I somehow missed it when this first appeared online, but here’s a link to my review of Antonio Lobo Antunes’s The Land at the End of the World, which has been newly translated by Margaret Jull Costa and brought out by W.W. Norton.
Antunes is one of my favorite authors, so expect Grant Barber’s full length review of this book to appear on this site in the next week, and I’ll be writing a much longer Antunes piece for the fall issue of Quarterly Conversation.
Back to the subject at hand, I just want to say that The Land at the End of the World is one of Antunes’s absolute best books. I also love Fado Alexandrino and Act of the Damned, but if you’re looking for a place to start with him, this one is probably the best.
You can read the whole review over at Bookforum’s website, but here’s a bit from it:
Antunes’s later novels—Act of the Damned and Fado Alexandrino in particular—are equal parts Céline and William Faulkner. The plots are more labyrinthine, the novels more polyphonic. It’s as if the kernel of Antunes’s rage has crystallized into a complex design, more nuanced in its depiction of Portuguese society, one that requires more engagement on the part of the reader to fully comprehend the tapestry of voices, plots, and viewpoints.
Which is why The Land at the End of the World is like reading Antunes’s novelistic template. It’s very straightforward: Over the course of an entire night, a psychiatrist/writer, back from the war, gets wasted in a bar while seducing a (silent) woman with his tales of anguish and hatred. It advances through a series of rants, grotesque metaphors, and repetitions that lay bare his shortcomings, while making him sympathetically bleak:
I think I lost her in the same way I lose everything, drove her away with my mood swings, my unexpected rages, my absurd demands, the anxious thirst for tenderness that repels affection and lingers, throbbing painfully, in the form of a mute appeal full of a prickly, irrational hostility.
The new issue of Bookforum arrived in the mail yesterday. Traditionally, the summer issue (covering June/July/Aug) has a significant special section—last year it was “Utopia/Dystopia” and the year before was “Fiction Forward,” with a focus on six new writers.
This year’s special section is Best Sellers and opens with an essay by Ruth Franklin on the history and contents of best-seller lists. (Or, as she points out, fast-seller lists, since “the pace of sales matters as much as the quantity.”) There are also interesting essays by Gerald Howard and Michael Dirda, along with short overviews of a variety of best-sellers, from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago to Jaws.
In terms of the normal reviews, there’s a piece by former Harper’s editor Roger Hodge on Intern Nation (a sweetly provocative choice considering Hodge’s exit from Harper’s and all that turmoil), a review by Eric Banks of Raymond Roussel’s Impressions of Africa and New Impressions of Africa, one by Leo Robson on Bohumil Hrabal’s Vita Nuova and Gaps, and a fascinating looking piece by J. C. Hallman on Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion. (Yes, I suppose I am on a bit of a cults kick right now.)
Most of these pieces aren’t available online, but seriously, a subscription is $18/year. Pony up, people. (I feel like there is something interesting going on in today’s culture—we’ve gone from demanding everything for free to being completely willing to pay small amounts of money for the ease and convenience of having something at hand. Publishers always freak out about piracy, without admitting that if they made a very simple, convenient way to buy reasonably priced material—and FYI, $29.95 for an ebook is a long cry from “reasonable”—in the way readers want, at the time that they want, piracy won’t be all that much of an issue. Anyway.)
New issues of a bunch of my favorite magazines (online and in print) came out this week. Here’s a quick summary:
The new Bookforum is a three-month issue, so thankfully there’s a lot of great stuff. Ben Anastas on faith in fiction, a review by Matthew Shaer of Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s The Informers, a “review by Tayt Harlin” of Ben Moser’s Why This World, and a review by Kate Zambreno of Christine Montalbetti’s Western. (On the non-international literature side of things, there’s a review by Paul LaFarge of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, a review by Hari Kunzru of Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City, and a review by John Domini of Richard Powers’s Generosity. And much more . . .)
The new World Literature Today really deserves its own post. This is a special issue edited by Larry Venuti and dedicated to Catalan Literature. There’s a piece by J. Madison Davis on “The Inventive Crime Writers of Catalonia,” a story by Quim Monzo entitled “A Day Like Any Other” (which will appear in the Guadalajara collection Open Letter is publishing next year), several poems by Miquel Bauca, Francesc Parcerisas, and Maria-Merce Marcal, Anna Montero, Andreu Vidal, Ernest Farres, and Eva Baltasar, and a story by Albert Sanchex Pinol. There’s also an extremely interesting introductory essay by Venuti that’s available online.
