"This is the stuff of life, the very essence of the poetic." –LitHub
For Hala Alyan, twenty-nine is a year of transformation and upheaval, a year in which the past—memories of family members, old friends and past lovers, the heat of another land, another language, a different faith—winds itself around the present. Hala’s ever-shifting, subversive verse sifts together and through different forms of forced displacement and the tolls they take on mind and body. Poems leap from war-torn cities in the Middle East, to an Oklahoma Olive Garden, a Brooklyn brownstone; from alcoholism to recovery; from a single woman to a wife. This collection summons breathtaking chaos, one that seeps into the bones of these odes, the shape of these elegies.
A vivid catalog of heartache, loneliness, love and joy, The Twenty-Ninth Year is an education in looking for home and self in the space between disparate identities.
The past never truly dies in this searing fourth collection from Alyan (Salt Houses), it merely resurfaces in the form of battle scars and familial wounds. The Palestinian-American poet, novelist, and clinical psychologist weaves an ever-shifting narrative that chronicles the personal history that shapes and informs her present. These kaleidoscopic flashes of former lives share the feeling and act of displacement, the way in which the body can store the mental, emotional and psychological traumas long after the inciting events have transpired. "We inherit everything. Especially questions," Alyan writes in "The Honest Wife." Throughout her work the theme of displacement elicits more than emotion; it's a recurring memory. In "Aleppo," Alyan describes "how a lone bomb can erase a lineage: the nicknames for your mother, the ghost stories, the only song that put your child to sleep." People do not merely inherit memories, they also inherit the accompanying pain; the book's prevalence of couplets may attest to this kind of pairing. In "Armadillo," where Alyan recounts family memories, she asks and answers, "What do we do with heartache? Tow it." The inheritance of displacement is pervasive, as Alyan describes, and her lines are prone to linger in the minds of readers just like the ghosts that haunt the work itself.