28 October 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is a guest post from Acacia O’Connor, a recent graduate of the MA program in Literary Translation here at the University of Rochester. She’s currently living and working in D.C., and searching for a publisher for her translation of Exhausted Space by Tommaso Pincio.

Translation, though it is infrequently admitted, is a political act and has the ability to shock, to scandalize. Translation can be polemical. Now, with the trial of Massachusetts man Tarek Mehanna, translation has been connected not only with political action, but allegedly with terrorism. Mehanna is accused of advancing terrorism by attempting to join a terrorist camp in Yemen (hilariously, he apparently failed to find and join one once he was there) and by allegedly plotting to shoot people in a mall. However, he also faces charges for speaking out over the internet on his English-language blog and because of a jihadist text he translated into English.

Mehanna’s trial has caught the ear of the media because his legal team is turning to a First Amendment defense. Boston.com reported that Mehanna’s attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., told the jury that Mehanna’s views—whether morally right or wrong, against the American government or not—should be protected speech.

“I’m not here to convince you to believe that his view and the view of millions of others was correct. . . . I am asking you to find that you can hold that view in the United States of America even if the government does not want you to hold that view.”

“We can hold onto these views, and we can speak them, even if it’s what upsets the United States government,” he said. “It’s what makes the United States so great, so strong, and so free.”

Leaving aside the other charges, what makes this story so interesting is the treatment of translation and the question about whether translating a text necessarily constitutes supporting the views, spirit and goals contained therein. Mehanna translated radical Islamic texts, including a book entitled “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad” and published them on his blog. The prosecution alleges that, in doing so, he was encouraging terrorism and violence. The defense claims Mehanna’s interest in the texts was more academic and that he had gone to Yemin to study Arabic, not to participate in a terrorist camp.

In an interview with NPR, Mehanna’s brother Tamer responded:

“Find me one spot anywhere on my brother’s blog where he condones violence. Find me one word that my brother wrote.”

“We live in a country where the First Amendment is supposed to allow us to say these things,” Tamer Mehanna said. “We’re supposed to be able to talk about our views and share. I should be able to translate a text and not worry about being charged with terrorism. How is this not ridiculous?”

A fair question. Interestingly, the issue hinges on whether Tarek Mehanna, as a translator of a violent text “wrote” the words. Did Mehanna translate the text so as to incite his audience to violence? If so, how could that ever be proven? And does his motive even matter? If translating a Jihadist text is a licentious offense that could land you in prison, what other translations of political texts fall out-of-bounds?

The translation and speech-related charges are not the only charges in this particular case. However, couldn’t arresting someone for translating a text have a “chilling effect” on translation and publishing overall?

A story like this is fertile ground for debate about what it is a translator does and who she does it for and the best part is, in my opinion, is that it brings to the foreground the political nature of translation—something that many writers and translators would often neglect in favor of being (dare I say it) belletristic.

4 October 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This past weekend, the NY Times Book Review included this interesting essay by Rachel Donadio about reading Alberto Moravia:

In its culture as in its politics, Italy lives under the shadow of Silvio Berlusconi. With his endless legal entanglements and sexual imbroglios and his colorful manner of governing (or not governing), it often feels as if the prime minister has taken all the oxygen out of the room, the airwaves, the entire republic. “How did we get here?” is the dominant — indeed often the only — topic of conversation in Italy today.

The novelist Alberto Moravia, a 20th-­century giant whose work is generally overlooked today, offers one key to unlocking the mystery. Born in 1907, Moravia came of age under Fascism — he belonged to a generation of writers, including Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginzburg, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Elsa Morante (Moravia’s first wife), who found global audiences after the Second World War. In his most important novel, “The Conformist” (1951), Moravia explored the complicated links between sex and politics in a nation of cynical opportunists. The formative moment in the life of the protagonist, Marcello Clerici, comes at age 13, when he shoots a defrocked priest who has tried to seduce him. True to the novel’s title, Clerici, whose name means “clergy,” later joins the Fascist Party more out of boredom than conviction. In addition to exploring the homoeroticism of power (a theme that later captivated Pasolini), Moravia’s novel also delved into a careerism and even nihilism that he identified just below the surface of Italian society, reaching far deeper than any ideology.

