8 April 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Shortly after the BTBA Fiction Longlist was announced, Tara Murphy and Jesse Eckerlin from Biblioasis came up with the idea of creating a “single-sentence sampler” featuring one line from each of the 25 longlisted titles. But I’ll let Jesse explain what developed:

This week’s post is for those of you who are eager for a taste of each work but might not have the time or resources to track down all the longlisted titles. Plus it’s also just plain fun. Open Letter’s Chad Post (the man behind the magic!) and Biblioasis decided to ask the publishers and translators of each book to select a single iconic or in some way representative sentence from their respective books: once compiled, the sentences would work as a kind of mini-anthology and stylistic shorthand to the year’s longlist. We then decided to go one further: why not post the respective sentences without attribution, embedding links to the pages of the individual books, and let the writing speak for itself?

The sentences below demonstrate a true breadth of narrative strategy and aesthetic sensibility. Some are aphoristic and ornate; some are brief and colloquial. Some are harrowing; some are funny, brusque, sarcastic. Some are only a few words long, creating direct portals to their overarching thematic concerns and pivotal plot points; and others are winding, piling clause upon clause like an intoxicated bricklayer, hinting at an elaborate structure whose dimensions can only be guessed at. Whatever the sentence or its intentions, each grants access to its corresponding text in a unique way. We hope a few pique your interest and persuade you to seek out the books from which they are excerpted.

Click here to read all 25 sentences.

My hope is that everyone reading this will be attracting to a line from a book that they might not otherwise have read . . . And that thanks to this one-sentence sampler, end up reading something that didn’t initially grab them.

5 November 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As announced Friday, Mia Couto has won this year’s Neustadt International Prize for Literature:

Gabriella Ghermandi, who nominated Couto for the Neustadt Prize, said of him, “He is an author who addresses not just his country but the entire world, all human beings.”

Couto is the first Mozambican author to be nominated for and to win the Neustadt Prize. He is considered to be one of the most important writers in Mozambique, and his works have been published in more than 20 languages.

Born in 1955 in Beira, Mozambique, Couto began his literary career in the struggle for Mozambique’s independence, during which time he edited two journals. Raiz de Orvalho, Couto’s first book of poetry, was published in 1983. His first novel and the novel that was the representative text for the Neustadt, Sleepwalking Land, was published in 1992 to great acclaim and is widely considered one of the best African books of the 20th century.

Couto is known for his use of magical realism as well as his creativity with language. In her nominating statement, Ghermandi wrote, “Some critics have called Mia Couto ‘the smuggler writer,’ a sort of Robin Hood of words who steals meanings to make them available in every tongue, forcing apparently separate worlds to communicate. Within his novels, each line is like a small poem.”

This year, Couto also received the 2013 Camões Prize for Literature, a prestigious award given to Portuguese-language writers.

Sleepwalking Land is available from Serpent’s Tail, and is definitely worth reading.

ALSO worth checking out though is The Tuner of Silences, which came out recently from Biblioasis.

Translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw, here’s a synopsis:

Mwanito Vitalício was eleven when he saw a woman for the first time, and the sight so surprised him he burst into tears.

Mwanito’s been living in a big-game park for eight years. The only people he knows are his father, his brother, an uncle, and a servant. He’s been told that the rest of the world is dead, that all roads are sad, that they wait for an apology from God. In the place his father calls Jezoosalem, Mwanito has been told that crying and praying are the same thing. Both, it seems, are forbidden.

The eighth novel by The New York Times-acclaimed Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences is the story of Mwanito’s struggle to reconstruct a family history that his father is unable to discuss. With the young woman’s arrival in Jezoosalem, however, the silence of the past quickly breaks down, and both his father’s story and the world are heard once more.

29 June 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Sarah Winstein-Hibbs on Liliana Heker’s The End of the Story, which is translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger and is available from Biblioasis.

As Sarah states in her introduction, this is her first book review for threepercent!

