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Un-silencing voices of writers who embody the courage of free expression.

Books Unbound – Killing Voltaire: An Observance for Charlie Hebdo


“Killing Voltaire: An Observance for Charlie Hebdo” is a collaborative response by the Books Unbound community to the deadly attack on the offices of the French satiric weekly.

Classic and contemporary free-speech quotations from the Voice of Reason (Patsy Rahn), probing passages from authors by the Provocateur (Tony Brewer), and readings from Voltaire himself on fanaticism, blasphemy, and liberty vs. destiny (Frank Buczolich) are interwoven with selections made by the readers themselves or by series producer Cynthia Wolfe, including:

• Excerpt from a posthumously published essay by the assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politskovskaya, selected, read, scripted and produced by Sarah Torbeck, with a sample of the original Russian read by Pavel Abramov.

• “Fragment, 1959,” Lauren Robert reading a poem by Anna Akhmatova, selected by Doug Storm.

• Excerpt from a 2012 speech by Salman Rushdie, selected, read and produced by Jack Hanek.

• Excerpt from Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, selected, produced and read by Richard Fish.

• Excerpts from “Balqis,” a long poem alternating love elegy and political passion by the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, selected and read in Arabic by Ali Alnahhabi, and by Berklea Going in an English adaptation.

• “The Auroras of Autumn”, eight of ten cantos of the poem by Wallace Stevens on unease in the house of the mind, containing the famous line “The house will crumble and the books will burn”, selected by Cynthia Wolfe and read by Doug Storm.

• Afterword by Maria McKinley, reading a passage on the true source of personal daring from Eudora Welty’s memoir One Writer’s Beginnings.

The episode also features Guillaume Ansart, associate professor at Indiana University and a specialist in 18th-century French literature and satire, with perspectives on Voltaire, Enlightenment values, and the French tradition of satire.

Special music for the episode comes from the Floodplain album by Kronos Quartet.

Produced by Cynthia Wolfe, with assistance from Doug Storm and Sarah Torbeck.
Script by Cynthia Wolfe, with contributions by readers.
Executive producer: Alycin Bektesh
Theme music by The Impossible Shapes

This podcast is expanded from the original broadcast.

Books Unbound – The Massacre of Yangzhou


The protagonist of “The Massacre of Yangzhou” is the southern Chinese city of Yangzhou, a rich and beautiful center of the failing Ming Dynasty as it succumbed to the rising Qing Dynasty. The episode is based on “‘Horrid Beyond Description’: The Massacre of Yangzhou”, from the book Voices from the Ming-Qing Cataclysm: China in Tigers’ Jaws by Lynn Struve. Struve is a professor emerita of the Departments of History, and East Asian Languages and Culture, at Indiana University.

In May 1654, the city of Yangzhou came under siege by northern invaders. The defender of the city, the noble and educated Shi Kefa, refuses to surrender despite inevitable defeat. When the city falls, the forces under Qing command are set loose for five days of punitive violence, as an example to other cities to capitulate. Unsanctioned looting, rape, and killings continue for another five days.

But there are no good guys and bad guys in this story. Internal systemic failures and ineffectual leadership among the Ming left them weak. Renegade Ming forces had been recruited by the Qing along with the northern Manchus and allied tribes. Many of the atrocities in Yangzhou seem to have been committed by renegade Ming. Individual residents of Yangzhou attempt to appease or collaborate with the invaders. The Qing are portrayed as restoring order, charity, and the rule of law.

In Lynn Struve’s presentation and her masterly translations, these complexities are represented by the voices of two very different men. In his last days, the viceroy and defender of the city Shi Kefa wrote sorrowful letters to his family, agonizing over his failures. Although traditionally viewed as the embodiment of integrity and loyalty, Shi Kefa’s choice to keep his word and not negotiate terms of surrender led to the slaughter of tens of thousands who lacked the power to choose.

