The other day I posted some information about Rafael Chirbes and On the Edge, the prose book we’ll be reading this month in the Reading the World Book Clubs. On the poetry side of things, this month we’ll be talking about Monospace by Anne Parian, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, and since my copy finally arrived (and I finished it last night), I thought I’d get some info up about this as well.
Before getting to that, just a reminder that anyone interested in participating in the Reading the World Book Clubs should feel free to email me their questions and comments. Or, if you’re more of a public sharer, feel free to post them in the comments section below, on Twitter at #RTWBC, or in the Facebook RTWBC Group.
Now, on to Monospace.
There’s not a lot of information about Parian available online, at least not in English. There is this YouTube video of her reading, and the short bio from the book itself:
Anne Parian was born in Marseille in 1964 and currently lives in Paris. She is the author of seven books of poetry and hybrid works; she is also a photographer and video artist.
Which, to be honest, is longer than the one I found at P.O.L.:
Née à Marseille en 1964.
Exerce la psychanalyse à Paris.
Her first book, À la recherche du lieu de ma naissance came out in 1994, and her most recent, La Chambre du milieu, is from 2011. Monospace came out in 2007. That’s about all I’ve got.
From the book:
Emma Ramadan has a BA in Comparative Literature from Brown University and a Masters in Cultural Translation from the American University of Paris. Her translation of Anne Garréta’s novel Sphinx was published by Deep Vellum and her poetry has appeared in a number of journals. She recently spent a year in Marrakech translating works by the Moroccan writer Ahmed Bouanani and working with Dar al-Ma’mûn library.
A lot of people reading this will recognize Emma as the translator of Anne Garréta’s Sphinx. According to her website, she’s translating another of Garréta’s books for Deep Vellum, Not One Day, which is slated for a 2017 release. Additionally, she’s also translating The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers by Fouad Laroui for Deep Vellum, and she’s helping put together an issue of Words Without Borders dedicated to Moroccan writing.
As the recipient of a 2013 travel fellowship from the American Literary Translators Association, she’s definitely one of the top up-and-coming translators of French writing. Her dual interest in Moroccan literature and more experimental texts is really interesting as well . . .
La Presse is an imprint of Fence Books and is dedicated to contemporary French poetry and hybrid-genre work translated by English-language poets. We’re a nano-press; we publish one to three books a year.
If I’m not mistaken, this is all Cole Swensen. Which, given all the other things that she does, explains why they’re publishing only a couple of books a year. So far, La Presse has brought out fourteen titles, with translations by Keith Waldrop, Eleni Sikelianos, Jean-Jacques Poucel, and several other well respected translators.
The books are beautifully produced, well-edited, wonderfully translated. I’m more or less completely outside of the poetry world, but hopefully they’re well-received as well. It’s an impressive project.
Here’s the jacket copy:
Monospace is, first and finally, the dream of a garden. There are so many gardens—there is, of course, the story of a perfect one—and perfectly lost. So these pages gather perfumes, trees, benches, buildings, colors, and perspectives all together. They arrange a terrain, a territory, a trench, a tableau. But how, among inevitable ruins, can we create a space that can only take form as it is being described? Monospace repeats the question: “How can we garden space into existence?”
That seems about right. I’m really at a loss about how to talk about poetry books, which is one reason why I wanted to start up this part of the RTWBC—hopefully some smarter people out there, who are more keyed into contemporary poetry, can help me come to better understand and appreciate it.
The book is broken up into three sections (or maybe four, if you count the list of items that prefaces the first one, or maybe five if you count the “Index”): “The Scenery,” “I Begin Again,” and “Repetitions.”
“The Scenery” includes a fair number of footnotes, right from the start. Most of the poem involves descriptions of a landscape, but with more of a focus on the intentionality of creating/describing this landscape.
For example, here’s a simple line from the beginning:
The unique use of frankly unstable seated postures28
28. I prefer folding chairs
to rest or reflect
they perk me up
though they mock me with their garish colors
The second section, “I Begin Again,” does away with the footnotes, while ramping up the intentionality of the construction. (Again, this is my dumb interpretation/reading.)
a garden is never ideal
it resists the effects appearing without follow-through repeated with
I begin again
the roots spreading out on each side I throw the whole so that it is
under the radar of perception
of interphenomena of drawings of stains
“Repetitions” is a bit tighter, but similar:
Go off often without looking
would I look for it
now that I don’t believe it
by collecting comforts
without sufficient aid or ways
without the support
of that which we
The book ends with a ten-page index that seems to list the appearance of every word in the book. “drawings: 36, 45, 61, 70, 87; dream: 105; dreams: 21,50,92.” I don’t know what to make of that, except that these are maybe the individual materials for making the “monospace”? (Again, dumb. Don’t read a lot of poetry. Trying my best.)
