Jennifer Acker and DeWitt Henry


The Limits of the World:
A Novel


Sweet Marjoram:
Notes and Essays

This event includes a book signing


May 8, 2019
7:00 PM


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes acclaimed writers JENNIFER ACKER, the founding editor of The Common magazine, and DeWITT HENRY, the founding editor of Ploughshares, for a discussion of their new books, The Limits of the World: A Novel and Sweet Marjoram: Notes and Essays.

About The Limits of the World

The Chandaria family—emigrants from the Indian-enclave of Nairobi—have managed to flourish in America. Premchand, the father, is a doctor who has worked doggedly to grow his practice and give his family security; his wife, Urmila, runs a business importing artisanal Kenyan crafts; and their son, Sunil, after quitting the pre-med track, has gotten accepted to a Ph.D. program in philosophy at Harvard. But the parents have kept a very important secret from Sunil: his cousin, Bimal, is actually his older brother. And when this previously hidden history is revealed by an unforeseen accident, and the entire family is forced to return to Nairobi, Sunil reveals his own well-kept, explosive secret: his Jewish-American girlfriend, who has accompanied him to Kenya, is, in fact, already his wife. Spanning four generations and three continents, The Limits of the World illuminates the vast mosaic of cultural divisions and ethical considerations that shape the ways in which we judge one another’s actions. A dazzling debut novel—written with rare empathy and insight—it is a powerful depiction of how we prevent ourselves, unwittingly and otherwise, from understanding the people we are closest to.

About Sweet Marjoram

In this new collection of essays, Henry draws on his 40-year career as an award-winning novelist, memoirist, editor, and teacher, as well as on the works of classical and contemporary literature that have served him as “equipment for living.” He develops a lexicon of 22 abstract terms, including Weather, Time, Handshakes, Privilege, and Empathy. He sifts the layered meanings of each term through research, wit, personal stories, literary quotations, and free association. His inspirations are Stephen Dedalus’s stream of consciousness and Hamlet’s soliloquies, as both in turn are inspired by Montaigne’s essays. Some terms suggest collective wisdom. Some invoke discoveries. Some reveal outmoded agendas and biases, or promise new ones. The adventure is in how, rather than in what, to think; and Henry’s terms of choice are salient to our culture and times, where too often they serve to prevent rather than to challenge original thinking.

Praise for The Limits of the World

The Limits of The World is such a smart, compassionate and elegant novel, so deeply invested in morality and the subtleties of families, cultures, and continents, that it feels delicious and exciting to recall that this is Jennifer Acker’s debut.” —Lauren Groff, author of Florida

The Limits of the World is the most masterful debut novel I have read in years. In beautiful, understated prose, it shows the complicated ways in which family splits and regathers. In this wise, loving book I saw my mother’s family, exiled from Nairobi; I saw me.” —Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

“Evocative and profound . . . an intimate novel about family that is, at the same time, an illumination of miscommunication across cultures, an exploration of the legacy of migration in both Africa and the US, and a philosophical rumination on ethical behaviors. Jennifer Acker’s is a wise and honest literary voice.” —Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl

Praise for Sweet Marjoram

"True wisdom and beauty, in a time when we dearly need both." —Eileen Pollack, author of The Bible of Dirty Jokes

"Be warned! The far-ranging notes and essays of Sweet Marjoram are addictive. Once I began reading, I couldn't stop. I wanted more of Henry's wit and wisdom, his dazzling, surprising juxtapositions. I wanted to see him keep making the familiar new, and the strange familiar. . . . A delightful and highly original collection." —Margot Livesey, author of Mercury and The Hidden Machinery

"In case anyone is still wondering about the accrued benefits of a lifetime's reading, teaching, viewing and thinking, DeWitt Henry's Sweet Marjoram offers the spirited and enjoyable answer. A Shakespearean breadth of interest subjected to a steady inquiring pressure--the reader finds aphorisms for living on every page." —Sven Birkerts, author of Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age

DeWitt Henry
DeWitt Henry

DeWitt Henry

DeWitt Henry is the author of several books, including Safe Suicide, Sweet Dreams: A Family History, and The Marriage of Anna Maye Potts (winner of the inaugural Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel). He is also the editor of many collections of fiction and essays, including Breaking Into Print, Sorrow's Company: Writers on Loss and Grief, and Other Sides of Silence: New Fiction from Ploughshares. He is the founding editor of Ploughshares, where he served as executive director for its first twenty years.

Photo Credit: Diego Torres Alvarez

Jennifer Acker
Jennifer Acker

Jennifer Acker

Jennifer Acker is founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Common magazine. Her short stories, translations, and essays have appeared in the Washington Post, Literary Hub, n+1, Guernica, Ploughshares and other places. She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and teaches literature, creative writing, and editing at Amherst College, where she also directs the Literary Publishing Program.

Photo Credit: Zoe Fisher

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

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