The scholar Wang Xiuchu was one of these ordinary residents of Yangzhou who suffered its devastation. Unlike Shi Kefa, he survived to write a powerful and unsparing memoir of wartime atrocity, free of either self-aggrandizement or sentimentalized victimhood. If there’s a hero in this account, it’s Wang Xiuchu’s wife—who is left unnamed.

Listeners are advised that the episode contains brutal descriptions of the acts Wang witnessed.

The memoir of Wang Xiuchu is read by Eric Rensberger, and the letters of Shi Kefa by Frank Buczolich. Special music comes from the album Dialogue Between Fisherman & Woodcutter: Singing About the Beautiful Legend of China.

Guest host is Patsy Rahn, who co-produced.
Co-hosted and co-produced by Doug Storm.
Books Unbound is produced and written by Cynthia Wolfe.

For an extended interview with Lynn Struve, plus commentary by Patsy Rahn, listen to “Beyond Description: Witnessing Historical Trauma,” a crossover episode of WFHB’s Interchange.

Executive producer: Alycin Bektesh
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin


“The Queen of Spades” is a mock fairy tale about debt, gambling, guilt and the supernatural—and the deadening effect of money on love. An aging, once-beautiful Countess possesses the secret to a one-time super-win at cards—but at what price?

Third in a trilogy of Russian fiction recently read on Books Unbound, “The Queen of Spades” is often considered the best of the short stories by Alexander Pushkin—and if the plot seems familiar, it’s because of its enormous influence. Pushkin was an aristocrat with African slave ancestry who sympathized with the liberal reforms sought by the revolutionary Decembrists. He was exiled and his works subjected to such strict censorship that none of his plays was even performed during his life—which ended at the premature age of 37 following a duel with his beautiful wife’s reputed lover. Despite the official constraints on his work, Pushkin is widely regarded as Russia’s greatest poet and as the founder of modern Russian literature. Special music for the episode comes from the album The Russian Viola by Nobuko Imai and Roland Pöntinen.

Reader: Frank Buczolich

Host: Sarah Torbeck
Announcer: Doug Storm

Produced by Cynthia Wolfe and Doug Storm
Written by Cynthia Wolfe

Executive producer: Alycin Bektesh
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

Books Unbound – Storytellers of Immortality: Contemporary World Poetry


An encore presentation of a program that originally aired November 15 for Day of the Imprisoned Writer, featuring poetry in translation from writers around the world who have experienced imprisonment, exile, military occupation, censorship, and other forms of extreme literary suppression.

Announcer: Sarah Torbeck
Host: Doug Storm

• Aron Atabek, “My Throat Will Die” (Tony Brewer)
• Tsering Woeser, “A Sheet of Paper Can Become a Knife” and “The Past” (Cathi Norton)
• Liu Xiaobo, “Words a Cell Can’t Hold” (Eric Rensberger)
• Enoh Meyomesse, “Despair” (Frank Buczolich)
• Tal al-Mallouhi, “You Will Remain an Example” (Berklea Going)
• Zargana, “Oblivion” (Eric Rensberger)
• Kajal Ahmad, “Separation from Earth” (Berklea Going)
• Dmitry Bykov, “I lived the wrong one … ” (Frank Buczolich)
• Raúl Zurita, excerpt from “A Path in the Solitudes” (Tony Brewer, Spanish reading of untitled excerpt by Carlos Bakota)
• Liu Xia, “Black Sail”, “Another Kind of Death”, and “June 2nd 1989″ (Patsy Rahn; Chinese reading of “Another Kind of Death” by Lu-San Lai)
• Abdul-Wahhab Al-Bayati, “Poem for the Man of Light” and “Western Civilization” (Phil Kasper; Arabic reading of “Poem for the Man of Light” by Ali Alnahhabi)
• Nadia Anjuman, “Rich” (Berklea Going)
• Ko Un, “The Moon” (Frank Buczolich)
• Rashid Hussein, “Passport” (Tony Brewer)
• Mansur Rajih, “The Fatherland” (Eric Rensberger)
• Dunya Mikhail, “Tablets” (Lauren Robert)
• Ahmed Matar, “Poetry for the Censors” (Frank Buczolich)
• Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, “Voice from Beyond the Grave” (Cathi Norton)

Produced by Cynthia Wolfe with Doug Storm and Robert Shull.
Written by Cynthia Wolfe.