Another Notable Thing.
According to the note at the end, the book was designed by Erica Mena, who happens to the executive director of the American Literary Translators Association. That’s a nice connection.
For anyone who missed this in my earlier posts, the fiction book for February’s Reading the World Book Club is On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, which is translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and published by New Directions.
As a way of introducing Chirbes, I thought I’d post this bio and interview from A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, an anthology of Spanish-language writers Open Letter published in the fall of 2014 featuring the first of Chirbes’s writing to appear in English translation. The principle idea of the book is that each of the included literary masters select the best thing s/he has ever written. (In Chirbes’s case, he selected part of Crematorio.) Prefacing these excerpts are long biographies situating the writer, and a short interview in which each author answers a few standard questions about their influences and why they chose the section they did. That’s what’s posted below.
From A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, edited by Valerie Miles:
Rafael Chirbes is an author who has been creating his work—indispensable to understanding Spain’s recent history—in the shadows. Born the 27th of June, 1949, in Tabernes de Valldigna, in the province of Valencia. He is the son of a republican family, but above all a child of the post-war—social and historical conscience have marked both his life and his writing. From the age of eight, he studied in schools for the orphans of railway workers, and he spent parts of his childhood and adolescence in Ávila, León, and Salamanca. When he was sixteen, he left for Madrid, where he got a degree in Modern and Contemporary History, perhaps to better understand that particular time in history (the second half of the twentieth century) of which he considered himself a product, that moment when a generation—his—succumbed to “chronic amnesia” right when they took power.
An insatiable reader, he worked for several years in bookstores and spent others writing literary criticism. Then he lived in Morocco (where he was a Spanish teacher), Paris, Barcelona, La Coruña, and Extremadura, and finally he went back to his city of birth, Valencia. For years he did various journalistic activities; writing restaurant reviews for the magazine Sobremesa and travel reports. It wasn’t until he was thirty-nine, in 1988, that he became known as a writer. His first novel, Mimoun, was a finalist for the Premio Herralde. Since then, Chirbes has published eight novels that have composed a bitter portrayal of modern-day Spain, blending realism and introspection, history and story, in what the author defines as “a boomerang effect”: you have to look behind you to get back to the present. Rafael Chirbes’s novels are populated with individuals who long to change history and who, nevertheless, end up succumbing, confronting the impossibility of intervening in anything, torn away toward the end of the world; revolutionaries who shield themselves behind a historical past in order to justify their uselessness in the present.
After publishing En la lucha final (1991), La buena letra (1992), and Los disparos del cazador (1994), in 1996 appeared La larga marcha, a novel that along with La caída de Madrid (2000) and Los viejos amigos (2003) formed a trilogy about Spanish society from post-war times, through the Transition. The ethical sensibility in Chirbes’s writing consists precisely in situating the reader in front of a moral conflict, forcing the reader to take part. Through his minutely detailed stories, the minature world of his characters, Rafael Chirbes manages to shed light on the mechanisms that make the real world run. In his most recently published novel, Crematorio (for which he received the Premio Nacional de la Crítica and the Premio Dulce Chacón), he depicts a world adrift, eaten away by corruption and speculation, where that game of masking the real within the fictional becomes rawer and savager. Skeptical and happy, he has accepted the recognition with his characteristic discretion, which serves him so well in Beniarbieg, a small Valencian town, where he currently lives, far away from literary cliques.
Rafael Chirbes states that up until this moment he has the impression of having written only one book. In that book “they don’t talk about the war, though the war is present; they don’t talk about hope, though they carry the aspirations of the twentieth century.” The book he’s referring to is a place where you go to try to understand the past in order to attend to the present; it’s a place where you find yourself forced, simply, to find out who you are.
The Torture of Doctor Johnson
This is the end of my most recent novel, and although the protagonist who’s speaking in the text isn’t very much like me, I do share a certain texture of his dark outlook.
