For the past few years, every time the Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded, a certain number of journalists contact me about the winner, asking for information since, for the most part, they’ve never read or heard of these authors. Patrick Modiano. Herta Mueller. Mo Yan. Surprisingly, or maybe not so, I knew a bit about those authors. Had read a book, or seen them speak, or was generally aware of their work. But still, it wasn’t like I was an expert—just someone with a lifelong interest in books from places I don’t live.
So, today has been crazy, because for once, I know some specifics!
As you probably already know, Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature and the only book of hers currently in print and available at the best bookstores is Voices from Chernobyl, a book that I worked on a decade ago at Dalkey Archive Press.
This was a HUGE book for us at the time. It was a book that Ana Lucic—an intern at that time, I think, or a recently hired foreign editor—did a sample from and brought to the rest of us. After deciding to publish it, and working out the rights—a story I told to my publishing class just last week!—I got Keith Gessen to translate it and eventually convinced John O’Brien to do this as a hardcover with the belief we could sell 10,000 copies and the paperback rights. (We never got to 10,000, but Picador did buy the paperback rights! And that was how I met Amber Quereshi—in the New York City Center theater during the first World Voices Festival, when I was young and limber, and still passionate, foisting new books on people and trying to get them excited. During one of my first [the first?] meetings with Tom Roberge [now one of my best friends!], I urged this on him and he read and loved it, which lead to us meeting regularly. This book + Lost = my professional career.)
If you haven’t read Voices from Chernobyl, go get a copy. Now. It’s one of the most soul-crushing, amazing books you’ll ever encounter. It’s made up of a series of monologues that she crafted out of interviews she did with survivors of the Chernobyl tragedy ten years after the incident. These stories are heartbreaking in so many ways. A lot of them revolve around the ways in which the Soviet government fucked its citizens to the grave—offering dachas to anyone willing to clean up the mess at the reactor, a promise unfilled, since basically everyone died, horribly—yet this is much more than simply a “political” book. It’s so human and sad. The story of the guy who came home from cleaning up the site and gave his firefighter’s hat to his son, only to watch his son develop brain cancer and die almost immediately thereafter . . . I cry just typing those words. I’ll never forget that. I’ll carry a ton of these stories to my grave.
One day, when Keith was working on this book, he emailed me about the burden of translating it. I thought, initially, that he was upset about the deadline or the payment or whatever. But it was much more basic than that—translating these voices, the voices of these people who suffered so horribly and continued to suffer, is something that weighs on you, on your mind and being. Reading the book is bad enough; inhabiting it at that level is almost incomprehensible.
This reminds me of the speech Keith gave after Voices won the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction (the first translation to do so in basically forever) when he recounted how NPR was going to do a big story on this book, but only if Svetlana could verify that everything in the book was absolutely verbatim true. Did she have recordings of the interviews? Could she provide evidence that the sentences in the book were the same as the statements made by the interviewees?
Journalists are going to refer to Alexievich’s writing as some sort of “genre-blending” thing all day. And they’re mostly right—her books are nonfiction presented in stylized forms. She takes various “voices” and amplifies them by removing herself. Like a great editor, she lets the work, the people, speak for themselves. There’s no “Q&A,” just these voices telling stories of death and panic and confusion.
Which is what Keith told the NPR fact-checkers after talking to Svetlana: These voices are true. Their pain and suffering is fact.
It’s unfortunate that there are only a couple of her books available in English right now, but I’m sure that will change. Two years ago, Svetlana was a guest at the Reykjavik International Book Festival where she talked about her latest book on the state of Russian intellectuals and how nothing has changed over the past few decades. Sounds incredible and hopefully a U.S. publisher will bring it out soon.
Regardless, this is such a great moment. Congrats to Svetlana! And to Keith and all her other translators, to Dalkey and Picador and Norton, and everyone else! This day!Tweet
The first time I read César Aira was four years ago: Ghosts and The Literary Conference. At the time I had my opinions about both, but in retrospect—and this surprises me—I actually liked both books very much (four years ago I had a lot of issues with Ghosts, but I was also sleeping erratic, graduate student hours and living off of discounted Cliff Bars and anything cheap vegetable you could sauté and roll into a tortilla, so let’s just assume that I didn’t have enough nutrients in my body to understand). And to be honest, I was half way through Lori’s review, thinking, “What the hell kind of book is this?!”, and then my eyes jumped to the top of the page to double-check who the author was. It was Aira. Which, of course! Of course. Now this all makes sense. I think that’s a great way to remind yourself of certain authors (note: I don’t say to think of certain authors). For example, Chuck Palahnuik’s writing is weird, disturbing, fast-paced, and will probably give you meat-sweats within your nightmares. Aira, as another example, has a quirkiness to his content (sometimes aggressively so, other times very understatedly) that, years later, makes me think fondly on his works, and on the subsequent discussions we had in class about his works. Which (making a huge but relevant jump here) is more proof that literature is a gift that keeps on giving. And I’m glad to have Aira’s works in my memory bank for that purpose. I’m also glad to continually have more Aira to experience—so thank you both to our friends at New Directions for that, and to super-translator Katherine Silver for her excellent work.
