18 November 11 | Chad W. Post |

Edward Gauvin is simply awesome. I first met him when he was working at the French Publishers’ Agency. Actually, that’s not exactly accurate. I first corresponded with him when he was at the FPA, but I first met him in person when he was visiting Rochester. See? People do visit Rochester. Edward’s actually been up here twice (at least), including last fall when he was here to participate in a Reading the World Conversation Series roundtable with Michael Emmerich, Martha Tennent, and Marian Schwartz. (Click here to watch the video of the event—it really was one of the best RTWCS events to date.)

One of the things I really like about Edward is his broad literary interests. Sure, he’s well versed in the Oulipo, in all facets of “high art,” but he also knows a shitload about international science fiction and translates a lot of graphic novels for First Second Books. (Another reason to love Edward—and this isn’t an intentional attempt to bury the lead—is just how much he knows about international comics. It looks like I’m going to help put together a series of events at the next New York ComicCon related to international graphic novels, and along with Douglas Wolk and Laurel Maury, Edward’s one of my go-to people for info on who/what I should know about.)

Edward was also an ALTA fellow a few years back, and has since had a residency at the Ledig House and found a publisher for his first book-length prose translation (the beginning of which won him the fellowship . . . I think).

Anyway, to the questions:

Favorite Word in Any Language: “Indefferer” to be indifferent to as in “cela m’indiffere,” which is equivalent to “that leaves me cold.” “Thesauriser” (or “to amass”) comes a close second.

To amass something with complete indifference . . . sounds like b-school speak.

Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: has to be my labor of love to date and first book-length prose fiction translation: A Life on Paper, the selected stories of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud

Small Beer Press will be publishing this in May, and more info can be found here. Before linking to some of the online excerpts, here’s the jacket copy, which is sure to get more than a few people interested:

In many ways, Châteaureynaud is France’s own Kurt Vonnegut, and his stories are as familiar as they are fantastic. A Life on Paper presents characters who struggle to communicate across the boundaries of the living and the dead, the past and the present, the real and the more-than-real. A young husband struggles with self-doubt and an ungainly set of angel wings in “Icarus Saved from the Skies,” even as his wife encourages him to embrace his transformation. In the title story, a father’s obsession with his daughter leads him to keep her life captured in 93,284 unchanging photographs. While Châteaureynaud’s stories examine the diffidence and cruelty we are sometimes capable of, they also highlight the humanity in the strangest of us and our deep appreciation for the mysterious.

Sounds like something we’ll definitely be looking at for the 2011 Best Translated Book Award . . .

But if you can’t wait until May, there are a couple Châteaureynaud pieces available online: Delaunay the Broker appeared in Words Without Borders, and The Only Mortal in the Brooklyn Rail.

Most Difficult Translation You’ve Ever Done: “The Red Loaf” by Pieyre de Mandiargues. He’s another mid-century fantastical writer. His Goncourt-winning novel The Margin was translated by Richard Howard (as were a number of others through Grove, and Boyars), and his sadistically decadent The Englishman in His Château was recently published by Dedalus Press, in their notable European fantasy line. None of his many short stories have yet appeared in English.

This is sort of a bonus question from Edward since most translators either answered the “best translation you’ve done” or “most difficult.” But what the hell, Mandiargues sounds pretty interesting as well . . .

What Book Needs to Be Published in Translation: the stories of Noel Devaulx

As Edward mentioned in an e-mail to me, there’s not a ton of info on Devaulx available online, but there is a more academic article by Mark Temmer entitled “Noel Devaulx: His Fantasies and Allegories” that has a nice provocative opening:

Noel Devaulx writes as much to be misunderstood as to be understood. The resolution of the paradox lies in the nature of irony, which displays ignorance or weakness to further its own ends. It must be confessed, however, that such stratagems do not always succeed; initial defeats may be too great or adversaries too dull. And lest so much subtlety go to waste, it seems worth while to renounce human encounters in favor of anonymous readers on whose part one may suppose intelligence and sympathy.

More relevant to this post is Edward’s write-up as part of the Quarterly Conversation Translate This Book! series:

Noël Devaulx is the secret master of the 20th century French fantastique. His prose has the shimmer of Mérimée and the seemliness of Flaubert; clearly, he keeps Nerval by his bedside, the better to read it by the light of a Baudelairean lunacy. In his hands, the Kunstmärchen—nine collections’ worth, over nine decades—is reinvented as the vessel of a personal metaphysics; evident in every one is his mandarin mastery of narration. Jean Paulhan, an early champion, famously called his hermetic, exquisite tales, oft-featured in the NRF, “parables without keys”: spellbinding, even when perfectly obscure, for the secret to his prose is promise. Some enticing deferral of revelation extends past his final lines, into silence. [. . .] Many of Devaulx’s tales are haunted by death and madness, but Sainte Barbegrise reads like a virgin spring, or a breeze from a summer kingdom. It belongs, for its humor, for its merry invention, for its skillful use of marvel, on a shelf with Little, Big, At-Swim-Two-Birds, or The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold.