In Conversation with the Dead
There are a lot of deceased authors I love crowding my bookshelves at home. I talk to them; I listen to them. From Aub and Galdós, to Tolstoy, Montaigne, Yourcenar, Lucretius and Virgil, Faulkner, Döblin, Proust, Balzac, Eça de Queiroz, and on and on. I don’t leave the house much, so I reread them either at random or impelled by some intuition that tells me that this one and no other is the dead author I should hear at a particular time. For the most part, I’m not mistaken. I also dream about the dead people I knew when they were alive; I’ve touched them, even, and now they’re nowhere, and knowing that they’re not here and that I can’t talk to them or hear their voices distresses me when I go to bed. Some nights they take control of the room: their absence leaves me breathless and I have to turn on the light so I don’t suffocate. With the light on, it’s easier to send them back to the peaceful nothingness they’re struggling to escape from.
You said once that literature is like a lover. Either you go all the way or they leave you. You have to know the value of hitting bottom.
I think texts betray any sort of imposture on the part of their authors; they’re an extremely sensitive detector. They contain what the author wants to say, but also—and almost more importantly—what’s up his sleeve. And yes, I have the impression that writing saves me—I know, I know it’s sort of a romantic idea—don’t ask me from what, even if it’s from myself, it helps me stay afloat. It puts my doubts, my anxieties, at a certain distance and, more importantly, in the service of something.
Do you think there’s an ethical place for literature or is it merely an aesthetic exercise?
I don’t believe in an aesthetic without ethics, there’s no such thing: all aesthetics suggest a particular outlook on the world, and no outlook is innocent. A point of view situates you somewhere, in a location where potentialities—ways of being—battle one another. When you write, or paint, as when you read or look at something, you have to be conscious of the fact that the author wants to invite you to look from where he’s looking. Your mission is to protect yourself. Know that they want to seduce you.
I hope you grab a copy of On the Edge (AND A Thousand Forests in One Acorn!) and join in the reading group. Feel free to email me comments and thoughts, or post them in the comments section below, or use #RTWBC on Twitter, or join the Facebook Group.Tweet
This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Heather Cleary, translator of Sergio Chejfec, Oliverio Girondo, professor at Sarah Lawrence, and co-founder of the Buenos Aires Review. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.
I was lucky enough, during the last Brooklyn Book Festival, to catch celebrated Congolese writer Fiston Mwanza Mujila and translator Roland Glasser at the front end of a whirlwind tour marking the release of Tram 83. I remember being struck not only by the force and freshness of the passages they read, but also by the physicality of their recitals. Both kept time with measured flicks of finger and heel, driving home the importance of music to the novel—not only as a theme, but also as an organizing principle of the narrative. (Glasser, in fact, remarked that his process involved re-reading passages in French until he could mark their rhythm without looking at the page; only then would he set about noting down the English.)
At the same time the Kalashnikov swing of its prose challenges the conventional opposition of style and substance, Tram 83 also dips into tradition with a tale of misadventures that recalls picaresque narratives of yore, complete with chapter headings that lay out the events to come, and a friendship (of sorts) suffused with jealousy and betrayal.
Our first stop inside the world of the novel is Northern Station, the ruins of the rail system that is the legacy of colonialism and mineral extraction in the region. Beside us on the platform is Requiem, a former Marxist who has thrown himself headlong into the frenzied capitalism of the newly independent City-State where he lives. He’s involved in a number of illicit operations, and collects compromising photos of powerful local figures as a form of personal insurance. He is waiting for Lucien, with whom he shares a complicated past and little else: Lucien, a former history student and aspiring writer in a place that needs “doctors, mechanics, carpenters, and garbage collectors, but certainly not dreamers,” does his best to remain above the fray in the struggle for survival of the “students, the diggers, the baby-chicks, the for-profit tourists . . . the single-mamas, the human organ dealers, the child-soldiers” around him.
Tram 83 plays out, in many ways, as a call and response between these two incompatible ideologies: the cynical pragmatism of Requiem and the other denizens of the City-State, and Lucien’s naïve—and, ultimately, rather elitist—allegiance to the world of letters. A call and response, that is, with a healthy dose of “background noise,” most notably the refrain of the single-mamas and underage baby-chicks on the hunt for their next clients: “Do you have the time?”