Here is part of her review:

Sparking major controversy in its home country upon publication in 1996, Liliana Heker’s The End of the Story chronicles the atrocity of the Argentinean “Dirty War” not on the grand scale of historical generalization, but on the infinitely more stunning and painful level of personal tragedy. The story is told through the overlapping narratives of three women: revolutionary-turned-mutineer, Leonora; her frustrated biographer and childhood confidante, Diana Glass; and Hertha Bechofen, a cynical writer and Austrian refugee. It’s often unclear who is narrating the story, and by the end it becomes evident that the piece is metafiction taken to a whole new level: The End of the Story is not just Diana’s story about Leonora, it’s Bechofen’s story of Diana writing about Leonora. But the predicament of perspective doesn’t end there. Parents and children, torturers and victims, believers and cynics all have a voice in this novel as Heker peppers the already-potent mixture with a host of polemical, conflicting viewpoints. And as Heker describes Leonora’s torture and defection, Diana’s hope and disenchantment, and Bechofen’s sage understanding, she leaves us guessing, refusing to fully identify herself with any one point of view. However, if we try to conflate Heker with a character or voice, we’ve missed the point entirely: the book constitutes a reaction against ideology itself, by very nature of its multifaceted storytelling.

Click here to read the entire review.

29 June 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

Sparking major controversy in its home country upon publication in 1996, Liliana Heker’s The End of the Story chronicles the atrocity of the Argentinean “Dirty War” not on the grand scale of historical generalization, but on the infinitely more stunning and painful level of personal tragedy. The story is told through the overlapping narratives of three women: revolutionary-turned-mutineer, Leonora; her frustrated biographer and childhood confidante, Diana Glass; and Hertha Bechofen, a cynical writer and Austrian refugee. It’s often unclear who is narrating the story, and by the end it becomes evident that the piece is metafiction taken to a whole new level: The End of the Story is not just Diana’s story about Leonora, it’s Bechofen’s story of Diana writing about Leonora. But the predicament of perspective doesn’t end there. Parents and children, torturers and victims, believers and cynics all have a voice in this novel as Heker peppers the already-potent mixture with a host of polemical, conflicting viewpoints. And as Heker describes Leonora’s torture and defection, Diana’s hope and disenchantment, and Bechofen’s sage understanding, she leaves us guessing, refusing to fully identify herself with any one point of view. However, if we try to conflate Heker with a character or voice, we’ve missed the point entirely: the book constitutes a reaction against ideology itself, by very nature of its multifaceted storytelling.

Leonora was the childhood friend and teenage compatriot that writer Diana Glass always looked to for inspiration, zeal, and leadership. The book contains many passages in which Diana waxes nostalgic, attempting to immortalize the heyday of their Communist cause, with Leonora at the vanguard:

“She spoke, and Argentina became a burning rose, crying out for justice. How could we not follow her? Behind her magnetic words, the holier-than-thou declaimers of Astolfi and the blasphemers, the virginal and the deflowered, agreed to join the strike. Even the holdouts showed their mettle: ignited with reactionary passion, they brandished their faith in the Church and their disgust with the popular cause like a banner. No one remained indifferent when Leonora spoke. In the classrooms where small, private dreams had nestled for years, a political conscience began to grow like a flower.” (14)

After witnessing Leonora’s sudden and horrific abduction at the hands of the government, Diana resolves to document her life in a grand, impassioned subversive tragedy. However, the facts that eventually surface interfere with her pre-planned storyline of glorious heroism and martyrdom: Leonora has been brutally tortured and given information to the government; Leonora has defected and joined the other side; Leonora is in love with her torturer, who is also her husband’s murderer. Upon learning the truth about Leonora’s fate, Diana experiences a type of literary paralysis, willfully self-editing her text because the truth is so abominable to her.

Heker’s book is largely about disillusionment and betrayal, and this applies not just to Diana, but also to readers. Only when we’re three pages from the end do we know for sure who the narrator has been all along: it’s the wily Hertha Bechofen, who voyeuristically watches Diana writing in cafes, eavesdrops on her conversations, and writes about life through the eyes of torturers, victims, mothers, fathers, children, and survivors. Indeed, the book wouldn’t be possible without her impartiality, since Bechofen’s past experiences in WWII Vienna allow her to perceive the Dirty War with emotional distance and calm level-headedness. Where Diana is indignant and myopic, Bechofen is skeptical and detached, making her the better narrator for the story:

“…this isn’t a story about heroes, my dear,” Bechofen chides, “it’s a story about murder and murderers. And it’s also a story about survivors…So, forget your heroine and tell what you have to tell.” “It isn’t what I wanted,” Diana protests. “History is never what one wants, my dear. But it doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t feel right for you to write the story, I’ll write it myself. For a while now I’ve been looking for an interesting character; now I have two.” “Go on and try, Hertha, but you won‘t be able to. Now I know the story well. I know it will end for you in the first chapter. The character already shows her true colors there…she tore my own story to shreds, you see, my own sacred springtime. She ruined it forever.” (175)

What Diana wants to write conflicts with what actually happened: her intense emotional investment in history prevents her from documenting the truth. Throughout the novel, Diana grieves the breakdown of her ideology and the loss of her heroine. Because Diana can’t work through her own disappointment and obstinacy, Bechofen is the writer that ultimately takes over the story.

Unlike Diana’s lyrical reminisces, there’s a strangely flattened, matter-of-fact quality to the narration in the descriptions of violence and imprisonment in this book, as though Heker were trying to dissect a tragedy:

“Interrogations aren’t the only activities that take place in the basement, but the woman lying on a cot, chained, has no way of knowing this. She can only distinguish what can be heard in the distance—music on the radio, cries, fragments of interrogations—or at times, whatever happens to cross her field of vision, since her blindfolded condition—if the recumbent woman is lucky—might not be permanent. In the strictest sense, almost nothing is permanent in this section since, according to what the recumbent woman can distinguish, subjects are taken away once the session is over or in the event of death. The electrical equipment can be observed on a small table near the cot. Anyone lying there, chained, would be perfectly able to deduce, if observant enough, that all the compartments must have similar equipment and that other instruments—clubs, pliers, scalpels for pulling off skin—must be brought in especially for certain sessions. The lighting—logically, since it’s a basement—is always artificial.” (82-83)

This cold-blooded tone of voice actually makes the torture even more disturbing; the text is stripped of detail and emotion, which makes readers suspect—chillingly—this unbelievable series of events hasn’t been romanticized or fictionally embellished at all.

As in many effective war novels, Heker spares us from nothing—with unflinching candor she takes us right into the torture room, with all of its animal sights, sounds and smells.

But what stuns about Heker’s book is the way that she fearlessly mines the psychic states of torturers, and—arguably—even creates sympathy with them simply by giving them a voice in the novel. Because of the monstrosity of state-sponsored violence unleashed during the Dirty War, many would consider the articulation of such viewpoints to be pure evil, or at least propagandistic—“She’s playing right into the military’s hands,” in the words of one incensed writer. But in my opinion, these are the moments that make the book so strong: Heker is not afraid to voice any perspective of the war in her novel, as dangerous as it may be. Though she herself is a former Argentinean left-wing journalist and self-proclaimed socialist, through many of her characters Heker voices a deeply bitter disenchantment that other former revolutionaries might be too timid—or too proud—to articulate. And by telling about the love affair that occurs between Leonora and her torturer, she shows how even in times of war, the human instinct is stronger than abstract systems of honor and dogma that supposedly govern human life.

Many readers have criticized Heker’s book for its lack of closure and resolution, but this is precisely what gives the novel its realism. In life and war, no absolute truth or simple answer exists; Heker’s story achieves this reality by exploring the motives and perspectives on both sides of the conflict. This spectrum of emotion and thought furnishes the book with a literary richness and depth that would be impossible if Heker were openly rooting for one team. Which side is right; who’s culpable for the war; whose philosophy is more sound? – Heker refuses to answer these questions for us. What she does offer us instead is the infinitely more valuable opportunity to think critically about the evidence presented, instead of blindly accepting the ideology of one authority (philosophy, government, author, party, faction). Heker’s book shows that there is never simply one way to tell about a war, or one way to end the story—there are many.

24 June 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our review section is a piece by Lara Ericson (one of our summer interns) on Hans Eichner’s Kahn & Engelmann, which was published earlier this year by Biblioasis in Canada (Windsor to be more specific), and translated from the German by Jean M. Snook.

