4 April 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As in years past, we will be highlighting all 25 titles on the BTBA Fiction Longlist, one by one, building up to the announcement of the 10 finalists on April 10th. A variety of judges, booksellers, and readers will write these, all under the rubric of “Why This Book Should Win. You can find the whole series by clicking here. And if you’re interested in writing any of these, just get in touch.

Atlas by Dung Kai-Cheung, translated from the Chinese by Anders Hansson and Bonnie S. McDougall, and published by Columbia University Press

Having wanted to read this book for months, I took the opportunity to snag this for myself when we were lining people up to write for this series. And I’m damn glad that I did.

1. It’s not Jackie Chan. As Bonnie McDougall points out in her introduction, most depictions of Hong Kong that the typical American reader are familiar with are written by outsiders. John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy. Paul Theroux’s Kowloon Tong. John Lanchester’s Fragrant Harbour. Basically all the books on this list. Not so with Atlas! Dung Kai-Cheung is Hong Kong’s greatest novelist, and as such, offers a different—and more genuine?—perspective on this really interesting part of the world. From Kai-Cheung’s introduction:

There are enough fictitious Hong Kongs circulating around the world. It doesn’t matter so much how real or false these fictions are but how they are made up. The Hong Kong of Tai-Pan and Suzie Wong, a mixture of economic adventures, political intrigues, sexual encounters, and romances; the Hong Kong of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li kung fu fighting their way through to the international scene; the Hong Kong of John Woo’s gangster heroes shooting doublehanded and Stephen Chow’s underdog antiheroes making nonsensical jokes. And yet, in spite of these eye-catching exposures, Hong Kong remains invisible. A large part of the reality of life here is unrepresented, unrevealed, and ignored. Hong Kong’s martial arts fiction, commercial movies, and pop songs are successful in East Asia and even farther abroad, but for all the talents, insights, and creativity of its writers, Hong Kong literature attracts minimal attention—not just internationally but even in mainland China. I am not claiming that literature represents a Hong Kong more real than the movies, but it has its unique role and methods and thus yields different meanings. It is not just a different way of world-representing but also a different way of world-building, that is, creating conditions for understanding, molding, preserving, and changing the world that we live in.

For this alone, Atlas deserves to win.

2. It’s like Calvino plus Borges . . . At first glance, Atlas sounds a lot like Calvino’s Invisible Cities with a touch of the Borges:

Set in the long-lost City of Victoria (a fictional world similar to Hong Kong), Atlas is written from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. Divided into four sections—“Theory,” “The City,” “Streets,” and “Signs”—the novel reimagines Victoria through maps and other historical documents and artifacts, mixing real-world scenarios with purely imaginary people and events while incorporating anecdotes and actual and fictional social commentary and critique.

And in his fanciful writing, Dung does bring both writers to mind, such as in this bit about a plaza enclosed by a square street:

The only way of finding one’s way in the square street seems to have been by determining the direction. The four sides of the square street were fixed according to the four points of the compass, north, south, east, and west, but because there was no door numbers along the street (for no one could say where the street began and where it ended), it was rather difficult to determine if one were proceeding along the east street, the west street, the north street, or the south street. To be sure, this was not a problem for the local inhabitants, because whatever side of the street they lived on made no difference to them. Another special characteristic of the square street was that there was a flight of steps at each corner. It was said that if you kept turning right as you walked, the steps would lead upward, but if you went in the opposit direction, to the left, the steps would lead down. But whether you went up or down, you would still return to your original place by way of the four flights of steps and the four corners. Experts in cartography maintain that such phenomena can occur only on the surface of maps, or in pictures with fanciful optical illusions.

3. . . . except that it’s not. This isn’t just a derivative attempt to write something Calvino-esque or Borgesian. (Or, Calgesian? Borvino?) A unique combination of cartography, fabulism, and philosophy, Atlas brings up a ton of interesting questions about how the world can be (or should be) represented and how we read these representations. It’s definitely in the vein of those other two authors (who are mentioned in the book, along with Barthes and Umberto Eco), but it’s also something quite different and all of its own. (The titles Dung’s other novels make these influences even more obvious: The Rose of the Name and Visible Cities.) At times, this is more cerebral and heady than Calvino’s work, which makes this even more interesting.

