25 January 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The Reeds is a camp just like any other: it has your usual hierarchy of campers, over-enthused counselors, and lovely scenic views surrounded by imposing fences and ravenous guard-dogs. It is a place that could only be found in your worst nightmares, a camp which could make even the most enthusiastic attendee cry out for their mother with horror. The Reeds is the camp to go to if you are serious about losing weight and is the frightening, dystopian focus of Ana Maria Shua’s newly translated novel, The Weight of Temptation.

The majority of this twisted tale focuses upon Señora Marina Rubin, 207 pounds, and her six-month stint at The Reeds weight-loss camp. Marina is an average “fatty,” paying the exorbitant sum to attend the premier camp run by the Professor and his Tutors. As expensive as the camp is, the only worse option is leaving early and paying the enormous breach-of-contract fee. Marina is lucky that her over-eating has not gotten horribly out of control because, here, the Professor would condemn her to a life like that of her new friend Aleli, with her jaw wired shut sipping all of her meals through a straw. The novel tracks Marina’s seemingly impossible journey through weight loss and the social structure in her new home. From her experiences in The Clockwork Orange, the chateau where campers are electrocuted to be classically conditioned to become adverse to food, to the rumors surrounding the mysterious close-by children’s camp, The Inferno, Marina’s life has been turned upside down. Her new relationships with fellow camper Alex, a restauranteur, and Carola, a rebel resident of The Inferno, will seal her precariously balancing fate at The Reeds.

The Weight of Tempation, Shua’s fifth work to be published in English, came out from the University of Nebraska Press. Translated from the original Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger, a professor of Spanish emerita from the University of La Verne in Southern California, the novel grips you at your stomach from the opening page. The reader is given unique insight into the manic head of an addict, the language of which shows just how crazed Marina can be at times.

But while she intensely lived her own small roll in the general evolution of humanity and of her individual, personal story, every day, every hour, every minute a huge, central part of her mind was consumed with a ferocious, forbidden desire: the anticipation, anguish, fear, and craving of her next meal.

Marina’s fervid obsessions over food can be incredibly overbearing at times which adds to the novel’s urgency. As she chronicles her roller-coaster history with weight loss and her new difficulties dealing with the near starvation level diet, we learn much about how food truly affects every minute of Marina’s life. More than once she entertains the possibility of cooking a human or animal to deal with her hunger, and these instances do not even happen in her most manic times of the addictive cycle. Her character is raw and truthful in ways literature often does not allow itself to go. With this in mind, however, Marina’s relationship with Alex can at times come off as inauthentic and corny compared to the raw edge the reader has gotten so used to with other aspects of the book. Overall, the book offers an incredible new look into the cyclic addiction to food and fans of dystopian literature, political parables, and food aficionados will find this to be a newly relevant twist on an old tale.

25 January 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Allie Levick on Ana Maria Shua’s The Weight of Temptation, translated from the Spanish by Andrea Labinger and available from University of Nebraska Press.

Allie is another of my students from last semester. Few more of these to run over the next couple weeks . . . But if you’re interested in reviewing for us, get in touch. Kaija is taking over the book review editor job and will be looking to assign a ton of books in the near future.

Back some time ago, Emily Davis reviewed Ana Maria Shua’s Death As a Side Effect for us, which was also translated by Andrea Labinger and published by Nebraska. Shua is an interesting writer, and it’s great that Nebraska is continuing to support her and introduce her to an English-reading audience.

Here’s the opening of Allie’s review:

The Reeds is a camp just like any other: it has your usual hierarchy of campers, over-enthused counselors, and lovely scenic views surrounded by imposing fences and ravenous guard-dogs. It is a place that could only be found in your worst nightmares, a camp which could make even the most enthusiastic attendee cry out for their mother with horror. The Reeds is the camp to go to if you are serious about losing weight and is the frightening, dystopian focus of Ana Maria Shua’s newly translated novel, The Weight of Temptation.

The majority of this twisted tale focuses upon Señora Marina Rubin, 207 pounds, and her six-month stint at The Reeds weight-loss camp. Marina is an average “fatty,” paying the exorbitant sum to attend the premier camp run by the Professor and his Tutors. As expensive as the camp is, the only worse option is leaving early and paying the enormous breach-of-contract fee. Marina is lucky that her over-eating has not gotten horribly out of control because, here, the Professor would condemn her to a life like that of her new friend Aleli, with her jaw wired shut sipping all of her meals through a straw. The novel tracks Marina’s seemingly impossible journey through weight loss and the social structure in her new home. From her experiences in The Clockwork Orange, the chateau where campers are electrocuted to be classically conditioned to become adverse to food, to the rumors surrounding the mysterious close-by children’s camp, The Inferno, Marina’s life has been turned upside down. Her new relationships with fellow camper Alex, a restauranteur, and Carola, a rebel resident of The Inferno, will seal her precariously balancing fate at The Reeds.

