7 September 13 | Chad W. Post |

I’ve been wanting to do monthly highlights of books coming out for a while, but thought to myself that, well, Flavorwire already does stuff like this, so why bother. Then I remembered that Flavorwire is the worst, so here we are.

High Tide by Inga Ābele. Translated from the Latvian by Kaija Straumanis. ($15.95, Open Letter Books)

Yep, I’m leading it off with one of our books. A book by a former student of the University of Rochester’s Literary Translation Program and our current editor. (Flavorwire would never do something like this.) Anyway, aside from the selfish plug for Open Letter and Kaija, I want to say three things:

1) This is a beautifully written book that relates a woman’s life more-or-less in reverse chronological order, demonstrating, in consistently surprising ways, the choices that led to her current state and feeling that “life is a prison” and that everything for her keeps restarting and restarting. We talked about this at our Book Clüb yesterday and people admitted that it made them cry. So that;

2) This is the first Latvian novel to be published in the U.S. in English translation; (NOT TRUE! This book existed at some point.)

3) This comes out on September 26th, and to promote it ahead of time, we’re selling the ebook version for $3.99 this week, $5.99 next week, $7.99 the week after, and $9.99 when the book launches. So get yours now! (Amazon, iTunes, Nook, Kobo.)

Open Door by Iosi Havilio. Translated from the Spanish by Beth Fowler. ($15.95, And Other Stories)

All Dogs Are Blue by Rodrigo de Souza Leão. Translated from the Portuguese by Zoë Perry and Stefan Tobler. ($15.95, And Other Stories)

After winning just about every award possible in the UK, And Other Stories—the indie press with the most interesting editorial selection process I know of—is finally branching out into the United States. Consortium will be distributing their books, and within six months, every major book news outlet will have reviewed their titles and be singing their praises. This is some high quality shit.

Open Door includes two of my favorite subjects in literature: Argentina and insane asylums. I read this a while back, but plan to reread it in advance of Havilio’s Paradises, which comes out next month. (I actually mentioned this book back in 2008 during my editorial trip to Buenos Aires.)

I read All Dogs Are Blue while I was in Brazil, not too far away from the asylum (THIS IS AN AND OTHER STORIES THEME) where Rodrigo de Souza Leão spent much of his life. It’s an amazing book, samples from which you can see here.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. ($18.00, Europa Editions)

One of the most recommended non-crime writers that Europa publishes and whom I haven’t read. Her books have been on my shelves forever, and one of these days . . .

All of the fans of The Days of Abandonment, or, more apropos, My Brilliant Friend, will rush out to get this, but for anyone not familiar with her, here’s a bit from the Shelf Awareness review that ran today:

With The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante picks up where she left off in My Brilliant Friend, following her two protagonists, Lila and Elena, from adolescence into their 20s. The novel, the second volume in a trilogy, is a treatise on life in Naples, a part of Italy that has nothing in common with Rome, Florence or Milan.

The two girls have a complex, intense relationship, with Lila leading the way and Elena trying to accommodate—at least at first. Lila has pulled herself out of poverty with an early marriage to a grocer’s son, whom she hates. Elena has continued studying, graduating from high school and going to university in Pisa.

The Mystery of Rio by Alberto Mussa. Translated from the Portuguese by Alex Ladd. ($16.00, Europa Editions)

There are only five works of fiction from Brazil coming out in the U.S. this year. (Three are on this list.) After visiting Rio and Paraty this summer, I MUST READ THEM ALL.

The Eternal Son by Cristovao Tezza. Translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin. ($19.95, Tagus Press)

Sticking with the Brazilian theme, here’s the latest from Tagus Press, a new outfit publishing only Lusophone writers. This book—about a father whose son is born with Down syndrome—sounds a bit like Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter.

Between Friends by Amos Oz. Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston. ($14.95, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Since the day we launched Three Percent, I’ve been making fun of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s website. Not that any of the Big Five websites were spectacular, but for years it seemed like Houghton Mifflin was playing some kind of demented game with readers trying to find out information about their books. You had to click through 6 or 20 links to find a list of new releases, which then, just to make things interesting, were never quite in alphabetical order. The search engine ran on AltaVista or Ask Jeeves!, and for a while Jose Saramago was a digital persona non gratis.