Moravia died in 1990, a many-laureled man of letters. Several years later, three unpublished novellas were found by chance in a suitcase in his Rome residence. The manuscripts, which offer variations on a love story set during World War II, were most likely written in the early 1950s, between “The Conformist” and “Contempt,” a brutal 1954 account of a disintegrating marriage. Now they have been published under the title Two Friends (Other Press, $18.95), in an excellent translation by Marina Harss, offering a fascinating glimpse of how Moravia’s writing evolved. In one particularly revealing moment, the mother of a middle-class Roman family cries, “For all I care, the English can win, or the Germans. . . . I just want someone to win so we can forget all this!” Reading this today, in the long twilight of the Berlusconi era, the line is almost haunting.

Moravia (and his first wife, Elsa Morante) are both fantastic writers, and it’s great the Other Press has brought out this recently discovered series of novellas. For those interested in taking a closer look, Two Friends was one of the first books included in Read This Next, so you check out a preview by clicking here, or you can read an interview with Marina Harss. We also have a full review of the book by Acacia O’Connor.

22 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Read This Next title is Alberto Moravia’s Two Friends, which is forthcoming from Other Press, and which Acacia O’Connor reviewed for us.

Translated from the Italian by Marina Harss, Two Friends is a collection of three posthumously discovered Moravia novellas. You can read a sample here.

And here’s part of Acacia’s review. (If you’re not familiar with Acacia, she’s working on her MA in literary translation here at the University of Rochester with a focus on contemporary Italian literature.)

Moravia is a huge figure in Italian literature and culture: he began his career as a journalist (not unlike his Sergio character in Two Friends) and editor, founding literary journals Oggi and Caratteri. His first novel, Gli Indifferenti (Time of Indifference) is perhaps still his best known, though other novels, including Il Conformista (The Conformist) and Il Deprezzo (Contempt), are well-known in their film iterations under the direction of Bernardo Bertolucci and Jean-Luc Godard. His work, which dealt with the contemporary crises of belief and issues of social alienation, consistently suffered censorship under the fascist regime. Later, he won the pretigious Strega Prize (as did his wife, Elsa Morante). In the years before his death, he entered politics, serving in the European Parliament.

Knowing a bit about Moravia’s background, especially the bit about his novels being seized under Mussolini, makes Two Friends all the more interesting. Because as much as these drafts are about the relationship between Sergio and his friend Maurizio, they are also about the relationship between the individual and the fraught political environment. In these unfinished stories, Moravia draws out the respective anxieties of two young men from different backgrounds and shows us their responses to communism and the war. Rather than a history book version of events and attitudes, Moravia tells you the story of a young man whose ideals and politics are mixed up in his local and personal dramas—much like my/our big ideals and small dramas are comingled today.

The drafts of these three piecemeal novellas were discovered in 1996 in Moravia’s basement in Rome. Because the author famously destroyed all his draft materials after completing a book, scholars and those at the Fondo Moravia have naturally been very interested in these pages. What you read in this newly translated text is an organized guestimate pieced together from disordered pages discovered in a ratty suitcase, but they are extremely readable.

You can read the entire review by clicking here.

22 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

One of the beautiful things about translation, to my mind, is that it polemicizes the easy notion of the complete and whole work of art, of the perfect and sacred original. Translation is a subjective reading, a series of choices made by an individual with their own background, experience and politics. It’s a common adage that “all communication is translation.” This goes, too, for creative arts, as Michael Cunningham pointed out in an essay he wrote last fall: “Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write.”

I love Cunningham’s essay, in which he confesses that his books are not the transcendent pieces of genius he imagined them to be in his mind. I think of his words often regarding translation and find myself referring to them now again in regards to the recently translated work Two Friends, a series of unpublished novella drafts by the great Italian writer Alberto Moravia. Two Friends is an excellent example of the construction and progression that takes place in writing as well as in translation.