4. It’s written in Cantonese and Mandarin. Esther Allen talked to my class the other week about José Manuel Prieto’s Encyclopedia of a Life in Russia and emphasized how she tried to retain the mixture of languages present in the original by including Russian texts, Japanese script, bits in Spanish, etc. This wasn’t just an aesthetic decision, but a political one as well. In her own words:

For the reader of the original text, the book’s origin in the Spanish-speaking world is evident in its every word and requires no further emphasis. As its translator into English, my overwhelming primary allegiance was to the Spanish language. If readers of the English translation were allowed to forget that the book was first written in Spanish—not Russian or English—and was translated from Spanish—not Russian—the book risked being denatured, stripped of all the historic and cultural meaning that derives from the specific language in which it was first written.

The translation therefore explicitly sought to emphasize the Spanish-ness of this text about Russia, but in a way that did not undermine the original’s will to leave its Latin American origins in the deep background. Keeping certain words or phrases in the source language, always an option, here became an imperative, and the English retains as much Spanish as I felt was possible. No longer the language of the text itself, Spanish becomes a key element in its polyglossia.

This came to mind in reading McDougall’s introduction when she talks about Hong Kong’s linguistic multiplicity and the fact that is book is originally written in Mandarin with some Cantonese expressions. This mix occurs in other works of Hong Kong literature, but may also be why it’s not accepted as readily by mainland China. In my mind, this sort of situation—overlooked even within its own country because of the linguistic mix—is a valid reason for awarding this novel the Best Translated Book Award.

3 April 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As in years past, we will be highlighting all 25 titles on the BTBA Fiction Longlist, one by one, building up to the announcement of the 10 finalists on April 10th. A variety of judges, booksellers, and readers will write these, all under the rubric of “Why This Book Should Win. You can find the whole series by clicking here. And if you’re interested in writing any of these, just get in touch.

With the Animals by Noëlle Revaz, translated from the French by W. Donald Wilson

I wrote this one. Initially out of necessity—no one else snatched this one up—and a desire to read this “Céline-esque” novel, since I need a little more mud and anger in my life.

1. W. Donald Wilson’s introduction. Well, not specifically his introduction, which is fine in and of itself, but his articulation of the core problem in translating With the Animals:

In the original French, Paul [the narrator and protagonist of the novel, an uneducated farmer who smacks his wife around and can’t remember the names of his kids] lives in no specific place, nor does he use any particular form of speech or dialect: his idiom is an invented one. Of course many of the idiosyncrasies of his French are unavailable in English, such as his mangling of the more complex French negatives, his ease in inventing reflexive forms of verbs and his placement of adjectives before rather than after nouns (and vice versa). Also unavailable was his constant use of the impersonal pronoun “on,” used to create a greater impression of detachment and depersonalization than is allowed by its closes available English equivalent, “you.” I was therefore concerned to develop a voice that, while delivering that “slap in the face,” would not show any strained attempt to write incorrectly or distort the English language unnaturally, but would flow instead from Paul’s character and situation. Lacking any example or conventional usage to follow, Paul would have to improvise his language, resulting in a certain stylistic awkwardness. His word-order would be unconventional, reflecting the spontaneous order of his thoughts (for instance in the placement of adverbs or in stating the topic or subject of sentences first, as in Georges, he said). His use of conjunctions would be weak. Object pronouns would sometimes be omitted, and the definite article would sometimes occur where no article is normal in English. He would be uncertain of grammatical categories, confusing nouns, adjectives, and verbs. His grasp of verb forms, especially the verb ‘to be’ (as in there is + plural, or you/we/they was), and of pronouns would be unsure (as in me for I and them for those). Yet he would not use common dialect forms such as ain’t, and only occasionally employ double negatives.

In basic English, Paul don’t speak right. Which is really difficult to replicate . . . Seriously. Try writing incorrectly, yet coherently, for a paragraph. Then a page. Then 233. And as much as translation takes its cues from the original text, this is a massive act of creation on the part of Wilson.

2. This gambit of Wilson’s works. Right from the start, Paul’s voice is unique, strange, grammatically distorted, and, most important, interesting to read:

Before when I go out in the morning I’ve knocked back a good brimmer already and things fall together like straw. Till then I’ve a face like night on me and a garlic mouth and I can’t stand anyone wants to be coddled like a snot-nosed pup. Head under the tap and already I’m getting the machines out. Vulva, she’s still dragging round, she scrubs down in a corner and dries off in the kitchen.

3. Use of the term “brimmer.” I love neologisms and reappropriated words and slang that isn’t really slang because only a dozen people use it and none of them are Gawker. So “brimmer” is my new term for a full glass of “plum.” Sure, it’s 10:22 right now, but I CAN NOT WAIT to get home and fill some brimmers and knock them back.