Here’s the beginning of Lori’s review:
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with his mother in his childhood home, in debt, jobless, never married, overly critical of others—who somehow still manages to win our affection with his wry pathos.
The dinner of the novella’s title is at the home of the narrator’s unnamed friend (“the last friend I had”) where the narrator and his elderly mother are the only guests. The friend keeps Mama entertained during dinner with gossipy stories about the families in the town of Pringles, and the two are “perfectly in sync” with their back-and-forth name-dropping. The narrator does not participate in their exchange. He has never attempted to remember the names of Pringles’ residents and considers such refusal his “. . . way of rejecting the life of the town where I had, nonetheless, spent my entire life. . . .” The evening takes a creepy turn after the meal when the friend shows-off some of the mechanical dolls and other fantastical toys that he collects. The dim lighting in the friend’s home, along with the dolls’ strange, mechanical movements and disturbing countenances bring an unsettling ambience to the evening’s end.
For the rest of the review, go hereTweet
Over the past few months, with the help of two fantastic interns, I’ve updated the Translation Database to include the sex of every author and translator in there.1 It was a brutal task, hunting down information about all of these people, scanning bios for gendered pronouns and then entering all of this into the database. But, now that it’s done, I can start running reports and provide specifics about the gender imbalance with regard to literature in translation.
It’ll be a few more weeks before I have everything sorted and organized, but when I do, I’ll post a huge, comprehensive report looking at everything from how many books by women have been translated from Spanish over the past seven years, to which publishers have the most balanced lists.
Because these reports are fascinating (well, fascinating and depressing), I’m planning on posting mini-updates here as I run them.
Right now, I’ve only completed two main reports: One that breaks down male vs. female authors (and male vs. female translators) by year and genre (fiction vs. poetry), and one that breaks down male and female authors by country of origin.
The results of the first one are pretty bleak. Between 2008 and 2014 there were 2,471 fiction translations published in the U.S. for the first time ever. Of those, 1,775 were written by men, compared to 657 by women, and 39 by men & women. In terms of percentages, female authors make up 26.6% of all the fiction translations published over the past seven years.
Poetry isn’t much better. Of the 571 books included in the database, 384, or 67.3% are by male authors. Only 169, or 29.6% of the poetry collections published during this period were by women.
I suspected going into this that there would be significantly more male authors published in translation than women, but I figured it would be more like a 60-40 split, not 71-27. That’s brutal.
Breaking it down by country is equally depressing. Female authors made up 50% or more of the books from only 14 of the 110 countries represented in the database. Here’s the complete list:
Armenia: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Belarus: 2 male authors, 3 female authors (60%)
Costa Rica: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Croatia: 4 male authors, 4 female authors (50%)
Ecuador: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Finland: 10 male authors, 18 female authors (62%)
Latvia: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Mauritius: 0 male authors, 3 female authors (100%)
Myanmar: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Niger: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Rwanda: 1 male author, 1 female author (50%)
Saudi Arabia: 2 male authors, 3 female authors (60%)
Slovakia: 0 male authors, 1 female author (100%)
Wales: 0 male authors, 1 female author(100%)
That’s it. Here’s the breakdown from a handful of other notable countries:
Argentina: 60 male authors, 30 female authors (33%)
China: 76 male authors, 21 female authors (20%)
France: 253 male authors, 96 female authors (27%)
Germany: 146 male authors, 78 female authors (35%)
Italy: 134 male authors, 41 female authors (23%)
Japan: 118 male authors, 47 female authors (28%)
Russia: 97 male authors, 32 female authors (23%)
Spain: 114 male authors, 36 female authors (24%)
Sweden: 79 male authors, 47 female authors (36%)
At some point, I’m going to group these by region (Middle East, Southern Cone) and see how that breaks down. At first glance, it seems like the Scandinavian countries (Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden) might have the best balance. Adding those five countries together, we get 201 male authors and 113 female authors, or 36% women. Still not great, but considering that female authors only make up 27% of the grand total, it’s significant.
More to come as I enter more and more data into the master spreadsheet . . .
