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Rivka Galchen

Rivka Galchen is the author of the novel Atmospheric Disturbances as well as essays on quantum computing, earthquakes and Kafka.

Clarice Lispector

Rivka Galchen, 2 April 2020

Clarice Lispector​ was born in 1920 to Jewish parents, in the small town of Chechelnik in Ukraine. It was hoped that the pregnancy would cure her mother’s syphilis, contracted when she was raped by a gang of Russian soldiers. The attempted cure failed. In 1921, the family made their way to Romania and eventually to Brazil. There, her father pushed a cart through the poorest parts of...

'The Pillow Book'

Rivka Galchen, 2 January 2020

ThePillow Book was written in Japan more than a thousand years ago. Little is known about its author, Sei Shonagon, save for what can be deduced from the text itself. In 993, when she was in her late twenties, she joined the court of Empress Teishi. During the Heian period (794-1186), ‘empress’ was a flexible term: Teishi was merely the first among a number of consorts with...

Knausgaard’s ‘Seasons Quartet’

Rivka Galchen, 24 January 2019

A century​ or so ago the astronomer Percival Lowell made a series of maps of Venus that showed curious spokes running across the planet’s surface. The lines were difficult to understand; no one else had observed them. Were they canals, or craters? And how was Lowell seeing them through the thick cloud of Venus’s atmosphere? In 2002, Sky and Telescope magazine ran an article...

‘The Glass Universe’

Rivka Galchen, 4 October 2017

When the book begins, a notable astronomer of the Lowell family could still look up at Mars and be convinced he saw canals, and a Martian race, thirsty, searching for water, desperate for our help. The women of the Harvard College Observatory were less romantic, and less wrong.

Kafka’s Boyhood

Rivka Galchen, 16 March 2017

Born​ in 1928, Maurice Sendak grew up in Brooklyn, the child of Polish immigrants. On the day of Sendak’s bar mitzvah, his father learned that his family in Poland had all been killed. ‘And I was having the big party at the colonial club, the old mansion in Brooklyn,’ Sendak recalled. His mother told him that his father wouldn’t be able to come to the party. So Sendak...

Under Kafka’s Spell

Rivka Galchen, 4 December 2014

I have come to the conclusion that anyone who thinks about Kafka for long enough inevitably develops a few singular, unassimilable and slightly silly convictions. My own such amateur conviction is that the life of Franz Kafka reads like a truly great comedy. I mean this in large part because of the tragedies in and around his life, and I mean it in the tradition of comedies like the final episode of Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder, which, after episode upon episode of darlings and foilings and cross-dressings, ends in 1917 with our not exactly heroes climbing out of their trench and running towards the enemy lines.

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