In These Dark Skies, Arianne Zwartjes interweaves the experience of living in the southern Netherlands—with her wife, who is Russian—and the unfolding of both the refugee crisis across Europe and the uptick in terrorist acts in France, Greece, Austria, Germany, and the Balkans. She probes her own subjectivity, as a white American, as a queer woman in a transcultural marriage, as a writer, and as a witness.
The essays investigate and meditate on a broad array of related topics, including drone strikes, tear gas, and military intervention; the sugar trade, the Dutch blackface celebration of Zwarte Piet, and constructions of whiteness in Europe and the U.S.; and visual arts of Russian avant-garde painters, an Iraqi choreographer living in Belgium, and German choreographer Pina Bausch.
This is a lyrical, timely book deeply salient to the political moment we continue to find ourselves in: a moment of incredible anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiment, a moment of xenophobic and misogynistic violence.
“One of the joys of reading These Dark Skies is encountering Zwartjes as a reader. Her sources are eclectic and idiosyncratic. Each quote is worth savoring on its own, but they also offer intimate glimpses into the evolution of her thinking. . . . In this way, These Dark Skies embodies one of the key functions of art: increasing human connection. Zwartjes’s prose is a powerful antidote to loneliness, apathy, and the myth of perfect politics.”—Full Stop
“These Dark Skies is an insightful essay collection about how humans justify violence in themselves and others.”—Foreword, starred review
“Is the world already broken into pieces? Then we must find new forms of prose, new writing, to encounter it. That is what happens in Arianne Zwartjes’s remarkable book that is, at turns and at once, memoir, essay, critical reflection, poetic musing. These Dark Skies travels continents in an inch of text, travels eternity in an hour. What might seem like coincidental choreography is a masterful arranging of life-in-print that heralds—or ought to anyhow—new modes of knowing experience in a rapturous yet dangerous present.”—Kazim Ali, author, Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water
“These Dark Skies is at once brilliant and humane, asking the despairing and urgent question: How shall I live? There is something incredibly moving and human in Zwartjes’s approach to the question, a unique synthesis of idea and lived experience, of news read and path walked. She erases the borders between self and other, empire and colony, center and periphery, and tries to make sense, with her heart and her mind, of the jumble that follows. This book is an incredible unflinching look at the great lie of our time: that there is an us and a them; that we in the empire are somehow innocent and uncontaminated by the blood and rage of the world; that we can in any way survive without upending that lie. It is a gift and a reckoning long overdue—and incredibly human.”—Sunil Yapa, author, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
“What begins as a nuanced study and meditation on the origins, manifestations, and structures of violence soon develops into a profound exploration of the self, the self within a body, the self within a complicated and dangerous and beautiful world. In These Dark Skies, Arianne Zwartjes has woven a book of her travels and lived experiences across the globe, and in so doing Zwartjes engages the reader in a series of questions that delve into the very core of our existence as human beings. This is a remarkable, clear-eyed, necessary book, one that I will be sharing with those I love—as it will create doorways into conversations on whiteness, identity, trauma, activism, biopolitics, systemic kindness, and much, much more.”—Brian Turner, author, My Life as a Foreign Country