4. Holy shitsnacks is this book offensive. All the Dalkey copy compares Revaz to Louis-Ferdinand Céline, which, sure, I suppose so. Personally, I think that comparison is a bit broad—Céline wrote angry, narrator Paul is angry; Céline was insulting, narrator Paul refers to his wife as “Vulva”; Céline used a ton of ellipses, Revaz wrote in an untraditional way. That said, I think Revaz is up to something different—for one, her book isn’t written in a semi-autobiographical voice—and to reduce her to being “Céline-esque” feels reductive. But anyway, the hate and disgust Paul has for his wife and the world—not to mention the litany of insults and physical beatings he unleashes on “Vulva”—is pretty staggering. This isn’t a character you cuddle up next to and “relate to.” I like that. That’s a difficult thing to do well, to sustain for a whole book. Here’s an example from a point when Paul’s wife is in the hospital having a tumor removed:

What can you say to her, Vulva, when you never think of her? Me, in the end I’ve forgotten she exists, and what difference to me if she goes off to the hospital to have her belly sliced open or her varicose veins shrunk: I don’t give a rat’s fart, it doesn’t squeeze a single big tear out of me nor get the snot-rag out of my shirt pocket, so she can stay away there till the next century if that’s what she’d rather. At least it counts as much for me she’s not around no more to give her jeremiahs after us and go complaining at us every time we open a bottle or go on a wee binge.

5. Because Dalkey has yet to win the BTBA. Granted, this is a reason that goes beyond the text itself, but considering that Dalkey publishes more literature in translation than other publisher in the United States, they’re bound to strike gold at some point. And this book is both brilliant in and of itself, but also presents—and solves—a really fundamental translation challenge. For all these reasons, With the Animals by the Swiss author Noëlle Revaz should win this year’s Best Translated Book Award.

24 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week, we finish up our John Locke discussion by quoting from his How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in Five Months, and then move on to discussing good literature, including six book recommendations for the summer.

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10 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Chad and Tom are back, and this week they’re tackling whether ebook pricing can destroy the world, whether publishers with unlimited resources can save the world, and whether anyone in the world really wants their favorite authors to Tweet @ them.

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3 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week, Tom and I dropped the baseball talk (for the most part, and to avoid cursing the Cardinals in advance of the weekend series against the Cubs) to talk about BookExpo America: Harlequin & their NASCAR love series, the lack of actual books at the fair, the parties, and Patti Smith.

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20 May 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week is another baseball-centric podcast in which Tom Roberge came up with individual book recommendations for five Mets players. (A la Phil Jackson.)

With BookExpo America taking place next week, we talked a bit about books (and parties) we’re looking forward to. (Spoiler: Tom’s into Guns ‘n Roses and wants to crash the Duff McKagen party.)

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12 May 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In this week’s episode, Tom and Chad discuss Enrique Vila-Matas’s forthcoming “Never Any End to Paris,” which was translated by Anne McLean.

In the novel, the narrator gives a three-day lecture on irony and his experiences living in Paris for two years, trying to emulate Ernest Hemingway.

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4 May 11 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

This week Tom and Chad talk about the Best Translated Book Award winners, the recently completed PEN World Voices Festival, the ideas of corporate and economic censorship, Vladimir Sorokin’s coming-out events, ray guns, and Enrique Vila-Matas’s new book.

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27 April 11 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

This week, Tom and Chad talk about the PEN World Voices Festival and the upcoming Best Translation Book Award ceremony. Along the way, they talk about Vladimir Sorokin (his “Siberian earthf***ers” and how he’s not really like Bolano), the overratedness of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the Hungarian author Laszlo Krashnahorkai.

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11 February 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As I mentioned some time ago, I was invited to participate in this year’s Non-Fiction Conference sponsored and organized by the Dutch Foundation for Literature. This year’s focus was on “Quality Non-Fiction in the Digital Era,” so there were a number of presentations about new developments, the future of publishing and reading, etc.

Unlike some of the other digitally-focused conferences I’ve attended (such as TOC Frankfurt), this was less about “what’s possible” and more about “what this means.” Which was refreshing and very interesting.

The foundation did record all of the talks, and has made most (soon to be all?) available on YouTube. (I personally love all the stills . . . We all look a bit over-enthused with our hand gestures and what not.)

