NEW BOOKS

Essays

Mastering the Past:
Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe and the Rise of Illiberalism

Telos Press, March 2017

Winner of the 2017 Paris Book Festival in General Non-Fiction

John Lloyd, Financial Times (March 3, 2017): "As Ellen Hinsey notes in Mastering the Past, among the many woes that plague the EU is that, on its expanded eastern borders, arise the “spectres of populism, nationalism, extreme-right militantism and authoritarianism — released from their historical deep freeze” […] In examining the “rise of illiberalism”, Hinsey [...] mixes vivid personal description — as from Havel’s funeral in Prague in December 2011, and the demonstrations against election fraud in Moscow that began that same month — with her own and others’ analysis on this brief flourish of central European civic grace."

Andrea Orzoff: The Berlin Journal (Fall 2017):
"Ellen Hinsey’s concise, evocative new book offers flashes of insight into the journey from the joyous days of 1989 to the increasingly tenuous state of democracy today […] Hinsey’s gift for the telling detail deepens her readers’ engagement with these places and peoples. […] Not since the 1930s have analyses of “the rise of illiberalism” seemed so urgent, whether in the United States or in Central and Eastern Europe."

Charles King, TLS, December 12, 2017: Ellen Hinsey['s] collection of essays and interviews, Mastering the Past, surveys the landscape of Central Europe’s weakening pluralism. One of the key questions in Hinsey’s account is the degree to which a commitment to pluralism took root in post-communist Europe.

From the publisher:

"Ellen Hinsey writes with power and passion: this is a formidable feast of research and interpretation. Her book is necessary and timely reading for anyone who wants to understand events in Central and Eastern Europe."
— John S. Friedman, The Nation

"Anyone interested in understanding current events in Europe needs to read this book. Hinsey writes with clarity, compassion and insight about the people who are shaping and reshaping Europe and the world. Her voice is resolute, factual and, believe me, to be trusted. Not to be missed." 
— Peter Fray Former editor-in-chief of The Sydney Morning Herald

 

Poetry

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NEW
The Illegal Age
Arc Publications, July 2018
AUTUMN SELECTION POETRY BOOK SOCIETY

From the publisher:
The Illegal Age is a powerful investigation into the 20th century's dark legacy of totalitarianism and the current rise of political illegality. The Illegal Age describes the enduring potential for human beings to set neighbour against neighbour and commit final acts of violence. With powerful lyricism, the poems are nevertheless a defense of the possibility of witness and resistance. Written in parallel with Hinsey's first-hand research into the rise of authoritarianism carried out over the last decade, The Illegal Age reflects Hannah Arendt’s warning that "the first essential step on the road to total domination is to kill the juridical person in man". Rather than an "Age of Anxiety", the present volume chronicles the arrival of a new, disquietingly reality, which may well be the start of an "Illegal Age".

"Ellen Hinsey's remarkable new book moves in fugal segues from narrative to lyric, from the ghetto to the gulags to today's disintegrating polis, in dialogue with Celan, Szymborska, Milosz, as it reflects on how autocracies differ and yet remain the same. This is a daring text —for its political acuity, and for its demonstration of the power in poetry to recount, remember, move the heart while opening the mind."  Marilyn Hacker

"The Illegal Age is a book of prophesy as much as poetry. Its response to our times and our history as a prefiguring of our future has enormous focused power. The book's sections move from laconic proverbial observation to tragedy and so enable us to recognise that the two share the same urgent field." Georges Szirtes

"This is not literature engagée that gives instructions, but a literature that knows it has to withstand the slaughter of this world."
Gregor Dotzauer, Der Tagesspiegel

 

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Des Menschen Element
Matthes & Seitz, March 2017
Translation of Update on the Descent (Notre Dame University Press / Bloodaxe Books, 2009)
Translator: Uta Gosmann

»Dies ist keine littérature engagée, aus der sich Handlungsanweisungen ergeben, aber eine Literatur, die weiß, dass sie dem Gemetzel dieser Welt standhalten muss.«"
- Gregor Dotzauer, Der Tagesspiegel

