Additional Book Information

Series: New York Review Books
ISBN: 9781681377063
Pages: 192
Publication Date: October 18, 2022

Events for Bright Unbearable Reality

Saturday, October 15, 2022 at 3:30pm CT
Southern Festival of Books
In-Person Event
with Ken Kalfus and Malaka Gharib

Tuesday, October 18, 2022 at 7:30pm ET
Free Library of Philadelphia
In-Person Event
with Airea D. Matthews

Friday, October 21, 2022 at 7pm ET
Harvard Book Store
In-Person Event
with James Wood

Sunday, October 23, 2022 at 3pm ET
Politics and Prose Bookstore
In-Person Event
with Tope Folarin

Monday, October 24, 2022 at 7:30pm ET
Greenlight Bookstore
In-Person Event
with Masha Gessen

Thursday, October 27, 2022 at 12pm CT
Schusterman Center for Judaic & Israel Studies at the University of Oklahoma
In-Person and Virtual Event
with Daniel Simon

Saturday, October 29, 2022 at 11am CT
Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference
In-Person Event
with Esmé Deprez and Leah Waters

Wednesday, November 2, 2022 at 7:30pm CT
The Wild Detectives
In-Person Event
with Alysia Nicole Harris

Thursday, November 3, 2022 at 6pm CT
Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture
In-Person Event
with Ben Fountain

Friday, November 4–Saturday, November 5, 2022 (date & time TBA)
Texas Book Festival
In-Person Event

Monday, November 7, 2022 at 6:30pm CT
Brazos Bookstore
In-Person Event
with Kiese Laymon

Wednesday, November 9, 2022 at 6pm ET
Tufts University (more info TBA)
In-Person Event
with Simon Han

Wednesday, November 16, 2022 at 6pm PT
City Lights Booksellers & Publishers
Virtual Event
with Tongo Eisen-Martin

Bright Unbearable RealityEssays

by Anna Badkhen

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Called a “chronicler of a world on the move” by The New York Review of Books, Anna Badkhen seeks what separates and binds us at a time when one in seven people has left their birthplace, while a pandemic dictates the direst season of rupture in humankind’s remembering. Her new essay collection, Bright Unbearable Reality, addresses the human condition in the era of such unprecedented dislocation, contemplates the roles of memory and wonder in how we relate to one another, and asks how we can soberly and responsibly counter despair and continue to develop—or at least imagine—an emotional vocabulary against depravity. 
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.”


[A] brainy, poetic, global essay collection that feels exactly right for this moment.
—Melissa Febos, Bookforum

Badkhen urges us to be unflinching in our own gaze, circumscribing both “the unfathomable wickedness of man” as well as “the benediction of being human.” . . . Beholding the violence on its own terms, Badkhen nevertheless marvels in moments of exquisite perception, holding beauty alongside grief, discerning patterns of bright benediction that stipple the dark.
—Daniel Simon, World Literature Today

Via a series of ethereal scholarly essays, the author aims to find a better way to see and understand grief, especially as embodied in the world’s migrant crisis. Badkhen recounts her travels around the globe and bolsters her experiences with a dizzying wealth of literary and artistic touchstones. Hazily poetic, she constructs her essays like a collagist, in search of the untapped resonance that can be channeled when seemingly incongruous ideas are placed in proximity. . . . A soulful, ambitious quest for a path through centuries of loss and displacement.
Kirkus Reviews

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 millennia, 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.
—Eileen Myles

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.
—Imani Perry

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.
—Ilya Kaminsky