All of the speeches were great, and to make this even easier, here are links and quick summaries to the speeches that are available:

Sara Lloyd of Pan Macmillan gave a great overview of where we are in terms of ebooks and the digital market.

Peter Collinridge talked about Enhanced Editions and the need to connect with your audience.

Richard Nash’s speech isn’t online (yet), but he talked about the coming Age of Abundance and how economic theory provides a basis for arguing that this abundance will force prices to zero.

Jos de Mul talked about the impact of technology on human imagination from a philosophical perspective.

Harry Blom’s speech isn’t up yet either, but he talked about Springer and publishing edatabase versions of journals.

Marcus Chown discussed The Solar System his book/iPad app.

Henry Volans from Faber and Faber talked about this as well, but from a publisher’s perspective.

Ramy Habeeb gave the funniest, most entertaining speech (Ramy’s a born public speaker of the best variety) about publishing in Arabic and his company Kotoarabia.

Nicky Harman discussed the role of translators in this digital age.

Finally, I talked about reading and discovery in the Age of Screens. But I’ll talk more about that in a separate post . . . For now, I just want to encourage you to check out some of these videos. I think you’ll find them very interesting and enjoyable. (And we were all limited to 10 minutes, so they’re short.)

6 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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

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

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

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

So:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 April 10 | N. J. Furl | Comments


For the sixth time in under three years, Chad has appeared on the preeminent local morning news show in Rochester, NY—clearly breaking/setting a record of some sort.

In today’s video, Chad’s talking about Open Letter hitting the three-year mark, and our celebration on Monday, April 26, (featuring 10 micro-readings from our books (as well as an after-party to which all are invited)) commemorating this, apparently inexplicable, achievement.

2 April 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

This month we talk with Suzanne Jill Levine, famed translator and author of The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction.

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

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

A good time was had by all.

10 February 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Chad was on Chicago Public Radio’s Worldview yesterday afternoon. His shout outs included: Per Petterson, JMG Le Clézio, Herta Müller, and Stieg Larsson.

Americans don’t get the chance to read many books written by authors who aren’t from this country. That’s because just about three percent of all the books published in the United States are translated from another language. Chad Post is publisher of Open Letter Books. They’re dedicated to the translation of works of fiction here in the United States. Without small publishers like Open Letter Books, there would be hardly any translated books in our bookstores at all. Other countries are different. Chad says that more than half the books on the market in France and Spain have been translated from another language. Even Canada is way ahead of us.

Daniel Alarcón was also on the show, discussing his recent article in Granta, “Life Among the Pirates”, which is about the rather large illegal book market in Peru.

9 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

The other week, media strategist David Henderson came to the University of Rochester to give us some media training on how best to present yourself on TV, how to buy a second to think of a good answer to a tricky question, how to speak slowly, etc., etc. (And no, that last one didn’t stick. At least not for me.)

Anyway, as part of this he filmed the following video about Open Letter Books. I’m embarrassed to watch myself on things like this, but I’ve heard from others that it’s a decent presentation of what we do. So in case anyone’s interested, here it is:

18 September 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our review section is a review of Gail Hareven’s The Confessions of Noa Weber, which came out from Melville House Press earlier this year in Dalya Bilu’s stunning translation. (I didn’t mention her translation in the actual review, but wow, to capture this voice so convincingly, so compellingly, is quite a feat.)

I’m a big fan of this book, which, as happens to so many great books, was tragically under-reviewed when it came out this past April. (Although it was praised by Jessa Crispin at NPR and by Michael Orthofer at the Complete Review.)

Here’s the opening to my piece:

For years now, Melville House has been one of the most exciting independent presses out there. The political books they’ve done are fantastic, the Art of the Novella Series is arguably one of the most genius marketing/editorial publishing projects of the past decade, and the return of the Moby Lives blog (I still wear my “The whale is out there, man!” t-shirt every so often) is a brilliant addition to the current litblog scene. And on top of all that there’s the fine list of translations that they’ve been bringing out over the past few years. Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai. Marcel Proust’s The Lemoine Affair. Miguel de Cervantes’s The Dialogue of the Dogs. More recently, the Hans Fallada rediscovery project, which includes Every Man Dies Alone (a Best Translated Book Award nominee), The Drinker, and Little Man, What Now? And if that wasn’t enough, along comes Gail Hareven’s searing, addictive novel The Confessions of Noa Weber, another nominee for the 2010 Best Translated Book Award.