Biblioasis is one of the most interesting young presses in Canada, and will definitely be getting a lot of great attention this fall when they release Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Dance with Snakes. But they’ve been doing some interesting works in translation for some time now, and this novel, although maybe not perfect, is pretty interesting:

Hans Eichner’s first novel (and last—he passed away earlier this year), originally published in 2000 in Austria, was released in English last month, directly after the eminent German scholar’s death. Kahn & Engelmann opens with a joke: a traveling joke and a Jewish joke.

“In the summer of 1938, a Jewish refugee is going for a walk on Carmel Beach . . . Twenty metres out from shore, a man is fighting against the waves and yelling for help in Hebrew. The refugee stops to listen, takes his jacket off, folds it neatly (one should never act too hastily); and while taking off his tie and shoes as well, before jumping into the sea to help the yelling man, he exclaims indignantly: ‘What a fool! Hebrew he has learned. Swimming he should have learned!’”

Though jokes are used throughout the novel, the placement of this particular joke emphasizes the centrality of travel (often forced travel) to the Jewish identity—a theme expanded throughout the novel, in the story of Peter Engelmann’s own life (he lives, at various times, in Vienna, Hungary, Belgium, England, Australia, Canada, and Israel) and that of the Austro-Hungarian Jews from whom he is descended. The question Peter poses at the beginning of the novel of “How did I get here?” is especially relevant to anyone of Jewish heritage and leads Peter to trace the experiences, and travels, of the Austro-Hungarian Jews through the last hundred years.

In the course of the novel, he tells three basic stories: the first is of his own life and recent experiences living in Haifa, Israel in the late-twentieth century; another starts in 1880 and tells his family story starting with his great-grandmother Sidonie; and the third tells the broader history of Austro-Hungarian Jews.

Click here to read the rest of Lara’s review.

24 June 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Hans Eichner’s first novel (and last—he passed away earlier this year), originally published in 2000 in Austria, was released in English last month, directly after the eminent German scholar’s death. Kahn & Engelmann opens with a joke: a traveling joke and a Jewish joke.

In the summer of 1938, a Jewish refugee is going for a walk on Carmel Beach . . . Twenty metres out from shore, a man is fighting against the waves and yelling for help in Hebrew. The refugee stops to listen, takes his jacket off, folds it neatly (one should never act too hastily); and while taking off his tie and shoes as well, before jumping into the sea to help the yelling man, he exclaims indignantly: “What a fool! Hebrew he has learned. Swimming he should have learned!”

Though jokes are used throughout the novel, the placement of this particular joke emphasizes the centrality of travel (often forced travel) to the Jewish identity—a theme expanded throughout the novel, in the story of Peter Engelmann’s own life (he lives, at various times, in Vienna, Hungary, Belgium, England, Australia, Canada, and Israel) and that of the Austro-Hungarian Jews from whom he is descended. The question Peter poses at the beginning of the novel of “How did I get here?” is especially relevant to anyone of Jewish heritage and leads Peter to trace the experiences, and travels, of the Austro-Hungarian Jews through the last hundred years.

In the course of the novel, he tells three basic stories: the first is of his own life and recent experiences living in Haifa, Israel in the late-twentieth century; another starts in 1880 and tells his family story starting with his great-grandmother Sidonie; and the third tells the broader history of Austro-Hungarian Jews.

The novel primarily follows Peter’s family as his great-grandparents Sidonie and Josef Kahn move from rural Hungary to Vienna in order to improve their children’s opportunities, but also includes the stories of the Kahn children and grandchildren, their business enterprises and their interactions with one another. One of the central storylines is the series of battles (which end tragically) between Jëno Kahn and Peter’s father, Sándor Engelmann, over their clothing firm Kahn & Engelmann (for which the novel is named).

Peter’s narrative jumps around in time, allowing him to tell whatever story he feels is necessary to explain something, or to move on when he simply gets bored with the current topic. While this stream of consciousness style is very authentic, it makes the reading experience choppy and confusing at times, especially with so many characters, years, and plotlines in the novel.

This novel struggles to be both an accurate, historical account of the Austro-Hungarian Jews and a compelling novel. It succeeds at the former attempt, but isn’t quite as successful in the latter. Eichner paints a clear picture both of the rural Jewish life, and of that in Vienna around the turn of the century. The broad scale on which the story is told, both in terms of time span and quantity of characters, adds to the richness of the novel as a story of Jewish history. In addition to the story of the Kahn family, a great deal of historical explanation is given to the various struggles which befall the Kahn family along with the greater Jewish community. These additions are very informative but occasionally bog down the flow of the novel.

