant number, won’t, will you? Many will believe it, and of those, many will spread it. Who are these people? And how does it benefit them to equate hate with having guts?

When the noise dies down, Haitians will still be trapped under the rubble, they will still have nothing, but we’ll have our posturing. We will argue about Facebook postings and politics. We’ll find a place in ourselves where we can sweep away the facts and the suffering, and proudly take ownership, once and for all, of our own self-righteous right to be wrong.

That scares me. And yes, it offends me too.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Review in The Boston Globe

‘Bone Worship’ and the human family

"The title of Elizabeth Eslami’s debut novel comes from a ritual that elephants perform. When an elephant dies, its family members cover the body with brush and soil, revisiting the bones for years, caressing them with their trunks. A haunting symbol of remembrance, bone worship becomes the organizing principle of Eslami’s investigation of familial and cultural memory.

When Jasmine Fahroodhi fails out of the University of Chicago in her final semester, she returns home to her parents in Arrowhead, Ga. Her American mother, Margaret, and Iranian father, Yusef, offer an uncomfortable homecoming by announcing their intention of arranging a marriage for her. With the strident bedside manner he perfected as a radiologist delivering bad news, Yusef works to locate potential husbands while Margaret uses the disarmingly calm demeanor she developed as an emergency dispatcher to reassure Jasmine that the hastegar - the arranged marriage - is in her best interests.

Yusef’s frenzied attempts to recruit husbands through newspaper advertisements and Internet postings create a comical “groom soup’’: Mohammed, who protests that Jasmine looks nothing like her online photograph; Ali, a moneyed sloth, who declares “he would never, under any circumstances, work a day in his life” ; John, who after three dates declares “I don’t believe in buying untested merchandise’’; Omar, who chooses a pure Iranian wife over Jasmine; Alan, who brings along his mother and Greek baklava on their first date; and Gabe, a convicted shoplifter who after puzzling over the Fahroodhis’ ethnicities declares his preference for “zebra’’ over “mixed’’ as a description of multicultural families.

With her parents distracted by the husband hunt, Jasmine uses the months following her fall from academic grace to study her father’s Iranian heritage and family, understand her failed collegiate career and confused ambitions, and find a job in the narrow-minded and economically starved town of Arrowhead. She settles on a janitorial position at a nearby zoo, leaving her plenty of energy during and after work to uncover and revere her father’s history.

These reverences and the sometimes unrelated mythologies they provoke become the most compelling geography of the novel, taking Jasmine far from Arrowhead to: the pistachio trees and mud floors of her father’s childhood in Tehran; the icy tundra of the North, where Eskimos lure wolves with bloody caribou bones; the bustling streets of Delhi, where a snake handler and his sons sleep with cobras; and the Yucatan Peninsula, where jaguars live high in the mountain jungles. These beautiful waking dreams of life abroad consume Jasmine as she labors to learn the past her father refuses to share with his American family." - The Boston Globe

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bone Worship Reviewed in Eugene Weekly

My favorite alt-weekly just published a lovely review of Bone Worship! Have a look here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Don't ask me how this happened...

...but the 16 year old in me is jumping for joy.

The Daily Beast. Timothy Hutton. And yours truly.

All right here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Review in The Inkslinger

I can't tell you how much I love this review of Bone Worship from The Inkslinger!

"Elizabeth Eslami’s debut novel is a culture clash from the get-go, but it’s a beautifully written clash filled with the most familiar kinds of yearning, both familial and cultural.Jasmine is the prickly college dropout daughter of an Iranian father and an American mother. She is uncertain about what she wants, or if indeed she wants anything at all, but her father has plans for her new path—a hastegar, or an arranged marriage. Jasmine is horrified, and as father and daughter begin their wary but determined dance around each other, she wonders exactly who her father is, where his strange ways came from, how it is that people ever come together in the first place. Cultural confusion becomes less of an issue than the desperate need for connection, and the earnest ways in which Jasmine and her parents go about trying to simply see each other are equal parts heartbreak and revelation." – Kimberly Snow

Monday, January 4, 2010

The San Francisco Chronicle cites the first sentence of Bone Worship!

The San Francisco Chronicle has listed the first sentence of my novel as one of their top "grabbers," along with one by Joyce Carol Oates! Pretty neat, even though a "grabber" sounds more like a new fast food snack item than literature. :)

Have a look here.