I know this is going to totally undersell the novel (honestly, I’m not sure my reviewing skills are up to this painfully honest book anyway), but The Confessions of Noa Weber reads like the best possible personal blog ever written. It’s a personal account of mystery writer Noa Weber’s lifelong obsession with Alek, a man she marries out of convenience (to escape her military duty), has a child with, and loves her whole life even though they separate pretty early on, and he moves to Russia, where he eventually finds a more placid existence with another woman.

Click here for the full review.

18 September 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For years now, Melville House has been one of the most exciting independent presses out there. The political books they’ve done are fantastic, the Art of the Novella Series is arguably one of the most genius marketing/editorial publishing projects of the past decade, and the return of the Moby Lives blog (I still wear my “The whale is out there, man!” t-shirt every so often) is a brilliant addition to the current litblog scene. And on top of all that there’s the fine list of translations that they’ve been bringing out over the past few years. Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai. Marcel Proust’s The Lemoine Affair. Miguel de Cervantes’s The Dialogue of the Dogs. More recently, the Hans Fallada rediscovery project, which includes Every Man Dies Alone (a Best Translated Book Award nominee), The Drinker, and Little Man, What Now? And if that wasn’t enough, along comes Gail Hareven’s searing, addictive novel The Confessions of Noa Weber, another nominee for the 2010 Best Translated Book Award.

I know this is going to totally undersell the novel (honestly, I’m not sure my reviewing skills are up to this painfully honest book anyway), but The Confessions of Noa Weber reads like the best possible personal blog ever written. It’s a personal account of mystery writer Noa Weber’s lifelong obsession with Alek, a man she marries out of convenience (to escape her military duty), has a child with, and loves her whole life even though they separate pretty early on, and he moves to Russia, where he eventually finds a more placid existence with another woman.

This is one of those books where the prose far out-strips the plot. Noa’s voice—so direct, so honest, so unabashed and sarcastic and pointed—is mesmerizing, drawing the reader in immediately:

The city of J lies at the top of the hills of J. That’s how I’d like to begin my story; at a calm distance, with a deep breath, in a panoramic shot focusing very slowly on a single street, and very slowly on a single house, “this is the house where I was born.” But you’d be making a fool of yourself if your J were Jerusalem, since every idiot knows about Jerusalem. And altogether it’s impossible to talk about Jerusalem any more. Impossible, that is to say, without “winding alleys” and “stone courtyards,” “caper bushes” and “Arab women in the market place.” And I have nothing to say about caper bushes and stone courtyards, nor do I have the faintest desire to flavor my story with the colorful patois of colorful Jerusalem characters, twirling their mustaches as they spin Oriental tales. [. . .]

It isn’t my personal problem as a writer. It isn’t my personal problem that a person who was born here can’t open with the words “I was born”—because so what? So you were born, good for you, you were born, okay, and then what? Because after “I was born” has to come an adventure story that will take the first person far, far away from his birthplace, and how far can you really get from here? To the Far East on the beaten track of the ex-warriors from the Golani Brigade? To Uman with the nutcases of the Bratslav Hassids to their rabbi’s grave? And however far you went you’d end up meeting someone who knew your cousin’s cousin. Not interesting. Not interesting at all.

As the novel progresses, Noa weaves together events from the past and present, filling out her life, from her time as a young pregnant woman to a very successful writer of feminist mystery novels, to an older woman who has never met any man who can replace her first love. An almost hypocritical situation given her politics, and one that generates self-criticism, but also this gorgeous “confession.”

There are very moving moments in this book, and it can be occasionally uncomfortable in the way that watching someone break down in a public forum (like a blog, like Facebook, like Twitter) can be a bit uncomfortable. But on the whole, this is a remarkable piece of literature. And the way Hareven chisels out the shape of Noa’s self makes me hope that her other works will also eventually make their way into English. Another amazing find by Melville House.

14 September 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

For any of you Jerzy Pilch fans, Chad is hosting an evening tomorrow at Solas Bar in NYC (232 E. 9th Street, around the corner from St. Mark’s Bookshop) to discuss Pilch’s The Mighty Angel. It’s a part of the excellent European Book Club series.

The event starts at 7 PM, and I bet you could even talk Chad into going out for a drink after the discussion. Whether going out for a drink after discussing a book about alcoholism is ironic or not, I leave to you. But as the narrator of The Mighty Angel says, “I’m aware, I really am fully aware that it’s impossible, in my case especially it’s impossible, to live a long and happy life when you drink. But how can you live a long and happy life if you don’t drink?”