Click here to read the rest of the posts in the “Making the Translator Visible” series.

8 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Catherine Bailey on A Life on Paper: Stories by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin, and available from Small Beer Press.

Catherine Bailey is an English grad student here at the University of Rochester. (Or maybe was . . . I think she just graduated. And if so, congrats!) She reviewed Alina Bronsky’s Broken Glass Park for us last fall.

Chateaureynaud’s A Life on Paper: Stories is absolutely brilliant. It was also a finalist for this year’s Best Translated Book Award and is translated by one of the coolest & smartest translators out there. Edward has quite a fanbase . . . If you listen carefully to the video of the BTBA Award Ceremony you will hear a screams of support from the audience when his name is read.

Here’s the opening of Catherine’s review:

In reading this marvelous selection of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud’s short fiction, I could not help but reminisce about childhood nights spent huddled near a campfire, seated at the feet of an elder and listening, enraptured, to ghost stories. Like those master storytellers whose haunting tales were exaggerated by the play of their hands over the flame, Châteaureynaud makes expert thematic use of both light and shadow to reveal his fantastical realms of wonder and fear. His unassuming prose startles as it entrances, holding readers on the edge of elegantly rendered, fantastical dream-worlds while all at once alluding to their more nightmarish qualities. In the style of Kafka and Poe, Châteaureynaud makes the supernatural seem not only present, but ubiquitous, inclined to encroach at any moment on the humdrum lives of unsuspecting mortals. More sinister than fairy tales, yet not quite definable as horror stories, Châteaureynaud’s whimsical writings leave one unsettled and alert, appreciating anew the possibilities of the chilly night air while simultaneously feeling the urge to draw nearer to the fire—just in case.

There are no consequential clashes in Châteaureynaud’s stories, nor heroic exploits. These are Everyman stories, brushes of ordinary individuals with forces beyond their control and explanation. Protagonists may be shaken, inspired, perplexed, and disturbed by these encounters, but they are rarely surprised. This is one of the distinguishing and most enjoyable marks of Châteaureynaud’s prose—in a recurring device akin to magical realism, the author abruptly introduces a maverick element into an otherwise banal scenario, but the arrival of this supernatural intervention is accommodated by characters without much shock or disbelief. In “La Tête,” a doctor is visited by a patient who carries a still-cognizant talking head around in a sack. More

Click here to read the entire piece.

8 June 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In reading this marvelous selection of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud’s short fiction, I could not help but reminisce about childhood nights spent huddled near a campfire, seated at the feet of an elder and listening, enraptured, to ghost stories. Like those master storytellers whose haunting tales were exaggerated by the play of their hands over the flame, Châteaureynaud makes expert thematic use of both light and shadow to reveal his fantastical realms of wonder and fear. His unassuming prose startles as it entrances, holding readers on the edge of elegantly rendered, fantastical dream-worlds while all at once alluding to their more nightmarish qualities. In the style of Kafka and Poe, Châteaureynaud makes the supernatural seem not only present, but ubiquitous, inclined to encroach at any moment on the humdrum lives of unsuspecting mortals. More sinister than fairy tales, yet not quite definable as horror stories, Châteaureynaud’s whimsical writings leave one unsettled and alert, appreciating anew the possibilities of the chilly night air while simultaneously feeling the urge to draw nearer to the fire—just in case.

There are no consequential clashes in Châteaureynaud’s stories, nor heroic exploits. These are Everyman stories, brushes of ordinary individuals with forces beyond their control and explanation. Protagonists may be shaken, inspired, perplexed, and disturbed by these encounters, but they are rarely surprised. This is one of the distinguishing and most enjoyable marks of Châteaureynaud’s prose—in a recurring device akin to magical realism, the author abruptly introduces a maverick element into an otherwise banal scenario, but the arrival of this supernatural intervention is accommodated by characters without much shock or disbelief. In “La Tête,” a doctor is visited by a patient who carries a still-cognizant talking head around in a sack. The physician’s reaction exemplifies Châteaureynaud’s approach to such bizarre events:

The free play of its functions . . . was considerably impaired. But the simple fact that these manifested themselves at all flew in the face of what the entire medical establishment took for granted. That said, I am a progressive and an optimist; if it’s proven tomorrow that babies will henceforth be born from their mothers’ ears, that’s where I’ll await them. The decapitated head spoke? So be it!

