The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

It is clear to me that Alyan is a talented poet. I enjoyed one of her previous collections and found there to be many thought-provoking moments in this one. The Twenty-Ninth Year deals with difficult topics, such as anorexia, alcoholism, and tumultuous identity formation. Alyan’s descriptions are often quite unique: “Hunger enters me like another night, the sky a good dark meat, grilled with stars” (from “Gospel: Rumi,” p. 17). Another of my favorite moments in the collection occurs on the previous page: “I had never seen a true desert before: cactus beds and milk-white sand, sand that ran for days, the lipstick-red of dusk” (from “1999,” p. 16). Some of my other favorite poems throughout were “The Female of the Species” (p. 5), “Halfway to July,” (p. 13), and “Upstate II” (p. 78). Also, as a side note, the cover of The Twenty-Ninth Year is gorgeous.

I was disappointed, though, that I couldn’t connect to the collection as a whole. I felt far-removed from many of the collection’s experiences, rather than a part of them. It was gritty, vulnerable, and well-written—but just often not suited to my particular tastes in poetry. Many of the poems also were less lyrical than what I have come to expect from Alyan’s work, sometimes reading more like disjointed lists. I assume this was a deliberate choice (as it matches the chaos in the speaker’s life), and it certainly doesn’t mean that the poetry is bad. It’s just different from what I was expecting to read. While this collection may not be exactly my cup of tea, I would recommend anyone who likes contemporary poetry try this collection.

Located in Adult Nonfiction (811.6 ALY)

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