This month’s Believer kicks ass. A number of interesting pieces—Damion Searls on the abridged Moby-Dick, a piece by Stephen Elliott, a reconsideration of V.C. Andrews—and reviews of two Open Letter books: a review by Lara Tupper of Jan Kjaerstad’s The Discoverer and a piece by the aforementioned Kate Zambreno on Elsa Morante’s Aracoeli. (And check out the review by Laird Hunt of Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier as well.)
New Open Letters Monthly (unaffiliated—it’s just a coincidence, or example of great minds thinking alike) is also available online and features a nice range of pieces, including a special “Music Portfolio.”
Finally, the September issue of Words Without Borders is up now as well, and is focused on “Walking the World”:
This month, in collaboration with Orion magazine, we embark on “Walking the World,” the second installment of our two-month focus on international nature writing. The writers in our September issue record their walks to give us a unique ground-level perspective on our natural and urban surroundings. Whether a remembrance of a haunting episode on the streets of Paris, or an account of a trek through Milan toward a distant peak, these pieces provide a rare glimpse into the realm of the writer on foot, in his element, and speaking about the world that we all navigate. This month we present the work of Siegfried Kracauer, Troub’s, Davide Sapienza, Agur Schiff, Antonio Ungar, Alexei Ivanov, and Marjan Strojan. We hope you’ll also head over to Orion to read their fantastic selections for this co-publication.
Lots of good stuff to be reading . . .
Late last week, Bookforum launched their new website, which has all of the great features of the previous one (the daily round up blog, articles from the print version, etc.), but has also added a couple of cool things, like a daily review section and a syllabi section containing lists of recommendations within a particular category.
I actually have a Beyond Bolano syllabus up there right now featuring Latin American/Spanish writers worth picking up post-2666.
All the syllabi are interesting: Ed Park’s on Comic Novels, Mark Sarvas’s on Literary Losers, David O’Neill’s on Emily Dickinson, Rachel Aviv on Schizophrenic Memoirs, Lisa Darms on Walking, and Devin McKinney on Supernatural Nonfiction.
I’m a sucker for these sorts of lists to begin with (especially from smart, interesting readers like the ones above), and can’t wait to see what else gets added. . .
(I’ll write more about this in a BEA round-up, but I did discover a new genre over the weekend that needs some fleshing out—“historical religious speculative fiction.” Not kidding. I can’t find the promo page at this moment, but it was a self-published title about how a Jewish woman named Esther spreads a new philosophy of life, starting a spiritual revolution that prevents the Holocaust and the ensuing nuclear war . . . which is where this book must be pretty damn daring and complicated to explain how to avoid a nuclear tragedy that never actually happened . . . Ah, BEA!)
Just in time for BookExpo, the summer fiction issue of Bookforum is now available in print and online.
This year’s special fiction issue is all about fiction forward:
We invited dozens of publishers to submit excerpts from books that will be published in the fall and winter, and we selected six of the very best. But “Fiction Forward” doesn’t refer just to this peek at forthcoming work. Indeed, the stories we tell ourselves are constantly moving forward, taking in the world apace and recalibrating to accommodate fresh news. Forward is also the direction in which good fiction takes its readers. In thrall to a gifted storyteller, we can discover—often with an astonishing degree of specificity—just who we, individually, collectively, are becoming. Even when addressing distant events and people, fiction speaks to us directly about what it means to be alive today and tomorrow.
The six featured authors—Ryan Boudinot, Michelle Huneven, Terrence Holt, Xiaoda Xiao, Michiel Heyns, and Holly Goddard Jones—all look pretty interesting, and each piece is paired with a graphic artist, and introduced by another writer. (I like Junot Diaz’s super-enthusiastic bit about Terrence Holt: “There is no one in the wide sea of English who writes like him (as far as I know); no one who is so profound and mysterious, so searingly human and so implacably apocalyptic. I always describe Holt as Melville + Poe + Borges but with a heart far more capacious than any of them were capable of mustering.”)
