By Magda Carneci
Translated by Sean Cotter
The lyrical, feminist novel that exploded onto the Romanian literary scene: a 21st-century Scheherazade recounts her life to a man she might leave behind forever.
Finalist for the PEN Translation Prize
Publication Date: June 8, 2021
In this modern classic of global feminist literature, the only novel by one of Romania's most heralded poets, a woman meanders through a cosmic retelling of her life from childhood to adulthood with visionary language and visceral detail. Styled as a long letter addressed to the man she is ready to leave, she spins captivating tales that create space in the cosmos for the female experience. Her stories invite the reader through a dreamlike thread of strange images and passing characters, from the small incidents of their lives together to the intimate narrative of her relationship to womanhood, crescendoing in a fantastical vision of love, loss, and femininity.
Finalist for the PEN Translation Prize
One of World Literature Today's 100 Notable Translations of 2021
"FEM is a protest novel, a feminist text written with the fervor of a true poet, a book that registers the pain of women in a still male-dominated world. Beyond its feminist radicalism, this novel’s readers will discover an impressive quality of mind and artistic refinement that attract our empathy." ––Mircea Cărtărescu
"What poetry does in FEM is the opposite of over intellectualizing. Cârneci charts how birth, something every mammal undergoes, has transformed and transcended to accompany so much meaning that it can barely be contained by sound or language." –BOMB Magazine, Sarah McEachern
“Cârneci’s work deserves wider international attention...I can only hope that this beautifully crafted publication is just the beginning.” —Jozefina Komporaly, Words Without Borders
“You know the saying in film studies, “Every frame a painting”? In this book, almost every sentence is a poem.” —Travel Through Stories
"Like the north ends of two magnets, the two storytellers' refusal to meet tantalizes, inviting the reader into the no-man's land, in which they may question––or even participate in this exchange of identities. Cârneci's own active approach to living in a body, in fact, is exactly what she begs her listener/reader to adopt, and her appeal is so breathtaking, it's a wonder anyone could refuse." —Asymptote, Lindsay Semel
"...Cârneci is, in the end, an original writer and a masterful stylist, whose mastery of language comes vividly across through Sean Cotter’s dexterous translation. Her stylistic ingenuity is felicitously rendered by her translator...Her novel transgresses feminist ideology, proposing a vision that implies a change in human perception, a vision attempting to unify the outside and the inside, the object and the subject of all human experience…" —Los Angeles Review of Books, Alta Ifland
"Poet Cârneci’s rich English-language debut records a woman’s dreamlike ecstatic experiences and revelations...Full of strong imagery, this heavily symbolic work is a notable entry in international feminist literature.” —Publishers Weekly
“This novel is not about plot or character, it is about impressions, images, the beauties of nature, the female body and strange visions.”—The Modern Novel
"Magda Carneci is a leading international literary figure. So this searchingly philosophical, psychological and yet also brilliantly visceral fiction should come as no surprise. Yet its sustained and virtuoso interrogation of identity, gender and the struggle to become is astonishing. Brilliant, sensual yet also intellectually and politically charged, this is the sort of book that can change lives." ––Fiona Sampson
"Magda Carneci is not only a distinguished poet, translator, and art critic but a first-rate novelist, who uses her storytelling gifts in FEM to open new worlds for the silent auditor of her strange visions. The narrator describes herself as “a tamer Scheherazade,” but she is fierce in her quest to charm, instruct, and awaken readers to the particular challenges of a woman picking her way through the maze of modern life. These tales, spun from seemingly inconsequential moments into existential reflections on the nature of everything under the sun, will haunt your days and nights." ––Christopher Merrill, author of Self-Portrait with Dogwood
"Profound, mysterious, emotional and gripping, FEM is a luminous and inspiring work of literature by one of the world’s most valuable authors." —Deborah Levy, author of The Man Who Saw Everything, Hot Milk, and Swimming Home
“Hard to sum up in just a few words, FEM is a psychedelic novel about the essences of femininity. A poetic prose that left me with the impression that it would fit wonderfully into a new wave of aesthetic oneiricism. A novel for the cognoscenti, FEM is scandalous and provocative in equal measure.” —Marius Mihet
“An initiatory text, a text of depths rather than postmodern surfaces, a total rather than fragmentary text, FEM puts forward a metaphysic of the senses, an intense concrete and sensorial experience, like a springboard to revelation, transforming biological conditioning, intuition, and so-called female sensuality on the road to knowledge, to a ‘different logic,’ an ‘integral logic.” —Adina Dinitoiu
“What Magda Carneci undertakes in FEM is not only profound, but also honest: an honesty that is sometimes cruel and bewildering, sometimes constructive and generative, an honesty that only great writers are capable of.” —Stefan Borbely
“FEM: a remarkable novel, a read not to be missed.” —Daniel Cristea-Enache
“An author with a strong personality, whose voice has always been distinct within the ‘80s generation [of Romanian writers].” —Octavian Soviant, Observator Cultural
Magda Cârneci is a widely acclaimed writer, translator and art critic in Romania, where she has become a leading voice among the gifted group of poets who began their careers under the waning influence of Communism in Eastern Europe. She is the recipient of prizes and grants from the Fulbright Foundation, Getty Trust, European Union, and more; in 2013, she won the “Opera Omnia” career prize from the Romanian Writers’ Union. Her poems have been translated into thirteen languages and included in numerous anthologies.
Sean Cotter has translated many works of Romanian literature, including Mircea Cărtărescu’s Blinding (Archipelago Books, 2013) and Wheel with a Single Spoke, a selection from Nichita Stănescu (Archipelago Books, 2012), winner of the Best Translated Book Award for poetry. He is Professor of Literature and Translation Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he is part of the Center for Translation Studies. He is currently working on a translation of Mircea Cărtărescu’s Solenoid.