The Weight of Tempation, Shua’s fifth work to be published in English, came out from the University of Nebraska Press. Translated from the original Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger, a professor of Spanish emerita from the University of La Verne in Southern California, the novel grips you at your stomach from the opening page. The reader is given unique insight into the manic head of an addict, the language of which shows just how crazed Marina can be at times.

Click here to read the entire piece.

7 November 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Book Review section is a piece by Emily Davis on Ana Maria Shua’s Death as a Side Effect, which is translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger and available from the University of Nebraska Press.

Emily Davis a MALTS student here, and translates from Spanish. As you might be able to tell from the final line of her review, she wrote this months ago, at which time she emailed it to me and I promptly misfiled it. So.

Emily’s review is really positive, and makes this sound extremely interesting, and like a possible BTBA longlist title . . .

bq.If we were to ignore for just a moment the fact that Death as a Side Effect was originally published (in Spanish) in 1997 in Argentina, we might be tempted to read it in the context of recent healthcare reforms and debates in the United States, with the world painted by Ana María Shua nestling easily among the nightmares of death-panel-phobes. Luckily, this book is much more than that.

As Ernesto struggles to come to terms with his dying father, he discovers that the world he lives in is ruled not only by violent gangs of vandals and professional thieves who make even simple activities like walking outside so dangerous as to be unthinkable, but also by the medical professionals at state-run hospitals and Convalescent Homes that strip their patients—or maybe more like prisoners—of any say in their own healthcare. In the meantime, his mother is going crazy, his sister is of little help, and his girlfriend has left him. Add to this the fact that the entire narrative is told by Ernesto and is explicitly directed toward his absent (read: already lost) lover—think one-sided epistolary tale, or a novel-length version of Elena Poniatowska’s “El Recado” (in a somewhat less neurotic voice and with much more really going on)—and you have a main character buried in layers of complications that make his world difficult, if not nigh impossible, to navigate. (No wonder he occasionally flips to the Suicide Channel on the television.) It is, in part, precisely these multiple layers and their expert unfolding in narrative time that make this novel so compelling. Having read the book with only the jacket copy as preparation, I found it to be far more intriguing—and on many more levels—than I had expected.

Click here to read the entire review.

7 November 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

If we were to ignore for just a moment the fact that Death as a Side Effect was originally published (in Spanish) in 1997 in Argentina, we might be tempted to read it in the context of recent healthcare reforms and debates in the United States, with the world painted by Ana María Shua nestling easily among the nightmares of death-panel-phobes. Luckily, this book is much more than that.

As Ernesto struggles to come to terms with his dying father, he discovers that the world he lives in is ruled not only by violent gangs of vandals and professional thieves who make even simple activities like walking outside so dangerous as to be unthinkable, but also by the medical professionals at state-run hospitals and Convalescent Homes that strip their patients—or maybe more like prisoners—of any say in their own healthcare. In the meantime, his mother is going crazy, his sister is of little help, and his girlfriend has left him. Add to this the fact that the entire narrative is told by Ernesto and is explicitly directed toward his absent (read: already lost) lover—think one-sided epistolary tale, or a novel-length version of Elena Poniatowska’s “El Recado” (in a somewhat less neurotic voice and with much more really going on)—and you have a main character buried in layers of complications that make his world difficult, if not nigh impossible, to navigate. (No wonder he occasionally flips to the Suicide Channel on the television.) It is, in part, precisely these multiple layers and their expert unfolding in narrative time that make this novel so compelling. Having read the book with only the jacket copy as preparation, I found it to be far more intriguing—and on many more levels—than I had expected.

Death as a Side Effect is a book about aging, death, absence, coldness, fear, and entrapment—which, taken as a group, makes it sound like a horribly depressing read. It isn’t, though, because even amid the darkness there are bright sparks of humor. Take, for instance, a bit of Ernesto’s evidence of his mother’s going crazy: “Yesterday Mama threw a pot of stew down the stairs,” or his comically erudite description of a part of his reaction to having witnessed an act of violence: “As the car had new upholstery, I was circumspect enough to vomit on the street before I climbed in.” It is especially in such careful word choice and construction of tone that Andrea G. Labinger’s translation shines, as the prose seamlessly shifts among the range of emotions in this novel, as in Ernesto’s darkly humorous reflection on his dying father’s belongings:

Sadly, I realized there was nothing, absolutely nothing there that I might want to keep, except maybe that naked, reclining woman, whose oversized breasts were salt and pepper shakers and which struck me as the most touching symbol of my father’s bad taste and his enthusiastic vitality.