In addition to these six excerpts and the usual collection of great fiction and nonfiction reviews by very talented reviewers, there’s also a nice long piece on recent publications by African authors. Looking at four recent publications — Gods and Soldiers, edited by Rob Spillman, The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Secret Son by Laila Lalami, and the NYRB reprint of Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih — James Gibbons’s piece is both informative and interesting:
Are we in the midst of an “African literary renaissance,” as Spillman contends, an el boom from the other side of the Atlantic? Perhaps, but the surge of African writing is tellingly different from the Latin American explosion of the ’60s. Besides being identified with magic realism (though not all its writers practiced it), the literature of the Latin American boom was already formed within the region’s own institutions and coteries before being packaged in translation and exported. The new African writing is emphatically not homegrown. Forged in the crucible of globalization, it is a literature largely of displacement and exile. Most striking in scanning the biographical notes in Gods and Soldiers is how few of its contributors, especially the younger ones, live in the countries in which they were born. Nearly all the Francophone writers have settled in France, and the typical English-language writer has an American MFA and professorship.
The new issue of Bookforum is now available online, and, as always, has some interesting pieces about some interesting works of international literature, including:
Of course, there are many more good articles in this new issue worth checking out, all of which are available here.
(And just to note—links from the titles above go to Harvard Book Store’s online ordering system. Unfortunately a few of the titles aren’t currently in stock, but I’m sure they can get the book pretty quickly . . .)
The Dec 08/Jan 09 issue of Bookforum is now available both in print and online. As always, there’s a lot of great stuff, including a review of Saramago’s Death with Interruptions and Olivier Pauvert’s Noir, which sounds pretty cool:
The dystopian thriller is narrated by an unnamed white man, who discovers the mutilated body of a young woman hanging from a tree. He is arrested for the crime and thrown into the back of a police van, but en route to a location out of town, the van crashes and the narrator finds himself the sole survivor. Panic-stricken, he wanders the streets of Paris trying to piece together what happened, soon realizing, with a “piercing sense of déjà vu,” that he has been transported twelve years into the future. The novel then follows a trajectory of malevolent discovery: The narrator has no reflection, his body has morphed into that of another person, and he can kill others with his maniacal stare. He is neither dead nor alive, a “Bastard With No Name, neither chosen nor condemned, an In-Between, a remanence,” hiding from a government that has devised a method of collective mind control. Only the Noir, a disparate group of nonwhites who fight “not to change anything but just to avoid disappearing altogether,” can help him.
The September/October/November issue of Bookforum went online yesterday, and is absolutely loaded with reviews of great books.
Being at home in the world, as exile and citizen, likewise defined Russian émigré Nina Berberova: “I always sympathize with one who flees his nest, even if he flees into an anthill, where it may be crowded but one can find solitude . . . that precious and intense state of being conscious of the world and of oneself.” Ugresic might agree, as she allows The Ministry of Pain to end with a reprieve for Tanja. But what happens when borders and the identities they engender cease to have meaning or, in the case of Ugresic’s Yugoslavia, cease to exist? Ugresic cites the case of Ivo Andrić. Once considered a “Yugoslav writer,” Andrić was reclassified by a Croatian lexicon in the interest of tidying up the category of domestic literature: He was defined “by blood (as a Croatian writer), by residence (as a Serbian writer), and by themes (as a Bosnian writer).” The notion that a literary text must bear the burden of identification tags is, for Ugresic, an affront; it entails tacit approval of the idea that “the field of literature is nothing more than a realm of geopolitics.”
In addition to this review though, there’s a long list of pieces I want to read:
Rick Moody on The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin;
Rivka Galchen on The Only Son by Stéphane Audeguy;
John Freeman on To Siberia by Per Petterson;
Britt Peterson on “Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya;”:
Sarah Fay on A Manuscript of Ashes by Antonio Muñoz Molina;
Tayt Harlin on Voice Over by Céline Curiol;
and, Craig Seligman on What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire? by António Lobo Antunes.
And that’s just on the fiction side . . .
As a number of other people have already pointed out, the new issue of Bookforum is now available, both in print and online.
This is the summer “Fiction and Politics” issues, which, in addition to a heap of good reviews, has a few features on politics novels and the like. There’s even a reflections section with short bits from host of international authors like Lydia Millet, Daniel Kehlmann, Siddhartha Deb, and Dubravka Ugresic.
