February Translations: Fiction

I’ve fallen a bit behind on these preview capsules of forthcoming translations, but hopefully will be able to catch up in the next week or so. For anyone interested, all the past write ups of 2008 translations can be found here. And I’ll be posting the current version of the complete database later this week. For now, here’s a quick look at five forthcoming works of fiction in translation.

  • Serve the People! Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Julia Lovell (Black Cat/Grove, $14.00, 9780802170446)

This is a Reading the World 2008 title and has a great blurb on the back from the Chinese Central Propaganda Bureau: “This novel slanders Mao Zedong, the army, and is overflowing with sex. . . . Do not distribute, pass around, comment on, excerpt from it, or report on it.” It’s the story of an affair between the wife of a powerful communist party member and a her servant, and has received a number of good reviews (including a starred one in Booklist and a B+ from Complete Review), with many critics praising the way it subverts the language of the communist party. This bit of info from the Brooklyn Rail review, “A year before China’s Yan Lianke wrote Serve the People!, he was dismissed from his position in the People’s Liberation Army. Employed to write stories that improved soldiers’ morale, it is not surprising that he was shown the door after penning Enjoyment, the 2004 novel mocking the money-making schemes of local government.” E.J. is in the process of reviewing this in full for the site.

  • The Mule, Juan Eslava Galan, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Bantam, $12.00, 9780553385083)

Although Juan Eslava Galan is very well respected in Spain—and the author of some 50 works!—this appears to be the only book of his available in English translation. Set in the Spanish Civil War, this is a book about a man, his mule Valentina, and “low-brow drinking escapades, long shots at love, and an otherwise droning existence shared by his compatriots.” An excerpt is available from Bantam, but aside from that, there’s not a lot of info online. At least not yet. There are other things I want to say about this book, but I have to save them for the “odd things that publishers do” series. . .

  • The Lemoine Affair, Marcel Proust, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell (Melville House, $9.00, 9781933633411)

I don’t think this is listed on Melville House’s website yet, but The Lemoine Affair is part of MHP’s fantastic “Art of the Novella” series, which includes books by Henry James, James Joyce, Robert Louis Stevenson, and soon will include some more contemporary authors, such as Imre Kertesz. As if it’s not enough just to have access to a “new” book from Proust, this description guarantees that I’m going to buy and read this: “In this overlooked comedic gem based on a true story, the author considered one of the most important writers of the twentieth century tells the tale of a con artist who claimed he could manufacture diamonds, with each chapter of the tale written in the style of a different French writer. This delicious spoof of Balzac, Flaubert, Chateaubriand and others is presented in a sparkling, nuanced translation by the award-winning Charlotte Mandell.” (Yes, the same Charlotte Mandell who is translating the Jonathan Littell book for HarperCollins.)

  • The Dancer and the Thief, Antonio Skarmeta, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (W.W. Norton, $24.95, 9780393064940)

Skarmeta is most well known for his novel The Postman (Il Postino), although a quick search reveals that a number of his books have been published here in translation. Unfortunately, most seem to be out of print . . . This title won the Planeta Prize in 2003, which may help with the reception here. It’s already gotten a few reviews, including a generally positive one by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post that contains an odd, backhanded sort of compliment: “. . . The Dancer and the Thief is much more than an agreeable caper. Though Skarmeta scarcely ranks at the very top of Latin America’s remarkably distinguished and varied literary elite, he is a serious writer to whom the death and rebirth of democracy in his native Chile is an endlessly compelling subject.” Hmm.

  • The Sinner, Petra Hammmesfahr, translated from the German by John Brownjohn (Bitter Lemon, $14.95, 9781904738251)

Bitter Lemon recently sent us a few of the crime titles they’re publishing in translation, and out of all of them, this one seems the most promising. Hailed as “Germany’s Patricia Highsmith” (it’s sad that most international authors are some country’s equivalent of a famous English writer—Spain’s Richard Ford!, Croatia’s Dan Brown!, Japan’s Philip K. Dick!—although it may be lack of imagination on the part of the publisher, or a kowtowing to the LCD trends of mainstream marketing that cause this to happen), this is the sotry of a “quiet, lovable young mother” who kills a stranger one day. Very sparse, direct writing. As I said before, I’m not into crime novels, but for those who are, this looks intriguing. (A better write-up about this is available via International Noir.)

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