Rick's Reviews > Nox

Nox by Anne Carson
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's review
May 08, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, poetry
Read in April, 2010

A scrapbook printed on accordion pages and tucked in a book-shaped box, Nox is not so much an elegy for Anne Carson’s deceased brother as a translation of grief spoken in artifacts and elusive, considered history. It is moving. It is poetic. It weighs, as history does, meaning in the meager remains of life…in Carson’s brother’s case, old photographs, childhood memories, a handful of remembered phone conversations, postcards, and (rarer) letters.

Carson, a classicist, translator, poet, and critic, shares her sorrow and her attempts to understand with readers. She begins with an un-translated poem of Catullus, an elegy to his dead brother, and some reflections on history. The left facing page holds dictionary entries of the Latin words in the Catullus poem, inviting us to try our hand or, more likely, to see how much room there is for interpretation, nuance, or error. The right hand pages hold the artifacts and Carson’s writings, brief prose pieces.

“I came to think of translating,” Carson writes, “as a room, not exactly an unknown room, where one gropes for the light switch. I guess it never ends. A brother never ends. I prowl him. He does not end.” This is at best a rough comfort and perhaps no comfort at all. Her mother died without hearing from her son for many years and telling her daughter that she thought Michael dead. “How do you know I said and she said When I pray for him nothing comes back.”

Carson talks about how Herodotos would end the sections of his histories with various caveats, one of which was “I have to say what is said. I don’t have to believe it myself.” She follows this page with a spread showing the folded bottom of the page of her brother’s last letter to her mother: “Love you. Love you. Michael,” it reads. Such juxtapositions of thought and artifact raise the level of Nox to tragedy, touching on the universals of loss and the mysterious estrangements of family.
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