1 July 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [1]

The Observer Translation Project, which we’ve mentioned here before, posted a really cool translation roundtable/interview that they conducted recently:

World-famous novelist Norman Manea, two premier experts in the realm of literature in translation—Susan Harris of Words Without Borders and Chad Post of Three Percent and Open Letter—and award-winning translator from German Susan Bernofsky address a literary zone in permanent crisis: the world of literature in translation.

They manage to cover a lot of ground pretty quickly—from editing translations, to the market for translations, to why the panelists read translations—and it’s interesting to see how they approach all of the issues from slightly different angles. Definitely worth a read.

26 June 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our review section is a piece on Juan Filloy’s Op Oloop, which was translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press.

Pretty interesting book from a very interesting author:

The first time I heard of Juan Filloy was during an editorial trip to Germany, organized by the German Book Office and including a day of “speed dating” with other publishers. It was at one of my first “dates” that I met the very hip editors from Tropen Verlag who, after finding out that I worked at Dalkey Archive, the publisher of David Markson’s best works, suggested that instead of doing any of the German authors they might recommend, the one author that Dalkey absolutely had to publish was the Argentine writer Juan Filloy, especially his Op Oloop.

Before even getting to his actual novels, there’s a lot Filloy had going for him:

  • He lived in three centuries—born in the nineteenth, and passing away in 2000 at the age of 106;

  • Julio Cortazar loved him, references his Caterva in chapter 108 of Hopscotch;

  • Freud was a fan of Op Oloop, which led to a personal correspondence between the two;

  • Filloy was a lover of palindromes and wrote over 6,000;

  • and, not to be overlooked, almost all fifty-plus of his novels and collections of poems have seven-letter titles. (Op Oloop, Caterva, Vil y Vil, so on and so forth.)

Who wouldn’t want to publish someone like this? And thankfully, six years later, Op Oloop is finally available to English readers.

Click here for the rest of the review.

1 May 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

News This Morning on 13WHAM Rochester has, yet again, proven itself to be the news leader when it comes to local morning news shows that feature literature and international authors. If this seems familiar, that’s because it is.

This time, Chad went on with Mark Binelli (Author of Sacco & Vanzetti Must Die!, contributing editor to Rolling Stone, and friend of the Press). They discussed the PEN World Voices Festival, Mark’s writings in fiction and nonfiction, and our PEN-sponsored event last night featuring Jan Kjærstad (full video of the event will be posted a bit later).

Click the pic to watch the news clip.

1 May 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

In last last-minute switcheroo (sp?), Chad will be moderating-and-more at a PEN World Voices Festival event tonight in NYC.

Title: On the Edge – Writing in Post-Reunified Germany
When: Friday, May 1, 6–7:30 p.m.
Where: Deutsches Haus, 42 Washington Mews

You can get the full info here, but what that page doesn’t yet tell you is that this event now features Clemens Meyer and Chad (who will be playing the roles of moderator and special guest).

Why the change-up, you ask? Why, worries about swine flu, of course. But due to our extreme caution, this event is now the ONLY PLACE YOU WILL NOT CATCH SWINE FLU. And, seriously, it’s bound to be interesting and a lot of fun, too.

30 April 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

Chad Post (who you may know as the guy who wrote all the words above and below this post) was recently interviewed by Nigel Beale for his literary podcast. It’s a candid 28 minutes—covering the state of literature in translation, the American publishing landscape, Open Letter, and etc.—so take a look.

(Also, you can check the rest of Nigel’s offerings here.)

27 April 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The entire plot of Ghosts, Cesar Aira’s third novel to be translated into English and published by New Directions, is encapsulated in this story told over New Year’s Eve dinner:

Patri thought for a moment before speaking: I remember a story by Oscar Wilde, about a princess who was bored in her palace, bored with her parents, the king and queen, bored with the ministers, the generals, the chamberlains, and the jesters, whose jokes she knew by heart. One day a delegation of ghosts appeared to invite her to a party they were giving on New Year’s Eve, and their descriptions of this party, which included the disguises they would wear and the music to be played by the ghost orchestra, were so seductive, and she was so bored, that without a second thought that night she threw herself from the castle’s highest tower, so that she could die and go to the party. The others pondered the moral. So the story doesn’t say what happened at the party? asked Carmen Larrain. No. That’s where it stops.

The teenager Patri shares this story shortly before midnight, and shortly before having to decide whether she should follow in the footsteps of the princess, or stay in this world and resist the temptation of the ghosts inhabiting the building where she lives.