1 To clarify a bit, if a book has more than one author or translator of differing genders, I coded them as “both.” Same goes for the two or three people we couldn’t identify, like D. E. Brooke. When the percentages above don’t add up to 100%, it’s because there’s one or more authors coded as “both.”Tweet
Rather than reinvent the ranting wheel (I don’t know what that is, but it sounds fun), I’m going to preface this preview of three new books with a couple of updates from last week’s post.
First off, DraftKings. I spend way too much of my mental time hating all over this stupid company. I should just stop. Just ignore them. Mute every single commercial interruption. (Because no matter what you’re watching, there’s a 90% chance an ad for DraftKings will show up and crap all over your TV screen. There should be a law.) That said, I really appreciated Drew Magary’s column, I Tried Daily Fantasy and It Is Evil.
I signed up for DraftKings and was immediately bombarded with dozens of options for wasting my money. There is a baseball game, in case you simply can’t wait until the weekend and have to lose your money RIGHT NOW THIS INSTANT. There were four million different football pools to join, the most expensive of which had a $5,300 entry fee. And there was a “limited time offer” wherein the site offered me extra credit if I put my deposit in before the clock ran down. PRESSURE’S ON . . . [. . .]
As for the game itself, it’s like any other casino game: fun right up until the moment you don’t win. I drafted my two lineups, talked myself into those lineups winning me a million bucks, and eye-banged both lineups all Sunday long.[. . .] You can talk yourself into being a football wizard who knows just the right matchups to exploit for sleeper picks that week, but I can assure you that you are bullshitting yourself, and that DraftKings is counting on you to bullshit yourself.
Yup. As if Fantasy Baseball/Football isn’t already the worst. That game—which I am truly addicted to now, thanks almost entirely to Jacob Knapp of Curbside Splendor who got me into his fantasy baseball league for book people and then bounced me from the playoffs, THANK YOU FOR BEING EVIL—is a game of nightmares. Did I set my lineup correctly? Which order should I set for my waiver wire pickups? Is that guy going to break out, or is his hamstring made of string cheese? Why am I caring about the Jacksonville Jaguars training camp when no one in their right mind cares about the stupid Jacksonville any—ARRGH! It’s like some evil genius invented this to torment his family: “You think you’re so smart and understand numbers and sports, don’t you? Well here, here’s a game mixing exactly that and pitting you against all of your peers—figure it out, puzzle-boy!”
Since I sometimes feel the need to lather up some rage, I wasted four minutes of my life yesterday watching this:
These people are the worst. The way she says, “well, since he’s actually good at his hobby.” The way he poses with the belt and the check. Oh my god, it’s all so awful. My eyes are burning just from thinking about it. This is what DraftKings has created. This couple. Their houses. The “baby machine” that they’re about to start up if he wins another million dollars with his “hobby” and “skills”, which have also “earned” him the “respect” of his “Wifey’s” family.
OK, I’m done. All the DraftDemons have been purged. I will never write of this again. Next week I’ll have some fresh material about some other minor, totally ignorable thing that’s gotten stuck in my brain.
But before going onto this week’s books, I have to go back to last week’s post one more time.
As with this week, when I was putting that together, I was looking for some common theme to group the three books. Bolaño became the thread between Sada’s One Out of Two and Neuman’s The Things We Don’t Do, but Piglia’s Target in the Night was a bit of an outlier. (Aside from being Spanish, which is why I chose it.)
WELL. I started reading that book, and right away found the connection between it and Sada’s book—twins!
Tony Durán was an adventurer and a professional gambler who saw his opportunity to win the big casino when he met the Belladona sisters. It was a ménage à trois that scandalized the town and stayed on everyone’s mind for months. He’d sow up with one of the two sisters at the restaurant of the Plaza Hotel, but no one could ever tell with which because the twins were so alike that even their handwriting was indistinguishable. Tony was almost never seen with both at the same time; that was something he kept private. What really shocked everyone was the thought of the twins sleeping together. Not so much that they would share the same man, but that they would share each other.
There. The triangle is complete.
Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt. Translated from the Danish by K. E. Semmel (Open Letter)
Naja is just starting her book tour, which will include stops in Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Dallas, and Houston. She’s already done events in Rochester (video coming soon!), at the Brooklyn Book Festival, as part of the Fall for the Book celebration, and, just yesterday, at Community Bookstore in Park Slope with Valeria Luiselli. So, if you haven’t already read Naja’s book, this is a perfect time to get a copy.