Executive producer: Alycin Bektesh
Theme music by The Impossible Shapes.
Special music for the episode from Gran dereit’, Visions and Miracles by Ensemble Alcatraz

Books Unbound – Heaven’s Cafe: A Miscellany for Solstice Eve


“Heaven’s Café” is a seasonal episode of Books Unbound featuring poetry from China, Germany, Mexico, Palestine, Cuba and England, with a tribute to the late Mark Strand and one of Dostoyevsky’s lesser-known stories, “The Christmas Tree and the Wedding”. The program explores seasonal themes of Heaven/the heavens: how we mark the season and align ourselves to celestial phenomena, and how at the end of the year’s cycle we dwell on loss, especially love lost—but also revisit childhood and beginnings with often unforeseen consequences.

Co-hosts: Doug Storm and Sarah Torbeck
Announcer: Berklea Going


  • “New Year’s Watch” and “Visiting the Temple of Auspicious Fortune on New Year’s Eve” by the 11th-century Chinese poet Su Shi (Patsy Rahn, Pei-Shan Yu)
  • “After the Rain” by World War One-era poet Richard Dehmel (Frank Buczolich, in both German and his own translation)
  • Poetry by the 17th-century Colonial Mexican poet Sor Juana on the Nativity and the cosmos (Berklea Going, Eric Rensberger, Cynthia Wolfe, Sonia Velázquez)
  • “A Prayer to the New Year” by the 20th-century Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan (Ali Alnahhabi, Cynthia Wolfe)
  • “The Coming of Light” by Mark Strand, a brief tribute to the Canadian-American poet who died last month (Frank Buczolich)
  • “The Christmas Tree and the Wedding” by Dostoyevsky (Sarah Torbeck, with Russian intro by Pavel Abramov)
  • “Christmas of 2012″ by the Cuban dissident writer and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo (Tony Brewer)
  • “On Heaven” by Ford Madox Ford, writing as Ford Madox Heuffer, again taking us to the WW1 era, imagining the afterlife as meeting his lost beloved in a cafe in the South of France (Doug Storm)

Music excerpted from the Sonata for Viola and Piano of Dmitri Shostakovich.

Produced by Cynthia Wolfe with Doug Storm.
Written by Cynthia Wolfe with contributions from Ali Alnahhabi, Frank Buczolich and Doug Storm.
Executive producer is Alycin Bektesh.

Books Unbound – Short, With a Wicked Tongue and Long Legs, Episode 3: “The Cloak” by Gogol”, Conclusion


A three-episode program of short satiric fiction concludes with a slightly abridged version of “The Cloak” by Nikolai Gogol, read by Frank Buczolich. Gogol’s work was subjected to official censorship, and he lived in self-imposed exile for much of his adult life. At first praised by the political Left for his criticisms of Russian serfdom, his conservative loyalties toward the tsar and the Russian Orthodox Church damaged his literary standing during the Russian Revolution. “The Cloak” is a satire of Russian bureaucracy and rigid social classes, perhaps a ghost story, and an aesthetic masterpiece from a founding voice of modern Russian fiction. Produced and written by Cynthia Wolfe, with assistant producers Doug Storm and Robert Shull.