In addition to the temporary—and incomplete—lightening of mood afforded by these periodic dollops of humor, there are also moments of hope—hope for some kind of freedom—such as this dream of Ernesto’s:

I fell asleep. I dreamed I was flying. With a single leap, I gained altitude and soared through the air, very high above the city. It was pleasant, and it filled me with immeasurable pride. In my dream, I realized that flying was very unusual. Only I, among all men, could fly, only I in the entire history of the human race. I advanced effortlessly, feeling the breeze against my face, floating with an ease I never had in water. Then, without any transition, we were in the country, and I had gathered together a group of acquaintances to watch me fly. I ran and leaped, trying to rise, but my leaps were just that: enormous leaps, twenty or thirty yards long, that lifted me quite a bit above the ground. No matter how hard I attempted to run full speed, to try every which way, it did me no good. In real life, these boundless leaps would have been extraordinary. In the dream, they were simply proof that I couldn’t fly. The observers began to play poker.

His freedom is imperfect, its exercise incomplete, the outcome laughable and a touch unsettling; but still, the dream hints that there may be something beneath the surface that threatens the fearsome authority of the dystopia, something that flirts with a sort of balance in Ernesto’s world that could, perhaps, make it tolerable after all.

In the screwed-up world of Shua’s novel, perhaps the only sanity rises from Goransky, the film director with delusions of grandeur for whom Ernesto works as a scriptwriter and later as a makeup artist. Goransky has made only one successful film: a short documentary set in Antarctica. Still, he has dreams even bigger than he—“an enormous, heavy man with the brightest eyes you could ever imagine, in constant motion, a hippo on amphetamines, a bear hypnotized into thinking he was a squirrel”—dreams of making the great feature film of his era, a film also set in Antarctica. He throws a party to support his film project—a Coldness-themed party, which is at once over-the-top decadent and ridiculous, as well as strangely comforting in its absurd play at an alternative world:

There was a tea for Arctic foxes. And a cluster of Lapp huts, where exquisite dishes were served, not always in keeping with the central theme of the party as far as ingredients were concerned, but authentic in their presentation. The roofs of the huts sloped to the floor, and in the terribly hot interior, attractive, sweaty men, bare-chested and dressed in reindeer hide pants rolled up to their knees, served oysters shaped like snowflakes with white sauce and meringue, and extra-tender unborn veal steaks rotating over a fire, as if they were a single slab of flesh stuck to the enormous femur that served as a central skewer: a bear leg.

By turns horrifying, touching, thoughtful, comical, and even absurd, Death as a Side Effect is not likely to disappoint. And at just over 160 pages, you can probably still squeeze it into your summer reading mix.

9 September 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The new issue of Words Without Borders is now available online, and this month’s theme is “Reversals”:

We’re prolonging summer with another month of flip-flops, as international writers contemplate the reversals of various fortunes. On the air in Sarajevo and under the radar in São Paulo, in chilly garrets and overheated classrooms, tables turn, lives go topsy-turvy, and the only order is “About-face!”

Some great authors featured in this issue, including Farewell to the Queue by Vladimir Sorokin (this is an afterword to The Queue, which is coming out this fall from NYRB, and which is fantastic), The Model by Danilo Kis, and Justice Unbalanced by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (I love, love, love repeating Machado de Assis’s name . . . just rolls off the tongue in a exotic, fun way).

There’s also an excerpt from Suzane Adam’s Laundry, which recently came out from Autumn Hill Books, and a review of Ana Maria Shua’s Quick Fix, from the ever interesting, White Pine Press.

There are a number of other pieces as well, all worth checking out.

....
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. . .

Read More >

Selected Stories
Selected Stories by Kjell Askildsen
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

To call Kjell Askildsen’s style sparse or terse would be to understate just how far he pushes his prose. Almost nothing is explained, elaborated on. In simple sentences, events occur, words are exchanged, narrators have brief thoughts. As often as. . .

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Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories
Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

After a mysterious woman confesses to an author simply known as “R” that she has loved him since she was a teenager, she offers the following explanation: “There is nothing on earth like the love of a child that passes. . .

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Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage
Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Reviewed by Will Eells

Floating around the internet amid the hoopla of a new Haruki Murakami release, you may have come across a certain Murakami Bingo courtesy of Grant Snider. It is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s funny because it’s true,. . .

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The Matiushin Case
The Matiushin Case by Oleg Pavlov
Reviewed by Brandy Harrison

The publisher’s blurb for Oleg Pavlov’s The Matiushin Case promises the prospective reader “a Crime and Punishment for today,” the sort of comparison that is almost always guaranteed to do a disservice to both the legendary dead and the ambitious. . .

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