Well. Things are now better. This website doesn’t look like vomit. It makes a certain amount of intuitive sense. I typed in Amos Oz, and actually received results about Amos Oz. The fact that these are grand improvements is depressing at best, but still, way to go HMH!

Except maybe for the fact that this is all the info on the HMH site about Between Friends:

A provocative new story collection from the internationally celebrated author of A Tale of Love and Darkness.

Really? Christ. At least I can still rely on HMH for providing good comedic fodder. Keep up the bumbling!

Gods of the Steppe by Andrei Gelasimov. Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz. ($14.95, AmazonCrossing)

This is the third Gelasimov book that AmazonCrossing has published, the other two being Thirst and The Lying Year. The fact that Marian Schwartz translated this is enough to make me want to read it. She is the best.

Sudden Disappearance of the Worker Bees by Serge Quadruppani.& Translated from the Italian by Delia Casa. ($23.95, Arcade)

Over the past month I’ve read Generation A by Douglas Coupland, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, and And Still the Earth by Ignacio de Loyola Brandão, fairly different books, but all of which are set in the future and involve a world in which no one reads, and there are no more bees. Sure, I’d heard mention of colony collapse disorder before, but, like America, I didn’t really care all that much. But reading these books, I realized that with no bees, we have no apples. And no apple crisp. According to Wikipedia, one-third of the crop species in the United States involve bee pollination, including: almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, and strawberries. This is not good. Of course, as soon as I read these books and starting thinking about how fucked it is that one-third of the U.S. honeybee colonies died or disappeared last winter, my neighbor’s Time Magazine arrived with this beepocalyptic cover:

What the shit, Universe? I did not need this.

Faction by Juan Filloy. Translated from the Spanish by Rhett McNeil. ($16.95, Dalkey Archive Press)

Click on that link above to see just how “in process” Dalkey’s website is right now. Nevertheless, this book was announced with a September pub date, and man do I hope it comes out soon. I actually signed this on—along with Op Oloop way back in the early 2000s. (Writing “early 2000s” and realizing that is an accurate statement makes me feel old.) I forget how we first came across Filloy—who is mentioned in passing in Cortázar’s Hopscotch, lived in three centuries, and used seven-letter titles for all of his books—but all of his books sounded really interesting. Especially this one, which is about “seven erudite, homeless, and semi-incompetent radicals traveling from city to city in an attempt to foment a revolution.” SOLD.

15 December 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is Fr. Grant Barber’s piece on Thirst by Andrei Gelasimov, which is translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz and published by AmazonCrossing.

Grant Barber is a regular reviewer for us, as well as being a keen bibliophile, and an Episcopal priest living on the south shore of Boston.

Thirst is a really interesting book, due in part to the fact that Marian Schwartz is such a brilliant translator. Her list of accolades is intense: recipient of two translation fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, past president of the American Literary Translators Association, translator of Nina Berberova, 12 Who Don’t Agree, Oblomov, The White Guard, and A Hero of Our Time among many, many others. Her translation of Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair will be coming out from Open Letter next summer.

Here’s the opening of Grant’s review:

Gelasimov embraces the “show, don’t tell” dictum effectively throughout this short novel from the unique start. The first person narrator, later identified as Constantine or Kostya, has just returned to his home and is trying to fit a lot of bottles of vodka into his refrigerator, and on the window sill, on the floor, in the bathroom and clothes hamper. He’s planning a bender after having done some sort of work, work he’d completed to buy vodka. There’s a knock at the door from his neighbor, a single mother:

I would share more, but you have to read the whole thing to get the full impact of the extended quote that follows this paragraph.

