26 November 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Every year, Archipelago Books—one of the country’s finest independent presses—hosts a mindblowingly incredible1 fundraising auction. This year’s event, which Don DeLillo, Rick Moody, and Nicole Krauss would like to invite you to, is taking place this Thursday at Poets House (10 River Terrace), starting at 7pm.

Here’s a bit more info from their announcement:

tickets: $25 in advance, $35 at the door
with food, wine, and live music
first 100 ticketed guests receive a gift bag stocked with goodies, including literary magazines, discounts on cultural offerings and restaurants, and more!
out of towners and early birds can make advance bids here

for more information, visit our auction tumblr

If you’re planning on going, and would like to spread the word, you can visit the Facebook event page, and share this with all of your friends.

1 This is hearsay, seeing that I’ve never actually made it to NYC for any of these, and besides, I work for a university, so my auction bidding abilities are pretty hampered.

15 September 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The Brooklyn Book Festival took place this past Saturday, and as always, I wish I could’ve been there. I was able to attend a few years back, and was really impressed by how many people were out browsing the stands, attending panels and readings, and generally getting excited about books. And from what I’ve heard the festival has grown every year since.

As covered in The Mantle, this year’s BKBF included a “Reading the World” panel featuring some of my favorite publishers and translators including Karen Emmerich, Susan Bernofsky, Ugly Duckling, and Zephyr. Here’s a clip from Shaun Randol’s write-up:

Great stuff all around, an excellently curated panel. Every single one of the works presented is worth purchasing (skip the library and give these people some money!). (Note to participants: correct me if you see a mistake! There were no Cliffs Notes for what we were listening to on stage.) Karen Emmerich (representing Team Archipelago) read the poetry and prose from the Greek writer Miltos Sachtouris, skipping us across Aegean waters from Greek isles to ancient Greece. And then . . . Ms. Emmerich read an outstanding piece of poetry on the life of plant, by the poet/author Helenē Vakalo. The Mantle audience pleads for an answer—what is this poem and where can we find it? This vegetative poetic genius!?!? Ms. Emmerich, if you are reading this, please put the information in the comments section below!

Next up, Susan Bernofksy (Team New Directions), reading from German author Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation. I have nothing written down in my notebook here. This is what happens when the story is too absorbing—you neglect your reporter duties. A complete blank because my eyes were closed and I just listened to the pitter-patter of her voice as she conveyed one of a dozen stories taking place in a single house over generations in what must be an exceptionally intricate novel penned by Erpenbeck. The house is/was real (it belonged to Erpenbeck’s family), so how much of the story is as well? Ahhhh . . . German intrigue . . .

Sounds like a fun panel—one of many that took place. Ah well. Next year . . . There’s always next year . . .

Aside from bringing some attention to this fair/panel, it’s worth spending some time looking around The Mantle. Embarrassed to say that this is the first time I’ve come across the site, which is dedicated to providing “a forum for the next generation of leaders to be heard—a space for opinions that are different from those found in traditional, established outlets.” It’s an interesting publication, with a very international focus, and an intriguing book review section. Definitely worth checking out.

8 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I meant to write about this last week, but I’m an idiot and totally forgot. Although there’s not a lot of time left to take advantage of this, Archipelago Books is having a World Cup Special: for $90 you get a set of nine Archipelago titles by writers from the host and quarterfinal-qualifying countries, or for $35 you can choose three of the nine featured books.

Here are the nine titles that are part of this offer:

Argentina: Autonauts of the Cosmoroute by Julio Cortazar and Carol Dunlop, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean

Brazil: Education by Stone by Joao Cabral de Melo Neto, translated from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith

Germany: Lenz by Georg Buchner, translated from the German by Richard Sieburth

Germany: The Novices of Sais by Novalis, translated from the German by Ralph Manheim

Germany: Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist, translated from the German by Peter Wortsman

The Netherlands: The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer

Spain: Plants Don’t Drink Coffee by Unai Elorriaga, translated from the Basque by Amaia Gabantxo

South Africa: Voice Over: A Nomadic Conversation with Mahmoud Darwish by Breyten Breytenbach

South Africa: Mafeking Road by Herman Charles Bosman

Overall, this is a great way to support Archipelago while getting a bunch of interesting books . . .