Taking place over the course of New Year’s Eve, this novel is set in an unfinished, soon-to-be swanky high-rise in Buenos Aires, where a number of Chilean construction workers (including Patri’s family) both work and live. The novel opens beautifully, taking the reader through a variety of perspectives, from the earlier morning visits of the future inhabitants to check in on how things are going, to the mind of the architect, to Patri’s cousin who gets all the workers their lunch, to Patri’s mom, before settling in on Patri herself. This extended intro is almost like a supernatural flight, a way of passing through all the layers of the building and the class divisions of the people involved with it. And beyond setting up the plot and players, it also gives Aira a chance to show off his skills.

Aira—who is immensely popular in his home Argentina, and is the author of dozens of novels cherished by thousands of portenos who just don’t get why he hasn’t exactly taken off in the States yet—is a remarkably skilled and varied writer. How I Became a Nun, which ND published in 2007, is rather surreal, angular, and disjointed. An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter came out in English in 2006 and is more historical and detached than either of the other two titles. The scope of Aira’s imagination and skills are quite incredible—if unlabled, it would be rather difficult to surmise that these three books were written by the same person.

That said, the one intangible constant across the three is Aira’s complete control and mastery of language. His writing is always graceful, especially when setting a particular scene, be it the Argentine pampas, as in An Episode, or a oppressively hot day on a construction site in Buenos Aires.

A construction site that is an interesting nexus of both construction workers and ghosts—ghosts that peek in on the family around siesta time, silently, not disturbing anyone. These are rather playful ghosts (rather than sinister), which are taken for granted and casually discussed by the living inhabitants.

That said, there is something sinister about the ghosts—at least in the opinion of Patri’s mother who quips about the princess’s imminent disappointment when she arrives at the afterlife only to find out that all “ghosts are gay.” A comment that builds on Elisa’s earlier conversation with her adolescent daughter about the “ ‘real men’ who were destined to make them happy” and points to a deeper reading of this charming ghost story as a twisted sort of sexual coming-of-age narrative. One that hinges on Patri’s potentially deadly decision—either she chooses a “real man,” or a neutered death.

Not that this novel can be reduced so simply. The numerous architectural references (including a long dream sequence about building and the unbuilt) are more theoretical and reflect back on novel-making as a craft, and how these “word-structures” can convey meaning:

An example might clarify the point, though only in an analogical mode: imagine one of those people who don’t think, a man whose only activity is reading novels, which for him is a purely pleasurable activity, and requires not the slightest intellectual effort; it’s simply a matter of letting the pleasure of reading carry him along. Suddenly, some gesture or sentence, not to speak of a “thought,” reveals that he is a philosopher in spite of himself. Where did he get that knowledge? From pleasure? From novels? An absurd supposition, given his reading material (if he read Thomas Mann, at least, it might be a different story). Knowledge comes through the novels, of course, but not really from them.

Of Aira’s novels to make their way into English, this is the one with the best chance of finding its audience. The tone of this novel perfectly melds with the plot and underlying ambitions, and it’s an incredibly enjoyable book that can be read during a nice summer afternoon. All of Aira’s books are pretty short, but this is deceptive—there’s a lot of joy and thought packed into this slender volume. I’m not sure Americans will ever appreciate the diversity of his books or the precision of his prose as much as Argentinean readers do (Roberto Bolano: “Once you have started to read Aira, you don’t want to stop”), but this is a novel with a lot of appeal, which will hopefully expand his overall English readership.

12 January 09 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Local Rochester TV station 13 WHAM’s This Morning is, I think I can state quite definitively, the nation’s single most important local morning television news source for international literature. Chad made his third appearance on This Morning this morning, where he talked about our Best Translated Book Award, Roberto Bolaño, and Elias Khoury. Top that WBAY. Chad’s competition for the hearts and minds of local Rochesterians on This Morning was The Bachelor’s Jason Mesnick, who did a live-remote interview to promote a serial mockumentary about his love life.

Click the image below to see the video.

1 December 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Mathias Enard’s Zone, which we’ve mentioned a few times already, just keeps racking up attention.

Thanks to Michael, for pointing out that Zone made Lire‘s 20 best books of 2008 list. According to my pidgin French, they say that it “possesses a scope that is rare in the French novel” and that it’s “difficult, but great.”

