Additional Book Information
Series: New York Review Books
Publication Date: October 18, 2022
Bright Unbearable RealityEssays
by Anna Badkhen
Bright Unbearable Reality contains eleven essays set on four continents and united by a common thread of communion and longing. In “The Pandemic, Our Common Story,” which takes place in the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia, one of the locations where humankind originated, the onset of the global pandemic catches Badkhen mid-journey, researching human dispersal 160,000 years ago and migration in modern times. In “How to Read the Air,” set mostly in Philadelphia, Badkhen looks to the ancient Greeks for help pondering our need for certainty at a time of racist violence, political upheaval, and environmental cataclysm. “Ways of Seeing” and the title essay “Bright Unbearable Reality” wrestle with complications of distance and specifically the bird’s eye view—the relationship between physical distance, understanding, and engagement. “Landscape with Icarus” examines how and why children go missing, while “Dark Matter” explores how violence always takes us by surprise. The subject throughout the collection is bright unbearable reality itself, a translation of Greek enargeia, which, says the poet Alice Oswald, is “when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves.”
What a book! It’s legendary like the legend on a map that explains things before you go walking through a desert. It’s lost and found, vulnerable, knowledgeable, invited though possibly in danger or trapped, plunging through millenia, to consider if a bone may also be a flute, informing me, incidentally, that the pronghorns on the ranch land where I walk my dog are related to giraffes. These are not light-hearted essays, but ones regularly astonished by what the world holds, at once.
Anna Badkhen is a stunning and sensitive chronicler of our collective condition. She has a rare gift, a writer whose work is both urgent and probing, and always beautiful.
A truly global thinker of rare and beautiful gifts, Anna Badkhen takes us on a journey to the interior of the lyric moment: that space where understanding flashes at us, and we realize we are at home on this planet; despite all our maladies, despite our ‘moral dislocation,’ we still have as our home ‘a memory of our presence, a memory of our absence.’ The path there, perhaps, is the music of Badkhen’s prose, as the mind turns and then stops in the middle of the page, to wonder, to dream, to exhale. This is a beautiful book.