16 July 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

The terrific Archipelago Books —publisher of many wonderful literary translations, including Attila Bartis’s Tranquility, a 2009 Best Translated Book Award winner—is currently doing two things to which we’d like to direct your attention (and hopeful participation).

First and foremost, as a nonprofit, Archipelago needs your support to survive form year to year. Please consider participating in their current fundraiser.

What’s more, you can now subscribe to one or more seasons of their new releases.

19 February 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

Just more than two months after the longlist, we are proud to reveal the winners of the 2009 Best Translated Book Award (click here to download the official press release). The announcement was made tonight at a special award party that took place at Melville House Books in Brooklyn, and was hosted by author and critic Francisco Goldman.

For fiction, the award goes to Tranquility by Attila Bartis, translated from the Hungarian by Imre Goldstein and published by Archipelago Books.



Here’s the description from our overview:

Plot summaries rarely do a book justice, but in short, this novel is about Andor Weer, a thirty-six-year-old writer who lives with his mother (a formerly gorgeous stage actress) who hasn’t left the house in fifteen years. She’s bitter, a bit deranged, and pretty aggressive, especially towards Andor’s girlfriends. The two of them are trapped in a incredibly wicked Oedipal mess. On top of this, Andor’s sister Judit defected from Hungary to pursue her music career (this defection brought about the downfall of Rebeka’s stage career), leading their mother to literally bury an casket with all of Judit’s things in the cemetery.

In short, this is a dark, twisted book, and one that’s incredibly gripping and very well written and well translated. (No surprise—Imre Goldstein’s one of the best.) Told is a looping, achronological fashion, the horrors of Andor’s life are revealed bit by bit with a hint of dark humor and a sense that the world (at least for Andor) is total shit.


*

And on the poetry end of things, the award goes to For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut by Takashi Hiraide, translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu and published by New Directions.



This book just happens to a be a perfect example of how one award can beget another . . . In 2005, Sawako Nakayasu actually received a PEN Translation Fund Award for her then ongoing translation of this volume. That award brought the book to the attention of New Directions, and the rest is history . . . Playful and unique, our panelists loved this collection. Made up of 111 sections, it’s “a mix of detailed scientific observations, poetics, narrative, autobiography, rhetorical experiments, hyper-realistic images, and playful linguistic subversion—all scored with the precision of a mathematical-musical structure.” A very established writer in Japan, this is only the second of Takashi Hiraide’s collections to be published in English.

Here are a couple sample pieces from the book:

8. Continuous thoughts of packaging ice. No matter what I write it melts, even the address. If and when it arrives, that person will be gone.

17. The radiant subway again. Today, too, in this still-radiant subway, small white explosions occur here and there. They are the sounds of our joints popping, the sound of an all-too-convenient despair fading away. The walls collapse, and the birds of the earth, now without hesitation, begin transporting their nests so as to set them into these daily-renewed explosions.

35. “Up ahead, difficulty.”

19 January 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

We’re into the home stretch now . . . Over the next five days we’ll be highlighting a book-a-day from the 25-title Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist, leading up to the announcement of the 10 finalists. Click here for all previous write-ups.



Yalo by Elias Khoury, translated from the Arabic by Peter Theroux. (Lebanon, Archipelago)

In many ways, Yalo is the very definition of a “haunting novel.” For the images, the complex characters, the circular way the story is told, the reflections on torture and truth . . . It is a lasting book that will stay in reader’s minds long after they’ve finished it.

Although the novel is in no way “simple,” the plot itself is pretty straightforward. Yalo is on trial for rape. And is also suspected of being involved in a bombing plot. He’s a twenty-something-year-old veteran of the Lebanese civil war, who, following the war, absconded with some cash and a friend to Paris. His friend abandons him in France, leaving Yalo (who doesn’t speak a word of French) to wander the streets. Eventually he meets an arms dealer who proceeds to bring him back to Lebanon to serve as a guard for his house and family. And that’s where the trouble really begins.