Châteaureynaud’s characters remain similarly unflappable under a whole host of remarkable and surreal circumstances. In “Icarus Saved from the Skies,” a man develops miniature feathered wings, but refuses any attempts at flight, much to the chagrin of his proud wife. In “The Only Mortal,” a tryst with a forest-dwelling seductress causes an indelible (and distressing) message to appear on a young soldier’s skin. In “The Guardicci Masterpiece,” a woman must compete with a crooning, reanimated adolescent mummy for her lover’s attention. The extraordinary crops up spontaneously in people’s lives, occasionally wreaking permanent alteration, but more often than not simply fading away just as unceremoniously as it came.

In other stories, magic is confined to the peripheries, seeming to exist solely in a single character’s perception of a tragic or painful situation. In these, Châteaureynaud compellingly plays with the fine line between imagination and delusion, with the power and isolation inherent to subjectivity, and with the endlessly creative narratives we weave for ourselves in order to better cope with loss. In a few cases, these boundaries completely break down; Châteaureynaud denies characters the chance to raise rosy justifications around their peculiar behaviors, and instead exposes them for what they are: absurd, unsettling, even mad. In the titular story, a man bereft at the death of his wife resolves to oppose “time’s acid tides” by photographing his daughter at systematic intervals. By the time she hits 20, he has catalogued over 93,200 images of her life, and not without doing considerable damage to the girl’s psychology. The border between fantasy and obsession in these stories is never fixed, and some of the humans in Châteaureynaud’s fiction rival his ghosts, goblins, and spooks in their ability to make a reader shiver.

Perhaps it is for that reason that some of the most successful stories in this collection—a sampling chosen from other 30 years of Châteaureynaud’s work—focus not on the mysteries of the supernatural, which the author never seeks to rationalize, but on the intricacies of his human subjects. Whether taken metaphorically or literally, the vignettes in which mystical interludes catalyze or coincide with poignant emotional development in lead protagonists are some of Châteaureynaud’s richest and most memorable.

Another interesting aspect of Châteaureynaud’s work is its flexibility with time and setting. In the 22 stories included in A Life on Paper: Stories, backdrops range from the medieval to the contemporary, with segments located in urban as well as remote country landscapes. Châteaureynaud moves easily between specific historical moments and more transcendent locales, demonstrating his ability to craft stories that are both timely and timeless. The context of World War II is of direct importance to “The Gulf of the Years,” for instance, while “Sweet Street” and “The Peacocks” could happen any time.

Châteaureynaud’s prose is even and smooth, so tranquil at times it is almost hypnotic. Edward Gauvin’s translation pays careful attention to switches in tone and dialect, maintaining the discrepancy between the author’s own voice and those of his more casual characters. In addition to the stories available here, Châteaureynaud has penned nearly one hundred more, as well as eleven novels, two for young adults. An established figure in France, and an active member of several organizations that recognize literary excellence, Châteaureynaud has already seen his work translated into fourteen other languages. A Life on Paper: Stories will certainly be a welcome addition to many English-speakers’ libraries.

14 April 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

With the announcement of the BTBA winners just a mere 15 days and 5-1/2 hours away, it seems like a good time to start reviewing the finalists.

First up is Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud’s A Life on Paper, which just received a very enthusiastic write-up over at The Mookse and the Gripes.

Before the Best Translated Book Award put Georges-Olivier Châteaureynard’s A Life on Paper on its longlist (and now it’s a finalist), I had never heard of this French author, despite his long career (not that this surprises me). I hope to get to know his work much better, though that will require a lot of work from translators. So far, from my slight research online, A Life on Paper (tr. from the French by Edward Gauvin, 2010) is the only work of his to find its way to English. Thanks to Small Beer Press for bringing this one to our attention, and hopefully Edward Gauvin is working on some of Châteaureynard’s novels.

A Life on Paperis a collection of more than twenty short stories compiled from several collections Châteaureynard has published over a thirty-year period. Most of the story are very short indeed. I can’t emphasize this enough: it was a delight to read one or two a day over a month. While writing this review I was often reading a passage to quote and found myself still reading after a few pages.

Categorizing Châteaureynaud seems futile. He’s called a fabulist, but I think this is too limiting; frankly, some of his stories seem to be written just for the fun of it, with no metaphorical intent whatsoever. I would say he’s like Kafka — the bizarre happens in an every-day setting and the characters keep acting like it’s completely sane — only his tone is quite different, reminding me more of Melville’s story-telling style. Well, there’s no reason to categorize him, and I hope some passages from his stories will give a better sense of whether you’d enjoy this collection.

He goes on to quote from a few of the stories, including the titular story, which opens with

The Siegling-Brunet collection no doubt constitutes the most extensive gathering of photographs devoted to a single person. Kathrin Laetitia Siegling was born in London on January 12, 1939. On April 14, 1960, she died in Amiens, where she had moved with her husband François Brunet. She lived, then, some 7,750 days, during which, at the rate of some dozen shots every twenty-four hours, her picture was taken 93,284 times. To the best of my knowledge, the negatives were never preserved, but the 93,284 prints were.

and ends up focusing on Kathrin’s obsessive father, who took all 93,284 pictures.

