100 Years Later: The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

To commemorate the centennial of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination – the event that started World War I – here is an excerpt from my book The Archipelago. During my visit to Sarajevo, I stumbled into the Latin Bridge, where Ferdinand met his maker. An author I admire recently praised my description as the most eloquent re-imagining she had ever read, which was a tremendous honor, considering her mother grew up in the Balkans and she spent several years there. More importantly, the “shot heard round the world” also beckoned the modern era of “total war,” where any target is fair play. Continue reading


52 Pickup


After weeks of avoiding the rain, I race out the office’s front door and jog down the street. My backpack, with its stretched straps, is pendulous across my back. My hiking shoes thud against the pavement, and as rush hour intensifies beneath San José’s tungsten sky, the sidewalks are deluged with people, and I have to leap over gutters, wriggle between cars, sidestep bushels of trash.

When I reach the Carretera Vieja, the road that snakes its way toward my neighborhood, the pavement clears. The commuter train’s blast is distant. Even the mountains are nakedly green.

Then they appear: playing cards scattered on the ground. They’re face-up, face-down, solitary and bunched together, leaning against the curb and bent in the grass. Queens and Sevens and Twos. They bear a logo I don’t recognize, some kind of coat-of-arms. They’re spread out, as if the deck exploded from its cardboard box. No one else is around. It feels like a joke, or an omen, a photograph dying to be taken.