16 November 12 | Chad W. Post |

This week’s podcast is focused on crime and detective books—both fiction and nonfiction. First off, we talk (i.e., Chad monologues) about Errol Morris’s “A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald” and his recent Twitter fight with Joe McGinniss about this case. Then we move on to talking about Wolf Haas’s “Brenner and God” and what makes this book (and detective books in general) fun to read. Also, Tom acts grumpy.

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16 November 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece that I wrote about Wolf Haas’s Brenner and God, which is translated from the German by Annie Janusch and available from Melville House.

This is the first Brenner book to come out in English, but actually the seventh in the series. I believe that Melville House has rights to 2 or 4 more, so there will be more Brenner in the near future . . .

Also, if you’re interested, Tom Roberge and I spent a lot of time talking about this book on this week’s podcast.

Anyway, here’s the opening of my review:

Brenner and God_ is the first book in the “Brenner” series to come out in English, and only the second Wolf Haas title overall. The Weather Fifteen Years Ago came out from Ariadne Press a few years back and blew away the BTBA fiction committee—one reason why I was really excited to pick up this novel.

Unlike Weather, which is a postmodern, playful novel that’s one long interview between a female book reviewer and Wolf Haas, Brenner and God is a fairly straightforward detective novel. It centers around Brenner, a former detective who is now a chauffeur for a two-year-old girl whose father is a “Lion of Construction” responsible for building the controversial MegaLand, and whose mother runs an abortion clinic that is constantly besieged by protestors. So when Helena disappears from the back of Brenner’s car, he has dozens of suspects to investigate . . .

I don’t read a lot of detective novels, so I’m not sure exactly how to categorize this. Tom Roberge and I talked about on our most recent podcast—the difference between crime books that focus on the horrors of the criminal mind, and the ones that function more like a puzzle. In which case, Brenner and God fits more into the second category. There is some violence and gross killing, but the motives of those involved aren’t necessarily psychotic, per se. It’s more about business and politics and sex.

Click here to read the full review.

16 November 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Brenner and God is the first book in the “Brenner” series to come out in English, and only the second Wolf Haas title overall. The Weather Fifteen Years Ago came out from Ariadne Press a few years back and blew away the BTBA fiction committee—one reason why I was really excited to pick up this novel.

Unlike Weather, which is a postmodern, playful novel that’s one long interview between a female book reviewer and Wolf Haas, Brenner and God is a fairly straightforward detective novel. It centers around Brenner, a former detective who is now a chauffeur for a two-year-old girl whose father is a “Lion of Construction” responsible for building the controversial MegaLand, and whose mother runs an abortion clinic that is constantly besieged by protestors. So when Helena disappears from the back of Brenner’s car, he has dozens of suspects to investigate . . .

I don’t read a lot of detective novels, so I’m not sure exactly how to categorize this. Tom Roberge and I talked about on our most recent podcast—the difference between crime books that focus on the horrors of the criminal mind, and the ones that function more like a puzzle. In which case, Brenner and God fits more into the second category. There is some violence and gross killing, but the motives of those involved aren’t necessarily psychotic, per se. It’s more about business and politics and sex.

In that way, and in terms of the overall tone of the book, it most reminded me of early Echenoz (Cherokee, Double Jeopardy, Big Blondes) and Rubem Fonseca (High Art). (Although to be accurate, Fonesca writes about some totally fucked up characters, especially in our collection The Taker & Other Stories.)

Evaluating this as a detective novel, I found it really satisfying. A lot of “clues” are laid out, and everything unspools and fits together in a way that’s nicely paced and keeps the reader guessing right along with Brenner. It also includes a lot of the necessary tropes: a retired detective called back into service, a slew of dead bodies, clipped conversations, decent sleuthing, tense situations, a car chase, a kidnapping, a hot redhead, and some banging. It’s a very entertaining book to read, and I’m convinced that these books will gain a larger and larger following as more of the titles from the series become available.

Now, onto my issues.

