Monthly Archives: August 2013

Shacochis Spans Generations In ‘The Woman Who Lost Her Soul’


The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

Bob Shacochis is a National Book Award-winning author. He teaches creative writing at Florida State University.


Kelly Lee Butler/Grove/Atlantic

Bob Shacochis is a National Book Award-winning author. He teaches creative writing at Florida State University.

Bob Shacochis is a National Book Award-winning author. He teaches creative writing at Florida State University.

Kelly Lee Butler/Grove/Atlantic

As a journalist and essayist, Bob Shacochis has covered conflict in the Balkans and Haiti, the abuse of American power overseas, spycraft, and the sexual politics that divide men and women. He is also a novelist and the winner of a National Book Award. His new novel, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, was a long time coming, but critics are saying it was well worth the wait.

The Woman Who Lost Her Soul is a 700-page work that spans continents and generations. It’s been compared to the work of Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene and Norman Mailer.

The book’s title character came from a real-life encounter Shacochis had while he was working as a reporter in Haiti. He was sitting at a hotel bar in Port-au-Prince when a striking and mysterious female photojournalist approached him and asked him if he knew any voodoo priests. She said she had lost her soul.

On his mission as a writer

“I consider myself a writer who writes about American expatriates. And if I have any overt cause as a writer besides writing the best prose I can, it’s to try to make Americans have a more visceral feeling about how America impacts everybody in the world.”

On writing about male sexuality

“What I wanted to explore through it was the dark side of male sexuality. And I, I think, am a normal male and that dark side gets played out in fantasy and imagination and it’s fine, but it’s there. The difference between me and a pedophile would be if I see a 14-year-old girl [and] think she’s sexually attractive, I can go imagine whatever I want about that. But a pedophile has no imagination, he has to act on the attraction. The problem in writing about it was trying not to be too heavy-handed.”

On how the feelings of men affect society

“When you meet powerful men or just read about them in the newspapers, you see that they don’t have a sense of boundaries. And that goes from, ‘Well, let’s go kick some butt in Syria,’ to, ‘Oh, look at that beautiful woman. I want her. She’s mine’. But when you see a family malfunction, all the patterns and the dynamics that you see eroding the structure of that family, you can find those same dynamics all the way up the chain of society, all the way to the ruling class and the top of government.”

On the biggest challenge in writing the book

“I think the biggest challenge of the book, besides just the dread of doing the ugly sexuality and the violence — I mean, it felt like a type of punishment I had inflicted on myself — but the biggest challenge was to introduce a reader to a woman who is rather unappealing and reverse that reader’s feeling about the woman by the end of the book.”

Welcome To ‘Night Vale’ — Watch Out For The Tarantulas


Welcome to Night Vale is the number one most downloaded podcast on iTunes.


Jeffrey Cranor & Joseph Fink

Welcome to Night Vale is the number one most downloaded podcast on iTunes.

Welcome to Night Vale is the number one most downloaded podcast on iTunes.

Jeffrey Cranor & Joseph Fink

Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink have the news of the weird covered: they’re the creative masterminds behind the popular sci-fi podcast Welcome to Night Vale. Though only a year old, the spooky Night Vale — which channels David Lynch, Orson Welles and H.P. Lovecraft in its descriptions of a small, weird desert town — has rocketed up the iTunes ratings list to claim the number one most downloaded spot.

Fink tells NPR’s Jacki Lyden that he wanted to work on a podcast with Cranor, but he didn’t want it to be anything like the podcasts he already listened to. “And I’ve always been fascinated by conspiracy theories. And also, to a lesser extent fascinated by the Southwest desert. Fascinating things probably happen there on a regular basis. So I came up with this idea of a town in that desert where all conspiracy theories were real, and we would just go from there with that understood.”

Interview Highlights

Cranor on Night Vale’s mysterious dog park

“It’s a small community town. It has the mundane qualities of everyday life in small town America. As you hear more about the dog park, you realize it is completely locked down, not only physically, but somehow spiritually, too, you have no concept of what’s happening in there, and there aren’t even people in the dog park, just hooded figures that are in and around the area. So it sets the scene of, here’s a mundane, quaint American town, sort of overrun by ghosts, or spirits, or conspiracies or underground societies.”

Cranor on Night Vale and post-9/11 paranoia

“The paranoia, taking that level of panic and internal angst … and turning it into the norm in society, I think that’s one of the things we love about the character of Cecil [the narrator]. He gives a dry, radio journalist approach to the news most of the time, and he gives a sense of, like, that this is a normal way of society, that this isn’t trying to create sheer panic in the reader or the listener, that we’ve entered dystopia. It’s trying to take the dystopia model and actually make the people who live there quite happy with it.”