Despite the sympathy the reader comes to feel for Yalo, he’s not necessarily a moral, upstanding person. After seeing people drive into the woods to have sex, he starts spying on them, occasionally robbing them, and once in a while raping the women. He gets involved with Shirin this way, a woman whom he claims to love, and who, depending on which version of the story you believe, has some interest in him as well.

Now on trial—thanks to the accusations of Shirin—he’s tortured in ways that are extremely disturbing, forced to write the entire story of his life, and broken, both mentally and physically.

Yalo’s story is interesting enough, but the way that it’s told in this novel is what really landed this book on the Best Translated Book of the Year fiction longlist.

Using some Faulknerian techniques, Khoury tells Yalo’s story in a looping and repetitive, subjective and uncertain, direct and poetic, fashion that is masterful and compelling. Siddhartha Deb has a nice overview of the book in his review for The Nation:

Yalo, the tenth novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, is such a book. Published in Arabic in 2002 and now available in a translation by Peter Theroux, Yalo is set in 1993 and revolves around a single consciousness unable to make sense of itself or its surroundings. Its opening sentence is “Yalo did not understand what was happening,” and its closing line is “And if I don’t find the end of the story, how will I be able to write it?” In between lies a work that is both one story and several, perpetually revised under the torque of history, memory, desire, fear, understanding and loathing.

And Jeff Waxman’s review for Three Percent also points to some of the complexities of this novel:

Necessarily thicker than most of Khoury’s works, Yalo bears more scrutiny and re-readings than his other novels and in this literary masterpiece, translator Peter Theroux has achieved something exceptional. More than anything else, it is about the conflicts of identity and language in a region rife with upheaval and refugees. From his grandfather, Yalo inherited a complex culture, a legacy of statelessness found in the blending of Kurdish Islam and Lebanese Christianity. This blending of cultures includes an array of languages—Arabic, Syriac, Kurdish—all of which Theroux manages to convey without artifice and in impressive English. All of the alienation of tongues since the Tower of Babel is borne through startlingly clear prose. Yalo’s total estrangement may be the most successful of Khoury’s evocations and it is a constant theme in Yalo’s life. He is a haunted man and a man trapped in a crisis of intangible memory and identity. It’s more than the story of Yalo’s arrest, it’s more than the story of his imprisonment or his rapes and thefts. It’s the story of the entrapment of every character, from his lovesick mother to his grandfather the cohno, the priest. They are trapped as we are trapped—trapped in consciousness, trapped by mortality, trapped in a world that is not and cannot be objective.

Although a few of Khoury’s books had been translated into English at the time, it was Archipelago’s publication of Gate of the Sun that really launched him into the minds of American readers. Yalo is a different sort of book (and a bit shorter), and reinforces the opinion that Khoury is one of the great contemporary Arabic writers.

Khoury was able to tour in support of this book, and at least a couple of his performances were recorded and are available online. (C’mon publishers and booksellers, this seems like an obvious thing to do . . .) Specifically, his appearance at the Seattle Public Library is very interesting. And if you’re interested in learning more about Gate of the Sun, I’d highly recommend listening to his appearance on Bookworm. And the Washington City Paper has a really nice article about Peter Theroux, whose translation is impeccable.

14 January 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

We’re into the home stretch now . . . Through next Friday we’ll be highlighting a book-a-day from the 25-title Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist, leading up to the announcement of the 10 finalists. Click here for all previous write-ups.



Tranquility by Attila Bartis, translated from the Hungarian by Imre Goldstein. (Romania/Hungary1, Archipelago)

There’s something amazing going on in Hungarian literature. For such a “small” language to have three books on our long list (this one plus the Imre Kertesz book and Metropole) the is pretty remarkable, and in addition there have been a slew of recently published (or reissued) Hungarian books, including works by Gyorgy Konrad, Peter Nadas, Peter Esterhazy, and my personal favorite, Sunflower by Gyula Krudy.