One of the most notable features of this book is the narrator. Rather than being told from a first-person p.o.v. or from an omniscient, distanced p.o.v., the narrator in Brenner and God is also a sort of character—one who is maybe similar to Brenner, but has a distinct personality and is relating this story in a self-aware way that’s only somewhat successful:

My grandmother always used to say to me, when you die, they’re gonna give that mouth of yours its own funeral. So you see, a personal can change. Because today I am the epitome of silence. And it’d take something out of the ordinary to get me started. The days when everything used to set me off are over. Listen, why should every bloodbath wind up in my pint of beer? Like I’ve been saying for some time now, it’s up to the boys to take care of. My motto, as it were.

Personally, I prefer to look on the positive side of life these days. Not just Murder He Wrote all the time, and who-got-who with a bullet, a knife, and extension cord, or what all else I don’t know.

As a sort of companion through Brenner’s complicated affair, this narratorial voice works pretty well. It helps to create a sort of fun, almost jokey tone that elevates this from being a horrifying book about a child kidnapping into something that’s more literary, almost a reflexive look at what makes detective novels detective novels. (Which brings to mind Butor’s Passing Time, a truly amazing book that should definitely be reprinted by Dalkey or New Directions or Alma Books or Open Letter or someone.)

This narratorial technique also allows for shifts in scenes and perspectives in a way that feels more conversational than contrived—a line that a lot of detective books have to walk. It also allows for Haas to call attention to particular bits, either as a way of generating tension and readerly interest via heavy-handed foreshadowing (the constant references to the “five deaths” and how the city will be torn apart at the end of the book), or of distracting the reader from some other potentially useful detail.

My problem with the narratorial voice is pretty specific. First off, the sort of intentional heavy-handedness comes off as a bit condescending to me. I swear, the phrase “pay attention” appears at least 400 times every chapter1 and becomes the most irritating of authorial tics.

Pay attention: Natalie was the clinic’s psychologist, because a pregnancy’s never terminated without psychological counseling. [. . .]

Pay attention. Brenner was thinking to himself, _Milan will definitely know someone who can unlock Knoll’s phone for me, the sort of thing someone at a gas station knows. [. . .]

And I’ve got to say, Brenner had seldom been so right. Within just a few hours he would become all too conscious of just what little clue he truly had at that moment.

But for now, pay attention.

More befuddling are these two references to the reader (I assume):

My dear swan, Brenner hadn’t been in a funk like this in a long time. [. . .]

My dear swan, Knoll, the congressman, and the two bully-boys . . .

“Swan”?!? I assume I’m just not getting something here and am more than willing to own up to my ignorance. But still. It’s weird and disruptive to me as a reader.

There’s also a certain habit of Haas’s/Janusch’s of ending sentences with a comma (or “because”) followed by a clipped sort of explanation. This will make more sense in the examples below. At first, I thought this style was kind of cool, and very fitting for a detective book—there’s something stark about it, almost puzzle-like in how the “explanation” phrase fits into place. But by the end it felt more like a crutch than a technique. As if this was the only way the narrator could talk to convey his personality.

But Brenner’s shadower was bald in such an old-fashioned way, with a wreath of hair around his head, i.e., the worst kind in the rain, because the raindrops hammer way at the unprotected bald part, and regardless, wet hair. [. . .]

But now, either on account of the pills or the nonalcoholic beer or quite simply from age, or a rusty brain, or withering horomones—in all events, no line. [. . .]

Because one thing’s clear: when you’ve come as far as [SPOILER] has, you don’t waste any time coddling your witnesses, no, you mop them up like fly droppings because—no sentimentality.

Anyway, that’s probably a personal quirk that exposes more about my reading likes and dislikes than the book itself. And overall, I think this is really fun and will be greatly enjoyed by scads of readers. As a detective book, I think it’s really solid. As a work of translated fiction, I’d give it a 6.5 out of 10.

1 Slight exaggeration.

12 January 11 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

This episode of the Reading the World Podcast features a conversation with Fady Joudah, Palestinian-American poet, physician, and translator. He won the Yale Younger Poets Competition in 2007 for his collection The Earth in the Attic (Yale) and was just awarded the 2010 PEN USA Literary Award for Translation for his rendition of Mahmoud Darwish’s If I Were Another (FSG).

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3 September 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

This month we talk with poet and translator Forrest Gander about approaches to translating poetry and his forthcoming translation “Watchword” by Pura López Colomé.