Moravia is a huge figure in Italian literature and culture: he began his career as a journalist (not unlike his Sergio character in Two Friends) and editor, founding literary journals Oggi and Caratteri. His first novel, Gli Indifferenti (Time of Indifference) is perhaps still his best known, though other novels, including Il Conformista (The Conformist) and Il Deprezzo (Contempt), are well-known in their film iterations under the direction of Bernardo Bertolucci and Jean-Luc Godard. His work, which dealt with the contemporary crises of belief and issues of social alienation, consistently suffered censorship under the fascist regime. Later, he won the pretigious Strega Prize (as did his wife, Elsa Morante). In the years before his death, he entered politics, serving in the European Parliament.

Knowing a bit about Moravia’s background, especially the bit about his novels being seized under Mussolini, makes Two Friends all the more interesting. Because as much as these drafts are about the relationship between Sergio and his friend Maurizio, they are also about the relationship between the individual and the fraught political environment. In these unfinished stories, Moravia draws out the respective anxieties of two young men from different backgrounds and shows us their responses to communism and the war. Rather than a history book version of events and attitudes, Moravia tells you the story of a young man whose ideals and politics are mixed up in his local and personal dramas—much like my/our big ideals and small dramas are comingled today.

The drafts of these three piecemeal novellas were discovered in 1996 in Moravia’s basement in Rome. Because the author famously destroyed all his draft materials after completing a book, scholars and those at the Fondo Moravia have naturally been very interested in these pages. What you read in this newly translated text is an organized guestimate pieced together from disordered pages discovered in a ratty suitcase, but they are extremely readable.

What I found most interesting about these three drafts are the differences between them and the progression (if progression is the right word) from the first to the third. The first centers largely around the boyhood tension and rivalry that exists between Sergio, who is from a working class family, and his friend Maurizio, who is of the decidedly more bourgeoisie set. Sergio struggles with his sense of duty and his disapproval of Maurizio who appears not to care about the politics surrounding the war.

The second has Sergio and Maurizio substantially unaltered, character-wise, but engaged in a much more plot-driven conflict: Sergio is obsessed with getting Maurizio to “convert” and join the communist party and goes so far as to offer his girlfriend, Lalla, in exchange. The conversation about sexual exclusivity (or not) and political loyalty through the addition of Lalla makes the second a much richer story.

Only in the third, however, did I feel like I heard Sergio clearly, as the perspective switches from third to first person. There’s an increased focus on the relationship between Sergio and Nella (neé Lalla) that deftly complicates Sergio’s communist fervor. Is Sergio so insistent that Maurizio become a communist because he believes so much in the cause? Or because of an unrelenting feeling of inferiority to the well-heeled Maurizio? Or because of a desire to control him, and Nella? Over the course of the pages Moravia brings out Sergio’s destructive investment and not at all disinterest in communism and shows how his politics are a mask for his insecurities and cruelties.

Two Friends gives a rare glimpse into a writers process. While the characters of Sergio and Maurizio (and the nebulous Nella/Lalla character) remain, their motives and circumstances change. By the third draft, Moravia is creating new tensions that subtly bring out concepts that are more bluntly apparent in earlier pages. The writing is unpolished and straightforward, but these pages give us a rare treat: observing the process of a writer “translating” his ideas into a story, to varying levels of success.

21 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As part of this week’s Read This Next feature on Alberto Moravia’s Two Friends, we just posted an interview with translator Marina Harss conducted by U of R translation grad student (and fellow soccer fan) Acacia O’Connor.

Here’s an excerpt:

Acacia O’Connor: Two Friends is a unique text — it’s different segments of unfinished works by the great Italian writer Alberto Moravia, rather than an even nearly complete novel manuscript — how do these different segments work together in your mind? What sorts of challenges did this text, which at times misses segments etc., present to you as a translator?

Marina Harss: I think the challenge for me was the “unfinished” quality, sorting out the repetitions in the texts, dealing with spots where I knew that Moravia would have cleaned things up. How to be respectful to Moravia while also being completely faithful to the text. Also, I found that in dealing with three unfinished texts, it was more difficult to “get into the flow” and really get to know the characters, their past and their future. [. . .]

AO: What do you think Moravia, or any author like him really, would feel or think about having these manuscripts published? And translated into English?

MH: Honestly, I think he would probably be horrified. He burned his early drafts, and these only survived because they were in a pile of papers that was misplaced during a move. Clearly, he didn’t feel the book worked, since he abandoned it to write Il Disprezzo. But people who are interested in (and love) Moravia will get something out of these fragments, and in that sense it is a tribute to the writer.