And it’s not like these are a bunch of random books—all of the above titles are high quality, unique, well-crafted works of literary fiction. Especially Tranquility.

Plot summaries rarely do a book justice, but in short, this novel is about Andor Weer, a thirty-six-year-old writer who lives with his mother (a formerly gorgeous stage actress) who hasn’t left the house in fifteen years. She’s bitter, a bit deranged, and pretty aggressive, especially towards Andor’s girlfriends. The two of them are trapped in a incredibly wicked Oedipal mess. On top of this, Andor’s sister Judit defected from Hungary to pursue her music career (this defection brought about the downfall of Rebeka’s stage career), leading their mother to literally bury an casket with all of Judit’s things in the cemetery.

In short, this is a dark, twisted book, and one that’s incredibly gripping and very well written and well translated. (No surprise—Imre Goldstein’s one of the best.) Told is a looping, achronological fashion, the horrors of Andor’s life are revealed bit by bit with a hint of dark humor and a sense that the world (at least for Andor) is total shit.

There’s a sample down by Tim Wilkinson available here, but this paragraph should provide a pretty good sense of the tone and style:

When the woman suggested cremation, I did waver for a moment because I remembered my mother’s hysterical poses, “Look, that’s how they sit up, all of them,” she would say, holding on to the chair by her bedside and showing me how corpses sat up in the oven; a few months earlier she had seen a documentary on the subject and since then she would mention it almost every morning, and I’d say to her, don’t worry Mother, you won’t be cremated, and be careful you’ll spill your tea; but in a few days she’d start all over again, that cremation was ungodly, and I knew she was afraid there would be no resurrection for cremated people, and that was really something, considering she had never in her damned life had anything to do with God. Lately she had demanded I swear she wouldn’t wind up in a crematorium; she forbade me to burn her, to which I replied that I’d swear to nothing and since, luckily, she was still ambulatory, she should go to the notary’s office and get a paper saying it was forbidden to burn her; that shut her up, because for fifteen years she’d been too scared to leave the apartment.

I love reading the way reviews have described the outpouring of horrors in this book—here’s a short sample:

There are certainly other writers who employ nonstop misery (Elfriede Jelinek comes to mind), but I think there’s a particular brand of humorless brutality to Bartis’s that sets it apart. For one thing, its ceaseless ferocity gives it a power, even a certain beauty. It’s not written to shock, or merely for the sake of writing in this manner. To many people (and artists especially) the world is a filthy fucking shithole and there’s no reason to cover that up with devices commonly used to take the sting out of this sort of writing. It perhaps takes a certain type of reader to enjoy an endless stream of pessimism and sourness, but for that type of reader Bartis’s novel is very rewarding. [Scott Bryan Wilson in Quarterly Conversation

“Tranquility” is a moving, emotionally complex, subtle, shocking novel — and the inadequacy of these words of praise might be overcome by considering imagery, such as the narrator’s “remembering how I crawled, like a creeper, upon the back of that woman. Like a slug on the wound of a decaying fruit tree.” Or this: “You live only as long as you can lie into the mug of anybody, and without batting an eye. And when you can’t anymore, well, it’s time to get hold of that razor blade.” Or this: “[The narrator’s mother’s] nakedness was like that of the dead, in whom only the corpse washer and God take any delight.” [Tom McGonigle in the L.A. Times

And maybe Brian Evenson puts it best in his blurb:

Reading like the bastard child of Thomas Bernhard and Elfriede Jelinek, Tranquility is political and personal suffering distilled perfectly and transformed into dark, viscid beauty. It is among the most haunted, most honest, and most human novels I have ever read.

I know I’m making this sound really dark, but amid all of the horrific imagery and overall pessimism is a truly beautiful, accomplished book. One that I think will be read for years to come, and the promising start to Bartis’s career in English translation.