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6 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I know I’ve written it before, and will do so again, but the Wolff Symposium is one of the absolute best annual translation-related gatherings. It’s held every June and is centered around the awarding of the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, which is given to the best translation from German into English published in the previous year. All genres are eligible, but translators can only win once.

Anyway, the symposium took place a few weeks back and was absolutely amazing. Great panels, wonderful to see Ross Benjamin receive the award, very nice tribute to Breon Mitchell re: his new translation of The Tin Drum. (I maybe shouldn’t admit this, but I’ve never read this, although every time I see Breon I swear that it’ll be the next book I pick up . . . And it will be! Soon. Soon . . .)

I was planning on writing up some notes and thoughts and whatever from the day of panels, but well, it’s been a busy time and besides, WBEZ was there to record the whole symposium. And although I can’t imagine many people listening to all of these podcasts, they’re a much better record of what was discussed than anything I could babble on about . . .

If you do decide to listen, you might want to do so in order—at least when it comes to the “Increased Interest in Foreign Fiction?” and “Cultivating Audiences” panels, otherwise my random 15-minute speech at the beginning of the latter panel will make next to no sense . . .

So:

First off is the tribute to Breon Mitchell that included an interview with NY Times journalist David Streitfeld.

(There was another panel with Peter Constantine, Drenka Willen, Susan Bernofsky, Krishna Winston, Ross Benjamin, and Breon Mitchell, but I can’t find the podcast . . . Which sucks! This was a great conversation . . . Maybe I’m just missing something? If anyone knows where this is, please e-mail me.)

Then the panel with Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, Daniel Slager of Milkweek, Jeremy Davies of Dalkey Archive Press on An Increased Interest in Foreign Literature?

And then the Cultivating Audiences – Particular Examples, Viable Models? panel that started with my rant and ended with all of us (Susan Harris of Words Without Borders, Susan Bernofsky, and Annie Janusch) talking about technology and reaching readers . . . while my phone buzzed with the dozen or so text messages I received during that panel . . .

Finally, we wrapped up with a contentious argument about Amazon.com discussion about Publishing Literary Translations and New Publishing Technologies. Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, Henry Carrigan of Northwestern University Press, and Jeff Waxman of Seminary Co-op were on this panel, which was a great way to end the day, having moved from a grand appreciation of Breon and the craft of translation to the dirty details of the book business and how all the various segments always feel like their getting screwed. Speaking of screwing, this panel also had one of the funniest exchanges of the day:

Jeff: “Being a bookseller, it’s kind of an unrequited love affair with books where you know that you’re going to get screwed.”

Chad: “That’s not really an unrequited . . . It’s actually just a love affair.”

This then led to a series of sexually charged double entendres . . . Man, those end of the day panels—brilliant!

23 March 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Here’s a picture from this month’s Best Translated Book Award, with some of the winners and several judges.

A good time was had by all.

15 July 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Two Lines (and the Center for the Art of Translation as a whole) is one of the most impressive annual anthologies of literature in translation being published today. (Actually, most of those qualifiers can be eliminated: it’s one of the best annual publications in the world.)

One of the reasons for the organization’s success (in addition to a staff that includes Olivia Sears, Annie Janusch, and now Scott Esposito), are the amazing guest editors they get to work on the anthologies.

The next volume (the seventeenth) will be edited by translator Natasha Wimmer (one of the absolute best, most well known for 2666 and The Savage Detectives) and poet and translator Jeffrey Yang.

I’m convinced that they will put together one of the best Two Lines yet. And if you’re a publisher or translator and want to submit something to the magazine, you should contact Annie Janusch at ajanusch at catranslation dot org before November 25th . . .

2 April 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at Entre Los Espacios, Rose Mary Salum is continuing her line-up of bad-ass interviews. Last month she talked with a slew of editors at translation literary journals (such as Absinthe and Calque), and today she has a nice interview with Annie Janusch from Two Lines.

And tying in to the previous post about editing translations:

What would seem to be the essential editorial challenge when working with translations?

Since translation editors aren’t in a position to, say, recommend revising a particular passage so that it moves the narrative along differently, the editorial focus is on honing and crafting the language, maintaining consistency in voice, style, or intangibles like “spirit.” When I read a draft of a translation of a story, I read it as closely as I would a poem, pausing over every word and weighing every choice. This can lead to endless questioning.

....
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