Be sure and read the full interview, and tomorrow we’ll post Acacia’s review.

OK, I’m out. Our air conditioning shut down around noon today, so it’s approximately 135 degrees in my office and my brain is melting.

15 December 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Acacia O’Connor on Valeria Parrella’s For Grace Received, which was published by Europa Editions last fall (which is approximately 7 catalogs in “Publishing Time”) in Antony Shugaar’s translation.

Acacia is one of the MALTS (Masters in Literary Translation Studies) students here at the University of Rochester. (For more info on our programs, click here.) She’s been interning for Open Letter all semester, during which time she came up with a couple killer marketing ideas, including an iPhone app that we need a developer for (it’s an anti-guinea pig game) and a really, really cool idea about reading groups, the physicality of books, and Benjamin Stein’s The Canvas.

She actually wrote this review for another class, for which she was supposed to write a review that really looked at the translation as a translation. Which makes this a really interesting piece.

They say “See Naples and die” (Vedi Napoli e poi mori). I once thought this meant that Naples, bordered on one side by a still-active volcano and the sparkling sea on the other, is so breathtaking that there’s no use searching for anything more beautiful. Not so, a southern Italian corrected me. In Naples you notice every little angle of life: Leopardi’s desert flower growing out of the Vesuvian hillside; sad-faced old women in babushkas living on the ground floors of bent and dirty alleys; desperate Senegalese immigrants scheming to pick the pockets of almost-as-desperate Neapolitan teenagers; the soaring song of the tarantella. After a few days in Naples, you’ve soaked in everything in its chaotic, dirty, beautiful honesty.

[. . .]

The collection consists of just four stories, but together they manage to touch on many of the major obstacles life in Naples—or anywhere else—presents. Okay, so there are some things that life does not thrust upon everybody: stabbings, mob bosses, stints in prison, adulterous affairs, drug trafficking, black market books, black market CDs. But in a certain sense these events are incidental. They are presented matter-of-factly, because for anyone familiar with a certain reality of Naples it truly is a matter of fact. Equally important to Parrella’s stories, however, are the emotional consequences for her characters, who sense the limitations of their lives and grapple with them. A copy shop boy in the story “Siddhartha” who once played guitar beautifully and could again, maybe, someday. The woman who despite having it all, longs for “The Imagined Friend.” They are conscious of Possibility and this awareness is painful.

The challenge Parrella’s work presents the translator is that it is idiomatic and makes use of the local dialect. The narration is conducted in a modern voice of Italian while dialogue makes frequent use of dialect. When I began reading Shugaar’s translation before having read the Italian, I wondered if the author had cut down using dialect in this second book of short stories. Well, yes and no. Neapolitan does appear less frequently, appearing via the use of mo’ (now/_adesso_) and ‘sto (this/_questo_), for example. Where it does appear, however, is practically invisible in translation, indicating that Shugaar has normalized the text, attempting to render it in a single English voice. Not only are they normalized, sometimes dialect phrases or casual comments do not always appear in a similarly casual voice in English, thus seeming overformalized.

Click here to read it all.

15 December 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

They say “See Naples and die” (Vedi Napoli e poi mori). I once thought this meant that Naples, bordered on one side by a still-active volcano and the sparkling sea on the other, is so breathtaking that there’s no use searching for anything more beautiful. Not so, a southern Italian corrected me. In Naples you notice every little angle of life: Leopardi’s desert flower growing out of the Vesuvian hillside; sad-faced old women in babushkas living on the ground floors of bent and dirty alleys; desperate Senegalese immigrants scheming to pick the pockets of almost-as-desperate Neapolitan teenagers; the soaring song of the tarantella. After a few days in Naples, you’ve soaked in everything in its chaotic, dirty, beautiful honesty.

On the copyright page of Valeria Parrella’s For Grace Received there is a note similar to that which is often shown before episodes of Law & Order. “This book is a work of fiction,” it warns. “The characters and events described in these stories are imaginary, but the social and environmental settings that produced them are, on the other hand, quite authentic.” The environment and society we’re dealing with, specifically, is that which you see before dying: Naples, the playground of the Gomorrah, a paradise of contraband. Taken more broadly, it is a profoundly human setting full of characters secretly nursing small hopes. Antony Shugaar’s translation brings us into the lives of these characters in Parrella’s English-language debut.