(If you read this and want more Bartis, his short story Engelhard, or the Story of Photography is available online.)

1 Again with the footnotes and the disputable country of origin. One of the things that can be frustrating as a fan of international fiction is the overall lack of info about foreign authors. For example, Attila Bartis doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. So I’m relying entirely on the Archipelago author bio here. (Which includes the word “maverick”!)

Anyway, Attila Bartis was born in Romania, but currently lives in Budapest. His first novel came out in 1995, and he’s published at least one other book—a collection of short stories. He’s also been awarded the Tibor Dery Prize and the Sandor Marai Prize (for Tranquility).

23 September 08 | Chad W. Post |

In the world of Hungarian literature, of Kertész and Krúdy, of Konrád and Krasznahorkai, how can a writer stand out? Attila Bartis answers that question with his foul masterwork, Tranquility. First published in 2001 and in English for the first time this month, Bartis’s Tranquility is a book of unfathomable realism—by which, of course, I mean endless cruelty, depthless pain and emotional deadness.

Set in post-communist Budapest, this novel is the life of Andor Weér, a writer. Weér is a continually conflicted character and bears comparison to Philip Roth’s Portnoy and Zuckerman, particularly so in his disturbing relationships with women, especially his mother. Rebeka Weér is a living corpse, a reclusive actress who, though she hasn’t seen a stage in decades, has yet to give up her overwrought theatricality. The home they share—which her son frequently refers to as a crypt—is cluttered with stolen stage furniture, “the armchair had one belonged to Lady Macbeth, the bed to Laura Lenbach, and the chest of drawers to Anna Karenina.” In flashbacks, Ms. Weér is a singularly self-absorbed woman, sexually liberated and unfeeling toward her children. When her daughter, a gifted concert violinist, leaves communist Hungary to pursue her career elsewhere, Rebeka Weér’s reaction is macabre and cold:

She opened the coffin with her foot and threw in Judit’s letters. Then all of the sheet music from Paganini to Stravinsky, then the music stand, the strings and the resin. From the birth certificate and the left-behind clothes to Judit’s coffee mug, she threw everything into the coffin . . . anything with the slightest hint at Judit Weér’s existence would go into the coffin.

And as if the ceremonial killing of her daughter were not enough, she buried her also, then:

. . . she purchased ten blank death notices and . . . continued to copy from the telephone book the mailing address of the Ministry, because she was sending death notices not only to my sister, but to the theatre’s party secretary.

Tranquility is a book that never considers its reader—a fact I find gratifying. In fact, the novel is so thoroughly immersed in the troubled mind of Andor Weér that we lose sight of Attila Bartis completely. Weér is so wholly developed, so completely bared to the reader, as to seem more real than his author. Weér seems to have written this novel himself; these are his thoughts and memories and not merely thoughts and memories ascribed to him by some mysterious author. The style of the text, the tendency to run as a stream of consciousness and to occasionally blur together phrases like, “wherehaveyoubeenson” and “Idon’tknowmyself,” makes it all the more internal, personal to the character.

Much can be said of Weér and his peculiar development. The novel’s form, however, is what makes it truly exceptional, and what makes it real. Time is utterly fluid; events from Weér’s are presented to the reader without chronology becoming at all confusing; this is some very artful time-play and well worth the price of admission. Through this device, Weér’s miserable life is relived for our benefit, from his early experiences with sex through the torture of life with his addled mother.

As his mother ages. the phrase “wherehaveyoubeenson” is a frequent one; Weér’s mother has grown old and weird, Weér writes:

That for fifteen years I’ve been getting the vitamins, the Valerian drops, lipsticks, nail polish and hair dyes for my mother and for fifteen years she’s been sitting in the flickering gray light of the TV or standing in the blind spots of her mirror. Considered in this way, she’s been dead for years. An ordinary corpse, its stench concealed by the smell of mint tea and its skin rubbed human-colored with vanishing-cream.

This Hitchcockian corpse-mother haunts Weér, but adds a predictable stability to his life through times of change.