From the publisher:
„Bei der Hand hat sich nichts geändert. Schlägt ihre Stunde, ist sie folgsam und gefällig“, heißt es auf den ersten Seiten von Ellen Hinseys Gedichtband „Des Menschen Element“, der eine Reise in die Abgründe des menschlichen Daseins wagt und in kristallklarer, feinausbalancierter Sprache unserer düsteren, von Unfrieden, Gewalt und Populismus geprägten Zeit den Spiegel vorhält. Wie lange noch wird Kain seine Hand gegen Abel erheben, wirft Ellen Hinsey die Frage nach der Natur des Menschen auf. Für sie, die nicht nur das Jugoslawien-Kriegsverbrechertribunal in Den Haag besucht hat und seit Jahren den prekären Transformationsprozess in Mittel- und Osteuropa verfolgt, sondern die auch eine profunde Kennerin der Philosophie, Theologie und Literatur von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart ist, rührt alles vom Unbehagen des Menschen an seiner Existenz her: vom Unbehagen, „in die Welt gewollt zu werden ohne unser Wissen“; davon, dass der Mensch, um seines Unbehagens Herr zu werden, die Welt in Eigenes und anderes, Eigenes und Fremdes aufspaltet, anstatt mit dem vorsokratischen Philosophen Parmenides anzuerkennen, dass alles ein Ganzes ist, „eins und zusammenhängend“. Ein tief berührendes, unerschrockenes Buch, das jenen menschlichen Stimmen nachhorcht, die vor Schmerz gebrochen sind – und das dem Verstummen im Angesicht des Grauens die dichterische Rede entgegenhält, um das Unsagbare in sein Recht zu setzen, seine Würde.

Pressestimmen [Reviews]

SWR Bestenliste Juli/August 2017

»Die Gedichte sind im Original auf Englisch und in einer herausragenden Übersetzung parallel auf Deutsch abgedruckt. Die Auseinandersetzung um Hass und Gewalt ist aktueller denn je und berührt zutiefst. Nominiert auf der SWR-Bestenliste ist dieser Band [...] eine Bereicherung für jeden Lyrikbestand.«
- Cornelia Jetter, ekz

»Alles darin ist durch radikale Entschlackung hochverdichtet. Ihr genügt ein Wort, eine Wendung, um die Lügen der Geschichte, den dünnen Mantel der menschlichen Zivilisation zu entlarven[...]«
- Claudia Kramatschek, Deutschlandfunk Kultur

»Häufig versieht Ellen Hinsey ihre in einen Satz gefassten Thesen oder Gedankensplitter mit Überschriften wie Definition oder Klarstellung,[...]. Nichts erinnert hier mehr an ein klassisches Gedicht. An die Stelle von Reim und Rhythmus tritt eine akribische Gliederung unter Einsatz von kursiv und fett gesetzter Schrift, von römischen und lateinischen Ziffern, von Buchstaben und geschweiften Klammern - bis hinunter zum einzelnen Satz. Erstaunlicherweise erzeugt diese Wissenschafts-Mimikry eine enorme formale wie inhaltliche Kompression. Den Gedanken dieser dichterischen Prosa verleiht sie etwas Zwingendes.«
- Brigitte van Kann, Deutschlandfunk

»Hinsey verwebt Themen und Motive in einer unglaublichen Engführung, bleibt jedoch immer verständlich, immer ganz nahe an den Bedingungen des Menschen, die sie ausforscht.«
- Jürgen Brôcan, fixpoetry

»Ellen Hinsey schreibt über den Menschen in der Welt, verdichtet, konzentriert und philosophisch. Ihre Gedanken sind unbedingt lesenswert.«
- Marina Büttner, literaturleuchet

Dialogue

Magnetic North: Conversations with Tomas Venclova/
Ellen Hinsey
University of Rochester Press, June 2017
ISBN-13: 978-1580465861

From the publisher:
Magnetic North: Conversations with Tomas Venclova
 is a book in the European tradition of works such as Conversations with Czeslaw Milosz and Aleksander Wat's classic My Century. The book interweaves Eastern European postwar history, dissidence, and literature. Venclova, who personally knew Akhmatova, Pasternak, Milosz, Brodsky, and many others, was also one of the five founding members of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group. Magnetic North provides an in-depth account of ethical choices and artistic resistance to totalitarianism over a half century. It also details Venclova's artistic work (...) which is central to contemporary European culture.

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Paperback edition Boydell & Brewer Spring 2018
ISBN-13: 978-1580469265


 

 

 

 

 

Der magnetische Norden. Tomas Venclova: Gespräche mit Ellen Hinsey (Magnetic North)
Translation: Claudia Sinnig
Suhrkamp, March 2017  
Gebunden, 700 Seiten
ISBN: 978-3-518-42633-3

From the publisher:
Er hat sie alle noch gekannt: Joseph Brodsky und Czeslaw Milosz ebenso wie Wislawa Szymborska, Anna Achmatowa, Boris Pasternak und die sowjetischen Dissidenten. Als Kind erlebte Tomas Venclova die Okkupation seiner Heimat – erst durch die Sowjets, dann durch die Nazis. Sein Hunger nach Welt war unstillbar: Er ging nach Leningrad, lernte Sprachen, befasste sich mit der modernen Poesie und geriet als Übersetzer und Dichter früh ins Visier des KGB. 1976 gehörte er zu den Mitbegründern der litauischen Helsinki-Gruppe für Menschenrechte. Während eines Aufenthaltes in den USA wurde ihm 1977 die sowjetische Staatsbürgerschaft entzogen. Er lehrte bis 2012 an der Yale University und lebt seit 1990 auf zwei Kontinenten – ein Emigrant, der am unabhängigen Litauen zu viel auszusetzen hatte, um in sein Heimatland zurückzukehren, und sein Exil als „Glücksfall“ empfand. 

In Gesprächen mit seiner Dichterkollegin und Übersetzerin Ellen Hinsey rekapituliert er sein Leben und lässt das 20. Jahrhundert wiederauferstehen: Ob es um Freundschaften geht oder um Fragen der Poesie, ob er über die Politik der Großmächte oder über die verwickelte Geschichte Mittelosteuropas spricht – Venclovas Klugheit und Selbstironie geben dieser großen europäischen Erzählung von Entwurzelung und Heimatlosigkeit etwas heiter Gelassenes.

»Venclova ist ein nördlicher Dichter, geboren und aufgewachsen an der Ostsee, diese Landschaft ist monochrom, Grauschattierungen herrschen vor - das Licht des Himmels, zu Dunkelheit verdichtet. Beim Lesen finden wir uns in dieser Landschaft wieder.« Joseph Brodsky

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Nelyginant Siaure magneta: pasnekesiai su Ellen Hinsey (Magnetic North)
Apostrofa, September 2017  
Hardback, 534 pages
ISBN: 978-6-098-20504-6

15 MIN (Lithuania) Translation Prize for 2017

Other editions:

Ukrainian edition (Dukh i litera, 2018)

Polish edition (Zeszyty Literackie, 2018)

 

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Other Publications:

Poetry

Update on the Descent
Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2009 (ISBN-13: 978-1852248338)
University of Notre Dame Press, 2009 (ISBN-13: 978-0268031084)

"Update on the Descent is another remarkable collection. The book is very much an integrated design, made up of three sections: "The Human Element", "Testimony", and "Midnight Dialogue"; the whole is described by the author as "a meditation on the extremes of the human condition" and in its use of a variety of forms—including lyrics, aphorism, and philosophical prose—and its employment of an extensive system of allusion and quotation (from literary and non-literary sources), the book has the complexity and the emotional/moral weight of a great piece of symphonic music. To say more without having the space to say much more seems futile; I urge exploration of Hinsey's work."—Acumen

"Hinsey attended sessions at the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague during 2002-2004, so that the middle section that comprises Update on the Descent is based on and reflects upon first-hand testimony of war crimes and of the experience of torture, [writing] verse that invents ways of speaking of and coming to terms with the "unspeakable." [Hinsey] writes breathtakingly beautiful lyrics abut the slight possibilities of hope for renewal, she composes aphorisms that capture the horror and the paradoxical humour of human actions, and she also writes anti-lyrics that one ends by believing any serious poet is compelled to do once she looks out on our current affairs and reflects on our history. . . . Update on the Descent makes demands on the reader–philosophical, personal and political, but demands that are important to respond to, given the exquisitely achieved nature of every line in this slim volume of intensely updated / intense, up-to-date poetry." —The Warwick Review

"Referencing Dante and integrating excerpts from the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavian war crimes, the poems patrol the edges of haunted human nature....Socially investigative and morally exegetic, Hinsey never crosses over into didactics. Her dialectic is composed of inventive arrangements that blend prose and aphorisms into prayer-like equations. Between the horrors of war, she struggles to find “sanctity,” “mercy,” “knowledge,” and “love.”... Like Anna Akhmatova, she shows deliverance in being a witness. Deep in texture, Hinsey mines "history's trove of notorious gestures" to probe our collective "radical will."....Powerful and original, Update on the Descent is an urgent, probing book."—The Brooklyn Rail

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The White Fire of Time
Wesleyan University Press, 2002 (ISBN-13: 978-0819565570
Bloodaxe Books, 2003 (ISBN-13: 978-1852246129)

"I admired Ellen Hinsey's first book, Cities of Memory ... but her second book is an even more impressive achievement... There is much here that is startlingly beautiful, simultaneously deeply traditional and utterly contemporary.... My enthusiasm and respect will be clear; this is a substantial piece of work, technically accomplished, wisely questioning and profoundly thought-provoking." —Acumen

The White Fire of Time is poetry that takes great risks in a time when any affirmation is suspect and irony is the dominant mode. Ellen Hinsey's previous book, Cities of Memory won the Yale Series Award. Both books are notable for the exactness with which fluid ideas and concepts are presented. The poems contain breathtaking insights hidden in description and narrative…The White Fire of Time is an exciting addition to the stream of contemporary metaphysical poetry. —Magill Book Reviews