The collection consists of just four stories, but together they manage to touch on many of the major obstacles life in Naples—or anywhere else—presents. Okay, so there are some things that life does not thrust upon everybody: stabbings, mob bosses, stints in prison, adulterous affairs, drug trafficking, black market books, black market CDs. But in a certain sense these events are incidental. They are presented matter-of-factly, because for anyone familiar with a certain reality of Naples it truly is a matter of fact. Equally important to Parrella’s stories, however, are the emotional consequences for her characters, who sense the limitations of their lives and grapple with them. A copy shop boy in the story “Siddhartha” who once played guitar beautifully and could again, maybe, someday. The woman who despite having it all, longs for “The Imagined Friend.” They are conscious of Possibility and this awareness is painful.

The challenge Parrella’s work presents the translator is that it is idiomatic and makes use of the local dialect. The narration is conducted in a modern voice of Italian while dialogue makes frequent use of dialect. When I began reading Shugaar’s translation before having read the Italian, I wondered if the author had cut down using dialect in this second book of short stories. Well, yes and no. Neapolitan does appear less frequently, appearing via the use of mo’ (now/_adesso_) and ‘sto (this/_questo_), for example. Where it does appear, however, is practically invisible in translation, indicating that Shugaar has normalized the text, attempting to render it in a single English voice. Not only are they normalized, sometimes dialect phrases or casual comments do not always appear in a similarly casual voice in English, thus seeming overformalized:

“Eh”, dice lui, “vabbè, mo’ mandiamo a chiedere ‘sto controllo dei documenti, un’oretta e ce ne andiamo tutti quanti a casa. Per favore però, spegnete i cellulari”.

“Mannaggia”, dico io . . .

The treasury agent here is trying to sound non-chalant, like he has to inspect a copy shop but doesn’t necessarily want to. Vabbè could be alright/fine/whatever/OK, expressing “let’s just get this over with and we’ll all go home.” Here’s Shugaar’s:

“Mmm,” he replies, “well, let’s go ahead and request the document check, just an hour or so, and then we all go home. But, do me a favor please, and turn off your cell phones.”

“Rats,” I say . . .

First of all, what character not appearing on Sesame Street says “rats” these days? Mannaggia, so far as I have always thought of it, is damn or, at its most benign, darn. Secondly, the inspector has become somewhat more formal-sounding. In the Italian he does “request” a “document check,” but the vabbè, mo’ and ‘sto bookend the formality with a buddy-buddy feeling that doesn’t come through at all in the English. Shugaar makes some great choices for colloquial phrases without English equivalents. For example “bloody hell” for the exclamation “_che sangue_” retains both the swear and the blood.

Oddly, the awkward tenor of the dialogue in places is not due to remaining literal to the text. In fact, Shugaar makes choices throughout the novel to streamline the voice in English and make it sound fluid and colloquial. He sometimes adds or subtracts words, apparently for the sake of clarification. While a translator should approach the question of how literal s/he wishes to be on a phrase-by-phrase, or even a word-by-word basis, I frequently wondered why Shugaar would add words in one place when they were extraneous to comprehension and not add them in other awkward places. For example, a conversation about someone who shows up wearing a fur coat in the spring:

“Hello? We’re in the south of Italy. Think! Unless you’re stuck on an Alp, like you are, it’s springtime, next weekend I’m going to Procida . . .”

“Stuck on an Alp?” Just one? I consult the Italian.

“Pronto? Qui è il sud. Capisci? Fuori dall’alpe c’è la primavera, io il prossimo weekend vado a Procida.”

Okay, so it does say “outside the alp” singular rather than the Alps, which is indeed odd, but it also does not say he’s “stuck on it,” nor does it specify that the south is “of Italy.” One might say “we’re in the south of Italy” on the phone, but one might just as well say “This is the south,” which is closer to the source text and would capture the sassiness. Americans would understand the concept of the south being hot from our own geography. In conversation “_capisci_?” is used as we utilize “you know?” or “get/got it?” and in fact Shugaar does treat it this way in other places, leading me to wonder why he has the character call for thinking. If you’re going to totally invent being “stuck on” the mountain and add in “like you are,” why not pluralize Alps?