Really, many aspects of this novel reflect the uncertainty that came of living in flux, through the waxing and waning of communist rule. As in the quote above, Weér’s mother fearfully (and vindictively), buried her daughter alive. Hungarians are overheard to say things like “We’ll have to pay the bill one day for our new freedom” and Weér himself noticed that, “. . . everybody was talking politics then too. Some people wanted neutrality with lots of banks, as in Switzerland . . .” Somehow communism always seems to lead to oppressive bureaucracy, to a Kafkaesque state, to absurdity. For a reasonable person, this can be crushing. For literature, however, it is an unbelievable godsend. An encounter with the police brought an incredible exchange that stands out as one of the most powerfully disturbing in a book of already extraordinary power.

Much of this power comes from the remarkable depth of depravity in this novel. The grotesque realism provides a daring contrast to the self-indulgent introspection of Weér, but no respite from the overwhelming darkness. My sense of good taste doesn’t prevent me from mentioning Andor Weér’s early dalliance with incest, but certain passages did cause me to blush uncomfortably; I won’t quote them. This book approaches sexuality like a war and the acts described are damaging and painful, to both the narrator and to the reader. This is powerful writing intent on exposing human sexuality as it exposes so many private things.

More than anything else, that sense of exposure captures the central purpose of this book; nothing is sacrosanct: not religion, not government, not life, love, or motherhood. Bartis and Weér, Weér and Bartis; they touch everything normal and leave nightmarish fingerprints and filthy smears across it all. Their artistry, though, is thrilling and this book is an extraordinary achievement. But for me, one question remains: in all of this obscenity and blood and emotional turmoil, where can one find any tranquility?

15 July 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Someone from Polish Writing posted this in the comments section, and since it’s such a good interview, I thought I’d post about it separately.

First off though, if you haven’t seen Polish Writing, it’s definitely worth checking out. Great interviews, info about Polish books and authors, and even a graph detailing how many books have made their way into English. . . . Looks like last year there were about 10, although 1990 was a banner year.

The interview with Bill Johnston about Magdalena Tulli is pretty interesting (and a good example of what’s cool about this site):

What have been the main developments in her writing style between Dreams and Stones and Flaw?

In Dreams and Stones there are practically no people, or more precisely, no characters. It’s a novel about objects and about ways of seeing and explaining. The only actual character is the narrator, whose rather pedantic voice is our only clue to his existence. (Tulli and I disagree over what kind of book Dreams and Stones actually is—Tulli claims it’s a novel, whereas for me it’s a prose poem.) In her subsequent books Tulli gradually introduces narrative, though she does so in a very tentative and self-aware way (this is why she’s sometimes accused, wrongly, of writing “meta-fiction”). In In Red she retells the story three times; the plot of Moving Parts (Tryby) also unexpectedly changes course at several moments. It’s only in Flaw that she settles into a single narrative arc that carries through the entire book.

And related to Daniel Green’s desire for an introduction to Flaw (and my echoing of the need for more contextual info):

Archipelago also tend not to include many notes or translator’s introductions. Is this a conscious intention for the work to stand on its own?

I can only speak about my own translations with Archipelago. I’ve always tried to minimize paratext in any form, and my hope is always that a work ought to be able to stand either completely or mostly alone—this is certainly the case with Tulli, who simply needs to be read carefully. You don’t need to know a lot of Polish history or culture to “get” her, I think. For me, footnotes and so on are a major part of the ghettoization of small literatures I referred to above, and I avoid them whenever I can—they make texts look like academic treatises rather than novels to be read and enjoyed.

I definitely agree re: footnotes and the like, although I still feel that there’s a way of creating a context for approaching someone like Tulli, be in through an intro/afterword, promotional materials, or whatever.

And finally:

A significant number of authors who came to prominence in the 1990s have now made it into English. Are there any newer writers you are keen to translate?