Though he distances himself enough from the local population to warrant a beating that feels like two outside the bar from which the novel gets its name, Lucien eventually, predictably, gets dragged into the tumult. As he drafts and rewrites his magnum opus (“a stage tale that considers this country from a historical perspective. The Africa of Possibility: Lumumba, the Fall of an Angel, or the Pestle-Mortar Years . . . Characters include Che Guevara, Sékou Touré, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Lumumba, Martin Luther King, Ceaușescu, not forgetting the dissident General”) for a Swiss expat publisher named Malingeau, he stumbles into robbery and romance—with notebook in hand all the while. But first, he has to arrive:
Northern Station. Friday. Around seven or nine in the evening.
“Patience, friend, you know full well our trains have lost all sense of time.”
The Northern Station was going to the dogs. It was essentially an unfinished metal structure, gutted by artillery, train tracks, and locomotives that called to mind the railroad built by Stanley, cassava fields, cut-rate hotels, greasy spoons, bordellos, Pentecostal churches, bakeries, and noise engineered by men of all generations and nationalities combined . . . According to the fickle but ever-recurring legend, the seeds of all resistance movements, all wars of liberation, sprouted at the station, between two locomotives. And as if that weren’t enough, the same legend claims that the building of the railroad resulted in numerous deaths attributed to tropical diseases, technical blunders, the poor working conditions imposed by the colonial authorities—in short, all the usual clichés.
Northern Station. Friday. Around seven or nine.
These opening lines introduce many of the motifs that give the narrative form. The dilapidated train station, a recurring backdrop in the novel, stands in for the broken promise of economic “progress” (as exploitative and destabilizing as that progress proved to be) and provides an ironic foil to the real motor of local society, Tram 83, where deals are made, treaties broken, and livelihoods eked out through seemingly infinite variations on the theme of extortion.
Time is also, always, of the essence: most notably, in the circular quality it takes on through the novel’s many riffs (“Do you have the time?”) and the permanent twilight of its central locale, populated as it is by sleepwalkers and night owls. It’s here, I would argue, between tempo and temporality that Tram 83 does its most interesting work, presenting the harshness of life in the City-State, complete with the claustrophobia generated by the novel’s ubiquitous refrains, with an unmistakable sense of play. Rejecting conservative formal and conceptual models—the African literature of “squalor, poverty, syphilis, and violence” bemoaned by Malingeau—Tram 83 is at once a celebration and a lament, a Bildungsroman sans Bildung, a masterful exercise in style, and a valuable contribution to the conversation about what literature in translation is and can be.Tweet
Since the New York Times didn’t reference PEN’s two translation prizes AT ALL in their official announcement this morning (grrrrr!), I thought I’d list all the finalists here, if for no other reason than that this info exists on the Internet somewhere outside of PEN’s site.
PEN Translation Prize ($3,000): For a book-length translation of prose into English published in 2015.
JUDGES: Elisabeth Jaquette, Aviya Kushner, Ronald Meyer, Sara Nović, and Jeffrey Zuckerman
The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector
Translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (New Directions)
The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin
Translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Translated from the Russian by Oliver Ready (Penguin Classics)
The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov
Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Open Letter Books)
Hollow Heart by Viola Di Grado
Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar (Europa Editions)
PEN Award for Poetry in Translation ($3,000): For a book-length translation of poetry into English published in 2015.
JUDGE: Urayoán Noel
The School of Solitude: Collected Poems by Luis Hernández
Translated from the Spanish by Anthony Geist (Swan Isle Press)
The Late Poems of Wang An-shih
Translated from the Chinese by David Hinton (New Directions)
Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas
Translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan (Phoneme Media)
I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky
Translated from the Russian by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev (Cleveland State University Poetry Center)
The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa
Translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu (Canarium Books)
Obviously, I’m most excited that The Physics of Sorrow is on this list, but every author, translator, and publisher on here deserves to be congratulated. As do the judges. Pairing down the ten title longlists is a daunting task, and I’m sure picking a single winner is going to be exponentially more difficult.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll get individual posts up about all of these books, but in the meantime, I hope you share this information and pick up one of them to read . . .Tweet
There are two big updates worth noting here, before getting into some of the breakdowns: 1) I added over 150 titles to the 2016 database, so this is starting to look a little bit more robust than last time, and 2) each of these lists the gender for the author and translator, along with reports breaking these down by percentage by fiction and poetry. (More on that below.)
First off, here are the general comparisons that seem most worthy to note1:
Overall Number of Titles
Fiction Poetry Total
2014 502 98 600
2015 478 91 569
2016 209 17 226
We can ignore 2016 for now—there are zero books currently listed for October, November, and December—but it’s worth pointing out that the total number of fiction and poetry translations published for the first time in 2015 dropped by 5% from the previous year. That’s not a huge number (31 titles), but it is the first time since 2010 that the figure has dropped. (2009 we logged in 360 titles, 2010 only 346. Since then we’ve gone up to 378, 459, 544, then 600. Percentage-wise, that’s pretty solid.)
In terms of the most-translated languages, French, German, and Spanish take up the top three spots in each of these reports. For 2014 and 2015, the order is French, German, Spanish, but so far in 2016, it’s French, Spanish, German.
Between 2014 and 2015, Chinese jumped from seventh overall to fifth, Russian fell from fifth to ninth, and Danish replaced Japanese, but other than that everything was pretty much the same as it has been for a few years. Italian came in fourth, with Arabic, Swedish, and Portuguese being the other languages that appeared in the top ten along with the aforementioned Russian, Danish, Chinese, and Japanese.
Publisher-wise, Amazon is still the main story. They did 46 books in 2014, 75 in 2015, and have announced 31 titles so far in 2016. (Just a note: Dalkey is above them so far this year, with 34 titles listed, but that includes titles they’ve announced through September 2016. By contrast, the Amazon titles are all from the first half of the year. In fact, 28 of the 31 are from January through April. It looks like they’re going to end up over 70 again.)
I suspect the data about the gender of authors and translators will be the most discussed part of these reports, so let me explain a bit first.
Over the past summer, a couple of my interns went through every record we have from 2008-2016 trying to figure out if the author and translator identified as “male” or “female.” Theoretically, we could/should expand this out into other gender categories, but this seemed like a relatively good starting point. We used author/translator bio pronouns to determine how to categorize all of the artists, with a few minor exceptions. If we absolutely couldn’t figure out if the artist was male or female we generally logged him/her as “Both” for the time being. (I can always change those later.) In a few instances, I don’t know who the translator is—those records are left blank. Also, if the book is an anthology containing pieces by men and women, or if a book has a translation team with men and women, it’s marked as “Both.”
If anyone is identified incorrectly on these spreadsheets, just let me know.
Here’s the general data, as I have it:
2014: 30.68% of fiction was by women (154 books, compared to 343 by men, and 5 by both), 36.73% of poetry was by women (36 to 59 to 3), meaning female authors made up 31.67% of the total (190 to 402 to 8).
2015: 29.50% of fiction was by women (141 to 325 to 12), 34.07% of poetry (31 to 54 to 6), and 30.23% overall (172 to 379 to 18).
2016: 33.01% of fiction was by women (69 to 134 to 6), 35.29% of poetry (6 to 11 to 0), and 33.19% overall (75 to 145 to 6).
In short, the percentage seems to be hovering around 31% total, which isn’t great.
Female translators fare slightly better, but only slightly.
In 2014, women translated 39.50% of the fiction and poetry published in English for the first time (237 books compared to 317 translated by men, 46 by both).
In 2015 that percentage went up to 43.74% (248 titles compared to 277 by men, 42 by both).
And so far 2016 is right in the middle: 40.89% (92 titles to 121 to 12).
This can be broken down by language, by publisher, by any number of things, and will be, once I find some more time. For now, download all of these, play around, send me corrections, and find some books that sound interesting to you.
1 As always, here is my set of disclaimers: I only count works of fiction and poetry that have never before appeared in English translations. No new translations, no reissues, no manga, no creative nonfiction. Also, I do this by myself, so all mistakes and omissions are mine. Some might be justified, others might be related to how many hours exist in a week and how many jobs am I trying to do again? If you know of something that’s missing, let me know and I’ll either add it or explain why I’m not sure it counts. Also, send me your 2016 books, poetry people. These are always the hardest to find, but to have only 17 listed at this point in time? That’s just sad.Tweet
Despite all of my New Year Best Intentions, I fell off last week with posting about the two Reading the World Book Club books for January: The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz and Twelve Stations by Tomasz Różycki. I did read (and enjoyed!) both books and will be talking about both books tomorrow on a podcast with Tom Roberge and Adrian Nathan West.
Well, in advance of that conversation, I just wanted to remind everyone who happened to read either of these books to send in your comments/questions either to me directly (chad.post [at] rochester.edu) or the podcast (threepercentpodcast [at] gmail.com). You can also post to the Reading the World Book Club Facebook Group or on Twitter using #RTWBC.
There have been a number of comments and posts on the Facebook Group, including Tony Messenger’s review of The Weight of Things:
A wonderfully bleak, dark, foggy tale, set during a further period of human decline after the second world-war, with Biblical references to Sodom and Gomorrah, Christ and the Madonna, this can be read as a straight forward tale, it can also be mulled over, steered through carefully, and is a work that demands a re-read from the moment you finish it. A worthy contender to make the Best Translated Book Award lists for 2016 and another wonderful addition to the world of Women in Translation.
along with one from David Hebblethwaite:
The Weight of Things moves restlessly backwards and forwards in time, which enables the narrative feints that I won’t go into here . . . More fundamentally, though, it disrupts the reader’s feeling of progression: a period of history flattens out into timelessness, a sense that these circumstances cannot be escaped. When I’d finished The Weight of Things, my immediate feeling was one of waking from a beautiful nightmare – but it’s a nightmare that demands to be revisited.
There are a few other comments on there as well—including multiple requests for a discussion of “come-hither-boys” (thanks, Sparks!)—but if you want to add anything, do it now. We’ll include any and all of these tomorrow in the podcast.Tweet
This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Stacey Knecht and is basically a follow-up to her earlier posts. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.
I was four, not five, as I’d always assumed until this morning, when I suddenly realized that it was 1961 when the Berlin Wall went up, so I was four, definitely not five, when I saw the cover of a magazine lying in a dentist’s office with an image I didn’t understand but which shocked and fascinated me: a color drawing of a figure clawing its way over a barbed wire-topped wall, mouth stretched in a Munch-like howl, blood dripping from its fingers. I’ve often searched for that cover, in vain, on the Internet, as if to prove to myself that this memory from the depths of my past has some basis in reality. It came to mind again this morning, after a very worthwhile re-reading of Wolfgang Hilbig’s darkly humorous “I” (1993, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole), about an aspiring writer, W. (or Cambert, or I, or “I”), who works as an informant to the East German secret police and, in the process, loses track of his own identity.
The memory of the magazine cover reminded me, once again—because I’ve been to Berlin many times since the Wall came down—just how much has changed in that city. The very fact that I can hop, literally, back and forth across the former border between East and West—it’s a city like any other, yet unlike any other, because the past can never be entirely erased. In the 1980s Berlin of Hilbig’s identity-fluid protagonist, whose mission, “Operation: Reader,” is to infiltrate East Berlin’s literary scene, the Wall is still standing and the “System” is working overtime to keep it that way. But there are doubts (fissures in the Wall?), even among those within the System, as to how long it will last.
(She stopped typing to glance out the window, where Prague, not Berlin, was thawing to reveal the red rooftops she’d forgotten were lying beneath a week-long blanket of snow. Hilbig’s novel, which she had first read on the train to Berlin, and now, for the second time, in Prague—the city where she always felt closest to what one might call her true persona, and, as fate would have it, her flat was situated in the same street where the Czech Secret Police once had their headquarters—was open to one of her favorite passages, in which W. (Cambert, I, “I”) describes the only place where he feels even remotely at ease:
The basement passages beneath Berlin’s houses are generally clean, and most of them are well lit. And this winter they were warm; the frost barely penetrated to their foundations. There were places down there—I thought of one place in particular I often resorted to—where I’d sat for hours on a wooden crate, smoking cigarettes and listening to Berlin’s vast mass asleep above my head. Of course it was quiet down here, you couldn’t hear a thing; down here probably nothing but explosions could be heard. There was but a quiet hum in the stillness, perhaps only my imagination, or perhaps it was the air in the windings of my ear, compressed by the colossal weight above me. The city above my head was like an enormous generator, its ceaseless vibration barely perceptible in everything stone, echoing that faint faraway hum, inexplicably present in all the cement foundations surrounding me, and in the mind-boggling quantities of red and brown bricks assembled and reaching down and anchoring the city’s sea of houses to the earth. A thousand years long – how long, I didn’t know – the stones had been sunk into the bowels of the earth, and it was unclear how many more thousands of years the city could hold out, could endure, with the inconceivable weight of its foundations driven into Europe’s heart.)
I’ve often wondered, and I’m certainly not the only one, how it must’ve been to live under the Communist Regime in Eastern Europe. How far would I have gone to preserve some semblance of personal freedom? How many would I have betrayed, or would I have kept silent, at the risk of imprisonment, or worse? Would I have left it all behind and fled to another life? As Hilbig writes, “To stay, or not to stay?” It’s easy enough to ponder these things in the comfort of my own surroundings, but I can’t honestly say I have an answer.
(The doorbell rang, twice. A postman she had never seen before stood in the dimly lit hallway, holding out a small package addressed to Ms. Susan Branch. Her name wasn’t Susan Branch, or at least it hadn’t been when she’d arrived in Prague. Thank you, she said, taking the package without clarifying the matter, then quickly closed the door, telling herself that if her deception were discovered, she’d blame it on the confusion brought about by her reading—twice—the novel “I”. Though perhaps she deserved some sort of chastisement for attempting to emulate Hilbig’s style in a blog post. Such hubris! Shaking her head to dispel these thoughts, she tore off the brown paper and held up its contents in the greyish light: Isabel Fargo Cole’s second Hilbig translation, The Sleep of the Righteous! Obviously, someone had been monitoring her recent reading activities. Or Susan Branch’s. But this time, she was grateful. And Ms. Branch, whoever she was, would have to wait. She had it first.)Tweet
In a sort of role-reversal, Tom does most of the ranting in this podcast, partially inspired by this article entitled “Damn, You’re Not Reading Any Books by White Men This Year? That’s So Freakin Brave and Cool.” They also discuss some women in translation stats, Philip Pullman’s decision to pull out as a patron of the Oxford Literary Festival, and the NBCC Book Award Finalists.
There is some specific book talk as well, mostly about The Weight of Things, The Argonauts, and The Story of My Teeth.
This week’s music is Oh Donna by Library Voices.
Also, just a reminder, since we changed our podcast feed, you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe to the correct feed in iTunes at that link, or right here:
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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 review.
And, as always, feel free to send any and all comments or questions to email@example.com.Tweet
This is pretty interesting, and a great opportunity for talented, young German translators:
In 2010, the Goethe-Institut New York received a generous donation in memory of Frederick and Grace Gutekunst with which we have established the Gutekunst Prize for Young Translators. From Frederick Gutekunst’s love of the German language evolved the idea of creating a prize to identify outstanding young translators of German literature into English and assist them in establishing contact with the translation and publishing communities.
Sixth Gutekunst Prize for Young Translators: Now Accepting Submissions
The Gutekunst Prize for Young Translators is open to college students and to all translators under the age of 35 who, at the time the prize is awarded, have not yet published, nor are under contract for, a book-length translation. Applications will be accepted only from permanent residents of the United States. Team translations will not be accepted.
Each applicant is required to translate a literary text of approximately 15 pages, available on request from the Goethe-Institut New York. To receive the text and the application form, please send an email to: GutekunstPrize@newyork.goethe.org
The translation and application form must be mailed electronically to the Goethe-Institut New York by midnight, Friday, March 18, 2016. Full information on the submission procedure is included on the application form.
Translations will be submitted to a jury consisting of three experts in German literature and translation. The winner will be notified in early May 2016. The jury’s statement and the name of the winner will be published on the website of the Goethe-Institut.
The winner of the Gutekunst Prize will be invited to an award ceremony to take place at the Goethe-Institut New York. The $2,500 prize will be awarded at this time and the winner will have the opportunity to present his or her translation.
The winning translation will be published on the website of the Goethe-Institut and, following agreement with the German publisher of the work, be used as a sample translation in negotiations with US publishers, to be conducted by the German Book Office.
For further information, please contact Walter Schlect: GutekunstPrize@newyork.goethe.org
I’m struggling with what to write about The Weight of Things for this week. Initially, I thought we’d have an interview with the translator ready by this point, but I suck at time management . . . Besides, what could I possible add after this interview between Adrian Nathan West and Kate Zambreno?
BLVR: Reviewers also love labels. Even Kafka being called a “Walserian” type when his Meditation came out. Although, I have just finished The Tanners, so I was really thinking of Walser when reading The Weight of Things. I thought of Jelinek too, for the archetypes and word play, and this sense of a domestic gothic that’s haunted by the war and atrocity and violence.