Châteaureynaud’s stories truly are a delight, and I really hope Edward Gauvin is translating more of his work . . .

11 March 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Similar to years past, we’re going to be featuring each of the 25 titles on the BTBA Fiction Longlist over the next month plus, but in contrast to previous editions, this year we’re going to try an experiment and frame all write-ups as “why this book should win.” Some of these entries will be absurd, some more serious, some very funny, a lot written by people who normally don’t contribute to Three Percent. Overall, the point is to have some fun and give you a bunch of reasons as to why you should read at least a few of the BTBA titles._

Click here for all past and future posts.

A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin

Language: French
Country: France
Publisher: Small Beer
Pages: 231

Why This Book Should Win: Craziest (in a fun way) French author to finally make his way into English; looks almost exactly like Kurt Vonnegut; first book from Small Beer to make the list; Edward Gauvin is one of the brightest up-and-coming translators working today.

We will have a more formal post about this book in the near future, but in the meantime, I wanted to draw some attention to Edward Gauvin’s blog, which is very interesting and includes a post on A Visit with Chateaureynaud that provides some good material on why Chateaureynaud deserves more attention—and even a prize:

Châteaureynaud had just come from signing 300 press copies of his latest book, a memoir of his early life from Grasset, entitled La vie nous regarde passer [Life Watches Us Go By].

“I lost fifteen copies,” he said. “I left them in the metro. The stockroom did a good job sealing the box up really tight, so instead of trying to open it, the police have probably blown it up by now.”

“It’s one way to spread the word… or words,” I said.

“Yes . . . you could say that book really burst onto the scene!”

Châteaureynaud’s latest work of fiction, Résidence dernière [Final Residence], had come out a few weeks earlier from Les Éditions des Busclats, a small press founded by poet René Char’s daughter, Marie-Claude, and her partner, critic Michèle Gazier. Since 2007’s De l’autre côté d’Alice [Through a Looking Glass Darkly]—three adult meditations on popular children’s heroes Alice, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio—Châteaureynaud had been experimenting with thematically linked triptychs of short stories. The tales in Résidence dernière, featuring a decrepit sphinx, a magic mirror, and a nightmarish limbo, revolve around writer’s retreats, examining such typically Castelreynaldian themes as solitude, the anxiety of creation, and the writing life. I thought the final, title story among the finest he’d written. In it, a number of aging writers, worrying over posterity, find themselves on a bus headed for a mysterious residency. [. . .]

An alcove off the dining room is stocked top to bottom with the handsome red Hachette hardcovers of Jules Verne, a few postcards and figurines propped against the gilt backdrop of their spines. In a corner of the glass-fronted armoire, among china services collected from his days as an antiques dealer, the certificate naming Châteaureynaud a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur stands rolled up in its original mailing tube. A photocopied picture was wedged between mirror and frame, above the liquor cabinet.

“Guess who it is?” G.-O. asked. A weathered-looking Vonnegut with a hat and a cane stared out from a street corner. “He does look like me, doesn’t he?” [. . .]

G.-O. said that he himself had met Borges’ friend, the Argentine fabulist Adolfo Bioy Casares, “in Nice once, or maybe Cannes. Somewhere warm.”

He’d asked Bioy Casares a question only to be met with practiced deflection. “But he was very old by then, you know; I don’t think he could’ve stood up straight without his nurses.”

I pictured the author of The Invention of Morel, one of Châteaureynaud’s favorite novels, flanked by a pair of Russ Meyer valkyries. Among the many ways in which meeting Georges-Olivier has not disappointed me is that he never plays the persona card. You have the feeling of talking to a real person who pays you the compliment of his attention and does his best to answer, an approachability almost shocking in a public figure. There is, of course, the hat and the merry air of slight befuddlement most often worn at book fairs, but even that, one suspects, is less pretense than actuality, and endearingly human.

17 March 09 | N. J. Furl | Comments

With our Politics of Translation event coming up next Monday, this seems like a good time to post the video of a different event that we hosted last fall.

As part of the Reading the World Conversation Series, this “Translators’ Roundtable” brought together four literary translators—who work in a variety of languages and genres—to discuss their experiences. The conversation explored a number of different topics, from how they got started as translators, to the obstacles of retranslating classic works, to translating film scripts during the writers’ strike, etc.

In attendance were Michael Emmerich, Edward Gauvin, Marian Schwartz, and Martha Tennent. There’s a lot of brilliant discussion here—one of my favorite points coming from Michael who makes a case to those who lean on the phrase “Lost in Translation” that it is, instead, and “100% gain.”


Translators’ Roundtable from Open Letter Books on Vimeo.

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