The appeal the novel holds in regards to the Kahns’ specific story is more limited. Partly because of the broad scale of the novel, many of the stories become repetitive or tiresome, such the detailed description of the family’s complicated business dealings. As part of this storyline, Peter copies a large number of letters—and detailed financial transactions—written between his father and Jëno during their long battle. If the intention were to present a complete family history, this kind of detail might be more relevant, but in the context of this particular novel, these prolonged discussions are tiring. Other parts of the novel are frankly, quite bizarre and disposable. In particular, Peter’s stories about his later life and his brief marriage add nothing and seem out of character with the rest of the novel.

This said, some aspects of the family history (such as the family’s arrival to and initial struggle in Vienna) are extremely compelling. Also noteworthy are Peter’s reflections on his involvement in World War II. He is sent to an internment camp in Australia for the majority of the war, where he receives an excellent education. At one point, he is presented with the opportunity to fight in the war on the side of the Allies and declines. This decision haunts him throughout the rest of his life. This apathy is the result of what he describes as his “autism”: his inattentiveness to important issues and current events. He later decides to repent for this apathy by moving to Israel and becoming a part of the Jewish struggle there.

Perhaps the highlight of the novel for me is the many jokes and legends from the Jewish community, which Eichner uses as an introduction to a story about the Kahns or to illustrate an aspect of Jewish culture.

“You all know that ani lo jodea means “I don’t know.” Once upon a time there was a shetl in Russia where the Jews lived well, and one day the governor came and said: “The Tsar has decreed that you all have to leave.” But since the governor was a learned man who also knew a lot about Jewish things and was proud of this knowledge, the rabbi was able to persuade him to let it depend on the outcome of a competition: the governor and a representative of the shetl would ask each other questions. The first who couldn’t answer the question has his head cut off. If it was the Jew, then the Jews had to leave; if it was the governor, he got his head cut off, and the Jews could stay. Fair enough—but who was supposed to risk his life by going up against the learned man? . . . Only the shammes said he was willing to try . . . On the agreed upon day, the governor came to the market square . . . When the governor saw that his opponent was the shammes, he laughed and said: “In that case, you may ask the first question.” “Governor,” said the shammes, “what does ani lo jodea mean?” “I don’t know,” said the governor, and the executioner cut his head off.”

Not only are these jokes entertaining, but they truly do provide a window into the experiences and attitudes of the Jewish people. As the novel demonstrates, these stories are repeated around the dinner table to spread both history and values. Eichner’s novel is particularly successful at collecting a number of these stories and illustrating their centrality in the culture.

Although Kahn & Engelmann is not clearly intended to be autobiographical, a large number of events in Eichner’s early life seem to match up with those of Peter Engelmann, from their birth in Vienna, to their internment in Australia, and finally to their professorship in Canada. Eichner was recognized throughout his life as a prominent German scholar, and the novel confirms that. Kahn & Engelmann is a remarkable achievement in recreating a vibrant Jewish community lost to the past. As someone unfamiliar with the Austro-Hungarian Jews, the perspectives given are fascinating and informative. Unfortunately, Hans Eichner’s ambitions exceed his abilities, resulting in an intriguing, yet flawed, novel.

19 May 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [3]

In the third of today’s three Canadian-centric posts, I thought I’d highlight this interview Nigel Beale did recently with John Metcalf, a Canadian book critic and fiction editor at Biblioasis.

The focus of the interview is on “negative reviewing,” and I have to admit, Metcalf’s defense of critical criticism and his various attacks (especially on M.G. Vassanji — more on him in a minute) are pretty over-the-top and hysterical. Makes me want to read more Canadian book criticism . . .

Vassanji’s writing really pisses Metcalf off . . . especially the fact that Vassanji won the Giller prize twice, and that a “member of the illiterate society” would assume that if he won the Giller and Alice Munro did as well, their books must be of equal value. He goes on to explain that his hatred of Vassanji’s writing isn’t just “his opinion” that if you read one paragraph of Vassanji you can tell that he can’t “handle the English language.”