Music for “The Cloak”: Glinka, Viola Sonata, performed by Nobuko Imai
Break music: Diego Ortiz, Capona — Recercada Settima Sobre la Romanesca, performed by the Ensemble for the Seicento

Announcer: Berklea Going
Host: Sarah Torbeck
Voice of Nabokov: Tony Brewer

Books Unbound – “Short, With a Wicked Tongue and Long Legs,” Episode Two: “The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes” and “The Cloak” by Gogol

“Short, With a Wicked Tongue and Long Legs” is the second of a three-part of classic short satiric fiction. This week, the conclusion of The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes, His Fortunes and Misfortunes, an early Spanish novella published anonymously and officially banned during the Inquisition, followed by the first part of “The Cloak” by Russian master Nikolai Gogol. Both stories have an outsider protagonist, the one a sly but often clueless rascal who finds success in a government job, and the other a downtrodden government employee who longs for the clothes to make him a man. Guest readers are Tony Brewer and Frank Buczolich. Hosted by Sarah Torbeck, with announcer Berklea Going.
The episode features music interludes written in the era of Lazarillo by Diego Ortiz, with selections from Recercadas del Tratado de Glosas performed by Jordi Savali and by the Ensemble for the Seicento. Music for “The Cloak” comes from the Viola Sonata in D Minor by Gogol’s contemporary Mikhail Glinka and performed by Nobuko Imai. The translation ofLazarillo is by Robert S, Rudder. “The Cloak” appeared in the 1917 collection Best Russian Short Stories edited by Thomas Seltzer.
Produced and written by Cynthia Wolfe, with assistant producers Doug Storm and Robert Shull. Executive producer is Alycin Bektesh. Theme music by The Impossible Shapes.

Books Unbound – “Short, With a Wicked Tongue and Long Legs,” Episode One: The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes, Part One


“Short, With a Wicked Tongue and Long Legs” is a three-part program of short satiric fiction that has “legs” because it stands up to the test of time. This week, The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes, His Fortunes and Misfortunes as Told by Himself, an anonymous 16th-century Spanish novella banned by the Inquisition. Lazarillo is a classic of Spanish literature, a subversive comedy about poverty, religious hypocrisy, and social class written in the voice of a sly, resilient but often clueless servant boy. Novelist Jane Smiley considers Lazarillo the first literary work primarily concerned with an average person and the need to make a living. Guest reader is Tony Brewer. Hosted by Sarah Torbeck, with announcer Berklea Going.

Books Unbound – Mina Loy: Feminist and Futurist


Poet and artist Mina Loy (1882–1966) was at the center of avant-garde movements of the early 20th century, but the difficulty of her poetry and her dislike of self-promotion led to decades of obscurity. Her first book was seized by U.S. customs for its frank approach to sex, reproduction, and women’s bodies. Much of her work remained unpublished until the 1980s, but the reevaluation of the literary canon since the 1990s has helped restore her reputation as a startlingly original voice in English letters. The episode features readings of “Parturition”, “The Effectual Marriage” and other short poems by Cynthia Wolfe; “Feminist Manifesto” by Sarah Torbeck; and “Love Songs to Joannes” by Berklea Going. Guest Jenny McComas, Class of 1949 Curator of Western Art after 1800 at the Indiana University Art Museum, visits the Unbound Cafe for a perspective on Futurist art in Loy’s cultural milieu. Produced and hosted by Doug Storm. Written by Doug Storm and Cynthia Wolfe.

Books Unbound – Storytellers of Immortality: World Poetry for Day of the Imprisoned Writer


Storytellers of Immortality is an episode of contemporary international poetry devoted to courageous writers who have experienced imprisonment, exile, or conditions of repression and violence. The nineteen poets come from Kazakhstan, Tibet, China, Cameroon, Myanmar, Kurdistan, Russia, Chile, Afghanistan, Korea, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, and Vietnam, and range from a Nobel laureate to a teen blogger. Local guest readers of the English translations are Tony Brewer, Cathi Norton, Eric Rensberger, Frank Buczolich, Berklea Going, Patsy Rahn, Philip Kasper, and Lauren Robert. Also featured are three poetry selections in their original language: Spanish (read by Carlos Bakota), Chinese (Yu-San Lai), and Arabic (Ali Alnahabi), with announcer Sarah Torbeck and host Doug Storm. Written by Cynthia Wolfe.

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