At her events here in Rochester, Naja always asked me to “pitch” the book, as she wasn’t sure how exactly to describe it. Since this is a book with a strong plot, I’d generally start there, explaining how it’s about Thomas, a stationery-store owner whose dad died in prison and who left behind a mysterious package that gives Thomas the hope that he can change his life forever, but which ends up bringing about one awful occurrence after another. This is a real page-turner, functioning in some ways like a mystery novel, but also very literary, written in precise, enchanting prose. It’s also very character-driven, with all of these people—each one a little bit awful, but very recognizable—fully-fleshed out, concrete and compelling.
Although the plot totally pulls you along, it’s these characters and the discomfort that they inflict on the reader that really drew me into the book. Thomas is kind of an asshole. You don’t exactly regret that shit falls apart for him—he sort of deserves it. But his girlfriend isn’t that much better, and his sister? Man. That’s that thing that Naja does better than anyone: She creates characters who are a bit too honest with each other about their internal thoughts and feelings. It’s as if she peels back all the layers of niceness that we inhabit in the real world and exposes the underlying desires and reactions we all have, and which aren’t always the most pleasant. In some ways, her writing reminds me of Nathalie Sarraute’s. (Speaking of, I’ll have to feature the new edition of Tropisms sometime soon.)
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli. Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House)
Although I’ve been championing Valeria’s work for a few years (see the original World Cup of Literature championship match), and despite the fact that she literally just did an event with Naja and was on a panel with Andrés Neuman a couple weeks ago, I have yet to meet her. Which is why I’m really excited about this year’s American Literary Translators Association conference later this month. Valeria will be there, in conversation with Mario Bellatin no less. I’m going to fanboy out that entire day, I guarantee it.
Rather than try and explain The Story of My Teeth, I’m going to let Stephen Sparks (from Green Apple Books, and co-author of the Best Translations of the Century (So Far) book that we’re working on) take it away with this interview he did with her for The White Review:
Valeria Luiselli’s second novel, The Story of My Teeth, was commissioned by two curators for an exhibition at Galeria Jumex, a Mexico City art gallery funded by Grupo Jumex—a juice factory. Written in a series of weekly installments that were published as chapbooks to be shared with factory’s employees, the project endeavoured to bridge the gap between the art world and that of blue-collar workers. Several employees gathered to talk informally about the exploits of Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez, the larger-than-life auctioneer at the heart of The Story of My Teeth, The book club’s conversations were recorded and subsequently emailed to Luiselli as MP3s, and those conversations informed her subsequent installments. As the author puts it in the afterword, “The formula, if there was one, would be something like Dickens + MP3 ÷ Balzac + JPEG.” The following exchange, which typifies Luiselli’s willingness to lay bare artifice and to expose “the many layers of its making,” captures the spirit of her work—and the charm of the writer herself.
SS: You populate The Story of My Teeth with characters who share names with several contemporary writers. For instance, Yuri Herrera becomes a female police officer, etc. This kind of playful adjustment of reality is one of the more interesting formal elements in a novel full of interesting formal elements, and I wonder just how you came to the decision to blur the boundaries of reality and fiction like this.
VL: I had one question in mind when I decided to, quite literally, drop names of real writers into the narrative tissue of The Story of My Teeth. I wanted to explore how names modify the context into which they are placed, as well as how context re-frames names. In many ways, this was a process akin to using ready-mades in art. I found and used names of people, whose value and meaning both altered and were altered by context. While I was writing the novel, I engaged with procedures common to contemporary art, and looking for narrative or literary analogies to those procedures. Using names the way I did was a kind of narrative transposition of ready-mades. I basically used a series of writers—including myself—as if they were ready-mades or found objects, and did what many have done before me: dislocate them from their traditional context and relocate them to another, or decontextualise them and repurpose them, in order to reflect upon their value—be it use value, exchange value or symbolic value. If a reader has no idea who Yuri Herrera is, to use your example, then nothing in the narrative tissue around that name is altered. Yuri Herrera is just a policewoman. If, on the contrary, the name bears a certain weight by virtue of the many associations it has for the reader, then both the name and the narrative around it suffer a kind of indent. The name weighs more heavily and the narrative around it takes a different shape, and also envelopes the name more tightly. But the mere fact that this effect depends completely on the reader’s pre-conceptions of a name and its associations says a lot about the ultimate value, content or meaning of names. I see names as objects in this novel: objects that vary in value and meaning depending on a series of circumstances, both intrinsic and exterior to the book itself. The novel is a map, but it takes different readers to very different places, depending on what they bring to it.
Read the full interview here.
The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz. Translated from the German by Adrian Nathan West (Dorothy Project)
This may well be the most intriguing jacket copy I’ve read in a while. (Should’ve used this in our recent podcast.)
The Weight of Things is the first book, and the first translated book, and possibly the only translatable book by Austrian writer Marianne Fritz (1948–2007). For after winning acclaim with this novel—awarded the Robert Walser Prize in 1978—she embarked on a 10,000-page literary project called “The Fortress,” creating over her lifetime elaborate, colorful diagrams and typescripts so complicated that her publisher had to print them straight from her original documents. A project as brilliant as it is ambitious and as bizarre as it is brilliant, it earned her cult status, comparisons to James Joyce no less than Henry Darger, and admirers including Elfriede Jelinek and W. G. Sebald.
My knee-jerk reaction when I see something referred to as “untranslatable” is to cry Nonsense! and bust out all sort of practical versus theoretical reasons why everything’s translatable, just maybe not in the way the speaker has in mind.
But then I Googled Marianne Fritz’s later works and found this:
Yep. That. Amazing.
I’m going to end with a mini-rant . . . Do you think that if Fritz were a man her “impossible to translate” project would still be considered untranslatable? Given the statistics about gender in translation that we’ll be releasing shortly (spoiler alert! the numbers aren’t very good, with women authors representing just over 26% of all works of fiction published in translation since 2008) I have a feeling that Martin Fritz would have all his works in English and be celebrated as a genius. Stealing from Kaija who stole it from somewhere else, it’s possible this is one of those “great book, Marianne, but let’s see if one of the men will write it” situations. Or maybe not. But when 75% of all books published in translation are by men—a significant percentage of which are garbage—it raises certain questions.
I’ve been on a private rant of late about how the mainstream media will only ever focus on one female literary author (in translation) at a time, something that would never happen to male authors. First it was Ferrante, then Lispector, now Luiselli. I doubt it’s a conscious thing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere, in the back of their minds, editors look at what books they’re reviewing and thing, “well, we have one woman on here—good enough!”
Open Letter won’t be publishing all women anytime soon—our scheduling is impossible that way and we do have some amazing male authors signed on—but I applaud And Other Stories for committing to a year of publishing women. Instead, what I can do is spend more of these posts promoting the books by women that do make their way into English. There’s some great stuff out there—in addition to Ferrante, Lispector, Luiselli, etc.—and we should make a concerted effort to highlight it here.Tweet
The books we get from Otis/Seismicity are always this beautiful matte black, with a simple title heading and author listing. Each book like this that comes in the mail seems myseterious: simultaneously wary-making, but comforting. I’ve picked up one myself now and then, and like what Seismicity is doing, visually as well as with the written word. In the case of Rosenthal’s We’re Not Here, I had actually started reading the book when Megan asked to review it—so I’m happy to see her impressions on a book that, only a few pages in, already felt like it was going to be something great.
Here’s part of Megan’s review:
Rosenthal’s novel is part history, part investigation, and written like stream-of-consciousness poetry. I like that from the beginning she refers to Monsieur T.’s diagnosis as “A.’s disease,” a term that brings the focus to his experiences and conditions, rather than focusing the reader on their preconceived idea of Alzheimer’s.
This is a novel which requires reader involvement. If you are like me, you may end up reading this in small pieces in order to better digest it. I found that although it’s a compact book, the ideas represented are much larger. This novel rewards the thought and energy the reader gives to it.
Rosenthal drifts between narrators and narratives. The (his)story of Dr. Alois Alzheimer (whose name is eventually given to the degenerative disease) is interspersed with observations from Monsieur T., his wife, his daughter, and his doctor. Does the narrative history of Dr. Alzheimer provide the reader insight into Monsieur T.’s symptoms? It at least provides the reader insight into the “discovery” and naming of the disease whose key attribute is forgetting.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
I started reading Martin Aitken’s translation from the Danish of Josefine Klougart’s One of Us Is Sleeping yesterday and came across this passage that I wanted to share. I know I need to post a more comprehensive overview of our forthcoming books—both for the winter and next spring—but for now, here’s a taste of the second book in our “Danish Women Writers Series.” The penultimate paragraph is the bit I like the most.
The fatality of time and again believing the world is determined by something. Something outside of itself. Or just determined, in whatever way at all. Timing. Believing you can see patterns in the world is the same as imagining you can reach out of a window, hold out your hand and wait a couple of seconds until a leaf, a feeble, tattered leaf, settles there gently, surely in your palm. The same as expecting you can fall asleep, in such a world.
And yet it happens all the time: people fall asleep. You see connections. Or you think you see connections; and for a moment you might feel you belong.
That something like a home exists.
Only it’s not as simple as that; there are moments of collapse, life consists of little else.
A face brought down, revealed to be one’s own.
Sensing how the sand on the beach in front of the hotel at Svinkløv is retrieved by the sea as each wave retreats. The current they warn you against, and which the body recognises before the mind; an urge to succumb.
And that would be it.
What such an urge might mean.
She misses having a home, it’s a condition.
Eventually she falls asleep and dreams about a man who says in English: My hands are dirty, you don’t want to meet me.
The world laughing in your face like that. The writing laughs with it, that line of dialogue. It all gets entangled in the writing. What was, and what is, or perhaps may come. Sentences and lines of dialogue.
A desire to be older, revealing itself to be a desire not to lose one’s childhood. Not to lose anything, whatever it might be, to maintain a hold in the flow of all things, to stand firm there and: preserve. In some form, to keep hold of it all, and not leave anything behind in that burning house. Wherever you go, you leave behind you a trail of disaster, no matter what the circumstance, that’s how it is. A trail of collapse, something falling outside of all recollection, all that is not remembered by anyone and is forgotten by the world. She is not quite sure, but the feeling grows stronger, she sees it in him; a kind of reverse will to live; a nostalgic reluctance towards surrendering oneself to the world that exists. That kind of panic in the tissue, a fear of forgetting. She writes so as not to forget things, or else she writes in order to forget things and invent others more worthy of remembrance. Perhaps that’s what writing is: you start moving about in the world like a sleepwalker in the night, looking for something more real, a truth there; and then all of a sudden it is sleep that you sacrifice, then suddenly the family, then everything that is valuable and means something. Dreams while awake, ideas, pulling everything with them like waves returning, returning to the sea, faces washed away, washed clean of all humanity. Or the opposite: invoking a humanity all too exaggerated: too much human in too small a space, that pealing reality when your entire being wants that someone else.
She thought the right thing to do was perhaps to find a life first, and only then look for a way of working that fit in with that life. That it should happen in that order, instead of carrying on the way things were; searching for a way of living that fit in with her work.Tweet
This week Chad and Tom discuss Oyster shutting down, whether or not Serial Box makes any sense as a way to consume books, and this list of the top 10 most frequently challenged books. Additionally, they talk about My Struggle: Volume 2 by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila.
This week’s music is “I’m Sorry” by John Denver (a choice that will make sense by the end of the podcast).
Also, just a reminder that because of some difficulties with iTunes, you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe to the correct feed in iTunes at that link, or right here:
Or, you can just put this feed link into whichever is your podcast app of choice:
Tell all your friends and family to also subscribe—that’s what can get us higher in that Top 200 lit podcasts list . . . And it’s also amazingly helpful in getting the podcast seen by more eyes if you can take just a moment to stop by iTunes to give us a quick rating (and a little review, too, if you’re an amazing overachiever!).
And, as always, feel free to send any and all comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.Tweet
What I particularly liked about this review is the last paragraph. I’m one of those people who has a lot of peeves over readers complaining that a book “is too long” or “takes too long to read,” or even how it’s annoying if a reader has to turn to an encyclopedia or the internet to find some answers to aid in understanding a book on a deeper level. Some readers think all these things are hinderances: I think they’re what makes reading fun. It’s great when a book—in this case of short stories or “little literary objects“—compels a reader to read slower, to think, to research. To prove that, just because each story isn’t 200 pages long, it can pack just as much readingness into it as full-length novels.
Here’s the beginning of Chris’s review:
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As a result, his characters, as well as his readers, are faced with the unexpected. Sometimes the results are quite humorous, but sometimes they are so fascinating that the reader is not sure what to think. Whatever events take place in a piece, though, the French writer, who won the Prix Goncourt for I’m Gone (also available in English from The New Press), always proves himself to be a master of the craft that seems to be enhanced by the sharp clarity brought by translator Linda Coverdale.
The pieces in The Queen’s Caprice are connected by history. That’s not to say that they’re works of historical fiction (although a couple of them come close). For the most part, Echenoz is more interested in showing how we respond to history rather than just recounting it. For example, in “Civil Engineering,” the longest piece in this book, we follow a former civil engineer named Gluck as he travels the world to write about famous bridges. The problem is that he’s only focused on the bridges themselves and not the locations they’re found in.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
After a couple weeks of touring and hosting events, I finally have time to get back to my “weekly” write-ups of new and forthcoming books. Last time I talked about a couple Indonesian titles one of which, Home by Leila Chudori, I’m greatly enjoying. I also complained about school starting before Labor Day, arguing that that should be illegal. Well, guess what? In Michigan it is! This is why the Midwest rules.
Before getting to the books themselves, I have to jump on the bandwagon of hating all the insufferable DraftKings and FanDuel commercials. I’ve been complaining about these for months, but with the start of the new football season we’ve now reached the pure saturation point. I’m not even sure there are other commercials or products out there anymore. Even when I check Twitter I’m greeted with a “sponsored post” about how “Parvez” won $100,000 and I could too!
That’s one of my big beefs with the ludicrous way these sites advertise themselves: the winners featured on these commercials are always moronic looking Patriots fans, piss drunk in a bar, wearing their baseball hat backwards, looking cross-eyed at the screen (sometimes not even at the right one), fist pumping the air and screaming like dumb New Englanders scream, then getting a massive oversized check. The overall message? You’re not as dumb as this fucking guy, are you? Just look at him. EVEN HE CAN WIN AT THIS. (Note: DraftKings is from Boston, which is a city that type-casts itself, and why it must be so easy for them to find stupid looking people to be in their crappy ads. Why waste your time casting someone who appeals to your target demographic when you can just hire the demographic!)
And it’s only going to get worse. The NCAA is freaking out since this isn’t considered gambling, therefore allowing people to play this “daily fantasy draft contest” with college football and basketball players. DraftKings signed a $250 million deal with ESPN that will lead to it being “integrated” into ESPN’s sites. They raised an additional $300 million in July. All because regular fantasy isn’t good enough anymore—we Americans need things to be more immediate and more oversized! WE WANT KING SIZED FANTASY!
What changes this from a dumb rant into something sadder is that all the money lost by the suckers trying to outwit “Jimmy from Watertown Mass” will benefit a corporation operating just barely on this side of shady. At least with the lottery, the poor are preyed upon to help fund schools and shit. It’s still awful, but at least the money doesn’t go to someone who says things like “Once they try it, they like it. It’s sticky.” Gross. Just gross.
So fuck their ads. I hope all of those oversized checks catch on fire and some Russian teenagers hack the shit out of their site.
Well, that, or that these “games of fantasy skill” get outlawed in every state. Either or.
Now, to the happy stuff!
One Out of Two by Daniel Sada. Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (Graywolf Press)
Sada made a lot of waves back in 2012 with Almost Never, a novel that’s basically 328 pages of foreplay. It’s a great novel, and I’m really excited that Graywolf is going on with him. (Although saddened by the fact that he died back in 2011. I would love to have brought him to Rochester.) This novel is about identical twins who do everything together, until a man enters the picture . . .
Sada’s writing style reminds me a bit of Alejandro Zambra’s—there’s something direct, anti-metaphorical linking the two in my mind—but is also quite unique, fun to fall into the rhythms of and, I assume, a beast to translate. (Which is why Katie Silver deserves such accolades—for this and all her works.)
Now, how to say it? One out of two, or two in one, or what? The Gamal sisters were identical. To say, as people do, “They were like two peas in a pod,” the same age, the same height, and wearing, by choice, the same hairdo. Moreover, they both must have weighed around 130 pounds—let’s move into the present—: that is, from a certain distance: which is which?
If none of that sells you on the book, maybe the Bolaño quote on the back will: “Of my generation I most admire Daniel Sada, whose writing project seems to me the most daring.” It’s amazing, and very admirable, how many people Bolaño helped out and wrote about. And it’s not a surprise that us publishers keep putting his quotes on all of our books, knowing that he’s probably the one Spanish-language author outside of Gabriel García Márquez who normal Americans might recognize. Which brings me to:
The Things We Don’t Do by Andrés Neuman. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia. (Open Letter)
Front cover: “Good readers will find something that can be found only in great literature.”—Roberto Bolaño. Quotes from this statement of Bolaño’s—made when he was on the jury for the Herralde Prize, a statement included in Between Parentheses—are also on Andrés’s earlier books from FSG. It even kicks off this amazing Flavorwire feature on the book. And will be forever!
I actually asked him about this quote when we were in Chicago—and before we sang karaoke at the bar, which, by the way, Andrés is really good at, although he’s not as good of a singer as he is a ping-pong player—and he talked about how unfortunate it was that Bolaño didn’t get to live long enough to see if his proclamation came true. “Maybe he would’ve hated my later novels.” I can’t believe that would be true, but I understand the anxiety.
Andrés followed that up by telling a story about playing chess with Bolaño, who was super serious when it was his turn to play, then, after making his move, would jump around playing air guitar to the loud music of a Mexican punk band . . .