So, here goes. Here’s the opening of the Giller Prize winning The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (longer sample here):

My name is Vikram Lall. I have the distinction of having been numbered one of Africa’s most corrupt men, a cheat of monstrous and reptilian cunning. To me has been attributed the emptying of a large part of my troubled country’s treasury in recent years. I head my country’s List of Shame. These and other descriptions actually flatter my intelligence, if not my moral sensibility. But I do not intend here to defend myself or even seek redemption through confession; I simply crave to tell my story. In this clement retreat to which I have withdrawn myself, away from the torrid current temper of my country, I find myself with all the time and seclusion I may ever need for my purpose. I have even come upon a small revelation — and as I proceed daily to recall and reflect, and lay out on the page, it is with an increasing conviction of its truth, that if more of us told our stories to each other, where I come from, we would be a far happier and less nervous people.

“I have the the distinction of having” and “to me has been attributed” are both a bit awkward, although it’s possible that this is intentionally stilted, and that it’s only this particular character who speaks in strange ways . . . But I doubt it.

To end on a positive note, Metcalf claims that the only Canadian novel from the past fifteen years that has meant anything to him at all is Mordecai Richler’s St. Urbain’s Horseman, which, well, isn’t available here in America . . . But every single Vassanji book is . . .

19 May 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

(This post could be subtitled, “The Beginning of a Canadian Bender . . .” but more on that over the next couple days.)

One of the most exciting Canadian presses that I’ve come across in recent times is Biblioasis, in part because of their International Translation series, and in part because of Joshua Glenn and Mark Kingwell’s The Idler’s Glossary.

The third book in the Biblioasis International Translation series is Hans Eichner’s Kahn & Engelmann, which is releasing this week and has been getting some good advance press, including this great review from Library Journal:

Narrated by Peter Engelmann, a middle-aged veterinarian working in Haifa, this work is at once the story of a family and a memorial to Viennese Jews. The narrative, the stream-of-consciousness recollections of a man caught between the need to remember and the desire to forget, opens in both 1980 and 1880 and chronicles the Kahn family’s move from rural Hungary to Vienna, the narrator’s 1938 flight to Belgium and eventual settlement in Israel, and all the family drama in between. The result is a moving book full of humor and humanity.

Eichner led a pretty interesting life, fleeing Austria at the start of WWII, being shipped off to Australia where he studied mathematics, Latin, and English literature, and eventually settling in Canada, where he was the chair of German Studies at the University of Toronto. Unfortunately, he passed away last month at the age of 87. Kahn & Engelmann is his first novel, and it was published in Germany in 2000 and translated into English by Jean M. Snook (who also translated Gert Jonke’s Homage to Czerny: Studies for a Virtuoso Technique).

And the opening of his novel is pretty entertaining:

In the summer of 1938, a Jewish refugee is going for a walk on Carmel Beach (Is he from Cologne? from Berlin? from Vienna? It doesn’t matter). Twenty metres out from shore, a man is fighting against the waves and yelling for help in Hebrew. The refugees stops to listen, takes his jacket off, folds it neatly (one should never act too hastily); and while taking off his tie and shoes as well, before jumping into the sea to help the yelling man, he exclaims indignantly: “What a fool! Hebrew he has learned. Swimming he should have learned!”

That’s a travelling joke. It was told much the same way in 1789 in Mainz, when the first emigres arrived there and went for walks along the Rhine in their elegant clothes. But precisely because it is a travelling joke, it is also a Jewish joke; for who has travelled (or, as is mostly the case, has fled) more often than the Jews?

We’re planning on running a full review of this title in the not-too-distant future, and it might be a German Book Office “book of the month” at some point as well. In the meantime, here’s a longer excerpt from the book and here’s a book trailer.

2 September 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It’s a really slow day around here . . . I’m still out of the office, and E.J. just left for his summer vacation. But right before leaving he wrote this review of Yesterday’s People by Goran Simic, a book that he liked quite a bit, and which came out recently from Biblioasis, my new favorite Canadian publisher. In addition to doing a number of interesting translations, Biblioasis is also responsible for CNQ (the most recent issue of which was focused exclusively on translation) and is bringing out the Idler’s Glossary by Joshua Glenn and Mark Kingwell later this fall.

