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The new translation of Mikhail Shishkin’s novel “Maidenhair” is 506 pages of a bizarre stream-of-consciousness between three fictional narrative viewpoints: interviews with Russian refugees seeking asylum in Switzerland from the Chechen wars, the Russian interpreter’s memories and letters he writes to his son and the diary entries of an aspiring Russian singer in the early 20th century. 

“Maidenhair” is not a book to pick up on the weekend and expect to be finished by Monday. Packed with Russian and Persian historical references, reading this book deserves time and a bit of effort on the reader’s part. 

Shishkin writes in a torrential stream-of-consciousness that carries the reader through these intermingling narratives. At first, it’s off-putting to read the tragic stories of the refugees right after reading a comical anecdotal letter from the interpreter to his son. But once the three narratives are established, it’s easier to discern which one you’re reading.

Extracting meaning from these interwoven stories can be difficult — Shishkin is anything but explicit. Yet these narratives, as they mix with each other and are told side-by-side, form a cohesive storyline as they all touch on the inherently human subjects of love, death and truth.   

Through a string of beginnings and endings, the reader pieces together the universality of human life. New love is discovered and old love decays. Those around us die while new beings are brought into the world. We’re reminded that one thing doesn’t have to end for a new thing to begin. 

Shishkin is a great success in putting his reader through as many different types of pain as possible. There are the cringe-inducing tales of the refugees, who get their finger nails ripped off and watch as their families are raped, beaten and burned to death. Then there’s the anger in knowing that Peter, the Swiss officer guarding the so-called gates to paradise, only cares about finding the refugees that might be lying about these horrifying experiences in an effort to escape Russia. There’s also the pitiful existence of the interpreter, writing to a young son that has little interest in him after his ex-wife remarried. 

Finally, the most stinging pains are courtesy of the diary entries, spanning a singer’s youth and adulthood as she experiences the early wars and revolutions and the eventual disintegration of the Soviet Union. This story of a young woman pursuing her passions in the midst of a country in turmoil is easily the most affecting part of the book. Her resilience despite the utter destruction around her reminds the reader that the human spirit is a hard thing to break. 

“Maidenhair” uses the setting of a country locked in a constant state of chaos to communicate the frustrations and triumphs of the human experience. How do we find happiness in our existence if when we’re not even sure we’ll survive through the day? Shishkin’s answer is only to keep living.

Daniel Stockli presents a seminar to students and faculty at the Jackson School of Geosciences on Monday afternoon. The talk discussed the geology of the Molasse Basin in Switzerland, Stockli’s native land.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Students learned about the forces driving geological formations during a lunchtime discussion in the geosciences department Monday. 

Geological sciences professor Daniel Stockli presented a talk on the geological events behind the formation of the Molasse Basin, an area located in central Switzerland just north of the Alps, where Stockli was born and raised. 

The talk is part of a series known as “Brown Bag Seminars,” in which a graduate student from the Jackson School of Geosciences organizes a talk led by an expert covering a geology topic. Participants are invited to bring their own sack lunches, as the talks are usually hosted around noon. 

Anastasia Piliouras, a second-year geological sciences graduate student, helped organize Monday’s seminar with Stockli. 

Piliouras said the main goal of Stockli’s talk was to reconstruct the history of the Molasse Basin in Switzerland by proposing an alternative hypothesis for its formation.

Stockli’s talk delved into the methods used to explain the formation of the Molasse Basin. Using thermochronology, which employs radioactive dating to analyze the temperature of rocks at a given period in time, he suggests that the basin formed from tectonic as opposed to volcanic activity.

Geological sciences senior Brandee Carlson, who is currently working on an undergraduate research project, attended Stockli’s talk. 

“It’s interesting to see what everyone else is doing in the department,” Carlson said. “I learned more about methods.”

Studying the formation of the basin has personal significance for Stockli, who grew up in the city of Lucerne, Switzerland, along the western arm of the Molasse Basin.

“Whenever a house was being built, I went to go collect a sample,” Stockli said, describing days when he would go back and visit his family in Lucerne while studying geology in college. “It is a place close to my heart.” 

Piliouras said she got involved with geology because she has always had an interest in the environment and its role in everyday life. 

“Everything that we study has to do with how the area around you has changed,” Piliouras said. 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland, say they have clocked subatomic particles, called neutrinos, traveling faster than light — a feat that, if true, would break a fundamental pillar of Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity, the idea that nothing is supposed to move faster than light. The readings have so astounded researchers that they are asking others to independently verify the measurements before claiming an actual discovery.

Dutch UN peacekeepers sit on top of an armored personnel carrier in 1995 while Muslim refugees from eastern Bosnia gather in the village of Potocari, some 5 km north of Srebrenica.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — They’re coming on bicycle from Switzerland, by plane from the U.S. and Australia. From Bosnian towns and villages they’re heading through the woods on foot joining thousands of other pilgrims.

The occasion is a somber one that’s also marked by solace: the funeral next Monday of 613 newly identified victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

The burial is a yearly event marking the July 11 anniversary of Europe’s worst massacre since the Nazi era. This year, the commemorations are particularly special because of the May capture of Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander accused of orchestrating the execution of 8,000 Muslim men and boys — and now standing trial on genocide charges in The Hague.

The event attracts more people than Srebrenica, a town of about 4,000 people, has residents. Historians, former townsfolk, Bosnians from all over the world come to take part in round table discussions, performances and a march along the route through the woods survivors took in 1995 to escape death.

The week of reflection and commemoration culminates with the burial of hundreds of bodies found in mass graves and identified through DNA analysis.

The ceremonies have caused more division in this ethnically divided town, where Serbs and Muslims shop at rival butcher shops and hold deeply conflicting views of history.

On Monday, a Serb was arrested for driving up and down town waving an ultranationalist flag and playing patriotic songs as Mladic appeared at his hearing at the International War Crimes Tribunal.

Muslims say they’re struggling to keep historical memory alive in a hostile environment where majority Serbs continue to worship Mladic and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, also on trial at the Hague.

Mladic’s “genocidal policy is nowhere near to being defeated here,” said Damir Pestalic, the local imam.

Srebrenica was under the protection of the United Nations during the 1992-95 Bosnian war but the outnumbered Dutch troops never shot a bullet when Serb forces commanded by Mladic overran Srebrenica on July 11, 1995.

Over 15,000 men headed through the mountains toward government-held territory but many of them never made it as they were hunted down by Serb forces and killed.

Every year, thousands march that escape route backward, praying at sites of mass graves along the way.