PW also noted our acquisition:

What’s in a period? That might be the question Chad Post, at Open Letter Press, was asking himself when he acquired the French novel Zone. The book, about a traveler making his way to Rome via train, is a study in, among other things, grammatical experimentation; it unfolds over 500 pages, in a single sentence. Open Letter, which submitted a bid for the book shortly after the Frankfurt Book Fair, is planning to publish the book Stateside in 2010; the title is published in France by Actes Sud and was written by Mathias Enard. Charlotte Mandell (who just finished The Kindly Ones) is doing the translation.

Unfortunately, my French isn’t up to it yet (I’m working on it!), so I’m anxiously awaiting—along with the rest of you, I hope—Charlotte Mandell’s translation.

25 November 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Heidi, over at Omnivoracious, Amazon’s weblog, has an interview with Chad, and some nice things to say about Open Letter:

If you looked at the recent media frenzy over Bolano’s 2666 (even The Economist has a story about it), you’d think that translations were really hot this year. According to a translation database manually compiled by Open Letter this year, though, the percentage of new books published in the U.S. that are translations is still coming in at around 3% or lower. Open Letter’s mission is to try to change all that.

A number of presses publish translations, but Open Letter (a small press out of the University of Rochester) only publishes translations. Their blog, Three Percent (based on the 3% mentioned above), has done a lot to promote international literature—it regularly features reviews, lit mags from other countries, and programs like Reading the World and Words Without Borders. This week they’re previewing their Spring 2009 line-up.

Thanks Heidi!

9 October 08 | N. J. Furl | Comments

I’ll tell ya, it seems like forever since we posted a video of Chad. Luckily, Publishers Weekly has just published a lovely article-slash-interview with our director. It’s all about things like Open Letter, the books we publish, our websites (such as this one), and literature in translation. Also, there is an accompanying web video.

I especially enjoyed the article’s title: “The International Literature Evangelist.” Not only does Chad spread the good news (of sorts), but it seems like only yesterday that we were philistines.

16 September 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments [2]

In what is a first for us, our lovely UR publicist June Avignone convinced a local morning news show to do a segment on Dubravka’s new book, Nobody’s Home, and Open Letter.

I must admit I was expecting out and out absurdity—and there was some of that: their segment was preceded by a piece on a new kind of gastric bypass surgery and also by a television cooking personality who gave instructions on how to cook mashed potatoes, using a bag of Ore-Ida instant mashed potatoes—but it went pretty well.

If you’d like to see the world of literary essays bumping into the wonderful world of morning talk shows (note in the photo below that we’re helpfully informed how much the Mega Millions jackpot is worth), click here.

18 February 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Chad was recently interviewed by Bob Smith for a local Rochester radio show called 1370 Connection. The interview aired this afternoon, and if you’d like to listen to him talk about translation, the business of books, Open Letter, and Lost, you can download the MP3 here (The file is 44MB and the interview is about 50 minutes long).

6 November 07 | E.J. Van Lanen |

Last night, Open Letter hosted a panel entitled “Commerce and Culture: The Impact of the Business of Books on the Literature of the Americas.” Moderated by Chad Post, the panel featured Lisa Dillman, who translates from Spanish and Catalan and is a lecturer in Spanish at Emory University; Jack Kirchoff, the book review editor and paperbacks columnist at the Toronto Globe & Mail; Daniel Shapiro, director of literature at the Americas Society and editor of Review; and Jonathon Welch, co-founder and buyer at Talking Leaves Books.

It was a wide-ranging discussion, covering—as you can imagine by reading the brief bios above—the business of books, reviewing, translating, and bookselling.

If you’d like to listen to the panel, you can download the podcast by clicking here. (The file is 86MB and the discussion lasts about 90 minutes.)

8 October 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

KRUI, the University of Iowa’s public radio station, held a discussion this morning featuring our own Chad Post; Dedi Felman of Words Without Borders, Matvei Yankelevich of Ugly Duckling Presse, Hugh Ferrer, Associate Director of the International Writers Program, and Keisha Lynn, Project Assistant at the International Writers Program. Their discussion was a brief preview of the panel they’ll be on this afternoon—World Lit Net, where they’ll discuss the value of the Internet as a tool of dissemination, a locus of literary community, and a potential engine for (or roadblock to) “world literature”—which is a part of the 40th Anniversary of the International Writers Program.

If you’d like to listen to this discussion, you can download the . (The file is about 24MB and the discussion lasts about 40 minutes.)

19 September 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

He claims his mouth is open because he’s pitching a book, which is proof that he works when he goes to NYC. Should we believe him?

....
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