2 September 08 | E.J. Van Lanen |

The stories of Yesterday’s People are torn between war and peace, and between Goran Simić‘s native Bosnia (specifically Sarajevo) and his current residence, Canada. The centerpiece of the collection, ‘Minefield’, tells the story of two sides in the Yugoslavian war who are entrenched on either side of a 50-meter-wide minefield. Left to their own devices, and with little possibility of movement on either side, the enemies pass the time by insulting each other, drinking, and using pages from the books they’ve brought to the trenches as tobacco rolling papers:

The bags of shit we threw at one another piled up on the battlefield. By mid-summer it stank so badly that each side agreed to stop. The arsenal of verbal obscenities, however, continued to escalate. As we could not see each other, each side nicknamed the other from what could be guesses by the sound of their voices. The most vocal on their side we called Ass, Cock, Cretin and Guts. They, in turn, christened us Bastard, Vulture, Lamb and Turd. I was called Sickness, probably because of my endless coughing, caused by too much smoking.

As time went on, no one reacted to the cursing of mothers and sisters any more: that was something that only younger, denser soldiers reveled in. Originality became the order of the day, the assaults by which we earned our stripes. We came to know, over time, who on their side was the easiest to provoke, as well as the relative intelligence of each by what they reacted to. They knew just as well who among us had the weakest nerves.

Perhaps the most moving story in the collection is ‘The Story of Sinan’, which tells the story of two men, Sinan and Jovan, who are trapped in their apartments during the siege of Sarajevo. Afraid to go outside during the day for fear of being killed by a sniper—or being recruited into the army and sent to the front—the two men pass the time by combining their meagre foodstuffs into meals and talking, and Sinan sneaks out at night to gamble. Their uneasy equilibrium is broken when Sinan brings home an orphan.

‘A Story about Soil’ tells of two brothers who fought on opposite sides in the Second World War, influenced by their father who wanted to guarantee that the family would be able to side with whoever won. And ‘Another Bear’ recounts the story of Kanada, a woman who befriends dancing bears that live in a zoo, and the fate that befalls them when the war starts.

These stories have been translated by numerous different translators (the stories themselves have appeared in numerous different journals), and sometimes this results in an unevenness in the language between the individual stories, but these minor distractions don’t diminish the power of Simić‘s voice, nor the emotional impact of his storytelling.

In Yesterday’s People, Goran Simić looks at war, and its aftermath, from the ground level. His characters are everyday people who rarely seek to understand, and have no power to influence, the larger forces that have trapped them, either in the war-torn present or long after the war has ended and they have moved halfway around the globe; they’re too busy trying to make sense of their own shattered lives.

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Reviewed by Chris Iacono

Early in Sun-mi Hwang’s novel The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, the main character, a hen named Sprout, learns about sacrifice. After refusing to lay any more eggs for the farmer who owns her, she becomes “culled” and released. . .

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Sankya
Sankya by Zakhar Prilepin
Reviewed by Kseniya Melnik

When Sankya was published in Russia in 2006, it became a sensation. It won the Yasnaya Polyana Award (bestowed by direct descendants of Leo Tolstoy) and was shortlisted for the Russian Booker and the National Bestseller Award. Every member of. . .

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Stalin is Dead
Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Stalin is Dead by Rachel Shihor has been repeatedly described as kafkaesque, which strikes a chord in many individuals, causing them to run to the bookstore in the middle of the night to be consumed by surreal situations that no. . .

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Paradises
Paradises by Iosi Havilio
Reviewed by Andrea Reece

Paradises by cult Argentinian author Iosi Havilio is the continuation of his earlier novel, Open Door, and tells the story of our narrator, a young, unnamed Argentinian woman.

The very first sentence in Paradises echoes the opening of Camus’s The Outsider. . .

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Two Crocodiles
Two Crocodiles by Fyodor Dostoevsky; Felisberto Hernández
Reviewed by Sara Shuman

This pearl from New Directions contains one short story from Russian literary master Fyodor Dostoevsky (translated by Constance Garnett) and one short story from Uruguayan forefather of magical realism Felisberto Hernández (translated by Esther Allen). Both pieces are entitled “The. . .

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