I really loved hanging out with Andrés and Naja Marie Aidt over the past two weeks, and, I have to say, even though it sounds cheesy and clichéd, that these visits sort of reinvigorated my interest in books and publishing. We all need a jolt sometimes, and coming in contact with literary geniuses is one great way to make that happen.
Target in the Night by Ricardo Piglia. Translated from the Spanish by Sergio Waisman. (Deep Vellum)
No Bolaño quote! But there is one from Robert Coover, which is really cool, and actually references Macedonio Fernandez.
The only Piglia I’ve read is The Absent City, which was inspired by Macedonio’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel), and which is brilliant and narratively complicated in an Onetti, Labbé sort of way.
Although it sounds like this book brings back some of the themes from his earlier novels—life in Argentina during the Dirty War—it also sounds like much more of a definable, noir novel. This is a book that Tom Roberge will be raving about at some point. And I probably will too—just check this bit from Sergio Waisman’s intro:
Experimenting with form, innovating with narrative, recounting gripping tales that revolve around a central plot, Target in the Night starts as a detective novel, and soon turns into much more than that. Piglia takes the genre of the detective story and transforms it into what can be called, using Piglia’s own term, “paranoid fiction.” Everyone in the novel is a suspect of a kind, everyone feel persecuted.
OK, as soon as I’m done with Home, I know what I’m going to pick up . . .Tweet
It’s taken longer than it should to announce this—blame my disorganization, all the other events that have been going on, etc.—but we’re finally ready to unveil this year’s jury for the Best Translated Book Award prize for poetry.
Before listing the judges, I just want to remind you to check this page for weekly updates related to the Best Translated Book Award, and to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Thank you very much.
Now, here are your five judges:
Jarrod Annis is a writer and bookseller living in Brooklyn, NY. He works as manger and small press buyer at Greenlight Bookstore, and previously served as an associate editor at Ugly Duckling Presse. His work has appeared in Coldfront, Greetings, and Poems By Sunday.
Katrine Øgaard Jensen is a journalist, writer, and translator from the Danish. A former editor-in-chief of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, she is now blog editor at the international literary journal Asymptote. Her translation of Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s award-winning poetry collection Third-Millennium Heart is forthcoming from Broken Dimanche Press in 2016.
Tess Lewis is a writer and translator from French and German. Her translations include works by Peter Handke, Alois Hotschnig, Melinda Nadj Abonji, Pascal Bruckner, Anselm Kiefer, and Jean-Luc Benoziglio. She has been awarded translation grants from PEN USA and PEN UK, an NEA Translation Fellowship, a Max Geilinger Translation Grant for her translation of the Swiss poet Philippe Jaccottet, the ACFNY Translation Prize for her translation of the Austrian poet and writer Maja Haderlap, and most recently a Guggenheim Fellowship to translate the Swiss writer, Ludwig Hohl. Her essays and reviews have appeared a number of journals and newspapers including The New Criterion, The Hudson Review, World Literature Today, The Wall Street Journal, The American Scholar, and Bookforum.
Becka Mara McKay earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Washington and an MFA in literary translation from the University of Iowa, where she also received a PhD in comparative literature. Her first book of poems, A Meteorologist in the Promised Land, was published by Shearsman Books in 2010. She has published three translations of fiction from the Hebrew: Laundry (Autumn Hill Books, 2008), Blue Has No South (Clockroot, 2010), and Lunar Savings Time (Clockroot, 2011). Her poems and translations have appeared in American Letters & Commentary, ACM, Third Coast, The Iowa Review, Hotel Amerika, Rhino, Natural Bridge, Rattapallax, and elsewhere.
Deborah Smith is publisher and editor at TILTED AXIS, a not-for-profit UK press focusing on diverse, contemporary world literature. She translates from Korean, including Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and Human Acts (both Portobello UK, Crown US), is perilously close to finishing a PhD at SOAS, and tweets as @londonkoreanist.
So, if you’re a publisher of poetry in translation and want to submit your work for consideration for this years award, all you have to do is mail a copy to everyone on this handy address label. (Or, if you want to submit them electronically, use this one which has everyone’s email address.) Please submit these books ASAP, or before December 31st. Any work of poetry published in translation for the first time ever between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2015 is eligible. If you have any questions, contact me at chad.post[at]rochester [dot] edu.
The longlist for the poetry (and fiction) awards will be announced on March 29, 2016, with the longlist coming on April 26, 2016, and the winners at BEA on May 11, 2016.
For the past few years, Amazon Literary Partnerships has been sponsoring the award, providing $20,000 in cash prizes for both fiction and poetry, $5,000 of which goes to the winning poet and $5,000 to the winning poetry translator. (And the same goes for the winning fiction author and translator.)Tweet
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .