Mastering the Past:
Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe and the Rise of Illiberalism
Telos Press, March 2017
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
Des Menschen Element
Matthes & Seitz, March 2017
Translation of Update on the Descent (Notre Dame University Press / Bloodaxe Books, 2009)
Translator: Uta Gosmann
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.
Magnetic North: Conversations with Tomas Venclova/
University of Rochester Press, June 2017
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.
Der magnetische Norden. Tomas Venclova: Gespräche mit Ellen Hinsey (Magnetic North)
Translation: Claudia Sinnig
Suhrkamp, March 2017
Gebunden, 700 Seiten
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
Lithuanian edition (Forthcoming: Apostrofa, 2017)
Ukrainian edition (Forthcoming: Dukh i litera, 2017)
Polish edition (Forthcoming: Zeszyty Literackie, 2017)
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
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
Cities of Memory
Yale University Press, 1996
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
Editor and translator:
The Junction: Selected Poems of Tomas Venclova (Bloodaxe Books, 2009)
"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
The Secret Piano: From Mao's Labor Camps to Bach's Goldberg Variations
by Zhu Xiao-Mei (Amazon Crossing, 2012)
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.