The Misperceptions of Being a Stranger in a Strange Land

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Event Factory is proof that as Renee Gladman has something new to offer, the perspective of invented linguistics encountered as a traveler.

I recently had a foreign exchange student from Korea. I don’t speak Korean, but his English was fantastic and he attempted to teach me his native tongue. We started with the word “beginner.” He would say “beginner” in Korean and I would repeat it exactly as I had heard it, then he would laugh. When he had his breath back he would say “beginner” again and I would repeat it again and he would laugh again. This was our impasse. I never learned to correctly say “beginner,” and I still don’t know what I was doing wrong in my attempted repetitions of his language, though after some months I did manage to say “hello” in Korean without him bursting into giggles. This is my personal equivalent for what Renee Gladman does to readers of Event Factory, putting us in the role of tourist, inquisitor in a dizzy spin of language that perfectly replicates how it feels to be lost in a place where even words elude us.

Event Factory takes place in Ravicka, a yellow-hued world where language is more physical than verbal, where characters’ bodies and gestures and facial expressions are the root of everything, and where any wrong slip or slide or flinch or flutter can change ‘hello’ into a cry for help or a call for death or an insult of the worst caliber. Most often, our protagonist, the tourist in this Ravickian society, is relegated to simply saying “hello” to people who pass by or meet her as guides, though in nearly every instance her words or attempted contact are met with confusion or silence or otherwise a way to keep her outside of Ravicka, a city-state she desperately wants to inhabit:

Events had found me, and I wanted someone, at the very least Simon, to know about it. However, bringing something back proved difficult. Listening to them was like gathering water without a pail. They never ceased explaining the shape and nature of things, but did so in too twisting a narrative to become memorable. Water gathered around my feet. I tried to capture it with my mind. I asked Dar to hold some. But it was water. Water you cannot hold.

The most triumphant aspect of Event Factory though is how Gladman manages to take us into this world that we don’t understand, and that the narrator can’t comprehend either, where the language is unknown and the protagonist mostly unable to communicate, and yet give us enough as readers to follow the plot and move forward with its characters. We get to wallow in the misperceptions of being a stranger in a strange land, but we are also still led carefully through the journey of Event Factory.

Ravicka is vast and ensconced, and was emptying out faster than I could stamp it with my tourism. I had not collected anything. A few people rushed past me, I believe, headed toward church. It was morning. Church was still important. Though my stay was nearly over, I had not reached that level of departure where any Ravickian artifact would do. What I brought back needed to represent exactly what is was like to be here. Yellow air swarmed the low-level buildings, heavy with loss. Yet, Ravicka was not dead. With a leap of the imagination, I told myself, one could go on as one always had. Only not in the posture of before. You had to draw closer to things, give up perspective almost.

As editor and publisher of Leon Works, Renee Gladman is no stranger to keen experimentations with language, but Event Factory is proof that as a writer Gladman has something new to offer, the perspective of invented linguistics encountered as a traveler, an outsider clawing to get beneath the surface of a yellow world where even the slightest physical movement can break the chain of understood communication, taking a person even further out from the core of Ravicka. Event Factory, the first in Gladman’s trilogy from Dorothy, a publishing project, is a boundless book that rides on the unknown yet keeps its plot intact, drags us through a distorted society amidst an upheaval that we can’t understand but with writing that ensnares us, that keeps us reading. I may never have learned “beginner” in Korean, but I’m learning to inhabit Ravicka a little at a time, and I’m eager for the next session to begin.

J. A. Tyler is the author of The Zoo, a Going (Dzanc Books). His work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Diagram, Denver Quarterly, New York Tyrant, Fairy Tale Review, and others. Find him online at or on Twitter at @J_A_Tyler. More from this author →