New York Review Books

Book Review :: Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul

Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul book cover image

Guest Post by MG Noles

Have you ever had an imaginary friend? Someone with whom you could confide anything? A soulmate who loved you no matter what you said or did? Celia Paul’s extraordinary new book, Letters to Gwen John, adopts Gwen as just such an “imaginary” friend/soulmate and listener as she writes all her thoughts and feelings to the long-dead post-impressionist painter who lived in the latter 18th and early 19th centuries. Using a series of letters, Paul reveals her inner thoughts about life, art, men, freedom, and beauty. The book is part memoir and part art history, and it makes a beautiful read. Filled with imagination and insight, Paul examines the meaning of art and life. She shares her vision and makes you believe that communication is possible across space and time. As she puts it, “time is a strange substance.” And somehow, as you read this amazing book, you see Gwen John seated in a cozy room somewhere, like the one she paints in Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris, reading Celia Paul’s letters with a faint smile.

Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul. New York Review Books, April 2022.

Reviewer bio: MG Noles is a sometime essayist, reviewer, history buff.

New Book :: Migrations: Poem, 1976-2020

Migrations Poem 1976-2020 by Gloria Gervitz book cover image

Migrations: Poem, 1976-2020
By Gloria Gervitz
Translated by Mark Schafer
New York Review Books, November 2021

The story of Gervitz’s poem is an epic in itself. Migraciones began as “Shajarit,” a fifteen-page poem, which Gervitz began writing in 1976 and published three years later. So began the poem that would grow over the next forty-one years as a tree incorporates its rings, or a river is fed by its tributaries. Gloria Gervitz’s book is an epic journey in free verse through the individual and collective memories of Jewish women emigrants from Eastern Europe, a conversation that ranges across two thousand years of poetry, a bridge that spans the oracles of ancient Greece and the markets of modern Mexico, a prayer that blends the Jewish and Catholic liturgies, a Mexican woman’s reclamation through poetry of her own voice and erotic power.