Fink on maintaining a sense of mystery

“It’s interesting, you know, the fact that no one knows what most of the people look like. We very intentionally leave off most physical description, unless it’s for like a joke, like mentioning that someone has spider eyes or something. Other than that, we tend to leave out physical description … so if they’re faceless, we might mention that they don’t have a face, but we don’t really get into hair color or height, or things like that … I get a lot of emails every day being like, ‘tell us exactly what Cecil looks like,’ and then a bunch of other emails every day, being like, ‘never tell us anything about what Cecil looks like.'”

Not My Job: Pianist Emanuel Ax Takes A Quiz On Axe Body Spray



Lisa Marie Mazzucco/Emanuel Ax

Emanuel Ax

This week we’re recording at Tanglewood — the outdoor music venue in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts — and we thought it would be a good time to talk with classical pianist Emanuel Ax, who has won seven Grammy awards and recorded with the world’s greatest orchestras.

We’ve invited Ax to play a game called “You make men irresistible to women!” Three questions about Axe body spray.

Heaney’s Poems — Great, Dangerous, Healing — Live On


Seamus Heaney died this morning, but his poems continue to be very much alive — and in them, he is first and foremost a poet whose poems you feel in your mouth. Pronouncing the words as he describes a bog in which “Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles/ Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell” puts all that grit and wetness and earth on your tongue.

Digging,” Heaney’s youthful assumption of both the earthy groundedness and violent lineage of his homeland, was the first poem Heaney wrote that, he says, he truly felt was his. It was also one of the first poems I loved.

“Between my finger and thumb/ The squat pen rests, snug as a gun,” the poem begins; what a powerful and frightening thing I realized I was holding, my pen, as I wrote my own (terrible) first attempts at poetry.

Heaney was a deeply political writer, but, more than anything, his work emphasized one of poetry’s most basic and most important lessons: that words are the human element as much as air. Heaney knew that in his bones. As a teacher of mine, the poet Robert Farnsworth, used to say, many human problems — if not most — take place in the language, the principal strength and failing of which is precision.

Heaney was a master of picking the right words, of finding, for instance, the sound of a taste, the syllable of a smell, the vowel for what a thing does (a piece of straw stuck into a spinning upturned bicycle wheel “frittered,” for instance).

But he also understood, warily, that words tend to want to point to one truth at a time: toward yes or no, right or wrong. He struggled in his poems to find ways of making words take more than one side at once, while he stood at the crossroads of one of history’s bitterest ongoing territorial and ideological conflicts.

Heaney found many figures for the persistence of history through time, its enduring conscience; among the most beautiful were his poems about “bog people,” earlier citizens of Ireland mummified in swamps and unearthed. Heaney visited them and wrote poems that quietly illustrate how violence is never forgotten, how violent acts reverberate from the past through the future, as does the hanging of this man:

Who will say ‘corpse’
to his vivid cast?
Who will say ‘body’
to his opaque repose?

And his rusted hair,
a mat unlikely
as a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face

in a photograph,
a head and shoulder
out of the peat,
bruised like a forceps baby,

but now he lies
perfected in my memory,
down to the red horn
of his nails,

hung in the scales
with beauty and atrocity:
with the Drying Gaul
too strickly compassed

on his shield,
with the actual weight
of each hooded victim,
slashed and dumped.

That “actual weight” still bears down on us. There’s been a lot of talk lately about contemporary poetry’s value or lack thereof; a good poem reminds us that words are our most powerful, dangerous, and healing inventions. Heaney wrote not just good poems, but great poems — I’ll be keeping his words in my mouth as reminders for the rest of my life.

Craig Morgan Teicher is the author of three books, most recently Cradle Book: Stories and Fables and To Keep Love Blurry: Poems. He has been an NPR NewsPoet, has served on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, publishes reviews widely and works as director of Digital Operations and Poetry Reviews editor at Publishers Weekly magazine.

Teicher lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife and children.

How Do You Say …? For Some Words, There’s No Easy Translation


When you forget where you've put the keys, and you scratch your head because it somehow seems to help you remember.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

Just as good writing demands brevity, so, too, does spoken language. Sentences and phrases get whittled down over time. One result: single words that are packed with meaning, words that are so succinct and detailed in what they connote in one language that they may have no corresponding word in another language.

Such words aroused the curiosity of the folks at a website called Maptia, which aims to encourage people to tell stories about places.

“We wanted to know how they used their language to tell their stories,” Maptia co-founder and CEO Dorothy Sanders tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.

So they asked people across the globe to give them examples of words that didn’t translate easily to English.

Here’s a selection from their list of 11 untranslatable words — plus two of Sanders’ personal favorites and a few from teachers at the International Center for Language Studies in Washington, D.C.

11 Untranslatable Words

Spanish: Sobremesa

Spaniards tend to be a sociable bunch, and this word describes the period of time after a meal when you have food-induced conversations with the people you have shared the meal with.

This word describes the period of time after a meal when you have food-induced conversations with the people you have shared the meal with.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

German: Waldeinsamkeit

A feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods and a connectedness to nature.

A feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods and a connection to nature.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

French: Depaysement

The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country — of being a foreigner, or an immigrant, of being somewhat displaced from your origin.

The feeling that comes from not being in one's home country — of being a foreigner, or an immigrant, of being somewhat displaced from your origin.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

Japanese: Komorebi

This is the word the Japanese have for when sunlight filters through the trees — the interplay between the light and the leaves.

This is the word the Japanese have for when sunlight filters through the trees — the interplay between the light and the leaves.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

Swedish: Mangata (Finnish: Kuunsilta)

The word for the glimmering, roadlike reflection that the moon creates on water.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

The word for the glimmering, roadlike reflection that the moon creates on water.

Urdu: Goya

Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, but it is also an official language in five of the Indian states. This particular Urdu word conveys a contemplative “as if” that nonetheless feels like reality and describes the suspension of disbelief that can occur, often through good storytelling.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

This particular Urdu word conveys a contemplative "as if" that nonetheless feels like reality and describes the suspension of disbelief that can occur, often through good storytelling.

Indonesian: Jayus

Slang for someone who tells a joke so badly, that is so unfunny you cannot help but laugh out loud.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

Indonesian slang for someone who tells a joke so badly, that is so unfunny you cannot help but laugh out loud.

Hawaiian: Pana po’o

You know when you forget where you’ve put the keys, and you scratch your head because it somehow seems to help your remember? This is the word for it.

Two picks from Dorothy Sanders:

Finnish: Poronkusema

The distance reindeer can travel comfortably before taking a break.

Tagalog: Kilig

The feeling of butterflies in the stomach.

Picks From Instructors At The International Center For Language Studies In Washington, D.C.

Dutch: Gezellig

Literally, it means cozy, quaint or nice, but can also connote time spent with loved ones, seeing a friend after a long absence, or general togetherness.

Farsi: Zaghart

A term used for a situation where someone has made a huge mistake or messed up badly in life, work, etc., and is out of options.

Swahili: Tuko pajoma

Denotes a shared sense of purpose and motivation in a group. It transcends mere agreement and implies empathetic understanding, or “We are together.”

Heaney’s Poems — Great, Dangerous, Healing — Live On


Seamus Heaney died this morning, but his poems continue to be very much alive — and in them, he is first and foremost a poet whose poems you feel in your mouth. Pronouncing the words as he describes a bog in which “Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles/ Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell” puts all that grit and wetness and earth on your tongue.

Digging,” Heaney’s youthful assumption of both the earthy groundedness and violent lineage of his homeland, was the first poem Heaney wrote that, he says, he truly felt was his. It was also one of the first poems I loved.

“Between my finger and thumb/ The squat pen rests, snug as a gun,” the poem begins; what a powerful and frightening thing I realized I was holding, my pen, as I wrote my own (terrible) first attempts at poetry.

Heaney was a deeply political writer, but, more than anything, his work emphasized one of poetry’s most basic and most important lessons: that words are the human element as much as air. Heaney knew that in his bones. As a teacher of mine, the poet Robert Farnsworth, used to say, many human problems — if not most — take place in the language, the principal strength and failing of which is precision.

Heaney was a master of picking the right words, of finding, for instance, the sound of a taste, the syllable of a smell, the vowel for what a thing does (a piece of straw stuck into a spinning upturned bicycle wheel “frittered,” for instance).

But he also understood, warily, that words tend to want to point to one truth at a time: toward yes or no, right or wrong. He struggled in his poems to find ways of making words take more than one side at once, while he stood at the crossroads of one of history’s bitterest ongoing territorial and ideological conflicts.

Heaney found many figures for the persistence of history through time, its enduring conscience; among the most beautiful were his poems about “bog people,” earlier citizens of Ireland mummified in swamps and unearthed. Heaney visited them and wrote poems that quietly illustrate how violence is never forgotten, how violent acts reverberate from the past through the future, as does the hanging of this man:

Who will say ‘corpse’
to his vivid cast?
Who will say ‘body’
to his opaque repose?

And his rusted hair,
a mat unlikely
as a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face

in a photograph,
a head and shoulder
out of the peat,
bruised like a forceps baby,

but now he lies
perfected in my memory,
down to the red horn
of his nails,

hung in the scales
with beauty and atrocity:
with the Drying Gaul
too strickly compassed

on his shield,
with the actual weight
of each hooded victim,
slashed and dumped.