15 December 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Gelasimov embraces the “show, don’t tell” dictum effectively throughout this short novel from the unique start. The first person narrator, later identified as Constantine or Kostya, has just returned to his home and is trying to fit a lot of bottles of vodka into his refrigerator, and on the window sill, on the floor, in the bathroom and clothes hamper. He’s planning a bender after having done some sort of work, work he’d completed to buy vodka. There’s a knock at the door from his neighbor, a single mother:

“I’m sorry to bother you again,” she said. “My Nikita’s acting up. Please help me out this once. I can’t cope with him myself.”

“No problem,” I said.

I threw on my jacket and went out. I even left my door open.

“Well then, who here doesn’t want to go to bed?”

The little guy shuddered and stared at me as if I were a ghost. He actually dropped his blocks.

“Who here isn’t listening to his mama?”

He was looking at me, speechless. Only his eyes got big as saucers.

“Come on, get your things,” I said. “Since you don’t want to listen to your mama you’re going to be living with me. You get to take one toy.”

He was absolutely speechless, and his mouth was very wide open.

[. . .]

He shifted his eyes to Olga and whispered:

“I’ll go to bed. Mama, I’ll go to bed all by myself right away.”

[. . .]

Then she said, “You’ll have to forgive me for bothering you all the time. It’s just that he . . . you’re the only person he’s afraid of. He stopped listening to me completely.”

I grunted.

“Makes sense. I would’ve been even more afraid if I were him.”

[. . .]

At home I walked over to the mirror and stood in front of it a long time. I looked at what had become of me.

If only Seryoga hadn’t been wrong back then and hadn’t left me to burn up last in the APC. But he thought I was done for. That’s why he pulled the others out first. The ones who still were showing signs of life.

Which means I’m only good for frightening little boys right now.

This whole opening series of events sets up all that is to come: difficult childhoods, especially of Kostya, focused on his philandering and volatile father and an uncaring world; the set piece of boy Koysta hoisting himself up onto the operating table while suffering from acute appendicitis, and within the hectoring presence of the surgeon illustrates well what sort of world he grew up in. We hear about his service in the Soviet Army fighting the Chechens, and the loyalty the surviving soldiers share with one another, as well as the conflicts between them, past and present. We keep returning to this past, especially the attack that left Kostya’s face so disfigured by burns, in an unfolding series of flashbacks.

Three further dynamics play out. First, the young student Kostya was bored in school which lead to his “doodling,” and discovery by the failed-artist head master of Kostya as a naturally gifted artist. This alcoholic headmaster brings Kostya to his home to skip school and draw, although Kostya has only ability, no sense of refinement or sense of beauty. This is another failed father figure in his life. Second, two of his army comrades interrupt the start of his three month bender to enlist his help in finding a third, missing friend. This quest ultimately is inconsequential as a quest, but does set up Kostya’s break from isolation and pattern of work to drink. Third, Kostya reconnects with his father, his new wife, and younger children. Dad hasn’t changed, but the rapport Kostya develops with the wife, and more importantly the two half-siblings, returns Kostya to his drawing.

By the end of the novel his somewhat estranged-from-one-another friends have reached a truce. Kostya has stood up to his father. Kostya has begun drawing—creating—people from his past as restored in an alternative reality: a dead soldier now with wife and children, another who lost his leg now with two working legs. Kostya ends the novel with a drawing of a face—his own, undamaged true self—showing it to Olga and Nikita, and Nikita’s spoken insight that Kostya only looks like a monster.

In some ways, explained this way, Thirst might come off as almost formulaic. Maybe archetypal is the better label of the arc that shows the rebirth of an injured man into real adulthood as well as moving toward reintegration through art, with all of this inner reality mirrored by the recognitions of people surrounding him.

Gelasimov does this with pared down language, effective weaving of past and present, grounding in the particulars of unique place and time, with consistency of voice and narrative pacing. He has taken what might be clunky and predictable in other’s hands and made a work of art. He doesn’t waste a word, an image, a story, but weaves them into a related whole. This is a novel to reread, to see how well everything fits together, to marvel at how images and incidents reflect and inform each other. Gelasimov doesn’t use lyrical, “poetic” language, but he has written a work with the concision of poetry.

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