A current project of mine is the translation of Tomasz Różycki’s brilliant 2004 epic poem Dwanaście stacji or Twelve Stations. He’s by far the outstanding poet of his generation (he was born in 1970); his lyric poetry has been (and is being) translated wonderfully by Mira Rosenthal, and I’m going to have a go at this longer piece.

11 July 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

Daniel Green’s post on Magdalena Tulli’s Flaw makes this book sound incredibly intriguing:

Flaw relates what happens on this square over the course of a single day. And it is an eventful day. Most dramatically, a large group of “refugees” emerges from the streetcar and crowds into the square, to the extreme consternation of the local residents. Eventually the refugees are confined en masse in a cellar, but at the end of the day it is discovered that they have disappeared. An Army general is disconcerted by this turn of events, reflecting that “What he ordered to be locked up should have remained so, period. . .The absence of the crowd is nothing but a special form of presence, and what has changed is in essence of secondary importance. Since the refugees are no longer here, they must be somewhere else, that much is obvious” The refugees seem to be a consequence of a coup that has taken place somewhere amid the “sandy excavations” outside the square but that we know about only through the rumors circulating through the square and that may have been connected to a loud explosion heard earlier in the day. [. . .]

One senses that the next day on this (presumably) East European square would unfold much like the day the novel has related, if not in detail then certainly in essence. That the novel has managed to convey this essence is perhaps a mark of its “success,” but Flaw also seems to suggest that representing a bare essence of human existence is the best that fiction can do. By dramatizing the seat-of-the-pants process by which fiction is composed, highlighting the conventional signals of “setting” or “character” that guide our reading of fiction, disclosing the extent to which fiction is the active struggle to incorporate reality within an aesthetic scheme, not a completed account of reality, Flaw exposes the “flaw” in thinking that fiction can be a seamless represention of the real. It is artifice all the way down, and it does no justice, either to fiction or to the reality it seeks to encompass, to deny that fact.

Ultimately the true success of Flaw is its dynamic—I would even say entertaining—performance of this internal drama about the act of fiction-making.

Green also touches on something that I’ve been on about for a while—the necessary struggle to create a context for international literature:

Archipelago Books has without question become an indispensable source of translated fiction, but I wonder whether it would be possible to include with its volumes a preface or critical introduction, presumably by a scholar or critic familiar with the author’s work and/or with that author’s national literature. Such an introduction might be especially useful for readers curious about a writer like Tulli but who really have no context within which to place her work.

8 July 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the fifteenth Reading the World 2008 title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website. There’s also a podcast discussing RTW available from World Books.

Although a couple of Elias Khoury’s other books were published in English a number of years ago, it was Archipelago’s edition of Gate of the Sun that really brought him to the attention of American readers. Frequently compared to One Thousand and One Nights, Gate of the Sun is a sprawling, epic novel. (And is now available in paperback from Picador.)

Yalo, on the other hand, is a different sort of book. From Jeff Waxman’s review:

Elias Khoury’s new novel, Yalo—out earlier this month from Archipelago—is a deep examination of truth and memory set against the gritty backdrop of post-war Lebanon. The book’s premise appears to be simple: in the first pages, it becomes apparent that the title character has been arrested for rape. Rape is a simple crime, with simple motives. In this story, however, nothing is as simple as it first appears. Yalo’s greatest crime may not be rape, Yalo may not be guilty, and Yalo may no longer even be Yalo.

Even better than this positive review is the opening of the book itself:

Yalo did not understand what was happening.

The young man stood before the interrogator and closed his eyes. He always closed his eyes when he faced danger, when he was along, and when his mother . . . On that day too, the morning of Thursday, December 22, 1993, he closed his eyes involuntarily.

Yalo did not understand why everything was white.

He saw the white interrogator, sitting behind a white table, the sun refracting on the glass window behind him, and his faced bathed in reflected light. All Yalo saw were hallos of light and a woman walking through the city streets tripping on her shadow.