That “actual weight” still bears down on us. There’s been a lot of talk lately about contemporary poetry’s value or lack thereof; a good poem reminds us that words are our most powerful, dangerous, and healing inventions. Heaney wrote not just good poems, but great poems — I’ll be keeping his words in my mouth as reminders for the rest of my life.

Craig Morgan Teicher is the author of three books, most recently Cradle Book: Stories and Fables and To Keep Love Blurry: Poems. He has been an NPR NewsPoet, has served on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, publishes reviews widely and works as director of Digital Operations and Poetry Reviews editor at Publishers Weekly magazine.

Teicher lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife and children.

How Do You Say …? For Some Words, There’s No Easy Translation


When you forget where you've put the keys, and you scratch your head because it somehow seems to help you remember.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

Just as good writing demands brevity, so, too, does spoken language. Sentences and phrases get whittled down over time. One result: single words that are packed with meaning, words that are so succinct and detailed in what they connote in one language that they may have no corresponding word in another language.

Such words aroused the curiosity of the folks at a website called Maptia, which aims to encourage people to tell stories about places.

“We wanted to know how they used their language to tell their stories,” Maptia co-founder and CEO Dorothy Sanders tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.

So they asked people across the globe to give them examples of words that didn’t translate easily to English.

Here’s a selection from their list of 11 untranslatable words — plus two of Sanders’ personal favorites and a few from teachers at the International Center for Language Studies in Washington, D.C.

11 Untranslatable Words

Spanish: Sobremesa

Spaniards tend to be a sociable bunch, and this word describes the period of time after a meal when you have food-induced conversations with the people you have shared the meal with.

This word describes the period of time after a meal when you have food-induced conversations with the people you have shared the meal with.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

German: Waldeinsamkeit

A feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods and a connectedness to nature.

A feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods and a connection to nature.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

French: Depaysement

The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country — of being a foreigner, or an immigrant, of being somewhat displaced from your origin.

The feeling that comes from not being in one's home country — of being a foreigner, or an immigrant, of being somewhat displaced from your origin.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

Japanese: Komorebi

This is the word the Japanese have for when sunlight filters through the trees — the interplay between the light and the leaves.

This is the word the Japanese have for when sunlight filters through the trees — the interplay between the light and the leaves.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

Swedish: Mangata (Finnish: Kuunsilta)

The word for the glimmering, roadlike reflection that the moon creates on water.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

The word for the glimmering, roadlike reflection that the moon creates on water.

Urdu: Goya

Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, but it is also an official language in five of the Indian states. This particular Urdu word conveys a contemplative “as if” that nonetheless feels like reality and describes the suspension of disbelief that can occur, often through good storytelling.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

This particular Urdu word conveys a contemplative "as if" that nonetheless feels like reality and describes the suspension of disbelief that can occur, often through good storytelling.

Indonesian: Jayus

Slang for someone who tells a joke so badly, that is so unfunny you cannot help but laugh out loud.


Ella Frances Sanders/Maptia

Indonesian slang for someone who tells a joke so badly, that is so unfunny you cannot help but laugh out loud.

Hawaiian: Pana po’o

You know when you forget where you’ve put the keys, and you scratch your head because it somehow seems to help your remember? This is the word for it.

Two picks from Dorothy Sanders:

Finnish: Poronkusema

The distance reindeer can travel comfortably before taking a break.

Tagalog: Kilig

The feeling of butterflies in the stomach.

Picks From Instructors At The International Center For Language Studies In Washington, D.C.

Dutch: Gezellig

Literally, it means cozy, quaint or nice, but can also connote time spent with loved ones, seeing a friend after a long absence, or general togetherness.

Farsi: Zaghart

A term used for a situation where someone has made a huge mistake or messed up badly in life, work, etc., and is out of options.

Swahili: Tuko pajoma

Denotes a shared sense of purpose and motivation in a group. It transcends mere agreement and implies empathetic understanding, or “We are together.”

Really Hard Edition: Part 3


More From This Episode

According to puzzle editor Art Chung, some games on Ask Me Another are hard because they’re created with only one person in mind who can play them: our V.I.P., or Very Important Puzzler. In this segment, host Ophira Eisenberg and guest musician Julian Velard present a game about quirky chess players written specifically for Grandmaster Maurice Ashley called “Two and a Half Chessmen.” Then, find out Will Shortz‘ favorite crossword clue of all time, and play along with a diabolical final round game of his own devising, an anagram game titled “Five By Five.”