cover image We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays

We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays

Shirley Hazzard, edited by Brigitta Olubas. Columbia Univ., $30 (240p) ISBN 978-0-231-17326-1

This welcome volume assembles essays, three previously unpublished, and other nonfiction writing from Hazzard (The Great Fire.) Born in Australia in 1931, Hazzard moved to the United States in the early 1950s. Now best known for her novels, Hazzard also found a role in the ’50s as a public intellectual, writing for such publications as the New York Times, the New Republic, and the Times Literary Supplement. The most visceral entries here are undoubtedly the five scorching essays on the United Nations (for which Hazzard worked when she first moved to New York City) and its secretary-general, Kurt Waldheim, in the 1970s, in which she excoriates the organization for cowardice and ineffectualness. Hazzard employs language like a knife, with precision and incisiveness, and though she uses words to pugilistic effect in the U.N. essays, she also employs them in glowing, contemplative, and joyous ways, whether to praise the writers Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym or to express her belief in the value of literature. What comes through most clearly is Hazzard’s delight in the English language and its capacity for expression and communication. The concluding selections—Hazzard’s 2003 National Book Award acceptance speech and her remarks from a 2012 New York Society Library discussion—provide a gracious end to a thought-provoking collection. (Jan.)