ANW: Walser’s a magnificent writer. But so sensitive. I think Fritz in The Weight of Things is quite cruel.
BLVR: For me with Walser it was the syntax of Fritz’s novel, the slipperiness of it, the way she went in backwards with things, if that makes sense, the humor that is seemingly polite and servile yet has that nastiness underneath.
ANW: That’s a lovely way to describe his humor. Yes, the syntax in The Weight of Things does have—and this is something Walser has in common with Kafka—that feinting quality, of saying something only to retract it halfway through.
BLVR: I thought of The Weight of Things as a work in miniature, which seems so distinct from the rest of her work. Does the book explore her later themes?
ANW: The axis is always the same: war, who bears the responsibility for it, who suffers the consequences. The first book picks away the plaster, while the later ones dig deeper and deeper until they finally end up in a kind of parallel world. The themes and settings are the same throughout: Vienna, Przemyśl, etc. Fictional places recur, too: the mother of the family in Dessen Sprache du nicht verstehst ends up in the same asylum as Berta in The Weight of Things, the same town, counties, and streets appear, and so on.
I’m also struggling with the issue of what to discuss at this point in time when several of the people I know are still reading this and have yet to reach the real emotional crux of the novel. Usually, I’m of the mindset that spoilers don’t really matter, that one should enjoy books for how their written more so than plot details, I think that’s all bullshit when it comes to talking about books in a “book club” sort of setting. That’s especially true in a book like this with such a dark, emotionally brutal reveal . . .
So I don’t necessarily want to write about my reactions to the book just yet. Maybe next week, after the month is technically over, and anyone deciding to participate in this book club idea will have had the maximum amount of time to read it.
What would be even better though is to post reactions from readers to the book. So, if you are reading it and have some thoughts or reactions, just email them to me, post them in the comments below, share them on Twitter with #RTWBC, or post them in the Facebook group.
Lizzy Siddal actually posted her write up there, and since it’s pretty much spoiler free, I feel OK about sharing it now.
Of all the events of 1945, there was one Wilhelmine recalled with particular painful clarity. Wilhelm has hung the necklace with the tiny Madonna around Berta_’s neck, not hers._
A case of sibling rivalry you might think, nothing to worry about, except that Wilhelmine soon establishes herself as the most vicious and relentless pursuer of her own objectives ever to cross my reading path. Even so, when years later, she finally gets her hands on that necklace, it is an act so callous and calculated, it takes the breathe away, and earns her the title of villainess of the piece.
This necklace—introduced in the first sentence of the novel—really is the MacGuffin of the whole novel. Berta receives it from Wilhelm, and Wilhelmine wants it for herself. The rest of the novel is centered around her plan to take it from Berta. It’s great when a relatively simple narrative motor like that can be expanded into a much larger, more textured narrative.
One of the other things that stands out about this book—and is the reason behind my hesitation to say too much about the book—is how backloaded the plot is. The really crucial information about Berta—what was her relationship with Wilhelm? why is she in this creepy hospital?—is withheld until the end and is a bit of gut punch when it happens.
Looking at the notes I wrote down in my phone while reading this (I don’t have the book with me today, which makes writing this extra tricky) I think the real winner is: “Fuck is this book dark and hurtful.” I think I remember exactly what I read before typing that. (Spoiler: It has to do with Berta’s kids talking to her.)
Anyway, send us your comments! We’ll talk about them on the podcast, here on the blog, etc.Tweet
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .
Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so. . .
Heiner Resseck, the protagonist in Monika Held’s thought-provoking, first novel, This Place Holds No Fear, intentionally re-lives his past every hour of every day. His memories are his treasures, more dear than the present or future. What wonderful past eclipses. . .
If you’ve ever worked in a corporate office, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Perception is reality.” To Björn, the office worker who narrates Jonas Karlsson’s novel The Room, the reality is simple: there’s a door near the bathroom that leads. . .
I recently listened to Three Percent Podcast #99, which had guest speaker Julia Berner-Tobin from Feminist Press. In addition to the usual amusement of finally hearing both sides of the podcast (normally I just hear parts of Chad’s side. . .
Let’s not deceive ourselves, man is nothing very special. In fact, there are so many of us that our governments don’t know what to do with us at all. Six billion humans on the planet and only six or seven. . .
“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“And this—what. . .
Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .
In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:
When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .
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. . .