Is Shugaar trying to improve or clarify the text? Or is he “transmitting [that] feeling of foreigness to his readers” that Schleiermacher talks about in his essay “On the Different Methods of Translation”? With a text like For Grace Received, so full of contemporary idioms, the work of the translator is to absorb what a character says and spit it back out as if it were an average, modern person saying it in the target language. I think Shugaar would agree, but sometimes his choices come out like “rats!”—that is to say a little stale. A twenty-something copy boy in Naples who “_puzza a peste_” (smells really bad, literally like the plague) could say he “stinks to high heavens,” but would he? In America he would probably say he smelled like shit, or smelled terrible. If he says the paper in the copy shop “_fa schifo_,” it could mean the paper is “flimsy” but I would probably read it as “it sucks.”

For the most part, however, Parrella’s characters come through in all their honesty, impatience and vulnerability. They are all looking at holes in their lives, just as the main character of “F.G.R.,” the title story, looks down at a literal hole in her bathroom floor, pieces of plaster crumbling down into her downstairs neighbor’s tub. They catch glimpses at a more complete life, but it would take a lot of renovating to get them there. Perhaps this is an appropriate metaphor for translation: a hole waiting to be repaired. Once it is patched up and smoothed over, it will be an unscarred bathroom floor, but inevitably, before that is realized, some of the original plaster is going to crumble off around the edges.

9 September 10 | Chad W. Post |

The latest addition to our Reviews section is a piece by Acacia O’Connor on Paolo Mantegazza’s The Year 3000: A Dream, translated from the Italian by David Jacobson and published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Acacia O’Connor is one of the first group of students to enroll in the University of Rochester’s Master of Arts in Literary Translation program. She came here by way of a year in Italy, and also worked for a time at the Association of American Publishers. I’m sure this is the first of several reviews she’ll be writing for us . . . (I love when new groups of interns start working with the press. They’re all so interesting with such diverse interests, and they’re so earnest! So eager to learn and help out! So much different than all the jaded people working in the publishing industry.)

Anyway, this novel—a work of science-fiction originally published in 1897—sounds both dry and intriguing:

Have you ever seen renderings or book covers from the 1800s in which the artist attempts to envision and portray a future world? They always seem quaint compared to the contemporary world as it has been realized—proof that we are so limited in imagining the unknown that it will always take on shades of what we have in front of us today. Early science fiction is the same way, as we see in Paolo Mantegazza’s The Year 3000: A Dream translated in its entirety into English for the first time by Nicoletta Pireddu.

Mantegazza’s thirty-first century couple, Paolo and Maria, is making a global trek to obtain a marriage license and the right to “transmit life to future generations.” In one of their last stops in Andropolis, the global capitol, the pair go to the museum of natural history, which houses samples of all life forms as well as “possible people.” These “possible people” are scientist’s renderings of alien beings, and Paolo finds them hilarious:

“Oh, my dear Maria, how comical these planetary angels are, how grotesque, above all, how impossible! . . . We can imagine only anthropomorphic forms, and so, just as the ancient founders of theogonies could fashion their gods only by clothing them in human skin, so these odd creators of supermen were unable to go beyond the human and the animal world.”

Click here to read the full review.

9 September 10 | Chad W. Post |

Have you ever seen renderings or book covers from the 1800s in which the artist attempts to envision and portray a future world? They always seem quaint compared to the contemporary world as it has been realized—proof that we are so limited in imagining the unknown that it will always take on shades of what we have in front of us today. Early science fiction is the same way, as we see in Paolo Mantegazza’s The Year 3000: A Dream translated in its entirety into English for the first time by David Jacobson.

Mantegazza’s thirty-first century couple, Paolo and Maria, is making a global trek to obtain a marriage license and the right to “transmit life to future generations.” In one of their last stops in Andropolis, the global capitol, the pair go to the museum of natural history, which houses samples of all life forms as well as “possible people.” These “possible people” are scientist’s renderings of alien beings, and Paolo finds them hilarious:

“Oh, my dear Maria, how comical these planetary angels are, how grotesque, above all, how impossible! . . . We can imagine only anthropomorphic forms, and so, just as the ancient founders of theogonies could fashion their gods only by clothing them in human skin, so these odd creators of supermen were unable to go beyond the human and the animal world.”