(I’m particularly psyched about Dubravka’s piece on Upton Sinclair’s Oil! not because of what she has to say—which is pretty interesting about the connection, or disconnection between literature and politics—but because this is the first time I’ve seen the words “which will be published by Open Letter in September” in print.)
There’s also a nice review by Benjamin Ross of Sasa Stanisic’s How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone (a translator reviewing a translation—I like it) and a review by Michael Wood of Adam Thirlwell’s The Delighted States.
I’ve been looking forward to reading the latter for a while now, and hopefully will be able to find a copy at BEA later this week. . . . Wood’s review is similar to the few others I’ve seen that praise the subject and ambition of the book while questioning the overall style. Nevertheless, this sounds really interesting—and definitely a book we should review:
Early in the book, Thirlwell says he has sometimes thought of it as “an inside-out novel, with novelists as characters”; he also describes it as “an atlas.” He says it’s “written with a full acceptance of the mistake, the anachronism, the side effect,” because “the history of the novel is, simultaneously, a history of an elaborate and intricate international art form—and also a history of errors, a history of waste.” This is to say that The Delighted States is itself a quirky history of the novel, a story of the textual travels of a particular mind, and I need to add that if novelists are characters here, their own fictional characters are just as important. They leave their own books and cross into others, making many of Thirlwell’s most ingenious points for him. [. . .]
The story—inside out in the extended sense just described—involves Gogol, Sterne, Chekhov, Diderot, Machado de Assis, Proust, Kafka, Gombrowicz, Schulz, Tolstoy, Svevo, and others and, in spite of Thirlwell’s many grand and fuzzy claims about style and translation (“A style is . . . as much a quirk of emotion, or of theological belief, as it is a quirk of language”; “A style is a quality of vision”; “there is no need for a style to have a single style”), finally rests on two interesting and contradictory suggestions. Each proceeds from the fact that great writers, however monolingual they may be as speakers, rarely restrict their reading to works originally written in their own language. [. . .]
The first suggestion is that the details of errors and shifts in translation are infinitely important because one of the virtues of language is its eerie specificity, or the possibility of that specificity. [. . .] The second, contrary, and, for Thirlwell, more important suggestion is that all kinds of masterpieces, supposedly cast irreplaceably in their native tongue, manage to survive bad to mediocre translation and even butchery.
I’m sure we’ll be writing about this in more detail in the not too distant future. (Like after I finish the last 600 pages of 2666 and all of What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire?)
The new issue of Bookforum is out, with a number of interesting articles available online.
There’s a review of Geert Mak’s In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century, Zakes Mda’s Cion, Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Mandarins, Terézia Mora’s Day In Day Out and Christian Oster’s The Unforeseen.
Looks like yet another great issue . . .
Josipovici is an amazing writer and he has a bunch of great books— Moo Pak; Contre-Jour; his most recent collection of critical essays, Singer on the Shore; to name just a few — that should jump to the top of your reading list straight away. I’m serious.
Bach’s composition has earned its own list of variations (not least, Glenn Gould’s famous recording, recently digitized for a player piano; a Jerome Robbins ballet; and Richard Powers’s novel The Gold Bug Variations). Yet Josipovici has done something delightfully daring for his homage: With the trick of a colon, his rendition proposes variations on Goldberg himself. The novel’s setting is not Germany but nineteenth-century England; the insomniac is not a count but a wealthy aristocrat unmoved by music; and Goldberg, here named Samuel, is not a musician but a storyteller—a Scheherazade plagued with writer’s block for whom Queneau-esque variations are the only solution.
It’s difficult figuring out where to start though. . . Simenon was ten times more prolific than Joyce Carol Oates is, writing more than 400 books during his lifetime, including 34 in just 1929. Of course, most are pulp, but according to Sante, there are 117 roman durs (hard novels).
Sounds like he was quite a character as well: “In 1927, Georges Simenon, the phenomenally prolific Belgian author of crime novels, helped engineer a publicity stunt that sounds like a forecast of reality TV: He sat in a glass booth and wrote a novel in a week, in full view of the public.” (Although this never actually happened, I love the image of swarms of people clamoring to see someone write.)
Simenon’s The Engagement is a Reading the World title and is translated by the amazing Anna Moschovakis, so I’ll probably start there . . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .