On Lighthouses

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UPC: 9781949641349
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Authors: Jazmina Barrera (Author), Christina MacSweeney (Translator)
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  • Hardcover: 174 pages
  • Publisher: Two Lines Press (May 12, 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1949641015
  • ISBN-13: 978-1949641011
  • Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 0.7 x 7.1 inches

“After spending sufficient time inside a lighthouse, who wouldn’t begin to hear a song in the sound of the machinery, a voice in the wind or the waves?”

Far from home, in the confines of a dim New York apartment where the oppressive skyscrapers further isolate her, Jazmina Barrera offers a tour of her lighthouses―those structures whose message is “first and foremost, that human beings are here.”

Starting with Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, an engineer charged with illuminating the Scottish coastline, On Lighthouses artfully examines lighthouses from the Spanish to the Oregon coasts and those in the works of Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allan Poe, Ingmar Bergman, and many others.

In trying to “collect” lighthouses by obsessively describing them, Barrera begins to question the nature of writing, collecting, and how, by staring so intently at one thing we are only trying to avoid others. Equal parts personal memoir and literary history, On Lighthouses takes the reader on a desperate flight from raging sea to cold stone―from a hopeless isolation to a meaningful one―concluding at last in a place of peace: the home of a selfless, guiding light.


“[Jazmina Barrera’s On Lighthouses] examines literature, history, science, art, music, and the daily, brutal lives of the isolated keepers and their families. . . . These subtle, reflective observations offer delightful insights into the lighthouse mystique.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Through its fascination with lighthouses: their mythologies, histories, operational minutia, iconic personages (all those anonymous lighthouse keepers of every coast); and also with concise poetic prose about Barrera’s lighthouse-obsessed wanderings, this book will literally enchant you. To read Jazmina Barrera’s extraordinary book is to find a little lighthouse inside yourself, one that will go on emitting a roaming, yearning, beckoning, consoling loveliness.”―Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name

"Like a bowerbird constructing its nest, Jazmina Barrera collects microhistories about the hypnotic, geometric light emitted by lighthouses; but when she finds and listens to these histories in the dark intervals, she is a bat hanging upside down in the tower of memory." ―Verónica Gerber Bicecci, author of Empty Set

“This is a glorious, beckoning story, catching enlightening glimpses of literature and vivid experience in its flashing beams; beautifully written, it is as evocative and as alluring as a lighthouse glimpsed on a distant headland from a dark and mysterious sea.” ―Philip Hoare, author of RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR

“Jazmina Barrera has woven a narrative that is both poetic and informative, full of bizarre and particular details as well as suggestions that reverberate throughout, much like musical motifs. The lighthouses contained in this notebook are real lighthouses that still light up at night on coasts throughout the world as well as lighthouses that faded centuries ago, and a few lighthouses that never existed, mythological lighthouses and engineers’ projects, lighthouses that are undoubtedly gifted with a symbolism that passed through the history of literature and that seem to be located in a very deep part of our psychological vocabulary, of the catalogue of images that exist just as vividly both in reality and in dreams.”―Antonio Muñoz Molina, author of Sepharad

"If my intuition is right, and we are in fact witnessing the emergence of a new encyclopedic passion in Latin American literature, this book will be a benchmark in the future of this movement.”―Patricio Pron, author of My Father's Ghost is Climbing in the Rain

About the Authors

Jazmina Barrera was born in Mexico City in 1988. She was a fellow at the Foundation for Mexican Letters. Her book of essays Cuerpo extraño (Foreign Body) was awarded the Latin American Voices prize from Literal Publishing in 2013. She has published her work in various print and digital media, such as NexosEste PaísDossierVice, and more. She is editor and co-founder of Ediciones Antílope. She lives in Mexico City.

Christina MacSweeney received the 2016 Valle Inclan prize for her translation of Valeria Luiselli's The Story of My Teeth, and Among Strange Victims (Daniel Saldaña París) was a finalist in the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. Among the other authors she has translated are: Elvira Navarro (A Working Woman), Verónica Gerber Bicecci (Empty SetPalabras migrantes/Migrant Words), and Julián Herbert (Tomb Song; The House of the Pain of Others). She is currently working on a second novel by Daniel Saldaña París and her translations of short story collection by Elvira Navarro and Julián Herbert will be published in 2020.