This is one of several moments in which Mantegazza reveals he is aware of his own limitations and obsolescence as one making predictions about a utopic future world. Though he really needn’t, considering that many of his previsions about biology, medicine, global politics and communication weren’t far from the mark. Indeed, things such as the CAT scan, credit cards, EU, and the Internet are eerily similar to what we find in the United Planetary States. Needless to say, other details couldn’t be further from our reality one-hundred and thirteen years later, which both is and isn’t the point. The fun of reading the otherwise very dry 3000 is to imagine Mantegazza imagining us and re-imagining ourselves and our future 3000. Pireddu’s useful notes also help us locate ourselves in his time and mind.

Employing elements common to other science fiction writers of the time, such as Felix Bodin and Emile Souvestre, Mantegazza crafts his world to a greater purpose than simply making fantastic predictions. A physician, surgeon, naturalist, anthropologist and general jack-of-all-trades, Paolo Mantegazza combined his interest in science with his investment in political and moral questions of his day in his varied writings. He participated in the 5 Days Revolt for Italian independence in Milan at the age of 16 and later served as senator under the newly unified Regno d’Italia.

From the distance of this futuristic setting, Paolo, Maria and their guides can look back to the ancient world of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to criticize different aspects of society and culture. It’s a Swiftian move that gives his critiques of socialism, science, industry, religion, and especially the Aesthetic movement in art (it appears literally as a “black spot, a blot drawn over the last period of the nineteenth century” on the Art History map in Andropolis) a certain amount of distance.

In one chapter, Paolo and Maria visit the island of Ceylon, which is a sort of museum to past forms of governance. It becomes clear which forms the author feels don’t work, tyranny and socialism, for example. What is less clear is how this new peaceful, well-oiled United States of Earth really works and why. It appears that in their evolution humans have become less greedy, groping, and conniving. Mantegazza briefly attributes this to improvements in communication, which “brought men closer to one another, making hatred more difficult and war impossible.” If only twitter could save us.

What is evident, through presumptions such is these, is Mantegazza is optimistic about the future and especially about the role of science. In his future world humans all speak a universal language, there is universal suffrage, and improvements in medicine and infrastructure have made peoples lives infinitely more livable—people live to the ripe age of 70! Indeed, the greatest religion in this world is a cult to Hope. Even the stoic scientist Paolo can’t help but be moved when he and Maria visit the Temple of Hope in Andropolis. And while life with these evolved, efficient, almost naïve thirty-first century humans seems like it might get dull pretty quick, you don’t mind taking a quiet tour past the statues and beautiful fountains for a few pages.

....
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Miruna, a Tale by Bogdan Suceavă
Reviewed by Alta Ifland

Miruna is a novella written in the voice of an adult who remembers the summer he (then, seven) and his sister, Miruna (then, six) spent in the Evil Vale with their grandfather (sometimes referred to as “Grandfather,” other times as. . .

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Kamal Jann
Kamal Jann by Dominique Eddé
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Kamal Jann by the Lebanese born author Dominique Eddé is a tale of familial and political intrigue, a murky stew of byzantine alliances, betrayals, and hostilities. It is a well-told story of revenge and, what’s more, a serious novel that. . .

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I Called Him Necktie
I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

While looking back at an episode in his life, twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro remembers what his friend Kumamoto Akira said about poetry.

Its perfection arises precisely from its imperfection . . . . I have an image in my head. I see. . .

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Return to Killybegs
Return to Killybegs by Sorj Chalandon
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The central concern of Sorj Chalandon’s novel Return to Killybegs appears to be explaining how a person of staunch political activism can be lead to betray his cause, his country, his people. Truth be told, the real theme of the. . .

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The Last Days
The Last Days by Laurent Seksik
Reviewed by Peter Biellp

Spoiler alert: acclaimed writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte kill themselves at the end of Lauren Seksik’s 2010 novel, The Last Days.

It’s hard to avoid spoiling this mystery. Zweig’s suicide actually happened, in Brazil in 1942, and since then. . .

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