Unethical Reading and the Limits of Empathy

Namwali Serpell and Maria Tumarkin:

Maria Tumarkin, who was born in Soviet Ukraine and emigrated to Australia as a teenager, everywhere exhibits in her work the hard-­won knowledge that authentic civic-mindedness often produces, and requires, an estrangement from consensus and the deadening language of common sense. Tumarkin’s fourth book, Axiomatic (2019), challenges reflexive frameworks of grief and trauma, offering instead the specificity of individual lives in their entanglement with the lives of others. Such vigilance is a quality Tumarkin shares with the Zambian novelist, critic, essayist, and scholar Namwali Serpell. Author of the critical study Seven Modes of Uncertainty (2014); of the novel The Old Drift (2019), a multigeneric, multigenerational exploration of Zambia’s history and future; and, most recently, of Stranger Faces (2020), a series of linked essays, Serpell displays throughout her work a rigorous attention to affect, aesthetics, and ethics, and how they are enmeshed with our individual and collective histories.