"In Greek mythology, Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of red thread to guide him through the labyrinth. The Red Thread offers a path through and a way to explore the ins and outs and twists and turns of the celebrated NYRB Classics series, now twenty years old. This selection of stories, chapters, essays, poems, reflections, remembrances, and sundry other literary illuminations has been made by the founder and editor of the series, Edwin Frank, to suggest something of its unique range and encapsulate the idea that writing that is truly alive may turn up anywhere.
I cannot imagine a reader who will not find in this anthology a new writer to love. Many genres are represented: fiction, of course, by authors ranging from Mavis Gallant to Qiu Miaojin, and also travel writing (Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece), drama (Euripides translated by Anne Carson), memoir (Eve Babitz in Hollywood), song (Kabir, a North Indian devotional poet), even an interview (Jessica Mitford, visiting the African American activist George Jackson in San Quentin prison). The selection is extremely diverse, and the book benefits from being read slowly, one piece at a time. Each author has such a distinctive voice that moving immediately from one to the next produces a shock ... In China, explains Frank, the red thread 'is said to be a metaphor for a binding tie that exists between people unknown to each other'. The anthology introduces to adventurous readers a set of writers who were never known to each other, never part of the same communities or traditions. And in this way it constructs a tradition of its own.
As founding editor, Frank aimed to create a library of 'good books, books to delight and enlighten and surprise readers,' yet one 'surprising in its own right, making connections with a spark.' In particular, the whole 'had to be recognizable as a series.' To achieve this, Frank decided to draw on 'all sorts of extraordinary books that had never even been translated into English,as well as 'the literature hidden away in publishers’ backlists.' It is this restless, elegant eclecticism, along with a truly global reach, that keeps the NYRB Classics so exhilarating ... From Andrei Platonov to Victor Serge, with stops along the way for Leonardo Sciascia, Tove Jansson, Mavis Gallant, Balzac, Vasily Grossman and Kenji Miyazawa, this sampler underscores that great writing recognizes no borders.
So, legends come to life in this fine collection and stirring sights from the past are evoked again. The range is diverse, from the utterly unique sci-fi of Moderan, the title story in David R Bunch's collection, first published in 1971, to the work of Jessica Mitford and Mavis Gallant. There are pieces by the Russian author Vasily Grossman, the Sicilian Leonard Sciasia and the Finnish Tove Jansson, and everything is engrossing and piquant in a bite-sized way ... In a foreword to the anthology, editor Edwin Frank describes it as an itinerary or road book, rather than a 'greatest hits.' It will accordingly prove useful as a navigation guide for the reader in search of some slightly neglected writers, whose books are still published by NYRB. Recommended.