Yalo closed his eyes for a moment, or so he thought. This young man with his knitted eyebrows and long tan face, his slender height, closed his eyes for a moment before reopening them. But here, in the Jounieh police station, he closed his eyes and saw crossed lines around two lips that moved as if whispering. He looked at his handcuffed wrists and felt that the sun that obscured the face of the interrogator struck him in the eyes, so he closed them.

The young man stood before the interrogator at ten o’clock that cold morning and saw the sun refracted on the window, shining on the white head of the man whose mouth opened with questions. Yalo closed his eyes.

Yalo did not understand what the interrogator was shouting about.

There’s also an interview conducted by Bill Marx with Elias Khoury on the PRI’s World Books webpage.

10 April 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Just got a message from the Polish Book Institute that Bill Johnston (translator of numerous Polish authors, including Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel, another Open Letter book about drunks that we’ll be publishing in Spring 2009) has won the first ever Found in Translation award.

He won for his translation of Tadeusz Rozewicz’s New Poems available from Archipelago.

As pointed out in the press release about the award, this isn’t the first honor for Rozewicz’s book—it was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry.

Bill is a really incredible translator and perfect example of how someone can help promote a particular country’s literature in translation.

He has translated the classics – J. Słowacki, B. Prus, S. Żeromski and Witold Gombrowicz. His splendid translations of books by authors such as Magdalena Tulli and Andrzej Stasiuk have also allowed American readers to become acquainted with Polish contemporary literature. Bill Johnston is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Second Language Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington (USA).

The Found in Translation award was established last October by the Book Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute in London, the Polish Cultural Institute in New York, and W.A.B. Publishers. The winner receives 10,000 PLN (almost $5,000) and a three-month Book Institute scholarship.

25 March 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Congrats to Jill Schoolman and Archipelago for winning the Miriam Bass award. Carrying with it a $5,000 cash prize, this award is given for “creativity in independent publishing” during a ceremony at BookExpo America.

This is very well deserved—Archipelago is one of the finest independent publishers in the country, and one of the few devoted to producing beautiful editions of works of international literature.

7 February 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week we posted two new reviews, both of titles published by Archipelago. The first is a review by E.J. of The Waitress Was New by Dominique Fabre. (Fabre will be touring throughout the U.S. starting later this month. All the current dates can be found at Archipelago’s site.)

Jeff Waxman gives Yalo by Elias Khoury some serious praise in his review of this title, which is also just out from Archipelago. Jeff works at Seminary Co-op in Chicago, and will hopefully be a regular reviewer for us.

And speaking of which, if there are any booksellers—or other literary readers in general—interested in reviewing works in translation for us, please feel free to contact me at chad.post at rochester dot edu.

15 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

One of our favorite presses, Archipelago’s been getting a lot of good attention for a couple of their recent titles: Yalo by Elias Khoury and Autonauts of the Cosmoroute by Julio Cortazar.

Specifically, the Khoury book received a great review by Laila Lalami in this weekend’s L.A. Times:

bq, With Yalo, Khoury returns to Beirut in the 1980s with a book that is a series of jagged narratives shifting in time, location and point of view. The novel gives us, like pieces of a puzzle, the story of Daniel Jal’u, nicknamed Yalo. He is a soldier who, after 10 years spent on one of the many sides of Lebanon’s sectarian civil war, gradually becomes a deserter, a thief, a vagabond in Paris, a night watchman in Beirut, a traitor to his benefactor, an arms smuggler, a voyeur and eventually a rapist. Then Yalo falls in love with the young Shirin, and that single act of affection ends in his capture; she turns him in to the police and accuses him of rape. [. . .]

And yet, Khoury’s writing style departs from the typically realist modes of his peers and more closely resembles the stream of consciousness of a writer like William Faulkner. He favors repetition as a stylistic device, and the endings of his stories often circle back to their beginnings. Point of view in his novels doesn’t so much change as dart from one character to another. His experimentation with narrative style can be a bit challenging, but it certainly makes for a unique perspective in Arab letters.

I’m a sucker for anything Faulknerian, but besides that this sounds like a really interesting book. (One that we will be reviewing in the very near future.)

....
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