 "Ellen Hinsey's The White Fire of Time deals with theology, with the pursuit of knowledge in all of its forms and with how that pursuit defines us as human beings. ... [For Hinsey] the self-awareness that serves as the prerequisite to proper moral and ethical acts can only come through experiencing its opposite, for "only first-hand knowledge of evil can transform meditation into action." ... These poems are written with such clarity and beauty that they transcend the subject matter, seeming to exist without time or place, eternal: prayer turned to music." —The Missouri Review

 "One can return to her poems, perhaps years after a first reading, in the same manner that one returns to a favorite Rembrandt painting or Beethoven sonata. The passage of time will allow the reader to see her poems as continually renewed things. For a great poem always has a spark of the new, no matter when it may have been written—a spark that befits the best words in their best order." —Critique

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Cities of Memory
Yale University Press, 1996
ISBN-13: 978-0300066746

From the Publisher:
The winning volume in the 1995 Yale Series competition. James Dickey, distinguished poet and judge of the competition, writes in the forward, "With her quiet and deep involvement in other places and tongues, her true running imagination, Ellen Hinsey comes to rest in many ways and places...Though not native-born to these, she is at the center of them just the same, by virtue and talent one of the best kinds of human being: the perceptive voyager, the sympathetic and vivid stranger."

"The winner of the 1995 Yale series, Cities of Memory, is among the finest the competition has ever generated. Hinsey's settings are various — from the scene at Beethoven's deathbed to the last blank hours of a community about to be torn apart by war ... Hinsey uncovers metaphors that seem to lurk just under the surface of all human experience. The beauty of these poems lies in their language, image and voice, and in the poet's constant attempt to make connections between history and the present, between the poet and the reader." —Choice

"Hinsey has won the distinguished Yale Series of Younger Poets  competition this time around, and she is, indeed, a major new talent. Her poetic universe is a nocturnal one steeped in the tragic history and artistic splendor of Europe. Hinsey's gorgeously melancholy poems are set in cities that have witnessed as much violence and sorrow as they have nurtured beauty and innovation, including Rome, Budapest, Berlin, Vienna, Oslo, and Paris. Hinsey muses on war, death, and exile, describing lonely nighttime streets, bridged and boat-plowed rivers, and secretive trains gliding through the brooding dark, scenes that evoke memories of distant places and lost loved ones." —Booklist

"Hinsey, writes poems deeply inspired and informed by European culture and history. As befits the gravity of the subject matter of many of these poems, the language is limpidly elegiac, somber, yet deftly evocative of the intellectuals and events that have shaped 20th-century consciousness: Freud, the Berlin Wall, the War, Russian poets. Writing from a more historically conscious perspective than most of her contemporaries, Hinsey frequently returns to one of the terrible paradoxes of our time: how the "everyday rituals" of ordinary life can coexist, even collaborate, with great evil and destruction." —Library Journal

 

Selected translations

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Editor and translator:

The Junction: Selected Poems of Tomas Venclova (Bloodaxe Books, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-1852248109

"Venclova's craft is simply, and stunningly, accomplished…[he] is an outstanding European poet, essayist, and travel writer in the tradition of Czeslaw Milosz (and other Poles) as well as Joseph Brodsky (who became his close friend) and other Russians descending, in literary spirit, from Anna Akhmatova." —Antioch Review

Eileen Battersby on Tomas Venclova:
"The sonorous beauty of Venclova's work, well served by Hinsey, herself a Jamesian committed to poetry as a responsibility, alerted all at Cúirt that we were in the presence of a visionary with a feel for humanity and a grasp of both the weight of history and of life itself." —The Irish Times

 

TranslatOR:

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The Secret Piano: From Mao's Labor Camps to Bach's Goldberg Variations
by Zhu Xiao-Mei (Amazon Crossing, 2012)
ISBN-13: 978-1611090772

From the publisher:
Zhu Xiao-Mei was born to middle-class parents in post-war China, and her musical proficiency became clear at an early age. Taught to play the piano by her mother, she developed quickly into a prodigy, immersing herself in the work of classical masters like Bach and Brahms. She was just ten years old when she began a rigorous course of study at the Beijing Conservatory, laying the groundwork for what was sure to be an extraordinary career. But in 1966, when Xiao-Mei was seventeen, the Cultural Revolution began, and life as she knew it changed forever. One by one, her family members were scattered, sentenced to prison or labor camps. By 1969, the art schools had closed, and Xiao-Mei was on her way to a work camp in Mongolia, where she would spend the next five years. Life in the camp was nearly unbearable, thanks to horrific living conditions and intensive brainwashing campaigns. Yet through it all Xiao-Mei clung to her passion for music and her sense of humor. And when the Revolution ended, it was the piano that helped her to heal.