Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Limitations and Words in the Dust

"Limitations, honestly faced, are the greatest assets in producing a work of art."---caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
This quote (pulled from at the always interesting blog, Letters of Note,) is taken from Hirschfeld's personal correspondence with artist Peter Emslie, but truly, I love the whole letter. It's the kind of utterly impractical, yet life-changing advice that feeds you, day after day, and pushes you out in the right direction instead of hobbling you with self-doubt.

Of course, we're limited. But the desire to be more than we are, the need to strive for what we can't have---that's where story happens. A novel is a failed attempt to tell the truth any other way. A poem is a wrong-headed impulse to cage what can't be contained. Every piece of art is a confession that our legs are broken, our hearts tired, our souls, starving.

I just finished reading Words in the Dust, Trent Reedy's debut novel about a young girl in Afghanistan. Zulaikha's life, by any measure, is limited. She is taunted by boys who call her "Donkeyface." She is bound by culture, laws, time, and war. Barely any stories of girls in Afghanistan survive the scouring forces that turn their lives into wind-blown dust. And yet, here, despite the odds, is a life painstakingly held to the light.

The author was a soldier in the Iowa National Guard and is a Facebook friend. The editor is Cheryl Klein, my editor for Operation Yes. The book is graced with the poetry of Afghanistan-born poet, Jami; peopled with characters as fully realized as your own family, and infused with a quiet, watchful intensity. I don't know how to stop wanting to be more than I am; perhaps that's why I ached so much for Zulaikha to have more than she does.

Read in ARC form. Available for sale in January.


  1. Limitations also help us channel our energy. If you're told to write about anything, you'll flail longer than if you're told to write on a certain topic.

  2. This book looks fantastic. Can't wait to read it!

  3. Just read the letter - it's all so eminently quotable! I love these lines: Anyone with their five senses operating normally is talented. The artist, or so it seems to me at any rate, takes his talent for granted and then pushes his limitation beyond the normal accomplishment of a gifted civilian. It's not just soldiers/civilians - it's artists/civilians!


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